Album Reviews

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Agent Cooper

Russian Red

Sony Music Norway

Looks can be deceiving when it comes to ‘Agent Cooper’, the new album from the enigmatically named Russian Red. Behind the exterior lies real name Lourdes Hernández who is one of Spain’s biggest names with an indie rock influence mixed with a deep knowledge of pop music; just don’t expect anything bordering on the mainstream, as suggested by the front cover, because, as mentioned earlier, looks can be… In fact, the whole album is caked in mystery from the cryptic album title to the “look twice in order to see it” ingenious song titles, which could be a reference to a number of past relationships set in chronological order to give the narratives a sense of history to the point of meeting their sell by dates. Musically, the songs are given the same quality control, despite being a touch more immediate than their song titles suggests. The glorious sweeping chorus of opener ‘Michael P’ intoxicates the senses and leaves a lump in the throat with its protestations, “I get so lonely when you’re gone”. Even better, however, is the 80s tinged ‘John Michael’ with its fusion of guitars and keyboards that brings to mind the solid album efforts the likes of The Psychedelic Furs used to include in their works. ‘Casper’ is directed by some fine guitar work that takes a moment to breathe once Russian Red applies the brakes with sumptuous vocals to offer serious reflection on, no doubt, a relationship that turned sour. Triumphing over all, however, is the early minimalist beats and fragile vocal of ‘Xabier’ that almost lasts the distance before crumbling under the weight of its own revelations to the backdrop of guitars set to shoegaze. Russian Red has delivered the package ‘Agent Cooper’ which, if you choose to accept, can be found under the code word: SUBLIME.


Released Out now

 

Blank Project

Neneh Cherry

Warner Music Norway

It has been a while since the days of single ‘Buffalo Stance’ and subsequent album ‘Raw Like Sushi’ that really propelled the name Neneh Cherry into the pop consciousness. It comes as a surprise, therefore, that one of the former musical arrangers on Massive Attack’s ‘Blue Lines’, that saw both Robert Del Naja and Andrew Vowles returning the favour by contributing to the aforementioned ‘Raw Like Sushi’, is making a comeback with new release ‘Blank Project’. The wait, in fact, has been sixteen years for Neneh Cherry’s latest solo album that is a collaboration with RocketNumberNine and features a guest vocal by Robyn. Considering the lengthy gestation of this current project, the album itself was recorded and mixed within a mere five days under the watchful eye of producer Four Tet. What transpires is a ten-track album that is often minimalist in its approach and recalling the former ‘Blue Lines’ days with the seriously stripped-back instrumentation of ‘Across The Water’ and dark electronica of the title track, that could have been a candidate for the Bristolians’ ‘Mezzanine’ album. Despite the title suggesting a project void of purpose, the reality is far from it as ‘Blank Project’ attempts to make sense of a number of personal issues and tragedies, as well as the everyday; hence the sparseness and loose creativity throughout, giving the impression of a greatly improvised body of work and one that is distinctly Neneh Cherry due to its insistence on following its own set of rules no matter the rest of the competition. ‘Blank Project’ is a challenging album creatively, and one that makes for persuasive listening.


Released 21 February

 

The Scheen

The Scheen

Artistpartner Records

The Scheen’s debut album finally gets to see daylight after last year’s single release ‘I Am I’. Possessing a front figure that is well known for last year’s participation in NRK’s Stjernekamp, now last year’s chip paper, as The Scheen is an altogether different proposition with its roots firmly set in an indie rock sound. Despite having an ace in their pack when it comes to vocal duties in the form of Atle Pettersen, it would be a great disservice to suggest that The Scheen is anything other than a promotional vehicle to aid Pettersen’s progression as The Scheen is a properly assembled outfit comprising of Tobias Ørnes Andersen, Robin Ognedal, Rein Blomquist and Nickolas Main Henriksen who have been together for some considerable time and, in the process, built up a wealth of experience on the live circuit. With such a longstanding relationship between this five-piece band from Skien (Norway), it is little wonder that first album offering ‘The Scheen’ sounds anything other than accomplished. The impressive opening strum of bass and guitars coupled with Atle’s compelling vocal pulls the listener in from the off with lyrics suggesting an off-kilter relationship with the daily grind of everyday living. If that wasn’t enough, then the pounding beat and fitful sounding guitars holding together ‘I Am I’ really excels with its gritty edge and interspersions of electronica. Despite its glum title, ‘Nothing To Win’ opens the door to a pop influence with an irresistible chorus that reeks of next single contender, which could easily be bestowed to its near neighbour with the sweeping melodic indie rock of ‘The Race’. For the moment, current single ‘Run’ is given that honour and is every bit powerful in its delivery as it is anxious with a concluding tempo giving the impression of chasing down endless empty avenues. The Scheen’s qualities lie in their ability to provide a balanced album that is one moment full of intricacies (‘Sleep In Silence’), revealing the band’s hidden depths, and the other more immediate with the uplifting feel of ‘Ghost’ being a prime example. As far as debut albums go, The Scheen just got off to a very good start.


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Wilt & Rise

Vales

Fist In The Air & 6131 Records

Having formed in Cornwall during 2011 under the name Veils before deciding to make the switch to Vales, this British four piece are set to release their long-awaited album ‘Wilt & Rise’ on Fist In The Air & 6131 Records. Being described as angst-filled screamo and aggressive hardcore, such descriptions are highly appropriate when hearing the frantic vocal and guitars of opening bow ‘Dead Wood’ and equally relentless in its outpourings ‘Scripted’ that really sets ‘Wilt & Rise’ on a choppy course of emotions. For our money though, it’s the fluctuating pulse between the coarse vocals, which are close to bursting, and guitar breaks during the contemplative ‘Open Arms’ that is paired appropriately with the deep breath of ‘Survival’ that takes a tumble for the worse during its climax, that really compels the most. ‘Katrina’ displays another facet to the band with its restrained approach and icy guitar strings that is greeted by the immediate punk edges of ‘Branches’ which once more offers a bout of reflection when grinding out its sound. The wait has been truly worthwhile as ‘Wilt & Rise’ is an honest account of a band battling against a tide of emotions that looks set to continue.


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The History Of Music: A Mosaic

A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen

Jezus Factory Records

If you want to the know the definition of commercial suicide when the record company execs call for your next offering to be laden with hit material, then ‘The History Of Music: A Mosaic’ is unlikely to do you any favours. Whether the end results were down to a large quantity of pharmaceuticals consumed, coupled with a gifted ability to piece together or perhaps unpick the expansive sound collage throughout, then only A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen possess the answer to any concerns regarding the first query as there are no doubts concerning their musicianship. Difficult when trying to sit and consume this record in one sitting, but brilliant when the intricate details start to reveal themselves, the second full-length album by A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen is a sprawling mass of post-rock and psychedelic experimentation with elements of free-form jazz that, when melded together, gives the impression of musical post-it notes, if there were such a thing, placed in no particular order but somehow this absence of any form of direction functions with apparent ease. For those looking for an accessible point, however, then ‘Floyd Is Warped’ is as good as any with its stone-cold drum pattern, buzzing guitar that later becomes more animated, before heading into flashes of white noise and suitably followed by the complexities inside of  ‘Yellow’ that shows off the band’s expertise, especially when guiding interludes of awe-inspiring feedback.  ‘The History Of Music: A Mosaic’ is definitely not a record for everyone, but it is one that is welcome for its persistence in testing boundaries and general lack of conformity to any given rules, which is fast becoming a scarce commodity in the current state of things.


Released Out now

 

Universe

Truckfighters

Fuzzorama Records / Sony Music Norway

Coming on the back of very high praise indeed from Josh Homme of QOTSA fame along lines of, “Probably the best band that ever existed”, Truckfighters duly repay such faith with an album chockfull of stoner rock straight from Sweden. Consisting of seven tracks, which is probably wise considering some of its contents sprawling mini-epics – the excellent chiming guitar signature of ‘The Chairman’ that is pepped up further with a robust undercurrent – ‘Universe’ marks the fourth long player from this Swedish three piece. With songs often rotating around driving rhythms which appear similar in nature yet reveal themselves to be something completely different after several sittings, Truckfighters open up in style with the blustery ‘Mind Control’ and aforementioned ‘The Chairman’ before leaving it up to the multi-layered ‘Get Lifted’ to truly stretch its wings and reveal the band’s skilful musicianship and further creative talents. The name Truckfighters has just got that much bigger as ‘Universe’ is a deeply rich and, on occasions, complex record that deserves to be heard.


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DISN30LAND AF30R D30K

D-A-D

Mermaid Records

With clever use of words to indicate the milestone Danish ‘cowpunk’ rockers D-A-D has reached with 30 Years 30 Hits, such longevity is duly rewarded with this accolade consisting of a double CD with tracks spanning from the band’s initial beginnings in 1987 to the present. The secret to D-A-D’s enduring appeal lies in their ironic play on words and mix of melodic and (often) hard-edged rock that is at its peak with the wild and savage ‘Marlboro Man’, psychobilly influenced ‘Isn’t That Wild’ and the more considered ‘A New Age Moving In’. There is, however, much to absorb here with a more mainstream yet nonetheless compelling ‘It’s After Dark’ revealing a penchant for pop music, to the ‘raising a smile’ and defiance of lead vocalist Jesper Binzer’s ‘I Won’t Cut My Hair’. DISN30LAND AF30R D30K is a compilation to be rightly celebrated and not interpreted as a parting farewell as these albums sometimes suggest because there is definitely more to come from D-A-D when considering the depth and quality of this 30 year landmark.


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Sirene

Skambankt

Sony Music Norway

Hailing from Jærland in Rogaland, Norway, Skambankt offer a subtle version of hard rock that is more Queens of the Stoneage than Queensrÿche. The immediate impact ‘Anonyme hatere’, with its driving guitars, sets out ‘Sirene’ as a serious  record that has visited one or two dark places considering a few of the titles on offer. Look no further than the pounding rhythm of ‘Voodoo’ or ‘Sort blod’, that wouldn’t sound out of place in terms of the current renaissance The Cult is experiencing overseas, to understand where Skambankt is coming from. Despite early signs indicating a touch of the sameness, it is left to the gradual ascent and ethereal qualities of ‘Gamle spøkelser’ to set a different course, which is duly followed by the rugged exterior of ‘Sånne som deg’ with its welcome interchanging vocals, before being consumed by the dark shroud that is ‘Ulv, ulv’. With an imminent winter tour, the songs making up ‘Sirene’ will definitely prosper in a live setting, but overall, there is too much familiarity to suggest that Skambankt’s latest effort is breaking any new ground despite containing noticeable strengths.


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Full Skull

Bent Life

Fist In The Air & 6131 Records

With a high volume of live dates planned throughout 2014, Lincoln, Nebraska’s Bent Life is more than prepared for such a lengthy schedule judging by the powerhouse that is latest album ‘Full Skull’. Thundering out of the traps is title track ‘Full Skull’, setting the tone with its pulsating guitar assault and met by the intriguing complexities and bullish manner of ‘Bricks’, only for all to be consumed by the cavernous and more primitive bellow that is ‘Unlearn’. There is no doubt that the contents of ‘Full Skull’ will be equally at home when in a live setting, as there is a suggestion of a looseness to the recordings, despite the technical efficiencies on display, that will probably usher in moments of improvisation, which can only be a good thing. At full throttle, Bent Life is leading the overseas charge when it comes to a hardcore sound.


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Fly Toward The Sun EP

Swan Dive

Day By Day & Fist In The Air Records

With preconceptions high of yet more punk noises judging by the photographic images accompanying the press release, Swan Dive’s ‘Fly Toward The Sun’ EP comes as a massive surprise and one that is more than welcomed. Comprising of members of More Than Life, Dead Swans and Last Witness, Swan Dive deliver four tracks awash in a haze of shoegaze and mild grunge bringing to mind a host of bands that littered the music scene during the 90s. Lead song ‘Toward The Sun’ is instantly appealing with its wavering guitars and fuzzy vocals that reveal a narrative that is in a state of flux. ‘Dirtbag’ is more of the same but with a midsection that sees guitars wonderfully cascading before levelling out once more. The finale is beautiful as it is bleak and riding on a wave of singular guitar and deeply forlorn vocal that is cast adrift.  With a busy scheduled planned for 2014, Swan Dive could be this year’s surprise ticket judging by the sheer quality of ‘Fly Toward The Sun’.


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High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia

‘High Hopes’ is business as usual for Bruce Springsteen that sees his loyal crew the E Street Band and a return for Ron Aniello on production duties helping to make this latest effort a worthy successor to the excellent ‘Wreaking Ball’ (2012). Where this album differs, however, is the inspired decision to involve Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who provided cover for the Australian leg of Springsteen’s tour last year. Such is the influence of Morello – providing guitar almost throughout and a duet with the Boss on ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ – that Springsteen was moved to say that; “Tom and his guitar became my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level”. High praise indeed that also applies to the rest of the ensemble, as Springsteen continues to mine a rich vein of form by reworking a few ideas as well as providing covers. It’s Morello’s guitar signature that sets the wheels in motion during title track ‘High Hopes’, as it echoes in and out and supported by a bustling rhythm that is punctuated with brass instrumentation before stumbling into the gangsters occupying the streets of the mild funk of ‘Harry’s Place’. ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ is memorable for its infectious rhythm but also the street politics at its centre, whereas ‘The Wall’ is equally affecting for its personal memory of a departed friend lost in action in Vietnam but also for its delicate delivery. Despite all the success and financial gain, Bruce Springsteen continues to remain true to his beliefs in the blue-collar worker and genuinely cares for those who remain marginalized as latest album ‘High Hopes’ reflects.


Released January 27

 

Bedfellows: The Forgotten Daughter EP

Bastions

Holy Roar Records

Just when you think you have heard it all before, up pops an absolute belter of an EP with much depth and creativity to suggest there is considerable mileage left in the tank when it comes to a vastly populated scene that is post-hardcore (add your own definition here). The band responsible for this vehement and at times diverse collection of songs is Bastions, who bring the curtain down on their Bedfellows concept with second instalment ‘The Forgotten Daughter’. Whether it’s the restrained qualities of the brooding ‘Empty Vessel’ with its forlorn subject matter that is instantly mopped up by the raw and breakneck intensity of ‘Foreign Bodies’ to the chaotic shrill of ‘The Water Tower’, Bastions appear to be offering (appropriately) their final thoughts on a deeply sensitive area before confining it to history. The final statement, however, is left to the threadbare opening of ‘Murmuring’ with its admission “I’ve got it so good, I’m lying to myself” that runs a little too close for comfort due to having more than a ring of truth about it. On the strengths of this EP, the next recorded output from Bastions is going to be a tantalising prospect indeed.



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