Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Andrew W. K. - Mother of Mankind

In 2006, Andrew W.K. released his third full-length album – a surprisingly diverse platter of rock amusingly titled Close Calls With Brick Walls – but due to never quite explained contractual reasons, it only appeared in parts of Asia. Finally getting a global release, it has been packaged with a rather unique collection of rare and unreleased material.

The curiously titled Mother of Mankind contains a wealth of tracks from 1999 to 2010, displaying the very different sides to W.K.’s creative capacity. Some tracks beg the question as to why they’ve been hidden until now, others make it obvious why they haven’t seen the light of day and the rest are somewhere between nonsensically bizarre and genius. However, it is clear throughout that Mother of Mankind is only meant for the hardcore Andrew W.K. fan. Simply put, moments like the electro-ballad demotivational speech ‘Kill Yourself’ or the bass-laden reggae-rock boogie of ‘We Got A Groove’ don’t quite fit the tone of most of Andrew’s discography. But it is this variety that piques interest; AWKGOJ styled tracks like ‘I’ve Got No Fear’ and ‘Coming Bad’ show W.K.’s penchant for the grandiose whereas ‘Big Party’ shows off some of his more electronic-disco tastes. Other songs such as the peculiar ambient noise of ‘Young Lord’ or the pseudo-rap of ‘Kicks And Bricks’ show his willingness to experiment musically, even if the result is dubious at best.

As a bonus to the long overdue release of Close Calls, Mother is a fun collection of primarily ridiculous songs. It’s just a shame some of its best tracks hadn’t been refined and made in to a new album.

An Evening With Anathema - O2 Academy Islington - 21/5/10

(To be printed in PowerPlay Magazine Issue 121)
(^ Appalling quality photo of Vincent Cavanaugh courtesy of my camera phone)

Watching their An Evening With concert, you’d be hard pressed to tell that Anathema were suffering from a wealth of technical problems as every note remained perfectly delivered and not a single beat missed. Having quietly taken the stage with new cut, 'Thin Air', it didn’t take long for Anathema to start providing some much-appreciated fan-service. The audience showed their love throughout - the reaction to 'One Last Goodbye' was stunning, with the crowd drowning out the band by the end of it. The aforementioned technical hitches even led to one of the evening’s best moments with guitarist Danny Cavanaugh’s impromptu acoustic performance of 'Are You There?' demanding only awe. Having such a varied discography, their set saw them drawing on frantically energetic cuts like 'Empty' to balance out the more subdued performances such as 'Flying'. The encore even saw Anathema really looking back, delivering the roaming bass and crunching riffs of 'Sleepless' to the clear joy of many. Juxtaposed with further new material such as the beautifully melodic 'Universal', the variety of songs gelled surprisingly well, their seamless integration effectively acting as a testament as to how consistently well Anathema have progressed from their days of doom metal to their modern prog-rock melancholy.

Most bands live, as good as they may be, are entertainment. Anathema live, however, are truly an experience, performing entirely on a level of their own. Few bands have managed to send shivers down my spine like Anathema have and the rest of those attending were clearly just as enamoured.

L.A. Guns - Shrinking Violet (Deluxe Reissue)

(To be printed in PowerPlay Magazine Issue 121)

With the name L.A. Guns now referring to two syncretistic bands, the arguably more authentic Tracii Guns led band have reissued their 1999 album Shrinking Violet to remind listeners how a Jizzy Pearl fronted L.A. Guns sounds. Whilst lacking the signature voice of Phil Lewis, Shrinking Violet is a surprisingly strong album throughout. Present as ever are the well delivered guitars and hooks; moments like the title cut’s winding riffs and slithering leads show that Tracii still has a knack for good guitar lines - Pearl even makes a good job of filling his predecessor’s boots, although his signature whine has an awful tendency to sleep to a very uncomfortable screech. Amongst the album’s strongest moments are the slightly more mature tracks, however. For instance, desperado-ballad 'Barbed Wire' sees the band stretching out, moving discreetly from subdued rhythms into a haunting and grandiose guitar-dominated climax, before finishing with a rather tasteful acoustic solo. Indeed, Shrinking Violet shows a lot of variety throughout, from the grungy, bass-heavy skulk of 'I’ll Be There' to the glam-tinged blues of 'Bad Whiskey'and yet, remarkably, nothing sounds out of place.

The reissue sees the addition of some live tracks of the newest incarnation of the Tracii Guns-led L.A. Guns tackling some of the band’s classics more than capably. Whilst cuts like 'Rip N Tear' don’t sound quite right without Lewis behind the mic, the band shows they’re still able to pull of classics like 'Never Enough'. All in all, the live tracks prove a nice bonus for fans new and old alike.

Fen - Trails Out Of Gloom

(To be printed in PowerPlay Magazine Issue 121)

Trails Out of Gloom is a hidden gem amongst the sometimes nonsensical world of progressive music that sees a collection of Porcupine Tree-esque melodies wrapped in meticulous sound-scapes of peaceful instrumentation. From the beautifully serene vocal harmonies of the title track, it is clear that Fen are something special - the drivingly melodic voice of singer Doug Harrison, with its occasionally strained delivery, perfectly accompanies the subdued guitars that comprise the album. Fen seem to have honed their rather softly delivered and ethereal sound to a tee, with the clunking pianos and fuzzy drums of 'The World Is Young' exemplifying the overall rather taken aback nature of the music. Fen are clearly masters at the complementary meshing of instruments - the soothing acoustics of 'Miracle' are brilliantly accentuated by the lightly placed bongo beats before the most miniscule of distorted guitars is allowed to enter the frame. It is this ability for subtlety that pervades the entire album and truly shows Fen’s strongest ability, only occasionally slipping into a heavier model (such as on the frantic 'End of the Dream') before returning to their instrumental restraint. Trails Out of Gloom is a brilliantly composed album that sounds half way between the cleaner moments of Opeth and Anathema, whilst also retaining its own unique identity. Fen provide a delightful presentation of mellow and erudite prog.

R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio 1942 - 2010

It's been just over a fortnight since the passing of Ronnie James Dio and it's significance can really be seen on the rock and metal world. Without indulging too much in melodramatic pretension, Dio's death completely marks the end of an era. He truly was the voice of heavy metal in it's primacy and by all accounts, one of the humblest and most down to earth rock stars in existence. His incredible voice and commanding stage presence will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, Dio.