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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

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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

Alessi’s Ark – Soul Proprietor [At The 405]

Posted in EP, Review with tags , , , , , , , on May 1, 2010 by David Hall


“Alessi’s Ark operates in a comfortable middle ground between the sheer eye-twitching madness of Joanna Newsom and the mild manners of Laura Marling […] But since both Marling and Newsom released major new albums this year, Alessi might be drowned out to a great extent, pleasant though this EP is.”
Alessi’s Ark – Soul Proprietor EP reviewed at The 405.

Life is far too short for half-decent EP’s and that’s a fact. Half decent albums are fair enough really; at least you’ll get your money’s worth of actually ‘good’ songs in there, theoretically. Half decent songs make up most of your existence and most of your record collection, and don’t try to tell me that’s not true. Anyway, they’re over much quicker than either EP’s or albums so half-decent songs are neither here nor there. But bloody half-decent EP’s… all they do is take up disk space, quite frankly.

I’ve just bought Glen Duncan’s I, Lucifer, and I could be reading that. But instead I’m taking time out to tell you about the new (ish) Alessi’s Ark EP Soul Proprietor, which is desperately alright. Take this as me listening to it in order to tell you that you don’t have to; and since I have and I wrote about it, you might as well know about it. There’s very little to recommend it over Alessi’s debut album Notes from the Birdhouse, and to be honest I suggest you skip Soul Proprietor entirely and just pretend she’s been perfecting cheesecake receipes until her next album comes out. As I mention in this review, Notes from the Birdhouse is a wonderful little album, which you will find infinitely more enriching than the sparse Soul Proprietor. Talented though Alessi Laurent-Marke clearly is, spare yourself from her half-decent EP.

Alessi’s Ark – Soul Proprietor EP reviewed at The 405
Alessi’s Ark on Myspace

Alessi’s Ark on Last.fm
Listen to Soul Proprietor and Notes from the Birdhouse 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.