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“It’s better to burn out than fade away” is a quote often bandied around on the modern alternative scene. ‘Ternion’, the second full-length offering from Manchester-based indietronic three-piece We Have Band, shows there can be a degree of nuance to synth-pop. Think New Order, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or the Antlers or Kraftwerk spawning a mildly irked Hot Chip, and you won’t be far off. What strikes you about this album is its dynamism: in places it is bombastic and almost primal in its draw, while in others it can float unaided and, sadly, it occasionally sags.
‘Shift’ leans towards neo-psychedelia circa MGMT. Someone’s obviously forgotten to plug the synth in, unlike ‘After All’ which goes off like a Mega Drive on a bad trip. The looped guitar whisper on this track is the siren that lures you to the depths of distorted bass synth, humming like seawater in your eardrum throughout the song. A rousing and mesmeric vocal melody seals it up as a definite floor-filler. ‘Ternion’ then takes a premature nose-dive: single ‘Where Are Your People’ (video below) and the faux-empirical ‘Visionary’ are sadly forgettable, while ‘What’s Mine, What’s Yours’ sounds a bit like their take on the theme from ‘Look Around You’.
Thankfully, ‘Steel in the Groove’ is the full hypnotic assault that revs the album back from its idle meander. It is, however, an intro that is not matched by the featureless dance soundscape that follows. ‘Tired of Running’ is similar in structure, continuing the ‘90s house vibe, but this time manages to maintain a rhythm which proves to be alarmingly infectious. On ‘Watertight’, the band hit their stride again with a swinging beat and mesmerising vocals. The march continues, sounded by the primal drums of ‘Rivers of Blood’, filled with so many throwaway bleeps it sounds like a microwave with Tourette’s. ‘Pressure On’ is an ethereal contrast to the rest of the album, with a comforting fuzz and almost choir-like melancholy.
ZZ Top discussed recently in an article in the Guardian the idea that music correlates with the sounds of the society in which it was born. The deep-south had the roar of Spitfire engines strapped to planks scything through the swamps of Texas. The first tech-boom of the ’80s, still harbouring some of the colour and optimism of the preceding 20 years, brought the synthesizer from a nerdish and maligned boy’s toy to an instrument that was to revolutionize all subsequent music. There’s something in these moments of serene, technological ambience, the stuttering glitches of a ’90s printer, and 8-bit charm that means although it may not be prove to be seminal, ‘Ternion’ undoubtedly captures the world in which We Have Band grew.
‘Ternion’, the second album from We Have Band, is available today through Naive.
After being singled out for stardom at the turn of the millennium, Goldfrapp were tipped to be the sound of this decade. These days it seems that you will only hear the synth pop duo’s tunes over an advert for some kind of detergent, so as if to combat a fall into obscurity Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory are releasing a singles collection. It’s sort of a “best of”, incorporating everything that you’ll have probably heard of note by the duo.
The album starts strongly with arguably the bands most well received single, ‘Ooh La La’. And while again this song may only conjure images of whichever product it is backing at the moment, it does somewhat give a great showcase to the appeal of Goldfrapp. While managing to sound and even look a bit like a Madonna single, the catchy chorus is enough for any fan of this genre, me included. This may not be my cup of tea, but one would be mad to disagree that ‘Ooh La La’ is not a fantastic piece of pop.
The arrangement of the songs on the album is always something which comes up when you look at a ‘Greatest Hits’, a ‘Best O’ or in this case, a ‘Singles Collection.’ In my humblest of humble opinions though, on a single collection you want to flick around to your favourite song, not appreciate the album and the story it’s telling, as there is no story to be told.
But as far as organisation goes, it gets an A+. The choice of singles is as expected pretty spot on, and you’ve got another Goldfrapp big hitter ‘Happiness’ and fan favourites of old (‘Rocket’) and new (‘Melancholy Sky’) near the tail end of the album. As the record starts of quite fast paced, it makes sense that the climax is not a bombardment of synth pop, but instead it is a blissful showcase of Alison Goldfrapp’s vocal talents and the ability of her compatriot in music Will Gregory to create a chilled out atmosphere.
As any with singles collection, it is difficult to award a stunning review, as any fan out there that enjoys Goldfrapp’s music will be yearning for new releases. However as far as an intermission in the career goes, this one isn’t all too shabby.
Goldfrapp’s ‘The Singles’ collection will be released on the 6th of February on Mute/Parlophone.
‘Attack on Memory’ does what it says on the tin. In this second release, Cloud Nothings have in fact, launched a menacing, music assault in the form of reinforcing ‘90s rock ideals. With Dylan Baldi at the helm, this relatively short, eight-track record keeps it short and sweet, but immediately gets right to the point.
Building upon last year’s self-titled debut, the band’s sophomore effort takes advantage of a far superior production budget. The result is an astounding intensification of every twang and percussive thrash. A listen to ‘No Sentiment’ (previous MP3 of the Day here) exemplifies Baldi’s manic tremolo pricking, making each strike of ‘plectrum to string’ incredibly audible.
Album opener ‘No Future / No Past’ (previous MP3 of the Day here; video below [warning: it's very disturbing]) appears as a momentary ruse. The introduction focuses around a tranquil piano melody before exploding into a full-throttle roaring over a wall of furiously-distorted guitars. Skip a few tracks and ‘Stay Useless’ fills the void of ominous heavy post-rock. A gem amidst the other songs, it highlights the lighter, bubblier side to Cloud Nothings; it’s a direct reminiscence to the majority of the prior record.
Admittedly, there are times when Baldi’s brash vocals fall prey to an excessive use of elongating certain phrases and words. Perhaps it is the young singer’s uncanny resemblance to Kurt Cobain’s gruff, early yelping, but there are several instances in which this imitation sounds too forced. Although there remains a deeply-rooted ‘90s attitude in Cloud Nothings’ evolutionary process, their ethos can sometimes become indistinguishable from the similarities between the short start-stop songs. Nevertheless, ‘Attack on Memory’ offers a more energetic yet sinister alternative to their previous work: one that is definitely a step forward to developing the band’s already prestigious stature.
‘Attack on Memory’, the second album from Cloud Nothings, is out on the 6th of February on Wichita Recordings.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 24th January 2012 at 2:00 pm
Though they’ve released two EPs previously ‘Celebrate This Place’ and ‘Wimmy’, this week sees Cardiff band Islet (Emma Daman and brothers John and Mark Freeman) releasing their proper debut album. As should be expected, most of the tracks on ‘Illuminated People’ take full advantage of what has been considered Islet’s strength from the beginning: their ability to channel their talents into rhythmically eclectic tunes.
What I found completely unexpected was that despite their reputation as being known as a “rhythmic” band, they can sound, scarily, like a loud rock band brandishing their best two finger gestures, and they don’t make dance music, as I had incorrectly assumed. There’s also snatches of psych rock (‘A Bear on His Own’ – its equally psychedelic video is below) and folk (the Simon and Garfunkel-y ‘We Bow’).
‘Illuminated People’ begins with the lengthy ‘Libra Man’. Disappointingly, despite the astrologically minded title, the only mention of anything star related are the words in the chorus that go, “you’ve got the lion’s share” (comparison to Mr. Leo?) and you are given a further indication that the person being sung about is too cocksure. After an instrumental bridge, another verse comes round with “you’re a Rome-e-o / programmed for love”: maybe there is something astrological after all, just that whoever wrote this is not at all impressed by this bloke puffing out his chest. Maybe he’s getting the lion’s share…of women? Of conquests? At over 9 minutes, it does all start to feel a bit self-indulgent. Kind of like Cut Copy’s ‘Sun God’ closing out last year’s ‘Zonoscope’ album. Some people adore that track; personally, I feel like that’s the sort of thing a band should edit.
Beyond this first track, there are varied approaches with melody and vocals. Sometimes, the trio’s experiments go wrong. ‘This Fortune’ has effects laden, screechy, female, Yoko Ono-like vocals; ‘Funicular’ is great except for its schizophrenic Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde megaphone moments at one-third and two-thirds through the song. What is this? You experience similar situations with ‘Filia’ and ‘Shores’: it’s easier to give the band points on the obviously well thought out instrumentation than question their vocal choices. Anything too out there is not my bag, so listening to this album was like putting my brain into a blender.
On the more harmonious end of the vocal spectrum, ‘Entwined Pines’ has a sweet lead vocal and driving layered backing, and ‘What We Done Wrong’ is the anti-‘Giving Up on Love’ (Slow Club). These are the standouts on the album and probably have the best chance of doing well on radio and at this year’s festivals. But despite these two songs, I’m apt to file ‘Illuminated People’ under weird and maybe wonderful to a select, wigged out few.
‘Illuminated People’, the debut album from Islet, is out now on Shape Records. For a limited time, you can stream the album below.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 23rd January 2012 at 12:00 pm
The press release for ‘The Lion’s Roar’, the sophomore album by First Aid Kit, makes much of the fact that this album was recorded in America and allowed the Soderberg sisters to channel their favourite folk and country music made in the good ol’ USA. Maybe therein lies the problem: ‘The Big Black and the Blue’ released in 2010 was far more intimate, as if they’d lit a fire inside their hearts and welcomed you inside.
For some reason I just don’t get that feeling with ‘The Lion’s Roar’, so maybe the comparatively wide open spaces of America encouraged the sisters to spread their wings a bit more than if they had stayed in Stockholm to record? Or maybe not. The beauty of the vocals isn’t open to debate; you can easily say, “yes, that’s First Aid Kit!” as you hear the voices begin on each track, but some of the songs sound a bit too familiar.
Let’s focus on the strengths. Title track and the first single released in December, ‘The Lion’s Roar’ (Ellie’s single review here, previous Video of the Moment here) is hauntingly beautiful in its sad yearning. “Every once in a while I’d sing a song / that would rise above the mountains and the stars and the sea / and if I wanted it to, it would lead you back to me”: I mean, seriously. Have you heard anything as beautiful as this? It’s a nice sign of maturity, going from ‘Waltz for Richard’ (acoustic version video shot in Melbourne, Australia here), the standout track from ‘The Big Black and the Blue’. Then the first week of January, the girls released the video for ‘Emmylou’ (previous Video of the Moment here), their next single to be released in mid-February. Another gorgeous harmony-laden track, it gave the sisters a chance to name-check some of their favourite American country / folk legends (Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and country royalty couple Johnny and June Carter Cash).
Based on these two songs alone, I had really high hopes for this album. (Admittedly, I probably set the imaginary bar far too high.) So when I finally got the album and had a listen to ‘I Found a Way’, I was unnerved and disappointed how similar it sounded to these: it’s like they reworked the verses from the title track and then reworked the chorus of ‘Emmylou’ and fitted it in. I’ve been told by guitarists that there are only so many chord progressions in rock and when you write a song, you just rearrange or repeat them, but still…
And then we get to the weaknesses. The American (Native American) influence resonates in ‘Wolf’, with tribal drumming and the “hye-ey-ahhs”. A little odd, to say the least. ‘In the Hearts of Men’ is pretty but it’s a little pedestrian, a little too much like a lullaby. You know they can write a song like this, and it’s not exciting. Same goes for ‘To a Poet’, though it’s nice to hear a string section behind them. If anything, this is the track that shows what American studio muscle can produce.
Finally, I’d like to bring your attention to the last two tracks show the two differing faces of First Aid Kit. ‘New Year’s Eve’ is sparse, slow and pensive and despite my initial impressions, the sisters insist this is a hopeful song. ‘King of the World’ on the other hand is hand clappy, ukulele driven, and features the Felice Brothers in their quest for what is described as “mariachi hoedown”. I’ve either just thoroughly amused or terrified you with that last comment. While I do think everyone should have a listen to ‘The Lion’s Roar’, I can see how you might not pick it up again. For myself, I really wanted to love this album after falling in love with the first two singles, but ultimately I was disappointed.
‘The Lion’s Roar’, the second album from First Aid Kit, is out today on Wichita Recordings. The duo are heading out on a UK/Irish tour in the second half of February; we’ve got all the details here.
By Luke Morton
on Wednesday, 18th January 2012 at 12:00 pm
The Minutes have been gaining a lot of coverage as of late here at TGTF Towers, from their debut single release to a fantastic live performance, Dublin’s newest blues-rock trio are gathering speed and could be heading for the big time. Having released their debut album ‘Marcata’ in Ireland in May last year, it’s now ready for a full UK release on Model Citizen Records.
Clocking in at just under 35 minutes, the 11-track LP is short, sharp affair that starts as it means to go on with a big, ballsy intro. This flows into the lead single ‘Black Keys’ that’s still as infectious as ever. The brash vocal style and inherent ‘rawk’ feel are complemented by the brass section that keeps the song bouncing and a real stand-out hit.
Despite hailing from the capital, the Minutes don’t sound stereotypically Irish: there’s no accordion or string section, in fact even Mark Austin’s vocals sound Americanised. This is a band who just want to make music their way, regardless of the connotations attached to them. These three guys create fist-pumping, wall to wall rock music. At times it’s anthemic and sometimes it’s softer, but it’s always the Minutes and doesn’t try to rip anyone off.
That said, the band have included a cover of ‘In My Time of Dying’ (made famous by Led Zeppelin) on the album. This could have easily signalled the end of the band amongst rock fans everywhere but the Minutes make it their own. Their signature big-sound seems to exponentially expand until your speakers almost burst, for three guys the sound they create is astounding. It’s the giant instrumentals that really make the band stand out with the groove guitar, deep bass and pounding drums, at times reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age (especially with the static overtones).
The only negative aspects of ‘Marcata’ are the oddly placed interludes. Midway through the album there’s a 1-minute 45 second instrumental immediately followed by a 30 second instrumental. The band could be accused of simply writing filler material, but using two tracks to fill 2 minutes and 15 seconds of a record just doesn’t make sense. Merging the two into one longer, ballsier, more experimental interlude would keep the pace and intrigue aloft as the LP spins on. Regardless of these seemingly wasted minutes, the band’s debut full-length packs a raucous punch that could give the Minutes the boost they need.
The Minutes’ debut album ‘Marcata’ will be released on the 30th of January on Model Citizen Records. The band will tour the UK in February and March; all the details are here.