Thursday, 31 January 2013

#21: Funeral For A Friend - Conduit

The 2001 début from Welsh rockers Funeral For a Friend, Causally Dressed and Deep In Conversation could be held solely responsible for an entire slew of English post-hardcore acts such as the irksome Fightstar or even teen-girl favourites You Me At Six. However that shouldn't detract from the overall fact that it was a blistering first effort and it put the bands name on the map. Since then they have failed to match that first album despite releasing an album every two years (on average) since. It's for this reason that fans of FFAF should be very excited about their latest album Conduit.

This album is the closest they've come to capturing the magic that was Casually Dressed...The band have gone back to their post-hardcore roots by all accounts. Major metalcore riffs populate almost every track. Transforming them instantly in to driving emotionally charged anthems that will be familiar to fans of early Atreyu or The Bled. What Matt Davies and co. have done here is encapsulate a soundtrack to years gone back which isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a bad thing.

There are elements of melody here, as seen in previous FFAF outings such as 'In to Oblivion' from 2007's Tales Don't Tell Themselves but they're only fleeting, and serve to soften the heavy hardcore influenced songs such as 'Grey' which brings to mind bands of yesteryear such as From Autumn to Ashes or Boysetsfire.

This isn't to say that FFAF have just recycled, rehashed, and re-released. The step in the hardcore direction is something new and fresh for the band who threatened to stagnate in a generic puddle of metal clichés. That isn't to say the songs sound drastically different from singles such as 'Front Row Seats to the End of the World' but there is no sign of the stadium rock ambitions shown on previous tracks such as 'Water Front Dance Club'

'Sun-Less' is a particular stand out track on the album which begins with a chunky riff before Davies lets his voice shine, particularly in the chorus which smacks of Casually Dressed... era FFAF. Track three, 'Best Friends and Hospital Beds' is just begging to be used as a screen-name, which is a shame given no-one uses Myspace these days. While the title well get “teen hearts beating faster” (geddit?) the song itself is a driving hardcore anthem that doesn't sound dissimilar to fellow countrymen Bullet For My Valentine until the chorus which is unmistakeably Funeral.

I went in to this review expecting nothing great, partly in fact due to the fact that each album by Funeral For A Friend disappointed slightly more than the last and partly due to the fact that I'm 22 years old now and not, as crippling as this may be, 14. I was more than surprised when I let the album play; within a minute I knew this was going to be something special. I wasn't proven wrong. The whole album is a no breaks balls to the wall post-hardcore masterpiece, with the only lull in the proceedings coming in the form of 'Nails' which is slow in comparison to the rest of the album but will still appeal to most people. There are elements Frank Carter-era Gallows and riffs that sound similar to Trivium but all the while being unmistakeably Funeral For A Friend. A must for fans of metal; a must for fans of hardcore; a must for fans of Funeral; simply a must for fans of music.


Funeral For A Friend are on tour in the UK until mid-April.

Monday, 28 January 2013

#20: Biffy Clyro - Opposites

Bucking the current coincidental trend of second albums released by bands this January are Scotland's Biffy Clyro who today released their sixth studio album entitled Opposites. Hailing from Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire the band really need little introduction after their fifth album, 2009s Only Revolutions spawned the bands first top-ten single in the form of 'Mountains' which débuted at number 5 and served to extend the bands touring schedule as their popularity rose in turn causing the longest length of time in between album releases, a period of three years.

Opposites is a double album, a first for the band, and is best described as kind of dichotomy of sounds. The first half of the album entitled The Sand at the Core of Our Bones is described by singer Simon Neil as being about putting things in the worst possible way and thinking you're getting yourself into a hole.” The music isn't necessarily melancholic or sad but there is an anger behind the music that wasn't present during Only Revolutions. This can be attributed, according to interviews with the band, to the sense of alienation found after prolong periods of touring with Only Revloutions.

The opening track titled 'Different People' builds with an organ followed by the unmistakable sound of Neil's vocals that straight away let's you know you're in familiar territory. The song is melodic, even by the bands more recent standards however it works well for them and you can hear the progression from the last album. The chorus of “I am going home/Forever and ever more/No, I was never born and there's no such thing as home/We used to stand so strong/That's why the others have gone” is classic Biffy Clyro. It's both uplifting in it's sound and delivery whilst the lyrics cover a darker subject matter that is evident throughout the first half of the album.

Track two will be familiar to fans already as the first single off the album: 'Black Chandelier'. The song is a radio-friendly lament that describes feelings no longer reciprocated within a relationship.
This theme is continued in to track four 'Opposites' which is slow and melodic with a subtle string-section carrying the song.

Fans of earlier Biffy Clyro will be pleased to learn that the earlier math-rock sounds of albums such as Vertigo of Bliss are still there and are most prominent on tracks 'Sounds Like Baloons',
'The Jokes On Us' and especially 'Little Hospitals'. While this might be a point of contention between fans; the inclusion of obscure time-signatures is something Biffy aficionados will be pleased to hear, while the focus the radio-friendly sounds exhibited through Only Revolutions will keep even the most fair-weather fan happy and will certainly secure them fans in a generation not yet introduced to the band.

The second half of Opposites is a different story all together; described again by Neil as “looking more positively” when compared to the first half of the albums bleak outlook on life. This is immediately obvious as track 12 (or track one) 'Stingin' Belle' kicks in. Fans will have heard this track before, as it was the first song to receive radio airplay from the album and, although technically not a single, the song was available via download.

Track 14 'Spanish Radio' will surprise fans with the inclusion of a mariachi trumpet, which aids Neil's claims of the second half of the album being more upbeat and optimistic. Spanish brass inclusions aside, this does feel like the stadium-filling Biffy Clyro that you've come to expect and the songs dynamics rise and fall in a dramatic fashion that stems from years of song writing.

'Pocket' is perhaps the most accessible Biffy Clyro song yet. Harbouring pop sensibilities that will be recognisable to those familiar with Neil's sideproject Marmaduke Duke, the track is sweet and punchy with a simple piano melody running throughout. However the sweetness of the track makes the next track 'Trumpet or Tap' seem really quite jarring. The changing time-signatures will once again be a welcome relief to some but when included after 'Pocket' really detract from the overall feel of the song despite it's chorus being one of the more memorable from the over all record.

Perhaps the strongest three songs from the entire album are reserved for the finale. 'Accident Without Emergency' is probably the best of the three. A marching drum beat coupled with fantastically audible bass drives the song forward while an understated math-rock guitar ornaments the verses. 'Woo Woo' is as a aggressive a song as you're likely to find on the album and one which will please old fans as much as intrigue new ones and will sure to be a crowd-pleaser live. 'Picture A Knife Fight' is the penultimate song on the album (the last being an instrumental) and is a contender for best song on the album. As it the song plays out and Neil is singing “We've got to stick together”, you can't help but feel totally uplifted, although why we have to wait until the closing minutes of the album to hear songs as strong as the aforementioned is anyone's guess.

The releasing a double album is usually reserved for bands who are so wrapped up in their own sense of self importance they feel that all the tracks they write between albums are worthy of making the final cut and for bands that feel a 'greatest hits' album with the inclusion of a few B-sides is a worthwhile substitute for new material. However that doesn't feel the case with Opposites. At times the album may be spread fairly thinly, with a couple of tracks feeling like filler. Nevertheless this is a strong album, albeit not career-defining. The idea of a double-album so as to play on the dichotomous nature of the songs featuring on each disk is at once both interesting and bordering on the pretentious.

There is none of the usual concept album pomp here, despite the cover art being designed by Storm Thorgerson of Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd album cover fame, which is a complete relief. What we have instead is a concept album for the post-modern world. The sounds of the songs overall differ dramatically, not only from disk to disk, but from song to song while still managing to sound completely like the Biffy Clyro people have come to adore. While still not being the strongest album they've released, it is by no means a bad album, and one which has included enough pop to appease radio producers and with occasional elements of the angular guitars which have become a staple of their music. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another three years for the next album.


Saturday, 26 January 2013

#19: Velocets - Live @ Kraak Gallery, Manchester 25/01/13

If there's one thing that can be said about music fans in Manchester, it's that they know how to support their scene. Heavy snow made getting to the venue somewhat difficult, especially for those coming from out of town, however peoples spirits weren't dampened even if clothes were, as Kraak Gallery played host to some of Stockport's finest new bands.

First to the stage are The Gullwings, a four-piece whose blend of indie and classic rock influences are sure to appeal to most people. Sounding somewhat like Arctic Monkeys with a dark sincerity that, at times, borders on the melancholic. One things for sure is this band are seasoned in what they do. Their songs are as tight as they are catchy and they serve to warm the crowd up perfectly.

Next on the bill are Mama Roux; a refreshing throwback to 1960s & 70s their sound is a powerful mélange that is equal parts sex and sleaze. Fusing elements of R&B, soul and classic rock together, Mama Roux are a band who defy you to dance. There opening song 'Fire' is a rip-roaring testament that proves rock 'n' roll, at it's most base, at it's most depraved, will never die. Singer Tallulah Anton has drawn many parallels with the late Amy Winehouse, however that's too much of an obvious comparison to make and not necessarily all that correct, however Tallulah's voice is the driving force of this band and the raw emotion that goes in to it is clear. This really is back to basics rock 'n' roll that you can truly get your rocks off to.

Headlining act tonight are Velocets who open with their first single 'Sophie' which goes down well with fans (a number of whom are wearing the recently sent out Velocets t-shirts). As a band, these lads have gone from strength to strength over the short space of time that they've been together garnering an impressive number of fans in the process, as is evident in tonight’s turn-out. It's the first outing for new track entitled 'Down On Your Luck' which is well received across the board. The chemistry between front-man Adam Walsh and guitarist Elliot Berriman is a joy to watch on stage and the pair play off each other in a way that is reminiscent of Pete Doherty and Carl Barât circa Up The Bracket. Most recent single 'Tell It to Your Kids' is the penultimate song on the set list and is a song that pretty much sums up the bands sound as a whole. The chorus, sang back to the band by almost every member of the crowd, is bound to stick in your head for days after, a sure-fire sign of a successful track and fan favourite. 'Naked' is the final track of the evening and is slower than the former but still packs a punch and is as candid a song as you're likely to find in the Velocets repertoire.

Anyone who claims to have an interest in music, local or otherwise should check out any of the above bands while they're still playing intimate venues, which probably won't be for much longer given the ever-rising popularity of both Mama Roux and Velocets. These are bands who are harbouring a DIY ethos most often seen in the punk community; an ethos which fewer and fewer bands seem to have these days. Support these bands and support the scene. Without the support local music scenes fall by the wayside and bands are forgotten and when they're bands with as much talent as the aforementioned, that would be a damn shame.

Not heard Velocets before? Check out a quick write up here!

Cover photo courtesy of Trust A Fox Photography

Thursday, 24 January 2013

#18: Villagers - {Awayland}

January seems to be a month of second albums this year, with records coming from The Joy Formidable and Everything Everything to name but two, and Irish folk band Villagers are no exception. Their second outing, {Awayland} is a fantastic cacophonous assault on the senses; a tumultuous roller-coaster journey through different genres that brings to mind a more polished and worldly Neutral Milk Hotel. Poetry is a word which has been surrounding the band since their 2010 début Becoming A Jackal, and after just one listen to {Awayland}, it's easy to see why. Singer Conor O'Brien's lyrics conjure images that seem to border on the tangible, while the music the words are enveloped in is at times more of a sound-scape in which to lose yourself than a tune you can hum along with.

The album opens with the understated 'My Lighthouse' which gives you a brief insight in to what the rest of the album will sound like, albeit a diluted version. Imagine a kind of Jeff Buckley meets Bright Eyes amalgam and you won't be far wrong. And while the former are/were fantastic at what they do/did. O'Brien lacks the moody angst that perpetuates a Bright Eyes album, and nor is the track as candid as Buckley, at least in this instance anyway

Thankfully second track entitled 'Earthly Pleasure' is where the album really begins to take hold. A brilliantly crafted narrative that tells the story of a man who finds himself back in 1822, recounting the horrors of the Brazilian war of independence to a woman who is assumed to be God. The chorus is dark and chilling while at the same time serving to uplift the dark imagery contained in the lyrics.

The first single taken from the album is another metaphorical masterpiece entitled 'The Waves' in which it becomes clearly evident that the band are influenced as much by literature as they are music. Starting off slow the song builds up before ending with a crashing crescendo of noise most likely in place to mirror the metaphorical waves from whence the song takes its name, all the while with O'Brien repeating the lyric “Approaching the shore” and sounding more and more like Conor Oberst with every utterance.

{Awayland} is an album which takes several listens to take it all in. Repeated listens to any of the tracks included reveal a nuance or lyric previously overlooked, and it's a delight to return to a song and notice something you failed to before.

'Nothing Arrived' is perhaps the most radio-friendly song included and is no surprise that is the latest single to be taken from the album. The chorus of the song is the most straightforward yet, but fantastic lyrics such as "I waited for something/ and something died/ so I waited for nothing/ and nothing arrived" not only mirror the delicate simplicity that is a main staple of the song but build on it and show the band don't just need lyrics that border on the literary and might be confused with pretention.

Just to clarify, those looking for an easy-to-listen to Folk record are probably looking in the wrong place. Instead of one man and an acoustic guitar what Villagers harbour is an orgy of understated post-folk. Utilising whatever instruments they feel work is a bold move for the band, as is the surprising inclusion of electronic instrumentation, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work. What Villagers have done is expertly craft a metaphorical masterpiece which needs to be scratched away at to reveal the literary delights underneath. While certainly not an album for everyone, those with an interest in alternative folk should definitely check out {Awayland} even if it's just to garner an understanding of what poetry should sound like in 2013.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

#17: The Dutch Uncles - Out of Touch in the Wild

Hailing from Marple, Stockport, The Dutch Uncles have gone from strength to strength since releasing their self-titled début in 2009. Now on album number three, entitled Out of Touch in the Wild', the band have obviously matured as musicians. The unusual time signatures and progressive pop sounds that have become more and more prominent through each album have become fully realised in an album that can be considered for all intents and purposes, as beige. Sure it's poppy, and it's danceable but rarely does a song stand out.

The first two tracks on the album, 'Pondage' and 'Bellio' respectively, are ode to the 80s in a way that really doesn't inspire much hope for the rest of the album. Thankfully it takes a turn for the better from the third track and first single 'Fester'. Sounding somethig like Hot Chip the track is bouncy yet mellow and a potential floor filler at any indie club night around the country. The second single 'Flexxin' is another note worthy track with a fantastic string sound accompanying a synth that brings to mind 'Crystallised' by The XX.

The mood of the album is considerably darker and in some instances, sparser than previous efforts from the band, something which is eerily suited to singer Duncan Wallis' polished vocals. That said however, despite the talent each member possesses being audible in each song, the production quality of the record is of standard so high, so shiny and nuanced that it loses something, not necessarily integrity but there's a certain lack of charm to something so evidently produced and tampered with.

The 80s in general is obviously a huge influence on the band and is heard throughout, perhaps most present in penultimate track 'Nometo'. Thankfully the closing track 'Brio' has a bit more to it than the majority of Out of Touch... does, with Wallis' vocal range extending to more than the effected croon that punctuates that rest of the album.

It is nice to hear a band from Manchester without a colloquial drawl to their voices a lá Messrs Gallagher and Fray, but it's a shame that it's polished to a blinding glint and has lost some of the charm that featured on their earlier releases such as 'Face In'. Sure it's expected that bands don't want to keep making the same music album after album, but music should be about energy and passion and while there's no doubt that there's lots of the former behind their playing, the smooth edges of their sound allow it to wash over you before fading in to the background. 

Photo: Danny North/NME

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

#16: Parma Violets - NME's New Favourite Band.

The deliciously saccharine named Palma Violets have been a band for less than two years but that hasn't stopped them taking the underground by storm, and now, in 2013, the band look destined to break through in to mainstream stardom.

Hailing from Lambeth, London, Palma Violets have just recently signed to Rough Trade Records after they were the only label that didn't show up to their gigs bearing cases of beer and packets of cigarettes.

Drawing media comparisons to the likes of The Libertines and The Strokes their garage-pop sound has more in common with The Vaccines than either of the former. Indeed, singer and bass player Chilli Jesson sounds more like The Vaccines Justin Young than perhaps even Young himself does.

Hotly tipped as a band to watch out for; Parma Violets have appeared on Later With Jools Holland and graced the cover of the NME, twice (most recently with BBC Sound of 2013 winners Haim) and all this before even having released an album. But with their recent signing to Rough Trade, that looks set to change. Debut album 180 gets released on February 25th ahead of a small UK tour to promote it. Not only are they embarking on their own headline tour, but they're also part of this years NME awards tour, which in the past has given rise to such indie royalty as The Killers and Arctic Monkeys to name just two.

Does this mean that Palma Violets are destined for greener pastures? I think it's pretty safe to say so. Given the incredible support the band have garnered over their short life span. Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe selected their (second) single 'Step Up for the Cool Cats' as his “Hottest Record in the World” which is somewhat hyperbolic in that while the song itself is a strong single and catchier than a cold the band have yet to develop their own stylistic sound and still obviously owe a lot to the bands that influenced them.

That said however first single 'Best of Friends' and it's B-side 'Last of the Summer Wine' are much more on point with 'Best of Friends' especially standing out. Sounding like The Vaccines if they jammed with Black Kids playing Ramones covers in a sweaty club in NYC, 'Best of Friends' is a sure fire festival favourite this Summer. The flipside 'Last of the Summer Wine' is a slower, much more mellowed out song in which the vocals bring to mind Stephin Merrit of The Magnetic Fields fame while the guitar is jangly and completely complimentary of the organ that plays behind it.

While not quite up there in the Parthenon of indie immortals just yet; Palma Violets blend of garage-rock and indie-pop sensibilities suggests they are well on their way to making a name for themselves further afield than the bedrooms of indie scenesters. Sweet, Summery and sure to put a smile on your face, Palma Violets are definitely ones to watch out for in the months ahead. 

Watch the official video for 'Best of Friends' here

 Photo: Richard Johnson/NME

Monday, 21 January 2013

#15: The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law

The recording of a second album is a notoriously difficult experience for most bands; a task made all the more difficult for welsh trio The Joy Formidable after their incendiary début in 2011, The Big Roar, which included such fan favourites as 'Cradle' and the huge-sounding 'Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie'. There's no denying the passion and the vigour that went in to the making of their début and fortunately this second outing is business as usual. TJF take the sounds of late 80s early 90s alternative rock of bands such as The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine and merges it in to something truly beautiful.

Coming almost two years to the day after the release of The Big Roar, Wolf's Law is as polished as it is anthemic. Fans will already be familiar with album opener 'This Ladder Is Ours'. The track starts with a string ensemble before launching in to truly familiar territory. The song couldn't be anyone other than TJF. Singer Ritzy Bryan's silky vocals glide across the bass line and perfectly compliment a riff that well and truly embeds itself in your consciousness in much the same way as the chorus which you'll still be singing days later. The second track on the album 'Cholla' will again be familiar to fans of the band after it's release as a promotional single late last year. The vocals rise and fall, echoing Rhydian Dafydd's driving bass-line and giving the song a real depth which is perpetuated by Matt Thomas on drums.

While this album can easily be seen as an extension of their début, the production quality has increased tenfold and while The Big Roar can be viewed as the juvenile teenager in the front seat of roller-coaster of raw expressive emotion; Wolf's Law is the more introspective twenty-something with the world at his feet and a lump in his throat, relinquishing the shackles of adolescence and tentatively taking that first step in to a wider world.

Mid-way through, the album breathes in a delicate breath with the incredibly understated 'Silent Treatment'. A fantastically melodic acoustic number in which Ritzy's vocals really shine through, suggesting a maturity in the song-writing that wasn't present on their last record. 'Maw Maw Song' is where the album really grips you by the balls, however. Starting off with an Asian influenced harp melody that dissolves in to a crunching intro not dissimilar to T-Rex's 'Children of the Revolution' within seconds. The song breaks down and picks up again several times through the course of it's 6-and-a-half minutes, breaking down in to the kind of fretboard magic not-often scene in the throws of contemporary indie. However it isn't the contemporary that TJF have in mind and in doing so have truly crafted a modern-day alternative classic with an anti-consumerism message that should resonate with listeners that have any sense about them.

'Forest Seranade' is a return back to the stadium-filling sound that got the band noticed and truly holds it's own against the aforementioned 'Maw Maw Song'. Not only is 'Forest Serenade' a rousing song in it's own right, it's also a continuation of the albums themes of nature and preservation and blends fantastically in to 6-minute masterpiece 'The Leopard and the Lung' which draws it's influence from female Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, who has campaigned for women's rights as well as for the preservation of her home country. This is also the first track on album in which bassist Daffyd's vocals can truly be heard. They don't stand up to the saccharine sweetness of Ritzy's, but they work and add an extra layer of depth in a song that's already bursting with poignant energy.

Album closer 'The Turnaround' sees a return of the strings mentioned earlier, which, when coupled with a pounding bass drum, allow Ritzy's vocals to soar before dropping to a barely audible whisper. The lyrics of the song deal with the untimely death of Ritzy's grandmother, and so understandable the emotion in her voice is evident as the album draws to it's orchestral conclusion. The drumming on this track is the strongest it's been throughout the album and it's clear that a lot of time has been spent on the production, allowing Thomas to really hone his technique and create a sound that wouldn't be out of place on the type of Big Band records your grandparents listen to.

Fans may well have been disappointed by the apparent exclusion of titular track and promo-release Wolf's Law, which doesn't appear on the track listing. However, fear not, as it does make an appearance as a hidden track at the end of the album. Starting with an understated piano, the track builds up and before long becomes every bit something you've come to expect from the band. While nothing to rival 'Maw Maw Song' or 'Forest Serenade' the song does hold it's own and is a nice addition to an album that is already consistently good.

While the first half of the album certainly doesn't leave anything to be desired, it's the second half of Wolf's Law which really sees the band come in to their own. 'Maw Maw Song' is the obvious choice for a live-favourite, but that shouldn't take anything away from the rest of an album which can build up a wall of sound and then knock it down again with the most delicate of vocal tracks. In a scene that's filled with carbon-copy guitar bands and colloquial vocals, TJF are an air bubble on the surface of a pond so stagnated the bottom is barely visible, an air bubble that's waiting to break the surface and cause well-warranted ripples throughout the alternative scene and no doubt further afield.

Watch the official of 'This Ladder Is Ours' here


Saturday, 19 January 2013

#14: Django Unchained - The "D" is silent

Django Unchained is a film that's been on the tips of everyone's tongues since it was announced, with many hoping it would be Taratino's return to the dizzying heights last seen in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). Thankfully after Nazi-bashing fairytale Inglorious Bastards (2009) it is a complete return-to-form for Hollywood's most popular foot-fetishist.

Half Spaghetti-Western and half 1970s Blaxploitation homage, Django Unchained owes as much of it's narrative to Franco Corbucci's Django (1966) as it does to earlier Tarantino outings such as Jackie Brown (1997) and Pulp Fiction (1994). The film's premise is a simple one; revenge. Eponymous protagonist Django, portrayed by a fantastic Jamie Foxx, starts the film off like the vast majority of the black characters featured, as a slave. However in a brilliant opening scene,Django is freed by the retired dentist-come-bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) and they embark on their oft-violent and ever-courteous journey across the South.

It soon becomes apparent that Django is married, but he and his wife had become separated after trying to escape a former plantation they both worked on. Not giving too much away, Django and Dr Schultz strike a deal, in exchange for helping him bring in bounties over Winter, Dr Schultz will help Django find his wife Broomhilda, a miss-appropriation of the German name "Brünnhilde", which she was given by her German mistress as a child.

There are several impressive sequences early on, one involving a town sheriff is particularly memorable and the first instance in the film when you see the bewilderment that arises from Django riding a horse, a recurrent theme throughout; and an excellent scene in which the relationship between Schultz and Django is fully-realised as they scope out a target on a farm. The patience and the encouragement Schultz gives to Django as he struggles to read a handbill is brilliantly understated and fantastically played out and the first scene in which you can really see the chemistry between Foxx and Waltz.

Eventually Schultz manages to track down Broomhilda to a plantation known as Candyland, a place notorious amongst slaves for being a brutal and cruel place to work. And under the guise of wanting to purchase a mandingo (slaves who fight to the death) Schultz and Django take a trip to Candyland, a plantation owned by Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and this where the picture really comes in to his own. DiCaprio is an acting powerhouse. His portrayal of the dandy yet sadistic Candy is one of his best performances, period, and shows how much he has matured as an actor since his early roles in Romeo and Juliet (1996) or Titanic (1997). A violent and rich man, Candy's favourite past-time is the aforementioned mandingo fighting (it be worth noting here that there are in fact no historical accounts of fights such as these taking place, however Taratino has never been one to stop historical accuracy getting in the way of a good yarn) and his interest in Schultz is suddenly piqued when he offers him an excessive sum of money for one his top mandigos. Django is forced to take on the role of a black slaver and “mandingo expert” (something that Candy and his gang of slack-jawed tobacco-chewers find amusing) and head up to the bighouse with Candy and Schultz to view the slaves and have dinner.

In perhaps the strongest performance of the entire cast, Tarantino-veteran Samuel L. Jackson plays the wildly eccentric Stephen, an uncle tom type butler who has served the Candy family for his entire life. Jackson is incredible and his subservience borders on the malevolent at times. His propensity to use the word “nigger” in it's most derogatory of meanings, seemingly unaware that he himself is included, is perhaps his most chilling asset. Tensions begin to rise until Candy's facade of southern hospitality breaks and all hell breaks lose in the final hour or so.

The soundtrack to Django Unchained is possibly Tarantino's best since Pulp Fiction . The traditional Spaghetti-Western guitars are there for the most part, however there are occasions where Tarantino has included an anachronistic Hip-Hop track which, bizarrely, work brilliantly with the scenes they're paired with.

Robert Richardson has been nominated for an Oscar for his cinematography. And deservedly so. The South looks incredible throughout and pays deep homage to Sergio Leone's South in The Dollars trilogy.

The bar was set quite high for Django... past outing from Tarantino have been disputed amongst fans and critics alike. Luckily for him this is quite possibly one of his most successful films to date. Sure it's rife with historical inaccuracies (most notably the film is set in “1858, two years before the American Civil War” which in fact started in 1861) and even Tarantino has out done himself with number of racial slurs in the script; but do little things like that matter when the film you're watch is as good as this? This is what cinema should be out. A fantastic plot; snappy dialogue; action when the narrative calls for it and lulls when it doesn't. This is without a doubt one of the best films you will see this month, if not the year.

Image: Copyright 2013 News Limited.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

#13: Let's Go Murphys! - Dropkick Murphys @ HMV Ritz, Manchester 15/01/13

Having see Dropkick Murphys several times in the past I knew that seeing them tour in support of their latest album Signed and Sealed In Blood would be no exception. The venue: HMV Ritz in Manchester, a somewhat unusual venue given their past gigs at both the O2 Apollo and the Academy, however a smaller venue rarely detracts from any live music and proves only to add overall atmosphere.

First band to the stage are Cornwall's Crowns. Their blend of acoustic Folk and Punk (not dissimilar to that of Frank Turner) goes down well with the crowd, their closing track 'Full Swing' being a particular highlight.

Second band of the night are Teenage Bottlerocket, who have been making their own brand of snotty skate-punk for twelve years now; think Tony Hawks Pro Skater soundtrack and you won't be far wrong. Fitting an impressive 14 songs in to their allotted 40 minutes , including 'Skate or Die' and 'Headbanger', means their set is as fast as it is tight.

Come 9:30pm, the ever-rousing chant of 'Let's go Murphys!' has run it's course and the band take to the stage and immediately burst in to the obvious choice of 'The Boys Are Back' which whips the crowd in to a sweaty/boozey mass of bodies. Every song is sang by crowd and band alike as if it were the encore at their last ever show. New songs fit in beside the classics as if they've always been part of a set-list that, in keeping with the support, manages to fit 26 songs in to 90 minutes; something that allows them to play three quarters of their new album, whilst still including fan favourites such as 'Boys on the Docks' and 'Shipping Up To Boston' which gets quite possibly the loudest sing-a-long yet. 'Rose Tattoo' as expected was another highlight proving to be an instant classic take from Signed and Sealed...

Their encores are renowned for featuring stage invasions and tonight is no exception, with the stage being filled with fans for the whole five songs, something the security don't seem too enamoured by. 'Barroom Hero' provides another rousing sing-a-long, as does 'End of the Night', the only song taken from the new album to feature in the encore but one that is as fitting as it is predictable. Their set closes with an out of character cover of ACDC's 'Dirty Deeds Done Cheap' which is excellent.

The Murphys are a band that need to be seen to understand just how seasoned and practiced they are. They are consistently good at what they do, and they enjoy what they do. Something that's only evident when you get to see bands in venues such as this. Everyone is guaranteed to go home smiling with more than a few staggering. Good old fashioned drinking music done to a tee. And long may they carry on.

Read my album review of Signed and Sealed In Blood here.

Image: Copyright 2009-2010 All Rights Reserved

Monday, 14 January 2013

#12: I Have To Return Some Videotapes - American Psycho: Satire Never Felt More Bloody

Before reading Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho I was initially worried at how graphic and violent the book was going to be. Sure I've read pretty bad stuff in the past such as Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, but nowhere within Burgess' dystopian novel is a rat inserted in to a woman vaginally; something to which I was forewarned and something in which the idea turned out to be much more horrific than the actual execution (for want of a better word). However, while American Psycho is indeed explicit and quite often brutal, it isn't just a novel about the dismemberment of others. It is a tongue-in-cheek black comedy which tackles the issues most prominent for the “yuppies” of 1980s America, in which image is everything and conspicuous consumption is the route to a successful and happy life.

The novel is (unusually) told from the perspective of Patrick Bateman, an investment banker on Wall Street who moonlights as a serial killer, rapist and occasional necrophiliac. Throughout the narrative his veil of sanity slowly but surely falls, in theory revealing his sadistic side to his peers who in turn are so wrapped up in their own lives and own self-obsession that they fail to notice anything unusual about their friend.

The main focus of the novel is Bateman's descent in to madness, brought about by his ironic disdain for the shallowness of his lifestyle. He is meticulous about what people where, with Ellis describing clothes, food, and technologies in an almost obsessive/compulsive manner. However scratch below the surface, look past the grisly façade and underneath is a sarcastic and almost bitter social commentary that revels in America's obsession with commodities. A prime example is a chapter early in the book in which Bateman and his friends (who all look and act more or less the same) are comparing almost-identical business cards and bragging about their differences. This chapter foreshadows Bateman's later anger and rage, as he begins to sweat over an apparently better example of business card his friend had made up.

It's easy to look at American Psycho and dismiss it as trashy airport literature with a gratuitous amount of violence. Those that focus on the violence within the novel should probably read it again or climb down from their high horse and read between the lines. What Ellis has done is personify that rage and anger everyone has felt towards colleagues and co-workers and allowed it to manifest itself, albeit hyperbolicly, within Bateman. There are chapters, especially towards the last third of the book, that are really quite gruesome, but they're nestled in between monologues about 80s pop acts such as Whitney Houston, and Genesis which are in turn side by side with lunch meetings and shopping trips. It's the banality of Bateman's life which both draws attention to his blood-lust and acts as a platform for the snappy point-scoring dialogue enjoyed between he and his friends. At first the aforementioned chapters on pop-music may seem like filler chapters, offering a brief respite from his twisted acts of violence. However the intensity and the attention to detail with which otherwise shallow and meaningless pop music is discussed is a direct reflection of “yuppie” culture and the esteem in which they hold such unimportant or ephemeral objects or acts such as lunch at a new restaurant; drinks at a new club or just what exactly was on the The Patty Winter's Show that morning (dwarf-tossing, anyone?)

The novel is without a doubt, a black-comedy, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments punctuating the violence. A particular stand-out chapter comes towards the end, in which Patrick is having dinner with his fiancée Evelyn. He gives her a chocolate-dipped urinal cake, wrapped in a Godiva box. She eats the entire thing, refusing to admit to how disgusting it is claiming she “adores Godiva”. This is a direct example of people who value labels over the end-product and is a perfect summary of who it is that Easton Ellis is making fun of throughout the novel.

Throughout the story Bateman makes constant reference to just exactly what he is. A homicidal maniac. Even telling a girl he is in to “murders and executions”. These people are so wrapped up in their equally shallow lives that they don't listen to one another, as exhibited with the girl hearing it as mergers and acquisitions, and later his fiancée taking a further admission from Patrick as him telling her she needs breast implants.

Further to the self-obsession that runs riot throughout, each and every male character within the film is an almost carbon-copy of each other. This leads to a standing joke in which names are confused constantly and are used more or less interchangeably, with Bateman's own lawyer even calling him Davis after an admission of his abhorrent acts.

While this book certainly won't be to everyone's taste. If one can overlook the violence that's perpetuated throughout, they will find a tongue-in-cheek social commentary which is still fairly relevant today. The reliance on commodity is something which even people of my generation can surely rely on, albeit not to such an extent as Bateman. The transient kicks that Patrick gets over the purchase of a new stereo or business card are something that even in today's current financial climate is still happening. Dark, grisly and completely tongue-in-cheek American Psycho is a modern classic that anyone with an interest in satire or fiction will be appreciate. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

#11: Velocets - Post-Punk From Young, Manc Upstarts.

Manchester-based three piece Velocets, comprised of Adam Walsh, Elliot Berriman and Dom Allen are a band destined for bigger and better things. Forming in March 2012 after the addition of Allen on drums, the band went from strength to strength garnering support from the likes of Clint Boon of Inspiral Carpets fame and have had numerous online publications singing their praises.
Having been familiar with Walsh's previous bands it's refreshing to see the post-punk influences that have been hinted at realised in a much fuller sound on their self-titled EP, released this month and available through the band.

The first track the EP, 'Tell It To Your Kids' is a raucous number with angular guitars that are reminiscent of The Strokes. Posed with the question of the song's lyrical ambiguity Adam answered with the equally ambiguous reply of: 

A few people have asked me, and I sort of take a while to think about it myself. And while I'm thinking about it they chip in with "Is it kind of about this...." and then reel off something that wouldn't have even crossed my mind. But I like how people can draw their own conclusions and relate to it in their own way..”

While guitarist and backup vocalist Elliot simply saying with “Erm, that’s a tough one really, Adams never been one to talk about his lyrics, preferring to leave it to the listeners take on it”. Ambiguous answers aside, throughout the verses Adam's familiar drawl is ever-apparent while the chorus is a blistering chant-along that could easily be at home on this Summer's festival circuit and is sure to be stuck in your head

The second track entitled 'Naked' is “the closest thing to emotion you're going to get with Velocets” according to Adam and is a slow and melodic take on what it is to have someone you can just be yourself with. The frank lyrics and their delivery suggest a maturity within the song writing not-often seen in bands this young. The slow and steady drums compliment an understated guitar through and build towards a 'wall of sound' similar to that found in the shoegaze of the 1990s, bringing to mind bands such as My Bloody Valentine albeit with a bit more style and melody to it.

The final track is the first single the band ever released entitled Sophie and rounds the record off perfectly, bringing back the angular guitar sounds made familiar in 'Tell It To Your Kids'. If a band still in the throws of musical adolescence can have a quintessential sound then this would be the Velocets; big sounding choruses coupled with understated verses with lyrics both as candid as they are catchy.
Velocets are making relatively big waves for the small time they've been together, and have been championed by numerous Manchester music moguls. If 2012 was the year for them to establish their fan base; 2013 is the year for them to tear up the underground.


Velocets play: 25/01/13 - Kraak Gallery, Manchester w/ Mama Roux
                      08/02/13 - Friars Court, Warrington w/ Clint Boon
                      09/03.13 - Ruby Lounge, Manchester w/ Orphan Boy
Listen to 'Sophie' now!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

#10: Dropkick Murphys - Signed & Sealed In Blood Review

The Dropkick Murphys are a band who have been at the forefront of Celtic Punk since their inception in 1996. Since then they've garnered popularity through annual St Patrick Day shows; featuring on the soundtrack to Oscar-winning films and releasing consistently good albums every couple of years. And this latest offering entitled Signed and Sealed In Blood is no exception. The first track The Boys Are Back is a rip-roaring shout-a-long that really does leave no questions as to whether or not the boys are truly back providing you can overlook the cheese of it all.

Thankfully that's the only track on the album that can be considered even the slightest bit debatable. Rose Tattoo the third track on the album is a good contender for a single and will have you singing along before the first chorus is through. Even though it's somewhat mellower than people might expect for one of the strongest songs on the album, this doesn't detract from it's impact any and in fact it is strengthened when coupled with track four Burn which is a fast-paced beer-fuelled song sure to prove a huge live favourite and a fantastic way to bring the album back to speed. Out of Their Heads is the penultimate track on the album and is as fast paced as you've come to expect, championing a story the vast majority of fans will be all too familiar with. The album ends with the longest track on the album End of the Night which is a slow and mellow almost ballad that's a nostalgic yarn not dissimilar to classic Kiss Me I'm Shit Faced and is a sure-fire close to any set with a chorus still ringing in fans ears as they stagger home.

Anyone looking for something ground breaking or different with Signed and Sealed in Blood is going to be disappointed. You have heard these songs before; you will hear them again but that's not strictly a bad thing. With live shows still selling out interest in the band has never been higher. Their last album Going Out In Style worried fans with what was rumoured would be a somewhat prophetic title. Those worries will have been calmed by the end of The Boys Are Back and completely obliterated by the end of Rose Tattoo.

It's easy to dismiss their music as formulaic, as it has only slightly mellowed over the years as their obvious Irish heritage and influence become more apparent with each album. However like lead vocalist Al Barr said “If it aint broke, don't fix it”. Clichéd that may be but the sentiment speaks for itself. Why should they change the formula when it's so apparent that it works well for them?

Click here to read my live review.

Image: © Copyright 1999-2013

Saturday, 5 January 2013

#9: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, An Unsurprising Success

When Peter Jackson announced he was splitting the prequel to his cinematic masterpiece Lord of the Rings in to three parts instead of the initially planned two, it divided fans and critics alike. As it turns out this was probably a good thing on his part. The film still clocks in at just under three hours, which at first seemed a little excessive given the slow paced first hour. This, however, changes as Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and a party of dwarves finally embark on their journey to the Lonely Mountain.

Those of you who read the book as a child like I did will be pleased to know that the film starts with the exact same narration as the novel, something screenwriter Phillipa Boyens continues throughout the movie to an excellent degree. This allows the transition from page to screen to be a smooth one. Utilising many of the same production staff as he did in Lord of the Rings was an obvious decision given it's success and the same cinematic sparkle that garnered said success is unsurprisingly present within The Hobbit. One of the main reasons for this sparkle is the cinematography. The rolling landscapes of New Zealand are completely transformed in to the plains of Middle-Earth which is a juxtaposed brilliantly with the almost British appearance of Hobbiton, (in fact filmed in Matamata, Waikato) and gives the film a real sense of movement as the narrative progresses.

People familiar with Tolkien lore as a whole will be surprised to see the inclusion of brown wizard Radagast and a scene involving The Necromancer. Despite both these characters being mentioned in the novel neither play as prominent a part as they do in the film. While this might annoy die-hard Tolkien fans, it certainly explains the two hour fifty runtime and could explain Jackson's decision to split the film in to three parts, providing he plans to bring some non-novel material in to parts two and three. A further plus to the inclusion of material not found within the novel is the potential to expand the horizons of fans who want dig a little deeper in to the Middle-Earth mythos and will perhaps go on to pick up The Simarillion, a collection of stories and histories outside of the main narrative.

Martin Freeman's portrayal of Bilbo is a refreshing change from the broody, non-acting of Elijah Wood throughout Lord of the Rings. Bringing a comedic element to the table might well alienate people, however those people would do well to remember the original novel was written for Tolkien's children, and the film does cater for a younger audience than it's predecessors. That aside though there are plenty of elements that will appeal to those who revel in battle sequences, particularly the lengthy scene in the depths of the misty mountains, involving the goblin king (voiced by Dame Edna Everage of all people, which is somewhat fitting). Other stand out moments within the film are unsurprisingly the most memorable moments from the book too. The fight between the ice giants about halfway through the film was something I had forgotten and was done brilliantly. The meeting with the trolls early on is particularly enjoyable and brought back waves of nostalgia from my pre-teen days. The almost-human nature of them was a surprise given that I was expecting them to be as inhumane as the orcs. Speaking of which, the Orcs also play a surprisingly prominent role within the film, surprising since the main antagonists of the book were the goblins of the Misty Mountains, however it was an understandable inclusion for those whose only experience of Tolkien are the previous films and needed something to hark back too.

One of the most important scenes within the narrative is Bilbo's discovery of the ring once he becomes separated from his companions. Gollum is fantastic as usual, and those who have seen The Two Towers will enjoy a reworking of his fish-catching song. The pathos created by his schizophrenia is something previously unachieved despite being touched on before, and a real sense of pity is established as he struggles with his greed for 'the precious' and his longing for interaction with others.

As a whole the film is unsurprisingly loyal to Tolkien's works apart from the already mentioned extras, which is something long-time fans will be happy with. Even the viewers in the cinema couldn't really detract from the overall film (despite inspiring my previous blog post) and I would happily go and watch the film again. Given that this film is only the first part of a trilogy it sets the bar extremely high for the next two films (December 2013, July 2014 respectively). If Jackson carries on with the high standard in his next two forays in to Middle-Earth we can expect a trilogy to rival, if not surpass, that he has already created. If you haven't already seen this film (what are the chances of that?) Go and see it, now. 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

#8: Multiplex Murderers and the Death of Cinema

     An auteur once famously said “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” Apparently those people I shared a cinema with last night have never heard this quote, hardly a surprise given the incredulous response of “Who?” heard clearly as a pre-film advert featuring Sir Alfred ended.

What ever happened to people going to the cinema to enjoy the film? To sit quietly and take in the magic of the big screen? And not the smaller screen they have in their pocket or hand at all times? Do people really feel the need to update their social network every ten minutes? Or to text whoever constantly throughout the duration of a film? Has the attention span of our public actually dropped that much, that despite the astronomical film prices set by multiplexes, people happily sit on their phones while watching a film? It seems to be the case these days, and is one of the many reasons why I would rather sit in the comfort of my own home these days and watch a film as opposed to paying the best-part of (or over) £10 for a two-hour long film. I can't just be the only one who feels this way? That said, every so often there is a film that comes out at the cinema that I just have to see. And Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's Fantasy classic The Hobbit was one of these films.

Being the skint student that I am, my girlfriend and I thought it would be a good move to take advantage of Orange Wednesday's. This was a terrible decision. The line for tickets left us questioning whether or not we would actually get to see the film at all it was that ridiculous. Luckily the line for 'refreshments' wasn't that bad and we queued to pay through the noses for our bucket of Coke (to share). Queuing for this took almost as long again as the queue for tickets. This I attributed to the many people their who have obviously skipped dinner in their haste to get to the cinema, and so feel that they should buy a plethora of food that just shouldn't be consumed in a movie theatre. Hot-dogs; nachos with chillies and sour cream; monumental bags of pick 'n' mix and Pringles. Why do these people feel the need to crunch and slurp their way through every single film? Can they not be content with just a drink? Or less? Evidently not. This is not just an issue that I had to grit my teeth and bare last night. But every time I go to the cinema, thus giving me every reason under the sun to not go in the first place. Of course, a third of the way through the film, nature takes it's course, and the inevitable happens. People need to the toilet. This isn't just one person discreetly slipping out to the bathroom, oh no, this is groups of girls, or duos of dudes (presumably they need moral support when it comes to urination, it is after all a pretty difficult task) standing up every five minutes to go and take a piss! This becomes even worse when said offenders are sat on your row and make their triumphant return just as you get back in to the film and have to move again! What made this even worse, was people returning mid-film with even more 'refreshments'! If someone cannot sit through a film with a run time of just under 3 hours (which is almost double what most films are anyway) without needing to consume their own bodyweight in Coke and popcorn there is something severely wrong.

Going to the cinema should be an enjoyable experience, these days it seems to be an exercise in frustration. Another point of contention I found was people inability to sit the fuck still. The row behind myself and my girlfriend last night was all but empty, apart from the father and son who sat directly behind us. This in itself is not a problem (despite the empty seats) but when I have to put up with a child's legs in my back for the most part of a film, it rapidly becomes one. The 'ample leg room' most cinemas have these days is obviously not ample enough for a six year old with a gallon of coke inside him. How he even managed to have his short childish legs in my back and be able to watch the film at the same time is a mystery only the child and his inept father can answer.

Many people will say that it is my own fault for a) going to a multiplex b) seeing an early(ish) showing and c) going to the cinema on a Wednesday. This shouldn't be the case at all. I should be free to go to the cinema as and when I like and not have to put up with an orgy of crunches and slurps, the tap-tap-tap of some invisible texter or the grotesque sounds of someone chewing loudly on a piece of gum throughout. The blame can't even fall at the feet of children all the time. Go to see an 18 rated film and the chances of their being a drunken arsehole in the same screen as you are pretty high. I'm not complaining at the idea of drinking alcohol within a cinema, sometimes it's enjoyable to have some wine or a few beers while watching a film, but getting drunk to the extent you think it's acceptable to talk, laugh, and even on occasion, shout, while a film is being screened is absurd. This matter isn't helped by the bars that are now prominent within multiplexes themselves, and the fact you can just as sooner buy a gin and tonic to take in with you as you can a bag of popcorn is bordering on the insane.

People say piracy is ruining the film industry, and to an extent I am inclined to agree. But can you really blame those who pirate these films and watch them at home for doing so when every time they go to a cinema they're faced with a blitzkrieg of calories and idiocy? This situation can be viewed as a catch-22 on both sides of the argument. Would the owners of these multiplexes be forced to offer up 'family feast deals' on food and drink if people paid for their films more regularly? The answer is probably yes, they would do it anyway, irrespective that it detracts from the overall experience of genuine movie fans, and not parents who want to take their children somewhere to shut them up for an hour and a half.

Cinema is waning, movies are all we have left. Art houses films are left to gather dust in the hearts of those who made them while Tom Cruise is making millions from playing the same character in every film under a different name. Cinematic integrity is something of the past. All that's left is a slightly salty popcorn smell, and a bitter taste left in the mouths of cinema fans.