Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day: Have We Forgotten?

Just this morning, Luke Turner, co-founder and editor of cutting edge music and culture online publication The Quietus, published an article on his own site about the over-politicisation, corporatism and "jingoism" that has somewhat hijacked the poppy wearing culture and Remembrance Day, in Britain at least. It's a great read, and he makes plenty of valid and fair points. However, it provokes a pertinent question; how did we get to the point that the discussion about Remembrance centres more around political posturing/ unscrupulous media tactics and not to mention the focal point of Turner's article, the commercialisation and governmental gain of war from a financial point of view, and less about the lives lost?

Social and cultural history dictates that everything has a consequence or inference, and of course it's necessary to address these implications in all examples of War (more on that later). But that the dedication of one day a year to the memory of the hundreds of thousands who have lost their lives in these circumstances has been commandeered by smear tactics and the remorseless embodiment of war at a corporate level (for example Lockheed Martin UK's sponsorship of The Poppy Rocks Ball) is at best ironic, at worst contemptuous.

It's disdainful that more coverage was given to the fact that the Conservative party photo-shopped a poppy on to a Facebook picture of David Cameron  in the lead up to the ceremony than the actual proceedings. That the poppy-wearing culture has become just another hand with which the crack the political point-scoring whip defies and ignores the idea of Remembrance at the most fundamental level. Unlike Mr. Turner, I did buy and wear a poppy this year despite all of this. Pretty much any happening has its pros and cons, but I bought and wore a poppy in the name of honouring what the occasion actually marked rather than thinking about what colour Jeremy Corbyn's poppy is going to be.

The aforementioned sense of historical context is exactly why I have rather bittersweet feelings about Rupert Brooke's poem 'The Soldier'. An incredibly moving, heartfelt paean to friends he lost during the First World War, the piece switches between a sense of patriotism and fluid, gorgeous imagery and prose, creating huge amounts of space for memories/ remembrance and vivid imaginings of the horrors of the occasion as well as holding it's head high. Following the war, this sense of pride should not necessarily be discarded for those involved at the ground level, but in 2015 it's a slightly dangerous realisation. Detractors would point towards the fact that, were this poem written this year, it would be called nationalistic. There may be the case for a discussion to be had there, but in an age where the Far Right reverse the slightest elements thrown their way it's important to keep a tab on the way in which language is used. In this way it's impossible to escape the literary analysis of the wider insinuation attached to Remembrance Day, but the change in social climate is always at the heart of what drives a collective occurrence.

From 'The Soldier' by Rubert Brooke: 

"And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;"

I've never quite gotten round to reading Sebastian Faulks' book Birdsong but became very attached to Phillip Martin's two-part adaptation for the BBC in 2012.  In the final moments of the second part, Eddie Redmayne's character emerges from the depths of a tunnel on to a stricken, barren battlefield. He's greeted by two German soldiers, who tell him that the war is over, and he embraces one of them. Not only is this resonant of much of the history behind the Great War (and several wars afterwards), but it's a deep sigh of both relief and sorrow. It's the realisation of the terror he has just experienced, and an allusion to the following years of potential ill- mental health that stalks the souls of the men who gave their lives so *ahem* memorably. 

Without dwelling too much on the subject of ethnicity, which ideally wouldn't be a paramount part of the discussion at all, it must be stressed just how important the actions of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association have been and what a positive they are in light of everything else discussed in this piece. There's still a more widespread issue with regards the memory/representation of soldiers from foreign communities who fought and died in these circumstances. On the 2nd November this year freelance journalist, news presenter, editor and author Keiran Yates tweeted that she would "Happily wear a poppy once mainstream media make an effort to properly recognise India's contributions to BOTH world wars". Fair enough, but considering that four years ago members of the country's more ignorant sectors whipped up a reaction to the Poppy burnings then the sense of community is, at least in some parts of the country, more recognisable.  

Ultimately it seems as though the reasons these men and later women died have been completely forgotten, as though they were never as important as the freedoms we now enjoy. It's easy to sit in a medieval-styled office building, point fingers and use important cultural and historical dates for the sake of gain; maybe it's TOO easy and that's why it happens so much. All casualties of war should be remembered and either commemorated or learnt from, or both. While it looks like there are lessons that some people might never learn anyway, if the situation is consistently marred by mud slinging then it might not be long before the lessons aren't taught anymore. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

High On Fire- Luminiferous

Artist: High On Fire
Album: Luminiferous
Record Label: E1 Music
Release Date: 23rd June 2015

Matt Pike & Co.'s 7th full-length is as wickedly catchy as it is pumellingly heavy and crustily epic

High On Fire's ascent into being lauded more consistently by a wider audience really began with the release of and response to their 2012 opus De Vermis Mysteriis. Though Matt Pike's CV already read like an academic game changer within the metal community, De Vermis Mysteriis seemed to be the point when the scope of his song-writing was realised by those unfamiliar to the charms of Sleep. Luminiferous, the band's 7th full-length, continues on the monolithic path set by its predecessor and, although slightly more lo-fi in terms of size, it contains some of the band's catchiest and most epic moments to date. 

Not only are the songs on Luminiferous played with supreme precision, but Kurt Ballou's production is instantly as thick, pure and crushing as expected. Though the sense of melody is more profound on this record than anything Pike has written previously, the riffs are still full of fried filth and swampy menace. 

Opener 'The Black Plot' is a ferocious, no holds barred punk-indebted rumble, one of the three blood-pumpingly heavy thrash numbers on the record (see also the skyscraper-flattening 'Slave The Hive' and the title track). 'The Sunless Years' is a wonderful, slightly tribal off-kilter banger. Perhaps most memorable of all though is 'The Cave', a 7-and-a-half minute epic that flits between meditative, dusty bass and guitar noodling and soaring chord sequences. 

In effect, just like De Vermis..., Luminiferous is a righteous entwining of rootsy, hardcore essence and huge vision. It's very distinctly a High on Fire record as well as a showcase of the ability to be consistently creative. It's preaching to the choir while proving that they are absolutely still worth listening to. 

Key Tracks: 'The Cave', 'The Sunless Years', 'Slave The Hive'
For Fans Of: Sleep, Mastodon, Exodus

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

DJ Rashad- 6613 EP

Artist: DJ Rashad
Album: 6613 EP
Record Label: Hyperdub
Release Date: 28th June 2015

This posthumously released 4 track EP is not only a selection on delectable bangers but also works positively towards Rashad's memory

Since footwork pioneer DJ Rashad's tragically untimely passing last summer it seems almost strange that the international interest in footwork hasn't been mobilized tenfold, such is the influence of the internet and a slightly more cynical approach to twitter appropriation. This is, one suspects, largely a healthy thing. It means that we live a world where 6613 can be released posthumously and not only feels comfortable in the context of stable awareness, but still it works to divine Rashad's output as utterly singular. 

Rashad has help from some considerably reverential friends all over the 4 tracks of this release, and the aesthetic is largely far removed from that of Double Cup, his 2013 full-length. However, there's no real danger of the music being second guessed. This is an EP of two halves, in terms of dynamic at least. Opener 'CCP2 (ft. DJ Spinn)' brings a smooth, soulful garage influence in behind the typically hypnotic vocal cut 'n' paste slams. 'Cause I Know You Feel (ft. Gant-Man)' is slightly more variant with its orchestral-style synths, brief forays into sex panther funk and rigorously tight off-beat power. 

The following two tracks are hard-as-nails, fist-in-the-concrete bangers that have just as much club-orientated soul but in a dizzyingly modern and abrasive context. The pummeling trap dalliances on 'Ya Hot (ft. Taso)' add serious heft, and the combination of the odd-ball bass lineage and increasingly skitterish synth mind-bend of 'Do Not Fuck' make it feel like a acid-plied trip across the River Stixx. 

At its core, 6613 is a short but characteristically visionary release. Pleasingly, the lack of hyperbole around its release means that, as rightly idolised as Rashad has been, it has a fully-formed and welcomed place in the world. Rashad's legacy then will continue to be about the importance of the music, and all 4 tunes on 6613 confirm that with giddy joy. 


Key Tracks: 'Cause I Know U Feel (ft. Gant-Man)', 'Ya Hot (ft. Taso)' 
For Fans Of: TNGHT, Traxman

Monday, 20 July 2015

Sharon Van Etten- I Don't Want To let You Down EP

Artist: Sharon Van Etten
Album: I Don't Want To Let You Down EP
Record Label: Jagjaguwar
Release Date: 8th June 2015

Lauded New York singer/songwriter's latest offering is fairly simplistic but briefly charming

Over the five track course of this EP Sharon Van Etten's songwriting may be distinctly simple but, like her full-lengths, it's not without sufficient charm. The basic soft-rock of the title track is a soulful highlight. 'Just like Blood' contains some cryptic and perhaps even sensual poeticisms, and the sleepy, eerie Warpaint-esque atmospherics of 'Pay My Debts' aid in it becoming the EP's stand-out track. It mostly feels like a release set in motion for die-hard Van Etten fans, and in that context it hardly puts a foot wrong. 


Key Tracks: 'Pay My Debts', 'I Don't Want To Let You Down'
For Fans Of: Radiohead, Warpaint

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Week's Playlist, Vol. 1- 19/7/2015

Featured Image Credit: Johanna Bocher flickr

A three and a half week trip to Thailand has found me completely out of the new music loop since late June (everybody will most likely have heard Foals' 'What Went Down' by now), but I decided to rejuvenate this old feature of the site to share some of the music I was obsessing over during the course of the trip and some great new stuff I've found in the couple of days I've been back on home soil. Next week's segment will most likely feature more new music, especially that which has been featured on the site previously in a review, or in a review I plan to do over the next coming days (see here Rolo Tomassi, for example). As always, my greatest hope is that you'll check some of these gems out and hear something you like. 

Many cheers, and enjoy. 

LCD Soundsystem- All My Friends

James Murphy & Co.'s 7-minute looped piano epic has become resoundingly poignant in my life of late as I've just graduated university and am now about to be pummelled into submission by real life. His funny, sad and deliriously hopeful ruminations on the relationship between partying and ageing are likely to strike a chord with probably most people feeling the post-being-able-to-do-largely-what-ever-the-fuck-you-want blues.

A$AP Rocky ft. Schoolboy Q- Electric Body

High brow sociological rhetoric a la EL-P this ain't, but this robust, smooth and dark banger from two of mainstream Hip-Hop's most sought-after MCs is one of the many highlights on A$AP Rocky's latest full-length At. Long. Last. A$AP. You can read my review of the whole album here:

Rolo Tomassi- Stage Knives

British screamo/noise/art-rock etc etc quintet Rolo Tomassi are back with their new full-length Grievances. This typically chameleon-esque track runs its course in a whirlwind of glistening, spiky melody, calm, glacial meditation as well as intense stabs of violence and poetry. Read my review of Grievances here:

Killing Joke- Eighties

This classic from the post-punk legends finds Jaz Coleman struggling his way through the Thatcher dominated '80s, and its hard not to find prevalence in those assertions in context of today's government. As tight, aggressive and righteous as ever.

British Sea Power- A Lovely Day Tomorrow

One of the B-sides included with the recent reissue of Brit rockers British Sea Power stellar debut album The Decline of British Sea Power, this lovely, lo-fi and catchy understated anthem encaptures almost everything that the band have always done so well. You can read my retrospective/ review of the re-issued masterpiece here:

Foals- What Went Down

First previewed on Annie Mac's BBC Radio 1 show in early June, 'What Went Down' immediately struck as probably the most menacing, predatory and most rip-roaring rock 'n'roll track Oxford indie darlings Foals have ever written. Crisply produced and unrelenting in its energy and sinister glow, front man Yannis Philippakis sounds positively possessed as he yelps his way through a series of Nick Cave-esque narrative plot lines. The album of the same name is expected to be released on the 28th August.

Touche Amore & Self Defense Family- Low Beams

One of the tracks featured on this split EP entitled Self Love issued by Deathwish records back in March, 'Low Beams' is as eerie as it is characteristically fierce and grandiose. Both bands combine their rigid Hardcore credentials to create an ambidextrous 3 minutes of bleak commentary and oozing heft.

Leon Bridges- Smooth Sailin' 

Texas based singer-songwriter Leon Bridges' debut full-length LP Coming Home has quite rightly been lauded as a jubilant and irresistibly smooth exercise in retro, organic soul. 'Smooth Sailin'' is impossibly simple and illustrious at the same time, Bridges' vocals riding the dusty but crystal clear and catchy music beautifully. Expect a review of Coming Home on the site soon.

Stellar Om Source- Polarity

Christelle Gualdi's sonic explorations are among some of the most hypnotic being created today, and her hallowed track 'Polarity' is perhaps a pinnacle of this. It starts off like the soundtrack to a scuba diving session whilst stoned and stumbling across a patch of coral that looks like Atlantis, before becoming a glorious myriad of fizzing, twinkling synths that wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to travelling through the Dubai skyline at night.

Listen to all the tracks in this week's playlist via the spotify playlist below.

Rolo Tomassi- Grievances

Artist: Rolo Tomassi
Album: Grievances
Record label: Holy Roar
Release Date: 31st May 2015

The Sheffield quintet's 4th full-length is occasionally their most beautiful and always their most bleak album to date

Always a band who lurched free of almost anything that was expected of them, Rolo Tomassi were due a trip to ground level after the dizzying conceptual realms of Cosmology and Astraea. Though the Spence twins' vocal incantations on Grievances are often as poetic as always, there are very few cracks of light in their rhetoric. On Grievances the band balance their feral nihilism and spectral fragility more emphatically than ever before, but whatever the sonic mood it's an album with a constant darkness at its core. 

In terms of performance there are some of the most electrifying tracks the band have ever recorded here. Whether rasping viciously or soaring angelically, Eva Spence's vocals are stronger than ever. The interplay between styles and soundscapes is sometimes intimidating, especially new boy Tom Pitts' drumming. 

Opener 'Estranged' is impossibly brutal Dillinger-esque madness complete with an eerie Faith No More-inspired piano interlude. 'Raumdeuter' takes on a crushing Deafheaven-esque post-rock dynamic with star-gazing synth bursts halfway through, complete with such quips from Spence as "teach me a lesson, built upon my disgrace". 'Opalescent' is beautifully considered and measured, and 'Stage Knives' is a myriad of short, sharp diversity. On the closing 7 minutes of 'All That Has Gone Before' ambidextrous piano leads are entwined with doom-laden guitar chords as Eva Spence repeats in both growls and siren-like coos that "we can't be loved as we are". 

There are a few missteps;   'The Embers' strays slightly too close to Periphery- esque irritation melodically. Despite being inflected with mournful violin harmonies 'Crystal Cascades' is nowhere near as epic as it wants to be and 'Chandelier Shiver' offers little as its partner in orchestral slow-burning. All the same, there are enough moments here to prove that mostly Rolo Tomassi are wonderfully adept at what they do. 


Key Tracks: 'Raumdeuter', 'Opalescent', 'Stage Knives' 
For Fans Of: Isis, Dillinger Escape Plan, Deafheaven 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Triumph of British Sea Power: Their Debut Album Revisited

Artist: British Sea Power
Album: The Decline of British Sea Power & the Decline Era B-Sides
Record Label: Golden Chariot
Release Date: 19th June 2015 (originally 8th September 2003)

Following the re-release of their favoured debut album, I wax lyrical about my personal and musical experience of British Sea Power and what the album that began their resolutely underground favouritism means to me

Yorkshire-via-Brighton sextet British Sea Power released their debut album The Decline Of British Sea Power in 2003, but that certainly wasn't my first experience of them. That came on the day of my 16th birthday in 2010, on the fateful night before a GCSE Religious Education exam I'd barely scratched my arse towards. The band were playing at the Komedia in Bath. I'd only been to two gigs before that in my life; toss-worthily boring indie rockers Embrace at Westonbirt Arbouretum as part of a primary school trip, and the Taste of Chaos tour in 2009, fueled by teen angst and a deep passion for guitar solos. The ticket was given to me by a friend, who on the same night introduced me to a future (now ex) girlfriend. The band's last studio release had been 2008's Do You Like Rock Music?, and come the end of the penetratingly loud yet measured gig, my friend turned to me and said "that was certainly rock music". 

I start this re-visitation and review of sorts of the band's recently reissued debut record (accompanied by a set of B-sides) because this is a band that mean a great deal to me. As is often cited, The Decline Of... has always largely been accepted as the band's best record, and as is perhaps more frequently asserted it's nigh-on unfathomable as to why they never got the break they deserved. The closest they came was in 2008, but their appeal has never seemed to garner the household name status many believe they deserve. There are, I think, a few reasons for this. 

As odd and characterisitic as they were always prone to being, there can be no denying of the anthemic quality of almost of the tracks on the original release of The Decline Of... . Later singles like 'Waving Flags' and 'No Lucifer' would go on to be the songs that were instantly recognisable as BSP tracks, but the likes of the bonafide raucous fist-pumper 'Remember Me' and the equally as life-affirming 'Carrion' set the precedent much earlier on. The thing to consider in this context is that in 2003, the undivided attention of the music press was focused on The Libertines and The Strokes (surely both the aforementioned tracks are more rabble rousing than the likes of 'Time For Heroes'?). Whereas those bands positively pandered to the press and their excess was glorified, BSP's resolutely un-pretentious attitude towards the music and partying (even if it was slightly inward facing) meant that their lack of interest in getting on the front cover of NME saw much of their music fly over people heads. It's a point that has been made before, but the frustratingly conservative nature of the mainstream press is largely to blame for the loss of a hundred great rock records from that era, and by default this finds the root cause of the tiresome "is rock 'n' roll dead?" conversation. 

In the context of this re-release, the initial tracks on the original album sound (just as before) like a transmission from a secret and specific time and place, though not in an out-dated way. The singular, literary and odd-ball lyricism works almost like a narrative, the conclusion to which may never be immediately obvious but is electrifying all the same. The opening salvo of 'Apologies To Insect Life' and 'Favours in the Beetroot Fields' are short, violent but delectable Pixies-esque sucker punches to the gut, proper art-rock vitriol steamed into a few moments of youthful abandon. In its more measured climbs, like the aforementioned 'Remember Me' and the less bombastic 'Something Wicked' there is plenty of the kind of aesthetic Radio 2 could and should have lapped up. And then there's the magnificent 'Lately', a 14-and-a-half minute romp through sensitive melody and eventually psychedelic, ear-drum shattering volume and feedback, in this writer's eyes their most prolific moment to date. 

Just like the original release, the collection of extra tracks accompanying the reissue almost deserves to be approached as a separate album in its own right. All the tracks slot together effortlessly and certainly bare the band's signature quirkiness, but only really the mid-paced, beautiful 'A Lovely Day Tomorrow' and the acoustic waltz of 'Good Good Boys' sound like they'd resound in the original track-listing. 

Again, the diversity of the song-writing shows the full breadth of BSP's scope. 'Albert's Eyes' and 'Moley & Me' are both shrouded in the band's classic idiosyncracies and production mysticism, the latter especially an odd-ball story that feels almost like a faux children's night time tale made up in a flat kitchen after several bottles of wine (sample lyric: "Moley & Me, we would spend our time killing everybody"). The Morrissey-esque pitch black humour lives most fervently in 'Salty Water', an ode to drowning. 

The instrumental couplet of 'Birdy' and 'Heavenly Waters' increases the scope further. The former is a spectral, looping ditty that sounds like the lunch-time overture in a Sussex beach cafe where Aidan Moffat sits scribbling down ideas for the next L.Pierre album. The latter is a sprawling 7 minutes of post-rock that sets the precedent for their vision on their soundtrack for Penny Woolcock's 2012 documentary From The Sea to the Land Beyond. 'Apologies to Insect Life (Russian Rock Demo)' is a slightly stripped down but no less physical, instrumental version of the track of the same name and offers a delightful glimpse into the raucous evolution process of the band's music. 

Just like when it was originally released in 2003, this reissue won't reach the ears or minds of the majority of the record buying public, at least not in the way it deserves. In a way then, it offers much more to people like me, already totally absorbed in the band's character and narrative and forever wanting more of the same. To neither the band nor the people already aware, album sales don't really matter anymore in regards to this release. It's there for the purest reason possible; so that the previously unheard recorded versions of some of these tracks can be lapped up and so that revisiting the original songs continues to be a pleasure. For an album and aesthetic as beautiful and selfless as that of The Decline of British Sea Power, the peaceful notion that their offering their fans more is enough. That idea has always been at the centre of most great rock music; it's just a shame it's not realised more.