Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New : Cheatahs - s/t

Forming an indie band these days seems to be less a question of striving to create your own unique sound and more one of picking a production style you quite like from twenty years ago and attempting to recreate it in a modern studio. I have remarked on here before that, tempting though it might be, this is basically the artistic equivalent of dressing a blow up doll as your ex-girlfriend and attempting to shag it - what on the surface appears to a satisfactory reproduction of the genuine article soon turns out to be somewhat underwhelming once the novelty wears off (and no I'm not speaking from experience....apart from if we're talking about music, in which case I most certainly am). This slight isn't specifically directed at Cheatahs, whose debut is an intriguing slab of nu-gaze that bears more than a passing resemblance to early 90s fuzz merchants Swervedriver, it's more a general remark directed at bands mining that particular period for inspiration - I remember first discovering all those bands during Saturday morning airings of the ITV Chart Show and repeated tributes leave me thinking I'm still eleven years old, hovering on the cusp of adolescence and slowly coming to terms with the death of my childhood. It's a slightly bewildering sensation and one that leaves me wondering if my liking for all the new bands pedalling this shtick is basically just symptomatic of my desire to remain stranded in arrested development and unable to survive in the adult world. Why can't I tear myself away from the shitty computer graphics and oft inaccurate factual content of that gateway to a new musical universe? Is there some hidden meaning here? Have those moments ever been truly replaced????

Ahem. I'm straying from the point here. Cheatahs are a bunch of dudes from nowhere in particular who are clearly amped on sun-soaked indie rock from back in the day and their debut would be an admirable addition to the canon of many of their most obvious influences. There's plenty of the aforementioned Swervedriver, particularly their oft overlooked second LP 'Mezcal Head' from '93 which slid down the back of the sofa in the UK in the wake of shoe gaze's commercial demise whilst making a moderate dent on the North American underground - their laid-back delivery and flair for wall of noise distortion sweetened with melodic honey pushes the same buttons as the Swervies and if you're into guitar music that makes you want to lie back on a gentle beer buzz in the glorious sunshine then this could be right up your alley. They keep it pretty groovy and lolloping for the most part which is cool, perhaps too cool in parts as the record begins to wash over you after a while - the problem with the original shoegaze bands was always that they made killer EPs but the full lengths often came across as a bit thin on ideas and that's perhaps truly in places here. It's a trend Cheatahs risk perpetuating if they get too complacent, their twin EP releases from last year condensed their charms to shorter, more intense blasts for a more satisfying blast of golden noise - 'The Swan' is included from their debut EP and it's by far the strongest track here, a gorgeous rush of sunshine indie rock reminiscent of the sweetened crunch of Dinosaur Jr and Bob Mould's Sugar along with Swervedriver's own 'Son of Mustang Ford'. They haven't quite got enough in the tank to fill twelve tracks but there's plenty here that will come to vivid life in the live arena if they are prepared to work for their fame - this sort of stuff works best when spewed out at high volume to audiences who are several beers deep and up for having their senses fried. In the meantime the LP will do for now but they'd be well advised not to rest on their laurels, there's always a thirst for this sort of stuff but time will tell whether they can make a dent in an already overcrowded market.

Check out : 'The Swan', and then check this out. There's a paternity suite in there somewhere.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Live : Behemoth/Cradle Of Filth/In Solitude, Paris Bataclan

It's been roughly a year since I last experienced an evening of hairy arsed metal madness at the Bataclan, surprise tickets for Cannibal Corpse's last European sojourn having been lovingly procured by my other half. Indeed I've taken in my fair share of metal shows in this very venue which seems to have taken pole position as Paris' principal stopover for touring acts from the weightier end of music since La Locomotive got sucked up by the Moulin Rouge a few years back - it's laid out pretty decently for the sort of delirious mayhem that takes place at your average metal gig but all this does beg the question : when are they going to fix the fucking ventilation system in there??? I don't know about you but if I'm going to spend the evening being thrown around the moshpit watching a band with a propensity for setting the stage on fire then I'd quite like to be able to breathe properly while I'm doing it. We can at least count ourselves lucky that the enterprising bar managers haven't cottoned on to the lucrative market in the venue and started selling oxygen canisters alongside their miserly decanted half pints of blonde. 

But enough bitching about the venue eh? 35 Euros for a ticket seems like quite a bit for a concert that you're only likely to catch about half of if you work anything like average office hours but those (un)fortunate enough to be at a loose end at four thirty in the afternoon have already been treated to Svarttjern and Inquisition by the time I roll up after work, the latter apparently putting in a thrilling set of Colombian Black Metal according to the enthusiastic French bloke who we chat to over ciggies later in the evening. In Solitude are well into second gear by that point, their rollicking brand of good time metal sounding infinitely superior to the recorded version I checked out the previous evening. These dudes were probably a Nordic twinkle in their parents' eyes when most of their influences were doing the rounds - there's more than a hint of late 80s Swedish Doom-mongers Candlemass in their sound along with the obligatory chunk of Sabbath and even a hint of the brawnier, bluesier end of Whitesnake (they even have a guitarist who's the spitting image of erstwhile Snake axeman John Sykes, perhaps the coolest rock star name of all time). They've got the chops and stage presence to rock much bigger stages than this and the bulk of last year's 'Sister' LP gets an spirited airing as the crowds gather for the evening's main attractions. Put them on mid-afternoon at a festival and they'll do a whole lot more damage.

Poland's Behemoth had already established themselves as arguably Europe's biggest stars on the Death Metal scene prior to frontman Nergal's diagnosis with leukaemia in summer 2010 - initial reports suggested he might not even be around long enough to build on their success but the guy's made of stern stuff and went on to make a full recovery to come back harsher and stronger with this year's stunning 'The Satanist' LP. Flanked by his towering bandmates the Nerg looks tiny but his roar is as ferocious as ever, leading the charge through a thrilling mix of old and new augmented by an elaborate live show packed with smoke torrents, flaming chalices and an avalanche of corrupted religious iconography. They start slow and creepy with some of the more epic sections of the new record before settling into a main course of established classics, the pit-friendly fare of 'Slaves Shall Serve' and 'Christians To The Lions' provoking merry bedlam down the front as energy levels boil to a frantic climax. Cuts from their pre-illness 'Evangelion' LP go down best of all, hailed as defiant classics by the crowd in the face of what's happened since their release and the frontman's status as Death Metal's most inspiring figurehead seems more assured than ever before. The rest of the band hold up their end admirably, tearing through the material with admirable gusto like a bunch of Dothraki warriors who've just had their pints spilled and they conclude a devastating set with a spellbinding performance of 'O Father, O Satan, O Sun' decked out in opaque demonic head dresses before literally disappearing in a cloud of smoke. Other bands on the DM scene may be trading on past glories these days but you can't help but feel that Behemoth are at the peak of their powers right here and now.

Speaking of veteran acts, it's been twenty years since cult UK horror heads Cradle Of Filth released their first torrent of Nun-baiting Black Metal bile and they wisely choose to take advantage of the occasion with a setlist heavily slanted towards their earlier records. Their capacity to shock and thrill may have dulled with the passing of time and frontman Dani seems permanently one wrong move away from descending into outright self parody but savage renditions of classics like 'Funeral In Carpathia' and 'Summer Dying Fast' soon banish doubts and the crowd pile in for a feast of vampiric enjoyment. In the wake of Behemoth's fire and brimstone extravaganza Cradle's stage show looks pretty cheap by comparison, contenting themselves with a video display relaying looped footage of their promo clips like the projector screen in your local Goth club - if they didn't have such decent tunes to back them up you'd be tempted to sneak out to catch the end of the Chelsea game. The slew of oldies provides ample entertainment but does raise the question : where do they go from here? Having coasted through the 90s on a wave of frothing controversy and lurid shock tactics before spending much of the following decade indulging their taste for often laborious flights of fancy, their role in the present day metal scene seems to lack any clear purpose. I remember when these guys seemed genuinely threatening, what with their 'Jesus is a C*nt' T-shirts and flair for PVC-clad debauchery but it's a difficult style to take gracefully into middle age - the nostalgia is fun for now but as the crowd thins out during the latter half of their set you begin to wonder whether their shelf life might be nearing its end. No room for complaints after such a gratifying evening of devilish delights mind you - the masses spew out onto the street thoroughly content with their evening's entertainment and we'll all be back here choking on each other's body odour before too long I shouldn't wonder.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

New : Mogwai - 'Rave Tapes'

They're on a rare run of form right now Mogwai, dropping LPs like stealth bombs every few months to keep their stock as high as it's been since the late 90s - having tinkered away under the radar for much of the noughties they've gradually risen to the top again with a series of remixes, soundtracks and expansive new material to become one of Scottish indie's most dependable entities. You'd expect most bands to have fallen into a road-honed groove of soundalike material by this point in their careers but these boys have retained a flair for contemplative miasma and inventive head-fuckery through into their creative middle age and in today's world of soundscapes over songs they're well poised to enjoy the most lucrative period of their career. Not that such a band of cantankerous Glaswegians would care about such things of course - they've always regarded mainstream success with a mixture of confusion and disgust and 'Rave Tapes' providing them with a surprise top ten entry in the UK album charts a couple of weeks back probably didn't even raise a smile. But that's the Mogwai I like - there's always been two sides to this band, the brittle introverted side that sees them produce gorgeous passages of melancholy that ATP couples bump uglies to and the cynical, mischievous side that leads them to belch out teeth-rattling barrages of unnerving noise to ensure the listener doesn't get too comfortable. 'Rave Tapes' is in the latter camp, leering menacingly across shuddering slabs of electronica-tinged space rock like a distant cousin to 1999's apocalyptic frenzy 'Come On Die Young' . Much will be made of their decision to incorporate synths into the mix but the fresh tangent is drafted in tastefully enough to be virtually inaudible - the brand of electronics they favour is drawn from the same waters inhabited by fellow Jock stalwarts Boards of Canada, a dark vaguely nightmarish documentary hum that heads off into resolutely undanceable territory. I was half hoping that the title would denote a shift towards the clattering Bus Stop Hardcore of Scottish 90s rave paragons QFX and The Time Frequency but it's perhaps no bad thing that they stayed closer to the graveyard for their musical inspiration, God alone knows what that monstrous hybrid would have sounded like. Their devilish sense of humour floats to the surface on the tweaked-out Kraftwerk clank of 'Simon Ferocious' and the pleasantly ominous 'Remurdered' circles around like a bad memory - you'll find yourself glaring at passers by if you listen to this on public transport. It's a rewarding listen for the most part although they do repeat their tricks on occasion - the spoken word Satanic dissection of Led Zep's 'Stairway to Heaven' on 'Repelish' sounds like a half baked idea left over from the 'CODY' sessions and closer 'The Lord Is Out Of Control' sounds like Daft Punk mourning the passing of their pet hamster. But overall 'Rave Tapes' is a reassuringly solid effort and one that they'll probably top before the year is out at the rate they're going - this isn't a band running out of steam, it's one that's striding fearlessly into the future.

Check out : 'Remurdered', night music from an Indian synthesiser graveyard.

New : Dum Dum Girls - 'Too True'

It takes a certain type of person to sacrifice their life to trash, eking out that youthful disregard for convention into a fully committed lifetime stand against the grain and existing outside of society as the years go by. You can get tattooed from head to toe and fully convert to any type of DIY ethos or you can adapt and reconfigure in the face of evolving challenges - it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to any of us when our favourite artists pulp for the latter option, particularly in today's harsh reality where making any sort of living from music is practically impossible. So why was I so crestfallen when I gave Dum Dum Girls' slick newie a spin and discovered that their biker chick fuzz rock has been scrubbed up and repackaged as radio friendly Goth pop for the new year? Did I really expect them to keep up their strike rate of catchy echo-laden Ronettes meets JAMC majesty when the music industry seems to favour more streamlined fare? Well yes I fucking did as a matter of fact - their 2010 debut blew me away and I remember thinking after the polished yet reassuringly punchy follow-up 'Only In Dreams' a year later that they were surely only a crossover hit away from genuine fame without compromise but a lot has changed since then, the post-Raveonettes boom of echoic chick rock having subsided in favour of studio-crafted chart fodder (Haim, Beach House). Dee Dee's still got an ear for a catchy tune but everything on 'Too True' sounds so sterilised that you she might as well have recorded it in a hospital - I presume she's been mainlining the early Now compilations like every other cash-hungry troubadour out there judging by the way everything is buried under shitloads of effects in an effort to recreate the smoky atmosphere of late 80s Goth but it ends up sounding more like the watered down early 90s fare of misguided veterans like House of Love and Siouxsie and the Banshees (the entire record is basically 'Kiss Them For Me' put on loop, not devoid of charm but too pristine to not wear thin pretty quickly). There's shades of her earlier flair on the choppy 'In The Wake Of You' and the Lush-esque pseudo title track 'Too True To Be Good' but the rest descends into faceless tosh, a directionless mix of La Roux, Berlin's 'Take My Breath Away' and her boyfriend's increasingly crap band Crocodiles. It's probably just enough to warrant shelling out a couple of euros but it'll go through you quicker than a cheap Chinese takeaway and leave you wanting a whole lot more before too long - give this a wide berth if you're anything other than a devotee and pick up the latest Chelsea Wolfe LP instead for a glimpse of how this shit is done properly.

Check out : the promo for 'Lost Boys and Girls Club' - looks pretty, sounds.....ok.