Albums I Would Have Reviewed in 2011, if I Could Be Arsed

Lots of people have said that 2011 was a vintage year for loud music, and though my instinct is to burn down anything resembling a positive sentiment before it has chance to take root, I am, sadly, forced to agree. It turns out there was loads of great stuff to go at last year, tons of astonishing and unexpected reviews I could have done.

I just couldn’t be arsed.

But if I could be arsed… how different it might have been. I could have been the king of music writing by now, the undisputed champion of irrelevant opinion-pushing, with a black eye and a neat belt to prove it. To be honest, I’ve done myself, and the world, a favour.

Instead, here’s some lazy, out-of-date trash:

Tank 86 – Rise
(Rising Magma Records)

This sounds like the best album Capricorns never got round to making, despite bringing a slightly sharper, more metallic edge to the increasingly crowded instrumental riff rock buffet. The sound is about dual-leads, a voluptuous bottom end, atmospheric breaks, and mid-paced grooves with plenty of double-kick accents. It is thick, precise and satisfying.

Saint Piran sends several long down-tempo leads winding through a series of deceptively simple percussive hooks that each feel like six of the best delivered with a rasp. Gottes Krieger breaks out thrashing, but quickly gives way to a medium pace groove you can’t help but love, salted with a bit of funky tambourine. And Axe contains one of my favourite tom runs (at 1m30s, elaborate triplet fans) of 2011, and possibly of ever.

It does rather cleave to the old ‘fast bit/slow bit/fast bit’ paradigm of heavy metal dynamics, but to be honest, it works, because the songs are good. So fuck off.

www.tank86.com

Kamni – A.T.O.M.
(Independent)

It’s every drug band cliché in one neat package. A.T.O.M. (‘Atmospheric Tribal Oriental Meditation’) is one of those recordings that takes a mood, writes a riff about it, then shows you what it’s done, in exhaustive detail, for up to 16 continuous minutes. In all, it’s longer than many albums.

It continually builds itself up, out of obvious hippie tropes like panflutes and didgeridoos, but brings with it a strong sense of groove and a deep, deep sound that is actually very flattering for an indie band.

You want to be embarrassed when Shiva THC pop ups, complete with boiling bong sound effect, layered with shimmering sitars. But the riffs that are eventually exhaled to drift about on the air are both moreish, heavy and groovy. Both of those three things. And the title track has got more in common with Massive Attack than the stoned doom otherwise present.

Meanwhile, Lysergic General and Collapse have an Electric Wizard feel to them; a glacial pace, dirty tones, vocals mixed off into the aether somewhere, straddling a whisper, a groan and a roar. But somehow this grabs me more intimately than that band ever did. If your idea of supper is a cheese and salad cream sandwich at 4am, then this is what you listen to.

It’s a neat little EP, and available free. Definitely worth a glance.

kamni.bandcamp.com

The Atomic Bitchwax – The Local Fuzz
(Tee Pee Records)

Here’s a weird record to try and evaluate in limited space; one track comprising 50 different riffs in 40 minutes. It sounds about exactly as good as that implies. In many parts, it’s a weird rollercoaster epic, skipping between hard rock ideas with much grace, barely touching the ground beneath it, like one of them parkour idiots.

Other times, it sounds more like what I suspect this album really is; a mash of bits they couldn’t be arsed to develop into proper songs. Either way, you have to admire them for putting it on sale for actual money.

Overall, it holds the attention with ease, and that’s an accomplishment, really. It’s difficult to trace a line of evolution through the work, because it just does this, and then that, and then the other thing, and then there’s the Pink Floyd bit, before the inevitable, outrageous, rock ‘n’ roll coda.

But if you like bluesy guitars doing 70s stuff, chased by hammond organs, and with loads of soloing, then The Local Fuzz is a proposition you’d be silly to turn your back on.

www.theatomicbitchwax.com

Right, that’ll do. There’s more to talk about, but you’re bored now, I can tell. It’s okay. I’ve warmed you some milk and pre-softened a rusk. Shh, shh. Here’s the nipple. Don’t bite. Good boy. There’s a good boy.

The end.

Or is it…?

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Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo OST

(Mute Records)

This latest chapter in the ongoing love affair between director David Fincher and all round living deity Trent Reznor (oh and the other fella named after a fictional lawyer) is quite the thing, really. I’ve not seen the film, because cinemas seem to want money from you when you go into them and I’m too lazy to download it. So this is not a review of the album as a soundtrack, which is helpful since I don’t really see this as a soundtrack album. Even though it is. It even has it written right there on the cover. No, I see this as Ghosts V to VIII. Traditional soundtrack albums (including Ross and Reznor’s previous work for Fincher on The Social Network) do not after all tend to push the 39 track mark, the three hour mark, or the 3CD mark.

You get the sense with this massively ambitious album that while the work has been created to fit the vision of Fincher’s film that it is not in any way encumbered by that starting point. In fact it feels even freer than the pair’s previous work on the Ghosts albums, since this is no longer directly linked to the Nine Inch Nails tag, with all the baggage that represents.

The soundtrack itself is bookended by two more conventional songs, first a cover of Immigrant Song with Karen O (and if you haven’t heard that yet then you’re missing a doozy) and the other a song by Trent’s band with his wife, How To Destroy Angels, which is more in keeping with the morose feeling of the rest of the work. But in the context of the rest of the album they both actually feel rather out of place, like rounding off a three course meal of exquisitely created fine cuisine with a Mars Bar before and after. Nice enough on their own but a tad out of place.

As for the rest of it what we have is less a conventional album and more a three hour sonic journey through a somewhat deranged world. Mostly instrumental, save for a few haunting vocals dotted around the place, the 37 tracks veer from one note repetitive themes that build into insistent industrial noise to gentle piano led refrains accompanied by backgrounds of electrical static. The tracks largely bleed melodies into each other, some of which will be identifiable to long-time NIN fans as echoes of their earlier works.

The key watchword throughout though, is haunting. Whereas on The Social Network their remit was to provide some brooding industrial cool to sit alongside the smart and fast paced script, here the darker world of sexual violence and brutality the story inhabits has really allowed Reznor and Ross to go to some very dark places, both sonically and emotionally. Metallic echoes are allowed to go on and on until they no longer have any real worldly sound, and the sadness drips of the walls of these sounds. Most of the work here does not sound created by traditional instruments, save for the piano that weaves through it, and the occasional buzz saw guitars that punctuate the gloom like angry wasp attacks.

By the time you reach the aforementioned finale (which does rather let the air out of the tyres if I’m honest, Mariquuen Maandig Reznor’s voice lacks the emotional resonance her husband can evoke so effortlessly) you’ll be lucky if you are still wearing any kind of a smile but the quality of the journey itself more than makes up for the bruises you pick up along the way.

9/10

And now, to completely undercut my own point, here’s the video to the excellent Immigrant Song: 

Castles – You, The Organ Grinder

(Eyes of Sound)

After the breakup of Manchester’s favourite noisecore nearly-men Beecher, the last thing you would really expect vocalist Edward Godby to do would be to hook up with two Belgians and form a classic rock tinged, jazz infused stoner band. Actually that’s not really the case. The last thing you would have expected would be for him to be appointed Deputy Commissioner of Network Rail. Or Sarah Palin’s new hair stylist. I’m not saying he’d be no good at either of these things, merely that they would be odd career progressions for someone primarily known for having a good shouty voice. Him forming another band isn’t really a massive leap of faith. In that context perhaps this debut by Castles isn’t as odd as it would first appear.

Forgoing both the twiddly pre-djent (*shudder*) guitar histrionics and emo-tinged melodies of his former outfit, Castles are routed in far more riff-based roots. The tone of this album is a million miles away from Beecher, all warm tones and thick beefy drumming, but all the while it clatters along with a wilful disregard for the existence of 4-4 time signatures. Which is my smart arse way of saying that it still does the whole 14 time-changes a minute thing, but with more of a groove.

Of course you can be as clever as you want with your time changes and drum fills but none of it means a thing if the songs aren’t any cop (as anyone who has had the misfortune of typing Djent into YouTube will tell you) and thankfully You, The Organ Grinder is a rollicking ride chock full of good tunes. Godby’s previous outfit’s approach to melody was always a bit too saccharine and emo-tinged for my tastes, the jarring gear changes like stepping out of a great gig by an amazing band for a drink and finding yourself not in the bar but in the bedroom of a pimply thirteen year old with bad hair and pictures of Gerard Way on the walls and a faintly unpleasant and unidentifiable odour, and he wants to share his mouldy resin smoke with you and talk about girls or read you some of his poetry. But here the clean edges have been roughed up and there’s nary a clean vocal line in sight, but the same ear for a melody is there, meaning that there are hooks and choruses aplenty to get you.

That’s not even my favourite thing about this album though. That (utterly irrelevant) honour goes instead to the title. I mean look at that comma! Any band with that level of dedication to grammatical purity surely deserves our respect. No? Just me then.

Given the levels of fanaticism that Beecher managed to generate in their small but exceedingly loyal fanbase in their short life, it seems unlikely that Castles have the same potential for mass appeal. Which is a shame because in many ways their techy-stoner is a superior breed. For a first step on a small label, however, it is an exceptionally accomplished debut, one which wouldn’t seem at all out of place in a larger home like HydraHead, whose staple of bands are a clear influence on this. Ballsy and big, this album is a fine start to the year.

8/10

Orange Goblin – A Eulogy for the Damned

(Candlelight Records)

Orange Goblin are among my favourite champions of fully leaded, four-star hair rock. The reasons for this are manifold, but the major one is that they’re bleeding loud. In order to achieve his trademark rubble-throated bellow, rumour has it that walking adam’s apple Ben Ward uses a motorcycle wheel for a pillow. Grooves as thick as your average Facebook friend are sandwiched between kick and snare drums and then battered with relentless cruelty, practically drowning under a wash of cymbal.

Because Orange Goblin have an instantly recognisable sound – that of a bull entering a chainsaw factory on its back via mudslide – I guess it’s easy to overlook the intricacies of the work, of which I assure you there are several.

A Eulogy for the Damned is a record that comes in three distinct flavours, all united by a heavy reliance on swing time that chucks in a fairly substantial touch of the nautical. There’s a pacey, aggressive bit at the beginning. There’s two sing-along anthems back-to-back. And then there’s the second half of the album, which strikes out for the rolling intensity of the openers, but ends up foundering, sucked into a swamp soaked with venomous bathtub lysergic. In a good way, I mean.

These three broad thematic chunks hang together as a whole like ragged hocks of a newly-butchered pig, driving the listener onward to the album’s fading crescendo among warm hammond tones and melodic high-register ‘oohs’. Along the way we play with scale models of the winding, hypnotic, repetitious structures that are a hallmark of heavy psych, and come out feeling like we’ve taken a trip.

The album closer – and title track – is the clear highlight. Acoustic chords strike sparks against the ascending electric leads, hung sparsely across a hopping drum groove, and it sounds a bit like someone’s taken a muck spreader to one of Josh Hommie-rhymes-with-Mommy’s fabled desert ‘generator parties’ that he probably totally made up anyway. Then in comes Mr Singer with a groaning tequila-soaked baritone last heard in the vicinity of Jay Jarosz on the first Karma to Burn album. Shortly, they go back to straight up Gobbling Oranges. It’s a subtle shift, but still a brilliant one. The same effect is heard on Save Me from Myself which blooms from dust into a beer-sloshing chorus I doubt Terrorvision would have turned down. The lyrics sound a bit cheesy, mind, but I genuinely couldn’t give one shit about that, never mind two. Not at my time of life.

Cheesy and predictable lyric issues crop up again during Stand for Something, bridging the gap between the manic Acid Trial and record opener Red Tide Rising – which washes up on deck, thrashing about like a horny tiger shark. The guitar escapes straight up the mast, while the bass piddles about playing ballet dancer in the rigging. And then, in the spirit of shattering this paragraph across my fucking knee and hurling the stinging shards directly into your faces, the whole thing hits choppy water, and starts going up and down like a shitty literary image in a patch of rough metaphor.

The point is I like it. It’s a pretty easy thing to recommend, actually, and I feel as if I could have just written the following sentence and called this review done: A Eulogy for the Damned is my idea of a thoroughly good record because it’s busy, it’s dense, it’s loud and it’s satisfyingly heavy.

Go away.

http://www.orange-goblin.com/

Going Legit

So you may have noticed that things are somewhat quiet around here these days. Well, you might not. There’s just as good a chance that your life doesn’t revolve around sitting in your encrusted underpants with an internet browser tab open, Demon Pigeon set as an eternal homepage, furiously hitting F5 in the fervent hope of another nugget of glorious content thrown down at you from the dizzy heights of our unrivalled intellect.

Anyway, it’s been quiet. One of our illustrious leaders has fallen like so many other dear leaders, and he had the temerity not to name a successor. Noel has transformed, butterfly like, into a puddle of Ennui, his beard the only remnant, stuffed full of Pokemon cards. I have spent the last six months trying to break the Guiness world record for tallest fort constructed from soiled nappies. It’s been a bad time. You should feel sorry for us.

It was sometime in October when a beacon of light hit Demon Pigeon towers like a, um, beacon of light. I was watching that well known bastion of all things cult, edgy and now, E4. Suddenly, this happened:


Are you a blogger? it asked of me. And me a blogger! I couldn’t believe my luck. Just think of all the things we could achieve with unfettered access to the behemoth of cultural relevance that was once home to Rick Edwards. This was clearly the shot in the arm of glitzy bullshit that our flagging enterprise needed. No more mocking Death Metal fans for their very existence. No more for us the lukewarm praise of the uneducated for albums only ever heard by a handful of bearded men and women. I could maybe even pitch a Pokemon series to the channel and get our man Noel where he belongs. On the telly!

I could see it all, backstage reports from the set of Hollyoaks, interviews with the guy who does the voiceovers. Watching someone drawing those snappy idents! All of a sudden a world of possibilities stretched out in front of me. Red carpets. I could aspire to be the new Perez Hilton. I’d look ace with highlights, although I’d need to grow at least some of my hair back.

So off I went to the website, and downloaded the form. Scanning the questions I saw that it was going to take every ounce of my intellectual capacity to fill this form in. But what tone to go for? Well this is E4, right? So it’s all about the zany and weird. So I started typing. Only to discover that it was copy protected. I would have to print it out and fill it in by hand. By hand! I’m an old man and even I can’t write with a pen any more. What hopes the young whipper-snappers who would represent my main competition?

Question 1: Describe a time when you were the first to discover something that became stupendously huge.

I mean how the fuck are you supposed to answer that? I have never discovered anything. I wasn’t there in the Cavern Club. Still, time to put my game face on.

There was that time I was the first person to stumble on google.com, and all it could find for you was a grainy picture of an old man holding a paper bag or a slightly forlorn looking dog.

I know, get me with the humour. After I vomited with self satisfaction I decided to pitch to the E4 producers who seem so keen on knob gags.

Or that time I looked in my trousers.

Question 2: What makes you laugh, and why?

I reckoned I had already brought the funny sufficiently, so now it was time to flex the intellectual muscles. So I opened Wikipedia.

Generally funny things make me laugh, but I also respond to other stimuli such as stress or nervousness. I’m not a doctor but I believe this to be a physiological response to an emotional state.

Then I remembered that I’m supposed to be wrting from the persepctive of someone who likes E4, so I added;

Oh, and Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. He cracks me up.

Sorted.

Question 3. What do you think your friends would say about you if we asked them?

They would say I’m funny, honest, extremely knowledgeable about a lot of things, a great writer, possessor of an excellent beard and someone who could be excellent at whatever he put his mind to. Either that or a pathological liar.

HAHAHAHAHA Again with the funny. I make myself laugh so much I have to cry a lot and rock silently back and forth in my chair for a bit while listening to Nine Inch Nail’s Ghosts I-IV and wondering where the fuck my life went so wrong.

Question 4. Tell us why you think people might listen to you about telly and stuff.

And stuff? AND STUFF? Oh fuck you E4. This is why I don’t actually watch your shows. But I don’t put that, obviously. But I don’t really know what to put.

Well I do watch an awful amount of the ‘telly,’ and I do like ‘stuff’ so I think I am well informed. I also like to pad out my reviews with jokes and ‘stuff’ and that seems to go down well, because nobody has ever told me otherwise.

I’m not sure I entirely managed to keep my sneering tone in check for that one. But there it is in pen and I’m not about to print out another copy and start again. So I plough on.

Question 5. What would be your dream job and why?

I’d like someone to pay me to write stuff. Preferably on a computer though because this the first time I’ve used a pen in ages and it’s making my hand hurt. If we’re shooting for the moon though can I say Superman? Not Welling Superman though, because I know he’s on your show but he’s a bit of a pussy though. Maybe Adventures of Lois and Clark Superman. Although Kristen Kreuk is a hottie, I’ll give you that.

It’s all starting to go wrong at this point. Maybe because I’ve realised that I’m only on page two of six.

Question 6. What are you currently shouting about?

Well my hand hurts but not so much as to cause an audible yelp.

I appear to have tried to start a running gag on an application form, and the worst part is that it isn’t even a good joke.

The next few questions are all about what my internet use is like, which sites I write for, which sites I visit. If I’m honest I probably shouldn’t have put Wimps and Posers, Leave the Hall above E4.com. By the time I get to end of these though I seem to have run out of enthusiasm.

Question 11. What do you search for online?

My last five searches were for; Ryan Adams discography, Theo Walcott and Melanie Slade, Homeless Cylon, How long do you steam chicken breast for, Harriet Wheeler. I can’t even remember who she is.

Question 12. How do you stay ahead of the game?

I have a car.

Zing!

Question 13. Think about your favourite E4 characters, past or present. Tell us why you love them.

They weren’t Rick Edwards.

Question 14. Now tell us about your worst E4 characters and why you just can’t stand them.

Rick Edwards again. I just don’t like his face. Or anything about him really. Oh, you don;t have Fearne Cotton do you? I don’t like her either.

I really don’t though.

Question 15. If you were the boss of E4 for a week what would you do?

Fire the person who made this application so long. I mean my hand really hurts!

Question 16. is there an E4 show you;d sell your Gran for? Tell us why.

Well both my Grans are dead. So thanks for bringing up that memory.

I feel I may have lost the gig at this point. Or at one of several earlier points.

Question 17. Is there an E4 program you can’t stand, and if so what would you do to improve it?

You drastically improved Friends by not showing it any more. I suggest the same remedy for Hollyoaks.

Question 18. What are your interests/hobbies apart from loving E4, obviously?

At this point I may have done another little retch and felt a little bit more of my soul shrivelling and dying.

Filling in questionnaires

Then there’s some more stuff about my likes and dislikes. I’ll save you that. I’m quite impressed you’ve made it this far though. WELL DONE YOU!

Question 22. What would you bring to the party as an E4’er?

Enthusiasm coupled with a crippling sense of Ennui. And a sore hand.

I BROUGHT IT BACK AGAIN. YOU KNOW, FROM EARLIER?

Then some more guff, until finally;

Question 26. Any additional comments you’d like to add?

I realised that I may have lost them a bit at various places in the application, so I thought I’d round off with my now trademark running gag, and a sudden burst of youthful enthusiasm.

You owe me an ice pack for my hand. PICK ME!!!

I think the three exclamation marks really added the requisite gravitas.

Readily enthused by finishing, I rushed to the scanner and uploaded the finished result. The deadline was to be a week later, we were promised a response if successful two weeks later.

And what a rollercoaster the next three weeks would be. During that time I managed to convince myself that we would be victorious, and dreamed of a site overhaul to match the corporate purple of the Fatherland, and where I would put the big sign on the front page screaming ‘AS APPROVED BY E4!!!

But then the strangest thing happened. I didn’t get the response. I figured they had extended the deadline, so I waited some more. The site seemed to close down for a bit. I attached my form as an email and sent it to every mailbox on the E4.com site. I sent paper copies. I cried a lot, and then I retreated into myself, pausing only to occasionally read the Pokemon letters and wonder what could have been.

It is only now that I can really admit the truth to myself. E4 doesn’t want us. We’re not going legit. I don’t know how I’ll break it to Noel. He’ll be devastated.