Dangerous! – Teenage Rampage (Dead Press! review)

A special circle in hell is reserved for bands as superficial and redundant as Dangerous!. From that silly little exclamation mark all the way down to their cringe worthy vocal yelps of false sincerity and ‘emotion’, everything about the band feels all too much like a target marketed exercise in cashing in.

Their new album (or as I like to think of it: ‘youth-orientated cash-for-audio product’) is ‘Teenage Rampage’, a title that sums up their intentions better than any flippant remark on my part. Both the music and heavily emphasised imagery are both horrifically condescending and dull. Contradictions drop out of the sky with every passing minute, as if every possible ‘teen-rock’ demographic has been scoured for a visual or audible ‘hook’. The result is a depressingly middle-of-road blandstanding of hollow platitudes, and songs with all the escapism of an angsty underwear model clone.

‘Teenage Rampage’ is an all-in-one package of what the music business thinks Joe and Jolene Average’s experience of life between the ages of 13 and 19 entails: its riffs are formulaic rehashes of all the other successful, well-selling template bands that have gone before it; their frontman creaks out some exaggerated mess of words in a manner that makes him artificially relatable to for ‘the kids’ with their problems, their hormones and their weird lives; their songs fit the same old structures to make you feel all comfortable and involved from the off since you’re already well versed in how they were thrown together. I mean, they’re called Dangerous! for God’s sake, what more evidence do you need of an intensely focussed attempt at snatching up those ‘edgy’ youth £££s?

You couldn’t ‘like’ this album in the same way you can’t like an implacable tendency for a particular brand of soft drink that you’ve never drank before, yet somehow want. If I were to liken Dangerous! to a building material, it would a flimsy board of beige MDF, fresh off the recycling plant’s production line. Mmhm, smell that sawdust.

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Muso’s Guide singles of the Week: 1st August 2011

Another week, another (slightly belated) family bucket of single release sextuplets. Tuck in!

Colleen Green
Green One

Speaking of greasy, fried once-feathered takeaways, along comes this 2 minute dollop of LA ‘stoner pop’ courtesy of Colleen Green. It could well be a reworking of the Juno soundtrack as if covered in munchie crumbs and hot-boxed fog. A distant comparison to Wavves would be lazy, but so is the song if not in a negative way. It plays through as if all sprawled out sprawled in the corner of what was a party three hours ago, murmuring out its words and mumbling the music as a friend tries to steal its shoes and dignity with a  couple of sly photo ops and a man-sized game of a buckaroo. Entitled ‘Green One’ it’s something of a pleasant pass. Next…

Azari & iii
Manic

If you built a haunted disco inside a ghost train inside a mirror maze, Azari & iii’s ‘Manic’ would be anchoring the playlist. There’s an odd spookiness that permeates the track, the embodiment of which is the sighing, moaning vox synth that squirms and bends around the poking jabs of the beat. The vocals themselves sound almost robotic like some crazed cardboard-and-foil costume come to life. Overall this feels like the kind of thing you’d find lingering about the obscure frequencies late at night as you plough through the countryside in a hatchback.

Circle Pit
Slave

After hearing ‘Slave’ by Circle Pit you will never again need ponder on what Joy Division’s ‘Atmophere’ might sound like recreated by a boy scout troupe with only a single Cassio synth, a bass guitar and their campfire for company. The boy/girl vocals hover over the low-fi organ and sampled beats like an overweight rain cloud sagging and heavy, just about scraping clear of the ground in a mess of scuffed fuzziness that melts into one hazy block voice. It’s a slow burning, scowling plod that trundles through in a surprisingly listenable manner.

Toddla T ft Roots Manuva
Watch Me Dance

‘Watch Me Dance’ feels like good clean fun under bright sunny lights against our last three picks. With vocals provided by the one and only Roots Manuva over a track dominated by its enjoyably slappy bass line it’s an easy to love instant hit of the toe taps that begs for your two left feet to make fools of themselves, and you. With any luck, Toddla T should be finding himself halfway up Chart Nevis.

Apparat 
Black Water

Circle Pit must be gutted they’re releasing in the same week as Apparat’s latest, ‘Black Water’ as it strives for a remarkably similar bleak yet beautiful space to play with whilst achieving greater success and far more elegance and grace than the former. Deep breathing and rolled back shoulders take hold as the sound hits your ears in the same way some great hill top view or a city power cut lit by candlelight would rush your eyes full.

Bibio
Take Off Your Shirt

An uncharacteristically straight ‘rock’ track from Bibio, ‘Take Off Your Shirt’ offers a deceptively sophisticated desert rock tinged guitar song that feels nicely tidy and compact. The four minutes are a soft drive rather than a hard sell with the vocals stroking through rather than powering things home. Placidity encompasses the song, which struts out its play through with a gentle buzz that never quite bites into the material properly, preferring to peter in and out as it pleases. This could possibly be the most straightforward of this week’s six highlighted offerings but as a song it feels so streamlined and trim in its effectiveness that I’m drawn towards more than any other. That’s not to say ‘Take Off Your Shirt’ is an exercise in brute force substance over pleasant yet flaccid style. This is a track that doesn’t quite make sense but uses its innate contradictions for a subtle sense of depth and flair.

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Gardens & Villa – Gardens & Villa (Muso’s Guide review)

If you took a name like Gardens & Villa at the shallowest of face values you could be forgiven for expecting something Kevin McCloud might dabble over an episode of Grand Designs, or muzak fit for one of those daytime emigration shows on BBC2 starring builders or mechanics from Mersey or Tyneside.

Gardens & Villa’s self-titled debut sadly fails at being a lifestyle reality show and instead meekly sets up its stand, flute in hand, to not so much blow you away as offer a pleasant and light breeze against your left cheek.

At its most brash moments, such as on nigh-Kaiser Chief mid track ‘Spacetime’, there exists a conflict of texture as the modest arrangements and simple, almost faux-folk, production values rub up against the near-retro shots of colour gleefully offered out by the occasional, obnoxiously playful, undercurrent of ’80s nostalgia and homage. When poked out into the spotlight, the echoing, whisper-snap drum verb and happily conspicuous synths coyly squirm out as if trapped in some shoulder padded power-suit and leg warmers combo. This tacky richness adds a gloss and finish over the hushed, fragile guitar, drum and vocal work that swaddles each song like cheap-but-sweet, molten chocolate. This is no more evident than on ‘Star Fire Power’ a track that sounds like some sarcy disco piss-take that somehow became all too serious once someone dropped some Ultravox.

In the milder moments of the album, the flute, an instrument all too often absent from the realm of the ‘rock outfit’ where its gentle strokes are easily suffocated, blossoms. With ample room to explore the spaces it inhabits, it glides and swoons about, with a gentle prettiness that beautifies the other elements of the tracks it features in. The vocals are particularly appreciative of its breathy tone as it melts in and out of the sung words like a bird dancing in flight, especially on the track that could be its epoch, ‘Sunday Morning’.

Unfortunately, Gardens & Villas is just a bit too unspectacular. It isn’t lacking in bombast or presence as an attachment is quickly built up between yourself and the tracks through the tame yet engrossing snare of the songs and their arrangement, never needing to resort to a more visceral or violent approach. What this album lacks is a sense of destination. Too often tracks almost seem to evaporate at critical points, boiling off any sense of majesty or momentum that they may have garnered beforehand. This is preamble music that feels strangely static for the amount of luxurious space it affords its tracks and their listener. Even leading single ‘Black Hills’ splutters and stalls when all instincts require it to push on, instead relapsing to a floundering sense of stationary, flat linearity.

Garden & Villas is a nice, tepid racket but one that leaves you ultimately unfulfilled and hungry for something a bit more certain of itself and its intentions.

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Atmosphere – The Family Sign (Muso’s Guide review)

Some things in life seem horrendously systematic; the roadster bought to plaster over a midlife crisis, that late february mass-abandonment of january gym subscriptions and conspicuously ‘mature’ albums thrown together when true inspiration is lacking.

The Family Sign, the sixth album by Minnesota duo Atmosphere, plods down this hollow road. The wit and energy that used to give flight to their earlier work, such as 2008′s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, feels sadly absent due to an all too obvious drive to produce something cosmetically ‘adult’.

Without the humour and their usual sly, smirking charm its a slog of the out-of-breath ordinary. It all sounds very much like an overcooked attempt to write some formulated ‘mature album’ rather than a genuine product of contemplation or exploration of any such ideas or emotions. When Slug (vocals) tries to cover such ground in his lyrics, the instrumentation all too often delivers a backdrop either too glossy or cartoonish to connect or meld with the words and their message. It all feels irrecoverably disconnected and fragmented, but this blame shouldn’t be placed squarely at producer Ant’s door. The music itself still contains that element of the nigh-whimsy and easy-going energy that bounced Atmosphere up to widespread recognition some ten years ago, but without the two pronged focus of direction and vision of old, the result sounds rather cheap, like some tragic self parody, or a late 30-something rehash of Gym Class Heroes.

In terms of track list specifics, it’s difficult to pick out highlights. Across the 14 songs there’s a dreadful sense of bland competence, the only glimmer of hope cracking through on final track ‘My Notes’. Perhaps the album was written and recorded in order of the listing as it’s here, briefly, that Atmosphere discover how to pull off a more considered and poised approach. On the other end of the spectrum however, the lowest point has to be ‘Bad Bad Daddy’: an embarrassingly, cringeworthy failure of a song that is as equally offensive to the ears as a poorly executed genre pastiche, bad joke or clumsy rant.

The Family Sign lacks a sense of any real design or conceptualisation, or any of the sharpness and clarity of mind to pull off the unplanned, primal out pouring alternative. The result feels both insincere and, at times, meaningless. After ten years of good harvest, Atmosphere’s sixth full studio release is a fallow year stall.

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Heights – Dead Ends (Muso’s Guide review)

Over the past few years hardcore in the UK seems to have passed through a minor form of gentrified social cleansing. There appears to exist a strange sense of sanitised, fascinated intensity surrounding the genre of late. Fierce, shaven kids in camo short and black t-shirts replaced by well heeled sophisticates clocking onto hardcore bands like some amassed angry art-school seminar. Music festival acceptable perhaps. How did we get here? Was it the relative mainstream success of Gallows, the coming-of-age of the kids who grew up listening to Botch, Refused and their dad’s old hardcore records, or perhaps the angry, young and poor just have a better dress code in 2011? Nu-metal was never this rich, smart or pretty. Fred Durst was never this cool.

Heights are a band very much of this new, fashionable breed; polished, tight and effective at crafting that enticingly desperate atmosphere to their songs as if drawn out from someone buried alive. The high points on their debut, Dead Ends, are marked by a weighty, convincing swagger giving the band’s ideas licence to breathe and roam. The album’s leading single, ‘Eye For An Eye’ is a perfect marriage of the grim, clinical execution and the wailing, glassy lead lines that rake and whine through the upper layers of the track.

Ultimately though Dead Ends is a frustrating listen. There lingers the bitter sense of an opportunity missed, of an album that comes so close to fulfilling its initial promise before falling away to irritating disappointment. At times, finding enjoyment, even in its merits, can be hard work. The blame for this cannot be pointed at the music which is tenacious, ambitious and bursting with enthusiasm. The lyrics and vocal delivery however can be atrocious. Whereas the instrumental work feels well judged and measured in its tone, the vocals come across forced and insincere with some terrible phrasing and poor pacing that further hampers a lyric sheet peppered with numerous mind-numbing cliches and unnecessary fucks galore. At times the vocals sound comically immature in comparison to the music. Listening to ‘The Lost And Alone’ is possibly the lowest point on the album. There are worse tracks on offer (‘Oceans’ and ‘Letting Go’ are perhaps the weakest on the track list) but to hear what could have been the strongest three and a half minutes on the album hamstrung by lyrical and vocal incompetence is disheartening to say the least.

For such a young band, Dead Ends is anything but. Musically, this a solid and competent release pockmarked with some occasional glints of potential for much more to come. Unfortunately, the lyric sheet and vocals leave much to be desired, often vomiting out obtuse and lazy non-sentiments that make this release a case of what could have so easily been.

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Tom Vek – Leisure Seizure (Muso’s Guide review)

Its been six long years since Tom Vek offered up his debut, We Have Sound, to our ’05 eardrums and little appears to changed in the his ability to cough up something rather listenable. Placing his belated follow-up album, Leisure Seizure alongside the previous crop, it feels more like a sprucing up of the old shop window dressings rather than a product of progress or real development.

The under-the-hood mechanics of Vek’s songwriting feel fundamentally the same albeit transplanted into a newer, more fashionable body. The guitar-centric sound palette of old has been tempered with husky synths, samples and a grimier production ethos as if trying to channel in an element of ‘lo-fi-ness’ to fit current trends.

Besides this recolouring of its presentation Leisure Seizure seems to cover the same ground as its predecessor, zipping through similar themes and arrangements to extent that the album almost feels like a upgraded retelling at times. That’s not to say the quality is poor or that listening through the track list is fifty minutes-ish of hopeless banality. Leisure Seizure is a good, if unspectacular and top heavy album that runs out of steam late on. Somewhere though lies the icky sense of formulas at work, as if each track has been churned out to a Tom Vek patented process and blueprint. There are the occasional drop out gaps dumped into the midst of songs supposedly to give out a sense of breathy minimalism whereas in reality the emptiness feels rather ostentatious and bland. Its clear Tom Vek knows what he’s doing but its this sense of premeditation and overworking that saps the life and fun out of moments that could and should feel a bit more free and transient.

Vek’s songwriting does, when focussing on his strengths, contain undeniable substance however. His ability to pen a decent tune to an effective song structure is alive and well. Tracks such as opener ‘Hold Your Hand’ with its jabbering chorus and the surprisingly meaty ‘We Do Nothing’ are a testament to man’s abilities. The album quickly peters out to a under-baked plod however with what amount to half finished concept songs making up the majority of its second half. The exception is ‘Someone Loves You’ which sits at the back like a hidden gem and is up there with the best of the album.

The Vek of 2011 is much the same Vek of 2005 just with a few new noise-making toys and some dusty, vintage pre-amps. Leisure Seizure is a fun collection of guilt free songs, the best of which easily out shadow the poorer parts of this release – just don’t expect to be listening to this year’s Twin Shadow.

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Muso’s Guide’s Indispensable Guide to Festival Season – Hop Farm & Hevy Festival

I recently submitted two pieces to Muso’s Guide’s ‘Indispensable Guide to Festival Season’. Check them out below…

Hop Farm (by Greg Johnson)

In an attempt to establish themselves as the festival season’s off-mainstream alternative, Hop Farm harks back to the oft lamented ‘glory days’ of the summer music festival with free child admission and a non-commercial ethos that eschews sponsorship and branding, as a selling point. A less zany version of Rob Da Bank’s Bestival with all the DJ’s and Dance omitted then perhaps? On top of the Sunday headline slot that sees The-O2-Arena-Resident-Formally-Known-As- Prince make his one and only appearance in the UK this year, the entire weekend roster reads like a wish-list dream line-up compiled from a prized and well maintained record collection. The Eagles rule over the Friday with Bryan FerryBrandon Flowers and Death Cab For Cutie in tow alongside The Human LeagueOcean Colour SceneThe Walkmen and more. Saturday sees Morrissey himself take pride of place at the helm of the listing although it is the prospect of sets by Iggy & The StoogesLou Reed and Patti Smith before Mozza that really gets the juices flowing.

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Hevy (by Greg Johnson)

Last year saw Hevy Festival seemingly explode from out of nowhere, morphing from the nondescript ‘rock’ all dayer of 2009 into possibly the UK’s most ambitious yet tiny hardcore focussed festival in years. Hevy’s class of 2011 are a feral bunch with mathcore stalwarts Dillinger Escape Plan and pop-punk beat-down upstarts Four Years Strong tackling the head billings. The rest of the line-up offers plenty of other potential highlights to whet the appetite. For the discerning hardcore enthusiast, Touche Amore and La Dispute stand out from the off whilst the likes of the veteran legends Bouncing SoulsMake Do And MendGold Kids and LA’s returning extremistsTrash Talk add a touch of personality and energy to a roster that at times seems ever-so-slightly repetitive amongst the homogenised genre bands that pad out some of the stages. For many, Hevy 2011 offers the chance to say a farewell to Brighton’s Ghost Of A Thousand, who look to play their final ever set before disbanding, but without the likes of Dananananaykroyd, Rolo Tomassi, Pulled Apart By Horses and Napalm Death, who added some colour and variety to last year’s proceedings, this season’s collection feels just a little bit overwhelming and bland in comparison, although it must be noted the line-up for one stage has not yet been released. Regardless, Hevy is still the best option for those of a hardcore persuasion wanting something more intimate, focussed and unique than Download and Sonisphere. As with last year’s festival, the animal park is accessible at a small extra fee.

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