Take The 'SHACKLES' Off My Feet So I Can Dance

Quit lying down on the street, Crystal Stilts are back with their own brand of broodingly intense, often anthemic, Garage Rock. Only this time they sound almost optimistic. The N.Y based band release their new single 'Shake the Shackles' on October 26th via Slumberland Records. Whether the band have been literally shackled remains to be seen, but the title proves apt for a band releasing their first single from the forthcoming follow up to 2008's Alight of Night.

The single has all the hallmarks of a Crystal Stilts track, Ian Curtis is evidently still the band's mascot, it's just this time the guitar work is a touch livelier. Who knows, this could even cause people to tap BOTH feet at future live shows. With that in mind look out for a new full-length early next year, if this is anything to go on it'll be a humdinger.


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Film Review: The Expendables

A month after most ‘men’ watched it I finally got round to seeing The Expendables last week. The gang’s-all-here exploding nostalgia trip has been reviewed to death, death itself a prevalent character in the movie what with all the shootings, explosions, and CGI blood, but there are some particular things I’d like to pick up on.

Firstly, the enemy. Obviously Stallone was aware that choosing a real country for an enemy would mean the movie wouldn’t sell there. Being Stallone’s opponent is about as enviable a task as playing against the Harlem Globetrotters, however the drug corrupt, stereotypical dictatorship led Latin-American country ‘Vilena’ fits the bill perfectly. The country’s name itself probably came from Stallone logically thinking ‘where do Villains come from? Vilena’. But not only that, the flag is a copy and paste job of both the Spanish and Iraqi flags, as if to say ‘they may speak Spanish, but we’re allowed to go to war with these guys’. The real enemy isn’t the country’s folk anyway, after all, they seem perfectly welcoming to Stallone and Statham tearing up their shanty villages in a 4 by 4, rather it’s the drug barons and Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Sly with the only jump in the movie which isn't followed by an explosion

Next, the group. The fact that Van Damme and Steven Seagal are missing from the pack makes the movie a bit like watching The Sugababes. On the other hand we get heavy lifting from Jason Statham, a far more charismatic star than Seagal and Van Damme, and the most likeable presence in the movie. Statham, does the most ‘acting’ in the movie, and he also does a good job of beating up the cocky basketball players in a scene which is reminiscent of Will Smith being spun around at the start of Fresh Prince. However, some of The Expendables are hardly seen, I was half expecting Randy Couture to go into the warzone weaponless, convincing his buddies that he’d armbar the drug lords into submission. Instead, his main role is an ongoing joke about anger management issues. Another member of the gang, Terry Crews, just spends most his time using and polishing a gun straight out of the P.C game ‘Doom’, which is so destructive it leaves you wondering why they didn’t just drop a bomb and be done with it.

Finally, the story, there isn’t one. Which is fine as it’s an action movie, but they go to a lot of trouble just for some money and a pretty dictator’s daughter (who Stallone’s character is obsessed with after meeting for about a minute). Also, most action movies are improved when one of the ‘good guys’ dies, but this doesn’t happen. You can almost picture these action heroes in a run through, all of whom have amassed over a million dead ‘baddies’ in their films, all claiming their right to be indestructible. The closest we get is when Dolph Lundgren goes all ‘Ivan Drago’ on the group and Jet Li seemingly kills him. But don’t fear, turns out he survived and he’s back on the straight and narrow, where do action heroes go for rehab?

Anyway, the film was fun enough, and is certainly worth a watch, if only to laugh at all the action movie stereotypes planted throughout.


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The World Ends...

Ever since my Now 34 cassette I’ve been a sucker for compilation records. Whether it’s a definitive guide, an introduction to, or a ‘...presents’ there is something about discovering multiple new acts which is always exciting. However, now I’ve grown out of my Gina G/Mark Morrison stage I’m not always spoilt for choice. Of course there is the excellent Rough Trade Counter Culture series, Kitsune Maison and various Nuggets compilations; and next on the wish list is a host of compilation records made up of long lost Afrobeat recordings released on Soundway Records.

One of the most recent and accessible is
‘The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria’. Back in the late 60s, as the ‘Summer of Love’ took hold here, Nigeria was facing an altogether different scenario. Civil War may have staggered the Country’s artistic community but, once the hostilities ended in 1970, many exciting new forms of music took root, with the conflict providing a political theme for new artists.

The World Ends is a sort of West-African Nuggets, a collection of psychedelic, garage, funk inspired musicians who sought to combine these new Western influences with Afrobeat, high-life, traditional West African sounds. From the first listen there is a raw energy to these tracks, especially apparent in those featuring The Hygrades and The Funkees. What’s more, alongside these Psychedelic characteristics, James Brown provides a prominent influence throughout. This funk edge, stronger here than in the Nuggets compilations, provides the perfect soundtrack for a confident walk to the shops or the bus stop, ahem.

Whilst some of these tracks were hits which would had made the Now compilations of their day most of us are unlikely to stumble upon copies in the U.K which has led to a marked increase in the unearthing and repackaging of old African Records, especially successful with Soundway Records. However the merging of styles, most of which are currently witnessing a resurgence (Afrobeat, Garage, Psychedelia) results in an album which sounds as vital today as it did when it was first released. It also provides another example of the musical trade between Africa and the West which successfully continues in many guises today. All in all a really enjoyable compilation which may well dissuade you from purchasing Scott Mills forthcoming ‘Big Ones’.


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Beat Connection


If it isn’t a chillwave. A year into the supposed birth of the genre and bands linked with the contested sound are still being discovered, washed up on a beach somewhere in North America. I’m not too knowledgeable on the argument but how a pigeonholed sound qualifies as a musical genre isn’t exactly clear. Perhaps chillwave has missed out on the forthcoming ‘Genre World Cup’ and fans of the sound still feel aggrieved by lo-fi’s blatant handball in the playoff qualifiers a couple of months back.

Now the Wall Street Journal have written a little piece on it all thats needed is myspace to list it as a genre and we're away. In the meantime have a listen to Seattle duo Beat Connection. They've got it all, the artwork, a cool name and an E.P and track name that reference both Sun and Surf. They describe their music as “challenging surf-y-psychedelic-balearic-disco-dance-electro-pop infused with a healthy dose of rock and house music", the lengths some bands go to not categorize themselves.


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Awesome is a word that's banded around a fair bit these days. Back in olden times it would primarily be used by chaps akin to this fellow.

It's defined by a very quick google search as "amazing: inspiring awe or admiration or wonder;" or by urban dictionary as "Something Americans use to describe everything." So to this extent the word has lost it's definition amid a sea of sub-par association. After a quick scroll through the google results, there are no results describing the awesome as a genre of music.

Enter Fang Island. Awesome is one of only a few words I feel that can surmise their music, the others being "bitchin'" and "KAPOW". Listening to their self titled debut album earns it this tag, it is however not one of praise or admiration, it is simply an adjective to suitably describe their sound. The five piece start their album with rising vocals and hazy electronica before (literally) slamming into the amazing "careful crossers" and from then on out the awesometer needle stays atop the gauge, persistently trying to break out of its tinted glass case and perform the world's best air guitar solo. Triumphant cries and harmonies over constantly and rapidly changing riffs and solos that are easily interchangeable with those found in hair metal (or any kind of metal for that matter) are blasted out leaving the listener ready to take on the world. This is perfect for that time when you need that extra push to get something done, be it a driving test, a board meeting or a diving competition. You don't need drinks pumped with tourene and god knows what else, you just need a shot of pure, unhinged awesome.

Fang Island themselves have described the music they make as "everyone high-fiving everyone." Which it is. What we behold is a truly unique and awesome vision of people of every colour and creed coming together and validating the fact that they are alive and united; if only for that split second under the banner of FANG ISLAND. This sounds absurd, but listening to the album as I write this, I have performed 3 individual guitar solos and fist bumped my own father as an explosion went off in the background. Just listen to "sideswiper" and get ready to win, this stuff is the "Lynx effect" in audio form.



Fang Island Myspace

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I review because I can (hohoho)

Review: I speak because I can by Laura Marling

This past week I have not left The Times website, as it offered a week early preview of Laura Marling's latest release, "I speak because I can". Normally with the built in flash players that are used for streaming such media, there is an option to skip tracks, which is one I wished for after hearing the beautiful new version of "Blackberry Stone" for the first time four tracks in. Luckily, this option wasn't offered and this resulted in me listening, and ultimately appreciating the album as a whole on a much wider and deeper level.

I managed to catch Laura Marling live at a small church with 89 other lucky people a few months ago in Cardiff. I always knew she was a young singer songwriter ever since she gained media acknowledgement with a Mercury music prize nomination for her debut "Alas, I cannot swim". But to actually see this slip of a girl stand on her own in front an expectant audience, I worried that her thin frame would buckle under the weight of her own songs. Luckily for her, they didn't, and it ended up being one of the best gigs I have been to so far.

One of Marlings traits is her slightly darker, heavier songwriting mixed with a vaguely detached, but still personal singing voice. This again is apparent for the second album, weighty songs and topics are handled delicately and masterfully. Two standout tracks on this theme are the tender "what he wrote" based on letters between two lovers during the first world war and the title track and "I speak because I can" which depicts a woman who husband left her and the vacancy she subsequently feels. There is a feminist undertone running throughout the album, which on first reading, you may feel would detract from the songs themselves, but this isn't an album with a message, it's one with a subject.

This is ultimately what I feel brings Laura Marling to the forefront of the British folk scene, she isn't afraid to embrace slightly darker elements of human nature and craft songs that affectionately and thoughtfully compliment the topics and her overall style, which isn't compromised at any point.

The album as a whole feels more competent and capable then her debut, as well as being more assured, which in turn eases the listener with the knowledge that she can handle her songs, but also raises the slightly scary thought that the best from her is still yet to come.


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Here is the second half of my 'here's 4 bands to watch' double-header!

Kid Adrift

I was lucky enough to sit in on an interview this guy did for 6music a few weeks back. Only, he couldn’t make it. Stranded in some remote, snowy field in Scotland (I imagine he had hopped out of his car, rather than attempting to walk the distance) Iain Campbell's stage name seemed particularly relevant as he rang in after finding shelter courtesy of a tree. A first play on BBC Scotland Introducing prompted almost instant recognition and with a session at the Electric Proms under their belts (not bad for 3months work) Kid Adrift are now a fully fledged band.

Musically the band seem content throwing as many genres and styles into one song as possible, think guitars, a laptop, obvious dubstep and electro influences. A much more energetic Tom Vek, or imagine James Yuill if he had opted for an electric guitar rather than an acoustic. Ok so comparing them/him to other artists is near impossible, but the band certainly have potential single tracks in abundance. What’s more, Campbell seems to be keeping his feet firmly on the ground. His twitter profile reads ‘I'm a random kid from Scotland and in less than 18,000 days from now I'll be an anonymous name on a stone. I just intend to make a big noise first’.

Kid Adrift Myspace

French Kissing

A provocative name can always be a useful tool for a band, it promises to throw up some exciting results when you try to google them and it guarantees a good turn out for gigs in the seedier ends of town. This London outfit's first single 'Oh Suzanne' is dynamite; A dreamy surf/garage lo-fi jam that has a limited release of only 200 7” copies available on February 8th. Hopefully this trend for surf beat bands continues, if only so I have an excuse to put on a surf/beach themed night in the anti-summer region of the U.K that is the North-East. Anyway, if these surf/garage revival acts sound this good in Winter, imagine my joy come a post-dissertation Summer.


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Thats Worth A Listen...


So I've missed the 'Tips for 2010' boat but let's not fret, lists of exciting new bands and tracks are always welcomed. When at 6music at the start of the New Year Tom Robinson proclaimed 'regardless of whether a band makes it or not it doesnt make a track any less worth listening to'. So in carrying on in that vain in the next couple of posts I hope to list bands who havent been mentioned as tips in larger circles, not because I'm being a music snob and trying to find bands with less than 1,000 myspace plays to claim as my own (although that probably contributes) but because, regardless if they go on to sell millions, their music is still important. All this considered I wish the bands the best in making millions, if indeed they want to.

Cold Pumas:

Many a music lover may claim 'the noiser the better' but I'm a guy who sleeps with ear plugs in almost every night. However thanks to Cold Pumas I've replaced those with headphones hohoho because their music is so very impressive. They released a Split 7" with Male Bonding last August, which is enough to know I'd like this band. They may have awhile until they're challenging Joe McElderry but should do well off this Garage/Psych/Noise revival. Recent single 'Jela' is the pick of the bunch, guitars, guitars, more guitars and hardhitting drums...who needs vocals anyway.

Cold Pumas Myspace

Fair Ohs:

Like Paul Simon, just...Punk. These guys have fused 2 genres which are witnessing a revival at the moment, which makes themmmmm Tropical Punk? They've played under many an incarnation, The Pharoahs, The Mighty Pharoahs, Thee Fair Oh's, but this has to be their best sound to date. Appealing to fans of Punk, Surf, Garage, Afrobeat and, well...Pop, this act has a broader appeal than ITV 2,3 and 4 put together. They're playing Nottingham this weekend with Cold Pumas and Spectrals, a gig which I would have happily put on in Newcastle and lost £100+ on, so that'll be good won't it folks.

Fair Ohs Myspace


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Polarsets - Then a Girl Falls In Your Arms

Recently I was lucky enough to gain work experience as an intern at 6music over the extended Uni Christmas holidays. Contrary to what you’d think it wasn’t all about making cups of tea and coffee either, granted I did excel at this. I got to spend most of my time working on the Tom Robinson’s Introducing Show and as a result feel more clued up on new music than ever. One of the main jobs was sifting through the recommendations we got sent, which contained an unusually high amount of North-East contributions. Amongst them were Newcastle’s very own Polarsets, which, after maybe 10 seconds of listening, I put through and with Tom’s seal of approval made it into the show last week.

Now, safely back in the North-East, NSR have been sent their new E.P, available for free at polarsets.bandcamp.com, 3 tracks which cement the band as one of the strongest in the region. ‘Just Don’t Open Your Eyes Yet’ and ‘Then a Girl Falls In Your Arms’ are strong, hook laden tracks you’d expect to hear on any daytime radio show, the latter as catchy a pop song I’ve heard all year.

Obvious similarities can be drawn between the band and fellow Tyne natives Little Comets, jangly guitar riffs, frantic drumming and high pitched vocals; complete with golden vocal harmonies is the closest thing the North-East has to a ‘sound’. Parallels can also been drawn to The Wombats, Go Faster and Hot Club De Paris, all with the ability to write a track to chant along to that isn’t necessarily seen as ‘Lad-Rock’. However, the fundamental connection these bands share, above all else, is that they sound like their enjoying themselves.

They’re apparently pioneering a genre they call ‘Deep Disco’, a sound which conjures up images of the Bee Gees and Kool and the Gang being banished to the sewers. But on this evidence, this is indie-pop at its catchiest. The E.P has a genuine sense of exuberance, optimism and energy hugely lacking from a host of ‘ones to watch’ acts and promises much for future releases. They’re playing a host of dates around the North-East, well worth investigating.


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