Monday, June 23

Fighting With Wire

Somewhat luckily for those scattered around Barfly a month or so ago, Tom Smith hadn't let himself go, and Peter Hook wasn't losing badly at Twister. It was however the bassist from Fighting With Wire making up one third of Northern Ireland’s finest export since Ash started stalking Noel Gallagher. FWW have been going at the whole alt.punk.rock thing for a good while, only now they’ve seemed to of pushed the same button Biffy did four albums in. You know, the one that says ‘Daytime Radio Friendly’ on it. Nevertheless, these are still only on their debut, and by means of singer Cahir O’Doherty’s semi-Zack de la Rocha, semi-Andy Falkous yelps over utterly scathing warped blasts which one cannot help but shift to, they came off pretty darn rousing. Chucking the single out there halfway through, ‘Everyone Needs A Nemesis’ is a tune and a half, prancing in the mould of Fugazi running as fast as they can away from Dave Grohl. Of course it was by far the most entrancing in their set, though ‘Strength In Numbers’ and ‘Sugar’ didn't half come close. Time was left for frighteningly butch drummer Craig McKean to go off on a beat-tangent, all before O’Doherty found himself trying to workout the meaning of the many Scouse mumblings thrown in his direction. These'll be massive.
Fighting With Wire Myspace

Monday, June 16

Weezer And Their Okay New Album

The last time Weezer set free a full-blown collection of new songs into the musical wild, all who’d taken either of their first four albums into their heart took note and listened in. This time, any thrill neighbouring the release of ‘Weezer’, otherwise ‘The Red Album’, is much less evident. This could be down to last album ‘Make Believe’ holding two out of a possible twelve supreme moments. It could be that most have become bored of singer Rivers Cuomo’s traditional post-album “I’m not certain we’ll ever make a record again” declarations. Or it could be because five albums in to the LA four-piece’s gleaming livelihood, not many are so anxious by the chance to hear another.
Nevertheless, ‘Weezer’, the third time they’ve self-titled an album, has taken three years to get here, and comes via the odd producer fuse of Jacknife Lee (U2/Bloc Party/Snow Patrol) and Rick Rubin (System Of A Down/Red Hot Chili Peppers/Johnny Cash). And since 2005’s ‘Make Believe’ much has happened: Cuomo graduated from Harvard, got married, and released an album’s worth of unheard material. Guitarist Brian Bell and drummer Patrick Wilson pretended to be The Velvet Underground in drama film ‘Factory Girl’. And bassist Scott Shriner too got married.
The nicely dense ten-track album begins with ‘Troublemaker’, which sets things off by way of a constant and pretty average riff that if bolted up just slightly higher would come off much beefier, all for the better. Though at least Cuomo’s always-witty words of wisdom are in place - “Movies are as bad as eating chocolate ice cream”. ‘The Greatest Man That Ever Lived’ plainly makes use of Rubin’s touch to flow by means of Queen-esque solos and Mercury-screeching, before finishing up in the mould of a hymn. Meh.
Lead single ‘Pork And Beans’ is however the Weezer we all know and cherish, through trouble-free catchy melody bathing under what are probably Cuomo’s most straightforward lyrics thus far, for what is one of their greatest ever inventions. ‘Heart Songs’ is this record’s shining point though, a soft jingle that manages to reference Abba, John Lennon and Iron Maiden all in the same few minutes. However it’s Cuomo’s detail of finding the 91’ record “with the baby on it” before starting his band that is the most touching of moments. But then turns up ‘Everybody Get Dangerous’, where Cuomo’s want to street up his vocals seems more phoney than blissful.
At least somewhere within the regular changes of course in ‘Dreamin’’ exists some tuneful harmonies, before it decides to needlessly rush out with almost Green Day guitar punk. ‘Cold Dark World’ is as daunting as Pink Floyd, then the album finishes with ‘The Angel And The One’, a stupefying piece which sees Cuomo as honest and sentimental as ever, traversing above a single 91’-like grungy guitar line.
Still, the thing with ‘Weezer’ is that where ‘Pork And Beans’, ‘Heart Songs’ and ‘The Angel And The One’ have enough purity and melody in them to match, or even better, their previous efforts, there’s just as many pointless twists on here that can’t help but pull the record down. Producers’ Rubin and Lee are geniuses, but the shifts in the album’s path are obvious, and don’t come off. It should have been kept as undemanding as its lead single, where Weezer are at their finest and where many of their followers have been influenced. The album promotion will finish, Rivers Cuomo will announce they’ve broken up, and then in three years time they’ll be back again. Only let’s hope then they’ve got a classic to bring us.
Heart Songs
Weezer Myspace

Tuesday, June 10

I Go I Go I Go

Not many bands have had the honour of being mentioned more than once within the fine posts of this fine blog. The Wombats probably lead the list, with Elle S'appelle and Eugene McGuinness up there as well. But there's another band from Liverpool who also deserve such a wonderful accolade...

Radiohead’s cryptic blog posts. The Jack and Meg sibling dogma. Albarn’s fixation with the African kora. Some musical greats just wouldn’t be the same without a little mystery. So when Wave Machines stroll on to each and every show of theirs behind masks adorned with the image of their actual faces, it makes total sense that underneath such obscurity is the kind of sweet psych-pop Wayne Coyne could only desire to conjure up.
“The masks thing was originally a way of hiding our faces,“ admits co-singer/guitarist Tim sat down inside the band’s rehearsal space, otherwise the back of a cozy church on the outskirts of Liverpool’s city centre. “I wanted to feel a bit more secure about singing in front of people as I’d never done it before. We struck on this idea of putting our own faces on the masks, and it had this really strong impact. It’s easier to avoid people’s eyes when there’s a bit of cardboard on your face and not imagine that they’re thinking ‘God, it’s awful’.” But if their very own homemade self-titled EP of last year is anything to go by, drawing out all manners of candy-coated beats and Neil Tennant-esque squeals, ‘awful’ would dare cross one’s mind. ‘Punk Spirit’ in particular lopes like the late Grandaddy waking up from their grave. “There’s a real traditional song writing background to what we do, but we definitely try to flavour it in as interesting a way as possible. There’s real joy in nailing a poppy song that’s got some kind of edge to it,” prides Tim.
As bizarre as it may be, this local church’s grand design suits Wave Machines’ lush, soothing tones perfectly. “The building itself is really inspirational to work in. But I don’t share any of the beliefs of the people that created this space,” tells Tim, before co-singer/keyboardist Carl politely interrupts, “It was a really obvious progression to put our night on here with Mercy (local designers/poets). To put some music on the altar and decorate this space is very exciting. It’s not a normal black rock and roll venue with sticky floor.” The very first of these nights, Wave If You’re Really There, happens on June 7, featuring an array of bands and poets. But whether it be set in the corner of Liverpool’s Tate Gallery, on the carpets of the nation’s rundown gig venues, or even in this very rehearsal space, this lot’s live spectacle is truly like no other. Tim and Carl alter who leads the vocals, backed up by bassist James and drummer Vidar. But is there a main front man? “We are Wave Machines”, declares Carl, “The idea to me is that groups of people say something powerfully together. It’s easier for people to hook on to one person but it’s also interesting for some band members to leave the stage and for others to sing. Therefore we’re able to make a more attractive set for people to watch.”
Shout and Twist was lucky enough to see the band exhibit such a set, which included new single ‘I Go I Go I Go’, a disco-rooted gem that footsteps to the syrupy guitar paths Hot Chip resided in on their first effort. James says, “In recent times we’ve been listening a lot to The Notwist. It’s a perfect blend of indie electronica and pop music. But influences go back to all kinds of things, like Joni Mitchell is a big one for Carl,” who feels, “Once you’ve been absorbing music for seven or eight hours of the day the last thing you wanna do is go and see what someone else is doing.” Despite slight references to past sound spirits, ignorance of the current scenes and trends is obvious in the band’s own noise, simply because they emerge miles above everything else that’s going on.
“If you don’t have any ego then you’re probably not gonna last too long. Though I get very influenced in the short term. I see a band that’s doing something completely different and think ‘Shit, we should be doing that’, and then after a day or two I think ‘No’,” reveals Tim, as Carl jokes, “It’s hell for the other three of us. You wanna see the tattoos I’ve had and then had them off!”
So, unless they transform into yet another ‘progressive’ math-rock posse or something, these will carry on making one timeless tune after the other. In their own way, on their own terms. Wave Machines are Liverpool’s best-kept secret no more.
Punk Spirit
Wave Machines Myspace

Monday, June 2

Liverpool Sound City - The Conclusion

Snapping a shot of today’s musical landscape is like trying to piece together the good bits from The Ting Ting’s debut album. Tough stuff.
Nonetheless, the very first Liverpool Sound City has done rather well in cramming all the guitar grime, Korg-keys and alt.folk one would ever call for in a four-day festival, spread across every of the city’s noisy retreats. And even if Reverend and the Makers are one of the headliners, the rest of the line-up most definitely makes up for it…

Tuesday 27 May
Day one. And it’s local posse Earl Grey and the Lego Men who begin proceedings at The Metropolitan, albeit in front of about five people, few of which are the next band on. Still, there’s a kind of GN’R-encounters-RATM about them, what with the guitarist’s classic rock solo attempts traversing underneath the singer’s political blurts. These have all the right things to say, they just need a platform to say them.
Over at the Carling Academy Soft Toy Emergency have scored themselves an early support slot under headliners Hadouken!, all in order to take advantage of the latter’s extremely adolescent and extremely bouncy fans, whilst showing off their own slab of fuzzy but clean jumped-up chord-tro. Actually rather good.
A quick trip to the Barfly to catch supposedly ‘buzz-band’ Team Waterpolo, only to realise after about a minute’s worth of the first ABBA-stained nightmare why there’s hardly a soul in here. Thus, the punk’d up Bloc-throbs of Does It Offend You, Yeah? have never seemed so enticing, even if they are being displayed within what is now a sweat-crazed upstairs of the Carling Academy. ‘Front’ man Morgan Quaintance is not so lively larking about with the sounds of their debut, though he still manages to transform ‘Dawn of the Dead’ into a potential WWE entrance theme.
Downstairs The Ghost Frequency do a good job in making up for the disappointment of just missing The Death Set’s, er, set, via the kind of supercharged beat-punk that can only be experienced live. Near to the end and Artrocker’s just realised they’ve been standing next to James Hadouken!, who for the record is quite the giant in real life, and who also for the record takes to the stage upstairs nearly twenty minutes later.
The lights shut off and the room is screeching the loudest it has all night. Each of Hadouken! emerge only to raise their arms as victors, four kings and one queen, prep’d up to prove why all in here should bow down to their grime-centric muscles. ‘Liquid Lives’ is an absolute classic, but between this and the alluring Crystal Castles about to set off downstairs, the latter win over our eyes. The blaring chiptunes, the uneasy roars of Alice Glass, the crowd’s need to grasp her every motion. This is an experience all must undergo.

Wednesday 28 May
Why is it that most of today’s fresh musical ‘talents’ boast a purpose to sound like Foals? First off at the back of Bumper, Little Fields seem way too reliant on supple guitar patterns and stop-start drum breaks to even consider forming three minutes of actual coherency. Not that Electric Church Foundation aren’t doing the same, though at least with a tad more majestic means, like if Spiritualized were faffing about in Kraftwerk’s private studio or something.
Now to the Domino showcase at Carling Academy 2 where Lightspeed Champion is touting some new tunes, two of which emerge funkier than what is stocked on his fine debut, almost as hard on the edges as Thin Lizzy. No kid. There is of course room to shelve out things like ‘Dry Lips’ and ‘Tell Me What Its Worth’, now both just utter indie classics. However, Dev’s set is left with one song to go, as Artrocker favourites and Liverpool’s most desired masterminds of today, Wave Machines, are about to stride on stage at the cafĂ©-turned-venue Static Gallery, masks clasped on to their faces naturally. Their assorted array of sure-fire hits is made evident by the gentle and much rousing wonders of set-starter ‘The Greatest Escape We Ever Made’ and set-closer ‘Punk Spirit’, right through to the dance-rooted nugget ‘I Go I Go I Go’. They digress into a tangle of obscurity but still those watching cannot turn away, they know this is something special. The most inspiring thing all week. Another group of stupefying architects that can only truly be experienced live are found in the form of tonight’s headliners, The Strange Death of Liberal England, Portsmouth’s very own orchestral power-tripping stage show. Mightily satisfying.

Thursday 29 May 2008
The sad news of Late of the Pier and Esser’s last-minute cancellations has broken, which means all eyes are on London’s The Shortwave Set to fill time at Carling Academy. They’re as angry as Sons And Daughters but as dull as The Black Keys: Meh.
At Revolution an odd fuse of alt.folk and throbbing bass lines render The Pedantics promising, all before Barfly finally opens its doors, where Brooklyn trio Telepathe begin in what is a slowly filling room upstairs. These carry half their big beat-whines via a programmed MacBook, the other through guitar and drums. It’s a soothing, rich occurrence that is probably just as affective on tape as it in here. Some whirs resemble what Carlos D’s bass-centric disco side-project would be like if he had one.
Downstairs Florence and The Machine have adorned the stage with fake-but-pretty flowers and an empty birdcage. We can already tell where this is going. Though not at least with the reasonable set-starting rendition of Cold War Kids’ ‘Hospital Beds’. Band leader Florence Welch is in possession of yet another dynamic voice we should all bow down to, even if at times her histrionic recoils of flakiness come off more annoying than sweet. “Come nearer, I’m not scary I promise,” she asks of the busy room halfway through, her face flickering with glitter. ‘Bird Song’ makes evident her knack of crafting dance-rooted thumping gems as well as moving, majestic journeys of wonder. But though this is a joyous and interesting spectacle to witness, there just isn’t enough of a pop sensation to be pulled into, apart from her second cover of the night in Mystery Jets’ ‘Flakes’ that is.
Upstairs Swedish daze-techno artist Axel Willner, aka The Field, is filing out heavy, pulsating and compelling beats that still manage to come across pure and stripped-down. Give this guy a bigger space in four hours’ time and this would work with ease. Bordering on a merge of Jacques Lu Cont’s rising reveries and Thom Yorke’s ‘The Eraser’ floor cuttings, Willner carries through a blissful energy that will no doubt be felt by many.
Now Barfly is as packed as it’s been all night. Two ladies and six men step on stage as Hercules and Love Affair (though Antony & The Johnsons’ Antony Hegarty is not present) to hordes of cheers, all but lead singer Nomi sporting New York streets’ term, ‘BANJEE’, on black sleeveless tees. The crowd are shaking to every 70s thrash, every elastic key and every pounding bass line. At first the much-loved house-revivalists seem awkward by Liverpool’s zealous reaction, at least until they feel free to question one fanatic’s sweat patches few songs in. ‘Blind’ is missing Hegarty’s warm vocals but is still a few minutes you just can’t help but move to, though the biggest approval remained for ‘Hercules Theme’, a towering chaos of trumpets and horns. This is also the kind of thing that can only truly be experienced live, and what a fine finish to a progressive evening.

Friday 30 May 2008
Following The Wombats' special homecoming at St. George's Hall, which is so much smaller inside than you'd ever imagine, tonight Zanzibar’s tenth-birthday celebrations for Moshi! Moshi! has the most enticing of bills on offer, firstly with Elle S’appelle. Haven’t these achieved world domination yet? As well as crafting one of last year’s finest jingles, ‘Little Flame’, this trio have hordes of joyous gems worthy of anybody’s pocket money. And tonight they win over even more of this city’s music rooters. Only a matter of time.
Electro-folkster James Yuill crops up next, almost carrying on where Tom Vek left off three years ago, only a touch more tender. That brave mingle of tough pounds and acoustic guitar shouldn’t work but here it truly does, as Yuill politely thanks the audience at every break. Where ‘No Surprise’ leans on a Postal Service spectrum of sweet toils, ‘How Could I Lose’ creeps down a more daunting pathway. A special spectacle for sure.
Headliners Hot Club de Paris are much-greeted back into their home town to present songs off their new record, some seeming bigger and brasher than on their debut. These are further proving their gift of formulating tight and thorny guitar lines into catchy-as-hell moments is unrivalled. All gaze in awe, as yelps of “Grappled by” ring around the room for ‘Shipwreck’, before they finish with ‘Clockwork Toy’. A necessary band at their most impressive, and a fitting end to Sound City.

Sunday, June 1

May - Album Of Last Month

Le Sac Vs. Pip came close, Santogold impressed me, and The Futureheads even managed to win back my heart. Still, aside from the rarity of last month, there can only be one Album Of Last Month...

Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs - Atlantic
Death Cab are one of those bands I get annoyed with reviewers by, when reading badly researched album reviews or interviews or whatever. Not that I know absolutely everything about this lot. In fact I fell in love with them post-Transatlanticism, but I have for sure cherished every one of their albums and every of Ben Gibbard's sincere mumblings. His soothing voice evokes a sense warmth and safety I don't get from any other. This, their seventh album, is brilliant. 'Transatlanticism' is one of the greatest albums ever made, and therefore was a moment they'll most probably never surpass. Whereas 'Plans' seemed too concerned with just-for-the-hell-of-it samples which ended up backfiring, this lays bear a simpler, more natural Death Cab, and comes off magically. Their art of beginning an album via a big, brash masterpiece is proven once more with 'Bixby Canyon Bridge', though I could take or leave the eight-minute 'I Will Possess Your Heart', otherwise the lead single. 'Talking Bird' could well be an early Weezer effort, or even a late one if you've been following the words of Rivers Cuomo lately. Nonetheless, 'Grapevine Fears' and 'Your New Twin Sized Bed' will make us real men cry, though my complete and utter favourite is 'The Ice Is Getting Thinner', when Gibbard's heartfelt resoundings traverse above entirely sweet strings. A superb return, as well as a relief.
The Ice Is Getting Thiner