Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Irish Music: So Cow, Halves/Subplots, Cutaways

So Cow - 'Casablanca' (vinyl rip)

So Cow - 'Shackleton' (vinyl rip)

So I picked up So Cow's self-titled/'greatest hits' LP last week in Road Records (I would have got it there on Record Store Day, but I couldn't get in the door) and it's really rather good. A little less than half the tracks are from his 2008 album, I'm Siding With My Captors, and the rest are from his send-off-money-to-my-myspace-practically-self-released-CD first album, These Truly Are End Times and possibly also his homemade, stapled-together, super-limited ep. Some of them I know from the WFMU live session, especially the opener 'Casablanca'.

While the best songs - 'Greetings', 'Shackleton', 'One Hundred Helens' - are from the second album, all the of them fit together quite well. There is some interesting, quirky stuff like 'So Cow vs. the Future', 'League of Impressionable Teens' and various Korean-titled tracks ('Choh Ah' and 'Ja Ju Ah Pa Yo', as well as 'Moon Geun Young'). Obviously it doesn't supplant I'm Siding With My Captors, but it's great to have all these songs together and on a properly retro-progressive format. Speaking of which, the cover drawing really needs to be seen in its full size to do it justice; and the record label has got that old school gradient thing going on as well.

(the So Cow LP is a US release and can be bought direct from the label, Tic Tac Totally! Records)


Halves - 'Blood Branches'

Subplots - 'Leech'

This split 7" by two Irish bands, both on the sort of post-rock-y spectrum, is an interesting idea. Not that it's a totally novel idea for here - most notably two Cork bands climbed Ireland's tallest mountain, Carrantouhill, to record a split 7" single entitled 'The Highest Bands in Ireland' - but it's unusual enough. The 7" is enjoying a renaissance in indie/alternative music in general, especially with bands releasing material solely on 7". Another Irish example of this is the brilliant Hooray for Humans blue 7" of 'Already Sleeping', mentioned in an Irish Times article on the resurgence of the format. It's a similar deal with this record, except it comes with a download for the mp3s of the songs. People say that people buy these 7"s without having a record player, but that just seems a little weird for me to understand. In any case, if they do, their money won't be totally wasted, as they can get a good digital copy alongside the slab of useless vinyl.

Anyway, on to the music. Halves are a mix of Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Ros-type post-rock sounds, which they do very well, but usually in the framework of a lengthy 'EP' (Haunt Me When I'm Drowsy is 32 minutes long with 7 tracks, including an intro). One side of a 7" seems rather short to adequately present their sound, although that said, it is a good song. Subplots are a band of whom I've heard a fair bit, but this is the first time I've heard them on record. To my ears, it sounds quite like Radiohead, whom I have a mixed feelings about, but again it's a pretty good song. Make up your own mind, anyway. At least the artwork for each band is excellent, and as this was quite pricey for a 7" - €5.99 in Tower - hopefully the record will be a grower.


Cutaways are a "synth-driven indie-pop trio" (i.e. guitar, keyboards, drums) from Belfast that I think are pretty neat. Without going into all the socio-political history of this island in the 20th century, I don't know that much about bands in Northern Ireland. Of course I'm a big fan of the classic punk bands the Undertones (Derry) and Stiff Little Fingers (Belfast), but in my opinion the Radiators (from Dublin, and/or Space) were just as good if not better than either of them. Anyway, at the moment there's even a specific collaboration between indie magazines AU (for 'Alternative Ulster') and the Dublin-based State to bring bands from the South up North, and vice versa.

Hopefully Cutaways might be brought into one of those line-ups, because without actually calling them 'the next Fight Like Apes', they should fit very well into the Dublin indie scene. Even more than Fight Like Apes, they remind me a lot of Grand Pocket Orchestra (a minor-key, even quirkier version of the former) and the male/female vocals of Hooray for Humans, and even with a bit of jarring, Bats-like bounce to them. Outside of Ireland, in the mainland UK scene which I know even less about, Danananakroyd seem to be doing a similar sort of aggressively quirky indie-pop. But apart from all the comparisons, this band have really strong songs. I've listened through the full stream of the album Earth and Earthly Things (see below) several times, and it's strikingly attention-inducing, varied, and downright fun.

Promotion for Cutaways is done by Nick of Penny Distribution, which I mention because he writes a very good blog on how the music business, particularly in the case of independent artists, works - or should work - with the internet and the music blogosphere. Cutaways are using the Bandcamp service, which means you can listen to their whole album there or, well, here:

<a href="">Milo of Kroton by Cutaways</a>


(gratuitous picture of the So Cow LP on a duvet, with hat-tip to Those Geese Were Stupefied)

So Cow - 'To Do List'

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Top 15 Irish Artists in Words (top 10)

Top 100 Ticket list here, with commentary here and here

Those Geese Were Stupefied takes the bait with his 15.

1. Fight Like Apes (Ticket list #4)

"Ireland has, quite simply, never seen a band like Fight Like Apes." That about sums it up as to why this band is my no. 1, and has been for the last year and a half that I've been listening to them (starting here). Read the rest of the description in the Ticket article or here.

Their meteoric rise in that period is based essentially on two EPs (repackaged and re-recorded into a debut album) of great songs, plus a few more, and consistently fantastic live shows. Fight Like Apes aren't consciously a punk band, not even I suppose when they are channelling Mclusky, but to me their music is 90% there. The ability to be quite popularly appealing while retaining a definite hard edge has been crucial to their success. For all the people who find the band irritating or bemusing, there isn't really a corresponding faction which decry them as bland or derivative. Which can only be a good thing for Irish music.

2. Ham Sandwich (Ticket list - #!?)

While not as distinctive musically, the quality of this band's rock/pop output probably more than matches that of Fight Like Apes. Guitar-heavy, melancholy and perfectly pitched to male and female vocals, the debut album Carry the Meek is tragically underrated and under-recognised in Ireland. All-killer and no-filler, as a simple collection of songs it definitely puts them ahead of Fight Like Apes (as I did for my best of 2008 list, where it was only second to the Welsh/Australian Shooting at Unarmed Men record). Their live shows are fantastic as well, with a refreshing element of kitsch.

3. So Cow (Ticket list #99)

Lo-fi, straightforward and endearing punk-pop with the emphasis on the 'pop' in a complex, indie-rock deconstruction sort of thing. It's really difficult to describe the sound of So Cow in anything approaching one sentence, so I'll abandon that contradictory explanation for a simple statement that Brian Kelly is a pop genius. This is a rating based personally on only one album and one live show, but I can assure you there is a lot of depth to So Cow. Karl has a live review over on Those Geese Were Stupefied which declares him number one in Ireland (despite the name of the blog coming from a Fight Like Apes song).

4. Cathy Davey (Ticket list #3)

There a further acts, other than Fight Like Apes, in the Ticket top five that I do like a good deal, and definitely deserve their position, but that I wouldn't personally count amongst my top artists - Jape, Lisa Hannigan and David Holmes being of course three of them. Cathy Davey's album Tales of Silversleeve, however, was something I got into myself, even if it wasn't as rock-ish as the other Irish artists that appeal to my particular tastes. The first four songs on the album - 'Sing for Your Supper', 'Reuben', 'The Collector' and 'Moving' - are just stunningly good, while the quality of the rest, from 'Mr. Kill' which reminds me bizarrely of the sound of Green Day's Warning album, stand up equally if not as immediately noticeable. The fact that it is from 2007 (though I must have bought it the following year) but stills stands out as an obvious contender testifies to the strength of the album.

5. Boxes (Ticket list -)

A relatively recent discovery for me, this is one Irish band that definitely isn't 'indie' in the usual sense. I can't quite decide which is better, the 2008 album Animal or the 2006 (Albini-recorded) Bad Blood, but either way this two-piece's brand of post-hardcore/math-rock has made a great impression on me. They may not seem as original (at least, if you listen to a wide variety of 90s US post-punk) as some of the newer bands on this list, but they are distinctive, and accomplished, enough in themselves to be worth praising highly. Meanwhile, very few people in Ireland seem to have noticed them.

6. A Lazarus Soul

Constructed from the members of another well-known Irish rock band Future Kings of Spain, A Lazarus Soul is a more post-punk style (especially Joy Division) band based around the vocals of Brian Brannigan. The lyrical content - melancholy, reflective, and ambiguous - is about life in the parts of Dublin then as now left behind by the economic boom, but more generally recalls the impact of one of Ireland's greatest bands of the 1990s, Whipping Boy. Most of all, it's a portrait of an environment, "a hand brake wheelspin lullaby".

7. Bats (Ticket list -) and 8. Adebisi Shank (Ticket list #97)

These two bands are the cream of the current Irish underground. Bats would be my personal favourite, a sort of math-rock/dance-punk/metal combo which increasingly rip shit up every time I see them play. The first time was in 2007, supporting the Locust, when songs like 'Atom and Eve' reminded me of a more muscular Q and not U, while their more recent stuff destined for the group's first album has matured a good deal from there.

Adebisi Shank aren't really a favourite of mine at all, in that I'm not personally into their super-mathy, metallic instrumental rock, but I respect what they are doing and what they are trying to do. It's not something that appeals to most indie fans, hence the perception that they are often unfairly overlooked by Irish music critics. On the positive side, though, it appeals to a wider audience of metal and punk fans both outside and inside Ireland (the Sputnikmusic reviews of both Bats and Adebisi Shank are here and here). Given that Adebisi Shank's debut album was produced by J. Robbins, and that Bats are recording with Kurt Ballou of Converge, its clear that the real Irish alternative scene has the potential to travel some distance.

9. Chequerboard (Ticket list #19), aka Boldypants

Chequerboard's Penny Black was one of my favourite albums of last year, a beautiful, atmospheric combination of classical guitar and electronic beats. A musician and graphic artist, Chequerboard's John Lambert created something superbly nostalgic and evocative with the wonderfully packaged album, or as I (loosely) described it, "Victoriana put to dubstep". The electronica also has a harder side, as evinced on the previous album Gothica and in his recently resurfaced musical alter-ego, Boldypants.

Boldypants - 'Emotional Wreckingball'

10. Hooray for Humans (Ticket list -)

'Already Sleeping' b/w 'Hidden Hands'

This Cork-based electro-rock group with some tangential emo influences were a revelation when I first them on their heard their 2007 album, Safekeeping; that there was an Irish band who liked a lot of the same US bands I did but also made that into far-above-average indie music. The only release after that album so far has been the 7" above, which is brilliantly presented (pink sleeve, blue vinyl). In musical terms the band are fun, energetic and play great hook-laden pop songs, but at the same time you can find something much more expressive and 'post-hardcore' influenced in there. Plus, guitarist and main man of Hooray for Humans, Alan Healy, has a dead-on screamo mixtape posted on his blog.

Hooray for Humans - 'Already Sleeping' 7"

(more to come)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Top Fifteen Irish Artists About Now-ish

In a move partially designed to piss off the internet, or at least the Irish part of it (and the part that cares about somewhat-less-than-famous bands, the Irish Times published a list of the 50 best Irish music acts right now, with comments running to about three times that number on Ticket writer Jim Carroll's accompanying blog. The invitation to 'do it yourself' has already been taken up at a couple of sites, with alternative lists of fifty each on Nialler9 and 2 U I Bestow. I couldn't reasonably do a list of the full fifty (though there are plenty of bands out there), and after all the original Ticket list was the product of four professional journalists, so I'm going to stick with a comparatively meagre but more exacting fifteen. (And for the record, I'm not a rugby fan. But Ireland did just win the Grand Slam)

As with the Ticket list, these artists have all toured/released in Ireland in the last year or so. The picture is of the latest release from the artist, more or less. From the top down, as I'm not into cheap suspense:

1. Fight Like Apes - 'Lend Me Your Face' from Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion (2008) [file]

2. Ham Sandwich - 'Sad Songs' from Carry the Meek (2008) [file]

3. So Cow - 'Commuting' from I'm Siding With My Captors (2008) [file]

4. Cathy Davey - 'Moving' from Tales of Silversleeve (2007) [file]

5. Boxes - 'Animal' from Animal (2008) [file]

Download Ireland V (zip file, 21mb)

This list on Tumblr

6-10 & 11-15:


(Adebisi Shank - This Is An Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank)

(Chequerboard - Penny Black)

(Hooray for Humans - 'Already Sleeping' 7")


(The Redneck Manifeso - RMNMN EP)

(Halves - Haunt Me When I'm Drowsy EP w/ elastic strap)

words above, here


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Age Sixteen - Open Up Finders, Please

'Peter Pan Complex'

This album is part of a series of events making me feel very positive about modern screamo. The first is last year's releases from well-established members of bands (...Who Calls So Loud, with members of Funeral Diner and Portraits of Past) and well-established bands themselves (Sinaloa), plus Loma Prieta's new take on Honeywell-style hardcore emo in Lost City. Age Sixteen's debut may not be quite up there with some of those former releases, but it fits into an exciting pattern. The excellent blog Stokingtheroots, which already covers a lot of current hardcore bands, has a brief but detailed review of the album here, but I think there are a couple more strands I can add.

First of all, there is a reasonably obvious La Quiete influence on this band - it's that kind of chaotic yet deeply melodic sound which defines European screamo for me in contrast to the more technical style of many US bands of recent years. Yet while La Quiete's most recent output - they haven't released a full album since 2004's La Fine non é La Fine, but have had two self-titled 7"s in 2006 and 2008 - has developed into a purer form, Age Sixteen is still distinctly a punk band. The album is only slightly over 20 minutes long, and mixed with the melody is a good deal of abrasive, old-school hardcore emo moments. Like Loma Prieta, Age Sixteen has managed to reinvigorate the earlier 90s styles of screamo in a contemporary sound.

Secondly, much has been written elsewhere about the other 90s emo revival of Algernon Cadwallader. I think they're pretty cool, although I don't listen to much of them, just as I don't listen to Cap'n Jazz/American Football in the first place. Great stuff, but not my style. What I do like about some of the Algernon Cadwallader songs, however, is how flawlessly shambolic, pained, and anxious they become that they move from the state of energetic, punky indie rock to somewhere very close to the chaos of screamo. Age Sixteen, with their La Quiete-ish melodies and harmonies, approach the process from the other side but with same endearingly tender result. The jaunty opening to 'Empty Nest' I think typifies this momentary glimpse into quite a different style, naturally woven into the general sound of the song and album.

So there are my reactions to this album. It's not solely about this release, which is as much a promise of further good things from a new band and, (as the Stokingtheroots review points out) a representation of a terrific live sound, as it is an excellent release in itself, but also it is symbolic of some new sounds coming through. Open Up Finders, Please is uncompromising screamo, nevertheless with deeply melodic and even poppy touches. Age Sixteen's creative adolescence straddles the old and the new of screamo and other related genres, resulting in a suprisingly mature and contemporary sound.

Download the album here or - because if you like it as much as I do, you're going to want to support the band - buy it via their Myspace ($7 US, $8 international).