Friday, 27 November 2009

The Devin Townsend Project - Addicted

The second in four albums to be released from the Devin Townsend Project, Addicted is a radical departure from the clean, haunting tones of its predecessor Ki. Instead we have an album’s worth of densely recorded guitars, synthesisers, computer-generated effects and unrestrained vocal bombast.

Addicted is a highly versatile record throughout, drifting from heavy metal numbers such as the title track, to the hilariously pop chorus of ‘Bend It Like Bender’ and to the lovely clean melody of ‘In-Ah’. One thing that stands out through the album is the brilliant vocal performances from Townsend and guest singer Annekke van Giersbergen. Their two voices complement each other greatly and it is an utter delight hearing Anneke’s version of ‘Hyperdrive’ (originally on Devin’s Ziltoid The Omniscient album).

Addicted's song-writing is arguably rather simple by Townsend standards. Still present are the wall-of-sound multitracked instruments, computer-based industrial tinkerings and versatile voices but there are very few elaborate musical deviations, Addicted! playing down Devin’s progressive tendencies. The songs are generally quite short and to the point, with the mission statement clearly being to deliver something catchy and enjoyable without being bogged down in the borderline self-indulgent. There is an almost Wildhearts-esque vibe to the album’s construction, with some songs going as far as to quite obviously reference the influence (for instance, ‘Resolve!’ is clearly partially based on The Wildhearts’ ‘Vanilla Radio’ as alluded to in the album’s liner notes).

Devin Townsend’s albums have often been touted by the man himself as an expression of where he is emotionally at that point in time – his state of mind in essence defining the tone of the album. If that is to be believed, then this is probably the first time we’ve heard Devin Townsend consistently happy and enjoying himself in every capacity. And it’s absolutely brilliant.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Wildhearts - Chutzpah!

The Wildhearts are rarely ones to follow trends, but you could be forgiven in thinking that Chutzpah!, the newest release from Ginger and company, was about to break that tradition with its honed production and hooky pop-rock stylings. However, few bands ooze charisma like the ‘Hearts and Chutzpah! remains yet another testament to their ability to write infectious rock.

Never having been a straight forward rock band, the tracks on Chutzpah! are as stylistically eclectic as ever. Although a lot of it can be described as modern rock with an early 90s flare, there are moments where you find yourself rewinding the last thirty seconds of a song in order to comprehend what just happened. Amusingly titled ‘You Are Proof That Not All Woman Are Insane’ seems to almost spontaneously combust at the end, with a mix of drudging heavy metal riffs and a corruption of children’s nursery rhyme ‘Frère Jacques’ being recited over the top. The introduction of ‘Low Energy Vortex’ quickly changes from a movingly unassuming piano chord progression to a heavy, almost funk-metal riff before fusing the juxtapositions together in an addictive chorus. The record is littered with moments like these, displaying The Wildhearts are still more than able to meld different styles together seamlessly and without alienating the listener.

The album is noticeably very well produced, with the instrumentation being polished to perfection. Musically, Chutzpah! quite literally shines with a great mix of crunchy sounding riffs and beautifully melodious leads accentuated in the best way possible. The only minor gripe with this is Ginger’s vocals seem to be overly clean. Whilst this certainly seems appropriate for lighter tracks like ‘You Took The Sunshine From New York’, Ginger’s rough-edged bite is unfortunately a rarity throughout. Nevertheless, each Wildhearts album seems to have a distinctive feel to it and Chutzpah! is no different in this regard, boasting possibly their fullest and most bombastic sound yet.

It is reassuring to know that even when most other music is doing little more than to distract you from (and worsen) your increasing tinnitus, The Wildhearts are able to rise above the filler. Chutzpah! will hold your attention from the abrasive opening of ‘The Jackson Whites’ to the tuneful end of its title track and leave you smiling as you inevitably play the album again and again.

Megadeth - Endgame

From the onset, it is clear that Endgame is going to be about one thing and one thing only – bitter, seething thrash, the kind that only Dave Mustaine can deliver. Ultimately though, this turns out to be a blessing and a curse for Megadeth where the balance between song-writing and riffing seems to be somewhat skewed.

There has recently been an influx of retro-thrash styled bands gaining popularity by giving attention to a classic genre of metal. Musically speaking, Endgame is effectively Dave Mustaine giving these mere children a lesson in how to thrash out. The record is filled to the brim with incredible instrumental work throughout with the guitar playing being of particular note. New axe-man Chris Broderick is among the best lead players to grace a Megadeth record and guaranteed to “melt faces”. Whilst he may not have the soul and originality of classic ‘Deth guitarists like Marty Friedman, he makes up for it in ridiculous technicality, putting many of his predecessors to shame (not Friedman though – that’s just impossible). The guitar duels between Mustaine and Broderick are very reminiscent of the Rust In Peace-era of Megadeth and are a very welcome return, adding a great sense of urgency to the album as a whole.

Unfortunately, Mustaine’s actual song construction seems like an afterthought to the guitar abuse. On the initial few listens, there are few choruses or vocal hooks that really stick out and make the tracks truly memorable. This is uncharacteristically strange as “MegaDave” has a penchant for clever metal writing, merging the heaviness of his guitar playing with a keen sense of melody. This just isn’t present in the same way on Endgame, with only a few songs such as ‘44 Minutes’ or ‘Bodies’ having vocal moments that will stick in your head. Furthermore, lyrically Endgame is overly laden with Dave’s political ramblings and seems to lack some of the forethought of earlier ‘Deth releases. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, occasionally resulting in the snake-bite quips that only Mustaine can truly pull off, but many of the vocals seem tacked on and almost weak, failing to add to the muscular body of music behind them.

Whilst Endgame has widely been hailed as a return to form by most of the metal press and fans alike, I personally don’t agree. Whilst certainly a good album, the sacrifice of memorable song-writing for unrelenting riffs seems like Megadeth shooting themselves in the proverbial foot. Endgame suffers from what I like to call ‘Annihilator Syndrome’ – the riffs are certainly there, but the songs aren’t quite.

Andrew W. K. - 55 Cadillac

Anyone who has followed Andrew W.K. at all in the last three or so years is aware that he is a man of many talents. Having dabbled quite extensively with motivational speaking, Andrew went on to start production work on well established musicians such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry before recently returning to his own music, initially releasing a covers album of J-Pop songs (don’t ask). W.K.’s most recent releases consist of an album dedicated to English versions of the themes of popular manga / anime series Gundam, and the long-promised solo piano album, 55 Cadillac.

55 Cadillac is a strange album to listen to if the majority of your Andrew W.K. experience is his anthemic good-time party rock. Although often touted between fans, it isn’t common knowledge that Andrew himself is a classically trained pianist and as such, is rather well versed at tinkling the ivories. 55 Cadillac is a collection of primarily improvised piano pieces of varying styles and quality. The album starts on a bit of a flat note with opener ‘Begin The Engine’ – a song completely bogged down in endless note trilling – but quickly picks up soon after. Track ‘Night Driver’ exudes a joyous sense of melody and is one of the few tracks on the album that is evocative of earlier Andrew W.K. material, with its bouncing chord progression. However, a common problem with the album is that of repetition. Frequently, a song will collapse into a mess of weird note patterns and trills that seem to cease any flow of the piece. Whilst usually the tracks do tend to pick up and begin forming a sense of melody again, these weird indulgent bits seem fairly ill-fitted - at several points it seems like Andrew is basically having a nervous breakdown via the medium of a piano. Thankfully, these moments don’t make up the majority of the album, which is sprinkled with a great sense of variety ranging from the almost Ludovico Einaudi stylings of ‘Seeing The Car’ to the upbeat and jazzy flair of ‘Central Park Cruiser’. ‘5’ is one of the more together pieces on the album, maintaining a solid progression throughout, whereas closer ‘Cadillac’ is definitely the most Andrew W.K. styled song on the album. Being the sole track to make a break from 55 Cadillac’s piano-only formula, ‘Cadillac’ allows some drum tracks and suitably epic guitar melodies to interrupt, eventually climaxing with the record’s only lyric - the ridiculously multi-layered declaration of “Cadillaaaaaaaac!”, guaranteed to bring a smile on the listener’s face.

Whilst perhaps not the best collection of piano pieces ever to committed to CD, there is a certain charm to 55 Cadillac. The actual theme of the album – that Andrew is inside of a ‘55 Cadillac and serenading you on a piano – is endearing. Whilst the songs are not always as brilliantly constructed as they could be, there are moments where Andrew’s penchant for writing catchy instrumentation and his great piano abilities really shine through. You can say a lot of things about Andrew W.K., but one thing that can never be doubted is his genuine commitment to everything he puts his name to. Whilst 55 Cadillac isn’t without its flaws, it is a great foray in to previously uncharted territory for W.K., who clearly is looking to broaden his musical horizons in each and every way possible.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Wildhearts - Shepherd's Bush Empire 1/10/09

(picture shamelessly stolen from

The Shepherd’s Bush Empire is utterly packed as the support bands finish and everyone eagerly anticipates the main act. As is a bit of a fad nowadays, The Wildhearts start their set by playing the entirety of their new album in full. Often this would be considered a risky move – after all, who goes to see a band who have been around for nigh on twenty years just to hear the songs they’re least familiar with? But when the material is as strong as that of Chutzpah!, their newest release, it’s more than a welcome addition to the set. As the band blaze through ‘The Jackson Whites’ and the familiar banner of the Smiley-Bones logo gazes on the crowd, everyone is utterly enamoured by what they’re witnessing. This is a band truly on top form, excited to be on the stage and doing more than just merely going through the motions. The new material comes off great in a live setting, although is almost slightly too dependent on a variety of backing tracks in order to accurately recreate the studio recordings. Not the longest of albums, the band speed through Chutzpah! in what seems like no time at all, leaving, as iconic front-man Ginger quips, more time for the classics.

Every gig of this tour was unique in that the band were unaware of what classics they were going to play in the second half until they were handed a set list midway through the night. Ginger cheekily remarks that we’re in for a treat as he peruses the stellar list he’s just been handed before calmly beginning the distinctive arpeggiated chords of ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes’. At those few beginning notes, the crowd absolutely explodes and quite rightly. From there, we are treated to such classics as homage to rock ’29 X The Pain’, the confessional ‘Sick Of Drugs’ and the hilariously punk ‘Caffeine Bomb’ amongst various others. As is standard for The Wildhearts, the songs are interrupted with some light-hearted banter from the band and, for some reason, a few repeated versions of the ‘Little Einsteins’ cartoon theme (don’t ask). As the night draws to an end, the crowd completely scream the roof off with set finisher and Wildhearts classic ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’. Unfortunately the gig is over almost as quickly as it had begun.

Two decades in to their career, The Wildhearts clearly still know how to deliver the goods live. Every note is played with as much conviction as if they still had something to prove, giving most bands half their age a run for their money and giving the crowd what they want – rock and roll with balls.