Wednesday, 24 September 2008

SINGLE: Crystal Castles/HEALTH - Crimewave (Different Recordings)

I love HEALTH. I really do. Thanks to a Kevin Barnes namedrop, I googled, myspaced, and loved. I’ve never been the same since. Crystal Castles on the other hand, turned me away as the buzz surrounding plagiarism and art-stealing arose. Both together and they’re outstanding. Hipster or not, ‘Crimewave’ is better than anything you’re likely to hear at your local disco. A buzz here and a squelch there, this is electro nonsense at its best.

At the same time as not quite reaching the standard of both bands most recent releases, ‘Crimewave' is instant brilliance, combining what’s great about music today with melodic beats that tap out a rhythm so angular, it’s hard not to dance. Better buy this on vinyl though – you’ll get extra indie cred.

Olivia Jaremi

SINGLE: The Bishops - City Lights (W2 Records)

Since when has it been cool to sound naff? Well, since 2007 apparently, if The Bishop’s debut was anything to go by. On first listen, all that I can think of is how a certain someone I know would adore this. Too bad that person is someone I would least like to be in contact with. Instant turn-off. Petty, I know, but this is the mind of a teenage girl. Anyway, the music – sounds like what series 1 Vince Noir would like, repetitive and 100% indie. Good or bad? I’ll leave that to your judgement.

Someone once said life is what you make it, and the same goes for music. It’s just that this screams negativity to me.

Olivia Jaremi

SINGLE: Scars on Broadway- World Long Gone (Interscope Records)

With a riff more infectious than the very worst of diseases and vocals as sharp as a razor, ‘World Long Gone’ is deadly. Why I’ve never given these a chance is beyond my knowledge - I loved System of a Down and Serj Tankian equally now. With – and I quote – “thrash, death, black, and doom metal influences”, ‘World Long Gone’ sounds exactly how you’d expect it to, coming from the ashes of SOAD; and that is awesome in every sense.

The second single from their eponymous debut, ‘World Long Gone’ is three and a bit minutes of ultimate rock perfection. Finally something catchy enough to blast that pseudo-lesbian bile out of your head, Scars on Broadway will slay you – in a good way.

Olivia Jaremi

ALBUM: Dorp - Humans Being (Caned and Able records)

If any band owed their whole back catalogue to one band, it would be Dorp to Placebo. From the vocals down to the guitar effects, this whole album screams Placebo, and not in a good way. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we come to the second major flaw of ‘Humans Being’. Yes, my good readers, a song called ‘NME’. I’m being serious. Not even scum-of-Disney Demi Lovato could come up with something so cringeworthy. There’s one thing looking for attention from the music press, but calling a song ‘NME’ is a completely new low.

‘Extreme’ sounds like it should be on an ITV advert for a new crime drama, and ‘Plug into the Machine’ sounds similar to every other Q-magazine endorsed act that isn’t Estelle. ‘London Out There’ sounds like something not even Britney would sing over, and does its job in truly setting this album up for complete failure. It delivers. Oh well, at least now I remember why I never liked Placebo.

Olivia Jaremi

SINGLE: Duffy - Stepping Stone (Polydor)

Sixteen seconds in and I already feel like a 40-something single mum. My life sucks, my husband left me for his 28 year old boss, I’m still paying Littlewoods for my new coffee maker, my best friends can’t come over because they’re busy at salsa class and my youngest son is probably drinking himself to death in the closest child’s play park. Talk about specific marketing.

As much as it pains me to admit something so utterly ridiculous, Duffy sounds just like a bad Amy Winehouse - as if Amy Winehouse could get any worse in the first place. Regardless, from the vocals right down to the overly dramatic Radio 1 constructed tune, it sounds like the perfect replacement whilst dearest Amy sits in a corner puking up yesterday’s cider intake. It’s awful, insipid, and it’s never too early to start mother’s day shopping.

Olivia Jaremi

Monday, 22 September 2008

ALBUM: Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue (Warner Bros Records)

There are a lot of reasons to love Jenny Lewis – she has nice hair, she wears cool hats, she’s a fucking awesome singer, she’s part of Rilo Kiley, Rabbit Fur Coat etc. And Acid Tongue seems like another one to add to the list.

Whatever people say about Kate Nash being the queen of the song as story, Jenny Lewis is every bit as good as her and more because she doesn’t have to use a Mockney accent. Each song on the album is another tale from the South, from the dark story of a friend’s experience of domestic violence on ‘Godspeed’ to the playful account of gold-diggers on ‘Carpetbaggers’ which is only slightly marred by Elvis Costello’s Stallone slur that makes him sound kind of brain damaged. Plenty of musical territory is covered, drawing on Rilo Kiley’s folk, country and even some blues inspiration and Jenny’s vocals are tighter than ever, effortlessly sweet in the harmonies on the chorus of ‘Acid Tongue’ but sultry and menacing on the rockier ‘See Fernando.’
‘Acid Tongue’ is a musical treat for anyone who subscribes to the Cult of Jenny and even all those infidels out there should find a lot to like.

Ollie Khakwani

SINGLE: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Come Saturday (Fortuna Pop)

New York is, historically, London’s US counterpart in being a veritable breeding ground for the “next big thing”. Whether The Pains of Being Pure at Heart achieve that status remains to be seen but if they carry on producing such fine sounds as this, the mass media would be mad to ignore them.

‘Come Saturday’ is like a musical time machine, transporting you right back to the 80s and the sounds of My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain, with its distorted guitars and perfect melodies that are reminiscent of that era yet somehow still sound so fresh and exciting in the Pains’ hands. Possibly the lushest piece of noise-pop to come out of the Big Apple in 2008, if not the US, the Pains are sure to be one of the names on everyone’s lips come the turn of the year.

Rhian Daly

ALBUM: Delicious Vinyl All-Stars - Rmxxology

Compliations are either hit or miss and this fifteen track mix of re-imagined work falls more into the latter camp than the former. Featuring tracks by artists such as the Brand New Heavies and the Pharcyde, Delicious Vinyl have then hooked up with a whole host of respected musicians, like Hot Chip and Peaches, and got them to remix the original tracks. Unfortunately, even with these big name remixers on board, the compilation fails to evoke any sort of desire to get up and dance, more find something better to listen to.

In short, ‘Rmxxology’ is an annoying excuse for Delicious Vinyl to show off their contacts list and force completely unnecessary remixes on the public at the same time.

Standout track: Bust a Move (Don Rimini Ravekid Extended RMX)

Rhian Daly

ALBUM: Kelli Ali - Rocking Horse (One Little Indian)

After being asked to leave her former trip-hop home of Sneaker Pimps, Kelli Ali (also known as Kelli Dayton) started her own solo project, releasing two albums in quick succession (‘Tigermouth’ and ‘Psychic Cat’). After a short break, she’s come back with a fantastically ethereal record, the soon-to-be-released ‘Rocking Horse’.

This return to the music biz is possibly the furthest removed from the electronic introduction Ali first had to the industry, with ‘Rocking Horse’ being all about the folk, incorporating medieval and classical elements along the way to create something truly unique. Unfortunately, at thirteen tracks long, it does tend to get a little samey and is hard to digest in one sitting but as gentle background music it serves its purpose well.

‘The Savages’ in particular, showcases the medieval melodies that make this album so distinctive. Flute arrangements that sound like they’re straight out of the 14th century are the perfect antidote to identikit indie, in small doses. ‘Heaven’s Door’ is a luscious example of Ali’s ability to create soft coffee-table music, although to dismiss the beautiful textures completely is almost criminal. ‘A Storm in a Teacup’ is a sparser affair, with violins smoothly singing in the background. As ever, Ali’s voice is soothing and calming, something that makes ‘Rocking Horse’ perfect for the morning after the night before.

All this is well and good though, until you consider the album as a whole. With a couple of tracks taken off, it would be a better length to absorb in one go, but as it is the very things that make it such a rare effort make it so hard to get a grasp off without hitting the pause button every once in a while.

Standout track: The Savages

Rhian Daly

INTERVIEW: Line & a Dot

Line & a Dot is the acoustic side project of One Toy Soldier bassist Sarah, with which she creates enchanting stories and songs that can both whisk you away to a magical place and break your heart at the same time. Neon Buzz caught up with her when she played a show at the Boathouse in Cambridge, recently.

So, you were in One Toy Soldier...

: Still am...

NB: Are you still going?!

L&aD: Well, no... We’re on hiatus at the moment but we still have a second album to finish and put out. That’s the aim. I think maybe we’ll record it at the end of the year, perhaps, cos Ross is doing My First Tooth, he’s busy so I tried to make myself busy too. Ric is also doing shows… side projects become like main projects but we will finish our second album. We all have to but we’re not going to do it til the end of the year and then we’ll probably tour it a bit, I don’t know.

So how does performing and writing solo compare to how you did it with One Toy Soldier?

: Well, when I was in Soldier I was mainly singing what I was told to sing and writing bass parts, which I really enjoy, but I wasn’t really writing the songs so it’s all new. I didn’t really write in a group before… I didn’t write anything before either. But it’s different, not having someone to perform with or to plan with and it’s a shame there’s not somebody to go “Why don’t you not do that verse, trash it and do something else”, but I kind of deal with that. It’s just… different I suppose. I never had the two crossover because as soon as we lost our drummer in Soldier, I got really bored and didn’t have anything to do so I just started doing that one thing and that was pretty much the start of our break.

Do you ever worry writing by yourself whether what you’ve written is good or not? Do you get insecure about it?

L&aD: Yeah, I probably do write loads of crap but hopefully I gauge it myself. Like, I’ll trash something before I’ve gone too far with it. I mean, you get feedback from all kinds of different places anyway after the song’s finished so it’s not too much of a problem, I suppose. You’ve just got to trust yourself because you do know when something’s kind of shit. Someone will tell me if it’s really bad, hopefully.

On your list of influences on your Myspace page, the list of writers is longer than the list of musicians. Is literature more of an influence and inspiration to you?

L&aD: I think possibly… yeah, I only have a few musical influences listed. I think it’s because I’m really influenced by lyrics and words. I won’t go and watch a band and be like “How did they get that guitar sound?” or “How did they loop this?” so that kind of thing doesn’t interest me so much. I really love reading and I love so many different novels and the way that they’re written and I think I find that in a song and then that’s what I like about it. So everyone who’s an influence, obviously it’s partly their music but I think a bigger part of it is the lyrical side of things. That’s what I’m bothered about and authors are probably slightly better at it.

When you’re writing songs, do you write them from an autobiographical point of view or do you make up stories to turn into songs?

: I’m really crap at putting myself in other people’s positions. I think hopefully one day I’ll be able to make up something that’s totally different because it might be good to write about something that haven’t thought about or done. I strictly write myself but I try and incorporate similar situations and put them in so like I’m sad like a boy whose lost his balloon and I have never lost my balloon but I’m sad so I’ll just bring in the boy… y’know, that kind of thing. Things I haven’t done, I can’t write about.

You’re unsigned at the moment; do you think that gives you more artistic freedom?

L&aD: I think it’s a bit of a drag cos I don’t have any money or any way of recording, sometimes I moan about it a bit but I understand being tied to a record label can also have problems. Like we were signed to a record label in the band and it was great but it had its drawbacks. If I was on a record label I think they probably would have told me don’t go to New York and do a tour with four shows in it and I would be like “Yeah but I probably should do a tour with four shows in and lose like £200…” So they probably would’ve told me to be bit wiser about that kind of thing but yeah, it’s a good level of freedom and you can make your own decisions even if you don’t have a record out.

NB: If you could choose one label to work with, who would it be? L&aD: I don’t know, I’m really bad; I don’t know any bands and I don’t know any labels. I could probably name bands and ask what record label they’re on and go “Oh, that’s what I want”. I don’t know the difference between a promoter or a record label or a booking agency. I just get confused by all that kind of thing. So, a nice one, I suppose.

What’s the scene like in Northampton? Have you got plenty of places to play?

L&aD: Northampton’s good, yeah. We’ve got a pretty great music scene. It’s the biggest town in England that’s not allowed to be a city, for some reason. But yeah, we’ve got a lot of bands. Maybe over the last couple of years we’ve had probably ten or twelve albums come out of Northampton and be in the shops. And then there are so many other bands that are unsigned there. We’ve got two big venues that get like the NME tours and stuff and then there’s a whole bunch of smaller ones. My favourite is the Labour Club, which is a functioning Labour Club and it looks like a terraced house, you have to ring a doorbell to get in. I mean, just like two weeks ago I played there with Liam Dullaghan, who’s great, and Chris Mills from Brooklyn. They get people from all around the world at the Labour Club and you’ve got to know about it to know that they’re on but they’ve had people from Spacemen 3 and all these crazy groups turning up at the last minute. You’ll just see like an Australian cross-dressing band who play flutes or something one night… but that’s the best thing, that it’s kind of weird. It’s a good town for music.

NB: Do many people support the local scene then?

L&aD: There are a few bands that are especially big in Northampton and they always pull in a massive crowd so I think maybe the downside is it’s only the big bands that are guaranteed to get big crowds. Obviously the touring bands always get a massive crowd. To get a crowd in in our town, if you’re just little and small, you just have to be persistent and then somebody will catch on. There’s a whole group of great music fans there and they’ll do other things too, like they’ll take your pictures and bootleg your recordings.

You played the King’s Affair [King’s College summer ball] the other day, what was that like?

L&aD: That was weird. It might have topped my weirdest gig actually. But it was good. I think I turned up at half eleven and played at half twelve. It was kind of bizarre, these beautiful structures and spires and they’re just being destroyed by students in body paint and neon lights and rave music. They had a laser quest and some dodgems, it was hilarious. You were allowed on the grass, that was pretty amazing. And all these bands played til half four, maybe five o’clock. All the booze was completely free – that was great. And then in the morning, they cleaned up so quickly. The groundskeepers were just out there, flattening all the grass and picking up the fags and all the stuff. I was walking out of King’s at like ten in the morning the day afterwards and the grounds men were on the job, and the poor doorman was there and this tourist was outside of the gate going “Oh oh, can we come in?” and he was like “No, no it’s closed.” The tourist was like “Oh, can’t I just take a picture?” and he said “No, no certainly not” cos it looked a little bit of a mess.

NB: Quite a few of the bands who played are from Northampton like New Cassettes, My First Tooth…

L&aD: and me! I think probably because Stephen Davidson from Tellison is at King’s and he was running the music. I guess those three bands have played with Tellison a lot and I guess he’s picked his choice of a few different bands. I mean, he went for a whole bunch of people but I guess that’s probably why.

You mentioned your New York tour earlier, what was it like playing in America?

L&aD: It was really great! Somebody told me that they don’t clap in New York, I think this was somebody who played over there so I was like “Oh ok, cheers for the advice” but they all clapped. So, maybe they just didn’t like that person, I don’t know. But they were all really nice. I played in Manhattan and that was amazing. I’ve never been to the US before so that was exciting for me. Brooklyn was probably the best show. I played in this incredible antiques/junk shop record store place and it was incredible. I think Brooklyn was my favourite part. It was all very bizarre and exciting too; I think I’d definitely like to do it again.

NB: Did you get to do much sightseeing as well?

L&aD: Oh yeah, we went to Staten Island and we got a horse and coach round Central Park, not ashamed to say it. Yeah, we had a really good time.

On your myspace it says you’re playing End of the Road open mic. Are you just going to turn up and play?

L&aD: Yeah, they have an open mic stage and I’ve applied to play as one of their ten unsigned bands. They haven’t had the grace to get back to me yet but maybe they haven’t chosen yet. I’ll be doing the same thing at Glastonbury this coming weekend, sitting outside my tent. I’ll make my own open mic stage. And Latitude, I think they’ve got an open mic, I think it’s like a plank in the woods. I’m not afraid to take my guitar; I think it’ll be fine; I’ll get in there at the End of the Road hopefully.

Have you got any ambitions or goals, things that you want to achieve with Line & a Dot?

L&aD: In gigs, I think I’d like to play South by South West, being unsigned is the only way you can do it really, so that’s a good thing. My main goal is to make a song that somebody else can include themselves in and maybe I already have one and don’t know or maybe I’ll get one or never but I just want to be able to make something out of Line & a Dot where I’ve written this song but it isn’t so about me that you can’t run your own movie reel to it about yourself. I want to have a song that somebody can apply to their own lives, nothing to do with me, and appreciate it in that sense but I think it probably will take me a bit of time.
Rhian Daly

EP: The Black Box Revelation - Live At the AB EP

Opening with an angry feedback buzz from an amp, even though I’ve never seen the Black Box Revelation or heard them before, I already respect them. Upcoming single ‘Love, Love Is On My Mind’ is a raw guitar rocker, all pounding drums, distorted guitar riffs, and best of all, an actual tune. Its relentless energy channels the rock and roll spirit of Blood Red Shoes’ live shows while there’s still enough of a White Stripes-like pop sense to make its chorus instantly catchy. The rest of the EP is more of the same – wild guitar hooks and raw blues power – pretty much everything awesome about blues rock in 15 minutes. If they didn’t live in Belgium I would be hunting gig tickets right now (I have a bit of a cow-phobia.)

Ollie Khakwani

SINGLE: Infadels - A Million Pieces (Wall of Sound Records)

‘A Million Pieces’ sounds unusually chillaxed for Infadels, in fact its fuzzy synth background, poppy hook and slightly too epic chorus makes it sound like a Sam’s Town-era Killers song that isn’t as pretentious or completely full of shit. Then suddenly it’s clear the single was the warm up and now the band seems ready to rave with the mechanical stomp and sleazy guitar jabs on ‘Shanghai Melissa’ More addictive dance-rock follows with ‘Change My Colours’ whose opening line ‘change my colours up to loud as fuck’ pretty much sums up the song. The closer ‘Circus of the Mad’ remix gets all trip hop trance and spaced out for when you’re finally tired, dehydrated and ready to curl up in a corner from all the dancing. The whole thing sounds like it was designed as the soundtrack for a night of getting coked up and doing the robot until dawn.

Ollie Khakwani

SINGLE: Dave P & Adam Sparkles - Sunday Night in Glasgow (Satellite of Love Records)

Photo: Chloe Richard
You know things aren’t promising when a CD starts with random synth squeaks and bleeps. I can’t even pretend to know anything about DJing but when Dave P and Adam Sparkles said they borrow as much stuff from rock as they do from techno I’m guessing they assumed that the occasional use of real drums instantly makes something into rock music. It could just be that lack of words and endless repetition that I hate about dance and trance is making me be kind of unfair to the guys, or that I don’t really get what they’re trying to do with their sound. Or maybe it’s that the only place anyone could possibly listen to this is at some dive in Ibiza when they’re getting fat Germans’ sweat rubbed on them and they’re stoned out of their minds.

Ollie Khakwani

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

LIVE: Robots In Disquise, Slagsmalsklubben, Black Affair, (We Are) Performance, Tim Ten Yen. 299 Great Portland Street, 3rd September, 2008

Photo: Nicole Blommers

Fandango started as a club back in 2001 to promote upcoming bands and it has steadily become one of London's well known independent music promoters, which now is not only a club, but also a label, fanzine and MP3 shop. Last year September they introduced its very own Fistful of Fandango festival with five nights of live music in Great Portland Street's 229 venue. Bands to be staged were the likes of Friendly Fires, British Sea Power, Maps and Operator Please. For this years edition it is just as tasty as last years. I attended day two with the electro poppish line-up.

Openings act in the small room is Fandango label's very own English gentleman Tim Ten Yen. His friend Sinister Cat is warming up the audience by wagging its tail, but is swiftly being moved to the back of the stage by the gentleman himself. Tim Ten Yen is one guy with a backing tape, who dances around on stage like you would do at home. Fun, fun, fun!

(We Are) Performance, a band I am not familiar with, take over the main room directly after Tim Ten Yen. Is it electro, pop or rock? (We Are) Performance's style is a mixture of all three with a slight dark edge and a front man that catches (almost) every girl’s eye. They must have been around for ages, but why hadn't I heard from them?

The best thing about A Fistful of Fandango is that there are two rooms, so if you have enough of one band, you just pop in the other for a beer. And you can see every band that is playing, even if it is just half of a performance. Having seen Kid Carpet before, I knew what to expect. His lyrics might be fun and his toy guitar might be cool, but come on after two songs his kiddy electro punk gets quite boring. Whilst drinking a beer and having a conversation with a security guy about the kind of music we both like, it is time for Black Affair. In total darkness ex-Beta Band member Steven Mason and the C90s get on stage in the main room. Just like the band name and the playing in total darkness with one green beamer light, their music is fine noir electro. Not everyone's cup of tea, but definitely mine.

Highlight of the night are without any doubt the ever so pleasant and fun Slagsmalsklubben from Sweden. It does not matter how many times you have seen these Swedish boys, they will always make you move your feet and give you an enormous smile, which will last for a very long time. The night has not finished, yet. In the main room headline act Robots In Disguise have taken over the stage to end the second night of A Fistful of Fandango 2008 and they do so in style with their shouty electro-girl pop. Girls in bands are fun and this duo certainly makes it a fact.

Nicole Blommers

Thursday, 4 September 2008

ALBUM: Rolo Tomassi – Hysterics (Hassle Records)

Photo by: Tom Barnes

I want to be Eva Spence. I want to be fronting a band as awesome as Rolo Tomassi. I want to scream like that. I want to make an album as outstanding on first listen. I only want to hear Rolo Tomassi for the rest of my life. Hmm, maybe I should calm down a bit. The thing is though; I’ve been looking forward to this album for months. Ever since I saw them play to a room half full of bored teens sitting on the floor texting their boyfriends, I fell in love. So what if I – a short fashionably retarded girl, and some frankly quite terrifying looking boys were the only ones enjoying ourselves? So what they only played for 25 minutes, so what if everyone else hated them? I adored them, and made a mental countdown as soon as it was mentioned that their debut would drop sometime in September.

And here I am, going over and over in my head what words I can use to properly convey to you how goddamn awesome this album is. I’m actually finding it exceedingly difficult to think of any, but I’ll try either way. From the opener ‘Oh, Hello Ghost’ to the utterly fantastic ‘I Love Turbulence’, the addictive jazzy, screamy-squelchy noise-core tone is set, and sets a level so inhumanely high, it’s almost impossible for the rest of the album to deliver. It manages.
‘Abraxas’ is a jaggy masterpiece of a synth and a scream, epitomising Rolo Tomassi’s freakishly addictive charm in 2 minutes and 26 seconds. Instrument torture and abuse has never sounded so sweet. ‘Nine’ is just as good, with a beginning that sounds like the violent explosion of musically talented, angsty dwarfs, progressing into a relaxed slur of amazement, and follow up ‘Macabre Charade’ follows up in a similar way, only to excel in leaps and bounds, ticking all the right boxes of what a good record should be.

‘Trojan Measures’ insinuates more instrument violence, and at just one minute, it packs more than just your average punch, and with a scream and a kick in the teeth it’s over, like blackmail on Love Hearts. ‘Everything Went Grey’ starts as its title suggests, dark and gloomy, yet inspiring an overwhelming anticipation in the listener. At 3 and a half minutes, it’s one of the longest on the album (the fourteen minute Fantasia doesn’t count, you see!), and acts as a transition to the penultimate ‘Scars’ – a whirlwind attack of frantic riffs and pure genius. If the mind was blown to smithereens by ‘Scars’, then ‘Fantasia’ is the apocalypse in its disturbingly hazardous form.

Creeping up, the dark undertone of ‘Fantasia’ is unnerving, slowly descending into turmoil before being abruptly ignited with a detonation of yells, roars, and anything slightly catastrophic twisted into a musical output. Switching into jazz and soothing vocals, it’s not long before Rolo Tomassi’s wall of sound breaks free once again and shatters all expectations of this young band from Sheffield.

Albums like this should come with a warning sign - because it’s not long before Rolo Tomassi take swiftly over as your ultimate favourite band. You’ve been warned.

Olivia Jaremi

SINGLE: David Holmes - I Heard Wonders (Mercury Records)

It’s hard to think that anyone remotely related to Ocean’s 13 could produce anything reaching anywhere near good, yet David Holmes seems to have managed this reasonably well. It’s not amazing; it’s not abysmal, but firmly slotted unashamedly in the middle. It’s pleasant and catchy, and carefully balances the two evils to create a pop song that for once actually isn’t vomit inducing.

Slightly repetitive, but bearable nonetheless, David Holmes dreamy slur is slightly reminiscent to Animal Collective, stripped of the fun. The verse is nice, the chorus is nice. All of it is just... nice. It’s what your cool mum would listen to drinking a latte. It’s a summer song, released a month too late.

Unfortunately, as the song lacks substance, I’m afraid this review does also. I’m at a loss to describe it any more to you. I’ve said all I think I can. Not even the press release can make this look like a dazzling, fresh indie hit. Instead, it’s background music. Nice enough not to pay attention to, but even for its purpose, there’s better out there. After all, isn’t monotonous background music what Coldplay are for?

Olivia Jaremi

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

ALBUM: Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst (Wichita)

Conor Oberst has been a pretty regular figure at the forefront of alternative music for the past fifteen or so years, whether that be with Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos, on his own or with countless other musicians. This latest release is his fourth solo effort, with help from the Mystic Valley Band. Recorded in a villa called Valle Mistico in Mexico, this long player is Oberst’s first release under his own name since 1995’s ‘Soundtrack to my Movie’. Since then, he’s gone from strength to strength, gaining and maintaining a large fanbase through his work as Bright Eyes.
If you’re expecting something radically different to what Oberst produces under the aforementioned pseudonym then prepare to be disappointed, as what is on offer here is mostly familiar ground. Somehow it still feels fresh and exciting, which is testament to Oberst’s talent and ability as one of the great songwriters of our time.

After years of perfecting his craft, Oberst knows how to create sonic beauty and this album is bursting with the evidence. ‘Cape Canaveral’ kicks things off gently, with typically poetic lyrics and understated melodies. ‘Sausalito’ is slightly more upbeat, with occasional jaunty guitars interjecting as the track shuffles on politely. ‘Get-Well-Cards’ is one of the highlights of the record, with its heartfelt vocals and flawless composition.

For the most part, ‘Conor Oberst’ is a calm stroll through central American landscapes, with the occasional bursts of energy and colour, like that found on ‘I Don’t Want to Die (in the Hospital)’. It’s almost as if the song is encapsulating and channelling the adrenaline rush that comes with the need to escape, complimented by the blues piano and noodling guitars. ‘NYC – Gone, Gone’ is a stomping sing-a-long that wouldn’t sound out of place reverberating around a stadium, even though it’s only a minute and ten seconds long.

This record is further proof, if it were needed, that whatever Oberst touches turns to gold and this self-titled LP is more than enough treasure to tide us over until the next Bright Eyes record is done.

Standout track: Get-Well-Cards

Rhian Daly

SINGLE: Rock City Sixteen - Lunettes Noires Pour Nuits Blanches/Antarctica (Cigarette Music)

Is naming your single in French pretentious or just plain cool? I can’t quite decide, but what I do know is that London’s Rock City Sixteen are pretty darn good. A side ‘Lunettes Noires Pour Nuits Blanches’ (translates as ‘Black Glasses for White Nights’) is highly repetitive but strangely doesn’t get boring, even though it goes on for just over four minutes. Lo-fi vocals and a mix of scuzzy and pretty guitar work, it’s like how you imagine the Kills would sound if they joined forces with the Long Blondes.

‘Antarctica’ is a bit cleaner than its flipside, although uses almost the same level as repetition. With clearer vocals, it’s easier to make out the sweet female voices that make this stand out as more than just your standard indie single.

Rhian Daly

ALBUM: The Automatic - This is a Fix (B-Unique)

We’re all familiar with the Automatic, right? The Welsh quartet who could easily play the part of Frankenstein, if his monster were 3 minutes of annoyingly catchy pop instead of some massive green bloke with bolts in his neck. Since those days, yelping keyboardist Alex Pennie has jumped ship to something a little more credible and Paul Mullen has broken Yourcodenameis:milo fans’ hearts by joining in his place. Out are the keyboards and incessant shouting, in are more guitars and a more brutal product.

Album opener ‘Responsible Citizen’ sets the scene for the whole album, one of paranoia a mistrust of the government and media. It’s fair to say ‘This is a Fix’ is a much more grown up effort than debut album ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’. Whereas their old songs were catchy in an infuriating way, on this record they’re far more likeable and seem to have more chance of being played on repeat than previous work. The aforementioned first track is the perfect example of this, with its simple yet effective chorus of “I’m going out of my way to go out of my mind” before it reaches the denial confessions of “I tell you I’m fine”. Single ‘Steve McQueen’ follows flawlessly, and is probably the most reminiscent of the old days of all of the songs on this album. ‘Accessories’ breaks the run of heavy guitars, and with it is more throwaway than the previous two tracks.

The inclusion of Paul Mullen in the band’s line-up really has done wonders for them (and I say this with my love of YCNI:M completely put to one side), helping them to produce pop that doesn’t make your skin crawl, with a prime example being ‘Magazines’, a song which tackles a hidden agenda within the media, bringing the paranoid nature of the album back into play. Mullen sings lead vocals on this track, which helps break up the record a bit and add some variety, without resorting to high-pitched yelping. ‘In the Mountains’ is another instance of near-perfect craftsmanship, which starts off sounding like the Killers crossed with a tranquilised Kaiser Chiefs before heading back to more familiar territory for the chorus.

‘Light Entertainment’ closes the album as it began, with resonating bass and simple hooks. ‘This is a Fix’ shows a marked improvement from previous efforts – whether they could have achieved an album of this quality without making changes to the group’s personnel will never be seen – but there’s still a way to go before they make the transition from being interesting but a little average to a force to be reckoned with. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and things can only get better from here on in.

Standout track: In the Mountains

Rhian Daly

Monday, 1 September 2008

SINGLE: Conor Oberst - Souled Out!!! (Wichita)

Everyone loves a good pun, don’t they? Hurrah for Conor Oberst then and his brilliantly titled new single ‘Souled Out!!!’ (exclamation mark overdose obligatory). Taken from his fourth solo record, it’s very much what you’d expect from the infamous American troubadour – a lifting, folky affair that leaves you begging for more.

‘Souled Out!!!’ is a rousing lead single, the perfect bait tempting you to buy the full-length record, which has you hooked after the first two lines of “The barrio starts two streets over/Miguel was a friend of mine.” Oberst’s ability to weave stories into his songs is widely renowned and here it’s no different. Imagery is his weapon as he paints vivid pictures in the listener’s mind with lyrics like “flying kites in the winter time” and “magic carpet is the transportation/went to the moon in a soda can” making for imaginative listening.

With takes of Conor and his Mystic Valley Band talking mixed into the song, ‘Souled Out!!!’ feels rough and raw, like it’s still got some traces of dirt from the Mexican desert left on. And like that, it’s perfect. To polish it up entirely would take away some of the magic and the charm, something Oberst seems to understand.

Rhian Daly