Thursday, February 17, 2011

Album Review: Mogwai | Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Review for

Concert Review: Mogwai – Olympia, Dublin, 15th February 2011

What better to do on a dark February evening than go see one of Scotland’s finest bands play a packed-out Olympia. Mogwai attract a loyal following, and the venue filled early.

RM Hubbert was the support, and was an unexpected delight with his pleasantly aimless Spanish-inflected instrumental folk, and equally pleasantly aimless rambling stories between songs. His acoustic pyrotechnics were something to behold, his guitar doubling up as percussion instrument, with touches of Rodrigo y Gabriela and Mark Kozelek. Unfortunately his music seemed like it was interrupting the conversations within the crowd.

Mogwai have been going for the best part of 15 years, and by the time they came on stage there was swaying room only. Kicking off with 2 tracks from new album Hardcore Will Never Die… But You Will, the gentle White Noise and Rano Pano, it became clear that this is a band whose stagecraft is at an all-time low. Most of the band bar Stuart Braithwaite remained rigid throughout the show. However what’s also clear is that they are at the top of their game musically.

Friend of the Night was an early highlight, the keyboard motif well accompanied by powerful guitars. Less a gig and more of a religious experience, Mogwai Fear Satan had the crowd in raptures and terror in equal measures, as ominous silence was replaced by deafening noise.

The newer tracks fitted well with old favourites, San Pedro thrilled with its breakneck pace and powerhouse guitars, while How To Be A Werewolf and Helicon 1 provided hallucinatory bliss. You’re Lionel Richie and Batcat upped the ante to almost metal levels, a bit like the musical equivalent of King Kong as the audience feasted on heavy riffs.

Mogwai did well to maintain the intensity levels throughout, and if anything the encore was even louder. Interestingly they were brave enough to finish with one of their least representative songs, the electro-pulsing Mexican Grand Prix.

Powerful, overwhelming stuff. Any doubts I might have had were beaten into submission by the onslaught. Earplugs remained in pocket… just about. The feeling was akin to having had a really good scare at a horror movie. Heart almost in mouth, giddy, and seriously impressed. Killian fears Mogwai?!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Album Review: Bob Mould – Workbook

Never got into Husker Du, but I greatly enjoyed Bob Mould’s Copper Blue album recorded with Sugar, so decided to check out his solo work. His first solo album, released in 1989, is fairly removed from Husker Du or Sugar, with a lot more acoustic-based tracks. That’s not to say Bob Mould is sitting back, there is plenty of intensity throughout this album.

It kicks off with a Durutti Column style instrumental, Sunspots, featuring plenty of intricate guitar work. Wishing Well is an hard rocking acoustic track, full of angst and vitriol. What sets it apart however is great use of cello, and a blistering electric guitar. A ringing, elegiac electric guitar motif opens Heartbreak A Stranger, which goes right through the track, without making it repetitive. It’s like the moodier side of grunge, before grunge went mainstream. It makes some impression, when you listen to this one a few times, you’ll feel like it’s been part of your life for years.

See A Little Light is a deceptively simple sounding melody, reminding me of those Lemonheads anthemic chord progressions that are so satisfying to play. Poison Years on the other hand is a darker, brooding track with lyrical nuggets such as “the more I think, the less I’ve got to say” which builds into some fiery guitar work before the track’s conclusion.

Sinners and their Repentances pleads like nothing else this side of Mark Eitzel. Later in the album, Lonely Afternoon is a very palatable acoustic rocker and Dreaming, I Am showcases pure passion from Bob Mould over almost Johnny Marr-like guitars. He totally loses it in Whichever Way The Wind Blows, screaming blue murder over a monumental wall of powerful, distorted guitars.

Wish I’d come across this one years ago as these songs sound absolutely timeless. I’m officially claiming this as a great lost classic.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Album Review: Blake Babies - Earwig

Before Juliana Hatfield embarked on her solo career she sang in Boston-based Blake Babies. Their second album, released in 1989, was where she began to lay the ground work for her solo career and find her voice (yes, those girlish tones).
For those unfamiliar with Blake Babies/Juliana Hatfield, the album is a jangly, clean guitars and riffing, semi-rockers. Opener Cesspool is quite anthemic as the album goes, more riff-based than jangly. It's fairly atypical of the album, most tracks being midpaced jangly indie pop.
The quieter tracks are quite successful, sparser music allowing the songs to breathe on tracks like You Don't Give Up, showcasing John Strohm's subtle guitar skills. Evan Dando appears on this album adding bass and ropey backing vocals to jangle-rockers like Rain and Lament to great effect, while Strohm plays some great clean lead guitar parts in the midsection of Alright.
Even the cover of the Stooges' Loose turns out reasonably well, though Hatfield certainly doesn't inhabit the song like Iggy Pop does! The songs never outstay their welcome, most of them lasting no more than 3 minutes, and they would appeal to any fan of 80s indie pop.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Album Review: Mogwai – Ten Rapid

This collection of Mogwai’s early singles covers 1996-1997, but it flows well as an album. It lays down the template for Mogwai’s work, slow-building instrumentals with occasional vocals and bursts of noise.

As a starting point for Mogwai it’s not bad as the tracks throughout are fairly digestible in length, indeed the running total of all 9 adds up to just over half an hour. Opening track is as typically Mogwai as any of their work with a bass-heavy, lumbering rhythm and a nice build up to some heavy distortion near the end of the track, before returning to serenity at the close. It’s atmospheric and thrilling all at once. Helicon 2 is a little darker, again bass-led with subtle electric guitar touches here and there and minimal percussion.

There’s no massive variation across these 9 tracks. Angels vs Aliens contains some endearingly weedy vocals (as does Tuner) along with some thrilling white noise. It, and most of the tracks here are perfect exercises in how to pace an instrumental track and maintain interest.

Ithica 27.9 contains a superb bass guitar led melody (you’ll almost find yourself playing air bass guitar), alightly reminiscent of the Cure circa Faith until they drench it in noisy guitars 2 minutes in. Though as soon as the noise enters, it’s gone again, all in under 3 minutes! Penultimate track Helicon 1 is the longest thing here at 6 minutes and is an epic track, unfolding gradually until the crescendo halfway though, which is almost stadium post-rock! Live versions of this wouild expand the track to ever increasing lengths.

Although all these tracks were not recorded at the same time, it’s a cohesive collection of songs which flows and hence works as an album. Definitely worth getting, whether you’re already a fan of Mogwai or seeking to investigate.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Album Review: Lloyd Cole – Lloyd Cole

Lloyd Cole released his first solo album in 1990. It promised to be a departure, as Lloyd had moved to New York and assembled a new band containing erstwhile Lou Reed/Richard Hell guitarist Robert Quine, and also Matthew Sweet and Fred Maher. Lloyd was pictured with long hair and stubble, leading to accusations of ‘rocking out’. The truth of it is the album is not quite heavy rock by any means, but more careful evolution of his sound and music.

Opening with the blissful Don’t Look Back (obvious Dylan reference there!), Lloyd does not completely reinvent himself, but more gently evolve. Indeed the aforementioned collaborators play with great subtlety on this track, with a yearning guitar solo from Quine and sighing backing vocals as Lloyd sings about “when you’re nothing to no-one” and the onset of ageing (“life seems never-ending when you’re young”) and thirtiedom a la 29 off Commotions album Mainstream. No Blue Skies was the first single and is in a similar vein, a soaring tune full of gentle, soaring guitar fills, with Lloyd lamenting “baby you’re too well read”.

So what about the rock?! What Do You Know About Love is the second track, and is a darker, brooding rocker. There’s a lovely midsection showcasing his love of New York (“it’s raining on Bleeker Street”) and the guitar work throughout the track is quite superb. Sweetheart is the rockiest track here, sounding a lot like a Lou Reed style rocker but it works really well with Lloyd’s witty lyrics: “well I guess you've really got some kind of way with words - maybe you could be a writer.” He even sounds like he’s having fun on I Hate To See You Doing That Stuff, where the band cuts loose and sound like they’re having a great time, even Lloyd singing a line or two in French can’t sink this one.
Later Ice Cream Girl is a truly uplifting piece of music, sounding breathtakingly simple yet original, again with some exceptionally good guitar work, while Undressed is a harmonica-led, Dylanesque little ditty which Ryan Adams had clearly heard before recording Heartbreaker.
It’s an excellent collection of songs and at 13 songs perhaps a little overlong, yet it’s a good starting point for discovering Lloyd Cole’s music. It’s criminal that this album hasn’t got more recognition as its fingerprints are all over rootsy alternative music these days (anything from Ryan Adams to Villagers). Incidentally it’s his 50th birthday today which I cannot believe!