30 October 2018

Miles Hunt - The Custodian

Miles Hunt is a bit of a legend in my books, he mightn't see himself as that, but perception is always in the eye of the beholder.  Over the course of his career in The Wonder Stuff, Vent 414, with Erica Nockalls or by himself, he's created a massive body of work.  With a body of work stretching back to the 1980's, Mr Hunt has recently released The Custodian, a thirty song album of acoustic reworks of some of his favourite songs from his career.  Inspired by Richard Thompson's Acoustic Classics series and a conversation he had with Tom Robinson, who asked Miles who owned his songs.  Miles thought it was the copyright holders, but Mr Robinosn informed him it was actually the audience, as these songs shaped their lives and it was Miles' role to be the custodian of these tunes.  I have to admit that's a powerful argument and spot on, these songs will have meant so much to so many different people, it's mind-boggling.  Because of these things, we are now treated to The Custodian.

Over the course of two discs, Miles Hunt reinterprets thirty songs into acoustic tracks.  Now, with any acoustic reimagination of songs, there will always be differences, just by the very nature of the change. They can never be a direct representation of the original works due to the fact it's just one man.  Also, the songs would have changed over the years, all things evolve over time.  With The Custodian, this is exactly what you hear.  Listening to the new versions of tracks such as "The Size of a Cow", "On The Ropes", "Fixer" and "Don't You Ever" has been an interest experience.  Essentially, the differences between each version are small, but sometimes they change the song fundamentally.  Take the Vent 414 song "Fits and Starts".  It went from a grunge, alternative rock number to something new.  It's just being used as an example here, but this is a track where the translation has improved the original.  There is also an argument that some of them are reverting back to their original form, as they may have started that way.  But all the songs picked translated well acoustically.

I think he knew which songs would work best acoustically, which ones wouldn't work as well and has stuck to his strong point.  Take "Caught in my Shadow", this song was a stomper with a full band.  On the acoustic guitar, it's been slowed down and built up as a wistful number that could be about losing one's self and not recognising your own town.  "Don't You Ever", a song from the last Stuffies album, 30 Goes Around the Sun, has been changed from a delicious song that builds the riff with each second, to a heartfelt cry of a man who knows exactly who the fuck he is.  The change between the songs is not always drastic, but the difference between each version cannot be denied.  It's like looking at the same photo you've seen for years and seeing a new angle.

If I went through every song like my old reviews, this would be an odyssey.  The album is a lengthy labour of love, so I feel that sort of review wouldn't be the best thing to do here (as tempting as it was to write).  What I love about The Custodian is the craftsmanship, love and effort that Miles has put into this project.  The attention to detail by a man who knows his worth is beautiful to hear.  Each track has been lovely re-created, the new song "Custodian" is brilliant and I look forward to hearing it live.  This is a body of work that he should rightfully be proud of and one that his fans will enjoy immensely.  This is an essential piece for any fan of The Wonder Stuff or music in general.

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

Top track - On the Ropes (it's always been my favourite, but Don't You Ever was so close)

You can purchase The Custodian from The Wonder Stuff online store (as well as other little gems) here. 

If you have to (and I would, in this case, recommend using the link above instead of this one) use Amazon, here is your link. However, if you use the link above, more funds go to the artist. 

You can visit The Wonder Stuff website here.

You can follow the various activities of The Wonder Stuff and their members on The Wonder Stuff Facebook here.

At the time of writing, The Custodian is not available on streaming sites.  However, that is just a great excuse to use the first link and purchase it at The Wonder Stuff online store!

23 October 2018

Kurt Vile - Bottle it in

Kurt Vile is no stranger to these pages, musical maverick and the winner of our 2015 song of the year, he always seems to be on the cusp of something and the music just keeps on going.  For me, he is a beautiful artist who doesn't know when to let go of a moment and take a step back.  This has led me to wonder if I should really be reviewing this new album at all.  But, like an addict, I'm back for more of Vile tunes.  In the last three years since b'lieve i'm goin down... (our review linked here), in that time he released an album called Lotta Sea Lice with Courtney Barnett (our review in this round-up here).  It was an album which didn't seem to bring out the strengths of both artist for me, it just seemed to drift by slightly and left little to no impression on me.  He's also toured extensively, building up to Bottle It In.  Now, the hype for this has been bigger than normal, I mean, I could not escape the fact that this album was imminent.  But this seems to be against the laid back, stoner/country hippy vibe that I've always associated with Mr Vile.

Musically, there is no real change of Bottle It In, the vibe is still the same and as abstract as ever. Depending on how much you love droned out, psychedelic Anti-Folk jams will influence how much you want to listen to this album.  Just under an hour and twenty minutes, with thirteen songs that include three that break the nine-minute mark, this is going to be an endurance test for people that usually zone out around the four-minute mark.

Out of the longer tracks, the world seems to be going gaga for "Bassackwards", a song that drones for a long time till it returns to its original loop (or kept it going, it's still a mystery).  Same can be said for the title track and "Skinny Mini", listen to the main riff and randomly jump anywhere in the song, it's there and unchanged. Maybe there is a little dressing on top, a slide guitar or vocals, but the riff remains the same.  This is his blessing and curse, the ability to persist with/inability to let go of a riff.

Even the shorter numbers have this malaise, open track and lead single "Loading Zones" might sound upbeat, but you get underneath and there's the main riff on loop.  And you can do the same with "Check Baby" (where he ironically talks about slaying the six-string), "Yeah Bones" and any of the others.  And I think that is why I love and dislike this album in equal measure.

Bottle It In is an album that draws you in slow, but sure it gets the job done.  By the end, you sort of feel under its spell, but you keep telling yourself that you've got the ability to give it up when you want.  This album is also proof that Kurt Vile is still the stoner kid of old, still obsessed with jams, repeating loops into themselves until nothing else is left.  In this style of music, this is the norm, in Alternative Rock/Folk, it's a standout moment.  For me, I'm loving that he's following his dream, he has some great ideas and stuff here, but sometimes I still find myself hitting fast forward.  Bottle it in is a decent album, one that still shows the best and worse of Kurt Vile.  I love the free spirit, but once again, he's unleashed an album that's held back by himself - how is that possible on a record which has five producers! 

6.5 out of ten - OK, I see where you were going, but it's not quite there.

Top track - Yeah Bones

You can purchase Bottle it in on Amazon here.

You can visit the Kurt Vile website here.

You can follow the activities of Kurt Vile of Facebook here. 

You can stream Bottle it in on Spotify here. 

You can stream Bottle it in on Deezer here. 

You can stream Bottle it in on Tidal here. 

KEN Mode - Loved

KEN Mode (KEN stands for Kill Everyone Now) are a Hardcore/Metal band from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Formed in 1999, I'm truly surprised it has taken until 2018 for me to hear of them.  From their description, they sound like a shoe-in for my record collection, let alone to review.  Noisy as hell, strange cover artwork (one of the best in 2018 by the way, anyone who says otherwise is a liar), links to Converge, Deaf Heaven, Mastodon and others.  How the living hell did I miss them!?!?!?!  Anyway, back to this review.  Loved was released on 31st August 2018 via Season of Mist records in the UK.  I saw that image floating around the internet for ages, so I thought I would get round to pick it up at some point.  Because I had no idea of them (sorry for that), this is actually a Cover Roulette review!  For people who are not familiar, I'll quickly explain - every now and then, I review an album based solely on the cover of the record.  I cannot have heard the band before, I cannot be familiar with anything about it.  Sometimes it brings some gems, sometimes it brings up shit.  Let's find out which one will Loved turn out to be?

Again, I know I've already said this, but how in the living fuck has this band passed me by for so long.  Loved is an explosion more than an album.  There are so many things going on with this record, so let me try to comprehend it.  Firstly, that Post Hardcore/Sludge Metal tone is frantic, snatching the listener's attention straight away and smashing into you without so much as a bye or leave.  I think the best example that combines both styles is "Very Small Men".  It's more Hardcore than Sludge, but it has those Sludge moments that make the ears ring.  You also have the ultra-heavy layered songs such as "Feathers & Lips" and "Not Soul Mates" which keep on giving after each spin.

Most songs are short affairs, quick fixes of noise to smash around in the crowd.  It's this endless assault over the first eight tracks which last about twenty-seven minutes which leaves you breathless.  Until you reach "No Gentle Art", the final track on Loved.  Going out on a limb here, but this is one of the best songs that Neurosis, Shrinebuilder and Whores never wrote.  If you thought the rest of the album was intense, wait till you get a load of this.  With a slow building formula, thumping bass, a crazy-arsed saxophone solo and a combined performance of an amazing quality, "No Gentle Art" is a song which will be lapped up by the faithful and bring new converts when they hear it.

Now, at this point, I tend to try to give a devil's advocate response.  You know, point out a few flaws and make it a balanced review.  The thing is though, I don't really want to do that here.  Mainly because Loved is a fantastic album, a Pandora's box that you can't close and probably won't want to.  I love the style, the production is massive and you have ringing in your ears long after the final note has finished.  In a year with some truly epic Metal/Sludge albums, KEN Mode have created something special on Loved.  Now I have the joy of listening to their back catalogue.

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

Top track - No Gentle Art

You can purchase Loved from Amazon here.

You can purchase Loved from the KEN Mode Bandcamp page here.

You can visit the KEN Mode website here.

You can follow the activities of KEN Mode on Facebook here.

You can stream Loved on Spotify here.

You can stream Loved on Deezer here.

You can stream Loved on Tidal here.

22 October 2018

Pale Waves - My Mind Makes Noises

Sometimes, record companies get band genres fantastically wrong.  When I was first introduced to Pale Waves, they were quoted to be an Indie Rock band.  Now, I can safely say that when I (or anyone else blessed with the gift of hearing) first heard their music, it was not Indie Rock that I heard.  Yes, there are guitars in there.  Yes, clearly Pale Waves are an Indie band.  But their sound is Pop, with a capital 'P' and as sugary as it comes.  This is not a bad thing though, I've said many times I love a quality Pop record.  Pop records can be amazing, sometimes better than any other type of album. However, when a PR company tries to sell an act like something it's clearly not, it raises my back.  I don't think it helps when the band themselves also use the words punk when trying to describe their sound.  But maybe they were talking about their tone/essence and not their overall sound.  Either way, let's just say Pale Waves are Indie Pop and be done with it.

So, who are Pale Waves?  Pale Waves (according to Wikipedia) are an English Indie Pop band from Manchester and were formed in 2014. Originally called Creek, the band was formed by lead singer, Heather Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran. The band were eventually complete with the inclusion of guitarist Hugo Silvani and bassist Charlie Wood. This follows up from All The Things I Never Said EP, a successful release in the UK.  They've recently completed a UK tour, they seem to be everywhere I'm turning and not in places I was expecting either.  So, I've been drawn into this reviewing this, just out of sheer curiosity about when the hype is about.

My Mind Makes Noises could have easily been released in the 80's and no-one would have known it was released in 2018.  If Pale Waves were added to the end of The Breakfast Club, I wouldn't mind.  A lot of these songs seems to be dealing with the emptiness of the human experience, coupled together with unrequited love and self-destructive tendencies.  From "Eighteen" to "Drive" and to "Karl (I Wonder What It's Like to Die)", you have a soundtrack for a generation who are still trying to figure out what they are.  It's something that will be repeated again, but it'll never sound like Pale Waves.

You have a strange combination of anger, charm, self-loathing and confidence on My Mind Makes Noises.  Take "When Did I Lose It All?" for instance.  A song about letting go of a lover, someone you want to marry, but you want to explore the world.  That seems like a strange thing in my mind, as if the confusion of the situation is blinding the author. But the music could easily be used for a loving ballad in the classic sense of the word. It's a strange beast and it's not alone on this album.  You could say the same for "She", "Black" and "Television Romance" as well.

My Mind Makes Noises is a good Indie Pop album, one that will appeal to fans of The 1975 (who help produce two of these songs).  It's a tad too long if I'm honest, the angst side of MMMN becomes overbearing after the thirty-minute mark.  But I've got to be honest, it's one of the best Pop records I've heard this year.  Now they've released their debut, the hard work will start as they try to build on this legacy.  But that's for the future, for now let's celebrate a good Indie Pop debut from the current darlings of the Indie scene.

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

Top track - Came in Close

You can purchase My Mind Makes Noises on Amazon here. 

You can visit the Pale Waves website here. 

You can follow the activities of Pale Waves on Facebook here. 

You can stream My Mind Makes Noises on Spotify here. 

You can stream My Mind Makes Noises on Deezer here. 

You can stream My Mind Makes Noises on Tidal here. 

21 October 2018

John Grant - Love is Magic

John Grant is a bit of an enigma to me.  His solo career has been mixed, going between pioneering 80's electronica to melodic indie with ease and sometimes on the same song.  I cannot say I was a fan of his work in Czars, as I've never had a chance to listen to it.  But that voice...I mean, if he could sing about the back of a cereal packet and make it sound like a sonnet.  But there has always been something dark about his work.  His last album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (our review linked here) was a little gem from 2015.  It's one that I return to quite often, just to wallow in the pit of despair that comes from that record.  It's dark, aggressively depressive and wonderfully crafted.  Which brings us to Love is Magic, his first album in three years.  To be honest, it's not as if John Grant has been quiet in the last three years.  He's been constantly on the move by touring, making radio programmes with the BBC, his side project, Creep Show, working with Stone Wall, appearing at the Hay Literary Festival.....the list is huge!  But has all this work gotten in the way of the music?

Well, it's hard to tell if I'm honest.  For starters, Mr Grant upped the ante as far as his electronica work on this album is concerned.  The first seven songs feel like a collaboration with British Electo-pop legends, the Pet Shop Boys.  This is meant as a compliment, as it has that clubland feeling to the music.  With this, there is also a feeling of a man trying to come to grips with his life.  I'm loathed to use the words midlife crisis, but there is a whiff of Ferrari red to the music at the beginning of the record, especially on "Preppy Boy", "Metamorphosis" and ""He's Got His Mother's Lips".

But there is also a soulful and heartbroken side to Love is Magic.  When listening to songs such as "Is He Strange", the industrial "Tempest" and the title track, you have that wounded side of John Grant.  This is where I find him at his best, and if I'm being honest, it suits his writing and vocals so well.  It's not to say that his flamboyant side is poor or second best, it's just not as good as the darker moments here.

Over the fifty minutes of Love is Magic, we seem to find John Grant at a crossroads.  To be honest, I'm glad that he's kept with his tradition of not making the same album twice.  He's gone sidewards once again and whilst it's a mixed bag for me, it's still one that holds my interest.  But as an album, Love is Magic is an album that asks more question, one that given a different facet of the artist character.  What is it that John Grant was trying to say here?  To be honest, it felt like he's angry, horny and wounded.  All that Love is Magic has done is created a confused picture of himself.  By the end of it, there is an air of strained tension.  It's as if he's been playing out of character, acting up and that he knows that he'll be regretting it later.  As I said, Love is Magic is a good record, but it does feel like it needs a word with itself and to ditch the secretary as well.

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

Top track - Love is Magic

You can purchase Love is Magic on Amazon here.

You can visit the John Grant website here.

You can follow the activities of John Grant on Facebook here.

You can stream Love is Magic on Spotify here.

You can stream Love is Magic on Deezer here.

You can stream Love is Magic on Tidal here.

13 October 2018

PigsPigsPigsPigsPigsPigsPigs - King of Cowards

PigsPigsPigsPigsPigsPigsPigs (aka PigsX7, or PX7) have been haunting my dreams recently.  Ever since their last release, the amazing Feed the Rat (our micro review can be found on this roundup page here), I've been enthralled by their sound.  King of Cowards was released via Rocket Records, on 28th September 2018.  It was recorded at Blank Studio in their home city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with production being handled by John Martindale and PX7 guitarist, Sam Grant (who also handled mixing duties).  If you go to the PX7 Bandcamp page (link here), there is a big piece about how this album was recorded.  It also mentions that each of the six tracks covers (in some ways) the seven deadly sins.  That is quite a big statement of intent, especially when you read how the whole thing and the expansive description of the record. So, what does King of Cowards sound like?

Well, in a surprise move, none of these songs exceeds the nine-minute mark.  In fact, one of them ("Cake of Light") is below four minutes!  So, it's safe to say that these songs are going to be easier to digest than PX7's twenty-minute epics.  Which is a bit of a shame in one way, as I like getting lost in twenty-minute jams.  But this has not diminished the intensity of PX7, not one iota.  Over the six tracks, the band launch an audio assault that would make the early rock pioneers proud and jealous in equal measure.  Take "A66" for instance, a song that has a bass so driven, it could plant a thousand trees! When "Shockmaster" finishe, it feels like you've been in a storm!  If their is one thing that PX7 do well, it's make songs that can shake your foundations!

At this point, I usually try to look for any negatives on an album, just so the review doesn't come across as a love letter.  But I can't do that here.  From "GNT" through to "Gloamer", each track is a psychedelic doom monster, one that you can invest yourself into and enjoy the moment.  With each spin, King of Cowards delivers and somehow gets better.  In terms of sonic noise, the experience of joy I had when I first listened to this can only be compared (in terms of 2018) to the joy I had when I first heard Yob's Our Raw Heart (my review and interview for BGM linked here).  Everything about this release is amazing, it's over the top and it sounds glorious.  YOB, you've got competition and it's from a group of Geordies!  All hail PX7!

10 of out ten - This is proof there is a deity

Top track - A66

You can purchase King of Cowards on the PX7 Bandcamp page here. 

You can purchase King of Cowards on Amazon here.

You can visit the PX7 website here. 

You can follow the activities of PX7 on Facebook here. 

You can stream King of Cowards on Spotify here. 

You can stream King of Cowards on Deezer here. 

You can stream King of Cowards on Tidal here. 

BRZOWSKI/MC Homeless - Dig Two Graves

To start this review, I'm going to directly quote from the Dig Two Graves page on the I Had An Accident Bandcamp site: "In the punk-derived tradition of split-releases, Dig Two Graves pairs a trio of new songs from Portland, Maine purveyor of dour verbosity BRZOWSKI with the first new recorded material from erstwhile Ohioan MC Homeless. Old friends who have shared stages across the US and Europe, these two both share an affinity for indie-rap, punk rock ethos, and a nostalgia for the schlocky horror of the 70s and 80s." This is a much better description of this project than I could have ever thought of.  It may be a bit left of field for ATTIWLTMOWOS to review such a project as Dig Two Graves, but not really.  BRZOWSKI is part of Vinyl Cape, a band that was reviewed by my former colleague, Luke Dunmore.  You can read his review of The Glitter of Putrescence by Vinyl Cape here.

Dig Two Graves features three tracks by Brzowski, four tracks by MC Homeless.  The first three are by BRZOWSKI, two original tracks and a "cover" of "The Conqueror Worm", a track based on the original story by Edgar Allan Poe.  The first track The New Flesh (featuring Asthmatic) combines 80's synth, horror lyrics and an Everlast delivery with a hint of Tom Waits.  The second is "Cemetery Rose", this time featuring Renée Coolbirth on vocals.  This is a story about a graveyard temptress, a siren in the dark who leave nothing but a memory and some strange skin colouring.  It's a tale of woe, a little cheesy to be honest, but still good for what it is.  Expect it to be on a few horror mixes this year.  The final of these tracks is the aforementioned cover,  "The Conqueror Worm".  This song is another which brings Everlast to mind, with the delivery of Poe's madness given a new light.  I like this one a lot, it has a certain appeal which sounds fantastic. And with all that done, BRZOWSKI drops his mike for MC Homeless to pick up.

MC Homeless picks up the mike and brings a different style to this release.  First track "Dead Rappers" featuring Chris Conde, bringing a dark and heavy edge.  It's a bitch slap to the current crop of rappers with tattoos over the faces and comedic dress sense.  With an industrial feeling to the music, it introduces MC Homeless to this release with a bang.  Next is "Annie Lennox", a song which has nothing to do with the former Eurythmics singer, apart from quoting "Sweet Dreams" towards the end of the song.  It's a piano-driven track, full of brags and hustle.  "Manimal" brings back the chaos with an industrial burst of noise as MC Homeless goes for a primal sound.  It has a biting tone, one which sounds bouncy and destructive in equal measure.  Ending this release is "I Am The Wind", another slow and atmospheric number.  It hard biting barbs in the lyrical, and it ends the album on a high note.

Both rappers bring something different to the table, but both work well together.  BRZOWSKI has a larger than life production is in contrast to the darker edges of MC Homeless.  The short burst of MC Homeless work in harmony with the smoother production of BRZOWSKI and create a split release that cannot be underestimated.  Dig Two Graves is a brilliant release, not my usual sort of thing, but it's given me a brief insight and introduction into both rappers and I'll be looking further into their work.  Which one came out on top here?  Well, you can make up your own mind on that one, I like them both as much as the other.  Personally, I like it a lot.

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

Top tracks
BRZOWSKI - The Conqueror Worm
MC Homeless - Manimal

You can purchase and stream Dig Two Graves on the I Had An Accident's Bandcamp page here.

You can follow the activities of BRZOWSKI on Facebook here. 

You can follow the activities of MC Homeless on Facebook here. 

You can visit the I Had An Accident Records Facebook page here. 

At the time of writing, Dig Two Graves is not available on streaming sites.

12 October 2018

Matt Berry - Television Themes

Matt Berry is a sort of cult figure in the UK.  You would have heard his voice on many TV and radio advertisement campaigns, he's appeared on TV on The I.T. Crowd, Toast of London, House of Fools and recently voice a talking prince pig in Matt Goreing's Disenchantment.  His voice is like liquid velvet and would be able to soothe anyone with insomnia to a blissful rest.  But whilst he's had a thriving television career, he's also been releasing albums with his band, The Maypoles.  Television Themes though is a little different from your average Matt Berry release.

As the title suggestions, Television Themes is an album of theme songs from TV shows.  But this being Matt Berry, it's not just a straightforward assortment of thirty-second jingles.  What he has done is create extended versions of some of the most iconic 70's and 80's British TV shows.  If you look at the list, it reads like a who's who of the old Radio Times magazines.  You have theme tunes such as "Doctor Who", "Rainbow", "Sorry" and "Are You Being Served?", as well as two regional TV jingles added to the mix as well.  My favourite is "Top of the Pops", as it's one of the classic themes and it sounds just right in this format.

Now, depending on how much you love nostalgia and extended TV themes, will determine how many times you'll revisit this record.  It's an incredibly niche record, one that depends on the listener having a) - heard these themes for that trip down memory lane & b) - enjoying a mostly instrumental album.  Seriously, this man has a voice like liquid gold and it's barely on it!

Because it's such a nostalgia trip, it's hard to mark without either being too cruel, too generous or lost in the moment.  I enjoyed it, some of it works really well.  However, some tracks could have been clipped by a few moments and it would have had the same impact.  I can see a lot of these tracks appearing on TV and radio shows soon, just so presenters can talk over them.  Television Themes is an unmarkable record, one that you'll either love or hate.  I just hope next time Matt Berry releases an album, he sings on it!  Or he does that relaxation tape, honest - the man can charm demons back to heaven.

Top track - Top of the Pops

Box of Cats - This album is unmarkable, so here is a box of kittens instead

You can purchase Television Themes on Amazon here.

You can visit the Matt Berry page on the Acid Jazz Records website here.

You can visit the Matt Berry website (which for some reason doesn't mention Television Themes) here.

You can follow the activities of Matt Berry's Music stuff on Facebook here.

You can stream Television Themes on Spotify here.

You can stream Television Themes on Deezer here.

You can stream Television Themes on Tidal here.

Conan - Existential Void Guardian

It seems that my next set of reviews is all about bands who I've been following for years, and this one is no exception to that rule either.  I first heard Conan way back in 2012 when I reviewed Monnos (our review linked here), an album that I reviewed in the first few months of this blog and helped me through a heavy winter.  Since then, I've reviewed all their studio albums and one live record as well, following their career with great interest.

Existential Void Guardian is their fourth studio record, it's also their third to be released via Napalm Records.  As regular as clockwork, Conan have released their new album within two years of their last release. If we could time a train system with Conan precision, I'm sure the whole world would convert their time signature.  But how does Existential Void Guardian sound?

Well, a little manic to tell you the truth.  For a sludge album, it seems to have upped the speed a hell of a lot.  Take "Eye to Eye to Eye" for instance, it's a powerful beast, one that smashes it out of the gate, but Conan are now moving at high speed compared to the lava trails of old.  Also, you have "Volt Thrower", a great song, but it's the first in Conan's career that is under four minutes.  That's a strange thing to behold in some ways, but you can't really release the same album all the time.  My favourite song is "Eternal Silent Legend", mainly due to monster feedback at the beginning of the song.  It washes over you with the speed of a slow river and it feels fantastic.  Even here on their slowest number, it still feeds speedy.

To be honest, this album just gallops past you so quickly, you have to start it again just to make sure you've not missed anything.  Which is different from the way I've listened to this band in the past.  Normally, I go back to listen to them and absorb every note which is heavier than falling granite.  Not because it went by in the blink of an eye, but times are a changing here.

Is this a problem?  Not really if I'm honest, a surprise maybe, but not a problem.  I can see why Conan have upped the speed here, they obviously felt the need to change their formula just a little. That is fine, a band needs to progress and needs to expand their sound.  The great thing about the sound of Existential Void Guardian is that this change does not feel forced.  It doesn't feel as if they've tried to shoehorn something unnatural to their mix.  That means they were ready for their next step and more power too them.

In a year which has seen some fantastic sludge records, it's great to see that Conan's name is still in the mix.  I think Existential Void Guardian will see them receive a lot more mainstream attention, well - the metal mainstream, which is a very good thing indeed.  I like it a lot, maybe not as much as their other albums, but that doesn't make this a bad record.  I can't wait to see them on tour this year, those shows are gonna be loud.

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

Top track - Eternal Silent Legend

You can purchase Existential Void Guardian on Amazon here.

You can purchase Existential Void Guardian on the Conan Bandcamp page here.

You can visit the Conan website here.

You can follow the activities of Conan on Facebook here.

You can stream Existential Void Guardian on Spotify here.

You can stream Existential Void Guardian on Deezer here.

You can stream Existential Void Guardian on Tidal here.

11 October 2018

Suede - The Blue Hour

When it comes to Brit-pop bands, one of the first names that will come to mind to most UK fans is Suede (aka The London Suede to our US readers).  Their iconic status has been long assured with their first three albums.  I could wax lyrical about what they've achieved, the mistakes along the way and their reunion.  But this is not a retro piece about their career.  This is a review of their latest album, The Blue Hour.  Recorded with legendary producer Alan Moulder (marking their second departure from the services of Ed Buller), this album was first muted in 2017, so it's had a long and meticulous creation.  Preceded by four singles, Suede have been building the anticipation of this album slowly and surely. 

The Blue Hour has taken the style of Night Thoughts (their last album, our review linked here) and ran wild with it.  Well, in a given sense of the phrase "ran wild".  This is the new, mature and sombre Suede, and Suede weren't exactly the band you put on for happy times in the first place.  On The Blue Hour though, Suede have taken those feelings regarding the dark points of the night, ramps up the emotive dialogue and adds a cinematic sheen to them.  Just over fifty minutes long, composed of 14 songs, there is a mixture of hard-hitting indie that we've come to expect, spoken word performances, the beautiful sounds of the London based City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the band themselves. 

The album has many highlights, such as the glorious combination of "Tides" and "Don't Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You".  Those two tracks alone are classic Suede, I mean it's Dog Man Star level compositions from Suede at that point.  I get stuck on these two and the world fades away for a few moments.  Other stand out moments include the guitar centred "Cold Hands", the sweeping cinematic "Wastelands" and the beautiful ending "Flytipping".  Each of track attempts to showcase this incarnation of Suede perfectly.  These songs play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses, which is a very good thing.

Now, I did mention weaknesses there.  Which is something that The Blue Hour sadly contains.  It's one of their biggest weaknesses overall, everything is just so epic here.  Let me explain - I am a fan of Suede and I do like this album, I think it'll be one that people will discuss and dissect for a long time.  But they've never really been too good at subtle, have they?  I mean, even back in the early day on a deep cut like "The Living Dead" they had that dramatic flair.  On The Blue Hour, they ramped it up to the nth degree, there is no escaping it and it can be claustrophobic at times.  Because of this, I've found it difficult to love.  I admire The Blue Hour a lot, it's a decent album and I applaud Suede for following their own style.  But they've gone too far once again, they've not stopped when they could have held back a little.  Maybe next time, tone it down slightly?

6.5 out of ten - Now, I see where you were going, but it's not quite there.

Top track - Don't Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You

You can purchase The Blue Hour on Amazon here. 

You can visit the Suede website here.

You can follow the activities of Suede on Facebook here. 

You can stream The Blue Hour on Spotify here. 

You can stream The Blue Hour on Deezer here.

You can stream The Blue Hour on Tidal here.

10 October 2018

Thearpy? - Cleave

My love of Therapy? has been long documented on this blog.  If my former colleagues were still been here, there would have been a massive game of scissors, paper, lizard, Spock, rock to decide who was writing this review.  Thankfully though, this now falls to me only and I'm happy to accept this task.  Cleave is Therapy?'s fifteenth album and released on Marshall Records, yes, that is the amplifier/speaker company.  Cleave saw Therapy? return once again to Blast Studios in Newcastle upon Tyne,, it also marks the return of Chris Sheldon as producer.  For people who don't know, Mr Sheldon previous produced Semi-Detached and the legendary Troublegum.  As with any Therapy? record, people will automatically look back to their earlier work.  It's a natural thing to do, I do it myself all the time.  Some people will try to compare it to their last record, the marvellous Disquiet (our review linked here).  Again, this is perfectly natural and something I'll be doing myself.  But I also have to try and see how this stands up on its own.

Trying to place Cleave in my head has been a little bit of a puzzle if I'm being totally honest.  After a great form of albums that started on One Cure Fits All all the way up to Disquiet.  Whilst they've been ignored by the mainstream for a long time, they've been producing some of their best work.   On one hand, you have huge tracks such as "Callow", "I Stand Alone", "Kakistocracy" and "Dumbdown".  These tracks are prime examples of Therapy? when they're on full throttle, hitting their instruments with all their might.  "Callow" has already been released as a single, but you could imagine any of the rest of them being released as singles as well.  They're prime cuts, ones that'll fit well in their live sets.

You could go through each of the tracks and find reminders of who they were, which will lead you to who they are now.  Take opening track "Wreck It Like Beckett" for example, it has a feeling akin to "Ten Year Plan" from Suicide Pact-You First.  The delivery between both tracks is almost identical, both contain a fire and fury which joins them together in my mind.  "Save Me From The Ordinary" is a slowed down number that has that classic Therapy? drum tone that makes the hairs on my neck stand up.

Do we have any issues here?  Well, apart from Therapy?'s desire to repeat the title of the song as the chorus over and over again at times, I would say that the only issue is ending the album with "No Sunshine".  The subject is about how depression can darken your life, which is something that should be discussed more, the song itself is beautiful and well worth investigating.  But it feels out of place at the end of the record, as if they weren't too sure where to add it. As I said, "No Sunshine" isn't a bad song, it just could have been added elsewhere on Cleave.

However, that is me being me and trying to play devil's advocate.  I love the tone of Cleave, it's meatier, thicker and sounds like the distorted sound of old.  But there is no feeling of trying to keep up with the current vogue of the world, no attempt to recapture their youthful rage or former glories here.  It's a short, sharp reminder that Therapy? never actually went away, they've always been there producing great records and this is no exception to that rule.  Should I dare compare Cleave to their back catalogue?  Nah, what would be the point!  Let it stand out on its own and check it out yourself.

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

Top track - Wreck It Like Beckett

You can purchase Cleave from Amazon here.

You can visit the Therapy? website here. 

You can follow the activities of Therapy? on Facebook here. 

You can stream Cleave on Spotify here. 

You can stream Cleave on Deezer here. 

You can stream Cleave on Tidal here. 

8 October 2018

Lafayette Regency - Story of Helen (The Rise & Fall of an Impossible Love)

Lafayette Regency is an Indie Rock/Blues band based in Clermont-Ferrand, France.  They recently got in touch, asking for a review of their latest release, the delightfully titled Story of Helen (The Rise & Fall of an Impossible Love).  This is their debut album, but their second release overall, following on from their 2016 EP, My Friends All Died in a Rock 'n' Roll Accident. The bio on their Facebook page suggests influences from Heming Wave, Dead Weather, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club & The Verve.  Which suggests a strong, international indie influence on this band. If I said I'd heard of them before receiving their email, I would be lying.  But I cannot say I was not intrigued by the thought of listening to this album. Firstly, my good lady is called Helen, so I'm always a sucker for anything with that name.  Secondly, the black & white image for the cover would have been a prime candidate for Cover Roulette (a series of reviews I do, solely based on the cover of the record).  But as it's a submission, alas I can't add it to that list.  What I can do though, is actually get on with the review.

For all the talk about their Indie influences, I'm also picking up a large slice of Blues mixed into the sound of Lafayette Regency.   There is nothing that comes running out of the block here, each of the nine tracks on offer here are slow building songs, with a hint for the dramatic.  The Story of Helen... is not an album that you put on for a quick listen or cherry pick the best tracks.  You have to invest in it, give it time and let the music flow over you.  The backdrop of this album is a dramatic, volatile and dangerous relationship, one that sounds as if it's never been easy or dull.  Given that about 90% of the songs that have ever been written are about love, it's a rich vein to write about.

As I pointed out at the beginning, I can see hints of their influences, but I can also hear Pearl Jam in their sound as well as the PJ related side project, Mad Season.  There's a fragile beauty to the music, one that makes a connection to each band in my mind.  Tracks such as the divine "Helen is a UFO", the panoramic view of "Hades Call" and dramatic "Her Green Kite" are great examples of the Story of Helen.... at it's best.  Lafayette Regency (based on this first introduction) seem to be a band who can only deal in the dramatic and larger than life type of song.  This is both a blessing and it may be a curse as well.  Don't get me wrong, I love that everything is huge on this album, I adore the OTT sound that is akin to thunder and clashing lightning. I'm just wondering if could strip back their sound in the future.

However, that doesn't really have anything to do with the Story of Helen (The Rise & Fall of an Impossible Love), just me wondering about the future.  The main reason for that is that I'm bowled over by this album.  It's a beautiful piece of art, one that comes at you and never gives up.  Lafayette Regency should be a huge deal on the back of this record, I really hope that this takes them to new heights as they would deserve all the attention in the world.  I would recommend going out and checking this out sooner rather than later. 

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

Top track - Helen is a UFO

You can purchase Story of Helen (The Rise & Fall of an Impossible Love) on the Lafayette Regency Bandcamp page here.

You can purchase Story of Helen (The Rise & Fall of an Impossible Love) on Amazon here.

You can visit the Lafayette Regency Soundcloud page and stream tracks from Story of Helen... as well as other releases here.

You can follow the activities of Lafayette Regency on Facebook here.

You can stream Story of Helen (The Rise & Fall of an Impossible Love) on Spotify here.

You can stream Story of Helen (The Rise & Fall of an Impossible Love) on Tidal here. 

At the time of writing, Story of Helen (The Rise & Fall of an Impossible Love) was not available to stream on Deezer.

6 October 2018

Mantar - The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze

Some moments are meant to be savoured, to be indulged and need more than a knee-jerk reaction (no matter how much you want to post a blog).  One band that deserves to be savoured is the glorious Mantar.  If you're familiar with these pages will remember our previous reviews, if not then you can read them here.  I can wax lyrical about their last two albums and EP (as well as the St. Pauli Sessions) until the sunsets and then onwards until the following dawn.  So it's safe to say that I'm a fan of this band, it's a reasonable assumption on the behalf of the reader to this I'll have a blinkered view of any release that Mantar unleashed on the great unwashed.  But regular readers will also know that I never pull punches.  If something is shite, it'll pronounced as shite.  Just because I'm a fanboy, but that doesn't mean I'll keep shtum.  So, I put this at the front of this review just so people know that what I write here is just my honest opinion on this record.

The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze follows on from 2016's Ode to the Flame and 2017's The Spell EP.  Released once again on Nuclear Blast, the label where Mantar have found a home where they can unleash their particular brand of metal on the world.  And the world still insists on calling them a Sludge Metal act, something which I cannot bring myself to do.  They've always been a Doom/Trash combo in my head, also I remember their early post saying that they weren't Sludge and the violence that would befall people who called them so.  Released on 24th August 2018, The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze has been receiving praise around the world, it also did incredibly well in their home country of Germany.  It's an album I've anticipated for a while, so how has it turned out?

Well, it's basically more of the same from the dynamic duo of Messrs Sakarya & Klänhardt.  It's a heavy whirlwind of crushing metal that can knock over a house just through the bass vibrations.  Which is surprising, as there is no bass on this (or any) Mantar album.  But whilst it would have been easy for Manter to follow the path that was started on Death by Burning, they've not products a direct replicant of their previous records.  The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze is a strong record, one that instils excitement Mantar are smart enough to know that you can't keep releasing the same album.  So what they have done is very simple, they've made everything just slightly better.  It's a formula that doesn't need to be messed with, so they've just tweaked a few things and it's worked incredibly well.

Each of the twelve tracks on offer is a blistering piece of metal designed to ignite a mosh pit.  Mantar have not softened their approach to their songs.  If anything, they've increased the noise on The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze.  That guitar tone is unstoppable at times, the drumming is as loud as thunder.  My favourite tracks include "Dynasty of Nails", "Age of the Absurd" and "Taurus".  They could easily all be my pick for top track of the album, so that is going to be a difficult choice. 

So, why is it not another ten out of ten?  Well, this is not down to quality, this is still a fantastic record and it'll be played very loud in my house for months and years to come.  No, this is down to impact.  this is the sort of album I've come to expect from Mantar now.  Due to their talent, confidence and past releases, I expect this level of intensity and quality from them.  And when you get expectation, it becomes hard to do something that is out of the blue.  I love The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze, it's a top class metal album, one of the best in 2018 and is rightly receiving praise.  But the impact is not as big as their previous albums.  But no matter what, there's only one way to end this review - All hail Mantar!

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

Top track - Taurus

You can purchase The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze on the Mantar Bandcamp page. 

You can purchase The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze on Amazon here. 

You can visit the Mantar website here. 

You can follow the activities of Mantar on Facebook here. 

You can stream The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze on Spotify here.

You can stream The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze on Deezer here.

You can stream The Modern Art of Setting Ablaze on Tidal here.

Richard Thompson - 13 Rivers

I've no idea why it's taken me so long to finally listen to a Richard Thompson album.  There's no excuse really, I've read so many articles and seen a lot of interviews over the years, but never followed it up with purchase or streaming of an album.  So, I think it's safe to safe that one is on me really.  Richard Thompson is an artist that people speak of with revered tones and hushed voices, giving him the feeling of an Apostle or Prophet who is carrying the ark of the covenant in his rucksack.  I think if you've decided to read this just for the artist, you'll probably already know his backstory.  For the uneducated such as myself, a very quick overview.

Richard Thompson is a British folk musician who started his recording career as part of Fairport Convention in the 1960's.  Over the course of the following five decades, he has received praise for his work with his first wife, Linda Thompson who he recorded six studio albums, his session musician work and his seventeen previous studio records.  He's received many awards over the years, including an Ivor Novello and the Order of the British Empire.  There is more information on his Wikipedia page here.   13 Rivers is his eighteenth solo studio record,  it was released on New West Record in the USA & Proper Records in the UK. 

After my first listen to this album, the first thing I started to think about the similarities between 13 Rivers and Johnny Cash's latter-day records.  Not in comparison to the music on offer, but to the amount of experience on display on this record.  It has a sense of urgency and passion that I've only found in later day Johnny Cash and on Blackstar by David Bowie.  There's a creative streak on this record, one which is beautiful to behold.  Recorded and self-produced in ten days with a few overdubs, 13 Rivers is essentially a live studio record. 

Starting with "The Storm Won't Come", the album is built on tension from the beginning.  It gives the album an atmospheric start that is continued throughout the record.  Another highlight for me is "Trying" which contains a Celtic feeling to the music, whilst the words are all about trying to make everything right, but how somethings fall apart.  It's a beautiful number that sends chills up my spine.

Over the thirteen tracks, Richard Thompson serenades you with hard rock, folk, gentle ballads, urgent pleas for help.  Coming in at just under fifty-five minutes, but it feels a lot shorter than that to be honest.  It demands nothing but utter engagement from the listener, this is a record that you cannot ignore and you wouldn't want to anyway.  If (like myself), this is your first introduction to Richard Thompson, then you're in for a treat.  Now, let's get to work on that back catalogue.

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

Top track - The Storm Won't Come

You can purchase 13 Rivers on Amazon here. 

You can visit the Richard Thompson website here. 

You can follow the activities of Richard Thompson on Facebook here. 

You can stream 13 Rivers on Spotify here. 

You can stream 13 Rivers on Deezer here. 

You can stream 13 Rivers on Tidal here. 

Alkaline Trio - Is This Thing Cursed?

Is This Thing Cursed?  Well, for a while I thought it wasn't going to happen.  With Matt Skiba moonlighting in Blink-182 for the last few years, I was scared that Alkaline Trio was going to be talked about in the past tense.  It's been five years since My Shame Is True  (our review here), an album which has grown in stature in my opinion since its release.  Whilst there were assurances from Alkaline Trio that this album was coming, you still wonder if it's possible for it to happen.  As much as I love California by Blink-182 (what the hell, our review of that too - here), I'd always prefer an Alkaline Trio record any time.  Also, the title seems to be a good name for the album, as it's not had an easy release.  Shows being cancelled due to Matt Skiba's throat surgery and recovery, drummer Derek Grant absence from the tour due to medical reasons, it does seem as if there is a curse on them.  Does this curse extend to the music as well?

Produced by Cameron Webb, Is This Thing Cursed? is a thirteen track testimony to the strengths of Alkaline Trio.  Over the course of the record, ITTC? seems to bring the ghosts of albums past to the forefront.  Take "I Can't Believe", a song which has one of the best riffs I've heard from AT in years, it's a song which could have easily be added to From Here to Infirmity.   "Sweet Vampires" could have been a prime cut kept off Crimson for another day, which could also be said about "Heart Attacks" as well.

But make no mistakes, this is not Alkaline Trio creating their own tribute album.  These songs are as strong as anything on their back catalogue, which is as good as any band can do.  Only one band at the moment can pull off this type of record, and that is Alkaline Trio.  As ITTC? progresses, you have all the usual peaks and troughs of an Alkaline Trio record.  The epic opening duo of "Is This Thing Cursed?" and "Blackbird" setting out the scene, the fall out of love delivered in a rapturous sermon ("I Can't Believe"), environmental issues ("Goodbye Fire Island") as well as the gentle ending with "Krysalline".  Each track becomes the new standard for them and they combine to make (in my opinion) the ultimate Alkaline Trio record.

Is this a problem?  Well, it depends on which way you look at it.  If you weren't a fan of the band beforehand (and if not, why are you reading this), then this is not going to change that opinion.  If you're a fan, this will be the best thing that they've ever done as it hits all their high water marks and the joy of having them back in the world.  If you're a casual fan, it'll deliver everything you wanted and a lot more which you'll be able to explore later on.  Basically, Is This Thing Cursed? is their strongest album since From Here to Infirmity, it's that damn good and if they're cursed, then it's fuelled a fantastic record!  Let's not leave it so long next time, OK?

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

Top track - I Can't Believe

You can purchase Is This Thing Cursed? on Amazon here. 

You can visit the Alkaline Trio website here. 

You can follow the activities of Alkaline Trio on Facebook here. 

You can stream Is This Thing Cursed? on Spotify here.

You can stream Is This Thing Cursed? on Deezer here.

You can stream Is This Thing Cursed? on Tidal here.

Thrice - Palms

One of my favourite songs over the last few years was "Black Honey" off the last Thrice album, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere (our review can be viewed here).  It came out of nowhere for me, as I was never too big on Thrice beforehand.  But that song and album did really well in my end of year charts, in the song of the year, "Black Honey" came in at number three and To Be Everywhere.... was number four in my list.  For a band that I had largely ignored for years, it was a leap out of nowhere (no ironic pun intended) and I've been going over their catalogue ever since.  Palms is Thrice's tenth studio album and their first for their new label, Epitaph Records.  To be honest, it feels as if no time has really passed since that release.   After the four year hiatus before their last release, I guess they're wanting to strike whilst the iron is hot.

Palms starts off very heavy on the keyboard/synth side of the band's repertoire, especially on "Only Us",  "My Soul", "The Dark" & "Everything Belongs".  Sometimes the synths feel overpowering, almost too dominant and it can get a little claustrophobic.  Elsewhere, you have the traditional guitar sound of the band on tracks such as "A Branch in the River", "The Grey" & "Hold Up the Light".  Palms contains a melancholic strain within its DNA, this album is a deep and intense experience which is not that easy to get into if I'm honest.

And that is the main for me with Palms, it's an album that has no access level for me. Every time I've tried to listen to this album, I've been lucky to get to the end.  It's not for lack of trying, I've been attempting this ever since it was released and I'm no further forward.  I just get lost in the middle and zone out far too much.  Everything is there to make it work, but it just passes me by without so much as a bye or leave.

However, I can't say Palms is a poor or average album.  Palms is a well-played album and have a few good moments, but it has no real connection.  I really should be digging songs such as "Only Us", "Beyond the Pines" and "Blood on Blood".  Normally, this sort of Alternative album would be right up my street.  Yet I find myself struggling to discover a groove that I dig and it's not hitting the spot.  Sometimes this happens with albums, sometimes the components can be right and it just doesn't work for the listener.  I know that this will be going down well with their fan base, but each time I play it, I'm left a little cold.  You can listen and make your own opinion, but Palms is a little disappointing for me.

6.5 out of ten - Now, I see where you were going, but it's not quite there.

Top track - A Branch in the River

You can purchase Palms on Amazon here. 

 You can visit the Thrice website here.

You can follow the activities of Thrice on Facebook here.

You can stream Palms on Spotify here. 

You can stream Palms on Deezer here. 

You can stream Palms on Tidal here.

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