Spiritually, the minds of US doomsters Orchid yearn for a roosting place in the heart of the early seventies. Their driving, psych rock-informed tunes of glory demand, nay implore, the listener to climb first into a time machine, and thence into a 1969 Chevy Camaro bound on an acid-fuelled road trip from LA to Las Vegas, the soundtrack to which, natch, would be The Mouths of Madness.
But this is no laughable Rival Sons-style exercise in nostalgia as a marketing tool for the selling of one-trick pony musical offcuts. Listen a little closer, and you’ll find the music of Orchid is a little harder, a little steelier than you might at first have thought. There’s a lot of eighties metal lurking in these grooves, despite the bubbling basswork of Keith Nickel hinting at a penchant for Sabbath’s prime seventies doom output; a clean sheen to the production – courtesy of Will Storkson – that hints at slightly more modern ghosts lurking in the shadows of Orchid’s music. This is most certainly a good thing – there are more than enough bozos doing the rounds at the moment who are content merely to give the memories of Ozzy’s first tenure with the Sabs a right royal arse-bothering without these boys adding to the mayhem – so whilst the band chunter on about Marching Dogs of War, or the Silent One in a mildly familiar fashion, you can enjoy losing yourself in their compelling melange of simple, stentorian riffage and playful basswork, safe in the knowledge that there’s much more to this band than mere tribute band competence.
Take the track Nomad, f’rinstance. A simple, Neolithic riff powers the song, repeated over and over again (though never, it seems, to the point where the words ‘ad infinitum’ flash across your consciousness), battering you into a trancelike receptiveness before the song kicks up a gear for its triumphant second half. As he works himself up into the frenzy of the song’s final denouement, vocalist Theo Mindell takes flight and starts sounding – to these admittedly addled lugs – like nothing less than a demented Blackie Lawless; astonishingly, this fits the bill perfectly, and serves automatically to lift the band above the skittering, noisome pack of dullards ploughing a similar musical furrow to Orchid. Whoda thunk a vague yet definably solid whiff of ol’ Animal himself would cause such seismic levels of beneficence to settle on a band?
Once you’ve allowed your thought processes to make this link, the rest of The Mouths of Madness is a musical El Dorado, chock full of tasty ear candy just waiting to get your salivation reflexes twitching; Mountains of Steel is a lazily bouncy exercise in tuneful tubthumping, which even finds time to dust down a little bit of Jools Holland-style ivory tinkling for good measure as the song twists to its fadeout through a haze of jam room brilliance, while the nifty Leaving it all Behind hints at a hitherto pop sensibility that’s been concealing itself thus far. And is that Blackie poking his cheeky little jet black head into the vocal booth again? I think it is, and I’m bloody loving the result, I can tell you. When the song really gets down to business with a stonking bit of riffage at around the two-minute mark, I challenge you to not, as the young people say, ‘lose your shit’. You won’t be able to do it, believe me. The first time I heard this song I had to stop what I was doing to recover my spectacles and dentures, such was its effect on my usually sedentary neck muscles.
Loving Hand of God quietens things down a bit, at least as it works its way into the brain. Mindell reverts to his own voice again here, taking centre stage to tall his tale whilst guitarist Mark Thomas Baker and drummer Carter Kennedy join Nickel in laying down a restrained yet alluring musical bedrock, over which the vocalist is able to weave his magic.
Former single Wizard of War motors along in the style you’d expect from a track accorded such promo responsibilities and then, upsettingly, we’re arrived a t final track See You on the Other Side, a spritely rocker which rounds proceedings out in nicely a uptempo manner.
The Mouths of Madness is a fine, fine album. Part of the current mania for ‘retro’ or ‘classic’ metal for sure, but so much more than that. Whatever angle you approach this record from, if you’re a lover of high class, precision engineered brilliance, it won’t fail to hit its mark. Buy it today.
As a longtime Scream fan, I couldn't help but feel that their last two preceding albums showed them trudging ahead, a mere shadow of their former selves circa high-water marks Vanishing Point and Xtrmntr. You have to feel for founders Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes, though, with the last few years seeing the departures of guitarist Throb, live member Kevin Shields and bassist Mani, the latter two to their own recently reformed bands. Against seemingly huge odds, however, this tenth Primal Scream album More Light offers up what's easily some of the band's most exciting and deeply psychedelic music in more than a decade.
It's in part due to the involvement of producer David Holmes, who brings back the layered, cinematic-sounding aesthetic missing on 2008's disappointing Beautiful Future. More than anything else, the 13 tracks collected here cover all of the Scream's established touchstones, from Stones-y rock stomps and free jazz freakouts, through to glittery electro-punk and countrified psyche-soul. Nine-minute-long opener 2013 provides a good argument for the band's return to strength, kicking things off with a saxophone-fuelled psychedelic rock-out that ends in a furious Sun Ra-esque free jazz meltdown. Elsewhere, Culturecide offers up an industrial-edged slice of politico-punk equally as ferocious as anything off Xtrmntr, with Mark Stewart contributing electronically-processed backing yells to the wall of noise, before Hit Void blasts off in a thunderous roar of surf-rock meets shoegazer guitar feedback as Kevin Shields makes a welcome reappearance.
While there's the odd weak moment here – see disappointing Robert Plant collaboration Elimination Blues – this is a much stronger album than anything else Primal Scream have released over the last ten years.
Have you met the music critic who says it's all been done before? That nothing is new, that it was better in their day? You have? Of course you have. We all have. These charmless killjoys are found up the back of shows, or joylessly flicking through the racks on record store day, wearing a Television or Pastels or Pavement t shirt. They're schmucks, and I hate them.
Having said that…
I like this record. I like the songs. The cover art. The production. The combination of elements, the straight-up pop punk that recalls The Ramones if they were led by a slightly more confident Jonathon Richman. The slightly stoned application of some killer riffs. The beats that recall the best of The Strokes, which recall the best of New York new/no-wave ‘76-83. It sounds great. But…
The key question is: does this album add anything new to our popular, or not-so-popular culture? And the answer here is…not really. It's nowhere near as good an album as Slanted & Enchanted or Modern Lovers, nor does it come with the excitable cultural weight of an Is This It. It probably doesn’t quite hit the mark set by the first two Eddy Current Suppression Ring LPs.
This doesn’t mean that Light Up Gold isn’t worth the effort. Borrowed Time is a cracking tune. The Sonic Youth axes and Fugazi vocal of Donuts Only is awesome. The pure Pavementalism-via-Richman of Yr No Stoner is excellent. So on through the whole record. The songs are great and the references are spot on. But the songs never rise above the references. And when the references are so obvious, it’s akin to imitation sugar reminding you of how excellent real sugar is.
Little Green Cars has made remarkable strides for such a young band. Having formed in their Dublin school about five years ago, the quintet, all now aged about 20, has formed a mature sonic personality and an ability to put together sophisticated arrangements.
It’s easy to pick up snippets of tracks that bring to mind other bands. For starters, they have elements of Boy & Bear, demonstrating all the command of melody, timing and vocal skills which that band is renowned for. There are traces of Mumford and Sons in The Consequences of Not Sleeping and shades of Cloud Control in Big Red Dragon.
However, Little Green Cars are in no way a clone of other bands. They have a captivating style of their own, which draws on the versatility of their two lead vocalists. There couldn’t be a bigger contrast between Stevie Appleby’s slightly scratchy voice and Faye O'Rourke, who possesses some of the tone (if not the same oomph) of Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine). She impresses in My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me and Please, with the wonderful, forceful emphasis she places on every word. Absolute Zero brings great melodies and standout harmonies, boosted by the participation of all members in the vocals. The band also appreciates the impact that can be gained from mid-song variations in tempo. Songwriting duties were shared amongst the members, the best lyrics appearing in Harper Lee, with a comic twist in Appleby’s lines such as, ‘I put mice in the kitchen to see if you’d kill them.’ Other highlights in this very impressive debut include The Kitchen Floor and The John Wayne.
Letters To The Sun have been quietly working from two of the most isolated parts of Australia but have emerged with a debut album that’s nothing short of a musical goldmine. LTTS is made up of MC Coin from Perth and Tasmanian producer/DJ, Akouo.
From the gorgeous artwork to the poignant lyrics, it’s clear that a lot time and effort has gone into creating the duo’s self-titled album, and the result is a work of art. I’ve heard a lot of Aussie hip hop in my time and, although I enjoy most of what I hear, it takes something like this release to realise that I’m probably a bit liberal with the gold stars I hand out. I’ve re-thought the rating I’m giving these guys but stand with it because this album has the makings of something great.
More than competing with local artists, it can battle worldwide hip hop greats. As much as I wish that were true for all Obese releases and, moreover, all the music leaving our shores, it just isn’t the case. This record can compete because it has no hints of the ‘this’ll do’ vibe that has killed so many other emerging artists. The elegance of the tracks is a rarity these days, especially in hip hop, but it’s a beautiful thing to see and hear. A standout for me is Mile High Club, featuring the smooth vocals of Donavan de Souza, but each track could easily stand alone as a representation of the calibre of the album. It takes a few songs to hear the tales behind the words, but they contrast the eclectic melodies seamlessly.
Soulful, yet fresh, meshing beautiful beats with thought provoking lyrics, the result is an instant classic, sure to make a solid mark in the hip hop world.
In 2009 Sydney band Songs arrived riding a very particular crest of hype. Their ascension to the top of the bloggers’ parade was interesting – the band comprised three old hands of the Flying Nun ‘80s/‘90s era, rounded off by the death stare of young bassist Ela Stiles. They were the best of two marketing worlds – a new band with old school authenticity. Their first EP was a jangling triumph, their debut LP a moody and mostly excellent drone pop number. Songs were clearly good at cresting the next wave of cool.
Four years later and the sound of jangling starts and long kraut grooves are the sound de jour. Times move fast in the blog age.
This has nothing to do with the actual tunes, of course, but the fact that we’re talking about Songs is because they possessed a particular appeal to tastemakers and editors over a bunch of other bands doing similar things at a place in time.
The point here is that because Songs arrived as the sound de jour, their latest work runs the risk of being overlooked as a new sound de jour occupies the cultural space.
A live show in Melbourne two years ago made me think they were on the cusp of becoming Australia’s most exciting band. The material here isn’t strong enough to justify that claim, but Malabar is another interesting, high quality addition to their CV. I can’t help but think that their strengths are in the deceptively simple pop tunes of the first EP. If there was to be a third Songs LP, a record full of these would elevate them beyond the tastes of the day. They have a beyond-cool classic in them, but this will do in the meantime.
When the John Fahey comparisons started doing the rounds just prior to the release of Kurt Vile’s most recent and fifth album, Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, it was an intriguing association.
John Fahey was one of the true originals of American music; he created an entirely new and unique language of folk and blues in the second half of the 20th Century. Precise and circular hard-hitting fingerpicking acknowledged the misery of the past but was punctuated by long stretches of searching, progressive-esque inner discovery. His instrumental cover of Charlie Patton’s Some Summer Day equals the original’s downtrodden yearning without a single word passing his lips. Fahey died desperately poor and on the margins in 2001.
Vile is a talented singer-songwriter with a unique musical voice (hazy strums, lo-fi reverb, indifferent vocals, scratching solos), but the comparisons seemed less than rigorous. Until Pure Pain hits one of its frequent breakdowns and, in between jagged stop-start thrashes, you hear the ghost of Fahey looming large. The impact of those drifting repetitive arpeggios almost makes you forget they’re part of the same song. It’s bravura songwriting, but this isn’t a young artist showing off his chops or influences. Vile has never sounded like he needed your approval and, like Fahey, he comes off as a marginal character – stick thin, tall, mangy mop of hair looking more like a lost member of Iron Butterfly than a content, weirdly boring 33-year-old family man.
Since leaving the equally low-key The War on Drugs in 2008, Vile has released nearly an album a year, which makes him sound not only prolific but possibly a man in a hurry. You’d never guess it from the music. He’s always been languid but never has he been so unrushed. Opening track (Wakin’ On A Pretty Day) ambles in at a little under ten minutes, barely rising above a medium ripple. To call it a crowd splitter is an understatement. In fact, you could almost accuse him of being deliberately difficult because, in all honesty, not only does the first track wrong-foot by being a poor indicator of what’s to follow but it’s also not an especially good song, just a slow shuffle punctured by the occasional innocuous reverb-soaked riff. A ballsy and confident opening gambit.
The true extent of Vile’s confidence can be measured in the very next track, KV Crimes. Filtering the ruff-hewed scungy sounds of Credence through archetypal sloppy ‘80s alternarock a la The Replacements, Vile proceeds to slow the song down to damn near half-pace and drawl, ‘I think I’m ready to claim what’s mine.’ As a listener, it’s tempting to be too literal at times, and read unmeant intent into lyrics, but he sure sounds ready – in a slothful way.
Even the up-tempo songs feel lazy. The drum-machine-assisted Was All Talk is a song at war with itself – a syncopated artificial beat no match for a heavy layer of hazy fingerpicked acoustic guitars. It’s as though nothing, even digital machinery, is capable of overwhelming Vile’s natural inclination to mellow the fuck out. And even though most songs on the album clock in at over five minutes, this is a result of Vile hitting specific grooves rather than scrambling vainly for conclusions. The eight minutes of Too Hard contain no epic builds, just gentle riffs and refrains in constant hypnotic repetition.
If this sounds harsh, it’s not meant to. Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze is Vile’s most realised album yet, and one that consolidates his considerable talent. There’s enough light and shade to make it a classic grower, taking circuitous routes and time, demanding the same of the listener. Still, it’s no game changer. There’s nothing here that will open him up to the masses or even the medium minority. Critics will continue to fall over themselves but Vile will remain an admired but mostly overlooked artist, appearing mid-to-high up the bill at boutique music festivals. And besides, he’s already had one song (He’s Alright) soundtrack the final scene of an Eastbound and Down finale, so arguably he has nowhere else to go.
Comprised of principal songwriter Jaye Krantz and collaborator Virginia Bott, Melbourne-based band Brighter Later explore a richly textured downbeat approach that sits somewhere between psychedelic folk and dreamy indie, with occasional hints of alt-country rearing their heads.
It's not surprising to find out that this debut album The Wolves was self-produced in an old church, as all ten tracks collected here come draped in a cavernous sense of natural reverb, further adding to the sense of slow-burning atmosphere. Perhaps one of the closest sonic comparisons evoked by tracks like the gorgeously gentle Come And Go and dreamy opener All The World is early Cat Power fronting Low, as Krantz's reverb-heavy vocals float against delicately chiming guitars and minimalist drumming.
Having said that, the range of different influences surfacing throughout this consistently strong collection of songs is a wide one that ranges from lush orchestration, through to elements of chanson and minimalist ballads. The texturally lavish The Woods manages to hint at Stereolab's rich European palette with synths, clavinet and strings creeping into the mix, in what's easily one of this album's more eclectic moments. Elsewhere, Satellite takes things off into some of the most alt-country-tinged atmospheres explored here as rich slide guitar strokes and rolling Fender Rhodes keys provide the perfect sleepy accompaniment to Krantz's almost weary-sounding, husky vocal.
While some listeners might find The Wolves a little too on the slow side, there's an emphasis upon building rich layers of haunting atmosphere here, rather than real peaks. An impressive debut album from Brighter Later that suggests good things for this relatively new band.
If you were to press play at almost any point of this album, crank the volume and hold the headphones away from your ears, what emerged would sound something like a very angry young man banging furiously on the tin wall of an abandoned factory building while yelling harshly at a buzzsaw cutting through granite.
To dive deeper past the surface noise, however, is to be enveloped in the crashingly loud, coarse and intricately crafted mess that is You’re Nothing, the second LP release from young Danish punk/post punk rockers Iceage.
You’re Nothing follows on from Iceage’s stark, lean 2011 debut New Brigade, exhibiting a newly dense and full sound, and a new embodiment of the band’s adroitness in seamlessly marrying punk, hardcore and post punk sensibilities. As in their debut, here Iceage utilise brevity as a weapon, each track stripped back to a raw, sinewy core, the album burning out just short of 28 minutes.
Iceage’s ability to consistently thread genuinely catchy punk guitar lines through driving four-chord choruses and crushing rhythm sections is remarkable. So is their agile turn of pace – the band are equally at ease thrashing through tracks like Coalition and In Haze as they are when slowing to allow space for the heavy, trudging verse of Burning Hand.
Centrepiece Morals is the most telling example of Iceage’s growth – jagged, echoed piano chords create a cavernous space atop a slow, grinding rhythm section while vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s voice, more tuneful and reflective, emerges to ponder, ‘If I could leave my body, then I would/Bleed into a lake/Dashing away, disappear.’
In short, You’re Nothing is formidable – a dark, nuanced exhibition of raw power alongside genuine song-crafting nous.
Over a quarter of a century ago, FM formed as a British antidote to the tide of American melodic rock acts such as Journey, Survivor and REO Speedwagon that dominated the poodle-permed scene at the time, releasing at least two classic albums (Indiscreet, 1986, and Tough it Out, 1989) before their career petered out after the advent of grunge. They reformed (don’t they all?) in 2007, released an okay comeback record, Metropolis, in 2010 but here, now, in 2013, they’ve recorded an album that absolutely puts them back at the top of the UK melodic rock tree.
In a word, Rockville is superb. So superb, in fact, that it’s the best thing they’ve recorded since Tough it Out. Choc full of powerful, emotive rockers and, well, powerful, emotive ballads, the album absolutely fizzes with energy and passion. Steve Overland – one of Britain’s great rock voices, yet somehow a name that never gets dropped when grizzled old men gather to discuss such matters – puts in an absolutely stunning performance throughout, whilst new guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick peppers every song with his marvellously assured lead work. Both he and Overland mesh together beautifully on tracks such as Crosstown Train (by far the heaviest track this band has ever committed to wax), whilst on the ballads his tasteful counterpoints to Overland’s soulful vocalising are an absolute joy to behold.
There are no standouts – every track is an absolute pearler – and if you like classic hard rock performed with all the skill only seasoned practitioners can muster, yet with the passion and verve of men half their age, then you must have this album.
Listening back to early Midnight Oil a couple of nights ago, it struck me just how much the incredibly tight rhythm section made that band explode. It's perhaps for this reason that the reunion of Rob Hirst, Jim Moginie and Martin Rotsey alongside former Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie as the instrumental surf-rock outfit The Break attracted such widespread interest back in 2010, with the release of their debut album Church Of The Open Sky.
Three years on and on the heels of an Australian tour alongside Rodriguez, this second album Space Farm offers up a considerably more cosmic and psychedelic voyage than its predecessor. While the astronaut-themed sleeve art might suggest knowing kitsch, in reality this is a far deeper, darker and more widescreen collection than you might first expect. Offerings like the driving title track and the twanging Face The Music see the rhythmic propulsion intact, but in this case it's welded to a far more galactic tableaux of dubbed-out space effects and electronic trickery. Perhaps Engelbert Humperdinck’s curiously George Jones-esque guest vocal on a cover of his own Ten Guitars represents the most unexpected moment here. It's hard though to compete in terms of weirdness with the closing Space Farm Suite, which sees Ritchie contributing a piss-take psychedelic guru spoken word reading against a cosmic backdrop of twinkling synths and chanting Gyuto monks that suddenly charges forward into a relentless clattering garage-rock rumble.
If Link Wray had been shot into space by NASA in the ‘60s and they weren't able to bring him back, Space Farm would probably be the last transmission from his capsule. Impressive and occasionally ferocious stuff.