That Band You Have Always Dismissed

Several months ago I agreed to go to a gig with my girlfriend to see a band that I had never really listened to, but had previously concluded that they weren’t really worth my attention. The band in question was Franz Ferdinand. Remember them?

They first received mainstream attention in early 2004, when their first single Take Me Out reached number three in the UK charts. The single was soon followed up by their eponymous debut album, which also had the same commercial impact, debuting third in the UK album charts. Since then they have released a further three albums, disappearing from the mainstream’s eye, as the initial spike of indie rock popularity in the early 2000s slowly diminished.

However, it is probably unfair to lump Franz Ferdinand in with the fairly stagnant indie rock crowd, because their music takes on many more dimensions than the average verse-chorus-verse-chorus drone stereotype of the genre. Naturally there are several songs guilty of songwriting 101, written to appease the masses, but many deeper cuts (and in fact singles), use engaging structures and ultimately, excellent songwriting.

Naturally before going to see them live, I did my homework and listened to each album multiple times. Their current tour is in support of their latest effort Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, which was released last summer, so that’s where I began my listening experience. I was pleasantly surprised with what I heard. As well as having some great straight-up rock songs, such as Bullet, Franz Ferdinand aren’t afraid of experimenting with dark textures, complex ideas and bizarre lyrical topics. Now, after seeing their great live show and listening to all their albums, I would say I’ve been successfully converted.

The main purpose of this blog is to show that the band that you wrote-off after hearing only a handful songs (or sometimes even none), can actually surprise you and have much more depth to their music than first impressions might give away. I’m sure many people who read this blog wouldn’t normally delve into indie rock territory, so here is a list of 5 tracks that might just surprise you:

1. Evil Eye from Right Thoughts…

The song begins with a menacing riff, before lead vocalist Alex Kapranos whines over a funk-laden verse, with a great bass line. The track has faint industrial influences and is one of my favourites from their fourth album.

2. Ulysses from Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Tonight is a loose concept album about a night out and the morning after, and Ulysses is its centrepeice. It is an unapologetic dance rock track, where synths growl and the drum beat is clean and clinical.

3. Treason! Animals from Right Thoughts…

Treason! is a subdued, droning affair, whose brilliance comes from its addictive repetitiveness. With such a bizarre lyrical theme and a bridge that lasts for just under half the song’s total length, this song relates more to art rock than the chart-hugging indie rock.

4. You Could Have It So Much Better from You Could Have It So Much Better

This track has its roots in punk, utilising a spoken word style of vocals in the verses, before marching through the choruses at a great speed.

5. Fresh Strawberries from Right Thoughts…

Fresh Strawberries is a well-rounded, pop-rock song and would be worth the mention purely for Kapranos’ Dexter Holland (The Offspring) impression in the choruses (albeit a quintessentially British version).

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Mama Smokes

On Friday night I went to a local event held at my University with guest speakers and as you’ve probably guessed, live music. The performers on the night included an acoustic duo (whose highlight was a fantastic cover The Cranberries’ track Zombie), a very talented female vocalist performing to backing tracks and even a folk collective with flutes, violas and tin whistles as standard. However, it was the last band that really caught my attention: the infectious music of a Southampton-based rock band called Mama Smokes.

The most memorable song from their set was Warpath with its immediate choruses of “Do you see my footprints in the dust that I left behind? And Do you hear my footsteps when you crawl from where you try to hide?” and its flowing guitar leads. Jo Stevens’ vocals on this track are simultaneously powerful and technically brilliant, shown best when she carries the song forward through the stripped down verse sections.

What Did I Expect, like Warpath, channels a rejuvenated version of classic rock, allowing pentatonic riffs to ooze with overdrive, over the top of the solid rhythm marriage of Karik Isichei (bass) and Ross Gordon (drums), who sound like it they been playing together for decades.

Although each track is firmly rooted in rock, the combination of guitarist David Cefai’s flare and Jo Steven’s soulful voice, help to lean the band’s sound towards funk rock. Mama Smokes’ use of pop melodies and calculated grooves remind of a toned down Incubus, or a less frantic Mammal, meaning that it isn’t hard to imagine them fitting into the British summer festival scene.

I don’t normally feature or review local bands, but something about Mama Smokes tells me that you’ll come across them yourselves anyway in the future. So please check them out, enjoy the music on offer and have a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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Porcupine Tree pt. 2

Last week I looked at the numerous side projects and collaborations that Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson is involved with. For the second (and final) part of this blog I am going to turn my attention towards the other three members of the band. Although Wilson gets all the headlines and writes the majority of the band’s music, bassist Colin Edwin, sticksman Gavin Harrison and keyboard player Richard Barbieri are all supremely talented and have all got other projects in which they hold much a greater creative control.

Colin Edwin

Edwin joined Porcupine tree in late 1993 and first appeared on the 1995 release The Sky Moves Sideways (although he did record the bass track for Always Never which featured on the 1993 release Up The Downstair). His work away from Porcupine Tree is largely instrumental and incorporates influences from ambient and drone recordings. He formed Metallic Taste of Blood in 2011, releasing a self-tiled album featuring predominately metal-styled instrumentals which utilise harsh electronics rather than raw heaviness to provide its punch. His project Random Noise Generator is also metal-based, but features vocals and a much rawer sound, reminding of early punk – albeit with much higher musicianship.

Like Wilson, Edwin also has his own solo project, which so far has produced two albums, Third Vessel in 2009 and PVZ in 2012. His solo work is much more relaxed, featuring many spoken word passages and taking heavy inspiration from ethnic music styles, especially in the percussion section. His latest project Twinscapes, with Lorenzo Feliciati continues in the same vein, relying on an amalgamation of electronics and world music styles to create a truly unique product.

Richard Barbieri

Barbieri was the keyboardist in the experimental band Japan from 1974 to 1982, before he joined Porcupine Tree at around the same time as Edwin in 1993. So far he has only released one solo album, Things Buried, in 2005, which unsurprisingly is overflowing with hectic synthesizers and electronic splutterings. He has focused most his time outside of Porcupine Tree either as a composer for various media productions or with Marillion vocalist Steve Hogarth, as part of his live H-Band and more recently as a collaboration which culminated in the 2012 album Not The Weapon But The Hand.

Gavin Harrison

Harrison was recruited into the Porcupine Tree family in 2001 after previous drummer Chris Maitland parted ways with the group. Harrison’s drumming style was immediately more complex and along with the Wilson-Akerfeldt partnership, he helped lead the band away from their space rock image and towards their progressive metal image of today.

Harrison’s main partnership outside of Porcupine Tree is with vocalist and guitarist 05Ric, who have released three albums together (Drop in 2007, Circles in 2009 and The Man Who Sold Himself in 2012) and who tour with a very skilled live band. Harrison’s drumming style is heavily influenced by his father’s jazz collection, which is much more noticeable within this project, compared to his more conventional (term used loosely) work with Porcupine Tree. Recently he was included alongside fellow drummers Bill Rieflin and Pat Mastelotto as part of an experimental drumming trio in the latest King crimson touring band.

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Porcupine Tree pt. 1

Porcupine Tree are a British progressive band who originated in 1987 as a Steven Wilson solo project, but soon became a full band effort, releasing their tenth album in 2009. Since then, the band have gone on an indefinite hiatus with all the band members currently tied up with side projects to at least 2015. For this reason, in this two-part blog, I aim to review most of the Porcupine Tree side projects, starting with the seemingly ever-growing list of Steven Wilson acts.

Steven Wilson’s Solo Project

Wilson released his first solo album Insurgentes in 2008, which predominantly featured drone and ambient music styles. Only the tracks Harmony Korine and Insurgentes resembled anything from his Porcupine Tree background, resulting in a highly eclectic and experimental record. For his second and third albums Grace For Drowning and The Raven That Refused To Sing, Wilson changed direction to a 70s-inspired progressive sound, composing his songs for his new backing band comprising of Marco Minnemann, Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Theo Travis and Adam Holzman and receiving widespread critical acclaim in the process.

No-Man

Steven Wilson formed No-Man in 1987 with vocalist Tim Bowness, with Porcupine Tree as a side project. No-Man began with an ambient pop sound, but soon diversified to include acoustic, progressive and post-rock influences, but managed to maintain their minimalistic style. In recent years they have slowed down due to Wilson’s many other projects taking his time away from the duo.

Storm Corrosion

Storm Corrosion was (for the time being) a one-off collaboration between Mikael Akerfeldt and Wilson, featuring a very dark and avant-garde sound that relied heavily on ambient soundscapes. The release was the culmination of over a decade of working together on Akerfeldt’s main project Opeth. Rather than release a record reminding of a progressive metal super group, the pair opted to explore styles which their other outfits didn’t suit, including sparse orchestral pieces as well as intense, often jarring moments.

Blackfield

Yet another duo, Blackfield are a pop-rock project formed between Wilson and Israeli rock icon Aviv Geffen, who released albums Blackfield and Blackfield II in 2004 and 2007 respectively. For their third effort, Welcome to my DNA, Wilson took a back seat to focus on his second solo album, resulting in an record that was written almost solely by Geffen himself. Unfortunately, this new era of the band couldn’t quite replicate the superb first two releases as Wilson’s absence left a massive hole that couldn’t be filled. Wilson has now announced that he has left the band for good, leaving the future of Blackfield in doubt, now that their European tour has ended.

Bass Communion

Perhaps Wilson’s most obscure side project are the electronic and drone-based Bass Communion. Wilson’s compositions are often lengthy, comprising of field recordings, noise and electronics, which are textured to form eerie and sometimes beautiful arrangements. His output has been very frequent, amassing ten albums since I was released in 1998, including the superb (and at times simply terrifying) Ghosts On Magnetic Tape.

Other projects include his Krautrock inspired I.E.M. (Incredible Expanding Mindf*ck), his extensive work collaborating with Swedish progressive metal band Opeth, as well as producing and remixing roles with Anathema, King Crimson and Jethro Tull to name a few.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this week’s blog, please like, comment and subscribe to email updates. Look out for the second part appearing soon!