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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Joe Goddard (Hot Chip): Harvest Festival album review

Joe Goddard has taken a musical sabbatical from Hot Chip to create a veritable fruit smorgasbord of electro tracks on an album which is an indulgent, unashamed homage to the sounds closest to his heart, using the musical toys he likes to play with best.

With 12 tracks each named after fruit, the engine room of Hot Chip has placed his tongue firmly in cheek with first solo offering, Harvest Festival. And to tell the truth, if it’s treated a bit like a two-part DJ set rather than an album to pontificate over, the burly big friendly giant has created a drum machine throbbing, synthesized concoction which is really pretty good.

 The first step is to turn the way a traditional album is listened to on its head, the next is to free yourself of the normal expectations that come with that setup. This album doesn’t start with the barnstormers, slow it down, pick it up a bit and leave the almost-didn’t-make-its until the end. But then Harvest Festival is not like a DJ set either, even though it more resembles that type of format with its build up to a crescendo, before a clear break half way through for a swift change in musical direction.

The first three album tracks are rather like the warm up. On first listen they can easily be dismissed, but new single, Apple Bobbing, and Tinned Apricot are deep, slow burning house numbers with 80s synth touches – quite reminiscent of earlier decade James Zabiela work. The less favourable techno inspired Pear Shaped follows.

Building, the album climbs to Strawberry Jam with a bit of dubstep and drum machine before an all-out hands in the air moment is dropped. Go Bananas has cleverly worked off beat rhythms, a throbbing bassline and vocal hook, “And party and bullshit”.

The thing that makes Harvest Festival more palatable for an iPod listen is the fact that Goddard has successfully managed to break most of the tunes down into chunks to weave elements in and out and keep the interest. This is intelligent electro, not Calvin Harris.

With Half-Lime Oranges comes a break in pace and a signal for a more familiar, soulful Hot Chip direction and the clear stand out track of the album, Lemon & Lime (Home Lime) is up next. The loveable bear’s vocals are soothing and sleepily happy as he declares, “It feels like home time, it’s getting light and you know, I will get to you tonight”. That added to an almost two-step type beat and soft keyboards combine to make a really surprisingly stunning track.

Next is Tropical Punch – an Aphex Twin, Radiohead Kid A Idioteque track which you yearn to hear Thom Yorke’s vocals and lyrical profundity over the top of. Sour Grapes continues the slower pace and takes a vaguely similar road, but is a real journey of a track building to a sinister, church organ hook which is thoroughly consciousness-infiltrating.

Pineapple Chunk and Coconut Shy unfortunately sit in the background; perhaps because they do sound quite distant, unconnected and lacking in direction unlike the rest.  

The fact Joe Goddard has made his own album really hammers home the realisation of just what an essential cog in the well-oiled Hot Chip machine he is. Harvest Festival is far from a nifty little side project. It might sound a bit unfinished in places but nevertheless is a really good example of funky, deep, electro which explores other branches under the dance umbrella, from dubstep to moody house, with even some touches of hip hop and Warp-label ambient techno.

I imagine he will suffer from comparisons with Hot Chip, which is fair enough because if no one is allowed to measure the quality of his solo work to his own band then what should be the yardstick? This does however trump his fellow band mate, Alexis Taylor’s first solo offering by a mile and whilst his tunes are clearly a ‘Chip’ (couldn’t resist it) off the old block, Joe Goddard has so much more to offer than expected, as does this album.

Reviewed for www.themusicmagazine.co.uk

Filed under: album review, , , , ,

Frightened Rabbit @ Nottingham Bodega, 9th November

There is passion, emotion and aggression north of the border and by the bucket load when it comes to music. Scottish bands Galchen and Frightened Rabbit did everything to prove that old adage on Wednesday 11th November at Nottingham’s Bodega.

Eighteen months after Midnight Organ Fight’s release and just a few days prior to the arrival of their latest single, Swim Until You Can’t See Land, the indie folk quintet from Selkirk introduced new member Gordon Skene to the East Midlands. But this was no cosy welcome for the talented musician. Instead, Frightened Rabbit used their instruments to hammer home their self-grafted signpost pointing in the direction of bigger venues, bigger recognition and most of all, better things.

Galchen, a four piece post-rock, Apple Mac-indie band hailing from Glasgow, were a thoroughly impressive warm-up. They offered a lyric-less instrumental concoction full of complex changing drum rhythms, electronic percussion and stinging guitars, with a set up similar to 65daysofstatic or perhaps Explosions In The Sky.

On Frightened Rabbit’s introduction The Bodega was packed from the walls to the bar – every one armed with lyrics from the headliners’ second album.

I had seen them twice before, once to a rather more sparse crowd at Leicester’s Firebug and second at the city’s Musician venue for an entirely acoustic set. Both were as memorable and poignant as each another, both sat near the top of their respective year’s list of gigs in order of favourites. And like those other gigs, I was expecting to be kneaded, plied and rolled out across their set list of songs rather like a tree rubbing, reflecting the band’s and namely Scott Hutchinson’s emotions as they made their way through each track.  

Modern Leper was the start everyone wanted and it was what they got. “A cripple walks among you all you tired human beings, he’s got all the things a cripple has not working arms and legs” reverberated around the room, lyrics that remain some of the best and most memorable ever to start an album.

Like its lyrics, Fast Blood hurricaned through the crowd and it became clear that Gordon’s addition had added a real depth of sound that although had not been obviously lacking previously, was suddenly noticeable and all the better for it.

Blazing through a set which covered most of Midnight Organ Fight and Square 9 from first album, Sing the Greys, the Rabbits also played Nothing Like You – a fast paced and really well received track from new album The Winter of Mixed Drinks, which is due for release next May. On the evidence of the reactions to Swim Until You Can’t See Land, the latest single is clearly fast becoming a new favourite, with plenty of whooass and a catchy chorus to sing along to, plus beautifully plucked guitars and a story line about escaping.

Old Old Fashioned turned the gig into a scene akin to a Highland Fling, but it was on My Backwards Walk and a rare non-acoustic version of Poke where the hairs stood up on the back of the neck. Scott’s powerful heavily accented vocals brought the crowd to a stunned silence, as his face contorted and voice cracked from the sheer effort he put into transmitting meaning. Although Frightened Rabbit do loud, guitar laden tunes really well, it is the subtleties and nuances of these two which put the band at the forefront of the pile of similar artists looking to adopt folk indie at the moment. They also have the ability to chop and change their set up on stage whilst remaining cohesive.

Come the encore, Keep Yourself Warm was the sole choice to send the crowd home on. And with a chorus like “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm”, it’s never been obvious whether the track is a piece of advice or a knowing tale but its reception is always the same, leaving a hoarse-voiced, ringing-eared crowd exiting happy, having sung their hearts out.

Frightened Rabbit are undoubtedly the kings of melancholy – many of their songs are tinged with sadness and hindsight. Yet they manage to inject warmth and positivity into their audience and never fail to conduct bags of infectious Scottish passion.

Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit minus new member Gordon Skene

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    1. Modern Leper
    2. Fast Blood
    3. Old Old Fashioned
    4. Good Arms vs. Bad Arms
    5. Nothing Like You
    6. Head Rolls Off
    7. The Twist
    8. My Backwards Walk
    9. Swim Until You Can’t See Land
    10. Poke
    11. Square 9
    12. Keep Yourself Warm

Filed under: gig review, , , , , , ,

The Chemists: The Theories of Dr Lovelock – Review

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The Chemists' The Theories of Dr Lovelock

With an album title like The Theories of Dr Lovelock from a band with a name like The Chemists, you’d be forgiven for hoping for a musical treat – a mad scientist type concoction of blended genius using a mix of styles, influences and instruments.

The five piece constructed themselves from the Bristol pub scene and have already notched up support tours with Feeder, Bluetones and The Music. What is more, this autumn sees the release of their debut album as well as a spot on Skunk Anansie’s 2009 tour. Unfortunately, all these notches on the live gig-bedpost tell a lot of what to expect from the band, because aside from The Music it’s not exactly the most revolutionary list of tour supports.

Together, vocalist Johnny Benn and the four sound a little bit emo, a little bit grunge, with a dollop of indie rock added to the mix.

The Theories of Dr Lovelock’s intro, aptly named Intro, begins the 14-tracked record with Richard E Grant’s spitting spoken verse. Without forewarning of what follows, it could easily conjure up expectations of a Pendulum or And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead sounding band.

This City and Milk and Honey immediately follow; both blistering paced rock laden tracks with catchy sing-a-long choruses to mosh to. Although where the “mamamamamama’s” came from on This City is anyone’s guess, but it was obviously a useful tool to fill the last four beats of the bar.

A Love Like No-One Else is startlingly Feeder, with some Bravery and Killers style sailing keyboard and guitar hooks as the melody setters. If you swapped Grant for Johnny there really wouldn’t be any difference between the vocals and even the song structure is almost identical, yet catchy.

More of the same high volume, high adrenaline stuff appears on Hear Our Song – an album highlight with light hearted likeability that doesn’t try to be anything else but a punky, indie pop track with all the elements that would make it palatable for commercial consumption, even if lyrics like “Because if you hear our song on the radio it makes us feel like we’re alive” feel vacuous.

Some of Dr Lovelock’s tracks – Radio Booth and Something For The Weekend to name a few -prompt memory recalls of other bands they resemble, such as Dogs’ post-punk and Foo Fighter’s riffs with husky, growling Dave Grohl vocals. Others blend into the background, not because they’re bad at all, but because it does just sound all too familiar and too faux American-accented from a band that fundamentally come from the West Country.

Although they themselves have claimed to be ‘ruthless perfectionists’, the record feels like a bit of a contradiction in terms to that ethos. It is a hefty 14-song offering, albeit including a disturbing rendition of Britney Spears’ Toxic, and to that effect makes you wonder why they didn’t trim down, tighten up and spend a bit more time adding some individuality to a smaller number of tracks.

That’s not to say that anyone’s asking for the musical equivalent of discovering a new element for the periodic table, but just a little bit of fizz, a flash of light and some excitement from The Chemists would’ve been bloody lovely. After all, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

It’s so disappointing to have to give another average score for an album, as every time it happens, a little more patience and forgiving is lost due to a band’s lack of ingenuity. That said, no one should think that The Chemists are woeful – they’re not, they’re obviously alright at what they do. But when the chasm of new music out there spits out ‘meets expectations’ time and time again, not being wowed or taken aback by quality almost grates more than being appalled.

And sadly The Chemists fall into that category, because instead of creating sheer chemistry, they’re more akin to a repeat prescription, giving you more of the same tried and tested formula.

5/10

Filed under: album review,

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