Archive for sonic dice

The Silent Years – The Globe [Album]

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


Originally published at Sonic Dice, November 2009.

With some bands, eclecticism is their prerogative. The Arcade Fire, Florence + the Machine, Mercury Rev, Super Furry Animals. Coincidentally, these are just some of the bands that The Silent Years sound like a watered-down version of; it’s best to get it out of the way early, there isn’t much original about their first album The Globe.

There are two main criticisms that can be levelled at this album, the second twice as significant as the first. Initially, the simple fact is that The Globe is too long to effectively hold the attention; all the places where it would’ve benefitted from being concise are overlong and overthought. At thirteen tracks (with three bonus tracks pushing the album well over the hour mark) it’s a bit ponderous and hard work to get through. The largely vague, noodling compositions on offer here will struggle to carry the casual listener all the way through. In short – words The Silent Years’ main man Josh Epstein apparently is unfamiliar with – it’s a chore rather than a pleasure to sit down and listen to this album in its entirety. We’ll return to that other criticism in due course.

Out into the Wild begins the record with cavernous distortion and galloping drums, ornate baroque piano lines skipping and pirouetting across it. Quickly getting lost in its own intricacies however, Out into the Wild eschews the direct and forceful approach of its drumming to wander, indulging itself in vocal loops. The album’s highlight comes mercifully quickly, but mercilessly rips off Fleet Foxes in the process. On Our Way Home, despite the redundancy of its repeated title lyric stops off in some gorgeous scenery, for the most part sad and acoustic. “On our way home, we buried all our photo albums; everyone we’ve ever known was in ‘em,” Epstein maligns, before the track eventually explodes in a supernova of electric guitar and cymbals, drowning the singer in a hailstorm. Climb on my Back bravely tries to offer an alternative in full-on pop, but the falsetto singing and wah-wah guitar in the chorus slips inevitably into annoyance. The lyrics are cod-philosophical, more towards the Kaiser Chiefs than the Modest Mouse end of the market. “Now I feel like I’m the Overman that Dostoevsky wrote about”; yeah, alright fella, enough of that cheers. I read books too.

Black Hole tries to reconjure the intimate atmosphere of On Our Way Home whilst mercenarily nicking the central idea from Modest Mouse’s Dark Center of the Universe. The lyrics are far too wordy, any sense of metre lost in the multisyllabic hubbub, backed by largely sparse and simple music. The drumming however is consistently excellent, and it has been procured a noticeably prominent place in the mix, sounding powerful, assured and inventive. Ryan Clancy pounds away in tribal style at the beginning of Ropes while Epstein rambles on about amputation and a single high-pitched piano key is struck repeatedly and a cartoonish breakdown comes through a tunnel previously painted on a wall. Know Your Place sees the rhythm section locked in a grim tango, Clancy and bassist Mike Majewski hurling each other around whilst the other instruments sound airy and superfluous all about them. Eventually, the layers double and treble until it eventually feels like the listener is wading through porridge to get to the end of the track.

Apart from that, there’s very little else to comment upon. The Sun is Alive is anything but lively, it’s a none-event. Goddamn You is a Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire rip-off complete with church organ. The Axiom is the clearest Mercury Rev takeoff, with the singer sounding a lot like Jonathan Donahue and the instrumentation generally aping Opus 40 from Deserter’s Songs. It must be reiterated at this point that The Globe is no Deserter’s Songs.

So anyway, the second criticism much graver than the first was actually mentioned at the outset. The Globe just isn’t very original or interesting. The bands you’d have to make a conscious effort to step over in order to pursue The Silent Years just doesn’t bear thinking about. You may view this as an unfair line of reasoning, but ask yourself; why would anybody listen to a band that sound like an inferior version of another band, precisely because they are not that second band? For a start, you could instead listen to Florence + the Machine, who sound like they’ve been found playing on toadstools on a woodland glade with autumnal sun low in the sky. Whatever Lungs’ shortcomings, it’s a bewitching listen and far less arduous than The Globe. Meanwhile The Arcade Fire are introspective despite their rousingly layered music and inhabit a novelistic world of carnivalistic inversion. The Globe is totally anonymous compared to Funeral, devoid of the personality a record of this ilk requires. Although it’d be incredibly surprising if The Silent Years have ever heard anything by them, Super Furry Animals are famously magpieish in their approach to music making. They sound like nothing else on earth, and The Silent Years can only aspire to this. Finally there’s Mercury Rev, who’ve got this trippy sub-sub-genre of music down to a fine art. The Silent Years have nowhere near the tunes of MR; there’s no Goddess On A Hiway, or even Senses On Fire. And as for the instantly-memorable The Dark is Rising… well no, there’s nothing like that here, so move along.

4 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 3 out of 6

Gift Music
The Silent Years on Myspace
The Silent Years on Last.fm

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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

Johnny Foreigner – Grace and the Bigger Picture [Album]

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


Originally published at Sonic Dice, November 2009.

If you haven’t seen hard-touring Birmingham three-piece Johnny Foreigner live yet, you may want to consider getting out more. As if they needed an excuse for another jaunt on the road, they team up with another credentialed-up producer Alex Newport to release Grace and the Bigger Picture. The acid test for this second album however is beyond the customary dizzy sugar rush, will you be inclined to dig it out for a spin this time next year?

Opener Choose Yr Side and Shut Up! acts as an appropriate metaphor for the duelling boy/girl vocals that never quite resolve themselves. With the line “And it starts like” Johnny Foreigner are off with a pop and a whizz; it starts like how it continues really, all slow bent notes, stop-start metrical foolings, widdling guitar fills et al. Security to the Promenade may be slightly more accomplished, but essentially follows the same template. Sometimes you’ll find the criticism that there are no hooks to a band’s music; if anything, JoFo are only guilty of incorporating too many hooks; Security to the Promenade for example ends up sounding like a random bunch of phrases which are intoned slightly louder or more tunefully than the backdrop. “Bath-room floor!”, “Holiday heaven!”, “Student union!” are pretty much the catcalls that define the track. Nothing much else sticks in the melee (or should that be puree?) of v-flicking guitar fills, crunching proliferations in volume and hyperspeed drumming that randomly hits brick walls. It collapses into a giant pothole only to emerge spitting a stream of water the other side for a final thrash. Great fun, but once it’s over, it’s over; a perfect indie moshpit soundtrack it might be, but it seems to evade the memory unnervingly.

The honest-to-God truth of the matter is that if you’ve heard one track on this album, then you’ve pretty much heard all of them. That being the case, it’s useless to really focus on the album track-by-track; it’s fun, but it’s repetitive and some might whisper just a little pointless. Fair enough there’s a giddy thrill to be had, and I doubt the band themselves would profess themselves to be any more than musical hedonists. Therefore, the only logical place to turn is those tracks that stand out, barging free of the stagefront scrum for a breather. Illchoosemysideandshutup, Alright begins sweet and quiet before a controlled apex of noise is reached; it’s all over a little too quickly however and is treated rather like an interlude than the proper track it probably deserved to be. More Heart, Less Tongue, beyond the ‘we’ve been to all these countries that you haven’t and didn’t like it’ sentiment, bravely tries to stick with its waltzy piano line. It’s an awful lot more restrained than most other tracks – a pair of tiny chaotic and dissonant breakdowns not withstanding – and is the most impressive thing on offer here, showing real signs of songwriting maturity. That said, the ‘sick of being homesick’-inspired “Oh! Seven! Fuck it! I’ll call tomorrow” line is infantile, bordering on genius. The Coast Was Always Clear most accurately recaptures the spirit of the still-to-be-bested-even-now Choose Yr Side and Shut Up, with Alexei Berrow quizzing “Who’s watching the coast? Who’s watching the coast? Who’s watching the coast and who’s watching you!?” ever more frantically. It unexpectedly spaces out into a resonatingly empty section of serenity before eventually working itself back into top gear to end frothing at the mouth once again.

Returning to the ‘different-sounding’ tracks, the promising moderation shown in More Tongue, Less Heart and The Coast Was Always Clear’s after-the-jump instrumental ending point to greater achievements in future from JoFo. It can be argued (and has been for the entire previous page) that they really need to get past this idea that everything must be played as quickly and hit as hard as possible. Johnny Foreigner are skilled in the art of self-reference, both with regard to Grace and indeed the bigger picture. Their little self-contained universe is hinted at in the inclusion of previous release titles (“So it started pretty, arcs across the city” goes Choose Yr Side), and recurring motifs… well, recur… throughout the album. The “some summers” refrain of Feels Like Summer crops up at The Coast Was Always Clear’s climax and question-retort relationships clearly exist between Choose Yr Side and Shut Up!/Illchoosemysideandshutup, Alright, More Heart, Less Tongue/More Tongue, Less Heart. A clear sense of the band’s identity and their little self-created microcosm is appealing. Then again, they’re difficult to like at times, often coming across as somewhere perilously close to obnoxious; the ‘woe-is-us-we-tour-hard’ songs can’t fail to grate, as astutely observed as they sometimes are.

Grace and the Bigger Picture is another one-dimensional joyride through the neon-graffitied council estate called Johnny Foreigner, a realm of blaring sirens and people shouting at you and beating you about the head with sticks. Therefore, there are complaints aplenty; it’s not very well rehearsed or produced, and more precision and polish wouldn’t have gone amiss. The quality doesn’t exactly lurch, but at least undulates noticeably at times; Kingston Called, They Want Their Lost Youth Back is ‘fuck-off-that’s-awful’ bad, for example. More time should’ve been spent on it as a project, more consideration given to the impressions the songs make upon the listener. It’s no coincidence that Criminals is the album’s first single, being its most memorable moment, with a chorus bordering on… gasp! Catchy! From the album title upwards, JoFo are focussing on the long term, but they really need to question what it is they’re providing their listeners with. It’s all very well to be the soundtrack to a drunken slam dance in a securityless venue, but quite another to be worthy of repeat listens at home. If one of those hoodies with panels from old comic books on it could make noise, they’d sound like Johnny Foreigner; all random explosions devoid of context and snippets of dialogue in disembodied speech bubbles. I guess they live and die on whether that description appeals to you or not.

6 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 4 out of 6

Choose Yr Side and Shut Up! on Spotify
A head-spinning introduction which the album never tops; arming you with no more than a pair of glowsticks, it sends you reeling into a neon-daubed indie disco never to be heard from again.

Best Before Records
Johnny Foreigner on Myspace
Johnny Foreigner on Last.fm

Motion Picture Soundtrack – Departure [EP]

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


Originally published at Sonic Dice, September 2009.

There is barely a human who has ever lived that hasn’t found some sort of romance in the concept of death. And pretty much every creative writer, musician, filmmaker and so on recognises this. From Renaissance era works such as Romeo and Juliet to even the most disposable of Hollywood films, such as 300’s fearless affirmation of ‘tonight we dine in Hell’. In fact if you think about it, most major religions positively demand a morbid fascination with the end, a ‘suffer here, live in the afterlife’ approach. With modern nihilism and secular attitudes taking this promise away from us, what is there left to do other than romanticise death? So yeah, at any rate, Cultural Studies lecture notwithstanding, Motion Picture Soundtrack have a White Lies-esque lyrical fascination with death. These relatively dark sentiments fit well with the music’s sweeping, melodramatic feel to produce something alluringly uplifting. Aristotelian catharsis, fear and pity and all that, Cultural Studies bods.

Straight away Motion Picture Soundtrack sound comfortably familiar, with soundalikes obscured as if by the same veil (“The curtain has torn, fractured lights caress your form” is clearly a great line) that opener Departure’s lyrics reference. They aren’t immediately obvious, but with repeated listens it’s pretty obvious from where the Canterbury outfit draw their inspiration. Editors are the most obvious touchstone, recalled in Motion Picture Soundtrack’s soaring high-fretted, effects-soaked guitar lines, if not the singer’s high-ranging Johnny Borrell-ish tone. His mid-range also sounds a bit like Brandon Urie from Panic! At the Disco, but that isn’t a negative comment. That guy’s a decent enough singer to be fair, he just so happens to be annoying. And in an annoying band. Consequently, an American flavour comes through strongly here, as anyone who’s heard Armor For Sleep’s Somebody Else’s Arms may find themselves in familiar territory melody-wise. The blazing sections of white hot distortion also recall some of M83’s most shoegazeish moments in terms of ear-punishing volume. Upon the line “every time I rewind” the band take their cue to go stratospheric as if somebody has actually pushed a remote control button, they ascend to the skyline in effortlessly Matrix-like fashion.

Faults of a Realist (fantastic title) offers a slightly different proposition to Departure’s propulsive and momentum-filled drive with a more undulating structure. The affecting chorus is barrelled into the ghastly shadow of a 100-foot-tall wave’s hungry trough by ominous floor toms before the verse bobs out of the other side half-dead but still gasping. A genuine grasp of the philosophical issues behind the track’s title is suggested by the chorus line of “Nothing else is real, except the end”. This is precisely how poetic lyrics should work; the suggestion of an awareness of underlying issues rather than an explanation is commendable. Descending picked guitars in the chorus shimmer and shiver with the import of the lyrics’ ghoulish sentiments. We’re thrust back into a hailstorm of distortion which guitars and strings shine beacon-like out of, but we never quite see the other side before the track ends. What at first seemed like a breakdown is in fact the track’s outro, symbolically trapping the listener inside the song. Even musically, this is bleak stuff.

Mirrors is very different, as if the band seek to stray further and further from Departure’s initial manifesto with each track on this short EP. Whereas the lead track was immediate and forceful, the second slow-burning and intense, Mirrors is low-key and spooky. Strings quaver quietly in the background whilst formerly obscured keys are brought to the front of the mix in the verse, before an airy guitar joins in the chorus. The drops into feedback aren’t as fierce or as sheer here, and an icy atmosphere is reinforced by the unease associated with the title. Mirrors are uncanny things; we feel they show things as they are, but since everything is reversed in mirrors, surely they show everything as they are not. Looking in a mirror for too long is an eerie experience, a feeling captured by the tracks’ glassy texture. The mood changes along with the key coming out of the second chorus like the sun breaking cloud, serving as counterpoint to the line “I know one day we won’t be here, but I hope we’ll both be there”, which could be viewed alternately as unsettling or romantic. It’s certainly powerful, an effect only heightened by the intensifying music. Strings rise up in a case of ‘how long have they been there?’ from the ensuing melee towards the tracks crescendo, bringing the EP to a close as expansive as it began.

Whilst not particularly original, any band channelling M83, Editors and White Lies must be a winner by the law of averages. One critically-idolised plus two commercially-successful influences equals a can’t-fail sound. On first hearing White Lies’ morbid sentiments, I thought ‘These guys are going nowhere; who wants to hear songs about dying?’. Well, I was wrong about that once, and so see no reason why Motion Picture Soundtrack can’t break the mainstream and achieve Editors’ level of success. They’re definitely a band to watch out for, and have it all; record label deal, album out before the year’s close next month, beautifully-shot monochrome promo video for the vast skyscraping Departure, posterboy frontman. Checkity-check-check-check. However brief it is, the Departure EP is accomplished and highly addictive stuff; if Motion Picture Soundtrack can maintain this level of quality over an album’s length, nothing can stop them. They’re surely a safe bet for success in the next few months.

9 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 5 out of 6

Departure EP on Spotify
Impossible as it is to pick the best track from the EP, you’re duly encouraged to invest a few minutes in order to take in the whole thing.

End Game
Motion Picture Soundtrack on Myspace

The Cave Singers – Welcome Joy [Album]

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


Originally published at Sonic Dice, August 2009.

The title Welcome Joy can be read in a variety of differing ways; a sanctimonious religious command, an open-armed embrace or a positive observation concerning happiness perhaps. The Cave Singers’ sophomore album manages to convey the latter two without pretension, providing a lush and melodic listen. Former Pretty Girls Make Graves bassist Derek Fudesco has said in previous interviews that his guitar parts with The Cave Singers are essentially just bass riffs. This rings true on Welcome Joy, whose circular guitar arrangements inhabit the groove-based repetition of the most effective bass lines.

Welcome Joy begins with the appropriately-titled Summer Light, which recalls the look and feel of the album’s cover, its summery and warm touches of organ in the unfolding verses evoking the artworks’ orange tones. The cover is a nostalgic view of the world through an aperture that banishes modern figures like keyboards to the shot’s background. Similarly, Summer Light’s keys sound analogue, with folkish guitar and vocal arrangements that are also pleasingly old-fashioned; the evocative name equally recalls the song’s sound and feel. Female vocals in the background of the chorus line, “They’re damned if they’re right and they’re damned if they’re wrong, they don’t mind” are particularly divine. Singer Pete Quirk’s lyrics frequently stand out as strongly poetic, “Dance in the doldrums of each new day” further linking the semantic use of orange palettes to the visual. Leap’s frantic pulloff-hammer on riff is great, effortlessly propulsive when coupled with Marty Lund’s urgent drum track. Quirk’s raspy countrified vocals are excellent, mixed to be less gratingly abrasive than on debut Invitation Songs. A bridge sees the track really hitting its stride with a cymbal hit as bass enters and harmonica squawks in. The song evolves enchantingly as it forges ahead into another verse more urgent than the first; The Cave Singers clearly know where their strengths lie and adhere to their formula. Shrine’s quiet droning chorus is a departure and also a welcome one, ensuring that whilst verging on being formulaic at times, Welcome Joy steers clear of being predictable. This track is a case in point that these aren’t complex songs; they’re very simple, and I doubt the band would have a problem with that observation. The riff and appropriately Eastern percussion of Shrine follow on from Summers Light’s blissful glow, easy and reassuring in its tones. A middle eight briefly presses on noisily to skilfully maintain momentum before settling back into its meandering flow and quiet rumbling bass.

The most fleshed-out song yet Hen of the Woods incorporates nice distant rim shots and a riff reminiscent of Daughters of the Soho Riots or Start a War by The National. In its outro the track quickens to a country-tinged Sleater-Kinney-style guitar solo set against a shifting drum shuffle. Again the lyrics are carefully arranged, well written, considered and thoughtful on lines such as “Evening comes, it’s a curtain and a shawl”. They’re joyfully and sincerely delivered, again evocative of the album’s aged artwork in scenes of American prairies, sunsets and romance. Quirk sounds like an American David Gray on the pleasantly primitive Beach House – yes I know, these comparisons are meant to be achingly indie and obscure, but if the boot fits – even if the “just myself/no one else” chorus couplet is desperately unoriginal. I Don’t Mind, with its gentle high-capoed acoustic strum and more strident drums, follows Hen of the Woods’ lead in sounding less like Welcome Joy’s sketchier tracks. Despite the songs with a fuller drum sound generally being that bit more immediate (most tracks settle for a sparing New Slang-esque percussion track), this is arguably one of the album’s least memorable moments. VV sounds a bit like that cute I Tried to do Handstands for You iPod advert song with its calypso acoustic chord progression. The electric guitar riff recalls that from The Postal Service’s Recycled Air, only obviously less robotic; the chord sequence’s nicely merged variation in the bridge is particularly organic-sounding.

Welcome Joy sounds a lot more expansive than Invitation Songs, which sounded strangled at times by its limited component parts. At the Cut proves a natural punkabilly progression from previous track Leap’s folkabilly drumming, its rambling jangle reminiscent of the UK’s Sons and Daughters. There’s a certain world-weary wisdom to the singers voice here, mirrored by the vintage guitar’s ‘50’s tone in its solo. At the Cut is also a bit like Franz Ferdinand’s Ulysses in places (no, seriously), perhaps providing a bit of a British connection, which should go down well at this winter’s Shred Yr Face tour. Townships is simply gorgeous, an affective highlight which is probably the best track on the album. It features the most natural sounding riff, the least metronomic and most irregular, and a great semi-acoustic guitar tone. Quirk’s vocal is also one of his most natural deliveries, charmingly imperfect and almost croaky in places. The higher timbre to his multi-tracked vocal lends the track a transcendent, skyline-surfing feel. Chiming guitars coil around a semi-chanted chorus, recalling Fleet Foxes’s earthy yet spiritual melancholy sound. Bramble closes the album with a complex fingerpicked acoustic guitar intro resembling that of Leap a tad too closely for comfort. But on the positive side, like all songs on Welcome Joy there is nothing more to Bramble than there needs to be. It’s a very stark and natural beauty that this album carries, like a beautiful model photographed without makeup or a woodland copse untouched by human hands. A natural reverb on the vocal lends it a stark and atmospheric demo-like quality.

When reviewing The Low Anthem’s Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, I briefly considered whether or not to recommend it to fans of The Cave Singers. This was on the basis that both bands have a stark, unembellished and definitively American sound; they also exhibit the same rootsy, lo-fi sensibilities, which produce their latest records’ appealing personalities. However, I foolishly decided against doing so, due to my belief that Cave Singers were probably too little-known over here at this point. I anticipate being proved wrong in thinking so in the near future, after the exposure the aforementioned Shred Yr Face jaunt and this latest excellent release will gain them.

9 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 5 out of 6

Townships on Spotify
Taking the best elements of other highlights Summer Light and Hen of the Woods, Townships practically sounds like it was painted.

Matador
The Cave Singers on Myspace

Haunts – Love is Blind [EP]

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


Originally published at Sonic Dice, August 2009.

Dour London-based four-piece Haunts’ latest single might not exactly be a barrel of laughs, but it compensates in snotty punk attitude and rigid post-punk arrangements. Support comes from remixes of both the title track and other Haunts material, but Love is Blind remains the EP’s main event.

First impressions are good, the chunky drums may well inhabit a well-trodden path, but they storm down said trail propulsively and addictively. The drum riff recalls loads of things, from George Harrison’s Got My Mind Set On You, to My Sharona or Dance Dance and so on; even if you haven’t heard Love is Blind, you surely get the idea. Soon the track’s weapon of choice – a giant, bluntly staccato Queens of the Stone Age guitar riff – arrives and things are looking pretty positive. Ditto for the spaghetti western first line, half sneered, half sung, “I killed a man, I had no choice, it was him or me”; that’s definitely a cool opening gambit. The fuzzy, electronic-sounding bass has great depth, definite time and effort clearly having been expended upon its sound. Getting on towards Death From Above 1979 in its distorted tone, the bass supports the cleaner guitar well with a heavy groove. Unfortunately, Love is Blind fails to evolve much or unfold from its opening, and the chorus’ Horrors-style organ seems to send most other instruments on a coffee break. It fails to bring anything special to the track or the lyrically-simplistic chorus. The track eventually bogs down into a single-note bass riff, which is somewhere between Romantic Rights and Feel Good Hit of the Summer.

It’s something of a limited agenda that Haunts have got themselves here; danceable indie-post punk with thumping great cymbal-light drums, minimalist guitar and casiotone keyboards. Bearing all these aspects in mind, they’re seemingly trying quite hard to be an English version of The Walkmen. Accomplished though Love is Blind may be, you get the impression it never quite finds top gear. The staccato riff is good fun but pretty limiting, and the track doesn’t really transcend the sum of its parts. A slightly stilted, awkward atmosphere pervades; the song might be danceable, but you get the feeling it would prefer to stay leaning against a wall, self-consciously nodding its head. If Haunts were aiming intentionally for disinterested and gauche, then that doesn’t come across. On the whole Love is Blind follows similar lines as previous single Underground, only more restrained, not as loud and not as good.

Haunts’ remix arm Black Teeth get hold of Black Eyed Girl, taking it for a synthy but limited Midnight Juggernauts-lite joyride. The L’Amour La Morgue remix of Underground’s electro-tinged faux-splatterpunk is a radical departure from the original, no longer shamelessly ripping off the riff from Ink by Finch. The remix crashes Radiohead’s All I Need headlong into Linkin Park and is therefore rather good, even though it drags the snappy original out for just shy of seven not-all-that-eventful minutes. At any rate, we may hear more from L’Amour La Morgue in future, with remixes for acts as disparate as Flo Rida, Young Guns and Bring Me the Horizon in the pipeline. It all goes very Justice for the Pics Plox Love is Blind remix, initially disappointing with its obligatory remix handclaps and complete axing of the motif guitar and drum riffs. Eventually settling into a blocky, glitchy stumble, Pics Plox take their cues from the original’s dramatic organ sound, which renders the chorus especially monochrome and uninteresting. As far as remixes go it markedly differs from the original, erasing the most recognisable parts in favour of arguably-weaker aspects, namely the keyboards and words. The EP winds up with a demo version of Love is Blind that is pretty unnecessary. It adds nothing to the lead track save some paranoid keys and sounding like its being recorded inside a coke can. So the band improved the track for the album; great, I improve the taste of bacon by cooking it. Not so much an achievement as just the way it’s meant to be.

The biggest problem with Love is Blind as a track is the same problem with Love is Blind as an EP. As part of a grander scheme, it would probably be enjoyable; but as strictly speaking the sole original track on offer here, Haunts appear to be lacking in effort. You get three different versions of Love is Blind – original, remix and demo – on this quote-unquote EP. Woo. This just isn’t enough original material to warrant being called an EP, as a piece of work it’s too repetitive and would’ve benefitted from losing a track or two and being labelled as a single. Whether or not it’s been lost in record company translation, this is clearly just a single that’s been padded out to EP status. Love is Blind is advertised on Haunts’ Myspace as a ‘new single EP’; well decide, surely it’s one or the other, either a single or an EP. Insert ‘confused’ emoticon here.

5 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 3 out of 6

Love is Blind on Spotify

Black Records
Haunts on Myspace
Haunts on Last.fm

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