Demo Reviews April 2010: Kixxstart Kitty / Alex Mountaineer / Gardening / Soma / Inferno / Pry Cry / Denuo / Kid For Today
Alex Mountaineer - Wash Where The Needle Has Gone
It is unfair, perhaps, to look at Alex's work in the context of a demo review. He is a very accomplished songwriter, arranger and producer whose ability earned his band (The Mountaineers) record deals with Deltasonic and Mute Records. I've talked about his solo recordings before. They're evidence that the democratisation (well, death) of the recording industry isn't necessarily a good thing.
For all of its excesses, I can't imagine the British music industry of 10 - 15 years ago ignoring a talent as compelling as Alex's, allowing him to record his askew, partially orchestral masterpieces at his own expense, with no 'real' outlet for his work (see also, amongst many others, the Spencer McGarry Season, Georgia Ruth, Tim And Sam's Tim And The Sam Band With Tim And Sam et al).
Sure, any deal he'd have signed back then would have bent him over a barrel and guaranteed him a life of poverty and an eternity in a burning lake. But he'd have had the imperfect machinery of the record industry behind him... his albums would have been made, produced, released.
There would have been tours to back them up. Radio pluggers would have hung around in pubs in Camden hoping to bump into Zane or Lamacq. That still happens. But only just. The beep from the heart monitor is a long one. The industry is flatlining.
Except this week there was news that music sales have increased for the first time in seven years. So perhaps it's premature to sign the death certificate.
For the moment, though, there is a large number of supremely talented beings bobbing about on the sea, marooned by the sunk industry-as-was. They're using their nous and ingenuity to get by (the Spencer McGarry Season) - but it's an imperfect situation, I think. We - the audience - will be the ones to lose out in the long-run.
So, Alex writes songs as artful, concise and brilliant as Chekhov's short stories. This piano-led piece sounds like a folkish Gorillaz, or Neil Young if he'd come from Penyffordd. The arrangement - high register strings yee-yawing your heart this way and that, picked acoustic guitar, a choir of cloud-break voices - is superb. The lyrics are cryptic and intriguing. I'd pay for this. I'd pay for it on a lovely thick piece of vinyl. I'd trot off by car or train to see him play his songs in concert halls across the country. I might even buy a t-shirt.
As it is, I get to hear it for free on his MySpace page and that is the only vaguely disappointing aspect of this excellent piece.
Kixxstart Kitty - Audible Poison / (S)in Her
I want a bit of fun, please. Something that sprays colour and excitement all over my tawdry and mundane existence.
Kixxstart Kitty are a whole bunch of rock 'n' roll cliches strung together that should have jaded hacks yawning and tutting about having "heard it all before."
But Kixxstart's evangelical belief in what they're doing is cranked up in every note of these, their first demos, and is completely convincing. Any band from the north Wales coast with the balls to drag elements of Mötley Crüe, the New York Dolls, the Manics and Jane's Addiction together is either stoned foolish or operating on a higher level of genius. I think they're both of these things.
And - Christ - this is exciting. When the voice goes all falsetto in (S)in Her, or the instrumental in the same song rides over the horizon in a glaze of Apocalypse Now swoops and runs ("I love the sound of napalm in the morning!", I'm swept up in the whole thing. It's going to offend tastemakers, irk the purists and get up the noses of the conservative and uptight, but it's erm amazing. The first band I've heard coming out of borth Wales who could potentially fill stadiums as easily as they will fill gossip columns.
The only way they will fail is if they fall apart in a cloud of class A's or stumble into an industry too damaged to accommodate and support them. But let's not talk of failure when the prospect of success is - for a change - a very real one.
Gardening - Trendy Acid
Joss, the visionary mind behind Gardening's hallucinogenic warping of electronic genres, is from Llanfairfechan. Llanfairfechan is a tiny, postcard village on the North Wales coast. It's an elemental place, face pushed right into a moody sea by daunting Snowdonian shoulders. I don't know whether the geography or relative isolation of the place is a factor in the amount of inspirational, fresh and original music that has seeped out of there over the last few years. Klaus Kinski - the most original rock(ish) band in Wales - come from here. As does Pete from Acid Casuals / Som Bom.
Joss now lives in Liverpool and occasionally sets my inbox on fire with gouts of volcanic synth and sequencer abuse, the imaginative scope of which justifies comparison with Aphex Twin. It's House of Usher techno, sculpted by a mind unfazed by staring into the dark heart of things. It flows past you in ever-changing shapes. Much electronic music relies on looping and repetition, but Gardening's music is more organic - sure there are tics and motifs that crop up and reoccur, but no one four bar measure here is identical to the next. This piece is in a state of constant flux.
That will drive many to irritation / distraction, I shouldn't wonder. It's not ever going to draw the attention of casual listeners. But it is empirical proof that the brightest musical imaginations burning today are a match for their predecessors from any age / movement, or era. Top drawer.
Soma - When the Lights Go Out
Soma also come from the north Wales coast. But their music emanates from much more recognisable sources than that made by Gardening or Klaus Kinski. LCD Soundsystem, Delphic and The Rapture are obvious influences here. It's okay, but the decent song is spoilt by a tatty performance and half-arsed recording.
Dance music relies on precision and tidy sounds to be convincing. But the vocal here is double-tracked so slackly it sucks the momentum out of the track. And the keyboard sounds like it's being two-fingered by someone who's only been playing for a couple of weeks. Which is fine... I'm no muso snob - well, not much of one - but for this particular genre, those two-fingered stabs need to be tighter or the spell breaks.
Given that it's 2010 and even James Murphy has announced he will retire after the current LCD Soundsystem album, there is a whiff of bandwagon jumping about this. Unfortunately for Soma - given how quickly things move in dance music - by the time they've perfected the 2005 sound, that bandwagon will have long been crushed in the scrap yard.
Inferno - Lion's Den
Inferno opened an outside broadcast for my show in their home village on Holyhead in 2005. That was in the good ol' days when our events went out live on the radio. My producer got the band in a little huddle before they took to the stage and gave them one clear instruction:
"This is going out live on the radio, please DO NOT SWEAR."
"No problem. We won't."
I don't know whether it was the excitement of playing to a crowd of, ooh, 10 of their mates (long story) or the overwhelming terror induced by being live on the radio, but within 39 seconds of my producer's words having fallen from his lips a few choice Anglo Saxon ones were falling from the lips of Inferno's singer, down the microphone, and via tinny speakers all over Wales, into literally tens of homes. Fortunately, this was pre-Brand and Ross, otherwise certain newspapers might have had me lynched or deported.
It was Inferno's sheer exuberance, I'd like to think. They were very young. They still are.
In the interim, Inferno have paid their dues playing the metal circuit up and down the country. They've earned endorsements from drum manufacturers that probably mean they'll never ever run out of t-shirts, and they released a debut album that won praise where it was heard and written about.
But support from Rock Sound and Kerrang! has proved elusive - and their new recordings aren't slow to provide evidence why: Lion's Den is an explicable hybrid of Muse's histrionics and classic British metal power riffs. They claim influence from the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age and Clutch, but the dark mysteries that make both of those bands intriguing are sadly absent here. It's excellently performed and recorded, but it's a metal stew cooked up from the most obvious ingredients: de rigeur riff, vague questing lyrics that have no discernible emotional tug, a perfunctory solo, a growing sense that the drummer is about to explode...
Of course, a lot of people like stew and just as many enjoy their rock 'n' roll loud and uncomplicated, in which case this will satiate their appetite.
But if the band want acclamation in more sophisticated metal circles they need to make good on the promise in this song's key lyric: "Expect the unexpected inside the Lion's Den..."
Pry Cry - Theme/Preswylydd Mecanyddol
Two thirds of Pry Cry will be eminently familiar to anyone with an interest in Welsh music of the last decade. Endaf used to front Kentucky AFC, Gronw made interesting noises for Cofi Bach a Tew Shady. Both of those bands had great focus: Kentucky AFC were manna from Gwynedd for those of us who dreamed of a Gorky's / Ramones hybrid; Cofi Bach a Tew Shady were one of the few Welsh acts who had the rhymes, the beats and the guts to take the baton once Tystion had put it down.
So far I've heard two Pry Cry tracks. I've no idea what their focus is, or will be. I can't fathom whether that is a good thing (something unpredictable is smelling salts to a stultified music lover) or a bad thing (self indulgent studio project.)
The Theme from Pry Cry was a delightful beam of 'la la' (well, 'do do'), Children's-TV-theme-tune pop. I skipped around the kitchen the first time I heard it. It sounded like its only reason for existing was to induce gimpy grins, twit dancing and 3 minutes and 23 seconds of sweet levity from the cackstorm outside.
This new track, however, is a riff-driven jet ski through slow moving bathers, reminiscent of The Hives/Ffa Coffi Pawb. It's good, but not - yet - as good as the best in Kentucky AFC's back catalogue. But it does hint that there could be much more to Pry Cry than a third place play off. It very much depends on what is scattered between the two poles I've heard so far. But, for sure, I'm intrigued to hear what will happen when I get lobal on their global.
Denuo - Wolf River
Aye, this is lovely sad. Like - and I imagine purposefully so - yearning to forego the city for an elemental wilderness; to really live, to feel a clean wind on your face, to have a sense that there's more to the universe than the grimy machinations of the flesh ants.
Or, forcing myself to listen to it from the other side of the fence, like a less dramatic and swooping Jeff Buckley - without the tragic resonance.
It is quite beautiful, the sound of some of the pieces missing from a pining human heart, but it treads a well-worn path. That's not necessarily a criticism. It takes a certain mindset to forego the easy path to a beautiful view just for the sake of being different; a stubborn, foolish, intoxicated or insane mindset. A couple of times a lifetime you'll find great art if you follow those maverick nutters who do leave the path. The vast majority of the time you'd be best of trusting to the warming, familiar and emotive sounds that emanate from the likes of Denuo.
Kid For Today - Keep on Drowning (Ocean Song)
Dictaphone crackle, plaintive, looped, lo fi strum, bicycle pump synth squeaks, home-crunched beats... Joshua (Kid For Today's voting name) is from North East Wales originally and has been studying some version of a sound engineering course in Huddersfield. He likes sound. He *loves* sounds. You can tell. The trick of playing the intro to your piece and recording it very primitively to get it all scuzzed up, middly and unpolished, isn't a new one. But the trick works well, here.
In fact the production is very good indeed. Many little interesting sounds lurk in the hinterland fuzz at the dark edge of the mix.
The song itself is a slight thing that floats over the top of the maracas and Beta Band-ish arrangement, like a dream that intrigued you at the time of dreaming it, but which didn't live long past breakfast. But I like the subtlety at work here. The African-ish coda with ensuing 70's cop film jazz horns is a fascinating turnaround. Very good. But the arrangement and production provide the real interest more than the song. A moot observation, perhaps. Feel free to moot away to the contrary!