This Is War's demo package contains few surprises, though fans of the late Germanic ice queen might raise an eyebrow on seeing Nico listed as the band's guitarist. They kick off their press release by insisting that their music "cannot be described easily". Like all music journalists, I take that as a challenge, and unfortunately for This Is War, their music can be described very easily. In fact, it can be summed up in one word: dated.
This Is War peddle a hybrid between grunge rock, Rage Against The Machine-style political punk-metal and a more traditional hard rock sound. The band can all play more than competently, and the three-track EP is for the most part nicely recorded; the only criticism I can venture on an otherwise good mix is that the vocal processing is a touch heavy-handed in the quiet passages. In fact, this might have been hot commercial property in about 1991. The trouble is that it isn't 1991 any more. If this is war, it's the first Gulf war, and the band desperately need to update their weapons.
It's as though 15 years of sonic innovation just didn't happen for Nico and chums. What were they doing while players like Tom Morello and Johnny Greenwood showed us all a new world of weird and wonderful guitar effects? Where are the triggered drum loops and samples? With its tasteful phasers and delay pedals, This Is War's sound palette seems quaint in this day and age, and the closest they come to a weapon of mass destruction is a frankly minging harmony lead on 'Image Interfearence'. This Is War have been left behind in a musical arms race. Sam Inglis
Decimal Places Of Genius
The sound of this collection of music evokes thoughts of early Jamiroquai, the Brand New Heavies and Incognito: funky, upbeat and musically good. The songs are well written, and every song has some well thought-out performances from the members of the 'family'. However, there's something that isn't quite right about it. I find it hard to pinpoint what's wrong, but the music is very busy, and often there are things that have been done from a technical perspective that don't serve a purpose.
Here's an example: 'It's Alright' starts with a Rhodes piano, double-tracked vocal, wide-panned horns and a stabby electronic piano, which form an introductory first verse, before the song enters the first chorus. As far as I'm concerned, it would sound much better, and would fit into its genre far more convincingly, if there was just the Rhodes and single, centrally panned vocal, and maybe a bit of horny tinkery nearer the end of the section. The female vocal has great potential, but too much processing and not enough attention to detail at the recording stage. If you're going to double-track in quiet sections, make sure the vocalist's intonation is super-tight, and don't cover it up with unnecessary horn stabs!
I'm assuming that, as this is a collaboration between quite a few musicians and producers (who are, I must say, very talented), the busy sections are there for political reasons. Conversations like "Dave had a piano lick there, so why can't I have a sax riff?" and "Is there any space for my Clav line after Kat's flute trill?" can play havoc with a song.
I envisage a family-wide bun fight during a recording session, where the saxophonist and 'bone player are at each other with ciabattas, one of the five 'additional producers' is recording the vocalist at the desk, with the other four whacking each other with stale baguettes, and the three drum kit players are hurling wholemeal cobs across the control room, all of them fighting for the prestige of appearing on the record. Perhaps that's unfair, but I think if all the 16 members of the family thought about the record as a whole, rather than their own appearances, they would produce a far better end product. Chris Mayes-Wright
I Need To Go
George Glad describes himself as having a "phenomenal acoustic guitar technique", which, translated, seems to mean that he can more or less play in time. Unfortunately, though, his basic competence at playing the instrument is overshadowed by his cack-handedness at recording it. The mix is overwhelmed by multiple picked acoustic tracks, all suffering from the harsh, plasticky 'quack' that comes from DI'ing and the crunchy distortion that comes from getting your input levels wrong.
Possibly more of a problem in terms of Glad's career is the lead song itself. I don't think it's meant to be funny, but to those of us currently potty-training a three-year-old, it's hard not to smile when you hear someone repeat 'I need to go, I need to go!' in an accent that slightly recalls Borat. Both his voice and his lyrics suggest that George Glad isn't a native English speaker, and in all honesty, his songs would benefit from being worked over by someone who is. Either way, 'I Need To Go' definitely isn't good enough to merit including twice, in almost-identical versions.
Oddly, the other song included here is miles better. Though it challenges Glad's pronounciation even more, 'Rediscover Love' is a decent stab at blending Jack Johnson style acoustic troubadouriness with funk bass, and to my ears, would have made a much more successful 'A' side. Sam Inglis
The Final Line
You have to admire the chutzpah of a band who list their address as 'Starbreaker House, Uxbridge', and instruct the listener to "Get ready to listen to a full hour of the music you will be enjoying for the next 20 years." If only their intentional jokes, such as having a band logo that nearly says 'Fuckers', were as amusing.
On the musical front, the Flickers are bursting with ideas, but they appear to lack any sort of quality control. In their more tasteful moments, they head into the whimsical '90s lo-fi territory of acts like Space and Baby Bird. The rest of the time, they attempt a peculiar kind of pompous, stately '80s synth-rock, and get it really badly wrong. Hideous synth preset follows hideous synth preset, each with its own different, over-the-top reverb. Levels are all over the place and the drum programming sounds like someone throwing a Simmons kit down the stairs.
In a strange way, though, the ineptness of the whole thing gives it a charm that would be missing from a more polished product. It's almost the musical equivalent of naïve art, with a sort of childlike enthusiasm shining through the band's technical limitations. I'm not sure how many people will be enjoying it now, let alone in 20 years' time, but I bet the Flickers had a riot making it. Sam Inglis
The humble instylus, comprising Chris Harrison and Roland Harwood from Manchester, have sent in an accomplished compilation of four of their (presumably best) tracks, in a chilled-out electro-house style. I say humble because, unlike the many artists who send in their music along with self-aggrandising propaganda, instylus have left all that to the various DJs who have praised their previous promo releases. They also refuse to acknowledge their own name's status as a proper noun, opting instead for the lower-case letters of their urban roots... or something.
The first track blends elements of funky house with electro, featuring a delayed guitar part that leans towards the euphoric Ibiza style, alongside a vocoded female singer. The production is tight and, while there is a lot of processing throughout the track (particularly on the vocals), it is all tastefully executed and works well with the many different layers in the track.
'The Light' sounds slightly European, though just as polished, and the attention to detail is impressive. I can't help wishing, however, that instylus hadn't mentioned Röyksopp in their biography, because I might just have missed the striking similarities otherwise. Similarly, 'HouseInMoa' could quite easily pass for a 'B' side from Layo & Bushwacka's 'Night Works' sessions, which says a lot about instylus' formidable production skills, but somewhat undermines their attempts to create something original. 'Drowned' is a much more quirky track, however, with lush pads, interesting chord progressions and a down-tempo yet dirty rhythm track.
Unfortunately, instylus sound much better when they're cruising in the slipstream of established genres than when they're trying to bring something new to the table, so my advice to them would be to drop any pretence of experimentalism, get some dancefloor-friendly records pressed, and decide which section of HMV they belong in: house, or electro. Chris Korff
The post-punk revival shows no sign of losing steam, and The Strand Arcade show that it's still possible to get really excited about the idea of sounding a bit like the Undertones. In fact, their excitement is infectious, and although they don't have an original idea in their heads, their demo fizzes with so much energy that it's impossible not to like it. There's some nasty clipping going on in the electric guitar department, but other than that, the punchy sound suits the band perfectly. The songs do all the right things in the right places, and if only someone would shoot them a grainy retro Super 8 video in black and white, they'd be all over MTV2 like a rash. Sam Inglis
The problem with metal bands these days seems to be that, unless they look outside of the genre for inspiration, they end up in the grip of a pretty restricted list of influences. Take Spirytus, for example, who sound a bit like a handful of the most successful American metal bands of the last 10 years, only worse. A quick comparison between the intro to Spirytus' 'One Minute' and Machinehead's 'Davidian' doesn't do them any favours, though it does highlight the fact that there really is no room for error with heavy metal drumming.
The second song, 'Burn', has a distinctly grungey sound to it, though the distorted guitars have a more up-to-date feel than the all-too-familiar clean chorus sound used for the intro. That said, however, it is well done, and while there's nothing mould-shattering on the CD, this song at least sounds good and suits the singer's style much more than the previous track.
To their credit, Spirytus appear to have had the sense to put their worst song at the end of the demo. If only they'd had enough sense not to write a song that sounds just like Korn in the first place, this CD might have had a more favourable review. I actually laughed the first time I heard this track, simply because the conventions of nu-metal have all, barring a collaboration with Fred Durst, been used in their purest forms. Let's see: slap bass intro? Check. Detuned guitars? Check. Lyrics about pain? Check. Even the closing lines ('I cannot breathe / I cannot breathe / I cannot breathe...') belong in the seven-string edition of This Is Spinal Tap. Chris Korff