Album Review: Cage The Elephant – ‘Melophobia’


What do ‘Losing My Religion’, ‘Twist and Shout’, ‘Mr Brightside’, and a million others have in common? Undeniable, irresistible choruses – a great chorus is the essence of great pop. Catchy doesn’t guarantee quality (see: ‘Moves Like Jagger’) and there’s no need for perfect songs to be chorus-led or even hummable (see also: Kid A). But we can all agree that a sky-high chorus, enclosing a hook big enough for all the gods to hang their coats on, works wonders.

Cage The Elephant don’t think so. Melophobia means ‘fear of music’ – but it might as well have been called chorusophobia. Stepping away from their grungy, alt-blues sound into wider experimentation, their third album is crippled by incredibly generic choruses and forgettable riffs.

 Gone is the grunge-glitch of Thankyou Happy Birthday and the Southern swagger of their debut, with many tracks sporting gentler instrumentation and Matthew Schultz reigning in most of his trademark howls. And in this pop-rock incarnation, Cage The Elephant could use the kind of choruses that ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’ and ‘In One Ear’ did so well. Single ‘Come A Little Closer’ is a fair representation of Melophobia’s flaws –a Babyshambles-style bassline and hushed vocals potter along pleasantly enough, but soon a chord-step kicks in and a basic “anthemic” chorus hamstrings it entirely. A by-the-numbers knockoff, it might get some airplay, but no-one is ever going to lose their voice screaming it. Similarly, ‘Halo’ starts like an American ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, but thanks to a simplistic, banal chorus quickly descends to a depressingly Fratellis/Pigeon Detectives standard.

‘Teeth’, easily the record’s best track, brings a hurricane of feedback, thrash, and distorted vocals. Here, at last, they are recognisably the band who crowdsurfed clear out a Reading tent. Cocksure, Schultz demands “Are you into the beat?!” as Black Lips-worthy guitars churn. A stuttered, bum-note outro and “Aw, shut up and dance”; more like this, and I might have done.

A further nail in the coffin is Melophobia’s terminal struggle for depth; in Schultz’s words, “super inner-reflective songs”. This striving for profundity too often results in immature, faux-meaningful lyrics, typified on ‘Telescope’ – “Time is like a leaf in the wind / Either it’s time well-spent or time I’ve wasted / Don’t waste it” – if ‘Adam’s Song’ moved you to tears, you’ll love this. Alison Mosshart clocks in for the stripped backed White Stripes fuzz-n-thump on ‘It’s Just Forever’, as does a rare hook (yippee!). It’s stolen from the Strokes’ ‘Juicebox’ though, so does it still count? Mosshart’s vocals chime well with Schultz’s, but again the lyrics are dismal (“Maybe we can die together, laying side by side / Even in the afterlife, girl you’ll still be mine”).

It’s a confused effort, with the songwriting faults, misguided lyrics, and the foolish sidelining of their greatest weapon (Schultz’s voice) assassinating the vast majority of tracks. Next time, scrap the cod-philosophy and concentrate on the tunes.


Album Review: Paul Haig – ‘Kube’


Thirty years ago, he was the founder, songwriter and frontman of cult post-punks Josef K. Today, he’s releasing an album that veers from extra-terrestrial glitch to instrumental hip-hop and electroswing. Paul Haig has never been a conformist, so it’s unsurprising that he continues to stretch himself whilst his contemporaries dwell on former glories. Kube, his eleventh solo LP, amply showcases his extreme versatility, covering everything from plastic funk to minimal techno with the kind of unashamed chameleoning worthy of Bowie.

Thematically, regardless of specific genres and influences, Kube is dominated by the sounds of space, and above all, of aliens. On the excellent ‘Cool Pig’, incomprehensible robotic vocals unite a ringing piano intro, an old school hip-hop beat, and a rising synth chorus that has more than a touch of happy hardcore lurking in its DNA. All this, backed by the kind of sound effects that 1990s plastic spaceships used to emit. Ridiculous as it sounds, it works. Equally bizarre are the echoing, liquid beats of ‘Dialog’ – a chaotic soundscape with vocals that seem to sample Ian McKellen reading The Prisoner scripts from within a Martian sandstorm.

From what I’ve written so far, you might not think that Haig is a man who believes that less is more. The Martian beats are intense. But there’s another, completely different, side to Kube that’s less space-techno, more space-jazz! This is intergalactic music, still spacey, but with “world music” influences replacing the electronic beats. ‘Four Dark Traps’ brings tribal tom-toms and didgeridoos, while ‘It’s In’ is all waves of keys and jazz cymbals with little stabs of funk bass and intercuts of taking off planes. The unfamiliar end result is hypnotic, a weird marmite-and-cheese mixture that shouldn’t work but somehow does. Strangest of all is ‘All of the Time’, a weird combination of the album’s internal weird combinations. Lounge music, almost Richard Cheese-like vocals ooze over minimal glitch and a robotic choir. The whole ludicrous affair is topped off with some funky slap bass. It sounds like something that the Star Wars Cantina band would play.

To close, Haig offers us two lengthy instrumental pieces that once again manage to both contrast with, and yet entirely compliment, everything that has come before them. The slow, dubby ‘Torn’ is like a lunar take on ‘The Pills Can’t Help You Now’, while ‘Pack’ collects yawing, seasick synths and micro-percussion to forge interstellar trip-hop.

Find your Air Jordans, kick back, and trip out to these odd and utterly original space jams.

Album Review: Holy Ghost – ‘Dynamics’


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: Moby – ‘Innocents’



From the first swell of warm, gliding synth, this is unmistakeably a Moby record. The spacious soundscapes and disjointed, house-lite percussion could have been lifted from his coffee-table hit Play – it seems we’re going to be partying like it’s 1999 again.

But, maybe in a bid to avoid the mass commercialism that rendered Play so overexposed despite its brilliance (though being the first album in history to have every single song licenced for commercial use didn’t help), Innocents is a less radio-friendly affair. On opener ‘Everything Rises’, the epic swell that previously would have led into an ad-friendly hook destined to launch a million products now simply pushes on, a gentle, looping tsunami of epic synthwaves over those familiar, jutting beats. Later, ‘Saints’ brings the album’s biggest drum-line, pure 90s house, and the synths take off in a hymnal ascent. The indecipherable vocals echo, and another classic Moby hit is born.

That said, much of it is unrecognisable. Anthemic joy dominates the middle of the album, with the Wayne Coyne featuring ‘The Perfect Life’. A bounding euphoria coupled with overblown choral backing and a George Michael-worthy guitar sashay: in isolation, I would never have guessed this was Moby. The lyrics are classic Coyne misdirection, providing that Morrissey/Marr double-whammy of a jubilant melody backed by dark words. Though the first verse deceives with twist-and-shout contentment, soon the content becomes clear: “Little Mikey steps everywhere / Knives in his pockets, bullets in his hair / He has nothing to live for, nothing left to say … Spoons and foil are all he needs, a bed and some china, a lighter and some speed – it will sing you to sleep and it will hit you awake”. Well, all that ecstatic elation had to come from somewhere I guess.

Less in-your-face exultation, but still strongly Flaming Lips-reminiscent is ‘Almost Home’, a woozy, enveloping ambience featuring indie-folker Damien Jurado. The tone is exactly Play, but the hooky drops are no longer present. Elongated and leisurely, it’s more suited to sighing than dancing. Elsewhere, Inyang Bassey guests on the prowling ‘Don’t Love Me’ – a creeping blues jam laden with chips of organ and guitar chirrups and wahs over a beastly beat that calls to mind the lighter side of Elephant.

There follows a plunge into melancholia. Mark Lanegan lends his deep, gravelly presence to ‘The Lonely Night’, a country-influenced lament layered over a generic “Moby” beat. It’s lyrically facile (“So tired wondering around and starting over / No garden grows here now, just a one-leaf cl-ooooh-ver”), but lowers the intensity in time for lengthy coda, ‘The Dogs’. Amidst the meditative pace and whining synths, Moby tells a tale where all his darkest high-vegan prophesies have become reality: “Hope lost to fear and nothing was clear when we lost it all / This is how we tried, this is where it died, this is how we cried, like the dogs left outside”.

So whilst the 90s flavour is strong and those distinctive synths and chord progressions have returned, this isn’t a simple rinse and repeat. There’s a huge range of styles on display, but Innocents remains a remarkably cohesive and creative record, thanks both to Moby’s instrumentation and to the album’s conceptual feel. Not just for dinner parties and Eminem disses after all.


Album Review: Placebo – ‘Loud Like Love’


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.


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?


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


 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: Hot Natured – ‘Different Side of the Sun’


Neo-house, nu-house, nouvelle maison – whatever you want to call it, over the last few years this ultra-glossy, easily accessible take on Chicago’s greatest export has been growing a sizeable fanbase, garnering residencies, and creeping into the mainstream awareness. With a strong late 90s influence, a pop sensibility and the spatial breadth of minimal techno all set to a shiny four-four beat, it can be hypnotic, warm and summery – and Hot Natured are among those who do it best.

The collective, comprising Brit Jamie Jones, Italian Luca C, Chicagoan Lee Foss, and vocalist Ali Love, have been reaping the benefits of several huge “crossover” singles with slots at Glastonbury, Sónar and the Brixton Academy, as well as significant radio airtime and Ibiza residencies. With their Aztec patterned shirts, tans, and of course their widespread success, Hot Natured get a lot of hate – accusations of selling out, of hastening the demise of house, of over catering to the burgeoning American appetite for dance music have all been levelled. So which way will debut LP Different Sides of the Sun got to settle the debate?

The big singles that made the Hot Natured name are all present and correct. The Italo synths and minimal groove of ‘Reverse Skydiving’, the smooth poolside house of ‘Benediction’, and best of all the fantastic throwback Detroit pound of ‘Forward Motion’ have all made it onto their first album – and with such colossal singles already recorded, perhaps it’s no surprise. But we have long left the compact disc era, and big-hitting singles no longer guarantee an album’s success.

Fortunately Jones, Foss, and Luca aren’t quite done yet. ‘Planet Us’ brings swathes of spaced out synths, bouncing bass, and Chic-influenced guitars. Laconic and horizontally chilled, it’s not so far from the spacier sections of Random Access Memories. New single ‘Isis’ brings a jittering harpsichord intro that resonates with scenes from that Skins episode when they went to Morocco and lilting guitars that scream an Ibizan influence. Though it suffers a little lyrically (“High like hieroglyphics”, “River called the Nile […] crocodile smile”), it combines a strong 90s nostalgia with Hot Natured’s trademark sultry fare. Slow but sexy ‘Detroit’ brings a lower BPM and less complex production, but expands into a deeply satisfying groove.

But it’s not all good news. Much of the album suffers, blurring together into an unmemorable body of slick but shallow house – uninspired beats and a middle of the road coast. With three guest spots, Anabel Englund’s vocals are another problem, comparing poorly with Love’s gliding soul melodies and sounding both over processed and all too bland. Different Sides of the Sun is in very real danger of playing it too safe.

Looking back to Jones’ Tracks from the Crypt or his ‘Hungry for the Power’ remix, Foss’s ‘Grinding’ or Infinity Ink’s ‘Infinity’, it’s clear that Hot Natured have far from stretched themselves. They have gone the way of many a supergroup before them; too much laurel-resting and too little innovation.

Album Review: Forest Swords – ‘Engravings’



In an oft-cited XKCD comic strip, writer Randall Munroe demonstrated an easy way of making people of any age feel old; citing a generation-wide cultural touchstone (Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Finding Nemo) and asking if they realised how long ago it had come out. Punch line aside, it made a neat point about our inability to date cultural trends – some releases continue to seem fresh, current, and are consequently assumed recent, whilst others date quickly or fade in appeal, quickly appearing completely outmoded.

Toy Story 3 came out three years ago! As did still-loved records like The Suburbs, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Total Life Forever. The year of LCD’s last release, a year dominated by ‘Love The Way You Lie’ and when The Social Network premièred. 2010 was also when experimental dub began throb in the mainstream’s consciousness – the year of James Blake’s first EPs, Mount Kimbie’s Crooks and Lovers and another producer/composer, Forest Swords’ remarkable debut EP. If anything, the genre has expanded in the intervening years, as attested by the success of both Blake and Mount Kimbie’s 2013 releases. Engravings, Forest Swords’ debut LP and first release since the excellent Dagger Paths, conforms to the pattern – still bewitching, still utterly relevant.


There are many more bedroom producers now than in 2010, and witch-house has become a central hipster genre. But Matthew Barnes, the hermetic Merseysider behind the moniker, still stands out, his distinctive deeply layered ambient trip-hop and haunting dub remaining instantly recognisable. There has been no sudden shift in sound, no Kanye or Foals jump forwards – in fact, having struggled with hearing problems and apparently considered giving up music altogether, Barnes seems to have merely concentrated the essence of his sound. Unsettling drones, complex post-punk guitars and always the rumbling threat of deep bass and pounding percussion combine with ambient recordings and hazy vocals to create the feeling of waking from a half-remembered, half-understood dream. Mixed outside under the Wirral’s threatening skies, Engravings has an undeniable visual quality to it, invoking a grim, elemental nature – a counterpart to Burial’s bleak urban scores.

Though inevitably the album is stronger listened to in whole, with the ebbs and flows of Forest Swords sonic kaleidoscope uninterrupted, there are a few standouts early on. The cinematic ‘Irby Tremors’ puts panpipes and a lazy, pseudo-xx guitar line over a colossal jungle beat to enormous effect, whilst ‘The Weight of Gold’ brings a trilling, very Occidental harpsichord into the mix, with droning synths and the odd reggae bounce keeping it fresh.

On paper, it sounds a mess – on record, the abstraction is absorbing and a refreshingly different listen. With references to house, dub, and instrumental rock all stitched together into a looping, building tapestry that manages to be both visually and emotionally evocative, this is certainly an album that will keep your interest long into the next fad.

Album Review: Phaeleh – ‘Tides’


 Matt Preston is a classically trained musician from Bristol – that’s more than just a fun fact; these two autobiographical details are highly discernible in his work as Phaeleh. That he makes ambient/trip-hop records of course draws comparisons to Massive Attack and Portishead, but there are nods to the post-dubstep of Burial or Zomby and hints of Bonobo to be found as well. His second album Tides is a record that attempts to draw together many electronic influences under its urban ambience.

Mid-album highlight ‘Whistling in the Dark’ encapsulates the album’s central split between hope and fear. Lent a Portishead vibe thanks to guest vocalist Augustus Ghost, who brings the sort of beautiful melancholia that Laura Marling does so well, the gentle lulling melody skips over the faint sub-bass, representing an always linger sense of insecurity. Lyrically, it ranges from the down-right bleak (“Twilight, and the mud begins to crack, you cross your fingers twice behind your back / But your feet start to slip, you stumble and you trip, the sky breaks and the clouds are dripping black”) to an emergent love story (“Hold my hand against the night, show me all the demons left to fight / And I’ll patch up the hole in your heart, and carry on whistling in the dark”), invoking a calm, poetic beauty. The Portishead comparison carries.

Cinematic opener ‘Journey’ is far closer to Mezzanine-era Massive Attack, employing a liquid trip-hop beat over both chopped and unadulterated string samples to hit another gorgeous peak. Elsewhere, towards the album’s close, ‘Never Fade Away’ and ‘Tides’ are in much the same vein, if admittedly slightly less memorable.

By ‘Night Lights’ though, a sombre combination of textures and ticking chimes strung together with a reggae lilt, Tides has begun to show its weak underside. The beat is less interesting, the melody weaker, and while Cian Finn does nothing particularly wrong, the vocals are somewhat forgettable. Phaeleh’s biggest problem has begun to rear its ugly head – the vocalists. ‘Here Comes The Sun’ in particular is an affront to its George Harrison namesake, featuring the kind of high-pitch, technically demonstrative style that so often succeeds on the X-Factor, calling to mind bad 1990s chart house. It’s a break from the rest of the album’s aesthetic, and certainly a failed experiment.

Elsewhere, Preston sticks to ambient instrumentals, with the 7 minute closing coda of ‘Distraction’ a definite highlight. Occasionally it comes close to the classic IDM hazard of sounding too much like lift music, but on the whole it’s enjoyable and well-produced. Overall, I found Tides a somewhat unbalanced listen, with both genuine highs and a few frustrating lows. But hey, you’ve got a computer – you don’t have to listen to whole album in order. The best tracks are excellent, and you can always uncheck the rest.

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


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.