Category Archives: Records

Speakeasy – Lost Souls

Speakeasy - Lost Souls album coverMod revival supergroup Speakeasy returned in November 2017 with a third full length album, Lost Souls, on the Heavy Soul Records label.

Following on from Trouble and their self-titled debut the album continues their trend of mixing classic rock ‘n’ roll with elements of mod, punk and soul.

The band is made up of members of The Purple Hearts, The Chords, The Risk and Long Tall Shorty (amongst others) including Simon Stebbing, Mark Le Gallez, Buddy Ascott and Ian Jones.

My review appeared in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 18th November 2017, you can read it below:

Speakeasy - Lost Souls - review - 18/11/17

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Foo Fighters – Concrete And Gold

Foo Fighters - Concrete And Gold - album coverFor the past two decades Foo Fighters have been gradually transforming from pop-grunge pioneers to stadium rock titans.

While their last album, the geographically conceptual Sonic Highways (that came with an accompanying series of documentary films about the cities where each track was recorded) had some interesting moments, its hard to argue that the band have slipped comfortably into fairly middle of the road territory of late, with their reputation relying on the big songs from their first four or five albums.

So, onto new release Concrete And Gold and, unfortunately, it doesn’t really buck this trend.

While its hard to find any major standout moments, even several listens in, there’s still a lot to like here as Dave Grohl and co seemingly go on a journey through their influences, all with their own flavour added in.

Across the record things switch from Led Zeppelin aping to Fleetwood Mac like passages through The Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd and no doubt more.

While it still sounds like a Foo Fighters record, with various parts harking back to their post-grunge heyday, its hard to escape the fact that all those other bands do their thing better than the Foos do – though I’ve no doubt it will all sound immense in a live environment.

Foo Fighters 2017

Foo Fighters

As well as the proud influence displaying, this is the first time I can remember Foo Fighters (and by definition, Grohl) being so obviously political.

La Dee Da is the most obvious example, but it does permeate the record as a whole, giving it a slightly odd place in the Foo’s cannon but fitting in perfectly with the current zeitgeist of American (and wider western) society that is hugely politically charged – though I want to make it clear this is nothing compared to the likes of the recent release from Prophets of Rage.

The album also sees Foo Fighters move away from producer Butch Vig who across their last couple of records had come across as almost an extra member of the band. Here though production duties go to Greg Kurstin and, whether its down to production or not I can’t entirely say, the final product sounds far more muddled than the band’s past output.

Foo Fighters live 2017

Foo Fighters live

In the end then, Concrete And Gold sees Foo Fighters continuing on their path to span the gap between genuine credibility and out-and-out pop, and they once again do an admirable job and will no doubt sell out arenas and stadiums the world over.

However, I doubt that in 15 or 20 years anyone will be talking about any of these songs the way they do today about My Hero, Everlong, Breakout, All My Life or Times Like These.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Prophets of Rage – Self-Titled

Prophets of Rage album coverTwenty five years ago Rage Against The Machine blasted into the world with an incendiary hybrid of heavy metal and rap fuelled by perceived injustices and inequalities in life in the USA.

Since then the band have come and gone a couple of times with varying levels of success, and each have pursued their own careers outside the band, but the trio of Tom Morello (guitars), Tim Commerford (Bass) and Brad Wilk (drums), following a few stints with the late Chris Cornell as Audioslave, have now reconvened, joined by hip hop pioneers Chuck D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill, under the name Prophets of Rage.

Given the political outlook of all six men it’s probably unsurprising that they should be so re-energised now and across their self-titled debut there is a newly found power that was missing from Rage Against The Machine’s resurrection when I saw them at Reading Festival in 2008.

Here, from the opening strains of Radical Eyes onwards, Prophets of Rage mix everything you’d expect them to in a great balance that brings the hard rock groove of Audioslave into the metallic edge of Rage Against The Machine, with the biting MCing of Chuck D and the more varied but no less pointed vocal stylings of B-Real, all with DJ Lord being a constant presence along with the band.

Prophets of Rage band

Prophets of Rage

It’s hard to not compare this to Rage as, sonically, there are a lot of similarities but, compared to that band’s work this is, unsurprisingly, more mature. Certainly it is packed with political motive, titles like Unfuck The World, Hail To The Chief and Who Owns Who, make that obvious before you even listen, but rather than the largely polemic ranting of Zack De La Rocha, Chuck D and B-Real add something more to it making it much more digestible and more personal feeling.

The supergroup is always a worrying concept and Prophets of Rage certainly fall into that category but, unlike some examples, they don’t feel like several other acts rammed together but do feel like a new band in their own right, just fuelled by the same things as their past projects.

Added to all of this is the fact that songs are hugely catchy and great to listen to.

Prophets of Rage live

Prophets of Rage live

It’s not often a record can sit in the CD player in my car for a week and just loop, but this one does and each listen reveals new things, from the interplay between Morello’s guitars and Lord’s decks to how well Chuck D and B-Real’s voices work together to make a bigger sound that I can envisage and really want to experience live just from listening.

The album has no real weak points but its opening trio of tracks (Radical Eyes, Unfuck The World and Legalize Me) are a solid highlight as are Hail To The Chief and Take Me Higher and I can only imagine (and hope) that with the continuing political upheavals taking place Prophets of Rage will have fuel for plenty more great music to come.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Le Quesne – Love And Death

Last of the Light Brigade

Tyler (and Stu) of Le Quesne

Tyler Edmonds has long been known as frontman of Last Of The Light Brigade and more recently for being one of the founders of the School of Popular Music but he has now released his first solo record, under the name Le Quesne, Love And Death.

Featuring long time band mater Stu Carre on drums and produced by Mikey Ferbrache the EP/mini-album sees Edmonds taking his known indie-rock sound into more acoustic and thoughtful territory.

The album is available through iTunes and on Spotify.

My full review was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 19th August 2017 and you can read it below.

Le Quesne - Love And Death review - 19/08/17

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

CJ Wildheart – Blood

CJ Wildheart - Blood - album artworkOver the last few years CJ Wildheart has broken away from the band that has given him his ‘surname’, as well as the band’s he’s been a member of outside of that, to create material that is genuinely his.

While Robot and before that Mable (named after his favourite chicken… and why not) began to explore a palette away from The Wildhearts it’s with his latest offering, Blood, that it really feels he’s found himself in his music.

Released and funded once again through Pledgemusic probably means most of his die-hard fans have already brought and downloaded the album, but there is plenty in it for more that just those dedicated few to like.

For a fair chunk of the record the sound is the fine mix of power pop rhythms and melodies married to the crunching, metallic, riffery we’ve come to expect.

In this CJ clearly references his namesake band but there’s very much a feeling to it that this is his version of that sound away from Ginger’s often more experimental leanings.

So, while we don’t get the abrupt tempo changes and extended sequences that The Wildhearts often headed into, we do get songs that you can bounce along to just as well – for those who are familiar with the band, I found some strong references in the sounds made by SugarSlam.

CJ Wildheart

CJ Wildheart

As well as this though there are songs where CJ goes into the heaviest territory he has explored yet.

Here we get intense riffs and rhythms, combined with CJ’s generally slightly cleaner style of heavy vocals – this isn’t shouting and screaming metal but still has a heavier and more abrasive edge than elsewhere.

At their heaviest moment it hints that CJ might have a side, like his former bandmate, that could lead to something like the lighter Mutation moments but in the context of this record he never fully commits to that (it would be somewhat out-of-place if he did).

While the sounds are a development on what we’ve come to expect from CJ it is in some of the subjects he deals with and the way he delivers the vocals that it feels things have really developed. Obviously all his songs have always come from his point of view in the past, but on Blood it’s the first time I got the feeling of CJ getting really personal in his lyrics.

CJ Wildheart - Blood artworkThis can be heard across the whole album but it is maybe most obvious on Fifty Percent Indian.

It’s not for me to say whether this is based on CJ’s own experiences or not but it has a strong ring of truth in the delivery that both grounds it in his experience growing up and living in England and also places it within a wider current sociopolitical discourse growing from the ongoing immigration, Brexit, etc debate.

Once again with Blood CJ Wildheart has created a strong set of songs that further remove him from his history with The Wildhearts while continuing to build on the strong sense of pop-rock that were that bands call sign, particularly during his times with the band, making for his strongest solo outing to date that has plenty on offer for both long-term fans and people on the look out for something new.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Burg And The Back Porch Band & The Electric Shakes

Burg & The Back Porch Band and The Electric Shakes album coversIn July 2017 two albums of rather different styles were released by Burg & The Back Porch Band and The Electric Shakes.

While one is a roots and Americana live album and the other a powerful example of heavy garage rock ‘n’ roll what links them is their frontman, Burg aka Steve Lynch.

Originally from Guernsey and now based in Bournemouth the prolific Mr Lynch also recently played both Chaos 13 and the Sark Folk Festival.

My review of Burg & The Back Porch Band Live At The Anvil and The Electric Shakes’ Electrohypnosis was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 22nd July, you can read it below:

Burg and The Electric Shakes album review - 22/07/17

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mura Masa – Self-titled

Mura Masa album coverWhen I first encountered the person that has become Mura Masa (aka Alex Crossan) he was the shy and retiring lead guitarist for deathcore band So Cold The River at one of the Rock of Ages events at Guernsey’s Carlton Hotel.

Since then things have changed slightly from a few demos made in his bedroom which first came to my attention in early 2013 to a Soundcloud mixtape that gained international indie distribution on vinyl under the name Soundtrack To A Death to signing to Polydor Records, setting up his own imprint (Anchor Point Records), selling out tours of the US, Europe and Japan and now the release of his self-titled debut album.

The album opens with a funky scene setter, Messy Love that throws together many of the aspects to be developed as the record goes on.

Along with rhythmically satisfying dance beats that combine classic funk and disco with more current electronic sounds, Mura Masa’s lyrics provide an interesting take on fairly well trodden formula for young musicians dealing with angsty, post-teen life in a refreshingly direct way.

Mura Masa

Mura Masa

From there the first half of the album heads into more hip hop inflected territory and the first batch of collaborators make their appearance. Regular performance partner and label mate Bonzai is first of these on the rantingly intense Nuggets followed by A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX and Desiigner.

While all their tracks have their own spin on the style Mura Masa’s writing and production style threads them all together. While Love$ick (a reworking of earlier track Lovesick Fuck) and 1 Night are both single style numbers, All Around The World provides the album’s most intense moments before another track, almost an interlude, without collaborators, provides something of a transitionary moment that feels very much like an intentional ‘end of side one’.

The second half of the album then heads into more ambient territory with the alt.pop feel coming further to the fore (though 1 Night lands in that area too) and once again gets going with a track featuring Bonzai that is one of the record’s highlights.

With Nao, Christine & The Queens, Jamie Lidell and more it’s fair to say the record is an impressive who’s who of current alt.pop but it is Mura Masa’s music and production that makes the album a whole. At first I thought it might sound a bit like another mixtape but it does coalesce into a collection of complete songs with an obvious through line to become a full product in itself.

Mura Masa and Bonzai - David Cabrera - 305.772.7543

Mura Masa and Bonzai (David Cabrera)

Nothing Else, featuring the aforementioned Lidell, brings an extra bit of soul to the record before it all comes to a conclusion on the magnificently genre defying Blu.

This has an extra surreal quality given the presence of Damon Albarn (frontman of Blur and founder of Gorillaz) who, for music fans of my vintage, has been one of the top names in pop for the best part of three decades.

All of this comes together to make for a very impressive debut that sets out Mura Masa’s place as a defier of convention and creator of a vein of alt.pop that borrows from many places to create something his own that can connect on several levels to wider audience than one might at first think (it even got me moving as I listened).

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ministry – Psalm 69 (The Way To Succeed And The Way To Suck Eggs)

Ministry - Psalm 69 album cover25 years ago industrial metal band Ministry unleashed what is arguably their magnum opus launching them into the hard rock mainstream and making them one of the cornerstones of the sounds that were to become a large part of heavy metal in the mid to late 90s.

While still credited as the duo of founder Al Jourgensen and longtime collaborator Paul Barker, Psalm 69 (aka ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ) saw Ministry develop on the sounds of The Land of Rape And Honey and The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste with Mike Scaccia’s electric guitars coming to the fore over their previously established bed of harsh synths and distorted vocals and samples.

This is demonstrated from the off with NWO, an abrasive statement of intent that sets the scene for the first half of the album.

Along with the developed industrial metal sound the song’s subject matter is something that has been a mainstay of Ministry’s music before and since as it openly attacks the American foreign policy (in this case the Gulf War and George H. W. Bush) and hints ideas of conspiracy theories, a formula that saw the band reach their second peak in the early 2000s during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Ministry - Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker - 1992

Jourgensen and Barker in 1992

Just One Fix, a partial collaboration with Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs, as the title suggests, deals with another of Ministry’s long-standing preoccupations, extreme drug use.

There are many stories about the band’s drug consumption during the production of this record (with one Jourgensen himself saying they were spending in excess of $1,000 a day of the record companies money on the pass time) and its strongly reflected here.

The combination of militaristic rhythms and distorted, swirling vocals and samples hurls the listens down a dark and twisted rabbit hole like little else, and that if we believe Jourgensen, is a first hand account of what was going on in his and the rest of the band’s heads at the time.

TV II and Hero continue the sociopolitical themes before the album’s highlight arrives in the form of a demented slice of Americana, Jesus Built My Hotrod.

With a near gibberish vocal performance from Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, it has a quality that is oddly revelatory in an entirely inexplicable way with slide guitars added to the mix creating an undisputed heavy metal floor filler that has become something of a deranged classic.

Ministry - Jesus Built My Hotrod - Gibby Haynes

Haynes in the video for Jesus Built My Hotrod

After this Scarecrow slows things down from the manic first half of the record and begins a descent into a kind of apocalyptic reverie that is highlighted by the (sort of) title track that combines the intensity of the first half with the later heaviness in the best of ways.

The record is then rounded off by Corrosion and Grace that pull things into a kind of hellishly enjoyable black hole of noise.

While Psalm 69 is a highly enjoyable album purely on its own merits (especially when played at extreme volume), hence its place in music history as a defiantly underground album that crossed over into mainstream consciousness, its place in the history of heavy music is one that, 25 years on, marks it out as a classic.

In many ways it defines the mainstream industrial metal genre which was developed, in various directions, by contemporaries Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and more with only NIN ever reaching a similar level of intensity and power (the others were unashamedly more pop).

Ministry live 1992

Ministry on the 1992 Lollapalooza tour

On top of this it sits alongside the work of Rage Against The Machine, System of a Down and their ilk in reintroducing a truly subversive streak into the heavy metal mainstream following the self-absorption of 80s glam and the nihilism or internal depression of grunge.

This all comes together to make Psalm 69 an album that set the scene for a lot of the music that was to follow, even reaching as far as nu-metal (for its sins), and marking Ministry, who have had a patchy career before and since, as one of the most influential metal bands of the past three decades here if nowhere else.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blue Mountains – Hummingbird EP

Blue Mountains - HummingbirdAt the recent Sark Folk Festival Guernsey based folk band Blue Mountains release the follow-up to their Refusing To Die album, the four track EP Hummingbird.

Recorded at Stretchy Studios in Guernsey the EP marks a development for the band expanding to a four piece from their original duo line up and being made up predominantly of original songs rather than the traditional material heard on their debut.

My review of the EP was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 15th July 2017.

Blue Mountains - Hummingbird review scan - 15/07/17

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Against Me! – New Wave

Against Me - New Wave album cover10 years ago as I write this Floridian punk rockers Against Me! released an album that was, for better or worse, to become a landmark one in their career, New Wave.

Following something of a falling out with indie label Fat Wreck Chords over their Searching For A Former Clarity record the band signed a deal with a major label, Sire, for their fourth (and then fifth) albums.

This instantly set them apart not only from the anarcho-punk scene they originally came from (though to many there even Fat Wreck had been too big a move) but also from their fans who had followed the band’s first three albums to whom a major label was seen as a hugely controversial move.

The whys and wherefores of all of this (from at least one perspective) are covered in Laura Jane Grace’s autobiography, Tranny, so here I’m going to focus more on the record itself.

From the moment it begins its clear that New Wave has a bigger production side to it, and with Butch Vig behind the desk that’s not a surprise. What it does though right away is hint at the difference between the outlook of the band and the plans of the Sire executives.

Against Me! circa 2007

Against Me! circa 2007

While the band, led by chief songwriter Grace (then known as Thomas Gabel), kept at least a semblance of their sociopolitical outlook, they had added to that an embittered streak focussing on the aforementioned punk ideals, the notion of ‘selling out’ and the criticisms they had gained from longstanding fans, there’s a strong sense that what Sire were looking for was the next generation of Foo Fighters.

While this gives the whole record something of a conflicted edge the dangerous side of the music gets lost in the deeper production, stifling what could have been a very impressive set of songs highlighting the ever-present clash between art and commerce. Title track New Wave, Up The Cuts and the supremely catchy Stop! particularly vocalise this, but it is a theme bubbling under throughout.

Politics remains a strong aspect of the lyrics, possibly in a slightly more abstract sense than in the past, but White People For Peace and Americans Abroad both have political overtones with the first dealing with war and protest singers and the second feeling like a very aware look at global Americanisation from the point of view of the band on tour.

Against Me! live 2007

Against Me! live in 2007

What all this suggests is that there are some good songs on the record and, in many ways it does continue where Searching… had left off two years previously, with the band developing a slightly poppier and more accessible tone while still having plenty to say, it’s just this came across far better with a slightly less ‘over produced’ sound.

That said a couple of tracks really stand out. The first is Thrash Unreal, the album’s second single, that takes the kind of topics often dealt with in teen pop punk but throws them askance issuing something of a warning of increasingly youthful excess but finally standing up as a celebration of teenage rebellion (with a very dark edge).

The other stand out track is the albums closer, The Ocean, that uses the advanced production for all its worth to create a deep and atmospheric piece that delves deeper than ever before into the Grace’s psyche and feelings in a way that has since become something of a premonition for not just the future of the band but her personal life as well (loosely anyway).

Thomas Gabel/Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! in 2007

Gabel/Grace live in 2007

This all leaves New Wave as something of a transitional record in Against Me!’s career, lacking some of the danger of the past and hinting at a possible more ‘corporate rock’ future that never really emerged (thankfully).

The follow-up, White Crosses, while also featuring some great songs also felt somewhat disconnected and eventually almost led to the collapse of the band before their next landmark moment on Transgender Dysphoria Blues that saw them take many aspects of what they were before but become something new and certainly become about as far removed from being the next Foo Fighters as a band could get while still playing pop-tinged punk rock.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,