Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Album Reviews - Jason Collett, Caltrop

Jason Collett – Here’s to Begin Here
[Arts & Crafts; 05/02/2008]

Along with the rest of his band mates in the Broken Social Scene, Jason Collett likes to delve into the realms of solo material and his fifth album “Here’s to Begin Here” sees the Canadian artist in a more melodic arena.

There’s a hint of the Bob Dylan influence every now and then (most notably on ‘Out Of Time’), while melodically, Collett is at his finest, with the opener ‘Roll on Oblivion’ starting the album off in fine fashion.

Like his last album, “Idols Of Exile”, there are times where the album gets a little flat, but the iridescent song craft of ‘Nothing To Lose’ and the chilling lyrical pleas during ‘Not Over You’ pick things up prior to the albums conclusion.

With this being his most mature release to date, “Here’s to Being Here” sees Collett really coming into his own, musically and lyrically. Maybe things would be better served if Collett shaved the tracklist down by a couple of songs, but at the end of the day, you can blame a man for a lot of things, but productivity certainly isn’t one of them.

Caltrop - Caltrop
[Self Released; 2008]

If you take a snippet of the stoner caterwauls of Electric Wizard, the drone aesthetics of Boris and disjointed ethos of The Jesus Lizard, then the closest thing you’ll get is Chapel Hill, North Carolina quintet, Caltrop. Hell, you could even throw a bit of Sabbath in there for good measure, as well.

Their self-titled EP is a little preview of a forthcoming full-length, that’s expected to drop later on this year. ‘Dr. Motherfucker’ starts off with a stoner jam and a slew of drone, while ‘What Is Life Worth/What Is Cement Truck’ not only possess one of the most confusing song titles in the history of song titles (inspired by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, perhaps?), but the tune opens up like a musical dossier presenting all of the band’s influences in a rocking 10 minutes and eight seconds.

Not only is it good to see a rock ‘n’ roll band belting out “rock ‘n’ roll”, but a collective that wears their heart on their sleeves does more than stamp its purpose. You’ve jumped on the bandwagon; now get comfortable because later on this year it’s almost certain that Caltrop will create something that will blow your fucking head off.

By Simon

Monday, February 25, 2008

Album Review - Bob Mould

Bob Mould – District Line
[Anti; 05/02/2008]

Out with the old, in with the new; that seems to be the new philosophy for Bob Mould, anyway. Following on from the user-friendly sounds of 2005’s “Body of Song”, the former Husker Du and Sugar frontman returns with an album that surpasses its predecessor in regards to being easy on the eye (or in this case, the ear).

“District Line” is like the radio rock album with all the bells and whistles. The lyrics have just enough mystery to be classified as metaphorical, although reading between the lines there’s obvious relationship tensions, while the pop-rock sentiments and electronic undercurrents posses Mould’s production prowess and his do-it-yourself ethos that he’s continued to perform since the days of Husker Du.

‘Again and Again’ and ‘Very Temporary’ are the reference points for “District Line”, as they possess the masses of what this album is all about. It might no be everyone’s cup of tea, but we all need an easy listen from time to time, and when you’re in a mood for a quick fix, then look no further because this collection of songs will deliver.

By Simon

Friday, February 22, 2008

Album Review - Xiu Xiu

Xiu Xiu – Women As Lovers
[Kill Rock Stars; 29/01/2008]

Jamie Stewart’s Xiu Xiu has always made it a top priority to make listeners feel uncomfortable when engaging with their music. Some may call it indie, some may even go as far to say that this is a form of punk, due to the disjointed sounds and flesh cutting lyrics that have always come across as an opaque and bumpy listen.

‘I Do What I Want When I Want’, ‘No Friend Oh’ and ‘Under Pressure’ (featuring former Swans frontman, Michael Gira) are three songs on “Women As Lovers” that take charge and see the band making their most accessible album to date. Some may say that Xiu Xiu is too comfortable within this sound, essentially defeating the purpose of what concepts the band has created since their existence.

However, weighing up all the pros and cons, this album has the ability to expand on the band’s listeners, and while this too, could be viewed objectively, “Women As Lovers” witnesses Xiu Xiu in a new light. Although, at times, it maybe a little top heavy with quality, Stewart gets his point across quite well, which from the past, can not always be said.

By Simon

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Album Review - Blood On The Wall

Blood On The Wall – Liferz
[Social Registry; 15/01/2008]

Influences can be a nasty thing sometimes. It can either come off as a blatant tribute to the band one is inspired by, or it can be a scenario where the band in question takes the batten from its influences and runs with it.

While Frank Black contemplates whether to make another Pixies record, New York trio Blood On The Wall have been churning out lo-fi ditties that fall somewhere in between the abrasive noise of the Pixies and the vocal monotones of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. The end result is the band’s third album, “Liferz”.

With the Pixies more than likely settling to just chill and do the touring thing for the remainder of their career, Blood On The Wall are the perfect recipients to take the ball and run, with their raw sounds and balls-out attitude being the perfect recipient to augment a template that was so awe-inspiring in its zenith.

Their previous album, “Awesomer”, was the start of something fresh, if not a little pre-ordained. “Liferz” continues in much the same vein, but with an accessible essence to it (‘Hibernation’ and ‘Junkeee…Julieee’) that witnesses the band moving forward. It may only be a matter of baby steps we’re talking here, but it’s more than you can say for a lot of others.

By Simon

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Album Reviews - Atlas Sound, Times New Viking, Magnetic Fields

Atlas Sound – Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
[Kranky; 19/02/2008]

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bradford Cox is a busy man in the productive sense. Never one to shy away from banter, the beauty about Cox is that when he talks the talk, he walks the walk; again, this is a facet many of his contemporaries fail to employ.

Atlas Sound’s “Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel” is the latest installment that Cox has been engrossed with and the results follow the success of his work with Deerhunter and in particular last year’s breakthrough opus, “Cryptograms”.

Atlas Sound focuses on a more eclectic cinematic feel, with the mix of “LTBLTWCSBCF” playing as the key figurehead of success. The emotion that Cox manages to convey is a lot darker and emotional than any of his previous material and moody soundscapes and brooding sample loops, with tracks like ‘Scraping Past’ and ‘Bite Marks’ being the primary force of the band’s attack.

Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Cox himself will tell you that Atlas Sound has a host of shoegaze bands to thank for this effort. He’s always been an artist who embeds his musical influences into his own sound, and in unpretentious fashion, has been the first to admit this. Again, this is something that a lot of his fellow musical contemporaries fail to master.

Times New Viking – Rip If Off
[Matador; 29/01/2008]

I guess the only sane thing to do in Columbus, Ohia is grab a couple of guitars and make a bit of noise. Times New Viking do this pretty well, it has to be said. Making noise is one thing., making good music is different gravy, though.

The trio returns with their third album “Rip It Off” which follows last year’s ice breaker “Present to the Paisley Reich”. Again, Times New Viking takes the low-fi approach, with songs ending before they even begin. This is basically “Rip It Off” in a nutshell.

We all like pepper and salt, but sometimes, when there’s too much of it, then it takes away the taste from the main feature off the menu. That’s one way to describe a perpetuating blanket of fuzz is that rolls through “Rip It Off”.

Maybe this is all a part of some concept. Maybe Times New Viking doesn’t want their music to be heard in its full capacity. To be honest, it seems a bit too much and the fuzz acts like a fire blanket to disguise insecurities that this band could have for one reason or another.

The Magnetic Fields - Distortion
[Nonesuch Records; 15/01/2008]

The smell of irony; does anybody deliver it better than Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields. From the lyrics, to the sound, it’s all one lush affair that represents indie-rock in its finest hour.

“Distortion” (title itself speaks volumes; no pun intended) is a representation of the reemergence of shoegaze. In fact, with all of the reemerging going on these days, maybe that’s not the best way to describe it. I mean, really, did sound improvisation ever go away?

The rhythm section is a tribute to The Jesus and Mary Chain, while the instrumentation is like Kevin Shields having just parted company with tremolo. Despite the latter almost sounding unthinkable, there is light at the end of the tunnel and “Distortion” could well be that light.

Merrit’s ability of irony is evident from front to back on this affair. ‘Too Drunk to Drink’ is a shout-out for the masses of morons flooding society, while ‘California Girls’ pays homage to clich├ęs the state itself represents to the outside world.

If ever there was an album to listen to for summer and the winter, “Distortion” has to be as close as anything that will get the job done. Stephin Merrit’s latest release will certainly not be lost on those who care to pay attention.

By Simon

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Album Review - Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
[XL Recordings; 29/01/2008]

It seems certain divisions in the “industry” have a new bit of wanking material in Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut album. Low down: They’re from New York; they met at University; they had a common interest in web blogs and thought they’d throw a band together just for good measure.

I’m not too sure whether this is genuine or a blatant piss take and I’m sure a few others around the traps will have the same thoughts. Then again, I maybe missing the whole point, but I’m not that old. I mean, some of us miss The Strokes, but not so much as to throw a few idiots together with instruments in the mean time. Times aren’t that bad.

I thought getting a record deal was hard? XL Recordings must be handing them out like free flyers from the unemployed guy on the sidewalk. If you’re in a band, take a stab with XL. You couldn’t do much worse than Vampire Weekend.

For those who paid for this album, more fool you. Learn a lesson and don’t believe hype. And to the thieves who downloaded it. Save a bit of space on your hard drive by clicking on the file and using the delete function.

By Simon

Friday, February 15, 2008

Album Review - The Mars Volta

The Mars Volta – The Bedlam In Goliath
[Universal Motown Records/
Gold Standard Laboratories; 29/01/2008]

Themes, lengthy jams and a slew of integrated musical genres are always flowing through The Mars Volta’s repertoire and their latest instalment, “The Bedlam In Goliath”, follows the same path. This time, an Ouija talking board from Jerusalem heads Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s list of lyrical topics.

The virtuoso of this band can be undoubted. Instruments were created for bands like The Mars Volta, who time and time again move the boundaries for lengthy blood curdling riffs, chaotic drum patterns and heart thumping bass lines. “The Bedlam In Goliath” is an album that represents the band for what they truly are, with ‘Metatron’ leading the front line as the albums finest track, with piercing melody and wailing instrumentation. Other highlights include ‘Goliath’, ‘Ouroborous’ and ‘Conjugal Burns’.

Although “TBIG” ranks amongst the band’s finer works, once upon a time the term “progressive rock” applied to The Mars Volta, simply because they were “progressive”. With today’s music scene moving in a propulsive fashion, four albums into their enigmatic career, I’m not sure whether the same can be said for The Mars Volta.

By Simon

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Album Reviews - British Sea Power, Black Mountain, Dead Meadow

British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
Rough Trade; 14/01/2008]

The title begs a rhetorical question to most. No doubt a bold question, too, and in some respects British Sea Power’s most ambitious effort for different reasons. Following the same path as The Arcade Fire with their “Neon Bible” album, The English foursome have gone for broke on an expansive sound (well a little more than before, anyway). The end result; well, put it this way; don’t bother with any other modern U.K guitar bands. It really isn’t worth the time not to mention the effort.

The lyrical genius from brothers Scott Wilkinson (A.K.A. Yan) and Neil Wilkinson (A.K.A. Hamilton) continue from where “The Decline of…” and “Open Season” left off, with their obsessions of Russian Novelists and World War leaders manifesting into a little more than an obscure obsession.

‘No Lucifer’ has to be a contender for single of the year and if you start chanting ‘EASY, EASY, EASY’ to an unoccupied room, don’t panic; it’s perfectly normal. The edgy guitars and lyrical banter is at a premium during “DYLRM?” and although some may see this as a bold move from BSP’s point of view, it’s an instant orgasm to the ears, no matter which way you dress it up.

When you hear so much U.K. rehashed guitar fodder, suicide is contemplated while people championing this rubbish add to pros of this theory. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse “Do You Like Rock Music?” was worth waiting for. Just about, anyway. It may not be the band’s finest record, but the fact that something good has come out of this “new crop” of English bands is a moral victory in itself.

Black Mountain – In The Future
[Jagjaguwar; 21/01/2008]

Vancouver noise beast, Black Mountain, return with a sophomore effort that expands on the collective's sound cavalry. Those same cluster fucking stoner jams can still be found on this 10 track opus; however there’s been an evident alteration within their virtuoso, tapping into more of a grandeur psychedelic hub, as apposed to a stripped down rock foray that made 'Future’s predecessor such a great listen.

Large proportions of this album take this path with the falsetto driven ‘Stay Free’ and gospel esque drone of ‘Nightwalks’ underpinning what the Black Mountain have set out to achieve on the majority of this disc.

The growling guitars don’t always stay in their cage, with opening track ‘Stormy High’ picking up where ‘Mountain left off last term, while ‘Tyrants’ is a track that Wolfmother could only dream of writing, these days.

“In The Future” is a more crafted effort from a band that’s obviously willing to move boundaries throughout their own sound. A lot of bands in Black Mountain’s position would have gone down familiar and safe avenues, but this is what separates pretense from the real deal and I can safely say that Black Mountain full in the category of the latter.

Dead Meadow – Old Growth
[Matador; 02/05/2008]

After the release of their landmark “Feathers” album it was always going to be something of a feat to surpass the next time around. The psychedelic, amplifying sounds of Dead Meadow’s “Old Growth” do their best to kick their older brother off the pedestal and over time it just may do that. Their music has always had a growing effect on the listener and this release continues in much same way.

Dead Meadow have always built their music around sleepy melodies and haunting guitar jams and this is evident during ‘Between Me and the Ground’ while ‘What Needs Must’ and ‘Til Kingdom Come’ encompass the psychedelic aesthetic the band throw between their two main traits, which works to a tee.

Musically, Dead Meadow haven’t really progressed within their sound an awful lot, however “Old Growth” possesses a solid collection of songs and let’s face it; as long as those wa-wa pedals continue to be used in the same vein, their sound will never grow old and always be welcome to many peoples’ ears around the indie community.

By Simon