Monday, 29 February 2016

The Plain Views Live @ Start The Bus, 25/2/2016

The Plainviews
Start The Bus, Bristol
Thursday 25th February 2016

Tonight feels like a proper home-grown occasion. Despite having its prestigious precedent set since its conception in 2008 by shows from the likes of Flying Lotus and Little Dragon, the modestly-sized bar and diner Start The Bus’ real tangent lies as a key player in the hubbub of Bristol’s music community. Its organic sound-system and down to Earth aesthetic make it the perfect for a band like The Plainviews to sink their teeth into; a band who visually live their ethos as well as any band I’ve seen. Comprising of members of fellow local upstarts Idles (who seem to be making a favourable amount of headway) and the St Pierre Snake Invasion, tonight’s occasion is one that feels like a poster-child for a city in full-support of its creative output.

Speak to any of the band’s three members and their approach to both song-writing and passion is refreshingly laissez-faire. A proposed release via chaotic fun and easiness that they may not get elsewhere, it’s the natural aspect of The Plainviews as both performers and people that makes them a distinguishable package, and maybe to be taken more seriously than their effortlessly warm and human tones would suggest. When they perform their raucous premiere track ‘Charlie Delta’ this evening, all the Future Of The Left-esque wit and artfulness is there in abundance, but it’s the sense of un-contrived nonchalance and punk-rock freedom that balances it out that helps it feel so fully formed.

Tonight, whether it’s the almost cathartic propulsion of the rhythm section or frontman Damian’s hoarse forays into back-of-the-throat screaming, everything feels as effortlessly fun as the band claim making the music was. Perhaps even more prominently, the band’s everyman identity shoots straight back to certain aspects of the glorious resurfacing from the dark days of Glam Metal in the early ‘90s. With all the ‘90s nostalgia in full flow at the turn of 2016, it feels vindictive that The Plainviews are capturing that explosive essence while being progressive. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Kanye West- The Life Of Pablo

Image Credit: Daniele Dalledonne Flickr

Artist: Kanye West
Album: The Life of Pablo
Record Label: N/A 
Release Date: 14/2/2016

Though it seems that since 2007’s Graduation Kanye West has taken it upon himself to provide more questions than answers, it’s gotten to the point where his antagonistic marketing tricks and schizophrenic output have become far less complex to unravel in relation to their societal presence. For all the twitter-storms, media outrage and perhaps deluded attempts at garnering public sympathy, Kanye’s oeuvre has become as predictable as Nigel Farage’s fear-mongering, or Martin Shkreli’s continuously concocted hatefulness.

It’s the validity that the public reaction to all these things prescribes to him that fuels almost his every step on The Life of Pablo, whose first half would beg the question of how deliberately erratic it is, but by the time ‘Feedback’ arrives and rolls into ‘Low Lights’ the answer is set in stone. The problem with the deliberately agitating moments here is that, although antagonism in music is rarely a bad thing, it’s very hard to feel warmth towards it when most of the time it’s about absolutely nothing. In that respect, one’s enjoyment of ‘The Life of Pablo’ may largely be down to their ability to adopt the same mentality society should have to Yeezy’s public persona; blank out the bullshit and replace it with an interest in his sometimes visionary artistic sensibilities.

As a piece of art, The Life of Pablo is occasionally quite brilliant. ‘Ultralight Beam’ is as soulful and ambitious as much of his approach since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and although the lack of substance on ‘Highlights’ may disenfranchise those wondering if West will ever regain some Earth-level relatability, at least he’s actually rapping, which is more than can be said for much of his “experimentation” on Yeezus.

Rather predictably the thematic paradigm shifts after the mid-point egotism of ‘I Love Kanye’ and ‘Waves’ is the first hint of vulnerability that West has showcased for years, a glacial and glitzy ode to heartbreak and loss. There’s almost a sense of regret on ‘FML’, a general address of his inner-sanctum that feels as though it’s both genuinely difficult and therapeutic for him to face his flaws. Such is the deficit of mental looseness that exists in almost every aspect of West’s being though, it quite often goes the other way, like on the constant references to how he is the key to cultural liberation in the record’s first half, or ‘Real Friends’, which reeks of “oooh it’s tough at the top” sympathy baiting. Lyrics like “Money turns your kid into an enemy” would sound valid coming from almost anyone else.

The Life of Pablo is like a knife that weaves its way between the marrow and sinews of elegance and ignorance. When it’s focused and elements work in conjunction it can be splendid, but so far ahead of everyone else in his own perception is Kanye that “yes men”, or indeed any other kind of consideration, aren’t even a reality. Ultimately, the disconnect comes with the idea that this works as the signifier as to how many chances one wants to give West in his artistic guise. If it continues in as double-edged a manner as this, I probably won’t be. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Sahara- Amour

Artist: Sahara
Album: Amour EP
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: 11/2/2016

Discussions about imagery in indie rock in 2016 are likely to leave those interested in such things by the wayside next to a pile of faded issues of Record Collector from the '90s, replacing them in the post-Libertines climate with a hype machine efficient and vacuous enough to leave almost no room besides the old guard to pursue those interests. 

Brighton, UK group Sahara seem to be versed in the idea of an image though. Aesthetically and sonically their oeuvre sits somewhere between the arid plains that the cover art of their debut EP Amour depicts and the flashy but dark-and-morose-beneath-the-surface approach of mid-noughties New York. Shimmering, reverb-laden twin guitar lines cut and weave over occasionally afro-beat mirroring rhythms and well-judged changes in pace. Though it's a rather conservative sound, the EP feels as though it's well aware of its heritage but is happy to be a part of it rather than transcend anything. That may suggest a certain air of vapidity, but to say that the songs weren't tuneful or well-constructed, particularly on the likes of dextrous opener 'Green Light', would be a great disservice. 

At this early stage it feels like there's plenty left to be said about the band's visual identity, and 'Amour' is enticing because it offers the promise of something not just artistic, but also genuine. It's showy in an age where expressionism is consistently dulled in the mainstream, and Sahara seem to have plenty left to offer. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

Full of Hell- Amber Mote In The Black Vault

Image Credit: Sid Sowder flickr

Artist: Full of Hell
Album: Amber Mote in the Black Vault EP
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: 8/1/2016

Though the sub-genre Grindcore has always been somewhat synonymous with Napalm Death, not nearly enough coverage of said genre relays its history of re-invention and artistry. So far this year Agoraphobic Nosebleed have stepped up to the podium to prove otherwise via the Arc EP, and frightfully young US quartet Full of Hell have extended their already evident sense of idiosyncracy on their brief but savage new EP. 

Some critics have pin-pointed the sense of humour that exists in grindcore via the ouevre of the likes of Brutal Truth, but Full of Hell's back catalogue has almost nothing that approaches warmth. A far more common string to their assault bow is a literary sense of bleakness, cited from the off here by Amber Mote...'s title. Opener 'Halogen Bulb' reeks of filthy, bone-sawing lucre, but both 'Amber Mote' and 'Barb and Sap' prove how expansive and manouverable the band can be within the two minute boundary, the latter thrusting its sociability grimly with the inclusion of frazzled vocal samples. 

The closing cover of Melvins' 'Oven' is a neatly respectful and individualistic touch as well. Though the EP bares just three bouts of new material, and holding one's own in the extreme metal underbelly requires spark, Amber Mote... is another signifier that whether they're slightly overting expectations within their craft or collaborating with the likes of Merzbow, Full of Hell have a strong grasp on extreme music's appetite for innovation. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Milk Teeth- Vile Child

Artist: Milk Teeth
Album: Vile Child
Record Label: Hopeless
Release Date: 29th January 2016

Tipped Gloucestershire quartet show how to do '90's revivalism correctly on debut album

There's a twisted surrealism to much of the '90s nostalgia that now exists in guitar music. Much maligned as the era of the boy band and Vanilla Ice- encrusted dark age of the music industry, the perennial disregard for many bands outside of the big-hitters seems to have been revised far too late, as if the music wasn't incendiary enough the first time around. Perhaps the scope is still largely confined to the blogosphere; don't expect to hear any covers of Fugazi in the UK chart any time soon, for example. The chief problem with this re-surfacing's association with the hype machine is that so many of the bands lack a sense of identity, something that made everyone from My Bloody Valentine to The God Machine quintessential. Gloucestershire four piece Milk Teeth are (in terms of the bands covered by the rock and metal press) one of the few groups that stand out as being vitally in tune with a refreshed sense of self. 

The release of their debut album Vile Child at the end of last month finds them in a peculiar position given the departure of guitarist Josh Bannister on January 5th, whose hoarse vocals are a crucial part of the band's character on both the more feral and mid-paced moments here. It's lead-singer Becky Blomfield's vocals which generally take centre stage here, and the presence (or lack thereof) from Josh never harms the record's charm at any turn. 

Not only is every aspect of the song-writing on Vile Child, both composition-ally and lyrically, attacked with energy and belief, but there's a sense of deeply integrated love for what's being created oozing throughout the record, which is enough to distinguish it from a  handful of contemporaries already. There's a chemistry and resonance that holds the music in the palm of its hand; an all-encompassing support system for a record which still has room to take on a life of its own. 

Opener 'Brickwork' bursts into action with The Colour and The Shape- esque exuberance. The following 'Driveway Birthday' marks itself as a candid slacker anthem for the modern age, Blomfield's lyrics drawing on depression and the imprisonment of dead-end UK towns. The beautiful, fuzz- drenched balladry of 'Swear Jar ( Again)' is equipped with a sense of coming-of-age romance and Blomfield intones "your dad soon to cotton on, we've been gone far too long". 

Both 'Moon Wanderer' and later on 'Leona' exemplify the band's impressive understanding of structure, progressive in scope and soaring within their 4-minute perimeters, the latter particularly showcasing the vocal understanding between Becky and Josh. 'Kabuki' marks itself as the album's most intimately personal moment, as Blomfield begs for "a chemical fixer, a brain elixer that kills off all self-hate". 

Though in some respects Vile Child marks the end of an era for Milk Teeth, it also suggests the dawning of a new one.  The record ends sounding no less fresh-faced and assured than it starts, which is perhaps the most promising demarcation of new ideas and chapters bubbling under the surface. Despite the fact that influences seem to be worn passionately on sleeves, there's almost nothing here that sounds borrowed or contrived. Milk Teeth aren't a '90's nostalgia band; they're a proper rock presence for 2016. 


Key Tracks: 'Brickwork', 'Swear Jar (Again)', 'Leona'
For Fans Of: Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Black Queen- Fever Daydream

Artist: The Black Queen
Album: Fever Daydream
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: 29th January 2016

Dillinger Escape Plan front-man joins forces with electronic luminaries for an album of dark, stunning proportions 

The sense of community that exists between Metal fans and bands alike has always been perhaps the genre's most culturally favourable rationale, and in 2016 it's pleasing to detect that all-encompassing spirit crossing over into musical territory as well as in terms of people. The Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato is one man who has been a constant reminder of the joys of eclecticism via his day-job's artful approach to chaos. A bit like the untouchable Mike Patton he's earned the right to experiment in almost any way tangible, so the fact that his new project The Black Queen has far more in common with '80's synth-pop than anything rock-orientated doesn't ring many alarm bells, if any. The one way to prove that, of course, would be to a release a staggeringly solid beauty of a record, and Fever Daydream is, within its realm, near-perfect. 

Completed by sole Telefon Tel Aviv member Joshua Eustis and fellow musician Steven Alexander, the obvious reference points of influence are Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, but the depth and swirling texture at every turn here suggests a far more open-minded pallet and vision. Reportedly worked on steadily over the past four years, whether it's dealing in always brilliantly judged spaciousness or industrial-tinged bangers it carries itself with a meticulous grace that forms a nuanced wholesomeness. 

Instrumental opener 'Now, When I'm This' sets the sub-zero, 3am in an abandoned warehouse vibe to be adhered to but also consistently uprooted. 'Ice To Never' balances its pounding, tribal sense of rhythm with gorgeous restraint in the synths, leaving Puciato's voice plenty of room to soar. 'The End Where We Start' is a fractured glimpse into an other-worldly lucid dream. Central point 'Maybe We Should/Non-Consent' sees some of Puciato's poetic and (whisper it) romantic lyricisms shoved warmly into the fore as the track becomes a slow-burning anthem around him, before it descends into two minutes of mechanic and eerie low-end rumble and synthetic clatter. 

Greg's voice becomes almost siren-like over the Boards of Canada-esque glitchy dystopia of 'Strange Quark', and is chopped and looped to become part of the music on 'Taman Shud', whose mid-section convulses in to an off-kilter pool of skittering electronics and fuzzy, organic bass rattles as Puciato croons of love cryptically ("I know that we're buried, innocent and true"). 

By the time magnificent 7-minute closer 'Apocalypse Morning' draws to a close it may take the listener a few moments of silence to feel the full impact of the hand they've just been dealt. Given the little fanfare that Fever Daydream was expressed by before arrival, expectations were probably rather scatter-brained and it's possible that nobody thought it would be as well-structured, focused and detailed as this. In fact, everything folds together to form an almost transcendental mirage; it's the kind of creativity that suits Greg & his band mates to a T. 


Key Tracks: 'Ice To Never', 'The End Where We Start', 'Maybe We Should/ Non-Consent', 'Apocalypse Morning'
For Fans Of: Depeche Mode, Junior Boys

Borknagar- Winter Thrice

Artist: Borknagar
Album: Winter Thrice
Record Label: Century Media
Release Date: 22nd January 2016

Norwegian progressive super-group stick to what they know best, with varying results

Though the tag 'Viking metal' runs the risk of chaining a band to a style synonymous with being un-cool, bands like luminary- studded Norwegians Borknagar and fellow countrymen Enslaved have unveiled its philosophical roots as far more widespread than tales of epic battles and mystical beasts. Just like much of their back catalogue, Winter Thrice is in awe of and supplemented by themes of origin and nature. At its most poignant it even delves into escapism that draws nearly unmissable parallels to reality. 

Grandiose and frost-bitten from the start, the refreshing sense of shamelessness that runs through Winter Thrice is set in stone. The myriad of melodies explored on 'Rhymes of the Mountain' are far more direct than the somewhat lazy sonic comparisons to Enslaved would  have listeners believe. The stark synths on 'Cold Runs the River' suit the song and album's aesthetic craftily, but best of all is the sprawling positivity of 'Panorama', complete with a scorching '70's corgi-esque keyboard lead and lyrical musings about evolution and civilisation. 

Unfortunately however, the almost complete lack of deviation from the album's blackened progressive blueprint becomes a rather cumbersome weight during it's second half. Only the sometimes lilting 'Noctilucent' provides a needed breather from the template, which causes the longer form tracks to fade from memory without much of a lasting impact. 

Borknagar understand what they can do most effectively and utilise it to occasionally beautiful moments here. Fans embroiled in the band's character will likely find little to complain about here. 


Key Tracks: 'Panorama', 'Rhymes of the Mountain', 'Noctilucent' 
For Fans Of: Opeth, Dimmu Borgir, Anathema