Yuzima – ‘Anarchy’

NYC singer/songwriter Yuzima has dropped the first single from his upcoming LP The Machine. “The song is a combustion of post punk and hard rock energy and a gigantic chorus” which Yuzima says was inspired by Nirvana, punk and hard rock bands.

Yuzima’s ‘Anarchy’ is out now

I’ve mentioned New Yorker Yuzima here a couple of times before, notably in this interview and this review of 2012’s Sound Opera: Project One. New single ‘Anarchy’ is aptly titled, more lo-fi, gritty and angry than anything he has produced before.

Yuzima has a steadily rising profile, with features in a number of gay lifestyle webzines and plugs by, er, me, in some of those proper magazines I writer for such as Under the Radar Magazine and John Robb’s Louder Than War. Despite this, ‘Anarchy’ is a bravely difficult track; for someone with pop sensibilities to make something so impenetrable, raucous and yes, anarchic, is a bold artistic risk.

The track opens with a riff that sounds a little like a post metal take on ‘Satisfaction’. After this it takes a hard listen, but there are some lovely U2-esque guitar sounds underneath all that distortion, whilst Yuzima’s vocals convey real anguish despite the difficulty in understanding the actual lyrics. The song devolves into utter chaos, but if a sense of anarchy is what its writer is looking to achieve then he’s hit the nail on the head.

‘Anarchy’ is out now on Yuzima’s own UZEE label. Full album The Machine is set to be released in the fall/autumn.

Old Man Diode & Rick Holland – The King Krill

Old Man Diode & Rick Holland
The King Krill

2011 was a strange year for Brian Eno. Coldplay re-hired him as producer on the confusingly-named Mylo Xyloto, but rather than innovate and subsequently invigorate as he has with so many artists, the record was by-the-numbers and instantly forgettable, clinging to the coattails of 2010’s pop darlings with brightly lit neon claws. Meanwhile Eno also collaborated with poet Rick Holland on the LP Drums Between the Bells and Panic of Looking EP; a record described as having ”all the spirit of Microsoft Excel.

The King Krill

Perhaps surprisingly, the split from Eno appears to have reinvigorated Holland. Now he has teamed up with grizzly electronic scientist Old Man Diode on The King Krill, a hyperactive dance record a million miles from his earlier, more space-gazing affairs. Drum machines throb and buzz relentlessly, interwoven with synths with enough space afforded for breath that the album treads a neat line between gorgeous trance and smart drum & bass. Meanwhile the numerous collaborators are vocalists such as Chris James and Beth Rowley, whose soulful singing offers a neat counterpoint to music that drips of artificial intelligence.

Also King Krill

There is a wealth of ideas on offer here, numerous avenues explored with modulated vocals, chopped up drums and the aforementioned synths coming together to create fraught and threatening soundscapes. Nonetheless, at just eight tracks and 37 minutes long there’s never any danger of The King Krill tipping over into proggy self-indulgence as OMD (no, not them) and Holland expand on their numerous ideas.

Can – The Lost Tapes

Towards the start of his book-cum-memoir It’s Only a Movie, the film critic Mark Kermode pre-emptively confesses that ‘what you’re going to get… is a version of my life which has been written and directed by me, and on which I have acted as editor, cinematographer, consultant, composer and executive producer.’ It’s a frank admission, albeit a fairly obvious one.

Can - The Lost Tapes

Still, it’s a succinct reminder at the start of this review that, in the eyes of both the individual and the collective, that which we hold dear tends to take on an alternative, sepia-tinged history in our memories. Just as Tom Hanks plays every role the same, John Peel listened to some utter dross, The Simpsons has had more bad episodes than great and no one every actually liked studying Shakespeare, one thing that The Lost Tapes reminds us is that for all their genius, Can weren’t quite perfect.

Read the full review here.

Joe Walsh – Analog Man


Joe Walsh - Analog Man

Joe Walsh hasn’t released an album in 20 years; you have to go back another 20 or so to find him at his peak. The world has changed a lot in that time, and Joe Walsh wants you to know this. “Welcome to cyberspace, I’m lost in a fog, everything’s digital, I’m still analogue” is the album’s opening line, backed by one of those Seventies riffs that Never Mind The Bollocks was supposed to ensure we would never have to endure again. ‘HEY I’M AN OLD MAN,’ it screams, ‘BUT I CAN STILL ROCK OUT!’

Read full review here.

Squarepusher – Ufabulum

While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that… I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method… is love.

Squarepusher - Ufabulum

Without wishing to traipse into the questionable world of clairvoyance, it’s probably fair to say that David Lynch wasn’t looking to succinctly surmise the problematic mind of the critic when he wrote that famous speech for every critic’s favourite Twin Peaks character. Nonetheless, in our professional lives at least, we can all share Albert Rosenfield’s view of the world as a beautiful and intriguing place that we love, tempering it with a weariness and cynicism.

Dedicating so much of our time to discovering new music and rediscovering that of the past means that artistic clichés become apparent to – and equally decipherable by – us far more quickly than to those keen to just enjoy the art form rather than analyse and scrutinise it. Beach House’s Teen Dream is barely two-years-old, and already the reverb-drenched record featuring a pretty girl and ethereal guitars isn’t good enough for just being gorgeous. Equally the veteran artist with a vast discography ‘rediscovering their roots’ is all-too often a euphemistic admission that they’re out of new ideas.

Read the full review here.

Gaggle – From the Mouth of the Cave

Gaggle - From the Mouth of the Cave

A game of word association may not be the most obvious way to open a review of every East London hipster’s next favourite band, but if I say “21-strong all-female choir” then I fear I might struggle to convince you not to think “£2.99 in the supermarket.”

From the Mouth of the Cave, the debut album from 21-strong all-female choir Gaggle will not be selling for £2.99 in the supermarket. With a sound described as both R&B and electronic rock and compared to Animal Collective, The Flaming Lips and Aphex Twin (although “The lovechild of Bananarama and Björk” might be my favourite), it’s actually difficult to see what the commercial appeal of this record is to a market that currently sees The Voice trending on Twitter every weekend. None of the above descriptions are in any sense wrong, but nor are they remotely helpful in describing Gaggle’s sound; indeed the real worry is that something that can be described so enigmatically runs the risk of being dismissed as a frothy novelty by the reader.
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Devin – Romancing

Devin - Romancing

Sometimes it’s nice to have our expectations confounded. After all, who could have foretold that Radiohead’s first post-‘Pop is Dead’ extended release would be the glorious My Iron Lung EP? That Game of Thrones would be a show more akin to The Wire than Lord of the Rings? Or that Robson and Jerome’s Jerome would be such a brilliant badass in it?

Brooklynite Devin does not confound our expectations.

With the confidently monikered singer slouched on the front cover replete with quiff like an aptly monochrome James Dean, his debut album Romancing is one that cannot quite be judged by its cover. Hyperactive power pop punk guitar riffs and soulful blues-tinged vocals are the overwhelming hallmarks of a record that’s rock returned to its pre-counter culture movement days; it’s as if Can, Pink Floyd and Bowie never happened.

Read the full review here.

Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions

Billy Bragg & Wilco - Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions

One of the criticisms levelled at the new Sean Penn movie This Must Be The Place is that whilst it captures the quirkiness of small-town America almost perfectly, it fails to comment on it. A fair enough point, and one that reminded me of the wonderful writing of Woody Guthrie, whose lyrics and music take the listener on a road trip through the heart of a fascinating country: Mark Twain set to an acoustic guitar, or a musical Kerouac (just about) on the wagon. In the documentary Man in the Sand Guthrie’s daughter Nora describes him as “Huckleberry Finn, floating past the settled folk on the shore, and very glad to be floating by”, combining the vernacular and the deeply personal with the political commentary that coloured the likes of ‘This Land is Your Land’.

After her father’s death at the young age of 55, Nora Guthrie discovered that he had written over 3,000 lyrics without music. Given Guthrie’s importance in both folk music and American culture it would be almost crass to allow all his work to go undiscovered; after all, he was the voice of the dispossessed, the sunken American Dream, the ‘Dust Bowl troubadour’, the man who inspired the music and poetry of Bob Dylan. It seems obvious now that Billy Bragg, with his famed beliefs in both liberal ideals and folk revivalism, should set to music the writing of a man whose guitar bore the legend “This machine kills fascists.” Equally obvious it seems is that the work should be a collaboration with Wilco in their post-Being There guise, riding on the back of one of the finest alt-country Americana record of the Nineties.

Read the full review here.

North Atlantic Oscillation – Fog Electric

North Atlantic Oscillation – Fog Electric

There are certain things in life that are universally considered easy targets for us critics: Britpop, Uwe Boll, romantic fiction aimed at teenagers who have a thing for the supernatural, and perhaps above all, Scotland. A willing patsy to be a vehicle for bigoted propaganda, a desolate wasteland north of The Wall with a national dish of offal & heroin, whose best-known contribution to world culture is The Fucking Proclaimers.

Except that’s neither true nor fair, is it? It’s the country that gave us David Byrne, Simple Minds (who weren’t always shit), Mogwai, Boards of Canada, Belle & Sebastian (if that’s your thing), Teenage Fanclub and now, in a similar mould, North Atlantic Oscillation, whose sophomore album Fog Electric is out on April 30th.
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Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls

Remember The Bravery? They did that song ‘An Honest Mistake’? For those of you not thinking ‘Hmm, oh yeahhhhhh…’ they were going to be The Next Big Thing, a huge band who would follow in the perplexingly successful footsteps of The Killers by, er, sounding almost exactly like them. Like a crap Mystic Meg, NME predicted a similar wildly thriving career for these guys (citation needed, but it sounds like something they would say), with hit after hit soon to be belted out at ‘indie’ nights in clubs in places like Manchester.

Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

Now in the same vein as The Killers, their contemporaries The Kings of Leon have their own burgeoning Southern States soundalikes in Alabama Shakes. Earlier this year the band played three sold-out shows at London’s The Boston Arms, the first of which was enthusiastically tweeted about by Russell Crowe – you know, from 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. I was there too, and I stood next to one of the not-famous ones from Oasis, who seemed happy if a bit bemused by it all. Soon after the endorsement of these musical luminaries the likes of NME and The Guardian were predicting that the release of the band’s debut LP Boys & Girls would see Alabama Shakes take over the whole universe (and beyond!).

Read the full review here.

Daniel Rossen – Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP

Daniel Rossen - Silent Hour/Golden Mile

There are certain things in life that as much as I may always enjoy them, I’d never list them amongst my favourites: Italian food, Australian wine, a Sachin Tendulkar innings, Scorcese… and, I guess, the music of Daniel Rossen, who has spent the past 11 or so years in New York as part of both Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles. The West Coast that Rossen grew up on has always tended to colour his bands’ hugely acclaimed – yet oddly low on mainstream success – pop sound with an enhanced feeling of warmth, and the same is true of his debut solo EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile. In fact, I’m sorta loath to criticise something this sun-drenched, this well-crafted, and this characteristically gorgeous.

Read the full review here.

Alabama 3 – Shoplifting 4 Jesus

Alabama 3 - Shoplifting 4 Jesus

Revisionism is the most unfair thing, isn’t it? Over recent years its cruel fist has grasped and withered a number of hapless victims, from the likes of former cricketer Andrew Flintoff to Lost, from Ray Winstone movies to the Nineties trip-hop movement. Beloved in their heyday by millions, their reputations now are windblown by a combination their fans’ collective ageing and the dawn of the hipster. As, it turns out, overblown cricket-related drop intros aren’t really appreciated around here, I suppose it’s the latter two examples that are a bit more pertinent to the new record from Alabama 3.

Read the full review here.

Dodgy – Stand Upright in a Cool Place

Dodgy - Stand Upright in a Cool Place

You remember 24, right? You know that season it did where Jack Bauer had to fight the terrorists? The ones who had a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles, and if Jack couldn’t find the Big Bad at the centre of a series of nefarious villains in Russian Doll form then “tens of thousands of people WILL DIE”? No, not that one; that was the one with the super virus. And no it wasn’t the vaguely Middle Eastern fundamentalist, it was the corporate bigwig. I think there were political machinations going on.

Much like the writers on the once-brilliant (yes stupid, but brilliant) 24, those of us writing about the current wave of Britpop revitalisation are quickly running low on threads to follow:

“Pulp! Blur! They were brilliant!”

“It’s a sad sign of our childhood heroes descending into money grubbing corporate shills!”

“Cast! Elastica! HA HA HA HA HA!”

Read the full review here.

Cast – Troubled Times

This one didn’t go down to well on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere, and I’m pretty sure I’m banned from Liverpool now.

The worst album I have ever reviewed.

Back in the summer of 2008, England’s outrageously talented-yet-mercurial batsman Kevin Pietersen played in a one day international against New Zealand at Durham. It was in this match, against the medium-pace bowler Scott Styris that he coined what soon became known as the switch-hit: a shot which involved him switching from a right- to a left-handed grip and stance midway through the delivery, and cleanly sending the ball soaring into the stands for six. It was something that had never quite been done before; perhaps a bit derivative of the reverse sweep, but nonetheless a piece of batting that required incredible skill, and made headlines throughout the ensuing series.

A few days later I was opening the batting for a local village team in Northamptonshire. After two balls of steady accumulation, I decided that now was the time to emulate Pietersen and unleash the switch-hit. I adjusted my stance, swapped my hands around, dropped the bat, pivoted on my left foot and fell – with all the grace of a swan caught in barbed wire – on to my stumps, shattering the bails and being comprehensively and ignominiously out. So humiliated was I, that with a small total to chase in the second innings, our captain demoted me to tenth in the batting order, just ahead of a small child, to save me the humiliation of having to face the fielding side again.

Read the full review (which follows this cricketing preamble) here.

Pulp – Freaks (reissue)

Writing something negative about Pulp is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Among the perhaps dozens of us that have listened them, it’s almost become de rigeur to discuss Pulp’s first three albums in the context of the band’s later success as art pop giants of the Britpop era. With 1983 debut It this is fairly understandable given its frothy, lightweight pop aesthetic (but more on that elsewhere): 1987 follow-up Freaks, on the other hand, is an entirely different proposition, not to mention, Jarvis Cocker aside, an entirely different band.

Pulp - Freaks

Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing straight away though, and it pains me to say this as someone who has idolised Jarvis for many a year: Freaks is not a particularly good record. Rather, it’s an interesting aberration in the trajectory of Pulp’s sound. There’s no nuance in here, no room for interpretation: this is the band at their most bleak, staring deep into an abyss of hopeless despair, where misshapes, mistakes and misfits are raised on a diet of broken dreams and hearts rather than biscuits. That sense of the little guy winning out that would characterise Different Class is absent here, replaced by a sorrowful void: “Your soul just dried away/There’s no love left in your body/Standing empty forever/And colder every day”.

Read the full review here.

Mark Mulholland – The Cactus and the Dragon

Mark Mulholland - The Cactus and the Dragon

I sat down to write this review of Mark Mulholland’s new album at around midday today; it is now 18:55. The problem I’m having with writing this preamble is that I’m about to start discussing a twenty-first century indie-folk singer, a description that will no doubt bring forth memories of the likes of Camera Obscura and Scottish contemporaries Belle & Sebastian: in other words, twee farts of nothing that should by rights have you running for the nearest rusty scalpel with which to remove your own ears. But then I’d quite like you to keep reading this, so please disperse said images from your mind and give this album a chance.

Read the full review here.

Dear Reader – Idealistic Animals

No we don’t really know what’s going on here

I’ll confess, I never studied to be a critic, or a journalist, or a writer; it’s a sometime thing I managed to stumble into by a combination of luck and borderline-obsessive geekiness when it came to music. Nevertheless, over the past year or so I’ve managed to pick up on one or two of the rules along the way: for example, any new Morrissey record must mention alienation of fans, anything with a vaguely African sound or origin will be compared to Graceland, and anything out of the European continent must have been influenced by Krautrock… right?
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Yuzima – Sound Opera Project One

Yuzima, an unlikely champion of European industrial rock, straight out of The Bronx

Despite my predilection for 1980s post punk and new wave music, and all their spin offs, I have never been to their spiritual home of New York. Nor have I ever visited hipster techno Mecca Detroit, and I have only briefly touched upon the sprawling west coast melting pot of new musical genres that is Los Angeles. As those who have never spent much time in the north west of England might struggle to find an affinity with the Madchester scene of the early 90s, it leaves me with a slightly ashamed sense of fraudulence when it comes to professing my love for the music born of these wonderful cultural springs; in fact when it comes to writing about the indie scene of bygone epochs my conscience can only really be settled by considering how much time I’ve spent in Berlin.
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Precious Jules – Precious Jules

Precious Jules - Precious Jules

Let’s not waste any time… Let’s get… waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasted” sneers Australian punk mainstay Kim Salmon at the opening of ‘A Necessary Evil’ from the self-titled debut of his new project Precious Jules. No, I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading now. It should be a pretty embarrassing line, reminiscent of the drooping faux-punks beloved of small town pubs on a Friday night (those of you with tickets to the Stone Roses gigs might enjoy this as a dry run), and so cringe-worthy with its curbed enthusiasm that it has to be some sort of satire, right?

Read the full review here.

Department of Eagles – The Cold Nose (reissue)

Department of Eagles - The Cold Nose

By the time this article gets published, and you sit down to read/skim/troll it, Christmas celebrations will finally be done and dusted, Jools Holland will have quietly gone away, and it’ll be 2012. So as per tradition, what are your New Year’s resolutions?

“To stop making New Year’s resolutions, hur hur hur.”

Shut up, you’re an idiot whose cynicism is exactly 0.001% as funny as you think; at least show some small ambition. Mine, for example, is to stop shoehorning Radiohead references and comparisons into every single piece I write for Drowned in Sound this year, which makes reviewing the reissue of Department of Eagles’ 2003 debut The Cold Nose a bit of a pain in the arse. Not that this will dissuade me from giving it a go, but just as a caveat, this really sounds quite a bit like Radiohead.

Read the full review here.

REM – Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth

This one goes out to the one I love

Those that know me, or even know my writing and its youthful naïveté (OK Wilco’s The Whole Love might not be the best album of the decade) will be unsurprised to know that I’ve never been in a relationship that has lasted thirty years. In truth, although I’ve always loved REM’s music, it’s only in recent years that I’ve taken the plunge into their stunning pre-Out of Time oeuvre. And yes, whilst we had difficulties towards the end, and despite the real brevity of the relationship, I was crushed by the breakup.

Now, there’s a 1998 Hirokazu Koreeda film called After Life, the basic premise of which is that after you die, you stop off on your way to the afterlife to have your favourite memories committed to videotape (this may sound familiar to Radiohead geeks). With Part Lies, Part Truth, Part Garbage REM have done the hard work for us, the highlights of their extensive career compiled chronologically for the first time. At two hours thirty minutes it’s something of an epic, though for the first three quarters of the album time flies by: I know every scene by heart, and they all move by so fast.
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Can – Tago Mago 40th Anniversary Edition

My first ever 10/10 review…

Can - Tago Mago

Hey, you know what’s cool? Smoking (Drowned in Sound in no way endorses the view that smoking is cool). Think back through the history of pop culture going right back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, or even the era of great European cinema before that; the smell of cigarette smoke pervades both its great characters and its screen idols: James Dean, Richard Burton, Fellini, Fassbinder, Paul Newman and Jack Nicholson. The same can be said of the great pop music icons; smoking is the Sixties counter culture movement, smoking is Dylan, Tom Waits and Hendrix, smoking is Keith Richards. You know who’s anti-smoking? Michael Bolton. No one wants to be Michael fucking Bolton. So, smoking is rock and roll, and smoking is cool.

Read the full review here.

What’s the point of Snow Patrol?

“Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.”
“Homer Simpson, smiling politely.”

As introductions go, it’s arguably one of the most quotable in pop culture history. It wasn’t just Homer being introduced to the low-fi indie rock scene of the 1990s, but legions of Simpsons fans who had never listened to the likes of the Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth; bands who may have been borne of the grunge era, but had their roots in the late 70s/early 80s post punk movement. Had the episode ‘Homerpalooza’ been made a few years later (and in Scotland), then it could have appropriately featured MOR V Festival staples Snow Patrol amongst its guests.

Snow Patrol - Fallen Empires

Before ‘Chasing Cars’, before Final Straw even, before ‘Run’, the band was hardly recognisable from that which would grow like some cash-diluted version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into a kind Fisher Price Coldplay. Their 1997 debut EP Starfighter Pilot, and the following LPS Songs for Polar Bears (1998) and When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up (2001) were noisy, discordant post-rock. Even if tracks such as ‘Get Balsamic Vinegar… Quick You Fool’, ‘The Last Shot Ringing in my Ears’ and the less-than-subtly-titled ‘Post Punk Progression’ weren’t on a par with their contemporaries in terms of quality, there was still a sense that this was a band that would rather be The Fall than U2.
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Brian Eno & Rick Holland – Panic of Looking EP

Brian Eno & Rick Holland - Panic of Looking

Having now met a portion of the DiS community I get the feeling that the majority of readers and writers on this site are, shall we say, a little bit geeky, and as such probably don’t need the concept of the technological singularity explaining to them in great depth. Still, I had to take a trip to Wikipedia to remind myself, so it’s probably worth a brief recap that said singularity concerns the ‘hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which the future becomes difficult to understand or predict.’

Read the full review here.

King Midas Sound – Without You

King Midas Sound - Without You

“Chaos reigns” were the words of the self-disembowelling fox in the film I watched last night. With its darker-than-night themes of grief, guilt and despair, its anarchic narrative and its incredible cinematic beauty, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist does share some common ground with the music of King Midas Sound, one of the guises of musician/journalist Kevin Martin, who released his/their debut long player Waiting for You back in 2009.

It was a chilling album, if something of a throwback to the Nineties trip hop scene, reminiscent of the likes of Portishead and Death in Vegas and yet sounded perfectly contemporary. If not unpleasant, it wasn’t an easy album to listen to; nonetheless, underneath its twisted sonic limbs were enough hooks and wry pop culture references (lines lifted directly from Elvis Costellos ‘Love Went Mad’) to make it an interesting and worthwhile addition to any musicophile’s late-Noughties record collection.

Read the full review here.

Radiohead – TKOL RMX1234567


Here’s a quandary for you: when reviewing a record, should the music critic view the album as a standalone work and assess its merits compared to its contemporary peers, or should it be viewed in the wider context of an artists’ back catalogue? Should I be praising this new offering from Radiohead as a decent album with some good songs on, or should I really take into account just how much better they can be and, moreover, have been?

Not that the catchy-titled TKOL RMX1234567 is really an album, as such. Instead we have a collection of remixes of the band’s last full-length release The King of Limbs, which was a nice little foray into new territory if perhaps not quite worth the four year wait, from a number of artists whose work the band – and Thom Yorke in particular – have earnestly advocated over recent years. Most of the remixes here are, if not pleasant, then certainly enjoyable: Caribou’s reworking of ‘Little By Little’, Four Tet’s ‘Separator’ and Jamie xx’s ‘Bloom’ are all interesting takes, whilst Altrice’s ‘TKOL’ nicely condenses the whole album into a six-minute stretch.
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Yann Tiersen – Skyline

Yann Tiersen - Skyline

Short-sighted, unfair and ignorant: music fans in the western world are a fickle bunch, but it would be crass to tar them all with the same brush. However when it comes to the music of Yann Tiersen these are appropriate adjectives for the majority of us who are familiar with him simply as The Guy Who Did The Soundtrack To Amelie (I can claim innocence in this respect, having discovered him when studying Goodbye Lenin, which he also contributed the soundtrack to). With a further two scores, numerous collaborations and contributions, not to mention six studio albums to his name, it is doing Tiersen an injustice to remember him solely for aiding numerous indie kid crushes a full decade ago.

Read the full review here.

Theophilus London – Timez are Weird These Days

Theophilus London - Timez are Weird These Days

Back in September 2008, the British author and former MI6 agent John Le Carré wrote an article entitled ‘The Madness of Spies’ for The New Yorker. He described working for the British intelligence agency during the Cold War as surprisingly banal work, so lacking in adventure that spies would create their own imaginary missions just to stave off the incredible boredom that the job brought about. He talks of an ostensibly perilous covert operation with an older intelligence officer, only to discover that the mission was the officer’s own work of fiction.

This kind of fictionalised dangerous glamour, the delusion of anonymous powerful figures with murky agendas trying to put a bullet in your back is a nice allegory for the world of mainstream hip-hop. It is a similarly tenuous grasp on reality in their work that has sold the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West so many records to critical acclaim. It’s certainly music that’s meant to entertain rather than invite empathy; more Arnie than Woody Allen.

Read the full review here.

Wilco – The Whole Love

I was drunk on a train when I wrote this, and may have been over-effusive. It’s still a brilliant album.

The last time I wrote a review cautiously praising a band for a slow return to form, that band was REM, who shocked the music world with a split mere months later. Now, I like Wilco a lot, still enjoy their music and would dearly love to see the indie legends live someday; I’m not the superstitious type, but I have no desire to tempt fate and see the same happen to the Chicago group.

Wilco - The Whole Love

Having said that (what a wonderful phrase that is, completely negating my entire carefully constructed preamble), The Whole Love is immediately recognisable as Wilco’s best album since their 2001 classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot following two steady if unspectacular albums of gorgeous alt country. There is a great deal more innovation here; the sound of a band bloodily tearing out a skin it had grown comfortable in.
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Death in Vegas – Trans-Love Energies

Death in Vegas - Trans-Love Energies

Extended lengths of time between creative periods tend to go one of two ways. Sometimes they allow the artist time to breathe, to take on new perspectives and gain new experiences: and fans of Kate Bush and Gil Scott Heron will rightly tell you that this allow the artist to return stronger than ever; that the artist has never sounded so inspired, so fresh and so creative. On the other hand there are the likes of Guns‘N Roses or author George R.R. Martin, whose fallow periods left them creatively bereft and stale, often with a vast mess of impenetrable ideas: talking a lot but not saying anything, as Talking Heads might put it.

Read the full review here.

John Cale – Extra Playful EP

John Cale - Extra Playful

I feel it’s a good idea to clarify at the outset that in this review I am writing about THE John Cale, i.e. the one from The Velvet Underground, the one who has been performing since 1963 and recording avant garde and experimental music for almost as long… 69-year old John Cale.

Before I am castigated for ageism, I feel it necessary to clarify that this is an important point because it is unusual for someone at this stage of their life and career to take a pop direction, and yet with the first two tracks, at least, of new EP Extra Playful, this is exactly what Cale appears to have done. Certainly no misnomered record, Extra Playful sounds more fun, excited and full of joie de vivre than anything else in Cale’s extensive discography. For a man who, after years of drugs and alcohol use now claims to drink nothing stronger than coffee, this is one hell of a caffeinated record.

Read the full article here.

Cassettes Won’t Listen – EVINSPACEY

This was the first piece I wrote for Drowned in Sound.

Cassettes Won't Listen - EVINSPACEY

In the first half of the previous decade a trend for melancholy developed in the cinema; a fashion for comic films with an air of romance, bleakly tinged with sadness or even tragedy. It’s a genre that Woody Allen perfected in the Seventies and Eighties, but seemed to fall out of favour in the Nineties as quickly as the quality of Allen’s films diminished. Then at the end of that decade Sam Mendes and Alan Ball combined to produce the pitch-perfect American Beauty, a film about Lester Burnham: a man who is horrified to find himself drifting comfortably through the modern world with no real direction and only the vaguest idea of just what he was doing in life. It was a theme that resonated partially thanks to Ball’s script and Mendes’ direction, but primarily thanks to an outstanding and thereafter oft-mimicked lead performance from Kevin Spacey.

Read the full article here.

Battles – Gloss Drop

Battles - Gloss Drop

The loss of a lead singer to an acclaimed, commercially or critically, band, is not a new phenomenon: Iron Maiden, Deep Purple and Van Halen are united not only by a predilection for cheesy hair rock, but also by their continuing after the loss of a frontman. Influential 60s mod rockers The Small Faces coped with the loss of Steve Marriott by disbanding and reforming with Ron Wood on guitar and Rod Stewart vocals under the slightly unimaginative name The Faces and found modest success (although the less said about their later incarnation, with Mick Hucknall replacing Stewart, the better). Perhaps most famously of all, when Peter Gabriel left Genesis it was Phil Collins who stepped up from behind the drum kit, signalling a seismic shift away from a prog rock sound to deliciously unfashionable pop rock.
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Kate Bush – Director’s Cut

Kate Bush - Director's Cut

Think of all the seminal artists who would regularly feature in any hypothetical list of the most influential not only of their generation, but perhaps of all time. Whether a list compiled by Pitchfork or Q Magazine, VH1 or Drowned in Sound, some names would be inarguable: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, Can, Radiohead, David Bowie, Gil Scott-Heron. All titans of popular music, perhaps with just one common link amongst their art: the way it seamlessly progresses, constantly changes which sound natural but ensure that their music never grows stale the way that arguably second-tier artists such as U2 and REM have.
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Isaac’s Aircraft – Two is a Crowd

Isaac's Aircraft - Two is a Crowd

Remember Dylan goes electric? No, you probably don’t and nor do I, given it was 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, some 21 years before I was born. Still, the legend of the event lives on, as the hostile crowd met him at that and subsequent dates with a wall of vitriol, impassioned cries of “Judas” belying their overwhelming feel of betrayal as Dylan rejected his folk origins. It was however a period launched by the single ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, one of the greatest achievements in song writing in the history of pop music. Who says modern music fans are fickle?
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Wild Beasts – Smother

Wild Beasts - Smother

Some years ago now I went on a date to Kendal in The Lake District. At first glance it may not seem the ideal place for such an occasion: it is a remote, countryside market town with seemingly not a lot there; if it’s a satellite to anywhere then it is to Lancaster, hardly the trendiest city in England, or even the North West. However to go there and experience its charms in the middle of winter, with snow topping its hills and its limestone architecture, proves otherwise. It is a town sprinkled with warming pubs, with quaint buildings and even a chocolate shop straight out of a Dickens novel. Combine this with the potential for snowball fights on the hillside as the sun sets over the town below, and suddenly Kendal becomes something far more romantic than its nickname The Auld Grey Town might suggest: a paean to the England of Wordsworth or perhaps Nick Drake; something far removed from the urbanised Britain to which I had become accustomed.
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Panda Bear – Tomboy

Panda Bear - Tomboy

2009 and the release of the critically lauded Merriweather Post Pavilion marked something of a watershed for Animal Collective. In a matter of days it seemed the Baltimore group had leapt from being the darlings of internet message board-dwelling indie aficionados to an apparently over-exposed hipster/stoner self-parody… albeit one anointed as such by the same once-fawning online community. Owing more to Person Pitch, the solo album of drummer Panda Bear released a year previously, than any of the group’s seven previous full-length releases, the album’s dreamy neo-psychedelic textures were even picked up on this side of the Atlantic by Radio 1, with Jo Whiley’s attempts to introduce “new” music rightly earning derisive laughs for their belatedness from AC’s fanatical following. Continue reading

TV On The Radio – Nine Types of Light

This piece originally appeared on a website I recently stopped writing for when it turned out that actually listening to an album wasn’t a prerequisite for reviewing it according to the editor.

TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

When Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio released their third full-length album Dear Science, in 2008, America was in a state of flux. On the one hand, they had just endured eight years of a conservative government, whose policies and the odd bit of warmongering had caused domestic and political uproar amongst the liberal arms of the public and media. On the other, an African-American man was set to be elected commander-in-chief of the United States for the first time in history: an undeniably progressive and forward-thinking moment (perhaps more so from the perspective of a multi-racial band like TVotR) that signalled a seismic shift in the psyche of a nation previously condemned as insular and obtuse.
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She Wants Revenge – Valleyheart

I hasten to clarify, I’m not having a go at The National here.

She Wants Revenge - Valleyheart

Home, is where I want to be but I guess I’m already there” sang David Byrne on Talking Heads’ greatest love song, 1983’s ‘This Must Be the Place’. In his case it was a perfectly apposite lyric; his wiry neurotic stage persona, combined with his band’s tight, rhythm-led music was the ideal soundtrack to 1980s New York and its yuppie culture.
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REM – Collapse into Now

Had I known this would be REM’s final record then I might have been a bit kinder. This review is slightly sad for me, in retrospect

REM - Collapse into Now

In 1996 I turned ten years old, and like most ten year olds I listened to music which can, retrospectively, only be described as abysmal. My favourite album was Genesis’s live album The Way We Walk Volume I: The Shorts, and contemporary bands I thought were fantastic included Ocean Colour Scene, The Lighthouse Family and Shed Seven. In my defence I *was* ten, and so can forgive myself for missing some of the more important developments in music that year: rapper Tupac Shakur was shot dead; The Kinks, Pink Floyd and Siouxie and the Banshees split whilst Jay-Z and Eels both released their debut albums; Weezer released Pinkerton and looked set to become the saviours of punk-pop, and arguably the world’s hitherto greatest band REM released their last great album, the eclectic New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
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Radiohead – The King of Limbs

This was the first thing I wrote that really gained much attention after The Guardian’s Rob Smyth, a fellow Radiohead geek, was kind enough to post it on the OBO for the 2011 Cricket World Cup opening match between India and Bangladesh. The number of hits it got was huge compared to anything I’d written before… so thanks Rob. And in retrospect, no it’s not as good as I made out.

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

It’s February 14th, Valentine’s Day, and it’s fallen on a Monday. The love of your life, the one girl or boy who will always be truly special to you has been away for a long time; lost overseas, taking some time out, doing other things, but they call you up that morning with the best news: they’ll be back on Saturday morning, and you’ll get to be together again.
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Wire – Red Barked Tree

Some more retrospective posting of old reviews. This was the first record I reviewed in 2011, and made it into my AOTY top ten.

Wire - Red Barked Tree

Don’t get sentimental, it always ends up drivel” implored Radiohead’s Thom Yorke on ‘Let Down’, among the bleakest and most hopeless of tracks on their 1997 masterpiece OK Computer. It was a maxim for the on-rushing 21st Century, a warning to prepare ourselves for a life of detachment and ingrained cynicism… or so I’m assuming. Unfortunately I can’t retroactively read Yorke’s thoughts during the writing process, like the bastard offspring of X-Men’s Charles Xavier and Dr. Who, so it is entirely possible that he was offering future careers advice to inexplicably marginalised ageing post-punk pioneers. Maybe not plausible, but possible anyway.
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Natalie McCool – Shoot Shoot EP

This was another very early one, in which I was a lot more mean than I ever meant to be. In the unlikely event of Natalie McCool (whose name is amazing) reading this, then I apologise profusely for being a bit of an arsehole.

Natalie McCool - Shoot Shoot

Producer Steve Levine has to his credit a plethora of multi-platinum albums, having worked with the likes of Culture Club, China Crisis, Motorhead and Gary Moore. DJ Mark Radcliffe is one of the most recognised and influential broadcasters in the UK and in his time at Radio One helped to break artists such as Pulp and Nick Cave. Singer Chris Martin has 43 major award wins and a further 122 nominations to his name as Coldplay’s front man, to go alongside 50,000,000 album sales. A list of Sir Paul McCartney’s accolades, awards and achievements could fill the remainder of this review by itself, and if you’re reading this to find out whom he is then you’ve probably come to the wrong website.
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Rosie Doonan – Pot of Gold

More “youthful” hyperbole here, writing about folk singer Rosie Doonan. Who is actually quite good.

Rosie Doonan - Pot of Gold

Proverbs are crap. Meaningless patronising nuggets of horseshit, fundamentally proffered by faux-wise ageing middle-Englanders in a desperate attempt to impart some of the world-weary wisdom and lessons in life that they feel they should have attained by their age, but are too proudly stubborn to admit that they have failed to do so. Proverbs are so conceptually rubbish that for the majority of them there is a Newtonian equal and opposite fart of gibberish: “Look before you leap” vs. “He who hesitates is lost”; “Better safe than sorry” vs. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”; “First impressions are the most lasting” vs. “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.
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Attack of the 50ft Woman

This piece turned out to be a lot more positive than I intended, to the point where my bad review was quoted on the EP’s press release.

50ft Woman - Menage a Trois

London-based post-punk-pop-rock neophytes 50ft Woman are set to release their EP, the intriguingly titled Ménage á Trois, on November 1st. Appropriately the title is as simultaneously enticing and yet opaque as the name of the band itself, suggesting unknown pleasures lie within whilst offering no obvious clue as to what they might be.
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Dave Sitek – Maximum Balloon

Dave Sitek - Maximum Balloon

“I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right-turn on a red light” complained of Los Angeles one of cinema‘s great unsympathetic protagonists, Alvy Singer of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. With his thick black rimmed glasses and appeal to the contemporary indie community, of which Woody-esque neurosis appears to be a defining characteristic, you might expect a degree of empathy from New York’s Dave Sitek.
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Weezer – Hurley

Continuing my archive of old material, this was my slightly harsh review of Weezer’s Hurley

Weezer - Hurley

In 1971 Led Zeppelin reacted to the poor reception from the critics to III by releasing an untitled album, with absolutely no text on its cover, featuring instead an image of an old hunchbacked man with a bundle of sticks on his back. The album sold 37,000,000 copies, and according to the RIAA (not that I would ever recommend trusting anything the RIAA has ever said) is the fourth highest selling album in the United States.  When Rolling Stone magazine published its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time it ranked 66th, beating the likes of Off the Wall, After the Gold Rush, Remain in Light and Purple Rain. The album has come to be known in popular culture as Led Zeppelin IV although a number of other names derived from the images on the cover, including The Hermit and Sticks, are all still firmly entrenched in classic rock lore today. Cuts that didn’t make the album include fan favourites ‘Down by the Seaside’ and ‘Boogie with Stu’. Perhaps above all, it spawned ‘Stairway to Heaven’, surely the single most famous song in the entire history of rock music: heavily parodied it may be, but its lasting impact on popular culture is undeniable.
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Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

This was the first piece I ever wrote, for the now sadly defunct Noise Noise Noise. Now nicely reformatted, and not retconned for overreaction…

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

There are numerous reasons not to have particularly high hopes for the Arcade Fire’s third album. Ironically, the hype surrounding it is arguably the strongest; since 2007’s Neon Bible ensured that they were no longer the sole preserve of the fickle and ill-defined indie community and sent them soaring into Radiohead’s bracket of arena rock popularity, their follow-up would always bear a huge burden of expectation. Inevitably internet message boards and the media are falling over themselves in equal measure to stir up whoever will listen into frenzy over this record. On a personal level it was the most anticipated release since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which in retrospect may actually be the sole reason for my apprehension.
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