TOM ALLALONE & THE 78s – Major Sins pt 1

78s

In February 2010, one of the finest bands of the previous couple of years broke up rather suddenly. Driven by an equal love of Brian Setzer, Elvis Costello and old Phil Spector discs, the 78s were set to bring rock ‘n’ roll music back to the people. The timing was right – after all, other bands like Baddies and the over-rated Vincent Vincent and the Villains were starting to make waves with sometimes similar types of retro cool. The band had even secured a deal with major label Nettwerk, who’d taken a gamble by making Tom Allalone & The 78’s their first UK signings. Sadly, the record company then showed less than no interest and give ‘Major Sins Pt 1’ no promotion whatsoever at its time of release.

Released in May 2009, their album showed a great deal of potential. Taking those aforementioned influences and trademark check shirts, the band deliver the album’s thirteen songs (many thinly veiled with references to their hometown and surrounding areas) with gusto – sure, there are slow numbers, but even those are brimming with self-confidence.

The album’s lead single ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ is a full throttle rock ‘n’ roll belter. A tale of being wronged by women, this track is largely driven by Richard Clarke’s twangy guitar riff and a shouty chorus. Similarly, ‘Gravesend Boys’ is chock-full of r ‘n’ r bluster and is another moment where the no-nonsense Stray Cats influence is at its most obvious. Combined with sexually charged lyrics regarding an unnamed local lass, it’s probably the track on the album I’m most likely to skip; it doesn’t make it bad – it was always an excellent live number – it’s more a case of ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ doing this kind of thing better. For simple, high energy rock ‘n’ roll, ‘The Jitterbug’ – an ode to sex on the dancefloor – is the album’s winner. Si Fawcett’s bass work is confident, Matt Evans’s drumming is suitably aggressive and the guitar riff is cutting. If you want to cut loose and listen to something that’ll make you want to jump up and down, look no further.

Despite the rock ‘n’ roll influences at the heart of the band’s core sound, it’s on a few of the album’s more complex tracks where the 78s really shine. ‘Casillero Del Diablo’ brings a Latin quality (not to mention a really memorable guitar part) and an excellent use of horns. Lyrically, it features some of Tom’s best work as he describes that nighclub where everyone seems to go, but nobody really should, since “the dance floor is a black hole” and the DJ swigs “petrol from an old hip flask”. Opting for a slightly more indie-rock feel and probably the track that’s most accessible to the widest audience (though always retaining their retro cool), ‘I’m Just The DJ’ explores the lonely world of the lonely man who spins the tunes while everyone around him has a good time. He provides the entertainment (in Tom’s world, this is provided while listening to ‘Gloomy Sunday’ on the earphones), but ultimately goes home alone. The album’s second single ‘Crashland’ is a fantastic soul inspired number with energetic use of brass. Trading in fifties rock for a sixties soul vibe is inspired and the band sounds equally comfortable here. The arrangement is faultless (this sounds like hype, but I honestly think it’s that good) and it features one of Tom’s greatest vocals. In short, it should have been a hit.

‘Wounded’ is another story of loneliness; this time it’s loneliness caused by a painful break-up. Musically, it’s one of the album’s simpler numbers, showing a big Chris Isaak style influence. Once again, it’s Tom’s knack with lyrics which makes it stand up. Lyrically, ‘Dogshit Street’ is Tom’s greatest achievement. Set to a gentle musical arrangement which makes great use of piano and slide guitar, this tells the heartbreaking tale of a girl subjected to a terrible upbringing, who in turn gives her kids a similar life (“Roach butts and roaches lie at your kids feet/You won’t change/ “You race home from Dover with goods you hand over to kids/A small girl that is sober is hard to win over”). When I first heard it, there was something in its frankness and downbeat nature which reminded me of Eels; musically, too, there’s a smidgeon of Mark Oliver Everett in there, though that’s most likely due to the piano and bells.

‘Sign On You Lazy Diamond’ provides another musical and lyrical high point. Its chorus is one of the album’s most memorable, while the story within regards a pushy mother and her insistence our protagonist should sign on and look for real work instead of looking at music for a career. But, as he says, “someday I’m gonna be somebody and prove that woman wrong”. The track is structured around a superb walking bassline from Si Fawcett and sharp rhythm guitar parts. It’s as good as anything you’ll ever hear in this style. ‘This Teenage Crush’ is an epic number with a strong Phil Spector vibe which evokes the sound of those classic girl bands and fifties doo wop. The rhythm section is used sparingly; the dramatic build up is provided by well arranged strings and an increased volume from the vocals and guitars until eventually the strings all but take over in this wall of sound.

Since the album lacked promotion, it seemed to be only the band’s die-hard followers and those who saw Tom and co supporting The Stereophonics or Imelda May (a tour the band got kicked off of for being too good) who took notice to any great level. Their future should have been so much brighter – and listening to the demos for the unfinished second album, the 78s sounded more confident in their approach than ever.

There’s something altogether familiar about the sole Tom Allalone & The 78s LP, ’the music has a timeless quality, largely due to their classic influences, but more than that, Tom’s lyrical ability and the band’s tendency to throw different influences into the mix makes great listening. Track down a copy of this album – you won’t regret it. Since it wasn’t a great hit at the time, it may eventually become a cult classic.

See the video for ‘Crashland’ here.
See an acoustic version of ‘Who’s Gonna Kiss Me at Midnight’ here.

June 2010

8-POINT ROSE – Primigenia

8 point

8-Point Rose is a band which rose from the ashes of Evermoore, a Swedish metal band who’d previously produced a couple of demos and toured Europe for seven years. The twin lead guitars, combined with the heavy drumming and the melodic, yet very 80s metal vocal stylings present during this album’s opening number tells you everything you need to know about power metal band 8-Point Rose almost in a heartbeat. Aside from a few extreme vocal growls here and there, they don’t especially deviate from their core sound during ‘Primigenia’s ten songs – but on the basis of this debut album, there’s very little reason why they should.

Between the bombast and heaviness of that opening number, ‘Resolve’, there are some great twin lead guitar parts. Those combined with a strong lead vocal and hook should be enough to convince you that ‘Primigenia’ has plenty in its favour. The chugging guitars and accompanying keyboard riff which opens ‘Out of the Shadows’ could suggest the band also have a liking for a lot of European progressive metal, though it’s only here ‘Primigenia’ lends itself to anything in that genre; once Marcus Nygren’s vocals put in an appearance, it’s obvious where 8-Point Rose’s strongest musical loyalties lie, since this number is another solid piece of melodic power metal. While, at first, it appears this track could be heavier than the opener, the chorus has a huge hook and is very accessible – a contender for the album’s stand out track.

‘Relentless’ shows the band in a slightly heavier mood. A track completely driven by Johannes Timander’s double bass drumming and the dual vocal featuring Marcus Nygren’s melodic wail contrasted Adam Johannson’s metal growl, it’s a number which brings more extreme influences to the fore; it doesn’t sacrifice melody completely – it’s just very heavy! ‘The Shadow’ is more in the Swedish melodic metal camp, complete with a huge chorus which makes best use of Nygren’s voice. Again, the more extreme vocal from Johannson makes an appearance during its mid section, though this is brief and doesn’t detract from a great melody and hook. And if you’re into big choruses, then ‘When Chaos Rules Our Lives’ will certainly appeal. While parts of the song are a little too aggressive, the chorus is fantastic. It has a very Swedish feel (and for those of you who’ve been into melodic rock for years, you’ll know exactly what I mean) which harks back to the late 80s/early 90s.

‘Endless Rage’ is also recommended listening, since it showcases everything which makes 8 Point Rose decent. The main thrust of the song comes from its power metal groove, which features extensive use of double bass drums and a solid lead vocal, but it’s the mid section which provides most interest. After a gentle interlude, the listener is treated to a gorgeous solo – long, soaring notes at first, before breaking into a superb twin harmony followed by a great metal solo which remains tuneful and never resorts to outright shredding and showiness.

After opening with a great twin lead which is slightly reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s more epic moments (during their ‘Seventh Son’ period, mainly), ‘The Shadow’ doesn’t quite live up to promise as it slips into grandiosity with a slightly overwrought vocal. This could have been forgiven with a more interesting musical approach, but up against the rest of ‘Primigenia’, this is very pedestrian. It’s with moments such as this I understand why 8-Point Rose have been likened to other power metal bands like Dream Evil. Generally speaking, they’re much better than that, though, as most of this album shows.

The closing number, ‘Name of Time’ features the band at their absolute heaviest. Here, 8 Point Rose channel the more extreme parts of their sound. Adam Johannson contributes more vocals, so that alone is going to ensure it’s harder nature. I’m not especially a fan of his aggressive vocal style, but generally it’s not overused on most of the album and – as said previously – it’s always balanced by Nygren’s traditional metal vocal. The aggressiveness of this track makes it the album’s weakest in terms of both melody and structure, but since most of ‘Primigenia’ is so strong, it doesn’t matter too much.

Great songs, solid sound and a decent production make this debut by 8-Point Rose one of 2010’s best melodic/power metal releases. If you like your metal with a huge sound and a European slant, you need to grab this.

June 2010

SIMPLE MINDS – Real To Real Cacophony

real

Released in 1979, Simple Minds’ debut album ‘Life In A Day’ was a largely unremarkable affair. Mostly made up of post-punk/new wave material (played by what sounds like a pub band), the only things which ever remain totally memorable are its two singles – the title track and ‘Chelsea Girl’.  Few people could have predicted that the band’s second album, ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ (released only seven months later) would feature an almost complete stylistic change. Gone are the straight ahead, pop-rock styled chorus songs. In their place, a collection of twisted art rock gems.

The spiky ‘Naked Eye’ weaves around a funky bass part from Derek Forbes and a slightly unhinged vocal; both this and ‘Citizen (Dance of Youth)’ show Wire influences. There’s a dark feeling at work during ‘Citizen’ which reminds me of Wire material (from ‘Chairs Missing’, particularly) meeting with a more lightweight offering from The Birthday Party. ‘Premonition’ creates a nice contrast, being one of the album’s more accessible tracks – stylistically, still a long way from the debut album, there’s an obvious early Roxy Music influence and here, seems to be where Jim Kerr is in strongest voice. In fact, it’s one of the only tracks where he’s recognisable as the Jim Kerr most people would know. Also more song-based is the album’s only single ‘Changeling’. It’s been said elsewhere that this track is weak. To be fair, it’s not weak – it just feels a little out of place here amongst the darker, arty stuff. Maybe the band had been told they needed a single and this was thrown in at the last minute; or maybe it was written before the sessions took a dramatic, experimental slant? I don’t know.

That said, ‘Calling Your Name’ could never be called experimental either. A bouncy new wave tune, this mightn’t have been out of place on XTC’s ‘Go2’, or ‘Drums and Wires’. John Leckie’s production is sharp and the band is in good shape, but generally speaking, it fits rather more into the ‘fun’ category. With it’s almost slow ska rhythms and carny-influenced keyboards, the obviously titled ‘Carnival (Shelter In A Suitcase)’ [It’s entirely possible ‘Carnival’ was its working title due to that keyboard riff], is in good company with ‘Calling…’, but even this slightly more commercial sounding material bares little in common with the Simple Minds with which most people are familiar.

The online music bible AMG claims that ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ wanders into directionless territory in the middle, but such claims are pretty wide of the mark. ‘Cacophony’ and ‘Veldt’ appear wilfully arty for the sake of it on the surface, but like the aptly named ‘Film Theme’ near the album’s end, these songs are wonderful, Eno-esque soundscapes and show a real appreciation for art rock. Charlie Burchill’s guitar work on the soundscape style tracks ranges from under-stated, to sharp and discordant. His guitar never feels out of place, despite most of the album sounding like an experiment in late seventies electronica. It should be noted, though, that while the various Roxy/Eno/Bowie and Wire influences over parts of the album are more than obvious, absolutely none of it sounds plagiarized. Each influence has been given a new slant, making ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ a captivating listen.

Although the album doesn’t feel traditionally coherent, there’s something about this ragbag of misfit songs which feels right when played as a whole. It’s dark, often challenging and sometimes even difficult listening. If you’re a casual fan looking for stadium pop hits, there’s nothing for you here. As far as Simple Minds are concerned, sometimes ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ sounds like their best record.

[The 2003 remastered version was erroneously retitled ‘Reel To Real Cacophony’]

January 2010

IDEALIPSTICKS – Radio Days

radio days

From the opening moments of this Spanish garage rock duo’s album, it would be more than fair to say that the crashy rock ‘n’ roll spirit contained within the eleven songs on ‘Radio Days’ seem instantly familiar. However, both Eva J Ryjien and Jave Ryjien share vocals and the contrast in voices provides Idealipstics with a notable difference to the other garage fuelled bands with which they could be easily compared (the similarities to some are more than obvious; though it’s damn hard to push this trashy simplicity into new territory). Most lead vocals are taken by Eva, but Jave has a strong presence on a few tracks. His vocal harmonies give ‘The King Has Died’ depth; both his and Eva’s voices work well together, as the musical arrangement – in this case, a garage rock jangle – gives the track a sleazy vibe. The dual vocal is also really effective on ‘Legs’, in a great call-and-response arrangement on the chorus.

‘Frozen Head’ is very strong. The energy behind the rhythm guitar work really comes across and a decent chorus (slightly more complex than some here) makes things fairly memorable. Eva’s vocal is slightly slurred and a quirky pronunciation in places adds to the all-round trashiness. ‘Love Destroy All’ highlights a slightly more sultry edge and showcases a very strong Yeah Yeah Yeahs influence. It’s a trick which would fit easily onto their ‘Fever To Tell’ full-length. ‘U Talk’ has a pre-chorus built solely out of repetition which promises a great deal for a chorus, yet when the similarly repetitive chorus appears, it stretches simplicity just a little too far and eventually falls flat. It’s a brief misfire though, since ‘Don’t You Love Me Anymore?’ follows quickly and quickly taps into an arrangement which evokes a sloppy Kinks-esque riff and once again drives home a simple and repetitive chorus, highlighting Idealipsticks’ best traits.

‘Bitch & Whore’ shows Eva and Jave in a rather more spiteful mood. Here, the lead vocal is taken by Jave, but Eva joins for a strong co-lead on the chorus. This track stands out, not just for the vocal, but for its slightly softer arrangement. The main bulk of the song features an almost new-wave approach to its rhythm guitar work. If this is a little too restrained for you, ‘How Does It Feel?’ hammers full-throttle from the speakers. Imagine Karen O tackling something with the intensity of The White Stripes’ ‘Let’s Build a Home’ and you may have some idea of what Idealipstics do very well. Alongside ‘Legs’, it’s the album’s best track.

One review claims Idealipsticks have a completely unique sound, the challenge is on to not instantly think of Karen O and her band, Yeah Yeah Yeahs after hearing this. Idealipsticks should be taken for a spin if you really like the noisier bits of the Ravonettes, Detroit Cobras and early Yeah Yeah Yeahs, since in that vein, this album features some fantastic tracks. However…it’s hard imagine a time when Idealipsticks’ ‘Radio Days’ will replace ‘Fever To Tell’ in your affections, no matter how decent it is.

See the promo video for ‘The King Is Dead’ here.
See the promo video for ‘Legs’ here.
Watch a full 8 song live in the studio gig from Spanish TV here.

June 2010

LLOYD DOBLER EFFECT – A Mute Reminder

Lloyd

For most of you of a certain age, the mention of the name Lloyd Dobler will raise a smile. If you’re smiling right now, you’ll know that this power pop outfit are named after John Cusack’s enthusiastic leading man in Cameron Crowe’s movie “Say Anything…”; Lloyd was a man with very specific goals. He didn’t want to “sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed”.

As far as the Lloyd Dobler Effect are concerned, like the original Lloyd Dobler, they mostly get it right, if not always (their small failing here being that the album can occasionally start to feel a little samey, but it’s really a minor complaint) but based on parts of ‘A Mute Reminder’, they get full marks for giving 100% every time. ‘A Mute Reminder’ is the second release from Lloyd Dobler Effect, but not their second album – 11 of the 12 songs here were originally issued on LDE’s self-financed eponymously titled disc. (This 12 song version actually works better, since that 15 track self-titled version felt a little long).

‘Meet Me In London’ is a fantastic piece of power pop. Its simplicity is key and its infectiousness is equal to the work by those mid-90s power pop geniuses The Loveless. The chorus is one of those stupidly catchy ones you’re in danger of breaking into while you’re in the supermarket. ‘Have Faith’ initially reminded me of Maroon 5, but with a harder edge. Repeated listens proved this reaction to be a bit glib, since although vocally there could be a comparison, the music has more complex elements. The guitars have just the right amount of drive to push the song far enough out of the pure pop field and indeed, the end of the track goes for full-on funkiness; listen closely – Patrick Hughes’s fluid basslines are superb. If it’s basslines you want, then the latin funk of ‘Might Be Love’ is a high point; it’s almost Santana-lite approach during the song’s verses provides plenty of bounce and as such provides plenty of contrast with the song’s simple but effective pop chorus.

Another stand-out, ‘Release Me’ finds LDE at their most aggressive; but naturally it’s a radio friendly aggression where Donnie Williams gets to hit his snare drums a little harder. Again, any comparisons to early Matchbox Twenty feel almost unavoidable; Phil Kominski’s slight Rob Thomas styled vocal affectation is stronger than ever and in short, it’s another track which pushes all the right buttons. There are plenty of moments during this album that evoke Matchbox Twenty, but that’s not to say it’s plagiarism. It’s yet another example of LDE’s knack of turning in a decent hook almost every time. I say almost since one of the weakest tracks, ‘Radio’ let down by a very lightweight and repetitive chorus. It could be argued that “My radio” repeated in an almost call-and-response fashion is a simple hook, but it’s just that little bit too simple and after tracks like ‘Meet Me In London’ et al, it ends up feeling weaker by default.

The slower ‘Sold Out’ makes decent use of vocal harmonies and a gentle lead guitar riff. ‘Fingertips’ tells the tale of an habitual law breaker; it’s slightly more serious lyrical tone is balanced out by plenty of jangly rhythm guitars and yet another funky bassline. The Santana influence first heard on ‘Might Be Love’ returns by the truckload on ‘Stranger’ where LDE go full-on Latin, giving percussionist Rusty Williams ample opportunity to show off his bongo prowess. The Latin shuffles are complimented by a Rob Thomas style vocal delivery (and surely Santana’s ‘Smooth’ would have been a big influence here) and a tastefully used horn arrangement.

I discovered Lloyd Dobler Effect almost by chance and am glad I did. You’ll find very little originality within the twelve songs on ‘A Mute Reminder’, but what the music lacks in originality is more than made up for with its charm and catchy hooks. If you’re into any of the bands mentioned here, you need to put this on your list of things to check out. You might be glad you heard them too.

June 2010