Saturday, 29 May 2010

Astrobrite - Super Crush [2002]


Artist: Astrobrite
Album: Super Crush
Label: Music Mine

Astrobrite are a shoegaze 'supergroup' of sorts, formed by Scott Cortez of Lovesliescrushing and including band-mate Melissa Arpin-Duimstra also of Lovesliescrushing, Odell Nails of Majesty Crush, Lynn Anderson of Alison's Halo and Andrew Prinz of Mahogany. Their sound is very reminiscent of early nineties shoegaze, but mixed with Cortez's penchant for four-track tape recorders and lo-fi aesthetic.

Super Crush is Astrobrite's second full-length release, and features several tracks from the debut album, Crush (2001) rerecorded. Super Crush was primarily released as an exclusive release on the Japanese label Music Mine and features an entirely different lineup. Featured on Super Crush are Cortez on guitar and vocals, Narasaki of Coaltar of the Deepers on guitar, Watchman (ex-Melt-Banana and Coaltar of the Deepers) on drums with an all-Japanese recording team. Interestingly, Cortez and Narasaki produced the record together which gives it a very different sound to other Astrobrite records, sounding in places like a softer Coaltar of the Deepers album.

Tracklist:

1) Crasher
2) Booster
3) Girl Friend
4) Super Crushed
5) Over Driver
6) Sucker Punch
7) Bottle Rocket
8) Lemon Drop
9) Smile
10) Radio Friendly
11) I Want You
12) Dizzy
13) Stay
14) Jaw Breaker
15)
16)

Monday, 24 May 2010

Coalter of the Deepers - Come Over to the Deepend [2000]



Artist: Coaltar of the Deepers
Album: Come Over to the Deepend
Label: ZK Records

Come Over to the Deepend is the third full-length album by Tokyo-based shoegazers, Coaltar of the Deepers. CotD is fronted by Narasaki, a prolific guitarist and composer, who has collaborated with Astrobrite and performed in groups like Sadesper Record and Tokusatsu, whilst also boasting a list of composer credits for a variety of dramas and anime series, the most famous of which is probably Paradise Kiss, for which he composed the entire soundtrack.

CotD's sound is primarily based in the realm of shoegaze, with forays into death metal, techno and more conventional j-pop sounds. Other albums by the group show stronger influences from different genres, but shoegazing certainly takes centre-stage on Come Over to the Deepend (even if the opening track suggests otherwise). The group's lineup has fluctuated hugely throughout the years, the only constant members being singer/guitarist Narasaki and drummer Kanno. The lineup on Come Over to the Deepend consists of Narasaki and Kanno, with supporting members Kawanaka (bass) and Ichimaki (vocals/guitar), a lineup which would only remain stable for a year before the departure of Ichimaki, contributing to the cyclic nature of the group's membership.

One of the elements of Come Over to the Deepend that stands out most for me is Narasaki's vocals. On my first listen, I immediately assumed that there was a female singer in the band, but I was wrong. All of the vocals, even the highest notes can be attributed to the phenomenal range of Narasaki. Backing vocalist Ichimaki contributes occasionally, most noticeably on C/O/T/D, but the majority of vocals are handled by Narasaki, whose voice can sound enraged, delicate and everything in between throughout the album. Another one of the standout points of the album is Kanno's drumming, which is incredibly fast and technical, and yet totally appropriate at all stages of the album. In many ways, Kanno's drumming reminds me of Colm Ó Cíosóig of My Bloody Valentine, but with a tightness and technicality never seen from Ó Cíosóig.

Come Over to the Deepend in many ways feels like a metal band doing a shoegaze album. Videos of live shows on the internet show the band using all of the gear of a metal band; Narasaki often plays a Flying V through stacks of Marshall amplifiers, while Kanno ruthlessly thrashes away at his drums. This is where Coaltar of the Deepers excel, though. Their music isn't just a typical Loveless covers album, nor is it a Jazzmaster tremolo-worship affair. To me, Come Over to the Deepend is a fresh approach to the shoegaze sound, and it succeeds in being an unpretentious and undeniably infectious slice of dreamy shoegaze.

Tracklist:

1) Mars Attacks!
2) Unlimber
3) Hard Reality
4) Taste
5) C/O/T/D
6) Thunderbolt
7) Thrash Lives in Savagery
8) Aki no Gyouninzaka
9) Synthetic Slide

Monday, 17 May 2010

Astral Social Club - Astral Social Club [2006]



Artist: Astral Social Club
Album: Astral Social Club
Label: VHF

Astral Social Club is the moniker of Neil Campbell. Campbell has been a major proponent in the British underground for years, collaborating with artists like Matthew Bower and Richard Youngs as well as forming Vibracathedral Orchestra and the A Band. Under the Astral Social Club name, Campbell has self-released numerous CDrs, and had several releases on VHF and other labels.

This particular release is a compilation of various Astral Social Club recordings, recorded from when Campbell started using the moniker in 2004 up to 2006. In reference to the CD, Campbell said that he didn't want it to be a compilation in the standard sense of the word; instead he wanted it to be more like a DJ set in which he would mix together various recordings into something new and fresh.

The music on this release is something quite spectacular. I was browsing the ever-fascinating shelves of alt. vinyl in Newcastle when I came across a small section dedicated to Astral Social Club material. At first I was daunted both by the volume of material that I found, and also by the fact that almost all of the releases were numbered consecutively and in an array of colours. After flicking through the releases a few times I decided to simply buy the self-titled album, not really being sure what I was actually doing.

Perhaps I was a fool for having too many preconceptions of what it would sound like; I knew that I was going to see a show later that week, the bill of which included Jazzfinger, Eyeballs and Posset followed by Astral Social Club. With this in mind as I put the disc on, I was expecting some long-form, amp-driven, dark, distorted and thick sounds. What I got was something completely different. The name itself "Astral Social Club" is probably the best descriptor for the sound of the music. Although the disc varies a lot and goes from ecstatic and jarring futuristic-dance music to some slowly evolving drones and soundscapes, there is always a cosmic vibe buried somewhere in the sound, phasing in and out of the listeners' consciousness throughout the course of the album.

I felt the same when as this when I saw the live manifestation of the project; it almost looked and sounded like Campbell had taken some gear from a club DJ and circumvented the capabilities of the equipment for his own ends. The table was scattered with a variety of looping devices, samplers and pedals through which a host of sounds were played to surprisingly danceable effect. The whole performance was incredibly diverse and saw Campbell switching between creating complex rhythms and melodies and freely improvised electric guitar; all tangled together and blaring through Jazzfinger's amplifier back-line.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Rustic - Live [2010]

Artist: Rustic
Album: Live
Label: Self-Released

I recently had the pleasure of meeting punk rockers Rustic at a gig that they played in Newcastle towards the end of their UK tour. The band are heavily involved in the Beijing indie scene that revolves around the D22 venue and the Maybe Mars label. However, unlike many of the bands that are involved in the Beijing scene, Rustic are not an indie rock band, and their sound is entirely different from the sound now recognised as the 'Beijing-indie' sound. Rustic are indeed a punk band in perhaps the truest sense of the word; their music blends classic British punk like the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks with glam rock and their own unique Chinese twist.

For a while now, Chinese bands like Rustic, Joyside and Demerit have been gaining a dedicated fanbase in Beijing amongst the Chinese youth that are becoming the first generation of Chinese punks. As you can imagine, a lot of punk ideologies don't mix too well with the totalitarian regime that is the Communist Party of China, but this hasn't stopped the movement from growing. What was initially an underground movement has now begun to filter into the periphery of Chinese society, with many students becoming increasingly interested in the music and sheer audacity displayed by punk bands like Rustic.

Perhaps the thing that struck me most about Rustic, apart from the music of course, was their intense passion for the music that they play. They have said in interviews that in China, full-time musicians (especially punks) hardly even make enough to scrape a living. There is no reason for anyone to want to be in a band other than purely for the music, as there is simply nothing else in it for them. In this way, their approach to music is a very pure one; they are 100% committed and devoted to the music they play. There was also a real belief amongst the members in the band, that music is much more than sound; it is something that can change people's lives; it is an ideology and a life choice. I would draw a parallel between the ultra-conservative nature of contemporary mainstream Chinese culture and British culture in the 1950s prior to the sexual revolution. Just as then there was a feeling of disillusionment amongst the youth of Britain, I feel that there will be a similar feeling amongst the Chinese youth and that bands like Rustic will be at the forefront of this movement.

Live is a CDr distributed by the band at their live shows. The recordings found on the CDr very accurately represent the band's live performance and benefit greatly from being very raw live bootlegs of a show in China. The CDr itself is packaged in a handmade sleeve made from photographic paper, with a professionally printed label on the CDr. Rustic are scheduled to release an album on Maybe Mars, a label with whom they have a close relationship, later this year.