Philm – Harmonic

Dave Lombardo, world’s greatest drummer but none, is reinventing the power trio, with Garry Nestler of Civil Defiance fame on guitar and vocal duties, and Pancho Tomaselli of funk dilettantes, War on bass. They attempt to mesh the various backgrounds together, thrash and metal, a bit of funk, fat riffs that sounds like disaffected Californian punk from the eighties. Occasional forays into east coast hardcore. The vocals involve some emotive screaming and the energy levels a high.

The album starts off sounding like American punk and hardcore of the early eighties, somewhere between Black Flag and Adolescents, maybe, except with far superior drumming. Vitriolize, Mitch, Hun blur by at a fair clip. Mitch even dares to veer close to Slayer territory, sort of. It’s as close as the record comes, anyway, until you realise that you can actually hear the bass. All along, it’s punctuated by the thunderous blows of Lomabaro’s drumming, using a stripped down, 4 piece kit. It’s barely able to contain his energy, or the extra couple of arms he appears to be sporting. Hun is a more Bleach era Nirvana kind of noise. Some of the riffing leans heavily in that kind of direction, early grunge, maybe even a hint of less sanitised R.A.T.M. The next track Areas, pack a great chorus. Garry’s voice, gravelly and dark can also melodise, apparently. He gets to invoke scary imagery with a kind of lilting menace: Spiders making their nest. Shudder.

Way Down, is a kind of febrile blues number, starting with a slow, uneasy riff that explodes into a web of guitar soloing. This is power trio territory, after all, a kind of Cream tribute with some extra dissonance thrown in. But the guitar chops are right out of the blues handbook, and a load of chugging, distorted delay isn’t going to hide that. This is Philm’s trick, then, to play an aggressive American Punk noise, but to have the underlying ability to veer off into the unknown, as it were. Here in the gooey, weird centre of this record, the title track Harmonic, Philm go from atmospheric, to a kind of Brand X jamming that isn’t quite improv. They can play, for sure, but only one of them is The Greatest at what he does.

Sex Amp brings us back on point. The riff, the pounding, the emotive screaming, and the album veers between this kind of rocking, and some more, spacier, solo-filled instrumental numbers until its conclusion. With fifteen tracks, and clocking in at over an hour, there’s a lot of information to take in. The ability of the cast here makes the wig outs and prog attempts acceptable listening. It is in fact in the short sharp shock of the rocking numbers where a certain sameness begins to creep in. Lombardo is still god, however, so everything is forgiven, and the man certainly knows how to vary his game.

Harmonic is out on May 14th on Ipecac Recordings.


Lost muzak

World in my eyes, the Depeche Mode tune, which Tychonaut recorded many thousands of years ago in a shed in Dublin 7. Donal found it, by accident one imagines, and not while googling himself.

It’s pretty good, featuring some stomping drumming from John. Should have been released on something in the UK but fate intervened. The fucker.

Yeah, Fate. It were him.

Review : Grimes – Visions

Grimes -Visions

Reviewing Grimes is a futile exercise. The internet has already told you how to feel about Claire Boucher’s music. Either you’re all over that band wagon or you hate the internet telling you how to feel, and thus, you hate Grimes. With good cause too. She’s terrible.

Well, no she’s not. That’s controversy, it’s how the internet works. Grimes, or Grimey as she prefers to be know (I assume), may well become a world wide (web) sensation, seemingly through no fault of her own. He voice is a weird mixture of Tiffany, Alison Shaw from The Cranes and Alvin, of Chipmunks fame. There are washes of vocals, layers of filtered, processed lines, draped over the minimal beats. It’s hard to know exactly which voice is the real Boucher, if indeed there’s a naked, raw vocal take on the album. At nearly 50 minutes the record feels too long, that there’s not enough by way of variation, or not enough really great tunes to fill out that much time.

There are moments of pure pop inspiration. Genesis, Vowels = Space and Time, (on which there are glimpses of her real voice, and how good it could be), Be a Body and the somewhat beautiful Skin. The overall effect of spending so long in this record is of being left cold by the relative lack of humanity. Like spending time with a robot dog or Keanu Reeves or something equally mechanical and expressionless. The necessary diametric opposite of listening to some solipsistic tosser with an acoustic guitar emoting about the poo he had that morning, but sometimes it’s good to hear emotions, in playing, in an unprocessed voice. This is pop music; where is the smut, dirt, grinding and sex? Where, in fact, is the grime?

This is a very now record, the kind of music the mp3 was invented to carry. It sounds encoded. When it works, it’s terrific, but otherwise I’m left with an overwhelming sense of ambivalence. Which of course means that the internet may be wrong. However it’s evident that there’s a real talent underneath the layers, and as she progresses we’ll get to know more about it. That is, of course, if the inevitable backlash leaves anything left. Visions intrigues, lets just hope she’s allowed to flourish further.

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.