Monday, April 30, 2012

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Trent Reznor released what could be considered his ‘opus’ with Nine Inch Nails in 1994.  The album is a hard-edged, ‘industrial’ album full of pounding beats, distorted guitars and Reznor screaming blue murder.  It opens with Mr Self Destruct which follows this template to the letter, and is followed by the much quieter Piggy, a creepy, almost whispered track with Reznor singing profundities such as “nothing can stop me now cos I don’t care anymore”.
Heresy is much dancier and more electronic though it still allows for Reznor to scream “your God is dead! And no one cares!”, which actually sounds awesome.  After the equally pounding March of the Pigs the intensity reduces slightly for the slow-grind of Closer.  It opens with a squelching beat, possible lifted from Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing and most of the track consists of this plus bass and a great vocal from Reznor, dialing up the tension as he sings “I wanna f**k you like an animal”.  It’s a wonderful exercise in creeping tension while all the while remaining melodic and danceable.
Ruiner and The Becoming which follow this track sound suitably foreboding and dramatic.  It’s not all screaming intensity.  A Warm Place is a moment of keyboard-led tranquility, while final track Hurt is the creeping ballad which provided such potent material for Johnny Cash in his final years.
Possibly the Queen Is Dead of industrial thrash, it’s probably the definitive Nine Inch Nails album, and a thrilling ride.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Album Review: Husker Du – Land Speed Record

Words sure to strike fear into my reviewing heart: seminal, influential.  These words have always been used to describe Husker Du.  Their debut album saw Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton release what was basically a live album in 1982.  It’s not particularly well recorded and most of the songs run into each other.  Opening track All Tensed Up sets the tone, breakneck tempos, shouted vocals (by Mould) and thrashing guitars.  The songs are very brief and most run into each other.  The album has 17 tracks and only lasts 26 minutes!
Standout tracks are pretty difficult to find here.  Norton’s MTC starts out a little like Velvet Underground’s I Heard Her Call My Name, ie all over the place, Mould’s Bricklayer is completely manic and over in 53 seconds.  Final track Data Control stands out due to its length, at nearly five and a half minutes it’s by far the longest song here, not a million miles away from a particularly messy Neil Young track.
It’s difficult to recommend this album unless you want to see where Husker Du started out from.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Album Review: Low – The Great Destroyer

2005’s The Great Destroyer is the sound of Low casting off their shackles, loosening up and having a blast.  Opening track Monkey is possibly their most sinister yet, with Mimi Parker pounding the drums as she and Alan Sparhawk sing about “tonight you will be mine… tonight the monkey dies” as Sparhawk tears it up on his guitar.

This album has been billed as Low’s ‘rock’ album, and certainly Sparhawk’s guitars on California and Just Stand Back would bear this out, and all the while with veiled threats in the lyrics (the latter’s “here comes the knife… I could turn on you so fast”).  California is an almost classic style rocker, and the distortion is turned up to the max on Everybody’s Song.  Sparhawk channels his inner Neil Young on When I Go Deaf and also the towering On The Edge Of, like prime slices of 70s Crazy Horse.
It’s not all in-your-face-rock.  Silver Rider is a more classic Low midtempo brooder, while Cue the Strings is reminiscent of Will the Night (off Secret Name) with just a little added menace.  The addition of children’s voices on Step doesn’t entirely work and Broadway (So Many People) with its queries of “where is the laughter?” is a little overlong.

But it’s the final three tracks that really round off this album with a flourish.  What can be said about Pissing other than it’s almost as sinister as Monkey.  Starting quietly, with minimal instrumentation and lyrics, it explodes with guitars halfway through as the insistent melody plays on.  But this has nothing on Death of a Salesman, a sparse acoustic strum with sneering menace from Alan Sparhawk as he sings “I forgot all my songs, the words now are wrong and I burned my guitar in a rage”, before the final track Walk Into the Sea which strays back towards traditional Low territory, albeit with slightly more prominent guitars.
This album upset some fans of Low’s more traditional, doomy sound but I find it refreshing to see the band aim for new territory.  And most importantly the songs are extremely strong.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Album Review: Lloyd Cole – Cleaning Out The Ashtrays

Ostensibly a collection of B-sides, it is in fact a treasure trove for fans of Lloyd Cole, who never got around to buying the pricy CD singles.  It’s a 4 CD box set with an entertaining booklet, describing the background to all the songs.
Packages like this are essentially for nerds.  Who already have all the albums.  In the case of Lloyd Cole, this is especially so, speaking proudly as one of the nerds.  This set is neatly divided into different phases of Cole’s solo career; One More Wine Glass (1989-91), Re-make/Re-model (1992-93), Dangerous Music (1994-95) and Difficult Pieces (1996-2006).  In truth, these descriptions overstate the material somewhat, most of it fits comfortably into Lloyd Cole’s trademark sound, wry observations over cleverly played guitars.
What is evident here, is that the hitherto overlooked material here is mainly of very high quality, indeed, exceeding many of his solo albums.  The strongest material is mainly on the first (One More Wine Glass) and third (Dangerous Music) discs, with the second disc (Re-make/Re-model) containing some of the weakest, mirroring this period of his solo career.
Tracks like the almost-rocking pair of Blame Mary Jane and Weird On Me would have been among the stronger tracks on any of his solo albums, and the same could be said of the more introspective Missing and Rain On My Parade, the latter of which sees him reach for his inner Blue Nile.
Less successful are the cover versions, Lloyd Cole is one artist who really shouldn’t attempt them, he tends to neuter the songs and add little to them (Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel No 2, Bob Dylan’s Most of the Time and especially Lou Reed’s Vicious, Lloyd’s treatment is anything but).  He also dabbled in remixes, mainly on the second disc, and these are best avoided.
At 59 tracks there is much to enjoy here for fans of Lloyd Cole.  The playing throughout is largely exquisite, Cole has always surrounded himself with quality collaborators.  But above all the songwriting is almost uniformly consistent (with a few exceptions) throughout this collection).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Album Review: Richmond Fontaine – The Fitzgerald

After the critical success of Post to Wire, Richmond Fontaine took a typically idiosyncratic step for 1995’s follow-up The Fitzgerald.  They stripped out most of the elements that contributed to Post to Wire’s success.  So gone are all the uptempo songs, most of the electric guitars and above all, Paul Brainard’s steel guitar. 
Replacing these is a series of stripped down, spare songs, which are almost all bleak as f**k.  Second track, The Welhorn Yards is a prime example of this, a beautiful melody picked out by a bone-dry guitar and Willy Vlautin’s harrowing lyrical imagery “I fell into the uneasiest of sleeps, the worst nightmares of sleeps.  A madman came after me, his hair was on fire, his eyes were bleeding and he said he was gonna kill me.”  Amazingly this isn’t merely a depressing song, but a pared-down gem.
It’s followed by the slightly more propulsive, though no less bleak Black Road, a desperate tale of “the alcoholics and the ruined and the framed”, and some highly effective backing vocals.  It’s difficult for the band to maintain this level of intensity over the whole album, though they make a fair fist of it on the piano-enhanced The Incident at Conklin Creek.  In the main, guitars are plucked rather than strummed, drums are brushed rather than beaten.
If anything can be called upbeat here, it’s two tracks, the Tex-Mex strum of Exit 194B and nervous strums of Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt, the latter reminiscent of some of the material on Winnemucca.  At times the sparseness of the material shows up some of the band’s failings, such as Vlautin’s vocals (on Laramie, Wyoming) and some underwritten songs (The Janitor).
But these are minor complaints.  This album is about telling a story and creating a mood, and dealing with that.  The whole thing is brought together by the final track, the gorgeously sparse three minutes of Making It Back.  It’s Willy Vlautin alone with his guitar and bottles at 3am with only the Pogues to keep him company (“Summer in Siam plays on repeat again, we never get sick of it”).  Alone that is, except for his love (“now that I’m in your arms again… there’s no one else I can talk to”).  The track finishes with a beautifully picked guitar coda, almost reminiscent of The Smiths’ Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.
After the track finishes we’re left with only silence.  There’s nothing more can be said.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Interview | RM Hubbert

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EP Review: Low - Murderer

Low put out this EP in 2003 as a limited release.  The title track sounds very basic and simple at first, a three-chord guitar strum with Alan Sparhawk singing about how “you may need a murderer… someone to do your dirty work” as Mimi Parker coos in the background.  The track builds and swells wonderfully as Parker harmonises with Sparhawk as the guitars pick up the pace, rising and falling in intensity as the track progresses.
Silver Rider, on the other hand, sounds unfinished.  A drum pattern and keyboard pick out the backing for this one, framing a ghostly melody.  The short EP finishes with the longest track here, From Your Place On Sunset.  This track is a classic, slow-as-hell, plodding, growling Low track.  Parker and Sparhawk’s vocals on this one really bring it to life and it works really well, with Sparhawk cranking out the guitars towards the end.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

EP Review: Nine Inch Nails – Broken

Nine Inch Nails released the Broken EP in 1992.  In comparison to the not-exactly-easy-listening Pretty Hate Machine, this is an outright aural assault.  After the barely there instrumental Pinion, the insistent beats that open Wish lay the path for bludgeoning riffs that slay all before them as Trent Reznor howls his angsty lyrics.
The rockisms of Last give way to the moody instrumental piece Help Me I Am In Hell which creates a dystopian atmosphere.  This mood is shattered by the distorted torment of Happiness In Slavery which pounds and pounds for five minutes before the breakneck beats and anguished shouting of Gave Up.
There are 2 further ‘bonus tracks’, an industrial version of Adam Ant’s Physical, and a Pigface (?) cover – Suck, both of which dial the distortion down a little but are still riff-heavy tracks.  Suck sees a slight return to the electro-style of their debut album.
It’s the sound of a man screaming and raging against the world.  Great, if you’re in that kind of mood.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Album Review: Killing Joke - Killing Joke

Killing Joke released their self-titled debut album in 1980.  Opening Requiem starts with a pulsing keyboard before Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker’s very post-punk, dark, insistent guitar riff, over Paul Ferguson’s pounding drums and Jaz Coleman’s bellowed vocals.
Little deviates from this style.  Coleman’s vocals on Wardance are growled, almost strangled on the verse over Walker’s repetitive guitar.  Tomorrow’s World is slower and more deliberate, with little variation, while instrumental Bloodsport has an almost disco pulse under the razor sharp guitars.
The Wait is heavier than anything that has gone before, the guitar riff hits just that bit harder and the drums pound just a little more, making for an exhilarating track, and Coleman produces a vocal which would find favour with the likes of The Cult’s Ian Astbury in years to come. 
Many of the tracks have choruses consisting of one word repeated over and over, and Complications is typical of this, though it’s almost like a heavier version of very early Cure.  After the lengthy, plodding S.O. 36 the album finishes with another excellent riff on Primitive.
This album is all about the guitars.  You don’t hear this guitar sound mimicked too often these days.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Album Review: Mogwai – Come On Die Young

Mogwai’s second album Come On Die Young came out in 1999, and it’s one of their mellowest of all, with very little guitar crunch.  It’s an intensely subtle listen, right from the foreboding opener Punk Rock: - featuring a sample of an Iggy Pop interview over some spooky music.  Much of the album is very tranquil and moody.  Cody features Stuart Braithwaite on weedy vocals, while many of the tracks sort of run into each other, the depressed-sounding Helps Both Ways has some very pleasant woodwind.
Waltz for Aidan (presumably Moffat) has a gorgeous melody, while May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door patents slow and brooding in the instrumental, ‘post-rock’ sense.  After the brief keyboard piece Oh! How the Dogs Stack Up, things get a bit livelier with Ex-Cowboy.  The track starts off sounding like The Cure’s Disintegration on downers before swelling to noisier territory.  In fact, this track, the in turns pensive and noisy Chocky and Christmas Steps occupy almost half an hour of the album.  The latter track is a slightly different version to the one on the No Education = No Future EP, but it’s none the less thrilling for that with its massive noise pay-offs.
Final track, the brief Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/Antichrist is a slight anticlimax, with forlorn brass making it almost like an afterthought.  It’s an odd album really.  An album like this is not really about the individual songs, more about painting a mood and the mood here is grey and bleak.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Album Review: Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses

Type O Negative’s 1993 album Bloody Kisses could be great, only for the irritating interludes which interrupt the mood of the album.  I refer to opening track, Machine Screw which features a woman moaning and groaning for 39 seconds, before the first proper song, Christian Woman.  But what a song. 
Despite opening with Peter Steele saying “forgive her, for she knows not what she does” deadpan, Wayne Hussey style, we get a real epic, kind of three songs in one over nine minutes.  It features some enormous guitars from Kenny Hickey and great doom-vocals and lyrics from Steele (“for her lust she’ll burn in hell, her soul done medium-well”).  After the mellow ‘To Love God’ section, special mention to the final ‘movement’ of the track, which mainly consists of Steele singing “Jesus Christ looks like me”.  How bloody awesome is that?!
The next track, Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All) is even longer at 11 minutes.  Opening with distant church bells and Steele’s brooding double bass, the hammer horror is turned up to ‘eleven’ here, with creepy keyboards adding even more atmosphere before the entrance of more big guitars and a huge chorus.  Steele sings this time about a girl who’s “got a date at midnight with Nosferatu”.  This one does go on a bit though, it has to be said, Steele repeating “loving you was like loving the dead” endlessly.
Kill All The White People is a tongue-in-cheek mindless thrash, along the lines of We Hate Everyone later on the album.  It’s followed by a cover of Seals & Crofts’ Summer Breeze which actually works in a really downtuned, draggy, dirgey way.  Set Me On Fire is a fine piece of midtempo goth-rock, sung this time by Hickey before another stupid interlude Dark Side of the Womb (yes, really), this time a crying baby fused with a clanking machine.
They wheel in the church organ for the slow burn of the title track.  Too Late: Frozen is a heavy, anthemic chant, while Blood & Fire is a little close to the Sisters of Mercy’s More for comfort.  The album finishes with the slow grind of Can’t Lose You which even introduces a sitar.
Ok, some of this is hilarious, unintentionally or otherwise but for what it is (overblown, preposterous goth-metal), it’s ‘bloody’ great.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Album Review: David Bowie – Outside

Written off at the time as an over-ambitious folly, David Bowie’s 1995 album Outside (or 1. Outside) may be trying a little too hard to be industrial, and may be overlong at 19 tracks and 74 minutes but there is some great music on it.
Leaving aside the pretentious storyline, odd-sounding character names (Ramona A. Stone, Algeria Touchshriek, Baby Grace), the fact that each track has a subtitle, and some borderline annoying interludes, what’s left is a series of strong, very consistent songs.  Although the feel of the album is somewhat claustrophobic, there’s hardly a bad song on it.  The first song proper, the title track, is really dark and brooding, before The Heart’s Filthy Lesson really goes for the whole Nine Inch Nails vibe.
Hallo Spaceboy (the album version, not the horrid Pet Shop Boys remix) is full of  pounding drums as Bowie croons “this chaos is killing me”.  After this, The Motel is excellent, a slow space ballad giving Bowie’s voice plenty of room to really fill out the song.  The vocals are really excellent here and across the whole album.
The material is mainly really good, but there is a lot of it to take on board, and after a time it becomes somewhat homogenous.  Not all the tracks work, Wishful Beginnings drags a bit with shades of David Sylvian.  Later, I’m Deranged has another fantastic vocal over industrial beats and the upbeat, clattering melody of Thru’ These Architechts Eyes work particularly well.
The album finishes with the much smoother, tension free track Strangers When We Meet, a kind of standard issue Bowie-crooned ballad.  It doesn‘t quite fit in with what went before it.  The album had been billed as part of a trilogy, but we haven't got to hear parts 2 & 3 (yet).  Although there is plenty to criticize on this album, it’s an enjoyable listen, and far superior to most of his 80s and 90s albums.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Concert Review: Bill Wells & Aidan John Moffat at Grand Social, Dublin 30th March 2012

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Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine

Nine Inch Nails’ debut came out in 1989.  The late 1980s wasn’t a great time for guitar based ‘rock’, so some of the sounds on this album have that kind of processed ‘rawwwkk’ guitar which was doing the rounds then.
Opening track Head Like A Hole sets the tone, like an angry, rocky version of Depeche Mode.  Trent Reznor spits out lines like “bow down before the one you serve” over pounding beats and a great bassline.  The lyrics are sort of text-book angst but just as well the songs are strong.  Terrible Lie (terrible title!) features some great oppressive synths driving the song forward.
The fretless bass and processed guitar of Sanctified roots it in the late 1980s, but Something I Can Never Have, is an early Reznor dark ballad.  It’s almost entirely keyboard based and features a great vocal and the occasional dodgy lyric (“grey would be the colour if I had a heart”).
The next two tracks are best described as fairly full-on, Kinda I Want To is like a dancey Depeche Mode on steroids, while Sin is almost like an assault through beats.  You’ll want to invade somewhere after listening to it.
Final track Ringfinger could almost be a Hacienda-style Madchester dance track but for the angsty singing and guitars.  Things would get a lot more ‘industrial’ from here on.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Album Review: Joy Division - Closer

Joy Division released their second and last album in the aftermath of singer Ian Curtis' suicide in 1980.  Everything, from the artwork, the song-titles and the music has the pallor of death over it.  But this is an album that deserves to be taken on its own merits, out of context.

The opening two tracks, Atrocity Exhibition and Isolation sound more experimental than their earlier work, with the keyboards and Stephen Morris' drums on the latter sounding almost lo-fi.  These two tracks laid down the template for the scratchier end of 80s goth (eg early Sisters of Mercy singles), especially Peter Hook's bassline.  Passover is a far more brooding track, albeit with some great guitar lines from Bernard Sumner.  A Means to An End, on the other hand has an almost disco beat, with a simple melody descending into Ian Curtis' despairing lyrics ("I put my trust in you... I put my trust in you") as the guitars spiral beautifully downwards.

The second half of the album begins with Heart and Soul, which sees the band lay the template for the early minimalist Cure (17 Seconds/Faith).  An insistently pulsing bassline provides the bedrock for Curtis' portentous, resigned lyrics.  Twenty Four Hours picks up the pace with heavier guitars and Curtis growling "so THIS is permanent?".  After the funereal plod of The Eternal the album concludes with the bleak, icy melody of Decades, all wintry keyboards and regret ("where have you been?").  It will haunt you when you sleep.

Bleak as it gets then, but essential.