Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wallpaper - Review

Wallpaper – On the Chewing Gum Ground (2008)

K Records

When I listened to the first track on Wallpapers debut I yelled a triumphant YES and punched the air. Now I’m not one to hark about nostalgia or anything like that but I was instantly drifted to the heady days of the mid nineties when Pavement, Imperial Teen, Number One Cup and Weezer were my staple listening. Wallpaper fit this type of sound perfectly. There’s the hooks, a little bit of quirkiness and a lot of fun bundled too.

Although citing comparisons like this are cheap, I can’t help it. These guys encapsulate everything that’s great about U.S. Alt, that bounciness, the urge to play air guitar, the want to jump around. On the Chewing Gum Ground is like some kind of greatest hits. If these songs were released as singles they would all dominate the upper eschelons of the charts – well if this was some alternate universe that is. However, YES these songs are THAT good.

Take the track ‘Totalled’ it’s starts off with a stop/start riff, then the drums kick in and the singer belts out something about televisions and catchy songs and then everyone joins in for a big wooo wooo chorus. It’s oddly uplifting and makes me shake my head along too.

‘On the Chewing Gum Ground’ is an alt pop masterpiece and makes a fine and bold statement for Wallpaper. These guys aren’t afraid to push a great melody in your face and have a sense of humour while doing it. Great stuff!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Marnie Stern - Review

Marnie Stern – This is it and I am it and you are it and so is that and he is it and she is it and it is it and that is that (2008)

Kill Rock Stars

On her debut ‘In Advance of the Broken Arm’ Marnie Stern created quite a statement. Here was a woman who did not hide a metal obsession and would shred with such ferocity and velocity that it would make Eddie Van Halen blush. Coupled with Hella’s Zach Hill’s spazzo drumming, ‘In Advance…’ was deliriously exciting. It had same danger factor as smoking in a room with a gas leak. She was ready to explode and so were you listening to her. However beneath all the wailing, and if you include her voice, shrieking, there lay a sensitive soul who really just wanted to tell the world about her feelings.

Now to listen to this once is great but to hear a second album of this will make people scream ‘one trick pony’. Luckily for us on Stern’s sophomore offering there are all the elements that made the debut a load of fun but there is a new found sense of melody which was a bit lacking in the past.

In fact opener ‘Prime’ begins with Stern reciting a nursery rhyme and then attacking us with a barrel load of dizzy riffing. In a way you could say that the album follows this vein. There are undeniably big tunes and rather than being blanketed with by Stern’s guitar poweress, they are completed by all the technical lightning bolts she shoots from her fretboard. Which leads to a certain depth her debut lacked, even it feels more complete.

Even her frail sensitivity has changed, now Marnie Stern version 2.0 will not only kick the shit out of you with her music but with her lyrics as well, female empowerment and avenging wrongs dominate a lot.

Two albums in and Marnie Stern as now not only proved what she can do but she has also taken them to another level and still has not lost what makes her Marnie Stern. She is one of the most unique artists around at the moment and ‘This is it….’ has definitely sealed that.

Rough Trade Album Club - December Pack

So this month I received :

Various Artists - Dirty Edits Vol 2 - Edited by Pilooski 9/10
School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms 8/10
Unbending Trees - Chemically Happy is the New Sad - 8/10

not a bad selection

Headless Heroes - Review

Headless Heroes – The Silence of Love (2008)


Probably one of the most futile types of albums in the recording industry has got to be the covers album. No matter the pedigree of the band or the type of songs they cover, they are always dodgy affairs. This because of one simple rule ; you just cannot beat the original. Yet, I cannot help investing in them. The is a perverse joy in discovering a band who actually manage to outdo the original completely. It is rare but it does happens.

Which leads us to Headless Heroes, a covers band but with one difference. At the helm there is Alela Diane. For those who don’t know Diane released her stunning debut in 2006 and we haven’t really heard her distinctive voice since. The backing band consists of the best session musicians in alt rock, some notable ones are Joey Waronker ( Beck) and Josh Klinghoffer (Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers),

Yes there is strong musicianship here but what about the artists being covered?

Again this is another strong point as the band have chosen more obscure bands, the most obvious being The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like Honey’, other than that the rest are more cultish, hell there even early 00’s long lost group I am Kloot are covered here!

So now since we covered (no pun intended) the basic ingredients for a decent covers album, we now have to see how the whole thing is executed. Luckily I’m pleased to say that the band have steered away from sounding like the original song. The aforementioned ‘Just Like Honey’ is turned into a slowed down folk number, Daniel Johnston’s ‘True Love in the End’ is more ornate than the original, The Gentle Soul’s See my Love is a string drenched masterpiece and the gem here is Philamore Lincoln’s ‘The North Wind Blew South’ which lifts you to the heavens with it’s beauty. Not to mention that Diane’s voice is in fine fettle and it really keeps the whole project together.

Considering that none of the material on this album is original, Headless Heroes managed to do something which is rare, that is taking making other people’s songs uniquely theirs and forging their own sound in the process. Whether this is a one off or not, it would be interesting to see what elese can be offered in the near future (plus it’s a good stopgap for February’s Alela Diane album!)

Lake - Review

Lake – Oh, the Places we’ll go (2008)

K Records

I know, as a general rule one should not judge an album by it’s cover, let alone from it’s title, but when a band references the legendary Dr. Seuss you just have this gut feeling that the album will be, frankly, awesome.

To the uninitiated Lake are a floating collective of musicians, who group up every few years or so. Oh, the Places we’ll go is the band’s third album and first for K Records. To be honest I can’t imagine a better label for a group such as this and they fit K Recs aesthetic like a glove (albeit a fluffy pink one).

One of the best feelings in the world is pressing play and liking the music instantly and when listening to the album’s title track I felt the urge to sway and dance along to the track shuffling beats and fey vocals (and it’s reprised later on!) Fortunately this isn’t a one off track and the other eight cuts on this all too brief album hit at the right areas, that is the feet and the brain. Oh…. Is filled with whimsy and hope, but funnily enough never descends into the sticky and drippy. It’s also worth nothing that this instant catchiness is far from throw away. There are twisting entwining melodies, that show a part of themselves throughout several listens.

I, generally, like a good optimistic sounding album that makes the world shinier and better and because of this I cannot get enough of ‘oh….’ Like the author this wonderful little record is named after, there is oodles of charm and happiness which belies a certain complexity.