A sporadically-updated music collection blog. Send questions to twitter or email me.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - Formlessness

I think I've made it fairly plain over the history of this blog that Big Scary Monsters is my favourite record label by some way. In terms of a consistently strong output and making nice things that I actually want to buy, Kev has got it pretty much nailed. However, as of late Topshelf Records have been quietly worming their way into my heart through a combination of some excellent releases and a strong commitment to coloured vinyl. To top it off, they also decided to open a European webstore (found here) to make getting those coloured records a whole lot easier. Needless to say, within a day of finding out it had opened, I'd already bought three records. Oops. Here's the first of a trio then.

Hmm. Not sure about this cover really. There's a bit too much going on for my liking and my brain finds it tough to work out what's happening. Is that someone kissing someone else on the cheek, or whispering sweet nothings to them? It's a nice thing to do either way, but it's a bit of a difference in gesture. There's an alternate cover to this that was used for at least a cassette version which I much prefer. Oh well, no big deal.

Right. There's a reason why I'm posting a picture of the back cover without the record. The sleeve is just one large folded piece of card, and I needed the weight of the record to hold down the fold so the inside was properly visible. The back cover is fairly plain, again a little too busy for my liking but no bother.

So here we have it. Yet another coloured record, this time the shade most frequently referred to as "coke bottle green". This is a colour I like a lot. It is, for pressing nerds, from the 6th pressing and out of an oddly specific 1032 copies. There are a full 10 different colour variants that have been released before this one. I don't think I'll be tracking any of them down any time soon, which can only be a good thing for my bank balance. The inside of the sleeve contains lyrics (always welcomed) but also the statement that:
The track "Walnut Street is Dead (Long Live Walnut Street)" was left off this record due to time constraints.
Big shame! I can totally understand it but it's a great song and a sad omission.

This was the first TWIABP EP, the first release other than a demo CD from the band. My word, what a way to start. Through the exquisite build and crash of Victim Kin Seek Suit, the stop-start impatience of Gordon Paul and the sky-gazing one-two of Walnut Street Is Dead (Long Live Walnut Street) and Eyjafjallajokull Dance (try saying that when you're drunk. Or sober) this EP brings more to the table in under 15 minutes than a lot of albums do. Did I mention that there's a free download link to it on their own bandcamp? Because there totally is. After that, there's not much more for me to say. Go. Download it. Feel your heart swell.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Tall Ships - EP/There Is Nothing But Chemistry Here

Ah, weekday pre-orders. Every time something I like goes up for sale while I'm at work, I inevitably forget before descending into a minor panic halfway through the afternoon and abandoning all pretence of being a good employee to throw myself at my phone. Any guesses as to what happened here? Whoops.

Aw yis. Hand screen-printed sleeves, yes please. I like that mine is a little bit imperfect with that splash of orange down the right hand side. The white of the border and logo look super-crisp as well. Excellent work.

I told you fans of orange wouldn't have to wait long! This is a rather bright orange (limited to a small 100 copies), fairly similar to the orange of the cover (which is something I like A LOT) with some fairly plain labels to fit with the minimalist feel of the artwork. You might notice there's a slight hint of black in the top left of this record. I am all about the minor imperfections here. It's a nice to see the track listing on the back cover also has the same orange-to-blue gradient as the front. I think it may have been screen-printed too and it's a really good job if it has been. All-round, this release is very aesthetically pleasant.

This 12", then, combines the two EPs Tall Ships released before their debut album, each of which is on vinyl for the first time here. These two EPs were my introduction to Tall Ships and the reason I grew to love the band. Neither is flawless but both are spectacular. How only two of these songs made it onto their debut album is a mystery to me. Those two songs are Books and Ode To Ancestors - long-time readers may recall that in my post about that album I was fairly critical of the re-recorded versions of the two songs, and listening to the originals just reaffirms those thoughts. Books sounds a little bit cheesy but that's part of the appeal for me. It's over-the-top and a touch silly but that's why it makes me smile, and why it has the habit of sticking in my head for days. Ode To Ancestors, on the other hand, I think is much simpler here and that suits the song a lot more. I'd go as far as saying this version of the song is probably my favourite Tall Ships song outright. Other highlights here are the compulsively danceable Words Are Pegs Upon Which We Hang Ideas, perennial live singalong Vessels and the absolute angular joy of Plate Tectonics. I love these EPs, and revisiting them makes the wait for some new material a little more bearable.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Crash of Rhinos - Knots

I swear I'm cursed when it comes to bands. In the past I've been pretty successful when it comes to getting into bands long after they've split up (see: Million Dead, Reuben, Blakfish) and seeing bands I have loved for a good while subsequently split up (Tubelord, Dananananaykroyd) but this is a new one for me. I bought this record having listened to it a few times, and within 48 hours the band split up. Did I cause the split? Probably not, in all truth, but maybe...

How bloody high up is that house? I can't even see the ground. I know it's on stilts and everything but that can't be safe. All joking aside though, there's a lovely level of detail to this cover. The whole "distressed" look isn't usually my cup of tea but here I can deal with it. It's not too invasive, though personally I'd prefer a cleaner picture of the house. Personal preference, though.

Inside the gatefold, we have printed lyrics. I always love printed lyrics, especially when they're for songs I want to sing along to. Nothing else to comment on here really (save for the awful quality of my photo, my bad).

Ooh yes. a lovely translucent green. This is from the second pressing of the album, limited to 100 each of transparent green and transparent orange. I think I chose well (though fans of orange records have nothing to worry about, there is some orange coming up very soon), but one of the first pressing colour variants was white with black splatter which would have pleased me endlessly via matching the artwork. Oh well. Just to say as well, the label design is top-notch too. Here's a picture to better show that shade of green (also, unintentionally, my great penguin poster):


I've seen Crash Of Rhinos referred to as emo recently, and I'm not sure how well that fits. There are hints of emo for sure, but with big swathes of math-rock and a dash of punk thrown in for good measure. I'm not going to try and fit it neatly into one genre, but what I will say is that it's bloody good. For a final album, this is one heck of a way to go out. The majority of the songs stretch out to almost 6 minutes, with occasional shorter interludes, and yet nothing ever feels overly long. The two highlights of this album for me are the songs that bookend the album. Opening track Luck Has A Name more or less works in two phases - building from a glorious intro for the first 3 and a half minutes, before slowing the pace and doing the whole thing over again for the following three. It works perfectly. Final Track Speeds Of Ocean Greyhounds, on the other hand, has the kind of chorus that is absolutely insistent and knows full-well that it'll stick in your head for days. The album is available for whatever amount of money you choose to pay here - and it's so worth getting. One of the best albums released last year, for sure.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Cider Smiles Volume 6

2000 Trees has long been my favourite festival, and generally a highlight of the year. Every year the organisers put together a compilation of bands playing at the festival called Cider Smiles, which I pick up each year. Seeing as the festival line-up is usually pretty great, there's often a band or two I haven't listened to on the compilation who are worth checking out - indeed, my first real exposure to Tubelord came from the presence of Propeller on the first volume of Cider Smiles. I think for that alone, I owe it to them to buy a copy every year.

Anyway, last year was a little different. For one, 2000 Trees was no longer the only festival to care about - the team behind it decided to also put on a math-rock festival called ArcTanGent (because maths) which I obviously had to go to as well. This also meant that they released Cider Smiles as a compilation of bands playing at either festival, which was a nice touch. More importantly for this blog, it was released on vinyl for the first time!

Mmm, that's a nice cover. I'm a big fan of the use of symmetry here, and the triangles because I love a nice triangle me.

Sound the clear vinyl klaxon. Lovely as ever, and a free CD of the compilation is pretty helpful. Of course I appreciate the consistency of the artwork between the record sleeve, labels and CD - that pretty much goes without saying by now. This release was limited to 250, and if you view the image in large you will see that I have number 78. Not that it matters, but this is a mathematically boring number. Boo-urns.

We've got five tracks from each festival here, a slightly shorter total running length than the previous Cider Smiles compilations but I can forgive them for that. On the Trees side my favourite is undoubtedly Drinking In LA by The Xcerts, not just because they're the token Scottish band but because they're pretty great. On the ATG side, it's difficult to see beyond the majestic T=0 by Tall Ships (which I inexplicably omitted in my post about the album it comes from), though Talons are pretty great as well. It's a decent compilation, all told, and a nice addition to the series.

As of today, I have booked my tickets for my fifth 2000 Trees and second ArcTanGent and I'm already excited. Consistently great line-ups and an atmosphere far superior to more "mainstream" festivals make them my automatic choices for festival season. You should come. I'll sing to you, I promise. If the seventh Cider Smiles is on vinyl, you'll no doubt see it here (a significant number of months after I buy it, no doubt).