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Reviews from Is This Music?, Artrocker & This Is Not TV

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  • Jon Gordon
    Jon Gordon wrote: After posting the Cranes review I took a trawl through the sent box of my email account and this is a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2006
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      Jon Gordon <jon000gordon@...> wrote:
      After posting the Cranes review I took a trawl through the 'sent' box of my email account and this is a collection of some reviews of mine which found their way into Is This Music? and Artrocker magazines and the www.thisisnottv.co.uk website over the course of last year. Some are of Glasgow bands while some are of more extensively known acts and all of these reviews with the probable exception of Airiels' EP were in fact published. I stopped writing for both publications last year but they are apparently continuing to thrive in my absence, go to www.isthismusic.com for the very latest new music from Scotland -  www.artrocker.com for everywhere else on the map -
      I should also point out that there was loads more of this but my email archive only dates back to April 2005 -
      The Nyquist Theory (Hackpen)
      Now if there's one type of album I always have time for it is the Indie Label Compilation CD. These are always at the very least interesting, sometimes actually inspired. And The Nyquist Theory, 13 tracks collated from the demo archives of the Hackpen label, is one of the more interesting I've heard.
      Opening track, Khopek's 'My Soul' is a pared down slice of small-p paranoia which encapsulates the feel off the entire album.The overall mood is one of ambience getting shaken about some, with dance-based interjections from such as Rusty Sheriff, who sounds as if he could show Fatboy Slim a trick or two in the mixing stakes with 'Otter', which is immediately followed by Southamptons' Daughters Courageous epic 'The Saddest Ever', a song built around some marvellously crashing guitar work. Myth Of The Elite Brigade on the other hand are looking to the 80's for their inspiration with 'Amerika 4 Ever', a track which wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Big Audio Dynamite album, including as it does what resembles a vocal sample from one of Ronald Reagan's more coherent speeches, and I am convinced that I heard orchestra crashes in the background although that might sound a little too dated as opposed to retro influenced, while Brighton rockists Oom deliver a punchily tuneful piece of NewGrunge. I could go on for a bit here but The Nyquist Theory is a fine introduction to the Hackpen label, and wasn't Sven Nyquist one of Ingmar Bergmans' cameramen or lighting directors or something? There's nothing like an obliquely obscurantist title which references within a wider (in this instance cinematic) framework to provoke some curiosity, and it's even more refreshing when the object of that curiosity is as worthwhile a listen as the album actually is. 
      Cherubs/The Passengers
      Glasgow Barfly
      No one tells you nothing, even when you know they know. The Passengers walk onstageand launch into their first number, promptly deconstructing the entire hi-hat led noueau funk scenario without so much as breaking sweat or for that matter introducing either themselves or the song as their set opener dissolves into a welter of psyched out fretboard aerobatics. There is an ill at ease sense of drama around The Passengers and their songs which suits perfectly the mood of Barfly on this oddly subdued Wednesday evening, a mood which The Passengers will I am certain turnto their advantage in other settings.
      Cherubs cannot fail. Their combination of thrusting crash and steely grandeur points towards a moment of irresitable dominance which Cherubs are poised to make entirely their own.The purposeful clarity of even their most frantic moments displays a combination of energy and control which reveals a band on the cusp of actual greatness. I for one think that they will, let alone should, achieve that.
      Amplification can play tricks though. As the Cherubs vocalist announces the title of their last song, his words are transmitted via the medium of electricity through the battered yet resilient onstage microphone to the Barfly PA, a gleaming box of flickering red and yellow lights which retransmits the onstage sound to the audience in less than 0.008 of a second, during which the vocalists words are mangled into something which resembles the phrase 'Computer Dwarves'. Was or was that not the title of the highlight of Cherubs set? It is of little consequence. Perhaps on this evening less really is more in terms of onstage information.  
      Editors / !Forward Russia! / The Cinematics
      Glasgow  King Tuts
      It is way too hot in here. The air conditioning is either broken or has left the building, so it's up to The Cinematics to bring a more rareified atmosphere into play and the 4-piece promptly achieve this without as much as breaking sweat. Over a set of around 10 songs The Cinematics reveal themselves as highly adept and, importantly, tuneful maestros of the 2 and a half minute epic pop song and there's a depth to their musicianship which left me wondering  for exactly how long they'll find themselves opening for out of town acts.
      I wasn't quite ready for !Forward Russia! though. The matching t-shirts should've given it away, here are a quite genuine and unashamed punk rock band of a type that has never ever really existed.Yet. but here they are leaping around Tut's tiny stage as if they were in fact headlining Lollapalooza, their sound a crashing howl of thrash guitars and squealing synth while frontman Whiskas throws himself from one end of the venue to the next like a broken puppet. 20 minutes of actual genius from Leeds.
      Which as you might expect gives Editors something to follow, and it's a brave shot but tonight something in the Editorial department isn't quite what it either should or is supposed to. I'm not about to argue with the obvious musical abilities of the band, the matching black and white Rickenbacker guitars, or vocalist Tom Smith's highly accurate better-than-the-real-thing Ian Curtis impression. Just that tonight they sound hollow, shallow, and oddly contrived. If that is how they wish to sound then congratulations, it's working perfectly, but it's all a little gloomy and overbearing and dull, and I am really not in the mood for yet another reworking of Fad Gadget playing Narada Michael Waldens 1979 disco classic 'I Shoulda Loved Ya' backwards. Editors need more material to work on.
      King Automatic - 'Automatic Ray' (Voodoo Rhythm)
      Tired of overproduced CD's that sound as if the studio engineers did all the work? Fed up with cheap attempts to glamourise derivative retreads of 80's numbers that weren't that great first time round anyway? Had enough of so-called 'disco-punk' songs that you can't even dance to? Then look no further than the 14 tracks on this latest offering from Swiss label Voodoo Rhythm. Exactly who or what King Automatic are I've very little idea. What I can tell you is that 'Automatic Ray' gives every impression of having been recorded in less time than it actually takes to listen to the album (like the gaps between songs were added accidentally in the studio), and that the band themselves are taking every opportunity to indulge their interests in blues guitar riffs, mod-era big beat and something which resembles Baggy-type indie dance relayed through a skipload of effects pedals until it sounds like a building site on heat and inspired with it. Big loud stuff that brings its own PA and has to be asked to leave at closing time, I've no doubt these tracks are guaranteed floor fillers in some of central Europe's more obscure ski resorts and doubtless they could do the same at a club night near you. And the cover of Kraftwerk's 'The Model' is, in my opinion, an improvement on the original. 
      This next review was sent to Artrocker although I never actually saw it in print -
      Airiel (Sonicbaby)
      Nowadays it's ever more difficult to pin down exactly what it is that inspires bands to do whatever it is they do, and the questions and suppositions continue to multiply as the music itself turns ever more obscure. So exactly what was it that provoked Airiel mainman Jeremy Wrenn to compose ' 500 Deep', a blistering overload of cascading guitar and percussion which, while it might superficially owe a stylistic debt to some post-ambient introspective types has a gritty anti-glamour entirely of its own.
      And anyone listening to the rest of Airiels latest release is in for one or two shocks as the 4-piece chew up the post-rock rulebook and walk away slowly, laughing. The thunderous intro to 'Kiss Me Sadly' is almost a separate track in its own right until the drums give way to some brilliantly chiming guitar and the song simultaneously implodes and fades into the spectacular distance which Airiel are choosing to inhabit, and producer Dave Golitko doesn't hold back when it comes to optimising the soundscapes the group know they're aiming for. It all falls into place spectacularly on 'World Cup', which actually does sound like the theme for an obscure cable TV soccer programme although had it been titled 'Gardening Now' or 'Look At My Furniture' the track wouldn't make for anything less of a minor masterpiece of wall-of-noise
      Airiel are a band who want to take what they're doing several steps further and on the strength of this release they almost certainly will. Just imagine Modey Lemon jamming alongside Longwave in an empty arena, with Wayne Coyne conducting - you'd want to hear that, and perhaps Airiel will let you hear what they're up to one of these days.
      Artrocker did print this next review -
      The Thermals/The X1/Mogul
      Glasgow Tut's
      There are surprises around every corner this evening - Mogul, whose set I walk in on halfway through are a laid - back quartet of noodly musos, clearly aiming for a place on the OC's soundtrack or failing that a Travis support slot. They do look weirdly familiar though. The onstage audience baiting gives it away, Mogul are in fact the next incarnation of Mother And The Addicts, no longer frenetic modfreaks, now a tamer altogether more indulgent experience. I sense an hint of wilfull glee alongside faint hints of joss sticks and finger cymbals.
      None of which provide The X1 with the intro they properly require.Now I really am wondering why I've never seen them play live prior to this evening as they are sharp, fast and inspired, while their nifty way with actual guitar tunes as opposed to empty ampcrunching has me speculating that their album, should the X1 ever get around to recording it, has all the makings of a five star spectacular rock'n'roll debut. Then again they might just split in much the same way as The Cherrykicks did last year - which was a pity, and I hope everyone hears more form The X1 shortly.   
      Tonight's headliners are The Thermals, from Seattle. They are a trio, including a left-handed female bassist, a very tall drummer, and frontman/founder Hutch Harris, whose interests are clearly less esoteric than simply looking at hot air currents, which is what thermals actually are. All three Thermals (the band that is) are more likely to be found tearing holes in amplifiers, battering cymbals and chewing gum while their collection of no-scene anthems hint at a predeliction for the work of such as the Pixies, YYY's and Mudhoney. In fact all that was missing tonight was a cover of 'Touch Me I'm Sick' which would have brought the entire Seattle experience to the front doors of 2 million clydesiders. The Thermals certainly met with crowd approval, provoking an actual slamdance during a number which I think was called 'I Need Me' although I possibly misheard that. Whatever they're called, the Thermals songs contain a grinning purpose: bite and energy rather than poise and concentration is at work amongst them, although there's something less than elusive in their stage prescence. And a little less mystery never hurt anyone.
      From This Is Not TV -
      The Redwalls
      'De Nova' (EMI)
      Redwalls vocalist Logan Baren has one of the thickest scouse accents I've ever heard on a recording in any format. All the stranger when their press release reveals that no, the band are not The Corals' next door neighbours but do in fact hail from Chicago, Illinois, some 7,000 miles from Fazakerley. They are slightly nearer to New York however and this is reflected in the scuzz-laden riffing which does to some extent resemble any number of NY's better known guitar combos although I'll leave it up to you the CD listener to decide exactly who is zooming who on this occasion - and following their series of support shows for Oasis, during which either The Redwalls or their publicist took every opportunity to 'provoke' Liam Gallagher via their website, and suddenly the album - and it isn't a bad piece of work by any means - is taking a definite second place to corporate laddism of a type which Americans never really get the hang of, and as a result De Nova is likely to find itself overlooked in the rush to find net-leaked downloads of whatever the next Strokes album is called. Personally, I blame the government ........    
      The Gems / Trap 6 / Red Snowman
      Glasgow King Tuts
      Opening proceedings this evening are 5 or is it 6 piece heavy rock outfit Red Snowman and they are disturbingly good at what they do - mammoth sludgecore epics replete with wailing choruses plus some very tight guitar work, add to which a sense that none of this is taken too seriously as is exemplified when a non-musician wearing a bright red jacket and a werewolf mask leaps onstage to rouse the audience somewhat. I predict great things, as long as it doesn't get too hot.
      Next up are Glasgow's loudest and fastest rock band The Gems, whose approach is to bombard their audience with crashing slabs of feedback overload interspersed with actual songs. This is something of a hit-or-miss approach to gigging but Tut's can more than take the pressure this evening and The Gems amps fail to ignite, which is fairly fortunate given the size of the venue. In another world the three-piece are a gigantic effects-laden metal act, but in the real world broken strings take the place of dazzling pyrotechnics, and the songs are grittier and all the more determined as a result.
      Headlining are britpop traditionalists Trap 6, a band which has perfected the knack of sounding as if they are blasting communal powerchords when all three guitarists are in fact playing single notes, a sleight of plectrum that is at the core of the bouncily power driven almost indie danceable songs which the group are clearly expert at to some extent. Undemanding and actually entertaining in similar measures.
      ALFIE : Crying At Teatime (Regal)
      I've no ideas about what's provoking the grief on this occasion - 'Crying At Teatime' is a reassuringly upbeat collection of songs none of which as much as hint at any kind of misery, let alone provoke sobs at the dinner table. The 10 numbers which make up the album are all of a definite stamp, that of acoustically led melodic songwriting which benefit from some adventurous instrumentation while at the same time avoiding sounding too epic or overly produced. Sounds a bit clever, and it is. For example album opener 'Your Own Religion' fades swiftly into a swirling piece of uptempo balladry backed with xylophone and acoustic bass that resolutely sets the tone of the rest of the album as an excursion into some of the more whimsical corners of Anglo-eccentricity, and this is an approach which gels properly around 6th track 'Applecart' whose grinding cello and soaring guitar parts signify that here are musicians and arrangers of some ability. And other highlights such as 'Wizzo' with its incessant keyboard riffery or 'All Too Heavy Now' and its spatialised guitar rhythms that break into shards of distortion when least expected could mean that Alfies' latest album is one of the great English pop records of this year. Give it a spin and play spot the influences, you'll find that at least as enjoyable a pursuit as the band found making the album, I'm quite certain.
      Single review
      Slingshot EP (Independiente)
      This lot are managing to sound as if 1) they're genuine experimentalists and 2) they're actually enjoying what they're doing, which most people nowadays are far too cool to admit to. First track is a mess of m.o.r. samples held together with a sneering vocal, second track hisses and crackles into a moody acoustic ballad while final track The Free Load recalls Lemon Jelly at their most ididosyncratic. One we should encourage.
      Can You Feel The Magic (Manilla)
      Bit of a trip-hop stomper from the depths of Ceredigion. Breathy female vocals and grinding guitars suggest a dance outfit metamorphosing into a glam metal tribute act in the time it takes to listen to this deceptively complicated bump'n'grind number. Apparently something of an event live although Kald don't appear to do very much outside of Aberystwyth. Funky.
      John Legend
      'Ordinary People' (Columbia)
      Normally I'd ignore stuff like this, but 'Ordinary People' is probably the worst single I expect to hear this year and possibly next year as well. Ostensibly a piano ballad, what was intended to sound like a classy jazz-inluenced production in the studio in fact comes across as dully, queasily flat, every nuance of personality overproduced out of what is a pretty unremarkable song in the first instance. It is in fact irredeemably appalling crap, something akin to the sound of Michael Jackson's nose falling off. Dreary, deathly, and a waste of a perfectly decent piece of aluminium, let alone the CD buying publics money and time.
      GOLDFRAPP : Ooh La La (Mute)
      ' ...switch me on, turn me out...' pouts Alison Goldfrapp over a speedy little amalgam of synth rhythms and handclaps which sound purpose built for ringtone immortality, an approach that places 'Ooh La La' amongst the very best traditions of breathily sensuous electronic girl pop since time immemorial if not before, which is ok for a pop record but isn't there something more to Goldfrapp than just racy little chart numbers? Second track 'All Night Operator' reveals that yes there is more depth to the group than just chart fodder but it's still all over before it's started. If brevity is the soul of wit then Goldfrapp are a comedy masterclass, en Francais no less.
      Heads Down Thumbs Up Club
      Glasgow  O Henrys

      Tonight O Henrys is in a stylistic warp all of its
      own, narrow your eyelids very slightly and you are in
      some grimily underlit beat-crazed basement uncertain
      of which century, let alone to which decade it
      belongs. As I walked into the venue the
      Lennon/Macartney interpretation of 'Twist And Shout'
      was crackling from the PA, and this evening is
      apparently given over entirely to beehives and pork
      pie hats as a small but growing clique of 1960's
      stylists gather to pay homage to records released
      before their parents were born.
      And 60's night is all it would've been but for the
      abilities of the live acts on show this evening, the
      first of which are The Aspherons, and The Aspherons
      are stunningly good this evening. Obviously tightly
      rehearsed and enthusiastic, their twin guitar
      interplay backed with inventive rhythmic work and,
      crucially, control of their songs and the effort
      required to transmit them to what actually turned into
      a curiously mixed crowd of hipsters mingling with
      punters from the upstairs bar suggest to me that the
      four-piece are on their way to significantly larger
      stuff than the cramped confines of what is the spatial
      equivalent of a cupboard under Drury Street can allow
      Next are the organisers of this series of club nights
      The X1, whose single 'Kick Start' tonight launched
      tonight. The heavy-duty strumming combined with
      bespectacled frontman Paul Clarks anguished vocal
      style makes for slightly more of a show than the
      miniscule venue can actually contend with this evening
      and the bands songs hit the ceiling, as does the PA
      which collapses brilliantly around 20 minutes or so
      into the set. Clearly the X1 are walking it like they
      talk it, and there's clearly more to their maniacal
      folkpunk than just some Libertines comparisions
      or merely blatant noise merchantry.
      And finally this evening, Figure 5, a band that
      posesses practically everything they require to ascend
      stratospherically into the upper reaches of the
      modernist pantheon - stonking great slabs of guitar
      backed with thumping great big beat rhythms, and a
      frontman whose howls and gestures plus neat ability
      with a tambourine recall none other than Jim Morrison
      at his most inspired/confrontational. A heady mix of
      influence and stance which Figure 5 manage to pull off
      while avoiding contrivance and crucially they've got
      the audience on their side this evening, the small but
      highly appreciative crowd are bopping away merrily to
      themselves throughout Figure 5's set. And isn't that
      what it's all about?
      El Presidente / Project:Station
      Glasgow King Tut's
      How very apt and timely. Scotland is about to endure an invasion of assorted presidents from around the globe and here, a week before the G8 summit takes place, is our very own semi-politicised Minister for Groove laying it down for the cognoscienti in a hushed, almost reverent Tut's.Truly a moment to savour and loads more fun than tramping around Edinburgh waving banners. But first, the support act.
      Project:Station are mystery men par excellence - I know nothing of them apart from what I witnessed onstage and what I saw told me that the semi-anonymous fourpiece are a doomily black clad bunch of synth led proto-industrial amp crunchers, and I would write more regarding their performance but regrettably a lack of info on who, what and why prevents me from doing so. Obviously certain reporting restrictions were in effect on this evening; and after what seemed like at least an hour (or had the second support act failed to materialise?), tonight's headliners made a much anticipated entrance.
      And something is definitely riding on El Presidente. Clearly, great things are expected from the oddly theatrical five-piece, or at least better than average things. There are several obvious reasons for this, the most blatant being that at a time when every guitar band on the planet finds it obligatory to make certain retrofunk noises, El Presidente are in fact an entirely real dance combo, taking their cues from such as Jamiroquai and Prince rather than A Certain Ratio and G*** *f F*** etc. This makes them something of a rarity on today's live circuit, and the strength of some of their material - actual tunes instead of dithering slap bass workouts or bongo-led percussion frenzies leads me to suspect that a fullscale assault on the charts is already well under way.
      Much however depends on whether or not you the punter find frontman Dante Gizzi as entertaining as he clearly feels you should. When Dante throws his hat onto a mikestand near the beginning of the set it does seem apparent that several months of hard work has gone into the gesture, and Gizzi is clearly pulling out all the stops - arms wave ceaselessly, a yellow handkerchief takes on a life entirely of its own while the rest of the band grimace and upstage each other ceaselessly; and as a result of this bluster takes over from ability to a point where much of what is taking place onstage is muddily inaudible, unlike the support acts' performance. 
      El Presidente are far from their finest moments but I for one don't intend to write them off on the strength of this gig. But exactly where in 2005 does such an unashamedly goodtime outfit really belong? Their true milieu is almost certainly the private party, throwing artless reflections onto swimming pool surfaces while glamorous young things trip over each others stillettos to a jazzfunk soundtrack which continuously repeats the message that ' politics is fun politics is fun politics is fun .......'
      Tony Parsons
      Stories We Could Tell (HarperCollins £17.99 hardback)
      No period of our recent history, at least in the UK, is quite so well documented as the late 70's. It does seem that a very large number of those participants in the cultural shenanigans of what is now three decades ago found that they had something worthwhile to comment upon in print, and when one of the foremost commentators of that time decides to fictionalise his experience in novel form then the results leave little room for argument.
      After all, just about everything Tony Parsons describes in 'Stories We Could Tell' actually happened - flares went out of fashion, DJ's played dub reggae at punk gigs, teds and yobs loomed menacingly on the horizon while parents and politicians had a genuine moral panic on their hands, a panic of a kind which todays music publicists can only dream of. Imagine an MP making a protest about a rock album nowadays in the way that Airdrie MP Jimmy Dempsey did regarding the first Ramones album in September 1976 - nowadays any form of censorship seems woefully archaic, and just about anything can and does chart. 
      But Tony Parsons was actually part of the media front line then and had, as the NME's answer to the slightly quicker off the mark writers at Sounds and ZigZag, unrivalled access to the movers and shakers of the moment. And almost thirty years later here are 309 pages of a day in the life of the London music press - 16th August 1977 that is, the day Elvis Presley died.
      Parsons chooses not to focus on one central character and the novel weaves chaotically through gigs, discos, hotel rooms and drinking clubs as the assorted protagonists attempt to retain an element of control over their equally chaotic lives. 'Stories...' isn't a by any means a heavyweight piece, in fact at times it feels almost throwaway and several of the scenarios conjured by Parsons could use a little more depth - but this isn't literature, this isn't the Martin Amis or Julian Barnes school of Dickensian caricature, 'Stories...' is a Moderne Novella perfect for, say, a short train journey or perhaps the laundromat. And I couldn't help wondering how similarly the storylines would read whether set in 1977, 1987, or for that matter 2027.
      All these reviews : Jon Gordon      2005 



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