Saturday, 24 July 2010

Unknown Music Review 4: Cautionhorses: ONHO 4-Track EP

Cautionhorses are a punk rock band from Chichester. They are exploring a heavy edge, Joy Division/Devo/ Pixies influenced musical language with a humorous and politically formed lyrical approach. Their songs build constantly, keeping you on the edge of a musical orgasm and then slapping you back just at the last minute.

This 4 track EP is a bargain at £3. Their previous self-titled 7 Track EP is also available for £5. I suggest you buy them both. They will make you jump around the room, move your head about and smile. Both are available on their myspace.

Although the new 4 track doesn't quite hit the levels of either Meat or Strobes from there first EP, all the tracks are solidly good (whereas the 7 track does have a couple of tracks that strike me as filler). The stand out track on this one is Music As A Weapon with its playfully Sesame Street/Johnny Cash/Guantanamo Bay references and catchy melody.

The best Cautionhorses tracks deserve to be heard by a wider audience as they are simply brilliant and their worst are not as bad as most music you'll hear on the radio. They have a style and personality that is fully formed and unique. Their albums are beautifully designed works of DIY stencil art and they're very visually engaging both in live performance and in the pictures and photographs they use to create their online presence.

As you can gather from above I've seen them live (I know them a bit personally, albeit originally through a mutual friend) and they're very very tight and very very good. They don't appear to have any gigs in the pipeline at present but if you ever get the opportunity to see them DO IT.

Cautionhorses mix of anger and humour with danceable textures and awesome riffs is exactly what you want when you want to listen to loud music and thrash around your front room.

Recommendation/Review: Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele

I really really like what Amanda Fucking Palmer (as she often calls herself) is trying to do with this EP: Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele.

This new approach coming from some bands and artists to selling things directly to the audience is fantastic. These attempts by artists (and so far they are generally only "successful" attempts if, like Palmer, they already have a high profile) to be truly independent from labels. To really try and do things for themselves making use of the amazing hopes and possibilities of the internet. It is great from an philosophical perspective: it's what music and art and life is and should be about. It is also great from a ideological perspective as it takes the money away from the bastards. But also it is great from the musicians personal perspective, in an industry that is becoming increasingly powerless and unconnected from the way audiences can and will consume it.

She is giving this EP potentially away for free (well you have to pay 0.84¢ to cover the costs of paypal and paying Radiohead). You can choose to donate more. And you can also pay a lot more for very special personalised "bundles" containing painted Ukulele's, personal phone calls from AFP. She'll sing Haiku's you wrote. And bundles themselves are very interesting new ways for artists and fans to connect (here's another interesting bundle approach).

AFP really gets my good will and respect for this:

is download the music for free, have a friend email it to you, or otherwise own it and enjoy it without paying for it.
honestly, that’s no skin off my back. if radiohead doesn’t KNOW (and neither do I) that you’re downloading this music, i don’t have to pay their publishing fee.
and i’d rather you have this music than not have it. so go ahead and take it from the cloud. yay.
She is fully giving her music, her work, to her fans and asking and offering them the chance to collaborate with her and engage with her. They are her publicity machine, through her blogging, her twitter and her facebook. Word of online mouth spreads this around. She did a live webcast/party offering her fans even more. Making the EP an event. Making it something special.

I don't have much money at present and so only paid the minimum price. And that is really worth paying.

The tracks themselves are varied in how much they work for me. But the ukulele adds wonderful new connotations to the radiohead tracks and when they worth they really work. But don't take my word for it. Why not have a listen:

<a href="">Fake Plastic Trees by Amanda Palmer</a>

For my mind Idioteque from Kid A is the real stand out cover. It is the perfect meshing of the uke sound with the source material, probably because its where the gulf seems greatest. It's interesting as well because the lyrics are more audible and so add new levels to the original. High and Dry is also great and Fake Plastic Trees, whilst not being very different in feel to Radioheads still benefits from the high end uke and female voice.

No Surprises failed to work for me, something about the vocal delivery I think. And Creep (Hungover at Soundcheck in Berlin) was shaping up as an amazing cover but loses it with too much pantomime (at least in the way it sounds) emotion at the end of the song.

But over all some great tracks and a great approach. Both deserve respect and support.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Unknown Music Review 3: The Sequins: The Risky Woods

The Sequins lead singer sounds a lot like Feargal Sharkey (former lead singer of the Undertones) which is the first thing that hits you when you hear them. However he has developed his vocal delivery on this EP and the vocals seem to sit in the music better rather than dominating it as I felt they did occasionally on their previous CD The Death Of Style.

The Risky Woods EP is engaging danceable indie pop. The Sequins have created nice atmospheric landscapes around a mix of choppy and warbling vocal lines. A gentle but thoughtful record, that would work nicely played when sitting in a park on small tinny speakers. Despite having a gothic tone to the sound and the EP artwork it really came across as a summer record to me. Maybe that's the sun shining outside my window, but I think its more to do with the twinkly guitar bits and the way the bass and drums are often swinging the music along.

The lyrics are evocative and thematically linked in to the sound of the music. They didn't grab me with a wow factor but they didn't stand out as being bad. They serve the music and vibe well, occasionally being a bit wordy for my tastes.

The EP hangs together nicely, although each track adds a new flavours, from the Tarrantino faux western style of Space Travel In Your Blood to the Gothrock distortion driven The Chiming Bells, they fit together really well as a set.

The stand out musical moments were the sweeping building All That We Know with its tasty synth parts and creative use of wah wah sound. And the dual vocals of the last track Offside and Beautiful.

The addition of these deeper vocals is a great companion to the lead singers voice which is very high end. I think that using dual lead vocals and dueting lead vocals on their songs is something the band should consider doing more frequently. There are strengths to high end voices (many of my favourite vocalists such as Darren Hayman or Bernhard Sumner have very high end voices) but it is nice to have the whole range covered and would make their sound more distinctive.

It took too long for the secret track to kick in at the end (although at least it was a separate track, I always hate it when its attached to the last track). It yielded a very nice instrumental haunted house style track. This track was really nice and I thought it could have been used as either an intro track to the album or a straight last track. I couldn't really see why it had been positioned as a secret/bonus track.

The Sequins are Talking Heads meets The Smashing Pumpkins with very occasional touches of Antony and the Johnsons.

A pleasant 5 songs to kick back to in the sunshine with some nicely danceable moments. Good work and definitely worth getting if you're into tight and engaging Indie music with gothic/dramatic undertones.

[Disclosure: I went to primary and part of secondary school with the bass player.]

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Unknown Music Review 2: Driftless Pony Club: Expert

Driftless Pony Club's lead singer Craig Benzine is YouTube's Wheezy Waiter. Many episodes of which I would ambiguously recommend it . He is also in the very excellent (and committed because its a DIY television show made by "amateurs"): Platoon Of Power Squadron.

That's how I found out about their music.

I bought this album on the strength of a few tracks I'd heard.

Musically and lyrically they seem very influenced by REM, They Might Be Giants and Guided By Voices and Dookie era Green Day. And those are good influences to seem to have. At its best this Expert achieves some of the oblique pleasures of a Stipe chorus or the energised smirk of a verse of Basket Case. It isn't afraid to rock either and has a pretty hard edge, at times so hard that it is an intense listen.

The album has a lot of space between vocals and that space is packed tightly with a lot of musical ideas. When this works it works well, allowing the words to breathe and adding to the journey the song takes you on. When it doesn't work however it is like a smear obscuring what the song is about, distancing the song from the audience. (I almost said a smear on the window of the song but it sounded just too stupid... however I liked the image so much I had to mention it in these brackets.)

When they are "smeared" the songs become hard to relate to. It's the prog mistake; getting so interested in experimentation and variety that you lose a clear sense of what the core of the song is. They are stimulating their own minds but not the minds/hearts of the audience.

But even when the songs don't fully work they have their moments. The hunger that for variety that DPC seem to have means there are always good bits to recapture your attention.

When the songs work they really work. Legends Of Archery, Maps Of Low Fidelity and Thanks, Earthquake are excellent, full of bounce, great melodies, intriguing and moving lyrics and engaging musical variation.Those are the stand out tracks, but then since the album is 6 songs long this means half of it is stand out good, and the other half is getting there.

Benzine has a great voice and the production is really nice, the drums sounding particularly fine. I felt that the songs should have had a little more space between them, no songs apart from the last one have a moment for you to clear your palette. Sometimes running songs seamlessly into each other can work, but on this album it doesn't, what it means is the ends of the songs don't have the impact they require.

It's a good CD to have on in the background at a party and those three songs are great. They sound like a band really working themselves out, really hungry for making good songs and making good music. This album has some great songs on and they are worth the price of admission. However half of it could be improved on. But that's how I feel about most albums.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Unknown Music Review 1: Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt! (Album Title Too Long For Twitter)

The title of this album is ridiculously/brilliantly: I love you! I love you! I love you and I'm in love with you! Have an awesome day! Have the best day of your life!

This encapsulates the manic energy, the on the edge manic euphoria of the album.

I was scared to listen to this album because I loved iotdwykirthbr (The Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt – Iotdwykirthbr) SO much that I didn't want the album to let me down. I bought it though, because I wanted to hear it through good speakers for the first time.

That's why its the first of the pile I am listening to. Despite the band being better known than many of the bands I will be getting to in future weeks.

This band is truly amazing. They're an intense experience though, and possibly not a pop one, but they really do it for me. They mix a really echo filled electronic landscape with multi vocals and frantic multi instrumental jams. Generally they hang the sound round a single hook/phrase and they build it up and down and add in other counter hooks over moments. Whilst frequently very positive and love filled everything has dark or desperate edge to it, mixing with the longing and the love. What hangs it all together is a really fantastic rhythm section beneath it all, great drums and epic bass sounds.

The lead singer sounds like Kermit the frog and that is a very good reference point to the album. It feels like it has been made by muppets, sad muppets, muppets with broken hearts. They are a dance and party band but they have great lyrics.

The album and the band really create beauty from chaos, they are a concept as much as anything, a band that includes its audience in itself, that comes at things from a anarchic point of view and yet somehow still manages to work cohesively as a single entity.I think this is because whilst the album and their live shows are really just big parties they are all singing the songs authored by one man.

They are like an amateur choir that has been slipped Ecstasy tablets, they are like a class on the last day of term afraid and excited by the future and their youth, they are just really really fucking good.

I wish I was in that crowd. I wish I was in that band. But by listening to this album really loud and dancing around my front room I can feel like I am for 34 mins and 21 secs.

Unknown Music Reviews: Introduction

Over the last year or so I've still been buying CD's but there has been two significant differences

1. I have only been buying unsigned or not yet very well known bands on CD because I believe in supporting artists at the bottom but not at the top. Some of these bands have friends or acquaintances in them. Others I have just come across and liked a lot.

2. I haven't been listening to the CD's.

The reason I haven't been listening to the CD's has been that I use Spotify and YouTube to listen to all my music.

But this pile of lovely CD's, with beautiful artwork, often put together by their makers hands rises on my shelf. It is beginning to tower over me.

Some of those CD's I've heard bits of on myspace or on spotify or I've heard some of the stuff live. It's time to do them properly. Do them the way I've done Ida Maria and the XX. Time to listen to them from beginning to end and decide what I think.

So I'm going to do one a week. And review them on this place where I post occasional reviews anyway.