Archive for the ‘E.P. Reviews’ Category

Müg – Düg E.P.

Posted: October 17, 2011 in Album Reviews, E.P. Reviews
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Release Date: 1st September 2011

Label: Unsigned

Most of the time on here, I’ll review an album I’ve bought or one I’ve stumbled into randomly, giving the bands in question a surprise when they see some nice (or not) words written about their musical output. A few bands hear that I write stuff and send me their musical output with a request that I write some nice (or not) words about it. Very rarely do these two things happen at the same time, but that was the case when the guitarist in a certain London punk band gave me a sly nudge and a ‘fancy reviewing this then? Cheers’ message, completely unaware that I’d already downloaded and had been listening to (and planned to review) the very EP he passed on to my attention. So then, Mark Bell and the rest of Müg, as you wish – here’s a review of your excellent second E.P., ‘Düg’.

I’m never one for subtlety, and you may have noticed the rather glaring hints in that opening paragraph pertaining to me rather enjoying this little record. So I may as well come clean and admit that this collection of tunes ranks alongside Melchett’s debut (and what looks like only) record as the top ‘pleasant surprises’ of 2011. The North London quartet win points right off the bat by a) not taking themselves too seriously and b) having a sound that dismisses any advances made in the punk rock genre made after 1991 and instead concentrates on rocking out to the tune of skateboards, beers and chants of ‘Oi! Oi!’.  Looking for something forward-thinking? Progressive? Life-affirming? You’re in the wrong place, pal. Now kindly go and do one.

That may sound like I’m slagging off the record, but having a throwback sound isn’t a bad thing as long as you don’t just blatantly grave-rob and pillage all over the place. And this record avoids that for the most part.  The band doesn’t wear their NOFX-style riffs and 80’s Oi! punk gang vocals as a badge of punk credibility – instead they use them as building blocks to create 2-3 minute tunes that lodge firmly in your head and depart well before they overstay their welcome. There’s elements of Bad Religion’s late-80s attack, the intro to opening track ‘Shotgun’ wouldn’t sound amiss on  ‘Dookie’, and the aforementioned NOFX references are oozing out of the wallpaper, right down to the slick and sharp guitar sound straight off of any old Fat Wreck/Epitaph record. Crucially, it’s tight as all fuck, with just enough leeway to give the instruments chances to enjoy themselves.  The musical style may place the record somewhere in late-80s California, but it’s grounded back in late-80s London by the vocal style, taking nods from the likes of Discharge and the Angelic Upstarts with it’s cockney geezer delivery and gang vocal shouts and chants. Some of the arrangements also have just a hint of the Descendants about them, particularly the sub-one-minute blast of ‘Beard’, and the lyrics are self-deprecating and funny enough (particularly on ‘Specialist’)  to avoid sounding trite.

All in all, very solid and fun stuff that points to a decent future ahead full of pints, circle pits and singalongs – exactly the kind of thing any good punker enjoys. They have a good ear for a hook, an eye for a one-liner and a bagful of classic influences to boot, and they ain’t afraid to use them. And while bands all around them steadily disappear up their own rectum looking for the new spark to drive things forward, the Mug boys prove that sometimes going back to the future is the better option – when the results sound this enjoyable, who needs innovation anyway?

Rating: 80%

Standout Tracks: Shotgun, Number One, Specialist.

Download the album here: http://mugrocks.bandcamp.com/

Words by Adam Johnson.

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Label: Unsigned

Release Date: 2nd May 2011

I’ve been sitting here for about ten minutes trying in vain to come up with one of my lengthy introductory rambles, so fuck it. I’ll get straight to the point on this one. A few days ago, just past 11pm,  I was killing time on Facebook before crashing to bed, when I stumbled onto the page of one Louise Distras, a female singer-songwriter from Wakefield armed with an acoustic. Just as the clichéd stereotypes regarding doudy women with oversized acoustics singing about not much of anything came to mind, something quite remarkable happened – her EP started playing on the website music player, and I was grabbed by the collar and thrown sideways by music crackling, bursting and overflowing at the seams with electric intensity and burning soul. The vocals growled, snarled, soared, cooed and barked, swathes of backing vocal harmonies flitted in and out, and the single acoustic guitar carried more pop sensibilities than an entire army of amplifier-toting posers. Three tracks played back to back, and my shock grew by the minute.  There’s no getting away from it, I thought – this is fucking awesome music.

It’s not often that I review a record in this style, but in this case I felt it necessary to document my introduction to Miss Distras’ music, simply because it’s been a very long time since I’ve been so stunned by new music. Sure, there’s been good music coming out, but nothing that has given me such a sharp kick in the bollocks as this, her second EP. There’s plenty of acoustic-guitar-toting punkers out there at the moment, a few of which I’ve reviewed on here and enjoyed a lot, and on this evidence, Distras has put herself directly at the forefront of the genre as it stands currently.

So why exactly has this EP been lodged firmly in my head of late? I hinted at some of the reasons why in the introductory gushings, and I’ll re-iterate many of them here. The tunes and guitar riffs are fairly standard acoustic folk-tinged punk fare, but they benefit from an excellent sense of songcraft – the melodies soar exactly when needed, hook into your earholes whenever they please, and flow with consummate ease – nothing feels clunky or out-of-place. The fact that all the three tracks are built on is a single acoustic, and perhaps some extra percussion here and there, makes it even more impressive – there are many artists who’ll throw the proverbial kitchen sink at their songs and they still won’t sound as catchy and effortlessly well-rounded as these.

But what makes the EP truly special is her voice – holy fuck, has this lady got a pair of lungs on her.   The obvious comparison to make would be to Brody Dahlle, but that’s probably too easy. Instead I’d draw parallels with Jake Burns, for sheer versatility of voice.  Sure, her whiplash bark and devastating holler carries more power and urgency than any number of screamo vocalists, but when she flips from that to warm cooing, softer tones and pure pitch-perfect soul, you realise just what a multi-faceted talent you’re listening to here.Her voice alone is the personification of great punk rock – pop melody blended with raw passion and energy, as well as an outlaw spirit and renegade soul integral in all great acoustic guitar-toting rock ‘n’ rollers. She has the heart-on-sleeve honesty and grit of Joe Strummer, and this comes across brilliantly in the lyrics, something the entire folk-punk genre often hangs its hat on. Just like the great man, Distras has the unique ability to pen a vocal line that in anyone else’s hands would be clichéd, but in hers it becomes the most evocative and stirring words you ever did hear, such as when she’s proclaiming that ‘maybe you should try and walk a mile in my own shoes/or maybe you’ll just die here and you will stay used’ on ‘Blue on Black’, or bellowing ‘Does it make you happy?/ Does it make you sad?/’Cause it makes me proud to be alive/And part of who I am/Does it make you anxious?/Does it make you mad?/Would it make you proud to be alive/ If you were half of what I am?’  on my personal favourite, ‘This Is Your Life’.

You know a record is damn good when the only criticism you can really find for it is that old chestnut, ‘it’s too short’. Artists generally drop EPs onto us as a way of drumming up interest and showcasing potential before moving on to a potential LP, and on this evidence, I literally cannot wait for the first album to drop. In the meantime, you owe it to yourself to give this trio of tunes a spin; with artists of Distras’ calibre around, rumours of the underground punk scene’s demise will have been greatly exaggerated.

Rating: 93%

Standout Tracks: All three of them.

Words by Adam Johnson.

My Third Leg – The Fift E.P.

Posted: September 23, 2010 in E.P. Reviews
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As I type now, my voice is largely destroyed, and I’m exhausted due to a combination of lack of sleep and huge amount of manic dancing and singing. All of this, plus an 100-mile plus round trip to the Kent Coast and back, plus a rather large hole in my wallet, was all very much worthwhile, however, as it meant I got to experience the madness that was The Railway Pub’s send-off all-day show in all it’s blisteringly loud, beer-spilling, raucous and hella fun glory. I will get down to reviewing this show once I’ve recovered a little more, but for now, I fancy having a look at an EP by one of the bands that starred at the show in question – ascending ska-punkers My Third Leg.

Funnily enough, I’ve been seeing rather a lot of MTL over the last few days (stop sniggering at the back) – how does two shows in as many days go? And during that time I’ve really had a chance to see how far the band have come in a relatively short space of time, and how much potential is still laying in wait. It’s fair to say – and the band themselves even admit this to a degree – that in their early iterations, there was a relative lack of structure, and the feeling was that the band were often stuck on as the shits ‘n’ giggles first acts at most LSP gigs in and around Gravesend – well, wouldn’t you do the same if you ran a promotions company organising punk and ska gigs, and handily happened to be in a ska-punk band yourself? But my point being here was that it was easy to not take them all that seriously, a bit of a laugh, mucking around, regularly swapping instruments, etc etc. But as I mentioned in my review of their Comedy Pub show, they’ve quietly gone about knuckling down to work on their craft, gelling more as a unit, and honing their songwriting and technical skill, and all this has resulted in them starting to become a band to be really taken seriously as a force – all seemingly whilst I wasn’t looking. All this progress business has resulted in them recording and releasing their first E.P. of material, selling at shows and on their recently set-up merch store (I told you they were going up in the world) for the princely sum of 50p (hence the title, see?), and having procured a copy for myself on Friday, it’s time to give it a spin.

What jumps out straight away is the crispness of the production and sound quality, which is a very high quality for a DIY recording – credit must be given to the producer, none other than The Submission’s Rich Harris, who is rightly thanked in the sleeve notes. His biggest asset from a production and mixing standpoint appears to be his ability to keep all instruments balanced – even when all instruments are at full volume and intensity, the mix does well to avoid being muddy and clogged, and the vocals are nice and clear, something that characterises The Submission’s own self-produced work. This high-quality production helps the songs themselves to shine through, and guess what? That’s exactly what they do.

Some of the songs on the EP date back from the very first days of the band, but have been mercilessly honed, trimmed and refined into the catchy and addictive nuggets of ska-punk we are treated to on this disc. Two such songs combine to form a nice one-two opening salvo – ‘Going for a Drive’ and ‘3470 Miles’, both of which are growing to become signature anthems for the group, and rightly so, as both of them encapsulate the best aspects of the band’s sound – Will Woodrow’s easily recognisable vocal delivery, the trading between quiet/loud and slow/fast sections, Will and Mike Smith’s choppy guitar lines, Dave Ja Vu’s fantastic, bubbling basslines, and drummer Paul Smith’s primal skin-battering. Another MTL standard, Random Inspiration, bookends the disc, giving the record a strong start and a strong finish – something I always like to hear on records, and something that many much bigger bands seem to completely forget about.

However, don’t think for a second that they’ve put their most recognisable songs at each end of the disc and padded out the middle with some random filler they had lying around the rehearsal room – far from it. If you can look beyond the rather embarrassing (and pretty funny) story told in the lyrics, ‘Balls Deep’ is a real gem, showcasing a slight Britpop feel to the skanking mayhem. ‘Yes Please’ is catchy as hell, and the furious end section is tailor-made to be bellowed along with at the more drunken gigs they play, and ‘Time Travel’ is quite possibly the best song they’ve written so far overall. It’s actually quite a dour song, but they use this downbeat tone to their advantage – some delicate, echoey guitar lines flit in and out, Will’s vocals are mournful and wistful without becoming mawkish and dreary, and though it does speed up at parts, it doesn’t go completely balls-out at any stage, instead emphasising the slow-burning atmosphere of the lyrics.

This issue of restraint is probably my main criticism of other parts of the record – there is a feeling that they try to cram too much into certain songs. ‘Random Inspiration’ is the worst offender, as it seems to drag it’s heels near the end, and ends up being about a minute too long, which dilutes the energy and punch of the song. I mean, I know bassist Dave Ja Vu’s good, but do we need to hear his little bass solo another few times than we already do in the song? Personally, I reckon the final instrumental section would be better served in another song altogether, and trim this one down to keep it more succinct. This is the only song where it’s really noticeable, and otherwise the mixing of different tempos and dynamics works very well, and is a core part of their sound, so I suppose all I’m saying is be careful of that problem rearing it’s head again when writing new songs in the future. Perhaps Paul’s drum work is still a bit slack, but considering how it was before, it’s best to be grateful that he’s made it this far.

In fact, any more criticism is needless nit-picking, because I really can’t find anything else to moan about. What we have here is six strong songs that form a nice blueprint of My Third Leg’s sound as of right now, but also where they could go from here, and perhaps that’s the most exciting part – there’s still a sense that there’s more ascending to come from the band, as they continue to tighten up as a unit and gig relentlessly, and this E.P. is a good snapshot of where they are right now, and what to expect for the future.

Rating: 7.5/10
Standout Tracks: ‘Going for a Drive’, ‘3470 Miles’, ‘Time Travel’

Of all the fantastic bands on display at the recent ska-punk all-dayer, 7-Day Conspiracy were one of the very few bands I unfortunately missed. Which is a shame, as I did catch literally 30 seconds of their set, and that 30-second sampler was very promising – fast and hard skate-punk stylings with real bite and vigour. Which is why when a friend offered me the chance to have a listen to their EP, I jumped at the opportunity, and I’ve been busy catching up on what I missed, which is, it seems, something quite impressive. 

‘The Man Who Stole The World’ is a bit of a curve-ball opening to the record, being as it is a lovely slice of atmospheric and catchy street-reggae, accented by some classy harmonica and with vocalist Dirty’sgritty tones cutting through the mix, it is a real belter, topped off with some subtle distorted guitar licks not that far removed from Paul Fox’s guitar work on The Ruts’ ‘Jah War’.The rest of the record is packed with belting, lightning-fast punk, almost verging on the hardcore end of punk in some places, especially on the machine-gun bursts of ‘Kicked to Death’ and ‘Go Back to Sleep’ which both pass by in under a minute of aural mayhem. The mix is rough and messy, with the vocals often segueing into the chaos and sometimes being difficult to hear, but this doesn’t detract hugely from the impact this will have being blasted out of your stereo. If you look for immediatecomparisons, then I would say it sounds like a mix of early Oi! punk, several early NOFX cuts, mixed in with very early Bad Religion and Rise Against.The record’s sure-fire standout is the fantastic ‘Open Your Eyes’, which, alongside ‘The Man…’ makes this record worth buying on it’s own. It’s not as fast as their other onslaughts, but it works in their favour here, as they take the chance to throw some nice reggae-style interludes into the verses and pre-choruses to augment the furiously catchy chorus and driving rhythms.This is all very promising stuff, and points towards a great future for theSittingborne quartet – all that lets this particular offering down is a slight lack of cohesion caused by a rough, low-fi mix on most of the tracks bar ‘The Man…’, but this is nothing that can’t be sorted on future discs. Apart from that, there is great potential here, and I wait with baited breath for future releases and live appearances.
Rating: 8/10.
Standout tracks: The Man Who Stole The World, Open Your Eyes.

Torn Out – S/T E.P.

Posted: September 12, 2009 in E.P. Reviews

Usually, when you see a bloke touting an acoustic guitar, it’s a prelude to some plodding, achingly earnest dirge. There are a few exceptions, but certainly you would never put acoustic instruments and raging punk rock together. It appears acoustic duo Ben Smith and Steve Knight, AKA Torn Out, have never read this particular rulebook on the do’s and don’ts of punk, and they head into battle armed only with a couple of battered acoustic guitars. Even I will admit at first that I was slightly skeptical, but I’m happy to report that such conceptions are quickly ripped apart when you hear them for the first time. For me, that was a 2-track EP loaned from a friend, then a live appearance at a certain local all-day event, and now we arrive at this 9-track EP, freely distributed at the event in a full CD case with inlay card and lyric sheet, as well as nicely designed album cover.

First track ‘Filthy Hands and Fluro Ink’ is introduced courtesy of a lightning-fast bassline, with the guitar joining swiftly afterwards, and Ben’s shouted vocals soon after that. And really, this opening track sets the tone for the entire record – it’s fast, catchy, and confrontational, with Ben hollering for all his worth throughout. It quickly gives way to band anthem ‘Chasing Lost Nights’ which sums everything that Torn Out are all about up in two and a half minutes – energetic and hummable guitar lines, augmented by slick bass runs and backing vocals barked with gusto from Steve and topped off with Ben’s aggressive vocals.

The lyrics really are an ace up Torn Out’s proverbial sleeve – heartfelt, gritty and emotional without a hint of angst or cliched whining. It also has a powerful, street-level realism to it all – when Ben shouts ‘these split bin bags and pissed stained streets are not the life of which we dreamed’, people can nod along in agreement – having lived in Swanley for nigh-on the past decade or so, I can certainly relate to such statements as that. Such angry and disillusioned vibes run through the entire album, reaching their apex on ‘Soul of these Streets’, where Ben proudly declares ‘We are the soul of these streets/we are the heart that beats/underneath all the chain pubs/we’re the flesh and blood that’s capable of love’. A strong anti-commercialist vibe permeates on the aforementioned ‘Filthy Hands…’ and album closer ’10 Steps to Great Abs’, a furious finale where Ben cries ‘Let’s stop buying what they’re selling/we’ll deal with our insecurities together/then we’ll see we’re all the same/not a manipulated image on a glossy page!’

The music has a fantastic renegade vibe to it, and they successfully achieve what many people would think was impossible – acoustic guitar music with more soul, passion, power and energy than most bands twice their size with more instruments and amplifiers. For them to pull this off is a tremendous achievement, and they should be congratulated for doing so. They successfully tap into the mundane and soulless vibe of many inner-cities and satellite towns without a hint of cliche or posturing; when they sing ‘Together there’s nothing stopping us/leaving this life we never owned’, you feel duty bound to join them in their escape. Uplifting and anthemic in equal measure, Torn Out really are a hidden gem. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10
Standout tracks: ‘Chasing Lost Nights’, ‘Matilda & Me’, ‘Soul of These Streets’.

I don’t want to sound too righteous, but honestly, so many people who claim to be deeply into punk rock don’t have a clue about it. I’m talking about the countless NME journalists and keyboard warriors on YouTube who constantly argue about what exactly ‘is’ punk and what ‘isn’t’, and they’ve mostly been miles off the mark. NME are particularly guilty, along with many UK music publications, as they have been busy, in the past few years especially, championing the likes of Gallows as the ‘saviours of punk rock’. Firstly, who decided that punk rock as a genre needed ‘saving’? And secondly, whenever I listen to any of their tracks, all I hear is a messy, tuneless barrage of almost white noise, with the only lyrics being distinguishable being the odd expletive here and there amongst the sound of what seems to be Frank Carter trying to puke up his vocal chords. They certainly aren’t ‘saving’ punk rock. I don’t like the term ‘saviors of (insert genre here)’, but if you’re gonna bandy it around, then I’d be very inclined to take it from Frank Carter and co and slap it emphatically on the backs of Richard Harris, Sadie Williams, Phil Morgan and Stuart Cavell, known collectively as The Submission.

I’m well aware of how bold a claim that statement is, but I stick by it. And that comes after witnessing just one frenzied half-hour set in a small club in Gravesend. And now we arrive at this 5-track EP, purchased for the princely sum of £2, presented as it is in a plastic wallet with the cover being what looks like an intense mosh pit. As visual embodiments of a band’s sound go, this one is very effective. And I will say this right off the bat, I enjoyed this EP almost as much as I enjoyed seeing them live.

In terms of production, I’ve been warned by Rich that the quality isn’t too great, but to be honest I had no problems with it. Sure, it’s scratchy stuff, with the backing vocals not quite meshing with each other, and overall this is the polar opposite of the highly-polished, high-budget affairs many of us are more used to, but I wouldn’t say it affects the quality of the music, and it may actually add something to it – it gives the music a slightly rawer edge which I think actually compliments it. Think along the lines of The Offspring and Green Day’s respective pre-major label records, ‘Ignition’ and ‘Kerplunk’, and you have a fairly accurate picture.

The five tracks on here consist of three originals and two covers, and while the two covers – hugely enjoyable punk remixes of the ’80s pop song ‘Spin Me Right Round’ and the rock ‘n’ roll classic ‘Johnny B Goode’ – are entertaining listens, the three originals are the songs that really merit praise here. It’s easy enough to say that they are simple blasts of pure punk rock joy, but what makes them such entertaining listens is that they aren’t just standard three-chords-and-that’s-your-lot – every individual member injects extra life into the mayhem to take it up to another level. Rich hollers his vocals with wild abandon, but instead of just tuneless larynx-shredding, it meshes into the high-octane rhythms very well. He and fellow guitarist Phil intersperse the fast-paced riffs with thrilling and angular guitar breaks and solos to make the likes of Captain Sensible of The Damned or Brian Baker of Bad Religion proud, particularly on standout track ‘You Just Don’t Know’. Drummer Stuart drives things forward all the time, throwing in rolls and helter-skelter fills only where appropriate, and bassist Sadie augments the six-stringers’ assault with some neat bass lines which bring to mind such famous punk bassmen as Mike Dirnt of Green Day or Paul Simonon of The Clash – hardly the centre of attention, more the glue which musically holds everything together.

Lyrically, do not look at the sniggery, blink-182-esque toilet humour of the title track as a guide, although it is funny in places. Instead, look at the aforementioned YJDK and the ‘Reggae Rock Rebels’ with it’s fantastic skanking verses, as better guides for themes, the former being a powerful rant against those who look down their noses at others not quite like them, with Rich taking great pride in declaring: “I don’t wanna ever be like you!” and the latter acting as a counterpoint, rallying the troops in emphatic style to break out of whatever humdrum town they may be stuck in (quite a common situation for many in towns across Kent), and when all four bellow the lines ‘Jump up!/Shout out!/You’re reggae rock rebels’ with a ferocity that distorts the microphone, you can’t help but want to join them.

Of course, this is hardly original stuff – the title track nabs a vocal line from the Stiff Little Fingers back catalogue, YJDK runs like a medley of all the best songs from the Clash’s debut album, and RRR bounces along on a very much Rancid-style vibe. But at no point does it feel like blatant re-hashing of some dated concepts – the tracks all buzz with their own electricity and intensity, and are laden with hooks which are all their own, no matter how many nods to past legends they may make. And, ironically for a band who sing ‘I don’t think it really matters/whether you are, punk or not’, The Submission are the best pure, 100% punk rock band I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in a long time, and one listen of this handful of tracks will leave you desperate for more.

If you can, go and see them live, and enjoy The Submission in their element. But if they don’t happen to be playing anywhere near you tonight, then this little disc is a very enjoyable listen, and serves as a fascinating taste of things to come.

Rating: 8/10
Standout tracks: You Just Don’t Know, Reggae Rock Rebels.