The Sunrise Set - Rule of the Mountain
Surrey based alt-rockers The Sunrise Set bring a melting pot of genres and ideas to the table with their second full length, ‘Rule of the Mountain’. But be it post-folk, alt-country or punk-blues, does it rule or is it an uphill struggle?

Off the back of their previous album, ‘Diluvian Blues (or The Truth Comes in Waves)’, one would expect a continuation of their Godspeed-influenced post-rock sound. However, as with any band worth their salt, The Set have mixed things up. What we have here are 11 tracks of alternative country-rock, and the mix definitely works.

Opener ‘Slipping Glimpse’ establishes a rolling country rhythm that reappears throughout the album, but not so much as to feel overwrought. The lively tempo is somewhat contradicted by melancholy notes and more sombre lyrical themes, but the superb bass line conjured by Benjamin Woodward keeps the pace constant. ‘Veiled’ has a more downbeat, bluesy vibe, with a weary guitar intro that slowly expands. This ‘building up’ into big, densely layered choruses is something The Set excel at, and it appears most prominently on closing duo ‘Cottonmouth’ and ‘Two Rivers’, the former replete with gang vocals and a hopeful, building chorus and the latter ascending to a driving crescendo before fading out into atmosphere.

And atmosphere is something deftly captured throughout ‘Rule …’. The band hasn’t completely abandoned the post-rock sound. ‘Cheshvan’ and ‘Provisions’ break things up with ambient soundscapes, one sounding like a keening ghost-town wind and the other a creepy, almost Neurosis like droning organ. These breaks from David J Sewell’s jangling, warm guitar lines give the album much richer, evocative depths.

The record is incredibly tonally varied, from the 80’s indie-esque reverb drenched ‘Low and Beholden’ to the slightly punk vibes of ‘I Know Moon-rise’, you will be kept guessing throughout. The production is crisp, with every instrument clear in the mix as a complimentary whole rather than individuals fighting to be heard. Robert Taylor’s vocal performance alternates between a powerful presence and a melancholy wail, and sticksman Andrew Clarke handles the weary, sombre shuffles of ‘Restless’ as well as he does the cymbal clashing and tub thumping of ‘Cottonmouth’.

So, if you’re a 21st century cow-poke who yearns for a slice of country that is quirky, engaging and emotive, you couldn’t get much better than this here offering. The Sunrise Set, and by extension the mountain, definitely rule.

Check it out for yourself, and buy a copy, at the link below.

Bioshock Infinite
Gamers are a funny breed. If someone were to say to you ‘oh they’re making another Die Hard film’, based on the declining quality of the last few sequels you might just roll your eyes and get on with your life. But for a gamer, a sequel or even prequel are things to get very excited about indeed. And when that game comes from a series with a high pedigree, such as 2K and Infinite’s Bioshock series, there will be a shedload of hype surrounding it.

Although a lot of series can’t live up to the extended expectation (we’re looking at you, Call of Duty) Bioshock Infinite definitely rises to the hype. I’m not one to dish out imperatives, but you have to play this game. Honestly, there should be a legal requirement.

Set in an alternate-history 1912 America, Infinite sees you cast as slightly shady Private Investigator Booker DeWitt, and your task is simple: ‘find the girl and wipe away the debt’. A pretty vague set of instructions, but the identity of your target and the nature of the debt are revealed further down the line.

Such a cold and vague opening strikes as a little jarring at first, but opens up a definite sense of mystery that persists right up until the closing cinematic. Plot is definitely something rarely considered worthwhile, or even necessary in the video game world, but Infinite is a fantastic example of a game driven by a compelling and rich narrative. Although most twists are explained to you as you progress, the game world contains many a secret, be it graffiti, a poster or a voice recorded ‘voxophone’ that adds more information, and another layer, to the experience.

It’s not just the storyline that’s well executed and rich. While admittedly you need a high end PC to really get the most out of them, the graphics are still lush and at times picturesque, especially for a generation of consoles nearing the end of their lifespan. Although the characters are a little stylised and cartoony, the environment is really shine, and the floating city of Columbia is full of little details that really bring it to life.

For fans of the series, and of the first person shooter genre in general, there’s nothing you haven’t seen before gameplay wise. You point, pull the trigger and they fall down. The ‘vigours’ you obtain as the game progresses mix it up a little, letting you lob fireballs, cast lightning bolts and possess robot enemies, although some work better than others.

But perhaps the stand out feature of Bioshock is your more or less constant companion, Elizabeth. She is not a damsel who needs rescuing, and this is not an escort mission. She never once gets in your way during combat, staying safely in cover, never stands in front of you blocking a doorway.

Her ability to open space time ‘tears’ and bring in things such as health kits, ‘sky hooks’ to raised areas or robotic allies can make an overwhelming onslaught of foes a lot more balanced, and allows you to approach some of the more open areas in a myriad of ways.

Although lacking in replay value beyond the crazy hard ’1999′ mode unlocked when you finish the game, Bioshock Infinite is an example of games as they should be. A fantastic story with plenty of jaw dropping twists, exciting and often frantic gameplay and excellent graphics all add up to make this a must play. Infinitely enjoyable.



Clutch – Earth Rocker
Despite their music being used in TV shows such as Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead, as well as having been knocking around for 20 years with a back catalogue of ten albums, Clutch still aren’t as well-known as they should be. For whatever the reasons, many of you reading this won’t know who Clutch are, and that is a damn shame.

Their latest offering, Earth Rocker, sees them leaner and meaner. The more dynamic and thoughtful sound of previous albums has been somewhat phased out, replaced by tunes that are fast and punchy.

These are songs for cruising along the highway with your foot to the floor, with the driving riffs of ‘Book, Saddle, and Go’ and the title track raising the tempo and keeping it high. Although the fuzzy guitar tone and lyrical subject matter often lump Clutch in with the ‘stoner rock’ scene, they have a definite bluesy, ‘southern rock’ tinged sound that sets them apart from bands like Kyuss.

Clutch keep up their whiskey-soaked swagger throughout these 11 tracks, from toe-tappers like ‘Cyborg Bette’ to the harmonica toting ‘D.C. Sound Attack’. When things do slow down for the moody ‘Gone Cold’ it’s a welcome break from the fast-pace, even if it is an odd fit compared to the rest of the record.

Neil Fallon belts out line after line of raw-throated vocals, his stand out performance being ‘Crucial Velocity’, definitely one begging to be wailed along to. Guitarist Tim Sult keeps the riffs fast and groovy, absolutely hammering his Wah Pedal on ‘Mr. Freedom’s blazing solo, and the rhythm section of Dan Maines (bass) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums) keep things nailed down tight on the tubthumping and plank spanking front.

The production is clean and crisp, and you can pick out each instrument from the mix easily. It’s a little too clean perhaps; Clutch’s sound would probably benefit from a sound a little rougher around the edges, a little more raw. Fallon’s vocals seem a little too prominent at times, overwhelming the rest of the tracks, and none of the tunes seem to stand head and shoulders above the others as anything truly special. Minor gripes aside, Clutch do exactly what they say on the tin. Rock.



The Summer Set – Legendary
‘The Summer Set’ as a band name should give you an indication of what the tracks on new album Legendary will sound like. But does a record full of cloyingly upbeat tunes, painful references to popular culture and a tonne of autotune live up to such an ambitious title?

The answer is a massive and definite ‘NO’. The Arizonian five piece seem to have gone fumbling through the charts, ‘borrowing’ ideas from most popular indie groups and more than a few pop artists to boot. The result is a breathtaking lack of originality on all fronts; lyrical, musical, production. The whole shebang.

Album opener ‘Maybe Tonight’ sounds like a cookie cutter copy of fun.’s ‘We Are Young’. Often when you say one band sound like another, it’s a compliment or allows a first time listener a frame of reference. Here, it means EXACTLY the same, from the synth tone to the chord progressions and the group sing-along choruses.

These glaring similarities to acts including Owl City, Carly Rae Jepsen and fun. continue through the entire 12 tracks, making it almost 45 minutes of déjà vu. Song themes range from standard ‘party rock drink woo’ to ‘girl love sunshine yay’.

Make no mistake, this is an album where every song is striving for summer party anthem status, and this leads to none of them standing out as anything special. It’s like being force fed skittles through a giant leaf blower; sweet and colourful at first but pretty soon you’re just choking down sugar and everything tastes the same.

The synths, airy guitar and drum machine are depressingly unvaried from track to track, and the pop-culture name drops including ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ in tracks two and three make it plain as day that these guys are trying to connect with their audience a little too hard.

Singer Brian Dales’ assertion that “If you’ve got rock ‘n’ roll you’re gonna be alright” is ironic, as there’s nowt even close to ‘rock’ anywhere on this album, the band’s sound is all surface and no substance. His whiny, on helium voice is made even more irritating with the abundant abuse of auto-tune, and there’s no let up of the upbeat vibes.

If you can make it the full 45 minutes and still be smiling, you are a soulless robot and that grin is painted onto your metal face. The depressing thing about all this is, with its largely inoffensive sound (despite the odd and out of place cuss words), positive attitude and sing-along worthy choruses, people will lap this dross up and pump it out all summer long. Definitely not legendary.



Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob

The identical Canadian songstresses hit us with ten electro tinged indie tunes on their seventh studio album, Heartthrob. But does it pluck at the heart strings or is it a cardiac arrest?

On the first listen, it’s a bit like a marshmallow. Light and fluffy, undeniably sweet but the initial sugar rush peters out and you’re left ultimately unsatisfied. Make no mistakes, this is a good time album. The upbeat, jangly synths and driving rhythms seem to be the pair’s forte, and the optimistic tracks are the album’s best.

Where things take a turn for the more melancholic, they often fall flat, or the contrasts between contemplative lyrics and sunshiny music doesn’t quite work. This album owes a lot to 80s electro, and the densely layered instrumentation and lashings of reverb (‘How Come You Don’t Want Me Now’) definitely evoke an earlier musical era.

Stand out moments include the uplifting acoustic tinged balladry of ‘Love They Say’ and the infinitely danceable ‘Drove Me Wild’. Listened to individually, they are perfectly acceptable slices of tunage, but stretched out over a ten track album it feels as if the sisters haven’t done enough to distinguish one from another or focus on creating some really stand out stuff.

There’s some definite single potential for some tracks, including the dreamy chorus of ‘I Couldn’t Be Your Friend’, and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear a few tracks on the latest smartphone adverts or blaring from some speakers at a sunset seafront barbecue.

The vocals are well executed, with some solid harmonies driving choruses, but for the first time listener it might be a challenge to pick out Tegan or Sara individually. Often it just sounds like one vocalist laying down multiple tracks, which is not an entirely negative thing as it gives the vocal lines a lot of strength. The songs are well structured, and although there aren’t many grand artistic flourishes it’s apparent that the simpler things often sound the best.

In short, it is a perfectly engaging and approachable album, the ideal companion to a Kopparberg on a July evening after a long day looking for rare vinyl. Tegan and Sara haven’t produced a genre definer that will be regarded as a classic, but it’s not an entirely disposable record either. A heart murmur rather than a throb.



‘Play it again, Sam’ – the rise of the OST Think of a movie theme tune, just off the top of your he

Think of a movie theme tune, just off the top of your head. Chances are, you may have thought of the iconic ‘DUU-NUH’ of Jaws, the scary strings of Psycho or maybe the rousing fanfare of Star Wars’ opening crawl.

Certain movies have songs and themes so closely associated with them that they can be recognised by anyone, and evoke the spirit of the movie in everyday life. The last time you did something sneaky and daring, like a midnight raid of your housemate’s cupboard, there should definitely have been the Mission: Impossible theme blaring in your head.

Recently, however, the Official Sound Track album (OST) has risen in popularity. Film fans want to hear the entire score of their favourite picture over and over, not just as backing music to the action on screen, but as something to enjoy in its own right.

Films have certainly upped their game in the soundtrack stakes, treating it not as a mere afterthought but actually investing time and moolah into making it top quality. Songs are selected or composed to compliment and enhance scenes on screen, and it’s no longer the case that an OST will be used as a vehicle for the latest chart dross to reach a wider audience.

At the time of writing this, in the top 20 album chart on iTunes there are two OST albums, Les Misérables and Django: Unchained. This is serious business and has led to the cream of the crop dedicating their time to work on movie scores.

Take Scott Pilgrim for example. Acclaimed producer and ‘unofficial member’ of Radiohead Nigel Godrich wrote the incidental music for the score, and the second OST album features big names of 90′s indie including Metric and Beck.

Heavy Metal titans Mastodon wrote the music for the (admittedly dreadful) comic book adaptation Jonah Hex. The absolutely fantastic montage scene at the start of Watchmen is perfectly suited to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changing.

But it’s not just big name composers, producers and bands getting it right. Paul Leonard-Morgan’s score for last year’s sci-fi blood fest Dredd was a fantastical example of both industrial tinged rock and how a brilliant soundtrack can really heighten the cinematic experience.

It’s not just films that are making waves in the OST pool, though. Video games and television are also producing some stellar stuff. The arrangements on the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack are awesome, and it seems like every TV show and their Mums are packing an OST album round here, from Breaking Bad to Dexter and True Blood.

So next time you’re enjoying a film, playing a game or simply watching TV, prick up your freakin’ ears. You might like it.


The best and worst of 2012

2012 was a year that had more musical highs and lows than an Opera company on a roller coaster made of hard drugs. Shoddy metaphors aside, let us take a look back into recent musical history and pick out last year’s choicest cuts whilst also bringing some musical villains bang to rights.

Best album: Koi No Yokan – Deftones

The alternative metallers came roaring back with this epic slab of an album. It’s not every band that can slog it out for twenty years and then come out with a stone cold classic. The totemic riffage of tracks like ‘Gauze’ and ‘Swerve City’ and the shimmering beauty of ‘Rosemary’ prove that these guys are masters of dynamics and are right back to their early 00′s heyday.

Best single: ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ – Gotye

Despite being released in 2011, this tune didn’t gain true recognition until reaching UK number one in February2012. Never off the jukebox in the Students’ Union, love him or hate him, Gotye’s 80’s vibe/shameless ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ ripoff produced many a drunken sing along. Now if only Kimbra had been in the video more…

Best artist: Psy

This chubby Korean chappy racked up an unbelievable one billion YouTube views over the last few months, and his hit ‘Gangnam Style’ went to number one all over the globe. From his constant sunglasses-wearing to his surprisingly deep lyrics and his infectious ‘horse dancing’, you can’t help but love him.

Worst album: The Female Boss – Tulisa

What’s more irritating than her X-Factor judging? Tulisa’s debut solo album. From the cringeworthy spoken word intro mumbling about ‘innah beau’y’ to the shambolic ‘party anthem’ of ‘Live it Up’ and the vomit inducing balladry of ‘Sight of You’, this excuse for an album is sixteen tracks too long. If something makes you genuinely miss Dappy then it gives you an idea of its overall quality. Tulisa, you’re fired

Worst single: ‘DNA’ – Little Mix

Taken from the album of the same name, this confusing jumble of electro pop and pseudo dubstep shows off just how rubbish the girls must have been at GCSE Biology. Complete with the obligatory soulless ‘rap’ interlude and creepy lyrics that seem to encourage stalking, you start to wonder if there was a little mix up in the pop factory.

Worst artist: Chris Brown

It’s all too easy to jump on the Chris Brown hate train, but there’s every reason to. If the absolute arrogance he’s shown in flouncing back into the public eye and his constantly moronic Twitter updates weren’t enough, the poor excuse for R’n'B he forces upon us is utter audio-waste. Do one, Brown!


RetroRespect: Road Rash
Ahh, the early 90’s. A time where clothes came in either fluorescent green or fluorescent orange, games came on cartridges the size of a paperback novel and children somehow completed homework without the aid of Wikipedia. Many classic video games from this period are seeing a revival of late, with Streets of Rage and Sonic the Hedgehog finding their way onto your handheld iDevices. Sadly, the mac-daddy of the Sega Megadrive, Road Rash II, seems forgotten, lying face down on the dusty roadside.

The concept is simple. You race your bike, illegally, at top speed through the American countryside, trying to come at the front of the field of leather-clad psychopaths. Out to stop you were dim-witted car and truck drivers, the relentless killjoys of the police force and, at times, the road itself. Hurtling through the varying landscapes of the mountainous Alaska, the autumnal Vermont and the tropical Hawaii, you raced to acquire cash for the purchase of increasingly faster and more boner-inducing bikes.

But Road Rash II is so much more than just a racing game. Trying to overtake your opponents puts you at risk of taking a fist, club or chain to the face. If you managed to wrestle a weapon off another ‘rasher’ you could dish out some payback. Nothing is sweeter than kicking some poor chump off his bike to see him arrested by the pursuing fuzz.

If you find yourself punched off your bike, or flying through the air after colliding with a car/moose, you dust yourself off and began the painstakingly long run back to your bike, seeing rival after rival blur past you. Get caught on foot by the police and you’re ‘busted’, forced to pay a fine and suffer an infuriatingly gloating message from your arresting officer or the race’s victor.

This game has everything. High speed motorcycle racing, wanton violence, a thumping 16-bit soundtrack and an apparently indestructible protagonist. You can keep your Burnout and your Need for Speed. Give me a severe case of Road Rash any day.


Album review: Biffy Clyro – Opposites

The late 2000’s was a wonderful time in music. Eminem was still talented, nobody had ever heard of ‘dubstep’ and Nicki Minaj wasn’t a thing yet.

Staring out from the cover of Kerrang! Magazine was a bloke who looked a bit like Jesus, standing out from the crowd of skinny jeans and emo fringes. His name was Simon Neil and his band Biffy Clyro gathered a steadily bigger following, championed by the alternative music press and then more mainstream music aficionados.

Honestly, it passed me by. Friends raved about something to do with a ‘jaggy snake’ and how ‘Machines’ is a beautiful song. Their new album Opposites was hotly anticipated, so with a vague attempt at an open mind and open ears I realised something: I’m glad I never bothered with Biffy.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a terrible album. Fans of Biffy will lap this up. It’s a varied experience, as you’d hope from a 20 track double album, shifting between upbeat punkish rock tunes to more mellow and winding songs.

Neil and co. have a definite knack for writing ‘epic’ choruses, sing-along fodder for the fans, and tracks like ‘Biblical’ definitely show this off admirably. It’s a pleasant listen; the songs are readily accessible and simple to get into, and Neil’s Scottish-lilt is like buttered velvet to the earholes.

The Johnston twins put down a tight rhythm section, the drum shuffle of ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ and the driving bassline of ‘Modern Magic Formula’ being stand out examples of their musicianship.

The songs are well constructed, with a keen awareness of dynamics and mood, and the occasional flashes of strings, bagpipes and electronic sounds show a band not afraid to experiment when refining their sound and moving forward.

Despite all this, there’s definitely the vibe that something’s missing from Opposites. It’s pleasant, but it’s not massively engaging and it doesn’t excite you in the trouser department. It’s incredibly radio friendly in its sound and its clean production, pretty far removed from the rawness and intensity of their earlier work.

Call it ‘selling out’ or maybe just ‘growing up’, the sections that are supposed to sound heavy and passionate fall flat and seem like Biffy are just going through the motions. The bad-Stereophonics-esque ‘Black Chandelier’ and the moody croon of ‘Victory Over the Sun’ are close to a ‘standard-Biffy template’.

To be frank the album can get a bit stale, perhaps a symptom of too many songs struggling to stand out from one another. There are a few uncomfortable dynamic shifts in songs that don’t quite fit, and for every half decent song there seem to be two mediocre splats of indie-rock.

Bring on the deluge of Hipster hate. I can take it.



Gig review: Feeder at Portsmouth Guildhall

There is no excuse for not knowing who Feeder are. Absolutely none. One of the premier British rock bands of the last twenty years, their tracks have received heavy radio airtime, and been used in advertisements and TV shows aplenty, and are instantly recognisable. But how do they fare live? Are they still relevant and rocking, or an over the hill nostalgia act?

First, the support. The Boy Royals take to the stage wearing what appears to be Burton’s finest, with the skinniest jeans this side of emo-ville. The Newport based foursome offer an upbeat indie rock racket that isn’t intolerable, but isn’t massively original either.

The bad sound mix robs their vocals and doesn’t impress the crowd beyond polite applause. Still, props should go to their drummer for some excellent fills amid the jangly guitars.

Slightly less well dressed are The Virginmarys, who pleasantly surprise with their blues-drenched grungy retro rock. No sound issues here, they fire off slab after slab of totemic riffage, and their sticksman puts in a performance so energetic it would rival Animal from The Muppets.

The northern-accented vocals lend a slight Arctic Monkeys vibe, but the tunes are definitely rooted in the Led Zeppelin vein. Even the stereotypical ballad is still listenable, and the guitar lines on ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ are sublime. With an album out in February, this trio is definitely one to watch.

Feeder tease the crowd with an overly long sound check, which make the effects pedal issues frontman Grant Nicholas suffers for the first three songs seem a little less forgivable. His concern seems to dog the performance for the first few tracks, and it takes a while for them to really hit their stride.

When they fire off an absolutely head spinning version of ‘Pushing the Senses’ everything clicks. You have to feel a little sorry for the boys, as they know most are there to hear only a handful of songs from their extensive back catalogue.

Newer material from their recent album Generation Freakshow sits well alongside their classic hits, with a buoyant version of ‘Children of the Sun’, but the crowd seems a little divided. Younger fans get behind the newer stuff, singing along and jumping around, but slightly older or more casual listeners only go apeshit for the songs you’d expect them to.

Still, when these songs include a beautifully uplifting ‘Feeling a Moment’, a high octane ‘Insomnia’ and a mellow ‘High’ you can’t really blame anyone. When Grant quips that they had tried to retire ‘Buck Rogers’ but were forced to bring it back by the fans, you can tell he’s a little bit serious, and again you feel that they must get sick of playing the same songs over and over to people trying to recapture a misspent youth.

Still, it doesn’t affect the quality of the songs or the vibe of Feeder loving what they do. Sure, there’s not as much jumping around or stage antics as there used to be, but they’re all guys with families and mortgages, all is forgiven.

The set closes with versions of ‘Descend’ and ‘Sweet Sixteen’ that remind you just how heavy Feeder can get, and an energetic ‘Just a Day’ that gets everyone jumping. Sure, these songs are older than some of the fans, but they still sound totally vital, and tonight proves that Feeder wouldn’t have lasted this long if they weren’t still just that good.




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