Saturday, May 5, 2018

Peace - Kindness is the new rock n' roll. Album review

Kindness is the new rock n' roll begins with 'Power', which is the kind of swaggering rock n roll song that makes it hard to see why Peace have been pushed aside for their lesser contemporaries, and that unlike many of those contemporaries Peace are a proper rock n' roll band through and through.
The title track of this album is an example of what Peace have always done best, taking a simple idea and ramping it up until it's as epic as possible. what could have otherwise been a simple acoustic ballad is given gospel choirs, Hammond organ and even a hacksaw, to accompany Harry Koissers' "peace.. do you know what mean?" hook until it resembles a sort of odd cross between 'Morning Glory era Oasis and Mercury Rev. The main flaw of the first half of this album is that much like their previous two it feels like a dip through the discographies of other artists. 'Silverlined' is an upbeat Ed Sheeran-ish acoustic ditty, at least until Doug rips into it with a massive guitar solo. 'You don't walk awawy from love' is another swaggering indie rocker, with all the charisma that people miss from Oasis yet with a beating heart and soul that makes it far more endearing than one of Noel Gallagher's surreal platitudes.
'Kindness...' takes a complete 180 with the albums 5th track and opening teaser track ' from under liquid glass. This is Peace at their most stripped back, as Harry Koisser is backed by simple chords, piano and a drum machine. The songs from this point on sound more like a Harry Koisser solo album than a new Peace record. Here we find Harry recalling 'lying in my empty room on my broken bed...left alone with my big fucking mental head. While such honesty about mental health is common from indie darlings such as Courtney Barnett and Car Seat Headrest or underground heroes such as Crwank or Luke Rainsford. In 2018 it's still rare to find a major rock band like Peace writing about depression so bluntly. Not much later on Harry is begging the listener to not give up on him yet as one day he will be 'Magnificent'. 'Angel' is a similarly sparse ballad that may be the most, gorgeous love ballad peace have written. While early albums found Peace naive and in love with the idea of love itself.
'Angel' finds Harry singing about wanting to protect and cherish the love of his life, as he matures as both a songwriter and a person. 'Shotgun Hallelujah' is another swaggering rock n' roll tune, but it's the final tracks 'just a ride' and 'choose love' that pack the bigger emotional punch. the latter promising that 'someday you will be king if you can make it out the slime'.
For all the heartbreak that Peace have been through, they conclude that not only is 'Kindness the new rock 'n roll, love is also the salvation that we sometimes need.

I need a hand to hold today, five fingers that won't slip away
In a world that can be so cruel, love is vital

Choose love, choose life, today, tonight
No fear, no pain, no hate, no shame

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The best albums of April 2018

5 years can be a long time to wait for a follow up to an album that you loved. It's just as well that 2013's Drone logic was an album that was waiting for a follow up to. On 'Song For Alpha', Daniel Avery has refined the minimalist sound of his début even more, stripping away the faint vocal samples of his début to create something that feels like the midway point between Kraftwerk's Tour De France and Aphex Twins Selected Ambient works 85-92. 'Song for Alpha' is euphoric, ambient and bursting with energy all at the same time. Cold and emotionless, cerebral and physical. With 'Song For Alpha' Daniel has confirmed that he is a master of dance music, intelligent or otherwise.
Last months hidden gem was the new album by Joey Pecoraro, called Music For Happiness. A gorgeous album of hazy sample based electronica that lives up to it's name. I'm also happy to report that Beerbongs and Bentleys by Post Malone lives up to the promise of its hit singles. While Stoney bounced from style to style, mixing everything from reggae to blues into Post's sound b&B has a more consistent feel,all the songs in the same aesthetic as Post's huge hit 'Rockstar'. While his lyricism still needs work, Post's unique delivery and personality are what sell the project. Another much maligned rapper namely J Cole also stood out this month with KOD. Cole keeps the jazzy sound of his last album but swaps the personal tales for ruminations on drug addiction and capitalism. He may still be a bit corny at times and could use a change of flow in places, but there are moments of genius to be found here as Cole spits his own 'whats going on' over a breezy backdrop of soulful hip-hop.

I also liked. 

Godfather 2 - Wiley
Beautiful Thing - Alexis Taylor
Isolation - Kali Uchis

Mc Lars, Koo Koo Kangaroo, Figure 0.9. Live at The Asylum review (2/5/18)

Figure 0.9 might have been an odd booking for this show. In contrast to the upbeat wholesomeness that was to come from the upcoming American Mc's, Figure 0.9 gave the crowd an in depth look into the darkness of his own psyche, spitting furious bars about his mental health over dark grime flavoured beats, he was joined on stage by friend and ex-bandmate Zero for 'reflecting' and unveiled some new tunes one of which he introduced as being bluntly about death, the other being a cover of an Xxxtentacion song which was as short and sweet as the original. Dan introduced many of the songs with a straight forward bluntness referencing the recent suicide of his ex girlfriend and finishing with a cover of Placebo's follow the cops back home with the tale of his own attempted suicide. Ultimately Dan may use live performance as an outlet for his emotions, but he's coming more into his own as a solo performer, becoming more confident in his own spotlight with each performance. 7.6/10
I was a little disappointed that Your Alibi had pulled out, as I wanted to see what the ex Smart Casual* bandmates had been up too. Koo Koo Kangaroo were quick to step in with an extra long set. Koo Koo Kangaroo are sort of a rap group, stand up comedy duo, and exorcise program wrapped into one. Koo Koo Kangaroo started a party, bringing gold lame backdrops, caps and bum bags and tried their best to get the audience to take part in their gleefully silly dance routines. They seemed very proud of the fact that unlike most American bands they could say Birmingham without saying the 'Ham' and the gaps between songs were filled with banter as they sought to stop the war between brummies and yam yams. They eventually won over the sections of the crowd who weren't already fans, by splitting the crowd in two and getting punters too sing along and shout along to 'the coolest person' into their mics. After our 'Ninja training' Koo Koo Kamgaroo encouraged use to use our ninja skills to go out and fight crime or start crime as "some cities don't have enough crime". The only touch of cynicism Ko Koo have can be heard in the two songs they closed with 'cat party' and 'dancing with my cat' which features the chorus of 'dancing with my cat, cos I have no more friends left' to which everybody was encouraged to dance with their own imaginary cats. 8/10

If you were unaware MC Lars is basically a cross between MC Serch and Dave Gorman, rapping in his black Addidas tracksuit, with a gold chain and game console round his neck, and his music videos and beats playing off his laptop. MC Lars is a pioneer of 'nerd rap' and his subject matter ranges from whole songs based around classic literature, such as Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and the works of Willam Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe. The latter of which he bought out his very own gangster raven for. Seeing MC Lars live is a reminder that comic MC's maybe don't get the credit they deserve as being able to deliver solid bars while also being actually funny is a trick few can pull off.  As if to remind us to not take things to seriously he finished each song with the same big grin and thumbs up. When not paying tribute to classic literature he told the story of the time he formed the fictional emo band 'hearts that hurt' and asked the crowd to scream 'DIE' in their best emo voices, to which he replied that it was 'Taking Back Sunday, but I need more Thrice'. Unfortunately Iggy Pop wasn't around to sing the chorus of the passenger for it's sample on 'Download this song' so we had to make do. Other highlights include the freestyle where he rapped about the items people had been carrying in their pockets and the shows grand finale where me and a handful of punters danced around on stage behind him in a vain effort to prove that ska music is not dead. Fun times. 8/10


*Birmingham pop-punk band who shined bright but briefly

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The best albums of March 2018

In the first few minus degree weeks of March 2018, the real month that lasted forever, the ray of sunlight that kept me going through the snow, was Superorganism's self titled début. It proved to be exactly the record I wanted to hear from them. While some may have bemoaned the lack of experimentation, what sold this album to me was the quality of the songs and the positivity within them. Mixing inventive samples and quirky song structures, 'Superorganism' is one of those rare albums that is as eclectic and forward think to listen to as it is fun, breezy and enjoyable.
I had no idea what to expect from the first play of David Byrne's 'American Utopia' LP, the opening track 'I dance like this' offered little of an answer, being both a cold slab of industrial electronic and a quiet piano ballad. The rest of the album indulges the African rhythms and nods to funk and electronica that made Talking Heads so loved. Yet the tense paranoia of David's former band is replaced by a sense of joy and optimism which the world sorely needs right now, which is best heard on the highlight 'Everyday is a miracle'. On which David notes of how little importance human problems are to the rest of the worlds creatures and how we need to 'love one another'.
In recent years the term pop punk has revolved less around knob gags and more around the earnest, self pitying white male types who currently dominate the scene. Needless to say Nervus are not you're average pop-punk band, fronted by the proudly trans Em, and lyrically focussing on everything from the trials of growing up as the wrong gender to the end of the world itself. Em has clearly put her heart and soul into the ten songs on 'Everything Dies'. Yet what really makes the album special is that all this angst and anxiety has been put into 10 of the most irresistibly catchy pop rock songs that you will likely hear all year.
One of the few good things about bands you love parting ways is getting to hear the various members start making solo and side projects and hearing the individual elements of each member that made the band tick. From hearing Insecure Men's début album it's clear that while Lias Saoudi gave the band is anarchic punk edge, it was Saul Adamzewski that gave Fat whites the druggy narcotic sound that made their songs so sinister. While Childhood's Ben Roman's Hopcraft is also on the cover this is very much Saul's band. Much of the album falls between the decadence of Fat Whites and the feel good soul-pop of Childhood's last album. Saul takes familiar elements of everything from 'Silent Night' to We Will Rock You' are turned into songs that are familiar yet are disturbing and catchy in equal measure. Much of the album is relaxing as it is eerie, Insecure Men create a lush sound that gives the feeling of being sedated, that becomes more enjoyable with each listen.

Honourable Mentions
Jack White -Boarding House Reach
Twenty two in blue - Sunflower bean.
Stop Lying - Raf Rundell
New Material - Preoccupations

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Lil Uzi Vert. Live at the 02 Academy Birmingham review (9/4/18)

Lil Uzi Vert doesn't need a support act, his opener was an hour long DJ set that mixed all the greatest hits of the trap era with a few choice Stormzy and Giggs cuts. The Academy was in uproar as hundreds of sweaty kids, moshed and surged without even a hint of the star being on stage yet. Some went as far as waving their umbrella's in the air to further mock the pouring rain outside. The masses were content bouncing to trap hits but I was bored and waiting for the star to come on.
To put things into perspective, when I saw Run The Jewels in the same venue a few months ago,  they brought along two massive inflatable golden hands, Danny Brown, and 90 minutes of bars. Lil Uzi Vert had some cool graphics as his backdrop but he had no support, no guests, and put so little effort into his set that it felt like he was his own impersonator. Lil Uzi Vert is basically the millennial MC Hammer, content to dance around while a few thousand people shout his lyrics back at him. When he was on the mic he was drowned out by the sound of his own voice being played alongside the DJ's beats. It's hard to tell if he even sang or spat any actual bars at all. Uzi seemed to have an answer for me by saying "You know Lil Uzi Vert got a lot of haters right? well I don't care, cos I got all the money, and you know how I get that money? by making these great songs and getting them played on the radio". Except his songs don't get played on the radio and his tickets cost £30 each. After the DJ span 'XO TOUR Llif3' for the second time, he threw his mic into the crowd saying that 'you can all sing it better than I can anyway'. After this he kept dancing for a bit, started a mosh pit, and then hinted at a guest coming onstage before leaving the stage and coming back alone, when he left the second time he didn't come back, leaving a confused DJ keeping things running with 15 minutes till curfew.
Ultimately none of the 3000 people present had a bad night. Call me old fashioned but if I go see a rapper I'd actually like to hear him rap rather than just hearing 'Yuh' and 'Aye' every few minutes. Ever got the feeling you've been cheated?


Friday, March 23, 2018

Milk Teeth, Fangclub, Nervus. Live at Mama Rouxs (20/3/18)

Nervus are not your typical run of the mill pop punk band. For example, the Watford four piece sell own brand coffee on their merch stand. While their singer Em is one of the few openly trans rock vocalists. Yet really sets them apart is the quality of their tunes. Nervus mix Em's introspective and biographical lyrics with instantly memorable guitar hooks and piano melodies. Nervus' opening slot was a fun show with a party atmosphere.  Em shouted out the other bands comparing the tour to a school trip where all the bands were naughty school children getting each together into trouble. Nervus’ keyboardist also entertained with his extravagant dad dancing. Em gave a shout out to all the trans kids in the audience. All three of them danced alongside the band to the finale song of the set ‘it follows’ and had the last word of the set ‘protect trans kids’. (8/10)
While Nervus’ were light hearted and fun Fangclub were relatively dour by comparison. Fangclub take Nirvana style grunge-pop to new levels of noise and heaviness. Keeping their heads down and delivering huge heavy riffs much like my faves God Damn. The Dublin trio’s singer plonked his mic stand into the audience twice and gave the Birmingham crowd a master-class in no frills rock n’ roll. (7.2)
I will always remember a Beckyless Milk Teeth headlining an almost empty Sunflower Lounge many years ago. In the years since then I have watched with pride as Milk Teeth have deservedly become one of the UK’s hottest and best rock bands. Milk Teeth’s show at Mama Roux's went down much like their last show in Birmingham where they turned The Flapper into a sweaty chaotic mess. Burly dudes and skinny emo teenagers alike came together in a violent mix of crowd surfing, moshing and circle pitting. Milk Teeth themselves weren’t safe either as (unknown to me at the time) guitarist Webby somehow broke his ankle during the first song and fought opn through the pain till the end. Fresh from supporting Enter Shikari on an epic US tour, Milk Teeth were in a reflective mood, playing ‘Bagels’ for the final time, having instructed everybody present to learn the words beforehand. Presumably to give Webby a chance to rest his ankle Becky and Billy gave the crowd an acoustic version of crooked spoons, ‘Kabuki’ and a surprise cover of Foo Fighters ‘Everlong’. Business was soon resumed as the rest of the band joined for some heavier songs. When he wasn’t encouraging the crowd to jump around Billy asked everyone to get their phones out and shine a light at the stage. Mama Roux’s was soon ablaze in bright white light. Milk Teeth saved the best for last with ‘Owning your okayness’ now officially their signature song. Becky announced that there would be no encores giving the crowd once last chance to sing the words out loud. A few people chanted for an encore but it didn’t matter. Milk Teeth had already delivered more than enough. 

Note: I forgot my camera batteries so I had to use my phone to take these crappy photos. My gig photography is usually a lot better than this.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Best Albums of Februrary 2018.

Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) 

The original Twin Fantasy is to bedroom made bandcamp albums what OK Computer is to 90's rock albums. I'd been hoping that it  might be one day re-recorded since the day I first heard it. When it was actually announced that this would happen there hadn't (or probably won't be) an album I'd looked forward to hearing more this year. The original Twin Fantasy is a short sharp blast of scuzzy indie rock songs, unfortunately ruined by horribly cheap production, which still couldn't quite hide how great some of those songs were. Since then Will Toledo has recorded many more albums, of better quality, yet the original twin fantasy still retains it's cult status. Rather than simply recording the songs in a professional studio Will has expanded the songs to epic proportions. The song's have been stretched out with more spoken word pieces and experimentation yet the lo-fi feel still remains. this new Twin Fantasy may be the best album I'll hear all year. As far as indie rock goes in 2018, this is as life affirming, odd, and downright brilliant as it gets.

Giver - Where the Cycle Breaks 

Giver are a German heavy metal band who take cues from 80's thrash metal legends but they've updated and tweaked the sound to make it heavier and darker. Giver embody the look and feel of 80's trash and crossover, and their crushingly heavy sound on this album gives my ears a battering. This is likely to be as heavy, fresh and inventive metal album as I'm likely to hear this year.

Everything is Recorded - Everything Is recorded by Richard Russell

Richard Russel is one one of the unsung heroes of British music, being a key part of XL records and the producer for the late Bobby Womack, Gill Scott Heron and more recently Damon Albarn. With Everything is recorded Richard is masterminding a series of mostly improvised re-imaginings of other songs, best of which is Grace Jones' 'nightclubbing' which is reworked into 'Mountains of Gold'. on EiR collaborates with a hugely diverse spectrum of artists, including Giggs, Sampha, Ibeyi and Peter Gabriel. The vibe is bruit and colourful and the music styles are frequently diverse, mixing grime, hip-hop, electronica, and world. The only reoccurring theme is the opening skit about loneliness and depression, which gives the LP a sombre poignancy.

Wild Beasts - Last night all my dreams came true. 
The announcement of Wild Beats split last year was upsetting to me as after having been aware of them for many years I had only just started to like them thanks to their fantastic fourth album 'Boy King'. That album found Wild Beasts reinvented from artsy and sensual to aggressive and sexual. Boy King took cues from Nine Inch Nails, ditching guitars for heavy synth stabs. It's sad to see a band call it a day after reaching such a tantalising climax. This live-in-studio album makes up for the disappointment slightly, taking the best of 'Boy king' and mixing it with the rest of their discography.

Don Broco - Technology 

For a long time Don Broco seemed a band out of place, too laddish for the emo crowd, yet too heavy and polished for the indie crowd. On their third album Don Broco not only sound sure of themselves but ready to take on the world. The corniness of the first two albums is completely gone and in it's place is a darker edge and a more concious feel to the lyrics. 'Technology' might not be quite as deep as it makes itself out to be or as artistic as some of my honourable mentions but for no-nonsense riff heavy rock music this is one of the best albums of it's kind I'll hear in 2018.

Honorable Mentions
US Girls - In a Poem Unlimited. 
Black Panther: The Album 
Rich Brian - Amen 
Ezra Furman - Transangelic Exodus.