Introducing – Universal Law.

Every so often, I’ll feature an unsigned band I reckon people should know about. Here’s the first.

Introducing – Universal Law.

universal law logo

Lincoln based punk/funk/rock/hip hop crossover act Universal Law are a little like a Jamie Oliver recipe. Combining the finest moments of Rage Against The Machine and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, chucking them into an industrial sized blender with white hot riffs, a ton of explosive energy and a bucket of personality and serving the whole lot millimetres from your face to create one of the most exciting live acts to come out of the east midlands backwater.

Sod your identikit shoegazing indie bands that litter every pub on a Friday evening, catch a Universal Law gig and you KNOW the party is just getting started. *Slightly* unhinged frontman Will delivers his expertly crafted rhymes with an irresistible conviction and confidence that’s hard not to get caught up in, and he’s not shy to get the audience involved either – which he achieves without anybody in the room cringing, something I haven’t seen in any live band at all in recent years. Flanked by the effortless cool of supremely talented guitarist Ed unleashing the aforementioned orgy of white hot riffs and effortless funk and bassist Eddie, whose bass lines give funk overlord Bootsy Collins a run for his money, minus the dodgy dress sense. Behind the whole thing is local thubthumping legend Perks – one hell of a drummer, laying down complex offbeat grooves that try as you might, you will NOT be able to stop yourself moving to. The thing that unites all four of these guys though, apart from raw talent, is the sheer love of what they’re doing. None of them hide it either, a welcome change in a world of po faced frontmen and drummers who look like they’re about to shit themselves.

I’ve not even got on to the best bit yet. The tunes. Sweet jesus, the tunes. Whether it’s the mid tempo funk of future anti-establishment anthem ‘Freedom’, the catchy riffing of ‘Fighting the Virus’ or ‘Running Round All Day’ or the tailor made for sing-alongs ‘Universal Law’, there’s something here for everybody to love. No, really – everybody.

Don’t believe me? Check the guys out for yourselves on their Soundcloud Page: https://soundcloud.com/universallawband

Like what you hear? You can follow the guys on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/universallawband

Beastmilk – ‘Love In A Cold World’

Beastmilk Cover

Beastmilk – ‘Love In A Cold World’

Blending Robert Smith-esque vocals with a bleak apocalyptic post-punk soundscape, Finnish band Beastmilk are a band I’d absolutely recommend you check out. Taken from their forthcoming debut album ‘Climax’, ‘Love In A Cold World’ is the bastard love child of PiL and The Cure that’s been given a can of Red Bull and told to run around in the dark. It’s rather good.

Thanks to James Parrish from Prescription PR for sending me this track.

Black Onassis ‘Desensitized’ – Review.

Black Onassis ‘Desensitized’ (Minusman Records)

Desensitized Cover

New project of ex-Kasabian guitarist Chris Karloff (with Nick Forde on keyboards/bass), ‘Desensitized’ is the first release from the six-stringer following his departure from the perennial indie bores in 2006. The split was allegedly due to musical differences and from the moment you hit play on this album, you can see why.

For a kick off it’s actually interesting to listen to; the title track begins with a brooding, Gothic synth and guest vocalist Steven Young and continues thus, a hypnotic paean to “my lover ‘til the end”. ‘Humans Animals’ is a scuzzy, driving track with a brilliant if somewhat cryptic vocal sample. ‘Trip B’ features the second of the album’s guest vocalists, Liela Moss of The Duke Spirit – and although she sounds like just about every identikit female chart vocalist, it’s not too bad. The track itself is musically fairly forgettable. ‘ISO’ is superb in its simplicity, thudding along with a fabulous intensity that continues to ebb and flow throughout. It’s almost – but not quite – a Nine Inch Nails instrumental. ‘Brain’ is next, featuring the third guest vocalist on the album – none other than The Cooper Temple Clause’s Ben Gautrey. His haunting, spacey vocal perfectly complements the closest-to-Kasabian sounding track on the album. ‘XXL’ is Karloff wearing his Kraftwerk influence not so much on his sleeve but illuminated on one of those gaudy neon LED T Shirts you can buy. He’s added his own twist to the mix, and it works well with the minimalist electronics counterpointed by a farty synth and live drums. Unfortunately though, unlike anything by the aforementioned gods of minimalist electronica, ‘XXL’ is rather dull. (I will grant you it’s perhaps an unfair comparison)Next comes the moodily spartan dark disco of ‘Innocence Blitz’, with Aurelio Vale on vocals. Swelling synths abound here, creating a wonderful sense of atmosphere. It’s superb, and one that will undoubtedly make it onto the playlists of every darkwave DJ in the country alongside the usual fare.

‘Minus Intermission’ is just that, an intermission – and there are some great riffs in there for sure, but they are lost amongst loads of musical driftwood. It listens like I’d imagine the cutting room floor at any of the big film studios looks; loads of discarded ideas, destined for the special features section of the film’s DVD release. ‘Minus Humans’ opens with another Kraftwerkian lo-fi synth, and whispered delay drenched vocals. Ultimately again however it ends up being a rather dull piece of throwaway electronica.  ‘Mono’ is better, sounding like a slightly more hectic VNV Nation. This one will undoubtedly sit alongside ‘Innocence Blitz’ on industrial DJ’s playlists. ‘Ether’ featuring Morgan Kibby of M83 initially sounds horribly out of place following the sonic onslaught of ‘Mono’. This track alone is more successful than most of the album so far thanks to Kibby’s semi angelic vocals and the assurance that she’s “fighting for a good fight”. Then ‘ADHD’ drills into your head. Literally, it would appear, from the opening sample. Karloff has cited The Prodigy as an influence, and you can hear it as clear as the nose on your face here – the manic drums and simple synth parts are indeed reminiscent of the rave nutjobs early work. It’s not bad. Lastly is the downright peculiar ‘Minus Theme’, a sort of 46 second lullaby played on an organ that seems to be underwater. That’s about all I’ve got on that one…

‘Desensitized’ is the sound of a man finally set free from musical oppression; like he has finally been able to commit a wealth of ideas to record. The results are mixed. There are undoubtedly moments of brilliance, however you have to work to pick them out from the chaos. Perhaps tellingly, the stand out cuts on the album come from the tracks with guest vocalists, and certainly the impression I get is Karloff needs a vocalist to work with as a focus and complement for his ideas. Far from a bad album, and I look forward to hearing more.

3/5.

Thanks to Ellie Clarke from Prescription PR for providing this album for review.  

I know, I know, it’s only September…

…but the news that veteran US punk legends Bad Religion are set to release a Christmas album is frankly far too exciting to keep quiet about. Set to include interpretations of classic Christmas carols, it’s sure to be the perfect antidote to those of us who are sick of the usual endless repeats of Slade, Wizzard et al. It’s due for release on October 28 through (who else?) Epitaph.

In the mean time, here’s ‘Broken’, from 2002’s ‘The Process Of Belief’:

Bad Religion – ‘Broken’

Grand Cafe ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ – Review.

Grand Café ‘Elm Tree Gardens’.

Image

Grand Cafe (L-R) – Richard Opsal-Engen (Guitar), Thomas Pytterud (Drums), Kenneth Sandberg (Bass), Christer Krogh (Vocals/Guitar), Didrik Lund (Piano/Organ)

So, a few days ago I received an email from a guy with an excellent name – he’s also called Chris – asking me to have a listen to his band’s album. I was of course more than happy to oblige. That band is Grand Café and the album is ‘Elm Tree Gardens’, released on April 26th this year. Drawing heavy influence from the Detroit rock scene of the sixties, ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ is a hugely dynamic record, effortlessly alternating between raw rock muscle a gentler instrumentation. It’s a fiercely inventive record too and makes no apologies for it. This is the band’s sophomore release, following 2008’s ‘Put A Little Grease On My Axe’ (now there’s a euphemism if ever I heard one), and by all accounts they haven’t done things by halves, electing to enlist Taking Back Sunday and Turbonegro producer Lars Voldsal to helm the sessions.

’26 Days’ kicks off proceedings, and it’s a compelling album opener. The mood here is both contemplative and slightly creepy, in the same sense that Sting’s ode to the joys of stalking ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ is; although frontman Christer Krogh seems to be a little more aware of himself than The Police frontman ever was when he describes spending “26 days on your bedroom floor, I spent days and nights just to a little get closer to you, in my mind where I’m ruined, just because of you”. An eerie, repeated guitar pattern and skittering yet relentless drums draw the song towards a cataclysmic, discordant chorus. Superb.

‘A Hole In Your Soul’ is next, opening with wave after wave of clashing drums against the shore that is the listener’s ears and stabs on a Hammond organ, and Krogh, who informs an unseen antagonist that he’ll “follow your lead like a dog”. First single ‘Million Miles Away’ veers further towards indie sounding not unlike ‘Antics’ era Interpol, intricately weaving piano and guitar whilst leaving room for Krogh’s superbly emotive voice. You can see the inventive side of the album clearly here too as the Hammond organ makes an appearance again here too, and it works incredibly well when it perhaps should not. Slow burner ‘No Bridge Unknown’ opens with a classic eighties power ballad lead guitar and builds to an almighty chorus. Lyrically the song is a lament for one of those broken souls we all encounter from time to time; those whose lives have burned out in a blaze of chaos.

Title track ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ loosely continues this theme; a discordant tale of a man “walking round in the wind and the rain in the Elm Tree Gardens” who is a “shame a disgrace and he’s locked in his mind” all accompanied by military drums and crystal clean guitars. ‘Lust’ talks of a (possibly autobiographical) one night stand ending in unrequited love; “you came out of lust, as I wanted you to – as you wanted me to. You came with your heart, you held it up high but I was too blind to see”, Melody on ‘Lust’ comes from a mournful flute, immaculately underpinning Krogh’s unfortunate tale with delicate majesty. It has to be said at this point that the aforementioned experimental instrumentation on this album is superbly executed and utterly fearless. Experimentalism in music is something that in the wrong hands can completely destroy and album, but on ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ Grand Café have got it spot on.

‘The Captain Roams’ is a bombastic rock track, rammed fuller than Kerry Katona with driving rhythms, insistent guitars and a superbly sleazy bassline, and the declaration that “these chains are yours to own”. Kinky. ‘Headsman’ is the clearest example of the band’s sixties influences, sounding like a fuzzed up homage to Led Zeppelin (yes, I know they weren’t a sixties band!) – and it’s utterly awesome. The thing I love most about ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ is that no two tracks are the same; and ‘Murdergame’ is no exception. A moody, churning number about addiction to murder that features the startling revelation “my medicine is death, that’s why I’m sane”. One of the most addictive (and in turn, ironic) tracks on the album. ‘Killer Bee’ is a chorus drenched musical family tree, with some of the finest guitar work I have heard on an album in a while, and ‘A Sign Of Love’ – it may not surprise you to know – is a piano led love song, with Krogh urging the subject of his affections to “open your eyes and let me be with you, let me just take your hand and we’ll walk together”. It may not be Shakespeare, but it’s still beautiful.

So, thanks to Chris for sending me ‘Elm Tree Gardens’. Grand Café are a band that at the time of writing have had very little recognition in the UK, and this is a crying shame – however, on the strength of the wonderful ‘Elm Tree Gardens’  this will hopefully become a thing of the past.

4/5.

Here’s the video for first single ‘Million Miles Away’. Enjoy!

Earworms for August.

Something I intend to post on a semi regular basis (i.e. when I can be bothered) are five tracks I’ve been listening to repeatedly at a given time. Here’s August’s…

Garbage – Automatic Systematic Habit.

From 2011’s post hiatus ‘Not Your Kind Of People’, this relentless track melds squelchy basslines with irresistible drums and features frontwoman Shirley Manson at her acidic ‘f**k you’ best.

Garbage – Automatic Sytematic Habit

Deadmau5 ft. Gerard Way – Professional Griefers.

More infectious than a nasty case of genital warts, one of the standout cuts from ‘Album Title Goes Here’ also features a snotty, cryptic vocal from former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way.

Deadmau5 ft. Gerard Way – Professional Griefers

The Primitives – Crash.

If ever a song could be described as perfect, this comes pretty damn close – a three and a half minute mix of scuzzy guitars and immaculate pop hooks that’ll stick a dirty great grin on your face. Just try and remove this one from your cranium before the dawn of the next millenium. It’s impossible. The band are about to embark on a tour to mark the 25th anniversary of ‘Lovely’, the album this track is taken from – I suggest you check them out.

The Primitives – Crash.

Nine Inch Nails – Came Back Haunted

A track from forthcoming LP ‘Hesitation Marks’, skittering along on an insistent drum machine rhythm and bleepy synths with an immediate, anthemic chorus, Came Back Haunted proves Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails are still as vital as they always have been. Few acts have this much longevity.

Nine Inch Nails – Came Back Haunted.

UB40 – Getting Over The Storm

One of the highlights from the band’s upcoming album of the same name. Lively horns abound on reggae-tastic Getting Over The Storm cements UB40 as kings of the genre.

(Irritatingly, this one isn’t available on YouTube – so no link for the moment!)

UB40 ‘Getting Over The Storm’ – Review.

UB40 ‘Getting Over The Storm’ – Universal/Virgin Records.

UB40 GOTS

Aah, Birmingham. Synonymous with roads made of pasta, The Bull Ring shopping centre and, er, National Express, it’s probably not a place you’d associate with one of the most successful reggae acts in the world. Yet over the course of the last thirty years Brummie band UB40 have become just that. Catching their big break courtesy of Chrissie Hynde, who saw them in a pub in Birmingham during their formative years and asked them to support The Pretenders, UB40 have enjoyed a steady career for nearly three decades. However, in 2011 five of the founding members of the band had bankruptcy proceedings started against them as a result of debts accrued by the band’s own DEP International label. Former singer Ali Campbell, who left the band in 2008 to pursue a solo career, was also declared bankrupt. One has to wonder if ‘Getting Over The Storm’ together with some of the album’s lyrical content and choices of cover songs is a none too subtle reference to these woes.

‘Getting Over The Storm’ is the second album since Ali Campbell’s departure and the band’s eighteenth in total, following 2010’s ‘Labour Of Love IV’ (the fourth entry in the band’s long spanning series of cover albums), and it’s the sound of a band refreshed. Recorded live in the studio, it retains the exquisite production of previous releases.  ‘GOTS’ carries on the band’s tradition of mixing original material with covers – in this case of classic country songs – however at this stage I will admit I know none of the covers featured!

The biggest difference on ‘Getting Over The Storm’ is new lead singer Duncan Campbell, replacing brother Ali following his career spanning tenure with the band. Duncan’s vocals don’t share Ali’s distinctive nasal quality, but this is not to say they are lacking in other areas. He still instils his vocals with the same innate sense of joy that Ali always did.

On to the album itself then, and it’s a promising start as ‘Midnight Rider’ fizzles and pops with joyous horns and easy going rhythms. Yep, this is a UB40 record. ‘Just What’s Killing Me’ takes the album to a slightly more maudlin place, with Duncan telling us “I don’t intend on doing much regretting, I just need to drink away the agony” amid a gentle rhythm and a lazy slide guitar, courtesy of guest musician Melvin Duffy who was given a carte blanche with his parts, as saxophonist Brian Travers explains:  “We gave Melvin free reign to play whatever he liked, and he did an incredible job. He’s a hugely intuitive musician”. You only have to listen to the album’s title track, a blissful mix of positivity, reggae rhythms and slide guitar, for proof of this; from the off Duffy’s parts weave seamlessly with the rest of the band, providing colour and atmosphere and punctuating the lyrics perfectly.

‘Blue Billet Deux’ is UB40 doing heartbreak, and the first time I’ve heard a reference to text messaging in a song without being struck by nausea: “I still can’t believe you left without warning, told me in a text without even calling”. Musically, this one is a little busy – but the band pull it off in their own inimitable style.

‘If You Ever Have Forever,’’ Crying Time’ and the optimistically monikered ‘How Will I Get Through This’ are all standard UB40 fare, i.e. pleasing if somewhat forgettable reggae tunes. ‘He’ll Have To Go’ adds squelchy production and some more inspired slide guitar work to the mix, and holds your attention somewhat more successfully. ‘Blue Eyes Crying The Rain’ substitutes the usual horns for jaunty Hammond organ stabs and beautiful if slightly harrowing similies; “love is like a dying ember, only memories remain”.

‘I Did What I Did’ returns to UB40’s winning formula. ‘On The Other Hand’ however is a real surprise that would sound at home on the soundtrack of some overblown but heartwarming romantic comedy film (producers for Bridget Jones 3, take note) – ironic really, as it’s about cheating on your wife. A slow burning, deeply atmospheric number with textural, fingerpicked guitars (yes, one of which is Melvin Duffy’s handiwork!) this is probably the most country song on GOTS.

‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’ is a none too subtle comment on the sky rocketing cost of living in the UK at the moment, and closer ‘I Didn’t Know’ is yet another paean to a departed lover. Both, of course, are standard issue reggae numbers.

‘Getting Over The Storm’ is absolutely one hundred per cent a UB40 album. If you’re a fan, either of the band, genre or both, then get yourself a copy – you won’t be disappointed. If however you’re indifferent, you will probably end up skipping through or switching off half way through. This is no detriment to UB40, more the limitations of the genre. Even punctuated by Melvin Duffy’s slide guitar and the occasional forays into experimentation, ‘Getting Over The Storm’ is still a repetitive record.

3.5/5.

‘Getting Over The Storm’ is available on 2nd September through Universal/Virgin Records.

Huge thanks to Ellie Clarke at Prescription PR for providing this album for review.