WOMPS – Broadcast – 12/07/17

WOMPS are a fascinating band when compared with their contemporaries in the Scottish music scene. Their already well documented recording time and resulting album with Steve Albini needs requires no further comment; but there was something distinctly North American about a sweltering muggy Scottish Wednesday in the basement of Broadcast. After several £3 White Russians I felt a bit like “The Dude” listening to a rad touring band from the North West somewhere in LA.

The first thing about WOMPS you’ll experience in the live setting is the massive energy they bring to the stage for a three piece, this is how grungey lo-fi rock is supposed to sound. All the bases are covered for the listener from beginning to end, great songs, pure power from the drums, intricate guitar and grizzly basslines tie the whole sound together well. Ewan Grant has cultivated an unmistakeable singing style which paired with impressive and equally unique guitar playing provides the melodic section of the band. Owen Wicksted is an awesome drummer, has great power, good technical chops, and really seems to fit perfectly into his chosen role and playing style. There is a firm rhythmic bond that Owen and Ewan share which defines the core of WOMPS, shared values and democratic song writing are signs of a special partnership. Grant and Wicksted were until recently a two-man-band with rotating bassists, but have now permanently enlisted the talented Neill Bannatyne as the final third of WOMPS.

Notable events during the set included, but were not limited to:
– Neil holding the bass drum back with his foot as it continually crept forward on the shitty mat that failed miserably to do its job. Rhythm section bromance is critical.
– The boys from Why No? spazzing out having the time of their lives at the front of the crowd during most of the set.
– Andrew Newton, drummer of Why No? grabbing the microphone once WOMPS had left the stage demanding ONE MORE TUNE.
– His wish was granted with a brilliant and hilarious cover of Billy Idol’s White Wedding.
– I bought the 45” single Live a Little Less from Ewan afterwards which has a clear disc inside and a funny backstory, if you happen to run into him he’ll tell it to you.

 

Overall I had a great night seeing one of my favourite Scottish bands, follow them on social media to stay in the loop. Also, listen to their more recent single Darling here.

Volka – Equate EP

Volka are ready to go big. The Equate EP is a massive statement of intent. The songs are well crafted, well played, and well produced. What more can you ask for? I caught the boys live on 5th May. Intertwining the new EP with their Edinburgh single Launch of Choke – let’s get straight into it.

From the get go, a blistering opening riff in “Strong” sets a tone reminiscent of a Foo Fighters guitar sound but with more grit provided by Tam’s husky Scottish voice. Big pre-chorus drops bring the song to life as the band moves through gears with ease. Dropping onto the floor tom for the groove is a nice choice from Euan Sked, drummer and certified heavy hitter, because it leaves a space for the two guitarists Calum More and Steven Dunsmore respectively. At the Single launch for “Choke” I had to ask the bar staff for ear plugs to enjoy the full sound. While this may deter some, the purpose of bands like Volka is to blast power from the stage. These guys are loud, listener discretion is advised.

Before the distortion drone has completely left your head, “Settle”, the second track of the EP is already full steam ahead and my head is nodding along to the driving bassline of Callum Sked. His presence onstage in Banshee’s Labyrinth is impressive, as is his intuition with his younger brother on the drums behind him; he seldom needs to turn around to make eye contact, their connection is inherent and a joy to watch. That being said, “Settle” is a perfect opportunity for the listener to experience the partnership between More and Dunsmore. Their distinctive guitar styles overlap in a way that shouldn’t work conventionally but does with great effect in this song. The recording allows the listener to breach the wall of sound from the live setting to fully hear what’s going on. Credit is due to Bruce Rintoul, working in Bridgeton, Glasgow,  for unpicking the seams between an aural blanket of guitars.

“Choke” was the standout song at the live show back in May. Thomas Fraser (Tam’s) vocal line is the focal point of the song, with the other instruments falling in line to support his lyrics. The chorus, “Time is the anti-dote, we’re trying not to choke,” constricts my throat physically every time I hear it. Tam’s voice personifies the words in an inexplicable way that puts me on edge, which was his exact intention I’m sure.

In contrast, “Listen” is a welcome recession of intensity to allow a nice melody from both guitars and vocals to come forth. All good bands should be able to play soft and hard, regardless of genre. Accomplishing this with track four of The EP; a more classic sound is employed from the guitarists, bring the listener back to the 70s almost with glistening verses and a punchy chorus. The band at no point have a retro feel, but the choices of guitar effects create a sound found in previous generations of rock music in “Listen” specifically, which is worth listening out for. “Lower”, the following track continues this idea quite smoothly until we are slapped by a Simon Neil-esque dirty strat sound in the chorus, giving a more technical feel to the EP. The stark contrast within the song pulls the listener back out of a thoughtful slump and is a guaranteed body mover in the live setting. “Lower” also heralds Tam’s best vocal performance to date in any recording to date, something which can be a real challenge in small basement style gigs with the previously mentioned wall of sound. Chilling reverb on-top of the dirty staccato between the two guitars again demonstrate the perhaps unsung heroes of the band’s melodic capabilities, due to the heavy nature of the vast majority of their music.

volkaep.jpg

Finally, the self-titled “Equate” is the perfect finale to a massive EP. Grit is one of the predominant themes throughout the tracks and can be heard cutting through in the bassline which stands on a pedestal in the mix for good reason. The drums also deserve an honourable mention, Euan manages to stay heavy without getting boring which is not ubiquitous to say the least among his contemporaries in similar genres. His fills are full of dexterity without compromising the songs and lead the band into deafening drops which have caused audiences to mosh without fail for years. The band have made an excellent choice in terms of recording and have struck a successful chord it seems in the east end of Glasgow with Rintoul. With a great live show in Edinburgh, and great songs in the EP, the only way is up for Volka, don’t miss the chance to catch them live. Like them on Facebook to stay in the loop.

Horses, Bears, and Phantom Power.

All terrible amateur photography and footage is my own.
By Michael Cameron.

April 8th 2017; along with half of Scotland I back the winning horse in the Grand National due mostly to the saltire on the Jockey’s jersey. One For Arthur – Nil Theresa May.

Quid’s in I jump on the train into Edinburgh to catch The Phantoms play a headline set in everyone’s favourite sweat box- Sneaky Pete’s. I run into some pals at Uphall station, a can of lager is thrust into my hand and I look forward to the night ahead.

As we approach the venue I’m greeted by the warm grin of Mikey Campbell who offers me a free ticket, unfortunately I was a mug and paid £7 online in advance for mine but at least it supports the band. When I hit the bar I discover to my horror that all lager on tap is off, the barman recommends Yellow Eye bottled lager from Portobello which turns out to be fantastic so all is forgiven. After calculating £8 for two rounds of bottled beer, the disappointment is wiped off my face by the dark bluesy tones of Fabric Bear, first band of the night.

For Fabric bear think blues/rock trio with Black Keys/Royal Blood undertones. All three members prove to be competent musicians and deliver a nice and chilled set with dirty vibes coming off the Guitar of singer Ryan Hunter. His voice cuts through the mix nicely and the guys deliver a perfect rocky opener to a good line up of bands. I ask Ryan after the gig about his middle parting but he assures me, “It just goes like that from the sweat of the gig,” and he’s not deliberately copying Jack White.

Ryan Hunter left of stage with Fabric Bear

In the intermission I discover that the entire Phantoms line up is going through a game of musical chairs *sigh* with the old bassist playing guitar, a new bassist, new drummer and a one man band combination of keyboard, backing vocals and laptop pressing. I postulate with those around me why there are a couple of white tubes attached to each cymbal stand on the drumkit, drop another £8 for two Portobello lagers and talk shit to the merch guy about doing a t-shirt run for my band, who doesn’t understand a word I say and politely excuses himself to stand somewhere where I’m not pestering him.

Perry Read – Paves

Turning my attention back to the stage, four variations of guys with long hair who look like they smoke roll ups outside Nice ‘n’ Sleazy get on stage and proceed to completely blow me away. Paves have arrived all the way from London and by God they are good. The first thing that grabs my eye is the spectacular looking bass guitar and lovely finger style playing from its owner Perry Read.

The guys launch straight into a set of rocky/psychedelic tunes, backed up by some heavy hitting yet tasteful chops from the drummer Tom Triggs. The lead guitarist Mike Whitaker is dressed like ACDC with a Motorhead t-shirt and strikes a stunning balance between shredding and psychedelic noises, nice. The singer Luke Shield has got good presence, a nice voice and sports the biggest Topman hat in the room. I lose myself for the entirety of their set, drawn in by the consistent pounding of the rhythm section and captivated by the catchy melody lines. At one point Luke starts speaking/singing in French which is a cool touch. It later turns out his parents are French so he’s bi-lingual.

Paves owning the stage.

 

Next up are our headliners The Phantoms. This re-incarnation of the band is probably the best I’ve seen in the five years that I’ve known them. The only two surviving members are Peter Stewart, formerly bassist who now plays guitar, and the perennial lead singer/rhythm guitarist Colin Simpson who best described the band on the night himself when he said into the microphone: “We’re The Phantoms. We make lots of noise.” Honourable mentions go to Zach Goodhur for decent bass playing, the new drummer Allan Ramsay for a tight set and the multi-talented Mikey Campbell for pushing buttons up the back. Also, the two tubes attached to the drumkit are actually DIY stage lights and will only come on when The Phantoms start playing, bit selfish.

 

The rest of the after party in Banshee’s Labyrinth becomes a drunken blur so I’ll sum up the rest of the night in a list of pros and cons.

Pro: Niko and Liam from Eyeangle Records put on a good show.
Con: I find myself helping set up the stage for their set since no one else is around to help.

Pro: The guys from Paves show up and are a bunch of good guys.
Con: Later in the night the lead singer refuses to play my song on the Spotify AUX cable disco.

Con: The night ends in a Spotify AUX cable disco.
Pro: I manage to capture this video of a random guy who stumbled across the party and joined in.
(Notice Colin Simpson in the back drop supervising the Spotify AUX cable disco.)

I go home about five minutes after this with Tam from Volka in an Uber that some Edinburgh Uni fuds try to steal in the grass market. I watch them get in then call the driver from the app and he ejects them in front of us.

Final word: I had a great laugh with all the guys from the Livingston scene who showed up. A great bunch of people who always make time for a chat and a drink. West Lothian music might be a bit shit, but not for lack of trying. Thanks to The Phantoms for a good night.

Kings of Leon – Walls

This is no modern classic, but worth owning nonetheless.
by Michael Cameron.

Kings of Leon, where to begin? Their musical record speaks for itself, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing for a band of such magnitude. Their meteoric rise from hillbillies to rock stars has been well documented and talked about to death so we’ll just ignore that. The bottom line is that the average person didn’t know of or care about KOL until Only by the Night, and the two albums following were relatively poor by their own standards. With that said, Walls is a strong album, which is rather encouraging after sixteen years, seven studio albums, one very public mental breakdown, and well over ten million records sold worldwide.

This is not an album designed to break down Walls (pun game weak), since the members of the band have already achieved almost everything there is to achieve in the music industry. They lead a comfortable life in their hometown of Nashville, in beautiful houses with their beautiful families. This record is a result of what it means to consciously make a record out of the sheer joy of doing so. Another chapter in the life of a band brings about another set of experiences to express through their music. Some might describe this attitude as settling for mediocrity, but those people never wrote “Sex on Fire” or “Use Somebody.” With two of the biggest songs of the last decade under his belt, why should Caleb Followill bother to write another song? The answer, just like this album, is not complicated; it’s because he wants to. This is an easy-going album for an easy-going time in the lives of the Kings of Leon. To be perfectly frank, it’s a good listen. Good musicianship and honest songs go a long way to a perfectly capable album.

nathan

Drumer Nathan Followill outside his beautiful house with his beautiful family.

 

If you are looking for an unprecedented breakthrough on how a rock record should sound, then look elsewhere. It shouldn’t sound like a contradiction, but every song on this album is simply enjoyable to listen to. It requires no effort to have the entire album play from start till finish. The flow is well curated from track to track, mixing thumping hits such as ‘Waste a Moment’ and ‘Find Me’ with slower paced numbers like ‘Muchacho’ and ‘Conversation Piece’ with ease. The production is soothing to the ears, an overall smoothed over feel has been designed for the listener. Just another day at the office then for producer Markus Dravs.

To make a smooth rock record there are certain criteria to be met. The foremost in my opinion: don’t let the drums get in the way. The snare is warm and subdued, the bass drum provides a light but assertive spine to the groove. Nathan Followill has a beautiful ride cymbal presiding over much of the music, taking us gently by the hand and guiding us along this journey prepared by his brother and lead singer/songwriter Caleb. A journey which is perhaps more personal than ever before, with the lyrics on ‘Over’ aimed directly at Caleb’s wife, with phrases that he has intimated will mean nothing to anyone else. ‘Muchacho’ is an ode to a beloved friend who died recently. As for the bass guitar, throughout the ten tracks Jared Followill has again demonstrated how to play up in big songs with catchy hooks and play down in the softer ones as required. In the first half of the album, the guitars are jangly and the lyrics anthemic. In the second half, the guitars are soft and the lyrics introspective. The final title track, ‘Walls,’ is incredibly personal for Caleb.  “When the walls come down,” might refer to the breaking down of the barriers that he places between his darker inner self and his loved ones. Other lines in the song encapsulate exactly what this record is, an expression of ones deepest, darkest worries allowed to escape from the prison of the mind:

“Oh a man ain’t a man unless he’s fought the fight… If you know what’s right, then you’ll walk away… Oh a man ain’t a man ‘less he has desire… You tore out my heart
And you threw it away… Now there’s nothing in the way.”

caleb

With every artist, there has always been a debate that centres around whether the true meaning of songs should be made public. Both sides of the argument have valid points, some fans prefer to make a song their own by attaching their own associations with the lyrics, while others agonise over the original meaning of a song to best come to grips with the true artistic intention. Caleb Followill seems to be rather nonchalant about revealing his lyrical secrets at this stage in his career. Walls delivers a transparency and honesty from the band that brings out the best in their musical capabilities.

All boxes ticked then, bar modern classic, this record was made by Kings of Leon for Kings of Leon. It just so happens that they have elected to share it with the rest of us on their upcoming tour. To me it’s reminiscent of the smell of rain evaporating off warm concrete after a local downpour on a summers evening. A good album for quiet contemplation, or as a soundtrack to your day to day activities. Designate Kings of Leon as bland if you wish, but give the album a chance. Perhaps the soft melancholy will ruffle your feathers just the way you like it.

 

If I were able to sum up the record with an image it would be this one:

evening-car

Biffy Clyro – Ellipsis

Why Biffy Clyro Are at the Height of Their Powers: Ellipsis review (2016).

by Michael Cameron.

The first thing that springs to mind with this album is the fact that once again, as they have numerous times before, Biffy have changed the sound of the music they make in a big way. This time with Ellipsis there is a heavier, darker tone to the record. At the same time a fresher, more modern sounding production technique is employed with the help of industry master Rich Costey. With this change of hands from long-time producer and collaborator Garth Brooks, a statement of intent had already been made before a single track was laid down.

There were warnings from the band about a change in direction in the documentary of the making of Opposites, their 2013 studio album. Drummer Ben Johnson said, “I’m beginning to think that this is so epic that we’re going to have to re-think our next album entirely. We can’t go down this route any further than we have done.” An idea that was echoed by his fellow band mates in the documentary, which can be found on the deluxe iTunes version of the album.

One double-edged sword that a band with a fan base as profound as Biffy have to negotiate, is contending with backlash over any change of sound. There have been accusations, not for the first time, that Biffy have “sold out” on this record. However if you were a fan of the old Biff, specifically pre-Puzzle, then you would already have taken issue with Simon Neil allowing his hit single ‘Many of Horror’ from the 2008 release Only Revolutions to be used by the X-Factor for Matt Cardle. So if that isn’t selling out, then nothing is, and the predictable “Biff are a sell-out crowd” should crawl back into 2005 in the huff and stay there. If you are in need of any further re-assurance, Simon Neil spoke in the making of Opposites, saying “I would hate to write a song that didn’t connect with me, but that ended up becoming a huge song… that’s not what Biffy Clyro’s about, that’s not what we’re about… If one person connects with what you’re singing and it matters to them then that is enough.”

Throughout the album, there is a deeply personal feel to Neil’s lyrics. The vast majority of the songs are aimed at someone, giving them a realism and the feeling that he really means what he’s saying, especially considering the issues that are being tackled. Neil appeals to a close friend or family member who is perhaps entering into a hasty marriage in ‘Herex.’ He asks, “how can you think that you’ve figured this out?” before imploring to the subject of his lyrics that, “real love is much better than this.” At the other end of the scale, ‘Wolves of Winter’ is a triumphant celebration of what the band have achieved so far, “No I in Team.” Friends and Enemies has a self-explanatory title, especially with lines like, “You were not right, you were just righteous,” and, “With friends as good as you who needs enemies.” Notably in the latter two songs and permeating throughout the whole album there is an almost nu-metal sounding guitar that crunches and growls at the listener, a sound cultivated by Neil’s famous collection of Stratocasters and an impressive rig to make any guitar tech salivate. This is a reminder that this is still a rock record from a powerful rock trio. The drums, whilst unmistakably in the style of Ben Johnston, are more simplified than other albums, but they lend themselves perfectly to the songs which is as much as any drummer and any rock record can hope for. As for his brother James’ bass parts, once again they perfectly underpin the entire sound, providing the spine of the music whilst making tasteful melodic flourishes when required such as in ‘Flammable,’ ‘Friends and Enemies,’ and ‘Don’t Won’t Can’t’.

A strong addition to the Biffy sound are the bright and grabbing melodies usually played on synthesisers and computer programs alike that rise from the mix to dazzle the ears before submerging into the backdrop. This new electronic feel is a sparkling addition, never overpowering, and fills out the gaps for the listener in this colourful, if occasionally darker tone that emanates from Ellipsis.

The added electronic sound to the album was perhaps championed by producer Costey, who incidentally had a hand in mixing Chvrches’ debut album The Bones of What You Believe (2013), an album which left global reverberations and has led to a huge success for the Scottish trio. This electro, synth-driven sound coincides with the general 80s revival that has swept across pop culture in the past few years. A notable example would be the soundtrack to Netflix original series Stranger Things. This has translated into popularity for some newer bands in the Scottish music scene, particularly as recently as the Tenement Trail in Glasgow on Saturday 8th October 2016 which featured the likes of The Vegan Leather, SHVLLOWS, and The Ninth Wave. All of which have interpreted this wave in different ways, and all have collected praise from, “one of Scotland’s leading exponents of new music,” Jim Gellatly, who incidentally has been credited as one of the first to give Biffy Clyro considerable airtime in their earlier days. The Ninth Wave have just recently picked up the award for ‘Best Newcomer’ from the 2016 SAMAs (Scottish Alternative Music Awards) in Glasgow.

stranger

There is plenty to listen out for in this record, from the fragile falsetto in ‘Re-arrange,’ to the absolute power of ‘Animal Style’, ‘Howl’, and ‘In the Name of the Wee Man’. The latter three songs represent a crucial part of what makes Biffy Clyro who they are today. They are a festival headlining band, born to own the mainstage at T in the Park and countless others across the UK and Europe. ‘Animal Style’ in particular is a statement that says – We want to write big tunes for big places and blow away our audiences as we always have done. This is a band that refuses to slow down and rest on its laurels.

If there is a weakness in this album, it lies with the song ‘Small Wishes.’ The song has a country vibe to it, something which is incongruous to the other songs on the record and is reminiscent of a mash up between John Mayer’s Paradise Valley and The Fratellis’ Eyes Wide Tongue Tied. Both of which happen to be personal favourites of the author, but it remains the only song on the record which might have been better served as a B side.

Ellipsis is an interesting departure from what came before. The initial single and track one of Ellipsis, ‘Wolves of Winter,’ is a bold choice and it still enjoys circulation on endless Spotify playlists as well as some prime airplay on the radio to generally positive acclaim. Although, the release managed to peak at number one in the UK; 15th in Australia and 11th in the US album charts respectively, which suggests a mixed reception internationally. That being said, the band have demonstrated a refreshing apathy towards world domination whilst achieving exceptionally high record sales and fan bases around the globe which have and will continue to readily ingest this new sound from three old hands at making brilliant music.

Tapping on Tables

Tapping on Tables

This is no toy for the apes.
This is the rrrrolling crackety smackety
CRASH.
With-a-one two three four,
never four to the floor,
make sure you shut the door
tight.
For gentle listeners no delight,
hearing banging late into the night.

Stamping is for beasts, no beauty no grace,
just noise, a red face,
dripping with laborious beads
as the metal bends and breaks, the sticks reduced to
sawdust flakes.

The notions of rhythm,
the rise and the fall,
with the crack and the boom,
the rolling thunder of the toms
and crashing of cymbals.
Symbols in themselves, of the noisy kind.

Callused hands playing old patterns,
sometimes new.
Soft and warm,
hard and sharp.
The ticking of the closed hats a measurement
of time,
perpetual.
Far from a science, but an art to be exact.

The dulling of the future gives way to the vivid moment.
Flicking, looping, tapping,
once the dance has begun.
Cracking and gasping and clicking
and battering and snapping and crying,
but always ringing.