Cupcake Diaz & The Felt Tip Pens (e.p.) – Cupcake Diaz & The Felt Tip Pens (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

13900343_1066118116759487_992033916290305697_nI got to see the band in all its glory before hearing this recently recorded E.P: I’m not sure if that is the equivalent of seeing the film before reading the book or the other way around. Still, in the musical world I don’t think it matters quite so much and probably doesn’t lead to the equivalent of American Literature students stalking Baz Luhrmann with sawn-off blog sites for what he did to The Great Gatsby.

 

What I will say though is that having seen the band live I was intrigued to see just how they were going to capture the live energy they employ whilst on stage. In fact I’m still not sure how they did it, but it is there hardwired into the digital information of the CD, the snotty attitude, the CBGB’s punk/new wave swagger, 90’s college rock alternative vibe as well as their own home grown musical DNA.

 

Yes, it’s punk, well a sort of indie-punk, closer to the fun, cleaner-limbed and sleeker lined early days before the fickle hand of fashion took over and there is more than a touch of The Slits at work here, especially around the vocals of Cupcake Diaz (assuming function follows form and the titular Diaz is the bass-wielding, hair bunched rock chick at the front of the band…I may be wrong as it isn’t properly explained.) And if still using the term punk is a bit retrospective, I prefer to think of them as ahead of the next curve in the repetitive cycle of musical possibility, and that what ever its similarities to classic references from the past, we need to find a new generic name for bands forging through such pastures.

 

But for all the references of yore (or mine for that matter) it is all about making music for all the right reasons. It is fun and forceful, it is pop aware without going for the obvious commercial short cuts, it is in your face without reeking of testosterone and it is melodic but in a punchy, staccato and non-conformist sort of way.

 

I would love to be able to call it pop-punk, as that really is the two main components at work here, one subverting the form whilst the other tries to keep it more palatable, but that label has been stolen by American bores in long shorts trying to pretend they are wacky college loser subversives as they sign the paperwork on their next Beverly Hills mansion. I guess the bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter what we call what ever it is that Cupcake Diaz and the Felt Tip Pens do, just as long as they keep on doing it.

 

 

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The new voyage of Black Sheep Apprentice.

468216_532116126850955_1155002598_oObviously you can’t really write objectively about something you are closely attached to but having made the decision to not re-join the ranks as the rallying cry ended their hiatus about a year ago, I am now able see everything from a different, outsider yet informed, view.

 

I always knew that there was a great band struggling to get out but as is always the way, sometimes it takes a certain alignment of persons, ideas, drive and a favourable wind for bands to find themselves leaving the choppy waters behind and facing an easier, more fulfilling, more enjoyable passage. I’m not saying I was the problem…well, maybe I was part of the problem, but the new crew made of old hands and experienced new recruits has seen Black Sheep Apprentice become everything it has always promised.

 

It is possible that the fire that raged inside of front man Skiddy’s songs burned a bit to fiercely to be properly controlled but now that wildfire has been replaced with a wonderfully harnessed intensity that retains the punk attitude but tempers the punk delivery and so moves them into the alt-country pastures they always claimed to be assailing. Raw, uncompromising and visceral, but country none the less.

 

And whilst it has always been the front man’s ship to steer, it is his current crew who have hoisted the sails. The backbeats are tighter, the guitar work more dynamic, the bass lines more pulsating and melodic and new songs and arrangements promise a broader musical palette.

 

Bravado and promises are all very well and good as long as you can deliver on them and at that point they cease to be necessary anyway as the music can then do the talking. This is exactly where their new expedition casts off. Bon voyage my friends.

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New Music of The Day – CXVII : Final Forecast – No Side Effects

11889522_1576078622668331_4697245753446570461_nWhat I love most about the mercurial and enigmatic No Side Effects is their ability to mix two opposing sounds into a cohesive finished product. On the one hand their synth driven sound is as futuristic and clinical as it comes but it is the dreamy ambience they fashion from those digital building blocks that provides the balance; a haunting and ethereal vibe that is neatly subverts expectations. The result is the sound of the ghost in the machine, technology seemly acquiring emotion, a binary heart beating within the depths of the code and algorithms.

 

And it is this blend of solidity and intangibility that is the intriguing part, two alien worlds coming together and building a third possibility, a Vangelis-like soundtrack for another, as yet unwritten futuristic noir. If films have suggested possible futures as gleaming utopias or dystopian nightmares, maybe this suggests a more realistic meeting of man, mind and machine. Then again they could just be a couple of guys having fun in the studio. I suspect both are true.

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Parkas and Boots – Rob Richings (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

13876675_10154220600315049_7284841026286819954_nThe world is an increasingly complex place and nowhere more so than the world of music. It is a place of byzantine machinations, style over substance, commerciality and fickle, fashion friendly formula. But it doesn’t have to be and that is the message that looms large over Rob’s first full-length album. Music can be at it’s most effective when it is stripped down to its more simplistic forms and as a result Parkas and Boots is an album filled with space and the confident simplicity that comes from total belief in the strength of your own songs.

 

Taking a leaf out of the books of the likes of Glen Hansard and Damien Rice (who he now sits quite serendipitously next to in my record collection,) Rob delivers lyrics forged from personal narratives, memories and world views which dance eloquently and elegantly over the most effective of tunes. Effective because there is no extraneous musical flesh to be found, he knows what the basic requirements are for each song, be it the lilting pop-balladry of Mississippi or the beautiful and almost intangible structure of Glorious, and is never drawn into the age-old trap of overloading the song just because the studio offers so many options.

 

It is this musical elbow-room that he allows himself that means that the textures of the songs reveal themselves through the gaps in the top line melodies. Here a wonderfully concise bass run pulses through, a sumptuous string-wash passes by just on the edge of hearing or more often than not the spaces are filled with atmosphere and anticipation, a tool as powerful as any clever riff or fancy drum fill (take note kids.)

 

But more than anything it is honest. It is an open letter from someone who has found his calling to the world that continues to inspire him and in this day and age that is something as unexpected as it is to be admired.

 

 

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Radiate/dissolve – Rogue Valley (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

12993346_10154118087236057_97375385838736521_nClues are often found everywhere you look; such is the nature of my holistic mindset. The fact that in an age where minimalism is king, where packaging and presentation are often peripheral thoughts especially when sending a record off to a backwater reviewer like myself, the fact that Rogue Valley’s latest release arrives in full 8-sided digipack, lyrically inscribed to the hilt and with a backdrop of sumptuous artwork says something about the band. And as such an attitude suggests, the music found within shows an equally wonderful attention to detail and musical modus operandi. ‘scuse the cod Latin.

 

What I’m still trying to fathom out is how Rogue Valley manage to sound both bucolic and anthemic at the same time. How can songs which seem to be pastoral and sonorous lullabies through one ear suddenly sound like they are the most rousing of folk charges or cosmic rock noodling’s just by changing the way that you as a listener approach them.

 

Take Loom for example, a heavenly choir which evolves into the sweetest west coast pop vibe before heading off into a tequila washed, Mariachi fuelled beach party, and you never once question its mood swings. I guess if it was that easy everyone would be doing it, but as long as they keep doing it then I will remain a happy man. Keep putting songs together made up of ideas which don’t belong in the same band let alone in the same bar, mutually exclusive musical musings which not only unexpectedly hold together but seem to create a sound requiring a whole bunch of new labels to be applied.

 

 

How has a band which ticks so many of my personal musical boxes, makes such cosmic Americana, dreaming pop-rock, such challenging and experimental musical fusions remained off of my radar for so long? Well, at least I’m on the case now, so I’m off to open a bottle of wine, sit in the garden, look at the night sky and soak in these amazing sounds. See you all in the morning.

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Black Beauty – The Twilight Hours (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

largeA quick flick through the The Twilight Hours family tree will give you a few pointers as to what is probably going to come your way over the course of this sophomore album. More than that debut Stereo Night signposted the way to a sound, which combines 50’s doo-wop harmonies and coffee house acid-folk, tied to a 60’s dye-tied, hippy pop sound and just a hint of chilled late night folk-rock. But where as the first record erred a touch to the melancholic side, this time around, even when tugging heartstrings and dwelling on life’s regrets they manage to do so in a more positive and reflective manner.

 

But if the lyrics have become more palatable, the song writing was always pretty much in place. Confident melodies, bright, rich harmonies, clean limbed and unfussy production and a sound that plays around in the territory of a bare boned Beach Boys sound. You know… the early stuff when Brian Wilson was still a team player and could roll out commercial, Day-Glo pop seemingly at will, before he became a bonefide genius and the trouble really began.

 

It is pretty much an unexpected sound, but pleasantly so, to find in todays music pile, mixing as it does obvious pastel pastiches, classic crooning and hippy dreamtime sounds, albeit with just enough hard edge electric guitar to push it into new territories and certainly not what you would expect coming from a city more associated with Husker Du and The Replacements. Maybe Prince really did leave something in the musical DNA of the place.

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New Music of the Day – CXVI: Snake in The Moshpit – Catriona Rose

13346588_1096901337022352_4216828929096255767_nLess is more, they say. That’s a bit of a cliché I know but as a wise man once said, it is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue. Hang on, let’s start again.

 

Often a piece of music can be most effective by not driving the point too hard but instead by letting hints, suggestion and less tangible elements enter the listeners consciousness via osmosis and then make them join the dots. And this is exactly what Catriona Rose manages to do with the interestingly titled first single Snake in The Moshpit. The acoustic folk influences sit central to the listening experience but it is what is going on between the notes, below the lyrics and behind the top line of the song that enchants the listener. A melancholic tone, an arabesque resonance and a gypsy jazz soul hang smoke-like behind the minimal guitar, plucking at heartstrings and pulling memories of beauty, loss and longing from the subconscious.

 

It is the sound track of fatal attraction, heartbreak and reflection but far from being brooding and dour, is as nourishing and vital to the soul as even the most vibrant music can be. You just have to surrender to its charms and let it wash over you.

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Tribal Wave – The Tribe (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

13239075_1200322763325261_8378538059137898416_nRight from the first few bars of the titular opening track, The Tribe set out a stall of street soul vibes, dance grooves, funky back beats and ska guitar lines. But more than that there is a sunshine warmth and party-driven nature to the music that they make. The ska, hip-hop and reggae references that underpin a lot of the album may be styles borne in crucibles of unrest and troubles but The Tribe take those same sounds and forge them into something more widely accessible, more celebratory, more fun. And that is no belittling of what they do, far from it, I’m merely saying that in the hands of well-honed songwriters and experienced musicians, those same versatile sounds can be forged into new, brighter and more infectious shapes.

 

That said, songs such as Break do explore deeper ideas and do so against the funkiest of grooves and somewhat unexpected rock guitar drives and there are everyday, street level social commentary and character sketches peppered throughout the lyrics but by and large what you come to the band for is to party, and this is the perfect soundtrack.

 

One of the things I fear when venturing into such music territories is that inevitable counterpoint between the sweet female choruses and the drop into mumbled, incoherent rap normally trying too hard to be edgy and cool but normally coming off as ill-conceived and illiterate. The Tribe, however, are a world away from that and the contrast of Kirsty’s street soul singing and A J’s raped deliveries works perfectly forming logical balances within the song, complimentary rather than conflicting.

 

But The Tribes biggest trick is accessibility. If dance or hip-hop is your thing then this is album is a natural choice for you, ska fans will find that it falls into their comfort zones and pop fans will love it too. Even those more at home with their “white boy with guitar” music (like me) will quickly warm to the fun and fanfare that emanates from this album and for that segment of music fans this can be seen as a gateway album, one that invites you in to sample other albums more seeped in the sounds found here just as Gnarls Barkley did with St Elsewhere or the much maligned Kanye West did with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And I don’t think an album could find itself in better company than that.

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New Music of the Day – CXV : Oh So Hard – Gold Phoenix

12308462_1649747828597045_7269297366668256552_nAbout 18 months ago a copy of Gold Phoenix’s EP found its way to me and I went on about their music being built around a scuzzy blues core, mentioned bands like The MC5, described them as musical rebels…you know, the usual stuff that makes its way to the top of the Dancing About Architecture pile. Well, the new single still manages to do all of that but somehow just does it with more…err…more Gold Phoenix-ness….if you know what I mean.

 

Its tribal groove and driving bass onslaught are used to frame a dark and edgy vocal interspersed with blistering guitar riffs that are clever enough to know the difference between solid and melodic, and the fret-wankery that many rock bands try to pass off to cover their lack of ability to write real hooks.

 

Like all of the best songs it doesn’t really do much, it doesn’t have to as all the core elements have been carefully chosen, arranged and threaded together perfectly into a song that eschews trickery for growling melody, complexity for intensity and theatrics for true edge and intensity.

 

I liked this band from the first time of hearing them, now it is safe to say that my little music crush could very well be turning into something more. Love? It may very well be.

 

 

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New Music of the Day – CXIV : City – Hard Stairs

13680567_472371852973592_1430583636259453106_nThere are a number of bands coming through at the moment who have taken a sound more associated with the states, particularly the south and repackaged it with a slightly Anglicised accent…HipRoute, The Dustbowl Children, The Rosellys and Case Hardin all spring to mind. But if their brand of British Americana (as it is being coined) sits in fairly Nashville-esque company…even if it is the more underground eastern part of the city, Hard Stairs come from somewhere else.

 

This is the unruly younger brother, the black sheep of the family, the garage punk rebel of the blues family. It has all the expected hallmarks, the riff boogies along; the beat hypnotically lopes along behind it, wonderfully and wilfully loose and the vocals growl out over the top. But it is the intangible elements to the music, which works for me. Between the notes and the beats and the words is something else, a whiskey fuelled attitude, a surly look and bad feeling about how things are going to turn out. Musically this is the guy who deliberately shoulder barges you as you head for the bar, the guy you do your best to avoid eye contact with all night, the guy you know is probably hanging around the car park at the end of the night just to get into a fight.

 

 

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