Delusionists – Underachiever (hip-hop)
Beats Laying About, 2011, DD single, 4m 17s
It’s a hard lesson to learn, when you realise you’re not likely to hit the big time with your art, and you’ve already invested so much, with so little to show for it in material terms… it certainly can make you feel like an underachiever. Ben Black seems to conflate his focus on his work (rather than work) with a persistent immaturity, and looks wistfully around him at the homes, wives and cars of his friends. ‘How can I look my children in the eye/ and tell them Daddy didn’t make it because Daddy didn’t try?’ he asks, though, which more or less answers his own questions. The excellent production adopts a lazy melancholy, and Black’s flow just falls out naturally, slotting into the groove with a low-key wordplay that is never flash but always solid. This is good stuff, very atmospheric, and it rings very true, its linguistic contortions raising a smile as it expresses its narrators ennui without whinge or rancour. There’s something irresistibly funky and charismatic about the delivery, and the track as a whole is a superb listen.
Empty Guns – Niemand Hat Vor Eine Mauer Zu Bauen (post-punk)
self released, 2012, DD EP, 14m 31s
€? (released March 16)
Varied post-punk or new-wave guitar textures, clean vocals, nice melodies, good chord sequences that spin tales of atmosphere and the ebb and flow of tension. I don’t know what the songs are about, but the EP’s title means (roughly) ‘nobody is out to build a wall’ (as translated for me by a band member). It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, by any means, but the songs are really well constructed, informed for the most part by a driving, mid-tempo positivity; the melodies are moving, the grooves are deep, and the whole thing is damn’ catchy. Empty Guns have a nice approach to orchestration, and the guitar frequently switches roles, between a locked-in huddle with the bass and drums, and an independent counterpoint. That’s emblematic of their creativity, which feels less bounded by the generic conventions it declines to cross, than it is enabled by them. Ear pleasing, entertaining music.
Leitkegel – LTKGL (post-punk)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 13m 38s
Leitkegel is another band from the same general part of the musical (and geographical) world as Empty Guns, but they have a distinctly heavier approach, and a consequently steeper dynamic curve, which makes for some very dramatic arrangements. Combined with a vocal delivery that goes from spoken word to a scream these songs are quite a rollercoaster, with a good bit of fistpumping potential. Again, this is a German band, and I’m a monoglot, so I don’t know quite what I’m fistpumping to, but what the hell. They have a big triangle on the cover, so I expect their songs are about triangles, and maybe other shapes. ‘Ein Tag im Oktober’ (I’m pretty confident I know what that means) has a particularly exciting chorus, from the metal end of the periodic table, and the electronic remix that follows it is a nice piece of crunchy, industrial-ish dance rock. Altogether it’s an impressive production, with excellent playing and intelligent writing. I enjoyed it.
Old Man Lizard – Old Man Lizard (sludge/ doom)
self released, 2012, DD EP, 26m 41s
Old Man Lizard sound exactly like a broken down old pickup in a sunflower field, so their nicely drawn cover art is strangely apposite. Not many people realise that broken down pickups in sunflower fields sound like immensely heavy stoner sludge-doom, but they do. There’s more to this EP than immense heaviness, however; it visits a lot of places in its quest for sounds, all of them soulful. It stays predominantly in the blues and minor territories of heavy rock, skirting the dissonances of much modern metal, but not avoiding them altogether. The guitar sound is characterised as often by a rich and creamy overdrive as by an out and out wall of fuzz. The riffery is pretty varied too, with some decidedly rural sounding twiddle on the upper strings taking its place alongside the grind and groove. A great strength of the arrangements is the band’s capacity to take its time, and to let notes hang in space, rather than frantically trying to fill every second with activity. Guitarist and vocalist Jack Newnham (also the drummer with the awesome Meadows) keeps his verbal contributions to a full throated roar, that like most of the music seems to sit simultaneously in two worlds: one where hardcore punk rules, and another where early 70s psychedelic blues rock never went away. Old Man Lizard are mining a seam of serious intensity with their art, and their sound is a direct address to the body, an invitation to a world of sonic psychotropia. This is rigorously creative music, it’s well played, and it’s one hell of an awesome sound. What a debut!
The Fierce And The Dead – On VHS (post-rock)
Spencer Park, 2012, CD EP, 21m 19s
These are interesting times for TFATD. Guitarist Matt Stevens has decided to put his acoustic solo career on hold and focus exclusively on the band; the last releases from both entities showed some signs of sonic convergence, but this EP sounds a lot less like the Electric Matt Stevens Band, and shows that a continued creative fire is burning in… well, Morecambe, if their album title is to be believed… There’s only so much you can do with words to describe a sound, and although there’s a great deal of innovation here, I’ve said before what TFATD’s general schtick is, so I’ll just re-cap briefly: it’s instrumental guitar music, concerned more with texture than melody (although strong, simple melodies often form the backbone of a track), and more with groove than with flash. Their intricacies are usually sonic ones, and on On VHS more than any previous release, intricacies is the word for the detailed, inventive and unpredictable sonic devices that make it up. Stevens has a huge range of noise making techniques up his sleeves, and the band as a whole make a speciality of disguising sophisticated rhythmic material as straightforward rock beats. Along with an increased use of guitar sound effects (rather than simply processed guitar sounds), there is a move towards the aggressive sounds of hardcore punk (or even sludge), which raises the stakes dynamically, without detracting from the atmospheric nature of the recordings. As always, the music is fun, but serious minded; it’s easy to put it to use as a soundtrack to your life, but it really rewards close listening. TFATD are one of the most restlessly creative and aurally satisfying bands that I know of, total masters of the rock soundscape, and with this release, they’re going from strength to strength.
She Makes War – In This Boat (gloom-pop)
self released, 2012, DD single, 10m 15s
£3 (£8 for ‘Super Limited Edition Numbered Homemade Valentine’s Card With Download Code’)
It’s a little past Chocolates And Empty Promises Day now, so the super-duper limited edition may have sold out, but rest assured, it said nothing to promise undying romantic love. She Makes War is too concerned with the real and the particular for all that sort of thing; emotion, yes, but sentimentality is thin on the ground in this release. ‘In This Boat’ (also to be found on the forthcoming album Little Battles) concerns some troubled sailors, and the boat is a comfortable but unhealthy fantasy, the whole idea delivered by some grungey, melodic and generally beautiful sounds. ‘Butterflies’ is a live track, an enchanting acoustic confection of disillusion and despond, leavened with hope and self-belief. ‘Hoist That Rag’ I heard for the first time on this release: it combines a laid back beatbox loop, a hint of English folksong, and an irresistible Afro-Cuban groove, shot through with a prominent, sinuous bassline that physically connects itself to the listener’s hips and tugs them from side to side. It’s a hell of a treat to save up for a ‘B-side’, but I mustn’t let the fact that I’ve heard them before distract me from telling you how good the other two tunes are. The whole release, from the writing, through the arrangements, the performances and the production, to the striking artwork, is a thing of beauty. She Makes War’s oeuvre is the work of an enviable talent, and this is a worthy addition (as well as a good place to start, since it’s an absolute snip at that price).