31 January 2014

Boris & Ian Astbury - BXI EP

I seem to be a bit one track minded at the moment - this release may change that if the truth be told.  Boris as I have been waxing lyrical about are currently one of my most favourite band on the planet.  Back in 2010 they released this joint EP with Ian Astbury (The Cult, The Doors Of The 21st Century, and UNKLE amongst others).  This man has a voice that will be familiar to millions but to say this release was unexpected is a combination of true and false; Astbury had appeared on Heavy Rock (2011) lending his vocals on "Riot Sugar", they have also done a few shows around the world when this was released.  Now, for this we have to dust down the old EP/Single marking system for his four track monster.

Starting with "Teeth & Claws" it is opening track and at once all is not well in the state of BXI.  Musically it is going for a Cult era sound, but Astbury seems to be living out his Doors persona on the song, with a hint of Field Of Nephilim as well.  The vocal delivery is too much of a clash on it at points.  It is not that the song is bad, just a truly strange mixture to say the least.  "We Are Witches" is a lot better, the gothic-esque vampire Astbury sounds a lot better on this song, but his time with The Doors Of The 21st Century has done some strange things to this man.  But Boris truly save this song with their tight musical perfection they save the track, even if Astbury tries to ruin it (but not on purpose).

Then they unleash the most charming cover I have heard in a long time, as they Wata take over the vocals to cover the Cult hit "Rain".  It is a moment of genius to get the band to cover this song and for Astbury to take a back seat for it as well.  It makes this rocking monster into a charming demon that will break the soul with its beauty.  Ending the album you have Goth-bury back on vocals for "Magickal Child", and it is the song which brings together the two parts of these people that works well together; Astbury with his most over the top delivery of the EP and Boris back to their noise-creating best.  It is a perfect end to this record.  It is truly a tale of two sides here; the first two tracks are as bad as the second two tracks are good.  This is for serious fans only, worth checking out but not worth anything more than a courtesy glance.  Turns out that not everything that Boris does is gold. 

2 out of five - Not bad, not good - so average it is Zen

You can purchase the EP from Amazon here 

Here is a link to the Boris website 

There is no Ian Astbury website, but he is a link to his official Facebook 

You can listen to the EP on Spotify here 

Or if Deezer is your pick, here is a link to the EP here

Led Zeppelin - Presence

This came very close to being credited as the album that destroyed Led Zeppelin for several reasons which I'll explain shortly. But ironically as Jimmy Page puts it, Presence would, by the same sleight of hand, turn out to be their "most important" too. Two scenarios of differing contrasting extremes, so how did ever come to this? Now, I want you to try to acquire the big picture as to what was going on in 1976. Glam and progressive rock were going out of the door, their popularity was dwindling, punk was on the upward ascent and yet The 'Zep with their stadium shows packed to the rafters were at their peak especially in the United States after their tenth tour on the continent in seven years.

Then disaster struck the band. Singer Robert Plant was holidaying in Rhodes when he and his wife were badly injured in a road accident. Not only did it ruin the band's immediate plans for touring, but it also presented problems for recording Presence. While Plant's recovery period allowed him to write up some lyrics to Page's riff material, he was still wheelchair bound by the time came to recording. They were also booked in to Musicland Studios, Munich on only a three week timescale, which left very little time to record, produce and mix the album as a whole. Even by those standards 40 years ago it was a hurried job.

Compared to their previous release, the double album, Physical Graffiti, Presence only lists seven tracks, and a couple of them run for ten minutes, namely Achilles Last Stand. In terms of rock greatness, I rank this as one of their finest alongside Kashmir and Stairway, it's a weighty supercharged number with an ever thickening plot that Plant narrates throughout, it also has John Bonham at his devastatingly best in his drumwork. Would-be Page guitarists will also want to admire the memorable riffs that dominate Nobody's Fault But Mine where RP does some brief harmonica leads. So what about the rest of the album? Candy Rock Store is an Eddie Cochran homage in their rockabilly mood tracing back to one of their earliest influences while Hots On For Nowhere runs on a similar hook to Nobody's Fault although the lyrical edge is more evident with Plant citing tensions with some of his bandmates. However, I'm not entirely sold on it, nor am I with Tea For One. It sounds promising at the beginning with a couple of layers of Page's guitars, but all ends too soon as the majority of the song runs on a similar beat and key to Since I've Been Loving You.

Again, the whole affair feels a bit incomplete, perhaps mish-mash, and with the misfortunes in mind, not all of the members had the innate drive and tenacity to put their hearts and minds in the making of the record. Interestingly, none of John Paul Jones' keyboards feature in Presence and this musician's talents were seriously underused. In my opinion, they desperately needed them in the recording sessions, a result of Page and Plant's wishes to return to their stripped down, non-acoustic hard rock roots. Some of their tracks here are such an epic quality and are so memorable I would classify as rock masterpieces yet there are some where they blow their own trumpet rather badly too. With hindsight maybe The 'Zep are due some credit for making an effort and overcoming all the adversities that befell them in their darkest times.

6.5 out of ten. Now I see where you were going, but not quite there (coming from an avid Zeppelin fan).
Best Track : Achilles' Last Stand

Led Zeppelin Official Website here
Buy Presence here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify

Led Zeppelin - In Through The Out Door

Interesting album this from the London/Birmingham quartet and one of such contrasts. First of all, there was far less input than normal from Jimmy Page and John Bonham as the two were fighting their personal battles with alcohol and substance abuse (this tragically would prove to be a losing cause with Bonham) and secondly with Robert Plant trying come to terms with the recent loss of his 5 year old son Karac.

In Through The Out Door is Led Zeppelin's penultimate studio album and would also be the final one before Bonham's untimely death 12 months later which would soon result in the band's permanent breakup. The reins of the coordination of the album were largely handled by Plant and John Paul Jones during their bandmates' most difficult times and in fact, two of the record's seven tracks Page had absolutely no input whatsoever until it came to the mixing tables.

The critics weren't kind to The 'Zep's new offering either. Rolling Stone magazine described a couple of tracks as lame and referred to Plant's overuse of the word 'baby' while Piero Scaruffi found it 'embarrassing'. OK, as a die-hard Zeppelin fan, I will admit their standards had slipped somewhat and that the heavy metal/blues/folk roots had been ditched at some point but for me, I will always observe this album as a working process and that the members wanted to take a more positive and for sure a different view on life as well as putting aside their personal woes.

Slight differences in their format are evident in their opening track In The Evening, where we hear distant kettle drums rolling before the usual 'Zep order is read out. Only this time, Page's familiar Les Paul is replaced by a Stratocaster presumably for the tremolo effects throughout the verse and instrumental leads. But look for any traces of metal in South Bound Suarez, Fool In The Rain or Hot Dog and you could be in for a major shock as the latter track has Jones going hammer and tongs on a Honky Tonk piano and Fool has rather curious samba xylophone and percussion in the breaks (interesting to note that Jimmy Page would later marry a Brazilian almost 20 years later).

As said earlier, only seven tracks on this album, but the bulk of it is made up by the 10 minute epic Carouselambra which is dominated by Jones' heavy synthesisers. On first impressions, the song doesn't appear to have aged too well but I've maybe missed the point as the title suggests a Carousel-type feel and the keys certainly sound like they're straight of the merry-go-round organ pipes. All My Love is one of LZ's most beautifully enchanting songs ever recorded although Page was somewhat uncomfortable over it, but I for one give it a big thumbs up and showcases Plant as a top lyricist.

Certainly this is one of their less meaty records and I'm reeling from the shock and not-too-much-awe from listening to their departure from their hard rock/metal roots. Yet given that most of In Through The Out Door was recorded by Jones and Plant it wasn't a disastrous effort either and personally with hindsight, The Rolling Stone and other critics were a little harsh on this. It makes me wonder (no pun intended, honestly) how much bigger the record would've been were Messieurs Page and Bonham in better condition for recording. Tragically, we were destined never to find out.

7 out of ten. This is good and well worth a check.
Best Track : All My Love

Buy In Through The Out Door on this link
Led Zeppelin Official Website here
Listen to the album here on Spotify

Alcest - Shelter

Black Metal and Indie Shoegazing is like two brother's from different mother's - they are effectively the same thing but with one has a firmer grip on the effects peddle.  But what happens when a band strays slightly from their existing sound onto the lighter side of this musical spectrum?  Before I look into the album, a brief history lesson - Alcest were formed in 2000, coming from Bagnols-sur-Cèze in France.  Starting out as a solo project for Neige, they quickly developed into a trio and have since dropped back down to a duo of Neige and Winterhalter (with people helping the band play live).  For the first three albums they have been building up a reputation for stunning and beautiful metal.  However, they have also been misinterpretations along the way; some people have found their music to be sinister and have also confusion about Neige's vocals which on one EP were thought to have been delivered by a lady (you can tell the difference if the truth be told, he just has a high vocal range).  This could explain a few things about this album......

To start off, it is the first cover which is not placed on a black image; it is a sillouete on a sunny day places on a white background and this is very much unlike the rest of the Alcest back catelogue.  This is a sign of a change, but not as big as some of the black metal purists will fear.  But it is a change none the less has came in a fashion to the band's overall sound on this one.  Because from the outset, the band are looking more at the shoegazing side and less on the black metal.  Starting with the brief interlude of "Wings" which gives way to the first track proper "Opale" which bring to mind a mixture of Pink Floyd era 'Momentry Lapse Of Reason' mixing it with Mogwai.  It is a slight surprise, but not exactly to most dramtic shift I have heard in my life.  The mixture of Neige's vocals with the haunting guitar is a more euphoric than on previous releases and this is the first of many good signs for Alcest here.  "La Nuit Marche avec Moi" (translated to "The Night Walks with Me") is part modern day Opeth mixed in with Slowdive and to be honest is a great piece of music and is a brilliant yet brave step for the band, for they push themselves to a new shore that will be too different for some of the faithful.

"Voix Sereines" (translated to "Serene Voices") keeps up the pace of change to a point.  Starting of with a hypnotic gentle strum that is added to piece by piece you have most subtle of hints to the past which becomes a a breaking of a damm so to speak as the distortion peddle has been found again to help bring to track home.  An effective use of the light and dark aspects of their work, but the shoegazing is more firmly in control over all of this work.  I will not lie and say it is not nice to hear the distortion on the album, but it does remind you of the band's roots.  "L'Éveil des Muses" (translated to "The Awakening Of The Muses") has an almost Placebo effect going through it, but without the nasile shrill of Mr Molko and Co.  It is a driven piece that is unshifting in purpose and a delight to the ears. The title track is up next and it is another step in the past and the future for the band; with a classic sound guitar tone over a pounding drum, a piano playing a haunting melody and Neige's voice is a brilliant mixture of their new future and their early sound.

"Away" follows on with a stirring string section to their work and a simple acoustic guitar.  It is the first track on the album which does not live up to expectation to be honest, whilst you cannot knock the playing on the track it does not hold up to the rest of the album.  "Délivrance" (translate to "Deliverance") ends the album proper with an almost military war sound to the song, it feels like it has been made with that type of percision that would not be out of place in a campaign to start the mournful ballad of a warrior to his tomb.  Being the longest track, it has the most time to expand and reveal its different facets and shades; it also includes the return of the fuss peddle to the album and that most important of dimensions to the shoegazing experience, the build towards a towering moment and ending.  As the original ending point of the album, it is well placed and also maybe about a minute or two above its natural finishing point.  A bonus track on the deluxe version of the album (and the one on the Spotify link as well) comes in the shape of "Into The Waves" which is a decent enough affair but is not as important as the rest of the album; it is also not really worth purchasing as bonus track but it also doesn't mean that it is band, just best not being included on the main album.

Overall this is a great album, one that will undoubtably change their fan base either for the better or worse; time will see which one of these statements is true.  For me, it is a very good album and worth checking out especially if your a fan of the shoegazing genre.  As for people who like it blacker than black, this may be the point were you lose interest as it is like when Opeth released 'Hertige'.  They have just went for broke with a good deal of success, however it is not the jaw dropping success that I was hoping for.  Not a disappointment, but not glory; this is work in progress.

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

Top track -  L'Éveil des Muses

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

Here is a link to their page on the Prophecy webstore where you can purchase there work (link took from their own website) 

You can visit the Alcest website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Or if your a Deezer user, you can use this page

Seasick Steve - Hubcap Music

On his 6th studio album to date Steve still does the hollering and upbeat bluesy style I found so attention grabbing on his first release. But it’s tempered with a kind of beguiling country western and you get to hear him really sing, harmonising with Elizabeth Cook in "Purple Shadows" and demonstrating his vocal range in "Coast is Clear", and that is a very beautiful thing.

It’s like he's shouted out his defiance, and joyfully drummed up a raucous listen, and then let you into the secrets of his soul. Maybe he has, and maybe he hasn’t, but it feels that way to me. Maybe it does to others too because this man has a fair following and he damn well deserves it.

It’s a sophisticated album too, there’s a lot going on, he's got musicians in playing interesting stuff like pedal steel, mandolin, lap steel, sliding guitar and a cast iron frying pan-(best type of pan there is-I found this out when as I child I borrowed what I thought was my mam's 'old burnt pan' and left it in a disused alotment after I'd cooked eggs on it-it wasnt there the next day...not good). See what I did there? My stories don’t compare to his obviously but that one was true and I like his interludes, which he also does live if he has time. But that doesn’t seem to be the case on this album. Unless I've missed something, in which case I need to give it another listen. Which is no bad thing....

He is sensible and experienced enough in life to know that nothing this good can last forever, but I think he has the material to make a fantastic play at it, and is a much more worthy musician to stay for the long haul than some young image obsessed ball licking nanas out there.

Thanks Steve, a nice album
Track listing

"Down On The Farm"  

"Self Sufficient Man"  

"Keep On Keepin' On"  

"Over You"  

"The Way I Do"  

"Purple Shadows"  

"Freedom Road"  



"Heavy Weight"  

"Coast Is Clear"  

 9 out of 10 - Almost perfect, almost

Top track - Coast Is Clear

You can view a live set of Seasick Steve from the BBC show "Later On..." from the UK

Past sermons

Greatest hits