28 June 2009

Transformers 2 hype

So I suddenly really want to see the new Transformers film. I didn't like the first one, to say the least. However, a couple of things make me want to check out the sequel. Thing one: this review, written by a fellow internet person, makes it sound accidentally highbrow. I love things like that. You know, like Alanis Morissette's 'Ironic', to which you can apply numerous layers of analysis. Accidental genius. Far preferable to New Hollywood's penchant for attempting brilliance and achieving dog poo.

We also have Mark Kermode's concise evaluation, which is the first really good thing he's done since his Exorcist review. And that was over a decade ago. Something tells me old Mark is a Dapper Dan man.

Anyway. Me throughsilver want to see new film!

15 June 2009

The Duke Spirit

This was a thing I was writing for Fact's 'new talent' segment. It got kiboshed when it turned out they've been around for a few years. But, you know, I wrote it, and I love their last album, so it's going here. I might write more about them, when I stop forgetting what it is I'm supposed to be writing.

***

We at FACT love a nice bit of femme-fronted rock. We cried when Be Your Own Pet! split, and probably also when Sleater-Kinney did, too. We’re emotional like that. Thankfully, the Duke Spirit are here to return a bit of grit and weight to a musical not-scene that too often strays on the side of twee (Howling Bells and Ting Tings, we mean you). Not overly new, TDS released their second album, Neptune, early last year. Produced by Chris Goss, the man who gave Kyuss and QOTSA albums their sound, it’s dark and moody to an almost PJ Harvey or Mark Lanegan extent, and with ludicrously strong songwriting.

Breakthrough single ‘The Step and the Walk’ appeared on MTVs ‘The Hills’, which may turn off the elitists, but this is sonically miles away from that show’s usual Cali-emo soundtrackers. It kicks off like a sultry take on Tom Waits’ Wire-opening ‘Way Down in the Hole’, and blossoms into a king-sized chorus. Aside from the cult-cool colleagues, their secret weapon is singer Liela Moss. Specifically: she can sing, really well. It’s refreshing that Liela riffs around the basic melody of a given song with an aplomb and ferocity so lacking in an age where singers cling desperately to set notes like grim, Pro-Tools-programmed, death. Their current album is an individual, perfectly paced gem. Their next one should be a monster.

06 June 2009

Tobacco – Fucked Up Friends

Anticon (2009)

Not content with releasing Eating Us earlier this summer, Black Moth Super Rainbow mainman Tobacco goes weirdly prolific for a solo release on Californian label Anticon.

BMSR’s (those initials so make me think of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club despite, you know, being different) last album, Eating Us, was fairly good. Pretty much the definition of pastoral electronica, it presented a cleaner sound for the band, as they - presumably unintentionally - filled the Boards-shaped gap that has opened since 2006.

When I say Fucked Up Friends is also rather Boardsish, but far more convincing an album in its own right, it could seem confusing. Why, for instance, bother releasing two albums when one is so clearly superior to the other? The answer lies in the fact that, while Eating Us is efficiently shiny, albeit hollow, confection, Fucked Up Friends is rather more lairy beast. As its name implies. But this is thankfully no switch to the lagered-up, deluded ladrocktronica of, say, Kasabian.

No, FUF is lairy in a good way. It’s reminiscent of Boards Of Canada in thick synth and solid beats only. Unlike so many practitioners who think they can take us to a beautiful place in the country with some lazy boom-bap and analogue tones, Tobacco makes the aesthetic his own. Out of the window flies any pretence of hauntology or wack po-facedness. Instead, beats and fuzzed melody are the prime currency.

And it’s great. It’s punk rock electro, only without the stress of trying to keep up with a restless Kid606 or Phantomsmasher. This is pop music in full force, but without the usual condescension that accompanies such a description, or the lameness of a La Roux or Passion Pit. Pop-punk electro? Well it’s gone in 36 minutes and you’re left with a pure high, much like the imminent Ear Pwr record, so why not. It’s Anticon through and through, but without any emo hand-wringing or half-baked politics.

The revolutionary forces of long-play dubstep are massing on the autumnal horizon, with their thrilling brand of darkness and murk. Until then, we have the summer, both physically and musically. And while that hard rain may soon fall, here is a shot of aural vitamin C to help us make the most of the rising mercury.

05 June 2009

Isis – Wavering Radiant

Conspiracy Records (2009)

Doyens of the post-metal scene bring forth their fifth full-length album. Are Isis still bringing the celestial goods, or is their radiance wavering?

It takes a while to realise, but Wavering Radiant is a different Isis album. The last time this happened was 2002, when Aaron Turner’s full time job (apart from running Hydra Head, natch) transformed, butterfly style, from brutal sludge metal to something altogether more delicate. Celestial to Oceanic was one of the more eye-opening musical metamorphoses of the decade, which meant the conservative follows-up, Panopticon and In the Absence of Truth, greatly disappointed.

Nothing seemed to be going on with the last brace; the music gradually watered down until stagnant. Fans of metal’s more brutal side longed for a new Old Man Gloom album, which might at least give Turner a chance to let his musical hair down, away from the pressure of being post-metal standard-bearer.

Despite initial listens, Wavering Radiant brings the goods. Listening to it is an actual pleasure, rather than some grim rite of passage one must undergo in order to hold an opinion. The Isis sound, debuted proper on the 2002 album, is still present and correct, but only in as much as they are Isis. To diss them for that in itself would be akin to complaining if Dizzee Rascal raps on his next album. There are, after all, more pertinent reasons to criticise this album.

While the opening songs are fair enough, and the album is one of those that improve as they progress, the mood is much of a muchness. There is clean, skeletal, metal throughout, with change in neither pace nor demeanour. We get the obligatory quiet bits and loud bits, but that dynamic has now become a singular entity. It is expected, and we hope for more than this binary these days.

There are times when Isis subtly alter their mood, most interestingly when they take influence from outside. Tool’s Adam Jones apparently plays on two songs, though it’s unclear, to listen, which these are. However, the LA band’s influence permeates. The basslines on Wavering Radiant bounce and jolt with that familiar, elastic, property, while the riffs occasionally shift into rhythmic intensity. The seismic six-string shifts on songs like ‘Hand of the Host’ and ‘20 Minutes/40 Years’ are the sort not heard from this band in years. It is no coincidence that these are highlights.

Turner’s vocals are growing as well, sounding eerily like Steve Brodsky, from Isis’ peers Cave In. These journeys into melody are so successful (vocal harmonies, no less) that you wonder why Turner still bothers with the pseudo-death metal vocals at all. They add little to the music and must serve to turn off more potential fans than they attract.

A slow-burning success, Wavering Radiant should satisfy fans and those new to the band. But while subtle developments are all well and good, it would be nice to have one of these big name metal bands actually take a real chance with a new album. Modern metal needs a shift like ‘the black album’, Oceanic, or Cave In’s Jupiter, again. Such a move might threaten the current culture of packed gigs and vinyl release insta-sellouts, but we know what to expect from everybody at this stage of the game. Might the impending sunnO)) opus buck this trend of professional predictability?

04 June 2009

Metric – Fantasies

Metric (2009)

Broken Social scenester Emily Haines returns with another in a long line of power pop albums. But does it grow up and blow us away, or should we forget it? Err, in people?

Fantasies begins as well as you could hope; it anchors into your brain with pop hooks so strong that your ears bleed pure sucrose. Single ‘Help I’m Alive’ should probably be renamed ‘Beating Like a Hammer’ considering how catchy its bridge is.

‘Twilight Galaxy’ (the name of the next Nintendo hit?) exemplifies the light melancholic theme permeating this record. ‘Come on baby, I seen all the demons that you got’, vocalist Emily Haines sighs. The song is so sexually pent-up and yearning that it comes off like a femme synth-pop version of Greg Dulli, from Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers (hey, I spy a connection). And that, my friends, is a good thing.

Our Emily is a bit of a musical chameleon, though. Just as naturally as she recalls 1965 on one tune, she sounds like Sophie Ellis-Bextor (when Soph, is on point, and singing the mighty fine ‘Catch You’ a couple of years back) on the next.

When this record works, it seriously brings the brilliance. ‘Sick Muse’s chorus is ridiculously affecting: not just in the heartfelt rise and fall of the melody, or even the way Emily’s voice softens as it rises. The most emotionally connecting aspect of it is her enunciation. The ‘everybody’ that starts each line is delivered in a touching way that you’re sold on the rest of the chorus. It’s hard to say why it’s so touching, but all that matters in the moment is the fact that it is.

‘I’m not suicidal, I just can’t get out of bed’, from ‘Satellite Mind’ continues the blink-and-you-miss-them, pop-drenched expressions of pain. It’s emotional intensity dressed up as shallowness, which pretty much never fails. See also: Gnarls Barkley’s ‘it’s not just good / it’s great depression’ and Wilt’s ‘see me standing naked in the pain’. On paper none of these lines seem especially good, but it’s the delivery that makes them.

And that’s what makes Fantasies as a whole: the album falls prey to the power pop curse of inconsistency (even the much-loved Weezer debut is only half a classic album), but Haines’ strength of will holds it all together. While it doesn’t quite match the under-rated – in some circles – last Paramore album, Fantasies is compelling and charismatic.

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