Tag Archives: album

Sleeping States – In The Gardens Of The North

Sleeping States – In The Gardens Of The North (Bella Union)

sleeping states

Markland Starkie has taken his time with this Bella Union debut, and it’s been absolutely worth the wait. Rarely are listeners likely to hear a writer who gives such balance to the realms of pop and folk music and the trappings therein. It is at once atmospheric and direct. Rings Of Saturn creeps without menace but with luxuriating intensity. Starkie is not so much driven by his bookishness as he is by the musical ascents he cleverly creates. Showers In The Summer, for example, shimmers thanks to masterfully beaten toms and careful cymbal, his voice buoyant amongst it all along.

There is something of the spiritual about some of Starkie’s flightier works. Josh Pearson is evoked on the sweetly-cooed Breathing Space, a beautifully judged piece that implies deep consideration of its musical gestures – clearly, the nuance of performance is a trait heavily valued on In The Gardens Of The North. This makes it, above all, a naturalistic, instinctive record with wonder and seriousness equal players in its success.

This came out on Monday. PM DID REVIEW IT IN TIME, THOUGH, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP WORRYING. Proof? Buy Artrocker this month. Music (lovely, super music) here.

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Hecuba – Paradise

Hecuba – Paradise (Manimal Vinyl)

hecuba

Hecuba are, if nothing else, utter experts at conjuring a menace that seeps. The boy/girl duo of a filmmaker and an actress are more than competent at maintaining that menace and mutating it gently into serious unease – the buzzing free-form ending of ‘Even So’ is a scintillating climax. Intense darkness surrounds the early stages of the record, with the borderline horror film nursery rhyme of ‘Miles Away’ standing out as paranoia incarnate.

More than just pantomime villains, Hecuba reveal the subtleties of this debut very slowly, but very markedly. Gradually increasing the bombastic synths and widening the contrast between a light spooking and terrifying squelching horns very slowly makes itself apparent, and the listener is faultlessly drawn in. Relentlessly, ‘Paradise’ prangs from Laurie Anderson motorik monotone to joyful keyboard explosion and into the lowest registers of what sounds like a piano being breathed into life by Godzilla. In short: a mood masterclass with enough dramatic pop fun to stop it being relentlessly bleak.

This is out on 31st August via Manimal. That’ll be nice. You can also read this review in the latest issue of Artrocker. Which you should get.

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Telekinesis – Telekinesis!

Telekinesis – Telekinesis! (Morr Music)

Telekinesis!

The best summer records are more than just simple, jolly songs played on acoustics with a little bit of fuzz – you have to capture all elements of the season. The sitting down, the water, the sweat of activity, maybe some romance if you haven’t already cracked a bottle. This is why Teenage Fanclub can be said to produce some summery material, but have not recorded a summer album. The Lemonheads’ ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’, on the other hand, nails it with a blend of exuberance and Evan Dando’s slackerisms. Telekinesis have at the summer album and pretty much nail it too.

The opening sketch ‘Rust’ is the perfect entrée, wistful, homespun and excellently lo-fi, and the following set seeks to gently tweak and rummage its way through your Jun-Sep (if we’re lucky). Main man Michael Benjamin Learner is clearly someone to whom lightness has little adjoining shade, preferring instead the jamboree-pop favoured on all those classic records from nineteen-seventy-whatever. Which means that this is not a record dripping with invention, but it is one that understands the multifarious nature of summer, its stickiness and its sweetness, its sensations and its silliness.

This is out BLOODY TODAY. I don’t care if it’s raining, get it and enjoy the summer. Have a listen. This review is in this month’s Artrocker, which you should buy and stuff. I don’t mean buy and then stuff it, I was being flippant.

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The Heavy – The House That Dirt Built

The Heavy – The House That Dirt Built (Counter)

the heavy

With a Ronseal title like The House That Dirt Built, the listener would expect some serious scuzz, some dusty, taut rock ‘n’ roll, an erring on the side of well-greased punk. We get that, with bells on, we get that. But we also get a confusing amount of genre-hopping. So confusing and, in fact, wilful is that hopping that it goes some way to undermining the potential impact of the album in general. If you’re not sure that your navigator’s got the map the right way up, can you expect a pleasant voyage?

So. When The Heavy tackle their natural targets, it’s a bracing and involving listen, like being shaken awake. The album itself kicks off a house-of-horror-ish excerpt from some old film or other, all portentous, campy warnings not to tread any further… then, with reasonable aplomb, the band launch Oh No! Not You Again!, the lead single. It’s a refined, soulful punk-blues meld of vocals shrieked into a bean tin and guitars jostling for supremacy with squelching sax – a sonic triumph and a little exhilaration to be going on with. Elsewhere, similar set-ups provide similar results – the overlong No Time in particular a high-concept smash-along.

But the blues mutates on this album. It slows down and funks up on How You Like Me Now?, it waltzes on Sixteen, and it totally softens into 50s pastiche on Love Like That. By no means is it a bad thing to stretch your legs on an album, but The Heavy try too much to appear multi-headed. Excelling in some areas while falling down in others gives the impression that our guides through the record are not at all comfortable. Tellingly, they are at their most comfortable when they do very little. That single, Oh No! Not You Again! is by a very long way the strongest song here, and they would have done better to omit the more far-reaching elements. The closing track, named Stuck, is a perfect metaphor for the album and displays The Heavy’s need to contextualise, to minimise. It’s fine to be ambitious, it honestly and truly and nobly is, but the results have to prove worthy of the time spent producing them.

This is out via Counter (excellent job, folks, your parcels are fast beoming my favourites) in early August or something, I left the press release at home… more here.

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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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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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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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