Archive for the ‘Album Review’ Category

 

If there is one thing that British people excel at, it’s sounding authentically angry.

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Tobacco – Streaker

Posted: 02/05/2014 in Album Review
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So the genres have all gone?

Good, fuck them. What did subculture ever do anyway? Skins, mods, grebos – don’t want any of that. What we want is all the dirtiest shit from every scene thrown at us with manifest abandon – right here, right now. No one’s taken up the mantle of deranged straight-to-videocore since Foetus went serious. Everything is so clinical, where’s the disease?

It’s all here. Tobacco has always been underachieving. In terms of popularity, and possibly, creatively. ‘Streaker’ however, is resolutely basking in underachievement. It really just couldn’t give a shit. A horrible mess of buckling synths and compressed drums. There is no discernable structure and no detectible message. It’s apolitical, emotionless and distorted beyond acceptable measure. It’s incredible.

You don’t deserve it.

From the band that called themselves Cerebral Ballzy – by choice – comes ‘Lonely As America’.

It might not have been their choice. Perhaps some remnant of the mafia is making them do it, or they lost a bet, or the promoter in their area is a dick and wouldn’t book them otherwise? Either way, Cerebral Ballzy.

From the tours they’ve been on you’d be forgiven for expecting another hardcore band. What you actually get is actually is virulent bit of indie/punk with the best Dead Kennedy’s tropes. They’re packed into a tight three minute sausage of urban worry. It sounds magnificently New York and would be just as apt on a sunny day or a late night walk home, as long as you are surrounded by intoxicating deranged metropolis.

It goes agonisingly out of tune about halfway through. Like, really badly. It’s nice to see in 2014 that even though bedroom recording is ubiquitous. Bands still do the ‘record, mix and master the album in 12 hours’ thing. Totally street. Done the The Circle Jerks proud.

If you are a NYHC twat that doesn’t live in a cage of your own design or a torturous indie kid abandoning decaf. This could stimulate those parts other bands can’t reach.

Slayer – Implode

Posted: 01/05/2014 in Album Review
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Jeff Hanneman was always the coolest member of Slayer. The quiet one harbouring the ideas. Kerry King presents himself as such a dickhead, Hanneman stood there radiating all-consuming calm.

How do Slayer function without him? Pretty well actually. We’re easily overcome by the spikes, leather and pentagrams, at the end of the day, what made Slayer Slayer was a huge dollop of hardcore. It’s a particularly weighty element in ‘Implode’ – their first release in five years.

There is nothing radical going on here. What are you going to do after three decades though – Slayer have notoriously intolerant fans. An electronic/back to our roots/metalcore direction would be shit. They had a great creative opportunity with new chap Gary Holt. So of course he has resolutely not been given creative input here… Holt knows his metal onions, he’s hardly going to plough the dead field*.

Slayer ran out of lyrics decades ago, suitably they are phoned-in here. Do you listen to Slayer for the studied rhetoric? Maybe, they’ve had their moments – Divine Intervention had a particularly diverse and scurrilous manifesto. The onus here is to remind us that normal people are stupid. Thanks, we already new that. They aren’t Slayer fans are they?

Half decent song aside, you have to wonder why Slayer bother at all, is the album just a reason to go on tour? Slayer – like Motorhead, Maiden et al – fans that wouldn’t care. Can they scrape back the recording costs with a few blood coloured vinyl? Probably, seems a lot of work though. Having said that, they can bash this stuff out automatically and records are like, sooooo cool right now. Although, there is probably a die-hard CD demographic at all those Big Four monstrosities.

*Yeah, that’s my fucking metal song title, not yours’.

Deftones – Smile

Posted: 24/04/2014 in Album Review
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Given the weighty backstory of this there is an initial fear, what if it’s not very good, are you allowed to throw the book at a memorial track? Thing is, Deftones – much like nineties luminaries QotSA, Tool and NIN – never get a bad review, even though collectively their last works were below par. That’s ok. There’s zero editorial pressure here at Asunderground. Just the moral issue.

It’s with some relief that it is actually quite good (ish). Not close to the millennium good, but solid nonetheless. It’s one of the alt-rock non-singles that invariably end up being the best tracks on the album. That’s stretch but it’s pretty good.

Lyrics were never the strong suit and true to form they are phoned in here. Curiously, they are presented very small on the screen. Tip tip: don’t read them. You’re not even getting a quote here. Put simply, it’s about fucking. Who want’s yet another Deftones song about fucking? Seems an odd choice of subject to mark someone’s death.

So why is there so little to say about the music? In fact, now that it’s stopped playing, it’s difficult to remember any detail at all, which after about nine listens is actually disturbing. Presumably the band haven’t unlocked the mystery of broadcast amnesia. So the only conclusion is that it isn’t any good after all. It’s the most cardinal of all sins. Kind of boring…

ARX – She’s My Demon

Posted: 14/04/2014 in Album Review
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The words ‘punk’ combined with ‘blues’ have the overwhelming power to distort all objectivity and evoke horrors simply too gruesome to mention. Before we all run fingers in our ears back to mother lets have a little listen.

Brighton’s ARX – is that a research chemical? – take their muse from garage rock, which fittingly is kind of punky blues. They belt our ‘She’s My Demon’ in an appropriately rambunctious manner: all big fuck-off drums and shards of guitar. They have a no-so-secret weapon in the vocals of Hannah Pidduck. Powerful voices can substitute real emotion for histrionics. Not here. Hannah’s earthy diction is more akin to classic soul. Which is where ARX meet their USP – gospel garage rock.

The old testament lovelorn lyrics and compositional maturity belie their tender age. Much like the middle-aged teenager of pop, Adele. The “woahs” are a little cheeky, but if you are going to lift a backing vocal you aren’t going to better ‘Rolling In The Deep’

They’ve landed ground-running here. A few more songs down the line and some gadgets to fill the gaps and something rather special is going to happen.

Yeah, and try escaping from earworm “never been satisfied”. Which as a catchy hook, is quite ironic.

Don’t you think.

In the early 00s I didn’t know very much about jazz  but into Gang Starr. So I gave Guru’s Jazzmatazz a go.

‘Highly unimpressed’ would be a fair appraisal. Cheesy singing, pointless noodling and Guru’s rather one dimensional delivery do not comfortable bedfellows make.

I thought I’d give it another spin now I know a lot about jazz.  Still ‘highly unimpressed’, but for completely different reasons.

Decent jazz – i.e. early 50s to late 60s – is instrumental, which completely compromises the entire rap crossover concept of Jazzmatazz and makes the singing not only cheesy but culturally distorted. Hip-hop, the central muse here, is derived from funk. Jazz flirted with funk in the 70s but that was ‘fusion’. Miles Davis aside, fusion is widely considered a bad idea and again, not wholly jazz. The solos on Jazzmatazz still feel like noodling, which they don’t in actual jazz. You wouldn’t normally have an instrument soloing while there are vocals – twatty guitarists in rock notwithstanding. This doesn’t buck the trend. Guru still sounds monotonous and slightly uncomfortable. Braggadocio is a key theme in hip-hip. Yes, it is tiring. Yes, it ruins a lot of tracks, but it is also necessary to create a natural flow.

Now I do understand it is “an experimental fusion of hip-hop and jazz”, it just doesn’t work. That is a terrifically pretentious thing to do. Which is fine, why not get a bit pretentious? You just need a bit of intellectual weight to back it up.

Later volumes include Craig David, Courtney Pine and Wynton Marsalis, god rest our weary souls.

Also, given how socially conscious Guru was, why was his band called “Gang Starr”?

It’s only natural to pigeonhole things. This goes in here, that goes in there, keep it familiar, keep it safe, isn’t life simple? The problem… is that that would completely exclude Brighton’s improbably fresh faced psyche portent Hypnotized.

Even ‘psyche’ feels limiting in the Hypnotized camp. What we get is trap beats, 80s drum triggers, amorphous vocals and indistinct instruments. There is no particular anchoring in any era or genre. It has the capacity to draw in people of any musical background or taste – or completely alienate them, but that seems unlikely with tunes this infectious.

The band aren’t giving anything too specific away either. The eclectic bricolage outfits reveal a sympathy for ‘world’ culture and a curious anonymity. Are the masks and makeup a ploy to remove the band from the music, or are they covering up something far more esoteric? ‘Drummer’ Paul is quite a skilled tarot reader as it happens.

There are hints of the minds behind ‘Ghost Walk’ throughout. This is a band that grew up on hip-hop culture and they’ve definitely got an Animal Collective CD kicking about. The dearly missed Cocteau Twins gat a passing nod and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume Syd Barrett is a familiar face.

There is a quality about ‘Ghost Walk’ that is very rare – it’s not long enough. Never mind. With it’s ambiguous woozy transcendental character, you can just listen to it again, and again, and again∞

Xiu Xiu – or more accurately Jamie Stewart – has decided enough is enough, it’s time to abandon ship and embrace industrial meltdown. And we aren’t talking goths. The industrial that’s broken gear and smashed metal. It does seem to be the way the world is turning. Makes sense. The world is shit; full of selfies and unacknowledged right-wing greed. What can you do, get fucking angry, what’s the point? To feel alive I suppose.

Angel Guts is particularly moribund and claustrophobic. Which is what you want isn’t it? The talent of Xiu x2 is to be able to coherently turn from Erasure to Whitehouse within a single song. Which is what made Always one of the best albums of this decade. Embrace the weirdness, counter it with delicious ‘pop’. Fuck with people, if you don’t get it you’re not welcome anyway.

There was a strict rule in the creation of Angel Guts – analogue electronics and live drums only. The problem, is that it shackles the anything-goes abandon that defines the band. There is considerable ideas but it sounds blinkered, sepia permeates throughout. The record has a singular sound but lacks palette.

First single ‘Stupid in the Dark’ is classic Xiu x2. All pulsating and desperate with strained release. It’s all you are going to get in the way of a big chorus either. Stewart is probably the only person that can make shouting “black dick” sound menacing. That carefully titled song veers into Blaxploitation vamping. Stewart is a perpetually guilt ridden soul. The shades of white-guilt propel along equally with the black fetishisation. Even by the normally high standards, ‘El Naco’ is terrifically frightening. It’s where Swans should have gone with The Seer. It makes no concession for the listener. It’s wilfully malcontent, the effect is nothing short of intoxicating.

The only real relief is the compassionate ‘Bitter Melon’. The challenge there is the close-to-impossible desire to ignore its novelty bossanova beat.

Xiu x2 are the Bob Dylan of avant-indie. You might get a duffer but there’s a prize waiting in the next one. That’s manageable. They are so prolific and the standards are so high, all is forgiven.

Mogwai are old enough – and dare I say Glaswegian enough – to remember boyracers blaring out ‘rave tapes’ in the early 90s. Are we ready for one of the most left-field stylistic changes since The Horrors went krautrock? Sadly not. Although there is a remove from post-rock. An adjustment riddled with danger: instrumental rock. This can easily sound like you’ve fired the singer. Mogwai are of course too long in the tooth for any of that.

Much is spoken of Young Team as their masterpiece. To the point that its becoming an unsurpassable burden. Important as it is, it’s a figuring-out-our-sound record. The real deal was the uninterrupted run of quality from 99s Come On Die Young to 06s Mr Beast , were Mogwai established themselves as one of the most dependable bands out there. Later albums had commercial and critical success, but get a bit daytime TV at points. Can Rave Tapes rectify that?

Not quite. There is a reticence to veer far from the well trodden path, to the point where it feels like a retrospective – each track documenting a step on the way. Mogwai would never be crass enough to make a best off, but they have now made a contrivance of a compilation.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of ideas. The chopped up monologue on ‘Replenish’ features an American voice of politically undetermined origin, detailing that bogeyman of rock – the subliminal message. It’s difficult to determine the validity of the speech as it is so heavily edited. The opinion is not strong either way. This actually creates a conundrum that repays repeat listening. This fascination may well have expired on the 50th listen however, but at least there is a willingness to take risks. Apparently it is Reverent Lee Cohen. Feels slightly dubious. The voice sounds too young and dispassionate, and Cohen isn’t a name known for its Protestant leanings.

Keyboardist Barry Burns makes particular impact on Rave Tapes. From the undulating ‘Heard About You Last Night’ and synth meltdown of ‘Simon Ferocious’; to the John Carpenteresque ‘Remurdered’. Many artists have brazenly walked that road in recent years, few have actually updated it to modern idioms.

There’s a nod to The Cure on album highlight ‘No Medicine For Regret’. Which seems obvious really. Mogwai were always closer to the sound-for-its-own sake of shoegaze than the ostentatiousness of post-rock. A shared ideology of The Cure. Having said that ‘Heard About You Last Night’ features the woozy easy-listening guitar vibe of scene chin-scratchers Tortoise.

Pondering their back-catalogue has produced a sturdy set of songs. It isn’t going to disappoint anyone but isn’t going to enflame the passions either. Rave Tapes was made in a short space of time. This can focus an artist, or they can tread water. It’s been eight years since Mr Beast. Something very radical needs to happen or that is going down as Mogwai’s last true classic.