Thursday, 31 January 2013

WINTER VILLAINS – SINGLE REVIEW

Winter Villains

Winter Villains – The Air (Barely Regal Records)

Release Date: 4th February 2013

“Experimental chamber pop band based in Cardiff”. Where do you go from there? It’s like turning up to a blind date and introducing yourself as grand chess master with a penchant for dogging and you used to date Joanna Lumley (what? She’s a fine looking lady!). After reading that line in the press release for Winter Villains’ new single ‘The Air’, I was more than a little nervous. Then I pressed play on the video and a sombre, calm but tense opening strains seep out from my laptop with enough force to stop a train. Sparse piano and some beautifully understated vocal harmonies are all that is needed to create an aura of peace, sadness and a touch of regret. It’s no surprise to read that some of the people involved in the recording of this track have previously worked with the likes of Sigur Ros, the High Llamas and Mogwai), Winter Villains possess the same ability to create atmospheres without ignoring the art of songwriting. There is a definite Welsh feel to this as well with hints of Gruff Rhys at his most introspective or Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci back in the day. This is truly beautiful stuff and the video that accompanies the song is a work of art too – wonderfully shot, acted with subtlety and despite the sad theme, there is a warmth that is simply irresistible. I, for one, and going to call this blind date again.

BLANK MAPS – SINGLE REVIEW

Blank Maps - Everything Ends

Blank Maps – Everything Ends

Release Date – 4th March

Now I love a good band name and I think Blank Maps is a pretty good one, 7/10 I’d say. The trouble is, I also love a good map. Funny place names, historic roads, strange geological anomalies. It’s always a party with a map. So I’m a little confused at the start of this review and hoping the music will take over and make my decision for me. ‘Everything Ends’ is the debut offering from Newcastle’s Blank Maps and it’s a swirling, expansive and atmospheric affair with plenty of ambition and ideas. There are elements of the XX but without the soft female vocals, sections of Everything Everything but lacking the pace and a soupcon of latter-day Radiohead but without the complete disregard for musical convention. It’s the kind of music that 6 Music will lap up and I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing but it does mean that these guys seem to have created something of a tickbox genre, perfectly pitched at being daytime background music for Graphic Designers in Brighton or Leeds. I’m undecided where I stand on this one which, in hindsight, makes Blank Maps a frighteningly apt name for the band. No boundaries but also no sense of belonging.

More information: https://www.facebook.com/blankmaps/info

BEAT MARK – EP REVIEW

Beat Mark - Move On

Beat Mark – Move On (Soft Power Records)

Anyone up for a bit of Parisian shoe-gazey indie-pop on limited edition cassette? Oh go on, you know you want to. Good. Right then, wrap your ears round a bit of Beat Mark, the latest additions to the increasingly impressive Soft Power Records release catalogue. This French quartet are carving a niche in the fuzzpop, boy-girl vocals, super-cool genre and lead track ‘Move On’ is the perfect example of this. Lackadaisical drumming, disinterested singing and strained guitar notes give way chunky riffs and wrought guitar screeching as the chorus explodes. The swirling riffs of ‘Between My Teeth’ bring back memories of My Vitriol and Cable mixed with the more obscure of the Scando Indie imports such as Fungus or Grass Show. ‘Boxes’ is a more bouncy, summery number with jangly guitars and a wistful air that stops you dead in your tracks. Beat Mark have the ability to switch between sweet and sour at the flick of a switch and on ‘Declorize’ they take on the mantle from Dinosaur Jr. Or the Pixies in terms of pure fuzz and attitude. These five tracks close with a tense ditty by the name of ‘The Way’. This is real serial killer music and should definitely be soundtracking some lo-fi teen-slasher movie by the time the year is out. This is good stuff and I would thoroughly recommend that you head out and get a copy of this but.....well....you can’t. It’s sold out. It was simply that good. You can track it down on Soundcloud though and I think you should.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

C.R. THORN – ALBUM REVIEW

C.R. Thorn - All The Things You Told Me

C.R. Thorn – All The Things You Told Me

You know that couple that you know that you love hanging out with? He’s really funny and she’s really interesting and a little bit flirty. And then they split up and you have to pick sides because they’ll get all funny if you try to stay friends with both of them. Sucks doesn’t it. Well, when the awesome duo Philadelphia Mainline split up I felt a bit like that. So, I waited for the first one to call me and they would be rewarded with my loyalty. C.R. Thorn got there first.

Real name Christian Muncey, C.R. Thorn hails from London town but sounds like he should be dragging his heels and guitar around an old mining town in the old mid-West. This 7 track album has a beautifully rich sound, a depth of character and, if it was a drink, it would be whiskey, straight up and make it a double. ‘Hats Off’ starts us off with a quirky bit of picking and semi-spoken vocals of a man who hasn’t been to bed for days but on 45 seconds something magical happens. The reverb goes up, the bottle necks get applied to the strings and Thorn becomes something somewhere between Cash and Cave. All baritone vocals, doomy cacophonies and a simple but marvellous chorus line of “I’ve got a terrible feeling that here is where the dead lie”. When a man with voice that powerful sounds scared then it creates a beautifully uneasy atmosphere that’s not far removed from walking through a grave yard at night with nobody for company but your own thoughts. Thankfully, for my nerves anyway, ‘Reflections’ kicks in with a slightly more upbeat country blues riff layered with native style backing vocals under that sumptuous voice that could be a recording from an old wax cylinder if I wasn’t sure I’d met the man in the last few years. That Grinderman sound is back on ‘Is It You’ with lurching, rumbling, bottom heavy riffs and an atmospheric tone that suggests Thorn could score a film without having to put the glass down.

If it’s possible for an album of only 7 tracks to be an album of two halves then Thorn has achieved that. ‘Too Many Times’ swaggers and churns in to life and immediately lifts the tempo of the album. The bass is still gravelly and the drums simple but the attitude is pure Jon Spencer and the lyrics are reminiscent of one of my favourite Kiwi bands, the much underrated Shihad. Then ‘What I Got’ turns up like a duet between Cash and Carter, resplendent in its own countrified simplicity as an ode to being happy with what life gives you and not expecting more. It also features one of the most honest lines in a love song that I’ve ever heard, “Give me your heart, I’ll give you my soul, If I let you down I’ll never let you go.” Just let it run around your head a while and tell me that doesn’t apply to you and the great love of your life. Similarly, ‘All Grace And No Airs’ is a sparse love song in the style of I Am Kloot or Grohl’s more tender moments. The album finishes up with ‘Molly’s Bar’ which, although not a rip off, sounds like it was meant to be the follow on to the Doors’ ‘Alabama Song (Whiskey Song)’ and gives you the perfect mental image of our troubadour steadily pacing off in to the smokey distance to play songs to a new audience.

I’m glad C.R. Thorn got in touch. ‘All The Things You Told Me’ is a beautiful album and worth anybody’s time. Alternatively, trawl the whiskey bars of London and you’ll find him eventually. And anyway, that other guy was a douche so I didn’t want to be friends with him anymore....(he wasn’t really, I’m just saying that so I don’t hurt Thorn’s feelings. Balls. I think he just heard that. God I hate awkward social situations).

More information: http://crthorn.bandcamp.com/

Thursday, 10 January 2013

SOUND PRESSURE LEVEL – SINGLE REVIEW

Sound Pressure Level - Getting Off

Sound Pressure Level – Getting Off (UPIA Music)

OK, we’ve got two British Hip-Hop fellas by the names of Soup and Peas. Deep breath. Add to that an X Factor reject in Roxy Yarnold on vocals. Right. That’s that then. Judging this book by its cover there is absolutely no way I’m going to like this....unless....hang on a minute. Get rid of the cover, it does a disservice to this tune. Kicking in with semi-orgasmic groans and some squelchy, sparse electro stabs that Liam Howlett would have killed for back in the day, ‘Getting Off’ is already sounding like a pretty sexy tune.  The slow, lurching beat behind the opening seconds lulls you in to a false sense of security as Yarnold’s vocals wail like an 80s Disco diva trapped in the wrong era. Then the beats kick in properly and the bass starts to grind and throb under some seriously sumptuous vocals with a catchy chorus melody. There’s some rapping about Amy Winehouse and chatting up girls over lunch which is a little weak lyrically but the delivery is spot on. This is dirty, sexy, bassy stuff and is a million times better than pretty much anything on the latest NOW collection – believe me, I’ve had to endure it enough. There is even a cheeky little 90s pop middle eight break down before Yarnold builds that chorus back up and those beats come back in. The song doesn’t finish on enough of a high for me but I bet there’s a 12” mix out there just waiting to set things off in a few clubs. I do love it when the description of an act and what the music is actually like is so totally different and so utterly enjoyable. Like that moment when you pick up a box of cereal thinking it’s Branflakes only to pour it out and discover its Coco Pops! Everybody loves Coco Pops.

More information: www.soundpressurelevel.co.uk

PRE-REBELLION – EP REVIEW

Pre-Rebellion

Pre-Rebellion – Shits & Giggles

First things first, great name. Pre-Rebellion is a name that encompasses all the pent up rage, angst and pre-emptive disappointment that we’re all told teenagers feel these days – and thankfully this is a band of teenagers and not some estate agents trying to hang on to that last shred of youth before mortgaging their parents for a new Bentley. Second things second, this exactly is the reason that I’m so glad the internet didn’t exist when I was 16. You see, this London quartet have some nice ideas for songs, some nuggets of melodies and some ability for songwriting but acoustic recordings made in a bedroom sharing one microphone is the kind of stuff that 99% of the time should remain on an MP3 (or tape in my day) only to be played to girls you’re trying to impress. First track, ‘Ride On Through’, is full of Red Hot Chili Peppers influences right down to the improvised beatboxing/scatting followed by some free form hand-clap percussion. Then comes the anthem for the youth against the rioters, ‘Get Through Me’, which features the line “If you want to rob HMV then you’re gonna have to get through me” which throws up more questions than answers. Do these lads think HMV is the last bastion of music on the high street? Do they think people that are openly looting have not already illegally downloaded all of HMV’s stock? Confusing.

There is a heartfelt number that sounds like it’s lifted straight from America’s ‘A Horse With No Name’ and the EP finishes with the piano heavy ‘The Hollowing Youth’ which sounds strangely like my GCSE coursework mixed with something that the Holloways would write when skull-drunk on cheap lager. Now I’m not in the business of slagging of folk at the start of their musical journey and I think with a tonne of gigs under their belts (seriously guys, gig anywhere and everywhere and always watch the bands you’re on with) these guys might develop in to something worthwhile. Not to mention the fact that this is an acoustic, rough recording of a handful of songs taken completely out of context. What worries me is just how easy it is for artists to put absolutely anything up online these days without a thought of what the quality is like, whether there is a point and what it might do to their reputation if it reaches the wrong ears. That said, this EP is titled Shits & Giggles so I’m guessing these guys aren’t too bothered what people think. Good luck to you I say and please, please, please become awesome one day because that band name deserves some awesome music behind it.

PHATBOLLARD – ALBUM REVIEW

Phat Bollard in action

Phat Bollard – It’s Not Knitting

It’s a new year so I thought I’d start with a new experience. Never before has a neighbour approached me at a New Years Eve party, thrust a CD in to my hand and said “I saw these guys busking and thought they were great so you need to review them on your blog”! It was so wonderfully refreshing to realise that people are still willing to interact with music on such a personal level (i.e. not through a screen) that I just had to have a listen.

Phat Bollard are a folk troupe from Calstock in Cornwall who plough a furrow of plucked melodies, swaggering rhythms and big, chunky bass lines. The interplay between banjo and mandolin on ‘I Love You Only’ would make Mumford & Sons green with envy and the rich, layered sound suggests there is much more to these guys than just a rag-tag bunch of buskers. As I delve deeper I find the lilting joy of ‘Forgiveness’ that should almost be certainly be performed by a band of musicians wondering along a beach somewhere sunny and unspoilt such is its bouncy, summery, Mungo Jerry-esque joie de vivre. Similarly, ‘Drown Your Sorrows’ is bound to show up on some sun drenched ad campaign this year (please God, just a little sun this year) – pay attention all you cider companies out there.

‘Money’  is a song specifically designed to generate more money from busking endeavours so, although fun, it doesn’t work brilliantly well on CD but is still a fun song with some somewhat fruity language. The acoustic picking on ‘Insane and Lazy’ is beautifully relaxing to begin with and then grows in to music that would perfectly soundtrack a stop-motion film of an apple orchard coming in to life from blossom to ripe, crisp apples. This may all sound incredibly rural and that’s because it is. This is folk music made by people living the good life in the country who want to make you dance and tell a story at the same time – just the way it was meant to be. The cherry on the sizeable cake is the quality of the raspy vocals that weave in and out of the intricate music. This is the voice of a man that if he wasn’t singing in a band would be shouting at seagulls in a car park before telling everyone about it in the pub until closing time. Not necessarily mental but just so at ease with his place in the world that he doesn’t need to worry about social etiquette or ‘normal’ behaviour.

The ‘studio’ part of the album finishes with the 8 minute folk-odyssey that is ‘Time Turns Slowly/Easy’ that undulates like the roads of Cornwall before building in to a crescendo of rabble-rousing and foot stomping. But that isn’t the end of things, oh no. There are then three ‘live’ tracks starting with ‘The Hof’ with a furious pace and Eastern European tones that show that these guys really know their way around the folk genre. The Slavic theme continues on ‘Adam’s Eastern Odyssey’ which has a superbly lilting, Jewish feel and takes me back to my days of living in Stoke Newington! The final track here also has a slightly exotic feel, perhaps more Arabic or North African in flavour as ‘Fucking Fairies’ romps, jumps, whoops and back flips in to my ears. Phat Bollard sound like they would be outstanding live and their energy suggests they would be perfect street buskers as well so keep an eye out for them on a street corner near you. So, next time you hear a busker don’t just turn up your iPod and walk past, give them a listen and if they’re any good then let me know!