Music news

Opeth

15th October 2012

It’s official. I’m in love with a ‘Swedish Death Metal’ band. And they’ve been hiding themselves in full view, just waiting for me to fall for them. I’ve been aware of them for a while but the genre tag made it difficult for me to get past the growling vocals. So after catching a couple of their songs with ‘clean’ vocals during a televised set from Sonisphere festival, I felt very confused as I immediately wanted to hear more. Upon further investigation, I was ecstatic to discover that there were two full albums containing said singing. 2003’s ‘Damnation’ and last year’s ‘Heritage’ were just the start of a joyous and surprisingly rapid roller-coaster descent into complete infatuation with a band that has a glorious 18 years of back catalogue to choose from.

Suddenly, the growling didn’t seem so bad. Until I saw what was producing it. Mikael Åkerfeldt, the longest serving member of the band, is almost solely responsible for the writing of both the music and lyrics which, in itself is an astounding achievement. But his ability to switch from a powerful growl to the kind of singing voice that most singers would sell their soul to the devil for(he he), has to be seen to be believed. He also has the option of a career in stand-up comedy if he ever becomes bored with the whole prolific musical genius thing. I kid you not. He is the most bizarre and mesmerising frontman I have ever seen and the quality of musicianship from the whole band is outstanding.

If you’re still not sold, you can sample some of their progressive-medieval-jazzy-folk-metal goodness via the wonders of the internet. There are also 3 official pro-shot gigs available on dvd with ‘Lamentations’ being a good place to start as it’s the full ‘Damnation’ album plus some extras (ie.a sample of what else they are capable of). And you never know, you too could soon be growing your hair and wearing an ‘I Love Swedish Death Metal’ t-shirt.

Seek out deliverance via damnation at http://www.opeth.com

p.s.They will be gracing the Glasgow ABC with their presence on November 13th on the 2nd leg of their Heritage tour (which also includes some ‘unplugged’ dates). I’ve got my tickets…

Diagonal

9th October 2012

At one point there were seven members in Diagonal and, as demonstrated on their self-titled 2008 debut, they each brought their own influence to the sound. It’s a mind boggling blend of jazz, folk, psychedelia and prog (please note: prog is not a dirty word) and it sounds so authentically retro it’s like it’s been transported straight here from the 1970’s. There’s also quite a bit of mystery surrounding them but I’ll tell you what I know so far…

I know that they’re based in Brighton and that they’ve now sadly parted company with two of their original members, one of them the vocalist. In true Diagonal style though this will merely result in more lengthy instrumental saxophone/flute/clarinet led action. I also know that they don’t play gigs north of the border often enough (like ever?) but with a new album imminent, I’m hoping that will change.

So if you like your musical soup a little from the leftfield then Diagonal just might be your favourite new band.

Take a left at  https://www.facebook.com/diagonalband

Black Mountain

2nd October 2012

I’ve been trying to write a piece about Black Mountain for a while now but haven’t been able to find the words to describe them. Or even how to start. It all began for me when a loved one said that they had found a track on a new album that they thought I would love. Cue ‘Wucan’ from second album ‘In The Future’ with the rest of the album and investigation of their back catalogue not far behind. I found myself so obsessed that I eventually had to take a break for a while.

Then came along album number three ‘Wilderness Heart’ to re-ignite my interest and I’m pleased to say that they still sounded as fresh as the first time I heard them. That was how they infiltrated my record collection (and my heart and head) and how I feel it would be incomplete without them. You have been warned…

Get stratospheric at https://www.facebook.com/BlackMountainOfficial

p.s. They recently put together the soundtrack for a post-apocalyptic surf movie (yes, you did read that correctly) called ‘Year Zero’. Which, by the way is perfect. Only Black Mountain could achieve that.

Six Organs Of Admittance

25th September 2012

Ben Chasny has an incredible work ethic. Either that or he never sleeps. Having now released 12 albums under his solo moniker of Six Organs, he’s also managed to collaborate with other bands and musicians too numerous to mention. Born in L.A., the family moved to Northern California when his disillusioned Father returned from service in Vietnam. This led to Chasny growing up alone in the country, listening to Dad’s record collection and by the age of 18 he had locked himself away to learn to play guitar. And boy, can he play.

His guitar work is mesmerising and can stun a whole room into silence. Even in Glasgow. This was one gig were I was happy to find a seat and let the sound wash over me and I was soon smiling as I began to recognise the stripped down tracks he was playing. His studio albums can be quite complex and have encompassed everything from Middle Eastern Drone and British Folk through to East-Meets-West Guitar and Spiritual Avant-Jazz, yet he still somehow manages to stay true to his own sound.

It’s not always an easy listen but if you’re intrigued and looking for a good starting point, my own personal favourite (so far) is ‘Luminous Night’. With latest album ‘Ascent’ currently being described as ‘blistering and explosive’ it looks like he’s changing it up once again by plugging his guitar back in and hooking up with some old friends.

Admit one at www.sixorgans.com

Tool

18th September 2012

If you had told me a few years ago that I would soon be listening to a well known American ‘alternative metal’ band, I would have applauded the comedian in you. Now not only have I listened to and bought their entire back catalogue (most on both CD and vinyl), I’m also a member of their ‘Collective Unconcious’ fan club and impatiently awaiting the release of their (now well overdue) 5th studio album. And having discovered them via their most recent album ‘10,000 days’, I thought I had blown it. Until I listened to their back catalogue.

While stepping back though their 20 year history I realised that although their sound has evolved, it’s always been recognisably them. I’ve even heard them described as the ‘metal Radiohead’ by more than a few people. But don’t let either of those things frighten you off because they really do stand alone in terms of musical innovation. The only danger in this is continuing to be associated with certain genres because no one quite knows where else to file you. They can be loud and complex, but almost always melodic and sometimes surprisingly delicate. For a metal band.

They challenge people to ‘think for themselves’ so approach with an open mind, and you might just be pleasantly surprised by what you find…

Get tooled up at http://www.toolband.com/

 

Days Of The New

11th September 2012

Travis Meeks was born into a musically gifted family and although painfully introverted, found his voice after learning to play guitar at the age of 9. It was a long time before he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and it’s possible that he found creating music therapeutic and an easier way of communicating with the world. His condition also goes some way to explaining the difficult relationship he developed with founding members of the band and what eventually caused the rift between them, with only Travis deciding to continue on as ‘Days of the New’. And it’s been made an even more difficult journey by addiction.

Prescription painkillers for a kidney stone escalated to methamphetamine, a drug known for it’s destructive nature and certainly not conducive to the writing, recording and gigging process. Despite this, he’s managed to turn out three astonishingly beautiful and complex albums known as ‘Yellow’, ‘Green” and ‘Red’, each featuring an appropriately coloured old twisted tree on the cover (which has special meaning for Travis) and ‘Tree Colours’ the working title for the fourth instalment.

Distinguished by his choice of acoustic guitar over electric and a love of all things orchestral, the albums are full of songs of epic proportions ranging from grunge through to folk and classical. All accompanied by the kind of raw vocal that makes every word believable. He’s such an incredible talent that I for one, wish him every success in beating those ‘demons’.

Hug a tree at http://travismeeks.com/

The Mars Volta

4th September 2012

To say that these guys can be a challenging listen is probably putting it mildly. The first time I heard them, I wanted to run from the room screaming. So when I was asked if I might accompany a loved one to a gig, I agreed but was filled with a sense of dread and made a mental note to purchase a pair of earplugs. Luckily, this first encounter was at The Barrowlands where I’ve always felt quite comfortable and by the time the band took to the stage I was braced and ready for anything. Which was just as well. Fast forward a couple of hours (probably nearer three), and there I was in quite a shocked state wondering what I had just witnessed.

They are an incredibly tight band and while I don’t pretend to understand the structure of their songs, I have no idea how they do it. Sometimes it seems like each of them is playing a different tune, then they’ll suddenly all stop and change. I still find it difficult to listen to a whole studio album (although, I have a soft spot for ‘Octahedron’) but I’ve seen them three times now and I’m already looking forward to the fourth. It’s a mesmerising showcase of Omar’s virtuoso guitar playing and Cedric’s incredible multi-vocal. Not to mention his unbelievable dance moves.

Welcome to another planet at www.themarsvolta.com

Storm Corrosion

28th August 2012

After discovering them via a friend, Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth became a fan of Steve Wilson’s Porcupine Tree. And when metal fan Wilson was given an Opeth album a few years later he knew that the two had to meet up for what was to become a beautiful musical ‘bromance’. Since then, Wilson has overseen production on a number of Opeth albums, Åkerfeldt contributed to Porcupine Tree’s ‘Deadwing’ and they have shared a headline tour. The only thing that held this first proper collaboration back was time.

Knowing a little of both bands work, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. What I wasn’t expecting was to be hooked after just one listen. Instead of making the album that everyone expected, they used it as a vehicle for something different. Something dark and beautiful. Ambient Gothic Folk-Prog if you will. And it’s a beauty. But it’s also divided opinion amongst fans and seems to be a love it or hate album. So like most things I can only recommend approaching it with an open mind. And ears…

Explore the dark side at  http://stormcorrosion.com

p.s. For those of you that are tempted to try both main projects, they each have a varied and extensive body of work to choose from. You will usually find Porcupine Tree filed somewhere around ‘alternative rock’. Opeth however, are a progressive heavy metal rock band and Åkerfeldt is also well known for his ‘devil growling’. But don’t let that put you off as albums ‘Damnation’ and ‘Heritage’ both feature his amazing ‘normal’ singing voice and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Dead Meadow

14th August 2012

When you hear singer/guitarist Jason Simon’s vocal style, it’s easy to assume that Dead Meadow are just another ‘psychedelic stoner rock’ band. And whilst being under the influence might enhance the experience for the listener, it would surely make his phenomenal guitar work almost impossible. Often achieving the illusion that they are more than just a three piece, this is probably down to Jason’s deft guitar pedal action combined with the fact that once you get used to it, that vocal blends in so well that it begins to sound like another instrument.

Their last release, ‘Three Kings’ captures a live performance (on either cd or double vinyl) and includes a dvd of the gig intertwined with extra ‘film’ footage which provides a very entertaining insight into the band and what goes on inside their heads. Let’s just say it won’t do them any favours in getting away from the genre tag mentioned above. Not that they should want to. They’re one of the best examples of it.

Everything is groovy at http://www.deadmeadow.com

 

Junip

A long time in the making and with a lot of obstacles to overcome on the way, the very existence of Junip’s first full length release ‘Fields’ is mainly due to the patience, persistence and friendship of the musicians involved. Jose Gonzalez and Elias Araya grew up together in Sweden and started playing in their early teenage years. They later bonded with Tobias Winterkorn over a shared love of hardcore music and began planning a collaboration.

Fast forward 10 years and with one member now also studying art, one teaching part time and the other enjoying an unexpectedly successful solo career, it’s a wonder it ever saw the light of day at all. But it was worth the wait. It’s a wonderfully intense yet organic album from start to finish and if the rumour is correct, they may already be back in the studio recording the follow-up. Looks like they’re in it for the long-haul then…

Explore the great outdoors at http://www.junip.net/

Wolfmother

31st July 2012

Even if you don’t recognise the name, you probably know at least one Wolfmother song from either TV or radio. When their debut was released in 2005, it was difficult to escape the cries of “WOOOMAN!” (from the song of the same name) or a catchy riff from one of their classic sounding rock tracks. Now you’re probably thinking ‘oh yeah, whatever happened to them?!’.

Well, in true rock style the original band survived the gruelling initial tour but imploded during the writing of the second album with rumours of in-fighting and (yes,you’ve guessed it) ‘musical differences’. However, singer Andrew Stockdale decided to continue on using the band’s name and second album ‘Cosmic Egg’ was eventually cracked with the help of a new band.

Now, despite problems continuing to dog (pun intended) writing, recording and touring they’re back again with their finest line-up to date. New member Elliott Hammond in particular helps to lend a whole new ‘Dimension’ (yes, I did mean that) to old and new songs alike with his input which includes percussion, harmonica and even some dancing. And yes, maybe Andy is a little eccentric. Which might explain his alleged ‘difficult’ nature. But I couldn’t care less. He rocks. He is Wolfmother.

It’s feral at http://www.wolfmother.com/

Syd Arthur

Now that summer has (hopefully) finally arrived, we’ll need an appropriate soundtrack to accompany it. Enter Syd Arthur. No, not just one bloke but four very talented young men. These guys have been rattling around on the outskirts of ‘favourite new band’ territory for a while now, honing their live sound which by all accounts seems to working out quite well for them. Often mentioned as part of the canterbury folk scene, this is probably more due to the fact that they live there than mere musical influences.

Don’t get me wrong, they definitely have a folky thing going on but it comes via a psychedelic, jazzy (and dare I say it) rock route giving it quite a unique edge and therefore qualifying itself for the category of ‘interesting’. That’s good enough for me. So having plumped for their very limited (250 copies) 180g vinyl edition, I’m please to say it was well worth the money. All I need now is to experience one of those high-energy live shows. And maybe invest in some funky knitwear…

Take up knitting at http://sydarthur.co.uk/

 

Arbouretum

17th July 2012

I see lead Singer/Songwriter of Arbouretum, Dave Heumann as a type of messenger. The progressive psychedelic folk type. And if you allow yourself to become completely immersed in their sound, especially on last album ‘The Gathering’, you might find their remarkable ability to create stories and imagery with their music an experience bordering on meditative.

Go with them and they’ll take you on an uplifting and sometimes tribal, sonic pilgrimage. Even when the journey may be fraught with danger, there is such an irresistible quality to Dave’s vocal that you can’t help but feel that hope and redemption might be just around the corner. Either that or one of his outstanding guitar solo’s.

Hop onboard at http://arbouretum.blogspot.co.uk

My Morning Jacket

What you see, isn’t always what you get. Otherwise, my first encounter with MMJ via their Okonokos dvd might have been a full aural assault on my ears by some hairy bottomed metal merchants. Instead, I was treated to exactly what I wasn’t expecting.

Starting out with a slight reggae feel (which put me straight on the back foot) each subsequent track morphed into everything from country to jazz to rock, and it was all topped off with an even more surprising vocal turn from the wonderful Jim James (aka Yim Yames).

I’ve witnessed it for myself three times now and, I don’t want to get too gushy but something almost magical happens when these guys play together. Even they have trouble explaining it. But they have dynamics to die for. I recently heard someone describe it as ‘Cosmic Americana’. Cosmic indeed.

Try on your morning jacket at http://my morningjacket.com

Godsmack

3rd July 2012

Sully Erna’s musical life began at the age of 3 with a drum kit and it was an interesting journey that saw him rise up to become one of the best multi-talented frontmen that today’s rock scene has to offer (take a bow Dave Grohl also). But music was in his blood and most people he encountered on the way had little doubt that he would make it. Added to the incredible guitar talents of Tony Rombola and bassist Robbie Merrill along with the mesmerising drumming style of Shannon Larkin, Godsmack become an unstoppable force.

Having been to a show in San Antonio, Texas on a recent trip to The States I can confirm this. And that the now legendary ‘Batalla De Los Tamboress’ between Shannon & Sully is a particular highlight. Even if you’re not a fan of the full-on rock sound, please check out The Other Side EP and their acoustic performance at the Las Vegas House of Blues (the dvd of which comes as a freebie with their Good Times, Bad Times collection) for a real showcase of their versatility. They are best played loud. But preferably not near small children. Or your Granny.

Get Live & Inspired at http://www.godsmack.com

Grails

Starting out as the bedroom side project of some restless musicians in Portland, Oregon I can only assume that Grails now inhabits not only the rest of the house, but the garden (including the shed) as well. To say that they are an extremely eclectic and prolific bunch would be underplaying it a little. As would labelling their particular brand of instrumental music, post-rock.

With no care for convention, each album is a unique blend of eastern influenced-ambient-experimental-psychedelic-folk-jazz and I imagine record shops find it difficult to categorise them. Live, they truly are an experience and manage to create an atmosphere that makes you feel like you’ve been wrapped in a lovely big blanket of sound. And all with the added entertainment of watching various band members switching instruments in between (and during) pieces. I wonder what their day jobs are like…?

Discover the Holy Grail at http://www.grailsongs.com/

(via Lilacs & Champagne – yet another side project)

Amplifier

19th June 2012

The music industry used to be a nightmare to deal with. Record labels dictating what you could/couldn’t do and then dropping you like that hot potato. But there are occasions when I think they did some bands a huge favour. Amplifier is one of those. Suddenly finding themselves without a record deal after their second album, they considered jacking it all in in favour of a proper grown-up job.

But something told them to give it one last shot and with nothing to lose and some lengthy, late night jamming sessions, they gave birth to The Octopus. Released via their very own Ampcorps and containing more than two hours of intelligent, modern prog-rock it should have that bloke at the record company kicking himself. If it’s still there. So if you like your riffs large and delivered with some humour and a cherry on top, then Amplifier are for you. Step inside, take a ride.

Join the corps at www.amplifiertheband.com

Alberta Cross

A number of years ago, the BBC’s Reading Festival coverage included a red button multi-screen service (whatever happened to that?) and these guys really stood out against the other bands on offer. It was early days for them and they were a little rough around the edges, even having to re-start a song they messed up. But they had soul. And singer Petter Ericson Stakee.

Swedish by birth but having spent a lot of time in England, it’s hard to say what influences he and London born Terry Wolfers brought with them to the band. And since re-locating to New York and touring with some big names in the industry, they may have picked up a few more.

But Stakee’s right on the edge, Neil Young-esque vocal has been a constant and is what gets me every time. I’m not sure that their studio recordings do them justice so they are definitely a band to catch live when the opportunity arises. And with their new (and appropriately named) ‘Songs of Patience’ album to promote, they have just announced that they will be coming over to Europe some time in August…

Have your heart broken at http://www.albertacross.net/

The Boxer Rebellion

5th June 2012

These guys haven’t had it easy, both personally and professionally. Not that you would know it from listening to them. And the fact that they’re still making music, including setting up their own record label, is testament to how much it means to them. For their last studio album ‘The Cold Still’, producer Ethan Johns took to the controls, allowing the band to focus on the music and encouraging them to play together in the same room, often facing each other to create a more intimate, organic experience. And it really worked.

Their unique combination of music and singer Nathan’s soaring vocal is what sets them apart so please support them by sending them cash in exchange for their glorious sound. Recorded in Nathan’s hometown of Maryville, their dynamic sound is perfectly captured on the ‘Live in Tennessee’ collection.

Become a rebel at http://theboxerrebellion.com/

Warpaint

With a few notable exceptions, I’ve never been a big fan of female singers. It’s just not my thing. And there have been precious few women that have reached out to me musically in many years of listening. Until quite recently. They are called Warpaint. And these ladies have it all.

Despite having connections to some famous industry people in and around LA, they decided to do things their own way, choosing to make music that they themselves were happy with and inspired by. They didn’t even take themselves seriously as a band or see it as a career to begin with.

But with some gentle persuasion from a growing fan base, their insistence that it was all about the music started to pay off. Since the release of an EP (Exquisite Corpse), a full album (The Fool) and after taking last year’s festival circuit by storm, they are back in the studio working on new material. Be afraid boys. Very afraid.

Let’s hear it for the ladies at www.warpaintwarpaint.com

Rocket Juice & The Moon

1st June 2012

Rocket Juice and The Moon is name of the new “supergroup” of Damon Albarn, Tony Allen and Flea.  Albarn had already been working with Allen, drummer with the late Fela Kuti’s band, in The Good, The Bad & The Queen, but it wasn’t till the three of them met on the way to Lagos for Albarn’s Africa Express Collective that a plan was hatched to record together.

Forget any prejudices that you may have about Albarn from his Blur days, he has put his money where his heart lies and has been financially supporting the Honest Jon’s label that the album is released on. Honest Jon’s champions fabulous music, no matter its commercial potential with lots of world music influences: compilations like London Is The Place For Me, brings together black music from post WW2 that recent immigrants had brought to London streets, from Calypso, Kwela, Highlife to Jazz. Add in new LPs from the likes of Terry Hall, Tony Allen, Moritz von Oswald, Actress, etc. and using cutting edge remixers like Carl Craig to widen the appeal, this is a must check label!

Back to Rocket Juice though, what an incredible rhythm section to have as the foundation to any record; Tony Allen and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea on bass duties. The album oozes pure afro funk with guest performances from soul star Erykah Badu and label mates, The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, amongst a host of others from Africa like Malian Fatoumata Diawara, and Ghanaian rapper M.anifest. With summer finally hitting the UK, what better soundtrack than this hot grooving LP?

Like all Honest Jon’s releases the artwork and pressing is of the very highest quality. Treat yourself and buy the vinyl!

Rocket Juice & The Moon at Honest Jon’s

 

The Parlor Mob

15th May 2012

There’s been talk of rock music dying out. Obviously, no one has told The Parlor Mob this. And it wouldn’t matter even if you did as they’re not the kind of band who follow rules. Or fashion. Their modern take on a classic rock sound is so refreshingly authentic that you would swear they had been hiding out somewhere since 1970-something.

But apparently they are just a very tight bunch of talented young guys from New Jersey who’ve worked hard at doing what they love. And it’s stood them in good stead. With two accomplished studio albums, 2008’s ‘And You Were A Crow’ and last year’s ‘Dogs’ in the bag, they still see themselves as more of a live band.

After studying some of the footage available online I can see where they’re coming from. Having been out of town the one and only time they toured the UK (ouch!) and loving both the albums the way I do, I’m badly in need of a live ‘fix’.

RAWK OUT! at www.theparlormob.com

Wolf People

Wolf People, (or the Funky Folksters as I frequently refer to them) came to me via a collection of snippets called ‘Tidings’. I can’t remember what drew me to it in the first place. Possibly the cover, which shows a group of old reel-to-reel tape recorders and amplifiers. Or maybe the fact that it was a vinyl only release. But I knew I liked something about it after just one listen.

It made my first live encounter with them all the more surprising when they were drafted in (because of a last minute cancellation) as support band for label mates Black Mountain. Cue confusion and delight.

It turned out that ‘Tidings’, which had been released on the mighty Jagjaguwar label earlier that year, was a bit like a ‘sampler’ of what was to come. And that came very soon after in the form of ‘Steeple’. A unique blend of funky folk rock that, once you hear it will keep you coming back for more. So it’s great to hear that they’re currently working on a new album.

Get your groove on at www.wolfpeople.co.uk

Pontiak

24th April 2012

Brothers Jennings, Van and Lain Carney grew up on a farm in rural Virginia and after some well travelled life experience each, came together to form Pontiak. These guys are the real deal, not only writing but recording and producing their own music on their own terms. And now, they even do it all in a specially built studio back at that family farm. Each of their albums feel like a moment in time, captured, and it’s difficult to describe their sound in just a few words.

They are sometimes loud. Sometimes organic. Usually both. But always original. Their live shows are something else entirely. I highly recommend ‘experiencing’ Pontiak for yourself. As someone said of them recently ‘ You should pay attention to them because they rule’. I couldn’t agree more. Their latest offering, Echo Ono is a stunning addition to an already impressive back catalogue.

Become a farmhand at www.brotherspontiak.com

The Black Angels

It’s really difficult to express just how much The Black Angels mean to me, personally. So I’ll just say that they’re absolutely my favourite band. Ever. I bought their magnificent debut album ‘Passover’ after reading a short review which made it sound ‘interesting’ but nothing could have prepared me for the impact they would have on my life. I love them so much, If I could only take one band’s music with me to that tropical island, It would be theirs.

Three albums (and a few EP’s + extra tracks) in and having already seen them here 6 times, I thought it was time to show them some of that love and visit them on their home turf. So I will be flying out to The States at the end of April to attend their very own Psych Fest in Austin, Texas. That’s how much I love them.

Be touched by The Angels at www.theblackangels.com

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