Beak>, Bristol’s ungoogleable krautrock trio-du-jour, have returned after three years with a great new album in tow. Billy Fuller, Matt Williams, and Geoff Barrow (of Portishead; though Barrow has been clear that Beak> is not a Portishead side-project) have refined the menacing beat-driven jams of their 2009 debut and released a collection of songs whose consistency, songwriting, and level of professional quality should be a template for any band of a similar nature.
Krautrock is a loose term at its root. Some bands like Cluster and Faust are known for their lengthy, avant-garde, pseudo-noise pieces, while bands like Can and NEU! have employed more rhythmic songwriting methods. I suppose that in this perspective, Beak> is to krautrock what Battles is to math rock. That is, they make it an accessible, almost radio-friendly genre. They prefer to keep things short, rhythmic, and friendly instead of lengthy, noisy, and inaccessible, and it pays off handsomely for them.
On », Beak> have perfected their art. On tracks like “Yatton” and “Eggdog,” the noticeable melodic elements become memorable components of the overall rhythmic structure. In layman’s terms, it’s more interesting and enjoyable than any krautrock I’ve heard for quite some time, even more so than Beak>’s own debut album. Of course, the single best thing about » is the return of the band’s standalone single “Wulfstan” as a revamped, perfected “Wulfstan II.” This song is the best on the album by far, showcasing the band’s monolithic, dark rhythm in all its glory; washed out vocals drone over the top of chugging guitar riffs, stark and repetitious drum beats, and flourishes of feedback and dissonant synth stabs.
It’s these moments that make » such a standout album, both in relationship to their debut and to other albums of similar type. So, why just the B rating? Beak> are an exceptional, professional band, but they work best with a formula. Many songs like the aforementioned “Yatton” and “Wulfstan II” are great pieces, but the album fails to deliver on some of the more avant-garde songs like opener “The Gaol” and the drum-less “Ladies’ Mile.” Beak> makes a good attempt at making these songs work, but they actually end up disrupting the flow of the album and falling short of the expectations set by the other songs on the album. It’s a bittersweet notion. On one hand, it means that their music is formulaic, but on the other hand it’s really great music. In theory, krautrock is a rather formulaic genre, and a near dead one at that. In my opinion, it’s heartening to know that bands like Beak> still continue that legacy.
Brendan Benson has released critically-acclaimed albums throughout the past decade, but you may also know him as a co-founding member of The Raconteurs.
The video for “Pretty Baby” off the 2012 album What Kind of World, which is Benson’s first album released under his own label Readymade Records will take you on a journey to Baskerville Hall, in England’s west country of Devon by Arthur Conan Doyle, even though our guy was actually born in Detroit and lives in Nashville, which is a western of its own.
Directed by Young Hines, an artist who was first discovered and signed to Readymade by Benson himself, this video shows Mr. Hines multiple talents besides singing.
Secluded for the better part of the last year, the London quintet, Zulu Winter, wrote and recorded their debut album, with little to no wrap up, outside two tremendously popular singles, “Never Leave” and “Let’s Move Back to Front”, followed by “We Should Be Swimming”. They received the typical accolades that incur dozens of comparisons to contemporaries, some more warranted than others. With a list of influences and references as distinct as Armenian director Sergei Parajanov and Alice Coltrane, it’s hard to know what to make of the final product, Language. Frontman Will Daunt leads the band with his falsetto vocals and penchant for xylophones, albeit with little innovation, continuing the argument that Zulu Winter might not be completely living up to their potential.
Claimed as the umpteenth “new Vaccines”, it’s natural for the hype machine to go on overdrive with Zulu Winter, especially when nearly every blog reviews and artist’s first work, even if it’s only been months since their formation. Going on small tour with similar acts Clock Opera and Outfit, then venturing to America at the early part of this year, they kept their album completely under wraps outside of the few tracks they played on the road. Opening for the massively popular band Keane, they opened themselves up to comparisons won’t stop anytime soon. The restrictive nature of being a “buzz band” seemingly took its toll, and the pressure to continue on their current route was overwhelming, but the music still contains a certain appeal, even if it’s to an audience of mainstream pop fans.
The opener, “Key To My Heart” starts off with Afrobeat percussion and droning field recordings, alluding to a grandiose spirit that never quite arrives. Not a bad song, but the song never evolves into what it promised. “We Should Be Swimming” is a great step up, with throbbing bass that could be played on any dance floor on both sides of the Atlantic, but again it doesn’t live up to expectations. The songs that follow (“Bitter Moon” through “Silver Tongue”) continue on the same vein. The first single “Let’s Move Back to Front”, provides something different. It has a strong Morrissey influence; there’s no other way to describe such macabre lyrics delivered in such a delighted manner.
I suppose I’m mostly baffled at the lack of experimentation, the likes of which they had alluded to in interviews and articles I’ve read over the past few months. Despite the various mixtapes they posted to their blog or the mentions of musical influences such as Bradford Cox, the crisp, detailed, run-of-the-mill nature of their production proved much to the contrary. While I enjoyed most of the album, I couldn’t differentiate where the aforementioned influences started and where the lofty contemporary sound ended. From the heap of sound, the best comparison I can draw is to English indie rock band Wild Beasts, but again, this band’s biggest detriment is their lack of identity; I can only draw comparisons and cite obvious influences.
While the record has its various flaws, and I have my various reservations, Zulu Winter have assembled a well-crafted first effort. It’s easy to take offense at failure to deliver on their promises and ambitions, especially with a band whose reputation precedes them so much as Zulu Winter, but despite its various shortcomings Language has an underlining groundwork for something more inspired.
You may find this Introducing article a little confusing because I’m going to introduce you to a band that was formed 7 years ago. Unless you’re from their native Isle Of Wight (the largest island off England, fact fans) you may not have heard much of Jackson Analogue and if that’s the case it’s a real shame because let me tell you this band is pretty awesome.
I think a bit of history would be the best place to start. Formed in 2004 this five-piece (Rob Homes, Peter Corney, Craig Watson, Jim Homes and Matt Winsor) had their first release in 2005 which led to a sell-out gig at Ryde Castle (that’s in the Isle Of Wight) and a record deal with Island Records. Various events throughout 2006 lead to a parting of the ways with Island but with the release of their first album and support dates with rock gods The Who things were looking up.
2007 saw them start on their follow up album “Boo Hoo You”. Incredibly it took 3 long years to release and I’ve just had my first listen to it. Was it worth the wait? The answer is a resounding “God yes!” and that’s why we’re making them “Ones To Watch”.
With influences including Muddy Waters, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who and Led Zeppelin the 10 track album sees the band sounding a little like a hybrid version of all 4 along with a touch of Kings Of Leon thrown in. This is blues-rock at its best and it needs to be played loud. My only gripe is that it’s too short and I’m not sure I can wait three years for the next one. Luckily I can catch them at the Bestival this year.
You can download the album from here but to give you a taster here’s my favourite track, “The Mexican” for you to have a listen to.
Don’t you just love it when you think that you’re going to have a normal, run of the mill evening and something so astonishing happens that it lifts its way out of the ordinary? That’s what happened the other night when I clicked on the link in the email that I received about this guy, Halls.
Halls is a South-east London producer otherwise known as Sam Howard and he’s making a bit of a name for himself in the electronic world.
The UK is currently awash with electronic talent at the moment so to stand out you’ve got to be special and Halls is rather special. Looking at his picture up there you’d think he’s more like the kind of guy you’d find hanging round the scene rather than creating it, but his ability to produce ethereal dreamscapes of sound is so accomplished that when I first heard these tracks I was totally blown away, expecting them to come from someone who’d been around far longer.
With homage to the likes of Burial, Mount Kimbie and Gold Panda all present, his ability to build layers interwoven with micro-samples, warped strings and his own fragile voice mean that his style is most definitely his own.
His new single, “Solace” has just been released and is backed by “Colossus” and “Brave New World”. Together the three tracks give you a glimpse of this style and why we here at Listen Before You Buy think he is definitely one to watch. We’re not alone on that front as Gold Panda have just got him to remix their track “Marriage” (I’m spoiling you by including that to).
If you want to catch him live he’s got two gigs coming up in London – one on 15th April at Star of King’s Cross and another on 28th April at Club The Mammoth with Japayork and co. at The Queen of Hoxton.