Friday, 10 December 2010

Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises

Rating: 9/10
Genre: Acoustic/Alternative
Another release that won't be making the headlines in many music magazines this year is Mark Kozelek's new Sun Kil Moon album Admiral Fell Promises. Following on from the Red House Painters Kozelek has continually delivered great albums to critical acclaim whilst remaining well and truly hidden from the mainstream. His work with Sun Kil Moon to date has all been of sterling quality allowing him to open up and experiment with different styles of music whilst retaining his textbook sombre ballad style.

"Admiral Fell Promises" however is a departure from the variety displayed on "April" or "Ghosts Of The Great Highway" and see's Kozelek go back to basics with stunning results. Oddly the album is released under Sun Kil Moon's moniker whilst the album itself appears to be more of a solo effort but this is of no real importance being that even when with Sun Kil Moon members in tow Mark is still the creating driving force. Fitting to type the album is made up of sombre brooding ballads performed with little else but an acoustic guitar for company leaving the compositions airy and sparse. As usual Mark's expert lyricism is instantly affecting and shows a great level of depth and range in terms of emotion. The lyrics are delivered in his usual mumbled soft tone making it a beautifully soft album with a dream like quality and a thrill to unwind to. Between the songs are classical styled jazzy interludes of spanish guitar. Highlights include the beautiful winding "Third And Seneca" which has the slightest cymbal brushes and has a beautiful instumental mid section. "Church Of The Pines" also stands out with its spanish interludes and overlapped vocals adding an extra dimension of beauty. The only negative aspect is that it is quite similiar to much of Kozelek's material and as such could be seen as a safe choice in terms of the minimal variation.

Overall I would recommend this album to any eclectic music fan. The soft melodies and dreamy vocals makes this an engrossingly beautiful listen, perfect for soothing the stresses of a bad day. Highly recommended.

Download: "Half Moon Bay" "Church Of The Pines"

Chickenhawk - Modern Bodies

Rating: 8/10
Genre: Hardcore/Metal
Hardcore has come a long way since its inception in the late eighties. These days hardcore is so far removed from Punk it is almost unrecognisable and now the term is applied to anything heavier than rock that fails to tick the boxes to be classed as metal. Hardcore has reached quite a boring phase as of late with so many bands out there throwing there hat into the ring relying on nothing but tight jeans an emo mullet dyed jet black with bleach blonde tips and a series of monotomous breakdowns. This is where Leeds based Chickenhawk come in and save the day. With their first release on Brew records (the same label that bring us the beautifully deranged hardcore of Kong and the epic Humanfly) Chickenhawk kick the living shit out the competition with Modern Bodies.

The album opens up with "Scorpieau" some strange digital sound that instantly crashes into a full out aural assault as squealing guitars screech over a heavy low end bass attack as the drums thunder along. The unhinged shouty screaming vocals of  Paul Astick tie this all up very nicely, well I say nicely in all honestly it's almost so psychotic it's scary. The one thing that really seperates this band from the herd is the use of complicated time signatures, rests are used to devastating effect lulling you into a false sense of security before barraging with more lightning fast violence. Other aspects that work very well are the utterly sinister child like group vocals and the use of short interspersed shredding solo's and sci fi distortion. Highlights include the crashing symbols and screeching chorus of "Nasa VS Esa" and the utterly deranged 6 minute "Gravitronic Life-Ray Table" a song with more twists than you can shake a stick at. The only downside to the whole album is that much of the material is formed of rerecorded tracks from their self titled debut, although in balance the band line up has changed significantly enough that this is easily forgiven (The lead singer used to be lead singer and drummer).

Overall if you are looking for something to blow out the cobwebs between your ears this is a great release. If you are however of a nervous disposition this unhinged monster may not be to your liking. A great release from a band destined to do great things. Highly recommended to any metal or hardcore fan.

Download: "Nasa VS Esa" "I Hate This, Do You Like It"

Kele - The Boxer

Rating: 3/10
Genre: Dance/Alternative
Late last year saw Bloc Party take a temporary hiatus as their record contract was completed. After 3 solid studio albums and 2 remix albums the band have decided to take a break and go their seperate ways to try out new projects before reconvening some time in the future. "The Boxer" is one of the resulting projects of this hiatus and sees lead singer Kele Okereke tackle dance music head on. Bloc Party themselves had slowly been making the transition from straight up Indie Rock to Indie Dance hybrid with their last album "Intimacy" mixing synthesizers, samples and drum loops with their guitar driven rock sound. However "The Boxer" really takes this up a notch by almost discarding the rock edge completely.

"The Boxer" is ambitious and daring. Unlike many solo projects it is not just a rehashing of Kele's original band's work but an actual departure from that sound a step into the unknown. The only problem with this is that it hasn't exactly produced great results. The opener "Walk Tall" is a good example of this, the off kilter synthesizers surge against the tight robotic beats to produce dance music that has too many layers clashing at once to be coherent. The album jumps from one song to the next with no real flow with tracks like "On The Lam" attempting to capture a club classic drum and bass sound and falling short due to over sampling. The problem with the sampling is that often an annoying squeaky sound is picked and then recycled repeatedly throughout that track. This wouldn't be much of a problem unfortunately this is potentially the only consistent element running through the record. The only highlights really are the tracks that manage to escape the over cluttering like the simplistic electro of "Tenderoni" and the very Bloc Partyish track "Unholy Thoughts". Unfortunately most of the record falls short of expectations and whilst the album was an ambitious release it seems Kele may have over reached.

Overall i wouldn't recommend this album to anyone except die hard Bloc Party fans. The two or three tracks that are passable do not make up for the rest of the cluttered crap on show here. As far as dance music goes you would be better off sticking with artists who excel at what they do like Holy Fuck or Rival Consoles.

Download: "Tenderoni" "Unholy Thoughts"

Walter Schreifels - An Open Letter To The Scene

Rating: 9/10
Genre: Indie/Emo
Walter Schreifels has always been regarded as a cult legend. His illustrious career began way back in the late 80's as a guitarist in several bands in the New York hardcore scene. Since then he has been involved in many acts such as Quicksand and Rival Schools usually delivering amazing records and then disappearing off the face of the earth before getting any of the recognition they are due. So it is a welcoming sight indeed to see another full length LP arrive with his name on it.

The first thing to note here is this is in essence a very poppy release. Walter has always had a knack for a great melody as much of Rival Schools debut LP United by Fate demonstrates and here is no different. The album as a whole is filled with catchy choruses and beautiful harmonies. The songs are short and sweet and mostly consist of Walter on an acoustic guitar with some light jazzy percussion and the odd sample thrown in here and there to add variety. The whole affair is uplifting and makes for a very summery listen. Highlights come in thick and fast from the opener "Arthur Lee's Lullaby" with it's teasing squeals of electric guitar to the majestic beauty of Walters harmonies on "Save The Saveable". There really are no disappointments with this album from start to finish it is fun fresh and accessible. The compositions seem a million miles away from much of Walter's different bands, the only similarity being the stunning melodic singing, but this is still a very well ronded release. Simplicity seems to be the key to its success as a stripped back sound allows you to focus in on Walter's brilliant musicianship and singing. The only reason this didn't land with a score of ten is its short length, many of the best tracks fail to pass the 3 minute mark. That being said it's still one of the best albums 2010has had to offer.

Overall "An Open Letter To The Scene" is a very well accoomplished solo record from an artist that I always have high expectations for. A follow up to this album is already in the works after completion and release of Rival Schools new album "Pedals" next year (One of my most anticipated recordsof 2011) which can only be a good thing. A great album and a great listen all round. Highly recommended.

Download: "Save The Saveables" "Ballad Of Lil' Kim"

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Film School - Fission


Film School - Fission
Genre: Shoegaze/Indie
Rating: 5/10
Film School have always been one of those acts that have bubbled under the surface of the mainstream audiences. Their innovative mix of shoegaze and Indie earning them a strong underground or cult following.
This year saw the band release their 4th LP Fission which is as ever is a step in a slightly new direction. Whilst never outright rock and always keen to throw in big harmonies against their usual fuzzy and blurry soundscapes this release sees the band step more towards pop and shoegaze than any other record they have released so far.

The general feel of the record is very hazy as is most shoegaze. Big blurry basslines permeate through against minimalist key work, reverb guitars and dual layered vocal harmonies. For the most part the songs are very upbeat and have a distinct poppy feel to them the intro to "Heart Full Of Pentagons" for example is  almost something you would expect from a boy band until the bassline slinks in. I can't even put into words how relieved I was for the song to move on into an acceptable piece of catchy indie. Unlike last album Hideout there is less variety on offer unfortunately and at times the new harmonic dreamy tunes sound twee and sickly. Whilst pop may not be the bands strong suite they still have a good ear for a lovely harmony and tracks like the brooding "Meet Around 10" sound very reminiscent of the airy shoegaze of previous releases. Other highlights include "Nothing's Mine" which sees Lorelei shine as she takes on lead vocal duties as the bands upbeat sounds are given that extra edge by subtle touches of strings. The only issue other than the sugary pop giving you a mild case of diabetes is that many of the songs do blur into one another and are quite uneventful for example closer "Find You Out" which plods along with no real direction.

In conclusion this album is not exactly pushing all the right buttons but is a decent release from a band who are daring enough to mix it up once in a while. Whilst previous releases may outshine this album it's worth noting that Film School change from record to record so even if this isn't to your liking some other new twist is round the corner. Personally I would recommend their 2007 Hideout to new listeners as it has a better range and greater variety.

Download: "Meet Around 10" "Nothings Mine"

The Black Angels - Phosphene Dream

Rating: 4/10
Genre: Psychedelia/Rock
Black Angels return with their third LP Phosphene Dream and yes just like the last time the album sleeve itself is enough to make you queazy. Black Angels pride themselves on authentic Psychedelia and their art work is no different. The 60's for many were a golden era in terms of music. Artists like the doors and the 13th Floor Elevators blew apart the traditional view of what rock could be at a time where music inspired a generation of a shared drive for peace and love. For many bands now the only way to move forward is to first look back and today there are swathes of bands trying to place themselves into this important part of rocks heritage by emulating their heroes. The real benefit is the new technology that is now available allows modern artists to create ever more complex compositions whilst many classic albums were marred by the horrendous production quality of the recordings.

The music the Black Angels make is very traditional  in many senses and mostly consists of fuzzy distorted electric guitars that continue to drone along in time with slow paced beats and Alex Maas's almost Jim Morrison styled crooning with a penchant for the dark and eery. It all sounds very appealing on paper and the heavy influence of the Velvet Underground and 13th Floor Elevators  normally allows for quite an interesting set of songs. Unfortunately Phosphene dream disappoints. The over distrortion leaves each track bleeding into one another lacking the same dark hypnotic rythm of previous releases. Much of the problem stems from the lack of variation over their career, little to no changes have been made in terms of musical style and even with the best writing in the world repetition becomes dull and stale. Whilst the level of musicianship has not lowered most of this album feels like a lazy rehashing of 2008's Directions To See A Ghost. The solitary highlight is "Entrance Song" which provides the only memorable moment of the album with its low end groovey rythm .

Overall this is far from the Black Angels best work. The issue with a band so set in the past is that the musical scene they are trying to be a part of is no more. Only using the past as a reference makes it very difficult to actually make a progression in sound and here has worked to the detriment of the band. This unfortunately makes this album quite dull. I recommend 2008's Directions To See A Ghost instead.

Download: "Entrance Song"

Roky Erickson with Okkervil River - True Love Cast Out All Evil

Rating: 7/10
Genre: Rock/Blues
The truly legendary Roky Erickson returns with his first solo album in a staggering 14 years True Love Cast Out All Evil backed up by fellow Austinites Okkervil River. Roky's tragic life story is that of Rock and Roll legend. His career started as the voice of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators a band deemed by many as the true creators of 60's Psychedelia however due to classic rock and roll excess and the bands pro LSD stand point he was deemed a threat by the authorities. He was eventually made an example of, a miscarriage of justice that cost Roky many years of his life incarcerated in institutions surrounded by murderers and rapists. Due to the psychological damage done by his excessive drug use and the primitive treatments he was exposed to whilst in various mental institutions when Roky finally did get out it seemed as though he was destined to fade away into obscurity. So this come back album is a monumental achievement to say the least.

The album itself works very much like a time capsule of Roky's life. Due to continuous legal battles and Roky's difficult mental health issues much of his solo work was lost or prevented from wide spread release. Many of these songs appear here in re-recorded forms. The album is also held together by several scraps and demoes taken from a massive archive of unreleased material that was given to the producer of the record and front man of backing band Okkervil River Will Sheff. The music here is a million miles away from Roky's classic rock material from his eighties album Evil One and takes on a more acoustic and almost blues like foundation. The majority of the record is made up of stripped back acoustic numbers with Roky's soulful melodic singing voice guiding you through each tale of his trials and tribulations. Whilst much of this record is sad and deals with themes of madness and forced solitude most of the songs remain uplifting and joyful. It seems evident that this is Roky's most personal and intimate album and demonstrates his almost super human ability of survival. The true highlights are the tracks where Okkervil River really get involved in the layering and backing such as "Goodbye Sweet Dreams" a stirring masterpiece with swirling feedback and a beautiful electric guitar solo as it reaches its emotional apex. "Bring Back The Past" is another highlight, a truly upbeat pop rock gem that could have easily fit in nestled amongst some of his earlier solo work.

Overall this album is a great listen the only issue is that due to Will Sheff's admiration of Roky and his work I feel he has aired on the side of caution too frequently. Many of the scratchy demoes are of such poor quality they are almost unlistenable and due to Sheff's reluctance to edit these for most people these will provide very little enjoyment. This release is still worth a go and a deffinate must have for any Roky Erickson fan and hopefully a sign of things to come. It is almost impossible to not be moved by this album I recommend you give it a go.

Download: "Goodbye Sweet Dreams" "Bring Back The Past"