Archive for January, 2008

Review: 303DIDTHISTOME – What Is This, A Break?

If heavily distorted, electronic rock is your bag then look no further than 303DIDTHISTOME. I first became familiar with the duo of Jake Ben-David and Thomas Haddow when their track ‘Apostrophe Apostrophe’ featured on the recent ‘I Can Count Vol 2’ compilation. The track reminded me of the recent work of Black Moth Super Rainbow, another group who like to mess with the pop formula using all kinds of digital effects.


Lead-off track ‘TFO’ is typical of their style. You can imagine if they disposed of the vocoders, we would be hearing a commercially viable electro-pop/rock single but such is the 303DIDTHISTOME way, they are here to deconstruct rather than go for the easy route to stardom. ‘TFO’ is harsher and more violent than the relatively wistful ‘You Can Call Me Motown’, the vocoders here are pitched at a higher level. Elsewhere ‘Think! Think! Think!’ embraces primarily-coloured pop and ‘Is Better…’ builds from Miami Vice-style synth drum effects into a euphoric chorus. On the strength of this fascinating EP, this Hampshire duo could well be one of those acts to benefit in the wake of Klaxons “new rave” sound.

Web Sites:
Horsepower Shop

Further Listening:
Black Moth Super Rainbow

Video Nostalgia: Donald Fagen – New Frontier

Now here’s a really interesting video. One which tells a story, complements an already great song and was quite ahead of its time. As is often the case, the great songs and videos often get discovered by accident. I first heard Donald Fagen’s ‘New Frontier’ whilst listening to BBC Radio Lincolnshire, which was (and still is) my local radio station. I didn’t care for most of the music that was played on there, since its target audience seemed to be the over-50s but there was always the odd AOR/MOR gem like Prefab Sprout’s ‘Nightingales’, ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ by The Korgis and this little pop/jazz fusion treasure. I think they call these songs “guilty pleasures” nowadays.

It was a while before I saw the actual promo which accompanied ‘New Frontier’ but I remember it very clearly. My sister and I decided to video record (this being the mid 80s) a BBC2 six-hour special called ‘The Video Jukebox’ which focussed on the power of the video and how it had changed over the years. One part of this great programme centred around animated promos and ‘New Frontier’ was one of the videos featured as well as the similarly fantastic ‘Genius Of Love’ by Tom Tom Club. I really like the idea of this secret bunker where the two protagonists in the video would have a fantastic, yet sweetly innocent time and there’s a nice contrast between this and the threat of war. The animated sections are really bizarre and clever and the 1950’s themes of course were beautifully nostalgic even then.

Donald Fagen's 'The Nightfly' Album Cover

In my typical ignorance as a young child, I had no idea then that Fagen was a member of 1970’s duo Steely Dan and certainly wouldn’t have suspected that their name came from a dildo in a William Burroughs’ novel. So in later years I eventually sought out the album from which ‘New Frontier’ came, 1982’s ‘The Nightfly’ (now reissued again as part of a new Fagen boxset) and wasn’t disappointed. I then checked out Steely Dan’s back catalogue and discovered they were not only one of the smartest groups in rock but also their songs had a timeless warmth and the kind of killer key changes which can be heard in the aforementioned Prefab Sprout and another of my favourite 80’s bands, China Crisis.

Web Sites:
Steely Dan Official Site
Steely Dan on Wikipedia

Further Listening:
Prefab Sprout, China Crisis, The Burning Effigies, Drayton Michaels

Review: Meg – The Lego Hair EP

Meg describe themselves as “lo-fi electro indie rock”. It’s an accurate description for this quartet (who hail from Kidderminster in the West Midlands) are fond of Pavement-style riffage updated for the Digital Age. ‘The Lego Hair EP’ sees their youthful-sounding pop taking pleasing melodic twists and turns.

Meg EP Cover

Kicking off with ‘Chips’, they’ve hit on a playful grungy noise with the vocals caught halfway between Foo Fighters and Pavement. ‘Fireworks’ is grungier still although the unnecessary bleeping on this track does undermine the quality, likewise ‘Greasy Sausages’ – which features the sound of sausages being sizzled – is an unnecessary interlude. Their performance improves for ‘Lego Hair’ itself; it’s the most electronically-dominated track and quite an adventurous, largely instrumental affair that does a decent impression of a low-budget Ladytron. Some punky vocals and awkward key changes on ‘I Am About To Forget’ are the closest they get to Weezer standard whilst ‘Star Fleet’ ends the EP on a high with a wistful melody underscored by acoustic guitars. Obviously this is a mixed bag in terms of both variety and quality but if they can mature a little more for their next release, Meg could yet be something special.

Web Sites:
Meg’s Official Site
Meg MySpace

Also Recommended:
Pavement, Weezer, Pilots Of Japan

Review: Daniel Land & The Modern Painters – Voss

Daniel Land & The Modern Painters follow the ever-popular blueprint of mid-1980’s period Cocteau Twins and early-1990’s Slowdive, where jangly guitars and dreamy production values dominate. This Manchester-based trio have released two EPs, the first of which is entitled ‘Voss’.

Daniel Land EP Cover

After a languid, largely instrumental opener, ‘The Magic In My Head’ features some sweet vocals from Mr. Land himself as all around him is bathed in a sumptuous, summery glow. As you might imagine, it’s pleasant but never heart-racing stuff. Yet on ‘Locust’ they capture the breathy etherealism of Slowdive with the guitars shimmering rather than jangling and the chorus reaching somewhere near heavenly proportions. It’s the band’s most convincing moment followed closely by the mournful, ghostly ‘Lostening’. It’s scarcely worth mentioning that you’d have top be a shoegazing fan to enjoy ‘Voss’ but as reverential as this music is to their influences, the performances by the band are delivered with an understated grace.

Web Sites:
Daniel Land & The Modern Painters MySpace
Buy The EP Here

Further Listening:
Ulrich Schnauss, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive

Album Stream: The Real Tuesday Weld – The London Book Of The Dead

Listen to a complete stream of the album here

Review: The Real Tuesday Weld – The London Book Of The Dead

The Real Tuesday Weld first emerged in 2001 with ‘When Cupid Meets Psyche’, a quite unique record where Vaudevillian sounds from the early part of the 20th Century were joined with hip-hop stylings from the end of the 1990’s. It was delightful. The latest album from the man behind these ideas, Stephen Coates, sees him still ploughing a similar furrow six years later. The inspiration this time is the idea of a London version of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead and the experience of a two-week period where the joy of becoming a father for the first time was negated by the loss of Coates’ own father.

The Real Tuesday Weld Album Cover

Now the music is less hook-heavy but still high on dreamlike quality, thanks largely to Coates’ breathy vocals. At times it’s not too far removed from easy listening given the romantic crooning on ‘It’s A Wonderful (Lie)’ whilst jazzy novelties preside for the throwaway ‘Cloud Cuckooland’. Thankfully his knack for an original pop melody remains for the lovely string-laden ‘Kix’, a clever perversion of Cole Porter’s ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’ and ‘I Believe’ extols the virtues of mercy killing, cigarettes, lager and dope. Moving on to songs of a more serious bent, ‘Ruth, Roses And Revolvers’ and ‘Dorothy Parker Blue’ are both fine example of his swooning melancholia, rather like a more understated take on the Divine Comedy sound. Meanwhile interludes like the mournful ‘Waltz For One’ prove that Coates convinces on the instrumental tracks too. Given that his style is now consolidated though, Coates’ music isn’t quite as effective as it used to be but his music retains warmth, charm and an abundance of wit.

Web Sites:
Real Tuesday Weld Site
Six Degree Records Label Site

Further Listening:
Momus, The Divine Comedy

Review: Millimetre – Obsidian

When an album claims to be inspired by the softer edges of Bark Psychosis and the harder edges of the Cocteau Twins, it must surely be investigated. It is Millimetre’s second long player which makes this claim and it’s certainly no idle boast. The artist behind the name is Terence J McGaughey from Belfast whose work on his debut ‘Love Won Out’ led to him providing a soundtrack for artist Andy Harper’s exhibition ‘The Visitors’. Unsurprisingly this is a dark, atmospheric work.

 Millimetre Album Cover

Like the aforementioned Bark Psychosis, Millimetre’s songs are atmospheric, make subtle use of samples and are not afraid to show emotion. The chillingly effective results are the kind you’d expect after being inspired by visits to Southwark Cathedral, Montparnasse Cemetery and Dunluce Castle. The second track, the brilliantly hypnotic ‘Lay Down’ is based on a loop of sampled church bells and McGaughey’s own haunted refrain. Bizarrely some McGaughey’s vocals reminded me of Depeche Mode’s, albeit with extra layers of echo, although it’s unlikely McGaughey is trying to capture that audience. Indeed, make no mistake that this release is designed for the masses as you’d expect from someone who has worked with former Throbbing Gristle member Chris Carter.

Although Millimetre’s music follows melody (of the very twisted variety), it is at its most confrontational on ‘Skeleton Queue’ which is distorted so much it’s difficult to make out what instruments or samples form the original sounds whereas the lengthy title track moves along at a glacial pace, its subtle dynamics bearing a heart of darkness within. The album ends with one of the few recognisable guitar parts, it’s nagging riff propelling what comes close to indie rock, albeit beamed in from an alien planet thanks to its typically subversive production. Overall, this is an album to sit up and take notice of because so many songs sound unique; these skewed tunes making it a late entry for the best albums of 2007.

Web Sites:
Millimetre MySpace
Orectic Label Site

Further Listening:
Bark Psychosis, Khonnor, Chris & Cosey

Review: Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future

“The Mercury Music Prize exists solely to champion UK music by promoting the 12 albums of the year by British or Irish artists” is the claim boasted by the official site for this award. A cynical view would be that it’s about as political as the Oscars with the winner carefully selected to cover a different genre each year; for previous winners including M People, Roni Size and Gomez, it’s been a curse rather than a blessing. This year’s prize recipients were Klaxons, a trio of young musicians from London who have somehow combined rave, space rock and funk music together, not a genre which can be assigned to any other previous winners that’s for sure. To be fair it’s a strong album too.

Klaxons Album Cover

Many will be familiar with their singles from 2007. ‘It’s Not Over Yet’ was an inspired reworking of a Grace’s rave song from the early 1990s, meanwhile ‘Magick’ is a surprisingly uncompromising pop song. More impressively, they really came into their own on ‘Golden Skans’, where breathless vocals and disco build into a thrilling chorus; it has rightly been hailed as one of the singles of the year. The key to ‘Myths Of The Near Future’, though, is that it works as a complete album rather than a few memorable singles and some also-rans. Of the more adventurous tracks, ‘Atlantis To Interzone’ is reminiscent of the underrated Lo-Fidelity All Stars thanks to its intense dance rock feel, the mid-paced ‘Isle Of Her’ takes on punk-funk, electro-pop and space rock whilst ‘Forgotten Works’ is another example of their experimental harmonies.  On these songs they fuse the aggression and subversion of The Pop Group with, well, pop music. Time will tell whether Klaxons will be seen as pioneers in ten years time but right now they sound in good shape and in terms of “known” acts there weren’t many other worthy winners in 2007.

Web Sites:
Klaxons Official Site
Klaxons MySpace

Further Listening:
Lo-Fidelity All Stars, The Pop Group

Video Nostalgia: Cocteau Twins – Iceblink Luck

I would love to claim that I was a fan of the Cocteau Twins right from the start of their career but the truth is I didn’t start listening to them until 1990 when I was studying for my GCSEs. One of the few decent music shows on at the time was The Chart Show on ITV; a show which dispensed with presenters and just concentrated on showing promos of acts from both the UK Network Chart as well as specialist charts for Dance, Metal and Indie. The indie chart was the main attraction for me, even though only a couple of acts in the top 10 each week had actually managed to make a video. As a consequence, ‘Birthday’, the indie staple by The Sugarcubes was played just about every other week. Thankfully Cocteau Twins also got featured occasionally and ‘Iceblink Luck’ was my first introduction to what would become one of my all-time favourite bands.

The Cocteau Twins struck me because they sounded nothing like I’d ever heard before. They had a powerful and mysterious image, a wonderful singer, imaginative guitar effects, an immense production and a strong grasp of melody. A lot of music fans get hung up on lyrics but with Cocteau Twins it didn’t matter, Liz Fraser could sing any old nonsense and it still sounded wonderful. The album that ‘Iceblink Luck’ came from, ‘Heaven Or Las Vegas’, remains one of my all-time favourite albums as does its predecessor 1988’s ‘Blue Bell Knoll’. On these records the Scottish trio found pop’s holy grail, it was like a dream where you would wish for a perfect key change and then the band would achieve – and occasionally better – it. Together with Prefab Sprout, New Order and Talk Talk, they provided the “anthems” that would characterise my late teen years.

Web Sites:
Cocteau Twins Official Site

Further Listening:
Annie Barker, This Mortal Coil, The Delays, The Plague Monkeys

Review: Hungry Dog Brand – Boy Meets Dog

The list of friends on someone’s MySpace site is normally a good indication of the style of music on offer. For London’s Hungry Dog Brand, Wreckless Eric and Patrick Fitzgerald feature prominently and it’s that punk poet style which best describes their music. The Hungry Dog himself is Martin Dowsing who handles vocals and guitar duties, accompanied by American “alt-blues maverick” Preacher Boy and an assortment of other musicians. Together they have produced a record of witty and often charming songs, with a distinctly late 1970’s flavour.

Hungry Dog Brand Cover

Certainly, Dowsing’s vocal style is not for everyone. His Southern sneer dominates each of these tracks. However, just like influences such as John Cooper Clarke, he’s more than capable of delivering the message. The standouts are ‘Reunited’, which features a nice rumbling guitar rhythm, ‘The Lake’ makes good use of a military drum beat and sends a chill down the spine whilst the blackest humour dominates ‘Say Hello To My Idiot Son’ (“When he was born we were so happy, but now he’s twelve and he’s still in a nappy”). Then right at the end, Dowsing changes from a sneer a tear for ‘A Long Way From Here’; a poignant, regretful tale of a life as a soldier. Overall, this is an entertaining record which successfully recaptures the nostalgia of the punk poets’ heyday.

Web Sites:
Hungry Dog Brand Site
>Hungry Dog Brand MySpace

Further Listening:
Wreckless Eric, John Cooper Clarke, Patrick Fitzgerald