Monday, September 24, 2012

Listen To The Murder Of Crows EP (Alan Sparhawk of Low)

I'm not going to write something long-winded about this but this is music which really seems to defy easy categorization.

Like me, most of you will click on this thanks to the fact that it's Alan Sparhawk of Low (and Retribution Gospel Choir).

(Mimi Parker from Low guests on one song too!)

Check out the new EP from The Murder of Crows below and follow the band on their official Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/lea.sparhawk.crows

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Delightful Free MP3 From Manchester's Dutch Uncles

The press release name-checked Japan but I hear more O.M.D. and Soft Cell here -- including some solo Marc Almond -- as well as a very faint hint of Tim Finn-penned Split Enz tracks.

Manchester's Dutch Uncles are going to be out on tour in advance of their new album but for now enjoy "Fester" via the link below.

Follow Dutch Uncles on their website:
www.dutchuncles.co.uk

Or on their Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/dutchuncles

Or on the Memphis Industries homepage.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Smashing New Free MP3 From Cardiff's Laurence Made Me Cry

Jo Whitby, better known as Laurence Made Me Cry, is back with the wonderful "Intelligent Mister Toad". This is actually Version 2 of the song and she recorded it with the help of Dementio13. The result is a really haunting and impressive bit of work.

The first half of this strongly recalls solo Emma Pollock. And any comparison to the former Delgados singer is very high praise indeed.

The second half veers into Cocteau Twins territory -- maybe side 2 of Four-Calendar Cafe?.

The track is warm, human, and a bit adventurous -- think a less icy Portishead as this cut nears its conclusion.

You can play and download "Intelligent Mister Toad (V2)" below.

You can follow Laurence Made Me Cry on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/laurencemademecry

Or on the official website:
http://www.laurencemademecry.com/

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Quick Reivew of The New Covers Album From Field Music

Following on from the Mercury Prize nomination hubbub around their latest proper album Plumb -- which I thoroughly enjoyed, as my review back in February made clear -- the Sunderland band is back with a covers album entitled Field Music Play...

Now, the thing with covers is always the same; either the band does something new with the cover and updates the tune for another generation or they do something quirky with it. It's that simple.

Of course, you've also got the hipster trend of covering something left-field -- "Oh, we're taking a risk by playing [this]" -- that sort of thing.

It gets a bit old actually. How many cover versions have I got excited about only to play the damn things only a fraction of the times that I play the originals?

Maybe this time that will change.

Field Music tackle 8 relatively well-known tunes and here are the results.

Syd Barrett's "Terapin" comes off like George Harrison being produced by Jeff Lynne. There's a mid-1970s Roxy Music-twang here which is fitting due to the inclusion of "Is There Something?" on this disc.

The Pink Floyd-loon's tune is almost unrecognizable here and the Brewis brothers are to be commended for smoothing the rough edges off that cut and making it coherent.

"Born Again Cretin" from Robert Wyatt sounds like Talk Talk. The percolating drum machine recalls Eighties-style Peter Gabriel cuts and the languid pace of the song is a nice contrast to the sometimes bouncy exuberance of the Field Music boys.

"Heart", the first of two Pet Shop Boys covers, is well-realized and vaguely reminiscent of stuff like The Blue Nile (their 2nd album, maybe).

The Fripp-like guitar is subtle -- there's something proggy about it -- but the odd bits of instrumentation suit the tune and don't overpower it.

Nice work lads.

"If There is Something" is, quite possibly, my least favorite Roxy Music song. The ponderous Tin Machine cover in 1991 or so didn't help me like the tune either. Here, it sounds like John Cale which is fitting since there's a Cale cut coming up.

It's not entirely a failure -- there's a hint of Godley and Creme on this cut which is not a bad thing -- but it's still something I'm not going to play more than twice.

But that's just me.

Leonard Cohen's familiar "Suzanne" gets gussied up as a 1970s-style ballad here. The effect is interesting as the well-known tune and lyrics are here but the instrumentation seems to add another dimension to the song.

"Don't Pass Me By" was already brilliantly covered by The Georgia Satellites on their crimainally underrated second album so why redo it again? It's almost like the two Brewis brothers wanted to pick the most un-Beatle-like Beatle song just to mess with our expectations. Fine. The tune is reshaped into such a form as to be almost unrecognizable. It's a bold step and if you want to hear a Zappa-esque turn on a Beatles cut, then you might enjoy this.

Again, it's more intellectually interesting than actually enjoyable.

"Fear is a Man's Best Friend" from John Cale is less scary here. There's menace but not quite at the level of the original.

The other Pet Shop Boys cut closes the record in fine fashion. "Rent" sounds -- again! -- like Godley and Creme, but that's not a bad thing. There's a hint of XTC here but the keyboards make this into something else entirely. The slide guitar is used sparingly and the piano and keyboard lines anchor the cut.

Here Field Music have taken something seemingly detached and made it into something very much emotional and engaged.

That's about all I can say about Field Music Play... as it's not the sort of release that needs a pro or con review. Most people who want to hear this record are already planning to buy it.

And for new fans of Field Music, it's not an ideal starting point, frankly.

Still, there are nice moments here, if nothing entirely earthshaking.

Field Music Play... by Field Music will be out in mid-October on Memphis Industries.

Follow the band on their Facebook page:
www.facebook.com/fieldmusic

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Razika Release Video For Above All

The Summer of 2011 saw me (rightly) raving about Norway's Razika. Their debut album, Program 91, was a glorious and joyous record, some unholy and unlikely mix of The Specials and Altered Images.

The gals are busy touring and playing -- I am eagerly awaiting new music from them! -- and nearly a year after that record came out there's a video for "Above All", one of the standout cuts on Program 91.

You can watch the video below and be sure to follow Razika on their Facebook page: here or on their label page here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Help Fund D.C. Punk Documentary

Head over to Kickstarter.com and make a donation to help fund Scott Crawford's awesome looking documentary Salad Days. The film covers the glory days of D.C.'s punk scene.

Look for Dot Dash's Danny Ingram in that trailer as well!

Some Thoughts on Posada de Coloane in Macau

My girlfriend and I went to Posade de Coloane this weekend and I'm blogging about the visit in the hopes of both praising and condemning the place.

It's worth mentioning that we stayed at The Westin in Coloane a few weeks ago and, frankly, it's a better value with a similar view even if it's a pretty shabby Westin compared to ones in the States.

Posada de Coloane has a good reputation due to the location and the views. And, yes, the room was charming and the view was nice but on most other levels we found the place a failure.

We were promised that we could check in early -- around noon. We arrived early and went to the beach and then used the pool and were given a room key at 11:30 and told that the room was ready.

No one helped us with our luggage, or even offered to. We carried our stuff downstairs only to find the room hadn't been cleaned yet. So we trudged back upstairs and waited another hour.

Once cleaned, the room was fine but dialing out on the phone sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. And when it did work, you had to hope that someone at the desk actually answered the phone.

And why did we call the front-desk so much? 'Cause the free (unsecure) Wi-Fi dropped out every few hours -- 4 times in 20 hours by my count. Looking at my Gmail log and I can see new IP addresses every few hours yesterday from that location as the router was constantly reset there.

We needed 4 pieces of laundry done and there was a sort of gentle argument about that. They were too busy to squeeze in 4 items and get them back before Monday. They did eventually do the laundry and quickly too.

When we went down to dinner we found that the entire restaurant on the premises had been booked for a private party so we had to eat outside (which was okay thanks to the weather).

The meal was decent and any faults there were the result of what we ordered. The baked pears in red wine sauce for dessert was the best thing about the meal, frankly.

Then this morning as I was attempting to check out, there was the usual drama about getting a taxi only to have the taxi show up too early.

Finally, and most annoyingly, the desk clerk this morning couldn't get the credit card machine to work and he blamed it on my Mastercard emblazoned with the Bank of America logo. He said it wouldn't work 'cause it was an American bank.

I said "Yeah, that's why I've used it in Macau, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and The Philippines so far..."

He finally got it to work and I curtly replied "Wow, I guess it *does* work!" to no reaction.

My overall review of Posada de Coloane is that it's a nice view but that's about it. I think the Westin is better, if not as quaint.

Still, there were some nice things about yesterday's stay and I can't help but want to share a few pics.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Past Is Another Country: A Review of The 2nd Dot Dash Album and a Free MP3!

It seems like a lifetime ago and yet it was less than a year ago.

There I was standing backstage talking with three of these guys about my impending move to Hong Kong and now here I am, riding a ferry off Lamma Island and listening to Danny Ingram's sticks kick off the lead track on the new Dot Dash record, Winter Garden Light, out now on The Beautiful Music.

It's not only the fact that these four guys collectively and individually represent so much D.C. rock history -- see my interview with drummer Danny Ingram here and my interview with lead singer Terry Banks here -- but, rather, that they do it so well with such little wasted effort.

The 10 cuts on Winter Garden Light rocket by in a stomp-and-flurry of guitar riffs, bass thumps, and drum pounds. It's like these 4 guys heard about a "going out of business sale" at the ye olde postpunk store and they went in and grabbed everything they could use before tossing a match behind them.

The famed D.C. punk fury is here -- how could it not be with Youth Brigade's Danny Ingram on the skins? -- and that sense of a pop hook as well -- go listen to Terry Banks' stuff in Julie Ocean (with D.D. bassist Hunter Bennett) and try to get those tunes out of your head quickly -- but that fury and those hooks are judiciously dispersed in a controlled release of postpunk joy.

Like when you listen to The Buzzcocks and Cheap Trick and think how perfect "Lipstick" or "Surrender" are and then survey the pieces and try to figure it out.

Dot Dash have those pieces and they've already figured it out so let's talk about the new tunes.

"Faraway": through fuzzy guitar riffs and heavy drums, this opening cut soars. Some nice background coos and the track puts a new spin on the Dot Dash formula from the first record. There's a hint of mod-era Who here but what we're really hearing is a spin on "The Place I Love" by The Jam -- Dot Dash are opening for From The Jam in October -- it's like a rough twin of that tune.

The harmonies are back on "Countdown" which is, quite possibly, the loveliest Dot Dash song out there. "10, 9, and down to 1, the countdown has begun..." Terry croons. Guitar-slashes and fuzz-wails are mixed with a plucked, nearly Edge-like little riff, and "Countdown" charms. A very modern turn on an Eighties-style rocker, this is a really perfectly constructed tune. If you are going to put just one song from Winter Garden Light on a mix-tape, put "Countdown" there between "All That Money Wants" from Psychedelic Furs and "Over There" by The Connells.

(Yes, it's that good!)

"Two Octobers" opens ominously with those heavy drum thumps and those slow somber Banks vocals. Then the song kicks off in a spiral of Byrds-licks from Bill Crandall and Terry Banks. The cut contrasts those two halves of the band to produce something vaguely like the best work of The Buzzcocks with a hint of The Records.

"Writing On The Wall" opens with a rapid-fire run on the drums from Danny Ingram and some Hunter Bennett bass-throbs. The croons are back as Terry sings "I won't fight the good fight, I won't stay the course." This track -- like a lot of the best stuff on Winter Garden Light -- shows how far the band have come from the last record last year.

The pieces are the same but there's more cohesion this time around, more melody, a greater sense of the band playing to their individual and collective strengths.

"La-La Land" is like Julie Ocean's stuff but harder. The croons are here, as well as the hooks, but there's something dark at work. It's like if Jawbox tried to record a Marshall Crenshaw song, you get what I mean? I dig that contrast and I dig this record!

A fade-out jam echoes Bob Mould's Sugar stuff for a few seconds.

"Live to Tell" is The Raspberries by way of Husker Du. Some weird mix of punk and power-pop, this tune is one of the obvious standouts on Winter Garden Light. That glorious little cut segues neatly into "The Past Is Another Country" -- Free MP3 Below! -- and the Who moments are back by way of Clem Burke. The best pop bits from Blondie mixed with a Buzzcocks vibe -- think "Airwaves Dream" maybe.

The punky "Shouting in the Rain" cranks along next. More Moon-isms from Danny in spots but the song really succeeds due to the mixing of those drums with the guitars and bass here. A spike-y guitar line and more quick fills. A nice encapsulation of the strong musicianship of Dot Dash, the cut is -- as I know -- a really good live showcase for the band as well.

"Lateral/Vertical" is the slowburn, the vocals sounding a bit somber until the chorus takes off. The churning guitar/bass-work behind Banks really makes this a strong cut. There's a touch of Swevedriver here which makes sense since Danny Ingram was their drummer for a spell.

Album closer "The Devil's Road" features some downright amazing guitar-work from Banks and Bill Crandall as well as the ever-reliable work of the rhythm section of Danny Ingram and Hunter Bennett. If the Terry Banks vocals sound a bit different, that's okay. The tune still charms and shows yet another side of the band.

I'd say that the Dot Dash sound was shaped on the first record, refined on most of this album, and pointed in a slightly new direction on "The Devil's Road."

Winter Garden Light is a sleek machine. It's solidly produced (Brandon Funkhouser at Lord Baltimore Studios) but it's not slick. The human bits are still there. It's got punk energy embedded in its 10 cuts but it's not a record of rage. It's a record of joy.

There's a sense of tension-and-release here. Winter Garden Light is the real refinement of what makes The Dot Dash Sound and, suddenly, the band sounds more assured and of one piece, if that makes any sense.

They've harnessed their respective pasts -- Dischord influences, powerpop and ska time, and indie hooks -- into something new.

Sure, there are nods to those pasts but this is really fresh and modern music.

Follow Dot Dash on their Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/dotdashdc

And check out Winter Garden Light on the band's label:
The Beautiful Music.

Download "The Past is Another Country" here!

Aileen Alonzo and Friends Bring The Tunes to Java Java in Sheung Wan

In the hassle of commuting from the wilds of Lamma Island to the concrete jungles of Kwun Twon everyday I sometimes forget what it is that I like about Hong Kong.

Then last night I hoofed it to Sheung Wan and went back to Java Java and I remembered.

Owner Michael Roth is to be commended for carving out this little corner of Sheung Wan and making it into a venue for live music most nights of the week.

A Stella, some good tunes, and a waffle or two and I was back to normal. Java Java has got a good selection of beers and wines, as well as a food menu.

Now on to the tunes!

Darren Hayward got things started with some covers of The Rolling Stones, Wilco, Beck, and Bob Dylan. By the time Aileen and John Saeki joined in for an uplifting cover of "I Shall Be Released", the place was rocking.

John Saeki, of local ska band Transnoodle, next took the stage to deliver some Billy Bragg-style tunes that all had a unique link to Hong Kong. I regret now that I didn't take video of John Saeki's set as some of these songs were quite exceptional with my favorite being the one -- I didn't get the title -- about a U.S. seaman visiting Wan Chai for the first time in search of a "Chinese girl." Ahem.

Great stuff.

Next up was Aileen Alonzo for a few guitar-led and keyboard-based tunes. I thought the versions of "Gossamer" (a Cleen song) and "Icarus" last night were exceptionally strong -- glad I shot video of each one (see below).

Next Darren Hayward joined for a downright epic rendtion of "Little Pieces of Revenge" by Cleen, as well as a cover of a Bollands song.

Finally, Sandro Cagnin took the stage for a few tunes before the end of the music at Java Java. "Stardust" was particularly good.

Follow Aileen Alzono on the Cleen Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/cleenmusic

She's on Soundcloud too:
http://soundcloud.com/aileen-alonzo

Be sure to stop by Java Java in Sheung Wan for some good food and good tunes:
http://www.facebook.com/javajavalounge

Aileen Alonzo - "Gossamer" - live at Java Java, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, 07 September 2012

Aileen Alonzo - "Icarus" - live at Java Java, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, 07 September 2012

Aileen Alonzo and Darren Hayward - "Little Pieces of Revenge" - live at Java Java, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, 07 September 2012

Aileen Alonzo and Darren Hayward - "Siren's Call (edit)" - live at Java Java, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, 07 September 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

G R E A T W A V E S Bring Us Another Free MP3

Manchester's G R E A T W A V E S are back with another free MP3 -- "Into the Blue" -- see download below.

"Into the Blue" is from the band's upcoming single and details on that single, on Sways Records out of Salford, are here.

G R E A T W A V E S recall early Verve here. There's a sense of awe as the song unwinds. The sonic space of late period Talk Talk plucked out on guitars and keyboards.

Lovely stuff.

Follow G R E A T W A V E S on their Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/dropitfromtheheavens

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another Free MP3 From Glitches

Their debut single will be out on 8 October but Glitches are back to share another free track.

This is "No Prisoners" and it's a mix of emotion and cold, distant electronica.

Glitches seemingly owe debts to both Mansun and Gary Numan and that contrast between the instrumentation and the very human and direct vocals is why I like this band so much so far.

You can download "No Prisoners" below.

Enjoy!

Follow these guys on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/glitchesmusic

Pins, The Best New Band You Haven't Heard Yet

Four gals from Manchester are bringing it back like it's 1985.

I'm talking about Pins. And every cut I've heard from these women so far has been a gnarly stomper in line with classic The Jesus and Mary Chain. There's a touch of The Shangri-Las here as well, and a bit of the old V.U. throb.

The band is going on tour soon and there's a 10 inch coming out on Bella Union in October.

There's a nod to (very) early Cocteau Twins here, especialy on "Eleventh Hour" -- see below -- and so the label run by ex-Cocteaus Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie seems like an apt choice for the release of the band's new record.

I look forward to hearing much, much more from Pins. They've got a distinctive sound that takes some very obvious influences into new directions.

For now, follow Pins online:

http://www.wearepins.co.uk

http://www.facebook.com/wearepins