Tag Archives: New Music

Music Review – Darts – Below Empty and Westward Bound

After a bit of a hiatus, I recently got back into writing reviews for Semplesize. I’ve done a couple in the last couple of weeks and am hoping to keep up the impetus, which is lucky because otherwise I’d have run out of ones to repost on this site pretty soon.

I quite enjoyed doing the review for this Darts track, although it bought back lots of memories that I thought had been filed under: slightly vacant teenage years.

Originally published on Semplesize, which sadly disappeared some time ago!



About five years ago I auditioned with a band called CatBoy and the Dogs of Sin. As soon as I hit the play button on Commanche, the first track on Darts’ new album, the growly guitar tryout from my past danced through my head in vivid surround sound. The main thing the two bands share is a fondness/slightly worrying stalker tendency towards all things Mudhoney.

Okay, so they’re not a one trick pony and seem to have a few other influences too, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies (are you seeing a theme yet?), but for the most part the Mark Arm-esque vocals on all the tracks led by one of the two Ayers brothers don’t veer far from the gravelly, shouty, jagged template created in 1988, when Superfuzz Bigmuff was released.

Talking of which, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they used both Bigmuff and Superfuzz pedals while making this album, there’s certainly a lot of aural crunch going on all over the place.

The female led tracks, such as Aeroplane and Below Empty, while different in their way are stylistically close enough to the other songs to give the whole thing a bit of personality, even if that personality happens to feel more at home 30 years in the past.

Commanche and Dead both take their cues from The Pixies, even down to using an American Indian tribe’s name, a la The Navajo Know, for the first track and outright stealing the drum beat from La La Love You and using it for a fill in Dead, the name of which is, incidentally, lifted directly from another song on Doolittle!

The rest of the songs veer uncontrollably between Mudhoney and Sonic Youth with dirty guitars and screeching solos. The only departure is on the closing track, My Darling Bendigo, which takes the time machine even further into the past, feeling like a long-lost Velvet Underground song, with sustained feedback drilling into your ears underneath the avant-garde split gender vocals. But they can’t help themselves, at about 1:52 a guitar straight from the Sonic’s Sugar Kane cuts in and it’s back to the shouting.

Overall this is a good album with a lot to keep you interested, my advice would be that if you like it and you’ve never listened to Mudhoney, the Sonic’s, Dinosaur Jr. or any of their original alternative cohort from the 1990s you should look them up when the last track of Below Empty & Westward Bound finishes.



Music Review – Known to Collapse – Circulated Undercover Ground

Even back in the 90s I was more of a Grunger than a Baggy, so to find this track to review didn’t particularly bring back any memories other than watching psychedelic music videos played on the Chart Show on a Saturday morning.

I was pleased to get the chance to review this one though as it has some interesting depths.

Originally published on Semplesize, which sadly disappeared some time ago!




The video for Circulated Undercover Ground is one third psychedelic head trip, one third soul-searching expedition, one third modern day fairy story and one third commentary on the modern world. Yes, I know that makes four thirds but there is a lot going on for the smiley face that stars in this clip.

Known to Collapse is the brainchild of Kevin Lehner, a California based multi instrumental protégé, videographer and all round nice bloke. His musical journey has taken him from Boston to New York and finally to the sunny shores of the south west coast of America. I only mention this because you can almost hear the influence of his travels on this single.

First and foremost is the jangly surf-pop of Los Angeles Beaches, closely hounded by the smooth sound of laid-back Boston alternative scene, strongly veering towards The Lemonheads more relaxed tracks. Then, of course, New York City does what you’d expect and churns the other influences up in its social and cultural Kenwood mixer.

This song reminds me of nothing so much as a few early nineties indie bands from the more northern extremities of England. Artists like Happy Mondays, The La’s and The Soup Dragons all come to mind, but Circulated Undercover Ground is what would have happened if these bands had grown up eight thousand kilometres west-southwest.

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m a penniless writer I would give money to Kevin’s Indiegogo crusade, but as it is he will have to be happy with my contribution to his campaign, which is telling the world that I think he’s pretty talented and is likely to appeal to your better natured musical demons.



Music Review – Loose Tooth – Pickwick Average

Before browsing the Semplesize list for that day I had never heard of Loose Tooth, but that didn’t stop me enjoying their mode of excitable teenage rock thing.

I was quite pleased that I managed to elbow an oblique reference to some actual literature into it, although I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Hardy it was nice to make the cross-media comparison.

Originally published on Semplesize, which sadly disappeared some time ago!



Philadelphia, city of brotherly love, also the city that delivered Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and The Walkmen to our ears. Loose Tooth, however, have shunned the normally laid back vibes of their geographic brethren and gone for an all-out 90s alternative-fest.

Much like the ground-breaking Charles Dickens novel with a timeshare in the song’s title, Pickwick Average is a sequence of loosely-related adventures, just in rock music rather than literature.

It starts off with a rough drawl of a guitar riff, then swiftly escalates into a full on incursion of overdriven guitars and disaffected vocals, however this isn’t the full story. After giving you a good slap in the face to start off, the song plays on the quiet-loud-quiet theme, so beloved of pretty much every grungy rock band of the last twenty years.

After finishing the first verse, such as it is, there is a break for coffee and a bit of decelerated introspection, wavering back and forth between fast and slow the song doesn’t seem to know whether it’s coming or going.

But wait another minute and suddenly they’ve made up their mind and decided that quarter time is the way to go, the drum laboriously beating out a backing while the guitars seem to be noodling around just for fun, as if angling to accompany a comedy film based around Alabama.

Loose Tooth is quite reminiscent of The Breeders, with asymmetrical guitars and a longing for a better life. Pickwick Average is a fun track, with enough happening to keep you interested all the way to the sober end, the only downside being you’ve probably heard another band doing the same thing before.



Music Review – Dinosaur Pile-Up – 11:11

I discovered Dinosaur Pile-Up one night when I was driving to a volleyball practice and they came on the radio as “hottest track of the week” with Opposites Attract. I subsequently searched out and bought their album/EP.

I got an email sent to me announcing their new single, 11:11, was coming out, so I decided to ask the nice people at Semplesize (no longer with us) if they’d mind me putting a review together for it. They gave me a thumbs up so I started scribbling/typing.

Originally published on Semplesize, which sadly disappeared some time ago!



It amazes me how many bands hail from Leeds, in the United Kingdom, amongst them are alt-J, Hadouken!, Kaiser Chiefs, The Sisters of Mercy, The Pigeon Detectives, Pulled Apart By Horses and The Wedding Present.

In 2007 another team of Northerners was added to this list, Dinosaur Pile-Up. Their first EP, The Most Powerful EP in the Universe!, was good enough to be noticed by Zane Lowe and have tracks played on his radio show. When I heard it the first time. DPU, as they are known to their friends, managed to play hard rocking grunge inflected music, with a sense of humour which was rather lacking in others of their genre.

The new single 11:11 starts with a catchy guitar riff accompanied by an easy, relaxed drumbeat. After 20 seconds this introduction stops suddenly and comes back in with everything turned up several notches on the metalometer

Matt Bigland, the front man and only constant in DPU since they arrived on the scene, reportedly said of the new album that “it’s a really heavy record!”, and if this song is anything to go by then he wasn’t lying. This is the first time he has trusted others to be involved with the recording process, and it shows through the change in direction.

At just over four minutes it is long enough to draw you in, making you want to buy the album when it comes out, without the repetitive nature of the song starting to bore you. It sounds like the band have been listening to Mudhoney since the last time we heard them, there is dirt all over this track and it works well, If you have recently discovered your inner demon then you could do worse than to check out 11:11, so you can progress your dark side level to that of fully fledged Sith Lord.



Music Review – Big Strong Brute – Wedding Pages

This was my fourth review on Semplesize, but the first one that got edited in any way. The main reason being that the “conversation in the pub” apparently wouldn’t have displayed correctly with the way their site was formatted. It’s a bit of a shame ’cause that was my favourite part.


Originally published on Semplesize, which sadly disappeared some time ago!



This is how I imagine the conversation in the pub went between Paul Donoughue (PD) and His Mate (HM), some time before the genesis of his latest single:

PD: Hello mate.
HM: G’day Paul, how are you?
PD: I’m good. Actually, I was thinking about writing a new song.
HM: That’s brilliant, I was listening to some of your old stuff the other day and I reckon you should do something a bit different.
PD: Oh, really? *hurt look* I was always quite happy with my other songs.
HM: Yeah, they’re great! I just think what you should do is write something anthemic, you know, a song the crowd can wave their hands in the air to. Like they just don’t care!
PD: Well, I suppose I could try, do you think it would work?
HM: With your talent mate, anything is possible…

And so, I believe, Wedding Pages was conceived. The riff at the beginning sounds like it was dragged, kicking and screaming, from The Stone Roses 1989 debut album. The rest of the band come in after four bars and continue solidly throughout the song, until a quiet interlude after three minutes where it pares back to being Donoughue’s voice and his trebly acoustic guitar for the middle eight.

If you fancy something sounding a bit like Thom Yorke suffering from adenoids, over the instruments of Tired Pony or The Reindeer Section, frankly any band containing the musical talents of Gary Lightbody, then this might just be for you.

If the hypothetical conversation between Paul and His Mate was in any way realistic then bigstrongbrute’s new song smashes it. Hopefully the rest of the new album, Good Work, will match up to the brutality and enthusiasm of Wedding Pages.



Music Review – Monogem – Silhouette

My third Semplesize review was a bit different for me. I’m a bit of a rocker, but browsing through that week’s tracks I happened upon something a little outside my normal listening comfort zone. However I liked it.

As usual this is the unedited version, the original can be found here.

On their Facebook page, Monogem define their genre as “Electro-Pop/Soul”, some might call it “dance”. I would be so bold as to disagree with either of these classifications. Certainly Silhouette has electronic instruments, pop stylings and soulful vocals…and you could unquestionably dance to it. But it feels like a track which should accompany movements of a more horizontal nature.
The song starts as it means to go on, with Songs of Faith and Devotion era Depeche Mode synthesisers, accompanying an electronic drum kit dragged from Everything Everything’s abandoned basement. The music could almost be classed as Rock, if it weren’t for the fact there isn’t an actual stand behind it and press/hit/strum/blow instrument in site.

Although hailing from the USA, Jen Hirsh’s vocals sound more Southern England than Southern California, sharing tone and intonation with the likes of Kelli Ali (formerly Kelli Dayton from the one-hit-wonder trip-hop sensation that was the Sneaker Pimps), Hirsh manages to pull off seductive not-quite-pop vocals in a spectacular fashion.

Scott Smith’s heavy (synthesised) percussion continues at a steady and unstoppable 148 beats per minute throughout the song, with very little change to the basic dum dum, du dum dum of the bass drum or traversal into the higher registers, but this just goes to enhance the ambience of Hirsh’s voice and takes you on a journey towards nights of passion, possibly followed by some more extreme or unconventional intimate physical pursuits.

While Monogem’s other tracks, like The Glow or Follow You can seem a bit derivative, or just fade (rather nicely, it has to be said) into the general stream of consciousness that is popular culture, this is a track which begs for airtime on any radio station that has its wits about it or values their listeners.
The song is beautifully executed and will stand up to repeated plays and I can imagine people dancing to it in a club. The only issue being that it will swiftly empty the club as they all pair off and rush home to their bedrooms, to carry out the inevitable consequences of listening to Silhouette.

Music Review – Hillström and Billy – The Arising

My second review for Semplesize. The general idea behind writing for them is that, you go to a web-page where they list all the different artists/songs they have been forwarded and you put your name next to the one you like the best.

Now my first one for a band called Bear’s Den was picked mainly because the song was called think of England and I thought it was rather apt for someone who only moved to Australia a year ago. But this time I had to pick based on merit alone. So I sat myself down and started wandering through the listings, eventually being rather surprised to find something which surprised and delighted me.

The band, or at least the name by which the individual goes, is Hillström and Billy, and the song is called The Arising.

Originally published on Semplesize, which sadly disappeared some time ago!



The word “Band” can be used in a fantastically loose sense when talking about the musical collective centred around Petter Hillström’s vocal nonchalance. Hillström and Billy aren’t so much a band as a large and interchangeable group of Petter’s friends and acquaintances, who seem to jump at the chance to collaborate on whatever is floating his longship at the time.
Hailing from Stockholm in Sweden, Hillström’s previous works have orbited around folk pop and lo-fi acoustic planets, often grazing the musical asteroids of The Kooks or Athlete. This isn’t the full story though!
Petter’s previous work occasionally hints at what you will get from The Arising. The earlier tracks, such as With You Ahahah, Hillside and Why Won’t Be Why Anymore, suggest that when the volume knob is twisted clockwise a couple of notches the intensity of the music increases exponentially.

So, if you are hoping for the lethargic strummings, pleasant as they are, of his other works then you might be disappointed. But if what you would like is the passion of early era REM with the intensity of Radiohead then you may have found your ideal tune.

Starting off with four lonely drum beats, faintly reminiscent of the palm muted guitar at the beginning of Unbreakable by Comes with the Fall, The Arising isn’t exactly a new direction, it’s more an embracing of folk-pops darker side (does folk-pop even have a darker side???). There isn’t a whiff of an acoustic guitar and the violin goes no way to sedating the urgency inspired by the other instruments.

For some people these sounds may inspire similar feelings to those of the people watching, when Bob Dylan arrived on a stage for the first time clutching his Fender Stratocaster. Personally, I think this track could mean international recognition for Petter Hillström who, until the start of 2014, only posted updates on Facebook in Swedish. I don’t know if he’s trying to become a bit more marketable but, if this is the case then, he’s managed to hit the proverbial iron spike on its transversely flattened end.

If you’re a fan of folk music then check it out. If you’re a fan of pop music then check it out. If you’re a fan of rock music then check it out. In fact, this song is so appealing I think it should be made the new national anthem of Sweden and played at any event they take part in!

I’m not sure whether this is apparent but I really like The Arising!



Music Review – Bear’s Den – Think of England

Not so much a new year’s resolution as a non-specific target, my aim in 2015 was to write as much as I possibly could in as many different places as possible.

“Ah”, I hear you cry, “but what about this here ‘blog, that is meant to be all about writing?”

Well (you hear me respond), sadly due to the constraints imposed by the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day and I am unable to utilise the full complement of hours in writing due to having a job, a family, sleep, etc. it means that I had to forego some pleasures (e.g., this ‘blog) to enable others.

However, one of the things I did was writing for a proper website, which did music reviews, fashion and culture, mostly for young people (they didn’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that I’m twice the age of most of their readers). I saw the ad for it on a media website where I subscribed to job adverts, just to make sure I’m there if anything interesting ever came up. Anyway this (unpaid) job did, and I thought, what could be the harm in trying out for it.

I sent an email with a few links to other stuff I’ve written and why I was interested in the role and got a swift response from Laura, who ran the site, offering me a choice of songs to have a go at. So I started writing, finished writing, then sent it off to see what she thought. She came back saying (and I quote) “Great article!”

I wrote to the lovely people who looked after the site and asked if they would mind me cross posting to this site and they said that the written words belong to me so go for my life.

The full website used to be at http://www.semplesize.com, but the versions I post on LadleWritings are the original unedited ones, so you might get a few odd tangents or interesting asides than were allowed on the official pages.

My first article was this one, which I thought was rather apt having only immigrated last year!

Originally published on Semplesize, which sadly disappeared some time ago!



Bear’s Den | Think of England

Taking a more laid back, stripped down approach than any of their label-mates, including Bad Suns and Rubblebucket, Bear’s Den tend towards the introspective. Their new album could quite happily find itself accompanying a TV drama about attractive people in their mid-twenties, who are trying to discover themselves. If a lucky producer did happen to “discover” Bear’s Den then Think of England would probably be the song that accompanied the scene where one of the plucky heroines was going for a job interview, then had to reciprocate a lecherous potential bosses advances. But I digress…
Andrew Davie’s vocals bring to mind Gary Lightbody on gentler Snow Patrol tracks like Set the Fire to the Third Bar or You Could be Happy. Now imagine, if you will, that a Mumford & Sons audience were treated to a gig one night, when the band had forgotten their mandolin, the resulting sounds would have been very much like those accompanying Davie’s lilting tones.
The video for Think of England is a study in understatement. You only ever see one person at a time, even if you occasionally get the odd double exposure with the same person in the foreground and background. That is until the chorus, which ramps it up a bit with a triple exposure of all three band members.
Gareth Phillips, the director, steers the video in his usual inimitable fashion. Anyone who has seen Chocolate by The 1975 or Get Away by Circa Waves won’t be surprised to see slow motion footage in black and white. However the boat, such as it is, gets pushed out for Bear’s Den with the addition of a dancer, who randomly gets to wave her long flowing locks around and ignore the camera in an intense way. If you want to see this kind of dancing done well try searching for Kate Bush on YouTube.

Overall the video is well made and presented, but nothing to write home about. The band can give themselves a pat on the back for keeping their steering wheel centred on their own genre, and Mr Phillips obviously knows how to wield a high speed camera. But overall it was too predictable for my liking, putting far too much emphasis on the low-fi nature of the music. It could really have done with images which counter the sounds, something along the lines of motor racing or a lead character running as fast as they could to get away from some unknown and hideous terror chasing them through an everlasting post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Mix it up a bit Bears!