Monthly Archives: July 2009

OSKAR – LP:2

OSKAR – LP:2 (Incarnation Recordings)

NICE RAKE, GRUMPY!

The loopy (literally) back-story to this recording is hilarious fun, and involves a load of previously near-mute Spanish mentalists in an asylum getting excited about music, which is obviously amazing. But have OSKAR (no need to shout) managed to distil the whimsy, the unexpected purity and infantile joy of such a scenario? In some ways they achieve the whimsy, but more often than not it’s coupled with a delicious, nightmarish sense of impending danger, as if at any moment the genteel lady sitting in the corner might suddenly leap out of her seat and try to bite your knees. The more they do this, the more you suspect that OSKAR will one day succeed and sever a leg.

A massive range of genres are touched upon, and not in a fleeting or insubstantial way. Twanging indie-folk on Printer Tzara is polarised by dadaist incantations on the delightful Reichenbach Falls, while the grind and chug of metallic guitar on Some Song contextualise the epic peaks of Hi-Beam Blue. Indeed, as the unashamedly post-rocking tendencies of that song wind down into blissful ‘cello scrapes and build up once again to a blinding and confusing even keel, the listener is reminded that OSKAR’s technique and skill of altering soundscapes to enhance effect is exemplary.

Luckily for them (and perhaps indicative of their skill), OSKAR’s LP:2 remains bewitching throughout, whether they’re skipping idly or running with intent. The closing track, Sanatorio, returns the whole album to the theme of human madness. Recordings of insane laughter that, so the press release leads us to believe, are taken from that Spanish asylum pepper the melancholy with that all-important suspicion that this is music aching to tip over into entertaining ridiculousness, but is too clever to let that be the only tension on display. It is never uninteresting.

This came out on June 22nd. FAT LOT OF GOOD TELLING YOU THAT. More here.

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New Dananananaykroyd Video – Some Dresses

“This is a song about some dresses…”

Very few artists would prompt immediate PRESS CAMPAIGNING from PM, but suffice to say Dananananaykroyd are one of them. One member down (again), they’re still special and destined for notoriety (maybe moreso than popularity, but who’s to say they aren’t mutually exclusive?). Either way, Stacy at Bang On PR, YES, I will definitely post this on my site. Because it’s a winner.

Some Dresses, as you should know, is one of the band’s finer compositions. Intricate and with some innovative guitar work, it’s about dancing in a dress and making a dress and shouting about it and hips and all that. In the old recoring of it, there was a nifty guitar line towards the end that did a crazy Faustian evocation of a spinning wheel, a la Charles Gounod. It hasn’t translated quite so clearly to the album recording, but COME ON. From the first time I heard it (I’m estimating it was somewhere towards the end of 2006), a month has not passed without some version of it being played in the house. Fine, fine.

Have a little visit.

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Mercurys…

The nominations are, apparently:

Friendly FiresFriendly Fires

Sweet Billy PilgrimTwice Born Men

Speech DebelleSpeech Therapy

Florence and The MachineLungs

Kasabian West Rider Lunatic Pauper Asylum

Led Bib Sensible Shoes

The InvisibleThe Invisible

La Roux La Roux

GlasvegasGlasvegas

Bat For LashesTwo Suns

Lisa HanniganSee So

The Horrors Primary Colours

Who should win? Speech Debelle, obvs. Who will win? La Roux. We’ll see! We made a list of albums we thought would be on the list in the office, and got 8 out of 12. Pretty good, yep?

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Japandroids – Post-Nothing

Japandroids – Post-Nothing (Polyvinyl)

japandroids

The sleeve of Post Nothing looks more than a little like the sleeve of Television’s Marquee Moon. Co-incidence or not, it’s interesting. What Japandroids share with Television is their extreme economy – both sound desperate to make the most impressive sound possible with the little physical attributes they have, resulting in some tremendous tricks that colour and shape their songs. Where they differ, though, is on dramatics. Television blustered their economy into a semblance of immense tension and release, while Japandroids gleefully make music as positive, scattergun and running-too-fast as its possible to make with just guitar and drums. They are hugging a little bit on the cover, too. 

Chord patterns and riffs are reminiscent of chugging Thurston Moore on Heart Sweats and of Deep Purple being rinsed by Kinski on Crazy/Forever, but their sense of abandon is totally their own. Truly, there is little more heartening than the chorusing wails that pepper Post-Nothing. So what, though, right? As if no-one ever screams. So something less tangible about this pair has to affirm our belief that they love to shout together, and a closer listen suggests that it’s nothing more complicated than the fact that they have to struggle to be heard amidst the aforementioned slushing mix of guitar and drum. Even if you could hear them whispering, you know they wouldn’t be.

Young Hearts Spark Fire is bumbling, bouncy and perhaps the closest thing to radio-friendly on the whole album. It speaks (or, as established, shouts) of forgotten potential, but is conversely obsessed with letting all existentialism die – “I don’t wanna worry about dying, I just wanna worry about the sunshine girls,” is a line that, if serious, is an effective raison d’être for Post-Nothing and a smashing pull-quote for this most triumphant of revolutions. When at the four-and-a-half minute-mark, the instruments stop to let extended screams take the foreground, a potent juxtaposition of two brands of chaos. Throughout, Brian King and David Prowse are just itching for that moment to come around, the moment when they can let their voices be as loud as their amplifiers.

The teenager-y fixations of some of the lyrics serve more than anything to unite this pair further in their quest for expressions most pure. When they yelp of not finding love, it makes the love in their songs flow even clearer and closer to the surface. But when that’s not doing it, the sheer conviction of the playing and the love of extreme volume combined with the duo’s unbeatable youthful bounding tips the whole proposition into great territory. On the Japandroids MySpace is a video of the band rehearsing at the end of which Brian King comments on the song they’ve just finished playing. “Less than five fuck-ups? That’s good enough to play live.” This, undoubtedly, should let the listener know where the energy in this band is directed. Noise, positivity, clarity, unity.

The UK release for this is August 3rd. Listen to a few songs from it here. You can also read this review at The Quietus, here.

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An Anthology Of Insults

Further to yesterday’s self-indulgence (and because the ony reviews I’ve written in the past week can’t be published here for the moment), here is a nice list of all the times readers have truly excercised their right to reply. For the most part, these are culled verbatim from Drowned In Sound, but there are some gems from this ‘blog and some other interactive holes as well. I’d love to go through and link them all the specific reviews, but I’m at work. Soz.

“You are an absolute moron, Daniel Ross. You arse.”

“One grasps for more wit to demean this review than this protracted rebuff, but there really is too much wax in Daniel Ross’ ears.”

“Daniel: never write about music again.”

“Seriously though, you’re a towel.”

“… but seriously Mr. Ross… you barely deserve to have ears, never mind a position as a music journalist.”

“… the worst thing about the internet is that any idiot can be a critic nowadays. What a crock of shit review!!!”

“It’s not my type of music but you obviously have some kind of vendetta…. did the drummer sleep with your sister?”

“Go to see them and in front of their fans afetr a gig. Try and stand outside and stand by your review as they rip you to shreads.”

“Do you even listen to music? Perhaps the sound is a bit muffled being so shoved up your own arse!”

“Lazy ass review from a cynical peice of shit. Go back and listen to Lil Wayne, you faggot.”

“the sad motherf%&cker is probably still waiting for the backstreet boys comeback lol.”

“You are a wrong.”

“What a pointless review you bitter prick. Keep spunking on your freelance “journalist” work, A NORMAL JOB BECKONS FOR YOU. Prrrrrrrick.”

“Sounds like they broke in and buttfuc*ed your Grandad!”

“Listen up you trash talking wanker…you talk about the masses bestowing legend status on U2 for sticking around for 30+ years (oh you noticed that , huh?) and this really isn’t a small feat because any band can do that these days (name one other band to do it successfully with all original members in tact) Obviously you have no clue what’s going on with this new album which I can firmly declare as one of there best to date! That’s right, I said it. Joshua Tree it’s not… but then again it’s not 1987 is it. No, it’s not…hmmm. You have the utter audacity to call this record ugly and speak nothing of the joy that it radiates. For example many critics have fired on Bono for using the lyric “I was born to sing for you” on “Magnificent” calling it pompous and pretentious. Which may actually have a ring of truth if this line was aimed at the fans…not the case…It’s a heartfelt outpouring of joy to give praise to his maker. The album is filled with examples of these kind of misunderstood lines. And furthermore…you make light of the line “reboot yourself” as if “Unknown Caller” is a song of silly subject matter..??????? wtf man. Obviously you haven’t suffered enough to realize the power of these words. How about this instead of trashing this latest effort, and holding it up against every other album they’ve ever made…actually listen to it and try to appreciate it for the great work it is.

And that’s what I got to say about that!”

A towel? Mental. For the record, I was totally right in all of these reviews.

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So… What Now?

sowhatnow

With Drowned in Sound running some excellent articles (particularly John Doran’s) on the nature of Music Journalism (is that an undeserved capitalisation?) and its place in this most turbulent of climates, it seems a good time to react. I, for one, would never describe myself as a music journalist, but it’s true that I write about music every day. My work goes into magazines you can actually buy, it’s read by some important people and it’s gotten some mixed reaction over the past four or five years. Can I, the casual writer who knows a lot about music, ever hope to make a difference in the way that more widely-read folk have? Will I ever get paid a wage to do it? 

First – why write? Because there are too many people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Literal cretins whose opinions are worse than not having an opinion. Non-committal, ill-informed. Readers, it’s safe to say that most of you don’t know a fucking thing. Honesty has to be paramount. Initially, I wanted to write for these reasons, and my feeling has only gotten stronger. I also wanted free CDs – a prospect that seemed like an inconceivable goal when I submitted biographies and reviews of albums I’d just bought to a tiny Twee-focused website. I did that sporadically (and badly) until I found a sorely-missed alternative website in America that might publish my reviews AND send lovely bundles of weird American hardcore albums. I was doing interviews with tiny bands that had never heard of the site, but I got the impression that they may have sold one or two more copies of their excellent albums because of me. That made me really happy. Then I went mental on it and started bombarding Mike Diver at DiS with reviews. Mike Diver is the best. All the while, I was confident I was right with everything I wrote, that all my opinions were superior. It probably helped that I was studying music academically at the time.

The main thing was, though, that I was writing, being read and enjoying it. I particularly enjoyed death threats from obsessive LCD Soundsystem fans, and an e-mail from one singer telling me that he totally agreed with my vicious review of his band’s latest opus. Things changed when I had to leave university and get a proper job. I did that pretty quickly and, it being a low-paid job, became obsessed with money and my lack of it. I moan pretty much every day about money, and I teach music to people after work to have enough beer money to keep me sane. I also enjoy a normal social life, and sit in parks a lot. Y’know, stuff that isn’t sitting in front of a computer listening to confounding try-hards peddling themselves ever-deeper into deserved oblivion. So what changed was that I had less time and inclination to strive to improve my work and be a Decent Writer.

Fortunately, that job is one where free CDs flow like water, and headphones are encouraged. It’s also one where I get to write professional, unbiased copy for a website. In a weird way, I enjoy that aspect of it, and now think that that would be a decent way to go in the future. I apply for jobs regularly, usually ones that require producing a lot of functional copy, because I reckon I can do it, and all this published material makes me look a tiny bit more professional than a slug holding a 2B pencil. That’s where I am now, wish me luck.

I wish, oh how I wish, that I had the guts to send everything I write to paying outlets. I just don’t think they’d be interested. As it is, I occasionally make a few quid from magazines, and I get sent ridiculous amounts of free CDs and I can get into most gigs and some festivals with a little bit of persistence. This situation is more than I ever could’ve expected when I first submitted a review of The Wedding Present’s Take Fountain five years ago. I wish I was happier with my lot, but if I can’t afford my rent with a full-time job, then that’s the area that needs attention rather than my writing. I still know I’m a better-informed writer than about 75% of those working for newspapers, websites and magazines today, but I’m just so tired of not making anything from it. I love it, I really do. I’ve had some amazing nights, some exhilarating interviews and experiences, and I will hopefully continue to do so, but the middle leagues of occasionally-paid music writing are terribly, terribly cruel. I will continue at the rate I’m stumbling on at, but something will change soon, be it a new job or a renewed vigour for the whole world of music criticism.

In truth, it’s the occasional gems in the world of music that spur my creativity in this ridiculous, pointless field. So at least that’s natural, even if my confusion isn’t.

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Juice Aleem – Jerusalaam Come

Juice Aleem – Jerusalaam Come (Big Dada)

juice aleem

If there’s one furious expression that works every time in hip-hop, particularly in British hip-hop, it’s the continual decrying of futile, facile popular culture. In some ways, the obviousness of these targets – the overpaid, the artistically insincere – can detract from the impact of the lyrics, but nothing quite hits home like raw, incensed talent verbally shitting on inferiors. A childish, impish and self-defeating exercise it may be, but boy, that’s entertainment. So when Juice Aleem rips mercilessly into the likes of Jamie Oliver and premier league footballers on the deadly funny Higher Higher, it’s hard not to be moved, such is his vehemence and righteous disgruntlement.

Juice Aleem, with his gusto and fuego, is a shocker, a true verbal wit and one whose grasp of balance and weight in his sentences is expert. A fixation with the unjust and with righting wrongs provides the majority of inspiration here, but it is never tempered by ill-informed ranting. When, on the opening First Lesson, he attacks those less nimble of tongue than he, it is not so much as a protestation as a telling-off. Something about this man screams authority, dexterity and clarity. Even the roundabout beats and chugging bass motifs are rendered moot by the precise ramblings of this masterful learning curve of a track.

Amongst all the righteousness and upstanding biblical reference, Aleem still finds time for that old staple of the hip-hop canon, the sex anthem. U4Mi unsurprisingly takes a distinctly more refined look at the bedroom conundrum – this is no Wildflower – and is therefore something of a curio. It does not have the satisfying grunt of male dominance so often prevalent in this typical song form, but it does push the value of sexual respect and attempts to find beauty in the whole concept. Above all else, Aleem seeks to sideline expectation, battering existing memes and surprising as much as possible. Even if it means softening a traditionally beefy issue.

Most impressive of all, though, is the rich description given to the protagonist in The Killer’s Tears. A solemn and wholeheartedly depressing re-telling of a story that would fit on an early Wu Tang release, the violence is illuminated by the beautiful evocations, rather than having blind violence providing cheap shocks. With deeper analysis comes deeper appreciation, and lines like “silently he moved, though his sword was heard to roar,” are weighty enough to ensnare even the most casual of listeners. Crucially, the lyrics work off the record as well as on – this is a story worth hearing even if one can’t stomach the beats. Time and time again, Aleem proves that his hard work and his controlled (but relentless) anger make for the most enjoyable of musical treats.

Throughout Jerusalaam Come, Juice Aleem proves that Big Dada’s current stable of hip-hop artists is among the strongest in the world, British or otherwise. Alongside stalwarts like Anti-Pop and newbies like Speech Debelle, the future of intelligent hip-hop seems in safe hands for now. For the restless, bashing rhinoceros in that stable, look no further than Juice Aleem.

This is out on Big Dada on August 3rd. More here.

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