2nd November, 2008

ole-832-the-hawk-is-howlingMOGWAI deliver a post-rock soup which skimps on spices and other exciting condiments, but leaves a warm, full and satisfying feeling.

Mogwai are known in the post-rock world for not being content with constructing simple walls of sound. This Scottish four-piece produce walls of sound complete with barbed wire and graffiti ranging from pretty flowers and psychedelic colours, to political mini-rants and straight up abuse. Happy Songs for Happy people brought the world of minimalist not-quite-rock music the beautiful ‘Golden Porche’, whilst Come On Die Young served up rants against punk rock and ‘Puff Daddy/ANTICHRIST’.

The Hawk is Howling is no different. Which is good. Kind of. It’s Mogwai doing their thing, taking simple phrases and moving them through various crescendos and diminuendos, slowly elaborating on a main theme. It can be catchy (‘The Sun Smells too Loud’), moody and threatening (‘Batcat’), or all of those, plus strangely rousing (‘I Love You, I’m going to Blow up your School’).

But therein lies the problem. If you have any of Mogwai’s albums, or any of Explosions in the Sky’s, the new This Will Destroy You, and I could go on, then you’ve heard it all before. Mogwai’s latest adds nothing to the genre except another entrancing but ultimately slightly above average disc. Tracks such as ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ are certainly captivating in terms of melody and dynamics, but if you’re looking for a post-rock band who are doing something new with their sound, then this isn’t the album for you.

But, if you want an undemanding one hour sonic voyage, or just love Mogwai and post-rock in general, then by all means, go get it.


Published in Student Direct, Noveber 2008 http://www.student-direct.co.uk/2008/09/mogwai-the-hawk-is-howling/


7th November, 2008

OK, THERE’S no denying that gigs and festivals are loud, the equivalent of standing next to a pneumatic drill for an extended period of time, albeit more musical (depending on your point of view, of course). So, to protect those precious personal sound receptors, three things have been recommended. Don’t go (as if), turn the music down (yeah, right), or wear earplugs.

Now, I’m pretty sure my hearing is going down the proverbial toilet. And some gigs are just far too loud; anyone who saw Fu Manchu at Academy 3 last year can testify that. I couldn’t hear properly for a week, no exaggerations. I probably should’ve thought about my future health, my need to hear bird song when I’m 80, or to attend to the wishes of moaning children or spouses. Earplugs would be the answer. But why don’t people wear them?

Maybe people just don’t think about it during the aural pummelling. I certainly don’t.

Or maybe it’s just the general nature of humans to put having a good time way above their health and well-being in their list of priorities. If people drink to excess, risking liver and brain damage, plus anything which could happen whilst stumbling home, then how can we be expected to take care of our hearing?

Here’s a radical idea. Instead of those bland and frankly un-cool lumps of plastic you can get for free…let’s turn earplugs into a must-have fashion accessory. If people put metal studs and fleshplugs into their ears (which carry risks of blood poisoning and miniature dolphins jumping through artificial hoops), surely we wouldn’t be averse to adding a bit more weight to our lugholes, which just so happens to do us a bit of good?

Picture it; just before your dream gig, you make a beeline for the merchandise desk. But what to choose? Before your awestruck eyes you see t-shirts, hoodies, posters, bandanas…but what are these? The Arctic Monkeys official earplugs? Woah! Buy! Buy! Buy?

Published in Student Direct, September 2008

7th November, 2008

Promoting his new solo album The Cross Eyed Rambler, Paul Heaton takes some time out to chat to Student Direct about how to write a great song, using Wikipedia to get a record deal, and the evil that is Walkers crisps.

Paul HeatonPaul Heaton, for those who are wondering, was the chief singer, songwriter, and all round communist of The Beautiful South, one of the biggest British bands of the late ‘80s and early 90s. Formed by ex Housemartins members Paul Heaton and Dave Hemmingway, the band became well known for Heaton’s dark, sarcastic and whingeing lyrics played over chirpy indie pop melodies. Songs such as ‘A Little Time’, ‘Song for Whoever’ and ‘Old Red Eyes is Back’ gained the band a devoted following, and Carry on up the Charts, the band’s first “best of” album, went down in history as the fastest selling British album. The band split up in January 2007, citing “musical differences” as the cause, but Heaton didn’t take retirement.

You’d think with that kind of résumé, getting a deal for a solo album wouldn’t be so hard. “It was devastating”, says Paul. “I finished the record, went on Wikipedia, and took down all the still going independent record labels”. He emailed 30 different labels (along the way finding out that 10 of them weren’t actually independent, but had recently been swallowed), and got two good responses. Five said no, without even listening to the record, stating that they “didn’t think there was a market for it”. Without listening to it. Yes, without listening to it. From that perspective, it’s interesting to consider how independent record labels that do this can survive, a notion that prompts a characteristically guard-dog like reaction from a man who, in his youth, was “left of Stalin” in terms of politics. “They exist on ripping bands off, and the bands you can rip off are the bands without managers or lawyers. Young bands. They sign them to a dodgy deal, before they [the band] know what a dodgy deal is.” “There’s also a bit of a John Peel ethic, you know, don’t touch somebody who’s had such chart success.” But to not want to listen to it first? “Bizarre”, he says.

Heaton has long been known for his song-writing. With lines like “with a choice between loneliness and love-sick QE2’s, well tonight I choose self-abuse” (‘Tonight I Fancy Myself’) to “Life my girl will take away that optimistic skip, stick its big foot out and try deliberately to trip, substitute young hope with arthritic hip” (‘Deckchair Collapsed’), for anyone looking for tips on how to pen an interesting chart topper, he’s your man. “I don’t think you can be too specific” when writing, he says. “If you’re too exact you start sounding like you’re punching the air a bit. Leave a little bit for the listener. Like ‘The Pub’ (a song from the new album). Let them think, “yeah, I know that pub”. Don’t fucking call it the Green Dragon, call it The Pub”.

The great British pub is one of the many issues close to Heaton’s heart, and with its mention springs a good five or six minute conversation about the “5000 pubs closing down a year in the UK”. “That makes me angry”, he says. “Everything about that part of our society has gone skew-wiff”. Preferring a rough pub filled with varied characters and the risk of a glassed face to a “bar full of business suits and wankers”, Heaton attributes the slow death of the “centre of the village society” to a rise in bar culture, and Tesco’s vending of cheap booze. Oh, and the Tories.

The Tories have caused Heaton much anguish, but ranking right up there is the inadvertent forcing of him to terminate his crisp packet collecting. “I do have an incredible collection, and that’s putting it modestly”, he admits. But those days are over. “When I was a kid my politics were to the left of Stalin” he jokingly states, but “I was always told “if you vote Tory then you’d have more choice”. But they didn’t have anything against monopolising everything”. “In my life, Walkers…my fucking daughter will never taste a packet of sausage and tomato crisps…Walkers have taken over. It’s Walkers everywhere.”

Politics is a “real strong vein” through Heaton’s life, as is arguing. “Everything is political”, he says, “and I can argue with that bottle over there. You can leave me in the van by myself and I’ll have a political argument”. “So it’s good to put in songs. Every song is a political song. If you look at charts and you look at a particular month when there wasn’t a song about anything, but there was a big crisis, say the Iraq war. All those people have decided not to talk about that in song. That’s a political statement, not to write anything.”

If you did know who the Beautiful South and Paul Heaton were, then you probably would have been wondering (before 2007) if they would ever go away. But Heaton has plenty left in the tank to rant about. Plus, when asked what he’d be doing if he wasn’t putting his politics to music, he looks visibly worried. “Err…err…when I was a kid I wanted to be a fireman, but I was scared of fire. I think I would’ve just been a real sad loser, I can’t imagine anything else I would’ve done.” So, when he writes that “nothing’s black and white no more, just permanently tanned”, the future for Paul Heaton is quite definitely orange.


31st October, 2008

LAST STAND is the sound of My Bloody Valentine’s melancholia epic Loveless desolately crawling into its last bar, ordering its final whiskey and drinking itself into a heartbroken oblivion.

And it’s bloody brilliant. Tenebrous Liar has created an album which deliberately slows down time to an agonising wasted stagger, and then ruthlessly strangles you. ‘One Way Lone’ and ‘All That You Know’ sneer at you as the devastating distortion and lonesome, what-the-fuck-is-the-point-of-it-all vocals mercilessly drag you into a state of total despair; ‘Pretender’ is the kind of blues-stained morose rock that you’d find in a dilapidated New Orleans garage; ‘Last Stand’s tortured screams and painfully tuneful feedback take a full eleven minutes to collapse into a sorry, lifeless heap of worthless nothingness. This kind of thing should come with a health warning.


Published in Student Direct, November 2008 http://www.student-direct.co.uk/2008/11/tenebrous-liar-last-stand/

29th September 2008

ANOTHER ALBUM, another tour; music editor Matt Elwell chats to Jesper Stromblad, guitarist and founder of Swedish metallers In Flames.

“We are super happy with the new album”, exclaims Jesper, a remark not without justification. One and a half years in the making, A Sense of Purpose is the band’s ninth album, and perhaps most mature, but it wasn’t without its difficulties; “when you’ve been living with the songs for so long it’s hard to be objective and know if we’re putting out a crap album” he explains. The band also invested their own finances in the album’s production, purchasing their own studio in their home town of Gothenburg. “Fully equipped, state of the art”, Jesper boasts, comparing it to the days of The Jester Race where the band “had a much tighter budget”, and so “had to go in and out of the studio really fast”. The Jester Race was recorded in eleven days; A Sense of Purpose has, including the pre-production, two months of recording time behind it.

Across their eighteen year career, In Flames has managed to irritate every music classifier on the planet. Their debut album, The Lunar Strain, flirted with black and death metal, but landed in neither camp and even brought a melodic touch to the table. “Gothenburg” and “melodic death metal” are terms which have been tried, tested, and rejected, as attempts to describe the progression of the band’s sound from the early ‘90s to 2008’s A Sense of Purpose, which features a logical progression from a more metalcore and melodic death metal influenced Come Clarity. It would be easy to ascribe these changes to careful planning, but Jesper disagrees; “we don’t really think about it, it’s just a natural thing; every time we’re ready to write songs and go into the studio…we’re not sitting down and discussing ‘which direction’, or, ‘do we want to please certain market’”.

It’s a mindset that has produced its fair share of controversy over the years. Soundtrack to your Escape was dismissed by some critics as the band jumping on the nu-metal bandwagon, abandoning their extreme metal roots, and selling out. “It’s very different from the earlier stuff” says Jesper. “It came about because we more or less jammed the songs together…we rented a house and just locked ourselves in for three weeks, with a lot of beer”. “A totally different way for us to work”. It was an experiment, something that In Flames is in no way afraid to embark on.

Jesper Stomblad is the guy on the far left

Jesper Stomblad is the guy on the far left

In Flames has also enjoyed an incredibly stable relationship with their record label. Nuclear Blast is now the biggest independent record label, almost with In Flames as one of their flagships. It holds the band in high regard and pretty much drops everything when a new In Flames album appears; “you develop a relationship with the people that you work with…we haven’t seen any reason to change” he says. Politics and finances have only been an issue in America, and it is a situation that the band feels has in many ways taken away a lot of the pressures of the music industry, leaving them free to write, record and tour.

Their approach to music and all of its political and financial pitfalls has reaped many rewards, not just in terms of a devoted fan base. “I might be going to play ‘Cloud Connected’ for the 700th time but every time the intro goes on and I hear the crowd, that they’re really into it, you just feed from them” Jesper declares; In Flames is very much a band that wants to please, and rides on admiration received for that desire. “When you go on tour and you meet all the fans and you see how much people really love what you do; it can be as simple as meeting a fan and shaking his hand as he says ‘Hey, if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t pick up the guitar’, or when a tiny baby is called Jesper”. “Music is therapy; it makes me happy” Jesper states enthusiastically. That’s why the band is still going after eighteen years. “Plus the fact that I couldn’t do anything else; I would probably be flipping burgers in McDonalds.”


29th September, 2008

trivium-shogunMETALLICA WANNA-BEES with a fit lead singer continue to insult the metal legends with another offering of absolute tosh.

Call me picky, but I expect a lot more from my metal than some half decent pit riffs and a growl. I’m sorry. That’s the first reason why this is an avoid-at-all-costs release. The second, is Heafy’s voice, either sounding like Hetfield eating cheese graters, or the God Forbid guy trying to do black metal. In fact, this album is just terrible Metallica mixed with the best of God Forbid; bad for me, as I like both. But it does work on ‘Down From The Sky’, but that’s about it. The third is the overuse of shred. Technicality is great, but here it exists only for itself and those who enjoy masturbating over million notes a second shred. The fourth reason is that the songs are all too long, with nothing engaging enough to justify six plus minutes. The fifth reason…you get my drift.


Published in Student Direct, October 2008 http://www.student-direct.co.uk/2008/11/trivium-shogun/

14th September, 2008

the-automatic-this-is-a-fix-443526THE AUTOMATIC’S debut album was essentially one track repeated twelve times, with a few week shrieks thrown in for good measure. Is This Is A Fix any better?

Well, no, it isn’t. The opening melody of ‘Steve McQueen’ has been lifted from ‘On the Campaign Trail’. The vocal rhythms vary little from song to song, and “if you’re looking for answers, if you’re looking, don’t look here” sums up the lyrical content on offer. ‘Make the Mistakes’ is nauseating, and ‘Secret Police’ sounds almost exactly like “By My Side”, just worse. The Automatic seem to be living off of three different ideas and their endless permutations. If Not Accepted Anywhere packed all the punch of a five year old, then This Is A Fix carries the force of a two month old baby’s tiny fist. And it isn’t even cute. It will satisfy anyone looking for the second coolest sound for the first half of this week, but for the rest, treat it as if it was a nuclear power plant about to explode.