Preoccupations hit their stride on latest LP ‘New Material’

by kieran cannon (@kiercannon)rating 7

On first impressions, it’s difficult to deny that Preoccupations aren’t particularly creative when it comes to dreaming up album names – after all, their first two full-length records are self-titled. Back when they recorded under the Viet Cong alias, their eponymous debut Viet Cong – while critically acclaimed – courted fairly significant controversy due to its historical and political connotations. After it became abundantly clear their band name was no longer tenable, the group mulled over a new name for several months before announcing they’d henceforth be known as Preoccupations. The album to usher in this new era for the group? Er… Preoccupations.

There’s beauty in simplicity, though. Just as Preoccupations was, in fairness, the perfect descriptor for the compulsive, anxious mood of their sophomore album, New Material is a surprisingly apt title for their third and latest effort. Compared to the nervous energy and angular riffs of previous records, they’ve sanded down the sharp edges. The result? A much more accessible, more nuanced record which transports them further still from their noise rock roots without sacrificing any of their lyrical sincerity or expression.

Lead single Espionage kicks off proceedings with some familiar industrial noise; what follows, however, is much warmer and less abrasive than we’ve come to expect from the Canadian quartet, leaning more heavily towards synths instead of the characteristic razor-sharp stabs of guitar. Whereas before it felt like Matt Flegel’s vocals were screaming, arms outstretched against a tidal wave of sound, now he rides the wave in seemingly greater harmony. This frenzied approach undoubtedly worked a treat on previous recordings, but it seems they’ve now settled down into a more comfortable groove.

With each subsequent album, Preoccupations are undergoing a marked series of changes – some subtle, some more apparent. Despite this willingness to traverse new territory, they certainly don’t seem reluctant to pay homage to post-punk forebearers such as Wire and Joy Division, the latter in particular on tracks like Solace. There’s no mistaking that distinctive Unknown Pleasures-era snare drum sound or the ominous Peter Hook style bass lines, but by no means is this a knock-off, supermarket own brand version. They’re taking cues from classics of a bygone era and using them tastefully as part of their modern, progressive take on the genre, resulting in one the highlights of the album with the thrilling conclusion to Solace.

Since their inception, multi-instrumentalist producer extraordinaire Scott “Monty” Munro has devoted a great deal of effort to achieving a certain aesthetic, ultimately hoping to “make a record where nobody knows what instrument is playing ever,” unleashing the full firepower of his gadget arsenal to this end. With that goal in mind he has been largely successful in creating fascinating and unique soundscapes across the entire recording, ranging from the expansive to the claustrophobic. Very occasionally, though, the sheer wall of sound becomes overbearing; reverb-drenched vocals leave the otherwise punchy Disarray feeling a bit washed out and lacking in oomph. These moments are few and far between, however. By and large, it’s an extremely well-produced and cohesive record.

The topic of the band’s unceremonious rebranding presents a strange paradox – a singer whose lyrics are dystopian, introspective and very often cathartic but who (along with his fellow musicians) seems disinclined towards being taken too seriously or becoming too political. Recognising that perhaps their original choice was ill-judged in nature, the easiest course of action seemed to be a change of identity to prevent it overshadowing their music and distracting people from the real message they’re trying to convey. If that was the major transition between their first two albums, they’ve taken a step further with New Material. By doing away with the 12-minute behemoth tracks, they’ll undoubtedly win over yet more listeners who might’ve found the sheer graft involved with listening to songs like that offputting.

One thing is for certain, though. Preoccupations remain a hot prospect for the future and it’ll be intriguing to see how they continue to forge their own path among their modern post-punk contemporaries. They’re tantalisingly close to greatness and, if we’re all lucky, their pioneering nature will hopefully see them reach those heights with subsequent releases.

Ought find their groove with third album Room Inside the World

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Back with their third album, Canadian post-punk players Ought will be looking to continue to refine & build on their poetic grooves. So, let’s see what their new record, Room Inside the World, is all aboot, eh?

Compared to their previous two offerings, More Than Any Other Day and Sun Coming Down, Room Inside the World could be accused of playing it safe in its delivery, or those who are less cynical  would agree that Ought have found comfort in their style, whilst closely winking towards their influences. To help them in writing & recording this album, the band made a mood board to help them cut through the noise. Without sounding too churlish, there was probably a honking great picture of Robert Smith on it.

It’s a patchwork blanket of an album that refuses to sit still as Tim Darcy’s fractured vocals manage to glide eloquently over its catchy pop hooks. However, in this patchworked album, you can imagine that the quality is a bit hit and miss, too. On the record’s second track Disgraced in America, the music fades into textbook nothingness and to be honest, drives you to switch the damn thing off. But if you’re willing to hold on, you’ll be greatly rewarded.

On a nine-track LP, it’s pretty easy to pick up on the perfect moments, and Desire is that magical moment. This is where Ought step out of their comfort zone, a bold move in an otherwise stable album. Dreamy as your high school sweetheart, Desire is a beautifully layered mix of ethereal synths, saxophones and oh… how about a big old choir for good measure? Sure, the band are minimalist in their delivery, but come on, when a huge choir absolutely shunts into you, you’ve gotta go along with it.

Having such a short LP is always beneficial as well; in the age of deluxe mega monolithic editions, bursting with interludes and skits, it’s really refreshing to be over and done with in 40 minutes. It leaves everything feeling fresh, instead of getting halfway through the album only to wish it would just end already.

For a band so willing to experiment in the past, you could poke them in the chest and accuse them of resting on their laurels a bit, but this third album feels like Ought have gotten comfortable. They’ve settled into their journey but they haven’t slowed down at all. There’s a familiarity in album opener Into The Sea as well as Disaffectation, really bedding into Ought’s style, but the idea that they’ve gotten sloppy is daft. A band can’t be expected to experiment sonically  forever or write nine genre-crossing tracks. Sometimes you’ve got to stick to what you know and build on it.

Ought need an identity, and with Room Inside the World, they’ve continued to innovate whilst occasionally wandering into unfamiliar territory. Fans who want a band who are constantly trying to twist their sound will be left underwhelmed, but fans who want a good, solid post-punk album with flashes of brilliance will be right at home.

rating 6

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.

LOOKING BACK AT….NEON BIBLE by ARCADE FIRE

By Gemma Matthews (@screamethereal)

Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible was released in 2007. The album came as the band’s second LP, and was seen as “the wake”, post-Funeral (the first AF album) by music bloggers and reviewers worldwide. I’m not sure that I would agree with that in its entirety, however. This album reeks of grief, sure – lovely Plath-like romanticised grief – but I can’t say I see the celebration of life in it. Just a lot of sweet, futuristic existential dread. Nice.

So, 10 years on, does it stand the test of time? Or have the band managed to leave their second album behind completely, cemented and buried in 2007?

We start with a cascading opening track, all but transporting us to what we can only assume was then some kind of futuristic storm. Black Mirror ends with an almost apocalyptic crackle, a premonition perhaps of what this album was made for. We are taken then through peaks and troughs, an inconsistency of chopping and changing: beginning with Keep The Car Running and Neon Bible. This pair of tracks could not be more different from each other, the only thing linking them is a tiny undertone of angst. It may just be, however, that that’s the point. The seemingly contradictory trend could arguably be taken as a negative, but perhaps it suggests a range of different experiences without which we would not have the album which lies before us; experiences all linked by the tiring sting of life in the 21st century. And so, the band plays on in the same vein, stung.

What is interesting, though, is just how relatable this album is to life ten years later. With the 1% running amok on a global scale and humans destroying each other every second of every day desperate for some sense of achievement from one-upmanship (not to mention the recent political garbage), perhaps Neon Bible is more relevant than ever. A heady mix of robotic noise and organ music, the old and new are brought together here in some cataclysmic explosion for the senses, whilst also managing to  somewhat sedate listeners with the raw and bleak realities which were perhaps only an envisioned nightmare back then, but could not be more present in the everyday of 2017. This album, then, is not what we deserve, but the album we need to survive. Neon Bible might be “the wake”, but what comes after? The moving on.

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ALBUM REVIEW: English Tapas by Sleaford Mods

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Whilst Sleaford Mods won’t go as far to allege that they ‘tap into the vein of austerity Britan’, it’s certainly fair to say that they hold a cracked mirror up to the pock-marked face of modern Britain, with Jason Williamson’s impassioned rants expertly capturing the anger & betrayal of the modern working class over Andrew Fearn’s minimalist beats.

Though we all yearn for a world where songs on unemployment, austerity, Boris Johnson and waking up with shit in your sock outside the Polish off-licence have no meaning, Sleaford Mods provide a fantastic, aggressive commentary on the State of the Rapidly Disintegrating Union, and with their ninth studio release, English Tapas, it’s business as usual for the Nottinghamshire duo.

Many (whom enjoy dull, bland love songs, sung over the same three chords, missionary sex and floppy-haired middle-class kids with mummy-funded equipment) are quick to criticise Sleaford Mods for the raw, simplistic and rough delivery of their bruising tirades, but that’s what makes their craft so beautiful; for most people, the world is an ugly, unforgiving place, which is communicated through Williamson’s words. A blunt instrument? Absolutely, but a sledgehammer makes more impact than a feather duster, doesn’t it?

Despite less than two years separating English Tapas and their last offering, Key Markets, the world is a different place. We now live in post-Brexit, full-Tory Britain, where across the pond, the only man to ever lose money running a casino is now running America, sinking faster than a squealer wearing concrete shoes.

Poking fun at the Snapchat wankers, fitness freaks and Boris Johnsons of the world in songs like ‘Snout‘, ‘Army Nights‘ & ‘Moptop‘, this album retains the Mods’, specifically Jason Williamson’s policy of providing an honest assessment of the country in which we live. Whilst the fraudulent, moneyed men will try to win you over with their ‘man in a pub’ routine to convince you that they represent the working class, Sleaford Mods speak for those who have been let down by the elite and the establishment, as demonstrated in penultimate track ‘B.H.S‘.

Image result for sleaford mods 2017

English Tapas has also seen them push their creative boundaries a little more. Alongside bullet quick rants and spoken word diatribes, Williamson is employing his singing voice a bit more than previously, with Fearn utilising more experimental sounds and beats, most notably in the eerie-sounding ‘Drayton Manored‘.

One of the most enjoyable things about any Sleaford Mods record is the comedy that gets mixed in with the rapid-fire anger. Poetry and piss-taking are on the menu for English Tapas, with not even the usually well-received NME safe in ‘Dull‘, which also takes aim at the elderly who vote for the exact same people who want to fuck them over. Whilst opinion is well divided between people who do and don’t “get” what Sleaford Mods are doing, there’s no denying that they represent a downtrodden, disillusioned and depressed Britain, which, if trends continue the way they are, they won’t be going anywhere.

Whilst this album isn’t the best album they’ve produced, it’s yet again a pointed, brutal & honest rundown of modern life, and the exact tonic to help wash down the bitter realities of modern Britain.

8/10


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EP REVIEW: Fake Boyfriend – Mercy

 

RELEASE OF THE WEEK

Looking at the tags on  Fake Boyfriend’s bandcamp will tell you all you need to know about them before diving right into this punk rock rich release: existential crises, heartbreakers, heartbroken, and philly sad girls.

On Mercy, their first EP, it’s clear that they’ve hit all these tags quite well, most of all on the track Bumtown that decides to spend the first half of its running time to be tranquil and retrospective before breaking into a whirlwind in the latter half. “I need to learn how to be told ‘no,’” is screamed in unison by the band, reaching blisteringly loud volume levels with heartbroken aggression that overshadow the chugging guitars. It’s no surprise when you realise this was recorded alongside Jake Ewald, better known as the guitarist from equally heartbroken, sad romantics Modern Baseball.

It doesn’t mean that this is a girl band who are destined to sing solely about ex lovers though. In fact, at the Mercy EP release they stated that opening track Ship was about “the self-blame, shame, and confusion that comes after being sexually harassed… Despite what the fucking journalists say”, proving the band have something worth saying, or rather shouting about.

There are moments of calm on this release and they come on the appropriately smooth track Wax, a spellbinding and contemplative listen that serves as a reminder to the listener that they can easily transfer from finger licking good rock to sweet and humble pop and back again with ease.

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Abi Reimold said that Fake Boyfriend’s music is a “retaliation against the preconceived notions of how women are supposed to behave and process emotions.” This is a fairly accurate statement as the tracks on offer here sound more like the band would rather use a spoon to knock you out than to stereotypically scoop some ice cream with it.

Alongside the fact that each member took up a different instrument than they were used to, something that could have easily become a gimmick but instead adds to the beautiful clunkiness of this EP, Fake Boyfriend seem to be drawing more of a comparison to Pussy Riot than the likes of Haim.

A band worth keeping an eye on.

9/10

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