Monthly Archives: June 2009

La Coka Nostra – A Brand You Can Trust

La Coka Nostra – A Brand You Can Trust (Uncle Howie)

la coka nostra

For all its claims at independent non-conformity, for all the posturing that screams authenticity and for all the turns of phrase that rhyme one too many words in succession to engender dazzlement, A Brand You Can Trust feels lightly peppered with easiness. Rather than actively seek to document events, or even to tell stories, this Hollywood mop-up of the likes of Ill Bill, Slaine and even DJ Lethal from House Of Pain instead gives the impression of lives lived, and philosophise the album away. It’s clear that the confusion and lack of immediate clarity automatically discounts this debut as totally loveable – few bonds can be made between artist and listener if either party is unsure what the other’s reaction will be.

There are requisite plumps for the Wu Tang school of alienation and violence, but little of the wit. The funereal Cousin Of Death has heavy-handed ‘rapper’s sorrow’ liberally soaking it – the saccharine piano and guitar interplays are winsome but dead, and the raps themselves attempt rumination on the existential problems of getting fucking shot, but end up merely cataloguing bad experiences and paraphrasing Neil Young. Cloudy over-emotion and faux-bad-assery don’t scare or fool anyone. This collective may wander the mean streets, but they certainly don’t go looking for trouble in the way the genre used to.

The creeping suspicion that commercial shortcuts might be being taken to keep it listener-friendly does the record no favours either. Hardcore Chemical Soldier’s Story, which features a throaty contribution from Sick Jacken, affirms La Coka Nostra’s inability to focus, sloganeering and desperately trying to find the World’s Largest Hook in the process. Apparently this story is “too graphic for you born-again faggots”, and totally dislocates itself from any kind of enjoyable listen. No matter how fiercely this record’s chief influences might have stated their cases, they at least involved the audience and challenged them. The strange appearance of Snoop Dogg on Bang Bang goes some way to summing up A Brand You Can Trust – with sales in the crosshairs and little to bring to the table, save for odd moments of inspiration, the listener is left with little to work with, tall tales or not.

This comes out in early July or something. Enjoy some bravado and not much original thought here.



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Trevor Nelson just said this about Michael Jackson:

Anyone who dies after serious child abuse allegations is obviously in their prime, Trevor...“Like Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye, he died in his prime.”

Radio 1’s coverage of the death of Michael Jackson continues to tread the fine line between over-sincere tribute and uncomfortable irreverence, with a balancing pole constructed of sheer idiocy…

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Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds – 30th Anniversary Edition

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds – 30th Anniversary Edition (Sony)

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds

Hot on the heels of the 2005 Special Edition, the 2006 remixes and the 2007 highlights packages comes this 2009 30th Anniversary  edition of Jeff Wayne’s long-cherished opus, this time as a USB memory stick with myriad extras. First things first: the USB, apparently supposed to resemble a Martian craft, looks like a grey crap and has the leaden lug of a corporate paperweight. Plug it in and it lights up with barely-registering green lights. So far, so unimpressive. The content itself is going to need to be pretty exceptional to warrant this hoo-ha and weighty box with magnetic flap, so what do we get exactly? The original album, obviously, the best of the many remixes, a game entitled ‘The Last Artilleryman’, ringtones, wallpapers, an e-book documenting the story of the recording, a video greeting from Jeff Wayne himself, and the chance to enter a remix competition. Wow! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it, my fellow TWOTW geeks?

Second things second: the USB is useless. For the extortionate sum of £30 you can marvel at a game that rips off ‘Tanks’ for the BBC Computer and will take you five minutes to decide it’s as dull as a sink, a shockingly poor music video where a Victorian woman walks around a park, a smug and blink-quick chat with Jeff Wayne (“we used to have vinyl… now we have memory sticks.”), a collection of already-available remixes, a book you can read online (here: just saved you 30 quid) in which Herbie Flowers says things like “I was STRAIGHT out of the room, mate”, and an album you already own. It looks as if you’d be better off with the alternative package which features, alongside a DVD of the reportedly stunning live show, a copy of the original H.G. Wells novel.

Before turning into the prog rock version of the Which Guide, it’s probably advisable to praise the album itself which, although patchy and dented by visions of forty-year-old men crying because their only son prefers Transformers, has weathered well. Compositionally, it will never escape comparison to Wagnerian leitmotifs, which is unfair on Wagnerian leitmotifs. Wayne’s are painfully simple, though effective enough, and the voice-acting remains truly diabolical with the exception of Richard Burton. As a whole, the work creates terror superbly well – show me a man of a certain age who doesn’t feel a chill when an unexpected “ULLA!” rips across the Surrey of their mind. It’s an undeniably atmospheric work, cheesy as it is, and the playing, production and execution are all excellent.

The main thing that goes unnoticed, however, is the shocking way in which Wayne has appropriated the Wells material, and almost billed it as his own. If one thinks of The War Of The Worlds today, the Wells original must come into third place for most people, behind Wayne’s and Spielberg’s interpretations. This is understandable, but would be more acceptable had Wayne and his father ‘n’ wife team of story consultants not hacked the book to pieces quite so much. The narrator’s tenure with the priest in the pit below the Martian construction site is swift, unlike the book’s fortnight of psychological, religious and violent horror, and the narrator is swiftly absolved of any guilt when we hear Burton intone “there was nothing I could do to stop it”. Furthermore, what the hell is that NASA conclusion? Don’t they remember when the world was blown to shit last time? What are they doing poking around on Mars anyway?

All this is by-the-by. The only way to enjoy Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of War Of The Worlds to its optimum potential is to listen to it without ever having read the H.G. Wells original. Outside of these circumstances, it’s a confusing, sporadic joy that has been marketed too much, with this latest slew of commemorative releases being the most heinous offenders. It’s very, very difficult to make a fair assessment being so familiar with the record’s charms and embarrassments, but its sufficient to conclude that, despite what’s been said above, the version to go for is the live DVD edition that comes with a copy of the novel. It may taint your enjoyment of Wayne’s work, but at least you’ll understand why he got some of it wrong. And you can always throw the DVD away. To anyone who already has a copy of the album, don’t bother with the USB, it will offer you precious little extra to what you already love.

This came out on Monday, and isn’t the best. Nice packaging and all, but come on. You can find out a wealth of info regardging the live show, Jeff Wayne and not the novel by going here. To read the novel, go here. I mean, any book that has a line so immediately attractive and unintentionally hilarious as “The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind the reader, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles…” has got to be worth a read. Cop this review here, too, at The Quietus.

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Various Artists – Monty Python’s Flying Circus: 30 Musical Masterpieces

Various Artists – Monty Python’s Flying Circus: 30 Musical Masterpieces (De Wolfe) 


The De Wolfe vaults are clearly brimming with treasures unheard for many years. What with last year’s release of Shaw Brothers kung-fu soundtracks and the promise of a steady stream of other such gems to come, this curio comes as a revealing and welcome addition. It’s not merely for the ageing comedy fuddies, either. Brushing aside John Philip Sousa’s Liberty Bell aside, there’s an awful lot to discover here. There’s a strange mix of the pastoral and the impressionist, factoring in the odd cocktail-jazz vignette to soften the blow, and some excellently baffling, thoroughly British wind band music. It’s like a tour of eccentric Britain, but one taken under the direction of Henry Mancini.

Monty Python’s Fly Circus was, above all, a programme that delighted in the juxtaposition of stiff Britain and the over-flexible rest of the Western world. Hence, any notions of Britishness are hilariously overdone, and any notions of ‘otherness’ are coolly caricatured. The sweeping brass and Elgar-aping March Trident (composed by Jack Trombey) accompanies the Olympic Hide And Seek sketch, one that takes the conventions of BBC Olympic coverage and exacerbates its ridiculousness – something that would’ve been impossible without the posho score. That the sketch extends into a surreal Starsky & Hutch-style chase sequence replete with funk guitar is by-the-by. The Britishness needed to be suitably amped, and this stately march was the one to do it, with its trombone refrain and mass string reply.

As for the razzamatazz of the rest of the Western world in comparison to lumpy old Britain, look no further than D. Laren’s David And Goliath, which accompanied the Attila The Hun Show sketches. John Cleese’s booming narration and Michael Palin’s dodgy American accent introduce The Hun amidst stock footage of barbarian battles while the pomp of Laren’s march adds the requisite Hollywood-isms, shining the light on the terminally silly premise by approaching it with total seriousness.

Elsewhere, the metallic prangs and water sound-effects on Eye Of Horus serve as the perfect accompaniment to a nightmarish Palin sketch wherein a television presenter continually suffers from déjà vu. The opening seconds of the piece become a doom-ridden signifier that, sadly for Palin, he’s about to lose his mind. As the piece continues (not in the sketch), it becomes a slithering mood-piece with guitar tones Tarantino would wet himself over – it’s suddenly very easy to see that those behind the Flying Circus soundtrack were developed musical minds. Furthermore, harmonising clarinets and cor anglais on Towren’s Flute Promenade lend still more mockingly country garden-esque bases for the comedians to bounce from, though their composition was surely undertaken in all seriousness.

As a whole, this exhaustive compilation does more than just collect the bits you didn’t know you heard while the Pythons crawled around laying the foundations for the most overly-quoted comedy dynasty in existence. It alerts the listener to the inherent contrast in the Pythons’ cultural landmarks – they mock with seriousness, are deadpan with deadly accuracy and, more often than one might think, have the De Wolfe music library to thank for it.

This comes out via De Wolfe on Monday 22nd June. You can read this review at The Quietus, here.

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The Present – The Way We Are

The Present – The Way We Are (LOAF)

the present

Freeform in its initial appearance, The Way We Are by New York’s The Present takes the form of several tiny sound experiments and one gargantuan, climactic one. The veneer must be scraped from this colossal work (the whole work, not just the final 30+ minute title track) to see its atmospheric intent – it is not a collection of sounds as much as it is an attempt to organise them. Moods bleed, almost imperceptibly, into others and vary in shade, brilliance and penetration. To analyse each and every track here would confuse and disorient both reader and writer, so it’s safe to assume that the sounds organised are designed to be consumed as a whole – with the possible exception of The Way We Are itself.

The only perception the listener might have of the shifting persuasions of this album come in the most obvious anchor points. The arrival of percussion, the quick dissemination of a synthesised drone, the less sudden changes in volume. Space Meadow, despite its silly Jason Pierce-esque title, sees some of the most immediate fluctuations in soundworld, migrating from ambience to soft, synthesised chromatic harpsichord slides to a subtle, if underwhelming climax. The silly title, damn it, is excellently apt.

The Present’s world seems to move very slowly, but very deliberately. With such a lofty title, The Way We Are could have fallen victim to the kind of inconsequential irrelevances and conceptual glossiness that urban existence in their native New York often suggests. Instead, they have chosen to lightly touch upon the human condition, not batter us with their impression of it. So there is chaos, but relative chaos. Press Play is among the more tonal segments and succeeds in evoking drumming monotony without ever becoming stagnant. It is a potent synthesis of what sounds familiarly tuneful and jarringly devoid of emotion. As far as effective music goes, it’s a mini-marvel.

Of course, the climactic title track should be the place for all the thematic guff to come to a head, and in a manner of delivery it does. It is the most varied work here, but only by virtue of its colossal length. It doesn’t so much cram in colours and moods as it does amble between them for just-about terminable lengths of time and concentration – until the very end. It’s worth sticking with: we’ve been introduced to the most ‘rock’ phrasings by about 16 minutes in, we’re weathering a particularly tinny kit hammering a straight 4/4, and we’re plunged, with no chance of rescue, into darkness. We then begin a gentle shuffle toward oblivion, with prepared piano nimbly skipping amongst the blackness and gentle screaming. The piano finally finds its dancing shoes and connects with tambourine and, finally, floor toms. This, you sense, might be it. That screaming starts to enunciate the title, and nightmarishly brings us to a shuddering, shuddering conclusion. All instruments down, feedback wailing, dust falling, human nature depicted in snapshot.

For this rich, rewarding experience, The Way We Are comes highly recommended.

This came out yesterday. Whoops! More here.

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We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls

We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls (Fatcat)

we were promised jetpacks - these four walls

It’s obligatory now to comment on the refurbished and revitalised state of Scottish independent music (has it been unhealthy at any point over the last twenty or so years?), and it’s into these encouraging climes that bands like We Were Promised Jetpacks weather their inception. For many, the obvious reference point will be fellow Scots and excellent miserablists Frightened Rabbit, sharing both a musical aesthetic and much lyrical angst, presumably concerned with romance. These similarities aside (though they can’t be ignored, such is their magnitude), the charms of These Four Walls is massive. 

Clanging in arrival, opener It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning is admirably taut and governed by one massive release of tension just after the mid-point. Repeated shouts of “your body was black and blue” and gentle patterings of snare rolls and hushed guitars are somewhat mismatched – one gets the impression that Adam Thompson’s vocals got a little more excited than they perhaps should have, and also that when the release finally arrives along with the smashing of the ensemble the song should wrap reasonably quickly after that. We’re shown a little too much of the ensuing bluster, reducing the contrast of its glorious first statement. Indeed, WWPJ clearly are possessive of the skills necessary to engender mass emotional response, but occasionally stumble over their readiness to use them.

Later, they manage to perfect the formula on the excellent Roll Up Your Sleeves. Tense guitars of narrow interval are spinily plucked while Thompson manages to reign himself in for the right moments. The peaks and troughs in intensity are quicker to come and go and, just when it seems that there might be nowhere else to go, the bass plops to the floor and high register guitars usher in a new statement without missing a beat. It’s beautifully constructed, alike enough to its previous sound not to sound like two ideas rammed together, and a blissful clatter is ended with dignity and poise. It’s not a single success, either, with the likes of single Quiet Little Voices is an effective retread and tempo-fuck of Interpol’s early material, while closer An Almighty Thud regains the intimacy, the closeness and the sensitivity missing from much of the record.

It would be wrong to say that WWPJ are bolstering the state of Scottish music, because it needs no bolstering, but it would be wronger to say that they’re just another face amongst it. With These Four Walls, they’ve managed to stumble through ragged terrain and, for the most part, hold onto their talents and use them well. Emotionally, it’s not as engaging, savage and forthright as Frightened Rabbit, but sonically they are gaining momentum and are clearly steeled for progression. Album number two should streamline their gestures and make them brilliant.

This is out TODAY! And there’s another single soon or something. More here.

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The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart Interview Pt.2

Part 2, YEAH!

the pains of being pure at heart

Let’s go back awhile – you formed for your keyboardist’s birthday party, right? Do you intend to play at all forthcoming band birthday celebrations?

Kip: Well, we have, for the most part. I remember Alex’s birthday party in our first year, and we threw this big house party at the place I was living and A Sunny Day in Glasgow and Pants Yell came and played with us, and it was one of the most fun times ever. This year, there were noise issues around Kurt’s birthday party that prevented us from playing– but the party ended up getting noise violations from the police anyway, so our restraint was pretty much pointless.

This year, Peggy is curating a birthday show at cake shop and I think she’s trying to get Linton from the legendary Aislers Set to perform.

Alex: Yeah we always try to make band birthdays into some sort of popstravaganza.

Peggy: If not, I at least like to have a birthday party that involves lots of dancing to jock jams.

What music did you hear as a child? Do you think it had any effect on the music you create now?

Kip: Prince and David Bowie, mostly. I really love glam rock, though I suppose we don’t seem like a glam rock band. I love T. Rex and New York Dolls too, though I think I didn’t hear them until I was well out of my single digits.

My mom used to always sing me medieval ballads about lovers dying of broken hearts– I remember that very, very clearly, and that’s maybe why we’re so emo…

Alex: I listened to pop and rock radio growing up. My parents would play the Beatles all the time and I just got insanely sick of it. It took me until late college to even think about listening to the Beatles again. Starting around 15, I got into punk and hardcore and started going to local shows. That was really my gateway into non-commercial music and I never looked back.

Peggy: I really loved Madonna.  I used to watch the 24-hour Madonnathons on MTV and it’d be kind of embarrassing whenever my mom walked in and Madonna would be like, humping a chair and grabbing her crotch.  I also was a die-hard Debbie Gibson fan.  That was my first concert.  I owned Electric Youth perfume, and hand-embroidered her name on the back of a jean jacket I had.  I guess even at a young age, I had a really obsessive relationship with music.

“You’re my sister, and this love is fucking right!” – That’s a pretty shocking lyric, isn’t it? What prompted that song?

Kip: The use of “sister” is figurative. It’s a gesture of solidarity, of closeness of same-ness– not of physical relation. 

Do you enjoy the balance of sweet melodies and challenging subject matter? It’s a really good twee trick that keeps on getting renewed by acts like yourselves.

Kip: Is Nirvana twee? They did the same thing. It would be pretty sickening to write pretty songs with pretty words about how pretty everything is. It would be even worse to do the opposite– our songs are honest, and never strive for anything other than to be true and unafraid.

It’s sad when bands try to “polite” their way to the top by singing in universal, easily digestible language about the most generic situations that could possibly apply vaguely to everyone– but truly to no one.

Let us be not that.

What are your live shows like? Even noisier than the record?

Kip: We try to play really loud– I think people may expect a picnic on stage and it’s definitely not that…

Alex: Yeah it’s not really jangly or twinkly or anything, it’s big, big guitars. Also, Kurt might play harder than any drummer I’ve ever met.

Peggy: We’re louder than people expect.

You recently went on tour with The Wedding Present. One time, my brother got him to dress up as a bear (no joke, I’ve got a picture!). Did you manage anything similar?

Kip: David Gedge is wonderful, and a truly sincere and talented songwriter. I think I nabbed his BBC visitors pass as a souvenir, but he doesn’t seem like the sort of person to play practical jokes on or ask to perform as a clown at your cousin’s birthday party. I would like to see that picture, though….

“You’ve lost your love of fish, too much hibernation”

Alex: It was all I could do to muster up the balls to talk to the guy, let alone ask him to dress up in a bear suit, haha. I’m not sure I have the creativity or bad-ass streak it takes to be a true prankster. Gedge was an awesome guy and the Weddoes were really, really nice and accommodating to us.

Finally, Kevin Shields comes up to you and says “I’ve fired those other losers. Wanna join my band?” Do you leave The Pains behind? Do you become My Bloody Pains Of Being Pure At Heart? What do you do?!

Kip: I’d tell him “No thanks.” I’d much rather be in The Pains of Being Pure at Heart!!!

Alex: For real – Pains or bust!

Peggy: Yeah.  I’d still wanna bro-down with Kevin Shields though.

Who wouldn’t, Peggy? Who wouldn’t? Maybe he’ll read this and add you to the ever-excelling line-up for the MBV ATP in December. PM sure hopes so. Until December, reader, you should listen to The Pains here.

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