Try the following personal checklist: nausea, feeling hollow, fooling no one and down and out? Either you’re on the fast track to depression or you’re reading down the track list of the second album from Cut Off Your Hands. The lads from The Shaky Isles, who had three drummers and three guitarists in just 12 months but have now returned to their original line-up, demonstrate that bad news can come in a bright and attractive wrapping. While the themes from the indie poppers may be grave, the pace has picked up from their debut CD You & I. The opener You Should Do Better shows the way with crisp drums and ringing guitars, and it just gets better from there. Hollow is fast and cheerful, with chiming guitars that radiate feel-good tunes. There’s more than a hint of the ‘80s with soft focus vocals and a ring to the melodies that brings back sweet memories of bands such as The Go Betweens. While the messages may be as despairing as those of The Smiths, there’s a vibe to the sound that is sure to make you smile and sway. Highlights include Nausea with its shoe-gazing effects of echoing vocals and guitar licks that follow a mesmerising repetitive spiral. There’s a distinct R.E.M. flavour to the opening bars of By Your Side, a sleepy tune punctuated by a deep bass line and wrapped up with cosy harmonies.
One of my favourite things about being a kid was the lucky dip. Every year I would roll up to my school fete, hand over 20 cents and take sheer delight in tearing off the newspaper-cum-packaging to see what was inside. One year I got a half-broken helicopter. I played with it for weeks and had never been happier. The next year I got a bottle of hair conditioner. The lady running the stand laughed at me and I learnt an important life lesson. Years on I still love the lucky dip, and that’s why I called into my friendly neighbourhood record store and picked up a copy of Skying.
The Horrors are perhaps the freshest, most unpredictable band recording music today. Second effort Primary Colours represented a quantum leap from the goth-tinged garage rock homage of debut Strange House. That The Horrors could drop such an album was a justifiable shock to those who had written them off as one trick ponies, and they established themselves as a must watch creative team capable of genre-shifting and reinvention.
The Horrors have once again come out of nowhere with something completely unexpected. Latest release Skying is near flawless. As a collection of songs it is amazingly coherent and fresh; perfectly structured to overwhelm and awe. No part is extraneous or unnecessary. Single Still Life is the song of the year so far. Skying is so new and beautiful and… graceful.
My first thoughts on loading the TN&TI debut album and pressing play were ‘I’ve put The Whitlams on by mistake! But a quick label check shows it’s not those lovable whelps, but an outfit that’s been wowing them in droves to the west of the rabbit proof fence. About two thirds of the album rejoices in a timeless Beatles inspired pop formula of catchy upbeat melodies and great lead vocals, rounded out by swelling harmonies. The remainder balances the songbook with a country flavour imparted by the harmonica in Overcast Day and the slide guitar effect in Inside Out. Clever lyrics stick in your mind, with lines such as “Your eyes are as grey as an overcast day, but sunshine is overrated anyway”. Tim’s abilities have seen him take out the WAMI song of the year award in both 2007 and 2009. His clean cut voice peels out clearly and he’s well supported by a softer backing sound from Ellen Oosterbaan. The songs are uniformly about tangled affairs and the rocky road to love, well summed up by the CD title that implies knowledge gained the hard way, through stormy relationships. Speak the Truth in Love stands out with is stirring strings and a trumpet flourish at the finish. But the reals highlights are Nothing’s In Tune, You Don’t Know What You’re Waiting For (both out as singles) and Run For Cover.
Starring on the silver screen has its perks; money, fame and a guaranteed audience for that seemingly inevitable music project. 60-something year old Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges, best known for his roles in films such as The Big Lebowski and True Grit, continues the Hollywood tradition of artistic colonisation with self-titled release Jeff Bridges.
For every She and Him volume that gets released there seems to be at least a dozen mediocre ‘movie star’ albums that appear. I wanted so much for this album to be an exception. But Jeff Bridges is no She and Him. There is not much that is interesting or endearing about it either.
What is good about this album is that Bridges can sing. His voice is even somewhat enjoyable to listen to and there is a welcome lack of auto-tune. The music accompanying Mr Bridges is well played too. But why is Jeff Bridges so underwhelming?
A partial answer can be found in the lyrics of track Everything But Love. Mr Bridges pours his heart out, finishing with the poignant words “you can have everything but it just won’t be enough if you have everything but love”. The album is cliché beyond belief. Cheesy lyrics, imitation Petty-esque guitars and mournful pedal-steel are used to the point where it becomes a chore to listen. After enduring all ten tracks, it is painfully obvious that Bridges’ talent lies elsewhere.
My wife once knew a man who lived with his Mum – probably still does – and had an obsession with keyboards (of the musical variety, you understand). He filled every available and unavailable nook and cranny of his long-suffering mother’s house with keyboards from across the ages until the word ‘home’ could have been more accurately replaced with the word ‘museum’. A synth museum, if you will. If I was to discover that my troubled wife’s friend was, in fact, New Jersey electronic chameleon Com Truise I would not be surprised. The man loves synths. I mean loves synths. And his fabulously titled Galactic Melt could indeed bedescribed as a synth museum. The world is a much richer place for it.
Describing himself as producing “mid-fi synth-wave, slow motion funk”, Seth “Truise” Haley has at the very least created something truly mesmerising, music that paradoxically uses all the hallmarks of the ‘80s – synths, 808 drums, more synths – to create something futuristic. This is mind music, akin to spinning through 2001: A Space Odyssey’s psychedelic ‘through the infinite’. Haley’s sound smacks of Boards of Canada – with its cloudy synths, scrapes, blips and bleeps; VHS Sex sounds like a forgotten BoC B-side – and as a rabid fan, praise doesn’t come higher than that. But he has crafted his own synthy beast that’s both an affectionate nod to the past and a bold step into the future. Take one listen to Flightwave and be converted.
It’s difficult to summarise in the space of a small album review – especially whilst having to talk about said album too – just how important Discharge is as a band. They invented a genre for a start – d-Beat – but besides that there were few bands plying their trade in the world of extreme music from the mid ‘80s onwards who didn’t owe some sort of sonic debt to this Stoke-on-Trent, UK-based outfit.
Disensitise, originally released in 2006 and now reactivated for your listening pleasure by Candlelight Records, sees the band at their primitive, primal best. Fed up with flirting with heavy metal, Disensitise sees the band returning to its roots for a set that more than makes up in fury what it loses in finesse. As ever guitarist Bones is central to what goes on here, his filthy riffage propelling every song with a sort of simplistic fury you just don’t hear that often any more. He’s no slouch as a soloist (go and listen to his work with crossover icons Broken Bones for proof if you don’t believe me), but for Disensitise he’s stripped his technique back to a thrashing strum that is, for want of a better phrase, punk as fuck.
Original vocalist Cal is sadly long gone, however his broken howl of a voice is replaced (and never aped) by vocalist Rat (who also fulfils the same role with fellow UK punk travellers The Varukers), with the result being an exceptionally fine slab of brutal, simplistic punk rock.
Araab is known in music circles as a hardcore rap producer, and a sharp-edged one at that. Producing for artists such as Cam’ron and Busta Rhymes, Araab made a name crafting balls-out gems such as Cam’ron’s 2010 single Get it in Ohio, and before that showcasing his skills with a drum machine on the internet. As a precursor to this record, all that stuff is kind of a red herring. The only thing that carries into this record is his talent for making a mean beat.
Electronic Dream feels like a 36 minute remix of something very menacing, but its trancelike swish and slap beats and rapidly spooky synth hooks turn this album into something so entrancing that the menace becomes a blade behind a curtain.
Occasionally Araab plays rough, like in Underground Stream, but it is always with a view to helping you feel the coolness of the water when he chooses to throw you back into distinctly subaquatic trance tracks. He knows to step off the gas and let you find your feet in his deceptive and beautiful creation.
I’m not a fan of trance, which is essentially what this album boils down to, but it’s so masterfully put together that it’s hard not to get caught up in. Electronic Dream is a perfect title. With the consistent surrealism of a dreamscape and just a smattering of nightmare, Araab has stepped out of his comfort zone with excellent results.