Friday, 23 January 2015

Tonik Ensemble - Snapshots, album review

previously published on

Sigur Ros sure have a lot to answer for, having seemingly single-handedly set the precedent for what is expected of music hailing from their near-mythical and majestic home of Iceland.

Tonik Ensemble feels no need to let up on the inherent atmospherics that have become culturally defining, but there is an added edge,  a deeply felt darkness that pours across the 8 tracks, and a beat driven underbelly topped off with carefully selected vocal collaborators lift this above the ethereal stereotypes.

It is certain that Snapshots is delivered on a chilled wind of glacial cool, yet as it whistles through your bones it also reflects touches of Faithless's most introspective moments with the crowd-bouncing synth refrains wisely sidestepped for more individualistic tendencies.  Echoing of inward bound paranoia and whirls of emotion, Tonik Ensemble has crafted a delicate beast that dances its fragile dance in the overlooked darkness of uncrowded dancefloors.

Released February 10th on Atomnation

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Memories of the Buffalo Bar

The death sentence has been passed, or more accurately the short-notice eviction papers have been served, and another of London's live music venues faces closure.

And although no crossrail development plans to steal a historic and culturally recognised site from fans this time around, the impending loss of the Buffalo Bar in Islington cuts a little closer to home.

The statement released a little over a week ago thanked all of the bands, promoters, and DJs that have played a part in the venues success, and I can proudly count myself among the DJs that have found myself battling with those cranky old CD decks...

The truth is that I can't actually remember now the first band that I went along to the Buffalo Bar to see (although I'm sure I still have the flyer tucked away in a box of memories somewhere), but the subterranean cavern style is something you don't soon forget and it was an honour to be asked along by fellow North-Londoners, upstart aggro-punk group turned reality TV stars, Ginger Bread Men as they too made good on the 'indie-darlings-curate-clubnight' ethos that was thoroughly prevalent at the time.

Bubblegum Stomp drank, danced and messed up on unfamiliar equipment, we dropped three Will Smith songs in a row as we donned Will Smith masks, we got a confused indie crowd to let loose to our own irreverent style of DJing, we upset the usurping DJs (standard procedure when you are rocking a dancefloor and someone wants to take over with an obscure Smiths' b-side) and we turned the Buffalo Bar into our own little decadent party for a short while.

All Teeth soon outgrew us (or perhaps couldn't handle us) but we kept returning regardless, as friends and as fans rather than as DJs, as the monthly night developed a unique personality and reputation of its own, due to its live music policy of passionately persuing and cherry picking some the most eclectic and outrageous performers to ever hit the venue's tiny stage, and perhaps in part to the mysterious and infamous free Krunk Juice that would be dispensed into the mouths of punters, eager or otherwise.

It's sad to see Buffalo Bar depart the London scene, and bittersweet to see All Teeth descending upon its old haunt for one last hurrah this Wednesday, with old personal favourites Those Handsome Animals and the return of Ginger Bread Men, whose own farewell gig was well attended at the very same venue many moons ago.

It may not be too late tho... for those wanting to keep the faith and fight the good fight to the very end, be sure to follow the link and sign the petition to try and keep Buffalo Bar open. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Great Pagans - Cupid in Error, album review

Welcome, Great Pagans.

All hail, Cupid In Error.

From the start, let's make it clear that I am currently a fool for a band with an emotive, swirling sound that was made to ring out to the rafters.

And is it coincidence that among the many eclectic recording spaces used by this Brighton-based band, they sought sanctuary in a church?

Opening track December not only breathes a coolness of the namesake month,  it also walks a highly desired fine-line between recent indie darlings Temples and Teleman, an outpouring of on-trend throwback, slacker psychedelia and an urge to dance at indie-discos to a frenetic upstart melody.

And yet to pin their name and their style too closely to contemporaries would be a fundamental judgement in error when in fact they deeply mine at least five decades worth of British heritage, their oxymoronic timeless-zeitgeist also encompasses shades of nineties Shoegaze, eighties New Wave and dark pop tones, and of course the clear psychedelic calling card harking back to the 1960s and 70s.

It becomes almost impossible to pinpoint the point of origin of this release if hearing it blindly, uninformed by eras, and even beneath the overbearing musical characteristics lays a brit-pop era, kitchen-sink drama approach to real life relationships, carbon-dating becomes an especially more perplexing task as the album progresses.

Great Pagans capabilities and influences flex and grow with each passing minute.  Was that Jesus and Mary Chain or Bloc Party?  The Smiths or Arcade Fire?  Psychedelic groove revivalism or Berlin-era Bowie?  

Forget the pigeon-holing, the reference points and the pot-holed review you have before you, fair weather music fans may sneer as I try to put across my multi-faceted point, but habitual music users probably won't even need my recommendation and those that do will hear what I hear...

An inspired band.

A great album, from start to finish.

All hail, Great Pagans.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Dark Horses - Hail Lucid State, album review

Dark, rhythmic, and bordering on evil.

Presumably that was the sound that 'Hail Lucid State' was trying to capture.

With Death In Vegas' Richard Fearless on production duties, this second bite of the black cherry rapidly bears down upon the release of Dark Horses' debut album just last year, and with ten tracks that clash a very British penchant for doom-laden gothic pop in the style of The Cure headlong into a swirling whirlpool of psychedelia, cascading beautifully into an abyss of bleak hypersensitive bliss, then why wait any longer to unleash more of your tainted jewels upon your adoring public?

Whilst the cold, sparse electronica of 'Sevens' poses a clear indication of why Crystal Castles chose to sign Dark Horses to their Last Gang Records imprint, it is the rest of the album and the reverb drenched echoes of Siouxie Sioux cavorting with Kate Bush against a backdrop of roots rock and guitar riffs that would resonate with fans of The Cult that show why names such as Tame Impala, Kasabian, Sigur Ros, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Noel Gallagher, The Dandy Warhols and Beck have all seen something within Dark Horses that they identify with and felt fit to invite them out on tour as handpicked guests.

It is at a meeting point between all of these bands that 'Hail Lucid State' exists, surely anyone that has caught Dark Horses on one of their numerous support slots for the aforementioned acts will have been mesmerised by the bands wide-ranging scope, and yet it is these numerous touchstones the band evokes that will also be winning them new fans, not only amongst audiences but amongst touring artists, and also amongst a record buying wider fanbase if there is any justice left in this crazy, mixed up world.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Late Night Tales: Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand are here to tell a Late Night Tale.

And where other artists in these series of compilations have a tendency to kick back and recline in the fine company of some chill-out records, the veteran Scottish Art-Rock group have committed to this mixtape the sonic equivalent of being invited back to their very own decadent multi-roomed 'Stately Home'-party.

Picture the scene, perhaps a raucous post-gig after-party has spilled out of the venue’s own late bar, and all the liggers and groupies and hanger-ons and drug dealers are treated to a private performance as Franz keep the night going in spectacular fashion, in the lavishly decorated smoking room you catch the band indulging themselves with a set of eclectic cover versions before you follow the faintly sweet smell that definitely isn't nicotine to the attic full of stoners commandeering an old record player and putting on a lazy, hazy run through of the Beatles 'I'm Only Sleeping' before laying back on their beanbags and floating upstream...

As you shake off the lightheadedness and venture back to the party in full swing you stumble and pass through different rooms and differing vibes, each housing a small soundsystem in full swing, from happy clappy hippies to loud and lairy rock'n'rollers, you throw shapes to funk and reggae, a mixture of seemingly disjointed styles reminds you of drinks you have been mixing all night and into the wee hours of the morning.

You've popped, you've rocked, you've skanked, you've pogoed, you've puked and you've pulled and you've had the time of your life in this maze-like house, but the light has been trying to stream through the heavily curtained windows for at least a few hours, and maybe you should try and get out now, go home, sleep it off.

But with the grand oak front door finally in sight you make your way past that same smoking room from earlier, where Alex Kapranos now holds court over a room of cross-legged or passed-out former revellers, reciting poetry and telling tales and providing the perfect counter to the debauched and divergent party that you thought would never end.

His soothing accent lulls you away from the hectic night and the fuzzy memories of frivolity, it lulls you deeper into the pile rug on which you share with the most fastidious Franz followers, and finally his soothing accent lulls you into errant sleep.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

an appreciation of Justin Bieber like no other....

when posting my first video review last year I have had every intention of making it a regular occurrence...

unfortunately time constraints and the logistics of recording and editing were stretching my capabilities somewhat, I had the ideas but the limitations I bumped up against were outstripping my power to push ahead with vlogging projects.

then 4music's Vlogstar competition came along, a competition that would land the winner a whole new bunch of hi-tech equipment, why not have a crack at it?

in a video of 30 seconds or less you had to deliver upon your full potential, I checked out the other entrants to see the what I'd be up against... and time and time again I found I'd be up against the same things... straight to camera, blah blah blah, thank you...

my first crazy thought was to deliver a metal style review in a slipknot style mask, of course I left the whole thing to the last minute.... no time to make said mask, but i instead went with making a little extra effort, composing an accapella ode to Justin Bieber to be delivered in my best metal voice...

face paints, bare chest, screaming.... all captured through the lense of my smartphone.  It may not win me the prize, it may not even be picked as a finalist, but I'm sure it will stand out against the rest and I had a hell of a lot of fun doing it

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Groundislava - Frozen Throne, album review

the email subject header promises a 'dancehall infused single', it apparently has a video of people dancing to the track on the streets of New York, i download the album and get a few tracks into a safe, and ultimately dreary, female vocalist and multi-instrumentalist going through the motions.  did i hear anything 'dancehall infused' before turning off?

no. i did not.

and on to the next album in my hastily decided upon 'to review' pile.  thankfully it engages almost immediately.

i skim read the premise of this album, in much the same way i skim read the press release of the last.  the terms 'concept', 'dreary world', 'producer' were the initial hooks, enough for me to hit download.  once the music has spoken for itself, there will be plenty of time to go back if i need any more info.

aurally, Groundislava's Frozen Throne boasts results that could have been cobbled together by an on-trend collaboration of Frank Ocean dabbling in production duties for Bastille, sheer gossamer future-pop that rides a wave of current trends without sounding like it tries too hard, a teaming of two 21st century chart-breakers would surely breed this strain of soul-synth-pop magic.

in fact, the collaboration is between the two LA based entities, producer Groundislava and band Rare Times, on 6 of the 10 track set, and the album is furnished with a wonderful eighties sheen that crackles with George Michael-eque big money charisma as it takes the retro sound to tell a tale of a man falling in love with a virtual girl and retools it with a new nobility lifted from beats, breaks and those three dirty letters.... EDM, as we follow the narrative into a digital world, to escape the bleakness of real life and embark into a constructed world that appears to be far more fulfilling.

(see, i told you i'd get round to ready the press release properly)

Despite sounding like the plot of an 80's special effects laden cult classic movie, the issues of what we truly perceive as 'reality' in a post catfish-effect world teaming with internet trolls are thoroughly relevant in a time when simply setting up an online profile can allow you to live your life as whoever you choose to be.

Past, present and future stories collide as Groundislava basks in the glory of his own terraformed landscape, welcoming travellers on a pilgrimage for new pleasures, greeting listeners that may have already discovered M83 after cutting their teeth on the familiar top 40 sounds of CHVRCHES, Aluna George and Disclosure.

In an uncertain modern world, Groundislava provides the perfect soundtrack.