Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Review: David Bowie - The Next Day

This has been some time coming. First of all, I never thought the time to review new material from David Bowie would ever come and naturally commenting on it is a clear obligation.

This obviously sounds like I'm being harsh and cynical and probably makes it sound like I'm dismissing Bowie as an artist. Of course not. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is one of the greatest albums ever recorded and the list of amazing songs is never endings, and anyone that hasn't just laid down after a long day and had a Bowie session yet is just wrong. But when the announcements came on Bowie's 66th birthday that an album of new material was coming out for the first time since 2003's Reality and the lead single Where Are We Now? was released accompanied by a peculiar video of Bowie and wife-of-video-director Jacqueline Humphries face's placed together as they are joined in one puppet body (That made no sense whatsoever.), it was not instant, nor did it feel like something anyone could fall in love with straight away, as I previously had so so much of the man's back catalogue. And yet Bring Me the Horizon's Shadow Moses got me straight away, rendering me a disgrace to the face of real music reviewers. Only a full album listen could possibly rectify any possible doubts about one of the UK's biggest musical icons.

Before even elaborating on the music, it's clear that Bowie has wanted to turn heads simply by announcing new music. After he failed to make an appearance appearance at last year's Closing Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics despite a huge buildup and montage of clips that suggested he would be there with the world watching, most people would have assumed that as the final sign that he was done with performing and writing music. And yet, here we are with his 24th album The Next Day streaming on iTunes five days before it's official release. What sparked this decision to record again? And will it satisfy those who thought they were going to be able to hear Starman performed live in front of millions of people worldwide?

That's a question I don't think I could answer fully yet. You couldn't really picture young people that wear T-Shirts depicting Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and only know Changes getting down to slow-burning jams like Dirty Boys and there's nothing that even comes close to having the kinetic energy of Suffragette City but if you're as in touch and experienced in the art of music, then there's no excuse for you to not find something lovable throughout The Next Day.

There's every right to feel cautious as you begin listening to this album, there's no knowing of how it could start of when the sounds are yet to pounce into your ears, thankfully perhaps it opens in an inviting manner on the warm melodies that ride across the album's title track, filled with richly textured melodies of the golden days of rock and roll. It would be too easy to say that vocal wise Bowie is past his prime and it is truth. The man himself is most likely aware of this and most likely cares not for the issues surrounding them because as he belts out the song, it's done with so much vibrancy and passion that he could get through the entire song without ever being hailed for being an influential musician and you would still want to credit his efforts. It's the performance of  a man that undeniably believes in what he's saying and could never have connotations of re-hashing material or not caring.

If you did have worries that this was going to be an album awash with mid-tempo nuisances you need not worry. Arguably, there's a balance, but where things pick up, the shimmering production and continuously rich textures makes each song feel like a fresh intake of new musical wonders that you can drift into without being fully aware of your musical venturing until some big melody like that in Love is Lost, the warm psychedelia of Valentine's Day or the energetic and hypnotic poundings of If You Can See Me. The most notable songs of the up-tempo moments is the heavier garage rock riff-fest of (You Can) Set the World On Fire which brings back memories of Tin Machine, the proper rock band that Bowie started near the end of the 1980's which seems to be a forgotten part of Bowie's career, even though the only album they released is seen as one of the early roots of the grunge movement that followed in the next decade.

And for all the bickering I've delivered about the slower material up to this point, it's actually highly substantial and is home to some of the most commendable moments of the album. Where Are We Now itself is a touching ode to Bowie's time in spent in West Berlin from 1979-1979 to cure himself of drug addiction where he would perform at late night sessions with Iggy Pop and record Heroes, Low and Lodger. From the lyrics, it's a song of the Berlin that Bowie knew back then and a tribute to how it's changed for the better as he did during his time there. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) also serves as a song recorded to be a feel good classic with a tone of sincerity and melodrama while You Feel Lonely You Could Die carries off the balladry in a tone reminiscent of Rock and Roll Suicide. And after so many songs of a similar vein, choosing to end the album on Heat is the final move to turn heads of the listeners. It's possibly one of Bowie's darkest and most intense songs recorded, taking the dirgy atmospheres of the Berlin trilogy into a new modern darkness. Clearly, the man still knows how to pen songs to emote proper emotion to widen jaws, even in his prime.

And that's going to be your ultimate reflection when you're done listening to The Next Day after numerous occasions. David Bowie is still a brilliant songwriter. After ten years and 24 albums into his career, we're all still living in Bowie's world and he continues to satisfy his subjects. Yes, we can't deny that like everything since Heroes this is not Bowie's finest work and with the joke of the album's artwork that sees the Heroes cover being blocked up by this new album sleeve, he's aware of this fact as well and the fact that all music critics will acknowledge this. But Bowie has already broken ground and he has no need to do it again. All we really need is a set of songs with a perfect tone of emotion and we're definitely treated to just that with this album. When something like new David Bowie material is announced, it's obviously an obligation to review it. But The Next Day is also a reminder of how much of a pleasure it is to do it as well.

David Bowie's The Next Day is out 11th March via Columbia.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Review: Bring Me the Horizon - Sempiternal

What's in a haircut?

It's saddening to think that in this modern day and age of metal appreciation, we've come to a stage where we have to ask this question to people who now judge bands solely on their appearance, particularly with their dress sense and, well, hairstyles. And no band has had to face the brunt of this more than Bring Me the Horizon. From their dress sense, to their hair, to their tattoos and the general personality of frontman Oli Sykes, everyone looking to judge the band seems to be looking at every quality apart from the music. And who can tell you if this is the right way to look at things. It might have been in 2006 when they started out with a dog-eyed cover of Slipknot's Eyeless and their gargled deathcore debut Count Your Blessings, yet as they moved on with 2008's Suicide Season and 2010's game-changing There is a Hell, Believe Me I've Seen It, There is a Heaven, Believe Me I've Seen It, the hi-jinks stopped and the music got more serious, yet the hatred continued and much of it still comes down to the fact that they wear trendy clothes and look like people that have actually had a shower in the past ten years.

And it only means one thing at the end of the day, the people that refuse to look past these things are the ones missing out. They could step into today's album without knowing anything of it and be impressed, however in a context like mine, looking at the band's fourth full length album Sempiternal as someone that's really come to know and love the music of BMTH over the years is an album examination that fills one up with a certain sense of pride. And that's because it tells you something about the band that once made you headbang mindlessly to Chelsea Smile when you were fifteen years old. Those Sheffield boys have finally grown up.

It takes a while to come up with some basic description of what has become of the band's sound on Sempiternal so I'll keep it simple at first and say that everything has changed. And opening on a song like Can You Feel My Heart is a big sign of intent that this is not a band concerned with being brutal and creating the meatiest breakdowns as they once were. With the departure of guitarist Jona Weinhofen and recruitment of keyboard and synthesizer man Jordan Fish, you could guess that this kind of thing was going to happen, but as the song itself opens with floodlights of grand synthesizer and the creation of warm spacious textures, it becomes apparent that the band probably don't even care if no one wants to refer to them as a metal band anymore. Of course, following an array of electronics that wouldn't sound out of place on a Crystal Castles album, the song moves into a main rhythm that brings pleasant memories of Deftones at their most tranquil. You should probably get used to the Deftones comparisons because the fact that BMTH have turned from Britain's answer to Job for a Cowboy to Britain's answer to Sacramento's modern metal pioneers is extremely remarkable.

Of course, one of the most remarkable things about the evolution that the band show is in Sykes himself. While the band's musical performance evolved for There is a Hell... Oli's raspy screams remained the same, and when they were last heard during his guest appearance on Architects' Even if You Win, You're Still a Rat, it became apparent that they were weakening, or at least hopelessly unable to compete with the similar stylings of Sam Carter. Thankfully, that much needed change has taken place and when he begins the album against this chilled backdrop, his ability to produce something melodic for the first time really takes you back. Much of this melody is executed in rough clean vocals that still lean towards screaming, a style that Corey Taylor has perfected over the years. However, when the opening track hits it's first instance of purely clean vocals, listeners like myself that have adjusted to BMTH's sound over such a long time won't really know what to make of it, or how to react. Against such a delicate backdrop, it's either the extreme tone of fragility and vulnerability they emit, the unmistakable sound of his own Sheffield accent or the fact that this is a style of singing that we've waited eight years to hear from Oli that triggers a powerful emotion response from listeners. And I never imagined that I could say Oli Sykes produced tears in my eyes without me being a teenage girl. As the clean vocals progress they become more dimensional and by the time they open And the Snakes Start to Sing, Sykes has turned from an unidentifiable death growler to Britain's Chino Moreno. I told you the 'Tones comparisons would happen.

Of course, all around the band's songwriting has sharpened up. They may not be concerned about trying to be the heaviest band around any more, but if the density that that Lee Malia and Matt Kean can summon up on guitar and bass is as heavy as it is without even trying, they are some of the most destructive musicians in modern metal. The grooves constructed on the likes of lead single Shadow Moses and Empire (Let Them Sing) are so tight and bouncy that the heaviness makes them utterly shatterproof. And with more production emphasis put on Matt Nichols' powerhouse drumming makes them hit you even harder. The immense heaviness proves just how vital a name in modern metal producers Terry Date remains to be. But once again, this is not an album that is about trying to be as heavy as possible in the same way that Suicide Season was. With all that weight also come memorable choruses and mass sing alongs. If you don't believe that Sleepwalking isn't going to have stadiums chanting out loud, you're wrong. Plus, Image of the Invisible, Part 2, I mean... Go to Hell, For Heaven's Sake has a chorus that truly defines why emo songwriting became such a phenomenon throughout the 2000's. Because it rips off Thrice. In the nicest way possible.

Obviously, this is a band taking themselves very seriously now, and there could never be any room for previous tricks like vocal "Dun dun dun's" and guest appearances from J.J. Peters of Deez Nuts telling us to "Party til you pass out" and "Drink til your dead!" but if you want a fun metal song, you're going to have a whale of a time with Antivist and it's crowd chants of "Middle fingers up, if you don't give a fuck!" and pre breakdown statemnet of "You can say I'm just a fool, that stands for nothing/ Well to that/ I say you're a cunt!", a statement that you know is made by Sykes and aimed at those who detract him and his music, most likely due to his tattoos. Of course things end on a serious and heart rendering note with the intense balladry and grace of Hospital of Souls that achieves all the grandeur that There is a Hell... achieved as an album in one six minute take. It proves that heavy music, whether you want to call it metal, or even post-metal, is still beautiful.

And Sempiternal is beautiful in it's entirety. It's still a little difficult to work out just how I can fully explain how I feel about this album. It's in the way that you could play Can You Feel My Heart beside 2006's Pray for Plagues and be totally unable to even identify that the same band is even playing. And personally, having discovered the band when I was aged fifteen and only wanting heavy bands I could headbang to, I feel like BMTH have now grown up with me and as I've come to appreciate more progressive and graceful music that owes it's dues to electronic music as it does downtuned guitars, the band have made that move to become a band that can provide that to be, and have become a band I can't look away from a disassociate myself from. And it's still such a shock to realise that you can now compare a band that used to be about making big breakdowns to the likes of Deftones, Thrice, Glassjaw, Tool and Marilyn Manson at his most sophisticated and dirgy and that they can make that step up that makes them a recognizable force on their own and make a massive step up in their own right that makes the musical evolution taken between Suicide Season and There is a Hell... look like AC/DC. This band has followed their own paths to make the musical album they want, without any care of it not being what the fans want or being heavy enough. And they've made something that they can put their hearts and souls into. And it's one of the most awe-inspiring demonstrations of what a band can achieve when they put their full minds and eclectic tastes to it and do it for themselves in the face of aggressive hatred and the demand to make an album just like everything else they've done before.

So to answer my original question, there's nothing in a haircut. It's more about the brains that lay beneath them. And Bring Me the Horizon's have caused them to write the best album of the year so far.

Bring Me the Horizon's Sempiternal is out 1st April via Epitaph. The abnd will tour the UK in from April to May with Crossfaith and will play at Reading and Leeds Festival from 21-25th August.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Oh My Days, I forgot to review everything that came out in February!

I promised this would happen. I promised you that I would turn eighteen, start going to parties, get a mass increase of University work and lose the energy to do blogging, so this has become all I can really offer to you nowadays. I know, life sucks.

Except it really doesn't. I've been having so much fun over the past few weeks with amazing friends that I can go drinking and watch films and stuff with. It really puts writing about music out of your mind. Yes, I feel guilty in the long run but, honestly, I don't think life has ever been better than it is right now. Life's good.

I should say that things in the world of rock music are going fairly swimmingly as well. One of the main events had to be the showing of Sound City in UK cinemas for one night only. Who knows if Dave Grohl knew that his song My Hero would become about himself in the eyes of many listeners when he wrote in 1996? After watching his documentary on one of the most infamous recording studios that hosted the recording of some of rock and metal's most famous albums, he and the rest of the Foo Fighters have probably gone beyond hero status and are now religious figures in my eyes. Plus, I may have had some sort of epiphany while watching Grohl jamming with Josh Homme and Trent Reznor. It's not like they haven't before, but watching it unfold in front of you on the big screen gives it this whole new sense of class. So very excited for when Sound City: Reel to Real comes out in March.

But until then, it's fair to say that we got some good music in February, even if I wasn't exactly around to talk about it. Expect that throughout 2013. Here's some albums worth shouting about.

Pure Love - Anthems (Mercury)
On first listen, I couldn't agree with Pure Love. What, Frank Carter has left his place as charismatic frontman of one of the most influential modern British punk bands Gallows and is making songs that sound like The Darkness without the extreme high pitch vocals while his former band become a black hearted hardcore beast? No this can't be right. But of course, upon listening to Pure Love's debut offering Anthems, it turns out Carter and former Hope Conspiracy guitarist Jim Carroll make a great job of writing uplifting punk songs that will unite punk and indie fans alike, thus marking a new chapter in the beginning of both gentlemen's ventures in making music where hardcore laced beatdowns and screaming about how awful life is is replaced by lush melodies and charming vocals. It's Anthems by name and anthems by nature. Frank Carter is back, but not as you know him.

Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse (Warner Music)
Damn, I was missing out all these years when people in my school told me that I needed the music of Selkirk quartet Frightened Rabbit in my life. However, it's now that the band show us what they're really made of with their fourth full length Pedestrian Verse, a set of songs that revel in the classic Scotsman tone of self-depreciation and poorness set inversely to rich musical textures and backdrops. There's room for optimism amongst all this typical bitterness however, which resembles some evolution from the band being a group of bitter young men for bitter young men. But rooted in pure honesty, with a refusal to show any love that they so well deserve towards themselves, this album makes itself the lovable fool that always loves to insult themselves in front of everyone when it's really one of the most talented works around.

Coheed and Cambria - The Afterman: Descension (V2)
I don't even think I wrote down a full length review of The Afterman: Ascension when it came out. Well, good thing no one takes this blog seriously, I guess. The Afterman: Descension sees Coheed and Cambria follow up in their most ambitious set of albums to date continuing in the story of the Amory Wars that documents the travels and experiences of the album's protagonist Sirius Amory. More importantly, as the character expands, so does the musical influences and grandeur of the band's performances. The emotion  that Claudio Sanchez packs into his vocals is nigh stunning, a highlight on it's own. As a whole, this truly is a diverse, intelligent and an all-round great album to get lost within.

The Courteeners - ANNA (V2)
After the world was exposed to 2010's Falcon, some changes were made in the world of modern indie rock, where it seemed that some bands were wanting to progress from being quirky lads making jangly songs with guitars to heartfelt stadium fillers that could be taken seriously and have a crowd that reveled in the immense emotion of that they said. With that ambition mastered, Manchester quartet The Courteeners return with their third album ANNA, that sees frontman Liam Fray's anthemic visions taken up to as full a notch as possible. The result is a grand display of pump along choruses memorable sing-alongs and just more heart sticking out than a lot of their contemporaries. Quirky indie pop is over. I wish.

Silverstein - This is How the Wind Shifts (Hopeless)
To some extent, you could say that Ontario quintet Silverstein got a raw deal during the entire rise of emo post hardcore and metalcore bands, having to watch more people pick bands like Atreyu and Escape the Fate over them probably because those two had darker album artwork.However, with sixth full length album This is How the Wind Shifts and new life being brought into the band with new guitarist Paul Marc Rousseau, the band seem to be picking up their momentum once more. New life breaks into the band with more chuggy breakdowns and tempo changes replacing standard verse-chorus structures and interesting conceptual ideas are found across the lyrics. And as the American post-hardcore of the early 2000's  becomes a less desirable proposition, this is the sound of it's practitioners moving on gracefully.

Ocean Colour Scene - Painting (Cooking Vinyl)
I'm confident that there's nothing revolutionary or mind blowing I could say about Ocean Colour Scene. They thrived on the success of Britpop in the 1990's and opened for the bigger bands that had made it in that time too. So with their heyday behind them they're always around to give us some jangly psychedelic rock song. Needless to say, tenth album Painting is hardly something that resembles a radical comeback in any way but there's something nice about settling into a recording done with assurance, confidence and a lifetime of experience. Much of it is awash in a truly British sense of spite and dourness, while also making a balance in toe tapping hooks and melodies. And I bet you've heard that kind of thing in every one of their album reviews. Here it is again.

The Bronx - The Bronx IV
Yeah man, this is how it's done. Although there will be some long time fans of LA punks The Bronx that will take displeasure in how less aggressive an album this is in comparison their their first three albums, there is so much about The Bronx IV that still makes it a fantastic rock album. Maybe it's as a massive Foo Fighters fan that I love the balance between aggression and melody. Matt Caugthtran's rough-clean vocals meld with massive riffs that collide into action at the perfect moments to lay into listeners with fullest enthusiasm and demands for heads banging and fists pumping. There will be a lot of people that view the abnd as selling out for doing an album like this, but those who don't will see them now as being one of the finest names in modern rock. Honestly.

Pissed Jeans - Honeys (Sub Pop)
When you see those two words "Sub Pop" on a CD, you know the next few minutes of your life are most likely going to be dangerous. And Pennsylvanian noise merchants Pissed Jeans absolutely nail this on their fourth full length Honeys, the album that is finally gaining them all the attention. It's a ferocious affair dealing with all the inner frustrations and inner rage of those that made it in a world where men can't understand woman and lose all their joy and hair, delivered through immense distortion, juggernaut drums and a sincerity in Matt Korvette's vocals and lyrics that can only come from the experience of real life. It's an intense ode to some of the most visceral names in alternative rock, with enough of it's own terrifying personality to be nothing but the twisted creation of frustrated aging men.

Johnny Marr - The Messenger (Warner Bros)
Indie kids, this man is your God - but you already knew that. A solo album from Johnny Marr has been a long time coming, what with so many growing tired of the constant controversy spread by Morrisey, it seems like the time that the more vital member of The Smiths takes his time in the limelight. And so, two days before receiving a "God Like Genius" at the NME Awards, he unleashes his debut solo offering The Messenger, which really sounds nothing like a Smiths record, but definitely hones the sound of a man that done much exploration of the modern world of indie rock and throughout continued experience has taken the form into his own hands and delivers stunning riffs through shining production with lyrics that contrast to Morrisey's, , displaying little time for drippy emotions and more on the business of modern life. And maybe hearing such thoughts from a man that much of modern rock's musicians have taken influence from is interesting, enlightening and highly entertaining. The God of indie is back.

Foals - Holy Fire (Warner Bros)
Ah, save the most hyped up for last. The amount of critical appraisal that Holy Fire, the third album from Oxford quintet Foals has meant that checking it out is essential. Which was a scary proposition at first, ever since I tried to get into them at a younger age for seeing them receive similar amounts of praise and probably being put off by the lack of hooks. But indeed this album is a big step up from the previous dealings in odd tempos and metaphors into the construction of choruses that blow the band's music into stratospheric heights. Yannis Philipakkis' falsettos command the listeners every move and lures you into the full captivating band performance as big riffs come out of nowhere. Once again, it's the sound of a band adapting their sound into a more mainstream format, but if that's selling out, then selling out has never sounded better than this.

Well, that's the best I can do for now. There are more brilliant albums out there that I will probably never get a chance to write about, but that's life. For now, I must return to the life of being a busy student and do some work. Or go back to sleep, sometimes I get the two mixed up. Most times however, I just sleep while working, man I'm so responsible. Anyway, this is probably what my blog posts will look like nowadays, I bet that's really disappointing. Man, this was easier while I was still in school. Oh well. Seeya.