Music Reviews: New/Recent Releases January 2018

NEW/RECENT RELEASES january 2018

It’s 2018, it’s January and we’re back with another big batch of new/recent releases, SIX varied and excellent EPs and albums in fact. There’s a couple of crackers released tomorrow (from The King Lot and Red Pine Timber Co) as well as few that have been out for a wee while (including EPs from Black Cat Bone and Das Plastixx). Plenty to get your teeth into!

So, click one of the links below to jump to a specific review – though, as always, we’d recommend scrolling on through and finding something new!

Get Your Kicks Sessions EP (Black Cat Bone)
Button Up EP (Das Plastixx)
Live Session at Tpot Studio (Protest Panda)
Sorry For The Good Times (Red Pine Timber Company)
Take My Picture EP (Taped Live)
A World Without Evil (The King Lot)

Black Cat Bone: Get Your Kicks Sessions EP (released December 2017)

Get Your Kicks Sessions is the new EP from Edinburgh based blues rockers Black Cat Bone, released just before Christmas. Since the release of their full length debut, Growl (2015), the band have become a five piece, adding an extra guitarist and switching percussion from cajon to a full drum kit. As befits the expanded line up the sound of the new EP is bigger, more forceful. The essential elements of the band’s sound – gritty vocals, updated modern blues and wailing harmonica to name but three – are still to the forefront, but there’s more weight behind them now, a crushing breadth to the sound that neatly encapsulates the band’s determination not to rest on their laurels.

Opener, Morning Light, is mid-tempo but given supreme heft by a thumping drumbeat and grungy blues guitars. Ross Craig’s raw, impassioned vocals perfectly complement the dirty blues sound and the chorus is immediately catchy, as are the following ‘wo-ohs.’ It’s clearly one for the live stage as even the newest gig goer will pick up the shouted refrain quickly and feel the pull to join in. The harmonica, when it enters, is covered with the same grimy sheen as everything else, and is all the better for it.

The five tracks rarely let up – Bullet is another thick, battering blues while Hipshake follow it’s title’s suggestion with a rolling, danceable beat, near-funky bass and buzzing guitar – but there’s still opportunity for light and shade. The band showcase their command of dynamics on the atmospheric title track. It opens quiet with foreboding blues guitar over which Craig hollers menacingly, ‘Go on, get your kicks, watching us all bleed.’ Isolated drum hits – all the more powerful for being alone – and rattling tambourine add to the ominous mood.

The song becomes quite the epic as it catapults into a towering chorus which unfolds over a twisty guitar riff and howling harp before dropping back and taking it’s time once more to build up the dark ambiance before the next chorus and a thrilling double build-up where the snare drum snaps, the harmonica trills and an electrifying guitar solo rounds things out. Well worthy of top billing!

Love My Baby is also interesting. It’s a bit more old school, with a thinner sounding guitar riff – like something Hubert Sumlin may have played on an old Howlin’ Wolf song – and a shuffling beat. It’s not long before it ramps up, but the cool vibe is maintained. Another classic blues element is the repetitions of the vocal lines. ‘I love my baby, and I always will’ is the hook, before instrumental segments which feature fiery guitar matching more apocalyptic harmonica.

Black Cat Bone are well known as a live force on the Scottish music scene and beyond, and with the new line up clearly giving them both options and impetus it’ll be fascinating to see what a full length second record brings. In the meantime Get Your Kicks is less a stopgap and more a warning, a statement of intent if you will. It’s big, bold and entertaining – and well worth checking out.

Links:
Black Cat Bone on Facebook and Twitter

Das Plastixx: Button Up EP (released January 2018)

Glasgow’s Das Plastixx recently released this, their debut EP, arriving seven months after their strong first single Fahrenheit. The new EP has the same building blocks but a slightly more robust sound than the single. The boisterous synth that was one of the hallmarks of the earlier release has been dialled back this time, but still provides some cool texture as it backs up the vibrant rock and roll of the four tracks.

On Slither the synth dances in the background, providing breathing space in amongst the powerful, grungy sound of the song – and indeed the EP as a whole. The band have conjured some excellent grimy guitar sounds as well as muscular bass which underpins the crowded low end. Opener How Does It Feel? has a dark, ominous guitar intro to which the bass & drums show no mercy as they crash into being.  A spiralling guitar lead – the first of many ace solo parts by Mark Carroll on the EP – leads into the verse which continues the menacing feeling.

Lead singer ­­­­­­­Jack Mohan carries his vocals in a stately, evocative manner, with shades of Jim Morrison mixed with the down to earth wryness of Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner.  There are some cool, unsettling images throughout, Took my vows and handed in my pay, Take my hand and show me the right way, If you’re not part of the praying you’re part of the prey.’ The outro is beset by lashings of guitar with the synth coming through more to add a nice counterpoint.

While there’s an overall heavy, grungy feel to all four tracks the band have still managed to lock in a range of high quality sounds and feels. You’re Not In Control, in particular, has a sweeping, epic  quality. ‘Like dystopian future music’ is what I wrote down on first listen – but the subject matter is personal, Reality’s not simple, When the wool’s like broken glass, Flicking through your skeletons to check I had a chance, Master of my motives, Leader of the pack, Think I wouldn’t notice when you pull my strings like that.’ The effective, almost sinister atmosphere of earlier tracks is ramped up by the low down vocals yet the song also includes an airier, more ethereal middle section, and a boistrous chorus.

The final track, the title track, is perhaps the key track. Thrumming bass and distorted singing are backed by screaming swathes of guitar creating a glorious furore of sound. A fizzing riff then takes over as the vocals even out just a little before ramping up the desperation as soothing backing ups add a freaky texture. If the song flattens a little too much musically in the middle, it’s rescued by more stellar guitar towards the end. The band stops and starts on a dime as the guitar solo flies over the top with excellent tone that creates a wall of sound that overwhelms even as it lulls in the listener.

Button Up definitely feels heavier than the band’s previous release, maybe another step towards capturing the band’s big live sound, and anything missing from the pop feel of Fahrenheit is made up for in sheer power. The recording and production is excellent  – in particular some of the those huge guitar tones sound fantastic, and Mohan delivers the intriguing lyrics with solid commitment.

Links:
Das Plastixx on Facebook and Soundcloud

Protest Panda: Live Session at Tpot Studio (released November 2017)

…and now for something completely different! Protest Panda is the alter ego of Italian musician Roberto Cassani who ‘arrived in Scotland along a road of working class upbringing, rebellion, record deals, conscientious objection, rambling, education, illness, love, friendship and a lot of trouble.’ With a past including work as a staff writer for a major label, a session double bass player and a ‘semi-professional piss-taker’ he is now a one-man maelstrom of revolution, a guitar toting, kazoo wielding insurgency with a healthy sense of the absurd and an ability to use humour to get right to the heart of the matter.

Why Protest Panda? The persona ‘was born out of observing the placid pandas at Edinburgh zoo and reasoning that they face an unfair extinction in the wild, yet they accept it placidly by nature. It occurred to me that we are not that different… comfortable and cosy, placid by nature, quietly accepting every abuse of power as “just one of those things”, gorging on bad food instead of bamboo’ – so says the man himself!

His new EP, Live Session In The Tpot, is just that. Seven tracks recorded by Cassani alone at the celebrated Tpot Studios in Perthshire and produced by Robin Wynn Evans (Manic Street Preachers, Dodgy, The View, Sam Brown).

The release is as raw as can be, something which is exactly what Cassani wanted – some of the songs were written only a week before the session – and the stripped back, rustic sound serves to highlight the cutting, incisive nature of the lyrics.

The opening track is called Protest Panda and it serves as a mission statement for Cassani’s ‘artistic rebellion.’ It also deftly captures both the madcap flavour and the serious heart of the project. Cassani wrenches a rollicking rock & roll groove from his guitar – calibrated to produce a nice, scratchy sound with enough grit to negate the lack of backing – with only a small kick drum for accompaniment. Over this he sings, in English, with a heavy Italian accent that is somehow also filled with Scottish idiosyncrasy. While it’s common to pick up some traces of a new accent when living in a foreign country, Cassani sounds as Scottish as he does Italian, and this lends an extra amusing tone to proceedings.

This helps to soften the biting nature of some of the lyrics, but does not diminish their impact. He doesn’t hold back on the first line, ‘4 million children, below the poverty line, and then we spend 205bn pounds to keep nukes in the Clyde.’ He continues, half-singing, half rapping as he details the problems of the country with a series of wicked turns of phrase and hilarious asides.

The chorus is a plea, ‘We need a protest singer, A vanishing breed, A protest singer, Black sheep with back teeth’ before he sounds surprised and delighted as he caps it with the question, ‘Can I be a protest singer please?!’ like he’s just come up with the idea.

He also adds in both a harmonica AND a kazoo solo. In other music this would seem crazy, here it just sounds right!

Later he returns to the panda as his muse with The Pandas At Edinburgh Zoo, singing I am 40-odd years old and after work I eat, I sleep, that’s all I do, I’m like the Pandas at Edinburgh zoo’ while Foodbanks is a wedge of breakneck, kazoo infused rock (…yep!) which makes a series point about the proliferation of people turning to foodbanks in this country.

Time and again Cassani uses slick absurdist humour to subvert expectations, hook the listener, then deliver his knockout blow by revealing the important issues he raises. So a track with a laid back vibe will be called McDonalds Burgers, but before that can begin to seem silly you get his point, McDonald’s burgers 99p – 4 apples are £2.50, in 2017 one can’t afford to stay healthy and free.’

Later the ridiculous sounding ‘The Cheese Is Sliding off My Cracker’ is in fact a sad meditation on the hopelessness/emptiness of life. It’s short, sharp and delivered with palpable emotion – quite extraordinary when you remember this was all recorded in one session on one day by one man. The Internet Is A Tool Of The Devil is uproariously funny and the closer Bullshit is self-explanatory, but shot through with clever images, ‘One thing is spreading like summer bushfires that have been maliciously lit, and that’s the bullshit.’

The genius of all this is how Cassani has employed music which sounds like a novelty to be as caustic as he needs to about the issues which are dear to him. It’s a great listen, full of fun and funny moments, but also expertly delivering on The Panda’s self-appointed mission.

You can learn more, and watch the recording of the entire session, in this excellent short documentary detailing the Protest Panda’s endeavours.

Links:
Protest Panda Official Website and Facebook

Red Pine Timber Company: Sorry For The Good Times (released 26th January 2018)

By Cameron Arndt, live pic by CA

On their second album Red Pine Timber Company go bigger, louder and more intense, while also descending deeper into incisive introspection and lyrical musings on difficult subjects.

You’d be hard pressed to find another band in Scotland right now with such an expansive sound. Red Pine’s sonic template boasts an ever-shifting fusillade of instruments, employed by a large cast of top class musicians. The solid backbone of bassist Thom Bubb and drummer Ivan Sveda are bolstered by a triple guitar attack, and given breadth by a three or four piece brass section. Two lead singers are augmented by perfectly pitched backing harmonies, and each song is given colour and texture via it’s own unique arrangement which might include swirling harmonica, aching violin or twinkling pedal steel amongst much else.

It all adds up to a startling blend of big band country rock and Americana, shot through with elements of blues and soul, maybe even a little funk and jazz. Unexpected from a group hailing from Perth, nestled in the very the heart of Scotland? Maybe so! Still, RPTC have long since proved that they can deliver this music with as much energy and enthusiasm as any band from Alabama, Kansas or Tennessee. Not only that but any quibbles over authenticity are rendered moot by the genuine, razor sharp lyrics – delivered with gritty, wounded authority by Gavin Munro, or tangible, aching emotion by Katie Whittaker – which show the group has far more to say than any cookie-cutter Nashville collective[Click here to read the full review!]

Links
RPTC Official WebsiteFacebook and Twitter!

Taped Live: Take My Picture EP (released December 2017)

By Cameron Arndt, pics from Taped Live Facebook Page, © Taped Live

We’ve spoken about Taped Live a fair bit recently. Their live shows are entertaining, their sound puts just enough of a spin on the two-piece blues format to differentiate them from the White Stripes/Black Keys clichés, and they’re very good at what they do.

Their debut EP, Seven Sounds, was released last year and we found it to be bright and bold, with great performances by guitarist/singer Leo Barrie and drummer Sal. While we loved the ‘raw, animated’ vibe of the release we did feel that the band hadn’t quite propelled themselves away from comparisons to similar bands – yet.

So we come to the new, follow up release. Take My Picture is short – only three tracks long – but it’s immediately pleasing to hear the band take a number of steps forward sonically, while still including plenty of their signature battering drums and energised, inventive guitars.

The changes are incremental – this is no wholesale reinvention – but the band have allowed themselves to stray a little from the blues genre to good effect, and some lighter moments allow more space for Barrie to highlight his skills as a singer along with his excellent fret work.

The title track is the biggest departure, though it begins with dirty, tremulous slide guitar and a thumping variation of the drumbeat from Ballroom Blitz. It’s a good, big opening that suddenly switches to an unexpected country-esque groove. The vocals are strong and clear, with lyrics which seem to detail the end of a relationship filled with dissatisfaction and even a hint of venom, ‘It’s time for me to go, leave it all behind but I want you to know, you shouldn’t miss me honey but I know you will, you can take my picture but I won’t stand still.’

The chorus is more grungy, with big chords, slide guitar and sweet little lead licks thrown in for good measure as Barrie delivers the crushing  dénouement, ‘Take my picture, Take it with you, Take my picture, Look it out when I’m long gone.’ Staccato chords punctuate the bridge along with weird, intriguing guitar sounds and Sal’s drums which slowly build up to a thundering last chorus.

Crumble is the middle track of the three, and it’s a bit closer to the style of Seven Sounds, but also incorporates more of a country rock feel. Again Barrie’s singing is a high point with an expressive, cool, yet slightly cracked delivery reminiscent of Anton O’Donnell of Glasgow rockers Anton & The Colts. The drum parts are just as individual and distinct as the guitar throughout and the interplay between the two musicians is terrific – as it was on their first EP. Sal is constantly switching and tweaking the beat as Barrie cuts in a big thick guitar tone and finally unleashes the octave pedal.

That same effect is the fulcrum on which the final track balances. Think It’s Funny? hammers the spiky octaved guitar riff right up against the crashing drums and smashing cymbals before the track drops into a dark-hued verse, which is still underpinned by a driving groove and wall of guitar sounds. That sterling, effected guitar mimics the chorus line to great effect and the middle of the track is populated by a fine wandering lead part speared by more cymbal blows.

The varied, imaginative instrumental parts that both players contribute – and the telepathic way in which they combine – are once again the key elements of Taped Live’s success. But this EP seems to hint at some of the evolution in their sound which we’d hoped for, and a willingness to continue mixing in elements of other genres – and spotlighting Barrie’s singing with strong melodies to add to the bruising riffs – should stand the band in good stead moving forward.

Taped Live on Facebook and Twitter. The band play the O2 ABC on Friday 26th January, get tickets here.

The King Lot: A World Without Evil (released 26th January 2018)

The King Lot’s much anticipated second album finds the West Lothian three piece in typically confidant, imperious form. Much has happened since the release of 2015’s self titled debut, including 2016’s charity assault on the Christmas charts with a cover of Tyketto’s Wings, an ever increasing live reputation which has included shows with everyone from Dan Reed to The Answer, Inglorious and the aforementioned Tyketto, and even a line-up change with the departure of guitarist Michael Fairbairn.

New six stringer Jay Moir makes his recording debut on A World Without Evil. He slots in seamlessly and immediately makes his presence felt on the album-opening title track. Kicking off with a simply GIGANTIC opening of crashing cymbals and a grinding punishing groove it showcases a slightly harder edged sound for the band – more Alter Bridge than Tyketto or Bon Jovi. Moir’s chugging metal riffage is backed up by thick Glenn Hughes-style bass from frontman Jason Sweeney and booming drums from Chris Gillon – Jason Bonham in look, and Jason Bonham in drumskin-punishing swagger.

Sweeney’s voice is almost unrecognisable at first as he sings in a low timbre with a gritty tone, ‘In the land of make believe, on the cover of a magazine, your faith could be restored.’ It’s a cool way to showcase his range in an unusual manner, and a teasing, evocative opening to the record. Sweeney soon reveals that it is in fact him singing as he soon stretches into his more familiar – but always impressive – higher register and the chorus hits like a hammer… [Click here to read the full review!]

Links
Keep up with The King Lot at their Facebook Page and their Official Website.

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