This week: the awesome debut from avant post-punk foursome Zoo Zero, Steve Cradock‘s new psychedelic mod record, and as well as the more mainstream likes of Kings Of Leon and Jake Bugg, I explore some real alternative sounds in the form of the brutal Evil Blizzard. Also new music from Mike Hughes, Trans and Euros Childs and news of upcoming box sets and reissues from The Jam, The Kinks and Anthrax. In the “Rewind” part of the column, the 18th anniversary of the Oasis classic ‘(What’s The Story?) Morning Glory’ coincides perfectly with the latest instalment of my musical memories, where I recall hearing it for the first time in 1995…
Terms like “drone rock” and avant garde can make some think of boring, tuneless noise with no rhythm or structure. On the contrary, London four piece Zoo Zero are sharp, energetic and exciting while also capable of tripping into weirder, more cosmic places. Their sense of melody and how they utilise it throughout these tracks is what makes them stand out from the rest. The awesome ‘Fraktion’ confirms their arrival by whipping up a storm, as an accelerating motorik beat brings an element of krautrock into the picture, and the tense vocals highlight a somewhat manic quality. The guitars are also key elements; one second they’re ringing out harmoniously, the next they’re urgently tearing into furious riffs, and by the end they’re growling, squealing and crackling in amongst a howl of feedback. The propulsive bass pounds away at a single note for long periods of time, making for a greater impact when it lifts off for the infectious instrumental hook. One of the best songs of 2013 without a doubt.
An enjoyable 32 minutes absolutely fly by, and its fat-free length means you will often want to press the play button again after it’s finished. It’s too unusual to be able to memorise after one or two listens, but brilliantly intriguing enough to make you want to give it plenty more of your listening time. A fine debut from a truly exciting new band. Read my full review and listen to the album in full HERE.
Steve Cradock is without a doubt a hard working musician who deserves far more credit than he seems to receive. Over the last few decades he has played a part in some fantastic records, most notably those made with Ocean Colour Scene and of course the collaborative work on the large majority of Paul Weller‘s output since the 90’s. The psychedelic sounds explored on Weller’s most recent LPs seemed to creep in to parts of the latest OCS album ‘Painting’, and it was clear which band member was bringing these flavours in to the mix. On Cradock’s third solo outing, we get an undiluted taste of his flower power-meets-Quadrophenia musical visions. Showing he will always be an old mod at heart is the surging highlight ‘Sheer Inertia’, the most energetic moment here, almost like The Who going space-rock, and the jagged guitars and trippy diversions of the brilliantly produced ‘I Am The Sea’. Conjuring up a magical late-summer vibe, the shimmering beauty of ‘The Magic Hour’ is classic Cradock, blessed with sparkling 60’s pop melodies and a stunning chorus, it’s easily up there with the best songs this man has ever worked on.
Trying out different sounds and exploring new territories while also continuing to do what he has always excelled at, on his third solo album Cradock has got the balance just right. ‘Travel Wild Travel Free’ is capable of gaining this artist new converts, winning over those who haven’t been keen on his past offerings and keeping his existing fanbase happy. After this LP’s release, he goes off on tour with Weller before playing a string of solo gigs, and then heading back out on the road with Ocean Colour Scene. And when he’s making great records like this, we should be pleased that music continues to keeps him busy. Read my full review HERE.
I wasn’t expecting much from the new Kings Of Leon long player ‘Mechanical Bull’, but I thought I’d better take a listen to it anyway. They’ve been talking this album up as some kind of return to their roots, but let’s make this clear, there is nothing here that recaptures the boundless energy of their debut album. In fact this could be the most middle of the road album I have heard in a long, long time. Even when they sound like other people (namely Queens Of The Stone Age on the impressive ‘Don’t Matter’ and The Cure on the less thrilling ‘Wait For Me’), they still can’t escape the comfort zone of their Southern-flavoured stadium rock, but although it offers no surprises there are some impressive tracks that show how good their familiar sound is when they do it right. The opening ‘Supersoaker’ combines a touch of the sweat and hunger of their early years with the melancholic qualities of their more recent output, while the upbeat blues of ‘Family Tree’ is probably a future single. Elsewhere the swooning guitars on ‘Comeback Story’ and ‘Coming Back Again’ evoke images of post-summer evening sunsets.
There aren’t any bad songs, but not much to really set the heart racing either. ‘Tonight’ is not far from what a U2 and Aerosmith combination might sound like, a massive hands in the air moment for some, terrifying for others. Ear catching tunes become rarer as the record goes on, and ‘Mechanical Bull’ sounds tired quite a while before the final track. It’s not bad, it’s not horrible to listen to, but a lot of it does little to excite or inspire. 6 out of 10 is a fair score I think.
Jake Bugg‘s self titled debut album from last year is one of the things that makes me wonder exactly who thought it was worthy of being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. It’s a good record with a few brilliant standouts, but not an album of the year. That voice gets a little bit grating over the course of a whole LP too. So I’m not entirely certain if his quickly-recorded follow up ‘Shangri-La’ will impress me more, but the first single from it is a good sign. Just over two minutes long and sounding a bit like Cast playing early Arctic Monkeys material, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ isn’t going to win prizes for the most inventive track of the year, but it’s bloody good fun.
So basically, Kings Of Leon and Jake Bugg both make fairly good MOR mainstream indie/rock. But don’t go calling it “alternative” music. Ever since Britpop put indie music into the mainstream during the 90’s, a lot of people seem to think that if you are in a guitar band and you don’t play heavy metal then you’re automatically “alternative”. Wrong. The polished, major label-backed careerism of certain groups is causing lots of people to claim that the indie scene has lost its spirit. Wrong again, because the bands they’re thinking of have very little to do with the underground and are far from independent. They need to be looking a bit deeper to find the real, beating heart of alternative music today, as much of it is hard to find in amongst so many other things.
Among the various things in my inbox last week was a press release for an upcoming festival taking place soon in Birmingham. I don’t have the money or means to get there, but some of the acts on the bill sounded hugely intriguing. A band with a name such as Evil Blizzard are sure to be worth checking out. It’s not every day you’re confronted by a devastatingly frightening group consisting of four masked bassists, a singing drummer and a theremin designed as a baby head. From what I’ve heard so far, their music comes from a place where the repetitive riffs of The Fall, the sheer darkness of Joy Division and the unhinged energy of Public Image Limited meet the crushing blow of death metal.
Songs are stretched beyond the seven minute mark and are still completely bullshit-free. Thriving on its brutal low-end force, and menacing repetition, the punishing snarl of each bass acts as a foundation for doomy alienated vocals, pulverising riffs and twisted sounds so unusual that it’s often impossible to believe the instruments could be producing them. Louder Than War have signed them to their label and will be releasing their debut album ‘The Dangers Of Evil Blizzard’ on October 19. There are some absolutely laughable “alternative” bands out there who dubiously claim to make “rock” music. This lot would eat them alive.
I like that new track from Euros Childs, him who used to be in Gorky’s Zycotic Mynci. I only really knew three of the singles they released in the late 90’s, all great tracks, and although I was a bit disappointed with the Jonny album Childs made with Teenage Fanclub‘s Norman Blake, I was intrigued to hear what his solo stuff was like. Almost like something off ‘The White Album’, ”Tête-à-tête” is a jaunty, jolly number that really gets into your head after a while, and I also love the way the guitars gently harmonise with the chords, as bizarre lyrics alert the ears every so often (there are corpses under my ice rink” and “I’m not going to dress up like your mother anymore”). The album ‘Situation Comedy’ is our on October 21.
This is the debut single from Mike Hughes, a singer-songwriter from South Yorkshire. Americana influences and somewhat Tarantino-like vibes are evident, as well as strong Morricone flavours and mariachi horns, while still remaining unmistakably British in melody, recalling Ray Davies and Noel Gallagher. Described as ‘apocalyptic gospel blues’ in the press release, the new track has already been picking up radio support from the likes of Steve Lamacq, Mark Radcliffe, Cerys Matthews and Dermot O’Leary. It’s out next week (October 7) and is available digitally HERE. Hughes has also just released a FREE new EP. ‘Live at 2fly’ was recorded in August with Dave Sanderson at 2fly Studios in Sheffield, and is available from his website HERE.
The brilliant return of Suede was one of the things that highlighted ex member Bernard Butler‘s absence from the world of music. Listening to his excellent 1998 album ‘People Move On’ recently was another thing that made me wish this man would return with some new material. So I was rather pleased to hear that he is back with a new group, although it’s very different to Butler’s solo work that’s for sure. Trans is a duo made up of Butler and Jackie McKeown (of The Yummy Fur and The 1990s), and they make for a rather interesting proposition. The music is described as “a cross between Can and Television, a freeform guitar-sparring extension along the path trodden by Quicksilver Messenger Service. Two era-defining guitarists, free from restrictions, undertaking new sonic explorations, this is a project of pure, glorious artistic impulse.” Taking their lead from Klaus Dinger‘s “apache beat” and featuring lovely helpings of intricate guitar, here is a song called ‘Jubilee’, which doesn’t appear to be on their upcoming debut album, out on October 7. Although I’m told that it is in fact an EP, the tracklisting confirms 15 titles. More info HERE.
New albums I’ve been listening to a lot over the past seven days include ‘Glow And Behold’, the wonderful second LP from Yuck, which came out earlier this week on Sep 30. As well as that, Cave‘s ‘Treace’, Holy Ghost!‘s ‘Dynamics’, The Orb‘s 3CD compilation ‘A History Of The Future’, Roy Harper‘s ‘Man And Myth’, the self titled album from Samaris, Moby‘s ‘Innocents’ and Metamono‘s fantastic ‘With The Compliments Of Nuclear Physics’. A lot of those will be reviewed here over the coming weeks.
As well as those I’ve been enjoying the forthcoming deluxe edition of The Kinks‘ ‘Muswell Hillbillies’, where a number of the additional tracks (including a number of previously unreleased songs) are easily as good as the album itself. A few interesting releases I thought I’d better let people know about include the forthcoming 8 piece vinyl box set featuring all six of The Jam‘s studio LPs plus four sides of singles and B sides. It looks beautiful, it will sound astonishing and it comes out on November 26. More info can be found HERE. Also coming soon is ‘Aftershock: The Island Years’, a collection of Anthrax albums made in between 1985 and 1990 plus B sides and live tracks. That’s out in a couple of weeks time on October 14, and more info is HERE.
I’ve also found time to familiarise myself with Spiritualized‘s 1995 classic ‘Pure Phase’ as well as fitting in music from The Fall, Mr C (yes, him out of The Shamen), Pulp, Culture Shock, the soundtrack to ‘The Acid House’ and a compilation called ‘Hit The North’. And I STILL find time to check out most of the new music I’m sent and told about. Call it a passion, or perhaps even an addiction. It’s what I do, and it’s all worthwhile when the process leads to finding something brilliant.
Talking of finding something brilliant…
Can it be really be 18 years since this happened?
One thing in particular dominated October 1995, and would soon come to dominate and define the rest of the decade. On October 2nd Oasis released their second album ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’, which already boasted two hit singles. As well as being influenced by the music my Mum and Dad owned, and learning about some great stuff from family friend John, my Auntie Julie was also responsible for helping me on to a glittering musical path by getting me into Suede and by playing me ‘Definitely Maybe’. Her younger brother, my uncle Justin was another important figure in my life and the development of my musical knowledge. He still lived with my Nan and Grandad, and as well as a collection of model Minis and West Brom football memorabilia he owned a rather interesting selection of CDs and records.
When we’d visit every Sunday, me and my brother would often go up to his room to play the Sega Megadrive and so I could listen to his music collection to find something new to add to my recorded tape collection. A genuinely nice bloke, often Justin would let us go up to his room if he was there or not. He must have only been about 22 at the time, young enough to seem like more of a brother to me and Daniel rather than an uncle. The fact that he owned so many Depeche Mode CDs suggested that this band must be bloody good if they could take up such a large section of his CD rack, and indeed they were. One day, Justin informed me that he had just bought the new Oasis album, and that it was worth a listen. I would often go there with blank tapes, but this time I vaguely remember running out to my Mum’s car to grab something that I could tape over in order to get a copied recording of this album. I knew it was going to be brilliant, and I wasn’t wrong.
When I pressed play and ‘Hello’ roared in, the only word that comes to mind is “excitement”. ‘Roll With It’ I already knew of course, but for some reason it sounded a million times better as the second track on this album. Then I hear ‘Wonderwall’ for the very first time and am immediately reminded of The Beatles: the classic songwriting, the mood, the elegantly subtle strings, and the fact that I KNEW this song was destined to go down in history as one of the all time greats. At first the stolen piano intro from Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ was too hard to ignore when hearing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, but it didn’t take long for this unforgettable anthem to find an eternal place in my heart. ‘Hey Now’ didn’t stick out at first, but grew over time, ‘Some Might Say’ made even more sense in amongst more fantastic songs, ‘Cast No Shadow’ was genuinely moving, and ‘She’s Electric’ was slightly silly, yet brilliantly infectious and impossible not to love. The dramatic title track is a song that makes me feel invincible every time it visits my ears. Every song was a classic.
In terms of a classic album reaching a major climactic peak, the magnificent ‘Champagne Supernova’ is the ultimate rock n roll epic. The way those guitars rev up just before the chorus sent shivers down my spine the first time i listened, and still does so to this very day. Its power made you believe that a band capable of something as incredible as this could do anything. They could be the biggest thing to EVER happen to music and they could change the world.
As an 11 year old, in my eyes everything seemed to be an improvement on before, in fact for a few years afterwards I had faith that a band would only release a new album if it was better than the previous one. After all, my mum wouldn’t buy new wallpaper for the living room if it wasn’t an improvement, so why would a band release new music if they didn’t think it was better than what they had already made? It seemed that Oasis were rising higher and higher, and even though ‘Champagne Supernova’ was truly as good as it got, its magic made you believe that even bigger and better things were to come. It was like the next logical step: they were certain to become the biggest band in Britain, and with music like this they could easily take over the world. The optimism of my pre-teens combined with the crazy times and unstoppable growth of Britpop is something that as a 29 year old in 2013, I would give anything to experience again. Amazing days, exciting times, and incredible music.
The album went to number one and after playing it pretty much non-stop for weeks, I bought myself a proper cassette copy from Woolworths in Trowbridge. As word of mouth spread about how good it was, lots of other people bought it too, although after one week at the top of the charts it was displaced by Simply Red‘s ‘Life’. Hard to believe eh? I don’t need to tell you which album went on to make the biggest impact.
I preferred Blur in some ways, or at least I wanted to. I certainly respected them more as people, and initially agreed with my Dad that the Gallaghers were a pair of troublemaking louts. But ‘(What’s The Story?) Morning Glory’ not only confirmed that Oasis were completely different from Blur, but also blew ‘The Great Escape’ out of the water. It was now undeniable: Oasis had made a much better record that was in a different class altogether…