Water Knot are from New York, but that’s about as much as you can nail down about them. Sometimes is a diverse, sprawling record, completely eschewing any kind of genre favouritism to create something that’s highly intriguing and completely unique.
The inventiveness and playfulness that abound throughout Sometimes is heartwarming. Although it’s clear that Water Knot take their craft very seriously, there’s a sense of play that is often lacking from this kind of proggy, experimental rock and roll – if that even comes anywhere close. There are guitar riffs that strut, synth solos that completely destroy any preconceptions, and even if vocalist Louis does sound a bit like he’s trying to be Alex Turner in places, that boy’s got some good range. The EP showcases just what Water Knot can do, with tracks as varied as alt-rock anthem ‘Big Brother’, Eastern-inspired ‘Ready’ and the rock and roll stomper ‘Lust’. There’s some big ideas in Sometimes, even if there’s some fairly base lyrics (‘Lust’ doesn’t exactly leave much to the imagination), and an even bigger sound that cannot be ignored.
The EP does have a few problems though. At times, it’s as if Water Knot don’t know where to focus. Although they’ve created a record that’s innovative and enthralling, there’s a loss of control in places that can’t be afforded in this kind of record. There’s the strange, off-time first verse of ‘Sometimes’, and the oddly Vaudevillian cartoon noises and excessive soloing in ‘Revelations’, which just confuse and confound. But when Water Knot get it right, they get it so right.
Even bearing those imperfections in mind, this is the next step of a journey that is far from over. Lead single ‘Lust’ was featured on the soundtrack to Homefront, Sylvester Stallone’s latest movie, and with a debut album following in 2014, it looks like it’s going to be a big year for Water Knot.
3.5 out of 5 high fives!
Imagine if Papa Roach had decided to take equal influence from Guns n Roses and The Germs. Then, imagine that instead of meeting in their hometown, they came from all corners of the world. Toss in a few umlauts and a better dress sense and you have Living Dead Lights.
Don’t take that as anything derogatory, though. Their debut album Black Letters is a big, no-fucks-given rock record and in that, it’s completely genius. On the surface, it’s not overtly clever – lyrically, it’s your typical hard rock cheese in places – but dig deeper and you’ll find cheeky references to horror legend, extraordinarily tight musicianship and an unashamedly irresponsible take on modern rock music. Glorious.
It’s hard not to revel in the sheer indulgence of Black Letters. Although to begin with, it’s rather misleading. ‘I’ll Be Your Frankenstein’ is littered with a ‘one-two fuck-you’ punk attitude, loads of screaming and really fast drums. However, it becomes apparent with lead single ‘This Is Our Evolution’ that the 90s power ballad isn’t dead yet and rock ‘n’ roll parading becomes the order of the day. The record as a whole is bold and brash, simultaneously taking cues from American rock stars and the over-the-top (but frankly incredible) Japanese music scene. ‘Vacant’, for example, chucks in a load of piano and bells over some serious rock riffs – in theory, it’s completely ridiculous, but it works so well.
Working with Fred Archambault, David Spreng and Tom Baker has no doubt had some influence on that – tying together some big producers, who have worked with some big rock and metal bands, is bound to have some kind of impact on the sound. However, what it doesn’t account for is tracks like ‘Hey Stranger!’ which could be just as easily taken off a Die Hunns album were it not for the rock ballad in the middle section, or closer ‘Ghosts and Saints’, which is a country-inspired acoustic tale of loss. What I admire about this record is that Living Dead Lights are not afraid to bring it all to the table, and in doing so, it totally pays off.
Pick up Black Letters if you’re after something fun to kick-start your New Year with. This is rock in its purest sense, injected with punk’s reckless abandon and infused with a well-deserved notion of grandeur.
4 out of 5 high fives!
Hi everyone! I’m hijacking the column this Sunday in order to talk about the queen of J-Pop. That’s right – Miss Utada Hikaru.
Act Name: Utada Hikaru (better known as Utada in Western territories, or Hikki by her fans)
Line-up: Hikaru Utada (宇多田光)
Years Active: 1996–2011 (currently on hiatus)
Robyn’s Choice Tracks: Simple and Clean (2002), Passion (2006), Nichiyou no Asa (2006) Flavor of Life (2008)
You could pretty much say that music was in Utada’s blood. She was born and raised in New York City, and her father was a record producer, while her mother was an enka singer. When Utada’s career truly began in 1996, she did her recordings with her mum under the name of Cubic U. Her first record, Precious, came out under this name, and was in English! In fact, Utada has had three English albums, not to mention a number of EPs and singles. Utada didn’t make her debut in Japan until 1999, but it was a big one. First Love is the best-selling record in Japan to this day.
On the whole, First Love is a pretty 90s affair. While it doesn’t have the musical depth of Utada’s later albums, it’s still a good listen. And if you go digging for the videos, there are some ridiculously awful special effects.
However, it wasn’t this which introduced me to Utada. I find out about most of my J-Pop from anime or video games, and this was no exception. In 2002, Tetsuya Nomura approached Utada Hikaru and asked to use her song ‘Hikari’ in his new game, Kingdom Hearts. She re-recorded it for the game, and in English-speaking territories, it became ‘Simple and Clean’:
It was ‘Simple and Clean’ that would open her up to a whole new audience, especially in the West. It’s such a beautiful song, and when juxtaposed against the dream-like opening of the game, her vocals seem even more impressive, if that’s even possible. She positively has the voice of an angel. Although she’s perfectly suited to both English and Japanese, I find that I tend to prefer the Japanese versions of her songs. I’m not sure why, they just seem to flow better. Utada was featured again in the next Kingdom Hearts game with her song ‘Sanctuary’, but the original Japanese version, ‘Passion’, is far more impressive.
‘Passion’ is my favourite Utada song, and it’s taken from Ultra Blue, my favourite Utada album. I love ‘Passion’ because it’s so unlike anything else she’s ever done. As soon as that guitar kicks in, you know you’re getting into something good. Utada always manages to create so much atmosphere in her songs, but nothing even comes close to ‘Passion’. Essentially, if you listen to no other J-Pop album (but why wouldn’t you, we’ve shown you some cracking bands), then at least listen toUltra Blue. It’s full of pop goodness. Virtually every track has a different feel and as a whole, the album showcases just how talented a songwriter Utada really is.
Utada’s last Japanese album was Heart Station, and it’s a whole load of fun. It’s pretty much what you’d come to expect from Japan’s biggest star, and final track ‘Flavor of Life’ is a joyous, life-affirming affair. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to find a video of the original version, but Utada also included a ballad version on the album.
She released the English album This Is The One in 2009, which had a greater influence from R&B, rather than the electro-pop that she’s famed for. It received generally good reviews, although it wasn’t quite as successful as her previous Japanese efforts. This was to be Utada’s last full album release, and the last one released under the name ‘Utada’, before she announced a two to five year hiatus in 2011. However, in between that, she released a few singles, and bizarrely enough, appeared on ‘London City’ by UK rapper Devlin. Remember him? I don’t, but sure enough, there are some samples from ‘Passion’ on that.
Hopefully, we’ll see a return from Utada Hikaru soon. After all, if Kingdom Hearts 3 finally makes an appearance, it’ll need a new theme tune…
Something a little bit different today…
This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for my MA. It’s going to be included in a much larger collection of personal essays that I’m working on, and this is the opening to one of them. Hope you enjoy!
“In a city that swells with so much hate, you seem to rise above and take its place, the heart pumps until it dies – drain the blood, the heart is wise!”
The Distillers – Drain The Blood
“Are you alright there, lovely?”
Glenn, my artist for the day, is a big guy. He’s over six foot, covered in ink from top to toe, with a good solid number of facial piercings. He’s also wearing a fluffy brown cardigan and has been wittering away about his new puppy for the past twenty minutes. I smile and nod and he continues with his work. My arms are stiff and I’ve had my shirt off for longer than I would usually consider acceptable in a public place, but that’s the only discomfort I’m really feeling. The needle going into my skin over a thousand times a minute isn’t as much of an issue as I’d first thought it would be. My housemate Kate, my partner in crime, lies in the booth opposite. She is yelping with pain at every invasion. Her artist is constantly shushing her, telling her to lie still as he inscribes the words ‘Wrap Me In Waves’ in beautiful cursive script on her ribs. The guy on reception peeks into my booth to take a look at the work in progress. “That’s fucking awesome,” he grins. “Hey, you part of the fanclub? Look me up on the website.” He holds up a piece of paper with his username on it. I usher him away, and say I’ll take it later, trying not to move.
After an hour and a half that feels a lot more like half a day, Glenn stops and puts the tattoo gun down. “I’ll just take a photo on me phone so you can see it properly, alright?” he drawls in a thick Birmingham accent. He takes a quick snapshot and dangles a phone in front of my face. It’s exactly what I want, so I thank him, I pay the rest of the balance, and go and wait for Kate while the receptionist makes not so subtle passes at me. She comes out twenty minutes later. “Let me see, let me see!” She lifts up my top and gasps. “Oh, I’d be so pleased to have that on me forever.” That happens to be the nephilim artwork from AFI’s album, The Art Of Drowning, released in 2000, their last on Nitro Records before they moved to a major label. The script on her ribs is taken a song by a British electropunk outfit called My Passion. When I tell my mother via a sheepish phone call in McDonalds later, she laughs and says that I couldn’t be president of the university’s punk society without a bit of ink. When she sees it in the flesh, she complains that it isn’t feminine enough and asks me to cover it up on my wedding day.
And it all began so fleetingly, back in the year 2001, where I am ten years old. In the summer holidays, we have real satellite installed, as opposed to the knackered old box and dish that we had acquired from my father’s friends by less than credible means. No longer am I forced to endure MTV Deutche and its strange take on rap music, its constant repetition of Nelly Furtado and that one industrial band that set fire to themselves. My sister would scream in terror whenever their video played, but she’d never have to suffer that trauma again. We had real Sky now. I tentatively pick up the remote control. Its buttons are alien, but I recognise a standby symbol when I see one. The TV turns on and the first thing that pops up is MTV 2. At first, I think it’s a woman with a fairly deep voice, spitting legend into the microphone, but I notice that the fishnet top the singer is wearing is fairly transparent and has a chest far too flat to be female. He wears an inordinate amount of makeup and his hair is longer than mine, drawn messily in front of his face in a long and imposing peak. A few moments in and I am in love. I stare, enraptured, as he sings and screams and writhes on stage. He sings a line, and then his bandmates follow with a “woah-oh-oh-oh”, thrashing wildly on their instruments. The song ends too quickly, far too quickly for me to figure out what’s happening. I am sitting on the floor, jaw wide open, until my little sister runs in through the front door and tells me to come outside because the Mills and the Venns are having a big fight in the middle of the street and I really shouldn’t miss it because we’ll have to take the side of the winner when it’s all done. I never see the video on the TV again. When I get the chance, I wait for the internet to log on, the modem beeping and hissing as it connects to the world, and type in the only lyrics I remember – “Once there was a boy who had a vybrent glow”- into the search. The answer is The Boy Who Destroyed The World by AFI.
That memory hits me vividly as a friend sits next to me on the bus and slaps me on the shoulder, unaware of the fresh mutilation upon it. The sting pulls me out of a stupor. I swear loudly, I take the headphones off and my eyes flicker down to my iPod. The AFI discography sits there patiently, waiting for me to choose a track. In between bouts of conversation, I filter by genre, and a stark realisation hits me. AFI haven’t played punk rock in ten years. They stopped being angry kids, found themselves in their thirties and cut their hair, traded in the fishnets for Gucci suits. Because punk is dead and it’s time to grow up.
From the shadow of imposing snow-capped Alpine mountains emerges Elizabeth; kicking and screaming in a tumultuous flurry of grating hardcore. The Geneva band have only been in existence since 2009 but have already built an impressive reputation as stringent road warriors, hitting clubs across a wide diaspora – from the frozen steppes of St Petersburg to the Marxist tropical time warp of Havana. On their spanking new EP Insomnia, such unwavering dedication to touring is matched by some exceedingly tight musicianship not to mention an almost unfathomable amount of focussed aggression. Insomnia is four tracks of relentless aural barbarity, thundering drums and guitar work that’s alternately abrasive and crushing. It’s an unforgiving sound that finds natural allies in a number of fellow Euro bands and takes cues from Rise & Fall; it finds an affinity in those that are able to grasp ideas from outside of the usual banal hardcore repertoire, twisting their sound into untapped forms of musical savagery.
There’s an instant vocal resemblance to the inhuman guttural bark of Converge’s Jacob Bannon, who in turn form another tangible influence on these angry boys from Geneva. ‘Cemetery Feeling’ bristles which unorthodox guitar noise. After the intro riff of muddied bass, guitarist Charly scrapes and scratches across the strings with barely comprehensible speed as the rest of the band steam along at the outer limits of their beats-per-minute capabilities. ‘Created Enemies’ is equally relentless in its propulsive drive, vocalist Javier smattering the maelstrom with specks of lung as he proceeds to shred his vocal chords into tatters. ‘Danger’ continues the destruction, upping the intensity levels with a blizzard of almost melodic guitar but the best is saved for the EP’s death throws on the sublime dynamism of ‘Ravens’. Here, clean guitar lines dance along in a way unseen since the idiosyncratic yet underachieving weird-core of the sadly defunct Crocus. A round of barbed blast-beats brings the record to a premature conclusion after a breath-taking eight minutes of precision brutality.
Elizabeth’s brand of chaotic hardcore, delivered with an inch-thick crust, may be derivative in many respects. The band however, deserve the upmost credit for their impeccable musicianship and the sheer ferocity of the unrelenting terror conjured with such finesse. Elizabeth can sit proudly amongst the ever brilliant roster of bands on Throatruiner, for Insomnia is an exemplary artefact of twisted hardcore.
4 out of 5 high fives!