Sunday, 24 October 2010

Neil Young - Le Noise

Crackling open with fuzzily distorted electric guitars, ‘Walk With Me’ sounds like it is building up to explode in to a huge, full band swamp rock stomp. Unfortunately, this never happens. Instead, Le Noise sees Neil Young accompanied only by his own crackling electric guitar, with all of the proceedings reinterpreted by a bizarre mix of sonic soundscapes courtesy of producer Daniel Lanois. These effects see Neil’s voice drenched in a floaty echo, whilst the guitars either sound dirge-like or fade into nothingness. The moody production acts as a mixed blessing - “Someone’s Going To Rescue You” sees the atmospheric space effects complement Young’s ethereal vocals whereas other songs like “Sound of Love” get lost in their own reverberated noise.

‘Love And War’ is one of the few acoustic cuts on the album and as it a result, it sounds more complete than the lone electric tracks which beg for rhythm accompaniment. The special effects on ‘Love And War’ and ‘Peaceful Valley Boulevard’ are few and far between but illuminate the guitar at the right moments without sounding over the top. As a result, the acoustic tracks prove the album’s highlight thanks to their solemn desperado flair.

As jarring as it initially is, it would however be wrong to say that Le Noise is a misfire. Once you get used to the bizarre soundscape, the strength of the material begins to reveal itself. The effect soaked ‘Angry World’ is a diamond in a rough; consisting of heavy metal riffs contrasted with Young’s high and vulnerable singing, it eventually culminates in a meticulous cacophony of fuzzy guitars, brooding melodies and echo. Le Noise’s key issue is its stylistic indecision. It is as if Young and Lanois aren’t sure whether they wanted to release an album of full-banded heavy swamp rock, solo earnest acoustic Americana or trippy ambience so instead they went with something that could just about be described as psychedelic folk. Le Noise is a challenge to get in to, but it is a mistake to discard it right off. For all its bizarre experimentation, there is enough traditional Neil Young goodness here to enjoy. It just takes longer than usual for it to pop out.

Gorillaz - Doncamatic

One thing that has to be admired about Damon Albarn is his willingness to experiment under the guise of Gorillaz. New single ‘Doncamatic’ is no different, seeing the “band” move in to the realm of synth-pop and, weirdly, it really works. ‘Doncamatic’ has an undeniably retro vibe, with its electronic instrumentals sounding a bit like a badly synthesised accordion being attacked by an unrelenting array of square leads (the single is accompanied by an instrumental version of the track that really elucidates how bizarre the background effects are). The most modern thing about the single is certainly the vocals of guest singer Daley, helping to cement the track in the 21st century and giving the song its much needed hooks. It’s a straightforward but ear-catching tune that should be positively received by most.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ginger - Ten (Two)

Ginger of The Wildhearts has just recently put out a compilation album that covers the first ten years of his solo work, aptly called Ten. Now, I’ll be honest. Despite being a massive Wildhearts fan, I’ve never properly gotten around to listening to Ginger’s solo output. You can’t blame me when there’s such of a wealth of stellar Wildhearts material to work through. However, as a companion to Ten, Ginger and co have picked an additional ten tracks that wouldn’t fit the compilation. Furthermore, they're being offered online for free. How delightful. If, like me, you simply haven’t had a chance to give Ginger’s solo material a fair shake, Ten (Two) provides an exemplary opportunity to do so. Expect something a bit more mellow and arguably more pop-oriented than The Wildhearts, but no less infectiously catchy. Go on, how often is it you get good music for free (...without breaking the law)?

Download Ten (Two) at

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Disturbed - Asylum

Disturbed’s Asylum starts off surprisingly well; its instrumental opener ‘Remnants’ evokes an almost Megadeth-esque vibe in places thanks to its haunting guitar leads before seamlessly seguing in to the album’s title track. Initially driven by a crawling bass line, the path is paved for thrashing guitars and David Draiman’s bizarre semi-bark to carry a great chorus in ‘Asylum’. At this point, I begin to question my preconceptions of Disturbed, perhaps having written them off for their previous nu-metal tinged shenanigans too soon. I continue this line of reasoning as ‘The Infection’’s stellar opening riff spirals out of control before revealing a soaring, melodic verse line. However, my newly founded open-mindedness crumbles quickly as the flat chorus leads in to a generic, stop-start guitar breakdown. It is these relentless spasms of chugged riffs that make Asylum nothing short of dismal. The slow and melancholic opening of ‘Another Way To Die’ and the interesting tapped guitar intro of ‘Innocence’ are both quickly ruined by the dull, unimaginative thudding of down-tuned guitars. It’s a shame as there is some genuine good on Asylum. For instance, ‘The Animal’ sees Disturbed master the balance between melody and heaviness while ‘Never Again’ provides a ballsy anthem that tastefully tackles the Holocaust. Indeed, there are certainly some memorable choruses throughout, but when the verses are as excruciatingly pedestrian as on Asylum, listening to an entire song becomes a bit of a chore.

Musically proficient, Disturbed showcase occasional flashes of song-writing talent on Asylum but they are never realised for more than a split second. Having established a certain sound early in their career, Disturbed seem stuck in a rut of displeasing tedium where experimentation is out and repetitiveness is in.

Spirits of the Dead - Spirits of the Dead

Spirits of the Dead are a massive nod to the past, incorporating elements of Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and King Crimson to create something that sounds almost like a mellower Opeth. Opener ‘White Lady / Black Rave’ sees a strong 70s rock vibe come to the forefront, with light Hammond organs, bouncing guitar riffs and occasional synths evoking connotations of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Spirits of the Dead are exceptionally meticulous about the music they deliver, clearly avoiding the risk of becoming another retro-rock tribute act. Whilst it’s clear where the band’s influences lay, it would be wholly wrong to call them derivative as their brand of mixed genre rock sounds welcomingly fresh throughout. The music is ethereal and restrained without being dull, with the drum-driven urgency of ‘The Waves Of Our Ocean’ only letting up when sliced through by a guitar solo with all the fuzz of a bear. The heavier moments are few and far between but are cleverly implemented, appearing most prominently on ‘Red’ where the staccato riffing breaks through the solemn clean guitars. Of particular note is the album’s title track, which smoothly switches from blistering distorted guitars to melancholy cleans, eventually culminating in a heavy metal funeral march by its end. The entire album is a delight to listen to as it is abundantly clear a lot of time has been invested in making these songs as bright and fulfilling as possible.

N.B. Completely irrelevant, but I absolutely love the cover art.

Spirits of the Dead is out now on Big Dipper Records

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Shush - Soundtrack of My Life

From the get-go, Shush’s Soundtrack of My Life is an energetic and heavy platter of pop-punk that sees winding metal riffs cleverly punctured by catchy melodies, as prominently displayed by the hugely infectious chorus of ‘Got Caught In The Act’. Shush’s lively songs have just enough bite to keep even their poppier moments weighted, with ‘Shout’ clearly channelling that Wildhearts penchant for aggressive hooks. Not shying away from variety, ‘Blues’ sees the band take on a slightly more traditional blues-metal riffery, with the fantastic groove of the verse leading in to a disarmingly charming chorus. Conversely, the title track is a bit more restrained, marred only by the borderline annoying over-repetition of line "Welcome to the soundtrack of my life". Indeed, there a few duff moments on the album - pseudo-ballad ‘Stay’ comes across as a bit naff despite its strong vocal performance, for instance - but, with tracks as jabbingly addictive as ‘You You Me Me’, there’s more than enough to make up for it. In Soundtrack of My Life, Shush have delivered a consistent debut of hook-laden modern rock that is sure to cement itself to listeners’ memories.

Soundtrack of My Life... is out 1st November on Ruby Records.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Jim Jones Revue - Burning Your House Down

The Jim Jones Revue wear their influences on their collective sleeve, with their visceral music clearly based around the classic rock and roll formula of early greats like Little Richard. However, this rock and roll basis has been injected with the force of relatively more modern hard rock offerings. The result is Burning Your House Down, an album brimming with vibrant blues-rock stomps that often tread the lines of punk and early heavy metal, whilst still maintaining that boogie-rock shuffle. This seamless blend of the styles creates something really quite unique, where the thundering guitars are rivalled by the wild piano and the vocals are belted out with venomous intensity – especially so on single ‘High Horse’. Indeed, the bass driven ‘Elemental’ genuinely sounds like the hypothetical aftermath of Elvis binging on early Metallica, whereas the sinister shuffle of ‘Premeditated’s guitar riff is bolstered by an unrelenting piano and a scorching chorus. The title track itself provides the album with a bluesy slunk that is heavy enough to merit its hilariously aggressive title.

Burning Your House Down is a belligerent record throughout, but the songs are well crafted and still maintain a sense of melody. It’s rare that a band are able to capture such vigour in a studio, but The Jim Jones Revue showcase all the dynamism and force of a live gig, resulting in a brilliantly animated album from start to finish.