De Maria –  Sparkhouse (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

If grunge music has a reputation for being challenging and confrontational and more traditional rock forms seem rife with cliche and stereotypical sonic meanderings then maybe there is something to be had by taking the best of both worlds, to forge something in the middle ground of the two extremes. Music that is big, bold and boisterous, easily accessible but which is also dark, sharp-edged and intense. Anyone who could do that would surely find that they appealed to a wide spectrum of rock fans. Well, that is just what Sparkhouse does on De Maria.

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Maniacs From The 4th Dimension –  Paul Holda Band (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Anyone who states that “ brown notes, off-beats and noise are my friends” is always going to be someone who will capture my attention. After all in a world of conformity and polish it is those sort of things that make music stand out from the background mediocrity and line-toeing. Maniacs From The 4th Dimension is a tricky beast, it lulls you into a false sense of security. Considering what the aforementioned phrase might seem to allude to, what madness and left-field thinking it might suggest, Till We Meet Again heads off down some pretty conventional musical routes. But by the time you stop and take stock of things a minute or so in you realise that the simple acoustic guitar lines and straight four -four beats have actually cocooned themselves in some pretty “out there” sonic trappings. Psychedelic grooves are laid down, squalling guitars paint Paisley patterns in the air, rumbling baselines add rock muscle and the whole rocks with a retro infused intensity. It sort of sneaks up on you.  And as a calling card or way to announce your intentions, it is perfect.

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Mirror Song –  Burning House (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

It’s an odd combination, intensity and beauty, you feel that they should be mutually exclusive concepts but amongst the wall of shoe gazing guitar work, the driving drums, the pulsing bass lines and the half hidden vocal delivery, there is something beautiful indeed. For all its musical weight, its shimmering textures, its rawness and chaos, Mirror Song is also intimate and honest, speaking directly to the listener, half heard through the squalling sounds but still brilliantly engaging. 

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Sabbath –  Evi Vine (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Anything that puts me in mind of All About Eve is going to be good with me. That may be a lazy way to start talking about Eve Vine’s fine new single but it does come swathed in similar psychedelic meets gothic textures, the same translucent beauty, the same sonic elegance. But whereas Julianne Reagan and the crew quickly headed out into more pastel and Pre-Raphaelite territory, Evi Vine stays closer to the swirling dark riches that AAE’s early demos marked them out for.

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Laika  –  Angus McOg (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

There is something wonderfully Gilliam-esque about the video that accompanies Angus McOg‘s Laika, that same strange, surreal cut and paste style that used to break up the sketches of Monty Python’s Flying Circus all those years ago. But there is nothing absurd or throwaway about the music that it represents. Five years on from previous album Arnaut, Laika acts as a taste of follow up album Beginners, set for release in January next year.

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Can It Wait? –  Ignacio Peña (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

The joy of Ignacio Peña’s music is exploring the layering and depth of the messages involved. As an audio blast, the lyrics may be open to interpretation, even having meaning beyond the idea of social commentary that sits at the heart of the album Songs For the Fall of an Empire. But encounter the music with the accompanying video and the songs leave little doubt as to the subject matter that it is being discussed. Not only are there documentary images threaded through the live band footage, there are poignant  soundbites scrolling through the proceedings, quotes and important facts to really drive the point home.

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Altered Cinder –  Luxury Eviction (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Although normally associated with more intricate and wilfully over-saturated music, and also best known as the powerful vocal presence in alt-rockers Absinthe Junk, Altered Cinder is part of a musical project that sees Blair B. explore a more minimalist musical landscape. Working under the moniker of Luxury Eviction, space and atmosphere are equal parts to the instrumentation, allowing for the music to ebb and flow gently around the single vocal lines.

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Modern Cults –  Holygram (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

As the industrial white noise that kicks the album off descends into a searing, pounding explosion of shard-like guitars and cavernous atmospheres, oddly enough I have never felt so at home, so quickly. But then I grew up in the eighties. I grew up with clinical beats of The Sisters of Mercy, the beautifully washed-out and elegantly wasted soundscapes of My Bloody Valentine, the white hot riffs of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the demonic oppression of The Fields of the Nephilim and everything in between. And they are all, in some small fashion, pulsing away at the heart of Modern Cults.

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Spielbergs announce debut album & UK tour

When Oslo’s Spielbergs brought their debut single We Are All Going To Die to the world in February this year, their impact was immediate. It was a rallying cry, an urgent and insistent examination of mortality that instantly exploded through the rafters and shot for the sky. It was a track that united rock and indie fans and writers the world over, topping the Hype Machine as most blogged about band in the world, making Lamacq’s Livener on BBC 6 Music and cementing the band as ones to keep a very close eye on going forward.

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Losing Form –  Polly Panic (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

As long as there has been mainstream music there has been an alternative scene. Sadly “alt” sub genres have become as calculated and predictable as those they claim to provide the escape from. Alt-rockers in particular with their complicated hair and skinny, designer ripped jeans seem to be the biggest culprits. So the obvious conclusion is that we have to create an alternative to the alternative rock scene and if it does indeed exist then Polly Panic is its leading light.

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An Elephant in The Room – Ignacio Peña (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

I think the thing that impresses me most about this artist, more than how well-crafted the songs are and how deftly executed they may be, is the fact that this is someone who remembers that musicians have a great platform from which to talk to a lot of people. Why waste that opportunity telling everyone that you are down because your girlfriend left you when you can actually instigate discussions by pointing people in the direction of topics of societal, political and cultural importance? Music as education, how great is that as a concept?

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The Ghost of Rab McVie – The Filthy Tongues (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

Fans of music being made North of the border in Scotland will probably be aware of the ripples that rock trio The Filthy Tongues are making, they’ve been getting radio play on BBC Scotland and BBC6 Music and are looking at bidding 2018 a fond farewell with the release of the video for their new single ‘The Ghost of Rab McVie’.

We’ve got dark, moody and broody backdrops that surround perfectly (this isn’t the type of music for a sunny afternoon in the park playing frisbee) the bands black clothes with singer Martin Metcalfe self-styled as a combination of wild west sheriff, gambler and undertaker tip-toeing the lyrics above the rhythmic groove of the track.

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Everywhere You Go –  Phantom Phunk (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

We Journalists love our genres, our pigeon-holes, our easy handles, but this one has got even me stumped. But that’s a good thing right? If it is easy to pin down then you have probably heard it, or at least something similar, before. Where you attempt to pace Phantom Phunk in the scheme of things really depends on which aspect of the sound you pick up on first. Hip-hop vocals blended with soulful-pop responses, electro-rock back beats, warped indie guitars and a strange neo-psychedelic vibe surrounding everything. Intrigued?

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Russian Roulette – The Limiñanas (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Well, I couldn’t let this pass by without having my say could I? Being a massive fan of The Lords of The New Church, the writers of the original version of this, it is always great to see such songs getting a second outing. Covering songs is a tricky business. You either try to stay faithful which begs the question why not just play the original or you bring something new and different to the song, which sort of implies that you think that you know better than the people who wrote it. The art, of course, is to find that sweet spot, that middle ground, the place where faith in the original and the chance to re-imagine the song can co-exist.

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Sacrifice – Elea Calvet (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

I first experienced Elea Calvet’s mercurial music in a small and intimate coffee shop setting more than a few years ago now. Since then I have caught full on, full band, musically sky scraping shows, similarly striped back affairs and everything in between. She has released music which has taken standard musical forms, rock, blues, alt-country but which is bent to her more experimental, more genre-hopping will. That’s the real charm of her music, you never quite know what you are going to get. But whatever physical form it takes, whatever generic references she works with it is always uniquely…. Calvet-esque and not many people get their own bolt on suffix so early on in their career.

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I Am The Dark –  Troy Petty (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

I Am The Dark sits on the edge of a wonderful vanishing point, one where recognisable music forms are being sucked into a musical black hole. Pop, indie and rock strands are all enticed over the edge into this abyss but just before the colour and vibrancy are replaced by a stark grey musical nihilism, Petty weaves them into his dark design. The result is a track that links the post-punk experimentations prior to the gothic movement becoming a parody of itself with the blunt trauma that boomed at the heart of nu-metal, it summons the spirits of old blues shamans and looks to write the sound track of a dystopian future.

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Scene and Heard – CCCXCV: She’s Bleeding – Ignacio Peña (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

This time out Ignacio Peña pauses for breath somewhat with a song that mixes occasional soaring crescendos with more measured and lulling musical passages. She’s Bleeding, another song taken from the forthcoming Songs For the Fall of an Empire, is all about dynamics, about light and shade, power and pause, about understanding that if you start from a musical low point, with respect to impact and volume, when you do go for the big chord, the big hit, it is all the more effective for the distance covered.

As always Peña is dealing with bigger issues here. Where others are happy to write songs about relationship trouble, about temporary emotional issues and the pointless minutiae of everyday modern life, he prefers to tackle more complex themes such as the covert machinations happening out of sight of the person in the street but which are the real driving forces of the world around us. Heavy stuff? Certainly but his skill with a turn of phrase enables him to engage the subject poetically and with such deft and often graceful music as the delivery system for such a discussion, the song works on two levels. Engage with the song fully and you will find, as with all of the songs released from the album so far, something important, poignant and perfectly timed being discussed. Chose to listen from a distance and you still encounter a great alt-rock song, one built from clever dynamic and gloriously sweeping music.

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Alt-Rock Tuesday : Hey Jealousy – Gin Blossoms

UnknownIt’s just one of those songs that seems to have really stood the test of time, at least in my house. New Miserable Experience, the album that this came from and the one that thrust them into the global spotlight was well named as during its recording founder member, songwriter and lead guitarist, Doug Hopkins, was forced from the band mainly due to record company pressure over his drinking issues.

Imagine seeing the band you formed and the songs you wrote going on to world-wide fame whilst you are given $15,000 to disappear. Hey, Jealousy was to be his finest three minutes before a sad decline that saw him take his life just a year later. Raising a glass to Doug!

Indie Wednesday : A Gang Called Wonder – Siblings of Us

37390815_993850477463211_8742275497146187776_oIndie? Possibly not but their music is so weird, genre-hopping and changeable that I’m not really sure where it fits in so this is as good a place as any. Most of my postings in this category have been real blasts from the past so far but as these splendid people are currently on tour and they remind me at their most intense of things like The March Violets and James Ray’s Gangwar, that’s excuse enough to post them here.

Industrial strength synth exploring rock territory? A pop band armed with keyboards and a bag of amphetamine? A trio who don’t care about fad, fashion or where genres start or end? I suspect that they are all of the above.

Check out music and tour dates at – Siblings of Us

 

Alt-Rock Tuesday : Taillights Fade – Buffalo Tom

Buffalo-TomI have to admit that I was a real late-comer to Buffalo Tom. A whole bunch of friends of mine were big fans but there is only so much time and there are so many records that sometimes you miss out on bands that should be a real shoo-in for your record collection.

Anyway I made up for it later and this one song more than any of their brilliant canon of work is the one that always stands out in its majestic and melancholy  glory.

Now I come to think about it I do remember having a cassette (remember those kids?) with the album that spawned it, Let Me Come Over,  on one side and Dinosaur Jr.’s Where You Been on the other. Ha…funny how the mind can suddenly throw up long forgotten useless information like that.

 

 

Stuff –  Strangely Alright (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a4034941787_16Scientists have always predicted lots of cool technological advances, from jet packs to flying cars, from sentient artificial intelligence to time travel. And whilst we are still waiting for the first three of those to become the every day luxuries they promised, the last of that list has been available for a long time. You don’t believe me. Just go and look at your record collection! Every time you put a record on…yes, I still call them records, get over it…not only do those sounds remind you of the time and place where they were created, they can also act as backward glancing sign-posts or future musical predictions and they also probably remind you of that point in your life when you first encountered the music.

Strangely Alright are sonic time-travellers. They paint paisley patterned pictures that shimmer with the 60’s mercurial blend of darkness and innocence, they mesh psychedelia and pop melodies together, they run rock muscle through the most danceable of tunes, they are the perfect blend of past and present. Their reference points, early Floyd’s whimsey, The Kinks deftness, later Beatles experimentalism, Bolan-esque strut, perhaps King Crimson’s more groovesome output as well as later retro-revivalists such as Redd Kross and Jellyfish, might suggest that they spend their time glancing back to past glories. But as I have said before, they also sound like a band making music for today. Pastiche and comfort zones is not what is going on here and whilst you can probably make a fair guess at the contents of their record collections Stuff is every bit as adventurous as the music made by those they tip their hats to.

Whilst the band seem to either only put out the good stuff or just have an uncanny ability to write songs which feel like single material, The Information Game, for me at least, sits at the heart of the e.p., a brilliant blend of Aladdin Sane cool and modern alt-alt-alt rock (rock that is at least three steps removed from the posing indie kids with the their complicated hair and their skinny jeans). All the songs found here are robust enough to make their own way in the world on their own. Whatcha Gonna Do is a teasing taste of what we might have got if Marc hadn’t let Gloria drive the mini that fateful day, Building Bridges is totally infectious from the word go and the title track is  the sound of the past and the future having a party in the present.

Strangely Alright doesn’t do things by halves and Stuff is as solid a collection of songs as you are going to hear any time soon, the fact that they are building, blending, inventing and destroying any number of genres along the way is just the icing on the cake. Okay, not time travel in the truest sense but it will do until actual time travel comes along.

Come Again – Grand Blue Heron (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

31957393_1668761816494930_1283781671987970048_nAah Belgium, the land of good beer, good chocolate, good football and, if Grand Blue Heron are anything to go by, pretty good rock music.

It’s no great secret that rock music is alive and well on the continent, it’s a thriving community and often feels like every suburban street or block of flats has a future rock star tucked away in a corner somewhere, busily learning guitar chords, listening to albums and planning world domination. Not sure if this is the reality but there are some good bands that don’t get the attention they deserve because the music isn’t ‘on trend’ or simply because the market is crowded by British and American examples.

Sounding like a 90’s indie band and giving a nod to 70’s punk comes Grand Blue Heron, a four piece from Belgium, who don’t care if you like what they do because they’re having such a good time doing it, you can either join the party or stay outside and wait for the next bus home. There is a level of control throughout the album that only really comes with experience and knowing your instrument inside out.

The overall sound is effect-heavy (only the drums sound organic) with guitar tones going from thick distortion to heavy sustain in seconds, but it works. Rock music has always been judged on its energy, it’s not like classical music where a musician will pour over notation, playing a piece of music repetitively until it becomes second nature, rock music is trial and error, attitude and ego, the four musicians on show here know their individual place and part of the puzzle.

The album starts with a strong rock song to set the tone and we’re taken through rock-blues, to straight up, smack-in-the-face rock to a mid-section of two songs that hint at a fondness for 80’s  bands like Joy Division and then the whole package is finished off with a song entitled ‘Chlamydia’ (obviously not a first date song) which is simply punk.

If your tastes are a little heavier than most, but not as heavy as metal, you could do far worse than giving these fellas a few minutes of your time, who knows, you might even fancy cracking open a bottle of beer too.

Not that we condone that kind of thing here…

 

Strange Charms –  Lana Loveland (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

R-11468180-1516867875-1781.jpegAnyone who is a fan of the garage, psychedelic, retro and freaky end of the rock oeuvre will be familiar with Lana Loveland. Being Organist with The Fuzztones as well as being a member of the Music Machine and fronting her own band Loveland has made her a household name, at least in the more discerning musical dwellings. After a brief hiatus…it’s a girl!…she is back with a vinyl single which goes by the name of Strange Charms.

And given her illustrious CV it is everything you would want it to be. It blends acid rock’s fuzzed out guitars with hazy psychedelic pop, 60’s underground vibes with a modern alt-rock zeitgeist, it not so much plunders the past for interesting sounds as re-packages them for a new audience. Web of Sound is even more mercurial sitting somewhere between a long lost Jefferson Airplane single and a Hammer House of Horror sound track and you never even see the join.

The art, of course, is to refuse to trade in past glories but to build those ideas into something new and for all its retro hat tipping, this release is perfectly timed. With pop music dead in the water and rock music too busy checking itself in the mirror people are increasingly looking back for less cynical, less industry driven music. What Lana Loveland offers is something that is both old and new, then and now. It’s time travel I tell you, sonic time travel…and Strange Charms is your ticket.

Illuminate –  Viva Death (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

093575If classic rock was one of things that the punk manifesto stated should be destroyed, a generation later alternative rock in general and bands such as Viva Death in particular are where rock and punk co-exist in perfect harmony. Why wage war over your differences when you can celebrate the common ground? Illuminate is indeed that common ground. Initiated by Scott Shiflett and Trever Keith of Face to Face the band has evolved, expanded and taken breaks as other musical commitments have taken precedent and this latest album sees only Shiflett and producer Chad Blinman contributing the lions share to the project.

But the result is a solid and snarling beast of an album, the much needed shot in the arm that rock music has been waiting for for a long time now. It mixes hard rock with darker post-punk, takes the infectiousness of classic rock but tempers that with the more exploratory attitudes of the alternative scene, bares punk rock teeth and even wanders out into some more experimental and refreshing sonic pastures.

Sound The Alarm is a charging, incendiary track, one that gives the Foo’s a run for their money but at the other end of their musical machinations, Windows is a dark and pulsing, chilled and reflective creation. Illuminate is definitely a rock album but one that is pushing at the boundaries all of the time. Petitioning The Black Wall is an industrial masterclass, Storm a skittering and tension filled dance-rock ritual whilst Man in the Street is futuristic pop-rock, all strutting grooves and jagged edges.

Whilst their peers are happy enough to wrap themselves in the same The Colour and The Shape inspired creative comfort blanket that has been keeping them safe for two decades now,  Viva Death are more than happy to mix and match their musical fashions choices and the result is an album which is at once familiar and comforting but also inspiring and adventurous. 

Black Parade –  Musta Paraati (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

563205It is fair to say that 34 years is rather a long time to wait for a new album and although the band underwent a period of rejuvenation in 2015 when they worked with vocalist Herra Ylppö to release a two-track e.p., this recent collaboration with Jyrki Linnankivi from The 69 Eyes was only ever intended to produce a couple of songs in English for fans beyond their Finnish borders. Still, as is often the way, one thing leads to another and the next thing you know you are clutching a full blown album of new material.

Musta Paraati are sonic brethren to the likes of Killing Joke or Theatre of Hate, skirting the cliche of goth with enough distance to put them in a more credible market. They  build songs around the same sonic Strum and Drang as those dark post-punk bands, they wander between cavernous doom and chiming electronica and there is something of Carl McCoy in Linnankivi’s vocals, only with much better clarity and diction. But unlike McCoy’s Nephilim they stop short of the pretension that oozed from their pores.  Like most bands who start in fairly niche genres you only survive by quickly broadening your horizons, The Clash had out grown punk by London’s Calling and more relevantly The Mission had shed the goth moniker by the time they had put Children to bed.


Black Parade is the sound of a band who know their audience but who don’t pander to its every whim, casting their net to a wider alternative rock potential crowd. The one older song here, Leader, proves that they already knew how to walk the fine line between the dark edge of underground New Romanticism and what would soon be termed alternative rock even as the NWOBHM championed the classic sound of the seventies.

The remaining ten tracks are all new. Chopsticks chimes with a wonderful space and accessibility, Radio is dense with heavy textures even as it references Bowies most soul -pop moments, Reaper is raw and jagged and Today is the perfect blend of dance groove and industrial edge. It’s easy to see where the bands blackened heart lies but the charm of the album is that this is the sound of the band writing the music that they might if they were starting out today. Whether you are a fan of the early albums or just someone looking for music that flies in the face of modern by-the-numbers alt-rock and identikit indie, this is an album that you are going to fall for immediately.

Album pre-order – CD     Vinyl

Vanessa Peters – Foxhole Prayers (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

a3021777516_10Throughout history, creative minds have always responded to injustice or outrage in their own way – Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica immediately springs to mind – and music is a powerful platform to air one’s own feelings on certain subjects.

Music can be political but at the same time still needs to be heard, so getting the balance between getting the message heard and remaining entertaining is tricky but this tightrope is expertly handled with Vanessa Peters’ 11thstudio album. She tackles broad subjects like politics and growing violence but also brings the listener into her more private world, sharing her self-doubts and fears.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a tubthumping political ride, it’s a creative mind writing about the world around her.

Like most solid albums the songs grow and evolve the more you hear them, and the result is something very homely and comforting but something that also has the intelligence to keep you on your toes knowing that dark times are just around the corner.

Peters’ voice is surprising resilient, not the strongest, but it sits just as happily in the softer moments as well as the rockier songs and her delivery is honest and invites the listener to come along for the journey, it’s a voice that you want to listen to.

The album’s opener, ‘Get Started’ is a gentle kick in the pants and a call to arms, yes things aren’t always buttercups and crumpets but we have a hand in our own path so make a choice and stick to it, no matter what stands in the way. This positivity runs throughout the album, even when she is laying her fears bare on ‘Fight’, it is quickly followed by ‘Lucky’, another slice of positivity. ‘The Riddle’ sounds like the best Radiohead song that Radiohead didn’t write, it has the acoustic guitar, the dreamy melody and distorted effects that the Oxford band produced during the 90’s.

The title track acts as an intersection midway through the album, announcing a slight change to atmosphere and, interestingly, the album seems to get better as it goes along, three of the final four songs are wonderfully up-tempo and reinforce what a strong and varied songwriter Peters is. ‘Carnival Barker’ is an almost humorous metaphor for the current American president and the sideshow that surrounds him (reminding me a little of the Talking Head track ‘Democratic Circus) and ‘Trolls’ rattles along before a return to more familiar ground in the albums closer, ‘What You Can’t Outrun’.

In this world of commentators, bloggers, vloggers and whoever else people listen to now it’s clear that songwriters are still powerful voices and I’m yet to think of a reason not to listen to this one.

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