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Archive for November, 2008

UNNATURAL HELPERS – Dirty, Dumb & Comical (7″, Sub Pop)

Posted: November 12th, 2008, by JGRAM

The Unnatural Helpers are a beautiful breed of hardcore influenced and garage band knowing rock stars.  This flippant seven inch of four tracks is the second release of Sub Pop’s latest singles club which is already paying out dividends.

Reminding me of Some Velvet Sidewalk, this loose and dirty piece of punk exhibits how Sub Pop have always been able to continue to churn out with reckless abandon exciting punk bands that are one step above, having dined early on the fuzzy cheeks of Mudhoney and learned how to use their instruments in a manner that not only stings but it stabs as well.

Of the four tracks, all of which fail to break the two minute mark, “Connecting” (the shortest of them) is a prime slab of punk marching with the almost Mark Arm-esqe vocals leading the line, punch and piercing as the large hooks loom heavy, punching like a starving boxer fighting for a cheeseburger.

At a time when our lifestyles have caused every single second to have increased in value it is somewhat gratifying to have an act operating at a level of such efficiency.

I’d buy that for a dollar.

Thesaurus moment: economic.

Unnatural Helpers

Sub Pop

XX TEENS – How To Reduce The Chances Of Becoming A Terror Viction (7″, Big Bill Records/Mute)

Posted: November 12th, 2008, by JGRAM

In the dim and distance past Marceline once bemoaned about the lack of reviews of musical acts with a name beginning with the letter “X”.  Finally I have found an act with such a moniker and although the single was released early this year it has managed to become one of my favourite singles of the year.

With a name and song title that are truly worthy of underground credentials the tedious pounding of a drum accompanies a lengthy and sarcastic guide to exactly how to reduce the chances of being a terror victim.

For the longest time now I have been purchasing seven inch singles and as tangible music makes a last push for survival in the eleventh hour of physical formats being the main vehicle for recorded music, unfortunately the majority of the new bands posing as “indie” have been resoundingly substandard.  Here most definitely is an exception.

This XX Teens single however has proved to be the exception displaying a nonchalant attitude of mock seriousness and a dark sense of humour that is really missing for underground music at these times.

A record that would not be unwelcome in The Fall’s back catalogue, the advice dispensed on offer ranges from the sensible to the absurd echoing those terrifying public service videos from the eighties that seemed to promise nuclear warfare next week and shot fear into the hearts and minds of so many impressionable children such as myself.

The world requires more records like this.

Thesaurus moment: evangelic.

XX Teens

Big Billy Records

Mute Records

THE FRENCH QUARTER – We’re Not French (CD, self released)

Posted: November 12th, 2008, by JGRAM

Recorded at the famous chem19 studio, there is a distinct Mogwai-esqe post-rock feel to this release that would have earnestly felt at home on the roster of Chemikal Underground when the label was at its height.

Perhaps more Explosions In The Sky than Mogwai, with the recent wet panting reception that Sigor Ros have rightly or wrongly received there is still more than enough desire and attention around for an act such as this, especially when those in the know will have written off and dismissed the genre a long time ago.

There is only so much that can be added to the atmospherics and ambience of post-rock but there is something truly Scottish sounding about this release curiously tickling memories of soundtracks from movies set in Scotland such as Restless Natives and Local Hero.  Even more confusing when considering such soundtracks came from Big Country and Dire Straits.  In other words, at times these guitars sound like pipes of bags.

There is still a real mystery surrounding Scotland to your average, considered Englishman.  Against all the temper it is still, resentfully, a place of true beauty where the air, even if chilly, feels fresher and the people tougher.  And on a good day, this is its score.

Thesaurus moment: tranquil.

The French Quarter

Room 237 presents: ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE + STEARICA + ASTRAL SOCIAL CLUB, Brudenell Social Club, 9th November 2008

Posted: November 11th, 2008, by Pascal Ansell

The Japanese Psychadelic band Acid Mothers Temple are, apparently, a very mixed bag when it comes to playing live. Due to their prodigious record-releasing ethic (69 records in 13 years, give or take a few) and ever-changing line-up, you can’t always bank on a thrilling gig with AMT.

Ex Vibracathedral Orchestra man Neil Campbell plunges the night into action with his latest noise band, Astral Social Club. Vast clouds of sound morph seamlessly into the next. Or do they? The one problem with is it all develops at such a slow pace as not to keep the attention ticking. Obviously, it depends how you listen to it, and drone lovers don’t exactly listen or play to a stopwatch. His defence is: “I’ve stopped trying to present things as finished and stopped worrying if the whole thing doesn’t run together as a completely smooth whole.” Even so you can’t help feeling his general spread of disparate noise goes nowhere.

Tired, overused rock beats and ambient guitar lines are pretty much all that Stearica deal in. The Italian trio have little ear for distinctive melody, and like a good few similar bands they get stuck at the arse-end of the post-rock trail. On the surface the quality of music can’t be denied, but a murky, tuneless limbo is where they’re really trapped.

Acid Mothers Temple begin their set with bassist Tsuyama Atsushi indulging in Mongolian and Tibetan throat singing. Vowels are chopped and changed by gyrating jaw shapes, then the lips seeks out eerie harmonics by gradually closing the mouth. Truly incredible singing.

The AMT modus operandi consists of float around on one lumbering idea for a leisurely fifteen minutes, speed the pace up, add an outrageous guitar solo and then they’re done. It’s a mystery how AMT keep things interesting with such little material. Songs progress at such a snail pace that it’s a wonder they’re not an incredibly dull live act. What makes them so special is that they’re the polar opposite. We’ve caught them on a good night.

Astral Social Club


Acid Mothers Temple

Pascal Ansell

Room 237 presents: OXES + BILGE PUMP + MONSTER KILLED BY LASER + BEE STUNG LIPS, Brudenell Social Club, 26th October 2008

Posted: November 10th, 2008, by Pascal Ansell

There’s often the tendency in a wannabe writer’s life to overthink what’s not needed. Baltimore’s gung-ho instrumental-rock heroes Oxes are in danger of suffering this. It would seem unnecessary to slice, dice and chuck under the microscope a band so fun and unpretentious. But then again…

The trademark Oxes sound steals the scratchy, metallic guitar tone of Shellac and couples it with he-e-e-e-avy riffs and general rowdiness. Tunes like ‘Panda Strong’ and ‘Half and Half and Half’ have a generous spoonful of humour added to the mix – false starts, hesitant lines and surprise entrances.

Mortar boards on? Good. What with bands like Slint and Mogwai (i.e. ‘post-rock’) coming in around the early ‘90s and making a mockery of the copious MACHO ROCK that preceded it, Oxes attack from within. The ridiculous gurning and high-testosterone riffage is an example of them “pounding on the corpse of rock” as another pasty scribbler had it.

Not much to say about first band Rampant Rabbit apart from it’s a pretty standard stoner-rock affair. Bee Stung Lips… (Ow! Can you imagine that?) Well, punk is dead yet BSL are comatose and as average as ever. More like a mildly annoying nettle sting to the thigh. Next, Monster Killed By Laser hit the stage like a mini-Mahavishnu Orchestra. A wispy mix of spaced-out synth lines and swirling guitar chords – good stuff.

Like Oxes, Bilge Pump are far more entertaining as a live band. A real local favourite – you’d be mad to live in Leeds for three years without seeing this tidy trio. Bilge Pump specialise in messy time signatures, repeated vocal yelps and mesmeric feedback. Neil Turpin is an absolutely prime drummer who manages to play everything that enters his imagination. A heavy jazz-style influence, fully lithe and pummelling. Golden!

Oxes are pretty much how they’ve always been, just a little hairier. The same intense guitar chugging, the same sloppy drum lines, gratuitous gurning and mock-macho posing, but maybe time for a good helping of new material? Oxes have little boxes to stand on and freely take the Michael from any band that takes themselves too seriously. Wireless guitars means unrestrained guitarists – the two of them tour the Brudenell’s interior and fully indulge in the gimmick. Guitars are heavily strung, reverberant bottom-ends chop through the PA, and the chug! Oxes steal the best aspect of metal – the addictive, rhythmic ecstasy that is a good old chug. Take one chord, add a fuss-free drum beat, and away we go.

Oxes, Brudenell Social Club

A pretty ‘organised’ bit of mayhem as expected – hopefully we’ll see them sometime next year with some new stuff and even more hilarious t-shirts.


Bilge Pump

Pascal Ansell

MAKE MODEL – The LSB (7″, The Biz/V2)

Posted: November 4th, 2008, by JGRAM

Trying to make good, Make Model appear to be grafters on this appearance and very little else.  Using the effect that makes a band sound as if they are playing through/down a telephone line, this band almost sounds like Bis being played at the wrong speed.  If this is what the kids want then perhaps instead of serving this up, a branch should be extended to recommending those that came before in order to clear stock first.

I have to admit this is a confusing construction but one that is not entirely disagreeable, just one that struggles to appear purposeful.  The belief (for me) was that Make Model were going to sound like The Delgados (before they came with strings attached) but instead it is a minor stomp with the female vocals that I would have expected to be in the forefront being most deftly switched to the background for groceries.

The b-side is entitled “Czech Neck”, an obvious reference to the students favourite.  The mere reference alone hints at a superior sense of humour but the resulting track is sedate and without a tinge of jolly.

A few years ago I could see and imagine this band hanging around and comfortably slotting into the lo-fi DIY scene but as a scene barely exists anymore it is tough to imagine Make Model possessing any such desire to be so low on the indie rock food chain.

Right now as I write this there is a fox harbouring outside my window in the spacious building that is to become a supermarket.  I would imagine Make Model are looking for similar growth and extermination.

Blame the accountants I say.

Thesaurus moment: delay.

Make Model

V2 Records

diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #21

Posted: November 4th, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted August 2004)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

Hot, isn’t it? I’m beginning to realise that I’m more a fan of cold weather than warm. It’s great that the sun is out, don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing it was pouring with rain all day long. I’m just missing the times when I could walk about in town for ten minutes without feeling like I’m going to pass out, and when I could get some decent sleep at night without the need for wide-open windows, and the insect attacks resulting from them.

But the English love to complain about the weather, eh? I’m such a walking cliché.

In other news, I cut my own hair the other day and inadvertantly clippered a few bald patches in there. I’m a trend setter.

Here’s some of the things which have been on my stereo recently.

Deep Peace is a compilation CD album from Autoclave Records. It’s ‘curated’ (i.e. put together) by calamateur, who I have reviewed here before. The raison d’etre behind this – all compilations need a raison d’etre – is awareness (and fund) raising for Trident Ploughshares, who aim to shut down Britain’s nuclear weapons capability. There are 14 tracks here, not of early 90s deep Goan Trance (as the hippyish title may make you think) but of a variety of (mostly) guitar-oriented independent music. It’s quite a rich variety too, taking in, amongst other things stripped-down acoustic introspective pop (Aereogramme), moody paranoid-sounding rock (calamateur), woozy My Bloody Valentine-like noise (Slow Storm) and minimalist blissed-out drones (Apologist). Aside from those four tracks – my favourites on here – the album also features Oldsolar, Brahm, Frog Pocket featuring calamateur, Spare Snare, The Gena Rowlands Band, Les Tinglies, The Out_Circuit, alicebelts, Lewis Turner and tenyards. What ties the individual tracks together, beyond the Trident Ploughshares connection, is a very high standard of production and recording, and consistently healthy quality control.

Continue reading »

“The robots develop their own musical culture. There are no pre-programmed musical rules.”

Posted: November 3rd, 2008, by Stan Tontas

New Scientist report on experiments with music & artificial intelligence. One robot “sings” a few notes to the other, which sings back. If the 1st robot thinks the songs are similar, they agree to remember the sequence.

The researcher hopes that this will lead to the robots helping “him to compose music that no human would ever come up with”. I am sceptical, not just because the attached video (Quicktime format, <1 minute) is pretty underwhelming.

If the robots choose the sounds which are the same, where is the scope for development? Can robots do improv? Or will this just lead to them adopting a fixed repertoire (which, to be fair would be pretty cool if they started from zero with regards to the robots making sounds)?

Surely the thing that would lead to new sounds would be the criteria that the robots use to reject or adopt a “song” – and here it seems to be “this is the same as what my mate sings”. That brings you a zillion indie bands, not “new musical cultures”. I get that there are “emergent” properties from simple systems (think fractals) but the way this story is described, these are being selected out of the robots. If the song isn’t sung back to you it’s discarded.

Poor bastards! Not even self-aware but still subject to merciless criticism by its only friend! Imagine a robot Jimi Hendrix. No-one singing your tunes back to you. Cursed to artistic isolation until musical tastes catch up to you. Singing unheard till your batteries run out or you break down through overwork in the face of an unappreciative world, found disassembled in a bath, OD’ing on acid and lithium…

Maybe the answers are in the full research paper.