Archive for April, 2011

The Virginmarys certainly made an impression last time around.  Support slots with Slash, New Model Army and Skunk Anansie, have paved the way for a stint at this years Sonisphere Festival, all on the back of their excellent ‘Cast The First Stone EP’.  This newly issued EP doesn’t contain as much hard rock swagger as its predecessor, but still hits home all the same.

The title track and its following number ‘In The City’ both favour a poppier and, dare I say it, more commercial sound — which isn’t a criticism.  The former hits the ground running with a cork-screwing Foo Fighters-esque riff and frontman Ally Dickaty’s vocal hook in the chorus burrows itself into your head and refuses to let go after just a couple of listens.  In fact, Dickaty’s presence is felt throughout this EP, particularly on solo number ‘Stripped’.  Now here is a star in the making, he’s got the voice, the charisma and, most importantly, he fronts a band that has the songs.

That being said, The Virginmarys excel when they just simply rock out.  As if they’ve swallowed the whole rock ‘n ‘roll lifestyle as gospel, the bluesy stomp of ‘My Little Girl’ smacks of sheer class, particularly paying heed to the energy and telepathy of this Macclesfield trio as a live unit. At just four tracks long, ‘Just A Ride’ leaves you wanting more… much, much more.

Time for the full length album,  gentlemen!

Stream and Order

There’s a pretty nice outline of the band and this new EP over at the Liquid Hip, well worth checking out too


Having been a fan during the early years of  Trail of Dead’s career, purchasing their eponymous debut album after witnessing their incendiary live show at a festival here in Glasgow back in 1998, I lost track of their progress by third album ‘Source Codes & Tags’.  Following a glowing recommendation from Exploding In Sound I decided to check out new LP ‘Tao of the Dead’, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the band has honed it’s sound from its early acerbic Sonic Youth-isms into something that you could consider more Prog orientated.  To say ‘Tao of the Dead’ is one of my favourite record of the year so far would be an understatement.  It’s chock full of excellent, inventive instrumentation, leftfield tangents and possess anthem after anthem such as ‘Summer of All Dead Souls’ featured in the video above.

As revered as Source Tags & Codes (their calling card and still the go-to album for noise-rock newbies, with good reason) still is, there are moments on Tao… that surpass it for sheer joyous racket-making. Summer of All Dead Souls and Weight of the Sun (Or the Post-Modern Prometheus), for example, burn with firestorm guitars and air-punching choruses and mix melody and squalls of noise with the deft touch you’d expect from a band this accomplished. The core of the band, Jason Reece and Conrad Keely, might have chosen to switch up their supporting cast but in staying true to their ineffableness they’ve updated their sound without leaving anything behind.


Top Albums of 2006

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Best Of...

Another retrospective article, written away back in December 2006.  Reading through this again, there’s quite an eclectic mix and I must have listened to a shed-load of records, especially since starting my original blog in July of the same year.  It was an interesting journey while it lasted and I hope that I’ve learned from my mistakes back then, to make this blog all the better.  Plenty of these choices still get regular airplay round these parts, but for some others I’ll be looking forward to delving in again. Apologies for the slightly skewed arrangement for this article, but it was copied and pasted from an old blogger site and is proving to be tricky to reproduce properly on wordpress.

19.  Jóhann Jóhannsson | “IBM 1401, A User’s Manual” (4AD)

This probably deserves to be placed higher on this list, but it was an extremely late entry. It is a beautiful symphony constructed around the sounds of an ancient IBM computer. For the full story read this, closing track “The Sun’s Gone Dim and The Sky’s Gone Black” is one of the most wonderful compositions of 2006. (Learn)

18. Rodrigo Y Gabriela | Self-Titled (Rubyworks)

Although it doesn’t quite match the live experience, this second album from the Mexican duo of duelling guitarists easily portrays their near flawless playing ability. As well as their own compositions, the now Dublin based team completely rework the likes of “Stairway To Heaven” with some incredible guitar playing, into a more Mexican flavour. Metallica’s “Orion” also receives the same treatment and this album is one of the most unexpected triumphs of 2006. They also excel with their own compositions, such as the spell-binding “Tamacun(Learn)

17. Charalambides | “ A Vintage Burden” (Kranky)

This one is definitely a grower, I didn’t really do much for me after the first 5 or 6 listens. But much like the music contained here, things slowly started to unravel and this duo serve up some inspired moments, especially during the longest tracks, such as “Black Bed Blues”. This album features some of the nicest acoustic guitar arrangements I have heard in a long time and there are some excellent breathy vocals courtesy of Christina Carter. (Learn)

16. A Lily | “Wake: Sleep” (Dynamophone)

This album, from Yndi Halda guitarist James Vella, chimes like a toy box and features some truly gorgeous moments, such as the outstanding, “I Am To You”, it ends with the 34 minute long track, “The Shipwreck”. Pure blissful ambience. (Learn)

15. The White Birch | “ Come Up For Air” (Rune Grammofon 

Another release that came from nowhere, but got some major airplay. These Norwegians have a knack of producing icy cool and excellently crafted understated rock. Imagine Sigur Ros married with Arab Strap, and you be getting some of the picture. There is some confusion as to when this came out, my copy states 2006, so I’m only to happy to include this. (Learn)

14. Last Days | “Sea” (n5md)

A very calm, reflective composition from n5md artist, Last Days, paying homage to his influences (Sigur Ros, Jasper Tx, Port-Royal, Pluto). There are some gorgeous piano arrangements such as “Two Steps Back“, mixed with the ambient rock of “Your Birds). It is the perfect marriage of instrumentation and digital manipulation. Towards the end of the album, the 7 minute long “Fear” brings the album to a triumphant close. Loosely based around a narrative, this release conveys just about every emotion possible. (Learn)

13. Yndi Halda | “Enjoy Eternal Bliss” (Big Scary Monsters/ Burnt Toast Vinyl)

Technically, this came out in 2005 as a limited edition, handmade self-release. In 2006, it was given the full record label treatment, a new composition was added and the now 4 track ep was repackaged. It shows this young band well on their way to fulfilling their enormous potential. “Illuminate My Heart, My Darling” is a particular highlight, but the three other tracks are excellent too. Expect them to be in the Post-Rock Premiership sooner rather than later.  British music is in good hands. (Learn)

12. Strap The Button | “Going to Jib Choons (Choons for Going to Jib Like Innit)” (Good Name For A Race Horse)

The album title may not make much sense, but the music contained on the CD certainly does. A staggering mixture of post-rock, psychedelia and krautrock from these Welsh youngsters, who really do employ the everything but the kitchen sink ethic. Yet another multi-talented young British group, yet the Arctic Monkeys get all the plaudits. (Download)

11. Tool |“10,000 Days

I’m a sucker for really heavy music, and always have been. Music doesn’t get any heavier than this effort from the enigmatic Tool. Crushing guitars, crashing drums, stunning arrangements and, of course, Maynard James Keenan’s ghostly vocals. The most important band in heavy rock right now. Classic Rock Magazine reckons this release has redefined the boundaries of rock, who am I to argue. (Learn)

10. Sunn)))0 & Boris | “Altar” (Southern Lord)

I don’t own any output from these two bands drone-rockers Sunn)))0 and Japanese doom merchants Boris, but it’s going to change, because this is an utterly stunning collaboration. It contains possibly the most beautiful track this year, the gorgeous “Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep”). Oh, and it also features a guest appearance from Soundgarden axe-grinder, Kim Thiayl. Never a bad thing!. Everything about this album oozes with class, from the eerie press shoots, right down to the fact that it was released on Halloween. (Learn)

9. Helios | “Eingya” (Type)

This album has appeared in numerous top 5’s on this, while it will be on many more dotted around the music world. Keith Keniff’s music has constantly evolved; blending expertly played live instruments with serene digital programming. “Eingya” is his best work to date featuring the shimmering “Bless This Morning Year. If there was any justice in the world, every home would have this album. Also, the best album cover of the year. (Learn)

8. Phon°noir | “Putting Holes Into October Skies” (Quartermass)

An intriguing blend of innovative programming, melancholic guitars and under-stated vocals. Germany’s phon°noir work stands out as the best in D.I.Y electronica in 2006. Each listen you will find something new to love, especially in its production subtleties. A perfect headphone experience, “Putting Holes…” is the best lo-fi electronic release since Khonnor’s “Handwriting” in 2004. (Learn)

7. The Gentleman Losers | Self-Titled (City Centre Offices)

I have to admit to knowing nothing about this Scandinavian (where else?) duo. A stellar recommendation from Almostcool, this is one of the most delightful electronica releases in the last 5 years, let alone 2006. It’s a beautiful mix of dark Americana, Boards of Canada beats, hazy synths and chiming glockenspiel. (Learn)

6. The Ascent of Everest | “How Lonely Sits the City” (Angel or Airbag Collective)

I have decided to neglect the fact that this took 3 months to arrive, after I ordered it, because this album is the perfect tonic for those lovesick Godspeed You Black Emperor fans, which are waiting patiently for their return. But, don’t be taken in by lazy comparisons, “How Lonely…”stands proudly and deservedly in this list. (Learn)

5. Grails | “Black Tar Prophecies Volumes 1, 2 & 3” (Important)

Right from the outset this album demands your attention and refuses to let go. There are some real monolithic guitars on this record and some almost tribal drumming. “Belgian Wake Up Drill” and “Stray Dog” show a band breathing new life into the tired post-rock movement. This isn’t even supposed to be an album as such, but a collection of vinyl tracks. The next album is due out in 2007 and I, for one, cannot wait to see the results. (Learn)

4. A Hawk and a Hacksaw |  “The Way The Wind Blows” (Leaf)

At one point, I thought this was going to be my number 1 album of 2006. Its impact has lessened slightly (possibly because I listened to it so much!). Where as Beirut’s “Gulag Orkestar” was good, AHAH’s effort is more authentic sounding featuring true traditional Roman Folk music and fusing it with more contemporary instrumentation. Jeremy Barnes really travels to the heart and soul of such traditional sounds, even roping in a Romanian orchestra. An absolute gem of an album. (Learn)

3. Mogwai | “Mr Beast” (Rock Action)

The mighty ‘gwai have managed to cram 10 years worth of experience into this album. It features their trademark thunder “Glasgow Mega-Snake”, “We’re No Here”, “Folk Death ‘95”). But tracks such as “Friend of the Night” and the haunting “I Chose Horses”, show Mogwai to be a step ahead of a genre they moulded all those years ago. (Learn)

2.Thom Yorke |  “The Eraser” (XL)

Let’s face it, Thom Yorke was always going to be placed high on my list, but that shouldn’t take anything away from “The Eraser”, as it has some truly sublime moments. From the insanely catchy “Harrowdown Hill” to the brooding “And It Rained All Night”. I felt this was unfairly criticised in some circles, maybe it suffers a little from a lack of guitar. But for one man and his laptop, this album is superb. In the current climate, it’s lyrically important; musically it shows Yorke at the top of his game. It also serves to fill a gaping hole left by Radiohead’s 4 years of recorded absence. (Learn)

1. Mono & World’s End Girlfriend | “Palmless Prayer/ Mass Muder Refrain” (Temporary Residence)

There is also slight confusion as to when this album was actually released. My copy states 2006, but this album would be fit to grace any end of year list, no matter the year. In fact, this album SHOULD be at the top of every list. It’s an epic, grandiose, magnificent piece of work from two of Japan’s best known set of musicians. World’s End Girlfriend adds breathtaking string arrangements to Mono’s expansive instrumental sound over the 5 long tracks, full of lush melodies and subtle production touches. The last segment (Part 5) is easily the most heart-breaking series of crescendos ever put on record. Stunning. (Learn)

Ones To Watch: Grandfather

Posted: April 27, 2011 in One To Watch

Grandfather – Tremors from Big Ass Lens on Vimeo.

Both Exploding In Sound and OMGVinyl recommended this impressive New-York-based trio and I’d like to take this opportunity to share the wealth.  Having recently supported Mission of Burma, Grandfather’s latest LP ‘Why I’d Try’ is essential listening, and what’s more is available to download in its entirety for free.  Of course, should you like what is on offer, you could purchase the band’s generous Vinyl + CD offer.  Made all the more remarkable as the band funded the recording process via a Kickstarter pledge scheme.  Recorded with Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studios in Chicago (money well spent in my opinion), ‘Why I’d Try’ channels Radiohead style claustrophobia (particularly evident in the video above) with mid 90’s Grunge hooks, particularly of a Soundgarden variety, and guitar textures and effects that recall the likes of Jonny Greenwood, Thurston Moore and perhaps Ian MacKaye of Fugazi.

Guitarist Michael Kirsch is a new name to me, but throughout this record weighs in with an absorbing performance giving Grandfather a unique edge over their peers.  The dominant bass work of Jonathan Silverman anchors the whole sound much like current Pitchfork heroes Young Widows, hypnotically propelling each song along, further enhancing the notion that there’s many hidden depths to this three-piece.  It’s all capped off with an excellent percussive performance from drummer and vocalist Joshua Hoffman — Phil Collins he is not!.  In the current climate of the music industry, there are thousands of albums available and legally free to download.  It’s difficult to determine the rough from the smooth — there is a tonne of dross out there and it can detract from quality releases like ‘Why I’d Try’.  Trust me, this LP is most definitely worth diving head first into.  Expect to see this record feature on my end of year lists.

Why I’d Try twitches between orchestral brilliance, gritty post-punk, and cerebral assaults of noise, all falling precisely into place within its sonic puzzle. Locked tight in stranglehold rhythms delivered in strange time signatures, Grandfather’s debut is the type of record you listen to on repeat… for days on end


‘If music was a lady, we would fuck anything that moves’, so says Grails founding member Emil Amos in a recent interview. And he’s not wrong, despite the crude sentiments of that statement, he certainly has a point; these guys are not only keen students of strange music, they’re top of the class. Indeed, this Portland quartet are one of those rare breeds of bands that effortlessly progresses in tandem with each release from their discography, without deriding from the quality of their output.  From the smouldering blues-rock of ‘Black Tar Prophecies’ series to devastating acid-drenched sounds of 2008’s ‘Doomsdayer’s Holiday’, Grails are a band that like to keep us on our toes.

‘Deep Politics’ finds the quartet in their finest form yet, a multi-layered, eclectic affair where the band explore occult culture and a history of film music, mining and cultivating a landscape of weird musical colours and textures, while dabbling in cut and paste techniques frequently used by hip-hop producers. This is most evident on the haunting, electronic psychedelia of ‘Corridors of Power’ where fragments of sound clips wave their way through meditative middle eastern instrumentation and razor sharp beats.  There’s also certainly something cinematic in the spaghetti western stylings of ‘All the Colours of the Dark’ too, which closes in on a sun-bursting melody reminiscent of ‘Apache’.

The piano-led title track is another joy to behold, arguably the band’s most poignant, if not beautiful, moment, where the ivory notes mingle with distant guitar wails, not too far South of a certain Pink Floyd, before being swallowed by heart-breaking orchestration that soars when you need it to most.  From there we’re treated to the epic and bucolic ‘Almost Grew My Hair’ which could have worked excellently with the exciting parts of video game ‘Red Dead Redemption’, given its dusty riffs, rustic vocal howls and flourishing percussion. ‘I Led Three Lives’ follows kicking off with a pulsing drone that wouldn’t be out-of-place on an early Tangerine Dream record, before veering off into another tangent via some superbly executed acid-rock riffs and more mournful string arrangements.

Which leaves the acoustic-led ‘Deep Snow’ to round off this career-best album from Grails, with the band again choosing a psychedelic route.  It’s a path that suits them very well and it’s easy to see why magazines such as Rock-A-Rolla are only too happy to bestow ‘modern day Pink Floyd’ accolades upon them.  A superb and engaging album from start to finish.  An LP that, for me at least, will take some beating for 2011’s album of the year.

Order Deep Politics

Deep Politics was conceived during the lengthiest gestation period between Grails albums, and reflects a deeper, more educated level of concentration. In their ongoing exploration of occult/fringe culture and the rich history of film music, they have cultivated a unique environment that inspires both an eternal sense of longing and an indelible sense of dread. Produced by the band, as always, the most immediately noticeable advances are the lush string arrangements (courtesy of acclaimed composer Timba Harris) and increasing use of the same kind of fetishistic cut-and-paste production techniques that made producers like RZA and MF Doom hip-hop legends. It’s a seemingly unlikely twist to the Grails aesthetic, but not unusual given the size of the pot in which they’ve stirred just about every genre imaginable. Through tireless exploration and awe-inspiring execution, Grails have found their true calling as purveyors of a new kind of library music, to be discovered by future generations of crate diggers and curious forward-thinkers.


I have been sitting on a promo of Antonymes beautiful debut full-length record ‘The License to Interpret Dreams’ for a few weeks now.  I’ve been taking my time to digest what is a truly remarkable record and a triumph in cinematic soundscaping.  Recently issued by the excellent Hidden Shoal Recordings, ‘Endlessly’ has been chosen as the lead track to help promote this record.  Listen below and look out for my review soon

Antonymes is designer, photographer, conceptualist and musician Ian M. Hazeldine, making music from the wilds of North Wales, a very strange, fantastic, ultimately unreal place of mountains, streams, woods, villages and obscure wilderness. To quote North Welsh poet R. S. Thomas, “to live in Wales is to be conscious at dusk of the spilled blood that went into the making of the wild sky, dyeing the wild rivers in all their courses.” His music begins at the piano, where notes, space and intention combine over time, until a shape appears. This shape is taken into the computer, where it is twisted, gently, and given more detail, until it is fully formed. Composition takes form through patience, probing, occasional accidents, spontaneity and a form of focused daydreaming.


Gameboy by Bronto Skylift from Bronto Skylift on Vimeo.

The Orkney Islands-based duo of Bronto Skylift have released a video for ‘Gameboy’ from their typically devastatingly heavy ‘White Crow record.  Fans of ‘Strap It On’ era Helmet will surely lap-up those thick, staccato riffs.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing these guys live before and the near enough blew my head off.


Similarly, Glaswegian Drone-Rockers The Cosmic Dead also have a new video, or at least a new track, previewing on Youtube, from their forthcoming eponymous cassette release, due to be issued by Who Can You Trust Records?.  An epic mind-bending journey of Hawkwind/Can proportions.


The rather splendid Hibernate Records has a brand new sampler available for free download featuring Japanese Ambient guitarist Hakobune, the brilliant Ithaca Trio and Slovakian experimentalist Strom Noir, amongst its impressive 11 strong track list


Esmerine returns with their first record in six years, the duo founded by Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Beckie Foon (Thee Silver Mt. Zion) now expanded to a four-player ensemble. La Lechuza is dedicated to the late Lhasa de Sela, a close friend and collaborator of all four member of the group, and features an unreleased version of her song “Fish on Land,” recorded with Beckie and Bruce during sessions for Lhasa’s final album.

Listen to “Snow Day for Lhasa,” featuring the vocals of Patrick Watson, here.

La Lechuza will be released on CD and 180gLP and is available for pre-order now. More info, including samples, can be found on our official release page. Releasing 07 June.