Monthly Archives: April 2011

Review: Marbled – Electric Sleep EP / Pocket Search EP

Marbled - Electric Sleep EP

Occasionally, artists seek to shatter their audience’s perception of who they are and the type of music they make. This is, perhaps, what Marbled wishes to do with his Electric Sleep EP, which sees him temporarily hanging up his acoustic guitar and delving into the realm of electronica. But if our perception of Marbled is to be shattered, then the EP’s opening track does so in the gentlest manner possible – ‘Olympian Ambition’ clearly demonstrates that this is not an EP of brain-pounding, four-to-the-floor electro, rather a peaceful, ambient soundscape – Marbled’s vocals glide over unhurried, slightly off-kilter beats and shimmering piano effects. ‘Telescope’, on the other hand, feels a touch more menacing, featuring deep, rumbling bass notes and a jagged, robotic synth riff in its chorus – but the darker feel is contrasted with sparkling chimes and ethereal-sounding vocals.

The gently-strummed chords that underpin ‘Brave New World’s intro and chorus show that Marbled hasn’t entirely abandoned his guitar for this EP, but the majority of the track is still electronically based, from the swelling strings in the background to the drum machine beats that drive the song forward – towards its climax, the track sounds like Sigur Rós for a brief, beautiful moment. Finally, ‘Notre Damn’ is another successful re-appropriation of an Alpha Waves tune, taking the plaintive, acoustic original and turning it into something much more expansive and atmospheric. Echoing bell-rings bring to mind the cavernous interior of the (almost) titular cathedral, while the accompanying electronics conjure up a lonely, starry night.

Marbled – ‘Notre Damn’ 

The only minor problem I have with the EP is that, with the exception of ‘Notre Damn’, Marbled’s vocals seem to blend in to the accompanying soundtrack a little too much at times. In truth, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, highlighting as it does the potential to use the voice as another instrument. But at the same time, it feels like the sense of narrative (that so often seems to drive his work) is diminished somewhat. Overall though, the Electric Sleep EP is a worthwhile departure for Marbled – not only does it indicate an unwillingness to be pigeonholed, it’s also a finely polished piece of work.

More familiar, but no less ambitious, is Marbled’s most recent release, the Pocket Search EP – which blends four individual songs into one seamless track. The EP starts out with ‘Seven Days’, which contrasts its upbeat guitars with world-weary lyrics and a feel of chasing an impossible goal (“Seven days a week/running miles, running miles”). The EP follow this with a subtle change to a minor key on ‘Stars Tonight’, a song which, by contrast, seems to long for an escape (“Where do you go when your world stops spinning?/Anywhere to leave them all behind”). The minor key tones are maintained on ‘Level Horizons’, during which, at times, the guitar drops out entirely leaving Marbled’s voice exposed – appropriately while he’s singing the lyrics “I can’t hide on level horizons.” It’s a clever and confident little touch. The sequence ends with the melancholy but beautiful ‘Birds And Bee’ – could the repeated refrain of “A white swan on an ink-black lake” be referring to someone who’s a ray of hope in a miserable world? Maybe that’s just me projecting.

Overall, the Pocket Search EP executes its concept brilliantly and is probably Marbled’s most accomplished piece of work to date. I think it’s one of those things where you really have to listen yourself to get the full effect, but luckily Marbled has uploaded it to his Soundcloud profile, so I’ve posted it below:

Marbled – Pocket Search EP

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30 Years Late: Discovering The Durutti Column

It’s rare to go into a gig without some idea of what to expect from the headline band, especially in this internet age – but that’s exactly what I did tonight when I popped into The Duchess to see The Durutti Column. All I really knew about this apparently legendary post-punk band is that they’ve been around for over 30 years and released about as many albums. At first glance, there’s something about the band that is endearingly shambolic. Before even playing a single note, guitarist and frontman Vini Reilly warns us that he “can’t play for shit” due to a minor stroke he suffered last year. The band’s first song features bassist Keir Stuart’s 7-year old daughter on sampler duty, and later on the band play a new song that Reilly “can’t remember anything about” apart from a vague recollection of the title. Drummer Bruce Mitchell even wanders off stage at one point, prompting Vini to protest “you’re on this one, come back… pretty please?”

Wonderfully, however, the music is anything but shambolic. Despite his earlier protestations, Reilly’s guitar playing is intricate and interesting, and Mitchell is simply as cool as fuck – despite being old enough to be my granddad, he’s still rocking the ‘sunglasses at night’ look, and his complex jazz drumming seems effortless. While their music fits into the post-punk category, it also has an air of post-rock about it as well due to the band’s tendency to play lengthy instrumentals – though in this case, lengthy certainly doesn’t equate to ‘boring’. So it’s genuinely sad when Reilly admits to not feeling well (having not slept properly for 3 days) and is forced to leave us with a final, brief solo guitar piece. Of course, some bellend has to ruin it by bellowing loudly for more and then calling the crowd a bunch of ‘miserable cunts’ when we refuse to do the same – apparently showing a little respect is beyond some people. Regardless of that, and despite not knowing at all what to expect going in, I can safely say that I’m glad I managed to see this band before I die.

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Shit Just Got Real: Nintendo Announces New Console Release For 2012

After days of speculation and information trickling through to the gaming press, Nintendo have made it official – the successor to the Wii will be launched in 2012. According to various sources the new console is code-named ‘Project Cafe’, and is rumoured to be ‘significantly’ more powerful than the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 as well as being backwards compatible with current Wii software. More intriguingly, rumours suggest that the console’s controllers will feature a 6-inch touchscreen, and will be capable of streaming content directly from the console.

Nintendo’s President Satoru Iwata had only this cryptic comment regarding the new launch – “We would like to propose a new approach to home video game consoles.” Clearly, Nintendo isn’t simply planning a new iteration of the Wii with shinier graphics – but what exactly will this new approach entail? We won’t have too long to find out, as the company plans to showcase a playable version of the console at this year’s E3, which will take place from the 7th-9th June in LA. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the company has come up with.

(Information via IGN and The Escapist.)

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Let’s Get Chainsawing: Gears Of War 3 Beta Impressions, pt. I

Even if you’re a fan of the series, you could be forgiven for approaching the Gears Of War 3 multiplayer beta with some trepidation. The original Gears Of War’s multiplayer was a fast-paced, unforgiving shotgun-fest where only the most hardcore would succeed, while Gears Of War 2’s multiplayer was plagued by glitches and connection problems (as well as still being a bit of a shotgun-fest). Still, there was fun to be had if you could get a decent game, and so I hoped that with Gears Of War 3 the series could finally strike true multiplayer gold.

So far, the beta seems promising. Playing on dedicated servers seems to have largely eradicated the dreaded ‘host advantage’ and there seem to be a lot more simultaneous deaths (instead of the host winning by default) – although there do seem to be occasional bullshit moments where you think you’ve pulled the trigger to kill someone but then die a split second after. Perhaps that’s just been bad timing on my part though. Does the shotgun still rule the battlefield though? Sort of. The dreaded Gnasher shotgun still seems to be pretty powerful and is still more than capable of instantly downing or killing an opponent if you get a good hit at close range. I found myself preferring the new Sawn-off Shotgun though – you only get one shot before a lengthy reload, and the weapon’s effective range is very limited, but connect with that shot and your opponent can kiss their ass goodbye. You can even kill multiple opponents with a single shot if they’re stood close enough together.

Cole demonstrates the use of the new Sawn-off Shotgun.

However, catch a shotgun-toting fool outside of their effective range and you can make mincemeat of them with the game’s rifles, which seem to have received a boost since Gears 2. Particularly effective against shotgunners is the Retro Lancer – its power is offset by a heavy recoil that makes it a bit of a pain to use at long range, but when someone’s trying to get up in your face it’s the perfect weapon for downing them before they can close the gap. While holding it you can also hold B to use an immensely satisfying bayonet charge move, which is best used when you can catch an opponent off guard. The original Lancer is back with a slight difference – the chainsaw now takes a couple of seconds to rev up, but once you get it going the only way your opponent is going to stop it is if they drop you before you cut them in half. It also seems like the most balanced of the three rifles in terms of range and power. The Hammerburst also gets an upgrade in the form of iron sights (which can be used by clicking down the right stick), which do a lot to increase the effective range of the weapon. I never really used the Hammerburst in Gears 2, but I find myself liking it a lot more here – with a steady aim and a quick trigger finger, you can down someone in a flash.

Fire and firepower.

There’s also a new grenade type, the Incendiary Grenade. Overall these don’t seem quite as useful as the standard Frag Grenades, although if you hit someone with one directly it’s an instant kill, and the persistent flames can be used to block off advancing opponents. On a related note, Ink Grenades now seem to be completely useless – they can now briefly stun opponents, but their area of effect and damage seem to be severely nerfed. The only other new weapon I’ve had access to so far is the Digger Launcher. This nifty weapon fires a projectile that burrows underground before jumping up and exploding when it senses an enemy nearby – thus allowing you to bypass cover entirely. The projectile does have a tell-tale trail as it travels towards its target though, so it’s best used against an unsuspecting opponent, or as a way to dislodge heavily entrenched opposition.

I’ll be posting more impressions from the beta in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

(Screenshots via IGN.com)

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Things I’ll Be Missing While I’m At Work #1: Mazes

To the uninitiated, working in a live music venue seems like a great way to get paid to see gigs, but the problems with this happy thought are twofold. If you do happen to be working when a band you actually like is playing, you’ll often be too busy to actually enjoy the gig itself. More often than not though, you’ll end up stuck watching bands you’d rather not see and wish you were in a different venue, watching something else. And so it is for me next weekend, when I will be obliged to subject myself to another show by Sandi Thom (of culturally confused “I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair” fame) when I’d rather be across town at Stereo checking these guys out:

Not sure why the lead singer of Mazes sounds so American when the band were formed in Manchester, but I guess it fits in with their US-leaning, fuzzy guitar-based sound so I’ll forgive them that. If you enjoyed that then you can stream the entirety of their debut album A Thousand Heys on Spotify here. They’ve also got tour dates planned in the very near future, including the aforementioned date at Stereo in York on the 29th – all the dates can be found here.

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Pioneering Physical Format #1: JoFo’s ‘Frisbeep’

Johnny Foreigner have never been the kind of band who forsake physical formats, but their most recent release takes their love for the tangible in an unexpected and entertaining new direction. Behold Certain Songs Are Cursed, the first ever ‘Frisbee EP’ (aka ‘Frisbeep’):

So shiny you can see your face in it (kinda). The CD is on the back:

Pretty cool no? Guaranteed to bolster your indie credentials in your local park this summer. Almost makes me want to go out and play some Frisbee – and I suck at Frisbee.

Before you go rushing off outdoors though, you might want to detach the CD from the bottom of the Frisbee, as it happens to have some pretty cool songs on it (and besides, you don’t want the disc to get scratched when a wayward throw sends your Frisbee into the nearest tree).

Like the two sides of a Frisbee, Certain Songs Are Cursed is an EP of two halves – ‘What Drummers Get’ and ‘Twin Sisterzz’ are both riotous slabs of JoFo’s signature ‘tweecore’, with Alexei and Kelly’s duelling vocals battling it out above squalling guitars and Junior’s breakneck drumming. Both songs definitely have the sort of moments that make JoFo songs so special, whether it be the guitar breakdown at the end of ‘What Drummers Get’, or the brief a cappella section featured in ‘Twin Sisterzz’.

The latter two tracks, on the other hand, are slower-paced and more contemplative – ‘Johnny Foreigner Vs You (Cursed Version)’ is a piano-driven(!) lament, while ‘Certain Songs’ is a poignant acoustic ballad that explores the theme of ‘cursed songs’, and features an anonymous fan reading a brief piece on the subject that was originally written by Alexei. It’s a nice touch that rounds off the EP pretty well.

Sadly the Frisbeep is now totally sold out, but you can still get the tracks from the Alcopop store here. The band have also just started a UK/European Tour, dates and details can be found on the band’s blog.

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These New Puritans Release Hidden Live Footage

I hate snow. If it wasn’t for snow, I would have actually been in Berlin to watch These New Puritans playing this:

If, like me, you managed to miss the band’s Hidden Live shows, then this video gives you a pretty good impression of what they would have been like – which is to say, fucking amazing. The video is of the band’s encore from their show at Hebbel Am Ufer in Berlin, and features instrumental track ‘Irreversible’ and a re-worked version of ‘En Papier’. You can also download a live version of ‘Hologram’ from the same show by heading over to their website.

If you happen to live near Murcia in Spain (or fancy a trip in that direction), there will be one final performance of Hidden Live at the SOs48 Festival on the 6th May. The band also have a headline show scheduled for May 18th at Heaven in London, which will apparently feature “an expanded band lineup – playing music new, old and current”. There are also a smattering of European dates announced for the summer – look here for more details and ticket links.

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