Review: Millsted – Harlem

Millsted - Harlem reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK punk and hardcore zine

You may not have heard of them before, you may not know that they broke apart as a band for three years because of personal turmoil between band members and you might not have listened to their two previous releases (Umm….Yea in 2008 and The Great Adventures of the Gold Red Rocket in 2009), but I’m here to tell you that none of that matters! If you’re going to do anything tonight, apart from maybe getting some shut-eye, it should be checking out Harlem by noise-punk-hardcore outfit Millsted. With this 8 track LP, Millsted roar back to life and have exploded onto my radar because of their ‘fuck this shit’ attitude and bone-crunching, cacophonous sound. Seriously, dude, check them out.

So who are they? Millsted are a bunch of guys from New York, all with different backgrounds and influences to smash into this stellar release. Individually they are vocalist Kelvin Uffré, guitarists Christopher Carambot and Robert Dumé, bassist Samuel Fernandez and drummer Peter Belolli. Their influences are varied, from John Coltrane and Otis Redding to Black Flag and The Flaming Lips, but on this record a key inspiration is early 80’s punk. Regardless of their disparate influences, for the whole band the music is about soul, passion, brutal honesty and going against the norm.

In Harlem, Millsted succeed where so many others fail, really capturing the raw feeling and natural sound of a live show in a recording. The songs are meant to push you to the edge, they’re meant to make you feel uncomfortable; above all the sound and lyrical content show you that everything is not okay. Millsted capture the angst and anger other bands can only hint at, they pack it up and through HARLEM they unleash it on your ears in a furiously short burst (all 8 tracks together clock in at under half an hour – this is punk after all).

The LP rages into life with the instrumental ‘Perfume’. Belolli pummels along on the drums, driving the noise towards its grating conclusion, before second track ‘Coyote’ rips its way out. In its two-and-a-half minute run time all hell breaks loose in exactly the punkish way you would expect. We’re treated to relentless drums, rip-your-throat-out riffs and an unremitting assault from Uffré’s shredding vocals.

Millsted’s strength is in just how much hardcore they slam out in the package of punk, but they take the time to prove they aren’t a one trick pony in ‘Seafoam Lovers’. When I say they take the time, they take a long time, nine whole minutes, about 6 punk tracks worth of time! In fact, of all the eight songs on Harlem, the psychedelic wanderings of ‘Seafoam Lovers’ takes up about a third of the running time and they’re ballsy to put it there. They restrain themselves and surprise listeners by using their musical prowess to sculpt something of mystery and beauty, not just mind-smashing fury. It’s hypnotic rather than psychotic, but remains twisted and distorted, in tune with the whole record while sounding completely different.

Treat yourself, ‘Coyote’ is available as a free download over at Soundcloud, and Harlem is also available on all popular download and streaming sites (Itunes, Amazon, Spotify).

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4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Still Bust – 77 For You (57 For Me) [EP]

Still Bust - 77 For You (57 For Me) reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands punk, hardcore and metal zine

It’s been a bit of a tough time for Still Bust recently. Just before heading into the studio to record this EP, long time drummer Sam Piper left the band. For a band that have pretty much been a whole for ten years, that’s a tough pill to swallow. However, they carried on, got four tracks laid down and stepped up to the plate. The result is a fast, frenetic and compelling record, spitting out modern-life vitriol as far as the eye can see to a backing of mathy-as-fuck hardcore.

It took about ten years for Still Bust to record a proper album. A Few Things We Might Agree On (A Few Things We Might Not) was absolutely cracking – we reviewed it when it came out last year. However, it was a sprawling affair in places, distracted in others. It was also a lot more cut-and-dry punk rock. 77 For You (57 For Me) shows that Still Bust have learned from past endeavours and instead, they’re back as a lean, mean, guitar-thrashing machine. The production’s a lot slicker, Matty’s vocals are a lot more vicious, and there’s a lot of tasty breakdowns. For a four-track EP, there’s some beastly tracks, like record closer ‘Twenty Foot (Broken Foot)’ which clocks in at 6:19, finishing on a round of blast beats that Immortal might be proud of. No track is under three minutes, which is a far cry from the last record, but it works in Still Bust’s favour – no track is easily forgettable.

Opener ‘It’s Your Fault And You’re Stupid (Kind Regards Barbaros Icoglu)’ shows that they haven’t lost their penchant for ridiculous song titles. It’s also got one of my favourite ‘call and response’ vocal bits in any song ever, stupid time signatures and a misleading ending – you think it’s all over, but it comes right back in for another assault. ‘TV On After Breakfast (Would You Like Your Haircut Today)’ is a damning attack on social media, with a fantastic chorus and wicked half-time bits threaded throughout. ‘I’ve Never Been More Happy To Have A Hypo (However This Could Mean I Have Irreparable Knee Damage)’ has a lot more melody than the previous songs, but is just as technically proficient, with a rock and roll riff between the first and second verses that’ll make you want to punch the air victoriously (protip: don’t do this while driving. You will hit the roof of your car. It will hurt) with joy. ‘Twenty Foot (Broken Foot)’ is a great closer – Matty’s pained screams across a slow, echoing backing are utterly absorbing and wholly devastating. It’s a really powerful ending to an ultimately brilliant record.

So Still Bust have come out swinging, and they’ve done it splendidly. Hardcore record of the year from the Gloucestershire boys? It just might be so.

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4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Haze – Clouds Surround and Breathe

Haze - Clouds Surround and Breathe reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands punk, hardcore and experimental zine

Nobody can claim that Haze is in any way, shape or form the most interesting or engaging band name in history, but in some ways, it is an appropriate one with which to describe the sound they make on debut Clouds Surround and Breathe. It’s an album of great scale that touches on many of the conventions of hardcore and post-rock, yet in places gets completely lost in a fog of its own ambition.

The album kicks off with an atmospheric, intricately layered, delay-drenched guitar intro that gently washes over the listener. Slowly, the drums build in the background, but this is the calm before the storm. If this an exercise in tension, the wave never truly, satisfyingly breaks before the end of the song.

Next up is ‘I Can’t Help But Get Lost’, which jumps straight in with absolutely no fanfare, but in its place an astoundingly blood-curdling vocal. There is a great deal of passion on show here, and the song sits somewhere between Russian Circles and the last Reuben album. What Haze could learn from Reuben though, is that sometimes you need to throw a hook in there. This is all blood, piss and vinegar, but there’s not a lot here that remains memorable, which sets off a disappointing trend for the rest of the LP.

Songs such as ‘Like Glass’, ‘Forma’ and Loomer all stick pretty much to formula. It is difficult to distinguish these songs from each other, never mind the vast multitude of fiddly, post-rock bands noodling for their lives at the moment. It isn’t that these are bad songs; it’s just that they seem almost terrified of deviating from what is expected of them. They also have a tendency to sit on an idea long past it’s sell by date.

That said, there are plenty of brilliant moments on show here. If you can’t find something to enjoy in the sprawling nine minutes of ‘Upheaval’, you probably aren’t a fan of epic post-rock and hardcore. Brutal hardcore rubs shoulders with fuzzy noise rock, as well as woozy alternative psych-rock. Then there is ‘Morrina’, which has its faults but you can’t fault this band’s ambition. Not to mention, some of the instrumentation here is really impressive, atmospheric and tasteful.

There is plenty to like on Clouds Surround and Breathe but as an album, it could do with plenty of fat being cut from it. This is a band who display a high level of musicianship and deliver passion in spades, but a few hooks here and there would not go amiss. This is an album for beard-stroking musos rather than lovers of the chorus.

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2.5 out of 5 high fives!

J-Pop Sunday: No Cars

It’s not unfair to say that there’s often some pretty left-field stuff coming out of the Japanese music tradition. In the UK, we don’t usually get exposed to a lot of it – Polysics are probably what most people who have a vague interest in alternative music conjure up when someone says ‘weird Japanese rock’. Arguably, it’s because we don’t often have access to it, but what if I told you that one of the strangest, most fantastic bands you might ever encounter in your life are a J-pop band based in London?

No Cars are quite simply, bloody mental and absolutely phenomenal.

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No Cars like food, the Northern Line and sellotape. Yep.

Quick Guide
Act Name: No Cars
Line-Up: Haruna Komatsu (vocals, guitar), Takaco Iida (vocals, bass), Tomoko Komura (vocals, keyboard), Candy Tanaka (vocals, drums)
Years Active: 2011 to present
Genre: Indie-pop
Robyn’s Choice Tracks: Where Is David Bowie, Do Re Mi Farming, Jap Trap

A couple of weeks ago, I was hanging about at the Worcester Music Festival while Charlie, who does the Notes from the Keybed column, was doing some DJing between bands. We were in Monroes Cellar Bar, which is probably the tiniest venue I’ve been in to date, and all of a sudden, three Japanese girls and a reasonably tall man start bringing a buttload of stuff onto the stage. About 20 minutes later, said Japanese girls come out of the back room in matching white blouses and pink ribbons, and the tall man sits behind a drum set in a tanuki kigurumi. The show hasn’t started yet, they’re all still setting up, but they have their own line check song and it’s one of the most adorable things ever. The keyboardist bashes some keys, nods and pulls out a bag of lettuce. She balances a glass full of pink confetti on her Casio. She peers into a tote bag, checking everything’s in there. They’re all pretty much ready to go. I have no idea what the hell we’re in for.

When No Cars finally begin their set, the place is packed. Everyone’s crowding round, trying to get a brief peek at whatever’s going on up there. And first of all, they all stand in a line, sing a nursery rhyme style song in Japanese while keyboardist Tomoko tries to fan the confetti over them like sakura blossoms in the wind. This is not a band afraid to approach stereotypes and rip the living shit out of them. Then, as lead singer Haruna picks up her guitar, counts the band in and they jump into ‘Cress’, Tomoko sits disinterestedly on a bar stool, chewing on lettuce. Eventually, she hops down and starts offering it to the crowd. A No Cars set is a bizarre piece of performance art – from inviting someone on stage to be harassed as a ‘James Anderson Puppet’ to wrapping up your lead singer’s face in Sellotape, there’s not really anything that can be considered ‘average’ or ‘ordinary’. But it’s far more than just a spectacle – No Cars really do have some brilliant songs, and their surf-rock indie-punk sound is catchy, immediate and indeed, well crafted.


They also have a song about tuna. Tasty, tasty tuna

Let’s take ‘Where Is David Bowie’ as an example. From No Cars’ first record Yoko Eats Whales, it’s genuinely a song about trying to find David Bowie. But it’s super cute and it’s got these great, jangly guitars that are just ever so slightly out of kilter with the rest of the rhythm. When presented live, it turns into a crazy pantomime – Tomoko puts on a David Bowie mask and lurks creepily behind Haruna and bassist Takaco before Haruna stops and asks “where is David Bowie? Where the fuck is David Bowie?!” The audience gleefully yells “he’s behind you!” before it all picks up again, and while it’s utterly bizarre and captivating to watch, it’s just as addictive to listen to. It’s hard to sing along to a No Cars song, as the band often flit between Japanese and English, but the simple melodies provide the perfect backing for the bizarre subject matter. ‘Jap Trap’, from new album Yoko Makes Tits Bigger With Airbrush, is the sort of thing that’ll be kicking around your head for days. ‘Do Re Mi Farming’, all about people banging on some hay bales, has some absolutely wonderful key changes and wicked bass lines – not to mention that retro Casio sound! Plus, I don’t know any band that can craft a ballad to filter coffee that sounds as good as this.

What you have in No Cars is blissfully aware pop music, filled with laughter and joy – it’s impossible to walk away with a No Cars set or listen to a full record without a huge grin on your face. So take a walk on the strange side, pop on over to Bandcamp and prepare to have your mind blown.

Review: As We Draw – Mirages

As We Draw - Mirages reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK hardcore and metal zine

First things first: As We Draw sound a lot like Converge. Of course, the same could be said of plenty of modern hardcore bands, but what makes this French trio’s second LP exciting is their ability to take the dirge-like, sludgy-but-not-quite-sludge elements of 90’s metalcore, post-hardcore and (ugh) mathcore to create a unique brand of hardcore which favours cerebral thrills over visceral ones.

Opener ‘The Window’ sets the tone for the album, its ten minutes serving as a comprehensive introduction to the sonic space explored through the later tracks. The sound is anchored by a satisfyingly heavy rhythm section, in which busy drum work combines seamlessly with dense, fuzzed out bass. Rather than blending in with this rhythm section, the guitar is given its own space and floats over the track. A more traditional approach to guitar tone might draw the music towards atmospheric sludge in the vein of Thou; instead the distance left between guitar and bass gives the feel of early post-hardcore bands such as Moss Icon and Lungfish, or even second-wave black metal. Jagged guitar leads are layered on top of one another, while the bass and drums move the song along with only an occasional semblance of rhythm guitar to help out. Although the song moves through a variety of complex time signatures and drifts in and out of tonality, the breakneck transitions favoured by similar bands are eschewed in favour of a gradual evolution which feels more indebted to 20th century minimalism than classic hardcore.

The rest of the album follows a similar tack. Most of the songs are possessed of a movement somewhere between plodding and floating, with tricky time signatures keeping the music out of well-trodden sludge territory. Inventive tom-heavy drum work consistently builds tension, and although the music often threatens to boil over into chaotic thrash, the mood is for the most part ominously subdued. In particular, the brutal intro to ‘Fata Bromosa’ feels like it could have been lifted from the last Nails album, but instead of an excursion into grindcore the violence collapses into an unsettling off-time dirge which in turn gives way to Sleep-like riffing. ‘Denial’ is as close as things get to traditional hardcore, with light use of blast beats and a propulsive introductory riff. Throughout the album, songs evolve by increments, and guitar lines interweave both melodically and discordantly. Mirages is most definitely a guitar album, although it avoids both the riff worship which lies at the confluence of modern death metal, crust punk and sludge, and the wall-of-sound shoegazing which has recently found its way into everything from surf punk to black metal. All three band members are credited as vocalists and it’s hard to say who’s doing what, but for the most part it’s a gravelly take on classic screamo which is at its best when it’s most aggressive. In more vulnerable moments the vocals sound rather too much like angsty post-hardcore, but a powerviolence-like grunt occasionally surfaces to add a pleasant dash of viciousness to the songs.

At fifty minutes, Mirage is a long record, and whilst none of the material present could be considered filler, it’s perhaps not varied enough to warrant the album’s length. The majority of the album is given over to post-rock-meets-hardcore dirges, but several short instrumentals punctuate the tracklist, ranging from Spaghetti Western surf to ambient noise to a waltz-like number reminiscent of Pg. 99’s more gothic moments. These instrumentals form an interesting aside to the rest of the album, and suggest that As We Draw are capable of a much more eclectic approach to hardcore than is found on this album.

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4 out of 5 high fives!

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