Rock

Neurosis - A Sun That Never Sets

ARTIST: NEUROSIS

ALBUM: A SUN THAT NEVER SETS

LABEL (YEAR): RELAPSE RECORDS (2001)

FOR FANS OF: SWANS, MELVINS, GODFLESH  

Words by Chris Gaduzo


The sonic evolution of Neurosis is possibly one of the most exciting and remarkable of its kind, and one I simply love boring people with. In essence though, it goes like this: Hardcore band slows down, gets intense, gets darker, gets more experimental, creates the most interesting heavy music of the past 30 years. It is difficult to choose a favourite Neurosis album, but A Sun That Never Sets is the one that made me realise this band was something special.

The band had already delivered some outstanding albums; Through Silver in Blood saw the band wallowing in a dark mix of sludge, punk, psychedelia and ambient music that is still unparalleled in sonic intensity. The Steve Albini-produced Times of Grace saw the band once again deliver a fantastic album that summed up what they were all about in the 90s. However, it was simply not in Neurosis style to play it safe, and A Sun That Never Sets saw the beginning of another impressive stylistic change.

Opener ‘The Tide’ demonstrates this through its slow, acoustic sections, with Steve Von Till no longer yelling his vocals like on earlier material, but crooning similarly to Tom Waits. However, Neurosis are always a heavy band, and soon the listener is greeted with a sludgy outro where melodic synths battle Scott Kelly’s desperate howls for your attention. Elsewhere, ‘From The Hill’ sees the return of the mid-tempo march Neurosis helped create, yet the band never quite explodes into waves of riffs like they used to. Instead, these heavier moments are held back and unleashed for maximum effect on tracks like ‘Watchfire’ or the breathtaking closer ‘Stones from the Sky’.

Perhaps the most important thing about the direction Neurosis chose to take with A Sun That Never Sets is that they demonstrated how volume does not always equal heavy. Their sound at this point was totally reined in – another piece of their sonic puzzle, which on this album expanded to incorporate folk (see the key change in ‘Crawl Back In’), psychedelia (‘Falling Unknown’) and even tribal music (‘From Where its Roots Run’).

Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas

ARTIST: COCTEAU TWINS

ALBUM: HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS

LABEL (YEAR):  4AD (1990)

FOR FANS OF: THIS MORTAL COIL, SLOWDIVE, MY BLOODY VALENTINE

 

Words by Stef Fiorendi


Cocteau Twins are one of 4AD's flagship artists. They not only defined a genre but also an aesthetic: ethereal and sensuous soundscapes that go hand in hand with enigmatic and abstract sleeve artworks designed by Vaughan Oliver.

The entirety of Heaven or Las Vegas, Cocteau Twins' last album for 4AD, is a powerful and surrealistic dream in a world of technicolor. Elizabeth Fraser is the ethereal narrator, her unique soprano voice levitating over a vast open landscape, delicately and gradually filling the listener with lush, bursting energy. On 'Fotzepolitic' and 'Pitch the Baby', the thick and succinct basslines of Simon Raymonde bring things back to a human dimension, revealing a conceptual accessibility which prevents the listener/dreamer from completely drifting off to Heaven, and allows them to find a tangible contact with their own personal Las Vegas.

This album is luminous ecstasy, fuelled by the enigmatic and barely intelligible lyrics which create a sense of climactic mystery. Like the dichotomy between good and evil, Heaven or Las Vegas determines your transgression to other-worldly realms. It's either a spiritual connection with God or an uninhibited journey to Sin City. No judgement involved.


Kyuss - Welcome to Sky Valley

ARTIST: KYUSS

ALBUM: WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY

LABEL (YEAR): ELEKTRA / CHAMELEON RECORDS (1994)  

FOR FANS OF: ORANGE GOBLIN, BLACK SABBATH, SLEEP

 

Words by Chris Gaduzo


Kyuss’ third album, despite being over twenty years old, is still the blueprint for bluesy stoner rock. The band had already released the classic Blues for the Red Sun, which managed to cement their signature style of fuzzy, spaced out desert rock, but Welcome to Sky Valley is where they really honed their sound.

Josh Homme’s riffs (apparently recorded through bass amps) are never overplayed. Yet, from the spaced out intro of ‘Odyssey’ or the wah-driven ‘100 Degrees’, to the overbearing ‘Gardenia’ or acoustic ‘Space Cadet’, there’s simply never a melody or guitar line that isn't fantastic. Scott Reeder's bass playing is likewise utterly phenomenal. The mix allows his warm sound to really come through, emphasising the intricacies of his playing on tracks like ‘N.O’ or the bass-led ‘Demon Cleaner’.

None of these things could be Kyuss, however, without John Garcia’s high pitched yet still melodic vocals cutting through the fuzz. Like Sabbath before them, the contrast between thick, down-tuned instrumentation and paint-stripping vocals works incredibly well. Tracks like ‘Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop’ and album closer ‘Whitewater’ display Garcia’s amazing talent for providing powerful melodies for his lyrics that, while not the most philosophical, can be linked to the band’s beginnings in the Palm Desert Scene.

Perhaps the thing that makes Welcome to Sky Valley so influential and engrossing is that, by this point, Kyuss knew exactly what their strengths were. Although their previous and later albums are still stoner rock classics, this album is the absolute classic, showing the band at their creative peak.


John Frusciante - To Record Only Water For Ten Days

ARTIST: John Frusciante

ALBUM: TO Record Only Water For Ten Days

LABEL (YEAR): Warner Bros. (2001)  

FOR FANS OF: Ataxia, Dot Hacker

 

Words by Aidan Daly


John Frusciante’s career with the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a well-known tale of heroin, near-death experiences, and cathartic reunions. And his second departure. Yet running parallel to this, Frusciante’s solo career has yielded music that tops most of the Chili’s output in its vision and execution.

2001’s To Record Only Water For Ten Days is one such example. It’s an album of minimal proportions; not only are most of the tracks relatively short, but also noticeably sparse in their production (it was recorded at Frusciante's home on an 8-track, with all guitars apparently recorded direct-in – no amps whatsoever). The overall aesthetic of Ten Days owes to the influence of new wave and electronica, and as such features the central use of synths and drum machines – at the time a significant musical departure for the musician.

This use of electronic instruments sounds almost kitsch and slightly amateur at times, yet, instead of this taking away from the flavour of the album, this is precisely what gives it its awkward charm. Tracks like ‘Remain’, ‘Murderers’, and ‘Invisible Moment’ exhibit this best, with clunky, mechanical drum patterns and stock synth lines supplementing Frusciante’s lo-fi guitar and vocals. ‘With No One’ and ‘Wind Up Space’ also utilise these components, but in a much more affecting manner. Lyrically, both seem to be reflecting on the psychological damage of a debilitating heroin addiction, the latter all the more moving for Frusciante’s piercing, wailed vocal delivery.

One outlier on the album also deserves a mention – the fleeting ‘Ramparts’. The swell of intricate, layered guitar parts appears around the middle of the album, sounding nothing like the rest of it, and evaporates as quickly as it comes.  


The Amazing Snakeheads - Amphetamine Ballads

ARTIST: THE AMAZING SNAKEHEADS

ALBUMAMPHETAMINE BALLADS

LABEL (YEAR): DOMINO RECORDS (2014)  

FOR FANS OF: THE CRAMPS, FAT WHITE FAMILY

Words by Lexy Morvaridi


Sometimes, you hear something that immediately stops you in your tracks and makes you turn around and say, “who the fuck is this?” When I first heard the snarl of Dale Barclay, that is exactly what I said. His guttural, throaty vocals are doused in a whisky-soaked Glaswegian accent and it’s what makes The Amazing Snakeheads’ debut and only record, Amphetamine Ballads, truly stand out.

The slow and tense opener ‘I’m A Vampire’ swings as it builds towards a massive release of distorted guitars, while the vocals slaughter the track relentlessly with lines like “she’s more beautiful than any girl I’ve ever met… and she fucking knows it”. Throughout the record there’s a bluesy, jazzy groove, decorated with wild reverberated saxophone and a decaying sense of despair, driven by the release of angry postulations. The sped up post-punk thump of ‘Here It Comes Again’ falls away into a garage rock riff that, combined together, sounds like nothing else yet familiar all at the same time. Where the record really shines is ‘Everybody Wants To Be Her Baby’, which opens with a sinister and gradually building bassline, while a sax delicately tiptoes around the vocal melody – the whole thing wouldn’t go amiss in Twin Peaks.

If you’re sick of the safe, soft sound that has spread like a disease throughout indie guitar music, then douse yourself in liquor and set yourself alight with this incredible debut. These guys are horrible bastards but that’s what makes them great – not for the fainthearted.


The Jesus Lizard - Liar

ARTIST: THE JESUS LIZARD

ALBUMLIAR

LABEL (YEAR):  TOUCH AND GO RECORDS (1992)

FOR FANS OF: BIG BLACK, SHELLAC, SONIC YOUTH, METZ

 

Words by Chris Gaduzo


I told someone I was starting a noise rock band recently, and obviously they went, "what the shit is that?" So I tried to say something along the lines of "jerky rhythms, very bass driven, dissonant guitars, riffs but more emphasis on the rhythm section…" They weren't convinced. In retrospect, I should have probably started blasting Liar, The Jesus Lizard's third album, because nothing quite sums up noise rock like this album.

The band had already made a splash with their previous album Goat, also considered a classic, but Liar, while not being as bizarre or manic as their previous work, still delivers in equal measure. Opener 'Boilermaker' doesn't waste time with a signature stop/start riff and David Yow's uncomfortable and messy vocals adding an extra layer to the barrage. The song then segues effortlessly into a locked-in bass and drum groove with dissonant lead guitar cleverly placed over the top.

Elsewhere, slow burner 'Slave Ship' crawls along menacingly, whereas songs like 'Gladiator' and the surprisingly catchy 'Puss' really show the band flexing their songwriting muscles. The bass-playing is absolutely crucial; it's repetitive, loud, sometimes intricate, sometimes fantastically simple ('Gladiator'). Enough cannot be said about Steve Albini's production. At times it sounds like the band is in the room next door, but at the same time nothing is lost.

Personally, noise rock is a fairly new thing for me, and every band I hear sounds great (only a matter of time before the "unoriginal" card starts getting played). However, considering this album is over twenty years old, it still sounds original, and nobody was doing it quite like The Jesus Lizard were in the 90s.

Richard Hawley - Coles Corner

ARTIST: RICHARD HAWLEY

ALBUM: COLES CORNER

LABEL (YEAR):  Mute (2005)

FOR FANS OF: PULP, NICK CAVE, ROY ORBISON

 

Words by Sam Hall


Repeatedly heralded as Sheffield's bullish answer to Sinatra, Richard Hawley has a knack for finding a lilting, effortless melody and transposing the most romantic prose over it. It simply melts your cold, unaffected heart. You can see his influence in fellow Steel city-man Alex Turner, amongst others. Yet what sets him apart from his contemporaries isn't just his reserved arrangements, swoonsome rhythms & dulcet tones, it's that his affections aren't restricted to his lovers, with each song finding its respective subject – a city, street, friend or addiction – and pining for it in equal measure. This is arguably his strongest record to date and indisputably the perfect starting point for those unacquainted with our lad from up north.

Take comfort on a grey and rainy day, this record makes you want to grow old with a city; a perfect distillation of Sheffield in all its humble beauty.


Magma - Attahk

ARTIST: MAGMA

ALBUM: ATTAHK

LABEL (YEAR): TOMATO (1978) 

FOR FANS OF: YES, KING CRIMSON, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA

 

Words by Chris Gaduzo

 

French progressive rock/jazz fusion band Magma is the brainchild of drummer and bandleader Christian Vander, who bases all of his albums’ concepts and lyrics (sung in a made up language called Kobaian) on a "vision of humanity's spiritual and ecological future". Vander claims that his main influence is John Coltrane, but judging from the wealth of influences present on Attahk, you’d think that Magma simply have no regard for conventional music combinations.
 
Opener ’The Last Seven Minutes’ perhaps best represents this album, consisting of sharp jazzy riffs and some magnificent drumming about half way through from Vander himself, when the band settle into the most magnificent head-nodding groove. Tracks ’Spiritual’ and ‘Rinde’ showcase the band’s gospel and orchestral influences (yeah, gospel, you read that right), whereas the menacing ‘Maahnt’ and the slow, two note bass build up of ‘Nono’ really demonstrate this band’s knack for genius arrangements and excellent songwriting.
 


The vocals are another story altogether. With three singers all contributing to the manic yelps and downright bizarre vocal arrangements, this is definitely the icing on the weirdest cake. The brilliant thing is, however, that these are simply another instrument for Magma - never a focal point, but crucial to their grander vision. Sure, during ‘Lirik Necronomicus Kant’ the almost inhuman howling will grab your attention, but it’s impossible to ignore the fantastic bass playing - fuzzy, busy, but never heavy. The keyboards are central throughout, especially in the aforementioned ‘Rinde’, which begins with only piano and vocals, showcasing another crucial thing about Magma - they know when to strip their arrangements down, and in progressive rock like this, it’s a skill that really works to their advantage.

Sonic Youth - Dirty

ARTIST: SONIC YOUTH

ALBUM: DIRTY

LABEL (YEAR): DGC RECORDS (1992)

FOR FANS OF: PIXIES, DINOSAUR JR, HUSKER DU

 

 

 

Words by Alice Ding


Sometimes you buy a record because you're 14 years old and there’s a funny looking, albeit slightly frightening, knitted animal on the front cover. You have never heard of the band Sonic Youth before but it becomes a distinct turning point in your musical education. You still wear the faded black Goo album t-shirt ten years later, have read Kim Gordon’s autobiography and seen Thurston Moore play with his new band (but can’t help feeling like you’re betraying Camp Gordon after reading about Moore’s shortfalls in her book).

Sonic Youth was one of the most prolific bands to come out of the grunge era and played shows for decades after their contemporaries threw in the towel, so to speak. Dirty was released in 1992, a full four years since the band’s influential release Daydream Nation. It still has the same frantic energy as their earlier albums. Produced by Butch Vig, there is minimal polishing and smoothing out of Sonic Youth’s sound on this album unlike the sound on later releases. The distorted guitars and Gordon’s raspy vocals are immediately recognisable. Some songs come in at two and half minutes, but none stretch further than six minutes so there’s a lot packed in to the 59-minute album, which features both Gordon and Moore’s vocals with Lee Ranaldo featuring once on ‘Wish Fulfillment’.

I remember looking at the back of the CD cover and thinking what a bizarre bunch of song names. ‘Orange Rolls, Angel’s Spit’, what on earth could that be about? There are so many themes explored on this album; there’s the political ‘Youth Against Fascism’, ‘Swimsuit Issue’, which refers to a record label employee who sexually harassed women, and ‘Sugar Kane’, which is said to be about Marilyn Monroe, although it could easily be taken as a song about drug addiction. They also pay homage to their friend Joe Cole in the song ‘JC’, who was a roadie for Hole and Black Flag, murdered at the end of 1991 whilst in the company of Henry Rollins.

Some footage of Sonic Youth touring with these songs before the release of the album feature on 1991: The Year Punk Broke which is further recommended viewing for anyone with a love of the early 90s grunge scene.


Gentle Giant - Free Hand

ARTIST: GENTLE GIANT

ALBUMFREE HAND

LABEL (YEAR): CHRYSALIS (1975)  

FOR FANS OF: RUSH, GENESIS, YES

 

 

 

Words by Chris Gaduzo


Apparently Gentle Giant's aim was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular". I don't really know how much of that was achieved, but what is for sure is that Gentle Giant left behind a handful of albums that even now are still pretty impressive, if not slightly confusing.

Free Hand is probably their most accessible, and when I say accessible, I mean the one that's easiest to listen to. Sure, songs like 'Just The Same' and 'Free Hand' display Gentle Giant at their most conventional, but even in this form it is still mind boggling. The instrumentation seems so disjointed upon first listen, but like most prog, after a few listens the genius of it really comes across.

Most, if not all members of Gentle Giant were classically trained, and this shows in their affinity for bringing classical arrangements to an already too-eclectic-to-be-viable musical mix. However, this is what makes Gentle Giant so brilliant. Perhaps the best example is 'On Reflection', most of which consists of complex a cappella arrangements, before overlapping guitar and keyboards take over, building on the melody that was being sung earlier.

I wouldn't say Gentle Giant turned progressive rock on its head, but they went further than anyone else in terms of incorporating as much as possible into their music - this is probably why they never got much more than a cult following. However confusing their music might be, Free Hand is the sound of Gentle Giant totally consolidating their sound and producing the most cohesive set of songs they would ever write.