Tag Archives: Alternative Rock

Re-re-‘Sized

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If you loved Oceansize you’ll love The Demon Joke, the new album from former frontman Mike Vennart. The swathe of Unfamiliar material was a bit much for me to take in at the Brighton gig a couple weeks back – the potential was clear, but this isn’t music that gives of its best up front; it requires patience, the better to tease out the intricacies.

If you’re not familiar with Oceansize I’d fall back on ‘it’s Elbow (heartstrings) vs Mastodon (asskick) spiced with a little Faith No More (contrariness)’. And as much as I adore Oceansize‘s expansiveness I love that Vennart can satisfyingly cram as much into 4 minutes as his former band did into 8.

Mark Heron was all over the kit for four albums and as many LPs, and his Moon/Portnoy presence would be missed if new boy, Denzel’s math-y economy didn’t chime so well with the new music.. ‘He nails it, does he not’ opined Vennart at the gig: quite so.

The polyrhythmical plod of Duke Fame reels out tentacles of appealing melody whilst the easy singalong remains tantalisingly just out of reach, in the fine tradition of Money, or Turn It On Again. My favourite song here.

And maybe it’s the weight of taking the helm, but Vennart‘s vocal is suffused and enhanced by a new soulfulness previously only touched upon. FNM‘s Mike Patton was a discernable influence on Vennart‘s earlier work with Oceansize, and one that he audibly digs into once more, with added conviction. For the great soul singers – Gaye, Knight, Turner, Simone – sweetness and simmering aggression were like yin and yang: always in balance, even when unevenly distributed. Great rock singers, from Glenn Hughes, thru Morrissey, Mike Patton, Maynard Keenan to Andrew ‘Darroh’ Sudderth draw on this tradition; and Vennart exhibits it here too. Check out Don’t Forget The Joker.

Amends has the gravitas and compelling art-mospherics of the best of the ‘Size’s‘s closing epics, condensed into less than four minutes.

Sometimes less really is more. Vennart has succeeded in inhaling all that was great and memorable about Oceansize and expressing it with yet greater feeling, brevity and wit. ‘Prog’ doesn’t have to impose on our time to make its point.

This is possibly his best album… he compared it in recent interviews to the mighty, Everyone Into Position, which I still recommend unreservedly; though TDJ certainly gives it a run for its money…

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Cremin of the crop

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Mere months after his return to album action, Musician and producer, Paul Mex is back again with a new release, Guilty Fist, that he describes as ‘the first record … since 1989 that (he’s) reasonably happy with‘. Personally, I was more than happy with Dr Jekyll and Mrs Hyde; and whilst much of what appealed to me about that record is present and correct here, this is a release with more layers and richer texture, both musically and lyrically.

Performance poet, Bernadette Cremin, who also contributed vocals to …Jekyll… had taken the driving seat this time around, enlisting Mex to complement a collection of mostly spoken word pieces with individual soundtracks. It’s a collaboration along the lines of Steve Hogarth and Richard Barbieri’s Not The Weapon But The Hand, a lyrical/musical split that hinges on a personal and musical sympathy.

For argument’s sake one might discern three intertwining threads amongst the nine tracks on offer: the album begins and ends with purely-instrumental pieces, created by Mex. High Ceiling has a somewhat perfunctory intro feel: affecting in and of of itself, albeit lacking any obvious connection to the following track….

….Mosaic Revisited sounds as though it was conceived during the …Jekyll… sessions: a swaggering, guitar and drums-driven number, over which Cremin lays a smokey drawl. It has an improvised, stream of consciousness feel that my head just nods along to unbidden, in a cool way. Along with Beat and the title track, it’s the most ‘rock’ sounding thing; though the aforememtioned are respectively lighter and more funk-flavoured; and slower with a grungy feel. Mex’s long-term friend and ex-Porcupine Tree player, Colon Edwin guests on Beat, and it’s a compliment when I say he leaves his personality behind in service to the track, contributing only groove (by contrast to a long-ago Liane Caroll gig which her bassist husband nearly ruined by wanking all over it).

Growing Pains and Fruit for Rumours foreground (Cremin‘s) words more overtly. The music accentuates meter and bolsters the narrative without getting in the way. Exactly.

(Closer) Sad on the other hand (another Mex instrumental) is both affecting and effective, with subtle musical and emotional sophistication: it picks up on the sombre mood of preceding track Poetry (my favourite song on the album, synth-sax and all…) and ruminates unto sleep.

Having recently reviewed, and to a point, enjoyed, Steven Wilson‘s latest; I couldn’t help but be minded at times of that album, trailer single Perfect Life in particular. Superficially, the similarity is pronounced – a woman narrating aspects of her life over moody, electro-rock soundscapes – and there’s more than a passing resemblance between Cremin‘s vocal and Katherine Jenkins‘, a similar casual affectation belying emotive, subject matter. What slightly disappointed me about that album is showcased somewhat more effectively here, however: a sense of an authentic female voice. Wilson is a sensitive, imaginative man; but a man, nonetheless. And though the musical accompaniment is more rigid, less syncopated and ethereal, my second point of reference is Ursula Rucker: there’s a similar understated passion and grit in Cremin‘s delivery. Whether Guilty Fist is a ‘concept album’ per-se I’m not sure, but as Sad winds to a close, I’m left with a sense of catharsis, of a chapter (in her life’s) ghosts laid to rest.

Poigant and elegiac, and powerful stuff.

And the Wilson track, by way of comparison:

Out of the box…

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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’.

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As mentioned in my previous post, 2014 heralds the release of Pixies’ first LP in over two decades, and I can’t pretend I’m not excited. A few tracks osmosised via 6Music and thru the hubbub of my works kitchen aside, I’ve assiduously avoided hearing anything from the new record, though: I haven’t even dragged the download of EP3 that came bundled with my advance purchase of the all-singing, all-dancing special edition out of the download box into my media library.

Why? The closing clause in this Steven Hyden article for Grantland, sums it up neatly enough ‘…because my [anticipated] disappointment in what they’ve become has more to do with me than with them.’ The same might be said of the second Star Wars trilogy, or my assessment – see also my previous post – of the last Opeth album. Hot on the heels of the realization that George Lucas/Pixies/Opeth are not the same people today that they were when they recorded their most treasured artifacts comes the secondary one that we are not the same people either. This makes for a complicated, fragmented relationship with our favoured artists’ ever-expanding catalogs of work, tainted by nostalgia and changing expectations.

When Hyden writes ‘I would guess that before the Pixies’ reunion in 2004 (and the subsequent run of endless tours in the decade since), the majority of the group’s fans had never seen them live. Much of the Pixies’ fan base got into the band after it broke up in 1993.’ he could be writing about me, or as good as: I ‘discovered’ the Pixies around the time Trompe Le Monde was released.

‘If all that mattered were the music, I wouldn’t even bother writing about Indie Cindy. It is thoroughly pedestrian, exceptionally unexceptional, and spectacularly slight. But I am writing about Indie Cindy, and the reason is, it is the first full-length album by the Pixies since 1991’s Trompe le Monde. Like that, Indie Cindy suddenly seems important. If lifestyle reporting didn’t exist, Indie Cindy would have virtually no reason to exist, either…

…Curiously, the baggage that justifies Indie Cindy’s existence also ensures it will be regarded as being much worse than it actually is. Judged solely as a self-released MOR rock record made by musicians in their late forties and early fifties who haven’t worked together in a creative fashion for nearly a quarter century, Indie Cindy is merely inoffensive. But as a Pixies record, it’s easily the worst entry in a celebrated discography. The more you love the other Pixies LPs, the less you’ll be able to tolerate Indie Cindy.’

This pretty much sums up my feelings re Heritage as I was writing yesterday, and it was this realization that prompted me to listen to it again mid review and soften my verdict. The music hadn’t changed but my relationship to it had, along with my way of listening and my apprehension of myself.

I’m sure I will tolerate Indie Cindy well enough, but I never became a fan by merely tolerating my favourite bands.In my 20s it seemed that they reached out and grabbed me: these days it seems like the job of reaching out is mine, and on occasion I feel a great reluctance to do so, for fear of falling out of love? Teachable moment is the popular vernacular, I believe.

Truth is I don’t really expect Pixies to ever sound as vital as this again:

Just as I don’t ever expect Opeth to record anything as vital as this now:

So really there’s nothing to be disappointed about, is there? And no shortage new music to be heard for what it is. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say…

 

Got that covered – Aaron o’Keefe edition

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Unless you’re a pop megastar or an outspoken feminist, sifting and junking unedifying email isn’t really that big a deal.

So sign up for a bunch of stuff; just dive in. Sure, you might find yourself deluged with bunch of crap stuff, but then once in a while you’ll stumble across something that just blows you away, like this did me:

Aaron o’Keefe‘s just a regular guy: a music tutor. But when his students are tackling tunes like this – and with such applomb – he’s obviously doing something right. I think I actually prefer this to the original. I went straight back to Ӕnima after hearing this and it’s ok – good actually – but Tool never really happened for me until it put out Lateralus. Maynard Keenan is an amazing singer (see below) and it takes some balls (or maybe just childish fearlessness) to step into his shoes. This little girl is just fantastic, and the young guy on drums ain’t no slouch, either (check out those drum signatures [4.31-5.06]). Don’t let X-Factor/BGT get you down: not everyone’s chasing the money and/or vacuous adulation. For many it’s all about the art…

I likely wouldn’t have come across this if not for Jason Hirshhorn’s Media ReDEFined, along with Upworthy, GenderTrender and The Lefsetz Letter they’re my top go-to sites for current affairs stuff. Like I said up top, trawl the net and if something clicks, click: there are enough diamonds in the rough for everyone.

For Tool newbies, here’s the original recording from Ӕnima:

…and my favourite Keenan vocal performance, Wings For Marie Pts 1 and 2:

Enjoy! 🙂

Triple review: A Perfect Circle – Three Sixty + Multimedia Pack

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Great review of 360, the new A Perfect Circle compilation from A Metal State Of Mind. ChristopherMammal is the newest addition to their growing roster of reviewers, and I love his writing. This site is constantly raising its own game with its expanding pool of writers, helping to remain an essential go-to site for the latest in metal, hard rock and prog news.

Fans of Tool and Maynard Keenan are a notoriously-devoted lot, so the release of a new APC song – de rigueur on any decent ‘best of’ – is sure to have them salivating. Best of all, it’s a great song and not a tacked-on b-side or demo-quality throwaway track.

Keenan evinces a quality shared by many of rock’s most iconic frontmen, from Elvis to (Jon) Anderson to Rotten to Morrissey and on, in that his voice is utterly distinctive from the first note. It’s to his and the other writers’ credit, then, that APC avoid sounding like Tool clones whilst managing to grab a sizable portion of that band’s alt/prog rock audience.

As ChristopherMammal says By And Down ‘…should greatly satisfy followers of APC...’ as well as temporarily assuaging Tool fans hungry for new material during that band’s extended hiatus. It’s a great track, and a timely reminder of just what a powerful and nuanced performer Maynard J is.

Saying that… I gotta take issue with the ‘sublime prog metal’ tag. Well, not the sublime bit; but ‘prog metal’? For me, the refreshing thing about APC – as with Puscifer – was the way it showcased Keenan‘s unmistakable vocal in a soundworld that was – and is – decidedly more accessible, closer to conventional pop/rock structure, and none the worse for it. In Tool, his voice is frequently as much an instrument in its own right; a haunting addition to the sonic palette as it is a conveyor of feeling and idea. In APC he’s all about the words. To me the band is very much what would have been considered alternative rock, before the crossover successes of bands including Nirvana, Oasis, REM and Metallica back in the ’90s made the term somewhat anachronistic. The line-up of nominees for the recent Mercury Award ceremony in the UK amply demonstrates just how far we’ve travelled down the road in blurring any distinction between ‘mainstream’ and ‘indie’/’alternative’/’underground’ these days.

I don’t hear much prog OR metal in By And Down: what I DO hear is a pair of true artists who have honed their songwriting craft and taken it to the next level. I hear a mature, poignant, perfectly-paced rock ballad that matches, even surpasses the quality of their previous output. Sure, like CM I’d like to hear more, an album’s worth, even. But maybe that’s not possible… With both Tool and APC, Keenan and co. have maintained the quality precisely by pandering to their muses and keeping up the mystique; rather than joining to rock’n’roll gravy train and churning out sub-par albums every 18 months.

Enjoy the song for what it is, and don’t hold your breath for the next Tool record either. That looks like being some time off too.

A Metal State of Mind

APC Three Sixty - Deluxe LZW PA

Reviews: Three Sixty (Standard Edition), 13 tracks; Three Sixty (Deluxe Edition), 2 CDs, 19 tracks; Release date: November 19, 2013; Label: Universal Music Enterprises (Ume).

Preview: A Perfect Circle Live: Featuring Stone And Echo, Concert DVD and audio + three live CDs; Release date: November 26, 2013; Label: Universal Music Enterprises (Ume).

A Perfect Circle presents us with a quandary. By releasing two editions of the “best of” collection as well as a full multimedia pack within the space of one week, they make it difficult to decide which of the three to choose. The answer to that question may depend on how much Perfect Circle you already have.

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Alternative Oz – sweet as…

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REVIEW – HONEYWHEELER (EP) by HONEYWHEELER

Australia isn’t necessarily the first country that springs to mind when one thinks of world-class rock bands, but cast your eye down the following list – AC/DC, Midnight Oil, INXS, Crowded House, Silverchair, Karnivool, Pendulum and Tame Impala – and it’s evident that for a sparsely-populated nation it certainly punches above its weight. The two decades-old (fuck me! Was it really that long ago? Seems like last week) explosion of Grunge/Britpop clearly left its mark on the Antipodean musical consciousness, if this eponymously-titled EP by Aussie rock four-piece Honeywheeler is anything to go by: the Bandcamp blurb describes lead singer Angel Love Owens as an ‘unabashed ’90s kid’, and knowing – by way of her blog –  of her feminist inclinations I mentally put two and two together and came up with L7. In fact, the songs on this EP bear scant similarity to the tampon-flinging LA Grunge rockers save for occasional excursions into a dirtier, riffier guitar attack on Best Thing and Eat Your Heart Out: which is not to suggest that the …Wheelers lack Yankee, Riot Grrl attitude; rather that it’s tempered with a more characteristically-British sweetness and light…

Because this ‘Alternative Rock’ which soundtracked my mis-spent teens and early twenties developed independently on both sides of the Atlantic, and Honeywheeler takes its fair share of inspiration from each scene; and whilst it would be a stretch to say the band have created much that is truly original, they’ve clearly put in their 10,000 hours and then some: there’s no denying that they understand the mechanics of a good pop tune, and know how to capture it crisply and powerfully on ‘record’.

And if it seems unfairly reductive, not to say a tad sexist, to trot out a slew of comparisons to female-fronted Indie bands, Honeywheeler does wear its Alt-’90s heart on its plaid-clad sleeve: whilst listening to this EP I had a mental image of a young Owens practising her Justine Frischmann and Louise Post moves in front of a dressing table mirror. And if she stops short of Donita Sparks‘back the fuck up’ snarl, it’s clear she ain’t got no truck with your lily-livered, whiney-ass mansplainin’, either and you’d best listen, dammit! She does sweet and sardonic; hard and heartbroken with equal ease and conviction. The musical backing is, for the most part, capably-executed and not short of hooks, and though Owens takes the songwriting credits on all tracks, three of the four members (also comprising Chris Ellis [Gt], Andy Coles [Bs] and Damien Grove [Dr]) contribute guitar so it’s a hard job to assign proper credit for individual performances.

Two of the five tracks on offer here do step some way outside of that (’90s) mould, though. Lyrics aside, I Don’t Love You could be one of Grant Hart‘s more cheerful offerings from Hüsker Dü, circa Warehouse: and driving closer, I’m Over It (by far the best thing on here) shows musical ambitions outside of straight pop. Its nearly-five minutes allow room for guitar histrionics without succumbing to cheesy rock-god posturing and Owens‘ delivery is both urgent and impassioned, with guest vocalist Michael Strong (…And The Ghost Anyway, The Disappointed)  adding louche, gravelled counterpoints: their interplay is reminiscent – though only a little – of Pure Reason Revolution‘s Jon Courtney and Chloë Alper which is no bad thing in my book. And I love the quirky little synth outro on Another: although Owens‘ is credited with keys, those parts are mostly understated. These moments hint towards a more expansive rock sound and the benefits of additional synthetic ear-candy and suggest two potential directions the band might explore to expand their musical palette.

Here’s a link to the EP via their Bandcamp page – style gurus note the ‘fridge magnet’ option – the coolest rock accessory since Mastodon‘s The Hunter key chain 😉 Enjoy!