Saturday, 30 April 2011

reviews: one inch badge, for abel, the douglas firs

Various - One Inch Badge Presents Sea Monsters: The Best of Brighton

Various Artists - One Inch Badge Presents Sea Monsters: the Best of Brighton (***)

Though they’ve since delivered records from the likes of Why? and Casiotone For the Painfully Alone, Brighton-based label One Inch Badge remain besotted with the hometown talent that first persuaded owner Alex Murray to set up shop. This eighteen-track compilation was released locally in January to mark their twentieth release – as good a milestone as any – and now the rest of the country gets to explore the fruits of OIB’s sound-scouting.

It’s not flawless, but such ‘state-of-the-scene’ overviews never are: dunce caps are reserved for Salter Cane, whose Sorrow is far too close to Nick Cave parody to deliver much enjoyment; and The Hornblower Brothers, whose existential ponderings are insufferably twee.

But they’re outnumbered by moments of excellence: Illness’s The Guardian gives steady time signatures the finger to produce awesome instrumental scuzz-rock with echoes of Cowtown; Cold Pumas are deliciously heavy and abrasive on Proof of Man; Nullifier and Soccer 96’s respective takes on 8-bit electro are confident introductions to two acts yet to acquire much of a profile beyond the BN postcode, but fully deserving of one; while Drum Eyes’ John Carpenter-esque Future Police, lifted from last year’s rather good Gira Gira, is no less darkly imaginative for its recycling.

The Squadron Leaders mark a final fine discovery, closing the compilation with nostalgia-inducing surf whammy bends and tropical saxophone, affirming the breadth of One Inch Badge’s cherry-picking. And with nary a whiff of Kook or a big-beat banger to be found, it seems London-by-the-sea’s in rude health.

Out 9th May

For Abel - Greater Inventions

For Abel - Greater Inventions (****)

Back when For Abel were still Nacional (blame The National’s management for the name change – though the cap-tip to Alligator in the new moniker indicates no hard feelings), we reviewed a show of theirs and suggested that anticipation for their debut album was “sky high and rising.” That was over a year ago: unless its ascent slowed pace, said anticipation would have left the atmosphere long ago.

But while Greater Inventions’ arrival carries neither the climactic buzz nor the payoff to support the astronomical assessment, it nonetheless packs a lot of excellence into its tightly-played package. Their rechristening doesn’t equal a fresh start: opener Telephone was a Skinny ‘Single of the Month’ way back in August 2008, after all. But it does consolidate all that’s marked them out from the get go: big guitars, big ambition, and a mean way with a hook. Nacional esta muerto; long live For Abel.

Out 16th May

The Douglas Firs - Happy as a Windless Flag

The Douglas Firs - Happy as a Windless Flag (****)

Considering it was recorded in bits and pieces over a seven year period, Happy As A Windless Flag is remarkably coherent, flowing together with a finely-calibrated sense of pace, tone and atmosphere. During that time, Jesus H. Foxx’s Neil Insh corralled various musicians to breathe life into his solo compositions, and the results are enigmatic and enveloping, with similarities to Deerhunter’s hypnotic alt-pop.

The quality never drops: A Military Farewell appropriates World War 2 paratrooper song Blood on the Risers (in turn an adaptation of civil war marching-song John Brown’s Body) to ghostly effect; The Quickening’s ambient folk triggers unnamed emotions left right and centre; while closer Soporific is anything but – gently soothing but in no danger of inducing sleep. Apparently, recording of his second album is well underway; with Insh’s debut only partially explored after a dozen listens, it’s greedy to crave another so soon, but difficult not to.

Out 9th May

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Sunday, 17 April 2011

april playlist!

bottle rocket #34 sounded like this:

1. beach fossils - daydream
2. crystal stilts - departure
3. the radio dept. - freddie and the trojan horse
4. bearsuit - princess, you're a test
5. sugarcubes - hit
6. blancmange - living on the ceiling
7. broken social scene - texico bitches
8. the shins - so says i
9. saturday looks good to me - lift me up
10. sound of arrows - danger
11. frankie rose and the outs - candy
12. la sera - never come around
13. esg - moody
14. matthew dear - sound and vision
15. sleigh bells - riot rhythm
16. british sea power - who's in control?
17. idlewild - mistake pageant
18. split enz - i got you
19. the cars - she's my best friend's girl
20. any trouble - yesterday's girl
21. rem - can't get there from here
22. the strokes - you only live once
23. sleater kinney - jumpers
24. the psychadelic furs - pretty in pink
25. sroeng santi - kuen kuen lueng lueng
26. talking heads - uh oh... love comes to town
27. peter bjorn and john - second chance
28. the lemonheads - rockin' stroll
29. tilly and the wall - ?
30. etta james - in the basement
31. those dancing days - i'll be yours
32. echo and the bunnymen - lips like sugar
33. the police - message in a bottle
34. nirvana - molly's lips
35. the replacements - i will dare
36. phoenix - 1901
37. cold cave - villains of the moon
38. kylie - better the devil you know
39. tv on the radio - caffeinated consciousness
40. pixies - u mass
41. dananananaykroyd - e numbers
42. dire straits - walk of life
43. madonna - borderline
44. ash - jesus says
45. fleetwood mac - go your own way
46. dinosaur jr. - freakscene
47. kenickie - in your car
48. beyonce - single ladies
49. sons and daughters - dance me in
50. the bangles - walk like an egyptian
51. the magnetic fields - desert island
52. abba - does your mother know?
53. edwyn collins - girl like you
54. dexy's midnight runners - thankfully living in yorkshire it doesn't apply
55. neutral milk hotel - holland 1945
56. michael jackson - the way you make me feel
57. bruce springsteen - hungry heart
58. prince - kiss
59. little richard - a little bit of something (beats a whole lotta nothing)
60. solomon burke - everybody needs somebody
61. the animals - bring it on home to me

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

reviews: the donkeys, acid house kings, dolorean

The Donkeys - Born With Stripes

The Donkeys - Born With Stripes (***)

I’m no zoologist, but a Donkey Born with Stripes would imply zebra parentage, making these San Diegans zedonks. If we instead delineate their genus from the sounds they make, rather than from laboured puns, the band are proud Buffalo SpringBecks: opener Don’t Know Who We Are is a pinched harmonic away from For What It’s Worth, while early Beck is echoed on multiple occasions by the album’s loafing demeanour.

But maybe the first classification is suggestive after all; apparently, the stripy offspring of zebra-donkey combos are frequently smaller than either of the contributing breeds, and there’s likewise something stunted about The Donkeys’ musical appropriations. There are nice sounds to explore here, but the exploration won’t take long, and the prominent prints of others frequently distract. Nonetheless, it exhibits more character than the efficiently-anonymous hippie-country of Living on the Other Side, suggesting slowly but surely, The Donkeys are finding their feet.

Out 25th April

Acid House Kings - Music Sounds Better With You

Acid House Kings - Music Sounds Better With You (**)

Acid House Kings have been indie-pop darlings for nearly two decades now, and by this stage could likely knock out gorgeous, heart-on-sleeve melodies in their sleep. Their fifth album feels so by-the-numbers that you might suspect it was indeed dispatched whilst napping, but the shiny exterior belies five long years spent tinkering in the studio.

Unfortunately, at some point, it seems the refinement changed from perfectionism to detrimental obsession. Music Sounds Better with You is best experienced in single-song doses, but for all its superficial highs this is likely to leave listeners craving something scuffed and off-the-cuff; something that doesn’t just sing about beating hearts but audibly has one at its core.

If the studio time had been spent experimenting with their blueprint or crafting an elaborate triple album, the lengthy gestation might be understandable. But at barely half an hour of same-old, same-old, it’s both too much and not nearly enough.

Out Now

Dolorean - The Unfazed

Dolorean - The Unfazed (**)

When Portland’s Al James rolls through town, he doesn’t exactly ignite the tarmac. This misspelt Dolorean isn’t going back to the future, just back – this is heartfelt alt-country at its most traditional, with few fresh innovations. But lengthy careers have been built on less, and James and co. are testament to the longevity a simple setup and a plaintive disposition can provide.

The harmonies recall sweet songbirds like The Jayhawks, while tracks like Country Clutter possess an irresistibly laidback vibe, but this is exceptionally easy listening, which proves a weakness as well as a strength. The appeal will either be immediate on first listen, or not there at all, depending on your existing affinity for the sub-genre they are comfortably nestled in. This is easy to listen to in the way wet sand is easy to sink into, and the imprint it leaves is just as temporary.

Out Now

Friday, 8 April 2011

april skinny is here for you to read

panda bear is on the cover, see

The Skinny

as well as mr bear, and you will know us by the trail of dead, rival schools, james blake, autechre and adam goldberg. it's good and if you don't read it you're a dumbo.

my quota this month is:

- cry parrot presents: john maus @ mono live review (read!)
- pat jordache - future songs album review (read!)
- little scream - the golden record album review (read!)
- le reno amps - appetite album review (read!)
- the vivian girls - share the joy album review (read!)
- the goldberg sisters - the goldberg sisters album review (read!)
- essential killing film review (read!)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

record store day preview

following the bottle rocket blurb the other day, here's a bit more info on record store day, written for The Skinny:

With downloads and tax-dodging web-retailers gobbling up sales, the humble record store’s obituary had been penned many times by cultural forecasters and economic analysts, gazing at sales trends and predicting only gloom. Record Store Day approaches things from a more optimistic angle, with April 16th marking its third annual celebration in the UK.

As ever, a host of events and product will be vying for your time and pocket money. In the capital, Found are among those DJing in Underground Solu’shn, while the recently relocated Avalanche has Frightened Rabbit appearing in-store on Saturday and Broken Records lined-up to continue the festivities on Sunday. Frightened Rabbit will have to hot-tail down the M8, as they’re also scheduled to appear at Monorail alongside The Membranes and Iain Shaw, while across town LoveMusic host performance art and a ceilidh alongside sets from Admiral Fallow and Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers. Also vying for Glasgow punters is Rubadub, who’ll have LuckyMe’s The Blessings and teenage buzz-builder Koreless laying down beats for rack-browsing clientele.

Further north, Dundee institution Groucho’s has found itself front and centre this year thanks to The View, whose cover of The Tweeds’ I Need That Record has been appointed RSD’s “official anthem”. With its opening line amended to “I walked into Groucho’s just the other day” (and its storefront on the sleeve), the band have clearly embraced the message to cherish your local outlet. Or, as Grinderman eloquently put it: “Do yourself a tremendous favour and go to a record shop today. The relatively mild exertion of getting off your fat, computer-shackled ass and venturing out to find the object of your desire, the thrill of moving through actual space and time, through row upon row of records, and the tactile ecstasy of fondling the quested treasure—all this will augment and enrich the mental associations the music invokes in you for the rest of your life.”

Putting their product where their mouth is, Cave and co. have contributed a 12” of Evil remixes, but if dirty punk-blues isn’t your thing there’s plenty more for sale, including album tasters from Explosions in the Sky, Fleet Foxes and Panda Bear. We’ll be queuing for the Twilight Sad/Frightened Rabbit cassette demos (even if we don't have anything to actually play them on) and a collection of Franz Ferdinand covers by LCD Soundsystem, ESG and the Magnetic Fields, but since not every store will stock every item, try not to get your heart set on any one release. If some scoundrel does half-inch the last Deerhoof/Xiu Xiu split 7", leaving nowt but the Tings Tings remixing Dylan (no, we haven’t made that up; yes, it’s bad), at least rest assured you won’t have angered Grinderman.

see for further announcements, and a full list of the exclusive product that will be available in participating stores on the day

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

reviews: jeniferever, pat jordache, the goldberg sister

Jeniferever - Silesia

Jeniferever - Silesia (**)

Although Jeniferever probably deserve a higher profile, Silesia won’t be the album to swell their fan base. They’ve never exactly redefined the post-rock paradigm, but even against their own track record, there’s a distinct lack of freshness to their third full-length. They seem to be attempting to broaden their profile by following the genre’s manual as closely as possible, but they’re expert enough to smuggle in moments of excellence: for example, the guitar lick that closes Waifs and Strays or the title track’s sparkling malevolence.

Such beauty is offset by the tedium of Drink to Remember’s over-egged emoting and the bland The Beat of Our Own Blood. Compare Jeniferever with a band like Mew – with whom they share certain similarities – and the disparity is acute: where the Danes satisfied subverted expectations on 2009’s No More Stories, Jeniferever sound like they’re still playing catch up two years later.

Out 11th April

Pat Jordache - Future Songs

Pat Jordache - Future Songs (****)

Future Songs was first released as a low-quality, self-mastered cassette last summer. It looked destined to remain in such rough form when Pat Jordache’s laptop was tea-leafed from a cafe, till an old Mediafire account containing the original files was exhumed. They’ve been given a wipe-down and a tune-up for this re-release, and praise Constellation for ensuring this remarkable record didn’t languish as the preserve of Montreal hipsters.

It’s a fascinating listen, its peculiarities encapsulated by the unclassifiable closer ukUUU: six and a half minutes of string bending, field recordings, machine song and Jordache’s idiosyncratic croon. Yet despite its unorthodoxies, Future Songs remains ‘pop’, albeit in the same sense that John Maus or tUnE-YArDs (Merrill Garbus and Jordache previously played together in the also-ace Sister Suvi) are pop, with accessible melodies filtered through layers of hiss, fuzz and reverb. The results are comfortingly familiar, yet innovative and rather special.

Out 25th April

The Goldberg Sisters - The Goldberg Sisters

The Goldberg Sisters - The Goldberg Sisters (***)

Adam Goldberg is The Hebrew Hammer, director of I Love Your Work, Julie Delpy’s squeeze in Two Days in Paris – oh, and Chandler Bing’s nutty roommate. The Goldberg Sisters is destined to join his portfolio of projects that, to the world at large, remain less well-known than a stint on Friends fifteen years ago, but such is the legacy of a recurring role in the nineties behemoth (it took Paul Rudd years to lose the tag, “y’know, Pheobe’s husband”).

As with former act LANDy, The Goldberg Sisters delivers dreamy pysch-pop; a natural fit given his fandom and friendship with the Flaming Lips (Goldberg crops up in both The Fearless Freaks documentary and Christmas on Mars). But the results feel largely wan, sitting too comfortably in the shadow of more daring practitioners. In the end, this is The One Where Goldberg Came Close to Something Awesome, But Fell Ever-So-Slightly Short. We still have hope.

Out 11th April

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

dance (if you wanna)

This month’s bottle rocket coincides with Record Store Day, so once you’re done buying up all the limited edition, ultra-exclusive, uber-fetishised vinyl on offer, come along and enjoy music in a far more egalitarian manner at our dancing wonderland. Why covet a rare Talulah Gosh demos EP when we’ll play Bringing Up Baby for everyone’s pleasure? Why get anxious over the scarcity of the Franz Ferdinand covers collection, when we’ll spin the very same bands – from LCD Soundsystem to ESG – anyway? If you’re too late to pick up the Charles Douglas, Edwyn Collins and Kate Bush releases, you’ll be sure to hear the same artists in our dancing den. Well, maybe not ‘sure to hear them’ (the likelihood is probably closer to 64% since we’re notoriously forgetful) but the intention is there at least…

16th April!
11:30pm – 3:00am!
£3 or free before 11:30pm!

(and stick your requests on the facebook wall below and we’ll give em a go).

Monday, 4 April 2011

john maus @ mono, 29th march

here's a review of last week's rather wonderful cry parrot gig...

The loop pedal artisan is becoming a busy genre in its own right, but Remember Remember’s Graeme Ronald, performing solo tonight, is comfortably ahead of any curve you care to plot. His layered compositions are more mille-feuille than thick-tiered sponge – airily structured and never clagging. The only disappointment is the length – three songs feels frustratingly brief.

Plug are tonight’s unknown quantity, neither local nor niche icon. By the time they finish they should be firmly stamped on Mono’s collective consciousness: the duo’s curbed aesthetic turns synths, drums and vocals into something fresh and vibrant, with highlight Body Song resembling Le Tigre covering DJ Shadow’s Blood On The Motorway.

John Maus, meanwhile, is John Maus: eccentric, irregular and brilliant in all the expected ways. Maus takes the total kinetic energy expelled by the average band during a ninety minute gig, and condenses it into one juddering body and half an hour. His performance style exists somewhere between Limmy’s eckied dad minus the heartbreak, and a cake-clad kid on his birthday (post-sugar rush, pre-teary adrenalised tantrum). The song being played at any particular time is irrelevant: whether Do Your Best’s melancholic ballad or the jittery pace of Maniac, Maus gives it laldy. Two parallel but opposed tempos exist: the tempo of the synth-based, romantic-oddball alt-pop coming through the speakers, and the somewhat heightened tempo of Maus himself. His set flares briefly, but that’s for the best – think of the man’s heart.

Friday, 1 April 2011

GFT programme note: Essential Killing

here's another article written for the GFT - no spoilers this time either

Though its title may suggest a direct-to-DVD action spectacular – the sort of bottom-shelf fare which invariably stars an ex-wrestler or Steven Seagal as a retired cop/military veteran/concerned citizen, battling drug cartels, corrupt politicians, or some other indisputably villainous ‘baddie’ – Essential Killing is an altogether more ambiguous tale. Even the title is evasive on inspection: as the mute protagonist (identified as Mohammed in the closing credits) endures increasingly harsh conditions, ‘killing’ is imperative – kill or be killed – but also fundamental and elemental, with survival at all costs depicted as animalistic yet natural.

In recent interviews, director Jerzy Skolimowski has been keen to downplay politics, summarising Essential Killing’s plot as about, quite simply, “a man in chains, who runs away barefoot through the snow into the wild forest”.[1] Notably absent from such a condensed synopsis is the reason for the manacles, and Skolimowski strategically ensures that relatively little can be said with certainty on this matter. The film opens with a trio of Americans traversing a desert landscape; the former presumably a soldier leading two civilian contractors, the latter apparently Afghanistan. Armed with a rocket launcher, Mohammed fires on and kills the approaching strangers, and is almost immediately captured by other soldiers circling overhead in a helicopter. Subject to violent examination, humiliation and waterboarding, Mohammed is transported to Europe, presumably (there’s that uncertain qualifier again) for further interrogation. It is during the ‘rendition’ that the opportunity to escape presents itself: the truck crashes, and Mohammed flees into the surrounding Polish woodland, where his ordeal intensifies.

The practice of ‘rendering’ suspected terrorists and ‘enemy combatants’ to secret ‘black site’ prisons across North Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe (it has been alleged that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the ‘mastermind’ behind the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, was held in Poland)[2] has been a hugely controversial element of the Bush administration-led War on Terror. But if Essential Killing’s economical setup implies an overtly political agenda, the reality is somewhat different. For Skolimowski, the introduction is merely a means to an end – a prologue that serves to place his protagonist far from home, on the run in an unusual and dangerous environment – and he has implied that any number of possible events could have conceivably instigated this scenario.[3]

The attempt to sit out-with politics, particularly when handling such a hot potato subject matter, is, however, arguably unworkable. Mohammed acts out of instinctual self-preservation: in the opening, he is literally backed into a corner, his panic making the attack appear expedient rather than premeditated. Following the explosion, Mohammed is left disorientated and near-deaf, his confused point of view shared by the audience; the soundtrack is distorted and muffled, and his unresponsiveness to barked questioning seems less the recalcitrance of a defiant jihadi warrior, and more the cumulative effect of shock, sensory impairment and a possible language barrier. His actions – both in Afghanistan and in Poland – are presented as acts of desperation rather than ideological warfare or criminal psychosis; he kills, it is implied, because he has no other choice. From this, a political statement could be extracted and extrapolated, with Mohammed interpreted as metonymic of the way political violence takes root more broadly. Nonetheless, it remains fair to say that polemic is not Skolimowski’s primary interest. When accused of glorifying the Taliban following an early screening (a charge presumably agitated by the film’s constantly fluctuating sympathies), Skolimowski suggested his objective was, rather, a meditation on human nature. “For me, it could just as well be a completely innocent man who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time”, he argued,[4] and though the frequency with which this particular wrong man finds himself in a succession of wrong places might test credibility – breathlessly lurching from one set-piece to another, he contends with dog attacks, bear-traps, falling trees and more – it bolsters claims of a carefully maintained moral equivocality.

In support of such political and moral ambivalence, a structural ambiguity also emerges as Mohammed grows increasingly fatigued, with flashbacks and visions mingling with flash-forwards and prophecies. Furthermore, there is geographical uncertainty, the evasive topography of the two main locales underscored by the production itself, with Israel standing in for Afghanistan and, less expectedly (considering Skolimowski’s stated intention to shoot close to home), Norway for Poland. While the two locations are contrasted visually (white woodland against bright canyons), they are comparably stark, one unforgiving environment replaced by another, less familiar, wilderness.

Yet for all its evasiveness, Essential Killing does evidence a certain affinity with the Seagal-starring schlock evoked by its title, with its trajectory relatively straightforward and its pace clipped. Its resemblance to mainstream genres such as the survivalist drama and the action-thriller does more to dissipate any political edge than Skolimowski’s various proclamations on the matter, emphasising entertainment over didacticism. The refusal to engage directly with the issues applied here only as veneer may frustrate some, but its commitment to questioning assumptions and testing empathy is distinctively realised.

Christopher Buckle
Researcher and freelance writer
The University of Glasgow
March 2011

[1] Tom Dawson (2011) ‘Polish director, writer and actor Jerzy Skolimowski on new film Essential KillingThe List accessed at

[2] Steve Swann (2010) ‘CIA ‘tortured suspects’ in secret prison in Poland’ accessed at

[4] Author Unknown (2010) ‘Essential Killing does not glorify Taliban, says director’ accessed at