One.Three.Nine. Review: Foals – Exits

One.Three.Nine. is a three-stage review that captures initial reactions and more considered standpoints by writing after more and more listens.

One.

It’s a word we’ve heard a lot over the last few years. In the time Foals have been away from our airwaves, ‘exit’ (with its various hard; soft; deal or no deal; red, white and blue; Br- prefix) has rarely left them. Bored to tears with a lack of progress? Disappointingly, on first listen, that statement feels as relevant to ‘Exits’ as it does Brexit.

An effect-soaked lead guitar riff over a mid-tempo groove is all too reminiscent of Foals’ previous work, yet instead of being accompanied by frontman Yannis Philippakis’ trademark howl, we hear vocal delivered with the same amount of urgency that Britain have shown in negotiating. It feels a long way from when ‘Inhaler’ or ‘What Went Down’ led album campaigns in years gone by.

Three.

He’s going on about dreams a lot, but ‘Exits’ is more of a Lee from ‘The Office’ dream than a Martin Luther King one. The biggest issue is that despite being almost six minutes in length, there is so little melodic development. The catchiest and most interesting part has already occurred within 34 seconds.

While the intro grows on you, with robotic trade-offs between bass and guitar, the song slowly builds without ever reaching a peak. In fact, the chorus is actually boring. Instrumental and vocal layers coupled with expansive drum sounds give the impression of vastness, but it’s the aural equivalent of chicken fillet inserts.

Nine.

Although the verse becomes surprisingly addictive over time, I have come to detest the lethargic drum fill which leads into the chorus in a particularly uninspiring fashion (1:20). It is emblematic of a general lack of conviction; something which Foals have always had in spades in the past.

So, while the solid but unspectacular ‘Exits’ boasts the kind of groove that would allow it function well as an album opener (which I imagine it may well be), it doesn’t feel like a particularly great single. It’s a safe choice that will allow Foals to be welcomed back, securing album and tour pre-sales; but if a new band released this, they’d get relatively little airplay.

I’m sure ‘Exits’ will reach double figures on my play count at some point but, much like Brexit itself, I’m not exactly excited about it.

Advertisements

Review: Idles – Joy as An Act of Resistance

The best art is believable. It doesn’t matter if it’s Monet or Mozart, Emin or Eminem, Stormzy or Stravinsky; usually the rebels who do have a cause have the largest and longest-lasting effect. Bristol five-piece Idles’ second album Joy as An Act of Resistance gives you something to believe in, delivering gut punch after gut punch to give you the most glorious beating of your life.

Brutalism, their 2017 debut, was incredibly well received but there’s no sign of sophomore slump here. The thick layers of guitar and vocals in the second half of opening track ‘Colossus’ give the impression of a band who want to make as much noise as they can, however the drum and bass guitar-lead ‘I’m Scum’ are surprisingly danceable, with a jaunty guitar lick butting in every time frontman Joe Talbot announces that, well, he’s scum. On ‘Television’, he delivers the line ‘Love Yourself’ with the sort of bullish assurance that makes Danny Dyer sound like Milhouse Van Houten. Elsewhere, unseasonable darkness sets in in ‘June’ where the lyrics, “a stillborn was still born, I am a father” and “baby’s shoes for sale: never worn” are repeated. It’s all the more powerful for its limited and repetitive approach.

But lyrically, the album’s most prevalent quality is humour. “I’m sorry your Grandad’s dead… ahhh… lovely spread”, begins ‘Gram Rock’. In some cases a defence mechanism as much as a tool of language, there’s a lot of topics which are tackled tongue-in-cheek. It’s typical of a punk genre which had its heyday 40 years ago, but with political unrest comes artistic backlash once again. That spirit running through Idles’ veins has never felt more necessary than today.

The state of Britain is tackled on the catchy ‘Danny Nedelko’, which features the line, “Fear leads to panic, panic leads to pain, pain leads to anger, anger leads to hate”. But on anti-Brexit tirade ‘Great’, the comedy specs are back on again:

“Blighty wants his country back
Fifty-inch screen in his cul-de-sac
Whooping charm of the union jack
As he cries at the price of a bacon bap”

Such visual social commentary may not be considered eloquent, but neither is the divide that exists in this country right now. Each song feels incredibly relevant, keeping you gripped as characters and stories unfold line by line. Even when Talbot sings, “ten points to Gryffindor” repeatedly, sounding like he’s scripting a new Rowntree’s fucking Randoms advert, such is the conviction with which it is delivered you’ll feel it’s your problem to figure it out rather than his for singing it.

It’s in the vocals, but it’s also in the pounding drums, the frantic guitar, the driving bass; Joy as An Act of Resistance is a collection of the most intense and believable music you’ll hear in a long time. By the time you’re being told to burn your house down in final track ‘Rottweiler’, you’ll feel like anything is still possible. It barely even matters what they’re saying. They’re going to save your world.

Review: Dave Grohl – Play

I once was given a gift with a poem about a character called ‘Rock Pig’. It read:

Rock Pig don’t like disco
Rock Pig don’t like dance
Rock Pig don’t like ambient
Rock Pig don’t like trance
Rock Pig don’t like R&B
Rock Pig don’t like soul
Rock Pig just likes heavy duty
Bad-Ass ROCK ‘N’ ROLL

To finally put music out under your own name can be a turning point for an artist, a way of making a huge statement, a chance to signal a change of direction, an opportunity to finally release something you felt you couldn’t with any other musician or in any other project up to that point in their life. But what ‘Play’ does is show us exactly what we already know Dave Grohl is about – Bad-Ass ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.

Describing himself as “a kid in a candy store”, Grohl plays an array of musical instruments (well, strings and percussion) to produce a 23-minute instrumental opus. Having seen Foo Fighters produce an acoustic record on double album In Your Honor and even tour that set-up through Skin & Bones, I doubt we’ll ever see their famous frontman do ‘that famous frontman thing’ and truly go it alone. This may be the closest he ever gets…

Despite this, when ‘Play’’s first big riff kicks in, I would have believed anybody who told me that it was a new Foo Fighters song. Full of power, the sudden and synchronised start/stop technique and gradually bending guitar strings have been utilised by them many times before. As the track develops, however, there’s one give away… Despite Foo’s drummer Taylor Hawkins being a hugely respected and talented musician, Grohl is an inimitable animal on the drums; with virtuosic fills and an almost signature sound, it’s great to hear him behind the kit again, where he first made his name.

In fact, there is definitely a little homage to his famous drum intro from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ at 15:40. That was the first moment that most of the world heard the sound of Dave Grohl on any instrument, at a time when he probably did still feel like a kid. Grohl is clearly aware that that song is a large part of the reason he is paid to ‘Play’ today.

‘Play’ is described as, “Celebrating the rewards and challenges of dedicating one’s life to playing and mastering a musical instrument”; and when you hit play, seven Dave Grohls walk in to a studio to record the track (I bet Grohl’s ex-bandmate Josh Homme wishes he’d thought of that, considering the Queens of The Stone Age band members timeline). When considered alongside his multiple BBC documentaries and supergroup appearances, most musicians in his position would be perceived as arrogant or worse, but he’s still thought of as “the nicest guy in rock”.

Cynics may not believe his humble claim that, “I didn’t know if I could pull [‘Play’] off”, but to me it feels believable. ‘Play’ is accompanied by a video about young people learning instruments and a list of organisations where we can sign up to learn. The key thing here is that unlike the Bonos and Geldofs of this world, he’s not preaching to us about anything apart from music. The kid who still just wants to play. Oh, and he’s also not been done for tax evasion. That always helps.

Despite the undeniable quality of the piece, there are musical limitations. Without lyrics to give a different focus or context on the piece, the quiet/loud/quiet formula Grohl has been perfecting ever since his Nirvana days is particularly blatant, growing slightly weary over 23 minutes. Although a nice touch for the video, changing drum kits and guitars during takes makes those quiet ‘in-between’ sections feel slightly more forced than usual.

That repetitive process of big riff > sudden stop > quiet riff > build back up > repeat, and the fact that ‘Play’ ends on a hugely extended E minor chord (E is the lowest note a guitar in standard tuning can play) is of no surprise and is hugely typical of his, and indeed most rock music. This is quite simply, a very long rock song. But then, so is ‘Freebird’, so is ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, and so is ‘Hey Jude’. While it’s effect won’t be as long-lasting, it’s still damn good at points.

Some of ‘Play’’s best bits come from the rare moments where the music sounds slightly less like Foo Fighters, such as at 6.15 where acoustic guitar and percussion take the lead, or at 19:10 where the power chords are given a break and we’re treated to Jeff Buckley-esque picking and delicious chord changes. These are the moments where ‘Play’ starts to sound less like a well-packaged compilation of unused Foo Fighters riffs and more like something which stands firmly on its own two feet.

Simultaneously, the biggest success and the biggest disappointment of ‘Play’, in a musical sense, is that if you’re a Dave Grohl fan, you’ll be a ‘Play’ fan; if you’re not, you won’t be. It would be fascinating to see Grohl push himself and take a step outside of the rock genre, rather than finding countless acts, instruments and formulas to re-package the same ideas. However, it doesn’t seem as if he is going to risk alienating a fan base or tarnishing a legacy which feels like it gets stronger by the day. Perhaps the main reason for that is because Dave Grohl don’t like disco, Dave Grohl don’t like dance. Dave Grohl don’t like ambient, Dave Grohl don’t like trance. Dave Grohl don’t like R&B, Dave Grohl don’t like soul. Dave Grohl just likes heavy-duty, bad ass Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Review: Jack White @ Hammersmith Apollo 28/6/18

A White Stripe, a Raconteur, a quarter of The Dead Weather, and a name in his own right; we’ve spent twenty years watching little Jackie White grow up… and he’s still a child at heart.

His songs are full of childhood experience, but it isn’t a childhood which is looked back on with disdain or embarrassment; in fact, it’s not being contextualised at all. It is childhood from the perspective of the child; the point where your first love wasn’t a spotty, awkward impression of love, but the purest and most energised thing you’d ever felt. Jack White has embodied that feeling throughout his career and he does it better than anybody else.

His three intimate and sweaty nights at the Hammersmith Apollo – as opposed to, say, one night at the O2 – signals that he also puts his fan’s experience before his own diary. Not convinced? Well how about the fact that the photo at the top of this blog was the only one I got all night. The whole crowd were forced to surrender devices at the door, to be placed in Yondr cases. Aside from spending the following twenty minutes realising how often I move my right hand to my pocket for no real reason, I have to say I didn’t really miss my phone… Turns out I can remember an experience without those customary, pixelated reminders.

No longer playing in a two-piece (ensemble – he didn’t get naked), White directs a supporting cast of five from his central position. On top of this, he has a range of guitars on-stage (often switched mid-song), an extra piano and an extra drum-kit, just in case he feels like changing it up even more. A guitar issue during ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’? No bother. How about an impromptu and revitalised piano version instead? On ‘My Doorbell’, White doubles up on drums, with both synth players adding further percussion to the bass and piano accompaniment, providing an undeniable groove for one of the evening’s standout performances.

At one point, I saw a guy filming a video or two on something he had snuck in. I really hoped the show would stop and we’d all superciliously chant “Judas!” from our new-found, old-fashioned standpoint but, alas, no such luck…

This is a different Jack White to the one I saw in San Francisco four years ago. I’m glad to see he’s jacked in the fiddle, and despite any worries I had about some of the new sounds on 2018’s Boarding House Reach, even the opinion-splitting ‘Ice Station Zebra’ sounded gargantuan live. Imagine everything with overdrive and shouted an octave higher and you’ll be much nearer to the truth. I’d love to share a video, but the fucker took my phone. (Just kidding, here’s a version from March.)

Songs like ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ (“Look at all the bugs we found. Safely walk to school without a sound.”) sit comfortably alongside 2018’s ‘Corporation’ (“I’m thinking about starting a corporation, who’s with me?!”). As well as including rarer cuts such as ‘Do’ (a tour debut), White gives the crowd the hits from all of his projects: ‘Steady As She Goes’, ‘I Cut Like A Buffalo’, and… of course… ‘Seven Nation Army’.

Closing the night, White encourages the crowd to chant the riff like we’re at the World Cup. Strangling every last breath from his guitar’s neck during the solo and accentuating key vocal lines with his signature shriek, there’s no sign of Cobain-esque resentment or rejection of the track’s adoration. He doesn’t have to take rock ‘n’ roll too seriously; that childlike enthusiasm which first endeared him to fans twenty years ago is still within him.

Review: Tera Melos / Tangled Hair / A Burial at Sea @ Ramsgate Music Hall (external)

My review of Tera Melos, supported by Tangled Hair and A Burial at Sea, at Ramsgate Music Hall was published by The Isle of Thanet News, click here to check it out.