EP Review: Crashtactics – The Hawk Is Out

Review from Ben Forrester

As an avid follower of Manchester’s DIY scene, I was very keen to hear the first fruits of labour from Crashtactics, due to its founding members being prevalent within the North West’s alt-rock community. Guitarist Alex is the head of super good noisy rock label Superstar Destroyer Records and drummer Sion use to play in New Hips, one of the cities most brilliantly odd-ball math outfits. The duo have played on some pretty tasty line ups since their formation in 2015, bringing their teched out brand of math-rock across the city, and now they’re finally ready to present their debut EP ‘The Hawk Is Out‘.

On listening to this four track EP, it’s clear to hear the amount of effort that has gone into its creation. Every track has been maliciously crafted, featuring complex, sprawling structures that encompass an array of genres and their emotive qualities, from spaced out psych tendencies to pumped up metal inspired break downs. What is so apparent here is the attention to detail the band have put in and each track is full of these beautiful little flourishes that propel these compositions into new realms of sonic splendour.

Opening track ‘Williams‘ immediately straps you in, as a wonked out guitar and drum groove cuts in straight away, complete with a fuzzed up synth bass line to up its urgency. More synthed out sounds and effect drenched guitars saunter around these three key instruments, never disrupting the main melodic focus, subtly enhancing this ever building sense of intensity. This soon descends into this purely euphoric closing section, driven by uplifting yet chunky guitar chugs and a splash heavy drum beat that could well be one of the most uplifting beat downs you’ll hear this year.

The rest of this EP follows suit, with each track packed to the rafters with ideas and dynamic shifts to keep you on your toes. Compositionally speaking, there is very much this idea of starting in one place and ending up on a completely different planet by the end. But due to this very logical sense of songwriting, it never feels too indulgent and the band move ideas with style and grace. But of course, there’s plenty of madness on it. ‘Thayhil‘ is a definite highlight as it jumps from balls out shredding to this mega cosmic jazz meets shoegaze section before it goes into this descending, chaotic rocked out ending complete with wah-wah pedals and everything!

It has to be said that the production is super sharp and really helps bring some of the more instant riffs to the forefront whilst also bringing out the tightness of the playing, especially in drummer Sion who impressively flickers between jazz-like fills to super tight tech-metal beats in the blink of an eye. As mentioned previously, it’s the little touches that really makes this record blossom and I love tracks like ‘FDP‘ which incorporate vocals as an extra layer of snarl to the already frantic wall of riffs and soaring, delay-heavy noodling.

The Hawk Is Out‘ is a very promising debut indeed. What strikes me the most about it is how much confidence it carries and Crashtactics take no prisoners in presenting a record that is overflowing with grandiose thoughts and feelings. I don’t think you necessarily have to know its creators to know that this is a record made by nerds for nerds and I mean that in the most complimentary way; this is the best kind of organised chaos and you Math heads are gonna love it!

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Album Review: USA Nails – Shame Spiral

Review from Ben Forrester

USA Nails? As in a shop where you get yer nails done, yeah? NAH MATE! USA Nails are four good looking boys that make super gnarly noise-rock delivered with a punk snarl and filthy psyched out tendencies. They do not fuck about, mate. Their third LP ‘Shame Spiral‘ was written and recorded hot off the heals of their incredible second LP, ‘No Pleasure‘, which was full to the brim with noise-punk bangers. There’s been a couple of low key releases since then which have expertly continued their ferocious voyage into scuzz-rock, which leads to this new record becoming a very anticipated release indeed.

Shame Spiral keeps up the speed as it tears through 25 minutes of pummelling drums, screeching guitars, rumbling bass tones and seething vocals. Having said that, this record does focus a little less on frantic noise and more on the mind melting, psych-like undertones of their previous materials. Take opener ‘What Is the Price?‘ for example; it’s on the edge of an explosion but doesn’t quite get there. Instead it keeps you on your toes as it hypnotises you with a regimented rhythm section that could go off at any second. It’s this approach that actually gives USA Nails an element of danger to their sound, as you’re not quite sure where they’re going to go next. The answer is usually a burnt down flat on Kick Yer Head In Street just off Gross-Ville town center.

Elsewhere, the band give us straight up fist pumping punk like ‘Interchangeable Sister‘ and ‘The Robots‘, which mainly show off the sheer stamina of drummer Matt who’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach is utterly exhilarating throughout. Each member plays such an integral part to this band’s ruthless sound. There’s the inventively gnarly guitar sounds of guitarist Gareth, which keep you on yer toes from track to track, always an inch away from a brutal stabbing. Then you’ve the hypnotic bass tones of Dan, who follows Matt in making a controlled riot of sound, fuzzily solidifying the sheer punch of the percussion. And of course, wrapping it all up is the dry witted intensity of vocalist Steve, who flickers in-between sarcastic and menacing as he discusses everything from the importance of music in a physical format (‘Does Format Matter?) to the physical defects of getting old (‘I Give In) and pretty much everything else. There is no filter here, you are firmly inside this man’s head and it’s disturbing but hilarious.

Shame Spiral is another stupendously thrilling ride. It’s tighter, faster and more hypnotic. It sees the quartet locking into grooves as well as letting rip for some body relieving results. Ultimately, it cements USA Nails as an unstoppable force and the chemistry that these four players share together is undeniable. For those that don’t know. GET TO KNOW.

Read all about the inspirations behind Shame Spiral

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Live Review: Minus The Bear & Joan Of Arc at Gorilla in Manchester 1 June 2017

Review from Ben Forrester

For those that like their indie-rock on the more angular, emo side then this bill is sure to make your mouth slowly fill with saliva. Seattle’s twiddle pop heroes Minus The Bear are back on our shores for a full on UK/Euro tour in support of their superb new collection of power pop hits ‘VOIDS‘. Joining them on this tour is only bloody Joan Of Arc! Featuring members of Chicago’s cult emo scene, the Tim Kinsella fronted collective have been pushing the boundaries of wonky pop music for over 20 years now! So yeah, as you can imagine I am very much looking forward to this double bill of excellence tonight at Gorilla.

As Joan Of Arc have such a huge and varying back catalogue, I was very interested as to how they would present this 45 minute slot to us. Basically, they give it a little bit of everything and it’s totally chaotic in a totally great way. They play some twiddly emo stuff, they play some super noisy, drone stuff and of course we get a fair amount of the oddball alt-pop that consumes their bonkers new record ‘He’s Got The Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands. I’ve been dipping in and out of this record since its January release and found myself absorbed in its sonic intensity, so it’s ace to hear tracks like ‘Smooshed That Cocoon‘ and ‘This Must Be The Placenta‘ played out in pure raucous fashion tonight.

Their live set is just so engaging; You never know what Tim Kinsella is going to do next and it’s this on-your-toes attitude that is very entertaining to watch. He rocks back and forth on stage, dancing and leaping around fully immersed in his performance. Bassist Bobby Burg jumps from the front to the back of the stage with such conviction in his step, while drummer Theo Katsaounis keeps it all locked in with some super strength rhythms that drives throughout the set.

I was hoping for some weirdness from tonight and Joan Of Arc didn’t disappoint, totally proving their worth as one of America’s most original and exciting art-rock outfits.

From the moment tonight’s headliners Minus The Bear stroll on stage, the hits do not stop coming. They rip through 18 songs spanning their 15 year career, each song greeted with big grins and heartfelt sing a longs aplenty. Although their sound has altered over the years, MTB know how to pen the perfect pop hit and it’s really cool to hear their progression as they flicker between the youthfully exuberant twiddles of ‘Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse‘ to the mature pop sparkles of ‘Last  Kiss‘.

I’ve really taken to the band’s latest record VOIDS recently and it’s been on constant rotation in the run up to the show, so I am particularly pumped that the band treat us to a big portion of the record. From the powerful pop prowess of ‘Tame Beasts‘ and ‘Invisible‘ to the albums more poignant, prettier moments like ‘Call The Cops‘ and ‘What About The Boat?‘, MTB prove that their latest material is some of their most vital.

Of course, Minus The Bear fans are a dedicated bunch and the quintet are happy to oblige in some select cuts from their near faultless back catalogue. Tracks like ‘White Mystery‘ and ‘The Game Needed Me‘ get a huge response! There’s a few younger lads in front of me going mental, granted they keep stepping on my toes but hey, with songs this banging, I don’t blame em!

Minus The Bear are a super tight live band and although I enjoy the crisp production of their records, there is something quite eurphoric about the more amped up live sound they have. You can’t help but move to it. Everyone in the room is totally in awe of how solid this band are and their humble demeanour is inspiring. This band show they’ve not slowed down since they began and judging by tonight’s triumphant set, they would not have it any other way!

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Album Review: Employed To Serve – The Warmth Of A Dying Sun

Review from Ben Forrester

I’m gonna start this review with a bold statement; Employed To Serve are the best heavy band in the UK in recent years. Their debut album ‘Greyer Than You Remember‘ was a crushing as fuck collection of doomy riffs and hardcore breakdowns with a death-metal intensity that blew my head off back in 2015.

Needless to say that the announcement of a second album earlier this year got me very excited. Lead single ‘I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away)‘ heightened my anticipation to the max, boasting the best head banging riff EVER and a breakdown that was so brutal it made me want to put my head through my computer screen! So yeah, as you can imagine, I am going into this new album with the highest of expectations!

As expected, this record fucking rips! It retains all the elements of its predecessor but pushes them further, which makes for an even more earth shattering piece that is equal parts epic and hammering. Although opening track ‘Void Ambition‘ starts off with some techy guitars and lightning bolt drumming, there seems to be a more general sense of control with the writing on here, and the band really let the riffs and breakdowns pummel into your ears.

Of course, each tune is packed with tons of ideas and dramatic shifts (‘Lethargy‘ is the most wonderful head fuck of a track) but I think that there has been more of a conscious effort to make some head-banging bangers, which I’m all for. In allowing this, the band make for some of their heaviest onslaughts yet, from the snarling, gnarly riffage of ‘Platform 89‘ to the gut punching, vomit inducing beat-down of ‘Good For Nothing‘.

The second half of the record taps into the bands more melodic, expansive side with tracks like ‘The Warmth Of A Dying Sun‘ and ‘Half Life‘ coming to the most euphoric and climactic conclusion, while closing track ‘Apple Tree‘ acts as their most ballad-like moment to date. It combines beautiful clean vocals and spoken word to finish the album in the most devastatingly beautiful way. I think they’ve tapped into another side of their heaviness on this track and it’s very intriguing to see if this is something they expand on in the future.

The Warmth Of A Dying Sun sees Employed To Serve angrier and heavier for some gloriously furious results. It goes in harder and deeper than before, taking them up to new realms of power and cements my early statement of them being the UK’s most powerful proposition in heavy music right now.

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Album Review: Tricot – 3

Review from Ben Forrester

Tricot have been Kyoto’s best kept secret since 2010. Although they’ve made considerable waves in their homeland of Japan, the rest of the world had been oblivious to their razor sharp brand of twiddle-pop. In spring of last year, the three-piece made a trip to these shores and knocked everyone for six with their tight as fuck live show. So, it makes total sense that labels such as Big Scary Monsters and Top Shelf have gotten on board in order to distribute their first official global release, their third long player ‘3‘.

For those that have delved into Tricot’s back catalogue, 3 will act as a welcoming hug from an old friend as they intricately blend math-rock with K-pop to stunning effect. There is just no denying the amount of ear worm hooks that they throw into their tunes. From the mile a minute blast off of ‘Tokyo Vampire Hotel‘ to the groove-pop pomp of ‘Yosoiki‘, Tricot write melodies that really soak into your skin. It’s great to hear previous EP track ‘Setsuyakuka‘ make an appearance, with a super pumped drum track ready to make you sweat. Oh and the chorus on this track is catchy as hell! Even though I’m not very versed in the native tongue in which they sing, vocalist Ikkyu has an irresistibly sweet voice that packs a punch when needed.

Although I’d say that this record is mostly full of straight up math-pop bangers, Tricot do explore their sonic palettes a little further with some more dynamically interesting ideas. Current single ‘DeDeDe‘ begins with an almost lounge style introduction, before ascending into this more angular passage which eventually bursts into a beautifully melodic chorus. ‘Sukima‘ takes on a more jazz like vibe, with ride heavy drums and a silky smooth interaction between the guitar and bass slinking around each other seductively. ‘Pork Ginger‘ is a definite highlight and key example of their dynamic switch ups, as it floats around crisp guitar chords and a spaced out rhythm section to then cut into the most infectious and urgent chorus on the album. It’s hard not to have a big grin across your face when it kicks in.

There’s a lot of fun to be had here and you’ll be hard pressed to not crack a smile at the e-number induced buzz of ‘Namu‘ or the perfectly uplifting fuzz of breezy closing track ‘Melon Soda‘. Tricot are a band that care a lot about making music that makes you want to dance and they understand that international fans like me may find it hard to understand the lyrical themes of their music, which is why the melodic and instrumental aspects of their sound are full of life, passion and colour.

3 will act as the most perfect introduction for people who have yet to embrace the brilliance of this band, while old hands are going to fall in head over heels for this energetic and uplifting set. Tricot truly deliver the goods here and cement themselves as exceptional musicians, songwriters and, most importantly, an unstoppable unit.

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Album Review: Weirds – Swarmculture

Review from Ben Forrester

I will always champion the bands that try something different. A band that take their influences and flip them on there head. Leeds based quartet Weirds do exactly that. They take big, bulky, sludgy guitars and mix them with this sci-fi synth pop vibe that takes Space-Rock into totally new realms. On their debut album, accurately titled ‘Swarmculture‘, Weirds want to take you on an exploration into this new world that they’ve discovered.

It took me a while to get past opening track ‘Things That Crawl‘, simply because it is a planet imploding opener! Once that riff kicks in, there is no going back – there is so much power behind it and I can imagine a gust of wind viciously blowing through my hair as it pumps out of a PA in a sweaty little venue. It’s a clear indication on what this album is; big, cosmic and groovy.

Recent singles ‘Valley of Vision‘ and ‘Phantom‘ are brilliant slices of space-pop, full of thick guitars and drum thrashing in the choruses with urgent bass driven verses that make you wanna stick your neck out. I think a lot of fans of that early 90’s indie-dance scene will relate to this record, especially if you like the darker, pyschier moments of early Primal Scream and New Order. I’ve always been a fan of accented vocals and front man Aidan lets his northern drawl loose throughout, which I reckon will appeal to fans of that whole Madchester scene.

The first half of the record is big on the riffs (try not headbanging at the start of ‘Old World Blues‘) but it’s on the second half that Weirds go deeper sonically. Whether it’s the psych-kraut pomp of ‘Weird Sun‘ or the brooding indie pop balladry of ‘Crows‘, Weirds do a good job to cover all bases here. They find new ways to be heavy and instead of riffing out, they just let the fuzz ring out and use synths to elevate their sound to new stratosphere’s; ‘Salamander’s Sister‘ is the best display of this and is a reminder of how far out this band can go.

Ultimately, Swarmculture is a really exciting album. I remember a friend of mine going to see them recently, not knowing what to expect and they came out shouting ‘well, that was exactly what I needed‘ (Sounds familiar – Ed). And that is the exact sentiment I had with this album. I expected the unexpected and came out of it ready to run to the moon and back! This is a hefty debut, powerful in its execution with a sky’s the limit attitude. Leave your safety blankets at home and prepare to embrace Weirds.

Listen to singles from ‘Swarmculture’ in our Now Playing Spotify Playlist!

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EP Review: Gun Shy – The Long Dance

Review from Ben Forrester

On their debut EP ‘First Transmission‘, Gun Shy made quite the impression on the alt-punk world with a swirling mix of emo, punk, post-rock and grunge. Although it was quite an abrasive collage of sounds, the four-piece really pulled it off with a good grasp of dynamics and structure. It was one of those records that made you go ‘what was that?‘ and I think that’s why it resonated so well with the underground rock scene because it was a breath of fresh air.

So here we are 12 months on and Gun Shy return with their next instalment ‘The Long Dance‘. Clocking in at 21 minutes and featuring 7 tracks, just on its length alone, this makes me think that the band are gonna go even further down the rabbit hole here. And to be fair, I would say that was a fair assumption to have made.

Although it’s still as varied and dynamic as its predecessor, Gun Shy have made a more conscious effort to bring a stronger sense of melody and have sharpened up their songwriting skills here. ‘Test You Like Gold‘ reminds me a bit of a Brand New track, with that hazy yet regimented verse groove before going into this fuzzy chorus with an ear worm hook. It’s emo as fuck but it’s deliciously melancholic. The title track also carries a very nostalgic tone, jumping in between grunged out scuzz and beautiful post-emo sparkles. It feels a bit more coherent than previous material and the songs seem like they have more of an identity.

Although the band do indulge in that loud/quiet dynamic pretty much throughout the EP, they do keep it straight on tracks like ‘Whilst You Execute‘, which is a proper angular-punk party banger while ‘Holding Onto Nothing‘ is an atmospheric post-rock inspired moment of solitude. But there is no denying the bands knack of switching up mood within a track to sky scraping effect, the last 40 seconds of ‘In Perfect Silent‘ providing the best WTF moment on here!

The Long Dance is another unapologetically emotional and passionate piece that hits hard with a sincere delivery. Gun Shy are an innovative modern punk band and it’s this totally fearless attitude that they take to making music that makes them an extremely promising prospect in the UK scene right now. Don’t be shy now.

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