Thursday, 31 January 2013

Eddie's Album Round-up: January

Instead of ignoring new album releases, it's time we reviewed the albums that slipped through the nets. This will be a monthly edition taking place at the end of each month. We feel the need to review or at least mention all the major releases over the past month so we don't slip in to disarray and scramble to cover all the necessary albums like we did at the back end of last year. Don't be afraid to shout at us and mention albums we have missed.

 Pur:Pur - Nevertheless

Pur:Pur are one of Ukraine's biggest music exports. Nevertheless is the trio's third studio album and is a stark contrast to the bands poppy debut album Pure which featured the cute single "A Kiss". Pur:Pur open Nevertheless with "Fall Apart", a mellow track with brilliant electric guitar and Nata Smirina's twirling vocal. Tracks such as "GoGoGo" and "Bubble" sound like Portishead with a hint of krautrock. This is of course acoustic music and features three musicians at their peak.  

Nevertheless is extremely well produced and features all the vocal hooks, guitar riffs and clear drumming that the listeners of sophomore mini-album Understandable fell in love with. At times Pur:Pur sound like Muse, then they sound like a lounge band covering Marvin Gaye. it's incredibly surreal to listen through Nevertheless because Pur:Pur cross genres so often. They don't quite fit into one given genre, and although you could say that about any artist, it really does apply to Pur:Pur. 


Pere Ubu - Lady From Shanghai

Pere Ubu haven’t quite returned to their roots with 15th studio album Lady From Shanghai. The album opens with an industrial bleak version of Anita Ward's "Ring MyBell". And Pere Ubu's version is arguably the best track on Lady From Shanghai. The second track "Free White" offers some stiff competition and these opening two tracks standout as lo-fi industrial tracks with exceptional drumming techniques and odd ball vocals. It's not quite the post-punk that Pere Ubu created with 1978s Dub Housing, but it's still Pere Ubu. 

The once experimental masterminds behind The Modern Dance have shrivelled up with old age.  With age comes cynicism and Pere Ubu certainly have plenty of that to give on Lady From Shanghai. The adequately titled "Musicians Are Scum" shows moments of interesting guitar work, but ultimately falls in on itself when the track goes nowhere. And that pretty much sums up Lady From Shanghai. There's no real reason for Pere Ubu to release this album. It doesn't have the same quality as past releases and to call this experimental would be very pretentious of me. We have simplistic structures, poor at best lyrics and terrible vocals by David Thomas. 

At the end of the day it’s not as if Pere Ubu actually care about their output. They've said on many occasions how little they care about their commercial status. It takes a lot of effort not to take musically so seriously, and as 'musicians', Pere Ubu doesn’t do themselves any favours. They must welcome the average / mediocre to negative reviews of their albums, and laugh at the few that still give positive reviews to what is quite simply music written and recorded in one hour. 


Wave Machines - Pollen

Liverpool wouldn't be the first place on your list to look for new music. It's as if musical exports from Merseyside are considered gimmicky because of The Beatles success. Furthermore, you always remember when a band is from Liverpool. It's not like the Manchester bands we remember because of the effect they had on 80's, 90's and 00's music, it's just common knowledge to remember their whereabouts. Who can forget the big C's, The Coral, Clinic and Elvis Costello? So now when a band from Merseyside is described to me as 'indie rock with some funk and electronics', It's not a surprise that my level of interest is immediately dropped. 

Pollen is Wave Machines' second album, and it's no surprise that their debut album Wave If You're Really There was off the radar in 2009. Four years later and Wave Machines are still releasing the art rock like material they were back when Merriweather Post Pavilion came out. "Ill Fit" has a great electronic beat, and if it wasn't for the funky bass and ambient intro, it could be used by Rihanna. Theirs a serious pop aesthetic going on in this track. That's repeated on "Walk Before I Run" and "Gale". Pollen sounds like a well-produced and almost entirely electronic version of Tame Impala. The structures are exciting, as are the vocal effects and ambient segments, which are unexpected and unique. 

I'm struggling to find any authenticity and that’s very bad, especially when you have taken four years to release a sophomore album. Pollen is an album that rightfully isn't on the radar. Just like Wave Machines' debut album, Pollen never comes across as different and it certainly fails to capture my attention and memory. It does have three / four enjoyable tracks, "Ill Fit" being the better of these, with its pop structured dance beat and brilliant electronic drum pattern. Wave Machines just aren’t strong enough to breakthrough and compete with the Everything Everything's of today.


Serafina Steer - The Moths Are Real

Serafina Steer left Trinity College of Music with 1st class honours, something that doesn’t surprise me when listening to The Moths Are Real. It's her third album, and again, the third time Steer has been featured in the Sunday papers and alternative online music websites. You know the kind I'm talking about, where a 50 year old critic reviews the album in five sentences, gives it 3/5 stars and then signs off with his initials. The Moths Are Real is an album that suits this style of review, because although it's not the most commercially viable of albums, it's clearly not left-field either.

One artist pops into the mind when listening to this album, Joanna Newsom. If you've listened to JoNo before then you'll make this connection after 30 seconds of "Night Before Mutiny", one of the stronger tracks on The Moths Are Real. It doesn't compare to the standout track that follows, "Machine Room". Here we see Steer deliver a brilliantly written song with her Vashti Bunyan-esque vocals with light percussion and an absolute killer bridge. The album goes from strength to strength with "Ballad of Brick Lane" and then the atmospheric "Lady Fortune". 

Steer doesn't have the vocal ability or structural capacity as America's Joanna Newsom. But Steer stands out as a classic British folk / singer-songwriter artist who plays one of the hardest instruments to master, the harp. The listener can hear classic medieval instruments that work together such as a recorder, an organ, Steer's ever-present harp and a flute. It reminds me of Anthems In Eden, the classic British folk masterpiece by Shirley and Dolly Collins. Steer has another album which enhances her position in British folk music. The Moths Are Real is an interesting addition to her catalogue of joyous folk music. 


The Peoples Temple - More For The Masses

I've been sitting on this album for four months, which is a long time to be sitting on an album to be honest, it hurts. I saw The Peoples Temple live in 2012, where they played facing the skyline of downtown New York City, where the sun was setting and their fans came out to enjoy the show. More For The Masses is The Peoples Temple's second album, after Sons of Stone dropped a year prior in 2011. This genre of music is incredibly hard to critique, because it's always too bloody good to be cynical towards. Like fellow garage rockers Allah-Lah's, The Peoples Temple just have that 60s vibe, that excites me no matter what mood I'm in, or what the weather is out of my window. 

More For The Masses, just like Allah-Lah's self-titled album falls flat on its knees. There are many reasons why I enjoy More For The Masses, many of them to do with the garage rock frenzy "Looter's Game" and the psych masterpiece "Nevermore", it's just a shame they take a different direction. Thankfully for us reviews, we can be critical over this change of musical direction slap bang in the middle of the album with "Restless". They go from this cool Creation-esque rawness to the delicate rhythms and tranquillity of 1990s shoegaze such as Ride. Now that's incredibly confusing and somewhat silly of The Peoples Temple. "Restless" isn't a bad song, it's arguably one of the best on the album; it just doesn’t fit.

This is of course the genre The Peoples Temple has to follow. And mixing genres and decades like this is foolish and not at all innovative. There's only one reason as to why I didn't review this album sooner, and that's because it's not a very good album underneath all the distortion and 60s vibes. The tracks that are psych / garage rock sound very similar and offer no modern twist, just like Allah-Lah's, which is why I have not reviewed that album either. 


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Iceage - You're Nothing

Iceage are releasing their sophomore album You're Nothing after a two year gap since their debut New Brigade brought punk rock back to its roots. It was with New Brigade that amplified Denmark's Iceage into a new found stardom of independent punk rock with a dedicated fan base across the world. After the success of New Brigade, Iceage played small venues all over the western world, and then toured extensively playing every month in 2012 except October. It's actually amazing how Iceage have found the time to write and record a follow-up album. Don't let this put you off though, because like the Danes debut album, You're Nothing barely hits the half hour mark.

"Ecstasy" opens the album with two and a half minutes of what could be Kevin Shields and co in the very early days of My Bloody Valentine. It's loud, raw, in your face and its punk. The guitars are layered and then the drumming hits with extremely distorted percussion. Lead vocalist Elias Bender Ronnefelt shouts: "Pressure," followed by: "oh god no, can't take this pressure." It's one of the few lyrics we're able to decipher, because even though Ronnefelt sings in English, it's still punk, and you know as well as I do that punk lyrics are one of the hardest to understand. With "Ecstasy", Iceage transform from this quiet and almost shy group of Danish teenagers to a mature, grounded and worldly band. Ronnefelt uses the word ecstasy in correlation to his screaming repetition of the word pressure. He, alike his trio of Danish comrades feels the pressure to succeed and live up to expectation. These emotions and cynical views can be seen in almost all interviews with Iceage.

We see transitions on You’re Nothing like I mentioned above. The band has matured and Ronnefelt especially has improved his vocal and his lyrics. New Brigade was an incredibly bleak album that forced the comparisons to early Joy Division. Instead of bleak, You're Nothing takes a more personal look at Ronnefelt's emotions. "Coalition" being the prime example of Ronnefelt delivering the goods. The opening lyrics are hauntingly typical of every male indie pop band, but the music tells a different love story: "She gives me signals, but our hearts are not the same." With the abrasive guitar work and an absolutely fantastic lead guitar by Johan Surrballe Wiet. Unlike Sex Pistols or the foundations of Joy Division, Iceage know how to play their instruments. Even though they're smashing these instruments to create their volatile and industrial sounds, they still have structure and a musical quality that modern punk just doesn't have. So when listening to the third track "Interlude", you wonder why and how Iceage manage to create such sounds. The ambience, the textures, there's something quite unnatural and alien about Iceage.

"Burning Hand" cuts deep and highlights the structural significance of Iceage's music. They show that it's not all about the noise and the chord progressions, sometimes the little things are better than the big things. The bass is one of the most memorable aspects of this album, it's constantly loud and going off on tangents which I absolutely adore in music of this nature. Paired alongside this track is "In Haze", a straightforward punk track with Ronnefelt giving his all. Previously, Ronnefelt's vocal was hidden in a facade of effects, this time it's much different. There are no effects on Ronnefelt's deep and dark vocal, it sits almost perfectly on top of the lead guitar, given spectacularly by Wiet. In sharp contrast, "Morals" sounds as if Queen has given a tiny influence in what would be considered an Iceage 'ballad' track. This is where we hear the first inclusion of a piano in Iceage's work. The drum and bass come together to create a marching rhythm which opens, closes and plays its part in the centre of the track. There's also a fade out of this marching drum like pattern which is effective. The guitars follow the same pattern as the piano which sounds purposely out-of-tune, again, effective.

Two very similar tracks are played alongside each other on You're Nothing. "Everything Drifts" and "Wounded Hearts" both open with distorted bass riffs in similar fashion. These two tracks are the forgettable duo on the album. "Wounded Hearts" is the better of the two, with its loud and aggressive lead guitar and pounding drumming. It makes you want to stamp your feet on the ground and just start looking at the volume level, awaiting your hand to turn it clockwise. Then you congratulate your body for following order when the hi-hats of "It Might Hit First" enters. Punk borders noise rock at times, and Iceage are certainly on that border between punk, and excess noise. It's a spectacular sound to create with just strings and drums. And just in those 90 seconds, the track is over.

Like with New Brigade, Iceage haven’t dumped the lacklustre tracks at the back. In fact, it's hard to point out weak tracks other than those two similar tracks mentioned above. "Rodfæstet" is as raw and passionate as the first two gripping tracks. Instead of the chaotic nature of those first two tracks, "Rodfæstet" has a sort of, ease. After 40 seconds, the music drops, then picks up again. This is a recurring theme on this track. It's the "Mogwai Fear Satan" of punk rock. Loud / quiet / loud / quiet but still as fast and aggressive as the rest of the album. It's a great introduction to what is arguably the best track on You're Nothing, "Awake". After opening with a guitar riff that the post-punk revival bands of the 00s would be happy with, Iceage put distortion and reverberation on to their layers upon layers of guitar. It’s fast and fresh and highlights the differences in sound between tracks on You're Nothing.

The titular track "You're Nothing" closes the album in quite some style. These energetic Danes come together one more time for a final bashing of instruments. Ronnefelt repeats the lyric and title: "You're nothing, you're nothing," in a desperate call for aggression and revenge. It's one of the few straightforward sub two minute tracks on the album. New Brigade succeeded with short tracks that have fast and furious instrumentation, You're Nothing is similar, but far more complex and advanced than their debut album two years ago. And it comes as no surprise that You're Nothing is a strong sophomore album. At just 28 minutes, it's not exactly the longest of punk albums. Iceage have built on the energetic structures and effects of New Brigade. As expected, their follow-up is a bold and loud album that captures the imagination and musical skill of four very unique individuals who would be to blame for a surge of punk releases in the alternative scene.