Friday, 30 March 2007

Album Review: Traineater

New York collective The Book of Knots have only given themselves a three-album lifespan. The first self-titled album was an ode to seaside towns and the third is promised to be devoted to aeronautics. The second, Traineater, is the melancholy tale of the fall of the great steel and mining town in the American Midwest.

The four-piece - who have played alongside Sparklehorse, Elvis Costello, Frank Black and Pere Ubu - are joined by guests Tom Waits, Carla Bozulich, Megan Reilly, Jon Langford, David Thomas and Mike Watt. Together, they paint haunting portraits of cities like Cleveland, Youngstown, Toledo and Detroit; places that were once the definition of American motivation, progress and industry, but are now ruined monuments of a bygone era. The guest vocalists fade in and out like transients sharing hard luck stories.

The noisy and discordant clank of View From The Watertower and The Ballad Of John Henry is reminiscent of how loud the rust belt cities were before the factories moved overseas, while other tracks are a disconcerting reflection of the quiet desperation that characterises these cities now.

With scraping, swirling guitars, soaring string arrangements, rupturing bass and plate-shattering drums, Traineater chillingly chronicles a part of America left bare by globalization.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

7/11s to become Kwik-E-Marts

11 7/11 stores are being rebranded as Kwik-E-Marts to coincide with the release of The Simpsons movie.

"If all goes as planned, the convenience store chain plans to refit 11 stores across the U.S. -- Richmond is an unlikely choice -- to resemble the front of the Kwik-E-Mart, the convenience store that Homer and other characters frequent in the classic cartoon TV series.

Customers also will be able to buy products inspired by the nearly two-decades-old show, including KrustyO's cereal, Buzz Cola and iced Squishees (the cup says Squishee, but the contents will be Slurpee).

The chain also will use pictures of Simpsons characters to promote 7-Eleven's line of fresh foods, such as placing the face of Homer and his classic "Mmmm . . . sandwich" quip on sandwich wrappers."


Monday, 26 March 2007

Boro eliminated from the FA Cup - What Do You Think?

Red Eye's panel give their take on Boro's (undeserved) loss to Man United.


Friday, 23 March 2007

Album Review: Woke On A Whaleheart

Having begun as Smog, switched to (smog), moved back to Smog, Bill Callahan is, finally, just Bill Callahan. Having hidden behind the Smog moniker and dressed passion in dispassionate delivery for nearly two decades, Callahan's reputation is enigmatic, but, addressed by his own name, he's no longer such an enigma. In fact, on the single Diamond Dancer, he admits, "It's time I gave the world my life."

The change of name might mean a more candid Callahan but his iconic baritone and the cutting inflection that straddles perfectly the line between self-depreciation and self-parody are unchanged. The beautiful prose of tracks like Footprints ("where the footprints end / we must have flown") is coupled with wry wit, as on From The Rivers To The Ocean ("we got in the river and it groped us / made us think of sex between us").

Taking care of the arrangements is Neil Michael Hagerty, whose garage sensibilities further the Nashville sound of the last Smog album, A River Ain't Too Much To Love, to give Callahan a country outlaw edge. While it's true that Woke On A Whaleheart follows the gentler path that he began to forge with 2003's Supper, the new album is even more compelling than his earlier, more subversive material.

Sycamore, with backing gospel vocals from Deani Pugh-Flemmings of the Olivet Baptist Church choir, could easily be a Stax recording; the captivating Night features gorgeous piano from Howard Draper; while Callahan provides himself with a verbal cue on On The Wheel, speaking each line before he sings it.

Having worn many aesthetic masks throughout his career, Callahan has made his best album without wearing one at all. No longer inscrutable, but never easy, Woke On A Whaleheart snatches at the same painful honesty we haven't seen from him since The Doctor Came At Dawn.

Album Review: We'll Never Turn Back

As musical activists in the 1960s, The Staple Singers were powerful voices for equality and change. Working with Dr. Martin Luther King and singing in support of the Civil Right movement, they drew on their spirituality and the strength of the church to achieve social justice.

Mavis Staples' new album, We'll Never Turn Back, combines raw, emotional, contemporized versions of some of the freedom songs, along with other traditional songs, that provided the soundtrack to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and original material written by Staples and producer Ry Cooder. Having helped to define what is righteous and soulful in A merican music, this is Staples' most electrifyingly personal and polemical album of her career.

Ry Cooder and his son, Joaquin, drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Mike Elizando, many of the original Freedom Singers and South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo create soundscapes for Mavis' deep-in-the-well, heartfelt vocals to flourish. Mavis ad-libs spoken and sung commentary on several songs, connecting the lyrics to her own life, her family and the issues of the day.

Traditional numbers like This Little Light and 99 ½ are given a new lease of life by Staples' incredible voice and Ry Cooder's powerful arrangements, while the cover of Southern bluesman J.B. Lenoir's Down In Mississippi is an early stand out moment. The new material, however, more than matches up to the feeling of the traditional songs; the title track - co-written by Staples and Cooder - and the Cooder-penned I'll Be Rested both recall the pounding emotion of 1960s gospel music.

Not only a deeply personal account of Mavis' life from her childhood days in Mississippi, through the Civil Rights era and up to her current indignation over the continuing treatment of some Americans as second class citizens, We'll Never Turn Back is a wonderful homage to a period in which everyday citizens exhibited incredible bravery and wrought incredible changes to society, retrieving some of the most treasured voices in contemporary music and finding that behind it lies an inspirational force.

Album Review: Rykestrasse 68

Rykestrasse 68 is the new album from the Norwegian singer-songwriter, who received critical admiration for her 2005 debut, Little Things.

Having relocated to Berlin to record this, her second album, Hukkelberg has maintained the melodic delicacy and sleepy seductiveness and - no doubt inspired by Germany's capital - bolstered them with crosscurrents of emotional turbulence, conflicts and turmoil.

The scene is set as opener Berlin ("my neighbour's balcony / old bullet holes / behind wild botany") weaves ambient street recordings through a subtle mix of strings and woodwinds, while Hukkelberg's elegant voice breaks casually through the din.

Returning from his work on Little Things, veteran producer Kåre Vestrheim encourages Hukkelberg to incorporate stray objects into the dense arrangements, allowing the additional sound effects to flourish and retain their natural form. Under such an adventurous arrangement disparate objects like a typewriter and a cat are allowed to achieve maximum dramatic impact. Such composition works best on the atmospheric The North Wind, which is deftly augmented by clacking typewriter keys and glistening wine-glass glissandos.

The dusky version of Pixies' Break My Body writhes fiercely under Hukkelberg's deliberate jazz-inflected intonation, giving fresh intensity to the song's abstract violence. More abstract still is Ticking Bomb, which transposes a thick cipher of distress across a shifting canvas of acerbated piano, Mule Variations-style percussion and broken beer bottles.

As a vocalist, Hukkelberg is at her best on the deceptively scruffy groove of A Cheater's Armoury, as she utters, "you gamester / you fool us / we watch your spinning wheel / and the longer it takes for us to heal". It's left deliberately unclear whether she's admonishing a lover, a friend or a political leader. Then there's the existential narrative of The Pirate, where the woozy blend of accordion and piano effectively mirror the downcast lyrics with a seasick lurch.

Just as with the immaculate Little Things, Hukkelberg proves willing to allow a little discord into her carefully orchestrated surroundings, and her captivating work is all the richer for it. But, perhaps as a product of her relocation, Rykestrasse 68 is grander and more continental than her debut.

Album Review: Rainbow

Boris are seldom straightforward. Having released a forthright garage burner, Pink, the band re-released Dronevil, their two-disc answer to The Flaming Lips' Zaireeka, and the droning Sunn0))) collaboration, Altar, before allying themselves with Ghost's virtuoso axe-man, Michio Kurihara.

The combination of the Japanese three-piece and the Eastern hemisphere's most talented guitarist has led Boris to do something they've never done before: turn down the volume and produce a mellow psych-rock record.

Rafflesia begins with a short burst of bass feedback and a short drum fill that sounds unmistakably like Parting from Pink. It's probably the only similarity between the two albums. Droning, distorted, undermixed bass merges with slightly whiny, mellow vocals by Boris bassist Takeshi and minimal drums, until guitarist Wata and Kurihara join in for an extended instrumental jam about two minutes in. The combination of Wata's low, earthy guitar and Kurihara's starry hypnotic pitch-benders sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The title track flows neatly and quietly until Kurihara picks up his guitar and hammers the dreamy, slinky vocals by Wata (only her second vocal track in the band's catalogue), with some moody fretwork. Kurihara's bluesy style continues into Starship Narrator, with a blazing, mangled guitar solo.

My Rain is a short, damp interlude that precedes the dark-psych creepiness of Shine. With a foreboding picked acoustic guitar, minimal background percussion and Takeshi's lamenting vocals, it forms the closest approximation of Ghost's fulgid psych-folk.

The seven-minute You Laughed Like A Water Mark is Rainbow's longest track and a relaxed, Can-esque two-note groove by Wata is eventually steamrolled by Kurihara's rampant guitar.

The soaring, backwards played guitar on Fuzzy Reactor would've made for a great finale, but inevitably Boris push further. And harder. Sweet No. 1 - Rainbow's heaviest moment - is a rambling rock dervish, saturated with a stutter-step guitar strut. It's an ear-splitting cacophony before the mellow, instrumental outro of No Sleep Till I Become Hollow.

Rainbow stands testament to Boris' ability to master any genre they choose; having nailed drone, sludge, garage and now psych, where Boris choose to take us next is anyone's guess.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Boro slip up against City - What Do You Think?

Poor Lee Dong Gook gets a bit of a ribbing this week. I'm starting to feel sorry for the lad.


Wednesday, 14 March 2007

19th Century shipping labels

Flickr user pantufla has scanned her beautiful collection of 19th century shipping labels.


Monday, 12 March 2007

Another FA Cup replay - What Do You Think?

Red Eye's panel rage about the controversial draw against Manchester United.

I agree with Michael Samuel, it was NEVER a pen.


Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Album Review: Painted Garden

Greg Ashley is starting to get as annoying as Sufjan Stevens. Since 2001, he's released two immaculate garage-psych albums with The Gris Gris, two acid-soaked retro rock albums with The Mirrors and now two solo albums - and all without a drop in standards. Like Stevens, if we didn't enjoy listening to his records so much, our envy of his ceaseless talent is such that we'd line him up for a punch in the mouth.

We're told that Ashley wrote and recorded all of Painted Garden himself (in a burnt-out ghetto in Oakland and his remote cabin in Kosse, Texas), except for half of one song which was co-written and performed by an Oakland chanteuse. Just like his previous solo album, Medicine Fuck Dream, Painted Garden plays strictly to Ashley's folk tendencies but retains the acid-fried weirdness that his reputation is forged upon.

It's certainly a darker affair than Medicine Fuck Dream, and there's nothing to rival the lovely She or I Said, These Are Lonely Days from his solo debut. The scummy mix of piano, jazz drums and guitar makes Fisher King particularly creepy, as Ashley offers his take on heroin use ("pick up a spoon / cook up your breakfast"). Room 33, too, offers a nightmarish backwoods vibe and oddball lyrics.

Painted Garden's unhurried pace is enlivened by the final track, Corporation Station Agent, a short, frenzied garage-folk number that was originally found on a Gris Gris 7". It's a song that not only sends the album off to a delirious conclusion but reminds us that Greg Ashley is right up there with the great musical minds of our time.

Album Review: Now It's Time

The daughter of a Southern minister, a choir member from the age of four and a mainstay of various punk bands (including Frightwig) in the 1980s, Paul Frazer discovered her true path when she formed the group Tarnation in 1992.

As the personnel rotated from record to record and even from tour to tour, Frazer was Tarnation's only constant, as well as the sombre tone that coupled traditional western music with sixties pop sensibilities.

After two albums, Gentle Creatures and the acclaimed Mirador, Frazer took a step away from the name Tarnation in order to free herself from the constraints that she felt the band's structure imposed. Frazer released two solo albums - Indoor Universe and Leave The Sad Things Behind - that were lush and symphonic, as well as a compilation of four-track recordings, A Place Where I Know.

Now, having written a batch of songs that bear the same doleful quality last witnessed during the Mirador years, Frazer decided it was time to re-establish Tarnation, hence the new album's title.

Now It's Time reconnects with Tarnation's past by marrying an olde tyme ambience created by long-time collaborator Patrick Main's piano with Jasmyn Wong's drums and whispering guitars and strings, which wonderfully frame Frazer's signature angelic voice.

Pretend recalls Nick Drake; First Sign incorporates elements of last year's solo record, Leave The Sad Things Behind; Nowhere is the kind of lyrical ballad that Paula last employed when writing The Wall well over a decade ago, with the Moore Brothers adding backing vocals. The twin highlights, however, are August's Song and Sleeping Dreams, which tell the story of a broken relationship from the two different perspectives.

Frazer has one of the most distinctive and rangy altos in popular music and, paired with assured songwriting, Now It's Time feels both at once traditional and contemporary.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Boro advance to quarter-finals - What Do You Think?

Red Eye and his Boro Six turn their attention to Boro's victory over West Brom.


Sunday, 4 March 2007

Album Review: In Bocca Al Lupo

With a name shared with a 1976 Eileen Brannan mystery spoof masterpiece, a singer who mimics Johnny Cash and an album loosely based on Dante's Inferno, Murder By Death are clearly prepared to rub shoulders with the very best.

In Bocca Al Lupo (an Italian phrase meaning `in the mouth of the wolf') is the third album from Murder By Death, following Like The Exorcist But More Breakdancing (which was released under the name Little Joe Gould) and their previous effort, Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them?

In Bocca Al Lupo trades some of the amazing instrumentals from their previous albums for more narrative and tighter songs. Having lost keyboardist Vincent Edwards since their last album, cellist Sarah Balliet fills the void by taking over the keys but also increasing the presence of the cello. Rather than taking away possibilities, being forced to choose between instruments allows Balliet to give each song more clarity and her deep cello is never more impressive than when coupled with the tango rhythms of One More Notch.

Whether the plucked strings, hand claps and acappella choruses on bass-drum driven Dynamite Mine, or the languorous vocal and implacable drums of Raw Deal, Murder By Death cannot be faulted for their ability; in Brother and Dead Men & Sinners, they have a pair of rollicking drinking songs the envy of any band. The single, Brother, is the band's most infectious moment to date, while Dead Men & Sinners is a vaudeville pirate polka, replete with chinking glass mugs, floor pounding and a chorus of drunken men doubling every word. Later, the all-acoustic Shiola breaks new ground for the band, but it's the only moment where Adam Turla's voice veers a little too closely to the Man in Black's.

Besides his Cash-aping vocals, Turla writes frightening and stirring lyrics that express the voices of his many characters. The Big Sleep follows a man who has been sentenced to death and, perhaps surprisingly, is the only song to overtly refer to The Divine Comedy as Turla moans, "the bailiff leads me back to my cell / like the river man ferrying me to hell". Cold-blooded murder is outlined on the wonderfully chilling Dynamite Mine, while Boy Decide is full of thrill and intrigue.

As the album ends with Turla insisting "there's still time to start again", it's worth remembering that it was the she-wolf in Inferno that forced Dante on his journey to hell, and so into hell Murder By Death have taken us, touching on themes of sin, transgression, punishment and, finally, redemption, and, along the way, with grit and spunk, wit and precocity, have matched their inspiration with an classic entirely of their own.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Album Review: School Was My Hustle

It's a very big test of a new act's pedigree to charge them with resurrecting one of hip hop's most fondly cherished labels. Fortunately for Rawkus, Kidz In The Hall are more than talented enough to live up to the task. And, perhaps more appropriately, they have an ethos worthy of the great label, because just as the formation of Rawkus was originally a reaction to Bad Boy and Death Row artists selling millions of records with arguable talent, School Was My Hustle makes it clear that they still feel the same way.

Having both studied at the University of Pennsylvania, Naledge, a poet since an early age, was introduced to Double O, who had always been DJing and composing beats, and they formed Kidz In The Hall. And, with an outlook similar to the Native Tongues movement, their debut album takes a slightly less militant Dead Prez political consciousness and spins it with Jurassic 5-style positivity.

Naledge makes his agenda clear on Ritalin as he ploughs through what he feels are emcees undeserving of their success, backed by a military drum roll. The rhetoric continues on Wassup Jo', as Naledge berates less talented rappers that have found commercial acclaim.

Naledge is also keen to impress upon us that although he chose college, he does still have an understanding of the streets. On Cruise Control he claims to have "the heart of the street, plus the eyes of the ghetto, with the brains of a nerd," while on Dumb Ass Tales he laments upon the number of juvenile lives that are wasted.

Double O's production is layered and dynamic throughout. Go Ill is a blaxploitation funk and flute loop and Wheelz Fall Off ('06 Til) reworks the sample that made Souls Of Mischief's 93 Til Infinity such a classic, but Double O's outstanding beat is Don't Stop. While it's fair to say that some of the beat's impact has been lost because it was lent to Just Blaze for use on Jay-Z's Show Me What You Got previously, it remains the album's standout beat.

Across its lean twelve tracks, School Was My Hustle oozes the brash, cocky definitive of early 20-somethings, while exhibiting a maturity beyond their years by remaining duly reverent to classic `80s hip hop.