December 28, 2009

Album Review - Girls



LABEL: True Panther Sounds


RATING: 8/10

The origin of Girls is one of almost mythical calibre. Over the course of the band’s relatively short existence, only two things have remained consistent in their ever-changing world of debauchery, misadventures and religion - a predilection for pharmaceutical induced highs, and an almost pathological obsession for The Beach Boys. The fusion of the aforementioned produces a result that is both astonishing and beautiful.

To further explain, listening to Girls is like listening to The Beach Boys while on Quaaludes.

Yet in order to fully understand, appreciate and analyse the music of Girls, one must recognise the turbulent albeit tragic childhood of front man Christopher Owens.

Owens was born into the highly controversial Children of God cult. Founded by an outspoken anti-Semitic paedophile, Children of God is a fundamentalist Christian offshoot that focuses on apocalyptic ruin and human sexuality. That’s some messed up shit right? Owens’ father abandoned the family (can you blame him?) so his mother - a firm believer in the cult’s practices, raised young Christopher alone. Together they lived a nomadic lifestyle and travelled the world searching for souls that needed ‘salvation.’ Owens experienced countless tragedies whilst living in this perverse milieu - from the death of his brother (due to the cult not believing in medical treatment), to the wilful prostitution of his own mother (to raise money for the cult’s exploits.) Christopher truly lived a life most youth could not even fathom. Escaping the cult at 16, Owens then moved to Texas and drifted around in the backwaters of society. Just when it seemed his future was destined to consist of shady drug deals, petty crime and a probable early self-inflicted demise, a local wealthy philanthropist took Owens under his wing and gave him newfound hope and a way out of his current self-destructive lifestyle. Soon after this, Owens met future band-mate JR White and the two moved to San Francisco, where they would write and perform music together under the moniker Girls.

As far as band chronicles go, this one is so epically proportioned that you cannot possibly doubt its integrity. It is the type of history that can overwhelm and envelope a band so much so, that one never really hears the music; they only hear the story. So it's a tribute to Girls that you do not have to have any prior knowledge of the band to hear their music as it is: Hypnotic and seductively tortured.

Girls debut album is simply called Album, but despite the seemingly lack of inspiration when it came to naming their musical debut, the title holds some truth about the duo. Obvious, plain and straightforward, Girls have nothing to hide. Yet it is the subtle nuances of Album that make it so fresh and addictive.

Just like the vast array of narcotics consumed during recording, the music on Album drugs you into a peaceful state of innocence and youthful abandon. Owens’ voice is affable and endearing. When he fervently sings, you believe every word. And when he laments about his troubles in a beguiling and jaunty tone, with a raw quaver at the back of his throat, there is no trace of insincere affectation. The other half of Girls, JR White, handles production and most instrumental duties. White's meticulously produced arrangements help organize and highlight Owens’ meandering and psychedelic ideas. White helps Owens create a canvas on which he is able to paint his tragic landscapes.

Album masterfully encapsulates the relaxed and carefree lifestyle of California. But underneath the faultless and cheery pop façade, is a fragile, darker side that represents the realities of Owens’ life. It’s a stark contradiction that makes Girls music unique. The duo puts their alchemy of sound through a sepia-toned sunshine filter. The result of which is an ethereal haze, a sound that completely transcends any genre restriction. Bittersweet yet entirely comfortable, nostalgic yet not wallowing in the past - a musical achievement that successfully integrates many a decade worth of musical styles and then serves them in a minimalistic package.

The Beach Boys influence is by far the most prevalent on Album. From the twangy guitar lines on “Laura,” to “Big Bad Mean Motherfucker,” a complete throwback to surf-pop - the duo draws on several 60s musical styles to create their fresh new sound. Channelling Brian Wilson on many occasions, Christopher Owens adds a tormented depth, unbeknownst to the famed Beach Boy. Album is best described as a lo-fi Pet Sounds, a stripped down version, completely free of the lavish orchestration but retaining the harmonies, melodies and aesthetic of The Beach Boy’s opus. With that said, there are many other genres and styles found on Album. From poppy, bubblegum beats – à la Turtles, to the shoegaze soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine, to Elvis Costello-ish musings and Buddy Holly inspired ballads. Album is a musical platform for an amalgamation of genres, styles and influences to emerge.

Another impressive and surprising aspect of Album is the fact that no song on it was recorded in a studio. Mostly recorded in cramped, dingy rehearsal spaces on computers that were well passed their used by date and now probably considered retro, Girls possess a nonchalant attitude when it comes to recording procedures. But the lack of production work and studio flare gives Album an even more authentic and uncommercial feel. Possibly due to the poor recording conditions, but more likely because of the copious amounts of prescription pills taken, the record jumps from genre to genre in no recognizable pattern. However, whilst it is a schizophrenic listening experience, there is something pleasantly disconcerting about the duo’s endeavour.

Yet discussing Album also raises a lot questions. What if it had been recorded in a studio with professional grade equipment? Could it possibly have been our generation’s Pet Sounds? Would it have been an iconic album that defined the new millennium? Instead, due to its rough avant-garde quality and Christopher Owen’s unrefined voice, Album never found a wide audience and was left orbiting the indie stratosphere enjoyed solely by a handful of musical connoisseurs. So perhaps the most important question we should be asking is, what’s next for these guys, or should I say, Girls?

November 30, 2009

Is This The End For Basement Jaxx?

BAND NAME: Basement Jaxx


LABEL: XL Recordings


RATING: 5/10

Basement Jaxx, the cross-genre-fusing South Londoners, have been making bona fide party music since the beginning of the millennium. Yet as 2009 comes to an end, and we bid adieu to this decade, it seems rather probable that in turn we are also farewelling Basement Jaxx from the dance and techno scene. In 1999 with Remedy, 2001 with Rooty, and then followed up by the titanic success of Kish Kash, which won the duo a Grammy and is still considered one of the best modern electronica albums ever, Basement Jaxx have produced hit after ubiquitous hit, and infected the world with their eclectic buzz. So it’s impossible to deny the fact that these boys know how to party. Yet on Scars, their 5th musical endeavour, they are making music for a party that is well and truly over. This time around, the music is best suited for the post-party stage. Everyone has gone home; your house resembles the aftermath of an earthquake; the alcohol has worn off and as you frantically clean up dried stomach waste from your white suede sofa, you hear a collection of songs that truly encapsulate your frenzied, sick and slightly delirious mood. Welcome to Scars – messy and disarrayed, yet without question party, or rather, post-party music.

Basement Jaxx appear to be well past their prime, though this comes as no revelation. They seem to have been making their way to this point for a while. After the underwhelming Crazy Itch Radio and then the band’s three-year lull, where no new material was recorded, the general public were becoming slightly sceptical at the longevity of the once dominant party machine. Scars was either going to resurrect the duo, and vault them back to their place of worship, or it would confirm many predictions that Basement Jaxx no longer possesses that x-factor, and is merely a shadow of its once holy self. In short, the band has run out of steam, and is the farthest away they have ever been from the apex of their successful career.

Once a dynamic duo eager to break free from the archetypes of the dance genre in favour of creating something distinct and exciting; the duo has opted for the generic and predictable. The overall lack of variety makes for a consistent albeit dull album, which leaves a bland after-taste in the listener’s aural palette. This tastelessness is exacerbated by tracks that segue and dissolve into each other, repeating former themes until they are indistinguishable and monotonous.

Though you’ve got to give the boys some credit for assembling one of the most diverse group of collaborators imaginable. Yet what can we expect from a duo whose limitless energy and hedonistic abandon is a form of catharsis in itself. Electronica poster-girl Santigold, radio-favourite Sam Sparro and the one-and-only Yoko Ono, all feature on Scars. But these guest stars make it impossible for Basement Jaxx to stamp their iconic club-meets-house trademark on the songs. The duo step back, and allow the “featurers” to do all the work. Are the boys really that lazy? Or perhaps they are timid and uncertain regarding their precarious position in the current music scene.

So as we near the end of the decade, and reminisce about the definitive musical moments, we should fondly remember Basement Jaxx as they were in their prime – and not dwell on the inadequacy of their latest release. We should recognise the past successes of the duo - and not feel totally dissatisfied with Scars. But all good parties come to an end, no matter how long you attempt to delay and postpone the inevitable. Scars represents the end of an era - after a decade of partying, its time for the boys to take a break.

November 13, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

ARTIST NAME: Karen O and the Kids

LP TITLE: Where The Wild Things Are Soundtrack

LABEL: Interscope Records


RATING: 8/10

Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are was an unprecedented achievement. Here was a book that was written for children, yet equally enjoyed by the adults reading it to them. This was a book that completely transcended all age levels and possessed different meanings to those reading it. Young children were swept up in Max’s adventures and would forever more don a wolf suit and make mischief of one kind, and another. Yet to the older eye, the world Sendak had created was compelling and provocative and would need hours of psychological analysis to fully appreciate and understand.

This is a book that has sold over 19 million copies worldwide, has been translated into 15 different languages, has won numerous awards, and is arguably the most celebrated, cherished and respected children’s book ever written. So a movie version of this literary juggernaut was inevitable. Disney allegedly tried to secure the rights for a film, never expecting to be declined by the author. We have Maurice Sendak to thank for saving this beloved classic from turning into an animated, over-sweetened, commercialised monstrosity. For years the idea of a movie drifted around in the backwaters of Hollywood, until Spike Jonze, with Sendak’s blessing, began the process of making the 10-sentence book into a feature length film.

Now for me, good music is integral to the overall feeling and aesthetic of a film. How can one think of Ghostbusters without humming its eponymous theme? And would Jaws really have been as scary without its ominous two-note composition? Yet the concept of a true film score is becoming more and more a dated concept, giving way to the modern soundtrack – which is essentially a collection of previously recorded singles that supplement the movie. And so it's been a genuine pleasure, amidst the clichéd and generic soundtracks of today, to experience the return of original film music — more score than soundtrack.

This album commences with a whispered request for a story; and so begins the daring and mesmerising harmonic accompaniment to a timeless tale. Karen O, of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s fame, put together an ensemble cast of indie superstars performing together under the moniker: Karen O and The Kids. The Kids include, members of: The Dead Weather, Deerhunter, The Raconteurs, The Bird and the Bee and Queens of the Stone Age. Also featured, is a children’s choir that helped contribute to the youthful soundscapes.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this album is its versatility and wide spectrum of material. The polarities of children’s emotions are explored - from roars and shrieks of utter pre-adolescent abandon, to morose pleas of belonging and betrayal. The nostalgia and naïveté of Sendak’s tale is beautifully encapsulated on the record, and even the most cynical listener has to be impressed with Karen O’s aptitude for relating to her inner youngster. Karen captures the exuberance and bewilderment of youth, along with the joy and sorrows. She manages to create music that reminds us of a time when the world was a limitless place, and impossible was simply an unidentifiable word in the dictionary. And she does it in a way that doesn’t patronise or seem condescending to the children watching the movie - whilst satisfying the adult and hipster audience. It was a very difficult and precarious endeavour, and Karen O pulled it off with flying colours.

Though the album plays smoothly and almost chronologically as a whole, the most notable and popular track is, without question, “All Is Love.” Karen O’s vocals mix and intertwine with yelps from children, against a backdrop of ebullient guitar lines. “All Is Love” is a rambunctious, playground chant, as much as it is a majestic display of unadulterated optimism. “All Is Love” is a song that revels in purity and innocence without recourse to self-righteousness.

Though indeed this record is a companion to the film, and will complement and enhance the moviegoer’s experience, it holds its own as an album, and is completely listenable without visual stimulus. The real accomplishment of this album is not simply its ability and deftness to capture the raw emotions of Maurice Sendak’s beloved tale, but its skill at bringing those exact emotions to a different medium, without losing effect – and adding some newfound passion and joy along the way.

October 24, 2009

Artist of The Year - The xx



LABEL: Young Turks


RATING: 9.5/10

Thou shalt not feign integrity. This is commandment number one in any post-punk, angst-filled band’s rulebook. Creating an original and atmospheric musical mood is a difficult and extremely risky endeavour. If you, God forbid, try too hard, then failure is a guarantee. If your intentions are in any way evident, then the listeners will see right through your elaborate façade, no matter how impressive your production work is. Contrive anguish and torment, and you’ll come off pretentious and fake. Aim for melancholy or sullenness, and chances are you’ll end up looking a self-righteous fraud.

South-Londoners, The xx, dress entirely in black and possess emotions that seem to flit between morose, to uninterested, and then back again. Their enigmatic stage presence is characterised by minimal movement and the much subtler, staring at the ground whilst looking coy. An intense peak of visual stimulation is achieved when bass player and vocalist, Oliver Sim, arches his left eyebrow ever so slightly. Yet for some reason, what The xx seem to have feels pure and completely authentic.

The band’s eponymous debut beguiles, entrances and lulls you into a euphorically comatose state – one from which you may never want to arise.

The xx have created an album that is delightfully drowsy. It sounds as if it were made by a group of awkward, melancholic introverts that all suffer from chronic insomnia. Then, one sleepless night they all decided to channel their moody personas into album form. After many late night recording sessions, several shots of espresso, and quite likely a few hits of speed, the album is complete; and by now this sense of the nocturnal and dark has deeply seeped into the fabric of the songs. Though the record does indeed sound as if its creators could hardly muster the vigour to complete it, it also holds the sensation of something tirelessly laboured over. The result of this contradiction is a shy, somnambulist yet passionate debut; one blanketed in an ethereal cloud of heartbreak and loss.

This is quite clearly a vocally dominated record that is shared by a boy and a girl - the boy being Oliver Sim, and the girl being the verbally gifted Romy Madley Coft. Their voices nimbly intertwine around each other and harmonise beautifully; the effect is truly mesmerising. With Oliver’s modest croon, and Romy’s exceptional voice, the two saunter around the minimal and malnourished backing of their band.

Minimal and malnourished are two words that do aptly encapsulate the sound and aesthetic of The xx’s instrument section. Stark and understated would work as well. Vague, resonant guitars and an edgy bass make up the band’s pathos-infused artillery. Add some delicate drumbeats that are electrified by subtle syncopated clicks, as well as the strategic use of surreal synthesised effects, and you have the sound of The xx. Though the music is undoubtedly sparse, it seamlessly fuses together to create an impossibly beautiful soundscape.

Despite the inexperience and youth of its creators, the overall feeling of this record is neither its bleakness nor its idealism, but the complete and utter excellence of its musical judgment. With their languorous and somnolescent understatements, The xx manage to freeze the mind, and then slowly release it to hitherto unrivalled horizons of splendour and pleasure. Lord knows it aint perfect, but it comes pretty damn close.

October 2, 2009

Album Review - Why?


LP TITLE: Eskimo Snow

LABEL: Anticon


RATING: 5/10

Why? is a Californian indie hip-hop band that shocked and startled the music scene with its complete and utter determination to defy conventional labelling. With the band’s fusion of avant-garde hip-hop, and quirky indie rock, Why?’s modus operandi seemed to be refusing to conform to a set of rules.

So when Why?’s front-man and founder, Yoni Wolf, announced that the band’s fourth studio album, Eskimo Snow, would be the least hip-hop of anything he has ever done, listeners began to worry.

Herein lies the problem. If Why? are no longer a hip-hop outfit, then that just leaves indie; and indie can be a very loaded term. It's a genre impacted by the pitfalls of individuality, purists, and a nonchalance attitude to mainstream acceptance. However this ideal has created a slew of identically sounding bands that are all “being original.” Sometimes its better just to keep your head down, do your thing, and leave the categorizations and clarifications to someone else, which is why I'm inclined to go along with Wolf’s refusal to get too tied up in aligning himself with the various movements of indie over the years.

The songs on Eskimo Snow were recorded during the same sessions as Why?’s critically acclaimed third album, Alopecia. The album retains the lyrical magic and distinctive if not eerie soundscapes that Why? is known and loved for. However, it unfortunately lacks the unity of Why?’s earlier releases. Alopecia acted as a manifestation of post-adolescent angst and sorrow. The album went far beyond heartbreak and self-loathing to examine the desperation and confusion that a relationship can leave in its wake. Why?’s second album, Elephant Eyelash possessed a list of songs that also covered the requisite topics of anguish and heartache, but instead shed a joyful light on the otherwise sombre realities of modern life.

Why?’s fondness for vague references and intricate if not maniacal lyrics has created both shocking triumphs and meaningless experimental pastiches. After all, there’s a fine line between enthralling poetry and pretentious drivel. Regrettably this time however, Why? has slipped into the latter.

Eskimo Snow lacks passion and sincerity - and this time around, Wolf’s crazed declarations of betrayal and loss come across as bitter and uninspired. The songs of Eskimo Snow never quite reach the high standard Why? usually achieves. Mr. Wolf sounds awkward without being especially endearing. He is simply not as sophisticated or as excitingly chaotic as he once seemed to be.

Why? has created a disappointingly safe album of reasonably enjoyable indie songs. Considering Why?’s previous flirtations with hip-hop, and the ambiguous yet refreshingly unique genre the band seemed to inhabit, I expected a lot more. Eskimo Snow just fails to deliver.

Album Review - The Big Pink

BAND NAME: The Big Pink

LP TITLE: A Brief History of Love



RATING: 8.5/10

As we venture further and further into the 21st century, the quest to find fresh, unadulterated, undiscovered and of course, non-commercial music is becoming increasingly more difficult. The fact that the Internet has a global audience, and that just like you, millions of other music-fanatics are trying to happen upon the next big thing does nothing to help this situation. And, perhaps even more than that, the idea that in the Indie world at least, any form of advertising whatsoever is considered selling-out. Thus, many of today’s most talented artists no longer possess MySpace pages, don’t distribute music through record labels, and seldom perform live. This is a predicament that makes this ambitious quest to find new music a very tiresome one indeed. Never mind the deeper, existential problems of trying to function normally as a coherent being in the seemingly ambiguous physical universe we occupy.

So you can imagine my delight was equaled by my surprise and incredulity, when The Big Pink’s debut album, A Brief History of Love, arrived on my doorstep. An album like this usually takes weeks of scouring music publications and the backwaters of the Indie scene to find. Yet here it was, like a message from God, that though scarce, it’s still possible to encounter damn good music amidst the drivel of mainstream radio.

Long before this record was complete, The Big Pink provided a spark of hope to music junkies that were completely fed up with today’s vacuous and mundane pop stratosphere. Here was an album that, A) was being produced and mixed by Rich Costey (Muse and Rage Against The Machine) and Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs). And, B) was recorded in its entirety at Electric Lady Sound Studios (a studio that helped create the sound of no less than Jimi Hendrix himself). Plus, one half of the musical duo’s father is legendary pop producer Denny Cordell, and it is widely known that the creation of great, catchy music is in fact genetic.

That alone should be enough to fulfill the fantasies of Alternative audiophiles everywhere, but in case you need more persuasion, listening to this album will remove any remaining doubt.

In the first 30 seconds of track number one, The Big Pink successfully channel My Bloody Valentine, Echo & The Bunnymen and even at times, The Dandy Warhols, which is in itself no mean feat. The band recreates the sound, feeling and Neo-psychedelia of 90s Shoegaze.

By the cynical few, and the holier-than-thou Hipsters, The Big Pink are being scorned for not attempting to explore new musical territory. But in this age, bands that defy the status quo and push the boundaries of music too far usually experience a short-lived success. These artists have their brief moment of fame, but are quickly rendered obsolete by listeners who know nothing of loyalty. So, restoring a musical movement that was both successful and enjoyable seems to be a smart move. And perhaps for a few of the younger ones who weren’t around, or aware of Shoegaze in its heyday, this album will be a life-altering introduction to music that combines melody and beautiful noise in equal measure.

Though there are no terribly weak tracks on A Brief History of Love, and the album plays relatively smooth as a whole, it seems that the record builds up to, and then builds down from, track number three, and perhaps one of the greatest musical achievements of the year, "Dominoes.

“Dominoes” brings to life everything there is to love about music, and then serves it on a nice and tasty platter. The track is comprised of: understated yet elegant beats; soaring vocals and slamming drums; ethereal harmonies and playful, yet insanely addictive melodies; and an extraordinarily catchy and caffeinated chorus that will be permanently embedded in your brain for weeks to come.

A Brief History of Love is far more than simply a good record; it’s an achievement and an enduring triumph. More than anything, it suggests that The Big Pink will be around for a while, and could grow into a musical tour de force and a real alternative heavyweight.

Here’s hoping we’ll see a lot more of these boys in years to come!

September 11, 2009

Album Review - The Mars Volta

BAND NAME: The Mars Volta

LP TITLE: Ocathedron

LABEL: Mercury Records


RATING: 8/10

People listen to music as a way of escaping where, or who they are. Artists write and perform music as a way of bringing the listener close, and sharing a perspective of a new, more ideal and idyllic place. In theory, it is a rather simple concept, yet it is one that most commonly doesn’t manifest smoothly. Often an artist can hold onto the illusion of a place for a single song, but, eventually, inevitably, the fog will dissipate and the truth will be revealed once more, it's just music. But, every once in a while, a band will come along and produce a record so fresh, consistent and clear, that every time you hear it, you are taken with them on a journey: A journey shared by both artist and listener. Octahedron is one of those rare and beautiful voyages.

This album possesses a rather exceptional set of songs, which are firmly planted in the real and familiar. The songs are able to achieve freshness and a sense of inventiveness whilst staying true to The Mars Volta’s signature, globally loved sound. The band promised listeners “an acoustic album” and this is what we got; acoustic yes, mellow and tame, most certainly not. 

The Mars Volta employ all of the following characteristics to create their utterly unique and unprecedented sound. In no particular order: rough abrasive guitar, falsetto pitch, psychedelic melodies, over-the-top distortion, troubled sentiments, upsetting images, vicious sound-scapes, confusing if incomprehensible vocals, esoteric masterpieces, nostalgic metaphors, beautiful understatements, a nonchalant attitude to mainstream acceptance, cathartic waves of experimentalism, Grace Slick-inspired vocals, epic crescendos, reverb set to maximum, wistful ballads, and incredible talent.

Or instead, you could completely disregard all the aforementioned and listen to the album for yourself and then come up with your own list of adjectives: My bet is the majority will be superlatives!

August 28, 2009

Album Review - Bloc Party

BAND NAME: Bloc Party

LP TITLE: Intimacy Remixed

LABEL: Wichita Recordings


RATING: 7/10

Bloc Party – An English band credited with revolutionising the ‘alternative dance’ movement.

Intimacy – The Band’s opus album, critically acclaimed and a commercial success. 

Remix - A new or modified audio recording.

Add all three together, and you have one hell of a listening experience!

Bloc Party seem to be boldly devoted to the rather difficult endeavour of merging the guitar heavy sounds of modern post-punk and the futuristic sounds of the London rave scene. So, in that way, a remix album is quite surely the logical conclusion to the bands earlier flirtations with electronic music.

Some critics and purists will claim that this is a simply an attempt to reuse old material for commercial gain; however let it be known that the remixes found on this album are without exception of an extremely high calibre. From stripped-down edgy darkness, to pulsating bass lines, to almost euphoric triumph: It truly is an ideal melding of man and (drum) machine.

It’s the complete smooth and streamlined flow of the album, a rather subtle manoeuvring through a range of dance-based styles, which makes Intimacy Remixed a success. Like most critically acclaimed dance-based albums, the over-all whole is substantially better than the individual parts. For all its distortion, synth beats and drum-loops, the feeling that this is a Bloc Party album rarely dissipates, and the sense of utter dance-floor elation never stops growing.

August 1, 2009

Album Review - Discovery

BAND NAME: Discovery


LABEL: XL Recordings


RATING: 6/10

First of all, to set the record straight, Discovery is not a proper band. They are merely a musical collaboration of two very different artists; a duo that in most other cases would remain unsigned and unheard of. But, capitalising on the success of their previous bands, Rostam Batmanglij: keyboardist/producer for Vampire Weekend, and Wes Miles: Ra Ra Riot vocalist, have been able to generate hype, and spark the interest of many.

Discovery’s debut album, creatively entitled LP, is, well, frustrating to say the least. What makes it so frustrating is that Discovery sounds very good at times, but they also have moments of utter disaster. An aural roller coaster that soars up into musical greatness, but only for brief moments, before then hurtling back down into musical catastrophe. This makes for a rather schizophrenic listening experience.

When Discovery gets it right, their melodies gently caress the eardrums with tasteful and satisfying beats. But, more times than not, their tunes are greedy, belabored and contrived with everything exact and over-calculated. All is in its right place and if there is an experimental sound, it is too proportionally gaudy to justify anything more than a meagre lo-fi moniker. 

Cascades of synths clash with overpowering drum machines and whispered lyrics. Effected keyboards wane and warble over looped beats and a throbbing bass. Theirs is a neo-pop sound, with hints of R n’ B and electro. This eclectic mix of genres, and instruments creates an interesting, yet chaotic feel, with no clear method to their madness. With fake handclaps instead of snare drums and synthesizers replacing guitars, Discovery is definitely unique, though still undeniably kitschy.

If you’re looking for something profound, then you’re in the wrong place. Discovery aren’t to be taken seriously, and that precisely is what makes their music so enjoyable. They are not trying to make a statement, they don’t speak out against any politicians and they’re not being cynical or ironic. They are simply having fun with their music, and their utter joviality wears off on the listener.

Discovery brings a youthful nature, sensational charm, and a downright fun dynamic to an otherwise serious music scene: so for that they should be commended. Yes the drum-machines are little too loud, and the vocals are a little too quiet, but if the band had fun making it then that’s all that matters. Isn’t it?

July 29, 2009

Album Review - 1990s

BAND NAME: 1990s


LABEL: Rough Trade


RATING: 7/10

In today’s society, the record industry depends on the sales of singles and compilations. This is why albums that play well from start to finish, are very rare.

Thank God that Glasgow’s 3-piece Indie rock outfit: 1990s, still know what it takes to produce a record that is not dependent on commercial radio overplaying one track.

After listening to 1990s’ second album, Kicks, I had a very satisfied feeling in my stomach: comparable to that of a delicious meal, or a job well done. A pleasing notion, knowing that the last 40 minutes of my life were spent engulfed in musical progression rather than the increasingly more common feeling of having wasted time enduring mindless pop-ballads.      

With that said, 1990s sure aren’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before. But then again, why reinvent the wheel? The band plays like it’s 1970 and sound like it too. 1990s’ front man Jackie McKeown has a voice that is uncannily familiar. However, the context has been changed so drastically that this recognition is often looked over. Jackie sounds like none-other than punk’s favourite son, Johnny Rotten.

In fact, 1990s draw much of their sound from 70s punk bands, including: Mr. Rotten’s Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and Buzzcocks.                                               

Yet 1990s take their predecessors’ niche sound, throw in a few well-placed harmonies, some heavy production work, impressive guitar riffs, and thereby make their punk influenced sound, seem, a lot less . . . punk. This is a strength 1990s have, and also a weakness. The band have found mainstream success, but have been accused by many a die-hard punk fan of selling out.                        

Another weakness could be the album’s content, which is offensive to some, and rather hilarious to the rest of us. 1990s sing about getting wasted in Glasgow, chasing women, and then back to getting wasted in Glasgow. Many self-declared critics would say that Kicks is a very simple record. Sure, you could over-analyse Kicks and pull on its many loose threads until it resembles a bare and fairly useless document of our times. But where would that get you? In an age where most bands seem to try and outwit the act before them, it’s kind of nice to be able to listen to a song and not have to pull out the dictionary or ponder the cryptic meaning of every other word.

1990s provided a glimmer of hope for the post-punk revival of the early noughties, after their debut album Cookies was met with extremely critical acclaim. However, after a 2-year hiatus, the band faded from public attention, given that the modern-day consumer’s attention span barely outlasts the life of a common housefly. Though as it turns out, their return is perfectly timed to remind us that our era may not be completely devoid of music that exhibits both versatility and originality.      

1990s manage to cram 70s punk, blues, rock n’ roll and power-pop into one well-formulated package. With impressive vocal work, driving rhythm and infectious melodies, 1990s can be added to the long list of Glasweigan success stories.

July 24, 2009

3 Masked Menaces: The Kong Interview

Kong has taken the music world by storm. Credited as one of the best live acts in the UK, Kong has certainly raised the bar for rock bands everywhere. With the release of their debut album under their belt, I felt the band was ready to answer a few questions regarding Snake Magnet, and their perpetual usage of masks to hide their identities. This is what guitarist and lead vocalist Jon-Lee had to say:

How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?

Me and Lulu grew up in the same town, but didn't speak till we were in our 20's. He was a punk and I was a greaser! Krem and I met on tour. We were always the last 2 awake, taking drugs and listening to Can. 

Many (myself included) have tried to put a label on your music, but your sound seems to defy conventional labeling. How would you describe your sound?

A recent description was a kennel on fire! I like that description, but if you need a tag for your iPod, we are a punk band.

Tell us about your new album Snake Magnet?

Well it was made in 2 days, recorded live in a huge stone house. Snoop Dogg had just been there to record. I guess that influenced the break track on the album, Good Graphics. We huffed a ton of balloons too!


Do you have a favourite song from the album?

I can't listen to the LP, but my favorite to play live is A Hint of Rennit Innit.


Who are your musical influences?

Right now I’m into mariachi rhythms. The Bronx have been teaching me how to play the basic patterns and they are great, but really hard to play…  


Who is your favourite artist (living or dead)?

Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone


Most overrated band at the moment?

I just saw Lady Gaga at The Academy. It was her first headline show with a band, but I couldn't hear them at all! So I’ll say her band. 


Best band that nobodies ever heard of?

Ox Scapula!!!!!!!


If you could share the stage with anyone, who would it be?

GG Allin


Do you find it hard to find like-minded bands to play with? What bands do you currently like and respect on the UK scene?

I don't think it matters who we play with; we’re always gonna be the square egg. I like a lot of the Leeds’ bands, the Brudenell lot. Bands like that fucking tank and the rest of the squat bands up there. 


What’s the best concert you have ever been to?

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, 1995, Manchester. He had R/L Burnside and Doo Rag in support. Or, The Bronx in New York City; the first time I saw ‘em I lost my mind, and a shoe in the pit!


Best gig you have ever played?

Our last show at Academy 3 in Manchester was pretty special. But these days it’s any gig that I’m not beat up or bleeding after! 


If you could play anywhere in the world, venue wise, where would you play?

Playboy Mansion, Halloween party! 


What’s your idea of a good time on a Saturday night?

Red wine, Wes Anderson films, females, a hot tub, and a quarter.  


Musical goals as a band? Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?

I’ll be shocked if we’re all alive at this rate. Lulu just broke his right hand in 3 places, and Krem just got home from Australia only to lose his mind on Meow!   


Why do you wear masks?

Look what happened to Diana!


Finally, what do you love most about music?

Making it from scratch… Improvising. 


Cheers for answering these questions, any last words?

Boys goin' loco!

Thanks to Tom at Brew Records for making this interview happen!