Wednesday, 20 July 2011

In Debt - Black International

Two thirds of Black International are Edinburgh College Of Art graduates, and that's a good place to start when describing their sound. Their debut album In Debt has a stripped-back sound that displays heavy post-punk and art rock influences.

Opener A Million Mouths sets the tone for the rest of the album, with an extended build-up that ushers in 3 minutes of unrelenting, jaggy chords. This is followed by the pounding Destruct, which offers a satisfyingly cohesive extension of the same ideas, but with a different dynamic. It works better than A Million Mouths, sounding very reminiscent of a recent The Fall track at points, with a perfect instrumental section that comes together with a darkly catchy vocal hook from frontman Stewart Allen. This darker tone continues into Dread, which ebbs and flows and creates a real feeling of tension, before releasing into a passage that actually sounds quite like Arctic Monkeys, but in a good way.

These three strong tracks highlight one of In Debt's key strengths- rather than doing as Franz Ferdinand et al have done, and fashioning these influences into a more pop-orientated shade of post-punk, the record feels more akin to the gloomier, grittier sounds of Joy Division and Wire. The former's classic album 'Unknown Pleasures' in particular can be heard throughout, particularly in drummer Craig Peebles' frantic, hook-based approach to drumming. The album is produced in a pleasingly lo-fi fashion that suits the stripped-back instrumentation and songwriting.

However, this approach to writing music doesn't always translate terribly well into the format of an 11-track album. Indeed, at points In Debt feels like it is retreading the same ground, and would very probably have benefited from a more concise tracklisting. That said, one of the band's understated strong points, Stewart Allan's guitar work, helps add longevity to the record. His cyclic riffs and chords display some real musical depth at points, for instance on Know You Exist, which echoes Joy Division's 'Disorder', and Idle Worship, which is a late highlight.

Overall, In Debt is a satisfying debut album. Whilst it arguably gets tired midway when viewed as an overall piece of work, the individual tracks themselves are concisely written and energetic, and give the impression that Black International are well worth checking out as a live band.
Stewart McLachlan

Friday, 15 July 2011

Hagana and The Fire & I - A Night of Astounding Revelations - Cabaret Voltaire Edinburgh 1 Jul 2011

The underground caverns of Cabaret Voltaire can be whatever you want them to be. To some bands the venue is a gallery, and to others an amphitheatre. To some it is a dungeon and to others it is a refuge. After eleven, it is the pulsating heart of Edinburgh’s electro club scene. Support act Hagana’s (photo on right) set had an intimate environment, as the room was packed with friends and fans of the band alike, all along to show their support. The band look at home on the stage, loosening up in a way they haven’t often done before, showing more potential still to be tapped.

By contrast, headliner The Fire and I’s (photo on left by Edi Pyczek) set is the well-polished, confident presentation of rigour and near-palpable performance experience, and the crowd greets them like the rock stars they are. The gig marks the end of the band’s tour in support of their fantastic debut album, Stampede Finale, and the effective homecoming for the Bathgate-via-Mexico City energetic alternative rock duo, who have been touring not just Scotland, but Italy too. It will also be the last gig the band perform for at least a couple of months, as the band take time off to write some new songs, and work on a side-project; more on that to follow.

The other big reason for the animation of the gathered audience is the first live performance and unveiling of Hagana’s secret new bassist, which can now reveal is Death Trap City drummer Michael Field (photo on right by Edi Pyczek).

“There was a couple of interesting moments when I was loud as hell when I shouldn’t have been,” Field confessed after the show, “but that’s cool, it’s a learning process.”

As a drummer, Field was impressed by The Fire and I. “Their drummer’s cool. All of his stick tricks are ace! Proper out of the hand stick tricks that’re ridiculous! I don’t have the balls to throw any of those down on stage.” As a bassist, Field feels he’s just a newbie. “Having to stand up and not having anything to hide behind is f***ing terrifying. Proper terrifying.”

Hagana’s lead singer and guitarist, Leo Fox (left), was overjoyed with the performance. “Our new bass player done fantastic, he only had one practise with us, and he fitted like a glove, basically. He done fantastic.” Drummer David Chisholm (right) agrees. “Good considering I came back from Asia on Wednesday night and we had one practice on Thursday night and then the gig on Friday night. It was good all three of us having fun on stage, which I think has been missing the last couple of months. Obviously we miss our old bass player; he’s been with us for so long, but I think all three of us could use a fresh band, I think we’ve got a nice but of fun and enthusiasm to the band that was missing before.”

Fox also mentioned he was happy to see The Fire and I play again: “They’re old gigging chums of ours, we’ve gigged with them many times, great showmen, and I think they’ll go on to great things.”

Cheering on Field’s first bass show was Death Trap City lead singer and bassist Craig Robson (left). “I thought he was rubbish. No, I’m just kidding... I thought he was fantastic and I’m very, very proud.”

“Didn’t really watch much of The Fire and I if I’m honest,” Robson admitted. Immediately regretting it, he added. “Please don’t put this quote on your website, because I do actually think they’re awesome but I was otherwise occupied talking to people and things like that.”

Who could he have been talking to? Perhaps a very drunk Matthew Bakewell (right), lead singer of A Fight You Can’t Win, after whom Hagana have named a song in their set. “I think that Hagana’s bass player is a cross between the one fellah from Soundgarden and Gary Glitter,” Bakewell stated. “Which is, in my opinion, the best thing that ever happened. I think that he is both an excellent bass player but clearly fiddles kids.” Presumably, this is an endorsement from Bakewell, who is referred to affectionately by his friends as ‘Edinburgh’s favourite sex pest’. He went on to describe similar affections for The Fire and I: “I initially wasn’t entirely sure but actually they are the s***. Really, really good, and I want to f*** both of them in the ass, hard.” Hmmm.

The aftershow party is less than a minute’s walk away. Down Blair Street, across the Cowgate, up the alleyway stairs towards Guthrie Street you’ll find The Store. The VIP room upstairs is complete with low-sitting couches, a pool table, full service bar and Golden Age comic book artwork of Wolverine and Spider-Man (left) adorning the walls. Not to mention banging tracks and more faces from the Edinburgh alternative scene.

Such as lead singer of Scrap Brain, Angie Clarke (right). On the subject of Hagana, she exclaimed: “Loved them! It was really much more energy and stuff, I really liked it.” Then, as the token girl, Angie offered some beauty tips: “The Fire and I were good as usual... lots of energy, very sweaty, and what’s his name? Gordon? Very good, however, needs to work on his hair as it looks like a wig on back-to-front.”

Martina Cannon (right of photo on left) disagrees, “They’re tidy! The two of them are quite tidy. Good looking, aye,” she proclaims wistfully. Scene darling Martina Cannon is a regular sight at alternative gigs in Edinburgh and can be seen here as part of A Fight You Can’t Win’s stage invasion. She was impressed with Field’s debut appearance as well. “He was s*** hot, he moves like a panther. And there’s going to be a lot more of that, I can imagine, in the next couple of gigs.”

A panther? That doesn’t really match Angus Ross's (right of photo on right) description. “I quite like the way that his head still moves the same way when he’s playing bass as when he’s playing drums. Just a little bit of leg action on top so what more do you want?” “Jumpy-aroundy,” Chris Elsheikhi (left of photo on right) adds. Chris and Angus run Bainbridge Music, and they put tonight’s gig together. They were very pleased with their headliner’s performance. “Brilliant, really, really good. Energetic, in a word,” Chris says succinctly. “Well, what did everybody else think of The Fire and I?” Angus asks rhetorically. “You heard the crowd, you’ve got it on record, they were unbelievable... even the monitor mix sounded amazing”.

Hooligan Sadikson (left), ever-smiling drummer of The Fire and I, strolls into the afterparty fashionably late with a grin even wider than usual. “Today it went like a Super Pot Noodle when you’re hungry; so, really good. Of course it’s good to be back, I miss all the passionate fans. Although, they’re passionate over there as well.” By “over there” he means Italy, where the band have been away on a manager-free, entourage-free, girlfriend-free two-person tour. So used to being joined at the hip to his bandmate, Sadikson found the idea of a new member in Hagana a little hard to digest. “He must have been the real bassist originally. Surely he did not learn all those songs in one day. That’s f***ing crazy. I love him!”

The night gets later, and people either go home or get drunker. The other half of The Fire and I, bassist/singer Gordon Love (right), is a lot more timid and patient than the screaming rocker we see on stage, and he is looking forward to the future. “We are going to be writing a lot, we have been writing a lot, and we’re going to write some more and do a lot of demos and work on the next album, which is going to be, hopefully, out next year.”

“Just now we are taking a wee break from gigs for the next couple of months. We’ve got a side project happening. Me and Hooligan are both involved in it.” Interesting, tell us more. “It’s a quite established band but I can’t tell you the name just yet as we’re not allowed to announce it. You’ll probably hear next week.” So what can you tell us? “It’s a band that already exists and we’re kinda mixing things about and getting two drummers and I’m now going to be the bass player and the bass player is going to play guitar. So we’re looking for a bigger sound and it’s exciting, I’m f***ing excited, I want to tell you who it is but I cannae.”

Well won’t keep you in suspense. It was announced five days later that Love and Sadikson of The Fire and I were joining Sucioperro onstage at both T in the Park and the 2000 Trees Festival.
Myke Hall

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Precious Time - The Last September

Precious Time, the new single by The Last September, opens with the sound of your mind trying to work out where you’re headed and a journey of self-discovery.

“I know my confusion is my own and my heart’s beating faster than before.”

The Last September are taking you on a road trip, and it’s time to saddle up and enjoy the ride. The listener is taken on a sweet car ride through America: luscious fields of corn as you drive through deserted roads aiming for a destination. The scenic picture presented is reminiscent of Americana Springsteen; you don’t know where you’re headed but you know that when you get there, it’s going to be beautiful. As the song progresses, the journey gets more colourful. Each chorus sees the pace pick up a notch and the storyteller sounds like he’s getting closer to what he’s searching for as time goes by.

Pete Deane has the kind of velvet vocals that even Willie Nelson would shed a tear over, and Precious Time gives a fine introduction to the band.

The single is from the forthcoming album 'As The Crow Flies', and if Precious Time is anything to go by, then the album will be incredible, and well worth a hearty listen. If you like your music meaningful and heartfelt, then The Last September are the band to watch.