The Sea Nymphs

Sea Nymphs
‘On Dry Land’
Alphabet Business Concern

sea_nymphs_dry_coverFrom the ground and in the air…everything is easy.

Well not exactly. Some things are downright tricky, and it’s fair to say that Sea Nymphs’ second album has made its way into existence via a somewhat tortuous but nonetheless rewarding route.

Sea Nymphs were/are an offshoot of the wondrous and sometimes baffling punk/pop/prog/kitchen-sink band Cardiacs. The world of Cardiacs can, to the outsider, seem a little daunting. The in-joke chanting at gigs, the symbolism, the ever so slightly intimidating stage presence; it can all be like being presented with a cult to the uninitiated. Then, there’s the music. First impressions can lead to the conclusion that it barely makes sense. There are ridiculous time changes and key changes, wonky little fiddly bits and heaps of ungodly noise. After a little time and immersion something will click and everything becomes blindingly clear or a strong antipathy will arise. It’s a love/hate thing, there is no middle ground.

Except, maybe there is, the works of Tim Smith were not merely confined to Cardiacs output. There was his wonderful solo album Oceanlandworld, and then there was The Sea Nymphs, a project with Cardiacs cohorts William D Drake and Sarah Smith. Whilst there could be some delightfully gentle and beautiful moments in Cardiacs songs, they’d usually be surrounded by carefully crafted chaos (if such a thing can actually exist). Sea Nymphs comes from a different place altogether. The Big Ship might have been sailing on the high seas where the wind and rains is cold, but under the surface, in the depths, there was something far more quaint occurring.

The original Sea Nymphs album appeared back in 1992 and the trio created a series of creaky yet catchy shanties that were far more delicate than perhaps might have been expected. For those put off by Cardiacs’ usual output, Sea Nymphs offered a new way into their world. Drawing on folk and pastoral classical music, Sea Nymphs were still a strange proposition, but they were dreamy, sprite like and utterly charming.

the-sea-nymphs_press

Their second album had been recorded around the same time as the first, but for some reason best known to themselves it has taken until now to see the light of day. Its appearance now is worthy of celebration. Firstly, it is always a pleasure to hear new material from any Cardiacs related project. Secondly, it sees the return of Tim Smith to the creative arena since becoming unwell in 2008. Over the last year he has taken to the studio in order to add the finishing touches to the album, and the notion of his return to music in any form is something to be cherished.

As might be expected, this album occupies a similar sonic space to its predecessor. Whilst the title suggests that the band is resting their seafaring legs for a while, the call of the sea is strong and there is still that strange sense of oceanic depth and mystery that pervades almost every song.
The opening seconds of After set the tone for what is to come. Sarah’s altered vocals hang spirit like, fading in and out over delicate tinkling chimes. It’s almost impossible to grasp such is its barely there nature. Eating A Heart Out is a little easier to grasp, but retains a soft-focus feel. Like a naïve nursery rhyme, there’s a beguiling innocence to it that would break the heart of even the sturdiest (which would make it easier to eat). Big River, effectively an acoustic guitar and vocal performance from Tim is more straightforward, it’s a stark reminder of his ability to draw emotion from even the sparsest arrangements. Sea Snake Beware meanwhile finds William D Drake taking the lead with his piano and vocals and it sounds very much like his own solo work: dainty, precise, and surprisingly complex by the close.

The first four songs might represent the individuals and their nuances, but Sea Nymphs most definitely operate as a band within the band as can be seen on the likes of the jaunty folk of Cut Yourself Kidding or the sci-fi tinged meanderings of Bye Bye Spirit. It’s on The Black Blooded Clam that things really come together however. Its chaotic structure, classical motifs, and slanted whimsy are absolutely perfect. Sounding like a scuttling mouse trapped within a wicker man, there’s a slightly sinister side to it.

As the album draws to a close, there are a couple of songs that might have found their way onto a Cardiacs album. That’s not to say that they don’t fit into the Sea Nymphs’ ethereal oeuvre, but it’s possible to imagine The Sea Ritual finding its way onto On Land In The Sea as elements of it sound not unlike The Everso Closely Guarded Line. Similarly,Liberated And Handsome’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it interjection could easily have nestled in the behemoth that was Sing To God.

This then is a welcome return to the vaults and an absolute gem of a record whose depths and delights deserve to be heard. It is encouraging to see the wheels turning in the Cardiacs camp again.

Sam Shepherd

Descendents

Descendents
Hypercaffium Spazzinate
Epitaph Records

Descendents - album cover

There’s nothing like the news of a new Descendents album to improve a summer in advance –and, with a particularly slow start to the good weather, their short, sweet blasts of melodic punk are exactly what is needed to counteract the strangely unseasonal Seasonal Affective Disorder caused by leaving the house at least three days a week to find South London rain-drenched and storm-swept.

Hypercaffium Spazzinate, of course, would be a cause for celebration regardless of the weather; the band’s first release since 2004 sees them return to Epitaph, the label under which they recorded 1996’s ‘Everything Sucks’. Does this mean we can draw in depth stylistic comparisons between the two albums recorded under Brett Gurewitz’s label whilst at the same time contrasting them with ‘Cool To Be You’, the Fat Wreck album sandwiched between? Does it bollocks. Bill Stevenson has always had a keen eye to which side his punk rock bread is buttered on and Hypercaffium sits comfortably amongst the band’s previous efforts, offering 16 sometimes deceptively sharp blasts of what can be termed ‘pop punk’, but only once you mentally eschew the taint of saccharine awfulness which the late 90s and early 00s bought to that term.

Opener ‘Feel This’ sets the general pace at 1:14 in length, with only half the songs exceeding two minutes and a grand total of three that get past three. I found myself having to stop the album when I needed to go down and get a beer out of the fridge, in case I missed anything vital. That’s what you get with me, quality professionalism. Anyway, ‘Feel This’ drives full speed into ‘Victim Of Me’, the song which pre-hyped the album to the world and while it may not quite reach ‘Milo Goes to College’ speed, it definitely offers Karl Alvarez’s fingers a workout on a breakneck bass line on a tune which will have you skipping the needle back more than once (or moving the mouse and double clicking like the horrible nowadays bastard you are). ‘On Paper’ slows things down and brings into the mix the self-deprecating humour that Milo’s soulful, very slightly snotty, very slightly roughened voice is so perfectly suited to – the sound that so many vocalists took as a template to fall far short of.

From then on in and for 16 songs the band take the sound which they’ve perfected so well and throw in a number of variables, still keeping hold of their core formula like a control variable in one of Milo’s lab tests. ‘No Fat Burger’ harks back to the band’s earliest days musically, as Bill Stevenson’s lyrics bemoan the doctor’s orders which have stopped him scoffing whatever he wants due to health issues covered in the killer 2013 documentary ‘Filmage’. Just remember as you listen to the primal but supremely controlled beat underpinning every track that the man playing it has survived health issues which would kill five other people at once.

Elsewhere, this may not be a change in style from previous releases but that doesn’t mean that the Descendents are ploughing the same furrow in any way. On the contrary. The hooks which made the likes of ‘Bikeage’, ‘Silly Girl’ and ‘When I Get Old’ such instant classics do the same for much of Hypercaffium. Whether it’s the full pelt race of ‘Human Being’ or the mellower, hook laden likes of ‘Shameless Halo’ or ‘Comeback Kid’, the band sound like they don’t even know what the term ‘twelve year album gap’ means. Closer ‘Beyond the Music’ is a potted history of the band, a microcosm of the personal lean of their lyrics which has definitely played a massive part in them becoming such a worldwide phenomenon.

Despite having almost 40 years of history, and a major place in the history of punk music and numerous musical milestones, they are still writing songs of awkward love, caffeine obsessions and flatulence which strike a chord the world over…and long may they continue doing so.

Jono Coote

WAND

Wand_Golem_CoverWand
Golem
In The Red

As the eerie space wind samples that precede Golem greet your ears, there’s a sense of trepidation and tension instilled, but its laced with magic and set to explode. Wand’s opening riffs are as merciless as they come, and take a firm grip on your malleable mind that refuses to let go for thirty five minutes straight.

Tube amps cooking hot and phasers set for the heart of the sun, Wand sound like Sleep on speed. The sheer power and noise behind ‘The Unexplored Map’ is enough to knock you straight through a stone wall, and it’s both terrifying and exciting that this is just the beginning of their nine track assault.

Sure, you could argue that there’s a somewhat saturated scene as of late, with any old Tom, Dick or Harry shouting the odds over a din of feedback and fuzz and calling it “psych”. But Wand are the antidote to these teenage dirt bags, standing alone in their own bold sonic dimension.

Tracks like ‘Reaper Invert’ and ‘Floating Head’ summon the kind of sludge you’d expect to hear oozing like molasses from the double-stacks of King Buzzo, while ‘Melted Rope’ floats up to newfound cosmic territories with delight, seeing frontman Cory Hanson’s vocal warble almost recalling that of Lennon’s, if he’d hooked up with Kevin Parker via some time travel assisted jam.

Wand’s display of fine sonic wares doesn’t stop there, though. ‘Cave In’s misleading riffs morph into a crazed double-time stampede of swirling noise that just cries for the volume knob on your hi-fi to be, not cranked, but yanked clean off in a frenzy of ear-bending glee. Shortly before namesake ‘Planet Golem’ stoops to Sabbath levels of dark doom rock before oscillating into near-speed metal territory.

Long after Golem has peaked, you’re left marvelling at a record that unites both the futuristic and the fantastical. Whether you’re a fan of medieval sludge and doom, or sci-fi synth mystique, Wand show no fear in blending the two together seamlessly.

Golem is out now on In Red Records.

Swervedriver

Swervedriver
I Wasn’t Born To Lose You
(Cherry Red)

swervedriver

Nostalgia has never played a bigger part in music than it does right now.With decades of music to draw from, and with literally every band from the past still active or reformed and playing again, it’s a cluttered world of music that we all occupy, and it’s a wonder how new music even gets a look in. How many of these reunited old bands, however, can return eighteen years after they last made a new album and come back with a set of songs that is as good as, if not better than, the prime of their original material? The answer is of course, not very bloody many. Apart from Swervedriver.

I Wasn’t Born To Lose You is testament to how talented Swervedriver are. Initially lumped in by the UK press in the early 90s with the whole dour ‘shoegaze’ scene (Ride, Slowdive, Chapterhouse etc), it was a label that never sat well with the band. They were tougher, harder and more psychedelic. Swervedriver’s swirling, charging, dusty-road-wasteland rock had its roots and influences in the highways of American blues, the sonic white noise pop of Husker Du, the psychedelic freak-outs of Sonic Youth, the slacker fuzz grooves of Dinosaur Jr. Their debut single ‘Son Of Mustang Ford’ (released in 1990 on Creation Records) wasn’t the sound of a band gazing at their shoes, this was a band tearing down the highway, peddle to the floor, blowing sand and dust in our faces as they tore through the music scene, creating some of the most sublime and addictive psychedelic rock the nineties had to offer.
Swervedriver 7-super8
By 1998, however, their tank was running out of fuel and the band went on hiatus, going their separate ways. By 2007, with their cult status at an all-time high and with the music scene coming around again and catching up with their style, they performed at Coachella and played intermittently for the following years. By 2013, we got out first taste of new material in single ‘Deep Wound’ and the flavour was good! Now we have the whole album in our hands and in our heads and it doesn’t disappoint in any way whatsoever. Tracks like ‘For A Day Like Tomorrow’ and ‘Setting Sun’ are as good as anything, if not better, than the band have created before. Singer Adam Franklin’s voice drawls, whispers and croons, chiming and shimmering against Jim Hartridge’s motorised guitar-weaving to perfection. And then there’s ‘Red Queen Arms Race’ which sees the band ploughing headlong into heavier waters, brandishing tough stoner-rock-Black Sabbath infused riffs to brutal and punishing effect.

Ignore some of the average reviews of this album that have appeared. These people obviously didn’t spent enough time with it. Or they don’t know Swervedriver like we do. The longer you spend with this album, the larger the melodies and grooves grow. Open your minds. Let Swervedriver in.

James Sherry

Pond

Pond
Hobo Rocket

(Modular)

Pond_HoboRocket_albumPond share two members with Australian psych-masters Tame Impala but don’t for a second think this is some throw-away side-project there to keep the band amused in downtime. Far from it, Hobo Rocket is Pond’s fifth album and it’s a glorious rush of pop, noise psychedelia that out freaks anything Tame Impala have come up with. Opening song ‘Whatever Happened To The Million Head Collide’ sets the stall out for the album very quickly, no easing the listener in gently, it slides out of the starting block shimmering with a squelchy Flaming Lips psych-pop vibe, with a pure shot of Butthole Surfers noise running through its veins. This is modern psychedelic music at its best, breathing in fifty years of experimental sounds into their collective lungs and exhaling them all over 2013.

Pond, however, ignore the mistakes of the past and resist the temptation to become self-indulgent and drab, keeping their brand of psychedelia focused and direct. ‘Xanman’, for example, hits the freak out button hard but remains upbeat and melodic, despite the swirling cacophony of noise the envelopes the song. Next up, ‘O Dharma’ is a floating Spiritualized type ballad that twinkles like the Lips own ‘Waiting For Superman’ had it been penned in 1974 by Roger Waters. Then Pond lurch back into the evil lysergic doom of ‘Aloneaflameaflower’ that crackles with such a mischievous ‘I’m gonna fuck up your trip and freak you out’ grin, you can’t help but love it, before running away feeling a bit paranoid and scared.

This is a good time for psychedelic music. It’s good to see the freak flag still waving high.

James Sherry

The Men

The Men
‘New Moon’
(Sacred Bones)

TheMen_NewMoonSome bands are content to rest on their laurels. Too many bands are happy to make the same record over and over again, never really moving forward, never progressing for fear of alienating their audience, too scared to take risks, frightened what it might do to their career, their finances.

Then there are bands that are in it for creative rewards. Endlessly and fearlessly evolving and moving forward, never content to sit still and stagnate. Brooklyn heads The Men are one of these bands. The primal raging hardcore roar of their early records has gradually given way to a sprawling, face-melting psychedelic noise with a country twang. Vibes and vapours of Crazy Horse, Dinosaur Jr, Pavement and Ween ripple from each track; classic American skewed song-writing with tunes that stick in your head and a thrilling free-form approach to rocking. When The Men go full tilt on a song like ‘Electric’ they damn near take the roof off, elevating the floor, punching holes in the walls. Then there’s ‘Open The Door’, a tender, roaming country ballad that recalls Stephen Malkmus at his most inspired. And there is so much more besides.

Already a strong contender for album of the year. How do I know this? Because I’ve played it pretty much every day for a month straight and I just keep falling more and more in love with it. The songs take on new meanings, new layers, new melodies. The Men are a very special band. Watch them grow and journey with them.

James Sherry

The Computers

The Computers
‘Love Triangles Hate Squares’
www.thisisthecomputers.com

For a band to successfully ‘re-invent’ themselves is a tricky feat to pull off, but in the case of sharply-dressed Exeter quintet The Computers, ‘Love Triangles Hate Squares’ is less reinvention than evolution – and an impressive evolution at that.

The band have long had a love affair with garage-rock and surf, but on 2010’s ‘This Is The Computers’, these vintage sounds struggled to breathe under the onslaught of raging hardcore punk guitars and vocalist Screaming Al’s, er, screams. It wasn’t a bad record by any means – and made for some blistering live shows – but you couldn’t help but wonder if the band were capable of greater things.

Indeed, they were, and ‘Love Triangles…’ is the proof. Most of the aforementioned raging guitars n’ screams are gone, and in their place you’ll find rocking piano, smooth organ and some seriously soulful vocals. Make no mistake, the likes of ‘Selina Chinese’ and lead single ‘Disco Sucks’ boast enough firepower to get a dead donkey up and dancing, but it is the Motown-esque stomp of ‘Mr Saturday Night’ and the mournful ‘C.R.U.E.L’ will most likely stick in your head for longer.

The Computers of 2013 are all about the songs, and on ‘Love Triangles…’ they deliver them with the kind of swagger and showmanship that has been part of a musical lineage all the way from Elvis to Rocket From The Crypt. Oh, and we promise that if you go see them live, they will utterly SLAY you. Check out ‘Disco Sucks’ on the link below.

Alex Gosman

Suicidal Tendencies

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES
’13’
Suicidal Records

Suicidal-Tendencies-13When casting their critical eyes back on the roots of American Hardcore, revisionists more often than not overlook Suicidal Tendencies. Fair enough, a fast track musical evolution and a jump to bigger record labels diluted their early sound, but you’d be a fool to deny the influence domestically and, as word got out, internationally, of the early Eighties ST incarnation.

Still fronted by Mike Muir, who’s doggedly kept the ST name alive for over 3 decades, this is their first studio album in many, many years (the clue is in the title Holmes) and they are clearly back in 2013 with something to prove.

Track one “Shake It Out’ is driven by a defiant “Suicidal’s Back” chant, Mike howling like Ozzy, and dryly requesting someone to please get him “a Diet Pepsi”, hah! Of course, the 2013 ST are far removed from their early self, slugging out highly polished thrash, layered hard rock riffage and the funky breaks that have defined their most popular output. Tellingly, for a guy who has been through the peaks and troughs of the music industry, Mike’s lyrics revolve about self-resolution, staying true to yourself, and making the most of life. Pretty good PMA I’d say and full of conviction.

Suicidal will forever be associated with skateboarding, and track seven, the rowdy “Show Some Love… Tear it Down”, features vocal props from, amongst others, Danny Way, Tony Trujillo, the Olsen bros, and Mike’s own big bro Jim. That kicks down the door for “Cyco Style” which is the essence of this bands agenda, wrapped and loaded in 4:40minutes of molten blast…. “bombs away”… you got it.

I’m not bowled over by all thirteen of “13”s tracks, but there are some solid moments that I can get in to. For diehard Suicidal fans I’d have thought this album will easily satisfy, and make for a decent addition to the collection. Now, fix that bandana, and get in the pit Cyco…

Pete Craven

AC4

AC4
‘Burn The World’
(Deathwish/Ny Vag)

While Refused were intent on pushing punk rock forward, tearing and ripping up the rule book and starting again, frontman Dennis Lyxzen has both feet placed firmly in the eighties with the old school hardcore punk attack of AC4. ‘Burn The World’ is the band’s second album, released on both Lyxzen’s Ny Vag label and Converge’s Deathwish imprint, and continues their straight–up, high-speed, snotty hardcore attack.

Whilst AC4 offer nothing new or fresh to the musical world, who really gives a damn when it sounds this fun? It’s impossible not to get swept up in the band’s infectious joy as they obviously love and pay the utmost respect to the music they are aping. Energy and enthusiasm crackles from every single one of the sixteen tracks here. The production is powerful and heavy yet manages to retain an important fizzy garage feel that suits the bands energy and Lyxzen’s vocals are snotty and snarled, yet melodic.

Sweden has offered so many great punk bands over recent years. Bands such as Regulations, The Vicious, UX Vileheads and now AC4, have effortlessly taped into the life-affirming energy that legends like 7-Seconds, Minor Threat and the like laid out all those years ago. AC4 take the baton, and run with it at high speed.

James Sherry

Alkaline Trio

ALKALINE TRIO
‘My Shame Is True’
(Epitaph)

When you consider that the four Ds (drugs, drinking, depression and death) have been Alkaline Trio’s lyrical stock-in-trade for most of their seventeen (!) year existence, it’s amazing that ‘My Shame Is True’ (their ninth album) sees the Chicago crew sounding so vital.

The opening ‘She Lied To The FBI’ and ‘The Temptation Of St. Anthony’ belt along with the kind of hooks and addictive choruses that bands half the Trio’s age would kill for, replete with Matt Skiba’s black-humoured story telling. So far, business as usual – and business is good. ‘I, Pessimist’, featuring guest vocals from Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath, is one of the best things the Trio have ever done, and should sound amazing live.

However, the songs that really colour ‘My Shame Is True’ are those of lost love and regret. Hardly fresh ground for this most endearingly maudlin of bands, but the likes of ‘Kiss You To Death’ and epic closer ‘Until Death Do Us Part’ could teach your average screamo band a thing or two about dealing with heartbreak.

“I hear the telephone works both ways/Think you can make a little effort someday?” croons co-vocalist/bassist Dan Andriano on the piano-laden ‘Only Love’. He sounds troubled, but hopefully he’ll find comfort in knowing that, with songs as good as these, we’ll be listening whenever Alkaline Trio call.

Alex Gosman