Monday, 27 June 2011

Music In General: Festivals

As we enter summer 2011, the music festivals begin. Is it really a shock that we have so many music festivals here on planet earth? Where in many affluent countries, one of the defining personalities in people, is music taste. We see no end of festivals happening every weekend, England, Scotland, Spain even Iceland have many thriving festivals that give people something to look forward to.

We look back at the late 60's and early 70's. We see some defining festival's, we have the infamous Woodstock, Isle of White and the Monterrey Pop Festival. These paved the way for what we now see as Glastonbury, Rock Werchter and Bonnaroo (among many other worldwide festivals).

Let's look at Glastonbury, the home of the Indie chick. Today's Glastonbury (Sunday) saw Beyonce take to the Pyramid Stage and finish the festival. This did come as a shock to me, how a festival which is renowned for it's closing artists, choose Beyonce. Take the past few years, with a very energetic performance by Blur and extremely guest driven performances by Gorillaz and Neil Young. A closing set needs to sum up the festival, it has to be epic. This was a shock to me, Beyonce.. Fucking Beyonce, what the actual fuck? If I wanted to see Beyonce, I'd watch her on TV instead of wasting 90 minutes being part of an audience to watch dancing that I cant even see.

I don't want to write too much on this, it means nothing to you or I. It's just getting my opinion across about the culture shift in music. Nothing lasts, everything changes.. people.. music. Festivals show the general change in music, in 2005/6 the music was led by Indie Rock bands such as Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian. Pop leads the way now. Lady Gaga has helped escalate this in many ways. We see dramatic changes in our youth. It's not good, I have to admit this. Nothing innovative has came along in a while, the pop music machine is in full effect with the general populous eating it up. Even out of those circles, nothing is happening on a major scale. 

This is why Pop artists are taking to the festival circuit. Like I said, in the past Indie Rock artists took charge, this is still seen but in minimal and indirect, almost laughable selections. I was at the Latitude Festival this year and I witnessed some amazing artists on the smaller stages, I watched Cat's Eyes, Braids and James Blake on these tiny stages, whilst KT Tunstall and Rumer took the main stage. I'm not complaining, but it must be frustrating for artists to play on these small stages when an artist without any musical integrity and skill takes to a main stage (no offence Rumer, but you were shit).

So yeah, we're spoilt for choice. Take time and research each festival, taking into consideration cost, travel and the line-up. Where Glastonbury used to be he best festival in the UK, it has now shifted towards Bestival, Latitude and even Reading/Leeds are superior in terms of line-up. Size doesn't matter, it's the line-up that makes it special for me. I saw Shonen Knife, King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, Warpaint, Toot's & The Maytals and The Antlers at my local festival held in Leicester, Summer Sundae.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight

Scottish music, both past and present, has had an ingredient that English music is lacking. So far, I haven't worked it out yet, part of me thinks its because the majority of these bands come from poor, low cost families with bad jobs or unemployment, I'm not sure, they just manage to be extra creative. Frightened Rabbit are no different.

Straight out of the Scottish Indie Folk scene, this album combines 60's Scottish Folk from the likes of Bert Jansch, with modern day Rock. The songs are extremely strong, you can here the tension and heartbreak in the singers voice, sometimes it comes off a little too pretentious,  this can be forgiven due to the excellent musicianship.

I think this band are either hit or miss, they'll never reach mainstream success, that's a given, they just don't have the image of Indie Folk bands such as Mumford & Sons. So I hope they continue doing this kind of music, it's mellow, not exactly relaxing, but you can listen to it on a cold lonely night. The singers emotions run wild in this album, 'Fast Blood' is a very good song, with catchy vocals and brilliant guitar hooks, in fact, most of the tracks are single material. It's such a strong album. 'Old Old Fashioned', starts off very well, with a great capo played guitar and odd drum playing. This is very much one of my favorite tracks from the album, it's in place, it doesn't fail to amuse me every time.

'Head Rolls Off' is another one of my favorites, I'm going to stop mentioning these now, due to the whole album including amazing songs. This song opening with a little bit of cynicism with Jesus Christ. Before banging in to a smooth Folk Rock song. The inclusion of the Organ really separates the song from some of the others, giving it a more atmosphere image and style.

'Poke' is extremely personal with soothing guitar playing, the vocals here seem more emotional and the feeling of heartbreak seems present. I liked this song, it was nice just to read. It's smooth chorus and delicate vocals really create the ballad atmosphere.

'Floating In The Forth' is depressing, lyrics being a little aimed towards suicidal thoughts and depressive attitudes. Break up being the main lyrical key, before entering in to the whole suicidal song. Imaging death in the sea, before coming out with the line that sticks in my head 'I think I'll save suicide for another day.' I love the imagery.

So this album is a delightful listen. If you're a folk fan it should be special. Scottish music at it's modern best. Honestly enjoyable, I'm personally a big fan of this album, the little criticism are present including at times bad production, but in general it does sound rather complete.


Thursday, 23 June 2011

Men of Music: Phil Spector

Here we have the man that created the production technique known as 'The Wall of Sound'. Take ourselves back 50 years, we hear Pop acts such as The Ronnettes, The Crystals and The Righteous Brothers all use this technique, which today has been replicated and reformed by many different artists, taking influence from Spector.

It's completely different from today's Pop in this period, Soul music was just kicking in, The Beatles, The Who and The Kinks were taking America by storm. With Spector producing records that are chart toppers. This must have been an incredible period for music, the 60's as a whole had so many musical exports it makes every other decade look terrible.

The Wall of Sound, was an innovative production technique. It created a texture of sound that nobody had heard before. Not only this, but these singles were hits, 'Be My Baby' being the most famous, which has been replicated in many ways. In modern music we don't have to look far to notice Spector influences.

The Jesus & Mary Chain's 'Psychocandy', has a direct influence from Spector. You can hear the Wall of Sound techniques used, along with the simple style of drumming from records such as 'Be My Baby'. A little closer to today, Glasvegas use this technique heavily, it's their distinct sound. Taking influence also on the basic drumming style.

The genre known as Shoegazing came to light in the late 80's. Partly influenced from the likes of The Velvet Underground, they combined the use of distortion with the many effect pedals available and the Wall of Sound technique. He paved the way for Alternative Rock, Grunge and Shoegaze. His technique has been widely used by many studio producers and he has been known to be one of the best producers of all time. He had good ideas which he put in to practise with his studio musicians, some moving on to successful solo careers, such as Glen Campbell. 

Even today, new acts are attempting to replicate his sound and production. Bands such as Cat's Eyes, who formed due to the love of Spector produced 60's records. He became even more famous when he produced the final Beatles album, Let it Be. His Christmas album is one of the best festive albums and the content is constantly played on radio across the world. 

He created a new sound, he was a pioneer, a song writer and producer. He has produced some of the most famous songs known, such as John Lennon's Imagine, Be My Baby and Let It Be. Being an influence indirectly to many of today's musicians who focus on reinventing 60's Pop music. Amy Winehouse being one of the performers who note Spector as an influence. With her album 'Back To Black' being heavily influenced from artists such as The Crystals.

His technique will live on. Without Spector, today's music would be completely different. That can be good or bad, but he led the way in music production with his wide knowledge.
Phil Spector, genius? or not. I think he is, I thank him for his techniques because he gave the world some amazing artists, it's just a shame his life has tragically changed, but I will always remember him for the Wall of Sound.

Men of Music: John Peel

This is a little difficult to write, mostly because John Peel is one of my influences as an avid music listener. He also has had one of the most prolific careers in Radio, having strong opinions which I'm even with. He was outstanding at his day job, he managed to live the dream, promoting fairly unknown music making it a little more known to the public. We have many, many examples of this. John Peel was the ultimate critic in my opinion, although he didn't exactly review or write, his opinions and personal taste has influenced many artist and in some cases, kept musicians playing.

I find myself learning more and more everyday about music, whats out in the open is known to the average man that walks the streets. Only a fair few people in this world have the ability to change and influence others on a global scale, John was one of them. His favourite band, The Fall, are one of the best Post-Punk bands, they combine brilliant instrumentals with crazy, literate lyrics by front man Mark E. Smith (another one of my influences). His favourite song, was Teenage Kicks by The Undertones, a song we know very well, he liked it so much he played it back to back the first time he heard it on radio, at that time, it was a first.

He promoted lesser known acts, such as The Fall. He was fundamental in making Punk modern in 70's Britain, he voiced his opinions, his taste was abnormal. To people like me (abnormal listening taste) he was God. He was on the Radio, he wanted people to listen to his bands, he was in tune with modern culture throughout the years.

I cant speak for him, but I think John saw the adolescent, rebellious attitude and took to it. Much alike today's Rob Da Bank, John Peel was the 60's/70's influential figure to the outsider kids. John managed to be influential, he picked obscure bands and brought them to fame, bands such as Pink Floyd, T.Rex & David Bowie, among others. Picking people like Rod Stewart out of obscure Rock n Roll, bringing them into the light, he did it well.

David Bowie was the biggest from the bunch, he managed to give David Bowie a second audition after he failed his first, for Bowie to then pick up fame and mainstream success, this is repeated time and time again in John Peel's career. Knowing you have ultimate say and control over what's heard by the nation must be huge. He had an incredibly responsible job which he took seriously and still went above his superiors to break the rules of radio.

He's well known in the United Kingdom, he was a legendary DJ, people loved him. He became a Beatles expert early in his career, promoting them in the USA which inevitably led to the British Invasion. He was ahead of the time, he was the Avant-Garde pirate of the 60's.

He started live sessions, he called them 'Peel Sessions' where he had bands come in to the studio and record live versions from the bands discography, which led to the BBC 'Live Lounge' of today. He was a talent spotter, he brought Scottish music to the mainstream, bringing to fame bands such as Teenage Fanclub. He had such a pioneering attitude and laid back style, he once played the full length version of Mike Oldfiend's Tubular Bells, which kick started the fuss over Mike Oldfield, which led to Virgin taking off as a music label. 

He gave bands exposure when nobody else would. Peel saw the potential within artists, even during a modern period such as Pulp. I could mention so many examples of this, even Dubstep. Before Peel's death in 2004, he choose many Dubstep releases for his 'Festive Fifty' feature.

If you're a fan of This Nation's Saving Grace, it's down to this man, Peel gave The Fall a chance, nobody else did. This story is repeated in different styles with different musicians during his career. Expanding on his musical background with comedy, such as Paul Whitehouse, he wrote about Paul and gave him success as a Comedian.

He can never be replaced, he was objective, he has his name fixed in history as one of Rock's biggest pioneers, the gap he left hasn't been fixed, however one day I may decide to fill it. Who knows?.. Rest In Peace, John Peel.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Two years ago, in the confines of my bedroom, I listened to the debut of a man whom, allegedly, recorded the majority of the album alone in a log cabin in the middle of a winter forest. This debut, though minimal in its plucking of guitar strings and percussion, rewarded my listening with one of the most warming and passionate voices - an instrument in itself - I'd heard for some time.

It's 2011 and Bon Iver - real name Justin Vernon - has released his second, now self-titled, release...expanding on his use of folk-influenced acoustics and instrumentally-esque vocal ranges. This time, however, the guitars have been expanded in direction, the vocals interchanged between registers and Vernon brings with it a warming overlay of brass instrumentation.

The opening track 'Perth' is a clear example of the self-title's versatility in sound - a slow build-up of sound that suddenly opens up to reveal layers of plucked guitars, acoustic and electric alike; marching drums and a backing of harmonic voices. All of which is the perfect curtain rise for Vernon's vocals to bring it all together. A togetherness, which by half-way, has already brought about the blossoming at which the music expands through the speakers.

It's this build-up and eventual expansion that continues throughout the first half of the record - Holocene led by a light-hearted chord and clapping of hands with vocals and percussion taking control. Towers, meanwhile, is primarily guitar-driven - drums occasionally rustling through a beat or two, the order once more changed.

Indeed, there's no doubt from the soundscapes generated in these songs, that Vernon is more confident in himself with his vocals. As with the album artwork, For Emma, Forever Ago portrayed a lonely chilly ambience of minimal instrumentation led only by the sense of what could be beyond. Bon Iver, on the other hand, like its cover portrays a more open exploration - the sense that there is indeed so much to seek but nothing that is so inorganic and altered it cannot portray emotion.

The irony is, is that Vernon has found himself delving into alteration. Hinnom, TX carries a swaying distortion of sound while Calgary's organ-like ambience brings the song to life - vocals uplifting Vernon's voice while distant guitar chords and off-tune brass gives the track a bumbling out-door early-morning vibe.

But it's the albums curtain-caller that really marks itself as the stand-out moment here - Lisbon, OH providing a short droning call of distorted chords and old-age bleeps and bloops before sailing off into the album's closer, Beth/Rest. Upon even the first few dozen seconds, you'd be forgiven for thinking Iver has gone all 80's cheesy lovey-dovey pop rock on us. The irony that it works - it's an 80's pop song, done right. Vernon's rise-and-fall of lyrics, accompanied by on-step keys and electric string bliss, brings to life the experience of surrounding. Indeed, Vernon has accomplished one thing in that his sound really has brought about that idea of being one man standing alone. Alone, but curious.

Experimentation is never a bad thing, Vernon's direction on 'Bon Iver' is a clear indication of change of thought and a tenacity for changes in song structure. Unfortunately, where the experimentation gains, the warmth felt in his debut, has all but been forgotten. Has it been replaced by the leadership-like quality of Vernon's vocal range or is it just lost underneath the sea of stretched chords and light-hearted percussion? Either way, 'Bon Iver' is an interesting step out from the confines of 'For Emma...'. It's only a matter of time though before we find out if this courageous step into the cold of the outdoor is in actuality, a brave move.


Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Mogwai's latest effort then, straight out the distortion clinic so it seems. It doesn't exactly start with a thump or a kick, it has no real meaning.. White Noise didn't give me a strong opinion about the opening. I thought the drumming was weak, but the guitar work was nice, as well as the strong build up.

'Mexican Grand Prix' is more of a Dance like driving song, with lyrics, unusual for a Mogwai track. This song has more of a meaning, it actually has decent vocal work and the synthed organ works, it stands out, but it works to drive the song forward, this with the fast paced beat keep this song intact.

'Rano Pano' is hard on the ears, a mass amount of instrumentation and a deep drum and bass riff make up the song. Lo-fi like synths are used towards the end, which give it more distortion, I liked this song, yeah, I liked this track the most. The drumming could have been heavier in places, but overall it had a great deal of distortion and energy which is what Mogwai is all about.

The tracks are classic Mogwai, they just don't have the same feel and structure as the Mogwai I know and love. I'm a big fan of Mogwai Young Team (Obviously..) as well as CODY and Mr Beast, I think the early career was great, brilliant Post-Rock tracks, crazily atmospheric tracks such as 'Helicon' and 'Mogwai Fear Sata0'n made me addicted to Mogwai for a long period. I often come back to them in glory, remembering how good MYT is, how magnetic Auto-Rock is from Mr Beast. This album doesn't give me that feel, The Hawk Is Howling was ok, it wasn't brilliant, but some songs were ok.

This album has more attention to distortion and Noise, it's evident in many tracks, with the bass often using distortion. The production is good, so is the instrumentation. But, like many albums I've been listening to recently, they just don't have that umph and structure to go the extra mile, to make me want to return with open arms, this is another dull album, it falls short from expectation, I was disappointed that the compositions were not as detailed as previous albums.

We do have great attention to detail on tracks like 'San Pedro', with guitars coming in from every direction which surprisingly comes together well. The new sound is a step forward from the Electronic based Hawk is Howling, it just doesn't keep me interested and keen, it's common now. I'd rather them not make another album, than make another dull, pointless effort with little passion and creativity, cause that's what this is.

Some good tracks all round, nice instrumentation, good use of distortion, just disappointing on the final product. I wanted to hear better material, but it just isn't good enough for me. It's well produced and it does gel rather well. I think the drumming could have been recorded better with more effects, it doesn't sound raw or over effected, it has nothing to it rather than that slight faint bass drum which doesn't suit well with the textures. In some tracks I'd rather not have the drumming, like in 'Letter To The Metro'.


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Streets - A Grand Dont Come For Free

UK Garage concept album by Birmingham based Grime/Alternative Hip-Hop artists Mike Skinner. This album has a focus, the focus is the story, without spoiling it, the story follows a basic structure, some highs some lows.. many lows actually. It's a lyrical album with nice backing tracks.

The first track is a great Garage track with specific, story based introduction to the album, sang in a spoken word style. 'Could Well Be In' is a nice piano based, with a 2-Step beat. It has a nice harmonic chorus, this song's one of the better, easy listening, lyrical songs. The opening songs set up the story rather well, it's a fifth of the album so you don't really know what to expect at this point, but it has great promise, Could Well Be In also has a very nice chorus.

'Blinded By The Light's' is in the style of a Dubstep song, it has a Club feel to it, that's partly due to the lyrics referencing his time spent at a club, getting high but feeling drunk. Many of the tracks are very good lyrically, but others are better for its instrumentation, such as 'You're Fit But You Know It'. This track has a killing guitar riff running this track, with a great fast paced vocal on top. Lyrics a little cheesy, but that's common as it's based on going on holiday, being cheesy in itself (from an English perspective).

'You're Fit But You Know It' is one of the better tracks from the album, much alike 'Dry Your Eyes', which is also one of the strong parts. Great string instrumentation opens it, before the light 2 Step beat and acoustic guitar kick in and the song moves forward towards a doomed, sad song about a broken relationship, regret among other things.

'Empty Cans' is the strongest track, that's what I feel. It finishes the album with a great two part 8 minute epic end. The beat is perfect for this, as the the strings play the rhythm, bass runs through in the back but in a small low, comedic style. it's a sad song again, also a happy song. it focuses on two separate alternative stories. One about Mike having a fight with a TV repair man, the other about a more happier ending, which i wont reveal as it will ruin the album. The piano playing on this second part is beautiful, it replaces then soft sparse strings. The second part is one of the best parts about this album, a small string build up with the escalating piano playing and harmonic vocals which is hard to understand as the majority is spoken word. This harmonic vocal work is repeated at the end, it's a great ending to the concept, the story is complete. 


Van Morrison - Astral Weeks

Being a Folk fan, it's hard not to like this album, it's a classic. Astral Weeks is the second album by Van Morrison, during a shift in music and record labels, he managed to create an album from a low production cost and in a very short time. Many Folk albums of this time followed this, the songs were recorded over a few days, such as Nick Drake's Pink Moon, which was recorded over two nights. 

Astral Weeks has different instrumentation, by this I mean it isn't basic Folk, some could call it Jazz-Folk, but that's more applicable to albums with Jazz like drumming and structures, such as Tim Buckley's Happy Sad. This album has different instrumentation in the way that, it creates a separate genre. It's a huge mix of Folk, Jazz, Soul, Blues and Classical like strings.

The first song, 'Astral Weeks' has a strong riff, following a simple scale, going up then down, this is repeated during the song, with instruments such as recorders and violins being put to great use. His voice is strong, the lyrics are very delicate and the song changes drastically at different points, the Cello playing is fabulous in place of a Bass, it then comes to a gradual end.

'Beside You' is such a sad song, it's light instrumentation and Avant-Garde Folk out look put the song and vocals into the foreground, with the high notes of guitars being used where applicable. His vocal use of the word's 'You breathe in, you breathe out' is repeated and works like a charm.

'Sweet Thing' is one of my favourite tracks, not just from this album, but all time. It has such a strong emphasis on instrumentation, the Cello acting as the bass trickles along, whilst the fast paced acoustic guitar works perfectly with the light percussion. It's hard to imagine this track not being on the album, to me, this track makes the album. The violin work is absolutely incredible, you can hear minimal mistakes on the violins at certain points, this just adds to the brilliant, raw recording power.

Many of the songs follow the same nature, brilliant percussion and Classical based instruments working in time with the Folk based acoustic guitar. it's hard to imagine that this album is in fact 43 years old, that's a massive shock to some, that's because it sounds so raw and fresh. 

It's one of those albums that you can keep listening to over time, without getting bored, finding new aspect and hearing different things whilst you listen. I rate it as one of the best albums of all time, i know many others do as well. I can only imagine this being up at the top with The Velvet Underground & Nico, What's Going On and Stand!


Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Here we have the 2009 arpeggio based modern Synth Pop based outfit of Animal Collective.  Focusing on Neo-Psychedelia music, Animal Collective create a lovely blend between modern Pop songs and Experimental Ambient like sound scape's.nIt's impossible not to notice the use of arpeggio's throughout, on every track almost. The use of electronic percussion works so well, it's produced and polished to the max, with vocal harmonies coming from every direction imaginable.

They lyrics are not exactly Joni Mitchell, but they focus on personal influences from their own lives. Songs such as 'My Girls' focus on a basic arpeggio changing with a focus on heavy drum beats. This leads in to 'Also Frightened', which has brilliant textures, the background noise if truly outstanding in the album, it's all well and fair noting the tight electronics and harmonies, but the background noises and atmospheric jungle like sounds put everything together in a great blend. This album is much alike the previous, 'Strawberry Jam', but with a bigger attention to sound scape's. I'm a fan of both of these albums, much of Animal Collectives earlier career just isn't for me, others  prefer the earlier career, I for one like this Poppy, modern feel. 

'Summertime Clothes' is a hard hitting synth track with a simple drum beat. The chorus is strong here, whilst the verses are extremely harmonic and flow very well. The last third to this track is very good, speeding up with a delicate Ambient like backing. 'In The Flowers' is an instant likable track, it build up suddenly, where synths are a main focus again. This is a great opener and introduces the listener to the new, atmospheric sound of Animal Collective.

'Daily Routine' is a synth jam, whilst 'Bluish' follows a Wah Wah like feel on the synths. a steady, marching drum beat keeps this track flowing. 'Guy's Eyes' is a great track, harmonic and the later night, jungle sounds are incredible. The clean piano is welcomed after the flow of synth tracks.  'Lion In a Comma' is my favourite from MPP, it's a brilliant vocal driven track with a focus on instrumentation, with a great opening Aussie like feel.

'Brother Sport' ends the album in a Poppy, Experimental fashion. 'Open Up Your' being the lyrical phrase repeated throughout the opening, with synths kicking in. Then the verse kicks in, or is it the chorus, it's hard to establish as this song is all over the place, it doesn't have a basic structure, it follows an odd pattern of vocals. The vocals drive the song forward, they're the key to this track, the brilliant synth instrumentation and build ups work well to distinguish the change ins sound from the opening few minutes to the later, different vocal style to the song. A different Verse like lyrical style is repeated for the remaining few minutes of the album, where it slowly ends on a high.

This album has great production, fantastic attention to detail and sounds. The synths don't sound dated, they're modern whilst taking in influences from Synth Pop and the Psychedelic era. Overall it's a very good album, lyrically it's different.


The Radio Dept - Clinging To a Scheme

Another 2010 album then, The Radio Department are an Indie Pop band with Dream Pop influences from Sweden. They are a modern interpretation of Cocteau Twins, with a little more emphasis on a Pop outlook, with this album being their third album.

The songs follow basic patterns but detailed production and a change in song styles creates a vast depressing feel to the album. Much alike Belle & Sebastian in terms of drum beats and light percussion, Clinging To a Scheme has a bigger focus on the guitar playing and instrumentation. This is where they make themselves known, the attention to detail on a big number of tracks gives them a nice overall and polished look.

'David' being released as a single, it's a cheerful string stab and electronic based song. I didn't like this song as much as the others, some that caught my ear were the ones with better production and guitar work, such as 'Memory Loss' and 'Four Months In The Shade'.

'This Time Around' has a great riff which is very 90's style. The lo-fi style of vocals gets a little old, but it fits with the music like moth's to a flame. If it was a clean vocal effort, I probably would hate it, that's what I imagine. Dream Pop doesn't need these clean vocals, they need to have reverb and delay, it's what distinguishes Dream Pop from the rest.

Stripped down, most of the songs follow a basic Pop rhythm, which is easy on the ear, not challenging musically, but the guitar work and, in some cases, Reggae like feel (Never Follow Suit) make this a shining summer album. 

The vocal samples they use also fit in well, it gives this album a different, separate feel. Comparing it to other Dream Pop like albums in the same nature, such as Beach House. From this comparison, The Radio Department have a better focus on guitar and Pop songs, where as Beach House have a better understanding of structure and rhythm. The orchestral sounds keep this album moving, without them, it would be a little bland.


Jon Hopkins - Insides

So Jon Hopkins is a London based Electronic/Ambient piano player, prior to this release he did some work as a Producer, which was after his first 2 Ambient based albums which were met with mixed reviews, but many including myself noting the atmosphere he creates.

Insides is his third effort, changing his Ambient based sound, to a deeper, Glitch sound. 'The Wider Sun' is the opener that starts with strings as the sound escalates and creates a Shoegazy feel, before entering track two of the album, this track is the beginning to Hopkin's new and improved sound.

'Vessel', starts of very atmospheric and Ambient, before the piano arpeggio kicks in and lays the base for the track. Then the hard hitting beats enter with great Glitch like features. The atmospherical noises enter and leave at different points, but create a nice sound scape.

The title track, 'Insides', is the most Electronic. It's a Glitch track everything is separated different snares and hi hats come in to focus during the opening, trickling piano arpeggio's are lo-fi, but stand strong. The song builds up before dropping in to a Synth Arpeggio version of the opening. The final third of this song is almost horrifying, it's so strong and in your face that the driving beat creates a nice blend of a scary atmosphere and a beautiful string arrangement.

'Wire', is another track like Vessel, it's a happier, increased tempo track. The key being the atmosphere he has laid down for us. He would be like every other Electronic artists without his piano skills and his Ambient Musique Concrete talent. This song has a small build up, which is predictable, then the following beat and progression follow a nice relaxing style, the synth and strings in the background show forward with venom showing the difference between the two compositions, the Ambient and the Electronic.

Some tracks have a bigger eerie feel, such as 'Colour Eye'. This track is a deep Glitch track with a focus on Dark Ambient. Briano Eno like sound scape's come into focus, with his delicate piano playing being reverbed. A strong driving bass runs through the core of this track. It's over fast, the beat isn't really in place or a time frame, it's all mashed together a little to vaguely. It sounds a little messy, but the eerie feel keeps you in place.

'Light Through The Veins', you may recognize from a certain 2008 album. Hopkins skill comes in to light here. A brilliant composition and build up met with a aching piano finish. At over 9 minutes, you cant remember where all the minutes went, it isn't repetitive, it's a slow, but strong build up. The atmosphere and Shoegaze like sounds come through tills the 7 minute mark, where Jon's piano playing comes in to action. The beautiful sound he creates here is wonderful, one of the best compositions I've heard in a long time. 

Most of the later tracks are more Ambient driven, following a basic arpeggio, turning them into light percussion based atmospheric tracks. Tracks such as 'A Drifting Up' re visit his earlier career, just with more attention to detail.

'Autumn Hill' is a piano track. This composition can be passed as a Classical recording. The lo-fi production of the piano and the light strings follow a sweet melancholy rhythm. This track is the most relaxing, it isn't in your face and it doesn't have a tendency to create a Shoegaze atmosphere, it's a light piano track, a great end to a fantastic album.


The Naked And Famous - Passive Me, Agressive You

Another 2010 album then, this being the prime New Zealand album of 2010, you can only imagine the competition.. The Naked And Famous sound is a blend of Dance-Punk and Post-Punk, but with little recognizable aspects of Post-Punk at all, that's what they call themselves, but hey.. I think it's a light alternative view of Pop. Or, Alt-Pop.

After a while it becomes clear it's a 1 to 2 song album, depending on how far you manage to listen. This Shoegaze influence is hear, also the 80's Synth Pop movement can be heard throughout. Vocal work is very good, you can hear the emotion, which is nice. good blend of vocals, they're not in your face. Some songs just are not as good as the others, sure the sound very similar with the incredibly repetitive drum beat they repeat all over this album, but with the same Shoegazey feel. They don't really mix it up in the slightest, 'Young Blood' being on of the singles is much a Shoegaze track with synth's and pop like drum beats and vocals, it's a nice blend, a decent, strong track. 'Punching In A Dream' is the best song by far. It's the most catchy, synth notes pave the way for the intolerable Shoegaze sound which is again heard.

It's a good produced album, it just doesn't change. That's a key feature to many modern bands, they create a unique sound, they just don't build on it, classic example being Glasvegas. The Naked And Famous are just like this. the style is categorized with the deep Guitar and poppy drum beats. I cant imagine LP 2 being an improvement. 

So this album is withstandable, it's not a bad album by any means, the production, vocal quality and some of the instrumentation is very good, it just lacks the final touch.


The Ting Ting's - We Started Nothing

I was asked to review this album from 2008.. I first heard of The Ting Ting's like everybody else, through the endless media coverage of 'Thats Not My Name' etc.. This band is what I like to call a Poppy Reversed White Stripes. Think  of that what you will, doesn't make much difference.

The music then, 'Great DJ' is actually really catchy and keeps a steady but basic guitar riff. 'That's Not My Name' has been played in my ear so many times it's hard to give an honest opinion. But here it is, painfully repetitive, but horribly catchy and likable. The chorus is pathetic lyrically wise. The instrumentation is faint, not what you'd expect.

'Shut Up & Let Me G'o is probably my favorite track from the album, a sort of blend between New Wave and Pop, again catchy instrumentation, the lyrics are slightly better than That's Not My Name, but it's still cheesy and Pop.. basically.

'Keep Your Head' I actually enjoyed, it was a slower, more lyrical track. It had decent instrumentation, without the basic drums it sounds like a The Go! Team track, just incredibly bland.

Nothing else stands out, it's filler, I don't like using the word, but it's applicable to albums such as this. The so called 'Indie Rock' keeping it Poppy. 'We Walk' was the only other track that was slightly enjoyable, I guess these songs would sound alright live, but here on this album, they sound dated, bland and repetitive.


These New Puritans - Hidden

This is a modern Art Rock album by Southend band TNP. It blends Art Rock with Classical, not in the same way The Velvet Underground did in the 60's, but in the minimal, orchestral based way. 

Musically, the album sounds very atmospheric, with the Neo Classical side of things showing strong, the blend of Art Rock and Classical really does create a great texture of sound.  An instant noticeable weak point is the vocals, on the majority of tracks they seem emotionless. To me, theirs nothing worse than a flat weak vocalist with little passion, it's a total put off. 

'Hologram' is an exception, the vocal work is better than average but still, it never takes off, where the instrumentation enters a different level, the vocals dip in to Spoken Word. 'Attack Music' sounds brilliant, the beat with some bass works well as the song progresses further. Classical instruments coming in at different points. 

This reminds me of The XX but with a Classical feel, the low level of instrumentation creates a soothing sound scape which could be passed off as Soundtrack Music, such as on the gracious track 'Canticle'. The music doesn't vary as much as i had hoped it would, leaving me with mixed opinions. One side of this is the great instrumentation, the other is the weak vocals and repetitiveness of the beats.

To conclude, this album gives off a great sound, once the songs kick in, the vocals pick up and the beats differ slightly. Some major negatives such as the repetitive shallow vocals, are my opinion, these vocals are no for me, but I liked it, not worth the hype, but it has it's place in 2010.


Monday, 20 June 2011

Battles - Mirrored

If you read my Gloss Drop review, you may think that I'm not  a Battles fan, that's not the case at all. I like Battles, been a fan since i played Little Big Planet, seeing them on Later with Jools Holland really surprised me how much talent they had. I remember thinking that they'd go far (before Gloss Drop.. dropped).

Gloss Drop was a vague, build up with no finish album. Tyondai left them in the rock's, they couldn't hack it, wheather that was down to Ty's departure, i don't know. It just had little direction and musical output, it could have been scrapped.

Mirrored, is completely different. The rejuvenation and alternative Post-Rock of the 21st century. They managed to create a new and innovative sound to the common proles of society. Race In starts well, everything you'd expect, paying attention to detail. Musically, this track is outstanding.

Atlas is a huge build up with a thumping drum beat that acts as a bass rhythm. Tyondai's mashed vocals create a brilliant blend of confusion and happiness. Tonto starts of slow, but picks up when the percussion and carefully placed Dream Pop like guitar makes it's way on to the track. with every passing second, the tempo rises. This id before coming to a gradual stop, it differs as the ending is different to the beginning, giving it a different view from what was first heard. 

Leyendecker is a drum song with Wall of Sound aspects coming into situation. The sound of the reversed reverb creates separate atmospheres from the drum beat, with Pop like vocals being used as an instrument.

The songs on Mirrored don't follow a basic pattern, it's Math Rock with some Experimentation and progression alike Post-Rock. The album is very strong, with little to none bad tracks, depending on what kind of Battles songs you like. All these songs are varied, the Jazz like rhythms and guitar hooks keep everything in focus. Tyondai add's to the brilliance with cutting edge vocals.

A much loved album from 2007, receiving great acclaim for it's innovative style and song structure. Using Experimental features but at the same time attracting a wide audience with catchy songs.


...And the Native Hipsters - Songs To Protest About

Here we have a Post-Punk, experimental outfit from London. Native Hipsters were introduced to the scene during the 1979 Post-Punk boom, then stayed out of the public eye. Even to this day, they're recognised for the single 'There Goes Concorde Again', as well as a variety of experimental pieces shown on this album.

Some could compare them to a more updated and skillful version of The Shaggs, this would be correct as Native Hipsters follow the same direction as The Shaggs. Electronic beats are  a fundamental part to the sound. With this, Post Punk à la Electronic drums have to have an atmosphere, this does. The guitar work and Avant-Garde structure is much alike Vinni Reilly's The Durutti Column.

Referred to as one of 'John Peel's bands', it's surprising that their music hasn't reached a wider audience. I expected to find a huge cult fan base much alike Mark E. Smith's The Fall, this wasn't to be. With just over 2,000 listeners on,  the lack of a fan base is disturbing.  I was shocked because their music is generally enjoyable and relaxing.

The tracks follow the out of time progressions which experimental artists do so well. Acoustic based tracks such as Barry The Bouncing Bee, stand out. These are the tracks that make Native Hipsters what they are, a solid Experimental Post-Punk band. Good production and multi-tracking only add to the unusual, childlike atmosphere, such as the track 'Ooo Technology'.

Rhino & The Meerkat is another stand out. A Jazz like progression and instrumentation are shown, with light percussion being used instead of the previous few tracks Electronic beat. Call it elevator music.. But it's like a lounge act in a Yorkshire country bed and breakfast, very down to earth with the direct lyrics.

I don't expect many people to listen to this, but.. This is more of an acknowledgement of what's still out there. This is music that's out of both the public and the elitist's eyes. As I previously said, the music is very relaxing, no hard beats, a couple of loud vocals at some points, but all round enjoyable, without needing detailed attention as you would with say, Trout Mask Replica. As they sing.. "I should be arrested for trying to sing, you should be arrested for listening", you hear that ironic, bizarre sound, which I can only associate with ...And the Native Hipsters.


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Suede - Coming Up

Suede are unlike the Britpop bands of the 90's, Sure, Oasis had some hits and attempted a Rock and Roll rejuvenation project.. (Ending when The Spice Girls filled the gap).. But, Suede have a distinct formality about them, from the strings, to the electronic drums, Suede manage to break new grounds in Britpop, creating a small Glam Rock revival.

This album is often looked over, it's the third Suede album, it's also the most single based album, with 3 to 4 very strong commercially successful singles. The tracks follow a similar pattern, the typical Britpop sound shimmers throughout the album, with a delicate look upon the song writing. Much better vocal work here, distinct vocals, better than say.. Damon Albarn's efforts on the first few Blur records.

The unique vocals, are what make Suede stand out. The guitar and drum work are fine, exciting in some places, but mainly bland during a huge part of the album, that's a big negative here, the lack of rhythmic changes and progressions just show the lack of preparation and skill. 

Tracks like By The Sea don't come round often, this is a piano based, reverbed track. Beautiful, with the piano ad bass being placed in the background far behind Brett Anderson's vocals, the song gets better as it turns into an 80's style ballad.

Beautiful Ones, being one of the stand outs, using a great distorted guitar riff, with absolutely amazing vocals. This song is by far one of the best from the Britpop era. The album has it's strong points.. The singles being memorable, but the straight up bland guitar work and lack of rhythm just mark this as a slightly better than average album.. that being the case, i enjoy Suede.


Jeff Buckley - Grace

Oh my, where to start.. Jeff Buckley, son of Folk legend Tim Buckley, following on the musical heritage he left behind. Tim's career ended on a low note, during his Soul/Funk period, which was met with poor critical response. Jeff's ended on a high, with a strong debut, with a second album in the works.

Mojo Pin being the introduction, starts slow with an arpeggio, with Jeff's carefully sang vocals lying on top of the rhythm. The song climaxes before retreating to the more advanced arpeggio, steady drum beat and escalating vocals. Outstanding opener.

The self titled track is much alike the opener, with the slow start, leading to a climax before the sudden drop towards a melancholy end. It's 2011 and this 1994 album doesn't sound dated at all.

Last Goodbye is truly remarkable, the shimmering vocals and progressive guitar work are beautiful. The drums are a real stand out on this track, following  basic rhythm but in different timings.

Lilac Wine had been my favorite from this album for a very long time, it's focus for the listener is the delicious vocal work, before breaking in to a mellow, slow driven song. It's a sweet song, Jeff gets across many emotions during this 4 minute track.

Many of Jeff's songs are fast paced, guitar driven tracks, songs such as So Real are thunderous. So Real explodes in places, the chorus being the highlight, with Jeff's falsetto work driving the song along. the Verse's don't have such a strong effect, in places being a little sharp.

Hallelujah, is the song every Tom, Dick & Harry has heard. Brilliant song, Leonard Cohen at his best. Jeff's take is a rejuvenated version of John Cale's piano edition. Like everybody else, this song is beautiful, the song drives straight into your Soul and drags out all the emotion, this isn't background music, it's music you need to be listening to at night, in a quiet, stress free atmosphere. 

Lover, You Should've Come Over has been my favourite for a while now, it's organ based intro is ended with a plain and simple drum rhythm placed with the light and easy bass, melancholy guitar and Jeff's easy going vocals. He sounds retreated here, he isn't getting into the song, the songs getting into him. This is one of his best vocal performances here, it's amazing how broad hos vocal range is. The ending to this song is one of the best I've heard, with the lyrics being driven throughout, during a buildup which ends on a high note with Jeff using his voice to his potential.

Corpus Christi Carol, being Jeff's take on a hymn, it comes across beautiful, female like vocals surround the guitar progressions. Eternal Life, being one of the rigorous tracks, explodes. You don't expect it on such a beautiful quiet like album. This track is on of his strong points, with the Grunge like guitars driving the song, with the lack of falsetto vocals, he doesn't try and reach high notes, he's just singing very well, the chord changes are spectacular during this song.

Dream Brother being  a more experimental track, like the start of the album, an arpeggio is the driving rhythm. The song takes off in different places, with an intimate chorus being one of the strong aspects.

This album is very important, influencing many modern acts and singers. Many attempting to replicate his style, one being Thom Yorke, who wanted The Bends to be much alike Grace, you can hear the similarities throughout The Bends. Jeff creates an eerie atmosphere on every track. His vocals showing his capabilities, as well as emotion. Tim Buckley had a strong voice, some would say Tim had one of the best music had to offer, Jeff's vocals are a polished, laid back version of what Tim had. Jeff uses his voice to his advantage on this album, he was one of the worlds greatest singers, at the time being extremely tipped to become a huge star, it was a shame his career ended so sudden, before he managed to establish himself. We have one album, one strong masterpiece, debut, mellow album. So i thank you Jeff Buckley.


Blur - 13

It's 1999. And while a certain Oxfordshire-based band are recording what would later call itself by the word "kid" and the first letter of the English alphabet, another British band has just released what, at the time, is their sixth outing into music. This album - defined only by a number unlucky for some - shares a common element with their predecessors. And that element, is evolution.

But it's there that all similarity stops.
Blur, having started off as young shoegaze-inspired rockers, transpiring later into punk-rock adventurers and later the driving force at the forefront of what would later be branded "britpop" before returning once more to their classic rock roots (WOOHOO being the most memorable one-liners of that output) - by the end of the twentieth century find themselves presenting to the World a vast, multi-layered field of experimentation. And with William Orbit at the helm, the band showed no hesitation and no conservativeness on how many tracks you can layer on one song at one single time.

Whether it's the gospel-fuzed harmonies and Albarn's merciless expression of love in 'Tender' or Coxon's fuzz-distorted guitar strings of 'Bugman' or '1992', the band are not afraid to push buttons (quite, literally) and turn the knob all the way to 11 on how much you output. And in some cases, HOW you output it in the first place.
But even said experimental fusion doesn't dominate the record, leaving some well-deserved breathing space for some classic unaltered guitars and drums on 'Trimm Trabb' and to pave a story of much-needed escapism, as is detailed in the album's lead track, 'Coffee & TV', Coxon taking lead role on lyrics, guitars strumming away as he pleads "Take me away from this big bad world and agree to marry me/So we can start over again".

But just as the trauma of emotion and emotion of trauma have faded away, ambient-esque organ chords filling the final half-minute, we're pulled once more into the album's uncanny nack for fuzz-fuelled drive. 'Swamp Song', a nod to a now-ceased feud with another once-leading britpop-labelled rock band (no points for figuring out who), is an aggressively rocky trek. But again, it's the lyrics that question just what road are we trekking across. The fading wavey lines of "I wanna be with you/I know that you want it too" demonstrate the tug-at-war battle the album's sound is going through. Is this a message of love? Or a cry for what can't be had? Because at the end of the day, though Coxon is the driving force of its sound with his pedal-plugged guitars and swinging drone-like chords, it's Albarn's vocals that really define the emotion of this record.

And if the later clashes of vocal harmonies and fuzz-guitars on 'Battle' & 'Caramel' don't convince you that something is up, then 'No Distance Left To Run', arguably one of Albarn's most heart-on-sleeve calls for closure and acceptance, proves these tracks are built from more than just the basic equation of lyrics + instruments = song. "It's over, you don't need to tell me", Albarn sings. "I hope you're with someone who makes you feel safe in your sleep tonight."

Indeed, the album on a collective basis may in fact be about closure. Having escaped the imprisoning tag of "britpop" (a genre now defunct in nature and way past its expiration date) and accepting the doomed crumbling of a relationship...who's not to expect such sounds seeping through from a band who, previous to this, continued to push boundaries and expand their sound? But what makes 13 stand out against the crowd is its raw beauty. True, it's a beauty synthesized by distortion, layering and a Newton's Cradle-like switch between sound dominance, but if emotions exist and you have the tools (and indeed, the producer) capable of sculpturing such a feeling...hell, there's nothing stopping you, right?


Thursday, 16 June 2011

Foals - Total Life Forever

The second album is always the hardest, it's the follow up. There is a certain amount of pressure from critics and a dedicated fan base, that if alienated could destroy the band. The second album is the killer, the point of no return. Debut's showcase a band, they bring them to light. Follow ups need to keep what was loved from the debut, but expand and change the direction slightly. Foals do this perfectly.

Total Life Forever has such a drastic change in sound from Foal's debut, Antidotes. The first thing you notice is the attention to detail, everything is perfected.Blue Blood is such a melancholy start to an album, contrasting guitar notes put the vocals in place, before the steady soft drum beat takes hold along with the bass. The use of reverb on the vocals are noticeable with a clear listen. 90 seconds in is where the song takes the next step, keeping the melancholy, soft eerie touch, the drums explode with the bass in creating a perfect poppy song, with a delightful build up leading to the Math Rock ending. 

Miami is such a good track, instantly likable, you know how the song will progress. The killer part to this track is the chorus, which just echoes along. The jam like song structure just forces the chorus on. With again, a brilliant vocal effort.

The self titled track starts much alike Miami, but descends into a low bass driven hard hitting song. It has a weak song structure, but the lyrics flow very well, and the drum work is better than average. The song never really takes off, but it has it's place.

Black Gold carries on the melancholy feel. With the repeated lyrics of 'Top of the world, bottom of the ocean' being used progressively. the small Ambient like chorus is hardly a usual Foals chorus, but it's different. Then starts the major build up, one of the best build ups and endings I've heard in a very long time. It explodes around the 5 minute mark into Guitar solo's as it slowly falls apart and comes to a Post-Rock like end.

Spanish Sahara was released prior, i heard it on release accidentally listening to Radio 1. I was glad, because i enjoyed it, and expected a fantastic second album. This song is a build up song. It's focus is a bass riff, slowly followed by drums trickling on. Vocals being a highlight, this is a different side to Yannis. 2 minutes in, the weak inspirations of Math Rock take over the track, this is the mid point before the song blossoms. It's mellow, the song explodes much alike Black Gold but with a better focus on the harmonies at the end. Foals manage to make these songs worthy, they don't just build up for no reason, the endings are fantastic. They don't fall short of expectation. 

This Orient was released as the single, it's far more poppy than the others, it's driven by a strong drum beat and a guitar riff that's very likable. The chorus is very catchy, again the song is extremely mellow. The chorus being the highlight to this song.

Fugue is a simple piano based Ambient like song, that splits the album in two, it leads into After Glow. Which doesn't fall short from the rest of the album, it still stays strong. with a more harmonic outlook. It has a better and faster, more indie Rock like beat, this is seen during the later part of the song where everything is taken up a notch.

Alabaster is one of the slower, guitar driven tracks. The ambient like atmospheric track has a frightening drum beat nearer to the end. This track is the cool down track, i can see it being extremely intimate during live performances. 

2 Trees follows on the mellow eerie feel, the song isn't that special, compared to the rest of the album that is. The reverbed guitar has a great effect on the ears.

The album finishes with What Remains, much alike Blue Blood in style, this is far more Math Rock like than an other song on the album. The trickling guitars throughout make Bell like noises. it kicks in, with a vigorous Bass riff, this is a strong end to a very strong album. None of the songs are exceptionally weak, the majority are very strong and relaxing. This is my Album of The Year for 2010, it stands out from the rest in terms of pure musicianship and talent. The attention to detail and production are above my expectations. Miami being my favourite song from the album.


Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols

The influence of Iggy Pop & The Stooges has entered Great Britain, it's 1976 and the working class scum have embraced Punk Rock and gave it to the public of England, in a weak political, rebellious form. This is the album that kick started the Punk Rock movement, later the famed and glorified Post-Punk movement of England. Today people see John Lydon or Johnny Rotten, as a washed up old, ugly, psychotic C list celebrity. That's fair, he's doing adverts for Country Life butter.

Ignoring the modern day vision of Sex Pistols, putting yourself in the mind of a 17 year old from 1976, you can see how the youth of England embraced Sex Pistols. Holidays In The Sun, starts in a marching like style, before erupting into distortion. The song is about a holiday to the island of Jersey, which the obviously disliked for it's lack of enjoyment. then focusing on a trip to Berlin. The chord progressions here follow a similar pattern of The Jam's In The City.

Bodies, keeps up with the pace, the volume increased. By this time you're used to the Sex Pistols sound. The lyrics being about abortion. God Save The Queen is nostalgic to here. It managed to reach number 2 on the charts, some say it was kept off the top spot because of the lyrical matter. These are conspiracies however, i can see how and why. The lyrics 'No future, no future, no future for you' ring out during this song. The kids loved it, i remember reading that Ricky Gervais used to play it everyday when he got back from school. 

Anarchy In The UK puts the hairs up on your back it truly does, the opening lyrics.. 'I am an Antichrist, i am an Anarchist' just sums up the Sex Pistols movement. It's a call out to teenagers, to get off their arses and rebel against their teachers and parents. This song is the highlight to the album, closely followed by God Save The Queen. 

Pretty Vacant, is one of the most known Sex Pistols tracks, it follow a standard structure, with a chorus that rings out. Rotten does a great vocal take on this track. Submission is one of my favorites, it has a Ska feel to it but in the Punk manner, the vocals sound modern and a huge influence on the Post-Punk vocal style.

EMI, ends the album. The message being the focus to this song. It's all about the exploitation of an artists music output, unlimited edition's, re-issues.. E.M.I being in the firing point. Ironically, Virgin records, who Sex Pistols were signed to, was sold to E.M.I in the 1990's.
It's a strong album, the lyrics needed to be good to keep the listener tuned. The music gets repetitive after a number of continuous listens. The message is strong, the image is strong.. You can criticize the basic structures, but Sex Pistols didn't care about this. They wanted to get the message across to the youths and that's what they managed to do. Regardless of our opinion, they did a good job at influencing a massive part of Post-Punk as well as the revival.