Posts Tagged ‘80s’

12th August 2022

James Wells

I have questions. Not least of all, why is the bassist with A.R.T, Tiarnan Mathews known as 10” Tiarnan? I sincerely hope it isn’t because of the obvious, unless it’s ironic. But then, they all have daft nicknames, with lead guitarist Bradley Allen being known as General Sweet Tooth, drummer Scott Gordon as Dijon Mustard, and rhythm guitarist Tom Strange also known rather dubiously as Daddy Strange.

To their credit, they’ve been favourably described as ‘Bowie meets The Killers’ rather than ‘oddball creepy buggers’, which s a plus, or they wouldn’t be getting a review. I’m not prejudiced, just really busy, and give preferential treatment to acts who aren’t a bit sus.

‘Nothing Better to Do’ is pitched as ‘strolling a line between indie rock and glam, whisked together with the charm of the likes of Madness and Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ and I have to admit that this doesn’t sit comfortably. I loved Madness as a kid, but by my mid-teens I not only found them a little wearisome, but had started to take issue with their flag-waving fanbase. Granted, you can’t necessarily blame a band for the fans it attracts, but nevertheless, it can be offputting.

It’s early days for A.R.T, and there’s a lot going on here with a load of 80s indie in the nagging guitar line and a certain needling insistent groove that’s hard to ignore. There are hints of Orange Juice in the mix, not to mention a dash of funk but equally some raucous white soul and a splash of blues, before they chill the vibe with a mega sax break. Why did sax breaks seem to die a death in the 80s? Shit, we need more sax breaks. We need more A.R.T.

AA

A.R.T artwork

29th July 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something quite unique about the Nordic / Scandinavian strain of contemporary post-punk. It’s not easy to pinpoint, nothing you can really put your finger on. But there’s something in that balancing of light and dark, and it’s something I probably became subconsciously attuned to at an early age, listening to A-Ha in the mid-80s when I was still in primary school. I would only later come to realise just how strong the currents of darkness and melancholy ran through their precise pop songs, and that this was what the enduring appeal was years later.

Sleep Kicks don’t sound like A-Ha, of course, although the same basic musical elements are there, not least of all something of an anthemic 80s feel (although that’s more In the vein of The Alarm or Simple Minds and bands with a more overtly mainstream ‘rock’ style). ‘No Chains’ picks up were they left off last year, and they’ve been honing the contrasting elements. The song is dark, but also light, with layers of guitar and a full production that gives it an expansive feel, but it is, also, without question, a killer pop tune with an immense chorus that’s bold and uplifting, with a sweeping choral backing, which makes for a big, fat, juicy earworm.

AA

296649923_435527541924827_3082798543878671684_n

Yr Wyddfa Records – 25th March 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest offering from Holy Coves (who hail from Holy Island, Anglesey, renowned for its long historical links with pirates) is a bold, mid-tempo stroller. Infused with psychedelic and stoner rock, above anything, it’s got arena-friendly anthem stamped all over it – although I don’t mean that as the insult it could be taken. Not everything has to be edgy to be any cop.

Popular doesn’t have to mean weak, watered-down, lowest common denominator, and sometimes artists are popular because they’re good, rather than in spite of the fact. And there was, after all, a time when U2 and Simple Minds both made decent music, and they were packing out immense venues long before they became pompous, overblown parodies of themselves. It from this seam of 80s upscaled sound that ‘The Hurt Within’ is mined: everything about it feels huge, effortlessly amalgamating The Cult and Bruce Springsteen and coating it in a smooth reverbiness.

Holy Codes may or may not have aspirations to be immense, but their sound most definitely is, and it’s got that big, spacious feel; there’s probably an equation that involves ambition plus songwriting and production somewhere, and if there isn’t, then someone should map the co-ordinates of ‘The Hurt Within’ and take it as a blueprint.

New enough to grab anyone with ears, nostalgic enough to appeal to the forty-somethings and perhaps even older, and solid enough to stand up in its own right, it’s hard to fault from where I’m sitting.

AA

140059

Over twenty years and a dozen albums, The Birthday Massacre have become prime exponents of goth synth pop. They describe Fascination as ‘at once the most fully realized album with the bands signature blend of haunting vocals, captivating electronica and aggressive guitars and their most accessible’.

It’s this accessibility that immediately announces itself from the outset. The title, ‘Fascination’, immediately makes my mind leap to the song by The Human League, and this is unquestionably poppy, but this is in a different league instead. It’s the title track that opens the album and it’s a colossal anthem. It’s in the slower mid-pace tempo range, and the production is so immense as to be arena-worthy, the slick synths drifting over big, bombastic guitars. Some may baulk at the notion, but it’s pretty much a power ballad. It paves the way for an album that’s back-to-back bangers.

I mean, make no mistake, this is a pop album in a pure 80s vein, and pushes tendencies that were always in evidence in BM’s work. People often seem to forget just how dark a lot of mainstream pop was in the 80s, but listen to A-Ha, even Howard Jones or Nik Kershaw objectively and the currents of darkness are clearly apparent amidst the clean lines of the clinical synth pop production of the day. It’s perhaps time to re-evaluate what actually constitutes ‘cheesy’ – an adjective so often pinned to the 80s with no real consideration – and cast aside the idea of ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to a lot of music of the era.

‘Stars and Satellites’ is bold and brooding, and probably the most overtly ‘goth’ track of the album’s nine, although ‘Like Fear, Like Love’ grabs bits of The Cure and tosses them into a stomping disco tune. But those drums… they’re great, they’re huge, but they really are the epitome of the 80s sound. Elsewhere, the guitar line on ‘One More Time’ actually goes 80s U2 with heavy hints of Strawberry Switchblade (and they weren’t goth either). Step too far? Maybe for some craving the chunky chug of industrial guitars, because this is fundamentally a riff-free zone, but Fascination works if you embrace the spirit of its being easy on the ear and accessible.

It feels fresh for the band, but also feels like a relatively safe step in the direction of commercialism. It’s ok, and the songwriting and performances are solid throughout, that much is undeniable. It’s one of those albums that may take some time to sink in, in the way that Editors’ On This Light and on This Evening and The Twilight Sad’s Nobody Wants to be Here, Nobody Wants to Leave, felt just that bit mainstream initially. Digesting an overtly ‘pop’ album or a change of direction – and while the direction of Fascination is something that’s always been a part of The Birthday Massacre’s sound – hearing it placed front and central inevitably feels like a shift. And it is a shift, of course, just not one of seismic proportions.

‘Is anyone real anymore?’ they ask on ‘Precious Hearts’ before the final cut, ‘The End of All Stories’ goes Cure again, only this time with monster power chords that border on metal to fill out the mix.

Dig it, soak it in, play it a few times. You’ll probably like it, even if not on first listen.

AA

a2672010454_10

14th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Passive is the second album from French post-punk band Je T’aime, and is the first of a two-part set, which will be completed with the release of Aggressive in the not-too distant future.

The album continues where its predecessor left off, and marks the development of a theme as part of an extended concept work, where we ‘follow the evolution of the same antihero; a common avatar of the three musicians. The tone hardens, the atmosphere becomes more melancholic, and the lyrics embrace bitterness and anger.’ The liner notes explain that Passive ‘continues the theme about the difficulty of growing up. Our main character is constantly caught up in the past, repeats the same mistakes and ends up not being able to move forward in his life. It is no mystery that the band’s music constantly looks for influences in the past 80’s for that reason’.

So many people do get hung up on the past, and seem to hit a point in their life – usually around their early 30s, in my experience – where they simply stop evolving and reach a stasis, a brick wall where they conclude that no good new music has been released since they were in their early 20s and nothing is as good as it used to be. It’s not all memberberries and memes, but there are many agents at play driving an immense nostalgia industry. And it’s easy money: no development required for new ideas when there’s a near-infinite well of past movies and music to plunder and rehash or at least lean on. Would Stranger Things have been the smash that it was if it was set in the present? However great the script, plots or acting, much of its appeal lies in its referencing and recreation of that intangible ‘golden age’. While that ‘golden age’ may depend on when an individual was born, the acceleration of nostalgic revivals and recycling means that kids who weren’t even born in the 80s or 90s are nostalgic for synth pop and grunge by proxy.

Passive is anything but. But what it is, is a dark, heavy slab of dark, bleak, brooding, a mix off sinewy guitars and icy synths with rolling bass and tribal drumming that lands in the domain of early Siouxsie, Pornography­era Cure and The Danse Society around the time of Seduction. The instruments blur into a dense sonic mesh. There’s a tripwire guitarline on ‘Another Day in Hell’, which kids off the album with a gloriously dark, stark, intensity that’s Rozz William’s era Christian Death as if played by X-Mal Deutschland. And if I’m wanking nostalgia over this, it’s less because I miss 1983 (I was 8) than the fact they capture the energy and production of that groundbreaking period with a rare authenticity.

‘Lonely Days’ is a bit more electro-poppy, but has a guitarline that trips along nicely and throws angles and shade. ‘Unleashed’ reminds me more of The Bravery and their take on 80s pop, but then again, The Cure’s influence looms large again, and elsewhere, ‘Stupid Songs’ goes altogether more New Order / Depeche Mode, but then again, more contemporaneously, it’s not a million miles off what Editors were doing on In This Light and On This Evening – and album I found disappointing at first because it felt like derivative 80s electro fare, before the quality of the songs seeped through to convince me.

One thing that’s often overlooked about 80s pop is that dark undercurrents ran through even the most buoyant of tunes from the most chart orientated acts; Duran Duran and Aha, even the music of Nick Kershaw, Howard Jones, A Flock of Seagulls, was cast with shadows flitting beneath that veneer of production. So when they go bouncy disco on ‘Givce Me More Kohl’, the parallels with The Cure’s ‘Let’s Go To Bed’ and ‘The Walk’ are apparent, with a lost and lonely aspect to the vocals, and they go full Disintegration on ‘Marble Heroes’. And that’s cool. It’s poignant, sad, wistful, an emotional cocktail. On Passive, Je T’aime revel in all of those elements of influence and pack them in tight, and they do it so well and with such discipline. They really know what they’re doing: the sound and production is class, and the songs and classic, and the sum of the parts is a truly outstanding album.

AA

a3347450970_10

Chapter 22 Records – 4th of December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Dawn After Dark first emerged in the second wave of goth in the late 80s, at the point where goth intersected with indie and straight-ahead rock to create something altogether more digestible for the masses than the dark, shadowy stylings of the like of The Sisters of Mercy and The March Violets (and this isn’t the time for the goth / not goth debate here, and no-one needs to hear my position on it: I’m going for the short cuts to provide context, nothing more).

The Birmingham-based act were pretty active during this time, playing in the region of 150 UK shows as headliners and support to acts including Balaam And The Angel, Wolfsbane, Fields Of The Nephilim, and Living Colour, and releasing 3 12” singles on Chapter 22 (the label that also launched The Mission in ’86 and released their first two singles, ‘Serpent’s Kiss’ and ‘Garden of Delight’) before calling it a day in 1991. 30 years on, they’ve finally delivered their debut album, and as the title suggests, its emergence is something like a phoenix from the ashes, since they’ve lain dormant all this time save for a one-off show in their hometown in September 2019.

Those three singles – ‘Maximum Overdrive’, ‘Crystal High’, and ‘The Groove’ are all featured here, albeit rerecorded using post-millennium technology and mastering, slotting in nicely alongside seven previously unreleased songs. It’s ‘Maximum Overdrive; that kick-starts the 11-track collection and is pure Cult, which is no shock given the original as performed by a band who sported long hair, leather jackets and bandanas back in the day. This version is much more polished and much more dense than the original, and you get a sense that this was how they always wanted it to sound. It’s less manic, smoother, but it still basks in rock ‘n’ roll excess and wild solos flame all over.

I’ve always filed DAD alongside the likes of Rose of Avalanche, although it’s fair to say they’ve always had a rather harder edge, and this is pressed to the fore on their long-delayed debut album, to the point that on reflection they’re more ones to file alongside The Cult and Zodiac Mindwarp now (only without the preposterous excess of the Bradford hard rockers).

‘The Day the World and I Parted Company’ brings more gritty riffery, and sounds like Sonic Temple era Cult with a hint of The Mission thanks to the twisting guitar lines and all the hammer-on descending runs. It’s enhanced by some overloading chug in the rhythm department, although there’s an expansive psychedelic workout in the mid-section.

Apart from slower, more anthemic stabs like ‘When Will You Come Home to Me’, they focus on the bold rock riffing, and you can’t exactly criticise a late 80s rock band for sounding like a late 80s rock band – and yes, that is the sound of New Dawn Rising, a title that perfectly captures their history and belatedness of their debut. It’s like they’ve never been away, apart from the fact that they’re back sounding crisp, and dense and more 2021, in terms of production if not songs.

It’s a solid, ballsy, gut kicking debut that packs in back-to-back slabs of the kind of rock they supposedly don’t make any more… only, of course, they very much do.

AA

Dawn After Dark artwork 1

12th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Cyborg Amok’s eponymous debut. Sure, there’s the press release, and no, it’s not lazy journalism to take cribs and pointers from press releases. This one forewarns that Cyborg Amok ‘resides somewhere between the brilliance of twilight and the apocalyptic darkness. Their gothic infused synth-rock sound delivers the listener to a panorama of synthetic waves, twisted organic tones and a slightly pop crust … the language angels speak in the darkness.’

I don’t entirely compute the implications of this, can’t even really unravel them, not least of all because I can’t always grasp what passes for ‘gothic’ these days having lost the thread some time in the mid to late 90s with the emergence of cybergoth, which sounded just like so much bad techno to me, and a million miles from the post-punk origins of the genre, and the subsequent ‘waves’ of goth which coincided with myriad hybrid mutant strains. Perhaps I am something of a pursuit in my personal tastes, but as a critic, I try to be more accommodating. But sometimes, you just have to accept that music is music and it’s either good or bad, because your audience are unlikely to share your prejudicial quirks.

Cyborg Amok is Greg Bullock (formerly the keyboardist with RealEyes and Shamen) and drummer Brydon Bullock (no relation as far as is obvious), and their debut album is in fact bringing together their first two (now deleted) EPs, so, if I’m being picky it’s not really a debut album but a compilation (which is also true of The March Violets’ Natural History among others. Not that it detracts from the force of these seven songs pulled together in one place. Oh no. Cyborg Amok kicks.

‘Burden Away’ brings bulldozing bass and stuttering mechanised drums. The rhythm guitar trudges and grinds, while Greg’s brooding baritone vocals registers in the ribcage – but while it’s so much industrial grind, the lead guitars are warped country, and there’s a twangy inflection in the vocals to match. It’s solid, but if you’re looking for a pigeonhole, you’re going to struggle. Things get even more complicated with ‘Still Too Far Out’, which straddles Nightbreed-flavoured second/third wave goth with its organ synth sounds evoking sepulchral gloom against guitars that fizz in a swathe of chorus and flange… and then there’s a fuck-off keyboard solo that’s B-Movie and Ultravox and it may be incongruous by 2020s standards, but perfectly in place in context of those precursors.

With its space-themed title and snarling, bulbous, electronics, ‘Dancing on the Floor of the Sea of Tranquillity’ provides more of the vibes the moniker and title perhaps evoke, and if it suggests extravagant prog enormity, it’s no criticism to say that after its dark, stark intro, it slips towards 80s electropop in the vein of A-Ha.

There are some Cure-esque moments scattered about the album, too, but then this is an album, that assimilated huge swathes of 80s that’s not exactly band-specific, but the zeitgeist.

There’s some overblown prog guitar that’s Yngwie Malmsteen overdone, but once they’re done with the moments of indulgence (‘Choice Not Taken’ is perhaps the greatest showcase of guilt), they deliver some impressive musical moments, where the ambition is equalled by the ability.

They’re at their best when they keep it minimal, sparse, nailed down: last track ‘Another Turn’ bears solid – and favourable – comparisons to Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, with its steely beats and grey, steely guitars backing a gruff, ragged vocal delivery. It’s a style that works well, and while this compilation must provide a point at which to assess the trajectory of their career, the evidence here is that they’re doing everything right and need to forge ahead and capitalise on their work so far, because this is a strong dark album.

AA

240381

29th January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I have a hunch that the ethereal, bohemian songstress may not have been born Gabrielle Ornate, but it’s certainly fitting for the kind of light, decorative, yet expansive and kaleidoscopic electropop showcased on her debut single, ‘The March of the Caterpillars’.

Yes, it has that quintessentially 80s vibe, but then that in itself has become something that’s grown beyond its origins to become a genre unto itself, meaning that this single is both of a time and timeless. Propelled by a solid beat and buoyant bassline, it balances elements of both rock and pop, it’s a perfect vehicle for Gabrielle’s vocal, which switches from quiet and contemplative to full and bold in the choruses.

Lyrically, it’s about evolution and ‘respecting one’s roots’, but said lyrics are largely oblique and poetical, spinning together a succession of thoughts and images to form a semi-abstract flow, which works nicely.

It’s a strong debut, and Gabrielle seems to have emerged in full-fluttering glory.

AA

promo-photo-2

22nd April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Argonaut offshoot and Aural Aggro favourites Videostore have certainly been keeping busy during lockdown: just days after unleashing the lightning strike blast of the 54-second ode to redevelopment, ‘Building Breaking’, with the inclusion of three more previous singles, they’ve delivered a full ten-song album. Better still, the speed of its creation imbues every second with an urgency and immediacy that grabs the listener and keeps a solid grip right to the end.

It’s pitched as the soundtrack to an imaginary 1980s Brat Pack movie set in a Videostore. The songs provide a background for the small-town, the journey and the relationship. Please insert your own characters, plot twists and angst!’

‘Building Breaking’ kicks it off in a flurry of fizzy guitars, and keeping it front-loaded, the dreamy showgazer that is ‘Every Town’, and for all the buzzsaw bangers, there are some beautifully melancholic moments to be found here. They evoke not only a (recent and modern) bygone era, but also conjure a sense of the downbeat and the run-down.

If nostalgia has painted the 80s as an era of shininess, newness, and the dawn of the new consumerism, Vincent’s Picks reminds us that there has always been deprivation, worn-down backstreets and downtrodden folks living mundane lives. The people who rarely feature in big-budget movies. Vincent’s Picks is not about car chases and explosions, espionage and cold-war action. There’s grit and grain, and accessible lo-fi alt-pop in the form of ‘Math Club’. Elsewhere, ‘Aloner’ goes all-out on the big anthem, and they absolutely nail it: what it needs is a montage to accompany it, and lots of shots of rain-soaked brooding.

The opening lines of ‘Not Alone’ have a timeless universality about them, although resonate deep at this moment in time, as Nathan sings in a low, cracked voice that contrasts with Lorna’s clean candyfloss tone, ‘Would you like a cigarette / would you like a cup of tea? / I’m sorry you’re alone… Would you like another drink? / Would you like to watch TV?’. Around the world, there are so many who would pretty much kill to have a drink or cup of tea with another human being. It breaks into a monster guitar break and mess of overloading distortion that’s like Dinosaur Jr gone industrial.

The Pixies-esque ‘My Back’ is an absolute scorcher, and the cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ is unexpected, and really rather good: Lorna takes the lead vocals and it’s a kinds Cure meets Strawberry Switchblade that does justice to a classic. You can almost imagine a reworking of the video inbuilt into the imaginary movie, before ‘Sleep Complete’ brings things to an uplifting resolution.

Vincent’s Picks isn’t an overtly or explicitly concept or soundtrack album, but it does set itself up to present a kind of narrative flow, and it works well. More importantly, there isn’t a duff song on it, which makes it one of my picks, too.

AA

a2791402635_16

AA