Author: Chris.

Track of the Day: Your Cat Is A Landmine – ‘Natalie Portman’s Tapeworm’

Your Cat Is A Landmine – ‘Natalie Portman’s Tapeworm’

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Surely the most downright peculiar collection of words ever to head a review – music or otherwise? Anyway…

‘Natalie Portman’s Tapeworm’ is the lead track from Lincoln based (not to mention fantastically named) three piece Your Cat Is A Landmine’s new EP, ‘A Gift Horse You Can’t Ignore’. And sweet jesus, WHAT a tune. Expertly crafted, like a great piece of furniture; you can tell Mike (Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboards), Ben (Bass, Lead Vocals) and Alex (Drums, Backing Vocals) are not only biblically talented, they also love the music they’re making. And on ‘Natalie Portman’s Tapeworm’, it shows. Opening with a gorgeously thick, intricate guitar and building via insistent riffs through a double verse and fabulous bridge to one of the absolute best choruses I’ve heard in years. Try and fight off the urge to sing along. You won’t be able to manage it. Trust me.

‘Natalie Portman’s Tapeworm’ is an absolute stormer of a tune; three and a half minutes of sheer auditory pleasure. I can’t stop listening to it. Well done fellas.

Check out the video here:

You can buy the band’s EP from their Bandcamp page: http://catlandmine.bandcamp.com/

You can also find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yourcatisalandmine

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Driving Mrs Satan – Popscotch (Review)

Driving Mrs Satan – Popscotch

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In a musical climate where precious few seem to have a unique selling point any more, Driving Mrs Satan stand like a beacon of unique-ness amid a sea of the turgid and the grey. It’s quite a USP too; hailing from London and Naples, they share a love of heavy metal. Not that unique, I hear you cry – but there’s more. They turn that love into shimmery indie-pop versions of tracks by some of metal’s greatest acts. To quote the sleeve notes for Popscotch, Driving Mrs Satan “Make room for quiet in the history of heavy metal”. If you’re curious, I don’t blame you – I certainly was too.

As Popscotch is a covers album, I came to write this review facing a bit of a quandary. To review it as being the covers album that it is, drawing the inevitable links between the source material and the band’s versions, or to review it as an album in its own right? The answer in short is neither; it’s perhaps better to approach Popscotch as an album of not cover versions, but one of re-imaginings. A little like Hollywood’s never ceasing desire to remake almost every decent film made in the last thirty or so years.

It’s undoubtedly an interesting idea; taking classic tracks by some of the world’s best metal acts cov… er, re-imagining them as breezy indie folk numbers. Sadly though the resultant eleven tracks give very mixed results and most suffer from the same unfortunate affliction; in nearly every case the lyrics are stripped of any conviction and substance. At worst, they are rendered cringe inducing. The worst offender is the cover of Metallica’s ‘Battery’ which in the hands of the recent Glastonbury headliners is an aggressive exercise in the art of the rhyming couplet, but in the hands of Claudia Sorvillo the song’s barrage of harsh adjectives are completely stripped of any menace and as a result sound downright peculiar. This point isn’t helped by the overtly twee instrumentation on the track either; it opens with a breezy flotilla acoustic guitars and la la la’s fluttering into your ears, clashing horribly with the opening lines of “Lashing out the action, returning the reaction, weak are ripped and torn away”. It sounds like the soundtrack to a particularly cheesy shampoo advert.

Popscotch mercifully doesn’t get any worse, although in places it comes perilously close. Anthrax’s ‘Caught In A Mosh’ is mutated into something that sounds like a Panic At The Disco B Side, Motorhead’s ‘Killed By Death’ sounds like Massive Attack on a bad day and ‘Hells Bells’, when stripped of AC/DC’s usual OTT bombast, is turned into something rather dull.

Happily though, it’s not all bad news. The album opens with the band’s take on Helloween’s ‘I Want Out’, and whilst the music is forgettable, Sorvillo somehow manages to retain the urgency in the source material’s lyrics and you really believe her conviction when she reaches that self affirming chorus. The breathy, seductive quality in her voice too makes Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ into something rather good, at least until the chorus arrives. Mercifully, the second half of the disc is sparse on moments that make you want to reach for the skip button (although you won’t be reaching for the repeat button either.) Iron Maiden’s ‘Can I Play With Madness’ is passable, although it lacks the harmonised, multi tracked vocals that gave the original its appeal. Slayer’s ‘South of Heaven’ is transformed into a soulful, mellow tune that could easily be performed in a smoky jazz club, as is Faith No More’s ‘From Out Of Nowhere’.

Whilst the concept behind Popscotch is an interesting one, it sadly doesn’t quite work. Whilst the instrumentation and song arrangements are mildly interesting, they aren’t unfortunately engaging – and whilst I have no doubt there are people out there who would levy the same criticism at the material Driving Mrs Satan have used as inspiration for Popscotch, these original versions all have two things in common. Energy and attitude – absolute sackfuls of it. It’s these attributes that makes them great, and sadly they haven’t quite made it into Driving Mrs Satan’s versions.

What the band do have, though, is enthusiasm – listening to Popscotch, you can hear it bursting through each immaculate chord and each sleepy chorus. Also they crucially have a real love for both genres they’ve mashed together here, and this too becomes vividly apparent from the first listen. Ultimately though, that doesn’t rescue the album entirely from the doldrums. At the very least Popscotch is a great conversation starter and a reasonable record to chill out to if you don’t fancy the balls out aggression of the metal versions. These two points alone save it from being relegated to back of the shelf status.

2.5/5

Popscotch is out now via Agua Loca Records.

Thanks once again to Ellie Clarke from Prescription PR for sending me the album for review.

The Wonders Of t’Internet – Featuring Tragic Gadget.

The Wonders Of t’Internet – Featuring Tragic Gadget.

Over the last few years I’ve regularly waxed lyrical about what I believe to be one of the best ways of discovering new music; chasing links on YouTube. For the ten or so of you who are left in the world who aren’t familiar with this practice, here’s how it works. First, load up a video of a song you like. Listen to said song. Now, here’s where things potentially get interesting. See the ‘Suggestions’ column on the right? Click on something. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be a live version or a collaboration with the artist whose video you’ve just watched, maybe a cover of the same song by a different band, anything. If you’re feeling really brave, go for something you don’t know. Like what you’re hearing now? Excellent, choose another. Didn’t like it? Not a problem, keep choose another from this new video. Whilst it’s by no means a fool proof way of exploring, I encourage you to persevere.

Using this very process I have today discovered an absolute gem that I’d like to share with you. It’s called ‘Shot In The Dark’ by Tragic Gadget. It’s a wonderfully infectious piece of sunny, uplifting pop music. Singer Kim Tillman’s vocals are sublime, not to mention the sublimely intricate guitar work from six stringers Chris Lorentz (who also provides fabulously funky bass), Corey Richardson and John Bruton.

Check it out – then when the video ends, go ahead and click some links. You never know what you might discover!

 

 

Gazing into the musical crystal ball… (The QH Jan 2014)

Gazing into the musical crystal ball… (Originally published in The QH in January 2014)

Our retinas are at long last being given a break from gaudy Christmas chintz. Leftover turkey and mince pies seem but a distant memory, the New Year’s Day hangovers have finally subsided and Crème Eggs are already in your local Tesco. Yep, it’s January. The drudgery of the four weeks following festive excess may feel like a lifetime, and the weather certainly isn’t helping. Depressed yet? Yup, me too. Not to worry however, a sure fire way to beat those start-of-the year bouts of soul obliterating misery is to look at the year ahead. Plan a holiday. Dust off those summer clothes. Decide to learn a language. Or in the case of this column, time then to stare forth into the vast chasm of possibility that is 2014, in order to seek out for you some of the new year’s upcoming albums.

It’s shaping up to be a bit of a corker of a year, musically speaking. Beginning the year’s schedule of exciting releases is Iller Than Most, the new record from the hilariously named MC Del The Funky Homosapien. You won’t find this one plonked on the shelves of your local HMV though (yes, it’s still there) – Del has released this one completely free under the name Zartan Drednaught COBRA via SoundCloud. He describes the self-produced record as “fun to listen to, nothing super heavy”. Go forth and check it out. Post-grunge (no, I have no idea what it means either) stalwarts  Switchfoot have a new album heading your way on January 14th about kittens, clouds and clowns. Probably.  Rock cornerstone Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen releases High Hopes on the same day, and on our side of the ocean Sophie Ellis-Bextor releases Wanderlust less than a week later. Out of interest, did anybody know she had actually released anything since 2003 sophomore album ‘Shoot From The Hip’? Came as a surprise to me, put it that way – and I’d bet I’m not the only one. Metallers Within Temptation unleash the highly anticipated Hydra at the end of the month, rounding off January with a blast of symphonic metal histrionics.

Probably the world’s most unlikely pairing release Cheek to Cheek during January too. Go on, take a guess. A fiver says you won’t get it. Give up? Think wrinkly American crooner and arguably the weirdest contemporary pop singer around. No? Alright. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. I’ll give you a moment to process that. I don’t know about you, but I’m tentatively curious.

Desperately trying to cling onto the last vestiges of a genre they helped define in the early 2000s, boorish nu-metal clowns Limp Bizkit are sadly due to release the follow up to 2011’s laughably awful Gold Cobra at some point this month too.  For a band that occasionally had moments of inspired inventiveness early in their careers (take ‘Re-Arranged’ from Significant Other or ‘Boiler’ from Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water for instance) its massively disappointing that their recent output has been such utter tripe. Also noteworthy in 2014’s formative month – for more positive reasons – is Ghosts of Download, the new album from eighties pioneers Blondie. The follow up to 2011’s rather excellent Panic of Girls, this is one to watch out for.

February brings new releases from Katy B, quirky northern indie-ers Maximo Park, the seemingly limitless talent of Ed Sheeran as well as the alliterative Nina Nesbitt, to name but a few. March is big-name fest, with new material from Imogen Heap, Example and Lily Allen. Here’s hoping the turgid cover of Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ isn’t indicative of the rest of the albums content. Inexplicably March will also see the posthumous release of Out Among The Stars by country rebel Johnny Cash.

At the time of writing, the rest of the year is rammed fuller than Robin Thicke’s hate mail inbox with new releases. Heading your way is brand spanking new stuff from rockers AC/DC, The Cult, Enter Shikari and the Foo Fighters, frankly terrifying metallers Arch Enemy and a new record from one quarter of the ‘Big Four’ of metal – namely Anthrax. Ageing pop punkers Bink 182 follow up sombre 2009 album Neighbourhoods this year too, and following suit are the Californian contemporaries The Offspring with what has to be about their 393rd release. We’re also going to be treated to another posthumous release, this time from King of Pop Michael Jackson, and there’s something for the hipsters too; a new opus from the ironically named Fun. Lana Del Rey and Emeli Sande have new stuff in the pipeline, and irritatingly so does Kanye West following up 2013’s collection of odes to intelligence and humility that was Yeezus.

Much for us to get excited about then. Happy 2014, everyone.

Rant: Caught In The Headlights.

Rant: Caught In The Headlights.

Happy days – the lovely folks over at CALM have decided to let me be a featured writer and spout forth my incessant ramblings over a real, honest-to-god website! If you fancy reading a bit of irrational, bile-encrusted rage you can find my first piece for them by clicking the link. You know you want to.

In all seriousness, CALM – or to give it it’s full title Campaign Against Living Miserably – is an absolutely superb charity, focusing on generating awareness of male mental health issues. They also provide a free, confidential support service. Their website is well worth checking out as it’s an absolute treasure trove of superb writing covering all manner of topics.

Abba ‘Ring Ring’ (Deluxe Edition) – Review.

ABBA ‘Ring Ring’ Deluxe Edition (EMI)

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The album reissue is certainly a controversial topic; the cynical amongst us view it as merely an attempt to cash in on an artist’s back catalogue whereas some believe it’s a great way to get our hands on that elusive rarity. Those of us with a penchant for rose tinted glasses may even see it as a tribute to an artist, to expose a whole new generation to their work. Or for die-hard fans to get hold of absolutely every last scrap of recorded material their idol/s released, plus a few additional juicy bonuses besides. Me? I tend to flit between all of these schools of thought, and where my dice land is based on a couple of factors. Who the artist is, and how long ago the initial album was released are the main two. I also tend to be more cynical if the artist is still recording and releasing new material.

The artist in question here is of course the almighty Scandinavian pop juggernaut that was Abba.  Whatever your musical preferences, you can’t hate Abba – their particular brand of brilliantly honest, hook crammed and very slightly emotionally tinged pop is about as inoffensive as said genre gets. I grew up with 1980 album ‘Super Trouper’ being played in my house on a fairly regular basis, and despite not being entirely sure what the phrase meant, I would insist on repeated plays and my father was only too happy to oblige.

‘Ring Ring’ was the band’s 1973 debut and whilst it wasn’t exactly a worldwide success, it still achieved 3x platinum certification in Australia and a No.2 chart position in the band’s native Sweden as well as No.1 in nearby Belgium. Unlike current bands that seem to release only a couple of tracks from an album as singles, Abba released a total of nine of the original tracks from ‘Ring Ring’ worldwide between 1972 – 1973. Perhaps the best known track from the album (to the casual listener, anyway) is the raucous pop bombast of the Neil Sedaka co-written title track.

This particular ‘Deluxe’ Edition of the album comes in a two disc format. The first is a CD split into three sections. The first, perhaps obviously, is the full original album. The second and third sections comprise a slew of bonus tracks including – most interestingly – the title track in no fewer than three additional languages; Swedish, German and Spanish. The third section is devoted especially to six early versions of main album tracks. The second disc is a DVD including interviews, live performances and an ‘International Sleeve Gallery’ – and surprising as this may seem, no the latter is not a tribute to the bands tailor.

So, the album itself then – beginning with the raucous pop of the title track, you immediately get a sense of Abba’s ultra-infectious songwriting and Anni-Frid and Agnethas superbly powerful vocals… and oh dear. Unfortunately, it goes downhill from there. Descending into the realms of horrendously dated sub – par folk, the rest of the album lacks the pristine pop sheen and songwriting finesse of ‘Ring Ring’, which thankfully re appeared through much of the bands later output. The only slight saving grace is final track (on the album proper) ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Band’, but even this pales in comparison to later material.

The bonus tracks fare no better; most fall into the same trap as the album itself – formulaic, dull folk music. Aforementioned multiple versions of ‘Ring Ring’ aside, the only thing of note is a promotional track for the band’s 1973 tour of Sweden – which is rendered pointless if you don’t speak Swedish. The early versions of album tracks would be mildly interesting if the songs themselves were any cop, but sadly they aren’t. They are only of any use as a means of charting the evolution of the songs and picking out the better production of the album versions.

This re-release falls firmly into two camps. Shameless cash-in for one, and if I’m being kinder it’s a great package for all you die-hard Abba completists out there. If you don’t fit this description, it’s hard to recommend this as a purchase.  Opt instead for one of the Abba Gold compilations; they contain all the essentials from the band’s catalogue.

2/5.

Thanks to Dan McCormick from Prescription PR for sending me the album for review.