The Big Move: RR Goes to Tumblr

2010-07-25 | | View Comments

The internet has certainly moved on since I first used it. Back in the day, the best you could hope for was a forum over at InvisionFree. In fact, they were all the rage in my youth. That followed with LiveJournal, and WordPress. By the time I set up the RR, Blogger seemed to be the obvious, logical choice. Now, however, with the general ease-and-simplicity of Tumblr, it makes more sense to change up and move over there.

The move started earlier this past week. In fact, there are already two new reviews up (Delorean's Subiza, and Bombay Bicycle Club's Flaws) as well as a look at the Mercury Prize nominations.

From here on, the RR will try to be a little bit more professional in its approach to reviewing. So much so that I've started seeking out new writers, to give the place less of a bias when it comes to what we review and what we ignore. I'm also looking out for any bands who are tinkering with demos and such, and think a review may do them some good - and while places like PopJustice and Pitchfork may throw lame attempts in the bin, we'll take what soliciting we can.

I'm also hoping, with the added 'staff', we can come to some sort of regularity in terms of reviews, editorials, and such. I'm considering digging up the Introductions again - since I had fun with the TripHop guide, but then University got the better of me. All I can say is "Watch this space"...well...that space.

That all said and done, you can now find The RR at:

Update your newsfeeds, and enjoy. We're back on the road!

The Strange Boys @ The Globe, Cardiff

2010-06-28 | | View Comments

On a hot summer night, would you... Wait a minute, this neither involves Meatloaf, or the Wolf with the Red Roses. It's just the sweat-drenched sauna that was The Strange Boys at The Globe, Cardiff. Hailing from Austin, TX, and having just performed at Glastonbury's 40th anniversary, the band were freshfaced and eager to put on a show. It's just a shame that in such an intimate venue, the main thing on everyone's minds (and brows) was the sweltering heat which either stuck you to your seat, or kept you spending at the bar.

The opening act, Cardiff's very own The Method, were the result of what happens when five unhinged gentlemen with a penchant for trumpets, organs, and chaos in general, take the general layout of music and turn it on its head. There was definitely a tinge of the punk here, as well as the psychadelic, and the funky. Having seen guitarist Johnny perform solo as Johnny Alchemist, I sort of knew what to expect, but, even then I was blown away by the depth, the structure, and the overall showmanship put into such a set - it wasn't big and flash, but it had all the charisma needed to play a much bigger stage, to a much bigger audience - the solid, groovy basslines; the underlying darkness given away by the synth; the indescribabilty (not a word - Ed.) of it all... And when they finally gave way to Sex Beet, I must admit I was ready to rock, and possibly roll.

What was then brought to the stage was a shambling minimalist performance in all senses of both words. The three appeared mismatched, as though they had fallen through a thrift store on the way in, and when they finally tried to grace us with music, it actually wasn't all that good. Think The Horrors if they did songs by Bombay Bicycle Club, and the bassist was dead. Then you'd be in the right ballpark, but you'd still be digging for the metaphorical hidden body. Generally, aside from the helium-esque qualities of the vocals, it sounded as though it was half-baked - it was too noisy to be 'punk' but too pop to be 'noise rock'. I don't know if the levels should be blamed (by that, the tech guy...) or the band. In the end, a bad workman always blames his tools - so I must regretfully brand these as a band to give a miss next time they're on a bill...

Thankfully, when they disappeared back into the crowd, the stage gave way to what can only be described as rockabilly sensibilities. Though the general genre-range of the crowd was 'indie', these guys stood out like a sore thumb - and were all the better for it. Gingham shirts, denim jeans, white undershirts; all they needed was some greased back hair and a toothpick and I'd be sure there was some stereotyping going on. However, looks aside, what The Strange Boys brought to the stage was in fact the best piece of rock'n'roll ever - it lived by the DIY ethic, layering it with rockabilly, and general caterwauling to great effect. Even the saxophone of ex-Mika Miko Jenna Thornhill was greatly appreciated (personally).

Though what do you say about a band that's working a sound that seems to be making a possible comeback? You've got the polished traditionalism of The Baseballs and the classy pin-up girl in Imelda May. What you get from the Strange Boys, as evidenced last night, is a sense of "down-to-Earth garage band". If Buddy Holly had been born that little bit later, I think this is what his music would have sounded like. It's all evidenced in how straightforward their set was last night - some songs, some crowd interaction; generally a traditional "band", which is a refreshing thought knowing that they'd already played Glastonbury.

Overall it was a night of ups and downs. Well worth seeing The Method, slightly marred by Sex Beet, but the mood certainly picked up amidst the punk-try and western hoedown that was The Strange Boys. Honestly, I'd go and see them again any day.


Grasscut - 1 Inch / 1/2 Mile

2010-06-27 | | View Comments

To mention the name Grasscut at this point in time is, truthfully, the way to get a response equalling "Who?" Sad as that truth is, it's what puts them out in that great moment of Tony Wilson-esque "History". No doubt the speech has made its rounds on this blog quite enough, but, to refresh you on it (breifly - Ed.): A moment in history doesn't require a vast following: 3 at the death of Julius Caesar, 13 at the Last Supper, a few dozen at the first Sex Pistols gig in Manchester which lead to Factory Records being created. Therefore, this little-known Brighton twosome are obviously destined for greatness in the world.

The debut album of Brighton-based duo Andrew Phillips and Marcus O'Dair, simplistically titled 1 Inch / 1/2 Mile, is a musical map of the lives and times of the British Isles. Travelling from the Suffolk South Downs, via Wales, Brighton, and the words of Ezra Pound and Hilaire Belloc, the sounds that emanate from this album encapsulate a sense of electronica, and a long-forgotten time. In places, it is woeful, folorn, a total post-punk, post-apocalyptic masterwork. In others, it actually reeks of Steampunk, but, I am hesitant to call it that, since it's more structured and narrative; a sort of Steamfolk, if you will.

From almost sounding like a half-baked 65 Days of Static, this duo build up the album through High Downs, Old Machines and Meltwater, before falling into what I can only describe as the best piece of sampling I have heard thus far. That comes in the shape of The Tin Man, a song that involves a creaky gate recorded on a mobile phone, "the People's Tenor" on a '20s vinyl, and the story of a man with a metal cane. It is at this point where the Marmite Factor comes into it - you'll either love the high-pitched, antiquated vocals from the recorded gramophone, or you'll loathe the entire project thus far. From then on, it drifts between Eluvium and 65DOS in equal measure; ambient, enthralling, and slightly quirky.

Personally, there are few faults within this album. Okay, that was far too subjective. Objectively: There are flaws. They're not gaping holes, but they do strike you as obvious ones - sometimes the melodies don't match the sampled lyrics. Other times, the songs just sound out of place (Muppet being a key example). However, what it does is falls into that category of music that I actually think lacks a name at present. It's in there with groups like the Unextraordinary Gentlemen, or The Correspondents. If labelling and genre pigeonholing were my cup-of-tea, I'd have to pin them all under the same Retronica label.

So, insofar as Retronica goes, this is a pretty decent attempt at reconciling the past and the present. This is also a pretty good attempt taking a road-less-travelled. In fact, despite it probably fading into obscurity very quickly, I think 1 Inch / 1/2 Mile has all the makings of a genre-definer, if taken into the fold, and given pride of place with the other Retronica albums of note. Here's hoping, eh?

Overall: 6/10 - A bit ropey in places, but, all the trappings of a good, solid album lie under the cracks in the masonry.

Top Track - The Door in the Wall

Ellie Goulding - Lights

2010-05-18 | | View Comments

The other day, I switched on the TV to see what could only be described as Thriller meets Fight for this Love. It was in fact the video for Ellie Goulding's Guns and Horses, a single which is probably as infectious as the rest of her repertoire. Coming out of nowhere and in less than a year, thanks in part to Frankmusik, she has stormed the charts and become a mainstay on radio and television. Perhaps, three singles down, now is the right time to take stock of what she's capable of?

Lights is the debut album of Ms Goulding, an ex-drama student from the University of Kent, who had a bit of a lucky break and managed to catch the ears of the BBC Sound of 2010 pollsters. From her high horse, she's managed to put out an album of debateable quality. On some levels its perfect electropop, and on others its just-another-pop-album.

It has its strong points. It's really quite a good party album. It starts off really strong, in fact extremely strong. You get the little vocal hiccup of "Wow, her voice is a bit scratchy" on Guns and Horses, but, then you get into it and the beat picks up; it's just what you need these days. Smiley-happy-pop. What Ellie could have managed with the first four songs is an EP of monumental proportions - I mean, it would have made an epic piece of popular music if she'd just released up as far as Under the Sheets on one short-player.

If she'd done that, however, you'd miss out on the magic to come. The Writer actually shocked me. I was so used to the teeny-bopper pop-fusion that it was becoming rather habitual to expect more uptempo "tuneage". This could be the point that you go "What?" because I sure as hell did. That said, it's a very good what. This is the Ellie that people need to see, because otherwise she's going to be pigeonholed as an electronica artist like every other two-bit act out there.

Then it's all lost. It's back to the uptempo downtrodden sound of the rest of the album. It's fair to say that perhaps she manages to shine through even more by juxtaposing that little gem in amongst all this sand; the diamond in the rough and all that. I suppose other songs come close to bringing out that brilliance, but it covers it over with drumtracks and sequencing. For an electronica album though, I should be happy with what I'm being given, because it's not bad at all for a first attempt.

Overall: 7/10 - A bit generic in places, definitely worthy of praise though.

Top Track: Starry Eyed (though personally I prefer The Writer...)

Darwin Deez - Darwin Deez

2010-05-17 | | View Comments

Twee Pop has always interested me, but in the sense that it's unfathomable. Some people do it really well, and some people just do some jamboree of horrid sounds. Yet, some Twee nonsense always seems to make it on to every summer playlist ever made - this summer, it's the turn of the tin-earred, 80s reject that is Darwin Deez, a man whose allure I can't quite fathom.

So, we've learned in the course of this album that Darwin Deez, the frontman who suddenly seems so cocky by naming a band after his persona, and then their first album after the band that's named after him, is a talentless hack. Sure, in the world of indie it's all fun and games to be "punk rock" and tone deaf, but, when it comes to music I've heard tone deaf songs sound half good, even when they're half-baked.

What you get with this eponymous album is half-baked ideas for songs which almost all sound the same and blend into each other. Sometimes, when they're good, they're ruined by the crackly, pitchy vocals of Mr Deez himself. So, yes, punk rock, Neutral Milk Hotel, all that. But for this, it just doesn't fly. You cannot hide behind something like that; you have to admit that as indie cindy as you may be - you are not a rockstar, or a popstar, or even a personality for that matter. You are just ruining music.

It's all well and good for me to go off on a rant right now, but the reason this album is so terrible is because it's just lacking in that drive to push itself to do something a bit more. I mean, I could have turned off after a couple of songs and said "You know what, this is an alright EP" but, it's just like pushing a boulder up a hill that doesn't stop - I lost the will to live when the same chords and droning, whining vocals came in yet again on the next song.

So, some advice: Mr Deez. If you're ever allowed to make another album, please think about making things interesting for the listener. Think of it as scrapbooking. Put in loads of elements; mix it up a bit. Don't just create a family album where all the photos were taken on the same day and call it done

Overall: 3/10 - Samey, boring, lacking drive. However, Radar Detector. Addictive.

Top Track: Radar Detector

The National - High Violet

2010-05-16 | | View Comments

Ohio seems to be one of those lesser-known musical centres. It's given us Trent Reznor, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Marilyn Manson, and to a lesser extent Dave Grohl. Still, amongst all that acoustic chaff, there's got to be something worth listening to, right? Well, that's where The National come in. The all-American sextet have had 3 years of projects since their last full album, Boxer, in 2007, and now, they're back on top form.

Everyone could immediately switch off after the first track on High Violet. I'm sure you'd all like to. Terrible Love is indeed that: terrible. It's slightly off-kilter when taken in with the rest of the album. It's a jarring start. It's something I don't like. However, once Sorrow kicks in, that's when the album becomes what it is: it's a contemplation; it's a message; it's an album that a lot of rock bands are doing these days - the meaningful one before they fade into obscurity again.

This is coming across all wrong, right, readers? The intro says they're on top form, but I've just said they're going to fade into obscurity. Well, that's just it. It's an album that wins you over, and that's what I want to do in this: You need to be won over by it. No amount of critique could tell you how good it is, because frankly every critic, myself included, is dry-humping the hell out of this. I've read the reviews; I've seen the scores; I didn't believe.

What this album manages to do is envelop you in a sense of total tranquility. Think what Coldplay tried to do with Viva la Vida, but better. This isn't quite rock and roll, but, it's one of those albums that you shouldn't let pass you by. There's the urge to call it indie pop; there's the urge to compare it to a more peaceful Editors, Joy Division or other band with a sonorous soloist up front. Of course, it is neither one nor the other of these. It could be compared to a silk robe: simple on the surface, but intricate beneath. Yet, it's that something which defies all comparison which makes it a perfect soundtrack.

It could be raining outside, and you could be inside with a hot beverage; it could be a rare, sunny day, and you could be reading Dostoevsky; either way, this would be the soundtrack to it all. It doesn't ask to be played loudly; it doesn't ask for attention like all others of the same genre, trying to hold you in their complex riffs, with their overdone everything. None of that here. Simplicity is the name of the game. That's why you should listen.

Overall: 8/10 - A bit of a rocky start, but, once it gets flowing it lives up to the hype, if not surpasses it.

Top Track: England

The Dead Weather - Sea of Cowards

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Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know of The Dead Weather. They hit Glastonbury last year as the 'secret act' that everyone had been speculating about; they came totally out of left field, and stormed their way right into the rock scene like every other project the enigmatic Jack White has been involved in. There's a song that says "You've got to keep the Devil way down in the hole", but, when it comes to the diabolic genius of Jack White, and his collaboration with Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs), it's probably best to let him out, and into your headphones.

Ballsy and Bluesy are the first things that spring to mind with Sea of Cowards. I've said it before: there's something raw, visceral, untamed and edgy about this side of Jack White's projects. Sure, The White Stripes were always 'blues-garage-rock' and The Raconteurs kind of touched on this, but where The Dead Weather dare to tread is a no-man's land, piled high with Spinal Tap-esque amps, and populated by the rotting corpses of Muddy Waters, Les Paul, and Blind Lemon Jefferson...

Beyond those pure blues-and-roll riffs, what else has it got? Well - it's like injecting molasses into your ears. It's sludgy, slow, and yet, the sugary-sweet high is over in a matter of seconds. I was quite shocked on first tuning into this, finding it to be a little over 35 minutes in length. Whilst that definitely explains how it was able to be pushed out in 15 months, it doesn't explain how it could be so darned good. You find yourself reaching the end and wanting more; so much more.

The single Die By The Drop is probably the point where White, Fertita, Lawrence and Mosshart pin up the sign "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here". It's definitely the point where the album hits its mainstream zenith, and then begins the winding, country road back down to the bayou, head bobbing all the way, foot tapping, and maybe even a wry smile available. If you liked it up to now, this is the real turning point. For me, it was where I turned it up even louder; but it might well be where you walk away.

What this album packs into its almost minuscule time-frame is amazing, frankly. I'm sure people who are fans of bands like Lightning Bolt and hardcore punk outfits will no doubt say that it's easy to do. Yes, it is easy to cram songs into an album. However, it's not easy to find yourself the kind of consistent quality that is provided from start-to-finish with this. It's probably the progression that should have been in the fusion between the dark and the Americana, instead of psychobilly. In fact, it's a slice of Mississippi Mud Cake heaped with some of the smoothest whipped cream; it's an afternoon treat that'll leave you salivating for more. It's Jack White at his best.

Overall: 9/10 - Probably one of my favourite albums of the year so far. I cannot deny that this is just what the doctor ordered.

Top Track: Gasoline

Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip - The Fable of Izeekabee

2010-03-21 | | View Comments

As a rare Easter Egg, I decided to rise from the metaphorical dead, like some obvious blasphemous metaphor, and provide you with some up-to-date music reviewery. Today I got my grubby mitts on a copy of dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip's newest little ditty, rather oddly titled The Fable of Izeekabee.

Now, first up it should be known that this song isn't their single. That, in fact, would be Get Better, a song which I haven't even bothered to look into (which is quite bad). Secondly, it should be duly noted that Scroob has admitted that he writes the lyrics after the music - whether that has changed, I don't know, but, it's a noteworthy piece.

The Fable of Izeekabee, anyhow, is a four minute romp in which the music never quite seems to match the lyrics. I kept expecting, during the intro, Swedish electro-vixens The Knife to get involved, which soon gave way to Flaming Lips Yoshimi-esque distortion-buzzing. The lyrics, however, just seem totally diverse from the tune - no real link, just the fact that they seem to barely fit in. Maybe it's intended, what with the message here...

Soon, though, it gets into its groove. It finds its niche, and that's when the song gets good, but, it takes a whole 2 minutes before it feels secure in itself and sounds like the old Scroob and le sac that always worked together, like cheese-flavoured chalk, or like the riff amongst the raff separating the wheat from the chaff. It's just a shame a lot of that chaff seemed to get involved early on, when it needed to hook. When it does hook, however, it gets you line-and-sinker too. If you're not into it by now, just turn it off and consider coming back when you're more in tune with yourself.

Then, when it comes to an end, it ends perfectly. It's not ostentatious, it's not overly wordy, it's not trying to be something that it's not - in fact, it's being good old Scroobius Pip writing the way he writes best. It just shows the genius of the man, right down to the spoonerisms that Ronnie Barker would have been very proud of. 

My final thoughts, however, are totally the opposite of what I've written. It's not a wishy-washy piece. It's a grower. It's a good'un, well worth a listen. It comes across like the soundtrack to a piece written by Aaron Diaz of DresdenCodak. It has the set up - it builds the story, it develops it, and then it concludes it nicely. It comes across like the new version of The Emperor's New Clothes, but with much more of a moral message: "Don't be such a show-off, you self-righteous prick."

7/10 - It took three listens to be very enjoyable, though it still jars at the start, but, it's always made better by the ultimate spoonerism ending. I eagerly anticipate the album.

To get your own copy of The Fable of Izeekabee, text UGLY to 81088 and follow the instructions that Scroob and DLS send back.

A Note From The Editor: Indefinite Hiatus

2010-01-18 | | View Comments

This weekend I was going to take some time and continue on with the Introductions Series, looking at alt-folk from Neutral Milk Hotel, through Beirut and Devotchka, back to A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

Instead, I seem to have been snowed under with other commitments in my life, like my course, finding an actual job, and generally enjoying what time I have left in this country. As much as I love this blog, and I love my music, something had to give - it couldn't be the course; it couldn't be my lifestyle; so, it was this blog.

As of now, The Retrospective Review is taking an indefinite hiatus. There will be no posts on this blog as of today, though I will be maintaining my personal blog.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll come back whenever I find the time to start this up properly.

Gorillaz - Demon Days

2010-01-15 | | View Comments

When the world seemed like there was no hope for music left, along came Damon Albarn, fresh from Blur, and he took some cartoon men and made them sing. And what they did was take the base of trip-hop, and tear it up to make their own music. Their debut album wasn't exactly trip-hop, as hip-hop over dub; and their second album was more hip-pop, but, buried under it all, under the paint and the facades was the last of the trip-hop albums: Demon Days.

What Gorillaz managed to do with this album is create music for the masses. It was still lyrical; it was still poetic; it still had that dark vibe taken from the trip-hop of the nineties. And yet, it was different. It was a unique slice of the mind of Damon Albarn. It was something that the kids growing up had never heard before. Aside from Gorillaz, there wasn't a large mainstream group putting out this kind of music.

I find Demon Days interesting. It blended the sounds of Blur, and more than just Albarn's vocals, with the electronic world. O Green World took on a distinctly Blur-esque sound, but yet moulded it to fit in with the Gorillaz persona. They took on hip-hop; they took on any challenge that came before them. It was inspiring.

Admittedly, for me, as a person who struggles with traditional hip-hop, I find this album hard to listen to. Songs like El Manana just don't 'do' it for me. I don't know what it is, but, I still can see the value in the songs I don't like. I suppose, in a way, it's the same as asking a fan of hip-hop to listen to Burzum without any prior warning - you're not always guaranteed a good answer. Ironically, when MF Doom gets involved on November Has Come, a true hip-hop tune, I loved it.

So, what are you getting here? Like I've said. It's not pureblood trip-hop. This is the progression. This is hip-pop in a sense; it's got the background, but, it's floated into lands unknown. A warning to all fellow travellers. Here be dragons, and rappers.

Overall: 7/10 - Ironically, it's the fact that it's not trip-hop enough that makes this progression lose marks. Compared to the others, it's just an album; but, it's an evolution away from the years of Portishead, and Massive Attack.

Top Track: All Alone