30 November 2013

Manic Street Preachers - Gold Against The Soul

Fuck me, it didn't take long for these guys to try selling out! After all the posturing and sloganeering of the early EP's, to the DIY t-shirts and the excellent-if-slightly-too-long debut, they release this. An album which - admittedly - does hold some decent and well-played musicianship but at the same time, comes across as a bit twee and unadventurous compared to the debut. It's not like they'd got the pipe and slippers out, but they weren't too far from that type of territory! The Blog Overlord told me of a story where during the tour for this album, someone yelled "Sell Outs!" at a gig and they for all intents and purposes admitted it! NME journo Stuart Baillie reckoned the album was "All SLASH and no BURN", alluding to the arena-rock sound this album had (Cheers Wiki). Seeing as how they were to become Gods Of The Arena (I couldn't resist the 'Spartacus' quote. Fuck 'Breaking Bad', go watch 'Spartacus' instead), opinions of this album have been revised by most journos as this album seemingly fits in with the broader, more arena filling sound of more recent times. Of course, it could be considered part of some great Manics master plan. 1) Get noticed, 2) Sell out, 3) Release something as harsh, raw and as nightmarish as The Holy Bible and then laugh as people lose their shit at how a band can go as easily from one aesthetic to the complete polar opposite. Of course, it could've all been for shits and giggles.

Released in 1993, it was produced by Dave Eringa and he'd really captured a big, more filling sound compared to the predecessor album. Musically, it's been compared to both Guns 'n' Roses and The Clash but i cannot hear it. To me, it sounds like decent enough rock which - like I said in the previous paragraph - is played well but without much conviction. This is the main problem for me as the album opens strongly enough with the first three tracks but then it goes into a lull. I've listened to it a few times in a row now but it's just not landing. Mind, tracks, 8 (Nostalgic Pushead), 9 (Symphony Of Tourette) and 10 (Gold Against The Soul) are fantastic! These are a bit more interesting and single-handedly save the album from the low mark I'd have given it.

In retrospect, it's not a bad album although whether it's essential is another thing. There are certainly some great ideas on this but I think if they'd spent a bit more time on certain other aspects, making sure they'd product tested and quality controlled then it would have been better. Or even if they'd only released the best five songs as an EP, that would probably have been a better option. Yes, definitely that one.

5 Out of Ten - It could have been a bit better.

Chris J.

This album is available on iTunes.

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27 November 2013

Dutch Uncles - Out Of Touch In The Wild

Some bands you discover by accident, this is one of those bands for me.  Back in 2011 I picked up their last album 'Cadenza' on a whim, I liked the cover and I had a few pennies to spend.  The result was a beautifully crafted piece of indie pop that took inspiration from prog rock, math metal time signatures and falsetto singing designed to give to enthral (although sometimes they give headaches as well If I'm honest).  It was a well played album for me, yet I forgot about them a bit if I'm honest.  I saw that they released this album earlier in the year; however it has taken me till now that I have listened to it.  Hailing from Marple (part of the Greater Borough of Manchester, Stockport, England), they have a rather strange career so far, which is on the up and up; but they don't seem to be making the waves that some were expecting (selling out lots of venues is obviously not enough for some people), so is this album a lost little gem of British Indie pop like there last one....

"Pondage" is the first song off this album, a mournful beginning starts this album off before the trademark guitar picking begins and it starts off the album with a small low-key, starting small and not making their ideas too complicated.  It keeps it simple and works really well as a gentle introduction to their latest work.  Going straight into "Bellio", this keep the suspense coming and when they eventually start to make more noise it sound like a futuristic disco going on.  There is a wonderful amount of oriental flavours that take the album on a wonderful trip from the beginning.  Keeping up the good work is "Fester" (these boys do like their strange names); it has a softly soft approach that rides through the album. This is not to say it is not full of energy and vitality, it just isn't bouncy off the walls like a Mexican bean.  This album likes to take its time and it is rewarding for the patients’.

"Godboy" has another gentle beginning that so gives way to a string section that smoothes even the most violent of souls.  It is for good reason that they are compared to XTC, they share a lot of the same DNA and this band has made it their own.  Next is "Threads" which have a kinship with 'Two Suns' era Bat For Lashes and would not be out of place in an indie disco.  It is a really have game into their own so far with this album.  Afterwards you have "Flexxin" which keeps the good work going, to be honest it is very samey at this point as well; but when it is played this well then you don't mind.  "Zug Zwang" is a mood changer, taking the slow opening to a more morbid level, but fear not dear reader: they are straight back onto the off-time drumming, keyboards to die for and vocals that I sometimes think might be a girl (sorry Mr Wallis - sometimes I have to check).

"Phaedra" is just as lovely side step, it seems effortless in its delivery to be honest.  Nothing about this album feels forced or out of place, there is no effort that is wasted and it all feels so compact.  After this you have my personal favourite "Nometo" which will be straight into the song of the year for ATTIWLTMOWOS.  It is not the most adventures or outlandish tune I have heard, but it is certainly one of the cleverest tracks.  And then they drop "Brio" which has a tune of energy and sparks, it is as if they have been storing it for the entire album and it explodes out of them.  For 90% of this album the band has been reserved and that last 10% is an all out explosion.  They play it right, and it makes for such a powerful ending.

I think it is obvious what I feel about this album.  I am not going to tell you that this album is the best thing ever, but it is a really good album that is so quiet and focused in places.  It is just a joy to listen to, I feel sort of guilty that it missed me when I first released.  If you have any interest in the UK indie music scene and want to go off the beaten track for a bit, start here.  It is really worth the effort and an unsung gem from this year's releases.  This should have been in the mix for a Mercury Prize, but it will probably be forgotten which is a shame really.  Seriously, go and get it......now.

9.5 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Dutch Uncles website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Alter Bridge - Fortress

Alter Bridge (aka Creed with a different singer) has had a strange journey of sorts from the point of view of the ATTIWLTMOWOS people (I would say office, but that would be a lie).  Anything to do with Creed will send some of them running for the hills; others have a love/hate relationship with them.  For me I have always had a soft spot for what they do, it is sort of like Pearl Jam and other grunge bands of that like, Myles Kennedy is an awesome vocalist and the playing is a step up from Creed.  But there is something that keeps me from being a fully pledged up fan of Alter Bridge and I cannot put my finger on it.  Their first three albums have been decent affairs but lacking something for me, something is just not quite right in the state of Alter Bridge for me.  Will their fourth record 'Fortress' the album to break the mould here and be the first album I like out for the beginning....

For this album, the band worked again with Michael "Elvis" Baskette who produced their last two albums.  It is obviously a fit that they feel comfortable with and makes for a continuous feel in the sound quality and overall warmth to the sound.  For some people this could be one of the reasons not to like them as they could say there has been no development in sound or a creative burst.  I will come onto this after I have gone through the songs.  Starting with acoustic opening "Crying For Achilles" launches into a full stomping classic which will no doubt look great in their shows with the lights and crowd roaring.  The song goes on about searching for something and Myles Kennedy's vocals are on top form again from the beginning.  Following up is lead single "Addicted To Pain" which you will probably hear on a wrestling PPV very soon if I am honest.  It is a standard song from these guys, well played but in no way, shape or form anything different from them.

Next up though is "Bleed It Dry", the opening riff is monstrous and so towering it feels like it could go on forever, but soon it gives way to the usual angry response to someone who has done the song writer wrong.  The solo in the middle is one of those top draw classic guitar solos, that will have the noodle heads reaching for their own guitars to figure out how it is was done.  It is a very good song indeed, which brings us to "Lover", a moment that is designed to be the tender lighter moment (or mobile phone moment for modern audiences) of the band's new set, and it takes a little while to really kick in.  The first half of the song just drags if the truth be told that when they finally make dramatic change to full guitar and solo mode that I have already switch off in my head; it took a little too long to get there and what they deliver for the sonic shift moment here does nothing to raise my interest on the song.  "The Uninvited" restore a sort of balance here, back to the stomping riff and that familiar bound that made bands like Stone Temple Pilots international stars.  I do say that fully aware the Mr Kennedy sort of replaced Mr Wieland for Slash, but that is beside the point.  Whilst this is not the most original of material, "The Uninvited" is a really good number.

Coming quickly behind is "Peace Is Broken", a anti war song which is quite possibly the best song the band have done, let alone just on this album.  It has that classic rock feel that an anthem really needs, the riff sounds like a fine tuned machine, the drumming by Scott Phillips drives the song forward and the bass work from Brian Marshall is out of this world.  I cannot over praise this song, it is the jewel of this album and rightly so.  Coming up next then is a sharp down turn with "Calm The Fire", I think any song that followed that last one would suffer; but this song takes two minutes to get to the start and Alter Bridge are neither Boris or Mono, they are not a drone band, noise band or progressive rock/metal band.  Something’s are left to the experts and that beginning to an average song which steal a riff from "Chop Suey" from System Of A Down (honestly, it does) and does nothing for the record. "Waters Rising" is a slow number which would have been better placed to follow "Peace Is Broken" if truth be told; it is not trying to change the world and has that well trodden light verse/heavy chorus movement that has graced many a rock station for years.  It is a clever (if not original) little number.

"Farther Than The Sun" has a good stomp to it, but I now have the feeling that I have heard this song before; I don't mean just elsewhere in the world but on this album itself.  It is a decent number, but it whiffs of filler to be honest.  "Cry A River" on the other hand is all out manic compared to the rest, comes out in the beginning like a bat out Hades and just runs along dragging the listener in its slipstream.  Much more enjoyable and slightly different to the rest of the work here (please note, when I say slightly it is like two different types of cheddar cheese - it is basically the same thing).  "All Ends Well" is the traditional hands swaying number that almost ends these types of albums, and for once it is not awful.  Again there is no originality on this number, but it is a very good song and not the same as the rest of the album which is a good thing.  Closing the album is the title track and it is your standard Alter Bridge number, epic solo, quite/loud movement and a powerful vocal display.  I know why they do these sorts of numbers as Mr Kennedy's vocals fits nicely to this type of music, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  It works here due to the way they mix up the riffs and the solos are really good, but it was a close thing to be honest.

After getting to the end of this album I have figured out a few things about Alter Bridge which I will mention here before the verdict.  They are obviously stupidly talented musicians and with Myles Kennedy, Messrs Tremonti, Marshall and Phillips, they have a much more talented and powerful vocalist than when they are in Creed.  That being said, they do tend to get stuck in a rut with the light/loud vocal movements of their work and even though they are brilliant musicians sometime they over reach themselves with their work.  Also, they are hardly the most original of bands and I can see why people have problems with them; but the same could be levelled at AC/DC, Motorhead and others, yet they don't get half as much flack.  The jury is still out on the band as a whole for me at the moment, but I have made up my mind for the album.  Overall the quality of the playing makes this a really good record, there is a few filler moments on here which loss it marks and if they were shaven off it would have gotten a lot higher.  It will not win too many new fans if I'm honest, but it will be perfect for the converted.

7.5 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Alter Bridge website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

26 November 2013

Midlake - Antiphon

How would you cope in a band with the loss of your lead songwriter and vocalist?  Not many bands have attempted to do that, certainly not many have succeeded either if the truth be told; but it is something that faced Midlake in November 2012 when principal leader Tim Smith left the band.  Spurred on by their previously leader demands that he would let them have only some of the material they had all worked on (which turned out to be roughly about 25% of their work), the band decided to abandon what had been worked on before I started afresh.  Recorded in six months, the band has managed to produce ten tracks for the general masses to indulge in; their last album - 'The Courage Of Others" from 2010 is held as a modern American classic in some quarters.  With such aggressive circumstances weaker acts would have bulked at the task, how did Midlake fare on these choppy waters.

Starting off with the title track of the album, the band has gone a little more rockier than their predecessors have been.  Still with that wonderful sense of 70's prog which give them attention, their new singer (previous guitarist Eric Pulido) you can sense the change in the band straight away.  The band have said that they are now more focused going forward as a unit then being driven by one man's vision.  "Antiphon" is a song from the beginning and re-introduces the band perfectly, continuing this trend is "Provider" which seems so familiar and old, yet at the same time so modern and up to date.  The song is about becoming their own provider and it serves as a good metaphor for what has happened to them, it is a very powerful song from this band at this point.  "The Old And The Young" continue the good work so far, this album is practically manic compared to what they have released before; it as if the loss of Smith has made them step up a notch and focus their skills.  It is almost as if their haunting past is being taken to one side, given a drink and a rest and the new version is burying the past so to speak.

But fear not dear Midlake fan; the slower times are still here.  "It's Going Down" starts off the more introspective section of the album, the band obviously have taken note not to place all their good songs at the beginning of the album.  The album needed the change back to be honest, the only thing is that it is just that little bit too short if I am honest, but it is still a decent moment.  The same cannot be levelled at instrumental "Vale", it is not just decent - it is towering, majestic, wonderful.  Starting off with a build to a fantastic solo and jam, this song shows what the band have became and still incorporates that which has gone before.  Track of the album, hands down.  Coming quickly on its heels is "Aurora Gone", beginning with a haunting flute solo, drifting bells and guitar work this again gives the feel of old to the band.  Yet it does not feel retrospective (apart from the overall 70's vibes which is the band's bread and butter), it feels fresh and liberated from something.  The band is clearly more confident for their improvement cannot be understated.

"Ages" is the first track which seems to struggle a bit on the album if the truth be told.  It is played incredible well, but it just does nothing for me.  Every song cannot be a classic though and "This Weight" is a lot better from the refreshed group.  With the focus being on the being, the men keep on producing some quality material here.  "Corruption" is the second last track which keeps the suspense going for this album, the song dwells on the darkness out there and what it can do the song broads and comes at you in waves, slow and constant and driven.  Ending the album is the twin of "Provider" in "Provider II" - like a haunting carousel of fading colour and regret this brings the album to a glorious and mournful end.  It would not be out of place to say that this track is one of the best endings to an album that I have heard in 2013.  It brings home the new version of the band and shows that both versions of the band can co-exist.

This album is a surprise on many levels - I did not know that it was coming or what had gone on with the band.  To find out that it was made within six months from scratch is even more amazing, the split from their previous singer could actually be the making of them.  For their first effort as a band instead of a vision this is truly amazing; this will be held one day as the way to live on after the loss of your talisman.  Apart from one track this album is truly stunning.  If you want to hear the past played in a truly modern and wonderful style, you will not have to look much further; the kings are dead, long live the kings.

9 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost.....

You can purchase the album from Spotify here

You can visit the Midlake website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Arcade Fire has both annoyed me and enthralled me in equal measure before the release of this album.  Their first album "Funeral" for me is a wonder piece of modern indie rock, however "Neon Bible" and "The Suburbs" (in the words of Peter Griffin in Family Guy) insist on themselves.  They are so up their own arses that it made me nauseas, they might be hits with the masses but overall those albums just infuriate me to the extreme.  They both have good ideas, but they just dick around them till they become irrelevant.  Anyway, the build up to this release has been interesting with a guerrilla style art campaign and releasing songs in the name of the album instead of themselves.  They have kept the intrigue up; also have James Murphy formerly of LCD Soundsystem has got the world wondering what this is all about.  For me, it is the vain hope that they will return to former glories; so without further ado, time to review this double disc bad boy.
There is a hidden track at the beginning of the first disc with 10 minutes of samples, but this is not available on the Spotify version obviously; to hear it you will have to get the album.  Starting off the album proper with the title track, this is a seven minute indie rock disco anthem which is dropped with the most subtle of ease.  When they are in their moment and not just making noise for noise sakes they are a fascinating band, also at seven minutes plus it is hardly a short song but it goes by before you know it.  It is very rare that they have had this sort of moment for a long time.  Following on is "We Exist" which is another dance filled bomb that slowly pulses around the mind with a class movement; it feels like a lighter version of Ariel Pink and you are on the right track.  The influence of James Murphy on this album is so obvious from the beginning that it might as well be LCD Soundsystem with special guests Arcade Fire, but this is a real positive to be honest.  It has given them a shot in the arm from the beginning and changed them to a certain degree.  Next is almost short "Flashbulb Eyes" which sounds like a moment from an 80's computer game and has a slight jarring effect; to be honest it is not too bad - just that the first two songs were of such a high quality.

"Here Comes The Night Time" is back on form with an almost fairground start and runs into an almost samba frantic pace for a few seconds and drops into another slow and dangerous piece of disco that makes this album for its beginnings already better than their last two which have been held as modern classics (that is wrong by the way - but I digress). "Normal Person" is next which starts with a more traditional beginning and a familiar rock feel which is not too far away from the harder moments of albums past for these cats, but with a forward looking style.  The lyrics dealing with how they do not want to be normal people and what they are going to do, it is a different direction on the album but not everything can be dancing nirvana.  After this is a really strange moment with "You Already Know" and it's almost pseudo-country flavour, no word of a lie here - it feels like Chas N Dave do country and would have been best kept in the studio, first tear in the amour for this album. Ending the first side of this double album is "Joan Of Arc" with its more punk feeling, it ends this side of the album on a positive note, it has a fire in its belly that "You Already Know" did not have; much better from this band of mistrials.

Starting off the second side of the album with a digit beep is "Here Come The Night Time II" which really acts as an interlude between the two sections of the album - not bad but hardly essential.  "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" is next with its strange drifting landscape of a dream like quality, but it has a painful note section which helps make this song a lot more interesting to be honest; it just drifts along and makes no real sense as to why it was included.  That is until "It Is Never Over (Oh Orpheus)", its mirror sister; once this track kicks in with the disco rhythm and sensibility coming through it makes the other track come into focus and amplifies its importance.  You need the light and the dark sometimes and these two tracks would not work without the other one.  That is a very hard trick to do in this era of supermarket indie; these guys are thinking on a different level in places and this makes the record incredibly interesting.

"Porno" follows these twins and I feel sort of sorry for it in a way; any track would have a hard time following what has just past, but this track is more subtle than that and has secret hooks which entrench it into your mind.  This is the stand out moment of the album for that reason alone as it is dark and desolate, yet it demands repeat listens. With a drum intro we welcome "Afterlife" which was released as the second single from this album.  It sounds like a holiday gone wrong to be honest - not that it is awful, but that it has a slight trashy feel about it with a strange dark sub context which makes the audience know that something is not right in the state, it is fantastic that such a song should exist and be given major praise around the world.  Art Rock is a strange beast indeed and lives in some interesting places.  The final track of the album is the 11 minute plus "Supersymmetry" - with this track they take their time to point, but it sort of drifts in and at in places and does not make much sense if I'm honest.  The ending samples I think might be a mirror image of the hidden samples at the beginning of the first disc, so I feel I might be getting half the story here, a shame of some sorts.

So is this a case of a great change, the emperor’s new clothes or somewhere inbetween?  To be honest I'm not 100% sure which one.  It is a good album, but that their last two and worth a listen.  But it could have had some of the fat trimmed off and been out of this world if the truth be told.  But that is talking about what could have been, what we have here is an album that is more of a grower than an instant hit, each listen revealed more about it to me.  There are little things which keep on coming and hidden moments that come to the forefront upon different listens depending what you are focusing on.  As a producer James Murphy has helped this band a lot here and the production on this album is probably the best I have heard this year, the band have released something very good.  If it is to be a classic is not for me to say here, time will tell but it is one I have a feeling I will be returning to.  Now if only they would sort out their sodding website......

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the band's website here (not much going there at the moment , was slightly disappointed as I would have thought it would have been more art and stuff - hey, Arcade Fire, your website is poor, get it sorted)

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

You can view the album for the title track here - the video probably has all the art which was lost from the website. (Honestly, for an art rock band - that website is lazy, the video is good though).

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