Tuesday, 3 April 2012

From Rusholme With Dub – Autonomads / Black Star Dub Collective

Manchester has consistently churned out an incredible array of punk and ska over the last few years, but it is safe to say that the Autonomads and Black Star Dub Collective have significantly raised the bar. At the beginning of April 2012 the two bands released From Rusholme With Dub on Pumpkin Records, an incredible ten track split CD that has completely blown me away.

It has been around 4 years since the Autonomads released their debut LP, No Man’s Land, back in 2008 and although the wait has been long, it has definitely been worth it. From Rusholme With Dub sees the band build a great deal on their original sound, mixing the hectic thrashing bouts of angry punk with gentler more melodic ska. A second guitar allows for some satisfying riffs and the chance to experiment with some interesting atmospheric dubby effects which add character to the tracks. I am glad to say the sax is particularly prevalent in this release and that it can be heard fluttering playfully amongst the upstrokes and amid the distortion. Robbie’s harsh gruff vocals are well complemented throughout the five tracks by Beanie’s softer female tones, adding a unique yet uncontrived element to the Autonomads’ overall sound. Politically conscious lyrics discuss the grim and hollow reality of ethical consumerism in “2000BP” while “Fight Dem Back” calls for intolerance of the intolerant and to confront the racism and fascism rife in the UK.

To really do justice to the Black Star Dub Collective’s share of the release, you need to get your hands on a subwoofer or, at the very least, some decent headphones capable of delivering a hefty amount of bass. BSDC’s impressive basslines are relentless and throb menacingly underneath each track while drums tickle the space above, steadying the beat. Lashings of reverb on the guitars add to the drifting dubby sound which is contrasted by periods of clean, punchy upstrokes. Each song features a host of different samples and effects which add great depth and individual character to the tracks. Mike’s distinctive vocals (instantly recognisable to anyone who’s heard the fantastic Harijan), lend themselves to the steady ambient dub. There is palpable anguish and outrage in his voice when addressing the state of the nation in “Dub Ina Ancoats Style” and when debating the riots in “Instant Injustice”. Sprinkles of intricate keys flicker here and there whilst sirens worm their way around the offbeat and the eerie ethereal trombone filtering through “Leviathan” is simply fantastic. BSDC’s sound is incredibly complex and thoroughly multilayered but at no point does it become disorientating or confusing. I’m generally a little uneasy if a band starts saturating a release with noises that wouldn’t make it out of the studio and onto the stage, but, having been lucky enough to see BSDC play, I’m very glad to say they can recreate pretty much everything in this record live.

The entire album is exceptionally well produced and while the two bands are, in some ways, quite different musically, the continuity in ethics and general dissident attitude means the release hangs together seamlessly. The CD is available to buy from Pumpkin Records for £5 as well as Active Distribution, Mass Prod, TNS Records, Rodent Popsicle and Antikoerper Export. From Rusholme With Dub is also available to buy on vinyl for £7. Both bands are fantastic live and well worth catching if you get the chance, so keep your eyes peeled for any upcoming dates.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Opposition Rising - Aftermathematics

Boston based Opposition Rising are one of the latest additions to the increasingly impressive roster of bands now calling Riot Ska Records home. Despite only forming in December 2010, the band are hardly strangers to the Boston DIY punk scene, featuring members from the legendary Toxic Narcotic and Mouth Sewn Shut, who have been bringing the noise in one form or another, for over twenty years. From the very first track of their debut LP Aftermathematics, its plain these punks haven’t mellowed or grown soft on the system. Gruff angry vocals are bellowed brutally at the mic whilst heavy distorted bass and guitar supply relentless hardcore with a satisfyingly metallic edge. The later songs “Debt Sentence”, which condemns the economic shackles of capitalism, and “Destination Apocalypse” which decries the eschatological farces we have grown so accustomed to in recent years, carry a strong offbeat beneath the heavy distortion and will no doubt be live favourites. The overall tone of the record is one of ruthless social commentary and the band are unafraid to tackle the bigger issues with intelligent lyrics, as well as catchy choruses and their own brand of thoroughly thrashable hardcore. With tours of the US and the UK planned for 2012, Opposition Rising are definitely ones to watch out for this year.

Aftermathematics is available to buy from Riot Ska Records on eerie Swamp Green Vinyl and can also be downloaded for free from the Opposition Rising website.

Their song “The Rich Are Killing The Poor” also recently featured on the recent 22 track Riot Ska compilation Aceh: 10 Days Strong Mixtape, released in support of the 64 punks of Aceh who were unjustly persecuted.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Inner Terrestrials - Tales of Terror

Back in 2009 the Inner Terrestrials whetted everyone’s appetites by releasing an excellent four song pre release EP to Tales of Terror. After 3 years of anticipatory salivating, the album is finally ready and it was definitely worth the wait. It’s hard to believe that their first LP iT! was released sixteen ago in 1996 but the Inner Terrestrials have remained impressively faithful to their original sound. Satisfyingly thick distortion sandwiches prickly ska on nearly every track and the album is peppered with welcome descents into the experimental realms of dub. Jay has a real knack for fiddling about with upstrokes, managing to squeeze in quirky flourishes and cheeky slides which keep chord sequences lively and interesting. Fran and Paco keep everything in check, providing solid bass and pounding drums throughout the album. Aside from “Battlefield” which features Jay’s haunting tin whistle and Cheggers’ bouzouki, the band’s folk influences are perhaps less overt than they were in iT! with “Free the Land” or X with “Mountain Of Led”. Tales of Terror does however maintain a fairly healthy balance between the more hardcore and the lighter songs. “Run Tings” is cheerful, despite its dour subject of social control, and is sprinkled with soundbytes, while the choppy distorted upstrokes of “Progress” are guaranteed to get any crowd skanking furiously. “Heaven’s Wrath” is possibly my favourite track which glides effortlessly between hardcore punk, dub and ska and is everything an Inner Terrestrials track should be: angry, dubby and thoroughly stompable.

I remember first hearing Jay’s distinctive vocals on Suicide Bid’sWhen Morning Comes”, crammed in between Babar Luck and Johnny One Lung, and they were the reason why I started to explore the Inner Terrestrials in the first place. Tales of Terror perfectly captures their unsettled, miserable quality which is as if Jay is singing through a sigh; accentuated by downtrodden harmonies in the fantastic “Law Dealers” and punctuated with contrasting gruff, angry snarls in “Dark Scar”. The lyrics are brimming with political disdain; passionately decrying outmoded laws, speaking out against the UK’s dubious foreign policy and rejecting aspects of society few have barely questioned. Environmentally conscious songs such as “Progress” reinforce the Inner Terrestrials’ deep concern regarding man’s relation to the land; an issue explored in earlier releases in tracks such as “Earth Must” and “Middle Oak”. Despite its bleak subject matter, Tales of Terror contains subtle messages of solidarity together with a rationale for change, encouraging people to stand up for themselves in order to make a difference. The Inner Terrestrials have well and truly delivered on their latest release; inspiring, triumphing and making you want to have a bloody good dance as well.

Tales of Terror is available to buy from the Inner Terrestrials online store for £8. Make sure you catch the Inner Terrestrials headlining the Relentless Garage on Saturday 21st April with support from The Filaments, Suicide Bid and Jakal. Best ticket prices I could find are available here.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Review: Time To Stop by Breadchasers

Nottingham based Breadchasers are far more experimental than many of their ska punk contemporaries, proving that there’s life and direction in the genre yet with this impressive and refreshing debut full length. Acoustic guitar, charged with delivering upstrokes, joins steady bass and expert drumming to complete the Breadchasers’ unshakeable rhythm section. This core strength liberates the other instruments in the band, freeing an electric guitar, a sax and a keyboard, letting them run riot. The sax player rarely sticks to the tried and tested hook-laden format of standard ska, opting instead to solo soulfully and liven up the offbeat. The keys add great depth to the Breadchaders’ sound, charging around the tracks and using a good variety of effects. Despite the lashings of raw angry vocals, the combination of sax, keys and acoustic guitar gives Time to Stop a remarkably mellow quality, with many tracks, such as ‘Self Raised’ and ‘No One Believes’ leaning towards Reggae and Dub. The album features two instrumentals (which, for once, aren’t dull) and the brilliant ‘Things Will Be Better’ which will get you hooked instantly.

This review was published in the TNSfanzine Issue 12 and is a fantastic read.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Artist Profile: Night Gaunts

Any band name that references H.P. Lovecraft gets instant Kudos from me. So when they’re not chasing Randolph Carter, guarding Ngranek, or being used as steeds by ghouls, Night Gaunts are making an incredibly infectious concoction of hip-hop, punk and ska. Hailing from Auckland in New Zealand, the band is the project of Paul and Hayden, guitarist and bassist of Dead End Job, whose scorching crack rock steady may be familiar to those of you who downloaded the Global Unity Musik compilation from Riot Ska Records.

Since forming in 2010, the Night Gaunts have released a free demo (Full Body Tourettes [Pt I]) and a free full length album (Full Body Tourettes [Pt II]) that features re-recorded versions of both songs on the demo. It’s a brave and admirable step for any band to release their music for free so if you feel like showing your support and digging into those pockets, they do accept donations on their bandcamp page. Both releases are spiritual successors to the crack rock steady established by Dead End Job and introduce a greater array of sounds using synthesizers alongside the hectic upstrokes and angry distortion. Perhaps the biggest difference however is the strong influence hip-hop has had on the Night Gaunts music, seeing the duo deliver quick fire rhymes and cram each song to the brim with lyrical content. I have admired this fusion of ska and rap in a previous post dedicated to The Mad Conductor, but it is worth stating again that this band are an absolute must for fans of T-Alan, Mouthwash, The King Blues and Sonic Boom Six. The vocals themselves are, at times, the choked, half retching scream so characteristic of Stza Crack and his contemporaries, though more often than not they remain clean and clear; albeit with a slight Johnstones twang (minus the arrogance and conceit). ‘Vicious Viles’ is an exciting and furious introduction to Full Body Tourettes [Pt II] while ‘Lo Fi, One Mic’ and the brassy ‘Top Hat Killers’ quickly establish the Night Gaunts’ original sound; with infectious rhythms hoisted high on the keyboards and lyrics flying thick and fast.

While these songs are early highlights, the final 3 tracks are undoubtedly the most impressive on the album. Indeed, if they give any hint of what to expect from the Night Gaunts in the future, the duo are certainly worth keeping a very close eye on. Roughly halfway through, and out of nowhere, ‘Ninja-Like-Bandanas’ becomes epic, with potent guitar and keyboard harmonies, empowering choruses of “Don’t give up, open your eyes; you’ve only got one chance to live this life” and a delightful melodica solo which carries the rest of the song aloft into its concluding crescendo. ‘Space To Vacuum’ slows to a reflective pace, questioning our true capacity to “break the rules that man has made” whilst smooth organ chords flutter on the offbeat, before flowing seamlessly into the paranoid ‘They'll Kill Us All...’. This final track is a welcome and triumphant return to the more hardcore sound the Night Gaunts gave us at the beginning of the album in ‘Vicious Viles’, and is executed perfectly.

Unfortunately, according to H.P. Lovecraft, Night Gaunts dislike flying over bodies of water, but I really do hope that one way or another Paul and Hayden manage to stretch a tour or two beyond New Zealand.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Gig Review: 9 July 2011 - Mash Attack, Eat Defeat, Screen Violence and My Third Leg at The Birds Nest in Deptford

So just over a week after I shredded my ankle skanking to Anti Vigilante, the Skints, the JB Conspiracy, the King Blues and Broken Nose at the Underworld, I’m back out to see if I can make my foot turn blue again. Tonight I return to the ever dependable Birds Nest in Deptford to catch the first show of the Ska Mutiny Superstars Summer Tour. Something in the fridge behind the bar catches my eye this evening; a bottle of Skinner’s Betty Stoggs, a distinctly hoppy Cornish bitter which I consume copious pints of throughout the night.

My Third Leg are up first and break the ice terrifically. The last time I saw this band they were supporting the Hostiles and Stand Out Riot in March at the Nest, and they have improved immensely. Without wanting to belittle their performance, My Third Leg’s sound is very slightly reminiscent of early [spunge] which I consider to be a compliment, being so fond of the Pedigree Chump era. That said, there is nothing tired or dated about this band. They play energetic stomping ska punk, and while I usually prefer my ska bands to have a fairly meaty horn section, My Third Leg more than compensate with intricate guitar solos, shout along choruses and upstrokes that make parts of you want to skank that you never knew could. Despite a wardrobe malfunction resulting in two Clay Pigeon t-shirts being worn (double homage), they are on exceptional form, playing a good mix of old and new songs. According to the band, they are currently recording their first full length album and are looking forward to playing a hell of a lot more gigs off the back of it. I cannot wish more for this band, all the ingredients are right for them to achieve substantial success and once the wider community hear more of what they have to offer, they’ll be gigging up and down the country in no time.

The next band up are Screen Violence, a melodic hardcore band from Highbury. As good as Screen Violence are, their technical ability being second to none, they are somewhat out of place in the ska punk line up this evening. This doesn’t stop them ploughing every ounce of effort into their set however, bashing out tunes at an incredible rate and attracting a great deal of attention and applause. While I doubt I will be following this three piece with my usual fanaticism, I look forward to seeing them crop up in the future and wish them the very best of luck.

Eat Defeat from Leeds are on next and please the crowd by bashing out up tempo skate punk with some tempting ska riffs thrown in for good measure. For a band I hadn’t heard much from before this gig, as the group itself is relatively new, they were tight and impressive and left me wanting just a little bit more. Summers, the guitarist and singer, used to play in Kickback UK who I had the pleasure of seeing support Stand Out Riot and Tyrannosaurus Alan at the Birds Nest towards the end of last year, which was an incredible night. Together with bassist Katie (fastest fingers of the night), Summers runs Ska Mutiny Records. Ska Mutiny is a fantastic label, with a strong and supportive forum, born partly out of the dying embers of the old Ska Community forum when bands like Freefall Felix, Robolint and Dr 8Ball were still on the go. Understandably, Summers spends a good amount of time promoting the label and its latest release, a 22 track compilation album featuring the very best of the thriving UK ska punk scene. Had I not pre-ordered the record a fortnight before I knew this gig was happening, I would have gladly bought a copy then and there.

Mash Attack are a fantastic band and I regret not having seen them perform before. As a Southampton band, five years ago, they would have been a staple of my local scene; now, living in London, they are somewhat exotic. I grew up in Salisbury with Spankboy (AKA Solabeat Alliance), Whitmore and Uncle Brian, who all made their way onto Moonska Records, back in the day when Moonska actually gave a shit rather than channelling all their efforts into the Dub City Rockers who, lets face it, have never, and will never, perform live or release anything ever again and arrived four years later than promised to a scene that were past caring. Salisbury is very close to Southampton, which has always had a thriving ska punk scene, possibly because the university has an extensive music department and brass students need non-classical and non-jazz related outlets to vent their vibrations. I have extremely fond memories of seeing Schoolboy Error, Speaking of Losers, Zero Consent and Harpoon Larsen all perform at the legendary Joiners in St Mary’s. Harpoon Larsen even supported Streetlight Manifesto at the Nexus and Zero Consent gave the world trombonist and singer Ryan Stannikk who played in Fandangle and Kids Can’t Fly before quitting earlier this year, probably to flame and spam music forums full time. Funnily enough lead singer and guitarist of Mash Attack, James Tetley, also played in Zero Consent and as a result, the band are thoroughly steeped in the extensive, convoluted and highly competitive music scene that revolves around Southampton.

Mash Attack themselves are on incredible form this evening, playing to impress with their arm pumping, leg thrashing brand of furious ska punk. The five piece have an incredibly brassy sound courtesy of trumpet and sax, together with some of the spikiest, meanest upstrokes I’ve heard since early Howards Alias. The only song I knew well was “Man Down” as it had featured on Ska Mutiny records first release, Buried Treasure (available to download for free) and I was able to shout out words and gesticulate meaningfully. Despite this, the rest of the set was catchy enough and lively enough to get everyone moving. Although the crowd are slightly sluggish to begin with, towards the end of the set everyone is jumping, skanking, pushing and shuffling to the energetic Mash Attack sound. The set finishes all too soon and the crowd are hungry for more. Luckily they won’t have to wait long for their next ska punk injection. Next weekend marks Stand Out Riot’s return to the Nest (and the UK after gigging across Europe with Beat The Red Light) playing with none other than Kunt and the Gang. I pick up a copy of Mash Attack’s 5 track EP, Learn and Evolve, and wish the members well on the rest of their tour. I can’t wait to see them, My Third Leg and Eat Defeat again.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Review: Disposable Pleasures, and Meaningful Pursuits by Drewvis

Acoustic ska. Back in the day when everything was Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, bold shapes and bright colours, I didn’t much care for acoustic ska. I had a track called “Cooper Station Blues” by a Venice Shoreline Chris right at the end of on an old (now legendary) Moon Ska NYC sampler disc, and I wasn’t too impressed. It was raw, muffled, dull and repetitive. Where was the brass? Where were the ten band members struggling to fit on stage?

Then, I started to see them live; Liam O’Kane of Jimmy the Squirrel; King Prawn’s Babar Luck; Itch from The King Blues armed only with his ukulele and Johnny One Lung of Suicide Bid and the Filaments singing a stripped down version of “When Morning Comes” supporting Mischief Brew. I was beginning to understand. Then finally I saw Chris Murray (AKA Venice Shoreline Chris) support Mustard Plug in Camden, playing to a sold out Underworld of fans singing along and shouting requests. Acoustic ska can’t hide behind distorted chords or brass (unless you’re the Coffee Project), everything is laid bare, and the gauntlet is thrown down to keep things interesting. Regrettably I am yet to see Drewvis live, but his latest album, Disposable Pleasures, and Meaningful Pursuits, released on legendary UK ska label Do The Dog Music, more than rises to this challenge.

Clean acoustic upstrokes form the absolute core of this record and are the unshakeable foundations on which everything else is built. The smooth playful bass of Paul Mason rides effortlessly throughout each track, showing off considerably on “One Moment” and “Purple”, while Sebastian Laverde’s vibrant percussion adds a wonderful rhythmic dynamic to the sound, particularly noticeable on “Liberate, Never Hate”. Drewvis’ vocals are highly distinctive throughout the album, singing in a range most male vocalists would shy away from. Far from being an uncomfortable falsetto however, his voice is lilting and mellow, washing lazily over the offbeat in catchy sing along melodies. The album also features female vocals, courtesy of Amanda Bes on “Estoy Esperando”, whose tones are sweet yet sultry, providing delightfully soft harmonies against the reggae beat. Drewvis clearly writes from the heart, with lyrics discussing life, friends and loves. The generous helping of love songs never once turn sickly and are, in fact, a welcome breath of fresh air when most of the music on my iPod is angry and political. Even punks need a little bit of down time.

It is worth mentioning that Drewvis has played in two other notable bands from the south east; in Out of Luck between 2001 and 2005, and alongside bassist Paul in Second Time Lucky from 2003 to 2009. His experiences have no doubt influenced him a great deal, cultivating gentle experiments with synthesisers in “Drunken Words N' Dub” and subtle flourishes of piano in “Compass”, “Purple” and “Fortune Cookie”. Ultimately, Drewvis keeps the acoustic ska fresh, interesting and honest, without overloading it with unnecessary noise.

Compared to his earlier release in 2008, For The Win (also on Do The Dog Music) this latest album arguably has a more mature quality; more relaxed and less hectic. That said, I won’t be giving up my copy of For The Win any time soon; “Nearly Departed” and “Resolution” both remain firm favourites and practically every track has been stuck in my head at one time or another. Both records, along with a more experimental album called Long Way To Go, are available to download from his bandcamp page which also includes a free 6 track collection of B sides titled For The Bin.

Drewvis is currently planning on playing a few international dates in 2012 but to keep up with all his latest news, you can follow him on twitter @Drewvis_UK.

If you ask nicely, he might even show you his personal collection of grilled egg photos.