25 February 2017

Less Than Jake - Sound The Alarm EP

Less Than Jake have been going for twenty-five years: I will let that statement sink in for a bit.......

As ska-punk with a hint of party go, Less Than Jake are one of those bands that always bring the vibe and whilst some of their songs have a serious or even a darker message than the music, they have always had a spark that has garner interest and parties.  True, they have their fair share of people who do not like their music (our blogger Jerm is known to get violent if I threated to make him review anything with a horn section), but they also have their share of fans from around the world.  I saw them last year with Marichi El Bronx, The Bennies, The Skints and local lads Better Days.  It was a great gig and if it was not for my laptop being down it would have been the second gig to have been reviewed (basically, all bands were mint).  It has been almost four years since the last LTJ album 'See the Light' and it seemed that the band might just keep touring and it was not obvious that they were going to release more songs; so, it is actually a really nice surprise that they have dropped this seven track EP and now it is time to see if the alarm was worth sounding.

01 - Call to Arms

With an energy that is missing from many bands who are much younger than these guys, Less Than Jake start the album with the sound of despair and regret (two regular features in their music), a little bit of hope and a request for help.  It is full of horns, loud guitars, a sing-a-long bit and will start a circle pit in an empty room - what more could you want from an album opening track?

02 - Whatever the Weather

This is one of my favourite from this EP, mainly because it is the slower version of the band as they look darker times and how things can be hard at times, but how there is determination in the ability to stay true.  The music is slower, the bass louder and it reminds me a bit of 'The Science of Selling Yourself Short' (which is my favourite song by this band) and whilst it is short of lyrics, it is huge in terms of sound, emotion and that spirit which makes a song instantly likeable.

03 - Bombs Drop

'Bombs Drop' is the sort of song you could ska your night away to, dancing around like an idiot and not listening to the lyrics whilst having fun all the time.  The lyrics themselves look at depression, stress and general bad luck with a care and humility of people who have experienced those sorts of conditions in huge doses.  Another classic LTJ tune in the making and one what should be played at every show play!

04 - Welcome to My Life

Bad luck just seems to follow people like a lost dog at times, it is just a curse that happens to some people and there is nothing that they can do about it.  This is the sort of song for people to sing along to, enjoy the moment of sadness and dance a little bit in certain places as the rest is sort of mournful (in a given sense of the word - it is a LTJ song) and it has a bit where you can jump about for a few moments.  Sadness has not right to have a fun section......

05 - Good Sign

I like it when they are in fighting spirits, the dark times are still there; but the hope is also there and the determination to get through the shit is just as strong.  When you have a kick-ass, ska powered, rooting and tooting tune with a great riff, fast bass, massive horns, great drums and strong vocals to help, it makes it that little bit easier!  It is a joy to hear and it makes me grin from ear to ear!

06 - Years of Living Dangerously

The internal struggles are on show on 'Years of Living Dangerously' with a slow, reflective number which bemoans its own luck, feeling down and out and trying to keep everything under controls, but it is not really working as the trust is long gone.  Sadly, it is the song on the EP which I would skip, but I still enjoy it.  Well played and all that jazz, but only to be played in small doses to be honest

07 - Things Change

Ending the EP is the eternally bouncing 'Things Change' which has so much energy and spirit, more than it should for a song about the party being over and things are moving on.  I love that it keeps in the spirit of the band, but it keeps that focus on the mental state of the individual and it also has a large degree of hope in the mix too.  It is not throwaway and it has a serious message, ending the EP on a very high water mark.

I think this is one of the best releases from Less Than Jake, it is short, sharp and emotionally charged with a huge sound.  Yes, they have been around for twenty-five years, but they are still releasing quality releases and not making the exact same record.  True, it is not that far from their original origins, but it still sounds like they have something to say and that they are not going through the motions.  One of the best releases of the year, go out, ska and reflect!!!

5 out of five - I wish I had more ears to like this more

Top track - Whatever the Weather

You can purchase Sound the Alarm EP from Amazon here.

You can visit the Less Than Jake website here.

You can follow the activities of Less Than Jake on Facebook here.

You can stream Sound the Alarm EP on Spotify here.

You can stream Sound the Alarm EP on Deezer here.

You can stream Sound the Alarm EP on Tidal here.

Frontier Ruckus - Enter The Kingdom

Frontier Ruckus are an Americana/Folk band from Metro Detroit, Michigan (according to Wikipedia), where they formed in 2003.  They released their first album in 2008 called 'The Orion Songbook' and have released a further four albums with 'Enter the Kingdom' being the latest.  The group tender to centre around the lyrics of Matthew Millia and tend to be reflective pieces.  'Enter the Kingdom' looks at the time when Millia's family faced an uncertain future after his father lost his job, ended up looking for jobs on Craigslist and the reality that they could be losing the family home.  The past can be a great for inspiration for Americana music, especially when it is so personal and witnessed first-hand; so how has this album turned out?

01 - Visit Me

This song seems to be about feeling low, lonely, abandoned and out of sorts with the rest of the world, as if a malaise is laying heavy on your world.  There is a distance to this song, the sense of being lost and alone just adds to that feeling as the Americana music flows over the words that dominate everything about the song, but the backing tune is a beautiful piece of music for fans of the genre.

02 - Gerunds

A song about the hopelessness that comes with the loss of identity and an occupation can be damning to the soul, the sadness of the situation is a malleable party to the proceedings of this song and the mournful situation has the sound track of the Gin Blossoms as well.  It has a gentle backing from the band as the strings dominate this song and it feels like a mixture or hope, desperation and loss; I like this song a lot, it has depths and drama about it.

03 - 27 Dollars

A song about a dysfunctional relationship, a debt and all tied up in bow with a poem of hopes and dreams.  I like the fast pace to the music (in a relative sense of the word 'fast', it is after all Americana Folk that is being reviewed here), it has a driven feeling to music and it does leave a lasting impression on the listener.

04 - Our Flowers Are Still Burning

There is a feeling of either an argument, sadness or a misunderstanding; poverty can make lovers and families enemies at time and it can be hard on everyone around you.  The sunset is descending on this song, it feels like evening time and that there is a hope for the future of this one as they have a dance to this hymn to poverty, friendship and love - all of which can be derailed by the first three states I mentioned at the beginning of the review.

05 - Positively Freaking

Home is at the centre of this, for some people it is about running away from it as they can no longer stand the situation, for others it is about staying near familiar places and not moving on from the past.  It is a strange one to be honest, contradiction in terms and its happy music is at odds with the lyrical content - of course, this means I love it as it shows how things are never straight forward.  The music is beautiful and it feels like a great song.

06 - Sarah Springtime

'Sarah Springtime' feels as if it has significant attachment, even for an Americana album.  It is a simple piece which strips out the percussion from their sound and it keeps everything very simple and to the chest.  It is a nice song, not one I would go to that much to be honest, but pleasant enough for what it is.

07 - Since Milford

This is an instrumental piece that acts as a bridge for the end of the album, with a repetitive pattern to the music that focuses on the banjo and strings.  It feels as if it should be an uplifting piece, but it does not have any real impact on me to be honest and it melts straight into the next song....

08 - Gauche

.... which makes me think they should have been combined into one song.  It feels like one song anyway and splitting them up is not something that makes sense. Anyway, what we have here is a song that is a slow song with love, hope, regret and despair (also about being on the way to meet a mother).  It is a nice song with slow beat, but it does feel chopped in half on this record.

09 - Nothing is Working

A quick and short song about things falling apart, being left behind with old technology and broken communication methods.  I love the simplicity of this one, less is indeed more on this song and it feels so beautiful.
10 - If You Can

The album stays in wistful territory here; the music is so gentle and reflective as the memories of the past are starting to creep into the mind of the singer.  It is melancholy incarnate, the mood dictates the pace and it feels like it is being played in a dream, or a slide show of memories and fading pictures.  I like it a lot, not something I always go for, but still a fragile and well sculpted number.

11 - Enter the Kingdom

The album ends with the title track, 'Enter the Kingdom' which ends the album as it began - in the past and with a degree of happiness, sadness, remorse, joy and emotional release.  In keeping with the style of the record, it is as gentle as a breeze and strong as a wall.  I like this ending for this album, it fits like a glove and paints a vivid picture in your mind.

The Frontier Ruckus have created a very good Americana album here, full of melancholy, hopes fading, dreams dashed and memories coming back to life.  It is an album that is very much for fans of the genre, but those fans will lap this up and rejoice at this gentle jewel.  There are a few moments which I would have changed, merged a few songs together; but it does not stop this being a very good album.

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

Top track - Positively Freaking

You can purchase Enter the Kingdom on Amazon here.

You can visit the Frontier Ruckus website here.

You can purchase Enter the Kingdom and other Frontier Ruckus works on Bandcamp here.

You can follow the activities of Frontier Ruckus on Facebook here.

You can stream Enter the Kingdom on Deezer here.

You can stream Enter the Kingdom on Spotify here.

You can stream Enter the Kingdom on Tidal here.

19 February 2017

Fret! - Through The Wound The Light Comes In

Ah, Fret!  I would like to start this review with an apology that I did not get around to reviewing the 'Killing Nico' EP which I purchased last year, it is still on the to do list.  But I did enjoy the 'Killing Susan EP' (review cleverly linked here) that the band sent me and it is a glorious release.  Anyway, this album from the North-East version (and I wish I had have come up with this quote) of a depressing Beach Boys was recorded in January this year at a space called The Sound Rooms in Gateshead in January 2017, once again produced by M.P. Wood and it has been released in quick fashion as well on 17th February 2017.  There is a limited run of CD's for this release (purchased) and it is also being released as a digital album as well (which I was able to download from Bandcamp, hence this review).  The cover created by Tom McCarthaigh for this release is fantastically creepy, it could be the cover of a horror album and I would have also have picked it for our Cover Roulette series; but this time, I am picking this up as a fan and it is time to see how it sounds. 

01 - DK

Starting the album with more swagger than a villain in a western, 'DK' is an instrumental post rock number and what a song it is!  This a brilliant number that has frantic drumming, moody slices and an aggressive set of riffs that all combine to give a sonic punch to the chest.  It is best played loud, very loud in fact and within an inch of the speakers’ life’s as it slows down to a brilliant sludge sound at the end of the song.

02 - Freeman

'Freeman' is one of a few tracks that has vocals from Fret!, so whenever they use vocals on any of their releases, it stands out with a vivid fire.  This slow piece is unsettling from the outset, it gives chills as it sounds terrifying and without remorse or patience for anything other than its own sinister intent.  I love the uneasy feeling I get from this song, I love that unnerving set of chords that is being driven over your mind over and over again - what a song!

03 - Attune

A song that I have reviewed before as it was the A-side to 'Cowboy'; This version has a darker edge to the sound whilst the original has a live hall feeling to the sound.  The extra warmth to the sound on this version adds weight to the notes, it gives the song an organic and natural feeling that makes all the difference when it finally drops those large music explosions on to you.  I really like this version of the song, another good recording.

04 - Tired

It is in and out very quickly with this number, but it might not be in the way that you are probably imagining it at this moment.  It is a short punching number that is very measured, very precise in it delivery and it does not come out at a hundred miles an hour as you would think a sub-two-minute song would.  There is a deep rumbling behind the noise of the guitars, the bass keeps both in check and it really could have been expanded, but that is just a personal opinion on that one.

05 - Loop

'Loop' picks up where 'Tired' left off and adds more layers to the noise, this time with added fire from everyone and a feeling that the long coming flood has finally been unleashed onto the listener.  I like it when the band adds those frantic layers to their sound as it makes the hairs on my neck stand on end.  'Loop' is a perfect name as it does loop around you like a solid entity and it sticks in your brain with demonic ease, who said instrumental music was boring......

06 - Judders

Heading down another post-rock sludge route, 'Judders' feels like it is a work in progress.  It is a slow and pounding number that has a great hook in the bass line with some fantastic sections in its short lifespan, but it also feels like it is a few moments too short, as if it is needing just a little bit more time to expand on what could be a fantastic number.  It is good, but I do not think that band are finished here.

07 - Cawlett

The amplifier worship is in full effect on this song, the reverb and rumbling is incredibly low and it feels like it is over in an instant!  Over five minutes and it blows you away from the subtle fade in at the beginning and the drowning out at the end.  The ranting about not being able to purchase shoes for a child, it sounds as if it was recorded with the memories of a past rant and it feels cathartic just to listen to it.  It is another intense number, one which is rewarding after multiple listens.

08 - Hillbilly

After 'Cawlett' we have the explosion that is 'Hillbilly' and it sounds like anarchy in comparison to the amplifier drone of the previous track.  It is another number that is over incredibly quickly, this time it feels like it is full formed and the energy that pulses out of the speaker is just a great wave of fierce noise.

09 - Surf

Ending this release is 'Surf' which was very close to being my song of the album, with a surf rock feeling to the song and it comes at you with a relentless drive behind all the instruments.  It is not short on energy, pace and definitely ends this album on such a high note that it is very easy to reach for the repeat listen straight away - what a song.

This is a great release from Fret! and it is also one that gives me great hope for their future, the recording with M.P. Wood adds so much depth to their sonic attacks that it should be laid down as a weapon of choice in a duel.  There is so much reverb, noise and sound that it ends up acting like a third member to this band, it is a truly wonderful piece of post-rock noise.  I would recommend to you that you head over and purchase the CD version as soon as possible, do not wait for this to be on streaming sites as it is quite possibly one of the best albums to have been released so far this year and we are only two months into the year.

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

Top track - Loop

You can purchase Through The Wound The Light Comes In on the Fret! Bandcamp page here; there is a limited-edition CD which you can pre-order as well.

You can follow the activities of Fret! on Facebook here.

At the time of writing, Through The Wound The Light Comes In is not on any streaming site; but I would recommend you purchase it directly from the band anyway.

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