25 February 2014

Presidents Of The United States Of America - Kudos To You!

The Presidents Of The United States Of America are one of those bands who seem to split and reform continually. After the release of their last album, 2008’s These Are The Good Times People they split and this time it seemed to be final. And yet here we are.

Kudos To You! Is their sixth proper album and was funded via the PledgeMusic campaign. Personally I felt their last album seemed tired, forced and lacklustre so I was hoping t would be an improvement on that but thankfully Kudos To You! harks back to their earlier stuff and is a joy to hear. It’s Is a short blast of upbeat, feel good, singalong pop punk.

They always had a way of making songs seem like they’d been written in 5 minutes and yet were instant classics and the majority of the songs here are just like that. Maybe it’s due to the fact that over half of the fourteen songs are reworkings of really old or unreleased songs as much as it is to do with the bands renewed fire.

(l-r Andrew McKeig, Chris Bellew and Jason Finn)

The subject matter of most songs is ridiculous and the sort of thing a five year old would write songs about. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Flea Vs Mite is about who would win a fight between said parasites, Electric Spider is about an electric spider, Crappy Ghost is about a ghost that isn’t very good, Finger Monster is about a little monster of the end of a finger, Slow Slow Fly is about….

We need Presidents Of The United States Of America in our lives, they’ll make us smile and remind that it feels good to be happy and sing stupid songs sometimes.

Best Song: She’s A Nurse

 8 out of 10 - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart


Mina Caputo - As Much Truth As One Can Bear

As Much Truth As One Can Bear is Mina’s debut album under her current name though she’s released several previous albums both under her birth name of Keith Caputo and with 90’s hardcore legends Life Of Agony. As you can probably work out from that this is Keith’s first album since he became a woman.

Musically this album is more in keeping with the pop rock of Keith’s previous solo albums rather than anything Life Of Agony recorded. As you might expect though a lot, if not all, of the songs deal with Mina’s extreme lifestyle choice and the turmoil that goes with it, this gives the album a pretty dark overtone, even compared to her earlier work. It’s actually quite difficult to listen to in places but often all the more rewarding for it.

The first track is Identity, a slow, mournful song that deals directly with the way she feels about her situation and sets the scene for the majority of what's to follow. One thing that’s immediately apparent is that Mina’s singing voice hasn’t changed at all from Keith’s. Perhaps it was a little naïve of me to think otherwise. Listening to this blind you’d assume it was a man singing not a woman. Maybe that’s what she means by “I’m not a man, I’m not a woman” in Identity. Probably not.

Both Jealous and Runaway Girl continue the theme and are pleasant enough if a little forgettable. The Unshaken, however, is possibly the best song on the album. It has an old feel about it, like a song that you’ve known for years. The chorus is great, really infectious.
Alone is a bit more aggressive music wise though still very much a pop rock song and is fairly self explanatory lyric wise.

My Dear Cats is the first real song that’s differently themed and is a cover of a poem by 60’s beat poet Gregory Corso. It’s still a miserable song, obviously, about losing, well I’ll let you work that out for yourself. It's somewhat twee but in a charming way.

The rest of the album follows a similar path as the rest though Give The Devil Back His Shoes references some of Mina’s musical influences such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Queen.

If I’m honest the albums starts to drag by the last few songs, they’re all of a similar slow, morose pace and the lack of lyrical variation gets a little tiresome. Individually the songs are all good, particularly the last one Cracks In The Mirror, but fourteen slow songs about how hard life is doesn’t half get you down!

For anyone to go through what Mina, and Keith, have been through is an immensely difficult thing and something I can't imagine.  But to do it via the notoriously macho NYHC scene is doubly brave.
As Much Truth As One Can Bear then is a strong, worthy album with some great songs on it but it’s definitely something you need to be in the mood for. I would imagine it was written as much for Mina as it was for anyone else and, for someone in the unenviable position of being in the wrong body, this album must be greatly inspirational.
Best Track: The Unshaken

7 out of 10 This is good and well worth a check.

Also here's some Life Of Agony for reference why not. This is Weeds from their most melodic album Soul Searching Sun

23 February 2014

I Break Horses - Chiaroscuro

So today seems to be the day when I review albums on the strength of their cover alone.  The next one I have picked for today is I Break Horses and their second album 'Chiaroscuro'.  This follows their first release 'Hearts' and was released in early 2014.  Following a brief check on the internet it is plan to see that they are getting a little bit of publicity at the moment, but it is something that would have passed me by if I had not seen the cover which looks like a bizarre science snowflake.  So I go into this blind as seems to be the case these days and find out if the cover is the best thing about this album, or if the music is equal (or better) than the cover.

Starting with a slow pulse and piano to create a moody landscape, "You Burn" opens the album with a slow build and dropping and removing of keyboard pieces that will have a lot of people either hypnotised or reaching for the stop button within the first few moments.  There is lots going on here, but it is all so empty at the same time; it feels like a slowed down version of Imogen Heap and her first project Frou Frou.  Next is "Faith" which bring to mind 90's rave culture but without the need to make everyone free to feel good.  The band may use keyboards more, but there is a shoegazing soul at the heart of this band and part of that is in conflict with the sound as well.  "Ascension" is another piece that feels conflicted or at the very least played with the wrong sounds.  If you took the notes and played it out on violins or piano I can imagine that it would work incredibly well, but the keyboard sounds used jar the song.

"Denial" is an improvement with its late 80's Depeche Mode appeal, it does not use the high pitched drone that is the bands' poison of choice.  At least not all the time, as they still use it liberally on this tune as well; but it is not as much in forefront as on other moments in the album. "Breceuse" is a song I really should like, it has that moody, minimal feeling that is one of my usual calling cards, but this tune is not holding any interest at all.  It actually sounds like a track that was kept of the Fever Ray album back in 2009 and is about 8 years too late to the minimalist pop scene of the early 2000's.  Then comes "Medicine Brush" which starts off with the sound of a computer being turned on after 20 years of poor service and goes on for seven plus minutes or forever - it does not make much difference at this point.

"Disclosure" is next and it is an improvement on "Medicine Brush" but nothing could have been much worse.  With a slightly oriental movement which might either by design or happy coincidence, it feels a lot better until they bring back that sodding tone which is the blight of this album.  "Weigh True Words" is a track which starts off poor and but turns it around in the chorus.  It feels a lot more positive and it also has more of an uplifting feel, this is a shame that it is one of the few shinning lights on this album as it might be the breakout song for them.  Ending the album is "Heart To Know" which is another exercise in length and stamina, shoegazing and drone in one electronic lump of cold harrowing despair.

As an album this is just a poor man's attempt to make a shoegazing depressing landscape for the electronica generation when it was already made by Portishead many moons ago with much better results.  Musically it is well played and I am sure that hipsters will eat this up like the diet pills they have to fit into their hipster clothes that are made for drain pipes and twigs.  This is an epiphany of style over substance and will be the back ground to many nights of disappointment and forced media gushing's for those sheep like mortals.  I like many forms of music; this is not one of them.  If it was not for a few of these tracks being happy accidents, this would have gotten a new negative mark and it is proof that even a good cover cannot save everything.

1 out of ten - You really are touching the bottom of the barrel

Top Track - Weigh True Words

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the I Break Horses website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Or if Deezer is what you use, here is a link for you

22 February 2014

Mantar - Death By Burning

I love it when a band turns up out of nowhere to grab your interest without even playing a note.  On a whim whilst trawling through Pitchfork on Spotify I was drawn to the cover you see above.  I have no idea what the band sounds like at this point, I have no idea who they are, the image is slightly bizarre to say the least and like a medieval icon - but I wanted to find out what this record was about straight away.  So now I am in the world of the German/Turkish metal duo of Mantar.  Coming from Northern Germany, they have come to destroy and with a mission to make powerful metal that will have people in awe.  They say there are no gimmicks, no image and just pure rage and like that they are going to tear a bloody path across the world with a playing stylish they akin to the bone crushing sound of a berserk's path.  They might say they are in this with no image, but I'm getting some pretty specific images in my head at this point just from the description of the band.  Just like Early Man and Darkthrone, this band is a power duo and has no bass player with all the noise coming from the guitar, amps and the drums.  Well he we go, in for a penny as they say....

Starting with "Spit" you are given no time what so ever before the band launch into their pursuit of all things metal.  They just let the music do the talking and with an opening track that would not sound out of place on later day Darkthrone or Motorhead, they bring more noise than I have heard from bands of great reputation and have an opening on their debut album which just grabs your attention from the first second.  "Cult Witness" is the second track and does not let you ease into the album, it drags you along and sounds like a battle hymn that would have been used to bring terror their enemies and has all the classic sounds of metal but without any sense of it being regurgitated dribble that you have heard a thousand times before (although it does have a whiff of "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin.  It is refreshing to hear an album start off with so much promise; and it just keeps getting better with "Astral Kannibal" which doesn't take up the power, but slows things down a bit so you can catch your breath.  But it is still taking no prisoners and still sound like the soundtrack to the end of the bloodiest battle that ever faced the man or the Gods.

Fourth track "Into The Golden Abyss” starts off with a slow building wall of feedback before the Arabic rhythm comes into play and then that classic metal riffage, which has those who are so inclined reaching for their swords and running towards the battle and in hunt of the glories death.  It is full of horror, pain and torture which is truly towering.  "Swinging The Eclipse" is the nearest this album comes to filler, but this track would still be a masterpiece on any other album.  It has a great hook and showcases all of their strength.  Next is an ode to the art of the berserker "The Berserker’s Path" which is mostly a spoken word piece that is draped over a slow and brooding riff war that suits the vocal delivery.  A brief rest bite is given again by the band (in a given degree of rest as it is still as heavy as a really heavy thing).  "The Huntsmen" is next and it comes off like a piece which Mastodon will be looking in their back catalogue to see if it was half-inched their discography.  I feel like I might be repeating myself, but it is truly towering again, the band do not seem to have any other way of writing a song other than at full tilt and with an eye on stealing the heavens from the remains after Ragnarök.

After this we have "The Stoning" which is more traditional metal than a lot of the work on here, having that stomp towards the NWOBHM style which has became vogue again, but it brings in a flavour of the modern with hints towards Early Man, later day Darkthrone and even a slight bit of glam (which is strange but hypnotic in the same breath).  After this the mood takes a turn for the worst in terms of style with "White Nights"; when I say a turn for the worst I mean that the mood darkens, the playing becomes more heavier somehow (if that was possible on this album) and the band truly deliver their best song of the album.  In this song is conjures a lot of images of haunted forests, evil spirits and an amazing amount of powerful riffs that make you wonder what was next.  What they do for the final track "March Of The Crows" is spectacular and up there with the best work of Liverpool doom merchant's Conan.  The band themselves say they do not want to be called sludge, but this song does have some sludge elements to it (it is also the only song on the album which does this, so to Mantar - sorry, but for one moment you kinda do sound like the word you don't like).  This might not be my most favourite song on the album due to "White Nights" but it is damm close and it ends the album on such a devastating moment that it takes your breath away.

From beginning to end this album does not have a weak moment, there is not one thing on this album that is excessive, unnecessary or filler; the cover art is haunting, the delivery is brilliant and the drive behind the band is truly astonishing.  Already 2014 is turning into a good year for the metal genre and already we might have a contender for album of the year.  It is with true amazement that I give this the biggest praise from the blog and if they tour near you I would recommend going; breathtaking.

10 out of ten - This is proof there is a God (be it Nordic or other)

You can purchase the physical version of the album here on Amazon

Or you can get the MP3 version of it from Amazon here

Here is a link to the Mantar Bandcamp page

Here is also a link to their Facebook page

The usual link to the band's website

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Alternatively, if Deezer is your deal-e-o - here is a link for you

Here is a video for "White Nights"

21 February 2014

Def Con One - II

Has it really been two years since Warface (cleverly linked here) was released onto the world?  Time flies and things of that nature.  This album has been long hyped by the band but finally we have the release of II from North East groove metal machine Def Con One.  Formed in 1998 it did take this band a long time to get their recording career together with various line-up changes and band members being in other projects.  But they seem to be making up for lost time now and we now have the second album in two years (message to an awful lot of other bands - it does not take a fucking age to do So with that being said, Def Con One are primarily a groove metal band, which was pioneered by Pantera, Pissing Razors and bands of that ilk.  You sort of know what you are going to get before you ever start, so I am not expecting something like Sheik Yerbouti or Blue Valentine.  What I am expecting is massive riffs, a lot of high pitch noise and harmonics that could slay the weaker willed in a single note.

Starting with "8h Ball" and this is text book Pantera worship, I would like to stated that I don't view this as a bad thing but in this one song I heard moments of "Cowboys From Hell", "Hellbound" and "5 Minutes Alone".  It has been levelled at Def Con One that they do stray too close to tribute and with a track like this it could be argued that this is the case in point; but in groove metal it is very enclosing genre, but I could not give a shit about that as it is still a decent song.  "Broke" is a more trash affair and is like a sledge hammer to the head.  It is a much better track and could have easily opened the album to be honest.  It packs a punch that is much more subtle and the break down section towards the end is brilliant.  Next is "Soul Possessed" which has an acoustic beginning that gives way to a full on fight mode number.  It is non-stop from beginning to end and mixing old and new school trash and groove to its best effect. "Scarred For Life" is another juggernaut that takes no prisoner but it is based on a very simple riff pattern that has been used to great effect by lots of band; again not saying it is a bad thing, to be honest Jerm (one of our other bloggers has been running around very excitedly about this song), just this is new and very familiar at the same time.

"Debt To Society" is a strange song, going on about forgings one's own path in the world the riff is decent but I just cannot get into the track.  I have a feeling that being played live this song will taken on a whole new meaning but on this record it does not do that much to me.  "Skinhead Shaped Dent" however is much better; starting off with a fire storm of twisted harmonics and blast beats, it works on so many levels and picks this album up at the right time.  Next up it is "Need A Reason" which has a haunting opening and much more drama than I was expecting.  It shows a growth in the band's writing style and is hands down the best song on the album.

"Die Again" is another slow number, building slowly upwards and onwards towards that inevitable breakdown and crushing finale.  It is perfectly executed in deliver and again shows that not all of their tracks are groove orientated.  After this though comes "Damned Disgrace" which brings back the groove and it is for the best at this point as sometimes you need to just bang your head like a madman and make devil horns to the world in general.  It is a good to hear this and it goes onto the end of the track "Drag Me To Hell" which only just misses out of being the best track of the album up against "Need A Reason", the whole combination of riffs, thumping bass lines and delivery ends the album on a positive and powerful moment.

Overall this album is an album that is decent at what it does in places, in a few places it is a little average and in others is can be quite stunning.  The second half of the album is really good and shows that Def Con One are becoming a really good band and have ideas that are outside what they normally are associated with and this is really good for the future. I have a feeling if Jerm was reviewing this instead of me it would be more of a love letter to the band, for me it does exactly what it says on the tin and that is not a bad thing.  Every now and then you want some that hits the nail on the head and it is another improvement on 'Warface' which is what each album should be - a step in the right direction. The band has been making waves around the UK and will no doubt be playing far and wide as soon as possible.  As I have said before and I will say again, it is a good time to be into music in Newcastle as there is a lot of really good bands around at the moment, Def Con One are another band to add to that list of interesting band that you should check out.

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

Top Track - "Need A Reason"

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Def Con One website here (which also has a link to their webstore)

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Alternatively you can listen to it on Deezer if that is you deal

17 February 2014

Maxïmo Park - Too Much Information

I will start this with a notice - Maxïmo Park is one of those Jekyll and Hyde bands for me.  When they are on fire, they are untouchable.  Anyone who has seen their live set in various shows up and down the UK and around the world will testify to this and they have a knack of writing a catchy tune.  On the negative side when Maxïmo Park play it by the numbers that accent type singing grinds my gears like a Peter Griffin silly side note on Family Guy; this is coming from someone from the North East of England.  Also, they seemed to have peaked a little early for my tastes with 'Our Earthly Pleasure' being the last album I took any real interest in.  That said it is always an event when a band from the North East have a good reputation and release an album.  I have been going over this album since it was released at the beginning of February and I think I am finally ready to release my opinions....

Starting with the interesting "Give, Get Take" it is the song which is most reminisce of past Maxïmo Park hits, but it is restrained and almost held back compared the anarchic stylistic bombardment of previous albums.  But this is not a bad thing; it is as if the band have become comfortable with what they do and know when they need to (whilst stealing one of their song titles) apply some pressure to the song.  It is a brilliant song which builds on itself into a great piece of indie rock.  "Brain Cells" is next which has a change of direction for the band, sounding like one of the darker moments of Bloc Party mixed in with Joy Division it is a disturbing moment which is also incredible well balanced. After this is the first single taken from the album "Leave This Island" which is a glorious tale of a lost day in Scotland, it is quite possibly one of the strangest choices of singles but it makes so much sense on this album.  It is showcasing the new Maxïmo Park who is here to take your heart as well as your dancing feet.  It is not a fast dance, but it is a dance never the less.

"Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry" is the fourth track of the album, another heartbreaking tale about a love that has broken down and finished.  The band has not changed too much, but it is an improvement on this album so far cannot be understated.  The quite moments and release of their more subtle side is making this a better album that I was expecting. "My Bloody Mind" is up next and is a little more rocky that the rest of the album, it is needed in some respects otherwise it would be all a little too melodic; but it is not much of an improvement to the tone for me at least.  It is not bad, just not as good as the first four tracks.  "Is It True?" is after this with an 80's indie feel and a mood swing which could shatter the happiest mood.  Never has misery sounded as distort and lost.  Then we come to "Drinking Martinis" which swaggers onto the album with a tale of past drinking stories and night long gone, wishing that those days were back and the fun was still happening around them. It is a moment which is cementing their reputation on this album for dark tales of woe and regret.

"I Recognise The Light" is the closest that the album gets to their old ways, but it is a stripped back version of their early work.  It is a good reminder of that they are not just the new kings of Northern misery and doom (who had thought that would have been written about them). "Midnight On The Hill" is a darker Big Country which is a very good thing.  It will be one of the moments of their gigs that will go down a storm I am sure.  It feels like an anthem waiting to be discovered. "Her Name Was Audre" which is a punky little display of simplicity that is a fantastic stop gap before the last song which is "Where We're Going". The final track is about not knowing where you are heading and being fine with letting the other person knowing the direction that they are heading towards, it is quite yet fitting ending to this album.

I am really surprised by this record on many levels.  It is so dark and brooding that it is strange to this came from the same band who released "Our Velocity", it just does not seem like the same guys and I think that this will one day be held one of their best releases, if not their best work.  The change in the band is brilliant and having no producers apart from themselves working on the album.  I was going in with low expectations and I am glad to have been proven wrong.  A moment of genius from the new dark indie pop overlord from up north!

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

Top track - Drinking Martinis

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Maximo Park website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Alternatively, for Deezer user's here is a link for you

Here is the video to "Leave This Island"

Past sermons

Greatest hits