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DEERHOOF – Deerhoof vs. Evil (Joyful Noise)

Posted: March 6th, 2011, by Pascal Ansell

You heard Deerhoof? Yeah they’re really great. Here’s a picture:

Really great. You heard new album Evil?

San Francisco’s finest are back with buckets of anti-Evil vengeance. With no outside engineery-type help Deerhoof are a self-recording/self-producing force this time round. Released by Joyful Noise (among others) on cassette, packed with handbaked editing goodness, a collection with all varieties of nonsensical twinkly sonic innovation. Over the duration of several weeks each track was cannily leaked by the band over different sites, and after a good bout of surfing you can access them all from their hub.

Straight off we’re treated to a flabbergasting range of sounds squeezed from guitars which sound like overworked (and underpaid) machines. Six strings act as cash registers and angry hair dryers, doing well to resemble anything but guitars on the glimmering opening track, sung in Catalan.

The Merry Barracks is a sweet droplet of a Deerhoof tune and the album’s standout track. An inexplicably crude bassline begins while the rest of the band plain ignore it to proceed bashing out one of Deerhoof’s most perfect songs to date. Addictive hook, sweet harmony, free noise guitar solo – just perfect. And served up right after is another superlative: probably their sweetest, most heart-wrenching tun;, acoustic guitars a-winding, faint vocals, tender percussion… it’s here.

Midway through we’re treated with a vicious cover of the theme tune to a dusty old Greek film whose name you won’t know and don’t need to. A shrieking, glittering delight, perfect clear guitar chimes a pierced line, chasing an abrasive riff. The album’s last third sees Deerhoof doing their best to write some convention into the tunes, with some beautiful instances of pinching a tight harmony at the ends of phrases.

Irrelevance is on my mind. Explorations are interesting in themselves but it might give the impression of a breathless trip round an ingenious mini-golf club, a toy theme park and finally a sweet shop of red herrings. Did we fall into any catchy cobblestone steps on the way? You bet we did. What did we learn? Err, rhubarb and custard, liquorice… Plus a stomach full of smarties.

Deerhoof do their job though serving their trademark sweet and sour,  a dish delirious with saccharine rips of kitchen scourer. Disjointed, sloppy drum beats are the order of the day, the magic stick wizard Greg Saunier otherwise taking a back seat for songwriting to steer the album. All is in order but the deer and the hoof haven’t let go of their tedious habit of allowing an album to peter out as per usual in a weak mesh of synths and melodramatic vocals.

Apart from some questionable diversions, a truly first rate, top mark, 5 sticky gold stars to slap on their progress report – and a big smiley crayon face – I am truly in danger of gushing at every sparkly track and not letting it to yourselves; Just like that sweaty taxi driver who never lets you get out and see for yourself – arms obsession hairy. You should be happy that there’s too much sweet Deerhoofy goodness that I haven’t mentioned.

Joyful Noise

Pascal Ansell

JOAN OF ARC – Oh Brother (Joyful Noise)

Posted: February 12th, 2011, by Pascal Ansell

Even if all that was caught on tape was an indiscreet sample of midday farting, I’d leap at the chance to review anything that shaggy rhythm monkey / god Zach Hill would wave his sticks at. Thankfully Oh Brother catches more than a mere guff of his rhythmic arse cheeks. Zach is just one of the many collaborators on what seems to be an Almost Joan of Arc release, JOA being kings of complicated floppy-haired indie rock.

If this is “indie-rock for the initiated” as Mr Press Release would have it, where are we going with new music? Free improv and electronic meanderings are making their steady invasion, I can only hope, into the cardigan armpits of guitar-slingers.

Oh Brother is four movements of roughly 20 mins each – movements, of what? Drones, Sonic Youthish plod plod plodding + jangling guitar, metronomic kraut rock, and mashes of unloosed improv, seething arrows pointing at all angles. Although well edited, this is in effect a series of long jams which are interrupted, cut clean and diced between fairly interesting interludes of electronic spasms and ad-lib drumkit drooling. One thought popping up a bit too regularly is that the ideas aren’t worth the space they’re given. Too much assorted veg, begging for more meat.

More to be said about the editing, above all the album’s deftest of fingernails polishings. Clever segues are brought on by synthy blips, an acoustic guitar section opens the window for fresh direction, brightly signalling yet another segue, that of the third movement’s sheet of crash symbols and rippling feedback. Yet I’m enjoying the ideas more than their execution. Is there any real, exciting development of concept? Most of it feels like the culminations of bygone jams.

And Zach? He has some moments: classic skipping beat that twists i’ ‘nan ‘dout of conventional rhythm at the cock crow of movement #4, then there’s some appetising all-out, ruthless free gorging of the kit scattered around the entire LP. The excessive is contained, that is I suppose the aim, but there was much lacking from the excess in the first place.

Chopped up and blended into lumps of obsessions, it’s partly lacking cohesion, more bedroom fantasy than triumphant chronicle of vision. It works; just, kind of, not really, but is fun all the same.


Pascal Ansell

POLAR BEAR – Peepers (The Leaf Label)

Posted: March 6th, 2010, by Pascal Ansell

Much of the album is distinctly without the dark artistry found in the British jazz quintet’s previous offerings. ‘Peepers’ find these arctic puppies far more careful in exposing mad technical skillz. They’re not bursting to restrain themselves either, things are well held back and content. A less twisty, tricky release: the gold is in the shrewd developments of ideas: form takes precedence here, placement rides high, especially in the title track (listen and listen again andlistenagain here). It’s one of the most cannily organised tunes I’ve heard for in yonks. Good on them! Mr Drummer, Seb Rochford, is on it as ever; impressively natty, inventive and slick jazz drumming.

With ‘Peepers’ everything seems more than ever on the BuMpY side – smooth riding is for the most part chucked out, along with the all-out disjointedness so familiar with PB. The opener ‘Happy For You’ instantly glistens with guitar chords, chiming in my head in an oddly ‘wistful’ way (funny to describe vibrating strings as wistful). ‘Peepers’ as a whole is irresistibly optimistic but I worry that it won’t last as long in my hifi than their earlier releases. All the same, it gave me meaning to a wonderful week of my life full of couchsurfing and weird chocolate cake. As I said, and will continue saying: Good on them!


Pascal Ansell

Woodchucker / Jonatan Nästesjö – Leaves Never Leave (Walk Through Records)

Posted: January 28th, 2010, by Pascal Ansell

“I wanted this album to be a story about the Swedish woods, seas and summer nights.”

I like Sweden, I really do, and so this review is seriously biased. Read at your peril!

So: I never, ever read press releases before listening to whatever that whoever’s just sent me. But you can’t beat a personal correspondence with the artist in all his humble and honest self. Prior to indulging in Jonatan’s bubbly warm electronica I read his handwritten note: “This record is about the Swedish woods, I like them very, very much”.

Talking about no track in particular, Jonatan bristles along the edges of sheer beauty throughout the album. He retains a great sense of tentativeness about these pieces, gently probing the subtle. Jonatan’s album smells of Sweden. It is terrifically evocative, blissfully busy in execution. Clips of the woods and birdsong teem with chiming guitars, sweeping about the shoreline. This record is really good, it’s really, really good; it makes me want to shake the rails, to bike ride, eat all the fridge and see my friends. In short, it’s heavily inspiring and heaving with inspiration.

What if Leaves… had nothing to do with Sweden, wasn’t designed with the characteristically understated beauty of Scandinavia? I’d like to think it would evoke something. I’m warming to an association, as we all do. It’s natural to pay more attention to the offshoots of the things that give us beauty and warm experiences. It may seem depressing, but an informed knowledge is a deeper knowledge, our way of getting ‘closer’. And so on, and sun on, and onwards.­

Jonatan commits a forgivable fluff in burning out a little early. This is a constant but by no means fully accomplished album. As for what’s next, I almost want him to “disappear behind the birds”. Which is silly of me. All I could ask him is to keep listening to nature, to keep his ears keen and canny. Yet laying expectation, in any way, is risky. I’ve thought about his upcoming stuff: will he do this, will it help to do that..? I’m aware all of this is smothered in my thorough recommendations. In many ways it’s useless – I should shut up and hope Jonatan will do whatever he frickin’ likes.

*The latest: He’s broken his old laptop. This is good news. New music is on the way.

Woodchucker / Jonatan Nästesjö

Pascal Ansell

Push/Pull – Between Noise and the Indians (Joyful Noise)

Posted: January 24th, 2010, by Pascal Ansell

Snares and crashes straight to the central nervous – a jolly classic rockin’ racket recommended for those hairy wrinkling ears of yours. ‘Hungry’ has one proud lion of a riff, a four minute parade, well deserving a stadium. And you, he, she, one doesn’t often notice a good bassist, but a good old crunch on this chap’s strings is welcome, very welcome.

There are bits of Tony Iommi and King Buzzo’s greying pubes spitting around this plentiful logfire of fun. It’s as humble as a domino, swaggering the natural swagger. I like it.


Pascal Ansell

SOUND LIBERATION – Open Up Your Ears and Get Some (Col Legno)

Posted: May 1st, 2009, by Pascal Ansell

Terrific title, dubious album. New York’s self-proclaimed chamber ensemble/band declare their existence with the objective to “end the segregation of sound vibration”. Idealistic? Quixotic? Proof and pudding situation: essentially this means freeing all genres, tossing about with the sound and seeing what happens.

Sound Liberation try their hand at a wildly ambitious number of genres: crap happy-clappy rock, urban rap, soul and straight-down-the-line pop, as well as chucking in token world and jazz for good measure. This has to be the most incoherent album I’ve ever heard. It’s in the latter styles that Sound Liberation are finally listenable, feeling far more at home with jittery klezmer nonsense and moody modern jazz.

Things really fall apart with Xzibit-esque rapping that doesn’t just border on but wilfully tramples around embarrassing. However, this album is worth your attention for its instrumental sections. Where a lot of the album sounds horridly confused there is a shimmer of class not evident throughout. ‘Let Go of my Soul’ is fantastic – a subtle, reserved but charged tour though a fast-paced techno landscape. Other winners expose trumpets, whirling John McGloughlin-esque guitar and smooth bass lines competing for space.

Things are best when the rappers shut their gobs and let the 16-strong band take you for a ride. This may be the Sound Liberation but a few shackles would do this motley bunch a world of good.

Sound Liberation

Col Legno

Pascal Ansell

THE DELICIOUS – The Delicious The Delicious (Joyful Noise)

Posted: March 4th, 2009, by Pascal Ansell

“All the right influences are intact (Pavement, Weezer…)” – says Ghettoblaster. The Delicious are “shooting from the hip… throwing of splashes of numerous flavours of ramshackle pop” according to Daytrotter. But the best till last: “I’m so proud of my grandson” – Grandma. What better advertising sticker could possibly be slapped upon the cover for this tasty new album?

(How can you have “the right influences” by the way?)

The Delicious play sweet sweet indie-rock all the way from Indiana, with nothing frighteningly novel coming from the speakers but there are some decent tunes.They decide not to take the most conventional road down pop/indie lane. Songs are very well-written and unpredictable in the best sense of the word, fitting together like a charmingly motley jigsaw. The stomping beat in ‘One Leg’ is infectious, and so is the general joy that the album brings.

It might sound really patronising to deem this album ‘pleasant’ or ‘uplifting’ but it really is. It’s not going to charm the hairs off your leg but there’s enough ol’ toe-tapping rock, and very memorable, very catchy songs on this one. Get stuck in then!

The Delicious

Pascal Ansell

JAMES REID – Tales Between the Tides (Autumn Ferment)

Posted: February 25th, 2009, by Pascal Ansell

Here we have some more slow-burning folk from Scotland’s Autumn Ferment label. This limited edition 7″ vinyl is by James Reid, a resident Fifer, and the sea is very well captured with serene swells and wispy electronics.

The first track ‘She waits by the Shore” is fantastic if the sound is really turned up – the room throbs with a mesmerising synth line. The mix is layered with warm electronics, decorated by clear and crisp acoustic guitar, with Reid’s voice resting somewhere in the middle. Some very minimal beat-work compliments Reid’s dark and mellow voice.

The music doesn’t quite ‘lift-off’ as you’d like it too, but then again personal expectations are nothing to be relied upon. This seems to be a ‘stop-off’ single from Reid (the songs are not intended to be on any album) so I look forward to a full release!

James Reid

Pascal Ansell

HI RED CENTER – Assemble (Joyful Noise)

Posted: February 12th, 2009, by Pascal Ansell

Ah, shucks. It’s always going to be difficult because the stuff that hasn’t been done before has all been done before. Know what I mean? Look at Volcano! And Deerhoof for that matter. Just look at them! Where do you go from there?

To the point then. Hi Red Center come from New York and are on the Joyful Noise label that lives up to its name. In comes HRC’s Second album ‘Assemble’ is a treat, but there are holes.

This album glitters and sparkles. It’s a hall of mirrors where you occasionally get tripped up, clothes snagged but ultimately it’s an exhilarated by the jarringly fun tour. Track six it grew on me like the rash on my neck: give me Chicken Gorlet anytime because this song is brilliantly addictive.

They have tackled the Deerhoof approach not in the naïvest of ways (cutesy melodies, sparse and interchangeable dynamics) yet they haven’t really pulled it off. While I’m at it there’s a rather too noticeable use of the Deerhoof rubato i.e. the whopping loosness of rhythm, the holding back… until the niggling smash and wallop of instruments. It doesn’t quite convince. But to hell with it: this review is too full of doesn’ts and haven’ts and rashes – this makes cracking listening and I may be hoping for a bit too much. Songwriting takes precedence from experimentation, and the attempted sound is just not quite their own. But note the ‘quite’. This is a very decent album – HRC are on their way to making something pretty special.

I’m going to the doctor by the way. About the rash.

Hi Red Center

Pascal Ansell

THE JELAS – Blood Smash (Ingue Records)

Posted: January 26th, 2009, by Pascal Ansell

The Jelas are a puzzle. Blood Smash is the trio’s new EP conundrum to be unravelled by the hardy listener – the EP literally is a puzzle. Each song has multiple ‘shapes’ according to the inner sleeve that matches whatever combination the listener feels fit.

In fact the songs themselves sound jumbled, with each player carving out their own line regardless of what ever noise that attempts to overwhelm them. The male/female singing is blended and pushed further out, triggering a nicely jarring tune. Different keys clash, drums slow to super snail-pace – it’s a compliment that The Jelas sound like they’d be great to see live.

Blood Smash isn’t terribly well produced and has a flat demo feel. It’s hardly a criminal offence and I like a good old messy and rough record, but the drums deserve better mic work, or whatever it is that producers do. With terrific cartoon designs and a tidy aesthetic, Blood Smash is worth buying just for the great cover art, and £5 isn’t an unreasonable price. A decent release from Bristol’s fledgling independent label, Ingue Records.

The Jelas

Ingue Records

Pascal Ansell