Sunday, March 23, 2014

New : Gardens and Villa - 'Dunes'

There's a part of my reactionary indie rock psyche that automatically categorises all the new-fangled electro pop outfits flooding today's airwaves as opportunistic money-chasing harlots tailoring their output to the artistic middle ground in the hope of snagging themselves a lucrative deal soundtracking adverts for smartphones or flatpack furniture. The music itself isn't the problem, it's the sanitised removal of raw emotion and visceral realism in favour of an antiseptic swoosh of inoffensive synths and emasculated falsetto vocals - if 'Overkill' era Motorhead is the aural equivalent of spending August wearing the same pair of leather trousers, the wave of hipster vegan electro outfits doing the rounds right now would be a more fitting soundtrack to reading Grazia magazine whilst having your arsehole bleached. But like all plagues to have raged across the music world over the years, resistance can only be achieved by acknowledging the pestilence and raking through it until you find something worth listening to - last year saw the unfeasibly bitchin' 'Tides End' LP from Brooklyn's Minks shine forth like Renton's lost suppository from the betting shop scene in 'Trainspotting' as a deeply satisfying hit of gorgeous electro pop and scene queens the Pet Shop Boys rolled back the years with the reassuringly human return to form 'Electric' album bolstered by the single 'Love Is A Bourgeois Construct' which should have been their biggest hit since 'It's A Sin'. The key is both cases was an anchor in cynicism and down to earth humour, a chink in the polished armour that reminds you that the creators of the music are resolutely human, faults and all - hooks are all well and good but they cease to amaze if it feels like they've been churned out by a computer programme. 

Santa Barbara's Gardens and Villa might just be the next addition to that illustrious roster on the basis of their second LP 'Dunes' which landed last month on the back of some stellar singles - their debut drifted into focus back in 2011 with little to distinguish it from the pack but they've put their time to good use since then and pared their songwriting chops back to a potent blend of infectious electro melodies and classic 80s pop dynamics. Like all decent pop records there's a litany of potential singles and precious little fucking around, kicking straight into gear with a rush of memorable four minute marvels that recall mid 80s Thompson Twins and Human League at their instantly accessible peak. They're swimming in the sounds and styles of that golden era of stick microphones and pink neon, lifting the studio polish and debonair poise of 1985's pop monarchs instead of merely pilfering their material for a couple of recognisable samples and the shimmering cuboid twang of 'Bullet Train' plants its flag at the crossroads of new wave indie and synth pop to stunning effect. They use their electro hooks sparingly enough to avoid saturating the material, instead letting the chiming guitar lines and bulbous rhythm section lay the foundations for their radio-friendly triggers to provide the lethal finishing touch - the glut of hits in waiting that opens the record gives way to the night-drive glide of 'Purple Mesas' only for the cassette funk pop of 'Avalanche' to emerge like a neon sign in the middle distance and the closing run signs off like the polished soul pop of mature ABC and Spandau Ballet, factoring in influences from across the musical spectrum for a deftly-crafted slab of streamlined synth pop. They keep it trim and the next satisfying pop bloodrush is never far away but the delivery is steady-handed enough to leave you wanting more after the sunrise kiss off of 'Love's Theme' closes the record and this is an LP packing enough bejewelled thrills to keep you coming back for endless repeat listens - take it from me, it's been my go-to choice for weekday mornings since I bought it a few weeks back. Electro may be perilously close to losing its soul to the advertising executives these days but there are still a few bands out there capable of balancing style and substance to produce material that can cross over to mainstream media without losing its humanity in the mixing console and 'Dunes' is a perfect example of how things sound when that balance is struck right.

Check out : the promo for 'Bullet Train', straight outta that 1985 time capsule.

Monday, March 17, 2014

New : The Men - 'Tomorrow's Hits'

Been offline for a while due to moving house but rest assured I'm back with a vengeance now folks, and good job too cos they're been a shitload of cracking new releases stealth bombing the musical landscape over the last few weeks - I'm gonna try and wax lyrical about all of 'em in due course but before we go any further let's collectively slobber over the reassuringly fantastic newbie from The Men. I hailed these dudes as nothing less than the saviours of Rock 'n' Roll back in 2012 when I singled out their splunderous masterpiece 'Open Your Heart' as Album of the Year and they've gone from strength to strength in the five years since their inception, dropping a stellar album every Spring and touring their balls off in toilet venues the world over to bring their stonking hybrid of surf rock, barroom country and slammin' garage punk to the masses. 'Tomorrow's Hits' keeps the blood flowing rather than offering a radical new direction but these guys know their strengths well enough to play to them and in the wake of last year's slightly overlong 'New Moon' they've locked down for a faultless eight song set that ticks all the boxes for long term fans whilst showcasing a few new colours for 2014. The grizzled country rock element of their music came to the forefront on the last record and is every present here on the slide guitar 'n' piano strut of 'Sleepless' but they've come strapped with the sax this time and the ballsy barroom stomp of 'Another Night' sounds like early E Street Band laced with piss stained punk rock. In fact you can imagine them picking up tips from the second hand record racks, leafing through the cream of the early 70s for some satisfyingly dirty 'n' sweaty slabs of earnest guitar rock, coming off like a grimy cocktail of Mudhoney and Dylan/The Band on the slurred wonder of 'Different Days' and the surprisingly chirpy 'You Get What You Give' - their approach isn't to pilfer or imitate but rather to channel the no frills pragmatism of the era when fans could realistically expect at least one killer LP a year and no whining about the pressures of touring. And this is why these guys are so important kids - starting a band shouldn't be about spending months wanking around in the studio, it should be about bashing your ideas out while they're still fresh and then taking that shit to the people before it goes cold. The first thing I'm thinking every time I hear a new record from these dudes is how much fucking fun I'm gonna have watching them wreck their equipment belting the whole thing out in a cheap and nasty live venue when they come to town - needless to say me and the missus have already bagged ourselves tix to check them out at La Fl├Ęche d'Or later this month (for the princely sum of 12 Euros a ticket I might add) and there's plenty here to bolster an already pulsating setlist. The single 'Pearly Gates' alone has the potential to rock the bollocks off a bronze donkey over six minutes of rollicking Beefheart meets 'Sticky Fingers' Stones and there's enough to satiate the appetites of their most grizzled fans nostalgic for their noise rock past but they prove that there's plenty more up their sleeve with the sun-soaked caress of 'Settle Me Down' which is mellow enough to calm a pack of angry gorillas. By the time the beefy riff of closer 'Going Down' splits your speakers you realise that they could have easily started the record with it and gone off in a totally different direction but that's the beauty of these boys - 'Tomorrow's Hits' is a snapshot of their headspace as things stand but give it six months and they'll probably have moved on to a whole new set of thrills. If there's one band worth devoting your life to at the moment, The Men are almost certainly it - their status as indie's most reliable flag bearers is still firmly intact and everything they do demands your undivided attention. Don't even think about missing out on this. I mean it.

Check out : The 'we haven't got a proper budget but we're gonna have fun anyway' promo for 'Pearly Gates'.