EP Review: Belle and Sebastian – How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 2)

by Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)rating 7

In their younger days, Belle & Sebastian were famously recluse and shrouded in mystery, developing almost to the point of a cult of personality. Interaction with the press was a rarity and their lyrics – sharp-witted, erudite and often self-depreciating – proved even more complex than the persona they propagated (intentionally or not). In the clutches of middle age, however, they’ve been undergoing something of a change in approach. In many ways they’re now more accessible than ever; whether this is a reaction to or a consequence of the changing landscape of music consumption remains unclear.

To Stuart Murdoch et al., the EP is an artform in its own right. Instead of stuffing such releases with studio outtakes and B-sides, they devote the same amount of love and attention as they would to a full-length album. Following in the footsteps of their late ’90s EP bonanza (Dog On Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane, and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds Of Light), B&S have committed to another trio of releases under the banner How to Solve Our Human Problems.

As they move onto the second installment of the trilogy, the purpose of this format is ostensibly to divide the tracks into three distinct acts or chapters in order to deliver a certain impact on each outing. On this occasion, their nonchalant demeanor seems to be a coping mechanism for the relentless negativity of the world we live in. Instead of fighting fire with fire, they’ve taken a conciliatory approach. “So let’s consider not being angry”, suggests Murdoch.

Tracks like Show Me The Sun embody this free-spirited attitude, a sort of reckless abandon which is a rarity in the B&S canon. It doesn’t indulge in any unnecessary navel-gazing; instead, it comes flying out the traps with a chorus of ‘na na nas’ before descending into cheery question-and-answer vocals and psychedelic guitars. Cornflakes, too, is nothing short of a riot – crashing cymbals and spacey synths.

The EP’s live and let live philosophy has undoubtedly been a consequence, at least in part, of parenthood. On lead single I’ll Be Your Pilot, Murdoch speaks with an unmistakable paternal tone as he implores his young boy Denny to enjoy his adolescent days while he can. “It’s tough to become a grown-up / Put it off while you can“, he urges. The dialogue plays out like a reassuring chat between father and son; a promise to look out for him, keep him safe. The sentiment is warm and loving, although there is a sense of foreboding when he alludes to the treacherous state of the world, “I tell you that when / You land in the world / It’s like quicksand“.

Part 2 constitutes a solid step forward in the How to Solve Our Human Problems trilogy and, as it happens, represents one of their strongest records in recent times. Despite the lack of characteristic catchy hooks abundant in their earlier material, all five tracks are charming and memorable in their own right. There’s no mistaking their ability to change with the times, though. 22 years on since the release of their debut Tigermilk, they show no signs of running out of ideas yet.

Album Review: Golem Who Goes Fish – No Conscious Apparitions

by Ewan Blacklaw (@EwanBlacklaw)rating 7

Released in early December 2017, No Conscious Apparitions is the latest project from underground lo-fi indie rock outfit Golem Who Goes Fish, formerly known as Sontuk. This time Phil Castro, the mind behind Golem Who Goes Fish, creates a dreamy lo-fi sound layered beneath vocals reminiscent of Elvis Costello. Although this nasally voice makes the album stand out from other lo-fi projects, it may also put listeners off some of the catchy indie tracks on this album.

The lo-fi production sound of the album is achieved by using a 4-track, which is a popular method of recording in the lo-fi music scene. The reason that this technique is favoured is due to the ability to mix each individual component of the song together in a very natural way. No Conscious Apparitions is a prime example of this, with a majority of songs featuring a catchy combination of drums, synth, guitar and keys backing the signature vocals. This amalgamation makes for some very catchy songs such as one of the standout moments on the project, Alice Hieroglyphics Alice, which sounds as though it is could be a hidden gem from the peak of 70s rock.

Although the album does get off to a great start with memorable opening tracks, there is a lull during the midway section of the album. This could be due to the short tracks featuring nasally vocals and similar sounding instrumentals merging into one uniform sound. This lull is, however, broken with Simple Sugars (Do The Trick) which brings a new dynamic to the album, introducing a synth sound that sounds as if it has been pulled straight from the soundtrack of Hotline Miami or Drive. From this point onwards the album picks up again, mixing in different influences and sounds from various genres. One noticeable example of this is Malic Alice, which is the most intense track on the album, releasing a previously unheard garage rock sound that really stands out from other the other tracks of No Conscious Apparitions. Mixed in amongst the album’s catchy lo-fi indie rock feel are these occasional appearances of subtle instrumentals that serve as a moment of reflection, as well as a break from the whining vocals of Phil Castro.

One other factor of the album are the surrealist lyrics laced throughout the album, which seem to bring in a lot of original ideas. The lyrics seem to be distant and dreamy to match the backing instrumentals, as well as the overall tone of the record. Although the album does hit a bit of a slow patch, it is an overall solid project, standing out from other recent lo-fi releases with the unique lyrics and vocals which bring some new ideas to the indie rock genre. As well as seeming to move in a different way within the genre, No Conscious Apparitions is also a standout amongst previous releases from Golem Who Goes Fish, showing the growth in the personal sound of the project. The newest album ranks as the best of his three releases so far and hopefully he can continue to release good music well into 2018.

 

Track Review: Motion – Of The Night

By Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

Scotland has something of a pedigree when it comes to post-punk. Two prominent indie labels, Fast Product in the capital and Glasgow’s Postcard Records, formed during the peak years of the movement spanning the late 70’s/early 80’s, not to mention a wealth of acts including Simple Minds and Cocteau Twins. It comes as no surprise, then, that some of the most compelling artists to emerge from the country in recent years happen to fall under that very same banner.

Enter Motion. The Edinburgh-based psych rock outfit proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, bonding over a shared love of The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Stone Roses. Make no mistake though, they’re out to forge their own legacy. Last year’s Motion EP relied rather heavily on the shoegaze template but it demonstrated plenty of promise and featured some solid tracks, particularly Everything – a marriage between Kitchens of Distinction’s wall of sound and the ominous basslines of Peter Hook.

Their latest single Of The Night isn’t a radical departure from the EP; instead, it’s a subtle evolution, one which begins to take them in a new direction. They’ve cleaned up the production, scaled down the reverb and in the process managed to set themselves down the path towards establishing their own sound. The vocal delivery is reserved, perhaps borderline deadpan, yet the guitar is summery and infectiously upbeat, meshing together to create a satisfying contrast of textures.

All three musicians are adept at laying down the foundations of a track, this much has been apparent since last year’s material – engaging melodies and tight drumming. Of The Night signals their first conspicuous effort to go further and introduce more diversity, more developments in between choruses. It always helps to have a killer riff to bounce off, though, and Band’s is truly an earworm; it’s safe to say it will hang around in your memory for a good while. One point worth mentioning is that, although not necessarily a negative, the lyrics are relatively straightforward. With time, though, their songwriting will surely continue to develop and greater expression will follow suit.

EP Review: The Dunts – Not Working Is Class

By Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)rating 6

Glasgow is widely considered the musical epicentre of Scotland – and for good reason. Among the various heavyweight exports over the years, countless unsigned and emerging acts have amassed a reputation by playing across the eclectic mix of venues the city has to offer. Festivals such as the Tenement Trail offer these artists a valuable platform and, for others, an opportunity to discover new music. Speaking of which, one of this year’s featured acts The Dunts already boast a sizeable zealous following and are now vying to claim their own sonic territory amid the current wave of emerging indie/punk groups with their latest EP entitled Not Working Is Class, doubling up as a clever piece of wordplay and a concise summary of the contents within.

Booting open the doors and storming in all guns blazing, Tommy wastes absolutely no time in setting the tone for the rest of the EP. Channeling pure, unadulterated Ramones live energy into this highly charged opener, lead vocalist Rab Smith is accompanied by thrashing guitars and fervent drumming as he details a night gone south thanks to the (presumably) Buckfast-fuelled hedonistic exploits of the character in question who, it seems, has a bit of previous for disappearing inexplicably. As for the chances of an unlikely comeback? “As 10 o’clock approaches, the odds are looking slim“.

Lead single Coalition of Chaos, a renegade anthem for the country’s disaffected youth, explores the band’s own feelings of alienation and apathy as intimated by the EP’s title; here, Smith launches into a tirade about the grubby deals, political grandstanding and meaningless platitudes that characterise the current state of government in our country. In contrast to the blistering instrumentals of opener Tommy, here the guitar/bass sections ebb and flow: an effects-laden intro gives way to flickering verses and emphatic choruses.

Whether or not by design, a pervasive issue across all four tracks is the abrupt nature of the outros; perhaps even bordering on premature. Numbers like Coalition, a single with genuine potential, could benefit from a few extra seconds to further develop the melodies and arrive at a more satisfying conclusion. Although the band’s forte clearly lies in delivering incendiary short-fuse tunes around the sub-three-minute mark, a wider variety of outros would add greater depth to an otherwise solid set of tracks.

The Dunts have no qualms about laying bare their influences, particularly on Hampden Cabs where they channel indie and post-punk sensibilities via the likes of The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys in a return to the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ philosophy of the opening track. Smith laments being landed in a taxi with an unbearable travel companion (akin to the Charmless Man discussed at great length by Damon Albarn), delivering an amusing and typically caustic Glaswegian take on this most patterless of individuals.

Wrapping up proceedings is Dimitri, a chaotic yet surprisingly self-aware exploration of mind-altering substances. The state of flux between euphoria and paranoia is captured with Smith/McGachy’s rapid-fire guitar and McGhee’s anxious drumming patterns as doubts begin to set in: “everything is gone, like water through my fingers“. Compared to the rough and ready production on their debut EP Fried (no longer available on Spotify but potentially set for future re-release), Not Working Is Class still bears the hallmarks of a band in the process of experimentation; finding their own sound. They are, however, comfortably en route to cementing their status as purveyors of potent council punk among the city’s most talented up-and-coming artists as well as beginning to break ground down south.

 

 

 

Top 10 Protomartyr Tracks

By Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)2017-10-19

One month on from the release of Protomartyr’s widely acclaimed Relatives in Descent, now’s as good a time as any to cast a glance over the back catalogue of a band rapidly gaining traction within indie and post-punk circles. Since their 2012 debut All Passion No Technique, a remarkably accomplished but often-overlooked part of their discography, their songcraft and stage presence has grown tangibly with every new release, channeling post-punk sensibilities accompanied by snarling, cryptic lyrics in a manner which is not only relevant but utterly compelling. We’ve taken a look through all four albums in order to pick the very best tracks they’ve recorded so far.

10. Ypsilanti

Demonstrating frontman Joe Casey’s scholarly interests and his characteristic fondness of retelling stories from literature, often laced with dark humour and sardonic inflection, here he recalls the case study of three schizophrenics under the impression they are Jesus Christ. Fascinating, morbid and eye-opening in equal measure, delving into his lyrics is often enlightening but never does it feel like a chore. Like all good storytellers, his delivery – unnervingly detached during verses, explosive during choruses – is key.

9. Up The Tower

Greg Ahee shines here as his inventive guitar work and unexpected chord changes carry the mood throughout the entire song. Tension rests on the various riffs as they ebb and flow, ranging from frenzied bursts to tense palm-muted sections. The rhythm section thunders distantly throughout the majority of the track, suddenly erupting into action like an elephant stampede coming into view as Casey shouts “Throw ’em out! Throw ’em out!

8. Why Does It Shake?

To paraphrase an old football commentator’s cliche: a song of two halves. The first is boastful and defiant, the words of a brashful and self-confident man. “I’ll be the first to never diesnarls Casey, bragging that he has the whole world at his feet. After one final bombastic display, a doomed attempt at convincing himself that he’s “never gonna lose it“, suddenly the walls come tumbling down and the sustained pace grinds to a halt. Tentative drums and anxious guitar flickers back and forth as suddenly existential doubt floods in. “Why does it shake? / The body… / Why does it move? / The fear…“, a philosophical observation on the fragile nature of humanity from a man who is, himself, on the verge of a breakdown.

7. Scum, Rise!

An abrasive, industrial-sounding riff rings out throughout the whole song in what undoubtedly ranks as one of the band’s most archetypal post-punk offerings. Described as a “rallying cry for the dispossessed”, Casey’s growling delivery of “scum, rise!” sounds anthemic – like Spartacus egging on a slave rebellion or a revolutionary leader encouraging a proletariat uprising.

6. The Chuckler

The daily grind is conveyed here in nihilistic fashion. All the depressing travails of 21st century life – both mundane and global – are no longer a source of despair; instead, with a degree of resignation and hollow, deadpan laughter, he submits: “I guess I’ll keep on chuckling / ‘Til there’s no more breath in my lungs / And it really doesn’t matter at all / Ha ha“. Greg Ahee’s innovative songwriting again comes to the forefront, continuing to experiment sonically and structurally to great success.

5. Clandestine Time

Airy, reverb-laden guitars soar over driving percussion in a manner reminiscent of shoegaze on this instrument-dominated track. The interplay between Ahee’s riffs – which fluctuate in and out of focus – and Leonard’s drumming patterns is underpinned by Davidson’s stepwise bass hooks, all of which merges together in an infectiously energetic yet wonderfully nuanced way. The genius of this song lies in the way it never slows down yet still manages to build to a climax; the introductory section is revisited in the middle and outro, augmented each time by riffs carried over from previously, eventually culminating in a mesmerising final minute.

4. Here Is The Thing

Something of a throwback to the much-maligned “blasted trumpets” discussed in A Private Understanding, in the firing line this time is capitalism and indeed its profound impact on the course of history in Detroit, paying homage to Mark E Smith’s animated delivery. Ascerbic lines such as “Now you know innovative thievery in parking structures” and “In the grind of the day / It grows fat off your fear” brilliantly capture the resentment in the city felt towards the rapid onset of gentrification and the manner in which power is concentrated in the likes of millionaires and real estate developers.

3. Devil In His Youth

In light of the concerning amount of momentum far-right movements are gathering worldwide, this track feels more poignant than ever. Throughout the course of the song, an average boy living a privileged, suburban lifestyle grows into a figure of malice, a consequence of his skewed worldview and stunted social capabilities leading to rejection by his peers. As a result, he develops unsavoury and vindictive tendencies such as racism and misogyny, leading him to yell in angst “I will make them feel the way I do / I’ll corrupt them till they think the way I do“. Sound familiar?

2. Ellen

A beautifully heartfelt ode, expressed from the perspective of his late father, to his mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s and a rare, delicate moment of introspection; simultaneously mournful and celebratory of the memories he and his mother share. Placed in context, its gritty post-punk surroundings serve to emphasise how fragile this track is. The melodies feel out of focus and hazy, giving it a noticeably tender feel despite featuring the same distorted guitars and pulsating drums as seen previously. Ostensibly the only ‘love song’ ever penned by the Detroit quartet, the rarity of such a thing is also the source of its beauty. A prime example of quality over quantity.

1. My Children

The second single to be released from their latest album and one of the most complete songs they’ve recorded yet, Protomartyr have managed to distill almost every aspect of their music into a deeply satisfying 3 minutes and 42 seconds. An ominous, mumbled intro gives way to angular guitars as the anti-frontman delivers a caustic take on issues of growing old, remaining childless and the implications that might have on his legacy. As usual, attentive listeners are rewarded with references and easter eggs such as the sly Bowie reference when he sings “So don’t lean on me, man / ‘Cause I ain’t got nothing to give“, as well as the Greek mythological connotations of “My children / Ain’t got no mother / Came from my temple, all, when I thought them“. Perhaps a bit of an initial slow-burner, after repeated listens this track has established itself as arguably their greatest output to date.

Album Review: Beck – Colors

By Kieran Cannon (@kiercannon)

rating 5

Ever since exploding into public consciousness with the sardonic slacker anthem Loser in 1994, Beck has established himself as one of music’s most notorious shapeshifters. His bizarre but engaging musical journey has seen him landing in country-via-hip-hop territory on Odelay, bombastic Prince-infused freak funk on Midnite Vultures and stripped back folk rock on Morning Phase; an album which saw him once again drop his characteristic snark in favour of a more sincere, humble approach à la Sea Change. After this reprise, another tectonic shift was always on the cards and, after a great deal of uncertainty, it has arrived in the form of Colors.

Of all the singles, Dreams was perhaps the most reliable indicator of what to expect from the Californian singer-songwriter and his latest sonic philosophy. In stark contrast to the introspection and melancholy of songs like Blue Moon, scratchy overdriven guitar immediately bursts forth and upbeat, pop-driven vocals signal a resurgence of confidence after the vulnerable, confessional nature of Morning Phase; a rebirth of sorts. Teaming up with quintessential pop producer Greg Kurstin, with whom he recorded the majority of the album’s instrumentation, Beck has stated his intention was always to navigate a drastic shift away from the atmosphere of his previous album. “I was really trying to make something that would be good to play live” he said, intimating a desire to rediscover the energy of earlier records.

What follows is an album whose songs occupy a spectrum: at one end, experimental pop and at the other, straightforward dance-rock. Along the way and to varying extents, influences ranging from ’60s Beatles to ’80s chart stalwarts are channeled. Undaunted by being overly simplistic, the primary focus of his latest material appears to be raw energy and straightforward, hedonistic enjoyment. The Beck of yore, the man who once sung of “running through the mini mall in [his] underwear“, makes only a cameo appearance. Instead, his trademark metaphoric and often-surreal lyrics have been significantly dialed down to be exchanged for radio-friendly, vague pop/rock tropes. Take, for example, the titular opening track Colors: through effects-laden vocals he sings “All my colors, see the colors, make the colors, feel the colors / Tell me, do you feel alive?“, a half-arsed, generic feelgood chorus; as uninspired as you’re ever likely to hear from him. On this and an unfortunate number of other tracks (the worst culprits: Up All Night and Square One), it’s hard not to observe that his persona has been sanitised – somewhat diluted in the pursuit of ‘fun’.

Where his music shines the most is on absurdist, sample-heavy material from the Dust Brothers-era or the tender, heartfelt introspection on records like Sea Change; however, all too often on Colors the relentless optimism coursing through the majority of the album borders on nondescript and ‘for the sake of it’. Arguably Wow ranks as the outright low point, a track which, for a while, was almost destined for the recycling bin before his children convinced him otherwise. Previous forays into the realms of alternative hip-hop, such as the wonderfully rambling Novacane, have generally been successful thanks to his snarling wit and turn of phrase, but in this context it feels remarkably forced. Proceedings are underway with a saccharine pan flute riff backed by a trap beat and, as the insipid chorus approaches, it becomes apparent even Beck’s celebrated genre-meshing capabilities have their limit. Whether or not delivered with colossal amounts of irony, the regrettable conclusion is it’s just a bit shit. Chance the Rapper was supposedly invited to collaborate on the track; however, had he accepted, it’s difficult to envisage how much of an impact he would’ve delivered. Unless, of course, he decided to veto that obnoxious pan flute.

Despite this, there are several promising moments throughout the record where his latest musical doctrine shows signs of clicking. Dear Life, undoubtedly one of the highlights of the album, stands alone as a rare moment of doubt among a sea of optimism. Outwardly cheery, featuring an incredibly catchy honky-tonk piano riff and several unpredictable chord changes, the melody hides darker lyrical content. “How long must I wait / Before the thrill is gone” he muses, a brief period of apprehension among euphoria – a recognition that it won’t last forever. The midsection – containing three solid numbers Dear Life, No Distraction and Dreams – is evidence that, perhaps with refinement and greater attention to detail, another album following a similar format could work. The majority of this record (Wow being a notable exception) makes for pleasant enough listening; there’s no doubt he has succeeded in creating ‘fun’ music. Bearing in mind the sheer ingenuity of albums like Morning Phase and Odelay, however, it’s difficult to avoid disappointment when Beck writes music that fails to make an impact.

Album Review: Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun

By Liam Toner (@tonerliam)rating 7

Hiss Spun is Chelsea Wolfe’s 5th album and her darkest and heaviest one yet. The Californian singer-songwriter’s music has always been hard to define: while a lot of reviewers might give her the tag of doomfolk, she’s experimented thoroughly with sounds ranging from electronic music, goth, dark folk, industrial. On this new album, however, rock and metal shine through as the biggest influences on its sound. A lot of the tracks on Hiss Spun were never intended for release under the Chelsea Wolfe name as they were originally a side project of hers with drummer Jess Gowrie and Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen. However, they decided to take the songs and use them on the next Chelsea Wolfe release with the intention of touring these new songs.

Another reason for this particular album being one of Chelsea’s heaviest yet is due in no small part to Kurt Ballou’s producing. The Converge guitarist’s production back catalogue is rife with extreme and heavy bands from grindcore bands such as Full of Hell, Nails and Magrudergrind to other heavy bands more recently such as The Dillinger Escape Plan and Code Orange to name just a few. Understandably, choosing Ballou for this project makes it easy to see why this album sounds so colossal at times.

Spun starts the album and opens with wailing guitar feedback into a thick sludgy riff which is then joined by Chelsea’s haunting vocals. The song grooves along from here and creates quite an ominous, foreboding atmosphere. Twice in the song the momentum of the groove breaks and the instruments fall in to a brief frenzy complete with a blast beat from drummer Jess to then snap right back into the ominous groove. Chelsea’s vocals in the choruses almost mimic the feebacking guitar as she sings “spun”, blending in perfectly with the dark noisey backing of the band.

16 Psyche continues the album in much the same way with an almost bluesy riff playing in the verses and building up to the gargantuan power chord section of the choruses. Again it’s Chelsea’s vocals that really bring the sound together with her high reverb-drenched voice on this track, adding a layer of emotionality unachievable with just instruments.

Vex stands out as probably the strongest and most musically diverse track on the album. A driving, lively yet dark bassline carries the song’s momentum while Chelsea’s vocals add an ethereal melody on top. Vex also stands out as one of the most metal influenced songs on the album. During the verses a distorted electric guitar plays a hypnotic tremolo riff which would fit in easily on a black metal recor. The track also features guest vocalist Aaron Turner (of metal band Isis) adding death metal style growls to build up another layer of brutality on an already brooding and heavy song.

The album continues on in much the same fashion, which proves to become a little formulaic. This is probably in part to the songs being written as full band with the intention of being rock songs. On Chelsea’s previous releases she tends to do all the writing herself then takes it to the band, allowing for a wide variety of styles and song structures to come out as she doesn’t have to think about the chemistry and dynamic that comes with playing with a full band.

Until the penultimate track, the doomfolk label usually associated with Chelsea’s music seemed completely void as Two Spirit showcases the only track featuring acoustic guitars. Running into Two Spirit is the interlude style track Welt which begins with a minute of industrial noise leading into a soft piano section that winds down the album perfectly for the upcoming acoustic track. Despite the lack of distorted heavy guitars on this track it still ends up being incredibly dark and sinister, but also one of the more beautiful ones as well thanks to Chelsea’s dreamy atmospheric vocal work.

A last criticism is that the album is too long at 48 minutes. If a couple of the weaker tracks were taken off then the album could come across less repetitive and would make for a better listen all round without sacrificing what makes the rest of the album so good.

While Hiss Spun might not be one of Chelsea Wolfe’s strongest or most unique albums it still proves to be a very captivating listen, featuring some tracks that really stand out artistically as something they should be proud of creating.