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The Stoles - Age of Deception

The Stoles’ debut album is finally here. After dabbling in various sounds, their style and lineup have stabilised and crystallised into Age of Deception. Four years on from the indie beat of ‘The Protest Song’, we have an alt-rock trio who take influence from The Stone Roses, The Smiths, Queens Of The Stone Age, Coldplay and, most conspicuously, U2.

They’ve been a fixture on the Dublin live scene and this album has been preceded by no less than four singles, which amounts to 50% of the record. ‘Getaway’ kicks things off with a thumping bass line and some Johnny Marr style guitars. The production is crisp and clean throughout. The Stoles have signed up with the American label Spectra Music Group and it’s incredible the difference it makes when a local band have a bit of a budget for mixing and mastering. Soundwise, they leave their peers looking poor by comparison.

‘Evelyn’ was another single and has a Fratellis’ feel while the new song, ‘Out Of Control’, has a menacing stomp. ‘Addicted To You’ and ‘Wake Up’ walk territory we’ve seen before from lesser bands. The Stoles sound great when rocking out but the slower numbers do not suit them. The two remaining singles, ‘I Don’t Get Along With You’ and the title track finishes the album off in a hard rocking and epic style respectively.

Age Of Deception starts and ends really well but it slumps in the middle. The four singles, along with ‘Out Of Control’ are magic but largely the new songs add little value. Given that this album has been in the can for 12 months and the band have been gigging all over, Age Of Deception acts as a good introduction to The Stoles, but there is better to come down the line.

Listen to more from The Stoles via their Bandcamp here

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Ewan Cruickshanks - A Glasgow Band

 

There's some obvious leg-pulling going on here from the off, given the title of Ewan Cruickshank's debut album. That shouldn't though dissuade you from checking out the charms offered up by the 11 tracks on A Glasgow Band. The cover photograph might be an in-joke too but it's less successful.

Opening with an instrumental as musically brash as it's title ('Youth Never Dies') things are kicked off with two minutes of tongue in cheek, pseudo metal thrashing which second song 'C.A.A.G.B' immediately tones right down, shifting into poppier, more glam rock, territory. Shades of the diversity Teenage Fanclub had in their heyday.

Pushing things further still track three, 'For A Girl', slows things right down to crooner pace for a piece of lovelorn mooning after an unnamed paramour. Pleasantly orchestrated by the time the string section comes in near the end it's otherwise unremarkable.

The un-focussed nature of the album extends through its whole course, making for a rather patchy listening experience. Nothing's actually bad on it (although 'Take Your Time's a bit of a waste of a minute) and you'll probably find the odd hook or two (and maybe some lyrics) coming to mind as earworms but it's a bit ineffectual overall.

'Dreams', the recent duet single featuring Siobhan Wilson (who also provided the bass playing) is sweet enough to rival Belle & Sebastian's efforts in the same vein but you can't help expecting it to do a bit more, rather than just kind of peter out as it actually does.

There's an obvious tradition (or even traditions) of Scottish indie music being carried on with A Glasgow Band's wide-ranging collection of song styles, pacing etc. but for the most part it comes across as well executed homage rather than the next big thing to set the heather on fire.

A Glasgow Band is available from Armellodie Records via bandcamp.    

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EPROM - Drone Warfare

I don’t know much about electronic music but I know what I like. EPROM is from Portland, Oregon and a rising star in the American scene. You may know him from his work with Alix Perez, working together as Shades. Drone Warfare was released on Perez’ own label, 1985.

This is EPROM’s third EP of 2017, following on from ‘Pineapple’, and the ‘Acid Disk’ collaboration with G Jones. His prodigious output is all the more impressive when you know that he has pledged his Bandcamp profits from 2017 to Planned Parenthood in resistance to President Trump’s clampdown on abortion and family planning.

His music might lazily be referred to as EDM, but this isn't dancing music unless you dance like a malfunctioning android. This work lies somewhere between the glitchy experimentalism of Aphex Twin and the homebrewed squelches of Deadmaus. In the absence of vocal hooks, there’s a vibe redolent of the former’s Selected Ambient Works collection but, with a modern approach to producing that brings the Canadian with the oversized rodent helmet to mind. It’s closer in spirit to Nightmares On Wax than to Daft Punk.

‘Oksana’ has a slippery, skittering bass amid atmospheric, eastern vocalisations. The title track builds the anticipation with distorted, harmonising synths building to some head-melting lead lines. It’s the type of track that would get you dirty looks and probably kicked off the decks at a house party. It is a glorious testament to the evolution of electronic music that, within a generation of hitting the mainstream, the genre can spawn acts as divergent as EPROM and, say, Avicii.

Drone Warfare sounds like the type of music that robots would grind to in a dystopian underground club, in a world where humans have oppressed robo-culture, and this is their only release from the relentless toil. The uprising starts tonight. Death to humans!

I guess what I’m saying is: yeah, it’s damn good.

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Black Metal Raccoons – Tsuki

Like Vampire Weekend and Imagine Dragons before them, Black Metal Raccoons’ chosen name is deceptive. Alex Morelli and Ville Verkkapuro formed the band in 2015 and struck immediately on a distinctive sound based on distorted guitars, heavy synthesizers and repetitive insistent beats. BMR’s patented “raccoon roll” takes the gothic industrial stomp of Gary Numan, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and Depeche Mode, and adds a touch of whimsy to the mix.

According to the band:“The theme of the album is a journey started at sunset from the most western point of Europe to outer space of eternal night with an intergalactic Cadillac. The trip, fuelled by ketamine, detaches the heroes from their bodies as they enter the after party of life, on another planet."

As concept albums go, that works both on the well-worn level of rock 'n' roll debauchery, and as an antidote to the Trump/Brexit-era dystopian certitude that's dominating music at the moment.

Tsuki, like their earlier EPs, proudly wears the dark accoutrements of goth but keeps everything light and breezy with the music. A brief instrumental intro leads into ‘1420 mhz’. Named for the hydrogen line used in radio astronomy, the dirty synths and overdriven guitars are the darker sides of Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ as our protagonists' journey from Earth begins. Ville’s understated drawl alternates with a flanging lead guitar sending contrails across the stratosphere.

As Tsuki enters deep space ‘Illusion Of Time’ opens with a drumbeat straight from the Sisters Of Mercy’s ‘Dominion’, but the tune has a tempo and timbre more akin to Robert Smith’s Disintegration period. It’s a change of pace for the Finns; a more contemplative effort with emphasis on the vocals rather than the driving beats and synth loops.

The scientific references return on the slurred delivery of ‘Space Disco C13H16CINO’ (the chemical formula of ketamine, if Wikipedia can be believed), and a mysterious alien voice on ‘Interstellar’ brings us to the comedown room of ‘After Hours 999’ and the eight-minute epic ‘We Are Timeless ‘.

Tsuki is an album made to be listened to as a whole but ‘Space Disco C13H16CINO’ and ‘Illusion Of Time’ are great standalone singles. It’s an enjoyable listen and it is one that will work really well live or in a goth disco, pumping through a massive sound system. With one full-length trip just ended, you feel that the journey for Black Metal Raccoons is just beginning. Tsuki plants a psychogenic flag on the dark side of the moon. We can only sit and wait for them to report back on what the next leg of their travels reveals. 

Tsuki is available via iTunes.

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Brigid O’Neill - Touchstone

Touchstone is the debut album from Downpatrick singer-songwriter Brigid O’Neill. Five years ago she attended a songwriting workshop on Rathlin Island and discovered a heretofore hidden talent. She has since played with Duke Special, Frances Black, Luka Bloom, Eddi Reader, Mary Coughlan, and Sharon Shannon.

On her recent EP Arrivals And Departures, she delivered a set of tunes that accentuated her ability to carry a traditional air. Her rich lilt on those songs was similar in style to Mary Black and had a real A Woman’s Heart vibe. She mixes touches of blues, jazz, and country with her traditional folk tones. The proceeds of an Artist Development Grant took her to Nashville where her writing and recording has flourished, with the end result being Touchstone. Written between Belfast and America’s heartland, Touchstone was produced by local songwriter Gareth Dunlop.

‘Little Bird’ is as delicate as a birds wing and eases the listener in. The influence of Nashville is understated, expressing itself in the fuller sound and the unerring confidence of O’Neill’s delivery. The country vibes bubble to the surface of the Neil Young-esque ‘Iron In Your Fire’, and continues through the country rock of ‘Rumour’. ‘Running Back To You’ has the feel of an instant classic. It’s the type of song that has been performed the length and breadth of Ireland for centuries and is the cornerstone of O’Neill’s place in the traditional music firmament. ‘Misunderstanding’ is the type of tune Leonard Cohen would have sung if too many Strepsils had turned his gravelly voice into a smooth lilt.

The title track that closes the album arrives too soon but the assurance and otherworldly voice of Brigid O’Neill on Touchstone is remarkable. You get the feeling that this striking debut has only scratched the surface of a songwriting talent that will echo for years to come. 

Touchstone is available via iTunes.

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LA Witch - LA Witch

When you think of Californian shoegaze, Mazzy Star might come to mind. Like their predecessors, L.A. Witch put a particularly West Coast spin on things. There are overtones of rock, surf, rockabilly, and country music in the Angelina trio’s downbeat drawl. Throughout the record, layers of echo and reverb bring to mind Duane Eddy, The Tornadoes and The Shadows, along with more contemporary acts like Black Lips and Audacity. The street-fighting undertones are only exacerbated by the snarling lyrics that seem to deride and condemn in equal measure.In Sade Sanchezvoice there is a noticeable debt to L7’s Donita Sparks; she delivers a sultry vocal redolent of ‘90s PJ Harvey.

From the noir opening of ‘Kill My Baby Tonight’, L.A. Witch build an ominous atmosphere that persists to the closing notes of their recent single, ‘Get Lost’, which closes the album. A few of the songs on this eponymous debut album have seen the light of day as singles and EP tracks over the last five years, including the deceptively breezy ‘Brian’.

L.A. Witch are proponents of Massive Attack’s mantra that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing slowly.This band put the down in downbeat. To wit, the casual threat of ‘You Love Nothing’ oozes menace as it sidles up to you with razor sharp riffs. ‘Drive Your Car’ is a tale of empowerment written about an occasion when Sanchez drove Vincent Gallo’s car around Los Angeles. ‘Baby In Blue Jeans’ has a Bossanova-era Pixies feel and would fit neatly on a Tarantino soundtrack. ‘Feel Alright’ has a Pixies vibe too, while ‘Good Guys’ nods to The Kills. There’s a shared musical lineage with Primal Scream too and L.A. Witch often echo the Glaswegians' Sonic Flower Groove on this record.  

L.A. Witch is an understated but fully realised debut but, ultimately, it lacks the dynamic variation to hold your interest all the way through. It becomes dull on repeat listening. The combination of languid tempos and the violent undercurrent to the music make it a compelling listen but you have to wonder how often you will come back to experience it again.

L.A. Witch is available from amazon & iTunes.

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