Album Review :: The Xcerts – Scatterbrain

“Play Some Reuben!” – Ian Critchley

Ian’s cries from the front row during Southsea Fest forced a wry smile to cross Murray MacLeod’s face. Perhaps it was in recognition? I think so. There was no hate in Mr Critchley’s words, he was merely making a point. One that I agree with – this band have quite a bit in common with Reuben. They’ve brought a bit of the Surrey-based outfit’s post-hardcore style back, but in a more accessible way. I like it, I like it a lot.

If I was to describe Scatterbrain in one word, it would be “powerful”. Each track on the album has a great passion behind it. It’s easy to see that this record means a lot to the guys and that’s important to me. When you get bands making albums for reasons other than they really want to, you don’t get the same effect. It just doesn’t come across right. Now I’ve mentioned “post-hardcore” and “powerful” and I can tell what you might be thinking. No, this isn’t an album full of screaming and heavy distortion. In fact, it’s the opposite to that. It’s emotionally powerful and that’s been captured perfectly by, producer, Mike Sapone.

For a band so early into their career it’s odd to see such a difference between their debut and this album. In The Cold Wind We Smile hits the listener immediately, whereas Scatterbrain builds and flourishes into a great album. It’s a real grower. It might not hit you on first listen, but give it time and you’ll be singing it’s praises. It’s packed with subtleties that you don’t often find in a record like this. Little things that make tracks like ‘Gum’ so brilliant.

Those looking for the ‘hardcore’ experience (and wonder where the Reuben comparisons are coming from) will find that in tracks like ‘Hurt With Me’ and the aforementioned amongst others. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an identical experience to a Reuben record. There’s nothing on the scale of something like ‘Our Song’ in terms of screaming. The two bands just share similar qualities. Ones that help the band and this album appeal to a wider group of people. I won’t be surprised when the hardcore kids are listening to this whilst tracks like ‘Young (Belane)’ can be heard coming from the UK’s indie-rock clubs and ‘Hurt With Me’ is being played on Radio 1. There’s a lot to love here and it’s rare that a band has the potential for such wide appeal.

I’m giving The Xcerts a lot to live up to, but they deserve such comparisons and praise. Scatterbrain is a real tour de force of an album. One that show’s the bands range of sounds, that they’re in no way a throwback to a forgotten scene. The guys have really pulled it out here and have become one of my favorite UK bands with this record. If you haven’t heard this, you need to.

Album Review :: Sundowner – We Chase The Waves

“…this is not an album of incredible studio production, mass-multi-tracked instrumentation, auto-tuned, top ten hit record bullshit. But who the fuck would want that?”

For anyone who doesn’t know, Sundowner is the acoustic side-project of Chris McCaughan, guitarist and singer of the band Lawrence Arms. I was skeptical of using this as an opening line, I didn’t want to give the impression that this was just a side-project and that without the Lawrence Arms link, Sundowner would be nothing. Oh contraire, Sundowner is by all means a project to be taken very seriously, and this second release only continues to clarify that point.

The album has quite a peculiar start, the song The Flicker, is very sombre and not one you would expect to be chosen as an opener. It’s a good song, just one that seems odd to begin with. Less than three minutes in and it is obvious the lyrical talents of McCaughan have not diminished in the slightest. It becomes clear at the end of the song why this was chosen,  as it builds up and slips sublimely into Araby by way of a classic ‘1, 2, 3, 4.’

As far as progression goes, there is nothing intensely different from the first Sundowner record. If anything, this record has been given even more of a stripped down feel, with minimal instrumentation giving it a real home recording effect. Some people might find this a little strange. I personally, think it’s fucking great, as the album focuses far more on the lyrics, vocal melodies and guitar tracks, making this a very personal record with a far more natural flow than previous effort, Four, One, Five, Two.

Making this record was no half-arsed process. Whilst listening through the album, it is clear that a lot of work has gone into the vocals specifically. Both the main vocal and back up sounds have pushed the boundaries for Sundowner. Not so much in terms of range, with a very comfortable array of notes coming from the mouth of this Chicago born singer/songwriter, but more in terms of rhythm. The closing track, What Beadie Said, is a perfect example of the entire albums curious but effective motion.

As said before, this is not an album of incredible studio production, mass-multi-tracked instrumentation, auto-tuned, top ten hit record bullshit. But who the fuck would want that? If you look for deeply intricate lyrics, kick-ass sing along melodies and some good acoustic rocking, then this album might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Check out Whales and Sharks and also Mouth Of A Tiger, personal faves of mine.

Ska & Pop-Punk Promo :: Fighting Evil is Cool!

Closing the record is Brain Salad, a zombie anthem with the chant “what do we want? we want brains, brains, brains.”

The thing with local bands is that there’s so many of them. Pretty much all are shit. But occasionally one of them, despite not ‘making it big’ or what-not, seem to stick together because they seem to just have so much fun. Half Man Half Biscuit spring to mind. Another one, is Fighting Evil is Cool!. It’s not just the fact that there’s cutesy four-chord riffs and a trumpet that makes you realise that here is a band not doing it because they want to be the next NME-cover fuck-wits, but that they’re doing it for the shits and giggles. And that’s something no review is ever gonna convey really, but we’ll try for the craic.

Quintet ska-punk outfit Fighting Evil is Cool! hail from Derby way. They sound like what The Sprites and The Zutons would if they co-wrote an album. There’s a trumpet, a kazoo gets brought in given half an opportunity, and there’s songs about hobos, satanists, zombies and giant monsters. I know of well established ska bands that don’t do what these guys do half as well. So what is it they do?

They’re a band you’d stumble upon playing a back-room in a pub and end up, ten pints later, £30 quid down and alot of skanking later, dancing with complete strangers thinking they’re your best mates. They’re a band you’d remember with fond memories a couple months down the line and go “yea, that was a wicked night”. They’re young and energetic and a little bit geeky.

So, highlights of the debut? Baron Nagant features the kazoo previously mentioned, has really fantastic progression and catchy hooks: it’s a sweetly made pop song. Dave gets a little bit more punky and Go On Get Wasted has gotta be up there in a dual with Titus Andronicus’ Theme From Cheers for the coveted title of Drinking Song of 2010. Closing the record is Brain Salad, a zombie anthem with the chant “what do we want? we want brains, brains, brains.”

Simply put: if you’re into ska and bouncy songs, check ’em out. You’ll find something you like. If they’re gigging in your area, go. I bet they’re wicked fun live.

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Album Review :: Matt Skiba – Demos

After a bit of a delay Matt Skiba brings us his first solo full-length. Demos is a collection of previously unheard songs, recorded by the Alkaline Trio vocalist at home with his computer. Being the big Trio fan I am, I thought it’d be hard reviewing this on it’s own merits. I was right. The one thing I knew for sure was, with the amount of projects Skiba takes on, it was always going to be interesting to see how this turned out. It’s sound is one that’s somewhat familiar, but could still take a while to get used to.

Having heard his past solo work on his split with Kevin Seconds, I expected Demos to follow in the same vein. Those expecting a raw, stripped down collection of songs might be disappointed. Rather than take that route, Matt has chosen to go with a more electric sound, something he’s experimented with before in, his, short lived, side-project with Josiah Steinbrick, Heavens. Like their album, Demos can also be a little hit and miss.

This electronic take on industrial rock is one that Matt seems really fond of. It allows him to let his influences take over and, much like Patent Pending, the tracks bare an eerie resemblance to those of Joy Division and New Order. It’s here that I think Demos’ biggest problem lies. At times, it feels Matt is trying to recreate what’s gone before and that’s the wrong thing to do. When he’s doing his own thing, it’s much better. However, the multitude of synths can really take away from the power of certain tracks. The auto-tune is in full effect here too. It’s not something I’m a fan of, but I can appreciate it where it works. I suspect some of that was used to try and improve the patchy quality of some of the recordings.

Matt also seems to be more introspective than usual and it’s easy to see that a lot of what he’s saying is highly personal, perhaps more so than a lot of his other work. This is clear on. the album’s opener, ‘You Didn’t Feel A Thing’ and ‘How The Hell Did We Get Here.’ He’s always been a great lyricist, and that’s what really shines through. Lyrically, Demos is as good as ever. Here’s where the Trio element really shows. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of these are unused Trio songs and if they’re not, I’d love to hear a full band take on them. Especially ‘Merry-Go-Round’, which sounds very similar to the more recent output from Trio. The subject matter will be similar to Trio fans and that’s to be expected but, on the whole, they do seem more morose and downbeat. To put it simply, they’re more ‘Over And Out’ than ‘Mr. Chainsaw’.

I’m not going to lie, I’d have liked to see Matt take the Tom Gabel route with this record. However, this is definitely interesting. It’s different to a lot of what he’s done before and maybe that’s why it’s how it is. Demos is bound to disappoint some die-hard Alkaline Trio fans, but I don’t think this was for them. It’s clear that this is a very self-indulgent project, but that’s certainly not a problem. In many ways this record feels like Matt writing for himself. A musical diary, if you will. It’s an interesting album and one that people ought to check out before dismissing it outright.

Advance Album Review :: Fake Problems – Real Ghosts Caught On Tape

This is my attempt to put a huge grin into words

It seems those in the know are already anticipating the arrival of Real Ghosts Caught On Tape, and I’m happy to tell you that it’s been worth the wait. If, like me, you’ve been itching to get your mitts on the album since the release of ‘Soulless’ a few weeks ago then you won’t be disappointed.

I know I talk about Fake Problems a lot, and maybe some people out there will see this as me, yet again, bigging up one of my favorite bands. There’s no doubt that’s exactly what I’m doing, but you won’t find any false praise here. Real Ghosts Caught On Tape is one of the best albums of 2010. Fact.

Right from the off, it punches you in the face with a plethora of sounds, all of them building up and easing the listener into a fantastic audio experience. The album perfectly encompasses what Fake Problems are all about – great music, great lyrics and a great time. It shows off the serious side of the band, but is still filled with music to dance to. Each track also bares the trademark introspective nature that I’ve always appreciated about the music these guys make. It’s been a hard album to review, but I think I might’ve cracked it.

Fake Problems brand of indie-punk has always been different; quirky might be the best way to put it. Musically their records are ever changing and you can’t accuse them of repeating themselves or re-hashing songs. There’s a definite retro feel to this record that sets Real Ghosts… apart from their previous work and the work of their peers. It’s a highly influenced record, but no track seems derivative of anything that’s gone before. Overall, the album has a very 1960’s sound, but I noticed nods to The Cure amongst other bands in there too. I like the fact that it’s thematically similar to their previous albums – there’s still mentions of religion and the occult – but there’s a lot that sets it apart from How Far Our Bodies Go or It’s Great To Be Alive.

Fake Problems’ music definitely relies on personal experience a lot, but it’s on this record that it really shines through. ‘Songs For Teenagers’ is a perfect example. The subject matter is personal, it’s definitely more serious, but it’s also one that many will be able to relate to. Throughout the album there’s minor pieces of percussion that really make it the sonic tour de force that it is. There’s no doubt in my mind that Ted Hutt had some part to play in these subtle inclusions. He seems to have brought the best out of  the songs, and Fake Problems as a band. Ted is definitely one of the best producers out there, and he seems to understand where each band he works with is coming from. He takes what’s good and improves on it. He’s made a band with a big sound, into a band with a huge sound. Tracks like: ‘ADT’, ‘Done With Fun’ and, of course, ‘Soulless’ show this off perfectly. Those slower songs aren’t neglected either, something that will please a lot of fans.

There’s always been a unique-rawness to Fake Problems’ music. This is definitely still there, but is less prevalent. Chris’ vocals are quite a bit softer in comparison to previous efforts. Whether this was a conscious decision or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s a non-issue. It’s different, but the effect is still as powerful. I want to allay fears that something is lost or the album is over-produced. Believe me, that’s not the case.

It’s safe to say this will be the band’s most mainstream effort to date, but that’s not a problem. There’ll  be a few out there who slap on the ‘sell out’ sticker – as there is with every band when they put out something new – but Real Ghosts… just shows that, as a band, Fake Problems are evolving and their music is too. It’s a natural progression and one that will be welcomed with open arms by the majority of their fan base. So, if you’re a Fake Problems fan then you’re not going to be disappointed. If you’re looking for something new and interesting to listen to, then look no further. This Floridian four-piece’s quirky, brand of indie-punk could be for you.

Real Ghosts Caught On Tape is released September 21st.

Album Review :: Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier

The latest offering from the vintage metal heads Iron Maiden stonks into stores with a steel capped boot and fist raised high.

Iron Maiden

Yet another grautacious offering by Maiden as Eddy transforms once more. © EMI

Not since the heady days of the 1980s have Iron Maiden enjoyed so much success. With their fly on the wall rockumentary Flight 666 last year, the ensuing world tour and record sales of the soundtrack have all lead to a monumental rise back to the top for the world’s favourite heavy metal outfit. Now, thirty five years after their debut, Maiden return to form with their fifteenth and longest album to date The Final Frontier.

Many aspersions and criticisms have been aimed at bands and music like Iron Maiden since their debut in 1975. The often maligned and parodied image of the long, straggly haired metal maniacs with their tight, washed out denim and patchwork leather jackets have constantly plagued Iron Maiden all of their careers. Indeed, gone are the tight spandex leggings and studded gauntlets that adorned the sextuplet band during their initial success but the hair remains and the passion for their music is never more present than her eon The Final Frontier.

Kicking the album off with a true to form effort “Satellite 15” the latest album offers something for old and new fans alike. Capitalising on their current commercial success, mainly achieved through the phenomenal success of their afore mentioned rockumentary and the seemingly endless conquering of new markets such as India, the far east and South America, The Final Frontier can be seen being flouted on televisions, newspapers, music press and cinema screens the world over. Much like their hard rock counterparts AC/DC it seems that the commercial and digital age of music have been embraced and applauded by these veteran musicians.

“El Dorado”, “Mother of Mercy” and “Starblind” continue this brand new, shiny, immaculately produced addition to an already reputable back catalogue of hits and platinum albums. “Mother of Mercy” in particular seems to a much different sounding Maiden track, most akin to something found on 1995’s The X Factor, the first album to feature current front man Bruce Dickinson’s rather inadequate replacement Blaze Bayley. In general however, and spoken by the band members themselves, seems to be that The Final Frontier is a overall different sounding Iron Maiden album. Although still primarily a heavy metal album of course, the triple headed guitar work from Dave Murray, Janick Gers and Adrian Smith moans out across the ten tracked album like the wolfing howls of Cereberus itself. Percussion in the form of founding member Steve Harris on bass and the ever irrepressible Nico McBrain, possibly the coolest drummer name in music? All formulate a formidable lineup behind Dickinson that has many metal and different genre bands a little jealous.

Although not littered with classics for a Maiden repertoire, do not expect to find any “Run to Hills,” “The Clansmen,” “The Trooper” or “Number of the Beast” here on this effort, The Final Frontier seems to represent a watershed for the band. Hinted and rumored that it may be one of the last Maiden albums, certainly for the near future anyway, The Final Frontier is an overall enjoyable metal romp from the grandfathers of head banging.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The album is on general release from EMI. Check out the band’s official website for tour dates etc:

EP Review :: Monster-0 – Monster-0 Works For You

Whatever Works

Background Processes seemed to signal the end of Monster-0 for Daemon Hatfield. Under a new moniker (which also serves as his first name) Daemon created something that was a lot more chilled out and a world away from what he’d done previously. Monster-0 Works For You marks a return to the more rock-oriented sound that kick started Mr. Hatfield’s musical career.

Fans of Background Processes, fear not. This EP definitely bares traces of Daemon’s last album and he’s created a great, eclectic, electronic rock sound with these latest 5 tracks. ‘Never You Mind’ sets the record off right. It’s got this great mix of sounds that really make Daemon’s influences apparent, whilst still sounding unique. For me this is what makes all of his album’s great. He can meld different genres together in one track seamlessly. Nothing ever seems out of place.

There seems to have been a lot more experimentation here, than in his previous Monster-0 efforts. His influences shine through, but not in a way that’s glaring or obnoxious. Take ‘I Guess This Is My Life’, for example. It’s got a clear indie rock sound, reminiscent of bands like Radiohead. However, as the track progresses you can hear some of Daemon’s other, harder, musical influences creep in. The breakdown comes in the form of a videogame esque chip-tune ditty and, as the song comes to a close, a calming electronic melody guides you into the next track.

‘Mother Forever’ is the most hard rock-influenced track here. The harder guitar sound, combined with the electronic tinged vocals and off-beat percussion really works well. Once again, this shows off Hatfield’s talent as a songwriter and that the album was really well put together. It serves as a plateau for the record, gearing the listener up before introducing, the softer, ‘I Work For You’ and, the beautiful, wholly instrumental, ‘Ryan Writes Plays’.

Monster-0 Works For You is a solid batch of songs and some of Daemon’s best work to date. In many ways it’s different to anything out there, yet it remains completely accessible to any fan of alternative music who wants to hear something new. Hopefully this taster means there’s another full length on the way.


EP Review :: Your First Mistake – Wide Awake and Watching

Your First Mistake are the latest band to come out of the Scottish capital and look to have a bright future ahead of them. The seemingly ever changing band line up has finally settled and if their EP “Wide Awake and Watching” is anything to go by, they have most definitely found their sound.

The four track EP was a good listen, the first impression I had while listening to the opening track, Michael, It Was Only an Illusion, was that it reminded me of something The Blackout would do. That’s not a bad thing, it’s the danger of music in the same genre, especially this sort of power pop/punk/rock- there is only so much you can do with power chords, but in Your First Mistake’s case they do it very well.

That being said every song was catchy, I almost intuitively felt that I could dance and sing along with them even though I hadn’t the faintest idea what was coming next.

For me, personally, the standout track of the album was All That’s Left Between Us Is Hope. I liked everything about this song, as I write this I’m humming the chorus to myself. The melody was catchy, lyrically I enjoyed it and the vocals were a bit of not bad as well.

I can imagine all of the tracks from Wide Awake and Watching being played out over the PA in a bar or being played live, they’re all good songs that you wouldn’t have a problem screaming along to or jumping around like an absolute tosser.

All in all Your First Mistake get my seal of approval, if you like something energetic that you can nod your head to or if you want something that’ll stick in your head hours after it’s finished I do highly recommend them.

Wide Awake and Watching is available now from iTunes and all other major MP3 distributors, or if you fancy hearing any of these songs live Your First Mistake are playing Studio 24 in Edinburgh, Saturday 21st August.


Album Review :: Lissie – Catching a Tiger

The debut album of Lissie Maurus finally arrives in a wave of southern based, folk rock that brings a smile to your face.

Lissie Maurus

Lissie Maurus

With a refreshingly similar trend towards the great folk rockers of the Los Angeles underground movement in the 1960s comes the debut album Catching a Tiger by Lissie Maurus. Compared by many to the great Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and general notoriety fame, Lissie is taking huge leaps and bounds towards establishing herself as THE adult oriented rock scene’s up and coming artist.

Having grown up in the American Mid West, it is hard to believe that this soft voiced young girl with locks of spun gold and a demeanor that would put even a daffodil to shame for extroversion, is already holding her own amongst the ruff and tumble of the music industry. With a seemingly unfathomable innocence and very marketable naivety, Lissie Maurus describes her own music as part folk and country rock and part “Freeway rock”. The latter of these descriptions more than aptly encapsulates her debut album Catching a Tiger which delivers fourteen tracks worth of her soulful voice and expert backing from Seattle southern rockers Band of Horses.

Kicking off this AOR based album are the harmonic duo of “Record Collector” and “When I’m Alone” two tracks that immediately demonstrate Lissie’s imaginative and considerable lyric writing and imagery ability. With a sound that is very warm and friendly, Maurus’ vocals add a wonderful sense of depth and completion to what is a strong musical opening. Ben Bridwell and the rest of the Band of Horses begin with strong performances here “When I’m Alone” paying particular attention to their strong percussion ability, the result a haunting, up beat ballad that gets both the head bobbing and the mind thinking.

The album then stalls somewhat, not picking up again until the eighth track “Cuckoo” Here the pace takes a much needed injection, the true potential of Maurus’ so called “Freeway Rock” description really coming into its own. A nostalgic and positive look back at misspent youth with just a pinch of regret thrown in for good country measure, “Cuckoo” is a perfect embodiment of Lissie and Band of Horses potential to fulfill a large gap within the current musical market. Rather than be bogged down by the all too easily exploited morbid and unhappy memories that plague every creative genius, this song celebrates the defiance of youth and its petulance, delivering this message in an upbeat, subtly produced number that could very well and perhaps should be the independent, folk anthem of this summer.

The album closes with “This Much I Know”, a plodding ballad that is, admittedly, a little clichéd and predictable despite being once more wonderfully crafted and sincere in its own belief. In all Catching a Tiger is a strong and gutsy debut album from this excellent new talent. With a strong work ethic and growing notoriety of experimentation, a recent semi acoustic performance of Lady GaGa’s Bad Romance at numerous live appearances, has only credited and developed this young woman’s talent and exposure in a positive light. What lies ahead for Lissie and her backing band is potentially very encouraging.

However, the question of “Does the music industry need another blond, plaid shirted folk singer” is unfortunately a very relevant one. Although a brilliant debut, a certain lack of originality still underlies the work as a whole, a great pity considering Maurus’ talent. Only time will tell, as it so often does, whether this dove will fly, or be crushed by corporate blood letting.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The album is on general sale now and check out Lissie’s website for tour information et al:

Album Review :: Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III)

“This is what Beyonce should be doing” – Ian Critchley

In a genre filled with over auto-tuned drivel, Janelle Monáe might just be what old-school R&B fans have been looking for. Her, retro-styled, sultry tones are bound to take the world by storm, with ArchAndroid (Suites II & III) already a big hit on the other side of the pond.

I’m not the biggest fan of R&B by any means (something you might have already gathered), but there’s something about this album that really works for me in a way that other albums in the genre don’t. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I think it comes down to the music having some kind of substance. Lyrically, this is not your typical modern R&B fare. There’s little (if any) mention of ‘the club’ or some posh champagne or material goods. With this album, it seems Miss Monae is trying to bring the genre back to basics, whilst sending it an a completely new direction and forcing it to it’s knees.

You might think that this has come at a price, but the substance has been coupled with an unrivaled  amount of style. The production is top-notch, if the lyrics don’t hit you the beats definitely will. This being a concept album, it really has to be a cohesive experience for listener. I’m happy to tell you that it’s been pulled off without any of the drawbacks and cheesiness associated with concept pieces.

I forgot to mention, The ArchAndroid is a concept album. It follows the story of an android and her quest to free The Metropolis. Not the most grounded of concepts, but that’s what makes it interesting. This futuristic approach allows for an ever-changing sound, which keeps the album interesting. Is calling an album ‘well paced’ weird? Well that’s what I am doing. There’s rarely a dull moment listening to this and, like a good book, I was looking forward to each new chapter.

If you’re a fan of music, you need to give this a shot. That’s right, it has a broad enough scope to appeal to everyone. When I say you’ll find it hard to not like this album, I’m serious. Janelle Monáe has created a masterpiece that deserves all the praise it’s getting. For me, The ArchAndroid (Suites II & III) is up there with the best albums of 2010 and I think you’ll agree. You might be unfamiliar with her now, but watch this space.

‘Tightrope (Feat. BigBoi of OutKast)’ The first single from this album is now available in the UK as the ‘Single Of The Week’ on iTunes. Download it here.