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Category Archives: 4.5 Stars

Tame Impala – Lonerism

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Genre: Psychedelic, Powerpop, Art Rock

Quite how Tame Impala managed to become platinum superstars in their native Australia is anyone’s guess.

2 years have passed since their debut album, Innerspeaker, took over the down under continent seemingly overnight, with its dazzling fusion of prog rock and space psychedelica. Of course, outside of Australia you’d be lucky to find someone who had even heard of them, let alone been one of the thousands who’d bought the album. But look anywhere and, even 2 years on, amongst the bizarrely fanatical Brazilian post-pubescants that seem to have glued themselves to the band, you’ll find that most of their (large) fanbase is still drawn from the source of mainstream, normal music fans. Rhianna, One Direction, Bon Iver, Taylor Swift… Tame Impala…


(it’s One Direction, they’re awesome.)

It would make perfect sense if Tame Impala created stereotypical, middle-of-the-road, made-to-please-the-masses pop music. But that is where everything starts to unfold and the delight of confusion sets in. Every few years, there are certain bands who get a short period of fame in their home country that makes absolutely no sense; Tame Impala in Australia is one of them (Muse is another example. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of them, their influence in the UK has been pivotal to progressive rock’s resurgence in popularity worldwide.)

See, Tame Impala make a kind of pop music. But it’s not pop music. It’s pop music in the same way that Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite is catchy pop music. Or in the same way that Harry Nilsson’s Popeye soundtrack was a pop album. In other words, they don’t fit into a category at the record store because they’re a little melting pot of everything.

But let us push aside the Beatles comparisons for a moment because, even though every mainstream media review speaks like Lonerism is the second coming of Revolver (and, while that’s not completely wrong, to compare anything to an album that changed everything is sacrilege), there’s one thing that Lonerism sounds a whole lot more like than anything else; Tame Impala have created something here that seemed impossible to recreate.

Todd fuckin’ Rundgren.

But not the songwriting genius of Todd from Something/Anything, not the half-hearted meanderings of his short-lived band Utopia, and certainly not the Todd Rundgren we’re left with in 2012 (which I refuse to accept exists)

No. It’s the i’ve-taken-5-acid-sugar-cubes-and-i’m-going-into-the-studio Todd Rundgren from “A Wizard, A True Star”. The same “A Wizard”, a near-perfect album, which was pretty much ignored completely in 1973 because it was so different. Well, it now has a son. A son born 39 years later, and it goes by the name of Lonerism.

To talk about the songs individually on this record would be missing the point; much like “A Wizard” it plays as if it’s a medley and, more importantly, it encapsulates a mood as opposed to being 13 seperate songs. That can, however, make Lonerism a very droning, claustrophobic, over-cosy listen. It IS same-y, in a similar way to Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Aufheben – whether you feel that’s important in the case of this album is another matter entirely. Don’t take that the wrong way though, if you were to drop your turntable needle on any groove you’ll find that it’s a treat, not a chore, to hear the sweeping synthesizers added to Lonerism, an upgrate from Innerspeaker’s no-synths approach. Or the incredible vocals that are eerily like someone overdubbed everything with John Lennon’s voice.

Or you might be treated to the final guitar riff in Music To Walk Home By, a tip of the metaphorical hat to Zeppelin’s Out On The Tiles.

Or the dancing sway of Feels Like We Only Go Backwards which could have come straight off Band On The Run.

Or the part-stoner, part-Marc Bolan stomp of Elephant.

Or the trippy, lucid repetition of Mind Mischief, recalling the 90s powerpop of The Posies more than anything.

Or, my favourite, Keep On Lying, an incredible cut that half way through drifts off into an extension of Tic Tic Tic from “A Wizard A True Star”.

However, the best way to experience this album is to press play and forget you’re listening to it. Let it go in and out of your hearing, don’t focus on it as 13 songs, and tune your brain to the mood of the album. In the proper way, somehow miraculously for a mainstream band, this is true psychedelica. You don’t need drugs to enjoy this music; this music IS the drug.

All in all, Lonerism is a more cohesive effort than Innerspeaker. The synths add a completely new dimension to this band, transforming them from Flaming Lips-type indie experimenters to… full blown psychedelia. I suspect it will turn many fans away.

Is it a better album than Innerspeaker? Only time will tell us. There are so many layers to Lonerism that it may be an inconspicuous grower. It may become album of the year, that much is possible. But, on the first week of listening, the sameness and monotony means it is an album for very specific moods. To quote Neil Young at the start of Year Of The Horse, “It’s all one song!” And that wasn’t a bad album either.

But, as far as A Wizard A True Star clones go, this is as good as it gets.

Lonerism is an enigma.

For fans of: Todd Rundgren, Paul McCartney & Wings, ELO

Released 8th October


Toe – The Future Is Now EP

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Genre: Post Rock, Progressive Jazz

For as long as our incandescent hearts beat, we are emotional beings who will continue to seek the true beauty in the world. For some, that might come from the gaze of the sun; a dream of a happy reality with happy thoughts, shimmering bright and youthful. For others, fragments of decay, death and melancholy can equally create some kind of connection.

Beauty is a complicated word.

And that is why Post Rock is such a complicated subject.

The harsh irony being, of course, that Post Rock is no longer “post” anything. At a grasp, it began to fall behind when it was bruised and corrupted and squeezed like an orange by the hordes of bands jumping the bandwagon – that bandwagon being the social media and Youtube revolution which forgets artists as soon as they learn about them. Because, regardless of where you look or what your intentions are or what you’re interested in, Post Rock is everywhere. It’s in movies, tv commercials, clothes stores, it’s probably even in your mom’s car. At least 50% of all underground music is Post Rock this year. Currently, it’s the “cool” choice of people worldwide. But the genre now wallows in despair, existing more truthfully as Post-Post Rock, and it doesn’t so much resemble Explosions In The Sky or Sigur Ros or Mogwai anymore, so much as it repeats and repeats and repeats what they’ve already done. In modern Post Rock there lies a great conundrum: when it’s good it’s really good, and when it’s bad it’s borderline cringeworthy and pathetically stereotypical.

Yeah, Toe aren’t one of those bands.

Infact, I have no idea who Toe are, or indeed, what Toe are. But they are beautiful. Uncharacteristically so; beautiful like a meadow of a thousand fairy tales.

Obviously, this is where the buck stops, because if you try Googling “Toe” you will break your knuckles in sheer rage. No, seriously. On the four thousandth page there is a picture of Toe the band, caved in and surrounded by intimidating 4000×4000 res HQ images of toes: not just any toes either, all kinds of toes – pointy ones, bendy ones, drawings of feet, diagrams of bones in your feet. Feats you didn’t know were possible. A man in Brazil was apparently born with 8 toes on one foot.

To name your band after a body part you either have to be stupid or foreign.

Toe are Japanese. Of course they are. Only Japan could produce such an oddly confusing band making such unique music.

And it seems so harsh to compare them to others. Mostly because there isn’t a whole lot of things that sound like the music on The Future Is Now, which is an EP, agonizingly lasting only 15 minutes. If there’s a closest reference point, it’s to the Norwegian Nu-Jazz bands; the electronic, trip-hop younger brother of Math Rock. Wibutee, Xploding Plastix, Skalpel, Jaga Jazzist. But only sparingly. Toe have no relation to electronic music.

Imagine the Dillinger Escape Plan if they fell in love and became romantic lovers. Imagine Moe or fellow far-east experimentalists Sgt if they discovered the natural world around them; the blue autumn trees, the searing yellow sky. A Transmodern Frank Zappa circa-Hot Rats, but armed with constant sunshine instead of Captain Beefheart’s clingyness.

The Future Is Now is a teasing bastard. It lasts a quarter of an hour, it only has four tracks, and it’s all over before you can even sit down. That may also be where its brilliance lies – no weak tracks, no condescending filler, and there are no translated liner notes to read, naturally, as it’s a download-only release.

As far as instrumental music goes, all too often it can become tiresome and dragging. The Future Is Now is mostly instrumental, yes, but the last thing Toe are is an ambient band. Aside from a special guest appearance from the clearly well-known celebrity superstar Aco (who?) and the chant to end Ordinary Days , there’s not really space for vocals here. At least, not vocals to ruin it.

The lusciously cute second track, Tsuki Kake, is sugary sweet as opposed to pedantically twee, and the soaring Mini Moog synth which dominates the entire EP is a particular strong point, but it all fades together into one gorgeous 15 minute track. Maybe a full album would be overload, but that judgment doesn’t need to be made, nor should be considered for The Future Is Now. It’s a delicate rose which just calls to be played over and over and over.

Oh, and by the way…

It only costs £2.76. That’s less than a medium Big Mac.

The choice is yours, fatty. But everyone must own a copy.

For fans of: Wibutee, Jaga Jazzist, Xploding Plastix

Released 20th June

Black Mountain – Year Zero: The Original Soundtrack

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Genre: Space Rock, Psychedelic, Hard Rock, Electronic

What do you get if you cross Black Sabbath and Black Sabbath?

You get every stoner rock band in the world.

Or you get Black Sabbath trying to multiply themselves and creating a great void of nothingness.

Either way, they’re all playing the same riff over and over. That riff is called Children of The Grave. Except it sounds nothing like Children of the Grave, because Children of The Grave is awesome. It’s more like if you had a doppelganger who followed you around everywhere, but instead of making you look presentable and replicating you correctly, they smeared chocolate over their face and made fart noises.

Coincidentally, “awesome” is also the last word you’ll ever hear in a review for a stoner rock band, because they’re all lifelessly average and meticulously boring. “Stoner music” is a complete motherfucker; it’s much like the term progressive rock was before its recent revival, when the only prog rock to exist were samey-sounding bands and guys in capes with wands. If you’re bad at stoner rock, you’re an eternal embarrassment to a scene where only one clique exists (that of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age fanatics) and if you’re good at it, like QoTS, it’s a term which is a knife to the back when you try to expand and evolve into anything else. When your band gets tagged “stoner” there is no escape, there is no way out of the hell in which you are now ridden. Forever trapped because of your Children of the Grave riff, and even an album of xylophone Abba covers would be accompanied everywhere by the one word to ruin them all:


So why must a great band like Black Mountain be thrown into the lion’s cage with every album when, clearly, they have far more to offer? Moreover, why must a great band like Black Mountain be treated like it were by your parents, aimlessly classing everything as “just that noise, all sounds the same to me.”

So with that said and done, i’d like to talk about this new release from one of the best ROCK bands around.

2 years on from the modest chart success of Wilderness Heart, a top-5-of-the-year kind of album to anyone who heard it, it would have been completely acceptable for Black Mountain to head off in a new direction and satisfy their newfound fanbase. A little switch to the guitar tone here, a few catchier choruses there. A spot on the Spiderman soundtrack would normally do this to bands. It’s a natural and easy thing, to sell out when you have the chance.

But apparently not to these guys. Black Mountain have instead gone and made the most mind-altering, hallucinogenic music of their career.

Year Zero is the soundtrack to a surf movie, an independant vinyl-only album containing 5 new tracks and 4 old ones. In a movie about people flying on water on plastic hovercrafts, the last kind of music you’d ever expect to hear is stoner music. Wait, wait, I mean Black Mountain’s kind of music.

But after seeing the trailer, you know what?

That’s exactly the right assumption to make. It doesn’t fit. The music itself, gratefully, is a different story altogether. The four old tracks are exemplar and naturally excellent choices. The five new tracks, though, are a little more incoherent:

Spacey electronic opener Phosphorescent Waves is a brooding spoken-word trance. Somewhat depressive, mostly just beautifully atmospheric, as a soundtrack addition it belongs not on the blue slow-motion of a surf wave, but in the outer shores of the cosmic ocean. Galactic music in every sense of the word, and miles away (or more appropriately, light-years away) from Spiderman’s Stay Free, something that’s not a completely good thing.

Mary Lou is the pick of the bunch; a heavy-as-hell, punch-you-in-the-face kind of gem which begs to be played loud and manages to stay on the right side of hard rock without drifting into the aridity of metal. It’s a track which spells out that these guys, like everyone else lately, have been listening to a lot of Krautrock (which seems to have become the flavour of the week so far in 2012.) If Neu’s epic this-is-the-best-thing-ever song Hallogallo was brought up to date, Mary Lou would be it. Much like your first boyfriend, nearly 8 minutes of joyous pleasure.

Embrace Euphoria and In Sequence are again electronic and spoken word underachievers which seem to have no purpose other than linking the previous and forthcoming songs. More importantly, they make it wholly impossible to understand if this is a new direction for the band or purely a one time experimental outing. When In Sequence’s extended synth outro drifts into fan favourite Wilderness Heart (with its Children of The Grave riff) it contradicts everything and suggests absolutely nothing.

Final track Breathe may tell us more however, and the overall fuzziness harks back to both Hawkwind and mainman Stephen McBean’s solo project, Pink Mountaintops. Yet interestingly, though probably unsurprisingly considering the context, there’s a serious hint towards the Yellow Submarine Soundtrack’s forgotten experimental hit It’s All Too Much.

In the end, who knows. What we do know is that, as an EP, the new tracks aren’t collectively strong enough to warrant this release more than 3 stars – but acting as segues to some of the band’s best material, Year Zero proves to be a reasonably strong and an entirely enjoyable album. Therefore (and mostly because the 13-minute Bright Lights is included) it’s with great shame that it won’t be able to win any album-of-the-year awards by default.

New fans are probably better checking out 2008‘s In The Future first because, as an introduction to Black Mountain, the peculiarity of the new material may easily scare some away. But for those already addicted, it’s worth getting just so Mary Lou can brutally knock your head off.

For fans of: Quest for Fire, Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, Aqua Nebula Oscillator
Recommended Track: Mary Lou

Released 2nd April