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Monthly Archives: November 2008

Growing – All The Way (The Social Registry)

What do you want from sound? It is easy to vacillate wildly between air-punching light-headed triumph, gentle reassuring familiarity and exquisite sensory masochism. Most worldly offerings exist in the cradle of their peers and inhabit the regular vehicle, but sometimes the perpetual hum of background noise fades away – a gentle deceleration. Music with the soothing clarity of total silence.

Neither narrative tales nor atmospheric maps, this is direct from the amygdala – the brain’s ancient primal core. The soundtrack to a thought in it’s initial unrefined state, before it is lashed to language or moulded by conflicting emotions. Pure, raw and at times nebulous.

Ostensibly ‘drone’ music, the tag feels increasingly limited and irrelevant when applied to Growing. The hypnotic, layered arrangement may at first suggest the label but the dour, grandiose bluster many other such acts exhibit is absent. Here we have mellifluous euphoria, a celebratory dance performed by the handfuls of elements making up the cast of each track. At times more movement between the component parts, but with an overall feeling of central stillness.

An uncommon treat, cutting through the static and blooming gently.



AC/DC – Black Ice (Columbia)

‘Nothing is certain except death and taxes’

Yes, and AC/DC – Australia’s most popular export after positivity and chain pubs will never, ever change. They have been joyfully recording the same album for over 30 years with the school-yard humour and schoolboy uniform intact.

You would imagine that three decades of hard rockin’ and hard drinkin’ would have caused a slow and steady decline in enthusiasm, ability and appeal but no – ‘Black Ice’ has proved to be the boys’ most successful record since their early heyday, rocketing straight in at the top of the charts in 28 countries.

The most obvious source of AC/DC’s enduring allure is their bare-bones, back-to-basics brand of classic rock. It’s hard not to feel refreshed by such a simple straightforward pleasure, big dumb fun that never fails to raise a smile. If you’re not yet acquainted with this charming, accessible band, now is the time.


Eagles Of Death Metal – Heart On (Downtown Recordings)

Although still best known for having Queen’s Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme as a member, Jesse ‘The Devil’ Hughes and his cohorts have edged closer to shaking off the tag of being someone else’s side project. Their last full length ‘Death By Sexy’ boasted some sparkling gems which won them widespread TV play, critical acclaim and a support slot for Guns N’ Roses. And no, they’re not death metal.

At their best they are the ultimate rock & roll party band – Delicious bubble gum pop wrapped in the most gloriously shameless cartoon of American excess imaginable. An insidiously appealing advert for the age old sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle. Although it’s tempting to follow them into the night for whatever illicit pleasures await, they appear eminently untrustworthy and may spike your drink and make off with your clothes at the first opportunity.

When they’re up they’re a joy but when they’re down they’re like a punctured tire. On tracks such as ‘Now I’m A Fool’ Jesse attempts lovelorn soul-searching but comes across half-baked and a little contrived. This party animal should stick to his day job and ignore the cold light of the day after. An Eagles Of Death Metal album which parties 24/7 would encapsulate perfectly their vision of the American wet-dream.


Deerhunter – Microcastle (Kranky)

Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia and dominated by the the towering, ethereal presence of frontman Bradford Cox, Deerhunter have already cemented their position as poster-boys for the ‘nu-gaze’ scene. Combining classic indie-rock sensibilities with sumptuous layers of harmonic sound has made them favourites with all the most discerning blogs and publications.

‘Microcastle’ is their third release on Kranky, the Chicago label which has long been a byword for forward-thinking post-rock and pastoral, starry-eyed electronic ambience. We find them here on the crest of a wave of creativity, deftly honing their self-styled brand of ‘ambient punk’ into a strikingly appealing weapon.

As ever, the band’s influences are clearly emblazoned on their swaying chests – Echo & The Bunnymen, My Bloody Valentine and Brian Eno have left their fingerprints everywhere. What separates Deerhunter and fuels their individual appeal however is a certain delectable aftertaste, a flavour which has seeped into all their music. Its sickly sweet fragrance can induce a wonderful narcotic torpor, wrapping you in warm washes of velvet sound and melody.

‘Microcastle’ is an uncommonly luxurious record, one to be savoured like a delicious meal and enjoyed in suitably comfortable surroundings.


Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna (Warp)

Pop is an eternally complex and intriguing beast. At its worst it’s a cold, grey and empty experience boasting the very worst in focus-group cynicism that flattens the emotions. The best moments however pulse with an honest, uncontrived joy that is as direct and inclusive as music can and should be. It just is, no more or less.

This is Gang Gang Dance’s ‘pop’ moment. Sidestepping from the engagingly esoteric American label Social Registry – home of the equally colourful noise-pop darlings Growing – to the UK’s newly trend aware Warp is a move symbolic not only of their swollen English following, but also of an accepted shift in direction. The impression given here is, “This is our crack at a wider appeal.”

Disappointingly it doesn’t work as convincingly as it should. The best moments (‘First Communion’, ‘House Jam’) create that perfect hybrid, that bridge that should always exist between appeal and invention. These gems are the kind of experimental pop that inspires and dares to promise of undiscovered sonic alleys where we can join hands and walk down together. These are too few however, and what remains appears either flabby or strikingly incongruous, like grime urchin Tinchy Stryder’s energetic appearance on ‘Princes’. Some may cry ‘crossover’ or ‘unconventional’ but he undermines any inertia or flow the preceding work has created.

Flow, or the lack of it, is one of ‘Saint Dymphna”s biggest issues. On earlier albums, such as the ecstatic ‘God’s Money’, the songs ran together, in and out of each other like a stream of collective consciousness, creating one long transcendent river of pseudo-religious bliss. Chopped into bite-size, four to five minute chunks, many of the tracks seem naked and alone. Ideas fade in and disappear with less contextual clout and a lack of conviction as if the band themselves lack the confidence to pursue them. Several songs simply sound unfinished.

Regardless of these unfortunate shortfalls of vision, it is the moments where it all gels that stick with you and draw you back. Sounds and loops stick out at odd angles and spill over the edge like an over-full tin of paint, conspiring to create unusual colours. When ‘Saint Dymphna’ manages to fit into the new frame Gang Gang Dance have created it becomes truly wonderful, but covering stark new ground is a tricky and intricate path and it’s easy to feel some sympathy when things don’t work.

‘Saint Dymphna’ is a valiant and charming, if not wholly successful effort. Gang Gang Dance may yet create the experimental pop triumph suggested here, but it is equally likely that their hearts are simply more suited to the labyrinthine jams they have previously mastered.