Wednesday, 11 August 2010

REVIEW: Best Coast - Crazy For You

With the recent successes of self-proclaimed "surf pop" bands such as Surfer Blood and The Drums, Bethany Cosentino aka Best Coast joins a genre already teeming with potential. However, with their debut album comes the impression that this is a duo quite apart from the rest. Free from wacky haircuts and Brooklyn swagger, Best Coast's music has a raw, DIY honesty that makes it feel like a couple of friends jamming in your garage on a sunny afternoon, dealing with topics from love to weed to, err, talking cats.

This is obvious from album opener and ready-made summer anthem "Boyfriend" in which Bethany laments a friend which she wishes was more (haven't we all?). The lyrics are straightforward and the instrumental has an endearing simplicity to match. The Beach Boy-esque "oohs" and "aahs" provide the sugar-sweet backdrop which allows the vocal to dominate. It is much the same on the following track "Crazy For You" during which the lyrics gain a dose of quirky, sharp humour when Bethany admits "I want to kill you but then I'd miss you". The vocal is delivered in a style similar to Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell with their signature, punchy brass exchanged for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart-inspired grungey guitar riffs.

Slow(er) jam "Our Deal" features dreamy, calypso chorus "that's not your deal, that's not my deal", laid over feather-light harmonies, Bethany's tale of heartbreak taking centre-stage. The pair get their angst awn in my personal favourite track "Bratty B" with the guitar adding extra weight and the drawl delivered with an air of a don't-give-a-shit attitude - "Pick up the phone, I wanna talk about my day, it really sucked." Stoner-anthem "Goodbye" is also a highlight, Bethany's vocal at its most ferocious - "Well I don't love you but I don't hate you, I don't know how I feel." The tempo gathers speed in similarly punky number "Happy" at just 1:45. This is a trend with the record's longest track clocking in at just 3:01; each song a short, sharp burst of energy, captivating their audience for just the right duration and proving the puuuuurfect summer soundtrack!

REVIEW: Tall Ships EP

Tall Ships are an intriguing trio from Falmouth, Cornwall and the latest band on the lips and fingertips of every blogger and blogger-ette in the know.

Having cosied up to the likes of the oh-so-brilliant Tubelord on a host of UK tour dates; this, their debut EP, was sold out before being released as a pre-order. Despair not however; a spangly second batch are on their way "hand printed, hand cut, hand assembled, hand everything...into the ether for general consumption." Prepare to pounce sooner than you can say "collectors item" because these vinyls will be gold-dust by the time these guys hit up global main stages.

The EP itself is an eclectic mix of songs, representative of Tall Ships' varied repertoire. 'Books' provides the opener of the self-titled EP with a subdued synth line, akin to the whimsical specialities of I Was A Cub Scout (R.I.P) before breaking into a dancier Delphic-esque rhythm. This intensity swells to its peak about 1:50 before crumbling away to the barebones of a delicate vocal with synth-y undertones maintaining the pace. "Ty-ee-ey-ee-ey-ee-ey-ime, ty-ee-ime is precious" coos Tall Ships’ lead singer, as skin-tight percussion whips the choruses into frenzied highs.

'Words Are Pegs Upon Which We Hang Ideas' (a close contender for the best song name evah) begins at a similarly mellow pace before picking up around 1:40 with a riff, tinted with shades of Blakfish and Tellison. A math-rocky hue also features at this point with Foals-approved brass and energetic guitar line reinforcing this. Despite the absence of lyrics, the strength of the instrumental holds it’s feisty own for the 4:17 duration.

This maths-pop/rock vibe extends into the third track of the EP, "Beanieandodger", with two shrill guitars competing with each other yet creating a harmonious pairing. This delicacy is offset with a beastlier riff kicking in around 1:15; before retreating to the same precision, enhanced by the glockenspiel accompaniment. The track dissolves to its finish, the guitar and percussion both gradually plodding to a halt.

EP closer "Vessels" begins with a similarly serene acoustic/synth duo, complimented by Bon-Iver-esque warbling. The tempo is escalated by a grand guitar interlude followed by a sea-shanty organ. This fittingly nautical instrumental is married to a similarly sailor-like chant - "Our vessel that carried you and me, now sits at the bottom, the bottom of the sea." With the organ gradually fading, the rowdy chorus and percussion live on until the final clash of a cymbal. And the rest is silence.

All I can say is that if Tall Ships continue to make music to this standard, it’s plain sailing from hereon in.

REVIEW: Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring

I have been a Los Campesinos! fan since the early days of "Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP", although this time around with "Romance is Boring", the charming ditties ("there's red stains all over the place, but they're not blood, they're Cherry-ade") are exchanged for lyrics with more of a bite ("you could never kiss a Tory boy without wanting to cut off your tongue again.")

This latest offering (said to be a record "about the death and decay of the human body, lost love, mental breakdown, and football") sees the Cardiff-based band not patronisingly "all grown up", but rather fully realised. Such a vast spectrum of subject matter and Los Camp!'s hyperactive tendencies make for one helluva (at the risk of quoting Ronan Keating's 2000 hit) emotional rollercoaster. By the end of all 15 tracks you are left with a vaguely sore-but-satisfied heart. The record offers overwhelming depth of lyrical emotion and when the record leaked in its entirety, frontman Gareth himself proclaimed: "I put so much of myself into these songs and lyrics and it's nobody's right to take what little power we have over them, away from us. It really feels like ripping something out of my chest." "Romance is Boring" is also characterised by broad musical experimentation which spans well beyond previous efforts of "Hold On Now, Youngster" and "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed". However, despite this evolutionary move, the quirks that first endeared Los Campesinos! to their loyal following are not lost, with their trademark glockenspiel solos still thriving alongside harsher guitars and broader brass sections.

Album opener "Media Res" eases listeners in with a deceivingly mellow acoustic guitar, soothing violin, serene synth and our-old-friend Mr. Glockenspiel. The opening line - "Let's talk about you for a minute" - makes way for intensely relatable lyrics of that night we've all experienced when we were "far too fucked to drive, were the words that you imparted". Our reminiscing is cut short, however, when an ominous drumbeat kicks in following the mandatory glock-solo; accompanied by reverb-drenched vocals and sinister strings, Gareth's drawl leering "I'm leaving my body to science...drag my corpse to the airport." The instrument seems to erupt into chaos with the dust after the storm settled by rousing trumpets which would not be out of place on an Arcade Fire record.

This vibe-setter of an opening track leads into the first single off of the record, "There Are Listed Buildings". Here, the band unashamedly showcases their ultimately pop credentials with a wonderfully indulgent chorus of "ba ba ba ba", more akin to earlier "You! Me! Dancing!" and "My Year in Lists". Frantic bass-lines coupled with messy synths make for the perfect pick-me-up in the wretched winds of January. The title track of the record - "Romance is Boring" - shows the band drawing on grungier influences with filthy opening riff, making way for aptly angst-y cries of the chorus - "We're proving to each other that ROMANCE IS BOOOR-ING!" in a brilliantly bratty line that you will be humming all week long. Gareth's razor-sharp bluntness is at its best when confronting the subject of young love; when he admits "we are two ships that pass in the night, you and I, we are nothing alike", before the track literally screeches to a halt with an exasperated pant. I can empathise; my lungs are beginning to burn just writing this, as Los Campesinos! move at a magnificently merciless rate of knots, like a hurricane sweeping through small-town America.

True evidence of the band having been shredded at the edges comes in the form of "Plan A" which sees the septet at their rawest and most terrifying. Gareth and recently-departed Aleks Campesinos! urgently shriek their way though the majority of the 2:03 duration. This supposedly harebrained track, however, is grounded by the richness of the brass accompaniment which almost gives you the impression of a silent movie soundtrack. A steam trail hurtling towards a defenceless maiden, bound to the tracks. This is the defining feature of Los Campesinos!; their ability to conjure up an entire storyline and potent, palpable emotions from a few bars of music. Riffs and chords, verses and choruses.

The seven-piece do not prove themselves to be entirely sadistic, however. Track "200-102-Los Campesinos!" provides a temporary lull featuring vaguely haunting chimes juxtaposed with a tranquil, country strum of an acoustic guitar. Although these 54 seconds are not to be cherished as listeners are again swept off their feet wth "Straight In At 101". This is an implicit ode to the awkwardness of teenage sexuality as Gareth amusingly professes "feels like the build up takes forever, but you never touch my cock", nestled amongst kooky harmonies and cutesy handclaps. Another one of these benevolent interludes comes in the form of later "Heart Swells/101-1" comprising 46 seconds and offering an almost sci-fi vibe complete with spooky, echoing vocal. This calm is (you guessed it) short-lived as the next track explodes into the full-throttle madness of "I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know."

My personal favourite track from the album is "The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future", the first of their new material to surface on their blog, marking a decisive shift in style. The backbone here is formed with the suave murmur of a cello and the exceptional crash of guitar and glockenspiel during the climactic chorus. These dramatic choruses seem to mimic the undulating cadence of the sea itself. The lyrics thesmelves tell a heartbreaking tale of an unfortunate young girl, her desperation epitomised by Gareth's yell "she said one day to leave her, sand up to her shoulders, waiting for the tide to drag her to the ocean, to another sea' shore."

As the record draws to a close, a droll irony is found in the authority of the lyric "can we all please just calm the fuck down!" in "This Is A Flag. There Is No Wind." The record presently obeys as "Coda: A Burn Scar In The Shape Of The Sooner State" rolls around, with Gareth and Aleks' stark vocal - "I can't believe you chose the mountains every time that I chose the sea" - mixes with the seemingly harmonic instrumental, gradually spiralling into delightful dischord.

This second, chaotic LP from Los Campesinos! is one that you are sure to fall in love with, time and time again.

REVIEW: Them Crooked Vultures - Self-titled

On paper, Them Crooked Vultures have got all the right ingredients for your ultimate rock band super-group, with a salivating line-up: Dave Grohl (the musical prodigy behind godfathers-of-rock Nirvana and Foo Fighters), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal mastermind, as well as ginger icon in a world of Mick Hucknall's) and John Paul Jones (former bassist of legendary Led Zeppelin). Signed to the record-label giant Sony, the UK leg of their upcoming tour sold out in 12 minutes and they've been hugely hyped by the likes of Zane Lowe. However, it is not until now with the release of their self-titled debut that they have been able to justify the flurry of excitement currently surrounding the trio.

It is during album opener "No One Loves Me & Neither Do I" that you are first hit with the realisation that this band is not merely a mash-up of previous projects but an entirely new beast (or rather, bird). And an ambitious beast at that. That is not to say that the member's back catalogue has been abandoned altogether, which would be an absurd thing to do considering their huge commercial success and general kick-ass-ness. Their extensive repertoire is echoed throughout the record. There is no denying that this is an album of epic proportions. This is refelected in its length of 13 tracks, of which only 3 are under 3 minutes, and also in the sheer musicianship that you'd expect from these three muskateers. They are determined to prove that they are not one-trick-ponies. Homme's raw vocal spans throughout the record from the sultry warblings of the first track through to the punk punch on track "New Fang" via the Kid-A-esque haunting of "Interlude with Ludes".

The album opener sees the band warning that their going to "lose control" and you can't help but stand back when you're hit with "huh!" and the irresistible hook, reminiscent of Rage circa "How I Could Just Kill a Man". "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" offers more of the same vicious shredding layered with a harmonised vocal. This is one of the intricacies of TCV that separates them from beign just another rock band; drawing a parallel with early Kasabian (we're talking L.S.F (Lost Souls Forever) here, pre-Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiire, before you accuse me of blasphemy). However, following this hardcore guitar action our moshing is cut short roughly 60 seconds from the end of the track to be greeted with a bizarre organ outro that I can only describe as possessing the ability to transport me back to family holidays in Devon by the seaside.

The flourish seems to me to be an ode to individuality and quirkiness; but instead of the desired reaction of "ooh, kooky", it just leaves the listener with something of a furrowed brow. In striving to mark themselves out from the rest they admittedly sometimes miss the bulls-eye, such as in track "Interlude with Ludes" in which they attempt to tear a leaf out of Thom Yorke's book. However, the confusing mesh of echoing percussion, background howling and the sense of a vague chorus falls flat; it seems strangely out of place nestled amongst the potential quintessential rock anthems of "Dead End Friends", "Reptiles" and "Elephants". In fact, somewhat ironically, TCV are at their best when they're stepping outside of their comfort zone of heavy guitars and thrashing and into a groovier arena. This is demonstrated in Queens of the Stone Age-coated "Scumbag Blues" in which the throbbing base line, Homme's crooning falsetto and funky organ undertones tie the track together to razor-blade greatness. The same can be said for "Caligulove" whose tight rhythm and structure into tribal dischord with a Muse-dreneched riff that carries the track as if on the shoulders of sweaty moshpit victims. This is the case up until, say, 60 seconds from the end. "Caligulove" bites the dust. Another victim of the Queer Organ Outro which just seems as if Grohl and Co. have run out of juice and whacked any old sample on the end.

It's a shame given the vast majority of the tracks are gold dust but let down by either the Queer Organ Outro (or Q.O.O for short), intentionally "quirky" flourishes or just the sheer length of the tracks. "Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up" clocks in at a monster 7:50. This length, although presumably intended to reinforce the feeling of grandiose epic, is nothing short of tiring (at least for my attention span). It is possibly at the expense of the impressive vocal line as seen in "Elephants" which may as well be an instrumental with Homme's tones providing nothing more than embellishment. The long solos also begin to grate as more self-indulgent than entertaing by the end of all 13 tracks on the debut.

Believe the hype, they're definitely worth a listen.