Saturday, 6 October 2012

Back This!

What can I say, I still love Asian Man Records. Watch the video, read the blurb and get really excited about this project.

Monday, 10 September 2012

New Music Roundup

This is a city blog that I wrote for DIY with my city blogger hat on - but as it's a bit too general it ended up not getting used. It's got loads of new (and a lot of free) music in it, so if you want to check out some new music, read right on. So, without further ado then....!

Hello again. In this instalment of the city blog I was rather hoping to have brought you front-line reports from 2000 Trees and Tramlines in Sheffield, along with some choice local gig action, but in the end an unexpected hospital visit kind of fucked that plan all to hell. Instead therefore, you get a run-down of great free music that I crawled through Bandcamp to find while I was off work recovering. Hooray!

First though, it's time for a bit of gushing praise: two demos sent in after my last column have been firmly on repeat – the first, by Tall for Jockeys is publicly available free from Bandcamp. It's called 'Get Japan on the Phone' and is like an awesome, angry, super-raw Reuben all up in your face. ( There's plenty of subtle hints at inner depth but ultimately it's a rocking, hollering slab of unpretentious brilliance. Second is Embers, who have this whole kind of industrial-post-rock-lo-fi thing going on that's a lot harder to describe. It is, to use an NME word, 'anthemic'; however, unlike the calculated edges of boring hype music like Wu Lyf, Embers' edges are real, born of shitty home recordings that capture so much attitude and menace I almost don't want to hear the result of them in a proper studio (this from somebody who distrusts the lo-fi movement and thinks that all drums should be legally required to be recorded by Chris Sheldon).

A band that don't suffer from under- or over- production on the other hand are Glasgow's Crusades, whose new EP is going to melt faces when it hits in September; for now get free track 'Pseudo Andro' free from their Bandcamp and get blown away like the guy from the Maxell ad by their ATDI-meets-Dillinger Escape Plan insanity. Insanity, I tell you!

Now, on to the free stuff. A band I really have been frankly rude in overlooking until this point is Alpha Male Tea Party, who deal in the kind of mathy heaviness that a good portion of Yourcodenameis:milo fans are probably still craving to claw themselves back from cold turkey. If you count yourselves among that – let's be honest – elite team, then get their album 'AMTP' from their Bandcamp for free or a delicious physical copy.

While Giants Sleep are a Swedish rock band with post-rock elements that have honed their craft down to snappy alt-rock songs that are practically lethal on their second EP, 'You Are A Landscape'. With hints of everything from The Verve to At the Drive-In, it's a pretty eclectic offering, and it's proven very hard to topple from top of my playing pile this month. That the opening track is the weakest speaks volumes for a release with such a great opener, but it really does progressively improve – by finisher 'Titans' you'll be standing on the sofa hollering the chorus too. Their first EP is also free, and while it may not be quite as accomplished it's an interesting post-hardcore affair that signposts the steps the band were yet to make with their newest material.

For those of a djenty persuasion, I recently came across this utter gem – Aion by Lithium Dawn. Though it's surely got to be at least a runner up for worst album artwork ever, the music will absolutely blow you away – doubly so since I guarantee the album art will set your expectations real fucking low. Part in that school of melodic atmospheric rock that includes Perfect Circle, Failure, Far and Ashes Divide, part firmly in the progressive metal territory of Tool or djent of Periphery, it's a thrillingly-executed modern metal album with such consistent quality that there's not a dull moment on it. Quite probably one of the albums of the year – it's that good.

Not really a new band, but Australia's brilliant post-rockers Sleepmakeswaves – currently on tour with Karnivool, have put up the majority of their back catalogue up on Bandcamp for free. If you've not already heard them, they're probably best for fans of This Will Destroy You, Oceansize and Hammock. Check it out here.

Masaka are a band from Canada, and they sound sort of like veteran grunge bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur's first album, with added fuzz. Strictly if you're into 'Siamese Dream' era Smashing Pumpkins and that whole attendant scene, but a lot of fun nevertheless.

Best song title this month goes to the track 'Dinner and a Movie on a Post-Apocalyptic Earth: 12 Bottle Caps, Successfully Repopulating the Human Race: Priceless' by Californian math band The Speed of Sound in Seawater, who according to their bio are “BFFs” - cool. Coincidentally, you can get this weird math-rock ballad here.

Penultimate thing: October's Carefully Planned festival has announced its line-up, and it is shockingly good. Aside from AMTP there are a ludicrously huge number of great mathy and progressivey post-rock bands playing, so check out the event listing on Songkick here. (

Finally, a brief hype alert: after seeing them live twice (with Yeti Lane in June and Plank! last week), it appears that Leeds' Hookworms are as good as the hype. That is all.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Rival Schools

United By Fate


I'll admit, I'm pretty late to the whole Rival Schools party; in hindsight it seems almost like sacrilige that a band so close to the bands I like the most should have so wholly and totally missed my attention, but ho hum, there it is. Anyway, a lot of words have presumably been penned about this record at one point or another, and I have no desire to add a huge number more to them. What I will say is that if you're into any number of vaguely interesting or experimental bands that namecheck post-hardcore bands from the late 90s, you'll probably love Rival Schools. Except of course you already know this; it's only me that's late to the party.

So, Travel by Telephone, the opener is a brilliant trainwreck of rock attitude and pop melodies, a theme that extends to oft-checked highlight High Acetate. Used for Glue is very much at the other end of the Rival Schools spectrum; heavy and emphatic, it's probably the sort of track that inspired so many emo bands to list them as a reference (and probably help towards me not checking them out at the time). That said though, I actually kind of prefer that full-tilt sound. Tracks like Good Things may have a seductive groove and an attractive post-grunge single chorus, but in truth when I want that I'll go to Silverchair instead, thanks.

Right then, Rival Schools. Get a copy, introduce yourself to the four named tracks above and then delve deeper if you like; I'll post a review of their long-awaited follow-up Pedals on here soon. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Claw the Thin Ice / Pooch - The Bay Horse, Manchester

It's not often that you get home from a  gig and immediately feel compelled to put pen to paper (as it were), but tonight's performance by Claw the Thin Ice and Pooch simply had to be shared. I'm not going to mention headliners NASDAQ – not because they weren't excellent, for they were – because I've already written about them here and elsewhere at some length.

Anyway, so Claw the Thin Ice then. It's pretty much a given that anything Ian Breen (he of Well Wisher and Day for Airstrikes) goes near will end up being pretty good, but Claw the Thin Ice are probably the best thing he's currently involved with. Essentially a power-pop band drawing on the coolest modern punk around, they've added to this template a shoegaze sensibility and wall-of-sound attack. Consequently, although they have many of the trappings of a contemporary pop punk or US indie group, they actually sound more like Velocity Girl – the sort of band that Sub Pop was signing in the early 90s. A tight rhythm section and catchy, aggressive drum riffs recall My Vitriol, while washed out, earnest vocals with great, simple melodies round things off. They don't have any music recorded yet, so you'll have to catch them live if you want to hear.

Second up were Pooch – who were also sick. Wholly instrumental, I'm not sure exactly how to describe their sound; there's bits of bands like Don Caballero or Battles in there, and their bassist certainly knows how to play to the strengths of a three-piece setup. I'm not sure if a) I just want to talk about Rush or b) they actually sound a little Rush-like, but, well, Rush. Yeah, I went there. Like I said before, the fact their bass player isn't afraid of the higher frets frees up the guitar for greater and more expressive experimentation, and a focus on sharp melodies is welcome. Rounded off by another aggressive drummer and the occasional “whoa” vocal, there's a little bit of the hardcore early ...Trail of Dead in there too – and of course, that is no bad thing.

(I've got some photos of the show too, so I'll upload them when I get the chance)

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

First Thoughts on Bloc Party - Four

I doubt I'll get around to a full review, but given I've got some spare time while proofreading my friend Jake's novel I thought I'd stick on the stream of the new Bloc Party album (here, in case you didn't know) and scribble something, so here goes. 

Well, on Four it's so obvious that Russell has been playing with Ash for two years and listening to Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins and Deftones all day for starters. There's also a heavier vibe in the rhythm section and some more mathy tendencies (think early Biffy or ATDI) - but then, Gordon being in Young Legionnaire will clearly have resulted in a lot of 'milo records being played... so probably that shouldn't be a surprise. 'V.A.L.I.S.' bears the hallmarks of their compromise between electronics and guitars that increasingly took over the band first time round, but it's very much the exception to the rule. Bottom line is that track aside the new album almost sounds like a different band!

That's about it really. 

For the record, I actually quite liked all of the random electronic stuff they did on Intimacy, but this genuinely is more of a break for them than anything they've done before - and dare I say it, I'm actually excited about this coming out. Shit, I might even pre-order it. Madness.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Piracy is Dead

Piracy is Dead
...or at the very least, why the music industry isn't either.

On this blog I'm no stranger to sweeping titles. Some of the most popular content on here (as Google Analytics has it, anyway) are my two articles "Spotify is Dead (Long Live Spotify)" and "The End of Music?", so it's in the spirit of those pieces that I have decided upon the name for this piece. To counter my own title: no, piracy is not dead, nor is it dying; but its threat to the mainstream music industry may now be truly at an end, and I would argue soon the act of music piracy itself will gradually fade back towards being a niche activity, with a corresponding economic impact. Let's break this down.

I: Piracy as Niche and the Torrenting Music 'Fan'

In the biggest, most self-righteous arguments (and yes, I have been guilty of this many times) about the relative morality of illegal downloading, a 'fact' is often trotted out by pro-downloaders: music fans that illegally torrent are more likely to pay for music more often than the norm. Great, you might say - and I'll put my hands up at this point and state that Chinese whispers aside if anybody can locate a more empirical version of this annoyingly vague truism then I'd be glad to hear it - but is there any evidence of that? Well, the two or three most likely examples are probably Metric, Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead, and I'm not going to bore anyone by going over those case studies again. What I will say is that all three examples rely on not just the act of downloading to build a business model, but that interaction itself being directly between fan and band; that is to say, the band as brand is benefiting from the free download. This 'free, legal' download model was briefly in vogue enough that Sub Pop suggested monetizing t-shirt sales and offering free downloads, and we started a record label based on the concept; but from what we've seen, all the goodwill in the world can't bypass a rough rule of thumb: it takes ten free downloads to get a paid one, and the paid download is often not worth enough to make up the shortfall.

Now, there are several things wrong with my assumptions there, so let's dive in: yes, we don't pay distro costs so actually our 'loss' is minimal; no, there isn't a marginal cost, so we don't 'lose' anything in the strict material or financial sense; yes, we do get increased exposure (presumably) due to people being able to get hold of the release for free. The problem we have is that we're trying to build bands up from scratch and logic dictates that both early evangelists and close friends and family are those the most likely to dig deep to support a young or new band - when that release (as it often is) is released for free, then while the amount of money sacrificed may be small, it has a big potential effect in terms how that could be reinvested. Anyway, I digress.

So, the point to take away from this is that the torrenter is interacting with a torrent site that are experiencing value being added to their brand rather than the band, and that's kind of a shame.

The point that's relevant to my argument is this: these people are a small niche and they do not matter in a commercial sense. Whatever their behaviour might or might not be in practice, 99% of people are not 'true fans' anyway; 99% of people do not 'torrent a lot'; 99% of people will not re-purchase legally. The people that would 'kill the music industry' are the people who buy an album a month, or every six months; the casual fans. If these casual fans turned to torrenting by default, then we'd have problems. They haven't all done so, and since we know that it's only a niche continuing to do so ('true fans' or not), there will continue to be an avenue to monetize music to an audience. If piracy had become the norm then the music industry would die, but neither has come to pass - the problems are more about record labels now being risk averse and pandering more to the mainstream with lowest common denominator music that they can guarantee ROI on through iTunes.

The problem with the alternative free models and a lot of the industry navel-gazing over the past few years is that the 'innovative' artists have already been established, or in the case of Adele and her apps, plugged into a mainstream audience. There aren't many post-Napster indie superstars, and I'll talk about that later.

I would suggest that by bulk pricing - without even breathing a word over range of music - retailers like HMV and the supermarkets are bigger threats to music now.

II: Monetization of Content
Okay, so one of the biggest triggers for this piece is the following situation. Provided by a PR with an MPE for an album I was to review, I found (like many before me) that the PlayMPE system is poorly conceived, patronising and difficult to use. Thus, I took to the internet to find an illegal, DRM-free version so I could listen on my commute and actually have time to write the review. Five minutes searching and an hour of downloading later and I had my album; however, when I clicked to unpack the zip it asked me for a password - pretty standard stuff, so I checked the folder and, lo and behold, there was a ReadMe. Great, I thought, opening that file instead only to be confronted with a url. A little bit pissed off, I copied it and threw it into my browser, only to be taken to a page prompting me to fill in a consumer survey to 'unlock my download'. Oh, ffs. The funny thing is, I've talked to people about this, and it's becoming more and more common. Pirates or people hosting content that's potentially of dubious provenance are trying harder than ever to monetize it, and the bottom line is that if you make it hard or costly to get hold of illegal content, people won't bother.

Demand in this instance is completely inelastic, and though it's a given people won't tolerate the marginal price increase of even a penny, they also will be loath to deal with the marginal time increase of five minutes dealing with a survey - they'll simply go to Spotify instead. Okay, so 'on air on sale' has basically been abandoned (why? Do the majors not get it, or are they simply trying to sell fewer records?) which means there might be a delay in finding it on iTunes, but you can bet it'll be on Grooveshark. Yes, before you point it out of course Grooveshark is a) illegal and b) doesn't pay fees to artists, but it's either going to have to get with the program or be sued out of existence, so I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that in a post-Grooveshark world people will either pre-order or, should 'on air on sale' be adopted once more, just stream the record. It will come to be a trade-off between the poles of time and money - and since iTunes continues to do a roaring trade, I'd hazard a guess that for your average consumer, convenience will eventually win out.

III: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept that I am in an Indie Band, or The Fate of Alternative Music
I know lots of people in bands. The problem is this: there have always been lots of bands, but now the playing field is exceptionally level. The barriers to entry for distributing your music on Bandcamp are non-existent, and besides how professional say your website looks or how many 'fans' you have on Facebook (a complete red herring, but never mind), there's no at-a-glance way of telling bands apart in terms of relative success. What it all means is this - in a DIY world of perfect competition, it's really hard to grow to be a large band. I see this as a writer with slightly niche music taste; I know that all the bands I could ever want to hear are out there somewhere, and just because I know they are it suggests the number of bands that are quite alike is also very large. No longer do you have to purchase only Radiohead or Sonic Youth records as a catch-all for alternative because you can't find bands in between. No, whatever you want to hear is out there, and that's both liberating and terrifying. There's an infamous interview with the Guardian where Field Music reveal just how little they earn, and I think that's sort of the norm now. Even for a creative band that have found their niche, found their audience and convinced them to buy a record, there's a glass ceiling that is very hard to break through even with $99 boxsets (cough, Crosses - who can also play on the fanbases of Far and Deftones). The point is, there's not much money to be made unless you can capture the mainstream in some way, and the majors just aren't interested for the most part.

A sub-point in all of this is the proliferation of what is often called the 'micro-label'; closely tied in with both the DIY ethos and the spread of web services like Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Wordpress, many bands have either transformed into tiny labels of their own or grouped into small co-op labels. Individual tastemakers and scenesters have also created labels, and it seems that a slight bump in exposure generated by curation as well as the validation of being 'on a label' mean that bands are still keen to sign. Even up to small indie status many labels expect bands to do their own recordings, but having promotion and distribution paid for is still attractive enough presumably to generate a small but essential ecosystem of labels that people buy into because of the ethos of the small group or individual behind them. Blogs like Beardrock and Echoes and Dust have recently made the transition, but the spiritual forefathers are labels like Big Scary Monsters, Brew, Blood and Biscuits and Sonic Cathedral (among many, many others) that made the jump a little ahead of the pack.

The problem of course that these artists and labels find is that touched upon earlier - that alternative music fans are more likely to be net-literate and download savvy, so that they are hit with the double whammy of low investment or income and low sales as a result of the combination of self-funding or being on a micro-label and low sales. Ouch.

I remember the guys behind UnConvention telling me that they did a workshop where they went into a school and found that kids had actually paid for something like 10% of the total music that they owned. Shocked by this, they went home and looked through their record collections - and realised that as children of the home taping generation, their record collection at that age probably ran to a similar ratio. As a child of the briefest of fads - home CDR burning - I'm sure this is true of some of my friends, but the thing is we weren't ever interested in Maroon 5 albums (it was 2003-5, hence that blast-from-the-past reference), we were interested in alternative albums, and it doesn't take too many people from a cult band like Oceansize or The Beta Band's fanbase to burn instead of buy to make a real impact on their fortunes. Again, like illegal downloading I'd say that tech-savvy alt kids are most likely to be guilty of it, except that in the downloading age the speed (much quicker than a 4x drive anyway) and ease means they can get hold of more. Even if that increase is only one album a month on what we grew up with, that across a large number of people adds up to a huge hit in lost revenue - and damages the bands that can least afford to lose it.

IV: The Obvious Stuff
a) The UK record industry is now back in growth, largely as a result of digital sales.
b) There will always be a market for sentimental, tacky pap (to quote Jack Black in High Fidelity).
c) Streaming revenues are on the increase, and this will benefit major labels et. al - but the withdrawal of many indies from the Spotify platform shows distrust at other levels in the extent to which streaming is a substitute for ownership. This is clearly not good if you want to heavily monetize a fan base of 10,000 as opposed to generate streams from 30 million users.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Reviews Roundup

In the last half year or so I've finally got into ...Trail of Dead in a big way, so I thought I'd bash through a quick reviews round-up in case you were wondering where to start.

Madonna: 'Richter Scale Madness' and 'A Perfect Teenhood' epitomise ...Trail of Dead's early material – Sonic Youth with two drumkits and aggressively lo-fi recording that feels as if it's ready to rip at the seams.

Source Tags & Codes: The 'go-to' record for ...Trail of Dead die hards, it's the point at which they began to develop from a slightly unhinged punk act into something more complex and refined. Saying that, 'It Was There That I Saw You' is just as intense as anything written in their early career and riffs on a lot of the stylistic elements that defined their sound – speed, drone notes, extra percussion – while also bringing in more intricate arrangements and superior attention to detail in the use of texture. All this considered, it would be insupportable to claim Source Tags as the best ...Trail of Dead album as many do; equally simplistic is to malign its successors.

Worlds Apart: The logical conclusion of their increasingly orchestral major-label experimentation, this record is often derided as the one where the band 'lost it'; rather, it's better seen as what it is – a major label rock record that has its radio tracks ('The Rest Will Follow', 'Worlds Apart', 'Caterwaul') while also putting front-and-centre difficult percussion-led jam sessions like the brilliant 'Will You Smile Again For Me', Pink Floyd-lite 'All White' and thrashy stop-start rocker 'The Best'. For all this, it's incredibly coherent and consistently brilliant. Take it from me: this is no guilty pleasure, but a legitimately fantastic album, and probably their best.

So Divided: There's a little bit of truth to the idea that the band lost their way on this record; still, for fans of Worlds Apart there's still a consistent, enjoyable album to be found once you scratch at the surface; even so, don't expect any of the same dizzy heights of Worlds Apart.

Century of Self: A true return to form, openers 'Far Pavilions' and 'Isis Unveiled' are two of the best ...Trail of Dead songs, full-stop. 'Bells of Creation' and 'Inland Sea' are at atmospheric foil to the slash-and-burn introduction, while 'Fields of Coal' has a euphoric indie-rock feel similar to 'Worlds Apart'; the vocals and lyrics are spot on and it's consquently one of the more enduring tracks from the record. 'Ascending' briefly recalls early ...Trail of Dead and gives a hint of what was to follow on Tao of the Dead with up-tempo major chords shot through with gang vocals and dual drumkit counter-rhythms. Though much of the later album is taken up with 'Insatiable' parts one and two, there's also anthemic ballad 'Pictures of an Only Child' to enjoy; it's an oddity enough in terms of their general modus operandi to mark it out, but there's something perfect in the line “I'm standing with Eric and Mom beside a Taj Mahal/convinced that I am gonna be a writer and a movie star” that keeps me returning to it. ...Trail of Dead have more confessional and personal tracks, but somehow the effect of the whole is rather greater than its parts in this case.

Tao of the Dead: In my humble opinion, this remarkable two-song concept album is the best ...Trail of Dead album, hands down. It's rocky in an unpretentious, straight-up way, but also brings in a lot of the experimental elements from their previous albums. There may only be a single drum kit on this record, but the rhythm section remains just as prominent, and if anything boasts a little more clarity than before. As an introduction, try 'Pure Radio Cosplay', 'Summer of All Dead Souls', or 'Weight of the Sun' and then lose yourself in this wonderfully fluid set of songs.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Pure Reason Revolution
Hammer and Anvil
Superball Music
Rating: 4.5/5

I don't know why it's taken me so long to pick up the final Pure Reason Revolution album, but after a single listen it's clear that's my loss. You may already be aware of single 'Fight Fire', the most overtly confrontational tune the band have penned, as well as Valour EP and live favourite 'Black Mourning', but aside from that I'm of the impression that this was their least successful and least well-received. Why that should be, I have to admit, escapes me completely.

First off, it's worth dropping in the music geek cred point: this album, unlike PRR's previous work, was co-written with Tom Bellamy (ex-Cooper Temple Clause), and I don't think I'm imagining things when I say that this fact is felt throughout the album. The sounds and textures will be familiar to any fans of electronic offering Amor Vincit Omnia, but the way that the songs are structured as well as some of the chords definitely recall the Coopers, and save for expansive set-piece 'Open Insurrection', the song length feels distinctly restrained compared to previous outings.

Highlights come in the form of the aforementioned 'Open Insurrection', with its huge 'When the Levee Breaks' style drums, 'Patriarch', with its intricate synthesiser textures, and 'Last Man, Last Round' with its grinding samples and spaced-out pianos. 'Valour' delivers the most sweeping PRR chorus since 'In Aurélia' from their first EP, and has a similarly thrilling interplay between Chloe and Jon's vocals.

By the time 'Armistice' has faded, there's no doubt that this album is of equal quality to the rest of PRR's back catalogue, and that moreover it's a further step forward, building on the huge break that Amor Vincit Omnia represented. To fans of the whole Pure Reason back catalogue it's a must-own, but it also serves again to remind of the disconnect between their fan base and their ultimate ambition. For all their professed acceptance of 'progressive' music, it certainly feels like the more closed-minded prog fans that joined the PRR camp left them hung out to dry as soon as they began doing some more genuinely progressive material. Hammer & Anvil is the closest the band come to melding their progressive and electronic tendencies, yet it proved their swansong. Isn't that a little sad?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Jetplane Landing
Once Like a Spark
Smalltown America Records
Rating: 4/5

Like drop-D? Like early Biffy Clyro? A fan of At the Drive-In, pissed off that they never made a follow-up to Relationship of Command? Well, I've just the thing. Once Like a Spark is looking a little dated now; the band's second release on Small Town America back at the opening of the last decade, it's more of a contemporary piece to the work of the aforementioned bands than some kind of imitation piece, and it's that crucial detail that makes this worthwhile.

Where a lot of the post-hardcore bands putting out records in the early two-thousands seemed to delight in a kind of obstinate, stubborn lo-fi, it's almost refreshing that Jetplane Landing eschew that approach and instead opt for a higher-standard production. The rich guitar tones in opener 'The Violence' and 'Brave Gravity' are a delight to the listener, and for all the moments of scratchy guitar, there's at least as many that boast a huge, full rock sound fit for banging your head along to.

'I Opt Out' is kind of like if Canadian alt-rockers Our Lady Peace discovered Incubus and alternative tunings. Thick and heavy on the choruses and swaggering in the verses it nevertheless distinguishes itself with an unusually modal melody that for some reason recalls OLP's dabbling with Eastern-flavoured chromaticism. 'Calculate the Risk' is straight back to ATD-I territory, while 'Do it... Now!' and 'Writing the Ways Down' are the token ballads.

Ultimately you may have heard it all before, but Jetplane Landing still have plenty to offer if you're a fan of this particular brand of post-hardcore. Listening to the angular attack of tunes like 'There Is No Real Courage Unless There Is Real Danger' and taking them as they were intended, Jetplane Landing are simply a great rock band with no frills attached; enjoy them as such and you won't go wrong.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Thula Borah
Live Secretly

Okay, you'll have to allow me to spoil the end of this one for you – if you like Mogwai, you'll like Thula Borah. What's on offer is atmospheric post-rock of a slightly pensive pace that ebbs and flows with all of the natural metaphors that you can imagine, so I'll spare you the descriptions and do a quick track-by-track instead.

Track one, 'Organic Paranoia' is the most electronic of the EP tracks; akin to a slower tune from 65daysofstatic or Maybeshewill, it's a fittingly gentle introduction to the EP. 'Skye Falling', on the other hand is more of a traditional alt-rock song, with some pleasant washes of post-rock texture amid the Hum-like walls of fuzz.

'Murder' is perhaps 'arbitrarily' post-rock when compared to the EP tracks; though it's still great, you could graphically represent it by drawing a line across a graph, angled at thirty degrees – yes, it's one of those. '(Null Interface)' follows, and endowed with more of a verse-chorus approach to the dynamics, the heavy sections have rather more of an impact than as a 'logical conclusion' to the song.

Closing on 'Violence is Forever', there's once again a gradual build and huge release – but that's to be expected for the final track of a post-rock mini-album. Suitably cinematic in sweep, it nevertheless drives home the fact that if you're not a fan of post-rock you won't like this band; if you are, then welcome aboard. Thula Borah are certainly more talented than the majority of post-rock also rans, but make no mistake: their genre of music is under no dispute.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

 Everyone an Army
A Coastal Dance on the Grave of Romance

I know what you're thinking – that's a pretty long title for an EP. Well, yes it is; it wouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to spot that one, but don't be put off by its hipster implications. To steal a line from Richard Pryor, “they don't play that shit” - instead what's on offer is some '90s-ish alt rock with a shade of modern post-rock and progressive in the mix.

The title track stops and starts, growls and fuzzes like the best tracks of Siamese Dream, but instead of the angsty rage of Billy Corgan the overall vibe is kept somewhere left of the early Muse material. It's dramatic and drips gravitas, but remains anchored to something more earthy; this I suspect is more a function of their vocal range than a conscious decision.

Track two, 'Versailles', continues this theme – again we're faced with Pumpkins-esque guitars, but this time the vocals borrow more from Maynard's work with Perfect Circle; there's a subtle sense of harmonic depth and the way the guitars and vocals interplay is terrific. 'Venous Hum' on the other hand is more akin to Failure's second album Magnified, or perhaps cult US act Exeter. There's the same space-rock affectation as well as driving bass riffs, and the chorus has a suitably baroque charm to it; while not as storming as the previous two tracks, it's a given that there's already an audience that would love this.

Closer 'The Christmas Truce' represents a change in gear; taking a more shoegaze-indebted – and indeed noisier – approach to creating the textures leads to a muted slow-burner of a track, rife with neat melodic ideas and confluences of harmony in unexpected places. After an almost obligatory breakdown there's a great Oceansize-y section that reminds of 'Paper Champion' from the Music for Nurses EP to close.

Perhaps the only criticism that can be levelled at such a strong collection of tracks as this is whether or not the hints of leftfield development in the tracks will lead them in more abstract, experimental directions on later material. At present EAA dip their toe in the waters, but by-and-large seem content to be a well-honed alternative rock band; who knows if this will change in future.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Yeti Lane
The Echo Show
Sonic Cathedral
Rating: 4/5

Fucking hell. Has it really been a month since my last post? Okay, I mean I have been writing stuff for Prog and DIY but that does seem like quite a while even for me. Sheesh. Anyway, it's time for an album that nobody else was foolish enough to let me have a crack at - Yeti Lane's difficult second, The Echo Show. Now, I'm going to spoil the ending by pointing out that nearly every review has been overwhelmingly positive about this record, and I'm not about to break that trend. I am, however, going to talk about something other than the stunning first track, 'Analog Wheel'. Yes it's brilliant, kosmiche, swirling, physchedelia, Neu! etc., but there's also like an hour of other music on there that isn't getting mentioned. 

Without wanting to get into a track-by-track style review, an example of this would be the title track, (and track two) 'The Echo Show'; as more consistently found on the rest of the record, though it's fair to draw krautrock comparisons, perhaps more relevant sonic touchstones would be The Beta Band and (latterly) The Aliens. I'll grant that the drums do come very much from that heritage, but the spindly electronic fragments and ethereal vocals that define the record are of an altogether more modern pedigree. 'Logic Winds', for instance has the ring of The Flaming Lips or Nice Nice about it, while 'Alba' is like Jason Lytle's finest post-Grandaddy downtempo offerings. 

For me the real elephant in the room however is The Secret Machines - I mean, once you get over the obvious fact that Josh Garza isn't in the drum stool then there's definitely something beyond a simple liberal referencing of influences. I listen to 'Faded Spectrum' and hear the noisy wig-out that could have occurred if... wait... hang on... how did the beginning of 'First Wave Intact' go?

Anyway, whatever bands it sounds like, the record is sort of what everybody says it is; a great alternative record that touches playfully on the most tongue-in-cheek electronic sounds while still having the nous to accomodate a good, old-fashioned guitar wig out now and then. Brilliant. 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Racecar is Racecar Backwards
Rating: 4.5/5

The list of bands I was too bigoted against to appreciate while they still existed grows again by one. So, let's quickly deal with the why I was an idiot - and then we can get to talking about this record. Basically it was two things; first, a show where Reuben played in my hometown and acted like little prima donnas, and second, that a bunch of pretty douchey guys and fucking emo kids liked them. Erm, that's about it really. 

So, of course, when I finally took the time to actually listen to them properly it naturally turned out that they were fucking ace. Their second album isn't much to write home about, but their first really is; the best way I can explain it as a shoutier version of the album Septembre could have made if they'd ever actually gotten their shit together (and I fucking loved Septembre). 

The singles 'Let's Stop Hanging Out' and 'Freddy Kreuger' are naturally ace, but the opener 'No One Wins The War' really is the song that sells the album. Rocky, catchy and with a little off-kilter jagginess to the riffs, it's a little like the aforementioned Septembre's track 'Always' and really sets the tone (and pace) for the record to come. Personally, my favourite is 'Tonight, My Wife Is Your Wife', which, so the story goes at least, is actually about the town I grew up in. Ace. 

Lyrically, there's a good shot of wry humour as well as the same bitterness that would eventually lead to their 'greatest hits' being called We Should Have Gone to University; there's a lot of focus on friends moving away to college and stuck-up girls, but then that's sort of what you'd expect for a young rock band from the commuter belt. Post-album single 'Moving to Blackwater' is the epitome of this; only people living in Surrey of a certain age can really get where they're coming from with that in-joke, but you begin to feel that maybe their prima donna-esque angst about their lack of success wasn't so unwarranted after all. 

In conclusion then, a great straightforward rock record with not a weak song on it; if you're in any way into the British post-grunge bands that spawned around the turn of the millennium then you need to own this record.

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Dillinger Escape Plan
Ire Works
Relapse Records
Out Now
Rating: 5/5

Now, I'm actually a believer that for the most part you can tell if you're going to like a band before you even hear them. Whether it's from a vague idea of the sort of guys and gals that listen to the band or the direction and density of hype you've been in the way of, prejudiced though it may be, you have a pretty good bullshit barometer built right in. Obviously however, there are a few bands that slip the net, and TDEP sadly are just one of those such bands, and a welcome reminder that despite gut feelings it's always worth checking a band out just in case. 

From having listened to them, I can see that the screamo-emo-whatever kids that infested (I choose my words carefully) my home town were probably name-dropping TDEP just to be out-there or to avoid saying "My Chemical Romance" too much when asked about bands at parties, but bigotry aside their back catalogue is really worth checking out. I recently said to friends that as a band they were simply "necessary", and I'm not sure that I can totally better that description of their music. Extreme, mathy and laden with (depending on the record) over-produced flourishes, glitch electronic or overwrought metal theatrics, the bedrock of the music is nevertheless edgy and scattershot, not so much ebbing and flowing as striking and withdrawing. 

Ire Works is incredible as an album - coherent, and flowing together with almost a prog-rock devotion to the format, it's also quite mind-boggling that only three out of thirteen songs clock in at over four minutes. 'Fix Your Face' and 'Lurch' combine to make a brutal opening salvo, kinetic riffs clocking up the intensity and the b.p.m. before 'Black Bubblegum' swaggers in with some wrong-footing pop sensibility. 'Sick on Sunday' brings things back to task, closing on an excellent faux Deftones art rock chug before 'Nong Eye Gong' and 'When Acting as a Wave' thrash out once more, the latter a paranoid back-and-forth motion of guitar slashes and glitch full-stops. 

The latter half of the album sees the tracks lengthen and the chords expand; 'Milk Lizard' is the closest the band come to radio-friendly, while 'Dead as History' is a slice of progressive metal that Tool would rightly be proud of. 'Mouths of Ghosts', the closer, actually sounds like a strange mix of The Who and Bowie for the first half of the track, moving in shades of quasi-world music eastern scales and rhythms. When the track finally cuts loose, bizarrely it kind of sounds like post-Make Yourself Incubus, Greg Puciato coming across with a Brandon Boyd sized croon and Ben Weinman's guitars becoming truly stadium-sized. 

Extreme, original, thrilling, and utterly, utterly mental, this album is absolutely essential in every important way. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Andrew Danso
f i n d
Rating: 4/5

I have a slightly dumb-sounding question to put to you – what would you get if you took Steve Vai's Fire Garden and invited ambient remixes? Well, not Andrew Danso, but I think that's a reasonable jumping off point. Throughout f i n d you get the impression that there's a veritable torrent of playing ability dammed back for the sake of aesthetic effect, whether it's the pleasant trip-hop of opener 'Go Again' or the '80s R.E.M.-lite 'Walk Walk Sunshine'. 

'Liar MD' has some of The Three EPs about it, while 'Rain, Go' is more of a Porcupine Tree sketch;  it's worth mentioning at this juncture though that due to the general brevity of the tracks on this album there's a lot of scope for Andrew Danso to experiment around with style and influences. In doing so, he creates a rich tapestry of sounds that on balance are actually best enjoyed without the tracklisting, without clicking over to your iTunes, without monitoring the progress of the record. 

Ultimately it's probably best described as new age progressive in the mould of the great Mike Oldfield, nevertheless f i n d's expansive sonic landscape prevents it from being a one-trick pony. Experimental yet fluid, engaging and accessible, this highly melodic work is a must for all 'progressive' fans.