Wednesday, 30 January 2008

DARKEST HOUR, GLAMOUR OF THE KILL & Malefice at the Cambridge Barfly

It’s an unwritten law that hype isn’t as ubiquitous a phenomenon in the world of metal as in certain places elsewhere. So while a comparable tour in the indie genre (let us invent one, purely for the sake of hypothesis, and arbitrarily call it the NME Awards tour) might sell out huge venues within hours, the Kerrang! Most Wanted tour is essentially a few bands gigging up and down the country in basements to inquisitive but noncommittal, small audiences.

This year, the ragtag trio of bands comprised techy prog-death ensemble Malefice, metalcore headliners Darkest Hour, and emo-mongers Glamour Of The Kill. So began the quest of the three groups, which in due course took them to the Cambridge Barfly. Glamour Of The Kill played second, but I’m going to talk about them first. This is because they were, apparently, actually pop-punk band Busted after listening to an Iron Maiden CD, deciding they wanted to play metal and changing their names to Chris Carnage and Mikey Massacre. The result sounds almost like Alexisonfire while drunk and wearing handcuffs; this is no doubt what the band are shooting for, but they don’t quite make it, especially when vocalist ‘Davey Death’ raises his tuneless, whining voice to the top of his high tenor. Bottles shattered behind the bar. That aside, the reason it’s a real shame that the tour didn’t get more publicity is because the abovementioned direness was sandwiched between two hefty, satisfying blocks of metal.

Openers Malefice have a thrillingly hyperactive, warpspeed progressive style, reminiscent of Sikth with all of the whimsical jumble taken out and replaced with pure relentless steel. Their ambition just about exceeds their technical proficiency for now, with drummer Craig Thomas slightly losing track a couple of times, but they still provided the highlight of the evening in the aggressive Dreams Without Courage.

American headliners Darkest Hour themselves are an innovative metalcore band with a huge live presence. “I’ve seen them before,” a man said to me at the bar. “Their performance is so energetic... I walked in and when I saw the pillar on the stage I worried on of them was going to injure himself.” While the band have some very nice riffs and some clever, unorthodox chord progressions, it’s in the immense energy of their performance their attraction truly lies; vocalist John Henry leaps onto speakers and scowls like a monkey, baring his ferocious metal teeth to the audience. If future Kerrang tours are as good as this one, maybe it’s time for new metal bands to receive the same sort of raving media hype injections as their indie counterparts.

Saul Glasman

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

THESE NEW PURITANS: Beat Pyramid

Ripe for a dose of strident, cocky new-rave hip-rock? Then step right this way, ladies and gentlemen. Beat Pyramid is bizarre, enigmatic and too postmodern for its shirt. Hyped indie four-piece These New Puritans, being barrier-breaking types, have today blurred the line between legitimate experimental production and self-indulgent electronic noodling. Not content with that, they go on to challenge the long-held idea that excessive repetition isn’t necessarily a good thing, followed by thoroughly debunking the music industry propaganda that is rhythmic variation.

Take that, fuddy-duddies! Tomorrow the world! It’s a pity that every song is dominated by Jack Barnett’s monotone vocal delivery, reminiscent of Mark Smith drugged up to the eyelids on paranoia juice. If this weren’t so, we could appreciate the occasional interesting instrumental turn, like the first fifteen seconds of Swords Of Truth or the whole of album highlight Infinity Ytinifni. The synthed-up basslines and tribal drums ooze foreboding and menace. But instead Barnett’s deadpan draws your attention to the lyrics, which are nothing other than embarrassing.

“What’s your favourite number? What does it mean?” he raps over the opening of single Numbers and repeats ad nauseum, before launching into a list of numbers and their interpretations. “One: is the individual! Two is duality!” he barks. No, really? You can’t help but feel there’s supposed to be some kind of Pynchonian narrative running through the record. But if so, it doesn’t show itself after several listens. On another track, 4 pounds, the only lyrics are “Four of your pounds!” I can only guess they want me to buy their singles. The album curls deeper and deeper into itself as the tracks progress before swallowing its own tail in a flash of pointlessness as the end of the last track becomes the beginning of the first. These New Puritans could have made a decent dark synth-rock record, but they decided to wallow in pretension instead. An album to be avoided.

Saul Glasman

Monday, 14 January 2008

MAGNETIC FIELDS - Distortion

With 2008 gearing up to be the year of sophisticated shoegaze, New York's Magnetic Fields couldn't have picked a better time to release this follow up to 2004's concept album, i. Distortion is a no-holds-barred, more Jesus and Mary Chain than the Jesus and Mary Chain, industrial symphony that fuses biting lyrics with complex arrangements and intense distortion.

First single California Girls is a case in point, an aggressive response to the sundrenched Beach Boys classic of the same name. Merritt drawls out lyrics with a baritone that bears comparison with Scott Walker, switching from conscious Americana on Old Fools to 50's crooner on anti-Christmas anthem Mr. Misteltoe.

Distortion could easily have descended into pointless self indulgence were it not for countless moments of soaring affirmation - Drive on, Driver wrenches a heartbreaking refrain from a bedrock of seething white noise and propels it into a mesmorising round, interspersed with startling one liners - 'take me to the airport/I need to be extremely far away'.

Frontman Merritt, obsessed with 'theme', refused to record the album until a concept had been hit on - begging the question of where the retro synth-band could go from an album underpinned by having every track beginning with an 'i'. The artist that he is, Merritt wouldn't settle on, say, 'j', instead rendering Distortion an uncomfortably realistic album, the band making their point by juxtaposing dark vocals - The Nun's Litany is a great example, 'I want to be a dominatrix/which isn't like me, but I can dream' - with upbeat 60s harmonies and complex chamber pop. An incredible album, Distortion has raised tha bar for any consciously adult rock set to roll in this year, proving that paying tribute to your musical influences is all about inspiration, not plagiarism.

(7/10)


Liz Dodd

Saturday, 5 January 2008

FOXY SHAZAM: Introducing

“I must say, what a very nice bunch of boys,” intones a stuffy narrator over the sound of a ravening crowd on opener Introducing Foxy. Seconds afterwards, as the guitars scream into top gear and the track settles into a handclap-driven groove punctuated by bursts of hardcore rage, you realise he’s right. The weird piano-heavy hybrid punk sound of Foxy Shazam is strangely beautiful and beautifully strange, and at times it’s difficult to tell whether they have a conscious agenda of subversion or are just having a good time.

The band excel in below-the-belt, bait-and-switch musical tactics. Inexplicably titled A Black Man’s Breakfast seems to be a pretty straight Queen-influenced love song, but your opinion changes slightly when lead guitarist Loren Turner soloes sweetly in the wrong key. Ghost Animals trips the listener up with four unexpected rhythmic surprises in its first forty seconds, while the Latin horn tune that heralds album highlight Red Cape Diver is abruptly muffled by a tender piano melody, only to later return in a smoky Santana-esque
guitar lick.

Speaking of Queen, Foxy Shazam compare themselves to said late great band in their press releases, although again it’s uncertain how much they’re just trying to stir up controversy. Vocalist Eric Nally uses his stunning voice for evil, not good, sounding in his soul-infused snarl a bit like Freddie Mercury after being kidnapped, tortured and told all his family were dead. Introducing... captivates on a first listen with its eclectic uniqueness and then progressively reveals its subtleties. Foxy Shazam will divide opinion; this is the first Marmite album of 2008, and perhaps the first great one too.

Saul Glasman

NADA SURF: Lucky

In a musical climate thriving on the ethereally delicate, the harshly abrasive and the epically ambitious, it’s reassuring that a toe-tapping but instantly forgettable record like Lucky can draw an audience. It’s not so much that Nada Surf play inoffensive, formulaic pap (although to some extent they do). Their vacantly pretty alterna-pop-indie is heartfelt and well-crafted, like the glass diamond on the wedding ring of a poor peasant girl. For a crude comparison, try Death Cab For Cutie minus the brains.

Penultimate track The Fox is an anomaly on which the band inexplicably decide to pull out the stops and employ more subtlety and imagination than you could find in the whole of the rest of the album put together, but apart from that, Lucky trudges through its eleven rock-by-numbers tracks. They range from mid-tempo guitar pop to, er, slightly faster guitar pop, and never stray from their straight-up verse-chorusbridge song structure and their tweely emotional melodies.

The charming thing about Lucky is the sweet life-is-whatyou- make-it ideology put forth in its lyrics. I Like What You Say has the plaintive “They say you have to have somebody
/ They say you have to be someone / They say if you’re not lonely alone / Boy there is something wrong”, and From Now On sums up the album’s attitude with the line “You’ll have to
invent what you lack”, presumably spurring the listener to new heights of self-determination.

The steady stream of blankly hopeful melodies, tempered by the steady rhythms of Ira Elliot’s uncomplicated drumming, form the perfect backdrop for bog-standard, middleof- the-road, pedestrian rock music’s arrival - at last - in the late Noughties.

Saul Glasman

BRITISH SEA POWER: Do You Like Rock Music?

Do You Like Rock Music?, like all of the Brighton indie band British Sea Power’s releases, oozes sincerity and emotion. Don’t be put off by this; it’s very credible sincerity and emotion as sincerity and emotion go, and it’s been ages since any band managed to write a song about a flood on a Thames island in 1953 without sounding ridiculous.

The band, in its current incarnation, sounds a little bit like Joy Division tussling playfully with a post-rock band in a sunny meadow with a fashionable touch of Arcade Fire for good measure, and guitarist Martin Noble’s soaring guitar tone begins to pall slightly not too far into the album. Having said that, there’s a definite musical contrast between the cloudier first half of the album and the jolly second half. The band have a pretty good repertoire of moods, from the anthemic future single No Lucifer to the gentle chamber pop of No Need To Cry. The angular immediacy occasionally present on previous albums has gone, but to be fair, it never really
suited them anyway.

The lyrics, however, stay stormy all the way through. Even when they’re singing about something as highly benign as Czechs, beer and Czech beer (Waving Flags), they manage to be just cryptic enough to make it look like they’re making a point about immigration without it being at all clear what that point is. On bouncy album highlight A Trip Out, they sing “Out with the daggers / Off with the gloves / There is so much / That you can love”. They also mention the apocalypse repeatedly. I don’t really know what it’s about. However, despite its faults, British Sea Power have produced a convincing, accomplished album, probably their best yet. Fans won’t be disappointed, and converts will be made.

Saul Glasman