DJ Pete Rock and CL Smooth from Mount Vernon, New York, graced the seafront of Brighton with their 25th anniversary tour of All Souled Out, their début album from 1991. As with many musical duos, the pair were confronted with creative issues in 1995 and for 15 years it seemed as if the obscure, jazz-filled beats would be no more. The controversy ran deep between the two with disapproving comments made by each member up until 2010 when the death of iconic Gang starr member Guru bought them back together with a newfound objective to reignite true hip-hop.
The Hunna, London’s indie quartet, are a band that don’t come around very often. As the myth goes, this time last year they were in a band that wasn’t really going anywhere. Yes they played regular gigs and rehearsed, but they weren’t setting the world on fire. Nothing unusual here so far, then after Christmas they decided to jack in their jobs and try and make a proper go of it. Eight months later they have over 17k Twitter followers, over 200k Facebook likes and one of the most hyped debut albums, titled 100, in recent times.
‘Bonfire’ gets the album started. After an a capella intro, surging drums and power chords will the speakers. The chorus is nasal shouts over a catchy backing track. It shows that the band understand the dynamics of alternative pop. As the guitars chug away the chorus comes back. As expected from the titles, smoke, ashes, flames, matches and wind are all mentioned. It’s a masterclass at insipid banality. ‘We Could Be’ is up next and it's more of the same. Indie-disco beats and angular guitars, but lyrically The Hunna are doing something almost interesting. As if expecting flack from future reviews, they’ve basically written a track decrying these bad reviews. Lyrics like “I bet you wish that you bothered, When this band gets discovered, Don't worry yeah we recovered” and “When you're in your car with your driver, You'll hear how we blew up like a bonfire, God knows we're survivors” is a slightly meta as it references the opening track, but the lyric that really hammers this home is “We could be on top, If it weren't for shit like you”. ‘She’s Causal’ slows things down a bit, showing that they can be heartfelt as well as all lairy and rowdy rowdy. Again the lyrics feel more like an after-thought “She makes my heart beat go faster, The thing is I trust her.” And “Because she's casual she likes it, Mine and she knows it, Gives when I need it, Says to me "Can you feel it?" She's casual but she don't mind.” Really sum this up. Yes the band are saying ‘nice’ things, but ultimately they’re saying nothing other than “I’ve got a bird and she loves me, even if I’m a bit of a lad and our relationship is casual, she loves it as she loves me”. I could go on with the next track and the one after, but I think you get the point. Musically it’s all a bit and brash, apart from when it's quiet and sentimental, and lyrically its big and brash, apart from when its quietly sentimental. Granted there is something wrong with this method and it’s gotten The Hunna where they are now, which is sitting pretty with a heavily anticipated debut album in the bag.
After reading this review the next part might surprise you but I wish The Hunna well and I’m glad that they exist. In this day and age of playing it after and not rocking the boat The Hunna had the gumption to try something different and to take a risk. So for that I say “Fair play to them!” However the real problem with the band and their debut album is that for however well it was recorded and produced it isn’t actually saying anything. For all their collective efforts to make it sound edgy, angsty and provocative it, and the band too for that matter, come across as banal and boring. These sounds could have been recorded by any other band and they would have sounded the same. That isn’t what I’m after these days, and in due course, maybe their fan base too.
As the sun slowly dipped behind the horizon the Neon Saints Brass Band took to the outside stage at the Fortune of War. This ten-piece marching band have the songs and attitude to win over any audience. Luckily the majority of those in the packed seating area were there solely for them, so they didn’t have to win over too many neutrals. The mild evening, coupled with their New Orleans second liner sound, meant that everyone’s weekend got off to the perfect start. Opening with fan favourite ‘Money’ the Neon Saints were tight, loud and infectious. People danced from the offset with a verve seldom seen. As the set progressed the crowd got bigger until security had to start turning people away.
When listening to pop duo All Tvvins you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’d always been in pop bands. Their music is full of references about the darker side of relationships, but also hints that things do get better and all you need is a little faith and self-belief to make it happen, whilst being covered in glitter and DayGlo paint. But dig a little deeper and you realise that Lar Kaye and Conor Adams have more musical experience than their youthful faces show. Both have cut their teeth in multiple bands, Kaye in post-rock Adebisi Shank, and Adams the singer in math-rock group Cast of Cheers, before they decided to join forces and try and take over the world, one pop song at the time. Looking at their previous bands it’s almost unfathomable that they are now in an indie-pop band that makes big, bright and bold pop bangers, rather than the unfathomably complex and intricate post-math bands that they originally found themselves in. Once you listen to their debut album IIVV, however, you can start to see their past immerging.
‘Thank You’ is chocked full of ad-hoc guitar riffs and solos that would give Omar Rodriguez-Lopez a headache. Juxtapose that with the pop back track, and positive sounding lyrics and you have something interesting on your hands. ‘Too Young to Live’ and ‘Darkest Ocean’ follow this pattern. ‘Darkest Ocean’ is the XXX. Lyrics like, “Do yourself a fucking favour / Build yourself a boat / Hold your breath and reach the top / I know that you’ll float” offer a level of positive abstraction that only pop songs ever achieve. Everything sounds immediate and massive, yet there is an aching melancholy bubbling under trying to break free from the glitter and gold.
Recent single ‘These 4 Words’ kicks off with a bright and breeze beat and loops, this is easily the most pop thing they’ve release to date. The chorus has that rising euphoric thing that is really popular at the moment and the music sounds immediate, like you can only enjoy it for a split second then it’s gone into the ether, you know like snowflakes and a good laugh. There isn’t really much going at the moment that deviates from the verse-chorus-verse formula, but that’s all pop music, right? And that’s why pop music is fun, right? Because of the lack of change and happy-go-lucky under-current. Harold Pinter to music this ain’t!
The main problem with IIVV is that over half of the songs were previously released and the new songs, well, they aren’t as good so the album doesn’t really flow. Instead it stops and starts and never gets going. However when it does, the songs are good and filled with the kind of euphoria that is prevalent in pop at the moment. Expect All Tvvins IIVV to soundtrack all your shopping experiences, cocktail excursions, walks along the beach and BBQ’s. Basically this album has the capacity to be everywhere, all the time! I just hope you don’t get bored of it, otherwise it’ll be a very long summer indeed.
Sumach Ecks, AKA Gonjasufi, first appeared on the scene seven years ago with the single ‘Holidays/Candylane’. Since then he’s released two genre defining albums, a slew of singles and a remix album. Now Ecks is about to release his third album CALLUS, and as A Sufi and A Killer and MU.ZZ.LE showcased, it contains the contents of his psyche DJ box.
‘Your Maker’ starts off with Malcom Catto-esque drums, but slowed down and echoed up, plus a bassline that Krist Novoselic would be proud of. Then the star of the show appears. Ecks’ half drawl/half spoken vocals. Even after a few listens it’s hard to work out what he’s on about, but that doesn’t really matter as the music and his delivery tells us everything we need to know. He sounds like he’s hurt and in pain, but the worst of it is over. Whatever caused the pain has past and all he needs to do now it wait for the wounds, internal/external, to heal. We’ve all been there, and sadly will be there again. ‘Afrikan Spaceship’ is a three-minute glitch work out. It’s hard to get a grip on it to begin with as the beats are machine gun fast and cut up like the William Burroughs novel. The bassline is so hidden under all this you don’t even notice it on a first listen. Then a maelstrom of synth starts to whip up a third of the way through that engulfs everything. Again the lyrics are laconic and elliptical. The final third of the track is a disjointed guitar solo that after a first listen feels like an after-thought, but after a few listens, and checking out the titles, feels like a Sun Ra riff from 1967 that was discarded/unused until Ecks got his hands on it.
New double A-side single ‘The Kill’/’Prints of Sin’ is a slow-burner filled with searing guitar solos, luscious string sections, ad-hoc electronics, tight drum loops and Ecks’ trademark distorted stream of consciousness vocals. Both songs bookend each other perfectly. ‘The Kill’ opens with angry drums and soothing synths, until Ecks starts to deliver poignant lyrics after poignant lyrics. As ‘The Kill’ progresses it gets slower and more abstract until it segues in to ‘Prints of Sin’. Kicking off with a bubble of electronics, it follows this blueprint until its warped outro. Both songs complement each other perfectly and showcase Ecks’ eclectic personality.
‘Krishna Punk’ is the song that sums up Ecks’ past, present and future perfectly. The title alone screams this. 8-bit beats and vocals that border on guttural whines and moans make up the song’s mains elements. As Ecks bemoans multinational corporations the music crashes down around him, much like his thoughts on big business. This is as concise as CALLUS gets and it’s a total banger too! ‘Poltergeist’ is the most jarring and haunting track on the album. The opening strings feel like nails being dragged down a chalkboard, and when the faux-witch house kicks in everything takes on a macabre vibe. “Keep holding on”, Ecks croons over melancholic keyboards and guitars. Then, suddenly, everything swells up and sounds like an epic nightmare featuring characters from AKIRA or Stranger Things. ‘When I Die’ is Ecks’ take on Joy Division, with throbbing bass riffs, claustrophobic keyboards and an underlying feeling of unease. ‘Last Nightmare’ closes the album as it started, with the sound of a man going through the wringer, making it to the other side and telling you about how to survive it when it’s your turn.
CALLUS was written and recorded over a four-year period. In a nutshell it is a raw punk-hop album. Throughout its fifty-minute duration Ecks creates music that is so lo-fi you can see the glue holding the samples together and with a vocal delivery that boarders on primal scream therapy. These themes, and production, make it Ecks’ most honest and purifying album to date. It goes to show that even when you are angry and hurt you can turn that around to create something positive and beautiful.
The Old Man’s Back Again…
The Childhood of a Leader is a film by debut filmmaker Brady Corbet. Loosely based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s short story of the same name and John Fowles’ novel The Magnus. The plot is that in 1918 an American boy witnesses the creation of the Treaty of Versailles. This is the defining moment of his life and it shapes every decision he makes after. The music was composed by cult singer-songwriter Scott Walker. This is Walker’s first new material since 2014’s ‘Soused’ and it marks his third film score after 1999’s ‘Pola X’ and 2007’s ‘And Who Shall Go To The Ball?’ Like his previous scores it is a visceral affair and not for the faint hearted.
The score opens with the sound of an "Orchestral" tuning up, then BAM, we’re off and running. ‘Opening’ sounds like a mixture of John Williams’ ‘Imperial March’ and Bernard Herrmann’s theme from Cape Fear, but with the strings tuned to psychotic. It tells us this is going to be a choppy ride that will have us on the edge of our seat, both visually and musically. After the emotional rollercoaster of ‘Opening’, ‘Dream Sequence’ has a more electronic vibe to it. Droned synths form the backbone of the track while rumbling bass and screechy stabs interspace it, giving the whole piece an unsettling feeling. ‘Run’ is an ephemeral shot in the arm. Initially, soaring strings envelope us, until they begin to rush through us like banshees on a misty moor. ‘Versailles’ is the lynch pin of the album. It’s a massive claustrophobic mind fuck. At times it’s almost impermeable. Dense layers of abrasive music prevent you from finding your way then, like a Cornish fog, it clears and you can see the path, only for it to be obscured a moment later. What ‘Versailles’ does perfectly is take the motifs and emotions of ‘Opening’ and reinterpret elements of it, whilst hinting at what is to come.
‘Boy, Mirror, Car Arriving’ ratchets up the tension from the start. By the half way point the strings have been surpassed for chugging cellos. The sea-saw motion is fantastic and really closes the song on a disturbing high. ‘Third Tantrum’ feels like a reworking of Shostakovich’s ‘Fifth Symphony’, but in a really, really terrifying way! As the name suggests ‘Printing Press’ is rhythmic and mechanical. It also shows that Walker’s inventive streak is at an end. On his more recent albums he has incorporated non-instruments into his compositions. Glasses hitting a wooden table top and a man punching a dead pig have all been included. Here Walker sounds like he’s incorporated an old typewriter that is being put through a wringer. Then Morse code explodes from nowhere sending out a hidden message in an unexpected moment of calm, before the tension is ramped up again. ‘Finale’ acts as a bookend to ‘Opening’. Huge, almost distorted horns enclose us, while stabbing strings keep everything moving in a fluid manner. As with ‘Opening’ the Hermann motifs are back, but now played for all their worth. Everything sounds unrelenting, inspiring and terrifying.
Overall The Childhood of a Leader sounds like an angry Sibelius, Delius and Shostakovich with a bit of Mica Levi thrown in for good measure and by the end of it you feel like your teeth have been pulled and your nerve endings are frayed. The only real problem with The Childhood of a Leader is that it is the first album in over a decade where Walker appears to be following trends, rather than creating them. This isn’t to say the album is bad, far from it, during its thirty-minute duration there are moments of sublime ecstasy that make you realise how far ahead of the game he actually is. However there are moments that sound like other musicians and that isn’t what we want from any Scott Walker album, regardless of whether it’s a new solo album or a film score.
David Brent first appeared on the 2001 reality TV show The Office as the manager of Wernham Hogg, a regional office of the paper distribution company in Slough. Throughout the series we were shown Brent’s professional and private life and bit by bit he became a national celebrity. We learn that before he worked for Wernham Hogg Brent was in the band Foregone Conclusion, who once had Texas support them. Then he just vanished from our collective consciousness. In 2013 he reappeared on YouTube with a series called “Learn Guitar with David Brent” and then performing with Doc Brown on the Comic Relief single ‘Equality Street’. From this there was enough public interest to get Foregone Conclusion back together and, more importantly, back on the road.
Wilderness, set in the beautiful Oxfordshire hills just outside Charlbury, is renowned as the most middle class music festival you can find. With glamping tents stretching as far as the eye can see and feasting tents emblazoned with the likes of Hix, Petersham Nurseries and Raymond Blanc, it certainly feels that way when you're there.
But with the festival boasting some of the most varied and unique forms of entertainment and pitched in the most charming of locations, this stands out as the elegant queen of all UK festivals. From attending various yoga classes, to broadening your mind with topical talks and from taking part in interactive theatre, to learning how to basket weave, Wilderness has got it all.
Wilderness' musical line up this year was a little thin on the ground. There were only a handful of artists that were on my “to do” list, but thankfully what they lacked in headliners, they made up for in lesser known acts, and I came away with a whole raft of new music to add to my music library.
So it’s happened. Strange Cages have released their debut EP, Ego Killer on Drastic Decline Records. Over its four tracks Ego Killer ranges from neo-psych, motorik, indie and lo-fi garage rock, but all garnished with Strange Cages’ rich and vibrant sound.
Lead singer Charlie McConnochie recently said, “Our past recordings have always been very raw – which is obviously fine. This time around we wanted to make something that sounded bigger and had more noise to it as well as keeping the rawness in there. I think we achieved that and we're all really happy with the EP”. The EP was recorded at Hermitage Works Studios at Manor House with producer, and Drastic Decline Records head honcho, Margo Broom. McConnochie said of working with Broom, “Margo was great, I don't think I'd go to anyone else now. She was completely involved in the whole thing and it's really encouraging to work with a producer like that. I know the kind of sound I want from recording, but I find it hard to actually get it down. Margo helped to pull it out of my head.”
The EP opens with title track ‘Ego Killer’. Mercury-tinged guitar, throbbing bass and frenetic drums welcome us, like when you bump into an old friend in a pub. They hug you, take you by the elbow, lead you to their table and then begins a night of catching up and merry making. Due to the nature of the music Strange Cages make, ‘Ego Killer’ does feel like an old friend and the more times you play it, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lead single ‘Bam Bam Boom’ is up next. And like ‘Ego Killer’ you are whisked away for three and a half minutes through bowel-loosening bass, unrelenting drumming and guitars that are hard to ignore!
Given that McConnochie says their influences are, “A lot of kraut and motorik influence and there's also Captain Beefheart and a bit of Hawkind in there. I don't know if anyone will hear that or not though? Lyrically, I like to write stuff that sounds twisted and paranoid.” These themes of paranoia come to the fore in the EP’s latter stages. Ego Killer closes with a duo of song that show that Strange Cages have a softer, more tender side. ‘Jealous Over You’ sounds like classic Jefferson Airplane, but with biting sardonic lyrics. ‘If You’re Leaving Me Cold’, like ‘Jealous Over You’ instead of insidiously visceral guitars, this time they are subtle and it’s McConnochie’s lyrics that are the main event. It’s an apt way to end the EP and hints that in the future Strange Cages might be delivering more of this kind of reflective garage rock.
Ultimately Ego Killer is the sound of a young band working out how to write songs full of the vim and vigour that they themselves feel. Yes there are moments on the EP when you can see, and hear, their inexperience, but this isn’t a bad thing, oh no, for you can almost hear their collective minds saying, “Oh, that’s how it all works!” The future looks bright for Strange Cages. If all goes well, we should be expecting albums based on dreams. McConnochie recounts one that would give any prog band a run of their money, in just the concept states, “I once had a dream that I saw my girlfiend digging her own grave. She was so high she was screaming lasers of joy. I don't think it was on earth though, because the sky was a dark pink. I'm hoping we'll get an album out of that.”