Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

REview: The Seahorses – Do It Yourself

December 1994. A generation of shimmering-guitar-pop fans waited expectantly outside their record shops up and down the length of the UK. They’d had hints, of course, in the single release of “Love Spreads” 2 weeks before, but now was the time that, finally, Stone Roses fans would hear what their prodigal sons had brought home with them. Swapping the chorus pedals and Gretsch guitars, guitarist John Squire had replaced them with crunch, wah, and Gibson Les Pauls – less Byrdsian jangle, more Zeppelin-esque swagger.

Had Squire found himself at a crossroads? Hailed as the guitarist of a generation, had he found himself in negotiation with Lucifer, eager to provide the devil with another in a long list of souls in exchange for his prodigious blues-rock talent? Had he done so, I fear he may have been questioning such a decision as the band slowly, but tenaciously fell apart over the next 2 years, for many much-publicised reasons – not least, his six-string excess.

An unexpected jump-cut to 1997 though and we find Squire with a new band, the Seahorses, fronted by singer Chris Helme, who Squire reportedly found busking outside a Woolworths in York. Now, 11 years later, with another acrimonious split, retirement from music to focus on his art, and a Stone Roses reunion all behind Squire, it has been interesting to listen to the Seahorses only album, “Do It Yourself” and decide whether it stands up.

Full disclosure: Despite it’s reputation, I am very fond of this album. I am aware that I shouldn’t be, and we’ll get to that, but I am. 1997 was a defining year for a young 18 year old guitar player from Airdrie, Scotland. I had been playing for only 2 years when this album was released and was voraciously desperate for guitar heroes. Buck, Harrison, Marr, Page, Hendrix and to my shame, for a while, Sambora were among those I was learning from but I wanted guitarists in the here-and-now (or, there-and-then). Enter Butler, Greenwood, and of course, Squire. Every note of the Seahorses album, and it’s companion guitar tab book, were scoured over in an attempt to discover my own style but of course led, for a while at least, to simply emulating its.

The album, and the songs therein, are not without their faults – and when they falter, the falter spectacularly. Lyrically, the album is appalling and borrows strongly from the pre-millenial lad-culture of magazines such as Front, Zoo, Loaded, et al. Lines that reference “strap-on sally” chasing anyone “down the alley”, and those chased “feared for [their] behinds” feel decidedly cringeworthy and pandering to an audience of khaki-wearing lads backslapping each other for the banter. In the #MeToo age, lines like “1999”‘s “18 attempts on her best pair of knickers”, and “Love is the Law”‘s “Mad Lizzy Crumb’s blind cobbler’s thumbs were a sight to behold” just feel odd and uncomfortable. It’s not all teenage sexual innuendo though, and in Liam Gallagher’s first songwriting credit, on the lyrically risible “Love Me or Leave Me”, he channels his inner-Lennon with “Don’t believe in Jesus / Don’t believe in Jah / Don’t believe in the wars we fight / Just to prove how real we are”. I’m sure Noel smiled knowingly on hearing this one, his place in the songwriting hall of fame under no threat whatsoever.

Why, then, is this album worth your time, I hear you ask. The album suffers, it is true, from a time and a place. It is from post-Oasis, pre-OK Computer (yes, it was released after the Radiohead album, but surely written before) britrock wasteland – and you can certainly hear the occasional moment of excess – but it is an album of catchy hooks, powerhouse guitar, and the occasional shimmering moment of pop genius.

Lyrics aside, “Love is the Law” is inarguably one of the guitar anthems of the 90s. From an immediately recognisable intro riff, to the lead throughout both verse and chorus, the guitar is the star of the show – making it easier to tune out the aforementioned lyrical atrocities. There’s a very 1990s key change before the riff returns for an outro and then a 4 minute 30 second guitar work-out for Squire. Where The Stone Roses’ “I Am the Resurrecton” channeled the more funky moments of Hendrix; “Love is the Law” is an unrestrained homage to Jimmy Page.

Interestingly enough, if we accept the show-stealing nature of “Love is the Law”, then that aside, the stand-out track on the album is in fact one of only two that Helme himself contributed – the second single, Blinded by the Sun. The guitar is exquisite on this song, and the lyrics are much stronger. This does humbly suggest that Squire may have been better served leaving some of the other lyrical duties to his new singer. Alas.

Other tracks, such as the ebullient “Round the Universe”, and the demanding, dogged insistence of opener, “I Want You To Know” are pulse-raising nods to the 60s and the 70s respectively. The track preceding “Love is the Law”, the slower, more balladic “The Boy in the Picture”, foreshadows the more nostalgic or retrospective lyrical content of Squire’s solo records, and “Standing on Your Head” seems to show, in hindsight, that he wasn’t as sanguine about the life he left behind as he may have suggested; it being darker in tone and all the better for it.

The Seahorses didn’t last for long – some may say this is regrettable, others not. They released a follow-up single, “You Can Talk to Me” and though it wasn’t a huge leap forward, it showed there was still momentum to be had. A follow-up album was recorded – mooted title, “Minus Blue” – and never released. It has appeared online in bootleg form and every word written above could relate to that album also.

Squire returned a few years later with 2002’s “Time Changes Everything”, and for the most part, I’m relieved to say the arguably misogynistic, laddish fripperies of “Do It Yourself” had gone. The guitars, thankfully, remained.

Review: Leland – i got too close to you…

Conventional wisdom is a funny thing. Alan Rankine, the musical force behind the 1980s Scottish new wave duo – The Associates – once told me (and by me, I mean my class at Stow College, Glasgow, where he was teaching) that to make it in the music industry, you had to move to London. As an over-confident, early-20-something I called Bullshit on that. Chemikal Underground exists. The Delgados didn’t have to up sticks and move to the capital, they just created their own thing. The bands associated didn’t have to leave either. Of course, years go by and it becomes clearer as the hazy, confident mists of youth that this was largely an extraordinary circumstance. Further down the line, in a songwriting class, I was taught that albums should begin with some immediacy. With impact in much the same way mornings in new parents’ houses begin. Loudly and demanding of your attention and affection. Of course this is true of many albums, certainly of classics like Pet Sounds, Loveless, or Entertainment!; though not necessarily true of so many more, The Stone Roses, Electric Ladyland, and The Bends are just 3 whose opening tracks take a while to get to the point – and are all the better for it. It’s 2018 though, and the listener has more choice and less attention. One wonders if the Stone Roses released their seminal debut today, on bandcamp, if the wider world would have stuck through the 40 seconds before Mani’s instantly recognisable bass riff appears (or indeed the 1 minute 30 before the verse begins proper) before clicking on to the next album. Logic dictates then that it’s a brave artist who may release a digital album that begins by taking it’s time to get to the point.

Leland, an indie-rock solo artist from Aarhus in Denmark, does this very thing. The title track to the long-windedly titled “i got too close to you and thought you would fall onto me but that was just the clouds moving” begins with a slow, layering of guitars soaked in reverb and delay, a swirling, dusky fog hanging over an ethereal no-mans-land – a fog that drifts for 1 minute and 40 seconds before the momentum of the newly appearing drums propels the song forward. When it starts moving, though, it’s abrasive, overdriven, and exigent. Eventually we hear Leland’s voice, cocooned in reverb, singing to us from far across this desolate hinterland and though the fog never clears, cutting, buzzsaw guitars cut through it before disappearing, leaving the fog and a pulsing, electronic thud.

The wilderness evoked by the album opener is immediately punctured by the kooky playfulness of “diver”, a brighter note of indie pop to bring light to the shade of its cloudy precursor. It’s a common thread throughout this album that the vocals are so immersed in the ambiotic reverb that the actual words are lost in the wash.

On first listen, I was convinced this 8 track album could have easily been a 5 track e.p. with very little loss given there are 2 transitional tracks less than (or seconds over) a minute long, and a 59 second track at the end of the album. I was put in mind my initial disappointment of similar experimentally composed tracks on Mogwai’s Rock Action album and how, in retrospect, those feel inspired; I decided to listen again. The second, “dark whole inside the chest”, does feel inessential, in that it’s a small repeated passage of the full “band”, reversed and played backwards. Unfortunately it sounds ordinary forwards, and unnecessary backwards, especially as the same thing has been done so much better so often in the past. Another, though, “waves of grain” is – on repeated listen – worth the return. 38 seconds of overheard voices, reverbed and delayed set against slightly dischordant notes, picked against chilly, reverbed chords.

While this record is clearly a bedroom recording, it seems to revel in this. In an interview with “The blog that celebrates itself”, Leland is keen to point out that the instrumentation is sparse and deliberately so. Though one suspects this may also be down to necessity, the dedication to layering guitars and leaving synthesisers under the bed deserves credit. The recording isn’t without it’s quirks though and while the drums are well rendered, they are so metronomic as to give away their machine-sequenced origins. This, however, feels like it may be a nod to a clear influence of this collection, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.

The stand-out track on this album is by far and away the one that betrays its influence so clearly. The gorgeous “you” has all the hallmarks of a songwriter trying to put his own spin on “Sometimes” from Loveless. That’s not to say that it sounds like the song, but there are certain similarities in instrumentation and technique that on hearing the more recent, I was put in mind of the classic – the male / female unison vocals for one, and an uneffected guitar to balance the washy overdriven guitar and give the mix some definition, for another. Though it owes a tip of the hat to “Sometimes”, “you” is it’s own song though, and in its production, Leland takes a risk. 2 minutes in, there’s a deliberate and sudden stop. Though deliberately lo-fi in its concept, it loses something its execution when the break is punctuated by a digital thump that feels to the listener like it may have been a production mistake. It’s a bold decision though, and though it removes the listener from the song for a moment, it doesn’t diminish the whole. The track ends with a fade, not of volume, but of tone, as the bright distortion takes on a much thicker, darker sound.

The album ends with “lately my heart has not been breathing”, a ghostly piano, which brings the album to a close with the evocative sound of the piano pedal being depressed. Conventional wisdom probably also has something to say about signposting the end of your album, and this is as fitting as any to a record so comfortable in it’s own fidelity.

Mogwai – Rock Action

Having discovered a diary (a livejournal.com download) from 2001 to 2006, I thought I might occasionally post bits and pieces from it. I’m sure I wrote much earlier than 2001 – certainly I can remember reviewing R.E.M.’s Monster in the mid 90s – but this is the earliest review I seem to have kept. I reviewed Mogwai’s Rock Action record for my friend Niall’s Homegrown fanzine. Here it is, in all its glory. Enjoy.

rock-action’It’s gonna sound like a Black Sabbath Tribute album.’

This was my first indication of what the new Mogwai album would sound like, and after speaking to Dominic Aitchison, on a dark Thursday afternoon in December from behind a counter in Glasgow’s HMV, I didn’t know what to expect of Mogwai’s latest offering – given that all members of Mogwai are prone to a little sarcastic misdirection. Previous to this, it had been reported that Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals would guest on the record, so the words of Mogwai’s bassist added to my intrigue.

On hearing the first note of the very first song on the album though, I knew that Dominic was being playful. The album begins with “Sine Wave”. Initially, a speaker-shuddering series of recurring bass notes followed by Stuart Braithwaite’s tremolo-heavy, poignantly slow guitar chimes in. The track builds with more and more synth, piano, and guitar effects being added, and reaches a climax before filtering down to a heavily digitised vocal and delayed guitar before fading out completely.

I’d listened to only one track and I was captivated. I had to have more.

“Take me somewhere nice” fades in from the silence left by “Sine Wave” and begins with an irrepressibly sweet guitar arpeggio and an extended intro before Braithwaite lends us his first vocal of the new album. It also produces my favourite vocal line of the album, ’What would you do / if you saw spaceships / over Glasgow’. Indeed. The third track on the album, “O I Sleep”, lasts only one minute but it is by no means a filler track. It begins slightly reminiscent of the final track on Ten Rapid, then two off-kilter piano parts combine and Stuart sings of fires burning.

“Dial: revenge” is the much talked about collaboration between the ’gwai and Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals. From its very beginning, if you’d put that track on first you couldn’t be blamed for thinking the bloke down at your record shop had possibly given you the wrong CD, such is Rhys’ mark on the song. Given the hype, it was certainly worth the wait. The guitar is a lovely arpeggio around the Am chord and Gruff’s vocals are just mesmerising. “You Don’t Know Jesus” starts with an ethereal guitar riff and builds upon that; stage-by-stage until it is a fantastic array of tuneful noise. As usual, on tracks like this the drums are an incredibly important factor, and Martin Bulloch doesn’t disappoint. At the song’s peak the drums sound outstandingly clear, and have a superbly strong presence. After another classic fade out we are given one minute and eight seconds of noise that is “Robot Chant”.

The strongest song on the album, and possibly one of the best Mogwai songs ever to be committed to tape, is “2 rights make one wrong”. Its recurring guitar pattern, the hook of the track, the drums and bass following shortly after and the brass section adds immensely to the atmosphere (and volume) of the song. As much as Dominic would hate this, “Secret Pint”, is reminiscent of Arab Strap; and as such it feels as fitting as a closer as “Sine Wave” was an opener.

If Rock Action is the direction Mogwai are moving in, the band have a long, successful journey ahead of them. I’m still waiting for that Sabbath Tribute record, though.

Mindsedge – Shades

MindsedgeI often wonder what I would have been doing this evening if I hadn’t had the good fortune to be introduced to Dave Killoran towards the end of 2013. Had I not been invited to join the band he was creating around himself, and two exceptionally talented violinists, I wonder if I would be as immersed in the Warsaw music scene as I am now. I’d like to think I would be, though I must confess I’m less than convinced. The Frozen North was to be my first real safety-hammer with which to break the glass keeping me on the outside of a collection of musicians, labels, and shows. Had I not been privileged to be part of the band for two years, I like to imagine I may have created music as immediate and essential as post-rock three-piece, Mindsedge.

While I have to confess being less than a fan of the band’s name; having, as I do, an oddly irrational reaction to it – the way most native English speakers react to the word “moist” – the band’s sophomore album, Shades, is a veritable big-dipper of emotional twists and turns. The album travels through moments of poignancy without ever feeling sentimental, and rousing points of catharsis without feeling bloated or pompous. Surging to zenith is characteristic, some may even say cliche, in post-rock, and if Mindsedge’s music wasn’t so melodically pleasing, it could become tedious but the album holds together precisely because of that satisfying throughline. Mindsedge use this to startling effect in songs, Snowstorm and Sunrise, the latter in a beautiful crescendo to an explosion of distorted guitars and tumbling drums.

In the text accompanying the premiere of the album on Idioteq.com, the band talk of recording the title track of the album at A=432(Hz) rather than the more conventional A=440, and to the uninitiated, this may not be immediately obvious but it gives the song a darker feel in both pitch and tone. This track is the one that most obviously moves from the guitar-heavy post-rock sound, finding itself strangely placed between ambient pads and a vocal, that if sped up, would not sound out of place on a late 90s Trance track. It’s an end to a very different album and, as such – while strong in its own right, seems out of place on this one.

Conversations on Polish post-rock, and thus support slots for international bands, are often dominated by one or two names and I hope there will come a time soon, after the release of this album, that Mindsedge will find their place in these discussions. On this evidence alone, they certainly deserve it.

For fans of For A Minor Reflection, Codes in the Clouds, Sleepmakeswaves
Shades is released by the band on 1st October 2016.

Resina – Resina

Resina - ResinaCello was always an instrument that seemed exotic. Fretless, resonant, and mournful. Bach’s cello suites, for instance, are open to such interpretation depending on the mood of the listener; sometimes uplifting, and others, unbearably introspective. In 2003, Iain Cook of Glasgow band Aereogramme (and later of The Unwinding Hours and the tremendous CHVRCHES), performed a short piece comprised of edited and processed sounds from the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s film, the Shining. This was beautifully accompanied by a single cello performance. It was one of several moments in the space of only a couple of years that opened my eyes to the potential possibilities of the combination of classical music and sound art. Since then, I’ve searched out for everything from ambient to musique concrète that incorporates strings, and particularly cello.

I first heard Karolina Rec’s name in relation to her work with other Poland-based musicians, such as Coldair, Olivier Heim, Scianka and others, and of course my interest was piqued when I discovered she was an accomplished and talented cello player. Not one to rest on laurels, in addition to her collaborations, she has composed often for theatre, played often live, and has featured on the Oscar-nominated soundtrack, “rabbit a la Berlin”; and earlier this year, her solo project Resina was picked up by FatCat Records’ imprint, 130701.

Resina

© Kamila Chomicz

The self-titled debut album begins with the shimmering, shifting, reverbed tremolo of the cello, the microphones picking up the noise of the bow, and the air of the studio. It provides a stark landscape for the high register squeals that accompany the melody of “Tatry I”, one that would not feel out of place on a Constellation records release. And it is that slowly undulating motion that runs like a thread through the whole album; from the bright, glacial, frosty glistening of the opener, and it’s sister track, “Tatry II”, to the dark, suspenseful, deep-sea waters of “Nightjar”. “Afterimage” in particularly takes this effect and layers cello upon cello to create beautiful, glimmering notes that dance like candles in a window, until the candles die and the piece leaves us with a disappearing after-image.

Flock”, however, steps outside of the album’s through-line, beginning with Penderecki-esque scrapes and glissandos across the instrument, layered, and then joined with a melody – all building to a strange cacophony of sound. Half-way through though, the piece breaks down to ostinato before, in an almost post-rock trope, the cellos build upon one another in both volume and ferocity before freaking again for a final moment of solo ostinato. fascinatingly structured and beautifully played.

Another track that offers surprise is the alluring “Not Here”. It builds upon cellos both dark and lightly toned, but as you feel you understand where the music is taking you, a soprano vocal – quite unexpected – appears, adding an additional emotional charge.

Resina, the album, is a lesson in anticipation and breaking from the expectation contained within. There is tension and there is often release, though they do not always appear as expected. It is a stunning, magnificent recording both in form and execution.

For fans of Rachel’s, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Ben Frost, Hildur Guðnadóttir
Resina is released on 130701 records on 30th September 2016.