Archive for stars

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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Still Life Still – Girls Come Too [Album]

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


Test review, never previously published.

When you hear the name Arts and Crafts, what immediately springs to mind? Broken Social Scene and Stars; if you think William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, you’ve been watching too much ‘Bargain Hunt’. Joining those successfully romantic Canadian indie stars are Still Life Still, releasing their debut album a full decade after forming. Girls Come Too is a typically experimental progeny from the Arts and Crafts sire, an appropriate metaphor given the record’s principle theme; sex, sex and more sex.

The album kicks off with Danse Cave, a pulsating hi-hat drive with a great ¡Forward Russia!-style guitar riff, which goes on to disintegrate into a Foals-like spacey clang. It’s great fun, immediately danceable and quirky. As a band performance it’s high energy and tuneful, with a stellar, uptempo drumming performance. The singer’s voice sounds a lot like Conor Oberst’s work with Desaparecidos; he may not be a classically ‘good’ singer, but neither is he irritating or too abrasive. After Danse Cave’s manic start the album settles into a mellower You Forgot it in People vibe with Flowers and a Wreath. It’s nowhere near as hooky as the opener, sounding polished smooth as alabaster, the chorus only marked by a proliferation in the distortion levels. Apart from the chorus in which the title is endlessly repeated, Flower and a Wreath’s lyrics are verbose and scrapbookish, with irregular rhyme patterns which slot together pretty much whenever and wherever. It’s an effective move – almost accidently so – continued in shortest track Lite-Bright Lawns which suddenly seems to stumble upon the very creepy, voyeuristic line “that third person is watching”. Lite-Bright Lawns is very Broken Social Scene, complete with clicking rim shots reminiscent of Cause = Time’s drum intro. The most noticeable element of the album so far is the vocalist’s languid singing style, offset against what is frequently multi-faceted and frenetic music.

Kid reverses this trend to a certain extent with an introspective atmosphere in which the vocals unexpectedly sound like the soft tones of Armor for Sleep’s Ben Jorgensen. It manages to stay away from the subject of sex for the most part, but finds time to reference it indirectly in the ‘fucked-up mom’ line. Another cool guitar riff supports the interesting use of metallic cymbal clashing noises which sound like steel sheets blowing in the wind. Neon Blue may be more straightforward indie-rock but is all the more enjoyable for it in a generally experimental album. It marks the beginning of an immediate-sounding section of the album, maintained on the following track. Pastel, which featured as title track to an EP earlier this year continues the album’s consistently great guitar performances with an Interpolish riff. The imploring refrain “We really need to be friends” is the song’s highlight, which is probably the best track since opener Danse Cave.

Ever noticed the way that albums sometimes have a habit of subconsciously summing themselves up in one line? Whether that’s the listener or the band’s subconscious is up for debate of course. You can find it in Kid A’s denial of a suddenly-alien Radiohead sound, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening” or The Holy Bible’s nihilistic admittance in Faster’s “I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing”. Similarly, here on Pastel we find the refrain “I really wanna be serious, Don’t really wanna be serious, I’m really, really, really serious”. True to form, it’s impossible to tell whether Still Life Still want to make grown-up, textural music (Flowers and a Wreath, Kid) or make giggly classroom sexual observations. At times the album sounds a little like an episode of ‘The In-Betweeners’. That said, Pastel’s outro – an incredible blanket of white noise over which guitars spasmodically jerk along like a car stuck in first gear – is undeniably great.

It all goes a little bit Boards of Canada on Planets, recalling Dayvan Cowboy’s aquatic chimings. It’s as icy cool as the depths of space, experimentative and celestial, and once again happens upon a nice little refrain and societal comment, “It’s a family of wolves out there yeah, they bury their young”. Knives in Cartoons is broken-footed and hyper, the guitars and drums threatening to collapse in a heap on themselves at any moment but somehow flapping onwards. A raucous and dissonant breakdown somehow sorts the track out before it trips back into the former flailing groove and finally another astoundingly noisy outro. Girls Come Too still resides in the Rape Me-like land of metaphor at this point in the line “kiss your open cut”, but that quickly changes. If you thought nothing in a song could ever shock you anymore, you’re duly directed towards T-Shirts, whose chorus I doubt I should even repeat. Let’s just say it involves a rather unconventional swapping of rather unconventional bodily fluids. “It’s love, it’s love, it’s love” the singer assures us. I’m not so sure it is, mate. Sounds more like porn to me. To debunk a cliché, this album isn’t so ‘charged with sexual energy’ as it is obsessed with sex like a desperate, spotty adolescent. Girls Come Too is hornier than a Chinese pharmacy; you’re best off downloading it, the CD would probably hump your leg.

There are good songs and bad songs to do with sex. And far be it from me to give lectures, but the good ones are hard to pull off, no pun intended. Venus in Furs is successful in retaining the sleazy, damaged, transgressive sexuality of its subject matter, as does Nine Inch Nails’ Closer for instance. Thing is, apart from some notable examples (Lay Lady Lay, Wicked Game), songs about sex are very rarely sexy. Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On? Puh-lease. That song’s so clichéd and oft-used it barely retains any of its original meaning today. Years of being played in sitcoms over a soft focus, slow motion POV shot of somebody attractive has ruined it. It has surely become more funny or cringeworthy than sexy.

And therein lies the problem with Girls Come Too; it’s pretty awkward and equally silly. Let’s face it, massively rare exceptions notwithstanding, indie rock isn’t exactly sexy. Garden State lied to us, if you played The Shins to flirt with someone they’d not only neglect to call, they’d probably change their number. You could say that Girls Come Too encompasses everything about the human experience, as Kid’s childhood references are followed by Lite-Bright Lawns‘ imploring “Let’s have a baby, let’s have a baby”. Other aspects of relationships are progressively explored until Scissors Losing Weight finally pops the question, “I’ll marry you someday, we’ll grow on faultlines”. The undernourished closer Wild Bees is close-to-the-bone and very affecting, sounding suspiciously like it addresses a character on their deathbed. You could say all this, but it may be giving the album more credit than is due; it really might be as shallow as it first appears. Anyway, aside from the taboo-trampling T-Shirts, it doesn’t really say anything that new or fresh. In conclusion, I’d hesitantly recommend this. And yes, the title probably does mean what you think it means. You animal.

7 out of 10.

Pastel on Spotify
Laconic and at times lyrically uncomfortable EP track is this album’s conceptual lynchpin and whose outro provides one of the highlights.

Arts and Crafts
Still Life Still on Myspace