Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2013...

1.  Deerhunter - Monomania

Deerhunter's "nocturnal garage" record has got to be my favourite release of the past year, the sound of Bradford Cox and co. just not giving a fuck and dropping the ambience that they showcased in their previous albums.  On the whole, it's straightforward, dirty rock & roll music and it provided a vastly different first listen to their previous efforts.  'Neon Junkyard', 'Dream Captain', 'Pensacola' 'Back to The Middle' and 'Leather Jacket II' all sound like Cox relishing in his frontman status, living out his Joey Ramone fantasy, his raw, distorted vocals sounding as twisted as ever.  There is still sophistication present despite the serrated feel of the album, and the closer 'Punk' is probably my favourite song of the year.  The way it grows from a calm hum to a feedback-looped and chaotic finish, it's wonderful.  I just wish it went on for longer, into a typically Deerhunter krautrock outro that goes on for ages.  Unfortunately it doesn't, but it just means the band have left me wanting more.  'For a year, I was queer, I had conquered all my fears".  Truly brilliant.

2.  The Strokes - Comedown Machine

Angles was a bit hit and miss but Comedown Machine showed that The Strokes are back on form again.  I loved the poppier direction on Angles, and it's been carried on in some ways into their latest work.  Jules's vocals are stunning, with him straining into falsetto at almost any opportunity and showing off an impressive range in the process.  There's the usual 70's and 80's rock/pop leanings and retro vibes throughout, with some futuristic surprises too, such as album highlight 'Happy Ending' and the funky opener 'Tap Out'.  It's been really great to hear one of my favourite bands delivering true quality once again, and I hope they continue in the same direction on the back of this memorable LP.

3.  Bosnian Rainbows - Bosnian Rainbows

I was anticipating this album for almost a year, having seen the band play the Deaf Institute in September of 2012 and having my face blown across the dancehall.  Teri Gender-Bender is the best frontwoman on the planet and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is, well, Omar Rodriguez-fucking-Lopez.  The album is a weird and wonderful prog-pop krautrock odyssey, driven by the rhythmic God that is Deantoni Parks, who drums whilst providing the bass via a synthesiser, and the finished result is just produced to perfection.  'Dig Right in Me' and 'Morning Sickness' are just... amazing.  Two of the best things I've heard all year.  There is a funky, robotic feel to the whole thing that is shattered by some heart-in-mouth guitar moments from Rodriguez-Lopez, and it just sounds unique, like no other band I've listened to before.  And Gender-Bender's stream of consciousness lyrics are beautiful.  She comes off like a fucked up, futuristic she-Jim Morrison.  JUST FUCKING LISTEN TO IT.

4.  Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Probably Arcade Fire's best album, from a band that are constantly changing and upping the ante with each now offering.  James Murphy's production isn't wasted, with some of the songs on the album sounding like the dance-rock stadium fillers he wrote with LCD Soundsystem.  The basslines are tight and groovy, you can almost hear Murphy shouting at the bass player "less is more!"  'Flashbulb Eyes' is perfect, like an outtake from a Talking Heads show performed for a voodoo tribe, and to be honest the first six or seven songs are masterpieces and contain such variety.  The second half of the record is great too but the first half alone is reason enough for this to be fourth on my list.  'You Already Know' is one of the best songs I've ever heard.  Bowie makes a cameo appearance on the title track but his presence is much more than his guest vocal: there are splashes of the Thin White Duke all over, with a few Scary Monsters (& Super Creeps) vibes thrown in.  Just an absolute joy of a record.

5.  Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II

II came out right at the start of the year and I instantly knew it'd be on this list.  I got into UMO about a year earlier, being a bit of a latecomer to their debut album, and totally dug their 60's psychadelia and catchy, poppy melodies.  I didn't think this album could be as good as it actually is, and must have played it 100 times during the early months of 2013.  It's funny, I don't really rate the first and last tracks ('From The Sun' and 'Secret Xtians') but everything in between is fucking amaaaaaazing.  The singles are memorable but my favourites are 'The Opposite of Afternoon' (joyous), 'No Need For a Leader' (proggy rock & roll) and 'Faded in The Morning' (dark), all truly colossal tracks, showing off Ruban Nielson's spectacular guitar chops and strung-out, at times piercing vocals.  I wish that the 'Swim & Sleep (Like a Shark) b-side 'Waves of Confidence' had made it onto the final cut, as it is an unbelievably trippy piece of krautrock mastery.  I just hope he doesn't leave it too long for another record.

6.  Kanye West - Yeezus

This album shocked and surprised me when I first heard it.  I loved the new direction though, and the boisterous but minimalistic production.  Daft Punk did the first couple of songs, and you can tell.  The best moments for me are the outlandish ones, like opener 'On Sight' and the ultra-political 'New Slaves', and I love the contrast when the calm, soulful moments come, like the emotional ending to the latter, dripping in autotune.  'Bound 2' is easily one of the greatest hip-hop moments of 2013, and the parody video by Seth Rogen and James Franco cements its legacy.  Kanye pisses me off sometimes with some of the ridiculous shit he says, but at the same time I admire him for it, because it seems he genuinely cares about music as a whole.  Lou Reed praised Yeezus, and he's one of my biggest heroes, just as passionate and self-assured during his lifetime as Kanye is now.  Arrogant, I guess ya could call it.  But when they're that fucking good, who can blame them?

7.  Daughn Gibson - Me Moan

Gibson is definitely the least known musician on my list this year, an odd country & western-meets-spooky John Maus alchemist of beautiful and haunting sounds.  I loved his debut but this one is on a par with it.  There is so much range to his sound despite the ever-present splashes of country music, and bagpipes even make it onto this record via 'Mad Ocean'.  'Phantom Rider' is my favourite song, and his baritone drawl is epitomised perfectly on it.  Other highlights are 'The Pisgee Nest' (sinister as shit) and 'You Don't Fade' (weird vocal-sampling, moody and all the better for it).  He's just a great artist and deserves to be bigger than he is.

8.  !!! - THR!!!ER

I LOVE !!!  Barely any of my friends are into them which is disappointing because I love ranting on about them at any given opportunity.  Yeah, they can be a bit corny at times, but they're just so fun and energetic and they write fantastic funk-punk numbers.  I've never had the pleasure of seeing them live, sadly, but I can't wait till I do because their gigs look insane.  They're a bunch of acid-tripping, pill-popping party animals, or maybe they WERE, as they aren't spring chickens anymore, with the enigmatic singer Nic Offer being in his early 40's now.  Their previous album Strange Weather, Isn't It? was brilliant but this one is probably even better and I'm so glad it lived up to my high expectations, as I often have a tendency to over-excite myself about these things.  Highlights are 'Even When The Water's Cold' (previously titled 'Byron' on an episode of Pitchfork's +1 series), 'Fine Fine Fine' (Human League-esque), 'Except Death' and 'Careful'.  A nice thing to know (for me) is that John Frusciante saw them live once and loved them so much that he invited them to open for the Chili Peppers.  Somebody, please embrace this band for how good they are then I can have someone to discuss them with!

9.  The Flaming Lips - The Terror

The Lips followed their epic masterpiece Embryonic (and a lot of messing about with 24 hour songs etc. in between) with the bleak, doom-filled but still scarily beautiful The Terror.  In their back catalogue we can hear happy, elated rock-pop music, but you won't find any of that here.  Apparently multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd relapsed back into heroin use during the creation of this record, and Wayne Coyne (who also had a bad time, splitting from his wife of 25 years) says that it definitely affected the mood.  It's stark, minimalistic (at times) and tortured, but there are still some uplifting moments, just not very many of them at all.  The message is that there is love, but ultimately we are all fucked and everything will end.  Wow.  I love it personally, but if you want to tackle it make sure you're packing some Kleenex.

10.  Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap

What a weird and wonderful album.  Chance The Rapper is an odd, quirky, dynamic MC/singer and I was captivated by his unpredictable style and song-craft throughout this record.  Chance is like a cartoon character at times, making childish noises and throwing "na na na na na naaahs" in whenever he feels like it, but the best parts for me are the curveball moments, like the dark router route that 'Pusha Man' takes when it mutates into it's second half.  It becomes a lament about young life ending too quickly, a paranoid and sad tale shrouded in weed smoke.  On the flipside, we have the super feel good hit 'Juice' and the charming, sweet 'Cocoa Butter Kisses', so it's not all doom and gloom, in fact far from it.  It's a nice, steady album about reflection with some fantastic bars from Chance and his guests (Ab Soul, Action Bronson, Childish Gambino).  It got the recognition it deserved from the world press and was championed by sites like Complex, so things are looking up for Chance.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Peter Hook & The Light @ KOKO, Camden


with support from Modern Blonde...

Hooky has taken his new band The Light around the world on a number of occasions to bring the seminal Joy Division albums Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Still to international audiences, to positive critical acclaim. The band decided to change the theme and ultimately the sound of their performance by progressing onto the first two New Order albums, Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies which they played in their entirety on two occasions last week (three if you include their warm-up gig in Cardiff). I went to the 2nd leg at the Manchester Cathedral but I also made the trip down South for their opening gig...

It was a freezing night in Camden but the same couldn't be said inside the majestic KOKO club, a grand ballroom draped in rich red velvet. The stage was set for the opening act, Manchester's Modern Blonde (Adam & Tom Greenhalgh & Ben Silver), with this set to be their biggest performance yet. The band introduced themselves to a totally new audience with a 6-song set mainly consisting of fresh material they had written in the past 6 months. Usually a 3-piece, they added Adam Saylaby and Sebastien Perrin to the line-up on bass and guitar duties with the intent of fleshing out their sound for the big stage. This worked a great deal, and the band showed that they don't have to be restricted to the small venues in which they'd been playing prior to these shows.

Adam and Tom G. confidently delivered their eccentric vocals to an at first bewildered, but later impressed seasoned London audience and each member looked completely at home in the impressive, respected venue. Their dark, unusual music was a perfect opening to Hooky & The Light's set, and when they announced that the merch table was decorated with their free full-length albums, they flew like hot cakes. It was lovely to see new fans embracing their eclectic sound once their set was over.
Then the lights dimmed and Hooky marched on stage to his loyal fans, with his band in toll (his son and bassist Jack Bates, guitarist Nat Wason, drummer Paul Kehoe and keyboardist Andy Poole) ready to launch into the haunting opener, the 'Ceremony' B-Side 'In A Lonely Place', which they did with such admirable force that anybody who has doubted Hooky's abilities or motives in bringing this music back to the live circuit should really get on YouTube. If it were simply a tribute act then yes, such negativity would be understandable, but the material belongs to Hooky as much as any of the other key players and his reworking of it really gives the songs a new lease of life. New Order are doing practically the same thing in the other camp but what they are lacking is the fierce intensity of The Light's performances.
There is a real, raw Joy Division edge to the songs that hasn't been heard before, and paired with Hooky's growling vocals it gives a new twist to the early New Order songs. Especially on tracks like 'Ceremony' which we are used to hearing Bernard Sumner sing in a higher key; Hooky snarled through them in true punk fashion. The band smashed through Movement in its entirety, Hooky showing that despite being 56 he still has that pure energy exuding from him. Hooky played more bass during these shows than on the previous Joy Division-orientated gigs - perhaps he felt more pressure standing in Ian Curtis's shoes than in Sumner's, which is understandable.
After a short interlude, the band returned to the stage for 'Mesh', 'Cries & Whispers' and the euphoric 'Everything's Gone Green' before launching into Power, Corruption & Lies. The sound in KOKO was truly astounding - me and my gang were on the very top level (the place is fucking massive in height from the inside) which must have been at least 50 ft high, but our view was pristine and we were stull in full force of the throbbing bass dripping from the fantastic sound system. Kehoe's drumming was captivating, switching between the primal pounding of his kit to the crystal-clear electronic set-up. There was a real variety to the show thanks to the range of songs and their different, unique vibes. Hooky even brought out the melodica for 'Age of Consent' and a couple of other tracks, which sounded awesome. Jack held the bassline fort, confidently strumming away at the iconic, groundbreaking melodies which his father is so renowned for, but every so often Hooky would burst into action, rocking out atop stack amps whilst his hungry admirers leapt at him.
There was an unexpected interlude in the shape of 'The Beach', the odd but infectiously funky reworking of 'Blue Monday' which gave the band a quick break before they ran back on for the encore. It was also fitting as it brought the show to a close in true electronic, New Order style. The band treated the audience to 'Hurt', 'Temptation' and the universal classic 'Blue Monday' before thanking the ecstatic crowd and slipping off-stage. Once again, Hooky held a proud V-sign to the naysayers.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Top 10 albums of 2012...

1. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes

There's no question that I listened to this album more than any other throughout 2012, and despite the bias of me being a huge fan of all things Ariel, it genuinely stands up as a worthy victor.  It's out there, it's dark and it's goofy, but it still glows with that familiar magic we heard back on Before Today and all of his other previous releases.  'Symphony of The Nymph' and 'Baby' have taken me through the second half of the year, and so in addition to some other unique and captivating moments, the result is Mature Themes, my number 1 release for 2012.

2. Tame Impala - Lonerism

After 2 years of hammering their debut, Innerspeaker, the wait had began to take it's toll for Tame Impala's next offering.  Thankfully came an album that blew me away the first time, but then continued to bedazzle for months and months to come.  With huge Led Zep drumbeats and an ever-present haze of psychadelic prog-pop-rock madness, the album's infectious riffs and gorgeous vocals gripped me from start to finish and continue to do so.

3. Kendrick Lamar - good kid m.A.A.d city

I hadn't really heard much of Kendrick Lamar before his major label debut dropped, but like all of the albums on this list, it made an instant impact.  With a great blend of chilled out, mellow jams such as 'Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe' and 'Money Trees' and the thrilling street parable of 'The Art of Peer Pressure', Compton's Lamar has already made his footprint in modern hip-hop.  I can only say I feel a bit sorry for him - the amount of pressure he will recieve building upto his 2nd proper release is surely going to be monumental.

4. Grizzly Bear - Shields

Easily their best album in my opinion - the band just grow and grow with every release.  A nice, modest 10 songs that feels so much more in length due to the grand ambition and epic proportion it exudes as a whole, Shields could definitely wear the term "masterpiece".  Swashbuckling guitars, amazingly large drums and an unusual, medieval vibe throughout makes it sound like it was written and composed hundreds of years ago.  Lucky that Ed Droste's vocals soothe and ache on every track, taking the controlled chaos down a notch into stunningly sincere territory.  Opener 'Sleeping Ute' and the MASSIVE closer 'Sun in Your Eyes' stand out as my favourites, alongside the peculiar 'Gun Shy'.

5. Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes

One of the weirder albums on my top 10.  I only got into FlyLo a couple of months ago but he has dominated my recent musical intake in a big way.  All 4 albums are great but I think this has to the best.  Sensual, funky, a little foggy at times but always melodic, interesting and worthy of your attention.  Straight from the opener 'All In' you are guided on a cosmic journey through space with the genius that is Steven Ellison, swirling via heavy beats and slick jazz grooves.  All I can say is: listen to this album.  Embrace it.  And spread the word.

6. John Frusciante - Letur-Lefr EP

OK, so it's not strictly an album, but Frusciante's EP (that preceded his latest full-length PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone) stands up there with the best LP's of 2012.  An unpredictable (as always), twisting, turning ride through electronica, breakbeat and other experimental sounds for a renowned guitarist to explore, the EP is one of the most unusual things I have listened to all year.  With a little help from his wife Nicole Turley (of Swahili Blonde), friend RZA and a couple of Wu-Tang affiliates, Frusciante manages to delve even further into uncharted territory, which says a lot considering he has a plethora of other equally fascinating material as a solo artist.  The track 'FM' also shows that if he focused his sites more specifically towards hip-hop, there would be no reason he couldn't shape-shift once again into other genres.

7. Ty Segall - Twins

It was a struggle to choose which of Segall's 3 fantastic releases of 2012 would make my list, as all of them blew me away.  I was introduced to the music of Ty over summer by my dear friend Luke, who was new to the San Franciscan's music himself.  We we were both hooked and I went on to devour all of his material (which is a lot for a young musician), seeing him live twice in Manchester within a few months.  Twins is probably the most straightforward of the the 2012 trilogy, filled with stripped down glam rock foot-stompers and balls-out garage carnage.  But whilst it is more accessible, it's still as impressive as Hair and Slaughterhouse.

8. Paul Banks - Banks

Technically Banks' 2nd solo release, after the Julian Plenti moniker he used from 2009, Banks doesn't exactly break new ground or sound massively different to his other material, but his voice could be the main reason for this - it's hard not to associate Banks with Interpol, but for me the reason is because they are just too iconic in their sound.  Banks does step away from Interpol in his solo writing in some respects - his songs swim away from the strictly post-punk stadium atmospherics into softer, more poignant offerings.  'The Base' is huge, 'Young Again' has one of the simplest but most effective choruses of the year, 'Arise Awake' oozes charm and sex appeal, and instrumental 'Lisbon' is cold as ice.  Cannot wait for my 4th sighting of Banks in the flesh when he plays at Sound Control in January.

9. Royal Headache - Royal Headache

Sydney's Royal Headache released their first album this year, which consists of mostly short and highly melodic punk songs that possess such soul and elation that I had to include it in my top 10.  The thing that will strike you most is the singer's voice: he goes by the name of Shogun and his husky, throaty but beautiful vocals will blow your face off.  He croons in the Beatles-y 'Distant & Vague', he shouts in the urgent rocker 'Girls' and he pleads with passion in 'Never in Love'.  A truly talented singer, his lyrics are complemented by a tight band who hammer their instruments when necessary but caress them lovingly when the time arises, which can be seen in the stunning instrumental 'Wilson Street'.  12 songs long, Royal Headache's debut is instant and snappy without being stingy, and I'll be listening to it for some time to come.

10. Death Grips - The Money Store

The first of the Sacramento crew's 2 releases of 2012, The Money Store struck me as being a more interesting and exciting album than NO LOVE DEEP WEB.  Whilst it relies on more complicated and gimmicky components than NO LOVE's raw, stripped down punk output, there seems to be more layers and more reasons for repeat listens on the tracks.  The sheer euphoria of 'The Fever (Aye Aye)' alone puts it on the map, whilst the kick in the bollocks that is 'I've Seen Footage' is another contender for track of the summer.  With The Money Store we really got to see how dark Death Grips could be, their frightening punk-rap project shining brightest when covered in murk, flowing over deep basslines and shrouded in mystique despite the insistent bellows of Stefan Burnett.  And live, well, they were just fucking insane.

Saturday, 13 October 2012


There's been plenty of speculation on the web this past week about Death Grips' second release of 2012, NO LOVE DEEP WEB which they supposedly gave away for free in a big "fuck you" to their label, Epic, who wanted to push it back to 2013.  Is this the truth after all?  Are Death Grips really the crazy, "power to the people" punk rockers that they make out to be?  Or was it all just a big PR stunt to boost public opinion of the experimental hip-hop outfit from Sacramento?  I'm not particularly bothered, all I care about is what the album sounds like, and I have to say after my first listen I wasn't blown away.  Repeat plays have, however, changed my mind, and although it didn't initially scorch my face off like April's The Money Store did, it has made me realise how serious Death Grips are and has also made me recognise the amount of potential they possess.

Before even listening to the album, the most noticable element of discussion is the artwork.  Adorned on the cover, bold as brass, is the semi-erect penis belonging to an unknown white male, with NO LOVE DEEP WEB scribbled across it in marker pen.  The alternative cover which I came across on the web is of a man's legs, his socks protruding from underneath his jeans, adorned with the message: "SUCK MY DICK".  I think we can figure out the message Death Grips are trying to purvey...

We open with 'Come Up and Get Me', which throbs and stabs under frontman MC Ride's (real name Stefan Burnett) exhausted, urgent gasps.  We haven't really seen (or should that be heard?) him in this light before, as his vocals generally consist of overly-confident yells and screams, causing the vulnerability he shows in the album's opener to be a pleasant surprise.  I guess it turns out he is human after all and not just the insane, tatted-to-the-teeth caveman that we first thought.  Another benefit we get from this new side of MC Ride is the fact that its easier to distinguish his lyrics, which are as intelligent and poetic as ever.

In what is possibly my favourite song on the album, 'No Love', Burnett spits "never not on it, leaning so hard you're ashamed, you can't dismiss this sickness huffs your brain, exhale your will and forget I ever knew you".  Coupled with the dystopian, end-of-the-world atmosphere that we already know and love Death Grips for, it really is something special.  The walls are caving in and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it; Death Grips still sound as unsafe, unhinged and coked up as ever.  Lyrically though, Burnett isn't just offering us deep and meaningful words.  Because he isn't in a hurry to shy away from their early ghetto chants (see 'Spread Eagle Cross the Block' from their mixtape Ex-Military), as we find out when he roars: "you need a lift?  You can sit between the back seat and my dick".  And he is still as dark as ever, declaring "it's all suicide" over and over in 'World of Dogs'.

The drums are a huge talking point throughout the whole record.  Before the release of the album, the band issued a statement by way of explaining some of NO LOVE DEEP WEB's concepts to their fans.  Part of it said: "there are no manually programmed drums on this album.  The beats are being played live on a Roland electronic v-drum set or acoustic drum set by Zach (Hill)".  This is confirmed upon hearing the album: the drums are HUGE.  The crash cymbals in 'No Love' may cause you to shit yourself, as Zach Hill absolutely hammers them during the chorus, underlining the idea that these guys are essentially a punk rock band, with hip-hop being their secondary genre.  They really do smack you square in the face on this LP.  Most of the songs keep this theme of dread and danger in full swing, making it a good record to listen to if you are planning on murdering somebody.  (MURDER IS WRONG.)

There really are moments during NO LOVE DEEP WEB when you forget that you aren't marching down the corridors of death row to your own execution.  Overall, I would say that the sound is more minimal than The Money Store, which had some really memorable moments in the raving euphoria of, say, 'The Fever (Aye Aye)' and 'I've Seen Footage'.  But this new, downbeat style doesn't necessarily mean that NO LOVE DEEP WEB is a forgettable album in the light of their former release.  There are a couple of weak moments, my main criticism being 'Stockton', which plods along whilst not being particularly inspiring in any way.  But apart from the above song, the rest of my nitpicks are very inconsiderable, the odd track maybe having a section of less-than-overwhelming music, but on the whole nothing for a listener or indeed a Death Grips fan like myself to worry about.  And any criticisms are wiped away when you hear the trippy, high-pitched rain of 'Pop' and the sprawling, ambient closer 'Artificial Death in The West'.

Death Grips are evolving with each release.  MC Ride is still as outspoken as ever: "I got some shit to say, just for the fuck of it!" he announces on 'Lock Your Doors', making sure you're listening hard to his erratic, disturbing monologues.  And trust me, you will listen.  Because these 3 men (Burnett, Hill and the groups producer/keyboardist Andy Morin) are only just getting started, and they're already upsetting people with their musical anarchy.  If Satan busted out of hell only to travel to earth to throw a huge fucking party, you can guarantee that he would employ Death Grips as his house band.  It still remains to be seen whether or not the whole dispute with Epic is 100% legit and not just some viral masterplan, but whatever the outcome, these fellas are not messing when it comes to the raw, insistent music they produce.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The wettest county in the world...

The Prohibition era is a topic very much in the public's awareness as of late, largely thanks to the incredible HBO drama "Boardwalk Empire" which has just embarked on its third season following overwhelming critical acclaim. The show has earned international praise for its ultra-violent, unflinching insight into the illegal alcohol trade in 1920's America, pinpointing Atlantic City and it's significance in the period. Which means there is no time like the present to shoot a film that borrows many of the show's themes and issues and contextualises them towards the very end of the Prohibition, in 1931, a decade after alcohol was outlawed in the United States, causing many men to take the law into their own hands and capitalise on the chance of making a quick buck. In "Boardwalk" we are taken to New Jersey, whereas "Lawless" heads to the rural marshes of Franklin County, Virginia, inhabited by our main characters, the Bondurant brothers, who make their living through the brewing of moonshine. The film is directed by John Hillcoat, famed for his gritty Aussie flick "The Proposition". Nick Cave wrote that and also wrote this, meaning they have a nice little partnership going on which could easily continue to develop of things carry on as they have been.

The backwoods of Ohio set the scene for the film's events, which are blood-soaked and brutal to the end, but not shy of true heart thanks to the surprise star of "Lawless" (for me anyway), that kid from Transformers, Shia LaBeouf. I've never been a fan of the lad, probably because Transformers and the other shitty-looking films he's been in (Disturbia etc) have been about as intriguing to me as the latest series of The X Factor. But he's just another actor in desperate need of a good role, before he can finally flourish and show us what he's made of. His performance in "Lawless" might be far from Oscar-worthy, but it can at least serve as a platform for him to stand on in order to aim for bigger and better things. He plays the lead role of Jack Bondurant with the right amount of cocksure naivety and wide-eyed innocence, constantly in the shadow of his battle-scarred older brothers Forest and Howard, played by the always brilliant Tom Hardy and the lesser known Jason Clarke.

The film largely revolves around Jack's coming-of-age story and the trials and tribulations he faces when getting mixed up in the bootlegging trade that his siblings earn their bread from. Things turn violent in their neighbourhood when a sadistic, camp tyrant appears in the form of Guy Pearce's Detective Charlie Rakes, who demands a cut from all of the brothers' profits, much to Forest's distaste. Rakes proceeds to intimidate Forest's men by using extreme violence and thus the inevitable war begins between the bootleggers and the sharply dressed sociopath, depicted with Nazi-esque precision by Pearce, who really enjoys playing with Rakes's evil, twisted psyche.

In terms of the other key actors, there isn't a bad performance in sight. Hardy is on form as the bear-like Forest, using the restricted dialogue he is given to send shivers down his enemies' spines, sharing a similarity to his portrayal of Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises", in the sense that he relies on his eyes rather than his voice. His cold, fixed stare has a tendency to shoot straight through you, making it clear that this is not a man you should possess the idiocy to fuck with. He also has a softer side though, and his stoicism is admirable, making him a slightly unhinged yet lovable protagonist. Gary Oldman appears on screen for a shorter time than I expected, but is of course absolutely superb as always. The first time we see him, he is stomping down the middle of a road wielding a Thompson gun, spraying bullets everywhere with the look of a madman. His cheeky little wink to Jack Bondurant says it all though; he might not be a big piece of this puzzle, but he's sure as hell enjoying himself. Jessica Chastain also pleases, playing the damsel in distress living in an environment not for the faint of heart, but still managing to stay strong amongst men of extreme violence.

Indeed, the violence is heavy, hence the 18 certificate, which is rarer these days as such decisions by the BBFC obviously cut down a film's target audience significantly. But when you fully realise the backdrop of the film's and it's subject, it feels wholly necessary. Though ever so slightly cheesy in small parts, the film succeeds in painting a picture of a dog eat dog world in which brute force and ambition were the only things that would carry you through a hard life in 1930's America.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

I'm just a rock'n'roller from Beverly Hills, my name is Ariel, and I'm a nymph.

Ariel Pink was never supposed to be a rock star.  A seemingly eccentric, reclusive 34 year old from Hollywood, Pink (real name Ariel Rosenberg) spent the majority of his early musical career recording scuzzy, freakish bedroom tapes of lo-fi weirdness, never intending to take them out on tour to play for audiences.  Calling them his "Haunted Graffiti" Series, Pink took the listener on trips to different periods of musical history, borrowing influences from everything as varied as white funk, post-punk, dreamy pop, psychadelia, avant-garde and soft rock.  It has always been apparent that Pink can write genius pop songs, namely "Round & Round" from the Haunted Graffiti's (his live band) breakthrough album "Before Today".  Yet on a lot of his early releases, you sometimes feel like you're being led astray with mindfucks of songs that don't always feel fully-formed.  However, if you become a Pink fan (which I have, wholeheartedly) you put up with his excessive oddball tendencies and go on to embrace them.

Pink made his break into the public's consciousness in the mid noughties when members of Animal Collective took his bedroom recordings and released them on their Paw Tracks label. Years on, Pink took his music to the stage but wasn't particularly well recieved due to the outlandish, impractical nature of his material, which didn't really come to fruition in front of impatient gig-goers. Line-ups were changed, with musicians coming and going (including fellow weirdo John Maus) but it wasn't until 2008-2010 that Pink finally made any real progress, when he formed his permanent, tight live band Haunted Graffiti and released the groundbreaking "Before Today". Some devoted fans were disenfranchised with Pink's step up to the big leagues and his newly polished sound, which was a leap from his lo-fi roots. The songs became cleaner and more fulfilled, whilst still retaining Pink's zany mannerisms and circus-like vibes.

"Before Today" took us to different corners of retro, both harking back to the past whilst hinting at the possibilities of the future. I personally consider it to be a masterpiece. Songs like "Menopause Man" (which still makes me think "what the fuck?" 2 years down the line) and "Little Wig" both confuse and please in equal measure, whilst "Round & Round" and "Beverly Kills" display Pink's knack for writing great pop songs with instantly memorable choruses. This album showed Pink in a new light, with so much potential.

The album went on tour with the band, who didn't shy away from screwing around with Pink's old material just to retain that Ariel weirdness, but who also opened up the music to newer, larger audiences (thanks to events such as Coachella, where Pink shot himself in the foot by throwing a hissy fit) and gave them a crazy, unleashed Hollywood native for better or worse. There has been speculation about Pink's behaviour, which includes crying onstage, falling out with the audience and refusing to sing whilst his band plays every note. Personally I don't know whether he merely puts on the persona for his own amusement and the audiences' bewilderment, or whether he actually is a nutjob. Perhaps a bit of both, but I guess knowing the exact reason would ruin his mystique.

Now, in August 2012, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti give us "Mature Themes", their second major-label record. I've listened to it a couple of times so far and am still in the process of getting my head around it. Ariel's ever-changing voices remain, with him trading off his Americanised cartoon characters for Bowie-esque British croons and vice-versa. You just cannot put your finger on him and I'm always in wonder as to what he'll do next. Synths and organs make their presence known and work brilliantly, especially in the choruses, the best example being "Symphony of The Nymph" (every bit as fucked up as the title suggests). Lyrically, Pink is on insanely obscure form as always: "She's a nympho, at the discoteque, yeah she's a nympho, and a lesbian", and his subject matter ranges from disturbing to hilarious. The basslines are incredible, my favourite so far being the thudding post-punk brilliance of "Driftwood", which is moody yet danceable all at the same time, and the dark, brooding creep of "Early Birds of Babylon".  Penultimate track "Nostradamus & Me" gives the impression that we're in a submarine, exploring the depths with a repetitive, up-and-down bassline while Pink mumbles about the famous philosopher and himself.

There are still those classic Pink moments of "what did I just hear?" and they bleed into the rest of the album with ease. "Schnitzel Boogie" is mental, and finds Pink on the hunt for late-night munchies in a haze of krautrock wildness. Moments such as these result in a less accessible album than "Before Today", but again, if you're a true fan you will relish them as much as the perfection of songs such as the Donnie & Joe Emerson cover of "Baby" (feat. Dam-Funk), which has literally made my year. The combination of Dam-Funk's gravelly, sexy croon and Pink's feminine, emotional wail work miracles and create such a unique atmosphere. I have literally listened to it a 100 times since I came across it a couple of months ago. Not only is it a great rendition but it's also an ideal way to end the record, calming the listener down after a bumpy ride around Ariel Pink's haunted mind.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The return of John Frusciante...

John Frusciante is back, and so am I: here to write to/for you about the assorted shit spinning around my head all over again.  It's been a while.  Anyway, yeah, Frusciante came back out of the darkness last week with his new EP, "Letur-Lefr", which will be followed by a brand new LP "PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone" later in the year. Weird titles I think you might agree.  The gent that he is, Frusciante published a post on his self-maintained official website which explains, or tries to explain in the best way possible, the meanings and reasons for the two above titles.  So for those that care, check his site out.

This is the newest Frusciante music since 2009's "The Empyrean", apart from "Here, Air", a track that he gave away for free in 2010.  In those three years, it seems that Frusciante has completely reevaluated his means of making music, and in "Letur-Lefr" he throws away the guitar (well, mostly) and sits at the computer to create a mainly electronic five-song collection, which I have to admit I have fallen in love with totally.  The synth-orientated sounds and erratic, unpredictable drum beats that he puts forward are a surprise at first, even after the electronica of "To Record Only Water for 10 Days".

In terms of style and overall vibe, elements of "Letur-Lefr" remind me of the better moments on Julian Casablancas's "Phrazes For The Young", and his introduction of hip-hop works amazingly well, drawing a similarity to the collaborative nature of Damon Albarn's Gorillaz.  The RZA gets involved on three of the tracks, his best moment being on "FM".  The two men have been well-known friends for some time now, and have worked together in the past (they did a song together on N.A.S.A.'s "The Spirit of Apollo") album.  As well as the RZA, other MC's offer their influence, Masia One and Kinetic 9 being amongst others.  It works so fucking well, whether you would expect it to or not.  John's beats are original and manage to completely draw you in, whilst occasionally throwing a curveball in the form of a tempo change or an experimental moment of clarity.  "Glowe" is a perfect example, in the form of a 1.30-length jam that rounds off several styles of music using the same melody (which fans will notice is the exact same as "Dark/Light" from "The Empyrean") and an array of different drum patterns.  Also adding vocals is Nicole Turley, Frusciante's wife and leader of the interestingly bizzare L.A. group Swahili Blonde.  Her backing vox on "In Your Eyes" are haunting and work brilliantly alongside Frusciante's wide, ever-changing range.

"Letur-Lefr" could make you believe that Frusciante has been constructing electronic music all his life.  He would probably be the first to admit that he is still learning on that front, a self-taught producer/engineer over his many years of being a musician.  But it seems he is learning fast, and I would be as excited as any other Frusciante fan if he were to continue to head in this direction with his releases in the near future.  His ability to constantly reinvent himself over his albums (PBX being his eleventh) still blows me away and probably always will.  I won't pretend that I know a lot about electronic music because the truth is I don't, I can only talk freely about my experiences with it and what I have heard. And as I always say, I was a little anxious before listening to "Letur-Lefr" purely because of my love for John's music and my longing for it to be as good as everything else he has done. Luckily for me, I can now bathe in the relief and pleasure that it has brought me. A truly wonderful 15(ish) minutes of music that I will continue to enjoy for a long time to come. Welcome back, sir.