Monday, 30 May 2011

reviews: white denim, secret cities, ryan driver

White Denim - D

White Denim - D (***)

White Denim have always seemed better in theory than in practice. Omnivorously squeezing as many diverse influences as possible into every track, the Austinites have produced intermittently excellent records, but their genre infidelity has fatigued as often as it has invigorated. D makes few concessions, yet comes closer than ever to matching outcome with promise.

At the Farm and Street Joy offer a representative one-two: the former a prog instrumental replete with galloping solos; the latter a gently-soaring ballad. Anvil Everything is even more representative, cramming the same degree of variety into one four-minute trip: Marnie Stern meets Muse at the beginning; a boisterous Ponytail-esque middle; with a thickly-grooved coda. Yet while the recipe might seem faultless, the proof is in the pudding, and somehow all this inventiveness, once again, fails to produce the expected highs – but there's a lot of fun to be had in the middle register.

Out 6th June

Secret Cities - Strange Hearts

Secret Cities - Strange Hearts (****)

Always Friends; Ice Cream Scene; The Park – just reading the names of the first three tracks of Secret Cities’ second album might cause seizures in the twee-intolerant. On listening, it makes perfect sense, acting as a serving suggestion for maximum impact: who to listen with, how to dine appropriately, and where to do it.

The opener lilts to life (that’s lilt as in ‘totally tropical taste’, as well as ‘light, rhythmic swing’), setting up an album reminiscent of the laid-back kitsch-pop of Dent May and his Magnificent Ukulele – though here, the palette is more interestingly diverse, with Magnificent Ukulele accompanied by Splendid Singing Saw, Resplendent Trumpet and, er, Glorious Electric Bowtie (an experiment with contact microphones pressed against Adam’s Apples, adding to the slightly off-kilter air). Its brevity is a bonus – just as it threatens to lose lustre, it’s over, nudging you to pour another and play again.

Out 6th June

Ryan Driver - Who's Breathing?

Ryan Driver - Who's Breathing? (**)

It’s best to take all press release hyperbole with a shovel of salt, but claiming that Ryan Driver “just made the greatest soul record of the decade” is particularly perplexing. Never mind whether it’s the greatest or not; it’s not all that clear what’s meant by “soul”.

Nick Drake’s whispering croon appears to have influenced the vocals considerably, but while Driver doesn’t limit his inspirations to folk – eclectically taking cues from country (on pedal-steel opener Dead End Street) and lounge-jazz (much of the latter half) – there’s scant trace of gospel or rhythm and blues.

Unfortunately, nor is there much ‘deeply felt emotion’ to be had (the other presumed meaning of ‘soul’ in this context): songs are spun with such a delicate touch they barely register, and when they do – such as on the easy-listening fondue of Don’t Want to Leave You Without You – it’s not necessarily appreciated.

Out Now

Friday, 27 May 2011

reviews: the travelling band, dustin o'halloran, waldner

The Travelling Band - Screaming Is Something

The Travelling Band - Screaming is Something (***)

Manchester’s The Travelling Band have horizons both narrow and broad: musically, they’re content to operate within parameters so well-established they might as well be carved in mahogany, but spiritually, they’re gazing out over vast imagined prairies. The quintet seem well-placed to pick up where London-by-way-of-Australia’s Grand Drive (now seemingly out to pasture) left off, with second album Screaming Is Something (and it really would be in such genial company) delivering ten beautifully-played tracks born of the North West but with hearts heading further westward still. Its relative understatedness could prove a boon in the current musical climate – while it’s nominal genre of folk-americana-etc is ascendant thanks to Mumford and Sons et al, The Travelling Band compare favourably by eschewing the bombast of its current figureheads. But it also proves an obstacle; every track makes for a pleasant listen, but few imprint themselves with any conviction in the memory.

Out 7th June

Dustin O'Halloran - Vorleben

Dustin O'Halloran - Vorleben (***)

Vorleben will be a tough nut to advertise: “If you buy just one new Dustin O’Halloran album this year” the hyperbole will confidently begin, before stumbling. “it has to be, er…” – well, not Vorleben, as it happens, because O’Halloran already stole its thunder with the superb Lumiere in February.

So while there's absolutely nothing wrong with this live collection of solo piano pieces (the title of which pointedly translates as ‘past life’), it can’t hold a candle to its composer’s other 2011 effort, which is comfortably the more rewarding and innovative listen; by comparison, Vorleben lacks atmosphere, though presumably not for those present in Berlin’s Grunewald Church for its recording.

For anyone planning to throw caution to the wind and purchase two Dustin O’Halloran albums this year, however, Vorleben is unlikely to disappoint, its distillation of the stripped-back style of his early recordings further confirmation of O’Halloran’s prodigious talent.

Out 6th June

Waldner - Found and Lost

Waldner - Found & Lost (**)

When your voice is as prominent in the mix as David Waldner’s is on Found and Lost, it’s difficult to disguise lyrical faux-pas. Musically, Waldner is an efficient melody maker, with each track boasting infectious hooks, but the earnestness is less appealing in verbal form.

Opener Going Up Against Goliath encapsulates the imbalance: musically, the biggest complaint is over-polished production, but lyrically? “Have you ever had to fight for what you thought was right?” Waldner starts unpromisingly, before placing a friendly hand on the downtrodden addressee’s shoulder. “Well just because there’s no one else believes in you this day, doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be this way.”

The asinine platitudes risk evoking Daniel Powter, and no one wants that abomination in their “If you liked this, try these” column. Mull Historical Society is a more generous comparison, but Waldner is some way off matching Colin MacIntyre’s successes.

Out Now

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

reviews: jacob yates and the pearly gates lock pickers, destroyer, chad vangaalen

Jacob Yates & the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers – Luck

Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gates Lock Pickers - Luck (****)

This might be Jacob Yates & the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers’ debut full-length, but they’ve got hefty boots to fill, what with Uncle John & Whitelock missed to the tune of an ‘18th best Scottish album of the last decade’ accolade in these very pages. Said boots would, we imagine, be black with a bit of a heel and, if the theatrical extravagance can be excused, perhaps a spur clinking at the back, so as to reflect Luck’s DNA: a bit rock n roll, a bit rockabilly, pretty dark but with a mischievous grin.

Grinderman are sometime aural soulmates, with Yates growling like a Weegie Cave on album centre-piece Mary Hell’s haunted strut, but it’s the closing When You Left Me’s tale of bereavement that will floor those expecting an uncomplicated good time. Yet amidst the finale's mourning, there’s room for some jet-black humour – a balancing act few manage so adroitly.

Out 20th June

Destroyer - Kaputt

Destroyer - Kaputt (****)

It would be easy to dismiss Kaputt as all surface, no feeling on first listen. Dan Bejar’s tenth album as Destroyer appropriates a side of eighties’ pop yet to be regurgitated in today’s nostalgia-heavy charts – for good reason, grumps might grumble: a sax and synth, fretless bass, lounge-funk plastic soul that makes good on promises of Avalon-era Roxy Music and Sade influences.

Consequently, listeners might initially slide between its smooth grooves into a pit of cheese – but steady yourself, because Kaputt deserves perseverance. Bejar’s celebrated rapier phrasing is present and correct, studding the album’s exterior polish with wit and grit (“you terrify the land/ you are pestle and mortar” is one heck of an opening couplet). But finale Bay of Pigs is the towering highlight, as impressive in its (slightly) truncated form as in its previous, lengthier guise; a disco-opus that underscores the songwriting power that Bejar is steadily becoming.

Out 13th June

Chad VanGaalen - Diaper Island

Chad VanGaalen - Diaper Island (****)

Released last year, Women’s second album garnered almost as many plaudits for producer Chad VanGaalen – who cultivated an unsettling atmosphere pregnant with reverb and distortion – as it did for the band itself. Diaper Island marks VanGaalen’s first solo material since 2008, and the results are stylistically congruous with Public Strain, though less uncompromising.

That’s not to paint this the less interesting work; rather, VanGaalen confidently applies Public Strain’s techniques in a less challenging, but ultimately more gratifying, context. The yearning romanticism of preview track Sara isn’t a red herring as such – Heavy Stones’ strung-out country jam complements it nicely – but elsewhere, VanGaalen casually subverts expectations with deliberate ugliness, whether undercutting Can You Believe It? with noisy discordance, or closing with the confrontationally-titled Shave My Pussy, which contains not crudity but a piteous sadness. The end result is beguiling, and destined to grow in stature with every listen.

Out 13th June

Friday, 13 May 2011

damon & naomi @ captains rest, 9th may

here's a wee review of monday night's damon & naomi gig written for the skinny:

After supplying loose drums for Richard Youngs’ support slot (**), Damon Krukowski reveals their collaboration on forthcoming drone-folk album Amplifying Host was orchestrated at a distance, the two having never played it together in the same room before tonight. Perhaps that’s why the four-song set never quite gels, coming off as slightly monotonous and meandering; suffice to say, the record it’s designed to showcase is a wholly more satisfying listening experience.

When Krukowski re-takes the stage with Naomi Yang, the pace might not lift but pleasure levels undoubtedly do. Joined by long-term collaborator Michio Kurihara on guitar, they lead unexpectedly with a cover of the Stones’ Shine a Light, its melancholic gospel a perfect fit for the pair’s distinctive vocal style. It’s followed by tracks from the soon-to-be-released False Beats and True Hearts, in which Kurihara’s resonate fret-work muscles forward, yet nimbly avoids trampling over Damon & Naomi’s trademark fragility.

Highlights come from 2005’s The Earth Is Blue: Ueno Station is preceded by a Tsunami-relief appeal and recollections of playing in Stirling with poet and musician Kazuki Tomokawa, while A Second Life draws things to a close with all the delicate poise we’ve come to expect from the ex-Galaxie 500 duo.

GFT programme note: 13 Assassins

Please note: this article contains spoilers. I had added these Glasgow Film Theatre notes yesterday but blogger appears to have gone a bit squiffy and deleted them, so here they are again...


The wet sound of slicing may nauseate, but the scene of seppuku that opens Jûsan-nin no shikaku (13 Assassins) is relatively restrained in its staging, with blood and entrails kept (mostly) out of shot. Restraint is not a word often associated with director Takashi Miike, as the run of films which first brought him infamy in the West testify: by comparison, Visitor Q (2001) opened with a lengthy scene of father-daughter incest before graduating to necrophilia; Dead or Alive’s (1999) frenetic opening montage incorporated suicide, slit throats and sodomy; while Ichi the Killer’s (2001) credits emerged from a pool of the titular character’s semen. Often released under the now-defunct distributor Tartan’s ‘Asia Extreme’ label, such films forged Miike’s notoriety for imaginatively-depraved and intensely-violent cult produce. His more recent works have only infrequently found distribution in the UK, so for many 13 Assassins will mark a re-emergence after a period of apparent silence; Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) is the exception, its higher profile partly thanks to the presence of fan Quentin Tarantino in the cast-list – though with thirteen other features to his name since 2005, any impression of slackened prolificacy is illusory.

A remake of Eichii Kudô’s 1963 jidaigeki (or period film) of the same name, 13 Assassins marks Miike’s purest entry into the ever-popular chanbara genre, or sword-fighting film, typically set in the Tokugawa period of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries (his last effort in this genre, depending on how broadly you apply the term, was arguably Izo (2004), in which a crucified samurai travelled through time slaying indiscriminately). Kudô was himself born of samurai lineage, though was reportedly reluctant to glorify the samurai on screen, ‘convinced they had created an unjust social order’1. Kudô’s film evidenced this inner-conflict, with its themes of untrammelled power and rigid social inequality offering a critique implicating, amongst other things, the supplication of individual subjectivity to a corruptible ruling class, and the complex tension between the twin concepts of ninjo (personal feelings) and giri (loyalty to your master). However, despite its critical stance, the results were largely dismissed at the time as a pale imitation of Akira Kurosawa’s genre-defining Seven Samurai, released nine years earlier.

Kurosawa is also likely to inform contemporary viewers of Miike’s remake. While Miike hews closely to Kudô’s original 2, Seven Samurai remains the more obvious counterpoint due to its significantly higher profile. There are broad similarities in the plot – a vastly out-numbered band of principled samurai in a seemingly hopeless battle – but also more subtle echoes, such as Yûsuke Iseya’s wide-eyed performance as the ambiguous hunter Koyata, which seems to self-consciously channel Toshiro Mifune’s mercurial intensity. For fans of Miike’s more extreme fare, the idea of something so classically-inspired sitting alongside the likes of 2001’s Happiness of the Katakuris (a musical featuring zombies and cannibals) or 2003’s Gozu (a surreal blend of yakuza politics and cow-headed demons) in a single filmography is liable to shock more than any number of arterial sprays. Perhaps inevitably, 13 Assassins has therefore been heralded as a reputation-changer for the enfant terrible: it was nominated for best picture at the Japanese Academy Awards, played in competition for the Golden Lion at Venice, while his next release – another chanbara entitled Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011) – plays in the main competition at Cannes this month.

Not that 13 Assassins is without its brutal excesses. Almost half its running time is given over to a lengthy battle sequence in which limbs are furloughed and heads lopped from shoulders, suggesting that what is subtle by Miike’s standards is not necessarily subtle by the standards of others. The target of the titular assassins is Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki), younger brother of the Shogun, who uses his unchecked dominion to inflict suffering indiscriminately. Naritsugu’s monstrousness is never in doubt: within the first fifteen minutes, a series of flashbacks and conversations reveal a catalogue of horrors, with the sadistic Lord gleefully decapitating one man, driving the victim’s wife to suicide; using bound children as archery targets; and removing a woman’s limbs and tongue, abusing her and leaving her for dead. Such cruelty persuades the assassins’ de facto leader Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) to accept the job from concerned government figures keen to ensure Naritsugu does not acquire further power. Moreover, it helps persuade the audience of the mission’s necessity, even as the oppressively dark mise-en-scène of the early scenes portends seemingly certain defeat.

Elsewhere, however, a more complicated morality is at work, one without obvious parallel outside of its immediate context. Lord Naritsugu is defended to the death by his samurai Henbei (Masachika Ichimura), whose loyalty to his master (giri) takes precedence over all other considerations. Though visibly horrified by his master’s actions, personal emotions do not supplant steadfast obedience as Henbei’s primary motivation. When he is eventually killed in battle by Shinzaemon, the callous contempt shown by Naritsugu to his fallen servant appears to upset Shinzaemon more than any other aspect of the preceding slaughter, the lack of respect an affront to the bushido code.

However, despite this implied maturation, one last glance at Miike’s filmography suggests 13 Assassins should not be misinterpreted as a permanent change of direction for the director. It was preceded by a sequel to 2004’s Zebraman (Zebraman: Vengeful Zebra City), which detailed the further adventures of the dichromatic, alien-battling hero, while his next completed project is the self-explanatory Ninja Kids!!!, suggesting that Miike is likely to subvert expectations for a while longer yet.

Christopher Buckle
Researcher and journalist
University of Glasgow

1 Robin Gatto (2007) ‘Eiichi Kudô’s Guerrilla Filmmaking’,

2 See for shot comparisons.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

i'm voting bottle rocket

Bottle Rocket is two week's today! myself and michael are otherwise engaged laying down some funky wedding beats (i.e. playing 'we didn't start the fire' in a different room from usual), but we'll leave you in the capable hands of our 'mystery djs', as mike puts it below...

Given last week's events in Kelvingrove Park, Bottle Rocket is somewhat reluctant to send a Facebook invite for an event. So if you're intercepting this Strathclyde Police, there will definitely NOT be any drinking or dancing going on at Sleazy's on Saturday 21st May, no siree.

Right, that's the fuzz off our trail. Like the rest of the world, BR is all about change this month. Also like the rest of the world, this change will no...t really change very much. As an elusive leader who has done very little recently finally met a grizzly and ignominious end (eat my biting satire, Iain Gray), so too will the reins of power at Bottle Rocket shift for one special night. Yes, we'll be welcoming two secret guest DJs this month, but don't worry, as they'll be sticking to the BR manifesto of indie, pop, soul, new wave and the like, and will almost certainly be better than we are.

11:30 - 3AM!
£3! (or free if you're in before 11:30)

Just don't invite all your pure mental pals though, there will be no stabbing police horses as this shindig if you please

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

look out for wild beasts!

argh, wild beasts, how frightening! haha, no silly, not THAT kind of wild beast, but the popular kendal rockers, who adorn the cover of this month's skinny:

The Skinny

there are also features on low, bill calahan and explosions in the sky, which is pretty tasty, no? it is, however, a lean month for contributions from yours truly:

- stag and dagger preview (read here!)
- one inch badge presents sea monster: the best of brighton album review (read here!)
- the douglas firs - happy as a windless flag album review (read here!)
- psychedlic horseshit - laced album review (read here!)
- for abel - greater inventions album review (read here!)


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

reviews: psychedlic horseshit, viva stereo, matana roberts

Psychedelic Horseshit - Laced

Psychedelic Horseshit - Laced (****)

When Matt Horseshit and Ryan Jewell of Psychedelic Horseshit labelled their abrasive-yet-melodic music ‘shitgaze’, they did themselves quite the disservice. While their tongue-in-cheek neologism indicates both compromised recording quality (‘shitness’, if you will) and the immersive dreaminess of shoegaze, it fails to capture the multifaceted dayglo wonder that is Laced, which is great, then horrible, then great again (and, actually, the horrible bits are pretty great too). Thus a new genre is born: tropical-drone treble-sore calypso-noise mystic-pop squishy-garage punk-gaze.

OK, so the name needs work but its catalysing album is fully formed and rather awesome. I Hate The Beach’s insouciant eight-minute ramble and the mesmerising title track stand-out from the dense haze, while Another Side suggests, fittingly, another side to the Ohio duo, its conventional structure and harmonica middle-eight emphasising that, for all their egregiously tuneless vocals (not to mention their family-unfriendly name), Psychedelic Horseshit are never far from pop’s shores.

Out 16th May

Viva Stereo - Endure the Dark to See the Stars

Viva Stereo - Endure the Dark to See the Stars (***)

Over ten years, three albums and numerous EPs, Viva Stereo have stacked hard electronics on a foundation of indie-rock, with previous releases kindred with Cooper Temple Clause or turn-of-the-millennium Primal Scream. Endure the Dark… suggests the Fence mainstays may be inadvertently following Gillespie’s crew rather too closely: if My Own Enemy and Roar Lion Roar were Viva Stereo’s Xtrmntr or Evil Heat, their fourth full-length would be their Riot City Blues (minus the Jagger boner), with the “electro noise beat confusion” of yore thoroughly tamed.

There’s comparably little electronics, it’s rarely noisy, and the only confusion is why they’ve chosen to play things so conventional. With this lengthy caveat out of the way, however, it’s worth celebrating the album’s multiple highs: the title track is especially accomplished, while the closing run from My Beating Heart to We Set Sail evoke, variously, Mogwai, Mazzy Star and My Latest Novel. Viva Viva Stereo, then.

Out 9th May

Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres

Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter 1: Gens de Couleur Libre (****)

An avant-jazz concept album performed live, Coin Coin is an uncompromising listen. The intense noodling of opener Rise immediately intimidates, while the sub-title – ‘free people of colour’ – indicates the distressing subject matter. In Pov Potti, the narrator is sixteen, watching her parents die; by Kersalia, she’s aged beyond her twenty-five years.

The album’s centre-piece is a largely acapella slave auction, harrowing in its inhumanity (“she’d make a damn good breeder” Roberts leers, approximating the auctioneer, “don’t you mind them tears, that’s one of her tricks”). Penultimate track I Am provides hope: set free, the narrator saves so she can “buy back my children”, before closing with a dedication to Robert’s mother, and the poignant question: How Much Would You Cost? That slavery was a terrible trauma is no revelation, but the album undoubtedly is: inventive, sapient and engrossing, it’s not an easy listen, but it is an exceptional one.

Out 9th May

Monday, 2 May 2011

stag and dagger preview, May 21st

Stag & Dagger

Over the last two years, Stag and Dagger’s Glasgow leg has honed the multi-venue urban festival format into a slick, well-oiled machine. 2011’s eclectic line-up suggests they’ll make it three for three, with big(ish) name veterans like Clinic alongside young guns like Star Slinger. Sound of 2011 graduates Warpaint and Yuck are potential queue-builders, with buzz still building on the latter and lingering around the former, while you’d be daft to miss Kurt Vile and the Violators woo the Captains Rest with tracks from the recently-released Smoke Ring for My Halo.

Toronto’s Rural Alberta Advantage and Oklahoma’s Colourmusic are amongst this year’s imports, but it’s the array of contemporary Scottish talent that really impresses, including Admiral Fallow, Broken Records, Conquering Animal Sound, The Scottish Enlightenment, She’s Hit, Sons & Daughters, Veronica Falls, Wake the President and, if you’re looking for something more heavy and confrontational, De Salvo. Also on the noisier end of the spectrum are Japanese oddballs Bo Ningen and grunge revivalists Tribes, while ambient mavericks Toro Y Moi and Chad Valley should keep the party going into the wee small hours. Early-bird tickets are long sold-out, so act fast.