Review: Boxkite – s/t [7″]

Plymouth punk upstarts Boxkite formed in 2013 to play sad hardcore, apparently. This first release showcases this young band’s first forays into the recording studio, with mixed results.

Opening with ‘Struggles’, Boxkite put forward their sonic manifesto in 70 concise seconds, beginning calmly with sinister and brooding picked guitar chords before going blast-beat crazy for probably only about 15 seconds before settling into a grinding, sludgy Melvins riff. As an intro it works really well – it’s reminiscent of Mike Patton’s Fantomas project and is similarly entertaining.

This transitions seamlessly into ‘Cycles’, the collection’s first proper song. It opens with a high-paced bass riff and some incredible chops being displayed on the drums but unfortunately, there aren’t any real hooks to speak of. The next song, ‘Red Skies’, is more or less identical and both tunes descend into a feedback-laden sludgy breakdown towards the end. There isn’t a great deal that sets these two songs apart.

The next couple of tracks have a combined run time of less than two minutes and where it’s fine to have a short song, these tunes don’t feel like they get a chance to develop – ‘Groom Lake’ in particular feels like it could have been something special if only they’d given it legs.

Over all, there are some really great moments on show from this young band here. It feels like they would be a hell of a spectacle to witness live with extra special props going to the absolute octopus of a drummer they have behind the kit. On record, they’re not quite there yet but you feel like it’s only a matter of time.

2.5 out of 5 high fives!

Notes from the Keybed – March 2015

Post-rock electronica duo Worriedaboutsatan return with Even Temper, their first album in six years. That’s not to say that Thomas Ragsdale and Gavin Miller have been taking it easy in said downtime, having released some truly stunning music from the atmospheric techno of Ghosting Season to their own solo projects and film soundtracks. Regardless of which name they are recording under, my favourite thing about the Leeds duo has always been their seamless mix of cold electronica and heartfelt songwriting, with the lo-fi samples, vocals and guitars adding a layer of ‘realness’ that is so often missing from purely electronic music. Their live approach to writing through jamming is evident in the evolving song structures and extended workouts, with many songs breaking the five minute mark yet never outstaying their welcome. Highlights include the vocal-based ‘MV Joyita’ featuring the voice of Morgan Visconti and the seven and a half minute emotional outpouring of ‘Sleep of the Foolish’. Find someone who claims not to like electronic music and play them this record to undoubtedly change their mind.

On a completely different note comes the new record from Hot Nerds who feature Some Girls’ guitar mangler Nathan Joyner, joined by synth tweaker Alia Jyawook and drummer Thomas O’Connell. With an album called Strategically Placed Bananas, adorned with cover art featuring said article of fruit protecting the modesty of a reclining cartoon mullet man, you know what you’re getting before you even press play! Fortunately the musical content doesn’t disappoint, consisting of discordant synth punk along the lines of the much-missed Test Icicles or label boss Justin Pearson’s electronic grindcore pioneers The Locust. Unapologetically weird and noisy, with many songs lasting just a minute or two it is equally wonderful and bizarre anti-pop. My personal fave on the record is the fantastically-monikered ‘Stuffed Party Animals’, which features scatty clipped drum beats, whiny vocal chants and a classic hoover synth sound.

German party boys Eskimo Callboy return with their third album of generic but enjoyable electronicore mixed with autotuned pop choruses, trappy synth leads and a good dosage of nu-metal! At its best, Crystals comes across like the Linkin Park glory days mixed with the pop hook of Issues (without the majestic vocals of Tyler C). It will no doubt polarise listeners and certainly won’t win the German band any new fans, but it’s good (in)offensive fun that’ll soundtrack a fair few throwdowns and catchy singalongs for those so inclined. The twin vocal attack works well in the classic sing/scream metalcore template and the guitars are suitably tight and chuggy mixed with some danceable beats and glitchy electro noises in the same vein as Palisades and Attack Attack!. Plus ‘2 Fat 2 Furious’ is an absolute banger about not wanting to ‘live without burgers and fries’… ‘nuff said.

On the opposite side of the audio spectrum comes the new record from alt-poppers the Go! Team. Ridiculously jubilant and stuffed with samples, singles ‘What D’You Say?’ and title track ‘The Scene Between’ tread a similar sonic path to The Flaming Lips, with experimental indie pop being the order of the day. Delightful harmonies and guitar strummed major chords take precedence over the six piece’s hip-hop infused earlier material but it is all pleasant stuff and an early contender for your summer soundtrack.

Unless you’ve been living in social isolation away from all radio, online and print media (in which case you probably won’t have the wifi connection to read this, but that’s a moot point) you can’t have missed the announcement of a new Prodigy album to hit stores at the end of this month! Back to regain the dance-rock crossover crown from the likes of Pendulum and Shikari, Liam Howlett and co launched their latest attack on the airwaves with ‘Nasty’, a suitably-titled drum & bass banger with growling synths, belligerent vocals and a typically dark guitar riff. The rest of the pre-release singles from ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ have followed suit with the Sleathford Mods collaboration ‘Ibiza’ ripping apart lad culture and ‘Rhythm Bomb’ delivering an instantly catchy floor-filler alongside the talents of dubstep don Flux Pavilion. Twenty-five years on from the birth of the rave scene, the Prodigy remain at the top of the pile, shitting on those who have attempted to steal their crown in gloriously literal fashion.

Finally, this months’s Keytar Hero award is a collective one going to Shiny Toy Guns, who boast not just one keytarist but two in the form of frontwoman Carah Charnow and synth player Jeremy Dawson. The lucky buggers have been boasting two shiny non-toy Roland AX-synths of late, which is just greedy and they really should donate one to me. Once the envy subsides you’d do well to revisit 2006 electroclash anthem ‘Le Disko’ to see why they justify such lavish playthings.

Review: Personal Best – Arnos Vale

The sun’s coming out, everyone’s feeling less gloomy and summer seems like it’s just around the corner. Sounds like the perfect time for a new Personal Best record to come out, yeah? Well, you’re in luck – Arnos Vale is out this week and it’s absolutely cracking.

Of course, that’s to be expected with the melody-wrangling superteam that is Katie, Tom and (at the time of recording) Lou, who have an impressive back catalogue of hits from their time in Bedford Falls, Attack Vipers and Caves respectively. It starts out strong with ‘If You Meet Someone In Love’, which instantly hits you with a wall of full-on riffage and perfect singalong opportunities. Katie’s vocals strike the perfect tone, and it’s impossible not to join in. Perhaps that’s the most impressive thing about Arnos Vale – at every step of the way, you kind of feel like you’re part of the gang, and that’s what music should be all about. It’s impossible not to relate to tracks like ‘Human Nature’ or ‘This Time Next Year’, and it makes you want to pick up a guitar or a drumstick yourself. After all, if being in a band can be as fun as Arnos Vale makes it seem, why aren’t we all doing it?

For all the brilliant chorus-and-riff bangers, Personal Best are not afraid to get a little weird in places either. The verses in ‘Poor Old You’ are backed with this brilliant, spidery riff and ‘This Is What We Look Like’ has a real grungy chorus with some fantastic distortion. Arnos Vale gives everyone a chance to try out something a bit different to their usual projects, and although the record has some super 90s vibes, it still sounds totally fresh and completely unique.

Arnos Vale is an absolute gem of a record. Unflinchingly honest and often beautiful, Personal Best have put together 24 minutes of solid joy. It’s super posi-indie-pop and it makes no apologies for it. Although Lou will be moving on to different things, there’s no doubt that the next Personal Best record will be just as fun. However, for now, know that Arnos Vale exists and the planet is far better for it.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Pale Angels – Imaginary People

The bastard child of punk, grunge and britpop, Pale Angels hail from the unlikely home of Swansea, Wales via Jersey, USA. A Transatlantic combo of road veterans who between them have spent time in Crimes, The Arteries and The Ergs amongst many others, their experience pays off in an explosive record that sounds far louder than their three-piece line-up would imply. Album number two Imaginary People is released on 6 April via Exeter’s Specialist Subject Records, responsible for absolute bangers from the likes of Caves, Above Them, and Bangers themselves of course! Following on from debut LP Primal Play, frontman Mike Santostefanso’s slacker drawl leads the way through a varied mix of styles from acoustic-led indie jangle to the trademark sounds of nineties Seattle.

The opening salvo hits hard with three hook-laden anthems straight out the gates. ‘Lapin, Lapin’ has a deliciously yearning vocal line over a slowly building crescendo and a guitar riff that could have come straight off ‘In Utero’. This is followed by ‘I’m Nobody’, which cranks up the overdrive to stoner levels, and my personal favourite ‘Wild Vile Flesh’, a speedy thrasher that just sounds downright dirty. The chorus also reminds me somewhat of a Distillers song (in a there’s only so many chords in punk way, not a Gaye/Thicke lawsuit way), which is always a good thing! The trio’s years of songwriting expertise are clearly on show with singalong vocal lines galore, and you just know they’d slay it live. Later on in the record, the guys up the reverb to deliver some surftastic guitar riffs that could easily soundtrack a spy film as quickly as they could level your local dive bar venue.

Imaginary People does have a few unexpected low points though. Midway through the album, ‘Schizophrenic Affair’ sounds worryingly like Oasis in stark contrast to the punk fury unleashed in the first fifteen minutes. More unfortunate still is the ninth track ‘Dreamer’, which meanders through six boring minutes of nothing much. An underdeveloped non-song, I felt like hitting the skip button halfway through but held out until the bitter end to find little more than the death knells of an unrelenting tambourine and a spring reverb-drenched guitar that just won’t give up even after the track’s natural and much-needed end. In fact, while bands always get bonus points in my books for attempting a full-length album instead of the constant slew of EPs, this record could do with losing a fair few minutes of aimless wandering and focus instead on the short sharp hooks, of which there are many! The closing track absolves for the sins of its predecessor with a brilliantly shouty chorus and dissonant guitar riff. Another six-minute number, here the seconds don’t feel wasted as it builds throughout to a gloriously noisy conclusion.

Ultimately you don’t come to grunge expecting reinvention. It is a genre steeped in yellow smiley-face branded history, and to that end Pale Angels deliver the goods. The overall sound of the album is spot-on too, with colossal guitars erupting over disgustingly thick and fuzzy Muff bass. The production is fittingly live and raw, it’s certainly refreshing to hear drums that sound like an actual kit is being played in the same room as the rest of the band – a point missing from many over-engineered and sample reinforced rock records today. With tunes to match, ‘Imaginary People’ is well worth picking up and certainly serves as a far more fitting legacy to a certain Mr Cobain than the latest posthumous documentary doing the rounds. Flannel up and fuzz out, Pale Angels are leading the charge for grunge in 2015.

3.5 out of 5 high fives!

Interview: Isaac

Burner, the debut album from Nottingham’s Isaac, is bloody great. Into big punk rock tunes? You’ll find plenty here. But there’s also a hell of a lot of thought too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not massively intellectual and inaccessible record, but it’s smarter than the average punk record, both in its structure and its lyrics. Burner is full of heart (and heartbreak), and grabs you right from the off. It’s been stuck in my car stereo for weeks, and I just can’t get enough. So, I threw a bunch of questions at Daniel, Andrew (Shanks) and Dave to find out just how you put together a record as good as Burner.

So… Ted Leo, huh? A train-ride home after a show can’t be the whole story so tell me, what’s the origin of Isaac?

Daniel: Well, we were all friends before that Ted Leo show. Dave and I have played in bands together for years and I know Andrew cause we both work at the same place, but we hadn’t really hung out that much as the three of us. Shanks and I had talked about wanting to play in a band that tried to do similar things to Titus Andronicus, Fucked Up, Bob Mould, Superchunk kind of stuff but the three of us going to that show really cemented it. It was the first time the three of us had really hung out for an extended period of time together. We pretty much just drank and talked about bands we liked for 48 hours straight with a stunner of a Ted Leo show in the middle of it all. How can you not start a band after seeing Ted Leo? Seriously.

Shanks: If you asked the 3 of us at any point what the unifying factors of Isaac are we’d say it’ll be that pitchfork brand of punk, name checking Ted Leo and Fucked Up, burritos and giving each other the right amount of constructive feedback that makes us grit our teeth and get on with being in a band. We’re not going to say anything cliché like “we’re a band of brothers and we’ll never be separated,” but we’re definitely a band of cousins who all live close to each other so hang out more than cousins should.

Dave: Don’t forget bourbon …

You’ve been a band for a while now, but this is your first full-length album, as opposed to an EP. What inspired you to push forward and go for a full-length record this time?

Daniel: Simple answer – YOLO. I’m kinda ‘go big or go home’ in my attitude to putting music out. If you are going to do it, just go for it!

It was a gamble in terms of having enough material to justify a full length but we feel like it’s paid off. We actually split the recording of the album over two sessions, which ended up having a six-month gap between them, so that meant the second session of recording had this added pressure of living up to the first set. I think if the second set of tracks hadn’t been as good we’d have ended up just putting an EP’s worth of tracks out but luckily it went well!

What’s your typical songwriting process?

Shanks: There’s no set way we do it, but I normally come in with an idea, we play it and see how it goes. I think we’ve heard enough music to know if a song is working or not. I’ve been writing songs for about nine years, but it’s only now that I’ve realised how to do it logically. When you grow up just hearing stories about how songs were written, the myth of a song y’know, you think “oh we need to write a new song. I’ll just take these sleeping pills, mix them with red wine and coke and then in about 15 minutes I’ve rewritten No Woman No Cry,” but unfortunately it’s a craft you have to learn and practice.

Dan: Could you attempt to write No Woman No Cry using that recipe?

Dave: It usually starts with us getting food. That sets us up. We usually add bits on at the last minute to tracks, but the main structure always is pretty solid. We may change it up a bit for the next record.

You’ve got equal parts huge punk rock bangers and slow burners (haha see what we did there?) on this record – which is your favourite to write, and which is your favourite to play live?

Daniel: It definitely feels like more of a challenge as a band to play slower things well, so I always like getting them to a point where we are as confident in them as the fast bangers. I appreciate playing them live ‘cause it gives me a break from the fast stuff! Our set is pretty relentless at the moment though, it’s all fun! DIPLOMACY!

Dave: I won’t sit on the fence! I think when you know a track works and sounds great you can’t wait to play it live. For me it’s ‘Ghosts’, which is probably the first song that was naturally a collaborative effort.

Shanks: Last summer, we were gigging a lot and looking at the bands playing at the same time. Everyone wanted to get ‘rad’ and jump around and be that ‘live’ band, but when we first played ‘Weeder’ as a band we realised we didn’t need to be anything like those bands. I remember reading about Black Flag and how they used to have these really long practices where they’d play the set half time and just chug through the songs, and I remember vividly, Dave said to me ‘should we play any slow songs?’ and I was like ‘nah no way, we’re not a slow band’. Then 12 months later, we’ve got two slow songs on the album and they’re some of the best songs we’ve written. I think writing ‘Weeder ‘and ‘Chirpse’ pushed us along a bit, but still, even though we have the slow there’s no replacement for a one minute and 50 second bike riding, coffee-drinking punk song like ‘Turtleshell Sunglasses’ or ‘Slab Square’.

You don’t really do backing vocals, which is a bit unexpected with this type of music, EXCEPT on track 10 where there’s this glorious ‘woah’. How come you went for that, and what inspired this style?

Daniel: I personally want to try and commit as hard as possible to the parts we’re playing, full sweatband, Neil Pert workout stuff, so I can’t let trying to sing as well get in the way of that!

Dave: I can’t sing at all, I leave it to the professionals. Unless it’s Gold by Spandau Ballet at karaoke, I’m out.

Shanks: Who doesn’t love a glorious ‘woah’? It’s the kind of sound that’s indicative of the music we play.

Lyrically, it’s all about real life, real moments and real emotions. How important is it for you to focus on personal experience when you’re coming up with lyrics?

Shanks: If by chance you listened to the album in a certain order you’d hear a true story of a year in the life of somebody dealing with a break up and all the insecurities and anxiety that go along with it. When we formed, we were all in a similar space emotionally so all the lyrics, as harsh as some of them sound now, felt totally justified at the time. Anybody who says songwriting isn’t therapeutic is a liar – we’re a long way off writing our rock opera, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t talked about it.

Burner is coming out firstly on your own label, Golden Triangle Records, but is being released on vinyl by Don’t Ask Records in a couple of months. Why did you decide to split the release like that?

Dave: Err, because why not, mate? Not sure there is an exciting answer to this! The truth is though we’re totally blown away that Don’t Ask were even interested in putting out anything we’re doing. Feels everyone involved in the label and all the bands on the roster are all coming from similar places ideologically and musically, so it’s great to be a part of that.

Burner’s release is just before your own Clear Your Throat Fest, which is now in its second year. How do you pull your lineup together, and which band are you most looking forward to seeing there this year?

Shanks: We pick the lineup the same way you’d make a mixtape – we start with one band we want to see then think “who’d be cool to see them with?” We get a lot of people asking to play, which is incredibly flattering considering we’re still at our humble beginnings. We’ve started talking about CYT 3, and that’s going to be something special – we’re going to cast the net a bit wider and really push to make it bigger and better. I’m probably most excited about seeing Bluebird, Happy Accidents and Woahnows, but every band on the bill is worth watching.

Daniel: I’m very excited about seeing Doe. One of the good things about the lineup is that it’s made up mostly of bands we have played with in the past and we’re friends with. So Doe are probably the only band on the line up I’ve not seen before so NO PRESSURE DOE.

Dave: It’s always a great day, all of the bands who play are different in application but definitely have the same ethos and that’s what it boils down too. I’m pumped about seeing Austeros again, I’ve had their last EP Lessons Learnt on repeat for the past six months.

Any other tours coming up? Where’s the best kind of venue to see you guys in?

Shanks: We’ve always got things in the pipeline so the plan is to try and do as much as we can before the year is out. We haven’t really played anywhere too unusual to be honest, but we’ve talked about trying to play on a boat. The logistics are going to be ridiculous if we want to pull that one off.

Dan: We could play next to a boat, that’d be easier. We may have even already done that and not known about it. Plenty of boats about.

Dave: I like playing the more quirky shows, like at The Rathaus (Legendary house show venue) in Southampton or on top of a sewage pump station in Cornwall (that did happen years ago). We always like going out on the road, Shanks gets his bum bag out, which has a permanent bottle of Rose sticking out of it. I usually put dinks in our hire car and seem to get away with it, so it’s a laugh a minute. Expect more of that in 2015!

Isaac are Daniel England (drums), Andrew Shankland (bass/vocals) and Dave Deighton (guitar). Their debut record Burner is digitally out now on Golden Triangle Records, and will be released on vinyl by Don’t Ask Records in May. You can pick it up now on Bandcamp. They should totally play Thekla in Bristol because that is a boat.