Herrotics

FATHEAD
Blah Records

Fathead, the new 11-track Herrotics album released on Blah Records, sees Prospects Napalm, Ordell Duke and AGN successfully venturing into new territory whilst showing a continual evolution of their pre-existing, hyper dense hip hop sound. The group’s ever-present anti-establishment ethos is pummelled into listeners’ ears on a wave of harsh industrial percussion and abnormal samples, which give the lyrics an adequately strange surface from which to attack your brain.

The deranged funk of tracks ‘Soge’ and ‘Doze’ sail close enough to the known wind to sate any hip hop fan, whilst off-kilter production on ‘Dumb’ and ‘Sup’ may confuse dweeby traditionalists into crying out in dismay, “But these guys used to be dope”.

Fathead’s standout track, ‘Rab (Random Angry Bloke)’, with its circular electrical currents and drunken robotic drums, is the kind of song that would make my freshly potty-trained nephew shit himself with glee whilst dancing around his mother's baffled feet with a rusk and a screw face.

Blunt Mancunian accents, growled verses and mutilated soul loops form the body of the piece, all of which might not be the modern scenester’s cup of peppermint camomile, but some people also listen to Balearic whisper disco instead of dark, smack-coated jazz from New York. As with such jazz, the listener should not try to rationalise what is happening when listening to Herrotics, but rather let the chaos wash over them, as anyone attempting to understand this wild referencing might have better chance of deciphering the Voynich manuscript.

Joe Mills

Vennart

The Demon Joke
Superball Music

You may not know Mike Vennart’s name, but I’ll bet you’ve heard him play, if only in his role as touring second guitarist for those stadium Scots, Biffy Clyro. If you do know him, then it’s probably as the frontman for Oceansize, who - if you’ll forgive the hyperbole of an unrepentant die-hard fan - were one of the most underappreciated critical darlings of British guitar music in the noughties, the King Crimson of the 21st Century prog revival. Oceansize split back in 2010, with the line-up decamping to other acts or fiddling about with various sideprojects, but a Vennart solo album always somehow seemed inevitable. Hope does funny things to middle-aged men.

The easy way into The Demon Joke is to compare it to Oceansize, albeit at the risk of an eye-roll from the perennially spiky Vennart. But the sonic continuity is hard to ignore, what with ex-Oceansizers Steve Durose and Gambler both contributing. Vennart’s song-writing strategies are pretty distinct to start with, and having the harmonic core of his old band to hand has allowed that style to mature further.

The songs here are still intricate, but not so fussy, more focussed. Oceansize always sounded like a band pulling in seven different directions at once - it was what made them so good, if you ask me - but The Demon Joke is more purposeful and more playful, neater and tighter and lighter. There’s also plentiful evidence of the persistent influence of oddball prog-pop legends Cardiacs, but this is no tribute record. From the epic synth pomp of opener ‘255’ to the tongue-in-cheek stadium swagger of ‘Duke Fame’, every track shows off an experienced songwriter and sorely underrated singer stretching his wings - and long may he fly.

Paul Graham Raven

The Awful Truth

Songs of Love and Lust
Wise Owl Records

Embedded within chief Awful Truth raconteur Mathew Gray’s lyrics is sincerity, soul-searching and, inevitably, the emotions we sometimes don’t want to face. Fittingly for his band’s name, Gray articulates the ironies and idiosyncrasies of our accepted norms, so Ele Batchelor’s melodeon and backing vocals by fellow local folkies Lucy and Virginia offer the cushion upon which Gray’s sordid and sorrowful tales often fall.

The bittersweet, humorous satire of ‘Romance Is Dead’ is musically reminiscent of the acoustic guitar line in ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ while calmly uttering drinking culture parodies you’d associate with Viz, rather than the Road Trip college rock chorals of Eels’ anthem. The quasi-moralistic soliloquies conjured through Gray’s glances towards the characters of an imagined room – “And if Romeo were here instead of knocking round Verona / He’d be in for a shock / He’d stand there fingering the lime stuck in his bottle of Corona / ‘Til it went three o’clock” – elevate him to an independent overseer not dissimilar to Road Trip’s mouse-baiting narrator. Undoubtedly, the more sensible reference points are the folk rock elders like Pentangle and Fairport Convention.

Some lilts seem personal, pitting Gray on set amid the song’s scenery, sometimes with the band’s doo-wop cushion (‘Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave’), at others without (‘First Love’, ‘Took Away Tomorrow’).

Across the 10 tracks, The Awful Truth explore country fayre (‘Fell In Love With Love’), spoken word (‘The Dance’) and hints of Bob Dylan-esque vocal inflections (‘Never Quite Loved You That Way’), always with that engaging camaraderie which has seen them marked in the phone books of many of Manchester’s venues and promoters.

Ian Pennington

Robert Glasper

Covered
Blue Note

With the tracklist of Robert Glasper’s new album containing covers of the likes of Radiohead, Joni Mitchell and Kendrick Lamar, it seems fitting that he names the late American jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller as a big influence, a man whose composition style The New York Times said was “difficult to peg; like his piano playing, a bit of everything”.

Glasper opens proceedings with a brief explanation of the album to the small crowd gathered at Capitol Studios, calmly moving into a version of ‘I Don’t Care’. Piano lines weave in and out, merging into Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Barangrill’. It’s a moment of calm soon interrupted by the 13 minutes of chaos aptly named ‘In Case You Forgot’.

The past year has brought African-American deaths at the hands of police to the forefront of media coverage worldwide. Glasper attempts to acknowledge and confront this injustice - he calls it “social reality” - through audio recordings and skits towards the end of the album. His version of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘I’m Dying of Thirst’ features Glasper’s six-year-old son and peers reading out the names of African-Americans who’ve fallen victim to police shootings. Touches like this are reminiscent of the conscious hip hop that Glasper has produced so well in the past with the likes of Mos Def.

With bands like Bad Bad Not Good doing such a good job of reinterpreting hip hop instrumentals as jazz standards, it’s easy to forget about the likes of Robert Glasper. But with a return to his earlier format of the acoustic jazz trio and a live studio recording it’s hard to ignore him - even harder when he’s on as great form as this.

George Springthorpe

Deepo

Government Shoes
Room2 Records

Throughout the six tracks on Government Shoes, Manchester rapper Deepo attacks burgeoning inequality and accepted hypocrisies with a rage that recalls hip hop’s original message of social progression. On opening track ‘Let It Reign’, Deepo highlights the vacuity of worshipping money and likens his wayward peers who’ve been corrupted by success with government officials corrupted by power. Although his anger is palpable, there is a heavy dose of satire throughout his third person diatribe: “I’m getting paid / I’m in the same tax bracket as Gary Barlow / But I’ll slap you if you’re asking me for change.”

Instead of sweetening the pill, Deepo’s witty couplets are more scathing towards their intended targets. In the cathartically puerile ‘Fear of God’, he rallies at politicians and gives some insight into their sociopathic origins: “There once was a boy called George / Fagging on all fours / On dormitory floors / Who’d have thought he’d grow up / To make you want to throw up / Living off corporate fraud.”

Like Frank Zappa, whose Crossfire interview is sampled in the title track, Deepo is articulate when bringing the powerful to account. Throughout the song, he decries the militarisation of the police, altering Orwell’s prediction of the future to the present day till it reads as a pair of government shoes stomping on a human face.

The EP finishes with a hidden track, a rabble rousing rewrite of an old Irish republican song performed a cappella in a pub. Like all revolutionary music, Government Shoes expresses everyday peoples’ frustrations and gives a voice to the voiceless. It’s proof that the message hasn’t been forgotten.

Nathan McIlroy

Wall Market Racketeers

Saturnine
Self released

“Is this My Chemical Romance’s first album?” I thought to myself while listening to the first couple bars of this EP. That's not a bad thing, so to speak. As a young teenager I was rather fond of the messy, ‘I've recorded this in my bedroom’ type of sound. But somehow I don't think this was what Wall Market Racketeers were intending.

Their new Saturnine EP is, for lack of a better word, okay. That’s all I think when I hear it. Structurally, they have the right idea – well thought out verses and easy choruses. In terms of instrumentation, they’ve also done pretty well to establish their sound. But here is the problem: everything is just a little untidy. That is the one thing that lets this band down.

It isn't just a one-off issue. After listening to their previous releases, I can see it’s prevalent throughout. The timing is a little off, the harmonies are a little off, and that unfortunately makes the whole record a little off. I feel so desperate to like the record, but I just can’t, because the few minor mistakes add up to create something a little more large, a little bit more noticeable.

They certainly have the right idea, and with a little more fine-tuning I’d be more than glad to buy one of their records or bob along to one of their gigs. Therefore, all I can say about this record is: more care needed.

Sara Louise Tonge