Review: The Kut – Make Up [EP]

The Kut - Make Up reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands punk, grunge and alternative zine

Before writing my first review of an all-girl combo for a music site which was originally launched as a feminist zine, I wrestled with a little trepidation with regards to how it should be tackled. In the end I came to the conclusion that fuck it, its 2014 and women being in bands shouldn’t even be something that is seen as out of the ordinary anymore. Music – and punk in particular – prides itself on being inclusionary – and everybody has a right to get involved, whether you wear a dress or have an impressive Fu Manchu moustache. Or both. Music should be judged on its own merits and not on who is making it. The Kut hail from London and describe their sound as ‘basement rock’. Make Up is the most stark game of two halves going; in equal parts compelling and frustrating.

The EP begins with ‘No Trace’, which is a brooding, slow burning number, with menacingly fuzzed up guitars. For a band touting themselves as basement rock, there is an impressive amount of ambition on show here with keys and backing vocals giving the chorus something of an epic tone. This is the sort of crossover jam aimed squarely at huge arenas. The EP’s title track follows a similar formula, with an incredibly metal guitar solo and maybe a bit more of a straight up indie feel. On both of these songs you feel that The Kut are holding something back. The vocals are clean and controlled, everything has its correct place in the mix and to be honest, a giant, scuzzy snarling Distillers chorus wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Something changes with ‘Mario’, the third track on the EP, though. Gone are the high production values and studio glimmer and in their place a gloriously dirty guitar riff. Comparisons to Hole and L7 will no doubt be levelled at The Kut but really, ‘Mario’ has more in common with grunge nearly-men Mudhoney. Despite its dirt and grit, ‘Mario’ is the hookiest work out on offer here, with the drums taking a serious beating. Suddenly, the first two songs seem even weaker and more sterile.

The EPs two final cuts are even less produced and all the better for it. Closure is more considered with plenty of space for the sinister guitar lines to wind through. The heaviness is allowed to build rather than being laid out from the very beginning. DMA closes the collection with a slinky Gang of Four bass line and an absolute monster of a chorus.

For The Kut, it seems like less is certainly more. Make Up seems like a band still trying to work out whether they want to make a brilliantly hideous racket or make an attempt on the mainstream. Either way, there is plenty of potential on show here.

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3 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Auxes – Boys In My Head

Auxes - Boys In My Head reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - British alternative, punk and hardcore zine

Blending the unlikely bedfellows of melodic indie pop and sludgy noise rock, prolific Hamburg via Chicago threesome Auxes release their fourth album on German label Gunner Records. Thrashing out 11 songs in 30 minutes, Boys In My Head is a whistle-stop tour through punk, grunge and garage rock with hooks in all the right places yet never outstaying its welcome.

Initially conceived as a solo project by punk troubadour Dave Laney of Challenger and Milemarker, Auxes have managed the seemingly impossible and produced a cohesive record after making their way through eleven previous members on live and record leading up to this core trio of Laney on guitar and vocals, Florian Brandel on some deliciously fuzzy bass and backing vocals, and Manuel Wirtz on drums.

Straight out of the gates Auxes come on like Future Of The Left’s Andy Falkous fronting Nick Cave’s Grinderman, which is certainly no bad thing. In fact, the vocal similarity to Falkous is so uncanny during the opening track that I had to check I’d opened the right album instead of one of FOTL’s similarly noisey post-punk records. It’s more happy coincidence than copycat though, as Dave was releasing music on Jade Tree in the mid 90’s so certainly has the dues to back it up!

Lyrically, the album very much revolves around those classic punx subjects of suppression and kicking against authority. Remember when you used to play that game of counting how many ‘fucks’ there were on Limp Bizkit’s ‘Chocolate Starfish…’, or was that just me? Well, the sucker punch threesome of ‘Life In Their Television’, ‘Boom Boom Town’ and ‘Under Fire’ gives you ample opportunity to revisit such joys, especially the latter’s fabulous closing refrain of ‘fucking motherfuckers’! That’s not to say its lyrically unintelligent though, these guys just clearly love raging against ‘the man’, something so dearly missing from much of today’s watered-down radio-friendly punk rock. I guarantee you’ll be fist-pumping your way to your capitalist-friendly place of work should you choose to listen to this record on your daily commute.

Special mention must go to the drums on this album, which drive the music along at a ridiculous pace of well over 200 beats per minute in the thrashier numbers, never missing a beat but always finding an extra few for an impressive tom fill or breakneck snare roll. It’s certainly refreshing to hear a record that doesn’t tie itself to a click track or become a victim of heavy-handed Pro Tools use. Instead the intentionally flexible tempo changes on ‘I’ve Had Enough’ and ‘Under Fire’ convey a genuine garage band vibe and an admirably live production. That’s not to say the group aren’t tight though, this now stable line-up of Auxes have clearly benefited from life on the road together playing 200+ shows in 18 countries and sound like a solid unit.

Boys In My Head doesn’t break any new ground, but no one said it needed to. Sometimes all you need are visceral riffs, thundering drums and a shout-along chorus or two. Fans of Dave’s earlier work as well as slacker staples Hüsker Dü, The Melvins, or even The Hives’ earlier work will find much to appreciate in the short sharp bursts of anarchy in three chords contained within this album.

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3.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: This Legend – It’s In The Streets

This Legend - It's In The Streets reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK punk, rock and alternative zine

If you’re a fan of pop-punk or just know a bit about the genre, you probably heard about Longineu W. Parsons III (LP) leaving Yellowcard earlier this year after 17-18 years as the band’s drummer. So after almost two decades in the reasonably successful outfit, what would you expect LP to do next? Play it safe and make quality music with people he already knows well, or push boundaries and create something new and better? Well he manages both and we’re bloody happy he does! For the first time in over a decade LP has teamed up with best friend and previous Yellowcard guitarist Ben Harper. After forming Yellowcard almost 20 years ago, fans were rightly expecting big things once the two got back to making music together, and it has culminated in a new pop-punk outfit: This Legend. To complete the line-up, they also recruited Chris Castillo of Stanley And The Search on vocals and rhythm guitar, with HeyMike!‘s Steven Neufeld on bass guitar.

Speaking about the formation of This Legend, LP said: “After being in Yellowcard for 18 years, this will definitely be a new experience for me. The last 18 years with Yellowcard has played a big role in who I am today. I am excited to begin this new adventure with my best friend Ben Harper and re-unite in a new musical endeavor together.” And why choose the band name that they did? Well, it’s a pretty cool sentiment actually: “It’s a positive statement to say, ‘no matter who you are and no matter how many times you get put down in the world, you can look at yourself in the mirror and see a legend.’”

Great, Harper and LP have joined forces again, but that’s not why you’re reading this, is it? You want to know what this new band sounds like, and we’re here to tell you that you should be excited! This Legend have released their debut It’s In The Streets through Cyber Tracks (an LA-based record label founded by El Hefe – guitarist of NOFX – and his wife) and you’ll be stoked to hear it is pretty damn sweet. Only they will know whether they felt like they had something to prove with this release, but if they’re trying to show what Yellowcard is missing, then mission accomplished!

LP’s drumming ties the entire album together, especially on third track ‘Holiday From Crazy’ where he totally steals the show. The drums come to the fore and take the focus intermittently, before fading into the background and marrying the riffs, bass-grooves and Castillo’s vocals together into a package that is catchy as hell! For someone I hadn’t really heard of before, Castillo really impresses as well, with strong vocals which display a lot of variety. He shows he is capable of more aggressive moments demanded by the punk elements on title track ‘It’s In The Streets’, where the time signatures shift away from the preceding tacks showing the album isn’t just a one-trick-pony, while Castillo’s vocals are just as at home blasting out more melodic choruses for the riff-dominated track ‘Moving On’. ‘Regrets’ follows on where ‘Moving On’ leaves off, jam-packed with riffs and easily showing off the technical ability of Harper and Castillo. The track’s breakdown is sculpted off the back of LP’s pounding beats and the overall infectious sound ‘Regrets’ encapsulates definitely makes it a highlight of the album.

If, like me, you weren’t a fan of Yellowcard’s recent musical shift in Lift A Sail (their first release without LP) then you definitely need to listen to this. When band members go off to explore other musical projects on the back of something which has been so successful, there is a tendency for it to fade into nothingness and obscurity. This won’t be happening here, I guarantee it. But that said, a lot a fans can come to expect such a similar sound when old band-mates re-unite, so be fair and judge This Legend in their own right; you won’t be disappointed. They may not have been together for a long time, but their combined years of experience is noticeable in each and every track. With all of the energy of a brand new band, they show why pop-punk is known for its insanely infectious catchy tunes!

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4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Interview: Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness interviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - British rock, pop and alternative zine

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down and chat with Andrew McMahon. Andrew, who is well famed in the alternative scene for his tenure in Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, is finally stepping out on his own to do a ‘solo project’ of sorts, entitled Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness. The record is incredible – filled with huge pop numbers and quite possibly, very unexpected given his former bands. I spoke to Andrew about the shift in sound and how it all came together, while discovering a few things about my favourite Something Corporate songs…

This new record is coming out under the name ‘Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness’, but throughout your career, you’ve released records under so many different guises. Why the switch to AM in the Wilderness this time?

Well, you know, it has more to do with it being time to move on from Jack’s Mannequin and knowing that Jack represented a certain time in my life, and that it was time to wind that down. When faced with the idea of putting out music again, whether or not to start a whole new moniker and kind of hide behind that, or to come out with my own name, well I thought ‘okay, there’s gotta be Andrew McMahon in this title somewhere’. I felt like it was a little disingenuous not to recognise the amount of collaboration in this project and also to, in a sense, represent the time that I was living in when I wrote these songs. I think that ‘In the Wilderness’ is a pretty fair assessment at what it felt like to be outside of making music for major labels, which has become the norm for me over the past ten or twelve years. It’s also a fair assessment of making music without the cover of a band and of what went into approaching this independent process, instead of one which had a lot of protection.

I take it that your songwriting process has changed throughout these different incarnations, but in particular, how did this record come together?

Some things are a lot different, but other things don’t change at all. I think that my goal for writing a song is very much the same – I want these songs to serve the function of answering questions of my daily life and connecting my subconscious with the universe a little bit. The process of figuring out what’s rattling round in my brain is still the same, and I try to take those things and communicate them in a universal way that makes sense as pop music. Certainly with this record though, I was much more open to collaboration. I had a handful of trusted friends who I got in a room with on and off throughout the course of making this record to bounce ideas off throughout the process.

This record, and The Pop Underground EP, have had more of an electronic influence – why the shift, and what have you learned from it?

Well, there’s a combination of reasons. It’s something I’ve always been interested in, and even if you listen to Everything in Transit, on songs like ‘Dark Blue’ and ‘Miss Delaney’, you start to hear elements of synths trying to crop up. I think it’s a factor of both the classic records that I used to listen to growing up as a kid in the 80s, when there were almost no live, no acoustic instruments on those records, but also a resurgence of electronic music in general at the moment. It’s actually in an evolutionary state now with so many people making music at home on their laptops rather than in proper recording studios. It’s hard to escape that influence, and as a modernist and someone who likes to play into the contemporary sphere of music, I think it was a no-brainer to access those some of those sounds.

When you say people are making stuff in their bedrooms, did you move around a lot and access different spaces and studios when you were recording?

Absolutely! I try in general when I’m working to not to lock into one space particularly so that I can keep it fresh and let the environment itself be a stimulus for the writing and the production. The writing started in a very sparse stage, where I wrote a handful of songs up in this cabin in a place called Topanga Canyon in LA and then I headed over to work with one of my main collaborators and producers, Mike Viola. He has this great little garage, and there’s an element of this record that I’ll always associate with Mike’s garage! But after that, when we were getting to the point of finishing songs, we moved into LAFX Studios. So we moved around quite a bit, and at each stage of the project, you need different things. It used to be that you’d hole up in a studio that cost a few thousand bucks a day but with independent records, you don’t really have the budget to throw that kind of money around, so you go where the gear is that you need for that day.

So, do you think that the different influence that each of these spaces had led to having such a wide blend of musical styles on the record? You’ve got big pop numbers, 80s influenced songs, very piano-led tracks – was it a challenge to thread all of these together in one record, especially when you’re recording all over the place?

When you start a project and you have all these disparate threads of songs, there is always this moment where you think ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to make this work together?’ A big turning point for the record was when James Flanagan, who I wrote ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’ with, we did a lot of that production in the first day that we had met and written that song. James ended up being the thread that unified a lot of the sounds of the record. He came in as a co-producer and really focused the vision. We ended up using a lot of the drum sounds and keyboard sounds that James helped match as sort of a unifying thread throughout the record, and that helped in a big way.

The forthcoming birth of your daughter was a huge influence on the record, most definitely in Cecilia and the Satellite (which I think is really the shining star of the record, by the way), but lyrically, you also delve back into past relationships, old memories and so on – how do you balance the old and the new when you write?

Half of it is a step into the future and the other half is looking at the present day and gazing backwards and saying ‘how could things have been different’? I think there was a part of me finally out of the haze of my twenties and the confusion of these post-illness years, and a lot of things happened in the haze of my recovery, and I was trying to say ‘I’m okay with all of this, but I want to talk about it a little bit.’ I wanted to make sense of it, shed some light on it and see how I’m moving forward. The landscape of new sounds allowed me to talk about some of these more nostalgic themes and allowed me to shed some of that, I guess.

One thing that you haven’t lost throughout all of these records is the theme of space, which crops up on all of them in one way or another – what’s its significance to you?

You know, [Andrew laughs], there’s a part of me that feels as if I’m meant to be floating around in space somehow. I have these dreams on a regular basis, that I’ve had ever since I was a little kid, where I’m in space. And it’s funny, because depending on the time of my life, it’s either amazing and I feel totally at home or it’s terrifying, because I’m looking at earth and trying to make my way there. It’s a metaphor that I’ve always connected with, and there’s always the awesomeness of looking out into the distance and thinking ‘wow, we are really just these small beings sitting out there in the middle of the universe.’

Did you want to be an astronaut when you grew up?

Are you kidding, I think I still do want to be an astronaut!

Last year, you did a solo tour that was literally just you and your piano – I really enjoyed it from an audience perspective, but what was it like as a performer to do that? Would you repeat the experience again some day?

I think I’m actually set to repeat it in February in the UK! It’s funny because for all the years that I’ve been playing and singing, I didn’t start doing these solo shows until a few years ago. There’s a nakedness to it that can be scary, but then there’s also this other side of it where you can connect a little more deeply to your voice and your piano. In that sense, I think it can be both an awesome way to play a show and to see one.

Yeah, I suppose that it’s very conversational and very laid-back – not pretentious or anything like that, but it was just really nice to have that connection.

Like you said, those shows end up being conversational and you can do something in a show like that which you can’t necessarily do with a full band, so I like to do a combination – I’ll do the full band sets, but I’ll build in these acoustic shows so that both me and my fans can experience as many different live atmospheres as possible.

And a bit of a personal ask, but where did ‘Me and the Moon’ come from? It’s really the first instance of a song where it’s not from a personal perspective (and still, one of few even today) – what inspired that?

I remember writing the piano part first, and it was this very intricate melody, and the first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘It’s a good year for a murder.’ Needless to say when that’s the first line of a song, it means you’ve got a lot to live up to, and it’s also a tough thing to sell as a pop song. So I found the easiest way for me to pitch that was as a story about this murder, but more about the idea of suburban sadness. I think growing up in the suburbs, you see a lot of unhappy people, but when you see people who have a lot of these traditionally happy things like a house and a family but aren’t happy, that was really what I was aiming to tackle.

So finally, for anyone just discovering your music, there’s a lot of it to digest, and all with very different styles – where would you suggest they start?

Well first, I’ve gotta say this record, because it’s my brand-new record! I think if you want to get to know me now, then that’s a no-brainer. But after that, I’d go to Everything In Transit, and then Leaving Through The Window – so all the beginnings.

Andrew’s amazing new record, ‘Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness’, is out now on Vanguard Records. Find out more at andrewmcmahon.com

Review: Caves – Leaving [12″]

Caves - Leaving reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - British punk, indie and alternative zine

It’s been a bloody good year for punk rock. We’ve been treated to some truly outstanding records – Against Me!’s massive hit Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Cayetana’s incredible debut Nervous Like Me, the ridiculous yet wonderful 48-hour tape Mysterious Ways from Bangers, another great record from The Lawrence Arms… I really could go on. I could go on forever, and I probably will when it gets to my end of year list. And here’s another record that is 99% sure to make that list.

Caves have always been great at crafting big tunes, and Leaving is a short, sharp blast of pure punk rock joy. Their new 12″ is a shining example of what Caves are capable of, and an excellent follow-up to Homeward Bound. Like any great punk rock record, it starts out with an absolute banger. ‘Sad’ is a fast, thrashy affair, and effectively sets the tone for the rest of the record with grungy undertones and some truly great vocals from Lou. ‘Oh Antonio’, my favourite song on the record, follows on with rumbling bass and megaphoned vocals, and that’s just a sign of things to come. There are fantastically spidery guitar riffs taking the forefront, great singalong choruses – even without any gang vocals in sight – and razor-sharp songcraft. No song overstays its welcome, but every track leaves you wanting more. Finally, the record closes with ‘Sadder’ – two minutes and thirteen seconds of sheer WOAAAAAAAH. I’m not lying. The production’s a lot tighter than previous records, but Caves still haven’t lost that gleeful sense of reckless abandon. If anything, every hook punches harder. You get a much clearer sense of the rhythm, and it leaves a lot more room for experimentation.

Lyrically, it’s all pretty good too. Leaving is all about holding your ground, and ‘Anchor’ portrays this perfectly with nautical metaphors that playfully mess about with cliché. ‘Puddle’, with its 90s emo vibes, makes concrete cities seem prettier than they are. Title track ‘Leaving’ is so posi that it makes my cheeks hurt from smiling. Caves are great at tackling the little things that mean a lot, and this record is just more great reinforcement of that notion.

Leaving is pure punk perfection. Buy it for yourself for Christmas and then sneakily listen to it all throughout November because screw it, the nights are getting longer, the weather’s getting colder and you need something as joyful as this in your life.

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4.5 out of 5 high fives!

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