Record of the Week
Surf City - Surf City EP
It is hard to fail with surf-rock riffs, a Jesus & Mary Chain inspired name and 1-2-3-4 vocals. Even harder with the channelled, lethargic energy of the Strokes, well placed “whoa ohs”, and a total sound that is reminiscent of intelligent indie rockers Tapes n’ Tapes having a knees-up with the Animal Collective, at the beach. And, Surf City don’t disappoint.
‘Headin’ Inside’ combines light feedback with ‘Is This It’, ‘Records Of A Flagpole Skater’ is the natural offspring of ‘Someday’, fed on a diet of sunshine. Its close harmony duetting, organ accompaniment, danceable, overlaid riffs and garage clothes worn over a poppy core amount to canned fun.
‘Dickshakers Union’ again embraces the surf-rock, opening with a galloping riff before settling into quick-tempo drums to produce something that resembles the poppiest moments of No Age’s catalogue. ‘Canned Food’ is more subdued, more echo-y, and recalls 80s indie production whilst also introducing an Editors-size post-rock riff.
The vocals here recall that disinterested genre.
‘Mt. Kill’ is again more sombre, with post-rock dominance and atmospheric guitars, and ‘Free The City’ opens like Andrew Weatherall’s indie-dance classic, ‘Bullet Catcher’s Apprentice’. Its discordant, scratching beat opens into a danceable bass line that already feels like it has been with us for years. This final track is the only one to leave the breakneck crowd-pleasing for a moment, and widen into something more, a none-vocal lead track, as oppose to a 3-minute pleasing, pop song. In this time, it would be wise to calm down, stop enjoying yourself so much and to smile.
Most bands would kill for this level of accomplishment and Surf City dropped Kill as prefix to their name, presumably debating all the while whether to replace it with Killer.
Hipsters will not like it; it is too obvious, too enjoyable, and crucially, not obscure enough; this is a record that could only have come from a place away from their disapproving indifference, a place warm enough to allow these guys to blossom. Too cool, you see, and they would never have grown.
All The Saints - Fire On Corridor X
Opening track ‘Sheffield’ does not give an accurate feel of what is to come. It opens with staccato drumming and a very convincing impression of listening to alt. heroes Cursive. As enjoyable as listening to Cursive is, the fuzzy guitars belie the pysch. rock ride to come. And boy, then Ride do come, template-like in the mesmeric drumming, shimmering guitars and strong wafts of feedback on offer. Let it be said, that all the dials are squarely turned up to loud.
This is heavy pysch. rock, and genre of choice for the Black Angels, if their vocalist had a smattering more Gallagher in him. And, speaking of swagger, it certainly does. The album comes on with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club style bolshiness, but never goes so far into parody as to draw comparison with, say, Kasabian. Like early BRMC, All The Saints are able to turn it down a notch successfully and sway shadow-like in their psychedelic firelight, as can be heard on the swimmy “Hornett” and acoustic led “Leeds”.
Being label mates with A Place To Bury Strangers, pedal abuse comes as par for the course, but there is clarity in this production, missing in ‘APTBS’. The light-vocoding in ‘Regal Regalia’ allows the eponymous, chest-beating chant of “All the saints” to eschew egotism and embrace their strength of self-belief, the pedal fuzz serving only to support this heavy-weight affront.
Despite sounding a lot like some of the aforementioned acts it must be said, and suffering in terms of overall variety, All The Saints do have a niche of their own at the heavier end of psychedelic rock, a niche that’ll suit small, dark venues with purple and green spots flickering intermittently with a lazy, drum-linked strobe. And, I‘ll be the one down the front looking bruised in the assault-coloured lightshow, but lapping up the punishment all the while.
Bon Iver – Blood Bank
“Room To Bloom”
Bon Iver’s Blood Bank provides a four-track attempt to stave off difficult-second-album syndrome, and in doing so has allowed for an experimental outlet to either showcase his new direction or just to trial a phase. However, fans need not worry; for, at the record’s core is Vernon’s icy folk debut, layered in parts and stripped in others.
The titular track ‘Blood Bank’ opens with a convincing and worrying Chris Martin vocal performance and as such, risks dragging the whole, sympathetic but unengaging sound into mediocrity. Happily, Vernon pulls it out of the bag, and then some. The acoustic pick-up builds into a pleasing shuffle before collapsing in a wall of droning feedback and leaves the impression of a slow-burn classic in the making.
‘Beach Baby’ follows the ‘Forever Emma, Forever Ago’ template more closely utilising the trademark falsetto-folk to good effect, allowing the track to burrow under the skin. A Hawaiian steel-string riff plays out over half the track and compliments the echo-y strumming well.
‘Babys’ embraces Vernon’s distancing from the debut and starts with a minute and a half of lively piano that recalls a bright winter’s morning and a chase across recent snowfall (un bon hiver indeed, therefore). The piano is then stripped back to a quieter accompaniment and the gentle slide of his acoustic guitar, before building back into a jittery, excitable piano and harmonious guitar marriage. It closes bathetically, having built to nothing more than a breathless romp through bucolia. Vernon knows the adage well of less often equally more, and has consciously decided to be coy with the listener, very much leaving him wanting more. And, in ‘Woods’, he potentially gives it to him.
‘Woods’ is a peculiar concept, peculiarly executed. Vernon employs a vocoder (think Cher in ‘Believe’, although no where near as awful) to startling effect. He layers his own vocals as backing, and conducts the whole track with little more than a few phrases on a cappella loop. This is a bold track which identifies boundless potential.
As a whole, the EP sounds slightly awkward, straddling the future and Emma, as it were. It is as if Vernon is finally finding his feet after exorcising her with the debut, and is now making new-born, Bambi-like steps toward the future, stumbling and blinking on the journey.
In postponing the second album, this EP does very nicely and will satiate most appetites. Whether the new direction will follow this beginning is yet to be seen, but now, on exiting the forest, Vernon should have the room to bloom. Spring may well, it would appear, have just started in the heart of Bon Iver.
Glass Candy – Love Love Love
Like Yeah Yeah Yeahs but think they're too commercial? Then ladies and gentlemen, I give you Glass Candy's Love Love Love. This clattering art-punk meets new-wave noise was Johnny Jewel's creative outlet before embracing the altogether more elegant and refined, Italians Do It Better endorsed, Beat Box album.
Glass Candy (or G/L/A/S/S/C/A/N/D/Y, if you like) here recall Chromatics’ early work before the difficult to obtain ‘Night Drive’, unsurprising as Jewel plays in both bands. The disco elements that are later embraced in Beat Box are here present in the record's danceable bass lines, but are very much obscured by Suicide-like shredding. Hence 'death disco' has been offered as definition for the sound.
No matter the genre, Jewel and No are too cool for school, this record slightly less so due to actually being available to buy easily; Beat Box is somewhat more illusive, but nevertheless worth the chase. This is a work in progress of the more commercial, but no less compromising, Beat Box and as such, should be treated as a stepping stone, unless you harbour a particularly strong interest in art-wave punk and hands up who does?! Thought so! So, in the absence of being able to find the better record, content yourself with the After Dark label compilation.
The Dears – Missiles
“Hits The Target”
‘Missiles’ is a more mature outing for Murray Lightburn and sole remaining Dear (and wife) Natalia Yanchak. Gone are the youthful distractions of noisy outros and keyboard noodlery as can be found on the debut ‘No Cities Left’, and instead, relaxing saxophone anecdotes (Disclaimer) and measured song building, breaking into clever release (Missiles).
Fans will be easily pleased; repeat listens reveal a subtle grower. New comers to the Dears are not really the intended market for the record, and so may take longer to love the smug couple, but should find plenty to enjoy nevertheless. Murray’s vocals are soothing as ever, but don’t quite live up to the former, Morrissey-level of lyrical dexterity with which comparisons were made. Awkward moments such as the high-school-like syntax ordering that allow tears that will not ‘quell’ to be sung purely to achieve a rhyme, or the cringe-worthy mention of someone being ‘as cool as a cucumber’ undo a little, but not much of the musically-sound, good work.
Murray does not appear egocentric, insisting on his input alone and as such, Yanchak’s moment comes in ‘Crisis 1&2’ where her vocals serve as welcome distraction. Murray allows the discreet guitar work and considered bass of the album to do a lot of the work for him, the rhythmic drumming in ‘Dream Job’ also being pleasingly noteworthy, progressing the listen forward with each stroke.
This is a collection of refined indie tracks, which sit regally in the Canadian landscape from whence they sprung. Murray has hinted that this album might be the Dears’ last, but he should rest easy knowing that if it is, it would not be with a whimper that he left us.
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