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Surveillance

No Age

Scala, London

As much as I love this band and would see them play at every given opportunity, there really is no need to make me feel so damn old. Perched high up on the balcony so as not to spill my drink I watched with horror as kid after kid threw themselves willingly into the surging crowd from the edge of the stage and was then tossed around like a limp seal between two killer wales. Dean and Randy seemed oblivious to this and played harder and harder as they dropped hit after hit from all three of their releases. After the non-starter that was opening band Trash Kit and the impressive yet way too noodling second act Gentle Friendly it was a treat to be witness to the power of this drums and guitar duo.

This was a proper punk-rock gig and having seen White Denim and Titus Andronicus this year and stood in bewilderment at the static crowd at both it was so good to see kids kicking the shit out of eachother to such great music. It may have been my lofty position but Dean's vocals were less than clear however Randy's booming guitar more than made up for this. Kicking off with crowd-surfing favorite Teen Creeps and racing through every heavy hitter from Nouns it was abundantly obvious that these two have really honed their act during the extensive tour regime they have undertaken in recent years. The tracks from the latest EP Losing Feeling carried way more body live and really blended well with the abstract atmospherics of some of the Weirdo Rippers stuff, Every Artist Needs A Tragedy and Boy Void being choice cuts. They're looping a lot more vocals now which adds strength to their live set. Face-shredding punk is still the M.O. here, but to hear that burst through shambolic looped noise is awesome.

I must admit, I spent more of my time watching the endless wave of lifeless bodies being hurled into the air than I did the band, but was nonetheless convinced once more of the magic of these two guys. They've played a scary amount of shows since the last time I saw them and yet they still play like it's an opening night. A class act.

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21st Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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21st Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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21st Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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20th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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20th Oct 2009

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Kurt Vile

Childish Prodigy

Matador

Oh boy did I need Kurt Vile in my life. This second album couldn't have landed at a better time. With the beleaguered lo-fi scene experiencing something of a wind-down, Childish Prodigy stands proud as a more muscular sound but one that still maintains the ethos of the DIY scene. You couldn't really call this lo-fi with production as tight as this but there is a trail of fuzz that follows Vile's every word throughout the record. It's ragged and loose in its construction but is full of new ideas and blows a fresh and welcome breeze through this scene.

Growing up just outside of Philidelphia, Vile's love for music stemmed from his bluegrass aficionado father who also gifted him with a banjo at the age of fourteen. From this grew an absorption of everything musical which started to manifest itself in the form of a series of lo-fi bedroom recordings that incorporated everything from delta blues and skiffle to the minimalist aggression of bands like Suicide. With a number of releases on various labels Vile's free-flow style and signature languid drawl started to win him quite an underground following. Childish Prodigy is Vile's second album but first for Matador and while it retains much of the magic that pricked up ears years ago it is a much more diverse concoction of scuzz-rock and psychedelic folk and is enhanced hugely by the production of Philly engineer Jeff Zeigler. His touch turns this lo-fi sound into something deeper and more substantial while still drenching everything in feedback and echo.

The dirty blues-rock of opener Hunchback booms with muscle while the following Dead Alive is a simple construction of delicate guitar and vocals which are drowned in hazy fuzz. Like many of these songs it meanders almost without direction with Vile's casual style emanating as a stream-of-conciousness outpouring. Then you've got the mammoth Freak Train and Inside Looking Out which both stretch to around the seven minute mark. Freak Train assumes a brisk Krautrock pace and keeps with it until the fade-out. It's like taking the turning onto the M6 Toll and seeing only open road in front of you. Like the Toll it's long, open and you really don't mind paying for it. While Inside Looking Out is slow and aimless and plods on relentlessly. It's cavernous and dirty, it's claustrophobic and overflowing with effects with Vile hitting the red-line with his shrieked vocals. Then in total contrast you get the following track Unknown which shines in its simplicity. It's just Vile and an acoustic guitar and a bucket load of reverb. It recalls early U2 in the way it paints vivid sonic landscapes with the fewest of brushstrokes. The music undulates on waves of guitar for four and a half minutes of pure bliss. And it's in this contrast that the beauty of this record resides. You can get a whiff of John Lennon then be seduced by the intimacy of Springsteen's Nebraska-like minimalism. It demands patience from the listener though but this patience will be rewarded. His effortless style puts up a mask of simplicity but get this on some headphones and this apparent simplicity reveals untold depths and the songs just stretch out in front of you.

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20th Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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No Age @ The Scala, October 19th 2009

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19th Oct 2009

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Le Loup

Family

Talitres

I recently invested in a new pair of ear phones. I figured, hey I spend most of my waking time listening to music so why settle for substandard equipment. I was bored of getting half the story, I wanted to hear everything that was intended in a song, I wanted to hear the drummer clearing his throat, I wanted to hear the singer thinking about clearing his throat. So I won't bore you with the tech but I bought a nice pair and this record broke them in, and boy am I glad I chose it to pop their cherry. Less than a minute into the second track Beach Town these bad boys strapped to my head had just paid for themselves.

Le Loup began as the bedroom project of Sam Simkoff and the first culmination of his efforts was the 2007 debut The Throne Of The Third Heaven And The Nation's General Assembly, an interesting blend of keyboard loops, banjo and computer wizardry. With the next installment Family, things have grown and a full band now play out an altogether fuller sound occupying a unique middle ground between tribal rock, freak folk and sonic experimentation. On initial listens songs like Grow will recall bands like Animal Collective or Panda Bear while the harmonies that develop on Morning Song and Golden Bell will warm the heart the way the recent Fleet Foxes debut did. However there are more than a few songs here that can only be described as possessing a world music feel. Now the phrase 'world music' is not one I use with any sort of glee and when I tell you that a song like Forgive Me never fails to remind me of the bit in Crocodile Dundee 2, when Mick Dundee stands atop a large rock and twirls that thing on a rope, which in turn rallies together all the animals and Aborigines in earshot to come rushing to his aid, you may take a second glance at the healthy score that sits proudly to left of this review. Well I'm just as surprised as you. The many genres that are blended on Family should never work, but work they certainly do.

Produced by Simkoff and band-mate Christian Ervin, Family doesn't rely on the electronic support that formed the backbone of the debut but instead looks to a more elemental starting point. The organic sounds that were captured from traditional instruments were always the starting point and were then fed back into the machine and would be processed as samples. The result is a massive departure from the insular sound that Simkoff brought to the debut and a record with such awe inspiringly expansive horizons that really embodies their strength as a live band.

It's a record that expresses a love of music and a limitless scope in terms of creative expression. Sprawling instrumentals will flow into choral harmonies which will, in turn, give way to tribal rhythms and collective camp-fire sing along vocals. It's an album that defies place and though this Mick Dundee thing runs heavy throughout, it's a pure delight and really transports the listener. The reason is that every one of these elements that make up Family all originate from a place of honesty and a love for music. That's why it all works when it really shouldn't. If you can afford it you're going to want a decent pair of headphones to aid your swim in the dense production that flows throughout. But even without this you'll still have a good time.

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14th Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Volcano Choir

Unmap

Jagjaguwar

It was relatively late in coming, but the praise that followed Justin Vernon's debut Bon Iver project was unprecedented and warranted. The critics aren't messing about with this new side project featuring Vernon alongside fellow Wisconsinites Collections of Colonies Of Bees - and there has been much frenzied chatter about Unmap for a while now. While Unmap is certainly permeated with a similar bewitching presence as For Emma, Forever Ago it sounds less focused and just what a side-project tends to sound like. It has a different agenda from the music made under Bon Iver. It is totally studio produced and has more formalistic concerns like texture and ambiance than the emotional weight Bon Iver carried. Rather than a mission statement bursting to be released from one man, this sounds like a group of like-minded guys just enjoying the process of music making and all the more so given the success that one of these members has enjoyed of late. But they handle that with remarkable restraint and play down Vernon's now familiar tones to mere texture at times.

It's quite clear this is no Bon Iver follow-up, as the sultry notes of opener Husks And Shells drifts into earshot. With the gentlest of plucking and delicate textures Vernon introduces himself with a series of wordless harmonies that amble along with little fixed direction but create an arresting sense of desolation. He raises his voice in the last 20 seconds with a gradual crescendo that makes room for Seeplymouth, one of the strongest songs here. With a similar structure it builds with layered percussion, synth melody and looped vocals to a massive, unrelenting finale that booms with depth and refuses to let up. And when it does, out of the dust emerges Island, Is, a perfectly carved marble statue of a song that glistens with polished clarity. Vernon's vocals are given new buoyancy with the electronic soundscape that underlies them. Gradually layered levels of melody and intricate rhythm amble along with perfect direction this time and create a sense of warmth that has rarely surrounded this voice.

But for me that is where the magic starts to wane. The rest of the album tends to veer off into more directionless territory. This is indeed the sound of a group of guys enjoying a process but at times it sounds far too much like that. And Gather meanders along in an aimless haze of half baked hand clap rhythm and irritating harmonies while Mbira In The Morass sees Vernon experimenting with a new warble in his singing and when coupled with some awkward percussion the result is less than perfect to say the least. There are of course exceptions to this. The short burst of joy that is Cool Knowledge comes as a breath of fresh air and the reworking of Woods, the Bloodbank EP's curious end note, is a vast improvement and a much fuller and fascinating piece of work. But these delights are too few in the second half of this record and by the time it comes to an end, the treasures of the first half have already started to fade slightly.

For Emma, Forever Ago cast its spell on all who heard it and the effect of this spell is still present here, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I have felt it wearing off somewhat. What Unmap does do is prove that Vernon is no one-trick pony and has a clear passion for experimentation. This is an exciting prospect and one that hints at some truly stunning ideas yet to be realised, but those ideas seem slightly half baked here.

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5th Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Vivian Girls

Everything Goes Wrong

In The Red

You'd be hard pushed to find a 'best of' list in 2008 that didn't feature this Brooklyn trio's eponymous self titled debut and so the expectation for the followup must have been something of an issue to overcome after such blanket praise. With it's raw punk riffs and flattend-out off-the-cuff-vocals it dazzled with immediacy, excitement and spontaneity - qualities that can easily be eradicated with the slightest bit of pressure from expectation. And when you read that the followup Everything Goes Wrong took double the time to record and is a longer record the signs point to a disappointment. However when that recording period was six days instead of three and the carefree notes of opener Walking Alone At Night greet your ears you'll only chastise yourself for such pessimism.

Everything Goes Wrong is a much darker affair than it's predecessor. With a sombre weight, the girls have jacked up the pace evolving their bubble-gum garage rock into full-on punk rock bursts. There's not such a reliance on the pop melody and seems to draw its influence on the hardcore scene more than the shoegaze tendencies that ran through the debut. All this is to it's credit however and this sophomore album effortlessly sidesteps any pressure by sounding like it was unaware of the pressure in the first place. These changes have been made without the record sounding aware of itself in the slightest. But this is no fresh-faced first-time sound. Far from it, it's a mature sound that has evolved and one that they can start to call their own. There isn't the stand-out joy of their first record and many of the songs come at you in a similar package. But the result is a wave-upon-wave effect that, after repeated subjection, sweeps you up and you're theirs.

The record may be more somber and more aggressive but the sweet vocal melodies are more beguiling as a result. They wash over the feral background easing everything into the distance and taking the listener with them. This form of attack works best on the longer songs and with few of the debuts cuts making it past the two minute mark it's quite a shock to see a good few four minuters here. Can't Get Over You and the soaring Out For The Sun never let up in pace and build a wall of sound around you that is impossible to escape even if you wanted to, and the vocal harmonies on Double Vision cast a blissful spell that seems to sum up the whole record. There's nothing better than a sophomore album that only serves to justify the debut and this builds on the success of 2008 with startling maturity and subtlety without seeming conscious at all. As they plod on to higher ground Vivian Girls cast a spell in their wake while seeming blissfully unaware of its potency.

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25th Sep 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Castanets

Texas Rose, The Thaw & The Beasts

Asthmatic Kitty

Over the years Ray Raposa has trodden much ground with his Castanets. With Cathedral, their 2004 debut for Asthmatic Kitty, Raposa's country roots were laced with noise and free-jazz haze-outs, while 2007's In The Vines welcomed in the warmth with its glistening lap-steel moments. 2008 saw the release of City Of Refuge which increased this warmth to sweltering levels, not stopping until every composition was reduced to dry desert. It was a minimalist opera of stillness and endless bleakness. I don't know how long this approach could have lasted as the listener was starved of any morsel of habitation within these arrangements. Thankfully, Texas Rose, The Thaw & The Beasts arrives like a long overdue rain storm.

The opening track plays out like the entire album. It continues the bleak landscape that ended City Of Refuge. Raposa's frail vocals shivering in this barren world, as dry as tinder and equally as delicate. With only a faint acoustic guitar as company he nudges this album into view. Gradually he is joined by ever-increasing bass drums, lap-steel, mariachi trumpets and stirring back-up soul singers. From here on in, the beauty resides. It gets lonely in parts, as you'd expect from this writer, but it's the beauty that carries it along.

With his trademark instruments, Raposa crafts lush soundscapes from delicate guitar, steel drums, oceans of synths and some expertly chosen touches of crackling electronica that, once introduced to the mix, transform this from your average country record into something achingly linked to the past but fiercely contemporary. Worn From The Fight (With Fireworks) comes off the back of some truly traditional sounds and simply glistens and dances with modern day frivolity. Its frail structure hangs on the deepest boom of electronic bass with glitchy rhythms dancing around it like static from a TV. In this landscape Raposa's vocals assume an intimate tenderness rarely seen.

Ray Raposa comes from the same bleak school as artists like Jason Molina or The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle - and just as the sun has crept into their work of late, the same has happened here. That's not to say he's dropped all the experimentation that made his work so challenging in the first place. Far from it - he's just managed it better here and integrated it with such depth of beauty. Like the previous artists, this record is at first arresting in its simplicity but hides much within. Take your time with Texas Rose and it will unleash endless pay offs.

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22nd Sep 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Times New Viking

Born Again Revisited

Matador

The world of DIY noise-pop is a different place now than when we last heard from Ohio trio Times New Viking. In 2008 their Matador debut Rip It Off gate crashed the scene and sounded like a major malfunction in the recording room with red lined production drenching what sounded like good pop songs. It arrived with due critical acclaim but now seems quite run-of-the-mill due to the constant stream of like minded music that has descended upon us ever since.

Whereas the master recording for Rip It Off was delivered on cassette the followup, Born Again Revisited, arrived on VHS and claims to feature "25% higher fidelity." After hearing opener Martin Luther King Day you may start to get excited about this fact. It's the most coherent song they've given us and peals away some of the tape hiss to reveal great song structure and shining vocals. Don't be fooled as this coherence is short-lived and with the arrival of I Smell Bubblegum we're back in the grit and hiss that carried with it Rip It Off.

This isn't really a criticism but merely a minor disappointment. The abrasion that dominates the next few tracks seems rather too familiar now. But things have changed with this release and without sounding like they give a monkeys what other bands are doing these songs show a greater maturity. None so effectively as No Time, No Hope. With its chiming guitars and booming bass this song gives due space to the vocals, an element much overlooked with this band, and as the narcotic organs swirl into place we get a damn near perfect song in this genre. More highlights include the Japanther-like These Days and the anthemic Move To California.

Born Again Revisited has a pleasing amount of change to it after the wealth of DIY that has come since its predecessor but also enough of Times New Viking's trademark rawness. It's far more layered and varied and that extra 25% really shows in the gleaming high points mentioned. With the genre plodding on - albeit in a somewhat tired manner now - it's up to pillar bands like this to pave the way to new lands and this is a good start to the journey.

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21st Sep 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Wilco: The little band that could

Surprisingly mainstream news article about Wilco up at CBSnews.com, describing them (somewhat patronisingly as 'the little band that could').

Some interesting behind-the-scenes footage at the real Wilco HQ though, as Jeff jams with the kids.


Watch CBS Videos Online

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1st Sep 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Monotonix

Where Were You When It Happened?

Drag City

Sometime last year I went to see Silver Jews play in the intimate surroundings of London's ULU. On entering I couldn't help but notice the crowd congregating avidly round some sort of commotion occurring in the middle of the venue. The stage was clear so it couldn't be the band, but what was the source of the deafening noise that was pounding through my very soul? In order to get a better view I took up position on the balcony and to my surprise I saw, at the very heart of this scene, three sweaty, bare chested beasts who were masquerading as humans. The drummer pounded a very scant looking drum kit to death while the guy making most of the noise shrieked so violently into his contorted fist you'd think he was about to swallow it. As if that wasn't enough, in a sudden burst of reserved superhuman energy, they picked up the drum kit and ran out of the hall, mid song. While everyone looked around puzzled, they emerged on our balcony still playing the drums and still maintaining the howl. Anyway, to cut a long story short they ended up hanging from the balcony, drums in hand and played out the rest of the song, legs dangling, throat straining and most certainly crowd gawping. It was without a doubt the most exhilarating gig performance but to be honest I couldn't tell you much about the music, this was secondary. But with this, their first full length, the music speaks for itself and is impossible to overlook.

Their 2008 EP Body Language unleashed a short, sharp glimpse of what this band had been doing all round their hometown of Tel Aviv since 2005. Channelling the raw energy of bands like the Stooges but with the muscle of Black Sabbath, their sound was as uncontrollable as an unmanned, gushing fire hose. Where Were You is no different but seems to benefit from slightly denser production. Yonatan Gat's riffs loom large and often chug with meaty forcefulness over Ran Shimoni's erratic drumming. The star of the live experience is clearly front man Ami Shalev and I suppose one difference here is that he manages to fit in quite comfortably around his music and doesn't overpower the brute force that surrounds him. This makes the record gel in a much more coherent way and ultimately packs a better punch.

Things seem to have been considered more here. The rawness dominates every part of this, but not in an uncontrollable way. It has all the unpredictable energy of the live show, but keeps its eyes focused on the plan and churns out some mighty examples of old school rock filth. Set Me Free is the best example of this and is one of the only songs that allows space for the listener - opening with a sparse rhythm that is slowly joined by grinding guitars. The song takes its time and changes pace throughout the duration showing off an element that wasn't part of their earlier repertoire. Of course this is all obliterated on Spit It On Your Face and the musical hose pipe gives over to the spasms once again. Having been banned from most of the venues in Tel Aviv we can only hope that this scuzz dripping rock circus will spend more time on our shores. But this time it wont be just the live antics that dazzle.

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1st Sep 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pissed Jeans

King Of Jeans

Sub Pop

With the overflowing stream of DIY noise pop filling my in-tray this year I've grown accustomed to calamitous percussion and under-produced guitars drowning out distant vocals, and to be honest, I've loved nearly every minute of it. Having said that it feels pretty good to break out the third album from Pennsylvania scuzz-punks Pissed Jeans having not heard a peep from them since 2007's Hope For Men. Compared to much of the punk-de-jour we hear today this stuff has muscle. Since 2007 they've been bench pressing. Gone are the extended noise passages that gave Hope For Men the fear factor - but ultimately turned it into an abstract nightmare, and in their place are riffs so heavy they'll wrench your gut from its very foundations.

Opener False Jesli Part 2 displays this might to full effect with guitars that rumble with booming terror. It's awesome to hear a punk riff that clearly spends its down time in the gym with Metallica's front line. Matt Korvette's wrenched vocals smash this rumble with unadulterated power. The sound is a lot more focused here and as a result Korvette's irony oozing writing is way more audible. The thing that sets these guys apart from a lot in the genre is their mastery of the banal. They play with such power and Korvette's screaming can't help to make you pay attention. But as soon as you do, you realise he's singing about getting his car back from the shop only to find "there's a new noise this time," or the growled demands we get on Request For A Masseuse such as "take both thumbs and dig them in / stop my flesh from tightening." Instead of being totally throwaway the result is a piece of work that expertly and frighteningly describes the trials of the mundane human existence. The last song is called Goodbye (Hair) and sums up the M.O. of these guys. They're punks who are growing old and this is their story. They're not singing about smashing the system, but hair loss.

Request For A Masseuse and Spent are the two reprieves from the lightning pummeling the rest of the record offers, but the word reprieve is highly misleading. These two take a different path, that of slow, grinding sludge, but the result is the same: total and welcome destruction of the listener. Spent is over seven minutes long and never gets above a crawl. The guitars are drawn out and heavy as fuck. Randy Huth's bass comes into full effect here as it tunnels its way into your soul. Korvette is slow and methodical, painfully drawing out his agony for us all to experience. Displaying both boredom, sloth and general hair ripping frustration it slowly erupts into screams and guttural howls as his breakdown is made visible and he is finally "spent." It carries the weight of the album on its shoulders alone and nothing is the same after it.

It's easy to view this kind of head smashing as only that, but King Of Jeans is a focused piece of social commentary that hammers its point home without you even noticing. With the social observations heavily buried, it ends up proving it's point more cohesively than some records with more obvious direction ever manage. They might be punks who are trying to come to terms with the passage of time, but they still pose the same threat to the system by taking it down and thrusting a mirror image in its face in all its banality. 

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21st Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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What's In The Bag, Man?

No Age do a slot on the Amoeba record store's What's In My Bag.

We only have one of those records at Chimp HQ. Will spin it this afternoon if you want to check our Last FM page and guess what it is.

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20th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Diagonals

Valley Of The Cyclops

Monofonus Press

Austin Texas band The Diagonals have produced one of the most listened to albums of the year for me strangely enough. Throughout its brief thirty-four minute duration, its jangly indie-pop never strives towards reinvention of the genre and rarely takes a turn you didn't see coming; however, despite and because of these factors, Valley Of The Cyclops is an endlessly rewarding listen.

Borrowing a good slice of psychedelia from the likes of fellow Texans The 13th Floor Elevators this quintet, listed on their My Space page as "Steve, Todd, Nate and sometimes Michael", tick all the slacker/stoner boxes. Singing about smoking weed, pissing in sinks and eating out at Denny's, their blend of surf jangle and fast paced drumming is the driving force behind these songs. Frontman Steve Garcia was formerly the bassist/guitarist for Black Lipstick and penned some of their best songs - so it's no surprise that his latest venture would be as satisfying as this. Both bands have much in common and it's the effortless ease with which this sound is generated that really links the two. They sound like they come from a time when life was simpler and sunnier. Rosy surf jams these are not but any problems that may arise are soon treated with the "oh fuck it" mantra and the swirling guitar drive carries you off to a place where little matters. I would highly recommend this record, it's got Austin written all over it and will be soundtracking many a summer to come.

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20th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Yim Yames

Tribute to George Harrison

Rough Trade

Well stone me! This is crazy My Morning Jacket front man Jim James. Who'd have thought it? Despite the pseudonym this short George Harrison tribute record does more in its first song than Evil Urges did in its entirety. I know it's wrong to put an artist in a cage but we've all seen what happens when Jim steps out of his, and I for one am glad to see him drenched in reverb, strumming an acoustic and displaying his vocal range in all its subtleties without a N.E.R.D. style hip hop beat in sight. Confined by Harrison's songs there's no mention of librarians or the interweb, and he more than does these songs justice. Love You To and Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll) are instant highlights and his version of My Sweet Lord is ghostly and delicate. I wouldn't be surprised if we get a Hari Krishna line in a future MMJ song though, but until that time it sure is good to hear Jim do what he does best. It's just in time too as I haven't listened to a MMJ record for some time and now have renewed hope for the forthcoming Monsters Of Folk project.

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18th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Nurses

Apples Acre

Dead Oceans

This Portland, Oregon band should count themselves very lucky that I'm going through something of a slack period in my duties for this site. Had I handed this review in last week when I should have, the score you see before you would be devoid of a star or two. Up until last week I found this record an interesting but ultimately frustrating and all too familiarly quirky statement. But then it hit me, in the space of one listen the other day the magic that is locked deep inside this record made itself known to me. The increased appreciation for something that had appeared so irritating is one thing to marvel at, but how a record as seemingly sparse and simple as this can have such delights hidden within is remarkable, there's not many places it can hide. The eery melodies that are coaxed from Aaron Chapman's otherworldly vocals stand alone among the barren sonic landscape, backed by an elementary rhythm section and distant glimmers of percussion the whole sound seems to show its cards from the start, but it's a bluff so don't be fooled, this is great stuff.

Having self released their debut back in 2007 Aaron Chapman and John Bowers have done their fair share of rambling but finally settled on Portland as their home. Picking up a third member, James Mitchell, their sound has laid down roots into the deeply dysfunctional yet joyously elegant psych-pop that makes up Apple's Acre. One way to describe it is Animal Collective on half the budget or Grizzly Bear on half the anal retention. There's an ease to which these songs seem to have been created. They appear shambolic at first with their rickety percussion and decrepit Rhodes piano and Chapman's high pitched delivery, but then out of this mess comes some of the most delightful melodies, and with such scant back-up it's Chapman alone who crafts these.

As a whole, the record swells to incorporate ever growing elements. In the early stages we get the thrifty concoction of voice and piano as in opener Technicolor, the feeling being lonely and haunting. Then slowly the vocals are layered and this is when the finest, most thrilling results occur. Manatarms starts off empty with dispersed voices circling the drums but then each voice falls in behind Chapman's squeak and the whole thing rises like an orchestra. The same can be said for Lita towards the end of the record. This is clearly the standout track here and throughout its three and a half minutes my heart reaches new joys far higher than any delicately crafted Grizzly Bear arrangement. With a trembling piano and plodding rhythm the vocal harmonies take their time to soar but soar they certainly do. But this isn't anthemic soaring we're used to in pop music. This is soaring that could collapse at any point and I guess it's somewhere in this tension that the beguiling beauty is to be found. 

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17th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The XX

XX

Young Turks

With their debut album this South-West London due have lovingly created what sounds like an exploded diagram of an indie-pop record. Each element is laid out infront of you exposing its bare bones and the result is a sparse and at times haunting collection of songs that despite their stark simplicity are utterly compelling from the start. Theirs is a blend of glistening indie pop guitar melodies that flutter with new wave inspired reverberation and a vocal duo that drench the whole thing pure soul.

I must admit I find it hard to get past the Intro that opens this album. As a two minute instrumental it stands alone form the rest of the songs and is two minutes of near perfection with its echoing rhythm ponding in the cavernous space and the delicate melody circling above. But move on we must and as soon as Romy Madley Croft's soft vocals emerge on VCR like wildlife after a storm the spell is cast. Both her and Oliver Sim have the duty of filling in the hollow gaps in this sparse music but with their delicate and hushed tones they only fill it with more emtyness. Their delivery defies their roots and have the awkward softness of Scandinavia, together they make this sound quite unique.

By distancing each musical element from their context and exposing them in virtual isolation their power is all the more potent when they all come together. Seen most notably on Basic Space and Night Time the sense of satisfaction that occurs in you when you've wandered through the lonely musical space only to see it all gently converge with such precision and purpose is what makes this record so special. It's desperately lonely but there's warmth in these voices. They're intimate and close and above all real. Picking through the vulnerable particles of the human relationship the writing is simple and economic echoing the simplicity of the music. XX is an exercise of context, with the music and vocals being presented to us alone and then in unison. By bringing things together on songs like Crystalised or Islands they hold our attention throughout the record, our hearts straining for the next moment of bliss. Thankfully it doesn't have long to wait as these moments are plentiful on an album that simply glows with originality and honesty. This is a magnificent debut and one whose beauty may be set on slow release but pours forth in generous amounts as soon as you let it.

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12th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Throw Me The Statue

Creaturesque

Secretly Canadian

This is the second album from Seatle's Throw Me The Statue, an outfit that originally began as the one-man project of the multifaceted Scott Reitherman then evolved into the charmingly fresh sound that makes up Creaturesque. Its predecessor Moonbeams pricked up the ears of many a music critic with its ample helping of lo-fi bliss and while Creaturesque retains much of this element it's the production work from Phil Ek (The Shins, Built To Spill, Band Of Horses) that elevates this sound to maximalist indie-pop heights.

The transition to these heights is an interesting one and it's what's left in its trail that make this record intriguing. TMTS can drop in some of the most well formed pop hooks that it sometimes borders on cliche. The glittery glockenspiel that erupts on the hand-clap chorus of opener Waving At The Shore runs dangerously close to the sugary drivel that made the Magic Numbers so hard to swallow. But I think it's the fact that Reitherman has come from such lo-fi roots that this sweetness stays palatable due to an everpresent DIY presence that runs through it. I don't mean DIY in the No Age sense but in the Grandaddy sense I guess. Sub Pop's Chad Vangaalen is probably a better point of reference, with the occasional decrepit synthesiser being employed to churn out a vulnerable drum beat on which is built this impressive structure. But the intriguing thing is the contrast between the times when very little is built on this structure and a song like Tag plays out with its bare bones on full display, leading into its antithesis Ancestors. As the lead single Ancestors is a slice of indie-pop perfection. With an endlessly marketable and surprisingly anthemic guitar riff to base things on this can hardly fail and the way, mid way through the track, it pairs down to a simple acoustic strum as if he's just walked into a different room is magnificent. The drumming on all of these tracks is what really propels them. Cannibal Rays is a perfect example with its infectiously rolling pace providing a bubbling and flowing support for Reitherman's soft vocals.

And this voice is also very adaptable and further encourages the Vangaalen comparisons. Reitherman is as comfortable at the dizzy heights of the grand indie riffs of Hi-Fi Goon or the lowly folk acoustics of Shade For A Shadow. His delivery can be as gruff as old boots or so soft he could be singing his kids to sleep. So I guess what I'm saying is that this is an album of subtle contrasts. Nothing is abrasive or challenging and things may occasionally veer towards perilous lands of sugar but as The Outer Folds brings the record to a gentle close with its lounge-act melodies and softly brushed rhythms it's pretty hard not to sit back and smile at what you've just heard. This is infectious for all the right reasons, it's anthemic and intimate, it's polished and yet threads hang unapologetically from its edges. But somewhere in amongst all that is something that keeps me coming back for more and I will continue to do that until I hear any of these on a T-Mobile ad. Reitherman, you have been warned.

 

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10th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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New Improved, LIVE

Bay area blog The Bay Bridged has Yoni Wolf of Why? doing a few tracks for their monthly "New Improved, LIVE" session. Yoni and his piano are in by themselves for for this rare session which features two songs form the forthcoming Eskimo Snow, one from Alopecia and a cover of Pavement's "Shoot The Singer".

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7th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Touring Band

Nice bit of timelapse photography up at Wilco World from a recent show. Shows what a small piece the actual gig plays in the puzzle.

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24th Jul 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Star Status: Andy Garcia

A recent screening of The Untouchables brought Andy Garcia into the sights of Star Status, and it's a mixed picture. He's actually been in a lot of TV stuff and a lot of stuff that I for one haven't seen - so quite a few of these scores will be coming from the over-generous IBDB voting system. No TV, so his appearance in the pilot of Murder She Wrote won't count I'm afraid.

So, how does Cuban-born Andy Garcia rate in the Chimpomatic Star Status Movie Maths Generator?

It's 10 points for a Hit, 5 for a Maybe and 1 for a Miss... 

The Pink Panther 2 (2009) .... Vicenzo - MISS
City Island (2009) .... Vince Rizzo - HIT
La linea (2008) .... Javier Salazar - MISS
Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008) (voice) .... Delgado - MISS
Ocean's Thirteen (2007) .... Terry Benedict - HIT
The Air I Breathe (2007) .... Fingers - HIT
Smokin' Aces (2006) .... Stanley Locke - MAYBE
The Lost City (2005) .... Fico Fellove - MAYBE
Ocean's Twelve (2004) .... Terry Benedict - HIT
Modigliani (2004) .... Amedeo Modigliani - MAYBE
The Lazarus Child (2004) .... Jack Heywood - MISS
Twisted (2004/I) .... Mike Delmarco - MISS
Confidence (2003) .... Gunther Butan - MAYBE
Just Like Mona (2003) - MISS
Ocean's Eleven (2001) .... Terry Benedict - HIT
The Man from Elysian Fields (2001) .... Byron - MAYBE
The Unsaid (2001) .... Michael Hunter - MAYBE
Lakeboat (2000) .... Guigliani - MISS
Just the Ticket (1999/I) .... Gary Starke - MISS
Desperate Measures (1998) .... Frank Conner - MISS
Hoodlum (1997) .... Lucky Luciano - MISS
The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca (1996) .... Lorca - MAYBE
Night Falls on Manhattan (1996) .... Sean Casey - MAYBE
Steal Big Steal Little (1995) .... Ruben Partida Martinez/Robert Martin/Narrator - MISS
Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995) .... Jimmy 'The Saint' Tosnia - HIT
When a Man Loves a Woman (1994) .... Michael Green - MAYBE
Jennifer Eight (1992) .... Sgt. John Berlin - HIT
Hero (1992/I) .... John Bubber - HIT
Dead Again (1991) .... Gray Baker - HIT
The Godfather: Part III (1990) .... Vincent Mancini - HIT
A Show of Force (1990) .... Luis Angel Mora - MISS
Internal Affairs (1990) .... Raymond Avilla - HIT
Black Rain (1989/I) .... Charlie - HIT
American Roulette (1988) .... Carlos Quintas - MISS
Stand and Deliver (1988) .... Dr. Ramirez (Educational Testing Service) - MAYBE
The Untouchables (1987) .... Agent George Stone / Giuseppe Petri - HIT
8 Million Ways to Die (1986) .... Angel Moldonado - MAYBE

HIT 11
MAYBE 11
MISS 13

So that's 178 out of a possible 370

Andy Garcia, you have scored a (perhaps surprising) 48.1%

If you dare make a purchase, you can do so here, allowing Chimpomatic to profit from his loss. Check back soon for more Star Status movie maths. Same Chimp Channel, same Chimp Time...

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17th Jul 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Playlist: 2009 ...so far

We're half way through 2009 and this quick recap shows it's been a pretty strong 6 months so far. Some of the best songs have come from debuts with Titus Andronicus and Japandroids particularly doing it for me this year. Let's hope the next half holds as much promise.

Listen to this playlist of Spotify.

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2nd Jul 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Japandroids

Post-Nothing

Polyvinyl Records

The noise pop scene is really picking up steam lately and we have seen the whole drums/guitar due done many times. We've had the recent Wavves breakdown, the vitriolic expletives of Psychedelic Horseshit's Matt Whitehurst and the rather oversensitive Hunches fans so it sure is nice to hear a band who fit the formula but really couldn't give a toss about it as well. Japandroids is Brian King on guitar and David Prowse on drums and their debut album Post-Nothing has all the reckless, punk abandon of an uptight teenager, a knack for hooks like you've never heard and enough perspective to not take itself too seriously.

All you have to do is listen to some of these lyrics to get the M.O. of this band. They're screeched with fledgling raw passion but are shot straight into the sky with enough epic heart to punch a hole in the sun. Young Hearts Spark Fire, one of the finest 5 minutes I've had for a while, states "We used to dream, now we worry about dying," then elaborates, "I don't want to worry about dying, I just want to worry about those sunshine girls." Me too buddy. The goal of Wet Hair is to get to Paris to "french kiss some french girls." I've just got back from Paris and that never happened, I didn't really want to even if I had the opportunity but when you're these kids ages it would seem pretty doable. All this heart is presented over crashing drums and some of the finest driving guitar hooks i've heard for ages. They play like their lives depend on it and with a confidence rarely seen after 25 they instill a beautiful glow of immortality in me every time I hear them. Heart Sweats is one of the many highlights here, the way it mixes the ultimate with the banal in its repetitive mantra, "Your heart's cold as ice girl, I should know I've been to the North Pole / Your soul's black as death girl, I should know I've crossed the threshold / Your style's a mess girl, I should know I used to date a stylist." In these lines they explain both idealism and the priorities of the young. It's genius and it's all delivered forcefully over a chugging structure that keeps renewing itself with unfailing excitement.

There's been much debate about the production of many DIY bands kicking around at the moment and though this isn't Pink Floyd its solid production work give the chunky riffs some profound bite and make the vocal's effortlessly dive over the top. Crazy/Forever crashes around with tinny cymbals then turns on a dime and drops into a deep guitar chord that instantly becomes the driving spinal chord to the longest song on the record. It seems they really don't care if you like this stuff or not, they just have to get it out or they'll explode. I charge anyone to listen to this and not feel a sudden rush of the purest type of nostalgic idealism.

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2nd Jul 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Sunset Rubdown

Dragonslayer

Jagjaguwar

Ever since Sunset Rubdown's debut LP Shut Up I Am Dreaming made its welcome and permanent position in my life it has become quite clear that Spencer Krug's side project was threatening to upstage the main event. Now 3 years on and their third album sees the transformation complete. Never before has Wolf Parade sounded more like an afterthought and this band more like the powerhouse it has always threatened to be.

2007's Random Spirit Lover was a studio-built album, almost entirely written while recording and every layer being painstakingly overdubbed and adjusted. The result was tremendous but utterly overwhelming in its size and intensity. Dragonslayer is a totally different story. It is the product of a far more organic recording process with the music being left in its raw state and allowed to grow naturally. Strangely enough, having been born in a contrasting environment, Dragonslayer is just as momentous, but it's also an altogether different creation. Instead of pounding you into blissful submission Dragonslayer sprinkles angel dust in your eyes by way of some truly magnificent compositions and Spencer Krug's writing, which really have no place in a world this cynical.

Random Spirit Lover was all about excess. Almost every song launched into full blown magnitude during the first few bars with Krug filling every corner of each song with frenzied poetry. The first thing you notice about Dragonslayer is the space. The songs are long and the music is allowed time to really explore its territory. Instead of springing out of the blocks most songs here enjoy some of the most sublime introductions I've heard in a long time. Krug makes ambitious music and by gradually raising up these compositions in the way he does here transforms them into stella entities. I never thought he would ever top Shut Up I Am Only Dreaming Of Places Where Lovers Have Wings from the debut but Idiot Heart comes closer than anything else to stealing that crown. With a chugging guitar intro Krug simmers with brilliant clarity and patience. The instruments keep a low but weighty profile with a glorious guitar circling them with wild abandon. "You can't settle down until the Icarus in your blood drowns" mumbles Krug as the whole intricate construction swells in unison on the wing of this guitar work that never fails to light a fire in your heart in the brief time it is given to fly. In over six minutes in length this song dips and dives, hinting at finishing then changing course and hurtling off again.

Black Swan has a drum beat intro that runs for over a minute which is virtually unheard of from this band. Krug and his musicians explode periodically along this beat but then fade away to leave it running in its beautiful simplicity. The raw production employed on these songs is best seen in the lead guitar. On this song it flares and soars with unbridled energy then drops into the rhythm with expert timing. It really gives this album its feeling of limitlessness as it sings such heart wrenching melodies but with such gruff and gravely textures.

I could write endlessly about some of these songs, the dub rhythmical structure of You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II), the near electro sound that introduces Nightingale/December Song or the moment Camilla Wynne Ingr first utters her soft vocal pearls on Idiot Heart but music this precious should really be left to be experienced. I could write forever but always fall short of capturing the magic that lies in Krug's crazy heart. He sings of shooting stars, magical palaces, kings and queens and mouthfuls of butterfly wings because these are the only concepts that sit comfortably in this vast imagination. By hiding under the sheltering banner of a side project Krug has managed to sneak up the inside lane and rides comfortably upfront. Propelled by bluebird's wings and dragon's flames he's racing ahead as one of todays finest songwriters and with a band this strong behind him there really is no stopping this glorious insanity.

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29th Jun 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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White Denim

Fits

Full Time Hobby

In my review of the dazzling debut album from White Denim, I referred to the free-weeling nature of their style to the possibility that their cup runnith over, that Workout Holiday was the result of someone calling time on this non-stop outpouring of grimy creative muscle flexing. Well almost a year on from this release and we get the followup, thus proving my point. Workout Holiday was a collection of new work and previous EP's so Fits has different role to play - but when you're so blind-sided by an album as I was with their debut, it sure is interesting to see the follow-up and put the catalogue into a context.

Their debut set them up as slightly unhinged punk upstarts and the clever thing about this record is that it not only hammers that point home quite profoundly, but also destroys it as a stereotype by placing them in some other less predictable arenas - that of lounge jazz, prog, psyche rock and even a bit of tropicalia. They've imposed quite a rigid structure on the record by separating these various approaches. The band describe the approach as "less medium to medium-hard songs and more songs that are medium-soft and hard-hard." Hard-hard leads the record with medium-soft occupying the second half. Very little ground is re-trodden here and from the outset it's quite clear that the manic schizophrenia they displayed earlier was nothing compared to what they are capable of. Radio Milk How Can You Stand It opens a four song run of some of the most sprawling free-form garage rock you'll have heard in a while. Drummer Josh Block and bassist Steve Teribecki lead this charge with non-stop rolling thunder. When I saw them in east London last month they treated us to a full throttle rock marathon that refused to acknowledge track-breaks. This is obviously how they roll these days and as All Consolation and Say What You Want repeatedly change up in arrangement and go careering off in unpredictable directions they might as well have done without track breaks here.

As far as the soft half of Fits is concerned Mirrored And Reverse is by far the highlight. It was given out as a free download in anticipation of the record and at the time it seemed quite a curious departure for this band but in the context of the record it not only make perfect sense but shines out as the best song here. It scuffles along on a downbeat rhythm with Petralli's vocals assuming an uncharacteristically subtle tone. As the rhythm swells the guitar drifts in with a guttural sort of blues that carries away the rest of the song. It's a worthy figurehead of this new sound and shows a more considered approach to their music. Along with the country pop of Paint Yourself and the lounge lazy haze of I'd Have It Just The Way We Were this second half treats us to some fine pop hooks like the ever-so-light and playful Regina Holding Hands.

Lead single I Start To Run and Everybody Somebody reign-in their tendency to erratic compositions and become near perfect garage rock. They drop in periodically to remind us that when they want to this trio can pull out a piece of toe-tapping grufty perfection, but they'd prefer to leave all that to other bands and strive forward into unknown territory. Fits may not be as instantly appealing or as jaw-droppingly exciting as Workout Holiday, but it's this refusal to stay still that makes it such a ballsy success. They started off as a bunch of punks who didn't know the rules and now they seem to have their eyes on the Hendrix crown, and it's only been a year. Their live show was an awesome display of energy and with Fits they've won themselves the freedom that some bands spend their entire career chasing. As I said after reviewing Workout Holiday, I can't wait for the next shot of this lot.

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23rd Jun 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Psychedelic Horseshit, man

The Washington Post has an interesting, expletive-filled interview with Matt Whitehurst of Psychedelic Horseshit - a hit at this year's SXSW Festival. He has a list of interesting thoughts on the raft of lo-fi/deliberately badly produced releases we've heard recently - and forms an opinion similar to loyal writers Harris Pilton and NM.

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12th Jun 2009 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

Blank Dogs

Under And Under

In The Red

Blank Dogs is certainly something of an enigma. The Banksy of the noise-pop scene, he remains pretty much anonymous, choosing to hide his face under bed sheets or bandages for press photos. But the solidity of his work suggests that instead of being merely a cheap gimmick to attain notoriety this mystery serves to let the music do all the talking, and judging by the endless string of limited edition releases that have emerged over the last few years and now this, his latest full length, they argue a pretty good case. The one thing we do know about Blank Dogs is that it's singular but for this album he enlists the help of label mates Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls. The results are impressive.

There seems to be a constant and for the most part welcome stream of fuzzed out noise punk assaulting my ears at the moment but what makes this sound stand apart from all the rest is that its emphasis isn't on 60's rock inspired, redlined garage guitar but opts for programmed beats, synthesizers and a heavy dose of 80's post-punk, goth and new wave. Much like On Two Sides, Blank Dogs' previous album, Under And Under rolls with a deep bass structure, effect laden guitar and a voice so submerged it could be from a different universe altogether. The title of this new release suggests the direction by which it parts company with its predecessor. The booming muffle of these songs impressively drags all that we learnt from On Two Sides way down to almost indecipherable darkness.

The genius of this record is the way he manages to elaborately construct his songs around distant Cure basslines while layering his monotone Joy Division vocals without ever sounding like a rip off. Setting Fire To Your House has a core that is straight out of The Cure's A Forest but it's a sheer delight. It seems to borrow all of the sounds that defined my early musical appreciation and drag them all under water to their deaths. Things are slowed down to a relentless mid-tempo and with all the effects that swirl around the feeling is like watching flash-backs of your life disappear under murky slush. Cutting through all this slush is the screech of distorted guitar that rudely imposes itself on standout songs like No Compass and Around The Room. With scant regard for anything this guitar carves out some of the most surprisingly satisfying melodies ever seen in this genre.

Unlike the recent Crocodiles record that at times seemed to find it hard to let loose the weight of its influences, Blank Dogs serves up a masterclass of how to honor those influences but treat them as starting blocks from which this guy springs forth very successfully. The last bedroom genius of this genre I got excited about was Wavves and as we've just witnessed his very public fall from grace lets hope this hooded enigma has more to offer.

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5th Jun 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Thee Oh Sees

Help

In The Red

With John Dwyer's last offering still welcomely ringing in my ears the San Francisco band drop its followup, a worthy partner and one that accurately identifies its predecessors strengths and wisely chooses to focus on these. In all its many incarnations Dwyer's latest band has itself taken all sorts of twists and turns musically. Thee Oh Sees originally started out as an expression of Dwyer's softer side, emerging out of the raucous noise of his previous bands Pink And Brown and Coachwhips he delivered a lo fi folk sound that was somber but beautiful. Last years The Masters Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In changed all that with Dwyer expanding his formation into a wild concoction of psychedelia and gritting rockabilly garage noise. Help is nowhere near such a dramatic turn as His Masters Bedroom was and continues this sound but hacks off the fat leaving twelve solid songs and very little fillers.

Help draws straight, dark lines to both the British psychedelic rock bands like The Creation and the caveman thud of The Troggs. Dwyer's howl is very much at the forefront of this sound albeit buried by the mounting rock scuzz muscle that surrounds it. It's hard to pick standout moments on an album of this consistency but Go Meet The Seed covers this bands strengths perfectly. The chugging guitar that forms the hefty structure all the way through it is stark and basic but pounds relentlessly. The vocals are given space which is something that rarely happened in the last album but really pays off. Brigid Dawson's harmonies still shadow Dwyer's every move to great effect and juxtapose the grit of the music. This song really illustrates the growth that has occurred since the last record, it leans back and allows each element of this sound to flex. Thankfully the ragged ferocity still remains and I Can't Get No sees this expressed in all its straight up glory. It's a fraction of the length of Go Meet The Seed but crams all the elements into a short stab of simple-as-hell rockabilly joy.

Having ditched the momentary noise freakouts that occasionally rendered the last record fragmented but keeping the Cramps influence, Dwyer has created a record that seems to be a culmination of all of his previous projects and one that showcases his talents as a songwriter perfectly. His work often challenges but never takes itself too seriously, it seems to emerge with great ease and listening to it is definitely getting more pleasurable by every release. He's more prolific than most but the quality seems to rising at the same rate as the quantity.

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2nd Jun 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Jason Lytle

Islington Academy, London

May 28th, 2009

The last time I saw Jason Lytle was at Brixton Academy in 2003 on the biggest ever Grandaddy tour. Behind his defunct keyboard equipment shone a huge screen that dazzlingly projected films to accompany every song. Snow Patrol were the little known support act. How times have changed. Snow Patrol are huge for some strange reason and Grandaddy are no more. But as I watched this reluctant indie hero shuffle on to the stage in the far more intimate surroundings of the Islington Academy it was clear that this change of circumstances were fine by him.

He doesn't take center stage anymore staying off to the right behind his intricately wired equipment. Cleanly shaven (and unnervingly resembling Keifer Sutherland) he emerged after a curiously dramatic operatic recorded intro in which a female voice asks "who's playing tonight, Oh he's the guy from that band Grandaddy," and he found himself in the presence of his religiously adoring fans who have waited a long time for this. As soon as his first breathy word was uttered it was like seeing an old fiend for the first time in ages. With a new band behind him he treated us to multiple picks from his new solo record and some choice Grandaddy cuts, although none from the last record.

For any long term fan of his former band it was a joyous thing indeed to hear the opening bars to Chartsengrafs as the first song rang out. A magnificently extended rendition of Jed's Other Poem awaited us a few songs later but the real treat was two of my favorite songs from this impeccable back catalogue, Levitz and the Crystal Lake B side Our Dying Brains, which always sounds better live than in original form. Obviously he played the new material with evident pride and glancing round the crowd during songs like Yours Truly and Brand New Sun it was clear how well received these new songs are as everybody mouthed the words as if singing along to the classics. Whether fronting Grandaddy or standing alone on the stage Jason Lytle is consistently a class live act. He has an uncanny power to render you gooey eyed with dreamy nostalgia and no matter what torrent of noise he raises up around his vocals his words are always crystal clear, shining out with dazzling clarity through perfect sound production.

With a curiously short rendition of the second half of He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot as the encore the band left the stage all too early. I suppose they had to go sometime and we could all have stayed there until dawn broke but this exit seemed unplanned and sudden. Whatever the reason it sure was good to have the boy back in our town. As he paused halfway through the all time crowd favorite A.M.180 and stated, "here I am back in London playing this annoying melody," the London crowd rapturously thanked their hero for the memories.

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1st Jun 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Wavves

Wavvves

Bella Union

Wavves is the solo project of San Diego's Nathan Daniel WIlliams and that's the simple part. This is his second full length release, the first came out earlier this year and was self titled and featured the song Wavves, which was one of the best songs on the album. Both records have as their cover image, a faded photograph of a kid on a skateboard in his backyard and both will fix your head in a homemade vice but you'll love every minute of it.

Much like its front cover which features a kid attempting a drop-in off a wheelbarrow in the 70's, the debut record was pumped full of hazy nostalgia, disaffected youth rebellion, boyish reverie and was all churned out with the same DIY scuzz that you'd expect from a wheelbarrow drop-in. This follow-up features a more zoomed in shot of the same kid but this time he's found an actual ramp and it's possible to see a link between these two visual differences. They both thrash uncontrollably between slacker-punk and twisted surf-rock, they're both shrouded in red-line production and they're both pretty damn gnarly but this followup is more focused, more fluid and much like the difference between a wheelbarrow and a ramp when it comes to skateboarding this one is way more fun.

He's got himself a drummer on this new record and it makes a big difference. Together they scoop up the sticky floor-muck that is left behind after your average punk gig and recycle it back into music. Incorporating elements of Sonic Youth, Nirvana, the Beach Boys and contemporaries like No Age and Sic Alps, Williams masterfully evokes every musical and social teenage experience I can remember and filters it all through claustrophobic production. The two most obvious central anthems are So Bored and No Hope Kids. Both illustrate Williams' knack for crafting perfect pop hooks and melodies and then burying it all under a ton of feedback and general punk noise. They clatter around as if directionless but even in their most abrasive spells the pop element is always adhered to. I use that word 'Pop' with some pretty heavy inverted commas around it, but in this context it represents direction, be that melody or rhythm. Everything possible is done to submerge this element but it ends up carrying most of these songs to their successful conclusion.

To sum up, may I use the Paris Hilton vernacular and call Wavves my NFB (New Favorite Band) This title has been awarded for some pretty base level reasons. Williams makes proper punk rock that while doused in the contemporary trend of red-line production hollers with teenage nostalgic abandon and instantly takes me back to sunny days spent hating the world and dropping-in off wheelbarrows. Good times.

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29th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Crocodiles

Summer Of Hate

Fat Possum

The days of getting into new bands by the thank you's in the liner notes of a record are sadly long gone, as bittorrent downloads don't come with such added details, but the ever increasing ripples of excitement that are emanating from this band have largely originated from the fact that No Age included their self released 7" Neon Jesus in their Top Ten Songs of 2008.

The fact that No Age mentioned them in the first place is in itself quite misleading. Crocodiles are pretty scuzzy with ample feedback and effects permeating through each note but their adherence to pop sensibilities remove them quite considerably from the brand of noise punk that No Age craft. Long time friends Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez hail from sunny San Diego and I guess Summer Of Hate emerges from an alternative and less glamorous Californian life that is filtered over to us here, a life of hum drum days and bored teenagers. So as a result you get an album drenched in hazy sunshine but dripping with grime. I say 'dripping with grime' but this may be a slight exaggeration. One scratch at this greasy surface and a gleaming pop structure reveals itself below. In fact, without even scratching another structure reveals itself, that of The Jesus And Mary Chain. I Wanna Kill, an extremely catchy piece of scuzz pop, is built almost entirely on the frame work of Head On, the same drum beats and a hook that follows the 80's hit to the letter. But instead of holding this against them, the song and the rest of the record is so satisfying that I find myself carrying on regardless. Soft Skull (In My Room) is a damn near perfect blend of dub rock and art-punk madness.

The record can be divided quite equally into two types of approach, that of the afore mentioned spiky pounders and the tripped out atmospherics of songs like Here Comes The Sky and the title track which swirls around like a modern day Velvets submerging the distant vocals in layer upon layer of effect laden melodies. There's enough of a blend of 80's synth beats and very contemporary punk rock grit to make this much more than a cheap rehash. It has a refreshingly different agenda than a lot of the noise pop acts around at the moment. It isn't very noisy and it doesn't aim to pummel you but rather seethes with tension and anxiety. Though Crocodiles at times seem to be hovering tentatively on the fringes of the noise punk sound as if not quite confident enough to dive headlong in their decision to keep an eye on melody make this a familiar yet rewarding listen.

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28th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Titus Andronicus

100 Club, London

May 20th 2009

This must be the first time I've gone to a gig purely for the support act - and though San Diego hot-tip The Soft Pack were entertaining enough, it was Titus Andronicus that was the main event for me last night. With wall-to-wall framed pictures of past legends looking on expectantly the 5 young punks form New Jersey had a lot to live up to, and they certainly didn't disappoint. Instead they kicked the shit out of that place like it had just been built.

With just one LP under their belt they played like legends themselves carrying a self confidence born purely on the knowledge that any one of the songs off The Airing Of Grievances would tear this place down. The wall of sound that holds up the LP was erected in monolithic form on stage with awesome drumming standing shoulder to shoulder with the muscular 4 pronged guitar attack. Front man Patrick Stickles led this crew looking like a 70's era Scorsese - he throttled the mic and shrieked venomously and it seemed more genuine than any performance I've seen in a long time. It's easy to look longingly at the pictures that adorn the walls of this infamous venue and feel that whatever existed then can never repeat itself, then take a look at the stage and a rare feeling tells you that this is the real deal.

They've made an unexpected album of the year, and while their influences are abundantly clear they are mere jumping off points for a truly unique style of punk. They play songs that should really last for less than a minute but are morphed into epic monsters - and they play out these monsters with the tightness of a longtime ensemble. I've enjoyed the album so much this year (it was slim pickings until they came along) but I was so pleased not to see a bunch of skinny jeaned kids rehashing other peoples performances. Instead I bore witness to a fucking hard punk gig, but one played out with intelligence and bucket loads of passion.

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22nd May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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White Denim

Old Blue Last, London

May 18th 2009

There's an old parable of a bug who lived in the worlds most beautiful Persian rug. He spent all his time laboriously climbing over each tuft and viewed them as nothing but obstacles that stood in his way of progress. The sad tale is that he lived and died in this thing of beauty but never saw the glorious pattern to which he belonged. I was reminded of this tale as I stood in the beer soaked ambiance of Shoreditch's Old Blue Last watching Texan trio White Denim. As they embarked on what would be a mammoth non-stop medley of pretty much everything on their debut LP it was at times hard to see this onslaught of feral noise as mere obstacles that stood in the way of me and a lifetime of healthy hearing. But thankfully, and unlike our little bug friend, one nod from vocalist James Petralli towards his band members and the whole thing would drop into jagged funk riffs and as if by magic the pattern was revealed and the beauty made gloriously evident.

Admittedly using words like 'pattern' and 'beauty' is perhaps as misguided as feeding caviar to a rabid dog. The reality was a sweaty bar heaving with eager fans and three guys who thrashed the shit out of their fledgling back catalogue. This set wasn't just one song after another, it was one song, lasting for about 25 minutes and never let up in tempo. The only reason they had a short break in the middle was to repair some equipment. It was fierce and furious and played out like they had a train to catch, double-time. It was thrilling from start to finish and actually made me resent the times we live in. We're all so self aware now-days and it felt wrong not to be punching some dude in the face to this music, not intentionally of course but a dirty yet euphoric mosh scrap was really the only fitting way to behave in the presence of such passionately manic rock. And yet like their album, all this seemingly unharnessed frenzy is very much supported by a sturdy and considered foundation and when it chooses to reveal itself the pattern is awesome. From what I could hear above the ringing in my ears (which still goes on this morning) the new songs sound just as sturdy as the old which just fueled my appetite for the imminent release of the new record Fits. I recommend anybody in earshot to go and see these guys.

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20th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Notes From A Commuter

We've got a review up for Jason Lytle's new solo album Yours Truly, The Commuter, but for some bonus data, check out these two videos from the man himself. Part 1 / Part 2.

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18th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Jason Lytle

Yours Truly, The Commuter

Anti

It was a strange task indeed to review the last Grandaddy album, Just Like The Fambly Cat, knowing that it was to be their last. It was virtually impossible, armed with this knowledge, not to read every word of the record as a suicide note. It's hard to review the album in its own right and not view it in the context in which it was being presented, the full stop to a wonderful decade of music. Since that time the music scene has suffered three years without its most unashamedly romantic and yet seemingly reluctant indie hero, until now that is. Here he returns to our ears with his debut solo record and the task of reviewing a piece of work that finds Lytle at the start of a new road rather than at the end of an old one is an infinitely more joyous undertaking, and made even easier by the quality of the music in question.

Lytle's work has always danced intriguingly around a series of opposites or contradictions. There's the obvious one like a big, bearded country dude singing in such a delicate tone which, in turn, leads on to yet more trickery. In these soft tones he sings of unbridled romanticism of warm summer days, hand in hand or childhood idealism and then trashes them with stories of drunk robots or sudden bursts of feral punk rock. Thematically these contrasts have prevailed and one senses a constant struggle in Lytle between everything from art and pop, town and country, loud and quiet or past and present.

In true form the title of his solo debut is a signing off - Yours Truly. And The Commuter explains this struggle hinting at a constant state of traveling between one place and another, be that physical or emotional or forward and back. Place is a dominant theme here with much talk of "going home." the line in the opening song "I may be limping, but I'm coming home," touches on both his past experiences and what promise the future holds for him now. Back in 1997 he gave us lines like "Here I sit and play guitar, count stars, out in the country, having narrowly escaped my trip into town," from Collective Dream Wish Of Upperclass Elegance. Little has changed as we find him in a similar dichotomy. Lytle is a dreamer and his music has always vividly represented the artistic conundrum between free expression and some sort of existence in society and the rest of the world. The concept of 'home' can obviously be taken at face value having recently relocated to Montana but it could also represent a kind of comfort that he's now finding between these two artistic opposites.

The core of the Grandaddy sound is firmly in place on Yours Truly with a slightly more low-key feel to proceedings. Lytle writes simple songs about simple themes and it's in this pursuit of simplicity that he manages to create some of the most perfect songs of his career. In the liner notes there's a picture of his note pad on which is written "No more weird arrangements...not on this album!!! Very simple. Very nice. rich, Big, but with enough little fucked things." That kind of does my job for me, I couldn't have put it better. It's a lonely record, but sun drenched as always. Themes of loss prevail but hope springs forth continuously. He creates a kind of euphoric melancholia, or melancholic euphoria, depending on your state of mind. Brand New Sun swells with an almost tear jerking sense of promise as two people run headlong into the unknown with the sole purpose of change, whatever pitfalls await them they'll face it together. Birds Encouraged Him sees a character on the verge of giving up on life only to be talked out of it by the birds, this childlike vision of salvation at the hands of nature being a familiar thread.

Lytles work is so packed full of a unique kind of idealism, both innocent and jaded, that one is almost seduced into reading too much into his words. The temptation to do that on the final Grandaddy album was all too great and I don't want to do it here. Whether he's lost or has found his way home is his privilege to know but what he's given us is a wonderfully simple and endlessly beautiful piece of work and a worthy first step on this much anticipated solo journey.

Check out Lytle's notes on the album here.

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18th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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King Creosote

Flick The V's

Domino

Somewhere between the 2005 Homefires gig and James Yorkston's Year of The Leopard the light that burned in me for the Fence Collective started to dwindle and soon ran out all together. Kenny Anderson AKA King Creosote was evolving into the jewel in the Fence crown with his stunning Rocket D.I.Y. album and to a lesser extent KC Rules OK, but with his 4th release ... I started to lose interest. It was all slightly too sugar sweet and the use of accordion, which was his USP for a long time started to drag. Thankfully, with this latest album, things are starting to illuminate again.

Much of this return to form can be placed at the door of the opening track No One Had It Better. With this Anderson emerges as a more mature artist who is embracing a more varied sonic pallet. The most obvious change is the use of technology. Layers of sampled vocals swim around this opening song and there's a real sense of patience as Anderson takes his time to introduce himself on this record. When he does is very exciting. With brisk drums joining this rising electronic background he comes in strong and with a pace that is sometimes lacking from previous songs. It's the longest song he's made and it really announces this new record with a fresh confidence but still manages to retain Anderson's weary innocence.

This song goes unrivaled on the rest of the record but that's not to dampen any of the other songs. The musical compositions are way more mature in their construction and ambition. His writing has always been of a charming and understated intelligence and I think the reason this record works better than past efforts is that the music elevates this writing to a status far greater than before and the contrast between this bigger sound and Anderson's humble insights makes this work. Rocket D.I.Y. dazzled with its realism and playful wit but with this new release both these qualities are joined by more contemporary company and the partnership makes for a lovely album that blows like a spring breeze, with a slight chill but heralding warmth to come.

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12th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Great Lake Swimmers

Lost Channels

Nettwerk

There is a quiet beauty that runs through every album by this band but, the strong foundations that support this new release make this beauty sing more clearly and reveal itself with more confidence and power. With Tony Dekker's wistful vocals and the vast musical country-folk arrangements they create visions of endless landscapes rolling out before you in various seasonal warmth or chill.

Their previous work has tended to concentrate on the latter but I am overjoyed to see the sunshine streaming in on much of Lost Channels. Like Fleet Foxes, or My Morning Jacket it's the vocals that do most of the work in summoning up these epic spacial visions and Dekker only has to breath before this fills your mind's eye. But the warmth that accompanies these visions is what makes this record stand out from the others and turn it into a delight from start to finish. Songs like opener Palmistry, Pulling A Line and Still rely on strum-heavy rhythms that take the listener on a soaring flight of pure majesty while She Comes To Me In Dreams, probably the gutsiest track here, breaks this renewed briskness with pounding drums that bust open the back end of this song revealing a cavernous and monumental hidden space.

As well as all this you've got your expected chill that snakes in and out of this warmth. Much of Ongiara dwelt on this aspect of Dekker's voice, lush strings and gentle guitar waft effortlessly along as his feather-light vocals coax tars from each song. Concrete Heart and Stealing Tomorrow are two fine examples of the power of this voice. But it's this contrast, warmth and chill, light and dark, that really makes Lost Channels the album that raises this band to another level. Shearwater did it with Palo Santo and they've never been the same since. Great Lake Swimmers have proved with this record that while picking up the pace slightly and letting the sunshine in they sacrifice none of the spellbinding beauty and ghostly ambiguity that define their work.

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11th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Dag For Dag

Shooting From The Shadows EP

Saddle Creek

Dag For Dag are brother and sister Sarah Parthemore Snavely and Jacob Donald Snavely and while hailing from Southern California they now reside in Sweden. This is their debut EP and while being constructed out of some quite simple and well tested ideas is utterly infectious none the less.

As will be clear from the opening bars of first song Ring Me, Elise the whole thing centers around one guitar chord and rarely strays form this path. But who needs complicated backing texture when you have a vocalist as beguiling as Sarah. She instantly renders the bare bones guitar sound a cavernous and unhinged driving force. With an alto tone that hollows out your eardrums she picks this song up and scatters it into unexpected and thrilling territory. Things climb down from these lofty heights into progressively more pensive areas from here on in with the delicately melodic Pirate Sea and the haunting simplicity of Words. You Holler, You Scream and Better Now evolve Sarah's voice into more and more unhinged madness with the gritty guitar constantly threatening to drown her.

The remix that concludes this EP slightly lets the side down with its slick production making clean work of this rough diamond approach. This is incredibly simple music that really shouldn't be so pleasing, but it's the passion of the two siblings that drives this record and make it so listenable.

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6th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Magic Markers

Balf Quarry

Drag City

Continuing on nicely from the swirling shit puddle that 2007's Boss left us in, Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan dish out the next installment. As you'd expect form this duo, Balf Quarry is an awkward dose of sonic psychosis that has the ability to soak into you like freezing drizzle or square up for a some more direct combat. Like crack cocaine, it isn't pleasant but it's addictive.

With minimal input they manage to erect these insurmountable walls of noise that shake with tempting vulnerability but stand proud with a strength that is baffling. And cutting through all this is Ambrogio's voice. It can tick by in monotone simplicity like on 7/23 or it can howl like a possessed Karen O on Jerks. The whole thing creeks with lo fi charm as homemade surfaces are used to coax out minimal tapping beats, guitars swirl and cry with little sense or order. Like Ambrogio's vocals the texture can, from track to track, recede deep into the distance creating ghostly chills that blow around her isolated voice or instantly swell to fill the room and envelope the vocals like a merciless storm. With Scott Colburn at the helm whose production credits include Animal Collective this light and dark noise texture becomes the crooked wire coat hanger on which this record hangs it's success. With such bare bones for a framework the melody that is stretched over as some sort of skin can sometimes thin out to near collapse but it's always in view and with the exception of The Ricercar Of Dr. Clara Haber it remains the thread on which much of this is tied. There's a lot of this about at the moment so it's important to recognise the honest shit puddles when you step in one, and this is just the ticket.

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5th May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Doves

Kingdom of Rust

EMI

The other day, while shopping in Asda I found my self humming along to Elbow's On A Day Like This which was playing on what I presume was Asda FM and it got me thinking: surely this is when you know you've made it, when your artistic creations filter down to Asda level. Hell, I even heard that song playing in the Rovers on Corrie. This has been a long time coming for Elbow and it couldn't have happened to a better band or with a better album than The Seldom Seen Kid. I've always thought that Doves occupy a similar musical space to Elbow and have always curiously escaped the dizzy heights of Asda. Why bands like Coldplay have rocketed to star status with songs a fraction as good as Doves will forever escape me. By all accounts, based on the work they've put out so far, Doves should be one of the biggest bands in the world.

They're certainly one of the most steady bands performing today. Since their debut in 2000 they've delivered three strong albums full of stadium filling sounds that seem to have been born with the great ease. And yet we don't read about Jimi Goodwin's love exploits in the pages of Grazia. They're the Ryan Giggs of rock if you like - and with the fourth installment, Kingdom Of Rust, they should be getting the golden boot.

The first three songs on Kingdom Of Rust are Doves past, present and future and they're three of the best songs this band has ever produced. Choosing Jetstream as the opening song is a clear statement that the past five years since Some Cities haven't been wasted and Doves have certainly grown. It's a slow building, synth-heavy opener that swells to embrace Doves' previous Sub Sub qualities and levels out to a full-on techno-driven bullet train of a song. The title track is pretty much all you want from a Doves track - Goodwin's vocals riding atop a gently growing wave of delicate guitar work and euphoric melodies. Every one of their albums has one of these songs, the kind that make you want to throw your arms high in the air, The Cedar Room, There Goes The Fear and Black And White Town all had this and Kingdom Of Rust continues the tradition majestically. The Outsiders sees this band emerging from the last five years of silence with a new outlook, a darkly brooding tension and a refreshed muscular intention. Built around a relentless Krautrock rhythm it takes all of the past work and moulds it all into a seriously powerful sound that shows that this band may not have Asda FM knocking but they're not about to start trying to catch their ear. Emerging from the tinkling majesty of the previous track, The Outsiders drops its shoulder and drives forward into this driving, bass-heavy sound. To have a frontman playing bass really positions Goodwin as the central figure here. His ragged vocals are the sound of this band, but more notably than ever, his bass forms the throbbing vein of many of the best songs.

Though the album doesn't quite match the impact of the three-pronged opening assault it is never short of highlights. From 10.03's instrumental grunge breakdown that smashes Goodwin's astral first half to Compulsion's awkward 80's beat-fest, right through to House Of Mirrors ragged and endlessly pounding anthem, Kingdom Of Rust oozes great songs. It's a Doves album through and through, but things have changed. They've been watching the past five years but still do their own thing. It's hard to say that Doves haven't tasted the success they deserve when you see them playing to heaving crowds at Glastonbury - but somehow they haven't and this album is unlikely to change - that but in the shadow cast by that success there's room to take your time with your albums and come out with a stunning piece of work.

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1st May 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Brakes

Touchdown

Fat Cat

Brakes have come a long way since their gloriously ramshackled 2005 debut Give Blood. It lurched from one genre to the next with many songs coming in at well under the 2 minute mark. It was like a sonic sketch pad. Throughout the following Beatific Visions they added more meat to these bones and now they are certainly a mightier beast. The obvious change is that only 3 of the songs here are under 2 minutes and none beat the 7 second record held by the debut. But thankfully this change is merely cosmetic and though each song is longer the sentiment is still pretty much the same.

Thematically this album is as disparate as ever with each song appearing to have been born out of absolute circumstance. Delirious recording hours seems to have provided the setting for the crazy Don't Take Me To Space (Man) while Do You Feel The Same was recorded at the time of the financial crash when everyone was predicting the end of capitalism. So I guess what I'm saying is that much of this album is made up of ideas that seemed good at the time, and on the whole they were and still are.

Musically things have leveled out slightly. We don't get the stark contrast of bluegrass country jutting up against hard as nails punk ferocity as much as we did on the debut. It's more like country-rock dovetailing into punk-rock. With ex Delgado Paul Savage behind the production desk Touchdown is a more consistent rock record. The songs are perfectly formed ideas with everything you'd want from a rock song. Opener Two Shocks is the perfect example. It's slow to build and then with expert timing unveils itself to you with profound muscle unlike anything delivered by this band before. It's an opener that makes you step back and admire proudly the grownup standing in front of you. The same can be said for Crush On You and Oh! Forever. Looking at these three you just want to say patronizingly, "Haven't you guys grown, I've known you since you were this long."

There are still ample indications that this band hasn't totally matured, the best being Red Rag. The joint shortest at 1.33 minutes this song has all the snarl of previous 30 second sucker punches but borrows much from its older brothers that surround it here and plays out as a hard piece of feral rock. It's probably the best moment on the record and one that makes me glance back to the good ol' days of fun loving punk sketch books. Touchdown still possesses all these eccentricities but with all its mightier, stronger and better songs I can't help feeling the loss of something special. It's ever so slightly duller than before, but at the same time way better. Go figure.

 

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24th Apr 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Veils

Sun Gangs

Rough Trade

After having seen Finn Andrews perform with his unassuming ensemble at a small east end pub not so long ago it's pretty hard not to get excited about a forthcoming release by The Veils. 2006's Nux Vomica came out of nowhere and blew my mind with its ferocious intensity. It was raw when it needed to be but as smooth as silk at other times and running through it all was such profound yet compellingly humble songwriting. Sun Gangs inevitably possesses all these qualities and is a worthy followup indeed.

Described by Finn as "a very modern mixture of prayers, love letters and personal record keeping," Sun Gangs is the natural progression after Nux Vomica. It's less wild definitely and more mature as a result. And yet with maturity can often come a bloated beast, but it has resisted the temptation to grow beyond all recognition of it's past. It is epic though, and more so than Nux. The Letter with its soaring central guitar chord hints at where this record could have gone, but it's the vision of Finn that one assumes keeps this from straying into dangerous Coldplay territory and instead it remains genuinely rousing.

The quote from Finn at the start of the last paragraph says much about this writer and the work he produces. It's real and honest and delivered with such humility. This can all be seen at the live shows - as Finn stands awkwardly at the front, profoundly flattered by the very presence of the crowd in front of him and then with the first note he recedes into a zone all his own and emerges as if in a room all alone. One of the elements that makes this band stand out form others that sit in a similar genre is the varied gradation of sonic tone that is covered throughout the record's progression. They can express such unsettling intimacy on songs like the title track - as Finn, accompanied only by a piano can drip his words from his mouth right into your ear, like it was only meant for you. He can then turn on you on songs like Killed By The Boom which recollects the nasty side of this band last seen on songs like Not Yet on Nux Vomica. Instead of dripping, Finn spits every word in your face on this song with screeching guitars and hard drum action. He also says of this song which tells the tale of a mysterious character of slightly ill repute that it is "possibly about The Wire's Omar Little." I think I can speak for my colleagues here at Chimpomatic when I say, that's all the information I need.

Three Sisters channels all this aggression into a slick and damn near perfect two and a half minutes of breakneck pop, with ukulele up front and bass and lead guitar in twin formation either side it's a formidable attack and is electrifying. As it slams on the breaks abruptly it makes room for The House She Lived In which shows Finn's undying romantic side. All of this is then thrown skyward when we hear Larkspur. This is by far the longest song here and shows a side of this band that is not only unlike any other we've seen in the other songs but one that hasn't shown its head in their whole career. This is where we see the maturity of Finn after the success of Nux Vomica. This song opens up the ribcage of his sound to expose a dauntingly cavernous and hollow interior that goes on for way further than your eyes or ears can fathom. With limited lyrics it simply sits back and watches you sweat in all this space as it slowly closes in around you. When you think it's all going to explode and launch into driving guitar bliss, it does the opposite, it recedes and reveals yet more hidden chambers. It's torturous in its resistance but utterly brilliant and enough evidence alone of Finns talent and the ground that he and his band have covered since Nux Vomica.

In short Sun Gangs may not have such stand alone gems as Advice For Young Mothers To Be or Jesus For The Jugular but as a whole plays out with consistent quality and maturity. It's got it all, love, faith, life death and the fear of all the above and is presented in a package that's impossible not to believe.

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21st Apr 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Wilco Tour: UPDATED

Wilco are gearing up for the release of their new album, with more gigs popping up on their website.

"Dates in beautiful spots from Red Rocks to Wolftrap and a swing through 4 east coast minor league baseball parks. It's gonna be a fun summer."

They're also playing in Dublin on August 26th and the new Troxy venue in East London on August 25th. Ticket details TBA.

London tickets now on sale here. £25 plus fees. I took the old man option and booked 'Upper Circle'.

 

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16th Apr 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Wooden Shjips

Dos

Holy Mountain

What a treat it is to sink your teeth into a new record by this San Francisco quartet. Dos is only their second full length creation, but already it feels like the band have reformed in order to bring us this due to the drip-feed stream of limited edition and self released nuggets that have circulated since their initial conception. Everything from their artwork to their uncompromisingly mesmeric sound give this band a cult tinge and Dos, more than anything they've ever done, is utterly self-indulgent bliss.

Things have changed slightly since their Vol. 1 release. The songs have got lighter and less abrasive. Their means of attack has shifted away from the long drawn out bludgeoning of songs like Shrinking Moon to a more gentle form of intoxication. The result is the same and each of the five tracks here glistens with an effervescent cool that is simply captivating. Motorbike and For So Long act as concise warm up songs with their repetitive swirling, narcotic rhythm threatening to stretch out endlessly. But that is left to Down By The Sea, a song that certainly shows that these guys can still go the distance. There are certain things you expect from certain bands and an eleven-minuter is this bands USP. After the first few minutes of this song you can almost hear it adjust its seat, shift up into a steady gear and kick back for the long haul. It rides endlessly on the same gentle rhythm but it's Eric "Ripley" Johnson's swirling guitar that does the hard work. He sounds like he's got an army of The Edges behind him as he coaxes superhuman sounds out of his instrument. They duck and dive in and out of the beat, fading to a slushy grumble sometimes then lifting to euphoric heights, but once they emerge off the back of the already submerged vocals in minute 2 they never stop until the whole song gasps its last mighty breath. It's pure muscle and one that makes the measly 6 minute Aquarian Time seem like a cool breeze. Thankfully the mightiest has been saved for last and as Fallin' stretches out for just short of eleven and a half minutes, another cruise control moment sets in. It's less muscular than Down By The Sea and is based around Nash Whalen's swirlingly, hypnotizing organ. It brings the album to quite a gentle close but as with most of this bands work it is so addictive you just want to start again.

I think Dos captures this addiction more succinctly than the other releases. It eases off the pummeling but still maintains the intensity. From the opening note you are submerged in minimal and unconditional psychedelia that makes no pretenses as to its influences but with stamina that leaves most other bands for dust they stretch out way beyond these reference points to a place all their own.

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14th Apr 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Crystal Antlers

Tentacles

Touch & Go

Hot on the heals of the re-release of their debut EP this California band drop their first full length Tentacles and as expected it's a longer, more drawn out sucker-punch. Their fierce brand of psych punk enjoys the space that a full album allows and benefits greatly from opening their sound up with instrumental compositions that take the whole twisted ship even more skyward than the previous EP already did.

But that's not to say that they shuffle their feet here. They may have more time to play with but Tentacles is just as intense, if not more so than the EP. Jonny Bell's razor shredding vocals form the backbone of this sound as they scape their grubby nails down every surface of this music. The ultimate success of Crystal Antlers is their ability to wring every drop of melody out of the sopping rags of their swirling, claustrophobic compositions. Your ears are crying no but your heart is riding the endless wave of noise.

Tentacles doesn't feel as demanding as its predecessor and that would be largely down to the fact that they have forty minutes. Songs like Your Spears and the title track encapsulate the raw power of this band with their crammed ferocity and sheer stamina but the majority of this record is way more palatable than before. Moments of breath and space are provided by songs like the opener Painless Sleep and later in the cavernous atmospherics of Vapor Trail. The rest is non stop 60's psychedelia with a razor sharp edge, in fact in a warped alternative universe Andrew would be a full on pop hit. Victor Rodriguez's organ forms the body of this narcotic shit storm that blows through the record and though the guitars squeal and wail throughout it's the melody that wrestles its way out of this twisted, living and breathing organism.

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8th Apr 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Beast Force One

Looks like it's not just Eric Bana and CSF driving a car called 'The Beast'. Check out Obama's version trying to execute that trickiest of manoeuvres - the three point turn - in Downing Street.

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1st Apr 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Jason Lee-tyle

The world has indeed been a duller place since the demise of Jason Lytle's Grandaddy so in eager anticipation of the May 12th release of Yours Truly, The Commuter - the first solo work by Lytle, here's a cheeky video he's put up on his DIY website. I'm feeling Lytle's casual skate skills in a big way and loving the slam section at the end. Check out some new tracks on his myspace page.

 

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1st Apr 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

The Decemberists

The Hazards Of Love

Rough Trade

Since I first discovered this band I have been prepared to follow Captain Meloy and his magnificent vessel The Decemberists to anywhere they chose to take me. Particularly on their breakthrough album Picaresque and their (US) major label debut The Crane Wife the going wasn't always easy but endlessly rewarding. Having played the heart out of this latest offering I have arrived at a point beyond which I am not willing to follow.

The Hazards Of Love is a concept driven rock opera of sorts, inspired by a 60's recording by the same name and it's hard work to say the least. Don't get me wrong, Colin Meloy is incapable of writing anything that is devoid of rewards and there are plenty here but as a whole its sights are set way too firmly on ambition and not enough on song craft. Throughout its 17 tracks it attempts to tell the story of a fair maiden called Margaret who, after her abduction seems to be ravished by a shape-shifting demon. There's a jealous queen, a homicidal villain known as 'the rake' and a particularly disturbing tale where Meloy assumes the character of a child murderer taking out each of his kids one by one so he can be free again.

The Crane Wife marked a definite shift in the intentions of this band and I suppose an album such as this was always on the cards. After moving to a major label their sound grew to epic proportions and took their folk roots into rockier territory. This growth has come to a head with The Hazards Of Love. Running for just short of an hour each of the 17 songs blend seamlessly into one another creating a musical feel to the album. Melodies and choruses recur throughout the record which actually make you feel like you're listening to one huge bloated creation. Its ambition is beyond question but this continuous structure is tiresome.

The title track sets the scene of Margaret's temptation and subsequent abduction with typical Meloy delicacy. The first blend from this track into A Bower Scene marks the first indication that you are listening to something different from this band. Up tempo drums count it in and then after a vocal build you have the crunching weight of guitars. It's a hard rock belt in the face that you certainly weren't expecting and one that rears its mighty head more than once on this record. It makes room for the first guest spot on Won't Want For Love (Margaret In The Taiga), which features Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark. Playing the now pregnant Margaret, her sweet vocals breath blissful life and vulnerability into these hard riffs. The second of these guest appearance comes a little later with the riff-heavy The Wanting Comes In Waves. It features My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden playing the part of the Queen bartering for the soul of Margaret's beloved WIlliam. This crazy theme is the last thing you think about as the teaming of thee two voices is a delight. This is by no means the only moment of such delight, they are plentiful and none so great as on Annan Water, a tense affair built on taught strumming that builds ever so slowly and then opens up and lets Meloy's vocals expand on a gentle organ breeze then dive back into the tension once more with expert ease.

Narrative has always been at the forefront of Meloy's work. Never does his writing serve the role of mere love songs but are meticulously crafted out of antique language and expert turn of phrase. Picaresque's The Mariner's Revenge Song is one of Meloy's finest moments and shows his skill for telling a tale. The penultimate stroke on The Crane Wife lurched from one tempo to another with Led Zeppelin like confidence. In hindsight both these songs provide the blueprint for The Hazards Of Love and though many of these new songs stand equally as tall as these previous gems it's the album as a whole that I am critisising. I spend most of my time aching for a band to have the balls to stretch a song out beyond the 7 minute mark and after the first 3 songs of this record I thought my answer had come. But the constant musical stream and the convoluted and often utterly confusing narrative weigh this down and really start to grate after the half way mark. They always had a slightly fucked up Andrew Lloyd Webber feel to their creations but somehow managed to steer their ship away in time. This album embraces that side and it's infuriating as some songs in there own right are quite special, it's nearly impossible to find a fault to justify the mediocre score you see on the left. So on that note I stand here and watch this great ship sail off into the distance without me and quietly hope and pray that someday it will pass by here again and pick me up. I wish them well.

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30th Mar 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Wilco World News

New data coming in from Wilco World:

"The forthcoming and still-untitled next Wilco album is nearing completion. Jim Scott and the band spent the last few weeks mixing in Jim's studio in Valencia, California and here's a list of song titles spied on the reels -- note this is not necessarily complete and not in sequence.

Deeper Down
Conscript (aka I'll Fight)
One Wing
Solitaire
Wilco (the song)
Country Disappeared
Everlasting
Bull Black Nova
Sonny Feeling
You and I

Rumors and blogs regarding a guest appearance on that last track are, amazingly, quite true. Feist does indeed lend a great vocal to You and I. Other details will emerge in the coming weeks. The release is currently scheduled for late June on Nonesuch."

 

Plus, an amusing video of Jeff Tweedy on The Colbert Report:

 

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27th Mar 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet