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music review

75 DOLLAR BILL *****

Wood Metal Plastic Pattern Rhythm Rock (tak:til)

Two American experimental musicians, Rick Brown (who’s played in scads of weird artrock bands I’ve never listened to) and Che Chen (who I’d straight up never heard of), melt my defences using scratchy quasi-blues guitar, clonky percussion and rusty horns. Only four songs, which tend to establish a motif early on and unfold like a yellowed map in stunningly hypnotic manner: imagine if The For Carnation were a Malian desert rock band, maybe. A reissue of a 2016 LP that warrants a wide, rapt audience. NG

 

BEAR TRADE *****

Silent Unspeakable (Everything Sucks)

Silent Unspeakable is a veritable trip back to the early 80s and is reminiscent of the less commercial punk sound of The Blood and The Oppressed. But these aren’t just throwaway songs: underneath the pogoing beat these northern English lads have something to say about life and love and they do it with humour. Uptempo and energetic, with gruff vocals and raw guitars, this album grabs you by the throat at track one and doesn’t let go. LN

 

THE BLACK ANGELS ***

Death Song (Partisan)

It was inevitable that at some point in their career The Black Angels would release an album called Death Song; that the Austin Psych Fest founders have chosen to do so just as The Velvet Underground & Nico turns 50 feels cynical. In truth, The Doors are more of a touchstone on their fifth LP, as are former tourmates The Warlocks, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Solid enough, but unlikely to bend minds or scramble senses. BW

 

BLACK JAM CIRCUS ****

Black Jam Circus (self-released)

Now here’s a band consisting of seven brothers, whose mother was a bearded lady in a travelling circus. The mysterious Black Jam Circus have dropped their debut album and just in time for the summer. Whilst they look like a PG version of Slipknot, their music is an enticing mix of pop, rock, funk and ska, which I can see going down a treat during festival season. Spoiler alert! They are actually a nice bunch of lads from Barry. CA 

 

BLAENAVON ****

That’s Your Lot (PIAS)

Fêted as guitar music saviours four years ago, the foppish trio are relative latecomers in emerging with a studio debut. But where the outfit lack in prolificness they more than offset in quality, with songwriting that eschews filler in favour of gilded indie pop slickness. Infectious fingerpicking rhythms weave with Ben Gregory’s dulcet tones to create passionate, tightly-produced output, with standouts such as Orthodox Man and the affably halcyon Ode To Joe helping to establish an accomplished full length release. CHP

 

BRIAN GIBSON ***

Thumper (Thrill Jockey)

The turbo-riffing Brian to the psycho-drumming other Brian in Lightning Bolt, Gibson’s solo debut swerves leftward into music composed for the experimental videogame Thumper. Creepy as fuck music too – Thumper piles on claustrophobic synth layers and perverse shifts in tone like it’s trying to cause you physical harm. Initially too bombastic and grandiose, its weirder angles reveal themselves: Triangle’s seesaw laser stabs, the big drums and ocean liner honks of Head, the frenzied, maddening splurge of it all. WS

 

BRITISH SEA POWER **
Let The Dancers Inherit The Party (Golden Chariot)

The first album proper from British Sea Power in the four years since From The Sea… comes courtesy of crowdfunding. Whilst not a total waste of the backer’s money, there’s not a lot to get excited about here; the initial frisson of excitement generated by album taster Bad Bohemian soon wears off and Yan and co’s weary, melancholic style of indie takes over for another 40-odd painful minutes. The energy and inventiveness of BSP’s debut now seems like a long, long time ago. BG

 

music review

GREG GRAFFIN *****
Millport (Anti-)

The legendary Bad Religion frontman once again explores his country rock side on his third solo album. Taking us back to a bygone era where heroes wore cowboy boots and strummed their tales of woe in backroom bars, this is an album full of beautifully crafted songs. Musically, it’s a million miles away from Bad Religion, but Graffin’s unmistakable vocals and lyric style are all present and correct. Grab a beer, kick back and listen to Millport. CA

 

music review

THE HOT 8 BRASS BAND *****

On The Spot (Tru Thoughts)

On The Spot achieves that rare thing for a great live act: a great studio album. The Hot 8 have been putting on incredible shows for over 20 years and their fusion of funk rhythms, New Orleans jazz and hip-hop vocals are as fresh as ever. On The Spot has all the ebb and flow of a live set, with shout-outs and improvised solos that sound crystal clear on this well-produced long player. Fresh funk from the streets and the swamps. JPD

 

IMELDA MAY *****

Life. Love. Flesh. Blood (Decca)

Don’t worry fans, she’s gone through major changes including a divorce and has a new look but she hasn’t sold her soul to Simon Cowell. What she has done is a lot of growing and introspection. She hasn’t left rockabilly behind entirely – there’s still echoes – this collection, though, is pure country-blues-rock from the heart, ballads and shakers with touches of jazz and even gospel. Achingly raw and gut-wrenching, steamy and dreamy, full of yearning, with notable guitar work from Jeff Beck and Marc Ribot. RLR

 

JAMES KENNEDY ****

Home (self-released)

This solo offering from Kennedy, singer/guitarist with Cardiff alternative rock band Kyshera, explores the theme of depression but is by no means depressing. The album takes a while to break out of its comfort zone – songs are short, perhaps too short, but after the lyrically poignant and bluesy Just A Man it hits its stride. Entertainer and Reckless are faster and heavier, while tracks such as Home are radio-friendly and James’ voice is easy on the ear. LN

 

JEB LOY NICHOLS *****

Country Hustle (City Country City)

This album is finger-lickin’ good country meets satisfying soul! Jeb’s personal journey/social commentary starts down south, moves up to Detroit, then hangs a right to Harlem but not before detouring to Jamaica, Africa and parts unknown. What a voice, recalling everyone from Leon Redboneto Dr John, Isaac Hayesto Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, Richie Havens, even James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. Urban cowboy Nichols picks and chooses but makes it all his own. You’ve got to check this dude out. A stand-out talent. RLR

 

JOHNNY CAGE & THE VOODOOGROOVE ***

Spirit Animal Superstar Signals From The Electric Boneyard (Deaf Crow)

Not only possessing the coolest bandname, JC&TVDG have now released one of the best sounding Welsh albums in a while. A symphony of gritty rockabilly, blues, soul Cuban music and rock’n’roll, if there’s one trouble with having so many inspirations it’s that it tends to fog the actual song. Differentiating between the first three proved difficult, yet Jockey and Charlie Jones have a more determined sound, slowing the tempo and introducing an additional trumpet. MW

 

music review

KESTON COBBLERS CLUB **
Almost Home (Tricolour)

Just when you thought you were safe from the vanilla indie-folk band, KCC are back and are here to provide call centres the world over with some inoffensive hold music. The opening title track is a clear nod to the Lumineers’ repugnant Ho Hey and it only goes downhill from there. On Your Own is an awful Graceland pastiche and the rest of the album sounds like the band are really struggling to inject any kind of originality into proceedings. BG

 

PHRONESIS, JULIAN ARGUELLES & THE FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND ****

Behemoth (Edition)

The big band on this recording has transformed Phronesis’ complex musical ideas and jazz stylings into a new mammoth, breathtaking phenomenon. It’s an enrichment of their already bountiful ideas, no doubt due in part to the ingenuity of Loose Tubes alumni Arguelles, whose touch as an arranger can be recognised all over the record. Bold, in-your-face bravado is expertly tempered with softer moments and each track is as sizeable as the collective ensemble, which is either a plus or a minus depending on your listening habits. CPI

 

ROYAL THUNDER ***

Wick (Spinefarm)

This fifth album from the Atlanta-based outfit finds the four-piece flaunting a sound best described as the hard rock equivalent of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. Drawing on murky surface noise akin to that of Alice In Chains or Soundgarden, Wick is a firm throwback, with the wailing banshee-like energy of We Slipped and lead single April Showers unshakable in its plaid-tinged 90s grunge aesthetic. And while often lacking in consistency, manages to gain traction with moments of genre-blurring nostalgia. CHP

 

SHEER MAG ****

Compilation (Static Shock)

Weird and great to see a band as unfashionably built as Sheer Mag – all 70s bar room rock, Southern guitar boogie and belting powerpop – embraced by seemingly all corners of underground fandom. Compilation collects the Philly band’s first three salivatory EPs, with sonic fidelity remaining at ‘lo-fi, home-recorded rippers’ throughout. With Tina Halliday’s mic-scorching vocals, it’s this tension between DIY grit and hoary moves – Noise Is Bright’s speaker hum; Fan The Flames’ Lynyrd Skynyrd riff – that lends Sheer Mag their special glory. WS

 

SLEEPMAKESWAVES ***

Made Of Breath Only (Bird’s Robe)

“Post-rock trailblazers”, trumpets the press release. If sleepmakeswaves have blazed any post-rock trail, then it’s to the back of Explosions In The Sky’s house, so they can rifle through the recycling in search of songtitles rejected for being too naffly pretentious. Made Of Breath Only has its moments, but ultimately the jarring collision of epic soundscapes with mathy rhythms and metal aggression feels too much like a self-conscious box-ticking exercise. BW

 

TOBY HAY ****

The Gathering (Cambrian)

Mid-Wales folk guitarist Toby Hay’s demeanour is unassuming but ought not be mistaken for lack of confidence. On this debut album, he lets his playing do the talking: eight songs of instrumentals nodding to the American Primitive style of John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Leo Kottke, similarly internationalist in its outlook with flashes of Indian and Chinese-sounding tunings. The sleevenotes, detailing the influence of his rural homestead on The Gathering’s sound, are illuminating as the album is engrossing. NG

 

VOIVOD ***

Build Your Weapons: The Very Best Of The Noise Years (Noise)

The strangest of all the big league thrash metal bands, and during certain parts of the lunar cycle the greatest, Canadian marvels Voivod’s second, third and fourth albums are justly getting quality reissues. Shortly before that, there’s this double-CD compilation which features nearly all of the music on those, and so feels a mite redundant. If you like Metallica, King Crimson and/or forward-thinking 80s hardcore, you will flip for Voivod… and then chide yourself for not just grabbing the actual albums. NG

 

ZU ***

Jhator (House Of Mythology)

Ominous gongs and drones, the twittering of electronic insects, eerie metallic sheets of sound, non-verbal non-Western mysticism, all over two tracks lasting a combined total of over 40 minutes. Pop music Jhator ain’t – but neither is it what we’ve come to expect from the Italian noise merchants and heavyweight sax botherers. It might be a smart move: while others are preoccupied with trying to soundtrack the apocalypse, Zu have moved on to contemplating how to soundtrack what comes afterwards. BW

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