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Archive for January, 2007

DIVE DIVE – The Revenge Of The Mechanical Dog (CD, Land Speed Records)

Posted: January 31st, 2007, by Simon Minter

Since their early days as Dustball, Dive Dive have always maintained a certain steady handed reliability, and been a super-tight live band with a knack for a certain familiar type of poppy indie rock. As a recorded prospect, however, they’ve left me slightly cold in the past, and it’s been hard to think of them as much beyond one of very many such bands like Jetplane Landing, Ash, Econoline and so on. A good band, don’t get me wrong, just not yet a great band.

I was hoping that this album might be the one that tips the scale toward greatness. For the first few tracks, it seems like it might not happen, and then a trio of songs – ‘Maybe I’m OK’, ‘Holding Back the Broken Door’ and ‘Take It, It’s Yours’ – solidify all of the glimpses of magic that Dive Dive have been hinting at over the past couple of years.

‘Maybe I’m OK’ leaps from its plaintive intro into a looping, loping guitar riff, before turning several melodic corners that take the never-not-hip angular guitar rock template and jam it artfully into a radio-friendly pop-shaped hole. ‘Holding Back the Broken Door’ takes its lead from early Placebo – it’s all vibrato vocals and guitar interplay over a relentlessly together rhythm section. ‘Take It, It’s Yours’ slows down the pace, with social-commentary lyrics developing a song from simple beginnings into a layered festival singalong tour de force: complete with requisite noisy forays and head-nodding bouncy bassline.

By the time these three short songs have passed, it’s clear that Dive Dive have finally nailed down what makes their live shows so enjoyable – on-the-money performances and arrangement, the combined forces of accessible melody and quirky dissonance, and enough stylistic breadth to maintain interest – and put it into recorded form. This is equally an aggressive, sensitive and playful album, and all the better for its self-imposed awkwardness. Like previous Oxford bands before them (Youthmovies and The Young Knives, for example) Dive Dive are attaining that rare combination of mainstream and experiment; familiarity and challenge.

Dive Dive

‘Ballads of the Book’

Posted: January 30th, 2007, by Simon Minter

Just heard about this on the radio. ‘Ballads of the Book’ is a new project featuring collaborations between a variety of Scottish musicians and writers – Idlewild, Norman Blake, King Creosote, Sons and Daughters, Ian Rankin, Edwin Morgan and lots more. A good idea? A vaguely-famous-people vanity project? An affirmation of Scottish culture and originality?

More here: http://www.idlewild.co.uk/html/ballads.html

DARTZ! – Once, twice, again! (CD single, Xtra Mile Recordings)

Posted: January 28th, 2007, by Simon Minter

Catchy, goodtime, hi-hat-riding guitar pop, with many of the Current Indie Vogue boxes ticked (Stop-start guitar lines? Break for handclaps? Sounds a bit new wave? Tick, tick, tick). ‘Once, twice, again!’ hasn’t done much to advance the Dartz! sound since their previous release, but it’s still a perfectly get-up-and-go slice of infectiousness that would, if you can ignore the extreme Futureheads similarities, work brilliantly in a live context.

The dual forces of math rock skronk and new wave upbeat pop have been converging for some time, and Dartz! are right on that faultline – clear guitar melodies and vocals tightly bound to a jumpy, tight rhythm section. I still hope that they’ll be the one of the bands that drags an increasingly familiar sound into new territories, that brings something truly new into the world, but unfortunately this single isn’t going to kickstart that particular revolution.

Xtra Mile Recordings

FRANK TURNER – Sleep is for the week (CD, Xtra Mile Recordings)

Posted: January 28th, 2007, by Simon Minter

I never heard Million Dead, Frank Turner’s previous band and a reference point that seems unconditionally attached to any mention of his name. Regardless of what they sounded like, on Sleep is for the week Turner’s music comes across as a blend of straightforward indie rock and folky strum, with a certain Celtic tinge to the vocal phrasing; lyrics to the fore and a selection of backing instrumentation ranging from simple acoustic guitar to rich, full band arrangements.

As with any singer-songwriter music, the words are the focus here. The lyrical content rarely deviates from a self-deprecating, self-examining stream of consciousness; obscure and tricky lyrics aren’t Turner’s thing, he’s all about baring the soul with descriptive words tied to specific situations and memories. At times the relentless self-focus and miserablism can grate – the heartless cynic in me wants to shake Turner out of his self-obsessed exclamations of unworthiness on tracks like ‘Romantic Fatigue’ and ‘Wisdom Teeth’. However, when such lyrics are delivered with less of a wearisome sense of irony and humour, and tied to either a richer, more dynamic melodic backing (‘The Ladies of London Town’) or an intimate, heartfelt reading (‘Must Try Harder’), they can really work.

This album presents Turner as being a nice guy, desperate to make friends, and eager to remind us of his shortcomings and hangups. The difficulty of this situation is that if you’re not in the mood for dealing with a needy friend, an indie loser complaining about his girl troubles over a pint at Nambucca, Turner can outstay his welcome with not quite enough glimmers of magic in his music. But then again, maybe we should be a better, more tolerant friend.

Frank Turner
Xtra Mile Recordings

MUKUL – You Don’t Know Me (12", Wasted Words Records)

Posted: January 25th, 2007, by Simon Minter

The album version of ‘You Don’t Know Me’ is the second track on this 12″, having been usurped by Howie B’s more-than-twice-as-long remix. This makes sense to me, as the short original album version from Mumbai-based Mukul is a heavily Tricky-influenced slice of loping trip-hop, with sleepy beats and gravelled vocals. It seems unfortunately relegated to a particular time in the past. Howie B’s remix leaves nothing much beyond heavily-treated snippets of vocals, peppering them over a superb seven-minute early-house-style evocation of simplicity and repetition; crystal clear metronomic beats underlying bouncing bubbles of synth.

Third track ‘Happy Birthday’ is an elegant mix of the styles of the first two tracks – slowly modulating acid-style melodies firing off between bass tones, topped off with those wasted-style vocals. It’s ever so slightly as if Mukul has been playing a little too much with his Reason loops – he seems to lack the mastery of simplicity evident in Howie B’s remix – but there are glimmers of darkness here which suggest the possibility of a new take on an all-too-familiar trip-hop sound.


COPY HAHO – Bookshelf (I Fly Spitfires)

Posted: January 22nd, 2007, by Marceline Smith

Find Copy Haho CD under pile of other CDs. Think ‘why do I still have this in my review pile? I am obviously never going to listen to it’. Read press release and spot words “members of Hookers Green No.1”. Think ‘ooh, I must listen to this’. Put back in pile. Repeat. This is what has been happening for the last few months until finally, FINALLY, I actually listened to the CD. And, you know what, it’s fantastic. It’s a rare thing indeed for a song from a review CD by a band I’ve never heard of to make it on to my daily bus ride favourite songs playlist and much much rarer for both songs to go on the playlist and still be there two months later. Ergo, Copy Haho are something special.

Bookshelf starts off all twinkling keyboards, lilting vocals and meandering guitars, stumbling sleepy-eyed through the dusk before they take a wrong turning and lurch unexpectedly into a lost chorus from Slanted & Enchanted. Which, of course, is brilliant so they stand firm, coolly acting like this was part of the plan all the while looking for the door so they can get back to wandering and remembering. Dessert Belle is even more dazed and dreamy, the vocals smudged around the edges and the music swirling around, tinges of Hood and, yes, Hookers Green making it all the more lovely. Oh, Aberdeen, how much better you are doing since I left. I almost miss you.

This is actually a 7″ and you can buy it now.

Copy Haho at Myspace

THE WEEGS – The Million Sounds of Black (CD, Hungry Eye Records)

Posted: January 21st, 2007, by Simon Minter

San Franciscans The Weegs have got that whole New-York-early-80s-no-wave-mayhem thing going down, not least in terms of vocal delivery – the lyrics are presented in the form of yelps and exclamations that evoke skinny weirdos contorting around microphones whilst self-harming in the centre of the (slightly afraid) audience.

Musically, they’re more sedate and melodic than the early no-wave noise of your Sonic Youths and your DNAs, but they get their freaky thrills in other ways. The nine tracks here are tight like post punk, but messy like punk. Stabs of guitar play off loudly-mixed synth parps, with a rhythm section laying down broken-leg-danceable beats and twisted funk energies. The result is like the first couple of Human League records, if they’d been played by drug-damaged Americans with less sense of style. Excepting the last 45-minute track ‘The Million Sounds’, which is an endurance-testing ramble through sound and texture, this album is made of alien pop songs that share a demented sensibility with Butthole Surfers and Devo; music that is brashly strange and confidently abrasive.

Who knows what they’re like as a live outfit, but this CD makes The Weegs sound like a threatening confrontation of oddness. I’m not sure I’d want to live in their world, but it’s good to have had a glimpse.

The Weegs
Hungry Eye Records

THE STEVENSON RANCH DAVIDIANS – Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Songs (CD, self-released)

Posted: January 21st, 2007, by Simon Minter

The Davidians were featured on the excellent Psychedelica Volume One compilation with the reverb-heavy, swooning ‘Getting By’. This is included here on this twelve-track album, which follows similar stylistic themes to that track: blissed-out shoegazing guitar music with one foot in the dreamy Californian desert of the late ’60s, the other in the introspective, effects-drenched world of Ride, Slowdive, Spiritualized, the Telescopes and so on.

As the album goes by, the mood rarely deviates from a sleepy-eyed, drowsy tempo. Vocals are delivered in a soft drawl that heavily recalls Richard Ashcroft when The Verve were at their best (circa A Northern Soul, as if you need to know), and the music is a fantastic blur of echoed, sweet guitar, with Hammond organ tones filling out the background. It’s to the Davidians’ credit that they don’t let the soporific nature of this music dip into a dirge – it’s carefully handled and contains enough melodic richness and drug-addled hypnotic grooviness to keep things fresh.

The music also steers clear of a kitsch ’60s bubblegum trap by introducing dark elements that create a foreboding sense of night on tracks like ‘Inbetween Everything’ and ‘Don’t Get Hung Up’, with brooding basslines and thick swells of sound that create a fog of sound that hovers in the room. Final track ‘No Tomorrow’ sees the album out with a pained and desperate sense of anguish – bluesy guitar lines developing into a mantra of noise that ends up exploding into itself.

Despite the heavy-handed gimmick of having vinyl noise and the sound of a turntable turning itself off grafted onto the end of the album – not really necessary, to be honest – this album shows the Davidians to be a band that are at ease with some obvious influences, and totally capable of lining up as equals with those influences.

The Stevenson Ranch Davidians

AMOS LEE – Supply and Demand (Blue Note)

Posted: January 19th, 2007, by Dan Pretzer

The genre that pops up whenever I put this into the changer reads “General Blues.” That sums it up. Very generic sounding and I can’t help but think I am shopping in some high end clothing store when the album plays. Open mike night gone horribly wrong, this is what this record sounds like. “Hey Johnny! You still got that old geetar? Come on out to the coffee house and show the people some of your tunes! This stuff has got to be heard!” Yeah, I leave disgusted and hoping that the joint will be the victim of an electrical failure and the whole shithouse goes up in flames. Just make sure to get your kicks first by punching this guy in the face.’


ANTIFAMILY – S/T (Difficult Fun)

Posted: January 19th, 2007, by Maxwell Williams

This record was reviewed favourably last month by my fellow Diskanteer pascalansell, but I wanted to have a go at it since I’ve been following Antifamily since the British-based Difficult Fun was a fledgling label with a few hand-printed CD-Rs and a dream. Plus, it’s not even out here and I had to go and beg DF to airmail me a copy. So, search out Monsieur pascalansell’s review and contrast.

Antifamily, to me, means big minimalist songs made from a variety of instruments, but clearly with the computer at the forefront of the music-building. And yet, not much remains the same on an Antifamily record throughout. To start, warm, globby synths trade cross-fade crossfire with higher pitched attack-synths. Then there are the more organic songs – for instance “The Shaft” features bouncy basses playing a funky kind of soccer with a razor sharp guitars. But then the very next song, “Same Old Same,” the synths take the driver’s seat. That variety is astounding, really. Rumble-pack punk-funk bass lines work it out like P.I.L. joining Can for a jam, but that can just as easily give way to a synthesized bass. Dub influences pop up here and there, as do their obvious debts to Kleenex and Delta5.

I could go on forever describing the different sounds found on this record, but it would make it seem uncohesive. It’s actually quite cohesive and it feels like Antifamily are hyper-aware of the sounds they are making. Always the songs are sung/shouted by the girls Melanie, Anja, Rachel, Agnese and Juliette, and that helps. Despite the likeliness five singers can seem just as confusing as all that I’ve described is going on, the production always seem to keep the girl’s voices somewhat similar sounding.

Some of the less impactful songs may have been rethought, as the record does tend to run a bit long (though some of the best stuff, like “I of the Law” where “death performs in the background,” come at the tail end of the record). But every family has it’s flaws and Antifamily is no different. Fantastic stuff.

-Maxwell Williams