Tag Archives: Amplifier

Amplified (to the power of 4)

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Like the best of today’s ‘prog’, Amplifier have never really been prog. Part dirty-ass Zeppelin stomp, part early-Verve sprawling dreamadelica, minus the latter band’s annoying tendency to implode acrimoniously between every other song. That said, a little ‘creative tension’ can serve to freshen the creative punch-bowl, as it were: four albums and a slew of EPs into their career, Ashcroft and crew were still sounding vital and full of ideas: Forth is as good as anything in their oeuvre. Zep. Four. Nuff. Alas, the same cannot be said for the Amp boys this time around.

Don’t get me wrong, Echo Street isn’t a terrible album by any means, it’s just that it has the unenviable task of succeeding an amazing one, and suffers for it. The Octopus is that rarest of beasts; a double-disc opus which, if not quite wall-to-wall brilliance, is worth hearing from start to finish. At a little over half the length, this album is at times an uphill slog, too rarely rising above the pedestrian. Whilst the addition of Steve Durose (ex-Oceansize) on second guitar and harmony vocals adds nuance and depth, particularly in quieter moments, the fundamental problem is that musical ideas are somewhat thin on the ground this time around. It’s a rather low-key affair, rarely approaching 11 in either pace or volume: the title track a case in point; harping on for six minutes without ever really getting going. Paris In the Spring is pleasingly infused with a Wilson-esque melancholy, though at nearly nine minutes could also benefit from tightening up. Album trailer, Matmos (see below) is perhaps the best thing on here – though the extra minute-long fade-in left off the ‘single’ edit adds nothing – along with Where The River Goes. Both follow a proven balladheavy bitback to ballad arc. Between Today and Yesterday is a pleasant, wistful acoustic interlude and as such stands out from the rest of the album; as does The Wheel: with it’s bass and drum (as opposed to drum’n’bass) groove and spacey feel it’s perhaps the closest thing to The Octopus on here.

Despite some good songs, Echo Street feels somewhat too loose and directionless, perhaps because the songs were developed in a short time thru jams, and doesn’t really cohere as an album. Changing up the pace with something groovier and harder-rocking, along the lines of Interstellar or The Consultancy would have helped.

Listeners who pre-ordered the limited 60-page digi-book version are better served on two counts: firstly because the packaging – designed by frontman Sel Balamir – is handsome indeed, but mostly because the inclusion of the Sunriders EP raises the overall standard of songsmithery several notches. The relative brevity of the four songs work in their favour: where Extra Vehicular is flabby and meandering, the likes of Sunriders and Close manage to sound both epic and dynamically-satisfying. Equally, if not more important, the band sound like they’re enjoying themselves on this disc. I’d actually have been happy with just the EP, but since it doesn’t appear to be on sale separately I wholeheartedly recommend forking out the extra £6 for the digi-book from the new Amplifier site (assuming it hasn’t sold out already) and they’ll even sign it for you if you’re lucky. Upcoming tour dates can also be found on that page.

Sadly I’ve not managed to catch the band live this time around but there’s a review of what I missed to be found here.

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Fresh from the vault (10)

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Liverpool aside, is there a city in the UK more crucial in the history of our rock scene than Manchester? The Hollies, 10cc, Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Happy Mondays/Black Grape… The now defunct Oceansize continued that tradition of making daring, against the then-fashionable, superlative guitar-based rock music. Their trio of EPs in the late ’90s/early ’00s garnered attention in the British indie press, and debut LP Effloresce earned them an instant cult-following with it’s post-rock soundscapes, driving riffs and compositional complexity. Thanks to the likes of The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Mansun, Pure Reason Revolution and Porcupine Tree, musicality and ambition were back in, and prog was no longer the dirty word it had been back in the Britpop years.

Second album, Everyone Into Position, though generally critically-acclaimed, lost marks in some quarters for attempting to be too diverse: to me that’s its strength. Over its 70-min duration, the mood is constantly shifting and evolving, both within individual songs and as a unified piece. It’s a cliche to talk of a ‘musical journey’, but totally apposite here, and it’s a journey at times as blissful and awe-inspiring as gently orbiting the Earth, at others more akin to an extended motorway pile-up; full of jarring impacts, life-before-my eyes slo-mo and time-stands-still moments. And on the subject of cliches, how many bands boast – exaggeratedly, in the main – of being musically hard to pin down? Oceansize were genuinely difficult to categorize, though: there are moments of metal intensity, sparse post-rock repetition and enough tricky time-sigs to please the prog-heads, with flashes of Manc rudeboy swagger. Deep, bowel-stirring riffage is interspersed with lush atmospheric passages, vocalist Mike Vennart employs similarly-diverse approaches from a darkly-seductive whisper to demented, unintellible screaming: he cites Cardiacs and Mr Bungle as his favourite rock artists, also slyly admitting to being a big Maiden fan in his youth – that’s an interesting mix of influences right there…

Imagine members of Tool, Deftones, King Crimson, The Beta Band, Radiohead and Gazpacho joining forces to form the ultimate art-rock supergroup: it’s that good.

Since the band’s demise following fourth long-player Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up, Vennart and guitarist/keyboardist Gambler have followed the more atmospheric thread with their British Theatre project, whilst guitarist Steve Durose has joined the ranks of fellow-Manc-based heavy space-rockers, Amplifier, following a stint as their touring guitarist. Both bands have created fine music, but for my money Oceansize combines the best of both: pummelling rock intensity and nuanced atmospheric beauty. Like Sweden’s Opeth, it’s the sheer contrast in musical mood from moment to moment, song to song that gives them their edge: the Home and Minor EP, like the latter band’s Damnation album, eschewed their more metallic leanings in favour of a more mellow vibe, and like Damnation, whilst undeniably beautiful it’s the band’s least interesting release. Everyone…, along with third album Frames is a record I come back to time and again and it never fails to blow me away.

Future Echoes

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I don’t often purchase new music these days: with almost unlimited, 24/7 on-tap tunage via YouTube, Bandcamp, Spotify, LastFM and a host of other online sources it’s rarely necessary and justified less often yet. I am an aficianado of the physical format, though, and can be enticed to part fairly quickly with not inconsiderable sums for artists that deign to package their new releases with that little bit of extra love and effort. Whilst too many popular artists’ idea of a ‘special’ edition just ain’t that special Marillion‘s ‘Campaign Editions’ and Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree‘s 10″ hardbound ‘coffee-table book’ format’s are always on my radar come pre-order time – and take pride of place on my CD shelf – because a) the quality of the music is consistently top-notch, b) the packaging is as solidly-made as it is beautiful, and c) the extras are genuinely-worthy exclusives and not second-rate demos and jams that never made the final cut.

February brings hotly-anticipated pre-orders from two of my current faves, Steven Wilson and Amplifier (click on links to pre-order). Wilson premiered Luminol, a track from …Raven… on the last leg of his Grace for Drowning tour  and yesterday the Manc-based Psych-rockers released a teaser for Echo Street in the form of Matmos, below.

The forthcoming album’s opening track, it’s a downtempo, melancholy; almost- power ballad and slightly reminiscent of On/Off from their eponymous debut. Somewhat in contrast to the effects-heavy, psychedelic fare which sprawled over The Octopus‘ two discs, it suggests a band consolidating their songwriting skills whist retaining traces of the fuzzed-out, epic atmospheres that made their past albums such an immersive listening experience. The kind of song The Verve used to do rather well, and equally likely to appeal to fans of nu prog acts like Porcupine Tree and Anathema. Whether you’re an Amp-aficianado, or a newcomer,

Check out Matmos here and enjoy

I’m looking forward to a trip down Echo Street very soon 🙂

 

 

 

 

Levitation

The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)

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Crikey, talk about an unexpected Christmas bonus! No sooner have I bigged up Steven Wilson and touted his upcoming album release than the pre-order is live. Great timing, too – today is my payday (usually the 24th of the month, but always a little early in December). I’ve rushed here straight from the Burning Shed site, having just placed my order – you’ll get yours in forthwith if you know what’s good for you, at least, if you want the all-singing, all dancing deluxe edition (and if you’re a hardcore music fan like myself, why wouldn’t you?). If it follows the model of previous SW and PT hardback editions, then you’re looking at a limited run of 5000 copies which will sell out in no time at all (only to resurface for silly money on eBay come release day – copies of PT‘s last, The Incident (2009) were selling, or at least, being advertised at £300+). On which subject, a personal aside: I have the 10″ hardbound editions of Insurgentes, Anesthetize and Grace for Drowning, but I’m missing The Incident, so if any of my lovely readers have a copy to sell for a sensible price (I’m thinking up to £100, [k]scope for negotiation, though…) or know anyone who has please drop me a line. They’re truly things of beauty, both musically and in terms of presentation. Dedicated aficianados of prog/art rock will have immediately spotted the King Crimson homage in the form of the cover art (above: click on the image to take you straight to the Burning Shed store and pre-order your copy) which chimes with the obvious influence of that band’s music on Wilson‘s own). If you haven’t already, listen to the work-in-progress version of Luminol debuted on the second leg of Wilson’s Grace for Drowning world tour (below) and get the gen on the recording sessions and inspiration behind …Raven… here.

Between confirmation of new material from Amplifier and Wilson’s new record, 2013 is already looking to be a good year for fans of art rock. Friends, raise your glasses…

 

Viva Echo Street

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Amplifier, Manchester-based exponents of epic, fuzzed-out Space Rock announce their forthcoming new long-player, Echo Street, via a brief post by frontman Sel Balamir on the band’s forum:

http://www.amplifiertheband.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3415

More details and an official announcement to follow: and fairly soon, one hopes, given that the album is being mastered this week. No soundclips at present, but  fans will be expecting new and inventive variations on the band’s roadtested melange of stoner rock, grunge, prog and psychedelia.

Whether they’ll be offering an all-singing, all-dancing special edition in the same vein as 2011’s The Octopus remains to be seen (fingers crossed; they attract the kind of cultish following of rock nerds who really dig that kinda thing) but expectations for the music are high, based on the exceptional quality of The Octopus and Balamir‘s tentative proclamation that it’s ‘probably our best album’.

If you’re not familiar, check out some clips from The Octopus: