June 2009


It always happens in the summer. A song hits your ear, tunnels into your brain and refuses to leave until the sunshine goes away. Last year, almost as soon as I started this blog, I heard This Is Ivy League’s, “The Richest Kids”, and I think it’s just happened again, coming courtesy of Florida’s The Drums and their song, “Let’s Go Surfing”.

The Drums don’t so much wear their influences on their collective sleeves so much as run up to you, tape a list of bands to your face and force you to read them. They really fall into two camps, ’50s surf music (major chord whistles, tinny guitar strums, lyrics about, urm, surfing) and, basically, Joy Division (echoey, hollow production, driving bass melodies).

Whilst it seems an odd combination, the ensuing songs really sweep you off your feet in a tumult of joy. It’s just one of those things you can’t really control and, frankly, would never want to control. Everyone needs a summer song, and I strongly recommend this be yours too.

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing (YSI)

PS. I’m positively indebted to Come Pick Me Up for helping me find my summer selection.

PPS. I’m on the front page of the most popular songs on The Hype Machine (link on the right) right now! Thanks everyone!

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Radiohead

I’m not sure I could ever really explain the excitement I felt waking up on the day Radiohead released In Rainbows digitally. It’s that childish feeling of an upcoming birthday party, the early waking-up of Christmas morning, that longing that only comes when you really, really want your best friend to come over later that day. And the relief and joy at finding I absolutely bloody loved the thing from beginning to end is a whole other level of happiness.

Unfortunately, I was just too skint to afford the wonderful looking discbox they released at the same time, and so missed out on the second disc of In Rainbows. That is, until now, considering they just released it for digital download on their w.a.s.t.e. shop website.

Made up of eight tracks eventually not accepted for the final cut, this is clearly not a second album release, but new Radiohead material is never something to ignore. In fact, it’s something to study, and work out why it didn’t make it onto the album, while looking at its own merits. Even on a first listen, it is clear why these didn’t make it onto the album, as In Rainbows has a very distinct sound and progression of ideas throughout, and these simply don’t fit into that scheme. However, and I’m really showing my bias here, that’s certainly not a negative indictment of the tracks on offer here, they’re all excellent, just not in the same spirit of things.

“Down Is The New Up” is a drum-driven freak out, full of the simplistic guitar and bass riffs that populated the earlier ‘head records, whilst Thom works his voice up and down the octaves like nothing else, reaching new squealing, and almost strangely Prince-like heights in the closing sections. Contrast this with “Go Slowly”‘s heavily weighted guitar chords and ambient, echoing swirls of Thom’s vocals, and we can quickly see that these tracks weren’t made to fit together, just simply to exist singularly. But that makes the disc 2 experience all the more lovely, seeing what direction the album could have taken.

If it had been down to “Bangers + Mash”, with its almost Beefheart guitar repetitions, and particularly odd lyrics, we could have had an almost unrecognisable sound dominate. Then again, if “4 Minute Warning” had been the focal point, we would have had sparse soundscapes, tremulous vocals and slow-building ballads. But the real question I ask myself as a self-professed Radiohead freak is, would any of these directions have been a bad choice? Easy answer: Nope.

Radiohead – Bangers + Mash (YSI)

PS. Here’s an absolutely inspired mashup by Overdub of one of my favourite song from In Rainbows, “15 Step”:

Radiohead vs. Dave Brubeck – Five Step (YSI)

First things first, allow me to apologise for being away for so long. I don’t really have an excuse other than between working and having fun being on holiday, I haven’t had much time to update.

In recompense, have the first mp3 I’ve seen (well, it’s not on Hype Machine yet) of The Lonely Island’s new song, “Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions” featuring Will Ferrell and J.J. Abrams. Love you all!

The Lonely Island – Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions feat. Will Ferrell and J.J. Abrams (YSI)

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, you remember an album that you got a while ago, and only really listened to once. Sometimes, you’ll re-listen to that album out of interest. Sometimes, you’ll realise that that album is absolutely fantastic. This happened to me with Dartz!’ debut album, This Is My Ship.

Described variously as indie, math-rock and post-punk, the truth is that this Middlesbrough-based band don’t really fit in any of these genres, but rather take them all in and then spit them out in some kind of brilliant gobbet of musical weirdness. There’s no doubt that Dartz! are a product of Noughties indie, but they’re certainly a left-field version of that, eschewing straightforward indie-pop chords and lyrical conventions for something a lot more interesting. The drums are far more prominent than in most indie bands, pushing the band faster and faster, filling songs with symbol crashes whilst overlapping dual vocals increase the frenetic pace of the songs.

There are some genuinely brilliant moments too – the main guitar riff in “Prego Triangolos”, if given some serious overdrive, wouldn’t sound out of place in a metal song, and the song itself is a jerky mass of brilliant interchanging sounds and strange falsetto backing vocals. “A Simple Hypothetical” is all about mad scientists and the breakdown into call-and response shouts of “Lab coats?” “Check!” “Oxygen?” “Check! Check!” is maddeningly catchy. In fact, every song seems to brim with lovely little flourishes and ideas that make you appreciate what’s gone into creating them. This isn’t some join-the-dots album of filler, every song has had genuine effort put into it to create a record that never lets up, and never makes you want to let go.

I haven’t heard their newer mini-album (apparently a concept album about a made up village, interestingly enough), and apparently they’re now on hiatus to finish their degrees (an admirable decision that I salute them for), but this album alone is enough to make me rank this band amongst some of the most interesting and satisfying to listen to in my iTunes, and I certainly won’t be ignoring this little gem again.

Dartz! – Prego Triangolos (YSI)
Dartz! – Once, Twice, Again! (YSI)

Dark

Hailing from my homeland of Ontario, Canada, Dark Mean are a trio of musical eccentrics drawn together by composing music for play. Their debut EP, frankencottage is the first of three they hope to turn into an album, named after that same play, “The Constant K Determines the Ultimate Fate of the Universe”. That first EP is brilliant.

Only four tracks long, frankencottage manage to draw you in and treat you to a little something different in every song. “Happy Banjo” sounds a little like the fantastic Meursault, all crackling drum machine beats and banjo melodies, but fronted by a less anguished Conor Oberst. Title track “frankencottage” has something of Amnesiac-era Radiohead about it, with a far poppier, organ swelling chorus straining to get through, before it’s released halfway through and grows from that point onwards. “Lullaby” is all plaintive guitar plucks and whispers before it decides to cheer up and lets the banjo take the fore and strident background vocals and yells fill us all with hope. “China” rounds everything off by starting like a more orchestral, sparse Cold War Kids, and building into a synthier, more ambient track by the end.

Each song acts like a little journey, segueing into the next with ease, creating a flowing EP that never allows for repetition. This is a band completely capable of creating something truly beautiful, and if this first effort is anything to go by, that seems probable. Canada has been blessed with another alternative-indie act we should all be watching.

I haven’t decided on a favourite track yet, but I’ll post “Lullaby” below, and if you decide you like it as much as I do, the rest of frankencottage is available for free on the band’s website.

Dark Mean – Lullaby (YSI)

Whilst reading Simon Reynolds’ sterling work Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (a million thank yous go to my good friend Joe for buying me it), I came across continuous references to Captain Beefheart, and I was intrigued. When I was 12 or 13, a prodigiously intelligent friend of mine expounded the greatness of the Captain to me, but after listening to his seminal album, Trout Mask Replica, I was left completely baffled. Was it all a joke, or was it just some amateur musicians making noise?

At 20, I’ve finally realised it was neither. The continuous references in that book, and the afore-mentioned Joe putting the amazing “ABBA Zaba” on a mix CD for me led me to order Trout Mask Replica, and I’ve been investigating it since it came in the post. I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst this isn’t music as the general public knows it, it is probably the greatest musical experiment ever created. So many sounds, ideas and oddities swirl around in almost every one of the 28 tracks on this record that it couldn’t ever be a coherent listen – this is the sonic equivalent of the border between madness and genius. Some songs sound like four tracks at once, others sound like squalls of atmosphere, with Don Van Vliet’s wild vocals directing them. Whilst the album could never be used to relax, and doesn’t appear immediately musical per se, I found myself tapping my foot along as it whirled around in the background. It’s simply an experience that anyone seriously interested in music should expose themselves to. I’ve just got my hands on the debut album Safe As Milk and I’m looking forward to a similar feeling very soon.

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Moonlight On Vermont (YSI)

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – ABBA Zaba (YSI)