Not content with inventing his own musical genres by taking the common building blocks of familiar sounds and fashioning them into new sonic architecture, Garden City is Slang building a whole new world for those sounds to inhabit. It’s a place where “a red river flows through the veins of an enchanted forest” and “through the mist, in the heartland, lays Garden City.” That may seem a bit proggy, but rest assured this isn’t the music of wizards and epic quests, unless the wizards are the musicians making this glorious sound and their quest is a search for the groove.
Hexit is an album, and indeed a band, that you arrive at from different directions depending on which musical thread you pull at. The thread that drew me in was a Jim Johnston shaped one but the musical gathering that makes up Hexit is of such a calibre that this album is likely to draw the musically inquisitive in from many different corners. The musical roots of the players found here run deep. In a past and more hyperbolic era, Hexit would probably be referred to as a super-group for dramatic and journalistic purposes at least, but with its ranks made up of people from Hi Fiction Science, The Dead Astronaut, Pigbag and Red Snapper as well as the aforementioned Monk & Canatella man, there are, I guess, less appropriate monikers to use.
And given the interesting history of this musical gang, it is obvious that you are not in for a bunch of three-minute pop songs or narrow genre workouts. No, this is much more interesting…challenging even, taking in warped jazz meanderings, post-rock and proggy structures at its most cerebral and no-wave workouts, experimental kosmiche and post-punk muscle at its most cultish. It walks a fine line between forward planning and improvisation and gives you the feeling that whilst this is the album that they recorded on the day, the following day would have delivered something different and the exact nature and content of any live show that may follow is anyone’s guess.
Hexit is too clever to be merely rock music but stays the right side of art-rock to avoid accusations of pretentiousness and is too together to be free jazz, more of a near-jazz experience. Too original to be just another post-punk referencing bunch of nostalgists, this really is forward-thinking, more interested in where it goes next rather than where it comes from. Dark Sun is a bruised and brooding piece of dystopian jazz-rock, McSly is a tense and terse slice of industrial pop (I’m just making genres up now, you might as well as none of the off the shelf ones work for this album) and Damballa is a uptown cocktail club groover from a band who recently headlined two nights at the Mos Eisley Spaceport Cantina. If Clap in Hand was an actual song before it was a punning title, I’ll eat my hat.
Many won’t get this album, some just won’t like it…people don’t like to be challenged these days, being truly original is seen as a suspicious act and not sounding like Oasis has just been declared a hate crime by the politically correct little darlings. But if you are the sort of person who’s idea of looking for the next new music to fall in love with is exploring the basement bars of late night Antwerp’s underground scene, then you are going to find a lot to like here.
Smooth is the word, although cool, slick and sassy would do just as well. Walking on Air is a wonderfully laid back jazz-rock cross over, one driven by the saxophone sophistication of the former genre and the verve and energy of the latter. It’s the sort of instrumental that has multiple uses, from late night, up town, blues bar to relaxing mood music for the home, sultry enough to make the perfect night time groover and energised enough to be the sort of song to start your day to. You could also imagine it as a sound score to any number of film or TV productions.
The charm of the track is that it balances the hypnotic with the exploratory in that it follows a steady and predictable groove but the saxophone lines seem to almost be a free form jam. It is this balance of the expected and the improvised, the beat driven and the almost ambient attitudes that hang on top of the song’s core structure that make it such an intriguing and interesting prospect.
I love this band before I have even finished reading their name. Anyone coming up with a name that cool, that outside the box of convention has surely got to be worth checking out? Well, I can report back that yes, they are, well worth checking out. If Resistance, the band that provided some of the members in the band including singer Sue Egypt, made music which wandered between dream-pop etherealness and jazz lounge sophistication, Wasabi Fire Alarm is the result of lighting an alt-rock fire underneath it. Many of the core qualities are still there, the otherworldly vocals and the use of space in particular, but this time around things seem slightly more driven and a touch more weighty.
The great thing about the song is although you can easily identify the various musical building blocks which go into the mix, funky guitar licks, jazz diva vocals, driving drums, lyrical depth and a whole wealth of musical understatement, it is almost impossible to think of a band that they sound like. And that’s the trick isn’t it? To play around with familiarity but have an end result which doesn’t feel like it is straight off the shelf, that instead is more like a bespoke thing and tailored to an individual ear.
It is easy to hear jazz, funk and blues hints in both the vocal delivery and the sultry groove that the song runs on. But equally it plays with a post-modern take on the same, a contemporary splicing of the past and the present, the classic and the cutting edge, old-school elegance and modern sass. Genres are almost a thing of the past, pop is where you find it, it’s all pop at the end of the day, and even if this isn’t pop music, in the strictest sense, it is damn sure to give pop music a run for its money.
It is safe to say that Robocobra Quartet confuse the hell out of me, and this short, sharp, shock of a number has done little to help me get my head around their strange musical blend. But fear is our greatest enemy and the unknown is often the place that reveals the most unexpected rewards. Okay…I’m going in!
Driving backbeat and heavy bass provides a platform for this rhythmic workout, the riffs and melody seem pushed right back into the foundations of the song, hiding behind the post-rock, wall of noise heart, but they have never really been verse-chorus-verse-chorus, riff lead sort of guys, well not in any conventional sense anyway. At times the song evokes the strangeness of They Might Be Giants, if they had studied jazz and tried to form a metal band, at other times it feels like Talking Heads if they had….well, studied jazz and tried to form a metal band!
It is dark and brooding, challenging and non-conformist, intense and claustrophobic, sort of like being run over by a musical glacier, which then makes you wonder why you didn’t get out of the way first, it’s not like you didn’t have time! And that’s the charm of their music, you might not understand it, you might not even see what it is trying to do, you may not even be able to put into words what you like about it, but once you spend even a small amount of time in their sonic world you become a rabbit in its headlights. Its slow-moving, hypnotic, all consuming headlights. If glaciers had headlights!
More info and music HERE
Having first encountered Joe Jermano via the cooler, west coast grooves of Reaching For Clouds, I wasn’t quite prepared for the onslaught of raw guitar that greets you as you head into the album. However once you realise that Joe comes with a side order of rock and roll and you get your ears and your expectations recalibrated, you can just sit back and let the album wash over you. And to be honest after the opening salvo, which is hell of a way to open an album and grab your attention, Losing Sleep soon finds its stride in a cool heartland rock, Americana…call it what you will…sort of delivery.
And it is this balancing act between boisterous stadium rock and more deft and finely wrought, often jazz and blues infused sounds. that creates the album’s selling point. Whilst the titles might suggest that there is something hippyish running through the Joe’s creative approach,… dreams and clouds etc. make no mistake, musically he rocks with the best of them. The bigger rock numbers such as World On Fire remind me somewhat of David Lee Roth in his solo heyday, the same blend of Vai-esque guitar intricacies and west coast swagger, but Jermano has a lot more to talk about than cars and girls and certainly most of the songs are more musically considered without ever losing their bite.
Dream Control plays it big but shimmers rather than shocks driving on a slightly arabesque groove, Witching Hour matches widescreen dynamics with mid-paced deliveries for maximum drama and the title track takes us down a bluesy bar room rabbit hole.
It’s a great collection of songs, a collection that I half expected to be more chilled out that it actually is but more than grateful to have my expectations subverted on this occasion. If you want rock with a bit of lyrical depth, rock that gets the job done but spends its time getting the perfect finish, rock which sounds like past glories running into future potential, I am happy to tell you that Joe Jermano is the guy you have been looking for all these years.
There is something of the smooth yet sophisticated West Coast vibe of Steely Dan which greets the listener as Reaching For Clouds dances past and as accolades go they don’t get a lot better than that in my opinion. But in the same way that they were much maligned and labelled soft rock by those who didn’t understand the musical nuances, textured layers and lyrical poignancy of the aforementioned band, Joe Jermano also makes music that needs to be listened too properly to appreciate its delicious subtleties.
The casual listener may just hear what appears to be mainstream rock delivered with a jazz infused vibe, and yes, it is that but it is so much more besides. Beneath these smooth lines are jagged edges and little musical thorns, distant searing electronica and visceral musical motifs and it is this play off between the slick and the seriated, the textured and the turbulent that makes the song so vibrant. But that is the thing with music, it isn’t always about first impressions, in fact with the best music the opposite is definitely true and this single from Jermano’s recent album Dreaming in Color, is definitely a song that gets more enjoyable with every subsequent play. Music isn’t just about initial gratification the most interesting is also an aesthetic investment and therefore the most rewarding.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of exploring the music too closely, right from the off the two things that scream out at me as I dip my toe in its sonic waters are the sheer eclecticism and the texturing of sounds. It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to Steely Dan’s Aja and there are more than a few similarities – the innate soulfulness, the progressive landscapes containing wonderfully accessible ideas, the execution of the musicians that somehow combines precision with a loose and often louche style. And simply the sheer scope of the territory being explored.
But this isn’t the seventies nor is it the West Coast. This is the 21st century and this is the West Midlands, which probably has a lot to do with the record’s often darker, more overcast and psychedelic vibe. Whereas with the aforementioned Aja you need to put on sun block just to listen to it, this has a more primal, edgy and ancient feel, even when grooving out on a sonorous jazz vibe or a funky shuffling beat.
This used to be called fusion music which normally meant either a rock band with ideas above its station or a bunch of jazz-hands dumbing down to find more lucrative markets. Thankfully this feels a million miles away from either but much more natural, just a collection of musicians conducting interesting genre-splicing experiments in hidden basements.
Pagan jazz? Psych-soul? Primal-funk? It doesn’t really matter what you call it as I doubt there will be enough bands who ever come close enough to these brilliant and mind bending sounds that we are going to need to think of a collective label. A genre of one? Why indeed not?
Often reviewing music can be tricky, particularly when it is hard to find an interesting starting point, when nothing new or interesting is being offered up. Growing Wild presents a challenge for exactly the opposite reason. With so many intriguing musical ideas and genre-hopping approaches going on before your ears it is difficult to know just where to start.
Well, let’s start with three words… Instrumental, guitar and rock. That’s pretty safe ground but the charm of the album comes from the generic paths along which that template is allowed to wander and evolve. This isn’t just the same old Vai-esque hard rock indulgence, this is hard rock given wings and a license to fly. And if you think that the lack of vocals is likely to diminish the appeal of the music, one listen to songs like Buffalo Jump and particularly Backroad Ride where the guitar melody is used like a voice and effected washes take the place of harmony vocals, is enough to set those preconceptions straight.
What this instrumental approach does promote is a less song orientated feel that vocals would demand and a more cinematic journey, one that wanders the dynamic scale from simple emotive blues to soaring progressive rock hypnotics, from the power-pop melodicism of lead single Technicolor to the funky grooves of The North End.
Growing Wild is the Canadian guitarists 6th album, so it is obvious that Slang knows what it’s all about and the ability to take such an established style as hard rock on a journey of exploration through new metal, jazz, blues, funk and pop pastures is obviously why he has maintained such a successful career.
Words such as “timeless” and “classic” are banded around all too freely these days but when a band is working with the very generic building blocks of contemporary music, it isn’t too much of a stretch to describe their sound thus.
Opening salvo, On Concrete, offers up some hot-to-trot, solid rhythm and blues and in a way that is a perfect hub to which the spokes of their musical wheel are secured, it says something about their points of reference, as well as the skill, solidity and deftness of their playing. But it is also only the initial springboard from which to dive into an album that weaves diverse generic threads and wanders a number of stylistic pathways.
Coal In the Hole takes us down a bluesy, Americana route, APB plays a straighter R’n’B bat and Square Peg grinds out some raw and resonant guitar work to balance the sweet, folky delivery of Chris Cox’s vocal work. And that may indeed highlight the dynamic at play here – clean limbed, acoustic songs with at least one foot in a more pastoral and folkish camp being rounded out and rocked up but without losing the inherent delicacy and accessibility at their heart.
And this delicacy is best experienced on Incurable Disease which wanders some slightly psychedelic pastures and which would fit right in to a George Harrison back catalogue or the narrative driven 3rd of November, which delivers as much space, atmosphere and anticipation as it does actual words and notes.
These are the musical threads that run through the very heart of contemporary pop, the same raw fibres that run back through the likes of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and the pub rock era, right back to the embryonic days of rock and roll, the beatnik era, blues revivals and birth of modern jazz, and beyond into the primordial crucibles that first forged those sounds.
Even when the guitars riffs are being shot gunned around and the beat is driving the song towards the finishing line, the songs retain a wonderful integrity, there is no showboating here, no overplaying or ego massaging, just a layering of the required elements to build a succession of textures. Sometimes those textures lock together to form rigidity and solidness, sometimes they are just a swirl of coloured smoke, intangible and transient but always they are necessary. Cloth has been cut economically and expertly in the making of this album.
The Missing Persians are the perfect reminder of a few salient points. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, rock and roll isn’t strictly a young man’s game, that music doesn’t have to kick down the generic fences and that it doesn’t always have to change the world. Sometimes it is enough to just make that world a more enjoyable place…and probably some metaphor about erecting trellis and climbing plants…I haven’t quite worked that one out yet.
Maybe it also sends the message that despite the well-timed release of this, their second album, a Missing Persian is for life, not just for Christmas.
The rules of pop used to make things very clear. A band with members numbering double figures is an orchestra, one with less than three is a duo…a lounge act, the sort of thing that you’d find at the bar of the Ramada Inn doing jaded covers to jaded listeners and probably billed as a popular beat combo.
But somewhere along the line something changed, technology began to compensate for mere numbers, new possibilities presented themselves and suddenly even the lowly 2-piece could be anything they wanted to be. And what GagReflex wanted to be was a big, aggressive, punk leviathan, which is just as well really.
The fact that they are a bass and drum set up means that they are massively rhythmic in their delivery, but a straight four-four approach just wouldn’t really cut it and so with Stuart Hawkins mixing thundering bottom end with dexterous riffs and runs across the four string and Seb Goffe’s skittering fills, rampant rolls, solid drives and underpinning emphasis, they have created something far more interesting. Interesting and then some. And somehow the absence of widdly lead guitars and power chords seems to keep things cleaner limbed and certainly more inventive. The fact that you can see the musical machinations that the two of them employ to build their songs is not only wonderfully honest but fantastically hypnotic. Is Math punk too much of a mutually exclusive concept?
And lyrically there is a lot more going on than you would expect from the format, dark and savagely intelligent commentary on the world around them is spat at the listener matching the aggression of the music. Lit-punk anyone?
Anyone who has seen the band live might have once wondered if it would be possible to catch the raw energy of the band on record, harness the savage musical knife-edge they walk, the one that throws experimental ideas and jazz references into the punk, rock and metal melting pot. Well, this album is the proof that it can be done and that punk can be big and clever…though the term punk might need some qualification in their case.
Prog-punk? Jazz-core? Punk with a college education?….oh, I give up. Just listen to the damn album!
“This album represents a journey through my life,” observes Rik Emmett and what a life it has been, a fact borne out by the calibre of the guest musicians found on the album. As well as the regular RES 9 players, Dave Dunlop, Steve Skingley and Paul DeLong you will find contributions from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, Dream Theatre vocalist James LeBrie and one-time Triump band mates Gil Moore and Mike Levine. Quite a musical cast to be able to call on.
And just as the players on the album are drawn from different stages of Rik’s life, the music also represents a scattergun delivery of the various styles and sonic pathways he has travelled. From the blues of When You Where My Baby and whispering soulfulness of The Ghost of Shadow Town to songs such as Heads Up where the anthemic sound offered has hints of the band that first put him on the map. It is safe to say that all boxes are ticked.
This is definitely a rock album anyway you measure it but as the sound is blended with jazz, blues, soul and more progressive threads, you will be reminded that Triumph may have been what brought him to the worlds attention but that is only a small part of the story. And if this is the perfect showcase of the various musical strings to Rik’s bow, once you have played this to death…and you will, all you have to do is buy up his extensive but wonderfully rewarding back catalogue. Better get saving.
RETURNS TO THE UK IN NOVEMBER 2016 FOR SEVEN CONCERTS
INCLUDING LONDON ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
Following her critically acclaimed May UK tour in 2015 and the rapturous response to her latest studio album, Better Than Home, Grammy nominated singer-songwriter, BETH HART will embark on a Nationwide 7-date UK tour in November 2016.
Tickets go on sale on Friday 18th December from the 24 hour ticket box office: 0844 871 8819 and from www.alt-tickets.co.uk.
Sultry blues, jazzy influences, rocking tunes and touching ballads; Beth Hart does it all! Very special guest will be announced in the coming weeks.
BETH HART – NOVEMBER 2016 UK TOUR
Birmingham Symphony Hall Friday 11 November
Gateshead Sage Sunday 13 November
Glasgow O2 Academy Monday 14 November
Bristol Colston Hall Thursday 17 November
Bournemouth Solent Hall Saturday 19 November
Manchester Bridgewater Hall Monday 21 November
London Royal Festival Hall Wednesday 23 November
Where to begin, where to begin! Trying to describe Alarmists instrumental creations is a bit like trying to untangle a ball of string. Maybe if I find a loose end and work my way in from there I may be able to put it into words that everyone can understand. A loose end that allows me to unravel and understand their math rock complexities, their unconventional jazz leaning, approach to structure, the fact that you don’t even notice that it is a totally instrumental delivery, such is the amount of twisting musical information that your brain is trying to assimilate.
Alt-rock urges tangles around shimmering synth-pop playfulness, classical and jazz disciplines can be viewed between the electronica and windswept atmospheres drift through the more heavily structured musical landscapes. And then you realise that the ball of string is perfect as it is. Unravel it and you may gain understanding, leave it as it is and you get unfathomable beauty, unique mystery and great art. Not everything has to be explained or even understood, sometimes it is enough just to experience.