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Melvins

The Bride Screamed Murder

Ipecac

This is the first proper Melvins release for two years and the third to feature Jarred Warren and Coady Willis from Big Business. The two preceding albums (Senile Animal, Nude With Boots) were chock full of twin-drummer assaults and memorable tracks that somehow combined the best of the Melvins sound with that of Big Business. This new release has its moments, but ultimately fails to satisfy.

Speaking as a total fan-boy, I can't say I'm not disappointed. I've travelled more miles to see this band play live than any other. I've always loved the new ideas that come with shifting line-ups, and lived with this new release for a month before posting my review, but I can't get over the fact that this album is (at best) hotch-potch, and at worst, weak.

It's certainly diverse - the opening track The Water Glass is a rallying cry for the Melvins massive - all military cadence drumming and boot-camp chanting. OK, a bit baffling, but perhaps it'll work live. Things suddenly look up with track 2 - Evil New War God. This is the best track on the album - classic Melvins chunk winding into a doomy synth assisted riff during it's outro. Great stuff, but from here on in, the pickings get much slimmer. Pig House starts out promisingly enough but ends up in a rock-bolero - that most hackneyed and corny device. Even if it's meant to be ironic, it still sounds cheesy.

I'll Finish You Off is next - and to my ears it sounds just like a Big Business track. I'm not hearing much Buzz and Dale in there. Electric Flower follows and this could be said to be the other highlight of the album. Hospital Up comes next, which sounds like a track that might have been left off Nude With Boots - it starts well but dissolves into two minutes of faux-jazz fucking around. The joke wears thin after about 20 seconds. Inhumanity And Death is a bit incoherent - a stitch-together of left-over riffs, or orphans that don't really get along with each other. Then we get an 8 minute version of The Who's My Generation played as a sloppy bar blues. Once again, the irony is lost on me - it's just boring. The Melvins have done some awesome cover versions over the years (White Punks On Dope, Promise Me) but this doesn't come up to scratch.

The album winds down with PG x 3 - a folksy tone-poem played through three times - on melodica, a-capella, and on fuzz guitar. It ends with a child's voice counting numbers and looping on the number 4. I quite like this, but it's not exactly Steve Reich. Perhaps that repeated number 4 is reminding us that there are four people in the Melvins, each with equal input. Perhaps - but I'm not sure if this serves as a declaration or a disclaimer.

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3rd Jun 2010 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Nik Bartsch's Ronin

ICA, London

The ICA - a different kind of ambience to some of the gigs I've frequented of late.  What a cultured group of individuals are to be found snuggling in this cozy nook just up the road from her maj. OK, so no one jumps around when the band finish a number, but on the positive side I won't go home wearing half a pint of Red Bull like I did at Les Claypool on monday night. So the ICA gets a thumbs up from me (but not the person who'd written the graffiti in the Gents - it read "You Bourgeois Cunt". There you go Banksy, that's how you do it).

Anyway. I digress.

Nik Bartsch has a musical mission and it's all about the crosstalk of rhythms. Ronin is one of his two bands, (the other is called Mobile) both of which share material and some members. Referred to by the ICA as "Zen-Funk" , it's a Jazz textured Steve Reich style experiment in rhythmic interplay, perhaps even more accurately called Math-Jazz. Anyway, before you all get visions of Howard Moon doing that Jazz face, it's important to understand that this band has a solid groove. The band play figures or riffs, patterns and pulses, but no wig-out solos or smug chords. The drummer might be playing in a different time signature to the piano, but a third rhythmic strand from the percussionist might lock them together in a new weird way that somehow makes your feet move.

Using acoustic instruments, plus electric bass, and some deftly applied reverb and delay, the band introduce musical patterns gradually, letting them take root in your head before something else joins in. Woodwind player Shaa creates mighty rasps from a contrabass clarinet, and smooth round tones from an alto sax. Bartsch himself is a very active player for a minimalist - confining his minimalism to the notes and figures played, but constantly plunging into the guts of the piano to mute the strings, pluck them and strum them with a drum-stick. In fact the whole band have this approach - to get maximum variety of tonal sound from the repeating figures (and keeping it funky).

The band really seemed to enjoy themselves - they had a nice crisp sound and were warmly received by the crowd. Absolutely recommended - next time they visit, be sure to check 'em out.

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15th Mar 2010 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Nik Bartsch's Ronin @ ICA, March 12th 2010

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14th Mar 2010

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Nik Bartsch's Ronin @ ICA, March 12th 2010

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14th Mar 2010

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Nik Bartsch's Ronin @ ICA, March 12th 2010

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Nik Bartsch's Ronin @ ICA, March 12th 2010

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14th Mar 2010

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Nik Bartsch's Ronin @ ICA, March 12th 2010

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14th Mar 2010

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Citay

Dream Get Together

Dead Oceans

This record is, I guess, the equivalent of a group of young London musicians getting together to re-create the "swinging sound of Carnaby Street" or something else that only existed in the minds of scriptwriters. Citay are from San Francisco, and so this painfully
retro album has its feet not exactly planted (more levitating) on the corner where Haight meets Ashbury, in like,1967.

The album art should serve as a warning - chocolate box graphics of a hot air balloon flying over a sunny coastline. Big happy vocal harmonies from the commercial end of the SF Summer of Love overlayed with Allman Brothers twin lead guitar - throughout. Baffling - exactly the sort of music the Mothers Of Invention were lampooning even back in 1967. Technically, these boys might think they sound like Allman and Betts, but the guitar sound is a whack modern equivalent played rather too accurately (it sounds more like a single pointy-headstock guitar through a harmonizer, not a couple of good ol' boys cookin' up a storm).

Well perhaps it's just too difficult for a cynical Englishman sitting at home during the coldest winter we've had in 30 years to imagine a warm Californian breeze, but I'm not going for this big bunch o' corn. The contents of this CD (songs, vocals, guitar, production) have all been done better elsewhere. 40 years ago.

Grumpy Pilton

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18th Jan 2010 - Add Comment - Tweet

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ATP Festival: 10 Years of ATP

Various

Butlins, Minehead

How come ATP get it so right? Sponsorship free, friendly and helpful, smooth organisation and a great fan-base - and the music. Imagine, a festival where the music is the important thing - not the TV exposure or the availability of drugs to make you dance - a place where the crowd will listen patiently to new music instead of baying for a chart-topper. Well, that's ATP. For the 10 year anniversary, the organisers invited back the bands who had curated past festivals (plus some ATP favourites) to come and play together for the fans. There is so much to see and hear at this event, you just couldn't pack it all into one weekend, so there are some tough choices to be made from time to time. I've seen so many bands this weekend, that in order to keep things to a reasonable length and in tribute to the 10 year thing,

I'll say just 10 words about each band I saw  -

Bardo Pond - psychedlic washes of strange yet beautiful noise, flute 'n all
Battles - Didn't really gel on the night. Somewhat of a disappointment
Beak> - Amazing when they're being Can, but boring when playing dirge
Deerhoof - If you fail to enjoy them, your mind is broken
The Drones - All the attitude, proper angry rock music - Aussies done good
Edan - Edan shows how to DJ - choose great records, mix well
Growing - stuttering sheets of broken distortion, almost certainly good on drugs
The Magic Band - Fast and Bulbous, Drumbo and Rockette do it all justice
The Mars Volta - Omar seemed subdued, Cedric lively, and what? another new drummer?
Melvins - You don't mess with Jared - Jared only plays for keeps
MuM  - (pronounced Moom) Icelandic dreamscapes - first brilliant set of the weekend
Om - That's a huge evil noise right there (overlooking the vocals)
Papa M - Pajo stunning with drumless trio - sublime and understated - beautiful music
Shellac - Highlight of the weekend, both sets superb. A real band.
Tortoise - Suitably late night slot in the best sounding room. Sweet.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - brashly rocked a restless crowd after keeping them waiting ages

Special mention to Butlins staff also - the security are friendly and everyone is helpful. The accomodation is more than 1000 times better than sleeping in a tent on a lumpy field, but you'd do well to take your own pillow. Long live ATP.

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17th Dec 2009 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Harris Pilton's 2009 Gaming Round Up

Various

I can't claim to be any kind of authority on video games. My history of gaming is patchy to say the least, having been an early gamer back when we used "home computers" for such things, but then never owning a PS2. Also, I tend to stick to games which involve shooting at things - so if you're looking for a well-balanced, concise round-up of the gaming year, you might want to look elsewhere.

My gaming life is divided between the Xbox and the DS. The DS is still the best hand-held gaming device on the planet - with an almost resolutely lo-fi approach both sonically and graphically, it's success is down to gameplay and elegant programming. The PSP (with it's high-end graphics and sleek design) is not pulling in the kid-gamer dollars. In the world of so-called casual games (video-crack, more like), the monkey on my back was mostly Peggle and Scribblenauts. Oh, and re-playing the mind-numbingly addictive Cradle of Rome line-'em-up.  As for the Xbox, now I look at the amount of games I've been through this year, I can't believe I had much time for anything else.

The much hyped Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 has been ridiculously successful (sales-wise at least), but in my opinion they done jumped the shark. Brilliant, visceral and engaging for sure, but also short, non-sensical, and rather too easy. It certainly delivered plenty of "fuck me!" moments, with breathtaking use of lighting and sound, but they messed with the multi-player, which is clearly a case of fixing something that wasn't broken. Infinity Ward are edging dangerously close to believing their own myth rather like Bungie have with Halo - all self-aggrandising seriousness and stirring martial music that can't be optioned out of your gameplay experience.

Special mention for post-release support goes to two games in particular. Firstly, Burnout Paradise: here's a rare example of a games developer (Criterion) being willing and able to respond to feedback from gamers. On it's initial release, Burnout Paradise was laced with flaws (ie not being able to instantly re-start a race), but Criterion got on the case - addressing issues, improving gameplay, adding decent downloadable content, and then re-packaging the whole lot at a mid-range price. Excellent work those men in Guildford. The other impeccably supported game was Gears of War 2 - with regular DLC packs of high-quality maps, top-notch graphics and sound, and new gameplay features. Had a lot of good times with online friends fighting off the dirty horde.

We nearly saw the birth of something revolutionary this year, with the release of the most ambitious Xbox Arcade game yet - Battlefield 1943. This was only available as a download, and did not feature a solo campaign. Instead, 4 large maps of territorial contest, planes, boats, jeeps and bombing raids with 24 people fighting online. Sounds good, but bit off more than it could chew. To start with, this game didn't even work properly online for the first week due to "unexpected high demand" or something. Then, once it was working, it wasn't quite as smooth as it should have been. Call me old fashioned if you like, but when I point a machine gun at another player who is only 5 virtual meters away from me, I'd sort of expect him to fall down - all dead, like.

A couple of this year's releases didn't quite make the top-list but are worth a mention (a mention? Hey, thanks Pilton, they only took two years to develop). Wolfenstein (not Return to the Son of Castle Wolfenstein, or Wolfenstein 3 or...) is a game I was getting pretty juicy about. Loved the originals and raised my expectations. Turned out ok, but fell a bit flat for me when (after much enjoyable gameplay) my save file corrupted and I couldn't be arsed to go back through it. Batman Arkham Asylum looked great and played really smoothly - yet was the most on-rails game I played all year. Still good though. Also Flashpoint delivered some enjoyable play - the polar opposite of MW2 this is a game that strives for realism even if that meant spending a large percentage of your mission time walking or running over endless landscapes in order to avoid combat with enemy patrols. Realistic, yes, but essentially lots of dull moments punctuated by some very tough firefights. Halo:ODST was the game for which Blockbuster was invented. A week's hire, rinse it out and forget it ever existed. Nothing original about it, but nothing really wrong with it either. Halo is Halo is Halo - the game that thinks it can fart higher than it's own arse.

This year also finally saw the release of Resident Evil 5 - in which the musclebound Chris ventures into Africa for some wholesale zombie slaughter (sorry, 'infected'. They're not zombies anymore). Jill doesn't nearly become a Jill sandwich this time - and in fact those Japanese translation quirks are wholly missing from RE5 - it plays like a global release, looks like a global release and - my goodness - it was a global release. Once I got used to the lumpy control system, and acquired some decent weapons, I had a wail of a time wading through the increasingly ridiculous scenarios and quick-time fights right up until the bit where you get to fire two RPG's into Wesker's eyes (while he's in a volcano). Beat that.

So, you may ask, since you've wasted so much of your time playing video games this year, what turns out to be game of the year for Harris Pilton? The answer comes with the unexpected late arrival of a classic shooter - Borderlands. A first person shooter with a visual style somewhere between Tank Girl and Metal Hurlant. The joy of this sandbox shooter is that it never forgets it's a video game - never tries to be realistic, pitches it's dark humour just right, and constantly serves up new weapon variants and character abilities. It works well online as a co-op, and the game adjusts the enemy AI to match the skills of the human players - getting considerably tougher when gamers have more collective experience. Borderlands has already delivered an excellent download pack and has promised a sequel for release in 2010, and the completion of the trilogy a year later.

Sadly, there's only so much time a man can devote to the noble art of videogaming, and thus I can make no comment on a slew of other much touted releases including Assassins Creed 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Forza 3, and Sheffield Wednesday nil.

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15th Dec 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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YeahYeahYeahs at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Tortoise at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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The Mars Volta at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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The Magic Band at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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The Drones at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Shellac at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Papa M at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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MuM at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Melvins at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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J Mascis at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Growing at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Ear Protectors at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Deerhoof at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Breeders at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Battles at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Bardo Pont at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Afrirampo at ATP

ATP 10th Anniversary Festival, Minehead 11-13 December 2009

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15th Dec 2009

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Melvins

Highbury Garage, London

Back in London 364 days since their last appearance, the mighty Melvins play the Garage as a sweet prelude to this weekend's ATP festival in Minehead. Almost bouncing onto the stage to the tune of Rawhide, King Buzzo looks like he's in a terrific mood tonight, and he and Dale Crover play as a two piece for the first half hour of their set - just guitar and drums and vocals. This works really well - a real case of less is more - and it would seem that Buzz has abandoned his rather transistorised guitar sound of recent times for a big chunky amp sound again. Buzz and Dale run through a selection of Melvins tunes including a brilliant version of Black Bock and a rough round the (vocal) edges cover of "Let Me `Roll It" by Wings, before being joined by Jared Warren and Coady Willis  and becoming the full version of the band.

They are in good form tonight - the setlist has changed a lot since last year, and the band sound enthusiastic for the newly selected material. We get to hear a really wide range of Melvins tunes from the popular (Hooch, The Bit) through to the obscure (Anaconda, Pigs Of The Roman Empire) plus another great cover version - Devo's Mr DNA (well spotted there Jimbo). Some technical issues create a couple of false-starts tonight, and a sudden departure from the stage for about 15 mins - quite unusual - but as soon as they get rolling again, they sound great. Plenty of tracks from last year's Nude With Boots, plus a host of classics including Night Goat, With Teeth and It's Shoved.

You can see why the Melvins are celebrating 25 years of left-field metal - never content to rest on their laurels, always shifting the line-up and band dynamics and always revisiting older material with a new approach. The Melvins is - and always will be - Buzz and Dale, and tonight they showed that they are perfectly capable of working just as a duo. I wouldn't feel cheated if that's how they chose to tour for a while. Still, it was great to hear them both ways tonight - the highlight of the show had to be Pigs Of The Roman Empire which wouldn't have sounded the same without Jared's huuuge bass sound. Anyway, you've just got to love a band that plays cover versions of songs by Wings, Alice Cooper and Devo in one gig. 

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10th Dec 2009 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Melvins @ The Garage, London December 8th 2009

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Melvins @ The Garage, London December 8th 2009

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10th Dec 2009

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Melvins @ The Garage, London December 8th 2009

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On Fillmore

Extended Vacation

Dead Oceans

This is the fourth release for On Fillmore - rhythm section duo Glenn Kotche and Darin Gray - a partnership that has gained a great deal of respect in the 10 years since they came up with the idea (at a Meltdown festival in London). Kotche's pedigree is without question, having released compositions for Nonesuch and been part of Chicago's vibrant art-music scene, it also doesn't hurt that he's a member of Wilco. Darin Gray has a great feel for the upright bass - a really beautiful player whose sound compliments Kotche's tuned percussion so perfectly.

As the album started it put me in mind of ECM records where the emphasis is on the spaces between the music, but it soon becomes apparent that those spaces are not going to be left un-filled, as each composition is overlayed with a fairly bewildering array of field recordings, and bird noises (made by Dede Sampaio). I appreciate the intent of this as an element of ambience in the composition, but the overall effect is not a good one because the ambient elements have been pushed very high in the mix - so much that they become intrusive and distracting. Conceptually this sounds like it ought to be very very soothing music - Vibraphone, Upright Bass and tropical bird sounds. In reality it sounds like they recorded this delicate textured music in an aviary at feeding time, or in a studio next to a building site where (oops!) someone forgot to close the window.

This is a real shame because the music is beautiful - if Tom Waits ever abandons his lo-fi junkyard approach and returns to clean recordings, he should get himself on a train to Chicago and have a word with these boys - but that beautiful music is obscured. Surely a much better effect could be had by having a clean version of the tracks released with the listener having the option of opening his or her windows. If you live in the country you'll get bird noises and some fantastic natural reverb. If you live in town, you'll have a symphony of swooshing cars, chatter and rumble, plus you could control the balance between the instruments and the ambience. But it would seem that it's more deliberate than that - On Fillmore want you to hear it this way, with those elements so loud and proud in the mix - in which case I have to declare this one a spoiled idea. There are moments when it sounds exactly as it should - moments where you could lie in the bath listening to this without thinking "I wish someone would shoot those fucking parrots".

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28th Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Feature: Dead Record Shops

Perhaps this will come as a surprise to absolutely no-one, but we are fast approaching the death-throes of record retailing in the UK. Of course, we've all been predicting it for years - how online purchasing would lead to the demise of retail - but rather like the possibility of a death in the family we've tended to put it out of our thoughts until it actually happens. Sadly it's about ... read article

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23rd Oct 2009 - 3 comments - Add Comment

Boston Spaceships

Zero To 99

Guided By Voices Inc.

Zero to 99 is the third album in two years from the Boston Spaceships - a side-project of US indie's Mr.Prolific, Robert Pollard formerly of Guided by Voices. Much is made of Pollard's voluminous output - something like 1000 songs registered - so by this point, two decades into his recording career you might wonder if the ideas would be wearing a bit thin, but they're not.

Even if you've never heard Pollard's songs there's often a sense of having "been here before" when you hear them, but it's never easy to say why. Sometimes it's the songwriting, sometimes it's the instrumentation, sometimes it's the production (which varies wildly), but Pollard's barrel must be a deep one because there's no sound of the bottom being scraped. Musically this album covers familiar GBV territory from punky power pop to hippie psychedelia, all of which sounds like it was recorded in a different era - the mix on many tracks recalls the sound of the Kinks or Small Faces, especially when Pollard sings in his faux cockney voice (which I find a bit toe-curling). But all the same, the songs stand up for themselves - strong on melody and chords rather than riffs, and rather deftly utilising the skills of his small and trusted band.

There are a few songs which don't quite reach the standards of the best, but there's always a decent idea or two and nothing ever goes on too long. There are 16 tracks to choose from, and my only real criticism of the album as a whole is that the production values don't always match the songs. Exploding Anthills is a great track and recorded adequately but doesn't get the extra bit of retro polish it needs. Still, that's part of Pollard's lo-fi ethos, and as long as the songs are good then we're more than halfway there.

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23rd Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pixies

Brixton Academy, London

First a confession - this is the first time in my life I have ever seen the Pixies, and since I've been going to gigs for (oh dear) 30 years, I've missed many a golden opportunity, and the Pixies always figured high on the list of "ones I shoulda seen". Suddenly the opportunity miraculously arises as the Pixies undertake a tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the stone classic Doolittle album. I say stone classic since I don't think I'll hear many arguments to the contrary - an album packed with great pop songs, ferocious guitars, great lyrics and brilliant vocals (plus it's on a British label). With the band playing Doolittle in full tonight, I had a slight concern that I might be seeing something that reeked only of nostalgia and might be best left alone, but in the weeks coming up to the show I've found it hard to suppress my optimism - just really hoping that these worthy veterans would deliver the goods.

Of course, they DID deliver the goods. The Pixies are a band - and by that I mean they are a genuine example of the sum adding up to more than it's (considerable) parts. They play like a band, with that wonderful sense that they are all at home where they belong when they are doing this. This was the first of three nights in Brixton - a venue the Pixies have a long history with - and their name on the dome outside could not have looked more like it was meant to be there. Indoor gig and a crowd who felt like this was their very own special band coming back to see the fans that first embraced them. All of these things meant there was a happy vibe from both band and audience.

Starting up with Dancing The Manta Ray, they warmed themselves up by plundering the b-sides box and treating us to some rare gems - Kim Deal told us that they were playing some of these songs for "maybe the fifth time ever, tonight". Then, after maybe fifteen minutes Kim Deal plays the opening riff to Debaser and the party really starts. God, they sound great. Upstairs in the Academy the sound was pretty good although I'm told it was a bit muddier downstairs, while the visual elements of the show can't be faulted - great lighting and projections, tastefully done. Each track from Doolittle sounds teriffic and the band play them all with deserved enthusiasm. It's kind of surreal - there they are playing Here Comes Your Man and Monkey Gone To Heaven, Tame, Dead, No.13.... right through to Silver which was a bit of a highlight despite it's being the slowest song they played all night, but then to follow that closely with Into The White was a masterstroke. Back for encores (twice) which included more b-sides (UK Surf version of Wave Of Mutilation) and classics (U-Mass) and ending with Gigantic - the word best used to describe the smile on Deal's face the whole night.

I was not disappointed.

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7th Oct 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Pixies, Brixton Academy October 6th 2009

Doing Doolittle in it's entirety. Photos by Harris Pilton

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7th Oct 2009

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Pixies, Brixton Academy October 6th 2009

Doing Doolittle in it's entirety. Photos by Harris Pilton

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7th Oct 2009

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Pixies, Brixton Academy October 6th 2009

Doing Doolittle in it's entirety. Photos by Harris Pilton

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7th Oct 2009

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Pixies, Brixton Academy October 6th 2009

Doing Doolittle in it's entirety. Photos by Harris Pilton

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7th Oct 2009

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Pixies, Brixton Academy October 6th 2009

Doing Doolittle in it's entirety. Photos by Harris Pilton

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7th Oct 2009

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Pixies, Brixton Academy October 6th 2009

Doing Doolittle in it's entirety. Photos by Harris Pilton

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7th Oct 2009

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Pixies, Brixton Academy October 6th 2009

Doing Doolittle in it's entirety. Photos by Harris Pilton

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7th Oct 2009

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Pixies, Brixton Academy October 6th 2009

Doing Doolittle in it's entirety. Photos by Harris Pilton

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7th Oct 2009

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The Heavy

The House That Dirt Built

Counter Records

There's an air of disappointment in the Pilton household surrounding this release. Last Year's debut album from The Heavy delivered a couple of tracks which I could not shake from my head - and the blend of rock riffs, funk loops and soulful vocals really worked. This follow up starts out well, but doesn't have the consistency of the previous release.

Opening up with two pretty strong tracks - Oh No! Not You Again easily lives up to the debut's promise, and that's tailed closely by How You Like Me Now, which also packs a mean punch. Now, I usually count diversity as a plus point when bands stretch out into other territories, but in the case of The Heavy, I think this may be what lets them down. Sixteen is a well produced song - a waltz in the haunted carnival or cabaret style - but it sits uncomfortably alongside the riffs and the soul. Short Change Hero and Long Way From Home have the right ingredients but come out sounding kind of corny - but the worst offender has to be the aptly named Cause For Alarm. This is a truly horrible track - Cod Reggae produced by someone whose skills lie in other areas. Really, it's a toe-curler, and not a million miles away from Dreadlock Holiday by 10cc. Why lads? Whose idea was this?

After that, I couldn't get back into the record - even the sweet riffing of What You Want Me To Do couldn't take away the dreadful taste left by Cause For Alarm. Overall then, the album is about 50 percent good, and 50 percent other than good, which is not as consistent as last year's release. Shame. I really wanted this one to be better, and was willing each track to be a good'un as I played it through. Let's hope they can nail it down for a third album.

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24th Sep 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Part Chimp

Thriller

Rock Action

Let's face it - Metal, as a musical form, is a bit crap. There are so many traps for the aspiring metal band to fall into - the hair, the clothing, the posturing, the silly artwork and the must-have body art. There's also all that singing in a monster voice stuff, and striking serious poses like the guitar solo is burning the fingers. Anyway, I thought that was why Grunge got invented - so that bands could crank up the guitars without putting on any spandex. Sadly tho', Grunge got hijacked by the MTV brigade - all looking for that big hit record with angsty vocals and the distorted guitars. That's why we have to suffer Nickelback these days. Naturally there were a handful of stalwarts who stuck with the original Grunge blueprint of maximum chunk with no added bullshit. A special mention for Dinosaur Jr and The Melvins.

London's own Part Chimp are the closest thing the UK has to Grunge's original manifesto. Let's be clear about this - they are super heavy, inventive, melodic, and original. Thriller is their 4th album, and could easily put them on the map as serious contenders in the world of sludge. There's no bullshit, the vocals are neither cookie-monster nor demonic shrieker, and the riffs are solid enough to build oil-rigs on them. The album kicks off with Trad - possibly the finest track on the album right up front and there's nothing wrong with that (refer to Led Zeppelin II). When you've got a riff like this, why make everyone wait for it? I was humming this bastard all day after I heard it. The album delivers a high standard of mid-tempo riffs and low-slung sludge - winding down for the last couple of tracks with the kind of slow doomy grinds that the Melvins got so right on Bullhead. They have a new approach to the music which is shared by the likes of Tweak Bird or Big Business - metal - but not as we know it, Jim. Even on record everything just sounds REALLY LOUD, and they have a reputation for being deafening live. If that sounds good to you, then check out this record and go see them on their forthcoming tour.

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23rd Sep 2009 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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UUVVWWZ

UUVVWWZ

Saddle Creek

This one should appeal to David Lynch, I'd have thought. Great female vocalist, voodoo guitars, lots of reverb, very catchy songs in a variety of styles. Hey, what's not to like?

Just the wilfully daft band name - that's what's not to like. It's never going to be easy saying that one is it? Yeah I 'd like to order the album by this band called ooove-wa-zed. Or zee. Either way, a terrific band name would be one of the only things I'd want to change about this release. Sitting comfortably alongside the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (in rock mode) - there's something about the way this album is recorded that really appeals to me - everything sounds big without it sounding like a competition for space in the mix. The arrangements make the most of the basic rock format of guitar bass drums and vocals - always good to hear a band that can sound fresh with the most traditional line-up of instruments.

Touches of Tom Waits, Jacques Brel, Badelamenti, Portishead and the Cramps all contribute to a sonically rich and pleasing album that ought to see this Nebraskan four piece on their way to great things. But, they should have chosen a name that would make it easier to discuss them or order their records.

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18th Sep 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Cap'n Claypool

It's not often that the old salty dog steers his electric tugboat towards these shores, but cap'n Les Claypool will be making an appearance at the Islington Academy on the 8th March 2010 playing all manner of weirdness from his newest rekkid Of Funghi And Foe - where the Tom Waits influence grows ever more present. Sou'Westers mandatory.

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7th Sep 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

Tortoise

The Garage, London

Sometimes things go wrong. The best laid plans and organisation with all the right elements in place for a good time can be rudely scuppered by some faulty equipment. And so it was with Tortoise tonight - possibly the smallest venue that Tortoise could physically cram into, this was a rare up-close and intimate gig promoted by All Tomorrow's Parties (the ONLY promoters in the world endorsed by Steve Albini, fact fans). I'm sure Tortoise did some thorough sound-checks, but you can't cover every eventuality, and about 8 bars into the first number Tortoise ground to a halt as Jeff Parker's guitar rig stopped working. After another false start the band asked for the lights to go up, and the up-close nature of the gig revealed some very concerned faces on stage. I'd imagine that a band like Tortoise rely quite heavily on being able to call up the sounds they need from their equipment, and having one essential element missing would make it impossible to continue, and you could see how gutted the band looked - they'd clearly been looking forward to this one.

After about 20 minutes they managed to get started properly, but you could sense the band had been affected by the whole thing. To be perfectly frank, the first couple of numbers were pretty shaky - way looser than the music required, with the band seeming to struggle to keep up with their own compositions. Even the sparkling new track High Class Slim Came Floatin' In didn't quite hit the spot, and you could still make out furrowed brows on stage. However, Tortoise didn't give up, and about 20 minutes into the set they started to play a selection of tracks from TNT and It's All Around You - at which point you could practically see (and certainly hear) the band relax. From then on it went much more smoothly - the sound was clear and the musicians starting to enjoy themselves. They cherry-picked from a fine back catalogue and by the end of the set seemed to have won their mood back. Leaving the stage with apologetic gestures, the band seemed reluctant to be called back onstage for more, but the crowd demanded a return and back they came.

First encore was Yinxianghechengqi (hurrah for cut 'n' paste text editors) the punkiest track Tortoise have, and they seemed to really enjoy this one. Called back onstage for a third time, the band seemed truly happy and treated us to more vintage classics including I Set My Face To The Hillside. Everyone left happy, but I don't think this was the best performance the band had ever given - the first half of the set had them on the back foot the whole way, which is a shame as this was where the newer material was featured. Still, good to see a band persisting in the face of adversity.

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27th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Tortoise @ The Garage, London August 25th 2009

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26th Aug 2009

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Tortoise @ The Garage, London August 25th 2009

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26th Aug 2009

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Tortoise @ The Garage, London August 25th 2009

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26th Aug 2009

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Tortoise @ The Garage, London August 25th 2009

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26th Aug 2009

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Tortoise @ The Garage, London August 25th 2009

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26th Aug 2009

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Cougar

Patriot

Counter

I didn't read up on this band before I listened to the album - but I knew it was going to be a kind of post-rock instrumental album released through Ninja Tune subsidiary Counter Records. If that conjures some kind of aural image in your mind's-ear, you can be pretty sure that's what Cougar sound like. You could put them on the same lineup as Tortoise without upsetting anyone, and the production on the record is lightly peppered with some of those super-slick Ninja Tune flicks and flares. What's weird about this record is that it exchanges post-rock's jazz leanings for more of a world music or folk texture, and this doesn't always hit the spot. The other thing is that it has many tasty ingredients such as beefy sound, great playing, dynamics and variation - but they combine into a dinner that is served in a somewhat over-polite manner. Even the parts where the guitars crank up and it goes all metal just seem a bit too reserved, a bit too clean. The drumming is outstanding throughout, while final track Absaroka is the understated shining gem of the whole collection - since it taps into an American folk sound that is more typically played by Bill Frisell.

This track stands up easily alongside fellow Ninjas Jaga Jazzist, but much of the remaining album suffers from over-bake. Ninja are good at coaxing terrific second albums out of their artists, so Cougar could be a band to keep an eye on.

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24th Aug 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Oneida

Rated O

Jagjaguwar

With a running time of just under two hours Oneida's new triple-album Rated O is not going to be an experience for the faint-hearted, but much-like it's predecessor (Preteen Weaponry - review here) it's a long ride worth strapping in for. Certainly before you wade into this sonic battlefront, you'll want to make sure you're well prepared - most likely with cups of tea and a bong. Let me set the scene: Oneida are big on repetition, they're into bit-crunching and distortion, electronics and real instruments, overt noise and subtle change. Voices are sometimes a sound source rather than a means for conveying lyrics - and musically, there's an unresolved tension running through the whole album.

You might not get much out of this release by just dipping into it or letting shuffle throw you a sonic morsel - but if you're prepared to strap in for the full 110 minutes the experience becomes something more akin to a performance. The first disc is right at home alongside Preteen Weaponry, with a great deal of droning and looping and very much an electronic feel, then at disc two we take a sharp turn and Oneida play a set of songs which are surprisingly straight and structured in nature - this took me by surprise, and put the long psychedelic workouts into a different context. The songs put me in mind of Clinic - rich in ideas, riffs, arrangements, but with that post-dance inclusion of textured noise. Also not a million miles away from Can in spirit and, at times, sound.

The third part of the album has another distinctive feel to it - an altogether less aggressive attitude towards the long improvisations, a chill-out cousin of disc one, culminating in the 20 minute Folk Wisdom which gradually works the energy back up towards the feel of the opening disc.

With this release, Oneida can officially count me as a fan. I like this band because they are serious about what they do. There is a lot of jamming but they are not just fucking around. Years ago when Spiritualized were being mercilessly hyped as the second coming of psychedlia, I really hoped they were going to sound like this instead of the fey gauchos they tuned out to be.

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20th Jul 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Deerhoof / Anabel's Poppy Day / Rumspringa

Scala, London

I dunno, I suppose if you're used to living in somewhere really hot like Australia or the Nevada desert, then maybe the thought of leaving your nice cool house to make a journey on public transport into a stifling metropolis would be no challenge, just normal really. Here in southern England, where the indiginous population carry a complexion that is like the ghost of skimmed-milk, 30-degree plus temperatures make us feel like we're hog-tied in a duffle-coat. There was supposed to be a motocycle protest in London today - I should think that went well - bet they couldn't wait to put on leather, crash helmets and sit astride a slow-moving combustion-engine. Anyway, it's hot, and I didn't much feel like going into London.

Glad I did tho', otherwise I'd have missed a gig that I could easily put in my all-time top 10. The Scala (perhaps London's perfect venue) played host to this triple bill, and first up were Rumspringa - which I'd been rather mistakenley informed were an Amish Ska band. They weren't, and I'm glad. A blues-based guitar and drums duo, the larger half of which is guitarist/singer Joey Stevens. He has a fantastic voice, and plays great blues guitar, writes good songs, so what's not to like? A good start to the evening, in the nicely air-conditioned Scala. Second on the bill was French band Anabel's Poppy Day who came over from Paris on the bus for this gig. Well done, and all that, but an extra rehearsal and the Eurostar might be better next time.  A bit too naive and sloppy to be really good, but there were a couple of catchy melodies and some charming audience chat from squeaky singer (you guessed it) Anabel.

Seeing Deerhoof was one of those rare and wondeful experiences for me - when a live band just takes you to that "other place", when their sound, the atmosphere and the performance all came together just right. They are undoubtably a band at the top of their form, the perfect blend of tight and energetic playing with sweet pop melodies and keep-you-guessing arrangements. The guitar interplay of John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez is world-class but never in the form of noodle-based fretwank, while drummer Greg Saunier flails his kit with some kind of furious joy. Singer and bass-player Satomi Matsuzaki is so tiny she barely rises above the audiences heads - and she's on stage. She has the most wonderful clear flat-toned voice and an onstage presence which says so much more than "just cute". The band play a lot of material from their two most recent albums (Reviews: 1 / 2), plus cover versions of The Ramones Gabba Gabba Hey and Canned Heat's Going Up The Country. Not a note out of place, and the crowd really showed their appreciation. Everybody left happy AND I had a totally smooth ride home on the train.

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#HarrisPilton

3rd Jul 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Flipper

Generic/Gone Fishin'/Public Flipper Ltd./Sex Bomb Baby

Domino

Re-re-re-release time for the four Flipper albums. Boy, these rekkids have a long history of being issued with some legal wrangling and format wars all rolled in for good measure. Apparantley a big influence on Nirvana, Henry Rollins and plenty of sludge-rock bands, Flipper are pretty much the also-rans of the American punk scene. Too slow and experimental for many, too noisy and uncompromising for others, it's easy to see why they never achieved the star status of those who followed. Here then, are their four official releases (with the exception of their new album) for those who missed them first time, second time, or third time round.

Generic Flipper
Flipper's first album kicks off with "Ever", which lays down their manifesto from the word go - guitar out of tune with the bass (and itself) in a gigantic wash of fuzz and reverb, but jollied along by go-go hand-claps. Perhaps this is Flipper's charm - even on the two studio albums they sound like they're having a crack at playing all the tunes for the first time, without the benefit of rehearsal. Naturally there are some moments when the originality of the vocals or the catchiness of the riffs break through the noise for a decent glimpse of what the fuss was all about, and on Generic the best track is the infamous "smoke on the water of punk" Sex-Bomb. Actually, Sex-Bomb is more of a punk "Low Rider" with it's infectious bass groove. Confusingly, Flipper also released a track called Lowrider which makes no reference to War's track...anyway...

Gone Fishin'
The second album is more sonically diverse, employing Sax, Vibes and Piano in places whilst continuing with the tradition of playing very loose. It's pretty heavy in places - less punk and more sludge - sort of like a prototype version of The Cows, and there are further flashes of what the band might have become if various members didn't keep dying of drug overdoses. Standout tracks are In Life My Friends, and Talk's Cheap.

Public Flipper Ltd
This is a collection of live tracks recorded by Flipper during their glory years (81 - 83). If you've enjoyed the sound of Flipper's first two albums you might wish to persevere with this one, since by now you'll be well used to the idea of the guitar being out of tune, and rather randomly played. Opening track New Rules No Rules is just about the most punk-rock thing you'll ever hear in your life - where Flipper's sound suddenly makes sense. Sadly though, the low-fi recordings do not convey the band's legendary HEAVY live sound, but at least there's quite a lot of material here that was not on the two studio albums - singles releases mainly - which leads us to...

Sex Bomb Baby
A collection of Flipper's singles and all remaining releasable tracks. The original 7" version of Sex-Bomb is great, complete with Riot noises over the end. The singles have the same kind of sound as the album tracks but they attempt to get the point across a little quicker, which sometimes helps. The track I really like here is Brainwash - truly original and nicely executed.

---

You can't deny the influence Flipper have had on some great bands, but you can also hear why they were destined to be infamous rather than famous - they were dedicated to the way they sounded, but that very sound obscured the catchy elements of their tracks. I'm sure a good producer could have changed all that, but I don't think Flipper wanted to sound any other way. For once, I'd really like to hear an album full of Flipper cover versions done by contemporary bands who could wrestle the great bits out of the Flipper catalogue...and maybe even tune the guitars.

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22nd Jun 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Rank Deluxe

You Decide

Fat Cat

This album sounds like a great deal of work has gone into it; the songs are interesting, the instruments are all played nice and tight, and the production sounds really full and clear, but I have to confess I'm struggling with it because of the vocals. The Rank Deluxe offer up a confident and thoughtfully crafted album full of indie rock which should, by rights, gain them a lot of attention and maybe some airplay. Once again, it's the sound of early 80's post-punk which informs the band's sound, and in the Rank Deluxe's case the influence seems to be both The Ruts and The Beat (bands with a tad more intelligence and creativity than many of their counterparts). The guitar playing stands out - a tight and schooled American approach to indie rock along the lines of Albert Hammond Jr, and the rhythm section is totally on the case with snappy disco rhythms and reggae influenced basslines. So where does it all go wrong? For me, the stumbling block is the vocals - singers Richard Buchanan and Lewis Dyer have made the decision to sing in a resolutely cockney accent, which is no doubt their own speaking voices. They both have good powerful voices, excellent range and accuracy, but the upfront nature of the glottal-stops, flattened vowels and dropped H's detract in no small way from the band's music.

I'm sure it's an approach the band must be happy with - an unambiguous declaration that The Rank Deluxe are a London band - with colours nailed securely to the mast. This may win them some fans because singing in your own accent is somehow more "real" but could limit their appeal to audiences north of Watford, or on the other side of the Atlantic. Lyrically solid, musically adventurous and sonically charged, the album has few low-spots and works better on tracks like Innocence where the cockneyisms are less emphatic and more relaxed. Basically, this is what Hard-Fi would sound like if they were any good - and one or two listens will make your mind up. I won't be listening to it much, but I have found myself humming the melody of Doll Queue all week, so they must be doing something right.

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24th Mar 2009 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Omar Rodriguez Lopez

Old Money

Stonesthrow

Omar Rodriguez Lopez is the guitarist with The Mars Volta and this, his first proper solo album, is a collection of instrumentals and sound collages which serves as a strong statement of where he's at musically. Initially, this album comes across as the Volta without vocals, but repeated listenings reveal a wider scope of influences and textures. Genreally speaking only a couple of tracks resemble the Volta in terms of arrangement - notably the opener The Power Of Myth and the title track itself - elsewhere ORL's earlier excursions into the world of dub and found-sound are very a big influence, with mighty Studio 1 rhythms bouncing off latino melodies and third-world samples. The other big influence which flavours this record is mid-70's Jazz fusion, and by that I mean the good stuff - the use of Bass Clarinet cannot help but invoke the sound of Bitches Brew or Herbie Hancock's Sextant, and Omar's guitar playing coupled with some furious drumming are as close to a modern Mahavishnu Orchestra as we're likely to find.

What makes this good is Omar's approach to playing guitar - he is, without question, the finest rock guitarist to have emerged in two decades and this is a statement I'll attempt to qualify right now: consider the dilemma of the talented musician. If you have the dexterity and the ear for complicated playing, there is often the need to show-off, to learns tricks and to become nothing more than a performing stunt-show of arpeggios and flashy techniques, so many great players end up making music which only serves to highlight their technique. ORL is a very gifted guitarist but he understands something at a much deeper level than the sweep-pickers of fusion or math-rock - his solos charge head-on into unknown places, like someone riding the scree - a controlled crash at high speed. Really, the closest comparison to ORL's solo playing is Frank Zappa - he's really got that wah-wah thing down. On top of this, Omar clearly loves sound manipulation so his guitar sounds are often heavily effected, overdriven and swirling, but with a highly contemporary edge.

So, if you want to hear an album with a lot of high-quality guitar experimentation against a backdrop of electric Miles, King Tubby and Medal-era Floyd, then this is your new year purchase. If that sounds like your idea of hell then steer clear. Personally, I would love to hear the results if Omar teamed up with Bill Laswell - I think that would be a musical marriage made in psychedlic heaven.

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5th Jan 2009 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Best Of 2008

Harris Pilton

Best Live Band - Zu

Sneaking in at the last minute (saw them twice in December) come Zu, an instrumental group consisting of Drums, Bass, and Baritone Sax. This, you might think, is not a recipe for success in these modern times but Zu have an unconventional approach to their sound which has to be heard to be believed. The honking Baritone is barked hard through overdrive and fuzz, the Drums played with power and true flair, while the Bass (?) seems to perform the role of just about everything else a band could need - metal guitar, brass riffs, sweeping electronics and some of the deepest low-notes known to mankind. The result is the sheer chunky heaviness of Helmet with the experimentation of Krautrock. No chance of the mix sounding empty with this trio - you just keep wondering who is doing what, and how the hell they can sound like that. Expect unusual time signatures, a party atmosphere and a monstrous sound.

Best Album - The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent

Thirty years into the turbulent history of The Fall, Mark E Smith is reunited with producer Grant Showbiz and, it would seem, the joy of making records. Imperial Wax Solvent is arguably the best Fall record ever, capturing something that was often hinted at during the previous three decades but never so consistently nailed. Thing is, MES has a great band these days and it sounds like he really digs what they can do, and this in turn produces some great vocal performances and lyrics from the main man. The titles tell you a lot:- Wolf Kidult Man, Latch Key Kid, Senior Twilight Stock Replacer, and 50 Year Old Man. One track is called Can Can Summer, and once it hits the main riff you realise why :- this is the Fall album where MES comes closest in sound to the group he has long-admired - Can. Smith's wife Eleni Poulou makes a considerable contribution to the album with way-cool squelchy analog synths and one lead vocal on the magnificent I've Been Duped (in which you'll hear her sing something about two hairy men digging up Scotland. Brilliant). But central to the proceedings is the wry old goat himself - clearly enjoying himself, sounding happy and enthusiastic, better recorded and lyrically sharp as ever. I've played this album all year long, and can't wait to hear the next one.

Best Game - Far Cry 2 - Ubisoft Montreal

The Far Cry franchise got off to a spectacular start in 2004 with the release of the original PC only game. Stunningly realistic landscaping, open fields of play and extremely smart (cunning even) AI enemies. A great start for any game series, which had console owners chomping at the bit. Sadly, the console based adaptations of the first Far Cry did not live up to expectations, with less diversity to the scenery, dumber AI, and on-rails game play. This was a big disapointment to anyone who'd played the original PC version, leaving console owners feeling rather short-changed. Far Cry 2 can be considered the first proper follow-up to the original, and it even raises the standard by several notches. Coming up to this release, Ubisoft were pretty confident about FC2's landscaping and weather modelling but it's not until you've seen the game running that you'll truly appreciate how spectacular this game looks, and how well it plays. Set in Africa, the story-line is mature and non-patronising, playing as a first person shooter with 50 square kilometers of free-roam play area. You choose your missions and when to do them, leaving you free to just roam about fighting off attacks from just about everyone you encounter. The AI is back to being cunning, the gently unravelling story is compelling, and the action is full-on. Sadly, there is one problem with this otherwise-perfect game:- many Xbox 360 owners have had their game's save files corrupted (all of them) by some mystery bug when they get to 88 percent game completion, forcing them to start all over again. That's a serious glitch and one which Ubisoft should be trying to address without delay. Luckily, I only encountered one single corrupted save file, losing only half an hour of progress. I checked my stats when I completed the game and found that I had enjoyed almost 60 hours of gameplay without ever getting bored.

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16th Dec 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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ATP Weekender Curated by Mike Patton / Melvins: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Butlins, Minehead

When ATP announced this event six months ago, I could hardly believe my luck. I make no secret of my devotion to the Melvins and all things Ipecac (Patton's label), so this weekend festival (3 hours drive away) was like a gift from the almighty. As acts got added to the lineup the ticket value seemed to increase - especially when Butthole Surfers were added to the bill - so this was an event for which my expectations were pretty high. And whaddya know? They delivered 100 percent satisfaction, a weekend of eclectic and exciting music surrounded by like-minded people. And so, amidst the spartan tat of this windswept and freezing off-season holiday stalag, people gathered from all over the world to celebrate the left-of-centre and the truly gifted, on two main sound stages and one quadrophonic rig in a smaller venue.

(The) Melvins opened up on Friday as 'Melvins 83' - bringing original drummer Mike Dillard back to revisit their punky roots. Regular Melvins drummer Dale Crover played bass for this short set and was introduced as Matt Lukin. They were great - Mike Dillard sounded really tight - a performance that he can be justly proud of.

With so much going on, there were often choices to be made between two stages - throwing up some unexpected delights and a few minor disappointments. And so, in no particular order, a few words about some of the performances that I did see.

Best thing I've seen all year award goes to Zu - Italian noise-funk trio with the HEAVIEST sound I have EVER heard. Absolutely astounding virtuoso playing with not a hint of chin-stroking introspection. Big, noisy, intelligent party music - I cannot recommend this band highly enough. Want to see the most highly drilled weirdos in the world? Then check out The Locust - falling under the vague umbrella of Math-rock, these costumed and masked humanoids deliver precision salvos of Rhythm'n'Noise. What the drummer was doing looked inhuman. Brilliant. There were some understated and beautiful performances too - notably Martina Topley Bird who has the voice of an angel and Joe Lally (Fugazi) who has the dignity of a war veteran. At the other end of the scale (ie, dignity and restraint missing) was Squarepusher. Whilst his playing and programming are faultless, the smothering fog of his gigantic ego suffocated the fun out of the room. Thanks Tom, but we can make our own minds up about when to cheer. Audience response happens naturally when the music connects with people, and the winners in this respect were Taraf De Haidouks - the most awesome gypsy band on the planet. When they played, the room became a party, and once their time onstage was finished they just carried on outside. Makes you wonder how come our own folk music is so dull. Representing the slightly looser approach to music was the amazingly messy Butthole Surfers. Who knows how wasted Gibby Haines was, but he did punctuate one song by shouting "Three fuckin' hits of MDMA!", so that might have been a clue. Pretty damn psychedelic. Another treat was country-pickin' Junior Brown - possibly the greatest stunt-guitarist you will ever hear in your life, and with a rich barritone voice like a fine matured bourbon. There was a special performance of Stockhausen's Kontakte in the quadrophonic room - mixed from the original masters by Stockhausen's sound projectionist and complimented by a pianist and percussionist on stage. The sound system was crystal clear and the crowd remained quiet and respectfully awed by the one of the original noise-masters. By contrast, "America's funny man" Neil Hamburger was trying to achieve the goal of goading the audience towards "a crescendo of boo's" as he put it. Provocatively tasteless and badly delivered jokes about Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger coupled with general abuse of audience members. I liked it - and there was one genuinely funny joke - (What's worse than Muslim Extremism? Chinese Democracy). Mike Patton himself resisted the temptation to make appearances with multiple bands, concentrating instead on orchestrating a fine performance of The Director's Cut with his band Fantomas. They played the whole album and it sounded wonderful, with Patton clearly in an excellent mood - so much so they even gave us an encore of Al Green's Simply Beautiful which Patton dedicated to "all the laydeez in the house", prompting many female screams, whistles and a general gusset-moistening.

Booby Prizes go to the following - Big Business (hampered by a blown-up bass amp, and a subsequently muddy mix), Leila (technical problems not exactly enhancing something that seemed boring in the first place), Porn (onstage intrusion by mystery drunk guitarist [turns out it was the bloke out of Mastodon] leading to aimless collapse of order), James Blood Ulmer (great voice, but guitar playing somewhere beyond loose), and White Noise (the ledgendary David Vorhaus served up softcore euro-trance which bore no reference to his early experimental works). Didn't get to see Mastodon, Isis, The Damned, Farmer's Market or Kool Keith, so sorry about that. There was only so much a person could take in, but having said that, this was still the best music festival I have ever been to. Support ATP! They rule.

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9th Dec 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Taraf De Haidouks @ ATP

All Tomorrow's Parties: The Nightmare Before Christmas

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9th Dec 2008

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Melvins @ ATP

All Tomorrow's Parties: The Nightmare Before Christmas

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9th Dec 2008

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King Buzzo of the Melvins (outside Harris Pilton's chalet) @ ATP

All Tomorrow's Parties: The Nightmare Before Christmas

#surveillance
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9th Dec 2008

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Junior Brown @ ATP

All Tomorrow's Parties: The Nightmare Before Christmas

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9th Dec 2008

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Joe Lally @ ATP

All Tomorrow's Parties: The Nightmare Before Christmas

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9th Dec 2008

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Fantomas @ ATP

All Tomorrow's Parties: The Nightmare Before Christmas

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9th Dec 2008

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Butthole Surfers @ ATP

All Tomorrow's Parties: The Nightmare Before Christmas

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9th Dec 2008

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Various Artists

Dreams Come True: Classic First Wave Electro

Domino

Dreams Come True: Classic First Wave Electro 1982-1987 is a compilation by writer Jon Savage, released through Domino - and right away you get the sense that this is a very personal collection for Savage. Billed as a compilation of early electro it bears only a few of the hallmarks that modern (?) electro carries. Essentially, this is the more populist sound of electro which became refined over the following years with the biggest hits yet to come, so what you have here then is early 80's electronic soul music - not particularly intending to be electro, just turning out that way. The sound of the Linn Drum is in evidence throughout, and many keyboard parts are played rather than using sequencers. There are also quite a few guitar parts floating about, even on Klein & MBO's Dirty Talk - the most truly electro item in the collection.

These tracks represent a lot of what was to come - you can be sure that Green Gartside of Scritti Politti was listening to this sound as he was writing Cupid and Psyche 85, and once the likes of Arif Mardin had embraced it for Chaka Khan's '85 comeback, this was a sound firmly in the mainstream. You can't keep a good song down tho' - and the standout track here is Larry Levan's mix of Class Action's Weekend, which would sound right at home on the next Grand Theft Auto soundtrack.

Mostly a moment in time for Jon Savage and a little inconsistent, but an interesting and enjoyable collection nonetheless.

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15th Oct 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Melvins / Big Business / Porn

Concorde 2, Brighton, October 6th 2008

The Melvins return to our shores after an 18 month absence to promote their latest album Nude With Boots, and this time they've opted to play only a few regional dates around the UK after a tour of mainland Europe. So it's off to Brighton for an evening at the Seaside in the company of the Melvins and their modular support act system. First up are (Men Of) Porn - Tim Moss's experimental trio with Melvins drummer Dale Crover, and usually a member of the road crew on bass - Moss is the Melvins tour manager so this is really a family affair. What Moss does is to set up walls of guitar distortion which he modulates with all manner of electronics, and tonight things were much more drone than riff. The sound in Concorde 2 was, by the way, crisp and very loud.

Next up are Bass/Drums duo Big Business, who count as 50% of the Melvins. They deliver a short and powerful set including hands up, Shields, Grounds For Divorce, Easter Romantic and several new tracks. Crover comes back on to play guitar midway through the set and the crowd really start to heat up.

After a five minute break, the Melvins start up with the title track from their latest album - Nude With Boots. Twin drummers Dale Crover and Coady Willis are locked together really tight tonight, and King Buzzo looks almost cheerful. They play a great set with lots of tracks from their two most recent albums (the ones which feature Big Business), and a few Melvins classics including Eyes Flies, Honeybucket, Tipping The Lion and a spectacular version of Boris to close the set. Most of the punters are half the band's age, and show their appreciation by moshing ceaselessly. A top night out at the seaside.

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9th Oct 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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No Age / Health / The Lovvers

Scala, London

August 11th, 2008

A triple bill from label/promoters Upset The Rhythm - purveyors of some fine DIY indie. First up are The Lovvers, Nottingham based punkers with all the right moves for UTR's energetic and studendish crowd. After a quick scout around the inter-cyber-webway I can't tell you much about the members of the band, but they have got a great frontman and there's more than a hint of Flipper about them.

Next comes Health - avant garde LA noise experimentalists with a reputation based on playing Live - and from the moment they start playing you can see why they've gained such kudos. The band seem right at home onstage - creating a seething cauldron of beautiful noise, listening to and playing off each other. Instruments are used as noise sources, effects boards and the band's infamous "zoothorn" are much in evidence, while furious tight drumming locks the whole thing together. Soft ethereal vocals find their way into the music along with captured loops of squalling guitar and sheets of pitch-shifted noise. Quite an experience.

A bit of a hard act to follow, and this is the unenvious task faced by duo No-Age , who seem genuinely psyched to be playing at the Scala tonight. They sound rather straightforward after the sonic battering of Health, and their use of looped sounds is much more submerged in the mix, but their charm and enthusiasm count for a lot here tonight, and the crowd are well up for it. I'm pretty sure no-one went home disappointed, but for me the highlight of the evening were Health - I'd just like to have seen them play for a little longer.

RATINGS: Health (4 stars) No-Age and The Lovvers (3 stars)

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18th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Ponytail

Ice Cream Spiritual

We Are Free

Ponytail are are four-piece band from Baltimore featuring two guitarists, a drummer and the individual vocal stylings of singer Molly Siegel (Yep, Harris Pilton scores a review for another band with no bass player. Must be something about 2008, because that's the third band this year that eschews the services of the lower frequencies). So, on the one hand here is a band which doesn't rumble the floor (bad), but on the other hand, they are also a band which still sound great when they throw the rule book out of the window (good).

There's nothing as straightforward as a song here, well not the sort of song you could sing the words along to, nor the sort that is served up in a verse/chorus framework, but nevertheless the sound Ponytail deliver is still very catchy, joyful and full of poppy hooks and melodies. Everything is pretty frantic - drummer Jeremy Hyman serves up solid garage rock rhythms at a furious pace while the twin guitars of Ken Seeno and Dustin Wong riff, battle, noodle, wig out and mash together in an unremitting orgy of late-60's inspired jamming. Meanwhile in the few remaining upper-mid frequency gaps, Molly Siegel vocalises her way through the entire record like a day-glo toy on happy juice. Screeching, yelling, making mouth noises and sometimes flirting with a melody, Siegel manages to swerve the band's sound away from The Allman Brothers (acknowledged in one track title) and into a land of dementedly happy ultra-neon flowers and sunshine, all racing by at a breakneck speed making your head spin from an overdose of colour saturation.

It's noisy, and it's fun, so go check it out. But it is full on from the word go and pretty much relentless. Most of the time the band sound like they've just hit the final minute of an already epic number and are pulling all their freak-out chops for the big final chord - except Ponytail start their songs that way then carry on from there. Wacky, but in a good way.

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8th Aug 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Oneida

Preteen Weaponry

Jagjaguwar

Once there was a time - long before the term was appropriated by Hi-NRG progtastic disco monkeys - that Trance was a good thing. Bunches of like minded musicians, possibly experiencing an advanced state of chemical refreshment, would set the tapes rolling with minimal discussion about what would happen. The US had Miles Davis and the Grateful Dead, Europe had Krautrock and in the UK we had, err, Hawkwind. All good tho'. The kind of music that proudly invited the listener to get loaded and go with it.

Preteen Weaponry is a 3-part jam lasting 40 minutes, so if the thought of that doesn't in some way appeal to you then read no further. If, however, you enjoy hearing musicians exploring and improvising on a phat spaced-out groove, then strap in and set the controls for the heart of the sun.

What makes this record work so well is the way it comes together fairly slowly in the first section - the musicians trying to work out their own spaces in the mix, getting hold of the groove - and then all of a sudden they lock together and the swirling jagged mass of noises becomes one big unified sound. Guitars and old-skool synths thru effects become indistinguishable, clouds of phase and echo reverberate behind a solid yet frantic drummer, whilst something (whatever) holds a pulse note or phrase. Listening to it really tranced me out (like, totally) and I mean that as a huge compliment. As someone who's had a lifelong addiction to music I can often find myself over-analysing what I'm hearing - deciding I don't like a guitar sound or the reverb on the drums or some other nit-pickin' shit - but this record doesn't allow anyone to do that. It starts, it goes, it goes some more, it keeps going, and you either go with it or you don't. My advice is :- go with it.

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29th Jul 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Onion Movie

(dir. Tom Kuntz, Mike Maguire)

20th Century Fox

For 20 years now, The Onion has delivered unparalleled satire of American life in its many forms. Originally (and still) an actual newspaper, The Onion is perhaps best known for their website, and they've also successfully published a series of brilliant books which further the cause of exposing and laughing at hypocrisy on a global scale. The Onion's humour has always been sort of middle-brow. There are tons of intellectual jokes throughout their work, but it's always balanced by a well-placed and timely cock joke.

Things could have turned out quite badly for this project. It was pretty much stillborn, then resurrected, and is now being released direct to DVD. Everyone involved in the project thought the material was not strong enough for a theatre release, and therefore I had a slight worry that Onion humour might not translate to a screen format, that it might be too long-winded or spend too much time extracting every ounce of humour from a topic: but the movie delivers at a great pace and (even better) does not rely heavily on material from the website and books. It's a fresh experience, and funny as fuck. Essentially, this is Kentucky Fried Movie as done by the Onion (KFO anybody?) and notably one finds the name David Zucker (Airplane etc) in the producer credits.

It's also great to report that the movie has high production values - a super glossy look and great cast. There's some neat continuity gags, themes which are returned to from different perspectives, tight dialogue and it's beautifully edited. For a comedy film these things are often secondary, but not in this case.

You'll laugh, you'll wince, and you will nod in agreement as the movie drops smart-bombs on self-inflated idiots. No-one is safe. From the Islamic terrorist training video, through trailers for Steven Seagal's latest action movie (Steven Seagal IS Cockpuncher), and an awesome sequence which involves a hip-hop Wigger being recognised as truly black (only not in the way he wanted) - this is a work of comedic and satirical genius. Highly recommended.

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18th Jun 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Heroine Sheiks

Journey To The End Of The Knife

Amphetamine Reptile Records

Heroine Sheiks main man Shannon Selberg is one of America's most under-rated vocalists and lyricists:- easily dismissed as a crazy person due to his onstage exuberance, he's a master of getting a lot out of a little - painting lyrical scenarios of low-life and sleaze with just a few well chosen words set against his own brand funky punk.

Journey is the Sheiks fourth album and features an all new band line-up with Selberg having moved back home to his native Minneapolis after a spell in New York. The music retains the characteristics of the other Sheiks albums - a natural extension to the sound of Selberg's former band The Cows - but this album has more of a homebrew feel than it's predecessor Out Of Aferica. Opening track Be A Man is a stormer, a joyous slab of noise pop which you'll be singing along with at the first chorus, followed by the punked-up thrash of Hank's Pimp (an unsavoury jailhouse yarn if ever I heard one).

It's not their strongest album - both musically and lyrically it's less adventurous than previous releases and it clocks in at a modest 28 minutes for 8 songs (one of which is a bootleg-quality live track). Still, it has moments of sheer genius, with the lyrically dark Meurte Vous and the spaced-out groove of Co-Angle Phenomenon. AmRep are only printing a thousand of these, so if you're a Selberg fan you'd best get yourself a copy pretty damn sharp. Recommended ...and would have got more stars if it had more tracks.

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13th Jun 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Melvins

Nude With Boots

Ipecac Recordings

This year sees the mighty Melvins celebrate 25 years together, basically a silver jubilee in a big smelly dress. There's an interesting "timeline of grunge" on Wikipedia's grunge music page which shows the births and deaths of the various bands associated with the sound of Seattle: it's underscored by one constant bar-line labelled The Melvins, the band formed by guitarist Buzz (King Buzzo) Osbourne back in 1983. They remain the unsung heroes of American rock, having been Kurt Cobain's favourite band, and spawning Mudhoney in the process. For 90% of their existence, King Buzzo's loyal partner has been drummer Dale Crover, and together with a Spinal Tap style succession of bass players they have ploughed a deep and individual furrow through the battlefields of heavy rock.

These days (the) Melvins operate as a four-piece, with the already established duo Big Business providing bass and a second drummer, and all four members providing vocals. Nude With Boots is the second album for this line-up and it evolves nicely from its predecessor (a) Senile Animal. The Kicking Machine starts things off with the twin drum kits pounding out a peg-legged funk peppered with extended guitar riffs and vocal harmonies. It's about as close to a Melvins manifesto as you could get - if this track grabs you then you're going to like the album. The songs are memorable, and the sense of a band working this out together is very strong. The influence of Big Business comes through a lot more, Jared Warren's vocals are a terrific counterpoint to Buzzo's grizzled growl and Coady Willis works instinctively with the veteran Crover.

Like most Melvins albums, there are parts that will grab your attention first (The Smiling Cobra, Suicide in Progress) and other parts that make more sense once you've heard them a few times. The last couple of tracks on the record tend towards the experimental noise-rock side of their sound, rather than ending with a knockout punch. More of a spiked punch. There are rumours that the band is planning to visit the UK later this year to celebrate their quarter century in a big way. Watch this space, and, buy this rekkid.

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9th Jun 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Times New Viking

Rip It Off

Matador Records

There's lo-fi, and then there's TNV. I can't see the point, really. There might be some good tunes buried in this collection somewhere, but who's to say? I simply can't get past the TRULY APPALLING sound. The way I understand it, lo-fi is more of a musical ethic rather than a description of sonic qualities, but in the case of TNV it's taken much more as a literal way of life.

It's like being played a demo recorded on a cassette tape by someone who didn't know how to set the input levels. The entire signal is broken up and overloaded across the whole mix, thereby reducing the definition of any single instrument - you can't hear any bass frequencies for example. It's like being shouted at for half an hour, or played a sex pistols bootleg down a bad phone line. So much so, in fact, that it's just too wearing to pay close attention to. I don't want to have to wade through a river or crackle to reach the music, after all, it's supposed to be about the songs isn't it?

Perhaps TNV would be pleased to hear me say all this - yeah! Punk Rock! You know, if this stupid reviewer can't be bothered to extract the tunes, then he's missing the point and we don't want him as a fan. Well, if that's the case then fair enough. But folks, since someone's gone to all the trouble of releasing this record it might have been better to put something out that people might want to listen to more than once. Any chance of remixing it a bit cleaner...?

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6th May 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Dead Child

Attack

Touch & Go

Dead Child is a side-project for renowned post-rock guitarist Dave Pajo - formerly of Slint and occasional member of Tortoise. I've always rated Pajo ; I think his playing puts him in the league of great American left-field guitarists such as Marc Ribot or Bill Frisell, and so I was intrigued to hear this record since it's being touted as Pajo's hommage to the music of his youth - Heavy Metal. Now, I like chunky rock. I'm a sucker for an overdriven guitar playing choppy riffs and squalling lead breaks, and that's a pretty good prospect in the hands of someone like Pajo, and on this front the record really delivers. Great tight production, with drums bass and guitar providing a high-energy modern sound and riffs as tight as Fu Manchu. However...

In paying hommage to Metal, the band has chosen to utilise the vocal skills of Dahm (Phantom Family Halo) and this is where things take a turn for the worse. The problem is that Dahm's vocal style and comic-book lyrics are just plain corny. The words are a collection of schoolboy metal cliches presented in stock rhyming-couplet pairs, and his vocal delivery sounds like it's all a big joke - I'm reminded of Electric Six . This works against the strong backing tracks; it's a gourmet meal smothered in ketchup, an Aston Martin with fluffy dice. The overall effect is that the music and the vocals are almost at odds with each other. Perhaps that was deliberate, but it's as if Dead Child can't decide whether they are serious or not. Sadly, "not" wins.

In fact, so horrible are the vocals that it puts me off listening to what could have been a great record. I appreciate the fact that it's hard to be original in the world of metal vocals, but even the throat-rasping cookie-monster stylings of grindcore would be preferable to this. A great set of tunes reduced to dismissable nonsense.

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30th Apr 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Mike Patton

A Perfect Place (Original Sound Track)

Ipecac Recordings

Sooner or later this was going to happen:- Mike Patton, former singer of Faith No More and curator of a dozen musical projects, has been given the opportunity to write the musical soundtrack to a movie and it's an opportunity he does not let go to waste. Patton's fans will have long recognised his fascination with the melodies of John Barry, Angelo Badalamenti and Henry Mancini, and this is the place where he finally gets to show that he really has the musical chops to stand alongside his influences. Patton fans will therefore have some pretty solid expectations of this project and I can safely say they won't be dissapointed. Imagine Fantomas' Director's Cut album, minus the thrash metal element and with new melodies, and you're halfway there.

The strongest influence is perhaps John Barry - specifically Barry's theme for the Ipcress File - and these tracks resound with zithers, theramin and spaghetti-western guitars. There are only three vocal tracks, one of which is sung in Italian, but the rest of the record plays just like a soundtrack ought to - with established themes, reprises and re-arrangements of the main melodies.

The soundtrack has a longer running time than the movie, which is more of a short film and is included in the package on DVD - but regardless of its contextual use, the music stands up really well by itself. The main theme is very catchy - I've found myself humming it in its various forms while I go about my day - and this can only be a good thing. For the future, Patton has expressed an interest in working with David Lynch, and I think he's easily man enough for the job, but whether they end up working together or not, this record at least proves that someone should give Patton a proper big-budget full length movie soundtrack to compose.

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14th Apr 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Health

Health

American noise-rock is alive and well in the form of HEALTH, a Californian band who have established a cool reputation in their native LA by playing a lot of free gigs. Well, you've got a couple of choices when you go down the noise rock route - punky songs with walls of effected sound or arty sonic experimentation, with the latter being the more difficult to pull-off without sounding pretentious and willfully difficult.

I'm glad to report, then, that HEALTH manage the experimental side of things very well indeed. Sustained notes of pitched-up guitar drone happily alongside scratchy electronica while powerful patterns of drums boom from the reverb. There's not much in the way of traditonal song form, but the music is not lost or meandering - it's very focused and singular in it's approach, the sonic qualities and arrangements of note clusters given equal relevance to vocal sounds or sparse melodies. There are bursts of complex rhythmic exchanges, rather like a garage band in the style of Fantomas. The lyrics are mostly abstract and the vocals function as an alternative sound texture, which under the circumstances is exactly the right thing to do. Not for the faint-hearted or sweet-toothed, but for the open-minded this is a bit of a gem.

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9th Mar 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Gary Numan + Tubeway Army

Replicas (2008 Tour Edition)

Beggars

There can be no denying that Are Friends Electric? is a slice of pop genius. A gigantic buzzsaw synth riff set against a tune that even your granny could hum, and enough oomph to put a smile on the face of rockers everywhere - this was a hook-laden pop formula that turned Numan into the star he'd always imagined himself to be. This, and two or three other notable tracks are the cornerstones of the album, and without those solid foundations Replicas would sound a bit weedy. Opening with Me, I Disconnect From You and also containing the Numan classic Down In The Park, Replicas doesn't maintain the consistent standard set by these twinkling gems. At times it sounds like Gaz was having a crack at being (pre-commercial) Human League, or even something a bit more art-punk like, say, Magazine. But it struggles to convince and sometimes comes across like pub-rock with synths plastered on.

And for die-hard fans (sorry, 'Numanoids') this could disappoint on a couple of levels. Billed as a "Redux" release, there has been some fairly efficient tidying up done. Maybe a bit too much. The original tracks were still driven by the sound of a band at work - real drums throughout, with guitar and bass guitar in strong evidence. The redux downplays this part of the mix, and much of the guitar work is quieter or even removed completely. Bafflingly, We Are So Fragile is missing - the B-side to Friends - which was included on the previous CD release of Replicas. Instead we get early versions of nearly every track, some of which sound like they've got a bit more life in them than the newer redux versions.

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11th Feb 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Mars Volta

The Bedlam in Goliath

Whatever your views on the current state of the music industry, the very existence of The Mars Volta is proof-solid that something must be going right. This is a band with a manifesto so far outside of the mainstream and so removed from what's currently hip, that it's some kind of miracle that they even get to record, let alone tour, release lavishly packaged albums and sell a million records.

If you've never checked them out, this is their fourth full-length album and it adheres to their highly individual sound - there's no getting away from it - this is progressive rock. A musical form so utterly derided by the music press, and dismissed by the majority of listeners under the age of 40, that one might think that no-one would ever attempt to fly a Roger Dean flagpole up their mast ever again. And with good reason:- progressive rock from the 70's was predominantly British, a bit public school and generally a turgid plod through some half-arsed attempts at musical originality. Thankfully, the only real musical heritage from this era is the influence of King Crimson at their most densely harrowing. What the Mars Volta have is energy and pace - and the new album is demonically charged, travelling over jumpy time signatures with an unstoppable drive. I have heard them described as prog-punk - a tag so oxymoronic that I laughed when I heard it, and yet it is a punk attitude which gives the prog such a maniacal thrust.

This is a stronger album than last year's (also excellent) Amputechture by dint of the fact that it delivers more bite-sized nuggets of Volta madness in smaller digestible chunks. It's quite riff heavy, and generally played at a breakneck pace. New permament drummer Thomas Pridgen has his work cut out for him, and sounds like he's enjoying every sweaty minute of it. There's a lot of voice processing applied to Cedric Bixler-Zavala's voice, which could easily scare off the faint-hearted. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar playing burns red-hot, and where the band hit some big latino vamps for him to work-out over, he comes across like Frank Zappa rather than Carlos Santana.

Intense, spooky and totally mental. UK Live shows coming up in March.

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7th Feb 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Bob Mould

District Line

Beggars

I've got to give this a fair trial because Bob Mould deserves it - having been a founder member of the massively influential and raw Husker Du, and then exorcising his pop demons and songwriting chops with Sugar, Mould has plenty of credit in the bank of cool. However, just taking things at face value, this album is a collection of promising but ultimately dull rock songs for grown-ups. Take the first track for example - Stupid Now - it starts out all Nirvana-in-quiet-mode with that good ol' Seattle tuning on the guitar, it has a nice modern feel to the production and Bob's voice sounds great... then along comes the chorus and the whiff of cheese becomes overwhelming; it honestly sounds like Linda Perry wrote this for a P!nk's new rockin' rekkid - it's that anthemic.

By rights, of course, no-one should deny Mould his payday. This is every bit as good as the aforementioned crafted crowd-pleasers peddled by America's one-woman tin pan alley, but somehow I don't think our Bob will get as much MTV airtime as P!nk. I hope that the ever-strong influence of FM radio in the US will help make this a success as it reaches out to middle America at drive-time, but for me personally I feel that this is rather like Francis Bacon deciding to paint like Jack Vettriano in order to have a wider appeal.

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5th Feb 2008 - 2 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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These New Puritans

Pyramid Beat

Angular

Jesus H Corbett! Being one of the older Chimps I sometimes despair at the youth of today - you know, frittering their boundless energy away by looking sullen and playing shitwad music out of inadequate speaker phones. Makes me wonder why anyone bothered making decent music for the last 50 years if no-one under the age of 20 can be arsed to put in a bit of research and hard work themselves. Hurrah! Step forward These New Puritans, whose first full-length album blew me out of my own (very) late teenage gloom. Thank fuck.

At last someone seems to have got it - drawing equally from genuine underground dance music, noise rock, B-boy darkness and the very best of post-punk, this album crackles with a kind of confidence which belies the band's tender years. The chunkiest tracks come up front, stamping a large footprint of intent all over your thoughtbox. The influences are all good ones - Gang of Four, Wire, Industrial, The Fall, Dark Hip Hop, Underground Electro - and if that all seems a bit to contrived then I'm not doing them any justice, because this to me is the greatest testament to a well-spent youth.... ie, years spent listening to and absorbing brilliant records, no matter who made those records or what everyone else was listening to, then getting off yer arse/face and making something that lives up to your own high standards. Brilliant.

Of course some bits are better than others, but it is all good. Great lyrics too, and lots of thought gone into the use of samplers and sounds. Anyway, next time someone tries to play you any records by "the streets" take the following steps. One, tell them to fuck off. Two, if they have not complied with your request, play them this record.

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25th Jan 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Lightspeed Champion

Falling Off The Lavender Bridge

Domino

Bloody January. It's just a slog, isn't it? The country shrugs its shoulders and goes back to work with a resigned collective grumble, coz evyone knows that the weather will be shit, and that nothing good ever really happens in January. Trudge on through and expect very little. And it was with that open minded attitude that I approached my first two reviews of the year.

Knowing nothing whatsoever about Lightspeed Champion, this album came as an unexpected pleasure. The main man at work here is Devonte Hynes - US born and UK raised, his music has been categorised as "Indie Folk" which could go some way to putting off prospective purchasers who only browse by genre.

But Indie Folk it is - and the good thing is that it takes the good bits from both, and of course ends up being something outside of either. The songs appear to be simple at first, but reveal themselves as something more almost straight away. Songs which could have become 3-chord campfire throwaways are rescued with subtly shifting chords and great instrumentation which puts me in mind of Pretzel Logic era Steely Dan. There are some beautifully restrained string arrangements and lovely touches of steel guitar.

Lyrically, Hynes explores dark territories yet delivers his message in an undepressing way, despite the shock of hearing harsh words in the gentle music. The songs keep surprising - starting out straightforward, but often avoiding conventional structure. No regular verse-chorus-verse-chorus stuff here. The track I really loved was Salty Water, in which Hynes creates a rolling backwash tidalwave with his voice as a perfect accompaniment to the lyrics of rapturous drowning. Personally, I think this music is at its best when Hynes lets go a bit with his voice - sometimes the flat-wovelled estuary drawl veers a little too close to Billy Bragg for my ears, but there's so much more to like about this record that this is easily forgotten. It's not just a collection of songs, it's a real album...and an artist to watch out for.

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21st Jan 2008 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Harrisons

No Fighting In The War Room

Melodic

Clearly, the challenge to anyone reviewing (or listening to) The Harrisons' debut album will be to not think of the Arctic Monkeys. Thing is, it's spikey, indie guitar music with a bit of a dancefloor edge sung in a Sheffield accent and peppered with the Yorkshire flavoured lyrics. How's that NOT going to sound like the Arctic Monkeys?

Unfortunately this puts the Harrisons very much in the shadow of their more famous counterparts - however good the songs might be, they're just not as original or as tight as the AM's brand of New Yorkshire. Believe me, this is not merely lazy journalism - check it out for yourself and add your comments if you don't think it sounds like the Monkeys.

But where Alex Turner and co have brought a snappiness and progressive edge to their sound, the Harrisons fall on traditional indie songwriting and rhythms which end up being several stops short of original. I don't think this will hold them back too much - already established with the NME crowd and getting radio sessions, I'm sure they'll do okay, but if spikey indie pop is your thing you might be better off waiting for the next Young Knives album.

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7th Jan 2008 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Best of 2007

Harris Pilton

Top 5 Gigs

1. Beastie Boys - Roundhouse, Chalk Farm
2. Melvins - Patronaat, Haarlem, NL
3. Fu Manchu (and Valient Thorr) - Underworld, Camden
4. Steely Dan - NIA, Birmingham
5. Prince - 02, Docklands

Top 5 Albums

Love's Miracle by Qui as my fave album of the year. I didn't hear it until it had been released a while so missed the boat on a review. But it's a corker...very original, complex, anguished, not an easy listen.

Beyond that, it's a hard one...not because there was so much choice, but because in real terms nothing released this year replaced older releases in my regular playlists. I must be the only music reviewer on the planet not to have heard (or attempted to hear) the Radiohead album. Not that I'm anti-Radiohead or anything, I just didn't go out of my way to hear it.

So, even the bands who released albums which I like didn't really release anything truly classic this year. I should give honourable mentions to Big Business for their album Here Comes The Waterworks (very original), and Fu Manchu for We Must Obey (not very original, but totally rocking), and Beastie Boys' The Mix-Up, which I did play more than any other new album this year.

Top 5 tracks (listened to this year, but not released this year)

1. Skull of a German - Jesus Lizard
2. Velouria - Pixies
3. The Warden - The Cows
4. Get on Down - Eddie Harris
5. Blood Witch - Melvins

Top 5 movies

Also not a good area for me. Only went to movies twice as far as I can remember. The Simpsons movie (which I thought was really poor) and Transformers, which impressed me with its humour and bludgeoning special effects. I expect I would have liked the new David Cronenberg film, and maybe even Lynch's Inland Empire, but I couldn't be arsed to go and see them. Will probably go see the new Wes Anderson next week (again, if I can be arsed). For me, the audio visual entertainment of the era is video games - hence...


Top 5 Games

1. Call of Duty 4
2. The Orange Box (half life 2 etc)
3. Guitar Hero II
4. Bioshock
5. Medal of Honour Airborne

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#HarrisPilton

20th Dec 2007 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Qui

Love's Miracle

Ipecac

The duo Qui consisting of Matt Cronk (gtr/vox) and Paul Christensen (drums/vox) have a unique sound - formed seven years ago, they've recently gained more attention with the addition of veteran vocalist David Yow, formerly of Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard. It's a great match - a perfect marriage between two already established styles, underlining the fact that this is not just Yow's "new band".


Sonically, it's right in the room with you. There's no bass player, and unlike The Pyramids the bottom end is well provided by beautifully tuned drums and Cronk's guitar which reaches down good and low. In fact, the lack of bass guitar draws your ear to the astounding guitar playing, the well recorded drum kit and the vocals from all 3 members. Musically, the influence is the California freak scene of the late 60's, with the inclusion of two cover versions (Zappa/Beefheart's Willy The Pimp and Pink Floyd's Echoes), each of which gets the spirit of the originals just right. The utterly strange New Orleans has a melody which also hints at early Mothers of Invention, but for something truly declaring itself as different, look no further than opening track Apartment:- a jagged funk with a wicked club foot, light and shade, and a melody which makes sense of the whole thing. Yow's voice has never sounded better, and it's great that such a talented lyricist and frontman gets to make fresh great records without being forced into a "Jesus Lizard II" situation, so five gold stars to Ipecac for putting this out. Oh, and great cover art, too.

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18th Dec 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Pyramids

The Pyramids

The Pyramids are an offshoot from the Archie Bronson Outfit - and are a duo consisting of guitar/vocals and drums. The flavour here is lo-fi, Krautrock-inspired experimentalism, with very strong overtones of label-mates Clinic and a vocal style that most recalls John Lydon's PIL years.

It's rather good, and seems to give not a toss for conventional song structure and recording techniques, but it's not one of those albums which will win you many friends if you force people to listen to it in a state of sobriety. I got a sense of early CAN from the opening item Pyramidy which gives way to the first proper track A White Disc Of Sun. The standout track for me was Gala In The Harbour Of Your Heart where their sound all comes together in a jagged slice of melody and noise.

The only thing that's really missing is some low end:- I thought my stereo was fucked, and went checking the cables to my sub before finally accepting the fact that I wouldn't be hearing any bass guitar, and frankly, it could do with some. I'm sure that half the point of this music is that it was written and recorded in a short space of time, and that they are a duo rather than a full band, but that lack of bass leaves a big gap in the sound, and it needn't - The White Stripes manage very well without a bass guitar.

So, be prepared for something scratchy and nervous, and rather thin sounding. If you're into Clinic I think you'd enjoy this, not only for the atmosphere it creates but also for its obvious uncompromising attitude and intent.

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10th Dec 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Futurama - Bender's Big Score

(dir. Dwayne Carey-Hill)

Comedy Central

In the words of Hubert Farnsworth, Planet Express Delivery's resident  mad scientist, "Good news everyone..." Futurama is back. The much overlooked second project from The Simpson's Matt Groening and David X Cohen has been reactivated after those dummies at the fox network cancelled it in 2003 after just four seasons. Comedy Central (with Fox's blessing) is backing 4 feature length DVD release films which it intends to air broken into episodes with added material. For those of you with a region 1 DVD player, the first feature is available to buy now - together with bonus featurette "Everyone loves Hypnotoad". And the news is, indeed, good. Original voice cast, same look to the animation, same writers - and just like Planet Express, it really delivers.

Without giving too much away, the first feature serves up a generous helping of what the fanboys want. All the familiar faces are present - in addition to Fry and Leela, Prof Farnsworth, Zoidberg, Hermes, Amy, and the ubiquitous Bender "bending unit" Rodriguez, the much loved supporting cast are all present and correct, from Nibbler through to Morbo (and even pre-Simpsons Groening creation, Binky the one-eared Rabbit).

The gags come thick and fast - and the plot, well, that gets a little confusing. The 80 minute story arc may be hard to swallow for the uninitiated since it concerns time paradoxes and multiple copies of central characters. It might actually work better in the episodic format that Comedy Central intend to show it. Fans, however, will lap up the whole thing in one juicy helping.

So, perhaps this is where Matt Groening's creative talent has been concentrated. It's so much more snappy and adult than the Simpsons which (let's face it) is limping in the manner of an exhausted battle hero. Maybe time to give the yellow guys a few seasons off, eh? It hasn't hurt Futurama.

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1st Dec 2007 - 3 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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Junior Boys

Last Exit

Domino

Not sure what really warrants the re-release of this 2004 album, other than the CD's inclusion of the US release's bonus tracks. Ontario's Junior Boys (not related to JBO) is essentially the work of two men - Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus. Musically it fits rather nicely into a post-clubbing niche since it is born from a background of club music but never rises to anything approaching peak-time dancefloor sounds. Coming across rather like a caucasian Amp Fiddler, house and garage textures underpin the lyrics and soulful vocals for a laid-back sofa surfing experience. There's an emphasis on melody and chord structure which is often lacking in music with this kind of pedigree, and that should be applauded. Weirdly enough, I caught the odd whiff of Scritti Politti in my nostrils.

All the same, I was left with a fairly vague impression of the music. It's very laid-backness lets the whole thing drift by in a haze, like it never wishes to impose upon you too much. Anyway, they've done another album and EP since this, so I guess this must be an in-demand classic or something to go to all the trouble of a re-release.

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27th Nov 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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The Heavy

Great Vengeance And Furious Fire

Counter

Sweet Zombie Jesus! First thing I noticed on this record was what appeared to be the ghostly voice of Curtis Mayfield floating in like a spirit superfly from soul heaven. Turns out it's a bloke from Bath, and this the debut album from The Heavy is a pretty good showcase for the band's collective talents. I must confess that this one was a slow grower for me - the tracks are pretty brash and in your face and that initial pop tang had me dismissing the whole affair on first play, but then the old MP3 player shuffle worked it's magic on me (more than once) and I was hooked. This album is chock full of riffs - Zeppelinesque slabs of chunk in a distinctly low-fi sample and loop setting with the aforementioned vocals of Swaby soaring over the top.

The two opening tracks - That Kind of Man and Colleeen lay down the manifesto pretty succinctly, while the occasional slower bluesy numbers give the whole thing a bit of mood relief. There's even a bit of a Stones thing going on in places, but all the while with this magnificent voice making much more out of the riffs. On the whole it's a great debut, and refreshing to hear rock and soul mixed together in a good way - as opposed to all the bad ways we've had to endure in times gone by. The low-fi thing is a real positive factor in this - make it too clean and it just becomes vanilla bullshit, but the grunge element somehow puts Swaby's voice right back in the day of early 70's crunchy production. Good work fellas.

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5th Nov 2007 - 1 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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To Rococo Rot

ABC123

Domino

Hey Marketing guys! When you're finished stamping on puppy-dogs minds or slapping ginger orphans or whatever you do during your lee-sure time, consider how cool you're going to look when you recommend this teutonic art-bleep as the soundtrack to your next german or swedish automotive commercial. You know, not as alienating as Aphex, not as sappy as Zero7. And there ends the recommendation. Not really a concept album but conceptual in it's, err, conception or something. This is the music you get when you make the shapes of Helvetica font letters on certain types of music software, and boy does it sound like it. I'm all for art and conceptual performance in music but this falls squarely between the planks of entertainment (right plank) and art (left plank) - plunging sadly into the basement of disinterest.

To Rococo Rot should know better. This is hardly typical of their recent output, and was probably a lot of fun to do, but friends - it just ends up as average sounding noodlectronica. So, come on you lot, back to your real instruments and key-changes. I mean, it's quite pretty and everything, but this so-called music of the future is sounding a bit dated now.

By the way, if you have a really shit car, you could always try driving whilst playing this to see if it fools your mind into thinking you're having a highly engineered autobahn type experience. Do let us know if this turns out to be the case.

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#HarrisPilton

22nd Oct 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Underworld

Oblivion with Bells

Vital

Hurray for techno! It's a least twenty years old now by most reckoning, and rather lazily speaking, Underworld are the best known UK exponents of this genre thanks largely to the success of Born Slippy and it's immaculate placement in the movie of Trainspotting. And a curious position they hold - leaning very much towards the progressive side of things, but thankfully never straying down Rue de Eurotrance - they've always had a somewhat melancholy edge to their music which has meant they can sound a little too serious for that post-clubbing meltdown in the sofa at home.

Their new album delivers a similar experience to Secondtoughestintheinfants (2nd "proper album") - a very solid record which will give Underworld fans what they want. Opening tracks Crocodile and Beautiful Burnout are classic Underworld, before things take a bit more of a housey turn with Holding the Moth - which puts me in mind of the Music For Freaks label. Ring Road is a new take on Karl Hyde's streamofconciousness approach, and Boy Boy Boy sounds like the most original thing here, after which the whole album winds down in pace.

Overall though, this record is unlikely to win very many new fans given that dance music is not as mainstream as it was the last time Underworld released an album. It doesn't mean this album is any the worse for that - in fact it's rather good - but as exponents of a 20 year old musical form which is starting to feel (gasp!) a bit retro, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde may well find themselves classed as underground once more.

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13th Oct 2007 - Add Comment - Tweet

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Melvins / Big Business / A Purge of Dissidents

The Fillmore, NYC / Luna Lounge, Brooklyn

Two gigs in close proximity for America's best kept secret, the mighty Melvins - bang in the middle of a short North American tour. Taking a similar approach to the show that was brought to Europe earlier this year, the Melvins have their own built in support act - Big Business. As a bonus, the shows were opened by a series of sick psychedelic animations called "a purge of dissidents".

Having toured exhaustively through 2006 and 2007, the Melvins have returned with a revamped set which includes some new takes on old material. Opening up with It's Shoved and a bizarre cover version of the Beatles' I Wanna Hold Your Hand (each of which last about 2 minutes) the band chunks into Civilised Worm from last year's magnificent album A Senile Animal. They follow with a brace of unreleased tracks including the brilliant Suicide in Progress. However, it's when they play Lizzy from seminal album Houdini that the crowd really starts responding and the band themselves seem to pick up the energy levels.

Some of the usual crowd pleasing favourites have been dropped in favour of tracks from the Eggnog and Lysol albums - With Teeth sounding particularly fine in it's revitalised form, but the fast medley of tracks from Senile Animal is what really gets the fans moving - the middle of the dancefloor turning into a churning mass of pogoing and moshing. The pace slackens off towards the end of the set, with Mechanical Bride demonstrating just how dark and sludgy they can be (and folks, I mean that in a really good way), before closing with another classic Melvins cover version of Alice Cooper's Ballad of Dwight Fry.

The band seems in quite a serious mood on these dates (with the exception of Jarred Warren, who insists to the crowd that his T-shirt does not depict a Unicorn - it's a "fantasy horse"), but the playing is tight and the fans are very happy. A line of more than 100 people turned away from the sold-out Brooklyn date gives you an idea of the loyal following this band inspires... most of them just hung around outside the gig until the show was finished, just on the off chance they might get in.

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9th Oct 2007 - 3 comments - Add Comment - Tweet

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