19 August 2017

Arcade Fire - Everything Now

Some people are being really precious about this one...... Arcade Fire are a band that need no introduction, but maybe a recent history lesson is in order.  It has been four years since the released the acclaimed Reflektor (our review linked here), an album which was popular with fans and critics alike.  It is a good album, but not one that I would go out of my way to listen to if I am honest.  However, at the start of the year Arcade Fire started a viral campaign which gave false clues about this album, strange twitter messages, even a false upload for the popular game Rock Band.  But once the album was released, the reaction was a mixture of bemusement, anger, amazement and a bucket load of confusion.  The review on the other blog I write for Bearded Gentlemen Music by the brilliant Pariah Jones (link to the review here) is a work of art, it make me cry with laughter in places.  It has been great to sit on the side-lines and watch it unfold to be honest, it is like Games of Thrones for music nerds (I class myself as a music nerd, before you start to complain – you cannot own as much Frank Zappa material as I do and not be one).  But now it is time for me to jump in to the debate, albeit a month or so late.  Now before I start, I have to point this out – this is one of the dreaded multi-produced album, something that usually means that an album is unfocused and below par.  The band are producers as well, they are also working with Geff Barrow from Portishead, members of Pulp and Daft Punk, as well as previous producer Markus Dravs.  That is a lot of head-honchos for one album, it sounds like it could be a cluster fuck....so how it?

01 – Everything_Now (Cont.)

This is a strange intro, it basically loops into the final track and encloses the album in a loop.  But I do not think it is the true beginning of the album, I will get to that in my summary.  So, for now – skip to the next track.

02 – Everything Now

With a dash of Talking Heads and a slab of Disco, the first track proper on the album was the first song to be released as a single.  A song about the modern age & how we consume everything, it is one that is meant to make you think and to help you strut your stuff.  It does achieve this, but it has taken a detour to their sound which is neither a good thing or a bad thing.  It is a good little number with a catchy chant that sticks in your head, for all the negative reviews of the song it is not as bad as other people are making out.

03 – Signs of Life

Adding more bass and electronica to the mix, “Signs of Life” is a song that reminds me of Blonde “Rapture” with more Talking Heads tones as well.  It is another song which is ok, but the difference in sound to “Everything Now” is sort of jarring to these ears and sounds forced.  

04 – Creature Comfort

This song is probably my favourite of the album, the lyrics about the desperation of fame, the music sounding like an anthemic festival tune in waiting and it sounds massive!  This is the version of Arcade Fire I like the best, when they sound natural and just being themselves – I wish they would do it more often than they have done on this record and not trying to please everyone, but more on that later.

05 – Peter Pan

Ok, I was not expecting what can only be described as a minimalist Talking Head song, one that does not gain traction either.  It feels like it is trying to be jungle, but it is missing the massive beats as they have been replaced by a street reggae horn section.  It is the first song on the album where I can see what the critics are getting out, basically it is shit.

06 – Chemistry

This is another song which is light on notes, music, hooks and appealable value to be honest, it just sorts of drifts alone and then it has a sub-rock guitar chorus which clashes with the previous sound.  Again, not my thing and I will leave it at that.

07 – Infinite Content

Now, this is how to make a difference on the album.  It is a short, sharp explosion of sound and it is over in a flash!  For me, it harks back to their earlier days as there is not fancy production job on it, it is a basic and hits the spot for me…... 

08 – Infinite_Content

…...Then you have the flip side of the song, a country & western/lounge version of the same tune.  It is so dull, so very, very, very, very, very, very, very dull.  It takes all the fun of the first version and shits on it from a great height.  But this is where I think the album starts, it finishes with “Infinite Content” as the album makes more sense that way.  But this is still a shit song, no doubt about that.

09 – Electric Blue

On “Electric Blue”, the band go full Daft Punk with a song that could have been out of any of their album, it is song of the album which has the most production work (four credits) and it is probably the smoothest of the second/first half of the record.  It is a daydream for the disco, a gentle opening to an evening which has promise.  For my own hatred of the multi-produced album/song, I do like this one a lot and I can see why it was released as a single – it is one of the few which has cross-over appeal and it sound luscious. 

10 – Good God Damn

Now they want to be a soul band, in a strange sort of way.  It is heavy on the bass, but light on everything else.  It seems as if each song is focusing on one thing and then moving on the next.  Now, I like this song as well, it feels polished and so tight.  Again, when Arcade Fire are on point, they are great.  It is a shame that this is a rare beast on this record.

11 – Put Your Money on Me

I think that this song can be used the best example of diminishing returns I have ever heard, because each time I listen to it that initial impact moves further away from me.  The first time I listened to it, I really enjoyed it.  But with each further listen, the beige nature of the song grows and the excitement wanes.  But, once more it is better than some of the other songs on this album.

12 – We Don’t Deserve Love

They have gone down the slow route once more, crafting more minimalism pop/indie that sounds like a hymn for the voided generation.  It is the opposite of “Put Your Money on Me” as it improves with repeated listens, it grows in stature and the money gains more soul. It is this sort of song which saves this album to a certain extent, it makes the band sound interesting.

13 – Everything Now (Continued)

The third part of “Everything Now” follows closely to “We Don’t Deserve Love” in tone, but adds the motif sounds of “Everything Now” and links straight into the opening that is “Everything_Now” to form an infinity loop.  On its own, it does not make sense, but when you link it all together with the start of the album, it adds to the record and comes together with the sort of progressive vision I admire from the Arcade Fire. 

Never has a band wanted to be ABBA, Reggae, Disco & Talking Heads, but not hitting any of their intended mark!  That is not a combination I would have ever thought of….  Now I think the best way to listen to this album is not from track 1 to the end.  It flows so much better if you listen to it from the second version of "Infinite_Content". Somehow, it flows better from that moment and makes for a smoother record.  But that is a crazy way to listen to an album, so let us sum up in the traditional sense.

I can sort of see why their fan base is pissed off, but I think that they also need to realise that the band are trying something different here as well.  Everything Now has been created to be the album that splits their audience and to drive them onto something new and it almost works.  The problem that it has is not really a surprise to me, it is the uneven production job that comes from a multi-produced album.  Whilst Arcade Fire oversee everything, they oversee nothing.  You have too many people trying to put their own stamp on this album and it takes what could have been a great album and turns it into a decent one with a little bit of dead weight.  They are trying to be the "everything to everyone" band, that one stop fix which is truly impossible and they have created a thankless task for themselves.  By trying to please everyone, they have pleased no-one.  There is no-one really leading this album, certainly not the band and it hurts the songs at the end of the day.  I applaud them for having the guts to follow their hearts and release it, it takes a lot of effort to create a record.  However, someone should have tried to guide them with a firmer hand.  But with that all said, I do not think it is a bad as people have made it out to be, but I have never been over precious with this band (I also hate The Suburbs, so what would I know).  It is slap bang in the middle of my marking system, average as hell and in need of one vision.  The mark is mainly for the bravery that the band have shown here, but it loses marks for the execution.  I hope that next time that they get a single producer to work with them, to help them reign in those ambitions and focus on one goal, not on multiple targets as it does not make for a great experience.
5 out of ten – Not for everyone, but played well.

Top track – Creature Comfort

You can purchase Everything Now on Amazon here.

15 August 2017

CJ Wildheart - Blood

CJ Wildheart is a bit of a legend on these pages in more ways than one!  One of the founding members of The Wildhearts, The Jellys and the criminally underrated Honeycrack (check out their album Proziac, it is amazing), he has made some fantastic music over the years and is one of the nicest guys I have met in terms of musical heroes.  In recent years, he has branched out and started to release solo albums ( side note - he also released one called CJ & The Satellites and I would recommend getting a copy of that one).  Whilst we have only been able to review Mable (link to our review here), his last album was released in 2016 and called Robot. Whilst we sadly did not review it (sorry CJ), it is also a brilliant record and is a favourite of my old blogging partner, Luke Dunmore.  But he has come back very quickly with his fourth release Blood.  The album is currently only available on PledgeMusic, where you can also purchase some of his fabled hot sauces and ketchup, together with other bundles and exclusives!  He has gone to town on this and the offers look brilliant (especially that hot sauce/ketchup combo). But what about the music?  Well, according to the message at the beginning of the pledge, it is full of punk rock angst which is brought together with melody and riffs.  Well, let us see if it keeps that promise......

01 – Tea Leaf

Not that CJ have ever been a man who is shy when it comes to swearing and introducing a catchy riff, “Tea Leaf” is a wam-bam, fuck you man to a con-artist who has tried to play CJ as a fool.  It starts off lightly, but then the punk attitude riffage starts to kick in and it all kicks off as they say.  It is the heaviest I have heard CJ in an awfully long time, which is never a bad thing.  It also reminds me that I should never get on his bad side……

02 – Gutless

CJ goes for the jugular once again on “Gutless”, with a feisty tune about a two-faced person who has taken him for a muppet and is learning the hard way that CJ is not a person to be messed with.  It has a classic punk riff that lynches everything together in a hypnotic way, with a song that smashes through your speakers and comes out the other end with a sense that there is more anger to come.  I love this one, it is a real ear worm that you will never get tired of hearing.

03 – Lazybones

“Lazybones” is a song about trying to get your shit together with a massive kick in the arse, from the perspective of someone on the outside who sees someone is quite frankly taking the piss.  The Punk is still here, but there is a dose of Metal added to the mix as well.  It feels like you are rising and falling with the riff as it takes you on a frantic journey, flinging you in multiple directions with relative ease.  It is proof positive (as if it was needed) that CJ has got so many riff and they are all brilliant.  A true highlight for this album.

04 – Beak

“Beak” turns the energy down slightly, but the aggression is still fully on display as tales of struggling with the fact that someone is acting like a tool.  It is an aggressive number, the riff is good and it hits all the right beats, plus it has a classic solo in the middle of it as well!

05 – 50 Percent Indian

A song about his past, “50 Percent Indian” is all about the racism that CJ experienced when he was younger.  It is a hard hitting number, you really feel for him.  It is something that should not have happened in the first place, but the experience has made for a great song.  It is one that makes you think hard about how bad it can be for people when they are racially abused and it can also ignite a mini-mosh pit as well, a great number on every level!

06 – Tired of Sex

Sorry, I have tried my best, but I am gonna have to say this…. This one reminds me an awful lot of the Wildhearts. I know CJ have Wildheart in his name, but I am trying to focus of his solo work here.  This has the feeling of a lost gem that has just been unearthed, which is not a bad thing to be honest.  Considering it is a cover of a Weezer song makes it all the more amazing that it reminds me of the Wildheart! This to me, shows that he is not trying to deny where he has come from, but he adds his own sound to the mix on this one with a stomping tune about wanting to make love and not just have sex.  The riff is loud, the vocals are brilliant and it all comes together in a little punky rock tune that makes the world go around and around.

07 – Kiss It

And then he does it again with “Kiss It”, this is a WH song in all but name.  It is a sonic attack and lesson in getting your arse handed to you on a plate and being made to apologies afterwards.  It is another short, sharp, vicious number that would bite the hands that feed it will all the fury of an angry viper.  It does not let up one iota and it is over so quick as well, what a song!

08 – Plastic Invasion

A tale bemoaning the modern age and how we communicate with people (in private and public) on social media, something which is a bit of a hot topic in place as people just want to connect with a human and not with a machine.  It is sometimes nice just to have a break from the constant information stream that we receive, which can desensitise us to other people and their feelings.  I also appreciate the irony of this song in a way, as I am currently typing this on a laptop but that is beside the point here.  It is strong number, it has natural lulls and a manic bridge section that is one of the heaviest passage of the album, as the guitar sounds like a thunderous machine.  What more would you want from this song

09 – Itch

We have reached the penultimate song with “Itch”, a tune that I would like to say is open to interpretation.   Musically it is another punk/metal stomper, one that is as good as anything that has come before it on the album.  I love the energy on this one, it is such a grower that it will become a centre piece on any forthcoming shows that CJ might have lined up!

10 – Lost in The Game

CJ ends Blood with “Lost in The Game“ which thankfully keeps up the energy that has been central to this album.  There is not a party feeling to this song, it is not euphoric in any way, but it does feel like it is going to march to the gates and start a fight by itself.  It is a loud number, one that does not give two fucks about what anyone things as it tears its way your speakers that you have just reassembled after the last nine songs.  If you are going to make a terminally pissed off album, I cannot think of a better way to end it – well done CJ, well done!

The thing I love about Blood is that CJ is embracing the future as well as acknowledging the past as well, something that some people are not able to do with ease.  Blood is a punky/metal little upstart of a record, one that makes the angry teenager in me excited and wanted to bounce around with youthful exuberance.  Time will tell where this falls in his overall discography, but for me this is his best work out of his recent solo album.  It just hits all the spots that you want from a CJ record: it has attitude, style and above all – kick ass tunes that make the world a better place just for being in existence.  There is no downside here, the only thing is that I wish it was slightly longer; but that is a personal thing as I did not want the album to end.  I would recommend you join the pledge campaign, it gets the funds straight to the artist and it makes a lot of difference!

9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost……

Top track – 50 Percent Indian

At the time of writing, the only place to get Blood is from the PledgeMusic website which I have linked here.

Whilst Blood is not currently available elsewhere, you can purchase the CJ Wildheart back catalogue on the CJ Wildheart Bandcamp page here.

You can follow the activities of CJ Wildheart on Facebook here.

10 August 2017

Dunes - Dunes EP

Dunes have been making waves in the North East of England recently, supporting the likes of Monster Magnet, Waheela and Idles when they have come to Newcastle, as well as starting to make in-roads into touring the country as well.  Formed in 2016, they have quickly made a name for themselves up here, their first two single have been receiving plays on the local BBC as well as my own show on NE1FM.  They draw influence from bands such as Millionaire, Soulwax, Queens of the Stone Age, Death from Above 1979 and Talking Heads, creating their own brand of Desert Rock in the North East of England.  Well, the live sets I have seen have been amazing, let us see how the EP has turned out…..

01 – The World Loves (A Bastard)

Any song which has a hand clapping section is always gonna be a winner in my heart, “The World Loves (A Bastard)” is no exception to this rule.  It is a traditional Stoner Rock number, it has the right tempo to make you want to have a boogie and a great noise solo which used harmonics to mess with your head.  The riff is incredibly catchy, opening the EP with a band.

02 – Love from Below

This is quite possibly one of my favourite songs in the last few years, just because it has that unnatural ability to be stuck in your head for weeks on end.  Once it has started to be played in my house, it must be played to the end – no questions on that one.  Originally released as a single demo, “Love from Below”, the riff is incredibly catchy and sounds absolutely amazing.  It is such a great song, that it will have Josh Homme looking to see if he wrote it himself when he catches wind of it.

03 – Middleman

Taking the speed out of the equation, but adding the swagger to the mix, “Middleman” rumbles into life with a menacing drum and bass combo that sounds as brilliant recorded as it did when I saw them live.  Built around a small riff that latches on to your brain, it is just so damn effective in making you forget everything else around you apart from the song.  What is there not to like on this one, it even has a cowbell on it!

04 – Riverside Bruise

The penultimate song (waaaaayyyyyy too soon) adds a devil may care/country vibe to the sound that does not feel out of place, but it is a different beast to the other songs on the EP.  It feels like there is a battered soul that is trying to make amends for everything that ever went wrong, but it still knows that things are not quite perfect.  Featuring additional vocals from Helen Davies, it adds a further layer to this release, showing that they are not just a one-dimensional desert rock unit and that they have something else apart from swagger and damn fine riffs.

05 – Velvet

Alas, we are at the end of this EP and it comes crashing down with “Velvet”.  In keeping with the tone of the release, it has a steady pace that mixes a "fuck the rest of the world, we are doing this" feeling to this song.  It does not explode or reduce everything down to an acoustic coma (something which can happen on EPs all too oftern), instead Dunes keep everything tight and end on a Stoner rock number that will even have casual fans of the genre trying to find out more about the band.  It is a tight number that just keeps on giving with each spin, it delivers a fix that is hard to replicate elsewhere and it ends the EP in style. 

This self-titled five track EP is five slices of Stoner Rock with a punk rock attitude, making a glorious racket that reminds you of how good Stoner Rock can be when it is play right.  At the moment with everyone trying to be a hybrid band or something-core, it is great to hear a band that knows what they want and not trying to fuck with the formula.  There is a swagger to the songs, as if they know how good they are and they do not care what anyone else things.  They are so confident with their ability, they have their best song as the second track and the rest of the EP still sounds glorious.  This is one of the best EP’s I have reviewed in the last few years, it sounds that damn good and I have also had the privilege to review it twice (expect the shorter version of this to appear on Bearded Gentlemen Music very soon), what a sexy bastard of a release.

5 out of five – I wish I had extra ears to love this more

Top track – Love from Below

You can purchase the Dunes EP from the Dunes Bandcamp page here.

At the time of writing, Dunes EP is not on streaming sites.  But do yourself a favour and just purchase the damn thing from their Bandcamp! 

Here is a live session video of "Velvet" recorded for the Blank Canvas Sessions:

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