BOLTS ARE NUTS (OR: WHEN TYLER, CREATES) | 7th August, MMXVII

I’d have to admit that I’m not watching much TV lately, although to be fair I’m fully dedicated to a couple YouTube channels almost on a daily basis, which in 2017 does in fact mean that I’m watching TV lately, right? Well, by that I mainly mean that the global Netflix and TV series hysteria club that has been going on for about 34 years now has just fairly recently lost one of its least proudest members, partly because in my humblest opinion there actually aren’t that many good shows around at the moment, and partly because the fact that I recently moved country of residence implies that I’m now enjoying vastly reduced catalogues and streaming service offerings as opposed to what I was used to in the mighty United Kingdom.

What I haven’t stopped being into for even a single minute is music though, and in that regard I recently launched a fiery and incendiary ether debate on Twitter by asking the Interweb.com to compare Vince Staples’s latest album Big Fish Theory with the one of leader and co-founder of the alternative hip hop collective Odd Future, i.e. American rapper, record producer, and music video director Tyler, The Creator. Tyler’s fourth studio LP Flower Boy dropped a little more than two weeks ago on 21st July and has since been on heavy rotation on yours truly’s high fidelity FM. I thus have been fiercely flirting and battling with the thought of delivering another highly-subjectively biased hip-hop/rap ARM instalment for the good part of the past week, only to then find out that there was so much more going on artistically with Tyler, The Creator at the moment worth mentioning to say the least.

Besides launching his very own take on the legendary Converse One Star shoe model in visual conjunction with his newest record, aka the One Star X Golf le Fleur, Tyler also debuted as the host and main mind of a brand new TV show on Vice Media’s channel VICELAND called Nuts + Bolts, accompanied by the following promotional caption: “Tyler, the Creator explores the things he loves and the ways they work, with the help of experts and personal heroes”. Needless to say I was extremely captivated by whole idea of the programme, and realizing that it would all be steered by the raw, twisted, and inspiring mind of Tyler only made for an even bigger excitement on my part. Nuts + Bolts premiered on Friday 4th August with an episode called “Stop Motion” dealing with… stop motion (!) and the exploration of a specific sub-discipline called clay animation (Wallace and Gromit anyone!?).

As I already anticipated over on holy grail Twitter when the episode first aired, great TV in an age of abundance and overwhelming noise to me is when it can reveal you something you didn’t necessarily know before, which in this specific case was my discovery of how cool of a movie technique stop motion actually is. The amount of dedication, precision, and effort that go into producing a segment even as short as a rad and badass one minute piece like Tyler himself did at the end of the first episode is simply astonishing and admirable. Make damn sure you check out the first episode in full on VICELAND’s site by clicking here (or head over to good ol’ Facebook if you’re not currently living in a country under Donald J. Trump’s presidency). The segment literally turned me into a deep admirer of said practice, to the point that I’m now super willing to learn more and get informed as to how and where I could potentially materialise a project on my own. Yet I’m digressing, the whole point I’m trying to make is that Nuts + Bolts is shaping up to become both a very entertaining and truly informative modern-day TV series/doc, stemming surprisingly enough from a man at times as despised as society’s biggest villains.

The amazing aspect about the show is that a quick look at its trailer – first released back in June – reveals that in addition to stop motion an incredibly vast and incredibly cool list of topics will be covered throughout the programme, ranging from sneakers and go-karts to donuts and time-travel. I’m just in love with the idea that as far as content programming, anything goes in the series and nothing is too wild to be omitted a priori, as it’s quite clearly very hard to find a lowest common theme encompassing every episode’s focus. I guess the formula to describe Nuts + Bolts was actually cracked by the man himself, when during the main trailer he says that it “[…] is a show describing how everything that I think is awesome is made”. I’m voting for this one.

I guess the funny thing in all of this is that thanks to Tyler, The Creator and his trademark way of making even bolts go nuts I will soon indeed be watching a lot of TV again, with its tentacles permeating through every possible gateway of my digitally consumed life. Not that this might necessarily be a bad thing per se, not at all in fact if all TV I watch is as catchy and cocky as Nuts + Bolts, yet I still can’t help but always be a little bit worried about not finding enough time to do everything my instincts tell me to, especially when it comes to checking out new music. The fact that the whole reason why I got into TV again with this show was actually because of me checking out new music is kind of uber ironic, I do hand it to you. Yet in life most things do indeed get a full circle if one looks close enough. Pretty much like nuts and bolts and bolts being nuts.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

Nuts+Bolts_Viceland

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO DOS – CATALAN INTERSECTIONS | 18th July, MMXVII

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

We all know that summer equals festival season and Barcelona is no exception. Kicking off with the prestigious and world-renowned Primavera Sound, the city’s warmest season punctually fills with a number of big and small live music events throughout its urban web.

Barcelona’s extremely favourable climate conditions, as well as its spectacular natural landscapes, combining a wealth of greeneries with hills and sea, do indeed allow for perfect festival settings. So it’s no surprise that during the whole late spring/summer period your agenda could easily get full with live open air music appointments, marked in red every week.

Obviously not all festivals in the heart of Catalonia are as grandiose and well-known as Primavera, yet you might be surprised by the global attraction of some of the other events too, such as Rockfest Barcelona, Cruïlla Barcelona Summer Festival, Be Prog! My Friend, or Barna ‘n’ Roll. This is without considering the even smaller, local, and neighborhood-bound ones that heavily contribute towards the construction of this region’s musical identity.

These smaller happenings normally take place in the surroundings of the ramblas of each barrio – i.e. the iconic main streets cutting each major neighborhood of the city in two – bringing substantial crowds together outdoors to enjoy live music, local food, flea markets, pop up installations, and much more.

My neighborhood alone for instance, the post-industrial Poblenou, has already hosted three major local cultural events since I moved here a couple months back. An absolute highlight so far, and Barcelona’s most heartfelt event, was the loud and chaotic Revetlla de Sant Joan, which takes place every year at the end of June celebrating summer Solstice. The amount of public artistic displays, street performers, and firecrackers was one I’d never seen in my life before.

That said, one the most highly anticipated festivals each year is Sónar, a pioneering cultural event launched in 1994 combining a deep creative technology focus, avantgarde programming, and heavy experimentation with newest trends in electronic and hip hop music. Its conference arm, Sónar+D, left me very impressed. The tradeshow deals with the relationship between creativity and technology through the showcase of cutting-edge discoveries in the realms of AI, VR and machine learning.

The four-day offering included workshops, market fairs, labs, and live performances, looking at pushing boundaries of interdisciplinarity. An unmissable event for anyone interested in arts and new technologies, at the same time crafting a big part of Barcelona’s artistic identity, regardless of the specific genre-focus of the festival’s musical programming.

Things got way more serious at Cruïlla, a multi-genre music festival now in its eighth edition that took place from 7–9 July on the seaside East of the Catalan city centre. This year’s headliners were The Prodigy, Two Door Cinema Club, Pet Shop Boys, Jamiroquai, and Die Antwoord, and more generally the overall lineup spanned a wealth of genres ranging from ska-punk to reggae and electronica. The clue is actually in its name, as cruïlla means ‘intersection’ in the local Catalan language, hence its not-so-hidden mission to present as varied and mixed a programme as possible.

As usual, the most exciting musical discoveries didn’t come from the mainstream acts headlining the bill, but rather from smaller, lesser-known bands that got to warm up the crowds from early afternoon onwards.

One of them are Murcia-natives Neuman, a post-rock/shoegazey band founded by charismatic frontman Paco Román about 20 years ago. Their minimalistic yet thoroughly catchy live delivery, accompanied by Paco’s hoarse vocals and an hypnotic rhythm section, truly stood out to me as one of the freshest sets of the whole festival.

Neuman have a brand new album in the making, which is currently being previewed by first single ‘All That Matters’ and is expected to drop later in the year. In fact, the English-singing trio have over time become a cult act in the whole of Southern Europe and can already count on three albums – among which the critically acclaimed ‘The Family Plot (2011)’ – and as many EPs in their discography.

Another fun one is La Raíz, an impressive 11-piece ska/rock/reggae band from Valencia who got to virtually pull the curtains of Cruïlla late into the night on the last day. The ensemble is considered to be an international leader in musical fusion and has just recently celebrated its first decade as career band with more than respectful numbers, for both their following and their music.

Their newest release ‘Entre poetas y presos’, out last year, follows four other records, with their debut ‘El Aire Muerto’ dating back to 2007. As one might imagine when a band counts 11 permanent members, their live appearance is widely colourful and energetic, alternating pure ska-moments with faster and more crunchy shades, throwing in Spanish-sung old-school rap verses more often than not. Check out their 2011 LP ‘El Lado de los Rebeldes’ as it’s a rather solid and representative introduction to their overall sound.

Holding a primetime live slot on the smaller Movistar+ stage on Saturday was Viva Suecia, another Spanish post-rock group bearing heavy, self-acclaimed Nordics influences in their wide dark soundscapes. Signed to eccentric national indie label Subterfuge Records, the Murcian four piece is fresh from releasing their sophomore full-length ‘Otros principios fundamentales’ in February (produced by Neuman’s Paco Román), and are now gaining increasing traction on both a regional and national level.

Viva Suecia’s live performance at Cruïlla turned out to be a very elegant, strings-driven one, with big sounds acting as sonic boundaries for sharp and biting Spanish lyrics. I highly suggest you give these guys a listen if you’re into bands like Interpol, Mando Diao, Editors and similar. Standout tracks to me are the below ‘Hemos Ganado Tiempo’, off their latest LP, and the album’s raw and emotive lead single, ‘A Dónde ir’. Don’t forget to check out their self-titled debut EP too, which is still up on Bandcamp and found widespread appreciation catapulting the band into the major national music circuit.

Thanks to the festival I also found out about one of the most successful Latin American bands to this day, called Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and an iconic ska/jazz/rock act formed back in 1985 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These guys are a pretty big deal and have won numerous prizes and accolades over their career, including the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album.

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, who since their formation have released 11 studio albums and sold almost three million copies worldwide, took to the stage on Friday night shortly before 1am and all hell broke loose. Quite clearly an established fan-favourite down here, the band played for over an hour and a half, pleasing the audience with fast-paced grooves as well as intense stage presence. Their newest concept album ‘La salvación de Solo y Juan’ came out in 2016 and has awarded them with two Latin Grammy Awards. Not necessarily something I’d prioritize in my own iPod, but without a doubt one to be aware of and a major international export of Spanish-swayed rock.

My last suggestion is Deco Pilot, who are actually a Liverpool-borne indie-rock band relocated to Barcelona. The band kicked off dances on day two of Cruïlla with an overdose of noughties-inspired synth/rock, think of something in-between The Killers and Vampire Weekend with a lot of delayed guitars. Their still humble and timid stage presence is sufficiently compensated by a big production on their debut album ‘Midnight Glory’ (2016), a 10-track collection filled with very catchy cuts (‘Lion’, ‘You Are My Voice’) alongside calmer moments (‘Midnight Glory’, ‘Open Your Eyes’). Also interesting to hear is their take on Spanish singing on the closing two tracks, presumably an ode to their new home.

It is very refreshing to see how even bigger – perhaps at times commodified – music festivals in Catalonia don’t just opt for easy mainstream acts or international artists, but actually retain an essential slice of their bill for local and regional musicians.

There’s so much musical variety that stems from this land that it would be a massive sin not to lend these musicians an appropriate platform to shine, so kudos to them for using their power with responsibility. And while the Catalan summer festival season might not last forever, the quantity and the quality of new music discoveries stands as reliable proof that excellent live music is without a doubt an all year round business.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

NFB2

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): VINCE STAPLES – “BIG FISH THEORY” | 24th June, MMXVII

It’s almost the end of June and therefore it’s time for another hip hop album review to be happening on these glorious ARM frequencies. (No don’t worry you shouldn’t have picked up the causal correlation between time and rap criticism in the previous sentence, simply because there is none). Some (who?) may say that this is a rather big deal, given that such an occurrence hasn’t happened too often in the meanderings of this site. In fact, if we’re really in the mood for a trip down memory lane, one could actually count on one hand the instalments scrutinising, discussing, and dissecting a hip hop release: first it was Kanye back in February last year, merely because noblesse oblige, then shortly after it was the irresistible and sexy Anderson .Paak, followed by a little bit of Chance The Rapper for a Summer music preview, finishing last with the mighty Bad Rabbits and their role as raconteurs of an American nightmare.

So, it was in this sort of stream of consciousness that 23-year old, Odd Future-associate Vince Staples’ recent album release came as a perfectly timed blessing. The sophomore LP by Long Beach, CA-based rapper goes by the title of Big Fish Theory and dropped on 23rd June under prominent and influential label Def Jam. The 12-track/36-minute long effort follows the widely critically acclaimed debut album Summertime ’06 (2015) as well as significant anticipation from leading news outlets and the whole scene more in general. I myself had been eyeing the MC for quite some time, although not necessarily out of a musical fandom calling – even though his most successful single off Summertime ’06 “Norf Norf” being an absolute gem – but rather because the dude, a very sharp-straight-edge-off-the-tabloids-vocal man in his early 20s who loves Sprite, seemed like a very interesting person to me. Therefore, when on 18th May lead single “Big Fish” truly grabbed my active attention (although Vince actually released an earlier first single called “BagBak” as back in time as 3rd February, though with no hint of a full album backing the track at the time), I made damn sure I wouldn’t miss the whole LP once out.

I actually wasn’t incredibly fond of the first track I fully devoted my ears to, i.e. “Big Fish”. Whilst I completely understand the song being picked as lead single as well as thematic frame for the whole concept of the album thanks to its forward-leaning catchiness and immediacy, the overall delivery results a bit too repetitive and empty, as if its main driving electronic sound and repetitive lyrics were the lowest common denominator Vince could find to fill that vacuum. A similar feeling is the one I get with reference to “BagBak”, at least as far as the instrumental track goes, nothing much than an simple, experimental base ending up being too hypnotic and unvaried to really assume he gave it a proper thought. Yet the song gains value when the lyrical delivery gets considered too, with aggressive, bold, and political elements all successfully intertwined (“Clap your hands if the police ever profiledYou ain’t gotta worry, don’t be scary ’cause we on nowAin’t no gentrifying us, we finna buy the whole townTell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now“).

One aspect that’s very interesting about Big Fish Theory, and one that my esteemed Twitter followers have already had the viewing pleasure to obtain, is that this is an album on which the opening track might actually be the best song overall. I find that too often artists tend to “sacrifice” the album opener either with a preface/prelude/intro which normally is too ambient-y anyway and doesn’t really add much to the overall musical frame, or with an annoying and unnecessary skit/oddity (this especially with hip hop/rap albums), really only contributing to boosting the track amount and nothing to the songwriting package. I’m actually a huge fan of openers and if I ever were to release my own music I swear I’d put my best song(s) right at the start of the tracklist, mainly to show myself the listeners what for. To me, this is what Vince Staples has done by placing the brilliant “Crabs in a Bucket” at number one on Big Fish Theory’s tracklist. The song, wonderfully co-produced and heavily influenced by Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon, is a dark and distorted backtrack with loads of experimental sounds and a pumping, near-to-perfect vocal delivery by Staples, refined and wrapped up by a thin, sensual, and necessary closure by Kilo Kish. The kind of song that immediately reminds me of some of my favourite rap tunes of all time.

Other album highlights include the sweaty and visceral “745”, which in many ways is that what style-related “Big Fish” and “BagBak” should’ve been, as well as the electric and vibey “Party People”, a song that despite its fun title deals in fact with deep self-search and overcoming of struggles (“Move your body if you came here to party / If not then pardon me / How I’m supposed to have a good time / When death and destruction’s all I see?”). The latter tune is also probably the only one that could’ve competed with “Big Fish”‘s radio-friendly character as main single, and in retrospect perhaps an even better choice for it. Last one to save is LP-closer and Ty Dolla $ign-collab “Rain Come Down“, a groovy G-funk cut with explicit leaning to auto-tuned, trappy sounds and the longest track on the whole record with almost 5 minutes of running time.

Unfortunately, the LP carries a number of less fortunate compositions, led by the purposeless skit “Ramona Park is Yankee Stadium” – I mean, come on, for once that an hip hop album is actually limited in its track listing one might as well just focus on the best songs, not least considering the fact that a skit’s main purpose is to let a 19-track album breathe… – and the not-so-dissimilar “Alyssa Interlude”, i.e. an isolated Amy Winehouse voice recording laid hand-in-hand with a sample of “I Wish It Would Rain” by The Temptations. I’m still looking for the whole point of those ones. In fact, I realized I’m not a fan of voicemail-turned-music trend songs at all, as none of the ones recently included in albums e.g. by Kanye West (“Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission” on The Life Of Pablo), Frank Ocean (Blonde’s “Be Yourself” and “Facebook Story [Ft. Sebastian]”), or even Kendrick Lamar (outro on “FEAR.” in his recent effort DAMN.) really made any sense to me. The list of insipid tracks on Big Fish Theory continues with the one-two “Homage” and “Samo” at number eight and nine on the tracklist, where I simply find myself being completely indifferent towards them, mainly because the mood and genre adopted by Vince on those two songs is something that I find being not easily digestible.

Lastly, there’s one song which I’m still not convinced I truly dislike, or in other words, one that might as well end up among the ones I enjoy listening the most. That track is the mighty Kendrick Lamar and Laura Jane Lowther collab “Yeah Right”, and such a feeling stems principally from the realisation that the composition is a nothing else than a combination of parts that for me are hard to get (Vince’s industrial-rapping intro plus outro) and very positive and inspiring moments, such as the Lowther-sung refrain and Lamar’s powerful and delicious verse. If one thinks about it, this could actually sum up most of Vince Staples’ enigmatic and fascinating public character, both as an individual and in his musical persona, further amplified by the obscurity of the album’s title meaning and some of the rapper’s promotional statements, like for instance the genius move about labelling his record’s overall sound as “afro-futurism”, only to then to admit of not knowing what it really means but still enjoying “saying stuff about black people to white people”. How can one not be attracted to someone like this? My kind of artist for sure.

AV

VINCE STAPLES

“BIG FISH THEORY”

2017, Def Jam Recordings

http://vincestaples.com

VS_Big Fish Theory

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO UNO – SPRING INDUCTION | 14th June, MMXVII

This is a start of something that will hopefully last for a long time, namely a multi-instalment column called Notes from Barcelona in partnership with mighty Punktastic, which for those of you unfamiliar with it is an alternative rock / punk / hardcore / metal website, with news, reviews and the best in international new music. The feature will try to bring you the best (and the worst) from the local live music scene in the Catalan capital, which since a couple months also doubles as the place I now call home, thanks to a new employment I recently began down here. I’ll try and come out with one new blogpost every month touching upon a variety of topics, which I will lazily re-post on here 48 hours after the original publication over on Punktastic, sometimes with additional commentary or context here and there, other times through shameless copy-and-paste procedures deriving from the original source. Below is the first instalment, which had me attending glorious music festival Primavera Sound and reporting some of the best moments I experienced, all through a trademark Catalan reading lens.

Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.

———- NFB

Welcome to the first chapter of Notes from Barcelona, hosted by the Catalan capital’s newest expat: Alex Volonté. I’m honoured to be bringing you the most interesting and compelling aspects of the local alternative/punk music scene.

Since recently relocating here from London, I’ve been getting to know the musical pulse of the city and its region. Barcelona is in fact a rich and lively artistic hub. It has become increasingly attractive and forgiving to start ups and new creative businesses, especially in its modern, post-1992 Summer Olympics Diagonal Mar/22@ neighbourhood east of the city center. Furthermore, the city is home to major music festivals such as Sónar, Cruïlla, International Jazz Festival as well as global music trade conferences. It also lies just a short trip away from Cannes’ MIDEM, one of the world’s leading music industry events.

I couldn’t wait to explore Barcelona’s musical heritage first hand and find out for myself. That began with the most important live music festival in Spain, and one of the fastest-growing internationallyPrimavera Sound.

The event, generally considered a strong incubator for the indie scene, and leading widespread efforts in pushing artistic boundaries with cutting-edge content programming, such as last-minute, real-time show announcements, took place this year from 31 May to 4 June.

Spreading out to a multitude of locations across the city, the festival was accompanied by its international trade conference arm, Primavera Pro, as has now become custom for the past seven editions. The main event was set in the astonishing sea-adjacent Parc del Fòrum, surrounded by a variety of aesthetically pleasing ornaments such as massive solar panels, elegant rafts, and beach strips, wonderfully wrapped up by a long perimeter of Mediterranean waters.

This year’s bill was headlined by Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, The XX, and Aphex Twin, and from an alternative standpoint presented a very tasty line up of world-class punk-rock and metal bands including Slayer, Descendents, The Damned, Gojira, Converge, Death Grips, and Against Me!. I immediately knew Primavera was off to a good start when the first live rendition I heard was the visceral ‘Warning’ – third single from their 2014 album ‘LOSE’ – by festival openers Cymbals Eat Guitars, which made for a pretty beautiful induction into the whole experience. Speaking of which, I suggest you all take some time to revisit that whole LP as it’s one of 2014’s best ones and quite simply a sprawling and kaleidoscopic listen.

Yet, what attracted me even more was the rich Primavera offering of live shows by regional acts, most of which unsigned or simply championed by little or precarious local indie record labels. In retrospect, I’m so glad I did, as boy did I discover a variety of quality local outfits over the course of the festival.

In fact, a significant chunk of Primavera’s musical programming is intentionally devoted to delivering a spotlight on local Catalan musicians, an initiative brought forward by Catalan Arts, the Catalan Government’s Ministry of Culture umbrella term used to campaign in favour of local music. The Catalan Arts brand, besides working towards amplifying artistic outputs from the region of Catalonia internationally, with its overseas offices in Berlin, Brussels, London, and Paris, promotes and supports a big number of musicians throughout different markets on a regular basis. I thus made sure to pinpoint all those artists spanning genres from pop-punk to metalcore beforehand, trying my best not to miss them performing live within such an important platform for Barcelona’s prolific alternative movement as Primavera.

The festival’s scattered locations, as well as the unavoidable but still annoying line-up clashes, made it hard to catch everyone, however I came away from the festival with a juicy selection of a handful new music discoveries.

First on the list is the post-hardcore four-piece It’s Not Not, who delivered one of the most convincing live shows of the whole event with a direct, fun, and scintillating repertoire. Their live delivery blazed fierce emo influences and heavier moments, yet all minimalistically glued together by unpretentious and thin string sounds just sticking to bare bone basics. Their irresistibly catchy track ‘We’re Gonna Get Out’, for instance, from their latest effort ‘Fool the Wise’ (2016), could easily compete for major international hit status, although the highlights in their rollercoaster of a repertoire aren’t limited to that song alone.

Another one to bookmark, worthy of a proper listen, is About Leaving, a power alternative-emo quintet born and bred in the Catalan capital. Their live experience wasn’t helped by the fact that they got to play in a rather surreal setting of close to complete darkness whilst outside temperatures were on their way to hitting 30°C, all squeezed into a remote ballroom during the Primavera Pro conference. An early Jimmy Eat World meets Texas is the Reason, their set marched through long atmospheric bubbles and reigned by giant, skilled guitars (three in total in the band’s line up) and heavy-hitting drums. About Leaving’s debut album ‘An Echo’ came out last year, whilst elsewhere in their discography one also finds a rather pleasant Death Cab for Cutie tribute release track with a cover of ‘Passenger Seat’.

Yet there’s many more outfits worthy of closer attention, such as the fiery and vibrant Montseny-based Les Cruets, who released their debut LP ‘Pomes Agres’ through the  eclectic, multi-genre Barcelona label Bankrobber. They offer an explosive punk assembly crafted with Catalan flair from start to finish, so make sure to check out album opener ‘Creure’ as well as the wild and relentless combo ‘Instantània’ and ‘Anem Perdent’ for a biting taste of what they’re made of.

Then there’s a personal favourite in Rebuig, a sludge metal quartet from the Barcelona underground scene, currently achieving noise and recognition on a national level with their filthy and experimental sound, instigating sonic fireworks somewhere in-between Slayer and Black Sabbath. Their latest EP ‘Mort i Futur’ came out in spring last year, and despite the predictably limited tracklisting it actually averages at a surprising album-like length, with the two opening songs ‘Penjat i Empalmat’ and ‘After al Pati de Llums’ both nearing the 10-minute mark. An instant grower for sure.

Finally, my last recommendation is Les Sueques, a girl-powered, colourful and rather lo-fi post-punk group who have been very active in the past half-decade and have just released their newest record ‘Moviment’ this past February under local label El Genio Equivocado.

One of the leading exponents of national garage indie, the electric and artsy four piece is also one of Barcelona’s biggest prides. Their latest, fully Catalan-sung LP seems to reaffirm their subtle flirt with big poppy vibes and it sounds just like it could’ve come out of the same writing sessions as Paramore’s latest ‘After Laughter’, for one. Don’t forget to give their oldest material a try too (2013’s ‘Cremeu les perles’ and ‘Educació física’ from 2015), as there’s no shortage of crunchy, blistering, and potent songs on those collections.

My personal baptism in the local music scene in Barcelona far from a disappointing one, with a rollercoaster of genres and emotions experienced during my first attendance at Primavera Sound. The schedule consisted of extremely long days, starting mid mornings at Primavera Pro and its live showcase programming lasting all the way through the night with last sets finishing shortly before the next day’s sunrise.

Whilst I couldn’t resist some of the bigger shows by more renowned acts – Cymbals Eat Guitars, Death Grips, and Descendents all in flawless form as far as I’m concerned –  I quickly realized that Barcelona and its socio-cultural imprint is so much richer than just the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí, and FC Barcelona.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

PrimaveraNet

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): PARAMORE – “AFTER LAUGHTER” | 19th May, MMXVII

Just about a week before Paramore’s fifth studio album After Laughter came out on Friday 12th May, another incredibly highly anticipated record – for about 17 years, to be precise – found its way to the world: in•ter a•li•a by El Paso, TX-based emo/post-hardcore legends At the Drive In. For multiple times during practically the past two weeks I’ve been so close to fall to temptation of turning that release into my next branded ARM instalment, yet for once I decided I would rather challenge myself whilst at the same time keep any potential sources of fandom and obsession intervention at an historical minimum. That’s why I eventually rather opted for the Hayley Williams-fronted pop-punk trio’s last and freshly released LP, which to be fair didn’t come without substantial media talk and hype for itself either. Nonetheless, before we go any further down that route, I’d still highly solicit you all to immerse yourselves in a deep listening experience of At the Drive In’s latest effort, but please do make sure – even if you’re not an  hysterical audiophile – you wear proper headphone equipment or blast those tunes out of decent speakers. No, I don’t mean your regular MacBook internally built-in ones. Decent speakers I mean. You’ll thank me later.

One of the most interesting aspects about Paramore’s After Laughter, released under Warner-owned label Fueled by Ramen and co-produced by guitarist Taylor York and longtime collaborator Justin Meldal-Johnsen, is perhaps that it came to be after a lengthy period during which the band actually threatened fans (and themselves) to break up for good. However, such crisis momentum was then luckily resolved by a non-negligible line-up change – bassist Jeremy Davis out, drummer and founding member Zac Farro in – and a substantial twist in sound and overall vibe, as mightily and unapologetically displayed by the Memphis Group-influenced album artwork (cfr. below).

Moreover, After Laughter follows the vastly successful and Grammy-winning self-titled album released back in 2013, which came along with huge hit singles “Still Into You” and “Ain’t It Fun“, and obviously set a very high precedent bar in the band’s artistic past. Yet, when on 19th April After Laughter’s new lead single “Hard Times” was released, it soon became clear how there was no need whatsoever to keep holding on to past trophies as there was meaty new substance to speak and get excited about again. The track widely showcases Paramore’s heavy leaning to new musical directions, specifically embracing a spongy-disco 80s sound with imposing synths and new-wavy atmospheres. This feeling got further reinforced by the album’s second single, titled “Told You So“, released just two weeks later and presenting more rhythmic and melodic references to past musical decades but also drawing discrete elements off their self-titled mood here and there.

A fascinating attribute that both songs possess, and which immediately reminded me of some of my favourite tracks such as Taking Back Sunday‘s “Stood A Chance” or The Cure’s “The Last Day of Summer“, is what sometimes call happy sad, that is, those musical arrangements where the instrumental composition and the lyrics find themselves in fundamental juxtaposition to each other, usually with the former denoting harmonious, positive, and upbeat feelings only to be dismantled by the devastation and desperation of the words sung on top of them. To me, doubtlessly one of the most beautiful and powerful aspects of music.

Generally, in fact, the whole 12-track album actually tackles rather dark and sombre themes, especially on a lyrical level, whereby cuts such as “Forgiveness” (“You hurt me bad this time, no coming back / And I cried ’till I couldn’t cry, another heart attack”), “26” (“Reality will break your heart / Survival will not be the hardest part / It’s keeping all your hopes alive / When all the rest of you has died / So let it break your heart”), and incredibly beautiful closer “Tell Me How” (You keep me up with your silence / Take me down with your quiet / Of all the weapons you fight with / Your silence is the most violent) make an effort of pairing the obscurity of their lyrical content with their overall sound. On a number of other tracks, on the other hand, such as potential fan-favourite “Rose-Colored Boy”, the vibrant and electric “Pool” as well as personal favourite and arguably best moment of the whole record “Grudges”, the music and the melodic instrumentation result way more upbeat and colourful, in spite of their lyrical content. This trademark songwriting formula seems to be working quite well for Paramore along the entirety of After Laughter, at least judging by the strict cohesiveness of each listen and the smooth song transitions to be found on the tracklist.

There are however some weak moments too, fronted by the messy and at times irritating “Caught in the Middle” and especially the eleventh song on the record, “No Friend”, basically a useless repeating guitared arpeggio loop led by an edgy drum beat and almost inaudible voice recordings, which actually turned out to be of mewithoutYou‘s Aaron Weiss, a friend of the band. It’s seriously hard to understand what kind of statement Paramore were trying to make by including this track into the final packaging, given its lack of structure or rather purpose, if not discouraging the listeners to quit their auditive experience right before the highest and finest moment on the whole LP, the aforementioned piano ballad “Tell Me How”. “No Friend” does indeed represent a shameful inclusion looking back at the whole release, not least because if follows what is potentially one of the catchiest songs on After Laughter and yet another testament to the band’s more or less hidden tributes to 80s synth-wave productions, “Idle Worship”. A hurdle-less transition between the latter and curtain caller “Tell Me How” would definitely have landed the record to higher appreciations, as far as yours truly is concerned. Yet, there’s no need to create scapegoats at all, as After Laughter can stand very firmly and convincingly still on its own, where the good and exciting bits go cast a shadow onto the weaker ones presenting a more than decent overall output. In this very case though, Paramore seem to perhaps have taken the act of casting shadows a bit too literally.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

PARAMORE

“AFTER LAUGHTER”

2017, Atlantic Recording Corporation

http://www.paramore.net

Paramore_AL

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): COLD WAR KIDS – “LA DIVINE” | 1st May, MMXVII

Hello there y’all. I’ve probably never been more distracted when drafting an ARM blogpost before and this really does come as a warning. I’m in the middle of moving house and country of residence, lord Ryan Adams just dropped a thunderous and tenacious collection of 19 (!) B-sides to his recent, critically acclaimed, and ARM-grilled album Prisoner and, last but definitely not least, Californian soul-punk outfit letlive. split indefinitely two days ago to my overwhelmingly unpleasant surprise. Yet, I really want to gift my musical impressions to the world as well in regards to San Pedro, CA-based indie legends Cold War Kids’ highly anticipated sixth studio album LA Divine, which came out early last month on Friday 7th April.

However, before I dig into the main bit of this piece, I feel I owe letlive. a short, impromptu obituary that will hopefully help demonstrate my love and affection for the band and, most of anything, the impact they’ve had on me. As I spotted their official goodbye statement a couple days ago on my social media feed it was one of those moments where the first thing you do is rub your eyes and re-read the whole thing, just to double- or even triple check that you really saw what you saw. I guess I’ve been quite lucky and fortunate in my musical fandom life so far as I almost never had to go through such a frightening realisation for the bands I love most and I will never betray or forget. Whilst it’s true that Nirvana and The Police, arguably my top favourite musical representations of all time, were actually already defunct and no more by the time I even started getting into them, other major artistic and incredible living influences on me such as Taking Back Sunday, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam or even Blink-182 are all still rocking stronger than ever. Yet letlive., who became an immense part of my life and world-perception around 7 years ago and have gone on deeply affecting me ever since, really feel like the first true, real-time musical abandonment in my life.

Letlive.’s music, energy, devotion, and lyrics all felt to me more urgent and necessary than almost anything else out there, whilst their profound carefulness for longstanding racial and social issues served as endless inspiration to say the least. Moreover, experiencing the Los Angeles-based post-hardcore band live in concert was a whole universe and life-changing occasion of its own, as I humbly tried to account for in this note. Losing them as a musical outfit is an irreplaceable loss not only for my very own artistic spectrum but for the wider alternative and counter-reacting scene as well, as possibly now more than ever the world and music would have needed their protesting rage, insurgent rebellious nature, and willingness to fight back against the establishment. With this I’d just want to thank them for having existed and wish all of the members’ very well in this hard but apparently necessary decision.

II. 2002 – 20XX. F O R E V E R Soul Punx. II._Forever

Back to our regularly scheduled programme, namely Cold War Kids’ latest 14-track effort LA Divine. I kind of have this theory where I think no good and superior art critic should ever review the same artist twice, as I feel doing so would detach them too much from that necessary fresh outlook that tends to kick in when someone is reviewing something for the first time, ultimately swallowing the critic into a subjective, self-reflecting and precedent-leaning rabbit hole that at the end of the day doesn’t benefit anyone. Thus, since I’m not a good and superior art critic myself, I feel ready to blindly omit the fact that almost exactly two years ago I already wrote – rather negatively – about Cold War Kids’ previous record Hold My Home.

The pre-release promotion for LA Divine was a rather ambitious one, with as much as four singles with correspondent music videos released in anticipation of the 44-minute long full-length effort. Incidentally, the San Pedro-native five piece decided to gradually release all first four songs on the tracklist in chronological order, paving the way with sparky and energetic lead single “Love is Mystical” on 2nd February, followed shortly after by the introspective and slower “Can We Hang On?” on 2nd March, and wrapping up with the Bishop Briggs soulful collab “So Tied Up” as well as 5-minute epic “Restless” in short succession just weeks before the full album release. Looking back, this really does feel like an interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive choice, as the four tracks aren’t too dissimilar from each other at all – that is, piano-heavy, chorus-driven bangers that all lean more than one hand in both sounds and vibe towards Cold War Kids’ previous LP Hold My Home – whilst the rest of LA Divine has so much more to offer indeed. Truly noteworthy out of the singles-bucket are the opening track, with its potent intentions in both beat and lyrics, as well as “Restless”, a rather beautiful tribute to Los Angeles and its ability to shape love relationships (“I don’t get jealous, I get free / Everything good comes back to me / It seems like wherever you are / Is just a better place to be“) all embedded in carrying melodies with a groovy piano and catchy verses doing most of the job.

As previously hinted at, this album has way more to offer and enjoy though than its singles (unsurprisingly, given that with its 14 tracks LA Divine marks Cold War Kids’ longest release to date). As our good ol vinyls teach us, this record too is shaped in such a way to be divided into four main bits/themes, sequentially separated by something close to an interlude, or skit, or even filler, depending on what one prefers to call them (“LA River”, “Wilshire Protest”, and “Cameras Always On”). For instance, the first psych/lo-fi interlude “LA River” is followed by what is arguably the album’s most exciting part, with great cuts such as the live-like uplifting “No Reason to Run” as well as the gangstery “Open Up the Heavens”, which presents some of the best vocal harmonies on the whole album and comes with irresistible badass-guitars.

“Luck Down” and “Ordinary Idols” make up the main third bit of LA Divine, with the former being a solid enjoyable indie tune and the most aggressive and sped up cut of the LP, whilst the latter arguably representing one of the dullest and most boring moments, only to be partially saved by quite sublime lyrics (“Why would you idolize me? / There’s nothing I got that you don’t / You keep on fantasizing / I’ll always be the underdog“). It follows the social media/instagram-hysteria critique skit “Cameras Always On”, which then throws the listener to the final part of the record and boy, that is one hell of a closure. Both the gentle and beautiful “Part of the Night” as well as the spacey and ambient-driven “Free to Breathe” make for an excellent wrap up with a rising and extremely inspiring note. This is true especially for closing track “Feel to Breathe”, which sees Cold War Kids at their songwriting best whilst at the same time surprising the listener with unexpected guitar arpeggios and wonderfully sung by frontman Nathan Willett.

Overall, LA Divine might as well be Cold War Kids’ most inspired and coherent album in a decade, with the band’s signature groovy and R&B piano once more dominating all major tracks and undoubtedly entailing some of the band’s best songs ever written (see “Restless”, “Part of the Night”, “Free to Breathe”). Yet, the album does come with highly skippable moments as well (see “Can We Hang On?”, “Ordinary Idols”), while here and there one can’t help but feel like some of the material on this records just sounds a bit too second-hand and recycled from previous work, above all 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts and 2015’s Hold My Home  (doesn’t “Love is Mystical” sound just like it could’ve come out of the same writing session as Dear Miss Lonelyhearts’ and Hold My Home’s lead singles “Miracle Mile” and “All This Could Be Yours”?). In other words, LA Divine could certainly have benefitted from more guitars and edgy sounds and less predictable piano-formula. It’s a shame, but nothing to despair. Cold War Kids might have been ok with rendering their home town of Los Angeles divine this time round, hopes for a switch to their songwriting abilities are high for what’s next to come.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

COLD WAR KIDS

“LA DIVINE”

2017, Capitol Records

http://www.coldwarkids.com

CWK_LADivine

MUSIC IS FOR EVERYONE (AND SO IS FREEDOM) | 3rd April, MMXVII

I know it’s been a fairly high amount of ARM instalments on these premises lately, hence why I won’t be framing this very one as yet another one of those and, even though it most certainly deals with and celebrates the power of music, just putting out a friendly warning that Everything Must Swing might never have gotten this political before. Getting straight to the point and without unnecessary clicks-generating namedrops, in the past couple years the Western socio-political world has come to exist in a seemingly never ending state of widespread dysfunctional crisis and democratic disenfranchisement, mostly through forms of radical political movements gaining decisional power and by consequence hurting both economics and well beings of societies at large. Whilst I’m aware that, luckily, there have been many shapes and forms of protests over time (and one of them  many has made its way into this site before) –principally because protest and countermovements can be of different nature intrinsically and by design – there’s one particular initiative leveraging the power of arts and music more specifically that I’d like to bring to every reader’s attention.

The initiative I’m referring to is a music compilation album put together and curated by Taking Back Sunday‘s lead guitarist John Nolan, brilliantly called Music for Everyone and out just a couple days ago on 30th March via Collective Confusion Records and Californian Hopeless Records’ charity arm label Sub City Records. All proceeds from digital sales of the compilation will help support non-profit organisation American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a movement that for over 100 years has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties of people. Music for Everyone is a mighty 27-song compilation that features rare or unreleased music by an incredibly rich and talented bunch of artists ranging from punk legends Anti-Flag to rapper Gift of Gab, from emo-icon and former My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero to modern generation singer-songwriters such as Dave Hause and Kevin Devine. Not missing from the collection album’s tracklist is of course John Nolan’s very own Taking Back Sunday, who contributed with an exclusive new acoustic cut entitled “Just A Man”. This is John Nolan himself speaking about some of the reasons that brought him to put together such a massive collaborative effort:

“I also wanted to give artists an opportunity to express something about what’s gone on in this country over the past year and what’s coming in the next ones. I needed that for myself and wanted to connect with other people who needed it. And I wanted to take that need for self-expression and channel it into something bigger than all of us.”

The compilation and its stamp are quite clearly directed at angrily pushing back and expressing widespread discontent towards the recent election of Donald Trump as 45th president of the USA, as the main curator goes on explaining:

“In the next four years, there is a lot of potential to see policies that will discriminate against people of color, Muslims, women and the LGBT community. The ACLU has a long history of fighting discriminatory and unconstitutional policies and I wanted to do something to unite people in support of that fight.”

While there is little to add to such a noble and honourable intent, I do believe that the  inspiring and positive initiative brought forward by Music for Everyone could and should be applied in many other contexts regardless of background and geographic specifics, as in the end it’s all about those values of incisiveness, togetherness, tolerance and freedom that are currently being put under threat in so many geopolitical circumstances. If anyone feels that said values should indeed be protected and reinforced across the board whilst realising that so much of the free world is currently underway to limiting individual rights, then the least one could do would be to show some support by contributing to the cause by purchasing the album on its dedicated Bandcamp page. It’s a Name-Your-Own-Price (NYOP) model whereby each of us – very much in the spirit of the whole campaign – can freely decide how much to donate towards the project and the benevolent actions of the ACLU, starting with a price of $10.

As of now the compilation album is only available digitally in all its formats (download, streaming, etc…), and according to a recent Facebook Q&A session with John Nolan physical and vinyl releases might be planned for the future, depending on early successes of the initiative. Music-wise, as one can imagine with a tracklist of 27 songs, the album is extremely varied and rich in genres and sounds, carrying the listener through sonic journeys of punk rock draft tunes (Anti-Flag’s demo opener “Buried the Shame”), beautiful and heartbreaking songwriting intimacy (a live performance of “Honest Man” by wonderful Travis Hayes), upbeat dystopian scenarios (“I’m Paranoid” by Brett Newski), dirty and muddy existential anger (Frank Iero’s “Getting Into Heaven Can be Hell”) and, of course, more or less veiled punches in President Trump’s face, with the aforementioned Taking Back Sunday tune “Just A Man”, the vulnerable and addictive “sinn” by Cameron Boucher and anthemic hope closer “The Day After Tomorrow” as only some of the many highlights across these 90 minutes of protest music.

In a present world increasingly afflicted by humanitarian and identity crises across the board, there was never a less important time to state that we all were born in this together and that our energies are doubtlessly better spent elsewhere than in close-minded populist narratives and actions. Very much like our human race, music has always been there from the beginnings, crafting in itself a universally coded language driving progress and connection among nations, borders and ethnic groups. The Music for Everyone initiative is just a catalysing spark that is very much up for grab and re-invention, re-interpretation, and re-appropriation in other political and societal scenarios, acting so much as inspiration as it does as concrete localised initiative benefiting the immediate concrete actions of the ACLU. Let’s embrace this, let’s pick our own organisations to endorse and let’s try to push back at the injustices of present times, reminding everyone possible that just like music, freedom is for everyone.

Before we wrap up, make damn sure you read more on the various ACLU’s commitments to stand up for human rights in the wake of the recent US presidential election:  www.aclu.org/news/aclu-statement-donald-trumps-election

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

MusicForEveryone_CCR