Sunday, 31 March 2013

Music - Part 62 - Edwyn Collins

Edwyn Collins – Understated (AED Records)
25 March 2013

Blah.. blah.. blah.. Orange Juice.. blah.. blah.. blah.. A Girl Like You.. Blah.. blah.. blah.......

Yeah, we all know about those two things, but, what of Edwyn Collins now?  He’s produced several great albums since then and Understated, his eighth solo one, is no exception.  It’s a set of eleven well-crafted, catchy songs that are both instantly addictive and appealing.

He’s still recovering from a stroke and brain haemorrhages less than ten years ago which have precluded him from playing much more than ‘that’ voice on the album, but, his ability to come up with a great tune certainly hasn’t waned.  Recording ideas and lyrics on tape and then bringing to life via a very accomplished band, the result is a fine collection of genres.  Understated may be the album, but, underrated is what his songwriting talents are, filed away with Babybird under the ‘one hit wonder’ category, but, still pumping out stonking albums.

From the start the album powers along with Dilemma, “that’s me all over”, proving Edwyn’s credentials as a writer of great tunes, aided by a great horn section.   Baby Jean has a cracking blues riff, organ and more horns contributing to a real feel-good song.

Carry On, Carry has an almost Northern Soul feel, and, 31 Years is Motown, with their catchy choruses and foot-tapping melodies continuing a wonderful example in album tracklisting, engaging the listener immediately.  My only reservation would be can these tracks remain as engaging after several listens and can they sustain any longevity?  Time will only tell, but, so far, they’re doing fine.

There’s a welcome breather in the form of It’s A Reason and the autobiographical theme of Understated now starts to shine through.  Too Bad(That’s Sad) is passive aggressive in a another Northern Soul mould.

All the lyrics on Understated are heartfelt and very emotional, and, when Edwyn proclaims “As the years go by, I’m feeling my age” and “I’m a singer (of sorts)” on In The Now, you understand you’re listening to a man who is truly grateful of the position he finds himself in.  When he croons “I’m so happy to be alive” on Forsooth, a lump in the back of your throat appears.

The album ends with Love’s Been Good To Me which is one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear.  Listen carefully and you’ll catch the sound of Edwyn’s tears.

I’d like to say Edwyn is back, but, he’s never really been away, and, if he keeps releasing albums like this, he’ll soon be recognised for the great British institution that he is.


The Edwyn Collins website is here.  Follow him on Twitter here.  Do Facebook shit here.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Music - Part 61 - Depeche Mode

The following review appeared on Louder Than War on 20/03/13.  It took me completely by surprise - rating as the second highest World Google for 'Depeche Mode Delta Machine', and, being shared around 2,500 times from the LTW site in the four days before it's release.  It made me very proud, and, I received some great comments for it, particularly from Boss man John Robb.  Please read the review below and feel free to add any comments:

Depeche Mode - Delta Machine (Columbia)
25 March 2013

In the four years since the release of the very average Sounds Of The Universe, social media has come a long way.  The new Depeche Mode album has whipped up a media frenzy with, it seems, everyone now a huge fan with a primteime appearance on Letterman Live in the USA proving the theory. 

The release of lead single, Heaven, was a sudden affair, after an album taster released in October 2012, it was believed that Angel was in fact the said single.  Confusion ensued and Heaven’s release was postponed by a week until everything was cleared up.

The question everyone wants to know is, is Delta Machine actually any good?  Tantalisingly described by band and PR alike as a cross between Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion (coincidentally, their biggest selling albums), the album is produced by Ben Hillier for the third consecutive time.  Unusual in itself, for pioneers such as DM to stick with the same producer, but, the relationship and final sound is obviously something that the band favour.  Whilst the production on SOTU was well polished, the songs weren’t really up to much and it suffered.  Breaks with VCMG (Martin Gore re-uniting with techno-genius Vince Clarke on the instrumental Ssss album), and, Soulsavers (Dave Gahan effectively becoming a member of the group on the album The Light The Dead See),  have it would seem, recharged their Basildon batteries and they are back with all guns blazing.  In fact, Gahan’s performance on the Soulsavers album was seen by many as the best of his career at the time.

The current Mode sound is exciting with the constant resonance of bass notes, baritone vocals and analogue effects.  With the volume turned up loud, your speakers (and eardrums) WILL rattle.  Opener, Welcome To My World is case in point, the cutting deep thrust resonates immediately to a slow beat with Gahan’s gentle toned voice.  It moves along nicely until a string section lifts the track with a rousing chorus.  The mix isn’t packed, and, there lies the key to the whole album with every track sufficiently filled with equal amounts of voice and sound to allow for an eerie silence in parts, and, for every track to have the potential to roar completely out of control.  Hillier has done well.

The album taster, Angel follows, and will undoubedtly be an forthcoming single.  It too stomps along fiercely from the off with screeching synths and obligatory blips.  Gahan is on top form here with surely one of the greatest performances of his life.  The rough razor like verse vocal complimented by the sweet bridge holding it all together.  Bulding and building into a cacophony of sound.  It’s a joy to hear, and, is very very addictive.

Like Bowie, Depeche chose a ballad as their comeback single.  Heaven broods in its downright patronising braveness and displays that even the 80s stalwarts can produce a ballad of rather magical quality.  Again, the mix is so sparsely put together that every click, beat and tap can be heard.  Whilst the press was raving about the single, the groups PR smugly admitted it wasn’t the best track on the album.

Perhaps a classic Mode sound with a modern twist with Secret To The End.  Bubbling basslines with a rousing rise to a repetitive chorus backed by Gore.  This will embed itself in your head.  The now familiar of late guitar also enters for a brief riff.  Imagine each song on Delta Machine starting like the Wizard Of Oz in a basic black and white, and, slowly exploding into the glorious and bright colours of amazing Technicolor, that’s what you have here.

Packed with 13 songs, Delta Machine continues to prove that the Mode are one of Britains finest ever acts.  Never critically acknowledged with any big media award (perhaps not a bad thing), and, never supported by the likes of Radio 1 in their heyday (guilt finally hitting the station with a Depeche Mode Day in 1993 that even the DJs couldn’t understand), they move forward continually.

Soothe My Soul is another example in the art of alternative pop, starting from nothing and ended with a modern day DJ type mix.  The Child Inside sees Gore take lead vocal for the only time on the album – as usual a slow-paced affair allowing him to pour out his heart once more - a very underrated balladeer.  Soft Touch/Raw Nerve could be an updated outtake from Black Celebration with its constant A Question Of Time like pound.  Another possible single and another example in the art of perfect songwriting. 

Even the blues gets chucked into the perfect equation with album closer, Goodbye, surely also a live show ending?  A Johnny Cash type riff cohesively holding together verses and exploding chorus alike.  Once more, the song rises and rises and rises to its final end.

After being in the spotlight for four decades, Depeche Mode have released possibly their finest work to date.  Staying ahead of the crowd, continuing to be ground-breaking and not pandering to over-commercialisation is what they have always done and will always do.  Delta Machine is a fine, fine album that will no doubt have imitations everywhere.  On this, their thirteenth studio album, the Essex lads can be very proud of themselves.


Music - Part 60 - The Wind-Up Birds

The City of Leeds has got it good.  The Wind-Up Birds are pretty good, well, they’re very good.  In fact, let’s just say they’re rather wonderful.

Musically, the songs are huge slabs of punk/indie/pop.  Lyrically they are something else – Northern lads writing stunning poetry which is funny, serious and relevant.     Imagine John Cooper-Clarke taking lead vocal with The Arctic Monkeys and you won’t be far wrong.  What makes the words so entertaining is the pure honesty and everyday observations.  It’s like someone is reading your mind about what you see, what you think, what you feel.

Current album, The Land, is packed with eleven absolute gems.  From the opening Good Shop Shuts, (making you feel guilty that you didn’t really support the good old record shop when it was there, and, now you’re lazily lamenting its absence), you are in ‘normal street’.  This is where Northern life lives and where we all have things to say but are too scared to say it.  There Won’t Always Be An England is nothing short of brilliant and beautifully (sic) describes the pub racist.

The track Nostalgic For.... doesn’t even bother to set itself out as a song as such.  It’s a passage telling of the return to a birth-town and realising the awfulness.  “And you wonder why I’m so fucked up”.

In some ways it’s wrong to tag The Wind-Up Birds as ‘New Artist’ as they’ve been around for years, releasing  several albums already (The Land is the first physical one), and, a string of singles.  It’s also a shame that it took something like Twitter, courtesy of Shiny Rhino, to bring them to my attention.  They should be household names already.

You really should do yourself a favour and listen to this lot.  Better still, redeem yourself after listening to Good Shop Shuts and buy the cd here.

Visit The Wind-Up Birds’ website here.  Follow them on Twitter here and do Facebook things here.

Music - Part 59 - Thalia Zedek

Thalia Zedek - Via (Thrill Jockey Records)
19 March 2013

Five years since her last album, Liars and Prayers, Thalia Zedek is still recording and performing into her fourth decade of music.  Her impressive back catalogue includes leading both Uzi and Live Skull and latterly being a member of Come, and, she continues to be revered in many quarters as a pioneer in the world of female independent rock.

Walk Away is a good solid opener to Via.  Nice guitar work which builds slowly and slowly with a chorus that isn’t particularly easy to spot but is curiously catchy.  Ex-Come drummer Daniel Coughlin plays some great percussion as the track builds with quite a lot of promise.   It’s solid, and instrumentally it’s a fine track which gets pretty lively towards the end, but, to be honest, the vocals are a struggle on the album and a little too Tom Petty esque and safe.

Into second track Winning Hand and the tempo is down.  Again the formula seems to be American MOR and if you’re a fan of that, and I’m aware it’s popular, then you’ll probably love this as I’m sure there’s an audience for this kind of thing.  Unfortunately, I’m not part of the crowd.

I gave the album two full listens and then a part third and whilst there’s no doubting the great musicianship here, the songs continue do lack good choruses and I found myself listening to the same thing over and over again. 

Track four, He Said, has the line “I’ve seen it all before” and therein lies the problem.  The album lacks any real originality and fails to deliver anything new.  It’s a shame, as with Thalia’s track record, you’d maybe expect something better and a little more inspiring.  As it is, Via is an album which will undoubtedly please many fans of the MOR/Country genre, but, it will probably also disappoint as many.


Music - Part 58 - Black Pus

Black Pus – All My Relations (Thrill Jockey Records)
19 March 2013

Quite remarkably, Black Pus is the work of one man.  One man with a real sense of being something different, and, judging by the percussion on this album, one with biceps like Popeye.  Unless you’ve seen the punk-thrash-electronic-alternative-metal section at your favourite musical retailer, then I would challenge you to categorise All My Relations.

Brian Chippendale is a madcap drummer, previously part of Mindslayer and Lightning Bolt.  His style is nothing short of unique, often sounding like at least two drummers knocking six bells out of the skins at once.  Growing up I was always a fan of big drum sounds – The Glitter Band with their Burundi beat, and, Adam And The Ants’  mirror imaged beat makers – Black Pus could well be the natural progression from that.

Seven years since the first Black Pus album, Chippendale has replaced the free jazz saxophone with a drum-mounted oscillator fed through drum pedals.  The result is a marvellous continuous thumping bass sound which has been the want of Bjork, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and The Flaming Lips over the years.

A wailing voice with drums ensuing into an almost tribal sound marks the start of Marauder.  A drum solo that sounds almost intuitive and improvised rather than pre-planned, with a shouted vocal sounding quite behind the mix.  The voice far enough back to be incomprehensible with the distorted oscillator complimenting looped words and screams.  At over nine and a half minutes it’s probably one of the finest openings to an album you may ever hear.  No formula, just pure power and aggression.   Angry, intense and slightly worrying – brilliant!

Fly On The Wall carries on the extraordinary drumming with a vocal comparable to Mark E Smith – slightly distorted, sounded like it’s sung through a loudhailer.   Interesting mix with the oscillator right at the fore, with the drums second and the voice at the back – which makes it very unique and inviting.  Much faster than the album opener and a superb track to play loud, this album really hit me hard on the second listen.

Don’t be lulled into thinking that 1000 Years is a change of pace with it’s more conventional rock ‘n’ roll drum entry, it soon explodes into a terrific barrage of sound enough to make your ears bleed.  Some additional electronic ‘rewind tape’ effects and voice that is almost pub singer (not in a derogatory way, just that its muffled style makes it unable to pick out words).  More electronic effects ensue to compliment a quite outstanding track.

It’s not all insane percussion on All My Relations, almost, but not always.  Word n The Street is pure chaos.  A mangled intro and a thumping bassline not unlike Dan Friel’s latest album, Folklore.  Music to invade your skull and mess with your head like a raging Portion Control racing down the side of a rocky mountain.  All Out Of Sorts throws in loads of scratching sounds complete with Jack White styled vocal from the debut Dead Weather album.  Hear No Evil couldn’t be further from the truth with a hook that burrows into your mind and won’t, I repeat won’t go away!

I’ll be honest, as Nowhere To Run and the ten minute epic A Better Man close the album, I’m left wanting more.  It’s a superb album with more pounding than a hangover after a 24 hour drinking session.  Deeply original and very, slightly disturbing, but most of all, a corker of an album.


You can read the Black Pus blog here and listen to more on Bandcamp here.  You can also follow Brian Chippendale on Twitter here.

Published on Louder Than War 18/03/13

Music - Part 57 - Stygian Stride

Stygian Stride – Stygian Stride (Thrill Jockey Records)
19 March 2013

Celestial Stems quite literally sets the tone for this album.  The debut album from Jimy SeiTang (aka Stygian Stride) is a collection of six, Tangerine Dream infused, ambient/ drone tracks which you, I suspect, will either like or dislike.  Personally, I fall into the former.  The tracks are simple and beautifully textured, and, well, ‘nice’.  An album recorded on vintage, analogue equipment at Black Dirt in New York and mastered in Berlin, I can understand why people struggle with stuff like this.  It’s simple music, and, it’s a case of do you want to be challenged when you’re listening, or, do you want the easy way out and to listen to endless feed of reality-pop-star crap?

This isn’t a formulaic album.  It’s made with thought and care and you have to take that on board when you listen.  Listen to it for what it is – relaxing, layered, crystal clear sounds – thoroughly enjoyable stuff.  Opening with Celestial Stems are a series of deep monotones sounding as though being played on a church organ – perhaps you might hear the sound of foot pedals being pressed? – very choral sounding.  Hindsight is like the background music to some spaceage documentary – a gorgeous shimmering soundscape, with no surprises, so that you know exactly where you stand.  You know that as you listen to this in your bath, you’ll probably fall asleep.  
Listen to in a long car journey.  Enjoy with headphones.  Catch my drift? 

Drift does exactly what it says on the tin.  Imagine floating across the surface of the moon with ebbing tides and breezes emulated in the background.  There’s a much darker, bass sound to Taiga with its clock ticking/horse trotting accompaniment.  Whilst starting in a promising fashion, it then doesn’t really go anywhere compared to the previous tracks which seemed to have a journey of sorts. 

I like the almost 80s, OMD Messages, synth feel to the intro of Athanor Ascension.  Sounds are added slowly and keeps the interest with multiple layers.  Again, a subtle beat, but, enough to keep some sort of cohesion to the track.  At only six tracks long, Fade Into Bolivian closes the album with more continuous beatless dark drone.

An enjoyable album for reasons of calm.  Maybe not one that you’d play over and over, but, sometimes you just want a little break from the daily stresses and this is the album to do it.



You can read more about Stygian Stride on the Thrill Jockey website here.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Music - Part 56 - Matmos

Matmos – The Marriage Of True Minds (Thrill Jockey Records)
Out Now

On this, the ninth album from Baltimore based Matmos, it would appear that almost every recording effect, every sound and every idea has been used on The Marriage Of True Minds.  If you want originality, then this album is where to stop the bus.

Aside from their 2010 collaboration with So Percussion, this is the first new Matmos album for five years, and it seems is well worth the wait.

A wistful piano and ‘that’ clicky little beat is the opening to You.  ‘That’ clicky little beat almost sounding like a spoon player.  An American female voice enters and talks about telepathy (possibly).  ‘That’ clicky little beat then turns into possibly a sampled version of a ‘tut’ with the occasional water drip, interesting.  We then maybe have the sound of air being released from a balloon or a kazoo being blown which spirals upward into an orchestral finale in a similar vein  to the ending of The Beatles’ A DayIn The Life.  Versions of handclaps and then a whistling kettle?  Ending at little over seven minutes it’s an interesting start to an album, and, gives an insight as to how many experimental and unique sounds will appear.

Track two, Very Large Green Triangles is a bit of a monster.  Starting with groaning male vocals repeating itself before a deep thumping piano and orchestral sounding strings enter getting louder and fiercer with random crashes throughout, before some sort of echoing xylophone and tuneless tinkling piano with an almost clockwork melody.  If you’ve ever heard Pimpf by Depeche Mode, you could liken the vocals to that.  The words then metamorphosise into something more tuneful, but, still quite indistinguishable – is it words or just sounds?  Who cares?  I could sit here all day mentioning all the differing sounds used on this album, sounds that maybe any other artist would spread over several albums, but instead, Matmos transfer every weird effect they could possibly have from their heads to the recording.


You know when you see someone slap the sides of their face and make different sounds come out of their mouth?  Oh, just me then.  Well, Mental Radio starts with a sound like that, and, some splashing water too, like kids jumping in puddles.  Like you do.  A Cuban percussion and sounds that I really can’t distinguish.  An interlude with a triangle and a party going on.  I’m not sure my brain will slow down, it’s forever jumping from one thing to another.  Incredibly engaging stuff.  Police sirens and a screaming saxophone all crammed into three and a half minutes.  Please excuse me whilst I go and have a lie down.

I’ll admit, somewhat reluctantly, that Ross Transcript does little for me.  Sounding like a radio being tuned in, the stop-off points are varied, but, it isn’t cohesive and at two and a half minutes it’s probably two minutes too long.  Teen Paranormal Response is quite poppy and uplifting after its predecessor. 

Tunnel reminds me of a cross between Oh Yeah and The Race by Yello in quite a number of ways.  Do I win a prize?  I’m convinced there are samples and lines from the aforementioned tracks here, it’s pacey with a Jewish Harp (of course!) and is almost like listening to a Yello remix.  Full of energy and one of the most accomplished tracks on the album.  Marvellous stuff complete with closing cough.

In Search Of A Lost Faculty is Yoko Ono esque.  Very minimalist with quotes about triangles.  At times like Scott Walker’s Bosch for originality. Aetheric Vehicle although containing some nice dubbed out shimmers is again slightly too long before album finale, ESP, arrives.  More shouty vocals, crashes, guitar feedback and then, well, a perfect pop melody.  Like two tracks stuck together, ending as a complete opposite to the way the album begins.

If you like your music taxing and provoking, then this album is for you.  Brimming with originality and a delight to listen to.


The Matmos website is here. You can also follow Drew on Twitter here and do Facebook things here.

Music - Part 55 - Black Roots

Black Roots
On The Ground In Dub
Sugar Shack Records/Nubian Records (CD/DL – FOD093CD)
4 March 2013

I’ll never really understand why anyone doesn’t like dub.  It’s like saying that there isn’t at least one Abba song that you really really like.  I’ve even witnessed Hells Angels strut their stuff to Dancing Queen before today, so, everyone lkes a bit of dub , yeah?

My introduction to dub was at the age of 13 when UB40, (ironically, a group that I now have almost no time for), released a dub version of their Present Arms album.  I remember being lost in awe at the genre.  Unfortunately, the release of The Labour Of Love marked a furious decline in my admiration of the Birmingham boys.

Forward wind to 2012, and Black Roots release their first new album in over twenty years.  On The Ground received superb reviews (one of which was on Louder Than War) and it seemed  as though they had never really gone away.  Now, ‘due to popular demand’, a dub version of the album is with us.  Mixed by Louis Beckett (Misty In Roots, Primal Scream, Adrian Sherwood), it’s an album  in true dub style, concentrating on full horn sections and the mixing methods of the classic 70s dub style.  It’s easy to see where modern day dub geniuses like The Breadwinners take the influence.

From the opening I Believe, this album is wonderful stuff – starting the proceedings with a tight horn section and instant dub sounds, it’s simply scrumptious.  Working as a standalone album away from the full vocal version, On The Ground In Dub manages to comfortably succeed with tracks that are worthy in their own right. 

Landscape Dub is an absolute dream.  Instant dubbed keyboards with sparce percussion leading the way to a floating horn in the background.  The sound drifting in and out to make way for the occasional vocal insert.  It’s the perfect relaxation track.

Come And Sing Dub starts with a lovely piano and gorgeous saxophone.  Slavery Dub has an awesome horn section to start and then completely falls to a dub break before hitting back with the reggae hook.  Again, the odd vocal thrown in now and again, but the dubs are perfectly done and move from left to right speakers with dazzling effect.

With all the tracks in either the three or four minute bracket, this album is able to make way for a mighty fifteen tracks.  My only criticism, if it’s possible to make one, is that maybe a couple of extended versions might have been a worthy addition – it’s a lousy criticism, I know.

I’ll never really understand why anyone doesn’t like dub.


The Black Roots website is here. ,and their Facebook page is here.

Published on Louder Than War 03/03/13