Alternative music reviews

October 11, 2005

Red.Star.Line by Red.Star.Line

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Dripping with attitude and possessing enough dirty great riffs to give The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club a run for their money, Red.Star.Line are not afraid to play loud – vocalist Tim Crosby is raspy and spits out his words with fervour. According to CitrusNorth, the band’s self-titled album starts off strong with ‘Katabatic’ standing out, urging to “take the money and run” amongst the straight forward rock n’roll. The London-based quartet have been compared to many modern bands – Jet, The Datsuns, The Cooper Temple Clause – an indicator of where their passion lies, and it’s easy to see why Red.Star.Line have created a buzz within the industry. The songs have balls, mostly hard rocking and don’t drag.

The pounding ‘Pure’ snarls like Oasis in their prime, with rumbling bass and a decent guitar groove. The other three members; Colin Lomas (bass), Rich Beniston (guitar) and James Rixon (drums) play their instruments with purpose and are tight and noisy. Likewise, the celebrity slamming ‘Rewards For Informers’ rides a wave of enthusiasm and grander with the hook solely comprising of the words “you are you are you are you are you are”. Luckily, there are other lyrics, taking pot-shots at actors with “you sell yourself far too cheap, so learn your lines and just repeat again, again”. With Seventies wah-wah licks and bass heavy rhythm, Red.Star.Line are strongly influenced by The Stone Roses, although vocalist Crosby sounds nothing like Ian Brown, instead more aggressive in his delivery. Album closer ‘Dead Man Driving’ begins with acoustic guitar and leaden introspection, thankfully turning the guitars on as the song develops into a Led Zeppelin styled stormer.

As with 99.9% of new bands, Red.Star.Line offer little in the way of originality or new ideas, but they have the edge over many of their ilk, showing swagger, confidence and rip-roaring rock songs that stand up to repeated scrutiny.

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Review by Nick Collings

October 10, 2005

Elizabeth by Presley

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The follow-up EP to the self titled album reviewed on this site a few years ago, Presley are still moving head-long into improvisational noise-scapes using the standard set-up of guitar, bass and drums. When the mood feels right the band will play on, hypnotising and forming experimental passages, the opening song ‘Hunting The Dingo’ is 9 minutes of unstructured no-wave while EP-closer ‘Skies Filled With Wizards’ is an eye-watering 21 minutes in length. You need great patience to sit though the last song as all kinds of weird sounds emit from the speakers, in line with Presley’s notorious live gig where they click into a rhythm of walls of sound. The intriguingly titled ‘Jeff Goldblum’ is a brief 4 minutes in comparison and one of the most accessible tracks. The unnerving spirit of Fugazi is apparent with discordant jagged guitars ragging away as Christian Campagna’s monotonous Hamilton Page styled vocals become like another instrument to the song rather than the defining factor.

The title track is quietly reflective, taking the Mogwai influence to the fore. Deftly played and with retrained loveliness, Presley provide a little lightness to their music, which continues with ‘Unfortunately You’ve Lied Again’, chugging guitars and cymbal crashes eventually taking the song as an intense driven song makes itself known. Combustive and dripping in feedback, ‘Unfortunately You’ve Lied Again’ is clearly a highlight on a record with plentiful of great moments.

When a band what to push their song structures in unconventional ways, the song writing is prone to suffer, with a lack of a nagging melody to compel repeated listening. Between all the channelling of guitar feedback, incessant drumming and propulsive bass lines, the songs remain unmemorable once they have finished. During a live setting these songs would overcome the audience as one long wall of sound, but in the comfort of a living room, part of the impact is lost. However, as a purveyor of noisy landscapes and improvisational exploring, Presley remains a band of the highest order.

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Review by Nick Collings

Losing Me by Marsha Swanson

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Singer/songwriter in the Carole King/Beth Orton mould, London based vocalist Marsha Swanson is a pleasingly proficient singer who keeps her folk-influenced single ‘Losing Me’ simple, using violin, acoustic guitar and her voice to create a relaxing and easy on the ear composition. There’s nothing ground-breaking or emotionally crushing here, just modern re-telling of folk-songs played over the decades that your Carole King’s and Janis Joplin used to churn out in the Seventies all the way through to mainstream likes of The Corrs and credible Fiona Apple. The key to a solo female artist is the strength of voice and Swanson possesses a good set of vocals, aiming more for soothing and atmospheric than lung-busting. The single has an obligatory dance mix which strips away some of the nuisances and feeling from the original, which is flat and uninspiring. The stripped down piano version is far more effective, Swanson’s vocal performance more powerful and expressive, which plays to her vocal strengths keeping the dealings natural.

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Review by Nick Collings

Undergods by Caplyn

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Formed as recently as May 2004, Caplyn have two E.P.’s under their belt in the form of ‘The Walk Back Alone’ and ‘Underdogs’. One of their tracks (‘My Desert Mind’) was on the soundtrack to ‘In A Mans World’, a New York Independent Film winner, which is an enticing selling point for this five-track E.P. So how can I describe ‘Underdogs’ to the causal listener? Using’s “Moods” dictionary as a template, words that jumps into my subconscious are: brooding, dramatic, earnest, searching, cathartic, yearning, angst-ridden, passionate, visceral and fiery. Okay, these words describe Pearl Jam, but for some reason I see the similarities. Both bands have a confident and edgy singer, both play straight-forward rock n’ roll and both concentrate on well-crafted, heart-on-the-sleeve dramatics. The most prominent song ‘The Revolution Will Come’ is a slow burner, strong and melodic in a mid-period REM way. The quality is matched by ‘Shadowesque’, a fairly intense song with sturdy rhythm playing and some nifty drum fills.

The next two tracks ‘Shine On’ and ‘Give As Good As You Get’ are again guitar-driven, well-composed and performed slices of bluesy rock, perhaps lacking the impact of the opening two numbers but not too shabby either. This leaves ‘My Desert Mind’ – the song used on the award-winning soundtrack mentioned earlier, the highpoint of this pensive rocker being the groovy riff and some neat bass playing. The song sounds very retro; some classic rock styling is apparent – going for that timeless experience. On the whole, Caplyn leave a good impression and have made a sturdy E.P. – let’s not go over the top and say this is astounding and go off into hyperbole, rather a worthy addition to the growing number of decent rock bands popping across England.

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Review by Nick Collings

October 6, 2005

The Dawning by Stereotactic

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Stereotactic are your typical screamo hardcore / emo crossover American band – but this lot are really great at what they do. There are loads of bands of similar ilk, so what makes the ‘The Dawning’ album stand out? Well, the answers would be good production, concisely played guitars, tight melodic dynamics combined with shouty moments and enough modern reference points (Snapcase, Funeral For A Friend) to appeal to the modern teenager.

This Bakersfield, California band (also home of Korn) manages to write plentiful pounding minor-key chords, some loud cymbal-crashes and a singer with better than average dynamic range. With this type of genre, it’s very easy to concentrate on the aggression and churning out fast, noisy guitar notes. It is a good job Stereotactic also spent some of their time on the song-writing process, constructing catchy rock tunes like ‘Selfishness’ to bring a little depth to the table amongst the head-crunchers like ‘Dead Man’. With hints of Jimmy Eat World in the melodic vocals from Kyle and even some guitar solos akin to ex-Gun’s N’ Roses Slash, ‘The Dawning’ is a soup of influences, some classic rock, but mostly inspired by the burgeoning hardcore scene. It’s difficult not to think of other bands throughout ‘The Dawning’, but the opinion remains, this is very proficient hardcore, played well and with enough bountiful energy to satisfy rock urges.

Many bands want to display their sensitive side and Stereotactic are no different, ‘Lost And Found’ is laden with strings and sentiment, which thankfully doesn’t come across and trite and laboured. This quietness only lasts three minutes anyway and a distinctively Slash type solo bursts out and brings the song back into “rawk” territory. With Todd (again, no surname) providing backing vocals, there are occasional pairing off of lines as ‘Put It In Ink’ demonstrates – the song title probably a reference to their record contract. Album closer ‘Sweet Denial… With A Taste Of Revenge’ is one of the highlights, the lyric “one shot, right between the eyes” becoming a good hooky moment.

There’s not much more that can be said, the songs do merge into sameness after a while, which is down to the genre’s limitations, but in closing, Stereotactic have put out a very commendable album.

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Review by Nick Collings

October 3, 2005

Annihalating Rhythms by Ultrasonic

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Formed way back 1991, just as dance music was going completely mainstream, Scottish act Ultrasonic have toured the world dance circuit quite a few times and finally after a lengthy absence since their last studio album – it’s been 7 blimin’ years! – comes ‘Annihalating Rhythms’. The dance genre is so fragmented ‘Annihalating Rhythms’ could easily be described as ‘hard house’, ‘electro’, ‘acid’, ‘trance-core’ and ‘breakbeat’, and you would be none the wiser. Looking past the misspelling of annihilating, this is bass-driven, repetitive and distinctively “old-skool” hardcore and very head-nodding in places. Sometimes the song gets ambient at key moments (High Energy), and other songs overlay some MC shout commands to the audience (Flatliner) such as “push it”, “put your hand’s in the air” and “let the crowd say ho!”. All very clichéd, but play this record to a packed, sweaty dancefloor and ‘Flatliner’ would become a fantastic dance soundtrack. Some of these songs remind me of Scooter, one of the many acts who half pinched Ultrasonic influential sound. Even The Prodigy’s recent ‘Never Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’ album has uses similar old-skool vibe, mixing fuzzy synths and discordant rhythms. The rapid-tempo ‘4,3,2,1’ harks back to the early nineties, giving the impression Ultrasonic are stuck in a time warp unable to keep up with current dance music which has since moved on. Oh screw that, this is so outmoded, hyper tempo and cyclical with little respite (for example ‘4,3,2,1’ finishes with what appears to be children cartoon samples) that it is a big, dumb, play it loud to annoy the neighbours kind of album.

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Review by Nick Collings

(Can You Feel The) Magic by Kald

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Mixing drum’n’bass with pleasant pop, Welsh duo Kald glide into view with the Massive Attack / Portishead influenced ‘(Can You Feel The) Magic’. The single contains two versions – club mix and radio mix, both concentrating on Marilyn Albuny’s low-key sultry vocals. Awash with all kinds of sounds, the layers of instrumentation add to what is essentially a simple pop song. The difference between the two versions is minimal, the Club Mix increases the tempo and distorts the bass more prominently, but the Radio Mix works better with lush production and warmth. Parping synthesisers are played throughout this well-composed and performed song with a tightly constructed guitar solo towards the end; it’s pretty hard to find fault in this smoothly made song.

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Review by Nick Collings

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