Tag Archives: Steve Durose

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…

Re-sized

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Pre-ordered my copy of Vennart‘s debut album week before last. Pretty excited. For those unfamiliar (no pun…) Mike Vennart achieved artistic, if not financial longevity as singer/songwriter/guitarist with indie-rockers, Oceansize. Negotiating a scarcely-categorizable line between Post Rock, Nu Prog and Art Metal, this sadly-short-lived, Manchester-based crew infiltrated the hitherto-unimagined no-man’s land between Elbow and Mastodon, jamming to fondly-remembered tales of Cardiacs, Faith No More, Tool and Radiohead; refreshed by lashings of mushroom tea. Heady brew? Fuck yeah! And a finely-balanced one too: heaviosity aplenty for die-hard metalheads and cool for the too-cool Guardian fashionistas.

The best rock band to come out of Manchester for a decade.

A year to the day following that band’s dissolution, Vennart and fellow Oceansize cohort, Richard ‘Gambler’ Ingram launched British Theatre: a canny proposition, streamlining the distorted, glitchy and lush atmospherics of the former, whilst substituting a full backing band for laptop dancing. Not a million miles from Radiohead‘s Kid Amnesiac days, albeit grimier, more louche, sordid.

Ingram, and former Oceansize guitarist, Steve Durose both contribute to the new record, The Demon Joke, but to all intents and purposes it’s a one man show now. He launched the new tracks – or some of them at least – at a gig downstairs in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar here in Brighton last week and I’m not ashamed to say that I couldn’t make head or tail of them. I felt the same way the first time I heard Effloresce (much like Trout Mask Replica, Angel Dust, Second Toughest In The Infants and Spirit Of Eden: sometimes brilliance takes time to absorb and process, even when it’s presence is instantly recognizeable).

In interview, Vennart references (second Oceansize LP) Everyone Into Position, both musically and personally, suggesting ‘I’ve not believed in a record as much since…’ which is good news for me, since EIP is my favourite ‘Size album, though follow-up Frames comes bloody close, and Trail Of Fire (from Frames) is not only my fave Oceansize track but perhaps my favourite song of all time. They didn’t play that at the gig, though they did pull a few classics out of the bag, including Music For A Nurse, Ornament (The Last Wrongs) ‘really long and fuckin’ hard to play’ and Part Cardiac. Even the deceptively-basic, Sabbath-y grind of the latter – from Oceansize swansong, the uneven, Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up – conveyed more emotional depth than their support act, Lithuania’s Mutiny On The Bounty, whose selection of sub-Depeche¬† Mode b-side material merely served to confirm the futility of industrial, post-rock instrumentalism. The wank dripping from a sea of dumbly-nodding post-hipster beards. The ‘Size stood out from the crowd and one has a feeling that Vennart‘s new collection – written whilst on the road as Biffy Clyro‘s live utility guy, studio-enhanced and mixed by Gambler and Durose will too, thanks to a lifetime of musical geekality absorbed from Maiden to Radiohead. The live presentation was augmented by Durose on guitar and b/vox, Gambler on bass and keys and newkid Denzel on drums, who along with Jo Spratley (Spratley’s Japs) also appear on The Demon Joke. The latter is winging it to me as I type, whereupon the chance to make fuller sense and fall once-again in love will surely present itself…

Can’t wait, chaps ūüėČ

Another track, Infatuate is also available upon preordering here

You know you want to…

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.

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.