This year I was keeping an eye on Cold Waves in Chicago from afar (thanks for the reports everyone, sounds like it was a great weekend), and even this way I’ve ended up with a few recommendations of bands I need to check out. And instead of heading 3950 miles west, we headed 10 miles south-east on Saturday night, and my take on the extraordinary Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds show on Saturday can be found on Into the Pit: 200.
Tuesday Ten: 311: Tracks of the Month (September 2017)
2017 in Review
In other musical news, American rock icon Tom Petty died late last night. He’s an artist I’ve long had a passing interest, mainly thanks to my dad who was always a big fan (and so I heard a whole lot through him).
Sadly the past couple of days have been too much about death. The abhorrent attack in Las Vegas on Sunday night, where scores of innocent music festival goers were gunned down from a hotel window, has perhaps unsurprisingly started off a new round of soul-searching and argument over gun control. Rolling Stone put forward their views fairly succinctly.
Anyway, tonight, I return to seeing new(er) artists, heading to Hackney to see EMA, someone I’ve wanted to see live proper for some time. If anyone else I know is heading along, please let me know – it’d be good to see you.
In the meantime, on with the new tracks worth hearing over the past month.
Track of the Month
Annie Clark seemed to be teetering on the brink of mainstream success with her (excellent) last, self-titled album. There were pop bangers galore and none of her quirky songwriting was compromised. Then she did go mainstream, but for one relationship in particular, which didn’t last too long but, judging on the first couple of new songs seems to have cut rather deep. The short, swooning ballad New York came across as too much self-indulgent navel-gazing, though, the more you listened to the lyrics, but follow-up Los Ageless is something else entirely. As sunny musically as New York is dark, this absolutely crackles with energy and the chorus, when it comes, is a swelling wonder of an earworm, and the song builds itself higher and higher into the glorious, open blue sky. Dig deeper, of course, and once again it isn’t half as sunny lyrically as it makes out. This is a song of being trapped in a city, in a past, without being able to move forward. The genius here is how Annie Clark turns this conceit into such a staggeringly great pop song.
Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
A band I’ve never followed religiously, rather being well aware of their hits in the past, I got back into what they were doing with the release of their exceptional FFS project with Franz Ferdinand, which seemed to be as much fun for the bands to make as it was for me to listen to. That seems also to have given both bands a shot in the arm, as the new Sparks album is a wonderfully snappy, clever pop album. Both singles so far have been wonderfully knowing, catchy things, but the latest one Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me) refers both to the titular singer, but also breaks the fourth wall repeatedly, and makes amusing observations on the idea of listening to music and taking the advice of other singers. In other words, all that has made Sparks so intriguing over the years, just wrapped in a better pop song than they’ve written since the seventies. Oh, and the video is a thing of stop-motion wonder.
Salvage The Excess
At last! The fourth album proper from the cold wave/industrial-tech-metal titans (others have said ninth album – hardly! A number of remix releases and EPs make up the others) finally dropped just before Cold Waves, and this eight-track album is quite the return. As they had trailed, there is definitely the feel of old-school industrial and sci-fi technology across much of the release – which is only a slight sidestep from their usual realms, really – but the pick of the album for me is the vicious final track. A beefed-up drum’n’bass breakbeat (with the emphasis very much on the bass, that’s for sure) is the rippling heart of the track, and Sean Payne’s vocals howling into the yawning void created by the heavy, heavy beats – and it’s a track that is so hard-hitting that the closing breakdown and downbeat vocal samples feel like a relief by the end. This should be ripping up dancefloors near you soon.
Tracks from the new Slighter album – also featuring Cyanotic on one track, incidentally – have been popping up here and there for a while now (a early remix of Lights Out featured on Tuesday Ten: 248 at the beginning of 2016), so it’s good to finally see a full album released. It is an impressive release, too, with the very-much of-the-moment futuristic industrial with a retro-touch sound, that doesn’t shirk from melody or indeed removing vocals altogether, as the instrumentals are just as vital here as the vocal tracks. The opener Activate sets the stall out nicely. An urgent, shadowy vocal fights for attention with laser-focussed synths, and a busy rhythm section fill in the gaps behind, and well-placed guitars add impressive texture. Well worth picking up the album.
I know nothing about this band other than this song, but their website interestingly describes them as “Synths + Drums + Noise + Space”, and this track meets that description very neatly. There is something of other synth-noise bands of late – and particularly later, more experimental post-rock like Three Trapped Tigers – but there is also a retro-synth thing going on here that reminds me of Add (N) to X, which is no bad thing at all. This track barrels along, too, taking up just three minutes of your time and making me wish that it lasted three times as long – or simply just putting it on repeat.
Do Matt Fanale and Eric Oehler ever stop? Particularly Matt, who seems to spawn another project in addition to his long-running Caustic set-up every year, but in some respects at least it means that his musical experimentation always has an outlet. Many of his projects are as worth hearing as Caustic is (Beauty Queen Autopsy in particular, and I’m patiently awaiting the second album of that project, for sure), and Klack is another to add to that list. Clearly a love letter to New Beat in particular, the title track is an exceptional example of it, and would easily fit nicely into a DJ set of it. Nice use of a Speak’n’Spell emulator there, too, guys…
Burn It Down
Music from Before the Storm
I know very little about this band other than the song that has been playlisted on BBC 6Music just recently, so I was a little surprised to find that it comes from an album that soundtracks a video game: Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. This track, though, is worth hearing alone. It is scorchingly angry indie-rock that has an ethereal feel, at least partly cloaking the fury within. There is something of Mogwai’s later work in the gentle rhythms to the music, while Elena Tonra’s vocals are deceptively slight, near-sung through gritted teeth – and there is the distinct feel of clenched fists as she sings, too – at least until she reaches later on when she releases the demons within, and even then they are like ghosts swirling around the head.
WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE
Heaven Upside Down
Having been a fan of Marilyn Manson in his nineties heyday, his decline musically (with the distinct exception of The Golden Age of Grotesque) has been rather sad to watch. There have been the odd exception, as each album has had at least one song worth listening to, but the first few tracks from his long-awaited new album suggest he might have turned a corner at least. Some of it harks back to Mechanical Animals, and some of it – like this song – heads a bit further back. Oh yes, WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE has the bite and fury of when Manson had the world’s attention in about 1997. He’s ready to fight, he’s ready to take on the world, and this song bristles with fury at the state of the world – this is, like so many musicians are doing at the moment, apparently making an oblique comment on Trump’s America. “What’s a nice place like this doing ’round people like us?” goes the key refrain, and it’s hard to disassociate that from his previous statements on politics, and the stomping breakdown mid-track is the best I’ve heard musically from Manson in years.
Unfortunately his promotional work for this album has taken an unexpected turn after a pretty farcial stage accident over the weekend (and this wasn’t the first, either).
Align. Get In Line. Stay Alive.
iVardensphere’s sixth album proper Hesitation comes next month, and after hearing a handful of new songs at their Infest appearance (LINK) in August, we now have our first taste of the album itself. This is a kicking, techno-industrial attack that continues the route iVardensphere have been navigating through the genre in recent years – still recognisably them, Jamie Blacker’s vocals provide additional harsh-edged texture, and it will easily guarantee a dancefloor in the industrial clubs that still exist. Often their lead singles from albums seem to be the tracks that have discarded the more tribal elements that made iV so distinctive in the first place, too, so I’m looking forward to hearing what else Hesitation has to offer.
Black Walks Eternal
Blue Moon Blood
I’d missed this album until last week, when a friend suggested it as one of their favourite of the year so far – and indeed there were impressive reports of their live appearance at Cold Waves over the weekend, too. The album is certainly impressive. Impeccably produced, a dense web of synths and samples are never allowed to overpower the heavy beats and, most importantly, the vocals. But – and there is always a but – man, this is uncomfortably close to Skinny Puppy worship. While other bands have made hay doing so, particularly Dead When I Found Her and Necro Facility in recent years, both of them have since struck out in very different directions to find their own ways of interpretation that no longer sound like hero worship. Statiqbloom are perhaps an album away from this. While Black Walks Eternal is an exceptional song, crafted expertly and hitting awe-inspiring peaks, the reality is that it is simply following the nineties-Puppy template to the letter.