Alternative music reviews

January 31, 2007

I Think I’m Made Out Of Robots by MyOwnFlag

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MyOwnFlagI’m afraid I have used the words ‘angular’ quite a few times in my reviews but since MyOwnFlag use it in their self-description I feel justified in resurrecting it. Along with ‘muscular’, it is my way of describing music that has trimmed all the fat and uses each instrument with percussive clarity – where the silences and rhythmic stops are all important. If you want to batter someone into oblivion then the way to do it is not with a wall of sound but a sharply defined attack.

I can hear the influence of Shellac in the heaviness of the powerful guitar motifs, and some good old hardcore on top as well. The music is tight, controlled, and loud. There is nothing quite like a good three piece band when it comes to a tight sound. The vocals are pointedly angry, harsh, and very accomplished in their harshness of tone. Listening to 15 Queens In A Pool with the shouted chorus “No education. You’re fucking foxy” makes me realise that I really don’t get out enough. It reminds me of times when a fun party was all of the girls picking the pieces of glass out of the back of boy who had launched himself through the front window and the early morning swim in the neighbours pool before the dogs were released. Of course, the song will about something completely different but we all make our own connections. Even when the wah wah guitar on Greed For My Sanity kicks in you know that you will soon be buffeted again by the concentration of sharpened noise. Compromise is not a word in MyOwnFlag’s vocabulary.

Sometimes you hear a band that makes you want to sway in time to the music. Sometimes you hear a band that makes you want to dance in a jerky fashion. Or one day you hear MyOwnFlag and they make you feel like throwing yourself around ignoring all impediments like walls or doors. It’s a bruising experience but it feels good.

MyOwnFlag

January 1, 2007

You Are The Disco by Revolution74

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You Are The DiscoI did a brief review a Revolution74 promo earlier this year that had one stand out track. The band emailed me a little while ago asking if I’d like to hear their new EP. Of course, every band thinks that their new record is good – but I could tell that the member of Revolution74 thought that this was a huge improvement on the promo. How right he was (even though the promo was good).

This EP ranks amongst the best I have heard in the last four years of reviewing. It appeals on every possible level – impassioned lyrics, the idealism of youth, loads of guitar and a sense of dynamics that makes every song a roller coaster ride. Best of all is the sheer enthusiasm demonstrated – Revolution74 obviously love making music and that passion when combined with the quality of their songwriting and delivery just inspires me as a listener.

Each track is a journey, a story told with changes in musical and melodic intensity. When the guitar riff kicks in Victoria, the blood flows through my veins noticeably faster. The Disco Boy combines guitar (a la Stooges Fun House album) with synth and vicious lyrics. Things seem to calm down with Send Home All The Rockstars which is played with a lush, emotion-ridden delivery that hints at the control this band have developed. Botox is a gloriously overblown track that is a lesson to Radiohead on how they should energise their music. Finally, I could kiss Revolution74 for having the nerve to finish off with a one minute eighteen second You Should Be Screaming. The song could have been longer but it somehow leads me to the same reaction – play the whole damn EP again.

Five songs all under three minutes long. Five finely-honed musical bullets. Five musicians that combine together to produce astonishing and affecting music.

Revolution74

November 19, 2006

Kerrang! New Breed

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The magazine Kerrang! has just released a double CD. Called New Breed it features “bands you know and bands you’ll need to know”. I began to write this review by mentioning how good ¬°Forward Russia! are. My first thought was that I would see if anything came up to their standard. What was scary was that the following track by The Scare sounds like another great Leeds band – except that they are from Australia. And then I began to make a few notes about the outstanding tracks…

I realised that I was about to make a post the length of a novel by one of the Russian masters. There are 41 tracks and I was goingto talk about at least 20 of them. I thought I had my finger on the pulse of young alt-rock bands but I was very much mistaken. I have barely scratched the surface although I could easily name another 20 bands that could/should be included. The music is all about loud guitars and often anthemic songs. With all of these bands together I realise that there is no need to have separate genres for hardcode, punk, Metal, or even Emo. It’s been nearly forty years since something recognisable as Rock music began and most of these bands will have grown up being aware of a sample of the history from Hendrix onwards and have not been influenced from just a single arm of development.

My natural preference is for the CD with lesser known bands on. I still think that ¬°Forward Russia! come over best, but their position of dominance is not out of reach of Scary or Left Side Brain. As for the better known bands, there is just so much good stuff as well. I had heard plenty about Panic! At The Disco (they have been touring with The Dresden Dolls in the US) but I just assumed they were just a US teen ‘punk’ band. In fact they are really good on the evidence of the track Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off that mixes pop sensibility with considerable bite musically and lyrically. The Automatic and Alexisonfire also come bursting out the mix as something quite special.

Kerrang! New Breed is one of those very important compilations – one that you listen through from start to finish. I will be bringing it out whenever I need a good headbanging session in future years. I also think this double CD settles an argument for me. There are plenty of ‘old’ people who claim that there is no decent music today. They hark back to their youth and say everything was better then. Well, I remember Guitar Rock in the 1970s with the greats like Led Zeppelin, Nazareth, Silverhead, Alice Cooper, and Deep Purple. Please believe me, I have the evidence, there has never been a better time for hard rocking guitar bands than right now.

I will end this review here. I’ve go to go and type 25 names into MySpace to follow up on what I’ve been listening to.

November 7, 2006

The Great Leap by Phideaux

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The Great Leap by PhideauxDo you remember the Progressive Rock of the Seventies? The Age of the Concept Album with meaningless meanderings about Oceans of a Topographical nature. The sheer irrelevance of the subject matter to a boy growing up and finding out about girls, motorbikes, and drinking was astounding. Music had been taken from three minute songs about love, desire, and dreams into twenty minute Science Fantasy dirges.

Given that scenario, then Punk wasn’t a revolution, it was just reclaiming music back into teenage territory again. it could ask questions like ‘have you ever fallen in love’ rather than ‘have you seen the vermilion sands on Saturn’s moons’.

And yet, there was something lost. Maybe it was the ability to fantasise, to allow a glimpse of things beyond our experience. The ability of music to take you on a trip to place you would never visit and to allow you to feel the wonder in your emotional reaction. Of course, we still found it in Joy Division’s reclamation of the insubstantial but denied that we were listening to the musical equivalent of Science Fiction. After all these years, it is time that somebody reclaimed the concept/fantasy space for us mere mortals who only understand the emotional hit. Phideaux steps forward…

I am not going to go through each track (check Phideaux’s MySpace blog for a breakdown at that level) but choose just two to talk about. You And Me Against A World Of Pain is a soft song with female harmonies, a gentle rolling rhythm, and added strings. But the desperate beauty of it is that the song is about escape from a cruel world and that world impinges at the end with the sounds of anger from anonymous voices. This may be a ‘Concept Album’ but it is easy to spot that a song like this is built from real experience and reaction to the bad things people do. By contrast Tannis Root doesn’t sound so rooted in real life but more general paranoia. It gires and gimbles with an always threatening manner and offers little comfort. One to match the conspiracy theorist in everybody.

I can’t resist mentioning Last and I Was Thinking. Both of these songs are much simpler than the rest on the album, the first about a future love and the second about a love that’s gone. I will say no more than both these songs take me back to Peter Hammill’s Been Alone So Long and Shingle Song. It’s a place I remember well and I never thought I’d hear its like again.

Perhaps the most important thing about this album is it changes each time I listen to it. I am going to love I Was Thinking and World Of Pain every time I hear them but my reaction to the other songs is never the same. Sometimes I find a few too harsh or too dense, but which tracks evoke this reaction changes each time – echoes of how I felt about Man Who Sold The World by Bowie for the first eight years. Don’t let Phideaux into your life unless you have a serious amount of time to spend with him.

Phideaux

November 1, 2006

Nails by Seven Years On

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Now the ashes of Latitude Blue have settled, three of the members of the band are back in a new band: Seven Years On. I’ve been listening to their three track Promo for a few weeks and it is a demonstration of just how simple Rock music is. All you have to do is write a few words that vaguely rhyme, strum a few chords on a guitar, have someone play twiddly bits over the top , and two mates to play a bit of bass and drums. It is something even I did a passable imitation of in the past.

But I am still left confused. As Radiohead said, before they became totally pretentious, “anyone can play guitar”. But how do you write a song that sounds like you really mean it? How do you learn to sing in a voice that could substitute for emery cloth? How do you get your mates on bass and drums to be a rhythm unit that can make your music surge out of the speakers? How do you know that adding a little feedback on the intro to a track (Nails) will make the listener tense in anticipation and that a short guitar motif will resolve all of that tension? How can you lift somebodies spirits with just a percussive guitar riff? And then the biggest mystery is how you can reach someone’s heart (Crumbs) – not by reminding them of some specific fucked-up romance but by allowing them to feel the same sense of open-ended sadness that they may have once felt?

Maybe Seven Years On will tell me the secret. But I really don’t want to know because it might just ruin the enjoyment I get while listening to them. I don’t want to claim that this band from Swindon are going to be the next My Chemical Romance (thank God). It’s just that two out the three songs on this promo CD touch me in the same way that the band’s previous incarnation touched me.

Seven Years On have all three tracks available for listening and download on their MySpace site (linked below) and will be gigging this month:

Thursday 2nd Nov – The Victoria, Swindon (free entry)
Friday 3rd Nov – The 12Bar, Swindon (with Belarus)
Saturday 25th Nov – The Furnace, Swindon (with Liddington)

Seven Years On

October 23, 2006

The EP by A Genuine Freakshow

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I get this feeling of familiarity with A Genuine Freakshow’s music. It’s almost as if they could have been around in the 70s. It’s not that they are old-fashioned but because they sometimes work from what sounds to me like a basis of the electrification of folk music, this takes me back to when this was first done. There is much more to their music, but a couple of times I found myself thinking that I could be listening to a String Driven Thing album track (by the way, that is a good thing in my book). It’s quite possible they have heard little electric folk music and arrived at their stance from quietening Indie down. However they got here, they are fresh and enthusiastic with the glow of enjoying making music.

They are proud possessors of a two piece string section (cello and violin) that emphasises the emotional content of the songs and also provides some dissonance (remember, The Devil plays a fiddle). The EP starts with The Horrible Truth and the languid, bowed notes it introduces soon give way to a bit of a guitar/strings blow out. Everything stops as the vocals come in, a brief and intense interlude before they return to the dynamics. The other tracks on the EP don’t quite match the brilliance of that one but there is atmosphere and a good use of instrumentation. And then they produce the last track I Left My Blood On Your Bathroom Floor that is perhaps the most complete of the quieter, emotional songs. Maudlin strings with an intense tale of lost love. The last 2 minutes are a masterpiece of mental turmoil with all the instruments combining to create the unease you must surely feel. It’s at this point you need to slap me a few times to bring me out of the trance A Genuine Freakshow can create and, being the person I am now, I get down on my knees and clean the blood up.

A Genuine Freak Show

October 19, 2006

Life, Death, and the Absurdity of Being by Num

Filed under: drowning in a well of sadness,reviews — @ 10:45 pm Comments (1)

Life, Death, and the Absurdity of BeingIf there was ever someone that epitomised my “Drowning In A Well Of Sadness” then it is Num. In that series I found twelve of the saddest songs or albums ever played. So Num is Number Thirteen and that should be unlucky. Except that, in my world, bad luck, unhappiness, and pain can all be turned into an experience that leads to great music.

Num is the work of Tony MacGregor up there in cold and windy Edinburgh. He makes no allowance for people who want to hear a happy ditty to brighten up their day. Instead he explores the world of feelings of disappointment and disillusionment in a way that can enrich your life. I don’t deny the cadences of the vocals are always downbeat (I wouldn’t want to deny it) but there is so much melodic strength in his voice and songwriting that he creates an intense and satisfying sound, He supports himself with a sometimes surprisingly jaunty instrumentation and lush texture of sound. This is music of an intensity and honesty that even old-style hippies would be taken aback by it. Sharpened sadness wrapped in velvet.

Sure, love hurts, but that pain is also a necessity to make you into an empathetic and whole human being. Num helps you to get there.

Num on MySpace

You can also download a free album called Lamb from the Num website – consisting of eight tracks recorded in one take. The same depth and atmosphere is still there in that recording. Beautiful songs.

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