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VILLAGERS – Becoming A Jackal (7″, Domino)

Posted: May 22nd, 2010, by JGRAM

Here is another limited edition release from Record Store Day.  By the point of this purchase I was just snapping up any cool looking or sounding release in order to bump up my goodies and prevent the people at the counter giggling at my pathetic collection of rubbish sucker releases.  I’m not so sure that this release should have made the cut however.

I have actually see Villagers and it was not an experience I would care to share or repeat.  The buzz was good with them being signed to Domino and all but the reality was trite and laboured.  For this I blame Bon Ivor and his log cabin bullshit.

Hailing from Ireland unfortunately this means Mr Conor J. O’Brien possesses a singing voice that reminds me of Feargal Sharkey gone through an auto tuner.  And we all know what happened to that guy.

It is all very impassioned and aimed (maybe cynically) at an audience experiencing a crisis and mentally drifting off into the distance as life becomes difficult for their kind.  Am I being too harsh?

Taking a deep breath and endeavouring to listen to this afresh things don’t really manage to improve as his storytelling style of lyrical narrative portrays a slow version of life that I just cannot relate to, one where a person has too long to dwell on the whimsy of life and little in the way of an arc existence.  I bet skinny people have sex to this music.

I still blame The Wicker Man.

Thesaurus moment: grandiose.





Posted: May 4th, 2010, by Simon Minter

Hey Colossus certainly know how to churn out the misanthropic, churning noise, don’t they? This is their sixth album (at least), coming along shortly after the previous one. I’m convinced that Hey Colossus were, in the past, some kind of joke and/or irony band, but now they sound totally serious. Can anybody sustain this amount of relentlessness and intensity, and not mean it?

There are eight tracks here. The two longest bookend the rest, suggesting a palindrome of a collection with the title track hovering around the centre. ‘Question’ is one long, hellish intro, with abstract guitar in the background, the occasional bass drone, and a Sunn o)))-style two-note riff chiming in to set the tone. This all seeps into a general miasma of noise in which distorted screams seem to float, everything rushing back and forward on the stereo channels. It really is somewhat full-on, and sets the tone perfectly. ’13 Millers Court’ next solidifies the two-note riff into chugging, da-da-da repetition. Then come the vocals – like Aphex Twin’s ‘Come to Daddy’ gone further south. There’s a song in here, but it’s piled underneath a metric ton of noise and derangement. It’s like Can if they’d grown up in 1970s Birmingham. After ‘Shithouse’, a random noise collage, comes ‘Pope Long Haul III’, picking up the pace to something approximating Big Business/Melvins/Karp style thunking noise, which is then slammed repeatedly into a wall. It has some sort of groove, but buried underneath wailing screams, feedback and odd tinkles of what sound like electronic noise. This finally begins to expose itself, as the track disintegrates into something similar to Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising connecting sound passages, before dropping into some kind of musique concrete weirdness.

At the album’s centre is ‘Eurogrumble’, which heads freefalling into a downward spiral. It’s got upbeat rhythm, dissonant noise, screaming and wailing, wound into a never-ending roll of energy. Out of this comes ‘Dredges’, a well-named shifting tectonic plate of a tune, with vocals become distorted to a point of disintegration. ‘King Come’ then reflects the earlier ’13 Millers Court’ – (superb) riffs and structure, but played as if from the inside of Hawkwind’s broken speakers. Finally, ‘Wait Your Turn’ echoes ‘Question’ with a strident, portentous feel: slowly, heavily played notes tracing a path through the endless feedback and reverb, eventually collapsing into the intense and repeated hammering of a single note, voices burbling in the background, squelches and electronic squeaks gasping for air, as an insistent drumbeat attempts to tie it all together. Finally, it stutters to a halt, with no extended outro, no long fade, just silence.

So are Hey Colossus a joke band? I really don’t think so, and this album makes me think even more that perhaps they never were. There’s a moment about four minutes into ‘Eurogrumble’ where a guitar line peeps out of the noise – this proves effortlessly that the band are in full control, and have crafted this stuff very carefully. It’s pretty magnificent.

Hey Colossus website
Riot Season website

TODDLERS – 2 (CD-R, self-released)

Posted: April 24th, 2010, by Simon Minter

Toddlers are based in the glorious Berkshire hellhole that is Reading: in the past, my home for over a decade, fact fans. This is their second self-released set of songs, and if you can get past the patchy, fuzzy recording quality you might find yourself with a band that at least hints at being capable of interesting things. They have five songs here, each of which approximates a buzzing, gloomy take on angled post-grunge-rock from a slightly different perspective. Largely instrumental, their songs are constructed around the repeated deployment of a bluesy riff, augmented by some pretty fine drum rolls and flutters and an interest in experimenting with odd sounds and timing. They could perhaps benefit from laying off on even the scant vocal intrusions that are displayed here – ‘I didn’t get where I am today’ particularly suffers from being dragged into an amateurish sound that seems half joke and half noncommittal box-ticking. However, when Toddlers decide to more confidently go in a direction that could become their own, it can really work. ‘Preston’ falls into a Krautrockesque repetition of a single melodic line (à la Quickspace), and ‘World of men’ takes the blueprint of Nirvana’s angry, buzzing Bleach and slows it down to a creepy, threatening Melvins pace. These two songs hint at some kind of grunge-gone-weird sound that could one day see Toddlers contributing to a line of bands like, or at least influenced by, Melvins, Butthole Surfers or Karp. At present they’re not displaying the chops or focus to do that, but one never knows…

Toddlers on Myspace

FOALS – Spanish Sahara (7″, Warner Music Ltd)

Posted: April 23rd, 2010, by JGRAM

I once saw Foals play live at Latitude Festival and unfortunately it was one of the most feeble sets I have ever witnessed from a band with such clout being pumped into and put behind them.

Its not all hate from me honestly I have genuinely liked a number of their singles but sometimes you just have to shrug and concede “I don’t get it.”  I remember when I worked at the studio and how the A&R (A&E) lady was raving about in the context of all this nu-rave gimmick stuff.  At this point I genuinely thought there was more to them.  Then Sub Pop signed them in the US so surely there must be something there to grab hold of.  So with nice looking artwork on Record Store Day as all the limited edition releases I actually want have gone to pushier individuals than myself here is me giving them another chance.

On that note I’ll be fucked if I know what they are doing on this single.  For starters it is so fucking quiet and subdued.  Why is this?  What point are they trying to make?  Is this them sounding mature?  Sounding as if operating on a knife edge?  Am I playing the record at the wrong speed again? (no to that last one).

So well done, once again the kids have been let down by a band claiming so much and delivering so little.  How the fuck can Warners be justified in supporting this?  Why are they wasting the earth’s resources on such dross?

Eventually the song crawls out of its stupor only to resemble some eighties sports television soundtrack.  Can the bar be actually lowered any further?

Thesaurus moment: spoon


Warners Music Ltd

SHE & HIM – In The Sun (7″, Domino)

Posted: April 20th, 2010, by JGRAM

For the longest time on Record Store Day 2010 I found myself wandering around with just this seven inch in my hand.  Truly people were swarming all over limited edition stuff in the style of Sex And The City wannabes at a Next sale.  For a moment I felt panic, I wanted out of the record shop but there was no escape.  So instead I found myself just standing in a corner breathing heavily hoping to bide my time until the real goodies hidden behind the counter were to be unveiled for the patient mannered types such as myself.  It didn’t happen.  As I saw somebody carry off their vinyl version of the Sonic Youth Starbucks compilation for the eleventh time I knew my She & Him seven inch would not be alone in order to maintain cred as I approached the counter.  From here when I finally approached the checkout with my pile of potentially mediocre vinyl, including my £6 She & Him seven inch, my pain was justified as the man smiling behind the till handed me a cloth tote bag that came exclusively with this release.  Had my pain in one foul swoop suddenly been justified?  I had only been in the store almost two hours by this point.  Was it worth it?  For £41.42 I got my record store rush.

I just dropped this record.  Literally and physically, I haven’t even got around to listening to it and the corner of the spine is now already bent.  The value has just gone from mint to just very good.  Suddenly it doesn’t feel worth it.

She & Him feel like flavour of the month right now, which is not necessarily a band thing because Zooey Deschanel has a high level of cred right from back when she was a scene stealer in The Good Girl.  That said actresses taking up indie rock has something of jaded history (Juliette Lewis and Scarlett Johansson a dubious list begins with you).

In a sad way Deschanel’s efforts remind me a bit of Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line and as such make them DOA.  In John Peel style I begin listening to the seven inch at the wrong speed (listening to it after the Factory limited edition ten inch I also got at Record Store Day).  Dare I even suggest that it may sound better at such a speed (I’m down with the kids and their chopped and screwed).

I was given to believe that this would be a full on country assault but instead it is a far more sprightly affair.  Her voice reminds me a lot of Tanya Donnelly, Shannon Wright and Sarah Shannon from Velocity Girl (all fantastic vocalists) but strangely the most striking aspect that grabs me is the piano line courtesy of M Ward that reminds me of the “Self Preservation Society” theme song from The Italian Job and thus it all comes full circle and the selection never escapes Hollywood.

Thesaurus moment: wrap.

She & Him


LOS CAMPESINOS! – Romance Is Boring (7″, Wichita Records)

Posted: April 2nd, 2010, by JGRAM

This is something of a refreshing throwback to spiky and scratchy lo-fi DIY bands from a few years ago, the ones that pushed forward an idea that my own generation were able to attempt and succeed at in producing on the proviso that there was something more to it than the desire to be a star.  For this a sardonic wit always felt essential, necessary with view to confuse and sometimes abuse anyone around looking to be of a discerning nature.

The most obvious reference for a single such as this is Art Brut along with the early boy girl dynamics of the Delgados before they discovered strings and bloated arrangements.  In this it is obvious just where the appeal comes from, in the desire and need for the listener to hear nasty yet tuneful guitar music that doesn’t sink and drown in cliché.

Hailing from Cardiff (although without being Welsh) it is strange how so many bands are emerging from Wales at the moment.  They are not necessarily all good but it does suggest something about the way boredom is being dealt with in places away from the supposed centre of the universe (London).

“Romance Is Boring” is a great sentiment, one that points at something away from Care Bears and daydreams.  As ever I sense I am arriving late to the party with my enjoyment of this band but giving them the benefit of my doubts of try hard this is the kind of fun explosive indie guitar song that sadly feels rare these days.

“Too Many Flesh Suppers” on the flipside is an altogether more angular and confused state of affairs, less directed and suggestive of their appreciation/fondness for Broken Social Scene.  To some ears this will sound like a mess but to others it will be gold.  Sadly though it is a song that never lives up to its great title.

This won’t help me recapture my youth, nothing will.

Thesaurus moment: bellow.

Los Campesinos!

Wichita Recordings

THE DUSTAPHONICS – Burlesque Queen (7″, Dirty Water Records)

Posted: March 26th, 2010, by JGRAM

Perhaps not with the smartest of reasoning I am finding myself these days purchasing a lot of seven inch singles just based on their artwork.  As the format becomes sadly rarer by the week, this growing personal throwback for me presents itself more as a piece of art rather than a salient music format.  This single is a very good example of this.  I really hate the way the world of the single has gone now, the Sunday charts are so pathetic it is unreal and there is no way in hell that a band selling an MP3 or two on a given date will or should constitute a single release.  The idea of doing an “MP3 single” is one so redundant to me.  The other day I heard a pretty decent song by a band from Liverpool and I decided to check out the release date of the song I found myself faced with a two week wait to buy it from iTunes etc.  I promptly laughed my fucking arse off as I found the song on seconds via Hype MP3.  It is what they deserve.

This release however is the polar opposite of such backwards management.  For me passion oozes from the tangibility of the release.  So who the hell are The Dustaphonics?  I have no idea what their music sounds like but what I do know is that they come with amazing artwork.

Looking at the sleeve alone you get the impression it is going to be dirty, like something you might find in a John Waters or Russ Meyer movie.  Yes, music from a better time.  The cover features a golden age comic beauty, shameless and suggestive.

Having already reviewed the record before even playing the record finally upon hearing it I find myself introduced to something that sounds akin to The Cramps fronted by Lisa from the BellRays.  It is slow paced and dripping in swagger with dirty sax spewed sporadically over proceedings.  This is very fun stuff.

The writing credit includes the name “T.L. Satana” which indeed does turn out to be Tura Satana, most famously the star of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which lends another exciting aspect to the record as it transpires that she is indeed responsible for some of the lyrics/words in some capacity (although perhaps she didn’t realise it).

Perhaps the less said about the b-side (a cover of The Jiants  “Tornado”) the better.

Thesaurus moment: pine.

The Dustaphonics

Dirty Water Records

SONE INSTITUTE – Curious Memories (CD, Front And Follow)

Posted: February 28th, 2010, by JGRAM

The Sone Institute are one of those acts that produce a wide series of sounds that exhibit a huge scope of imagination and lengthy influences that provide a distinct setting for the task ahead.  Listened to with a clear head, yours will be a mind soon muddled and disfigured by the sounds and images imposed onto your soul.

In the past Sone Institute have displayed a talent for spilling beats over the most cautious of tones in a style similar to Broadcast while mixed with an easy listening intellect and kitsch awareness (appreciation) akin to that of Jonny Trunk.  Within such a gesture there is true fluctuation of two grand and downbeat worlds convulsing and marking something wholly fresh into the ground.  With Curious Memories they have expanded further on this premise extending their arsenal and truly succeeding with every avenue they visit.

The album begins with a thunder bolt followed by crazed and disorientating fairground attraction atmospherics on the wonderfully named “Inter Asylum Cross Country”. The track sounds like something RZA may have cooked up and used on one of his scores.  Truly a song to come with stitches.

With “The Wind Began To Switch” the record reaches a frenzied pace as handclapping hysteria coupled with grandiose strings that sound straight out of an American television cop show from the seventies bursts onto the scene.  The crazy beat sounds excessively like Lalo Schifrin’s work on Dirty Harry only now bettered to a blistering pace.

Eventually it all mellows out quite significantly, changing identity like a chameleon on a mirror, touching zones that you might expect as output from acts on labels such as Ninja Tune and Kitty-Yo.  A true blissed out harvest of an experience occurs as ambience overrules the exotic early impetus of proceedings in assaulting fashion.  It has to be said the swinging of systems in such schizophrenic style does make for a difficult listen.

For some reason I come away from listening to this record with the theme music from The Professionals running around in my head.

This is music for the movies.

Thesaurus moment: flick.

Sone Institute

Front And Follow

BEACH HOUSE – Norway (7″, Bella Union)

Posted: February 24th, 2010, by JGRAM

I used to have an online buddy hailing from Norway.  In fact I feel when she disappeared from the cyber world I actually lost a potential love for in Line Larsen I truly feel I met (in an online capacity) a potential soul mate.  Our interests were similar and we exchanged similar worldviews and a sense of fondness prevailed that could have remained/lasted strong for a long time.  When she disappeared off the face of the internet I truly feel fearful that something bad occurred to her in real life.  I really wish she would get back in touch I miss her so.

At this point the single has almost concluded as I acknowledge that the first time I am playing this seven inch I am paying absolutely no attention whatsoever to it.  My bad.

Beach House appear to have come out of nowhere, they are being lauded by all quarters as a sudden stream dreamy (sometimes drippy) bands begins to overwhelm indie pop.  If it were a bit louder you might compare it to the shoegazers.

It all feels rather minimal.  Half the time the vocalist (I’m loathe to say singer) appears to be making up words, exchanging lyrics for noises they appear to be making up on the spot.

There appears to be a prevailing leaning towards an eighties slickness and sensibility to sound at the moment.  I am truly struggling to decide whether this is a good thing or not.  Here with “Norway” I am being presented with a layered set of sounds padding out a strange set of sentiments being exhibited by the frontman that be.  With creeping, underlying sonics I would not be surprised if new My Bloody Valentine material were to sound like this (or at least the demos might).

Perversely this ultimately sounds to me like the singer from the Wannadies fronting the accompaniment of Ryuichi Sakamoto in “Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence” mode with a dabble of MBV effects stirring underneath.  Random.

The b-side sounds a bit like Scrawl.

They’re from Baltimore but not like in The Wire (the TV show not the magazine).

I think I missed the point.

Thesaurus moment: hut.

Beach House

Bella Union

Dan Friel – Obsoleter (LP, Spooky Tree)

Posted: February 11th, 2010, by Justin Snow

I have a total hard on for anything Parts & Labor related. Any album, split, or solo project they do, I will be all over it and Dan Friel is no exception. He handles the electronics and vocals for P&L but when he goes solo, he forgoes all vocals and just goes crazy with his damaged electro blasters.

Obsoleter was originally released on cassette back in 2006 through Night People but sold out (with good reason). Friel and Spooky Tree were kind enough to put it out on vinyl for all of us who missed out on the awesomeness a few years ago.

This is similar in sound to his last release of new material, Ghost Town, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because Friel is doing shit that is unlike anything else out there right now. It’s harsh and melodic, massive and hollow, gritty and lush, and creates hypnotically blissful ear candy that spans the grand desert jungle. This is electronic music for those weary of the clubs or the ambient drone and are looking for something to blast when you’re rolling down a grassy hill getting covered in dirt.

Funny thing about me and Obsoleter… I was playing this at your traditional 33rpm forever until one day I noticed the innocuous footnote on the bottom of the back sleeve reading “45RPM.” HA! So I got pretty used to this running much slower than it should. But even though I’m totally used to the proper speed now, I still think I prefer a couple of the songs slowed down. I feel like a complete ass. Has that ever happened to you?

Dan Friel
Spooky Tree