Album Review: Ty Segall – First Taste

Bar one year out of eleven, Ty Segall has been annual in his album release output. This is not to mention all the other bands, collabs and EP’s he’s put out in between, the man is a machine. For the past three years we’ve had a new record every January, but following last year’s mammoth 19 track effort ‘Freedom’s Goblin‘ you can excuse Ty for taking a little more time to deliver album number 11.

I purposely avoided all teasers for ‘First Taste‘ in an attempt to get the full album listening experience, which I’m glad I did because this is a really engulfing listen. Opening track ‘Taste‘ is an electrifying start, mixing fuzzy synths, buzzing bass, bustling percussion, not to mention some soaring vocal work setting the tone for this unpredictable ride.

We all know that Ty is a jack of all trades and it’s fair to say a master of all, but I think the main takeaway I’ve gotten from his records is his vocals and his riffs. If you want shredding both from the fingers and the throat then Mr Segall is the man, but what I like on this record is the focus on the rhythm section with a lot of tracks zooming in on bass licks and percussion. You just can’t help but be suckered into the grooves of ‘I Worship The Dog‘ and ‘Whatever‘ and as always, the sonics throughout the record are full of psych inspired twists that sound bonkers in the right headphones.

But of course, Ty still flexes all his musical muscles, with ‘Ice Plant‘ acting as a beautifully yearning accapella track, while closing track ‘Lone Cowboys‘ sees him shredding on an acoustic guitar for this fun Middle Eastern inspired folk tune. In fact, that Middle Eastern feel does creep into the album, especially on the sitar driven riff of ‘Radio‘, I get the feeling that Ty has been listening to ‘Revolver’ during the making of this LP. The Beatles have always been a clear influence, but instead of honing in on their pop sensibilities like everyone else, Ty seems to be looking into how they expanded sonically which is why I hear a few deep Harrison cuts referenced on ‘First Taste‘. But of course, this is just one of many references as this draws inspiration from so much with a strong synth enhanced feel pulsating through its core.

Whereas his predecessor felt like Ty trying to display as many different genres across one record (a bit like a jukebox), ‘First Taste‘ feels more like an album despite its eclecticism. Every track seems to come from the same idea of taking you through a journey of sorts and it sounds cliche as hell, but this isn’t your usual bold as brass guitar rippers – this is more of a head fuck and a glorious one at that. If you dug the experimental nature of 2016’s ‘Emotional Mugger’ then you’ll certainly get on with this. This album is to be digested slowly and with this comes grand rewards, as our lord and saviour delivers another chapter of what will be his holy grail.

(Photo Credit: Denée Segall)

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Live Review: COWTOWN at Soup Kitchen in Manchester 26 July 2019

Chances are you’ve noticed the heat has been rising these past couple of weeks. Constant sweaty brow, fashionable armpit patches and singed forearm hair have been this month’s go-to looks for most. They even let us wear shorts in the office the other day (can you imagine?)

It’s Friday night in Manchester and thankfully, whilst the sun has still got its hat on, it’s at least dropped the temperature a bit to make doing anything other than breathing manageable. It’s something we’re grateful for, given we’re down in the basement of Soup Kitchen in Manchester’s Northern Quarter for the return of COWTOWN.

Ahead of them, TONSILS from Belgium were a pleasant set-up for what was to come. We managed to squeeze into the room to catch their last moments, the quintet tucking into ‘Around’ from their last EP. As it started to spit outside, it felt nice to have their lo-fi pop wash over us in the cool basement, the song building from great twinkling pop beginnings to a loud, grin-inducing crescendo.

Well-oiled would be a good descriptor for COWTOWN. Staples of the DIY scene in Leeds and with a number of records under their collective belts over the past decade, they’ve never been ones to disappoint, particularly in a live setting. Heavy on the DEVO vibes, no complaints.

Personal favourite ‘Ski School’ comes out early, a hot piece from their 2013 record ‘Dudes vs. Bad Dudes’ that sounds joyous. It’s from the same record that we get the spiky, kraut-y ‘Monotone Face’, notable for the brilliant robotic monotone voice adopted by Hilary on the synth.

David does an excellent Rick Moranis…” We’re told following an onstage chat about Ghosbusters. Whilst we’d have to take guitarist Nash’s word for it, there’s no denying the chops of the drummer, cooking up a rock hard backing behind Nash and Hilary, holding an intense stare-off with the latter during the build of ‘Castleman’, whilst Nash channels his inner John Dwyer, his guitar squeaking and howling.

Having dished out thanks for everyone behind the show and the “extremely polite audience”, COWTOWN get heads nodding and feet moving on the poppy ‘Emojicore’, closer from their last album ‘Paranormal Romance’. It’s fitting that DEVO played immediately after the last note, given the synth-heavy nod from the trio to their American forefathers.

Following thunder and lightning and hot hot heat throughout the week, this felt like a necessary palate cleanser for the mind. We’d have this every week if possible.

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Album Review: Grey Hairs – Health & Social Care

I get it. You’re busy. You’ve got bills to pay and chores and a job and people who depend on you. You’re in a hurry, understandably, so the short version is that you should go get ‘Health & Social Care‘, the third full-length record by a Nottingham-based quartet of music veterans named Grey Hairs. It’s real good.

If you’ve got a bit more time before you clock in or finish your break or pick up the kids – or if you need more convincing because money’s tight – then the first thing I want you to know is that Grey Hairs make the kind of great big rock records that you need. ‘Hydropona’, the first song on ‘Health & Social Care’, opens with broken speaker fuzz and feedback-y guitar noise paired with a trudging beat and bass line, huge and slow. It builds, getting more and more tense and oppressive – like the work week, and your dwindling bank balance – for a long while. Then after about a minute and a half the music switches to this massive riff with a rock-n-roll vocal to match. Appropriately, the first word on the record is a long and heartfelt “YEAAAAAAH!

Can you remember the last time you shouted yeah like that? You know, when you were overcome with a sense of how great your life is? Or when, with a sheer act of will, you pushed aside all the drudgery to make yourself feel pure delight? I think you and I both know that it’s been a while, no offense. Most people aren’t in that headspace that often, especially if you set aside music and drug-related experiences. Lots of people think they can duck out from under society’s arms of control that try to stop what we do. Yet we mostly all end up busy with bills and chores and bosses and the slow accumulation of aches and pains – and let’s not even get into regrets and might have beens.

It all adds up after a while and maybe you start to wonder “How will I get out of this?” as Grey Hairs ask in a big gang vocal on the album’s third track ‘Ghost In Your Own Life’. It might be “Get over this”, I don’t have a copy of the album’s lyrics. Either way, it’s an arresting lyric, and this is the kind of record where you want to know all the words so you can belt it out with them. And if you don’t know the words you’ll probably say fuck it and sing along anyway because the band is wicked charismatic.

Ghost In Your Own Life” answers its how question first with a searing howl of “I can not do it!” (If you’ve never felt that way then you’re probably a psycho or a Tory MP; please know that you’re not included whenever a human being says ‘we’). This is one of the many reasons we need music, which all correct-thinking people know is the very best art form. Music dramatises the hard times in a way that makes us feel a connection to other people. It helps us remember that even when we don’t know how, as Grey Hairs answer their how question a second time around: “You and I will get over this!

Grey Hairs have made me wonder, and I say this in complete seriousness, if maybe music itself is a form of health and care (fund the arts, like the NHS, for the health of us all). ‘Health & Social Care’ is a middle-aged weight-lifter, making something of herself because she’s worth it, and making you want to do the same. ‘Health & Social Care‘ sounds like the process of rising above, without denying how much work it took to do so. ‘Health & Social Care’ stares the hard times in the face until they flinch and back down. ‘Health & Social Care’ is a group of friends laughing and drinking to the memory of another friend who is gone.

We need great big rock records as an antidote to the ways the world makes us feel small. ‘Health & Social Care‘ is a mood-lifting good time of a great big rock record that will make you want to yell yeah a lot more often, and make you really mean it, which we all deserve.

(Photo Credit: James-Finlay)

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Album Review: Russian Circles – Blood Year

Russian Circles are arguably one of the most consistent instrumental bands around. For a band that have been going for the best part of 15 years, they have kept their album and touring cycles tightly wound. Not only do the trio deliver consistently strong full lengths, but their live show is still a vitalising spectacle to behold. Some critics claim that the Chicago based outfit tend to stick with what they know and haven’t really evolved too much sonically but to them I say; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Russian Circles have worked hard to create their winning formula, so it makes total sense that they’d stick to it.

Not only do they have a winning formula in terms of sound, but they’ve now found a solid working space in Steve Albini’s studio Electrical Audio and also in Converge’s Kurt Ballou as their producer. Blood Year is their seventh album, their second with Kurt at the helm and fourth to be recorded at EA, so we know we’re in safe hands.

A point that lead previous LP ‘Guidance‘ to such acclaim was how well the band’s performances were captured, especially in Dave Turncrantz’s drum sound. Although the record begins on a now classic Russian Circles scene setting, guitar driven intro, the first we hear of the drums is on ‘Arluck‘. The toms in the first 20 seconds are captured beautifully so you can really hear the difference in tuning between the mid and low toms, displaying the versatility of a drum kit perfectly and how it really doesn’t just hold the rhythm down, it’s melodic in its own right. The track soon builds into the band’s usual apocalyptic brand of doom infused post-rock, completed with Brian Cook‘s thunderous bass tone and the sharp, metallic tapping of guitarist Mike Sullivan.

I’ve always found each Russian Circles album to tell a narrative and the way in which they structure a record feels very cinematic to me. I love the rise and falls of ‘Blood Year‘, it just feels like the whole album is building to this massive crescendo and takes us through moments of both peace and intensity to get there. ‘Milano‘ is a straight up crushing piece, centred around some soaring guitar work from Mike, while ‘Kohokia‘ focuses on this 7 minute build of atmospheric melodies regimented by a locked in rhythm section for ultimate intensity.

Just as you’re ready to attack whatever monster the band has been coaxing out of its hole for the last three tracks, ‘Ghost on High‘ comes in with 2 and half minutes of shimmering guitar loops underlined with this beguiling bass line. This is all to distract us while the monster creeps up and gets ready to rip our heads off with the body imploding two hit punch of ‘Sinaia‘ and ‘Quartered‘ that complete the album with pure ferocity. The chugged out groove of the closer in particular is heavy as fuck, acting as the most exhilarating end to an exhilarating piece.

It’s rare that I would mention all the tracks on a record in a review, but ‘Blood Year‘ is very much an album that relies on all of its seven parts to tell its story. It’s just so well put together and thought out, which is what sets Russian Circles apart from the rest; they know how to capture a feeling and mood and are still finding new ways to do that within the unrelenting soundscape they’ve created. I’ve actually been watching a few monster movies recently, so ‘Blood Year‘ is really working for me as the imagined soundtrack to those sort of films; it’s totally thrilling, full of action and above all, it’s ready to rip your head off.

(Photo Credit: Teddie Taylor)

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Exclusive: Hear the captivating ‘Drain the Harbour’ from the forthcoming debut album from Unwavering

A few years back we premiered this one-two punch –Paul Nuttall vs. Wikipedia‘ and ‘Cancelled Phase – post-punk out of Leeds from an interesting trio of chaps going by the name of Unwave. Just the other day I was thinking about the band and where they’d gotten to, such is the wealth of DIY bands in Leeds and the occasional outfits that combust or go into hibernation.

Funnily enough, they broke up not long after we put those two tracks out, due to other commitments and house moves. Drummer Phil took his sticks with him to Mush, whilst bassist Cam now plays in Thank. Vocalist Matt Bennett left Leeds for Edinburgh, adding on a few letters to their previous moniker and going solo as Unwavering.

Still post-punk in essence, but leaning towards the more darker sides of it (think Protomartyr and Viet Cong), Bennett describes the project as ‘subterranean drone songs played solo’, picking up on influences from the likes of Cocteau Twins and Low, with a nod to PJ Harvey’s later work.

With a debut album out this month (‘Freeze, Thaw, Chorus‘ – August 16th), recorded in one session with one guitar track and a host of ambient mics at Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds, you can get a taste of Unwavering below in the form of ‘Drain the Harbour’; sparse and minimalist at first, but a track that completely washes over you and captivates as it builds past the half way point.

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Album Review: Rowsdower – The Michael Jordans of Suicide

On their debut full length, ‘The Michael Jordans of Suicide’, California-based Rowsdower play very slow and atmospheric metal, like the more trudging elements of Godflesh. Some of the vocals would be at home on a grindcore record, ranging from guttural bellows to that bree-bree grunting pig-monster thing to sore throat-inducing shrieks. There are also some more sung and spoken vocal styles. I found the high pitched vocals very effective – at one point, the vocalist screeches “This is suffering!” and it sounds like it.

At its moments this is deeply pained music, desolate, with bits of melody crushed under a bus-load of distortion. Those parts made me think of post-apocalyptic science fiction, like staring at a shattered landscape through a greasy window. Those parts pair very well with parts of the record that veer toward ambient and industrial. For instance, the album begins with two minutes of fuzzy distortion bordering on static, brooding and tense like a gathering storm, along with some vocal samples repeated and with so much reverb that they become largely incomprehensible, with hints of keyboard at the very end.

The other vocal styles on here didn’t work quite as well for me. They’re not bad, they’re just not as good as the shrieking. The shrieking sounds genuinely distressed, in a dangerous way, like someone having some kind of episode and who might lash out if you get too close. It’s not aggressive sounding so much as unhinged. The other vocals are more aggressive and tough sounding in a way common to a lot of metal, and they’re well done, I just found it less convincing in these particular songs. The tougher vocals sound like someone who might punch you in the face, but the tempo of the music is such that it feels like he’s meandering toward the scene of the future crime so slowly that his victims will have left by the time he got there. And if you’re moseying leisurely on your way to attack someone, it makes it seems like you lack a bit of conviction in your plan to commit grievous bodily harm.

When I was 13 or so I had this shit job, literally and metaphorically, shovelling out a stable. A bored with life college student coworker explained to me that drinking and driving is a terrible idea because when you’re drunk you always think you’re going slower than you are, so you’re going to drive recklessly, but driving and smoking marijuana is a great idea because when you’re high you always think you’re going faster than you are, so you’re going to drive safely. I’m not recommending it, just saying that maybe under specific chemical influences, or maybe played at jet-engine volume in a claustrophobically small venue, the tougher vocals amid these very slow songs would sound more threatening. And in that kind of setting, the samples – lots of religious themes and a minute of what I assume is pornography – would likely sound extra creepy.

Overall, I don’t think this Rowsdower album is going to win converts from people who don’t already like big, sad, languid metal, but if that’s your thing then you’ll be into this.

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Album Review: B Boys – Dudu

One of the worst things about being an adult is that when it’s hot, you’re still expected to actually do things that aren’t just sitting in a beer garden or loading sausages onto a barbecue, and even if you are doing those things, you still have to get out of bed and put clothes on and walk to the pub. So you go to work and try and work on the spreadsheet despite having the energy levels of a particularly drowsy bumblebee. You need a hit of adrenaline, an injection of vitality, something that’ll perk you up when it’s too hot for coffee.

Thank goodness, then for ‘Dudu’, the third record from Brooklyn’s B Boys, which moves with the exhilarating urgency of a debut album. ‘Dudu’’s release is astutely timed: its boisterous, frenetic style might have seemed crude in the more contemplative winter months, but here in summer it sounds vital. With 15 songs into just 38 minutes, ‘Dudu’ strips away anything other than the essential core.

Dudu’ is an album released in 2019 by a New York band. Yet while the B Boys have seen the light of the marquee moon – at least if those shouts of ‘prove it!’ on ‘Pressure Inside’ are anything to go by – this is an album that’s hard to place or date. Superficially, there are similarities with fellow New Yorkers and tourmates Parquet Courts – tightly restrained post-punk mixed with unrestrained punk vocals – but without the leanings towards classic rock that ‘Wide Awake!’ betrayed. There are echoes of near-namesakes Beastie Boys in Brendon Avalos and Britton Walker’s unrefined shouted harmonies, but I think the intention is less MCA and Ad-Rock and more Strummer ‘n’ Jones.

If anything, it sounds like it might have come from Northern England. ‘Automation’ couples a Gang Of Four riff with Budgie-ish receptionist typewriter drums, while single ‘Instant Pace’’s zipwire slide guitar gives way to an economical Bernard Sumner solo. Indeed the increased presence of Avalos’ bass – higher in the mix, higher up the fretboard – means that for the first time, B Boys remind the listener of Joy Division. Standout ‘Asleep/Awake’, for example, sounds like a ‘Substance’-era version of ‘We Care A Lot’. (I should say, perhaps, that ‘Asleep/Awake’ sounds emphatically like a closer, to such an extent that the two subsequent tracks feel almost tacked on, like a Spotify bonus track.) There’s a song called ‘Closer’, although it confounds twice: it sounds more like acknowledged influences Wire than Joy Division, and it’s the third track rather than the, um, closer.

It’s exciting to come to B Boys at this point, because they’ve released their best album: 2016’s 20-minute ‘No Worry No Mind’ was trebly late 80s fare recorded at demo quality, while 2017’s ‘Dada’ offers glimpses of a brighter future finally realised here. On ‘Dudu’, the band bring their best hooks to the studio, deliver their best performances, and Gabe Wax’s recording and Andy Chugg’s mixing rewards them with a crisp and vital sound. Here’s hoping that we can prevent the world turning into a global-warming induced puddle before their next one comes out.

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