Monday, 30 July 2012

Thea Gilmore's Angels In The Abattoir update - July 2012

Ok this is a first from Underwurld's resident Angel. Thea Gilmore has sent out a heartfelt and honest assessment of the Angels In The Abattoir fan programme...

In Thea's own words: "So here goes...I hope you all know how valuable you are to me. Obviously, your financial support has been a significant part of my income for the last few years, but AITA has been so much more than that. A connection, a community, a discipline.. Its yielded songs that would never otherwise have been written, and given me a focus and a drive that I don't want to do without."

"I want to GIVE you Angels In The Abattoir free for a while. Instead of a business deal, let's be friends. I still get the fun of writing for you directly, having direct communication and most importantly (for me) I don't feel guilty that I'm letting you down when I'm juggling albums, kids and the nasty side of the business I'm in, and can't dedicate the time AITA deserves."

This didn't come as a massive surprise, as Thea has not given enough time to the supporting website and the attention it deserves, but it's a wonderful gesture to loyal fans. All existing Angels' subscriptions are suspended but memberships are not. This means that new fans cannot start joining for free but existing fans get to remain part of this great fan base and continue to get exclusive songs, at no cost - at least until the programme is updated.

Two key questions from a short FAQ included in the email...

Q. I don't understand why you'd do it?

Because I think you lot are amazing. Because your support means the world to me and because I don't feel I'm offering you value for money right now. So while I get the nuts and bolts of Angels In The Abattoir sorted, I want to give you something back. Plus, if one of my kids gets chicken pox and I can't make it into the studio to record a monthly track one month, I'm not breaking a contract. I like to think I'm pretty honourable and unlike a lot of the music business, this matters to me.

Q. So is this the end of Angels In The Abattoir?
Nope. But it will change. It needs to be better organised, better value and better run and all of this takes time. I want to offer monthly subscriptions, different musical avenues, perhaps introduce new artists through it as well.. But to do it, I need the cogs of the operation to run smoothly so my little one girl band can concentrate on what's important.

And so to July's song: Just Because. This is another wonderful vocal arrangement with Thea in great voice and accompanied by acoustic guitar. Some great lyrics including "There's not a rumour I haven't laid to waste; No sense of humour that I cannot disgrace..." and a rising high-pitched chorus that echoes the sentiment of the current situation and Thea's response to a great idea that desperately needs an update.

Here's to the future and the continuation of Angels In The Abattoir.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten (Album Review 2012)

New Jersey's The Gaslight Anthem is a good example of how a band can be pigeon-holed for the best and the worst reasons. Largely unknown, at least outside the US east coast, it took a high-profile association with Bruce Springsteen (Glastonbury 2009, John Peel stage) to capture people's attention, and also highlight the obvious and ever-present influence The Boss has on lead singer Brian Fallon. This came to an inevitable, and thankful, conclusion with previous album American Slang. While attempting to bring in other influences, the band fell deeper into the comparison and were in danger of becoming a tribute band, the product of The Gaslight Anthem trying to find themselves and much needed individuality. In their worst moments they were starting to sound like Reef with Fallon delivering regular (and very good) impressions of Gary Stringer. So the 2007 début Sink or Swim remains the band's most engaging and interesting album, capturing the dreams and emotions of a youthful quartet trying to make it. And now five years later, the fourth album Handwritten takes the experiences and the mistakes of the intervening years and moulds them into the album fans and critics have been waiting for.

Handwritten begins brilliantly with the blistering rock-pop of "45", the Gaslight Anthem version of Pearl Jam's Spin The Black Circle; a celebration and a metaphor for life. It's a the best of starts both musically and in message. Fallon is himself, exposed and honest, filled with energy and passion as he combines with guitarist Alex Rosamilia to create a torrent of sound. This pace is taken into the title track to create a wonderful example of melodic soft rock with a cracking chorus. Fallon echoes Peter Gabriel at his mighty best in the second half and the vocals in the last minute bring the song to a tremendous and satisfying close.

It is not until Keepsake that this early promise is built upon. Here Comes My Man suffers from a mishmash of ideas and a horribly slow and inane chorus, attempting to pick up in the second half, thanks to a consistent pace and a great Heartbreakers finale, but never quite getting there. Likewise Mulholland Drive has a cramped and uncomfortable chorus, and in spite of a well-meaning sentiment and a superb guitar solo, it never translates into a great "working class man" love song. Again the ending tries to pull it all together and almost succeeds. In light of this, Keepsake is real progression and the first of two darker heavier moments. Fallon's vocal is perfectly gritty and coupled with sharp guitars, dense percussion and a subtle arrangement, this takes us back to the song writing of Sink Or Swim and the true nature of the band. In contrast Too Much Blood threatens to delve back to the faults of American Slang but instead twists the song into something brilliant - grinding guitar work, big Stringer-esque vocals, that stay the right side of acceptable, and a truly great performance from Fallon. At over five minutes the song never outstays it's welcome and another big (yet short) solo introduces a spirited last minute.

From here the punchy Howl adds some light pop-rock. The late 'talky' vocals are a neat addition to add something new. Biloxi Parish sounds like an out-take from second album The '59 Sound - in a good way. Not quite the big stadium-pleaser but bright and open-hearted. Lyrically this is superb with "When you pass through from this world I hope you ask to take me with you... so that I won't have to wait too long" then "Who else can say that about you baby... who else can take all your blood and your curses? Nobody I've seen you hanging around". Fallon keeps things uncluttered and straight-forward.

Into the final trio and the big sing-along Desire is a false dawn (or dusk). Another self-depreciating love song ("I can only let you down" sings Fallon) driven along with more spiralling guitars, empty vocals and thumping drums. This is one that might lift better during a live set. But it's the wonderful Mae that brings one of two late highlights. With a fantastic vocal arrangement and uplifting guitars, this is The Gaslight Anthem coming of age and finally getting it together. "We work our fingers down to dust, and wait for kingdom come...with the radio on..." is another great line. To accompany this, closer National Anthem is arguably the best song on the album, an uncomplicated ballad unlike anything else. Fallon delivers more great song writing: "Now she just screams that I promised her more than this. Take it easy baby it ain't over yet" is tear-stained brilliance. Controlled and effective; a perfect way to end an album that promises hope and accomplishment for the future.

Handwritten is the sound of band updating and enhancing their sound while retaining much of what got them here in the first place. Keeping things raw and earthy while adding polish and slick production. This is a good balance thanks mainly to the involvement of Brendan O'Brien - like many great producers he finds the band's soul and makes it sound new and unique. But this is more than just right place and right time. The Gaslight Anthem have remembered who they are and where they want to be - this is the essence of Handwritten.
-CS (for JC)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

New single and video 'Laura' from Bat For Lashes

More stirring song writing from the magnificent Natasha Khan who releases her new album, The Haunted Man, later this year. If this new song is anything to go by, the album will complete an impressive trilogy.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie announces debut solo album

Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie will release his début solo album in October 2012. Entitled Former Lives, fans can expect trademark vocals and... well we don't know what to expect. The album could be happy or sad, or fast or slow, or dark or light. Those expecting another DCFC album could be disappointed or delighted. It is released on October 16th, the date I started my first job so the stars are aligned for a great solo effort for a brilliant musician and songwriter. Can't wait.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Music Report - June 2012 Part 3

Patti Smith - Banga

Musical icon and all-round legend Patti Smith is back with her eleventh album, entitled Banga, a work bringing together her "unique dreams and observations" in nearly an hour of music. And it is one of the most eclectic and enjoyable albums Smith has made. Shifting from a dramatic opening into soft pop tunes and balladry, and then becoming more intense and dramatic as Banga continues, this is incredible composition and song writing. Now 65, and like contemporary veteran Neil Young whose After The Goldrush is covered as the closing song, Smith shows no signed of slowing down and her fearless sense of exploration has no bounds. Banga is weird, wonderful and wickedly infectious.

Japandroids - Celebration Rock

Canadian duo Brian King and David Prowse follow their début Post-Nothing with the mighty Celebration Rock. Japandriods deftly mix punk sounds with 'classic' rock and the effect brings together influences like Tom Petty with Green Day, The Who and Guns 'n' Roses. The two big songs Fire's Highway and Adrenaline Nightshift showcase this sound perfectly while opener The Nights Of Wine And Roses echoes The Hold Steady, while adding something unique and interesting. The continued presence and power of the vocals; shared duties sounding mostly like a packed stadium and the relentless charge right up to sing-along closer Continuous Thunder. Brilliant, fast-paced and breathless guitar rock at its very best.

Grass Widow - Internal Logic

An all-female trio from San Francisco create a wonderful sound of delicious harmonies and retro-guitars on their new album Internal Logic. This time the band tackles more 'intellectual', nerdy and extradite subjects, from Spock (presumably Mr and not Dr) to The Goldilocks Zone to the fate of commercial society (Disappearing Industries). Lead-guitarist Raven Mahon adds the sharp edges to the slick ethereal vocals as the band take meticulous song construction to great heights on every track. As the album progresses, this craft becomes more apparent, the second half more impressive than the slightly disjointed first - more accessible pop melodies collide with the shimmering sound highlighting the progression from 2010's Past Time.

The Young - Dub Egg

Every so often a band comes along that is so infectious that you quickly learn to overlook their discretions, obvious or otherwise. With The Young, whose singer Hans Zimmerman has such a laid-back free style that is not to everyone's taste, it's the supreme guitar work from Kyle Edwards that stands out. Dub Egg has a very 'Crazy Horse' shambolic live-take feel. Opener Livin' Free and the mammoth Dance With The Ramblers are great early examples, the latter spiralling off into a bass-driven set of solos. But this still feels like work-in-progress for The Young, unstructured, loose ideas and a mix of styles make Dub Egg feel very unfocused, if very engaging and compelling on the first few listens. Plunging Rollers for example doesn't build into anything new in spite of more supreme guitars and the oddly laboured Numb is a psychedelic thrash through a muddled mind.

Plankton Wat - Spirits

Dewey Mahood, from Portland Oregon, is making music solo as Plankton Wat, since humble home-studio beginnings in 2001. With his eyes and ears on other projects, Spirits is a great outlet for his creative flow, the entire album blending together as a huge ambient guitar solo fused with exotic rhythms and drum-machine percussion. This is a musical meditation, a bit Eno and a bit Floyd, reflecting on ancient cities and civilisations (Mahood takes the name from the city-temple of Angkor Wat, circa 12th century) juxtaposed against the US Northwest coast landscape. Slightly more that just background music, Spirits sweeps you away with its seemingly random and shifting instrumentation, textures and effective production.