“Good From Far, but…” or The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

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Let us suppose for a second that artists are looking to direct your attention to a universal truth. That brush strokes are meant not only to communicate emotion but also to enlighten a patron on the depths of the human condition. Within that context, picture a bespectacled man walk to a microphone, clear his throat, drink from a glass of water at the podium, and finally speak these words: “Dude! Growing up kinda sucks! Ya know what I mean?”

This is the dilemma of The Maccabees

Guys who once sang love songs to “Lego” suddenly ‘growing up’ enough to tell us that life can be a drag in over arching metaphor is a pretty big leap. So when Orlando Weeks sings “tell yourself you’re getting wiser / the truth is we’ve all done the same” on “River Song” you can’t help but wonder if it is a hangover talking, or a real attempt at artistic expression.

It’s this idea that becomes rather distracting. For a band that was once full of twenty something fun, their conversion is disconcerting. Yes there is high energy in much of Marks To Prove It, which plays well with their new ‘confusion and anger,’ but when they drift towards the more melancholy the record loses cohesion.

This entire idea plays itself out in the title track which starts as an ‘all hands on board’ rocking number, but finishes in raindrop falling keyboard loneliness. Throughout the record they spend a lot of time describing things, but not much on drawing you in. Like my ‘bespectacled surfer dude’ the idea is amusing, but the realityis not compelling enough to make you stay.

A friend of mine used to have a saying a long time ago that best suits Marks To Prove It – “Good from far, but far from good.”

“Classic Alternative” Oh for F!%k sakes,…. ! An Opinion Piece…

Running errands with my kids in tow, I was listening to a local radio station when their identification said they play “classic alternative.” Now I’m not meaning to make something out of nothing (yes I am), but – WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN!

“Alternative” as a genre was so broadly based it needed to create a plethora of sub-categories otherwise you wouldn’t know what the hell anyone was talking about. You got shoegazing, grunge, jangle-pop, indie-rock, Britpop, Madchester, industrial, gothic rock, alt-country, adult alternative, and so many more I can’t even remember on the fly because the mere thought hurts my brain.

Sure, I know what the station was getting at… I’m fucking old, and so is that genre tag! Yesterdays ‘alternative,’ was the day before yesterdays ‘classic rock.’ They want me to feel welcomed and nostalgic when I hear Nirvana and say to my kids, “I saw them back in the day.”

“Really, they’re pretty cool, in an old guy kinda way!”

“Oh yeah! This old guy might not pay for your education, if you keep up with that ‘old guy’ crap.”

“Are you sure you should talk that way to an eleven year old dad?”

“When you’re old enough to attempt sarcasm, you’re old enough to hear me say crap brainiac! Now show some respect for your elders you young whippersnapper.”

“What is a whippersnapper?”

“I don’t know! I heard Bugs Bunny say it.”

Shit… where was I… memory is getting foggy with… never you mind… Frickin’ classic alternative”

So I listen to a station that wants to attract a younger demographic. A station that sees the 90’s as a place of flannel, woolly mammoths, sabre tooth tigers and some “classic tunes.”

Oh damn I am old.

Time to sell the electric guitars and get a walker I guess.

At least, I can keep my vinyl, “kids still think that stuff is cool… right?”

Great album… too bad it costs so much or Travis – Good Feeling

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Some things are expected and some things, well, not so much. One very unexpected result of Radiohead’s success with The Bends is that many bands, fairly or not, were lumped into a category of pretenders and wannabes. Some became super popular like Coldplay and the Killers. Some had moderate success in North America, for example Keane. Still others barely made it onto the radar like California’s Paloalto.

Then there was Travis.

By design or not, Fran Healy’s phrasing of vocals bore a resemblance to Thom Yorke which was enough to get the critics calling foul. The thing is, they wrote some really good songs and albums like 1997’s Good Feeling were damn likeable.

Featuring a bunch of well crafted tunes, the Steve Lillywhite produced Good Feeling was by no means a commercial success, but it did act as a great stepping stone towards broader appeal for later releases.

Still, if you’re a vinyl lover, what would getting a copy set you back?

Well, quite a bit. Not a lot of vinyl was being released back in ’97, so that limits the number available. Then you have the fact that Good Feeling wasn’t a big seller during its initial release and again this limits how much vinyl goes into the pressing plant. In the end, you get two options and both will set you back a bit.

The first was the original 1997 U.K. release with the vibrant white cover above. Resellers are asking for over $115.00 plus shipping.

Two years later Good Feeling got reissued with a different cover featuring the band on a black background. One reseller is asking over $200.00 for it and outside of discogs, I couldn’t find any available.

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Basically, if you see one while crate digging, grab it – otherwise it is a small fortune to get hold of a copy. Great record, but the price kinda hurts.

“Rock Star” not “Pop Star” or Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

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Outside of Courtney Barnett, no one has received the tremendous pre-release expectations that Wolf Alice has with the lead up to My Love Is Cool. Dropping new singles every few weeks has helped to build momentum and gather fan support for the album. The result is that Wolf Alice is seeing print in almost every music mag and newspaper for today’s release… but does it hold up?

Well actually, it doesn’t disappoint.

Built around strong guitar work and soaring vocals, Wolf Alice bridges the gap between the 90’s alt-rock revival and the more modern Brit-Rock led by the Arctic Monkeys and their recent disciples Royal Blood. Subtle whispers turn to moments of shoegaze before exploding into an all out “throw your hair around and play air guitar” press as “Giant Peach” blasts out.

“Bros” starts with a Juliana Hatfield Three rhythm before going all “1979” Smashing Pumpkins as if Tanya Donnelly (Belly) was singing. The thing is, Wolf Alice isn’t playing at nostalgia but instead inhabits a space that fits in well with the narrative of ‘rock star’ rather than the dreaded ‘pop star’. When “You’re A Germ” lets the slow verse flare into the heavy chorus of screams and thundering guitar, the impression is that these guys play music that makes them want to ‘rock out’ along with their listeners. Just when you think you’ve pegged their sound, “Your Love’s Whore” throws in a groove that flies into Soundgarden mixed with a Dandy Warhols’ feel. Then you get “The Wonderwhy” which drones on with a buzz that is simultaneously terrifying and mesmerizing.

My Love Is Cool on first listen might sound very 1994, but with each subsequent spin you discover new reasons to forget the past and enjoy the moment. For Wolf Alice, that moment is now and be prepared, you’re going to be hearing a lot more from them.

My Love Is Cool is released on June 23.

 

 

Youth Anthem Gets Reissue or Supergrass – I Should Coco Twentieth Anniversary Edition (coming soon)

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Give three teenagers a bit of cash to make a record and what do they do? If they’re Gaz Coombes, Mick Quinn and Danny Goffey they record Parlophone’s biggest selling debut record since the frickin’ Beatles released Please Please Me. Now, twenty years after that monumental moment, Parlophone and Rhino records are releasing an anniversary edition of the Supergrass debut I Should Coco.

Supergrass originally appeared in 1994, as a part of the Brit-Pop scene, with a sound that differentiated them from other acts by following a collection of influences. While Oasis and Blur were mining a vein of Beatles inspired melodies, Coombes & co. threw a concoction of ingredients into a blender that included the Buzzcocks, The Jam and Kinks. The result was a band that rocked louder and looser than their peers.

Their collective ages played a large part in the success of I Should Coco. Without even trying, the band created a great collection of songs that spoke to the teenage experience. “Caught By The Fuzz” was about Coombes’ bust for pot possession at age 15 and “Alright” with its opening “We are young, we run green” has continued to be a youth anthem long since the band were youths themselves. The album itself is a touchstone of the 90’s alt-rock movement and this reissue is definitely overdue.

With that in mind, both the CD and vinyl twentieth anniversary editions include some great things for fans.

The 12” re-master will be pressed on 180 gram black vinyl with cover art that has been re-photographed in high resolution from the original artwork created by The Moody Painters. It will also include a bonus 7” of the bands’ cover of Jimi Hendrix’s classic “Stone Free” which had initially been released only with the first 40,000 copies of I Should Coco. The 7” will be printed on red vinyl with a vintage reworking of the classic Parlophone red/yellow 45 label.

Alternatively, the 3 CD set will be jam packed with extras. The first disc will have the re-mastered I Should Coco. The second will contain all the b-sides that were released with their debut singles; while the third CD will include live material. Also included will be a 20 page booklet featuring one very enthusiastic live review from a 1995 Glasgow show, unpublished photos of the band and all the cover art from the singles.

To summarize, it is going to be one very cool set that fans will be eagerly waiting to get their hands on.

The 20th Anniversary Edition of I Should Coco will be released on Sept 4.

A Roller Coaster Ride! or The Vaccines – English Graffiti

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The Vaccines brand of rock ‘n’ pop has recently been conjuring comparisons to The Strokes but that is both a little obvious and not quite hitting the target. Like most bands that have a quest for timelessness in their music; they are roller coasters that shift left when you think right and ultimately bring excitement to both the peaks and valleys.

In the past they were using a bit of 60’s pop music reminiscent of the early hits of the Kinks, but with English Graffiti they seemed to have filtered it through the 80’s synth pop. “Dream Lover” is a hybrid of Brit-Pop that has more Duran Duran than Oasis in the sound. Then they get you thinking that they will let the good times roll with “20/20” which crosses the Kaiser Chiefs with Motion City Soundtrack.

With energy levels about to go through the roof they abandon it all for a Moody Blues moment in “(All Afternoon) In Love” and later in “I Want You So Bad.”

Lyrically they are pretty quick to turn a phrase and go for the biting one liner, rather than look for a character to drive the story. Album opener “Handsome” provides a pretty good case in point as they drop the line “you think that you look good in whatever they sugarcoat you in.”  The song is all sarcasm and snot with a big F.U. to whomever is trying to sell bullshit for image.

The real point The Vaccines make more than any other is that they want to keep rockin’. English Graffiti isn’t life altering or earth shattering it’s just a fun rock ‘n’ roll record that you play on your way to the amusement park… and really, what more can you ask for.

The Emotional Depth of Flanging and Reverb or Ride –OX4

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There was a time before the 90’s wave of Grunge and Brit-Pop when a generation of music geeks had their collective consciousness turned towards the sounds of a UK movement dubbed “shoegaze.” Known for “wall of sound” like buzz and a variety of guitar effects it was the best possible escape for people tired of pop and hair metal but still loved loud electric guitar as the driver behind the tunes.

Ride was one of the best of the era with their own brand of songs crossed between My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths and even American avant-garde noise rockers Sonic Youth. At the beginning what attracted people to the band was the menagerie of influence pooled together under a banner of rock attitude and loud experimentation.

Unlike classic rock bands that would build a song around a guitar riff using it for the more climatic moments, Ride would use a riff like a wave over the song and change its very dynamic. If you listen to “Like A Daydream” even when the songs driving force is held back during the lyrical sequence, the guitar riff is still present as the basis for the rhythm. What changes is the tone and power with which it is played. The song itself gains more emotional resonance by the riff coasting for the duration rather than any one specific moment. At their best, this is exactly how Ride operated, a lyric of longing surrounded by shimmering guitar lines that buzz meaning with flanging and reverb.

Unfortunately, their existence was a brief eight years and it ended with internal disagreements and some half hearted attempt to go in a more ‘commercial’ direction. Some critics have claimed they fell flat looking for a more Brit-Pop sound, but honestly, after reading some of their more recent interviews, it sounds more like they just lost the motivation to be a band.

Still Record Store Day 2015 was a reminder of what brilliant music they did put out back in the day, with the vinyl re-issue of OX4: The Best Of. Three editions were released on April 18th in three major markets. The UK and Europe saw 500 copies each printed in red translucent vinyl while the North American market printed an additional 5000 copies of the same. As of last week when I was visiting record stores in Toronto I still saw copies around at the regular RSD prices.

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On a cooler note, Ride have worked out all their differences, are back together and currently touring. They’ll be hitting the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on June 2nd and are being presented by 102.1 The Edge/Spirit Of Radio.

Life Without A Road Map or Palma Violets – Danger In The Club

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The post brit-pop world is full of bands both worthy and lacking. Sometimes, like the children of self-made millionaires, it seems that the swagger and bravado earned by Mommy and Daddy has been transferred to the kids by a sheer sense of entitlement. In the case of Palma Violets it is like Jr. moved out making a decent splash in the process, but somehow just hasn’t figured out where to go next. Maybe it’s from nursing a 180 hangover, or maybe they never left the party that stopped being entertaining hours earlier, whatever the case, Danger In The Club sounds sincerely indifferent.

This attitude is best exemplified in “I’m Walking Home” which has a great bass line riff with vocals that lack emotional depth. “My babies got a new man, I’m walking home” doesn’t come off like a old blues singer with broken heart, but instead like a guy who misplaced his bus ticket and now has to walk a couple blocks.

“Danger In The Club” is musically all playful and drunken but again gets lost in vocals that are rather mundane. Which only points to the fact that while 180 pointed to Palma Violets as a possible peer or promising child of The Libertines, Danger In The Club comes off as something like a band looking for directions.

The Beauty Found In Power-Pop & Introspection or Best Coast – California Nights

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The early days of Best Coast were filled with simplistic images of happy places and troubles no bigger than a rival for someone’s affection or a need for the sun. Not that there is anything wrong with that; after all Best Coast was providing the kind of indie-pop, garage, lo-fi, reggae influenced tunes that kept us northerners warm all winter.  It was a return to the myth that California is the place of adolescent dreams come true, and no one will argue that once wrapped in a sonic blanket watching a fire burn.

Still it has been five years since the Best Coast debut Crazy For You and one can only live in dreams for so long? Eventually there is a reckoning…

Right?

The answer is California Nights. Gone is the warm washing fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words lo-fi and surf rock attached to their records, and in is a more ‘nineties-esqe’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. Thematically, this is also the case as Bethany Cosentino has switched gears and presented herself in a more realistic position as lyrics deal with insomnia, heartbreak and happiness in pill bottles. Actually, dare I say it, it seems Cosentino has grown introspective and the guitar work of multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno has risen to match. No longer are songs restricted to the quick “pop” length of two three minutes, but now the sound sometimes goes all ‘shoegaze’ and rides a guitar riff for all its worth. To some extent, the title track itself conjures more images of brit-pop than anything that could come out of a California night.

It isn’t all happy smiles as the sun sets to the west, there is anger and melancholia in the air as opener “Feeling OK” rightfully has you questioning the validity of such a statement. The song at its heart reveals that “OK” isn’t a satisfactory resolution to any question worth asking – especially one as loaded “how are you.” Even if one is asking it of themselves.

The triumph of this record is that it doesn’t live in a world of manufactured dreams come true, eternal sun, and beaches. The emotions behind it are universal and hence you can relate to it more. California Nights is proof positive that beauty can be found in the balanced mix of power-pop and introspection, and that’s a sunny thought all by itself. It’s worth every cent spent and more.

You can pick this album up at your local record stores or get some special packages from the band site – here.