Sunday, 26 April 2009

ALBUM REVIEW: King Creosote - Flick the Vs

Shooting from the hip’s never been Kenny Anderson’s game. Over the breadth of his decade-spanning career, the Fife-born troubadour - better known as King Creosote and the founder of Scotland’s most celebrated label, Fence Records - has always exuded an air of emotive reticence in his music; smothering ardency in romantic soliloquy and creaky melody. Sure, he’s occasionally offered moments of volcanic aplomb, yet they were often lost in a daze of awkward indecision and crippling embarrassment.

But that was then. Today’s Kenny Anderson is a very different proposition.

New LP Flick the Vs may prove he’s still shitting out records like a lactose-intolerant mouse in a creamery but here, instead of ruing life’s tribulations through a slew apologetic mumbles, Anderson’s confronting hurdles with undeterred assertiveness. The proof lies in the record’s title: a provocative statement of intent that’s both jovial and menacing, conjuring images of a youthful dissidence that belies his years. Somewhere along the line, Kenny Anderson’s grown a set of balls - and he likes it.

His persuasive mantra is apparent from the off. Opener ‘No One Had It Better’ (originally presented on last year’s, tour only, They Flock Like Vultures…) begins with a muffled vocoder din that eventually erupts as a spewing of snare and synth, while Anderson bellows “If you want it, you can have it” with scathing, indefatigable purpose. It’s an outstanding battle cry for an album that shifts away from King Creosote of yore. Rather than the staple diet of accordion-swaying balladry, Flick The Vs devours effects boards and washes it down with gulps of ambitious, anathema pop.

‘Camels Swapped for Wives’ epitomises this dogmatic pathway. Here, Anderson spits and cusses across a funeral march of drum that eventually evolves as a purified, deep-cleansing tear-jerker in which Anderson finally achieves emancipation. And it’s this sort of unexpected twist that makes Flick The Vs such a beguiling listen. Frenetic cuts like distorted key-guzzler ‘Coast On By’ or the pulsing heartbeat of ‘Fell An Ox’ rest ornamentally beside ‘Nothing Rings True’’s acoustic strums without ever stepping out of sync; their contradictory nature subtly attuned to the composer’s spiky disposition.

For those coveting the familiar, Anderson’s falsetto crow takes flight over the string-strewn notes of album closer ‘Saw Circular Prowess’ and ‘Curtain Craft’’s creaky waltz. But in the context of an album swilling with insistence, their diffident flutters pale meekly, particularly when compared to the rollicking ‘Rims’. A master class in arrangement, the track begins with Anderson declaring”I am the worst” over gun-slinging skiffle and puffing squeezebox, before transcending as euphoric brass-wielding calypso that culminates in an exhillerating finale of scattergun electronica.

But as ingenious as ‘Rims’ is, ‘No Way She Exists” ska-infused tremor will be what lights Flick the Vs’ blue touch paper with Creosote-ites old and new. More in keeping with KC Rules OK’s bulbous rollicks, Anderson sets sails with a geographical assessment of agreeable females (”Maybe a girl from the West, could be they really are the best”) before a whirlpool of trumpet and guitar writhes in tandem with tumid mandolins. It’s a veracious blast, both in song and lyric, and a track that crowns the most consistent and ambitious King Creosote recording to date.

He may not be shooting from the hip just yet, but Kenny Anderson’s certainly acquired the gift of the gab.

First published here at The Line of Best Fit

Friday, 24 April 2009

ALBUM REVIEW: Now, Now Every Children - Cars

Ah, grammar. Where would the English-writing media be without its pedantic boundaries? Well, if today’s young ‘uns continue to scoff in the face of semantics and profit-sponging moguls decide to ‘relate’, we’ll be riding the crest of a tabloid-talking, SMS-jiving wave very soon. But right now, while the Queen’s English reigns supreme, there’s no rag redder in the eyes of a journalist (or, surely, a reader?) than illogical, ill-conceived sentence construction.

With this in mind, the question has to be asked: just what were Cacie Dalager and Brad Hale thinking? By completely disregarding basic grammatical rules with THAT moniker, the Minneapolis duo have earmarked themselves as fodder for every Lynne Truss-following stickler who puts pen to paper. Then again, perhaps it’s a defiant act of intent; an attention-grabbing fuck you aimed at people like me? Christ knows, we deserve it.

Of course, the irony is Now, Now Every Children [NNEC] does conform to structure - just not in a written sense. Debut long-player Cars is as formulaic as a school-boy’s chemistry set, never once deviating from a blueprint of pensive introduction slowly escalating into a dramatic, skyscraping conclusion. Yet this lack of adventure is not as languid as it seems: NNEC’s cuts are Postal Service-like in hue, heavy on transient atmosphere and buried in layers of digitised effects.

Dalager’s lethargic intone is the centre piece of every tidy number; representing an axis around which percussion and strum chime together during blithe trinket ‘Everyone You Know’ and the cutesy ‘In the City’. Wisping and enchanting, her translucent purr is redolent of Victoria Bergsman as she pines “my head is an empty house when you’re not around” over ‘Sleep Through Summer’’s multi-layered crescendo.

But there’s more than just a smattering of divine vocal to be found in the album’s forecourt. ‘Headlights’ is a deep, introspective chasm built upon Dalager’s sighing couplets and a thick instrumental flurry, while ‘In My Chest’ crackles with guitars that fuzz like a wash of snow on analogue TV. The gorgeous ‘Friends With My Sister’ is the album zenith: a tearstained clang of reflection that finds Dalager’s prescriptive laments seduced into a maniacal haze of guitar and blinking synths.

Sadly, these delectable moments call shotgun on Cars’ front seat, leaving only a mire of whiny Stateside Emo tripe to linger at the rear-end. The woeful ‘Little Brother’ epitomises this vapid descent, with Dalager meekly crowing “so la la la la letting you in and making us sing a song for you” as an ambivalent congregation of key strikes stoop meagrely alongside her, as if aware of the track’s pulseless deficiencies.

It’s a meek finale that contradicts NNEC’s penchant for triumphant climaxes and suggests this is a band destined to linger in the quagmire of America’s college circuit. Considering their grammar, that may not be such a bad thing.

First published here at the Line of Best Fit

Monday, 20 April 2009

INTERVIEW: Passion Pit

Sometimes the folly of youth lies in its blind ambition. As the industry hype-machine buzzed around Passion Pit last year, founding member Michael Angelakos fell prey to the wrath of the dictaphone by decreeing an intention to blend Randy Newman and Stevie Wonder-like song writing with experimental dance pop. The wishful thinking of a starry-eyed young pup, certainly, but in these feral days of bitch-slapping blogs such bravado can fester a sneering resentment that focuses on everything except the music.

Not quite the introduction a fresh faced electro-pop outfit needs, yet the truism of no publicity being bad publicity seems to resonate with the Boston-born ensemble: “We were 21 years-old, you know,” explains drummer Nate Donmoyer before a show at Glasgow’s Captains Rest. “Men don’t physiologically mature until they’re 30 so hopefully the press will go a little bit easy on us. I think Mike would take any criticism as a compliment though because Randy Newman is a major influence on us and has a special influence on Mike’s life.”

So far, it’s been Angelakos alone who has taken Passion Pit to the periphery of success. Recorded in his bedroom over two years ago, debut EP Chunk of Change was a Valentine's Day collage of sun kissed laments intended for a then-girlfriend. But the EP’s mix of personalised lyrics and hook-infused electronica quickly made its way on to the US college radio circuit before exploding wider thanks to a series of commercial tie-ins and, of course, the obligatory Pitchfork commendation.

Now signed to effortlessly cool indie label Frenchkiss Records, Passion Pit has evolved as a full-formed band of five, adding flesh to the bones of Angelakos’s intimately conceived numbers. “It’s almost like method acting,” says Donmoyer of playing someone else’s personal songs. “Even though the person is singing about his experiences you’re still trying to put it into your own context. I don’t really know what the story he’s trying to tell is but I have one for when I’m playing it live that I believe in, so it inspires me to play harder.”

Having drawn comparisons with acts like Hot Chip and The Go! Team while infiltrating a ream of January tip lists (including our very own), the anticipation surrounding the release of debut long-player Manners is almost rapturous. Not that the band notice: “We try and not pay attention to what people say,” claims Donmoyer. “It’s always good to hear the positive things but not so good to hear the expectations are so high. Though, it’s nice to have the opportunity to live up to it some day.”

But with a spectrum of ideas running through the creative veins of Passion Pit, can Manners really mesmerise the lugholes like Chunk of Change did? “It’s still a summertime record but our range of influences can definitely be heard on this one,” Donmoyer states. “There’s live drums running through the whole thing and there’s more guitars and pianos that’s given it a more organic feel. There’s still a shit tonne of synths on it but there’s more of a medium with live instruments now.”

Through the maze of hyperbole, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that Passion Pit are newcomers in an unforgiving industry. Their brazen soundbites disguise an openness that suggests this is a band coming to terms with its new status. Or as Donmoyer says: “It’s been really eye-opening to how the industry works. I’ve done DIY indie rock and dance and DJ kind of things and I’d never seen it on a major label. It’s kind of crazy how it all works but we’ll take it, I guess.”

First published here at The Skinny

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

ALBUM REVIEW: Butcher Boy - React or Die

There’s a common misconception that Glasgow’s streets are strewn with industrious bands just waiting to be heard. The city’s granite pathways are mooted as a ceaseless indie-pop conveyor belt spawned from the frustrations of foreboding housing schemes and a skyline so low it can fractured the skull. But this myopic romanticism is mere fallacy, contrived by a haggard congregation of luddites (aka the Scottish mainstream media) determined to ride one more wave of self-fabricated glory.

In reality, Glasgow is no different to Manchester, Sheffield, London, L.A, New York or any other city accorded a rose-tinted musical epoch. Sure, its history is speckled with triumphs, but for every Orange Juice there’s a Del Amitri; for every Belle & Sebastian there’s an El Presidente; and for every Jesus & Mary Chain there’s despicable sub-Phil Spector defecation (say hello Glasvegas). To get to the truth about the west coast’s musical subculture you need to wade through the bullshit. And, Christ knows, there’s a lot of that.

But scouring for diamonds often leads to unpolished gems like Butcher Boy being criminally overlooked. Their 2007 debut, Profit In Your Poetry, was a charming cul-de-sac of fey balladry that tingled with the spritely fragrance of New Pop and bore a genial kinship with Stuart Murdoch’s melody-plucking yeomen. Of course, it bombed - those piquant melodies barely registering in a climate diseased by Topshop-ruffled guitar bands - but the recording was infused with a creative grace that earmarked potential greatness, if only the band didn’t jack it all in.

Thankfully (and almost anonymously) then, the septet has returned with the release of follow up long-player React or Die. A brazen title for an act submerged in an ocean of shite with only a straw for air, this beautifully sculpted record gushes with an emotional tenderness more in keeping with the plush green pastures of Fence luminaries Kenny Anderson and James Yorkston than any Byres Road hipsters.

The immaculate wheeze of accordion that tip-toes around John Blain Hunt’s skeletal annunciation on opener ‘When I’m Asleep’ decrees the group’s elegant craft. You see, Butcher Boy are far from purveyors of the ear-clothing noise that escorts suited carcasses through the daily grind; instead, theirs is the sound of delicate, melody-charred vignettes that requires time, space and an attention span stretching beyond Channel Four list-umentaries to truly appreciate.

Here, beatific soirees flow like wine in a monastery and the effects are equally quenching: ‘The Kiss Will Marry Us’ and the brilliant ‘Why I Like Babies’ are astonishing cheek-dampeners that both enliven and oscillate with swooning melody; ‘A Better Ghost’ jangles with a exuberant Americana rhythm that incites the tandem tapping of all twenty digits; while ‘You’re Only Crying For Yourself’ is a bluster of instrumentation that swoops into Hunt’s tender intones.

The only stain on this cushioning twee-pop patchwork is the laboured ‘Sunday Bells’, a clanging, thrashing cut that never quite accelerates with the grace it should, but the title track’s ensuing chimes press so wilfully in the eardrums such banal throbbing is quickly forgotten. And it’s this perseverance that best sums up React Or Die and, perhaps, Butcher Boy themselves: you’ll have to toil through the dregs to find it but, once you have, you’ll never regret it.

First published here at The Line Of Best Fit

INTERVIEW: Storsveit Nix Noltes

It seems the only noise emitting from Iceland right now is that of financial institutions crashing to the ground. But while the white-collared howls of kamikaze bankers may incite wry chortles from those poor enough to have slipped the credit crunch’s grasp, the sound’s not a patch on the ear-pleasing ditties of old-school luminaries like Bjork, Sigur Rós and The Sugarcubes. Fortunately, this baffling sonic deficit is about to change: Stórsveit Nix Noltes [SNN] are set to thrust the country's music scene back into the black.

An 11-piece ensemble conceived five years ago by various factions of the Reykjavik indie establishment, SNN’s collective girth is exceeded only by the sheer scale and depth of their plundering compositions. "[SNN is] really like a cluster of little military groups competing with each other," explains guitarist Vardi. "We just put the guitar section in one corner, the wind instruments in the other, the strings in another and so forth... in the middle sits Óli Björn [Olafsson], the drummer. He is the earth and heaven; the one that keeps these elements from dissolving into complete chaos."

But if SNN is redolent of anything, it’s chaos. The group’s sophomore long-player Royal Family - Divorce is an unvoiced mortar of instrumentation that adjoins brass-punctuated gypsy toils with post-rock malignancy. “The music we play is folk music. Folk music is about storytelling. Storytelling is about insane intensity and aching brittleness…” pronounces trumpet-player Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson. “All that stuff, the gamut of emotions, has a lot to do with the original tunes,” agrees drummer Oli. “It is embedded in the melodies, so we really don’t need to strive in our performance to get them out. It’s all there in the first place.”

Over the years, the sound of the Balkans has been appropriated by a sprawl of American acts keen on fanfaring their Eastern European education. SNN’s motives were less self-congratulatory: “We probably didn't so much infuse [the Balkan sound] with a modern edge rather than play it as honestly as we could,” reveals Eirijur. “We are a group of composers from Iceland. We have not been to Bulgarian weddings, but we absolutely love the music. So playing the songs in a traditional style would be dishonest and probably sound a lot worse than an actual Bulgarian band would sound.” Or, as guitarist Hallvarður Ásgeirsson sees it: “It's not that we have infused [Balkan music], it has infused us. It's a living being that takes over.”

And take over is what SNN is beginning to do. Since releasing their debut album Orkideur Havai on FatCat’s US label Bubble Core in 2006, the band’s blaze of traversing folk has abducted audiences around the globe, particularly after a stint supporting the mighty Animal Collective. Yet accessibility is an afterthought to this organic ‘Big Band’ [the English translation of Storsveit]: “We are the most impractical band in the universe,” decrees Hallvarður bluntly. “When we play shows in Iceland it’s for everybody, the indie kids and their grannies,” continues Oli. “It’s all about the fun of coming together for playing and dancing — although people have had some difficulties finding the steps to some of the tunes.”

Already pondering further line-up additions (“It could be twice as many. Imagine the sound: Boom!” enthuses Oli), SNN’s hopes for the future are as impenetrable as their brilliant squalls of sound. “We'd love to tour in the summertime. It's hard though,” bemoans Eiríkur. “Iceland's economy is having a really, really, big, ghoulish, why-the-fuck-did-I-say-that, drunk-dialling, throwing-up-the-painkillers-on-the-bedroom-floor-while-remembering-you-lost-your-wallet-and-oh-shit-the-wedding-ring-is-gone hangover. Besides that, we'd love a picnic.”

First published here at The Skinny

Sunday, 12 April 2009


Eye promise their will bee more wurdz soon. in-ter-him: