Monday, 30 September 2013

Track Of The Day: Zoo Zero - 'Fraktion'

Zoo Zero are an exciting London-based band who are releasing their brilliant self-titled debut album today (September 30) via their own Crest Cont Recordings label. Available as a digital download and as a heavyweight white vinyl, the four-piece's 32 minute debut combines their "avant-rock" sound with thrilling melody. According to the press release, "'Zoo Zero' finds the band exploring their more experimental influences – including Sonic Youth, Mission Of Burma and This Heat – while journeying further into the nocturnal psychedelic pop of Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock, MGMT, XTC and Deerhunter..."

“I guess we’re interested in music where noise and weirdness clashes with melody,” says singer/guitarist Tom Pinnock. “It’s way too easy to make some avant-garde, instrumental record – it’s harder to combine the unexpected with actual songs.”

The opening 'Fraktion' confirms their arrival by whipping up a storm, as a pacy almost motorik beat brings a heavy element of krautrock into the picture, and the tense vocals highlight a somewhat manic quality. The guitars are also key elements; one second they're ringing out harmoniously, the next they're urgently tearing into furious riffs, and by the end they're growling, squealing and crackling in amongst a howl of feedback. The bass pounds away at a single note for long periods of time, making for a greater impact when it lifts off for the song's infectious instrumental hook. This awesome track is also available as a free download HERE, so get yourself a freebie and then treat yourself to the album...



REWIND: Josh Wink - 'Higher State of Consciousness' (Dex And Jonesey's Higher Stated Mix)

A bit of a club banger for you today. In fact, a TOTAL club banger. Those who read my weekly RW/FF With Ben P Scott columns may be aware that I am occasionally rolling back the years and revisiting various points in my musical life. You may also know that in the mid 90's my Dad was the manager of a club where I was a very young DJ. Part of my most recent column HERE reads: "Like the other months of the year, October 1995 threw a diverse variety of musical happenings into the charts, which at the time were still interesting and relevant enough for me to take notice of. High up the quality ladder were 'Weekend' by the Todd Terry Project, along with Wildchild's infectious 'Renegade Master' and Josh Wink's tweaky acid workout 'Higher State Of Consciousness', two club classics that both entered the Top 20 the same week. However the latter two tracks didn't find their way into my DJ sets until a few months later when they appeared on various compilation albums..."

Instead of the original version, I'm going to bring you Dex And Jonesy's superb 1996 remix of 'Higher State Of Consciousness' because it is, quite frankly, a killer.



Saturday, 28 September 2013

Track Of The Day: Fractal Sky - 'Southern Sparrow'

Fractal Sky's new EP 'The Changing Of Times' was released earlier this week as a free (or pay-as-you-like) download at his Bandcamp page HERE

'Southern Sparrow' is almost reminiscent of a more in-your-face Moby, with added chunky breakbeats, dubstep noise and hip hop samples. 

"Fractal Sky, aka Aaron Spence characterizes electro-funk through crunchy, raw synthesis, captivating vocal samples, and a compelling hip-hop feel. Fluent in a variety of horn and string instruments, Spence doesn't hesitate to intertwine a profusion of saxophones, jazz guitars, and trumpets into his work. Dynamic rhythmic patterns and deep reverbs makes for a surreal yet fresh adventure beyond expectation..."




REWIND: Chris T-T - 'Dreaming Of Injured Popstars'

A great tune I remember very fondly from The Evening Session in the very early 2000's. A tale of a guy who dreams of a mystery killer that disposes of various stars from the pop world. If only it wasn't a dream. Among those "cut down" are Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, Cliff Richard, Lou Reed and poor old Jean Michel Jarre, who meets his end in a piss-related drowning incident. Nice. But the best line has to be THAT one about Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics. I would quote it, but it's just too good to give away. Chris T-T plays the Figure 8 festival in Bristol tonight (September 28) along with headliners Dodgy and many more acts...

Friday, 27 September 2013

RW/FF With Ben P Scott #31

This week: Bristol's Figure 8 Festival takes place this weekend, I celebrate the return of ska-punk legends Culture Shock, and new albums from Troumaca and Arctic Monkeys are reviewed. As well as that, there is new music from the likes of Teeth Of The SeaThe Hysterical Injury, Spectres, Fractal Sky, and Arcade Fire. In the 'Rewind' half of the column I go back to October 1995 and remember club classics, indie hits, acquired jukebox records and Pulp's 'Sorted For Es And Wizz'... 

Those 90's legends Dodgy are just one of the great acts that you can catch at this weekend's Figure 8 Festival in Bristol. It kicks off at The Birdcage on the evening of Fri Sept 27, with the main all-day event taking place at The Trinity Centre, Bristol, on Saturday September 28, 2013.

As well as headliners Dodgy, you can catch the likes of Chris T-T, , Pete Roe, She Makes War, ALASKA, Goan Dogs, Joel Harries, Josie Ghost, Katie Malco, MyOwnFlag, Oliver Wilde, Richard Abberline, Sarah Proudfoot, Shock Horror and The St Pierre Snake Invasion. Anyone wanting to get a taste of the Bristol scene will be pleased to hear that the city's most prolific gig goer and cult hero Big Jeff (aka Jeffrey Johns) will be compering the festival. Tickets are priced at £18 (advance) and rather brilliantly, proceeds will be going to MacMillan Cancer Support. For some excellent live music in a great city to raise money for an essential cause, Figure 8 promises to be superb. The Figure 8 Festival website is HERE.

The members of Troumaca have interesting backgrounds that perhaps explain the genre-defying mixture of sounds that colour their impressive debut offering 'The Grace'. Having pretty much kickstarted the "B-Town" scene (made up of hotly-tipped Birmingham bands like Peace and Swim Deep) by putting on a series of pivotal club nights, this record comes two years after the group's 2011 formation. Named after a West Indian Village on the Caribbean island of St Vincent, the band come from various different musical and cultural backgrounds, describing their sound as "bass escapism" with touches of soul and dub. Caribbean gospel informs the tropical haze of the music, as does a wide range of influences that stretch from the Timbaland-produced RnB of Ginuwine and Aaliyah, to the world of UK garage and grime, while lessons have also been learned from the likes of Radiohead, Steel Pulse and UB40 (!!!). If you're vacating the UK for hotter climates this autumn, this is an album that will provide your ideal musical accompaniment. It is equally suitable as a hazy, smooth late night soundtrack to relax and unwind to. Kicking off 'The Grace' with deep, booming sub-bass, smart beats and a slinky, vibrant groove is the fantastic 'Trees', which provides a harmonious ambience as well as a dazzling headrush to provide one of the album's most superb moments.


The album reaches a real peak halfway through where 'The Sun''s stunning euphoria, post-dubstep beats, dancehall rhythms, and blue ocean bliss are underpinned by an ominous sense of warning, and followed by the sparse brilliance of 'Words', a rippling interlude delivering deliciously odd electronic keys, splashes of ambient piano and off kilter percussion. The magnificent 'Layou' supplies the album with another moment of sheer magic, evoking exotic cool and a touch of elegant mystery with tasty synths and brilliantly crafted melodies. The four main standouts here are as vitally of-the-moment as anything you'll hear in 2013, and 'The Grace' can proudly and correctly call itself one of this year's finest debut offerings. You can dance to it just as often as you can chill to it, and while there is barely a guitar in sight, the songwriting skills also open it up to indie and rock enthusiasts looking for something different. Refreshing, spacious, accessible, creative, funky, intelligent and enjoyably forward thinking, Troumaca have made something that deserves to be added to many record collections. Read my full album review HERE.


So I've finally published my belated review of the Arctic Monkeys album 'AM'. Not only have I reviewed the music, but have also addressed the excessive hype and counteractive cynicism that has surrounded this LP. It may not be album of the year or a 10 out of 10, but it must be applauded for its consistency, something lacking on previous albums.

The rattle and punch of the superb 'Fireside' revisits the mysterious atmosphere of 'How Soon Is Now' and a couple of other Smiths numbers without ever plagiarising, and begins a four track run of great songs that could one day be looked back on as the peak of the band's career. Dr Dre influences seem to find their way into the infectious 'Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High', particularly those awesome, perfectly placed falsetto backing vocals during the second chorus, buoyed by the booty-shaking rhythm and mischievous bassline. Returning to more British rock-based sounds is the somewhat Oasis-esque stomp that is 'Snap Out Of It', but adding different elements is another infectious chorus which hints at old Northern Soul. The album reaches a peak with the cool-as-fuck Sheffield funk of 'Knee Socks', which brings with it another perfectly done hip hop-embracing hook and more of those brilliant high/low dual vocals... Read my full review HERE.


Sometimes you don't quite realise how much great music is coming from the local area around you. Even though I live in Wiltshire, I still class Bristol as "local", and so do all the countless other members of the music press who seem to label every single band from the South West a "Bristol-based" act. But as far as I know, this lot ARE from Bristol, and are a group whose music I have only just discovered. Spectres are a four piece whose fantastic and frighteningly epic freak-out 'Threshing Machine' is a track from their 'Hunger' EP, released earlier this year. The song can be downloaded for FREE via their Bandcamp page HERE, with the CD version of the EP also available to buy. The band are said to be recording their debut album, with a view to releasing it next year. "The band mount guitars on guitars, forming a wall of noise. Heavy reverberated vocals are low in the mix, making it Sonic Youth inspired, drony indie rock territory - and it's thoroughly excellent all round..." Their new single 'Lump' is out next week on limited edition 12" vinyl.

For anyone in the South West, Spectres will be playing in Devizes tonight (September 27) at The Moonrakers, with entry costing an absolute bargain £2. An impressive line-up of support comes from Audio Puppy, Salute The Magpie and Marabou Stalk...


Once upon a time there was a punk band called the Subhumans. They split in the late 80's and soon evolved into Citizen Fish. But bridging the gap in between were the fantastic Culture Shock, whose music stood at the halfway point between furious anarchy and the post-hippy peace-punk that had evolved from the free festival scene. Based in the Wiltshire town of Warminster (although singer Dick Lucas lived at Church Walk in Melksham, right next door to where my Mum and Dad's house was at the time) they created a potent, vitalised blend of dub reggae rhythms, ska riffs, punk energy and even hints of disco. The band split in 1989 after just three years together, with Lucas and bassist Jasper forming Citizen Fish. Guitarist Nigel died in 1993, seemingly putting an end to any hopes of a reunion. Then recently, unexpected news... The three surviving members of the band began to "rethink the old adage that 'it's not going to happen', wondering instead whether it COULD happen... The main thing was finding someone who could adequately fill the enormous gap left when Nige passed on." They approached Alex Gordon, trumpet man for Citizen Fish as well as singer/guitarist in ska punks Bender, who apparently "had the ability, and the urge... Bill was only too keen to unpack his kit, and in January we had the first of several practices..." A tour has been confirmed for October, visiting various parts of the UK. More info at their website HERE. Meanwhile here's the awesome 'United' from their masterpiece, the 1988 LP 'Onwards And Upwards'...


Fractal Sky's new EP 'The Changing Of Times' was released earlier this week as a free (or pay-as-you-like) download. 'Southern Sparrow' is almost reminiscent of a more in-your-face Moby, with added chunky breakbeats, dubstep noise and hip hop samples. "Fractal Sky, aka Aaron Spence characterizes electro-funk through crunchy, raw synthesis, captivating vocal samples, and a compelling hip-hop feel. Fluent in a variety of horn and string instruments, Spence doesn't hesitate to intertwine a profusion of saxophones, jazz guitars, and trumpets into his work. Dynamic rhythmic patterns and deep reverbs makes for a surreal yet fresh adventure beyond expectation..."


Arcade Fire's disco flavoured, Bowie-featuring comeback single 'Reflektor' isn't quite the magical knockout punch I was hoping them to return with, but having only heard the 6 minute track twice, I can sense that it may be a grower. The album it lends its name to is out on October 28.


The Hysterical Injury are a Bath-based duo featuring bassist/vocalist Annie Gardiner and her brother Tom on drums. Listening to their music often makes you wonder how two people are able to whip up such a maelstrom of noise, especially during their blistering live sets. Beginning with a stark acapella, 'Visions of Trees' soon becomes proof that just two people can create something great using just two instruments and in this case mainly two chords. Their debut full-length 'Dead Wolf Situation' was released last year in 2012, and made my top 50 albums of the year list. 'Visions Of Trees' is the latest single to be lifted from the LP, backed by a distortion-heavy remix of the superb 'Cycle One' from the intriguingly anonymous 'Palimpest', where Tom's rampant rumble is brought to the front. Read my full review of 'Dead Wolf Situation' HERE.


Albums I've been listening to this week include new ones from Moby, Midlake, Holy Ghost!, Samaris, Metamono, Splashh, and the 3CD 12"/80's Club Classics compilation. I'm trying not to overplay Teeth Of The Sea's incredible new album 'MASTER', however it continues to astound more and more after every listen, so another dose of this mighty brainfuck can be hard to resist. Utilising a range of otherworldly sounds and reaching deep into their boundless imaginations, Teeth Of The Sea have put together something of a masterpiece. Here's a track from it called 'Black Strategy'. 'MASTER' will be coming on October 7.



Rewind: 1995 (continued)
Like the other months of the year, October 1995 threw a diverse variety of musical happenings into the charts, which at the time were still interesting and relevant enough for me to take notice of. Tracks I'd spin during my DJ sets included a Sister Bliss remix of Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' (which I thought was great until I heard the vastly superior original), and an ill-advised dance cover of the Cranberries' 'Zombie' by ADAM Featuring Amy. Higher up the quality ladder were 'Weekend' by the Todd Terry Project, along with Wildchild's infectious 'Renegade Master' and Josh Wink's tweaky acid workout 'Higher State Of Consciousness', two club classics that both entered the Top 20 the same week. However the latter two tracks didn't find their way into my DJ sets until a few months later when they appeared on various compilation albums.


Away from dance music, I was still restricted to the charts, and often used to dig around the bargain basket in Woolworths in case I found something great for a reduced price. Sometimes I'd find something I was completely unfamiliar with and buy it simply because it was 29p on cassette. One such purchase was the dismal 'Have Fun Go Mad' by someone called Blair, which I bought before i had any knowledge of the Labour leader who shared the same name. I saw him a couple of years later miming the awful at a Galaxy 101 roadshow that took place at Longleat, Blair the singer that is, not the future prime minister. I can remember that piss poor piece of pop being re-released a few times due to its failure to make much of an impact on the charts, like the record company couldn't figure out why no-one wanted to buy such a rotten turd of a song. Perhaps because folk that were aware and had any sense were busy buying excellent records like 'Great Things' by Echobelly, 'What Do I Do Now' by Sleeper, 'Alright' by Cast, 'Fantasy' by the Levellers and 'Lucky You' by the Lightning Seeds. These were all songs that I didn't know about when they were first released, but soon came to my attention via Top Of The Pops and The ITV Chart Show over the coming months.


My Dad's club had just had a brand new jukebox installed, which was still using good old vinyl records. When new singles were added, old ones were removed and given to me by my Dad. Needless to say I was more than grateful to have them passed on to me, especially since my Dad would make some unwise choices like replacing a Beatles record with a Celine Dion one, meaning that the Liverpool legends would make another entry into my collection while customers at Bentley's would have to tolerate the wailing Canadian nuisance. Other records that i acquired included 'Love Spreads' by The Stone Roses, Ash's 'Girl From Mars' and a remix of New Order's 'Blue Monday'. In hindsight I'm glad that Dad didn't know much about indie music. Because he hadn't heard these songs, he didn't think they'd be worth including on the jukebox. 

Great indie music seemed to be finding me when I was just the right age for it to have maximum impact. Thankfully that band who released the year's summer anthem 'Common People' didn't turn out to be one hit wonders, as Pulp returned with the brilliant 'Sorted For E's And Wizz', a tale about someone losing their shit on drugs at a festival. At the time possibly an inappropriate thing for an 11 year old to be listening to, but then again it was sort of an anti-drugs warning as well as an amusing story. From the short lived Taylormade Sounds I purchased the CD single, the same one which led tabloid cunts The Sun to call for this "sick stunt" to be banned, claiming that the artwork to the CD encouraged kids to take drugs. Still, it was good to see Jarvis on the front page. 

More next week...



REWIND: The Beach Boys - 'The Warmth Of The Sun'

Truly magnificent pop perfection from the pen of Brian Wilson and his less talented cousin. Since the despicable cunt that is Mike Love decided to sack the rest of The Beach Boys, Brian is out on tour, along with Al Jardine, David Marks as part of a joint tour with guitar legend Jeff Beck. The tour kicks off tonight (September 26) at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood. More details of the tour HERE. "This song was commenced by Brian Wilson and Mike Love in the early hours of the morning before John F. Kennedy's assassination. After learning of the news, the song was completed by Brian and Mike later that day in a hotel room, inspired by the emotional shock felt by its authors over the death of President John F. Kennedy..."



Track Of The Day: Arctic Monkeys - 'Fireside'

So I've finally published my belated review of the Arctic Monkeys album 'AM'. Not only have I reviewed the music, but have also addressed the excessive hype and counteractive cynicism that has surrounded this LP. It may not be album of the year or a 10 out of 10, but it must be applauded for its consistency, something lacking on previous albums. 

The rattle and punch of the superb 'Fireside' revisits the mysterious atmosphere of 'How Soon Is Now' and a couple of other Smiths numbers without ever plagiarising, and begins a four track run of great songs that could one day be looked back on as the peak of the band's career... 

Read my full review HERE.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Track Of The Day: Troumaca - 'The Sun'

The members of Troumaca have interesting backgrounds that perhaps explain the genre-defying mixture of sounds that colour their impressive debut offering 'The Grace'. If you're vacating the UK for hotter climates this autumn, this is an album that will provide your ideal musical accompaniment. It is equally suitable as a hazy, smooth late night soundtrack to relax and unwind to. 

The LP reaches a real peak halfway through where 'The Sun''s stunning euphoria, post-dubstep beats, dancehall rhythms, and blue ocean bliss are underpinned by an ominous sense of warning. Refreshing, spacious, accessible, creative, funky, intelligent and enjoyably forward thinking, Troumaca have made something that deserves to be added to many record collections. Read my full album review HERE.



REWIND: Culture Shock - 'Fast Forward'

Once upon a time there was a punk band called the Subhumans. They split in the late 80's and soon evolved into Citizen Fish. But bridging the gap in between were the fantastic Culture Shock, whose music stood at the halfway point between furious anarchy and the post-hippy peace-punk that had evolved from the free festival scene. While many of the other anarcho-punk groups were busy singing about rioting and burying Mrs Thatcher, the lyrics that Dick Lucas put to paper would not only address what was wrong with the system, but would also look for solutions and remind the listener of their social responsibilities that would lead many to want to take action themselves. 

Me and Dick Lucas, June 2007
Based in the Wiltshire town of Warminster (although Dick lived at Church Walk in Melksham, right next door to where my Mum and Dad's house was at the time) they created a potent, vitalised blend of dub reggae rhythms, ska riffs, punk energy and even hints of disco. Although America had The Toasters and Fishbone, it took a little while for their bands like Operation Ivy and the Voodoo Glow Skulls to really combine ska and punk in equal measures, making Culture Shock the first of their kind. After three albums (technically 1986's 'Go Wild' was a mini LP, as was 1988's swansong 'All The Time') the band split in 1989 after just three years together, with Lucas and bassist Jasper forming Citizen Fish. Guitarist Nigel died in 1993, seemingly putting an end to any hopes of a reunion. Over two decades later, all three main Culture Shock releases were collected as the 'Everything' CD box set, released on Lucas' own Bluurg Records in 2011. The enthusiastic response to this collection led to some unexpected news being announced recently...

The three surviving members of the band began to "rethink the old adage that 'it's not going to happen', wondering instead whether it COULD happen... The main thing was finding someone who could adequately fill the enormous gap left when Nige passed on." They approached Alex Gordon, trumpet man for Citizen Fish as well as singer/guitarist in ska punks Bender, who apparently "had the ability, and the urge... Bill was only too keen to unpack his kit, and in January we had the first of several practices..." A tour has been confirmed for October, visiting various parts of the UK. The return of this excellent band that time forgot gives me a perfect excuse to dig out my vinyl copy of their masterpiece 'Onwards And Upwards', a fantastic album that ranks as my favourite ever Subhumans/Culture Shock/Citizen Fish moment. From it, here is the awesome 'Fast Forward'... A list of tour dates is below...

Without a doubt one of the most fiercely political and socially aware songwriters to have ever come out of the UK, Lucas is a man who never seems to mellow with age, something which anyone who's witnessed him in action over the last few years will agree with. Even though these songs were written in the late 80's, the lyrics still have a timeless impact and highlight the fact that the years may go by, but the system stays the same. With the reunion of Culture Shock, hearing these fantastic songs being played again after 25 years will be a great thing to witness. Those of us who were too young at the time now have a second chance.




OCTOBER 2013
TH 3 TORRINGTON the Plough
FR 4 FALMOUTH Rugby Club
SA 5 BRISTOL Trinity Hall
SU 6 SOUTHAMPTON Talking Heads  
TU 8 KIDDERMINSTER Boars Head 
WD 9 MANCHESTER The Big Western
TH 10 DUBLIN Fibber Magees
FR 11 BELFAST Warzone
SA 12 GLASGOW Pivo 
SU 13 EDINBURGH Citrus Club
MO 14 GATESHEAD Black Bull
TU 15 PRESTON Continental
WD 16 BIRMINGHAM Wagon and Horses
TH 17 SHEFFIELD - Academy 2, Arundel Gate 
FR 18 BRIGHTON The Haunt 
SA 19 LONDON T-Chances 

REVIEW: Troumaca - 'The Grace' (Brownswood Recordings)

The members of Troumaca have interesting backgrounds that perhaps explain the genre-defying mixture of sounds that colour their impressive debut offering 'The Grace'. Having pretty much kickstarted the "B-Town" scene (made up of hotly-tipped Birmingham bands like Peace and Swim Deep) by putting on a series of pivotal club nights, this record comes two years after the group's 2011 formation. Named after a West Indian Village on the Caribbean island of St Vincent, the band come from various different musical and cultural backgrounds, describing their sound as "bass escapism" with touches of soul and dub. Caribbean gospel informs the tropical haze of the music, as does a wide range of influences that stretch from the Timbaland-produced RnB of Ginuwine and Aaliyah, to the world of UK garage and grime, while lessons have also been learned from the likes of Radiohead, Steel Pulse and UB40 (!!!).

If you're vacating the UK for hotter climates this autumn, this is an album that will provide your ideal musical accompaniment. It is equally suitable as a hazy, smooth late night soundtrack to relax and unwind to. Kicking off 'The Grace' with deep, booming sub-bass, smart beats and a slinky, vibrant groove is the fantastic 'Trees', which provides a harmonious ambience as well as a dazzling headrush to provide one of the album's most superb moments. The radiant 'Sanctify' is a fine example of pop songwriting, while the swinging electro-soca rhythms and smart modern day RnB flavours of the infectious 'Gold, Women And Wine' adds unexpected steel drums to great effect. 'Kingdom' is the only moment where they sound like they could fit in with other groups (in this case Foals and Delphic) and pleasing as it is, it feels a bit lightweight here. 


The album reaches a real peak halfway through where 'The Sun''s stunning euphoria, post-dubstep beats, dancehall rhythms, and blue ocean bliss are underpinned by an ominous sense of warning, and followed by the sparse brilliance of 'Words', a rippling interlude delivering deliciously odd electronic keys, splashes of ambient piano and off kilter percussion. Although it shares a similar tranquility with much of the other numbers here, 'Tiger Eye' sounds a bit weak in amongst such strong company, a feeling highlighted by the irresistible, sun drenched shimmer of 'Ivory' that follows it. The magnificent 'Layou' supplies the album with another moment of sheer magic, evoking exotic cool and a touch of elegant mystery with tasty synths and brilliantly crafted melodies, while the yearning, soulful 'Lady Colour' could be 'Sanctify''s haunting yet chilled out nocturnal partner.


'The Grace' closes the set and although it's a bit of an anticlimax it does end the LP on a positive and hopeful note, which was probably the right thing to do. The four main standouts here are as vitally of-the-moment as anything you'll hear in 2013, and 'The Grace' can proudly and correctly call itself one of this year's finest debut offerings. 

You can dance to it just as often as you can chill to it, and while there is barely a guitar in sight, the songwriting skills also open it up to indie and rock enthusiasts looking for something different. Refreshing, spacious, accessible, creative, funky, intelligent and enjoyably forward thinking, Troumaca have made something that deserves to be added to many record collections. 7.9/10



REVIEW: Arctic Monkeys - 'AM' (Domino Records)

If the Arctic Monkeys' 2006 debut was their youthfully energetic entrance to the music world, and their second LP building on its appeal with more of the same, then 3rd album 'Humbug' was a darker, more slow burning effort that initially divided listeners on its release. 2011's 'Suck It And See' continued down this route, throwing in a few touches of introspection and the occasional 60's pop melody. Album number five happens at a point where rather than needing to find a new direction, the band have found ways to enhance, adapt and evolve their style into something familiar yet intriguingly different. But does it really live up to the hype? Early reviews of the LP declared that it could be "the album of the decade", a claim that's bound to piss off the naysayers.

This sort of hype will annoy people who haven't seen their favourite records if recent times rated as highly, which breeds a lot of cynicism. Some people will be so annoyed at the hype that they won't WANT to like this album from the moment they set ears on it. 

The NME need to sell papers but also keep existing readers, while other publications and even certain websites will also have ulterior motives for raving so ecstatically about 'AM'. They need to write about popular mainstream things in order to stay "relevant" to the wider public and be likely to attract more readers. But publications like the NME have a typical readership made up mostly of indie rock fans, and as the papers/sites gets more mainstream and less indie, these readers get pissed off and leave. So the NME and others like them NEED to be featuring and championing acts who are massively popular, fairly young AND seen as reasonably "alternative". Who else but the Arctic Monkeys fit the bill in 2013? 10 out of 10 is 100%, which would mean that every single track would have to be up there with the greatest songs ever. This is not quite the case here, but an album that isn't one of the all time greats doesn't make a bad one. As on the previous two LPs, the pace is kept steady, but what it lacks in urgency it makes up for in burning, rock and roll lust. And tunes. Plenty of them.

The slow, sleazy thump of 'Do I Wanna Know' opens the record with a heavy twang before 'RU Mine' provides more smoulderingly cool rock riffs and the first of many choruses designed to dig into your mind. Beneath the bullshit of modern R&B (and i mean DEEP beneath it) there is a particular essence; sexually charged, mysterious, cool and with a hint of danger. Alex Turner has successfully tapped into this and channeled it through the darkness of the desert rock atmospheres passed down to them by collaborator Josh Homme, who seems to have become something of a mentor for the Arctics.

Continuing the impressive quality, 'One For The Road' is a moody, stoned slice of funk, 'Arabella' is almost like Lennon fronting The White Stripes (or an overly libidous Bad Company), where no nonsense heads-down riffing is met with a wild solo, and the prowling glam romp 'I Want It All' casts away any doubt that these are men and not boys. The tearful Lennon-esque 'No 1 Party Anthem' provides a moment of reflection that adds another side to the record and even if it is a bit unoriginal, the lyrics and the delivery are something that could only come from Alex Turner. 'Mad Sounds' is narrowly rescued from 'filler' status by its blissful "ooh la la la" refrain, a nice playfully chilled song that doesn't have anything wrong with it, but let's make this clear: it isn't a track on a 10 out of 10 album. But even one of the two weakest tracks here would be a highlight on most modern-day mainstream rock records, and 'AM' must be applauded for its consistency, something lacking on previous albums.

The rattle and punch of the superb 'Fireside' revisits the mysterious atmosphere of 'How Soon Is Now' and a couple of other Smiths numbers without ever plagiarising, and begins a four track run of great songs that could one day be looked back on as the peak of the band's career. Dr Dre influences seem to find their way into the infectious 'Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High', particularly those awesome, perfectly placed falsetto backing vocals during the second chorus, buoyed by the booty-shaking rhythm and mischievous bassline. Returning to more British rock-based sounds is the somewhat Oasis-esque stomp that is 'Snap Out Of It', but adding different elements is another infectious chorus which hints at old Northern Soul. The album reaches a peak with the cool-as-fuck Sheffield funk of 'Knee Socks', which brings with it another perfectly done hip hop-embracing hook and more of those brilliant high/low dual vocals.

As it turns out, the closing 'I Wanna Be Yours' proves to be something of an anticlimactic closer, poet John Cooper Clarke lending them some affectionately blunt lines that would perhaps have been delivered better by the man himself, while the slightly unimaginative pop chorus also lets it down a touch. But the aforementioned track being right at the end means you can just stop the album after 'Knee Socks' for a more perfect listening experience, so they also win marks for not annoyingly sticking it in the middle of the album.

So does it live up to the hype? Not quite. Even if it was two tracks shorter it wouldn't be a flawless all time classic, and I agree that the reviews praising it with 10 out of 10 marks are over the top, but to hear it and say that this is a bad record would be even more ridiculous. It's full of brilliant tunes that stick in the memory, and for that reason 'AM' is going to be remembered as one of the band's best works and one of the finest mainstream indie rock albums of this era. But that's it, OK? OK, now let's enjoy it for what it is.
8.4/10



Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Track Of The Day: Jagwar Ma - 'Come Save Me'

Is it possible that one of my favourite new(ish) acts of the last year hasn't yet featured as Track Of The Day? Somehow, despite their brilliant debut LP 'Howlin'' visiting my ears frequently over the last few months AND being one of the albums of the summer, Jagwar Ma are making only their first appearance here as TOTD. Well, as I say a lot, better late than never. The group, based around the duo of Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield, combine psychedelica, acid house and 60's pop with a whole bag of other styles to create something truly magnificent. The group will be re-releasing 'Come Save Me' as a single, backed by an Andrew Weatherall remix of the track, which you can listen to HERE.

According to their label, the duo went about “creating a sound that would capture their love of contemporary electronica and classic American Soul”. Noel Gallagher recently said that “the future of the galaxy depends on the Temples and Jagwar Ma records”. Well if it's good enough for Noel, it's good enough for me.


Get your copy of 'Howlin'' HERE. Go on, I SERIOUSLY recommend it!

REWIND: William DeVaughn - 'Be Thankful For What You Got'

Sometimes, a song just pops into your head and continues to reappear there occasionally over the following days. I'm not even sure why William DeVaughn's 'Be Thankful For What You Got' has been invading my headspace over the last few days, especially since I haven't heard it for a while. But what a tune it is... 

"DeVaughn wrote "A Cadillac Don't Come Easy" eventually re-written to become "Be Thankful for What You Got" in 1972. The record sold nearly two million copies on its release in spring 1974, reaching #1 on the U.S. R&B charts and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. With a sound and content influenced by Curtis Mayfield (and often erroneously attributed to him), its simple and encouraging lyrics hit home, to the extent that it became featured on gospel radio stations. The edited version, which is the first part of the song, became the hit. The other half of the song is a longer instrumental with the repeated chords and rhythm before the final chorus comes in. The song is seven minutes long and radio stations preferred the sung portions over the instrumental portions..."



Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Track Of The Day: Spectres - 'Threshing Machine'

Sometimes you don't quite realise how much great music is coming from the local area around you. Even though I live in Wiltshire, I still class Bristol as "local", and so do all the countless other members of the music press who seem to label every single band from the South West a "Bristol-based" act. But as far as I know, this lot ARE from Bristol, and are a group whose music I have only just discovered. Spectres are a four piece whose new track 'Lump' is a fierce sonic belter, brimming with messed-up shoegaze nastiness and psych-grunge rawness. It's released as a single via Howling Owl Records on a split 12" vinyl featuring label mates The Naturals on the other side. The strictly limited 100 copies are on sale HERE. However as much as I love this new track, I like the fantastic and frighteningly epic freak-out that is 'Threshing Machine', a track from their 'Hunger' EP, released earlier this year. The song can be downloaded for FREE via their Bandcamp page HERE, with the CD version of the EP also available to buy. The band are said to be recording their debut album, with a view to releasing it next year.

For anyone in the South West, Spectres will be playing in Devizes this Friday night (September 27) at The Moonrakers, with entry costing an absolute bargain £2. An impressive line-up of support comes from Audio Puppy, Salute The Magpie and Marabou Stalk.

"Spectres are the jewel in Bristol's new sound, along with the likes of The Naturals, Velcro Hooks and Oliver Wilde. The band mount guitars on guitars, forming a wall of noise. Heavy reverberated vocals are low in the mix, making it Sonic Youth inspired, drony indie rock territory - and it's thoroughly excellent all round..."


Doors 7.30pm



8 - 8.30 - Marabou Stalk

8.45 - 9.15 - Audio Puppy
9.30 - 10 - Salute The Magpie
10.15 - 10.45 - SPECTRES



REWIND: Cast - 'History'

No time for many words today, just a tune. 

A lack of time has restricted my comments on this song to the following sentence: this awesome track was taken from Cast's 1995 debut album 'All Change', and wasn't even released as a single! 

Evidently the band were spoilt for choice, what with the LP containing so many top-class tunes...

Cast frontman John Power is currently playing the lead part in the new musical 'Lennon'...



Monday, 23 September 2013

PREVIEW: Figure 8 Festival 2013

Those 90's legends Dodgy are just one of the great acts that you can catch at this weekend's Figure 8 Festival in Bristol.

It kicks off at The Birdcage on the evening of Fri Sept 27, with the main all-day event taking place at The Trinity Centre, Bristol, on Saturday September 28, 2013.

As well as headliners Dodgy, you can catch the likes of Chris T-T, , Pete Roe, She Makes War, ALASKA, Goan Dogs, Joel Harries, Josie Ghost, Katie Malco, MyOwnFlag, Oliver Wilde, Richard Abberline, Sarah Proudfoot, Shock Horror and The St Pierre Snake Invasion. Anyone wanting to get a taste of the Bristol scene will be pleased to hear that the city's most prolific gig goer and cult hero Big Jeff (aka Jeffrey Johns) will be compering the festival.

Tickets are priced at £18 (advance) and rather brilliantly, proceeds will be going to MacMillan Cancer Support. For some excellent live music in a great city to raise money for an essential cause, Figure 8 promises to be superb.

A not-for-profit festival, Figure 8 Festival aims to raise thousands of pounds for charity each year as well as showcasing some of the UK’s best up-and-coming bands. Founded in May 2012, the inaugural Figure 8 Festival took place at True Lovers Knot in Dorset, on September 21-23, 2012. Run entirely by volunteers, it raised £5,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support.



Inspiration:
Organiser Laura’s cousin Alice was just 22-years-old when she found out she had cancer. Originally from Weymouth, she was teaching English in Thailand, where she was hospitalised with crippling stomach pains. Tests revealed she had a tumour in her womb. She returned home, where she underwent several courses of intensive chemo as the cancer spread to her lungs. Finally, and against all odds, she beat the cancer but it was a trying few months and Macmillan Cancer Support proved vital to this difficult process.


Cause:
From its early beginnings, founded in 1911 by Douglas Macmillan, Macmillan Cancer Support has grown to become the largest cancer care and support charity in the UK. With more people living with cancer than ever before, the need for Macmillan’s vital service is constantly growing and with more than 96% of their services funded by donations, the charity relies on fundraising and events like this to ensure it can cover the £132.9 million pounds needed every year to carry out its work. More information at www.macmillan.org.uk


Founder:
Laura Williams is a journalist and music writer, with a passion for music and festivals. She has reviewed numerous festivals for numerous publications – including Virtual Festivals and The Fly - and has now turned her hand to organising her own event – Figure 8 Festival. She is currently working as Deputy Editor of Bristol 24-7, which is one of the festival’s partners. She was joined in 2012 by co-organisers Katie Steele, Chris Burge, Chloe Harding and Julie Higgins. And for 2013, with a team, including Niki Davies, John Jeffreys, Sammy Maine, Mat Motte, Laura Kidd, Lou Trimby and Helen Brown among others.