"Just an extra with nothing
15 years of review writing can sometimes seem like a life sentence. Receiving 30 plus releases a week, often packed with mediocrity, pretension and a touch of blandness, but all also laced with hope, can become a burden as you juggle to balance the responsibility you feel to these people who spend their hard pressed dosh on mailing you their efforts, with an attempt to retain your credibility and independence, while also trying to maintain a life as a human being.
In the worst cases, music can become a worry and a burden rather than the joy that inspired you to want to write about it in the first place.
That was behind my decision to ditch nearly one thousand CDs from the review box last week.
But then on the odd occasion when I'm on top of things (label, gigs, website, work, life) and the sun shines and I have time to listen properly with the window open and no pressure, and I get some songs like this, well, then I just feel that review writing is the best thing to do in the world.
Levelload - HND in RNR (www.myspace.com/levelload)
A boy and and a girl meet up one Tokyo night, he plays guitar, she buys a bass and sings, and a few weeks later they're ready to take on London.
This is catchy, classic pop - think The Ramones duelling with The Pretenders, or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs miming to a great undiscovered Phil Spector girl group - instantly lovable and equally instantly disposable, just the way all great pop should be. To quote the NME "they sound like they listened to Bis, ate loads of sweets and formed a band mere seconds later".
"I've got an HND in rock'n'roll!" Indeed.
Black Velvet #57
Did I say that it can be hard to maintain your enthusiasm for review writing after years of being bombarded by bands, labels, PRs and other media types, all trying to sell you their latest mediocre 'product' as the next big thing?
Hats off then, to Black Velvet who seem to have been producing this high quality glossy magazine for as long as R*E*P*E*A*T has been going, and at a much more regular pace. Those who enjoy the Glam side of music will love this zine, but the editor Shari is very generous in including a wide range of CD, demo, zine, gig and live reviews. There's some exclusive interviews with City Sleeps, Cute is What We Aim For, Beat Union, Broadway Calls and many more, all accompanied by some beautifully reproduced and usually original colour photos. And all this presented, as I said, with enviable enthusiasm, honesty and integrity.
Read more details of learn and how to order the new issue on their website here http://www.blackvelvetmagazine.com And then sigh with envy.
The Cathode Ray Syndrome : Argh (www.waragainstcliche.com)
I just got an e-mail from my brother in the United States entitled "Do you know what's great?" with the minimalist answer "Beyond 13 by The Virgin Suicides. That's great. That's what it is."
For those of you not in the know, The Virgin Suicides were a snotty punk rattlebag of a band R*E*P*E*A*T was heavily involved with at the start of the millennium, with whom we managed to wind up the local indie glitterati no end, receive phenomenal national and international recognition and put out a lovely red republican red 'Fuck the Jubilee' vinyl and a CD ep, 'Plough Over the Bones of the Dead'. Both of which sold inordinately badly, and both of which I am inordinately proud.
The only local band of that period to rival VS for the intensity of their live shows, the intelligence of their stage presentation and the originality of their vision were another young outfit called CRS*. They performed sets of pure instrumental noise and bluster, mesmerising audience and band alike in their aural attack. They were fantastic.
And now here I am 8 or so years later being sent their CD, though now being all grown up they've started using their full name The Cathode Ray Syndrome*. And how has their sound grown up?
Well as with most things (in my opinion), maturity doesn't always suit.
The lead track 'Mexichanism' is particularly disappointing - over long, too elaborate and lacking the dynamic range that I remember as being so captivating. Perhaps the recording is to blame, as at times it sounds like the piece is being performed on bee and biscuit tin, and feels a tad pedestrian, ambling without direction from nowhere to nowhere.*
Fortunately the other tracks do give glimpses of how I remember the CRS* of old; there are some great peaks and troughs in 'Warning Lid' and 'New Rock' really shows that there can be life in this 'post rock' thing; I love the way the tracks all connect with other, just as at those early, breathless, wordless gigs.
Maybe I'm being too harsh on Mexichanism (but first impressions do count!) or more likely, perhaps it was always unfair of me to expect a lo-fi DIY CD to sound as good as the way my nostalgic memory recalls those exciting, packed Portland Arms gigs.
Fair play to the boys for persevering, and you should all go and see them live where maybe they'll sell you a copy of this CD and you can all find out how wrong I am (again).
But perhaps this is an example of why it's sometimes better to die young and leave a perfect corpse. Like The Virgin Suicides. Who we have mummified here. And if you want (several hundred) copy(ies) of their CD (perversely, now selling well on i-tunes), just get in touch.
* this is a coded Virgin Suicides reference that only true fans will get. However the asterisk by that goes with the Cathode Ray Syndrome's name is entirely theirs, and has no helpful footnote to go with it.
The Automatic - Steve McQueen
So The Automatic also want to grow up? The press release is full of stuff about how they've matured as a band, developed a larger, heavier sound and are set to become a bigger band, "the band they always wanted to be". Which in effect seems to mean that they've put on some weight. Maybe they took our chips and buns question to heart?
But it seems to really suit them. This song has growly guitars, a barbed riff, fantastic lyrics and an enormous huge sing a long chorus. Whether the albatross Monster will mean that the band will never get to mature their sound as they seem capable of, only time will tell.
The Zutons - You Can Do Anything
Just like The Automatic, The Zutons stuff an instrumental version of the A side as the B side. While this might suggest lazy lack of imagination, with The Zutons it really saves the day. For deep in the paper bag, below the rather horrible whiney spoilt white boy funk vocals, there's a happy, powerful, rather exciting pop song, fighting to get out.
The Hyenas ; Dirty Little Love Song (www.myspace.com/thehyenas)
The Hyenas aim to be a scuzzy hybrid of The Bad Seeds, The Damned and the Cramps, and this their first release sees them taking their first steps on the way to fulfilling that ambition. Track two 'Under Ultra Violet Lights' is by far the stronger of the two, being the everyday tale of stabbing your girlfriend, then dumping her body and keeping her heart (under ultraviolet light), and boasts a nice line in threatening, pulsing bass guitar, drawled vocals dripping with tension and a hook as barbed as the dagger used in the filthy deed. However both songs sound far too tame for their intentions, I think this is a fault with the recording rather than the songs themselves.
Ones to watch if you like the idea of The Stooges roasting The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster at Nick Cave's barbecue.
Did I mention that the sun is shining?
The Mono Effect : Giants (Lockjaw Records) (www.myspace.com/themonoeffect)
Another survivor from the era of the Virgin Suicides wars, the tale of The Mono Effect looks like it could have a much happier ending.
Unlike back in the day when the only punches coming from The Mono Effect were the metaphorical ones aimed at R*E*P*E*A*T's then young heroes, this album packs a huge impact from the initial aural assault of stand out track 'Suffragette' to the final anarchic feedback fuzz of 'My Friend'. After too many years of being ignored, The Mono Effect have produced an album to make you sit up and listen. With addictive hooks, glorious guitars, huge harmonies and gallons of chorus, it's no surprise to learn that Giants was recorded by one time Wildheart's producer Russ Russell.
"A firefight of distorted guitars, huge riffs and skull shattering drums spliced with neat, pop melodies, harmonies and rock mentalism ... explosive songs and high speed performances" is what it says here, and who am I to disagree?
Perfect summer listening.
I never knew this band could sound so glorious.
I do love a happy ending.
Celebrate with The Mono Effect at their Cambridge album launch at The Portland Arms on September 5th.