January 2012

Put some headphones on, turn this on and let the drum intro pummel your mind out of its soft casing.

I could leave this post at that, but I might write just a little more. I’ve never been greatly interested in Blood Red Shoes – loud, boy-girl, indie-rock duo they might be, but their noise never moved past “quite good” on my White-Stripes-o-Scale. It’s perhaps a little evident of my internal bias, then, that the reason I like this new single quite so much (apart from the aforementioned cerebral danger) is the tone of the guitars. It sounds quite a lot like The White Stripes.

Well, at first anyway. Then it sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs a bit, then it sounds a little like how The Subways used to sound (and people used to like The Subways, even if they don’t care to remember that inconvenient fact), then it sounds like The White Stripes again, then it has a sort of post-hardcore bridge. Basically, it sounds like lots of cool stuff and, in these postmodern times, it’s occasioanlly fun to remember that just sounding like old, good stuff can actually be pretty awesome. Unfortunately, it then it ends disappointingly abruptly. A fix: turn on that intro again.


Blood Red Shoes – Cold

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Last week’s Folk Bloke, for all my moaning about a lack of good new tracks for me to play, actually had some really cool stuff on it. From CSLSX’s sampling of Mountain Man in what’s essentially an ’80s electronic track to Barna Howard’s spectacular Bob Dylan impression alongside new singles from First Aid Kit and Lambchop and old tracks from Andrew Bird and Kill It Kid, it was, basically, enjoyable. Click play above to experience said enjoyment.

CSLSX – Aeromancer feat. Mountain Man

Here is a review of Pulled Apart By Horses’ really quite exhilerating second album Tough Love that I wrote for DIY. I’ve got déjà vu.

Pulled Apart By Horses have always been an unpredictable beast. Tales of the grievously wounded abounded after their gigs, they recorded an album in a sleepy seaside resort and their brand of indie-punk was like a coiled spring: taut, wiry stuff, releasing energy unexpectedly. They made music like those movie villains you fear most, the mad, volatile ones – the Dennis Hoppers of rock.

Fitting, then, that Tough Love sees that coiled spring return, but as an element of something appropriately unfathomable, a musical Rube Goldberg machine made up of loud, dangerous parts; incomprehensible but sure to lead to some kind of explosion in the end. As ‘V.E.N.O.M’s classic rock hammer fall leads to ‘Epic Myth’s clockwork screams which in turn lead to ‘Some Mothers’ punk-action shotgun percussion, it’s clear this isn’t just Dennis Hopper anymore, it’s Dennis Hopper with a great deal of money and a small army.

Essentially, somewhere along the way, Pulled Apart By Horses put some meat on their musical bones, and now they don’t just sound mad, they sound formidable too. Where their self-titled debut was praised for its representation of the band’s live shows, Tough Love sounds significantly more produced, an album made not just to show you something, but to feel something too, and this comes out most strongly in the form of a series of moments that intrigue as well as pummel the ears. Moments like the sudden tonal shift from call and response vocal and guitars to an almost math rock-like flailing in ‘Night of the Living (I’m Scared of People)’, or ‘Give Me A Reason’s echoing bridge, which veers almost into psychedelia before realising it took cocaine rather than acid and smashes its skull open on a wall of cymbals.

This all speaks to a more complex band than might have been suggested previously, something bassist Rob Lee has confirmed in recent interviews – Pulled Apart By Horses are simply better musicians than they were. Unfortunately, that ability to string multifarious riff patterns together comes at a cost – in becoming better players, they’ve perhaps lost a little of that youthful, scrappy energy that made their earlier work as undeniably beguiling as it was. The sheer vigour of Pulled Apart By Horses was its truest strength, and as the band strengthened elsewhere, that side has faded a little. After all, it’s all well and good to hear the central refrain of “You won’t send me back to the dark place!” in ‘Shake off the Curse’ screamed meaningfully over expertly pummelled strings, but “I punched a lion in the throat. Ultimate power! Maximum life!” over the sound of kids hitting their instruments against one another is just more exciting.

That said, Tough Love is not without a sense of fun; ‘Bromance Ain’t Dead’ has guitar theatrics not heard since the heyday of ‘90s action films – imagine what you’d hear as a screaming man manually operates a gatling gun ripped from a fighter jet in flight whilst still standing on the wing and you’re someway towards it. ‘Degeneration Game’ could be the same scene except presented in 8-bit graphics and controlled by a desensitised eleven year-old. Ultimately, Pulled Apart By Horses have changed by staying exactly the same – this is as unpredictable as we’ve come to expect and, whilst you might forget quite how you got there, the end result of this chain reaction of an album will stay ringing in your ears long afterwards.

Pulled Apart By Horses – V.E.N.O.M.

Here is a review of First Aid Kit’s excellent second album The Lion’s Roar that I wrote for For Folks’ Sake. That’s it, really.

“There’s nothing new under the sun / All that will happen has already begun”

Sometimes you don’t need to say a lot to get a point across. In this simple couplet from the dark, tidal ‘Dance To Another Tune’, First Aid Kit acknowledge the entire problem of their second album. On the other hand, just as the song it comes from suddenly breaks into a sun-dappled reverie, that very acknowledgement reveals the album’s greatest strength by the same token.

But perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise; First Aid Kit have always been a paradoxical band. As a folk act, stereotypes immediately flash up – pastoral Britain or Midwestern America, obscure studio locations, analogue recordings. But then you realise that these are two sisters from a Stockholm suburb who became famous through what was essentially a viral campaign things don’t seem to add up. The solution then, is that the Söderberg sisters don’t struggle to make them add up, they just make the troublesome equation seem irrelevant by being supremely talented mimics.

After a first album undertaken more or less by themselves, Johanna and Klara recruited a band and set about making an album that sounds like every single one of their heroes – and they’re telling their audience throughout. Ranging from the overt, in ‘Emmylou’s name checking of the couples of folk’s past (“June” and “Johnny” for example), to the more oblique, with the tragically upbeat Mitchell-isms of ‘Blue’, and the frankly speculative (it’s perhaps unlikely that the they’re bemoaning the absence of new Antipodean throwback rock albums as they sing “Wolf mother, where you been?”), this is an album packed with nods, winks and homage to those they borrow from as they go along.

Frankly, this would be a problem if it wasn’t made clear that this was the point, but as you take in the sheer flair of the blustering title track or the sparse, magnificent echoes of ‘New Years Eve’, it doesn’t matter anymore. In fact, it’s ultimately jarring to hear “Stockholm’s cold but I’ve been told
I was born to endure this kind of weather”
, because it becomes so easy to sink into the warm fantasy world the band have created. As if as testament to their validity, some recognisable folk heroes turn up to endorse the band with their talents on the final track as The Felice Brothers and Conor Oberst lend their weight to ‘King of the World’.

Ultimately, that idea that “there’s nothing new under the sun” is First Aid Kit’s greatest boon on The Lion’s Roar. Once you accept that what you’re listening to is a knowing pastiche of all the acts the band have grown up with, it becomes much easier to accept that what they’re doing is, in many ways, just as good. The songs are wonderful, the execution perfect and, most importantly, the act seamless – this sounds just like a classic country-folk album and, when you think about it, that more or less makes it one.

First Aid Kit – Wolf

Oh my fuck do I love psychedelic country music. I’ve actually more or less written this exact same post before about Futurebirds, but I feel the need to clamour once more. I love it so much that I’m willing to force myself to believe that songs that even vaguely sound like they could be psychedelic country definitely do fit into the category so that I can like them more. It’s like some kind of MK-ULTRA style aggressive reconditioning, except on myself. This angry adoration might explain why I’ve been subsisting on a song each by Capitol Six and Bear Driver recently. It’s the kind of music that would make me brazenly scream “yeah!” into people’s faces and point at objects indiscriminately if it didn’t make me feel so warm and sleepy.

Capitol Six – Fever

Bear Driver – Never Never

I swear, if you make music like this, send it to me, mark it as such and you’re almost guaranteed to get a post out of me about it.

Barna Howard sounds like Bob Dylan. There, that’s out the way.

Now, this Portland-based singer-songwriter grew up in a number of –

Well, I mean, it’s not though, is it? You can’t just compare someone to Dylan and leave it to lie. It’s bugging me, so it must be bugging you. Let me try and elucidate: What I mean when I say that he sounds like Bob Dylan is that HE SOUNDS JUST LIKE BOB DYLAN. I don’t know how he’d feel about the comparison, given that his promo material lists Bert Jansch, Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young as his major influences and, sure, there’s shades of Young in his intonations and Van Zandt in the gently rolling style of his guitar playing (not sure about the Jansch, though) but you will always hear that slight nasal snarl, the muted delivery of poetic, personal lyrics and then YOU WILL HEAR BOB DYLAN.

Luckily, it’s not quite an impression – there’s enough of an unfamiliar accent in the vocals, enough individualistic beauty in the words to realise that this isn’t someone simply trading off of an image, some component piece of a legend. Actually, when you can, finally, remove yourself from the reality that BARNA HOWARD SOUNDS JUST LIKE BOB DYLAN, this is fucking excellent. Really, really good stripped back Americana stuff that should get you very excited about his forthcoming debut album (out on 21st February through Mama Bird Recording Company). Especially if you like Bob Dylan.

Barna Howard – Promise, I Won’t Laugh

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This week’s Fok Bloke show took a shizophrenic turn, veering wildly from songs about terrible things to songs about other things, and I think I harped on about it a bit too much. It was quite exciting.

It’s not a great band name, I’ll give you that, but Whales In Cubicles are doing something I haven’t felt was possible for a while – rekindling the ashes of my love for straightforward, guitar-based indie. I may regularly tout my passion for the early work of The Maccabees, Good Shoes et al, but a new band? Nah, that wasn’t going to happen. Well, not until ‘We Never Win’ came out anyway. I’ve seen mentions of cool ’90s rock influences or unusual time signatures, but what draws me in are the more prosaic aspects; the careening drumbeat, spiky, shivering guitars and sudden burst of shouty, angsty energy at the end for no reason other than it sounds really good. What it comes down to, I guess, is that 15 year-old Joe would have fucking loved this. He must still be in there somewhere*.

Whales In Cubicles – We Never Win

*Mostly likely turning his nose up at a banjo, if I know him. Which I do.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

There was a lot I enjoyed about this week’s show – I managed to sound vaguely engaged by talking about Bandcamp and Sound of 2012 and I managed to sound detached from reality by imagining the war wound that could have resulted in Jamie N Commons’ vocals. The world is in balance. Also, this song is absolutely brilliant, and shall thus be receiving the show and post adornment treatment:

Tigerlily – If You Were There, You’d Understand

Some people call me The Prophet. Or at least they should do, because I’m always prophesying one thing or another*. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always right, however – you’re reading the words of a man who championed The Bravery for a time – although in this case I feel vindicated. I was recommending Shift-Static a couple of years ago and, given recent outpourings of love for their latest EP, In Italics (meta-titling is the coolest new meta-nomenon on the streets, by the way) it seems I was right to do so. But let’s not focus on my spectacular eye for talent too much more, shall we?

In Italics continues the Newcastle five-piece’s journey into almost irritatingly unclassifiable generic territory. Stuttering between gentle ambient work and crunching electronics, this could quite easily descend into the sort of detached, inorganic noise that has never appealed to me. At least it would if not for Laura Smith’s constant presence at the epicentre of the band’s tracks. Her drifting, airy vocals pull every other element towards them, a softly swirling dust bowl of noise, menacing and beautiful in equal measure, surrounding the calm core of everything Shift-Static attempt. This is their trick – the eponymous flickering static of their instrumentation is employed not in and of itself, but towards a further goal, a far more traditional set of melodies lie at the heart of the occasionally spasmodic jumble of sounds they employ. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to feeling smug.

*It’s going to rain later.

Next Page »