Track of the Week – Week Forty-Five

‘Dear Reader’ by Crooks

From the album Are We All the Same Distance Apart (2015)

Crooks are one of the most beloved bands in the UK underground hardcore scene today. Their name appears regularly in Facebook groups with names along the lines of ‘Melodic Hardcore’, with people declaring their love for the band alongside relatively well known bands such as Defeater, Architects and Being As An Ocean. In a scene well known for its fierce devotion to certain bands, Crooks rack up a hell of a lot of mentions.

Crooks 1

Crooks fans be like

Crooks fans be like

The band released their debut album, Are We All the Same Distance Apart, digitally on 30th October via Equal Vision Records, (the physical release to follow in November) with a stream on the bastion of heavy rock music in the UK, Kerrang, and have also recently been announced as the support act for the upcoming Coheed and Cambria/Glassjaw UK tour. That’s big news, and the band fully deserve that slot. Crooks put so much into their music, be it recorded or live, and Are We All… is the result of months, years even, of hard work and it is a result that they can be extremely proud of. From start to finish the album is packed full of fire tunes and I could have picked any one of them to feature this week, but I decided to go for the one track on the album that really stands out for me; track six, ‘Dear Reader’.

Are We All the Same Distance Apart album art

Are We All the Same Distance Apart album art

The track is explosive and undulating, beginning with a full-on guitar and drum assault before dropping down to a slower, yet super powerful, verse led by Josh Rogers’ incredible vocals. A further drop in pace (not intensity though) sees clean guitars and that metallic bass sound that everybody loves driving the song along. It is fair to say that Rogers’ vocal style has changed, adapted, since the Nevermore EP in 2012 and the original release of Are We All…’’s opener ‘Above Me’ in 2013, but it has changed for the better; making the band more accessible but in no way compromising the values and meaning behind Crooks. If anything, this change should help the band get their meaning out to more people.

If you listen to one album this week, this month or even this year then I urge it to be Are We All the Same Distance Apart. I had the pleasure of catching the band performing a secret show to a 40-capacity room last month; they played for barely twenty minutes and yet the sheer energy and intensity that they generated in that short amount of time was unbelievable. All of that energy has been poured into ‘Dear Reader’ and the album as a whole. Were I reviewing the whole album I’d be hard-pressed to award it anything below 9/10 and would certainly consider 10; I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

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Track of the Week – Week Forty-Four

‘Thank God For Girls’ by Weezer

Released 26th October 2015

Say what you want about Weezer (mainly that they are, these days, more miss than hit with their album releases) but they are always capable of pulling a really fun, yet also really awesome, song out of the bag; ‘Buddy Holly’, ‘Beverley Hills’, ‘Pink Triangle’ to name but a few. Their latest offering, ‘Thank God For Girls’, presumably taken from an upcoming album, which will be their tenth, is just that.

The lyrics, and River Cuomo’s bizarre and hilarious interpretation of them, are classic Weezer; nonsensical in places and generally very sharp and witty. Where else would you get references to meditating Fakirs, the Sears catalogue, and God using a microwave, all within 210 seconds? Cuomo also notes that the title of the track ‘[s]eemed like a big, mainstream-ish title but I knew I would be able to pull all kinds of weirdness out of it.’ Mission accomplished.

Rivers Cuomo - Tweeting naked, enjoying cannoli and freaking you the fuck out.

Rivers Cuomo – Tweeting naked, enjoying cannoli and freaking you the fuck out.

The other thing Weezer do really well is music videos and ‘Thank God…’ is no exception, if you like really awkward and creepy dudes eating pastries whilst being watched by a portrait of Jesus that looks a lot like the dude doing the eating. The reaction to the video has mainly been confusion (Pitchfork), disgust (Consequence of Sound) and an appraisal of the video’s undeniable ‘Weezerness’ (Spin), a word that I will be incorporating into my everyday lexicon from now on.

So go forth and celebrate Weezerness everywhere, and eat cannoli with impunity!

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Track of the Week – Week Forty-Three

‘Exhale’ by Richa

From the EP Inhale/Exhale (2015)

The clocks went back yesterday morning which means winter is officially here and therefore there will be no more jangly guitars, no more nice songs, no sunshine and fucking rainbows. I’ve got ten articles left before the end of the year and the end of this project (also, more than likely the end of this blog) and I’m going to try to effectively soundtrack your winter, like I did with this article a couple of years back.

I had initially planned to kick off winter (because I have the power to do that) with a different track, however the following post on Facebook that I saw yesterday evening forced me to change my mind – Richa

Signed to Venn Records (home of Crooks, who, incidentally, are dropping an album this week, and Gallows, who founded the label, amongst others), Richa first came to my attention when they played with Bad News in Oxford around a year ago. I was blown away by their absolute devotion to their music. All four of them put everything they have into their songs and their performance (which you can sort-of see in the video above) made me realise that I had to up my own game. When I heard the Inhale/Exhale EP earlier this year I found that the intensity that I saw at that first show and at subsequent shows (a couple of which I was lucky to be on the bill with in my band) had translated perfectly to record. ‘Exhale’, which closes the EP, is the encapsulation of this. Starting with some to-die-for reverbed/delayed guitar and a Cure-esque opening riff before the drums, bass and Gethyn Thomas’s vocals burst in; ‘As I crumble through this hourglass, then reconstructed grain by grain’, invoking the cover art to the EP, a young man turning old within an hourglass. It’s gothic art at its finest, updated for the 21st century, or a musical representation of Janus, looking both into the past and the future.

The Inhale/Exhale EP cover

The Inhale/Exhale EP cover

The imagery doesn’t stop there however, with the verse continuing on to invoke, or rather twist, a religious staple; ‘If we should die before we wake I pray to god our souls won’t wake’, and with that doing a whole lot better than Metallica managed with the same sort of idea. The band’s use of delay and floor tom to create haunting spaces in their songs for Thomas to fill with his evocative and direct lyrics, delivered in a completely unique style, never feels tired, instead it serves to take the listener to some sort of dark world where everything isn’t all that ok, which, in my opinion, is brilliant.

The UK music scene is suffering a great loss in the demise of Richa, but hopefully the members of the band will come back with other projects and continue to push boundaries in the way that they learned to with Richa. In the meantime, listen to the track above and get on the band’s Spotify to listen to the whole EP, you won’t be disappointed.

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Track of the Week – Week Forty-Two

‘Hyper Music’ by Muse

From the album Origin of Symmetry (2001)

For quite a long time Muse were probably my favourite band. To say I’ve been disappointed with their last two efforts, Drones (2015) and The 2nd Law (2012), would be an understatement. I believe the band have delved too far into the tin foil hat-wearing Orwellian prog-rock paranoia without keeping things fun or interesting (see ‘Knights of Cydonia’).

Graphic showing the steady decline of Muse, according to Metacritic scores

Graphic showing the steady decline of Muse, according to Metacritic scores

I keep my vast CD collection at my mother’s house and refresh my car CDs every time I go home. On my last visit I picked up Origin of Symmetry, an album I probably hadn’t heard all the way through for a very long time, and the other day I popped it into the CD player in my car. All of a sudden I was twelve years old again sat at my dear old departed nan and grandad’s house being completely and utterly blown away by this new band on Kerrang. The question is, on an album literally packed full of bangers, how do you pick the best banger? I didn’t want to go with the obvious, ‘Feeling Good’, ‘Plug in Baby’, etc., so I went for the one with the most balls and that, by far and away, is ‘Hyper Music’.

The CD is even physically shiny and awesome

The CD is even physically shiny and awesome

Guitar scratches and the open hi-hat count in of this song, before it plunges full-fury into the first riff, with that bass sound from the mighty Chris Wolstenholme and Matt Bellamy’s unbelievably rangy ‘ooh’s. After this comes one of my favourite progressions in modern rock music; the way the bass runs up the neck and sits in with Bellamy’s reasonably jangly guitar riff, held together with Dom Howard’s drums, makes me so happy. Just as powerful is the second verse, in which the guitar drops out for half and comes back in, picked slowly, for the last few lines of vocals. The technical abilities of the three members of Muse are scary; seeing Wolstenholme live (as I have done four times) is hypnotic and he’s also a man that you categorically wouldn’t want to fight.

If you’re around the same age as me, take a trip down memory lane and give the whole of Origin of Symmetry a spin; I promise you won’t be disappointed!

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Track of the Week – Week Forty-One

‘Save A Prayer’ by Eagles of Death Metal

From the album Zipper Down (2015)

I didn’t pay attention to the tracklisting of the new EODM album before giving it a first spin last week. I got to the back of the album when this track started up and I got that odd sense when you here a familiar song for this first time in ages, but it sounded kinda odd… When Josh (or Baby Duck, as he is known within EODM) Homme’s backing vocals, called ‘sweet Cherokee call‘ in the sleeve notes, kicked in it hit me and I listened to the rest of the song thinking what a bitchin’ cover it was; completely left of field and unexpected, but the best covers are (see Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’, Marilyn Manson’s ‘Tainted Love’ and Ryan Adams’ recent take on Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ in its entirety).

I chose to write about this song for many reasons, including my love for Eagles of Death Metal and Duran Duran. The original ‘Save A Prayer’ is my favourite Duran Duran song and is up there, for me, as one of the best songs of the 80s, hands down, so to hear another band I love take it on and do a brilliant job of it makes me really happy. The EODM version approaches the song in the band’s typical style; with fuzzy guitars and bass and straight drums, nothing flashy, although one could contend that the song has more layers than a normal EODM song. Jesse ‘The Devil’ Hughes/Boots Electric/The Rev J Hughes, whatever you want to call him, has the vocals nailed on on this track, the ‘and you wanted to dance so I asked you to dance but fear is in your soul’ run on the original is sublime and Hughes gets the feel just right.

Fun as shit cover art for Zipper Down.

Fun as shit cover art for Zipper Down.

I’ve always thought that it must be a lot of fun to be in Eagles of Death Metal, they make groovy, sexy music, ‘an eargasm trapped inside a crazerbeam’ according to Baby Duck. The new album (working title Vagina, released as Zipper Down), released 2nd October, certainly measures up to this hype. Pigeons of Shit Metal they are not.

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Track of the Week – Week Forty: Oh Canada, pt.8

‘Cause = Time’ by Broken Social Scene

From the album You Forgot it in People (2002)

  

I said many weeks ago when I started this series that I was counting down to an album turning ten. I may well have misled most of my readers as Broken Social Scene’s self-titled album was released ten years ago yesterday, however I never intended to feature a track from that album in this column, although every track on it is very much worth it. I felt as though I couldn’t talk about Broken Social Scene and not talk about ‘Cause = Time’ and the story of how I came to have Kevin Drew’s handwriting tattooed on my chest.

I’ve loved Broken Social Scene since 2004 and I really mean loved. For me there are only two bands that come close to BSS in terms of how dear I hold all of their work to myself; Queens of the Stone Age and Stars (I’d love to say Death Cab too but Codes and Keys, enough said). Every scrap of BSS material that I’ve heard over the years I’ve instantly loved, I even saw how the self-titled effort could have been perceived as divisive, there is more space in the songs compared to most of You Forgot it in People and would the band be so bold as to get a rapper to guest on one of the songs (the sublime ‘Windsurfing Nation’)? For me however, You Forgot it in People is the perfect album, from ‘Capture the Flag’ through ‘Looks Just Like the Sun’, ‘Anthems…’, ‘Cause = Time’, ‘I’m Still Your Fag’; all of it is sublime. You can drive to this album, you can angst out to it, sleep to it, fuck to it, dream with it. I could go on for hours and hours about the various intricacies of the album, but I like to try to keep my word count down to avoid boring people.

The author (l), Kevin Drew, and author's tall friend (r) after a Broken Social Scene show in Sheffield, 2010

The author (l), Kevin Drew, and author’s tall friend (r) after a Broken Social Scene show in Sheffield, 2010

So, the song, the tattoo. For a really long time I obsessed over ‘Cause = Time’, combing over and over the lyrics and wondering if I could ever write anything as great (progress update: so far, no). It struck me that I’d want to get a tattoo of a Broken Social Scene lyric sooner or later and that it should probably come from this song. I regret every day that I was born a mere 47 days into 1990 so I would be unable to pull off ‘I’ve been alone since ‘89’, but the lyric that I went with, ‘this is the blood I love to share’, resonates a lot more with me than that very angsty first choice. Once I’d decided that this was a good idea I thought that I’d want a tattoo unique to myself, a very tough thing to do. I approached Kevin Drew after a show in Sheffield and asked him to write the lyrics in his handwriting, which he obliged. I had met Kevin before and have after this event and I have never told him about the tattoo, so my question to you is; is this weird? I’m of the opinion that I’m just an extreme case of fandom.

Yes, I still have the piece of paper and no, I didn't get the signature-thing tattooed.

Yes, I still have the piece of paper and no, I didn’t get the signature-thing tattooed.

I’ve realised that I haven’t really spoken about the music this week but I couldn’t really contain my excitement into less than 500 words. The good news is that Stereogum did a brilliant article on the top 10 Broken Social Scene songs for pretty much the same reason why I wrote this, which you can read here.

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Track of the Week – Week Thirty-Nine: Oh Canada, pt.7

‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) by Arcade Fire

From the album Funeral (2004)

This week’s Track of the Week is my penultimate foray into the depths of Canadian ‘indie’ music (even though I must confess that I really enjoy Bryan Adams, I feel as though an article detailing the intricacies of his 1984 classic, ‘Run To You’, would be a bit of a waste). In giving myself only eight measly weeks to run this series I have missed out a great number of fantastic artists bubbling under the surface of Lake Ontario (/pick any one of the Great Lakes, apart from Michigan because none of that is in Canada) and therefore I’d urge you to do more reading on the subject of Canadian music, starting with the Arts & Crafts record label and moving on from there because basically everybody in Canada either records, guests, or performs with, each other’s bands.

Anyway, Arcade Fire, arguably the most successful/well-known Canadian indie export, appeared out of nowhere with 2004’s Funeral, an album rightly hailed as one of the best of the 2000s and a game-changer in terms of indie rock. It garnered millions of followers and imitators as it played from countless radio stations and music channels all over the world, and served to remind people that there was more to Canadian music than Bryan Adams and Celine Dion.

My first exposure to the band came with the above track, one which is seemingly so simple, applying the same basic chord structure (D-F, if you must know) almost all the way throughout the song, but complicated by the rises and falls that punctuate said structure; employing, variously, glockenspiels, strings, single note guitar and bass bursts and Win Butler’s unmistakable vocals (an extremely powerful instrument in its own right). A notable example of this is in the buildup to one of the guitar interludes in which Butler intones, almost desperately –

Is it a dream? Is it a lie? I think I’ll let you decide

Just light a candle for the kids, Jesus Christ don’t keep it hid!

‘cause nothing’s hid, from us kids

You ain’t fooling nobody, with the lights out!

There should be nothing stopping you from checking out the rest of the Arcade Fire back catalogue; Neon Bible (2007) and The Suburbs (2010) are just behind Funeral in terms of quality (both solid 7.5-8/10s though), but their latest release, Reflektor (2013) is something else entirely. I seem to recall that I came to it quite late, having had a bit of downtime from the band, but I fell in love with it almost instantly. Any casual listener can clearly hear the roots of Reflektor (the title track especially) in ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)’; it’s simply fantastic.

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