Alternative music reviews

November 15, 2008

The Oolites

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The OolitesThe Oolites are a bit clever. By choosing the name of a type of rock, it gives them a chance to write about themselves in a detached, arty way like this: “…oolitic rock is not the heaviest or hardest, but instead intricately and interestingly formed… when studied live the dynamics of the formation can be very powerful.” One thing lads, if you are going to be smartarses then you had better be good enough to back it up.

Astonishingly enough, they are good enough. The Oolites have come out with a demo EP of such verve and confidence that it leaves me floundering for ways to describe it. The roots of the music seem to be back in the mists of time – I keep on thinking of Bowie’s “Man Who Sold The World” album (She Shook Me Cold and Black Country Rock in particular) coupled with the Art Punk of Wire.

Last Night’s Song by The Oolites

Last Night’s Song by The Oolites (Clip)

This three piece are really tight – a quality rhythm unit who leave space for the sharp guitar and outstanding vocals. There’s a touch of 70’s rock with added funky guitar at times and it just sounds great when mixed with songwriting of such quality. The lyrics are intriguing and rooted in real life. Clever, yes, but in a way that makes you wonder just how the hell someone can come up with such words that combine so well with the music.

Abbey Fields by The Oolites

Abbey Fields by The Oolites (Clip)

I’m beaten into submission. I’ll join in. It took 170 million years for The Oolites to form…it was worth every minute.

The Oolites

October 30, 2008

We Are Not Other People by Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences

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We are Not Other PeopleSometimes there’s an assumption that Rock/Pop music can only be made by good looking young people with tuneful voices, when the truth is most are not worthy of cleaning Mark E Smith’s toilet seat. A lot of people will find it astonishing that Paul Hawkins is allowed to make records with a nasal whine that hits few notes. But, the truth is that he is one of the few original voices in music today and what’s more…he even writes about Real Life (or something pretty close to it).

There is an honesty about Paul Hawkins’ songwriting that marks him out as different. While earnest singer/songwriters write songs that show how sensitive and intelligent they are, Paul almost revels in portraying himself in a harsh light and is not afraid of appearing a complete arsehole. It was an approach used by Patrik Fitzgerald back in Punk times. There are musical parallels with Punk in songs like There Ain’t No Carrot, There Ain’t No Stick but mostly it is in the in-your-face vocals and fearless lyrics that the Punk spirit continues. As an album, We Are Not Other People is uneven and can annoy, amuse or fascinate at different times – but it just won’t allow itself to be treated as background.

I Had A Friend In Sarah Vincent is a near ten minute song about murder and betrayal set in the early years of the 20th Century. Throwing in the claustrophobia of village life, animal passion, unrequited love, and jealousy, Paul Hawkins leads you into a story that ends in a hanging, like all good stories do…

I Had A Friend In Sarah Vincent by Paul Hawkins

I Had A Friend In Sarah Vincent by Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences (clip)

On The Battle Is Over Paul comes right up to date and sings about a soldier returning from a war in foreign lands. Problem is his wife won’t have him back. The song contains some great male:female duelling vocals – courtesy of Diana De Cabarrus from Candythief – with lines like “I went and fought a war for you” vs “Well I never, ever asked you to” and “I defended my country in it’s hour of need” vs “It was hardly on its knees”.

The Battle Is Over by Paul Hawkins

The Battle Is Over by Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences (clip)

Big Dave described this track as “like Jilted John trying to do Nick Cave with a backing by the Invisible Girls”. I think he meant it as a criticism – but I’m quite happy with that as a description of Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences.

Paul Hawkins & Thee Awkward Silences

October 24, 2008

Scotland’s Shame – Mogwai, Manchester Academy, October 23rd, 2008

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When I grow up, I’d like to be in a band. That band would be modest, humble yet personable, and make epic sonic soundscapes that move from quieter than a frozen leaf in winter to an aural assault that would bring down the walls of Jericho. Simple yet complex. Slow yet fast. Quiet then loud (and then louder still). That band would be Mogwai. I can’t remember the last time I saw a band where every second of every song banished all extraneous thought (actually, it was probably the last time I saw them) and where for 90-odd minutes I just lived for the moment. Maybe in my advanced years I should have left for a cocoa and a chocolate hobnob rather than stayed for the encore and emerged bleeding from all orifices after a double whammy of ‘Like Herod’ and ‘Batcat’. (‘Mogwai fear Satan’ has now been downgraded to earlier in the set…).

I have a problem with Mogwai and song titles, and tend to refer to them as ‘that one’ or ‘this one’, but have managed to remember that my new best all-time fave track is ‘Scotland’s Shame’. This was my personal highlight. It demonstrates the later maturity of Mogwai’s work – in contrast to quickfire quiet/loud/quiet/loud contrasts, this builds from a simple keyboard motif, growing in stature and grandeur as the various instruments are introduced and make their presence felt, over a thumpingly martial tom-tom/bass beat growing to a crescendo before gradually fading away to leave a final plaintive keyboard. No lyrics? None needed. Currently number one on my funeral playlist.

Oh, and the Fuck Buttons? Sounded like the early Human League, or Dave and I pissing about with our synthmaker packages for half an hour. Inoffensive, unoriginal, nothing to get excited about. And that name’s not big or clever…

Review by Big Dave

October 20, 2008

Ten Kens

Filed under: reviews,ten kens — @ 10:36 pm Comments (0)

Ten KensThis is the debut album for Toronto’s Ten Kens on Fat Cat records. They produce a BIG sound, particularly for a three piece, and work in an area where the music is more important than any singing, as with Arcade Fire. They are not afraid to mix radically different styles whether it be the clear melodies of Prodigal Son, the Duanne Eddy guitar on Alternate Biker, or the twisted Tex-Mex shout and singalong of Spanish Fly.

Spanish Fly by Ten Kens

Spanish Fly by Ten Kens (clip)

There are many incredible sections of sound on this album but, for me, not one track that is wholly satisfying. This perhaps reflects my own love of the narrative ‘song’ as much as the Ten Kens penchant for mixing everything up. I’ve got this funny suspicion that Ten Kens are going to make a great album and that this debut is going to be loved in retrospect, like Bleach was after Nevermind with Nirvana.

The Whore Of Revelation by Ten Kens

The Whore Of Revelation by Ten Kens (clip)

Ten Kens

October 13, 2008

Acedia by History Of Guns

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Is not acedia the original perception of alienation and revolt against complacency and the burdens of culture? Is it the angst of Kierkegaard, the “nausea” of Sartre, the alienation and revolt of existentialists from Camus to Marcel? Acedia is never without a sense of guilt or complicity, not as sin but as complicity in the horrors of contemporary life. To the modern mind, acedia remains real and relevant. It is a personal statement against the contrivances of culture, the hypocrisy of public morality, alienation from the natural patterns of nature and simplicity.

from: http://www.hermitary.com/solitude/acedia.html

AcediaStrangely enough the quote above just about sums up what History Of Guns seem to be saying on this their latest album. Rather than ponder the condition of Acedia from a religious hermit’s point of view, they stamp and rail against the world, spitting venom on everything around them. It is a hopeless and loathsome album in the sense that it is full of loathing and offers no hope of a solution. It is this purity of thought, coupled with complete control over exactly how much noise to make that makes this a great, if uncompromising album. There is the tension between the electronics and those angry strangulated vocals topped off with some vicious guitar playing.

Empty Eyes by History Of Guns

Empty Eyes by History Of Guns

This concentrated bleakness of vision makes it History Of Guns’ best and most disciplined album so far. The enjoyment I get from it is similar to that of albums like Unknown Pleasures – it isn’t pleasant but it takes me into a world I recognise and need to explore. There are a few moments of quietness but even the piano breaks in …I’ll Be Waiting are threatening like the Halloween theme tune.

…I’ll Be Waiting by History Of Guns

…but I’ll Be Waiting by History Of Guns (clip)

If you have ever felt that life is about being born, brutalised, bought then buried, then you need to feed the paranoia with this album.

Empty Eyes and …but I’ll Be Waiting are available for a limited time as a free download at Lineout records where you can also order the album.

September 17, 2008

Concrete by The October Game

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The October Game released a magnificent album in 2006 called “Box Of A Billion Lights”. Their follow up is the single Concrete (When We Were Invincible). It is a song played simply, far fewer musical fireworks than the album, but that is where its attraction lies. It is their remembrance of a lost, youthful optimism and slight confusion as to where it went is set over a backing of twangy guitar arpeggios that gradually increases in intensity but never quite break out of their restraints.

This simplicity of music and lyrics and just bloody good songwriting is rare and rather beautiful. I see some similarity with Oxford’s The Winchell Riots (and I notice from the MySpace comments that the two bands have recently played together) in musical approach and even in vocal phrasing. It’s a bit of a secret from the rest of the country that we have such talent down here in the South but I feel very privileged to be aware of.

The October Game’s Concrete is a track that can warm you as the chill of Autumn approaches and its a free download! Click on the button below for a preview of the track.

Concrete by The October Game

Concrete by The October Game (full track)

Download Concrete (When We Were Invincible)

August 7, 2008

Broken Hymns, Limbs And Skin by O’Death

Filed under: o'death,reviews — @ 10:36 pm Comments (1)

Broken Hymns, Limbs & SkinsI think my first introduction to Gothic Country (if that is the right description – you know, the twisted take on the Southern Bible Belt hoe-down) was with the Violent Femmes. Their Country Death Song was a sick little tale of murder and madness, emphasised by the music that brought up associations from that long history of films that paint the Deep South as a Banjo-playing, incest-ridden, and Bible-inspired den of Rednecks.

Country Death Song

Country Death Song (clip) by Violent Femmes

To come straight up to date there is a new album by O’Death. This is a band from the East coast rather than the Deep South (so that may mean Appalachian Folk influence?) but what they do is play Country/Bluegrass with lots of fiddle and banjo. They like to ramp things up a bit but the hoe-down atmosphere is not of a local dance and having fun but an exploration of sin and retribution. It’s like the music from the O Brother Where Art Thou but with added darkness.

Fire On Peshtigo

Fire On Peshtigo (clip) by O’Death

I imagine that the vocals could get on a few people’s nerves but the music is never less than inspiring. The songs are mostly at breakneck speed and intensity so there is little respite except for some moments that remind me of The Handsome Family.

Grey Sun

Grey Sun (clip) by O’Death

I was just beginning to get a little bored with current Americana when along comes a record like this that just reminds me of why I love it so much. Banjo, violin, and a little bit of Punk spirit – the perfect cocktail.

O’Death on MySpace

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