30 June 2009

>>>Kasabian>>>West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum>>>They may not look it but Kasabian are pretty clever blokes. In the build up to their third album, they released "Vlad The Impaler" online for a limited period, along with a video featuring every emo/scene/hipster/whatever girl's favourite comedian/pin-up Noel Fielding, running around being zany as usual. Then, they managed to get album opener "Underdog" to soundtrack the latest Sony Bravia advert which featured Kaka (wearing an AC Milan kit only a matter of months before switching to Real Madrid...woops). So far, so good in terms of exposure. Add to this a top 3 single with "Fire", roping in Rosario Dawson of Sin City fame for a duet ("West Rider/Silver Bullet") and being billed as Bruce Springsteen's 'special guests' at Glasto, Kasabian are certainly setting themselves up to be a Big Band™.

"West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum" certainly has all the hallmarks of a typical Big Band™ album; the preposterous name, the band's bravado around the release and a lot of psychedlic flavouring...if you catch my drift. In terms of the latter, it goes from the superb breakdown of second single proper "Where Did All The Love Go?" to the just plain oddness of the intro of the aforementioned Rosario Dawson duet (probably the only time the phrase "emus in the zone" will appear on an album). Whilst the psychedelia is fairly evident throughout, "West Ryder..." still has more than it's fair share of 'old Kasabain'. Tom Meighan's barked vocals on "Underdog" hark back to their debut, whilst "Vlad The Impaler" welcomes back the ground shaking bass that has characterised virtually every Kasabian hit.

But the pick of the bunch has to be "Fast Fuse". Released last year as a limited edition vinyl single, it's up with the band's best; a frantic, bluesy rocker with the best riff Noel Gallagher never wrote. Whilst the folksy "Thick As Thieves" offers a calmer but just as catchy side to the band as well as providing evidence that Sergio Pizzorno isn't that bad of a singer, the rest of the album appears to be little more than filler, and not even good filler at that. If anything "Ladies And Gentlemen (Roll The Dice)" resembles the dirges that made up the numbers on Oasis' post-Morning Glory, pre-Dig Out Your Soul albums, "Swarfiga" is a bland instrumental that goes nowhere remotely interesting and "Secret Alphabets" and "Happiness" are little more than Beatles pastiches that are only marginally better than The Enemy's efforts at the same.

The much-discussed cover may give the impression of a 21st Century "Sgt. Pepper's..." but the album itself is slightly more conservative, much less forward-thinking than that landmark. That's not to say that Kasabian haven't produced their best work to date, and one of the more brave albums of the year, in terms of branching out musically. I just hope Tom Meighan gets a good haircut and fast.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "Underdog", "Where Did All The Love Go?", "Fast Fuse", "Vlad The Impaler", "Take Aim", "Fire"
FOR FANS OF: Oasis, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Primal Scream


29 June 2009

>>>The Xcerts>>>In The Cold Wind We Smile
The amount of talent flooding from Scotland in the last half-decade or so. From the obvious Franz, View and Glasvegas to the more underground likes of Broken Records, Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit, it would seem there's something in the water north of the border. The Xcerts are the latest in a long line of band to hope over Hadrian's Wall, armed with some cool haircuts and a armful of proper tunes Alright, the drummer is from Exeter, but we'll ignore that for the time being.

This, their fantastically-titled debut "In The Cold Wind We Smile", has enough to please anyone, as long as you like loud shouty-yet-cacthy rock. The easiest comparison to make would be with the almighty Biffy Clyro, as both bands have an affinity for "quiet-loud-quiet-LOUD!" dynamics and the odd angular riff, as evidenced most clearly in "Listen Don't Panic". I could blather on about the many musical influences/touchstones that find themselves on this album, such as Ash, Nirvana, nu-metal (in a good way), but that would be boring and also because the band are in a field of their own. Their are hooks aplenty throughout "In The Cold Wind..." from cutesy "oooh-oooh-oooh"s on album highlight "Just Go Home" to the passionate bellowing on "Crisis In The Slow Lane". Musically, The Xcerts have talent beyond their young years, switching between tinnitus-inducing walls of noise, restrained, slow burning verses, funky, poppy middle eighths and acoustic laments all in the space of a few tracks.

For a debut, the sonic pallete is pretty amazing. They could either be a new My Bloddy Valentine or Foo Fighters or, judging by the calmer moments of the album, an alternative U2. And when it comes to lyrics, the band have a certain knack for tugging on hearstrings with at least one line per song. Prime examples such as "We could stay up, drink and talk this night away/The liquid that burns us is fire for words we wish we'd say" ("Just Go Home"), "I'm your new best friend/Yeah I'm your new haircut/Yeah I'm the open hole that burns down your neck and into your gut" ("Aberdeen 1987") and "We sat on a bridge and smoke until our lungs collapsed" ("Lost But Not Alone") should provide a lot of singalong moments at Xcerts gigs.

Going on the fact that they could appeal to pretty much any teen sub-culture that doesn't revolve around 'beats', it's suprising that The Xcerts aren't pretty big or at least on more "Ones To Watch" lists. "In The Cold Wind..." is a gem of an album and should they get the right amount of exposure (e.g. soundtracking a moment of angst on Skins/Hollyoaks, yet more support slots with the likes of Biffy and Future Of The Left) then The Xcerts will be making a lot of people's lives louder for the better
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "Home Versus Home", "Lost But Not Alone", Crisis In The Slow Lane", "Just Go Home", "Aberdeen 1987"
FOR FANS OF: Ash, Biffy Clyro, Nirvana, Tubelord, Dananananaykroyd


17 June 2009

>>>TRACKS>>>17.06.09>>> Ash, Florence And The Machine, La Roux, Marina And The Diamonds, Jack Penate, Noisettes, Sam Bennett And The Sharp Knees, Gossip

Ash - Return Of White Rabbit
Rejoice! Arguably the finest singles band of recent times have returned. Having given up making albums to concentrate on a series of singles for the next year (although the best of the lot will be compiled into an album, which kinda defeats the point...), Ash have released this as a precursor to the A-Z singles run. Whilst the heavy bass and disco guitars may be surprising, the amount of pop hooks are as high as ever. Funky and catchy enough to make it a Proper Hit™, it gives a few hints that Ash have some surprises up their sleeves this year.

Florence & The Machine - Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
Probably the oddest title of any song released by a much-hyped pop star so far this year, but this doesn't stop it from being Flo's best single to date. Lyrically it's a postulation on how ruthless the music world can be (a bit dangerous for a fresh, new star who has yet to release her album I reckon), but musically it's far from the ponderouse and worrisome subject matter. A mix of angelic harp-plucking, powerhouse drums and piano that verges on house, with only a little bit of synth tucked in for good measure, it may not be in vouge a la La Roux's/Litte Boots' throwbacks, but it's all the better for it and with a chorus that needs to be shouted out should make Ms Welch very popular at the summer festivals. The pick of the b-sides is Jamie T's lo-fi, dancey & dubby 'Lionheart' mix giving the option of dancing 'til you drop if you don't like the folky feel of the original

La Roux - Bulletproof
The biggest and most successful of the three hyped music-press-darling poplets (including the aforementioned Florence and Little Boots) having spent a month in the No 2 spot in the charts with "In For The Kill", La Roux look like grabbing their first Number 1 with this. The duo have created a track so 1980s that it should come with free shoulder-pads/Rick Astely/mass unemployment (delete where appropriate). Awash with synthesisers and enough 808 drumbeats to make Kanye West envious, it's a messy contrast to Elly Jacksion's simple vocal melody. The sheer amount of keyboards and electronic noise may not be too appealing to those of advanced years, but it's too catchy to ignore.

Marina And The Diamonds - The Crown Jewels EP
A challenger appears! Whilst everyone else is getting concerned with La Florence And The Roux Boot Machine (or something along those lines) young Marina has come along and produced some fantastic pop. Combining the simple charm of Kate Nash with the kookiness of Kate Bush, but without having the name Kate, Marina should be the alternative popstar of choice. Highlight "I Am Not A Robot" is reminiscent of Regina Spektor in it's perky, unusual lyrics and a charming, homemade feel. Definitely one to watch/namedrop to feel "indie".

Jack Peñate - Be The One
Biggest suprises in music this year? Blur getting back together? The Horrors' amazing second album? Alex Turner's hair (seriously he needs it cutting. Now!)? It could very well be Jack Peñate's second album "Everything Is New". This, the first proper single before the album's release, starts with trumpet blasts usually heard at South American carnivals or Timbaland's latest musical atrocity, instantly a world away from the overly-chirpy ska-pop of Peñate's debut. Despite including a hipster's handbook of influences, from Philidelphia soul to Afrobeat, this is pure pop from start to finish, and all the better for it. It's a remarkable turnaround for indie's whipping boy (circa 2007) and shows he clearly has bigger things in his sights. It's even got a "Born To Run"-style breakdown in the middle, for Pete's sake! Continue with tunes like this, and Mr Peñate could enjoy reverence reaching the level of The Boss...

Noisettes - Never Forget You
It's amazing what an advert can do; relieve mid-programme tedium (those Cadbury's ads), make you want to chuck the remote through the TV (again, those Cadbury's ads) and even revive a band's career. First The Clash with those jean commercials aaages ago and now the Noisettes. Okay, it's a bit of a jump between the two in terms of importance and overall greatness, but were it not for "Don't Upset The Rythmn" soundtracking a car ad, then the Noisettes would have been consigned to the pop scrapheap quicker than you can say Danni Minogue. But they've come back with a suprisingly good album and this soulful gem of a single. A Motown-esque bassline 'n' beat along with a smooth croon from Shingai Shoniwa amake for a delightful pop tune, even before the chorus, which is catchy enough to rival Swine Flu, brings in the distorted guitars of their earlier work as well as lucious, lilting strings. They're already fairly big, but if this doesn't cement their place, I'll eat my straw hat.

Sam Bennett And The Sharp Knees - Hummingbird EP
Odd name, good pop. The unsigned indie-poppers from Nottingham combine the bubblyness of The Rumble Strips and Jack Peñate's debut with The Undertones knack for a good hook to great effect. A warning though; this isn't for any indier-than-thou hipster who's favourite band haven't played one gig, released an album and the only thing available by them is 5 seconds of noise on Pitchfork. Okay, OTT stereotype, but SB&TSK are poppy and don't seem to care. "Two Headed Girl" is a sure-fire future hit whilst the title track shows a softer acoustic side before bursting into pure happiness in pop form and ending with a pretty epic-sounding wall of guitars. In my opinion they're just a Jo Whiley play or two away from the big time.
[>>>Download a selection of Sam Bennett & The Sharp Knees tracks for free>>>]

Gossip - Heavy Cross
Completing this female-dominated edition of NEU! are Gossip. Remember them? Apparently their record company don't think you will, and have resorted to using uber-hit "Standing In The Way Of Control" on the promo advert for the new album, with a disclaimer saying "'...Control' appears on the previous album of the same name, not on new Gossip album "Music For Men"". It just smacks of desperation to me, but I digress. Basically "Heavy Cross" is Franz Ferdinand, with Beth Ditto's warbling on top. Nothing new, innovative, special. Okay, it's a pretty funky track Ditto is a good singer (and rather scary looking in the video) but there's a feeling that, having soundtracked so many parties thanks to Skins, they should be making awesome pop instead of mediocre retreads. As Beth says herself "it's already been done".

3 June 2009

>>>Manic Str
eet Preachers>>>Journal For Plague Lovers>>>
The Rs are backwards. The cover is by Jenny Saville. Vocal samples are scattered across the album. There are thirteen tracks. And, most of all, the lyrics are written by Richey Edwards. But, despite the parallels, the 9th album by the Manics is certainly not "The Holy Bible: Part II" . Whereas their masterpiece is dark, callous, bitter, acerbic, fiercely intelligent and a document of Richey's deterioration; both mentally and physically (as evidenced in "4st 7lbs"), JFPL is a different beast, for the most part.

The album's opener "Peeled Apples" begins with a line from The Machinist, Christian Bale whispering ominously "You know so little about me...what if I turn into a werewolf or something?" before Nicky Wire's best bassline in forever kicks in. The track instantly grabs you with the mix of superb guitar riffs coupled with an anthemic chorus of "Riderless horses on Chomsky's Camelot/Bruises on my hips from digging my nails out" that seems only a little less cool due to the fact it sounds like "Temptation" by Heaven 17. "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time" may be the most bizarre song title of the year, but the weirdness belies the typical Manics fare that it actually is. FM-friendly rock isn't something you'd expect looking at the album cover but the majority of JFPL's first half is pretty much this. Not that this is a bad thing whatsoever.

In fact, the Manics sound reinvigorated and fresh, buoyed by their critical and commercial resurgence. And with this newfound sense of purpose they've produced an amazing piece of work. "Me And Stephen Hawking" continues in the same vein as "Jackie Collins..." and is probably the only song ever to mention human cloning, Giant Haystacks and Stephen Hawking. In these two tracks, Edwards' rather surreal sense of humour is brought to the fore, giving us some of his best one lyrics e.g. "Oh Mummy what's a Sex Pistol?", "Oh the joy, me and Stephen Hawking, we laughed/We missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical". Laughing at a Manics record (in a good way) isn't something that happens often, but there's good reason to here.

The album's first acoustic moment arrives in the form "This Joke Sport Severed" sounds epic, like it should be used soundtrack a battle in a Hollywood film. The simplicity of the acoustic strumming is at odds with the string section (possibly the best since Everything Must Go") but it gels together so well. Being overblown is what the band has excelled at for around 20 years and they show no signs of stopping now. The title track isn't much to get excited over musically (sounding a little like a distorted version of Foo Fighters' "Learn To Fly") but lyrically it's a continuation of Richey's long-term grudge against organised religion, showing that despite his diminishing state he was still as fierce as ever. "She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach" is far from the brutal imagery that the title suggests and provides one of many singalong moments that are sure to be a highlight of future Manics gigs.

From the energetic rock delights of "She Bathed..." and the title track to the sweet and tender "Facing Page: Top Left". Similar in structure to "Small Black Flowers In The Sky", harp and all, it appears to show Richey's most personal take on lyrics so far: "Here I am rise and shine/Weighed down of course I cry". You'd have a tough job trying to find a couplet as emotive as that on any album previous to his disappearance. The second part of the album delves into a somewhat more lyrically-obscure place. "Marlon J.D." is all post-punk guitars and programmed drums but references and includes quotes from relatively unknown Brando flick Reflections In A Golden Eye whilst "Doors Closing Slowly" starts with probably the most depressing opening lines ever; "Realise how lonely this is?/Self defeating, oh fuck yeah".

"All Is Vanity" was Richey's personal favourite lyric (according to the folders of lyrics he gave to the band before leaving) and with good reason too. Appearing to be a reaction to narcissism, and in particular the band's early "Stay Beautiful" days, it's a song that combines both the anger and futility rarely seen together in Edwards' lyrics. Musically it's James Dean Bradfield who pushes the song forward, passionately bellowing out "It's the facts of life, sunshine" and producing one of the best guitar parts on the album. "Pretension/Repulsion", seen as a companion piece to "All Is Vanity" by the rest of the band, 'resolving the issues...by talking about the idealisation of beauty, or what is ugliness' according to Nicky Wire. Again, Bradfield produces a great guitar line as well as making a chorus of "Shards oh shards, the androgyny fails/Odalisque by Ingres, extra bones for sale" almost irresistible to shout out.

"Virginia State Epileptic Colony" lightens the tone musically, sounding almost summery, in spite of it's fairly dark subject matter. Plus it gives the chance for all Manics fans to shout the word "Piggy" a lot a gigs, something not previously seen at their gigs. JFPL ends with "William's Last Words", which again brings out the tender, acoustic side of the album. Composed by Nicky Wire, he also sings on the track, which isn't usually something to write home about as most fans will know, but for some reason his Lou Reed-meets-Ian Brown drawl works perfectly. The plaintitive strumming eventually builds into a full orchestral backing and "Jimmy Page-esque guitar" and has a definite Beatlesy feel to it. The lyrics as they are on the song can be interepreted as a suicide note from Richey, or a kind of goodbye from Wire, who edited most the lyrics. For example, there aren't many ways to take lines like "I'd love to go to sleep and wake up happy", "Goodnight my sweetheart, until we leave tonight, hold me in your arms/Wish me some luck as you wave goodbye to me, you're the best friends I ever had" and others, found here But reading the original prose that it was taken from shows that it may not have either of those connotations, instead it could be an analogy or character piece. Noone will ever really know, but for now, the lyrics picked by Wire make "William's Last Words" the most heartfelt and beautiful thing the Manics have recorded.
Whilst the outrage and venomous anger are not as evident on JFPL as they are on "The Hold Bible", it shows that Edwards was jsut as capable as casting judgement inside himself and turning it into fantasic, complex lyrics as he was at doing it across society. This album could signal a new chapter in the Manics' career, pushing them into new directions musically and lyrically. Who knows what the future holds for one of the most important bands in British music? But for now, Manic Street Preachers have produced a work of art, an album that stands up to and betters almost all of their back catalogue, as well as a brave and emotional send-off for their fallen friend.