Thursday, 18 November 2010

Nickel Pressing – Uncanny (Loaf Recordings)

Every once in a while I hear of a new band that when described to me gets me genuinely intrigued. Whether it’s because I’ve heard they sound like another band I love, they have amazing live shows, or maybe because they just they’re a little bit ‘out there’, it could be the tiniest thing and it makes me sit up and take notice. Well I had one of these moments when I heard about Nickel Pressing: Having read that this French three piece took guitars out of the equation and replaced them with a violin, yet still sound like Dick Dale meets Sonic Youth meets Nirvana I got very excited. Well who wouldn’t be interested in hearing that?

As I press play and start listening to the first track I wonder if I’ve been given the wrong CD… No, I double checked and it definitely says Nickel Pressing ‘Uncanny’ on it. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty to judge but unfortunately after a bit more of a listen my first thoughts are indeed correct; they sound absolutely nothing like Dick Dale, or Sonic Youth and certainly nothing like Nirvana. What is coming out of my speakers is ineffably bad – I suppose it would be considered electro punk if I was forced to pigeonhole it. All I know for certain is it is completely out of time, very repetitive and grates to the point that you want to switch it off even if just for a moment to give your ears a rest. This is by no means helped by the appalling violin playing that sounds like a child scraping away at the strings, not an accomplished violinist in a professional band. The only moment that they step it up a notch to the slightly bearable is during their cover of Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’ which sounds similar to Arcade Fire with lots of warbling backing vocals behind what sounds very much like a full live band. With more tracks like this on the EP they might actually be going somewhere more positive.

I sometimes wonder what people see in bands like Nickel Pressing; there has to be a market for them somewhere or labels such as Loaf Recordings wouldn’t pick up on them. Maybe it’s just not my thing, or maybe it’s a French trend that I don’t get because I’m English, like an inside joke that you’re not involved in. Perhaps I’m just getting old and past it. Whatever the reason (and I desperately hope it’s nothing to do with me losing touch with ‘the kids’) Nickel Pressing just don’t do it for me. 2/10

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Megaphonic Thrift – A Thousand Years Of Deconstruction (Deadly People Records)

The Megaphonic Thrift hail all the way from Norway and are considered somewhat a supergroup over there consisting of band members from Casiokids, The Low Frequency In Stereo and Stereo21. If like me you have never heard of any of those bands then you might feel that the supergroup side of TMT is not necessarily important, but I would beg to differ. I have noticed in the past that a supergroup tends to write more accomplished material, bringing with them different influences and experiences from previous bands that is absolutely priceless when trying to make decent music. So although I might not know the roots of where this band came from and ‘A Thousand Years Of Deconstruction’ is their first EP, I’m not going to let them off easily, no more Mr Nice-Guy and all that. This band is experienced and I should treat them so.

This is where I’m meant to write a barrage of criticisms down, kind of setting you up for the fall, but I can’t do it. Right from the first chord to the last fade out this EP is full of songs that I can’t help but fall madly in love with. From the high energy opener ‘Acid Blues’ to the beautifully soothing title track, each song has its own place while sitting perfectly next to one another. The tracks range from fuzz heavy, pounding indie shoegaze that sounds like it was bottled up in the ‘90s specially to be opened in 2010 to reverb filled noisescapes to get lost in that build up and up to the point where you’re willing them to explode into life. It is in fact these quieter couple of songs that make the EP for me: They show off a band that can write diverse styles of music to a very high level; it’s relatively easy to write a fast paced song that people can dance to, but to also be able to pen an intoxicatingly serene track and put them next to one another only adds to their effectiveness. This is exactly what a supergroup is capable of doing even when it is only their first EP. A newly born band would have to be something special to make an EP like this on their first outing. This is the sound of experience, and something I can’t recommend more highly to listen to. 9/10

Not Squares – Yeah OK (Richter Collective Records)

I can’t decide if it’s a good thing when a band describes themselves as a ‘mutant Cyclops lovechild’ of various other very well-known artists. On the one hand it shows that they recognise their roots and realise that they fit into a certain genre that can be defined by those artists, on the other it suggests straight away that they’re going to be unoriginal and a carbon copy of something that has already been. Not Squares claim to be the lovechild of LCD Soundsystem, Soulwax and Crystal Castles – but I needn’t have told you that if you had listened to the album already.

The album sets off at a fast pace with ‘Release The Bees’; a drum and synth heavy track not dissimilar to The Chemical Brothers. The next two songs come around before you know what’s really happening amongst the incessant rave that has suddenly started pouring out of your speakers. The songs reek of every stereotype you could think of from an electropop band: Lots of half-spoken, quite unclear vocal lines, fuzz bass all over each song, synths screaming out sporadic sounds all over the place. This is all fair enough, these are the sorts of thing that define a genre and without them they wouldn’t be that electropop band that they’re obviously aiming to be. But then something completely unexpected comes along; a multitude of cowbells. By the fourth song on the album ‘Smith & Carlos’ all of a sudden there is a rhythmic overload of cowbells, it all sounds very familiar. And so it should, as this is one of the first things I think of when I think of LCD Soundsystem. They use cowbells to create an almost carnival like atmosphere within their songs and it turns out that Not Squares have gone for the same approach. It is at this point that they also decide to ditch some of the synth parts and replace them with simple picked guitar and bass lines making them all of a sudden sound like a band rather than a dance act. They sound exactly like LCD Sounsystem to be more precise.

I could be mistaken that for being in the process of giving Not Squares a bad review with all this talk of them sounding like everyone else and in particular LCD however this is not the case; although it has all been heard before it hasn’t necessarily been done a huge amount better than this. If they were to clean up some of the rough edges on a couple of the tracks, Not Squares would be up there with the bands they aspire to be. If they could then add to that a unique edge that none of the previously mentioned bands have used then they really could become something quite special. 7/10

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Catfish & The Bottlemen - Bodies [Single] (Self Release)

For such a young band Catfish & The Bottlemen have definitely had an impressive career to date. Having formed at the beginning of 2009, they have already been lucky enough to support Twisted Wheel and Ash, have lots of radio airplay and be named BBC 6 Music’s Unsigned Band of the Year 2009. So what’s all the fuss about? Well if forthcoming single ‘Bodies’ is anything to go by, they thoroughly deserve all of the critical acclaim and success they have had so far. It is a catchy and buoyant pop song full of shiny guitars and crisp rhythms. Not dissimilar to The Kooks and the Wombats, the track is hook heavy and flows through picked guitar sections, harmony heavy vocals and punchy riffs. Although not completely original in style they aren’t mere copycats; they have a bit more of a gritty edge to themselves than the aforementioned bands with Ryan McCann almost growling his vocals at times and a slightly more punk feel about their music rather than just catering for the pop rock market. The B-Side to the single ‘Collide’ emphasises this as well, with effect heavy guitars and once again a hook line that is neigh on impossible to get out of your head.

Catfish & The Bottlemen deserve every bit of praise they have received to date and if they keep on writing songs like ‘Bodies’ then I think it is fair to assume that they are due a lot more. Although what they are doing is nothing particularly new they are going about it in such a way that will make them stand out from the rest and hopefully will get them the recognition they deserve. 8/10

Friday, 5 November 2010

Middle Class Rut - No Name No Color (Bright Antenna)

I first encountered Middle Class Rut in 2008; having heard ‘Busy Bein’ Born’ on the radio, I was immediately captivated by their sound. Somewhere between Jane’s Addiction and Rage Against The Machine, it is full of a raw power and aggression that very few can replicate. I invested in their Red EP and proceeded to play it to death for a few weeks until I realised just how samey their songs could sound. Well now, two years down the line and with a spate of subsequent EPs released they are finally presenting a full length album to their avid listeners. There’s just one catch; it’s a bit of a best-of-the-EPs kind of thing with a couple of new songs on there for good measure, so if you have all of their EPs and singles to date you might feel a little hard done by before you even press play.

The album starts with ‘Busy Bein’ Born’ which although having been on many of the bands previous releases still sounds surprisingly fresh. “I aint dead yet!” screams Zack Lopez as it kicks in, the same can be said about this song which sends shivers down my spine and shakes my bones to the core just as it did on first listen two years ago. The album plays through for the next few songs quite predictably; sounding more and more like Jane’s Addiction and Rage from track to track. Until ‘Are You On Your Way’ begins; starting off much more calmly that its predecessors, it is a six minute song that can only be described as epic. It builds up to huge highs and breaks down to nothing but a whisper without any warning leaving you wondering what you have done to deserve having your emotions toyed with by this Californian duo. (Oh I believe I failed to mention this earlier; MC Rut are a two piece and nothing more believe it or not, something that is hard to comprehend given the amount of noise they are able make.) ‘Are You On Your Way’ marks a change on this album for me; everything from this point onwards sounds much more mature. They become a band that knows how to write a song, how to keep the listener interested and how to sound original. Yes, it is still possible to draw the same comparisons as before, but they suddenly have their own edge. It’s no longer all one pace with each song fitting into the same mould of building up and then hitting their instruments as hard as they can to fade. A bit more thought has gone into it, a few more harmonies, thinner guitar sounds complimenting the huge distorted fuzz that was becoming all too familiar and a lot more variety with drumming styles.

MC Rut have come a long way since their first EP release back in 2008. Admittedly it seems a little lazy of them to keep re-releasing songs over and over again, but I suppose if they are good tracks that you don’t feel have got the exposure they deserve yet then why not? From the new material shown on this album they have obviously improved since the days of that initial release, so I’m looking forward to a record full of new songs as powerful as ‘Are You On Your Way’. However in the meantime ‘No Name No Color’ is a compelling album to keep you going. 7/10

Monday, 1 November 2010

Crispian Mills – Healing Hands/ Be Merciful [Single] (Ho Hum Records)

I’m guessing it’s probably been a long time since you heard the name Crispian Mills? The genius behind one of the most successful bands of the Brit Pop era, Kula Shaker, and some of the best pop songs of a generation in ‘Govinda’, ‘Tattva’ and ‘Mystical Machine Gun’. Well he is still around and writing music, in fact he has hardly stopped since Kula Shaker’s initial split back in 1999; originally forming the band Pi, then having reasonable success with The Jeevas, and more recently reforming Kula Shaker with two new albums having been released. But now comes the release of the first single under his own name; ‘Healing Hands/ Be Merciful’ were both songs written after Kula Shaker disbanded: Mills took to the studio in 2000 to try and produce a full album but the songs never saw the light of day at the time.

It must have been a huge decision to release these songs ten years later as there would always be the worry that they could sound past their sell by date. You would be right to worry as ‘Healing Hands’ does indeed sound dated, but not just by ten years. Crispian Mills’ love of various 60’s and 70’s bands is extremely obvious within this song, from the rough acoustic guitar sound and various percussion parts that open the track, to the layered vocal harmonies in the chorus and the bass groove that drives it up to full speed. Sounding almost psychedelic it has no hint of modern day music about it other than Mills’ extremely recognisable vocal tone and wah-wah guitar sound. ‘Be Merciful’ also sounds dated, this time reflecting the more acoustic side of Kula Shaker. The song is opened by an acoustic guitar playing what sounds very similar to the raga musical mode so notable within Indian music. Mills sings about losing the one he loves using metaphors of snakes and hypnosis as only he can while what sounds like a flute (possibly a pungi which is an Indian version of a flute) provides a drone to get lost within. Although the song is very short at little over two minutes it is extremely soothing and delightfully charming.

‘Healing Hands/ Be Merciful’ is a great return to form for Crispian Mills. Although the last couple of Kula Shaker albums have gone down well with the fans and press I never really felt that they were as good as they could have been, and this double single more than makes up for it. However I don’t think that they would ever sell well now: With both songs sounding very much out of place in today’s market they are definitely being aimed at fans of Mills’ career rather than new listeners, but these fans will definitely not be disappointed. 8/10