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Archive for September, 2009

MALE BONDING/EAT SKULL – Split Single (7″, Tough Love Records)

Posted: September 29th, 2009, by JGRAM

As ever Male Bonding invade the joint with scratchy guitar and a reckless sense of adventure.  Today with their contribution to this split single of “Year’s Not Long” they up the tempo/pace from their usual trudge before winding up in some kind of circling frenzy that revitalises proceedings before the band launch into the final leg of their energy infused declaration of fuzz.  The increase in speed does not serve them well as it feels as if it dilutes their temperament gives them something of an upbeat sound that doesn’t snap as effectively as previous efforts from them.

The Eat Skull effort sounds as if it has been recorded from a television using a cheap cassette player.  It is a real spinning top of an affair of warped funfair surf guitar music that almost sounds like a Hammond organ and vocals delivered in an equally dizzying fashion and crashing expletive.  This is fat person go-go dance music, made to look ugly when really under the masks are clean faces and stupid but cool hairstyles.  “Heaven’s Stranger” would make good theme music to a camp television show about a one legged crime fighter.

A nuisance to the industry.

Thesaurus moment: haze.

Male Bonding

Eat Skull

Tough Love Records

Deastro – Dead Kids EP (digital, self released)

Posted: September 24th, 2009, by Justin Snow

Deastro is a band (or rather “band”) who I’ve totally lost my shit over this summer. I discovered him just a few months ago and have been gobbling up as much of his electronic tunes as I possibly can. The best thing is, he’s already released two free digital EPs, including his latest one Dead Kids EP. Strange name, considering there’s nothing on here that’s reminiscent of death…

If you’re still trying to hold onto the last moments of summer, Deastro’s got your fix. Bright and shiny songs that are like a sun happy mix of M83, U2, and The Postal Service. The stuff is just full of so much energy and optimism without being drippy or disgustingly over the top, it’s impossible not to love.

Unlike his previous records that have some super hooks and catchy choruses, Dead Kids EP is entirely instrumental. And they’re so lush and synthy and dancey and poppy and occasionally kinda cheesy. In a good way.

It’s a good thing Deastro has been releasing free stuff, that way he can get his name out there and you’ll all realize how crazy you’ve been for not giving this man the money he so rightly deserves. So download Dead Kids and you’ll immediately be driven to go buy Moondagger and Keeper’s because, like me, your hunger will become insatiable.

Deastro
Deastro’s Blog (to download Dead Kids EP)

Moon

Posted: September 22nd, 2009, by Chris Summerlin

I hate going to the cinema. I think it must stem from some long-suppressed childhood memory. Maybe I was flashed at? Who knows. All I do know is that being made to endure the ticks, rustles, coughs, chomps, nasal whistles, mobile phone beeps and whispered questions of a room full of strangers (not to mention all of the above from myself too) is close to a form of torture for me. So I rarely go. I especially rarely go and see a science fiction movie.
My primary problem with movies of the genre is that they’re invariably made by people who have an interest in details. It’s understandable. In order to create a believable futureworld you have to be able to consider every last detail to make this vision believable. You have to think how door hinges would work in the future, how tin openers would evolve, how you’d take a dump in zero gravity and so on or your film will just end up being the subject of a very detailed website pointing out the flaws and contradictions in the science involved and people who go to fan conventions would laugh at you. And, most importantly for me, you’re saddled with a film that lasts 17 hours and 17 hours is a long time to spend in the cinema.
So why the hell did I end up watching Moon, the directorial debut by Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie, son of the Thin White Duke)?
It wasn’t just because it was free.

It’s because the cosmos lights something up within me. I can stare at well-taken images and film of the solar system and our own planet for ever. The recent BBC documentary James May At The Edge Of Space made me cry. I share most pre-pubescent boys’ dream of being an astronaut but it’s not to boldly go where no man has gone before but just so I could sit there and look at Earth in one frame of my eyesight and in total peace and silence. Imagine it. So I went along figuring that, if nothing else, I’d get to see some beautiful shots of the Moon and Earth whilst sitting in a comfortable chair.

What I actually got was totally unexpected. For starters, this is a very compact and minimal film, weighing in around the length of your average John Hughes flick at just over 90 mins.
This has been achieved by completely stripping the science fiction elements down to simple offerings of only the most important information. You know the central character Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) is on a 3 year employment contract to man a space station on the Moon and oversee automated processes to mine Helium 3 from the soil. That’s about as far as the tech side of things gets. You see machines work and processes happen and quickly understand that the details are somehow not important and that you should concentrate your efforts elsewhere and that being wowed by a person’s vision of the future is not Jones’ aim here.

The great thing about this film is that it manages to completely capture what it is about the moon that fascinates us but yet scares us too. This sense of the unknown, of a freedom and ambiguity that is both very liberating and very oppressive too. The juxtaposition of tight, strip-light-lit claustrophobia and this overwhelming sense of space that the surface of the moon has gives the film a strange and creepy quality. Jones has been careful to restrict the number of locations that the film is set in to accentuate these feelings of contrast and subtle touches like the repeating refrain of the music help to bring about a dream-like state in the viewer that allows you to accept some of the films more peculiar moments as being conceivable.

The mid-section of the film is willingly given over to this feeling of peculiarity and confusion as the routine of Sam’s existence gets abruptly broken when he crashes his lunar mining truck after seeing the vision of a young girl in his path on the moon’s surface. He comes round in the medical bay, tended to by the onboard robot GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) and then impulsively wants to get outside of the space station where he eventually stumbles across himself, unconcious in the lunar truck you presumed he had been rescued from.
Any other science fiction film would have force-fed you so much information by this point that, as the viewer you would probably understand that what is occurring is that 2 clones of the same man (unaware that they are clones) are coming face to face with each other. As it is, Jones’ embracing of the sense of the vague and the mysterious means you never quite accept that solution even when it slowly dawns on the duo of Sams that this is the case and that the weekly correspondence with their “family” is pre-recorded and that the reason they can’t contact Earth is not due to a malfunctioning transmitter but because the people who cloned them and put them there don’t want to them to know the truth.

Throughout, Jones comes back to this theme of humanity shining through even the coldest and bleakest situations; shining through where they should be no humanity there. The messages Sam hears from the bosses of the mining company are noticeably less tender than the robot voice of GERTY and when the realisation hits the ‘old’ Sam that he is a clone and he tries to hack into the computer system to check CCTV tapes it is GERTY who helps him do it. The tapes themselves reveal a succession of Sams, each growing more thrilled as time draws closer to the end of their 3 year spell and they view the same pre-recorded messages from their family and long to return to Earth. Each growing more ill in the week leading up to the conclusion of their contract as some pre-installed disease eats them up. Each climbing into a pod to be returned to Earth only to be vapourised and a new Sam delivered from a stock of hundreds in the depths of the station to awake, dazed and as though having been in an accident and with the necessary memories of their arrival and their life on Earth pre-implanted in their brain.
Rockwell shines here, conveying complete deflation of an already struggling person with a subtlety that is hard in a film where you play both the central characters.

It’s far from perfect though. This idea of space bringing about feelings of helplessness is nothing new – in fact, it could be argued that the basic premise for this film is pretty much Red Dwarf right down to HOLLY/GERTY. Also, working in the realm of space travel, human beings as alien forms and cloning is hardly fresh ground when your Dad is David Bowie and some of the visual elements, appealing though they are, are straight from the Stanley Kubrick school of font-obsession and creating futuristic environments from source material that we understand as being from the past.
I also have a problem with the ending. The pair of Sams work out a way of blasting the ‘original’ Sam back to Earth in a pod before the help team arrives to fix the crashed truck and discovers them both there. In the end, the illness that overtook each of his predecessors finally gets him too and it’s decided that the ‘new’ Sam should be the one to go in the pod. It seems to me that they go to great lengths to give any future clones a better chance of working out their situation and I read this as being because they don’t know if the pod will get back to Earth OK or not. I like this ambiguity and it seems deliberate.
There is a beautiful moment where the ‘original’ Sam dies just after he sees the pod with the ‘new’ Sam blast itself off the moon and into space. You understand somehow that because they’re clones it doesn’t matter which of them makes it back and in effect it’s just Sam Bell returning to Earth and not one version or another. You also accept that the pod maybe won’t make it, but the next clone of Sam might work out a better way, or the next clone, or the next clone and so on and so on…
This makes the voiceover from a talk show (in which Sam is exposing the conspiracy upon his return) that has been overdubbed over the shots of the pod approaching the Earth’s atmosphere a little too neat for a film that has been built, up to that point, on deliberately shaky foundations. It feels like this was tacked on at the behest of a focus group or to conclude the film more completely when it didn’t need it.

Having said that, this is a fantastic film. Rather than being a science fiction movie and dealing with detail and technological wonders in order to astonish an audience, it’s a supremely touching story about how important the past (memories) and the future (hope) are to establishing exactly what it is that makes a human being human. Even though the memories that Bell has are fake they are still memories and even though he/they understand that they are clones they still have a human instinct to help and to protect each other and most importantly to return home – even if they’ve never been there before.
You feel this compassionate instinct too in a sense of profound upset when you realise the videos of a family that are keeping Sam sane and motivated are of a family long-gone, of a family he never really knew. You really feel for him and how utterly alone he is and how utterly pointless his existence is too. Let’s not forget you’re feeling this about a film in which the 3 central characters are 2 clones and a robot.
Like I said, this is a film about humanity where there should be none.
If Jones is going to show the same level of compassion and warmth in all his movies then consider me a fan.

TIMES NEW VIKING – Born Against Revisited (LP, Matador Records)

Posted: September 21st, 2009, by JGRAM

The sound of Times New Viking is truly fucked up.  They are out of tune and they don’t even sound as if they are playing actual instruments, more using appropriations of what instruments should sound like.  All in all this is a record that sounds as if it were made out of cupboard.

As a result of this the reality that there is a drive behind proceedings says a lot about the determination of the band and the apparent strength of their songs in the sole/soul, bloody minded desire to see things through until a hook is found.  I guess this has been what lo-fi ingenuity has always been about.

With drums that sound like they are boxes falling down stairs, the hardest hook to arrive first is the chorus refrain of the title track “Born Against Revisited” as the song descends into true dementia, a refreshing voice from the back raises her hand and lends the song a kiss.

In sounding so bad and awful there is true invention in the process.  The fact that the sound has been rendered so sharp and nasty but yet remains (just about) listenable indicates that there is no off switch on the genius button here.

Ultimately it feels as if this muck is some kind of response to the horrible slickness that no comes with the digital age, the bland anonymous cold feel of listening to music through a computer.  As we now reach the Skynet era of music and how Kraftwerk appeared to once predict songs being manufactured by robots this is in many ways as pure a statement of/in music as you can get as they purposely apply a recording technique akin to the playing technique of The Shaggs.  With its transgression this is a true blessing.

To be found are genuinely rocking joints that come in the form of the optimistic sounding “Move To California” and the Germs echoing opening “I Smell Bubblegum”.  It’s definitely not all great but certainly is fun.

This is the sound of what Guided By Voices would be like if they were hoodlum kids packing more than just guitars and sticking scissors into open electric sockets.  Any band that has a 36 second song called “Take The Piss” cannot be bad or wrong.

These songs were born to be heard on vinyl.

Thesaurus moment: scuff.

Times New Viking

Matador Records

ELECTRIC ASSEMBLY – White Splinter (Dream Driven Recordings, CDEP)

Posted: September 21st, 2009, by Dave Stockwell

Electric Assembly are old school. Oooooold skoooooool. A post-rockin’ quartet fresh outta god knows where (probably London), they’ve been smacking out the jams for nigh-on five years, but this new EP could seriously have come out any time in the last fifteen years. Drones? Check. Shoegazing guitars through a million delay pedals? Check. Some ultra-simplistic chord changes and minimal drum patterns? Check. Electric Assembly describe themselves as “The Velvet Underground plays Boards Of Canada produced by Kevin Shields arranged by Sun Ra listened to by Syd Barrett”, but I think I can do it in one word: Spiritualized.

Opener ‘Descent Pattern’ (iTunes likes to call it “Desent Pattern”, which I kinda prefer) is pretty much an intro that goes on for 4 minutes. A strummed guitar spends a while setting the scene, eventually joined by more guitar, drums and some lovely booming bass that lumbers in on the horizon like a nuclear bomber flying overhead. Reminds me quite a bit of when Six By Seven knocked out a couple of decent tunes back in ’97. Just when it’s reaching a peak it stops and meanders into the next song…

Second track “11:43” is actually 19 minutes and 22 seconds long and seems to take even longer to get going. All multi-delayed soaring guitars over laid back clean guitar strumming and a pretty slow four-on-the-floor backbeat, the first few minutes are pretty dull to be honest. It sounds like the lead guitarist is having a great time, but I can just imagine the bassist turning his eyes to the floor and wondering when something’s going to happen. I’m as much a fan as the delayed build-up as anyone (hey, the first Tarentel album was pretty much just a series of build-ups and crescendos, and  it’s got some real moments on it), but when the 11:43 mark finally hits and all that’s still happening is that the guitarist is still wanking off a hot one, I wonder if this track is anything more than a self-indulgent extended jam. Then I start wondering about vinegar strokes with guitar solos and it’s time to move on. That’s 20 minutes of my life I’d like back, please.

“Broken” starts out a little more promisingly, with some nice keyboard or processed guitar layers with the tone backed all the way off to make ’em sound more like Stars Of The Lid from back in the day. It’s complemented by some nice understated bass, and then some half-sung vocals and some slow arpeggiated guitar. It’s a nice contrast to the preceding track, even though it sounds not far off a drummerless cover of Joy Division’s circa “Atmosphere”. Obviously it’s not as good as that though. Pleasant as the vocals are, the guy singing ’em sure ain’t a vocalist, as some of the phrasing is awkward to say the least. A guitar starts feedbacking nicely towards the end to highlight the melodicism and treads a very fine line between ‘nice’ and ‘total cheese’.

“Wipe the sun off your shoes” is the final track and is another mantra of repeated chord sequences as the guitarist slowly gets his jig on again and starts soaring up, up and away. And that’s it. Five minutes of build-up and then it peters out again quite quickly. It’s quite a nice understated song for the most part, even if the drums sound like they’re sampled from ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’.

Overall, Electric Assembly are defiantly not following current fashion, which can only be applauded. However, they do seem to be defiantly following something that went out of fashion a few years ago. That’s not a bad thing either, but the thing is, there’s nothing here that I haven’t heard a few thousand times before, and usually done a fair bit better. I hate writing negative reviews but this is some seriously uninspiring shit right here: Must try harder.

Anyway, ‘White Splinter’ has been released in a limited edition of 100 CDs in swanky hardboard hand-painted covers and they’re a-running out already. Get yourself over the band’s website to hear some of this music and purchase a copy if you’re a more forgiving person than me:

Electric Assembly website

Electric Assembly Myspace

Dream Driven Records website

Defense Grid: The Awakening (XBox 360/PC)

Posted: September 21st, 2009, by Alex McChesney

I’ve purchased three games for the XBox 360 in the past month. A two-for-one coupon bagged me cheap second-hand copies of Grand Theft Auto IV and Bioshock from a local shop. Fine games, both, they were developed by large teams and retailed at full price upon release, and neither has had a look in since I spent 800 points (about $10 or £6.80) to download Defense Grid.

Games in the “tower defense” sub-genre are generally pretty simple affairs. A pre-defined stream of baddies march into your base, intent on grabbing some of the resources held there and making off with them. You have a limited amount of cash with which to purchase towers that have various effects on the enemies, the cheapest and most common of which is simply to fire a stream of bullets (arrows, whatever) at them. Killing bad guys earns you more cash with which to build more towers, or upgrade those you have, with the level ending when you wipe out the enemy or all your resources have been stolen. Like the best games of strategy, from a simple rule-set a complex web of interactions and tactics emerges, and because of the relative ease with which they can be developed, they have generally manifested as lightweight “casual” games, or browser-based timesinks like FlashElementTD.

So why spend actual cash money on Defense Grid: The Awakening when you can play virtually the same game for free many times over? Well, for one, the definition of a tower defense game is loose enough that it can be easily screwed up. A tiny imbalance between enemy unit types and available towers could render the game unplayable, or so easy as to be pointless. As you work your way through each level of Defense Grid’s story mode, it becomes clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into the design of the enemies and the towers themselves, ensuring that there is never a single one-size-fits-all solution to any given situation.

But while you can tell yourself that you’re only interested in the intellectual challenge, part of you is still tickled by big, flashy spectacle, something that Defense Grid delivers in spades. The core gameplay may be relatively basic, but it’s presented with the glossy sheen of an expensive mainstream title. Your bases are lonely sci-fi ruins perched among canyons and glaciers, the enemy a horde of alien mechs destined to melt under the concentrated firepower of your laser turrets and cannons. I may be advancing through my thirties, but I still get a little thrill from making a giant alien robot explode prettily, and I expect you do too. Beyond the graphical sheen you also have an amusing AI narrator who sounds to these ears to be a dead ringer for Patrick Stewart, and a serviceable if generic soundtrack.

The main story mode comprises three diverse maps, plus three bonus levels and a stack of rule-tweaking challenge modes. If you’re of a mindset that enjoys a thoughtful experience at the same time as blowing shit up, Defense Grid’s well worth the few bucks being asked for it.

Official Site
Defense Grid on XBox Marketplace
Defense Grid for PC on Steam

THE MALE NURSE – My Own Private Patrick Swayze (7″, Guided Missile)

Posted: September 18th, 2009, by JGRAM

The Male Nurse were this amazing Fall-esqe spiky lo-fi band that hit the DIY scene around the same time as Bis, The Delgados, Urusei Yatsura and Mogwai et al.  Sharing a guitarist with The Country Teasers they sported one of the scariest and most awkward looking frontmen around.

They put out a few singles but when they recorded a session for John Peel in June 1997 it revealed them at their most demented as the stand out track “My Own Private Patrick Swayze” describing a scenario that could only be derived from the most disturbed recesses of the human mind.  The whole season was great but it really was this song that stood out and astounded and set The Male Nurse several pegs higher than the latest crop of The Fall wannabes.

Proceedings begin with the singer Keith Farquhar declaring that he has his “own two feet high Patrick Swayze living under his bed at night.”  Through the ensuing verses what happens to this little man gets described in great depth, not least the reality that the two foot high Patrick Swayze would get regularly measured and if he grew he would be in trouble.  Next the narrator describes how his favourite item of clothing for the two foot high Patrick Swayze is the “Elvis gear.”  Finally at night Swayze would apparently be found serving cocktails “wearing men’s but women’s stockings and suspenders” but eventually being wrapped up in gaffa tape and being the prize in some demented game of pass the parcel.  Fantasy in indie never got so explicit or spectacular.  You can bet neither Pete Doherty or Kasabian ever wrote songs like this.

Tapes of this session/performance rapidly circulated and in my own experience occasionally served as car singalong music in a decrepit Wayne’s World style.

Sadly the band missed the boat on this momentum and by the time the song was finally released as a single it was long after the enthusiasm for the Peel session had died down and even then it felt as if this version of song (unsurprisingly inferior to the session version) was laboured and rushed out.  The band never even released an album.

Elsewhere on the record “Deep/Fried” is a real departure from the band away from their original scratchy guitar roots moving onto tinny drum machine beats and keyboard hopscotch pierced by nonsensical repetitive lyrics.  In many ways this would prove to be their song most in the spirit of The Fall.

As the news of Patrick Swayze’s passing on the same day as Keith Floyd filters through here is my backwards tribute to a very bad actor.

Thesaurus moment: inspired.

The Male Nurse

Guided Missile

DINOSAUR PILE-UP – Traynor (7″, Friends Vs Records)

Posted: September 14th, 2009, by JGRAM

Sounding like the Weezer take on grunge this is a relatively clean affair when I had been led to believe that this would be the return to superfuzz.

Believe it or not once upon a time circa the early nineties a hell of a lot of indie bands sounded like this, bands that were too clean for Kerrang but packed enough punch in order to alienate themselves far enough away from the charts and too much mainstream coverage.

There is an air of a good Senseless Things song and a sharp Mega City Four one attached to this one sided seven inch (one side for reasons known only to the band and their label).

You would like to think that the “Traynor” reference is to Todd Trainor, which would be cool, but there is nothing really in this record that would suggest anything so savvy.  Instead all signs appear to point to a sound that will eventually soften and have any nasty, rebellious edges ironed out as the band, if they are lucky, will find themselves being picked up by good management and a major in the style of say a Nine Black Alps only to find themselves being dropped one record later.  At least it is not pop punk or dad rock.

For a band sending out such negative vibes you really do not sense any such malice in their delivery or voices.  Suck it in, toughen up.

Yours sincerely.

Thesaurus moment: lambs

Dinosaur Pile-up

Friends Vs Records

SUTUREE – Suturee (CD, self-released)

Posted: September 14th, 2009, by Simon Minter

Okay, okay, so this album came out way back in the distant past – well, 2008 at least – and it’s totally remiss of me to have taken until now to get around to writing even these bare few words about it. In all honesty though, that’s one aspect of ‘being a reviewer’ that I can never get my head around: the need to act hastily and be constantly at the mercy of release schedules and whatnot. Nuts to all that, I say, music’s supposed to be timeless, isn’t it? Surely that should stand for reviews, too. Especially in these days of digital downloads and blah blah blah. Anyway. Suturee – ie ‘one who has been sutured’ – have put together a lovely album here. It’s sleepy and slightly blurred in the way that Galaxie 500 once were – soft rhythm tracks with clear guitar lines ringing through, and almost whispered dual male/female vocals. A sense of relaxation and bliss permeates. It’s a really clean production, too, with lots of space left open by the dulled drums, allowing for echo and reverb to ring out on the vocal and guitar lines. There’s something of the Low about Suturee, but without being so dramatically sparse. This is more lush (with a lower-case l), with some of that post-MBV subtle strummed-chords-being-bent guitar stuff going on. What sets it apart from being yet another nu-shoegaze recording, though, is a sense of exploration and differentness that comes through from time to time. The banjo that ramps up the emotion on ‘Afraid Of Hands’, or the piano-led sad whimsy of ‘Wait Less’, suggest more than simple copycatting going on here. It’s also beautifully compact – nine tracks in just over half an hour. Yep, it took me maybe a year to listen to just over half an hour of music. Luckily, it was very much worth the wait.

Suturee website

MALE BONDING/COLD PUMAS – Split Single (7″, Faux Discx)

Posted: September 12th, 2009, by JGRAM

With screwy sounding surf guitars and vocals delivered in the style of a teenage Mark E. Smith the relentless brawl of Male Bonding is a fun step back to the lo-fi scene of the late nineties that felt capable of taking on all comers using instruments akin to items made from cereal boxes.  In a world that sometimes appreciates raucous, loud and distorted guitar explosions when soughting a pay off, this is the stuff of kings.

The comparison that immediately springs to mind when considering Male Bonding is The Yummy Fur crossed with an aggressive Vampire Weekend; I think they might more appreciate a nod towards the No Age element of their stylings.  Regardless any band that states that the Drowned In Sound forum is “like an indie British National Party” (as in Loud And Quiet magazine) cannot be all bad even if the jibe just stretch Mick Hucknall.

On the flipside Cold Pumas provide something altogether more atonal.  Caked in white noise with machine drums straight from the nearest factory pounding its way to dysfunction, piercing shards of jagged guitar then arrive and enter the mix as a device to confront.  These people playing on this record are not men, they are a well oiled machine pumping out sounds in a most efficient fashion on a production line of noise with the sole purpose and intent of putting the listener at ill ease and to make them move (convulse) involuntarily.  Health never sounded this good.

Thesaurus moment: noisome.

Male Bonding

Cold Pumas

Faux Discx