Another packed round-up this week, featuring new albums from the Manic Street Preachers and Plank!, plus new music from Tape Waves, Stephen Jones, Goat, Erland And The Carnival, Télépopmusik feat Mark Gardener, Tricky, Hell Death Fury, Fingersnap, The Black Keys, Spies, The Juan MacLean, The Vacant Lots, Traams, Paws, Esben And The Witch, I Heart The Monster Hero and a great Depeche Mode remix from Boys Noize. As well as those, Damon Albarn features three times this week, in a brief album review and on two tracks from Tony Allen and The Child Of Lov. There’s a new video from the excellent Zoo Zero, plus an interview with the band as well. All that plus a new edition of The RW/FF Compilation, featuring the finest new music of recent times…
When Nicky Wire announced in 2010 that the Manic Street Preachers were going to have “an extended break”, we all knew that their eventual return would be an interesting one. So they returned last year with the wonderful ‘Rewind The Film’, an album that finally accepted that their days of mainstream superstardom were in the past, and that trying to repeat themselves was doing them no good. It also took a retrospective look at their own past, as well as the gradual erosion of the things they hold dear, laid a few ghosts to rest and tried to figure out a way forward, all things that continue in a much more proactive manner on ‘Futurology’. They’ve had plenty of experience at bouncing back, trying to make a fresh start, and changing people’s perception of what they “should” be. Wasn’t a lot of ‘Everything Must Go’ about that? Maybe it’s impossible to “escape from a history” as eventful and astonishing as the one the Manics have had, but ‘Futurology’ ensures that they can still stay significant and relevant, proving that their continued existence is not only necessary, but hugely vital.
‘Futurology’ is about finding a new sense of purpose. And plenty of it can be found in the triumphant ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’, which pushes forward like some sort of transportation powering across the continent through the night, delivering a sucker punch of a chorus that has heavy touches of 80s stadium rock to it. Lyrically it often sees them trying to make some sense of their current position, asking themselves questions, reflecting on their own history, and taking a leap forward into unknown territories, excited by the uncertainty of what the future holds. Fully aware that “old songs leave long shadows”, it’s an album that sets out to cross new bridges, defy expectations and not be afraid to take risks.
Indeed it is a very different kettle of fish to its predecessor, which was recorded during the same sessions. While ‘Rewind The Film’ “can’t fight this war anymore”, ‘Futurology’ declares that “we need to go to war again”, as the band take a stand against the lack of rebellion in today’s popular culture on the abrasive, unsettling militant groove of ‘Let’s Go To War’. Imagining a frightening future where “working class skeletons lay scattered in museums”, it’s a surprising moment that’s not too far from a sinister trip hop version of ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’. The magnificent ‘Next Jet To Leave Moscow’ references their past flirtations with Communism over a liberated, Krautrock-flavoured backdrop that brings to mind the similar energetic melancholy of The Clash‘s ‘Spanish Bombs’, and comes complete with an elevating guitar solo from JDB. There are echoes of ‘The Holy Bible’ too, but the tone is a great deal more introspective, and beautifully melodic. The European influence isn’t just a purely musical one, as the intense, menacing stomp ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ demonstrates, with its references to roads and motion symbolic of a group travelling forwards. A commanding German-sung second verse from actress Nina Hoss sends shivers down the spine. Once again the Manics sound dangerous, and prepared to stand up and fight. Then we’re treated to one of the biggest surprises here, tje instrumental post-punk freak out ‘Hugheskova (Dreaming A City)’, which recalls ‘Low’-era Bowie doing a cosmic funk cop show theme. In particular, the atmosphere and superb drum sound seem to have been influenced by ‘Low”s ‘Speed Of Life’, which like ‘Futurology’, was recorded at the Hansa studios near the Berlin Wall.
Lines are drawn between the slate-wiping ideas of radical Russian art and the hollowness of modern culture’s dumbed down, disposable nature on pretty synth lament ‘Black Square’, a slow burning beauty which revisits musical ground last heard on 2004’s opinion-dividing ‘Lifeblood’. ‘Futurology’ is also destined to provoke initial mixed reactions. On the first listen, I didn’t immediately warm to many of these songs, and felt that the band I fell in love with were barely recognisable anymore. After the second time I played it, all that changed. One thing that takes a lot of getting used to at first is the unfamiliar sound of the occasional guest vocalists. On the stunning ‘Between The Clock And The Bed’, you could easily be forgiven for beginning to think that the CD has accidentally been mispressed with another artist’s track, as Scritti Pollitti man Green Gartside‘s voice emerges over the relaxed soul groove it slips smoothly into. However, by the time Bradfield’s soaring, life affirming vocal melody arrives near the end, you may very well have fallen in love with another new side of the Manics. And that dazzling, uplifting feeling that shines throughout the song? Look beneath and examine the tortured lyrics, inspired by an unsettling painting by Norwegian artist Munch which gave the track its name. Returning immediately to darker musical territory is the incredible ‘Misguided Missile’, the sort of urgent, trail blazing excitement that we haven’t heard from them in years. As well as featuring a hugely enjoyable bassline, it rhymes “schadenfreude” with “void”, and delivers another massive singalong chorus. Joining the dots with ‘Rewind The Film’ is the ghostly, melancholic sigh of ‘(The View From) Stow Hill’, which would rather spend time appreciating the world’s natural beauty than indulging in a modern routine of “misguided tweets” and “sad Facebooking”. It would have made a charming closer, but instead ‘Mayakovsky’ ends the record with a noodly instrumental hard rock sci-fi jam that’s interesting enough but not really substantial or remarkable enough to be included here.
While ‘Rewind The Film’ is a more consistent and focused album, ‘Futurology’ strikes the most powerful blows, but gets points deducted for a few wobbly moments. Still, you can’t expect them to try new things and not make the odd error. As well as movements in new directions, we still get all the things that have always made the Manics great: the incredible tunes, the slogans, the values, and of course James Dean Bradfield‘s magnificent voice. I’ll say that these last two albums both stand as their strongest works since the 90s. Reignited once again, with ‘Futurology’ the Manics have written one of the most interesting chapters in their fascinating and eventful story. Read the full 8.2/10 review HERE.
Manchester trio Plank! released a debut album entitled ‘Animalism’ in 2012 and elaborate on these themes of nature with the follow-up ‘Hivemind’, a superb album inspired by “the millions of arthropods without which our global eco-system could not survive.” And indeed the 10 track LP is rather insect-like in a lot of ways: its movements are rhythmically odd, it has many legs, and like some insects, it is also capable of flying exploratively.
Right from the outset, new drummer Liam Stewart makes his presence known with some outstanding work behind the kit as ‘Grasshoppers From Mars’ provides a vigorous opener. Progressing engagingly throughout, a hard, disciplined rhythm establishes odd, jerky time signatures, and stimulating guitars jostle with blurting synths, creating luminous atmospheres. The magnificent ‘Aphidelity’ is an essential slice of European-flavoured intergalactic disco, marching into the cosmos with authoritative power.
On the weighty ‘Dark Web’, they play with brooding post-rock before bursting into furious riffage in between intricately jerky rhythms, a trick also used to brilliant effect on ‘Swarm Behaviour’, where frantic drum fills and cloudy atmospheres meet massive, earworm guitar hooks, evolving masterfully throughout. Only four tracks in, and ‘Hivemind’ has already visited a variety of places, keeping the listener constantly occupied with the shifting structures, recurring rhythms and impressive dynamic instincts. Like its title suggests, ‘Metamorphosis’ is a blossoming wonder that glows with an uplifting, energising beauty, while the stunning ‘Moth Lover’ takes flight through glistening trails of synth and beautifully organic acoustic notes, ascending higher with its driving rhythms.
‘Drone’ provides a dazzling, mesmeric soundscape before the entrancing space age pulse of ‘Waterboatman’ slowly and solemnly grows into a haunting, panoramic earworm. Another side to the trio is revealed on the warm, tender piano and bass notes on ‘Cricket’, where an emergence of uplifting synth patterns segue into the brilliantly accomplished and instinctively arranged epic ‘Kephri’, an immense climax that ends the album with an exhilarating bang.
A masterfully crafted blend of prog, post-rock, electronica and Krautrock, ‘Hivemind’ succeeds in exploring structural possibilities and forever journeying to different habitats, yet it’s also a cohesive set of songs that fit together superbly as one inspired idea. 8.5/10
‘La Torta De La Muerte’ is a six track EP made by five men who hail from the Wiltshire town of Melksham. Hell Death Fury deliver something way beyond the tried and tested ska-punk formula, bashing out an adrenaline fuelled blend of metal, dub, hardcore and rocksteady with occasional dips into hip hop, funk and whatever else they feel like throwing into the mixture. After forming in 2007, they gathered up enough material to release a debut album entitled ‘Free Porn’ in 2010 before spending the last four years gigging and refining their sound. Their new EP flies by at just over twelve minutes in length, serving up a face smacking wake up call that energises, excites and highly amuses with its fun and bizarre choices of lyrical topics.
The opening ‘Cletus The Fetus’ roars into a mentally unsteady bounce resembling a thrash metal Madness, slipping into offbeat grooves in between thrashing the living shit out of their instruments, while the lively skank and catchy verses of the bouncy, slightly psychobilly-tinged ‘Zombie Party’ give way to another raging chorus, bursts of fierce riffage and a shitstorm of apocalyptic keys, before leading nicely into a brilliantly arranged dub version of the track. Launching into full on roots reggae, the insanely catchy ‘Marijuana’ is a terrific pro-legalisation anthem that has all the hooks you could possibly wish for. It’s so infectious and well accomplished that you can forgive any sense of parody. From one extreme to another, ‘Galahad’ is a searing blast of budget lager inspired hardcore punk, where the influence of New York skacore squatters Leftover Crack can be heard in amongst the screaming delivery and blazing riff rampages. The EP closes with the title track ”La Torta De La Muerte”, the most savage song about cake baking that you’re ever likely to hear, a vicious ska-metal concoction that wraps things up by letting rip with full throated ferocity.
Brilliant, ridiculously energising and infectious music that makes you want to put on a pork pie hat, light up a spliff, bake an evil cake, and party. HDF succeed in making a heavy combination of styles sound completely natural, fusing the spirit of reggae, thrash metal, punk and dub and distilling it into a force that’s as potent as the weed they sing about smoking. 8/10
The whole EP is available as a pay-what-you-like download from their Bandcamp page HERE. A live album recorded at The Fleece in Bristol is also available for a nominal fee. Do give generously.
With a superb debut album under their belts, and an astonishing live energy to their performances, it’s surprising that more people aren’t aware of the London based four piece who call themselves Zoo Zero. Musically the band are sharp, and energetic 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, as they prove themselves to be one of the UK’s most exciting new acts. Frontman Tom Pinnock spoke to RW/FF about their music, their influences, their debut album (one of RW/FF’s top 10 albums of 2013), future plans and his obsession with Mansun, in an interview that you can read HERE. “I’m always depressed by the careerist attitudes of a lot of bands over the last couple of decades, both big and unknown. Everyone seems desperate to bend over backwards for the industry, or dilute what they’re about for wider acceptance, second-guessing what they think people want. We’ve had some interest from industry people in the past and just stopped responding to them when it’s clear they don’t understand what the band is about. One prospective manager hated the way our first EP sounded and suggested we remix it to make it all glossy and clean, which was of course the opposite of the way we wanted it to sound. I’m not trying to suggest we’re heroes fighting against the system, but it’s just sad that so many artists actively suck up to it in their sound and approach. Don’t they know the man don’t give a fuck?”
The band have just made a rather interesting visual accompaniment for ‘Spinning Pretty’, a superb track which can be found on the LP. Here’s drummer Matt Barnes to tell us a bit about it…
“So this is the latest video from our debut album. It follows the 2012 South African downhill champion, Raoul van den Berg as he glides through the Franschhoek Pass —- near Stellenbosch —- near(ish) Cape Town. Raoul and I have known each other since the age of 5 when his family moved to England for a short while. Whilst we’ve only seen each other a couple of times since then, we’ve kept in touch and, over twenty years later, we thought it would be cool to collaborate and bring our passions together with this video!”
“Raoul tells me how he’s really into the sense of momentum you get when Longboarding – how it feels like you can keep on rolling forever. This was my inspiration for this video. Raoul became the visual representation of our drone note that you hear slicing through the whole of the song – the very same drone that plays forever on the locked groove of Side B on our LP. The frequent changing from one section of the song to the next echoes the passing scenery in the video whilst Raoul’s constant presence reminds you of that persistent ‘E’ note… Raoul can be found on Facebook and YouTube pages if you’d like to see more!”
Back in April, Damon Albarn announced a pair of intimate warm up gigs in Bristol and Portsmouth. Tickets for the show at Bristol’s Trinity Centre sold out before people could even enter their credit card details, and the 400 tickets for a date in Portsmouth were fought over by more than 100,000 fans. So I felt very lucky to be there with 399 other people to spend a night in the company of the legend himself and his band The Heavy Seas.
A brilliantly eclectic set list and an impressively dynamic performance that gave us a satisfying mixture of almost every side of Albarn that we’ve known down the years. Adaptable, multi faceted, imaginative and always relishing a new challenge, he continues to grow and develop as an artist and performer while many others from his era stay in their comfort zones. Whether it’s with Blur, Gorillaz, Africa Express or any of his other musical outlets, witnessing Albarn playing always feels like a privilege. Read the full gig review HERE.
That former Babybird man and ridiculously overlooked cult hero Stephen Jones has released an album. If any of you are familiar with his work as Black Reindeer, you’ll be used to Jones releasing albums, pretty much all the time. In the last year and a bit he’s released at least twelve largely instrumental LPs under his Black Reindeer alias, all of which were available via his Bandcamp page. But this particular Stephen Jones release is quite special, as it’s the first “proper” solo album since he brought Babybird to an end. The completely self-written, self-performed, self-recorded, self-produced and self-released ‘Ambition Expired’ is available digitally for just £7.99, and if he sells enough copies we may hopefully see a physical release at some point! I’m hoping for that to happen, since I want to add this incredible album to my CD or vinyl collection, next to his previous solo album, 2003’s ‘Almost Cured Of Sadness’ Have a listen to the stunning ‘A Beautiful War’ and support an incredible and sorely underrated talent…
Complete with a pulchritudinous self-made video, it’s an enchanting mesmeric space-age lullaby that basks in a dazzling ambience, marrying his sweetly tuneful vocal melodies of old with a more spacious musical presentation, letting the song evolve slowly and naturally for maximum impact.
Traams are a three piece post punk outfit from Chichester, who released a debut album called ‘Grin’ last year in 2013. Already they have toured with the legendary Wire throughout Europe, and their latest release is produced by two members of Hookworms.