Posts Tagged ‘Indie’

Partisan Records – 16th September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s simply impossible to keep up with everything all the time. It feels like a recurrent theme, and even something of a mantra: so many bands, so little time.

Over the course of eighteen years, The Black Angels have cemented their position as, as their bio puts it, ‘standard-bearers for modern psych-rock’. And that’s not hyperbole: it’s a fair assessment.

2010’s Phosphene Dream was a major let-down, particularly in the wake of two such stunning predecessors, with Passover and Directions to See a Ghost. Consequently, feeling disillusioned, both Indigo Meadow and Death Song bypassed me, but Wilderness of Mirrors landed in my inbox with the promise of a return to early form after a five-year gap – or, as they put it, ‘marks a triumphant return with their foot on the pedal. Political tumult, the pandemic and the ongoing devastation of the environment have provided ample fodder for their signature sound and fierce lyrical commentary’.

For Wilderness of Mirrors, the band worked with Brett Orrison (co-producer) and Dinosaur Jr engineer John Agnello ‘to achieve something fresh and new while retaining their heavily influential classic sound’.

Wilderness of Mirrors is epic and feels like it needs to be a double album simply because it has such weight and important in a way that’s hard to really define. It’s not sprawling and awkwardly indulgent: yes, it does contain fifteen songs, but less than half extend beyond four minutes. But it’s an album of density.

Opener ‘Without a Trace’ starts out tentative-sounding distant before the bass crashes in like a landslide and in an instant, the listener is sucked into a dense sonic whirl. It’s the gritty bass that also dominates the pulverising ‘History of the Future’ that lands somewhere between Ther Jesus and Mary Chain and Ride, with some blistering guitar that’s a wall of fuzzing, fizzing treble against a busy beat and a bass that buzzes so hard it practically cuts the top off your head. And just like that, you’re back to remembering why this band mattered in the first place. Everything is a murky swamp of reverb, a deep 60s vibe radiating through the 80s and 90s filter.

I’ve long noted how the Jesus and Mary Chain essentially played surf pop with feedback and distortion, and ‘Empires Falling’ follows this approach magnificently, and with its relentless rhythm section and squalling guitars, it bears strong and obvious parallels with A Place to Bury Strangers.

It’s best played at high volume, of course: this is guitar music to melt the brain, and if songs like ‘El Jardn’ and the acoustic ‘Here & Now’ are more accessible, melodic and overtly indie, they offer some much-needed respite, while still boasting some howling guitars. There’s a vaguely gothic hue to the sneaking guitars and dubby grooves of ‘Make it Known’ and the slower ‘The River’, and it works well in contributing to the album’s rich and varied atmosphere and contrast with the jittery tension of the title track.

Ultimately, the best thing about Wilderness of Mirrors is that is sounds like The Black Angels – quintessentially, unmistakeably, with its motorik grooves, simple, repetitive riffs and song strictures that define the chorus not by a significant shift in key or chords, but by the explosion of sound, the simple structures executed with rare panache. They’re definitely on form here.

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Bronson Recordings

Christopher Nosnibor

Life’s short. Too short. It may not always seem it, when you’re slugging through long days in grinding employment that earns a wage that buys less by the year – or, right now, by the week – or when you’re sitting in waiting rooms in doctors or dentists or hospitals, or waiting for trains or busses, ever fewer and ever later. Life as lived, in real-time, is often a drag. But then you realise a year, three, five, ten, has evaporated while you’ve been willing each day to pass just so you can move on from it and move on to the evening, the weekend, a better future that never comes.

But even when time drags, we’re busy and don’t have time to waste on shit we don’t want to do, beyond the work, the groceries, the bill-paying, the essentials. What little leisure time we have that we’re awake enough to enjoy is too little to squander on crap that isn’t the crap we want to spent it on, meaning life’s too short for crap bands and crap music.

On opening the email urging me to listen to the latest from Leatherette, the single ‘Sunbathing’, lifted from their upcoming debut album Fiesta, out on 14th October, my heart sank as my slow, scrolling broadband, revealed a promo short of the Bologne-based quintet a segment at a time.

Turns out they’re infinitely better to listen to than they look, and ‘Sunbathing’ very much fits with everything I’ve just said about life being too short. It’s pitched as a ‘song about hope, dreaming of a better life and telling the world to go f**k itself when needed. It sounds loud, fast and rough, an irresistible punk-shoegaze anthem’, and the band explains that “‘Sunbathing’ was almost born as a joke, it came out of nowhere. We wanted to write a happy cheesy pop song and then completely destroy it from within”.

And they succeed: in the space of just over a minute and a half, they throw down a sackload of post-punk angularity delivered with a rawness that brings real bite. Drawing on a broad range of stylistic elements all tangled together, it’s simultaneously familiar-feeling and fresh, not to mention exhilarating, with squalling guitars howling through a rack of effects lurking behind a pleasant jangle and played at a frantic pace, propelled by some whirlwind drumming. It’s a rush, a clash of sensations, disaffected and yet uplifting. Short lives demand short songs, and with ‘Sunbathing’, Leatherette are spot on.

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Agh. We shouldn’t dig this… but we do. It’s kinda grunge light, a bit Weezer (ugh),and early Foos (meh) but then it’s also a bit Bivouac, and so on, and it’s hard to hate it in a nostalgic kind of way…

Over the past decade, it’s become increasingly in vogue for bands to pay lip service to 90s alt rock, but many of them capture only the most surface level cosmetic elements, missing the critical components that defined that decade’s underground scene. A chorus pedal, a Big Muff, and a flannel don’t go far on their own merits. To put it bluntly, many groups fundamentally do not “get it”. But Baltimore, MD’s Dosser absolutely does.

Where many of their contemporaries are little more than thinly-veiled pop punk acts doing retro cosplay, Dosser gets at the core of what made 90s guitar rock such a compelling force. From leads that hearken back to early Weezer, massive riffs that evoke Jawbox, and razor-sharp pop-rock sensibilities that bring to mind the Foo Fighters’ debut LP, this is a band synthesizing the best parts of various forms into their own potent formula.

Formed in the summer of 2018 by Will Teague, Bret Lanahan, Eric Dudley, and Max Detrich, Dosser’s debut LP finds a band playing at a level well beyond what their short lifespan might suggest. Coming out on Really Rad Records in January 2023, Violent Picture / Violent Sound is about as strong an opening volley as it gets.

Of the track, Dosser’s Bret Lanahan (guitar, vocals) says: "Since I was a kid I’ve struggled greatly with crippling anxiety and depression. I didn’t understand when I was younger what either of those things were and always thought something was wrong with me or I had something bad inside me making me feel this way. I used to have this kind of weird day dream a lot that if I could just open up my chest and let whatever was inside of me that was making me feel so terrible just spill out, maybe I would feel better.

It wasn’t a bloody scene or anything like that, I guess it was just the only way my younger brain could picture getting rid of bad thoughts. As I got older and had a better understanding of what mental illness looked like I was able to get help in the form of medication. The song goes back and forth with the feeling of being trapped in one of two corners that I think are pretty common in people trying to deal with or treat mental illness. Either you treat it with medication and get to a point where you feel almost nothing at all and totally empty, or just deal with it and have such intense feelings that you can hardly bare it. Finding a release is the hardest thing to do. The lyrics are fairly simple but they hold a great weight for me."

Listen to ’Joy Thief’ here:

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Photo: Zack Pohuski

After a lengthy hiatus from 2013 to making a return to the fray this summer, Benjamin Heal’s Cowman alter ego is back with a vengeance: hot on the heels of the Crunch’ EP, which was essentially the salvage from an aborted album project, we have a full-length album proper in the form of Slaughter.

The title may or may not be a fairly off-the-cuff and easy reference to its being recorded at a studio by the name of The Slaughterhouse – evidently not the one in Driffield, favoured by Earache acts back in the day, since it was destroyed by a fire in the 90s – but it equally seems appropriate to the tense, tortured atmosphere that pervades this release.

Kicking off energetically with ‘Hydrant’, this is the sound of Cowman reinvigorated. It’s still gloriously lo-fi, and still warrants Pavement comparisons I effortlessly tossed at its predecessor, but this carries the unbridled excitement of those early EPs which preceded Slanted. But moreover, it’s fuller, scuzzier, dirtier, somehow more adrenalized, and also more frenetic, more angular, as if Trumans Water had witnessed the apocalypse. In this sense, it’s very much a return to the gnarly grind of 2013’s Artificial Dissemination and Palpating the Rumen (2009).

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This tension carries on into ‘Rinka’, two and a quarter minutes of multi-layered mumbling vocals largely submerged beneath a hefty chug of rhythm guitar and a lead guitar that just about carries a motif, but wanders and around as if half-blinded and disoriented by a spinning compass on a map that’s missing bits.

‘Blackstock’ is a full-on wall of sound, the mangled vocals echoing impenetrably in a churning cyclical riff, and it’s not until ‘Kissing the Rock with Eyes’ that we get something approximating a groove, but even then, it’s impossible to settle into it for long. The beat may be vaguely baggy, but it’s urgent, thwacked out at a hundred miles an hour while the guitars are cracked up, overdriven and grungy. Something has happened here, and perhaps perusing the 2010 Cowvers album, which includes rough-as-fuck renditions of songs by Big Black, The Fall, yes, Trumans Water gives a clue of the roots to which Cowman is returning to here, but there’s also a newfound sense of purpose here, as if there’s a real need to channel some post-pandemic angst into big, bad, noise.

‘Itch’, clocking in at a minute and forty-one is pure Big Black, with a squall of treble-to-the-max guitar clanging over a pummelling blast of drum machine, before the dark, dank mass of the lumbering closer, ‘Wichita Black Sun’ rolls in and mines a mid-tempo motoric groove for over a quarter of an hour. The nagging monotony is integral to the experience, like a feedback-strewn reimagination of Lard’s ‘Time to Melt’ and the entire back catalogue of Terminal Cheesecake pulped into a single document.

While ‘Crunch’ was fun, Slaughter feels like the real Cowman. It’s not an easy or accessible record; in fact, it probably requires four stomachs to fully digest, but it’s a magnificent set of dingy alt-rock noise with firm roots in the early 90s, the likes of which is rare these days, yet seems fitting for these challenging times.

Listen EXCLUSIVELY to album tracks ‘’Blackstock’ and ‘Sticks, Stones, Fingers and Bones’ here:

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7ebra are a new duo consisting of 25-year-old twin sisters from Malmö, who grew up playing music together. Inez plays electric guitar and sings, Ella plays a keyboard, organ and Mellotron – whilst manually playing drum samples with her feet – as they both sing haunting harmonies in a way that only twins can.

Beautiful but punk, minimalist but epic. The duo have already made their mark on the Swedish music scene with support slots for Bob Hund and The Dandy Warhols. ‘If I Ask Her’ is the addictive debut single and the first taste of their Tore Johansson (The Cardigans, Franz Ferdinand) produced debut album that will be out early 2023 on PNKSLM Recordings.

Listen here:

Live
Aug 25 – Stockholm, Sweden – Hus 7 – w/ Ghost Woman
Aug 27 – London, UK – The Shacklewell Arms
Aug 28 – London, UK – TBA
Oct 20-22 – Rotterdam, Netherlands – Left of the Dial Festival
Dec 2-3 – Gothenburg – Viva Sounds Festival
(more dates TBA)

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2nd September 2022

James Wells

The last time we encountered Slow Cooked Bears here was back in December 2020, on the release of their single ‘The Grand Scheme’, the follow up to the stark, tense-sounding ‘Space Odyssey’.

They’ve been hard at it back on the live circuit since then, and these things change bands, harden them, shape them, give them focus, and a reforged sense of identity. Well it can, or it can crush them. The London trio have followed the former path, and rather than becoming crushed by the wheels of industry, have been building themselves nicely.

Pitched as being for fans of The Smashing Pumpkins, Queens of the Stone Age, Placebo and Pixies, ‘We’ll Never Be Apart’ was produced with Michael Smith whose former clients include Wolf Alice and Anteros, and promises ‘a giant leap’ – and yes, it delivers.

With a rolling bass and chiming guitar by way of an intro, it breaks into a big bridge that becomes a surging chorus. You don’t get many songs where the hook is the guitar section after the vocals, but with ‘We’ll Never Be Apart’, they bring it. And, while in places it hints at the kind of early 00s arena indie, the songs packs in drive and edge that’s emotionally rich and owes more to the likes of The Twilight Sad than it does to Keane or Coldplay back in the day.

On other words, it really is a huge evolution that sees the band straddling boundaries. It’s got enough heft to not be a complete sell-out, but it’s certainly not as dark or edgy as ‘Space Oddysey’, being a whole lot less Joy Division / Editors / Interpol / Cinematics, and less Placebo in collision with Royal Blood and Black Keys than ‘The Grand Scheme’, and hinting at ambitions of broader horizons.

Objectively, it’s a great tune, and could well mark a turning point for the band. Is it too early for me to say I preferred their earlier stuff without sounding like a hipster cockend? Guess that depends on the next single, right?

Artwork - Slow Cooked Bears

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.

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A.R.T artwork

12th August 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

While we swelter in the middle of the hottest, driest summer on record, during which wild fires and hosepipe bands sweep the nation, people are shitting themselves about paying for heating in the winter as the cost of living crisis bites ever deeper. When a tub of butter costs £7 and people are staying home because they can’t afford to put fuel in their vehicles, it’s clear that things are beyond fucked and that this isn’t simply some post-Covid dip. This is aa cataclysmic collapse, exacerbated by shit government and capitalist greed. You see, not everyone is struggling here. The top guys, the ones who make all the money from the work of their employees, their doing ok. The major shareholders in the companies raking in profit by the million, by the billion, they’re doing ok. Bankers are landing double-figure pay-rises while the people who keep the country going – from the teaches and nurses to rail staff and refuse collectors – are queuing at food banks at the end of their working day. This crisis, then, is a crisis of social division, a crisis of capitalism.

Formed in 2018, Bedroom Tax sound nothing like Benefits, but both bands are clearly part of a growing swell of stylistically disparate but politically similar bands who exist to voice dissatisfaction, and their very name reminds us of just how hard the Conservative government has pushed an agenda to fuck over the poor.

‘Kin’ is a hybrid amalgam of indie, alt UK rap, and blues influences and they’re probably the post-millennial answer to The Streets – only they’re better than that.

‘Kin’ delves into kitchen sink territory, and blends social commentary and disaffection – not so much bile but a whole lot of downtrodden day-to-day depictions, with the jittery drumming and scratchy guitars of the twitchy verses leading into a magnificently melodic chorus that’s buoyed along by some jangling guitar work. It’s genuinely beautiful, and so well-delivered you can forgive the rhyming of ‘issues’ and ‘tissues’ in the blink of an eye.

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Kin - Release Artwork

Curation Records

Christopher Nosnibor

Elkyn is very much about the slow burn, the gradual diffusion, both musically and in terms of career trajectory. Joey Donnelly unveiled elkyn in 2020, having made the subtle shift from performing as elk and releasing the magnificently understated beech EP in 2019. Since then, he’s continued to release a steady stream off beautifully-crafted singles as teasers for the album, the most recent of which, ‘if you’re still leaving’ emerged in March of this year. Interestingly, the melody bears certain parallels with U2’s ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, but nothing could be further from the bombast of the stadium-fillers’ epic: this is introspective bedroom indie, quiet and contemplative; there’s no ego, no pomp, no big production. ‘So this is it,’ he sings with a weak resignation.

So while progress certainly hasn’t been slow, it’s not exactly been swift, either, and listening to holy spirit social club seemingly explains why. To begin with, there’s the level of detail in the arrangements: on the surface, they’re fairly sparse, simple, acoustic works, but listen closely and there is so much more to hear, from delicate bass and washes of synth, rolling drums and incidental interludes with rippling piano and more. Reverb and layering are applied subtly and judiciously, too, and these things don’t happen by accident, but through a close and careful ear on every bar. The absence of capitalisation may niggle a pedant like me, but it’s clearly another conscious decision and rather than coming across like an irritating affectation, feels more like another aspect of elkyn’s self-opinion, the small ‘i’ indicative of a kind of abasement, while in no way seeking sympathy or validation. It’s a cliché to the point of a running joke when musicians say they write songs for themselves and aren’t bothered if anyone likes them, but with elkyn, it seems genuinely plausible: these songs are so intimate, it’s as if he’s playing them under the assumption no-one else will ever hear them.

If ‘found the back of the tv remote’ (another single cut) sounds like dreamy, winsome indie, it’s equally reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr’s more stripped back moments, and Donnelly shares that sense of almost being embarrassed to be audible as he sings comes through in J Mascis’ delivery. But then, this leads us to the second reason why elkyn isn’t banging stuff out every few weeks – these songs are intensely intimate, and filled with vulnerability and self-criticism, and one suspects that tendency to self-critique extends to his recordings in the same was as social situations, relationships, and life in general.

But while the tone is plaintive, mournful, regretful, sad, that isn’t the vibe of the songs in themselves, because elkyn manages to infuse every song with a certain optimism, the melancholy flavoured with hope. There’s a breeziness, a brightness, I might even say a ‘summeriness’ about many of the songs on holy spirit social club that renders them uplifting. But even at its saddest, most disconsolate and dejected, holy spirit social club brings joy simply by virtue of being so achingly wonderful in every way.

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