Posts Tagged ‘math rock’

This Town Needs Guns – Animals (2008)

August 1, 2012

Guilty pleasure alert right here! But at the same time, Oxford rockers, This Town Needs Guns, are a great band that are sadly underrated and seemingly unknown outside of Europe. Think early Incubus meets Don Caballero meets Karate meets Minus The Bear. Despite the weak attempt at a concept album – every track on Animals is named after a different animal – this is a helluva debut, showcasing tons of technical ability and crazy time signatures. The songs are loaded with great melodies and the most emo vocals one can comfortably handle courtesy of rhythm guitarist, Stuart Smith. I have no doubt that many will be immediately turned off by their ‘sound’, but I have a soft spot for this sort of mathy-indie-emo-post rock shit. The sibling combination of Tim and Chris Collis on guitar and drums respectively is alone worth a listen. These guys are tight, their hooks are catchy, and the result is strangely addictive. Check it.

Foals – Total Life Forever

May 16, 2010

UK scenesters, Foals, return this spring with Total Life Forever, the follow-up to their 2008 debut Antidotes. When I first heard the pre-released singles, I was at my friend Stew’s house and we were having a few drinks before going out somewhere. He played “Spanish Sahara” for me, and I became immediately irate, screaming: “Coldplay! Coldplay! No!” and then I smashed a beer bottle on his living room floor. Stew told me to relax and then played the second single “This Orient” for me. I leapt from the couch, punched Stew in the face, screamed “Bloc Party! Bloc Party! God, no!” and then promptly passed out on the floor in disappointment. When I came to, it all seemed like a bad dream. Foals is a band I hold in high regard, and I anticipated their new release to be a different beast entirely. Why would a band with so much raw energy and post-rock infectiousness, turn to seemingly less dynamic songwriting and more obvious influences?

Ahh, the curse of the sophomore album. Before beginning this review I listened to every song Foals have released to date, and I noticed a steady shift and softening of their sound from their earliest EP’s, Hummer and Try This On Your Piano, to Total Life Forever. And so, it does in fact seem that this ‘softer’ version of the young band is a natural progression, slowly developing over the last four years. However, at the same time, I can’t help but feel it all seems a bit calculated — an attempt to widen their fan base, a desire to get BIG, and not just indie rock big, but (ahem) Coldplay big. There is a definite Parachutes-era Coldplay feel to this album. And this clever calculatedness can be seen all the way down to the album cover, which evokes one of the biggest albums of the last twenty years (I’ll let you guess which one).

Yet, although I was initially disappointed with the early singles, upon listening to them within the context of the entire album, I discovered that Total Life Forever is solid, and the band’s progression, whether calculated or not, has them writing their finest songs to date.

After the release of Antidotes, the band began immediately dismissing it as “flawed” and not a fair representation of their overall aesthetic. For me, I found their debut a great album, with a tight rhythm section, and excellent kicks and hooks. However, critical reception for the album was mixed, and I can’t help but think this may be one reason for their public dismissal of Antidotes, and their desire to open up their music to a larger audience. I mean, we have a group of guys who dropped out of Oxford University to become rock stars, and perhaps when Antidotes didn’t blow up the way they had hoped, they decided they had to go bigger, friendlier, with less weird time changes and guitar tapping chord progressions . . . we gotta prove to our friends and family that dropping out of college really was the right decision. Believe me Mum, we’re still gonna make it!

I feel like I had to note this, but with that said, the songs on Total Life Forever are very well written, emotional, and have great guitar work and changes. The sound is softened from their earlier releases, but somehow because of this, the album packs more of a punch. The first four tracks start the album off at a great pace, mixing moments reminiscent of Talking Heads with the earlier Foals sound to great effect. Title track “Total Life Forever”, surprisingly lifts its opening lyrics from “Into Your Arms” by The Lemonheads, as if they’re trying to rewrite the 90’s ballad for the next generation, giving it a funkier punch and vibe.

“Black Gold”, on the other hand, stands out as truly their own, and features an amazing change halfway through the song, with a great build-up and kick, coupled with Yannis Philippakis singing: “Now that spring is finally here / in your hollow heart, your hollow heart!” The song totally works and is a perfect example of their new found “maturity” when it comes to composition. After “Black Gold”, the album slows down with the 7-minute “Spanish Sahara”, and as I said earlier, the quiet track works well as a midpoint within the album. Highlights on the flipside are “Alabaster” and “2 Trees”, which are slow burners that resonate well, and recall to mind the best moments of Coldplay’s debut, and quieter Bloc Party tracks, while at the same time, still sound very much like Foals — just at a clipped pace.

In the end, I dig Total Life Forever. I have returned to it many times, and find it packs an emotional punch, while still retaining the inherent groove of a good rock album. Although, it is not where I expected their sound to go, I still hope it gains them the fan base they seem to want so badly, but also hope in the end, that they’re still doing it all for one thing: the music.


Polvo – In Prism (Merge Records)

August 23, 2009


Chapel Hill, NC quartet Polvo will release “In Prism” on September 8th with Merge Records — their first album of new material since 1997’s “Shapes”. 12 years! This makes me feel kinda old, but still, I am thrilled to see the group back together and making new music. Polvo were perhaps the most influential band for me during my own music making days, with their crooked tunings, fucked-up time signatures, and surreal energy. They along with a few other ‘post-rock’ bands (i.e. Slint, Tortoise, June of 44) helped define and sway the way I wrote songs until I fully embraced electronic music in the early 2000’s.

Now a dozen years have flipped by in a daydream, and Polvo have returned with “In Prism”. Recorded as always by Brian Paulson, the new material is exactly what you would expect from them. It’s dark, moody, catchy, and off-kilter. It may be a bit more straight-forward than their earlier work, the production may be a touch cleaner, and the overall tempo slightly slower (think “Fast Canoe”, instead of “Tragic Carpet Ride”), but this is a mature, wiser Polvo, and they do not disappoint. And even though Paulson’s production is cleaner, it’s still his most dynamic recording to date with the band.

The riff of opening track “Right the Relation” sounds like a crunchier “Thermal Treasure” and is a good example of the ‘more straight-forwardness’ I mentioned above, while other tracks like “City Birds” and “Dream Residue/Work” play as if mined from old recording sessions — like secret B-sides from “Exploded Drawing” and “Shapes”. Long time fans will never be able to call this their best album, but hell if it ain’t an amazingly welcome addition to their discography.

A near seamless return. Great work boys. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the few U.S. cities they are touring this fall, go and see them rip it up old-skoool. Peace.