Tag Archives: album review

Album Review: Harvey Milk – Life…the Best Game in Town

Given that Harvey Milk have now signed to Hydra Head records, you wouldn’t be mistaken for already kind of knowing what to expect. At any rate, it’s definitely going to be heavy. ‘Life…The Best Game in Town’ is the band’s cheerfully titled fifth long-player and is more proof of their ability to adapt and change instead of releasing the same old shit with different packaging. Continue reading Album Review: Harvey Milk – Life…the Best Game in Town

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Album Review: Russian Circles – Station

Russian Circles - StationPerhaps one of the most exciting bands out there at the moment, Russian Circles‘ sophomore effort represents a valiant overcoming of many trials and tribulations. ‘Enter’, their debut was a fantastic slice of instrumental music, and one that said no to the majority of instrumental stuff out there by being hard rocking, damn catchy, and without any namby-pamby instruments, more akin to Don Cabellero than Red Sparowes. But with the departure of one of the founding members, bassist Colin DeKuiper, and the arrival of his subsequent replacement, Brian Cook (from the great These Arms Are Snakes, as well as a few other genre defining bands) it was always going to be interesting how things were set to change.

Rest assured, Russian Circles have not rested upon their laurels, and in Station have created a completely different album compared to their last effort. First track Campaign is a slow, melodic build up that acts as a calm introduction before the storm of Harper Lewis. It doesn’t really go anywhere, patiently building up to a climax that never comes, but floats along before subsiding to a key change, with Mike Sullivan‘s calm, muted fret wanderings creating a beautifully soft effect that entrances you.

Things then fade out into Harper Lewis which immediately stands out after the slow pace of the intro, Dave Turncrantz pounding his drums with a resolute power as Brian Cook makes his first standout moment with a deliciously evil bassline that rattles the speakers. Layered over this is Sullivan’s drawn out high notes, that pierce the whole song. It is a myriad of ideas that all combine together, going from soft to heavy, intricate to simple but never once losing its power. Just as they know how to do so well, it all builds up and up before overflowing into a brilliant burst of furious fills and guitar meanderings.

Title track Station moves along at a terrifically bouncy pace, almost rivalling BattlesAtlas for sheer fun, which is odd given the dark bassline, but Turncrantz‘s drum rolls just fill the song with an irresistible groove. Things pause for a brief respite midway through before letting out another burst of energy and power that could force a nation to stamp its feet on the ground, just wishing they could sound as good as Turncrantz. It’s a wonderful track that goes from a drunken dance to sober serious, with some guitar picking that sounds very reminiscent of Efrim Menuch‘s technique in Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but is invariably Sullivan’s own.

Verses however showcases a much more patient opening, with drawn out notes layered over a deep, unsettling bass that nearly caused my subwoofer to break. Then out of nowhere comes this beautiful guitar tone that sounds gorgeously sweet to the ears. Despite the risk of boredom with this kind of angle, the drumming injects the necessary pace to keep the song alive, and there is a vast variety in Sullivan‘s picked notes that keep it all fresh and interesting. Things do not say so understated for long, with another epic climax brought about, the guitar loud and clear, acting almost like a call to arms to whomever might be listening.

As Verses rattles to a close, Youngblood instantly picks things up again with familiar high pitched guitar picking, and once again the drums prove themselves to be the shot of heroin in the song, as they punctuate the crisp guitar work of both Cook and Sullivan. It’s a haunting track, that speeds along with a dangerous motive, dark and evocative. Chainsaw-like riffs make this the heaviest track on the album, as Sullivan moves things along at a pace that barely gives you time to take in what has happened, before the song has changed tactics again. It is right here that the trio really come together, and you start to feel that Cook was just the right man for the job as the climax of the song builds up, layer over layer, one part never superseding another until things can go nowhere else and the song slowly eases itself into Stations‘ swan song.

The closer Xaavi is also the shortest track on the album, at a modest four and a half minutes long. There’s a strange element of the Wild West infused into the music, a lonely riff that embodies the image of one lone ranger walking off into the sunset. Despite the addition of keyboards in this track, nothing really takes away the focus on Sullivan‘s isolated guitar work, with even Turncrantz’s drumming taking a step back from the limelight. And then for one final time, the threesome all come together again, drums growing louder, bass rumbling below and the guitars beckoning you to fall into their world one more time, and as it builds and builds your anticipation is shot when things just end, almost as if Russian Circles have offered you the meaning of life, and then taken it away with a knowing wink.

The band a phenomenal live.

Station is a different album from Enter, make no bones about it. It showcases a more patient side to the band, and whether this is a natural development or down to Cook‘s introduction is a topic up for debate. But although Station doesn’t immediately come across as a ‘better’ album than Enter, it is certainly a much more slickly crafted one, rich with layers that you’ll keep on discovering upon every listen. It’s deeper, not as shallow as to give into cheap temptations, and it’s all the better for it. A definite grower, and if this is just a station on Russian Circles‘ journey then I cannot wait for where the train is set to take us next.

Album Review: HORSE the Band – A Natural Death

If there is one genre or stage of music that has passed me by, it has got to be the current rage for bands using 8bit sound card samples within their compositions, which I’m reliably informed by Urban Dictionary has become known as “Nintendocore”. Now, I’m not too sure what Sega have done wrong, but for some reason SegaCore has not hit it off with the hardcore crowd, and the bleeps and not quite so dulcet tones of the ancient Game Boy has become the fashionable instrument to be seen with by all with fringes and skinny jeans all over. God help us all.

HORSE the Band has been a name that I have had quite an interest in giving their clear dedication to their music, going to extreme lengths to try and tour the world off their own back, with the help of their equally dedicated fans. Furthermore, it was lead singer Nathan Winneke who coined the ghastly term Nintendocore, so at any rate if you don’t enjoy their third full length release, you do have someone to blame for this nightmare.

But it would seem there has been a change of attitude at Camp HORSE, where in spite of the toy sound effects, the lyrical content has certainly wandered down a much darker passage. With lyrics such as “MURDER/IT’S MURDER/MURDER/IT’S MURDER” and “I WANT TO DIE” printed in capital letter on the sleeve the band clearly have a slight lack of subtlety, and I doubt there’s any real poetic talent in any of these lads, but all the same it has to be said – it makes a startling change from songs about princesses in another castle.

The band have a distinctly charming and grown up attitude about them…ahem.

Throughout the whole album the combination of 8bit sparks, barking vocals and frantic guitars are used over and over again, but what stops the shenanigans from becoming too stale and boring is the vast array of atmosphere. Things go from traditionally breakneck hardcore to soft, reflective moments throughout the album’s hour long play time. ‘Broken Trail’ weaves a delicate piano before jumping out of the teacups and into the rollercoaster with ‘The Red Tornado’, and the genuinely haunting ‘Rotting Horse’ is gritty and tense, an emotion exacerbated by the addition of climatic organs just before the track closes with a solemn thud.

However the novelty is not completely agreeable. There is a reason that most video gamers look back on the Game Boy’s sound chip and shudder (unless the only game you ever played was Tetris, in which case you’ll think back to the theme music for that and instantly want to listen to it again because it’s one of the greatest tunes ever composed). ‘Murder’ opens with an incredibly painful NES ‘riff’ that doesn’t sit too well at all, and the bizarre interludes that pepper the album just appear a rather uninspired attempt to be deep and meaningful, such as the Zelda-esque ‘The Beach’, which is just over a minute of a girl crying. Touching stuff.

New York City, the first single taken from A Natural Death.

There are two conflicting aims with this album. The lads of HORSE clearly want to move away from the jokey image that they have created for themselves and have made a genuine, if somewhat cringe worthy, effort to start considering more thought provoking lyrical themes, a statement supported by keyboardist Eric Engstrom‘s comments, suggesting that the album is about “the futility and arrogance of creation and destruction, the overwhelming scale of space and time, and the brutal majesty of nature”. It’s a bold and admirable set of themes to compose an album to, but it’s all genuinely difficult to take the work seriously when all you can think of when listening to it is Mario and Luigi kicking ten shades of shit out of each other in a mosh pit.

But to be honest, the whole thing left me fairly impressed. It’s a bit too long at just over an hour, and by the end less patient people will grow weary of the constant NES instrumentation, which in case is a shame, as penultimate track ‘I Think We Are Both Suffering from the Same Crushing Metaphysical Crisis’ is one of the best parts of the album, a seven minute song that goes from a sound effects solo to a well crafted instrumental closing that remains gripping right to its very conclusion as it fades into ‘Lif’.

I’d be pretty interested to see how the music turns out live. I would imagine it’s a pretty hectic show.

There are some pretty interesting ideas here, and it’s great to see a band of this ilk make a conscientious decision to use music as a tool for exploring the human condition, even if it’s clear that words fail them sometimes. But unlike similar descendants of all this video game infused nonsense, such as Enter Shikari and Fuck Buttons, HORSE the Band are doing something different and interesting and it certainly should not be written off as a lame joke.

(This review is also published on Sonic Dice.)

Album Review: Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

Elbow - The Seldom Seen KidI’ve never really listened to Elbow before, but having heard the lead single off their new full player The Seldom Seen Kid I was genuinely impressed. Grounds for Divorce, with it’s bottle banging, anthemic chorus and vocalist Guy Garvey’s darkly slick sense of humor as he talks about the virtues of the divorce. This wasn’t the Elbow I had heard about in the past, and it seemed like they’d changed pitches and started playing a completely different sport whatsoever.

So, I picked the album up hoping for some more of this gloomy swagger that had burst out onto the likes of MTV. Opening track Starlings didn’t quite give me what I was hoping for, with a collection of airy ahh’s and plinky plonky pianos that are suddenly torn apart by a regal blare of trumpets. Perhaps the band are trying to announce some kind of royal return? The song remains very understated, with Garvey’s husky voice taking center stage.

One thing that Elbow can be commended on with their fourth release is the variation in instrumentation and sound they play about with. Clearly having the time and freedom to record in their own studio space (the aptly named Elbow Rooms) has given them the confidence to play about with different instruments and dynamics. Furthermore it makes a change to hear a chart album that isn’t one constant volume of attention grabbing noise. There are quiet parts, such as the myriad journey taken through the end of The Bones of You which sounds sparse, but remains quite filling, sort of like fairy cakes.

Elbow

This is the band’s fourth release, following Leaders of the Free World.

Unfortunately for me, the rest of the album couldn’t quite match the sheer enjoyment in their lead single. For the most part it’s soft and full of ballads that just aren’t as fun as the reckless attitude of Grounds for Divorce. In this respect, the album’s twelve tracks (including the secret track, which despite being listed on the back of the album wouldn’t show up in my media player, which I categorically hate) have a tendency to drag on a little bit, and to be honest it’s all a bit wishy washy.

However, on the plus side the experiments with guitar sounds and string arrangements prove interesting, and I have to admit I find Garvey’s singing voice absolutely spot on perfect. It’s a shame the band didn’t explore their rockier nature as I feel they could have a lot more success if they followed it through, but at the end of the day this isn’t a terrible album and certainly worth a listen if you enjoy the mellower side of the indie rush.