Record of the Week
Wovenhand – Ten Stones
This is not a catchy record, rather an infectious one. These Ten Stones seem more like Ten Commandments. The ten tracks are primal, part-folk, part-righteous sermon (for he is a religious fellow), delivered from a seeming alter made of rock. There are also heavy alt. country influences, and the shuffling percussion of “Cohawkin Road” recalls those alt. country stalwarts Calexico. Folky features arrive in the form of the banjo, and the accordion, which appears in “White Knuckle Grip”, the spoken-shout vocals in which recall Nick Cave, circa “Abattoir Blues”.
The record is actually an inventive indie rock one, and in being so shames most of that turgid scene. The wide-eyed, fanatic delivery is quite unnerving in parts and peaks in “Kingdom Of Ice” where Edwards (formally of 16 Horsepower) yells forth the “Flames of Akira and his kingdom of ice!” to disturbing effect. The final track reminds me that there is not one duff track on the album, rather just two or three respites in the sound of quieter, but no less intense tracks. The rest bubble and brood like the early “Horsetail”.
A near indispensable album, creative and exciting – I for one am willing to convert to his church.
F*cked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
“Chemistry Set, And The Match”
Now, aficionado of the hardcore genre I am not, and in fact my only real dalliances with the genre are with accessible artists such as Gallows, and slightly more credible ones like Poison The Well and The Bronx. And … well, hardcore is hardcore, except here.
Like Metallica start both ‘Ride The Lightening’ and ‘Master of Puppets’, so do F*cked (pesky censure) Up, with a folky, quiet, tension-growing section before cracking into the more expected (controlled) shouting and juggernaut guitars, but there is flute-based! Where F*cked Up deviate from their peers is that this plucked (plucky?), folky element is present throughout, as is a conscious level of progressive style.
The greatest shame is the album does not include a version of ‘Year of the Pig’, their 18-minute part-folk, part-prog, entirely hardcore masterpiece, not even the 4-minute version available on a ‘Rough Trade compilation’ is made available. But this gives reasonable impetus to buying that as well, so wise marketing, and one for the collectors I’d say.
The album definitely works best as a ensemble and as such I shan’t single out any track for note, except perhaps to note that an 18-minute opus would have upset this collective balance, and perhaps, truth be told, the 4-minute condensation doesn’t cut the necessary mustard.
In Pink Eyes the band surely have one of the most enigmatic of front man, particularly live, when he resembles a mildly saner Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav, with whom comparison can certainly be made.
This is a breathless odyssey and rich in deviation from a dusty template, and serves well as a crossover album, which should endear them in sales but whether it is quite hard enough for hardcore fans may be an issue for hot debate.
What could be hotter still is that I was present at a recent Bronx show it was indicated that a double-header tour might be on the cards. Now, that would be f*cked up, and for all the right reasons.
The Bookhouse Boys – The Bookhouse Boys
“Boys, Tarantino’s Coming For You Soon”
Starting with frenetic Mariachi trumpets, which give way to a yelping vocal, the album immediately recalls a massively more energetic and celebratory Beirut, or the alt.country sound of Wovenhand. The opening tracks are also equally reminiscent in bass and vocal of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”, the track re-popularized by Urge Overkill on the “Pulp Fiction Soundtrack”, and in fairness the opening tracks recall that cover more than they do Mr. Diamond. Soundtrack influence seems to feature highly, and debt must surely be due in part to Ennio Morricone’s back catalogue.
There are plenty more influences in here too, from jittery skiffle, to psycho-billy echoes and reverb, such as can be found on the shout-along “I Can’t Help Myself”, which starts in mad-cap fashion, such as The Coral used to, before quickly devolving into a darker vein. The album has a slower middle-section and slower-still finish, which is only punctuated by this track, which further recalls fledgling act Maybe Myrtle Turtle in its wide-eyed abandon. The slow finish, which in truth is closet indie, albeit quietly soaring, finishes with a refined whimper in the hidden track, which returns to the alt. country template with what sounds like a banjo.
‘Shoot You Down’ is from this middle-section and is led by Catherine Turner as an altogether more restrained affair, which brings to mind, say, Nancy Sinatra if you want to continue with the Tarantino soundtrack influences. Alt.country star Jenny Lewis could be a satisfactory contemporary comparison. Turner’s counterpart also turns in a decent Nick Cave sound from time to time.
This is an inventively noir sound and wholly enjoyable, just that a couple of later tracks are a little dusty in comparison to the early whirlwinds.
Pulled Apart By Horses – Meat Balloon
In a recent review of the Late Greats, I alluded to Midget’s indifferent ‘hit’ Invisible Balloon being my first musical port of call when balloons are referenced, but happily this is much, much better than either of those recordings.
The sound is visceral, and laced with punk-rock guitars and a tortured whelp on vocals who screeches out the nihilist, yet party loving expletive lyrics. The pace change mid-track is commendable and makes the record stand out, introducing a danceable bass tone to the piece as a whole. The feel is similar to This City’s ‘With Loaded Guns’ in its energy, but unlike the emo-like A-side of that record ‘Romance’ – both are catchy in a loud way, but this is the more raw.
Levi’s once advertised the strength of their jeans with straining horses at either leg, that same strength is delivered here with crashing guitars and walls of brutal loveliness. I have no idea what a Meat Balloon is, nor do I wish to for I suspect it’s sordid, but neither do I care because I have so much fun-time, hardcore-flecked, punk-rock to enjoy. The B-side is no slouch either.
Baltic Fleet – Baltic Fleet
This is a largely, if not entirely an instrumental album, with very occasional vocal samples woven into its post-rock fabric. The feel is one of relaxation and as such follows Sigur Rós’ template strongly, but this is a comparatively heavier album. However, heavy only in the druggy sense of the prog. rock influences that spill out to stain its post-rock make-up.
Early in the album, a third influence is evident in the gloomy shape of the Cure, Interpol, and their forefathers Joy Division. The brooding post-punk bass-lines of early tracks, such as the Black Lounge are proof enough. I’ve mentioned Sigur Rós already and their influence is clear, heck, one track is even called ‘Reykjavik Promise’, but it is more evident in the track ‘In Chicago’ where an ethereal vocal sample drifts across atmospheric piano.
This is a worthy experiment and strong fusion of genres, but throughout I can’t help but feel that there is something missing. It could be the lack of abandon that contemporaries Godspeed! employ so well, but more likely the nagging points to where a decent vocal should be. As such the feel is almost incomplete and therefore instills a sense of wistful longing across the album like a creeping fog, which if relaxing is equal parts unsettling.
The Late Greats – Life Without Balloons
The first thing that springs to mind when I think of balloons is Midget’s indifferent ‘hit’ Invisible Balloon, rather than some happy memory at a party, though I don’t have many friends and as a consequence don’t attend many parties. Still, I’ve lots of records and that’s just the same thing, right?
This album is a collection of strangely simple yet compelling indie-pop jangles that in places drive the record forward commendably, but stagnate sadly in others. It is poppy but not in a detracting way, rather in an inoffensive way. With staccato drumming, an often-weedy voice that recalls the Maccabees and a surfeit of handclaps in places, the record does sound better as an ensemble than it probably ought to. This could be due to the few soaring Pixies-type moments that are to be found throughout, most noticeably in the track ‘Quick Fix’ – it’s the voice and the guitar noodlery that do it.
Inoffensive I feel is the best description to use, because it isn’t a bad record at all, but one that will sadly have to compete at the arse-end of the market with derivative chart nonsense due to its blander, radio-friendly parts.
That said, ‘Let It Happen’ is a good track that deserves more recognition, it is angular in a post-punk kind of way with a shout-along chorus and a substantial thread of simplistic charm at its core.
Definite potential but perhaps a bit rushed; there is a good album in here somewhere. Strong start and finish with a flabby middle. I know how it feels, but then mine is a life without balloons, invisible or otherwise.
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