How To Dress Well + Koreless – Live @ 100 Club

•May 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

HTDW - Converse - 100 Club - 1

Wednesday 23rd April, London

The ever-dependable Converse Gigs @ 100 Club series has been generating expertly curated and timely events since Converse helped save this celebrated venue in 2011, but none more boundary-pushing than tonight’s pairing of How To Dress Well and Koreless.

Welsh producer Koreless – aka Lewis Roberts – has been my one of my very favourite UK electronic artist ever since his hypnotic, beat-less set closed out Worldwide Festival 2012 (in the South of France…by the sea…as the sun was coming up!) – it blew my previously beat-orientated mind. Although Roberts made a name for himself as a chilled 2-step producer and adept remixer (including a blissful remix of How To Dress Well’s ‘Cold Nites’), it was last year’s Yungen EP that cemented his reputation as a unique orchestrator of minimalist soundscapes.

Tonight’s short live set (just half an hour) is drawn largely from Yungen, and, as a sparse intro kicks things off, I was momentarily anxious that the chattering audience of competition winners would fail to engage with Koreless’ subtleties. But as the delicate synths of EP closer ‘Never’ start to unfurl, the crowd gradually hushes and focuses in on Roberts. The occasional technical hitch from his mixing desk doesn’t detract from the warm, dreamlike atmosphere that Koreless’ productions induce – at once both ambient and dramatic. There is ‘Last Remnants’, which is like Lapalux minus the instrumental hip hop, the broken vocal samples of chillwave-flavoured ‘Ivana’, and the closing highlight of ‘Sun’, an otherworldly composition which has a real post-rock sensibility and brings to mind the ‘shoegaze electronia’ of  Apparat. Absolutely beautiful.

HTDW - Converse - 100 Club - 2

How To Dress Well – aka Tom Krell, the man with the incredible voice – is in town for the first time since his Field Day 2013 set. More so than ever before, there seems to be a real buzz around him and his upcoming record, What Is This Heart?, due in June. Perhaps it’s because intelligent, bedroom RnB has blown up in the past couple of years, or perhaps it’s because the two new tracks he recently dropped are polished with a new, ever-so-slightly more accessible sheen. Either way, this feels like HTDW’s moment.

Backed by a three piece band, including Broken Social Scene drummer Justin Peroff, Krell takes centre stage, adjusting the two microphone stands (one mic for clean singing, one for the echo effects) to reach his considerable height. HTDW is a man of oddly conflicting qualities: a Philosophy academic, he comes across as an agitated, geek-like outsider, yet, dressed in street clothes and exclaiming “yo!” a lot, he also seems like a smoothly self-assured hipster. His confidence as a performer has certainly grown since his early days singing solo over his recorded tracks, probably due to the presence of his full band, who add real depth to his music; the songs have much more impact live than on record.

Tonight’s setlist is predominantly made up of new material, most of which we have yet to hear. The light, retro-techno of ‘Very Best Friend’ also features Krell’s most overtly commercial RnB chorus (what a hook!), ‘Face Again’ is dark and edgy with the distorted vocals adding Weeknd vibes, while ‘Childhood Faith In Love (Everything Must Change, Everything Must Stay The Same)’ is, as Krell refers to it, his “pop punk song”, inspired by his love of The Startling Line, Taking Back Sunday and Saves The Day. Naturally, the most powerful moments of the show come from the tracks the audience already know and love. Both new singles, ‘Repeat Pleasure’ and ‘Words I Don’t Remember’, are thrilling, particularly the epic crescendo of the latter, while older tracks ‘Cold Nites’ and ‘Set It Right’ are drama-filled, ethereal masterpieces, both sounding much heavier tonight that past performances. The highlight comes in the form of the one and only track showcased from HTDW’s first album, the moving ballad ‘Suicide Dream 1’, which Krell explains is his favourite song to perform, and which he does so with unnerving emotion.

HTDW - Converse - 100 Club - 3

To say tonight’s set is not without its hitches would be an understatement. Frustratingly, Krell and his band are hit by a tirade of problems: initial minor setbacks, such as a late arrival to the stage and first song sound issues, are replaced by the more extreme setbacks of a mid-set fire alarm, which results in a 15 minute evacuation of everyone in attendance, followed immediately by 10 minutes of technical difficulties involving a lack of power. But How To Dress Well takes it all with grace – in between joking with the crowd, he sings two unprepared a cappella songs. The first is a morbid lullaby he had recently conjured up entitled ‘The Bad Shit Outweighs The Gladness’ and the second is a hilarious but raw rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, which Krell explains he never thought he’d actually get the opportunity to sing live. These impromptu, fragile a cappellas will be what linger in the mind long after this show – they displayed Krell’s astonishing falsetto, along with his passion for his craft, clearer than any other track performed tonight.

How To Dress Well’s experimental take on conventional RnB pop music is brilliant, but what truly sets him apart from other contemporaries, both of the experimental scenes (Holy Other, Balam Acab, XXYYXX, etc) and pop scenes (The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, etc), is his magnificent voice – one of the finest voices to ever reach my ears.

Photos: Andrew Whitton

Originally published by AAAmusic here

CHVRCHES @ The Scala – Live Review

•February 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Chvrches @ The Scala, London - 17/02/2014

Photo: Andy Sidders

Monday 17th February, London

It feels like CHVRCHES have been around for years. That’s a testament to the immediacy of their synth-pop – it evokes an instant familiarity and a kind of euphoric connectivity that’s rare in today’s inattentive music climate.

However, the Scottish trio only came to light relatively recently – after they debuted their first demo online in May 2012. Since then, they have managed to effectively straddle both the indie blogosphere and mainstream chart territory, becoming social media darlings (unlike 99% of bands, they actual manage their own profile) and cementing singer Lauren Mayberry as a cherished social commentator (she penned an inspiring article on online misogyny for The Guardian). Although tonight’s show is confusingly declared both an NME Awards show and a Goodbye Records label launch – the label started by CHVRCHES of which (the mighty impressive) support act Soak is signed to – in actuality, this is simply a rare chance for fans to see the band in an intimate setting, ahead of their large scale UK tour next month.

Taking place with minimal production in the gritty confinements of London’s Scala, CHVRCHES overcome jetlag and a typical Monday night crowd to deliver a set of stunning pop music at its very rawest. From the opener of ‘We Sink’ to the encore of ‘By The Throat’, CHVRCHES display an element of vulnerability usually absent from their slick headline shows – and the band are all the more captivating because of it. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty’s handling of their synth and sampling equipment is not always smooth tonight, but they skilfully enhance all the subtle electronic flourishes that are easily overlooked on record; such as the jittery New Order-esque production of ‘Science/Visions’, the moody Tears For Fears undertones of non-album track ‘Now Is Not The Time’, and the warped, instrumental hip hop of the ‘Night Sky’ outro.

Photo: Andy Sidders

Photo: Andy Sidders

Aside from when Doherty takes over lead vocals for a surprisingly spirited rendition of ‘Under the Tide’, all eyes are naturally on the enthralling Lauren Mayberry. Her pitch-perfect voice is sweetly ethereal yet delivered robustly, and although her stage presence lacks confidence early on, her wildly infectious melodies are confidently executed, taking the focal point of every song.

Increasingly known for the inventive cover songs, the spritely frontwoman is quick to shoot down a heckler’s request for one, asserting that though they are humbled by the fact that people like their reimaginings, it’s the radio stations that force the band to record them and that tonight’s show will focus on original CHVRCHES material.

Although Mayberry’s mic regrettably cuts out for the climax, the thrilling ‘Tether’ remains a highlight. The other highlights come courtesy of the massive electro-pop singles ‘Gun’, ‘Recover’ and main-set closer ‘The Mother We Share’, all of which sound mighty in these modest and dingy club settings. With two sold-out shows at the sizeable Forum next month, it’ll be a while before CHVRCHES appear at a London venue of this size. A very special night indeed.

Originally published by Gigwise here

Matthew Halsall, GoGo Penguin + Mammal Hands @ Kings Place – Live Review

•February 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

HALSALL-SIMON-HUNT

Saturday 15th February, London

For a man who exudes tranquillity, trumpeter Matthew Halsall seems to be rather hyperactive when it comes to his work ethic. Having set up the Manchester-based label Gondwana Records to release his own solo albums – of which there have been four since 2008 – he then expanded the remit of the label in signing GoGo Penguin and, more recently, Mammal Hands, both of which he has had an hands-on role in producing and championing. In addition, Halsall somehow manages to find the time to occasionally DJ and is working on a collaborative electronic project initially previewed at The Cockpit last year (mark my words, it’s going to be special!). Tonight’s Gondwana Mini Fest, as it’s affectionately titled, is something of a showcase for what the label has planned release-wise for this year. Taking part at North London’s Kings Place, it’s essentially two successive concerts – the first being Matthew Halsall and The Gondwana Orchestra, and the second being GoGo Penguinsupported by Mammal Hands.

Matthew Halsall And The Gondwana Orchestra

The Gondwana Orchestra is Halsall’s new collaborative band featuring a fleshed out version of the Matthew Halsall Quintet and new Halsall compositions, of which an album is in the works for a May release. However, what is evidenced tonight is that although Halsall may lead the band, this isn’t his show; Halsall is rarely the focal point, instead allowing the rest of this eight-piece band to propel proceedings. In fact, Halsall even explains to the audience that he doesn’t know whether the upcoming record will be released under his own name, The Gondwana Orchestra or a combination of the two.

On record there will be a string quartet and possible vocal contributions, but tonight The Gondwana Orchestra consists of Hallsall on trumpet alongside seven exceedingly able musicians (and, for those who have seen Matthew before, very familiar faces) on piano, double bass, drums, saxophone, flute, harp and koto (a traditional Japanese instrument). They open tonight with the title track from their forthcoming album, ‘Where The World Was One’, and while the meditative, dreamlike tones that characterise Halsall’s spiritual jazz remains paramount, the additional instruments create a more heated, almost sultry atmosphere, with the string instruments and flute adding an element of drama, or perhaps tension, that I haven’t before witnessed at a Halsall show. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a radical departure towards some kind of big band, orchestral jazz; the progression is subtle, with the newer instruments woven into the existing Halsall DNA.

The flute (Lisa Mallett), harp (Rachael Gladwin) and, in particular, the koto (Keiko Kitamura; appearing in traditional Japanese attire) bring Halsall’s eastern influences to life, especially on the hypnotic ‘A Faraway Place’ and the brazenly oriental ‘Kiyomizu-Dera’. Like the trumpeter himself, Halsall’s ‘Quartet’ members let others dominate the performance and are commendably reserved this evening. Phil France provides some decent accompaniment on the double bass (although it is a little too quite for the opener number), frequent Halsall collaborator Taz Modi (of Submotion Orchestra) is composed and restrained on the piano, and drummer Luke Flowers is predominantly delicate, especially on the brush-led ‘Falling Water’. That being said, all three musicians demonstrate increased urgency during the rhythmically dynamic ‘Sagano Bamboo Forest’. Naturally, the brass parts form the heart of the compositions, but rather than hog centre stage, Halsall often has Nat Birchall (who has released a couple of records via Gondwana in the past) and his saxophones lead the tracks, with his best work (though not his smoothest) being on ‘Falling Water’.

When Halsall does take to his trumpet it is with extreme confidence. Completely in control of his instrument, every single note is pitch-perfect and unleashed with so much purpose. His ‘less is more’ approach has been well documented, but it’s hard to comprehend how the emotional resonance he conjures up with his instrument seems to intensify with each performance. A beautiful set; I can’t wait for the record.

Mammal Hands

Although I have never heard the newly signed Mammal Hands before, within a minute of their short, sharp 25-min set it’s glaringly obvious why Gondwana is the perfect home for them. The young, lively trio – Nick Smart (piano), Jordan Smart (sax) and Jesse Barrett (drums) – create a sound that lies somewhere between GoGo Penguin and early Portico Quartet. Although they’ve been likened to electronic artists such as Aphex Twin etc, other than Barrett’s occasional forays into left-field beats (as well as the odd world music pattern), there is little displayed this evening to warrant such comparisons. What they make is interestingly melodised jazz, driven by Nick Smart’s richly textured piano style (a style utilised by GoGo) and with a beating sax heart. There is a casual lightness to their sound – unsurprising given the lack of bass – but the compositions are delivered with the kind of firmness characterised by bands much more senior, especially considering this is their first gig in London! There are few solos aired tonight, but this is fair given the short set time. The highlight is the melancholic ‘Kandaiki’, with its poignant piano parts. Their debut is expected in June, and I have a feeling that it will be my favourite debut of 2014.

GoGo

GoGo Penguin

In the lead up to this evening, I was unsure why Matthew Halsall had decided to play at the start of the evening, giving GoGo Penguin the later slot. However, half way through tonight’s show it made perfect sense – Halsall’s contemplative jazz would be too light to follow GoGo, especially on their current form, with the trio sounding heavier and tighter than ever. I have seen GoGo Penguin a few times (review here…), including some early previews of their new direction, but tonight’s performance feels different; the sound is a logical progression from their debut Fanfares, but the feel is different. I didn’t expect the band to have such an increased confidence in testing out new material from their upcoming second album (released next month); it appears they know how good it is and how much of a shift in gears it signifies.

All the elements that made GoGo Penguin – pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner – interesting on their debut are considerably intensified tonight; and this is clear from the opener ‘Murmuration’, with its electronic beginnings and hefty post-rock backbone. Blacka’s double bass is heavy and off-kilter (apart from when he opts for utilising his bow, producing orchestral drama), Illingworth’s piano shows new intricacies, and Turner’s drums are impossibly frantic, particularly in his increasingly inventive use of the snare, which manages to be both jittery yet methodically precise. Although the two old tracks, ‘Fanfares’ and ‘Last Words’, are performed sharply, it’s the new stuff that sounds vital – whereas the old compositions were heavily focused on the piano melodies, in a Esbjörn Svensson fashion, new material like ‘One Percent’‘Fort’ and the hip hop influenced ‘Break’ (a new composition not on any album) exhibit vibrancy beyond typical piano jazz.

Main set closer ‘Garden Dog Barbeque’ is a hectic but enthralling dance song, with liquid drum’n’bass drums and a 90s house piano riff, all leading to a disco-indie climax; it’s about as far away from the melodious piano jazz that defined their debut album as they could feasibly get. They close tonight’s event with the relatively chilled encore of ‘Hopopono’, proving that they can still do delicate, piano-driven jazz when the time calls for it. But, as their upcoming album v2.0 implies, this is a new GoGo Penguin, and their confident fusion of electronica, jazz and post-rock is destined for greatness.

Originally published by AAAmusic here

Behemoth + Cradle Of Filth – Live @ The Forum

•February 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Monday 10th February, London

Behemoth’s ascension to the mainstream has been an unusual, tumultuous journey. Although they have been one of Poland’s premier extreme metal bands since the early 1990s, and a staple part of the international black metal underground for at least ten years, it was only with the release of 2009’s critically-acclaimed  Evangelion  that Behemoth broke through to the metal masses. Following this, in March 2010, frontman/songwriter  Nergal became tied up in an everlasting, formal freedom of speech court case in Poland, charged with blasphemy, and then five months later was diagnosed with leukaemia, underwent a successful bone marrow transplant, and took some much deserved time away from the band and spotlight to recover. Naturally, and almost distastefully, or at least diversionary, Nergal’s cancer survival story has prompted a significant increase in international media interest, with even publications such as The Guardian reviewing their new, tenth studio album – The Satanist. Just how far they’ve progressed over the past five years is evident tonight in the fact that their set is preceded by our very own Cradle Of Filth, one our biggest extreme metal exports. All this, however, distracts from the point; the point being that The Satanist is one of the best heavy metal albums of the last decade, and that Behemoth more than deserve their headline status and mainstream approval.

First up, however, is the ever dependable Dani Filth and his band of merry metallers, Cradle Of Filth. Although billed as co-headliners, the Suffolk-formed extreme metal band have the difficult task of going onstage ahead of Behemoth. That being said, they are rightly allocated the same set duration and have brought their full production tonight. And boy, what a production it is. Cradle Of Filth are often derided by the oh-so-serious heavy metal community for being too theatrical, but this is who CoF are; a tongue-in-cheek, gothic pantomime act, armed with serious musical ambitions.

Cradle Of Filth - Photo by Sarah Tsang

That’s right; behind all the makeup, leather, smoke, lights and visuals (including a screen of near-spoof-like video) is a canon of melodic black metal masterpieces, all of which are aired tonight during this greatest hits set celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut album, The Principle of Evil Made Flesh. Although slightly hampered by initial sound issues (the bass is quickly pumped up), opener ‘Cthulhu Dawn’, from Midian, sets the tone – operatic thrash metal played by a group of committed and talented musicians who, while taking the craft extremely seriously, don’t take themselves particularly seriously. They are the black metal Judas Priest; a fitting comparison given their penchant for classic metal riffing and Dani Filth’s piercing wail-scream…thing.

With only one cut from their 2012 album The Manticore and Other Horrors‘For Your Vulgar Delectation’, this12-song set covers all their greatest moments. The keys add real depth to ‘Summer Dying Fast’ and ‘Nymphetamine (Fix)’, arguably their most commercial single, while the classic metal guitar work (note: with both official guitars absent, session guitarists were drafted in for this tour) sounds best on ‘Haunted Shores’, ‘Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids’ and over-the-top encore, ‘Funeral in Carpathia’. The highlights come courtesy of a rare outing of ‘Beneath the Howling Stars’, a triumphant‘Born in a Burial Gown’, and, of course, Cradle’s crowning moment, ‘Her Ghost in the Fog’, which predictably provokes the biggest reaction from the audience as it closes the main set. As ever, this is the Dani Filth show, and the prowling ring leader with a penchant for rampant hopping is in fine voice this evening – effortlessly switching between death metal growls, extreme screams and that distinctive high-pitched yelp. Come back soon, Cradle Of Filth.

Behemoth - Photo by Sarah Tsang

Although Nergal and co. favour a decent dosage of theatrics, Behemoth’s similar use of makeup, lighting, recorded intros and horror imagery avoids any element of farce – whereas CoF may forgo any true sense of danger through the use of their characters and production, Behemoth look and sound formidably evil. This is authentic black metal, and the crowd-chanting and movement noticeably moves up a gear once the band emerge. While I expected a set centred on material from The Satanist, tonight’s show sees the band cherry-pick from eight of their ten studio albums. Fan-favourites like the extremely fast ‘Slaves Shall Serve’ (Demigod), the devastatingly heavy ‘Christians to the Lions’ (Thelema.6), and the headbang-inducing, main set closer ‘Chant for Eschaton 2000’ (Satanica) are all death metal masterworks.

However, it is Behemoth’s most recent material that truly marks the band out as one of the most special forces of our times. The opening couplet of ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’ and ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ from The Satanist is breathtaking; with the opener in particular already sounding like the modern-day extreme metal anthem it really is. These two songs are matched only when the band launch into the tracks aired from 2009’s Evangelion: ‘Ov Fire and the Void’ and ‘Alas, Lord Is Upon Me’, performed in succession – with the crushing, doom-laden riffs of the former being tonight’s standout cut. This newer material is still as black as Dani Filth’s nail varnish, but the death metal urgency has been replaced with a more groove-orientated, thrash-laced dynamic; this lack of unrelenting aggression, along with the decipherable delivery of Nergal’s lyrics, allows for a more menacing atmosphere.

Behemoth - Photo by Sarah Tsang

Nergal is an incredibly confident performer; one whose charisma stems from genuine humility. He stares intently at the audience as he roars his lyrics, and strides across the stage summoning crowd participation with a simple nod of his head, all the while smashes out intelligent guitar riffs. “It feels good to be alive London!”, he exclaims early on in the set; a sentiment of course made all the more powerful with the knowledge of his cancer battle, but one that feels particularly true and relevant because of the perfection on display in both the band’s performance and the reception of the audience.

They finish with a lone encore of ‘Father O Satan O Sun!’, the most operatic and progressive thing onThe Satanist, riding it out standing stationary wearing satanic masks with elongated horns, while a recorded spoken word outro propels the doom and gloom of the post-metal instrumentation. When they finish, there is an eerie but intensely powerful silence from both band and audience, while the crowd members throw their devil horns at Behemoth without a whimper; it only lasts a matter of seconds before the roaring applause kicks in, but it’s a moment that will stay with me for a long time to come – a moment where I truly comprehended Nergal’s sentiment about feeling alive.

Photos: Sarah Tsang

Originally published by AAAmusic here

BIG UPS – Eighteen Hours of Static

•February 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

BIG UPS - Eighteen Hours of Static

I have been away from the pages of our beloved Music Liberation for ages! It’s been a long time since I last had something to say about punk music. In fact, it’s been exactly one year and one day (at the time of writing) since my last album review for any publication about any type of music, which just so happened to be about punk music and written for Music Liberation.

Now, I ain’t going to lie – the main reason I haven’t reviewed any recorded music in a year is because life got in the way. However, I’m not bullshitting when I say it’s been a long time since I last had something to say about punk music, in any of its bastardised forms. Aside from the focus of my last review – the underrated ‘Victus’ by Fall City Fall – I have found nothing in the realms of punk truly worth writing about, and since I had grown tired of repeating the same old blogger jargon – “shows real promise”, “has real potential”, yadda, yadda… – and rehashing PR blurbs, I took some time off and promised myself I wouldn’t review another punk album until I truly felt something of a compulsion too; until I found something actually inspiring. I never expected this self-imposed exile from record reviewing to last a year! But here it is: the first punk album that has managed to grab and sustain my attention for longer than five seconds; the first punk album that I, who probably knows nothing, have deemed worthy of a review over the course of ONE YEAR AND ONE DAY. But enough about me. Just who is this band, I hear ya holler…

They go by the name of Big Ups, there are four of them, they formed in NYC in 2010, their debut album is entitled Eighteen Hours of Static, and they are the greatest punk band to emerge in forever. Despite being an obvious throwback to both the hardcore punk of the 80s, and the post hardcore and alt-rock of the 90s, ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’ is hands down the freshest, most urgent slice of punk rock of this decade and beyond. With 11 songs that clock in at under half an hour (I did the math: the average length of a song is two and half minutes), it’s very short and, despite its lo-fi aesthetic, undeniably substantial.

There is a plenitude of referenced influences sprinkled throughout the record, but the bulk of this racket has its foundation in 90s-era hardcore punk rock; and adding the ‘rock’ after punk isn’t redundant – Big Ups aren’t the metal tinged, growl-centric hardcore punk band that one often associates with the 90s, but more along the lines of a band like The Bronx. In fact, this could well be the best debut of this kind since The Bronx’s debut in 2003.

Frontman Joe Galarraga’s vocals fluctuate between angst-filled but coherent screams and fast-paced spoken word, the drums have a DIY urgency, the bass grumbles, and the guitars, when not generating distorted and basic riffs, add elements of post-punk, 90s alt-rock like grunge and shoegaze, and post hardcore. It all sounds like some glorious, spontaneous amalgamation of Drive Like Jehu, Black Flag, Quicksand, Mazes and The Pixies.

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Opener Body Parts eases us into the album with a slow, pulsating bass line and spiky guitar finger-work, before Galarraga does his best Black Francis impression – it’s probably the most sludgy, dirty moment of the album and, as brilliant as it is, doesn’t exactly set the frantic tone that follows. Next up is Goes Black, which introduces their characteristic hardcore punk; it’s a hugely energetic, semi-up-beat tune with simple but frantic guitar work, and is probably the song that sounds closest to The Descendents, the band Big Ups are most often compared to.

Justice’ showcases Big Ups’ subtle, quiet-loud dynamics, with the verse centred around spoken word and minimal guitar, and the chorus screamed over distorted fuzz. Songs like Grin and Wool incorporate the aforementioned emotive, post-hardcore effects, with the jarring guitar time signatures of the former recalling bands like Fugazi and The Jesus Lizard, and the slowed down pace of the latter achieving a sort of melodic misery attributed to bands early emo bands like Far. TMI is one of the album’s highlights and see the band return to a sound closer to the opening ‘Body Parts’. It has a headbang-inducing central grunge riff, detuned bass and impassioned screams, before a near-metallic closing segment kicks in – for some reason it brings to mind the sorely missed Blood Brothers, perhaps because of the off-kilter guitar work in the verse, which evokes the same kind of unease the BB track ‘We Ride Skeletal Lightning’.

Next up are two short, sharp bursts of frenzied hardcore punk – Little Kid andAtheist Self-Help – which sound somewhere in between Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies. Then comes the album highlight: Disposer. It captures and packages all the various components of the Big Ups DNA; there is the 90s alternative intro, featuring spoken word and restrained but infectious guitar work, and then the end switches between post-hardcore riffing and Minor Threat-paced punk. Fresh Meat follows, again moving from a slow-paced, sludgy beginning to a fast-paced, distorted outro, and the album is closed out with the angry, heavy Fine Line; perhaps the rawest cut of them all.

Lyrically, Galarraga focuses on accessible social commentary, and although it is refreshing in an everyday, relatable kind of way, it sometimes veers away from astute observations to the kind of empty, juvenile angst that is typical of political punk. But there is no denying that he howls and screeches with conviction, and all via a formidable punk rock voice.

It’s an excellent debut by an excellent band. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of references in this review (and every review of this album thus far), but these comparisons to punk rock greats are not hollow, music journo hyperboles; they are full justified. There is no need to talk about “potential” with Big Ups, as this band have seized this very moment, squeezing a genre from both ends – from its 70s origins to its present day saturation – to provide a half hour of vitality, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in yonks.

Originally published by Music Liberation here

RX Bandits – Live @ The Scala

•February 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

photo (10)

Thursday 6th February, London

Another week, another anniversary tour. So many punk and hardcore bands are doing these shows –  playing the entirety of a fan favourite and/or landmark album – and nine times out of ten it reeks of cash incentives and unhealthy nostalgia. However, when I heard that California’s RX Bandits were coming to the UK to play The Resignation in full to celebrate its 10 year anniversary (note: the album was actually released in 2003, so the 10 year excuse has kind of expired), I didn’t feel an odd discomfort in my belly – one that usually accompanies such anniversary announcements.

Instead I felt genuine excitement; excited to hear again, in a live setting, an album so effortlessly interesting that I can safely credit it with expanding my teenage musical horizons. Furthermore, I felt confident that those aforementioned concerns with anniversary shows were inapplicable – this particular tour involves more intimate venues than RX are accustomed to, at least in comparison to The States, and that nostalgic element is only unhealthy when the band are either washed up and relying on old material, or if the album is naff and something of a guilty pleasure. RX Bandits are far from washed up, having continued to tour and release quality records (they have a new album in the works), and The Resignation has not only stood the test of time, but remains unsurpassed by their peers.

Tonight, at the dark and gritty London ScalaRX Bandits are in good company. The crowd are nothing but adoring. When the four ‘Bandits, joined by two additional horns players, take to the stage and launch into energetic opener ‘Sell You Beautiful’, and despite initial sound problems (quiet bass = quickly fixed), the audience ripples with enthusiasm. For the next hour or so, RX plough through The Resignation from start to finish, playing each track with sincere passion (i.e. not just going through the motions).

credit Mitchell Wotcjik

Their fusion of punk, ska and math rock is fuelled by the twin guitar fretwork of Steve Choi and frontman Matt Embree, with the latter’s impressive vocal range – even more notable today (see what I did there? Sorry) than 10 years ago – adding an emotive, post-hardcore edge not a million miles away from Far. When separated – such as with the galloping punk rock of ‘Newsstand Rock (Exposition)’and the dubby ska of ‘Never Slept So Soundly’ – these subgenres are easily identifiable. But it’s the unique but natural blending of them that make RX such a remarkable outfit – songs like ‘Dinna-Dawg (And The Inevitable Onset Of Lunacy)’ and ‘Prophetic’ come alive through urgent, near-prog-rock riffing, quick-fire drumming and melodic-punk melodies. Embree’s choruses truly soar; none better than on ‘Never Slept So Soundly’ and ‘Falling Down The Mountain’, the latter with a sublime, extended jazz interlude led by the sax player. The brass players only chime in from time to time, when the music requires it, but other than a few key moments – that jazz interlude, the ska-heavy ‘Taking Chase As The Serpent Slithers’, and parts of ‘Pal-Treaux’ – they mainly keep quiet.

The undeniable highlights are ‘Mastering The List’ and album and main set closer ‘Decrescendo’. They are arguably the two best songs RX Bandits have ever written; at the very least they are the best fromThe Resignation. Both feature intricate, intelligent guitar passages, infectious melodies, subtle ska undertones and heavy, math-rock riffs that would make Biffy Clyro weak at the knees. Both are complete packages, encompassing all the wonderful layers of this band. The final quarter of ‘Decrescendo’ has the whole floor opening up, while the band aggressively lunge around the intimate stage – one of my all-time favourite climaxes to a punk rock song, and the perfect way to end both a record and a main set.

After a reasonably lengthy absence, in which the audience chant “RXB”, the band return for an encore, playing a few non-Resignation tracks. To be honest, although this encore includes two of their best tracks – ‘In Her Drawer’ from …And the Battle Begun and a joyful rendition of ‘Infection’ from Progress, minus the screams – tonight’s set was all about The Resignation. And it was a pitch-perfect performance; not done for money or exposure or any kind of pointless trip down memory lane, but done for the RX fans who willed them over from The States to these modest settings via sheer love. These fans don’t love RX Bandits just for The Resignation – as they love what the band has done before and since, evidenced by the reception the encore tracks get – but they do possibly love RX because of The Resignation. Like me, this album would probably have been the introduction to their brand of politically charged, progressive ska punk. And the band knows this. They’re humbled by this. And this is why they’re here tonight.

Originally published by AAAmusic here

RX Bandits Interview

•February 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

credit Mitchell Wotcjik

California’s RX Bandits are here in the UK to play their fan-favourite record The Resignation in full at a series of intimate clubs, including The Scala in London on Thursday. Released in 2003, The Resignation (the four-piece’s fourth album) fused together political punk rock, math-rock and ska in a way few had heard before; or have heard since for that matter. Ahead of their London date, Clive Rozario chatted briefly to RX’s Steve Choi…

Hi RX Bandits. How does it feel to be coming back over to the UK, and how do shows here differ to those in The States?

RX Bandits: Feels a little cold already, but we are excited to return. It will be fun to play intimate shows as most of the tour will be in clubs smaller than we normally play in the States. We love it!

There was quite a lot of confusion over your 2011 statement than you were going to retire from touring. Although you took some time off, RX Bandits have continued to perform live fairly regularly since 2011?

RX Bandits: We simply said we are taking a step away from the band’s full time schedule and we had no perception of the time that had passed. We had only done a few shows in that time off.

What prompted the idea to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of your fourth album The Resignation by performing in its entirety?

RX Bandits: For people who are fans of our music, it was a pivotal album. We just wanted to give that back. It went so well in the States that we decided to try and increase our love for the modest amount of fans we have in the UK/Europe.

The last time I saw you live was at the Cavern Club in Exeter after The Resignation was released, about 9 or 10 years ago…it was a great show! How do you think your live performances of these songs from The Resignation have changed, if at all, since then?

RX Bandits: I think we appreciate the songs for what they are, and we are very proud of writing that record at the age of 22 rather than trying to play them in a way that we felt needed changing. We are sticking to the album versions of the songs mostly.

Am I right in thinking that RX Bandits are currently a four-piece band? Will you be bringing any additional musicians out on your upcoming UK Tour, such as brass/horn players?

RX Bandits: Yes, we will be bringing horns as they are a part of The Resignation. However, it has been widely known that we have been a four-piece since 2009.

credit Raymond Camero

People associate elements of ska, prog, hardcore punk and rock’n’roll with you. How would you describe your music?

RX Bandits: Many, many years ago the band played ska. We all loved hardcore, punk, rock, soul, RnB and any other genre that wasn’t country music. Our music is merely a product and amalgam of our influences and tastes.

RX Bandits have been a band since 1995. How does it feel to still be making and performing music after all these years? How has life in the band changed since those early years?

RX Bandits: We are not the same band that started back in 1995, that was something different. RX has been a band since 2000, which is still quite a long time, and it feels great to make music we feel compelled to make and can stand behind.

Lastly, any plans to hit the UK festival circuit this summer?

RX Bandits: Hopefully!

Questions answered by: Steve (Guitar/Keys) of RX Bandits…

 
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