Ten Years Alive On The Infinite Plain – Tony Conrad (album review + angry rant)

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(official cover art for the album, infinitely superior to any part of the piece)

I throw the term “Shit-muncher” around a lot, and it doesn’t necessarily act as indication of a terrible band. In spite of my love of the Rumours album by Fleetwood Mac (one of my favourite albums of all time), I consider them as pretentious hippy bullshit and it falls into the realms of shit-muncher material. This one-track album by Tony Conrad is the perfect antithesis of acceptable shit-munch, being a ridiculous eighty-eight minutes of repetitive drone.  An enormous letdown for me, given as it received a gleaming five stars from Mojo Magazine in their most recent publication. With a description painting the release as a gloriously artistic and other-worldly spectacle, I went in with eager anticipation, expecting a true display of musical ingenuity. Oh how fucking wrong I was…

Firstly, as a disclaimer, I will admit that I have no other knowledge of Tony Conrad and have had no exposure to any of his previous work and, as far as I know, he could be entitled to the phenomenal reputation he has. I also want to clarify that I have no personal grievance with the man and, as he passed in April of last year, I will say nothing to insult his name – I serve only to bring an outsider perspective on the travesty that is this “musical” release.

When I say this is an eighty-eight minute drone fest I am being totally honest with you. Seriously, find it on Spotify and just skip through to random intervals of the track – or better yet, suffer the bullshit I faced by listening through the entire piece! I understand the purpose and creation of a soundscape, I have made many in my time as a musician. I also understand the nature of art and how it primarily serves to invoke a feeling or a story in the mind of the listener and, though I completely respect the artistic message to this, I feel any soundscape should possess something accessible or some form of genuine musicianship for it to be considered music. This piece is music in the loosest possible definition of the word as, technically, it is orchestrated sound – but the most pathetic, pretentious form of it imaginable.

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(don’t let the image fool you, professional and cool as he looks, the “music” is terrible)

With no exaggeration, I claim this as the worst “musical” endeavour I have ever experienced in my life. With bands I detest such as All Time Low being dreadful in their own right, there can be no dispute that they create music with the intention of appealing to somebody or some particular niche, this abomination does nothing but serve the pretentious ego of the creator. A word I heard it described as was “hypnotic” and I guess I can agree, in the same way I consider being repeatedly beaten over the head to be hypnotic, with the only means of enjoying it being means of Stockholm Syndrome, being generally sick in the head or so desperate to be respected as an individual that you will blindly ignore what is a dreadful and insulting piece of shit.

This approach to music genuinely revolts me and the lack of respect for the subject angers me to my very core. Music is a craft that opens one to the the world, reflects the beauty and wonder in all things, gives purpose to people and gives inspiration and identity and when a person releases a turd like this under the title of music it brutally undermines the integrity of musicians and art everywhere. This piece is the perfect example of a description I used to define some of my previous work – “the musical equivalent of throwing shit at a wall and calling it art” and, though I never claim to be exceptional in any respect, I can compare this to my body of work and consider myself a fucking genius.

This approach to orchestrating sound is an absolute disgrace to the musical arts and should be shunned by all. It shows blatant disrespect and almost mockery to what is probably the most incredible and pure thing ever devised by humans and pisses over everything musicians have spent thousands of years making and experimenting with. With a creation which invokes nothing but disgust and indignation, I will proudly announce to the world that this is the worst thing I have ever listened to in my life and maybe even the rest of my days to come.

Bleachers – Gone Now (album review)

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(official artwork for the Gone Now album)

After the last torture I endured I thought I would give myself a break and listen to something completely new, hoping that the sense of discovery would cheer me up and draw me from the foul condition the last album left me in. I don’t feel like I quite achieved that with this album, but anything is a step up from the crap I sat through before.

So I had no idea who this band were prior to my “dart at the wall” approach to picking albums to review. As it turns out, they’re Indie Pop/New Wave band from New York who aren’t as good as their genre is interesting. Starting in 2014, they haven’t received much mainstream success yet – which does surprise me. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like they deserve more success, they just have that typical Imagine Dragons-wannabe sound that everybody seems to be going for these days and it’s disappointing to hear. As a die-hard fan of 80’s Pop and New Wave music, I had higher expectations of this band and I just feel disappointed.

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(listen to this instead, it’s a good album)

The album started off with a typical and acceptable dynamic, but as it went on it just began to sound more and more like some run-of-the-mill contemporary Pop album with nothing to differentiate it from what it is attempting to imitate, except for what felt like an embarrassingly poor approach to the mixing – evident in the dreadful sound of the kick drum, which remains throughout the whole album. It’s hard to explain, but as the opening song continued the production quality just kept falling. Listening to it, I felt the volume creeping up and down and the inconsistency just threw off the dynamic flow of the first few songs. Continuing through the album, everything just unravelled into an inadequate and poorly-performed mess, with the only original ideas sounding out of place and schizophrenic.

Every aspect was uninspired and a dull example of pure shoddiness, with everything close to good just being an almost direct copy of the aforementioned Imagine Dragons and everything bad just being a cheesy and embarrassing mess. It could be that I just don’t get this kind of mainstream sounding Pop shit, but I feel like it totally lacks any true identity – it seeming more like a reflection of modern Pop music than an actual project. Honestly, through the album I didn’t hear anything I particularly liked until the track Goodbye, and that was purely for the bass line – in fact, the bass line is the only thing I like in the song.

Like some of the albums I have previously reviewed, I just found this to be a really lazy album. With a severe lack of good and well-executed ideas and legitimately poor production in places, I would advocate giving it a pass and finding something better. If you want Indie Pop then listen to Imagine Dragons, if you want something cheesy and electronic then listen to The Ordinary Boys – both offer studio-quality albums and a more immersive and enjoyable feel. If you like commercial Indie Pop but don’t want to be associated with mainstream music because you’re too “alternative”, you should listen to this and then get over yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody else. With a total lack of identity, nothing to engage you in the album and generally awful sounding ideas, this release has proven to be a huge disappointment and a dreadfully boring example of mediocrity. The vocals sound like shit for most of the album too.

Last Young Renegade – All Time Low (album review)

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(official album artwork from the Last Young Renegade album)

In my time committed to critiquing music, I have reviewed bands I have had a previous love for, bands I had never heard of and bands that I chose purely for the name or genre alone, but I have thus far neglected to review bands I have had a negative outlook towards before-hand. To this end, I have decided to direct my focus to reviewing a band I have long held a strong dislike for: All Time Low. My initial goals in this respect were fair and professional – to listen to an album impartially, to analyse it for what it is, to understand the appeal and, most importantly, give the band a proper chance. I began to regret this decision from the first ten seconds of the album.

Disclaimer: I’ve never had a positive view on this band, and I sure as Hell don’t now – if you’re a fan of the band then I advise ignoring this slander-fest, this could get messy.

All Time Low are a Pop Punk band who somehow climbed to a level of success not deserved for their level of mediocrity. Forming in 2003, the band almost seemed to form as a means to take advantage of a growing fan base of angst-fuelled teenagers, namely social groups referred to as Emo or Scene Kids – which, as an Emo Class of ’03, I can personally relate to. I can look back now and understand the camp and melodramatic nature of bands such as Simple Plan and Taking Back Sunday, and even appreciate it in certain cases – it was a genre which existed to give social outcasts some measure of comfort, something to relate to and, to a certain extent, offer an identity and place in the world, which I can totally get on board with, to a degree.

Where early bands of this era carried heavy Punk influence, the genre seemed to drift from topics of rebellion and empowerment to personal issues such as getting hurt by girls and general dissatisfaction in life. From the beginning it was clearly a fashion trend and musicians attempting to capitalise on this (such is the nature of music), but it still had a character to it. In time the music seemed to sell out into a more generic, over-produced Soft-Rock kind of style, and with this the movement seemed to lose so much of its momentum and passion. Bands like All Time Low have always flown this flag in my eyes and serve as the true milestone where the movement became truly commercialised. People that read my recent Rancid review will know my opinions on Punk Rock and its history. I think Punk is an amazing thing, but this commercialism and general fashion-oriented attitude is one of the most shameful things the noughties produced. That all being said, this is an album review – so let’s talk about that!

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(“unrelated” image of a turd)

It’s garbage! I usually listen to albums through Spotify, so I am subject to many adverts – and my first issue with this album is that I could rarely notice when the first advert for a Pop album played because of the over-produced sound of the album. When you can’t tell when a “Punk-influenced” band ends and an advert for some mainstream Pop artist begins, you know the band have fallen too far from their genre. I remain just as disappointed by the instrumentation behind the songs as everything just sounds like the most generic thing they could have written, and where this isn’t the case it just sounds like they’re plagiarising The 1979’s and Angels and Airwaves (two far better bands).

The best thing about this album is the length – at a mere 36 minutes, it means I suffered it for around nine minutes less than the length of an actual full-length album and, though I complained the opposite with Royal Blood, this is easily my favourite thing about this release. With Royal Blood I wanted an extra two songs or so because it had some character and potential – with Last Young Renegade I just wanted it to be over all the way through. Another positive for me is that the guitar work in the opening track reminded me of Angels and Airwaves, but that just made me want to listen to them instead!

With whiny and juvenile lyrics portraying a pathetic and adolescent take on heartbreak and generally childish issues, I was crying out for this album to grow up – often rising to a state of near-anger. This genre needs a severe kick in the ass and either needs to get back to what made it so unique and inspiring in its early days or expand into something that encourages true worldliness and personal progression. When you compare tracks like Drugs & Candy to songs like St Jimmy by Green Day you can truly see how far the music has fallen and it’s embarrassing for one who once had such esteem for the genre. When you have a band of people around thirty years of age you expect them to break free of this high-school mentality and release something more developed, if anything to try to ease their fans into the reality of the world and into better things. The band needs to mature and expand into something more and it should inspire the same in their fans – instead, this album shows a patronising outlook towards them, implying that they don’t ever need to grow up and their music doesn’t have to either.

Trouble Maker – Rancid (album review)

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(promotional art for the Trouble Maker album)

For a long time now I have been a fan of the Punk movement for the fashion, the attitude, the music and what it represents. I personally think the Punk Movement was one of the most important events in musical history and I rarely pass an opportunity to sing its praises. However, in spite of my adoration and respect for the genre, I often find myself over-looking it in a bid for new styles of music. Seeing the release of Trouble Maker, a very recent album by Punk icons, Rancid, I have decided to address this and catch up with a genre I had otherwise left neglected.

Rancid are far from new and unknown, since starting in 1991 they have amassed a large following and are often credited, along with Green Day and The Offspring, for spearheading a resurgence of punk in the mid-90’s. Whilst they may not have achieved the level of mainstream success Green Day enjoyed, they are largely respected by fans of the music for their consistency and a character which largely remains committed to the ideals and attitude of earlier Punk bands from the 70’s and 80’s. Punk has manifested in a number of ways through the years, ranging from the upbeat cheek of The Sex Pistols to the raw brutality of bands such as The Exploited and Rancid have always worn the banner of Ska Punk, shrugging off the hate-fuelled aggression of other bands in favour of a bouncy and upbeat feel of their own.

In spite of my love for the Punk movement, Rancid are one of the key names I have little experience with. I’ve heard a few of their albums in my time, but don’t have anything to really compare this album to – which, following my previous review, may be a positive thing. Generally speaking, I have always gravitated towards the more anger-fuelled Punk bands such as The Exploited, Anti-Nowhere League and Subhumans and as such it feels a change of pace from what I’m used to. This being said, I feel very positive about this album! In a manner similar to the Dubtopia album by Gentleman’s Dub Club, I find myself won over by the positive energy and personality of this newest release. There are a number of more raw and harsh-sounding tracks on this album, but this just appeals to my love of Hardcore Punk and, in my eyes, just carries the banner of what Punk really is.

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(image sourced from Bombshellzine.com)

Punk has always been an inspiration to me and I have always seen such a positive energy to it – especially in the more aggressive-sounding Punk bands. It cries out for you to live your life, live without barriers and screams for you to embrace your character and opinions and I find this as important today as it ever has been. Bands like this encourage this attitude and for that I feel they deserve so much respect. This album is no different – it makes you feel younger, more energetic and, most importantly, it pushes you into living your life. As a criticism, I would argue that the album should be a little bit longer, but the short and sweet approach exists through so much of Punk music and this album isn’t really short enough for this to be too much of a criticism.

I feel there are many parts in this album where the bass seems to carry the music a little as well. The instrumentation isn’t poorly written or performed, it just seems very predictable – but in a genre like this it is hard to avoid that. The instrumentation always seems fine, but I feel the heavily Ska-influenced bass lines give the tracks so much more colour – particularly in tracks such as Beauty of the Pool Hall and Ghost of a Chance. There are times in this album I feel they could use brass instruments, just to truly accent this Ska inspiration and draw a little more character from the album but this seems to serve the simplicity and organic feel of the band.

There’s a lot to recommend this album for and I would heartily do so, but don’t go into it expecting a peaceful and easy-listening experience. There is a wonderful rawness to this album, a glorious Punk-Rock pace and an abundance of character and I think it’s important to remember music like this and the youth and excitement we so easily forget. Albums like this remind me that music can still have heart, passion and energy and it pulls me through when I start to have doubts about music in general. Above all things, however, it reminds me that music can still be fun.

How Did We Get So Dark? – Royal Blood (album review)

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(official album artwork from How Did We Get So Dark?)

With my recent review of The XX, I have gone from one band I once loved in their early days of few studio releases and fast-growing fan base to another, I find myself in the position of rediscovering a band I once enjoyed – this time discovering a higher level of disappointment in them. Given that this album was released six days ago (at time of writing), it will be hard to approximate the level of success this album will get – but my opinion may be altered by my sheer lack of exposure to its marketing and general dissatisfaction of the album.

Royal blood is a name that will likely be familiar to a lot of people, given that they are a very recent band and, in the past few years, they received a sizeable amount of attention from general mainstream music fans and continued to spread beyond that. The band have enjoyed a reputation as being a Hard Rock/Blues Rock band reminiscent of older bands such as Wolfmother and have been appreciated by many for their take and homage to acts like this and, by many musicians, for the sound they achieve as a two-piece band.

My general opinion of Royal Blood has previously been positive, but the fact I did ease out of them speaks aloud to me. Though I have a respect for the band and I enjoy their older music, I just feel like they’re a bit of a one-trick pony and, despite the quality of their music, they never seem to stray far from a dynamic they’re obviously more comfortable with. I’ve always considered them to be a consistently good band, which is a good thing in many ways- but it seems to lack humanity when they can’t seem to perform better than this standard and don’t ever fall below into mediocrity. I just feel this makes it harder to develop a personal connection with them.

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(image sourced from Consequence of Sound webpage)

Another issue I have with Royal Blood is with the length of their albums. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have heard albums around the 40 minute mark which were absolutely phenomenal, and one might appreciate their desire to keep it short at the risk of compromising album quality, but 34 minutes? That’s just insane. I consider this, and then relate it to the Opiate EP by Tool which, as an EP, is a total of almost 27 minutes and I just feel faced with an overwhelming impression of laziness – especially when you consider the album before came to a total of nearly 33 minutes. Now I know that you’re thinking it’s not that much of a deal and I’m just being neurotic but I’m about to explain why that train of thought is totally wrong.

This album sells at approximately the same price as any other studio album, retailing at £14.99 – ten pounds more than their previously released self-titled album would cost to buy now, which is of drastically superior value with a stronger track listing and a far more organic, raw and energetic feel. This makes for a far smaller return for the money invested in the album and just makes it impossible to recommend for purchase, especially when you can find copies of albums like Dark Side of the Moon, OK Computer and Hatful of Hollow (listed as some of the best albums of all time from various sources) for far less than this.

But I digress, value for money aside, I can’t recommend this album to anybody apart from existing fans of the band. From a production point it is really good, the music sounds pretty cool in places – but there aren’t any songs I can put above anything from their self-titled album. They started off well with their previous album, and I would recommend that for a great many reasons, but it was clearly too much for them to follow and I just stand really disappointed. Part of the negativity behind this review stems from the fact I did really enjoy Royal Blood in the past and now I’ve just seen them fall from that standard. That all said, the album still shows their ability to write hard-hitting drum grooves, cool riffs and maintain a raw drive, which leaves them capable of a return to form in their next studio release if they stay true to what gave them their character in their earlier days.

Dubtopia – Gentleman’s Dub Club (album review)

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(official promotional image for Dubtopia)

After a day-long break of listening to bands and artists I am somewhat familiar with, I have returned to something more unknown and of a style I don’t usually immerse myself in – to this end I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than 2017 release, Dubtopia by the relatively recent band: Gentleman’s Dub Club. How many times can one type Dub into five paragraphs? Let’s find out.

As a bassist with nearly nine years of practice and true musical exposure behind me, I think it fair to say I have more than a passing knowledge of Reggae music and many of the genres that stemmed from it. In addition to it being a great way to irritate an obnoxious neighbour, it is a genre that doesn’t seem to stem far from the topics of love, unity and ideals of a positive and caring society. Whilst one can appreciate the optimism of such subject matters, it has always made for a lack of topical diversity which has often swayed me from the genre. Too much of a good thing, one might say. For better or worse, this album remains true to these ideals and topics, but not to an extent where it can detract from the music – and in these days I appreciate the tribute this pays to its core influences.

Much like the prominent and often droning bass lines prevalent in this kind of music, I believe Dub and Reggae is a genre you feel, as opposed to listen to – and this both makes the album easy and difficult to recommend. It can really come down to a matter of if you want something in the background to support a cheerful and social environment or if you want to irritate somebody several floors from you. People with an interest in hearing something original or creative likely wouldn’t derive much from this album because there’s nothing new to discover, but for many that is part of the appeal. We all gravitate to things we understand and find comfort in, and this album welcomes this with open arms.

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(photo taken from Dubtopia official Facebook page, credits to @jazzablanca and @Sife Elamine)

With all this said, I must say it’s particularly difficult to discuss this album. We all know what Reggae is, and Dub doesn’t stray far from this – with the main difference being a drastic increase of overlays, sound effects and production quality, so what more can I say? The album feels wonderful to listen to and have on around you and it is so easy to recommend it on that basis alone, however, as a musician and a lover of music, I can freely admit that the album doesn’t have anything truly its own to offer a listener. Tracks such as Higher Ground and the opening tracks, Dancing in the Breeze and Let a Little Love serve as fantastic ambassadors to the genre and I could easily suggest it to somebody who wants to discover Reggae and wants an entry point that varies from some of the more well-recognised Reggae icons, such as Bob Marley.

So there we have it! It’s Dub. You know what this is, what to expect and if you’re likely to like it or not. I’d suggest giving it a listen and letting this into your heart a little because it represents so much of the greatness of human spirit and wears positivity in abundance, but at a minor cost of true musical creativity and originality. Nevertheless, it still makes for a fun, if repetitive, listen and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It kept me swaying and bobbing throughout – which, as a rigid, Cornish geek who dances like dry spaghetti, should carry a lot of weight.

I See You – The XX (album review)

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(image taken from I See You official album cover)

If you have read my previous reviews you will probably begin to notice a pattern between the albums I have been reviewing – they are all recent releases from this year and vary from the more mainstream bands and acts. I wanted to address the balance in this review by looking towards a more well-established band, which drew me closer to The XX. For those who may not be aware of this band, The XX are an Electronic Indie group from London who have developed a reputation for their balance of experimentation and emotion, often focusing on personal themes such as insecurity and rejection.

Unlike my previous reviews, I have a pre-existing opinion on The XX – and it is generally a positive one! A number of years ago they were recommended to me alongside Bonobo, and this helped influence me into listening to a number of electronic acts and encouraged me down a path of more chilled and calm music – so at the beginning of this album I had my worries. The calm and emotional feel of Coexist and their self-titled album was a large part of why I loved this band so much and I felt like they were really easy to connect with on a personal level. The opening tracks of I See You seem to begin with a whole different dynamic, and though I can appreciate the attempt at variety, I feel it comes as a detriment to the album, given that it dismisses a large part of their individual appeal.

The band have always varied from traditional Pop music, in large part due to their emphasis on space and unusual effects and I can see that this effort still exists in this latest release, if to a far lesser degree, but I just don’t feel as strongly about the emotional content of the music as I previously did because, in my eyes, this album lacks the more organic feel the previous albums had. I feel like heavy effort has been made in this album to appeal to a more mainstream Pop audience by making the songs more predictable, but this could be a result of my own familiarity with their music. There are obvious exceptions to this statement, of course – such as their track Performance.

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(image sourced from official live promo webpage)

This next criticism is actually a pretty big deal for me, and that’s in regards to the flow of the songs. Again, this may be a result of my familiarity with the band – but I can see clearly how all of the songs either begin on a low dynamic and follow a rising gradient throughout the song, or they remain on the same low dynamic throughout the whole song. Saying that, however, I feel like the band does handle this well by optimising both vocalists to their ultimate potential and also incorporating wonderful use of atmospheric bass and various guitar layers.

As the album progresses, it shows clear signs of improvement as it settles into a style they are clearly more comfortable with and, though it does little to vary from their pre-existing sound, it does serve as a wonderful display of talent and fresh ideas – though tracks such as On Hold and Dangerous make me worry about the direction of the band. I have always been a fan of how the band handles flow, space and feeling and I feel like this album does much to showcase this, but I find it hard to recommend it over their previous albums. Still, fans of the band will find plenty to enjoy – and it is clear that they’re focussing more on the higher dynamics, more organic instrumentation in places and better production in most areas, which does give it enough variety to be worth the investment. I’d be unfair to dismiss that the band have definitely improved in almost eery technical basis, but I feel it came at the cost of heart and pure emotion.