July 2014 Album Reviews

Dinosaur Pile Up – “Native Nurture”

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Somehow, Dinosaur Pile Up have escaped our notice up until now, which is strange given not only how good they are but the fact that they hail from Leeds. The band, who were formed by lead singer and guitarist Matt Bigland, do, however, appear to have drawn their influences from further afield and in particular Seattle. In case you are also wondering where the name comes from, that’s apparently from a scene in King Kong!!
The opening song “Arizona Waiting” is a big sounding rock number which is very un British as it has a really brash and in your face, almost punk feel to it. “Derail” opens with a really cool drum beat and has a wistful start, until it develops into an almost power pop song. It is a bit like a rockier version of a band called Ether who had a brief glimpse of fame some time ago. Then “Peninsula” and “Summer Gurl” are like the perfect blend of the first two songs. They’re rocking indie/alternative tracks but with a strong hook.

The grunge/Seattle influence is certainly clear on both “Heather” and “Draw Alive”, which have a sound reminiscent of the likes of Smashing Pumpkins. Then, on one of the best songs on the album, “White T Shirt And Jeans” keeps the feel going but adds in some Sonic Youth spikes against the melodic chorus. “The Way We Came” is a slower and more restrained track which has a real laid back vibe. Whilst “Nature Nurture” also has a more relaxed style, but this is until the crunching guitars kick in and the song develops into something far more epic sounding. To keep the relevant influences going, “Bruiser Violet” has that controlled, pop rock melody that the Pixies have been so great at delivering.
Dinosaur Pile Up is actually a good name that matches the band’s sound. The album is full of huge, large rock songs, but all mixed with a huge amount of influences. They are certainly not your typical UK indie band. This album is far more muscular and shows a confidence and determination that is missing from so many new releases these days. They’ve created a sound which has the ability to appeal to indie kids, rockers and punks – which is no mean feat.

Allah-Las “Worship The Sun”

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This is the second album from Allah-Las and it certainly has an apt title for this band who hail from LA. They certainly have echoes of that great musical city, but not the present one but from times gone by. It certainly comes as no surprise to hear bands like The Beach Boys, Love and The Byrds being touted as influences.

Opening track “De Vida Voz” immediately takes us in to a time warp to mid-sixties America. It’s a psychedelic, hazy track which would be accompanied by loads of swirly images in the video. “Had It All” is very similar in terms of the sixties sound, but adds a bit of a Doors guitar line and a sense of mystery to the overall Byrds melody. It’s a style which is repeated on a number of songs on the album, such as “Follow You Down”.

The album also includes a couple of instrumentals, including “Ferus Gallery”, which has some wicked surf guitar in it. It’s a track which will have you gathering up your surfboard and hitting the waves…or at least wishing you were! “No Werewolf” is it’s perfect accompaniment on the ‘B side’ of the album. The track “Recurring” adds more of a Brian Wilson/Beach Boys sense of wonderment to the underlying surf melody. Whilst “Yemeni Jade” and title track “Worship The Sun” are two totally blissed out songs, perhaps perfect for that post surf chill out, as the sun sinks in to the horizon.

There is a brighter and more up tempo mix to the sound on “Better Than Mine”, the sixties influence is still there, but now we are talking Head era Monkees. The sprightly and more fun filled sound is also apparent on “Every Girl”, which would be perfect for a beach scene in a movie.

Anyone listening to Worship The Sun for the first time will not believe it was recorded this year. The whole sound of the band, and the production, is like a long lost sixties album. In fact, it even feels wrong listening to it on an iPod, this deserves to be heard with the crackle of vinyl. It’s an album to be put on post surf, on a beautiful, warm and bright evening.
Rockstars On Mars
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Rockstars on Mars may be a new sleaze rock band from Gothenburg but that does not mean they are without a degree of glam metal pedigree. Singer London LeGrand is an American musician, lyricist, and vocalist best known for his time with hard rock super group Brides Of Destruction with Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe and Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns. Joining him in Rockstars on Mars are Caesar bashing the drums, Dave on bass guitar and Johnny who shreds guitar.

They hit the ground running on “Tequila N Gin” where, if the title alone isn’t enough to tell you what to expect, the opening scream and dirty metal riff certainly tell you this band is here to kick ass. It starts things off in a proper rock n roll fashion, with a song which has a Buckcherry esque swagger. “Road Of Freedom” keeps the flavour going with references to “a bottle of Jack”. It has a melodic feel to it which suggests time well spent listening to the likes of Kiss.
We get a mid-album break from the faster, paced rockers as “Bleeding Heart” is a slower song with a more intense sound. Yet again, the title speaks volumes on “2 Kool For Skool” as it’s an old school sleaze metal track with the use of a cow bell just to ram home the glam message. It will again have you recalling classic bands like Shotgun Messiah. The sleaze flag is kept flying with “I Want You” but we get really down and dirty with “Headbone”, which sounds like a missing track from the debut album from the legendary Faster Pussycat. It has the same sleazy, low slung guitar line and the vocals have that lazy, spoken delivery style that Taime Downe mastered.

There would appear to be a new line of sleaze rock bands slowly emerging from the gutter with the likes of Rockstars On Mars and Viceroy Crux. There is no doubt that they will appeal to fans of some of the classic bands from the sleaze metal scene, such as Faster Pussycat, Shotgun Messiah, and Buckcherry etc. The real test will be if they can capture the imagination of a new generation of rockers. Let’s hope so, because it’s great to have some real rock n roll played by artists who actually look and sound like rock stars.

Viceroy Crux – “Round Dice”
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Viceroy Crux are a three piece led by Terry Stirling Jr, who is the writer, singer and guitarist. They are a brand new American band with Ryan Bradley and Tim Hockwald making up the full line up. They are described as having roots that feed from classic hard rock and punk as well as modern alternative rock.
Opening track “Rise Above” has a real old school, eighties metal sound, it’s all guitar shredding and solos with some huge choruses. It’s certainly a rocking opening to the album. It’s a style that is also present on “Another Sunrise”, which is the type of track that would have been all over MTV or RAW Power (for those UK based readers of a certain age!). The pace gets even quicker on “Enjoy The Rise”, which also has a more sleazy feel to it. It is reminiscent of Skid Row, but at their more commercial early days. In contrast, “Red Flags” adds a bit more of a funky beat and has an overall darker and more menacing feel.

On this type of album, it is almost inevitable that there will be at least one epic, almost ballad, type song. Viceroy Crux certainly hit this mark with “Legend Made”, which will have the lighters held aloft at the live shows. It is followed up with the proper full blown ballad of “Lately I”. This is the one that would have been accompanied by the black and white video portraying the band’s tough times on the road! That’s not to knock it though, as it probably would have been the break through hit that would’ve resulted in global stardom.
There can be no doubts that this record has a real ‘retro’ sound that goes back to the days when rock bands ruled not only the Sunset Strip but also the U.S. charts. In a strange way, the fact that it is so different to most other bands around at the moment, gives it a feel of being fresh. Certainly, for music fans that will recall the likes of Skid Row, Slaughter, Bullet Boys, Lillian Axe etc., it is a welcome reminder of the great music that was so popular at one stage. It will be interesting to see how Viceroy Crux promote themselves, hopefully it will be by proudly recognising their influences rather than seeking to hide it behind a need to be contemporary or, even worse, being ‘ironic’. This album has some great hard rock tunes so they should stand up and be proud.

Kristy Majors & The Thrill Kills – S/T
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Kristy Majors will be a name well known to Glam Metal fans, due to his band Pretty Boy Floyd. When they released their debut album “Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz” (Z’s for S’s were compulsory then!) it was met by much derision by so called critics. Funnily though, over the years it has earnt some begrudging respect, which is well placed as it’s a classic pop metal album. Credit also has to go to Kristy for his persistence and determination which has seen him never leaving rock n roll.
Opening song, “Beginners Luck” might come as a shock for those expecting throw away pop metal, as it is surprisingly hard and aggressive with a real punk edge to it. This brash style also features on “Broken Lip” which has a real Pistols undertone and shows that perhaps Kirsty has moved from lip gloss to giving broken lips! That pent up anger certainly comes out on “Pissed It All Away” which suggests everything isn’t sweetness and light in the world.
Fans of melodic, glammy metal don’t panic though, “Dead Beat” is closer to PBF. It still has that punk feel but with more emphasis on the melody and the sing along chorus certainly giving it a shinier, pop metal feel. Then the gang vocals on “Empty Handed” and the chugging guitar line will certainly get you rocking. “Stagnation Street” has a glorious swaggering beat to it. Ironically, so many glam bands from the late eighties/early nineties claimed to be influenced by Hanoi Rocks, but this track really does sound like a sleaze rock band which understands what that really entails.
Given its title, it is no surprise that “Make Up” is a track which, at a push, could have featured on a PBF album back in the day. It’s a futuristic sounding song which will cause those old enough to remember to start reminiscing about the likes of Star Star and Big Bang Babies. “Falling Behind” keeps the glam rock coming, it’s a track that, if given the chance, would have the rock club’s dance floors jumping and shaking.
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The album ends with “Magazine” which is actually a really fine modern, pop rock song which hints at influences like Cheap Trick, but with an almost alternative rock vibe, it works really well.
Kristy Majors & Thrill Kills have managed to achieve something quite rare here – they give us an album which is clearly rooted in sleaze/glam metal but not one that sounds just dated and retro. Given the ridiculous success a band like Steel Panther have achieved, maybe the time is right for a regeneration of bands with big, brash rock songs that are fun to listen to. Whilst appealing to fans of Kristy’s previous output, it also has enough punk and attitude to attract a wider fan base. For some, however, it will just raise the hope that maybe they will get at least one more chance to dig out the bandanna and ripped jeans and get down to Rock City!

The Black Tibetans – “The Nashville Session” EP
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When you hear that Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys has not only produced this EP, but also played the guitar solo on the single “You’re Cold” then expectations are bound to be very high. It also raises the question if The Black Tibetans name is an indication, that they also sound like Dan’s band.
The opening song “You’re Cold” is certainly a great modern rock n roll record. It is almost an amalgamation of sleazy rock n roll with the added contemporary touches, as mastered by The Black Keys or Jack White. It’s all a bit dirty but with an irresistible swagger. The second track, “When I See You”, is very much on the same level but with a slightly darker and seedier tone to it.

There are not many bands around at the moment who are able to deliver this rock n roll sound with a modern twist. It’s like the promise that BRMC promised to deliver, but instead of getting bogged down in sludge, they are prepared to give it a real rock shine. If their next full album is made up of songs of this brilliant quality, this may well be the start of something very special!

The Old 97’s – “Most Messed Up”
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It does seem kind of odd that on the week we have reviewed the new album from the latest hip young thing, Lana Del Rey, that we are also reviewing the latest release from The Old 97’s. The two are hardly from the same musical spectrum and not even the same generation, given that The Old 97’s actually emerged from Dallas some twenty years ago. However, one thing both artists have in common is that they are both very relevant today and have some fine songs.
This album seems very much a celebration of the band’s musical life, as clearly demonstrated by opening number “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive”. It’s a brilliant song, filled with humour and great lyrics about life in a band. We’re not just talking about the clichéd rock star tales, but instead a heart-warming tale of the highs and lows of a real band. They rock out a bit more on “Give It Time” which has that familiar country twang. It also has some great harmonies which help to build the melody. The fun filled, story fuelled lyrics continue on “Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On” Not surprisingly, it’s a great, rocking, good time song.

The band then do slow things down on the aptly titled “This Is The Ballad” which has a countrified feel about it. It’s a ballad about drinking whisky, presumably on a swing on the front porch, at sunset. On “Wheels Off” they add a bit of a pop touch in to the mix, it even has a hint of Elvis Costello about it. This is also true of possibly the best song on the album, “Guadalajara” which is a truly brilliant punk pop song which again has that Costello feel. The focus on melody is also present with “The Ex Of All You See” which has more of a commercial appeal to it, with its pop sensibilities. It’s a bright and brash song which will keep you humming for a long time once the song has finished.
It’s not all sweetness and light though as “Intervention” has an angrier and more raucous feel which you expect will make it a live favourite. Album closer “Most Messed Up” also sees the band take a break from the good times to express some of their frustration and anger. It ends the album with a kick, as it moves in to an almost punk/country track.

The Old 97’s may indeed be ‘old’ but there is definitely nothing stale about this excellent album. Instead, it’s full of rip roaring songs which will have you singing, and laughing, along to them. The tracks are expertly written and have the sense of tunes that will be warmly received, like old friends, not only by existing fans of the band but also a host of potential new comers. Guess it’s a case of twenty years and still going very strong!

Blacklist Royals – “Die Young With Me”
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Rather than doing a huge intro on the band here, we suggest (once you’ve finished reading this review!) that you head over to the band’s Facebook page. There, rather than finding the normal boring band bio, you will find an interesting piece describing the hardships that twins Nat & Rob Rufus have faced in life, let alone getting this album out there. The difficulties with the album are surprising given how brilliant their debut, “Semper Liberi” was. Thankfully, all the hassle was worth it as they have delivered one of the best albums of the year so far.
The albums kicks off with an initially restrained opening, as the solo vocals accompanied by only an organ, introduce “Righteous Child”. It soon builds, however, into a brilliant punk inspired rock n roll song which will instantly lead to comparisons to The Gaslight Anthem at their anthemic best…it’s a brilliant start to the album. The Gaslight Anthem’s skill of giving a song a sense of ‘intensity’ beneath the melodic style is also seen on “Missing Something”. That’s not to say they have lost their punk ethic, as shown by “The Open Door”, but even on this they still can’t help but include a sing a long chorus!

Things get slower and more thoughtful on “Out In The Dark”, and it provides a nice break and change in pace that allows the listener to regain their breath from the brilliant, but frantic, opening few tracks. “Twenty Six and Gone” keeps the pensive lyrical style going on a song which is simple and fragile, but brilliant.
“Common Things” sees the band back to delivering some great punk inspired rock songs. Again, the added emphasis on the keyboards/organ, and the great chorus, help to give it a more commercial edge. It’s a formula which is repeated with equally great success on “Skeleton Crew”. “Die Young With Me” and “Hearts On Fire” see the pop punk factor come back to the fore, however, we are not talking Blink 182 et all, but instead it’s the quality pop punk sound as influenced by Elvis Costello. They manage to expertly combine their lyrical skills with a Springsteen esque rocker on “Last Days Of The Suicide Kids”.

It’s inevitable that the Blacklist Royals will see comparisons being made to The Gaslight Anthem with this release, and that’s not a bad thing! This is especially true when it’s due to the fact they have delivered an album full of great songs that have punk rock roots, but built on huge melodies. When they combine this with heartfelt lyrics then you know you are on to something special. Indeed, ironically, with the Gaslight Anthem due to release their new album next month they are actually under some pressure to see if they can match “Die Young With Me”!!

Lana Del Rey – “Ultraviolence”
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It’s fair to say that Lana Del Rey is very much one of the hippest stars in the music world at the moment. This new album has already gone to number one on I tunes in 80 countries, including the UK and the US. As if commercial success is not enough, the album has the added coolness of being produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. That ‘coolness’ factor is also bumped now, of course, by featuring in The Soul of a Clown!! It is pretty rare we actually cover a number one pop artist, but there is something decidedly interesting and unique about Lana Del Rey which makes her a bit special.
This album opens in a typically melancholy and pensive tone with “Cruel World”. The lyric “with my little party dress on, everyone knows I’m the best of crazy”, shows the juxtaposition that Lana Del Rey exemplifies. Songs like this and “Sad Girl” are moody, frighteningly intense songs and totally compelling.

The title track, “Ultraviolence” keeps the claustrophobic feel going, until a sweeter sounding tone to the voice is introduced. The whole song has an epic feel and a real sense of grandeur. A similar style is adopted on “Brooklyn Baby”, with its mixing of smoky vocals in the verse and the lighter tone used in the chorus. The song “Shades of Cool” almost has a Bond movie theme sound to it, but we are talking moody and mean Daniel Craig Bond rather than Roger Moore!!
There’s still room for some ‘pop’ on the album, with “West Coast” being a great modern pop song, which, somewhat bizarrely, is almost like Kate Bush interpreting some sort of edgy, urban song. In contrast, “Pretty When You Cry” is a real tear jerker, which you can see will appeal to a whole host of young fans who are looking for an outlet for their adolescent pains and worries. That’s not to trivialise it though, every generation needs a source of musical support in their time of need.

“Money Power Glory” still keeps that downbeat tone, but has an even wider sense of power to it and leads neatly in to “Fucked My Way Up”. This track sees a sense of anger and retribution added to the mix, with its soft sound contrasting with the acidic content of the lyrics. The final track on the album, “The Other Woman”, is like a modern equivalent of an old country song. That is until it builds in to another epic and heartfelt song, with an almost operatic quality to the vocals.
Given her commercial sales and social impact, it is no wonder that people are beginning to regard Lana Del Rey as a potential voice of a generation. It would certainly be interesting to know how that tag would sit with Lana herself. The good thing is that she is an artist that really has something to say, and the willingness to express her thoughts and feelings in the stark lyrics is to be admired. The interesting thing will be to see how she continues to develop, and if she can maintain the quality and ensure the longevity of her influence.

Rouge -“Edge Of The Bed”
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The band Rouge throw up a few surprises with the release of this debut EP. Firstly, and without wishing to sound sexist, is the fact they are an all female four piece. Whilst lazy comparisons have been made to Haim the more relevant contemporary is probably Deep Valley. It is also somewhat unexpected that they hail from London where you would perhaps picture a Southern US or Mississippi blues based band. They have certainly delivered a bunch of songs which have a real dirty blues feel.

The title track is the opening number and it’s a brash and bold blues rocker. It’s got a sludgy riff which brings to mind Led Zeppelin but then sneakily has a funky bass feel which almost gives it a hint of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Whilst second track “Strike” is a more straight forward dirty blues song. It’s slower and has a more ‘restrained’ groove.

There is yet another change of emphasis on “Wilderness” as this time they add a southern feel which then shifts in to a soul vibe. It’s the sort of track which would be absolutely huge if it was released by The Black Keys. That soul influence comes out even stronger on “Limit To Your Love”. It’s the final track and provides a really classy end to the EP. It serves as yet another example of the really strong vocal performance that features on all the tracks and is a nice mellow ending.

This EP is really great because in four relatively short songs the band not only deliver excellent, strong songs but also a diversity and range that so few bands manage to achieve over a full album. The songs just have a feel of classics from times gone by. There is certainly plenty to enjoy and it will surely generate a load of interest for Rouge ahead of a full album.

Ed Tang & The Chops – “S/T”
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If the cool name alone isn’t enough to attract you to this EP, then the fact that comparisons to the likes of bands such as Lucero and The Gaslight Anthem should have you rushing to check this out. It certainly comes as no surprise that Ed Tang has punk singer song writer roots but also an appreciation for rock n roll right back to good old rockabilly.

Opening track “When Death Should Find Us” opens with a somewhat daunting spoken intro before moving in to a great rock/Americana song. It has a stripped down, country feel to it but delivered by a rock or even punk band. It even includes some great mid song hand claps to give it a real melodic feel. “Willy Loman” is similar and you can certainly hear the Lucero comparisons on this. It has an acoustic sound with a story telling aspect to the delivery of the lyrics. There is also the hint of a pop tune to it all which is always good to hear. That influence and the understanding of the need for a strong melody are even more obvious on the brilliant ” A Lapsed Catholic”. It’s probably the strongest song on the EP thanks to that great melody. It shows an appreciation that a bit of polish on a track doesn’t mean you’ve lost or forgotten about your roots.

This is ably demonstrated by “Brother In The Way” which sees them rocking out a bit more. This is the track you could easily see being turned in to a ferocious punk sing a long in a live environment. It’s the one that will get the crowd spilling their beer! Final song “Leaving of Liverpool” perhaps shows a surprising link to the UK but has a Celtic verging on sea shanty feel to it. Again, it’s an arms around your mate, crashing beer glasses song that ends the EP with a real sense of camaraderie.

This type of rocking Americana sound sometimes struggles to find exposure here in the UK. Perhaps this is because you need a warm and dusty climate to fully appreciate the sound. This is a shame, but what bands like Lucero and Two Cow Garage have managed to do is build a loyal and hugely enthusiastic fan base over here. On the basis of this release, fans of those bands are equally as likely to love Ed Tang & The Chops and show them the same level of devotion. Let’s hope enough can be done to get them over here for a few live shows which you can guarantee will be a real wild riot.

Cheap Girls – “Famous Graves”
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Extra Mile records are one of those labels where you kind of know that any release is going to be one of quality. This is certainly true of the latest record from the Michigan Trio known as Cheap Girls. This is the fourth album for a band who have built up a really strong reputation for delivering an ‘alternative’ sound but with a nod to a commercial pop rock influence.

The album certainly opens up in fine style with “Slow Nod” which is a great, crunching song that mixes a power pop tune with a punk rock sound. It’s a successful formula which features through out this album on songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Man In Question”. The second track, “Short-Cut Days” sees an emphasis on a ‘warmer’ side to the band with a less punk feel. The vocals actually have a resemblance to Michael Stipe of REM. In fact, a few of the more melodic songs are kind of like an REM with balls. “Knock Me Over” is a classic example of this with its American alternative feel. Similarly, “2nd Floor” is again a softer sounding song, but it still has that alternative pop type shine to it.

The punk ethic is still there, however, as shown by “Pure Hate”. They up their punkier side at least until they reach the bridge and chorus which then sees them divert in to a sound which is almost like another classic cult band, The Posies. The punk thrill is still there on “Thought Senseless” but it’s still built on a sweeter side as shown by the swaggering guitar line and upbeat drums which build to a great melodic chorus.

The album then ends on a more restrained and thoughtful note with “Turns”. It might actually have been a better option to have placed this song as a mid album ‘break’. This would have provided a nice change in pace.

Overall, Cheap Girls sound like a band that have learnt their craft from some classic American influences, one of the most obvious probably being The Replacements. They’re a band who have probably grown up from a punk ethic and roots but have now learnt to appreciate the importance of a melody. This album sees them deliver a fine slab of power pop melodies with added punk grit. It’s a polished and expertly delivered set of tunes but you would anticipate that the greater joy will be from hearing them delivered live with that added spark of spontaneity.

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One response to “July 2014 Album Reviews

  1. Pingback: Bank holiday album review catch up | The Soul Of A Clown·

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