Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Invisible - MK-ULTRA, album review

MKUltra... A prime example of heightened paranoia and the conspiracy theory culture that has risen in the digital age alongside omnipotent social networking and a right-swiping society with a deteriorating attention span, although the US government's illegal mind control programme may not be as prevalent as tinder and snapchat, it has certainly taken its rightful place in the niche corners of the internet that firmly believes the world's most popular music artists are among the highest order of the illuminati...

Whilst Rihanna and Jay-Z's suspicious status has yet to be proven, MKUltra is (or was) very real, and has given birth to a creative response among the arts that plays on our fears of government power.  Forget off-shore tax havens and shady allowances made for second properties, for there are far more sinister strings that have been pulled in an attempt to create sleeper soldiers through mind control and experiments with LSD.

More than 40 years since proof of these practises came to light, The Invisible, aka Enfield multi-instrumentalist Jake Bradford-Sharp, takes this subject as inspiration for his debut long player, a concept album that not only threads together a fictionalised account of an MKUltra test patient but also weaves together a rich tapestry of musical influences that reach back through the decades almost as far back as the controversial practise itself.

The 60s psychedelic influence of Pink Floyd is an obvious one to tag this release with, along with the expansive and progressive sounds of the 70s that could be heard emanating from the likes of Yes, but harder edged guitar riffs call to mind rock titans such as Black Sabbath, and a far more recent touchstone would also be Muse, who have managed to fuse stadium rock with a sense of the overblown and an overbearing theme of paranoia and political mis-trust.

Perhaps the strongest thread that runs through this accomplished debut is a home-grown predilection for British eccentricity that is not only self evident but also self serving in the aforementioned works of Syd Barrett, Rick Wakeman and Matt Bellamy, and is explored here through no mere pastiche or doe-eyed hero worship, this has been seriously crafted in a way that blends musical styles and extravagant opuses without feeling bloated or over-reaching, and I constantly have to remind myself that this is all the work of just one musician... in fact the involvement of others could possibly have diluted such an ambitious and focused piece of art.

Here is an album that challenges you to put aside distractions for its duration in what is another conscious decision to go against the grain of modern music, and each track opens itself up to deeper dissection of both a critical and literary nature... I hear shades of Tom Vek in brief opener Inside Voices, but I also hear an awakening experience, there are three key tracks that each have their sights set on reaching epic proportions standing tall within the framework of the album, but the shifting sonic identity within these longer tracks and the flow of the album raises the listener's own questions as to whether one track has truly ended and another one yet begun, surely a reflection of the inner turmoil and disturbed psyche of MKUltra patients.  Recollections of mind-control experimentation collide with musical experimentation perfectly, and This Drug, The Discovery, and Dreamscape all are fascinating in their ability to hold your attention as they unravel over an extended run time, again I'm reminded of the paranoid stadium rock of Muse, but also of mostly forgotten early-noughties vanguard noiseniks The Cooper Temple Clause and (the sole American group brought to my mind) The Flaming Lips, and their own uncompromising approach to making music since the band's inception, except right now there isn't a single pink robot in sight...

Each listen reveals further depths not only in the sonic construct of MK-ULTRA, but also in the storytelling that the 'concept' of the album is pinned upon, providing a cohesive story structure that complements and mirrors the equally cohesive marriage of myriad styles and sounds.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Centau - Centau, album review

Writing, recording and releasing music is a labour of love, and this fast paced digital age has made creative technologies more affordable and more accessible, but that doesn't necessarily mean that every song and shred of music that makes its way online is worthy of further attention.

Thankfully there are acts such as Centau that are a testament to hard work and talent paying off and producing a polished end-product, the work of Enfield's Raihan Rubin, this solo project and self-titled debut album that recently landed on all major streaming services is a study in dynamic rock, and the knowledge that it had been solely constructed with minimal input from outside forces only makes the listening experience all the more bewildering.

Whilst the vocals may not be the most conventional to have been heard alongside such driven drums and guitar riffs, the sheer ambition and craftsmanship that has been poured into producing such a professional end-product is breathtaking and makes for an inspirational story for any aspiring bedroom music maestros, the intricate guitar work and multi-tracked vocal takes seem faultless and each new listen brings about another nuance that I had previously missed in the mix.

To my ears, Centau harks back to 90s era rock bands that struck big and found themselves filling stadiums as they filled the gap left by grunge and the earlier hair-metal of the 80s, shades of Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters are present alongside a number of other contemporaries, but I can also hear the more modern sounds of Muse and Biffy Clyro ringing through in the style and tone of the album, but what I can hear most is maturity.... This sounds like an album that has grown, perhaps this is the result of one man at the controls, the entire thing sounds considered, but this can't just be put down to sole working practises, the entire operation and resultant sound must have been intentional.

As a D.I.Y produced debut album, it outstrips any and all expectations put upon it.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

in conversation with Those Handsome Animals

2016 has seen the return of Those Handsome Animals, with new music released and their own Hoxton-based club night.  I posed a handful of questions to lead singer and guitarist Thomas Millett ahead of the latest installment of their Prolific Lover Club this Friday at Zigfrid Von Underbelly...

I’ve followed Those Handsome Animals since the very beginning and it's been a sporadic trajectory, would you care to share a potted history of the band and introduce yourselves?

Me and Gav (vocals and guitars) started making music together in 2010, we were a 3 piece then with Gav on the bass, which is hilarious because he’s a way better guitarist than me. We was making music that was more akin to the Cure at the time, heavy reverbed dream pop but we got a bit bored with it, everyone sounded like that at the time (think The Drums). 

Gavin went traveling for a while and we just stopped making music for 4 years. After that whopping break we got back together, turned off the reverb, and decided harmonised guitars and power chords are the way forward. We was hell bent on sounding like no one around today. We recruited Thomas Beavis on Bass (a colleague of Gavin's) and most recently Derrick Carter (a uni friend of mine) on Drums. Together we have become almost brutal in sound, but trying to do this in a way that’s not been done before.

When I approached you about reviewing your latest single, you commented that you was moving away from the pigeonhole of 'indie', is indie a dirty word? Where is the band's sound heading now?

It’s not a dirty word, it’s just not right for us. 

When we get press everyone says we sound like various random 00’s indie bands, but the truth is we sound like none of them. We’re influenced by some of them sure (**cough** The Cribs), but I don’t feel part of it. The fact no one can unanimously describe us the same makes me think we're onto something new. 

The band’s sound is constantly being refined with each release. We have two guitars in the band, so we make the most of it, in songs like Rant Wildly and Right Fit For the City we both play lead. I hate guitarists that just play chords and the other solos, it’s boring. 

We’re now working on Hits vol. 2 - which has some new developments for us, mainly Gavin taking lead vocals on a few tracks. He’s got a deeper voice than me so we’re getting a bit of a Strummer / Jones vibe. We’re also working on acoustic stuff that is heavily influenced by The Faces, for too long acoustic songs have been wimpy... no longer.

Your lyrics have always held a down to earth, kitchen-sink drama quality that I've found relatable and fascinating, who do you hold in the highest regard in terms of songwriting?

I like characters, oddballs. For me my favourite songwriters are people like Jarvis Cocker, Black Francis & Jeffrey Lewis. 

They are themselves and write songs only they can sing. Everyone can write something generic (and most people do), but these guys have no intention of doing that, and neither do I. They don’t pretend to be anyone else, I like that. I see way too many people that seem fake fronting bands, It’s all style, but not with these lot. That rubbed off on me, I try to write as honest as I can, and then bury it under alliteration and imagery. 

Fun fact: We got our name from Jeffrey Lewis’ song “Slogans”.

Jared Leto; musical output or cinematic output?

Oh god, his cinematic output everyday.

The world finally gets to the witness the full unveiling of Jared Leto's turn as the Joker next month... If you was tasked with providing a new soundtrack to a Jared Leto movie, which would you choose?

Can I choose Fight Club? He’s not really the star but he’s in it. 

I’ve been working on a lot of instrumental stuff lately, it would soundtrack one of those fight scenes perfectly. Think Fuckin in the Bushes, but with a ridiculous amount of guitar harmonies in it.

Those Handsome Animals play Prolific Lovers Club @ Zigfrid Von Underbelly on Friday 29th July

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Major Lazer - Cold Water, single review

What better accompaniment to the sunshine than a brand new Major Lazer song...

But sadly, now that Thomas Wesley Pentz has one of the worlds most famous pop stars on speed dial after playing a key part in the career gentrification of Justin Beiber, Cold Water sounds more like a cross-promotional branding exercise than it does the manic Jamaica-centric electronic hybrid of old.

Ed Sheeran's fingerprints are all over the songwriting and the blueprints for world domination are highly evident in a mere three minutes.  Top flight producers, song writers and pop stars, plus emotive Love Yourself-style guitar and a tried and tested laid back summer vibe, draft in Lean On's breakout star MØ and you have a winning formula beneficial to all involved.  There are still some tell-tale elements of fusion that flow through the track, but it feels less like a new Major Lazer song and more like a new track primed for Beliebers with Diplo once again on production duty.  

It's not a bad track, not by any stretch of the imagination, and it will no doubt be unavoidable for the remainder of the summer, I just hoped that with such creative forces at play that we would be hearing boundaries being pushed rather than this bankable safe bet.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Poet Palms - .the inzz and outzz of thoughts in my pocket, album review

With leaden arms and a woozy head I paused to survey the abundant musical landscape, I had come here I search of something 'experimental' and now I was taking stock of the surrounding area as my motor functions continued to float somewhere beyond the realm of normal practicality.

Skinny withered fingers flash across the touchscreen and dip in and out of new releases like some kind of malnourished Winnie The Pooh feverishly tasting from the honey pot using the sense of sight alone, discarding those that don't look right, those that don't appeal, with no real sense of why, but when I've found it, then I've found it.

And I've found it.

I've found the voice that speaks to me.

Speaks to me through poetry.  Speaks to me through brevity, and beauty.
Speaks to me through complexity and pretentiousness, because I love finding something that it can be a challenge to love, I love holding my head up and declaring that perhaps my taste is the emperor's new taste.

But above all that I love passion.

And I love the dizzying power of creation.

This dainty and lithe creation that was spawned of minds and now beams directly into mine. Words and sounds, definitely poetic, occasionally musical, purely avant garde and now a part of my life.  Fleeting glimpses into other lives exist here without boundaries or formulas, these are snapshots of genius fused to maverick productions, both feeding and solidifying each other in the symbiotic process.

I found this.

Or did it find me?

Friday, 8 April 2016

Whenyoung - See How They Run, single review

The debut self-released single by newcomers Whenyoung just landed in my inbox and swiftly wound it's way into my mind.

So far I've received very little information about the band, instead choosing to let the music do the talking, or to get closer to the truth, letting the music do the shouting, stomping, jumping around and teasing.

Whenyoung sound like a number of things and make a great first impression for themselves.  They sound brash, they sound like your favourite garage-rock band that you'd forgotten you'd loved, they sound slightly Scandinavian, they sound flirtatious, and they sound like fun. 

Within two minutes they cram monochromatic shades of PJ Harvey, The Kills and Ladytron into See How They Run, and I for one, am already hooked.

Self-released on 22nd April

in conversation with Eddie's Samband

After pleasantly surprising the band by reviewing their single last month, i decided to get in touch with Eddie's Samband to try and find out a little more about the fledgling act...

I'm sure it's the one question the whole musical world has been asking, but who are Eddie's Samband?

Sam1: We are Eddie, Sam and Sam or Sam and Eddie and Sam or Sam, Sam and Eddie, or just Eddie's Samband.  Three people from North London who enjoy spending far too infrequent amounts of time together making music, generally fuelled by cheap booze and bad jokes.
Sam2: Eddie’s Samband is a feeling, a movement, a way of life.
Eddie: Eddie's Samband is a chemical reaction of off brand Baileys and Tesco brand buck's fizz… fuck’s bizz.
Sam2: If you’ve ever had a feeling and not known what it was, how to deal with it or even if it’s in a ‘talent’ time signature, you are Eddie’s Samband.
Eddie: Sam and I were already mates before we started the “project” and he suggested we record some songs with his friend who is also called Sam. We stumbled into a rehearsal studio I was working in at the time and recorded a song about getting drunk. The rest is history

Do you think Stacey could be persuaded to listen to techno? What is she into?

Sam2: In a word, NAH. She loves a bit of Craig David played on her phone while she’s walking round the estate or reppin’ the back of the bus.
Sam1: I think that she doesn't even know what she likes, she generally has a hankering for top charts bangers and bargain bin Shiraz but that's only because her friends do, in private she probably prefers silent crying and the sound of her own heartbeat.
Eddie: I think I remember meeting Stacey in the smoking area of a run-down pub in Islington… The kind of pub that hadn’t changed the furniture or carpet since the smoking ban. We were talking about festivals and gigs we've been to. Well I was anyway... She was chucking her guts up because she took advantage of the cheap house wine.
Before she left, I slipped her a copy of Moby’s 2009 album “Wait For Me” and told her it would be a good listen for a hangover.
I’ve not had contact with her since.

I see you've been shouting out KT Tunstall and Adele on twitter, are these the strong female artists that you wish to emulate?

Sam1: Can one shout on a medium that doesn't have a volume control? I mean, you can be kind of aggressively visual using CAPS LOCK but it's not got the same power as a good ol' shout, does it?
Sam2: You could say we wish to emulate them. Or you could say we’re just horrific pests on social media.  I definitely want to be one of them when I’m a grown up.  Either or.  I’m not picky.
Eddie: Sam’s a very big fan of KT. I can’t say I’m a huge fan but I can appreciate a good singer/songwriter when I hear one. I wouldn’t say what we’re doing is emulating anyone, it’s just;
“Hey, we all play instruments. Let’s get together and make some noise.”
Sam1: I'm pretty sure we just want to go for a drink with them...
 Sam2: I think a night out with Eddie’s Samband, Adele and KT would be banging. Perhaps when they’re drawing up the table plans for next year’s BRIT Awards they could take this in to account?
Sam1: They would certainly be on the list of people we are influenced by - well the Sams are, I think Eddie's kind of KT-curious verging on A-DeleSexual...
Eddie: I’ve been A-DeleSexual for years pal.  I guess I’m more influenced by other artists we mutually like… Bowie, The Cure, Radiohead, Fleetwood Mac, The Raconteurs to name a few...

Delving deeper and listening to your debut #feelingsEP reveals that the band can show a slightly more serious and sensitive side... What is it that makes the band tick and what can we expect of any future releases?

Sam2: Feelings. If we ever experience any feelings, they’re in a song
Sam1: What makes us tick? Gin mostly.
Eddie: I think with #feelingsEP we were trying our hand at writing songs with meaningful lyrics and interesting chord progressions while still sounding okay while under the influence. It just seemed a bit boring to be so serious and feelsy all the time so we just decide to have fun and do whatever... even if it didn’t meet traditional songwriter standards
Sam2: Sometimes I just want to get drunk, and that’s a feeling. And that’s ok. Any future releases are guaranteed to have a wide array of mixed messages, mixed emotions and stains of gin and misery.

You've presented yourselves as 'Three drunks and a laptop'.... Any plans to take that set-up into the real world and perform live?

Sam2: We will only play anywhere that has free WiFi and free booze. If you know anywhere that meets that criteria, we’ll consult the Filofax and see if we can be bothered to rock up.
Sam1: That sounds like it would involve a lot of work.
Eddie: I think we’ve all played together at the same time a grand total of once and that’s when we had our first jam.
Sam1: You know, Sam and I tried a rehearsal for a live show we'd been offered (Eddie was busy with his real band or a funeral or something) and we couldn't even remember the chords to the songs. Needless to say we didn't do it.
Eddie: It does sound like a good idea but it would require a lot of planning, rehearsal and booze so I’m not sure we’re gonna be playing shows any time soon... I wouldn’t rule it out though!
Sam1: We'd definitely still be three drunks and a laptop on stage.  The intermittent pauses while waiting for the ageing macbook to reboot from yet another crash would be fun though, wouldn't they?

And lastly, who were your first cartoon crushes and do you think these have informed your later life choices?

Eddie: That’s a very interesting question
Sam1: This question is quite random, I kind of like it, what was the reasoning behind it?
Eddie: I think mine was probably Buttercup from the Powerpuff girls. I’m not sure why, it’s probably the tomboy-ish attitude and taste in music haha!
Sam1: Daria is deliciously morose and may be my spirit animal. But I wouldn't say I ever had romantic feelings for a drawing. I've had other feelings about drawings, but never lustful ones, I mean, never say never, but I haven't so far in my life...
Eddie: I can’t say a childhood crush on an anime inspired little girl with superpowers has affected my life choices.. I think meeting a woman with those characteristics is a bit far-fetched.
Sam2: I would probably say Simba. I just couldn’t wait to be queen at the time. I don’t think this has influenced any of my later life choices really other than the occasional Lion King sing-along in the office at work. Lions don’t form a part of my sexuality.

#feelingsEP and Stacey's Crying are both out now via bandcamp