It is a testament to the magnanimous Monch that, even after an Olympic break, he has come out with one of the most relevant records of this period. Even more impressive is the actual music.
This is a multi-layered record, convoluted to the point of deliciously organised confusion.
With motifs and plots for this record introduced as early as his first solo release, Pharoahe spirits us away through space and time – this record’s time line spans from 1973 to 2023 – and weaves narrative, fact and meta-narrative into a true lyrical masterpiece. The story, once unraveled, is cohesive and causal to a point of madness.
Monch’s insistence on micro-detailing transforms W.A.R into a richly evocative experience. The imagery is incredible, cinematic hip-hop formed by complex soundscapes that vary from technicolour brilliance to an utter lack of light. Not only do the songs have their own fingerprint, but they also inhabit their own space, plane and time.
Pharoahe’s own technical finesse is legendary, his arsenal of techniques borne like a grenade belt; his rhymes are Duke Nukem with infinite ammo.
Former Thin Lizzy and Motorhead guitarist Brian Robertson is one of the legends of hard rock and heavy metal. Part of Lizzy during the halcyon Jailbreak days, his guitar partnership with Scott Gorham is still revered wherever men gather to talk about six strings and the truth. His tenure in Motorhead was less successful, and, in 1984, Robertson more or less disappeared from the radar as far as most people were concerned.
Like all seventies rockers of a certain level of success, Robertson employs a general factotum; Robertson’s goes by the name of Soren Lindberg and, on a trip from London to Stockholm made to ferry some of the great man’s equipment for an upcoming show, Lindberg was listening through a carrier bag full of cassette tapes given to him by Robertson that the famed guitarist had found lying around in his London residence. He didn’t know if anything on them was any good, and told Lindberg to bin them at journey’s end if there was nothing of worth to be found. This album is that journey’s result, and you have to thank the maker that Lindberg had the presence of mind to actually listen to the tapes, for what has come to light is a magnificent collection of eighties-styled hard rock and blues that is an absolute joy to listen to, and pure testament to the man’s supreme talent. If you love Thin Lizzy, you’ll love this record.
Another Low album, another round of fans asking the inevitable: is it as good as Things We Lost In The Fire ? In many ways, that 2001 album is an albatross around the Duluth-based trio’s neck. To many, the band has been trying to figure out a way to grow within the narrow confines Things… created. Muffled drums, grinding guitars, slowly revealed and hushed melodies. Their most recent album Drums & Guns was the most politically-charged and divisive in the band’s career. Think of C’mon as a rebalancing.
Lead track Try to Sleep is pro-forma Low – a shuffle of feint reverbed guitar, rising counterbalanced harmonies and subtle jazzy drum rumbles. If that song settles your nerves, Witches jolts. An angry retort against “All you guys out there, acting like Al Green” it builds with slashes of rabid guitar threatening to detonate. But then – it doesn’t, pulling back into an ethereal pinched solo. Soon after, the song thumps to a halt. A confused and confusing track, it nevertheless verifies their utter command over dynamics. The driving eight minute dirge Nothing But Heart reaffirms their comfort with campfire repetition.
C’mon is Low reasserting their strengths. They’d be foolish to try and replicate the past and forays into experimentation have failed to yield unanimous victories. It’s the album they needed to make to get to the next step. Most bands would eat their own arm to make such a tremendous holding pattern record.
The retro sound has become an increasingly popular genre, as witnessed by the success of Wolfmother and Tame Impala. While they have merely dipped a finger into psychedelica, The Ovals from Melbourne have gone for full body immersion. Their second EP fuses strong progressive influences with the tradition of atmospheric stadium bands such as Pink Floyd. The Ovals have adopted a more classical approach to rock, introducing long instrumental passages that are like a series of orchestral movements, replacing the standard song structures of verses and choruses. The senses are overwhelmed by complex musical panoramas that shape shift with shimmering keys and guitar arabesques.
The experimental nature of the music is immediately evident in the opener Refugees, which strikes an unusual note with a tempo that seems deliberately slightly out of time. Lost With Bones projects an atmospheric cocoon of space filling sound, with a strong underlying bass beat and a theatrical feel. Heretic is the standout track, exploring new bounds with long guitar passages overlaying chants of “Burn the Heretic, Burn the Heretic”. Persephone’s’ Groove foxes the listener, throwing echoing shadows in a dreamy lullaby, before becoming teasingly funky. This weird menagerie ends in an indulgently drawn out distortion. There’s a good 20 minutes of music in just four tracks. Into The Eyes Of Those Who Sleep is too involved for casual listening and is best appreciated reclining on a bean bag in a dark room.
There is no doubt in my mind that nostalgia is a bad thing; The compulsion – even for young people – to look back to times past with the meek acceptance that ‘things were better then’ is surely a massive obstacle in the way of progress both on a personal and societal level. That said, I am very, very pleased that Frontiers Records keep putting out records by old hair metal bands from the eighties. Hypocrite I may be, but I just don’t gots the time to worry about that ‘cos I’m TOO BUSY ROCKING!!
Despite the fact that you’ve never heard of them, there are some really famous people in King Kobra. For instance, drummer Carmine Appice (pronounced ‘apissy’! chortle!), whose brother Vinnie was the drummer in Black Sabbath and Dio, played drums for Rod Stewart for years in the seventies and eighties. You can view his moustache and gong in the video for the titanic Stones-meets-Abba-disco-shagfest that is Do Ya Think I’m Sexy. Perhaps more importantly, vocalist Paul Shortino was not only a member of Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt, HE WAS DUKE BLEEDIN’ FAME IN SPINAL TAP!!!
So, is being famous enough to make your no-hope hair metal band any good? It wasn’t in the eighties, as KK lurched from movie soundtrack inclusion ( Iron Eagle !! ) to lukewarm chart botheration, and, (surprise, surprise), it isn’t now either. This album has some nice moments, and Shortino sounds great, but that’s about it I’m afraid.
Since 2008’s Midnight Boom things have been rather quiet for hipper-than-thou, transatlantic duo The Kills. Between jet setting with Kate Moss and making magic with Jack White, the pair have been everywhere but in the studio together, giving critics reason to wonder if their sound would ever be the same. One listen of the new album Blood Pressures and it’s clear that these fears were unfounded. Rather than the unbalanced, inconsistent mess that was predicted, the album is a heavily layered and vocally stunning testament to the fact that when The Kills do something, they damn well do it right.
The album opens with Future Starts Slow, which with its catchy-as-hell chorus and bluesy riff sets the tone for what’s to come. Singles Satellite and DNA see Alison Mosshart’s husky vocals take centre stage, blending perfectly with the guitar-centric instrumentals. Heart is A Beating Drum and Nail in My Coffin are lyrically potent, beat heavy odes to love, in the angry, attitude-packed fashion we’ve come to expect from the duo. Further down and the mood becomes softer, with Jamie Hince’s one minute long, Beatles-esque Wild Charms. Continuing this trend Mosshart has cited Patsy Cline as the inspiration behind the captivating Last Goodbye, an unusual foray into ballads and easily one of the album’s standouts. The tail end of the album is just as good, with Damned If She Do and Pots and Pans certifying the album as pretty near perfect.
Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it’s pretty clear it just makes the music better.
Established in 2000, Adelaide five-piece hardcore/punk band Stolen Youth draw their inspiration from a stable of acts including Propagandhi, Mid Youth Crisis and Mindsnare. In this, their second full length album, insane guitars and fiendishly quick drumming direct a storming tide of righteous anger at racism, injustice in occupied Palestine and the rape of the earth by the human race.
Like the battle between good and evil, Stolen Youth’s strident music exhibits a stark contrast between complete anarchy on one hand, and songs with a cleverly crafted complexity on the other. The opening track Whispers of the Past kicks off with a beginning like a sweetly revving V8, before the percussion leaps in with ever accelerating speed . Fear Amongst the Masses is a mindless chaos with no distinct melody, with the drums lording it all over the futilely battling guitars beneath. Then there’s the deliberate blending of opposites in Poverty of Love, with its gentle piano lead in before this is ripped to shreds by a buzz saw riff, with a crazy guitar at the tail. Humans and Swim to the Sun are the album highlights. Both are of epic length (for punk tracks), with long instrumental beginnings and complex formats that build the music in interlocking layers of ever rising intensity. It’s arguable which of the two has the best licks in the disk. What is certain, is the contribution to the album of the hyper fast drumming from Dave McCann.