Archive for May, 2008

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Speedmarching

May 31, 2008

If you’ve followed the career of John “Speedo” Reis over any of the last fifteen years, you’ve probably worked out what to expect from him: classic 60s rock ‘n’ roll fed through the rough blender of West Coast hardcore for the most part.

Even as his bands have operated in different sub-genres (mathcore for Drive Like Jehu, pop-punk with Rocket From the Crypt and balls-out-rock in Hot Snakes) – Speedo’s developed a pretty consistent sound.

Now that RFTC and Hot Snakes are both defunct, it could be time for reinvention. But Speedo knows when he’s onto a good thing and new band The Night Marchers is pretty much Hot Snakes Mk. II. Case in point is a pedal-down barnstormer like “Branded”.

No complaints here – to do so would be like criticising The White Stripes for not using enough cello. That said, it’s not all death-by-riffage: “You’ve Got Nerve” is a crunchy, laid-back pop song if ever there was one.

In short, if you liked the old bands, you’ll probably like this one. If you never heard any of Speedo’s previous records, then listen to Suicide Invoice and Scream, Dracula, Scream! But listen to this one too.

The Night Marchers – “Branded”

The Night Marchers – “You’ve Got Nerve”

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More dour Scottish music

May 25, 2008

I’ve been on a major Malcolm Middleton kick since seeing him at the Hopetoun a few weeks back. Prior to the show, I only knew him as the guitar-playing half of the late, legendary miserabilists Arab Strap. While his solo material is less idiosyncratic (very few bands had a more distinct sound than the Strap), it’s got a lot of charm and humour.

Actually, Malcolm seems to relish the opportunities of self-deprecation and negativity. He didn’t smile much throughout the gig – and when you’re singing about death and heartbreak for an hour, that’s to be expected – but he cracked jokes throughout and you know he’s working a shtick as much as anything else. As he sings on “A Week Off”, “It’s easy hating yourself, it’s harder making it rhyme”.

His latest album, Sleight of Heart, is a bit of retreat from the full-band rock of last year’s A Brighter Beat, with mostly acoustic moodiness. In fact, it’s closer to his live show, which is just Malcolm, a guitar and an icebucket full of beer. The live show is pretty well documented on the limited edition Live at the Bush Hall, even if it was recorded a couple of years back. For a mix of jaunty melodies and scathing lyrics, it’s worth tracking down Malcolm’s albums or catching him live.

For now – here’s a taster.

Malcolm Middleton – “A Week Off”

Malcolm Middleton – “Break My Heart (live)”

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Your Convict Past

May 20, 2008

The bartender at the Comet Tavern in Seattle loved Australian music. He liked it so much he happily talked about it with my friend and I at length and didn’t charge us for drinks (although that might have been more to do with liking my friend). The Birthday Party, The Saints, The Scientists, The Beasts of Bourbon: these were like crack for him.

It made me think about a particular strand of Australian rock music that blew up in the late 70s and early 80s, but has been hibernating ever since (I think that’s three different metaphors in one sentence – nice). The kind of primal rock music that reminds you that we’re a nation founded by convicts and are home to some of the most lethal fauna anywhere. Unlike, say, the Lucksmiths, who remind you that a lot of us are latte-sipping urbanites in cardigans.

The reason I’m thinking about this has been finally getting into The Drones and their howling, bluesy Australian rawk. I can’t think of the last time I listened to something so brutal. The guitars on “Jezebel” seem to be made from cut-throat razors and the lyrics are biting and wicked (“I’ll hurt you like an amputee”, “I had a Caesarean but it was not any use”). And I love it.

The Drones – “Jezebel”

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Return from the dead

May 18, 2008

Despite their place as one of my favourite bands back in my late uni days, Death Cab for Cutie lost my love around about the time I heard a song called “Expo ’86”.

Honestly, it’s not a bad song and even the rest of 2003’s Transatlanticism had some great moments. But it was lacking a secret ingredient that had made the earlier albums so extraordinary. Nothing they did in the subsequent four years quite won me back.


Ben Gibbard – Cath… (solo version)

Of course, Death Cab didn’t need my love. They were writing the songs they wanted to write, producing albums the way they wanted to produce them and selling them by the bucketload. So the news that the latest album, Narrow Stairs, has brought an old fan back will be of no importance to Ben Gibbard and Co.

The biggest difference is the return of the rock. The jittery guitars that are spread throughout the album remind me of how they used to be lumped in with Built to Spill by critics. The thundering drums remind me of how The Photo Album of 2002 was full of storming power-pop, rather than ballads.

It’s not perfect and some of the lyrics are uninspired and uninspiring. But songs like “Cath…”, “No Sunlight” and “Long Division” remind me of the Death Cab I used to love and can maybe love again.

Death Cab for Cutie – “No Sunlight”

Death Cab for Cutie – “Long Division”

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Bonny and bleak

May 13, 2008

No one does depressing music quite like the Scots. Really. The bleary-eyed ruminations of Arab Strap, the noisy melancholia of Mogwai, the suicidal doom of The Jesus and Mary Chain. The Norwegians and Swedes don’t seem to have any better weather but they’ve embraced the high camp of Black Metal and disco pop. It takes a Scot to really break your heart.

Last year saw the emergence of The Twilight Sad with their brooding dramatic rock opus Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. The Scottish accent of James Graham made them stand out even more than otherwise – and the consistency of their sound over the course of an LP made them a unique act.

Not quite so unique, now that fellow Glaswegian miserabilists Frightened Rabbit have dropped their debut effort. FR are a bit more shambolic than The Twilight Sad, who somehow sound like they’ve been drilled into a fighting force of rock. But they’ve got the same chiming Arcade Fire-like indie powerhouse sound and the same bleak lyrics sung in what can only be describes with words like “brogue”.

If you like your music anthemic and your lyrics full of despair, then Team Scotland is still where you have to go.

The Twilight Sad – “And She Would Darken The Memory”

Frightened Rabbit – “Fast Blood”

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Statuesque

May 10, 2008

Ah, Seattle indie-pop bands, so quirky and melodic and endearing…and here’s one that’s not even signed to Sub Pop. So you’re less likely to hear them on Gray’s Anatomy, I guess.

Throw Me The Statue started off as a one-man band, featuring Scott Reitherman all by himself, but has since evolved into a bigger line-up. Reitherman’s has been doing his thing for a few years now, but the debut album, Moonbeams, only dropped a few months back.

On the single “Lolita”, it’s easy to make comparisons to The Shins or Bishop Allen. It has the jerky-but-sweet energy of those bands, anyway. But it’s such a sweet, glockenspieled number, you shouldn’t let that stand in the way.

Throw Me The Statue – “Lolita”

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Into the endless unknown

May 9, 2008

Quite simply, I love Hammock. I loved their first album, their stop-gap EP, their second album, their ambient almost-album. I can listen to them when I am happy, when I’m sad. When I want to pay attention to every note and when I want to tune out or fall asleep. Their music is the perfect fusion of classic ambient, chiming dream pop and shoegazery guitar noise.

The sound isn’t completely unique – their are shades of half a dozen better-known acts in there: Sigur Ros, The Album Leaf, Stars of the Lid, the Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Brian Eno. But it’s beautiful and otherworldly and awe-inspiring.

I was a little bit surprised on my first listen to their new album Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow, though. The first two proper albums were a 50/50 mix of barely-there ambient wash and anthemic reverb-drenched pop. This one is a lot more like The Sleepover Sessions, Marc Byrd’s album of minimalist guitar drone. There are no lyrics, no choruses or verses, no beats. On first listen, it’s so ephemeral and wispy, it feels like it’s slipped away before it’s out of the speakers.

But it pays to know the story and it pays to listen closely. This album is an attempt to capture Hammock’s first live gig, an intimate show for Jonsi of Sigur Ros (whose design project did the cover art) where they stripped back their sound to the bare essentials that two people with guitars could create. The album is basically that – two guys with guitars and pedals, playing live in the studio, with some overdubbed cello from Matt Slocum.

And if you pay attention, you can feel the painstaking attention to detail, the loving care with which the exact pitch and timbre of each note was chosen. My love affair has only grown deeper.

Hammock – “Mono No Aware”