BROOKLYN POST ROAD PUMPKIN ALE

October 11, 2013

This Craft Beer Bible is an infrequent review of American Craft Beers that I enjoy. Often but not exclusively, sourced from The Ship in a Bottle

Actors: Brooklyn Brewery 

Plot:  Brooklyn Brewery has rekindled this age-old recipe first utilized by industrious early American Pilgrims, who employed the plentiful root vegetable in cooking and brewing. This beer is a new, seasonal treat and the pumpkin beer does not disappoint. The beer is available from August to November, clocking up at a very moderate 5%. Brooklyn’s website recommends it as “The perfect beer for holiday dining, roasted ham and turkey, root vegetables, macaroni and cheese, mascarpone and Thanksgiving dinner.”

Conclusion: A very palatable lager with a hint of pumpkin spice. I was completely unaware of this beer style although other beers I have tried have bestowed spicy flavours which are subtle here. However the real success of Brooklyn is their ability to try new styles while always keeping it simple in ways that (much more daring but not always as pleasing) contemporaries such as Goose Island and Flying Dog* don’t.  Brooklyn Beer is the Man Utd of American Craft Beer, albeit under the Sir Alex Ferguson Era.  Other seasonal Brooklyn favourites include Brooklyn’s Chocolate Stout 10% which comes to the fore around the Yuletide period.

*The Flying Dog Imperial Pumpkin Ale is a huge miss and if I would have tried that first it may have put me off the style completely. Overpowering and aniseedy & a hefty 9%.

5 LP’s of 2013 pt1.

July 28, 2013

Arbitrary list of music albums ordered by preference during the Roman calendar year MMXIII

This article could be summed up in a single tweet.  https://twitter.com/LucasEMorton/status/359396209330372608. (Don’t read this tweet if you don’t like spoilers or tweets.) But why use 140 characters when 1400 will do? I don’t know the answer to that question. My top 5 albums of 2013 up to July? That’s not really phrased as a question but I’ll answer it anyway.

5. Foxygen, with their mandible-mangling title ‘We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic’ alluding to the glorious, psychedelic years of so long ago. By all accounts the band have gone their separate ways and left the world with one, well crafted album and nothing more. The album is highly derivative, or if you prefer a wonderful homage.

defunct buzz-band

I became aware of this album in January during an early year dirge and while a valiant effort and worth checking out I can’t imagine it’ll be in my top 5 by the end of the year. While it doesn’t pull up any innovatory trees. It certainly appreciates on further listens like a Californian IPA. You can read a much more in-depth review of the album below.

4. Local Natives’ Humming Bird is a sweet, heartfelt pop album as the title indicates. The breezy, opening channels The National ‘Boxer era’, featuring subtle lyrics and strong vocals from Taylor Rice.

music to sip flat whites to

“Powder in your hair
Staples in your jeans
Fireworks in the water
You were holding
A styro-foam cup
Held between your teeth
Telling me how you’re going to outlive your body”

The band have garnered favorable comparisons with “Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, and Vampire Weekend,[5] as well as “sort of a West Coast Grizzly Bear.”[6]According to Wikipedia.

Definitely hitting the Grizzly Bear circa Veckatimest spot on this year’s list.

3. David Bowie – The Next Day. The long-awaited 26th album from Britain’s greatest Artist/Chameleon/Cultural icon. Delete as applicable. It’s better than the later era of Bowie’s oeuvre. Better than I had reason to expect it to be. Benefiting from the unexpected arrival, without much fanfare, during early spring when there was little else to touch it. A sterling 3 star effort from Elder Ziggy.

Full of self-referential allusions to a living legend.

Bowie is acutely aware of his own importance to British culture. Like many great artists he draws heavily on his earlier works in ‘The Next Day‘.

Fireproof

2- The National sweep into second spot with their pessimistically titled ‘Trouble Will Find Me.’ This is not the easiest album to write about, 6 albums in and you pretty much know what you’re getting from Ohio’s favourite maudlin, song-smiths.  Featuring melancholic lyrics (if I had to guess I’d say he’s recently broke up with someone but then all of their albums sound like that.) delivered with Matt Berninger’s lauded, marble baritone (-Ed).  It’s perfect, rainy-day, bus-music  and I’ll leave it at that. The album cover is pretty cool though.

Children of Israel

1- Vampire Weekend have definitely taken it up a gear with their third album ‘Modern Vampires of the City.’ With standout singles like Diane Young, Ya Hey (that’s Hey Ya! backwards!) & Unbelievers, VW have managed to maintain their radio-friendly sound while easily surpassing anything that they’ve previously produced.

‘Modern Vampires of the City’ contains elements of chamber pop, prog-rock and Judaic inspired lyrics, With references to Zion, Unbelievers, Israelites, this Orthodox girl and er …Falafel. In fact Vampire Weekend have created the best mainstream, Hebrew influenced album since Youth by Matisyahu.  Also they win the award for most stylish stage set design. Mazel Tov!

Image

Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (Jagjaguwar)

March 13, 2013

Q) What do you get if you consume records by Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane and Mercury Rev? 
 
A) Well apart from terrible indigestion you get ‘We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic.’ The second album from Californian duo Foxygen.

Foxygen’s level of Magpiery is almost overwhelming on first listen. Musically centred on the experimental rock sounds of early 60’s British Invasion & late 60’s San Francisco. The title is reminiscent of records by The Kinks and Pink Floyd which would be lavished large over 12 inch Vinyl LPs. Incidentally Foxygen is an appalling name for a band.

The opener begins the voyage tellingly from the darkness introducing optimism of alien races and non-scepticism leading in to “No Destruction.”

Which  begins with ‘Candy Says’ by VU with a Spandau Ballet (Bah, ba ba, bah bah) beat. The themes of emerging Americana are littered throughout “I’m sending you this photograph of me in my brand new car.” The ubiquitous pot references, “someone who smokes pot in the subway with me“, and “but the door of consciousness isn’t open anymore. Oh you think it’s over, oh, you think it’s over to me”, possibly lamenting the end of the flower power era.

” The pitfall for any modern Psych-band is sounding more like Scooby Doo on crack than the 13th Floor Elevators.”

“On Blue Mountain” introduces the overarching religious theme that creeps through this album “I was looking through the bible”, “Try and be what God wants you to be…”  It’s the most MGMT-like track on the album so far, the pitfall for any modern Psych-band is sounding more like Scooby Doo on crack than the 13th Floor Elevators. The ‘spot the song’ accolade in this track goes to Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds.’

Track 4 is the most representative song on the album. For fucks sake it’s called San Francisco with a Magic Roundabout refrain. This song channels the male/female duo espoused by popular bands of the hippy era. The vocal goes a little Syd Barrett at one point and references to “The new sensations” are reminiscent of early British Invasion, The Kinks et al.  And happily (depending on your outlook) it carries on the Christian theme with “Jesus was from Israel” and a bit of Hindu mythology with the introduction of a sacred Cow, perfectly summarises these fickle times and reflected by the lyrics “I left my love in San Francisco. That’s okay I was bored anyway.”

Kicking in to the saxophone thumping, desert drive interlude. “Bowling Trophies” feels like it’s been ripped straight out of Las Vegas desert road-trip film (Wild at Heart or Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas) a sentiment alluded to later “I’ve got a movie playing in my mind…”

The album listening journey (oh no) plays like a fabled acid trip, the album goes up a hill, interspersed with jazz interludes and psych freak outs. The titular track has everything from Mick Jagger aping vocals to staccato 13th Floor Elevators freak outs right across the board.

Despite all its obvious faults, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, is actually a pretty enjoyable listen. I gather it’s what others get from modern day throwbacks like Tame Impala, who I’ve never been able to stick. Maybe the Australians over-reliance on Merseybeat era Beatles feels awkwardly hollow, much in the same way as an actor adopting a poor imitation Scouse accent causes me immediate anger and pain. Maybe in these economically rife times we need the nostalgia of times when faux-spirituality, reckless drug-taking and free love were de rigueur and no one was arsed if it made any sense.  I mean try listening to “Oh Yeah” and not being happy, the beat is practically begging for a hip hop remix.

Where Are We Now?

January 24, 2013
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“Where Are We Now?” is the first single from Bowie’s 24th album entitled ‘The Next Day.

Where Are We Now? is the first single from the forthcoming David Bowie (or Bowie) album The Next Day.

The song seems to be from the perspective of an insecure Bowie speaking to a youngster today. The purposeful omission of his face from the artwork is a  direct challenge to those below a certain age. Do they remember him? Would they know that the image on the album cover is him?

 “Had to get the train / from Potsdamer Platz / you never knew that / that I could do that / just walking the dead,”

The original image is from Bowie’s (in)famous Berlin era, namely 1977’s Heroes – the second installment of the Trilogy.

This was a period in Bowie’s life when he was reportedly running around Berlin with Iggy Pop consuming drugs, drink and people of either gender. But it was also a time of unmatched musical creativity.

Thankfully ‘Where Are We Now?’ is a step away from ‘Eighties Bowie’ and much more stripped down. On first listen I was unmoved but the song has a mark of genius about it, it’s subtle and poignant but most importantly catchy. The simple bridge is unbelievably basic but is arguably one of Bowie’s best of recent times.

The lyrics and video are unabashedly centered around late 70’s Berlin, featuring Brandenburg Gate; the Dschungel nightclub,  Potsdamer Platz railway station; the Reichstag among others.

The video conjures up the image of Bowie’s fragmented, mind during the 70’s – the disembodied heads/Puppets sitting in a cluttered studio apartment surrounded by half completed items representing manic creativity. While a video image of Berlin passes by. The opening shot of a discarded diamond is perhaps a reference to Diamond Dogs.

However Berlin has grown older and become a lot more stable, much like Bowie himself, it has changed. Gone is the Wall, in have come Europe’s hipsters.

Perhaps David Bowie is hoping to tap in to the wave of popular culture like he has done successfully so many other times. Or is Bowie the original Berlin Hipster?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWtsV50_-p4

“Sitting in the Dschungel/ On Nürnberger Straße,”

I, PA: A Drinkers Guide to India Pale Ale

January 11, 2013
Something new here, 2012 for me in alcohol terms at least, would be the year of the IPA or India Pale Ale, I became a fan in mid-March I believe and carried it through to 2013. Previous favorite ales have included German Weißbier and Belgium Trappist ales (see potential follow-up articles, maybe).

I.P, eh?

What is it? It’s India Pale Ale but not the stuff your Granddad’s mate drinks i.e. Greene King – which I’ve never tried. Traditionally made hoppier for export to India and hence they developed the distinctive taste.  The old-fashioned English IPAs tend to be weaker than the American-craft counterparts.  Which have seen a resurgence in the American micro-brewery revolution of the last 20 years. The American style is a development of the original recipe from the 1800’s. When the craft beer movement kicked up proper after years of prohibition, the first beer to reach infamy would be the tepid pilsners such as Budweiser. Brewers had little to draw on to begin with apart from historical ales of England and lagers from Germany and alike. Gradually as Americans started experimenting with homegrown ingredients they developed something which no longer fitted the original definition, thus American craft beer as we now know it was created.

Why P.A?

India Pale Ale was originally created in the first place for successful, delicious transport to the colonies of India from England, the problem facing the British was that beer did not keep well on long ocean voyages and would often arrive flat, spoilt or sour. The beers lacked shelf life furthermore the darker ales such as Porter that were fashionable in London at the time weren’t, it is said, as popular in India.  Step forward George Hodgson, brewer at the Bow Brewery in East London,  who deduced that more hops and a higher alcohol content  would protect beer from the souring associated with trans-Oceanic travel. Hodson was resoundingly vindicated in assertion and the East India Pale Ale was born.

My P.A

Top five American style IPA’s for your consideration, in no particular order, are as follows:

  1. Brooklyn East India Pale Ale – 6.9% (New York) – The Brooklyn take on the IPA is an excellent one, more rounded and reminiscent of their lager than the other IPA’s but a very drinkable effort.
  2. Goose Island IPA – 5.9% – (Chicago) The premier IPA as far as I’m concerned down in part to its ubiquity but also its versatile drinkability (see food below) there may be better IPA’s on the market but this is resolutely my favorite. I would also urge fans of this to try the excellent Goose Island Honkers Ale.
  3. Brew Dog Punk IPA – 5.6%  (Scotland) The only non-American entrant in to the top five and a noble effort however it taste slightly watered down in comparison with its American counterparts, a decent beer but probably the least of the set.
  4. Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA – 7.0 % (California) An excellent brew, it’s hard to find (you can get it here) but definitely worth as far taste goes it ranks only behind Goose Island and if it were more readily available on this side of the Atlantic it’d no doubt be as popular.
  5. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA – 7.2 % (California)  Sierra Nevada also specialize in the Traditional Pale Ale but this has the edge, it weighs in at an impressive (for non-Belgian Trappist standards at least) 7.2% but in fact what you can taste is a very bitter, pine-like and citrusy ale. It’s better than it sounds but incredibly distinctive and not one you’d drink in great numbers.

Try P.A

I accidentally combined a few Goose Islands with blue cheese over Christmas and it was a taste sensation and one that I will soon be repeating. Other recommendations are available on the Goose Island website.  I am also looking forward to sampling the La Chouffe attempt at an IPA, if you haven’t tried their excellent blonde beers you should.

Happy Drinkin’…….

The Money Store – Death Grips (Epic Records)

December 16, 2012

tumblr_m7e1ulr6QJ1qjpnsmThe album of 2012 is The Money Store by Death Grips.  It’s a chaotic, turbulent and an uncomfortable listen on first digestion. Perfectly representing a year of  financial and economic uncertainty, political unrest across the world and yadda yadda. Oh yeah and the Mayan Apocalypse…

Death Grips have had a pretty mad year. Getting signed to Major Label Epic Records then getting subsequently dropped for giving away their album for free on file-sharing sites behind the labels back. This band epitomise punk subversiveness  and self-destruction as exemplified by the outlandish album artwork.

As a novice/fraudulent music critic its’ hard for me to verbalise my thoughts when it comes to why I like a band. “Sound that” is usually adequate for most. The good thing about  Death Grips is probably nobody knows what they’re talking about when describing them. Probably not even the band.

The Money Store is like smashing a light bulb into your wrist. Or musical MDMA if you prefer, immediately dangerous sounding and infectious.

It’s a stretch to call this genre of music anything, least of all electro/rap/rock so I won’t bother. Basically
it’s an angry sounding black dude shouting over a barrage of sound effects, samples and a relentless wave of percussion. And it’s fucking great.

The best three songs are the stuttering, bass-beating call-to-arms “Get Got”,  the soulful, cruising (in the context of the album anyway) “I’ve Seen Footage”  and the paranoid, relentless album closer “Hacker.

The Top 5 Records of MMXII / 20:12

August 31, 2012

The year of our Lord: MMXII or 20:12 if you’re digital. What follows is a brief appraisal of the years musical offerings to the fickle hydra that is music. Lay down your first-born at the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan.

Where are we? Ah yes. Music. Follow me…

Beach House – Bloom (Sub Pop)

Ethereal. Otherworldly. Dream Pop. Which means? Beach House have created a fantastic summer record made for lying on the grass and staring at a clear blue sky. Alternatively it can be enjoyed through headphones sitting next to the patio door, pining, as the great British summer pours from the grey heavens.

The title ‘Bloom’ conjures up Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’

‘Bloom’ can be seen as the evolution of the surf-rock revival fad a few years ago, bands such as Wavves, Best Coast, etcetera. Yet it is the wiser, more grown-up brother to the anarchic stoner punks that preceded it.

The record has a euphoric quality which is summed up most perfectly in ‘Lazuli.’ – (which I sounds a bit like ‘Life in a Northern Town‘)

Django Django – Django Django (Because Music)

“Our name has absolutely nothing to do with Django Reinhardt”,

Django, Django, Django, Django. Are they named after four Gypsy, digit-impaired musical maestros? Well apparently not.

The band occupy a new wave of ‘geek-rock’ along with  proceeding band (*spoiler warning*) alt-J, therefore a seemingly impenetrable name is de rigueur.  Add to that a flourish of obscure lyrics and occasional smatterings of computer-related sound effects and you’ve kinda got the idea. The band stroll down a path previously paved by fellow-Scots Franz Ferdinand & non-fellow Scots  Hot Chip.  The stand-out single is the stomp-box, computer-inspired pop-song ‘Default.’

The band have an experimental avant-garde sound combined with radio-friendly tunes akin to the *excellent* Beta Band.

2012 has been without a doubt the year of the disastrous sophomore album. Either critically or commercially or any -ally that actu-ally matters. To list but a smattering – Santogold, Marina & The Diamonds, Sleigh Bells, The Temper Trap, Miike Snow & Best Coast. Have all either been shite or failed to meet expectations. I won’t review what I haven’t heard but reservations remain for The xx’s follow-up along with *shudders* Mumford & Sons upcoming record.

 

***Death Grips review here*** 

 

Grimes – Visions (Arbutus) AND  Purity Ring – Shrines (4AD)

“Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you,”

Yes two albums for the price of one, i.e. nothing. Due to the limited space I’ve imposed upon myself by arbitrarily declaring this the five best albums of 2012 so far, I’ve had to economise. And with what style. These two albums are perfect bedfellows. Furthermore I gather the two artists are pals. Perfect.

“Grimes is easily my favourite artist of the year. Her often wonderfully haunting vocals over such well produced tracks works so perfectly to me.” – @loluke

Grimes’ album is a mix of dirty ethereal electro, the grimey (urgh) beats are contrasted starkly with Claire Boucher’s sweet vocals.  The album is hard to pin down and therefore I won’t.  Safe to say ‘Visions’ is highly progressive and Grimes is one of the shining lights of the ever blossoming Montreal music scene.

Purity Ring’s offering is slightly more upbeat-pop than Grimes’ effort, but by no means is it Passion Pit levels of accessibility. Your Grandparents wouldn’t approve. Comparisons can be drawn with The xx at their most voluminous. The titles of the songs are reminiscent of  newspeak from George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (Grandloves, Belispeak, Crawlersout)  synthesising two words to create new meanings.

Musically ‘Shrines’ is more dub-steppy than ‘Visions’  highlighted by ‘Ungirthed’ -another Newspeak word, maybe. Which features the tried and trusted ‘whomp, whomp’ baseline and ‘yeah yeahs’ -if there’s a better description for those tropes I’m all ears btw.

alt-J – An Awesome Wave (Infectious Records)

Other band name considerations included FILMS & Daljit Dhaliwal

I’ve reviewed this record in depth here. Needless to say it’s easily one of 2012 best, a benchfellow to Django Django’s LP. ‘Tessellate’ is described rather marvellously by Sam Wolfson as being “an onomatopoeic puzzle of angular beats and pointed sexual advances.” It’s perfect coffee-shop faire, as a former barista myself I mean that as high praise.

I firmly believe alt-J’s music is a result of earlier works by bands such as Bloc Party Wild Beasts & Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. With Joe Newman’s marmite-like vocals being comparable to the latter two.

To conclude 2012 so far has been the year of geekrock, or post-dubstep electro , or dreampop, or the shit second album ….

Basically anything that wasn’t L*n* D*l R*y. I need more Pale Ale. All hail Tlaloc!

Classic Albums #3: Bloc Party – Silent Alarm (Wichita – 2005)

August 17, 2012

The album takes its title from an article in New Scientist magazine about a Japanese Earthquake warning system.

I first encountered Bloc Party slouched on the couch, at about 3am on MTV2’s all night music programme in 2004 or ‘05.

Despite being somewhere between dozing and asleep, something about this hitherto unknown 4-piece grabbed my attention. I distinctly remember the video for ‘Helicopter’, a kind of claustrophobic, fuzzy, London flat, focusing on the band as they stare out at the viewers.

I was inspired in those tentative, following weeks to grab ‘Silent Alarm’. Inspired by purchases of albums by The White Stripes, Kasabian, Editors and The Libertines at a similar time. I forget the running order. Of all of them however I have to say ‘Silent Alarm’ was the most absorbing. Hence why it makes the classic albums corner. I bought the album on hard copy CD; an important distinction as my music development continued, that would seldom become the case and I still own the record to this day. I played it on heavy rotation partly due to lack of options (the aforementioned records as well as a smattering of Oasis, Nirvana and RHCP made up my 14 year olds musical library, not forgetting my earlier flirtation with the Rap genre including records from Marshall Mathers to name but one, I can’t remember the others.)

‘What really appealed to me about Bloc Party was that they were something new, a credible band for my era…’

‘Silent Alarm’ opens with the ecstatic, whirring guitars of ‘Like Eating Glass’  inspired by a remix of The Smiths’ ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.’ Lyrically it catches Bloc Party at their most relatable and untethered. Whilst still incorporating teenage themes of isolation and suicidal imagery. i.e. “We’ve got crosses on our eyes” alludes to the crosses on the eyes of cartoon characters when they die.

The crunching, onomatopoeic ‘Helicopter’ continues the uptempo trajectory of the album, moving on to themes of disillusionment particularly with falseness and pretension, “stop being so American”- ironically a problem I would face with Bloc Party’s future work, but more on that later.

What really appealed to me about Bloc Party was that they were something new, a credible band for my era, I’d been too young for Blur etc, though I did go back and consume their records at a later date, yet Bloc Party seemed to be indelibly part of my generation which was important to a teenager. A similar bond has had me following Arctic Monkeys throughout their career. But very few others.

‘Price Of Gasoline’ resumes Okereke’s anti-American lyrical theme, making veiled attacks on the Bush Administration and their perceived ‘War For Oil’ policy in the Middle East, it’s all very Sixth Form common room. The band was formerly called The Union after all.

‘Silent Alarm’ was also a recipient of the remix treatment seen often amongst a lot of bands nowadays i.e. Battles to name but one. And again like Blur before them. That’s two. Whilst the remix album is not a patch on the original. (That is definitive by the way not a subject for debate.) The fact that they allowed their music to be dissected and tampered with suggested a lot about the exciting, experimental side of Bloc Party. They would carry this on throughout their career for good or ill.

Furthermore Bloc Party introduced me to the English-Turkish DJ Producer Erol Alkan for the first time, I’ve been a fan of his work ever since. His remix of ‘She’s Hearing Voices‘ being the standout track on the remix album. The remix album features a negative cover of the ‘Silent Alarm’ original. A clever little touch in my opinion.

‘Silent Alarm’s cover art is one the finest in 21st century music, depicting what I imagine to be a Scandinavian forest from afar though it could easily be British. The album is completely alien, urban upbeat and unsettling. It captures perfectly the coldness of the imagery yet the album itself is carried along at such a blistering tempo that it never  fully catches up. Until “So Here We Are” the album always has a feel of winter album for me, dark winter nights, shadows, cold wooden floored rooms. But alas I’m rambling now.

The album is best enjoyed between the ages of 14-17 before you discover anything else, Bloc Party would act as precursors for bands such as The Smiths, Blur, Radiohead and The Manic Street Preachers; bands that came before but occupy a space afterwards in my memory.

Bloc Party never lived up to the hype of this classic and would follow up with disappointing records after this. Overly experimental. But such is the nature of a band like this never to stand still. For good or ill.

Alt-J – ‘An Awesome Wave’ (Infectious Music 2012)

June 29, 2012

Other name considerations included Daljit Dhaliwal and FILMS

 

Alt-J – interesting name? My initial reaction was an awkward combination of eye rolling, eyebrow raising, sighing and wry-smiling. I’ll give you a moment to digest. Moving on.

 

Alt-J are named after the Mac keyboard command for a triangle sign…Yeah, me neither. But nonetheless I had heard much about the BBC “Sound of the Year” nearly-rans (formerly featuring such musical luminaries as Adele & Jessie J :O). The band are four Leeds University arty-types who spent most of their recording time in Cambridge for this album.

And what an excellent album “An Awesome Wave” is.  My penny-dropping moment came during a particularly busy-spell at work with the album playing on repeat three successive times, I suddenly realised that I didn’t mind. You can appreciate that listening to an album thrice consecutively and dare I say enjoying it is quite something.

However on further listens my appreciation has appreciated. Musically the album is not ground-breaking but instead seems to piece together the current edges of emerging musical trends and knits the seams cohesively to create something new all together. The band have harnessed the wave of new sounds into something quite awesome. For example the almost dub-step-like baseline from “Fitzpleasure” with a hard rocking guitar sound, a similar effect is employed on “Something Good”.  alt-J have drawn Radiohead comparisons from some quarters; a dangerous step considering the band have only produced one very polished album thus far & given this year’s smattering of disappointing sophomore efforts e.g. Sleigh Bells & Miike Snow.

Their frequent undulating key changes are reminiscent of everyone’s favourite new-wave, goth, art-rockers, The Cure exemplified most perfectly in ‘Something Good.’

But labelling albums ‘The Next Something’ is the ball-park of the ever wide-eyed optimist. Alt-J are certainly influenced by bands such as Radiohead, Wild Beasts & Clap Your Hands Say Yeah which is excellent furrow to plough. And while we’re at it, their frequent undulating key changes are reminiscent of everyone’s favourite new-wave, goth, art-rockers, The Cure exemplified most perfectly in ‘Something Good.’

The feel of the record is something I haven’t fully enjoyed since 2009’s LPs from Wild Beasts (Two Dancers) and The xx. The band in fact recently toured with Wild Beasts. All three albums occupy the same imagined recording studio space in my head (not literally). An Awesome Wave achieves a stripped-back half-electronic half-folk effect- which is better than it sounds.  According to the band their music is “Trip Folk” which is as good a description as any.

An important facet of the band is singer Joe Newman’s marmite vocals, a gurning bluesy voice which only adds to the aura, similar to Hayden Thorpe’s. When they’re not falsetto or acapella .  The records lyrics are packed with knowing-references to works as diverse as Luc Besson’s masterpiece Leon to Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’

The stand out tracks for me are ‘Tessellate’ (a dancey number) and ‘Breezeblocks’ (a desperate plea to a fleeing lover). So give it a listen. Or don’t if you can’t be arsed. But you may as well. You clearly have to much time on your hands if you’ve just read these 500 words. You could’ve started The Great Gatsby…

The Naked Sun (1957) Isaac Asimov

June 11, 2012

With nearly five hundred books to his name and several hundred articles Isaac Asimov’s output was phenomenal by anyones standards. The second in Asimov’s ‘Robot series’; ‘The Naked Sun’ is a sci-fi murder-mystery novel.

The protagonist is stubborn, Elijah Baley a detective for Earth police force.  Our planet has changed a lot in this version of the future, all humankind has developed a fear of open landscapes and the naked sun, for reasons that are not made explicit in this novel. Furthermore as Earth is technologically inferior to the scientifically advanced outer worlds, the people have hidden themselves in vast underground mega-cities.

This technological advancement manifests itself most obviously in the form of humanoid robots, the foremost being R. Daneel, a former detective partner of Bailey’s who assists him on his mysterious mission in the outer world.

Baley’s mission is to investigate a murder on the planet of Solaria- a planet of merely twenty thousand people yet technically advanced due to the fact that robots outnumber humans or Spacers – (humans who have colonized other planets) by ten thousand to one.

Early on, we learn Baley has a wife and a small child which makes his mission into outer space all the more stressful, yet he complies to keep his C-6 rating, which we can infer is a fairly respected post in his society.

His reward for doing so – promotion to C-7 level, despite Baley’s reluctance he has been requested by name, somewhat enigmatically, and the higher powers on Earth see this as a perfect reconnaissance mission to gather Intel of Solaria’s possible weaknesses.

“Baley knew the situation…The fifty Outer Worlds, with a far smaller population…nevertheless maintained a military potential perhaps a hundred times greater. With their under populated worlds resting on a positronic robot economy, their energy production per human was thousands of times that of the Earth.”

In Elijah Baley the reader is given the classic outsider detective who asks the questions the reader is asking.  The story is centred on the murder of Rikaine Delmarre, “a very good Solarian”. The story is unusual as we are told that only possible person who could have committed the murder is his wife. Yet Baley pursues the case obstinately with several more developments along the way. It is unclear despite what we’re told whether Gladia Delmarre is guilty, because we are witnessing events through the eyes of Baley whose judgement it appears may have been clouded by Gladia’s beauty- A human weakness which Daneel is quick to draw attention to.

In R. Daneel we have the classic sidekick, someone who can take notes during questioning; in fact R. Daneel can record every conversation that Baley conducts entirely. Furthermore Daneel has skills of his own and conducts his own investigations. However Baley and Daneel do not always see eye to eye and Baley quickly uncovers that Daneel (a humanoid robot) is masquerading as a human and in turn may be gathering Intel for his planet, Aurora.

Yet all robots must obey the three laws of robotics:

Ultimately Daneel’s main weakness as a detective, according to Baley is like all robots he is logical but not reasonable.

This novel is regarded as one of Asimov’s best works, along with ‘The Caves of Steel’ and arguably the most famous ‘I, Robot.’  The characters are purposefully two-dimensional and the mystery plot is at times flaccid but ultimately pays off in a satisfying climax. The novel is a classic whodunnit with a vast sci-fi world backdrop and definitely leaves the reader wanting to read more of Asimov’s world.