Posts Tagged ‘pop’

THE POSTAL SERVICE – Manchester Academy, 18/05/2013

June 4, 2013

The standard hubbub of pre-gig chatter at tonight’s gig is even more excitable than usual, no doubt owing to the fact that tonight’s audience have been listening to The Postal Service’s sole album for a decade, with little sign of a follow-up or live performance. But when the familiar electronic pulse of ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ kicks in, that anticipation dissolves into pure joy, and everyone swiftly loosens up. Tonight is most assuredly going to be a party.

Those 10 years certainly become apparent – Jimmy Tamborello’s array of bleeps, whirrs and clicks sound curiously timid in a world still gripped by dubstep’s thudding bass.

But for all that, it’s fascinating how warm those songs still sound. From the sweeping sadness of the melodies to Ben Gibbard’s adorably nasal croon. “I watch the patchwork farms / Slow fade into the ocean’s arms,” he sighs, and suddenly it’s impossible to understand why rock music (or at least the strand known as ‘indie’) ever had any difficulty crossing over with electronica.

These songs are as gloriously affecting as anything Gibbard has composed for the guitar-focussed Death Cab For Cutie, with those softly understated loops melting imperceptibly into his typically bookish narratives. You could rarely call The Postal Service ‘dance music’ – they sure ain’t Daft Punk – but everyone present does their best to groove along, turning nearly every lovingly-memorised line into a gleeful anthem.

Two new songs have been included in the recent reissue of ‘Give Up’ – ‘Turn Around’ and ‘A Tattered Line Of String’ – but they represent the only previously-unreleased material in tonight’s set. Nothing hints at a second album.

We do, however, get Jenny Lewis duetting with Gibbard on a rapturously-received ‘Nothing Better’, a giddy Beat Happening cover (‘Our Secret’), and a brisk run-through of the track that started the whole thing: Dntel collaboration ‘(This Is) The Dream Of Evan And Chan’.

The set closes with Gibbard manning the drum kit stage left, as band and crowd alike coo, “everything will change”. Is this a sign that their productivity is about to increase? Or a line is drawn under the band for good? It’s impossible to tell, but at least everybody got what they came for: an intense hit of euphoric nostalgia. In that respect, The Postal Service certainly deliver.

(Originally published by Clash Music, 21/05/2013)

LIVERPOOL SOUND CITY – Day Two

June 4, 2013

Day two commences with math-pop heroics courtesy of Vasco da Gama. Difficult to dislike a band with such fluid mastery of musicianship, especially when they’re so goddam modest about it. There’s frequent nods to The Dismemberment Plan and Dischord Records, but for all their clever arrangements, there’s a lingering suspicion that they’re a pop band at heart. Winning choruses mesh perfectly with the frenetic fretwork of guitarist Chris Lynn, leaving early evening revellers dazed but excited.

It’s a shame that the equally energetic Hands don’t attract a bigger crowd – their forthcoming Synaesthesia album ranks amongst the most immediately catchy collections to bolt from the Kill Rock Stars stable. They bounce adorably and ecstatically around the stage, with the soaring pop melodies of songs like ‘Trouble’ suggesting there’s even better to come from a band who’ve really got this ‘hooks’ thing nailed. Keep an eye out; they could well be soundtracking your summer.

Suitably cheered, we head to The Kazimier for something a little grittier, and Bad Meds are happy to oblige. Something of a local supergroup, the band includes Vasco da Gama drummer Dave Kelly and Hot Club de Paris’ Paul Rafferty amongst their number, and as such the curious cognoscenti are out in force. Theirs is a fun and frantic take on the skate-kid hardcore of early Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, replete with knowing banter (“Has anyone been signed yet? That’s the ultimate aim of Sound City, isn’t it?”) and a gloriously sludgy cover of ‘It’s Grim Up North’. Instant favourites.

Meanwhile, up the road, the much-hyped TOY decorate the Anglican Cathedral with their mountainous noise and Cousin it haircuts – given the time they’ve probably seen their music described via the shoegaze cliché ‘sonic cathedrals’, you gotta wonder if they ever imagined they’d actually play in one. As it turns out, the venue suits their sound rather well, as woozy riffs pile into each other atop a motorik rhythm section. Some of the more subtle chord changes of ‘Colour’s Running Out’ feel a little lost in the melee, but it’s a small price to pay to have your hearing blown out so magnificently.

The dashing Dan Croll is somewhat easier on the ear, and his take on classic pop songsmithery feels positively heart-warming. An evident knack for a hummable tune is enough to make every song feel instantly familiar, almost masking the dextrous subtleties of the band behind him. More of this winsome loveliness please.

The day’s final trek to the Cathedral feels, ludicrously, like the furthest Gigwise has ever had to walk, but The Walkmen are more than worth it. As dapper as ever, the band’s newfound maturity sees the majority of the set pitching for a rather more windswept approach than the energised stress of old favourites like ‘The Rat’, and it suits ‘em pretty neatly. Difficult to believe that they’re more than a decade into their career when their manifest enthusiasm still feels so fresh.

It’s been a pretty stellar day thus far, and Gigwise begins to worry that something is bound to suck at some point. And so we come to the tipsters’ faves Savages – on hand to prove that if you’re gonna be bummed out, it should owe a debt to their own high levels of menace and intensity – they’ve drawn plenty of comparisons to Souxsie & The Banshees, but the taut funk of their basslines owes just as much to the hypertension of The Bush Tetras, while Gemma Thompson’s strafes of white-hot atonality flash across the stage like electric storms. Every song drips with vitality and purrs venomously: once bitten, you’re lost to ‘em forever. Band of the weekend? Don’t bet against it.

Melody’s Echo Chamber present a much more relaxed affair, as their dizzy psychedelic alt pop proves to be much less acrid. Their delicacy serves as a neat counterpoint to their tendency towards off-kilter shonkiness, making them lovably delirious in the best sense possible.

Over at Leaf, The Still Corners seem to be struggling with technical difficulties that delay their set by a full half hour. When their reverb-drenched indiepop finally gets going, there’s a palpable sense of relief, albeit underpinned by a sense of irritation that it’s taken this long to get going. As a result, Gigwise ends up at the back of the queue for Thee Oh Sees, whose sweat-drenched set creates such demand that the rickety old Kazimier struggles to cope. There are angry scenes as waiting punters realise they won’t get to see the show, but what we eventually manage to catch amounts to a furious blast of psyched-out garage rock. Bodies spill over the monitors as the heaving moshpit flings itself back and forth with reckless abandon; sweat-sodden riffs riding hip-swaying basslines that pummel the guts and spill out the messy yards of intestine within. You can’t help but love a good rock show.

Speaking of which, that’s precisely how Future Of The Left opt to close out the day’s events, spraying a rowdy 2am crowd with gallons of molten riffage and barbed witticisms. The somewhat inebriated audience dances, screams and collapses into dazed heaps on the ground, surrendering to the forceful rage of the band… but that’s nothing compared to what happens when FOTL unleash two classics by frontman Falco’s previous outfit Mclusky. ‘To Hell With Good Intentions’ sees the first outbreak of pure euphoria, while the bon mots of ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’ amount to a twisted singalong with everyone’s shit well and truly lost. They close with a cover of Andy Kaufman’s infamous ‘I Trusted You’ – a helluva song and bona fide contender for greatest piece of performance comedy ever devised. Which is as decent a summation of this Cardiff quartet’s modus operandi as you could possibly desire. Bed time approaches – not with a whimper, but a full-on roar.

(Originally published by Gigwise, 06/05/2013)

THE BREEDERS’ FAMILY TREE

June 4, 2013

Supergroups, eh? Who’d have ’em? 1989 may seem like a long time ago now, but back then it turned out that a collaboration between two established indie rockers needn’t necessarily be filed under ‘tedious vanity project’. The Breeders were a revelation, conjuring fractious noise and sugar-sweet melody at every available opportunity, and writing some of indie rock’s best-loved classics along the way. A band this free-spirited was bound to be home to restless muses, of course, and with the most celebrated line-up reforming to coincide with the Record Store Day re-release of classic album ‘Last Splash’, this seems like a good time to take a look at The Breeders’ family tree…

THROWING MUSES

It begins here. When half-sisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donnelly first began playing together in 1981, they couldn’t have imagined the imminent impact of their fascinatingly fractured post-punk on the nascent indie rock landscape. A blend of unconventional song structures, David Narcizo’s wonky rhythms and hallucinatory lyrics doesn’t look like much on paper, but where their contemporaries sparked fires, Muses songs positively burst into brilliant blue flames. Their early demos eventually caught the attention of 4AD label boss Ivo Watts-Russell, and before long the bemused band found themselves adored by critics and underground obsessives alike. The idiosyncratically talented Hersh wrote the bulk of the band’s material, dazzling and delighting on the bewitchingly batshit albums ‘Hunkpapa’ and ‘The Real Ramona’, but the feline yowl of Donnelly contributions such as ‘Not Too Soon’ suggested there was another significant voice amongst their ranks – one that would soon depart for pastures new.

PIXIES

There’s little to be said that hasn’t already been written about the influential screech of this Boston quartet, although it’s worth noting that their big break arrived when Fort Apache’s studio manager saw them supporting Throwing Muses. Before long they too had signed to 4AD, going on to record landmark debut LP ‘Surfer Rosa’ with the legendarily acerbic Steve Albini in 1987. Unimpressed by the Pixies’ screamily masochistic surf, the Big Black frontman famously dismissed them as “blandly entertaining college rock”, but regardless, the album was swiftly acclaimed as a classic. One particular highlight came in the relative anomaly ‘Gigantic’, sung by bassist Mrs John Murphy (aka Kim Deal) and soaring on a chorus so big you could stick a flag in it and legitimately claim to have discovered a new country. Tensions built between Deal and chief songwriter Black Francis, but the band soldiered on through another majestic album (1988’s sublime ‘Doolittle’) before eventually seeing their collective arse and temporarily disbanding.

THE BREEDERS

Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly first discussed the idea of forming a new band when Throwing Muses toured Europe with the Pixies, eventually performing together under the clunky but refreshingly straightforward moniker ‘Boston Girl Super-Group’. One shit-hot demo later, they settled on The Breeders and signed to 4AD, recruiting English bassist Josephine Wiggs to accommodate Deal’s switch to guitar. Slint sticksman Britt Walford agreed to become a recording member under the pseudonym ‘Shannon Doughton’, and with Steve Albini at the helm, the fledgling band decamped to an Edinburgh studio. The resultant collection ‘Pod’ proved breathtaking: songs crawled out from under the horizon uttering otherworldly howls, punctuated by guitar lines that you could quite reasonably call ‘angular’ without having to look too shame-faced about it. The two songwriters meshed perfectly, and the album was simply stunning.

With Deal returning to the Pixies later that year, The Breeders became inactive until 1992 when they recorded the ‘Safari’ EP. Shortly thereafter, Donnelly left the band to pursue her own vision, and Deal asked her twin sister Kelley to fill the void – undaunted by trivial matters such as ‘not actually being able to play the guitar’, Kelley duly accepted. Following the addition of full-time drummer Jim Macpherson, this new line-up set out on the road with Nirvana before commencing work on their biggest commercial success: 1993’s ‘Last Splash’. Chiefly famous for the bouncing buzzsaw pop of lead single ‘Cannonball’ (and its attendant video, co-directed by Spike Jonze and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon), the record added irresistible hooks to the addictive wonders of their debut, and cemented claims that The Breeders were a serious force to be reckoned with.

BELLY

Following the first Breeders album, Tanya Donnelly officially and amicably left Throwing Muses, taking bassist Fred Abong with her to form a new outfit. Fleshing out the lineup with ex-members of hardcore punks Verbal Assault, Donnelly chose the name ‘Belly’, since the word itself was “both pretty and ugly” – the perfect encapsulation of their ethereal, folk-tinged alt-pop. The MTV-slaying single ‘Feed The Tree’, a sumptuous piece of off-kilter jangle, led 1993’s debut ‘Star’ to be nominated for two Grammys – a success which could not be replicated by the more rock-orientated rumble of follow-up ‘King’. In retrospect, the album rules as hard as anything else surfacing from the American underground in the mid-90s, but sterling anthems like ‘Now They’ll Sleep’ somehow failed to capture their audience’s imaginations as intensely as ‘Star’ had managed two years earlier. Donnelly’s first solo effort appeared in 1997, picking up where Belly left off, before her increasingly sporadic output softened steadily, as family life became her main priority.

THE AMPS

Kelley Deal’s heroin addiction was far from secret, and she entered rehab following an arrest for possession in 1994, thereby forcing The Breeders into a period of hiatus. Kim reacted with a solo project entitled Tammy Ampersand & The Amps, before shortening the name in time to record their sole LP, ‘Pacer’. Originally intending to play every instrument on the album herself, she moved to retain Jim Macpherson’s drumming talents before enlisting future Guided By Voices guitarist Nate Farley and Luis Lerma to complete the lineup. ‘Pacer’ built on the pop hooks of ‘Last Splash’ to create deliciously garagey bubblegum pop – ‘Empty Glasses’, in particular, sounds like its spent hours siphoning petrol from parked cars to spit on bonfires – but positive critical reaction didn’t translate into sales. In mid-96, the hard-touring band folded when Kim decided to gather a new lineup of The Breeders – which, inevitably, was short-lived.

THE KELLEY DEAL 6000

Upon leaving rehab in 1995, Kelley Deal elected to form a new band, pulling in favours from friends such as Jimmy Flemion from notoriously controversial slopsters The Frogs. First opus ‘Go To The Sugar Altar’ proved to be an unexpected treat, rich in gleefully shambolic experimentation and soaked in the sort of effortless melodicism that made ‘Last Splash’ such a universally instant favourite. Two years later, the band attempted to repeat the trick with ragged follow-up ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’, but their moment appeared to have passed. Commerical and critical indifference consigned the album to the bargain bins, and The Kelley Deal 6000 slowly evaporated.

THE JOSEPHINE WIGGS EXPERIENCE

Hertfordshire-born Josephine Wiggs didn’t exactly rest on her laurels following the dissolution of The Breeders. She embarked on a series of projects over the next few years, attempting to make her own mark with the ‘Bon Bon Lifestyle’ LP, released through the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal stable in 1996. Featuring former Spacemen 3/Spiritualized percussionist Jon Mattock – who also counted amongst Breeders alumni thanks to his contribution to the ‘Safari’ EP – the album drew from similar dreampop sources to Donnelly and the Deal sisters’ various outlets, and attracted reasonable reviews. But if ever a musical endeavour seems doomed from the get-go, it’s a bass player’s solo effort (notice how the heart sinks upon reading that phrase), and this was sadly no exception. Wiggs’ name simply wasn’t as recognisable as Kim or Kelley’s, and album sales reflected that anonymity. Shame.

AND THE REST…

At the turn of the millennium, the Deals formed a new line-up of The Breeders with Face To Face drummer Jose Mendeles and bassist Mando Lopez, resulting in the strange, sparse magic of ‘Title TK’ in 2002 and the poppier ‘Mountain Battles’ six years later. Factor in the reunion of the ‘Last Splash’ lineup and we’re just about up to speed, but there’s a handful of other acts worth mentioning since they form smaller branches of The Breeders’ family tree…

THE PERFECT DISASTER

Mining a similar source of Lou Reed-inspired pop to 80s acts like The Go-Betweens, The Perfect Disaster had been kicking around London in various forms before Josephine Wiggs joined in 1987. She stuck around long enough to play on the ‘Asylum Road’ LP and support the Pixies, which led to Kim Deal inviting her to join The Breeders in 1989.

GUIDED BY VOICES

Longtime friends with the Deal sisters as fellow natives of Dayton, Ohio, the terrifyingly prolific Guided By Voices appeared in the video to The Breeders’ cover of their own ‘Shocker In Gloomtown’. After the split of the (recently-reformed) ‘classic’ lineup, singer Robert Pollard made one album with the backing of Cleveland rockers Cobra Verde, before snatching up former Amps Jim Macpherson and Nate Farley for a lesser-regarded but still shit-kickin’ GBV in the late 90s.

DUSTY TRAILS

Another of Josephine Wiggs’ various outfits, Dusty Trails was a collaboration with Luscious Jackson keyboard player Vivian Trimble. Self-described as ‘mood music’, the band’s self-titled debut drew comparisons to French and Brazilian pop of the 1960s, and featured the vocal talents of country titan Emmylou Harris. Not quite ‘Cannonball’, then, but rather lovely nonetheless.

THE LAST HARD MEN

With the 6000 finished, Kelley Deal once again hooked up with Jimmy Flemion to form this hard rock supergroup, alongside Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlin. An album was recorded for Atlantic in 1996, but the label rejected the finished article, leaving Deal to release a limited pressing on her own Nice Records in 1998.

R. RING

Kelley’s latest project, a collaboration with Ampline’s Mike Montgomery. Debut 7” ‘Fallout And Fire’ was a scratchily lo-fi lullaby composed of sparse acoustic guitars and tinny electronic hums; as gorgeous and moreish as The Breeders’ more subtle moments and utterly charming with it. More please.

(Originally published by The Fly, 19/04/2013. At the time of writing, I was mistakenly under the impression that the reissue was related to Record Store Day 2013 – seemed pointless to correct the mistake here though, given that it had already been published)

BLEACHED – Ride Your Heart

June 4, 2013

I’ll level, there are times when I feel like I’m getting bored with new “indie” music. Well, yes, okay, I’ve jumped around to Japandroids. Done the dishes to DIIV, each soapy sud plunged rhythmically against wet ceramic with palpable glee. Nodded along thoughtfully to Dirty Projectors, immersing myself in the rhythmic complexity as one would beneath a duvet cover full of sand: it’s warm! It’s rough! It’s comforting! It’s irritating! But however makeshift or weird, it’s still a fucking duvet at the end of the day.

Too often it feels like there’s little out there that really electrifies the blood; cuts to the core; bypasses the understanding of your analytical process and forces you to feel. This isn’t a new complaint. For some, the mid-’90s saw the end of indie’s full vitality, as grunge went overground and Britpop co-opted an alternative culture to make way for a new mainstream; one where the new, the different or the stimulating was skilfully ignored in favour of bland uniformity. Parochial tubthumping with a retro groove. Some even point to The Smiths as the beginning of the rot, when a post-punk-informed sense of adventure and experimentalism backed down in favour of traditionalism – an exhilarating but unfortunate return to jangling guitars and linear songwriting where the future had once seemed wide open; so full of boundless possibility.

Whatever, it’s all food for thought. But what irritates me about music in the 21st century – especially this so-called independent stuff – isn’t any of the above. It’s the way that, for all the promise of the internet and the depth’n’breadth of sound’n’song it’s supposed to expose, so disappointingly little seems to break through that truly and delightfully fucks with one’s head. We finally live in a world where neither radio nor record companies necessarily dictate the direction pop might take – videos go viral almost instantaneously, so all it takes is for a brief chain reaction of excitement before everyone can hear pretty much anything. Indie in its idealised form, one might imagine, would take advantage of this – audiences should be dictating how the media and music industries extrapolate and interpret popular culture, rather than relying on the same old sources to deliver über-polished, commercialist pop. And yet the best or most inventive acts – your Tunabunnys, your Micachus, your Trouble Bookses – are still playing in basements, unlikely to step up without the great Pitchfork seal of approval that (whether they would agree with this statement or not) seems to define how “indie” works. It’s not the bands’ fault, it’s just how the system functions nowadays, and it sucks.

Sorry. Deep breath. There’s a record at hand. And don’t worry, this isn’t one of those tiresome reviews where the author suddenly says “this record transcends all that” or “but this is different” before disproving the original point or attempting to prove by way of exception. Bleached – featuring Jennifer and Jessie Clavin, formerly of very ace post-riot grrrl punx Mika Miko – are a guitar-pop group that evolved from the scene based around LA venue The Smell.  With acts such as No Age, HEALTH and Abe Vigoda amongst its alumni – modern-day indie rock gentry, if not quite royalty – you’d be totally right in thinking that this band might be very symptomatic of everything I’ve outlined above – indie rock as media-distributed product that titillates but doesn’t challenge. But (ah, here’s the caveat!) despite all that, I like ‘em. Their debut Ride Your Heart doesn’t set its stall out as the throwing down of a sonic gauntlet; it’s indie music that feels like pop. Or maybe the other way round… it’s hard to tell now the lines are blurred.

Drawing on powerpop, new wave and girl group harmonies, this record is full of engaging tunes, doe-eyed dedications and wry witticisms. ‘Dead Boy’ is a comically-upbeat number about still being giddy for a deceased lover, while ‘Outta My Mind’ wears its battered heart on its rolled-up t-shirt sleeve. Best of all, though, is ‘Searching Through The Past’: simple melodic joy, recalling Blondie and The Bangles at their most spine-tinglingly catchy. From afar, it’s easy to be bowled over by its uncomplicated charm and bewitching sweetness; up close one can imagine feeling smitten enough to swoon. It’s like being a kid again and catching the first breeze that really whistles through you, tingling the skin; that really makes you question the external forces of the world, be they incidental to your daily existence or just generally driving it. Plenty of other pop songs will do this in 2013 – ‘Teenage’ by Veronica Falls has a similar way with keening straightforwardness, and draws on similar influences to boot – but it’s always great to be reminded that a dumbass hook and the way a voice bends when delivering certain notes can still make you feel as infinite as they did before you filled your head with all this context.

Which brings us neatly back to where we started. Yeah, some days I am tired of this whole shebang in the 21st century, particularly after the over-saturation of landfill indie and the endless, tedious recycling of pop culture into ever-more watered-down facsimiles of the original source material. I’m bored of dominant media culture dictating what’s hip and what’s not, even when those media cultures seem weak and anachronistic compared to the press power of previous generations (and yep, I’m aware there’s an irony to me using an album review to make that point). I’m fed up of having to wade through so much unsatisfactory sludge to find the good stuff, because our collective imagination hasn’t evolved (or, less pessimistically, hasn’t realised it hasevolved) to a point where it can place nerve-racking challenge at least on a par with comforting familiarity, which in itself specialises in the easy manipulation of false sentiment. But every now and again it’s worth being reminded that these hips were made for shaking, this heart was made for beating and some songs were made for no greater purpose than to get on down with the pair of ‘em. And some days, with the right record playing and all those elements in sync, I don’t feel tired at all. (7/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 27/03/2013)

YO LA TENGO – Manchester, Ritz, 21/03/2013

June 4, 2013

SHHHHHHHH. We’re not planning to drop any pins – famously the most inaudible of all falling objects – but the near-spectral quietude of Yo La Tengo’s first set has certainly made us cautious of doing so. A solemn, respectful Ritz shuts its mouth and listens intently as the Hoboken trio strum acoustic guitars and murmur so softly that their voices crack with every shifting note. And holy fuck, is it ever sublime, lending tenderness and fragility to some numbers while amplifying those qualities in softer ones. ‘Ohm’ sees the whole band singing together, earnestly advising us not to worry so much. “Sometimes the bad guys come out on top / Sometimes the good guys lose,” they shrug resignedly, exercising their gift of making the simple sentiments sound sweetly profound. Georgia Hubley steps up to the mic for an entrancing ‘Cornelia And Jane’, but it’s Ira Kaplan’s keening sincerity on ‘The Point Of It’ that truly steals the show. A reassuring paean to the inevitability of getting older, it reduces the room’s dry-eyed quotient to a cold minimum. A heartbreaker for sure.

“Wait, back up, did you say ‘first set’?” Yes, dear reader, we sure did. Tonight YLT operate without support act, dividing their performances with a brief interval. It’s a Proper Show, in other words, and an infinitely louder second half delivers further thrills and fan favourites. In particular, ‘Moby Octopad’ and ‘Autumn Sweater’ showcase the band at their poppiest and most experimental, as drone-flavoured grooves mix with delightfully moreish ear-worms. The furious bursts and squalls of ‘I Heard You Looking’ bring the set to a thrillingly cacophonic close, but Yo La Tengo’s greatest skill lies in their ability to make even the biggest noise seem intimately warm. And if that’s not worthy of reverential silence, then what the hell is?

(Originally published by The Fly, 25/03/2013)

An Introduction To Sonic Youth

June 4, 2013

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Sonic Youth’s fearsome debut ‘Confusion Is Sex’. But where to begin for those looking to get started with this most user-unfriendly of bands? Picking through their immense back catalogue can be a treacherous business, so we thought we’d help you get started with a guide to ten of the American punk legends’ most earth-shatteringly great tracks.

‘100%’

A burst of feedback introduces a thunderous riff, with Thurston Moore snarling his sarcastic blues through clenched teeth. As close to pop as Sonic Youth ever got, not to mention as instant an album opener as you could wish for, this originally appeared on 1992’s ‘Dirty’. Butch Vig’s muscular production oversaw the band attempting to mesh their art-rock sensibilities with a genuine attempt to become major pop culture superstars. In that regard they failed, but boy, what glorious failure.

‘Bull In The Heather’

Mystery, dissonance and the unnerving sound of Kim Gordon monotonously intoning “tell me that you wanna bore me”. One of Sonic Youth’s most popular songs, the title came from the name of a racehorse, imprinted on a bumper sticker given to Thurston and Kim by Pavement’s Bob Nastanovich.

‘Eric’s Trip’

Possibly Lee Ranaldo’s finest moment. The pounding heartbeat of the drums drive their point home amidst an other-worldly haziness, virtually blocking out anything approaching melodic sense and mirroring the hallucinogenic hyper-awareness of the song’s bewildered narrator. The squalling splendour of 1998’s ‘Daydream Nation’ represents the band’s masterpiece, and this is just one of its many highlights.

‘Shadow Of A Doubt’

Heavily referencing Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers On A Train’, this 1986 track uses sparse harmonics and foreboding percussive thwacks to weave a tapestry as starkly suggestive as anything conjured up by the master of suspense himself. Above the ominously restrained beauty, Kim breathlessly whispers a plea of “kiss me”, somehow managing to sound both compellingly sensual and completely psychotic at the same time.

‘Dirty Boots’

1990 saw Sonic Youth freshly signed to Geffen, following lengthy relationships with notable indies SST and Blast First. ‘Goo’, their major label debut, showed what happened when they lowered their eyes from the sprawling magnificence of the open horizon and concentrated on what was right in front of them – specifically, grunge. In the event, we get a solitary, explosive leap through the best chorus they ever wrote followed by heroic bursts of noise and a heart-bursting instrumental sequence that seems determined to escape the confines of mere sonics, ascending straight to the heavens in the process. Not quite the hit single they envisioned, then, but still: incredible rock’n’roll.

‘I Dreamed I Dream’

Originally appearing on their self-titled debut 12” in 1982, ‘I Dreamed I Dream’ was the by-product of a band immersed in the compositional guitar experiments of Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham, whilst still half in love with the dissonant headfuck of New York’s briefly-sparkling no wave scene. Distinctly unmelodic, the song’s powerful rush comes from a hypnotic, minimalist bassline, with Kim’s flat murmurs melting softly into Lee’s howling mantras. Post-rock before post-rock; the first significant footsteps in a thirty-year adventure.

‘Death Valley ’69’

True horror committed to tape: guitars that sound like howling winds pitted against the tumultuous storm of the rhythm section, while Thurston duets with no wave icon Lydia Lunch on an account of the Manson family murders. Lifted from second full-length ‘Bad Moon Rising’, the song was a metaphorical depiction of the moral decay of 80s society: the idealism of the hippie dream torn to shreds by the cynicism of the following generation. With or without the horrific slaughter scenes of its accompanying video, it’s simply the sound of pure, unadulterated terror.

‘Expressway To Yr Skull’

Guitars that sound like doomed cathedral bells, melodies that hang heavily and moodily amidst a funereal trudge… the band pulled out all the stops with this astounding number. “We’re gonna kill the California girls,” Thurston wails, implicitly decreeing an end to pop’s mindless feelgood factor as the chaos escalates around him. Not for nothing did Neil Young describe this as “the greatest guitar song of all time” – where other bands expect to fly, this track effortlessly soars.

‘Teen Age Riot’

The definitive song from the band’s definitive statement, ‘Teen Age Riot opens with ethereal chords that crash against each other like waves in a chemical sea, before the pure noisepop thrill of the main riff throws everything into delirious relief. Supposedly envisioning a world with Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis as president, the track represented Sonic Youth’s greatest success by that point, both artistically and commercially. There were many great records to follow ‘Daydream Nation’, but crucially, they never bettered it. Flawless.

‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers’

Something of a curveball when it appeared at the turn of the millennium, the album ‘NYC Ghost & Flowers’ was composed following the theft of the band’s equipment. Forced to work in unfamiliar circumstances, SY teamed up with Chicago experimentalist Jim O’Rourke (who would briefly become an official member of the band) to create their least immediate record since the early 80s. With Lee’s image-soaked poetry standing before a post-rock backdrop that shames the relatively-traditionalist likes of Mogwai or Explosions In The Sky, this title track is something of a curio, but thoroughly rewarding nonetheless.

STILL CURIOUS?

Wondering where to start? For the greatest works, look no further than the mighty triumvirate of ‘EVOL’, ‘Goo’ and the majestic ‘Daydream Nation’ – albums that define both the end of the independent era and punk rock’s major label experiment of the ‘90s. If it’s the serious stuff that intrigues you, then ‘A Thousand Leaves’ and ‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers’ contain their most ambitiously complex work, but genuine novices might want to head for the hits’n’faves compilations ‘Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love’ and ‘Hits Are For Squares’. Dive in!

(Originally published by The Fly, 01/03/2013 – opening paragraph by Alex Denney)

MAZES – Liverpool, Camp & Furnace, 22/02/2013

June 4, 2013

Jack Cooper looks tired. A day wasted by the side of the road will do that, of course, and a broken-down van looks to have drained the joy from his bandmates’ faces. The quietly-spoken Mazes frontman looks particularly affected, his sombre expression capturing the meagre space between disappointment and exhaustion. Of course, by the time the spiralling, Television-esque ‘Bodies’ reaches its juddering climax, he’s jumping and stomping around the stage, lugubrious chords ringing ominously and punctuating his flammable fretwork. And why not, huh?

Most of the cuts tonight come from new album ‘Ores And Minerals’, with the tartrazine-fuelled Eric’s Trip-isms of their debut reduced to a few brief cameos. And that’s a-OK – nothing against their former life as lo-fi Yankophiles, but the out-rock tinges of their new material fit them like a particularly well-tailored glove. So, as welcome as old favourites like ‘Bowie Knives’ may be, they’re attacked and received with less relish than the discombobulated lurch of ‘Daniel Higgs Particle’. The band acknowledge the latter as their tribute to Baltimore legends Lungfish, fuelled by cyclical, awkward pulses and a hook that yearns without imagining there’s a resolution on the horizon. Zen psych-pop that permanently blemishes the skin rather than pointlessly blistering – it’s great stuff.

‘Skulking’ is the other set highlight: a locked, motorik groove underpins a meandering melody, sung plainly and mirrored on the guitar before the whole thing launches into a fuzzed-out solo that channels the band’s frustrations into engaging fury. It’s all anchored by the restraint of the rhythm section, reminding us that rage is expressed even as the rest of the world continues to spin, and it’s even more intensely thrilling for that. Marry that mastery of form and execution to a knack for pop tunes and you’ve got a real force to be reckoned with. Luckily, that’s exactly what Mazes are.

(Originally published by The Fly, 08/03/13

Housse de Racket – Alésia (Kitsuné)

August 22, 2011

Housse de Racket! That’s much more like it in the band name stakes. Sadly it’s not always as much fun in the music department. Alésia is the sound of a million indie bands who’ve heard Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, patronisingly decided that they’ve actually always been a pop group all along (as though indie is anything else, or their ownership of a couple of Velvet Underground records amounted to a paradigm-shifting revolutionary new sound despite the fact that they just sounded like another shitty Arctic Monkeys rip-off). It’s music as made by guitar-toting hipsters suddenly deciding to invest in some synths to ‘y’know, make everything sound proper 80s, like’. It’s a deliberate throwback to retro-futurism that aims for sophisticated chart-fodder but comes across as disco-tinged indie, slightly more edgy than Hard-Fi and infinitely less fun than Junior Senior.

Well, either that or it’s a vaguely-funky French electro-indie band who aren’t quite as good as Phoenix. I dunno.

Still, Housse de Racket!

Bits and pieces don’t equal the whole

March 8, 2011

Yeesh, it’s been a while. Since then, labels have been kind (dumb? no, kind…) enough to send me stuff to review on these here pages. Which will happen in due course. Once I’ve given it all a fair few spins.

In the meantime, here’s one of those cop-out ‘what’s been blowing my mind lately’ posts. DIGGIT.

1. Sourpatch – Deli Dream

(from the totally superlative Mira Mija EP on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records)

2. Cheap Girls – Ft. Lauderdale

(from My Roaring 20’s on Paper + Plastick… still not bored of this, somehow)

3. Hickey – California Redemption

(fuuuuck yeh! from s/t album reissue on 1234. i’m a latecomer to Hickey. they fucking rule)

4. Eux Autres – The City All To Himself

(stars of the first show to be promoted as a WHTB shebang recently. except on here, of course. from Cold City on HHBTM)

5. Bad Banana – Celery

(acoustic version of a great track from super-lo-fi pop-punks’ demo album. i heart the shit out of this band)

“Don’t Call It A Comeback…”

September 27, 2010

Boy, it’s been a while since I last posted. But now all those barriers between me and the keyboard have been knocked down. Once again, I’m ready to pour boiling hot liquid inanity onto the calloused dead skin of the blogosphere. Let us continue.

It may come as a surprise to some of you to learn that WHTB is no mere receiver of signals from the great pop satellite (Laboured Metaphor Watch: 2 contenders thus far). No, your humble correspondent also likes to crank out the ol’ six-string and attempt to shred the eardrums of disinterested gig-goers up and down the length of this island. I’ll not sully the band’s reputation (cough) by having their carefully-crafted rock behemoths associated with the wibblings of some gobshite on the internet – they don’t deserve that. So we’ll avoid mentioning the sounds of my beat combo, unless I change my mind or someone asks. In the meantime, I’m going to witter on about my favourite bands that we played with on our recent UK tour. So in other words, that’s ‘some new (to me) bands that I like, linked by a theme that’ll mean nowt to you’. Ah well.

1. Brothers

…or ‘Brothers of Exeter’, if you like. And I certainly do. On the surface, this boy-girl-boy trio deal in good ol’-fashioned seething garage rock, but they sabotage your feeble ideas of straightforwardism by throwing in bubblegum pop harmonies and complex rhythmic breakdowns. After watching them once, I was pleasantly surprised. After a week of seeing them every night, I was a convert. It’s dirty and brutal, even when they’re cooing sweet nothings over the top of it. As our American friends would have it, they kick ‘ass’. And they kick it HARD.

2. Porches

Right now, there are hundreds of bands across the UK trying to rip off the gruff stylings of Gainsville, Florida’s punk scene. Some of them are even really good at it, but the sound becomes tiresome after a while. Cheers, then, to Dorking’s Porches, who manage to do this shit without boring the fuck out of all present… and indeed are actually pretty darn good. Sure, you can hear the omnipresent influence of the No Idea Records sound, but they cover it in pop slop and take it to the bar for vile-coloured shots, before going outside for some sick and then coming back in to party on. Garage gruff, or something, and thoroughly good fun to boot.

3. Bedford Falls

OK. They’re not particularly new. Not if you’re going for an authentic definition of the word, like you’d find in a dictionary. But I’ve just discovered them, and great mother of crap, they’re ace. Early 90s indie/college rock seems to be rather in vogue at present, which is a little disarming for the enthusiasts amongst us who’d grown accustomed to it being ‘the sort of thing that no-one likes any more’. In any case, Newport’s Bedford Falls have been doing this shit for a while, and they’re bloody brilliant at it. Would it be unnecessary to label them ‘the Welsh Buffalo Tom’? Possibly, and it would also sell them short. Just click on the link above and listen to Paperbacks. Then order their split 7″ with Failures’ Union and realise that Wilmington is possibly one of the best songs ever written by anyone ever. FACT. Hyperbole schmyperbole.

Anyway. That’ll do for now. More mumblings about indie rock to follow, probably. And mix tapes. And I’d like to have a ramble about Alan Moore’s sterling Dodgem Logic mag at some point too. Don’t let me forget, y’all.

Peace.

WHTB x