Friday, 1 October 2010

Jimmy Eat World - Invented

First things first, the latest release from Jimmy Eat World doesn’t feature a ‘Lucky Denver Mint’, a ‘Sweetness’ or a ‘Big Casino’. Unlike previous efforts bearing such immediate anthems, Invented is one to be consigned to the ‘slow burner’ category. You know the type, those that you can sense the quality of from the first listen, but just doesn’t grab you as you may expect, and rather you hope you have the patience to let it grow on you rather than let it remain on a shelf forever.

Not that Invented is by any means a bad album, nor that the pop hooks and driving riffs are entirely absent this time around. Lead single ‘My Best Theory’ in particular is anchored by a catchy chorus and a truly uplifting bridge section. But something seems to hold them back from fully soaring as they have done in the past. This is perhaps in part due to overproduction, surprising as that is considering they are working with Mark Trombino, who handled both Bleed American and Clarity.

In any case, it just so happens that for much of the record the band are content to remain in dreamier downbeat territory, which at worst leads to decidedly bland cuts such as ‘Stop’ and ‘Littlething’ but at best serves to highlight Jim Adkins’ ability to proudly wear his heart on his sleeve and yet retain some sense of dignity. Few could deliver the lines ‘Can you see it in my eyes?/You’re always in my head/ You’re just what I wanted’ with such sincerity and conviction as he does here without sounding like a total sap. In some sense this is what makes the two ballads that close the album the most intriguing section of the record. Even this late in their career, Adkins can still seem earnest in his sentiments as he conveys the bewilderment and excitement of youthful relationships.

In an ideal world then, Jimmy Eat World would still be found on the soundtrack to any all-American teen drama, albeit no longer scoring the house party scenes quite so often as the more tender moments.


Friday, 28 May 2010

Four Year Strong - Enemy of the World

Pop punk. Hardcore punk. Two subgenres whose very names indicate a polar opposition beneath an umbrella term? Two approaches majorly at odds with one another with respect to their understanding of both an attitude and aesthetic? Well, if so, a handful of bands that have emerged in the last few years who fuse the sing-along major key refrain with the machine gun chug breakdown, along with their army of fans putting the bounce into alt club dancefloors, would suggest we are gravely mistaken.

For those who are still sceptical however, Four Year Strong may have produced just the record to convert them. That is, if they can make it past the gaudy artwork (which features the band as a variety of machismo dream alter egos, including a centaur with an assault rifle and some sort of ‘wolf herd’) and the even more cringeworthy songtitles (‘This Body Pays the Bill$’ anyone?). they manage to make the counterintuitive mix of genres sound natural, managing to be at times crushingly heavy, at others anthemic, and yet always effortlessly catchy.

While they aren’t inventing the wheel, and their lyrics aren’t exactly profound, there’s a sense that you wouldn’t want them to be, part of their appeal is in the simple pleasures offered, from the intermittent blasts that announce the opener ‘It Must Really Suck to be Four Year Strong Right Now’, to the glorious gang vocals prevalent throughout tracks such as ‘What the Hell is a Gigawatt?’.

One way in which the album does fall short unfortunately is in its over-production. It lends a saccharine quality to some hooks which could make it palatable for the mainstream, which detracts from its punk credentials. At times a more raw edge would be most welcome. Even so, the album provides a great guilty pleasure summer soundtrack, and one you will definitely head back to when your more judgemental friends aren’t around.

4 out of 5

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

South by South Yorkshire @ O2 Academy, 28/04/10

A showcase of the county’s hotly tipped young talent, South by South Yorkshire promised to be an evening of great value, at only £2 for 5 bands as part of the Sensoria Festival. However, evidently the publicity for the event was a little lacklustre, judging by the small attendance on the night.

Nevertheless, opener Serious Sam Barratt puts in a performance worthy of a much bigger audience. Adorned in a T-shirt emblazoned with the legend ‘Texas’, a trucker cap and playing his intricately fingerpicked rootsy folk with his eyes glued shut throughout, you’d be forgiven for thinking the young man has travelled across the pond to join us. However, tracks such as ‘White Rose’ reveal that while his aesthetic owes much to our cousins across the pond, his song writing impetus is authentically rooted in the experience of the Yorkshire everyman. He threatens to steal the show early on, but while intriguing and impressive at first, his act becomes rather familiar by the end of his set.

That said, familiarity between one’s own songs is perhaps better than familiarity between a band’s work and that of countless others. It is a shame that more have arrived in time to see Oblong, the second band of the evening, at whom this criticism may be levelled. Their grunge influenced rock is played out with a great deal of enthusiasm, but makes little impression. They do improve as the set goes on however, particularly by closer ‘Disappointment’.

The Crookes are a perfect antidote however, with their sprightly, nostalgic pop sensibilities crafted to a point where one might question if one has gone back in time to somewhere much, much happier. The lads clearly enjoy themselves on stage, particularly exuberant this evening. In keeping with their twee image, front man George Waite tells us they are going a ‘bit doolally’ in their apparently tired state. Rather.

It’s quite the mystery as to how they are placed lower on the bill than Standard Fare, whose breezy indie pop shows potential with some catchy riffs and solid drum beats but rarely quite provides us with the killer chorus they deserve.

Unfortunately, more people bear witness to them than headliners Grammatics, which is perhaps inevitable when they aren’t to take to the stage until past midnight on a weekday. When waif front man Owen Brinley looks out over the few still assembled before him, the disappointment is all too visible in his demeanour. Shame on those that left early; they treat those remaining with a set ranging from out and out bombast to slow burning, hypnotic brood and manages to be catchy at both ends of the spectrum. Yes, this is pop Jim, but not as we know it: underpinned by the unconventional use of cello, distorted guitars and synths, they manage to create a mix of sounds that is utterly compelling in a live setting.

Yorkshire certainly has talent, so it seems, its just a shame a few more of its residents didn’t come to be aware of it this evening.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Bleaklow - L'Etranger

Bleaklow-an area of highland terrain in the Peaks that in the worst conditions may be the most taxing to brave. An immense landscape that may be both difficult and rewarding for those that persevere. Fittingly, Bleaklow is also the name chosen by a group of local student lads with a penchant for creating expansive soundscapes from their basement that may at times prove harsh, but are underpinned by a certain splendour. Clearly inspired by the vastness of the countryside surrounding our fair city, they take us on a real sonic journey, traversing unforgiving crunchy distortion towards flowing melodies of tapped guitars and finally lifting us upwards with moments of shimmering beauty.
What is astounding is that such an epic vision is achieved by an unsigned three piece. The whole thing just sounds so big. Each of the four tracks on this EP is distinctive, yet there is a seamless flow from one track to the next. From the sinister stab and shuffle that kickstarts opener ‘No Shadows’, to the swirling guitar lines of ‘Birdsong’, to the sombre serenity of ‘Belvedere’, and finally 10 minute closer ‘In the World to Come’ it provides a full showcase for their promising talents. This final track is the real highlight and truly marks the band out as ones to watch in future. Emerging in swells of feedback, we are taken through crushing riffs and onwards to a hopeful, uplifting close.
In a nutshell, their sound shares characteristics with the more recent output of Isis and Cult of Luna- widescreen instrumental metal, as comfortable with the serene as the tempestuous-and while they understandably aren’t quite as accomplished as such genre luminaries, this is as close as you’d ever expect to hear from such humble upstarts. Their talent and understanding of shifting dynamics is already evident and given time one can only hope that they can improve further.

4 stars

(I wrote this review a while ago but it got lost until now)

Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip @ Foundry 14/03/10

Scroobius Pip has lofty ambitions. ‘I’ve decided I’m going to run for president, not Prime Minister, that sounds so boring…I’m going to become the UK’s first president’ he announces. Armed with props ranging from soapbox platforms, a hefty book from which he reads his ‘sermons’, an armchair to recline upon during instrumental breaks and the contents of a dressing up box, he holds us in a trance from start to finish. It’s almost tempting to believe his feat possible.
Yet we aren’t to forget that he operates as art of a duo, DJ Dan Le Sac fully staking a claim for recognition this evening. Their new album ‘The Logic of Chance’ has so far found a bemused response from critics due to its greater emphasis on the danceable, rather than the eloquent storytelling of their debut. This shift makes all the more sense in a live setting, helping break Pip’s spell and get our feet moving. Recent single ‘Get Better’, with its inherently singable chorus consisting of the repetition of its title, goes down particularly well.
Being the first night of their tour, the night doesn’t run perfectly smoothly. Le Sac has apparently ‘not saved’ the setlist on his laptop, and so for the most part the pair seem to be muddling through. ‘Magician’s Assistant’ with it’s the impact of a suicide is dropped very early on. This may or may not have been to plan, Pip remarking on the sombre tone set and calling for preceding numbers to be somewhat more upbeat. However, any lack of coherence across songs is bridged by the uncommonly compelling banter the two have between themselves and with the crowd.
‘Letter from God to Man’ is perhaps the perfect encore as a showcase of both men’s talents in the one’s remarkable depiction of a humble God’s dismay at the actions of mankind and the other’s inspired Radiohead sampling in the outro, which is twisted out into all sorts of new forms, making for a finale that gets the whole room bouncing.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Invasion / Bo Ningen @ Bungalows and Bears 28/02/10

Bo Ningen are an absolute sight to behold as well as a sound to be heard. Four worryingly skinny Japanese guys with dead straight chest length hair who specialise in making some of the most frustratingly hard to pin down music you’ve ever heard. One minute all galloping bombast, the next lurching bass and frail trippy ambience, and then total freakout; wailing guitars, booming bass and shrieked vocals. Bassist / vocalist Taigen leads the spectacle. A man possessed, he thrashes himself about with apparently boundless energy, clambering on top of his amplifier, often holding his hands aloft when they aren’t required otherwise, his fingers twitching seemingly of their own accord.

By the end of the set guitars are held aloft by their headstocks and twirled in huge arcs with joyous abandon, while swirls of feedback and cymbal crashes engulf the venue. An absolute revelation.

Invasion are unfortunate to have such a ridiculously tough act to follow. They are after all one of the most interesting metal prospects the UK has produced recently, unusual for a number of reasons. Firstly, as they have no bassist, secondly as they are comprised of two thirds females, and thirdly because they rely on an effect heavy, fuzzy guitar sound that harkens back to the genre’s roots, rather than the crunchy, down-tuned distortion that is most commonly favoured today.

They show that they are capable of bringing a degree of theatricality to even the smallest of shows. Frontwoman Chan cutting the figure of a dark priestess in her psychedelic robe, hood up, feet bare and tambourine shaking. Drummer Zel, with the aid of a quick squirt of lighter fluid, sets fire to her cymbals halfway through the set and they end, in typical rock and roll fashion, with guitarist Marek nonchalantly tossing his axe into the air, letting it drop to the floor and crack in two. Splendid.

None of this overly distracts from the music however, its lack of low end barely noticeable and hardly lacking, considering Malek’s uncanny knack of creating a stream of positively groovy riffs at breakneck speed without the aid of a four stringer.

For the few that braved the cold, this Sunday night held a treat. The rest of Sheffield just doesn’t know what it missed out on.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Butterfly Explosion @ Corporation 16/02/10

Cutting an unassuming presence as they first take to the stage shrouded in shadow, The Butterfly Explosion have a great deal to live up to considering the ‘audio-visual show’ promised by tonight’s headliners, God is an Astronaut. However, the Dublin five-piece are perhaps protégés of their hosts, whose Torsten Kinsella recently produced their debut album, and put in a great performance of their own.

Although many are touting them as shoegaze revivalists, and they are indeed at times all wailing guitars, underpinned by lush synth and hushed vocals, their sound incorporates strong post rock influences - slow burning compositions tend to ebb and flow before the crashing tide. While their tentative introductions may seem to lack punch, a little patience definitely pays off by the time they hit huge crescendos, absolute waves of noise that engulf the entire room and hold the assembled punters in the desired trance.

If there can be one complaint to level at the band however, it is that founding member Gazz Carr’s vocals are underwhelming given the epic nature of the rest of their sound. While not taking anything away from the music, being so low in the mix, they don’t exactly add a great deal either and at times it is questionable if they are at all necessary. Perhaps a greater set of lungs would see them soar beyond their already considerable highs.

While the band do not carry themselves with a particularly notable stage presence, they let their music do the talking, along with a fairly impressive light show, hinting at what is to come from the headliners. The night still belongs to them, but even with such a short set at only four songs, The Butterfly Explosion mark themselves as ones to look out for in future.