Thursday, 27 October 2011

No-holds-barred maximalism: Rustie takes it to the next level on Glass Swords

First published on Dummy, here's the first part of a review of Glass Swords, the debut from Rustie that's attracted a not insignificant number of digital column inches this autumn. It's a pretty intense listen, and to a certain extent I found it hard to warm to despite being nothing but impressed and intrigued all the way through. I am certainly interested to see how people will feel about this record in a year's time - does it point the way to an ascendant taste for plasticky, crayon-bright sounds, or is this the high watermark of a trend that's reached saturation?

Glass Swords

Following on the heels of Satin Panthers, the recent EP from fellow Glaswegian producer and LuckyMe collaborator Hudson Mohawke, Rustie’s first album proper is a similarly explosive, immersive, star-spangled knockout of a record that can be filed as a companion piece to HudMo’s 2009 debut Butter. While they both share a taste for no-genres-barred maximalism, cascading ’80s synths, ass-wobbling bass and warped lady-vox, on Glass Swords Rustie sees HudMo’s game and raises him, shrugging off the call of the dancefloor in favour of a personal voyage to the weirdest outer limits of timbre, melody, rhythm, texture and memory. And to think they called him dubstep.

Glass Swords gleefully tests your mettle from start to finish. It bulges, it strains, it stretches back and slaps you around with a glossary of shameless retro-funk-pop elements – hollowed out drums, G-funk squelch, pulsing house beats, dirty slap bass and even that horrifying vocal “ooh” last heard all over James Horner’s score for Titanic. The biting clarity of each sound builds a world that seems purely, deliberately digital – a bravely un-trendy move in a climate of analogue reverence, yet rather than seeming cold and artificial, this cut-glass digitalism refracts into an infinity of animated virtual worlds, polygon landscapes and platform games in glorious 8-bit colour.

Continue reading on Dummy...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Purist punk and suspicious mindsets on Iceage debut New Brigade

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Iceage's debut album, New Brigade, for Dummy. I found myself really enjoying it despite its fairly predictable template of scratchy retro punk and confused stabs at shock value (half-hearted references to runes and the KKK, plus a few Harrington jackets and bovver boots thrown in for good measure). Definitely worth a few spins if you're wondering where all the half-decent guitar bands went.

New Brigade
Out on Abeano

Four teenage Danes in Harrington jackets and switchblade smirks have just released their debut album New Brigade in the UK. Back home, Iceage have already attracted an unusual amount of media interest for an underground band of abrasive snotrockers, with local tabloids getting into a familiar fear-mongering froth over bolshy kids making too much racket (“Teenage bullies full of anger and anxiety!” according to one headline, as translated by singer Elias Rønnenfelt).

If alarm bells are ringing, you’re not alone in your suspicions. A supposedly underground band getting mainstream column inches? Who’s bankrolling this stunt? Where’s the guerrilla gig? Are Iceage a corporate Trojan horse for a new strain of piss-weak continental lager? Well, it’s good news: the band’s credentials appear to be clean – or rather, appealingly unclean and genuinely independent. A mood of nihilistic despair and aggression courses through New Brigade as they channel the savage post-punk of Wire and Mission of Burma with the obliterated noise-rock of early '80s no wave or primitive Sonic Youth, although their visual aesthetic is rather less savoury – a dubious tattoo of possibly-quite-fascist neofolk band Death in June has been spotted on guitarist Johan Surrballe, while shallow references to Klansmen the video above and runes are juvenile shock tactics at best. Doubtless these Danes trace their bloodline back to Søren Kierkegaard rather than Hans Christian Andersen, yet there’s little trace of the left-wing (or any-wing) moralising that came as standard in the first wave of punk.

Continue reading here...

Saturday, 1 October 2011

"Shit, I'm dressin' like I was at the Ali-Frazier fight, baby": Shabazz Palaces take London

I planned ahead on this gem and bought my ticket in August. I wasn't wrong: it was rad. Buy the album immediately and play this video LOUD, 'cos that sub bass is unforgiving:

Shabazz Palaces at White Heat, Madame Jojo’s
27 September 2010

Hooded and hidden behind shades, Palaceer Lazaro (or Ishmael ‘Butterfly’ Butler, formerly of 90s hip hop trio Digable Planets) commands his debut London performance as Shabazz Palaces, a show that’s sold out twice over judging by the jostling and jamming in White Heat’s basement. The Black Up LP came out on Sub Pop this summer to immediate acclaim as well as curiosity as the label’s only hip hop release to date, an anomaly partly explained by Butler’s roots in Seattle but perhaps also signalling some continuing degradation of genre boundaries for internet-dependent music fans.

Flanked by percussionist Tendai Maraire, who chips in on vocals and choreographed hand gestures, Butler backs his rhymes with raw, weighty bass, noodling mbira, jazz piano cut-ups and other freeform eclectica. Drenched in wet reverb, the lyrics are too often buried out of earshot, but 'Recollections of the Wraith’ (see video above) finds a sweet spot almost unexpectedly with its simple come-on (“Clear some space out, so we can space out”) and startling melismatic vocal sample, as a slow jam ripples through the crowded bodies. An uncompromising and electrifying taste of a musician at the top of his game, a full 17 years after winning his first Grammy.

The blank face of melodrama: Can I get some back-up on Zola Jesus, please?

Everyone loves Zola Jesus, huh? I could barely find a bad review of this record, which must mean one of two things: either I am hopelessly out of step with what's hott + relevant + buzzy, like all these witchy house and draggy-gaze and don't-call-it-goth-but-it-is-really non-genres of recent months/years; OR (and I prefer this one), I am simply today's prophetic manifestation of cosmic musical truths, a Pop Nostradamus of the 21st century transmitting flippant critical insights and pointing at the falling sky while common-or-garden bloggers flap around mindlessly, recycling press releases and performing their ablutions.


It seems to me that Zola Jesus has cut corners artistically by releasing an album so soon after her last and failing to offer any noticeable change of mood or direction. Her voice can only bring out an intuitive response in the listener - you really do either love it or hate it, and for me it happens to be the latter, in the strongest possible way. It just seems so false, melodramatic yet blankly superficial, a hyperreal 21st century performance of a performance with emotions boiled down into a string of signs and off-the-shelf vocal tics. But as ever, I'm open to crits. What am I missing?

First published in Loud And Quiet

Zola Jesus
Souterrain Transmissions/Sacred Bones Records

How to make a Zola Jesus record in next to no time: Take one facsimile of Marina Diamandis’ voice. Extract the froggish tics and cod-operatic throatiness; discard rest, including consonants. Apply a layer of chest-thumping histrionics and allow to dry until almost transparent. Add a few coarse chunks of piquant instrumentation - prepared piano and re-animated toybox, for instance (or whatever presets you have to hand). Dust with upside-down crosses and a few bumps of unidentifiable low-grade dust; serve on a bed of ripped tights to wide-eyed fashion interns and MP3 bloggers. Any leftovers can be fobbed off on little sisters feeling down about their GCSE results.

Look, I hate to be flippant. But if Zola Jesus can’t be bothered to put any effort into her third studio album (the second only came out last August), then neither can I. A torturously tedious listen.

Never coming full circle: Pinkunoizu at White Heat

First published in Loud And Quiet 

Pinkunoizu at White Heat, Madame Jojos
20 September 2011

Despite the Japanglish name, Pinkunoizu bring their filigree rhythms and hypnotic movements from the slightly less distant climes of Copenhagen, working with what appears to be a standard issue post-rock vocabulary of drums, guitars, violin and more guitars. But with a mission statement to “never come full circle, to move hazily in bended ellipses”, the five-piece deftly sidestep the earnest bombast of similarly equipped bands in favour of a tightly-balanced propulsion that's taut yet fluid, dense yet ephemeral. Like a bullet train speeding past Mt Fuji, you might say.

You can taste Mogwai in the soft vocals and slowly evolving guitar phrases of quieter tracks, while the spectre of shoegaze is invoked at its most inspired and least dirgy as the set builds louder, faster and tighter. Battling guitars are couched delicately inside the mix rather than squealing for attention over the top, much like Yo La Tengo at their most rasping and rugged (there's even the lesser-spotted female drummer to stretch the comparison) or the Velvet Underground on the viola-versus-guitar jam of 'Hey Mr Rain'. The Peep EP, a more delicate and exotic experience than Pinkunoizu's live show, is out in November on Full Time Hobby.

Garage rock: the gift that keeps on giving. Now from The People's Temple

First published in Loud And Quiet

The People's Temple
Sons of Stone 
Out on Hozac

Another month, another Jim Jones-inspired band of psych-pop mop-toppers. Unlike Cults though, The People's Temple have a defiantly macho take on '60s garage rock, more in the vein of The Seeds and the Count Five than The Shangri-Las.

Sons of Stone, the Michigan band's debut, is like opening a dust-covered box of warped 45rpm wax salvaged from Lenny Kaye's garage, a loving recreation of that cherished lo-fi Nuggets sound, complete with simplistic pentatonic riffage, trebly bathroom-echo vocals and drums recorded in a concrete stairwell. Seems like Iggy dropped by to give a production masterclass too, with everything whacked right up into the red for some appallingly distorted guitars that couldn't be more faithful to the era.

While the first third plods along predictably, tunes like 'Starstreamer' and 'Sons of Stone (Revisited)' indulge in some commendably rough-edged proto-punk that any Roky Erickson fan would find easy to love.

Sweet like instant-mix pancakes, Givers release debut LP

Givers: Happy, and a little bit clappy
First published in Loud And Quiet

In Light
Out on Island in the UK, Glassnote in the US

Givers achieved highly sought-after buzzband status at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, TX, and it’s pretty easy to see why on the Louisiana band’s strikingly competent and unabashedly joyous debut. Opener and lead single ‘Up Up Up’ (which they performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in June, another rite of passage in the journey to buzzdom these days) is as sugary-sweet and over-egged as instant mix pancakes, spilling over with enough colour and melody to keep most bands going for a whole album.

The songs range from intricate to kaleidoscopic to bewildering, stitching Longstreth guitars, fragmented percussion, properly good vocals and flavours of zydeco (the folk style of their home state) into a skewed pop record that should appeal to fans of Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend. When a debut this solid comes along, you can’t fail to be impressed, although whether its sweetness and light will hold up over the long winter remains to be seen.

Ex-presidential San Fran gloom-pop: New songs from Fops

First published in Loud And Quiet

Fops, For Centuries EP
Available on cassette or MP3 from Monotreme Records

Following last year’s full-length Yeth Yeth Yeth, the Bay Area underground super-group Fops offer up this hefty EP, which at seven tracks and 43 minutes is even more generous than your standard long-player. On the other hand, closing track ‘Ronald Wilson Reagan’ takes up half of that running time with a lo-fi soundscape that evolves like bacterial cultures on a Petri dish, easing from phased guitar chords threaded with birdsong to splintered loops of distortion and vocal drones, all washed up like driftwood on a California shore.

It’s an interesting Side B but the first six tracks will be more familiar to fans of Fops’ alma maters, Thee More Shallows and Ral Partha Vogelbacher, mixing the hollow mechanics of early new wave with fuzzy-edged fingerpicking and some choice creepy lyrics: “I shot a parakeet after it called to me, half in Dutch and half in English.”

For Centuries is a gorgeously far-off and faded collection of gloom-pop made for cloudy day beachcombing, having far more in common with the bleak horizons of Echo and the Bunnymen than the current West Coast wave of affluent teenage tokers.