You can subscribe to the weekly Jarock podcast at either:



The Singles Monkey- 18th August

The Singles Monkey #4

August 19, 2008 by The Singles Monkey (Edit)

Britain’s had more Gold than I’ve had sweet monkey loving these past few days (Mrs. Singles is on the menopause); but that doesn’t mean your trusted, now slightly erotically charged, Singles Monkey isn’t going to be running the rule over this week’s motley selection of singles; truly this ragtag mix is enough to de-erect any sort of animalistic excitement from mine throbbing loins. Drop the sail!

First into the firing line, swooning and preening like a bunch of rather over-zealous cockatiels, are Magistrates (‘Make This Work’, XL Recordingds) whose recent bout of NME coverage and appearance at dull-as-Dermot O’Leary festival V will no doubt push them into a nicely bloated crevice with all the other bland, indie-by-numbers pop groups. Look at them all in there, arguing over jean waist sizes and whose turn it is to score the ching. It’s poor form I tell thee and not for me, so instead I’ll turn my mangy head over to canny mackems The Week That Was, if only to momentarily rise gasping and wheezing from the cesspit of derivative guitar-based slurry circling my ears (‘The Airport Line’, Memphis Industries). The Week That Was have done well for a group hailing from a city that apparently stands ‘beyond re-generation’ (clearly none of the taskforce have visited Ipswich of late; now that’s irretrievable), and it’s a pleasant return from ex-Field Music man Peter Brewis. Good show!

Sticking with musicians from the North East for a minute, it’s with a heavy heart that ex-Yourcodenameis:Milo man Paul Mullens defection to one-hit wonders The Automatic is giving hitherto diminishing returns (‘Steve McQueen’, B-Unique); like Paul’s native Gregg’s pasties, The Automatic’s new single still lacks enough meat to really be digestible; ho hum. I’ll tell you what though oh grizzled readers of the interweb, compared to lad-crowd gathering shitboxes The Fratellis they sound like the ruddy Beatles (‘Look Out Sunshine’, Island). Managing to do worse than their debut album clearly takes some doing and for this dubious achievement brothers Fratelli I tip my hat to you. A band who are far more worth your most valued and treasured attention are the cutesy but irresistible Thomas Tantrum (‘Work It’, Sindy Stroker’s); if they’re not one of the success stories of this year’s In The City unsigned convention then I’ll design myself a large hat with a theme depicting the Boer wars of the 19th century and devour it whole (I will as well).

There are a couple of heavy hitters flanking the sides of this ramshackle group of past-it before they made it indie bands and small fish-in-large-ocean type groups; Basement Jaxx are back with an extremely limited vinyl (‘Planet 1 EP’, XL Recordings) whilst Black Eyed Pea Will.I.Am still doesn’t realise that the only reason he made it in the industry in the first place was because no one could take their eyes off Fergie (‘One More Chance’, Interscope). Strange that. Stranger still is that it takes The Shapeshifters to resuscitate this dying week of singles; you know the fellas, ‘Lola’s Theme’? Little kids milling about on a rollercoaster? Yup, that’s the ones. Well they’ve come back sounding like something straight out of late 1980’s Manchester and you know what? It’s pretty good (‘Chime’, Nocturnal Groove) and so as long as you can zone out the brain cell defyingly poor Faint (‘The Geeks Were Right’, blank.wav) then this week really isn’t looking too bad for you at all. Congratulations on that!

Vessels- White Fields And Open Devices

Vessels: White Fields And Open Devices

August 19, 2008 by Simon Catling (Edit)

All of this Olympic talk; imagine if you will that there was some form of new music version where countries sent their best groups and performers to compete against each other. If there were such a thing, and Britain sent a team, then surely the Leeds music scene would be the equivalent of the current British cycling team. A veritable feast of exciting sounds has spread from the white rose heartland this year; from the ridiculous yet divine Wild Beasts to the frenetic Pulled Apart By Horses with a hell of a lot more in between, and now you can add the slow burning success of Vessels to that list thanks to a delight of a debut album that’s been a long time coming but well worth the wait.

Dare it be said, but it seems the spark is coming back into progressive instrumental music at the moment; it wasn’t so long ago that reviewers were crying out for a change from yet another group of timid but accomplished musicians wearing their Explosions In The Sky and Mogwai influences on their sleeves with little else to add. Yet this year it’s been noticeable of a great many reviews starting out just like this one; a cry out for something new and then the admission that the reviewed album in question is in fact really quite good. That’s very much the case here, because in ‘White Field And Open Devices’ there is depth, passion, and most of all edge and excitement in abundance. For this look no further than the now familiar and excellent ‘Yuki’; a track that’s been around since the earlier months of 2007, yet it’s presence here is welcome and a great encapsulation of what this album offers as a whole, with murmuring and humming electronic percussive bleeps and stutters never forcing the gently building piano melody and vocal aside like other bands of their ilk sometimes do; but encouraging and whipping up a brief whirlwind of rhythmic glitches and throbbing guitars.

To focus purely on this song would be to sell Vessels debut LP short however as every track on this album manages to vary from the others and yet still retain a thread that sews its way through the entire patchwork of sounds and emotions portrayed here. In some cases this can mean harking right back to some of the forerunners to what became known as the post-rock genre; bands like Slint and Bark Psychosis. Second track ‘A Hundred Times In Every Direction’ in particular manages to contain that very hostile, rough separation between vocals and sparse instrumentation that much of Slint’s eponymous album ‘Spiderland’ featured, as well as the sudden gear changes from raw and empty to dense sound and frantic pace. ‘An Idle Brain At The Devil’s Workshop’ meanwhile starts off tight and jagged (did someone mention Foals there? Hush at the back!) In truth it’s not a massive jump in imagination to see the similarities between the current darlings of the indie scene and Vessels on this track; perhaps as if realising this though the Leeds group release the trigger and suddenly the whole thing explodes into a roaring, rumbling monolith of a storm before just as quickly subsiding into a silky, hushed finale.

The influence of math-rock does feature quite heavily throughout ‘White Field And Open Devices’, and it’s this that’s key to taking Vessels’ sound above that of “just another post-rock band”. It’s there right from the beginning; ‘Altered Beast’ with its multiple time signature changes and off-beat drumming is a measured and carefully crafted introduction to an album littered with such intriguing fragments. Production plays a part also, it’s rare to hear an album that can veer from sounding so vast and expansive to suddenly appear so intimate and compact; a good example of this is midway through fifth track ‘Walking Through Walls’, where gaping reverb suddenly gives way to a clear and concise acoustic guitar. It’s added subtle touches like this that constantly conspire to surprise the listener just when there’s the threat of predictability seeping in.

Because believe it or not, there a couple of pointers for improvement. ‘Happy Accident’, whilst not a bad track, certainly adds nothing new to the canon of the Leeds group and reminds of peers Maybeshewill, yet sadly lacking the urgency and attention tugging hook that the Leicestershire group manage so well on their own impressive debut. ‘Look At That Cloud!’ is another song that suffers from the exalted company it finds itself surrounded by; an eight minute stab at greatness that only really breaks through into such realms in the final quarter. Yet, aside from these trifles, it’s a stirring and fantastic debut, rising to rapid crescendos before settling into dreamlike atmospherics in the second half of the album in particular. Like all captivating dreams though the final twist comes at the end as closing track ‘Waves Those Arms, Airmen’ creeps and slivers into focus, imposing an air of sinister undertone that wraps up and smothers the softly dozing animal of the previous few tracks. Sparse, but with a gradual sense of anxiety that they couldn’t quite pull off earlier on in ‘Happy Accident’, it’s a beautifully dark epilogue that builds and builds on the back of burbling electronics before crashing into a tumultuous heap leaving only wavering feedback as a token that it was ever here in the first place.

Vessels then have created a quite wonderful debut that successfully manages to leap off cliffs and soar up to the stars without ever losing its path so that at the end, once all the pieces finally fall into place, it can give its listener one final twist. Whilst at times it can struggle to truly envelope and captivate your emotions, White Fields And Open Devices remains an album that’s personality and ambition is there for all to see; and if there’s personality to be seen within a record then surely you’ve got to be doing something right.

Date Released: Out Now
Label: Cuckundoo Records


The Nearly Men- Bedhead (Audioscribbler)

The Nearly Men: Bedhead

August 14, 2008 by Simon Catling (Edit)

It takes a pair to cover a Smiths song; only a select few have really ever managed to pull it off, and The Nearly Men are probably well aware of this. But we’ll get to that in a minute. The opening, title track, of this EP is a jaunty jangle fest of acoustic guitars, organs and 60s beat percussion; sounding pretty promising no? At a snug fitting two minutes and seventeen as well it seems an excellently crafted opening track; that is if you discount the horribly yowling vocals of lead singer Paul Ashley Drake, who sadly doesn’t see the need to remove the frog from his throat throughout the entire four track EP. This will come back to haunt him.

Despite its title, ‘Melancholy’ is in fact only marginally less chipper than ‘Bedhead’; there’s a certain ramshackle quality to it in contrast to the opener that warms the cockles and the subtle added nuance of piano is a welcome touch. Once again though Drake’s vocals make it nigh on impossible to decipher what he’s on about and you just want someone to take him home, give him a lemsip and pack him off to bed in the hope that he can get over this seemingly incurable touch of manflu. Sadly this is the lasting impression that will remain from ‘Bedhead’; all three original compositions fit together with a breezy joy de’vivre and yet all are almost entirely undone by poor singing; and when it comes to THAT Smiths cover (‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’), sadly all five of the group only have themselves to blame; sound levels are all wrong, the now painstaking vocals threaten to drown out everything else, so to combat this everything else is turned up loud as well and what is an attempt at a skiffle-pop cover of an enduring classic ends up sounding like a bit of a painful dirge (If you want to hear a good cover of this check out David Ford’s wonderfully poignant version.)

It’s a shame really that such an obvious weakness has been allowed to fester and get in the way of what could really be quite a delightful five piece; but then the other four probably can’t hear what they sound like anyway.

Date Released: Out Now
Label: None


Deerhunter- Microcastle (Audioscribbler)

Deerhunter: Microcastle

August 12, 2008 by Simon Catling (Edit)

Deerhunter are an important band to have around at the moment, and it’s a shame that a leak has overshadowed their third LP ‘Microcastle’ and warranted its early release; there are but a handful of bands really striving to push the boundaries in the increasingly confined space that time and musical evolution have inflicted upon those of the predominantly guitar-based persuasion. Having got their raw phase out of the system with the release of debut ‘Turn It Up Faggot’ in 2005, the Atlanta five piece (although four on this record) put out arguably one of the most forward thinking albums of the last few years twelve months later with the superlative ‘Cryptograms’. On their debut, Deerhunter had given a hint of what might have been to come with ever changing dynamics, lyrics fading into the background, drums forcing their way to the front of songs and heavy bass lines forcing guitars to regress into mush. Only on ‘Cryptograms’ however did Bradford Cox manage to realise the intentions of the year before; sweeping ambient instrumentals linked songs that themselves seemed to drift in from the ether before stealthily returning to whence they came. The whole tone of the album was that of something completely shapeless and yet perfectly crafted. Despite not featuring in the charts, the album was recognised enough for Pitchfork to award the album a ‘Best New Music’ mention and for numerous other critics to garnish it with high praise.

Fast forward two years and the makeup of Deerhunter has changed markedly. An increase in popularity in their native USA has culminated in a support slot for industrial pioneers Nine Inch Nails and in between albums Bradford Cox has released his own stellar solo album under the moniker of Atlas Sound. In a recent interview Cox also alluded to the fact that he would be returning to more straight ahead pop sensibilities after his previous two spaced-out panoramic outings, stating that ‘Cryptograms’ in particular was “narcissistic [in] how much it dwells on adolescence and the whole ambient-droney-experimental side of things and creating soundscapes and things, it just got really tired and old.”

Any worries of a complete abandonment of the formula that made their previous album such a captivating listen can be laid to rest thankfully; opener ‘Come For Me (Slowly)’, whilst tighter and clearer in production, remains a vast and sweeping statement of intent. The following track ‘Agoraphobia’ though is a startling step in a different direction; a mellowing, insecure sounding track that seems to harp back to the 60’s and simple acoustic flower pop as much as it does from anything surrounding it in the present. ‘Never Stops’ too recalls the Velvet Underground’s hard, senseless percussion juxtaposing the vocals before a steady strain of distortion and noise briefly uncouples the song from its tracks; a further indication of Deerhunter’s step towards the accessible and cemented yet further in the more formulaic structure of quiet/loud/quiet/loud verses and choruses. It’s not until ‘Little Kids’ in fact that we hear something warped away from its linear point a hollow loose sound is engulfed by showers of concentrated noise and changing pitches submerging the percussion, and gently melding the vocals into the wall of sound that they’re creating. Once again however the temptation to allow the whole thing to drift and merge with the next track on the album is checked and the title track is another of bleak and isolated beginnings that eventually kick starts into life with a whirlwind of sleek guitars and wistful murmurings; a beautiful and poised ending that contains that bit of valium to take the edge off the distortion.

At this point the listener could be forgiven for noticing a touch of, not disjointedness, but certainly something a little stop start in the opening half of the album- at least in comparison to their previous ventures. This seems to partly be what’s intended though; in trying to dumb down the perceived excess of the previous album, Deerhunter are chopping up their sound and presenting it in small segments of carefully pored over noise. In cases of tracks such as the short ‘Calvary Scars’ and ‘Activa’ this can seemingly cut them adrift from the other tracks on here; yet in arguably the focal point of the entire LP, ‘Nothing Ever Happened’, this decision seems inspired. The track’s pulse lies in Josh Fauver’s simplistic driving bass and Moses Archuleta’s stoic drum line that sticks to its task rigidly throughout, allowing the myriad of guitars to gently simmer and burble in the background as Cox’s vocals cut through the two. The key theme throughout ‘Microcastle’ seems to be of life’s relentless pace and the realisation that nothing lasts forever; ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ certainly rings true of this as the lead vocalist murmurs, “nothing ever happened to me, life just passed and flashed right through me”; there’s a definite sense of maturity to the singer’s lyrics and perspective, something far removed from previous releases at times adolescent themes.

From then on in it’s nothing other than a delight as a catchy, pop laden guitar hook joins the percussion and gradually allows the hitherto bubbling feedback and overdrive behind it to rise up and scrawl a tapestry of graffiti over the central melody and set in motion an equally succinct but soaring passage of music that leaves you breathless. It’s here that the idea to keep the tracks apart makes perfect sense and ‘Saved By Old Times’ pleasingly veers back towards the mellow 60’s ambience heard earlier on in the album. Ironically it’s at this point that the group throw caution to the wind and hence the final three tracks on ‘Microcastle’ are the most comfortably positioned of the entire LP. The aforementioned ‘Saved By Old Times’ compliments perfectly the shimmering, swaying ‘These Hands’ that in turn cools right down into a muffled piano that bleeds perfectly into the album’s closing effort, ‘Twilight at the Carbon Lake’; a grandiose finale that imitates sincere balladry before letting loose in a blizzard of sound. It’s as though the toll of staying disciplined and reigning in the previous eleven tracks has finally proven too much for the group, who unleash an unhinged frenetic attack that still manages to stay eerily comforting; this truly is Deerhunter at their best.

‘Microcastle’ then is in many ways the sort of record you’d expect to hear from the Atlantans and yet something quite, quite different. The seamless shift between emotions and soundscapes isn’t necessarily always strong on this album, and it does at times seem a pity that Bradford Cox felt the need to dissect, separate and section off his ideas away from each other. Yet on the other hand, this is an album as painstakingly deliberated over as ‘Cryptograms’ was, and an even further step away from the ramshackle rawness of ‘Turn It Up Faggot’. Within each cluster of sound comes the same range of emotion, poise and beauty that was whitewashed all over both their second LP and Atlas Sound’s debut; the difference this time is that the listener is delivered it in more manageable, digestible chunks. While the result means that it may not stand up quite as well as their previous effort in future years, it shows yet again that Deerhunter are a band refusing to accept their limits and for this reason alone we should be more than grateful.

Date Released: Out Now (Physical release 28th October)
Label: 4AD Records

The Singles Monkey 11th August (Audioscribbler)

The Singles Monkey #3

August 10, 2008 by The Singles Monkey

Not since Apollo Creed decided that incensing an Iron Curtain programmed steroid-packed Ivan Drago with cheap street dancing and creaking James Brown crotch thrusting was a sure fire psychological advantage ahead of a fight has there been anything looking as battered and bruised as the UK singles chart. Never fear though because like the Beijing smog engulfing the Olympiad (why didn’t we just send athletes from the Middlesbrough region? They’d be sure to thrive in the conditions,) so we have some heavyweights about to drift in an all encompassing manner upon the charts. I may be high from smoking coconut powder (in fact I’m pretty sure I am) but that’s not stopping me from hopping up and down with excitement about this week’s bag; or in fact endlessly salivating out the corner of my mouth…

Fresh from being down-sized in Cardiff, R.E.M try to regain their stock by throwing a two and a half minute pop assault at the charts (‘Man Sized Wreath’, Warner). Don’t worry lads the Millenium Stadium may be ten times the size of the Cardiff International Arena but at least you’ve got a roof now in case of the inevitable Welsh torrents, take that Millenium Stadium!…oh, wait…it could be worse though Stipey; wipe your beady eyes, mop that beady head. I’d cover your ears though because that repeatedly convulsing cat over there in the corner is in fact The Cure’s Robert Smith (‘Perfect Boy’, Geffen).

Maybe it’s my golden African tan, maybe it’s my four grams of coconut powder, but I’ve never been enamoured with Smith and his pasty bunch of band mates, lurching around the place like a load of Pirates Of The Caribbean extras. Please Robert, have a throat lozenge, hire a builder in to take all that plaster off your face and settle yourself down for a lifetime of hearing ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ sung drunkenly and poorly by a load of pissed up students down any number of our good and green country’s indie nightclubs.

Talking of which, remember that band from Wigan? They had that song about symphonies and being a slave to the sterling all your life; (I should know, the sheer number of times people have tried to train me into a butler, for less than minimum wage too I might add; it’s all good fun until you accidentally drop the tiramisu and then its straight back to Chester Zoo!) yeah, I though that song was overrated too, but pressing on like Jason Manford through a Peter Kay routine they’re back with a new single (‘Love Is Noise’, Parlophone) which incidentally features my 2nd cousin Herman on backing vocals; he always was a chancer.

Stepping away from all things major label funded and mammoth for a minute, your trusted fur ball of filth has trained his dilated and bloodshot peepers onto Edinburgh’s Broken Records (Slow Parade, Fandango), who throw a huge, hairy blanket of luscious sweeping choruses over my head, interspersed with some soaring impassioned vocals and well placed piano. Good on you chaps, good on you. For Pete’s sake, like not mentioning the war to the Germans, never mention ‘Welcome To The North’ to The Music; they continue to actively wipe away the oozing puss of their second album with a return to their hi-hat/snare thumping, disco rocking ways of old (The Spike, Polydor). With sexy results.

Talking of which, the power trio of sex, Nelly, Akon and Ashanti, will be voice modulating their way into the charts this week (‘Body On Me’, Island). Maybe it’s just me, but the way Nelly incessantly raps on about doing the horizontal shuffle seems to be rather akin to that one kid in your class at school who claimed he was having sex five times a week even though he was only 12.

Now then, what’s that mosquito buzzing around my ears? Oh sorry! It’s merely the helium-voiced Delays brothers desperately trying to attract the general public’s attention with their honest-to-god good 80’s throwback pop songs (‘Keep It Simple’, Polydor). This time they’ve even enlisted Keith from The Office to give them that last sweat-ravaged push over the mainstream line; trouble is guys the Mystery Jets have simply hop-skipped and jumped over what you’ve been trying to do since the release of ‘You See Colours’. Sorry about that. They’re much better however than the cock-posturing (or make that just cocks) Ok Tokyo, who wear sunglasses, display wanton exposure of tacky synths and throw a tacky falsetto around like it were a crudely hewn, handmade Frisbee (‘Sums’, Split). So why’s it so fucking catchy!? Oooh I’m mad; where’s my pipe?

Santogold was tipped by the mighty Drowned In Sound no less as being a one to watch this year (‘Lights Out’, Atlantic). In the ensuing months she’s gone on to prove just this, not that her champions would notice, what with them discussing the apparently inevitable musical apocalypse and generally ripping each other so many new arseholes that sewing equipment companies worldwide are announcing massive profits thus levering themselves above any current global economical downturn. Well done sewing companies and well done Santogold! What with all these hyped huge and hung artists knocking about, Kids In Glass Houses no doubt thought that their tepid brand of five years past its sell-by-date American teeny punk metal had escaped the senses of your increasingly brainstormed Singles Monkey (‘Saturday’, Roadrunner). Little did they know that I’ve a keen eye for shit, lord knows I’ve thrown enough of it in my time (isn’t that right editor?) and the Kids have unfortunately been found out.

Nothing this week however can prepare you for the sheer baffling absurdity of Bloc Party’s new “effort” (‘Mercury’, Witchita). When historians look back on the first decade of this millennium they may to decide to christen it as ‘the decade of shit, second rate, primary school Casio (other brands are available) keyboard brass’, what with all the Ronson-esque horrorshows floating about the place at the moment like particularly unwanted floaters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the scrawny gimp had got his double-neck guitar wielding hands on this effort, such are the terrible trumpet sounds emanating from this unholy stench; quite frankly I’d be surprised if the other three members of Bloc Party even bothered turning up to record this. Sorry Kele, this record really does make me feel ‘like eating glass’ (I’m sorry but I had to get just one in readers.) With all this flotsam now drifting pleasingly behind me there’s nothing left for me to do other than crack out the pipe, winch my moderately-priced office chair back and pop in an episode of ‘Human’s Do The Funniest Things’ (The 10 o’clock news.) Bonjour!


Les Valentine- Nervous

Les Valentine: Nervous

August 5, 2008 by Simon Catling (Edit)

What’s all this? Porno sax? MOR piano? Banal, repetitive lyrics? Why it seems that The Feeling’s influence truly is all conquering as Brightonians Les Valentine concoct up a decidedly rancid brew that sounds like it should be tacked onto the end of one of those crap early 90’s family movies that end up being shown on ITV2 in the afternoon..

Almost as disappointing is the realisation that Les Valentine isn’t just a rather exotic name for one man but in fact the name of the band. It’s clear the four piece are aiming for the perfect anecdote to summer with a cheerful and uplifting pop song but this effort sadly falls woefully short of the mark. If they’re feeling “so damn nervous” then they have every right to be; destined to be forgotten.

Date Released: September 29th
Label: Crash Records

Lapels- Painted Skeletons (Audiocribbler)

Lapels: Painted Skeletons

August 5, 2008 by Simon Catling (Edit)

For those first few seconds of ‘Painted Skeletons’ the heart wishes that the band were about to break into Virginia Plane by Roxy Music as the piano intro promises something big. What we get is a tired sounding guitar hook and some pretty loose musicianship. Shame.

Wakefield’s Lapels then seem like yet another band jumping on indie’s vastly oversubscribed bandwagon; the Libertines garage sound’s here, the mumbled lyrics, the “raw” production style. What narks about Painted Skeletons, and indeed probably about many a British four piece at the moment, is that these are bands trying to sound like what they see in front of them and not what they hear in themselves.

It goes without saying that influences are inevitable but it’s what you make with them these days which marks your talent as a band; Lapels haven’t really made very much of there’s despite their attempt at lyrics which are, according to them, about “cannibals, nautica, ashes, and authors”. B- Side ‘Last Great Civilization’ is more of the same but sped up a bit, which is a shame because Yorkshire currently has a thriving and creative music community at the moment, Lapels are a poor representation of this.

Date Released: Out Now
Label: Louder Than Bombs