Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Going Dutch


I've moved to a small town in the Netherlands called Leiden. More details to come. For now, here's 'Cheap Beer':

Monday, 3 August 2009

Mariachi El Bronx

I was an avid reader of Kerrang! back in 2003. I still think it was a good magazine back then and not so sycophantic and aimed at teenagers as it is now. I used to buy a lot of albums off the back of reading Kerrang! reviews, and a good deal of them I still enjoy listening to. 2003 was a good year for music and I can still remember a lot of the albums I bought from bands like Million Dead, Oceansize, Blood Brothers, Lomax and The Mars Volta. All rad bands. One of the biggest albums for me at that time was The Bronx's eponymous debut album.

I'd never heard before such a unhinged sound as I did when I first played 'The Bronx'. What an album. I read the stories of the drugs overdoses, murders and general dark things that surrounded the album's creation and believed them. It all sounded too cool. The Bronx also looked pretty tough characters too, it all added to the experience. The album is incredibly messy, recorded live in one of the dudes from Guns 'n Roses garage and most of the songs are first takes. It leaps out of your speakers. It's punk rock the way it should be; dark, aggressive and way too fast.

Six years on and I'm pleased to say that The Bronx are still alive and doing their thing. They've done a couple of cool albums since 2003 and I've seen them play twice. Recently they've taken to dressing up in Mariachi costumes and playing trad Mexican music. No big deal.

I've been researching Mariachi music for the benefit of you, the reader. It originated in the late 19th century in western Mexico where it served to provide romantic vibes to wedding ceremonies ('Mariachi is French for marriage). Mariachi's distinctive sound (and look) is a result of the use of a 'guitarron' (basically a massive guitar) and latin rhythms. Since those early days it had spread across the border into the U.S and is often heard bars in California and Texas, the latter from which The Bronx call home.

'Mariachi is every bit as much of a soundtrack to southern California as punk' notes singer Matt Caughthran on why the band turned their energies so easily to mariachi music. It turns out the band originally came up with the idea when asked to perform acoustically on a radio show. Knowing their music would never work in this form they decided to do something different and a couple of years later we have an album! I'm not going to go into much about the songs. What I will say is that they are very faithful to the Mariachi sound and recreate it perfectly. The production and musicianship is superb. They've clearly done their Mariachi homework (is that a good bandname?!) and sound like they're having a lot of fun.

'Mariachi El Bronx' is out on September 1st.

Here's 'Sleepwalker', one of my favourites:

And czech this out!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Guided By Voices - 'Do Be'

To follow on from the previous post, here's another gem I've discovered from Robert Pollard. There's something about this song that has really captivated me this month. Something in the charming intimacy of the recording and Pollard's exuberant delivery of 'daaaarling!' which slightly distorts the sound. It's taken over my month.

This song is off Guided By Voices' 'Suitcase 2', a huge collection of demos and outtakes taken from Pollard's chosen storage receptacle for his recordings - a suitcase. So you're not confused, Guided By Voices is often just Pollard on his own. He would often record only himself playing songs when his friends and bandmates were at work, and 'Do Be' is one of those songs. I can picture Pollard, perched on the edge of his couch and hunched over his guitar one night, singing this song to no one in particular.

I think Pollard has tapped into something big with this song. There's something hugely powerful in this minute of music the man has come up with. No matter how straightforward the song is, as an expression of whatever Pollard was feeling at the time it's untouchable. Musical expression doesn't come any more spontaneous, soulful and imperfect than this. I think more music should left in this state, spending too much time on music by ironing out the creases reduces it's relevance as a mode of self expression and ultimately the impact it can have on the listener. I love the way the guitar and voice is used in such a way by Pollard, what a guy. We can't all be Picasso or Orwell y'know and Pollard keeps it real for us!

Here it is, enjoy!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Cosmos - Jar Of Jam Ton Of Bricks

Hi I'm back.

'got legitimate beef, full of goodness and grief'

I'm feeling pretty laid back at the moment. It is Summer after all. Maybe Cosmos' 'Jar Of Jam Ton Of Bricks' has something to do with this, I can't think of many albums released this year that is such a good companion to these lazy Summer days. It's the non-agenda that this album pushes that I like; there's a real peace to this collection of songs, not in a hippy sense but in a content sense, as if all there is to prove is that there is nothing to prove.

Cosmos is a collaboration between two songwriters, which I happened to come across because one of the said songwriters is Robert Pollard. To give a brief history, Pollard sang in one of my favourite rock bands Guided By Voices, who achieved fame after many years playing in their garages when Pollard was at the ripe old age of 36. Pollard is somewhat ridiculously prolific (there are jokes that he writes albums before lunchtime, I'd say they're written by the time he wakes up) and often releases countless albums in a year.

I've always been very grateful that Pollard has chosen to release so many of the 5,000 or so songs he claims to have written. People often complain that Pollard needs an editor because he releases too many of his songs. Maybe, but isn't it fun and rewarding to sift through his songs until you find one you particularly like? It could be seen as a waste of time, but what else am I going to do all day but listen to one of my favourite songwriters? I feel as I though I almost know this guy I've spent so much time him. Pollard often collaborates with his friends and other musicians on projects (presumably because writing hundreds of songs a year isn't satisfactory for someone like Pollard), 'Jar Of Jam Ton Of Bricks' being the latest one released this year. On this album, Pollard sings songs written by baroque-pop songwriter Richard Davies. The advantage of such collaborations for Pollard enthusiasts is that we get to hear his fine voice (which seems to only get better with age) in different musical contexts.

Unusually for Pollard, he shares some of the singing with Davies which gives the album a more collaborative feel. Davies had opted for a sparse recording style which gives the album a very intimate feel. It's as if the listener is sitting in on an early afternoon jam session with Pollard and Davies. I love the lazy shakes of maracas every so often, and the loose song structures give it an unrefined air. It reminds me of Simon Finn's 'Pass The Distance' because of the loose lead acoustic guitar lines Davies likes to play over his songs. There are a few rockier moments too which are fun.

'Jar Of Jam...' was released t'other day. Here's 'Zeppelin Commander'. Great song.

'You Had To Be There' is sung by Richard Davies. Both him and Pollard sound like wannabe Englishman. Cool.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Dinosaur Jr. - Farm

Let's talk Neil Young for a moment. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm a big Neil fan. I've been listening to him for years; he's one of the great songwriters still doing the rounds today. My favourite Neil albums are 'On The Beach', 'Tonight's The Night' and probably 'Ragged Glory' - I'm that sort of Neil Young fan. On these albums I think he nailed the country-rock-played-in-a-barn sound brilliantly and he attacks his songs in a way you wouldn't if you were someone who wanted to be liked by the folk-rock crowd. He doesn't give a damn what the listener thinks of his music and will happily let you know via a lengthy, unnecessary guitar jam or a string of dire, unlistenable albums.

The reason I bring Neil Young into this post is that I think Dinosaur Jr.'s new record is the album Neil and his band Crazy Horse should be releasing this year. The sad fact is I don't think he could or is interested in playing such music these days. 'Farm', the second record Dinosaur Jr. have released since their reformation a couple of years ago is far too loud, ballsy and tuneful for 63 year old Neil to have written (I'm really sorry man).

Dinosaur Jr. sound quite a bit like Crazy Horse playing garage rock; 'Farm' is played incredibly loud and distorted, each instrument struggling to be heard amongst the din and often resembles the clunky style of Neil's band. They sound unhinged and singer and guitarist J Mascis' typically slacker songs get dragged along by the driving rhythm section. Mascis differs from Neil Young in that he's a flashier guitarist and a lazier singer yet their approach to songwriting and influences are similar. Mascis makes singing sound like a struggle, mumbling most of his words and rarely straying from his comfortable singing range. I'm making it sound like it's a bad thing but within the context of his songs, Mascis' style really works well.

Check out 'Over It', the first single from the album. I've never seen the famously lazy Mascis move so much! 'Pieces' is the opening track, pretty rad. And if you don't know this one, quickly listen to it and get smart.

'Farm' was released last Monday on June 22nd. Go get it!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Big Business - Mind The Drift

I love to dig. It's a great pastime (and if you're lucky, a form of employment). Handily, I've found someone willing to pay me good money for the privilege of digging their garden. It's going fine, I've got about 7 hours left of the job I'm doing and the weather's good, so the next few days should go fairly smoothly. Apart from being a way of exercising without actually trying and a way to spend all day outdoors, digging allows me to spend a lot of time listening to music. I've been constructing a couple of blog posts whilst on the job so with any luck this week might be fairly busy for Radstock.

Most of my friends don't listen to heavy music. I don't blame them, it's easy to be put off by bad experiences hearing awful metal bands that all sound the same. The dress sense and smell of those who affiliate themselves with such music also leaves a little to be desired. I don't think all heavy music should be tarred with this unforgiving brush however. I think there's a time and place for such music and I believe I've found that place - in the garden, digging.

Listening to 'Mind The Drift', Big Business' third record really enhances the digging experience. If I was reviewing this album for a digging magazine I'd probably write 'the primal noise the band makes spurs the digger on to attain previously unreachable depths with his spade'. Since I'm not doing that, I should probably talk about the album in broader, more everyman terms. Big Business are a duo from somewhere cool in America and also happen to make up the rhythm section of The Melvins, one of the all time great noise bands around. On this new album, released in May, the band are joined by a guitarist, presumably to fill out the sound a bit more after two albums of bass and drums noise.

The reason I'd recomend someone 'Mind The Drift' is the fact that Big Business' brand of heavy music is so coherent. Instead of coming up against a wall of impenetrable noise, the listener can hear each individual instrument amongst the chaos. I guess you'd say they're allowed to 'breath'. The vocals which sit nicely above the music actually sound like someone singing rather than someone coughing up blood or having darts chucked at them. As for the drumming, this guy does play in The Melvins, so it's safe to say that his performance on this album represents some of the most brutal yet clever examples of drumming since...the last Melvins album. Cool.

I REALLY think everyone should listen to 'The Drift' which can be found here. The lyrics are funny and there's a degree of irony throughout 'Mind The Drift' which tells me that the band have taken into consideration the first rule of good heavy music - don't take yourselves too seriously. 'Cats, Mice' is another great one off the album. You can hear that they used to just be a bass and drums duo in the way they write the songs. Check out that heavy bass! Here's a good Youtube video of Big Business in action recently. Enjoy listening.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Dead Weather

The Dead Weather performed on music producer Nigel Godrich's 'From The Basement' on show on Monday. Apart from it being the debut British performance of Jack White's new band, it was quite a big deal as the gig was broadcast live online and represented the first performance of Godrich's show in this format rather than on his slot on the Sky Arts channel. Now that 'Later with Jools Holland' is little more than an industry showcase evening for whatever rubbish major label act is deciding to inflict the world with another dose of lifeless music, 'From The Basement' is the only great music programme out there.

So as I mentioned The Dead Weather are Jack White's most recent band in which he drums alongside Alison Mosshart from The Kills who sings, some guy from Queens of the Stone Age on guitar and the bass player from White's other band The Raconteurs. I don't know whether to think White is wasting his talents behind the drumkit or whether it's cool that he's not hogging the limelight once again. Judging by the 'Basement' performance I think the band set-up works just fine. White's a good drummer, it's a bit like he wants 'in' on a piece of the action in this group rather than wanting to push his own agenda.

As would be expected given the people involved, The Dead Weather's sound is quite Led Zeppelin-esque, a bit bluesy and a bit groovy. My brother pointed out that some moments sounded a lot like Clutch, whereas other moments sounded like Zeppelin's 'When The Levee Breaks'. I wouldn't say they're contrived as the songs they played the other day were quite exciting and varied in styles. Alison Mosshart's voice might take a bit of getting used to, but she's a great frontwoman.

I think it's in the arrangement of the songs where The Dead Weather are interesting. You don't quite know where the song will go next or whether you understand the idea behind the songwriting. Have a listen to 'Hang You From The Heavens' and see what I mean. If you ask me it's weird, quite daring songwriting for a rock band. It takes risks and at least that makes you think about it.

As is standard with anything Jack White is involved in, the presentation was brilliant. Wearing black always looks cool and juxtaposing that black with white guitars and white flexicord guitar leads is great. At least they're gonna look good.