Tuesday, 30 December 2008

TLOBF's Alternative Xmas Crackers

With Crimbo merely a couple of days away, we here at TLOBF Towers have been decking the halls with boughs of holly and roasting chestnuts on a health and safety-snubbing open fire. Of course, no Xmas festivities would be complete without a few tinsel-tingling ditties and, with auditory nerves quivering at the prospect of Sir Cliff and Noddy once again percolating ear canals, we’ve lovingly compiled an alternative list of Yuletide cuts so sharp they’d scythe through the toughest of turkeys. Seriously, with presents like this, who needs an iPhone under the tree? Oh…

Sufjan Stevens – “Put the Lights On the Tree
Aye , it’s predictable but there’s nae doubting Sufjan’s ability to coax out the inner child of Christmases past. Eliciting goose-pimpled skin with a sledge ride of chime and key, the video is a gobsmacking festive ditty that recalls Crimbo morning cartoons whilst eagerly awaiting the unwrapping of presents.

Low – “Just Like Christmas
Forget Wham’s “Last Christmas” – Low’s brilliant sleigh-bell symphony is the perfect hand-clasping saunter for Christmassy couples. Built around beatific, lip-pursed harmonies, this gooey-hearted lament is brimming with the kind of soulful tidings Phil Spector once brought to the Christmas table.

The Bicycles – “It’s a Magic Christmas
Abounding with the antsy anticipation of a Crimbo morn, this all-too-brief instrumental exudes festive cheer with every twinkle-toed note. On top of that, the video’s unifying undertones should make us all step back and think about what’s really important this Christmas – yep, that’s right. Guitar Hero: World Tour.

The Wave Pictures – “I Love You Like Like a Madman
Instrumentally, there’s nowt particularly festive about the London trio’s jangling swoop of guitar and brass. But amidst this tale of awkward family get-togethers, gluttonous overeating and heart-wrenching solitude is a Christmas message everyone can relate to: get pissed, dance and proclaim your unyielding devotion to those you love the most.

Billy Idol – “Jingle Bell Rock
Words can shed little light on the motivation behind the ex-Generation X frontman’s strangely compulsive abomination of a Christmas classic, so it’s best to just sit back, watch the video and be dumbfounded. Remember, kids, this man was once a punk pioneer.

Malcolm Middleton – “We’re All Going To Die
After Mr Idol’s plastic-faced shenanigans, Malcy’s overbearing miserablism is a welcome relief. The curmudgeon Scot’s icy blast of winter doomsaying may not be a breezy festive frolic but, let’s face it, the ginger-topped big man makes a cracking Santa Claus.

The Killers – “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”
Typical of the Killers with its self-effacing verses and life-affirming chorus, this major-key opus sees the Vegas-born quartet making good use of their power-ballad predilections. In all honesty, such overindulgence could only ever be forgiven at Christmas. Hey, at least it’s not the Darkness.

The Raveonettes – “The Christmas Song
Shoegazing and Christmas may not seem like the perfect match – unless it’s a brand-new pair of Jimmy Choos under the tree – but the Raveonettes have somehow created a remarkable hybrid of the two. Brooding with sanguine percussion, the sighing vocal and twitching fret taps transform into a chasmal winterland hymn that’s as luscious as it is haunting.

Ramones – “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want Wanna Fight Tonight)”
A primitive blast of rampant punk-pop, this is Ramones at their finest: throttling, barbaric and gushing with puppy love. Accompanied by a video that will resonate with many a couple at this time of year, “Merry Christmas” is one of the truly great Xmas songs.

Reuben – “Christmas Is Awesome
Awful Christmas jumpers? Check. Miniature instruments? Check. Carol-singing children? Fuck , yeah. Reuben’s apoplectic stab at festive cheer may not be a melodious splurge of singalong glee but, as riotously infectious rock throbs go, it shits horseradish sauce on allcomers with just one line: “We’re sorry about all of that ‘nailed to a cross’ business”. Sheer genius.

Now you’ve seen our favourite Xmas videos, we want to know yours. Why not leave your fellow readers a little something under the tree and drop us a [legal] link below. After all, it’s the giving – not the receiving – that matters…

ALBUM REVIEW: Blackmarket - The Elephant In The Room

Let’s get this out before laser strikes disc: I already dislike Blackmarket. But please don’t assume this is a deep-seated vendetta against an up-coming band, oh no, my disdain’s evolved from a much more honourable predisposition: I can’t stand mainstream chasing Emo ‘Rawk’. In fact, I hate it. From the VapoRub snubbing nasal wails to the vapid chug-chug-chug of guitar, every element of this chart-humping genre sears into me like a ravenous electro-current intent on lobotomising my chin-stroking spirit.

Harsh? I doubt it.

See, if the prospect of enduring Fall Out Boy, Bullet for My Valentine or Plain White Ts for any prolonged period of time doesn’t tauten your neck hairs with a conflate of anxiety and revulsion I’ll, well, I’ll just not believe you. Because it’s impossible to truly enjoy these bands; impossible to etch even a modicum of empathy for their overly preened, baseball cap wearing, Ashley Simpson-wooing Rock-Pop jizz; impossible to feel anything but vehement opposition to a sound that clogs up the airwaves like a Big Mac does arteries. I don’t care how many pseudo goth-kids wail about its meaning, the music’s just just shite. End of.

With rant firmly over, it’s time to get on with the review. So, let the disc spin and the laser burn…

Crass, thrusting and absolutely abhorrent; The Arizona trio’s debut LP The Elephant In The Room stitches together a patchwork of insipidly contrived teeny-Rock that constitutes the very fabric of this scribe’s aural chagrin. The shuddering crossfire of guitar that strikes a light under opening number ‘Magic Tricks’ shoots down any hope of resuscitating my already flagging affections as it shamelessly flaunts a grating dog-whine of a chorus that masquerades like an eyeliner-clad Plug In Baby. Which it’s not. Not even close.

In all honesty, to describe these twelve tracks as silence filling tripe would do a considerable injustice to the blissful sound of absolutely nothing. A prime example of this creative abyss is the laboriously entitled ‘Alibi Can’t Give Me A Place To Go’: a bloated spectrum of drum and riff that becomes so nauseating it could only be enjoyed through the rose-tinted hearing aid of a deaf grandmother.

Left reeling by such a plague of slapstick cranking, ‘Sheila’’s roundhouse blow of excruciating lyrics [ 'Sheila, you look good today'] and ‘Sooner Or Later’’s grunge-sponging uppercut knocks this limp record face first into the canvas, gasping for the air that will give it a bit of life for one final fight. Sadly it doesn’t come but, mercilessly, neither does a swift KO.

Instead, the band Pritt Stick to the belief that rampant, uncoordinated drums and shrieking guitars are somehow a rite of passage to commercial appeal and blindly proceed with the loathsome clutter of instrumentation found pulsing through ‘Permanent You’ and the equally epileptic ‘Drag Addict’. Even ‘White Lie’’s promise of slow-creeping acoustica becomes not so much a pitchfork in the road but a hedge-hiding piss break on the long and dreary highway to MOR Punk-Pop hell.

A sheenful glaze of production at least attempts - and almost succeeds - at washing away the woefully inept song writing but, so linear are the monotonous ‘Ctrl Atl Dtl’ and ‘Out Of Order’, you’d need Phil Spector, a rifle and a shit-ton of microdots to make this record sound halfway entertaining. And, really, that’s my main gripe with the entire septic tank of a genre: There’s no challenge or enjoyment in listening to such sterilised endeavours. There’s just nothing, at all.


Saturday, 20 December 2008

Record Review: Trost - Trust Me

During the sloppy last season of The Mighty Boosh, Vince and Howard find themselves in a sticky predicament. Pushed out of the ‘scene’ by a duo of imposters, the pair earnestly attempt to conjure up a new sound and, as is de rigueur these days, plump for full-on retro-revivalism. Of course, their over exuberant choice of medieval twanging bombs with the Klaxon-humping hoards but - and forgive me for eliciting meaning from this moronic show - the message is plain; even the UK’s hip-shaking fashionistas have limits.

So what will the cheekbone protruding, hair care crew make of Trost’s latest decade transcending genre-hopping excursion Trust Me?

Well, laden with kitsch, slick melodies and contour warping rhythms, the Berlin-born Annika Lin Trost’s sophomore LP could slot seamlessly between Nouvelle Vague and Miss Kitten in the collection of any self-respecting Boho wannabe. Every glacial statuette boldly attempts to balance the perilous dichotomy of substance and style, producing a record that’s razor sharp in execution and unforgiving in smoke ring puffing chic. But underpinning this iceberg exterior is one fatal flaw: It’s much too clinical to love.

Chamber-dwelling numbers like ‘Black’ and the brutal ‘Sans Ta Scie’ reject your advances with the aloofness of a monochromatic actress; wishing you away with a Ray Ban impeded glower of bass and drum while Trost’s whispered, ethereal mew suggests she’d rather be anywhere else. The songstresses sublime rotation of German, French and English does make an alluring proposition - particularly on ‘Cowboy’’s Free Association-like splurge of microdot-popping soul- yet her icy blasts over piano waltzing trinket ‘I Was Wrong’ and ‘In Diesem Raum’’s tundra of guitar rankles as nose-turned elitism.

Fathoming pastiche from austere is half the battle. ‘Neonlight Deadland’’s wobbling, vaudevillian groove swings like the enraptured fumbling of a Parisian cabaret show, while ‘Man On the Box’ portrays Trost as a snarling chanteuse trapped amidst a seductive boudoir of rotating guitar and hypnotic snake charmed rhythms. By the time album closer ‘Filled with Tear’’s string-stained toil flutters out of the speakers like a wispy Campbell/Lanegan cast off, it’s anyone’s guess whether her tongue is placed firmly in cheek or seductively in mouth. Either way, it’s tiresome listening.

By creating a stone cold mezzanine of abrasive R’n'B and self-conscious electronica, Trost’s enforced ambivalence has produced a record that’s difficult to embrace and impossible to return to. Despite fleeting moments of melodious industry, Trust Me’s only real achievement rests in disengaging listeners with overly contrived, achingly cool cuts of metallic neo-pop. The sad thing is you know the fashionistas will lap it up.

First published here

Record Round-Up: November (Yes, I know it's December but I've been lazy of late)

Having already served up an honourable leader of the free world and a brand spanking new Guns N’ Roses album, you have every right to expect something a little bit special from The Round Up this month. So, ladies and gentlemen without further ado your friendly, four-weekly record synopsis brings you, erm, The Paddingtons.

That's right, everyone’s favourite Libertine-aping dangleberries who aren’t The View have returned with No Mundane Options [*], the ‘rocking follow up to their acclaimed debut First Comes First.’ Sadly, the hyperbole of the press release translates to 'a pitiful excuse for a record'. Tuneless protestations like “What’s the point In anything new?” rankle alongside droning riffs and plod-a-long drums that only serve to make tracks like Molotov Cocktail and – the ghastly– Punk RIP even more incorrigible than their titles suggest.

Luckily, the belly rumbling clatter of Threatmantics wipes away The Pads’ lingering acidity. Abound with rockabilly jangling and microdot infused breakdowns, the Welsh quartet’s debut LP Upbeat Love [***] is a fun-loving, no-frills stomp of archaic folk that wails to seductive viola strokes and loose-limbed, harrying guitar tempos. For all the throaty joviality of numbers like Big Man and Don’t Care, dark tribal rhythms still embed themselves within the dungeon of bass and chant found in the magnificent Get Outta Town, making for an enthralling - if slightly confusing - half hour of valley-dwelling sonics.

Less robust and much less pleasurable to The Round Up’s ears is the windswept blustering of Rome-born trio Semaphore and their eponymous longplayer [**]. Sitting atop the unbeknown pivot lodged between The National and Crash Test Dummies, this is a record that growls to the sound of ball-busting baritone strewn over a baffling juxtaposition of grating 80s power-chords and mid 80s country pop, depending on which half of the record you’re unfortunate enough to be enduring.

Smothered by more cheese than this lactose intolerant article can take, The Round Up quickly switches discs to find itself staring into Trickbaby’s Chor Bazaar [***]. A pavement-strutting flurry of Middle Eastern rhythms and slinky pop hookery, it’s a sound far removed from The Round Up’s usual snot sniffing predilection. Yet somehow, amidst the chromatic production and bangra-frazzled beats, this is a compelling, noggin-nodding exploration of alternative India. A surefire certainty to fall foul of the myopic record-buying masses, it’s still a fascinating scurry through the unventured warrens of your earholes.

Alas, the terrifically entitled Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man’s Opus 2 [**] etches out a less compelling pathway. With a vocal that worryingly resembles that cunt from The Killers if he'd taken elocutions lessons, the pretentious, over blown introduction of opening number If This Is A Man does little to tantalise the senses. Thing is, the proceeding five tracks barely improve matters. Abound with crumby production and pantomimic horror-schlock, much of this record is Proggish, sky scraping rock a la Muse that broods like Dracula in its nocturnal lingering but is as ghostly as Casper in sound i.e., completely transparent and, well, really rather irritating.

All things considered, The Round Up counts its blessings to find School Of Seven Bells' gorgeous debut Alpinisms [****] standing patiently in line. Blushing with radiant, gossamer pop undertones and transient post-rock dalliances, it’s easy to see why the Brooklyn-based trio have been moistening the sweat glands of high-brow music rags of late. Mesmerising cuts like the steam-engine puffing Iamundernodisguise and the sauntering Connjur blend Atlas Sound’s ethereal synth runnings with the antsy acoustics of Broken Social Scene. A delight to behold, this record may well be 55 of the finest musical minutes left in 2008.

Sadly, Maple Bee’s Home [**] is probably the most insipid 44 minutes of music left in 2008. Rife with glaucoma-inducing beats and sheepish, helium abetted vocals, the emo-styled chanteuse’s sophomore offering is a dreary clutter of drums cloyed with star-gazing synths that are as ineffective as a hooker in an asexual’s undercrackers.

And with that, The Round-up buffs up its credit card, slips on a Santa hat and prepares for the capitalist utopia that is Crimbo.

First published here....

Meursault - Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues

Much like the vino of their French regional namesake, Edinburgh's Meursault have been on a lot of lips recently. So, after establishing a fervent following with a string of spellbinding live shows over the past six months, the quartet's decision to give their debut long-player Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues another push via Edinburgh indie label Song, By Toad couldn't have been better timed. Knee-deep in folkish narratives, rousing numbers The Furnace and Lament For a Teenage Millionaire are transformed into rapacious tidal waves by the gnarling tectonic plates of electronica that underpin them. A Few Kind Words is an aural minefield and the record's immediate stand-out; laced with bombastic percussion and the screeching banshee wail of frontman Neil Pennycook. Yet, as time flies, it's gentle cutlet A Small Stretch Of Land that springs to the fore as a tortured, weeping lament bound by introspection. Make no mistake, after a spin of this sublime record only one word will pass your lips: Magnificent. [Billy Hamilton]

LABEL FEATURE: One Little Indian

Contrary to popular belief, 1985 was a great year for British music. Amidst a spew of poodle-permed rockers and gak-snorting pop philanthropists (say hello, Band Aid), the remarkable One Little Indian (OLI) was conceived. Founded by various sects of London’s dissipated underground scene – including members of renowned post-punk outfit Flux Of Pink Indians – it quickly established itself as a label focused on providing artists with three special Cs: complete creative control.

“One Little Indian was inspired by the DIY principles and anarchistic ideals of independent labels such as that of anarcho-punk band Crass,” explains the stable’s Digital Manager Toby McColl. “They became so frustrated with the restrictive nature of the music industry that merging the creative aspect with the distributive side of things became the only viable option.”

Video: Bjork - Declare Independence

Twenty-three years on and the London-based label has evolved from its bohemian roots, becoming an influential player on the music industry’s mean streets. Despite this rapid proliferation McColl believes OLI’s remained true to its stoic mission statement: “We don’t look for specific styles or trends with music, we sign bands that we love. So a One Little Indian band has to be a band that we believe in. They could be a metal band or folk, it makes no difference to us. That is why our roster is so diverse.”

And diverse it certainly is. A creative sanctuary for the likes of Bjork, The Shamen and Skunk Anansie during the 90s, OLI currently plays host to Rose Kemp, Minus and the majestic Asobi Seksu. “We have great relationships with all of our artists,” says McColl when discussing the label’s allure. “They are free to do what they want but we put their interests first all the time, and because of that it's really a mutually beneficial relationship... One Little Indian has had a long history; we are very flexible, we are passionate about the music we sign and we stand by our bands.”

With such purist intentions OLI should be tender prey in an unforgiving industry but underneath its innocent exterior lurks the insatiable desire to evolve. Having already welcomed Clean Up, Partisan, Elemental and Fat Cat Records under its expanding umbrella, McColl believes the future lies in self-created opportunity.

Video: Asobi Seksu - Walk on the Moon

“We have some great young people at the label who are very in touch with the latest trends and styles,” he enthuses. “There are infinite new possibilities and companies out there at the moment and it’s our job to find out which of these is going to work best for us and for our fans. We've started our own digital distribution arm, Second Wind Digital, that aggregates digital music, and have begun reissuing a lot of old releases on heavyweight DMM Vinyl. By presenting the music in new, unique formats, we feel our customers are listening.”

Armed with a scroll of effervescent artists, OLI’s quest for innovation ensures the label stands head and shoulders above its rivals. But with the credit crunch gnawing away at record company profits, McColl feels the time is ripe for indies to step up to the play.

“Bear in the mind, the music business has been in its own recession for over five years,” he declares. “One good thing about being at an indie is that we are in a better state to deal with issues than the bigger institutions that take longer to adapt and change...It seems the majors are finding it hard to flex their muscles quite as much in these financially tougher times. [Indie labels] have always been up against it; we are used to smaller budgets and using our heads rather than our wallets all the time.”

First published here


2008 was quite a year for Toronto ensemble Ten Kens. Cherry-picked by the trend-inciting FatCat Records, the quartet’s gorgeous, genre-defying debut LP was met by a barrage of superlatives and compared favourably with indie luminaries Arcade Fire, Liars and Black Mountain. So during the band’s inaugural UK tour, The Skinny caught up with laconically worded vocalist Dan Workman for a quick chat about the group’s past, present and future...

How are you enjoying your first trip to the UK?
We're enjoying it so much we don't want to leave. The UK crowds, surprisingly, aren't that different from Canadian crowds, you have to win them over the same way. Everyone comes out to be entertained, and entertain you must. They do like it loud however, abnormally loud. But that's just fine with us.

True, we’re all about the decibels. So how did you guys get together?
Dean [Tzenos – guitar] and I met in art school. We started jamming together, with various musicians in the mix, all the while writing songs. Once we had enough material put together, we broke away and hid out in a townhouse for a year, writing and recording. At the end of that year we had an album...but no band. We rounded up Lee [Stringle – bass], another friend from art school, then held auditions for drummers, which is how we found Ryan [Roantree – drums]. And that was that.

Writing your debut LP in a townhouse sounds a little intense. How much of an impact did that have on the sound?
That situation made the record what it is. Dean and I went completely insane; we lived and breathed the project the whole time we were there. We never went outside. It was a labour of love and madness. It couldn't have happened any other way.

Considering the claustrophobic environment, did you expect to produce a record as wide in scope?
We just wanted to make a cool record, pure and simple. Once we started recording we didn't know what to expect, but we definitely knew what we wanted. All it took was working with the right people and a tremendous amount of patience.

You’ve been compared with a lot of influential bands, but are your role models really that predictable?
I think so. Throw some early nineties bands in there such as Pixies and Sonic Youth, and you've more or less got the bulk of our influences for this record covered. Those comparisons put us in some pretty amazing company, it's definitely flattering.

Are you happy with the reviews you’ve received thus far?
Yeah, we're really happy; most have been super positive. I'd like to say we don't pay attention to the press, but we do. We're so new, even bad press is exciting to us.

Talking of which, do you think the music press is still as influential as it once was?
We don't think you writers are a dying breed, we actually think it's scary how much power you all have. Our good press has already helped us tremendously; I imagine bad press could harm us just as easily.

Considering there's only four of you in the band, the moniker’s a little misleading. What’s the meaning behind it?
Ha, sorry, sworn to secrecy on that one. But by all means, feel free to invent your own, we've heard some very interesting theories.

Okay, if you’re sure. I have a ‘wacky’ Ken Dodd theory. Perhaps not, eh? So, finally, can we expect the next record to be your giant pop opus then?

Um, no. Our next record will be darker, louder and bigger...maybe.

Initially published here