Album Reviews - en-us Copyright (c) 2017 Gigwise. All rights reserved. <![CDATA[ Album Review: Death From Above - Outrage! Is Now ]]> Two-piece bands have been doing ok recently, Slaves are getting cosy with the nation and Royal Blood have had a number one album but long before them, there was Death From Above. An explosive train wreck of a band who released one of the finest ever debut albums, You're a Woman, I'm a Machine, back in 2005. It essential tore up the rule books for what a band should and could sound like.

So are DFA here to take back what's rightfully theirs? Outrage! Is Now, the Canadian duo's third album, makes Royal Blood sound like Ant & Dec. It explodes into life with 'Freeze Me', a song that was built to destroy the dance floor. 'Caught Up' is its deviant sister rocking up to a knife fight with a tank. 'All I C is U & Me' is a thunderous non-stop attack of the pop senses and closer 'Holy Books', swaps the trademark hardcore thrashing drums and bass for a touch of the Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd piano, before hitting you like a hurricane with double kick drums and distorted bass, a classy finish and signature DFA.

The duo have had their demons in the past with a not so acrimonious split after the first record which took them six years to sort out so there's always been a sense of tension between the pair, but Outrage! Is Now is DFA showing us how effortless it is for them to do the two piece rock 'n' roll band properly. This album should open them up to a whole new audience but you sense that they’re not bothered. This is a band setting their own agenda, leave the mainstream to Royal Blood and Slaves, that's not Death From Above’s style, they’re much more cooler than that.

Gigwise Mon, 11 Sep 2017 15:53:13 GMT 110648
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Chad VanGaalen - Light Information ]]> Chad VanGaalen is both an enviable talent and an extremely busy one. Not content being occupied with the typical two-year album and tour cycle the Calgary native is renowned for his work as both a producer and an illustrator, working with artists such as Women and Timbre Timbre in both guises. But there is enough within Light Information, his sixth solo record, to talk about so lets leave the Wikipedia/press release regurgitation at the door.

Besides, such coverage may give the impression that Mr VanGaalen, who is no relation to the hapless ex-Man Utd manager whose name is actually slightly different, is a jack of all trades but a master of none. This is far from the case; Light Information is an accomplished record that is certainly the work of a restless mind but not one that is focused on quantity over quality, nor variety over quality.

When concerning the work of Chad VanGaalen references are often made to the previously mentioned Women and lo-fi godfathers Guided By Voices but whilst sharing a similar surface-level aesthetic there is a lot more depth to Chad's work. This is true particularly on 'Host Body', a slow-burning garage-pop gem reminiscent of Ariel Pink, and 'Old Heads', which translates the schematics of early Mew from harsh but scenic Scandinavian winters into a long, detached West Coast summer.

But if you want an easily accessible album then Light Information does the job, too. It certainly isn't a record that requires studious listening or an otherwise silent room. For such a listen opener 'Mind Hijacker's Curse' is the best entry point; relatively straight up indie rock that could tick all the boxes for someone whose knowledge of the genre doesn't stray far past Vampire Weekend, MGMT et al. Whatever you're looking for, as long as you don't mind it being a little messy, you can find it here.

Gigwise Mon, 11 Sep 2017 11:04:06 GMT 110644
<![CDATA[ Album Review: The National - Sleep Well Beast ]]> Art that warns of how love gives and how it ruins is as old as anyone can remember, but no less vital for it. The National return for their seventh album with something pensive and beautiful that refuses to bite its tongue, going to dark places to find a light. On the cusp of major success, the Ohio natives decided to turn heel on the triumphant nervy anthems of 'High Violet' and 'Trouble Will Find Me' and create something “weird, math-y, electronic-y.” It could signify them gripping the doorframe, reluctant to face the major leagues. It’s classic behaviour from frontman Matt Berninger whose protagonist, 18-years deep, continues to be a brooding, self-medicating wreck, prone to fight-or-flight responses. The National are what you get when you indulge the fantasy of Leonard Cohen fronting The Smiths, a study in neurosis and magnetically sad rock music. The shine of those who once outstripped them is fading - Interpol are moving towards a comfortable legacy position and Arcade Fire tying their own noose with Everything Now - meaning there’s no one left in alt-rock to stand between the National and, say, Radiohead.

Having played under Foo Fighters at Glastonbury this year, the brilliantly propulsive ‘Day I Die’ feels tailormade for seizing the throne. Built on familiar ground, it’ll do little to shift a common dismissal of the National as sad-dads jamming at a wake, but it’s the perfection of the stadium killer they’ve been tinkering with for over a decade. Fresher is the twitchy psychedelic groove of lead single ‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’, optimistic and punching high.

Time spent between albums as disciples of the Grateful Dead founder Bob Weir seems to have widened their palette, causing the Dessner twins’ guitars to spark and bloom with new life. Adoption of the math-y electronics goes hand-in-hand with a departure from rigid notions of what kind of song The National should be making. They’re giving ideas and melodies the room to expand, such as the gorgeous six-minute sprawl of ‘Walk It Back’, humming with modulated muscle. Not every punch lands, with the experimental impulses of the title track never quite materialising.

Change may be rife, however comparisons to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have never been more on the money. Midpoint ‘Turtleneck’ is a violent separation from the record’s heavy introspection, car-jacking the Australian’s ‘Get Ready For Love’ and crashing it through gardens and fences in the leafy Hamptons. ‘Carin At The Liquor Store’ leans heavily on The Boatman’s Call for one of The National’s greatest ballads, about devoting oneself to love to the point of self-destruction.

At heart, the record is a strange voyeur for the past. Berninger seems to be trying to reconnect with moments that defined his character and relationships, wondering how they got so far away. The lightweight yet charming ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ is his personal ‘Lost In Translation’ for New York, stumbling for meaning under a Valium-daze: “The more level they have me/The more I can’t stand me.” The bulk of the record is about marriages collapsing, oddly co-written by Berninger and his wife, the aforementioned Carin. Together they explore the most desolate areas of matrimony as a hypothetical scenario, to avoid falling into them themselves. Considering the album’s global audience, it sounds like couple’s therapy for high-functioning sociopaths, but each to their own, and it gives a new clarity to Berninger’s traditionally dense lyrics.

Spliced in the middle of ‘Walk It Back’ is Karl Rove’s infamous ‘Reality-based Community’ quote, which ponders the power we have to create narratives and truths and how they fit in the world – or if it’s all just in our heads sometimes. Sleep Well Beast is the place where the walls between the National’s past demons and their anxiety for the future have violently fractured, provoking It’s a lesson that no matter how dark it can get down there, all our monsters can be put to bed. 

Gigwise Wed, 06 Sep 2017 13:57:17 GMT 110619
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Mogwai - Every Country's Sun ]]> Having recently toured the epic ‘Atomic’ soundtrack, a distressing film of a post-apocalyptic world and achieving success with supergroup Minor Victories last year, nobody would judge Mogwai for taking a break; but instead they return with their 9th studio album, Every Country’s Sun.

It starts off slow: ‘Coolverine’ is smothered in the trademark reverb drenched drums and minimalist guitar you’d expect from the Scottish post rockers.

‘Party In The Dark’, on the other hand, is far from typical Mogwai fare. Maybe time spent in Minor Victories and the return of Ride and Slowdive into the mainstream has left some effect on the band; they sound more like Flaming Lips and Polyphonic Spree. It flaunts catchy bass, synths and vocals, and is a great pop single.


The highlight of the album, 'AKA 47' is remarkably subtle, like a wind chime blowing on a hilltop. It never goes above the controlled levels, and you can’t escape its hypnotic simplistic grasp.

The album finishes with a three song pronged attack: ‘Battered At A Scramble’ is fuzz turned up to full noise mode; ‘Old Poisons’ doesn’t let up much either; and we end with the title track ‘Every Country’s Sun’, a sonic annihilation of the ears.

Ultimately, it’s Mogwai’s meticulous attention to detail on every note, every chord and every structure on this album which makes them the best at what they do. It would be lazy to just say ‘it sounds like Mogwai’ because to sound like Mogwai you can only be Mogwai, who are the finest post rock band of our generation.

Gigwise Tue, 05 Sep 2017 12:01:08 GMT 110610
<![CDATA[ Album Review: LCD Soundsystem - American Dream ]]> After the perfectly on-point early salvo of ‘Losing My Edge’, everything that’s emerged from James Murphy under the LCD banner has, to some extent, been a working out, or working through, of the implications of the lines ‘I’m losing my edge/but I was there.” But American Dream aka “Look what David Bowie made me do!” (according to Murphy, Bowie helped convince him that he should make another LCD Soundsystem album) seems particularly fraught with these questions; do the attitudes and behaviours you clung to so urgently when you were younger, that you felt could or should define you, still matter? What’s left if you let go of the glory days? Rather as with his decision to break up the band and then reform, sparking the ire of some fans, the answer is to try to have your cake and eat it; make like you accept your party’s over while still talking up how good the parties were in your day.

Musically, this manifests itself on American Dream in familiar ways, through canny refinement and recombination of moves lifted from Murphy’s heroes – the guitar on ‘Other Voices’ is so reminiscent of Bowie collaborator Robert Fripp that I had to check the credits, while ‘I Used To’ is pure Talking Heads/Eno circa ‘Before And After Science’. Vocally, Murphy mutates as required, even delivering a passable Ian McCulloch/Bono imitation on ‘How Do You Sleep?’

The title track has little to do with the state of the US politics. It’s personal again, and the most elegiac LCD song to date. “You took acid and looked in the mirror… the revolution was here that set you free, from those bourgeoisie”. Murphy’s too good a producer for American Dream to lack punch and momentum, but the most affecting thing about it is this spectacle of James Murphy - or someone who closely resembles him – crooning and spinning favourite records at the wake of his own youth.

American Dream by LCD Soundsystem is out tomorrow (1 September)

Gigwise Thu, 31 Aug 2017 10:12:17 GMT 110582
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Hype Williams - Rainbow Edition ]]> Hype Williams have always done their best to keep their intentions as opaque as their music. In true post-modern fashion, they challenge you to both take them seriously (But how could you, when we’ve named three of our songs after the same George Michael track, and just sampled the first thing we found on YouTube and slapped it over this crappy drum loop?) and to dismiss them as pranksters (But listen to the beautiful, oozing bass, and hear how the apparent cheapness of the production makes this synth melody more haunting.)

One of the biggest question marks has been over the identity of Hype Williams’ members, with strong suggestions that music released after 2011’s ‘One Nation’ album hasn’t in fact been the work of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland at all. The brief press statement, issued “4 the sake of clarityn” (sic) reinforces this: “any Hype Williams releases you’ve heard since are FAKE… we been gone for a minute, but now we’re back with the jump off.”

So maybe this album is the work Blunt and Copeland, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. Their various respective solo projects have peeled off in different and increasingly rewarding directions so it’s strange in a way to find them getting the ol’ band back together, if that is indeed what we’re looking at. As with a post-reformation Pixies release, Rainbow Edition’s is kind of the sound you remember, it’s just the strokes are a little broader and neater. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the chunky synth rock of ‘Loud Challenge’ gleams unapologetically (there’s a higher ratio of gloss to hiss than in the past) and ‘Spinderella’s Dream’ demonstrates they haven’t lost their knack for establishing an obliquely affecting mood - but Rainbow Edition feels more like a jumping in point for new listeners than a jump off in a new direction. Perhaps that’s even what was intended.

Gigwise Fri, 25 Aug 2017 17:07:37 GMT 110554
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Widowspeak - Expect the Best ]]> Expect the Best is the fourth album by US indie stalwarts Widowspeak. Unlike their previous outings, which were conceived as a duo, this time they’ve added their touring band to the recording process. This has helped flesh out their brand of cowboy grunge as the songs are still full of regret, anticipation and reconciliation, but the the music is still spacious and airy, but there is a grandiose feel to it, like classic western. The album also has a live, and loose, that is a continuation of ideas on their 2015 album All Yours.

Each track feels like it was recorded in one take, in a barn in the middle of nowhere, and then they moved on to the next song. This is refreshing in a world of auto-tune and studio manipulation that a band is allowed the time to figure out how and where it should go.

The main problem with Expect the Best is that its title is slightly misleading. It raises expectations a little too much. You go into it thinking “This is going to be the best thing ever!” and after listening to ‘The Dream’, ‘When I Tried’ and ‘Dog’ you feel “Wow! This IS the best thing ever!” However, this feeling is fleeting as after ‘Warmer’, all the momentum starts to leave the album and it slowly starts to run out of steam. Eventually the album picks up again, but by this point it all starts to merge onto one. The only saving grace is the second half of ‘Right On’ and the title track ‘Expect the Best’ start to reignite the excitement of the opening salvo, and when the seven minute final track ‘Fly on the Wall, gets going the band are firing on all cylinders, but by this point it’s too little too late. Expect the best, but fear for the worst…

Gigwise Thu, 24 Aug 2017 14:08:13 GMT 110545
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Gogol Bordello - Seekers and Finders ]]> As swashbuckling vagabonds of gypsy punk with a disregard for convention and a burning communal, grassroots spirit, Gogol Bordello’s return is a welcome one.

Band identity has become a much maligned feature of rock music this decade, with the drab likes of Catfish and the Bottlemen and Blossoms in the spotlight who seem to stand for nothing and for no one.

Comparatively, Gogol seem like revolutionary madmen on the cusp of an insurgent coup d'état. ‘Seekers and Finders,’ their first record in four years, invites you back to their world of anarchy, accordions and handlebar mustaches. Despite this being their eleventh album, their sound hasn’t developed considerably since their debut, Eugene Hütz’s snarling vocals and breakneck tempos still being the key components.

Beginning at full throttle and rattling into a blitz of helter-skelter tunes, they certainly haven’t lost the carefree energy and endearing enthusiasm that shot them to success.

However, intricate vocal hooks certainly aren’t their specialty, with choruses that often amount to merely repeated guttural howls of the song title. Whilst this may function well enough to coax audiences into yell-alongs at their renowned live shows, it ultimately causes the album to drag and doesn’t give it the potency of their earlier work.

It’s the more idiosyncratic, curious numbers that are most impressive, such as ‘Familia Bonfireball,’ with its luscious electric guitar riffs, and ‘Love Gangsters,’ that shows off their sinister streak and could even be the soundtrack for a coterie of villains in a West End musical.

Tenth track ‘You Know Who We Are,’ proves to be aptly named, as this record mostly supplies more of what one would expect from this gypsy punk troupe, and although their world is an intriguing musical landscape to explore, the longevity of their appeal surely rests more in the turbulent theatre of their live shows rather than their songwriting accomplishments in the studio.

Gigwise Thu, 24 Aug 2017 11:38:54 GMT 110543
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination ]]> With the words ‘Holiday Destination’ emblazoned over a shelled, bombed out building in Gaza on the cover, Nadine Shah’s third album, is not pulling its punches. The statement is clear, open your eyes and look at what is front of you and you might see something beyond the headlines.

Like PJ Harvey before her Shah can write about the most difficult of situations yet juxtapose it with music that’s so beautiful it almost makes you feel guilty to enjoy it. The album is a barrage of tribal drums, jagged guitars and 80s synthesizers that shake you to the bone with their intentionally dramatic soundscapes. Then there are the lyrics.

Nadine Shah is singing what we’re all thinking. From the despair of the refugee situation in Syria on ‘Holiday Destination’ to Brexit and the divisions it has caused on home soil on ‘Out the Way’. Shah in recent interviews has been very candid about her mental health and ‘Evil’ is her way of dealing with it; "All these folk they think that I'm evil. Like I am the living devil himself" and the tribal drum beat and buzzsaw guitars which explode between her candid words represents a calm exterior with a rage just waiting to surface.

Holiday Destination is more of a historical document than a record. If a child asks their parents what was life like back in 2017 they wouldn’t look for a book they would play Holiday Destination. I. Nadine Shah has filtered out the static noise created by the media with a record to remind us about the world we live in, to see past the headlines and to look at what is front of us and that is what makes this record so remarkable.

Gigwise Thu, 24 Aug 2017 11:21:10 GMT 110542
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins ]]> Eleven years since their first album, and five since their last, Grizzly Bear are still unsure of their company. “Were you even listening? Were you riding with me?”, asks guitarist Daniel Rossen on ‘Wasted Acres’, the opening track of Painted Ruins.

The quartet need not worry. While their lyrics may be rife with questions, their fifth record is awash with confident melodic bends and intriguing twists and turns which, while exploratory, sound purposeful. Much like Fleet Foxes’ June release Crack-Up, Painted Ruins is a record from an established indie band who have finally allowed themselves the time and space to wander on record: with that comes a huge sigh of relief.

While lacking any tracks as bright as 2009’s advert-friendly hit ‘Two Weeks’ (the churning relentlessness of ‘Mourning Sound’ may be the closest we get this time around), Painted Ruins wastes no time in embracing the band’s pastoral roots in lead single ‘Three Rings’ and the enchanting ‘Neighbors’, as well as giving time over for the gnarly ebb and flow of ‘Aquarian’. For a band who could have run away with the fairies after critics left them with the sickening label ‘freak-folk’, you’ve got to admit they’ve kept their heads screwed on and concentrated on making vivid yet charming indie rock – and thank God for that.

Harmony is crucial, as ever, though more so in the instrumental lines themselves than in vocal counterpoint. Bassist and producer Chris Taylor makes his Grizzly Bear lead vocal debut on ‘Systole’, a string-fuelled psychedelic shimmer of a track, which plays with tonality as much as it flirts with becoming a fully-fledged pop tune.

Guitarist and vocalist Ed Droste’s pledge for democracy (he was one of music’s fiercest fans of Bernie Sanders) has translated into a sharing of songwriting, as each of the four members paired off to write songs in new combinations. For a record born out of a collective, Painted Ruins is an incredibly elegant collection of songs.

Gigwise Fri, 18 Aug 2017 10:22:51 GMT 110503
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Chase & Status - Tribe ]]> Album number four for the electronic duo it’s ok for metal heads like (they played Download Festival) and a huge seventeen cuts giving definite breadth of choice and musical style.

There’s the loping reggae style of ‘Big Man Skank’, full of drop’s which clubbers will adore, and ‘Don’t Stop’, same, and ‘Real No More’ which skanks away, with the incredible Kiko Bun as MC.

They certainly have their ears on the radio playlists – ‘Love Me More’, ‘I Know Your Name’ and ‘Crawling’ should attract some airplay action.

There are weaker moments, inevitably, you can’t get it right all the time, ‘Reload’ has Craig David on it, and it’s too retro and bland for a band as hard-hitting as these. Similarly, ‘Tribute’, and ‘Know About We’ should have hit the editing floor.

For lovers of a slightly less intense bass sound, there is ‘Step Way’ which rattles along, but never feels in danger of imploding with its own sense of urgency. The title track would sound utterly at home on any Prodigy album, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. Playing to the strengths of the genre always works – one for a pre-lash before going out perhaps. The real meat of the album is the hard-hitting emotional songs – ‘All Goes Wrong’, ‘Nervous Rage’, and ‘Control’, featuring the reliable Slaves will be on repeat in teenage bedrooms the world over. ‘Know Your Name’ is an emotional cut with a hard dance grind, it’s long, powerful, well-balanced, and by far the greatest cut on the album – saving the best for last never hurts.

Chase And Status clearly take their time and think about the sequence and balance of their albums, and with Tribe they have it more right that wrong.

Gigwise Fri, 18 Aug 2017 10:14:12 GMT 110502
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Ghostpoet - Dark Days + Canapés ]]> Since the release of his 2011 debut album, Peanut butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, Ghostpoet has been at the forefront of the UK music scene. With the release of his fourth, and strongest album to date, Dark Days + Canapés, he looks to be pulling ahead again.

On ‘One More Sip’, which opens the album, we find Ghostpoet in fine form. Musically its business as usual, dark electronics with filling dislodging bass set the scene perfectly. However it’s what he does lyrically that’s the standout moment. “When I leave here, I hope my sins are forgiven” is the only lyric and welcomes us to the album. Is he saying this album is his personal confessional booth, is this a breakup song? Either way he’s letting us know this might be a bumpy ride.

‘Live> Leave’, a standout track, has an epic pop sheen that when the chorus kicks in takes it to a level hitherto unheard on Ghostpoet albums. ‘Woe is Meee’ features Daddy G and mixes jaunty basslines and abstract guitars making it a slice of pure joy that ushers in the final throws of Dark Days + Canapés. ‘End Times’ features reversed vocals, transmuted horns and sparse downtempo breakbeats. It’s has the precision of a meat slicer, while feeling free and sparse at the same time.

What Ghostpoet has effectively done is release an album that builds on his exemplary reputation and his ability to create music that has power and visceral charm to invite repeat listens. This is a rare gift in an industry where hit singles, YouTube plays and social media interactions are king. The only downside is it doesn’t come with a portion of polenta and prosciutto chips.

Gigwise Wed, 16 Aug 2017 11:42:36 GMT 110496
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Gold Class - Drum ]]> It's somewhat ironic that at a time in which it feels modern society is going backwards, or at least in which the veneer of progress is slowly being eroded, anything with the prefix of “post-” feels so outdated. Post-hardcore, post-rock and post-punk are three genres in which most bands that take on their tropes sound older and more tired than the genres that pre-dated them.

Australia's Gold Class are a comfortable post-punk band and there is certainly no veneer of progress on their second album Drum, though calling them “tired” as an overall entity is somewhat harsh. There is plenty of life in the vocals of Adam Curley; like fellow post-punk purveyors Eagulls his impassioned vocal performances soar above the rest of the band.

His lyrics and their meditations on sexuality and conflict are perhaps the true centrepiece of the album, combining quotable status-friendly lines like “You're the wrecking ball I've been waiting for” with more introspective moments, particularly on “Bully”.

Of note too are the biting riffs of guitarist Evan Purdey on tracks like 'Get Yours' and 'Thinking Of Strangers', but even on these livelier moments the pair are held back by a rhythm section that adds neither nothing new nor nothing of interest, and at some points it doesn't even sound like post-punk 101 but post-punk 1/10.

Although it is arguable whether such a criticism holds water in 2017 the album is also hindered by its structuring. The opening pair of 'Twist In The Dark' and 'Rose Blind' aren't attention grabbers despite being recent singles and it isn't until roughly the middle third of the album that Gold Class break out of jogging pace. In a genre that is often celebrated for the urgency of its sound this is somewhat off-putting.

There's a good band in Gold Class, but we may not see it until they split.

Gigwise Tue, 15 Aug 2017 15:25:01 GMT 110488
<![CDATA[ Album of the week: The Duke Spirit - Sky Is Mine ]]> The Duke Spirit have been around for over a decade now, going from strength to strength with each release. They arrived at a time when noughties – or what would later become known as landfill - indie was throwing up skinny jeans and leather jacket clad b(r)ands left right and centre so the London four-piece unjustly remained firmly rooted in the more underground (read adventurous) depths of British music.

In 2016 they returned from a two-year hiatus with a critically-acclaimed new album and EP, titled KIN and ‘Serenade’ respectively, and now they’re back again with their brilliant fifth LP Sky Is Mine. It’s a ferocious but contemplative listen that see’s their enthralling indie-rock effortlessly blur the line between psychedelia, dream pop and trip-hop. As frontwoman Liela Moss put it: “Sonically, it’s the most tender record we have made, the expansiveness will lift hearts but the rawness will burn through greedy fingers.”

This juxtaposition between the adrenaline-fuelled, muscular psych-rock gusto of some tracks and the sugar-coated, ethereal melodies of others is what makes this album so special and is made immediately clear with the first two songs. Album opener ‘Magenta’ is a high-octane call to arms that fans of Wolf Alice or The Kills will fall in love with – complete with enchanting almost-howling vocals and a scuzzy, throbbing bassline that propels the song mercilessly from start to finish. They take a step back with second track ‘Bones Of Proof’ – a beautifully sublime slow-burner where heavenly reverb-soaked vocals and shimmering guitars slowly build into a seriously impressive cacophony of screeching guitar feedback and horns akin to those last few minutes of Spiritualized’s ’Shine A Light’.

There’s no shortage of psychedelia/dream-pop influenced artists out there at the minute but what sets this record above the rafts of other bands trying to do the same thing is it’s utterly refreshing trip-hop feel. ‘Houses’ sounds like if Portishead arrived a decade earlier and went down the shoegaze route and the soft, piano-led ‘The Contaminant’ sounds like a straight-up trip-hop banger that could have been plucked right out of Massive Attack’s discography.

Produced by the band themselves and mixed by Bruno Ellingham (Massive Attack), the album also features guest vocals from Josh T Pearson (Lift to Experience) on the woozy, almost-soulful ‘How Could, How Come’ and Duke Garwood on the majestic album closer ‘Broken Dream’. This is an album that’s instantly captivating and totally hypnotising, once again pinning the band as one of the most distinctive UK indie-rock bands out there – don’t sleep on it.

Sky Is Mine is out 18 August via Ex Voto Records. 8/10

Gigwise Tue, 15 Aug 2017 14:24:14 GMT 110487
<![CDATA[ Album Review: The Sherlocks - Live For The Moment ]]> Most epic poets plunge “in media res” … That is the usual method, but not mine. My intention was to think of a cheeky Sherlock Holmes-related pun to really get this album review rolling. But, dear reader, after about five minutes of serious introspection it occurred to me that I’d probably spent way more time than The Sherlocks had trying to think of an original way I could introduce a tiny ray of sunshine into your humdrum lives – so in the end I didn’t bother.

Sometimes you feel like the Yorkshire band could be taking this album somewhere interesting, sometimes they take an instrumental break from all the Radio 1 platitudes and step cautiously on a distortion pedal. But then they start singing again, and the lyrics are the sort of motivational, relationship bunkum that should never be heard outside a pop song from a children’s B-movie. I can’t know for sure what the Sheffield nightlife is like these days, but The Sherlocks make it sound like an early Arctic Monkeys record that’s been scrubbed with far too much disinfectant.

In fact, lines like “Live For The Moment” seem pretty ironic given that this album doesn’t do much more than evoke a few noughties bands that we all should have forgotten about 10 years ago. Which might have been fine had The Sherlocks brought something new to the mix, and yet all they’ve done is unearth the predictable song structures and empty choruses that we already heard far too many times the last time around. ‘Indie-pop’, ‘indie-rock’, there are enough original bands out there to let us know that there’s still some life yet in these old portmanteaus, there’s just nothing innovative here to persuade you that one of these bands could be The Sherlocks.

Gigwise Tue, 15 Aug 2017 13:31:46 GMT 110485
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Lal & Mike Waterson - Bright Phoebus (Reissue) ]]>;-mike-waterson-bright-phoebus-reissue I’ll confess I’ve had a low quality, unofficial CD version of this album for years, most likely based on a recording made from a poor original pressing. I first found the songs - ‘The Scarecrow’ then the rest - down a YouTube wormhole, led to the source by versions from June Tabor and The Fatima Mansions. Not entirely lost then but as close as they come, this album was released in 1972 and sank almost without trace thanks to opprobrium from folk purists and a host of rights and royalty issues.

It’s hard to put oneself in the position of those who, even with the best intentions, dismissed Bright Phoebus for its stylistic variety and rock instrumentation, and for the fact that siblings Lal and Mike had written their own songs rather than continuing to perform material from the archives (as they had in vocal group The Watersons). This is partly due to current definitions of ‘folk’ being considerably more pliable and less politically freighted than they were at the dawn of the 70s, but also because the uncanny beauty of much of ‘Bright Phoebus’ now seems so evident.

At least the pair had their peers on their side. The album credits read like a who’s who of the late 60s/early 70s folk-rock scene - both Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span are amply represented, as well as third sibling Norma Waterson and singer Bob Davenport. The musicianship therefore is of the highest order, but what stands out above all are Lal and Mike’s voices in all their tremulous glory, and the sheer wonder of Lal’s songs. “These are your dreams among my dreams” she sings on ‘Fine Horseman’, which sums up the way her strange, allusive (and elusive) writing leaves room for the listener’s imagination. There’s also the suggestion of tapping into a collective unconscious via folk memory; in ‘Fine Horseman’, different voices, dream and reality, past and present, all seem to bleed into each other. That said, the visions don’t come purely from the past – the string-adorned ‘Never The Same’ focuses on a blighted future following nuclear fallout.

‘The Scarecrow’ was begun by Lal and finished and sung by Mike. (The reissue includes the unfinished demo, with Lal singing over significantly different chords to those in the final version. On the album, Martin Carthy and Richard Thompson accompany Mike in a delightfully off-the-cuff fashion). The song’s meaning changes every time you listen to it, as it circles questions of love - the kind of love that can begin in scorn or pity - agency and usefulness (the scarecrow does nothing of its own volition, it's only a "bag of rags in an overall", scaring the crows when the wind lifts its head up. But, just through its being there, "the corn can grow tall". That's all, maybe that's enough), and makes the much-noted references to fertility rites and child sacrifice: “and to a stake, they tied a child new-born.” This is the song’s folk-horror side; in his book on the British folk revival, Electric Eden, Rob Young points out that The Watersons often sang about the seasons, and here they're at it again. But in a pastoral vision, men are in tune with nature’s cycles, while ‘The Scarecrow’ notes that they're also trying to influence and interfere with it, by erecting a scarecrow, or murdering their own.

There’s a good deal of darkness and pain elsewhere on Bright Phoebus, but always devoid of the slightest trace of bitterness. ‘Child Among The Weeds’ takes the stillbirth of Lal’s son Oliver’s twin sister and transfigures it, pivoting on a startling moment when Bob Davenport takes the vocal virtually unaccompanied to sing “Fly bird fly in your raven wing, take to the sky for the love of wheeling and turning.” And on ‘Red Wine Promises’ (sung by Norma), Lal’s fallen “in the street in a drunken heap” but insists, stoically “I don’t need no bugger’s arm around me.”

Lal and Mike each contribute sympathetic portraits of ill-starred characters ‘Winifer Odd’ and ‘Danny Rose’, with the latter being, typically, the jauntier contribution. It’s Mike who gives the album balance by providing its more jovial moments, with the Sgt Pepper-style, fictional-group conceit of ‘Rubber Band’ and ‘Magical Man’s channelling of the carnival and the village fête. And it’s the brother who gives the album its title track and conclusion in the form of a luminous, country-rocking pagan hymn. The bonus demos in the reissue package include Lal’s highly personal ‘Song For Thirza’ and some decidedly melancholy essays from Mike, ‘One Of Those Days’ and ‘Jack Frost’. They provide a welcome opportunity to further wonder at the unsentimental clarity of the Watersons’ voices and the everyday mysteries they evoke.

Gigwise Mon, 31 Jul 2017 12:39:52 GMT 110396
<![CDATA[ Album Review: The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's 50th Anniversary Edition ]]> I’m sat in Studio 2 at Abbey Road, the same studio where The Beatles originally recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. Almost fifty years ago to the day the album ushered in The Summer of Love, I’ve been invited to listen to a new remix of one of the most revered albums in history.

Produced by Giles Martin, son of maverick producer George, and Abbey Road studio engineer Sam Okell, the remix certainly has a lot to live up to. Sgt. Pepper’s has gone Platinum 17 times over, sold 32 million copies, won four Grammy awards – the first rock album to do so – and regularly tops ‘the most influential album of all time’ lists. It was also the first ever concept album – whilst it may not be the best album they made (that honour may go instead to Revolver or Rubber Soul) – would we have had Dark Side of the Moon or Ziggy Stardust without Sgt. Pepper’s? With such accolades however, comes a conundrum. Should it ever be touched?

The last studio remix of _Sgt Pepper’s_ didn’t go down well with the band. Hastily remixed in just three days – compared to three weeks it took to produce the original mono version – much of the instrumental and vocal layering were lost. The original band members were not involved in the project at all: “you’ve not heard _Sgt. Pepper’s_ until you’ve heard the mono,” John Lennon famously quipped.

Giles Martin begins to tell a packed Studio 2 about the reasoning behind the anniversary project and what to expect from what his father deemed “the pinnacle” of their collaboration together. His and Okell’s four-month project aimed to produce a remix that would appeal to Beatles traditionalists (who Martin terms the “socks and sandals” brigade) and their “children and grandchildren” who have been told that this is the pinnacle of The Beatles work together. It would correct the wrongs of the rushed studio version, whilst using the mono as a “spiritual guide” throughout, together with the consultation of Paul and Ringo, and the families of George and John.

With those children and grandchildren are listening to Kendrick Lamar, Martin says, the issue is with making the album still sound as relevant on modern technology. “By moving back in time, by removing layers of process that’s there, now you listen to the album and it’s like you’re there. This makes for a much more immediate and vibrant sound – in fact, a much more modern sound. We’ve lifted these layers and let the record breathe and live.” Using the original 4-track mono tapes, Martin and Okell aimed to produce a record that sounded like a “3D version of the mono.” Martin makes a good point too, in that most people will have only ever heard the rushed stereo version on CD rather than the original mono. To illustrate the difference, Martin plays the original monos against the new remixed versions. And what a difference it is. None of the original quality of the originals is lost – they are not ‘mashed’ or remastered – this is a delicate lifting of layers to reveal the live and very loud sound The Beatles originally created in the studio. It is also a vast improvement on the stereo version.

Of the options to buy, there are many as you would expect from a band who kicked off the re-release process back in 1987 with the first CD of Sgt. Peppers’_and later with the excellent Anthology collections. There is a single CD with the studio remix, a deluxe expanded CD containing the studio remix alongside previously unreleased outtakes and the same on vinyl. For those of you with unlimited funds (well, £100), you can buy a ‘super deluxe’ option with the stereo, 34 unreleased recordings, mono mixes, high 5.1 stereo sounds, a hardback book, a DVD and artwork variations galore.

The new version is much louder, more cohesive and balanced a little more evenly. Ringo’s drums are given a greater prominence and the intricacies of the Beatles experimentation with sonic landscape is more evident. Lennon’s voice on ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ has greater clarity and boldness, and the band’s harmonies feel fuller and more spacious, with each of their voices given equal prominece. The psychedelic organs on the trippy circus-hall sounds of ‘For The Benefit Of Mr Kite’ make it feel as though you are actually inside one of the LSD trips that inspired so much of this albums content. ‘She’s Leaving Home’ feels somehow more emotive than the original with what feels like a slight tempo change; the strings feel somehow more isolated making it an even more emotionally crippling finale than the original.

‘A Day In The Life’ is one of the highlights of the project, especially the bridge crescendo before McCartney’s solo. The orchestra is still whole and powerful, but you can hear some of the “unpacking of layers” that Martin talks about – you can somehow hear the 41-strong orchestra whole, but also appreciate them as individual entities making you realise just how intricately the band built their songs. The closing crescendo is an almost a drone-like crash of the piano, reverberating for longer and like ‘She’s Leaving Home’, produces greater emotional intensity.

The Beatles made the decision to stop touring in 1967; not only could they not be heard over screaming fans, they realised that some of the songs couldn’t be played well live. Given an unlimited budget and studio time by EMI, The Beatles retreated into the studio to “push boundaries at breakneck speed”, as Giles Martin describes it. Afforded complete artistic freedom, together with the pioneering production support of Martin and the innovative sound engineering of Geoff Emerick, the album became the first piece of conceptual studio art-pop, arguably changing the way bands recorded music forever. On the deluxe edition of the CD, we get an insight into this process with the inclusion of unreleased material.

One of the most enjoyable of these is the outtake for ‘A Day In The Life.’ The Beatles originally used a choir to make humming noises at the end before changing tact entirely and adding the piano thud. More insight is given too, into what the songs might have sounded like being played live, particularly ‘Fixing A Hole.’

The deluxe versions also contain versions of ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘Penny Lane.’ Both recorded during the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions, EMI put George Martin under pressure to release them as a double-a side single separately to the album because the ten-month gap between the release of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s was considered too long. George Martin later described it as one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Happily, the new version corrects this and includes numerous versions of both; an acoustic version of ‘Penny Lane’ is particularly poignant.

The artwork of the album was just as iconic at the sounds, winning Peter Blake and Jann Howarth a Grammy for it’s design. The super deluxe version packaging is stunningly beautiful and for Beatles aficionados who appreciate the art as much as the music, the inclusion of lenticular artwork, the hardback booklet and posters will give more insights into the fascinating process behind it’s creation.

The new Sgt. Pepper’s remix is a stunning insight into the recording and creative processes The Beatles employed in making one of the most important albums in music. The new remix reveals more about the studio sound the Beatles wanted to create in 1967 and the intricate layering they employed to create their own wall of sound. The care and dedication Giles Martin and Sam Okell have taken mean this is a version traditionalists and new and future fans will appreciate for a long time to come.

Gigwise Mon, 05 Jun 2017 09:22:22 GMT 110024
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Little Dragon - Season High ]]> There are all sorts of reasons why bands 'make it'. That lucrative use in a TV show/advert/film clip, or the word of mouth and 'heat' from the music press. Often it was an iconic TV performance (rarer now, unless you count the horror of Jools Holland joining you on piano) that helped make an artist, while now it's more likely either number of YouTube plays or presence on a Spotify playlist that can make the difference in getting noticed.

Then you have the ones who could have been, the constant fixtures halfway up the bill at often interchangeable music festivals, the acts you always meant to hear more of but never got round to it.

Harsh though it may sound, Little Dragon are in many ways a textbook example of this. 2011's Ritual Union album showed promise, primarily due to the success of the title track, although little else on that album much held the attention. Collaborations with the likes of Gorillaz and De La Soul (and loose attachment to the 'trendy Gothenburg scene') only served to further convey the impression of a band somewhat lacking in depth, more a support act or 'guest' than much to be concerned with in their own right, 2014's Nabuma Rubberband doing little to change this.

Season High is clearly Little Dragon's attempts to alter this perception. There's almost a childlike quality to much of it; nuance is definitely not their thing. For a band often portrayed as hipsters, it's refreshing to hear them clearly just enjoying themselves.

Lead single ‘Sweet’ has an almost sickly sugary feel, whilst at the same time sounding like it's being played on a Sega Mega Drive. Elsewhere, influences such as Prince, 80s synths, drum machines and even Eddie Van Halen show themselves (check the shredding guitar solo on ‘Celebrate’, a cousin of the one last spotted on M83's Go).

‘High’ leaves you with the sense of lead singer Yukimi Nagano floating away on a cloud, before the likes of ‘Strobe Light’ and ‘The Pop Life’ call us back to the dance floor. ‘Push’ has a touch of Hot Chip about it, whilst ‘Butterflies and Gravity’ strive for something a bit more deep and meaningful, mostly managing to achieve it.

The album title Season High is an apt one – with spring in the air and with those many likely festival slots ahead of them it’s an album likely to be unassumingly played in the background at various parties, BBQs and in high street clothes stores (‘coming to a TopShop near you’). Which is not necessarily the worst thing.

Overall, however, there's definitely an element of Pick ‘n Mix to Little Dragon, which makes you wonder at times whether this is due to their sense of adventure or not quite settling on the style that best suits them. As a result, Season High does in parts feel like a bit of a tour through different genres, rather than a solid commitment to a sound and making it their own.

Gigwise Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:04:30 GMT 109782
<![CDATA[ Album Review: Jamiroquai - Automaton ]]> It must be said that upon being given 'the new Jamiroquai album' to review this writer felt a certain sense of trepidation. After all, how can any self-respecting music fan find a way to take seriously the work of JK, a man synonymous with some of the worst excesses of 90s culture - fast cars, celebrity relationships, a blizzard of cocaine - and perhaps even more criminally, white man funk (or acid jazz if you prefer)? He even had his own tabloid moniker as The Prat In The Hat.

First things first, as an album Automaton is completely all over the place. As the name would suggest, 'the future' looms large in its themes, ironic for a man rooted in 1997 in the nation's cultural subconscious. The video for the title track (and lead-off single) reinforces that the band have climbed aboard the dystopian bandwagon, as well as clearly listening to a lot of Justice and Simian Mobile Disco records. It's actually pretty ace, even excusing the sub-Sugarhill Gang 'rap' towards the end.

The album starts in a similarly futuristic vein, albeit a late 70s disco version of what the future was supposed to be like. Opener Shake It On invokes memories of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, the gist being that we're having a Boogie Wonderland on a spaceship. Even the closing refrain of "gonna be a freak tonight" is just a whisker away from telling us to "lose ourselves to dance". Cloud 9 puts us firmly back in familiar soul boy territory, the band clearly more in their comfort zone and the most obvious 'single' on here (you can see it being a live favourite). The distorted robot vocals and sudden tempo changes continue to throw the listener around, even if the likes of Superfresh sound like someone tampering with the playing speed of a Boney M LP.

Meanwhile, it's clear that with song titles like 'Superfresh', 'Hot Property' and 'Summer Girl' (basically the same tune as Cosmic Girl from 20 years ago with added clunky lyrics about "legs like liquid honey"), it's not just the music that's rooted in a bygone age - you get the feeling a song called 'My Car Drives Very Fast' was perilously close to making the cut.

'Nights Out In The Jungle' turns the vibe from disco to hip-hop (i.e. a bit of record scratching) with a pretty great baseline to be fair, although the continuing spaceship noises do make you wonder what sort of jungle this might be. However, with most tracks clocking in around the 4-5 minute mark and some even more, the whole thing is starting to feel like a bit of a slog by this point.

The trick is of course to remember that it wasn't always thus. Whisper it quietly, but the first couple of Jamiroquai albums were pretty good records; Emergency On Planet Earth sounds like a Stevie Wonder album (post-peak admittedly) in parts, whilst other influences such as Sly & The Family Stone and even Earth, Wind & Fire loom large. There was however always the lingering suspicion that although the band were able to replicate those sounds and grooves, it mostly felt like an approximation of the real thing. Thinking about it, it stands to reason that the band were big in the '90s, a decade that perfected 'imitation as a form of flattery' to a fine art.

All in all, Automaton comes across as a musical equivalent of Jimmy's Spices, one of those buffet-style restaurants where you get all types of cuisine in the one place - lots of variety and choice to explore but lacking a little in substance and potentially leaving you feeling a little bit sick.

Gigwise Fri, 31 Mar 2017 11:17:10 GMT 109655
<![CDATA[ Album Review: The Jesus & Mary Chain - Damage & Joy ]]> For a band famed and often celebrated for their seeming lack of commercial acumen (and general ability to fuck things up, as they themselves would admit) the stars seem to have aligned pretty well for the great Jesus & Mary Chain comeback of 2017.

Shoegaze, a much-maligned genre to which the Reid brothers are at least partially credited/blamed for having invented seems somewhat back in vogue, with the likes of The Moonlandingz clearly proud to wear their influences on their sleeves, whilst the 2014 Psychocandy nostalgia tour where the band played their seminal debut album in full from start to finish reignited many lost passions, also winning new fans in the process. *

With this release timed to coincide with a homecoming headline slot at a certain BBC-endorsed Scottish music festival and with fresh conversations around independence and Brexit adding extra spice to Anglo-Scottish relations, now could not be a better time for the return of the original Alan McGee/Creation-endorsed warring brothers and their notably tetchy outlook on life.

So we have Damage & Joy, an album preceded by early releases Amputation and Always Sad, both of which were well received and gained generous coverage and airplay. With this in mind, what's the album actually like?

When assessing TJ&MC (as I'm not sure they have ever been called, but I'm looking to start something new here) the main thing to remember is that with the odd exception of relatively straight forward chugging rockers such as 'April Skies', their best songs essentially follow two formats; scuzzy, feedback-drenched exercises in guitar noisery (think a less extreme version of peers My Bloody Valentine); and Phil Spector/Velvet Underground-indebted 'ballads', slower-paced tracks that recall 60s girl groups, wall of sound acoustics and Warhol-era New York. Indeed, their real moments of magic such as 'Just Like Honey' manage to combine the two, like Lou Reed and John Cale taking a buzzsaw to an amp.

On 'Damage & Joy', 'Amputation' follows the former, with its motorik groove and eerie backing vocals – more of which we hear later – whilst the boy-girl duet 'Always Sad' is one of the highlights of 2017 so far, nailing the 3-minute power pop their heroes The Velvets and The Ramones always managed to perfect so nonchalantly, sounding both meaningful and casually disaffected at the same time. So far so good.

'War & Peace' is another track that follows the slow-burning route, a funereal pace building to the sort of crescendo that you can picture soundtracking an edgy Netflix drama; 'All Things Must Pass' starts with a series of bleeps and glitches before introducing a riff that sounds very 90s, with the slightest reminiscence of pastiche rock (think 'Bohemian Like You' by The Dandy Warhols). It is not the last time this happens on the record.

‘Song For A Secret’, ‘The Two Of Us’ and closer 'Stop The Rock' continue to successfully share the heavy lifting for a fairer gender split (Bernadette Denning and Isobel Campbell respectively) with 'Black & Blues' employing guest vocalist flavour of the month Sky Ferreira, following her turns on last year's Primal Scream and DIIV albums. 'Simian Split' is perhaps the most interesting thing sonically on here, with bleepy electronics and a slightly creepy fairground vibe.

Ultimately it must be said that few of the lyrics stand up to close scrutiny, with girls tasting of coffee, puns around Roman noses/dim sum and obligatory references to both getting high and "the rain" (well they are Scottish after all). Perhaps the most unfortunate example of this is 'Los Feliz - Blues & Greens', with its sarcastic 'political message' of "God bless America" not adding up to a whole lot. There are plenty of other examples of what the less charitable might describe as '6th form poetry'.

Of course, like any band of men in their mid-late 50s with a stellar back catalogue behind them, there are limitations to what you can and should expect from a comeback, and many will likely view this as more a continuation from 1998's 'Munki' than any bold new step forward. Indeed, reports that some of the tracks have supposedly been knocking around for some time add to the sense of Damage & Joy being more a collection of songs than a coherent album in the traditional sense.

Overall though this should be viewed as a welcome return for a band whose absence has made the heart grow fonder, and whose influence is perhaps wider than previously given credit for (nowhere more evident than on film soundtracks such as Lost In Translation and the work of Kevin Shields/David Holmes). It is good to have them back.

Gigwise Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:48:44 GMT 109580