Friday, 7 August 2009

Changes and Choices

Sleepwalk Capsules has been in a state of slumber for the last bit of the year, and that's our fault. The stasis has been prolonged and not needed and I think that after a substatial break it is time for it to be reborn. Welcome then, to Sleepwalk Capsules 2.0. A site about music, film, books, and importantly, opinions. Over the next few days the blog will change from it's old state to the new style that I plan.

Keep the faith.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Discovery - A little Catch Up (Part Two of Three)

Part One

So, here is the next set of newish albums and bands. Some in here are a bit more... me, but still different.

Max Tundra – Parallax Error Beheads You
6 years can be a long long time in music – I mean, in 2002, Franz Ferdinand were only on the horizon and Arctic Monkeys had only just started playing guitar, and that was when Max Tundra’s last album hit the shelves. He then set to make one of the most complex pop records ever and… well, he mangaded it. Parallax… is one of the oddest, most interesting albums I have listened to this year, even making it into my top 5 albums if you ask me at the right time of the day. It is filled with the techno-like blips and bleeps of the afore mentioned Crystal Castles but is filled with the smart melodies of a canny song writer and the gorgeous production of an artist that understands the craft of a great sounding song. Also, in the album, there are some fucking great tunes that get my tapping my feet – and that can’t be said of many bands these days.
Max Tundra (Myspace)

My Latest Novel – Wolves
So, you might be wondering where are my Scottish bands that I have been shouting about for ages, and also where are my regular Indie stylings gone with all this hiphop and glitch rock? Well, look no further than My Latest Novel, a fantastic band from my neck of the woods… and another, like Aereogramme, I totally missed out on when I lived down there. They are similar to Blur’s later years with the darker pop songs, similar to Arab Straps gloomy wordings and twisting vocabulary, but mostly they share their sounds with this years Scottish band of indie types, Frigthened Rabbit. The dark, soulful, almost folky sounds of the album push them into the forefront of a pack of bands from the central belt that are taking over from the old crew. Along with We Were Promised Jet Packs, My Latest Novels’ new album, due in 2009, should be one to watch.
My Latest Novel (Myspace)

God is an Astronaut – God is an Astronaut
Post rock, huh? Surely nothing can be done more than the sprawling Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the short but rocky Mogwai, the fullforce heavy 65daysofstatic and the simple melodies of Explosions in the Sky? Surely with Slint and Do Make Say Think everything is covered? Well not quite as this Irish trio really have made me realise that you don’t need to be dark and dreary to emote through post-rock and in this album there are some absolutely stunning examples of why the band should be more revered in the Post-rock community – the liberal use of piano and strings are welcome, and the effect is a grand scale only matched by th longer periods of Godspeed’s Life Yr Skinny Fists Like Attenas to Heaven, but am I comparing the two? Well, that is like me saying the most recent pop album from a recent act holds it’s own to Sgt. Pepper, and that is high praise indeed.
God is an Astronaut (Myspace)

Discovery - A little Catch Up (Part One of Three)

It’s been a while since I posted about new bands that I have recently been getting into so here is part one of quite a large list of them that should let you get back up to speed with where I am musically at the moment. I went on a bit a new music binge the last few weeks… and it has been bloody brilliant. Anyway…

Sunn O))) & Boris – Altar.
This is way left field for me and is the frist drone/doom album I have listened to for any length of time. Basically Sunn O))) (ignore the rather pretentious punctuation, call them Sun) and Boris are two bands that collaborated on an album that is held by some as the seminal record in both doomrock and dronerock. However some see it a quirky footnote to the band’s careers… and I don’t know yet. The album is something of an ordeal and an experience, being nothing like I have listened to before. There are no discenrable structures and no real “song” parts as it is uses guitar drums and production values to create an epic wall of sound that only really be described as Lightning Bolt without the riffs and the lyrics. The track at the middle of the album is stunning, “The Sinking Belle”, but is it easy to listen to? No. Is it like anything I have listened to before? No. Will people like it? Probably not…

Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
Glitch computer electronic trance dance rock. As many descriptors as I can give and it still doesn’t make up what Crystal Castles are like – their debut album is made up of sketchs of ideas and short pieces with distored vocals that make the voice sound more like an instrument than a lyrical line of words and that effect is something that I have loved on The Knifes album. Here is works with the Mega Drive / Atari blips and bleeps that make it sound like nine people are playing different games of Mario Land, Tetris and Paperboy in a dark room with lasers and smoke blasting the atmosphere with a punctual demounr like a scattering spray of shotgun pellets into fabric. The album is different again and is something that I have grown to love.
Crystal Castles (Myspace)

Why? – Alopecia
I missed this the first time round, even when it was being rammed down my throat by hundreds of screaming fanboys and glowing reviews. I perceived them to be either rocky like Johnny Foreinger or indie like British Sea Power, but what I was not expecting when I popped the album in was a trip-hop rock band with some of the greatest rapped vocals I have heard since Beastie Boys’ in the heyday of the Jurassic Five. I am not big a fan of rapping to be honest… but the melodies here are strong and the lyrics are downright incredible… “I lost the first game of Chess I ever played” and “I saw to guys fucking in a dark corner of a basket ball court” being two choice examples, and the way that they are wound around the music, performed by a live band, make for a very compelling album and a worthy investigation. Pushing for my favourite find this month.

Why? (Myspace)

Friday, 28 November 2008

Belle and Sebastian - The BBC Sessions

Belle and Sebastian are my favourite band. They have sound tracked the last few years, with each album that I have acquired being more worrisome than the previous, as I come dangerously close to exhausting my ability to find new material of theirs to covet and cherish. It was earlier this year that I finally took the plunge and picked up the maligned Storytelling and the gorgeous Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant – both these albums split opinion of the band down the middle like a lightning strike.

So, hearing that they have a new album on the way, albeit seemingly a soundtrack to a film, I knew I was in safe hands – then they announced the grandest prize off all for a fan, a collection of rare recordings of the band during their heyday.

And this collection is no mean collection. Unlike the recent Smiths best-of that should be revered for being able to make a great singles band such as the Smiths and turning them into a soulless cash in best-of collection. This album is a 2 CD set of BBC recordings from sessions taken during the era of the band that is their ethereal peak, 1996 to 2001. Here there are versions of their grandest songs, such as Dylan in the Movies and a rather early version of Lazy Line Painter Jane.

The version of I Could Be Dreaming is pure poptastic genius – a perfect version of one of the bands greatest songs. Also, The Stars of Track and Field is one of the darkest songs the band have written, and is deeper, echoing here like never before, a shine of dark spreading over the production.

The first CD is a good addition to the back catalogue, even if it is essentially a tapered selection, obviously limited by what the band recorded. The second CD is a live concert from Belfast, which has a few rather interesting songs, such as fan-sang covers of I’m Waiting for the Man and The Boys Are Back In Town, proving that the band have a little more to their live performances rather than just playing the album tracks live.

The problem is that we already have extensive collections of live version of songs from the band – Push Barman to Open Old Wounds is the greatest collection of B-Sides and non-album tracks ever assembled and the live version of If You’re Feeling Sinister is a pinnacle for the band. BBC Sessions is essential, and you really should get it, but there is so much more to this band, so much more to discover. The only thing that I can think of that is more exciting than listening to this album and this band over and over again is the feeling that you have not even discovered them yet – truly one of the greatest Scottish bands of all time.


Monday, 27 October 2008

Review - Keane - Perfect Symmetry

Keane. The dirtiest word in modern day indie-rock. Probably. They came out of the blue in 2005 to blow all the little middle of the road Radio 2 listeners away with their piano led haunted chiming and the soaring epic vocal of, finally, a indie singer that can truly sing. It was a revelation. They never quite got the indie crowd behind them, bypassing that and going straight to Snow Patrol stardom. They do the Coldplay thing much better than Coldplay do it.

So their debut album sold millions and I was one of the mugs who bought it – indeed, curiosity mostly, but also because I was in Barcelona and it was cheap. If I can remember where I bought it surely it made some impression. It was a solid record – pant wettingly epic at points, but some of the tracks are pretty much great – Untitled and Sunshine are two of the greatest songs the band have written, hands down. The follow-up was again picked on by my self, this time on holiday in Malta, where it’s swaying epic choruses’ soundtrack going to get a paper in the morning and bottles of water. It was a good album.

But earlier this year we heard rumblings of trouble in camp Keane. A solo record? Cocaine addiction? Trumpets? It was all pointing to a Be Here Now disaster… and incredibly they managed to avoid it.

How? Well, Perfect Symmetry is an album of interesting direction changes but no distance gained. For example, Spiralling, the lead single, is a rather outlandish use of synth, spoken vocals and slap retro-bass, but keeps the structure of a Keane track. Second single, The Lovers Are Losing, is plain sailing for Keane. The use of Guitarish sounding synth or synth sounding guitar on You Haven't Told Me Anything the is a good idea, as hemming into just using instruments set out in the beginning is a sure fire way of failing the next-album test, but again it’s strides into the right point on the experimentation compass but stays rooted firmly on the spot.

The glances in new directions are good. Indeed, another album of samey bland ballads would kill the chances of the band outstaying their welcome, but it won’t appease the hoards of indie shirkers who see Keane as exactly what is wrong with music. The album is good, probably very good, but has a few troubles.

Firstly, the ballads that are present are crap. The title track is simply appalling – Keane doing a bad cover of Keane. The choral flourishes towards the end compound the lack of ideas on this track and to bestow it with the album title gives it clout it should never have, as well as lasting well beyond its allotted time frame.

The album is darker in places but mostly brighter than the “troubled” Under the Iron Sea, and the new look Keane and new sounding Keane are much much much more interesting than their earlier incarnations, but are still the same old band, with the same old problems. The only advantage that they now have is that it will be hard to predict where to go now – and that might be enough to keep everyone interested.


Wednesday, 8 October 2008

One Line Reviews - Deerhunter, TV On the Radio, Oasis, Verve

Just a quick one, as I have been trying to write full write-ups of these albums for a few weeks... and kinda have had to give up. So, here, are short little lines about my feelings for the albums.

Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul
- Okay, so they are past it, and are all grown-up, but this album is a good return to form, with some very good tracks on it, with most wearing their inspiration proudly on display. 5/9

Verve – Forth
- A comeback that is completely wasted, as there is nothing more than a below par Richard Ashcroft solo track on here, with almost nothing carried through from the Verve name; a wasted opportunity. 4/9

Deerhunter – Microcastle
- What to make of this record I don’t know, but it is very good, with some excellent ideas and well executed songs… but it lacks something to make it truly great. 7/9

TV on the Radio – Dear Science
- I have tried to write a full review on this album for the last few weeks, but nothing has worked out – and I can understand why, and it is because I don’t think I “get” it… I like all the different styles, the lyrics, and the music, and I know the impressive praise that the album has got, but I can’t figure it out yet. 6/9

Friday, 3 October 2008

Review - The Dears - Missiles

I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with The Dears over the last few years, much like they have had with themselves. From their awe inspiring indie master piece that is No Cities Left, seeing them live, and then the received coolly by critics Gang of Losers that was played to death by myself and the disappointment that it was not as good as No Cities Left, before realising that it didn’t need to be, I have travelled in peaks and troughs with this band. Seeing them live for the second time in October 2006, which truly feels like an age ago, was a good point to confirm that I really liked this band but they had their flaws.

So, I had my reservations about their fourth album – my third album with the band. Hearing from various sources, then direct from the band, that things were not going too well back stage was confirmed by the departure of four members, leaving two, was disheartening. When coming into contact with the album early last week I have been slowly gathering my thoughts, having played the album many times in my car, in my work and in the quieter moments, I have decided that this is a fantastic record.

It is dark. There are moments of true despair in these10 tracks, mostly wrapped in a dirty production that harks back to their No Cities Left era. The musicianship is of the highest quality, and the little flourishes of guitar and piano that are sprinkled over the record radically affect the tone and style of the band.

Opener Disclaimer is a good pace setter. It starts dark and slow, adding vocals, with Lightburn crooning in his most desolate style. The album readily calls dark winter nights – these are the nights that I associate with the Dears.

On Lights Off the band let things go, unleashing towards the other end of the quiet-riot spectrum, instead unleashing a rasping guitar solo that is not out of place on a true rock record. The length of the song amplifies the journey to get there, and the moment it hits doesn't jar with the slow, more soft approaches on the album.

The rather insipid Meltdown in a Major was the album's preview and it did little to convince me - and in the album setting, I still feel ambivalent towards it. It doesn't resonate with the rest of the record, though it's story, tellingly, is the most terrifying of the album. The simple piano stabs, filled with dread, add to the dark flavour of the album.

The stand out tracks, however, come with quieter moments and more experiment moments. The second track, after epic Disclaimer as previously mentioned, is subdued and calculated - Dream Job is the kind of song missing from Gang of Losers but was in abundance on No Cities Left. "Here comes another Heartbeat/beating like a drum" softly intones Lightburn, gravitating towards a place not ventured into since Lost in the Plot. It is a great rallying call. The other stand out track sees a vocal performance from the other half of The Dears that survived the recording session, Natalia Yanchak, on Crisis 1 & 2, she evokes a warmer vocal line but is joined in a fantastic twist at the end by Lightburn - much in the same way that exchange works in 22: Death of All the Romance on No Cities Left.

However, for me, the greatest song on the record is Demons; starting with a synth loop the guitar and drums kick in pushing the beat to a faster pace than thought before. The vocal melodies, coupled with the bass line that propels the song forward, hidden in front of the rather out of key strings, act out a dramatic scene in a grand mix between the great rock record of Gang of Losers and the epic of No Cities Left.

In comes to the end, and with out wondering why or how, you have realised that the album is a more complete set of songs than both previous records. You feel the heartache and break that it takes to create an album of this type, and the style changes from the earlier to this work add up to a logical conclusion that makes more sense as a continuation of a previous chapter than a brand new instalment. This is the album The Dears needed to make, and it is very exact in it's execution. It is not the best album of the year, that is so far going to either The Walkmen or Elbow, but it a strong candidate, and reaffirms why I fell in love with Lightburn's vocals and the band's songs in the first place. A very solid record.


Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Review - Iglu & Hartly - & Then Boom

I wish I could make up some long winded review, but that would really be a waste of my time, a waste of your time, and most importantly, give these utter wankers more of their coroprate 1990s shit-white-rap-shit that is permeating the airwaves in a manner that can only be likened to severe famine in Africa, a nuclear explosion in the second world war, or, quite simply in one word. That word is:



Monday, 29 September 2008

Travis - Ode to J. Smith

There is something about Travis that makes me really sad – it is something to do with the fact that they have perennially be labelled as “rubbish” since their third album The Invisible Band. Whilst it might be true that it was not exactly the greatest record ever, it stands as a good example of the time, which was easy listening and catchy pop hooks. It wasn’t always like that though, as for a while they were, like Starsailor and Coldplay, the indie darlings, after the simply overplayed brilliance of their second album, The Man Who. Recently, with 12 Memories, they went grown-up and the masses turned away with glee. 4 years later they followed it up with The Boy With No Name, which was much better aimed at the same audience that gave them their ascendancy and it worked a bit.

But this, the bands sixth album, comes just more than a year later, and with the added interest of many older fans – this is, as it said, is more like their debut album, the blindingly good Good Feeling, a truly excellent debut album.

This album is good. It is much better than I’d expect and is louder, but there are a few problems with it. Firstly, it seems to by trying to be different. Take the title track (well, almost) J. Smith, with the angular riffing and the bass inflected drum beat, it sounds on paper like it should be impressive, but towards the end it goes all Arcade Fire with choral voices and epic crescendo building layers. This is not to say it is a bad song – indeed, it works, but is this Travis?

Again, we are surprised to find on the single Something Anything even more angular guitar and a solo not out of place on a Pink Floyd out takes album. The next track is direcrlty lifted from the first album to the point of parody – it feels so 1990s that waves of nostalgia over come me every time I hear it’s opening bars.

There are a few parts of the album that will make the fans of the middle period of Travis, namely the Invisible Band, will be affronted with. They won’t like it and I think that it is intended to be like that. The album jars from first listen to last and there is a reason for this: Travis are no longer this band. They were, but they are not and have not been in years. So why are they performing these songs, writing these songs now? I don’t know.

What I do know is that it is very good and worth a listen. Whether or not it works as a Travis album, I don’t know for sure, but it proves that they still can sing All I Want to is Rock with fervour and honesty.


Thursday, 25 September 2008

Review - Mogwai - The Hawk Is Howling

It is a well held belief that silence can be more powerful than words. This is not unsurprising when we are shouted each day by hundreds of television and print adverts to buy different types of nonsense that we don’t really need. I am a culprit of such a thing – I recently got an iPhone and, even after saying that it didn’t bother me much, it is very good, and now the things it does are quite important to me, like the GPS system. But there is nothing better than sitting down with an album, and listening to the music.

Where Mogwai fit into this is that they are a rock band with lyrics – or at least, use them minimally. On their seminal album Come On Die Young they did add lyrics to the mix, albeit soft spoken and sampled, but they were there to punctuate the material. Otherwise, they leave the music to do the talking.

This is not exactly unusual – indeed, it is quite a cyclical outlook on music, as most of the most emotive pieces of music are instrumental, be it a classical score, operatic or even a film score, it puts music to emotion with having to spell it out for everyone in words. Mogwai are the Scottish equivalent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They are the often cited Post-rock stalwarts, having perfected the 6 minute long passage of music built around noise, tinkering with arrangements, and repetition.

Their last album proper was Mr Beast, a hit and miss selection of Mogwai cuts, kind of like a good pack of ham. Plenty of good taste and texture, but it just wasn’t the same meat as you used to get. They released an interim album, a soundtrack to the wildly interesting and on the face of it, boring, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, simply following a football player over 90 minutes. This album was more delicate and measured, with a theme of simple guitar lines and an over arcing riff. It gave me hope that the mix of tracks on Mr Beast, a piano led track, an acoustic track, and loud track were just a blip and the layered multi faceted experience of Come on Die Young would return.

Interestingly there seems to be a mix of them on this album. Starting with Jim Morrison I am Dead, the album lulls you into a quiet ascendancy, slowly lifting your chin up to gaze at you, with a smile on your face. After this slow, but measured, introduction to the album, instead of gently stroking your chin, it Glasgow Kisses you and runs off into the night laughing with the uproariously loud and heavy Batcat. It sounds forced, almost manufactured, and even though it harks back to the sounds of Mogwai Fear Satan, it is never going to capture the ferocity of that track, simply because that was then, and this is now.

This is the era of production and electronic blips and bleeps. On The Sun Smells Too Loud they are there in force, and work well. It is to the end of the album where things get interesting, with I Love You, I am Going to Blow Up Your School being intricate, and The Precipice, ending the album with a swage of perfect post rock.

It is a mixed bag, but six albums in and the band can’t be expected to keep innovating in the same way that they did previously in their career. It feels like a good summation of the bands career and is a great addition to the discography, but with Mogwai each album feels like a little story. And when you listen back to The Hawk Is Howling it feels much more disjointed – almost like a Mogwai best of would sound. For other bands, this might be a strength, but for Mogwai this is a disadvantage.

The problem with success and creative experience is that you can ruin you back catalogue or improve it. Mogwai have done neither – The Hawk Is Howling is not essential, but definitely worth a look. Their greatest work will always lie behind them.