Archive for the Album Category

Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love [Album of the Month; January 2015]

Posted in Album, Music, Review with tags , , , , on February 4, 2015 by David Hall

No Cities To Love

Stop me if I’m wrong, but the decade-long gap marking Sleater-Kinney’s hiatus really hasn’t seemed that long. Actually with creative projects like Portlandia, Wild Flag, Corin Tucker Band and Quasi keeping their fanbase occupied, the period has fairly skipped past. With tension possibly eased by their split always feeling more like a placed bookmark than a fallen guillotine, the Oregon three-piece’s welcome return was marked with a new album to begin the year. Immediately, No Cities To Love has asserted itself proudly as an exceptional entry in the catalogue of one of America’s most vital alternative acts.

As Sleater-Kinney have so successfully refined and subtly reinvented their sound on each album, No Cities prompts a question from the very first listen; which version of the band has been captured here? The retro, rootsy denim jacket-wearing The Woods version? Or perhaps mark One Beat, loose, genre-hopping and brimming with confidence. Maybe their feral beginnings, or their taut alt rock middle period, exemplified by the couplet of The Hot Rock and All Hands On the Bad One. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s none of those; not quite, anyway. Instead we’re treated to another subtle but distinct metamorphosis.

No Cities To Love marks an uncompromisingly leaner, tauter incarnation of the band, who have produced an unmistakeably bold and listenable record. Longtime Sleater-Kinney producer John Goodmanson collaborates once more to coax a more nuanced sound from the trio than during any of their previous work together. There isn’t an ounce of fat on the album, none of its ten curtly-titled tracks lasting past the four minute mark. It’s a lean, spirited, clever listen; this is a smart, savvy, and very switched-on version of riot grrl. What’s most impressive about No Cities however is that the album sounds full of singles, potential set-opening songs and firebrand tracks bursting with ideas and enthusiasm.

‘Price Tag’ is a perfectly understandable choice as the album’s opening, with searing dual vocals that soar throatily in the chorus, Corin Tucker hitting gorgeously vibrato-infused notes that rattle with passion over Janet Weiss’ propulsive rhythm. Nevertheless, there are other tracks bristling with energy which could arguably have lead off the album far more readily. ‘Price Tag’s awkward hammered-on riff improves with each listen and its socio-political commentary centring on retail jobs feels welcome with the recent rise of zero-hour contracts, all unfamiliar territory in terms of lyrical themes. It doesn’t quite hit the heights of previous opening tracks such as ‘Start Together’, ‘The Fox’ or Dig Me Out’s incendiary opening salvo. That’s no indictment to say that ‘Price Tag’ isn’t the strongest track here, more reflecting the potency of the following nine.

Holistically it’s as if the reins have been taken off the band and they can make every song compete with the last for the title of most ecstatic and unrestrained. ‘Surface Envy’ for instance orbits thrillingly around its staircase tumble of a riff, resolving itself into a picked open-sounding chord progression and clashing cymbal hits. It’s a clarion call and would make an excellent set opener to their live show, “We’ve got so much to do; let me make that clear” Tucker demands as Weiss’ hi-hat creeps open and the track winds up into a rallying cry of a chorus, “We win, we lose; only together do we break the rules”. As declarations of unity go, ‘Surface Envy’ is pretty unwavering. Similarly the existential musings of the title track recall the bands’ hitherto loftiest watermark ‘Get Up’, the airy verses of ‘No Cities To Love’ revelling in their starry-eyed lyricism, “a bright flash, my body is a souvenir” Carrie Brownstein sing-sighs, before making an even firmer and more outward-gazing declaration of alliance, “It’s not the cities, it’s the weather we love/It’s not the weather, it’s the people we love” Brownstein and Tucker both finally rejoin, seemingly with a nod and wink.

A historically bass-free band, S-K nevertheless continue to find new and inventive ways of finding lower registers in their sound; some familiar, such as downtuned guitars or Weiss’s frequent tom hits, some unfamiliar. Goodmanson wrings a depthy, distorted growl from ‘Fade’s guitar tracks for example, but ‘A New Wave’ also makes the grand gesture of slamming a bassline right in your face, in a jokily high-timbred post-punk motorik riff. Bass has been used and hitherto undisguised so far, but is shoved right up front on ‘A New Wave’, everything but bass, drums and voice dropping out for its furious verses. Frazzled, distorted guitars frantically chop away occasionally until the chorus unfurls and Brownstein’s solos duel in the fadeout, unique in each channel.

Elsewhere bass is featured less prominently, as in ‘Fangless’, which also brandishes an updated, more restrained drum sound from Weiss’ kit and technique than Dave Fridmann’s trademark open-mic’d The Woods interpretation managed. Bass in ‘Fangless’’ verses chugs the track onwards through staccato, argumentative guitar lines until a seemingly endless chorus is launched into. Brownstein takes over on vocals as Tucker steps backwards, slashing wildly at her guitar following Weiss’ lead, who whisks the song up into a thrashing, full-on rock-out.

The band’s lyrics are stronger than ever, check out ‘No Anthems’ (“I want an anthem/A singular anthem/An answer and a force” Brownstein and Tucker rowdily duet after a strutting verse) for clear evidence of this. ‘Gimme Love’ is slick, soulful, bluesy, heavy, at times all at once, a little like the album in microcosm, Tucker’s voice wild and primal yet rich and beautiful. ‘Hey Darling’ recalls the scaling lead guitar work and half-spoken, half-sung chorus of ‘Oh!’, but even that One Beat standout doesn’t go for the sucker-punch ‘Hey Darling’ manages, its chorus melody sung wordlessly in the outro for one of the record’s many stand-out moments.

Finally, just when you think No Cities has surely given up all of its secrets and settled into a big, mid-tempo scorcher as a finale in ‘Fade’, the band defy all expectations. Contorting into a tempo change, call-and-response guitars ricocheting off each other; “Unbelievable masquerade/ Never revealing your truth” both vocalists chime in falsetto, resounding across a clattering, complex drum part. Sleater-Kinney have classically specialised in great closers (check out ‘Sympathy’ on One Beat, or ‘The Swimmer’ on All Hands as notable examples), but here they truly excel themselves. “Oh, what a price we have paid/ My dearest nightmare, my conscience, the end” Brownstein shivers plaintively over the album’s dying embers, her voice cracking exquisitely.

As previously mentioned, No Cities To Love marks a subtle metamorphosis, a honed, clutter-free version of the Sleater-Kinney sound. There’s a dash of the wig-out bombasticism they learned on the previous album to enjoy, like the gleefully struck chords in ‘Fangless’’ middle eight. There’s also an effortless air to the whole affair, strongly recalling One Beat, but there are also highly-strung moments that render No Cities if not bipolar then certainly revelling in its light and shade. The band seem more assured of themselves than ever, their reunion album feeling joyfully baggage-free and is all the more of a treat for that.

Sage Francis – Li(f)e [At Noize Makes Enemies]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2010 by David Hall


“The album ends […] with The Best of Times, an all-encompassing exploration of Francis’ childhood featuring a wondrous-sounding contribution from minimalist French composer Yann Tiersen. It ends with a few scant lines of advice he intends imparting to his future children, dwarfed by the entirety of the song and indeed album, suggesting that a person must filter through an entire lifetime of experience for just a few nuggets of workable advice.”
Sage Francis – Li(f)e reviewed at Noize Makes Enemies.

With fingers in many pies, this is my first review for Noize Makes Enemies in a fair old while, but worth waiting for. Not for my mad writing skills (not solely, at any rate), but for Sage Francis’ rather wonderful new album Li(f)e, a record that definitely springboards to near the top of my mental ‘albums of the year so far’ list. Meaning such a list is in my head, not that it has mental problems.

Although not a long-term admirer of Sage Francis – I was put off by Crack Pipes, which was featured on his debut album Personal Journals back in 2002 – more because of a slightly ignorant notion that I wasn’t ‘into’ rap at that moment than anything. Although Francis aficionados may identify Li(f)e as a much more gentle album in his canon, I personally feel it greatly benefits from its relaxed atmosphere. Like the wisdom that comes with age, it sounds as if Francis is comfortable enough to not feel compelled to stick to any blueprint. Which is where contributions from amongst others Buck 65, Califone, Death Cab for Cutie, DeVotchKa, Grandaddy and Sparklehorse come in. Lending the album an eclectic but not disjointed air of songwriting assurance. Francis’ writing is also assuredly streetwise and philosophical, the element which makes Li(f)e worth tuning in for; even if you aren’t ‘into’ hip-hop, I’d urge you to give Li(f)e a go. Aside from the lines mentioned in the review, one of my favourites has to be, “Truth be told, it takes more than having a picture taken for you to lose your soul”.

Sage Francis on Myspace
Sage Francis – Li(f)e reviewed at Noize Makes Enemies
Sage Francis – Li(f)e
on Spotify

Lone Wolf – The Devil and I [At The 405]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , on June 8, 2010 by David Hall


“Minor misgivings aside, there is plenty to recommend
The Devil and I; its overall aesthetic is complex and fablish, a rich tapestry yielding intricacies which gradually enfold the listener. Themes are uniformly grave and gloomy, from the noirish WW2 resistance tale of ‘We Could Use Your Blood’ and the dread-filled clairvoyance of ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Road’.”
Lone Wolf – The Devil and I reviewed at The 405.

You sort of heard about Lone Wolf here first. OK, that’s a big and probably incorrect claim, but I think you’ll find reading back over previous No School Like Old School posts you’ll find praise for Paul ‘Lone Wolf’ Marshall’s rather handsome video for Keep Your Eyes on the Road. The song, as I attest in this review, is no slouch either.

As opposed to me; I am a slouch. Like a sloth on a couch. You might notice that my review of Lone Wolf’s debut The Devil and I (great title by the way) was published at The 405 a fair old while ago; last month in fact. The main reason I’ve neglected posting word of these words is, as you’ll notice scrolling all the way past the bottom, a commenter pulled me up on a few points. I thought it was suitable to let the argument run its reasonable course before linking the review up, as it’d be a bit unfair to leave it cut short. Speaking of unfair, I’d like to think once I make a point it stays made, and when I construct an analogy it’s not to be taken literally. But anyway, the argument was enlightening and was all very civilised.

At any rate, at the time of writing, The Devil and I is quite justifiably The 405’s Album of the Week which is all very jolly and that. Oh and if like me the cover reminds you of ‘The Death of Socrates’, that’s because it should; it’s by the same painter, 18th Century French Neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David. All things considered, The Devil and I is beautiful.

Lone Wolf – The Devil and I reviewed at The 405
Lone Wolf on Myspace
The Devil and I on Spotify

Deftones – Diamond Eyes [Album]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , on May 2, 2010 by David Hall


Diamond Eyes
is at once surprisingly restrained and understandably aggressive, pitching itself somewhere between the radio-friendly White Pony and the more straightforward Deftones. There’s a noticeable lack of experimentation present, and Deftones content themselves with mostly sticking to a more old school template than we’re recently used to from the Sacramento five-piece.

The story behind Diamond Eyes is relatively well-known, but to outline, the album has been created from scratch in under a year. Following Bassist Chi Cheng’s horrific car accident and subsequent coma in 2008 – he has since remained in a semi-conscious state – Deftones’ all-but-complete project Eros was put on ice. Recruiting Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega, the band decided they’d fallen out of love with Eros, embarking upon the recording of a new album. At times that decision is audible, and as savage as it seems to criticise Diamond Eyes on such terms, it rings true. Sextape for example is unexpectedly gentle given its title and something of a misstep; it fails to develop into anything strident and ends up sounding bland and, dare I say it… middle of the road? Although this record has an apparently more positive outlook than the mooted Eros, its creation is not a response to the stricken Cheng’s situation; therefore there is little sentiment to fall back upon in its criticism. Diamond Eyes is far more immediate than the labyrinthine Saturday Night Wrist, which was far from impeccably received in 2006. However I for one am disappointed that Deftones haven’t invested sufficient time in this project in order to pursue the experimentation displayed on that album. Whatever the opinion of its naysayers, I’m of the firm opinion that Saturday Night Wrist is a fantastic album. Not only does it hang together as a mature and moody piece of cohesive work (Cherry Waves, Xerces) but it also possesses stunning outright single tracks like the punishing Rats!Rats!Rats! and Kimdracula. But that’s enough of reviewing the wrong album, I’m clearly preoccupied with setting straight what I believe to be the bad press that SNW received. 

There’s nothing here to rival the sprawling Beware from that album, or indeed their Maynard James Keenan collaboration Passenger, one of White Pony’s many highlights. Considered moments such as these are largely jettisoned in favour of more immediate material and there’s a vastly different atmosphere surrounding this album. It feels an awful lot like inhibitions have been shed; Diamond Eyes may showcase a more stripped-down and less complex Deftones, but this in no way renders them less interesting. The largely simplified work done on this album simply showcases different palettes in their repertoire, and whilst it’d be a stretch to say there are many moods to Diamond Eyes, the differing textures are certainly commendable. You’ve Seen the Butcher leading into Beauty School is a prime example of this, with the menacing-sounding former, downing the tempo and introducing a technical riff which is nicely offset against Beauty School’s more sketchy, washed-out sound. You’ve Seen the Butcher’s forbidding depths are mostly bestowed upon it by Abe Cunningham’s stunningly and characteristically complex drum track. Whilst Beauty School boasts a similarly accomplished percussion performance, Cunningham simplifies it in the chorus, allowing the numerous guitar and keyboard layers to build a reassuringly saturated sound which is less sinister than its predecessor.

On the overwhelmingly positive side, website-crashing free single Rocket Skates is undeniably one of the best things the band have ever produced. If ever proof were needed that Deftones can simply reach into their collective pocket and flick out something this stunning like so much change and lint, Rocket Skates is it. Chino Moreno’s frenziedly ecstatic chorus of “Guns! Razors! Knives! Woo!” is nothing short of genius and if it wasn’t tearing up moshpits in clubs up and down the land as the summer sets in, it’d be nothing short of criminal. Its pseudo speed metal opening riff is representative of Stephen Carpenter’s work throughout Diamond Eyes, with the guitar performances uniformly low and crushingly heavy. The album opens with its title track, which is also the most adventurous song on offer, a brutal stomping, swaying guitar riff offset against dream pop keyboards in the chorus before shattering back into an evil breakdown. Royal almost primitively straightforward, almost unworthy of comment until a breathless guitar break which descends into a headbutting outro complete with career-ending Hexagram-esque Moreno shriek. Following on from this CMND/CNTRL is considerably more bloody-minded in its totality with a descending verse riff and drum and bass breakdown; it’s much more like the Deftones we’ve come to expect, successfully marrying heaviness with experimentation without sounding forced. Prince forges a similar groove with Frank Delgado’s airport PA system synth tones, its highlight being a middle eight successfully straddling the line between sing- and bounce-along. Moreno’s performance throughout Diamond Eyes, is faultless regardless of lyrics, “And you can’t stop now, row by row, almost out” he hisses on Prince.

In conclusion, a Deftones album conceived and released in less than a year falls short of their own impeccable standards. But since those standards are hitherto so high, that by no means makes Diamond Eyes a bad album. It may well convince those who were irked by Saturday Night Wrist, but will more than likely be regarded on the same level as their 2003 self-titled album, a record that probably failed to live up to the sum of its’ parts. There are some outstanding moments, and some really powerful tracks, but also just too many mistakes; Risk and 976-EVIL (despite its’ interesting, almost M83-esque chorus) represent the album’s low point. It’s tempting to characterise Diamond Eyes as one of Deftones’ weaker albums, but a fairer criticism is that it’s a mostly excellent but too inconsistent piece of work to be regarded as an absolute triumph.

 8 out of 10.

Stream Diamond Eyes for a limited time at NME.com
Deftones on Myspace

Deftones on Last.fm
One Love For Chi on Twitter

65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway [At The 405]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2010 by David Hall


“I’ve long been an admirer of 65daysofstatic’s work; in fact, I’d probably list them amongst my favourite bands. But remaining impartial for this review of course, whilst
We Were Exploding Anyway by no means disappoints, neither does it truly astonish.”
65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway review at The 405

It’s nice to be vindicated from time to time. We can’t all muddle through life without any idea as to whether our actions are good and correct or dunderheaded and awful. Whether that takes the form of being burned by a hot thing and learning not to put parts of one’s anatomy near such a heat source or having your opinions validated is neither here nor there. Learning from victories and mistakes is how the world works.

So I was pretty pleased when I was vindicated in my opinion of the new 65daysofstatic album We Were Exploding Anyway, by a source I respect and admire no less. Following my own review being published on The 405, I noticed Drowned in Sound had also released theirs. Heading on over to check it out, I quickly realised that not only had we both awarded identical scores to the album (8 out of 10), but also shared key points within the review.

Compare and contrast:

DiS: “[The band’s] status has indubitably waned of late. Maybe this was due to the unexpected tack on last album The Destruction Of Small Ideas, or the even more recent Dance Parties EP, both ravier affairs that seemed to alienate that which had so brilliantly preceded it”
Me: “We Were Exploding Anyway is a more successful meshing of 65dos’ electronic and analogue elements than convoluted and over-intricate previous album The Destruction of Small Ideas. Although the Sheffield four-piece have displaying an increasing penchant for predominantly-electronic tracks in the past (see The Distant and Mechanised Glow of European Dance Parties EP), WWEA is unexpectedly dance-oriented”

DiS: “‘Crash Tactics’ plays on ‘Smack My Bitch Up’-like bass lines […] ‘Weak 04’, also, verges too close into Dance Parties-style Europop behaviour […] ‘Go Complex[‘s]’ opening is reminiscent of the god-awful Hadouken!”
Me: “Some of the album – ‘Crash Tactics’ included – veers alarmingly closely to the nu-rave-punk missteps of The Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die; ‘Go Complex’ and ‘Weak4’ are particularly guilty of lulling into this trap at times”

DiS: “An appearance from recent-tour-mate-slash-renowned-goth-chap Robert Smith on ‘Come To Me’ only furthers those [positive] feelings”
Me: “The Cure’s Robert Smith (zomg!, etc) provides that vocal layer, guesting on the cut-up would-be-club-anthem ‘Come to Me’, which hits a thrilling stride and is representative of We Were Exploding Anyway’s most successful moments”

DiS: “Thinking back to how ‘Fix The Sky A Little’ first moved you, or how ’65 Doesn’t Understand You’ made you throw yourself around with reckless abandon”
Me: “There’s nothing here that makes me want to flail my limbs in so uninhibited a manner as would suggest my motor skills failed to successfully develop during infancy like ‘Retreat! Retreat!’ does” 

DiS: “It’s the final two songs that seem to have the balance of power, finally, correct.”
Me: “‘Debutante’ is starkly yet organically beautiful, segueing into closer ‘Tiger Girl’”

Whether that just means these were obvious talking points is up for debate; I chose to see the glass as half full for a change. For the record I’m neither a positive ‘glass half full’ nor a negative ‘glass half empty’ person. I’m more of an angry/cynical ‘some bastard has stolen half of my drink’ person.

65daysofstatic – We Were Exploding Anyway review at The 405
65daysofstatic on Myspace

65daysofstatic on Last.fm
We Were Exploding Anyway on Spotify

DISAPPEARS – LUX [At The 405]

Posted in Album with tags , , , , on April 9, 2010 by David Hall

“I mistakenly listened to the record with my iPod on random and didn’t notice the bloody difference. I struggle to think of another album where you could listen to the whole thing in a different order and simply not realise.”
DISAPPEARS – LUX review at The 405

As ratios go, Disappointment in Album Following Impressive First Track is not a good one to rate highly on. Unfortunately, the shoutily-named DISAPPEARS (I feel the almost-constant desire to refer to them as DISA-BLOODY-PPEARS!) do just that, with a record that simply diminishes from its opening track onwards. Gone Completely is seriously very, very good and I’m pretty sure I’ll still think that over the months to come. Its fluid blues-based riff over a chugging, staccato rhythm chord progression and whacking great clod-hopping drums with rambled lyrical barkings was like Glasvegas gone right. Then the rest of LUX is even worse than Glasvegas.

Anyways, please still check out my review at The 405, which I’m linking to on the day it was actually published for a change! Gone Completely is more than worth investigation on the band’s Myspace, which as usual is linked below…

DISAPPEARS – LUX review at The 405
DISAPPEARS on Myspace

The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis [At The 405]

Posted in Album, video with tags , , , , on April 2, 2010 by David Hall


“For anyone tired of the cliché used when describing female vocalists that they could “read out a telephone directory and make it sound sexy”, Greg Puciato could read out a birthday card and make it sound threatening”
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis review on The 405

I was already a big fan of The Dillinger Escape Plan, so when the opportunity came along to review their new album for The 405, I snapped it straight up. For me Option Paralysis simply cements their reputation as one of the most exciting and innovative metal bands in the world. In a genre that can often sound stultified and archaic, Dillinger are bordering on the peerless.

Can I just point out that you can currently listen to Option Paralysis in its entirety on Dillinger Esc Plan’s Last.fm page. I doubt that situation will last forever, or even very much longer, so I suggest you check out the link below post-haste.

This is also a great opportunity to share with you what is probably up there in my favourite Youtube videos of all time. Which suggests I’ve constructed such a list, so I should move on. If you haven’t seen it already, watch, pick your jaw up and watch again. Incredible stuff…

The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis review on The 405
The Dillinger Escape Plan on Last.fm
The Dillinger Escape Plan on Myspace

Photo of The Dillinger Escape Plan live from Wikimedia Commons.