Scandinavia has been a productive spawning ground for new and interesting music for a long time now – their Black and Doom metal is well known, and propositions like Meshuggah and Kvelertak are making waves across the heavy and extreme music scenes right across Europe. They do a lucrative line in pop and post-punk too. As we also know. Not heard much from the states across the Baltic Sea though – so this brand new maxi-EP’s worth of Latvian Ska-Punk is an intro (for me anyway) to what their neighbours have to say for themselves.
And so. Band name is goofy as. But this is not material meant to be taken too seriously. In the packet you get all the usual ingredients: brass (i.e. sax and horns), guitars, infectious percussion – and energy. Lots of energy. Energy is perhaps the defining quality of Ska-P. Which is why Operation Ivy’s timeless and genre-defining classic “Energy” was called just that. So already, we’re away.
The sound is thick and well-produced – it’s not as hard-edged or as abrasive as say, Random Hand, and definitely more at the Fishbone / Reel Big Fish end of the spectrum. The vocals are all in all rather clean, there’s minimal distortion to the guitars and overall this is a bit like the Blues Brothers do Emo. The vocalist puts me right in mind of the big-faced lad out of Fallout Boy. And nothing wrong with that. All in all I categorise this as: Bouncy Baltic Emo-Ska.
Categories and taxonomy can get tedious – and let’s face it, it’s all about the music, maaan. And it is. Lyrically this is boy-meets-girl, love your ‘hood type of fare (no different to Mighty Mighty Bosstones then) – and all good-natured and pace-y. Standout tracks are five (I stole the best years of your life): an almost metallic quality to the ska here; and six (The Game): spritely and tight with particularly sweet horn work.
In sum – bouncy, bright, feel good and upbeat, and hope this release opens doors so they can start cutting it more widely across the euro festival circuit.
Oh, and play Worcester. Go on. Dare ya.
4 out of 5 high fives!
Of All The People That I’ve Left … is a short tale of two lovers beset by mental illness and its fatal manifestations, set to the soundtrack of a brand of emotional hardcore that has been simmering in the underground for several years now- a sub-genre where the band’s often fractured and conflicted emotional states are held unashamedly aloft to be ultimately turned into cute little Tumblr memes for all the kids born too late for the floppy fringed emo explosion to cry over in the comfort of their bedrooms. For a group of hardcore lads still trying to rid themselves of the last vestiges of teenage awkwardness it is commendable that they are so clearly unperturbed by such a prickly and sensitive subject matter as mental illness- especially when many groups of a similar age are still content with songs detailing cliché ridden cautionary encounters with members of the female sex.
A single stark guitar introduces the E.P’s first track ‘Captive’, soon joined by the equally stark cries of vocalist John James and the eventual explosive entry of the remaining band members- segueing into the propulsive ‘Growth Forever’. Comprised of some inventive arpegiated guitar work the track culminates in a decidedly bouncy pop-punk style breakdown that seems to have been thrown in with an eye towards crowd involvement in the sweaty little clubs that the band have become aquainted with. ‘Seven Years’ kicks off in the upper reaches of the drummer’s beats-per-minute capabilities, but despite its breakneck speed and swift tempo changes it forms the least standout track on the record. That position is held by ‘For Sharks’, a rollicking four minutes of mid-“naughties” post-hardcore guitar throwbacks in all their fiddly melodically inflicted glory. Close your eyes and you’ll be transported back to 2005, where ‘For Sharks’ pogo-ready intro could easily be mistaken for a new Hell Is For Heroes single. Stark guitar arpeggios make an appearance in the track’s mid-section lull, gathering breath for the stomping finale amid cries of “There is no future here!”
Weathered Hands, belying their youth through obvious dexterity with their respective instruments, have crafted a well-rounded little record which although barely pushing past ten minutes in length manages to eschew an awareness of dynamics that makes Of All The People That I’ve Left … a rewarding listen. Transcending hardcore’s traditionally one-dimensional outbursts, the band are brimming with the potential to create some truly affecting and enjoyable hardcore tunes.
3.5 out of 5 high fives!
They say that every generation thinks it’s invented Rock and Roll. Me, I think it just keeps coming round again, a little bit better each time. The Computers are something fairly special. Their 2011′s “This is the Computers” kinda set the standard for skinny-legged 100-mile an hour rocky punk. “Music is Dead” was one of the ace-est tracks I heard that year by a long stretch. Some have suggested that their new one – Love Triangles, Hate Squares – is a departure. More mainstream sound, easy listening and Amazon-friendly than their previous output. This is not a review of that album. This is a review of their performance at the venue at the far end of the artsy drag in Birmingham’s Digbeth (The Rainbow). But this does all kind of come into it.
Afraid to say I totally missed the support act – the Dead Formats. Hands up. However, saw them a few years back in Leamington and they’re a really good neo-proto-punk/pub rock outfit – Kinks riffs, but look utterly shitnails hard (I think they’re from Canvey Island or Southend or somewhere similar) and have a certain bearing. So I’m sure (and have been told) they did a decent turn. Not going to argue with that. The new stuff sounds great, too. Sorry chaps. Complicated story to do with the M40.
And so. The Computers. 5 skinny boys from Devon in matching shiny suits. Think Rocket From the Crypt, but fresher faced and somehow undeniably English-looking. And very dapper they all looked, too. I think the Rainbow’s gig space was made for them. The way the lighting gantry and the communion rail thing they have by the stage are set up is ideal for the lounging and writhing their pocket rocket front man goes in for. He spent half the set literally hanging off the gantry, writhing, and a decent part of the rest in amongst the audience. (He’s a mean little mosher too. All elbows and a hard, sweaty head).
Musically tight, they hammered out all of the strongest tracks on their new album and some of the older, punkier stuff (including Music is Deeeeadddddd!!!). I don’t know whether it was just the quality of the mixing but the sound was (genuinely) crisp and note-perfect. And all led along nicely by the saucily grinding little monkey man in the suit with the guitar – and one of the best screams in music right now.
And this is where the rock and roll comes in. Yes, they are still a band properly steeped in punk – raucous and individualistic – but there was a hell of a lot of Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard in their performance. The ever-jiggling right legs, the unashamed balladeering of say, Mr Saturday Night switching to full throttle piano-key driven rock’n'rollers like “Disco Sucks”… every generation rediscovers something great that the ones before left behind and puts a new spin on it. Looks like these guys found theirs in Sun Records – live at least. There’s a load of other retro hooks in the album – from Motown to 70′s garage. Check it out.
I was also entertained by the capering antics of the Kerrang DJ Matt Stocks and his crew (he’s a cute little fellow, too. And looks about 14). Good to see a man involved in these things professionally so obviously going off to his music.
So – in sum – their new album is a bit soft in parts, and possibly too soft for some, but they’ve lost none of their poke live.
Is indie-punk even a thing? Is it possible to mesh sweet, occasionally twinkly melodies with slightly less gruff, but still kind of raspy vocals and speed it up until it’s acceptable to put in your ‘summer punx road trip’ playlist? Arguably, yes, because Sundowners have done it. The Larger Half Of Wisdom is definitely not your average punk record, and it’s far better than your average indie-rock record. Made for summer days and BBQs, this is the perfect record to stick on when you’ve got friends with less-than-eclectic tastes vying for the iPod.
If it weren’t for a sardonic, wisecracking lyrical agenda, these tunes would probably be highly radio friendly. ‘Bird World Country’, with its scathing attack on inequality has a stupidly catchy chorus, playful solos and just the right amount of slowed down palm muting. Even in such a short space of time (the average track length is about 2:30), Sundowners’ vocal harmonies have a way of burrowing deep into your subconscious and the choruses to tracks like ‘Dig Deeper’ and ‘Belly Up Buckle Down’ will reverberate around your melon for ages. It’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in the quick and steady rhythms, the pretty jangly guitar lines and slightly vintage and scratchy feel of the album, but throughout, you’re often jolted back to reality by straight-up punk aesthetics. ‘Hold On’ is arguably the ‘punkest’ track on the album, harking back to Eternal Cowboy era Against Me! in its melodies and lo-fi instrumentals, but it doesn’t overplay its hand. Final track ‘Revolving’ could have been something grandiose and over the top, judging from the opening it’s given in ‘Oh No’, but instead, it’s a fast and simple punk rock romper that’s danceable as all hell and breaks into a completely wicked gang chorus towards the end. That probably sums up the whole record. Dropping the pretention, and the legacy of Midwestern beard punk laid out before them, Sundowners instead create a record that’s lots of fun and fit to burst with pretty, tuneful riffs.
If you like philosophical, fast and tuneful pop laced punk with a sense of reckless abandon and soul, you could do a lot worse than get into Sundowners.
4.5 out of 5 high fives!
So. This gig. Three “hardcore” bands two storeys up above a moderately scummy side street in an inoffensive county town in the Midlands. On a school night. Grateful for it happening – not much happens in Worcester. But expectations were not excessive. By way of context, the venue – the Firefly – is a three-storey Georgian pile with a maze of rooms, a competition-class range of draft beers and a quirky top floor gig space like some kind of stylish boutique drawing room. The place does occasional open mic nights and puts on the odd band – but nothing regular or high visibility. The place keeps a fairly low profile – no website, minimal publicity outside its own walls, even their facetube page is a bit undercooked – but has the makings of an absolute gem of a venue. Seriously. And the place was, to be fair, packed out. £3 – Three quid in. Bargain. Quid a band. Not going to argue with that. And so. What evening’s entertainment did you get for this princely sum?
First on – The Best Revenge. Spunky skate punk. Coulda been watching Snuff or Jailcell Recipes in May 1991 at JB’s in Dudley with a copy of RAD magazine in the pocket of my Skull Skates pants. In my book, that’s a good thing. A very good thing. Proof of the strength of the formula that it still sounds as good and bright now as it ever did. Nice.
Next – Thirty Six Strategies. Melodic female-fronted hardcore. Now. Some proper heavy hitters with serious alt and punk pedigree in here – not least the fairly legendary punk vet Ian Glasper (google him and you’ll see what I mean). Female Vocalist exactly as it says on the promo material – Debbie Harry, but maybe a touch of the Shirley Manson. Great, great voice, great look, professional strength songs – although maybe could do with moving around a bit more. But what do I know. This can look undignified. I remember seeing a sweaty Brody Dalle over-enthusiastically rocking out to her music at the old Birmingham Academy (nee Hummingbird) some years back, and it was all a little embarrassing. In any case there’s a lot of the high-end proto-emo Dischord / Dag Nasty about this band. Rocking out just wouldn’t go. Leave that for Paramore or that shocking vehicle for that chick out of Gossip Girl. This band only formed last year, and are already getting coverage in the national music press – and are apparently supporting the venerable (and downright glorious) nomeansno when they play London in a week or two. And very, very damn good luck to them indeed.
And finally – headline act. Fights and Fires. Never heard of this lot before. Only afterwards did it click that all the merch on sale was theirs… Four chirpy kids in matching shirts and a bit of a speccy geek up front. Nice line in banter. Thinking this’ll be breezy pop punk at best. Then the geek made a noise. A righteous, proper hardcore noise.
Now. Bend me over, smack my arse and call me fucking Gabriel. I was not expecting THAT.
Energetic, tight as you like and with a sound like Trash Talk at their most melodic, with very Bronx-style vocals… and nothing wrong with that (damn… that geek, he’s good). Whilst the influences are undeniable, these boys have a real distinctive sound of their own – a line in heavy ultra-chugging breakdowns that the kids went wild for and that in its rock and roll-ishness is very now indeed.
Despite knowing a hell of a lot better I have to report that I found myself being sucked in to the moment and went a bit feral. And spent a good part of the remaining evening running around with teenaged boys on my head. Which they seemed to appreciate, anyway. That I found myself doing this with half of the previous band on (Thirty Six Strategies) – I definitely had my head in the bassist’s armpit, I remember that – all added to the experience. Awesome. The remarkable thing is that this band (Fights and Fires) have been going for 5 years and have a serious back catalogue. A back catalogue that you can pick up on Bandcamp in ten minutes for less than a packet and a half of fags – go on. Do it. They deserve you.
Apparently too they play all over Europe. Relentlessly. They are probably one our main current punk exports to the Eurozone. But they exist entirely beneath the surface in the town where they all grew up and (I guess) still live. That’s right. They and in fact all three bands are from this self-same, nondescript county town… Worcester. It also turns out – thanks to the magic of the interweb – that the record label they are signed to, Lockjaw Records also originated in… Worcester [editor's note - while Lockjaw certainly began in Worcester, the label was taken into new ownership last year and is currently prospering elsewhere in the West Midlands].
It’s not a big place. Great place to bring up kids. Good amenities. Good motorway access to the rest of the country. Nice people, nice countryside. Gave the world Elgar. But thought to have absolutely no underground music scene. Nigel Kennedy used to live out in Malvern next door to an old colleague of mine. But that’s about the length of it. You’re pretty much right off the beaten touring track – anyone heading for this neck of the woods either goes to Birmingham or Bristol. So unless you like tribute bands, blues and harmless acoustic, received wisdom was: nothing happening. If this unexpected triple-headed act of smashing it was anything to go by, you never know whether something just might.
I understand that this is planned to be a monthly thing – last Thursday of the month. Next one is apparently going to be mathcore. MATHCORE? In this town? Needless to say, I’m going. Will let you know how it goes.