Notes From The Keybed – This Month In Synths [August]

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The sun has been shining throughout much of August, but that hasn’t stopped the bedroom producer generation from locking themselves away and making horrible bass noises. In fact, you’d think it was officially brostep month with new releases from EDM staples Porter Robinson and Steve Aoki. Breaking the mould though is Rustie, whose new album Green Language was released on the 25 August through Warp Records. Lead track ‘Raptor’ is a sign of things to come, a slice of genre-defying electronica that is equal parts vicious and euphoric. It comes highly recommended for anyone bored of the aforementioned glossy EDM scenesters, former dubsteppers who haven’t discovered a decent drop in years, or just those who secretly like trap but are far too indie (or middle class) to admit it (shhhh).

On a gentler note Imogen Heap’s Sparks is another new one for August. The experimental pop singer-songwriter’s fourth album is set to be her most ambitious yet, with her usual mix of tradition and technology bolstered by crowdsourced field recordings, gesture activated music gloves, and a constantly evolving song that will be added to every seven years! Away from the oddities it’s business as usual with Heap’s trademark layered vocal textures matched with soft synthesiser tones and wistful melodies. It’s a welcome return from one of the UK’s most forward-thinking artists, who continues to inspire and confound in equal measure.

A couple of recommendations for all you electro goffs this month – The Wrongchilde record has been reviewed elsewhere on TBO but here’s a reminder to check it out in case you missed it the first time! Goldblooded is ten tracks chock full of 80’s clichés and sultry synths from the Kill Hannah frontman, bringing up the dark side of the electro indie scene with sublime songwriting and understated production. As an alternative check out Anne, whose album was included as part of SoundSupply’s recent Run For Cover download drop. In typical style this is an artist who has decided to fold as soon as I discover them (here’s looking at you Dananananaykroyd…), but the man behind the name has vowed to do something new, which is certainly worth keeping an ear out for. In the meantime, album Pulling Chain is most unlike anything else on the Boston punk label, combining icy synth textures with yearning vocals reminiscent of much-missed New York indie dancers The Bravery. The final remaining Anne music and merch is available at cut-down price from his Big Cartel page.

This month’s Keytar Hero award goes to Kill Paris, producer, DJ, keytar enthusiast, and mate of Skrillex. Standing apart from the dubstep overlord’s OWSLA empire, Kill Paris delivers late-night disco vibes that are dripping with sex. Search out the Kill Paris & Bees Knees Keytar Mix of ‘Falling In Love Again’ for a slice of saucy synth pop punctuated with an ace keytar solo played on a custom painted purple and white Roland beast! Nice.

Review: J Mascis – Tied to a Star

J Mascis - Tied to a Star reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK alt-rock, indie and grunge zine

J Mascis has pretty much done it all. From hardcore bands to Dinosaur Jr, doom metal to alt-rock, there’s not a lot of musical ground that he hasn’t covered. Now on his second solo studio album proper, Mascis strikes a heartfelt chord with 41 minutes of sweeping melodies and intricate guitar work. Don’t worry though – there’s still a few wonderfully grungey bits to satisfy even the staunchest Dinosaur Jr fan.

For a dude who famously called guitar “a wimpy instrument”, Tied to a Star is predominately acoustic – the wimpiest form of them all, one might say. The record picks up where 2011′s Several Shades of Why left off, and opening track ‘Me Again’ is soft, pretty and ethereal – not too unlike Elliott Smith’s later work. In contrast, ‘Every Morning’ is an upbeat, jangly affair, and wouldn’t be out of place on a teen movie soundtrack. Mascis dips in and out of different guitar styles throughout the whole record, predominately focusing on folky, indie tones, but occasionally delving deep into country styles and even Eastern-inspired riffs. ‘Heal The Star’ is a great example, blending traditional guitar styles with grunge-tinged feedback in the background. The entirely acoustic ‘Drifter’ is so cleverly crafted that it’s impossible to tell whether it’s double-tracked or just one guitar. There’s even the odd solo in there – ‘Trailing Off’s final few seconds are just fantastic. For such a wimpy instrument, J Mascis completely owns it.

There are fewer collaborations in Tied to a Star than in its predecessor, but Mascis still ropes in a few old friends to help out here and there. The duet with Cat Power on ‘Wide Awake’ is, quite simply, perfect. Pall Jenkins, Ken Maiuri and Mark Mulcahy also make appearances – in particular, Maiuri’s presence on piano is an integral part of the record, and adds an incredible amount of depth to an already intriguing collection of songs.

If there are any issues with Tied to a Star, it’s perhaps that it all blends together too easily. There are a hell of a lot of highlights in the record, but if you’re not listening out for them, it all sinks into one, long, blissful soundscape. Mascis’s soft, slightly croaky vocals lead you through . It’s not inherently a bad problem to have – the fact that everything blends together so well shows just how accomplished Mascis’s songwriting is, but it sometimes feels as if you’ve missed something, and that feels like a real shame.

There are a lot of bands out there doing stuff like this these days. And they probably learned it all from J Mascis. Even in his much heavier records, it’s impossible to find more intricate songcrafting than this. Its release is timely, providing the perfect farewell to summer with a soulful, occasionally melancholic, but ultimately beautiful approach to the ‘acoustic solo record’.

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4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Pale Angels – Strange Powers [EP]

Pale Angels - Strange Powers reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK punk, hardcore and grunge zine

Here’s a little treat for those of you who still hold fond memories of the hard edge of uncle Punk and not just his pleasant, bouncy nephew Pop-Punk. Pale Angels, the creation of Mike Santostefano (Crimes, ex-Static Radio NJ) and Jamie Morrison (The Arteries, Ssssnakes), apparently came into existence as Jamie and Mike threw together some live punked-up Nirvana covers in Florida. As long-time friends and touring partners, they must have known they were on to something, because they decided to go ahead and start life as a three-piece – even though they’d have an ocean separating them (Jamie is a Brit, Mike’s a Yank). But to be a three piece, they needed three people (yes, really) and that’s when Mikey Erg (Dopamines, Star Fucking Hipsters, and obviously The Ergs!) came into the picture. As if Mikey didn’t have enough to keep him busy. Well, the guys got together and bashed out the rough and raw Primal Play, 9 tracks of fist-clenched snare-snapping punk, but that’s not what we’re here to tell you about today.

Instead, Pale Angels gave us another taster of their grungey punk in the form of a four-track live session. Strange Powers was recorded in March with the Amsterdam Recording Company. Clocking in at under 10 minutes, as you’d expect from four punk songs, Pale Angels treat us to 3 brand new tracks and a cover of The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms. The ever busy Mikey Erg wasn’t available for this session, which is no surprise when you look at the long list of his commitments, so Reza Mirehsan of The Cut Ups sat in for him behind the drums.

With a certain amount of nostalgia, Pale Angels blend grunge and punk into a raw and fuzzy brew that is easy and enjoyable to drink down in one gulp. Packed with a reverbed and muddied sound, it is a turbulent journey that isn’t just a rerun of one of the good old fashioned punk roads. It’s up-tempo, it’s catchy and it still has edge: it’s a pretty damn good punk jam! I especially love how the live sound translates across the recording. The production doesn’t take too much away or add too much in, so you still get the feeling that you’re front row at a show – minus the crowd of punks around you (unless you’re listening to it with a rowdy group of punks).

I also got a lot of joy out of the cover of The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms too. The essence of the track is left unaltered, but it is given a gnarly facelift as part of the punk-grunge makeover. The distorted/distant vocals top it off and seal it in a package that can really get a punk’s feet movin’. The whole EP is manic, packed with punk jams and has the energy of a live show, so check it out!

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4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Moral Dilemma – Is Anyone Alive Out There?

Moral Dilemma - Is Anyone Out There Alive reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands punk, hardcore and ska zine

Launched on the increasingly popular PledgeMusic, Moral Dilemma’s third and final album Is Anyone Alive Out There? can probably lay claim to being the most punk album of 2014. Funded by the fans for the fans, and having announced that they will play no final shows, this record is to be a send-off for a band who have given it everything for the past eight years. I’m going to be honest and say it straight off the bat – this is a perfect album. This is less a band riding off into the sunset after a shift well played and more a band scorching its way down to hell and taking absolutely everything else down with it.

Where previous Moral Dilemma efforts have been (and I mean this in the most flattering sense) kind of scrappy affairs with minimal production values and more or less paint-by-numbers hardcore punk, Is Anyone Alive Out There? showcases a band giving their legs one last glorious stretch. In terms of the step up these guys have made between albums; think the gap between Diesel and Power and Total 13 by Backyard Babies. Think Bleach to Nevermind. Think In Casino Out to Relationship of Command.

The album kicks off with a slow build up and a very metal guitar solo intro before giving way to the more familiar breakneck Moral Dilemma shtick. It’s an absolute thrill-ride, but this is merely the tip of a furious iceberg. Next up is album highlight ‘Lost Cause For Alarm’, which is the kind of tune Bad Religion would kill to come up with these days. It is full of impressive guitar fills and boasts an incredibly catchy chorus – exactly the sort of song that could launch a band right into the big time. With the two vocalists swapping lines, it’s almost like Johnny Foreigner high on petrol fumes.

It isn’t all gutter punk fury on Is Anyone Alive Out There? though, as the band have really diversified their sound. It’s almost like knowing this was their last roll of the dice, they decided to throw absolutely everything at it; kitchen sink and all. You get the rockabilly-skiffle-punk of ‘Spare The Vote, Spoil The Ballot’, you get Flamenco guitar tapping in ‘Evolution’, but perhaps the biggest surprise of all is in ‘Building Gallows’. This is another song with masses of crossover potential utilising a Hammond organ and a harmonica. It wouldn’t sound out of place on an album by their German gutter-punk counterparts Radio Dead Ones, or even – at a push – The Gaslight Anthem.

Put simply, there is not a bad song on Is Anyone Alive Out There? What Moral Dilemma are offering as their swansong is a relentless forty-minute sonic gut punch, and easily their best album by a considerable margin. This is an intensely vital listen and a wholly satisfying one at that. This is the kind of album that makes you fall in love with punk all over again.

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5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Wrongchilde – Gold Blooded

Wrongchilde - Gold Blooded reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK rock, pop and alternative zine

Mat Devine is taking a bit of a break from Kill Hannah to try something new. His solo project, dubbed Wrongchilde, took to PledgeMusic with some fairly outrageous packages for the truly devoted to raise the funds to produce a debut album. Devine’s managed to pull in some big names from the American alternative scene, like Gerard Way and Sierra Kusterbeck, and it’s fair to say that in some ways, Gold Blooded is a pretty ambitious record.

In other ways, it just sounds like a softer version of Kill Hannah. Fans of KH won’t be disappointed, but they won’t exactly be surprised either. While Kill Hannah have been consistently putting out big rock tunes since forever, a lot of slower, more considered tracks have been sneaking on to their latest records, despite a surge in popularity that would probably have suggested otherwise. But, it’s fair to say that Gold Blooded takes full advantage of the experience and sound that Devine’s been previously crafting and cranks it up to 11. Tracks like ‘Call Me Crash’ and title track ‘Gold Blooded’ probably wouldn’t sound out of place on a KH record, with sweeping and echoey guitars, big riffs and clever hooks.

However, there’s a huge influx of 80s influence, both good and bad. The huge synths and goth vibes on ‘Lace Up Your Boots’ are just perfect, and ‘Hopeless Beach’ sounds like it just stepped out of a John Hughes movie. Seriously. A fairly awful key change in ‘Dance to Your Heartbeat’ nearly threatens to unseat the record entirely, but Gerard Way’s appearance in ‘Falling in Love Will Kill You’ rescues it all from certain oblivion. If there’s any 80′s pop cliché you can name, Devine’s probably made it, but nine times out of ten, it’s far too good to bemoan. Instead, you’ll be jumping in the car and heading off on one of those coming-of-age roadtrips… even when you’re 20-something.

Lyrically, Devine’s still as abstract as ever, but his storytelling skills remain perfectly intact. There are many tales of heartbreak, though none as eloquent as ‘Frostbite Year’, and lead single ‘Falling In Love Will Kill You’ goes in hard and fast with the metaphor, offset just perfectly by a gentle acoustic backing. For the most part, it’s all pretty beautiful.

Whether you’re a Kill Hannah fan or not, it’s going to be impossible to ignore Wrongchilde. Devine’s first pop album is absolutely stunning – the perfect soundtrack to summer.

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4 out of 5 high fives!