Monday, 29 May 2006

Album Review: Everything Wrong Is Imaginary

It's often said that the best records come out of intense personal turmoil and Kurt Heasley (who is, for all intents and purposes, Lilys) is certainly no stranger to turmoil. While he was creating the 8th Lilys album, his wife had a psychotic episode and abandoned him. This left Heasley as a single parent of his three children. Putting his family first, Heasley decided to record his guitar and vocal parts at home and send the tracks to producer Michael Musmanno, who filled in the missing spaces with various studio musicians.

The resulting album, Everything Wrong Is Imaginary, is yet another stylistically nomadic record to add to Lilys' impressive canon. The smoothed-out disco funk haze of A Diana's Diana, the Guided By Voices pop of The Night Sun Over Sun Juan and the Pink Floyd tribute that is Knocked On A Fortune Teller's Door all show that Heasley's willingness to experiment hasn't been tempered by his tumultuous personal life. Perhaps the most divergent track, however, is With Candy, a curt, disjointed avant-rock number that features the stinging garage guitar of Heasley's overtly retro period, some of the dreamy sound-waves of his earliest work and some new forays into electronica.

There is a degree of stylistic goofing as Black Carpet Magic jolts from giddy noise to giddy noise and Still In All The Glitter nearly gets lost under its own veneer, but when the music gets too muddled, Heasley's world weary lyrics maintain the album's excellence. No more so than when he sarcastically declares "everyone knows everything" on Black Carpet Magic.

Witty, acerbic and intelligent, Everything Wrong Is Imaginary proves that Lilys continue to brim with imagination and, more importantly, are startlingly able to splinter and bend pop convention.

Sunday, 28 May 2006

Album Review: Fast Man Raider Man

Sometimes you have to go back to move forward. With a solo career in danger of stalling, a reunion with the Pixies has clearly lit a creative fire within the artist formerly known as Black Francis, and Cooking Vinyl are preparing to release the third Frank Black album in as many years.

Where last year's critically applauded Honeycomb album found Black working with legendary Memphis session men, here he expands his list of collaborators to include The Band's Levon Helm, P.F. Sloan, Heartbreaker drummer Steve Ferrone, Marty Brown, Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson, Simon Kirke from Bad Company and Free, and the legendary Al Kooper. Musicians returning from Honeycomb include Booker T & The MGs' Steve Cropper, Reggie Young, Buddy Miller, Spooner Oldman and Chester Thompson.

Black's clearly relishing spending time in the studio with his heroes and, by his own admission, he was more relaxed during recording this time around: "On Honeycomb I was walking on eggshells," Black admits. "These guys are still legends, but now that we'd hung around a bit, I was more at ease".

Perhaps because of this, Black doesn't adhere to such a strict blueprint this time around. In fact, there was a degree of overlapping with the recording of this and his last album (no bad thing since Honeycomb formed a high watermark in Black's solo career), Highway To Lowdown, Sad Man's Song and Where The Wind Is Going were all originally recorded for Honeycomb but didn't quite fit into its laidback remit. Since Fast Man Raider Man lacks such a distinct tone, there was no problem including them this time around. In fact, they form three of the album's highlights.

Elsewhere, Wanderlust has Black doing Van Morrison better than Van Morrison, Fitzgerald and Elijah both hark back to the time when Black and the Pixies were turning rock music on its head, while My Terrible Ways is a true, tragic story of heroism in wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Fans of the screaming, shrieking Black Francis may be confounded as he moves further and further away from his Pixies heyday, but to attempt to curb a talent as endless as Black's would be a crying shame.

Album Review: Progress Reform

With three limited 7"s to their name and a live show that is already the stuff of legend, Leeds-based enemies of Caps Lock, iLiKETRAiNS are all but redefining the phrase `hotly-tipped'.

Progress Reform - the band's first mini-album - features two of the band's previous releases, Terra Nova and A Rook House For Bobby, as well as five other tracks of intellectual, darkly uplifting sonic exploration.

Those dismissing the band's decision to wear British Rail uniforms during their live performances as a blithe gimmick would do well to re-think. In fact, it'd be taxing to find a band that take their craft as seriously as iLiKETRAiNS. Terra Nova tells of Captain Scott's doomed 1912 Antarctic expedition, while A Rook House For Bobby depicts the life of Bobby Fischer, the troubled chess grandmaster who ended up joining an apocalyptic cult and had the fillings removed from his teeth in case they influenced his behaviour, before being arrested, imprisoned and arriving in Iceland as a reclusive exile. In four-and-a-half minutes, Simon Fogel's drums punch the stomach, while David Martin's lyrics tear at the heart.

Elsewhere, Citizen is a jangling mess of distorted guitars and thumping drums and Martin's threatening lyrics on Stainless Steel ("Don't go in the kitchen, that's where all the knives are kept and I won't be held responsible") are masked by gentle, affecting guitars. At the close of Progress Reform lies The Beeching Report, a track which features iForwardRussia!, Napoleon III and This Et Al on backing vocals as some sort of iniquitous choir.

Leeds can claim ownership to perhaps the most exciting music scene in the country at the moment, and with Progress Reform, iLiKETRAiNS can probably claim to be the city's most exciting band.

Monday, 15 May 2006 Writers' Awards 2005/06

The annual Writers' Awards have just been published.

It's been a very strange season for Boro and this article makes interesting reading, I think.

Read it here

Saturday, 13 May 2006

Videogames in Lego

Here's a great Flickr set of videogame scenes rebuilt with Lego.

This is Metal Gear, but Katamari Blockacy is also brilliant.


Thursday, 11 May 2006


We Shall Overcome

Monday, 8 May 2006

Latest column up at

The last one of what's - whatever happens in Eindhoven - been a monumental season.


Friday, 5 May 2006

Album Review: Red Thread

Keith, the hotly-tipped Manchester four-piece with the most Google-unfriendly name since The The, finally release their debut album through Lucky Number on 29th May. Red Thread is released on the back of last year's excellent and critically acclaimed, Hold That Gun EP.

Back There is a low-key but confident introduction, which shows a band proudly wearing their Smiths influences on their sleeves. Killing Me continues in the same vein, but before Keith can be written off as one-trick indie pretenders, they demonstrate their versatility with a flurry of rich and varied tracks.

While Hold That Gun is sumptuous, jangling pop, Mona Lisa's Child offers a burst of disco grooves. That Keith embrace of elements of dance music should come as no surprise, after all, they play label mate Sebastian Tellier's masterpiece La Ritournelle regularly as part of their live set. Later, they revisit their Mancunian ancestry with some New Order-esque keyboards on Leave It Now, For Now.

But there are yet more feathers to Keith's bow. Faces is a drifting, somber number that is preceded by Gunshot Revelry, an overwhelmingly atmospheric ballad that recalls elements of The Beta Band. Towards the album's conclusion lies The Miller, an organic jam, which begins with riffs played on an Aztec tongue drum. It's further proof that Keith might pay just homage to their heritage, but they have more than enough skill to make their own imprint in the annals of Manchester's music.

Thursday, 4 May 2006

Latest column up at

High on Uefa Cup success, I've decided to write a piece that outlines why Steve McClaren is the right man to manage England.

I'm fairly certain this one will come back to bite me on the arse.


Album Review: Howlin Rain

A supergroup of sorts, Howlin' Rain features Ethan Miller from Comets On Fire, John Moloney from Sun Burned Hand Of The Man and Ian Gradek on bass. Unlike fellow Comets On Fire alumnus Ben Chasny, for his latest release, Miller has elected to create an old-fashioned free-wheeling country rock album, but one which throws in a few crunching crescendos for good measure.

Most of the songs are straighter than might be expected from some of the defining members of New Weird America, but there's always a hint of eccentricity somewhere nearby. Calling Lightening With A Scythe begins as a sweet, Steely Dan impersonation before imploding for a minute with a flurry of fierce feedback. Later, the dusty opening to Roll On The Rusty Days mimics a trademark Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers number before Howlin' Rain lose their restraint and create a frantically apocalyptic ending to the track.

The band barely draws breath before they embark on the colossal, bewildering, nine-minute opus, The Hanging Heart, and Death's Prayer In Heaven's Orchard is indication that Miller is prepared to burden his already strained vocal chords with his best Bon Scott impression. He never quite reaches the same vocal highpoint, but, nonetheless, both tracks ensure the point has been made; Howlin' Rain will leave no page of the rock canon unturned. Later, Indians, Whores And Spanish Men Of God offers the rollicking, swampy rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival, while Show Business is a wilting ode produced to guarantee its winsome blemishes remain intact.

In Sand And Dirt - the least inviting song on the album - lies towards the conclusion, and is a more formidable proposition than the other tracks; Gradek's bass and Moloney's drums form a fearsome and imposing accompaniment to Miller's razor-sharp guitar. With that burst of darkness out of their system, the album closes with the nine-minute, Lynyrd Skynyrd-aping The Firing Of The Midnight Rain. It's the best song Ronnie VanZant's Southern collective never recorded.

According to Ethan Miller, Howlin' Rain "make music to beat the steering wheel of your van to or sing along with while drinking whiskey in the bathtub on a Saturday night with your dog". Remarkably, that's not too far wide of the mark. Howlin' Rain is a glorious and gritty album.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Album Review: Ok Oyot System

A truly global concern, Extra Golden is made up of Otieno Jagwasi and Onyango Wuod Oamir of the Kenyan-based benga band, Orchestra Extra Solar Africa, Ian Eagleson from Washington D.C. rockers Golden and Alex Minoff from Weird War.

The musicians met as a result of Eagleson's doctoral research on Kenyan music; Otieno had been assisting him in documenting benga, a guitar-heavy form of dance music that has been popular in Kenya since the 1960s. The music on offer here is more specifically a style of benga played by the Luo people, a community based around the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya's Nyanza Province.

The title of the album derives from the Luo phrase "ok oyot", which translates as "it's not easy". It's a phrase often used by Luo singers as an exclamation in their performances, but one which became especially pertinent throughout the creation of Ok-Oyot System. Tragically, Otieno succumbed to liver failure shortly after the album was completed, and his community's shameful reaction to his illness is something that is addressed on the opening track of the album, Ilando Gima Onge (locals had begun collections in Otieno's name but used the money to buy beer for themselves). Singing in Luo, Otieno claims, "Friends are many, but when I am sick they just disappear".

While the opening track is deeply personal, the group addresses more universal worries on the remaining five tracks. Osama Rach tackles the war on terror, with Otieno singing, "I am asking President Bush and Osama / Why do you have to kill innocent people when you just want to kill each other?" Later, Eagleson and Minoff share English vocal duties on Tussin And Fightin', a message to the youth about the perils of drugs. A message especially relevant since the pair only narrowly avoided arrest by the Kenyan Criminal Investigation Department for possession of bhangi sticks.

Whether sung in English or Luo, the message Ok-Oyot System provides is delivered in the most earnest way: life is often not easy. Nonetheless, despite the struggles experienced by its creators, Ok-Oyot System is an album that could easily have ended up as a musical and cultural clash, but instead - due to the connection between the musicians - is an honest, unfeigned and incredibly relevant piece of work.

Tuesday, 2 May 2006

Column up on

I'm still absolutely agog at what happened on Thursday. No team, as far as I know (or could care) has ever come back like that. Twice.

I'm going to watch Boro play in a Uefa Cup Final. I NEVER would've thought that possible.


Album Review: Just Like The Fambly Cat

In January, after ten years, four albums and citing the reliable stand-by of 'irreconcilable differences', Grandaddy decided to call it a day. However, despite announcing their break-up, the band decided to record Just Like The Fambly Cat as their swansong. The result is an album that, due to its variety, is the perfect distillation of the Grandaddy experience - so much so that it could easily be a greatest hits package, were it not for the fact that all of the songs are new.

Beginning with a gentle piano refrain, Just Like The Fambly Cat opens with the same sadness and trepidation that one should expect for the final installment of Grandaddy's musical odyssey, but from thereon in the band run the gamut of their sound. So, while there's plenty of invention, many of the tracks pay homage to songs previously released by the band.

In fact, Jason Lytle and his band even retreat as far back as their relatively obscure, lo-fi debut, A Pretty Mess By This One Band, on Skateboarding Saves Me Twice, Jeez Louise is the perfect pop song with which the band made their name and easily the equal of A.M. 180 from their sublime full-length debut, Under The Western Freeway, and Elevate Myself too recalls the funky, fuzzed-out soundscapes of their full-length debut. Summer... It's Gone, meanwhile, is the forlorn cousin of their 1997 breakthrough single, Summer Here Kids. If that single marked Grandaddy's arrival, then Summer... It's Gone is, perhaps the perfect farewell.

Last year's Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla, with its emocore leanings, was an indication that band leader Jason Lytle was still prepared to try new things, and Just Like The Fambly Cat does occasionally push in new directions - witness the thrash punk of 50% and the operatic album closer, Shangri-La - but no matter what genre the band mould for themselves, the subject matter comes as little surprise. With their final album, Grandaddy finally pull themselves away from the technology dominated world that they lambasted on their seminal album, The Sophtware Slump. The Animal World, with its barking dogs and chirruping birds, marks the beginning of this journey towards a more organic place, while the dreamy Guide Down Denied is also concluded with the sound of a dog barking.

Lyrically, Lytle doesn't give much away, but the reflective Where I'm Anymore has him admit, "I don't know where I'm anymore", and the dominant refrain of the six-and-a-half minute drama of album closer This Is How It Always Starts - the beautiful and fitting Shangri-La outro goes unmentioned on the album's sleeve - is, "Oh shit, I can't let them see me like this".

Taken purely on its musical merits, Just Like The Fambly Cat is an album where astral synths fuse with acoustic guitars to form a distorted pop framework; where its creators, ambitious as ever, reach further than perhaps it is wise to. But, more than anything else, it's Grandaddy's final album and as such, was doomed to perfection from the start.

Monday, 1 May 2006

Naughty monkey