Saturday, 29 April 2006

Album Review: The Sun Awakens

Despite the incredible prolificacy that has seen the release of seven albums since the turn of the millennium, the advent of a new Six Organs Of Admittance record remains an event to cherish.

Having finally achieved mainstream recognition with his last album, 2005's sublime School Of The Flower, Ben Chasny - who ostensibly is Six Organs Of Admittance - has decided to push away from the psych-folk blueprint that he conquered with the last Six Organs album and propel himself into the depths of bohemia with a masterclass in dark artistry.

Working with some of his long-time collaborators (notably Noel Von Harmonson of Comets On Fire and Tim Green of The Fucking Champs) means that some of the hallmarks from earlier releases remain, so fans will recognise For Octavio Paz's melancholic six-strings on Torn By Wolves and fragments of Compathia's sweet lullabies can be found on The Desert Is A Circle. But this is an undeniably darker experience than its predecessor; while some of the gentle percussion and the occasional cymbal crash remain, there's little that isn't immolated by the disruptive fire of Chasny's electric guitar. Chasny even goes so far as to mangle his own words on Black Wall, before a volley of feedback blows his falsetto away entirely.

At the end of The Sun Awakens lies the twenty-four minute River Of Transformation, a desolate, droning whirlpool and the most oppressive track that Chasny has recorded to date, whether under his Six Organs guise or any other. The fearsome, crunching guitar is heavy enough to recall some of Chasny's psych outings with Comets On Fire, but the weird other-worldly chanting hauls the track back into the avant-garde mire.

Dark, taxing and almost overwhelming complex The Sun Awakens may be, but it's an album laced with enough of Chasny's particular brand of mercurial grace to ensure that Six Organs Of Admittance's second album for Drag City is, nonetheless, a work of austere beauty.

Thursday, 27 April 2006

We did it again!

Monday, 24 April 2006

Latest column up at

Another serious piece from me has been published on

While Hasselbaink, Viduka and even Maccarone were making an impact as Boro made a 4-fucking-1 comeback against Basel, Yakubu was nowhere to be seen.

I try to find out what's happened to the lard-coated smiler.


Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Album Review: Garden Ruin

Garden Ruin is Calexico's first release since their Convict Pool covers EP and their first album proper since their critically lauded 2003 effort, Feast Of Wire. Long-time fans won't be surprised to know that the Tucson collective explore new territory on Garden Ruin, but they might be intrigued to learn that this is almost certainly Calexico's most pop-orientated release to date.

With producer J.D. Foster, who has worked with everyone from Dwight Yoakam and Marc Ribot to Nancy Sinatra and Alejandro Escovedo, Calexico put themselves in good hands to continue their exploration of South Western culture and music; the flamenco-flecked Roka (Danza de la muerte) is just one indication of how far the band has come in their journey of Latin music, even recalling the mariachi trumpets of their earlier albums. However, Calexico have a well-deserved reputation for restless invention and there are more overt rock moments than fans may be accustomed to. So, while the hushed, desert-rock sound of Yours And Mine and the soulful, string-flecked Bisbee Blues might fit most effortlessly into the Calexico blueprint, they prove themselves equally adept at rocking out on Letter To Bowie Knife and the Crazy Horse-tinged six-minute album closer, All Systems Red. In fact, it could easily be Rivers Cuomo from Weezer singing the former's call-and-response chorus rather than Joey Burns.

Yet, Letter To Bowie Knife is not the only undisguised pop moment on Garden Ruin. Lucky Dime is a beautiful acoustic pop song, with Burns' papery vocals barely floating above John Convertino's gambolling guitar work. It would be the album's standout moment were it not followed by Smash. Here, Burns is reduced to a lovelorn whisper, with frail guitar and bated drum the only accompaniment, until the song detonates around the two-minute-thirty mark and the addition of a piano sees the song through to its stunning instrumental conclusion.

It's fair to say that while it's an album that takes a couple of listens before it begins to bloom, Garden Ruin is every bit as flawless as 2003's Feast Of Wire. Granted, some of the tracks form a slight departure for Calexico, but coming from a band of such sterling musicianship and imagination, Garden Ruin was never going to be anything less than spectacular.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Album Review: Ahead Of The Lions

Missouri-bred, LA-based Living Things might seem like unlikely upholders of rock's anti-establishment heritage, copping riffs, as they do, from the causeless rebels like The Vines and Jet, but their debut album makes it clear there's more than enough substance to go along with their undoubted style.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the involvement of Steve Albini, Ahead Of The Lions is an unabashed hard rock album - sounding like The Strokes might if they'd been brought up on AC/DC instead of Television and Blondie, but as hard as the guitars are, they almost pale to the band's political rhetoric (the band were recently banned from LA's Viper Room because of their on-stage political rantings). Right from the off, both Bombs Below and I Owe prove Living Things' non-conformist credentials, with singer Lillian Berlin's sarcastic, government-baiting lyrics falling somewhere between Iggy Pop's feral shriek and Rage Against The Machine's Zack de la Rocha's muscular yell. Later, March In Daylight mixes elements of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's garage psychedelia and Guns N' Roses' LA rock blitz, while forthcoming single Bom Bom Bom is pure Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones.

Living Things' political soap-boxing may be laid on a little thick at times - especially when entwined with religious imagery like on No New Jesus and God Made Hate - but this is a brutally passionate and punishing yet accessible hard rock record (though Albini's production is almost uncharacteristically slick). After all, with the current proliferation of laissez faire rockers, it's nice to hear a band that care.

Monday, 17 April 2006

Album Review: Jacket Full Of Danger

It's been an eventful year for Adam Green. He's gained a baby brother (24-years his junior), faced the death of a close friend, endured a Max Carlish-esque documentary-maker-turned-stalker episode and taken a job at Starbucks that he was subsequently fired from. The result of this joy, tragedy and lunacy is his fourth album, Jacket Full Of Danger.

While the baritone croon that Green perfected on last year's Gemstones is still present and correct, he's almost completely abandoned the anti-folk instrumentation with which he made his name. For this new album, Green's band are assisted by a string quartet, a move which ensures a splendid instrumental base to more traditional big bands tracks like Pay The Toll, Animal Dreams, Hollywood Bowl, and the overblown Bond-theme stylings of Hey Dude, the track in possession of the album's weirdest lyric: "Bob Dylan was a vegetable's wife."

It's not just the addition of strings that makes Jacket Full Of Danger Green's most diverse album to date, White Women, which takes its lead from Led Zeppelin's Kashmir, is Green's first attempt at tackling heavy rock, even beginning with the outrageously over-the-top stadium rock line, "You know I wanna bone you!", while Vultures is backed by a graceful bassline straight out of Ben E. King's Motown heyday, and Novotel's tale of the celebrity lifestyle is driven by a precise R&B rhythm. Later, on Nat King Cole, Green's band offer the rockabilly of Buddy Holly, while he performs his best Elvis Presley impersonation. Cast A Shadow, a Beat Happening cover, is a more straight-forward indie-pop gem and is followed by Drugs, the track where Green's arch humour and deep pathos best combine.

Most of the songs don't run for more than two minutes, and the album's fifteen tracks are rattled through in little over half an hour. Perhaps Green, with his vocals more deep and distinct than ever, is worried about outstaying his welcome, but he really ought not to, for few songwriters are able to balance wit, style and invention as intelligently as Adam Green.

Album Review: Born Again In The USA

Following the same freewheeling, jam-like approach of its predecessor (the excellent, if somewhat sprawling Loose Fur), Born Again In The USA, is one of the most varied, intelligent and fun albums this writer has heard in a while. All the more impressive, then, that the musicians involved still refuse to be termed 'a band' and insist on Loose Fur's status as strictly a side project.

For the uninitiated, the musicians in question are Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche of Wilco and Jim O'Rourke of Sonic Youth, who also produced Wilco's finest hour, Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. O'Rourke has always been hard to pin down, but with Wilco gradually becoming more restrained and more focussed, it's clear that Tweedy now sees Loose Fur as the place to relax, have fun and let his musical impulses run amok.

There's a laidback late-'60s/early-'70s feel to the early procession of Tweedy-sung songs that open the album. Hey Chicken procures the groove of Stealers Wheel's Stuck In The Middle With You, adds a cowbell and becomes probably the greatest opening track of the year so far, featuring kind of rollicking riffs that Wilco used to make in the early-'90s. The Ruling Class, meanwhile, is a twangy, delightfully throwaway track that waggishly wonders about the return of Jesus, "Christ is on his way across town / He was getting tired of hanging around / Yeah, he's back, Jack, smoking crack / Find him if you wanna be found." It's not the last time that Loose Fur thumb their nose at religion; later, on Thou Shalt Wilt - a cheeky, satirical take on the Ten Commandments - O'Rourke quips, "Number four is such a pain, this Sabbath thing is so arcane / I don't want to desecrate, my only day to sleep in late."

O'Rourke's three songs are, on the whole, more varied than Tweedy's. The outright humour of the aforementioned Thou Shalt Wilt is married to the soothing rock balladry of Answers To Your Questions, while Stupid As The Sun is an Eagles-esque, sharp rock number. But that isn't to say that the Wilco frontman doesn't tease himself into different avenues. The album's closing track, Wanted, combines hopping piano and harmonised six-strings with some classic Tweedy lyrics ("When I say she's a rapist / That really isn't what I mean"). Furthermore, any doubts that Loose Fur might be tempering their ambition are blown away by the meandering and structureless eight-and-a-half-minute-long Wreckroom.

Born Again In The USA is superior to its somewhat angular and abstract predecessor in almost every way. However, like their self-titled debut, Loose Fur never appear to be reading from any particular manifesto and they never plough any particular field too deep; ultimately, that's what make Loose Fur so refreshing.

Friday, 14 April 2006

Album Review: Howling Bells

Continuing Australia's rich heritage of fascinations with gothic culture, Howling Bells make blissful music with a dark and seamy underbelly. Their self-titled debut - released by Bella Union and produced by Coldplay producer, Ken Nelson - is variably uplifting, moody and haunting.

Opener, The Bell Hit is a gentle indication of the pacific melancholia that follows, and is followed by Velvet Girl, a slightly woozy and casually unsettling pop song, which recalls the inert psychedelia of Sister Lovers-era Big Star.

At the forefront of these opening tracks, and the remainder of the album, are Juanita Stein's astonishing vocals. Comparisons with PJ Harvey, while lazy, aren't too far wide of the mark. Her lilting swoon glides and swoops over almost the entire album, but on Broken Bones, she raises the pitch and completely lets loose. While the track is a somewhat traditional tale of a broken heart ("broken bones may hurt / but a broken heart will never mend."), Stein delivers the words with such power and such conviction that you look past the lyrical shortcomings; it's a trick that Stein repeats on Low Happening, the track with the album's outstanding chorus. As if to prove her versatility, Stein turns down the volume and raises the tenderness on A Ballad For The Bleeding Hearts, a glowing country song.

From the brooding Setting Sun to the almost whimsical, The Night Is Young, Howling Bells offer a stunningly dazed rock n' roll that fans of My Bloody Valentine and Mazzy Star would be well advised to check out at the closest opportunity.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Fan mail

I thought this might come back to haunt me. AP Manley, an Observer reading skunk, sent me the following correspondence via regarding my recent piece in The Observer.

"Well, Mr Bassett, you were somewhat wrong, no? Not even a dyed in the wool olourblind Geordie heedcase would deny Boro's heroics in Switzerland, but your team stank today. And as for us, we don't wait 'obediently' for anyone, however rubbish we are at any given time. Whatever that nice Mr O'Neill finally decides to do, we've already got a perfectly decent manager and -- after today -- a genuine possibility of sneaking into Europe through the tradesmans' entrance. After the season we've had, that leads to magnanimous thoughts: I loved what Hasselbaink and co did in the week. But we simply KNEW we were getting three points today. It's called true faith, and 52,000 people there come wind rain shine or Souness.

Yours perfectly amicably

APManley An Observer-reading Gallowgate season ticket holder"

I think he rather missed the dog theme I had running through the piece, but fair play, Boro were shite.

Monday, 10 April 2006

85 quid sandwich

A sandwich - named The MacDonald - has gone on sale in Selfridges for £85.

The sandwich is made with "rare Wagyu beef, the finest fresh duck foie gras, black truffle mayonnaise, brie de meaux, rocket, red pepper and mustard confit with English plum tomatoes in a sour dough bread."


Sunday, 9 April 2006

New column up at

Still coming down from Thursday night, this is the best I could muster this week.


Middlesbrough vs Newcastle preview in The Observer

The Observer still don't offer an linkage, so here's what I reckon'll happen later today.

"While Boro are still celebrating the phenomenal win over Basle and looking forward to an FA Cup Quarter Final replay with Charlton, Newcastle are waiting obediently like a straggly, starving hound next to their master’s dinner table for the FA’s managerial leftovers. All of which has left this the most muted build-up to a Tees-Tyne derby that I can remember.

With neither team in danger of getting relegated, the aim of both sides will be to secure North East top dog status, and a win will put us above Newcastle with a game in hand. While I’d understand our players being mentally and physically exhausted after Thursday, I still think we’ll have too much attacking firepower for Newcastle’s suspect defence."

Thursday, 6 April 2006


Tuesday, 4 April 2006

The Rise & Rise Of Lee Cattermole

Another serious piece from me is now up at

I've got rather a chubby on for Lee Cattermole at the moment, find out why by clicking the link.


Sunday, 2 April 2006

Latest column up at

The European dream might be over after a comprehensive 2-0 beating in Switzerland.