Category Archives: review

Caught live – Ulrika Spacek, The Hug and Pint

Apparently, London-based five piece Ulrika Spacek only play Glasgow on Sunday nights, as singer Rhys Edwards attested too midway through their set at The Hug and Pint.

Even against the threat of a low turn out with their return to the city coinciding with Falkirk troubadours Arab Strap’s second 20th anniversary show at a sold out Barrowlands, fans turned out in numbers to ensure the venue felt pretty packed.

Many presumably there on the strength of the airplay Ulrika Spacek have received on BBC Radio 6 by the likes of Steve Lamacq, while others making the visit off the back of their impressive support slot for DIIV at SWG3 earlier in the year.

ulrika

For all those who did make it, they were not to be disappointed. Spacek seemed genuinely happy to be back in Glasgow, and the intimate setting of the basement venue felt a perfect fit for their raw, atmospheric sound.

Playing against a projection of hypnotic, psychedelic visuals, the band burst to life with new A-side  ‘Everything: All The Time’, and, with little let up, proceeded to work their way through their debut album ‘The Album Paranoia’.

Tracks such as ‘I Don’t Know’, ‘She’s a Cult’ and ‘Beta Male’ saw Spacek at their own distinctive, gnarly, lo-fi best, not forgetting a face-melting rendition of ‘NK’ and the fantastic ‘There’s A Little Passing Cloud In You’.

Although ‘The Album Paranoia’ is in itself a work of near majestic talent, its live that Spacek really show off their strengths as composite musicians. For a band on their 23rd gig of a lengthy European tour, they exuded an energy that belied the heavy tour schedule.

With the confidence to debut a new track for the first time in front of a Glasgow audience that knows a good band when they see one, Spacek left the stage to familiar, yet fully merited, cries of ‘one more tune’.

A stellar Sunday night from a band – a mix of left-wing German militant Ulrike Meinhof and American actress Sissy Spacek – who will no doubt go on to grace venues fitting of their stature as one of the UK’s most invigorating, original and purposeful acts around today.

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The Coral – a look back at their most recent album

With The Coral announcing a December date in Glasgow, we revisit their most recent record, ‘Distance Inbetween’.

You could probably count on one hand the number of bands who have, after a lengthy break, returned to with an album that allows for a wholesale reaffirmation of their genius-like qualities in the first place. Think maybe of Pixies, The Verve and Blur. The Coral’s self-imposed half decade hiatus left us wondering if they would return at all, never mind return to the form of 2002’s self-titled debut or 2004’s Magic & Medicine.

With the wait finally over, The Coral, in 8th studio album ‘Distance Inbetween’, have rewarded us with a surprisingly dark, visceral and at times hypnotic album that, blending elements of krautrock and psychedelic-pop influences, is evocative and thoroughly appealing.

It seems the band have been happy to cast off their commercial pop gem sensibilities, trading them in for a richer, more rhythmic and minimal sound that nevertheless doesn’t lose sight of the bands’ aptitude for luscious pyschedlic rock, as evidenced by the raucous ‘Chasing The Tale of A Dream’ and kaleidoscopic, backwards-guitar heavy ‘Miss Fortune’.

The presence of former Zutons guitarist Paul Molloy, whether wilfully or not, has helped to ignite a Coral sound that feels as honest, authentic and corporeal as they could perhaps have hoped for, dipped in early Neil Young, Love, and even Pink Floyd influences.

With James Skelly’s signature vocals appearing and disappearing like a distant wind, the band – celebrating 20 years together – place heavy drums, restrained guitars and occasional keyboard surges at the forefront of this rhythmic-centred approach, with the 12 tight-knit songs offering a well-sewn atmospheric and trippy tapestry.

Opener ‘Connector’ is an absorbing, rhythmic voyage that lurks into dark, gothic territory, as Skelly exclaims, “I’m the connector, you’re the receiver/You’re the rejecter, I’m the believer.”

With ‘White Bird’ sonic soundscapes intertwine with their trademark vocal harmonies in an ode to 60’s style psychedelia, before ‘Distance Inbetween’ changes direction with its piano-centred broody love lament.

‘Million Eyes’ sees Molloy’s gravelly guitar lick and Skelly’s warped vocal verge into glam rock, as highlight ‘Holy Revelation’  gives off a distinctly Route 66 car anthem charm, a sound replicated in the equally impressive, Queens of the Stone Age-esque ‘Fear Machine’, as Skelly scowls “But I won’t be your prisoner/Deep inside the fear machine.”

Rarely have made such a marked, yet purposefully positive, deviation in their sound, embodied within what is essentially a concept album of skilfully juxtaposed melodic indie-pop and vintage psychedelic airs. One which still has a capacity to mesmerise that few bands other than The Coral can do.

Mogwai, ‘Atomic’ review

Forgery-proof is one of the best adjectives I’ve heard used to describe Mogwai, Glasgow’s incontestable post-rock pioneers. Having created and shaped a signature sound that is so much their own, a Frankenstein’s monster of celestial, cinematic beauty, imitators run rather than shy away.

With ‘Atomic’, regarded as their ninth album ‘proper’, the band conjure up 48 mins of aural stimulus that has the supreme quality of sonically contextualising its subject matter, the nuclear age.

The ten songs here mirror a journey from feat to the grandiose, the angry to the melancholic, as the band bear the fruits of a pursuit towards an unexpected, yet thoroughly welcome, electronic and synth sound, set against the visual narrative of Marc Cousin’s bold documentary; images of MRI scans and X-rays juxtaposed with Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the horrors of nuclear devastation.

It’s high praise indeed that the band, who, being fully aware of their own proximity to Faslane submarine base and long-time CND supporters, are able to, through the power of their music, craft a sense of scrutiny and contemplation of the nuclear age that oscillates between reverence towards the immense change to our lives against the power of destruction it has brought on us.

As regards to soundtrack duties, we know before a ball is kicked that we are in safe hands, with ‘Atomic’ coming off the back of the majestic artistry that was 2006’s Zidane: a 21ST Century Portrait and the enduring, haunting score for French zombie noir show Les Revenants in 2013.

Stuart Braithwaite’s scything guitar talus –so much part of the Mogwai sound – takes a back seat as buzzing synths and electronic touches, backed by brooding percussion, populate the 10 tracks that make up ‘Atomic’, from the glittering, hopeful opener ‘Ether’ (with French horn added to the mix), through to the solemn, pondering piano infused ‘Fat Man’.

SCRAM sees Berlin based Barry Burns’s vintage synth tones come alive to dystopian, kaleidoscopic effect, while the thick, powerful waves of the stunning ‘Bitterness Centrifuge’ embody a soaring, siren-like feel.

The equally impressive follow up ‘U-235’ (the chemical term for uranium) sees the band verge into broody electro-Kraut dream pop, sharply contrasted with the death march drone of Pripyat.

The ominous quality and feel continues with ‘Weak Force’ and ‘Little Boy’, seeing the band emanate a bleak, muted and moody sound reminiscent of a John Carpenter theme before ‘Are You A Dancer?’ and ‘Tzar’ return us to territory not to distant from Mogwai’s post-rock roots – the former’s hauntingly beautiful violin rendering it a highlight on the album.

Atomic further reinforces the capacity Mogwai have to create sonic soundscapes that permits for a measured introspection the likes of which only Mogwai can do. A band who, just shy of 21 years together, maintain a level of experimentation and exploration of new sounds that underscore their superlative musicianship, one which reiterates something we have known for years, that Mogwai are masters of their art.

Frightened Rabbit, ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’ review

Sometimes – especially in Scotland – life has a way of reminding you that everything isn’t all smiles, sunshine and unreserved romance, and that to that effect, Frightened Rabbit serve a purpose like no other band.

As veritable champions of their own brand of ‘healer-rock’, the band, backed by Scott Hutchison’s reflective, tormented internal monologue, craft a blend of melancholic woe and optimistic splendour that washes down like a sweet, warming malt whisky.

With their fifth studio album ‘Painting of a Panic Attack’, produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner (Sharron Van Etton, Local Natives) in New York, Frightened Rabbit release their most challenging, mature and immediate album to date.

Hutchison’s adroit, cathartic lyricism remains present as homage is paid to familiar themes of religion, sobriety and breakups, although disappointingly scarce is the astute wit of previous releases.

Small matters aside, there’s a distinct, welcome shift musically, as explosive soundscapes marry up against folk-tinged acoustic laments to splendid effect.

With former touring guitarist Simon Liddell replacing Gordon Skene, his presence, whether subconsciously or not, has pointed the band towards a more layered, dream-like vista, with walls of fuzzy, distorted noise, electronic touches and sharp drum loops opening the floodgates to a more expansive sound that adds superimposes more colour to the otherwise grey.

The almost dance-like, brooding, synth-driven ‘Woke up Hurting’ and haunting, dark ‘Lump Street’ best evoke this impression, with the latter’s dystopian feel far removed from any Frightened Rabbit work to date.

The solemn, piano-based Opener ‘Death Dream’ sets an early marker of tone, as a chorus of ‘You died in your sleep last night’ finds the accompaniment of ambient instrumentals and brass flourishes, a feat repeated later on with the majestic, ukulele-tinged ‘Little Drum’.

The flawless ‘Get Out’ and its ode to the consuming addictiveness of love sparks the album fully to life, followed by the rhythmic, meaty ‘Wish I Was Sober’.

Hutchison’s anxious, anthemic vocals take centre on ‘Still Want To Be Here’ as he sings “Junk fiends dance at the bus stop next to the rodeo clowns… But I still want to be here,” sings Hutchison in “Still Want to be Here”, while album highlight ‘Break’ adds formidable layers of pounding percussion and scything, fuzzy licks of guitar.

Following this is the morbid love ballad ‘400 Bones’, before the acoustic-guitar driven, tavern-esque lament of ‘Die Like A Rich Boy’ ends the album with a soaring ode to hydrocodone dreams and switchblades.

With ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’, Frightened Rabbit’s pursuit of a more musically expansive, synth-backed sound marks a change from ‘Pedestrian Verse’, one which allows for diverse flirtations against the introspective melancholy and unbridled optimism that Hutchison’ lyrics offer. One that ultimately pays off.

Roman Nose, ‘Jacked Up On Mercy’ review

Glaswegian finest purveyors of sadomasochistic, sample heavy Lucha Libre masked electronica, Roman Noise, are returning to our radars with the release of much anticipated E.P. ‘Jacked Up On Mercy’, via their own Badly Built Records label.

Set to be the first of three scheduled E.P. releases this year, the trio return after an 18 month musical exile, hoping to build on the successes that has seen them supporting the likes of 2 Many DJs and LA electro veterans The Glitch Mob.

Known for their high energy and multi-sensory live shows, Roman Noise feel part Machines In Heaven, part Crash Club, with their bass-heavy, dark brand of electronic music dipped in futuristic Tron territory, drawing with it an obvious Daft Punk (before they got shit) ambience, most notably so on the outstanding ‘Black Pope’.

Opener ‘Bloodstains’ is an unremitting tour-de-fource that delights from the get go, as wave after wave of pounding synths and driven electro beats instantly render Roman Noise’s lengthy absence forgotten.

Effervescent follow-up ‘Agoraphobic’ expands further into welcome tech-electro landscapes, as menacing, murky synths trade blows against recurrent samples and pulsating drums.

Black Pope starts as a subaquatic electro baptism of sorts, with ethereal synth sounds giving way to full on wall of throbbing synths that wouldn’t look out of place sandwiched in between Phantom Parts 1 and 2 on Justices ‘Cross’ album.

The majestic, explosive ‘Solid Gold’ finishes the E.P. off on a high note, one which, with two more on the way in 2016, fully augments the appetite for hearing, and hopefully seeing, plenty more of Roman Noise in the not too distant future.

Stay, ‘The Mean Solar Times’ review

Fans of Oasis and Beady Eye may be interested to hear ‘The Mean Solar Times’ by Barcelona psychedelic rockers Stay, given Andy Bell’s contribution to three songs on the album.

Released through Minneapolis label ‘Picture in my Ear’, and featuring Britpop guru Owen Morris (Oasis/The Verve) on production duties, the 5th studio album from the Catalans is a rich and potent mix of 70’s psychedelia, 90’s Britpop, oriental and funk influences, intensified by frontman Jordi Bel’s youthful vocals.

Having gained something of a cult following in their native Spain, the band have carved out a niche as one of the go to support acts around, opening for the likes of Ocean Colour Scene, Beady Eye and The Pretty Things, as well as appearing at festivals such as Primavera Sound in their home city.  

Vintage tones, resplendent melodies, intricate instrumentals and organ-guitar interplay draw obvious comparisons with the likes of Big Star, Traffic and The Charlatans, as the band meander from the slow, jovial and intricate to the heavy, emotionally enveloping, demonstrating a flair and character that places above the level of simple pastiche.

Opener ‘Pinkman’, with Bell on guitar, sounds distinctly Charlatansesque, with brooding basslines, abrasive guitar hooks and a healthy dose of organs, sitars and soaring melodies, with the brief burst of flamenco guitar for good measure.

Follow up ‘Always Here’ is a sparkling wedge of feel good summery indie pop, while ‘Smiling Faces’ continues the winning formula first evoked in ‘Pinkman’ – layered guitars, melodies and anthemic soundscapes.

The glossy, merry ‘You Know It’s Right’ and ‘Shake The Sun’ could both have been lifted from Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Bandwagonesque’, while the frenetic, trippy ‘Mind-Blowing’ juxtaposes in a 6 minute wall of clashing sitars and organs.

While falling a yard or two short or true originality, ‘The Mean Solar Times’ is still a consistent, solid effort from Stay who, through a combination of strong musicianship, layered sounds and sweet harmonies, no doubt permits the band to remain flagbearers of the Spanish, Brit pop influenced indie kitsch sound for some time to come.

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Barrowlands, Glasgow

A simple mathematical equation can split the world into two: those who have and those who haven’t seen the Brian Jonestown Massacre live.

The sweltering Barrowlands seemed to levitate as the group worked their way through a quite incredible mammoth 2 hour 45 minute bursting with moments of supreme musical quality.

Front man Anton Newcombe doesn’t things by half, and, sporting white mutton cop sideburns and a hippy shirt, he gave off the feel of a cult leader preaching to his followers under the iconic square tiled Barrowlands ceiling.

Who and That Girl Suicide had the crowd going as the venue started to fill following the early 7:30 start, as the band flooded the venue with jams full of distortion and reverb, reminding fans that when Jonestown, and particularly, Newcome, stay away from freak-out eccentricities or mind bending abstract ramblings, they can nail down an impressive, wide-ranging body of work that is close to psychedelic perfection.

The fantastic Jennifer was followed by rip roaring new tune Groove is in the Heart, before Whatever Hippy Bitch – coupled with a brilliant anecdote about the song’s origin – had the crowd in raptures.

It also saw Joel Gion in fine tambourine and maraca waving form as he soaked up the energy from the animated crowd, his nonchalant on stage swagger taking centre stage as Newcombe seemed content to let the music do most of his talking.

When Jokers Attack kept things moving before Pish and Leave it Alone – both songs off their most recent release Mini Album Thingy Wingy – saw the gig reach a veritable, sedated climax, especially after Pish was cut short as Newcombe berated one of the guitarists for playing the wrong chord, as the crowd were treated to a double dose of what is without doubt one of the best tracks in their extensive repertoire.

Matched only by anthems such as Anemone and Servo, which saw the pints flying as the band took the crowd with them down their own majestic psychedelic rabbit hole.

A truly memorable gig that left no fan short changed.

As the BJM motto goes, Keep music evil.

Charles Bradley’s ‘Changes’

Rarely has the release of new material been so welcomed amidst the backdrop of such horror and violence at home and abroad. The man known endearingly as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” is back with ‘Changes’, his third studio album, an album which reinforces Charles Bradley’s world weary funk and soul holler as a true tonic of our times.

With long-time producer and co-songwriter Thomas Brenneck again at the helm, Bradley takes us on a musical journey from smoke-filled satin sheeted bedrooms to full blown race riots, such is his capacity to engineer a voice that deviates between Pentecostal preacher (to an already converted public) to that of sugar coated, silver tongued Casanova.

And while previous albums ‘No Time For Dreaming’ and ‘Victim Of Love’  were recorded with Dunham Records house band Menahan Street Band, ‘Changes’ sees Bradley collaborate and expand to perform with various different musicians, including members of Budos Band, the Dap-Kings and Charles’ touring band The Extraordinaires, alongside a number of renowned background vocalists (Sha La Das, Gospel Queens, Saun & Starr).

The result being that, although in many respects rooted in the heyday of 1960s/1970s R&B and soul ala Al Green and Otis Redding, and most importantly, James Brown , ‘Changes’ embodies a more modernist approach and feel, entrenched in familiar themes of suffering, strength and love, as evidenced in both ‘Change For The World’ and ‘Ain’t Gonna Give It Up’.

And with typical zeal and piety, as if kneeling at its altar, Bradley yields to the power of love more than ever on this album in comparison to its predecessors, as the buoyant ‘Things we do for love’, the poetic ‘Crazy for Love’ and the slow burning conclusion of ‘Slow Love’ suggest.

The presence of the aforementioned Godfather of Soul is none the more so visible in the outrageously funky ‘Good To Be Back Home’, a tribute to his homeland as patriotic an anthem as Brown’s own ‘Living in America’, coming hot on the heels of preamble ‘God Bless America’, in which Bradley confesses his love for his nation.

The fantastically broody ballad ‘Nobody But You’ sees whimpering horns wrap around Bradley’s soulful howl, while the gregarious ‘Aint It A Sin’ is a juggernaut of raw energy, backed by background hollers and claps to give it a visceral, almost unrefined feel.

With title track ‘Changes’ we see Bradley truly measure up to the level of the masters of his craft, delivering a cover full of lingering emotion and resonance that it penetrates deep into the soul, rendering the listener utterly in awe of the artist formerly known as James Brown tribute act ‘Black Velvet’. An instant classic, and fitting title to an album that magnetizes, charms and captivates in equal measure against a backdrop of Bradley’s timeless vocal purity the likes of which come along once in a blue moon.

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

A sense of sweet deja-vu inhibits ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, Radiohead’s ninth studio album and first since 2011’s ‘A King Of Limbs’, both in the form of a welcome end to the musical poverty of their near five year hiatus, alongside the inclusion of re-contextualised songs from their live repertoire.

In what is without doubt their most fragile and tender album to date, nuanced orchestral arrangements break with the arithmetic electronica approach that defined Radiohead’s previous two releases, ‘A King of Limbs’ and ‘In Rainbows’.

The influence of Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack work takes precedence throughout, with his richly pastured compositions providing for the perfect landscape for Thom Yorke’s anxious falsetto to waltz and wander, provoking an impression that the two have reached their collaborative zenith musically.

It’s an album that – rather than challenge the sharp, abrasive deviations in energy, respires and glides gently, with occasional, heavier Krautrock flourishes. And although not a watershed albumin the same breath as 1997’s ‘OK Computer’ of 2000’s ‘Kid A’, it retains a distinct, homogeneous quality that immerses the listener fully into Radiohead’s unique universe of beauty and wonder.

A universe played out in the form of lush introspection, heart and intergalactic imagery, with a sonic gravitational pull fitting of the album’s title, replete with simple yet magnificently vivid structures that recall Pink Floyd at their peak.

With seven of the album’s 11 tracks having been heard in some shape or form previously, the album works to tie up these previous incarnations with added flesh and bone, none more so than with the majestic finale of live favourite ‘True Love Waits’.

‘Burn the Witch’ opens proceedings with Yorke’s vocal floating over arresting, staccato strings which, rather fortuitously give off an ever so slight James Bond theme vibe – a piece of spectral beauty in an album notable for the absence of Spectre – the song they recorded for the last 007 film.

‘Daydream’ is just that, a hypnotic lament of textured melodies and lush pianos, while ‘Decks Dark’ and its soaring, obscure chorus rolls wonderfully into the acoustic beauty of ‘Desert Island Disk’.

Abundant operatic flourishes are evident in the haunting ‘Glass Eyes’ while ‘The Numbers’ bursts with ideas and inventions in a kaleidoscopicstramash of acoustic guitar, strings and piano, before ‘Present Tense’ adds a surprising touch of Latin flair, before the slow burning electro feel of penultimate track ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’ leads us into the measured resplendence of ‘True Love Wait’.

‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ more than measures up to the yardstick Radiohead themselves have set over the years as one of the most influential and creative bands in rock history. An honest, orchestral expression of substance and splendour that shimmers with emotion from a band that – more relevant than ever – continuously place themselves a step of the head of the game.

Stag and Dagger review

This year’s Stag and Dagger bash offered music lovers in Glasgow the possibility of seeing some of the best live music from home and abroad, without the need for the wellies or the thought of returning to a half-submerged tent, and didn’t disappoint.

 With over 45 bands taking part in the annual all-dayer across 9 venues, the only tricky part was deciding where to go and when.

 London trio Kenneths served up an early treat, playing their turbo-charged brand of punk rock to a packed out Nice and Sleazy’s, with dedications to Travelodge and Glasgow banter aplenty.

 Next up, fresh-faced Glasgow band West Princes offered an antidote to the unwelcomed queue in the rain outside the Art School, as their hip, nonchalant, jazzy groove felt a perfect fit inside the Vic Bar, before the hotly anticipated Haelos blew everyone away with a remarkable performance upstairs in the Assembly Hall.

 With a trip-hop sound that recalls Massive Attack and Portishead, Haelos certainly lived up to the hype, with Lotti Bernadout’s spellbinding vocals on the terrific ‘Dust’ a festival highlight. Bigger stages await for sure.

 Following on from the Haelos high, We Are Scientists showed that, 11 years after the release of their debut ‘With Love and Squalor’ LP, they showed no signs of losing their trademark energy. Showcasing songs off new album ‘Helter Selzter’, the California based indie-rockers powered through a blistering set, with the capacity crowd in the ABC greeting old favourites ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ with rampant enthusiasm.

 From palm trees and sunny beaches to roundabouts, as downstairs in the ABC 2 East Kilbride five-piece The Lapelles put on a performance to continue the track record of the Glasgow suburb producing first-class music, in this case in the form of sweaty, indie-pop gems that had everyone dancing about.

 With Crash Club and The Duke Spirit following them up on the same stage, two reasons as good as any were found to stave off a Sauchiehall St wander and enjoy what was on offer, and neither disappointed.

 Latterly, with The Duke Spirit, singer Liela Moss was on form as the intimate surroundings played host to a mesmerising slice of alternative, garage-rock in support of new record ‘KIN’.

 Meanwhile, having built up a reputation in Glasgow as the crown princes of revelry, Crash Club made their preach to an already converted public with a high octane set that shimmered with raw energy, featuring impressive guest vocals by Ian Mackinnon of Medicine Men and Tony Costello of Tijuana Bibles.

 In the absence of a quiet night in a dark room to regain composure post Crash Club, Band of Skulls stadium-sized rock provided the perfect end to the day, as the Southampton trio a polished, raucous set that had the ABC 1 crowd in raptures, with Russell Marsden’s virtuoso guitar playing packing a pretty punch.