Thursday, 10 March 2011

Sleigh Bells - Treats

Imagine a fifty calibre machine gun, fired from the top of a United States Marine Humvee. In super high definition slow motion. That's how the opening track ('Tell 'em') of Sleigh Bells debut effort begins. An assualt on your ears that almost prevents you from thinking about anything other than the staccato melodies and bombastic bass beats. Sleigh Bells are a duo out of Brooklyn, New York. Derek Miller, a former member of Poison The Well, an experimental hardcore band, and Alexis Krauss, a former member of teen pop group Rubyblue. Two contrasting forces who when put in a recording studio together produce a sound that is totally fresh and utterly unique.
While they have existed for a couple of years as a music-making partnership their first, full album release came in May last year. You may be thinking I have simply dug out an old review and re-posted it but you'd be wrong. The reason I'm yakking on at you about an album almost a year old is that it seems to have slipped under most people's radars. Rather than being one of those individuals who prides themselves on exclusively listening to bands who no one else has ever heard of, I like as many people as possible to enjoy the music which gets my rocks off. So from here on in I’m hoping to convince you to part with your cash, be it digitally or actually in person (I KNOW, WTF, RIGHT?!) and check this behemoth of a record out.
Following the stutter riff off ‘Tell ‘em’ we are introduced to a song called ‘Kids’ which winds itself up like a heavyweight haymaker and has Krauss’ vocals reverberating around your ears before swinging you into a brick wall of brass stabs and whirling buzzsaw synths. All backed up by the trademark, big bass beat driving the record on. The lyrics here are supplemented by spoken pieces which rather than slowing things down add to the slightly sinister feel this album has. It’s much to do with the haunting lyrics, sung by a female lead in an imploring, teen girl voice supported by the angry, staccato beats and guitar sounds. The spoken word outro of ‘Kids’ (as much as you could call it an outro) blends into a song which does exactly as it says on the tin: Riot Rhythm. Speaker blowing kick drums compliment, yes, compliment, the sugar sweet vocals. The album continues to bounce, or rather blitzkrieg, it’s way through another three gems of sparky, fire-hot noise pop before you reach your first three minute plus song. ‘Rill Rill’ marks a change in pace for the first time on the album and it’s smooth, acoustic strumming hook swiped from Funkadelic’s ‘Can You Get To That’ and the bell sounds contrives to just charm your socks off.
This band don’t intend to let you drift off into this sun-bleached bliss for long though, they rip you two new earholes with an epic song named ‘Crown On The Ground’ which screeches through your brain with echoes of some lost Vietnam-era anthem before developing into a giant stadium stomper. This duo have no delusions of grandeur however as they drag their shit straight back to the gutter and yank you into a minute and a half of a street brawl between what sounds like several guitars drowned in distortion and a choir of angry teenagers screaming blue murder at each other.
The final track, coming on the back of a post-apocalyptic tribal rock band chant ‘A/B Machines’ manages to encompass everything that makes this album such a beautiful monster. A rip roaring riff, the most bombastic beats you could ever hope to hear and Krauss managing to sound like a gorgeous spectre guiding you through the chaos. As this album reaches it’s denouement with the crescendo of the title track, I’ll be damned if you don’t agree that you feel like you have been strapped to the back of Godzilla and menaced your way through multiple Japanese super cities while Kink Kong provided a soundtrack on a wailing guitar the size of the Empire State Building, leaving behind a trail of explosions, ruins, upturned vehicles and preachers calling for the end of days. This shit is real.



Thursday, 3 March 2011

Why I (Don't) Love Sonic Youth!!

As a general rule I like to maintain an open mind, try and be receptive to as much as possible, be it music, film, art, writing, sport and I do try and take more than a passing interest in all of these things which may explain why I'm an expert in none and am working a dull, 37.5 hour a week job at my local hospital as a clerk. However, what I struggle with is when something is recommended to me numerous times by different people. People whose opinion I respect, and when I get round to, in this case, listening to said recommendation I discover that it utterly bores the novelty socks off my feet (Note: I don't really wear novelty socks).
Sonic Youth. The band whose name conjures up an image of DIY guitar music, the slacker generation's champions, the standard bearers for not-giving-a-shit. They are a band who by many, are considered a central driving force behind the rise of alternative and independent music as we know it today. I'd heard eminent musicians and producers rave about the band's influence but what really pushed me to decide to part with some of my bread for one of their albums was two friends whose music taste mirrored mine with dazzling similarity. They both said that since I loved the early nineties noise rock sounds of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and Husker Du it would be well worth my time checking out the band that topped them all, Sonic Youth. Around this time I was also watching a lot of films written by people whose formative years had been spent listening to this kind of music. Movies like 'Juno' (lovely), Youth In Revolt' (not a spot on the stupendous book it was based on) and 'Observe and Report' (a top tenner). Besides the fact I felt like I was slowly being assimilated into some kind of Michael Cera cult I was noticing that these movies contained a lot of tracks by some of my favourite bands of this period. Sonic Youth were often on the soundtrack though I'd never really noticed their contributions. All of these factors encouraged me to mosey on down to my local HMV to physically purchase a copy of their most iconic album, so I was told, 'Goo'. The front cover sure looked iconic as I picked it up and, pointlessley, scanned the tracklisting ( I didn't know any of their songs but it's just something you have to do when you pick up a CD in the shop. It makes you look like you know what you are doing) and headed off to pay my moolah. As I approached the customer assistant and she took the CD case from me and scanned it, I felt like the coolest motherfucker in the entire queue. "Yeah, I'm just buying a Sonic Youth record, they're pretty much a pivotal band in the creation of alternative music as we know it."
I got home and slipped the CD into the stereo and lay back on my bed, shut my eyes and listened. I managed to get to 'Disappear', the seventh track of the eleven before I opened my eyes and pressed stop. So far I'd only enjoyed one track 'Mote', which I stopped properly listening to after the first four minutes. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind to listen to them properly, or maybe it would be one of those bands that make music that people think they should like even if they don''t like because they are an important band and so they'll import their songs into iTunes, put them on their iPod just in case a fellow music fan will ever perouse their device. They'll see 'Sonic Youth' and assume that this cat knows his musical beans. I was thinking what's the point of me having this record on my MP3 player if I'm never going to listen to it. What's the point of me trying to pretend I like this band when the fact is their songs don't appeal to me in the slightest?
While writing this mess of a blog post I've been trying to work out exactly what it is I'm trying to say to you guys. And I guess, just like I've tried to work out why I don't like this band, I'm not really sure. Maybe it's that instead of trying to flag down as many bandwagons as you can and coralling them into your circle of musical preferences, why not keep an ear open for bands whose music makes you feel something. That indecipherable, unspeakable sense of emotion that only music can ilicit. Maybe it is that sometimes you'll come across music which you can see has so many other people enamoured but no matter how hard you try or however hard you can appreciate the musician's efforts, intelligence, concepts and musicmanship, sometimes you just have to accept music for what it is at it's most elemental. A group of vibrations created by a group of people which when processed by a bunch of neurons makes you feel something in your gut.


Wednesday, 2 March 2011

7 Ages of Weller


Stay relevant. Challenge conformity. "Make It New."

All 3 things we can attribute Paul Weller with attempting over the course of his musical journey.
In this piece I want to pick out 7 songs by PW, that for me, define the "Modfather's" constant evolution.


The last track on side 1 of "All Mod Cons" the third Jam LP, is the first of my selections.
The first set of songs brought to the recordings for AMC were rejected by the producers, they were made up mainly of Bruce Foxton efforts, as Weller had hit a writer's block after second LP, "This Is The Modern World."
What Weller came back with was his best collection of writing up to that point, he'd taken a step forward, by allowing the personal into his wordsmithery.
After 2 long players, the band were comfortable in the studio and growing in confidence.
The better writing and musical confidence combined to create this first chosen song, with it's tip toey entrance and protestations at not wanting to be like everyone else, culminating in striking "away from the numbers" with a wailing backwards guitar solo.
There were other songs I could have taken from this album, such as "A Bomb," or "Tube Station," or "English Rose," as this album marked a breakthrough both commercially and creatively that led to massive success and adulation for the newly crowned spokesman for his generation.


Prior to the final LP release by The Jam, "The Gift," Weller had crafted some of the most lasting pop songs of that era. These included "Start," "Going Underground," "That's Entertainment" and several more gems still played on radio to this day.
On "The Gift" there was a notable shift in sound, on the chosen track and eventual swansong, "Beat Surrender" to a more soulful, Motown/Stax, driven sound. In fact the 12" release of "Beat Surrender" featured covers of songs originally performed by Curtis Mayfield and Edwin Starr, showing Wellers intent to move away from his current musical stylings.
On "Precious," the funk truly took over for the first time, with its sexually charged lyrics, horn section to the fore and extended close to the song almost bordering on jazz, a clear indication of what was to come beyond The Jam.


At no point before, or since, in my opinion has PW sounded anywhere near this soulful. This was a million miles away from where he was with The Jam.
It's rolling synth bassline and breathy lyric delivery from PW marks it out as a classic love song, strongly styled by the sort of soul music coming out of America in the early 80's.
The Style Council covered a multitude of musical styles in their brief time together and a lot of great songs were lost on an unappreciative audience at their time of release, although they still scored a number of hits including, "Headstart For Happiness," "Speak Like A Child" and "My Ever Changing Moods."
Quite recently my girlfriend was amazed to learn that this was by the same PW I had been listening to throughout our relationship, "just doesn't sound like him!"
I reckon he'd be chuffed with that?


By the end of the 80's, whilst still part of The Style Council, PW had become engrossed in another emerging, underground scene, House.
88 had seen the second Summer of Love, with the explosion of raves and ecstacy.
This offered PW an opportunity to change and grow musically again, moving with the times and keeping his music fresh, was and would always be at the forefront of his thinking, truly modernistic.
When PW turned up at Polydor, with "Modernism: A New Decade," in all essence, a house album, it was rejected and PW found himself without a record deal for the first time since being signed by Chris Parry back in 1977.

COUNTRY (1993)

After returning to the live scene as a solo artist and another spell of writer's block, he released the "Paul Weller" album, to some acclaim.
This seemed to open the floodgates and now the singer/songwriter couldn't stem the tide of creativity.
With the "Wild Wood" album, PW was firmly back in the mainstream.
"Country" has the feel of a man who has been around the world, twice, but still manages to find beauty in the landscape at the bottom of his own backgarden and wants you all to look around your own and find the peace he is in.
Entirely acoustic, PW urges us to "let go of the discontent you feel," and tells us to come "into the light out of the dark," as he himself has, at this point, done.

GOD (2008)

Beyond "Wild Wood," PW scored massive success with "Stanley Road" and continued to produce albums containing quality pieces, although none really had the prowess of those two standout albums.
By 2008 and with a new label, PW took a step towards introducing himself to another generation of fans, by releasing the fresh sounding "22 Dreams."
Only someone with more than 30 years of musical experience, could make such an eclectic sounding record work. The stylistic range covered on the 21 tracks is huge.
The selected track, a spoken word piece about the loss of faith, backed by a folk guitar, simple drum pattern and distant chorist offers up a 2 minute and 3 second insight into the self belief PW knows he has to fall back on, that he has his creativity.

TREES (2010)

And thus we arrive, at complete recording freedom.
"Trees" is absolutely bonkers, but PW, if anyone right now, can carry it off.
He sings varying parts, a caring mother, a beautiful lover with long brown hair and a cock hard fella, all leading to his final declaration of "take me back to the fields/where I need to be/so once again I can stand tall/and feel once more/a tree!!"
The current album, for me, is the best of his solo efforts, simply for it's ambition and to still have that fire burning after all his time is a lesson to us all.
Always stay true to what you believe in.

As a piece, this has to go down as a little hero worshipping, but hopefully someone may read it and decide to look into Paul's past or present, once more or again.
But one thing that surely cannot be disputed is Paul Weller is one of the greatest musical icons these islands have ever produced, with a body of work to match anybody else you want to put in your top 10.


Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Beady Eye "Different Gear, Still Speeding"

Having set expectations exceedingly low for the first music released by Liam Gallagher and the rest of the ex Oasis lads, it turns out I'm pleasantly surprised by the result.
I was slightly concerned at the amount of hype the release had garnered before the band had played anything in public and my initial hearing of "Bring the Light" as a free download caused an initial reaction of downbeat eagerness for the remainder of the long player.

The album crashes in with a corking rock 'n' roller, "Four Letter Word," a stomping 4 minutes with LG declaring "nothing lasts forever," signalling no regrets at their new found Noel-lessness.
"Millionaire" follows it up with a lovely hippy ideal of real love between people being worth more than huge monetary riches, musically it has a bouncing La's vibe to it, plenty of jangling guitars and Beatlesque harmonies.
Third track in is debut single "The Roller." Driven along by a simple piano hook and Liam gently distorting his voice, with a small amount of echo, a la Lennon, the verses melody sounds like it was lifted from Instant Karma, the tune becomes a pleasant sing along after a few listens.
"Beatles and Stones" is a an obvious homage to the biggest influences on LG, another driving backingtrack with declaring he'll "stand the test of time/like Beatles and Stones."
"Wind Up Dream" sounds like Heavy Stereo, if anybody remembers Gem Archers previous alter ego, prior to him joining Oasis, I actually bought the Heavy stereo album so to me this is no bad thing.
"Bring the Light" flashes along with its rushing lyrics and Jerry Lee Lewis piano stabs.
"For Anyone" has a Travelling Wilbury feel to it, lots of strumming acoustics and a George Harrison feel to LG's vocal delivery, quite high in his range.
The album then has a brief slowdown with "Kill for a Dream" which for me would have easily fit into a Hurricane #1 set list, with it's swoony lyrics and deliberate Rickenbacher hook. Again no bad thing sounding like Hurricane #1, they took all their influences from classic rock, like Oasis and the aforementioned Heavy Stereo.
"Standing on the Edge of Noise," sees LG distorting his vocal again with a little vocoder but this will be a stomper come their live shows.
"WigWam," begins gently with sha la la's aplenty and defiant lyrics sung lowly, then towards the end psychedelic guitars and swirling backwards pianos accompany Liam singing "I'm Coming Up" pinched from Paul McCartneys Wings, a statement? Macca never looked back from leaving the best band in the world.
"Three Ring Circus" makes me think of Crowded House and I can't help thinking it's one stab at bursting the bubble that was Oasis.
"The Beat Goes On" trundles along until the chorus which has great sing-along-ability and does sound a little like "Seasons in the Sun" by Westlife or Terry Jacks?
"The Morning Sun" is a slow burner that builds from lapping sea and gulls, more echo on LG vocals, to epic sounding string accompianment and drum roll finish. It's "Little James" grown up brother!

All in all, it does not offend in any way and with each listen you'll pick out new favourites. It sounds like it will easily translate to the live arena, hopefully leaving no room for boozy idiots to shout out for Oasis songs mid set. So as a first attempt, as a NEW band, it's alright by me.