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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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Ape School – S/T

Ape School – S/T (Counter)


A chance discovery like the one Michael Johnson made prior to recording this album (his first under the Ape School title) can shape a recording and give it focus, or it can restrict it. Happily, Johnson’s discovery was a beautiful old Moog (apparently the fourth ever made by Mr. Moog himself), and its ghostly presence is something of an underpinning drone throughout this self-titled opus. While that sonic territory has been infinitely mined by less Moog-heavy artists like The Sleepy Jackson and all the sunshine-pop references therein is of minor detraction, but the sun still shine brightly through the cracks.

It seems that each song has its own concept, its own chosen timbre that defines its brief existence. Be it a particular guitar tone, a lolloping rhythm or a wash of that omnipresent Moog, there’s always one meme that separates each track from the next. The inherent danger lies in relying on solely that, and omitting much of a melody or inspiring delivery. Much of Ape School is well-crafted and functional, but it needed a little more consideration of its performance to elevate it to the great height Johnson is clearly capable of attaining. The meandering The Underground is probably the most ambitious cut here, ushering in a ponderous melody amongst light sonic deconstructions, channelling the likes of Gainsbourg as meddled-with by Jason Lytle.

Deathstomp is impressive in its width of aural intensity, but ultimately a little limp. This is, crucially, a song that will only work at gargantuan volume, a diseased glam romp through a plot of land shared by Goldfrapp and Marc Bolan. With that all-important volume dial turned up, it sounds majestic. Turned to a moderate level, the intensity dies thanks to Johnson’s ever-laconic vocals. If he were to commit to the sound a little more (and not just on this one example), a world of performative contrast might open up before him. Different shades, trills and ticks are what makes an interesting vocal performance. With his attractively lazy approach up against all this sonic majesty, it’s inevitably a jarring battle that, while diverting, could have been much improved.

Ape School leaks promise and mastery, but is held back by conceptual and aesthetic confusion. It’s one thing to juxtapose two styles of delivery, but to do so when neither force might stand up alone is a shame. The Moog discovery should have been a more involving and focused one. Though it permeates the record, it does little to inform it and shape it, and the same might be said of the vocals. A shame, because Michael Johnson is a clear, clear talent.

This is out on Counter on July 6th. Bit early, this. Go here.

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Pop Levi – Police $ign

Pop Levi – Police $ign (Counter)

Silly hat.

Oh, I get it, dollar signs look like an ‘S’. Right. Childish by name, one supposes, childish by nature. Indeed, Pop Levi’s Police $ign begins with some rhythmic spitting and soon cavorts into primary-aged dullard rock histrionics. The monster that is the elusive riff, as a concept, can be seen in embryonic form here. It is slightly too simplistic, but still pleasingly vigorous. Think about The Hives. (Now stop thinking about The Hives. That’s no fun). Luckily for Pop Levi (formerly Ladytron’s bassist, oh well…), he has elected to include the odd lyrical drop of hilarity-phlegm – “it was happenstance, got me caught without my pants…” Apart from that, it’s over in a flash and doesn’t mean anything.

The flip, Terrifying, is not as good. Another riff, but slower, and with a neat mix of the major and minor thirds, but that’s about it.

Police $S$$SSS$ign is available on Counter Records from June 1st. Go here.

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The Heavy – Oh No! Not You Again!

The Heavy – Oh No! Not You Again! (Counter)

The Heavy

PM is a place that constantly bemoans the laziness of continual reliance on ‘the blues’ as a valid influence. This is a thorny area, because this most sacred of generic cows has a seeming immunity to any kind of attacks on its valorisation. Not for one moment do we suggest that ‘the blues’ itself is overrated in any way, more that those who are influenced by its basic tenets often rely too heavily on them, simply wheeling out tired sentiments over blues scales. The Heavy arrive, though, and make PM look rather silly.

It’s the brevity, it’s the greasy production and it’s the vigour of the performance that elevates Oh No! Not You Again! to something more than simple repetition. The lack of clarity the horn sound sickly and fat, and there’s just enough swagger in the vocal delivery to provide balls and sweat. A welcome cameo from The Noisettes’ Shingai Shoniwa seals the deal, a quick organ solo and the whole things done in under two minutes. The twelve bar blues is present throughout, but by virtue of the excellent other elements it remains merely influence, not reliance.

This is out on Counter records on May 18th. More here.

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Spokes – People Like People Like You

Spokes – People Like People Like You (Counter)


Strangely for an unashamed post-rock collection of hammer ‘n’ tongers, Spokes are at their best when they’re nimble. With most exponents of the genre, it’s the slow builds to zeniths that make people fall for them (though there’s a strong argument that suggests that there’s little left that will truly shock or satisfy at the end of these builds, such is the collective wont for sheer unexpected noise among the genre), but this Manchester quintet are at their most potent when they ignore the tenets one would expect them most likely to adhere to. Sadly, this is not especially often and, as a whole, People Like People Like You doesn’t play with the conventions enough to escape being a mere copycat. 

The long-winded climax to Sometimes Words Are Too Slow has the same tom-tom march and literally the exact same Menuck guitar tone as Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s opening to Lift Yr Skinny Fists, but with little of the menace. It eeks along at a snail’s pace without resounding triumphantly enough to give the audience a sense of achievement, a mouse that should have shouted. They tread a similar path to Yndi Halda, whose still-indebted post-rock sound is at least far more impassioned and worthily complex – the odd dash of directionless violin melody on Young People! All Together doesn’t so much add to the atmosphere as it does confuse it by pointless meandering.

Of course, there are moments that ring of invention within the confines of their chosen field. The sudden gear change four minutes before the end of Young People! All Together is a genuine mood-enhancer, with the unexpected vocals (the first in the whole album after some considerable instrumentalism) and unison thwacks of snare and shimmering guitar emerging as very welcome chaos. That nimbleness doesn’t make many more appearances on this continual reference to already-existing standards. All the greats of instrumental rock get a namecheck through musical timbre, whether it’s Explosions In The Sky at the end of Scatter: I Miss You or the winding violin of Godspeed on We Like To Dance And Steal Things. A shame, because when they push themselves up onto their hind legs and totter into view, they can create worthiness.

People Like People Like You comes out on April 6th via Counter Records (as a reissue, mind). More here.


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