November 2009

You wait an age for singles from your favourite bands, and two come along at once and with videos to boot. Both Vampire Weekend and Good Shoes have revealed their first singles from their sophomore albums, Contra and No Hope, No Future respectively, and both have had me jigging with joy for days now.

Vampire Weekend’s ‘Cousins’ is sprightly beast, packed full of yelps, skittering drums and dancing guitar lines and seems a – well – cousin of the ‘Weekend’s other speedy, indie-punk jaunt, ‘A-Punk’. The video’s bloody good too, directed by the brilliant Garth Jennings (who directed ‘A-Punk’ as well), with a wondrous section involving masks towards the end:

‘Under Control’, the first single, and second released song from Good Shoes’ new album is a darker affair than their usual fare, with a pulsing bassline and Rhys’ insistent, inimitable voice pushing the whole thing along at a brisk pace. Now I’m not going say it’s worse, but this video is frankly a little terrifying for some reason, so it’s not quite as smile-infused romp as the last one. Ah well, enjoy everyone!

Vampire Weekend – Cousins (YSI)
Good Shoes – Under Control (YSI)

It’s not often that you can go out and come back three hours later having decided that a band was amongst the best you’ve ever heard. At Newcastle’s wonderful Head of Steam pub, Meursault did just that to me when, in a surprisingly under-filled room, I heard one of the most heartfelt, wonderful sets of my life.

The band were wonderful, performing a largely acoustic set, but the focus always fell on singer Neil Pennycook, whose startling ability to transform his incredible voice from a pummelling howl to delicate falsetto is never more impressive than when you see him up close. In a set this complete highlights are hard to choose, but a stripped-down ‘A Few Kind Words’ changed from the irrepressible electronic bounce of the original into a sort of warped anthem, whilst ‘A Small Stretch Of Land’ asserted itself as one of the most heartwrenchingly beautiful acoustic tracks I’ve ever heard.

After the handclap-heavy ‘William Henry Miller Pt. 1’ drew the gig to a close, I left with a fixed grin, ringing ears and an unshakable belief that Meursault are one of the most intriguing and downright astonishingly good new bands Britain’s produced for a long while.

Meursault – A Small Stretch of Land (YSI)

Poor old Pull Tiger Tail. Formed in 2006, hyped by NME and many others, released some brilliant singles, recorded an album, got dropped by their label (B-Unique) for inscrutable financial reasons and were legally not allowed to release said album by said label. It’s a story to chill the bones of any aspiring indie musician. But now, two years later, after much fighting by the band and a lengthy campaign by their dedicated fans, Paws. has finally been released. It’s an act of catharsis by the band – they’ve played their final gig and the release of the album is just a way of getting their hard work out there as they call it a day.

But the really sad thing is that it’s a very good album. The sound is a little dated, given that it was mostly written during the indie boom that spawned The Maccabees and Klaxons, but it’s packed full of insanely catchy songs – debut single ‘Animator’ is as joyously engaging as it ever was, ‘Let’s Lightning’ is a perfect indie-pop anthem and ‘Loki’s dark musings on the fickle nature of the music industry sound eerily prophetic with the benefit of hindsight. Marcus’ vocals are consistently interesting, with yelping fervour and menacing tones both coming through, whilst the newer versions of their older singles are far louder and more active than the originals, with added synths and more complex arrangements.

The album is tinged with a sort of potential nostalgia, you can hear how the band had got better from their first singles until the album, and who knows where they could have gone from there? Of course, nothing more may have come of it, but with a prospect this good never reaching past its first album, you never know if the opposite would be true. But whilst the music is as brilliant as it ever was, Paws.’ real triumph is that it was released by three guys who were just proud of what they’d made and fought and won to let people hear it. It’s their tenacity that makes me happiest to have bought the album, they deserve the money for their work, and every fan they’ve had should give them what they deserve, they’ve been through more than most to release what they created, and deserve every penny we can give for that.

The album is only available on CD and Vinyl from their website ( but the MP3 Download is on Amazon and iTunes amongst others.

Pull Tiger Tail – Loki (YSI)

This post has to be prefaced with that dreaded sentence: I know someone in the band. But fear not, despite any problems with objectivity I may have had, Shift-Static have made it very easy for me by being pretty bloody fantastic. A five-piece formed at Newcastle Uni, they played their debut gig last night in the lovely Head of Steam bar’s basement to a small but rapturous audience. It was also the first time I’d heard their work.

The music itself is hard to pin down, swapping from airy, sampled-beat soundscapes to more forceful, guitar-led sections. It meanders all over the place, resulting in lovely, sprawling songs that constantly take left turns, my personal favourite being the abrupt, and brilliantly fashioned change halfway through ‘Father’s Footsteps Pt. 2’, where the echo-laden first half is forced into the skittering Kid A beats of the second. The band seemingly want to shake the listener into not just drifting off and letting it all sweep over them. Laura Smith’s honeyed vocals worm themselves around each song, and (in the same fashion as Meursault lead singer Neil Pennycook’s voice) refuse to remain the focus, but drift in and out like some ethereal instrument. Every song seems to have been studied for its ability to seamlessly allow for interplay between Will Tasker’s lead guitar hooks, Gordon Bruce’s plaintive strumming and Laura Smith’s gentle piano chords. I’m not entirely sure whether it was intentional, but for the live show Joe Barton’s bass was pumped up far higher than on the recordings I’ve heard, which resulted in a more melodic, punchy role for the deeper notes too.  As you can tell from this rather scattershot summing up of their style, this band won’t let one sound dominate their music, preferring to explore every avenue available to them as they progress through the songs.

As a live show too, it was brilliant to see how the band is constantly on the move, occupying different roles. It was essentially a choreographed dance around the stage as every member, and particularly drummer Charlie Bayler, rushed to fulfill their duties for each song. With each song lasting over four minutes at least, the set was only made up of five songs, but every one was received with an appreciation of just how much work has gone into each one. This is not a group who have just formed and forced out their earliest attempts at music, the music has clearly been toiled over and researched, fine-tuning it into the brilliant show it became. The fact that the band were bookended by two godawful cod-punk bands just made them stand out even more, and with the speed the CDs were being sold right after the set, it looks as though we have a lot more to look forward to from Shift-Static.

You can catch them play again, supporting Foot Village, at the Head of Steam in Newcastle on the 11th November, and if that’s a little too far for you to come, then you can listen to and download all five songs that have been released so far from their Myspace.

Shift-Static – Haystacks (YSI)
Shift-Static – Father’s Footsteps Pt. 2 (YSI)

I think of Future of the Left as the musical equivalent of the comedian Stephen Wright – they say hilarious, and often insane things, but in a completely deadpan way. Their odd mix of punk/metal music with satirical, and blackly comic lyrics is unlike anything else being made right now, and every time I listen to them I hear something else that makes me chuckle. Consider this verse from “Lapsed Catholics”:

Whose prison break is the most impressive?
I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder.
Such patience, such verve and poise,
But wait a minute, shit, that’s the wrong film.
Morgan Freeman would roll in his grave… if he were dead,
Which he nearly was, if you believe the hysterical gung-ho Technicolor crapfest
That is Sky News, or Murdoch live, or whatever the hell the devil calls himself.

Where else are you going to find that spoken in menacing tones over slowly intertwining acoustic guitars that eventually snap into momentary explosions of overdriven noise? I never reviewed FotL’s first album, Curses, because I started this blog after it came out, and I never reviewed their second, Travels With Myself and Another, because… well, I’m just lazy and stupid. So consider this a review of the band’s output as a whole.

If you crave something heavier than the norm, whilst retaining a sense of irony and self-reflexivity that only bands like Art Brut can truly pull off, look no further. This is a band that can switch between singing (or screaming) about Satan (‘You Need Satan More Than He Needs You’), dinosaurs (‘Yin/Post-Yin’), train vandalism (‘Throwing Brick At Trains’) and sausage on a stick (‘Wrigley Scott’) without a moment’s notice. And whilst all this goes on, their musical style varies just as much – old single ‘Manchasm’ sounds like an evil B-52s whilst ‘The Hope That House Built’ could be an apocalyptic war march. They’re an absolute marvel of a band, and I can’t recommend both albums enough. Oh, and did I mention that they’re absolutely incredible live?

Future of the Left – Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood (YSI)
Future of the Left – Stand By Your Manatee (YSI)