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ALBUM REVIEW: Who’s That Man? (Conny Plank Tribute Box Set)

6 Feb

conny plank

‘Kraut rock’ isn’t the most commonly known music movement in the world – if you’ve heard of it, good for you, I guess – just as Conny Plank isn’t the most commonly known producer (I referred to him previously as an unsung hero, I think that’s a succinct enough way of putting it).

But just go to his Wikipedia page and the list of artist he’s influenced is almost endless – and where I’m going with this is that Conny Plank is someone you’ve never heard of, who helped shape a genre you’ve never heard of, which is responsible for most of the electronic music that you’ve not only heard of, but probably love.

Are you following me? No?

I don’t want to make this into a history lesson but in order to appreciate the aptly named ‘Who’s That Man?’ Conny Plank boxset, a little context is needed. Plank was a sound engineer and producer in Germany in the ‘60s, and one of the most creative. Focusing mostly on electronic music, Plank worked with pioneers of the genre, most notably Kraftwerk – as well as Devo, Eurythmics and Brain Eno.

His production work skills are obviously most evident on the first two CDs, which are a compilation of tracks which Plank worked on, although Kraftwerk are a sad omission. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot to enjoy. As someone who had a vague interest in electronica, I never really thought much about the earlier work in that genre and as far as kraut rock goes, Kraftwerk were probably in my peripheral vision.

The ‘Who’s That Man?’ boxset is a perfect place to start discovering a love for electronica, European or otherwise. The live production sound that Plank was known for is especially vibrant on these tracks, as well as the swirling electronics. It’s rough to the point of being harsh at times, but less than dark than some associate with the genre, and Plank has a knack for giving each component of the tracks a certain edge which lifts it out and avoids the compressed sound that so many bands were using at the time. A particular highlight is Streetmark’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ cover on CD2 – proving exactly why Beatles covers can actually (rarely) be a good thing.

The set also shows the wide range even across the genre – from the aforementioned bright energy of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, there’s the darker tracks from The Psychotic Tanks, or a soundscape of ambience from Rodelius.

CD4 is definitely not to be missed – the CD features the last taped performance of Plank before his untimely death in ’87. It documents his 1986 tour of South America with Dieter Möbius and Arno Steffen as Trioformation.

The remixes CD (CD3) is probably the weakest of the set, but still an enjoyable listen – it just lacks the same arresting quality that the rest of the tracks achieve so effortlessly.

One last Plank fact for you – Brian Eno wanted Plank to produce the U2 album The Joshua Tree instead of him, and introduced him to the band. After the meeting, Plank turned the job down. His reason? “I cannot work with this singer.” If that doesn’t make you like him, nothing will.

‘Who’s That Man?’ (Conny Plank Tribute Box Set) is released on 11 February.

ALBUM REVIEW: Dusk For Dawn (Cazadero)

15 Sep

Cazadero are named after a town in California, and describe themselves on their Bandcamp page as ‘dabbling in Western pop.’ It’s as good a description as any, and the California feel is definitely something that runs through the album – not in the way that brings to mind convertibles and episodes of The OC, but more in the way of gold streaked sunsets and warm summer nights.

‘Dusk For Dawn’ opens with ‘Ones I’ve Never Liked’, which is sadly the weakest song on the album. It feels disjointed and stops and starts, never quite flowing and serves only to be mildly alienating and inoffensive. There’s no real hook and the jangly guitar chords which work so well through other songs seem to be missing some sort of spark. It’s an amateur campfire song – campfire without the atmosphere needed to pull it together and give it some sort of definition.

It’s a pity, because the follow-up is ‘Roads’ – ironically the best track on the record. The lyrics are from ‘Roads Go Over On’, a JRR Tolkien poem, and the inspiration is audible even without that knowledge. ‘Roads’ is a song which needs you to lay back and listen; it’s full of promises and dusty highways and old men drinking whiskey in saloon bars. The jangly guitar works well here, creating a lovely hazy feel and the most important part aside from the atmosphere is the fact that it’s so uncomplicated. Cazadero avoid the trap that most new bands fall into of adding needless instrumentation and effects and simply let ‘Roads’ speak for itself. And it speaks of hazy, atmospheric nights and lone wandering by day.

‘Still Life’ is the next track, and one that lives up to its name yet again. It’s more relaxed and the vocals have a Tom Waits growl to them, with the female backing vocals providing a lovely contrast. Cazadero keep the lack of complication and fit the parts together neatly – it’s simple but that’s not to say it’s easy. Simple can be difficult to do, and ‘Still Life’ pulls it off with ease. ‘I will turn you inside out’ promise the lyrics, and manage to make it the kind of promise you want to be fulfilled.

While the vocals on ‘First Time’ dip a little too low at times, it serves as a testament to how well the songs manage to differ from each other, without ever becoming generic or losing the sense of cohesion in the album. There’s a lovely atmospheric feel running through the album and it creates an imagery that a lot of records don’t; a few moments listening and you’re lost in an indulgent Tolkien tinged world.

‘We’re Alright’ is the album closer, and the first fifty seconds or so feel like a practice or misstep. The song could do without them, but once they’re over it’s a lovely closer and concludes the record nicely. If you long for dusty roads and horseback rides, then you’ll struggle to do a lot better than ‘Dusk For Dawn.’

ALBUM REVIEW: The Vaccines Come Of Age (The Vaccines)

8 Aug

The Vaccines have only been around since 2010 but they’re already raring to go and release their second album. After debut album ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’ hit our headphone only last year, the band didn’t rest on their laurels but instead toured and then jumped right back into the studio.

Follow up album ‘The Vaccines Come Of Age’ has already come under criticism from being released too soon, but is that really such a bad thing? I take an early listen to the album and let you know what I think of each track…

Read it here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Handwritten (The Gaslight Anthem)

25 Jul

The Gaslight Anthem are nothing if not consistent. If slices of Americana and the tragic stories of diner waitresses over heavy guitar riffs are your thing, then you know you’ll love them. If not then it’s slightly more touch and go – but hey, you always know what you’re getting.

Read the rest here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Trespassing (Adam Lambert)

6 Jul

The reality show tag is a difficult cross for any musician to bear, and very rarely can an artist break out from the label. Adam Lambert would never have gained exposure and a record deal without American Idol, runner up or not, and yet he remains forever tarred with the reality TV show contestant brush. Disappointing, because he appears to be so much more than that.

Read the rest here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Body Faucet (Reptar)

29 Jun

Athens band Reptar want you to like them, they really do. And they try to make it so easy – their cutesy 90s band name, quirky songs and a sunshine soaked debut album mean you find yourself really wanting to like them back. Which is why it feels more disappointing than usual that ‘Body Faucet’ is just… average.

Read the rest here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Days Go By (The Offspring)

25 Jun

‘Days Go By’, as a track title, holds high hopes for the Offspring’s ninth studio album – it seemed to imply that the band were aware that they, as middle-aged rockers, should maybe move on from nostalgia punk for teens. That maybe their music should mature, and grow. There are hints of where they came so close – before sadly falling short over and over again.

Read the rest here.