Sunday, 24 January 2010

The Spotted Ant #1

One thing I notice folk tend to on blogs is cobble together little playlist files of tracks and link to a storage site. Great stuff, but I've decided to take a different tack for a couple of reasons: a) I want to encourage folk to sign up to and use Spotify where possible, and b) I ended up getting 3(!) DMCA takedowns for my Top 10 of 2009, so I don't want to push my luck. I'm not even a Hype Machine listed music blogger. Tsk.

So if you have Spotify, then you'll want to keep an eye out for "The Spotted Ant" posts as I'll be a sharing a playlist fortnightly or so. Nothing overly special, just an hour of tracks that I'm digging at the time, past and present. Of course, I am limited by official releases so I can't add anything until it's a released single at the earliest, but it's worth a go. Think of it like a radio show but without me wittering on between songs. Just here.

I'll post the link and also show the playlist here so you can decide whether or not to bother...

Enjoy the first one.

The Spotted Ant #1

MINISTRY - Stigmata
CONVERGE - Reap What You Sow
CRYSTAL CASTLES - Crimewave (Crystal Castles vs Health)
YEASAYER - Ambling Alp
MEW - The Zookeeper's Boy
KLAXONS - Atlantis to Interzone
BEHEMOTH - Ov Fire and Void
NEW ORDER - Mr Disco
SOUNDGARDEN - Hands All Over
CANCER BATS - Agenda Suicide (The Faint cover)

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Album Review: LOSTPROPHETS - The Betrayed (Visible Noise)

I bet you forgot about them. For quite some time, the Welsh wonders were all over the UK rock press, being all arrogant and "American" and cocky and trendy and all sorts of things that confused pretty much everyone who had actually met them. No doubt there were many sniggers and "told you so's" when stories of the fourth album's initial sessions being scrapped because the band simply weren't happy with them. Prima Donnas, clearly. Or possibly because they wanted to have a decent crack at the thing entirely by themselves. After all, it's not like they didn't have a band member in bassist Stuart Richardson who wasn't able to handle production duties themselves.

It certainly starts off confidently. If It Wasn't For Hate, We'd be Dead by Now strides in on the kind of drum loop that Trent Reznor wanted to copyright before a towering hook rolls thing along swiftly. Dstryr/Dstryr then wallops you round the chops into oblivion. It's four-and-a-half-minutes of relentless riffery complete with an anthemic chorus and hook, a calm before the moshing storm and a bit of shred too. It also becomes one of the best things they've done pretty much immediately. We then cut to the singles one-two of It's Not the End of the World... and Where We Belong, both of which give superb chorus. Next Stop Atro City then bursts through waving their Metal! baton and serves up a bit of double-pedal too.

In comparison, the second half of the record is far less frenetic, but no less pleasing. The likes of A Better Nothing and Darkest Blue both represent a particular epic approach to the "pop-rock" manual that the boyos can claim as their own, while Dirty Little Heart is centred around a classic '8os keyboard line that could easily have fit onto the soundtrack of any John Hughes movie. It then becomes obvious as the record continues that the band have realised what they're genuinely good at and focused on simply making it better. The aforementioned Dstryr/Dstryr is Start Something's Burn Burn, but hooked up to South Wales' premier grid. Where We Belong is Liberation Transmission's Rooftops, but instead of gingerly waving the "Classic Rock" trophy around with shy caution, it holds it aloft with fervent majesty while shouting "It's mine, mine I tell you!".

As expected from what is essentially a solo effort, it's not perfect. For He's a Jolly Good Felon links a nifty New Wave riff and organ to a chorus that is pretty forgettable, while Streets of Nowhere seems to have the mantra "token happy pop song" stamped on it. As a pop song, it's pretty good, but it doesn't seem to fit with what's around it. If anything, it's a great little b-side. There also seems to be an omission of their interpretation of "the quieter ballad" which they were getting rather good at. It's frequently hinted at, but it's only when you get to atmospheric closer The Light That Shines Twice As Bright... that you realise there hasn't been an obvious let-up in the overall pace of the record.

Still, one thing is for certain - this is undeniably and 100% a Lostprophets album. It's even got plenty of that sampling digital doo-hickery between tracks that was missing on their last effort, and that's a good thing. The band built a reputation as a great live band not just for their performance, but their on-stage banter and larking about which always exclaimed "we are bloody well loving this". After previous efforts were limited by budget, a producer's trademarked drum sound and the odd necessary compromise, The Betrayed sounds like the album that Lostprophets have always wanted to make, and the boyos have come up trumps.


Sunday, 3 January 2010

Albums of the year 2009 "From Years Gone By"

This blog should be bleeding obvious in its title. There's a whole world of music out there from the past to be discovered. Here's what I stumbled upon that tickled a lot of my fancy in 2009:

10) THE AUTEURS - New Wave (Hut, 1993)

Vocalist Luke Haines recently wrote a book about Britpop-come-autobiography. It was very good so I listened to his old band's first album. That was also rather good, and I then wondered why they were never that big in the mid-1990s. Then I remember Luke saying in "Bad Vibes" it's because everyone listened to Suede instead. D'oh.

9) THE SMITHS - Strangeways, Here We Come (Rough Trade, 1987)

As a swansong, you can't complain. Veering from jaunty to fey to the somewhat overwraught, Morrissey lets it all out one last time before ditching the "hangers-on". That it also contains some of Johnny Marr's finest riffs as well is an added bonus.

8) NEW ORDER - Technique (Factory, 1989)

Even though they were never that "rock 'n' roll", the Mancs had one of the harshest rides in music. The tragic end to their preceding band Joy Division; The record-breaking single; The funding of a historic nightlcub that never made any money at all; Still, they recorded some classics along the way, thank goodness, and Technique is probably "the one".

7 ) MANIC STREET PREACHERS - Gold Against The Soul (Columbia, 1993)

Big whoops. There I was focusing on the acclaimed likes of debut Generation Terrorists and immortally scathing The Holy Bible and I practically ignored the frequently maligned album in- between, only to find out it was actually rather unfairly maligned. Maybe it doesn't have as many great tracks as other albums, but history now proves it to be a shiny vibrant rock gem as opposed to the corporate cock-suck it was made out to be at the time by some. Idiots.

6) TUBEWAY ARMY - Replicas (Beggars Banquet, 1979)

Young Gary was jamming with his so-so punk rock band one day and started dicking about with a synthesizer that some muso geek had left behind in the studio. Awesome then followed.

5) ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT - RFTC (Interscope, 1998)

Rocket From The Crypt were the best Rock 'n' Roll band in the world to never have a Number 1 hit. They were never huge, and for this reason alone, human society should hang its collective head in shame.

4) DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS - Searching For The Young Soul Rebels (EMI, 1980)

Weddings and cheesy nightclubs have a lot to answer for, ensuring that most people will only ever remember a great band's "big hit", and maybe even think of said band as a "One Hit Wonder". This is unacceptable. Searching... was the Northern Soul debut from Dexys that precede Come on Eileen by two years. It included the marvellous single Geno as well as justified classics Tell Me When My Light Turns Green and There There My Dear. Listen to it. Dance. Feel Good. Pass it On.

3) VITALIC - Ok Cowboy (Citizen, 2005)

When folk consider what the French are good at, they normally think of the obvious: Red Wine; Kissing; Revolutions; Whimsical movies about benevolent cafe-workers...but no-one ever thinks of synthesized pop, unless they know what they're talking about. Pascal Arbez is up there with Jean-Michel Jarre and Air in conjuring up pure magic with the keyboard, as well as keeping plenty of variety in the mix. No track sounds the same and the whole thing effortlessly flows. From the Motorcycle digital Metal of My Friend Dario through the analogue stutter of Repair Machines to the introverted pulse of Trahison. A ruddy pleasure from start to finish.

2) THE KNIFE - Silent Shout (Rabid, 2006)

It's entirely feasible that Swedish sibling duo The Knife are actually from another planet. There's plenty of electronica out there, but no-one sounds as damn unique as these two. Silent Shout doesn't follow the same blueprint as previous effort Deep Cuts and was probably conjured up during a field trip to the Astral Plane. Iincredibly inhuman and intensely gratifying, when the restrained chill-out likes of Forest Families and The Captain get the adrenaline rushing as much as the extra-terrestrial pop of We Share Our Mothers' Health, you know the world is so very right in parts.

1) CRYSTAL CASTLES - Crystal Castles (Last Gang, 2008)

This may set a precedent in future years in that my top album of "years gone by" is only from the previous year and was discovered ever-so-slightly too late. Had I came across this dazzling belter just a month earlier and it would have certainly made my Top 10 of 2008. As it was, no dice, but the praise is understood. Taking digital "nintendo-core" as far as possible without making it unlistenable, Crystal Castles is a shining tribute to the infinite possibilities of what throwaway computer sounds can actually offer the world of music. Courtship Dating (Pop); Air War (Digital Prog); Xxzxcuzx Me (Rave/Heavy/Bleeding Mental); Tell Me What To Swallow (Ambient) and everything else in between. If The Machines really are winning, they're certainly pacifying us well.