Monday, 16 May 2011

Recommended by Ross: some albums to check out in 2011

So it seems I should mention some new stuff I’ve actually listened to this year. To be honest, it’s been difficult – having to drag myself away from putting on the KVELERTAK record for the millionth time is like deciding which limb I want to hack off. Anyway, so as not to pigeon-hole all my posts into “Iced Earth = LOL” and “Let’s listen to a punk rock album from 1997 that no-one cares about” here’s a selection of bands and albums that I’ve really enjoyed this year.

Absolute Power – Absolute Power

I really hope that the reason Absolute Power exist is because some of the band members witnessed another (not to be named) power metal band making complete dicks of themselves on stage. Featuring the really scary looking bassist from Napalm Death, Absolute Power are: swords smashing against wooden shields; lances splintering as they crash against bodies, dirt flying from the hooves of mighty steeds, horns raised high in the air – yes, battle metal, possibly the greatest music ever. Absolute Power completely kill it; they make me instinctively reach for 2D6; think about how many goblins I can afford in a 2,000 point army and whether I’ve washed recently (there’s even a song called ‘Standard Bearer’). It’s a clash of styles however; there are some fairly pop-rock moments, particularly ‘Secrets’, which is that strange mix of sugary, bouncing hooks, whilst still retains some mighty 80s-style metallic riffage and some wonderful harmonies. But then they’ll push the boat out with some truly over-the-top thrash excellence, sounding like Iron Maiden jamming with Judas Priest; with vocalist Simon Efemey slipping into BRIAN BLESSED mode. Hammy? You bet.

For something that sounds so cheesy, Absolute Power really do shred – changing from quick-tempo heavy metal onslaughts, through to glammy-80s soft rock, back to trashy battle metal frolicking and then into early Megadeth-thrash and Halford-style wailing lyrics, it’s some of the best classic metal and rock I’ve heard this year. Also, are you seriously considering not listening to a band that have the track titles ‘Full Metal Roar’, ‘Land Of Steel’ and ‘Faster Than The Speed Of Evil’? Come on!

Additional: the album art is nothing short of incredible.

Of Legends – Stranded

Luis Dubuc is a monster. I seriously wouldn’t believe someone if they told me this was the wimpy guy from The Secret Handshake – but it is and he’s angry. Of Legends are pretty metal, like nasty, Johnny Truant-style metal. The guitars on this record howl and I mean HOWL – they sound like they’re screaming in agony, such is the twisting, contorting shriek they emit. Dubuc himself is no shrinking wallflower – his bark is a rattled, shredded cry, mixes the talents of Jeffery Moreira and Matt Caughthran into one big ball of rage and bleeding fury. It’s fairly groove-orientated; when the guitars aren’t sounding like they’re being tortured, they’re cutting some quite shred-worthy lines. I suppose a similar artist would be Killswitch Engage – it has that same dense, bludgeoning attack on the senses, but retains an slick nu-metal tinged rut and enough hardcore experimentation so as not to pigeon hole. Actually, a lot of the sound on ‘Stranded’ reminds me of swamp-metal titans, Blacktusk – that same dirge of scraping sound, buried beneath a crusty bass hum and battering drum beats. Of Legends create this insane, barbaric noise, especially on ‘Cannibal King’, which is a stop start shudder of stabbing, taunt metal alongside some spazzy, mathcore styles. The kind of bile-spitting, contemporary metal I can get behind.

Zombi – Escape Velocity

This is probably my favourite album at the moment; I gave it 10/10 in a review I wrote for planet-loud few weeks back, so it must be something I really dig, right? ‘Escape Velocity’ is an absolute mind-bender of sound; like Adebisi Shank, I describe them as ‘future music’ mainly because, being someone who listens to three chords and beatdowns, hearing something outside of that spec is pretty damn revolutionary. There’s tons of build on this, most notably the title track that grows and mutates with such pulsating energy and tribal drum blasts. 'Slow Oscillations' is an almost Martin O'Donnell-worthy slice of bending, trippy atmosphere and being a fan of the Halo series and the music, this struck a particular chord with me. I said in my review that ‘DE3’ is one of the best songs I’d heard all year and I stand by this. Part elements of Justice mixed with Goblin, part experimental noise, part "let's make music: IN SPACE." something about it really gets to me. Maybe it’s the fact it sounds like an old trance song at half-speed; or maybe it's the key change around the 6 minute mark. ‘Escape Velocity’ buries the listener in loops though; layers upon layers of synthesised build and it makes me feel good. I can’t explain it, but Zombi really do make me feel like a better person and there are very few records that lift my spirits, but I'm happy to say that this is one of them. For something built around just drums and keys, it's an incredibly deep and mesmerizing body of work.

Snowing – I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted

I have no idea if emo is still a dirty word, but Snowing don’t seem to give a shit and nor should you. Formed from the ashes of Street Smart Cyclist, Snowing make me feel good; their music is rooted in mid-90s emo-rock, where guitars were held together with masking tape and were tappier than a room full of sinks and actually poured their heart and soul into their recordings, instead of dull, lifeless unit-shifting compositions. ‘I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted’ is so bleeding-heart in all its pent-up earnest and frantic nature, it’s hard not to be warmed by it. The themes present revolve around drinking, loss, love and overall, just good times and that’s what Snowing want listeners to get from their music; a sense of connection, a sense of warmth and high-fiving each other in a packed mosh pit, in a venue that holds 50, but is full to 75, kissing your sweetheart and more importantly, getting drunk on Miller lite.

It’s scatter-brained, disorganised but a relatively short blast on intense rock music that has been created with that tender honestly and passion that a lot of acts who fit into a similar genre, fail to achieve and Snowing manage it with such ease and drunken cheer it’s hard not being impressed. Also, the album is available for free download from bandcamp; what’s not to love?

The Heat Tape – Raccoon Valley Recordings

The Heat Tape is Brett Hunter from The Copyrights (pop-punk done really, really good) and two other dudes, who have swapped out production values for the sound of a bunch of wasps in a biscuit tin, whilst someone plays a Marked Men record in the background. Yeah, it’s well garage – but garage punk done superbly. For one thing, while the unrelenting hiss of a furred-up tape recorder is consistently present, at least Hunter and Co. has bothered to write memorable and catchy songs to counter-act the fuzz. ‘Quotes From An Unopened Letter’ is a snotty ball of punk energy, reminiscent of Wavves, while ‘Spend It’ is dumb grunge rock apathy condensed into a minute and a half. Hunter’s lazy, almost bored vocals, sneer with despondence, regret and self deprecation for the duration of this 25 minute record and fit nicely with the deliberately scrappy production and early 90s recording values. ‘Idle Man’ sounds like and outtake from the first Thermals album (‘More Parts Per Million’) – a relentlessly sunny, yet jangled mess of smothering cymbal crashes and vibrant punk-pop bounce.

Weekend Nachos – Worthless

I genuinely thought this band were a complete pisstake. Maybe they are who knows? WEEKEND NACHOS – I just like saying it. The artwork seems to have been cribbed from the photo series ‘Great Waterfalls of Our Times’ or was perhaps supposed to be the next Explosions In The Sky album cover, and there was a mix up at the post office. Musically, it’s completely dumb-as-fuck punk rock, loaded with ten tons of aggression and venom-spitting fury, minus any melody, chorus or catchy bass lines.

There’s an air of a “don’t give a shit” attitude, which I like – it’s free of any snobbish airs or graces, Weekend Nachos are more content with burying the listener beneath filthy riff after filthy riff. Aggressive determination, plus rusty vocal barks, detuned-bass scrawls and some farily tight drumming (and blast beats) hold it all together. ‘The Meeting’ is a fairly guttural piece, relying on feedback and clanking guitar chugs, whilst the title track is a bottoming-out piece of sludge-metal intimidation. ‘Jock Powerviolence’ is rapid-fire drumbeats, with rap-metal taunts and this staggering metallic gait that doesn’t know whether it should be pure hardcore or not. In any case, if you’re looking for some machine-gun fire crust-hardcore, that mixes elements of punk, grind and sludge-metal then Weekend Nachos can do that in about 26 minutes or your money stuffed down your throat.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

April Albums: The Conclusion

So, that's that then. 30 days, 100 albums, one 20-something with time on his hands and a near-obsessive fascination with listening habits and the way we consume music. Job done.

For those out of the loop, throughout April I made a conscious decision to take my life off the shuffle function which it had seemed to have regressed to, and go back to listen to albums as they were intended. No compilations, best ofs or EPs and wherever possible stay away from perennial favourites. This was to be no month long karaoke session. Oh no. So, now it's all over, what are my thoughts?

Firstly, my thoughts on my choices. A massive batch of newly purchased albums arriving just prior to my listening experience commencing skewed things a bit – not only were there a pile of albums waiting to be included that I'd be listening to for the first time, but owing to my 'one album per artist' rule, there'd be albums that I wouldn't actually get to listen to until a month later. Surreal times. I have to say that looking back over the list I'm pleased with the way things went. Obviously we can all sit there going 'damn! Why didn't I put that in there?' but on the whole it was a good mix between albums I haven't listened to in years (or even forgot I owned), recent discoveries, new records and albums from some of my favourite back catalogues that I'd always thought of as runts of the litter. As well as a voyage of (re)discovery the whole experience also gave some albums a second chance, rescuing them from a near certain fate of charity shop dust gathering. Did I walk away with some new favourites? Well yes actually, the main two that spring to mind being The Concretes' Concretes In Colour and Tokyo Police Club's Elephant Shell. But perhaps more importantly, a number of albums that I'd written off or had mixed views have, as a general rule, now left a far more favourable impression than they had previously.

Whereas Jack Stewart of Mercury Challenge fame was constrained by what he had to listen to, I – while having free choice of what to listen to – was limited by time and having to rack up 100 records. What this inadvertently meant was that there times when I'd be sat listening to an album and willing it to end not because it was bad, but because I wanted to get another on the go and keep to a mental schedule. While it'd be nice to boldly proclaim this didn't dilute the listening experience in any way, it's fanciful at best. I suppose the targets that I set myself, while being something to aim for, also proved a a distraction and it could be argued detracted slightly from the experience as a whole. If I were to do it again I might do it under more relaxed criteria and compare notes.

One aspect that I wasn't really expecting was the social element. Tweeting the albums as I listened to them (as much of a record of what I'd listened to/how many albums I'd chalked up as much as anything else) gave way to conversations about the merits of particular albums and how they compared with the rest of back catalogues. It was a real eye opener, and a demonstration of how unifying music and albums can be. A recent trip to Manchester saw me being asked about my listening experience by people who followed me but who I'd never really conversed with before. It was surreal. As was people offering to buy me their favourite albums to be included, such was their belief in them and desire to share said love (I was only listening to albums that I personally owned). Crazy days.

So the big question is: has it made me appreciate the concept of the album more? The answer is a resounding yes, incredible as it may seem. Two weeks on, and apart from my daily couple of walks where the mp3 player stays on shuffle for a bit of variety I've listened to nothing but full albums. Not only that, but if I have a free day can be found giving thought to what I'll be listening to throughout the day, just as I did during April Albums. I'm enjoying it. It's nice. I suppose the main thing I've learnt that is that the age old excuse of 'I haven't got time to listen to albums' is a load of rhubarb. With precious little effort 3 albums a day is easily achievable. I wish I could end this with a snappy punchline, but I can't. The best I can think of is: I'm glad I did it.

Over the course of April I listened to:

Beirut – Flying Club Cup

Felt – Strange Idols And Other Short Stories

Wild Beasts – Two Dancers

Razorcuts – The World Keeps Turning

Malcolm Middleton – Waxing Gibbous

Eels – Hombre Lobo

The Rakes – Klang

OMD – Organisation

Antlers – Hospice

Dum Dum Girls – I Will be

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong

The Wave Pictures – If You Leave It Behind

Pulp – This Is Hardcore

Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA

Air – Moon Safari

The Lemonheads – It's A Shame About Ray

Television Personalities – Privilege

Tracey Thorne – A Distant Shore

Darren Hayman – Table For One

Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

The Indelicates – American Demo

The Knife – Silent Shout

The Ramones – S/T

Pete & The Pirates – Little Death

Those Dancing Days – Daydreams & Nightmares

Foals – Antidotes

The Kissaway Trail – Sleep Mountain

Orange Juice – You Can't Hide Your Love Forever

Edwyn Collins – Home Again

Beach House – Devotion

The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever

The Undertones – The Sin Of Pride

Magazine – Murder, Magic and the Weather

Perfume Genius – Learning

The Lost Brothers – Trails Of The Lonely Part 1 + 3

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Rattlesnakes

Richard Hawley – Late Night Final

The Wedding Present – Bizzarro

New Order – Technique

Elvis Costello – This Year's Model

The National – High Violet

Arcade Fire – Funeral

Help Stamp Out Loneliness – S/T

Good Shoes – no Hope, No Future

Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of The Understatement

LCD Soundsystem – Sound Of Silver

Doves – Lost Souls

Jeremy Warmsley – The Art Of Fiction

Joey Ramone – Don't Worry About Me

Elbow – Asleep In The Back

The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead

The Concretes – The Concretes In Colour

Art Brut – It's A Bit Complicated

Envelopes – Demon

The Brilliant Corners – Somebody Up There Likes Me

Radiohead – Hail To The Thief

Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

John Cooper-Clarke – Zip Style Method

Field Mice – Skywriting

REM – Reckoning

Girls – S/T

The Libertines – S/T

Young Knives – Voices of Animals and Men

The Cribs – The New Fellas

Albert Hammond Jr – For Keeps

David Bowie – Let's Dance

The Clash – Combat Rock

Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring

Dexy's Midnight Runners – Too Rya Aye

The Orchids – Striving For The Lazy Perfection

Christopher Eatough – A Creak in The Cold

Echo & The Bunnymen – Porcupine

Hefner – The Fidelity Wars

The Magnetic Fields – Get Lost

James Yorkston – When The Haar Rolls In

The Drums – S/T

Jim Noir – Tower Of Love

Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

Goodbooks – Control

Kubb – Mother

Noah & The Whale – The First Days Of Spring

The Jam – This Is The Modern World

The Vapors – New Clear Days

The Replacements – Tim

MJ Hibbett & The Validators – We Validate!

Brian Eno – Apollo

Tokyo Police Club – Elephant Shell

The Cars – S/T

The Modern Lovers – S/T

Cold War Kids – Robbers & Cowards

Suede – Head Music – Blur – 13

M83 – Saturdays = Youth

Neutral Milk Hotel – Aeroplane Over The Sea

All Darlin' - S/T