Sunday, 23 August 2015

Review: Me and My Kites – Is It Real, Or Is It Made?

Experiential, optimistic, magical. Three words to describe the sound created by Me and My Kites.

When I first heard the groups debut, Like a Dream Back Then (2013), I felt it went some way to filling that Incredible String Band shaped hole in my life which began to appear after devouring their entire discography. A somewhat bold comparison, but when listening they are able to blend the perfect amount of the personal, philosophical and whimsical as the aforementioned (though perhaps somewhat more secular and less laden with eastern mysticism etc.) without it sounding, well… bad. Fortunately, with the Me and My Kites, this is never even close to the case. Each musician brings a charm and professionalism to the music.

Though a core group of six, Me and My Kites give an impression rather of an inviting community. With many accompanying musicians acknowledged here and on their debut. At the forefront of this are David Svedmyr and Lisa Isaksson who alternate or share vocal responsibilities.

Whereas the debut opener Back When I Came conjured dark shades of purples with its spiralling organs, backward guitar and nods to early Pink Floyd, Psychjuntan is made of brighter oranges, yellows and greens, though laced with melancholy.

“I always hope to get there; I’ll show you when we get there; I’m pretty sure we’ll stay here; I always hope to get there” suggests a search for more mystical realms.

Psychjuntan is the most overtly psychedelic of the tracks on this album, with nods to sixties hippy culture. Lyrical themes of the personal and of reference to the self, self-discovery and journeying through landscapes of the mind, and the pristine landscapes of Gaia, highlight a psychedelic angle throughout. Here it is the closing mantra “Let the long-time sun shine upon you; And the light within you guide you home” which conjures the most explicit reference (See also A Very Cellular Song for a tenuous Incredible String Band reference).

Say It’s Real has a much more 70s proggy folk sound. An unsurprising influence, as the band take their name from Me and My Kite, by 70s British prog band Fuschia (The band also recently recorded a version of Fuschia’s The Band with Tony Durant from the former  released on Fruits der Mer Records).

Eternally optimistic, flute and clapping accompany Lisa’s upbeat insistent “Say that it’s real”. In true communal spirit, the clappers (and in one case cooker) are acknowledged on the back of the album.

Porcelain has a similarly proggy vibe about it, though at times feels like it could be about to mirror the Beatles at their most optimistic and psychedelic. The story of a girl, living in her “dream like mind”, presumably looks something like the video the band created for the track.

Call De San Pedro begins with a more traditional folk instrumentation and balladry. In the same vein as Caravello Parallello from the debut, it follows the theme of travel, freedom and relaxation.

Happy, Then Crying, is a dizzying personal trip, sang by David. Hide Away/Tonight!/Turn With the Tide/Tilbaka Till Psychjuntan sung by David and Lisa seems to follow on from this. It leads from the melancholic though to the positive in a four part piece.

More epic and indulgent than the previous, in the final part of the track Tilbaka Till Psychjuntan the group return to the theme of Psychjuntan, this time however with greater instrumentation and impressionistic flourishes of harp, bass, vocal and mellotron. Though using the listeners mind as the canvas, in a similar vein the Impressionist painters, the world created here and throughout the album, acts as a social commentary only through its absence of explicit social commentary outside of the personal. Of the everyday stresses and pressures of a fast paced lifestyle, of globalisation and greed we hear nothing. Opting for lush pastures of colour, the group paint an idealistic picture of the world; though I suspect it may be a reality for the group when hidden away in the idyllic Swedish countryside.

In Narcissus there is a glimmer of paganistic reverie in its mythological lyricism. Though not by any explicit reference, I was reminded of the cosmogonical musings of Maypole, from the Wicker Man soundtrack. If said film were to be remade on a Swedish island, replacing bad harvest with years of bounty, then Me and My Kites could surely provide the perfect soundtrack.

Closer, Common Life ends the album with a lengthy 10 minute composition, slowly building up to an excellent jam, with multiple peaks and troughs, though ending on a more sombre note.

Through a combination of the groups sound and the albums accompanying imagery, it is difficult not to conjure up a picture of pristine landscapes.

Here on the album the band create a similar space for the listener. Free, from time, stress and pressure, if only for a brief moment. The album provides a pleasant place for consideration and consolidation.


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Sikth – The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out, Wait For Something Wild: Exactly what we were waiting for

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

Like many, this was the feeling I experienced following the dissolution of technical metal pioneers Sikth in 2008. I guess the world was just not ready for their unique blend of… well almost everything. Unfairly, the band was criminally overlooked during their prime years. Only now, with numerous pretenders attempting to usurp their crown do we realise their profound influence and importance. I have always regarded Sikth as being almost pivotal to my transcendence into adulthood and not just because I lost my virginity after one of their concerts (a story for a different blog) but because they were the first band I listened to that was genuinely regarded as experimental. Ultimately one of the first bands that would help define my now eclectic musical preferences.
I remember first hearing the single How May I Help You? in 2002. My naïve and dismissive musical taste at the time was more acclimatised to anything that would justify my ghastly fashion sense. The music was too complex; the songs had no structure, the vocals too weird. Back then I preferred music I could understand, so to speak. Not having any kind of knowledge regarding instrumentation or musical terminology I could not fully appreciate the complexity and therefore difficulty of what I was listening to. The Trees Are Dead... was my subsequent musical enlightenment, after this I could appreciate what I may have previously remarked as ‘noise.’
In 2003 no one was making music like Sikth. Sikth could well have even been the name of the genre; they were unrivalled in their field. Fast forward ten years and suddenly they have helped inspire a whole new sub-genre despite being inactive during the time. Personally, I only see the influence in guitar tone and inventive use of time signatures, Sikth operate on a much higher level of understanding. Their lyrics can be thought-provoking, conscientious, dark, and even humorous at times and their albums showcase a wider range of influences and genre-bending technical prowess
Twelve years ago today, their now landmark album The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out, Wait For Something Wild was released. What follows is a retrospective into one of the most important albums in the history of British metal.

Admit it; we were all waiting for something wild, in the early 2000’s British metal was growing increasingly stale. We had already demonstrated that we could not quite grasp the ludicrously popular Nu Metal trend, forced down our throats by those domineering Americans. We had Hell is for Heroes and Hundred Reasons reclaiming back some credibility for more conventional rock, but our selection of home grown metal was disappointingly sparse. Sikth emerged from London in the early 2000’s. Their first release, Let the Transmitting Begin was merely a taste of what was due. It was a chaotic and brief expression of the bands talent. Mikee Goodman’s schizophrenic vocals somehow fitted perfectly with Justin Hill’s melodic interjections. Guitarists, Dan Weller and Graham Pinney certainly knew their way around a fret board and the accompanying rhythm section of Dan Foord and James Leach took the technical complexity to much higher level than anything we’d heard previous.
The band followed up their debut release with another EP titled How May I Help You? Besides the more, conventionally structured Suffice, the EP demonstrated an increasingly experimental approach including a unique take on Nick Cave’s Tupelo. It was around this time the band first came to my attention with the accompanying video for How May I Help You? The quirky computer generated video somehow complemented the bizarrely structured song inspired by a short story written by Goodman. I had not heard anything resembling music like this before, yet I was curiously drawn to the band, completely intrigued by their approach to song writing and keen for more. In the days following the release of The Trees Are Dead… having had my expectations comprehensively destroyed, I realised I had now discovered one of my all time favourite albums. Not only was it the catalyst in my search for similar sounding music, but it made everything I had previously been listening to seem juvenile. Win, win. 

The Trees Are Dead… commences as a misleadingly conventional metal affair. Opener Scent Of The Obscene showcases James Leech's almost funk influenced bass style before leading into the trademark poetry inspired verses of Goodman and the melodic choruses of Hill. The song draws on themes of hypocrisy and behavioural ambiguity, calling out those prepared to subjugate others for their own gain.  
Through intelligent lyrics the theme of addressing a higher cause is continued with Pussyfoot which highlights the monotony and subservience of modern day society. Twelve years on, this song is even more relevant as English culture has transgressed even further into a bland, self obsessed amalgamation of fashion victims and celebrity idolisers. Pussyfoot reminds me of the lyrical themes emphasized by Tools song Ænima, which was itself inspired by the political commentary of Bill Hicks. Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan wrote Ænima in response to his disillusionment regarding the superficiality of Los Angeles. Keenan insists that society has become so complacent that a catastrophic event is the only thing that could elevate humanity to higher understanding, essentially wiping the slate clean and starting over.

Here in this hopeless fucking hole we call L.A.
The only way to fix it is to flush it all away.
Any fucking time. Any fucking day.
Learn to swim, I'll see you down in Arizona Bay.

Pussyfoot is similar both thematically and lyrically,

You see,
You're all the same,
Dirty, fuckers gone insane,
Hope there's an earthquake and it swallows all evil.

However, Goodman focuses more on the role of the mass media in influencing its population, referring to the controlling medium as ‘Fashion Fuckers’ and unlike Ænima there is a small hint of optimism in the lyrics calling for society to become more self aware and to disregard tradition. Ultimately, Pussyfoot is offering you a choice… enlightenment or enslavement.

Hold My Finger tackles the subject of sexuality in a metaphysical sense and argues there can be more to a relationship than just the physical elements. It questions the stereotype that predominantly regards the male as the one who overemphasizes the importance of sex. Here Goodman and Hill embody the stereotypically female preoccupations with feelings and emotion. The characters within the song have their traditional roles reversed. The male desires company and sentimental conversation, whilst the female merely wants sex.

Can we not chill, go to sleep with my arms around you?
But then you scream and your right.
I should be there for you.
So now I try, check my pulse to make sure I'm alive.
Sorry chick I cant get in
That Mood now!

Goodman’s lyrics have thus far challenged the listener to embrace transparency and negate conformity. With Skies Of Millennium Night, the theme is as indisputable as the message.
Skies of Millennium Night is a politically charged technical metal anthem which perfectly defines the duelling vocalist approach the band adopts. Lyrically, the song serves as follow up to Pussyfoot. As previously mentioned Pussyfoot highlights the greed and consumerism from an individual perspective and how combined mass media and laziness can create a culture of materialistic clones. Skies… exemplifies this from a global perspective and ultimately, defames humanities impact on the world from both an ecological and ethical viewpoint.
The song once again references Bill Hicks who was infamous for his politically charged social commentary and outright rejection of consumer culture but also his disgust at humanities ignorance towards its own kind.

Thousands suffer, we sleep, they starve, we eat.
Instead of fighting, why not feed & cloth the poor?

This makes reference to humanities preoccupation with power and the constant, costly wars that occur as a result. In most modern wars nations have engaged in conflict primarily for territory and resources. Ultimately all it condenses to is simply greed. Just as the individual wants more and more, so do ‘The Minds of Power.’
Goodman calls for us to ‘Look at the sky.’ In doing so we can both appreciate the natural world and consequently realise just how insignificant we are. The night sky and its seamless infinity poses more questions than we could ever comprehend, yet instead the majority is more preoccupied with self importance and gain. Dan Weller’s poignant tribute to his friend Emerson (Pt.1) gives you a brief moment to reflect on what you have just heard.

Perhaps the most drastic departure to the albums style is Peep Show. The song is as close to conventional song structure as Sikth get and is notable for being the sole song that Justin Hill serves as lead vocalist. This maybe a controversial opinion amongst long time Sikth fans, but Peep Show has always been my favourite song from the album. For all the previously addressed societal issues, unfortunately there is little we can do as individuals, especially with different opinions and different concerns. Peep Show addresses the biggest change we can make is to ourselves. 

 Let’s get all personal for a moment. In the linear notes Justin Hill explains that Peep Show was written in regards to people who involve themselves in the lives of others. My own interpretation lead me to realise that I was too involved in my own life to even consider the lives of others. As an arrogant and opinionated teenager, I often alienated myself through inconsiderate actions and an elevated sense of superiority. All it took was for a former acquaintance to point out the similarities between the lyrics and my own behaviours to create an overpowering sense of realisation.  It was too late for the relationship but I began the following liaison with a much more considerate approach. And in the end, what’s been achieved? Self discovery. 

Mikee Goodman’s poetic origins begin the increasingly experimental second half of the album. Wait For Something Wild serves as an ode to a failing relationship, the characters within the song seemingly waiting for ‘something wild’ to reignite their connection, when regrettably, it is unlikely to happen. The finality emphasized by Goodman’s Mike Patton-esque vocal breakdown that leads out the song, simultaneously channeling despair, anger and repentance.

Whilst Wait For Something Wild characterises the ending of a relationship, If You Weren’t So Perfect examines the beginnings. Goodman has stated the song is about confusing love with lust and the emotional turmoil it can invariably cause.

Sucked me in.
With Just three words,
These three words.

The three words in question are ‘I love you’ yet, with only alluding to them within the lyrics, the theme of confusion is exaggerated. Love can lead to obsession, hence the titles reference to perfection, but also to paranoia, especially if it is unrequited.

In comparison, love makes no discernible reference within Such The Fool. The song is once again an attack towards the transgressions of societal morality. Featuring lyrics deemed too vulgar to be reprinted within the inlays, Such The Fool details a promiscuous character devoid of any understanding of consequence. Here Goodman displays his ability to proficiently confront serious issues in a humorous manner.

May as well strap an advert to your back saying,
Fuck Me, Free Disease, Stupefied Bitch,
Open Legs, Insert Quick,
Philosophy of a slut.

With Such The Fool we feel no pity for character as they refuse to acknowledge they are doing any wrong. Instead we laugh and wait for the resounding and inevitable told-you-so’s, or at least I do. Maybe due to the alarming number of ‘fools’ I’ve had the displeasure of knowing over the years.

The album ends with the spoken word poetry of Goodman on When Will The Forest Speak…? The poem makes reference to the over-industrialisation of the world and contains numerous metaphorical allusions to nature having a voice, unfortunately, a voice that cannot be heard over humanities.

I had the immense pleasure of being there for Sikth’s reformation concert at Download Festival in 2014. Not only did manage to catch Dan Loord’s drumstick with my face, but like many I realised just how important the band was to me. You could tell by the looks on the bands faces, staring out across the expansive crowd that maybe they didn’t realise how important they were either? Or how much they were missed? The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out, Wait For Something Wild is quite simply one of the greatest British metal albums of all time. Way ahead of its time and highly influential.  The band is back and rejuvenated, now we wait for something wilder… 


Saturday, 8 August 2015

Tub Ring - Zoo Hypothesis: The Search for Intelligent Music

Tub Rings Zoo Hypothesis was released eleven years ago this month, here is a retrospective of the album.

The Zoo Hypothesis is essentially, an argument in diversity, albeit on an astronomical scale. The hypothesis argues that; firstly, it is plausible to assume that a large or possibly infinite amount of extra-terrestrial civilisations exist, secondly explaining the reasoning as to why humanity is yet to make contact with these hypothetical beings. Apt then that Tub Ring would name their third album after one of the most fundamental considerations of the known universe.
Tub Ring are specialists in musical diversity through thought provoking, intelligent lyrics and spectacular live performances, yet much like the hypothesis illustrates, the band is yet to register to the majority or be appreciated by the audience they deserve. On writing this I feel like the victim of a supposed alien abduction. I have witnessed the truth, been systematically enlightened and have the answers to many of the questions that we, as humanity so desperately seek the answers for, but no one is listening, no one believes. Such is the dismissive culture we exist in.
           Much like their two previous albums; The Drake Equation and The Fermi Paradox, Zoo Hypothesis also contains many references to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligent life. I always assumed the choice of subject matter to be an appropriate metaphor the band adopted in searching for an audience; Intelligent being the key word in this case. The aforementioned Drake Equation showcased more of the bands influences, namely Mr Bungle, rather than the experimental (and ironically more accessible) style they would later adopt. The album was produced by Mr Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance, and it would be justifiable to say that he was given a large portion of creative control over the bands artistic direction as it largely replicates the earlier sound of Mr Bungle with its diverse vocal delivery, abstract lyrics and complex genre-bending song structures.
           The following years Fermi Paradox demonstrated an increasingly back to basics approach, whilst it still favoured an experimental sound, it owed more to the bands punk rock beginnings and was, consequently a more accessible, but by no means less enjoyable record. With Zoo Hypothesis, Tub Ring formulted the perfect combination of their previous work and coupled with improved musical proficiency, they fully developed their style into one of the best albums of the year and one of my favourite albums of all time.
           The opening song Tiny, Little immediately demonstrates Tub Rings musical intentions for this album. The dramatic cabaret piano inspired track, cleverly describes major events in humanities cultural and technological history, documenting; The Last Supper, Moses crossing the Red Sea, the invention of the computer and finally the creation of the atomic bomb. A familiar concept to Tub Rings music is inspired lyrical themes of both science and philosophy. In this case, the argument details that something so small can ultimately be so significant. A piece of bread can prove integral to a theology and the smallest constituent of matter, an atom, can ultimately cause widespread devastation. 
           The theological and scientific references continue into the following song Death of the Robot. Vocalist Kevin Gibson assumes the role of a higher being, seemingly berating their own creation.

“Proof of life is carbon I am everything you're not,
I'll leave you to each other because you share a single god”

The song touches on the perpetual confliction between science and religion. Science can rarely be interpreted in a theological context, certain aspects of religion can be explained in a scientific manner. Whilst humanity previously relied on divine explanations for unanswered questions, science has since enlightened those who are willing to listen. Tub Ring are, consequently proposing the search for intelligent life may initially begin at home.
           The Promise Keeper and Sharpening the Sticks deal with more conventional and earthly subject matters. The Promise Keeper details corporate greed and austerity, and climaxes with the resounding lyrics “If I were wise I’d see a trend” referencing the continual economic problems that nearly every single generation has faced. The problems of many account from the actions of few. Sharpening the Sticks is an exploration into rebellion, perhaps on account of the capitalistic corruption depicted in the previous song? Intentionally or otherwise Tub Ring are able to formlessly link the motifs of their songs to the extent that the album almost becomes musical storytelling. Zoo Hypothesis is far from a concept album; more specifically it presents a different concept with each song.
           Much like their admired contemporaries Mr Bungle, Tub Ring are not reluctant to experiment and subvert the expectations of their loosely defined genre. Besides the introductory Tiny, Little, the first half of the album stays complimentary to the bands rock-orientated roots, short up-tempo punk influenced songs, punctuated by the inventive keyboards and synths of Rob Kleiner. I Could Never Fall in Love with You presents the first dramatic stylistic departure. The song is purposely archaic both musically and thematically. It channels artists from the fifties when music was considered increasingly innocent and lyrics often dwelled upon traditional themes such as relationships and love. Naturally, Tub Rings unique interpretation of the genre creates an almost, anti-love song and instead describes the unrequited love of a failing relationship.
           The conventional rock-orientated approach returns with Habitat and the almost industrial influenced Dog Doesn’t Bite which builds an unnerving electronic introduction before climaxing into a full out punk spectacle complete with sampled Morse Code. Just as the listener is adapting to the tone of the album, Raindrops once again presents an impressive contrast in musical direction. Raindrops emerges as the highlight of the album for a number of reasons. It deceptively masquerades as a subjectively happy song, in a musical sense. It is upbeat with an almost Christmas themed appeal, when you carefully dissect the lyrics do you reveal the emotional narrative of a soldier dictating his last letter home. Only then does the song take on a new meaning, the titular raindrops are tears, “The storm growing closer” is the soldiers, seemingly inevitable death. Just as the song structures can be misleading, the lyrics are equally and reactively ambiguous.
           The album concludes with Vehicle which again demonstrates a higher lyrical understanding with a metaphorical allusion to the Heavens Gate cult of the 1970’s. The cult committed mass suicide believing they would elevate their physical existence and embark upon a UFO that was allegedly following the comet Hale-Bopp. The Vehicle in question was the human body, which the cult believed was merely a vessel for their consciousness.

“When we leave behind this land, just be sure to take my hand,
Across the way and come with me,
When we shed our binds and leave our vessels far behind,
We'll find a way and we'll be free.”

           Paradoxically, the search for intelligent life has caused humanity to commit to often foolish means of enlightenment which links back to the Zoo Hypothesis. Maybe there is intelligent life out there? Maybe they see humanity as far too primitive and self destructive to make their presence known? An uneducated and uncivilised species, obsessed with monetary gain and imaginary friends that will solve all their life problems upon the condition of subservience. Should I ever come into contact with extra terrestrial life, I would urge them to listen to this album and prove that there is a small contingent of people out there with conscientious awareness of the world they exist in, and most importantly a desire to improve it, in an artistic sense at least.