Posts Tagged ‘Post-Punk’

23rd June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m a huge sucker for that strain of Joy Division / Cure inspired 21st century post-punk as exemplified by Interpol, White Lies and early Editors – at least when done well. And On the evidence of their previous releases, Leeds’ Tabloids do it well. Given that they formed in 2013 and have to date only an EP and single to their credit, their debut album has effectively been some four years in the making. In doing so, they’ve created a work that feels meticulously crafted, but by no means sterile or overworked.

It’s also a very ‘Leeds’ affair: produced by Lee Smith and Jamie Lockhart (The Cribs, Pulled Apart By Horses) and mastered by Tom Woodhead, formerly of ¡Forward, Russia!. Their input has certainly been sympathetic to the band’s objectives, and they’ve balanced crisp pop sensibilities with atmospheric, analoguey tones and a vintage 80s snare-led drum sound.

The inclusion of the previous single releases does nothing to diminish the sense of All The Things That You’ve Become standing as a coherent album, although there’s very much a ‘debut album’ feel to it on account of this.

‘Pedestal’ reduces a Smiths-inspired jangle to a minimalist jag of tension skewed across a thumping bassline with a nagging lead guitar line and a falsetto vocal providing the key hooks to a killer alt-pop tune.

‘Circle’ is a magnificent, emotionally-charged slow-burner, and one of the album’s standout tracks. Taking the tempo and the drive back, it’s one of those songs that bursts into a climactic finale at precisely the right point.

Ordinarily, basing an album’s merit, or even its context, within a framework of reference points either smacks of lazy journalism or is otherwise indicative of a band who are painfully derivative. But when you’re looking at something which is knowingly and purposefully steeped in heritage, the touchstones are essentially serve to define the work. When operating in a critical capacity, it’s not necessarily as reductive as noting ‘X sounds like Y’ so much as questioning how the material holds up against the all-important points of influence. It is, of course, emblematic of the nostalgia which dominates our present space. We want bands which remind us, if only in some vague, notional sense of the past.

If heavy hints of Depeche Mode echo through the dark, sparse and soulful ‘Cannibals’, The Cure make an obvious reference point for ‘Vessels’, not least of all in Lloyd Bradley’s pining vocal, but also its funk-tinged but also dark-hued bass groove, but then, I’m also reminded of The Associates and, more contemporarily, The Cinematics. Closer ‘Toothache’ is short, but powerful, and makes for a satisfying finish to a rounded, solid album.

Tabloids

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With the release of their second album, PRODUCT – the follow up to 2014 debut Everything’s Fucked – scheduled for release on  21st July, one of our favourite bands on the planet, Arrows of Love serve up a second taster in the form of ‘Signal (Redux)’, which has been mastered, once again, by Shellac legend Bob Weston.

‘Signal (Redux)’ hints at a band expanding their sonic repertoire: it’s still an abrasive, jolting, grungy racket, but their nihilistic fury is sculpted with hints of Gang of Four with an elastic bassline and scarring, fractured guitar. It’s probably their best work to date, and augers well for the album. Get your lugs round ‘Signal (Redux)’ here:

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The album will be available on Vinyl and CD across US/European territories on 21st July , which you can pre-order globally via www.pledgemusic.com/projects/arrowsoflove.

 

Arrows 1

Burn Church Press – 26th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Just because I’ve spent the last decade whittling down my cassette collction from over 500 to fewer than 50 doesn’t mean that I don’t think the tape renaissance isn’t cool. It represents a return to the appreciation of tactile, physical media, as well as a format that has a certain fragility which adds to its appeal: the idea that the cassette was cheap, convenient but also potentially damageable and disposable means that it’s possible to enjoy something of an ambivalent or even conflicted relationship with cassettes, often on a tape-by-tape basis. The return of the cassette suggests bands are haring back to a bygone age when acts – before the advent of the CD-R – would sell tapes at their gigs. These were often bands too new or too skint or too unsigned to have any vinyl releases.

The title of the debut release by Newcastle post-punk band Lost on Me also reminds us of the pre-internet era when bands would cut a demo and send it around gig promoters and record labels the like in the hope of getting gigs and more exposure, or even a recording contract and the chance to record in a proper studio rather than on a beaten-up four-track borrowed from a mate.

‘Protection’ bursts from the speakers in a blizzard of fractal, interlooping guitars, a mass f chorus and delay, and one might be forgiven for an initial thought which incudes Editors by way of a reference point – I’m thinking forst album era, I’m thinking ‘Munich’ in particular. But then Martin Downing’s dense, dark baritone enters the mix, and its heavy timbre has far more ‘gothy’ connotations, calling to mind Chris Reed from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry.

‘Landslide’ is a chiming pop tune at heart with a nagging guitar line, but the throbbing bass and deep, growling vocal casts heavy shade across its sunny surface. Third track ‘Balance’ brings a sinewy tension and a density that, again, is reminiscent of the Lorries.

The stuttering bursts of drums propel the wistful, emotive closer, ‘New Beginnings’ into territories which bring together contrasting dynamics to good effect, and once more indicate that these guys have studied the darker (and often more drum machine driven) side of the early 80s alternative scene. The production also contributes to the effect in a major way, with deep, deep reverb all over everything and a slightly hazy, murky analogue veil hanging over the guitars, in particular the thick bass tones. It’s all in the details, and they’re certainly not lost on me.

 

Lost on Me - Demonstration

With Observed in a Dream, Norwegian purveyors of  psychedelic post-punk / shoegaze, Mayflower Madame, delivered one of our favourite albums of 2016. While their second album is unlikely to see the light until late 2017 or even early 2017, they’ve unveiled ‘Drown’ by way of a taster now. It’s by no means a mere stop gap: to say the signs are good for the next album would be an understatement. A whirl of echo-heavy gutars and even more echo-heavy baritone vocals, ‘Drown’ has an aching melacholy emotional pull. Watch the video and get your lugs around it here:

 

From Chester-based instrumental-electronic artist, Dom Sith, comes this dark goth-inspired tune to soundtrack people’s struggles with themselves.

It’s nothing to do with Allen Ginsberg. Of the inspiration for ‘Howl’, which takes sonic leads from the likes of NIN, The Haxan Cloak, and Burial, Dom comments: “I wanted to create something haunting, something that’d soundtrack those long nights alone, but not in a reassuring way, like how loneliness might sound, and how depression might sound, if it was heard…in the dark.”

We like NIN, The Haxan Cloak, and Burial, and we like this: get your lugs round it here:

Dom Sith

Hide & Seek Records – 21st April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This being a Post War Glamour Girls album, there’s a lot to chew on, and I’ve played Swan Songs on the bus to and from work most days for the last month and a half in an attempt to really let the songs embed and to unravel. It’s not because Post War Glamour Girls make albums which are difficult or lack immediacy, but because there’s just so much to extract, and each listening reveals more. I’m still discovering new details and dimensions in their 2014 debut, Pink Fur, and suddenly, here we are at album number three.

And with album number three, they’ve made it a clean sweep of awesomeness: not a case of third time lucky, but a straight hat-trick. Few bands can claim such a record, although Post War Glamour Girls are unlikely to gloat, or even reflect on this achievement: chances are by the time the album tour is under way, they’ll have filled the set with new material which may or may not feature on album number four.

Swan Songs is by far their most commercial and accessible album to date, but it would be a chronic error align that in any way to them selling out, and in many ways, it’s equally their knottiest, thorniest release thus far. Yes, they’re contradictory and contrary, and that’s precisely their appeal. And while they always sound uniquely like Post War Glamour Girls – there really isn’t a band going – or, indeed, previous – who sound quite like them, they’re spectacularly varied in their style, and you never know what to expect from album to album. This is music born from restless energy and a drive to create something new, to challenge the band and their fans in equal measure. The one thing that is seemingly guaranteed is the quality of the material.

Swan Songs is most certainly their most eclectic-sounding album yet. The overall tone of the album is altogether less down than its predecessor, Feeling Strange. The downcast, brow-beaten self-loathing is replaced by a roaring defiance, at least in part. And, of course, it has all the band’s trademark qualities, honed to a new level of sharpness.

The album’s opener, ‘Guiding Light’ comes on like a cross between Big Country and The Wedding Present circa ’92 with its spiralling celtic guitar motif and stadium-fulling chorus – before making a 90-degree swerve only Post War Glamour Girls could pull off, with James Smith veering off into one of his densely-packed rants. You only catch snippets of the lyrics, but in the space of a minute he’s here, there and everywhere, pulling in what appears to be a reference to Gang of Four and macroeconomics with a line about ‘guns before butter’.

‘Chipper’ is more common PWGG terrain, and finds Smith in brawlingly nihilistic form, howling, bleating and hollering over a murky backing of guitars that jangle and warp and bend as the driving rhythm section powers on relentlessly. At the middle eight, it heads off on another trajectory, Smith coming on like a brutalised hybrid of Mark E Smith and JG Thirlwell on top of Alice Scott’s icily calm backing vocals. If ever a band knew how to work contrasts, it’s Post War Glamour Girls.

Conjuring a brilliantly visual image while working a dubby post-punk seam, the more understated ‘Gull Rips a Worm’ marks something of a departure, with Smith revealing a more soulful side in his melodic vocal delivery. Meanwhile, ‘Big Trip’, which recently found its way onto Radio 1 thanks to a shout-out from fellow Leeds legends Pulled Apart by Horses, is a brilliantly gruff and darkly grounded paean to escapism. It might not quite rank with the time the uncensored version of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’ was spun at teatime on a Sunday during the Top 40, but it’s pretty subversive. It’s also indicative of the band’s mass-market potential, given the right exposure.

Awkward buggers that they are, the two sets I saw them perform following the release of Feeling Strange, showcased unreleased material in favour of either the latest album or their rapidly-expanding back-catalogue. These shows hinted squarely at a more direct pop sound, and while Swan Songs is a long way off this, being neither direct or upbeat and poppy, the second half of the album is the closest they’ve come to creating unadulterated pop in the studio.

‘Polyanna Cowgirl’, which featured on last year’s live album, is a big, reverby song that draws together elements of classic dreampop with vintage mid-80s postpunk and even more overtly charty music of the same era. Ah, such different times… And so, they manage to imbue the song with a certain nagging nostalgia, as well as a pining wistfulness. The hefty welter of drums and driving bass render it uniquely Post War Glamour Girls, but the multifaceted harmonies and chiming guitars, expansively produced, bring that cinematic slant to the finished product. The shimmering ‘Golden Time’ wafts and warps gently before ‘Sea of Rains’ drifts into I Like Trains territory, but Smith’s bleak lyrics render it a very different animal: ‘The lust you tried to drag from the soles of his shoes / is the worst excuse for loneliness I’ve ever had to use,’ he reflects, grimly.

 

 

The jarring, splintering, ‘Welfare by Prozac’ sees the band ploughing headlong into the Fall-like realms they stomp with aplomb, Smith duelling with Scott like vintage Mark E and Brix, a snarling, spitting inscrutability counterpointed by a melodic yet icy tone, while squalling guitars break over a thick, strolling bassline.

Now, I’m a huge sucker for a monster closing track. On past form, it seems Post War Glamour Girls are masters of the monster closing track (even if Feeling Strange perversely delivered said monster track as the penultimate song in the form of ‘Cannonball Villages) and Swan Songs proves no exception, with the seven-minute ‘Divine Decline’ building from nothing to a raging behemoth of a song. ‘Love and hate stem from the same cell,’ Smith croons, before the whole thing erupts. ‘All I ever wanted /as to be a better to better person / and I’m working on it constantly / working like a dawwwwwg!’ he growls. It’s a storming finale, and no mistake, as the band whip up a dense maelstrom of sound.

As is so often the case, Smith channels a vitriolic rage which one feels is largely directed toward himself. It’s a recurrent aspect of the album’s lyrical content: ‘My manners aren’t amazing / My poetry is pisspoor / My attitude’s an anathema,’ he snarls self-critically on ‘Chipper’. At the risk of too closely, or even mistakenly, aligning the art with the artist lyrics with lyricist and assuming the role or armchair analyst, one can’t help but wonder on the evidence his lyrics, coupled by his driving of the band’s relentless forward trajectory, if he isn’t fighting himself every moment of every day, and if Post War Glamour Girls aren’t some means of his justifying his existence to himself. If this is some kind of therapy, then – from a purely selfish perspective – our best hope is that it takes a good few more albums to purge himself yet, and that the title is more a reference to the conceptual contents of the album rather than an indication of the band’s final sign off. Because, not only is Swan Songs a killer album, but a cohesive and rich set which is the work of a band really hitting their stride and riding on the crest of a wave.*

 

Post War Glamour Girls - Swan Songs

 

*The success of this closing punchline is limited, not least of all on account of the fact that swans’ natural habitat is inland and on / by rivers, lakes, and ponds, and therefore unlikely to be tidal or otherwise, meaning that swans are rarely found in an environment where waves are common. But every review needs a punchline, right?

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