Pentagram

‘Last Rites’
Metal Blade

Be forewarned, for from the ashes, Pentagram has risen. Doom titans Bobby Liebling and Victor Griffin have finally reunited and again unleashed Pentagram’s classic 70’s doom thunder with Last Rites. Alongside bassist Greg Turley, who played with Pentagram in the 90’s, and drummer Tim Tomaselli of Griffin’s band Place of Skulls, Liebling and Griffin have managed to again set the wheels in motion towards reclaiming their rightful place on the altar of doom after almost two decades in shadows and turbulence.

The first track, Treat Me Right, stands strong as one hell of a launch pad for the album. Albeit with more production and thicker distortion than the likes of the reigning self-titled album—later reissued as Relentless—Griffin stays true and lures you from the get go with a familiar crushing wall of guts and gravel. He cuts out while you’re led by a quick drum build up only to lean straight back in, neck and neck with the classic, demanding, soulful voice of a now sober, crack-less Liebling. It’s definitely a loaded (re) introduction track; a proclamation of their resurrection and return from obscurity.

Call The Man, the second track, emerges with an eerie intro of bends and death clock bass drums, culminating in a march of very heavy, very 70’s doom riffage. The following track, Into The Ground, picks up right where the last left off, plowing on with surging bluesy doom shred.

For those of you who feared, as I did, that the new album would not retain Pentagram’s true form, or that it may not deliver, you can all rest easy. The album is solid, rich, and very well put together; an even balance between re-recorded songs and demos from the 70’s—Call The Man and Walk in Blue Light for example— and new material.
Tracks like 8, Everything’s Turning to Night, and American Dream drive home Griffin’s inherent musical depth and emotion as well as exhibiting a throatier, still flawless Liebling. Together they play with all the force and strength of the band’s golden years.

Each track—even, to some extent, the ballad Windmills and Chimes—continues to stand musically true to form, reeling off more of the Pentagram of old with a slightly more modern, or perhaps “cleaner” edge—if I can get away with that.

The albums Relentless and Be Forewarned will always reign in strength and style. But I take no issue with the newer, thick distortion and sound of Last Rites. It is a triumph.

Shane Herrick

Tyler, The Creator

‘Goblin’
XL

tyler-the-creator-goblinIt’s almost impossible to approach Goblin, the latest album from Odd Future’s Tyler, The Creator, without any kind predisposed stance. Whether it’s the huge amount of press and hype which currently surrounds the group, or the outward, confrontational personalities of its members, Odd Future set themselves out to provoke, excite and divide. With the group’s profile now at an all-time high, then, for many Goblin will a make or break landmark in their career.

In many ways, this record also marks a huge progression for OFWGKTA. For starters, it will see a physical release through reputable and reliable label XL, currently home to the likes of Adele, The XX and Radiohead. But there are also perhaps unexpected advances in terms of its content, as Tyler continues his growth into one of the most fascinating and engaging individuals of a generation. Personally, I’ve long straddled the fence of Odd Future’s output to date, but I’m happy to invest fully in the collective as a phenomenon, and one with the potential to produce something special.

Goblin, then, finds Tyler in a new found state of self-awareness, and that’s understandable from his position in the centre of the musical universe. If his last album, Bastard, was a rowdy statement of intent punctuated by gags about rape and violence, Goblin is far more affected piece of music, almost schizophrenic in nature. From the word go Tyler is at pains to address his critics, re-iterating that his music is fiction and vocalising a resentment for being labelled horrorcore, and indeed homophobic.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a largely confrontational record, but it’s also very clear Tyler wants to add more strings to his bow. He’s even included a couple of almost straight up love songs on this record, almost as if to prove his own humanity. These prove to be some of the more effective moments on the record, particularly ‘She’ with it’s memorable, sing-a-long hook by Odd Future’s resident R&B singer Frank Ocean. Lyrically, I’d argue that Tyler’s biggest influence is early Eminem. From the apparently random celebrity bashing on ‘Yonkers’, to the public service announcements and rousing shock choruses such as ‘Kill people, burn shit, fuck school’ on ‘Radicals’. The two also share a similar mischievous humour in their delivery, often veiled by aggression.

Where Tyler perhaps differs to those that have come before him is that Goblin is entirely self-produced, aside from one contribution from Left Brain on ‘Transylvania’. Those expecting an album of ‘Yonkers’ and ‘Sandwiches’ style beats will be disappointed, as these stand out as easily the most accessible songs on the record. Although vocal in his love for the likes of Clipse and Waka Flocka Flame, Tyler’s own productions aren’t necessarily even influenced by hip hop. Instead the album is mostly made up of a mixture of eerie synth arrangements and jarring stabs of distorted bass and drums. These are probably his most intricate productions to date, though, and he throws at them a range of pitch alterations and studio trickery.

I suppose the question on most people’s minds will inevitably be, ‘does this album live up to its hype’? While the answer to this question is perhaps a no, it’s almost certainly the wrong question to be asking, as by its very nature hype is a grossly exaggerated reaction. Following the path of Tyler, The Creator so far, though, Goblin is an album that meets expectations and expands on the ground that he has covered. Moments of inspiration flow regularly through this overly long and at times testing record, but I have no doubts that Tyler is an artist worth persevering with. Yes, it’s rough around the edges, but the most exciting things in life are never clean cut.

Sleekly Lion

Glassjaw

Glassjaw
Our Color Green (The Singles)
Self-Released

So most of these tracks have been unveiled under some guise or another already. Generous free downloads and innovative pizza-accompanied 7″s (available exclusively at a Long Island pizzeria and only announced on the day of release) show that the fairly recently reunited band are certainly determined to have fun with their craft these days. Despite playing shows again for a couple of years now, this release comprises the band’s first new recorded material in almost a decade. That’s a long time to keep your uber-fans guessing, especially whilst hinting at a third album constantly.

Our Color Green‘ may not be the full-length many people were waiting on tenterhooks for but the sheer quality and immense weight of every track on this release makes up for its brevity. Five tracks is just enough to sate the Glassjaw appetite until they decide to step it up a notch and finally get round to that long fabled album. It’ a cathartic onslaught from the outset with the grating guitars and spitting lyrics barely letting up throughout. For the most part, the brutality almost overrides the melody. But not quite. There is something about the way Glassjaw layer surges of sound that means an undercurrent of melodic content is always present. The riffs, no matter how heavy, carry an enormous amount of the melody as vocalist Daryl Palumbo shifts from empassioned singing to voracious catterwauling. Dynamics are paced expertly with oases of calm interspersed amongst the violence. You Think You’re (Fucking John Lennon) begins with a very steady yet unsettling drumbeat which makes up the entire first 90 seconds of the song completely on its own before the full band let rip with their usual finesse.

Winey Joe

Ghostface Killah

Ghostface Killah
Apollo Kids
Def Jam

As if to make a mockery of the music press’ overzealous list making in recent years, Ghostface Killah has released new album Apollo Kids this week (December 21st), long after all major music publications have published their albums of the year. Far and away the most consistent Wu member, it’s no surprise that Apollo Kids packs a punch, but nobody could have expected this near flawless collection of classic Ghostface material. A November release date would have surely seen Apollo Kids ranking well in end of year polls, but this is typical of the casual approach Wu Tang seem to be taking to releasing albums these days. Besides, who’s going to tell Mr. Tony Starks that he needs to move his release date?

Lists aside, from the word go Apollo Kids adopts a no nonsense approach, free of skits and coming in at a lean 40 minutes in length. Yes, there are no instrumental filler tracks or martial arts outtakes to wade through this time, and I’m left wishing more Wu Tang albums had this sense of discipline. Guest spots come from the usual suspects, with Raekwon popping up on the last two tracks, while elsewhere the likes of GZA, Jim Jones, Black Thought and Busta Rhymes appear with some style. Busta in particular shines brightly on ‘Superstar’, always good for a guest spot yet rarely anything more.

Lead single ‘2getha Baby‘ seems to follow on from the bizarre production job on Wu Massacre’s single ‘Our Dreams‘, although the sharp transition between verse and soul sampling chorus seems to actually work here. Meanwhile the pick ‘n’ mix selection of producers includes Pete Rock on ‘How You Like Me Baby’, while the always brilliant Jake One steps behind the desk on album closer ‘Troublemakers’. For the most part the production borrows much from classic cuts of soul and funk, a style which Ghostface clearly feels comfortable rapping over.

Despite all the guest rappers and producers, though, it’s undoubtedly Ghostface’s album. Always lively and with a sharp turn of phrase, he effortlessly manages to light up each track with his own inimitable sense of humour. Seamlessly moving from Jimmy Neutron to hard drugs references, he has an extremely likeable personality that shines through even when rapping on a song called ‘Handcuffin’ Them Hoes’. Yup, Ghostface is back, and this is perhaps his best album since Supreme Clientele.

Sleekly Lion

Forest Swords

Dagger Paths
No Pain in Pop

While Forest Sword’sDagger Paths’ might seem like old news now given its February release on US imprint Olde English Spelling Bee, only now has it been made available in the UK. This CD package released through No Pain in Pop not only features all six tracks from the initial vinyl release, but also both tracks from the Rattling Cage 7”, as well as remixes and rarities. Basically, if you like what you’ve heard so far from this talented new artist; this is your essential collection to the beguiling sounds of Forest Swords.

For the unacquainted, Forest Swords is the one man project of Matt Barnes from Wirral, UK. Although perhaps inspired by the evolution of dubstep in the last few years, his otherworldly music has a sound of its own that is equally influenced by post-punk and psych-rock. Barnes twists and combines all these varying styles of music until they are unrecognisable, bringing them into his own truly idiosyncratic vision.

One of Barnes’ best qualities is his great spatial awareness, avoiding the clutter of modern electronic productions in favour of exploring the potent grooves and melodies within Dagger Path’s many layers. Opening track ‘Mirarches’, for example, focuses on a meandering guitar part which leads the listener through the song’s various sonic delights. Whether it be the bursts of reverb laden guitar that drift in and out of the track, or the haunting female backing vocal that lurks in the background, there’s always plenty going on yet the music never feels congested.

With such a dynamic and unusual songwriting craft, it’s difficult to pinpoint who are the contemporaries of Forest Swords. While Dagger Paths has the darkness of artists like Balam Acab and Salem, its approach is more organic, perhaps inspired by the rugged landscapes of Wirral itself. Either way, it’s a fascinating and hypnotic record that grows with every listen, hinting at a bright future ahead for Forest Swords.

Sleekly Lion

Miarches by Forest Swords

Fantastic Mr Fox

Evelyn EP
Black Acre

Fantastic Mr Fox has had a hell of year, gaining praise across the board as well as getting know to a wider audience through touring with the XX. With his Sketches EP still delivering the goods, the Wolverhampton-born producer has released Evelyn, a four track EP that showcases a more bouncy sound, ramping up the tempo and sounding more like his Jackal Youth alter-ego than ever before.

Understated beats coarse throughout the four tracks, yet the chopped vocals of opening track Evelyn instantly draw you in alongside the woodblock percussion, kicking off the EP in perfect vibesy fashion. Fool Me starts with a much more laid back introduction before getting into its stride moving into the delightfully steppy Over, with its throbbing fuzz of bassline and R&B tinged vocal samples. Sepia Song, the strongest track on the release, brings everything to a close with Kimbie-esque synths and an almost tropic drum beat at the end.

With the current state of electronic music coming out of the UK gaining strength with every passing day, it would be easy to fall down the sides without being noticed. With this release however, Fantastic Mr Fox has marked himself out as a star to watch. 2011 is definitely his time.

Abjekt.

Fantastic Mr Fox – Evelyn EP by Black Acre Records

Torche

Torche
Songs For Singles
(Hydrahead)

Torche Songs For Singles Cover“It’s just a bunch of radio rock bullshit”. A slightly harsh one-sentence review there, courtesy of none other than Torche drummer Rick Smith, as quoted from the sticker on the front of the CD. Clearly, there’s some kind of sarcastic sense of humour at work here; not least in the album’s title, as Torche are hardly likely to be bothering mainstream radio anytime in the foreseeable future.

That said, ‘Songs For Singles‘ is an unashamedly melodic beast, from a band that are better known for their arsenal of bowel-loosening riffs (as displayed to dazzling effect on 2008’s ‘Meanderthal’ album). Intended as a stop-gap release (as opposed to a full-length album), it’s also surprisingly short, with the first six tracks zipping by in roughly twelve minutes combined; a melée of ultra-fuzzy guitars, stop-start rhythms and Steve Brooks’ signature beer-drenched howl.

Enjoyable enough, but Torche are far better when they give those aforementioned riffs time to breathe and develop – which they do on the last two tracks. ‘Face The Wall’ is an atmospheric slice of post-rock, with Brooks crooning plaintively over a funereal beat and a sea of jet-engine guitar noise. Meanwhile, the closing ‘Out Again’ is a largely instrumental work out set to a driving beat, but proves eerily hypnotic over its six-minute course.

Songs For Singles’ may not scale the dizzy heights of ‘Meanderthal’, but it does prove that the Torche of 2010 are still very much a force to be reckoned with. Be sure to play it LOUD.

Alex Gosman

Torche – “U.F.O.” by Hydra Head Records

Mr. Oizo

Mr. Oizo and Gaspard Augé
Rubber OST
Because Music

Quentin Dupieux, known to most as Monsieur Oizo, has done something I’m sure many of us wish we could. That is, making a career out of being something of an amazing dickhead. His greatest success came in the form of a bassline he made while messing around with analogue equipment for a couple hours and a Jim Henson creation that caught jaundice and narrowly avoided getting run over (such is the ‘Flat’ in Flat Eric). His latter – brilliant – albums are an aural assault of disco, jazz, funk, IDM and techno that come in the form of something so unmistakably french it’s basically the musical equivilent of that scene in Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible; each note or horn sample hitting the eardrums just like a fire extinguisher to the face. The next step couldn’t have seemed more natural: making a film that celebrates the ‘no reason for this’, ‘for the fuck of it’ and ‘why the hell not?’ mentality of so many superb french directors by basing it on a telekinetic tire that rolls around on an on-going killing spree.

Having an accomplished musician direct a film makes one thing more or less guaranteed: one shit-hot soundtrack. For this, Oizo called upon label buddy and one half of Justice, Gaspard Augé… and his influence is as blatant as it is effective. Gaspard’s subtle, but breath-taking obsession with evocative melody and bold piano pieces somehow blends with Dupieux’s idiosyncratic eccentricity wonderfully. The quickfire title track and the Kraftwerk-inspired Tricycle Express could easily have been singles off both Lamb’s Anger and Cross respectively, but when the pair come together strongest: on tracks like the piano-driven No Reason, the sleaze-injected melancholy of Sheila, the flutey vastness of Polocaust and the perfectly phased italo-horror-disco of Everything Is Fake, makes the listener wonder why the pair don’t work together more often.

At a running time of just thirty minutes, the album is a solid example of why it’s good to have not quite enough. The album is expertly crafted for more than a few rewarding re-visits; but more importantly, it confirms a couple of things: Gaspard Augé can write majestic melodies and Dupieux can release something fully realised and uncluttered, if he wants to. Buy the soundtrack to Rubber and you will hear a collection of some recorded stuff, all of it is good.

Stanley

Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith
An Introduction To…
Domino Records

Seven years has passed since Elliott Smith’s untimely death (Suicide? Murder? Who knows…) and so it’s probably the perfect time to acquaint those too young to have appreciated him when he was around with the immense body of work Smith created. I’m sure there are also many who were aware of the singer/songwriter but never took the time to appreciate his work. Since Smith passed away, there have been two other major releases which undoubtedly held more interest for existing Elliott Smith fans than this latest one – ‘From A Basement on The Hill’ and ‘New Moon’. Those releases both included a hefty amount of previously unreleased material from the musical genius with ‘From A Basement…’ comprising much of the material that was intended for his next studio album. ‘An Introduction To…’ is more for those who never really had a chance to appreciate Elliott Smith’s music and need a good place to start. And a good place to start it is.

Even containing a fleeting nod to Smith’s debut release ‘Roman Candle’ with the inclusion of ‘Twilight’, this introductory collection of songs unsurprisingly features almost half of the tracks which appeared on ‘Either/Or’ – the album which brought his first real taste of commercial success. This type of success proved to be more bitter than sweet for the artist as he descended into prolonged periods of drug and alcohol abuse. Also related to the ‘Either/Or’ period and featured on this new collection is the song ‘Miss Misery’, albeit an early version of the track. ‘Miss Misery’, along with several tracks from ‘Either/Or’, was featured prominently on the ‘Good Will Hunting’ soundtrack and even earned Smith an Oscar nomination which led to him performing at the Oscars themselves. By all accounts, he was not so comfortable with this state of affairs. Despite the uneasiness Smith felt with the extreme success of his career at this point, he continued to grow as an artist and later inclusions on this compilation include ‘Waltz #2’ from ‘XO’ and ‘Pretty (Ugly Before)’ from the post-humously released ‘From A Basement on The Hill’.

There are omissions (strangely, there are no songs from fan favourite ‘Figure 8’ on this release). But that’s always going to be the case when you boil down the work of someone so talented and prolific as Elliott Smith to a mere 14 songs. The people who picked the ones on this release have done a fair job at proportionally representing the career of a true songwriting genius. Just don’t stop with this introduction.

Belle and Sebastian

Write About Love
Rough Trade

I remember sitting on the edge of a friend’s questionable and crusty bedspread watching a collection of exciting new scene videos around the time when higher production values didn’t necessarily mean higher costs or higher creativity, and asking the owner of these foul sheets the following question: “mate, are skate videos ruining Belle and Sebastian or are Belle and Sebastian ruining skate videos?” Thankfully, that question isn’t at all relevant now regardless of what the early PWBC episodes may suggest but one thing was for certain, the Scottish band then were becoming a little too twee and to an extent obvious and annoying. Many of us had grew up associating with their pure honesty and irreputably superb songwriting abilities reminiscent of that ‘golden’ era or whatever you want to call it, and to see them actually turn the volume down themselves and fade into clichés of clichés of clichés that even critics couldn’t keep up with was somewhat upsetting. So here we are, four years after their last album which had that shitty little frog song on it (ok, I like it, whatever, but it’s very silly), and with Write About Love it seems that the band have returned to their original maturity with such grace I feel bad for ever doubting them.

Album opener ‘I Didn’t See It Coming‘ more or less argues my own reaction for me in the title. It’s a stunning piece of work, from the shimmering keys to the hopeful drums to Sarah Martin’s sudden and uplifting vocal to intelligent, honest, emotional lyrics that are peppered perfectly across this shiny disc of wonder and aural nostalgia. All the cutesy nonsense that made a certain writer on this very site pen work with an equally cutesy and lame pseudonym has been replaced with something human, something longing and something all fans of tremendously crafted music can relate to. So please, video editors out there, don’t ruin this one. It’s an album that works without any additional context, and that’s a bold statement to be made about any album in the consumer-heavy infomoretion generation. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

Stanley