Review: Dirty Three – Toward the Low Sun

Dirty Three – Toward the Low Sun

It’s been seven years since the last record of Australian demigods Dirty Three. The members have of curse been pretty busy in that time, lending their various skills to other acts, Bonnie Prince Billy, Nick Cave, Cat Power and a plethora of left of centre touchstones. As musicians their stock is always high, and rightly so. No one quite makes music like the Dirty Three.

With ‘Furnace Skies’, the album starts with the kind of distorted loop that Warren Ellis is now used to serving up with Grinderman and the Bad Seeds, and the immediate thought it that that will be the prevailing idiom throughout. This ain’t the case, for when Jim White’s frenetic drum scats come in, you know you’re in a Dirty Three record. White’s style is as singular as ever, the crazy barely contained, capricious energy almost kept in check by sticking a drum kit in front of him. Over this heavy loop and mad-jazz stick work, Mick Turner’s guitar makes its spidery way and Ellis’s more familiar vio-mauda-lin murmurs.

‘Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone’ features a piano, chords mournfully plucked out, like random thoughts, Jim White’s drumming pacing the floorboards. ‘The Pier’ rocks with a nearly irregular ebb and flow, ‘Rain Song’ shows us that Ellis has picked up a thing or two from playing with Cave over the years. One can hear his voice rumbling over the top, if you squint your ears. White is at his most restrained, merely playing a beat, keeping strict time on the ride cymbal, a regular tapity-tap of drops against a window, while Ellis constructs a conversation over by the fireplace. ‘Ashen Snow’s heartfelt refrain tugs at you, while allowing the song to swell, and crash against the rocks.

While they can still indulge the melancholic, the “duende” Cave famously ascribed to them, on ‘Toward The Low Sun’ they also swell with a vigour and rare sunniness, as if revelling in the fact that these three disparate men are finally back in front of the microphones again, and simply enjoying that fact.

Dirty Three are and always have been an elemental band: chords gather like clouds, beats are released like torrential rain. Other times they can be as calming as the sucking tide, or crackle like a fire. Album and song titles have always reflected the scapes around them, sea, land and of course, sound. They always play as if they’re not entirely in control, led by the vagaries of nature, trying to encapsulate in sound, on the precipice of falling, but never actually letting go. At this, they are legendary, and while they let their muse dance a merry jig in the gloaming, the never lose sight of it. Just beautiful work.


Review: Tindersticks – The Something Rain

Tindersticks – The Something Rain

A Tindersticks review is a curious thing. It’s more of an exercise in reassurance. If Tindersticks were to branch out into drum and bass, or bossanova, or Stuart Staples were to duet with Lana Del Rey, people would need to know. Otherwise the perceived wisdom would be to write “all is well” and the average Tindersticks fan would know exactly what that means. Stuart is still grumbling, crackling in that dolorous, beautiful croak of his. The music is still laid back, seemingly normal, with those odd pulses of unease lingering in the background. The subject matter is still in thrall to the banal seediness of everyday life. It’s still an evocation of stained carpets. Flickering and buzzing neon signs above deserted kebab shops. Cinema foyers draped in faded crimson velvet, vaguely reeking of damp. Pubs with wonky chairs and chipped glasses. The ordinary desperation of people trying to find some kind of meaning in each other. The City Sickness, as Stuart once observed. It’s a melting pot or ordinary horrors and quiet desperation, soundtracked by these louche, besuited minstrels.

‘Chocolate’ is the opening track, and we’re straight into the Stapes staple; a narrated story of a dingy bedsit and one night stands, meted out in a dispassionate natter (not Stuart, this time). But of course it is. It builds up, from gentle chords to an angry, buzzing sax solo, after which the punchline is revealed. Ordinary perversion. ‘Show Me Everything’, with its springless snare and stabs of female vocals follows a similar curve: instruments and musicians letting go of restraint as the song progresses, until the horns start to howl in the background, like a fight happening on the street just outside the pub you’re in, while Stuart does an impression of an evil Brian Ferry. Every track reveals another layer as it progresses, the tinkle of a xylophone, a subtle swell of violin, backing vocalists to help with the chorus dynamic.

The playing is impeccable. It’s 20 years now since the Tindersticks first took their tiny plays to the boards, and it shows. These days the saxophone is a player, where once it was the violin and strings that would have augured the misery. It makes for a more loungy, debauched feel that of the olden ‘Sticks sound. There’s still strings, vibes and that farfisa sounding organ. There’s still various shakers, sensible drumming. It all sounds magnificent, perfectly produced, and recorded in Stuart’s own studio out the back of his house in the south of France. About as far removed from a vomit streaked, chip littered, fight encumbered hinterland high street on a Saturday night as you might get. And yet, you can hear that it’s the desperate compromises and mistakes that make a Saturday night so tackily cathartic, or the sybaritic symbiosis of a broken relationship that still fascinate the Tindersticks. So there you go, all is well. It’s safe to enter The Something Rain, just don’t be expecting no sunshine. As if you would.

Review: The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

It would be easy to avoid a band called the Twilight Sad. The initial reaction might be that the words “saga is” are missing. But this ain’t the case. This is the Twilight Sad’s third studio offering, and they’ve been on the go since 2004, so it’s all no more than a tragic coincidence. But the name seems overtly miserable, theatrically so. TTS aren’t going to make 3 minute, shiny pop nuggets, are they?

But of course they’re not, it’s dark, moody, emotional. Breakup music. Music for the lights out. Music to contemplate the futility of it all.

Facile comparisons to Interpol or Editors could be made, but that would kind of put far too much stock in the canon of those, and other, bands who proliferated in the last decade, all of whom desecrated the tombs of new wave, post punk gothiness and paraded it around with much less élan than the originals. I like to think, listening to this effort from The Twilight Sad that they’ve leapfrogged over their predecessors right to the source material. It is an album immersed in the late seventies and early eighties, and the distillation of the influences that spurred on the era’s best bands; krautrock and punk feed back to us through the prism of PiL and Xmal, Sisters, Cabaret Voltaire and early The Cure. Of course, I could be wrong, but the sentiment seems real, right down the nihilistic song titles (Sick, Nil, Don’t Look At Me, etc), and apparent self flagellating angst. At least, I think it is. Vocalist James Graham’s voice is accent heavy, almost sounding as if it’s in another language, and adds another layer of authenticity. Back then the charts were awash with accents, particularly Scottish ones. It’s an accent that works with the post punk. Stewart Adamson knew it, Jim Kerr used to. Lyrically, I have no idea what he’s saying, which suits me, frankly, but he gives it a raw passion. He understands the dynamics required to pull off a chorus.

Keyboards dominate, analogue synths, organs that sound like sheer walls. We’re trapped within, obviously, sharing in TTS’s introspection and intensity. Dead City borrows Neu’s motorik beat, but speeds it up. The bass is fuzzed, and propelling. Most of the stuff is like this, heavy downward strokes on the bass, a dry snare, a good pace throughout. They slow it down, occasionally and not by too much, doing a organ heavy balled on Nil, waiting until just the right moment to bring in the thumping drums. Don’t be put off by what is an awful name, this album is pretty good. Unless of course you’re into shiny pop nuggets, in which case I HATE YOU. Now, off I go to carve my ex’s name into my arm.

No One Can Ever Know is out now on Fat Cat.

Review: Ferocious Fucking Teeth

Ferocious Fucking Teeth

Sun, like honey, in a jar. Pour that jar over yourself, it’s sunshine, after all. Lie down on the newly cut grass, listen to children laugh as they play. Watch your loved one sit in rapt concentration, reading some really deadly book. Life is lovely. If this is you, you’ve done okay. I like what you’ve done with your life, and your interior seems sound. Your job is great, you just love what you do. Your significant other is a graphic designer, and it’s great to be around such creativity. You get on with your parents, dad even had a chat with you about lending you some money for a down payment on a lovely house. You’ve had an orgasm recently, and it was good. People look at you as you walk down the street. You keep sun, like honey, in a jar. Your work colleagues think you’re cool, your boss ask you for advice. You’re sad that the recession has hit so many people, but really, you haven’t felt it pinch yet. Phew, eh? Your life is great. This is a review for a band called Ferocious Fucking Teeth. Piss off.

FFT’s debut album is Albini “produced”. That means basically, point microphones, roll a spliff. I mean, tape. Roll a tape. Albini’s sound is intrinsically annoying. It sounds like he can’t be bothered, but that’s his thing, and it becomes an artifice for the bands involved. However, he gets a mean drum sound, and FFT are a band with two drummers. Not in an Adam and The Ants way neither. 

The sound veers from Earth-esque slowness, chords held and fading out, nothing but a bass drum thumping, and a more abrasive hardcore, with shouting and the odd riff. The guitar sound through out is heavy, very distorted. There’s no bass, so to speak, just a baritone guitar, which just adds to the fug of distortion. On some tunes, such as the wonderfully titled Fuck on a Weeknight, there’s a molasses type heaviness, which pins you to your seat. The dual drumming sounds like insects desperately trying to escape this amber. There is no escape, because you can’t see the light. You don’t know where you are, because of this oppressive weight, and the black treacle of an overly fuzzed baritone guitar is pressing down on your solar plexus. The vocals scream out. Oh sweet Jesus. You used to have sunshine, in a fucking jar, and now look at you. I warned you. I did.

Ferocious Fucking Teeth is out on March 3rd on Safety Meeting.

Review: Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth

Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth

What’s that tapping sound, is it…no..yes…it’s my foot! Well there you have it, review by extremity. 28 years ago it was 1984, and the world was covered in spandex. With their album, the coincidentally titled 1984, selling roughly 12,000,000 units per second, Van Halen lorded it over the hairwaves. It was the ’80s, everything was big. Hair was big, crotch bulges were big, bands travelled the world in liveried jumbo jets and Alex Van Halen’s bass drum sounded like a bomb going off. Van Halen ruled the world (Eddie even contributing his trademark axe shredding sound to the decade’s biggest record Thriller), and were set to play gigs on the Sun, Moon and apparently Jupiter.

But it all came to a head. Infighting led to Lee Roth leaving the band. After all, when it came down to it, it wasn’t his name on the side of the jet, and with a burgeoning solo career in the offing off he went. Van Halen drafted in Sammy Hagar, whose hair wasn’t nearly as big, and, inevitably fell out with him. Then the guy from soft rock warblers Extreme. Then he left. They fell out with bassist Michael Anthony, and he left too (they have replaced him on this album with Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, and the boy, it seems, can play. He was born in 1991. Dave Lee Roth has codpieces that are older).

But they couldn’t stay mad at Diamond Dave Lee Roth for ever. He’s a cool guy. And those stage antics, the running and jumping and doing the splits that apparently so enraged Eddie Van Halen sometime last century must be a thing of the past, what with Dave entering his 150th year on this earth. Now it’s just about the music man. And the music is the way it used to be. Honest to goodness, toe and head tapping Heavy Rawk. The years roll back, which works both ways. Hasn’t the world moved on?

A lot has happened in the world in those intervening years. Governments come and go, buildings collapse, wars are waged, bubbles have burst. In Van Halen’s world things are pretty much as they left it when Dave stormed off in a huff. ‘Tattoo’ , the opening track, is a song that very well might be about a tattoo. That’s the level we’re at here, stomping, solo-encumbered blues rock, about tattoos, rather than fiduciary concerns or socio-political problems. Tattoos and of course women, or “girls” as they’re known in California, and having a rare ould time despite having a new hip put in. No subject is too trivial to rock to, after all.

“We came through blood and fire” sings Lee Roth, on ‘Blood and Fire’. Perhaps it’s a euphemism for “drugs and ego clashes”. “Told ya I was coming back”, he says, although I don’t recall this conversation. The album never relents on this pace and rockingness. What it doesn’t have is any keyboards, and is more reminiscent of pre 1984 Van Halen, with not a lot of overdubs, save for a few extra solos shoehorned in here and there. There’s no lame attempts at drum and bass, no dubstep version of ‘Jump’, nothing remotely modern, thank god. It’s as if time has stood still, the stonewashed denim preserved in aspic. But why would they change, this is the music that made them gazillionaires and afforded them the luxury of owning their own continent, Vanhalen’s land, just off Australia. The scary thing is, what with batwings and shoulder pads, emigration and synthpop being all the current rage among those with their original hips, perhaps the ’80s’ other great gift to popular culture, the crotch-stuffed, tight-strided, swagger-infused Hair Rock of Ratt and Poison and those lot is due a comeback. Perhaps Van Halen are the Van Guard of the new perm-rock. Someone let Mama’s Boys know.

All hail the new truth, same as the old truth. Amen.

Review: Earth – Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II

Earth – Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II

It took the earth a billion years before it was able to sustain life. That seems like a long time. About as long as it takes Earth, the popular rock music group, to get to the point. But that’s the point of Earth, there is no point. Earth have always been as much about the space between the notes, than the actual notes themselves. Here’s a band that are now adept, virtuoso in fact, at playing silence. It’s always seemed that it’s in the spaces between the notes that they were saying the most.

Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II, recorded at the same time as AoDDoL I, picks up where the last record left off with Sigil of Brass, slowly plucked notes, mutterings of cello, washes of cymbals. Not much else, but the soft ebb of a decaying note. The cello provides the rhythm for And His Teeth Did Brightly Shine, and guitars meander around on top, Richard Thompson on Calvary Cross style perhaps, augmented by the odd rattle. Space is suddenly at a premium. A Multitude Of Doors has a busy cello, Lori Goldston , once of Nirvana, free forming liquid lines across the background, never letting you settle. The Coroscene Dog is almost jaunty, but not quite, where as The Rakehell takes what amounts to a blues riff, and twists it over twelve minutes.

Although the pace rarely, if ever, musters the energy to get up to a shuffle, the over all impression is almost of a kind of lightness or optimism. Earth will still take one idea, and draw it out, slowly and painstakingly, for as long as it seems it can take it. This time the ideas themselves seem slightly more involved, complex, by Earth standards. At times, as the band play, it sounds like Crazy Horse after they came across a stash of Ketamine, which is to say that Earth almost swagger about this record. It’s taken a billion years, but there is life on Earth, just in time for the inevitable apocalypse.

Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II will be released by Southern Lord on February 14th. Earth play The Button Factory on March 5th.

Review: Duran Duran – o2 Dublin

Do you remember the eighties, asks Nick Rhodes. It’s pretty clear given the age profile of the crowd here, that everyone does. Duran Duran would have been important to many of us here, many years ago, as important as Top of the Pops was, and roller discos and emigration and all that stuff that we remember so fondly. Duran were the biggest, smoothest band on earth. Even Goths were allowed like ‘Save A Prayer’. It could be argued that after four years the ride was over, and the decent tracks they’ve released since them comprise the exceptions, rather than the rule. That’s not an argument you’re gonna have with Simon, John, Roger and Nick, however.

With ‘View To A Kill’ and ‘Planet Earth’ making early appearances, it augurs well, and perhaps they won’t play anything that came after 1987. But of course, Duran Duran are a going concern, proud of their new material as they are of their back catalogue. It can all be indulged, and after a few songs that people aren’t able to sing along to, yet performed with gusto, they offer us the occasional celebration of our collective youths. ‘Is There Something I Should Know’, ‘The Reflex’, ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’, ‘Notorious’. ‘Ordinary World’ was a song that undid much of the damage Duran had done to their own reputation with their late eighties, early nineties output, and here they give it an unfortunately syrupy bent, augmented with a little speech about how Simon misses his mate Michael Hutchence, and Amy Winehouse and Jimi, and Beethoven and Brendan Behan and Edith Sitwell and basically anyone who’s dead.

After ‘Tiger Tiger’, an instrumental number from Seven and the Ragged Tiger and the evening’s only curveball, Le Bon returns, rejuvenated, jumping off drum risers, throwing shapes. They launch into ‘White Lines’, a song about cocaine, from their occasionally ill-judged Thank You covers album. I’ve often wondered if they completely misinterpreted the track. While there’s no doubt that Duran take themselves very seriously, they’ve embraced the absurdity of what they do, back in the day the silk suits and ruffles were worn with a certain knowing canniness, and they’ve always known how to work a crowd.

Now, with leather, sequins, sparkles, tattoos and magnificent coiffure on display, it’s hard not to get taken in by the spectacular tastelessness of this kind of mega pop. Sure there’s at least half a dozen top songs that didn’t make the cut, and sure it sounded occasionally if Simon needed the help of the auto tune, and sure they miss Andy Taylor, but when they come back on for the encore and fly through ‘Wild Boys’, ‘Girls On Film’ and, the piece de resistance, ‘Rio’everyone is sated. And with recessions and immigration back in fashion, and Duran back in people’s heads, how long before the roller disco makes a come back? I for one wait on that with bated breath.