Album Review: The Immediate – Manbuoy

Album Review: The Immediate – Manbuoy

Twenty years ago, The Immediate believed their chance at superstardom to be over. Despite a solid local fan base and live reputation, the demo tape they sent to a label failed to get them a recording contract; and falling victim to the stresses of being an unsigned band they grew disenchanted with the industry and began to hate one another. Two decades later, they’ve let go of those hopes and reunited to play music just for the love of it. Not that they aren’t taking it seriously or don’t care about their songs being heard as widely as possible, but the youthful dreams of ‘making it’ have given way to a satisfaction with music being a hobby. Two EPs on, and the band are finally putting out their debut album (well it’s normal to self-release nowadays, isn’t it?).

There is great risk with bands reforming that they end up sounding like overgrown adolescents, trapped forever in memories of their ‘glory days’, viewed of course through a heavy rose tint. In terms of the music here it’s possible that little has changed – though I don’t know how the band sounded first time around, as it probably won’t make them feel good if I mention how old I was(n’t) then. The point is that while I’m sure their individual tastes have far expended in the interim, the main influences behind these songs are likely the same ones they grew up on, having the feel of classic pop long outdating anything likely to be bothering the charts today. The lyrics on the other hand represent how that band have changed – subjects such as family holidays, sharing child custody and overcoming mental health issues probably wouldn’t even have crossed their minds at an age of getting drunk and suffering their first heartbreaks. However maturity isn’t just about growing up and having families, it’s about understanding your place in the world, and what is really important; and in existing to share stories just for the joy of putting them out for people to hear, it’s this that Manbuoy really shows.

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Album Review: My Name Is Ian – Cincinnati Cola

Album Review: My Name Is Ian – Cincinnati Cola

If you live around Cardiff, then you know My Name Is Ian for one song; and if you don’t, well then you probably haven’t heard of them at all. I’d say that new album Cincinnati Cola is about to change all that, but if that’s what the band were aiming for, they’d’ve made something a lot less… well, odd. From orchestral/electronic/spoken-word-sounds-like-a-film-quote opener Spring Grove Cemetery, it’s clear this record isn’t meant to be accessible, at least not in any mainstream sense of the word.

That’s not to say that these songs aren’t catchy – in fact, some of the more pop-orientated tracks among the collection are instantly recognisable if you’ve seen the band live recently, Shangri-La And Paradise and lead single Fight, Drink And Watch People Die On TV are two that particularly spring to mind as having been in their set for a while. Once upon a time, great pop music was recognised by earworm songs rather than autotuned vocals and the ‘right image’ – any argument in favour of these songs being considered such though is scuppered anyway by lyrics often constructed of nonsense rhyme. Then take into account that even around the sing-a-longs, the rest of this album is mind-bogglingly strange – as you’re ultimately reminded by final track Merlot Ego (If I Was A Gentoo Penguin, I Would Find You The Smoothest Pebble) ending on two-and-a-half minutes of nothing but erratic bleeps and blips.

But that’s the fun of it, being a fan of My Name Is Ian is almost a cult wherein once you can sing along to In The Best Case Scenario We’d Die At The Same Time (from their previous album), it feels like you’re ‘in’. Saying that, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fight, Drink… becomes the new festival anthem; you can check out the What’s My Age Again-inspired video for that one below. Oh, and if you do live in Cardiff, keep an eye on where they are at the end – working out the punchline before the camera pans up makes it even funnier. Back to the record – Cincinnati Cola is out now via Bubblewrap Records, available digitally by itself or as part of a t-shirt/download/artwork bundle from the label’s website.

EP Review: Vulgarians – Almost-Instinct, Almost True

EP Review: Vulgarians – Almost-Instinct, Almost True

With two thirds of Vulgarians latest EP Almost-Instinct, Almost True already having been online prior to release, it would seem there may not be much to say about the one previously-unheard song on it. But listening to the record as a whole is quite different from its component parts – with newbie Career Dietary being the centrepiece, the other tracks slot into place at its sides. Opener Of Humdrum Consumption leads in nicely from previous EP Life’s Successful Death, being the one song here that changes fairly little in style from their debut. Brooding but restless, the familiar dark-psyche engulfs and sears in equal measure, sprawling into the aforementioned second track. Starting sparsely, then sounding about to break into an indie-rock singalong (apart from the unerringly scathing vocals) this is a real departure from what we’re used to from the band, before the cacophony hits towards the end bringing it back to earth. This sort of suggests but can’t prepare for Hands Around The Waste; probably my favourite Vulgarians song so far, it’s very different again, taking the darkness and twisting it into something eerily almost cheerful. It’s groovy in a dirty, somewhat sleazy manner, writhing scornfully to a sudden, scuzzy climax. This release sees the band expand on their sound without trying to hard, which is exactly what you want from a second EP.

EP Review: Lastigband – Torpido

EP Review: Lastigband – Torpido

While I’ve always believed in the concept of music as an international language, I don’t listen to much that’s not in English as I struggle to connect in the same way when the words are foreign to me, though of course that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it anyway. Writing about something I don’t understand is a whole different level though, so reviewing a Welsh-language EP from Lastigband has made me approach my subject matter in a very different way. Without the lyrics to provide imagery, I’ve allowed the music all by itself to do this – resulting in an odd if charming situation where I’m visualising the songs as stages of a day.

Jangling softly into existence, opener Jelo is unassuming but quietly confident, introducing the band’s clattering garage-indie as the sunrise brings in light; asserting its presence with little drama. Picking up urgency by the end, this feeds into second track Ti’n Rhydd. Easing off again slightly as the sky settles to blue, it feels more lively all the same with some intriguingly erratic little rhythms. At this point the sparseness of these tracks becomes more evident, nothing is unnecessary here with just enough detail included to hold the listener’s attention. This changes some as the sun crosses the middle of the sky, and Arnofio swaggers in with the buzz of an energetic afternoon. Instantly more psychy, this is the most dynamic and raw song here, discordant in places with asymmetric echoes becoming apparent when listening in stereo. Rhedeg brings in a more drowsy vibe, restrained and reverb-y as the energy of the day fades and the sun gradually sets.

Despite my complete lack of insight, Torpido is a gently infectious if eccentric little record, propelled along by jittery beats and softly-swaying melodies. It’s available now via Cae Gwyn Records, and if you’ve read this far you may was well listen to lead single Jelo below.

EP Review: GRAVVES – Rattle

EP Review: GRAVVES – Rattle

If something about GRAVVES alluring racket sounds familiar, that might be down to the fact that they used to be another band called Blood Lips. Happy to have cleared that up? Good, now we can move on.

Their debut EP under this moniker, Rattle rips into your eardrums from the outset, the first track leaving you wondering just what sort of monstrous creature My Pet Rihanna would be. Heartbeats pulls back on the throttle some, simmering evenly but with a pulsating darkness that leaves you even more on edge than its predecessor’s undisguised threat. Lead single Tribes follows this, initially back to the aggression of the start but quickly settling into a jaunty riff that swaggers through the carnage like it owns the grimy basement club dancefloor. And if that represents the night before, then Hollow Bones is the following morning’s hangover; an almost post-punky sense of bleakness pervades, angular melodies battling through the gloom.

Throughout the EP, it’s these subtle tuneful elements that keep you hooked. Often understated, buried beneath distorted growls and unrelenting propulsion, it can take a while to notice how intricate they are. It’s this that distinguishes GRAVVES from just being scatty noise though – the contrast of bitterness with beauty, done in a way that you barely notice it’s there. Check out the single on bandcamp now and look out for Rattle on 10th February, when it’s released through Loner Noise.

Album Review: Black Surf – Let’s Pretend It’s Summer / デラックスエディション

Album Review: Black Surf – Let’s Pretend It’s Summer / デラックスエディション

Ok so just to be clear, this isn’t technically an album; rather an extended version of Black Surf‘s debut EP Let’s Pretend It’s Summer. This longer edition collects some early singles and never-heard-before tracks, together with the four songs from the original release earlier this year. Putting out what is essentially a rarities compilation at the beginning of their career may seem an odd thing to do; but then this band haven’t exactly conformed to any usual route yet, forming via the wonders of technology across not just an ocean but the entire planet. Despite this, the album sounds like it could well have been bashed out in a garage in the band’s official hometown of Leeds. As you listen, grungy riffs jostle breezy fuzz-pop for the attention of your ears, both energising and soothing simultaneously.

The cherry on the top of this improbable mix are the interludes, which far from being anything I’ve heard on a record before comprise seemingly genuine voice messages from members of the public responding to adverts they’ve seen for “black surfers” – I do so hope they let 82-year-old Ethel Ethel join the band, as she wishes! Starting the record with one of these recordings sets the scene on Black Surf – they’re not in the practise of taking themselves too seriously. The passion in the music though is undoubtedly earnest; if the effort they’ve gone through to make this band happen doesn’t convince that they mean business then first track proper Rebel And The Saint will. Utilising their nineties influences’ grasp on dynamics to the full, it tears its own path into the audible car crash that is Vultures – oh, that’s a good thing yeah.

Get Up and Bastard Man are the first songs featured from the original EP, the latter probably the catchiest Black Surf have written (though there are definitely a few here in contention for that title), despite its lyrical darkness. The placement of these split across the album shows that, while there’s no doubt that the four tracks chosen for the initial release were the right ones, those leftover were of equally impressive quality and not so much different in style. Then just as you’re convinced you’ve got their indie-alt-rock sound pegged, Dive with its political-rant-rap proves you misled; while this band clearly know what they want to be, there’s still space to try something a bit different and whilst it means the seventeen tracks here don’t always have the smoothest sense of cohesion, that’s not the point of this release.

There’s A Way Hose sits towards the end of the record and its title sums up everything learned so far, in that while Let’s Pretend It’s Summer can stylistically be taken literally as this on the surface is fuzzy slacker rock, beneath that is a genuinely positive vibe of overcoming obstacles, that may relate to both the band’s less-than-simple formation and/or life in general. If you’re not a fan of the current wave of grunge-pop that seems to be emanating from Yorkshire in particular then this might pass you by, as certain sounds throughout this album, and even some of the lyrics seem to point to specific influences. To draw attention though to how the band wear these on their sleeve is futile because they are what they want to be, and have gone through too much effort to get here to worry whether that matters to you. And from the verses of yearning little ditty Baby Blue Washburn through hazy shoegaze à la Sink to the noisier garage rock of Screaming At The Sky, there’s variation enough here to keep not just the scenesters but potentially a mainstream audience interested, in a genre where’s it’s so easy to sound derivative.

Army Of Sheep and Lights Out precede Let’s Pretend It’s Summer but have their place here too, maybe a little more straightforward, but the band are clearly still proud of these early songs and deservedly so. Both will undoubtedly be fan favourites for years to come, and it’s this future that Black Surf are clearly looking towards. Releasing an album of bits and pieces so soon comes across as a statement of intent – this is what they’ve created up to this point, and it definitely builds excitement for the next stage of their already-global journey.

EP Review: Birdcage – Let Me Think

EP Review: Birdcage – Let Me Think

I’ve relived this story many times, and probably told it a few too; if you’d like to get straight to my thoughts on the release, you can skip the rest of this first paragraph, your choice. Anyway, it’s the Oxjam Cardiff takeover in November 2014, and despite the offer of free alcohol if I remain in Clwb Ifor Bach, I’ve instead left and headed for Undertone to watch a band I’ve never even heard of before. Why would I do that, you ask. Good question, but since the drink is a promise I can (and will) redeem before the end of that year, whereas the band… Well, if you don’t take a chance, you’ll never know what the outcome might have been. So alone I descend the permanently dark steps into my favourite basement, purchase my own beverage, and wait. There weren’t so many people there on that occasion as I recall, but I don’t know, festival days are a blur and the drink does nothing to aid my already terrible memory. The music starts late, or maybe I was early, or perhaps it actually began shortly after I arrived there. Regardless of the time, the band play, and despite not having an idea what I was expecting I’m somehow surprised – maybe more that I’ve somehow manage to avoid awareness of them for this long than anything else. During the set they advertise their new EP, and after it ends I approach one of them to buy a copy – this is a much bigger deal than it should be, remember I’m still at the stage of mostly needing to be blackmailed with drink offers to even speak to bands.

Two years, many more Birdcage shows and some further interaction (most of it admittedly digital) later, I’m sat here listening to ‘Let Me Think’. This is the fourth EP from the band, who are far from alone in favouring regular (in their case, pretty much yearly) short releases over trying to find the time to record a full length album. I hope they do eventually though, because at this point they really sound ready for it. Setting the vibe from the beginning of ‘Paint Your Face’ with rasping vocals and fuzzy guitars, the grunge influence that underpins their sound (and caught my attention in the beginning) is balanced out later in the track by a sudden softer passage, picking up again after in that don’t-fix-what-isn’t-broken alt-rock way. ‘You, My Heavy Star’ follows, it’s the lead single from the release and rightly so; being the catchiest track on here with an earworm chorus that seems unassuming at first, but after a couple of listens you just yearn to sing along with at the top of your lungs (as I often have been, usually at six in the morning whilst setting up in work). ‘Premonition’ starts off gently, gradually building into the noisiest point of the EP by the end of the song, as effect-heavy guitars squeal feedback and the pace increases until the track blows itself out. Closer ‘Stolen Photographs’ provides a dreamy comedown, crescendo-ing in places but at a calmer rate and with more space to breathe, fading out into a conclusion that leaves this release feeling complete, despite its modest length. Available from 11th November, ‘Let Me Think’ doesn’t break new ground, because it doesn’t need to. In bringing all their influences together and showing that they can make these work seemingly effortlessly combined, Birdcage have created something both beautiful and powerful, demanding and captivating attention in equal measure.