Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Review Of The Year 2008

January 2008

I went into 2008 with renewed enthusiasm for my new blog and the current music scene. 2007 had been an interesting year for music with new material from Arcade Fire, Coheed & Cambria, LCD Soundsystem, Maps, Rilo Kiley and The White Stripes. All these bands did not feature in 2008 and it was Radiohead who dominated the early headlines. The In Rainbows album, available for free on the internet, proved to be a radical and inspired move. In reality you could pay whatever you wanted so this meant nothing to most people. It was later revealed that the members of the band had downloaded their own album and also paid nothing. Anyway, off the back of this media driven publicity, the band played a ‘surprise’ gig which had to be moved from a record store to a proper venue for health and safety reasons. Radiohead played the whole of In Rainbows from start to finish. It was a triumph. The album is not that bad; not a patch on the early work of course but an interesting new direction.

On the blog I talked about the BBC Sound of 2008 - new and emerging bands and artists likely to find success in 2008. It looked like a strong line-up. Duffy had already appeared on Later…with Jools Holland and I was hearing great things from Adele (who topped the list), Glasvegas, Foals and The Ting Tings. The second half of the list was pretty inconsistent but MGMT and Vampire Weekend have since topped many people’s favourite bands lists of the year and the albums were a huge success. Being an avid listener to BBC 6music, I was introduced to many new bands, including most on the Sound of 2008 list. But there were a few omissions. The Duke Spirit were making great noises and quickly became a good prospect for 2008. A solid debut album was followed by a support slot for REM at The Royal Albert Hall later in the year. But plenty of gigging and radio slots fizzled out as the year rolled on.

I was not reviewing albums for other websites until June (was it really that late?) so I filled January with some content from previous years. This was something I hoped to continue in future months but as the new albums started to emerge there was far too much to write about. The first big album of the year was from British Sea Power with Do You Like Rock Music? It proved to be a good benchmark for the year. Another new band Sons & Daughters caught my eye (and ear) and the debut album This Gift had real promise. Sadly the early hype faded fast.

I wanted the new blog to have some regular posts - previewing new artists and albums, talking about what was new and interesting etc. I tried a MySpace feature. This was inspired by the Tom Robinson ‘Introducing’ show (again on 6music) and started as a great idea. But I quickly realised that there is far too much new music on the internet and lots to trawl through. As with all these things, it was a great idea and I had a lot of fun going through the pages but I failed to follow most of it up. The play list idea was quickly dismantled due to the introduction of (songs and artists listed straight from my music library). But I continued the usual feature of updating the ‘albums of the year’ chart at the end of each month.

February 2008

The start of February brought us another new series of Later…with Jools Holland. Music television is in a horrible state with very few shows dedicated to ‘live’ performances. This may have something to do with the influx of music television channels churning out videos 24 hours a day and saturating the market. So Jools is keeping the formula alive and continues to attract the stars - both old and new. The first show of series 31 (yes, really!) had Radiohead (still dominating the news) as headliners and a rejuvenated Mary J. Blige. Off the back of this, I looked into other music television and found BBC Sound - a kind of Radio One on television with bands like The Feeling and Hoosiers. The only band to capture my interest was Paramore. I continued to keep an ear on who was on each week but quickly lost interest.

The Duke Spirit debut album was released in February. It was one of a few new albums to really start shaping the year. Laura Marling released Alas, I Cannot Swim and new band I Was A Cub Scout quickly topped my ‘best of’ list with I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope. It is still one of my favourite albums of the year, in spite of what was to happen later in the year to end such a great career. In the news there was new album information from Death Cab For Cutie, and new singles from Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and Goldfrapp back with a new folk sound.

Three more editions of Later…with Jools Holland gave us great performances from British Sea Power, Ida Maria, Morrissey, The Imagined Village (lead by Eliza Carthy), Jacob Golden, Duffy, We Are Scientists, The Kills, Devon Sproule and Supergrass. Disappointments were lead by Sheryl Crow, Hot Chip, Martina Topley Bird and MGMT.

March 2008

Quickly into March and there was some Nine Inch Nails news. I had been following details of a new experimental project from Trent Reznor and now it was actually going to happen. Ghosts was not so much an experiment as a masterpiece. Following on from Radiohead’s In Rainbows ‘free’ download, NIN decided to try a similar concept (also this month The Charlatans did the same thing with You Cross My Path). Ghosts is a four part instrumental album and Ghosts I was (and possibly still is) available free. My initial thoughts on the album were not great - I was expected too much but also I understood that this was just the start. After a technical glitch on the NIN website I finally got the whole album. It was well worth the wait. Ghosts is astonishing - a modern classical work beautifully conceived and crafted.

There were several more great albums in March. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds released Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree is excellent and Counting Crows were back with the spirited Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. The Kills released Midnight Boom this month to mixed reviews.

I listened to and then reported on the REM concert at The RAH. REM were great - full of energy as they previewed new songs from the Accelerate album.

April 2008

April was marked by the sad passing of Humphrey Lyttelton. He was best known to me (and many) as the chairman of the BBC radio series I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. But he was also a very good musician and radio host.

After a month break, Later… was back with a brand new format. The idea was to have a ‘live’ Tuesday show for half an hour and then back it up with a full hour long show on Friday (as normal). The Tuesday preview worked well and gave a lot more to talk about. The first show saw Adele out shining American counterpart Estelle. The was followed by Goldfrapp and Yeasayer, then The Last Shadow Puppets and the mighty Portishead. The Charlatans showcased the new ‘free’ album on the same show as Eartha Kitt. This was one of her last TV performances as she sadly died on Christmas Day this year. It was another interesting show with Was (Not Was) and The Pigeon Detectives. Where else can you get this much diversity?

In the reviews, REM and The Last Shadow Puppets outshone The Raconteurs and The Gutter Twins. As a huge Mark Lanegan fan I was very excited about The Gutter Twins. The album is disappointing and it was made worse by a bad performance on JH in May.

May 2008

I found it more difficult to find time for posting in May due to holidays and other commitments. I kept up the Jools Holland reviews and continued to enjoy the shows, in spite of inconsistencies and a few duff performances. James made a great comeback and Melody Gardot was great but The Gutter Twins were terrible. It was also the debut performance from Operator Please, another band I knew from BBC 6music. Moving through May, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss and Spiritualized were great but Santogold proved why they shouldn’t be in the Sound Of 2008 list. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds put in the performance of the series in Show 7 against The Raconteurs and Glasvegas. All three were excellent live. In contrast the last show was a let down. Paul Weller was trying something different with 22 Dreams with mixed results and both Martha Wainwright and Tricky are acquired tastes.

May was sparse for reviews. The first Portishead album in ages was well worth the wait and any year with a new Death Cab For Cutie album is always a good thing. Narrow Stairs is full of great moments but ultimately not as good as Plans. In the news Trent Reznor announced another NIN album. The Slip would be more like a conventional NIN release - but again it would be free on digital download. Two NIN albums in one year! Result.

Into June, everything was about to change…

June 2008

At the start of June I got in touch with Scott Goodacre, the editor of The Music Magazine - an online music review site. The set-up was simple. Get sent free music in exchange for a review. My first attempt was an EP (Neon City by The Exits) and a single (Boys by The Maybes?). I had just completed a review of We Started Nothing by The Ting Tings and was eagerly anticipating the new Sigur Rós album Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust. I had heard the first single Gobbledigook and could not wait to hear the rest. So when The Music Magazine sent my the album I was amazed. It was my first album review and quite punchy compared to later efforts. I don’t write ‘short’ pieces and I like to comment on every track, which makes it difficult to keep to the word limit. But most editors I have spoken to use this only as a minimum guide and prefer people to put in more effort and write more. Of course more is not always better and I do profess to quality over quantity.

During this new and exciting time I heard some sad news. I Was A Cub Scout announced a split and that the band would no longer be making music. There was an incident a few weeks before during a show but I’m not sure that directly contributed to the split. However, it was a sad day as the album is tremendous. I missed out on reviewing the new Coldplay album Viva La Vida. I didn’t think I would get the review and wasn’t sure if I wanted it. The review that actually appeared was a hugely positive one, contrary to my own feelings about the album. I think it is musically accomplished but lacking ‘songs’. Coldplay are no very good at sounds and texture but Chris Martin cannot be taken seriously as a lyricist. They are now a band who have their own high standard, like Radiohead, REM, etc… You have to hold them to a standard, at all costs. And that is what I did in my review.

I was (again) amazed when I was offered a new Bowling For Soup DVD. Live And Very Attractive captures the band at their manic best - concert footage mixed with before and after show and backstage antics. It is a mixed bag and I would like to have seen a pure unedited gig as an option. The commentary option is just the band sitting in a local bar and messing around. Even though I am a huge fan, I thought my review was thoughtful, mature and honest.

I finished up the month with a few more single reviews. I spent a few days catching up on the Glastonbury footage and trying to sum up the weekend. I can’t say I missed being there. It was marred by the Jay-Z controversy (which lead to him opening with Wonderwall to show Noel Gallagher how it should be done…not) and Amy Winehouse looking and sounding very ill and then punching someone in the crowd who tried to steal her hat…or something. There were some great highlights though - Elbow were excellent.

July 2008

The summer heat brought a busy month and another set of website reviews. I signed up with AltSounds as a reviewer and immediately looked through their huge list of available music. This was a different set up from The Music Magazine. Reviewers pick from a list and are encouraged to take two or three albums and a single. Otherwise you get sent a few random CDs to fill the postage. My first review for AltSounds was The Well by Sarah Perrotta. My review selection process is based on the simple principle of searching for an interesting sounding artist on MySpace and listening to a few tunes. If it sounds great, I add it to my list. And Sarah Perrotta sounds great…she just can’t control her voice enough and has way too many ideas. Anyway my review was fair and it was a 6/10. One thing about these reviews is that I have to give a rating - something I never do. I want people to read what I have to say and not just skip to the end and say ’oh a four star review - I’ll buy that’. If only life was that simple. For me 8/10 is Nevermind or Blood On The Tracks or St. Pepper. That is my benchmark. So when I had an email from the editor of AltSounds saying that the artist was no pleased with my ‘negative’ review, I was more than just a little surprised. It was my first direct feedback and it would not be the last.

July was an incredible month for reviews. I wrote a piece about the new Mogwai single The Sun Smells To Loud, in anticipation of the new album The Hawk Is Howling. I asked The Music Magazine to feature it and they obliged. I was introduced to an old band called The Lines who released two compilation albums this year, the first was Memory Span. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the band churned out singles and EPs and gigged extensively without much recognition. The album shows an interesting transition from guitar-based indie to dub and ska influences. Seth Lakeman released Poor Man’s Heaven (just in time for the Cambridge Folk Festival) and I discovered two new Canadian artists: the wonderful Catherine MacLellan and Elliott Brood. Another review cam my way from The Music Magazine from XX Teens. I had heard a 6music session earlier in the year and was eager to hear the album. It is one of the most original and compelling records of the year, even though it is missing the brilliant, but controversial, How To Reduce The Chances Of Being A Terror Victim. And new band Black Kids were all over the news, for the wrong reasons. After hyping them to the extreme, Pitchfork replaced their original review with a photograph of two pug dogs by means of an apology for a 0/10 review. This was then upgraded to 3/10.

To make things even busier, the end of June brought a new music TV series: Live From Abbey Road. This was the start of the second series. I had seen some of the first so I knew the format. What intrigued me is that there is very little ‘live’ music going on. It is essentially a glorified recording session and some interview. So completely different from Later… The first of the Live From Abbey Road shows had James Blunt, Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Stereophonics, Colbie Caillat, Joan Armatrading, David Gray, Suzanne Vega and The Black Keys among others.

August 2008

Into the autumn and I was busier than ever. A new music site was launched called GobShout and I signed up with an account. I haven’t written any reviews for them, as The Music Magazine and AltSounds have been more than enough for now. I did write an introductory article about The Tragically Hip for the ’They Should Have Been Huge’ section. I still have no idea if it was posted.

It was a month for singles with good new songs from Red Light Company, The Automatic, Does It Offend You Yeah?, Colbie Caillat (I couldn’t resist after seeing her on Live From Abbey Road) and David Holmes. I caused a lot of discussion from my review of the new Queen and Paul Rodgers single C-lebrity. It is a shame as most of the new album is very good and they should not be getting bogged down in all this nonsense. In albums, it was the month for Noah And The Whale and Proceed. The latter got me some great positive feedback from the band! They emailed me directly to thank me for the review. It is definitely an album to preserver with. I began to challenge myself and picked the new Soft Cell remixes album from AltSounds. A huge amount of work with plenty of reward.

Live From Abbey Road rumbled on. Matchbox Twenty made a surprise appearance and Def Leppard were terrible, It was the first of two from Herbie Hancock who I just don’t get at all but Kate Nash was great, The Kills turned up and did a few songs first take and posed a lot and Sara Bareilles was excellent even though no one is talking about her or her great album, The Subways were full of energy but lacking in sound and Gnarls Barkley were a mess. It was all becoming a bit too inconsistent.

September 2008

In September we lost Richard Wright, an influential and core member of Pink Floyd. This was acknowledged in the first show of the new Later…with Jools Holland and followed up on the second show when David Gilmore appeared as a guest. He seemed embarrassed to be there given the tragic circumstances.

New albums continued to astound me. I was given the Mogwai album to review - another great honour, made even better as the album is fantastic. It remains the best record of the year. Metallica were back with Death Magnetic and I reviewed that - also for The Music Magazine. An excellent comeback with some amazing moments. Of the rest, Rosie And The Goldbug released their eponymous debut as did Attic Lights. Another great find was French band Arther.

Music television migrated back to Jools Holland from Abbey Road with a strange final show. Brian Wilson tried his best to recapture the glory days of the Beach Boys with mixed results, and Martha Wainwright and Teddy Thompson finished on a Beatles duet. Metallica opened the new series of Later…with Jools Holland but it all felt like a novelty act. They were sharing the bill with France’s first lady Carli Bruni - who was genuinely good. Fresh from their Mercury Music award, Elbow stole the second show.

October 2008

In contrast, October was terrible month for reviews. I Am Ghost failed to impress and I was sent an album sampler of No Pint Wasting Tears by Ironik. His music is not my taste but I know talent when I see it. And he has very little. The only saving grace for October was the release of a new album from King Blues. Save The World, Get The Girl is wonderful stuff. I was asked to review first single My Boulder by The Music Magazine and then along came the album.

During this time I was contacted by another website, LastBroadcast. While not exclusively music oriented, the site is an excellent mix of popular culture. I signed up for a few reviews including the new singles from Dido (dull) and Razorlight (great), as well as the new Ray LaMontagne album (again massively overlooked) and Ra Ra Riot by The Rhumb Line. I also reviewed the very disappointing Seaside Rock by Peter, Bjorn and John. This introduced me to another side of music review writing: the edit. My Dido review was changed, no massively, but enough to provoke a response. In one case, important tense had been lost, changing the meaning. I’m not going to get all Giles Corren here but that sort of thing really winds me up. We are all amateurs here (at least for the time being) and our copy should not be subjected to changes. If it is rubbish, don’t post it. Simple. Anyway, some of the changes were justified and I can understand why they were made. This is not the reason why I haven’t reviewed more for LastBroadcast. I simply did not have the time for a third website. This was a great experience and I learned more about writing within constraints.

Back to Jools Holland and his guests in October were Kaiser Chiefs, The Streets and Seasick Steve, Coldplay and Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Snow Patrol and Eliza Carthy, Keane and Bloc Party. Everyone was eager to showcase new material and Jools is only too happy to oblige. Only Snow Patrol caught my attention and the new album sounded great. I avoided Keane and Kaiser Chiefs and we know about Coldplay. Glen Campbell was still peddling his horrible covers album and stumbled his way though songs he clearly doesn’t know, reading clumsily from an auto queue and messing up. Shame that such a great musician is reduced to this.

November 2008

November began with another good album from a band who were making a comeback. Snow Patrol released A Hundred Million Suns and I asked The Music Magazine if it was available. Again, and to my surprise, it was! Another scoop.

Later…with Jools continued to keep my attention. Grace Jones, Razorlight, The Killers, Fleet Foxes and Pendulum are all artists I ignored this year. The new material from Razorlight and The Killers failed to impress and I never got Fleet Foxes, despite heavy endorsement from Bob Harris. The final show of the series had Stereophonics doing exactly what every other band had not done - they played their greatest hits rather than weak new stuff. Ok, so they have a ‘best of’ collection out in time for Christmas but still, they were great. It was a very interesting show with good turns from Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dengue Fever and Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed. I like it more when I don’t know what to expect…

December 2008

December has flown by and I scaled down the reviews. I spent much of my time posting on other sites, talking about Christmas singles, X-Factor and my top 5 singles/albums of the year. One surprise turned up, from AltSounds. The second complication from The Lines was released. Flood Bank is two albums, mixed up and even better than Memory Span. Before this I was given an album by a new band Ribbons. Royals is not a great album and I was constructive in my criticism (as always) but still got some grief. The record company withdrew future mailings and I got very negative feedback from comments, including crap about my writing style and some of my phrasing. Oh well, I guess when you put it out there, this is what you expect.

The BBC Sound of 2009 Longlist was out and I gave it a look. It is less appealing than this years list was and I hardly recognise the artists. I cannot believe that VV Brown is on the list after her woeful showing on Jools Holland earlier in the year.

I ended the year with a review of the new Jacobi Wichita album Bonex Malone. Who?, I hear you ask. That was my first thought. The reviews I wanted from Altsounds had already gone, apart from The Lines, so I was sent this is an extra. I was surprised that the first couple of listens revealed a mess and then real potential and talent start to emerge as the music progresses. It is challenging but rewarding. Just as music should be.

I intended to end the year with a few Christmas reviews. Kate Rusby released an album later in the month called Sweet Bells. Naturally I got it straight away after checking the review sites. It is a well-intentioned and genuinely heart-felt collection of Christmas songs, traditional and new. Excellent. I just wish I had time for a review.

They say everything happens in threes. On Christmas Day Eartha Kitt sadly passed away. She was in such fine form earlier in the year when she performed with Jools Holland and I had no idea she was ill. Many of the newspapers posted obituaries.

And what better place to end the year than the annual Hootenanny (Hootenanny!). I know I have mentioned Jools Holland way too much in my blog and indeed this post but I did see the new year in with Jools and his guests. It was the usual audience of celebrities and start turns, most backed by the Rhythm & Blues Orchestra. The line-up was Duffy, Adele, (a still going strong) Dave Edmunds, Annie Lennox, The Tings Tings, The Hold Steady and (a way past their best) Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. It was all a bit too loose and lacking the polish of the normal shows. Still, it was entertaining. Kelly Jones and Lily Allen put in good performances of old hits to bring us into 2009.

Monday, 29 December 2008

2008 Music Chart - December

Another quiet (short) month for music with three website reviews: one good (Jacobi Wichita), one bad (Ribbons) and one exempt (The Lines). Also added is a late addition from the marvellous Kate Rusby with her Christmas album Sweet Bells and an album I missed the first time around: For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver, which is not as great as it could be.
  1. The Hawk Is Howling - Mogwai
  2. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails
  3. I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope - I Was A Cub Scout
  4. Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - Sigur Rós
  5. Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down - Noah And The Whale
  6. The Rhumb Line - Ra Ra Riot
  7. Death Magnetic - Metallica
  8. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  9. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
  10. Third - Portishead
  11. A Hundred Million Suns - Snow Patrol
  12. Save The World, Get The Girl - The King Blues
  13. Mountain Meadows - Elliott Brood
  14. Accelerate - R.E.M.
  15. We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings
  16. Church Bell Blues - Catherine MacLellan
  17. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow
  18. Gossip In The Grain - Ray LaMontagne
  19. Arther - Arther
  20. Poor Man's Heaven - Seth Lakeman
  21. The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets
  22. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
  23. Consolers Of The Lonely - The Raconteurs
  24. Do You Like Rock Music - British Sea Power
  25. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - Counting Crows
  26. Seven Months And A Fire Blanket - Proceed
  27. Sweet Bells - Kate Rusby
  28. Silent Cry - Feeder
  29. Liejacker - Thea Gilmore
  30. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab For Cutie
  31. Attack & Release - The Black Keys
  32. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  33. Alas, I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling
  34. Little Voice - Sara Bareilles
  35. Midnight Boom - The Kills
  36. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver
  37. This Is A Fix - The Automatic
  38. Friday Night Lights - Attic Lights
  39. Bonez Malone - Jacobi Wichita
  40. Welcome To Goon Island - XX Teens
  41. Viva La Vida - Coldplay
  42. I Am Undone - My Epic
  43. Rosie And The Goldbug - Rosie And The Goldbug
  44. Songs In A&E - Spiritualized
  45. Neptune - The Duke Spirit
  46. You Cross My Path - The Charlatans
  47. @#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
  48. Under Summer Sun - Matt Wertz
  49. The Slip - Nine Inch Nails
  50. Toy Tugboats - Sunfold
  51. The Hollow Of Morning - Gemma Hayes
  52. When The Night Time Comes - Jenny Lindfors
  53. The Well - Sarah Perrotta
  54. Those We Leave Behind - I Am Ghost
  55. Elliot Minor - Elliot Minor
  56. Saturnalia - The Gutter Twins
  57. Heat: The Remixes - Soft Cell
  58. This Gift - Sons & Daughters
  59. Sunny Day Sets Fire - Summer Palace
  60. Seaside Rock - Peter, Bjorn and John
  61. Royals - Ribbons
  62. Kids Aflame - ARMS
  63. Revolving Doors - Nelson

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Jacobi Wichita - Bonez Malone Album Review (2008)

Latest review for

How do you sum up a band like Jacobi Wichita? This line from the Thrust Music biography is typically attention grabbing: "Intense dedication mixed with incredible musical knowledge, as well as a strong desire to stand out from so many 'sheep-like' bands, is what Jacobi Wichita is all about". After an initial listen to the Connecticut post-punk's debut album Bonez Malone, you cannot disagree with the three points. Jacobi Wichita is clearly dedicated to being different and the band 'know' music. But...this approach to life and art does not always yield good results. A gargantuan out-pouring of emotions and sounds, a melting pot of textures, and countless twists and turns thread through the core of Bonez Malone.

The first half of the album is a glorious mess. Opener 'Hey, Hey, Hey...Take It Easy' is a great introduction to front man Brendan Rodriguez - part Mike Patton, part Chester Bennington, part Ian Watkins, part Conor Oberst. The music is thrown at you in waves of guitars, drums and vocals, unstructured and uncontrolled. Into the last minute, genuine melody makes way for a multitude of vocals to end. 'Belly Up' is a frantic explosion with aftershocks of "I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die...." repeated ad nauseam. The half way point is excellent, making way for a soaring last minute. From here, the songs veer off course musically. The obvious drug referencing 'There's No Business Like Snow Business' is a great song ruined by a lack of direction and some absurd musical choices. "This is why I'm thinking in colour schemes and punching walls to awaken my fingers" is gloriously graphic. Ironically 'Violets Aren't Blue, They're Violet' is the first sign that there are dark forces at work within Jacobi Wichita. Opening with the line "I'll make a milk carton out of you yet, my precious..." is certainly a cry for attention. The song is challenging stuff, a combination of horror imagery, machine gun drumming and soaring vocals. Apart from the fact that 'Gucci Girl' just does not sound right, there is some amazing guitar work from Ben Lopez. But the production is more Justin Timberlake than Coheed & Cambria and the vocals are all over the place. Unfortunately 'Bloody Pelvis' suffers the same fate.

The stand-out song is the slow moody hip-hop centre-piece of 'Mental Crown', an emotional but clumsy recount of a descent into drugs and subsequent escape, wrapped up as an anti-love song. It is the first time the lyrical skill of Jacobi Wichita is pushed to the front. "Don't strive to be perfect. A perfect world is too quiet" is followed by "Damn the day I found you. Take another look around then you'll know why". All this is set to a weird soundscape of vocals, from Jennifer Reyes' contribution to demonic vocoder-effected monologue. Even though it is more stripped down than most of the album, the song is still over-complicated with ideas and it is a departure from the 'usual sound'.
This makes way for the second half of the album, which, if you discount the appalling nonsense of the closer 'Jammin' On The One', is home to some of the best songs. 'Gullyhead' glides from delicate synth intro into hardcore and then back to melodic emo within the first minute. Then we get a Mars Volta guitar and vocal break leading to bongos and then more shouting. The last minute of this four minute prog-rock master class goes from stuttering vocal to choir to finish. Sublime. 'The Eye-Touch Of Brilliance' has more great guitar work from Ben Lopez who delivers everything from Jimmy Eat World to Metallica. These last songs show a real progression into more melodic song writing, while maintaining a dark menacing edge. 'Baby Gorilla Teeth' switches from melody to horror movie with effortless disregard for the listener - transporting them from safty to danger before there is a chance to escape. Completing the wonderful quartet in some style, 'I Only Draw Chairs' would not be out of place on a Coheed & Cambria album - an excellent love song full of dark imagery and goth-metal twists.

Ultimately Bonez Malone is an engaging, if frustrating, listen. This may have something to do with the chronology of the songs or maybe just the need to go against the trend of stacking all your best songs at the start. To begin with, just as you get hold of one particular groove or vibe, a song will dive off in a different direction, latching onto yet another idea or concept. The music may not be to everyone's taste every time but there is enough to grab your attention. The problem is, like the song writing, this attention span is limited to fragments at a time. While trying to stay vehemently genre-free, Jacobi Wichita has thrown just about everything into the music. From post-punk to screamo to hardcore and hip-hop, there is also Latin-soul, funk, blues and R&B. Every song on Bonez Malone plays like an entire album without breaks, such is the wealth of ideas and sounds. And Jacobi Wichita are a real 'ideas band' and these ideas really start to come together as the album progresses.

-- CS (for

Thursday, 11 December 2008

BBC Sound of 2009 Longlist

It's that time of year again...the BBC has announced the artists and bands who are most likely to find success in 2009. This year, the list was impressive and topped by Adele and Duffy. The Ting Tings and Glasvegas both made albums of the year - really impressive debuts. Foals were also impressive, producing some good singles and live shows. But out of the top 5 it was all a bit predictable. Vampire Weekend, Black Kids and MGMT failed to impress me, as did the exciting Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong. And the least said about Santogold the better...

So in 2009, who is on the longlist for January?
  • The Big Pink
  • Dan Black
  • VV Brown
  • Empire of the Sun
  • Florence and the Machine
  • Frankmusik
  • Kid Cudi
  • La Roux
  • Lady GaGa
  • Little Boots
  • Master Shortie
  • Mumford & Sons
  • Passion Pit
  • The Temper Trap
  • White Lies
Yes I haven't heard of any of them either. No that's not strictly true. VV Brown has been on Jools Holland and she was terrible. On the plus side Little Boots sound great, as do Florence And The Machine. As for the rest, who knows... So plenty of Googling and MySpace searching beckons...

Link: BBC Sound Of 2009

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Lines - Flood Bank Album Review (2008)

A review for So glad I got this album to review. Following on from Memory Span, reviewed earlier this year for The Music Magazine, this continues my new obsession with The Lines - a band I had never heard of until this year. If anything this is better than Memory Span as it's more creative and the band's experience really shows in the songs.

The review:

In the summer of 2008, the world was reintroduced to The Lines. The band released Memory Span, a great collection of early singles and EPs including Cool Snap! and Nerve Pylon. Since the early 80s, The Lines have been something of a cult band with a small but loyal fan base. This may have much to do with the band's lack of commercial know-how. It was a different music industry back then and self-promotion was virtually non-existent; unless you got your faces on the cover of NME or managed to bag a Peel Session, you faded into obscurity. Following on from Memory Span, Flood Bank is the two albums Therapy and Ultramarine, from 1981 and 1982 respectively, building upon an early sound and an obsession with the ever changing music scene.

As front man Rico Conning tells us in the album sleeve notes, Flood Bank has been assembled not as two separate albums but as a 'Pulp Fiction' edit, the songs from each album interspersed while maintaining chronological order. It is a strange approach but does create a flow, even if the original material is two individual bodies of work. This is clear to see (and hear) as the listener progresses through the album. Ultramarine is home to some of the best songs in The Lines' catalogue, but also one of the worse, and Therapy is more inconsistent as the band play around with sounds rather than songs.

Flood Bank opens with the drum and bass driven Come Home and is a beguiling mix of distant vocals and animal noises. Stripe is the first really great song, a mix of early Cure and Level 42 slap bass. It is certainly music of it's time: gorgeously gothic and new wave. Conning's vocals are magnificent as he switches between croon and falsetto and the piano arrangement is a real highlight. The first signs of truly great song writing start to emerge, summing up the troubled times of a new Tory government, strikes, riots and unrest: "tonight down at the dockside; violence, screaming over low tide" and the prosaic yet menacing "I lay awake at night; I'm thinking...". Airlift tries the same tricks musically, with the ever-present bass, added melody but stuttering vocals. The added trombone creates a stark musical landscape of alienation and escapism. Blow A Kiss is a real surprise - the band keep it simple with an Elliott Smith style ballad. Conning excels again with "I sit beneath the trees; my arms around my knees...feeling envy - how they hurl those words around, then claim meaning at the lost and found". More prophetic, poignant song writing.

After such a great start, the following trio of Instincticide, Bucket Brigade (both from Therapy) and then Tunnel Party (the only failing on Ultramarine) are a sudden down-turn. This is the band experimenting with textures which results in an incoherent mess. The latter is an antidote to the New Romantic bands of the day but too obvious. Conversely Ursa Major and The Landing are both superb. The former has a Massive Attack intro with soft drums and delicate bass framing ghostly vocals and more brass. The latter is the centrepiece of Ultramarine and wonderful prog-rock storytelling into a soaring three minute semi-instrumental. The Gate brings back the pain of Therapy - soul purging with barking dogs and screams from the depths of hell, leading into the more frantic Have A Heart. Conning is annoyingly flat and laboured and the song would be great with a better vocal. Continuing the roller coaster, No Hiding is Conning at his best and the guitar work is sublime.

The final trio from Ultramarine is real signs of a band in serious progression. Everything The Lines made up to this point contributed enormously to the end of the album. Flood Bank is all eerie atmosphere and goth guitars. If there is a negative it is that the song is a minute too long and after some wordless vocals begins an unnecessary repeat. Fury has another great vocal melody and contrary to the title, it is focused and controlled. The title track of Ultramarine is both understated and epic - Joy Division with a twist of subtle bass and sharp piano. In place of a huge build up the song chooses to drift away reflectively. The end of Flood Bank is the only time the track ordering is in question. The final song of Therapy is the buzzing chaos of Disenchanted and as the closer for Flood Bank, it is a real downer and paradoxically not how the band should feel after such an uplifting cathartic experience.

On the title track of Flood Bank Conning sings "would you be so good to call the dogs away and I won't be any bother to you". Maybe this standoff attitude contributed to The Lines' lack of commercial success - just as the rabble rousing began, the band ran away from it. Nico Conning said in an NME interview that the band cannot sell themselves. He went on to say "We're shitty hustlers and anyway up until now we've never had any desire to do so", making it sound like it was all self-inflicted. But life was more complicated for The Lines, a band that were never part of the scene, disillusioned by the media and not fully aware of their own talents. As a compilation of two albums, Flood Bank is impressive - always engaging and interesting. If Therapy is the released tension and angst then Ultramarine is the gathering together of all that is left to form something truly great.

-- CS (for

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Ribbons - Royals Album Review (2008)

Radiohead has a lot to answer for. Thom Yorke and his cohorts are now the public face of lo-fi after abandoning a very successful guitar-based indie career. What they are doing now is nothing new. Bands evolve and musicians reinvent themselves all the time but one thing remains: the core sound that made them great in the first place. In an attempt to be innovative and different, to throw off the shackles of predictability and stereotype, the band are now a changed entity - newly invigorated, motivated and making interesting, if challenging, music. So why all this talk of Radiohead? Well, producer and musician Jherek Bischoff's new band Ribbons make Radiohead sound like Kid A never happened.

As you might expect Royals is all over the place. At times it is impossible to conceive that anyone has actually written most of the music. Some of the arrangements are so random that they could only be created using a stopwatch. But most of the time it all feels like a stream of consciousness unhindered by the usual rules. The album opens with the drawn-out wavering vocals of All Of Us and from the first lines it is clear that Bischoff has not been blessed with a great voice. There is a connection between despair and beauty but melancholy does not always work as a creative artistic force. What starts off compelling quickly becomes annoying and half way through a huge string arrangement tries to rescue the listener from the eerie apocalyptic trance. All We Know takes a similar approach but without the inevitable search party. The vocals are operatic, the soundscape is David Gilmore meets Vangelis with electronic percussion, lush guitars and fragments of piano. The soft vocal outro is spoiled by the drums. If Bischoff is such a good producer of minimalism, how could he get the mix so wrong? The third of this unsteady trilogy is the spooky instrumental Automatism, a piece played out in negative by a very small orchestra playing tiny instruments.

The best song on the album, undoubtedly is The Last And Least Likely. From the big Bond-themed string arrangement into the buzzing electronics, a complete change of direction in the mid-section and then an ambient outro - it glides through the five minutes. Children's Song could be described as pop: annoyingly catchy and familiar making way for some very cool guitars to finish. But this is a brief highlight. The second half of the album is plagued with more pitfalls. Miu Miu is just too weird, random and directionless. The introduction of an Eastern feel is at first interesting but then goes nowhere and the end is a noisy mess. Silver Locket is very slow folk accompanied by ghostly backing vocals and blasts of 'sound'. But it is not all bad news. Tongue Tied is the first glimpse of structure and a pleasant duet with added female vocals. It suffers from persistent soulless electronica and staccato leading to crashing drums and more big strings. For something so challenging, it is all too predictable.

But the biggest disappointment is the final song All I Was. Given the blatant self-indulgence on display, a fifteen minute sprawling epic of twists and turns, highs and lows, and a wealth of ideas would be appropriate - even if it did not work. At least it would be embracing the spirit of the album. What we get is the dreadful All I Was, one of the worst songs on any album this year. Bischoff tries to sing with clarity which falls flat, a delicate arrangement is interrupted by the sound of frogs being hit with big hammers and then just to top it all off, he adds in some whistling. Put in some handclaps and it would have everything. The last minute sounds revisited and uninspired.

Ground-breaking, innovative, different and challenging - these words all have one synonym: Crap. Even if the songs are non-existent, the music is not that great and there is very little talent on offer, the end result can be compelling. This generates a compulsion to listen and to keep listening, so that every note is explored, every word is understood, and every beat is felt. Royals does not pull you in as much as it wants to, mainly due to the improvised feel and the vocals delivering incomprehensible lyrics. What should be free-flowing and natural is more like trying to swim in Marmite.

So what of the Radiohead comparison? It still stands. The approach is the same, but as Ribbons has no core sound to rely on, the songs lack coherence and focus. At least Radiohead are still interesting. The constant use of string arrangements to desperately get things moving, the tendency to fill voids with empty wailing vocals and the creation of atmosphere over genuine substance - all these things make Royals a very frustrating listen which does not improve over time. Some really great ideas are ruined by a lack of discipline and structure. This is obviously the effect Bischoff is going for but the music always suffers when you don't have a plan. Pure production with very little to produce.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine)