Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Have to say I never thought I'd get to a third "end of year best of" list but I have !!

As usual, and in alphabetical order:
  • Alcest - Shelter
  • Insomnium - Shadows of the Dying Sun
  • Myrkur - Myrkur
  • New Model Army - Between Wine and Blood
  • Queen - Live at the Rainbow
  • The Secret Sisters - Put Your Needle Down
  • Shovels and Room - Swimmin' Time
  • Smoke Fairies - Smoke Fairies
  • Snowbird - Luna (RX Gibbs remixes)
  • Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestite

Of course there are a couple of big gaps in that list..... My pre-order of the Blueneck album King Nine hasn't arrived yet and Christmas may yet bring a Pink Floyd shaped present

Friday, 5 December 2014

Not really a review but Pallas are back with a new album called wearewhoweare.

The band have released a 4 minute mix featuring some of the songs of the album and very promising it sounds - quite heavy and almost Muse like in places....

Additionally the artwork that comes with the preview is just stunning

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-diilLz1BxKo/VII0if3z06I/AAAAAAAAAG0/-CfFKrHzO-4/w99-h140-p/Pallas%2B-%2Bwearewhoweare%2BPremix%2BMegamix%2B-%2Bweare3.jpg     https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-chNp4Xmhdvg/VII1oZNDfvI/AAAAAAAAAHk/x7ZXxKcygTY/w99-h140-p/Pallas%2B-%2Bwearewhoweare%2BPremix%2BMegamix%2B-%2Bweare4.jpg     

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Scandinavia has a lot to answer for when it comes to my music collection.....

Firstly their is Myrkur with her self titled mini album. Full of blast beat drumming and icy guitar this is pure Norse black metal but from the fevered imagination of one Danish woman.....

Vocals are minimal but there are occasional pastoral female voices making this a cross between a church recital and the sounds of hell. If Myrkur is responsible for the drums here then she is on a par with Iggor Cavalera or Dave Lombardo though I suspect a drum machine may be in use....

The highlight is Nattens Barn with melody and brutality fighting for the ascendancy - Quite a stunning debut

 Secondly there is Solstafir from Iceland who have released my song of the year. Otta is a nine and a half minute journey through some very odd minds.

The song is underpinned by a repeating banjo refrain whilst slowly building like some post rock epic. There are echoes of Mogwai and Blueneck but this is very singular in its sound. Half way through it just sort of stops with only washes of keyboard and guitar confirming the song is still going. Like listening to a glacier moving but then the banjo returns and the music rises again.
The voice strains towards a crescendo while violins join in and suddenly it's over....

And did I forget to mention it's all sung in Icelandic ?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Ah, the return of Shovels & Rope is most welcome.... Swimming Time is a much different album though to the stunning debut of O' be Joyful

Whereas the debut was a thrilling ride akin to drinking moonshine at a hillbilly wedding the follow up feels like drowning your sorrows with an after hours bourbon after realising you really did marry your cousin....

The Devil is All Around is a very downbeat opener but all the ingredients are there from the banjo, harmonies and what sounds like a home made drum kit....

Evil does what the title say - huge slabs of ominous down tuned organ and an insistent piano until it all give way to the first earworm chorus of the album Fish Assassin on the other hand is a less than 2 minute blast based on nothing but hand claps and a bit of percussion..... "making noise with the alligator boys" indeed

Stono River Blues adds another killer chorus with the addition such full on electric guitar while Ohio goes full out with horns borrowed straight from a Mardi Gras parade

Mary Ann and One Eyed Dan is the closest song in feel to the debut album, a sort of twisted doo-wop version of Jack & Diane.....

The final song is called Thresher and over 7 minutes deals with the slightly depressing story of a crippled submarine sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The background choir almost give it a gospel feel and as the song fades only the ping of the submarine is left to slowly disappear over the final 45 seconds. - Perfection

The album ends a lot stronger than it starts but this is still another quality release from a very talented duo.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Apparently I bought some album called Songs of Innocence....

Unforgivably three of the first five tracks have brackets in their title, the album cover must have taken 30 seconds to design and the music is by U2

So here's the review - it's probably going to be bollocks but then I've got no real intention of ever listening to it
There are occasional albums where even after repeated plays you're still not sure if it's genius or a pile of fetid dingo kidneys.....

I bought Celestite by Wolves in the Throne Room on reviews suggesting they were a black metal band heading towards prog.... Heading ??? this is so far out the other side you have to wonder what the reviewers were listening to.

Track names are unimportant as this is technically one long ambient piece of music. Everything appears to be played on synthesisers borrowed from Jean Michel Jarre in the 80's. The tracks also lack any percussion or drums but there is some flute and horns among the swirling ambience.

It's like listening to the intro from Shine on you Crazy Diamond  but the guitar never arrives or maybe a drone version of Tangerine Dream.  Occasionally some crashing guitar chords emerge such as in the delightfully named Initiation at Neudeg Alm but this only emphasises the glacial pace of the music...

Your enjoyment of this will depend on whether you have a need for melody or tune in your music or more likely your choice of recreational drug

As an aside I bought a two track BBC session from Wolves in the Throne Room recorded  in 2011 and its percussion heavy, guitar laden and with vocals borrowed straight from the Norwegian black metal scene. All of which makes Opeth's so called progression look pitiful in comparison....

Friday, 22 August 2014

Every summer there's always one new album you buy to take away on the holidays to listen to on the beach.... And as usual my choice is completely inappropriate for lounging round the pool

The Secret Sisters are actually sisters and Put Your Needle Down is Americana from the Deep South laced with a bit of gospel and American gothic

The opener Roll my Bones, a song about one very horny woman, motors along like a cross between Footloose and the band Lone Justice

The standout track of Iuka follows - a story of a pair of young lovers running away from an abusive redneck father. It's dark, percussive with a wailing violin adding a really eerie feel. Unsettling but compelling

The harmonies between the sisters are used sparingly and occasionally the track veer to close to Doris Day or pure Nashville (Lonely Island and I Can't Find a Way being prime culprits) but there are gems to be unearthed.

The Pocket Knife weirdly seems to steal its opening riff from a Seth Lakeman track and Dirty Lie is the American cousin of Amy Winehouse's Back in Black

Bob Dylan were so taken with this band he provided an unreleased song (Dirty Lie) and PJ Harvey also contributed a track

The album ends on the River Jordan, a proper southern revivalist gospel song with plenty of tambourine and it just dares you to add your own hallelujahs....

All in all a really fantastic little discovery

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Insomnium have returned and Shadow of the Dying Sun doesn't disappoint..... Still musically brutal but with melodies any AOR band would shave their heads for

The vocals are still mainly of black metal genre, low and growling but the use of a second vocalist providing clean vocals raises the band above the (blackened) masses.

While we Sleep is a perfect example of what this band does - propulsive drumming reminiscent of the Iron Maiden gallop, a mix of vocal styles, a short acoustic interlude and even a full on guitar solo to end which wouldn't sound out of place on a Marillion album

The stunning single Ephemeral turned out to be a great taster for the album while Revelation and Black Heart Rebellion are harder and faster than the last album ever was

There are surprises such as Lose to Night which drops the pace and adds an almost crowd like sing-along chorus. The title track also adds a spoken word section and another catchy coda as the song build towards the end

Once again this band breaks through all the stereotypes associated with Scandinavian metal to produce another magnificent album that matches their masterpiece album One For Sorrow from a few years back.....

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The problem with Crippled Black Phoenix is every new album needs approaching likes its a new band (which invariably it is !)

And so to the latest White Light Generator which bizarrely starts off with what seems to be a Cliff Richard outtake from the late 50's The two part No! soon brings back the Floyd influences and crashing percussion.

From then on it's bleakness all the way - track titles like Lets Have an Apocalypse and You'll Be Murdered give you the idea. I can't say I particularly like the new vocalist  and there is no light relief to be had with the music whereas in the past there's been a Journey cover or Vic Reeves sample

Northern Comfort would be the stand out track with some middle eastern female vocals added some much needed colour

CBP seem to produce some truly amazing albums, I Vigilante or No Sadness Or Farewell and  followed them up with a lesser effort such this album or Mankind the Crafty Ape (I know I gave it a great review but it didn't stand up to repeated plays). If the pattern plays out again then the next album will be something to behold

There's been a lot to review recently and yet somehow I still haven't got round to it......

So lets start with the new self titled album from the Smoke Fairies. I approached this album with more trepidations than any of their previous albums - new label and a indifferent first single weren't good signs

The vinyl goes on for the first spin and the first thoughts are where are the guitars ? Opening track  We've Seen Birds is quite poppy in its chorus and not to my liking..... The single Eclipse Them All burns slow behind some ominous organ but doesn't seem to go anywhere. After side 1 it's looking like the end of the love affair with the Fairies

Over to side 2 and Misty Visions suddenly grabs tightly hold of your loins. All skittish rhythms, crashing guitars riffs and a lustful lyric and you forgive side 1 already..... The guitars are back for Koto which is the album highlight, a slow building tale of casual sex in an out of season seaside fun fair - It's the flip side to the Dire Straits song, Tunnel of love.

After a couple of listens there is a lot more depth to the album. The guitars are there but used sparingly. This really is an album for headphones as something new reveals itself on each listen. Even Eclipse Them All is hiding some chiming chords

So far none of the Smoke Fairies albums have sounded too similar to each other (though Drinks and Dancing harks back to the debut), so embrace the new and invest some time in these tunes

Monday, 17 March 2014

Something a bit different for a change.... I bought a book celebrating 70 years of the Radio Programme Desert Island Discs and a fascinating read it is

It lists the choices for a selection of castaways and some of the choices are mindboggling....
Elton John - Shine on you Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd
Margaret Thatcher - A sketch by the comedian Bob Newhart (!)
Frank Bruno - Driving Home for Christmas by Chris Rea
Desmond Tutu - The charity record We are the World by USA for Africa
Gordon Brown - Loch Lomond by Runrig
Johnny Vegas - Dignity by Deacon Blue

So it gets me thinking about my choices - The rules are simple eight tracks (not albums), one book and one luxury. And so here goes:

1. One Night in Bangkok - Murray Head
The first 7" record I ever bought and 30 odd years later I still know all the words
2. Kayleigh - Marillion
First album I truly loved and named my eldest daughter
3. Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Still the greatest guitar solo and as a student an album that was a soundtrack for 4 years
4. Last Exit for the Lost - Fields of the Nephilim
Most amazing live experience at the Astoria. Viewed through the dry ice a sea of arms reaching skywards
5. 225 - New Model Army
Lyrically one of the greatest bands ever and this one from my favourite album
6. Welcome to the Jungle - Guns & Roses
This band are the reason I wore cowboy boots and drunk Jack Daniels as a student in the frozen north
7. Crimson - All Living Fear
The sound of the Cavern Club, always dark, slightly claustrophobic but the gigs were great
8. I Wanna go to Marz - John Grant
Stood in a tent at Beautiful Days festival and felt like I was the only one there

The book would be Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and I guess luxury is a crate of single malt.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

You see an album and think "that's gotta be good...." and so it was with Snowbird and their debut album Moon.

Paul Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) provides music along with guest spots from members of Radiohead and Midlake so what can go wrong ?

The opening track I Hear the Owl call my Name is all subtle rhythms and layered ethereal female vocals and very promising. There's a touch of the Horrors side project Cats Eyes about it.

All Wishes are Ghosts slows things down with flute and piano dominating the ballad and that where the issues start - The tempo doesn't really alter until the final track. The layered vocals grate by track 4 and it's like listening to an extended John Lewis Christmas advert. The whole thing is a tortuous listen in one sitting.

The last ballad In Lovely finally allows the voice to sing alone without multi tracking it and so much better for it

There is a track called Porcelain which as a description sums up the album - delicate, pretty but ultimately cold.


Just when you think disaster, the album comes with a remix disc of all the tracks called Luna.
Now I've never heard of RxGibbs but he remixes all 11 track in the same running order

Suddenly I Hear the Owl call my Name comes alive with beats. The vocals are reduced to a repeated sample, guitars muted in the original spring forward and this is now fantastic.

The 3 minute piano ballad Amelia is doubled in length with drums adding much needed colour whilst again the vocals are twisted into samples. Porcelain removes nearly all the singing and adds some shimmering guitar for decoration.

The album I bought was a let down but the very special album hidden as a bonus is the one I will enjoy again and again

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Now my knowledge of Steeleye Span is limited but a concept collaboration with Terry Pratchett was enough to pique my interest....

Wintersmith is based around the character of the young witch Tiffany and the spirit of winters love for her. After the opening instrumental overture the opening song the Dark Morris Song is a real surprise as it rocks harder then I ever expected from this band - There is a power behind this album

Mr Pratchett guests on the track Good Witch with a spoken section and The Making of a Man has some really interesting rhythms as Maddy Prior lists the components of the human body.

The other surprise is quite how much the vocals are shared around throughout the group

Unfortunately having to build an album around a narrative means some filler and at 16 tracks long that's probably 4 too many. The small blue Nac Mac Feegle (basically alcoholic smurfs) may make good reading but the track Wee Free Man is a rather embarrassing inclusion with its chanting verses.

Luckily the album ends with the two strongest songs. Maddy Prior gives real feeling to the violin and piano ballad of Ancient Eyes relating the endless travels of the celestial turtle (perfect sense if you've read the books!). The final song We Shall Wear Midnight features sax and plucked strings as the band tell of the loss of youth as Tiffany realises her future as witch.

It must be difficult to take a book and make a coherent album from it but this is a excellent effort.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Sometimes an album arrives without you realising it was coming..... And such is the case with the new album from Alcest

Shelter sees the band shed any lingering darkly metal traits and, as the cover shows, emerge into a bright sunlit world. Whatever growls which were left on the last album have been replaced with the most joyous almost wordless vocals you will hear this year.

Where Anathema still have a melancholy feel this is just uplifting..... Opale scurries along on an incessant drumbeat with added female backing vocals floating in the mix while guitars dance over the top.

Voix Sereines build slowly over 4 minutes to a wall of guitar riffing whilst another guitar picks out the melody. L'eveil des Muse start with a single repetitive guitar chiming away whilst the song swells behind it.

Away is the most downbeat song sung in English by a guest vocalist with a backdrop of strings and adds an interesting counterpoint to the French vocals. Occasionally you can spot something that reminds you of Blueneck or Sigur Ros but as a band Alcest are not following anyone else footsteps...

The last album Les voyages de l'âme was one of my highlights of 2012 and even though it's only February this will be one of the best albums of 2014

Friday, 17 January 2014

So something slightly different  - What albums due this year interest me already ?

  • Cynic will release a new album Kindly Bent to Free Us soon and apparently it's very proggish,
  • The all girl Finnish group Indica return with Shine so a bit of pop to look forward to,
  • Within Temptation have Hydra due for release featuring many guest stars,
  • The Smoke Fairies return with the imaginatively title Smoke Fairies in April,
  • Lydia Loveless follows up her raucous Indestructible Machine from two years ago
  • And finally Blueneck promise a new as yet untitled long player
Not looking a bumper year so far compared to 2013.....

hope springs eternal though that the Nephilim may rouse themselves one more time but it's never worth holding your breath on that !