Thursday, 30 June 2011

Biffy Clyro - Revolutions (Live At Wembley)

Biffy Clyro - Revolutions (Live At Wembley)
Genre: Alt-Rock/Rock
Rating: 8/10

Biffy Clyro are something of a specialist subject for me. Having followed the band wholeheartedly since hearing Joy.Discovery.Invention on the radio back in 2002 I've seen the band flourish as success finally came knocking for the notoriously hard working Ayrshire trio. The first hint of mainstream success came in 2007  with the release of the bands long awaited 4th album Puzzle. Puzzle was a huge turning point in the bands career and saw them adopt a much more accessible sound which in turn saw the band break out from the underground and turn into a household name. Since then the band's reputation has continued to go from strength to strength with more commercial success when they released the Mercury prize nominated Only Revolutions in 2009. Revolutions is the culmination of their recent successes and a live cd/dvd document of the bands first headlining show at Wembley Arena.

The main criticisms of any live album comes down to two factors, sound quality and new material. The first limitation is always the performance itself. If the band are particularly good live then more often than not the Live aspect of the material will have little to nothing new to offer. As live albums are only generally sought after by completists and the more hardcore element of a bands fanbase the chances of hearing something new  is very slim unless the band is known for its sporadic improvisation live. If this isn't the case and the band are producing faithful renditions of their recorded material you'll often wonder what the point was in buying a bunch of tracks that you've heard before with the only difference being a few cheers and rounds of applause. Similarly if the sound quality is too poor you'll be left with an unlistenable mess but if the production is well done you'll wind up thinking again that you'd of been better off with the studio albums. These factors make any live album a difficult thing to get right. Revolutions however has just enough content to pull itself above the average live outing. Whilst the setlist obviously centres around the bands most recent material old favourites like "57" and the rarely performed live "Diary Of Always" make for compelling listening. The bands live energy normally adds a heavier edge to their performance with Simon resorting to screams here and there but this outing doesn't capture this element. The vocals are crisp and clean and the whole record is very well produced as far as sound quality goes. The band are also supplemented by Oceansize's Mike Vennart on back up live guitar allowing the band to compensate for the overdubbed guitar parts when they recorded Only Revolutions. The basic version available in most shops has a whopping 19 tracks and obviously the whole performance on dvd for about a tenner making it very good value. The only criticism is that this basic version actually cuts out quite a few of the more interesting tracks from the encore and set like infinity lands angular classic "There's No Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake" which is even more brutal live. Other issues stem from the almost flawless performance the band make. Whilst this seems like an odd thing to whinge about the polished quality and faithful recreation of the tracks in a live setting makes the whole thing feel like a duplication of something you already have. Whilst the novelty of fans screaming at each end of the track may add a certain level of warmth to proceedings chances are you'll listen to the studio versions on a more regular basis.

Overall Revolutions does not disappoint. Whilst live albums in general can often be just another quick unit shifter before bands commit their time to another studio album Revolutions feels like an immense amount of effort and pride has gone into it. It serves as a perfect record of a band at the dizzying heights of their career and overall the amount of content ensures you won't feel short changed. That said it is far from Biffy Clyro's most left field release and some of the editorial choices in terms of track listing will only provide more anger to the fans who claim the boy's are selling out their hard rock roots.

Download: "Machines" "Many Of Horror"

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Rival Consoles - Kid Velo

Rival Consoles - Kid Velo
Genre: Dance/Electronica
Rating: 9/10

Rival Consoles is the brainchild of London based IDM rising talent Ryan Lee West. West first appeared under this moniker back in 2007 with his debut The Decadent EP released through the highly regarded indie label Erased Tapes. The Decadent EP showcased West's raw talent mixing classical orchestral scores with frantic beats and sound effects creating a sound that was comparable to IDM icon Aphex Twin whilst retaining his own individuality. West followed this with a bold change of direction with his 2009 debut IO which saw him flirt with more mainstream contemporary dance only to inspiringly deconstruct it by incorporating his trademark tempo shifts and insane beats. West returns this year with his sophomore LP Kid Velo.

Whilst IO dabbled with some of the popular trends of dance music only to reinterpret them in new and interesting and engaging ways Kid Velo jumps off at the deep end and fully embraces it. This is in no way a criticism or a bad thing in Kid Velo's case however as throughout the record the Rival Consoles sound is still as unique and refreshing as ever. The main change in style would be the tempo shifts and beats. Whilst previous efforts were relentlessly busy and fast, switching from one time signature to another with little space to breath, the tracks on Kid Velo are given more space to flow. This makes the whole record a more accessible experience and means that not only can you listen to the music but for one of the first times you can actually dance to it without getting caught out by an unexpected change in tempo. Instrumentally the blueprint remains the same a solid mix of keyboards, synths and drum loops mixed with retro gaming and futuristic sound effects ensuring you know who's behind the music. Whilst most of the tracks are more serene than previous work West doesn't fully relinguish his fierce use of tempo shifts which is clearly evident on tracks like "Vos" and "Amiga". "Vos" is a typical Rival Consoles track starting slowly before fast scratchy drums clatter against inspired synth stabs and sound effects . "Amiga" pays homage to the music of classic arcade games turning a synth melody into an all out party banger which slowly grinds to a halt only to burst back to life again. Other highlights include the inspired "Guitari" which mashes up some funky guitar samples creating a dance tune that Daft Punk or Holy Fuck would be jealous of.

Overall Rival Consoles yet again delivers the goods. Whilst it is debatable whether this is West's best work to date it is certainly his most accessible. The best thing about this album is that whilst embracing the more commercial aspects of  modern dance music Kid Velo manages to steer clear of the obvious cliches and retain the Rival Consoles imprint making the music refreshing and vibrant.  Highly recommended.

Download: "Amiga" "Guitari"

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Genre: Alternative/Folk
Rating: 9/10

Bon Iver is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Justin Vernon. The project first began way back in 2006 where Vernon, following a messy break up and the dissolution of his band DeYarmond Edison, disappeared off to a cabin in Wisconsin. Whilst he was there he began writing and recording what would eventually become 2008's critically acclaimed album "For Emma, Forever Ago". The original album was independently released by Vernon in 2007 but after garnering praise and encouragement from friends he sent it over to several labels eventually signing with indie label Jagjaguwar who launched it into the mainstream. Since then Bon Iver has been lavished with critical praise from all corners of the globe and his new found fame has even seen him duet with superstars like Kanye West. All of this has made Bon Iver's second self titled album possibly this years most anticipated release.

In terms of sound Bon Iver's first record For Emma, Forever Ago was a subtle lo-fi record which mostly consisted of simple honest acoustic guitar strumming and Vernon's now trademark harmonic falsetto style. The album was noted for it's subtle nuances and complexities and it's raw sound. Recorded with only very primitive equipment the whole album felt delicate and personal. Bon Iver's second album however couldn't be further away from this debut. Whilst Vernon's unmistakable songbird falsetto returns the overlapping vocals and low-fi production are long gone. Keyboards, synths and electric guitars replace the creaking floorboards and primitive percussion from For Emma, Forever Ago. Regardless of the changes that have been made Bon Iver is a triumphant record filled to the brim with beauty and emotion. Opener "Perth" is one of many highlights the album has to offer with it's simple melancholic guitar creating a sparse atmosphere that slowly drifts into the drums of a marching band. The song is peppered with familiar elements from previous recordings like trumpets and trombones before reaching apowerful and dramatic ending. Other highlights include the brilliantly realised "Minnesota, WI" which transitions from the reverby intro into delicate spanish acoustic guitars and Vernon's almost choral refrain. "Michicant" is another standout track supplying the stripped back folk that is expected of Bon Iver with synthesizers used subtly to add greater emphasis and power to the overall tone. From start to finish the album manages to step out from behind it's predecessors shadow and provides a much more accessible and palatable sound. The added touches of keyboards and synthesizers accentuate the potent and powerful emotion behind each track perfectly.

Overall Bon Iver's second album is brilliant. From start to finish the songs are powerful and poignant whilst retaining the fragility and heartache of Vernon's debut. Whilst a stylistic shift away from Bon Iver's traditional folk roots the changes are all executed brilliantly not just preserving the reputation Vernon built but surpassing it.  It is unlikely you will find a better album this year. Highly recommended.

Download: "Holocene" "Michicant"

Sons And Daughters - Mirror Mirror

Sons And Daughters - Mirror Mirror
Genre: Indie/Rock
Rating: 7.5/10

Sons And Daughters are a scottish quartet who have been on the indie music scene for about 10 years. This year sees them release their fourth LP Mirror Mirror. The band themselves have recieved some critical acclaim with trendy online websites such as drowned in sound and pitchfork both giving favourable reviews of their 2008 album This Gift. Whilst winning the hearts and minds of many in the music press commercially the band have remained fairly unknown throughout the UK. Chances are if you ask your friends about Sons And Daughters they will assume you're talking about the awful american drama of the same name.

The bands trademark sound is broad indie rock that ranges from garage style guitar driven rock tracks to acoustic folky ballads with a touch of Nick Cave. The real defining feature is the bands use of dual lead singers Adele Bethel and Scott Patterson. Adele provides the harmonies with an unmistakable sultry scottish brogue whilst Scott's deep voice makes him perfect for delivering the more moody and melancholic tracks. However many of the bands trademark sounds are suprisingly abscent on Mirror Mirror. Rather than sticking to their guns their fourth album sees the band make a shift towards a sound highly reminiscent of new wave/goth pioneers The Cure. The tracks are fairly minimalist in terms of guitar work leaving the bass to pick up the slack and drive the songs on with keyboard synths and the occasional reverb guitar working to create a dark and ominous gothic tone. Opener "Silver Spell" is a great example of this with its bass and drums slowly plodding on as synths slowly build layering on a tense bleak atmosphere comparable to nothing the band have ever done before. Other highlights include the eerie "Rose Red" which see's a driving bass groove met with intricate melodic guitar whilst Adele sings in a haunting half whisper. "Breaking Fun" provides another highlight from its moody slow start the song transitions into a full blown garage stomp for the chorus showing that the bands old stylistic leanings are still present. Whether this new style is here to stay or just another offshoot of the recent eighties revival trend is uncertain. Whether or not it works for the band is less of a question as the album is solid from start to finish.

Overall Sons And Daughter's have made a bold record with Mirror Mirror. Whilst Mirror Mirror was not the album many would have expected from the band it is a brilliant album none the less and compliments the bands diverse back catalogue. Recommended.

Download: "Rose Red" "Breaking Fun"

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Kong/That Fucking Tank/Shield Your Eyes/Castrovalva - Brew Split 10"

Kong/That Fucking Tank/Shield Your Eyes/Castrovalva - Split 10"
Genres: Hardcore/Punk/Alt. Rock/Metal
Rating: 8/10

Brew is a record company from Leeds that specialises in all things Heavy. Whilst the label has only a handful of acts in its roster most of the bands on the label are widely received as experts in their individual fields and most them have been showered with praise from the independent music press. Whilst most of the music the label showcases is not for the faint hearted the bands are actually quite diverse in terms of sound. Whilst the majority deal in metal and hardcore most of the bands have their own unique angle on this genres creating heavy music that isn't confined to formulas and rules. Following the success of a split release vinyl released for this years record store day the boys at Brew decided to cook up another split. This release see's two of the labels bands joined by two non brew affiliated artists That Fucking Tank and Shield Your Eyes.

The split EP starts with Kong's latest tune Ribbons from their second upcoming album. Kong are a three piece band which was originally a side project of  Oceansize drummer Mark Heron and bassist Steve Hodson. Now that Oceansize have split both Mark and Steve have taken on the project full time and are gearing up to release their hotly anticipated second album. The bands sound is frequently compared to the sound Steve Albini's experimental rock band Shellac but this comparison falls short by a mile when trying sum up the bands sound. The band are a scary mash up of deranged complex rythms lightning fast drumming and angular guitar stabs that could put chills up the biggest hardcore fans spine. As far as singing goes the band stick to punk ethics with lead singer "Magpie" wailing like an unintelligible drunk banshee over the powerhouse delivery of crashing cymbals and punishing riffs. "Ribbons" is no different to the bands normal modus operandi if anything it is a little more chaotic and heavier than usual but brilliant all the same. Shield Your Eyes follow this with "Jessica". Another underground three piece band Shield Your Eyes are not an obvious choice to follow Kong or even an obvious choice to put on this split at all. The bands sound is highly reminiscent of the early hardcore/emo of the 1990's.  The bands combination of raw production and off kilter high pitched guitar playing works though and acts as a lovely segway between tracks.

That Fucking Tank follow this with "NWONWOBH". The band deliver as ever a well polished and realised track. The band specialise in creating proggy instrumentals by intertwining basic riffs with spacey distorted guitars and a tight rythms and despite the silly track names (a recurring theme for the band) they deliver their best moves here. It is down to the Brew boy's own Castrovalva to close the whole thing down with "In Our Prime". Castrovalva produce an odd mixture of Grime, Dubstep and Hardcore. A mixture that if I'm honest may be one step too far for my own personal tastes but needless to say the make no apologies for it and deliver a suitably arrogant and punchy tune with a few dubstep "wobs" thrown in. The free download that accompanies the bright orange vinyl also comes with a remix of Kong's "Ribbons" by instrumental post rockers 65daysofstatic and turns the fierce 2 minutes of chaos into a sparse crackly brooding masterpiece.

Overall for a mixed bag of  obscure and unknown bands Brew's latest split vinyl is yet again a great success. Whilst the bands don't play the same types of music at all the release acts as a brilliant taste of some of the underground talent the UK has to offer. Whilst you may not like it all from start to finish it's highly unlikely you'll be able to go through the whole 5 tracks without finding something that appeals.

Recommended: Kong "Ribbons", That Fucking Tank "NWONWOBH"

Found - Factorycraft

Found - Factorycraft
Genre: Indie/Alternative
Rating: 5.5/10

Found are the sort of band that music critics love and nobody has heard of.  Factorycraft is the bands third LP  and first effort on notoriously prestigious scottish label Chemikal Underground. Chemikal Underground has long been at the forefront of independent scottish music helping make the careers of  huge acts like Mogwai, Arab Strap and personal faves Aereogramme. The move also see's Found reach a bigger audience than ever before possible as their previous releases were released on much smaller labels. Factorycraft has been championed as a brilliant record by many in the music press winning plaudits left right and centre whilst the band have maintained little to no commercial exposure.

The bands sound is similar to many acts out there at the moment as they produce the kind of quirky artistic indie that many might compare to bands like The Animal Collective or The Flaming Lips. The vocals are clean and very reminiscent of Chemikal Undergrounds now sadly defunct De Rosa with scottish accents layered on thick. Musically the band are fairly minimalist rather than  going too far out of the way to seem quirky their use of odd sound effects and synths is subtle and enjoyable. The guitar ranges from tune to tune but throughout the album see's them dabble on occasion with shoe gaze to varying degrees of success. So why if all these elements blend so well have I only given this album a 5.5 I hear you ask. The answer to this is indeed a simple one. Oversaturation of the market. Whilst Found prove competent at their style of quirky indie there is very little here on offer that is new. It's not all bad though asthere are quite a few great tracks on show here. For example the single "Machine Age Dancing" which see's the band start with a simple Jesus and Mary Chain style thumping intro before mixing in some distorted guitar and elctronic beats which segways into a beautiful soaring chorus. Other highlights include "Anti-climb Paint" a jagged indie rock gem which see's the band use some frantic and angular guitar work. The main downfall of this album is that the great tracks are few and far between and they only serve to point out the rather dull and drearier tunes flaws "Blackette" and "You're No Vincent Gallo" for example provide little to nothing but padding.

Overall Factorycraft equals out as an ok album. Whilst some of the tracks seem to suggest a wealth of untapped potential other parts of the record fall short of delivering anything new or interesting. The problems with this record are however inherent to the sort of experimental bands of the genre so it would not be fair to write off the band completely. My advice would be to sample the album online before reaching into your pocket to avoid disappointment.

Download: "Machine Age Dancing" "Anti-Climb Paint"

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones

Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones
Genre: Folk/Punk
Rating: 8/10

Frank Turner first shot his way into the limelight as lead singer of post-hardcore luminaries Million Dead in the early noughties. The band were met with critical acclaim recieving support from the likes of John Peel and other influential radio presenters who praised their uncompromising and intelligent brand of punk. In 2005 regretfully Million Dead called it a day after releasing their second LP Harmony No Harmony. Since then Frank has slowly been building momentum as a solo artist producing his own brand of acoustic folk punk. England Keep My Bones is Frank's fourth offering.

Whilst the idea of mixing Folk and Punk on paper paints a rather perplexing picture somehow Frank has made it work without sounding like a clone of Billy Bragg. Rather than getting bogged down in the lo-fi principles and ethics of punk Turner makes his points intelligently and astutely without shunning musical complexity. Vocally Turner proves to be a very passionate singer with a great sense of melody and harmony whilst at the same time he is still capable of passing as aggressive and dismissive when the needs arrive. England Keep My Bones does have a few sneaky tricks up its sleeve however as the band go into full blown rock mode on one or two of the tracks. The majority of material here sticks to the same themes of previous efforts, songs about partying, life on the road and british pride make the whole experience feel novel and uplifting. Highlights include the wonderfully realised closer "Glory Hallelujah" which looks at Atheism without the doom and gloom in a beautifully arranged choral style with traditional organ and a huge chorus so euphoric you can't help but smile. The more down beat tracks like "Nights Become Days" are adorned with subtle orchestral backing that makes the emotions even more poignant. From start to finish there is a wealth of emotion expressed throughout the album from the dizzy highs of "I Still Believe" to the dismissive stomp of "One Foot Before The Other".

Overall this album is one of Frank Turners finest and compliments an already strong back catalogue. With little to no flaws the album is a quintessentially british album filled with charm and heart. Highly recommended.

Download: "Glory Hallelujah" "Rivers"

Okkervil River - I Am Very Far

Okkervil River - I Am Very Far
Genre: Emo/Indie
Rating: 5/10

Following a short stint last year as a backing band for the legendary Roky Erickson Will Sheff and his band return with I Am Very Far. The band have been through a few lineup changes since their last effort in 2008 most notably the departure of Jonathan Meiburg who not only contributed musically but as a secondary vocalist. Meiburg has seen his fair share of critical acclaim for his now full time project Shearwater so the loss of such a talented musician was bound to impact on this, the bands sixth full length album.

Okkervil River first came to the attention of the music press in 2005 when they released their critically acclaimed concept album Black Sheep Boy. The bands mix of classical folk instrumentation, angsty emo moodswings and sharp lyricism proved a massive hit with critics all around the board. Since then very little had changed in terms of the bands dynamic until this latest offering. Whilst many of the key components of the band are still present, Sheff's shakey Conor Oberst style vocals and punchy acoustic guitar stabs, stylistically the album is quite different from previous outings. Whilst the bands previous albums had strong themes and narratives from start to finish this new album sees them lean more towards ambiguity. The songs really come in two styles on this record the repititious and punchy and sparse melancholic ballads. "The Valley" is a great example of the former it sees the usual thumping rythm march from the start through the whole song relenting for nothing whilst guitars and violins swoop in at various junctures to attempting to prevent the whole thing being mundane. The slower tracks like "Lay Of The Last Survivor" make up the better half of the album with a more subtle blend of acoustic guitars and piano work avoiding the somewhat monotonous percussion of other tracks. Unfortunately the chaotic stabs of guitar and violin do too little to prevent many of the tracks from blurring into obscurity. Whilst a handfull of songs show promise unfortunately the album as a whole disappoints offering no more than 3 or 4 memorable tunes.

Overall this is deffinitely not the band's strongest work to date. The level of repitition slowly grates and there is too few solid tracks to make this a good album. My advice would be to try before you download this to avoid the filler.

Download: "Wake And Be Fine" "Lay Of The Last Survivor"

Cave In - White Silence

Cave In - White Silence
Genre: Metal/Rock
Rating: 8.5/10

There is always a sense of apprehension when a band reforms. Whilst the exciting prospect of new material from an old favourite is present in mind so to are fears about the motives behind a band getting back together. After Cave In's break up in 2006 most of the members went on to explore new projects and possibilities most notably Clouds and Zozobra. After two albums from each of the previously mentioned projectss the band resumed in 2009 first releasing the Planets Of Old EP and now return this year with their first LP in five years White Silence. The main question is are they back for good or is this just a stab at earning some more capital before heading back to their less commercially successful endeavors?

For those who've never heard Cave In before the band themselves have been through more than a few changes in style over the years. Forming in the mid 90's the bands sound centred around metal and hardcore genres mixing fast brutal beats with pulverising guitars and blood curdling screaming. Following a boom in the market for these in the late nineties the band began to sideline these metal roots in favour of experimenting with other genres like space rock and alt. rock. The change saw the band trade in the heavy sharp guitars of earlier releases for fuzzy distortion and reverb which gave their riffs a huge weight. The band also dabbled with their poppier sensibilities during this time. The bands last album Perfect Pitch Black saw the band mix the two styles together into an all round thrilling if a little chaotic release. White Silence however is a completely different animal. From the crackling intro of the title track it's clear that the listener is not in for a cosy ride as screams try and break through the crackling wall of sound. No sooner is the track over do the band launch into an atrocious assault on the senses with the low down dirty rythm of "Serpents" a filthy furious combination of relentless riffing and fierce growls that is highly reminiscent of Schofields solo work with Zozobra and one of many highlights. Similarly to previous releases the band do not consign themselves to one style here as the metallic pulsing rythms are mixed with some stripped back mellow numbers that finish the album off such as "Heartbreaks, Earthquakes". Other highlights include the sparse yet heavy grooved "Sing My Loves" which is an epic 8 minutes of space rock meeting primordial metal ooze.  Elements of the bands time apart is deffinately clear as elements of some songs seem to hint at both the work of Clouds and Zozobra. The album would be near perfect if not for one or two niggles with the slower tracks.

Overall Cave In do not disappoint. Whilst many bands that reform fail to capture the spark they had the first time around it seems like Cave In's time away has done nothing but affirm each members skill independently and when you put the band back together they use this talent collectively to create something truly remarkable. Highly recommended.

Download: "Serpents" "Sing My Loves"

Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math

Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
Genre: Emo/Rock
Rating: 8/10

Manchester Orchestra are one of those bands whose reputation gets around by word of mouth. Whilst the band have started to see a slow growth in terms of popularity back in the states over here half the people you'd ask would actually assume you're talking about an Orchestra from Manchester not an emo/rock band from Atlanta Georgia. That being said it cannot be down to the bands work ethic which see's them not only follow up their 2009 release this year but also start a brand new project under the moniker Bad Books. For those who haven't heard the band yet the blueprint for their sound is fairly straight forward, imagine the poppy emo sensibilities of Jimmy Eat World mixed with the raw angsty rage of Brand New and you're more than halfway there.

The bands second official album Mean Everything To Nothing was a sumptuous record filled to the brim with heartfelt melodies and laments and purile adolescent rage. Many of the bands lyrical themes focused on alienation and uncertainty and much is the same here on Simple Math. The main difference is the way in which the emotions are conveyed. Whilst it's predecessor had an almost gritty, grungey feel to it, the new album feels a lot less claustrophobic and clean. Simple Math also sees the band experiment with string arrangements and choir sections to great success building some tracks into huge epics. The best example of this would be the dark brooding "Virgin" which see's the band accompanied by a choir and orchestra as the song slowly builds with a sense of impending doom and menace. Other highlights include the pitch perfect "Apprehension" which  spins around a beautifully simple guitar hook  and intimate keyboard sections. It's not all change however as most of the bands fundamental elements stay very much the same. The bands use of keyboards and guitars remains fairly simplistic throughout but this doesn't dull the record as it gives the album an open and personal feel. Hull's unmistakeable shakey vocals and his intelligent personal songwriting as ever adds depth to the whole experience.

Overall Simple Math does not disappoint. Whilst the band have not reinvented the wheel they have worked considerably on refining their strengths making Simple Math an impressive addition into an already established canon of work. Highly recommended.

Download: "Apprehension" "Simple Math"