What’s Hot In My House – April

The big problem with music is that there’s too damn much of it. I mean, I was just putting a playlist together, so I was going through the gargantuan collection on my phone and I was like: “oooo haven’t heard that for ages; I miss that album; shit, I used to love that” and so on…. Anyway, I was basically left marvelling at what a wonderful thing it is to be so damn spoilt for choice, and everyday there’s more and more of the stuff!

As such, my listening is more often than not dominated by things I’ve been reviewing or researching for whatever reason, and April had been a busy month! I’ve heard a lot of seriously excellent records – the new albums from singer songwriter Kevin Morby and Canadian rockers Greys being particularly outstanding, although it’s the sublime new album from Ben Watt that’s taken up most of my journey’s home. However, as coincidence would have it, over the last couple of weeks I’ve had three EPs, all alternative rock, all female fronted, but all distinctly different, vying for my undivided attention. Check them out…

Haybaby – Blood Harvest EP
This power trio from Brooklyn are an intriguing mix of indie, grunge and sludge punk (whatever that may be) and last year’s ‘Sleepy Kids’ was one of my favourite albums of 2015. So, I was understandably excited to discover they had new music hitting the racks, and after managing to get an advance copy, was not disappointed. In fact, Leslie Hong and company have built on their loose style and added a little more bite on five scathing tunes stacked with cool bass grooves, histrionic guitar lines and massive riffs; not to mention the excellent vocals. Check out the killer ‘Kramer/Dreams’:

False Advertising – Brainless EP
Like Haybaby, False Advertising also released an album towards the end of 2015 and have followed it up with an EP less than six months later. In the case of Jen, Chris and Josh, who describe themselves as “twisted power grunge” and have a more nineties feel to their sound, it was a case of not only maintaining creative momentum but also dealing with some personal issues. As a result, their sound has also toughened up a little more, yet they still mange to include some killer hooks. What you get are five furiously energetic tunes that neatly blend punky grunge rock and angular indie with a touch of pop sensibility – frantic guitars with badass choruses. Here’s a snippet of their live show and the disturbing ‘Alopecia’.

Making Monsters – Bad Blood EP
This record won’t actually be released until the middle of next month, but the Northern Irish quartet are definitely ones to watch – whatever ‘it’ is, they’ve got it and I for one am loving it. Besides being blessed with a heavy alternative sound, bursting with top drawer guitar work and some really well constructed songs, in Emma Gallagher they have an exceptionally good vocalist of quite stunning versatility. This is a band that definitely stand out from the pack and there are plenty of moments on ‘Bad Blood’ that really nail it – watch this band rise.

Ben Watt
Like I said above, Ben’s new album, ‘Fever Dream’ is quite sublime, but I have also been revisiting the previous offering, ‘Hendra’ with some regularity of late. Both records are packed with quality songwriting, where the attention to the tiny details of everyday life manages to paint vivid pictures of loss and regret or love and relationships. The accompaniment from Bernard Butler is nothing short of superb and both albums make for a truly involving listen.

Here are a bunch of links to find out more about everything I’ve been going on about and maybe even purchase some the bands’ music at ridiculously low prices – some of the earlier releases may even be name your price!
http://haybabyband.com/
https://falseadvertising.bandcamp.com/
https://makingmonsters.bandcamp.com/
http://benwatt.com/

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Greys – Outer Heaven Review

v600_greys_outer_heaven_900Greys are a quartet from Toronto that have really come of age on their second album, ‘Outer Heaven’. They succeed in blending chaotic punk frenzy and expansive textures on ten well thought out tracks that are as engaging and reflective as they are furious and cleansing.

‘Cruelty’ begins with a slightly jarring intro and downbeat vocals, giving it a shoegazey feel, but the calmness is deceptive – the song is about a group of teenagers brutally killing their classmate – and is soon blown away by the rocky ‘No Star’. Another song inspired by last year’s Paris attacks, it’s punk rock vibe builds into an aggressive wrecking ball of wild abandon, the chaotic guitar sound pleasingly abrasive.

There’s plenty more where that came from too, ‘If It’s All The Same To You’ blends the expansive elements of their guitar sound with the aggressive approach, while the indie pop vocal melody makes for a catchy thrash around. ‘Blown Out’, which tackles the issue of depression within a relationship, has a similarly vibrant energy to the melody, though the dirty grunge riff and histrionic guitars hint at a deeper sense of disquiet.

There are multiple levels to this record and the band has succeeded in slipping all kinds of killer moments into its fabric. For instance, ‘Complaint Rock’ is pure punk rock and brilliant in its simplicity, but then an atmospheric interlude of crashing percussion and guitar lines offers some reflection before the bass kicks back in for a frenzied punk finale. On the other hand, ‘Strange World’ works in the opposite direction; the dreamlike opening of lazy chords and measured beats rolls along reflectively, while a background of feedback gives a slight air of disquiet that suddenly explodes with occasional bursts of screaming chaos – did not see that coming – it gets even more expansive and chilled thereafter, but a melancholy piano played over feedback finishes in style – sublime.

A particularly enjoyable aspect of this album is its variety, although they do have a kind of signature sound, they manage to explore different aspects of it in different ways. For example, ‘Erosion’, one of the standout tracks, takes a more measured approach, employing an atmospheric guitar sound, yet there’s a kind of urgency to the melody that takes a slightly darker feel as it progresses. Conversely, ‘Sorcerer’ is a furiously hard anger fueled track with a killer hook and a sludge punk feel, while ‘In For A Penny’ is upbeat and frenzied, but throws a curve ball with the twee melody of the midsection that is pure indie.

There is not one bad track on this record and it all draws to a somewhat disturbing finale on ‘My Life As A Cloud’. The use of a drum machine, in reference to the emptiness of technology, gives a dystopian feel to this atmospheric meandering and the long instrumental section rounds it all off with a real sense of disquiet, excellent stuff.

All in all, this is a cracker of an album – it’s punk, it’s rock, it’s indie, yet very individual sounding and infused with a sense of daring to the songwriting that gives it a freshness and energy that really set it apart. Superb.

9/10

‘Outer Heaven’ is out now and available here: http://store.carparkrecords.com/categories/greys

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw Review

kevin-morby-singing-saw-album-newIt’s well worth immersing yourself in the deeply textured reflections of ‘Singing Saw’, the third solo outing of atmospheric folk rock from ex Woods bassist (and The Babies front man) Kevin Morby. The Texan singer songwriter proves himself a prodigious talent on this highly enjoyable collection of songs packed with subtle details that punctuate the album with sublime moments of musical brilliance.

‘Cut Me Down’ gets things off to an atmospheric start, the laid back folky vibe and intimate sound accentuating the subtle guitar lines and bluesy acoustics, while ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’ follows in more upbeat style. There’s an easy funkiness to the bass line and a swirling quality to the acoustic riff that make for a hypnotic groove; throw in some percussion, layers of horns and backing vocals and we have a very cool track.

The first half of the album is probably the stronger; there’s a dark air to the stark acoustic guitar underpinning ‘Singing Saw’, which is one of the stand out tracks. It slowly builds to a mechanical drum sound and guitar licks and is an unhurried richly textured gem, the spidery solo adding to the atmospheric seven minute sound scape. ‘Drunk and On a Star’ follows with more unhurried beauty and some nice touches of orchestration.

There is a slight change in direction half way through with the up tempo rocky riffing and Jesus and Mary Chain-esque melody of ‘Dorothy’. It’s cool enough though, with plenty of nice touches of piano and horns between the lines. ‘Ferris Wheel’ is slightly laboured by comparison and is a bit of a mid album lull of piano led reflection.

Prior to the country style meanderings of album closer ‘Water’ we get a couple of mighty fine, albeit slightly quirky, songs in ‘Destroyer’ and ‘Black Flowers’. The mechanical melody of the former gains another dimension when the strings come in, the lilting violin superb, and when the horns enter it takes on a vibe of free jazz to contrast with the piano monotony. Meanwhile there is a slight Oriental feel to ‘Black Flowers’, its easy acoustic picking underscored by an almost jaunty rhythm – instrumentally speaking it’s really quite lovely, delicate drops of piano punctuating the song as it subtly increases in tempo, growing ever richer; excellent stuff.

On the whole this is a fine record from Morby; it is beautifully executed and has so many layers, yet also allows individual passages to stand out in breathtaking style. Well worth exploring deeply to get to know it intimately.

8.5/10

‘Singing Saw’ is out now.

http://deadoceans.com/artist.php?name=morbykevin

Nine Cover Versions That Are Cool As

The good old cover version, you gotta love it. Some are so ill advised that they’re cringeworthy – All Saints ruination of ‘Under The Bridge’ by the Chilis immediately springing to mind – but every now and again the cover becomes more famous or respected than the original. I mean, can Bob Dylan really say ‘Knockin on Heaven’s Door’ or ‘All Along The Watchtower’ are still his songs? One strange thing about covers is that when a pop band does a rock/alternative tune, a few notable exceptions aside, it’s more often a miss than a hit, whereas the opposite tends to be true; it’s probably a credibility thing I guess. Anyway, a good cover version involves paying tribute to the original while putting just enough of a twist on it to make it your own. There have been some surprisingly awesome (unlikely) cover versions over the years and here are a handful I particularly like. Check em out.

Jane’s Addiction – Sympathy
‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is such a quintessential Stones song that it borders on the untouchable, but on their live self-titled debut album Perry Farrell and Co. pretty much nail it. Their version of Velvet Underground‘s ‘Rock n Roll flows neatly into ‘Sympathy’, which fits Farrell’s voice perfectly, his unusual vocal style giving the track an intensity way beyond the woo-hoos. Throw in the understated guitar rhythms, Dave Navarro‘s scorching soloing and the rich percussion sound of bongos and tambourines that build to the final meltdown and we have a superb version of a classic on our hands. They actually did a second version a few years ago, and although it’s beautifully arranged and is a damn cool version of the song, it lacks the passion and intensity of their original cover.

Chris Cornell – I Will Always Love You
Watch this and try to not get goose bumps.

Florence & the Machine with Dizzee Rascal – You Got The Dirtee Love
There’s only one thing better than a good cover and that’s two good covers (Ok, one and a half) in a mash up! ‘You Got The Love’ has long been Florence’s own, the ‘Candi Staton’ original barely a memory, and Dizzee’s reworking/sampling of The Adventures of Stevie V classic ‘Dirty Cash (Money Talks)’ worthy of respect, but when the two came together for this unlikely collaboration, the Brit Awards were ecstatic and a partnership formed. A few other live performances followed its release as a single, which entered the UK charts at number 2, this version from Glastonbury being nothing short of amazing. Check it out.

Mary J Blige – One
The vocal performance on Mary’s own version, not the one with U2, is so sick that she totally wipes the floor with the original. It’s got so much power and emotion that Bono sounds bland by comparison (maybe because he is).

Stereophonics – Nothing Compares 2 U
The Prince penned heart breaker originally made famous by Sinead O’Conner got dusted off and reworked by the Stereophonics for an NME/Warchild compilation back in 2002. It stays true to the original, but Kelly Jones raspy voice adds an emotional edge to this already classic break up song. Pass the tissues.

Cake – I Will Survive
This version of the Gloria Gaynor banger has got it all; funny yet stylish with its own louche cool, pure genius.

Leona Lewis – Run
Radio One’s Live Lounge has thrown up all kinds of killer performances over the years and one of the most notable is Leona Lewis’ version of Run by Snow Patrol. Leona succeeds in taking it to a whole new level. Damn that girl can sing.

Disturbed – The Sound of Silence
Oh. My. God.
How powerfully epic can you get?
Awesome.

Homeless Mustard – Creep
Left me speechless.

Ben Watt – Fever Dream Review

Ben Watt Fever Dream PACKSHOT - HI RES AmazonOn 2014’s Hendra, Ben Watt rekindled his solo career with a deeply reflective album of hauntingly beautiful songs. The writing, recording and subsequent touring caused the singer-songwriter to rediscover his voice and helped open up a rich vein of creativity to produce a flurry of new songs.

The resulting album, ‘Fever Dream’, is a loosely conceptual voyage musing on the ever evolving complexities of love and relationships, purposely progressing from a hard edged, almost difficult, atmosphere to a lighter feel of hope as the album develops. It builds on the template of the previous outing, both stylistically and in terms of personnel; Bernard Butler once again contributing sublime guitar work, while new double bassist Rex Horan adds a little extra depth.

The first single ‘Gradually’ kicks off with atmospherically bluesy guitar lines from Butler and is a spacious slow burner with a hard edge. The textured layers of guitar build intensely to give a gorgeous richness to the sound as Ben fires off an emotive vocal performance. The title track, ‘Fever Dream’, follows with an acoustic melody and understated touches from Butler, who seems to be plucking notes out of the air with ease. M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger adds a subtle layer of vocals, while Watt seems to be stretching his voice a little more; an emotional edge also appearing on the brooding ‘Women’s Company’, with its killer hook to the chorus. Watt’s ability to work a hook is evident throughout the album, especially on the upbeat ‘Between Two Fires’, with its subtly shifting percussion, and on the otherwise melancholy atmosphere of ‘Winter’s Eve’.

The second half of the album is no less textured, but takes a noticeable turn towards a more relaxed vibe. ‘Faces of My Friends’ has rhythms reminiscent of Everything But The Girl and is a light but sophisticated pop song on how people’s lives intertwine as “We fall through the world like flakes of snow”. There is a similarly tropical feel to the rhythms of ‘Running With The Front Runners’, the double bass sound superb, though it contrasts sharply with the living on the edge lyrical content.

Watt has the ability to paint such vivid pictures with the everyday details of his words, ‘Bricks and Wood’ being a master class in simple yet descriptive story telling. Here he turns a drive to the (now ruined) family home into a reflection on the importance we attach to physical things, when it’s the untouchable memory that carries the warmth or pain. The song manages to retain that sense of hope underpinning the laid back reflection of previous track ‘Never Goes Away’, with its bluesy guitar licks and whispers of organ.

Although many of the songs capture a similar vibe, they are all distinctive in terms of style; none more so than closing track ‘New Year of Grace’. The delicate folk melody is spacious and airy, the guest vocal of Marissa Nadler providing beautiful accompaniment to this understated tale of enduring love. It’s a simple yet emotional note with which to finish.

The ten songs on offer here make for a quality listen, the space and richness to the sound with the altered tunings, reverb and blurred lines between the instrumental textures packed with sublime subtleties. As well as finding a little extra edge to his vocal, Ben Watt has once again proved himself a damn fine songwriter, repeated listens revealing ever more detail; in a nutshell – excellent.

9/10

Fever Dream is out now on Unmade Road through Caroline International.

Catch Ben, Bernard and Co. on tour during the coming months: http://benwatt.com/dates

Ben-Watt-Photo-by-Tom-Sheehan-2016-DSC_9292_b-MASTER