It's the new DEP album! Here's my background on them: I'm going to make as massive generalisation here, and say that the majority of people that like DEP's favourite stuff is from Calculating Infinity. Hearing that as a wide-eared 19 year-old was awesome. An interesting, inventive metalcore band?! Their stuff stuck more in my head than contemporaries such as Cave-In and Converge and I still don't know how the hell in Christ's name they actually write their songs.
So they did the EP with Mike Patton which was decent enough and then came out with Miss Machine, of which most reviews and comment seemed to focus on the introduction of electronica. For me the electronica sounded a little clumsy in places but had potential, and the real exciting introduction was the fact that they had written songs with proper rock riffs and choruses! This was a great development and complimented the trademark mathy chaos very well indeed.
Anyway... what does the new album bring to the table? Well, the jazz-ish rhythms and riffs remain in place and sound like no other band. I don't understand how anyone could criticise them for continuing to do the chaotic stuff because it still, eight years after I first heard the band, sounds so impressive. Opener Fix Your Face is the obvious example of this (and features Calculating Infinity vocalist Dimitri Minakakis on backing vocals too).
But there are 2 other excellent elements of Ire Works that I like. One is the introduction of an almost Jesus Lizard-esque rock'n'roll feel to some of the songs. Listen to the intro of Milk Lizard (Lizard in the title, eh? Coincidence? Hmmm!), it's total rock'n'roll fun. There are other little riffs that pop up all through the album too and it's good to hear them engage the listener in such a way.
The other enjoyable thing about the album is the much, much improved electronica element. I really didn't enjoy stuff like Phone Home from Miss Machine, it sounded like pseudo-Nine Inch Nails guff and was a waste of time. But something like Sick on Sunday is great, melding Squarepusher-esque dynamics into the band's sound rather than opposing it and standing out like a sore thumb. And the glitchy bits of When Acting as a Wave sound fucking brilliant. More please!
So, if you like the Dillinger Escape Plan trademark sound, you will enjoy this album. They've sorted the electronic stuff out, the riffs are still ridiculous, they have proper songs now and properly rock them out and it's a huge rollercoaster of a listen. However, if you're not a fan, this isn't going to change your mind. Good shit!
Enough of that nonsense though, as the Weakerthans are back with their fourth album and follow-up to 2003's Reconstruction Site, an album which burned more slowly than the previous two but showed no impending lack of quality.
This album starts with four songs which are much more immediate than the majority of Reconstruction Site; the intro to the first track, Civil Twilight, almost sounds like it could turn into a cheesy commercial pop song, but soon heads into their familiar mid-paced melodic rock with some lovely lyrics about provinces and Hollywood actors and a superb use of the word 'etcetera'. There is also the similarly rocking Tournament of Hearts, with lyrical references to guiding husky dogs across an arctic landscape which leads into a defiant ending, turning around a bout of self-doubt.
The rest of the album is a much more sober affair, but even after relatively few listens I think it contains some of my favourite songs by the band. Weakerthans albums, for me, all have a 'double-whammy'; a duo of songs next to each other that are just peerless. On this album it is Sun in an Empty Room, with its lightly stomping rhythm, wonderfully unforgettable chorus and dualling guitar/keyboard outro; and Night Windows, which probably has my favourite arrangements and melody on the entire album. The bass intro sounds good, the guitars sound good, the percussion is very impressive and the way the backing vocals come in towards the end is perfect. Fantastic.
I have got to the point with this band where I don't have a favourite album. I like them all pretty much equally as they all fit different moods. But, before I heard this one, I was worried that it might be just another Weakerthans album... a decent listen but not as good as the others. How wrong I was. This is already a classic album for me and it's not even out yet. There are no poor songs and many exceptional ones, and an overall sense of quality that doesn't make itself apparent from many bands.
Anyway, The Dauntless Elite, featuring ex-members of Joe Ninety and Fig 4.0 (FIG HARD: FOUR POINT ZERO. Sorry), are a band I have enjoyed live but wasn't 100% sure about their recorded output, aside from the excellent "I Am Ninja, My Life Is Lonely and Difficult" from the split with Jets vs Sharks which is on this album in all it's re-recorded glory. The good news is that they've managed to write a collection of songs that are mostly just as good as that.
Opener "Running Battle" is the cousin of the afforementioned "Ninja...", all anthemic and memorable after one listen. "Ordinary Days" is pure Joe Ninety, and "I Can Move If Funk Is Happening" is a great stompy number even if it does lift a Dillinger Four riff (steal from the best!).
Current favourites are "Shilling" and "Byte Sighs" which bring equal amounts of melodic and punk to the table without sounding tired or formulaic. The only song which doesn't really hit the spot is "It Takes A Ship To Sail" which is a clumsy attempt at a slower song.
Teh l33t (pwned!) have done well here though, and I am looking forward to seeing them at Out of Spite (and Joe Ninety and Tatako, but not Kayako Saeki or Fig 4.0 as they aren't playing [You think that's all of the ex-bands listed there? You missed Homebrew and Tinker's Rucksack. Get out of punx - Ed]). Well worth anyone's time, especially if that anyone likes upbeat and tuneful punk rock. Cheers!
Also featured is a great interview with Cardiff hardcore types Social Skills and some stuff about punk record store Damaged Records and a sceptical piece on Scientology... YOU WERE NOT THERE! Sorry, couldn't resist it. There's a few music reviews at the back with a great review of DEFIANCE OHIO - "some songs sound like George Formby, the theme tune to the 'Dukes of Hazzard' and 'The Kids from Sesame Street' all rolled into one." Ha!
All in all this is well worth picking up. There's a couple of hours quality reading here and that's more than can be said of most 'zines, ever. (www.thenewestindustry.com should have some copies if you're interested!)
“Whoa-oh whoa-a-oh! Whoa-oh whoa-a-oh, whoa-oh! Whoa-oh whoa-a-oh! Whoa-oh whoa-a-oh, whoa-oh!” So begins the sophomore release from NYC's bubblegum pop-punkers The Unlovables, released, appropriately enough, on Whoa-Oh Records. Except for the vinyl version, which is on Crafty, but the record doesn't begin “Crafty cra-af-ty! Crafty cra-af-ty, crafty!”. Perhaps they should've re-recorded that song for the vinyl release? Perhaps not.
Recalling the sound of Lookout's mid-90s heyday (the “cutesy cartoon animals” era, after the “snotty punk” era but before the “running the label into the ground by releasing pretentious hipster shit” era), Heartsickle is 13 tracks of upbeat, happy, summery tri-chord loveliness in the tradition of the Mr T Experience and Screeching Weasel. True, aint nuthin' you aint seen before, but you've probably not heard it done this well in a very, very long time. And, even though the Unlovables are a girl-fronted pop-punk band, they don't sound anything like Discount! Apart from the song 'Have You Ever' which, erm, sort of does.
Lyrically, Heartsickle ticks most of the “standard pop-punk subject matter” boxes: wanting boys you can't have, having boys you shouldn't have, snaring boys that you've been longing for, wanting boys who want you to go away... boys, basically. Hailie's vocals are a perfect complement for the lyrics throughout, with both ranging from cute-as-a-button to snotty-as-a-cold-infected-nose. The final two tracks are the most extreme examples of both: 'Sweet Sweet Boy' is an endearing song about not wanting to mess up a relationship, while closing track 'Crazy Tonight' includes the simply splendid line “and if you say that I'm pre-menstrual then I'll stab you with a pencil” - erk!
If you can imagine the Josie & The Pussycats soundtrack with swearing you're pretty much there. The band names is a lie: everyone from 11-year-old Avril Lavigne fans, to be-Chucked teenage pop-punk kids, to bitter, cynical, pessimistic 20-somethings who thinks that 99% of pop-punk made after 1997 is soulless, overproduced codswollop - and we'll let you be the judge of which of those brackets we fall into - you'll find the Unlovables to be ever-so lovable indeed. I bet loads of reviews have said that already, but it's the truth, man. As we've said before in Hot Cuss, there's a pop-punk revival going on, and the Unlovables are riding the crest of that wave, along with The Ergs (with whom they share a member). To quote the final line of the album, “don't say you weren't warned”.
Hot Cuss is taking a break due to "technical difficulties" with its writers. We will return on Friday June 1st with more reviews of varying quality of music, TV and "other".
That David Mitchell sure loves his panel shows, doesn't he? Clearly not satisfied with appearing on every episode of every panel show produced in the last three years (slight exaggeration), he's now bagged the job hosting the latest in a very long line of Radio 4 comedy panel games.
Subtitled “the panel game built on truth and lies”, the premise of the Unbelievable Truth is thus: four panelists in turn discuss a subject at length (this week: the human body, morris dancing and carrots), mostly speaking complete and utter nonsense but with the odd true fact thrown in, while the remaining three panelists interrupt if they spot a truth. Even though the show shares many personnel with the daddy of all radio comedy panel shows that is I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (it's produced by Jon Naismith, who co-created the show with Graeme Garden, and ISIHAC's script associate Iain Pattinson does the same here), The Unbelievable Truth is more like its stablemate Just a Minute merged with Call My Bluff.
The guests this week were all panel show stalwarts: Jeremy Hardy, Jo Brand, Clive Anderson and Alan Davies. Of the four, Davies was the weakest: although his interjections on QI are an amusing counterbalance with the usually more knowledgeable contributions from the other panelists, here he seems a bit too far out of his depth. His passage on Coca-Cola was read fairly woodenly, and he made little contribution to the rest of the show. No complaints about the others: all were amusing enough, with Anderson even squeezing in a bit of dig at Mitchell's Mac and PC adverts (which, sadly, Mitchell had no comeback for). Bit surprising to hear Jo Brand use the word “twat” on the radio shortly after 6.30pm, too.
David Mitchell is a competent host, nothing more, nothing less. As a panel show guest his performance can be variable, ranging from very amusing to nearly-silent (though, admittedly, that could be down to editing), but as a host he is no better than average. He reads the script well enough, and adds the odd amusing off-the-cuff comment of his own, but when compared to the calibre of hosts that usually occupy this slot such as Humphrey Lyttleton and Nicholas Parsons, he's decidedly second-rate. A better guest than host, methinks.
Ultimately though, despite the pedigree of the show's creators, writers and guests, the format just doesn't make for particularly amusing or interesting radio. It lacks the silliness and cheekiness of ISIHAC and the open-ended nature of Just A Minute, with less scope for amusing interruptions and fewer subjects per half hour. While the show is intermittently amusing, there just isn't as much scope for humour in the concept as there is in other shows of this type, with both presenter and panel often sounding a little bit bored by it all. As shows in the Monday at 6.30 slot go it certainly beats Quote Unquote, but then the sound of paint drying would be preferable to that load of smug old toss. It passes the time, but I doubt it'll run for many series, and it's certainly not worth going to any great lengths to listen to.
This gig was a benefit for Love Music Hate Racism, two sentiments with which I'm sure everyone reading this will agree – both of you! Ha ha ha! Please get your friends to read our blog. Or don't bother. It's not like we just sit here all day obsessively checking our hit counter and referral log... Anyway, Love Music Hate Racism were backing the gig to raise awareness of the BNP, and what terrible fascists they still are, despite their paper-thin claims to the contrary. Bearing this in mind, imagine the thoughts that raced through my head when I noticed the entrance a gang of shaven-headed, hard-as-nails types wearing Stone Island and other “casual” clothing. Was the gig being infiltrated by fascists, like those 80s hardcore gigs I read about in MRR? Was there gonna be a riot? Am I typing this review with broken knuckles and stab wounds, smearing my own blood all over the keyboard? Read on to find out...
Anyway, first up were Puzzles, who are not mentioned above because we got there too late to see them. Sorry, Puzzles. We did, however, see Flamingo 50, a band who I went through a phase of adoring but who, for reasons I am not entirely sure of, I haven't seen play for a couple of years. They were on cracking form: singer Louise wasn't quite as manic as she had been in the past which made for a tighter but perhaps less energetic set, and while all of the songs bar the opener were too recent for me to know, I still greatly enjoyed their scuzzy brand of shouty pop-punk, including a marvellous thrash through J Church's “The Heroic Trio”.
I'm sure I've seen Voo before and been unimpressed, but tonight they were quite splendid: most agreeable catchy indie-pop, complete with amusing between-song banter (“If you want to see us again, we're playing a BNP fundraiser next week”). If you ever wished The Shins rocked out a bit more, then do give Voo a try – I'll certainly be looking out for them in the voo-ture. (Oh, come on!)
Last up were street-punk heroes the Down & Outs, one of Marko Grampus 8's many, many musical projects. Seriously, this guy should be respected as Liverpool's finest crafter of pop songs since Lennon & McCartney. Upfront, straightforward, catchy anthems of the working class to sing and chant along to are what the Down & Outs do, and they do it very, very well. During their set there was the best moshpit I've seen at a gig for some time: energetic and aggressive but not violent or unpleasant. Punk at its purest – exactly how a punk gig should be. And the “skinheads” I was wary of earlier? Loving every minute! Singing/screaming along at the tops of their voices! That'll teach me to be prejudiced, eh readers? So apologies to the shaven-headed fellows, and hurrah for Love Music Hate Racism. And please, please vote on Thursday, unless you're planning on voting for the BNP, in which case please, please take a toaster into the bath with you instead.
Fronted by Jay Northington (do you see what they've done with the band name?), formerly of the not-really-that-good Tsunami Bomb, Nothington sound not unlike what would happen if the much-missed Gunmoll and Tom Waits were to record together: melodic Hot Water Music-influenced punk rock with a bit of a country twist and grizzled vocals that sound like the result of gargling with a bottle of whiskey, by which I mean both the whiskey and the shards of the smashed bottle. While the country influence is subtle – a bit of a twang here and there – it's this minor diversion from the gruff-punk template that helps Nothington stand out from the countless other bands ploughing this particular field. Without it, they'd be just another gruff punk band, albeit a pretty good one. With it, they're unique.
As with most bands of this ilk, there's little variation over the course of the album, but who needs variation on a punk record if you've got good songs? Opener 'Where I Stand' is pretty much the quintessential Nothington track: rough-as-sandpaper vocals, "whoa-oh-oh" sing-a-long chorus and a smattering of countrified guitar, and much of the album continues in a similar vein. That's not to say it's completely one note: 'Going Home' could almost be an unreleased Hüsker Dü song, right down to the Bob Mould-ish vocals (albeit Mould after having his vocal cords torn to bleeding shreds), the slower, wistful 'This Time Last Year' is a welcome change of pace, and obligatory acoustic track 'Death of Jim Green' eases the album towards its conclusion.
One week ago I hadn't even heard of Nothington: now I'm praying for a UK tour. A good, solid debut release – not a record that will blow your mind, perhaps, but one that you'll keep coming back to. If you like the output of No Idea but also have a soft spot for all things Americana, then it's your lucky day, bucko – grab a copy of 'All In' and a bottle of whiskey and you'll have the time of your life.
Our house was all about Commodore and Nintendo to be honest... Sega didn't get a look in. But it didn't stop me playing on my mates' Mega Drives and Game Gears though. So this 30+ game compendium of the Mega Drive for the Sony PSP is not just a great blast from the past but also an introduction to many a game I missed out on from yesteryear.
I'm not going through every game on here (are you mad?) but merely the highlights and lowlights. The obvious highlights are Sonic The Hedgehog and Sonic 2; these games just haven't aged at all within their genre. Even if you compare it to something like Viewtiful Joe which is the best pacey side-on platformer I've played since, well, Sonic! These games are so much fun and transport me back to being 12 years old when I was playing it on the Game Gear. Skill!
The biggest shock on here is another platformer called VectorMan. It came out in 1995 and has graphics more reminiscent of the PlayStation than the Mega Drive. Plays very nicely too, and reminds me of under-rated Amiga "hit" Zool. Also enjoyable are a great 2D version of Virtua Fighter 2, the robbing excellence of 2D scroller Bonanza Brothers, the chopper hi-jinks of Super Thunder Blade and my favourite ever game of the puzzle genre (yeah, BETTER than Tetris) - Columns.
The games that haven't stood the test of time are enjoyable in a way for about five minutes as you point and laugh at the jerky gameplay and bogus graphics. Top of this pile is Shinobi 3. It's an uncontrollable mess, and I have no idea how this series was ever popular if this steaming turd is anything to go by. Alex Kidd is cutesy but the collision detection seems pretty bad and I never liked the character much to be honest; I was always quite pleased when he got killed, which isn't so good. Flicky is an awful Chuckie Egg-ish clone. And Altered Beast is pretty poor but mildly entertaining, mainly for when the character upgrades to the beast and the player can shout "I AM BEAST NOW! ROAR!" That'll be just me that does that, then?
Other games featured that I'm sure other people love but don't click with me: the Golden Axe trilogy (too slow... swing the sword, already!) and the Ecco trilogy (I can't get past the opening levels and never could as a kid either! What gives?) And there are a load of unlockable mini-games and interviews and a most excellent feature that allows the player to save their progress on every game separately.
Basically, this is essential for any PSP owner over the age of 25. It's ideal for those ten minute blasts that you bought the PSP for, and at it's current retail price of just under £15 you can't go wrong. One glaring omission: it doesn't sing "SAYY-GAAAR" in a robotic voice at me when it loads. I was sad for a couple of seconds anyway.
So, goodbye then, the ironically and prophetically-titled Popworld Pulp: we hardly knew ye. But should we have wanted to get to know you? Have we prematurely aborted what could have been the saviour of the music press, cruelly killed off after a mere two issues?
Oh, what do you think?
On announcing the magazine's untimely demise, publisher Darren Styles commented that, "the magazine has bombed in a way nobody connected with it could ever have envisaged." Oh, if only they had sent me a copy of their dummy issues for my feedback. This is perhaps bolting the stable door after the horse has already been made into glue, but nonetheless, here are my thoughts on how Popworld Pulp can (could) be made (have been made) better (not quite as shit as it was). But first of all, what did they get right?
THINGS POPWORLD PULP GOT RIGHT:
The price. At £1.49 it's around 60p cheaper than its main competitors, NME and Kerrang, so, erm, well done, there!
FIVE PIECES OF ADVICE I WOULD HAVE GIVEN TO POPWORLD PULP:
Actually let people know that your magazine is for sale.
Now, I might be slightly outside of the magazine's target demographic of 16-24 year olds, but even so, as someone with an interest in rock and pop music I probably should have heard something about the launch of the magazine, rather than stumbling across it in WH Smith while browsing on my lunch hour. Where, if anywhere, has it been advertised? The only media coverage I have seen was after it had been axed. Perhaps if it had been marketed a little better (or, y'know, marketed at all) then it could've had a fighting chance. Well done, Advertising Director Greg Askew! I'm sure they won't “ask you” to market their magazines again! Ha ha ha!
Don't just cover the same bands as your rival publications.
Cover stars of this second issue: Fall Out Boy. Other bands mentioned on the cover: Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, Maximo Park, Little Man Tate... it's just an ersatz-NME, isn't it? Why assume that NME readers would stop reading their well-established crap-rag in favour of your fledgling new crap-rag? It's a tie-in with Popworld, so cover the same variety of artists as Popworld! That's your USP! Be a pop magazine, not an indie magazine pretending to be a pop magazine.
Employ writers who can write, and who actually care about pop music, not just about the latest trends.
See, I naively had high hopes for Popworld Pulp (or “PWP” as they irritatingly abbreviate it to). I was hoping it was going to be the spiritual successor to early Smash Hits: a humourous, irreverent mag that both mocked and celebrated the ridiculousness of pop music and pop stars, or at the very least a magazine that captured the (mean) spirit of the Simon Amstell era of the show. Instead, we are offered re-heated news stories that will seem out of date to the magazine's internet-savvy target audience, links to Youtube videos that would be better-suited to, I dunno, a BLOG OR A WEBSITE OR SOMETHING rather than a print mag (who is going to type in URLs in this day and age? Duh! Like, get with the times, grandad, as Popworld's Alexa would no doubt say on Get a Grip), and bland, charmless, characterless, soulless say-nothing reviews and interviews. Where is our (well, their) generation's David Quantick or Mark Ellen? He or she sure as shit aren't writing for this magazine. But then, I'm probably expecting too much – remember Heat's early days, when it was a relatively intelligent and knowledgeable magazine? It didn't start to sell until it was turned into the celeb-spotting plebfest that we know and... well, that we know today. To expect a new weekly youth magazine to have a modicum of intelligence is foolishness on my part, I suppose.
Remember to include some text to go with the pictures.
Too many pictures, not enough text. Ver kids can get pictures aplenty on the internet, why pay £1.49 for them? The album reviews are too short (much shorter than this review of their magazine, which is frankly about 1000 words longer than they deserve), and single reviews are a mere two sentences long. What's the point of a music magazine if you don't (or can't) write about music?
Don't launch a weekly music magazine aimed at teenagers in 2007 as there is no way in the world it will sell, you clueless, cretinous TWATS.
Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? Who? If they'd done it right it could have been Smash Hits for the iPod generation; instead they've produced NME for the Heat generation, lacking in both substance and style. Utterly pointless. Who was their imagined target audience? The kids have already turned to MySpace as their source of the new music, and the self-proclaimed “proper music fans” of that age all read NME or Kerrang already. The sales figures speak for themselves: print run of 130,000, estimated sales of 60,000, actual sales of 9,000. There are specialist fanzines catering to minority interests that sell more than that! Perhaps twelve or more years ago a magazine like PWP may have had a fighting chance on the newsstands, as it's not unlike Raw when it relaunched itself as an indie mag. But look what happened to Raw. The signs were all there, people! It could never have worked. It was brave – but ultimately stupid – to even try.
To end, let us return to (ex-)publisher Darren Styles. So Daz, what went wrong?
"Every piece of research we did, every dummy we created and the concept in all its forms was fantastically received from first to last. The industry wanted it, the news trade wanted it, the market was there according to every group we asked - but come the acid test the readers were absent."
Yeah, them pesky readers! Everyone else wanted it except, erm, THE VERY PEOPLE IT WAS DESIGNED FOR. Well done to all involved! Ten of the magazine's 14 staff members have been made redundant; that's four too few if you ask me. You never know, perhaps some of them will find employment at the real, actual NME that they wanted so very much to be and, fingers crossed, perhaps they can sink that, too. Good luck!
Imagine if, back in the 1990s, one of Mutant Pop's better purveyors of three-chord two-minute pop songs had been cryogenically frozen in secret, only to be thawed out 10 years later to save pop-punk from the evil invasion of pretty-boy emo, knuckleheaded jock-punk and pretentious proggy side-projects. If that happened – and who's to say it hasn't? - then j'accuse The Ergs of being that very band.
What?! Could happen.
As for this particular 7”, the title track is a relatively subdued affair by Ergs standards but a cracking pop song all the same, slowly building up towards a 10-second rock-out before calming back down to finish, while the B-side is a cover of Paul Baribeau 's 'Only Babies Cry', which in the Ergs' hands sounds like a Parasites song that never was.
Although both songs are fine examples of the genre, and the record has been pressed lovely geek-thrilling white vinyl with the lyrics to side A printed on the record itself (nice touch), unless you're an Ergs completist you're better off waiting for the album. However, if you simply must own every piece of Ergs wax produced (which is shaping up to be a challenge akin to collecting every J Church 7" the rate they're coming out at the moment), or if you're hungry for an Ergs-flavoured snack before next month's main course, or if, improbably, you're a collector of Paul Baribeau covers, then this is certainly a worthwhile purchase.
Amongst its fans, the general consensus seems to be that the third series of Peep Show wasn't as good as the first two, and having recently revisited all three I'd probably agree. However, series three wasn't quite the dip in quality that I remembered; the first two episodes were probably the weakest of the series, but the rest was still head and shoulders above any other British sitcom produced in the last decade (faint praise). So, with a mixture of excitement (at the return of an old favourite) and anxiety (fear that it was going to be a case of diminishing returns) I watched the first episode of this, the fourth series of Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong's “cult” internal-monologuing sitcom.
Plotwise, this series picks up where the last ended: Mark (David Mitchell, or “PC” as he is now perhaps better known) is about to marry Sophie (Olivia Colman, the first “Bev” from the AA adverts). Even though he has realised he doesn't love her, he can't bring himself to break it off. He and Jez (Robert Webb; “Mac”) visit Sophie's parents for the weekend, to celebrate her birthday. Chaos, inevitably, ensues: Mark ends up covered in blood after ripping the head off a pheasant, Jez is worshipped by Sophie's weird brother and seduced by her mother, Mark accidentally admits to Sophie's dad that he doesn't really love her, Sophie's dad burns down the barn of a man he suspects of sleeping with his wife, and, after Mark and Sophie are given a cottage by Sophie's parents, Mark decides that it might be worth his while to marry Sophie after all, much to Sophie's dad's anger.
If I hadn't seen it for myself, that breakdown of the episode's plot would probably dissuade me from ever tuning in, and under lesser writers the it could well have been awful. In the capable hands of Armstrong and Bain, however, what could so easily have descended into slapdash farce, gross-out rudeness and sub-Gervais wince-inducing embarrassment becomes well-crafted, well-observed comedy, with fully-fleshed characters that avoid the trap of stereotype. It would have been easy to make Sophie's dad a generic overprotective/psychotic sitcom father; instead he is impressed with Mark's honesty. He is trapped in a loveless marriage, unable to bring himself to leave – perhaps this is a sign of what Mark will become in 30 years' time, if he marries Sophie? Similarly, Sophie's brother is not unlike a younger incarnation of Jez, trying to cling to the coattails of people who are more successful than he is, which is something of a role reversal: Jez is usually the sycophantic loser trying to impress those he considers to be cool, here it is the impressee rather than the impresser, or he would be, if there was such a word as “impressee”. The development of Sophie between series is also of note: in series 3 she had started to go “off the rails”, clubbing and experimenting with drugs, while in this series she is solely interested in her imminent marriage and the prospect of starting a family, suggesting that her wildness was one last hurrah before settling down for her proper adult life. Character development? In a mere sitcom?! Well, I never!
Most importantly, it's still very, very funny. Mitchell and Webb's other projects have been hit and miss; their sketch shows for radio and television have been enjoyable but patchy, Webb has appeared in dross like Blessed and Confetti, and it's become impossible to watch a panel show without seeing David Mitchell's grinning, ubiquitous face. However, Peep Show re-establishes their position as two of the country's finest comedy performers – they are perfect for their roles, and the funniest bits of the show involve conversations between the pair of them, whether verbally or inside their heads. Any doubts about the standards of the show being maintained should have been assuaged at the sight of Mark's goatee in the first few seconds of the show – few actors could raise a laugh with inappropriate facial hair alone, but David Mitchell is one of them.
It wasn't perfect. The appearance of Super Hans in an early scene was somewhat pointless, and seemed forced in as a crowd-pleaser. It seemed out of character for Mark to be so insistent that Jez join him on his trip to visit Sophie's parents - perhaps essential for the set-up of the episode, granted, but out of character nonetheless. Also, at the end of the show Channel 4 trailed something they called “Peter Kaye's Phoenix Nights” - I know that Channel 4 is hardly the bastion of quality broadcasting that it once was, but that's no excuse for being unable to spell the three-letter surname of one of your most popular stars. But that's not the fault of Armstrong and Bain, or Mitchell and Webb – along with the rest of the cast and crew, they produced 30 minutes of high quality sitcom. If they can keep this up for the next eleven commissioned episodes then I hope series six and beyond are on the cards.
"Let's hug it oooooooooooooooouuuuuuut - bitch-ah!"
(Idea literally dreamt up by Jack; realised in image form by our pal Mark)
The much-maligned Ben Elton is another comedian whose work I (and, almost certainly, you) have enjoyed immensely in the past – The Young Ones, Blackadder, Filthy Rich & Catflap and Happy Families were all at least partially from his pen, and that's before we take into consideration his stand-up routines and corresponding BBC series. True, it is irritating it is to see him work with the likes of Lloyd-Webber, and last year's BBC sitcom Blessed was spirit-crushingly awful, but even so there's still the hope that he still has it in him somewhere, which is why I tuned into Get a Grip with my fingers well and truly crossed.
The premise of Get a Grip is thus: Ben Elton and Alexa 'Popworld' Chung sit at a desk and partake in cross-generational banter, with Ben as the grumpy, cynical curmudgeon and Alexa as the hip, sassy young 'thing'. Due to the difference in their ages they have very different outlooks on life and different opinions, and from hence humour arises. Their discussions are broken up with sketches to illustrate certain points, similar to those in Ben's BBC series in the 90s. Sadly, it doesn't quite work.
Compared to what we know he is capable of, this is clearly B-grade material – indeed, some of it is so outdated that it could be material he rejected from 1998's The Ben Elton Show. Last week we had jokes about Tinky Winky's sexuality; this week about the size of Lara Croft's breasts. Topical! The theme of the show was ostensibly "the Man crisis", with observations about the differences between men and women – men can fold maps, men can't find anything, women can multitask... you know the score. Nothing groundbreaking, though admittedly there were a few amusing gags.
Another problem is Alexa herself: she's just not good enough. See, I quite like the concept of the show, and even though it could be argued that it would work just as well as a solo Elton stand-up series, giving him a straight (wo)man to bounce off isn't such a bad idea, but Alexa can't pull it off (insert your own 'knob gag' reference here, if you want). Her delivery is too stilted, too obviously read off an autocue, and she breaks out of character by laughing at Ben's jokes all too often. For the show to work, the sidekick must be straight-faced and must sound like she is engaging in a natural conversation – Alexa fails on both counts. The shoehorned-in phrases she uses to emphasise how "down wid da kidz" she is are also laughable – continually calling Ben "babes", telling him to "get with the programme" etc, though to be fair to Alexa she's only (badly) reading the script she's been given.
Yet. despite these flaws, there's still the occasional frustrating glimpse of how great the show could have been. Ben Elton is still a superb comedy performer, and still clearly capable of writing some genuinely amusing stuff. The line "could you kindly send your child to school tomorrow dressed as an Elizabethan" came out of nowhere at the end of a fairly mundane routine about parenting, and almost floored me, and when his material has a bit of anger and passion to it the old Ben we used to know still shines through, like the bits on crap Channel 4 list shows and Iraq. Unfortunately, these highlights are few and far between, and the rest is just middle-aged, middle-class tedium.
It could have been good. It should have been good. Heck, occasionally it is good. But not good enough, often enough. With a strict script editor and a better co-host this could have been Ben Elton's return to form, but unfortunately it's just a not-very-near miss. I almost hope this gets a second series, as if Ben's scripts are tightened up and Alexa's delivery improves then perhaps... see, there's that naïve optimism again.
The main shared featured is the quirky melodies. They manage to stay the right side of tuneless whilst certainly not being straight down the line, in a similar way to J. Robbins of Jawbox/Burning Airlines/Channels "fame". Also similar to Pinback are a number of arpeggioed acoustic guitar lines, which are a feature in the excellent "Up". Much of the album sounds programmed on a sequencer, but unless you're a real purist it doesn't make too much difference to the listen as a whole.
A couple of complaints are that, while the album starts very well, it does tend to blend into one big song as many of the structures and melodies in every song are similar even though they are undeniably well executed. And anyone that remembers some of Rob's older output with Thingy will be disappointed to know that there is nothing as upbeat as some of that stuff.
All in all this is a pretty good listen but mostly this will appeal to die-hard Pinback/Rob Crow fans (all two of them... I'm kidding! C'mon!) but is unlikely to gain him much exposure and it's debatable whether it deserves any more than that. Calling a song "I Hate You, Rob Crow" and including the "Single Version"(!) which is actually longer than the album version of said song wins him some bonus points though.
It does seem a tad inappropriate to be in a venue called “Satan's Hollow”, complete with its Hell-inspired décor including a ruddy great Devil breaking through one of its walls, but I suppose no-one here is at all concerned with the resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but rather with the resurrection of top 90s Glaswegian “Teen-C” pioneers Bis. It does feel like they've never been away, as when Bis ended a few years back they simply increased their numbers with real, actual bassist and drummer under the moniker “Data Panik”, who sadly only managed one single before disappearing due to lack of interest. But tonight is all about the past, as this short tour is to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the release of the band's debut album, 'The New Transistor Heroes'. Will they be able to pull it off? Is it possible to play Teen-C anthems convincingly when you're pushing 30? Or will it be an embarrassing, pathetic stab at reclaiming youth, like someone's dad reading Q and listening to Kaiser Chiefs in an attempt to appear “with it” and “hip”? Let's! Find! Out!
Openers Hotpants Romance are three teenage girls in hot pants (hence the name), playing basic, sloppy, simplistic pop-punk in the vein of the first Donnas album or the much-missed (by no-one) Period Pains. What they lack in musical talent they make up for in moxie (whatever that is) and attitude, and while I don't think I'll be buying their CDs any time soon they were entertaining enough, and certainly an appropriate opener.
More polished but much, much less appropriate were Kid Voodoo, a 60s-style rockabilly band whose singer looks like a cross between Bill Nighy and Tom Petty. While they were undoubtedly very tight and good at what they did, they simply weren't suited to the gig, as the sea of bored 20-somethings-dressed-as-teenagers proved. In the right environment they'd no doubt be quite enjoyable, but they stuck out here like an English ship in Iranian waters. Satires, there. I am the next Ben Elton.
Next up was Star Fighter Pilot, just one man and his iBook, a bit like Get Cape Wear Cape Fly back before he/they/it got boring, except with a MIDI keyboard instead of a guitar. Actually, a better comparison would be Reggie & The Full Effect when he/they/it pretends to be Fluxuation – 80s-influenced electropop with tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Not bad, but he merely flicked around at our attention before limping off rather than grabbing it by the throat, balls and ears.
So then, the pop group Bis! What a great set it was... probably. Unfortunately I had to leave to get the train just 4 songs into the set, but what songs they were: following the traditional spoken-word introduction (with several of the crowd chanting along, word-for-word, like Teen-C cult members), Bis opened with album opener 'Tell It To The Kids' and, if you ignored the balding heads of John Disco and Sci-Fi Steven, it was like being transported back a decade: the giddy enthusiasm, the energetic stage presence, the infectiously catchy pop songs, all still present and correct. The next three tracks were all singles of the time and all equally great: 'Sweet Shop Avengers', 'Starbright Boy' and, most excitingly for me, the now-slightly-outdated rant against majors pretending to be indies that is 'This is Fake DIY'. Lovely, lovely stuff. For just one night, one glorious night, Satan's Hollow was our church, Teen-C was our religion, and Bis were our prophets, preaching their message of cut-and-paste aesthetics, glitter with plastic jewellery, and child-like shoutalong teenage anthems. Let's hope their second coming is quicker than Christy-boy's – quicker than the Stone Roses's was, for that matter. Late-twenties-C Power!
On to "Living With The Living" then. It's certainly an ambitious affair; 14 tracks with 3 weighing in at over the six-minute mark. But it's the "Me and Mia"-esque mod-pop-punk numbers that always grab the ear first with Ted Leo, and the albums begins with "The Sons of Cain", a highly upbeat tune that shows off Ted's excellent voice superbly. Later on there's "La Costa Brava", which reminds me, surprisingly, of Samiam! It's great. And the rocking "The World Stops Turning" starts with momentum and only gains it as the song continues.
There's a very interesting couplet of songs in the middle of the album too. First we have "A Bottle of Buckie". Now to my knowledge Ted Leo is from the USA, but this song's lyrical content suggests that Theodore of Leo must have some Scottish roots! There are lyrical references to Govan Hill, the banks of the Clyde, "neds" and of course, Buckfast. Very strange, but it's a fine song, and a surefire hit north of the border. Then there's "Bomb.Repeat.Bomb" which is pretty different to anything I've heard from him before, coming off as a more rock Fugazi and tearing into careless world leaders. Great stuff.
Most of this album sounds like classic Ted Leo, but he's tried enough different stuff to keep the listener and probably himself on their/his toes. It's an enjoyable listen (bar a couple of dull tracks and an embarrassing stab at reggae) and definitely worthy of your time. Especially the 2xLP which comes with an excellent voucher allowing you to download the album with five bonus tracks (the best of which is the stompy "Old Souls Know"). And no, this review will not be finishing with any puns or quips about these Pharmacists prescribing great music. Sorry.
At last! The Leif Ericsson's debut album has been a looooooooong time coming – longer than the Pylon album, the One Car Pile-Up album, Stone Roses' 'The Second Coming' and The Chinese Democracy put together! (Note: may be exaggeration). And, even then, they couldn't even be bothered to think of a title for it, the lazy layabouts. So, was it worth the wait? Read on and find out! I'm not going to tell you in the first paragraph, am I?
Probably the only band ever to be named after a Norse explorer who lived 1,000 years ago (cheers Wikipedia), the Leif Ericsson play straight-up singalong melodic punk in the vein of Snuff, which isn't too surprising considering that singer Will Farley (from 'Anchorman' and the inventor of the rusk) is also in Dogpiss and Billy No Mates with Snuff's Duncan Redmonds (husband of New Tricks actress Amanda). There's not a bad song amongst the eleven, my “special favourites” being the anthemic 'Göttingen', 'Aquaplane', 'Twelve Years in the Making' (probably about how long it's taken them to actually get around to releasing an album) and live favourite 'Little Pink Socks'.
As you can probably tell by the way I'm padding this review out with sentences like this one which you are reading now and which you are still reading even now and which should probably have had a comma or two in it already, I don't really have that much to write about this album, which in no way reflects its quality: if you enjoy melodic UK punk stuff then this should be at the top of your CD shopping list (assuming you've got the Great St Louis CD already, of course). If this had been released ten years ago when Fat Mike was in his Anglophile phase then no doubt he'd have been sniffing around them, but Fat Wreck's loss is Bombed Out's gain, I guess. The Leif Ericsson have been one of my favourite UK punk bands since I first saw them about four years ago, and this album was definitely worth waiting for.
To finish off, here are some Leif Ericson facts:
- Born c970, died c1020
- Lived in Iceland
- Thought to be the first European to land in North America
- Took a bloody age to record his first alb(that's enough Leif Ericson facts. Ed)
Do Make Say Think (labelmates of the aforementioned G!YBE) manage to keep a fairly happy medium between the noodlings and having memorable songs. The dynamic range on this album is huge; it can veer from acoustic arpeggios to amps-to-eleven rock without disarming the listener. The rockage is excellent, too, with the standout being "The Universe!", which has a great riff and storms along without much let-up. Also good is the epic "Executioner Blues", an almost symphonic number which goes bat-shit crazy at around the seven-minute mark.
Equally epic is "A With Living", which combines elements of Tortoise and Broken Social Scene (limited frame of reference here, people. I'm sure someone else could have compared it Polish neo-classical jazz or something) and features real actual singing and some lovely mournful horns towards the end.
I'm sure, as with many bands of this style, the live arena is the best place to experience them and I am looking forward to seeing them at the upcoming ATP vs the Fans shindig in Minehead. As a whole album this is certainly full of ambition and has some great moments, but occasionally does veer into the dreaded "nice background music" zone. Not enough to spoil the overall listen, but certainly enough to file this under "very good but not quite excellent". Nice band-name though... verbs!
Ok, that's a controversial way to start a review, so let me qualify that seemingly inflammatory statement. The Apples in Stereo are the best indie-pop band to come along this side of forever, and this record has catapulted them into stratospheric regions of musical excellence.
The opening track, "Can You Feel It?", is one of the best opening tracks I've heard for a long time. Starting with a robot telling you to turn up your stereo and a highly infectious riff, all of a sudden we're transported to cowbell and "Oh-oh-oh-woah" country, with singer Robert Schneider demanding you turn up your stereo! It's an adrenaline rush and fantastic fun. This carries through to the next track "Skyway", a track with more hooks than Captain Hook himself. This is power-pop of the highest order.
The album is pretty much all this good, too. There are occasional forays into Oasis-esque psychedelia ("Energy"), lovely, almost pure pop (7 Stars) and two farewell vocal efforts from the now departed drummer, Hilarie Sidney. But for the most part it's the pop music that you (I) want to hear on the radio (radio).
The album also features a number of short interludes between many of the songs. My favourite of these is "Joanie Don't You Worry", which is just a vocoder-voice harmonising for less than a minute. Most of these are over before the listener (that's me again, folks) realises they have begun. Curse my short attention span...
In summary, if you like summer-y pop tunes with a bit of a kick to them, this is for you. I cannot reiterate enough what a high quality series of songs this band have produced here. Marko from Grampus 8 must be pissed off though... they stole his line! "Turn Up Your Stereo", Marko!
Did you know that one particular episode of BBC3 moronedy 'Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps' has been repeated no less than 57 times? Fifty seven times! And, despite this, the only free slot that BBC3 could find to premiere this pilot was at 3:15am, inevitably following a repeat of 2POLAAPOC (it doesn't even abbreviate well). Apparently it had to be screened before April for financial reasons or something, and there wasn't a free slot in the schedule, so they just bunged it out once their regular programming had ended, but crikey: couldn't they have dropped just one of their hundreds of repeats of Two Pints? Or Little Britain? Or any of the other “comedy” that the channel dribbles onto the screen?
It would be a shame if Biffovision doesn't get re-aired in an early time slot, as it certainly deserves a wider audience than the dozens who have seen it so far – however, whether a wider audience will appreciate, understand or enjoy it is up for debate. Writers Paul Rose and Tim Moore may spend most of their time these days writing children's television and travelogues respectively, but it was on much-missed videogames-cum-surreal gibberish teletext page Digitiser that both cut their writing teeth, livening up their games reviews with bizarre characters and nonsensical catchphrases. Biffovision is an attempt to translate Digitiser-style humour from the pages of teletext to television proper.
Much like Vic Reeves Big Night Out, Biffovision appears to be a collection of silly, near-impenetrable in-jokes turned into a low-budget TV programme, and will probably garner a similar reaction: those who like it will love it, but others will feel more confused than amused. Combining the skewed, off-kilter mock-80s feel of Look Around You with the subverted kids' show format of Wonder Showzen, Biffovision is ostensibly a parody of old Saturday morning TV, presented by Mr Hugo (James Lance and his always-punchable face), posh girl co-presenter Peggy (Ingrid Oliver) and obligatory puppet sidekick BW (Simon Greenall). Oliver and Greenall are perfectly cast, delivering the silliest of lines completely deadpan, and while Lance occasionally mis-delivers he certainly shows some promise in the role. Whod've thought?!
The programme is visually impressive. The set is a cross between Swap Shop and Rainbow, the animation on Scranton-K (a re-imagining of Scooby Doo as a naked man with a shoe for a head) is a perfect Hanna-Barbera pastiche right down to the seemingly-random bursts of canned laughter, and the puppets of BW and Mr Safety are both disturbing yet strangely charming.
The attention to detail in Biffovision suggets that it's a labour of love for its writers. The children in the audience have bizarre name badges (“Oil”, “Fear” and “Pleasing M”, for example), and the subliminal messages to 'Vote Conservative' dotted throughout the show are bafflingly amusing. There are also some splendid visual gags, such as the camera pulling away from the cheering audience to reveal that they aren't facing the presenter. It's funnier when you see it, I promise.
However, there is definite room for improvement. Inevitably for a pilot, especially for a sketch show, it's very hit-and-miss. The good includes the teacher who is paranoid that his pupils will be amused by his name (Mr Botton), a sketch that revels in its childishness and that has a completely unpredictable and ridiculous punchline. Among the bad are the designer who creates a new corporate logo by drawing breasts on the old one – a mediocre idea poorly implemented, and hampered by some ropey acting. Some of the sketches sit awkwardly within the context of a spoof children's show, regardless of their quality. Perhaps this is intentional, but it does bring the viewer out of the “reality” of the show (using the word very, very loosely).
There are also times when the influences are perhaps a little too obvious – the sketch about the baby factory is great, but the “let's hope he doesn't grow up to be a racist” punchline reeks strongly of Wonder Showzen, and the ending of a sketch with a Points of View-style letter of complaint may well be a deliberate homage to Python, but it's not a particularly funny one. Perhaps if the show gets a series it will find its own voice – it's already on its way, it just breaks into impressions of the voices of other shows a little too frequently.
Criticisms aside, considering the timescale in which this was thrown together, and the obvious budget constraints, Biffovision is a triumph. My worries that it would descend either into Monkey Dusty over-the-top darkness, or superficially whimsical Booshish rubbish were unfounded, with the balance of silliness (lots) and darkness (the tiniest hints) perfectly judged. It won't be the next Little Britain, and there won't be dolls of BW and Mr Safety in shops (sadly), but it would be perfect for a late-night slot on BBC3. Hopefully, if it does go to series, Rose and Moore will ramp up the absurdity even further, and produce something truly disorientating, incomprehensible and unpredictable. At the very worst, at least it would mean one less slot for Susan Nickson's tripe.
My lack of knowledge of classic rock and my general ignorance of the world before 1975 does slightly work against me when trying to write this review though. Because you can tell this band have gone through their collection of favourite seventies rock records and pinched bits from them for this, their third album and first on Vagrant Entertainment Ltd.
Singer Craig Finn's vocals are very nasal, and are bound to either please or irritate people. He also has a mutter-y, almost spoken-word delivery which can be a little bothersome. I personally think that whether his vocals work depends on the song. A song like 'Hot Soft Light" is a very anthemic number musically anyway so it's easy to get carried along by the tune and slowly get used to the drunk-sounding mumblings. But a song like "Citrus", which is just an acoustic guitar and Finn's voice, is asking a lot of a listener that finds his singing difficult to appreciate.
One thing that makes the vocals more palatable are the words coming out of his mouth. There's an excellent story-telling quality to his words, with lots of witty lines and imagery. There seems to be an overall "spirit of the underdog" feel to his lyrics too.
The gamut of rock'n'roll is well and truly run over the eleven songs. The standard for the album is very much American classic rock, but you also get garage rock ("Same Kooks"), indie rock ("You Can Make Him Like You") a ballad-esque duet ("Chillout Tent") featuring Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum and Elizabeth Elmore of the Reputation.
All in all this a great listen which flags a little towards the end. If you like your rock to be anthemic, your vocals unique and your liquor hard (haha), this is worthy of your time.
My latest find in this world of new old pop-punk is (are?) Monikers, who number among their ranks ex-Discount guitarist Ryan, who sounds like he has been attending Blake Schwarzenbach's Academy of Vocal Training. Musically there is also a touch of a Jawbreakery vibe, but a little more rough around the edges and punked up. Stand-out track 'Mirror Images' could almost be a leftover Discount track, which is also no bad thing.
Five songs, one acoustic, which whizz by in twelve minutes. A short review for a short record, but one that should have a place in any self-respecting pop-punker's record collection. But a warning for the squeamish: the cover of this EP is a graphically literal illustration of its title. Yum yum!
As denizens of the information superhighway's ever-expanding blogosphere in space-age AD2007, it's fair to say that we at Hot Cuss are pretty “high tech”. You'll often find us “down loading” “pod casts”, making virtual friends, lovers and enemies (often in that order) on MySpace, and streaming music and video directly from the cyberspace into our bionic laser-eyes. But just because we're living in the future, don't think we've forgotten about the past. We still like old things, and good old-fashioned print media.
Kettering is a fanzine (remember them? They were like websites but made out of paper and staples) which, as their tagline explains, is “the magazine of elderly British comedy”. £3.00 may seem a touch steep for a 52-page A5 zine, but between the lovely card covers you'll find one of writing's rarest commodities: intelligent, knowledgeable, well-researched info about comedy.
Featured in this issue are profiles of local (to me, anyway, living in Wigan and all) comedians Roy Kinnear and Frank Randle, lost Kenneth Williams radio comedy 'A Tribute to Greatness', an article lamenting the lack of conservative satire (a timely piece considering Fox News's recent abysmal attempt at a right-wing version of The Daily Show), and a feature on the Doctor films. The highlight of the issue, however, is the ten page feature on Radio 4's long-running antidote to panel games 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue', a thorough and passionate celebration of one of the finest radio comedies of all time, including interviews with many involved with the making of the programme, a full list of hosts and panelists, and even a brief synopsis of the show's forerunner, 'I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again'.
Where else can you read such in-depth analysis of old comedy, or any comedy, for that matter? The mainstream press rarely – if ever – have enough knowledge of or interest in the subject for their input to be worthwhile, and there hasn't been a dedicated comedy magazine on the newsstand for over a decade. If you've read this much of the review then you must have at least a passing interest in the subject matter so, if you think that this may interest you at all, i implore you to give it a go. And if you're still not sure, the first issue is available to download for free as a PDF. Even though it's “just” a fanzine, Kettering is far superior to most books on comedy I've read, and almost all comedy coverage in national newspapers and magazines. Support it.
First things first, that name: “Witches With Dicks” is a terrible, terrible band name, yet there's no denying that it conjures up quite a vivid image in the mind's eye. An image of witches... but with dicks. You can see them, can't you? Ugly, wart-ridden hags with penises exposed, flopping around outside their cowls? Ick. With a name like that you might expect a horrible goth-stained doom rock nightmare or a sub-Blink 182 jock pop-punk band with “hilarious” lyrics. Would you be right? Let's find out!
Musically there's nothing new on Manual, just straight-up melodic punk rock. This album could have been released 10-15 years ago and even then it wouldn't have been particularly original. And lyrically there's also nothing you haven't heard before – fucked up kids, fucking the cops, fucked up lives, fucking your job, fucking disillusionment... with copious usage of the word “fuck”, natch.
So, a boring, lazy, uninspiring album that's not worth bothering with then, right? Wrong! Ha ha ha, see how I trick you! It's time for the old switcheroo! The pull-back-and-reveal! See, this album is one of the best I've heard since, ooh, the Great St Louis album at least.
Just because Witches With Dicks haven't broken new ground musically it doesn't mean they aren't any good. Quite the opposite: they are fucking, fucking great. Much like Long Island favourites Latterman, what Witches With Dicks lack in originality in their music and lyrics they more than make up for with enthusiasm, passion and damn good songs, bringing to mind 'Midwestern Songs'-era Dillinger Four, early Jawbreaker, and every band that Aaron Cometbus has ever been in - sloppy, poppy punk rock that sounds as if it could collapse into a giant mess with a gentle prod, yet which still manages to remain catchy, melodic and instantly memorable.
With ten tracks in less than 20 minutes, and not one song reaching the 2 minute 30 mark, Manual is like a shot of pure punk rock straight from their hearts to your ears. There seems to be a resurgence in decent American pop-punk at the moment, and this album is up there with the very best of it. Ignore the slightly dodgy band name and enjoy the very excellent music.
The Arcade Fire are probably the most melodramatic indie band since The Smiths. The music, the stage shows, the quasi-Victorian image; melodramatic beyond belief and, to be honest, it's an irritating element of the band as far as I'm concerned. But, I'm not sure it would have irritated me quite so much when I was a youngster when things like image have a more profound effect. I mean I liked the Smashing Pumpkins, so it does make sense.
Talking of the Pumpkins, The Arcade Fire remind me of them. I'm not sure what it is... I think it is the overblown pomp of some of their material and how it can be a good thing if the band are good enough to carry it off. They are just really epic in the same way Corgan's lot were. I don't know where I'm going with this comparison but it's a whole lot better than the Springsteen comparisons they've been getting. Note to music press: if a band sounds vaguely folky and is full of pomp, it doesn't automatically sound like The Boss. You lazy bastards.
What's that? The music? Right. The album starts with a quiet song/loud song tag team tactic which might work ok for some people, but I just skip the quiet ones as they are pretty dull and head straight for the energetic numbers. "Keep The Car Running" was a good choice of first single and shows off Win Butler's howling vocals, and "Intervention" is a stompy number with the lyric "Working for the church while your family dies". Nice. It also has a funereal-sounding organ at the start which is fine in the context of the song, but makes me laugh anyway.
The band's diversity does work in their favour sometimes, shown by "Black Waves/Bad Vibrations". Sounding like nothing else on the album, and sung by Régine Chassagne, it sounds like Lene Lovich or a better Siouxsie and the Banshees. "Windowsill" is the best slower song, with some great strings and good dynamics building up towards the end. And "The Well and the Lighthouse" is a terrific upbeat song that almost sounds like a more interesting The Killers.
The best song on the album by far, though, is the amazing "No Cars Go". It's one of the best epic indie-rock songs I've heard for ages. A brilliant melody with the strings and horn section is the first noticeable element, followed by the excellent way the guitar distortion kicks in. The vocals are shared between both Win and Régine equally and complement each other very well, and the song, after kicking down a couple of gears towards the end, introduces an almost Flaming Lips-esque choir with a lovely "woah-oh-oh-oh" melody that's as mournful as it is uplifting. Fantastic stuff.
If only the whole album was of the quality of "No Cars Go"! It would be some album then. But despite the slight inconsistancy anyone who liked "Funeral" will like this, and anyone that doesn't like this band from what they've heard needs to hear "No Cars Go".
The word “shins” is probably my favourite word for a body part, certainly a better word than “leg” or “thigh”, and probably “ankle” too. Say it out loud and you'll understand just how aurally satisfying the word is. Shins. Shins. Shins. But (have you guessed where this slightly contrived intro is going, yet?) are the band “The Shins” sound as pleasing to the ear as the word “shins”? Let's find out!
Sometimes surreal and dreamlike, other times sparse and melancholic, occasionally both at the same time, The Shins' third full-length release is the sound of a band evolving, a band developing without rejecting what it was that their fans loved about their earlier records. And while the first few tracks may suggest that they've recorded 'Chutes Still Too Narrow' (or 'Chutes 2 Narrow', whichever you prefer), as the album progresses so too does the distance travelled from the standard Shins template... but not as far, perhaps, the ankle, or toes. (I am sorry.)
Opener 'Sleeping Lessons' starts quietly and, indeed, sleepily, but gradually and satisfyingly builds up into a fairly aggressive (by The Shins' standards) rock song, while 'Australia' sees the band on familiar indie-pop territory, as do later tracks 'Red Rabbits' 'Split Needles' and 'Girl Sailor'. Surf-tinged interlude 'Pam Berry' segues well into the excellent single 'Phantom Limb' – so far, so Shins.
The divergence of their sound begins with 'Sea Legs', a flirtation with the electronic, which is probably both the most eclectic track on the album and, for me, the weakest. 'Turn on Me' is an upbeat pop song and surely must've been a contender for release as a single, possibly their most accessible song to date, which is cleverly juxtaposed with the the sharply contrasting stripped-down and haunting 'Black Wave', possibly their least accessible song to date. The album closes with the excellent folk-tinged 'A Comet Appears'.
Despite the combination of the experimental and the familiar, the album certainly feels like a cohesive work, with not a track (other than perhaps 'Sea Legs') out of place. Whatever direction they pull themselves in, they never sound forced, maintaining a consistent, Shins-like sound, thanks in no small part to James Mercer's distinctive vocals, and his occasional delightful habit of cramming more words into his songs than the melodies should allow.
Life changing? Hardly. Better than 'Chutes Too Narrow'? I don't think so. A perfectly good, solid indie-pop album? Bingo. Perhaps too literate and subtle to propel them into the echelons of mainsteam stadium rock, which is probably for the best, 'Wincing The Night Away' is a perfectly nice, pleasant and even comforting listen, with the quality of its songs demanding that you pay it attention rather than relegating it to mere background music. I look forward to their next evolution with interest and optimism.
That's my Shins review, then. And look! I managed to do it without using the phrases “Natalie Portman”, “Garden State” and “will change your life”! Erm, until just then, anyway. Curses.
If you've heard of Ben Reilly, it's probably as Peter Parker's clone from the controversial 'Clone Saga' story arc in 'Amazing Spider-Man' in the 1990s, so imagine my surprise to learn that he's now fronting a punky power-pop band...
What? Oh, right! Ha ha ha! I'll start again.
If you've heard of Ben Deily, it's probably as Evan Dando's co-songwriter from the Lemonheads in the late 80s, so imagine my surprise to learn that he's now fronting a punky power-pop band! Actually, that's not very surprising at all, is it? Oh well.
'For Crying Out Loud' is Varsity Drag's debut release, though if you're familiar with Ben's Lemonheads songs, or indeed his post-Lemonheads band, Pods, then you'll already know exactly what this sounds like: punky power-pop (that's the third time I've used that phrase now, repetition fans), with high-pitched vocals, delightful harmonies and some doo-doo-doo bits, like all good punky power-pop (four) should have. Imagine the Buzzcocks playing Big Star songs, if you're one of those people who likes to have a band's sound described to you using two other bands.
But just because Ben Deily's sound hasn't moved on very far it doesn't mean he's merely trying to rehash his past glories or extend his youth: songs like 'Billy Ruane' and the piano-led '1999' are proof positive that Deily has refined his craft over the years, producing songs with a fuller, ever-so slightly more mature sound than the raggedy fuzz-pop of his Lemonheads songs. Varsity Drag's songs are still obviously Ben Deily songs, though – recent live sets included songs from this album and old Lemonheads and Pods tracks, all in perfect harmony.
All nine songs on this record are nigh-on perfect, so picking out the best tracks would just involve listing them all. The vinyl-only bonus track, a remix of 'Miles of Ocean' by Ben's brother and ex-Pod Jonno, is nice enough but not essential, as it isn't a million miles (of ocean) away from the album version. However, one advantage that the vinyl version has over the CD is that it's on 10” bowling-ballish swirly coloured vinyl, as if a bowling ball has been flattened and the songs have been pressed onto it. Perhaps that is how they were made! Probably not. That's probably impossible, now that I think about it.
This is pop-punk for grown-ups, an album written and performed by one of the finest craftsmen of the genre. While Evan Dando's excellent Lemonheads album of last year has been receiving much media attention, Varsity Drag's even-more-excellent album of last year has certainly not. Ben Deily has been one of pop music's best-kept secrets for far too long. Start crying his name out loud. Do you see what I did there?
Some of the album's weakest points are its most restrained though. 'Ghost I Became' unwittingly rips-off Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton and renders it useless. 'Westward Ho' and 'St. Ides, Parked Cars, and Other People's Homes' are fairly uninspired Americana by numbers, and as these three tracks fall next to each other on the midsection of the album which is a shame as it does disrupt it.
My favourite track on the album follows these three though. 'The Kid From Belmont Street' reminds me of the way John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats can produce a really taught atmospheric song and make it sound very powerful. There's some really inspired, almost jazz-like horns on this track too. It's almost like Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, but with a lot more depth.
Horns are also prominent on the standout 'Moving Back Home #2', an upbeat mariachi stomp through a tale of, er, moving home. If They Might Be Giants tried to sound like Calexico it'd probably sound like this. There are two instrumentals on this album which bring to mind Calexico, so it's not the greatest surprise to discover that they helped them out with some of the recording of the album in Tucson, Arizona.
Other songs which catch the ear are the two that are most like typical Richmond Fontaine songs; '$87 And A Guilty Conscience That Gets Worse The Longer I Go' (that's like a Half Man Half Biscuit song title, but without the humour) and 'Capsized' (not a Samiam cover). They could have both been on any previous album, and it's good to hear that while they have expanded their range on this album, they haven't lost sight of what they were capable of on previous outings.
Basically, if you claim to hate country music but really like Johnny Cash and Neil Young, then a) you are an idiot and b) give this a band a listen because they are truly one of the better bands of this style. If you're a fan already, then this isn't as raucous as earlier material and isn't as consistantly good as Post To Wire, but it's certainly a worthwhile addition to their canon.
For those in the dark about Lifetime's legacy, they released two hugely influential albums in the mid-nineties (the loud and rocking Hello Bastards and the more measured Jersey's Best Dancers). When I say hugely influential, ex-members went on to form Kid Dynamite, possibly my favourite hardcore band ever, and bands like Saves The Day, Set Your Goals and even New Found Glory borrowed from their mix of hardcore punk pace and riffs, and pop-punk melody.
Anyone familiar with the band's previous work will be right at home here. It picks up on the bands progression to more melodic work, with a song such as Can't Think About It Now being the poppiest I've heard by this band.
The album starts really well too. Airport Monday Morning is classic Lifetime with a great melody and a classic breakdown by guitarist Dr Dan Yemin (The Steal's #1 fan!) for the chorus. And Just a Quiet Evening is a cracking tune, really showing what a great singer Ari Katz is for this style.
However, the album, even at a short 24 minutes, loses its way halfway through, with many songs later in the album failing to stick in the head after repeated listening. Also, anyone looking for a riff as catchy as Rodeo Clown from Hello Bastards is going to be disappointed, there's nothing remotely like that here!
So all in all, it's a decent album but nothing amazing. Pete Wentz probably loves it though. I can just picture him wanking all over the original recordings, wishing his band was even 5% as good as Lifetime. The attention-seeking using-the-word-emo-as-a-noun-inspiring tosspot.
Kombat Opera's TV debut was back in 2001 as part of little-remembered late-night BBC2 Simon Munnery vehicle Attention Scum, in which the composer Richard Thomas and opera singer Lore Lixemberg would perform insults in the form of brief operatic vignettes. Thomas' next project was the controversial Jerry Springer the Opera, the first act of which is The Jerry Springer Show (or an exaggerated approximation of it) reimagined as an opera. Kombat Opera Presents is Thomas' attempt to do the same for five other TV programmes. Last week's episode was an amusing recreation of The Apprentice (renamed The Applicants, allowing for a delightfully childish play on words – think about it), and I'm sure you can work out for yourselves which show 'Spouse Change' was parodying.
It was 'Wife Swap'.
The families involved in the 'spouse change' were Roy and Darryl Gay, a bohemian gay couple from Pennsylvania; and Chester and Gloria Winchester, racist, homophobic born-again Christians from Alabama, who “believe every word of the Bible, including words that are not in the Bible”. Cue culture clash!
Kombat Opera Presents it at its best when playing with its own form, such as when the choir of opera singers sing the on-screen captions, or interrupt the narrator, the only character who doesn't sing all of their dialogue, a role performed this week by Simon 'Michael off I'm Alan Partridge' Greenall doing an American accent (and doing it quite well). It is these moments that are, obviously, unique to this show.
Putting the opera to one side and concentrating on the comedy, there is a lot to like about Kombat Opera Presents in this respect, too, such as Darryl's reaction to the Winchester's trailer (“this is like eye rape!”), and a nice visual gag when Gloria, in an attempt to “cure” Roy of his sinful homosexuality, discards some photos that they have in their lounge – Elton John, then Wham, then Tom Cruise...
Jerry Springer the Opera was primarily a satire on trash TV culture, but Kombat Opera is perhaps more light-hearted in tone, and while this clash of redneck and homosexual does initially seem to be satirical, it's really just a way of creating a situation that lends itself to humour. Similarly, Spouse Change doesn't really have any point to make about Wife Swap or reality TV – other than a comment about it being the same every week, the show isn't critiqued at all, and the parody does seem affectionate rather than attacking. Of note is that both episodes so far have included material about the church and Christians, perhaps inspired by the hate campaign waged on Richard Thomas and co-writer Stewart Lee by Christian Voice over 'Jerry Springer The Opera'. Stewart Lee dealt with this by including material in his stand-up that he knew would be even more offensive to Christian Voice; this could be Thomas's attempt to do the same.
However, I don't think that Thomas's overall aim is to satirize, but rather to amuse, at which he is mostly successful. There are a few songs that drag for just a little bit too long, and the end of the episode was something of an anti-climax, but on the whole Kombat Opera Presents is an innovative and funny comedy show, which is a rarity in these times of prank-wankery like 'Balls of Steel', non-comedy like Catherine Tate and Ricky Fucking Gervias. I think it's unlikely that there will be a second series, not due to the BBC being shit this time, but I think the show's format dictates that it won't be possible to produce too many episodes without becoming repetitive and without the novelty wearing off. But don't worry about that – enjoy it while it lasts.