Album of the week (10 May): USA Nails – Life Cinema

USA Nails - Life Cinema album cover

The fourth album from noise rockers USA Nails is only 25 minutes long, but during that time they manage to pack in a hell of a lot of riotous bass and crashing guitars. While hugely enjoyable, I got the feeling that the album was kept deliberately short in order to preserve our hearing and mental health.

From the off with Creative Industries we are presented with a bass line that demands your attention and all-consuming, wildly distorted guitars that just don’t quit until the very end. It’s quite an oppressive, head-pounding experience, and probably not one for those who are looking for a gentler introduction to the world of post-punk.

Singer Steven Hodson also does a sterling job shouting his way through the album, but you get the feeling he is just trying to make himself heard over everything else that’s going on.

At points when listening to this I did catch myself thinking, ‘Wow! This is intense’ and there isn’t much, if any, let up in that intensity. There are times, such as on standout track Work Drinks when the guitars take a slightly lighter touch and the approach of the bass is different – that’s as close to a moment of respite as you get. Similarly, title track Life Cinema, with its mantra of ‘Tune in and turn off’, offers a bit more structure that gives you something to grab on to.

By the close of the album, which finishes with a humorous 8-bit take on Life Cinema, you are left exhausted and elated, but also slightly relieved.

Release date: 10 May 2019

Rating: 8/10

Standout track: Work Drinks

For fans of:

  • Christian Fitness
  • Prettiest Eyes
  • Crows

Listen on Spotify

Album review: Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – End of Suffering

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes - End of Suffering album cover

It’s been a decade since Frank Carter, then front man of hardcore-punk outfit Gallows released the utterly-brilliant Grey Britain. It’s been a funny old 10 years for him since, musically speaking.

After leaving Gallows in 2011 citing musical differences, he had a decent crack at more radio friendly alt-rock with Pure Love before returning with current project Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes.

Debut album ‘Blossom’ signalled a return to the snarling angry, screaming Carter we had grown to love in Gallows. Songs on fear of death, songs of hate and anger – all delivered with Carter’s trademark vocal yell. One track, ‘Paradise’, even recording him spitting on the floor during a moment of quiet as he railed against those who matryr themselves in the name of religion.

Second album ‘Modern Ruin’ showed a more tender side, less screaming but still delivered with enough bite to keep fans of his edgier side on board.

However, latest release End of Suffering has seen Carter go all out stadium rock on us. The punky aggression of the debut album has gone completely, as has Carter’s snarling vocal style, replaced by what can only be described as a fairly average croon. We’ve seen this vocal style before on previous albums, especially with Pure Love, but it has normally been balanced out with more spiker stuff.

There’s little of that on show here. The closest he comes is on Crowbar, where at one point he almost sounds angry and manages to throw in a few swear words here and there.

The rest of the album is fairly standard, though competent, heavy rock. Not necessarily any better or worse than a Muse or a Manic Street Preachers.

Having seen Carter live before, his sets are full of energy and agression. How the slew of slower, softer songs on this album, such as Anxiety, Angel Wings, Supervillain, Little Devil and title track End of Suffering, fit into these gigs I’m unsure (they are playing The Great Escape fesitval next weekend, so I might drop by and find out).

During Kitty Sucker, one of the livelier moments of the album, Carter bellows out ‘I’m a punk rock renegade’. Maybe once Frank, but I ain’t feeling it no more.

Release date: 03 May 2019

Rating: 5/10

Standout track: Crowbar

For fans of:

  • Manic Street Preachers
  • Royal Blood
  • Gallows

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Album review: Various artists – For The Throne (Music Inspired By The HBO Series Game Of Thrones)

For The Throne album cover

First things first – I really enjoyed ‘The Long Night’. [SPOILER ALERT] It might have been dark in places, surely that was the point, and it might have brought one major element of the story to an end sooner than many had expected but as a piece of event TV it was simply brilliant.

Right, back to the music. For The Throne is not a soundtrack featuring music from the series, rather a collection of songs from a range of artists that have taken elements of the series as their inspiration for tracks.

As musical rosters go, there’s quite a few well-known names on here, such as Mumford & Sons, Ellie Goulding, The National, SZA, and The Lumineers, to name but a few. Stylistically, the over-arching theme is pop in its many guises. Think of it as a ‘Now! That’s What I Call Game of Thrones‘ if you will.

With all that said, the potential for this to be disastrous is huge, but actually it’s carried off quite well. There are some good, atmospheric folky numbers such as opener Kingdom of One by Maren Morris, and Love Can Kill from Lennon Stella. This is interspersed with hip-hop and R&B pop from the likes of Ellie Goulding, SZA and the providers of the album’s standout track Chloe x Halle.

While never straying away from its poppy heart we do get some different styles in the form of some Gospel-pop similar to Rag ‘n Bone Man from X Ambassadors a bit of latino salsa from Rosalia and the faint whiff of rock from Lil Peep.

Regrettably there’s no ‘Hands of Gold’ as sung by Ed Sheeran from his universally panned cameo in season seven. To make up for it, they instead closed the album with Muse front man Matt Bellamy providing us with his usual bombast and over-earnestness while singing over a prayer in High Valaerian. We would expect nothing less.

It’s not an instant classic, but is enjoyable and as it largely stays away from laying on the GoT references too thickly, it can be enjoyed by most anyone. It’s also much shorter than an average episode so doesn’t outstay its welcome. Well worth a try if you like your pop and dragons.

Release date: 26 April 2019

Rating: 7/10

Standout track: Wolf at Your Door

For fans of:

  • Mumford & Sons
  • The National
  • SZA

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Album review: Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel

The debut album from Dublin-based four piece Fontaines D.C. has been highly anticipated by those with their ear to the ground. Obviously that means this is the first I’ve heard of them, but I’m very glad to make their acquaintance.

Dogrel is at heart a slab of highly entertaining post-punk but manages to draw influences from various styles along the way.

Opening track Big shows their punk credentials while also rooting the band as distinctly Irish, both in the vocal stylings of singer Grian Chatten and in the slight Gaelic folk undertone running through the tune. Chatten’s drawling regional singing gives the whole album a whiff of The Pogues running through it.

This folkiness is apparent across the platter, with the likes of Television Screens and Dublin City Sky featuring it particularly strongly. But there are other strings to this band’s bow (or fiddle).

The Lotts borrows heavily from early Cure in the rhythm section, low key but relentless. This is matched in tempo by the vocals, before drifting towards a hypnotic, head-nodding conclusion. Sha Sha Sha is a chugging number that has more than a hint of blues to it while Liberty Belle smacks of Green Day and american skater punk.

It’s when Fontaines D.C. are playing on the heavier side of post-punk that the album truly comes alive. Hurricane Laughter, for instance, features a fantastic dirty bass line and a brilliant guitar riff reminiscent of the work of FEWS. Standout track Chequeless Reckless operates firmly in punk territory – as does the high tempo jangly guitars of Boys in the Better Land.

There are few bum notes on this album, but when the tempo slows, the noise abates slightly and the vocals come more to the fore, on tracks such as Too Real and Roy’s Tune, then the weakness in Chatten’s voice is exposed. Clearly, vocal perfection is not a pre-requisite for punk, but it might be better not to highlight this as much as this album does.

That said, I can see Dogrel staying on my playlist for some time.

Release date: 12 April 2019

Rating: 8/10

Standout track: Chequeless Reckless

For fans of:

  • IDLES
  • Shame
  • The Pogues

Listen on Spotify

Album review: Hans Zimmer – The World Of Hans Zimmer – A Symphonic Celebration

Han(d)s down Hans Zimmer is my favourite soundtrack composer (bar John Williams obvs), but I found many of the track choices on this album bewildering.

The World Of Hans Zimmer – A Symphonic Celebration is a collection of concert works, though the recording quality is so good you only really reminded of that by the occasional round of applause that pops up.

Zimmer has a wealth of film scores to choose from and he seems determined to work his way through as many as possible on this two-hour record.

Yet despite the length, not enough time was spent on some of his more accomplished works. The entire Dark Knight trilogy was dealt with in the first six minutes and his utterly brilliant work on Inception was limited to a four-minute rendition of the beautiful Time.

By comparison, Zimmer spends 20-plus minutes working his way through elements of the rather pedestrian soundtrack to The Da Vinci Code. There was also a rather overlong tribute to his work on Mission: Impossible 2.

Other odd inclusions were tracks from Madagascar, The Holiday, and Pearl Harbour – as if anyone needs reminding of that abomination of a film, ever.

There was a decent amount of time covering Gladiator and the album finishes off with the rousing theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately by that point I was pretty hacked off with what had come before, excluding a couple of brilliant moments.

Zimmer is a hugely talented composer, but I don’t feel this album reflects that particularly well. Feel free to cherry pick the best moments from it – in reality this could have been easily cut down to half an hour and you wouldn’t have been any worse off.

Release date: 15 March 2019

Rating: 5.5/10

Standout track: Inception: Time

For fans of:

  1. John Williams
  2. Danny Elfman
  3. Howard Shore

Listen on Spotify

Album review: Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind – CollectiV

Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind - CollectiV album cover

They may well try to disguise it under a number of styles, some incredibly growly guitars and even more gravelly vocals, but at heart Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind have produced a rather good Rock ‘n Roll album.

CollectiV starts with a very abrasive guitar riff in Sex Robot that is begging you to stand up and take notice. This riff roughmess is matched only by the rasping growl of the vocals. There’s a faint whiff of saxophone in the chorus, which is more on show in the following (and standout) track Satan’s Got His Heart Set On You, a jazzy, cajun-infused rockabilly romp.

O Genie pulls in a middle-eastern influence to match the deep, distorted guitars that are pervasive throughout the album, while there’s more that a dash of Nick Cave crooning and strings in Meth Church.

We have western-style guitars and piano over drawling vocals in the slower, more atmospheric Dark Secrets, and country influenced slide guitars in the ballady Going There Anyway.

But in all these songs, you never escape the Rock ‘n Roll influence, which is reinforced by more straight out RnR numbers such as Attack of the Killer Brainz, I Found A Love, and Shazam. Much like Motörhead always called themselves a Rock ‘n Roll band first and foremost, so it is with Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind. In fact in many ways, they are a bit of a Motörhead lite, if you will.

A very enjoyable effort but there’s just a tad too much rock cliché on show to stop it earning an exceptional rating.

Release date: 08 March 2019

Rating: 7/10

Standout track: Satan’s Got His Heart Set On You

For fans of:

  • Nick Cave
  • Tindersticks
  • Motörhead

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Album review: Flight of the Conchords – Live in London

Flight of the Conchords - Live in London album cover.

It’s been more than a decade since Brett McKenzie and Jermaine Clement burst onto our screens in the highly acclaimed series Flight of the Conchords, which followed the pair as they tried to break New York with their hapless folk band.

After two series and two albums, largely based on the songs featured in the series, they went on to have successful movie and TV careers separately, but clearly still pined for the good ‘ol days working together. So, last year they embarked on a reunion tour, which was recorded for HBO when they reached London, and is now available as an album.

While McKenzie and Clement are comedy actors first and foremost, they also know how to spin a good tune while working in their comedy gold. This album features the full live set and includes classics such as Inner City Pressure, Foux da Fafa, Mutha’uckas, Bowie and The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room).

There’s also new tracks that haven’t made a recording appearance before, such as Father and Son, Summer of 1353, and Iain and Deanna.

While I really enjoyed their previous albums, Live in London stands above those largely due to the welcome addition of banter between between the two and their ability to feed off the audience’s reaction.

Is it a comedy show or a gig? Both probably, but unlike with most comedy songs their music still stands the test of time. This is a great way to experience Flight of the Conchords, whether your a fan or a newcomer.

Release date: 08 March 2019

Rating: 8/10

Standout track: Mutha’uckas – Hurt Feelings

For fans of:

  • Spinal Tap
  • Tenacious D
  • Bill Bailey

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Album review: Little Simz – GREY Area

Little Simz - GREY Area album cover

25-year old Simbiatu “Simbi” Abisola Abiola Ajikawo, a.k.a. Little Simz, is now on her third album and displaying an incredible amount of maturity for her tender age.

GREY Area is a powerful and provocative work that lays bare both her fragility and her steely determination. There is musical sophistication here to match her well-conceived lyrical lashings, which combine to deliver a quite impressive opus.

Simbi sets her stall out on opener Offence, which features some classic funk breakbeat, buzzy bass and jazz-style flutes as she essentially warns us that she doesn’t care who she offends. If you’re bothered by what she’s got to say – that’s on you.

There are other powerful messages contained in this album. Wounds, with its bluesy guitar and impatient keyboard and drum line, hits out at women who get embroiled in and end up supporting and glorifying gun culture.

Venom, possibly top track on the album, uses ominous strings and oppressive keyboards to call out sexism in the music industry and highlights how forthright women can be cast aside for being too intimidating.

There are a fair few self-reflecting pieces on here. Therapy finds Little Simz recounting how counselling sessions hadn’t worked for her, but did find redemption in the power of perseverance and self-belief.

Sherbert Sunset, another track driven by a fantastic funky bass line, is a classic break-up track, but manages to combine the relief of having dodged a bullet with regret at it having ended and counting up the damage done from both the relationship and the split.

We get some traditional Japanese melodies via keyboard accompanied by some cracking heavy bass on 101 FM. The track offers us the well worn gem that the most important lessons in life don’t come at school, but does manage to reference Crash Bandicoot and Mortal Kombat in the process. Priceless.

It’s not a perfect album, some tracks don’t develop as much as you may want, but there are enough highlights to keep your attention throughout, and to go back for a repeat listen.

Release date: 01 March 2019

Rating: 7.5/10

Standout track: Venom

For fans of:

  • Missy Elliott
  • Loyle Carner
  • Miss Red

Listen on Spotify

Album review: Snapped Ankles – Stunning Luxury

Snapped Ankles - Stunning Luxury album cover

It’s really hard to describe Snapped Ankles. They’re part dance, part psych-rock, part crusty avent-garde, part post-punk and a whole heap of English eccentricity. This is a group that dress in ghillie suits on stage and look like shamanistic yetis (see my unofficial Mutations Festival 2019 awards article for more).

Stunning Luxury is the band’s second album, following the release of the fantastic Come Play The Trees in 2017 – one of my albums of that year.

It picks up where the last album left off, but if possible it’s even more out-there.

There is classic Snapped Ankles on show here, such as the incessant synth line on Tailpipe, that you just can’t help being sucked in by. Delivery Van is a cracking bass-guitar driven number that plays with some truly odd keyboard melodies and 60s pysychodelia and general nuttiness.

Drink and Glide is another slice of the band at their most unashamedly enjoyable, with guitar and synth working in perfect harmony to keep a smile on everyone’s faces.

Rechargeable is probably my favourite track, a proper toe-tapping, head nodder that builds speed and layers as it progresses from its minimalistic start.

There is greater experimentation is on show on Stunning Luxury, which sometimes works, but sometimes falls short.

Letter From Hampi Mountain is a little hard to get into and seems to revolve around something akin to a bagpipe that’s swallowed a 56K modem. By the end, though, you are on board with it all. Similarly, Skirmish in the Suburb‘s Blade Runner-style opening keeps you hanging on for the eventually satisfying drums and acid synth conclusion.

Elsewhere though we have Three Steps to a Development‘s electro funk, which takes some getting in to. Stylistically it feels all over the place. You’re waiting for all the threads to pull together at the end, which they kind of do, but perhaps the payoff isn’t as big as you would hope. With Dial the Rings on a Tree, you are also left wanting more.

All things considered, this probably isn’t as strong a work as their debut, but the sheer audacity of Stunning Luxury is most definitely worth checking out – even if you don’t think this is your style of music. I also have a feeling that this may be a grower. Don’t be surprised if my rating improves over time.

Release date: 01 March 2019

Rating: 8/10

Standout track: Rechargeable

For fans of:

  • Phobophobes
  • Goat
  • Flamingods

Listen on Spotify

EP review: Octo Octa – For Lovers

Brooklyn DJ and producer Maya (formerly Michael) Bouldry-Mason, better known as Octo Octa, has poured her years of experience into three highly competent house tracks that are a treat for both your mind and your feet.

For Lovers is a three- track, 22 minute EP that explores some more ethereal elements, as well as offering you some proper four-to-the-floor groove outs.

I Need You begins with some vocal harmonics and ambient synths that builds up over the course of a few minutes, until the break beats drop. The synth work throughout has me harking back to early Orb efforts and overall the track is more for digesting than dancing – but still highly enjoyable. It’s eight minute length passes in the blink of an eye.

Bodies Meld Together offers your more standard 4×4 house beat structure complete with hand claps, soul vocal samples and classic house-style percussion. This isn’t a blast from the past though as it still maintains some modern vitality to it. This one’s clearly more suited for the club – don’t expect it to develop massively as the song moves along.

Loops For Healing is another strong house number featuring piano scales and some sparse but clinical use of keyboard and organs. This is no ecstatic, hands in the air number, but will get your feet moving. I suspect this would play perfectly mid-morning at an Ibiza beach bar. I can almost see myself there now.

Release date: 01 March 2019

Rating: 7/10

Standout track: I Need You

For fans of:

  • Todd Terry
  • Paul Oakenfold
  • Derrick Carter

Listen on Spotify