Louder Than War

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Review: Trail of Dead - Worlds Apart

...And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Worlds Apart

I have to say I encountered momentary excitement when I approached this album - I was a huge fan of the trail of dead back at the tender age of 16. Their debut, Madonna, remains an excellent example of art-punk noise and destruction combined with prog pomposity. They were quickly snapped up by Interscope records, and made the great Source Tags and Codes.

So its a shame then that Worlds Apart seems to be the sound of a band veering off the rails.

The LP opens with Overture, which orchestrates the dramatic atmos for the second track Will You Smile Again. This is already easily the best material on the album - not a hundred light years away from either Madonna or Source Tags, utilising the Trail's familiar veryveryloud-quiet-crescendo song form.

But it is the title track that colours the whole album. It might have been alright or excusable if it wasn't named after the album, or that the album was named after it. It comes quickly after Smile, after a rather childish sample of a Trailer shouting 'HEY FUCK YOU MAN'. The song kicks into what sounds vaguely like a Pogues parody with ever-so-slightly angrier guitars. Its upbeat, but the lyrics... the lyrics...

"Look at these cunts on MTV/ Cars and 'Cribs' and rings and shit/ Is that what being a celebrity means?"


"See corpses, rapes, and amputees/What do you think now of the American dream?"

Yes, evidently. But what does being a celebrity mean, Conrad? The truth is, Worlds Apart is the kind of lazy song someone like Britney Spears or Timberkake would attempt to pull off to gain some kind of credibility. Here, the opposite is true. Trail of Dead already basked in credibility; yet their song writing here is patently lazy. To add insult to injury, the War reference seems tacked on without any actual thought. Billy Bragg would be embarrassed.

Its a sorry start, in all. The song is riddled with so many cliches that it can only make you wonder what on earth drove them to pen the song? Was some major label big wig (they're on Interscope, remember) push them to write something so ironically mainstream in order to gain radio time? An element of hypocrisy can be called as well seeing as, being signed to a major, this is surely the kind of lifestyle that they would like to experience. Why else would have he sworn like he did at the end of track one? Because they want to be huge fucking rock stars that want to live like huge fucking rock stars who say fuck you a lot. Like Elton John.

The rest of the album feels like a mediocre slug of radio friendly rock. There's very, very little here that you couldn't get from other average XFM friendly rock band from the last 10 years. Almost nothing stands out as infectious, stirring or passionate as anything from Madonna or Source Tags. There is nothing as genuinely anthemic as A Perfect Teenhood or Relative Ways here. Forget anything as angry as Mistakes and Regrets. The rest of the words are unmemorable. You'd wish them to swear at you and really mean it... But its all empty gesture. On top of that, the orchestral interludes serve little purpose at all but merely to prolong the mediocrity.

The loss of the angst and speed may be seen by some as a kind of maturity, but the former was part of the very appeal, because they were very good at it. Without it they are just any other average rock band - trying to make up for the lack of imagination with a contrived rant about the state of the music industry. But at least he's thinking about the amputees.

Fuck you man.

Monday, January 24, 2005

There is too much noise, there is too much heat

Young Marble Giants - Final Day
There is a temptation when creating and recording music to cram as much in as possible. More sounds, more ideas, more instruments, more samples, more, more, more.

Young Marble Giants were something else entirely. They were a band who valued quiet restraint, rather than empty bluster. For YMG, space and silence were something to be treasured and reveled in, only further serving to emphasise the icy, pure, clear voice of singer Alison Stratton.

In a 1980 article written in Sounds Magazine. Dave McCollough said: "Images the music makes are: tiny Welsh tearooms, childhood fear, coffee-bar intimacy, murder, lost love, sleep, tension and longing constantly underlied by an enduring eeriness in the music."

From South Wales, Young Marble Giants formed in the post punk era of 1978. Comprising the aforementioned Alison Stratton and the Moxham brothers Philip and Stuart. Isolated in the Welsh valleys, they created stark, otherworldly music that transported the listener to somewhere else, yet was as cold and emotionless as the provincial world they were seeking to escape from.

YMG were/are an enigma. Their debut album Colossal Youth was released in 1980 on Rough Trade and is a thing of understated beauty, comprising 15 gems of minimalist pop. The record remains a masterpiece and was/is like nothing else that came before or after. Simple, intimate and as sparse as an Arctic tundra, most songs just comprised vocals, bass and a guitar or organ, with perhaps a drum machine for backing.

In YMG songs, no note or lyric is wasted. Songs are skeletal and succinct. Each song says everything that the band wants to say, it is a statement of fact. There is no debate and no need for anything else.

After Colossal Youth the band released a few more tracks and EP's, before splitting up. Their career a mirror image of one of their songs. Short and to the point. Nothing wasted, never outstaying its welcome, but leaving the listener craving more.

Today, even in the wake of 'Cool Cymru', the band are largely unknown. However their influence on bands like The Sundays, Goldfrapp and Postishead is clear. In his journals, Kurt Cobain listed Colossal Youth as one of the ten records that changed his life:

"This music relaxes you, it's total atmospherics. It's just nice, pleasant music. I love it. The drum machine has to have the cheesiest sound ever. I had a crush on the singer for a while - didn't everyone?"

Who are we to disagree?

Young Marble Giants Web archive
Stuart Moxham interview

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Different Kettle Of Fish

A Different Kettle Of Fish
Upstairs @ The Bristol Pear, Selly Oak, Birmingham,
7:30 - 11pm,
£1 entry,
Featuring DJ Phillipe Bergeroo, Ideosphere and DJ Erised

I'll be taking to the wheels of steel at about 8:40 to play a few tracks like this:

Art Brut - Formed A Band
Art Brut - Modern Art

With the demise of Ikara Colt, it's left to Art Brut to take on the mantle of top dogs in the London Art Punk scene. Formed a band is their manifesto "I wanna be the boy, the man, who writes the song, that makes Israel and Palestine get along" A cursory glance at some music websites indicates that The Brut are already polarising opinions and are loved and hated in equal measure, much like The Colt.

Modern Art is the best song about dancing in art galleries ever written. FACT.

Monday, January 17, 2005

RIP 2/2: Ikara Colt + Les Savy Fav

This week as been a double wammy of splits within indie. As Louder Than War have already reported, Mclusky went last Monday, and yesterday Ikara Colt decided to call it a day. Whilst not quite splitting, the excellent american post-punk act Les Savy Fav went on hiatus. Here are some good reasons to shed a tear or few.

Ikara Colt - Rudd (Live)

I saw Ikara Colt twice, once before Idlewild in May 2002 (they were better than the act that followed), and the second time at the following Reading festival. Ikara Colt starred as the headliners on the tiny Carling Stage - around the same time as the Foo Fighters were enthralling/boring everybody with how many times they had been at Reading festival in their various guises.

Their performance quite surprised me. Ikara Colt always seemed to be slightly reluctant on their records - like they would really like to do hardcore but settled on a more polite indie version of the punk that they loved. Yet, they were fucking mental. There wasn't a single point where the audience remained still through the beginning of the set - helped along by the fact that every song from Chat and Business sounded like a thumping art rock anthem. And then they misbehaved. They wanted to share the back stage beer.

"Come on, there's how many of you? And how many of them?"


Stage invade, oh we couldn't do that? Could we? Reading had long let go of its hard rock roots and simply wasn't attended by the sort who would.... oh, look, there goes one. The security guards got him, but thats OK, because another four have just jumped over the now seemingly pathetic fence and are drinking with the band. And dancing with them. For about 20 minutes, a seemingly endless run of chancers attempted to fuck with the increasingly rediculous social conventions that seperate the band from the audience - and decided to become part of the show. It was both an excellent moment in rock, proved that indie could fuck with the best of them, and proved to be something of an artisitic statement - all at the same time.

Of course it wasn't peace in paradise. By the end of the set the revellers who had joined the Colt on stage had taken it upon themselves to dismantle their instruments. They didn't play their last song, because they invited the audience to become part of the show, and the audience destroyed it. Ikara Colt were due to play Leeds the next day. They were cancelled.

Despite the set back, however, Ikara Colt showed that going to see a band did not have to be like seeing a film or an opera. It will remain one of the best and exciting shows I had ever seen . Their absence will be noted.

Les Savy Fav - Meet me in the dollar bin

I can't admit to being the greatest follower of Les Savy Fav. I discovered them only through their excellent singles collection Inches. Les Savy Fav are very much a post-punk outfit; their music laden with funk-inspired riffs. But they were never part of the mainstream 'revivial' lead by Radio 4, The Rapture or !!!. Many people also wrote them off as a joke - I never got to see them live, but UK reviews were rarely forgiving. Its a shame as Inches is some of the best enegetic, catchy and plain fun music that you will hear in this genre - far and away from the annoying pretentiousness of Bloc Party or the knowing excess of The Killers. Worth a look before they dissapear forever.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Britpop Girlbands: Sleeper & Echobelly

Time for a bit of historical reconsideration. Legend would have it that Elastica were the premiere Britpop girlband of the 95/96/97 period and all others were mere pretenders. Whether it was the Damon Albarn factor or their shameless pilfering of entire Wire songs, clearly in NME quarters at least, Elastica were the queens of Britpop. I'm not going to dispute that Elastica were a great band, their first album being one of the sharpest of the period, but I think it's time that Sleeper and Echobelly were also considered.

Sleeper - Inbetweener
I have to confess that I always fancied Sleeper singer Louise Wener like mad, I've always been a sucker for posh girls. This is their breakthrough single and when released had a video that featured Supermarket Sweep presenter Dale Winton - genius. Sleeper were a great pop singles band, but never quite delivered on the album front and it's a shame that a lot of people only know them for the dodgy cover of Blondie's Atomic on the Trainspotting soundtrack. Outspoken vocalist Wener is now a novelist and has written two not bad books - Goodnight Steve McQueen and The Big Blind.

The band produced three albums, Smart, The It Girl and Pleased To Meet You. This particular track is from the 1995's Smart album and is a study in suburban misery, boredom and a doomed relationship - subjects covered by Blur to extensive praise in their album The Great Escape released later that year.

Find out more: Louise Wener website

Echobelly - Four Letter Word
Recently I found out that Echobelly are STILL going, ploughing on in the indie rock toilet scene. This isn't how it was meant to be. Their 1995 sophomore album On was a stone cold pop classic, featuring 12 great songs, including the heavenly Dark Therapy and this particular track.

Echobelly were always a band that should have been bigger than they were. Why? Well their third album Lustra was a bit of a disappointment compared to On. And then they were caught up in the Brit Pop backlash and suffered lineup changes, both putting pay to their chances of ever making it big.

They were a band that weren't afraid to tackle big issues, like when Anglo-Indian vocalist Sonya Aurora Madan was photographed in a T-Shirt proclaiming 'England: My home too'. However their impact may have been diluted by other acts such as Madan dressing up as a schoolgirl (pre Britney) for no apparent reason.

More info: Echobelly fan site

So both of these bands never delivered on their potential. Let's forget about that and enjoy these two Britpop gems.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

RIP 1/2: Mclusky

Mclusky - To Hell With Good Intentions - Epitonic.com (they might require your email address before you download).

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

If you don't know already, one of the greatest not really welsh welsh bands ever split up Monday. This is probably their best single. Which none of you bought.

No, no of you bought this because you were, at the time, wanking off over copies of The Strokes 'Is This It?' or The Datsun's or whatever was in vogue at the time. Oh, the Vines. They were loud and stuff. They shouted. What they didn't do was COMPLETELY FUCKING DESTROY. Like Mclusky.

Famously (?) described by playlouder as
Nirvana-with-a-nuke-up-their-ass, Mclusky's typical songs were masterful liberal angry whinges plus a very, very good bassist. And its very, very funny. Not as in Bloodhound Gang 'funny', but amusing funny. Listen to Do Dallas. Its one of the best punk albums released in the last few years. Its both amusing, noisy, uses questionable swearing and, at its best moments, is fucking angular-mental-fast. If you're at all familiar with Steve Albini's work, you will be best pleased. Which isn't too much of a conincidence, as Albini produced their last two albums, and was heard to call them "the UK band eva", he was.

Falco is being tight-lipped about his next project. I look forward to hearing from him soon.