Friday, 21 November 2008

Deerhunter- 'Microcastle' (4AD)

Mr Bradford Cox is a prolific man. Not content with releasing a solo album earlier this year, or the last Deerhoof album in 2007, he now returns with an album, which comes with a bonus album ('Weird Era Cont.') because 'Microcastle' leaked so early. See, piracy does work.

This beautiful album of dream pop starts with 'Cover Me Slowly' and its conjoined twin 'Agoraphobia'. Guitars seem to shift in slow motion, like seismic plates, or zero gravity drift. In a less pretentious way, it sounds fucking epic. The expansiveness of the sound is contrasted to the vocals, of wanting to hide away and fade. As Bradford says: “I want only to see, four walls made of concrete, six by six enclosed.”

The echo laden guitars also appear on 'Never Stops' where the shoegaze guitars come out to play. And shoegaze seems to be the right word, with effects laden guitars often hiding the pop melodies that lie inside, just like what My Bloody Valentine used to do. Bradford Cox often claims to take influences from doowop and 50s music too, and these can be seen on 'Never Stops', as well as on the casually strummed intro to 'Microcastle' before the fuzzed out guitars join in again.

'Calvary Scars' is based on a delicate acoustic guitar, and a gentle croon, like a sweetly sung lullaby, but without the desire to sleep, just to revel in its languid beauty. And all this despite of lyrics so typically dark of Deerhunter, featuring the sole line “crucified on a cross in front of all my closest friends.” The pop skeleton still shines through, whatever shade is placed to hide it.

Sadly, on an album so full of gorgeous melodies there is the odd moment that drags. One of these is 'Activa', which as pretty as it sounds, meanders too much, even over it's short minute and a half length. Fortunately, the impetus is soon restored with 'Nothing Ever Happened', which starts with a riff that sounds like it was nabbed straight from the Stone Roses before driving guitars take over and Deerhunter reach their most commercial moment. Surprise surprise, it was the first single. Oh, you cynical record label you.

'Saved By Old Times' reveals the one chink in Deerhunter's impressive coat of armour. It is the lyrics. Simplicity is not an issue, but waffling on saying “We were captured by Victorian vampires,
with elaborate designs” is not winning over the lyrics place, sorry. No matter how good the music is, you just end up with a little cringey judder running through your body.

The reverb laden guitar return on 'Neither Of Us, Uncertainly', layers of sound built up into music that sounds simple despite of its elaborate construction. 'Twilight At Carbon Lake', the album closer, starts with a woozy, lethargic feel to its slurry guitar lines, and just adds further to the feeling of relaxation that seeps through 'Microcastle.' But then things get nice and loud, like all final tracks should, as layers build into skyscrapers, drums are (finally) pounded with iron sticks, and all with that shoegaze angelic vocal over the top.

It's a reminder that Deerhunter can do loud as well as quiet. However prolific Bradford Cox is, it seems, unlike some, cough Devendra cough Banhart cough, he manages to keep the quality of his produce at a stratospheric level throughout. And that prolificness and the giving to fans, is what makes Deerhunter one of the most important bands of the moment.

Fight Like Apes- 'Jake Summers' (Model Citizen)

Fight Like Apes do not sound Irish. At all. If anything they sound like they got together to play a house party at college, realised how much fun it was and toured house parties across America. But no, Irish they are. And Irish accents are so nice, too.

The chorus of 'Jake Summers' starts with the lines: “Hey you, what's your face, I got a pocketful of fists you'd better watch your face.” Fight Like Apes are quite literally coming out swinging. I'd watch out, Jake, if I were you. Be Your Own Pet (remember them?) are bought to mind, be it through the bratty female vocals, or the rocked up feel of the track, or the youthful energy. Do you believe in reincarnation?

The Casio keyboards, guitar thrum and rumble of drums combine into melodies that make your heart swoon. Then Maykay lets out a little scream and whether you're on the morning commute or on a sticky dancefloor, your limbs start to pull shapes.

'Corey Pop' takes out the vocals, with the synths dominating instead, sounding like an old arcade game with extra fun thrills thrown on. 'Snore Bore Whore' is much more down key, bemoaning a lost love on maudlin keyboards.

The infectious melodies and great pop vibes on show across these three tracks should be more than enough to drag in rainbow hordes across the country. Join the devoted.

Bjork- 'Nattura' (One Little Indian)

Iceland is not a popular place right now, if you have (had?) any money. But hey, here comes Bjork, trying to perk everyone up. Hey guys! Look, screw money, the environment is going to shit. Buy this song, and we can save the planet, yeah?

OK, Bjork. Deal.

And for your pennies spent on iTunes, you also get some added bonuses. Hark, it's the drummer from metal noiseniks Lightning Bolt. And look, Matthew Herbert on bass. Keep your eyes peeled, and, yes, there he Thom Yorke on backing vocals too. Sweet.

Anyone who understands the lyrics wins a shiny gold star, as they appear to be in Icelandic but the clever money is on some kind of save the planet schtick. Doesn't matter anyways, for your attention is drawn to the big scary drums that pound away in the foreground, and the sinister ambient moans of Mr Yorke that create the swirling the soundscape.

'Nattura' is dark, with a juddering bassline and Bjork's urgent and forceful vocals pushing things down paths through dark skeletal woods and moonlit concrete tunnels. The mix of rattling drums and human howls almost comes apart, but the track remains a curious globule of electronica, and a most wonderful charidee single.

Fucked Up- 'The Chemistry Of Common Life' (7/10/08 Matador)

Who would have thought Fucked Up could get on the cover of NME? Maybe it was cynical, who knows. NME desperately trying to claw back some of their readership as it spills away, or something. Whichever, if people want progressive hardcore, then Fucked Up are seemingly the band to supply it. Destructive and chaotic, an overweight balding frontman, but yet so much more. For one, the album title is based on a 19th century book on narcotics and poisons.

The flute that starts this album on 'Son The Father' does nothing to prepare you for what's to come. Images of a French attic, and a young man pining for his love across the rooftops is soon superseded by the crescendo of guitars. Hardcore riffs appear, and the howl of Pink Eyes screams from the stereo, playing (a very angry) Jesus addressing his daddy. The Evangelists won't be happy with lyrics like these: “the living embodiment of perfect, a reversed Oedipal complex based on power not on the sex.”

The theme is echoed on 'Days Of Last', where Pink Eyes puts the Messiah complex right out there with “Let me re-introduce myself, I am the Son of Man.” The track lives up to its title, crunching riffs over blasting horns adding to a sense of doom that infiltrates the album.

Whether you enjoy Fucked Up or not very much depends on how you feel towards vocals that conjure images of futile teenage rebellion by hiding behind loud music that is supposed to scare the parents. Pink Eyes style is certainly divisive. If you can get past it, however, then joys await you on this record.

The music behind the howl is largely flawless. After the hectic opening salvo, 'Golden Seal' has brass and synths at a languid pace, an instrumental that shows a remarkable breadth of style for an ostensibly hardcore band. Later on, another instrumental 'Looking For God' again supplies some much needed breathing space amongst the noise.

Stadium rock is almost channelled at times on 'Crooked Head', traditional chords layered into the bombast that builds. The reported 70 tracks of instruments can really be felt in the dense treacle feel of the rock out ending. 'No Epiphany' has a similar feel, and could almost be, well, Oasis. Except, you know, good. And not raping Lennon's already sodomised corpse.

The teenage rebellion emerges most clearly on 'Black Albino Bones', where the joys of sex and weed are eulogised. “Squishing flesh together until the magic comes out... Burning plants together until the magic comes out, take it in the inhalate.” Very naughty.

It is one of the rare times that Fucked Up descend to the teenage punk level, with higher concepts, such as those of religion and existence more regularly evoked. These are further expressed in the simple hardcore of 'Twice Born' in lines like “Hands up if you think you are the only one who was left upon the cross like God's only son.”

Album closer 'The Chemistry Of Common Life' sees the riffs at their most triumphant, pounding with a sense of joy hidden until that point, before the flute that started out proceedings makes a brief return. Fucked Up are winners, no doubt.

For a punk band the lyrics remain strong throughout, talking through metaphors, with a poetic bent that the shouting masks. This, their second album, or fiftieth, or whatever, is their best yet, the band's reach extending out of hardcore and grabbing genres here and there like pick and mix. It's a strange beast, but one that shows precisely where music should be heading.

Times New Viking- Stay Awake EP (Matador)

As ever, the unique Times New Viking sound is in place on this new EP. In case you're new to this malarkey, read recorded from the next room onto a dictaphone in a storm. If you can past the lowest of lo fi feel, then there are nuggets of gold buried in the dirt.

On 'Call And Respond' an oscillating keyboard riff gets scuzzed and rolled under the simple thrash of drums and guitar. The song is ostensibly a pop song, but rolled in tar, feathered, and sent mud wrestling. Dirty pop, if you will. Although there's no Christina Aguilera in sight (thankfully).

Channeling the inner crazy, 'Pagan Eyes' lasts just over a couple of minutes, with almost the only lyrics “Pagan eyes, pagan eyes, everywhere I go there's just pagan eyes.” It is still brilliant.

A flourish of Indian music starts 'No Sympathy', before a tired sounding keyboard gets dominated by lethargic vocals and audio shrapnel conjured from the guitar. These are not criticisms, by any means. The components unite into a cohesive globule of heartbreak.

The production almost drowns out the band on 'Sick & Tyred', the vocals smothered in an extra layering of static hiss. The momentum easily carries them through to the end.

'Hate Hate Hate' whirrs past at 90 miles per hour, all wrapped up in 58 seconds of rapid drumming, shouts and chants. Seven of those precious seconds are a slowburn fade out at the end, a much needed pause for breath.

The joy of the cheap production is that it makes the listener work harder to extract the indie pop melodies they disguise so well. For a band with one guitar, one keyboard and a drummer the songs tend towards simplistic. But there is an honest greatness hidden underneath the one take fuzz of this EP.

The whole 5 track EP will only use up 11 minutes of your busy life. No excuses. Buy it, schmuck.

MGMT- Kids (Colombia)

MGMT, the indie band de jour, release the second best track from Oracular Spectacular. The one that was on Skins, the one all the cool kids like. Yeah, that one.

Well this is the other one, that rattles on about how you should “take only what you need from it” in crypto mythical terms. Much like MGMT themselves, with their ker-azy dress sense. But screw the scenester superiority complex, this song is grand.

The keyboards, and the sweet pop melodies grooving underneath all combine into one of the deserved crossover hits of the year. However much it has been overplayed, it still bops like a muthafucker.

The Soulwax remix on the B side sees the Belgian outfit do their usual spit and shine. 'Kids' turns from a song that works in an indie club to a song that works in any club, anywhere.

Everything is tautened and expanded, vocals pitched up an octave and the keyboards from the original turned into slinky sleazy synthesizers. Elements of the brilliant original filter through the digital haze. Although a different, glitzier beast, it almost works better than the original. Almost.