Archive for Music

Album Review: The 2nd Law – Muse (2012)

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by innothingwetrust

Newborn Muse trade Hysteria for Madness

Muse are one of those bands that have inexplicably become a household name. Well, I say ‘inexplicably’ from the perspective of about 2003 when they were a trio of weirdos from the unlikeliest of tin pot towns in Devon who somehow came together to create terrifically emotional alternative rock music fused with classical influences in a way that hadn’t really been done before. Not even a mind as meandering and inventive as Matt Bellamy’s could have written their story given such oddball ingredients. But their third studio album ‘Absolution’ and subsequent Glastonbury headline appearance garnered huge attention both at home and abroad, and their sound exploded from there in a hundred different directions like a mid-set pyrotechnics session. That’s the problem.

Compare Muse’s journey to another unlikely staple of modern popular radio playlists, Biffy Clyro. Again a trio from out in the sticks – this time Kilmarnock, Scotland – they are a band who began life, and I’m sure intended to continue it, firmly in the alt. rock scene. An energetic, ‘real’ band who played intimate live shows at sweaty venues to fans who actually knew all their songs, they did what they said on the tin. The kind of guys who would come out for a drink at the bar after a set, not slink off to the groupies, green rooms and tour buses. Hell, they probably didn’t even have a tour bus, they probably just rented a Transit van. They were a real, working band, no frills. Their own third album, ‘Infinity Land’ earned them more mainstream attention with some cracking singles and entertaining videos, but it was the subsequent ‘Puzzle’ with its much more commercial sound which bought them bigger shows, bigger support slots and higher festival billings.

It’s easy to see how one could become accustomed to such growing success and want it to continue, a decision palpable in Biffy’s fifth album, ‘Only Revolutions’. The honing of their song structures into easily digestible chunks is obvious, as is the inclusion of much more mellow and harmonious tracks (this was also true of ‘Puzzle’). And that’s fine, I get that – who wouldn’t want to continue playing venues like Wembley Stadium and the MK bowl? Biffy are now a headline act and they want to stay there, I would as well. But what I really respect about Biffy Clyro, no matter how far some of their music has gone down the toilet, is that they haven’t completely sold their souls.

I’d love to be there to high-five Simon Neil when the suits from the label come into their studio sessions and say, “Hey Simon, fancy turning down that distortion a bit? It’s just quite loud, y’know? Most people don’t hear stuff this heavy on the radio, it might alienate some new fans”. What is clear from their continued use of very heavy sections in their music is that Simon’s response is a resounding “fuck no”. ‘Only Revolutions’ contains possibly their heaviest song in ‘That Golden Rule’, and that was one of the singles! Their latest single ‘Stingin’ Belle’ taken from ‘Opposites’, an album which looks to be heading in the same popularity consolidating direction – even with all its sing-along verse-and-chorus radio niceties and twangly guitar licks – still has that very heavy intro. It’s a little piece of ‘them’ which they have retained throughout the height of their commercial career, and I salute that.

So what have Muse retained throughout their aptly ‘meteoric’ rise to superstardom? Well, sadly for the fans who have followed them since ‘Showbiz’, the list has all but disappeared. Bellamy’s voice is still as distinctive as ever, and if anything he has turned the ‘drama’ in his tones up to 11 in his work of late, for better or worse. And if you squint, the classical intonation and Iberian flamenco progressions are still there. However, these days, they are smothered beneath layers and layers of electronic fuzz. It’s like a piece of Renaissance art framed by a thousand flashing flourescent LEDs and neon strip lighting. In truth, something like that might find its place inside the Tate Modern, but I am venomously cynical about 95% of everything in the TM… It should be noted though that I love the other 5%.

To be fair to the guys, this transformation isn’t in any way unexpected. Muse announced before 2009’s disappointing ‘The Resistance’ that they were shifting direction. In 2011, Muse headlined Reading and Leeds playing the entirety of ‘Origin of Symmetry’ from start to finish to mark the 10 year anniversary of its release. They also announced that this was the last time a lot of those songs would ever be played live. And before the release of ‘The 2nd Law’, bassist Chris Wolstenholme said that the band were ‘drawing a line under a certain period’ in their career and that the album would be ‘radically different’ to their prior releases. So when a ‘radically different’ album turns up, no one has any right to be surprised. It doesn’t mean that we have no right to be disappointed though.

But look, I’ll start on a positive (of sorts): there is actually a fair bit I like about this album. Once you have gotten over the fact that this basically is no longer Muse, once you treat them as a completely new band, let’s say ‘The Muses’, and stop comparing their clearly inferior present work to their clearly superior past work, some of the stuff on ‘The 2nd Law’ isn’t actually all that bad. Sound like faint praise? Well, I guess it is, but there some genuine plus points.

Firstly, I like the concept of the album. The title ‘The 2nd Law’ refers to the second law of thermodynamics which is actually stated in the penultimate track (‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’), and goes as thus:

“All natural and technological processes proceed in such a way that the availability of the remaining energy decreases. In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system, the entropy of that system increases. Energy continuously flows from being concentrated, to becoming dispersed, spread out, wasted, and useless. New energy cannot be created and high-grade energy is being destroyed”.

Using this as an analogy for the seemingly increasing levels of social and political chaos in the world is a nice idea, although they do not weave it throughout the album as well as they should and often lose sight of it. The artwork is nice too.

But all surface observations and preambles all aside (over 1000 words in…), any music album has to be judged primarily on that – the music – and ‘The 2nd Law’ has plenty to talk about.

Opening track ‘Supremacy‘ is actually really good. It is a shame that Bellamy has not taken a page out of Simon Neil’s book regarding his guitar tone which is not distorted enough to be really considered ‘heavy’. If you’re going to have a distortion pedal, make it count. Watering down the tone is like driving a tank to the shops to get your groceries. Blow some shit up! Otherwise you’re just driving an irritating powerful vehicle around for no reason. But the riff itself is catchy enough and we are introduced to one of the album’s plus points early on which is Dom Howard’s drumming (that is when he is using an actual drum kit and not a selection of bloody synth pads…). He doesn’t give a masterclass of technical proficiency so much as a lesson in using the right beat at the right time, along with chucking in some interesting ideas here and there. It would be easy for Dom to provide a really rhythmic accompaniment to the main riff which is essentially triplets against a 4/4 time signature, but the ultra-simple 4/4 beat – bass drum on 1, snare on 3 – is so much more effective resulting in non-voluntary head nodding for the listener.

The opener also introduces us to another, perhaps less desirable theme, namely that of ‘soundalike moments’. I should really say ‘re-introduces’ as these moments were also prevalent on Muse’s last album ‘The Resistance’. They are those sections or melodies which you hear and say, “Ooh that sounds just like something else”, and they have crept into Matt Bellamy’s writing with alarming frequency. Firstly, the main riff with orchestral accompaniment very much has a feel of Puff Daddy’s Godzilla/ Zeppelin mash-up ‘Come With Me’. But that’s fine, I love that song (although again it would be nice if Matt Bellamy’s guitar was as heavy as the one in Diddy’s Kashmir). Secondly, I don’t know if ‘Supremacy’ has anything to do with Daniel Craig’s upcoming 007 installment ‘Skyfall’, but it could quite easily be a Bond theme, aided largely by the two semitone rise and fall at the end of each verse refrain – a musical phrase so utterly conjoined with Ian Fleming’s secret agent franchise that I can’t believe its inclusion was an accident. Those more geeky listeners might draw comparisons between the verses and the ‘Aztec’ level of Goldeneye 64, although admittedly that is an extremely niche observation… But I’m still counting it. Belllamy’s shameful robbery of John Williams’ ‘Parade of the Slave Children’ from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for ‘United States of Eurasia’ shows that he is more than adept at raiding lesser known pop culture gems for his own purposes. So we are already up to 3 on the ‘Sound-a-like-o-meter’, and it is only track 1! But the bottom line is that track 1 is good, mainly because I like all the things that it sounds like (and believe it or not, one of those things is ‘Muse’!).

A wonderfully tongue-in-cheek chord ends ‘Supremacy’ and leads into track 2 and current single ‘Madness‘. Brian May described Muse as a “magnificent, incredible group” when presenting them with the O2 Silver Clef award in 2010 for ‘The Resistance’. It’s little wonder they should draw such praise from the Queen legend – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and ‘Madness’ is chock-full of musical Queenisms (even more so than their other recent songs). The first two verses sound like ‘I Want to Break Free’ (Sound-a-like-o-meter = 4) with their simplistic 80s synth drums, while the growing scale (and pitch) of the harmonies has Freddie Mercury written all over it. The melody and chords sound like a combination of George Michael’s ‘Faith’ (s-a-l-o-m = 5) and Reef’s ‘Place Your Hands’ (s-a-l-o-m = 6). Musically the song doesn’t build as gradually as it could and to be honest the first 3 minutes just aren’t very exciting. However, May’s – sorry – Bellamy’s disjointed solo acts as a bridge between this slow start and what is actually quite a nice ending. The synth finally opens out into flowing chords and the guitar provides complementary echoey twinkling behind some lovely soaring vocals and harmonies on “I need to love”.

It’s still not Muse though, and this trend is continued with some aplomb with track 3, ‘Panic Station‘. It’s just bizarre. Muse appear to be attempting to revive 80s funk disco – ‘counting’ lyrics, an irritating synth ‘whoosh’ snare, heavily chorused bass, funky brass sections, it’s all there. The 3 staccato bass hits which start the song and continue throughout sound like INXS’s ‘Need You Tonight’ (s-a-l-o-m = 7), the melody on the line “And this chaos it defies imagination” is taken straight out of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ (“You try to scream, but terror takes the sound before you make it” – s-a-l-o-m = 8) and the funk outro to the chorus is the equivalent section of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstitious’ (s-a-l-o-m = 9). This last one is no surprise as it features Steven Madaio on trumpet who actually played on the 1972 hit. But probably the most annoying thing about this song is the arrogance of Bellamy’s delivery. He has already stated in interview that  he sang it once normally and it sounded rubbish, so he decided to just pretend he was Prince. Perhaps this works for you, but to me this is a sign of someone who is just pissing around and not taking their work seriously any more. It’s incredible that one of the most distinctive sounding rock bands of all time now sounds so contrived and similar to everything else. And not similar even to bands of the same genre, but music rooted firmly in the pop mainstream.

Prelude‘ evokes the feeling of a 1950s Marilyn Monroe film scene. All it needs is a cheesy script: “Oh James, it’s not that I don’t want to see you. It’s quite the opposite in fact. It’s just… I’ve never been… in love before”. The sensitive conclusion leads into The Official London 2012 Olympics Theme Tune, ‘Survival‘.

The most obvious thing about track 5 is that these are some of the worst lyrics ever committed to record. To be fair, I think linking this song to the Olympics has done it a lot of damage. Without the thought of competitive sport in your mind, this is just a song about man’s insatiable survival instinct. Still quite terrible lyrics, but not the veritable cheese-fest it becomes when you know that it was written with the Olympics in mind. For those who haven’t heard it, imagine handing a pen to an 8-year-old and asking them to write a poem about winning a race.

By contrast, the end of the song is actually quite good. Some real, actual distorted guitar! And fairly downtuned as well. In a way, Muse had a lot of balls submitting this to the IOC. Partly because the lyrical content would earn a C- in a primary school poetry competition, but also because the ending really is quite heavy. Somehow the thought of Seb Coe & Boris Johnson nodding their heads to this and saying “that’s some heavy shit” doesn’t quite ring true, but clearly something worked for them. The solo bits at the end are good, mainly because they are included for the good of the song and not the ego of the performer. The frantic and increasingly higher echoey notes interspersed with that guttural distortion build tension nicely to the end. Unfortunately the tension is broken at the death by another ridiculously high wail from Bellamy who – yet again – states “I’m gonna wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin”. My word the lyrics are poor.

Maybe he had handed writing duties over to his new-born son, the questionably named Bingham Bellamy. After all, the following track and future single ‘Follow Me‘ is about him. Although this pledge of protection from father to son is touching, it is just not very good. Firstly, the last two lines of each verse sound exactly like ‘I Will Survive’ (s-a-l-o-m = 10). Secondly, it is obvious this far into the proceedings that a very irritating habit that Matt Bellamy seems to have developed is not going to go away. I call it a ‘vocal scoop’, and it is where you start a note very low and then ‘scoop’ up to the intended note. Annoyingly, he does it on almost every word in this intro.

But the overriding feeling when listening to this track is just how familiar it is. I cannot listen to the radio any more – like, I physically cannot listen to it – because it is full of guff like this. I don’t mind some of Nero’s music and their influence as producers on ‘Follow Me’ is palpable. But this track is so indicative of the music which is popular right now, and therein lies what is at the heart of this album, its fatal flaw – short-termism. The 2nd Law will never be a classic because it only ever aspires to be a mirror for today’s most popular mainstream artists. Tomorrow, in musical terms, this album will be very old. Where Muse used to innovate, they now seem happy to merely imitate.

This is only emphasised by the subsequent track ‘Animals‘ which shines as one of the few really interesting moments of the album. It is the only track on which Muse attempt anything different with regard to timing, the whole song being in 5/4. The lowered tone is also far more genuine and sincere than the pomp and ceremony of most of the other songs which is refreshing. The pre-chorus though does sound a lot like a slightly faster version of the same part of Origin of Symmetry’s ‘Screenager’, and even the first 3 notes of the subsequent chorus are the same as well (s-a-l-o-m = 11). Dom Howard’s drumming is again simple but clever, the syncopated rhythm of the crash cymbal during the solo section casting a different light on the musical landscape than a regular ‘on-beat’ rhythm would. In a contradictory fashion, his straight 4/4 beat over the 5/4 riff toward the end has exactly the same influence, although it’s a shame that Matt Bellamy again shies away from upping the ante with his distortion as that could have been a really good, heavy ending. You know, like Muse would have done. Still a good song, reminiscent perhaps of something Incubus would have produced before the quality of their own music went similarly southward.

And then back to the madness. ‘Explorers‘ could be an E17 Christmas single (there are even sleigh bells in the chorus. No, seriously). The glockenspiel effect piano intro is just too cheesy for words and Bellamy’s opening melody is the spit of Queen’s (yawn) ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ (s-a-l-o-m = 12). There is also more vocal scooping (“who will wiiiin?”) thrown in. Matt Bellamy worked hard during Muse’s early career to distance himself and his band from comparisons to Radiohead, so I find it strange that he has decided here to lift Thom Yorke’s melody from ‘No Surprises’ to use for his chorus (s-a-l-o-m = 13). If the sleigh bells on the second chorus are not quite enough to induce nausea, the X-Factor winners’ single signature key change on the last chorus should have you reaching for the nearest brown paper bag. Why, why, why?

There is something about ‘Big Freeze‘ that is actually quite catchy and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it’s probably just got a nice set of verse chords, but it is also down again to Dom’s simple drumming allowing the guitar to play the rhythm. But unfortunately true originality is again lacking as you can sing the chorus of Muse’s own ‘Starlight’ directly over this one (s-a-l-o-m = 14). At one point Bellamy even starts singing the same backing wail as in the Black Holes and Revelations single, but stops half way through, seemingly realising his self-plagiarism. As a side note, I would not be surprised to see this song played alongside ‘Map of the Problematique’ during live sets as the guitar effect is the same.

Just when you are ready to turn off and give up though, you enter the best section of the album. Usually reserved for the also-rans and perhaps one big final piece, The last 4 tracks of The 2nd Law are really the peak. First up, we have the 2-track ‘Chris Wolstenholme Show’. The bassist has been allowed two songs on this album which were wholly written and sung by him, both of which deal with his battle against alcoholism. After the incessant melodramatics of Matt Bellamy’s vocals, Chris’s effortlessly smooth tones soothe the ears like ice on a burn. Aptly, the feeling of ‘Save Me‘ is like floating in water, the echoey guitars and reverbed vocals bouncing off each other like sunlight shining through the rippled surface. ‘Liquid State‘ follows with an all-too-rare display of upbeat urgency, although sadly the full potential of the song isn’t properly explored and by the premature ending, you kind of just think ‘oh, is that it’? And also, the final sound-a-like moment of the record comes in the form of Liquid State’s similarity to Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘You Think I ‘Aint Worth a Dollar But I Feel Like a Millionaire’ (s-a-l-o-m = 15). Again, these two songs don’t really sound like Muse in any way, but then neither do most of the songs on this album. But the brief change of vocalist is certainly refreshing.

But for me, by far the most interesting part of The 2nd Law is saved right for the end. The two-part title track kicks off with ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable‘ which whips up a dramatic frenzy with a restless violin duo being battered by Dom Howard’s booming toms. The ‘newsreader’ style of delivery of the sample stating the second law of thermodynamics and the growing orchestral clouds gathering above it are the first real time on the whole album that the content and style of a song combine to make you feel like Muse actually have something important to say. Ironically, this feeling comes on a track where there are virtually no lyrical vocals at all. The electronic voice on the word ‘unsustainable’ arrives like a giant robot from the future heralding a warning and the obviously Skrillex-inspired circuitry of the rest of the track jars deeply like the digital apocalypse. This type of epicity is Muse’s forte and they exploit it well here, albeit in a new age. And at last, ‘The 2nd Law: Isolated System‘ acts as a solemn outro to proceedings, the double-finale feeling much more like moody music from a film soundtrack than a pop/ rock album. Again, the use of samples – this time random radio excerpts – brings a much more real touch to the experience and in the sincerity of this ending, one could almost forget all the pomposity of what has come before it.

Totting it up, I actually like about half of the songs on The 2nd Law. But that is as far as my praise will ever go I’m afraid, and some of my positivity toward the album is tempered by my annoyance at just how much Muse have changed. Taking the album as a whole, it is far too broad and encompasses too many different styles to ever have a true identity and the concept is somewhat lost among the many musical and stylistic meanderings.

Ultimately, The 2nd Law is more like an album of covers or ‘re-imaginings’ of Muse songs than an actual Muse record. ‘Follow Me’ feels like it was once a rock song, but this version is ‘Follow Me (Nero Remix)’. ‘Explorers’ sounds like Simon Cowell has gotten hold of it and given it his shitty sugary Christmas single treatment (see also Matt Cardle’s bastardisation of Biffy Clyro’s ‘Many of Horror’). It’s as if Muse have retired or died and lots of disparate artists have collaborated to make a tribute album. Perhaps that is fitting, because this really isn’t Muse any more. Disagree? Listen to this album and then go listen to Hysteria. Or Stockholm Syndrome. Or Micro Cuts. If you don’t physically fall down the veritable canyon of difference in both quality and style then quite frankly you are too fat to be listening to music.

RATING: 5/10

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Gig review: Limp Bizkit, Brixton Academy, London, 29/05/2012

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on June 18, 2012 by innothingwetrust

For some reason, stating publicly that you love Limp Bizkit is a bit like coming out in the olden days. Upon doing so, you face insulting jokes, mockery and musical ostracization. Suddenly your opinion no longer matters on anything to do with music – it’s like signing a pop culture death warrant. Thankfully these days openly gay people are generally embraced by their peers, but when you say you like Limp Bizkit you are actively sought out for ridicule by the superior, the holier-than-thou and the aloof, such is the band’s maligned status outside of their own fanbase. Well I’ll delightedly take the flak because experiencing the sheer energy and power that Limp Bizkit unleashed inside Brixton Academy on the 29th May is something you will never get with The Smiths, The Doors, Doves, Stone Roses or The Cure. You can stick Morrissey where you can stick that cookie.

It seems to me somewhat ironic that Limp Bizkit’s detractors often point the finger at Fred Durst as the key reason that their music is a joke. Ironic because these detractors generally purport to like, in massive inverted commas, “Good Music” (whilst rarely straying from what the general consensus of this is), suggesting that they are people who carefully consider and appreciate the composition and musical devices used by their favourite musicians. Yet in lambasting what is obviously a clown fronting the band, you fail to see past the superficial to realise Limp Bizkit’s substantial talent.

Consider just how tight a drummer John Otto is. His bass drum and snare relationship is absolutely spot on. I honestly don’t know any other drummer who can nail a beat as well as John Otto, certainly for this kind of pop-metal genre. Sam Rivers’s bass lines are intricate and hard-hitting in all the right places and he replicates these flawlessly live whilst jumping all over the place. In fact, he and Wes Borland have such good stage presence that they make the most enormous of stages look tiny.

And Wes Borland. Long considered, even by the nay-sayers, to be the only member of Limp Bizkit to have any credibility, he is beyond any doubt the most important member of the band. His style and tone are unmistakable and his performance captivating, but where his real talent lies is in the dual hit of firstly being able to make something very simple sound complex and multi-layered, and secondly in having an incredible ear for a hook which allows him to write some of the catchiest riffs in all of rock music. Musical purists tend to look down upon simplicity, another thing which perhaps makes Limp Bizkit a figure of fun. These people are idiots. It is far, far harder and takes much more talent to write a simple, memorable pop song than it does to shred endlessly on blues scales or knob around with time signatures. Anyone can stand in awe of a guitarist’s technical proficiency, but without the ability to inject that infectious feeling you get when you hear a piece of music that you just love, they are merely a session musician. So fine if you like technically grade-8 music, but ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ will always be better than any of Dragonforce or Dillinger Escape Plan’s songs.

But I digress, albeit happily… There was a gig to be seen.

I’ll make short work of the two support acts: I missed ‘The James Cleaver Quartet’ and so can’t comment and ‘Yashin’ were absolutely terrible. Whoever booked these as support is hopefully now redundant. Cheesy riffs, annoying dual-screamo vocals, lame synchronized head-banging and endless bloody noodling. For about 10 seconds, there was a lovely pounding, rhythmic riff with some double bass, but I think this only stood out as the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. The sung vocals and harmonies were good, and when I say that I only mean that they were in tune. I still didn’t like them.

So, formalities done and techies on stage taping down setlists, plugging in cables and spouting incomprehensible prattle into the mics, I made my way down to the front – stage left, obviously (Wes Borland’s side). After a slightly long hiatus, the lights were killed and an electronic intro fired up (notably from a session DJ and not from DJ Lethal who has been kicked out of the band, in his words, for ‘partying too hard’ – almost certainly too many drugs for Durst’s short patience although the band have not yet addressed the issue publicly. Suffice to say no-one really noticed, or cared). The band members limbered up one by one – the seemingly possessed Sam Rivers followed by a very portly John Otto followed by the God-like Wes Borland, this time clad in white top, white face-paint, white wig, white mask featuring rows of LEDs and black leather crotchless trousers with his ass painted red (pictured). The man knows how to dress. Finally, Fred Durst appeared on the scene wearing what can only be described as a hip-hop version of a Slipknot jumpsuit (also pictured) and gave the cue to Otto to begin the opening of ‘My Generation’ which sent the crowd into teenage hysterics. ‘Why Try’ – one of the only half-decent songs on latest record ‘Gold Cobra’ – followed in similar fashion and by the time ‘Hot Dog’ had completed an utterly bone-crushing opening trio, every single person in the room was soaked head to toe in their own sweat.

It’s a rare thing to look back over a crowd and see literally every member of the audience going absolutely ape-shit for every single song, but such was the energy inside Brixton Academy. Limp Bizkit benefit from most of their songs having a BPM of between 95 and 105, which translates as ‘a perfect tempo to jump up and down to’. It is a glorious sight to see and is exactly the sort of energy that makes anyone want to be in a big band.

There was very little let-up in the set with ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ the only real opportunity for the crowd – now generally a bunch of 20-somethings who grew up wearing massive jeans and chains, and who perhaps still do – to take a breather. There was also a perfect blend of old and new – only 3 songs, and thankfully the slightly better ones, from the new record were aired and the unpredictable inclusion of older tunes ‘Re-arranged’, ‘Counterfeit’ and ‘Pollution’ were a really welcome addition for the more dedicated fans. I would have loved to have heard ‘Eat You Alive’ and perhaps ‘Shotgun’ from Gold Cobra would have been better than the incredibly messy and bizarre ‘Bring it Back’, but within reason I couldn’t have asked for much more (save for Jonathan Davies and Scott Weiland coming on to perform ‘Nobody Like You’, but that’s a cream dream which will never come true).

The set drew to a close with about 50 fans (mostly female) taking to the stage and dancing around to hit single ‘Rollin’. It’s not one of their best songs, but it seemed a fitting way to finish the proceedings. If you like to dance, but not in the totally lame, pouting, posing, pretend-you-are-Beyonce, photos-on-Facebook way, then Limp Bizkit are the band for you. Go and see them and let your hair down.

Harald Math – Etcetera, Etcetera

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on April 4, 2012 by innothingwetrust

My good friend Jonty has written an album and I have been helping him record it. I have previously posted 3 teaser tracks, but now I can point you in the direction of the album in its entirety. Think Reuben, think Deftones, think Million Dead, think summer pop singles and definitely think Yugoslavia. Harald Math’s ‘Etcetera, Etcetera’ is available for free download here:

http://haraldmath.bandcamp.com/

All art by Lisa Thompson. Bloody lovely art too.

Album Review: If Not Now, When? – Incubus (2011)

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2012 by innothingwetrust

Incubus have lost their Drive

Those of you who know me will know that I loved Incubus in my teenage years. They were the one band who defined me as a person, as a music lover and as a musician. I spent my youth trying to sing like Brandon Boyd and play energetic and catchy riffs like Mike Einziger and I would doodle in my school books in the style of the band’s self-made artwork. This was largely down to the fact that at the time, Incubus were touring on the back of three absolutely fantastic rock records in S.C.I.E.N.C.E, Make Yourself and Morning View. Sure, there were Fungus Amongus and Enjoy Incubus before that, but no one who smokes less than 20 joints a day really takes them seriously.

With the bigger picture of hindsight, however, I liken Incubus’s journey to a boat sailing through adverse conditions. With those first two albums, Incubus appear to have started out in darkness before emerging into the sunlight for the golden trio of output at their peak. A Crow Left of the Murder in 2004 signalled the return of clouds and with 2006’s Light Grenades it was raining again, fans out on the decks with buckets pouring the flood water overboard and repeating the line “We’re not going to sink,”. I would describe the climate surrounding their latest effort (a word I use with extreme cynicism) as a veritable shit-storm of hail and thunder, but this record is just so dull that it is more like a regression to the ice age. Oh how the great have fallen.

The album opens up with the title track which is what I describe as an ‘Intro Song’. It’s the sort of song which is full-length and has words, verses and choruses, but doesn’t really feel like a proper song as much as it does a set-up for the real opening track. They would start sets with it, using it as a ‘lights up’ kind of introduction and stirring up the crowd with its promising steady and consistent pulse (see also: ‘Take a Bow’ from Muse’s ‘Black Holes and Revelations’, or the title track from Foo Fighters’ ‘In Your Honour’). We also get a good idea early on of the stylistic direction the album has taken – after the first few bars of drums, one would be forgiven for mistaking this for a lesser-known Genesis or Chris de Burgh number. And that is in no way a compliment.

So, disappointed but hopeful, I dived into track 2 ‘Promises, Promises’ with zeal only to have the balloon of optimism not so much burst in my face, but slowly let down to make a high-pitched and annoying farting sound. It threatens something nice with interesting piano chords, but that is knocked on the head with an absolutely horrible pre-chorus and almost worse chorus. I could hear Chris Martin in my head saying “No, this is all wrong” and you can’t help but think that Coldplay – even after their own lame duck of a latest record – could have done this song much, much better and left the cheese on their toast rather than smearing it in your face.

I had hoped for an early statement of intent with this album and I got it. I had just not banked on the intention being to make a dreary album full of emotionless drivel. Boyd asks, “Baby, could I be the rabbit in your hat? I’d swing if you’d hand me the bat”. Sigh. Gone are the days of clever, scathing and brilliantly accessible lyrical analogies (“Hearing your voice is like chewing tin foil”, “You saw the apple hanging on the tree, but missed the orchard in your gaze”, “I’d bite my tongue every time you come around, ’cause blood in my mouth beats blood on the ground”).

Gone, too, it seems are the days of any form of rock influence or aesthetic. Gone even is the guitar! I don’t know if Mike Einziger has just run out of guitar parts to write (well, parts that aren’t pretentious, ambling jazzy solos which seek only to show off the fact that he can play the guitar and the piano at the same time during live shows), but he jumps on the keyboard at every given opportunity. This is all prevalent in the opening segment of the album as we wind through the boring ‘Friends and Lovers’, the circular ‘Thieves’ and ‘Isadore’ which, the second after I had finished listening to it, had entirely escaped my vaguest recollection.

Track 6, ‘The Original’ opens with some tension and after toying with the idea of a build-up, resolves into a sombre, Massive Attack style verse. That’s ok, it could have been something good, but again, hopes are dashed by a rank major scale chorus and the rest of the song is like being smacked in the face with sunshine, rainbows and flowers made of sugar. This song does, however, mark the first change of pace whatsoever on the album. Poor Jose Pasillas, once one of the best drummers of his genre, is shackled 99% of the time to plodding along with the same uninteresting beat supporting the same uninteresting songs. But for about 30 seconds he is allowed into second gear. It is sadly a gear he is never allowed to exceed. How suicidally bored he must have been wading through this in the studio.

What is clear by this point in proceedings is that the intricacy and dynamism that Incubus were once famed for has now been completely replaced by trite and self-indulgent atmospherics. Songwriting has taken a backseat to production, structure to the laziness of jamming, musicianship to showmanship. Substance to style.

Acoustic track 7 ‘Defiance’ is markedly better than all that has come before it, but that’s partly because the ‘acoustic’ song on a ‘rock’ album doesn’t have to be dynamic because it’s the ‘different’ track. The truth is that it’s just as lazy as the rest of this album, only slightly catchier, probably by chance. It is still only good enough to be a B-Side on a Light Grenades single.

The opening of ‘In the Company of Wolves’ sounds like Robbie Williams and although the middle section displays a refreshing moodiness totally lacking from the rest of the album, the ending is the ‘Sick, Sad Little World’ moment of this record insofar as it is quite obviously just a vehicle for live musical wankery and improvisation.

One of the most astonishing moments is ‘Switchblade’. Is that Brandon Boyd… rapping? Is this his attempt at a cover of Limp Bizkit’s ‘Shotgun’? If it is, it’s a shame that Mike Einziger is not Wes Borland. And actually, if that was their intention, that every member of Incubus isn’t every member of Limp Bizkit. A strange, strange song.

It is indicative of how poor this album is that when leading single ‘Adolescents’ comes on, you think, ‘Ah here we go, this is more like it’. Before hearing the rest of ‘If Not Now, When?’, I had heard only ‘Adolescents’ and thought it was woeful. But when you have just sat through 9 dismal attempts at pop music, this song is a veritable return to form. The verse melody is actually quite good and the chorus isn’t bad either, but moreover, the song is dynamic like the Incubus of old and the song has a mix of structure and invention – unexpected key changes, interesting drumming, light and shade. This is a trend not picked up however for closing track ‘Tomorrow’s Food’, a low-key folk outro which is so bland you might well question whether your CD player has accidentally skipped onto Radio 3.

Finally, I have not mentioned bassist Ben Kenney or DJ Chris Kilmore once yet. That is because the former does absolutely nothing of note on this record and the latter does absolutely nothing at all, at least not as a DJ. Judging from the below video, it seems he has become the band’s keyboardist.

If ‘Light Grenades’ made ‘A Crow Left of the Murder’ look good, ‘If Not Now, When?’ makes it look like the bloody White Album. Believe me, I don’t like saying these things about a band I once idolised, but truth is truth. Perhaps I am harsh and premature to judge so scathingly an album I have had such limited exposure to, but the simple truth is I don’t want to listen to this album again. Perhaps that says it all.

RATING: (a generous) 2/10

Tenacious D: To be the Best

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on March 28, 2012 by innothingwetrust

Brilliant:

Gig Review: Katzenjammer

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 23, 2012 by innothingwetrust

Scala, King’s Cross, Thursday 22nd March 2012

My mad Norwegian housemate Silje insisted that all her friends, my friends and people she didn’t even know go down to Scala near King’s Cross last night to see Katzenjammer, a folk/ gypsy/ punk/ rock quartet hailing from her home country. The tickets were £15 – quite a lot in these austere times, especially for a band you’ve never heard of who play a genre of music you don’t really like. Let me tell you, £15 was a bargain.

I’ll say this first – I don’t particularly like this style of music. There is not enough distortion or half-time for my liking (indeed, there isn’t any) and in general it’s all a bit ‘kooky’ and whimsical. I like my music serious and loud, not care-free and upbeat! But despite all this, Katzenjammer are one of the best bands I’ve ever seen, and I mean that. The four young lasses making the noise are extremely talented musicians. There is no ‘drummer’, ‘lead singer’, ‘guitarist’, ‘bassist’ or ‘keyboardist’ – every member is an accomplished player of every instrument, and they switch between them freely from song to song with absolutely no detriment to the quality of the sound. And the quality of the sound is exceptional.

Even if it wasn’t for the fact that the girls are charming and hold the crowd in the palm of their hand, or the fact that they each play about 10 different instruments every night perfectly, or the fact that they play as a unit more tightly than most other bands you will see, or the fact that their catchy songs are crafted in such a way that they are all recognisable yet not all the same, what would still stun you into having to peel your bottom jaw off the sticky, beer-soaked venue floor is the quality of the vocals.

Hands down – Hands. Down. – the best live vocals I’ve ever heard and I think I’m ever likely to hear. All four girls have utterly perfect voices and their four-part harmonies resonate flawlessly. Two songs in particular stand out from their set: my personal highlight ‘Wading in Deeper’ was dropped in fairly early and is a beautiful and haunting song. One of their quieter and more ‘serious’ numbers, the vocals – especially when performed live – would send shivers down the spine of a mollusc. Similarly, the first song of their (first) encore, ‘God’s Great Dust Storm’ is a showcase of the natural musicianship that Katzenjammer possess. Completely a capella, save for some very sexy atmospheric echoing floor-tom accompaniment, the quartet stay perfectly in time with each other and – far more impressively – perfectly in pitch. Watch the below video to the end and then go back to the start, the pitch has not changed. Not even a quarter tone. And there isn’t an earpiece in sight. Perfect.

However, most of their set, as I mentioned, sounds quite different. It is a mix between Gogol Bordello, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the score of Fiddler on the Roof, which is a bizarrely entertaining blend. As my friend John Bills and I were discussing them, we also realised that they have about 10 songs which could win Eurovision at a canter. And we don’t mean that in a derogatory sense.

Katzenjammer are able to deliver the Holy Grail of live performance, namely the ability to produce CD-quality sound without just sounding like the CD. The energy and passion in their delivery spreads through the crowd like wildfire which in turn feeds the band and by the end of the night, the crowd is a frenzy of very happy drunkards dancing. I have used some form of the word ‘perfect’ no less than 5 times during this review to describe the quality of playing and singing. Perhaps this is indicative of the fact that I need to go out and buy a Thesaurus to expand my vocabulary of superlatives, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything more fitting. The style of music I could take or leave – I really enjoyed some of it and I can very much see why the rest of it is so popular. But the performance was perfect. Watch the videos:

Wading in Deeper

 

God’s Great Dust Storm (live)

Harald Math: Where Foxes Turn Into Peacocks

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on March 21, 2012 by innothingwetrust

Below a link to the third teaser from John Bills’s album ‘Etcetera Etcetera’. It is called ‘Where Foxes Turn Into Peacocks’. John does writing and guitaring, I do singing, bassing and drumming.

http://haraldmath.bandcamp.com/track/where-foxes-turn-into-peacocks

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