Ringo Deathstarr first appeared four years ago. Hitting the ground running with a song entitled ‘Some Kind Of Sad,’ which out Mary Chained the Jesus and Mary Chain, they released a self-titled five track EP and left the world wondering what would happen next. Now after a couple of singles, here comes their debut album, that the feeling is one of vindication: that these guys who promised so much right from their first encounter have truly delivered with their debut album.
There’s a lot of shoegazing going on here, with nods to My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Ride, as well as to more grungier icons like Dinosaur Jr. The song titled are classic shoegazing, too -‘Kaleidoscope’ ‘Day dreaming and recent single ‘So High.’ So is it simplu a pastiche of classic albums like Bug, Loveless and Nowhere? No. It feels absolutely fresh, exciting and utterly vital. the male/female vocals play off each other brilliantly.I’ve played this album several times already and don’t see any reason to stop. Most impressively, there is not a weak track here; each track stands on its own as well as making up a very cohesive whole.
For an album by anyone, it would be good. For a debut album, it’s mightily impressive. Ringo Deathstarr have lived up to the promise of that debut EP and produced one of the albums of the year.
Colour Trip is out now on Club AC30 in the UK and on March 8 on Sonic Unyon in the US.
There’s been a bit of a shift of late. Well, there frequently is in music, I suppose, but while people seem to be moaning the fact that rock and indie isn’t selling very well in Britain (all cyclical, believe me, I’ve seen it come and go and come again my 34 years), there is talk of a nineties revical being afoot. At the moment, rather than this meaning Britpop, Triphop, speed/uk garage, trance or -God forbid – happy hardcore – what is (currently) being revived is the ‘Alternative’ era of American rock. The debut by these Norweigian rockers was actually released a year ago, but this year is now having a wider release. they share a label with Ringo Deathstarr, which makes perfect sense.
At the risk of saddling Megaphinic Thrift with too big a weight of expectation, there’s a feel of Pavement (circa Slanted and Enchanted) and Sonic Youth (Circa Daydream Nation) about this album. There’s also a hint of what I can only describe as gothic psychedelia (no, not like the Damned or Strawberry Switchblade, more like…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead), particuarly on tracks like ‘Sister Joan.’
It’s music to lose yourself in, in the best possible way. There’s tracks like ‘Candy Sin’ with its’ walls of feedback, interspersed with more reflective guitar work. Ultimately -irrespective of whether there’s a nineties revival or an about-turn of interest in guitar music in the UK, what matters is whether this album is actually any good or not.
..and this is an excellent album.
Decay Decoy is released on 21st February on Club AC30 in the UK and in North America via Sonic Unyon on 8th March
Zoey Van Goey -‘Propellor Versus Wings’ (Chemikal Underground)
Scottish-English-Canadian act Zoey Van Goey’s debut album The Cage Was Unlocked All Along was an incredibly sweet and gorgeous album. Their sophomore album sees them continue their fantastic musical journey. As is quite often the case with second albums, it doesn’t quite possess the naive charm of their debut, which made it so endearing.
This is not to write the album off; on the contrary, there’s a lot to recommend here. It does however see them expand their musical palette beyond the parameters of their earlier release. First single ‘The Cake And Eating It’ nods to post-punk guitar freakouts and ‘Escape maps’ features some military drumming. There’s also a continuing of their wonderful humour, in this case the brilliantly titled ‘You Told The Drunks I Knew Karate.’ In this song our heroes are chased right the way across Glasgow from the Great Western Road to the East End by a gang of drunks. Rather like ‘Two White Ghosts’ on their debut, it’s irreleveant whether it’s actually true or not; it is, however, utterly believable and the highlight of the album.
An earlier description (not by me) of Zoey Van Goey described the band as being ‘like the Postal Service with a sense of humour.’ Yes, there’s a sense of humour -and I think they fit in well with what is still perceived as the Glasgow sound (Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura etc.. rather than the rockier acts). However, they are finding their own voice and I look forward to seeing where their journey continues to.
Propellor Versus Wings is out now on download Chemikal Underground and released physically on February 28.
Penguins Kill Polar Bears -‘Vessels and Veins’ (Mountain Halo Records)
This is the follow-up to last year’s rather fine debut, the Dawn EP. Vessels and Veins is a four track release which continues to build upon that release. It demonstrates that theycan do both intensity – opening track ‘lungs’ and subtlety ‘Wish With Worry.’ The closing track on this EP, ‘Something Old,’ suggests that they are aiming for the skies and may just be the best thing they have recorded so far.
It is very frustrating for bands in their early careers to be compared to a whole stream of other acts, so I won’t. I do, however, reckon that on the strength of this release that they will be competing with far bigger, higher profile acts before very long, and their debut album, due later this year, will be one to watch out for.
Vessels and Veins will be released on Mountain Halo Records on February 21.
Penguins Kill Polar Bears are out on tour this month and next:
Feb 24th – Madhatters – Inverness
Feb 25th – Tunnels – Aberdeen
Feb 26th – Sneaky Pete’s – Edinburgh
Mar 3rd – The Green Room – Brighton
Mar 4th – The Chichester Inn – Chichester
Mar 5th – The Blueroom – Blackpool
Mar 7th – Tommy’s Bar – Cardiff
Mar 8th – The Boogie Lounge – Cheltenham
Mar 10th – The Bull and Gate – London
Mar 11th – Milo – Leeds
Mar 12th – The Captain’s Rest – Glasgow
My interview with Penguins Kill Polar Bears can be found here
First of all, please introduce yourself and your band.
I am Shona Foster. I sing, write songs and play a bit of guitar. And I have a regular core band that I work with which is Matt Gest on keys, Sam Walker on drums, Matthew Waer on bass and Jim Mortimore on Guitar. Plus other folks that are involved along the way.
Tell us about your early life, We know you were born in Scotland and grew up in Yorkshire…
Yes, I grew up in North Yorkshire. Moved around several small towns and villages. The folk and blues scene is very prominent there and I got introduced to the live music scene from quite an early age. I was about 10 when my mum started working for a local music collective. It was a tiny studio, recording local blues and punk bands. My mum’s partner, who was a great bass player, introduced me to the world of Elvis Costello and took us to see The Stranglers in Scarborough. I started singing in school plays and loved acting but never really had much confidence. When I was about 17 I got asked to do some backing vocals for a friends demo and the lead singer didn’t show up on the day (cliché I know but true…) so they asked if I could do lead. Everyone seemed really impressed, I found a bit of confidence and suddenly I was in my first band.
How has your music changed or developed?
I was in few bands before I started focusing on my solo thing. Some of which I just sang for and others I wrote for as well. I love collaborating with people, especially friends, but just started to crave for the time and space to focus on this sound that was building up in my head.
This your debut album; over how long did you write the songs that make it up?
Some of the songs are many, many, years old. And some are as new as a few months before we started recording. So there’s a real mixture of old and new which is quite difficult to get right on your debut. Obviously there’s a confidence there with songs that have lasted the length of time that it takes to record your first album, that they must be strong enough. And you have this need to set them free into the world like children that have grown-up and that are desperate to flee the nest. But you also want something fresh, something that represents where you are at that point of recording. There is a risk element to adding tracks to the album that haven’t stood the test of time but I think its important to have a balance. But I’m not going to tell you which songs are which…
How do you go about writing songs? Do you prefer to collaborate or write solo; music or words first?
I write on my own. Sometimes it can be quite a long process. You have the immediate excitement of a melody, maybe a hook line, you work out the chords, figure out where the song is pulling you, where it wants to go. If you’re lucky, you write down as many lyrics or ideas as you can but sometimes this can take quite a while. A line at a time, walking down the street, sitting on the train, laying in the bath. It can be quite a labour of love getting a song finished. But discovering a new melody and giving birth to a new song is the most exciting part of song writing for me. And then hearing them come to life. I quite often feel nervous taking a new song to the band. They are usually the first people to hear it so first reactions can mean a lot. A couple of the songs off the album I co-wrote with piano player Matt Gest. They add another flavour and tension that I think the album really benefits from.
How did you find the experience of recording your debut album?
I think when you spend a long time dreaming of the day when you might finally get to record an album, you have a lot of expectations. Unfortunately, money, as with most artists today, is tight. You have a limited time to get it done. It can suddenly become quite stressful. You eat, breathe and sleep the whole process and it completely takes over your life. But obviously it was amazing to hear the album as a whole come to life and take on its own personality. Just as when writing a song, it kind of takes on its own identity and pulls you in the right direction. Sometimes songs would end up sounding quite different to how you imagined. But seem to fit in well with the album as a whole.
What can we expect from the Shona Foster live experience?
We love playing live. The songs have more of an edge and vulnerability. And with the recent addition of Jim on guitar there’s definitely an exciting, added layer to the music. It doesn’t sound exactly like the record but then I don’t think it should. And then there are the more intimate gigs, which might just be me and Matt on keys. They are the total flipside of the full band. Much more sparse but sometimes that can benefit the simplicity of a song.
Who, if anyone, do you consider to be your influences? Are they just musical or do you draw from other arts as well?
Bjork, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Billy Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, Nat King Cole, Stevie Wonder, 12 Stone Toddler,
David Attenborough, photographs, maps, wildlife, love, loss and…life.
Your album was released on February 7; what are your plans for the rest of 2011?
The plan is to play as often as we can and in as many places as we can. We are presently organising a small UK tour in spring and hope to be playing a few festivals as well. On a personal level I would very much like to have some time just focused on song writing. A lot of the business side of stuff can take over. So would love a bit of time to get back to what I’m good at and, hopefully, if people like The Moon & You enough, I can start my second album. Oh and a holiday too…. That would be nice.
The Moon & You is out now on Republic of Music/Universal
They are playing two fundraiser gigs in Scotland before heading off; these are:
24th February at Stereo, Glasgow with support from Randolph’s Leap and Martin John Henry
26th February at The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh with The Last Battle and Blue Sky Archives.
So far six dates have been announced in the US, these are:
12th March at Bruar Falls, NYC w/Rachel Sermanni
13th March at Fontana’s, NYC
14th March at The Cake Shop, NYC
16th March at Maggie Mae’s, Austin, TX (Official SXSW showcase)
18th March at Red House Pizzeria, Austin, TX (Music For Listeners daytime party)
19th March at Waterloo Cycles, Austin, TX (SXSWaterloo daytime party)
It’s actually genuinely exciting to see people that you know and have supported through your own blog heading off to the US.
It’s also great that they have asked 17 Seconds Records’ Last Battle to support them again. i saw The Last Battle live in Edinburgh last night, playing a lot of new stuff, so get along and see the edinburgh gig! Act quickly, tickets are selling fast…
Meanwhile, this is the video that kid Canaveral have made for their ‘You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night’ single. It is awesome…
The latest album from Sonic Youth is released on their own SYR label and forms the soundtrack to the French film Simon Werner A Disparu (AKA Lights Out). Their releases on the SYR label (as opposed to their releases on Blast First, Geffen or Matador) have often been portrayed to be hard, impenetrable releases, designed to appeal only to a select hardcore of fans.
Which is slightly unfair. Granted, Goodbye 20th Century was as far away from Goo or Dirty as you can get, but Sonic Youth have always had their fingers in a number of pies in their now thirty year existence. They may have had hits, but they’ve also had a foot rooted firmly in the avant garde as well. This release is an entirely instrumental album, which provides the soundtrack. While not as out there as Goodbye 20th Century, it features sublime moments and exercises in feedback. It also features the reappearance of erstwhile collaborator and bassist Jim O’Rourke on thet closing track ‘Theme D’Alice.’
This is actually a really good example of Sonic Youth’s music and how they work as a band. It may not be the best starting point for tackling their (pretty massive) back catalogue but if you feel the urge to investiagte their more off the beaten track releases away from the major labels, this is as fine a place as any to start.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past month and/or have no interest in contemporary music, you will be aware by now that PJ Harvey is about to release her eighth album. And the reviews have been nothing less than extremely excited. Already, people are starting to talk about (whisper it) album of the year.
Polly Jean’s music have always been nakedly personal and deeply powerful, and this album sees no change from that. As you’ve probably deduced from the press, this is her first album to be deeply political. It would have been hard to live through the last years on Earth and not felt the effects of 9/11, the deeply divisive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan impact on you in some way. The album was completed last year, so recent uprisings in the arab world have not made their mark here, but you sense la Harvey is watching and waiting…
It’s an album inspired by the horrors of war. Being one of the most gifted lyricists around, as you’d expect it’s a pretty thought-provoking record, with images of soldiers blown ‘like lumps of meat,’ friends dying on the battlefield, and what it means to be English when you’re country gets involved in wars. However, wisely, she does not preach, only reflect. (She may share management and arecord company with U2, but there’s no danger of her turning into Bono).
While the lyrics are dark, the music is thoughtful, rather than the anguished torture of albums like the Steve Albini-produced Rid Of Me. It’s musically different from here last solo album, White Chalk, and yet the piano-driven feel of that album has left its’ mark in a positive way. Like all her albums, it stands completely on its’ own merits. The album was recorded with long-term collaborators John Parish and (former Bad Seed) Mick Harvey, and produced by Flood. It also features an innovative use of samples and reference points. These include the motif from ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ on the title track, while ‘The Glorious Land’ features both a bugle call and a drum loop from the Police’s ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You.’ Additionally music from said El Kurdi and Winston ‘Niney’ Holness and writings from L.A. Carlyon and Maurice Shadbolt add to the pallette that she is working from.
Twenty years in, Polly Harvey still startles and still stands as one of the most original recording artists to have emerged from the British Isles. She may sing of ‘England’s Dancing Days’ being gone on the title track, but by God, PJ Harvey’s days of creativity seem to be endless. Which is why this album gets…
Let England Shake is released by Island on February 14.
Mogwai -‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’ (Rock Action)
Fifteen years into their career, every Mogwai album still feels like An Event. Their debut LP, Mogwai Young Team, set the bar so high fourteen (!) years ago, but it is to their credit that they have never copied a very successful formula on successive albums, with the inevitable diminishing of returns that aesthetically, if not commercially, that that would have lead to.
On this, their seventh album, Mogwai still feel, reassuringly, that they are the missing link between Slayer and Sigur Ros. In their own inimitable style, they continue to mine new territory that is unquestionably their own, and no-one else’s. There’s a noticeable krautrock influence that’s detectable on tracks ‘White Noise’ and ‘Rano Pano’ which I don’t recall hearing on a Mogwai album before.
Mogwai are -rightly- perceived as an instrumental act. However, they have used guest vocalists in the past – including then labelmate Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat on Mogwai Young Team and Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys on Rock Action (on ‘Dial:Revenge.’ Singing in Welsh, natch.) On Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, on the rather excellent ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ come from courtesy of Luke Sutherland, cult scottish musician (Bows, Long Fin Kllie) and author (Jelly Roll, Sweetmeat), who also contributes guitar and violin to the abum. As ever, the titles convey a fair amount of humour (‘You’re Lionel Richie’) and Politics (‘George Square Thatcher Death Party.’) There are beautiful refelctive parts on the album, and of course, one absolutely, shredding, eardrum-bursting track, the closing and aforementioned ‘You’re Lionel Richie.’
The late, great John Peel -who also championed Mogwai -used to say that they were always different and always The Fall. that’s how I feel about Mogwai. On their seventh album they still sound like the band I love, and are still going to new places. A band that I would feel confident to buy an album that bore their name, without having heard a note of it.
Long may they run.
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is released on Rock Action on February 14 in the UK and Sub Pop in the US on February 15.