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THE SWARM – Red Paint On The Odessa Steps (Fight Me)

Posted: December 23rd, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

Make no mistake, this is nasty stuff. Trenchant, massively-distorted basslines, an entire Luftwaffe squadron of hissing guitars, sing-song Liars-style vocal snippets and The Locust’s misanthropic approach to melody – and that’s just in opening track ‘War Course’. ‘The Night The Rope Broke’ is relentlessly bleak, with some David Yow-style vocal acrobatics weighing in against an almost-industrial backdrop. ‘Rising up Through Your Chest’ complements its menacing coda perfectly by landing a gunship laden with old 70s synths square on top of it, and there are all manner of pleasing digital belches and skwerks punctuating the altogether more analogue aggression elsewhere. Perhaps best of the lot, if you’ve the stomach for it, is the sludgy magnum opus ‘The Last Friend Left Alive’, which finds the middle ground between The Birthday Party’s ostentatiousness and the bullish antagonism of Will Haven and celebrates its achievement by hammering the point home for ten minutes.

Sure, there are times when The Swarm lean a little heavily on their influences (viz. The Jesus Lizard on ‘Shacked Up With The Flies’), but they get away with it, through bloody-minded belligerence if nothing else. Not only are you guaranteed an absolute hammer blow of hardcore barbarism, but there’s measured intelligence waiting underneath all the bombast, each track slipping out of your grasp with a deft sidestep just when you think you’ve got a handle on it. Nasty stuff then, but excellent with it.

Who knows what they’re putting in the water up in Derby, but the fellas at Fight Me Records, who have already put out Fixit Kid and You Judas! alongside The Swarm this year, are starting to put together a very impressive roster. More please!

The Swarm
Fight Me Records

THE CATHODE RAY SYNDROME* – Use Forgotten Tools (self-released)

Posted: February 3rd, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

Weighty stuff here from the Cathode Ray Syndrome, who have even called their website War Against Clich√©. They’re one of those bands with important-sounding song titles like The Art of Poetry is Dying’, and whose band manifesto offers a partial solution to the problem that ‘passion has been mislaid under manufactured society’. Big Themes, then, and themes dealt with by what are essentially instrumental post-rock tunes varying from the striking to the strikingly unoriginal. First track Princess-X might have sounded extraordinary five or six years ago, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the Tupperware party going on round at Sweep and Godspeed!’s house. It strikes magnificent, self-important poses, but chops and changes between well-trodden paths without ever sound like it wants to forge its own path.

Laudable influences notwithstanding, there’s nothing in the first three tracks to make me holler “REVOLUTION!” from the rooftops, as they shoot admiring sidelong glances at Constellation and June of 44, but – hurrah! – when the CRS* veer off and follow their hearts, they’re terrific. Kneejerk Practice pulls together fuzzy keyboard basslines and distorted beats with a closely-woven pattern of arpeggios, like These Arms Are Snakes taking their hand to Mogwai’s Christmas Steps. Solutions for Solved Problems takes a while to get going, picking its way around some pretty harmonics, but the home run locks into a great, pulsing groove, while New Theory/Robots works itself into a handclap-led quasi-disco break. Moments of brilliance, then, and that’s no bad thing.

The Cathode Ray Syndrome*

SOILED – Mindnumb (Elm Lodge Records)

Posted: January 25th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

A series of ideas. Little ones. Maybe one per track. Some very good. Tracks don’t get going. Often enough. A series of electronic palettes of sound here from Soiled, which as you may have gathered, are mostly on the brief side. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on which side of the not-outstaying-your-welcome vs. not-developing-your-ideas-properly line you stand on. Me? Ambivalent as ever.

Opening track ‘Mindnumb’ revolves around one scuzzy drum break, filtered up and down, back and forth, distorted, clean, and Req-like in its simplistic, lo-fi delivery. It’s a fine introduction to something more developed, but not a lot more, and sadly the next couple of tracks don’t move things to the next level either. ‘Bingo Beauty’ and ‘Bad Vowel Movement at WP Primary’ are both promising, the latter coming across like the drop in a Pest tune, while the former reminds me of the introduction to something by Movietone. ‘Paranoid Conclusions No. 7’ succeeds because it gives itself a bit of space to find its own character – a pleasingly-hyperactive mashup of I Care Because You Do arpeggios, and easily the most satisfying piece here. The EP works well as a sampler showing off the way Soiled go about producing music, but it’d be great to hear them tackle some ideas at greater length.


APHRON – The Woodbine Sessions (self-released)

Posted: January 25th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

A mixed bag from Aphron, who seemingly can’t decide whether they want to be a sweeping, emotive pop outfit, a heads-down rock band or a limp collision of the two. Opener ‘The Obfuscation’ is aptly titled – a nicely-arranged, keyboard-laden piece, but one which plods along likeably enough without ever really amounting to much, and which keeps us guessing at what they’re trying to pull off. ‘Louder’ immediately ups the stakes, the change in pace suiting the flourishes of keyboard and baritone vocals well to produce something of interest. What ‘Louder’ does for showing off the band’s strengths, sadly ‘Severed Land’ does for their weaknesses: there’s too much emphasis on some fairly weak lyrics and the change in dynamics two thirds of the way through is abrupt, and not in a pleasant way. And for a second there, it almost – almost – has the stamp of Mick Hucknall’s pink pancakes, so that’s where we leave…


MARSHALL WATSON – The Time Was Later Than He Expected (Highpoint Lowlife)

Posted: January 20th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

Synths go plonk and beats spit and hiss on this latest release from the Highpoint Lowlife lot. It’s actually billed as being part of the ‘indie-electronic landscape’, whatever that is, and it’s certainly easy to imagine that this is the kind of electronica that fans of Tortoise’s more recent output would get on very well with, for better or for worse. By which I mean that it shares some of the traits which have been bogging down post rock over the last few years – caught up in their own composition and finding it hard to break from the self-imposed formula that keeps most of the album entrenched firmly in its own niche, the tracks hint at a portentousness they simply don’t have.

The album’s intricately put together and admirably precise, but for all the sweeping minor chords and syrupy washes, it can be difficult to find the heart of this music. The tracks build and drop in all the right places to say ‘come, emote with me’, but it’s an evocation to something inconsequential or ephemeral for the most part. The tunes are certainly pretty in places, and the uncluttered space in which the ideas in each track find themselves is refreshing, but they tend to flirt with substance where they should be making bolder claims for themselves. ‘Square Wheels’ is notable because it ups the pace, throws in a couple of nice breaks and works around a simple but effective melody; as such, it’s immediately head and shoulders above the rest of the pieces here.

Highpoint Lowlife

SOULO – Man, The Manipulator (Plug Research)

Posted: January 20th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

Now this is more like it. Soulo approach their music with an admirable anything-goes attitude that sees them throw a stack of instruments into some microphones and recording the results. Not that there’s anything random about the record – it’s a fine balance between orchestrated electro pop and synth-fuelled downtempo goodness. More often not, this admirable scope of ideas runs into the kind of chops and breaks that Ninja Tune put out when they’re not plastering the coffee tables of Hoxton with 85bpm easy listening. ‘What Do You Say After Hello?’ is as frazzled as Homelife’s finest moments, while ‘Daddy’s Girl, Mama’s Boy’ approximates to Super Numeri rehearsing in the same room as Capitol K. ‘The Peter Principle’, meanwhile, starts off with some crumpling, distorted kicks, which fade back into a lush arrangement, like Beck taking the spanners to the Cinematic Orchestra.

Naturally, there are moments when the album doesn’t hold together as well as it might, and when they lose their focus, the record can sag into periods of indifference. When they’re sitting still on one theme, there’s a sense of restlessness, and in fact they’re much stronger when screaming excitedly through a series of shorter tracks like a sugar-fuelled child in a toy shop. It’s perhaps short of the one or two classic tracks that might propel it on to great things, but if you’re a fan of throwing a load of ideas against a wall and seeing what sticks, √° la Max Tundra, this is well worth a listen.


MAN PLAYING KAZOO – Black & White & Grey (self-released)

Posted: January 20th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

Sadly, not a descriptive title from a one-man kazoo outfit, but a maudlin four-piece rock outfit from Nottingham. ‘Friendly Guy’ has a stab at epic, sweeping chunks of rock, but doesn’t take it far enough beyond bog-standard quiet/loud territory to mark it out from a few thousand other bands, and the verses give a little too much emphasis to some gratingly pitying lyrical content. They’re much better when they keep things uptempo – there’s Matt Bellamy-esque intonation to James Housley’s delivery, thankfully without the wailing histrionics, and the pace is kept crisp and lively throughout. But I have to wade through thirty boxes of this sort of stuff just to get into my room, and the band really need to push themselves out on a limb and forge something individual from their strengths if they’re gonna make a name for themselves. Oh, and get a man playing a kazoo.

Man Playing Kazoo


Posted: January 11th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

CHUG CHUG CHUG CHUG CHUG. Macaque from Finland possibly own a few Helmet records. ‘I Wanna Be Your Failure’ and ‘Whatever’ both trundle along inoffensively enough at a brisk walking pace, but without an instinctive grasp for a killer hook with which to beat you into submission, they plod from muted verse to not-quite-epic-enough-to-pull-this-sort-of-thing-off chorus. There’s a laconic vocal somewhere between Page Hamilton at his most bored and Eddie Vedder musing to himself in the shower, and the kids certainly know how to CHUG. The pace change in ‘130’ is welcome, with a promisingly all-over-the-place breakdown at the end spoilt by a final track reminiscent of constipated mid-nineties grunge outfit Moist. They’re not without talent, certainly, but it all sounds too noncommittal to get excited about. C’mon fellas, we wanna see some blood!


ALINA SIMONE – Prettier in the Dark

Posted: January 11th, 2005, by Stuart Fowkes

It’s no secret that I have more than a passing interest in the music of Cat Power, but when a press release comes covered in references to Matador’s finest, I get the fear: it’s usually a pretty lame ‘girl with guitar sings sad songs’ comparison that detracts from both artists. Thankfully not so here: while Alina Simone might not be possessed of the kind of voice that tenses every nerve in your body, there’s an impressive, understated elegance at work in these five songs that suggests she’s cut from the same cloth as Chan Marshall. ‘Louisiana Song’ (the highlight here) treads a similar path, obliquely and vulnerable, and unfolding a story just as shyly as it gives up its musical secrets; it wouldn’t sound out of place on Myra Lee. Alina’s at her most impressive when the songs are at their quietest, her backing musicians filling in the spaces with an admirably light hand. Elsewhere, there are shades of Julie Doiron in the poised, smoky tones of ‘Prettier in the Dark’, and maybe a touch of Shannon Wright in the arrangement of ‘Siberia’. In amongst these touchstones and reference points may be the biggest challenge for Alina at the moment – carving a niche in a crowded field of some rare talent. But if songs as gorgeous as the remarkable ‘Louisiana Song’ continue to appear, she could just be onto something.

Alina Simone


Posted: November 25th, 2004, by Stuart Fowkes

There are certain song titles you cannot argue with, and ‘Punk Rock Vampires: Destroy!’ is one of them. Yep, Zombina and the Skeletones are one of those bands – y’know, the ones that dress up like SKELLINGTONS and sing about bloodsuckers and Plan 9 From Outer Space and Hammer Horror and A-bomb testing and and and… Anyway, it’s a breakneck sprint through a deserted graveyard of schlocky reference points that certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome – if you’re a fan of Little Hell, Russ Meyer or Evil Dead 2, you’ll find something to get off on here. These tunes clearly take their cue from The Cramps, but with less of the evil Elvis psychobilly melodrama and more on the handclappy pop punk side of things. In places, it’s a little lightweight, but it’s the same difference as watching Ring for the first time and being chilled to your very core, and getting a massive candy floss sugar buzz and going on the ghost train. It ain’t scary, but then it’s not supposed to be, and the whole thing is a bubbling test tube of undead shoxploitation goodness. Now, in the absence of Zombina’s first horror movie, I’m off to dig out me copy of A Date With Elvis

Zombina and the Skeletones