Wednesday, June 27, 2007

where'd your sense of adventure go?

If I had written a review of this album just over a week ago when I bought it, I'd be criticising its lack of variety or originality and probably bemoaning a chance wasted.

However, after several listens in the interim, I must admit that I have changed my mind.

It's not the most original album you'll ever hear. Q described it as something that anyone in a bedroom with a selection of Doves, Coldplay and Keane CDs could splice together in no time. It's a reasonable assessment, but of course if they are the types of band that you like it follows that you'll probably get along with the Ghosts also.

After a few listens, I like it. God knows it's pretty generic and they haven't the spark or the genius to hit the big time any time soon, but it's a decent collection of guitar based pop songs. "Stop" sounds so much like it's off of the 80s that you can suspend where in time yo are for a moment. The singles "Stay the Night" and "The World Is Outside" are great radio-friendly pop and "Mind Games" shows there is some depth to their sound.

I first saw them play a half hour free set in a record store in front of 30 or so people, and then again with the Tiny Dancers in Nottingham. I can't see them ever playing the Hollywood Bowl but if you don't mind some brainless simple guitar pop, you could do a lot worse. Just give it a few listens.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Linkin Park - Minutes To Midnight

They've been quiet for a while and now they return with something that's a little different. But it's difference in a good way.
Compared to their previous albums, the missing ingredients here is the lack of the guy who 'raps' and the DJ who scratches away in the background. The rapper pops his head up every now and then, just to let everybody know he's still around, but I'm damned if I can hear any contribution from the DJ. And you know what....? Instead of creating a hole in their sound, they've actually produced some terrific, punchy tracks that sound as close to the Linkin Park of old, without having the stigma of "oh, it's another Linkin Park song" attached.

Admittedly, "What I've Done", the first single to be taken from the album has their stamp all over it, but that said, it's probably the most instantly recognizable 'Park' track of them all.

The album kicks off with the instrumental track "Wake", complete with the wonderful sound of a needle on an old vinyl record. Those were the days! What follows is "Given Up", a shouty rock track with pounding drums, flapping basslines and heavy power chords, complimented by the lead singer shouting his fucking head off. I think it's safe to assume this is an angry track from the line, "Put me out of my....put me out of my....put me out of my fucking misery"
"Leave out all the rest" churns along nicely, especially with the cello sound in the background. Mellow vocals delivered in the familiar 'Park' of old, this could have the makings of a strong single.
"Bleed it out" is the first rare appearance of the guy who raps in between the shouty vocals and it's nothing short of a great song. It drives along with double tempo snare drum and hand claps that just screams for it to be a windows down, driving song. Or maybe that's just me. "Bring that chorus in!"
Next up comes "Shadow of the day". A programmed percussion beat, whining keyboards and a strolling bassline make for a pleasant song. His vocals are pretty good on this one and after the third or forth listen, it could quite easily have been an Embrace or dare I say it....a U2 song. The swirly strings that keep cutting in are particularly nice. It ends with a nice interlude, running straight into the single "What I've done", which is of course a brilliant song.
We then get "Hands held high" and the re-appearance of 'the guy who raps'. Add a military snare and kick drum to keyboards and strings. Then add a dose of 'rapping' and some harmonised vocals and you get something that sounds like it belongs on a Status Quo album.
A brief flick of the skip button and we are back on track with the pounding "No more sorrow". Power chords a plenty and screaming vocals. Breaks in between the chorus and a great hook from the guitar. Oh yes, this is one monster tune!
"Valentines day" is up next. Again, all the old 'Park' ingredients are there but this sounds like they're dipping their toes into the territory of My Chemical Romance , a la Black Parade. There's a great break in the middle when the echoed piano leads everything else, and then Wham!!! the chorus kicks in and suddenly everything in the world is brilliant. My only criticism is that it's just too damned short!
Bringing up the rear end of the album is "In between" a programmed percussive song with that lovely cello sound again. Mix it up with some keyboards and some choral harmonies and once again we have them treading into other territories. If this song were slowed right down, then it wouldn't be out of place on an Eels cd. Following this comes "In pieces", a fast tempo beat with strutting guitars and wild solos. His vocals begin off in a slightly withdrawn manner, then build into his formidable style of 'shouty', without being too...well, shouty. Great song.
And then we come to the final song, "The little things give you away". For me, this is by far the best track on the album. After the first listen, this is the track I wanted to hear again right away. It's difficult to explain how it sounds like Linkin Park, without sounding like them at all, but it does. A little feedback, followed by programmed beats, then a strumming acoustic guitar gives you the intro. His voice is almost delicate. We get a chorus in the same calm style, then a break and then another verse but all the time the 'sound' is building. Oh yes, it's a tried and tested formula and it works brilliantly for them. Echoes in the bridge....strings that nod their head to Kate Bush....and then a great guitar solo that asks....nay, demands some air guitar playing. Oh yes, I've been there. Top it all off with another bridge of backing vocals, some harmonies and various loops of his voice and you're left feeling completely satisfied. I have to admit, I love it when the last track of an album is a killer and this one is a perfect example of how an album should end.

So....Some people wrinkle their noses up at Linkin Park, but to those I say "Hey, give it a chance!" There's less of the Rapping guy, there's a complete lack of the DJ and there's a killer ending track. What more could you want?!

Take these and if you like them, buy the album.

The little things give you away.

Leave out all the rest.

Valentines day.

Bleed it out.

In pieces.

Currently filed in the 'Play often and loud' folder.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

it's a long way to go, five days in a row

You may never have heard of Sheffield's Tiny Dancers but if their debut album "Free School Milk" is anything to go by, it won't be long.

They have supported both Richard Ashcroft and the Ghosts in recent tours which is how they crept under my radar. This and their second single "Hannah, We Know" which snuck into last weeks top 40.

It is almost impossible to define their sound. It's pop in its finest sense, I suppose, but a jangly guitar based great-pop-records sound.

Their singles "I Will Wait For You" and "Hannah, We Know" are standout tracks, but it's hard to find fault with anything contained on this beautifully breezy album. It has had excellent reviews almost across the board and well, well worth a punt if you are a fan of nicely crafted indie-pop music. Catch them live too if you can - the glitter on David Kay's face is worth the admission fee in itself.

An early afternoon slot on Sunday's Glastonbury line up is on the agenda if you want to know more. I'll certainly be at the John Peel Stage for that one, and long may this lot reign.

Great, great record.

A taste of the local scene, or alternatively, what the kids are up to these days...

Due to all the good bands being off doing festivals, I was given a local lot to review this month. I tried to be nice. Really I did. You can hear some of their music on their MySpace page.

From little acorns grow big oaks, a wise man once said. And from local bands grow international, stadium sell-out acts. Sometimes. Aberdeen's produced a number of excellent musical stars in recent years - take, for instance the magnificent Driveblind who are now signed to Geffen and give thanks to no less than Mr Johnny Depp on their album sleeve. The Little Kicks are currently making big licks, and who can forget that the likes of Pallas, The Shamen and Annie Lennox initially hailed from the Granite City?

Anyway. I was intrigued to hear the latest offering from (relatively)new kids on the block V:XV (FiveFifteen). The five-piece band formed two years ago and have an impressive CV, with support slots to Shed Seven's Rick Witter, Paulo Nutini and Kula Shaker to date. They're set to play this year's Belladrum Festival on 10th and 11th August. A quick glance at their MySpace page reveals that the band have 353 friends. That's more than most people can call on a dark night when they're stranded
with no money for a taxi. They also list their musical influences which range from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to Beck, from The Kooks to The Killers. Clearly a band with varied tastes, they claim to take inspiration from almost 100 different artists.

I must confess that V:XV rather got off on the wrong foot with me. The promotional information that was sent to me along with their CDs had a typo in it for one thing - please, lads, learn to proofread! - and they have a confusing name. My feeling is that if you need an explanation in brackets to make sure people get your name right, you probably need to change it.

But perhaps I'm just pedantic.

And so. To the music.

The current single, The Killer Line, gets off to a slow start, but becomes catchy enough as it gets going. The vocalist, Simon Murray, has a pleasant enough voice, and the musical arrangements are inoffensive. The track has a sweet, almost whimsical feeling to it, but at five minutes long, it really does start to become a bit of a killer line. I’m not a fan of sitting in the cinema for hours on end, and the same goes for records. Sometimes less really is more. B-side Firepoint
23 begins with a lot more va-va-voom, and maintains a steady, high-energy tempo throughout, although it does get a bit too twirly for my liking towards the end. I can imagine this would be a great live track, and in all honesty much preferred it to the single.

While I wouldn’t have immediately rushed to buy V:XV’s CD if I’d heard the single on the radio, after a few listens I found myself humming along. The band clearly have a lot of energy, and their use of the Hammond organ adds something a bit different. I’d definitely be interested to see how they perform live. If you’re interested, you can catch them at the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival next month - tickets
are available from One Up. Alternatively, their MySpace Page is

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

i said, what the f*ck?

There are albums in existence in which you could easily pick a handful of singles. Mika's "Life In Cartoon Motion" is such an example. Love it or hate it you could easily release pretty much anything off it and be sure of having a hit single. Some might say they already have...

The Twang's debut album "Love It When You Feel Like This" is not such a record.

Let me go on record by saying that I think their debut single "Wide Awake" and their current top 10 single "Either Way" are superb. Ignoring anything else, they are a couple of genuinely catchy, excellent pieces of simple four-minute guitar pop.

Here, therefore, was an opportunity to pack a full length CD full of great anthemic, singalong joyful pop songs. An opportunity I am disappointed to report that they have spectacularly spurned.

It's actually quite difficult for me to put my finger on exactly what is wrong with this record. And yet in some ways the reasons come tripping off the tongue. A lack of originality in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. This lot though have no ideas which 1990s band they are trying to sound like. It's like a curious mix of Terrorvision, Gene and the Charlatans but in a way that does no favours to any of those bands. Making a record that is brash and in-your-face can also make for great listening. This, though, sounds like a record that was cobbled together by four blokes at chucking out time in an Essex pub on a Saturday night.

In an attempt to sound street, they have just succeeded sounding like 80's lager-louts. Don't get me wrong - I think that swearing in pop music should be positively encouraged. A throwaway swear word (think Marti Pellow in the middle of Wet Wet Wet's "Temptation") can be brilliant. This album though takes that idea and beats it to within an inch of its life. Every other word is "fuck" or "fucking" or "bird" or "wankered". By all means use swearing but there is nothing big or clever about simply littering your album with obscenities. Fucking twats.

It's a shame, really. It's not dreadful, but it is so blokey it becomes quite irritating after a while. A prime example of when a couple of single downloads would have been much more fulfilling than wasting time and money on a load of cobbled together disappointment.