Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Radio Dept. – Never Follow Suit EP (Labrador Records)

‘Never Follow Suit’ is the third single to be taken off Swedish pop act The Radio Dept’s third studio album ‘Clinging to a Scheme’. The single is being released as a five track EP that contains a couple of new songs and a remix of the title track rather than just a standalone song, which is a pleasure to see.

The EP opens with ‘The One’, a mass of trip hop beats crossed with dub pianos and mouth organs; initially sounding like Massive Attack until the song develops and takes on a more Lee Scratch Perry kind of edge. It isn’t until track two that we hear ‘Never Follow Suit’; running smoothly on from the previous song the slow groove of the bass and drums is immediately apparent and very dominant. All the decoration on the song which includes more off beat dub pianos and various other cheap Casio keyboard sounding instruments are very forgettable. In fact, take away the bass line and it becomes extremely similar to ‘The One’, and if anything a little more dull. As you get further through the EP there are improvements though; ‘Stay Off Route’ has yet another very catchy bass line throughout, with a touch more power helped along by the uplifting guitar sound and addition of synth strings, while ‘On Your Side’ features a simple yet striking acoustic guitar part that once again takes the EP up a notch. Unfortunately both of these tracks are undeveloped though; they get going and then stop in an instant becoming more like little ditties than fully accomplished songs. The EP is closed with the ‘Never Swallow Fruit Dub’ of the title track remixed by Pistol Disco, which milks that bassline for seven minutes to the point that you will be unable to get it out of your head for some time. It does nothing more for me than the original version of the song, once again it becomes very generic and monotonous with nothing there to keep any form of interest.

It is such a shame that the two tracks in the middle of this EP are both so underdeveloped. If they had been written as full songs I believe they would have been stand-out tracks and may have saved the record from becoming so tedious. But as it stands they do nothing more than spark a tiny bit of excitement in what is an otherwise mind-numbing release. 3/10

Friday, 29 October 2010

Tapso II – Tapso II (Self Release)

I’m starting to enjoy listening to Italian rock music; from my growing experience it is always unconventional both in sound and structure, but never to the point where it becomes inaccessible to the listener. So it was with great pleasure that when first taking in Tapso II, they fell into this exact stereotype. A three piece from Sicily, they are an experimental rock band with one of those never-gonna-work kind of line ups; drums, guitar, vocals as standard, then the addition of a violin and electric organ make for what is no doubt going to be an intriguingly bizarre mini album.

As the opening song ‘Bulldog’ crashes in it is immediately evident that the violin and organ is by no means going to be an obvious addition to the sound of the band. Everything besides the drums is laced with distortions, phasers and seemingly any other effect they could lay their hands on making all the lead instruments blend into one mass of noise. The vocals in the songs are very sparse and often not much more than softly spoken lines, but they can change the dynamic of each track very effectively, at times adding some much needed bottom end to a bass-less line up. The songs themselves vary from jagged jazz rock sections to long winded psychedelic moments where that violin sound all of a sudden becomes very apparent and out of place. It is unfortunate that as you get further into the record these long winded sections seem to take over. It takes nearly four minutes of not much happening in ‘Almond Galaxy’ before the song fully kicks in and actually starts making an impact, whereas ‘Il Mostro’ never really gets to that point even after seven minutes of constant drones and gratingly amateur sounding violin arpeggios.

It is a pity that Tapso II lean so heavily towards the obscure and slow side of their music; when they do kick in and start playing their instruments to their full potential they make one hell of a racket, in a very good way. With occasional moments that sound like they could have been taken from Jon Spencer’s ‘Now I Got Worry’ or Beck’s ‘Mutations’ there is an obvious potential there, but I do think realising this will involve sacrificing some of those lengthy moments of calm for something more appealing. 5/10

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Shipping News – One Less Heartless to Fear (Africantape/ Ruminance)

Having previously released four albums (the last being in 2005), US band Shipping News have decided to go all out with their fifth LP: Who needs to record in a studio, doing take after take on each instrument until you get the sound exactly as you were hearing it in your head, when you can just go and record everything live? That is exactly what Shipping News set out to do, and they have done it in style with ‘One Less Heartless to Fear’.

The songs possess a raw energy that would never be there if too much thought was put into the recording process. You can hear the sound reflecting off the walls of the venue, the spill from one microphone to the next. None of the songs are played perfectly; they speed up and slow down throughout with a few bum notes here and there, but that is what makes live music so great. You wouldn’t want to go to a gig and hear the band play everything note perfect, would you? The tracks themselves are entirely suited for this live sound; the guitars are a mess of crunchy chords and flickering high notes, the bass is reminiscent of Lemmy’s aggressive and fast paced style, and the vocals spoken manner can sound soothing and seething at the same time. They remind me of Refused if Refused had been able to tone it down every now and then to create a five minute breakdown which built up to a mass of noise that was barely audible through its own distortion.

‘One Less Heartless to Fear’ is a great example of a live album; it shows off not only the bands song writing, but their ability to perform their material with enough energy and passion that it comes across perfectly on a recording. It leaves you wanting more, wanting to experience the Shipping News live show first hand and desperately wanting to hear what they played as an encore. 8/10

Sunday, 24 October 2010

King Cannibal - The Way Of The Ninja (Ninja Tune)

Ninja Tune are celebrating this year; twenty years ago Jon Moore and Matt Black (Coldcut) decided to create a label that wasn’t influenced by trends, fashion or selling millions of records. Instead they wanted people to hear cutting edge, eclectic and fresh new music. Artists that were actually good at what they do being given the opportunity to get their music heard with none of the hidden extras that come from major labels. Ninja Tune was born, and now they want to celebrate turning twenty in style. Along with many other events and a hefty Ninja Tune XX box set being released one of their most prized artists, King Cannibal, decided to celebrate by making a ‘mix tape’, a bit of a retrospective but with over 250 tracks used in just over an hour…

The album is split into twenty tracks, all representing a different side to the label such as ‘Big Tunes. Big Hits’, ‘How About Some Rock & Roll’ and ‘King Of The Junglism’. Prefaced by an introduction that states “The purpose of this little demonstration is to give an idea of everything you always wanted to know about Ninja Tune” this is exactly what you’re going to hear over the next hour or so. Everything from the big releases such as Roots Manuva ‘Witness’ and The Cinematic Orchetra ‘All That You Give’ to lesser known artists such as Amon Tobin, The Qemists and of course the founders of the label, Coldcut. It is a journey that twists and turns, keeping you on your toes and never stopping for a breather. It is seamlessly mixed together, both as an album and within each individual track, occasionally surprising you with the use of samples that you will recognise but maybe not know where from. I have got a few bits and pieces from the label over the years, but nowhere near enough to be able to say that I’m an expert in all things Ninja Tune, however I was impressed with how many of the samples I recognised just from my everyday music listening.

I think it would be fair to say that King Cannibal has done an excellent job with ‘The Way Of The Ninja’; both its concept and execution are a great way to celebrate twenty years of Ninja Tune in 70 minutes. It will leave you heading straight to the website to try and find out where some of the samples came from, and consequently will no doubt increase any Ninja Tune fans record collection and get any newcomers off to a good start. 10/10

Friday, 22 October 2010

Tender Trap – Dansette Dansette [Single] (Fortuna Pop!)

Tender Trap release the title song off their third album ‘Dansette Dansette’ on 1st November. After four years of silence, the band reformed in 2009 as a five piece sporting a new, seemingly more lethargic sound and now including a live drummer after years of playing along to a backing track. 

The single itself isn’t exactly mind blowing; there are twangy guitars and copious vocal harmonies right from the start, while the drums and bass plod along at a snails pace sounding like something straight out of a 70’s pop record. There is nothing here that hasn’t been done before, in fact it all sounds very tired, but it does have a certain charm. The songs vintage sound is very warm and welcoming in an industry currently full of polished and perfect pop records, and will no doubt make you want to flick through your old vinyl and reminisce on the days when a pop song didn’t consist of autotuned vocals over computer generated instruments. Becoming a five piece was a good move by Tender Trap, the addition of the extra vocals and live drumming make them sound like a proper band rather than a group that is uncertain of where exactly they fit in. Maybe it is just down to personal preference then that ‘Dansette Dansette’ does very little for me other than remind me of some of the great music from yesteryear. 4/10

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Xcerts – Scatterbrain (Xtra Mile Recordings)

‘Scatterbrain’ sees the return of The Xcerts after their extremely successful debut album, ‘In The Cold Wind We Smile’. Having described their debut as a ‘greatest hits’ of songs from the bands early years, frontman Murray Macleod seems very positive about his bands second outing. He says it is “a proper album that paints a much more vibrant picture”, and he also praises the help of their new producer Mike Sapone (Taking Back Sunday, Brand New) who they saw as the fourth member of the band during the recording process.

The album itself starts off feeling very unsettled: Opening track and introduction to the album ‘Tar’ is a mess of guitar feedback, clattering drums and bass drones which after building to a chaotic peak breaks into the title track from the album that is reminiscent of the early 90’s grunge era (think Nirvana – ‘In Utero’ and you’re getting close to the mark). But it’s not a sound that particularly suits the band; the guitars are too nicely played, and the screaming vocals sound extremely out of place. It is a relief to me then that from the third song onwards the band seems to settle into their own groove. They sound at their best in songs such as ‘Distant Memory’, ‘He Sinks. He Sleeps’ and lead single off the album ‘Young (Belane)’ where they get in touch with their more commercial side. Sounding like all generations of Weezer mashed into one eleven song album they are fun, aggressive and extremely passionate. Macleod puts on a great vocal performance switching from shouting to singing instantly and seamlessly at times, while the songs themselves range from angry and angsty rock tracks to slow, reverberant power ballads. The result is a very well crafted album that is full of potential hit songs. It really is a pity then that those first two tracks seem so out of place, without them ‘Scatterbrain’ would be virtually faultless. 7/10

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love [Single] (Rough Trade)

It feels like an age since Belle and Sebastian released anything new. In fact it has only been four years since their most successful album to date ‘The Life Pursuit’ was unleashed on their adoring fans. Never really having been recognised in the mass media for their music, Belle and Sebastian have relied heavily on the support of their obsessive followers over the years to keep them going. So when the announcement was made in May that the band were back in the studio I can imagine that I wasn’t the only person to have got slightly excited at the prospect.

‘Write About Love’ is the first single to be taken off this long awaited album, ‘Belle and Sebastian Write About Love’, and it is a surprising choice I must admit. It sounds a bit like The Beach Boys attempting to write a 60’s soul/ surf rock crossover track which indeed makes for a good pop song, but that is all it is. It lacks the feeling and honesty that I always associate with Belle and Sebastian. The quirky off beat guitars and melodic organs sound typical of the surf rock era, but don’t have the down to earth warm intimacy that I have come to expect. The vocal parts play off each other with the same lack of intent, instead seeming forced with the hope that it would make the song more interesting. I know these are just niggly little things and are quite possibly problems that I would overlook with other bands, but I have such high expectations of Belle and Sebastian that I can’t let them go this time. Having heard the album in its entirety I could name maybe eight songs that would have been more suitable as the first single. ‘Write About Love’ is much more of an album track in my opinion. But if you are new to the band or hesitant after such a long period of silence don’t let this single deter you; although this isn’t the greatest song they have ever released it is still much better than most other bands in the same genre, and from the sound of the rest of the album it is taken from they still have plenty to offer. 6/10

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Tobacco featuring Beck – Fresh Hex [Single] (Anticon Records)

There’s not a lot to be said about Tobacco, a one man electronic act from America who doesn’t like people to know who he is or what he is really all about. He keeps himself to himself and seemingly just focuses on the music. If you can get away with it and still get recognised then why not? And he certainly has been recognised if he is now working with someone who is probably one of his biggest idols in the music world. Supposedly his favourite album of all time is Beck’s ‘Mellow Gold’, and previously he has remixed the 2007 Beck single ‘Timebomb’, so to work with Mr Hansen again on his own track ‘Fresh Hex’ must have been an extremely positive move in the mind of the mysterious Tobacco.

The song is short coming in a little over a minute and a half, but it is straight to the point. There is an unpolished analogue sound about ‘Fresh Hex’, filled with distorted drum tracks and grainy synths. The vocal line that Beck sent to be used is cut and spliced beyond recognition, sounding more like another instrumental part than a vocal at times. The whole package is filthy, aggressive and extremely quirky. It’s a shame that it is over so quickly though and I would never normally recommend spending money buying a song that is so short no matter how good it is. But from what I’ve heard of Tobacco’s album ‘Maniac Meat’ it isn’t all on a par with this single, so I am going to make an exception to this rule here. If you’re a fan of Beck and/ or dirty synths then give ‘Fresh Hex’ a go, it’s nearly worth every penny. 8/10