Alternative music reviews

January 22, 2008

Failure Of The Grand Design by The Resonance Association

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The Resonance AssociationDaniel Vincent (who I know well from Karma Pilot and Onion Jack) joins forces with Dominic Hemy in a venture called The Resonance Association. They have already produced about 6 free EPs (most are the length of an album). Their first official release is a 55 minute album called Failure Of The Grand Design. This is an instrumental album, with distorted guitars, drum machines, synthsisers, and any other object that can squeak or squelch.

I seem to have narrowed my musical taste over the years and devoted myself to the guitars and voice type of band. Back in the 70’s and 80’s I liked a lot of instrumental music such as Stockhausen, Xenakis, Berio, Faust, and This Heat. Over time I think instrumental music lost its ability to draw out an emotional response from me – unlike the song which has the luxury of lyrics. But now I have found an album without words that speaks to me. It is darkly atmospheric and moves between sparse electronics to driving guitars. But this is no traditional Post Rock build to crescendo – instead it is a development of earlier Psychedelia and Krautrock.

In the introductory stasis of The Darkening Storm, you understand you are in for a nerve-wrenching next 50 minutes. On Left Hemisphere The Resonance Association introduce the guitars and begin to ramp up the noise. I can’t believe this is a nine minute track because there is not a note or sound wasted. On it goes, dragging you down into into its own paranoia and throwing you out into moments like Electrolyte that are like injections of Adrenalin. The final resolution proclaims the Disintegration Of The Grand Design but this is no failure – it is as perfect an exposition of music to evoke your imagination as you could ever hope to hear.

The music is both unsettling and inspiring in turn. One thing I’ve found is that it should be played late at night as the final album to finish off the day. Quite honestly there is nothing that can follow it, even if it threatens to produce a night of twisted dreams. This is the best and most intense album released in 2007.

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Left Hemisphere (clip)

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Electrolyte (clip)

The Resonance Association.

December 24, 2007

The Winchell Riots

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My first visit to The Wheatsheaf in Oxford was for The Winchell Riots and it even included a free CD – the first release by The Winchells and two tracks from their friends The Half Rabbits. All of this for a fiver, as well.

I went through a conversion experience with the opening act Alice {musics}. My first reaction on hearing her was to stay near the bar but I decided to get full value for my £5 entrance fee and went to watch. After about 15 minutes I suddenly realised that she wasn’t annoying and that the keyboard work had a little touch of Phillip Glass. I’ve since listened to her CD and I’ve become quite keen on the songs. It is a very quirky approach to music she exhibits, spinning breathy melodies over intricate keyboard patterns.

The Half Rabbits are an Oxford band I know from an earlier EP Tiny Knives For Tiny Minds and I liked that a lot. I’m glad to report that they did sound very good. The problem for me was I got completely distracted by the singer Michael’s eyes. Rather than wondering whether they were brown or blue, I just noticed that he never looked at the audience for longer than a nanosecond. He looked over the amps, he looked down at his guitar, his eyes flitted nervously from monitor to spotlight. In the end I just felt that the performance was poor and that the band didn’t project themselves to the audience. I’m sure the bloke I got chatting to afterwards would disagree – he had come over from London to see the Winchells and was so impressed by The Half Rabbits tonight he had bought both their EPs.

Finally I was about to see The Winchell Riots in all of their glory. As soon as they come on stage, I can feel the love between band and audience. In fact I can share it, because I also have come to feel relaxed in Phil McMinns company in just the half hour I spent with him and the other Phil at an acoustic set a few weeks ago. The reason for this love is the delicious vocals, the intelligence and vulnerability in the lyrics, and the lush textures of the music. Music to swoon to.

December 9, 2007

History Of Guns

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(c) Lisa VincentI went down to the BackTo The Futurepunk event at the Purple Turtle in Camden a couple of weeks ago to see History Of Guns. It’s been four years since they first sent me their Flashes Of Light single and they began to draw me into their whirl of Nihilism. Even in this, my year of not reviewing, I have carried on my interest for the sheer pleasure/challenge of listening to them.

History Of Guns live was very much the thrashier side of the band. Every song was delivered with energy and vehemence. With Max Rael playing bass and Fester punishing his guitar, their electronic side was pushed back and their Punk roots were showing. They played the new opus Born, Brutalised, Bought, Then Buried and some of their guitar-based song such as the forelock-tugging Your Obedient Servants. It was a performance to be savoured, a band that walks up to inches from your face and shouts at you. They have a message and it is not a comforting one.

From the recorded music I already have admiration for Max’s musical intelligence (drums, electronic, and bass) that creates the atmosphere and also like the more recent addition of guitar. Seeing them live left me in wonder of singer Del Alien who commands the stage. He is someone who evokes original punk and contorts with loathing as he rails against society. But he hasn’t descended into the condescension of John Lydon or Mark E Smith – he still means it. I should also mention his voice that is like no other – the last words of a very sick David Bowie maybe?

A lot of the bands I ramble on about are easy to recommend to anyone because their qualities are obvious. But History Of Guns are more likely to evoke hate rather than love and admiration in anyone who gets to listen to them. They are probably going to get right up your nose. They are noisy, obstreperous, and scathing of everything that they believe encompases conformism and mediocracy.

If you want to listen to them – and I think you should – then there are 5 free downloadable EPS on lineout records so no excuse then.

October 13, 2007

Little Fish at The Jericho Tavern, Oxford

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Tristan and The Troubadours looked very young (even younger than policemen these days). It seems age isn’t a barrier to talent and originality. They have violin and keyboards and guitars and swap instruments a bit as well. Sadly (I assume because of their age) they will almost certainly not know what a complement it is for me to say that I was reminded of the same sort of vocal intensity and varied arrangements as The Band Of Holy Joy.

House Of Brothers is one man with a guitar. He plays music that is alt-country influenced and doesn’t suffer in a comparison to Elliott Smith or Richard Buckner, although lacking their musical variation. Heartfelt songs sung with a voice that is evocative and entrancing.

Roxy, also known as Roxanne: The Early Years is very Folk and has a great voice. She also has a set of charming songs – especially when her friends joined her on a variety of instruments.

And then it was my main event. Little Fish have produced one of the best set of demo songs I have heard in five years of reviewing. I am not even sure they fit into my Indie/Alt arena of the last 10 years – there is no reason why they couldn’t have been contemporaneous to the great moments in the 70’s when Patti Smith produced Horses. Perhaps the only thing that really cements them in the 90s onwards is the fact that they are a two-piece through design and not necessity (the White Stripes proved it could be done).

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No secret that I like the music, but I saw a real performance as well. On the opening song Devil’s Eyes Juju’s eyes actually flash and I’m sure it wasn’t just me but everyone thought she was looking at them. I had to drag my eyes from her and observe the other Fish (I am a Muso after all) and one of the secrets was clear – in a two-piece you need a shit-hot drummer. The songs Perfect Stranger, Infidelity and Am I Crazy followed and they were all made more exciting by seeing them live. The energy and enthusiasm that JuJu puts into her music is exciting and the impassioned singing just leaves me breathless.

Let’s not get carried away here, there’s a lot of development in song-writing to be done yet and there will be pitfalls such as being offered a support slot because they don’t need much setting up. But Little Fish, in my humble opinion, have the ability to break out of any genre trap and find a big, though discerning, audience.

Apologies to the final band, but no-one could follow that and I walked off into the night with my mind spinning and a new energy in my steps.

October 2, 2007

Doomsday Afternoon by Phideaux

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Doomsday AfternoonThis is the most elaborate Phideaux album so far. This is the one where you completely realise that this a collective of musicians conducted in one man’s vision. The musicianship and the sound textures are stunning. So much to admire and after about 20 listens I was all ready to praise it…


…then I spent some time listening to Phideaux’s earlier albums Fiendish and 313. These are ‘just’ collections of songs rather than concept albums but are fresh and magnificent. They add something new to modern music by applying some of the uniquely quirky conerns of Prog onto a song structure. They could be recommended unreservedly to people who listened to Indie guitar bands.

Phideaux managed to hold onto me during The Great Leap because it still felt like a collection of songs. But even I can’t convince myself to ignore the Concept anymore. The problem for me is that so much of the musical and lyrical development is devoted to moving from one place to another instead of making the listeners blood course through their veins.

There are moments, such as the first part of the opening track Micro Deathstar that really hit the spot but it then wanders into a different area and loses me. Instead of a finally honed, emotion-tugging of something like Sick Of Me we get something that attempts to say much more but uses a large block of wood to do it instead of the sharp barb of a 4 minute song. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Doomsday Afternoon but then I grew up with Prog in the 70’s and still listen to Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Hammill. I just don’t see that it can appeal to anyone outside of its musical ghetto.

So if you yearn for long quasi-Symphonic pieces of music and the edifice of a serious story to follow then you will find this is one of the best you will ever hear. I suspect that you people will already know who you are and have a Prog section in your CD collection (and possibly your vinyl collection as well).

For me, I’ll wait for Phideaux’s solo acoustic album because I still need more of his voice and his songs.

Phideaux on MySpace

September 30, 2007

iLiKETRAiNS at the Carling Academy Oxford

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Firstly, a regret – I missed The Winchell Riots (ex-Fell City Girl). Just to emphasise my stupidity both bands mentioned just how good they were. The singer in Her Name is Calla called them the best local band that had played on the tour and even speculated about learning Stallone to sing to his wife. So today I booked a ticket for their acoustic set at the Port Mahon later this month.

Onto the bands I actually saw. Leicester band Her Name Is Calla inhabit the same sort of musical area as the headline band and even feature brass in a ghostly way. They play intense Post-Rock music with huge thrashes in the latter stages. It was an impressive display. I particularly liked the ‘song’ that ended with psychotic screaming – now that’s what you need to start the night with.

iLiKETRAiNS treated the audience to a number of lessons in history, detailing the vagaries of chess players, Polar explorers and duplicitous yachtsmen amongst others. It is just a wonderful experience to be confronted with that low, resonant voice telling dark tales over those unique sound textures. For those of you bored with the antics with egomaniacs in bands there were the films projected on the backdrop providing impressionistic details of the stories.

They played a good few tracks from the new album Elegies to Lessons Learnt out on Monday and demonstrated that it will be one of the albums of the year. For the encore they played one of the early ‘kitchen sink’ dramas (or should I say ‘kitchen knife’) and threw themselves into a crescendous BEFORE THE CURTAiNS CLOSE PART 2. iLiKETRAiNS intrigue eyes and ears and brain.


Her Name Is Calla

September 14, 2007

A Moveable Feast by The Sharp Things

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I don’t know whether the world is in Black and White and The Sharp Things are in Colour or if it’s the other way around.

The Jumpers starts the album with a small chamber orchestra and is beautifully unsettling with a creepy feel from the understated story of two people jumping off a building and their ‘hilarious demise’. From this prelude, you realise that The Sharp Things are not your usual band. Then it’s into the self-loathing of Through With Love with insistent violins to emphasise the neurosis while the chorus merely emphasises that this is a lie and love will once again be pursued. Cruel Thing is sweet Soul but the lyrics are not all sweetness and light. The lush orchestration never hides the intelligence of the lyrics.

Just for fun, let me try the comparison game – how about Penguin Orchestra, Todd Rundgren (Gilbert and Sullivan period) and the Handsome Family? A touch of low life, a touch of bitterness, and all wrapped up in a romantic, slightly world weary mist.

I just didn’t get their second album so I am pleased to say that The Sharp Things are back on form. Towards the end of the album there are some tracks that miss the mark for me but I’ve found that it depends on my mood – the more relaxed I am then the more I like them. I have no idea where the Sharp Things fit in. If they were in England where would they play? I can’t see the Indie Pubs booking them (not enough room on the stage for one reason). But it is precisely that sense that this is a band who laugh in the face of fashion that makes them special.

The Sharp Things

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