Assorted Albums Almanac//February 2014

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair; I have reviewed many an album and they hath been verily medicore. The first two here – Blank Realms and Against Me! – came out a while ago but are under the radar enough for proximity to release to be irrelevant. The third, Sun Structures by Temples, did the review rounds a few weeks ago, but has only seen release this week. In that time the band have started up a bit of a spat with NME because they complained they weren’t doing enough drugs. And, in fairness, that’s a totally stupid complaint to have about an album. I think they were trying to say they didn’t sound really, authentically 70s, but were also trying to sound hip and cool and edgy. And that’s why you are a shambling skeleton of an institution, NME.

Also, Liars released the first track off their upcoming new album, and both Owen Pallett and Coldplay became the latest victims of musical vampire Brian Eno. I swear, that man cannot work with an artist without leaving them a soulless husk two albums later.  That said, generally those two albums are very good – in a sparse, airport music kinda way.

Blank Realms//Grassed In

A bit like a whinier, longer, more unfocused Crocodiles (and Crocodiles are already flawed enough), Grassed In is a debut album that holds promise, but has far too many rough edges to really endorse. Every now and again, as on Baby Closes the Door,  Blank Realms settle into a ghostly, krautrock-meets-jangle guitar sound that’s reminiscent of an early REM, but with the vocals of Tom Verlaine or The Cramps or something. They’re a band that seem too indebted to the influences of others to really create a sound of their own; and, without a better vocalist, or some better music and lyrics to go along with it, I can’t see this band ever being more than a niche act.

Grassed In isn’t an album without its moments, but often they’re fleeting or only satisfying in a pretty simplistic way. With many of the songs pushing 6 or 7 minutes, they also stretch out these already fairly threadbare ideas much longer than is necessary. That’s less of an issue on the slower, more textured second half of the album – a marked improvement on the chaotic, garage rock jumble of the opening – but all the same there’s no real reason for any of these songs to be as long as they are. Another boon for the latter half of the album is that the core of the sound largely drowns out the vocals – drawing attention to the fact that most of the songs are basically well-crafted, just a bit, well, basic.

The album leaves you on a high, with album closer Reach You on the Phone perhaps the finest cut on the album, but Grassed In is just too long and too staid for most listeners to bother persisting that far. If they do, they’ll be rewarded with a B-grade shoegaze EP saddled down by a C to D opening.


Against Me!//Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Channelling the punk sound, vocal ferocity and vitriolic lyricism of Holy Bible-era Manic Street Preachers, Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a crunching, howling, no holds barred tirade directed at gender politics. Led by transgendered frontman/woman/crap, this is dangerous territory, Laura Jane Grace, the album is loaded with anger, angst and seriously violent guitar.

Although that anger, punk sound and weird approach to lyrics – pack as many words as possible into a line and then awkwardly fit them in in a totally inimitable style – harbors many similarities to the Manics, Against Me! Mark themselves out with a sound that is clearly from across the Atlantic. At times channeling the likes of Weezer (in their most angry, emo mode) and other mid 90s hard rock acts, they also bring in something of the blues they mention in the album title. The resulting sound is a kinetic, aggressive, angst filled one – albeit somewhat rough around the edges – that harks back to simple, youthful garage rock, but here refined and polished.

At times this sound can turn more overtly derivative, and some of the whininess that plagued Weezer and their legion of imitators can appear in Grace’s vocals. It’s also just a bit miserable. It’s high class emo fare(as evidenced by titles like FUCKMYLIFE666, Dead Friend, Two Coffins, Black Me Out…you get the idea) but it at least has a point. The focus on gender uncertainty means they can get away with this occasionally clichéd songwriting, and lends Grace a sincerity and passion that so often is phoned in by similar acts.

Brief, explosive, and sincere enough to get away with being clichéd, Transgender Dysphoria Blues has everything it needs to achieve some measure of cross-genre success that their 90s forebears had, but ultimately remains as limited too. Punky, spunky, but not particularly adventurous.


Temples//Sun Structures

God, they’re everywhere these bands. Since when did early 70s psychedelic rock become so ubiquitous? And in such cookie-cutter form too. Trying to discern the differences between Temples Sun Structures and any of The Black Angel’s work (all their albums are pretty much the same) is an exercise that demands the full weight of a man’s nit-picking powers. I guess the vocals are, like, slightly more high-pitched and a little less fuzzy? Maybe the guitar is more, like, ethnic-y? Maybe it’s a bit more lush, kind of.

Basically, it’s somewhere between The Black Angels and Brian Jonestown Massacre, and therefore not very original, even at being unoriginal; but also, like all these kind of bands, ridiculously solid. Like, nothing’s actually bad, but nothing’s particularly amazing. Or ground-breaking — least of all ground-breaking. You’ve already heard this album somewhere, but you don’t really mind it being on again.

I’m not sure what to say about this trend, and Sun Structures as an album. I have no real complaints, other than with regard to originality, and I’m more than happy for people to keep making music like it. Maybe they should organise some kind of rota so only one of them releases one of these a year. Or all release them at once and attempt to trigger a zeitgeist/timewarp back to 1970. Or maybe they should all just accept that Tame Impala have this whole genre nailed down; except Brian Jonestown Massacre, those guys can do what they want because they are all insane.


Erm, god, it’s all a bit of a blur really. They’re all quite good.


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