Tuesday, December 30, 2008

REVIEW: Bug Lung Baby’s Trilobite Trash EP AVAILABLE FREE

When you’re out, and you meet a band member for the first time, there is a painfully irresistible urge to ask them “what do you sound like?” It’s a tiresome question that most of the musicians I have met detest being asked. After all, they dream, how can all the time – all the teary heartache – I’ve put into this sound be quantified? How dare this person ask?!

So the conversation turns to the musician’s elliptical attempts to say that their sound is unique, that from one moment to the next it is entirely unpredictable, that it breaks new ground. Now a cringe-worthy question has led to a cringe-worthy answer, because, in the end, how many bands do you ever heard who aren’t more or less conventional? Not necessarily bad, but predictable.

It comes as a great surprise then, when you steel yourself for another typical musical experience, and something really fresh comes along. This FREE EP from Bug Lung Baby is just such an interesting, twisting and turning project. It leads you through elements of lot of different genre, and bends them to its will.

Trying to drive it back to something a little more interpretable, it’s closest to being called “laptop music,” but it’s better than most. Laptop music is generally muddy and garbled, as the musician constructs confused anti-musical ramblings, while Trilobite Trash retains an addictive quality that means it’s still as simply enjoyable as something which is a lot less original.

There are musical precursors of sorts, like very early (i.e. good) Beck, or Ian Brown, but I think it’s fair to give Bug Lung Baby his due, and say that he’s writing something worthy of praise, simply because this EP is something which we haven’t really heard before. Go and pick up this FREE music and enjoy a genuinely strange musical journey.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Super Furry Animal's Classic, Mwng.

[...in conjunction with the record breakers section of Ryan's Smashing Life]

Ryan recently asked me to write about a past album that was under-appreciated. The list is long, and SFA's 2000 'folk' album Mwng is right at the top.

I heard a story that when the Super Furry Animals came out with “Guerilla” in 1999, they were so annoyed that their label didn’t push it enough to rocket them to superstardom that they became cynical about the music business in its entirety, and decided to record their next release (and first free of their contract with Creation), “Mwng,” entirely in hardly radio-friendly Welsh.

I have no idea if this is true or not, of course. But if the label were guilty of failing to promote the absolutely stunning electronic majesty of “Guerilla,” and that did prompt this album, then I offer them my first born in thanks (just give me a couple of months to get one). “Mwng” is quite simply one of the most exquisitely beautiful folk-pop albums I have ever heard.

After the traditional (for this band) out of place opening blast which leaves you completely unprepared what will happen next, SFA make the pace softer and softer, until they reach the nadir of “Nythod Cacwn,” half way through the album. [Singer Gruff Rhys played the drums on this track himself – you can tell, and yet it is completely in keeping with the track’s incredibly fragility]. Then the album begins to ramp up again, until it hits tracks like "Ysbeidiau Heulog", which are carried by guitarist Bunf’s super heavy overdrive, mixed very low in the background, so they sound like both sick and gorgeous at one and the same time.

The real wonder of this album is perhaps attested by the fact that I have always felt that lyrics are the single most difficult thing to really get right in any musical project, although they are often the last to be considered. But this album shows me that I’m dead wrong. I have absolutely no idea that Gruff is talking about in this album. I’ve actually got the point where I’ve avoided researching this, because I really don’t want to be troubled with any actual meaning. Instead, I want tracks like "Gwreiddiau Dwfn" / "Mawrth Oer Ar y Blaned Neifion" to carry me off into the kind of mixed-up, dizzying, sweetly dark world that only SFA can deliver (and trust me, they leave the best for last). Consider this a call to arms – find this album at all costs and make the effort to work your way through it with the care it deserves. It. Will. Pay. You. Back.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In case you missed it: Jai Agnish's Awake in Your Dreams

I’ve been listening to Jai Agnish’s new album “Awake in your Dreams” on my ipod as I travel around the city. It’s cold out there right now, and my brow hardens as he tries to win me over.

Agnish’s music is a mix of acoustic guitar and the simplest of melodies on his Roland keyboard – it has a little of the Silver Jews in it. The tone of the Roland is like a child tentatively finding sounds for the first time, and it sits just about perfectly with his lyrics, because his writing is more than anything about restraint. There are lines like “Her Face is like the sun” from “An American,” or “I found a new friend/ We found love” from “We Found Love.” Lyrics like these sometimes leave me wondering how deep Agnish’s thinking about what he writes really goes, but more often they just wrap me up in an innocence which really warms me as I listen, walking the winter streets of Boston.

There are tracks where this cheeriness slips into something a little too upbeat for my cynical and twisted mind. In “India” he sings “I told our tour guide/ this journey’s been sanitized,” and I can’t help but think to myself ‘where’s the darkness that must inhabit this life too, along with the joy?’

But we shouldn’t hold this against him. When Agnish sings “Quick hop into the shower/ don’t use all the hot water/ sing the song of your heart/ sing the song of your heart” in the track “Your Dreams” he is giving us something sweet and lush to savor, and more fool me for second-guessing the value of a gift like that.

[The entire album is available free here]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

RSL top 20 of the year.

The four of us at Ryan's Smashing life have just published our top 20 albums of the year. There was lots of music which was new to me here, so if you're looking for fresh directions, it's a great place to start finding stuff.

I fought for Portishead, Elbow and The Young Knives. The only other trully great album I would have included was Lightspeed Champion, but it looks like he will get an honourable mention in the end. I also loved Los Campesinos and The Duke Spirit this year.

Have a look at it and post your thought here or there....


Monday, December 8, 2008

Free New Music from Jai Agnish!

Please head over to Ryan's Smashing Life, and read my review of Jai Agnish's new album "Awake when you Dream" (which is available for download in its entirety, FREE, right here).



Review: The Duke Spirit’s “Neptune”

I first heard about The Duke Spirit through a friend in England, who told me they were first and foremost a great live band. I then managed to miss them recently, supporting Eagles of Death Metal, at Paradise. Live band they may be, but I only have their new 2nd album Neptune to go on. Having missed my chance, how could I gain access to their energy? As it turned out, it was very simple: Volume.

I guess many bands would sound pretty grating once they passed a certain level of loudness, but for The Duke Spirit, it is pretty much essential. Perhaps this is not a ringing endorsement. When I was first learning about sound engineering, we were told that just boosting the volume of music would only impair our judgment of it’s range and quality. More cynically, I remember one engineer telling me that he just put up the levels of everything before the band first heard it played back, and thus won them over. We’ve all heard about the recent, stupidly loud, Metallica album. How can loud make this band, and yet not make them bad?

I think you can find the answer in a close relative. The Raveonettes are rather like The Duke Spirit in several ways. They are indebted to a lot of music from the 50s and early 60s, particularly on tracks like “The Step and The Walk.” Harmonies and Liela Moss’ main vocals, horns and shrill single strikes on clean guitars all give the band a tinge of something from the past. But The Duke Spirit are certainly not old-fashioned, and this gives us another similarity with The Ravonettes. Both bands add vicious guitars that sound like noise-core stomping all over nursery rhymes. “Neptune’s Spirit” for example opens like an early Wannadies track, a soft voice destroyed by a burst of anger. The Ravonettes take this logic a little further, sitting quite comfortably in static and drone for whole tracks. But the sudden shocks on this album also demand higher and higher volume.

The album does have some delicacy too. Tracks like “Sovereign” are sweet, but somehow also call for the hum of still air after a storm – air that could break into deafening distortion without warning. So I feel rather like I’ve danced (!) in a crowd once I get through listening to this album at a suitable volume, and we have all sweated pounds and burnt ourselves out in the mix. I wish I could have been there, but perhaps then the damage to my ears would have been irrevocable.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A New Direction!


I'm excited to announce that I'm joined the writing team at Ryan's Smashing Life, a really great Boston music blog which has been around for a few years now. Ryan is really connected to the local scene, so I'd encourage any of you who care about Boston music (and beyond) to check it out. I'll be writing roughly weekly entries, but the blog is updated daily. This blog will still be updated regularly, so don't forget to come over a 'see me' as well.

Thanks for your support,