Album Review: Breton – ‘War Room Stories’

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Thanks to their current inverse status, in both popularity and innovation, it seems that more and more “indie” records have been picking up dance music’s mannerisms – while Breton’s sound in 2012 called to mind Tom Vek and few others, their relatively unchanged sound sets of a chain-reaction of indietronica associations this time around, from Everything Everything and Two Door Cinema Club to Foals’ Holy Fire and recent James Blake.

Resolutely electronic but retaining an “indie” sensibility, faintly industrial, melancholic; Other People’s Problems  was everything you’d ever hoped Kele Okerree’s solo exploits might be –  the tragic romance and earworm hooks of early Bloc Party transposed into a dance-centric setting. At the time, an awful lot was made of their being a “multimedia collective” from “South London” who “squatted” in an “abandoned bank” – a great press release has the power to drown a great record. That their current blurb includes the phrase “distinctly un-hipster” is telling in itself. Forget the myth-building and ignore that it was recorded in an old Soviet radio station; Breton have an aggression, a droning abrasiveness, that just about justifies their “being a dickhead’s cool” swagger. They make electronic music with indie overtones, not the other way around, and in so doing, still manage to stand out from the crowd.

The excellent ‘S4’ is closer to their early Blanket EP in its production’s ferocity, as off-kilter drums skitter across police-kicking-your-door-in bass, while the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra lend the band their effortless ambiance of class and Roman Rappak sings a hook straight off Silent Alarm. Similarly fierce is the Chemical Brother-infused, witch-house stomp ‘Got Well Soon’, which brings brain-scrubbing repetition and Breton’s trademark walls of bass together with the edgy, brooding indie of the Maccabees’ ‘No Kind Words’. The gloves are off and it’s genre-meltingly good.

Taking the edge of with ‘302 Watchtower’, War Room Stories also ventures into gentler territory, bringing a trip-hop kaleidoscope of wind chimes and squeaked bum notes to create an immersive stand-alone world within the album. Sliding into ‘Brothers’, things become a little sub-par Foals, with Rappak’s wails demonstrating why he usually sticks to staccato pronouncements, and though the spacious, confident instrumentation is only a stone’s throw from Holy Fire’s gorgeous ‘Prelude’, it feels a little derivative. Likewise, ‘Envy’ appears to be a pastiche of Breton’s past work – their trademark production accompanying the nonsensical, facile rhyme “You’re a tourist, there’s nothing wrong with that / But what you never could have noticed is how your bags were packed”.

At the other end of the spectrum is mid-album deep breath, ‘Closed Category’. A crisp, spoken sample oozes cool, left-hand piano replaces the usual relentless bass pulse and the guitar lines positively shimmer in their delicacy. Though it’s like nothing Breton have released before, it’s instantly recognisable; an unplugged version of their usual rhythmic gymnastics. What War Room Stories makes clear is that the way forward is further exploration and boundary pushing. Unsurprisingly, given both their sound and their ethos, Breton are not at their best when static, but rather forging ahead – cramming the bare bones of their sound into new and unsuspecting genres and influences.

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Album Review: Destroyer – ‘Five Spanish Songs EP’

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Dan Bejar has never been a predictable man. A serial genre-chameleon, under his Destroyer guise, he has churned out everything from acoustic indie to ambient and experimental electronica. If you were to pick an “indie” band to put out a Spanish-language covers EP, Destroyer would be second only to Damon Albarn.

 After the British accented, “Sounds, Smash Hits, Melody Maker…” name-dropping of 80s soft rock Kaputt, it’s no surprise to see Bejar don another genre, persona, and even a new language. All of the tracks on Five Spanish Songs are Sr. Chinarro songs originally, but instantly everything from the production, sheer pop hooks, and tongue-in-cheek vocals shouts Destroyer. That’s not say the pose isn’t convincing – with such an authentic accent, this could easily be a Castilian imposing his lyrics into Destroyer compositions.

The laid-back, Californian lounge vibe that dominated <i>Kaputt</i> lingers, as electrics ripple over delicate acoustic strumming and Bejar continues with the morning-after-excess quality, although he’s swapped the playboy coke tales for mythical Spanish warriors and religious processions. Opener ‘Maria de las Nieves’ brings a glistening, lounge riff over gentle acoustics, as Bejar laments “Maria of the Snows”, his troublesome ice queen. A melancholy, fragile earworm, bringing early Elliott Smith to mind both sonically and lyrically – such praise is not lightly given. “Esterilizantes con alcohol, practicantes de una rara religion / Como una monja bella, a ver que dice ella” (Sterilized with alcohol, practitioners of a strange religion / A beautiful nun, let’s see what she says).

Elsewhere, ‘Babieca’ continues the lounge funk, bringing Chic guitar stabs and overwrought flourishes to pattering finger percussion. Over a silky smooth chorus, Bejar relates Chinarro’s story of El Cid, a medieval Spanish warrior, and much immortalised folkhero. It’s a gentle caress of a song, cleverly combining Destroyer’s trademarks with a traditional Spanish narrative. Those of you who don’t speak Spanish, be warned – bogus attempts at singing along are guaranteed. ‘El Rito’, a song about the San Juan Saint’s day, brings a bizarrely Britpop sound, with a riff straight of Different Class, held together by a folk-stomp backbone: whatever the language, this would catch your attention; as the chorus insists, “Bailarà! Saltarà!” (You will dance! You will jump!). Additionally, there’s evocative love song ‘Del Monton’ (“I looked at the castle and believed Franz Kafka, and I wrote a song that ended in a tavern…”) and ‘Bye Bye’, a Chinarro classic that comes to evoke Bright Eyes in Bejar’s hands.

By transplanting his work into another language, and into songs written by somebody else, Bejar takes the oblique lyrics and “I write poetry for myselfKaputt-approach even further, as many won’t understand a word. But it’s a good test, and one that highlights Destroyer’s sheer musicianship. Regardless of their supporting tropes, the songs prove themselves consistently memorable and enjoyable. It’s another home run for Bejar – a disappointingly short taster that will leave you dreaming of Spain’s mountains and deserts, and longing for more.

Album Review: Holy Ghost – ‘Dynamics’

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When indie-disco duo Holy Ghost released their debut LP in 2011, they were widely dismissed as late-comers to the party. James Murphy had just called time on LCD Soundsystem and the glory days of DFA’s dance-punk reign were over. Holy Ghost! was well-received, but it was clear that whatever their talents, they weren’t going to revive the scene alone.

Two years on, Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel have sorted out their timing. Riding the highs and lows of the ever-churning oceans of nostalgia and influence trends is no mean feat, but what goes around tends to come back around – slick 80s disco influences are once again dominating. Murphy himself is back, an unmistakable presence on Arcade Fire’s new Reflektor output. The exposure that Drive brought Chromatics and College lingered long, bringing a synth-pop resurgence and then, thanks of some French guys in robot costumes, disco-influences were again everywhere in the summer of 2013. And if you liked all of those guys, you’ll probably like this.

Dynamics doesn’t pretend to be the result of a searing insight; Holy Ghost are happy to wear their influences on their sleeves (indeed, the album art is unashamedly 80s). They remain as good as they ever were with a hook, and there’s no denying that this is an album that’s fun and supremely danceable – well, what else would you expect from DFA? The excellently named ‘Dumb Disco Ideas’ serves as their manifesto, a sprawling 8 minute jam laden with Soulwax liquid bass and a cowbell bridge; regardless of contemporary trends, it’s a single that would make a statue tap its toes. Elsewhere, opener ‘Okay’ brings a synthpop riff worthy of early MGMT, though it’s employed in far more understated surroundings; the walking pace verse “I’m not falling over, but I’m not quite sober / I’m not gonna take this, when I get home” – like mouth-to-mouth and ‘Stayin’ Alive’ – is just the right tempo and entirely catchy enough to determinedly mutter to yourself as you concentrate on the tricky task of getting your key into the lock at 7am. If you still haven’t sorted it out, the relentless spinning waltzer of ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ will console you on the doorstep with its italo-house splurge, it might even help patch the LCD hole in your heart.

But not everything on Dynamics is built straight on the foundations of Holy Ghost’s past releases. ‘It Must Be The Weather’ is the best of the different approaches, bringing spacious, paranoid pop that owes as much to Prince as it does Kavinsky and his ilk. The grim, addiction-detailing lyrics are an album-high too; “I call my guys and say ‘Have you got the news?’/He says ‘Yeah dude, the rumour’s true’/I fall back down the stairs into my favourite place” – suitably Less Than Zero. Equally dark is ‘Don’t Look Down’ – a skittish throb that updates the stalker’s tale within ‘Every Breath You Take’.

With Dynamics, Holy Ghost have struck a careful balance between revisiting their mid-00s origins and playing with new ideas within a similar arena. As they insist on ‘Okay’, “It isn’t over!”.

Album Review: Placebo – ‘Loud Like Love’

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While Brian Molko’s voice has always been divisive, Placebo’s darkly glittering alt-rock has been unfairly maligned for years. Unusual vocalists pedalling intelligent, introverted rock tend to be met with more acclaim; Michael Stipe and Billy Corgan amongst the most obvious examples. But with their borderline-goth image and endless supply of angst, Placebo were unfairly dismissed in with the early noughties’ emo scene. Menacingly seductive and with a lyrical wit to rival Morrisey, there’s always been far more to them than that – even if much of their musical has been unquestionably well suited for crying bitter teenage tears into single-bed duvets or sourcing attention-seeking MSN names.  As the band’s twentieth birthday looms, it seems their best days are behind them. Though Loud Like Love is more interesting than the bland Battle for the Sun, we’re a long way from the quality of anything pre2006.

From the moment you press play, it is unquestionably obvious that this is Placebo. It’s all here. The chugging attrition of simple riffs, laden with brooding, emotive key changes. Lyrics dissecting sex, sadomasochism, androgyny and drugs. The unchanging constant of Molko’s voice, here sometimes reminiscent of Neil Tennant, though of course the power-pop is swapped for gritty melancholy.

To the casual ear, this could be any of their other albums. But with such a consistent sound, it becomes harder for individual songs to stand out. The bald, cold open of ‘Too Many Friends’, “My computer thinks I’m gay”, and the half-understood muttered bridge on ‘Hold Onto Me’  are classic Placebo, all drawling introspection and misunderstood depression, but it fails to distinguish itself from all their other work.

Despite all this, Loud Like Love hides a few seeds for hope. ‘Exit Wounds’ brings flagrantly digital drumming, presenting the familiar themes in a refreshingly different setting – and bringing the first sign that this is indeed the Placebo of 2013, not merely a stagnant repetition of past history. Continuing in the same vein, ‘Purify’ brings choppy industrialism and a gloomy bassline to a traditional Molko tale of seduction.

Unlike albums past, there are no clear choices for singles and little that doesn’t seem a rehash of old material. Ballad ‘A Million Little Pieces’’ piano and turbulent percussion reference ‘Song to Say Goodbye’, and the squalling guitars on ‘Rob The Bank’  aim for the anthemic territory of ‘Every You and Every Me’, but their former triumphs are only echoed. The best hooks and the most memorable poetics are missing, and Loud Like Love offers nothing to rival the highlights of their existing back-catalogue.

Half-way through the record, in his unique quaver-soar of a voice, Molko asks “Can’t you tell I’ve lost my way?”.

Unfortunately, I rather can. 

Leeds Festival 2013 – Hip-hop and Dance Take Over!

Vast quagmires gorging on beloved trainers, a tsunami’s worth of rain, and the immortal cries of “Alan!” and “Buttscratcher!” – 2013 saw Leeds Festival celebrate its fifteenth anniversary in style.  While many of the weekend’s scenes were familiar to anyone who’d spent an August Bank Holiday at Bramham Park, beneath the familiar layer of sludge something had changed.

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With two new stages dedicated to dance and urban music and a hip-hop superstar headlining was the heyday of NME-indie drawing to a close, just like Kerrang-rock before it? Or, less dramatically, was this just a reflection of the new alternative scene – a festival that was branching out, abandoning the old punk-versus-disco tribal traditions and embracing artists of a high quality regardless of genre, as so many fans have already done?

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Leeds’ stylistic shift was most evidenced by the Friday night Disclosure/Nine Inch Nails clash. Though many (including Reznor) had questioned the justification of Biffy Clyro leapfrogging them to headline, Nails’ industrial rock crashed out to an astonishingly small crowd. It seemed that cult status or not, most punters wanted to cram in and watch Disclosure rattle through most of Settle.  With Ed McFarlane, Aluna “-George” Francis and Sam Smith as guests, the brothers whipped the packed tent into an utter frenzy – and the success of their dynamic house was the start of a much-repeated trend. Australians Parachute Youth delivered an excellent electro-house set early on Saturday, Charli XCX brought the house down with ‘I Love It’, and Friction’s drop-heavy DnB set delighted gurning people in all kinds of silly hats.

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Come Saturday, it was the turn of the big hitters. Rather depressingly Chase and Status’ DnB-lite drew a truly colossal crowd, as did Skrillex’s spaceship show and aggressive brostep. Major Lazer pulled out all the stops (Diplo’s zorb, an audience member tied up on-stage and aggressively twerked over by scantily clad Lazer ladies) to successfully create a dancehall rave within a “rock” festival – though Jillionaire’s shout outs to all the Jamaicans, all Dominicans, then rather desperately, to all the West Indians in the house fell tellingly flat. Diplo’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ remix may have caused chaos down the front, but you had to wonder what the veterans of ’92 would have made of it all.

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Hip-Hop

Facing a crowd that each year sports exponentially more snapbacks and a mainstream comeback not seen since the early noughties boom, it’s not surprising that this year’s Reading and Leeds had the best hip-hop line up in ages. One of the biggest breakout stars of 2013, Chance the Rapper’s short set to a small but dedicated crowd was the crowning glory of Leeds’ hip-hop. Chance looked slightly taken aback by his reception, but increasingly delighted by the rapturous reception. Radiating charisma, he raced through Acid Rap hits, bringing call and response support on ‘Juice’ and building up a crowd that finished eating out of his hand. A nod to fellow Chicagoan Kanye with ‘All Falls Down’ and too quickly it was over; the crowd left in no doubt that Chance will soon be a household name.

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Angel Haze stuck to rocknroll clichés, turning up late and encouraging a closing stage invasion – but sneaking in a funky Missy Elliott cover and finishing with a thundering ‘New York’. More flamboyant visually, Azelia Banks still played it slightly safe – sticking to her singles rather than airing Broke With Expensive Taste – though ‘212’ proved an earworm, echoing around the campsites for the rest of the weekend. On the 1Xtra stage, Austrian Left Boy performed the weekend’s most complexly choreographed set, but booing of his version of ‘Call Me Maybe’ proved that a certain level of anti-mainstream sentiment lingers at Leeds.

Ferocious, shuddering sub-bass heralded the start of Earlwolf’s set, something of a homecoming after Odd Future’s manic reception in 2012. With tracks from Doris and Wolf, Earl and Tyler stayed away from the singles, leaving a persevering crowd a little disappointed, though the puerile crowd interaction was well-received. Cutting their afternoon set 45 minutes short, it seemed as a joke at the crowd’s expense –Tyler in particular playing on their discomfort,  yelling “Give it up for black people!”. Later, opening to broad-accented chants of “ayy-sap”, A$AP Rocky’s set was an altogether easier affair, propelled to instant madness by a breakneck ‘Long Live A$AP’. Given extra bulk onstage thanks to support from the A$AP crew, Rocky evidently enjoyed himself, flashing golden grills as he grinned throughout and enthusing as the crowd sparked up en masse for ‘Purple Swag’, screaming every word back to him.

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All of which left us with a 40-year-old white guy closing out the festival. Eminem last headlined in 2001, but aside from the sheer quantity of hits and variety of his back catalogue, there were no sign of fatigue; he remained as razor-sharp and energetic as he was over a decade ago. With material from his first (and best) three albums interspersed by more recent singles (‘Airplanes’, ‘Love The Way You Lie’), it was a set that constantly astonished, with a mesmerised crowd mimicking every rhyme –continually surprised as hit followed colossal hit; the man has simply too many to hold in mind. The best-selling artist of the 2000s had come out to play. Unintroduced and initially unnoticed by many, Dido’s appearance for ‘Stan’ seemed to make Eminem more comfortable than many recorded parts – but nothing could distract from the man of the hour. It came to a euphoric close – asking “Can I take you back to back to a time when I used to get fucked up?”, he brought out ‘My Name Is’, ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and ‘Without Me’ – before ending on ‘Lose Yourself’. From laugh-out-loud to tear-jerker to vitriolic aggression, via tunes and rhymes that are seared into the consciousness of a generation – for the umpteenth time, he’s back.

 

So, Leeds was certainly sold on Marshall Mathers’ hip-hop. But will the trend continue beyond 2013? Of course, Reading and Leeds have always had a strong mainstream element with a big proportion of the crowds going more to get wrecked celebrating their GCSE and A-Level results than out of any affinity to a specific scene. There’s no real evidence that this year’s swing in style and sound will have any more staying power than when everyone was into nu-rave and Klaxons headlined – but that the line-up was so dominated by two entirely non-rock genres surely says something. Biffy Clyro, System of a Down, Green Day  – the big rock bands put on great shows, to great reception.

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 In a weird crossover, almost everyone who was into the dance and hip-hop acts went to see skate punk bands – with no discernible link beyond an affinity for snapback hats? FIDLAR, Skaters and Wavves all pulled in devoted crowds with fierce circle pits demonstrating the old popularity of energetic fury hasn’t disappeared with the riots. But with dubstep, house, and hip-hop creeping up the bill, one wonders if Reading and Leeds aren’t leaning towards becoming “young” festivals, offering a range of music and an anarchic intensity, rather than the cream of the rock acts. There’s still that preference for ferocity, regardless of genre.

Album Review: Bass Drum of Death – ‘Bass Drum of Death’

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At first, John Barrett used to play his shows like a double-concentration version of the White Stripes. While Jack and Meg stripped their band down to the bare essentials of two people, a guitar and a drum kit, Barrett went one further – one man, sending out crashing bar chords whilst stomping out the beat through a bass drum. An album later, and Bass Drum of Death has conceded to play with a full live band, but continues to lay down everything on record himself, hopefully still in the insane, cartoonish one-man-band  fashion of gigs past.

That’s not the only change either. Whilst his 2008 debut GB City was mostly new-wave and punk orientated, the self-titled second album has its ambitious, increasingly technically complicated little fingers in far more pies. Generally, the record has a slightly heavier feel, which is partially the result of the newly present bass guitar and the fat, stoner-rock riffs that ooze out of it.

That said, the Wavves, Black Lips, and DZ Deathrays influences are still very much present – and Bass Drum of Death does a fine line in scuzzy surf punk. Opening track ‘I Wanna Be Forgotten’ surges out of the speakers with a wall of fuzz, sounding like the sort of stereotypical “I’m angry!” rock that James Franco’s character used to listen to on Freaks and Geeks. Just like FIDLAR’s debut earlier this year, Barrett uses the Beach Boys’ template to give the track a melodic lift by stringing faintly doo-wop “aaa-ow” backing vocals through the sludge. The driven, Misfits-influenced ‘Shattered Me’ will doubtless cause gallons of spilled beer live, as Barrett’s blurred vocals insist “No-one but me could leave these shattered dreams”. ‘Such A Bore’ owes a debt to early Nirvana, embodying all the core principles of punk that you can dance to – the hook beneath all the FX is as strong as ever, but only ever varies in tempo, repeating ad nauseam while Barrett ruminates on people’s tendency to stay the same and grow dull.

Elsewhere though, Barrett has pushed the project on, and spilled across into a neighbouring genre. Once you’re in the garage, there’s only so much to entertain you. Stoner-rock was only ever a toke away. There’s more than a hint of the Black Keys on ‘Fine Lines’, as the guitar line chugs out beefed up blues worthy of Josh Homme. Combined with the fat bass and a slight sense of paranoia (the chorus, slightly plaintively, repeats “All my friends are gone”), it creates a classic stoner sound. Later, with a pinch of pyschedelia, Bass Drum of Death’s foray into stoner-rock ventures into audibly 1970s territory. ‘Faces of the Wind’ is driven by a booming bass and an echoing bass-drum, with a simple riff that calls to mind Black Sabbath – a very successful homage to stoner-rock’s roots and some impressive drumming; it’s no wonder he can’t do it with just his feet any more.

Just two years on from his debut record, Bass Drum of Death shows a definite creative expansion – and Barrett shows no sign of losing his way with a hook. Ranging across thrash and garage, surf-punk and classic rock, this isn’t an album that’s reinventing the wheel. But Bass Drum of Death is an interesting combination of influences, easily worn. Barrett knows he’s rehashing, but it’s fast, dirty and fun- so who cares. You’ll be too busy dancing and yelling to question the originality.

Album Review: Tribes – ‘Wish To Scream’

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Every so often, the UK music press seizes upon a new guitar band to spin-doctor, and more often than not, proclaims them the next Arctic Monkeys, next Oasis, the next big thing. A few years back, I saw the Camden-based, leather-jacketed, guerrilla gig-playing Tribes written up as the next Libertines and, for much the same reasons that I can still be found buying the NME when Pete and Carl are on the cover, checked them out.  Beneath all the hype, there seemed to be a lot of potential. Early demoes showcasing ‘We Were Children’, ‘Wherever’, and the Pixies-indebted, giant-riffed ‘Sappho’, all looked promising – yet their 2012 debut Baby was an undeniable disappointment.

This time around, they’ve swapped Liverpool for Los Angeles and, in keeping with the long tradition of British bands inspired by the Californian idyll, have exchanged grunge for Americana and the traditional blues-rock of the Rolling Stones. Wish To Scream is hardly an austerity album, with gospel choirs, horn sections, and a new keyboardist joining up, in addition to slick production values to go with the cinematic anthems that Tribes are shooting for.

However, though the sound has changed, unfortunately the overall impression has not. Once more, there were some hopeful singles released, and once more, the rest of the album doesn’t quite manage to live up to them.

First single, ‘How The Other Half Live’ isn’t so far away from the better bits of Baby. By the time Lloyd sings the opening line “We need a change of direction”, it’s clear that they had already taken it. An epic anthem, it references both Primal Scream and Oasis before diving into a squealing solo and Stones-esque blues and stuttering vocals. The next teaser, ‘Wrapped In A Carpet’,  was another total change of pace. Whimsical psychedelia, its baggy lilt and hooky chorus make it a surefire standout on the album.

Unfortunately, ‘Wrapped In A Carpet’ is one of few songs on Wish To Scream where Tribes are able to resist an overblown chorus. Rather than the stadium rock that they so clearly want to play, they often end up mired in middle-of-the-road soft rock – sanitized and unmemorable. Far too many songs are the same radio-friendly, mid-tempo kind of rock that appeals to listeners who don’t really like rock music. Aside from ‘Never Heard of Graceland’, a warm, laidback slice of Americana, they repeatedly fall for the same mistakes. ‘Englishman on Sunset Boulevard’ and ‘Dancehall’ are early Elton John-styled piano ballads, but with such predictable chord progressions, there’s nothing to bring them to life. ‘One Eye Shut’ and ‘Sons and Daughters’ are further Stones homages, but stay far too commercial and safe. Wish To Scream just don’t have the tunes to support the swagger – turns out being Keith Richards isn’t as easy as it looks.

Tribes have the opportunity to fill a real hole in the current UK scene; we’re missing a young rough and ready rocknroll band. They put on good shows, look sexy, and have the right kind of ideas behind them. But they really need to cut down on the filler and try to steer clear of the temptation of “anthemic” faux-depth; if they concentrated on what they’re good at – catchy, illusion-free rock – they’d fare much better.

Album Review: Scanners – ‘Love Is Symmetry’

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Frantic, clattering twee and brooding, minimal rock? Soaring folk to dance-inducing synths? Camden five-piece Scanners aren’t ones to limit themselves to one niche genre, and on album number three, Love is Symmetry, they have covered most of the mainstream genres – rock, pop, folk and  dance are all here, albeit conforming to a consistently indie blueprint. Self-produced and recorded, this is the sound of a band full of ideas and successfully realising all of them.

As you could probably guess from their soundtrack credits (which include Skins, Shameless and One Tree Hill), Scanners specialise in somewhat brooding, kooky indie, and despite the success of their multi-genre experimentation, they can certainly still smash these out with the all the aplomb of Win Butler or Karen O.

‘When They Put Me Back Together They Forgot to Turn Me On’ has the delicate piano and gothic choirs of a Danny Elfman score (think Edward Scissorhands rather than The Simpsons), before a frenetic chorus scrambles in; a Long Blondes-esque monotone clashing wonderfully with frantic yelps over a broken, scatter-fire rhythm. Elsewhere, on the equally mammothly titled ‘Today Is The Tomorrow That They Promised Yesterday’, it’s rather more minimal as cool guitars cut through sci-fi whirls and bleeps, backing dubby bass and a sharp, anti-consumerism rant (“How about a new TV / what not to wear, what not to be … That’s all, did you think that there was more?”). Similarly, opener ‘Love Is Symmetry’ begins with finger-picking, mirroring the calm precision of the xx further with Daly’s enunciated whispers. But then the chorus blazes in, and sunburst synths herald the song’s core; desert indie, sultry vocals worthy of Debbie Harry, and shimmering waves of echoing cymbals. It’s euphoric and unashamedly big.

Repping Scanners’ electro-pop inclinations is ‘Control’, dominated by insistent, bubbling synths and vibrant, irrepressible energy. In terms of the calmer, folkier turns, single ‘Mexico’ only further showcases Scanners’ vocal versatility, as Daly switches into sunny Americana, in contrast to ‘Love Is Symmetry’’s silky menace or the upbeat bounce on the dancey ‘Control’. Like a combination of Karen O’s Where The Wild Things Are work and Surburbs era Arcade Fire, it’s gorgeous, all soaring harmonies and jitter acoustics.

There’s one more genre leap left in Love Is Symmetry though, and finally Scanners throw themselves wholeheartedly into some indie tinged post-punk. ‘My Streets Are Always in the Shade’ sees Siouxsie styled vocals over a gothic, Cure referencing riff; all sexy, noir rock. Better still are the clattering drums and grinding, buzzing drone synths of ‘I Couldn’t Help Myself’, which again seems to owe a debt of inspiration to Blondie.

Given the sheer range of Scanners’ inspirations and experiments, it’s all the more impressive that they manage to jam everything into a short, sweet 45 minutes. There’s not a missed target. Undoubtedly, it’s their best album so far – more urgent, and more challenging, both for the band and the listener. United by strong melodies, kinetic percussion and Sarah Daly’s stunning, versatile voice, Love Is Symmetry is an astonishingly varied album that manages to avoid any hint of confusion or incoherency despite its ever-changing sounds.

Album Review: Bored Nothing – ‘Bored Nothing’

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Slacker rock, a suitably vague term for that spectrum between Pavement and Modest Mouse, is characterised by lo-fi recordings, apathy, and a gentler, indie take on the core components of grunge. As with everything 90s, it’s been having something of a revival lately, with everything from Yuck’s grungey guitars to Christopher Owens’ DIY apathy finding fairly mainstream success. But of course, though it might seem careless and ill-thought out, there’s more to successful slacker jams than meets the eye.

Bored Nothing– the very name oozes adolescent indolence – have fallen into the trap of believing that basic, lackadaisical tunes will be carried through on the merit of the slacker lifestyle they so embody, whilst in reality, their eponymous debut is little more than apathetic melancholy with scant musical interest to back it up. Like every teenage backyard band, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Fergus Miller has been drawn in by the gentle desolation of the Cobains and Elliott Smiths of the slacker dream, but either doesn’t have the talent or maybe just the work ethic to provide Bored Nothing with much substance. As the man himself says, “most of the work that went into developing my sound involved watching Seinfeld and eating frozen pizza” – a solid slacker sentiment, but maybe a bit more development would be useful next time.

The record is dominated by simplistic stoner riffs (not in the good, Queens of the Stone Age sense, but rather that of those greebo kids who used to sit around in parks, playing the same three chords over and over, occasionally interspersed with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’) and a never-changing guitar tone that sounds like the shitty overdrive setting of a tinny practice amp that soon grates. Similarly, the rhythm section never really varies – an obvious drawback of a limited budget and one guy playing everything, despite the ‘real-life slacker’ kudos it allows. Genuine DIY recording is a tough trick to pull off, and perhaps Miller has just been somewhat over ambitious, but one can’t help but feel that for someone so obviously shooting for the Owens or Smith sound, the production (so effective on the aforementioned records) has been catastrophically overlooked. Likewise, with so little variation, at 14 songs, it’s entirely overlong and quickly becomes very repetitive.

Despite all of those gripes, it’s not completely unrelenting. Opening track ‘Shit For Brains’, though titularly sounding like an old hidden Green Day track, does a better Girls imitation than most, with clean electric guitars whirling under more vaguely discontented lyrics – “what’s wrong with sleep / oh compared to weed it’s cheap/ but my dreams are always keeping me awake” as well as the depressingly successful snipe – “oh it’s so nice to see / that you’re using your degree”. Elsewhere, the inverse-Cobain ‘I Wish You Were Dead’ brings a bit of spunk to the proceedings, with a pleasing, looping surf-guitar hook holding the song together, as Miller lays his washed-out vocals over the top. Similarly, the lullabyish ‘Get Out Of Here’ features a Dylan-esque folk guitar lollop, as well as more Elliott Smith-esque vocals – all heartbreak and dalliances with the law, “I’d carved a tree / with your name and mine / and the sentiment of cheap red wine”.

Ultimately, it’s all just too lazy. Yes, I know that’s the point, but this really is slacking overkill. To paraphrase many a teacher, Bored Nothing just needs to try harder at sounding like he’s not trying.

Album Review: The Strokes – ‘Comedown Machine’

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It would be easy to assume that the title was referencing its members’ well-documented chemical indulgences, but it seems that the New Yorkers’ fifth record’s name refers to an altogether different detoxification; a step away from their status as the 21st Century’s first and, so far, best rock band. From the expectations, from the pressure, and from the spectre of their glorious debut album, which has arguably kept them locked into trying to be the band they were between 2001 and 2003. Comedown Machine doesn’t sound like it was made by the Strokes, or at least not “the Strokes” that a generation have kept unchanged in their heads. Not that I didn’t enjoy First Impressions of Earth or appreciate Angles – but this is the Strokes record which we’ve been waiting the last decade for.

The first half is a tour-de-force, kicking off with the instantly accessible and joyously catchy ‘Tap Out’, which I doubt I’ve had even recognized as a Strokes track if I hadn’t been forewarned. The titular ‘80s Comedown Machine’ (perhaps my deep title analysis wasn’t as revealing as I first thought) has a positively Zeppelin-esque riff towering over its intro, before it plunges into the extreme processed vocals of the earliest Strokes demos, and a scuzzier, punkier song than anything they’ve released since Is This It. Best of all is the colossal, disco-driven ‘Welcome To Japan’, comprising old-style Strokes staccato guitars, a hefty Elvis Costello influence, and the kind of slick insistence that Julian Casablancas did so well on ‘Little Girl’, his Sparklehorse collaboration; “I didn’t really notice, I didn’t know the gun was loaded – what kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”. Contrast soon comes, with ‘All The Time’, unmistakably pure, classic original Strokes; all angular guitars and punchy, garage rock. Well, they had to throw a bone to everyone who wishes it was still the turn of the millennium.

Whilst the second half subsides slightly, it’s not dismissible. Slightly harder to get into, but still showcasing the band’s progression into unchartered territory, it makes for interesting listening.  Both ’50 50’ and ‘Slow Animals’ are in the same vein as First Impressions, with glossy, processed guitars and echoey percussion and the latter boasting  a brilliantly hooky chorus. Next, jittery vibrato guitars and unusually restrained Strokes on the funky ‘Partners in Crimes’, before a crunching QOTSA style riff crashes into ‘Chances’, overlaid with a Casablancas falsetto. Finally comes track-come-coda ‘Call It Fate Call It Karma’, a pretty piano-led piece, with both a classical and a Motown edge to it. It’s a final shock, a final end to the endless “old Strokes” carping that Casablancas recently bemoaned on Twitter.

It seems that the for-so-long lost boys are back in the game, back in the gang, but with no desire to rehash past glories. Comedown Machine, like an oxymoronic greatest hits of new releases, brings together the best of the Strokes’ back catalogue, whilst giving them a solid 2013 twist. The garage perfection of Is This It and Room on Fire, the processed sound of First Impressions, the tropical lilt of Angles; it’s all there, along with ideas we’ve never heard before.