EP Review :: Great Cynics – In The Valley

“I had this feeling that this is how Giles originally imagined these songs sounding.”

After the success of their debut album Don’t Need Much, Great Cynics return with something some people might be a little familiar with already. Well, sort of: Back when the band was just Giles and his guitar, and no one had even brought up the idea of a name change, he’d recorded some songs that people really dug. In fact they still do dig these songs, and that’s why we have In The Valley – an EP comprised of full-band versions of three original Cynics songs.

Both ‘You’re Alright’ and ’14 Coleman Street’ have been mainstays of Great Cynics’ sets for some time, so it’s great to finally have full band recordings of these already fantastic tunes. Those already fond of Giles’ original recordings won’t be disappointed either. The extra instrumentation only improves on what was already there. A stronger vocal performance from Giles and better production certainly help too.

The same can be said for ‘In The Valley’. The EP’s opening/title track is the only one of the three that might be less familiar to some fans of the band, but I’ve got a feeling that’ll change pretty soon. This too is a massive improvement over the original recording, and it’s really cool to hear Iona lending her vocal talents more prominently than before. And as good as the other two tracks are, I think this might be my favorite of the bunch.

When I first finished listening to this EP (and I’ve listened to it a whole fucking lot!), I had this feeling that this is how Giles originally imagined these songs sounding. He might not have done but, either way, they’ve turned out awesome. Don’t be an idiot. Get this and, if you haven’t already, go and buy Don’t Need Much too!

Video :: Great Cynics – ‘In The Valley’

London punk trio, Great Cynics are set to release a new EP later this month and, fittingly, they’ve released a tune for us all to check out. Fans from back in the day might recognise ‘In The Valley’ – the EP’s title track – from one of Giles’ earlier, solo, recordings. In fact, each of the EP’s three tracks are full band versions of songs Giles originally recorded solo. As fan favourites, it makes sense that these songs get a new lease of life.

We’ll have a full review soon but, for now, I can tell you that you should pre-order ‘In The Valley’ from Banquet Records (UK) or Kind Of Like Records (US). First of all check out this ‘unofficial’ video for ‘In The Valley’. See how many of the UK’s punk rock stalwarts you can spot!

Songs To Cure Depression :: Sum 41 – ‘Rhythms’

“Since You Found Me Out.”

I’d hit rock bottom again, after a Saturday to Tuesday binge which totalled around 90 hours of drinking (with six for sleep) I’d awoke with a headache that felt like a pneumatic drill to the temple and a pain in my stomach that mimicked how I imagine the pain of a flesh eating virus would feel. I spent the next few days lay almost-comatose, feeling sorry for myself and vowing that I would, from now on, sober the hell up, work harder on my writing, and pull myself out of the pit oblivion that is, depression. But thinking, or even saying these things out loud, doesn’t necessarily make them happen and this is where music often steps in.

But what music would pull me out of the dark and make me start smiling again? It was all so obvious, cheesy pop punk from Canada. They’re upbeat, fun, good to dance to, and they also have a shit hot drummer. Sum 41 are a band, and even though (in this writers opinion) they’ve deteriorated musically recently with their new adult approach to the pop punk fix, All Killer No Filler still stands out as one of the greatest pop punk albums of the 20th century. Rhythms is a crucial song in clarifying all of the above points, with a great drum track, fun catchy vocal rhythms and all in all, a damn fine feel good vibe throughout the almost 3 minutes of three quarter length punk inspired pop.
I also thought it might be nice to make this a bit of a Spanish lesson as there was no official video for this track.

Album Review :: Attack! Vipers! – Deadweight Revival

“…takes the hardcore musicality then adds a punk rock ethos and does this with aplomb.”

There’s something immensely satisfying about slamming your feet progressively on hard concrete, while listening to music that could melt the face of a room full of eight-year-old children. This is how I spent most of my time listening to the first full length from, Southsea hardcore mentalists, Attack! Vipers! Unfortunately I learnt, that without proper running shoes, I could seriously damage my shins. I put the athletic career on hold, but it seems sprint booties will have to go on the next shopping list, as the titans of UK hardcore have released a new record.

One of the greatest things about Deadweight Revival is that, within twenty seconds of listening, it’s clear this is not just another “hardcore” album. There are no cliché beat downs, as used by so many try hard bands trapped in old conventions. They seem terrified to even slightly move away from creating an integral ambience of melodic hardcore, which often comes across as sounding like a slightly better polished, more superior, technical rendition of Will Haven’s Carpe Diem. In fact, Deadweight Revival even puts the bands previous efforts to shame, with the vocal ability of singer Joe Watson pushing forward into a more mellifluous, yet still entirely brutal, timbre, putting him on a pedestal when compared to other vocalists of the genre.

Vocals are not the only thing Deadweight Revival does to push the hardcore genre to the next level. In terms of musicality, the record shows a much more intrinsic side to A!V!, with guitars that switch between nimble licks, beastly distorted chords and andante sections so seamlessly it makes the record almost impossible to put into the “hardcore” pigeon-hole. Sometimes it sounds like hardcore, other times it sounds like power metal and, occasionally, you get a part which would probably be very much at home on a fucking Sigur Ros release.

The band’s self proclaimed style of being “somewhere between The Suicide File and Envy” is hard to deny. The similarities are there but at the same time there’s so much much to the Vipers than just that. Deadweight Revival takes the hardcore musicality then adds a punk rock ethos and does this with aplomb. In doing so, it creates an energetic sound that UK hardcore had missed dearly since the departure of, Manchester’s finest, Fill the Void.

I could say Deadweight Revival was by the far the best UK hardcore album I’d heard in a long time, but I’d be lying. It’s the best I’ve heard…EVER. Attack! Vipers! have far surpassed expectations with this record, and if any band were to be at the forefront of reviving UK hardcore – a genre what could arguably be called a dying one – then these guys are sure to be it. This record proves that.

Songs To Cure Depression :: Onelinedrawing – ‘We Had A Deal’

“I dream, of days, that go, slow.”

So basically I’ve been having a real shit time dealing with depression and all that kind of jazz. If anyone has ever had problems with this brand of mental health they’ll be sure to know that it’s crucial to hold on to the positives when they happen, no matter how rare they may be, this is where “Songs to Cure Depression” comes in. I’m going to (hopefully on a weekly basis) put up a song that has give me a moment of happiness, no matter how brief, and hope that it helps to bring anyone else who hears it out of the pit of depression, if only for a few minutes. Sometimes they’ll be awesome, sometimes they’ll be cheesy, sometimes you’ll love them, other times you won’t.

The first, and perhaps the best, instance of this new feature comes from singer/songwriter/generally really nice guy Jonah Matranga, billed under his earlier moniker, OneLineDrawing. The best part of the song is the how Jonah vocally builds the song back up at the end after the breakdown, utilising his incredible vocal range and power. The video was originally released in 2007 through JadeTree Records but was re-uploaded by Matranga himself a few months back with the gratuitous tag “thanks Jade Tree!” Enjoy!

You can check out all of Jonah Matranga’s wares here.

EP Review :: The Xcerts – Slackerpop

“The four stripped down tracks are worth the price of admission alone…”

This year has been a big one for The Xcerts. They’ve played to crowds across the UK and Europe, which included a tour in support of Charlie Simpson. With Charlie taking a crack at acoustic stuff, it only seemed fair that the Xcerts boys do the same. They couldn’t exactly blow the roof off the venue before Charlie came on, armed only with a six string, could they?.

Of course not everyone (that includes yours truly) got to see these ‘alternative’ versions, so it’s great to have a few of them here on this re-release of ‘Slackerpop’. These ‘alternative’ versions make up the majority of the EP and, whilst they all sound cleaner and softer than the originals, they all work really well. ‘He Sinks, He Sleeps’ really stands out: Not only does it sound so different to the Scatterbrain original, but it’s got this really eerie quality to it that had me hitting play again and again.

The four stripped down tracks are worth the price of admission alone, but let’s not forget that ‘Slackerpop’ is still one hell of a tune. It’s one of my favourite tracks off Scatterbrain and I can’t help but be reminded of, Xtra Mile alumni, Reuben (RIP) every time I hear it. Aside from that, everything here is a brand new listening experience. You might have heard the originals, but that doesn’t mean you should pass on this EP. If you saw them in the summer, you already know you’re in for a treat!

EP Review :: The Gaslight Anthem – iTunes Session

“…it shows the kinds of influences that have made The Gaslight Anthem the band they are today”

Though we’ll have to wait until 2012 for the next Gaslight Anthem full length (the band’s first release on a major label, no less), they’ve helped ease the wait with something (sort of) new. The boys from New Jersey have released an iTunes Session – an EP, comprised of covers and alternative versions. It’s their SideOneDummy swansong, but is it as sweet as it sounds?

Usually something like this would come down to if you liked covers or not. Personally I like to hear my favourite bands’ take on other people’s work, but that really didn’t matter here. Each track has that distinct Gaslight Anthem sound that means if you haven’t heard the original version of a particular song, you can listen to it without feeling like you’re missing something. In fact, it might be better if you haven’t heard these songs before. I doubt there’s many out there who’ve yet to experience ‘Baba O’Reilly’, but you never know.

All in all the covers are great. Hearing Brian and co take on stuff from Pearl Jam, The Who and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers was interesting. They’ve made these classic songs their own but, at the same time, done them incredible justice. At the very least, it shows the kinds of artist that have made The Gaslight Anthem the band they are today. Tom Petty in particular stands out as a big influence on Brian Fallon’s vocal style, so it was really cool to hear him covering ‘Refugee’. Not only that, but they might just turn a few people onto a band they might have otherwise dismissed. You never know.

Alongside these covers are two from the band’s back catalog. The version of ‘Navesink Banks’ is relatively unchanged from it’s initial release, but ‘Boxer’ feels like a completely different song on here. It’s more sombre than the version found on American Slang, and that alone has a massive impact especially when it comes to the lyrics. The original feels like the story of a triumphant prize fighter, whereas this version seems to come from someone a little more down on their luck.

Despite how well these covers and alternative versions panned out, I feel the majority of Gaslight fans will be coming to this EP for one thing in particular. Previously unreleased track, ‘Our Father’s Sons’ follows that familiar Springsteen-esque formula that Gaslight have become known for and won’t disappoint those who’ve been waiting to hear a proper version instead of that demo that’s been circulating the internet for some time.

Though it’s not necessarily what Gaslight fans would have wanted this year, what’s here is great. The boys are on top form and, if anything, it’s interesting to see the kind of artists that have inspired one of today’s biggest bands.

Moon & Back Session :: Louise Distras

Ladies and gentlemen… Louise Distras

Louise Distras is a singer/songwriter from Wakefield who’s been causing quite a stir in the UK acoustic scene. Her latest EP Heartstrings On A Handgrenade is fantastic (read Barlow’s review!), so it was great when she agreed to perform a song for us as part of ‘Moon & Back Sessions’. Check out the video below to see/hear Louise perform ‘Blue On Black’ outside a pub in Manchester.

The Moon & Back Sessions are shot and edited by our, in-house, video team Dicking Around Productions. To contact them or see more videos, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.

Album Review :: Alkaline Trio – Damnesia

“Unfortunately this level of interest can’t be sustained throughout…”

I’ve always hated the idea of a ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation: Putting a bunch singles together in a fancy new package with a couple of extra tracks (if you’re lucky!) and re-releasing them, to me, feels a little disingenuous – “Buy all the songs you already know and love…again!” So when Alkaline Trio announced Damnesia I, unlike the majority of the internet, was happy. It wasn’t just going to be a simple greatest hits album. It was going to be “re-imagined” versions of Trio classics, and that’s what we’ve got…kind of.

When I think of classic Trio tracks the last two albums don’t feature too heavily, if at all. That’s not to say they’re bad songs (I actually really like those albums), I just felt that they’re a little too recent for something like this. So kicking off this record with ‘Calling All Skeletons’ wouldn’t have been my first choice. Regardless, the new version is good. The eerie piano opening was a great way to open the record and I particularly like the Spanish-style guitar that’s been implemented throughout. Despite it being such a recent addition to the Trio catalogue, it’s one of the more interesting songs on the record.

Unfortunately this level of interest can’t be sustained throughout. Though each ‘re-imagined’ song is definitely more stripped down than the original, some of these tracks have barely been worked on. To call acoustic versions of old songs ‘re-imagined’ seems really lazy, and wasn’t something I expected. It’s not that these acoustic versions are bad, I actually really like them, but hearing the added instrumentation on tracks like ‘Radio’ and ‘The American Scream’, makes the purely acoustic songs seem a little lackluster. That’s not to say that adding new elements makes a song better. For example, ‘Private Eye’ sounds more like a more polished track from Matt Skiba’s solo album – It just doesn’t have that Trio sound I’m looking for.

The two new songs are good, but not great. ‘Olde English 800’ – presumably an ode to Skiba’s favorite lager – is catchy enough, but it feels a little too short. It’s got one of those added ‘sound effects’ that can be heard on recent Trio releases (the ‘ticking clock’ on ‘Lost And Rendered’, and the ‘scattering insects’ on ‘Dorothy’, e.t.c.) that usually sound out of place. However, I quite this one. Probably to the contrary of many other Trio fans. ‘I Was On A Rooftop’ is the other new addition on Damnesia. It being a ‘Dan song’, I was expecting a lot and it doesn’t really deliver. It’s got all the qualities of a Dan Andriano track, but there’s something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps if they play it live with a full band it’ll click with me.

Alongside the two new tracks, there’s a cover of The Violent Femmes’ ‘I Held Her In My Arms’. This could be my favorite track on the record. They took a great song and made it their own, which is exactly what you want from a cover. I say they made it their own but, It’s got this ‘country punk’ vibe to it, and I actually think it sounds more like a Lucero song. My point is, that it’s great.

Billing this collection as “re-imagined” had me thinking we might here Dan covering one of Matt’s songs (and vice versa), or that the instrumentation might have been completely off the wall. On the whole I think Damnesia is a good record, I just wish there’d been more done with some of the songs than there was. Despite that, I think this was a good experiment. Trio shunned the traditional ‘Greatest Hits’ release in favor of something a little different, and they’ve got to be commended for that.

Album Review :: Panic! At The Disco: Vices And Virtues

Panic! at the disco are back with the new album Vices and Virtues. They maybe half the size due to the recent departure of guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist John Walker but they still have the same eccentric, baroque pop flare.

Vices And Virtues offers a lot more of a pop/rocky feel to it using heavier guitar lines and  some understated synth work. The Albums first sneak peek was in the form of a youtube video entitled ‘Overture’.  this features (vocalist) Brendon Urie, (drummer) Spencer Smith and a group of circus like people packing to leave a town. During the video Brendon says goodbye to two ghosts in a bar, and ends up alone with Spencer after the crowd of circus people leave they then self admittedly “let go” of material things  ( whether these things are allusion to the ‘old’ Panic! we will never know for sure but it definitely seems it)

The albums main tone to me is one of not only nostalgia with songs like “memories”  and “the calendar” but also apprehension – “Ready To Go”, shown mostly through the fast tempo of the album of the album. An exception to this is the stripped down, almost serenade-like “Always”, but still it has a sentimental feel.

All in all Vices and Virtues shows us how although ‘artistic differences’ (whatever that means’)   can be upsetting for both band and fans. Artists can still make an emphatic, lively and reflective record.

By Choo Cooper