Category Archives: Reviews

Rachel Mason – Das Ram

Finally, a multi-media futureclown who sings alternative James Bond theme tunes for a steampunk + LSD induced age of mayhem!

Our harlequin for the evening, Rachel Mason has a new album entitled Das Ram and what a world of glistening delights awaits us within its lustrous realms…

On the opening song, ‘Roses’ it’s as if Kate Bush is singing The Lord Of The Rings songbook in a corridor in Metal Gear Solid. You really have the sense of stepping into another world; the lyrics are folky and evocatively olde worlde building. Rachel’s voice grips you from the moment. The music pulls you in another direction though, as sweeping the T-Dream swoops are destroyed by skittering drum beats, like arachnoid legs on an ice floe. A swooping ballad meets a relentless dance classic. Fucking hell, this is how you start an album.

‘Heart Explodes’ makes good that James Bond promise with a ton of torchy tension. Look, lets imagine The Associates singing Octopussy. While we’re tripping that trip, it’s worth saying that Rachel’s voice is very Billy MacKenzie-ish. Indulgent and brilliantly so, this is a voice wrapped up in its own mag-nif-icence. She takes a chorus and blows it skywards.

The sidewinder guitar of ‘Sandstorm’ escorts our existential Rachel. The drums clatter like a punk thrown the stairs.

‘Tigers In The Dark’s dubby production and shrieking electro burns like an oil rig fire while Rachel goes off the deep end. A fractured and opulent dreamscape of rippling verdancy.

‘Marry Me’ nervoid twitching, gives way to chugging machine bass. The song spins around a relentless chorus in which Rachel threatens to take you up the aisle. It’s a gorgeous slow build electro track perfect for any neon coloured thriller trailer at your local multiplex. And then an amazing slow fade out with its New Order Movement. All the things in your life that go wrong…

‘Queen Bee’ flaunts Roxy Music opulence over clockwork beats and a guitar from a Michael Mann movie.

‘Cancer’ hits with a phalanx force of drum beats. A disorientating panorama of sounds come at you from 360 degrees, while Rachel stands in the middle of the melee, ripping up a breathless chorus.

‘Heaven’ ends with the funkiest track on the album, everything locking together to resemble The B-52s covering Zombies’ ‘The Time Of The Season’. It’s the last song of the night and the walls of the club are made from velour.

The guitars are taut and wired for your secret pleasure. The synths are set to sunrise. Yet the moodiness of the music is in direct odds with the sheer electricity of Rachel’s vocals which are off the grid. Two albums for the price of one.

Not only is Rachel Mason a true artist but she is an essential one.

https://rachelmason.bandcamp.com/album/das-ram-2

Total Victory – English Martyrs (2017)

LANDSCAPE + NATIONHOOD

King Penda, last pagan king of Britain leers over us and as he does, notions of identity and nationhood wither and die. Resplendent on the cover of Total Victory’s new album, English Martyrs, both Penda and band are a critical force working to destroy the myth of Englishness. In Dan Brookes they have the sharpest lyricist this ‘country’ has produced in a long, long time.

Total Victory are a guitar band where the music is sharp and the words are sharper. Those weaned on post-punk will enjoy what they have to offer, and Total Victory have a lot to offer. This, their new album, sees the band hitting creative heights that not only matches  but topples the standard bearers.

English Martyrs is Total Victory’s version Grotesque by The Fall in that the songs make up a portrait of the country. In contrast to that album, the pulp acid horror  is dialled down and replaced by an ever greater sense of social commentary and cutting observational humour. The other obvious comparison is Half Man Half Biscuit, but if England is the Titanic, while Nigel Blackwell’s mob are mocking the middle classes and their pretensions, Total Victory are in the crows nest.

The best comparison may be to the political / social caricatures of William Hogarth or James Gillray, who would offer political satire intercut with sharp humour and a glorious sense of the grotesque (there’s that word again). A Total Victory song has the same quality of looking through a window onto contemporary life.

You must go into the album knowing that on the one level this is great music, there is a whole other layer underneath. You must go into it ready to contemplate how the past, present and future of England are as one, how the population has been moulded to think and act by history; were we are and what we were.

‘Triangulation Point’ gets off and rolling with a riff that sounds like a train struggling up a hill. It’s tense and nervoid, so Total Victory are back. Lyrically, it appears to warn of the dangers of pandering to the lowest common denominator; especially when people don’t know what it is they want. Meanwhile, “In the 21st century nothing unites us like cup-a-soups and ill fitting Gore Tex…” observes Dan wryly, in a few short words sketching an entire cross section of the populace. It comes to an end with the grim moral of “They live for this so they can die for this”; a stark warning of the dangers of giving the vote to people who watch Mrs Browns Boys.

‘Gore Seer’ emerges from the squall like a forlorn tanker from a Mediterranean fog. Sad, yet resplendent and proud. Dan adds a jumble of words for the reader to fit together. What links ionised water and website subscriptions? The meaning of the song always seems to be out of reach. The chorus, such as it is, finally lands halfway: “Gore seer / philanderer / Rockefeller / It’s a good life… Gore seer / retired police / networks of names / copper bracelets”. The guitars are now duplo blocks of sound as Dan finally starts making sense and you’ll wish he hadn’t: “Dreams are just a waste of time”. He confuses us, then exposes us. Are we the gore seers? Like Ian Curtis on ‘Atrocity Exhibition’, the barrier between artist and listener is ruptured and the audience left questioning their complicity.

The slow winding ‘In The Home Counties’ punctures the misplaced pomposity of its target and attacks the cosy mind-set of stick dwellers. The target of the song is moving to the countryside, only for our narrator to warn them, in a sad, defeated voice: “when you get there you’ll be happy with a change in the weather”. Meanwhile the notion of finding beauty in nature is dismissed also: “The birds won’t know your name, and their sounds of joy are a natural function”. On top of which comes a warning about the locals mistrustful ways: “the words they use are edged with spite… and every interaction is a chore”. This song feels like a sequel to the amazing ‘Secession Day’ from National Service, another attack on small town life and smaller town mentality. Little Englanders abound, a topic explored in even greater depth in the next song…

‘Once in Every Century’ (submarine bass, keening guitar) juxtaposes modern hollow notions of cultural identity with imagery of the stone age settlements that all cultures originated. From the “wooden frames in the marshland, built in a circle against the headwind” we appear to be in an episode of Time Team, as Total Victory go digging in the North Trench, finding weapons made with  “bone handles and polished to sharp edges” as if finding the root of our misplaced national self-image. The chorus, if you can call it such a thing is anguished and rising:

Every culture started from nothing / And develops until it’s full of the hubris / That comes from revering itself / And it’s sick from the myth / It breaks down in a ditch and it forms into silt.

By the end we’re in the realm of JG Ballard style psycho-geography, “the hilltop corresponds with every single last moment in time” as all things come together and happen at once, our past informing our present and our futures, and our futures corresponding with our pasts. “Once in every century we get put up on display”: doomed to repeat the same mistakes, covered in mud. Listen to the gorgeously sad horn and the cornet at the doleful demise of the song, like a funeral ascending an escarpment.

‘Playing Golf With The Precariat’ with it’s fish hook guitars herald the heavier second half of the album, the downbeat nature of the previous two tracks giving way and from here until the final track Dan is spitting fire. This song seems to be aimed fairly squarely at out of touch politicians and their cringeworthy attempts to interact with normal people, like when they have to do things such as eat chips and talk to human children. “Dig foundations on a new leisure centre, I’ve been photographed with a spade” crows our main character, presumably a ruddy-faced blowhard from one of Gillray’s prints; outmoded and out of time . Then comes the blackest joke of the album  so far: “Later playing pool with a group of old people, they can’t do it by themselves”. He returns to the office to find letters of complaint and carries out some research by thumbing through “the new Alan Coren” which dispenses advice; “I can show them I’m just like them” he plansThey key line is “Your name counts for nothing if you have to say please” which sums up an entire swath of silver spooned Tories. Self-centred actions rule: “A man only needs himself… If you’re going to keep trusting you’re primed for a fall”. All of which leads us to the realisation that the people in charge are not equipped to be the people in charge. They wouldn’t even go to the poxy leisure centre anyway. In the background a member of the public speaks via the news. You can’t hear what she’s saying. Our character’s not listening.

On ‘Written Backwards’ Dan switches between addressing us, the audience, and the main character of the song. On top of which there is commentary in the form of overheard chatter, a favourite tool in Dan’s arsenal. It all starts innocuously enough in the shape of observation comedy: “Left the house keys on the bonnet as you drove off down the road”. Then it takes a turn into Tales Of The Unexpected territory with “The message scratched on the dashboard made no sense to the policeman, or the fire crew as they pulled you, from the window of the wreckage”. All of a sudden the jokes get grim and the screws are turned as Dan describes the scene is agonising detail “swept the glass up from the road, held back the crowds that gathered”. Later on, gawkers return with cameras. We peruse the papers: “Writer crashed into cathedral, husband shocked at sudden loss”. Things aren’t what they appear though, the rumour mill kicks in: “I didn’t see him at the funeral… if this gets out he’ll be crucified” we are told after a ‘Shadowplay’ style guitar solo. The final verse details a supernatural meeting and the resolution, which we won’t reveal. This is simply a stunning piece of writing that crosses many forms of the written media. They should teach this in schools.

‘Mistakes Upon Mistakes’ sees trouble-maker drums and the sound of a fire engine whizzing past a dole office. The bass, circulates like dirty bath water down the plug hole. It sees Total Victory taking on Half Man Half Biscuit. The following passage could easily come from any of Tranmere’s finest: “Gary piloted his Clio into a reservoir and has not been seen since, outdated instruments and an overexcited local sent the search party the wrong way”. Yet again they’re combining mordant humour about death and mixing it up with farce and parodying country dwellers. Just when you’re contemplating all of this, Dan delivers what may be the best line on the album: “The ghost of Nigel Blackwell haunts this room, even though he’s yet to pass”. Total Victory just did a gag about Half Man Half Biscuit – talk about a handing over of the flame! I think Dan must have received the quickening after writing that lyric.

It’s the turn of the look back bores on ‘The Public Weighbridge’, which concerns a driver (a container driver?) who works for Harper and Sons, “expert in haulage”. He doesn’t like change and the modern world, “what’s new is what we’re against, there must be an end to advance” he gripes. On top of which, he’s having a bad day: “rolled off the ferry and out of Europe, fallen asleep on the public weighbridge”. And of course, the shittiness of his life can only derive from the fact that the world is different to when he was young, nothing else. With a typical dewy-eyed view and the Hovis music playing in his head he muses “All ‘round here was only fields, along with the footprints of bombed out buildings” (fields of wheat?) pointing out the fallacy that in the olden days people could leave their doors open because they have nothing worth stealing. This is the kind of guy whose faults are all of someone else’s making and gets so desperate he resorts to begging for extra-terrestrial life. When they fail to materialise he drives off cursing “along the roadsides are sign of the progress and every one of them makes me sick”.

‘Gold Curtain’ hangs on a bass line that sounds like ‘Girl Like You’ on methadone, while a piano and acoustic guitar laments Albions’ end. The country creaks under the weight of the litany of faults that Total Victory have laid out over the course of the album. It’s all about mentalities and mind sets. Little Englanders are crushing England. England is expiring under the weight of the English Martyrs. And what does a gold curtain conjure images of? The prize at the end of a game show. It’s been 2,000 years since the Romans arrived and what do we have to show for it but Jim Bowen unveiling a speedboat bound for a Halifax drive way? Our last story is of a worker reaching the end at his workplace. “It’s bright though it’s late, so much you have to say. But you’ve learned in your way, the boys want you out”. Dan goes on to say “Edged in silk, woven with rose, patterned gold”, fragments of phrases that bring to mind last-minute leaving gifts, as a girl from the office rushes to Card Factory at 2 o’ clock on a Friday afternoon. Our character, like the country, is reaching terminal point.

A landscape of spectres dominates English Martyrs: the album is full of ghosts and spirits; literal and metaphorical. Shadows of the dead walk the land, false shadows of so-called former glories that refuse to fade. England is a land knee-deep in its relics. References to graves, burials, decay, marshland, bones and fields permeate; Ramsbottom’s Peel Tower features on the inside of the album. And on the front, old Penda himself, from the BBC’s Penda’s FenEnglish Martyrs is all about geography, psychology and history. There is no escape: trips to the countryside yield disappointment, trips in vehicles lead to death and despair. In the 21stcentury we are stuck with cup-a-soup and Gore-tex, if we follow ourselves back to where we started we end up standing in the trickling rain among the bones of our forebears.

Lyrically, the most important band around right now.

https://totalvictory.bandcamp.com/album/english-martyrs


Your Bloodwork Came Back, It’s The Manimals

A good title goes a long way, especially when you’re cruising through the highways of same old-same old on bandcamp. Death metal bands with olde-English font text. Yeah yeah. Anything tagged ‘synthwave’ with a neon LA style cover. Yeah yeah. So when I saw a record called Your Bloodwork Came Back, It’s The Manimals, it made me smile enough to click.

Then I saw that band members had nicknames such as ‘The Bear’ and ‘The Dick’ and my enthusiasm waned again. Like when you were at school and some kid tried to introduce a new title for himself,  “yeah, whatever mate” you think, “tosser”.

So with mixed feeling I started playing the first track, ‘Cause Of Death’. I’m glad I did because it made me smile and made me roll my eyes in equal measure. They may tag themselves punk but they’re punky only in the same style as the kind of bands you’ll find on The Return Of The Living Dead soundtrack. They’re trashy and glammy and the guitar licks are probably accompanied by real licks down your neck. They remind us of The Cramps with the self-effacing wit of Wreckless Eric with a dash of classic 50s rock ‘n’ roll. As soon as Hayley Bowery starts singing you’re totally on board. Let’s make one thing clear, if the chorus below appeals to you, this band is for you:

You wanna be a superstar?
That cocaine heart won’t get you far
Another case of death by guitar
You gotta save your soul
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll
Woah-oh-oh, woah-oh-oh

By the end the entire band is singing along and everyone is having a boozy ol’ time.

‘Boys’ is waspy and as sharp as shark fins. Based around the gag of a girl rock ‘n’ roll singer singing “I wanna be the boy in a rock band” it’s the sound of a party you wanna be invited to.

‘Wild As You Wanna’ spews up with adrenaline guitars and riot inciting vocals. Then it all smears into one, like any good night out. Then, suitably, it all collapses, like falling into the bins and ending up under last nights pizza boxes.

Your bloodwork came back, it’s good news…

https://manimalsnyc.bandcamp.com/album/your-bloodwork-came-back-its-the-manimals

https://www.facebook.com/themanimals

The Last Bee On Earth – Prologue EP

Mike Bee is a guitarist known for his firework displays with the Stratocaster, powering up such bands as The 66, The Phoenix Experiment and Purple Heart Parade. The time has come through for Mike to fly solo. Wearing the persona of The Last Bee On Earth, he finds a voice and matches it with a broad musical palette. He may be known for his guitar work but his debut solo EP runs an elegant gamut compassing psych, folk and electro. The songs are mellow and thoughtful, a little trippy, and distinctly shamanic.

This is a mystical piece highlighting The Last Bee’s ecological and spiritual concerns; a Prologue detailing the beginnings of The Last Bee’s journeys. A full album is expected later in the year, leading to the question of a whether it will resemble a full-blown Ziggy Stardust style concept album.

The cover sums up the conceit: a man halfway between the stars and the earth. A mind looking up, a body pulling down. Seeking escape and enlightenment with no safety net except a decaying world concealed by pastel clouds.

‘Mossed In Space’ is a psychedelic chill out piece, perfect for hazy festival afternoons. This a pellet down the gullet; stripping away our realities like melting plasticine so we can see the world as The Bee sees. ‘Mossed In Space’ is a palette cleanser, freeing us and leaving us susceptible, ready and primed. From a distortion storm a shining guitar emerges, grasping dramatic traction . A sky peaking melody dazzles. Then the whole thing settles into a Bunnymen-ish groove with a wordless chorus straight from Bowie’s Low. As a mood setter it’s far too short.

‘5AM’ is a rinky-dink segue of ambient sparkles and in itself a fine example of sun-rise synth.

The real star of Prologue is ‘World On Fire’, a sweeping ballad for a world consuming itself. The Last Bee knows that squabbling on an island is pointless when the planet is going under, and maps out an epic, lush song to catalogue the destruction. A song stamped with pure quality that marks the emergence of a high-grade solo artist. Mixing up a piano march, crisp drums, a crooning, cracked vocal performance and the strings…. the strings…

https://lastbeeonearth.bandcamp.com/track/world-on-fire

In ‘The Concept Of Alan Watts (432hz)’ The Last Bee has sampled one of the philosopher’s lecturers and supplied a musical garnish for the nourishing brain food.

Without meaning to render this review redundant, you’d best just listen to it:

The Last Bee is here. Heed his words.

Links & Biz

https://lastbeeonearth.bandcamp.com/releases

https://thephoenixexperiment.bandcamp.com

https://the66.bandcamp.com

https://www.facebook.com/LastBeeOnEarth

Radar Men From The Moon – Subversive II: Splendour Of The Wicked

If you like your space rock to sound like a smelting press then Radar Men From The Moon are for you. This Dutch instrumental outfit make music so hard and unmovable it takes you all the way past dance music into sheer fucking endless repetition.

Subversive II starts innocuously enough, and innocently enough, with ambient swaths coursing through ‘You filled the house with merciless sand’ that test the listeners’ patience. Fortunately this turns out to be a palate cleanser for the sheer rhythmic blitzkrieg that Radar Men From The Moon are about to unleash… When the groove hits at 3 minutes 24 seconds you’d better batten down the hatches…

‘Splendour Of The Wicked’ is brutal in its monotonous hammering. After a while the instruments don’t even sound like instruments; the drums an underground clamour, the bass a tick-tock metronome of plant machinery. It’s wearying, but in a way which becomes fascinating. You start off dancing to it then after a while you can’t remember how or why you started, it feels like you’ve clocked on for a shift. This is surely the purest form of trance music, you have no idea how long ago this song started and no idea when it will end.

The tracks around it don’t offer much relief, ‘Masked Disobedience’ has synths running amok, while an ogre repeatedly bangs it’s fucking head against the pipeworks.

‘Rapture’ matches morse code rhythm to funky drums and mysterious keys. Yet again you’ll find yourself attempting to redefine dance music. Lou Reed threatened metal machine music. Radar Men From The Moon nailed it.

‘Translucent Concrete’ ends the album with a helicopter going to a rave. <No more description needed>

Radar Men From The Moon just reinvented dance music.

https://radarmenfromthemoon.bandcamp.com/album/subversive-ii-splendor-of-the-wicked

Control Of The Going live at Gullivers 04.03.2017

Cowboy Liam is dead. You remember Cowboy Liam – long hair and huge hat? Well he’s gone. I don’t know what happened to him, maybe an industrial thresher accident. In his place though is Rock ‘n’ Roll Liam – short chopped hair and a James Dean wardrobe.

cotg-gulliver-04-03-2017

Under the auspices of Cowboy Liam the songs were languid and slippery, with space enough to let the poetry shine through. The arrival of Rock ‘n’ Roll Liam reflects that the music is faster and vivacious now. The band is paradoxically getting tighter at getting looser. The dreamy, hazy days are gone, party days are here!

The songs are punchier, helped when Tom’s backing vocals give reinforcements to the chorus’. The second song of the night, ‘Family’ is a rollicking affair, reminiscent of the Happy Mondays cooking up a shindig. To underpin this, Tom’s bass is finally creeping up in the mix. And serving to underscore the new brightly coloured Control Of The Going was the radioactive din of Minesh’s shirt.

To highlight the contrast between old and new, the older, ornate ‘Wildflower’ looks out-of-place among the new furniture, the elegant seeming staid.

The gig was to celebrate the launch of the new single ‘She’ which typifies their new approach: fast music and hairpin vocals all the way. It was performed with the hearty gusto of a band in the ascendancy. Another new track, ‘War Crimes’ was launched as a fizzing shot across the bows. Ending the set was the frisky, affirmative ‘Star’, replete with singalong chorus. I can see this being a highlight of the forthcoming album.

The hi-tempo version of Control OF The Going whipped up a great atmosphere in Gullivers, to the extent that they were cajoled into their first ever encore, in which they chose to play ‘She’ again. This second performance was a real barnstormer, led by Matt’s mighty drumming and a speedy breakneck finish.

It all ended with Rock ‘n’ Roll Liam covered in sweat. Cowboy Liam didn’t work up a sweat.

Control Of The Going’s sweaty new single is available now…

https://wrongwayrecords.bandcamp.com/album/she-wild-flower-ltd-edition-double-a-sided-7-single

cotg-gulliver-04-03-2017-no-2

No Mightier Creatures – S/T

Glass eyed, nervous blues all the way from Lima in the form of No Mightier Creatures.

They’re blues-y but they’re closer to the frustrated aggravation of Grinderman than the boogie jams of The Black Keys, but more than anything they sound like a stuttering bunch of machines; cold and inured by the terrible fucking world around them. This is an angry band, and we need angry bands at the moment.

Renato Gomez sing/speaks with a declamatory tone, reacting against the tradition of most blues singing, rather reminiscent of Robert Kidney from The Numbers Band.

nmc

The album starts off with ‘Yet We Divide’ which is comparatively jolly compared to what comes later.

“Little time to wake up / little time to grow” serves as a stark indictment of US politics.

The highlight of their self titled album is the middle section which is bracing and vicious:

The Lou Reed drawl and track-mark guitar of ‘Springfield’ is a scabrous alternate reality take on the New York grouch-bag’s post Velvets career. ‘No Light’ hammers staccato, pure Gang Of Four scratch with a Sonic Youth fuel injection.

‘Mulitply’ and ‘Corporate Dream’ are slow, weary grunts; fairground rides with empty seats.

‘To Cross’ merges Stooges slum riffs with soapbox spiel.

‘Colours fade / Genders fade / Bodies fade’

‘Take It Easy’ round off the album with the most blues-ish number, twangs and tension, empty space left.

Favouring rhythm over posturing is what makes No Mightier Creatures a stirring prospect, eschewing soloing in favour of tense dynamics. Sure, we all enjoy some guitar heroics from time to time, but it’s good to hear a blues band roll up the sleeves and hunker down.

“Reignite, spread your word”

https://nomightiercreatures.bandcamp.com/album/no-mightier-creatures