Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

To coincide with the release of the album Das Ram, Rachel Mason has teamed up with Eric Leiser to produce a really rather trippy promo video for the track ‘Queen Bee’.

“I was invited to watch a beekeeper work while on an artist’s residency. The gender dynamics are so unique,” says Rachel Mason. “There is one matriarch – the Queen Bee, surrounded by a massive, buzzing population. It’s fascinating to witness the dynamic of power and to think about that on a psychological level – a female with that much power, surrounded by hundreds of workers who are there to pollinate crops, which humans depend on. They have total determination towards a single goal.”

Created by Eric Leiser, an award-winning NYC-based artist, filmmaker, animator, puppeteer, writer and holographer, the new video underlines this track’s intensity. He commented, “I was drawn to the symbolic subtext of this song. Bees are presently in danger of extinction, stemming from decades of environmental degradation. These amazing insects are among the most important creatures to humans, pollinating over 80% of all flowering plants including 70 of the top 100 food crops.”

“For me, the inner story is of a powerful female burdened with providing for the hive when she would rather pursue secret inclinations,” says Leiser. "Animating up to 50 individual bees in the dense swarm sequences was my personal challenge. As an artist I always attempt to push the animation toward new dimensions of visual complexity in hopes of creative evolution.”

Watch the video for ‘Queen Bee’ here:

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17th April 2017

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: because neither music reviewing nor cranking out postmodern novels no-one reads doesn’t pay the bills, like most writers and people slugging along in the lowest reaches of the music industry – personally, I like to pretty it up by describing it as ‘operating at a grass roots level’ – I’m compelled to endure the drudge of corporate life to survive. After a bad day at the office – which is every day – I like the fact I can either escape into discovering brilliant new music. Equally, it’s immensely satisfying to savage a release just because I can’t get away with calling my boss a cunt and the rage has to find some outlet.

So here I am, unwinding with a pint of homebrew and among the email stack that’s perhaps even more terrifying than my inbox at work, and Plastic Baricades present themselves. I really shouldn’t like this: the band cite an incongruous list of influences including Radiohead, Oasis, The Shins, Biffy Clyro, Coldplay, Muse, Razorlight, and Nirvana.

They’re pitches as being ‘romantic and honest, gloomy and curious, melodic and melancholic’, a band who ‘chronicle life in the troubled yet fascinating XXI century with painstaking sincerity.’ No question: these are troubled and fascinating times. If we entered the new millennium with a sense of trepidation, there was no way anyone could have predicted the shitstorm that is Trump and Brexit and… well, the list goes on.

‘How Goldfish Grow’ is a supremely summery tune with a feelgood vibe. It’s built around a nagging guitar line and buoyant bass groove, and with a huge, hooky, singalong chorus, infectious may be a cliché but the most appropriate word going to describe ‘How Goldfish Grow’.

Plastic Barricades

Schoolkids Records – 22nd April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

As I kid – and especially as a teenager – I thought I knew everything, and that anyone over 30 was ancient, a has-been and that it was impossible to be cool past a certain age. But even then, I envied some of the older people I knew – largely through music and record shops – who had seen punk and new wave bands I’d got into in their heyday (or at all).

Hindsight is indeed wonderful, especially when viewed from a vantage of being older and wiser – and while the early 90s felt exciting for someone who was properly old enough to go to gigs on their own on turning 18 in 1993, it’s only really now that it’s possible to really reflect on the fact that there are people in their teens and 20s who will forever curse having been born too late to experience the grunge explosion first hand.

Bettie Seveert aren’t a grunge band, but it was on going to see Dinosaur Jr – who, despite having been around a lot longer, really got to ride the crest of the grunge wave – at Nottingham’s Rock City touring ‘Where You Been’ in February 1993, that I first encountered Come, and (then) Melody Maker darlings Bettie Serveert.

24 years on from that gig and a full quarter century from their debut album Palomine, and the Amsterdam-based act deliver their tenth album: it’s a respectable and steady work-rate by any standards, and what matters is that ‘Damaged Good’ is a great alternative rock album, which displays a neat pop sensibility without in any way being cheesy, corny or lightweight. Released in Benelux last September, it’s now getting a full global release, and this is definitely a good thing. While they may not have received the press backing, or replicated the success of Palomine commercially, creatively, Bettie Serveert have still got it.

Opener ‘B-Cuz’ brings the bounce, not to mention a blend of 60s pop and punk energy and makes for a neat entry to the album. ‘Brother (in Loins)’ brings a darker, post-punk atmosphere and twists in element of 90s alt-rock to a song that has the disco pop groove stylings of Blondie. Elsewhere, there’s a purity and innocence about the vintage indie stylings of ‘Whatever Happens’, and the shuffling beat and darker undercurrents which bubble beneath the buoyant bass of ‘Unsane’ calls to mind ‘Gran Turismo’ era Cardigans. Again, this is a good thing.

In fact, there are no bad things about Damaged Good. The eight-minute ‘Digital Sin Nr 7’ finds the band indulging their more experimental and considerably noisier side, but holding it all together with a tense bass groove. ‘Love Sick’ with Peter de Bos is a driving grunge pop belter: not a song that sounds like it belongs in the 90s so much as a timeless hook-filled cracker of a tune. And herein lies the key to what makes Damaged Good not just good, but great: it’s an album of songs, and while varied in style, the quality is both high and consistent. Songs matter, and there isn’t a dud to be found here.

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House Of Mythology – 7th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Patchy’ would be a reasonable assessment of Ulver’s work over recent years. While ‘ATGCLVLSSCAP’ was the manifestation of a band pushing themselves experimentally, ‘Wars of the Roses’ was pretty toothless. Their collaboration with Sunn O))), on the other hand was a belter, but then, the extent to which the album’s success was down to the hooded doom colossi is not easy to measure. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a band trying out something different – in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Few phrases are more irksome than ‘I know what I like, and I like what I know’, and bands who churn out the same predictable fare album after album, Quo style are simply careerists, not artists, and personally, I’m not interested. It all becomes wallpaper, aural chewing gum after a while.

But Ulver, a band who’ve evolved from their black metal origins to become a band synonymous with variety, perhaps suffer from a lack of self-awareness. Pursuing a different trajectory is fine, but it’s important to be able to assess whether or not it’s actually any cop.

And so it is that their pop album fails not on account of the fact that it’s a pop album, but on account of the fact it’s a second-rate pop album. It apes the slick production values of the mid to late 80s, and is dominated by bombastic but bland mid-tempo synthscapes. The choruses are ultimately forgettable and there really isn’t much to get a hold of, despite what the cover art seems to imply.

Modelled on A-Ha but without any nuts, filtered through the blandening contemporary reimagining of the 80s a la Bastille but minus the hooks, and with some sub-Depeche Mode stylings thrown into the mix, it all makes for a bollock-numbingly dull affair.

 

ulver-the-assassination-of-julius-caesar

Christopher Nosnibor

I struggle to find Bad Apples, even with my phone’ sat-nav. Talk about underground! There’s nothing like being in the know for more niche events. Hunkering down with a Newcastle Brown and Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Age of Reason, there’s a relentless thunder of thrash and grinding metal hammering out of the speakers in the upstairs bar while I wait for the first act.

It’s pretty quiet in terms of people, but then it’s the Thursday before payday and storm Doris is raging hard outside: it’s cold, it’s wet, it’s windy, and generally unappealing. Storm Doris is also the reason the headliners – who are bringing the drum kit – have still to arrive at the venue five minutes after the first act is due on, and our planned interview hasn’t happened. Music writing isn’t all cut-and-thrust, hob-nobbing and ligging: it involves a lot of hanging around, a lot of waiting, a lot of time sitting, drinking beer alone in a corner and reading books. It also involves a lot of standing, a lot of cross-city legwork, and a fair amount of train travel.

In a change to the advertised bill, which listed Sinkers (who are nowhere to be seen), and Lincoln ‘soul punk’ four-piece Striped Sight as the first act on the bill, Conrad Ashton steps up to play some acoustic numbers. This comes as quite a relief, because the write-up for the aforementioned ‘soul punk’ act sounded truly heinous. Durham Yakka Conrad Ashton – who handed me one of his plectrums sporting a Newcastle Brown logo on the flipside having clocked me supping a bottle of Broon – knows how to bash out a heartfelt punk tune solo on an acoustic guitar. Balancing keen melodies with a real sense of attack, he’s an engaging performer. He pings a string during the third song, ‘Straight to the Man’. “I’ve not got a spare guitar, like,” he apologises. Thankfully, one of the guys from Lost in Winter is on hand, and armed with a seven-string electric guitar, Conrad picks up precisely where he left off to play the last six bars. He wrapped up his acoustic -now-electric set on yet another guitar after another string met its end, and its credit to him for carrying it off with self-effacing humour. A true pro, and with some decent songs to boot.

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Conrad Ashton

Lost In Winter scream ‘technical’ and ‘rich middle-class posters’, with their haircuts, clan suede boots, neat beards, a five-string bass and two guitarists both geared up with seven strings. One of the guitarists spends an age clamping a camera to the PA speaker stand while the drummer fiddles with his cymbals and the singer, in a shiny new-looking biker jacket performs head-rolls. Christ, the kit they’ve got probably cost more than I earn in a year – and of course, they sound absolutely fucking incredible. They need to, of course: their brand of atmospheric, melody-driven neo-prog is crafted with near-infinite attention to detail. It wouldn’t work without those microscopic nuances, the fifty shades of delay and delicate tube crunch. But what does it all amount to? Not a lot. Lost in Winter prove slick but dull in their overly serious emoting of lines about how we ‘crumble to dust’ and how ‘we must fight our way out and into the light.’

There’s no such pomposity where Maidstone five-piece Weekend Recovery are concerned. They set up swiftly, and Lorin rocks up in a long animal-print coat which she whips off to reveal a crop top that says she’s read to rock. And rock they do. This is a band with power, passion and an infectious energy, and watching them pour everything into every song, you’d never guess they’d just spent eight hours stuck in a van and piled on stage with barely three minutes to soundcheck.

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Weekend Recovery

And while Lorin is the band’s clear focal point – she’s got real presence and never stays still for a second, as she struts her stuff and tosses banter like she was born to do it – it’s clear that this is a band who operate as a unit: they’re tight, cohesive and look like they’re having a blast up there. The songs themselves are punchy: banging out solid rock tunes with a keen pop sensibility, Weekend Recovery know their way around a hook, and no mistake. The set concludes with single cut and reason for the tour, ‘Don’t Try and Stop Me’, and it’s ace.

It’s a strong start to an ambitious tour, which should – if there’s any justice – see them expand their fan base considerably.

January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s nothing wrong with pop. Critics the world over will tell you that pop is trash, that it has less artistic currency than any other musical style. We don’t mean it, at least as abrasively and directly as all that. And those who do man it are terrible snobs who lack the broadmindedness to be a just critic. Any music critic worth paying attention to loves pop – good pop. This means I’m not talking about the mass-produced r’n’b slop that proliferates in the top 40. What, they dispensed with that? Well, R1 did, and that perhaps shows just how devalued mainstream pop has become. But moving on… pop isn’t always a dirty word. Quality pop is a rare find.

Balancing expansive, bombastic, surging songs with more introspective, low-key yet deft and accessible songs, Ukrane’s Vagabond Specter produce pop of a rare quality: their synth-led songs are dreamy, layered. Pablo Specter, the band’s singer dispenses lyrics – his voice heavily processed and accented – about swans and dancing, and he’s got a decent range which spans from the light and soaring to a crooning baritone.

They’re not lightweight or lacking in substance or imagination, either. There’s a magical electronic snowstorm in the middle of ‘Scars as Notes’, and ‘Dancing in the Light’ has guitar chug, buoyant synths and a bouncy vocal, and calls to mind XTC’s ‘Making Plans for Nigel’. XTC are a perfect example of a pop band and ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ is as good a pop song as you’ll ever hear. This is not critical opinion: it’s fact. So, by associative connections, Vagabond Specter are a great pop band, and ‘Mirrors’ is a great album. And it is: as much as it’s steeped in nostalgia and historicity, it’s a cracking pop album which harks back to certain vintage. There’s nothing wrong with that: great songs defy genre, age and epoch.

 

Vagabond Specter

No Sleep Records – 16th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I have to admit, I’d been wondering what was happening with Battle lines. Following the single releases ‘Colonies’ and ‘Hunting’ (split with Post War Glamour Girls), and a storming set at the Brudenell to launch it, there was talk of an album when I chatted with the band afterwards, and then… Well, they seemed to drop off the radar. Carly had mentioned work and all of the things that get in the way of doing things, although it was some time ago, and I’d had a few pints during the evening and what with work and an endless stream of new releases demanding my attention… well, I sort of forgot about things. I’m sorry for the fact that this makes me the same as pretty much everyone else: I blame the ‘net age, the insane pace of our post-postmodern culture, where memories are overlaid and replaced in an instant, buried in the endless blizzard of shiny new things, images, sounds, more bad news and another media frenzy over the latest celebrity scandal. And so, a guilty late review of an album by a band I’m a big fan of.

While I’m looking around at intangibles to blame, I’m also aware that I’m feeding my own anxieties and understanding more the pressure on any artist, in any medium, to devote as much time to promotion as to the production of actual art. It’s all about the momentum! Paradoxically, to weather the storm that is the blizzard of social media, one is required to contribute to it further, and constantly. If you’re out of the public eye, you’re forgotten in a flash. It’s an absurd situation, of course: artists need to retreat in order to produce. In an over-loud world, silence is good, and importantly, silence from a band means they’re likely holed up working on material.

Battle Lines, individually and collectively, have been getting on with their lives, and thankfully, have been doing the things that are important, instead of fretting over their public profile. The press release apologises for their apparent absence, but is matter-of-fact about things:

It’s not a secret that we’ve been very quiet over the last year… There’s no big story, we love each other, we’re as good friends as we’ve ever been. Life has moved on for all of us, and we now reside in New York, London, Brighton and Leeds, geography prevents us from touring, but it can’t prevent us from releasing new music.

And so, while I was busy being distracted, Battle Lines slipped out their debut album, a record I’d waited more years than I care to count for: having first discovered them in their previous guise as Alvin Purple, I’d been captivated by the quality and richness of their dark, post-punk influenced material and the incredibly assured live performances they gave so consistently.

The switch to Battle Lines marked a refocusing: the energy which effused from their earlier songs was directed more inward, and the material displayed an almost ascetic discipline in its execution on those first single releases and in the live shows, more clinical, more icily intense than their previous incarnation.

This is all captured perfectly on Primal. The sparse title track and album opener hints equally at The XX and Closer era Joy Division. But then, glacial electropop undercurrents and thunderous tribal drumming also define the sound. And the sound… the fact they’ve taken their time over this means that the sound is honed to perfection. There isn’t a note out of place. That isn’t to say it’s overproduced within an inch of its sterile life or stripped of its soul: they’ve pulled everything to tight as to render it almost claustrophobically dense, a work which offers an insight into a near-obsessive control over the output. In context, it makes sense:

There’s an honesty about the notes which accompany the release which is at once uncomfortable and refreshing:

Lyrically this was an incredibly dark place to go to, I had come out of a relationship that became mentally abusive; looking back I wondered who I had become in excusing that kind of behaviour. This is what drove me in the album, those darkest moments became a journey of self discovery and a realisation of who I really am and what I deserved.

When life is out of control, what can you do but obsess about the things you can control – your art? But from darkness comes light, and creativity can be so cathartic. As dark as Primal is, it contains some truly beautiful and magnificently uplifting musical moments. Carly’s vocals at times soar so high as to disappear from the register of the average human ear, but ‘Sea of Fear’ is a swelling anthem of a track, and the sunburst shoegaze of ‘Smother’ ripples with the joy of drinking in clear air and rediscovering the potentialities of life.

‘Outsider’ is built around an insistent motoric beat and exploits the quiet / loud dynamic, bursting into explosive shoegaze wall-of-FX guitars which call to mind Ride in their early years, but as is always the case with Battle Lines, Carly’s ultra-high-frequency vocals means they don’t really sound like any of their forebears, or their contemporaries.

Of their single releases, only ‘Hunting’ has made it to the album. This is a bold and admirable choice, and one which makes a statement: a statement which says that \Primal is an album proper, a document, and not a ‘Hunting’ is, of course, a belting wall of noise driven by a twitchy disco beat and shuddering synth with metallic screeds of guitar peeling off a Donna Summer groove, over which Carly comes on like Siouxsie Sioux, breathy and intense.

The album concludes with ‘Riot’, a richly-layered and uplifting song which blossoms in a screed of guitar noise over an insistent rhythm section, the drums and bass tight and locked into a sedate groove.

Primal displays remarkable poise, and as much as its architecture is concerned with the turbulence which inspired its lyrics and overall tone, its coherence and control are remarkable. But rather than feeling soulless in its clinical execution, there’s a clear sense that Primal is about holding it together and showing just what can be achieved through sheer will and determination and the exertion of mind over matter. Despite the obstacles, personal and geographical, Battle Lines have (meticulously) produced a powerful album that was more than worth the wait.

 

Battle Lines - Primal