25 April 2009

>>>The Maccabees>>>Wall Of Arms>>>
Impassioned, slightly "Landan", slightly Robert Smith-esque vocals? Check. Trademark sense of jittery immediacy in the music? Check. Album cover that is a bit twee and slightly creey? Check. Reverb? Check. Horns? Check ....wait; reverb and horns...on a Maccabees record? It's a sure sign that we're in for something different on Wall of Arms. Clearly moving on from the romantic indie of their debut "Colour It In", The Maccabees sound is more spacious, more ambitious and catchier than ever.

Pre-album mutterings and reviews about "Arcade Fire" are half right. In many songs there is a similar sense of epicness of that Canadian septet that seems more suited for for stadiums and festival mainstages than the Academys and Barflys that The 'bees are regularly found playing. Opener and lead single "Love You Better" is the perfect example of the majority of "Wall Of Arms"; bright, breezy, echoey but with a hint of melancholy. Fitting with the 21st Century Rule Of Indie, the chorus is just "I will love you better" repeated ad infintum, but it never becomes annoying, instead working with every other element of the song to create what should be a massive hit for the band. If you don't love it, then you're either a) a cold hearted misanthrope b) a death metal fan or c) dead inside. And it's not even the best song here.

There's a certain something about The Maccabees that makes sure you connect with at least one thing in their songs. Either the won't-sit-still post-punk of their debut, their inherent Englishness, the open romance of the lyrics or something else you just can't put your finger on. Songs such as "One Hand Holding" introduce a rather summery - you could even call it calypso - edge to the proceedings and they're accessible to virtually everyone, even if 'relationship suicide' isn't everyone's cup of tea for summer songs. "Can You Give It?" has a bassline that's waaay to jaunty for it's own good as well as an opening guitar line that deserves to be heard from a main stage and a chorus that needs to be shouted back. The title track and "Young Lions" continues in the same vein, with Orlando Weeks' plaintitive throaty vocals ideal warming the cockles of any heart and the former seeing the return of the horns to augment the sound perfectly. The band's musical ability is highlighted superbly throughout these first four tracks; bouncing basslines, rumbling drums and guitar stabs at all the right moments, as well as a well-orchestrated wall of sound on the title track.

But as the album leads you into thinking you're getting the perfect summer album, it brings up the biggest suprise of "No Kind Words". Released as a download a month or so ago, it's a world away from the usual Maccabees output; dark, spacious, ominous. It sounds like a lost Joy Division track, low basslines and spiky guitar. Yet, suprisingly, it's really catchy. Must be the band's special taleny. It's certainly a refreshing change, but there's yet another suprise at the end. Whereas the download version was just the song alone, this album version includes an added instrumental section at the very end which is the opposite of "NKW", blissed out, cheerful. It's all a bit unexpected. "Dinosaurs" sees the horns brought out again. It appears they're here to stay in The Maccabees' sound and they're all the better for them. As "Wall Of Arms" progresses, it becomes more and more clear that The 'bees are headed for the Indie Premier League. Whilst it's unlikely they'll ever reach the youth culture-uniting realms of Arctic Monkeys, The Maccabees are definitely on the up.

They say "save the best 'till last". "Wall Of Arms" certainly does that. The final three tracks are three of the best this year with The Maccabees romanticism and unforgettable melodies brought to the fore and allowed to shine. This may sound like hyperbole, but trust me, it's far from it. Anyone who listens to "William Powers" should fall completely in love with it, even if they hate "na na na" chants. "Seventeen Hands" is a slow burner but turns out to be a majestic piece of indie-pop. "Bag Of Bones", the album's closer, is a beautiful ballad, the kind of thing that The Maccabees have always seemed capable of doing; perfect lilting, almost dreaming pop. It's a fitting end to an album that has seen, formerly, one of the most promising bands in Britain mature and find what they excel at. If The Maccabees keep on in this direction then music lovers are very lucky indeed.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "Love You Better", "Can You Give It?", "Young Lions", "No Kind Words", "William Powers", "Seventeen Hands", "Bag Of Bones".
FOR FANS OF: The Cribs, Jack Peñate, The Wombats, all things happy, fun and pop.


24 April 2009

>>>Maxïmo Park>>>Quicken The Heart>>>
Ahh Maxïmo Park. Members of the post-Libs/Monkeys indie boom of 2005/06. One of only a three of good bands to appear from the North East in, well, forever (along with The Futureheads and The Chapman Family). And criminally underrated for as long as they've been releasing material, as far as I'm concerned. Yes, I know underrated bands don't usually get placed third on the bill at Leeds Festival on the Friday, but for all Maxïmo's pop sensibility and intelligent hooks, they've yet to make much of an impact on the mainstream...well apart from being included on one SingStar game. Debut "A Certain Trigger" propelled them to indie kids hearts but follow-up "Our Earthly Pleasures" saw them switch from angular indie to a more American alternative sound but lose more than a few fans due to the lack of "hits". Third album "Quicken The Heart" is aiming to throw them back into the big leagues....

Opener "Wraithlike" was released as a free download a while back and is a jittery, lo-fi rocker which sees Paul Smith barking "Here's a song that finally you can understand!" Not the most veiled of attacks, but it's a way of getting those who wrote them off as too clever and wordy to listen up. As a whole, the track is a bit to stop-start to make any real impact. "The Penultimate Clinch" is a little better, returning to the classic Maxïmo sound, but it still manages to slip under the radar. A below par opening to the album does little to raises hopes until "The Kids Are Sick Again" starts up with pulsating keyboards and hammered drums. It provides the first real catchy moments of "QTH" with the first chorus of "I don't mind losing self respect/I've done it before.... and I'll do it again!" and the closing coda of "The kids are sick again, nothing to look forward to/They've jumped the cliff again, future sinks beneath the blue". It may take a while to get into but it's certain to be a highlight of their Reading/Leeds set this summer.

"A Cloud Of Mystery" and "Calm" provide a slowing of the pace but keep the quality high, whilst "In Another World (You'd Have Found Yourself By Now)" is a rare thing; a great wordy title with a great chorus to match it, whilst "Let's Get Clinical" and "Tanned" provides probably the dullest songs of the album and of the band's career. But just when you think it's downhill from here "Roller Disco Dreams" grabs you by the heart and throat and doesn't let go. The distorted guitars mix irresistibly with the synth riff and the lyrics are some of the best that Paul Smith has served up (example: "We shared a bed but never touched/Next time we compensated in a rush" and the stunning chorus "Oh the fireworks in Brixton/Two carousel hearts spinning/If it's a grower, why can't we take things slower/She dreams of the roller disco/Head full of curls on my pillow/If it's a grower, why can't we take things slower").

The final two tracks are a sign that Maxïmo are finding their spark once again. "Overland, West Of Suez" is an upbeat indie-rocker complete with 60s freakbeat keyboards and chugging garage rock guitars, not dissimilar to The Horrors' first album. Album closer "I Haven't Seen Her In Ages" is Maxïmo's funkiest track to date, with a bassline made for dancing to. In comparison the their back catalogue it's much more laid back and restrained, which definitely works for Maxïmo. Overall, "QTH" certainly puts the Park back on track, and whilst there may be a little too much filler for this to be a great album it points towards a fantastic future for both band and fans.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "The Penultimate Clinch", "The Kids Are Sick Again", "In Another World (You'd Have Found Yourself By Now", "Roller Disco Dreams"
FOR FANS OF: The Rakes, Pulp, The Futureheads

TRACKS>>>24.04.09>>>Dizzee Rascal, Green Day, Jarvis Cocker, Magistrates, Frankmusik

Dizzee Rascal - Bonkers (featuring Armand Van Helman)
Straight from the uber-success of the Calvin Harris collaboration "Dance Wiv Me", Dizzee has served up another bona-fide chart hit. If this isn't everywhere within a few weeks of it's release then I'll eat my hat. It's difficult to even figure out which genre to pigeonhole "Bonkers" into. Switching between straight-up pop, cheesy dance, hip-hop and even rock with a heavy bassline and the main guitar riff owing more to Kerrang! than Channel U, "Bonkers" is exactly what it says on the tin. Essentially just one big chorus (with a gradually annoying middle eighth, consisting of a generic dance hook), it won't please any hardcore rap/hip-hop/"urban"/"grime"/"whatever the kids are calling it these days" fans, but Dizzee can look forward to another Number One.

Green Day - Know Your Enemy
What do you expect from this, the first new material from the post-American Idiot Green Day? Face melting solos? Orchestral arrangements? Stacks upon stacks of synths? Well if you're deluded enough to want any of them from Green Day, then you'll be disappointed. "KYE" is what Billie Joe & co have become most talented at; simple, catchy stadium punk anthems. Okay, it is the most repetitive chorus since "Ruby" (take a wild guess how it goes) but that doesn't take away from it being a good ol' rock song. Not one of GD's best, but certainly whets the appetite for their forthcoming three-part "21st Century Breakdown" concept album

Jarvis Cocker - Angela
Ah Jarvis, what ever happened? Lead singer of Pulp, probably one of, if not the best band to come out of Britpop, Jarvis has assumed a sort of elder statesman role since the band went on hiatus in 2002; moving to Paris, generally being viewed as a king of all that is indie. His first solo album was pretty darn good, not exactly hitting the heights of Pulp's best but getting there. But in comparison "Angela" (the first single from second album "Further Complications") is, well, a bit crap really. The production leaves the song too flat to have any sense of verve or urgency, until a rather generic solo. Jarvis' usual witty musings are all but missing from the lyrics, which consist mainly of the highly annoying repitition of "Angela! Oh Angelaaa!". It's just quite puzzling to as to how the creator of "Common People" has churned out this.

Magistrates - Heartbreak
One quarter of the NME Radar Tour lineup (as well as Heartbreak, The Chapman Family and La Roux), Magistrates could be this year's answer to Friendly Fires. They've been described as Klaxons-meets-James Brown, and that combination is too far off the mark. "Heartbreak" has all the ingredients to see the Essex boys thrown into the limelight. A keyboard riff that anyone can whistle, a good chunk of 80's sheen, galloping drums, a simple-yet-funky bass line and there you have it; the underground pop hit of the year, in my humble opinion; music for the mind, hips and feet. If Magistrates aren't massive by next year's festivals, then I'll find another hat to eat.

Frankmusik - Better Off As Two
I really wanted to like Frankmusik. I mean really wanted to. The name is pretty cool, he looked cool the first time I saw him and the chorus of previous single "Three Little Words" was stuck in my head for at least two weeks. But now he just represents the ultimate in crap corporate pop in 2009. Evidence, you say? Well the endless slew of adverts advertising his singles for download and ordering through your phone, signing up for MySpace sponsored gigs, having awful hair and appalling fashion taste. Okay, the last two are less to do with crap corporate pop and more to do with being stuck in 2006/7 but there's still a valid point. In releasing "Better Off As Two", Frankmusik seems content to churn out sub-sub-sub Friendly Fires dance-pop and sing like his tongue is way too big for his mouth whilst collecting "Ones To Watch" plaudits. It's just plain wrong. This is not what pop should sound like in 2009 with the amount of truly interesting artists around such as Little Boots, Jamie T and Late Of The Pier. *end rant*


FROM: NYC, New York
GENRE: Indie
SOUNDS LIKE: A secret Elvis Costello/Strokes collaboration with a dollop of funk on top. Or, in reality, songs sung by models about girls, getting drunk and more girls but good. Should really soundtrack the summer.
BEST TRACKS: "Rich Girls" "Teen Lovers" "She's Expensive" "Hey Hey Girl"
SIMILAR TO: Vampire Weekend, Friendly Fires, Wham! (yes seriously), Black Kids, Mystery Jets
CHECK OUT: Their 7/10-rated self-titled debut album, released last Monday (20th April)

9 April 2009


>>>The Horrors>>>Primary Colours>>>
Last time I heard anything from The Horrors, I was standing front row at an Arctic Monkeys gig in Manchester. The Horrors were supporting and not doing a very good job of it. When you've got a crowd with a large percentage of chavvy dickheads, sending out a goth-punk band is not a good idea. There was a cacophony of boos and barrage of various things thrown at them (quite a few McDonalds toys, which was a bit surreal to say the least). It wasn't exactly the most pleasant place to be. I'll make it clear that I hated The Horrors. To me, they were pretentious, arty-farty pretend goths peddling below average garage-punk. Even their best song ("Count In Fives") was a rip-off of something else. But a year and a bit down the line from the overly hostile support slot, The Horrors have bounced back with something totally unexpected, different and, above all, brilliant.

"Primary Colours" is an album that wears its influences on its sleeve (which is presumably black). Elements of The Jesus And Mary Chain, Joy Division, Kraftwerk, Neu! and even the Stone Roses can be found somewhere here. Not hiding this fact away allows The Horrors to create something new and exciting whilst building on the work of their influences. The ambient intro to "Mirror's Edge" is a world away from anything on their debut, fading into a Stone Rose-aping bassline and a tornado of distortion courtesy of guitarist Joshua Third. "Three Decades" continues in the same shoegazing vein, with the swirl of guitars and eerie synths sounding like a demented fairground ride. "Who Can Say" incorporates a chugging guitar riff with a fantastic ghostly synth line, and provides one of the best moments of the album with it's spoken word middle-eighth ("And when I told her I didn't love her anymore, she cried/And when I told her, her kisses were not like before, she cried/And when I told her another girl had caught my eye, she cried/And then I kissed her with a kiss that could only mean goodbye...") and the drumbeat to "Be My Baby" (a staple of any shoegaze record).

Upto this point, one of the most surprising thing about this record is that it has more catchy hooks in one song than in the entirety of The Horrors' debut. Stripped of the wall of distortion, ethereal synths and Faris Badwan's mumbled delivery, most of these tracks could probably be jangly indie-pop hits in the right hands. But, of course, they work best with The Horrors, otherwise I wouldn't be raving about them right now. "New Ice Age" is possibly the closest thing here to the debut, but even then it would stand out by a mile if slotted in on "Strange House". Another surprising element of "Primary Colours" is the similarity to Joy Division. JD are one of the more vogue names to drop in terms of influences at the minute (just look at Editors, Interpol, White Lies etc) but The Horrors' take on Manc melancholia is a world away from the clean, sanitised, "sat-nav" vision of despair currently being touted in the charts/NME. The fuzzy guitar riffs, basslines and synths all, at some point, resemble Joy Division, as well as Faris' proper singing voice being a carbon copy of Ian Curtis' baritone. Hell, even "I Only Think Of You" sounds like a modern equivalent to "Atmosphere".

Anyway, away from comparisons, the final three tracks are three of the most interesting on "Primary Colours". "I Can't Control Myself" is a mix of their past sound with their current, making it one of the most accessible on the album whilst the title track is pure demented pop with an actual catchy chorus for probably the first time here. I've already mentioned the ambitious comeback single and album closer "Sea Within A Sea" in a previous post. Eight minutes long with no discernible chorus and 3 minutes and 6 seconds of that being purely instrumental music, this is the bravest thing they could have done and the most pleasantly surprising for a band written off as the ultimate "hair and trousers" band. For having the courage to reinvent themselves and then pulling off an album such as this with aplomb, they deserve all the plaudits they can get. The only hope now is that the brilliance continues.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "Mirror's Image", "Who Can Say", "Do You Remember", "New Ice Age", "I Only Think Of You", "Primary Colours", "Sea Within A Sea"
FOR FANS OF: Joy Division, The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, The Sonics


>>>Yeah Yeah Yeahs>>>It's Blitz!>>>
2009 has been a good year for reinvention. Franz Ferdinand have gone from angular indie-rock to experimental disco-dance, The Horrors have morphed from being a bad goth/Sonics tribute band to something a world away (more on that later) and Lily Allen is now Britain's official "state-of-the-nation" addresser according to The Guardian, which says a fair bit about The Guardian's musical taste and knowledge. Moving swiftly on, previous to this year, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were the archetypal 21st Century garage rockers; squalling vocals, choppy distorted guitars and a simple but danceable beat to get them played in indie clubs. But with third album "It's Blitz!", they've dropped the guitars (for most of the tracks) and unexpectedly gone from punk to pomp. Surprisingly they take to electro like ducks to water.

First single "Zero" is a modern classic, mixing the new electronic elements with guitarist Nick Zinner's underrated riffing and Karen O's vocal acrobatics, lodging itself in your memory after the first listen. There isn't much else on "It's Blitz!" that matches up to the superb opener, but that doesn't mean it's all filler. "Heads Will Roll" uses the electronic and guitar parts more liberally and makes for a masterful piece of pop, outstripping the efforts of Lady Gaga, La Roux et al who have attempted the same but fallen well short. "Skeletons" more laid-back synths and militaristic beat allows for a welcome change of pace for five minutes. "Dull Life" brings the album back to life with it's spaghetti western-esque riffs and a return to the YYYs of old in the middle of the track.

But to my ears, this isn't the "spectacular" and "epic" album raved about by the music press. The first half is fantastic, no doubt about that. But past that point everything gets a little samey and dull, apart from album closer "Little Shadow" which sounds like it should have been on Glasvegas' Christmas mini-album with its thumping drums, shimmering synths and bittersweet vocals. If album four is a mix of "Zero" and more of their earlier work then YYYs will have produced a classic. But for now, we're left with a simply alright electro album.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "Zero", "Heads Will Roll, "Dull Life", "Skeletons", "Little Shadow"
FOR FANS OF: La Roux, Blondie, The Raputre, Friendly Fires


>>>Passion Pit>>>Chunk Of Change EP + The Reeling>>>

There are some bands that prove simple to pigeonhole. For instance, The Futureheads are simple indie-rock, Bon Iver is folk and The Pigeon Detectives are bollocks. But there are the bands that are almost impossible to categorise, such as Late Of The Pier, Foals, Grammatics, Test Icicles. Obviously you can sweep them all under the all encompassing carpets of "indie" and "alternative" (as I'm kinda forced to do when tagging these posts) but doing that plainly ignores the other elements those bands have and strive to put into their music and make them stand out. The latest band to join "the uncategorised" is Passion Pit. Hailing from Massachusetts, Passion Pit throw bits of pop, dance, soul, indie and even a little emo (the chorus to "I've Got Your Number - "Can't you see me crying?/Tears like diamonds" is irresistible and wholly emo at the same time) into their musical melting pot and this approach has seen them tipped as a big name for 2009.

Their pop is the opposite of the bland, interchangeable pap peddled by Cowell & co, you won't find it in Tescos for a fiver. Their dance is the opposite to the stuff clogging up the charts, making you think "What is this? This is rubbish! We should be listening to firm young melodies, kicking tunes, thumping bass!" and then hopefully "God I sound so stupid!". "Chunk Of Change" is the next logical step on from LCD Soundsystem's hipsterness, Metronomy's joy-to-despair lyrics and Friendly Fires pure-pop-through-dance formula. Standout track "Smile Upon Me" even steals it's chorus melody from LCD's "All My Friends". The EP may be a little challenging to listen to with its 8 tracks reaching almost 45 minutes, but is definitely worth a full listen if only to get to future classic "Sleepyhead". This one track is probably the best example of pop in 2009; an electronic wall of sound mixed with a million and one hooks and just a feeling of utter joy. If that makes any sense. It's happy, it's danceable and it should be everywhere this year.

Passion Pit's lead single "The Reeling", taken from their debut album "Manners", doesn't quite match up to the tracks on "Chunk Of Change" but that would be a difficult task to follow for any band. Instead we get a faintly 80's sounding surefire hit. Big beats, a simple melody and all manner of keyboard whirrings should propel this to the charts, but knowing the British music-buying/downloading public, it will probably reach about Number 112.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "I've Got Your Number", "Smile Upon Me", "Cuddle Fuddle", "Sleepyhead", "The Reeling"
FOR FANS OF: LCD Soundsystem, Friendly Fires, Hot Chip, Metronomy

Chunk Of Change - 9
The Reeling - 8

Yet another new feature. Should be a good'un. Basically if a good track shuffles up on me in iTunes and it's rather old (i.e. hasn't come out in the last six months or so) or obscure (compared to like Oasis, Arctics, Franz) then I shall extol it's virtues for you lot. Simples? And the honour of being first featured in this, er, feature goes to......*drumroll*

>>>The Walkmen>>>The Rat>>>

Washington-via-New York garage-rockers The Walkmen's biggest hit is undoubtedly "The Rat". Released in 2004, it's stood the test of time through the "death" of the garage-rock scene of the early '00s as well as the rise and fall of nu-rave and can definitely be considered a modern classic. The guitars never let up for a second, thrashing at chords for the entirety of the song, whilst the superbly named Hamilton Leithauser's vocals would prove a challenge for anyone attempting this at karaoke in that you'd have to have gargled glass to sound the same. The organ adds another dimension to the sound, giving a retro feel whilst making the song somehow danceable in an odd sort of way and the drumming is relentless. Even air-drumming the first minute or so will leave you knackered (this is the voice of experience speaking). Plus, they're Russell Howard's favourite band, so you know they've got to be good.
(no way of embedding the video, but here's a link to it :])