Alternative music reviews

July 31, 2008

Life Processes by Forward, Russia

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Life ProcessesThere is nothing quite like the sound of Forward, Russia in full flow. Gone are the days when every track is just a number and they are released to fully expose themselves as chroniclers of existential angst. I am actually reminded (in a very abstract way) of some Prog music like Van Der Graaf’s Pawn Hearts because of the sheer ambition of the songs and the use of changing musical motifs within them.

We Are Grey Matter

We Are Grey Matter(clip) by Forward Russia

Full to overflowing with passion and making noise like no-one else, Forward Russia create their own musical world. The sense of dynamic tension and release is stunning and the disturbing atmospheres created by all these musicians together is quite unique. It is almost impossible to illustrate the way the songs develop with just the 30 second clips I use but I’ll try again:

Gravity & Heat

Gravity & Heat(clip) by Forward Russia

I don’t know whether this is destined to be one of those masterpieces that is only known to a few people – but masterpiece is the word I would use.

Forward, Russia

Album Preview Video:

July 12, 2008

Just Another Human Being by The Leano

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just another human beingThis is the second Leano album and has a lot to live up to since the first Steps To Leanoland was the first Hip Hop/Rap album I really liked.

I have to admit that I have had trouble getting into this album – perhaps it is more determinedly in the Rap camp than I am used to. Certainly I found the lyrics always interesting – were the early reviews really as bad as Worse Than Bad imply? But there are times on this album when it loses me, generally on the more polemical tracks because I can’t relate to lines about ‘leaders’ when I have never thought of anyone as my leader (Nihilism doesn’t rule, ok).

But on the track Praise Him things change for me and the Reggae guitar backing is just wonderful. It’s a Pop song full of melody and an inspiring chorus – although I do have to ignore the religious message, personally.

Praise Him

Praise Him (clip) by The Leano

A few tracks later and The Leano returns to more like the style of his earlier album with Music Gives Me What I Need where he talks about getting up, smoking a little weed, and getting distracted by his need to make music. There’s a nice jazzy feel to this and some very cool Sax as well. My problems with “message songs” nearly ruins War With Meaning but the underlying music with its lilting rhythm and wandering distorted guitar eventually wins me over.

The final track How To Make A World raises the issues of over-population, Man’s destructiveness to the environment, and third-world poverty. But it raises them in the context of a charming and clever song based on the idea of teacher getting his students to make a world in their science lesson. Oh, and there’s a Reggae style guitar backing as well as a tuneful chorus.

How To Make A World by The Leano

How To Make A World(clip) by The Leano

So, overall this is not an album for me. However there are some tracks that will go on my ‘best of’ collection of mp3s I keep in my car.

The Leano on MySpace

July 10, 2008

Fun With Wizard Stencils by Wintermute

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Fun With Wizard Stencils by WintermuteI get to hear a lot of new music. My speciality is listening to it over a long period and giving my considered opinion – a sort of long-term road test. Just (very) occasionally I listen to something sent to me and it is so good and immediate that I have to write about it straight away. I got a link to Fun With Wizard Stencils by Wintermute and after a few days of it sitting in my inbox I thought I should at least download it out of politeness. I was already feverishly writing about it before the end of the second track.

The music is played with the precision of Math Rock (until now, not a favourite style of mine) while the vocals are peppered with a certain ‘shouty’ style that a few Yorkshire bands seem to excel in – think The Terminals/Close Your Eyes… from the Dance To The Radio compilations. The ultra-passionate, imploring singing is made even better by the precision of the instrumentation. I can only gasp and utter occasional expletives at the wonder of what Wintermute have created. I have rarely heard songs of real life and real experiences performed with such verve that I found myself remembering that emotional desolation of youth. Yes, that sounds effing pretentious but I know what I mean and it is good sometimes to be reminded of that intensity of feeling.

Bad Company In A Sauna by Wintermute

Bad Company In A Sauna(clip) by Wintermute

There are a lot of moments when the guitar is struck with a Funk edge that recalls The Pop Group and the sudden silences in the music also emphasises that essential undanceability – although in truth many of us have all tried and ended up doing some very ungainly, jerky idiot dancing (being laughed at just makes you stronger!). So now I can mix my vinyl nostalgia series by playing you an earlier example of such artistry:

Beyond Good and Evil

She Is Beyond Good and Evil by The Pop Group

Wintermute on myspace

July 3, 2008

Live In Santa Monica ’72 by David Bowie

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Live In Santa Monica '72This is a recording of David Bowie in full ‘Ziggy Stardust’ phase. It has been available as a bootleg and a semi-offical album in the past. This is a repackaging of the 2003 remix available in double vinyl etc etc.

The only reason why I bothered with this album was that I had read it was one of Bowie’s best performances. My initial thoughts on hearing how clear the recording sounded was “What’s the point when I have all the albums?” But by the second track Ziggy Stardust I can see that this is a very special event. For a start I never realised just how good the musicianship was on that tour and Bowie’s performance is immaculate (apart from a very embarassing attempt to voice the take off of a rocket in Space Oddity).

In particular it is the guitar playing of Mick Ronson that astounds me. I knew he was good and have owned Slaughter on 10th Avenue in the past, but this is real guitar hero stuff – the noise he makes with every hit of the guitar is as close to perfect as you could ever want. The track I didn’t remember being played around this time was The Width Of A Circle and this extended 10 minute version is a chance for the guitarist to show off as well as a welcome reprise for one of Bowie’s most fascinating songs from Man Who Sold The World.

I doubt you could get a better David Bowie “Best Of up to Ziggy Stardust” selection than this – other than the inclusion of Starman. If I only had the chance to play one David Bowie album to someone then I think I would choose this one.

Width Of A Circle by David Bowie

The Width Of A Circle (clip) by David Bowie

July 1, 2008

“Welcome to Elizabethan Jupiter…” – Circulus, Dulcimer, Manchester, 26/06/2008

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Chorlton’s Dulcimer Bar (“Fine Ale and Finer Folk”) hosts the frankly weird and quite refreshingly wonderful world of Circulus. To call Dulcimer a venue is stretching it a little – this is more like watching a gig in your front room (although to be strictly accurate those of us who remember the former incarnation as Quarmby’s stationers know it as the erstwhile toys and games department). Sam and the Plants entertain with a variety of arcane instruments and world weary lyrics railing at the futility of modern life (“bastard son of John Cooper-Clarke and Ivor Cutler”, quoth a fellow audience member) leading to their final number which builds intriguingly around a loop created with a bottleneck-played home-made zither.

How to describe Circulus’s dress sense? Looking like a bunch of extras from Blackadder II (with a soupcon of Viz’s ‘Real Ale Twats’) in hats, capes, and pointy shoes, Circulus take to the stage and announce that they will be playing their new (as yet unreleased) third album. Nods are made to UFOs and extra-terrestrial visitors until, a few songs in, ‘Sumer is icumen in’ ROCKS, with a faultlessly simple chorus – ‘Sing, Cuccu!’, and you begin to realise that under all the madrigal twiddlings, Tyack is a damn fine guitarist. Finishing with old favourites ‘My body is made of Sunlight’ and ‘Power to the Pixies’, and then a bonus re-run of ‘Sumer is icumen in’, the audience is sent home happy. Seeking mediaeval inspiration is not in itself new – Gryphon and Amazing Blondel spring to mind – but Circulus marry this with vintage 70’s space-rock a la Hawkwind/Gong. It was probably no coincidence that ‘Hurry on Sundown’ was played during the interval… now covered by Vetiver, who played here earlier in the month. Now just WHAT is going on here?

A video of ‘My Body Is Made Of Sunlight':

Review by Big Dave

Midnight Boom by The Kills

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Midnight Boom by The KillsIt’s been a few years since The Kills were mentioned on Cool Noise (2003 if I remember correctly). They haven’t been exceptionally busy since then but they do have a new album out now called Midnight Boom. I read an interview with Jamie Hince where he claimed that this latest work was a departure from their previous in that it s designed to be danced to. Of course he is just teasing and although more rhythmically-based and using more keyboards rather than guitars, the familiar elements of crude rock noise and the studied ‘cool’ female vocals are still there.

The Kills do have an alarming tendency to descend into playground chants occasionally but this is kept to just parts of a couple of tracks like Sour Cherry. I do detect a more pop/melodic approach than before. Songs like Black Balloon and What New York Used To Be are simple pop tunes with a bit of a twist but pop songs nevertheless. I have to admit I do like them a lot in this more commercially acceptable approach where they strip everything down to simple catchy melodies and add the interesting noises to keep me feeling that this is a band that are not taking the obvious approach..

What New York Used To Be by The Kills

What New York Used To Be (clip) by The Kills

The Kills are never going to make a completely satisfying album – they play around too much. But what they do on this album is mix things up a bit – things like sex, art, pop and noise. Whether it is rabble rousing, ear hurting, or a sweet voice that you want, the Kills can do it all.

Last Day Of Magic by The Kills

Last Day Of Magic (clip) by The Kills

June 25, 2008

Inva De Siva by Years Around The Sun

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Years Around The SunYears Around The Sun are a band from San Diego. I reviewed their first album a couple of years ago (on BlogCritics) and was very complimentary.

Their sound is fresh and startling – anthemic melodic vocals, keyboards, punchy bass and drums. If you put this on in the car then you will be asked “who is this?” during the first track. Again I am going to make the comparison with The Go-Betweens and Grant McClellan’s songs because of the evocation of open space and melody. Listen to this excerpt to see what I mean:

Roundabout

Roundabout (clip) by Years Around The Sun

If I had to voice a reservation then it is that Years Around The Sun do sometimes get a bit “samey” with the consistency of their sound. And then they come up with a wonderful track like Heart Delay where the vocals are shared and the interplay produces a glorious sound of intricacy and passion.

Heart Delay

Heart Delay (clip) by Years Around The Sun

Years Around The Sun

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