Album Review: Pillars – Cavum

Pillars Cavum album cover
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Despite having only one album to their name, Indiana post-rockers PILLARS have already built an impressive reputation for themselves. Of course, being major players behind Post. Festival certainly helps, but they’ve more than earnt their place within the scene based off their music alone.

Put simply this second album, Cavum, is worth your time.

Conceptually, the album explores the dichotomy we find ourselves in, in this current day and age. Technology connects us more than ever, yet also isolates us. Mankind is reaching all manner of pinnacles, yet depression is ever prevalent. Somehow our lives are increasingly intertwined, yet somehow many of us feel more lost than ever. I, for one, find this super relatable, and after having listened to the record a great deal, can see how the music represents both the light and the dark.

Cavum commences with a brooding riff, primal drumming and eerie swells reminiscent of the almighty Jakob. And of course, anyone even remotely familiar with the world of post-rock should know that there is virtually no higher praise than a comparison with Jakob. It builds steadily with nice pacing before the explosive overdriven phase knocks your head in. A groove laden breakdown transitions back into crescendos – and I must say, as someone who reviews a fair deal of post-rock music, I do tire of the same old crescendo cliches. But this isn’t stale, no, no. This, ladies and gentleman, is how to write a damn tasty song. It hooks you in with just enough primal attraction, and then hammers itself into your consciousness.

If that dense riffy goodness wasn’t enough for you, maybe the killer double-bass drumming and urgent guitar line that starts “Dissolution” will tickle your fancy. Heck, it could tickle your eyebrows for all I care, just get a load of the sheer power behind this incredible music. The intensity does ease off after a period, but as Sir Isaac Newton said: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. So according to that, for every quiet passage, we should get some awesome metal passage too. Is that how science works?

I’m a drummer. The drumming on this album rules. Shout outs to Zach Frizzell for being a percussive beast. Zach, I hope to meet you during my travels some day. Maybe I can come to a future Post. Festival and make a drunken scene like I did at dunk!USA. Or you could come to New Zealand and I’ll give you some home-made beard oil and confuse you with my weird accent. It’s probably best if I come meet you though, because then we can also have Taco Bell, which my country does not have (criminal, I know!).

“Black Prayer” is an absolute belter. Think along the lines of when you have a Caspian record spinning and it reaches a part that’s so good you just want to scream and thrash about, knowing that you, a mere mortal, will never be able to craft such perfection. Well goshdarnit, PILLARS just have to rub it in, because they’ve managed to reach such unobtainable heights. There’s a section towards the end of this track, where the bass cuts out, the drum sticks are rapping on the rims, the guitar line is soaring, and then everything comes back in like an angelic tonne of bricks. It somehow crushes my soul and elevates my spirit at the same time. Don’t ask me how. I’m not a priest. (Nor am I a scientist, as you would know if you’d read the paragraph about “Dissolution”). Just know that you may need to change your pants after listening to this track.

Pillars

I’m half tempted to photoshop myself into this photo to see if anyone would notice. I have glasses and a beard, and have been known to frown at times, so I think I could fit right in

Listen closely to album closer, “Coda” and you’ll hear interesting snippets hidden in the background. It’s a touching piano ballad that evokes strong emotions, especially once the light guitar swells kick in. Surprising, considering the quality, but the piano recording was done on an iphone. Marc Ertel sat down at the piano and recorded with his phone while his family made breakfast and got ready for the day. The background noises – you can hear Ertel’s children playing, and his wife washing dishes – give a nice sentimental feel that’s homely and authentic. It’s a great reflective piece to end a superb album.

So yeah, if PILLARS aren’t on your radar yet, then Cavum should see to it that they are. It’s a fine album worthy of your time. It’s a devastating monument to beauty, heaviness, and musical talent.


PILLARS links:

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/pillarstheband

Order physical copies of Cavum:

Joseph James

Live Review: Bob Log III and Labretta Suede & The Motel 6

Bob Log III Valahalla
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Bob Log III Labretta Suede Motel 6 poster

Bob Log III

w/ Labretta Suede & The Motel 6

Valhalla, Wellington

Thursday 9 May 2018

Picture – if you will – a venn diagram. This diagram represents most live musical acts. In one circle there are technically proficient bands that you’d see because you can appreciate how well they play (such as an orchestra); and in the other are bands that you wouldn’t usually listen to, but you know they’d put on an awesome show. An example for the latter category is German metallers Rammstein. They sounded damn awful when I saw them play, but their notorious live spectacle of pyrotechnics and stage theatrics makes them an unmissable act.

Obviously there is crossover within this diagram – bands who play well and put on a great show (Iron Maiden being the finest example I’ve come across in both respects), but given the choice, I’ll take the option of a wild spectacle anyday.

Which is why I missed notable punk band Propagandhi last night to see some backwards sounding novelty act from Arizona.

Labretta Suede Valhalla

Labretta Suede Valhalla

Labretta Suede Valhalla

Labretta Suede Valhalla

Bob Log III Valahalla

Labretta Suede Johnny Moondog Valhalla


Opening the night was Labretta Suede & The Motel 6, an NZ band who have made the shift to the States in recent years. Fronted by the larger-than-life Mrs Suede, they offer an entertaining mix that I’d compare to a rockabilly B-52s. Boosting a recent line-up change with a fresh rhythm section, they played a fun set that got the mostly-full venue grooving.

Labretta herself was the centre of attention. She wore a bra and some high waisted shorts that did little to cover much, with a large flower in her hair. She gyrated about the stage, contorting into crazy positions and standing upon the stage rail above the crowd. To her right was her hubby, Johnny Moondog, on guitar, with long hair, sunglasses and a tassled sleeveless shirt. And to her left was the young guitarist, Tweedy Bird – a muscly hulk in a tank top. He copped a lot of flack for being the young one, who hadn’t played in any bands before, but looked like he deserved his spot – experienced or not. Visually, Boots the drummer (of Sticky Filth fame) didn’t appear to fit in with the odd band, but his beats and grooves show that looks can be deceiving.

And then we had the main attraction – Mr Bob Log III.

He waltzed in from the the rear door of the venue, dressed in a sparkly zip-up onepiece – think Elvis impersonator. His identity was a mystery because his face was covered by a motorbike helmet with an old telephone receiver attached [let’s just ignore the fact that we saw him setting up sans-costume before his set, and revel in the mystery]. Throughout the night he complained about his lack of vision due to a dark visor blocking his view, but the reason he wore the helmet is because the telephone worked as a hands-free microphone set up.

He let loose with a rough-and-ready blues number. The sound was a bit murky – probably because some idiot was perched in front of the speakers to take photographs, blocking the sound. [Full disclosure: I’m the idiot]. And the heavy distortion didn’t help. But we didn’t come here for articulate guitar virtuosity, we came to party!

After an introductory song, Log handed out a packet of balloons and asked the audience to inflate them for him. The next song involved him popping said balloons by stomping on them to punctuate points in the song.

And the interactions didn’t stop there. He crowdsurfed in an inflatable dinghy, shouting “FEET FIRST!” as the audience pushed him back onto stage the wrong way. He generously offered everyone free champagne, using a dogbowl and an inflatable duck as drinking vessels.

In a stroke of marketing genius, he invited people up onstage to sit on his knee and take selfies with him to send to their mums as he played. Way to go viral! One oblivious drunk lady came onstage and stepped all over his pedals, interrupting the song. But that just added to the wild charm of the set.

I’ll be honest: virtually all the songs sounded the same. At the start of his set he demonstrated his 8 sounds: the kick drum, tambourine, high chords, low chords, and a few other triggered pedals. The songs all revolved around filthy blue riffs with a slide, heavily muffled vocals, and looped drums that he played through the use of the pedals at his feet.

Log actually changed guitars half way through the set, and I have no idea why. Usually guitarists switch up because they need to change tunings, but he had been tuning his other guitar already, and this one looked exactly the same.

Truth be told, the sound wasn’t amazing. It was hard to tell the songs apart. But it didn’t matter. The place was alive. Everyone was dancing and drinking and hollering and choosing to ignore the fact that it was late on a Thursday night. Bob Log III promised a party, and he sure delivered.

Bob Log III throwing a balloon at Valhalla

Bob Log III Valahalla

Bob Log III Valahalla

Bob Log III crowd surfing in an inflatable Valhalla

Words and photos by Joseph James

Album Review: Undersound – No More Shooting Stars

Undersound No More Shooting Stars
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Undersound is Gareth Evans, a Welsh producer bringing 90’s styled hip-hop back with latest album No More Shooting Stars.

You know the sound – funky, with DJ scratches and slower, enunciated rapping. Think along the lines of Jurassic 5.

Reading Evans’ bio reveals that he used to play in ska bands. He’s clearly put that experience to use, adding gorgeous horn sections to some of the songs. This is one of Chance The Rapper’s signature – adding trumpet to everything he touches, and Evans is wise to replicate the idea. If you browse his Facebook page you can see clips of Evans recording multiple instruments, including trombone, trumpet and french horn, as well as guitar and piano.

There’s a fair bit of variety on the album: from the eerie, mystic “Intro”; to the funky horns and jangly guitar the typifies many of the songs; to the samples and scratches of “Party Arrangements”, to the more down tempo title track that segues into a piano intermission.

In fact, this title track shows a mature aching that stands out from the more party hip-hop feel that many of the other tracks exude. Evans also sings on this one, unlike most of the other songs that he raps over.

The best track is “Another Catastrophe”, a fun number with carefree rapping that revolves around brass hooks. The slight shuffle on the drumbeat makes it feel more laid back, while smooth basslines and faint organ bring Motown to Cardiff.

Another favourite is “No More Lies”, reminiscent of Kids These Days – the under-rated Chicago group that spawned the likes of Vic Mensa and Donnie Trumpet. The laid back beat and brass section atop gospel organs and soulful singing provide a wonderful feel. Ben Thorpe helped out with trombone and singer Bella Collins sang vocals that are especially similar to the KTD song “A Man’s Medley“. 

Collins also features on album closer “Should’ve Known Better”. In fact, Evans recruits half a dozen collaborators to add different influences to the album. Some add soulful feel, like Collins and Harri Davies. Others distinctive hip-hop parts, like the scratches courtesy of MC Sober, and rapping from Redeye.

No More Shooting Stars is a fun, funk-lite throwback with good vibes. It’s hip-hop that subtly borrows from other genres to enhance the music, and works wonderfully to offer laid back listening.


Undersound links:

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/2QpFxtJWlWlkOJtWvYdpZY?si=b5brU8xgTm2HqNNghlT61g

NextGen music: https://www.nexgenmusicgroup.com/artists/undersound

Twitter: https://twitter.com/undersounduk

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/undersound-1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Undersounduk/

 

Joseph James

Live Review: The Paper Kites at San Fran, Wellington

Paper Kites NZ poster
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The Paper Kites Where You Live Tour

w/ Mountain Boy
San Fran, Wellington
Thursday 28 March 2019

Clearly my effort of watching one YouTube video amounted to inadequate research, because upon arriving at San Fran I noted that the opening act was not a Mountain Boy, or even a Mountain Man, but rather a fully fledged band.

Mountain Boy is the work of Aaron Clarke. My friend Joram told me about how Clarke had undergone a project which involved writing and recording a song every week for one year, in the same vein as Into It. Over It52 Weeks. Clarke’s year-long effort was named Project Sinai – hence the mountain reference. (Mt Sinai is a place of religious significance, most notably where Moses met God and obtained the Ten Commandments.)

Mountain Boy

Mountain Boy

I had anticipated a solo set, but Clarke had obviously recruited a band for live gigs. And they suited their role perfectly, offering moody folk songs that set the scene for the rest of the night. And the rest of the audience appeared to agree, with a solid turnout that you wouldn’t see so early on for a support act. My favourite was the last track, which gradually grew in intensity, with the drummer pounding away on the toms with mallets, before switching to standard drumsticks for an energetic finale.

This softer styled folk music isn’t as loud as most gigs I go to, and I noticed that throughout the night there was usually a lot of conversations happening in the crowd while the bands were playing. It raises an interesting question surrounding the appropriateness of talking during a band’s set. Is it disrespectful? Or does it indicate that the music makes people feel comfortable and familiar. The talking wasn’t loud enough to make the bands hard to hear, but there was a definite murmur that could be heard almost all night.

Mountain Boy

Mountain Boy

It’s funny how surprised I was that The Paper Kites had changed so much over the years, seeing as I’d kept up with them as they’ve released sequential albums. I first saw them a few times when they only had a few EP’s to their name, and stylistically they were a lot different back then. I remember the music switched between kooky indie folk anthems, and fingerpicked love songs, softly cooed for intimate settings.

The more modern material indicated a big shift to a more electric sound. Less cutesy folk numbers, and more searing guitar, albeit still fairly chill. They stood onstage creating murky psychedelic vibes whilst bathed in a rich purple light.

They did play a few throwbacks, like “Arms” and “Bloom” – both from their début EP which had come out a decade ago – but new material like the funked up “Give Me Your Fire, Give Me Your Rain” showed us that evolving sound wise can prove worthwhile.

The Paper Kites

The Paper Kites

Sam Bently is the obvious leader of the band, the key songwriter, and lead singer. But the rest of the band still match him for talent. All of them could sing beautifully, and at a few times throughout the night they formed a semicircle around a microphone and treated us to serene five-part harmonies. I didn’t see much switching between instruments, but if my memory serves me they are all adept at playing different instruments. For example, drummer Josh Bentley came out from behind his kit to play guitar at one point.

Although he seemed quiet at first, Sam proved quite the comedian when he spoke to us. The band chose to play without lighting for one of their more romantic songs. He explained that there were two types of people who came to Paper Kites shows: the lovers and the sad singles. They played that song in the dark to spare the single folk the shame of being seen crying on their own.

It almost felt as if he was breaking the fourth wall, with self-aware humour. He indicated that the band was going off stage, but would return for an encore if we wanted it enough, obviously setting himself up for later in the night.

Paper Kites Whether casting spells with their tender ballads, riding the wave with slow burning songs drenched in guitar effects, or boosting the energy with some upbeat indie singalongs, there is no doubt that The Paper Kites have talent. They’ve come a long way since I first saw them nine years ago, and they show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Paper Kites set listWords and photos by Joseph James