Wednesday, 26 February 2014

SINGLE: HARTHEIM - YELLOW


Very little is known about Hartheim. What we do know is that they are based in Manchester, they recorded the track 'Yellow' at Sway Records with producer Martin Hurley, and they can quite obviously produce outstanding pop music.

'Yellow' is a six minute plus journey that Hartheim carefully take you on. The trip starts slow and gradually builds and builds into a powerful, atmospheric, and emotionally charged finale. The vocals are purposely drawn out with the music plotted to enhance each word with its meaning. It's brooding and thoughtful, and made with an intent to provoke a reaction from the listener.

Hartheim

Thursday, 13 February 2014

ALBUM: BIG UPS - EIGHTEEN HOURS OF STATIC

I have been away from the pages of our beloved Music Liberation for ages! It’s been a long time since I last had something to say about punk music. In fact, it’s been exactly one year and one day (at the time of writing) since my last album review for any publication about any type of music, which just so happened to be about punk music and written for Music Liberation.

Now, I ain’t going to lie – the main reason I haven’t reviewed any recorded music in a year is because life got in the way. However, I’m not bullshitting when I say it’s been a long time since I last had something to say about punk music, in any of its bastardised forms. Aside from the focus of my last review – the underrated ‘Victus’ by Fall City Fall – I have found nothing in the realms of punk truly worth writing about, and since I had grown tired of repeating the same old blogger jargon – “shows real promise”, “has real potential”, yadda, yadda… – and rehashing PR blurbs, I took some time off and promised myself I wouldn’t review another punk album until I truly felt something of a compulsion too; until I found something actually inspiring.

I never expected this self-imposed exile from record reviewing to last a year! But here it is: the first punk album that has managed to grab and sustain my attention for longer than five seconds; the first punk album that I, who probably knows nothing, have deemed worthy of a review over the course of ONE YEAR AND ONE DAY. But enough about me. Just who is this band, I hear ya holler…

They go by the name of Big Ups, there are four of them, they formed in NYC in 2010, their debut album is entitled ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’, and they are the greatest punk band to emerge in forever. Despite being an obvious throwback to both the hardcore punk of the 80s, and the post hardcore and alt-rock of the 90s, ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’ is hands down the freshest, most urgent slice of punk rock of this decade and beyond. With 11 songs that clock in at under half an hour (I did the math: the average length of a song is two and half minutes), it’s very short and, despite its lo-fi aesthetic, undeniably substantial.

There is a plenitude of referenced influences sprinkled throughout the record, but the bulk of this racket has its foundation in 90s-era hardcore punk rock; and adding the ‘rock’ after punk isn’t redundant – Big Ups aren’t the metal tinged, growl-centric hardcore punk band that one often associates with the 90s, but more along the lines of a band like The Bronx. In fact, this could well be the best debut of this kind since The Bronx’s debut in 2003.

Frontman Joe Galarraga’s vocals fluctuate between angst-filled but coherent screams and fast-paced spoken word, the drums have a DIY urgency, the bass grumbles, and the guitars, when not generating distorted and basic riffs, add elements of post-punk, 90s alt-rock like grunge and shoegaze, and post hardcore. It all sounds like some glorious, spontaneous amalgamation of Drive Like Jehu, Black Flag, Quicksand, Mazes and The Pixies.

Opener ‘Body Parts’ eases us into the album with a slow, pulsating bass line and spiky guitar finger-work, before Galarraga does his best Black Francis impression – it’s probably the most sludgy, dirty moment of the album and, as brilliant as it is, doesn’t exactly set the frantic tone that follows. Next up is ‘Goes Black’, which introduces their characteristic hardcore punk; it’s a hugely energetic, semi-up-beat tune with simple but frantic guitar work, and is probably the song that sounds closest to The Descendents, the band Big Ups are most often compared to.

Justice’ showcases Big Ups’ subtle, quiet-loud dynamics, with the verse centred around spoken word and minimal guitar, and the chorus screamed over distorted fuzz. Songs like ‘Grin’ and ‘Wool’ incorporate the aforementioned emotive, post-hardcore effects, with the jarring guitar time signatures of the former recalling bands like Fugazi and The Jesus Lizard, and the slowed down pace of the latter achieving a sort of melodic misery attributed to bands early emo bands like Far.TMI’ is one of the album’s highlights and see the band return to a sound closer to the opening ‘Body Parts’. It has a headbang-inducing central grunge riff, detuned bass and impassioned screams, before a near-metallic closing segment kicks in – for some reason it brings to mind the sorely missed Blood Brothers, perhaps because of the off-kilter guitar work in the verse, which evokes the same kind of unease the BB track ‘We Ride Skeletal Lightning’.

Next up are two short, sharp bursts of frenzied hardcore punk – ‘Little Kid’ and ‘Atheist Self-Help’ – which sound somewhere in between Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies. Then comes the album highlight: ‘Disposer’. It captures and packages all the various components of the Big Ups DNA; there is the 90s alternative intro, featuring spoken word and restrained but infectious guitar work, and then the end switches between post-hardcore riffing and Minor Threat-paced punk. ‘Fresh Meat’ follows, again moving from a slow-paced, sludgy beginning to a fast-paced, distorted outro, and the album is closed out with the angry, heavy ‘Fine Line’; perhaps the rawest cut of them all.

Lyrically, Galarraga focuses on accessible social commentary, and although it is refreshing in an everyday, relatable kind of way, it sometimes veers away from astute observations to the kind of empty, juvenile angst that is typical of political punk. But there is no denying that he howls and screeches with conviction, and all via a formidable punk rock voice.

It’s an excellent debut by an excellent band. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of references in this review (and every review of this album thus far), but these comparisons to punk rock greats are not hollow, music journo hyperboles; they are full justified. There is no need to talk about “potential” with Big Ups, as this band have seized this very moment, squeezing a genre from both ends – from its 70s origins to its present day saturation – to provide a half hour of vitality, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in yonks.

Eighteen Hours Of Static is available now through Dead Labour in the US and Tough Love Records everywhere else, meanwhile catch the band playing the Old Blue Last February 27th.


Friday, 7 February 2014

ALBUM REVIEW: SOLAR HALOS - SOLAR HALOS

As is the case with many stoner-slash-desert-slash-drone bands, Solar Halos draw inspiration from the multifarious landscapes around them. Even the name the North Carolina three-piece have adopted comes from a psychedelic optical illusion that occurs in nature when flares of sunlight refract through cloud (you might want to look that up, I’m no scientist).

It would normally be surprising to see how easily such location-centric music appeals en masse in places like the cold, crowded and cramped south of England if it wasn’t for the already penetrating success of this burgeoning genre over the last two decades. Much like the premium stoner and drone bands of yesteryear, Solar Halos paint such vivid and intoxicating pictures of their environment, it’s impossible not to get swept into their world.

Of course, their present home town of Chapel Hill is no red-skied Californian desert, but this doesn’t hinder the trio from drawing on nature’s expansive landscapes throughout all six sprawling tracks on this self-titled début.

The opening number sets out a mandate for what’s to come. Named ‘The Vast White Plains’, it is a hypnotic five and half minute riff that’s as heavy, cyclical and absorbing as anything from the near legendary Dopesmoker album released by Sleep some twenty years previous.

Slow and powerful, the band have already carved out a space for themselves by the time following tracks ‘Tunnels’ and ‘Migration’ come around. Vocals, led by guitarist Nora Rogers, wail out “sunrise / sunset” as her ghostly voice is a refreshing change from the cowboy slur that normally rings out from this genre. The rhythm section play no less of a role in these compositions as drummer John Crouch demonstrates his formidable prowess, rattling through his kit with endless fills whilst Eddie Sanchez‘s gorgeous, octavised bass drives the songs forward with wondrous consistency.

At twenty five minutes in, a new high is found with standout track ‘Frost’. This seven minute monster is wide awake, flicking its beastly tail from side to side as sparkling guitar riffs wade through a thickset bass and drum. The closing riff is huge on a galactic scale, defying science considering it is a mere trio who are hammering out such controlled chaos. Through the throbbing storm of these last moments, Crouch adds such perfectly placed cowbell that the stars themselves weep with joy. 

Wilderness’ and ‘Resonance’ follow with predictable form as the band refuse to let quality slip for a second. A seemingly organic flow of drone spills over from one song to the next, yet every note is tight, every beat a well considered flick of paint on a Pollack masterpiece as new depths of distorted expression are plundered. The intro to ‘Resonance’ is an echoy drone that could be an entire sonic adventure of its own.

Solar Halos sound like a well versed and accomplished band five albums in. Their ability to manipulate sound is necromantic. It’s clear to hear that they pay heed to their past masters and use their significant individual musical experiences to create something unique. Stoner and drone are here to stay, but as the genre’s back catalog swells, it is only those who offer something special that will be remembered. This eponymous début is exactly that. A gleaming behemoth of achievement, fraught with drama, warm with fuzz, hypnotic with repetition. It’s an overwhelming gesture by the band and nothing short of a gift to everyone else.

Solar Halos’ debut is out now through Devouter Records. // Solar Halos