The National – High Violet

In May 2010 The National released their 5th studio album High Violet a whole 3 years later than Boxer. That steady, solid build from Alligator onwards – what was setting The National apart was that they were becoming a rare beast of a band that get better with every album. Could this continue?

High Violet is wholly self-penned, largely self-produced and is deeper crafted than anything they had released prior. The National pose the sound of a more accessible Joy Division and reach, unwittingly, into stadium rock with ridiculous ease.

Terrible Love is initially sombre. It plods before channeling energy from distant guitars gives way to a chasing sound. The song bounces off itself, repeats deeper and the clatter of drums takes it to another level. “Ooohs” as backing vocals queue a menace of instrumentation and the lead vocal drowns quite literally in sound.

Sorrow revisits the tone of Boxer but this does sound more mature. The band just play. There is no searching for the spotlight. Matt Berninger delivers a monotone vocal of the sorrow the title suggests – it’s beautifully well done and wrapped in mystery and charm.

Anyone’s Ghost is another plodder even if it is slightly more National-by-numbers. Played loud layers of quality musicianship shine through. The question now is “is this a Boxer beater”?

Little Faith offers more charm and poetry. Instruments wave from “Indie” to near “Classical” the craft is that good. Whilst not a throat grabber the song typifies The National. Mourn and mystery. An ever so subtle raise of urgency and the song fades with sonic waves.

Okay, so far High Violet is not totally on par with Boxer. It needs a shot in the arm, something more… That’s exactly what we get. The middle section of High Violet is the meat and bones of their true development. Afraid Of Everyone develops the sound of the albums opener. This time the backing vocals give way to steely guitar slithers. The drums pull the track fully together before the lead vocal really takes grip. Briefly the instruments challenge each other, the track simply swells and rises before hitting a totally new spinning gear. “With my kid on my shoulders I try, not to hurt anybody I like, but I don’t have the drugs to sort it out, little voices swallowing my soul, soul, soul”. There is no backtracking just more urgency then it’s gone. When The National touch Joy Division musically and indeed lyrically the results can be mesmerising.

Now we get the real National circa 2010 in full flight. The supreme confidence with zero arrogance that is Bloodbuzz Ohio. A song that hits senses you may not have known were there. Trumpets, piano, guitar, bass and drums solidify. Guitars bleed and the track fades leaving you really wanting more.

Lemonworld hits the sombre button but does so in a more accomplished way then managed before on any National album. A bellowing lullaby muted under a pillow of dreams and lush soundscapes. Poetry pours out. Open to interpretation, mysterious and more-some like all good things are.

Can they really keep this up? Maybe. Runaway is a downstep but after the three previous tracks that really can be excused. Soft and almost excusing itself. Conversation 16 is more storytelling and glides easier than the previous track. Lyrics temporarily verge on Slayer territory “I was afraid that I’d eat your brains, ’cause I’m evil”.

The anthem of England is next but this is no National Anthem. That yearning sound that The National can deliver is in fine, fine form here. That slow gathering of vocals and instruments leading to a rousing yet never overstated swelling sound. This is real stadium rock – Bono are you reading?

Valderlyle Crybaby Geeks closes High Violet and closes many of their live shows even to date. That altogether lost in our own shit unifying cry. We understand everything and we understand nothing. Rousing yet stark – laid bare almost.

High Violet is, in my opinion bettered by Boxer – just. That said it is a far better album than most bands could ever dream of writing and performing. The following Trouble Will Find Me although ambitious falls near this mark and it’s quite possible, even if slightly unlikely that we are yet to hear the best National album still. Long may they continue…

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Andy White – Religious Persuasions.

In 1985 Andy White released his debut EP on Stiff Records – Religious Persuasions and whilst it didn’t exactly set the charts on fire it did stroke a chord with those that heard it. John Peel gave the record regular spins on his late night Radio 1 show. A song with fire in its belly challenging political and religious themes, musically sitting somewhere between Dylan and Bragg but with the 80’s swagger of a more venomous Waterboys.

The best testament the song and artist can have is that it still sounds just as good 30 years on from its release. Andy White is a respected – if under achieving artist – and is on tour from tomorrow…

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Killing Joke – Love Like Blood. Goodbye 1984.

In 1983 many 13 year olds like myself actually believed the world would end in 1984 thanks to Threads on television (a nuclear bomb television movie) and the George Orwell novel 1984 (which none of us had actually read). That fear that we wouldn’t experience things. That dread.

So naturally in 1985, when all of this, (thankfully), turned out to be gubbins there was some kind of initially quiet muted celebration. In January 1985 Killing Joke released the single Love Like Blood. The world was safe, music took a turn, things kinda changed. Listen to them, they sound like Big Country gone apeshit, they sound like all before 1984 and push it forward with brooding menace. A black celebration and alternative music got darker and heavier resulting in a thankful full-on new wave of hardcore / grindcore outfits that emerged from the gloom (Napalm Death et al) and the rest of the 80’s were an unbelievable melting pot of music the kind of like is sadly missing today…

Killing Joke - Love Like Blood (Gestalt Mix)

 

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Midlake – Roscoe

Whilst I do not know enough about Midlake to ramble on about them for ages (probably a good thing) – I do know their music, or what I’ve heard so far really needs no words to describe it. A touch of Neil Young, Radiohead, The Moody Blues, Slint and most good Post Rock outfits – yet strangely traditional too. Earthy, simple and evocative. Stop reading, listen…

“Roscoe”

Stone-cutters made them from stones
Chosen specially for you and I
Who will live inside?

The mountaineers gathered timber piled high
In which to take along
Traveling many miles knowing they’d get here

When they got here all exhausted
On the roof leaks they got started
And now when the rain comes we can be thankful
When the mountaineers saw that everything fit
They were glad and so they took off

Thought we were due for a change
Or two around this place
When they got back they’re all mixed up
With no one to stay with

The village used to be all one really needs
Now it’s filled with hundreds and hundreds of chemicals
That mostly surround you, you wish to flee
But it’s not like you, so listen to me, listen to me

Oh, and when the morning comes
We will step outside
We will not find another man in sight
We like the newness, the newness of all
That has grown in our garden
Struggling for so long

Whenever I was a child
I wonder what if my name had changed
Into something more productive
Like Roscoe been born in 1891
Waiting with my aunt Roselin

Thought we were due for a change
Or two around this place
When they got back they’re all mixed up
With no one to stay with

1891 they roamed around and foraged
They made their house from cedars
They made their house from stone

Well, they’re a little like you
And they’re a little like me
We have all we need

Thought we were due for a change
Or two around this place
This place, this place

When they got back they’re all mixed up
With no one to stay with
When they got back they’re all mixed up
With no one to stay with

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Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible. The Roundhouse, Camden, London 17th December 2014. An unexpected tribute of my own.

In the Summer of 1994 as a young man of 24 I was lucky enough to get what was at the time a dream job of working in a local independent record shop. I would work there for the next 7 years and in truth the job helped me grow-up and have a healthy routine whilst enjoying almost every minute of it, (it being work!).

After a few weeks the guy that changed the displays, Ray – put up an eye-catching window display for the Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible, their new album. Jenny Saville was featured in The Observer magazine at the time to coincide with the albums release, I can recall this more than the music at the time to be honest.  The painting Strategy (South Face/ Front Face / North Face) by Jenny Saville is the artwork used for The Holy Bible. Fittingly name wise the album is held up now as the bands masterpiece.

I had at the time seen the Manic Street Preachers as a generational divide band. Truth is they really were generational terrorists playing music out of sync with the baggy rise of the Stone Roses and the alternative Sub-Pop strains of Nirvana, etc. Schooled on Post Punk, U.K. and American Hardcore personally I observed the Manics with the kind of distance a lot of music lovers my age do? Their first two albums are full of what are undeniably catchy alternative rock classics. So why didn’t I get it? A lad just over 10 years my junior would spend a lot of his free time in the shop. He was obsessed with the Manic Street Preachers in the healthiest of ways. I would banter with him and lend him Electro Hippies records which he would return beaming asking for more. He was practically a carbon copy of myself. The perfect younger brother I never had. Truth was he looked up to the Manics the same way I looked up to the Dead Kennedys. Generational divide – Generational musical Terrorists of different kinds yet cut from the same cloth.

Fast forward to 2014 and a very Hardcore Manic Street Preachers following are anticipating The Holy Bible played live – in full at The Roundhouse, Camden, London. The scene is set with a DJ set by Erol Alkan playing Joy Division, PIL and other music which fits the Manic Street Preachers in 2014 like a hand in a glove. This tension builds as the band arrive on stage to a remix of their own sound. Then, BANG, we’re in.

Yes splits friends standing together. A natural selection of jostling, crowd surges that you are unlikely to find at current standard Manics gigs. Everyone’s up for this. People stop tweeting about being there and get lost in music. Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart has its Reagan / Thatcher mentioning sample jeered causing an already much-needed collective smile from band and audience. More people surge to the front – I begin to realise my age. Of Walking Abortion gets more fists and bodies in the air. Chaos is a great homage and the dancefloor is getting messy.

Album tribute gigs are common cash cow affairs these days – this is not the case here. As the very slow burning fan in me comes to life one can sense what the band are doing here. An exorcism. A love-in. Respect for the lost main contribution of the albums creation She Is Suffering glides and shimmers.

Archives Of Pain with that doomy intro is weighty. The missing guitar and stage spot of Richey Edwards is covered partially both musically and physically as James Dean Bradfield commands the stage properly for the first time – yet it is not him but the whole remaining three members who visibly are carrying this. That hollow guitar streak snakes with whirlwind effect until Wire’s bass bring the song to a death kneel. Then its spot the grown teenager who rinsed The Holy Bible time with Revol – just like myself  with the Dead Kennedys – Hardcore Manics fans bleat every word. I can associate and it’s a glorious sight and sound.

As the gig rolls I’m looking for the bands response. Largely it’s masked – not them army masks of the accompanying era but they’re playing their cards close to their chest. During 4st 7lb Bradfield lets his guard momentarily slip, I’m pretty sure that’s not sweat running down his face. He looks over at Wire who happens to be looking away, it feels like intrusion. I’m watching too closely so I look around, those fans properly revelling in this bring my smile back. Guitars are swapped as Mausoleum becomes an unlikely live classic, how did I spend 1994 listening to Elastica whilst this was dropping for real?

Faster with its spat out lyrics and tighter than tight sound spins this thing out of control. More people run to the front slamming into those standing still. That push and a shove of gig etiquette. Understood here, lost elsewhere. This Is Yesterday is a needed foot off the pedal giving way to the more electric Die In The Summertime and stark brewing power of The Intense Humming Of Evil. Then the drill of that 80’s sound of The March Violets / Southern Death Cult style introduction of PCP which quickly checks itself as fans that know this album inside-out bellow every word. If you’re going to do a Classic Album gig have a reason. The reason here is mourned and celebrated for every single note, bar and word.

An intermission then the band show the need to play for the present and future. Show Me The Wonder from 2013’s Rewind The Film is well placed to move things forward. Then back, way back for Motorcycle Emptiness. Both songs sound a world away from The Holy Bible – both ends of a colourful spectrum walking around the black, white and light red of pain of THB. Dreaming A City underlines where the Manic Street Preachers are in 2014, a sound scape of guitar and space. Then the anthemic familiarity for even the lay fans You Stole The Sun From My Heart sees the audience nearly drown out the PA. A rousing Postcards From A Young Man hits home more with the long serving fans before the band show their real 2014 hand – Europa Geht Durch Mich with its mid period Goldfrapp electronic swagger looks onward and indeed upward, a great song. If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next is the sound of the Manics at a mainstream peak, as familiar as it will be to many it takes on a new dimension this evening – if Carling did anthemic Rock crossovers eh? The band introduce the inspirational B-Side Donkeys to the already converted, needless to say it goes down a storm. Walk Me To The Bridge and Divine Youth canter to pull more ears to the futurology which appears bright, safe and sound. Andy Cairns from Therapy? joins the band for You Love Us and it’s clear he’s loving the moment, a fitting guest. A finale of A Design For Life finishes the show, ticker-tape showers the room, and again the crowd almost drown out the PA. If it wasn’t for Mark Morrison history would show a string on mid-90’s Number 1’s from The Prodigy and the Manic Street Preachers back to back which would mark them heady record shop days of mine much better than they do. The Holy Bible seems 20 years ago, not an hour back all of a sudden. A disorientating celebration. Music doing the talking. Simple.

Goldfrapp play on the PA as the lights go up, probably a Futurology subliminal nod? It’s all makes sense all of a sudden and finally I’m going through the bands back catalogue with real added intrigue. Which brings me tonight. I decided to look for that Manics fan from the record shop on facebook to see what he was listening to these days and continue our music banter and recommendations. In my seven years working there I watched that young fan grow from wide eyed gawping wonder of underground records I lent him to the tables turning and him lending me the first EP from The Beta Band and many obscure fantastic records from widereaching genres. With a common name he was proving hard to find… then I found in disbelief a charity tribute Cancer Relief tribute facebook page. I clicked and it was him, he was only 29. I’m dedicating this review to him and know how much he’d have loved this show. Also thanks to the very special person who took me along to this gig, really enjoyed it…

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Charlotte Carpenter – Take It All

From the very recent E.P. of the same name Charlotte Carpenter really could achieve a lot. I purchased the E.P. so I could review a recent gig and know what the songs sounded like. A few days of bus journeys to work and back with the MP3’s playing on my phone I found myself going back for further listens after the gig in question.

A very straightforward sound but the simplicity and earnesty is key. Every song on the E.P. is very strong and the sound Charlotte Carpenter has is wide-reaching from the Pop of Avril Lavigne to the more highbrow folk of Joanna Newsom. If she ventures more to the latter name check there the debut album will be one to watch for. Earworm material…

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Nirvana 13th December 1993.

On this day in 1993 Nirvana played a hometown gig in Seattle which was recorded by the global cable television music channel MTV. Whilst I never personally saw Nirvana perform as a four piece unit – listening to it now it’s perhaps an unassuming statement to suggest they were musically really still in ascendancy. That extra guitar adds to make a very solid sound – it’s like they’ve upped the ante whilst also adding layers of what is essentially Blast First goes Pop.

Whatever anyone may think of the bands commercial crossover, their sound was never as on edge yet fiercely strong but dangerously fragile as the delivery at the very end of their existence as a band. Be that the MTV Unplugged show or the Live & Loud gig one really could see that one member of the band didn’t want to be there. In the sound check for the gig the frontman looks disinterested and genuinely lost. You could, of course argue it was the drugs – or think deeper that at least one member of the band was feeling the weight of being in the most important band in the world at the time, which I’d say they really were. Revisiting the footage of the gig and sound check tonight, spotting the Converse trainers Kurt was found dead in, the tale tells its own story.

Check out the one track video below (Radio Friendly Unit Shifter) and see at the very end that hair masked smile – it’s simply why Nirvana were still going in late 1993 I feel – lost in music. With a sound like the Butthole Surfers eat a song by The Jam (Eton Rifles) the whole gig showcases Nirvana at their very best soundwise. Purists may disagree and, like many bands suggest their earlier gigs / performances were better, I’d go so far as to suggest the fact they were so far out ahead on their own resulted in them introducing a far more alternative yet still strangely accessible sound. They were a juggernaut out of control, their next couple of studio albums would have reshaped the 90’s – it’s both glorious and tragic…

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