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Tubelord – Our First American Friends [Album]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by David Hall


Originally published at Sonic Dice, November 2009.

Tubelord are one of those bands that remind you of about a million other bands, but never lose their own uniqueness. These cultured devils release their debut album, the appropriately-titled Our First American Friends, on Hassle Records. The trio are led by singer/guitarist Joe Prendergast, backed up by fleet of foot drummer David Catmur and recently-recruited bassist Damien Gabet. If you’re new to them, imagine the fragile voice of Mew, the rickety guitar riffs and solos of Biffy Clyro, the eclectic atmosphere of Stars, minimalist approach of Grizzly Bear and the precision drumming of Reuben all gaffa-taped together and you may be getting somewhere. Then graft on a massive wad of distortion and listen through a Walkman whilst jogging until the amalgamation skips and tics like its undergoing electroshock therapy and season to taste.

Your Bed is Kind of Frightening bounces from sunny pop vocal harmonies to Biffy-esque strikes of staccato distortion and tempo changes then back again, piggybacking an excellent bassline which carries the verses along. The surrealist lyrics (“carousels, emit your fumes”) casts Prendergast as literate and enigmatic, an impression at odds with Tubelord’s largely American-influenced sound which at times verges on the bombastic and crisp production of Silversun Pickups. Synthesize is a case in point, being a dose of unashamed alt-pop with a chorus at least as massive as Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies, all frantically chopped octave slides and fluid arpeggios. In case you were in any doubt that the singer sounded like Jonas Bjerre from Mew, he lays it on with a trowel throughout the stuttering Stacey’s Left Arm, which starts like Mew or Mogwai and ends in spasm like Be Your Own Pet’s Fuuuuuun. He Awoke on a Beach in Abergavenny (not to be confused with I Woke Up on a Beach in Aberystwyth on Johnny Foreigner’s recently-released new album) begins with another atonal Biffy Clyro-endorsed riff but also recalls mid-period Nirvana in its loud-quiet-loud dynamic and powerful performances. But not the xylophone bit. Tubelord might be as heavy as you need in places, but there’s no denying that they’re also pretty twee at times. These schizoid tendencies are played off against each other to the most thrilling effect so far on this track, with xylophone quickly followed by the album’s heaviest riff before the pedal is kept firmly to the floor until Abergavenny’s conclusion. This is reiterated in I am Azerrad’s jangly intro, quickly kicked to death by the rest of the track’s ‘distortion turned all the way up’ approach.

The Wasp Factory-aping Somewhere Out There a Dog is on Fire follows Your Bed is Kind of Frightening, landing with a thud and immediately beginning to glisten brightly, with a spritely rhythm section performance and Prendergast’s voice and guitar twinkling on top. It’s loud, it’s heavy, but it certainly isn’t dumb; Tubelord seem to know instinctively when an idea is nearing the limits of its welcome. The track ends up banging on about tin men, stomping along in truly Ted Hughes or Antony Gormley-ish style. Night of Pencils is a testament to the bands musical creativity, lyrically comprising a collection of odd and awkward phrases which would sound daft in a lesser song. But more often than not they somehow come off as sounding great; coy and lovesick in the correct places, anthemic and cheerful when appropriate. A quick hammering-on intro guitar riff and we’re already in cryptic territory at early doors; “Mavis told the truth, I’m the one for you”. Later on, Night of Pencils’ main hook ends up as, “We’re bigger than Memphis, you only exist when I want you to”, which sounds suspiciously like something Fall Out Boy would come out with. But in the wider context of Our First American Friends, it clears the ‘this guy doesn’t know what he’s on about’ fence lands firmly on the ‘oblique and interesting’ side. Tubelord move from unstoppable thrashing to eventual controlled powerchord stabs without a blink, displaying this tendency most impressively here. Propeller is appropriately titled given its driving bassline, and swirls around to encompass the listener like a tropical storm, the sky darkening as Gabet’s bass coils tightly around a galloping drum roll. A mocking breakdown ushers in the tranquil eye of the storm, which is followed by a fiddly guitar riff before the track hurtles conclusion-wards, head down.

Our First American Friends seems to calm down a great deal towards its end. The quiet acoustic Cows to the East, Cities to the West may not come close in length or grandeur, but more than matches Mew’s Comforting Sounds in terms of scope. The title track rounds out the album, thrillingly attempting to reconcile the introspection of Cows to the East with Night of Pencils’ distortion-strewn, dinnerplate-eyed cinematic wonder, capturing Tubelord’s manifesto of awkward alternative rock with poppish sensibilities and pretensions amicably. No matter how many times it breaks down, it can never quite escape Prendergast’s feelgood sustained chorus notes, not even when it lulls into a 50’s melodrama, Good Night-style ending. Although Tubelord may wear their inspirations on their sleeve, an identity all their own shines through, proving them to be more than mere rip-off merchants. From its title onwards Our First American Friends discloses a thirst for exposure, and will surely gain them just that by proving more than the sum of its parts. Tastefully arranged influences are all well and good, but Tubelord have made the extra leap to crafting something truly original out of them.

9 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 5 out of 6

Night of the Pencils on Spotify
This is much cooler than the emo dorks it may remind you of in passing; sing along without guilt, “We’re bigger than Memphis…”

Hassle Records
Tubelord on Myspace
Tubelord on Last.fm

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The Worldonfire – …Sail the Rough Sea [Album]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by David Hall


Originally published at Sonic Dice, August 2009.

Essex-based five-piece The Worldonfire – a hop, skip and a lawsuit away from Alexisonfire in moniker – release their second album Sail the Rough Sea on indie label Dead Planet Records. They have what seems to be a fairly American sound, possibly because frontman Dave Walsh’s high-pitched vocals sound like those of Fall Out Boy. Consequently, influences from bands such as Taking Back Sunday are clear, whilst their seldom-abrasive style also shares similarities with pop punk acts, most particularly The Academy Is. But don’t let that put you off. They simultaneously possess the post-hardcore styling of heavier – and to be honest, more interesting – British bands like the now-defunct Reuben and Yourcodenameis:milo. Since Sail the Rough Sea takes in a bit of everything from emo to post hardcore, it can probably be awkwardly classed in that interminably indistinct iTunes genre of ‘Alternative & Punk’.

Baby We’ve Been Shot Down is an excellent opener, building slowly through a raspy chord progression and clean guitar stabs with the tantalising promise of a chorus. It ducks out of this however, opting for a stronger and more urgent verse before letting rip with an anthemic Fall Out Boy-like chorus. Feet Firmly on the Ground follows upon its heels, effortlessly trumping The Academy Is at their strongest moments. It’s confidently written, with lots of space to the sparse guitar arrangement until a busy, trebly chorus and a choppy post-chorus rush in. If anything the track is somewhat missing a heavy edge but its midrange sound is uptempo and interesting, touching face with all of The Worldonfire’s clear influences, Yourcodenameis:milo most obviously. Although the riff at the song’s conclusion is excellent, the producer could’ve done a better job in retaining the higher notes’ clarity amongst the other instruments. If criticism can be levelled at anybody on Sail the Rough Sea, the prime candidate is surely the man behind the console rather than the band in front. No Choice, No Chance features some breathless and frantic riffing, yet none of it particularly bites because the sound is so indefinite. It’s simply a bit of a beige guitar tone the band have opted for, neither truly jangly (Biffy Clyro-style) nor particularly heavy.

Channelling Biffy more successfully is the penultimate track When Time is All You Have Left, all faltering rhythms and sudden walls of noise. Whilst the stop-start opening riff is excellent, the feeling is gained it would’ve been best left just as that – an opening riff. It disappointingly also serves as the verse’s progression, Walsh joining in with stuttering lyrics; possibly it would’ve better served the song as a counterpoint to a less-choppy verse. It’s all very Biffy Clyro anyways, the pre-chorus riff reminiscent of My Recovery Injection, as is the song’s transition from condensed clean guitar to sizzling distortion as Walsh comes out to play for a genuinely huge chorus. Again the cymbals level the land entirely; intricacies in the guitar parts are more hinted at rather than genuinely have an effect. Meliora Spero is notable as a change of pace – with an intro that sounds like Porcelina of the Vast Oceans or Rhinoceros by The Smashing Pumpkins – but is a bit slushily optimistic. The bridge is probably the best part of the track, with call-and-response guitars descending into a distortion-strewn tempest as Walsh’s swashbuckling vocals vault in to the rescue. You’ll also find Walsh’s voice resembling Funeral for a Friend’s Matt Davies at times, particularly on All for More’s long notes. If you enjoy a higher-pitched male vocal then you’ll probably admire his work; if not, he may grate by the end of the album. Lose Sometimes provides the lyrical and vocal highlight, the line “You’ve gotta lose sometimes, don’t you?” repeatedly croaked into refreshingly empty space with a picked guitar accompanying. The track doesn’t feel needlessly lengthy even at nearly seven minutes, which also rings true for the rest of the album. Enough happens often enough to keep the attention and make indulgence seem a pretty rare occurrence. Lose Sometimes’ extended feedback outro may be a bit over the top, but wholly forgivable.

Drummer Joe Lazarus is simultaneously one of the best and most limiting aspects of The Worldonfire as a band. He’s clearly of the Travis Barker school of drumming, all snappy and offbeat fills that are reminiscent of Blink-182’s self-titled era of Feeling This or Always. Lazarus is on particularly excellent form on Feet Firmly on the Ground, his skittish hi-hats and rapid bass pedal dabs complimenting its pop punkish tone well. However too much of a good thing can be detrimental, and so it proves with The Worldonfire’s hectic drum sound. Best of Me’s drums frantically vie for attention, smothering the guitars somewhat with incredibly loud cymbal sounds. By just over halfway on Meliora Spero’s more serene intro, Lazarus can’t resist staying silent for any longer and the drums clatter in. The guitar lick could easily have held its own for a good while longer without rhythm accompaniment. Well-played though they are, the drums are near-unceasing, and clog every corner of Sail the Rough Sea.

As previously mentioned, the problems with Sail the Rough Sea are by and large down to the production rather than material. It’s pretty muddy, and doesn’t really give anything except Dave Walsh’s vocals room to shine. The rhythm guitar in particular simply collapses in on itself and more often than not fug is all you get. Best of Me displays this lack of studio finesse, with the high end not given enough clarity and the rhythm guitar’s distortion simply washing over everything when things get noisy. Chunkier bass would’ve helped out, but in the bridge the guitars fail to fully achieve the chiming sound they reach for, the section not really standing out from the succeeding return to massive noise. When the chords are more clearly defined, such as Lose Sometimes’ crashing single strums, the tracks sound much brighter and stronger. The drums on Any Day Now are huge and smothering, making the tuneless, chugging guitars sound indistinct and distant. However it also displays more prominent bass work, the rhythm section-favouring mix just about saves a disappointing guitar sound. The guitars eventually get their act together, initially just coming through louder before finding a riff that suits their low-ratio gear.

To sum up the production, when the riffs have clarity and Walsh is given room to stomp about, as on the title track, Sail the Rough Sea soars. Whereas if Walsh has to duke it out in the mid-range with his band (Any Day Now and No Choice, No Chance), it proves to be a battle against distortion he can never hope to win. Whilst The Worldonfire co-produce the album, producer credits are divided up track-by-track between Mike Vennart (of British underground stalwarts Oceansize) and Anthony Chapman. And in a pinch, Vennart’s tracks are marginally superior; he seems to have captured a spark that Chapman overlooked slightly. If The Worldonfire get to know their way around a studio, and rope in a savvy producer for their next release, they could really go places.

7 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 4 out of 6

Feet Firmly on the Ground on Spotify
The Worldonfire at their driving and rhythmic best, bristling with ideas and the textures that some other tracks seem to forgo.

Dead Planet Records
The Worldonfire on Myspace