…from the mouths of babes?…


WTF?! Yeah, that was my initial reaction. Not in a bad way, though…

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/109573972″>Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism by FCKH8.com</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/fckh8″>FCKH8.com</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Easier to berate kids for using cuss-words than face up to the crushing realities of sexual violence, gender stereotyping and pay inequality. Is this clip effective? Jury’s out on that one; but it’s certainly on-message…

I could pick, but I’m not going to. This is one of those odd occasions – District 9 springs to mind – when po-mo irony kinda works for me.

FCKH8‘s clip landed in my inbox via Upworthy.com

Return of The Mex


2014 has thusfar resounded to the sound of long hiatuses coming to noisy, and much talked-about ends: forget The Stone Roses, or even Guns’n’Roses; Pixies released their first LP since 1991, the acclaimed Indie Cindy; whilst Kate Bush announced her second string of live dates since her groundbreaking 1979 European tour. The pre-order for the ‘new’ Pink Floyd album, The Endless River is open… And whilst this might signal the rude heath of art rock per se, Mex may be less the household name, outside of studio personnel circles. Nonetheless, his 2014 album, Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde ends an in-studio silence, at least under his own name as singer-songwriter, but one year short of Bush‘s onstage one. Aided and abetted by a talented cast of collaborators including bassist Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree/Ex Wise Heads), guitarist, Gordon Russell (Dr Feelgood), visual artist, Nick Egan (Clash, Ramones, Alanis Morissette) and avant-garde poet, Bernadette Cremin, he presents an engaging album of intermittently angry and lovelorn – though ultimately uplifting and cathartic – emotionally-charged pop/rock.

A concept album of sorts, …Jekyll… is nonetheless miles from the overwrought prog indulgence of The Wall or …Topographic Oceans, rather more akin to the wilful eclecticism and compelling grooves of David Holmes Bow Down To The Exit Sign or Typewriter‘s Skeleton Key. Albeit as otherworldly as neither, and refusing to venture as far from conventional song structures, there’s the same sense of a single guiding creative light, similar wild mood swings between fuzzed-out dirty pub-blues ditties and cool, effects-laden atmospheres.

Mex‘s often heavily-FX’d vocals – pitched somewhere between Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks) and Nick Barrett (Pendragon) – tell the story of a love affair gone awry, with attendant reflections on age, alienation, regret and possibilities. The pace of the album is perfectly-judged, making it an easy, even fun listen. Occasional lapses into lyrical cliché, far from being a detraction, reflect the album’s confessional style (the lyrics were drawn from the performer’s diary during a period in therapy). In an age where singles reign supreme, it’s a joy to land on a body of work that deserves beginning-to-end listener attention. There’s a good reason why the album is a dying art-form; and I see no mileage in being a fuddy-duddy about that; it’s a trend that opens as many doors as it closes: equally, it’s satisfying to hear said form being handled so deftly and respectfully.

Some cuts stand out, though: From Nought To Sixty mixes snappy punk riffing with mature reflection; Think About It sets poet Cremin‘s ‘angel on the shoulder’ conversational tones to Edwin‘s bass groove to great effect, and Catching A Train has a pleasing whiff of Psychedelic Fur. Mex is an exponent of the punk days, but this is an album that could only have been come to fruition in 2014, incorporating well-judged references from intervening years: from shades of artful and more emotionally-literate post-punk à la Furs and Bunnymen to the neo-diy facilitated by affordable digital home-recording technology: the quality of the songwriting now shines thru, rather than musters out; even cheeky stabs of squawking sax (Everybody Has A Book Inside) enhance rather than come off as ’90s cheesy.

You can purchase the full album here.




Bushman telegraph


The brothers Kellner have had a while to perfect this…

Part Stereophonics, part Pink Floyd and part The Grateful Dead was how guitarist/singer, Brian summed up the Bushman Brothers during inter-song banter at last Saturday’s gig; and it’s hard to image a better description: hooky, blues-based rock – check; proggy, instrumental flights of fancy – check; extended jams -check.

My girlfriend and I don’t always coincide with our musical tastes, but The Brothers gig at Brighton’s Ranelagh pub grabbed us both by the earballs and, shaking off our creeping exhaustion, we ended up staying and hour and a couple drinks later than intended. The Ranelagh is well-known locally as a live blues venue, but almost inevitably, the style and quality of the entertainment varies considerably: open-mic hopefuls armed only with acoustic guitar or piano and professional, full-band outfits; folksy to rockin’.

The BBs fall firmly into the second camp. Their set encompassed familiar staples of any self-respecting blues-rockers repertoire – J.J. Cale‘s Cocaine; Hendrix‘s Fire and Gary Moore‘s Parisian Walkways – as well as original BB compositions. Of those, Urban Madness, Whale Song and Travelling Man made a particular impression on the night. All of those appear on the 2012, all instrumental release, Tone Tonic. Persuaded to purchase both that album and their latest, the Condensation Fear EP, it’s the latter which has impressed me more on repeat listening. Whilst TT has more of a Joe Satriani/Steve Vai kinda virtuoso vibe, CF leans in the Stereophonics’ direction: ‘proper’ songs, aided and abetted by guest singer Paul Fulker. At £15 for both discs, value for money isn’t an issue and showcases two sides to the band. Brian Kellner possesses both David Gilmour‘s fluidity and Satriani‘s mastery of lightning-fast picking; along with a more than passing resemblance to Clapton on the vocal side, albeit grittier, which my girlfriend, a huge fan, appreciated. His chemistry with brother Steve on drums was clear to see: they were seriously tight; and I even managed to enjoy the latter’s drum solo, which is rare for me; generally finding percussion breaks something of a bore. They performed as a duo, with bass and keyboard backing tapes, though a full-band performance is scheduled for September 4 at Brighton’s Albert,with further dates to follow

Brighton residents but half-year-round (they spend the remainder surfing and jamming in Hawaii) catch ‘em while you can…

Download/order HERE





It’s Prog Jim, but no pale imitation


Some fine rock albums have been released this year: Pixies’ Indie Cindy; The Arcade Fire’s Reflektor; Elbow’s The Take Off And Landing Of Everything; Mex’s Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde; Bushman Bros. Condensation Fear (of which more later) and Mastodon’s Once More ‘Round The Sun. I’m tempted, on first impression to say that Opeth’s just-released Pale Communion has earned its place on the top of this distinguished pile… and then some.

Much of previous album Hertitage (2011) sounded like Opeth were trying to be a different band: out with the metal, in with acoustic, jazz-folk meanderings. If their previous ‘departure’ album, Damnation was merely Opeth without the loud bits, that album pointed the way down stranger paths, often veering miles away from anything resembling rock. If you’re not familiar, imagine Talk Talk‘s Spirit Of Eden meets Nick Drake. Even when metal did occasionally rear its head and holler – as on Slither – it sat uneasily amongst the other brooding, wandering compositions. Being an homage to metal of yore, and the – then – recently-departed Ronnie Dio in particular, it exposed a little of trad metal’s roots in the R’n’B scene which was a proving ground for Dio and his contemporaries. It’s perhaps noteworthy that this is something that Scandinavian ‘extreme’ metallers have, historically, eschewed doing; especially whilst labouring under the moniker ‘black’. But if the album had soul – and even the harshest of prog/metal critics must surely acknowledge that singer, Mikael Åkerfeldt possesses a spine-tinglingly soulful set of pipes, when resisting the temptation to growl like Cookie Monster – it was rather of the ‘tortured’ variety.

So it surely comes as a surprise to come across a track like Goblin, five tracks into PC: as if relocating a Dirty Harry car chase to ’70s Stockholm streets in winter, Opeth have never sounded so groovy. There’s an element of homage/pastiche (most writers have reached immediately for the song’s Italian namesake – I’d also venture Barrett Martin‘s Tuatara soundtrack collective, and also the instrumental breaks featured on the last Steven Wilson album) but not a whiff of ripe Gorgonzola. And PC is full of such statements of intent.

Opener, Eternal Rains Will Come has the feel of fellow Swedes, Katatonia when they dial back on the metal, replete with sweet melancholy, albeit pushing the ‘prog’ further than they’ve yet dared. It’s three minutes before we hear any vocals: a knotty, stuttering instrumental section giving way around the two minute mark to some characteristic Åkerfeldt clean guitar melodies. Heritage also began with a three-minute instrumental but they have little else in common: this song – and album – are a very different proposition, despite my initial impression formed from hearing trailer single, Cusp Of Eternity. The latter – and second track on PC – would have fitted fairly comfortably on their previous release. Most everything else, not so much.

If Steven Wilson once purloined a little of Opeth‘s metal grit when he first hooked up with the band back in 2000, then River suggests Åkerfeldt has called in the debt: the two writers evidently share a certain melodic sensibility, but Opeth have never so closely approximated the bittersweet tone and structural development of a Wilson/PT piece. The harmonies are beautiful.

Voice of Treason‘s stabbing strings and twinkling Rhodes piano recall Apollo 440‘s most Stealth Sonic exploits at the start, before taking off on a thrilling crescendo that finally gives way to a few bars of quiet, almost spiritual reflection. This fades into final track, Faith In Others: also a cinematic, string-drenched piece it’s surely Åkerfeldt‘s best ballad to date. It’s a fitting closer that reminds me, in its emotional maturity and expert mastery of tension and release rather than style, of Marillion‘s latterday balladic excursions; such as Sounds That Can’t Be Made.

And yet, all musical reference points aside, the tone, melodies and arrangements are unmistakably Opeth. If Heritage represented Åkerfeldt‘s time in the wilderness, ruminating and expanding his musical mind in all directions; PC sees him digging deep, consolidating all that he has loved and absorbed over 3-plus decades as a music fan and bringing it to bear in the evolution of his own style.

Where Heritage was sparse, this is lush; and whilst the former’s twinkling, intriguing subtleties are still there, they here serve to augment rather than carry the songs. Åkerfeldt told it true: this album is very much about melody, but it also resurrects and reimagines what was great, dynamically about the band’s latter metal recordings; keyboards, strings and drums lending much of the weight once provided by guitar parts. Yoakim Svarlberg (keys) and Martin ‘Axe’ Axenrot (drums/percussion) really excel thruout; and on reflection I realise – as I suspect many fans will – that it was that dynamic range and richness, as opposed to the metal per se that was missed on Heritage. I’ve grown to appreciate and enjoy, if not really love the latter; but this… this is something else. If you’re an Opeth fan of old who lost the faith over the last couple releases I urge you reconsider. PC is stunning from start to finish – or as near as damn. To date, Blackwater Park has been my gold-standard Opeth release (honorable mentions for Ghost Reveries and Deliverance: silver and bronze) but with this album the band have crested a new peak of creativity.

Metal health (2): Gender edition


Following on from Metal Is Gay, another enlightening and welcome article from  Terrorizer staff addressing sexism within the metal community

On the one hand, I applaud Yardley for his, at least partial, honesty and willingness to confront – after a fashion – said sexism. I Blogged the article on homophobia he references (above) in a recent mbg post: as a longtime metal fan and occasional reader of Terrorizer it’s heartening to see exponents of that community addressing the bigotry – sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism etc – that are all too often glossed-over within a scene (extreme metal) that, musically at least, champions progressiveness and originality.
Aaaaand, yet, his article throws the elephant, the big contradiction into sharp relief: if Yardley is passingly familiar with the feminist position, enough to be gender-critical, just why does he still embrace the ‘Trans* identity? Stop short of owning up to being a fetishist, or at least jaded by the putative demands of masculinity. Or maybe he doesn’t see it that way? Maybe Trans* means something else to him? Which loo does he use, I wonder, in any case?
Still glad (GLAAD?) he wrote this piece, though. It’s noteworthy that whilst the definition of Trans* (Gender questioning/queer) grows ever broader to the point of near-meaninglessness; that the ideological criteria for inner-circle membership continue be confined by good ol’ boys club values of masculine entitlement and fear.

(This post is based on a comment I posted on GenderTrender; your one-stop-shop for gender-critical analysis and discussion in a hostile, narrow-minded media).

An extreme metal injection at this point seems apposite: Baying Of The Hounds fits the bill, I think….

Out of the box…


A tenuous link to be sure – not so much comment or reflection on the recent Frank Maloney brouhaha: the song was inspired by Mikes Tyson and Jackson; with bonus OJ Simpson years back – as an ex use to throw up a good tune:

‘Is this what it means to be a man, boxing up all your emotions?’

‘Now the ring is just a band of gold.’ Indeed.

A lyrical dissection of masculinity worth revisiting for all that. As for our Frank‘….

Call me cynical if you will, but there’s a whiff of ‘career re-launch’ hanging about that ‘story’.

Yes. And no…


Heaven and Earth, or Himmel und Erde is a traditional German dish of potatoes mashed with apple sauce, served with black pudding or fried sausages. What’s missing from Yes’s recently-released album of the same name is the meat (Linda McCartney onion and rosemary for me, thanks :) ): several listens in, I’m quite enjoying the flavours but I’m still hungry, the latter being more than one can say about the cast of players on the album.

It’s a fine line between joy and mere contentment that divides H&E from its predecessor, 2011’s Fly From Here. I listened to FFH just today, and its fresh, vibrant melodies resonate in my mind as strongly as they did on first listen. It would be a mistake to suggest that the latter was a spiritual successor to Drama but it was undeniably a product of the same chemistry. In particular, the fingerprints of Trevor Horn are all over it in terms of the smooth production and emphasis on memorable melody. H&E is altogether a more restrained, low-key affair in the main. On the one hand, I salute Yes for, as ever, refusing to repeat themselves; on the flipside, I have to say I miss the passion and commitment that they so rarely failed to muster. Even during the ‘pop years’ with Trevor Rabin, one never doubted that the band were unwavering in their dedication to a revitalized, AOR vision of Yes, even when the results were not always to my taste.

The ‘no Jon, no Yes’ brigade will probably be quick to pin the blame on latest recruit (singer), Jon Davison; but that would be unjust: he does his utmost to get his ‘Jon‘ on and carries it off well enough- more so than Benoit David, if anything. The problem here is an overpowering whiff of complacency in the musical department. The closest the band come to old-school Yes is on closer, Subway Walls, which is a Davison-Downes composition, ironically (they’re the group’s two newest recruits). Much of the rest veers uncomfortably close to Asia at their ponderous, soulless, prog-lite worst. What we miss is depth, detail and cadence that, even if not immediately memorable, resonates and draws us back to listen again and anew. This is something that Yes mastered early on and that more recent exponents of ‘Art Rock’ from Opeth, to Fair To Midland, to Sweet Billy Pilgrim, to Everything Everything have done much better since.

H&E isn’t as bad as some critics might have one believe: it’s a pleasant listen and many Yes fans will enjoy it. But if this turns out to be the band’s swansong, it can scarcely be said that they’ve left on a high.

Is a far cry from:

And it’s the difference between applying cleverness to bolster a weak idea and enhance a strong one; albeit both simple.

More meat; less potatoes thanks…