Sunday, 29 August 2010

Spirits of the Dead - Spirits of the Dead (Big Dipper Records)

Hailing from the west coast of Norway, Spirits of the Dead are a psychedelic prog-rock four piece that have very obvious influences from the moment you press play. Their self titled debut album is full of songs that bare resemblance to some of the big names of the seventies; Zeppelin, Sabbath, King Crimson, Cream and there’s even a bit of Pink Floyd in there for good measure. These influences are helped along by the fact that they have got George Marino in to master the album, who is famous for mastering albums from Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix (amongst many others) back in the day. So this album has a very vintage sound. 

Spirits of the Dead starts strongly with the eight minute long opening track ‘White Lady/ Black Rave’ in which we hear the band moving between a classic Rock n Roll sound and a more psychedelic ambiance filled with big guitars and Rhodes pianos aplenty. The transitions are smooth and the sections compliment each other well; the same of which can be said for the next few songs, they sound authentic, raw and very well written. By the fourth song on the album, everything is starting to get a little darker and more moody. The songs have lost their Rock n Roll edge, and have become much heavier and more distorted. I hate to say it but this ruins the whole album for me. The vocals become hard to listen to, they sound out of tune and out of place. The album starts to lose its authenticity, to the point that I was starting to imagine midgets running around a mini Stonehenge… I have to say that I was genuinely disappointed with the second half of this album. After what was an extremely positive start, I was expecting the whole album to be full of homages to the seventies, and it would have been a great listen. But as it is, it becomes a messy album full of songs with potential, but none of the finishing touches it needs to pull of the ideas that are there. 5/10

Friday, 27 August 2010

Marina - Sleepy Sun [Single] (ATP Recordings)

Hailing from California, Sleepy Sun are an Alt Rock band of huge proportions. They don’t just write your average three minute, straight to the point kind of track – every once in a while they like to take you on a journey of epic proportions by writing six minute(+) songs featuring varying styles and feels at all times. 

The latest single to be taken from their second album ‘Fever’ does exactly this. ‘Marina’ flits between wailing guitars that Jack White would be proud of, and the simple elegance of vocals and quiet, almost bluesy sounds. “That’s not very epic” I hear you say, but you haven’t heard one of the most randomly placed, yet not at all unwelcome pieces of South American style music with tribal sounding vocals. I’m not sure what Sleepy Sun were thinking when they decided to put this little section into the middle of what is already a very powerful song, but I’m really not complaining. It lifts the song to a new level, adding excitement in a track that could potentially become quite tedious and predictable. It’s moments like that that make a band stand out from the rest, and make me recommend downloading ‘Marina’ on 6th September highly. 7/10

Friday, 20 August 2010

The Burns Unit - Side Show (Proper Distribution)

You’ve got to love supergroups; it’s the chance for a load of well known, successful musicians to come together bringing with them all their influences to create new music. Sometimes it works (think Them Crooked Vultures, The Dead Weather and of course Cream), sometimes it goes horribly wrong (think Box Car Racer, Velvet Revolver and The Good, The Bad & The Queen), but every time without fail it causes intrigue for fans of the relevant band members involved. So onto The Burns Unit, a Scottish-Canadian supergroup consisting of Emma Pollock previously of The Delgados, Future Pilot AKA, Karine Polwart, Kim Edgar, King Creosote, Mattie Foulds, MC Soom T and Michael Johnston. Admittedly this list isn’t quite as impressive as if I were to name all members of Them Crooked Vultures, but if like me you’ve only heard of Emma Pollock and The Delgados, there will be at least a little bit of excitement running through your veins I hope. 

Side Show itself is as eclectic as the artists involved, with elements of folk, rock, dub and even cabaret all making an appearance. The mixtures of genres are also helped along by the fact the lead vocals are performed by different band members from song to song. It makes for some extremely interesting listening. The songs are beautifully layered with various different instruments as you would expect, although it is fair to say that the final product sounds very acoustic. 

This is the point where I would normally mention what I feel to be the strongest songs on the album, however I can’t do that with Side Show. Each song is as strong as the one preceding it, I can’t think of one weak moment that makes the stronger moments stand out. I will however mention the couple of moments on the album that made me realise just how good it really is: Towards the end of ‘Trouble’ when Emma Pollock does her acapella “Down down downs”, the harmonies are so simple and powerful. The almost Radiohead-esque backing track in ‘Future Pilot A.K.C’ and finally when MC Soom T sings as only she can on top of a backing track that sounds like it’s come straight from a fun fair; it shouldn’t work but it does. 

The Burns Unit will no doubt get lost behind the bigger more successful names that are around at the moment. This supergroup doesn’t have that big name band member needed to help with the press, but it does have a charmingly superb album that I would recommend anyone gives at least one listen to. 10/10

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Lush Rimbaud – The Sound of the Vanishing Era (Hotviruz/ From Scratch/ Brigadisco/ Bloody Sound/ Narvalo Suoni/ Sweet Teddy)

I think it’s fair to say that in the United Kingdom, we don’t very often get the opportunity to hear new music from mainland Europe countries such as Italy. In fact, I can’t think of any new ‘popular’ music I’ve heard from Italy since Eiffel 65 released their classic number one chart hit ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’. Oh how the UK charts reflect our great taste in music over here… So as I read the info that came along with this new Lush Rimbaud album, I was very intrigued by what this four piece electropunk band from the East coast of Italy were about to put me through. Any hint of Eiffel 65 and I’m switching it off. 

Released as an LP and CD, this album is presented in a Side A-Side B format, something that will become very relevant shortly. Side A opens with ‘Sounds From A Vanishing Era’ which is immediately a very bass and drum driven song. The introduction is drawn out, tempting the listener with drum fills and synth bass lines before the drums kick in at a fast pace. The track builds up over the next three minutes as layers of guitars build the song into a sound reminiscent of Kasabian. When the vocals eventually come in I can’t quite decide if they ruin everything or not; they are out of tune, very whiney and the singers’ accent makes it very difficult to understand what he is saying. He sounds kind of like an Italian Shaun Ryder, only Shaun Ryder is slightly more tuneful (believe it or not). However even with the disappointment of the vocals, it is a strong start to the album and I’m excited about what might be coming next. Unfortunately this excitement is short lived as the rest of Side A is really just more of the same. It’s not bad, the ideas are good, but it is very repetitive and those vocals are really hard to listen to. The problem is that everything is the same pace, it’s all the same volume and there is absolutely no variety between songs whatsoever. 

Onto Side B, with opening track ‘Sounds From A New Era’ we have a new, more electronic sound to Lush Rimbaud. Less guitars and more synthesisers, theramin style sounds and quite bizarre concepts. This side opens with British poet Jan Noble reading a translation of one of Errico Malatesta’s ‘freedom championing’ monologues. Then in comes the band, repeating the same four bar riff over and over and over. Jan Noble’s voice is irritating, the riff is irritating, and they both go on for nearly six minutes. By the end I had the song turned down as it was really getting to my ears, I was tempted to switch it off altogether but I managed to resist. Once again, the rest of Side B is very similar. Lots of synth sounds, lots of repetitive riffs. It makes for extremely hard listening, in fact by the end I really miss Side A. 

So Lush Rimbaud are going for two different sounds on their album ‘The Sound of the Vanishing Era’ it seems. One that they consider to be vanishing, the other that they think is from a new era. The album as a whole is quite poor, but its saving grace is the first side or this ‘vanishing era’ as they like to call it. I really hope that they realise that the new era they are trying to create is nothing more than a fad, in fact it might not even be that. Now where did I put my Kasabian and Happy Mondays albums? 3/10

Friday, 13 August 2010

Hold Your Horse Is - Rammin' It Home (Big Scary Monsters)

It doesn’t take long into Hold Your Horse Is’ new EP ‘Rammin’ It Home’ to get an idea of what this band are all about: This post-hardcore group from Frimley and Fleet are aggressive, fast paced and very heavy. Switching tempos and time signatures to keep you guessing where they might go next, they are riff heavy right from the start. Robin Pearson’s vocals sound very similar to a Million Dead era Frank Turner, flitting between singing, speaking and screaming which adds to the unpredictability of where they might be heading at any moment. Songs like ‘Non-Stop Physical Training Track’ and ‘Welcome to Obscurity’ pound your eardrums into submission; the only rest for them are a couple of cleverly crafted interludes, most notably the vocal/ acoustic guitar ditty before ‘Starts And Ends.’ The whole package is well thought out and very well executed. 

However it has to be said that what HYHI are doing is far from original: Like many other bands around at the moment they sound like they are desperately trying to be the next At The Drive-In or Yourcodenameis:milo. This could be perceived as a negative point, but I do think the music industry is missing bands like these, and a suitable replacement/ stand in for them would be very welcome. It would be very easy for HYHI to get lost amongst all these other bands, but they have one thing that makes them stand out from the rest: The energy and aggression that comes across in these recordings is something none of the other ‘wannabes’ I’ve heard have managed. It doesn’t sound like energy created by over production, listening to this EP feels like they are playing live in your room, like they are shouting every lyric and playing every riff right in your face. 

My only criticism about this EP is that some of the songs sound extremely similar (there was one moment where I skipped back from track three to the beginning of the EP again just to check there wasn’t a printing error on the CD). The riffs do get repetitious from time to time, and occasionally they feel a little dragged out. But this is only a small gripe; ‘Rammin’ It Home’ is an EP that’s well worth a listen. It might not completely fill the void left by the likes of At The Drive-In, but in my opinion it’s the closest anyone has got so far. 8/10

Monday, 9 August 2010

Tweak Bird - Tweak Bird (Souterrain Transmissions)

This self titled album from the Illinois based brother pairing of Tweak Bird is their first album proper - and what a way to introduce yourself to the world. It is twenty-seven minutes of unadulterated psychedelic, progressive rock madness; gritty, raw guitars, pounding drums and sci-fi-esque blips and beeps that sound like they’re about to beam you to another planet. For a two piece consisting purely of drums and baritone guitar, with very little more than a saxophone solo and hint of flute to add to the mix, they make one hell of a noise. 

However amongst all this madness Tweak Bird can really write a song. First single off the album ‘A Sun/ Ahh Ahh’ has catchy vocal hooks aplenty. Caleb Bird’s voice is delicate and almost childlike at times, singing about all things interplanetary (a common theme throughout the whole album). His vocals sit on top of the drum/ guitar combination comfortably; not too bold to overpower, but not so weak that they get lost. At the end of the song there is a saxophone solo that is simple but effective, emphasised by the fact that the guitar drops out to give it space. (This isn’t the only unexpected solo on the album, there is a flute solo on ‘Flyin’ High’ that is only a couple of steps away from sounding like it’s from a Jethro Tull track.) The rest of the album follows the same feel, occasionally getting slightly heavier with songs like ‘Lights In Lines’ and ‘The Future,’ and a touch more sedate with ‘Distant Airways.’ For me though, the highlight of the album has to be ‘Round Trippin.’ Lasting not much more than a minute, thirty seconds in the song is played backwards and those sci-fi sounds come back into play. It’s perfectly short, but oh so sweet. 

The great thing for me about Tweak Bird is that nothing they do sounds particularly forced. They do some quite mad and ‘out there’ things in their songs, but I don’t think they’ve done it because they want to be different or push boundaries. It sounds like they have done these things because they know that the end product will be better for it. They are not afraid to pay homage to something that has been done before, whether it’s a saxophone solo ala Pink Floyd, flute solo like Jethro Tull or reversing a record like every Zeppelin fan that wants to hear the ‘hidden message’ in Stairway to Heaven. For its full twenty-seven minutes Tweak Bird is a very good album, it’s just a pity it’s all over so quickly… 7/10