Enter Shikari – The Spark

 

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We are the dust on the stained glass windows, trying to comprehend the cathedral…

It’s been a long time since I bought a pop record but hell, it’s happened and it’s brilliant.

The Spark is a people’s album. Homely as a hot drink, 41 minutes hides a delicate touch, a new Shikari – one aimed at infiltrating mediocrity, grabbing the bar and flinging it back to where it should be.

Turning inward, The Spark is a far cry from the scathing political stirrings known of the St Albans lot. Swapping climate change for ponderings on mental health, there’s a quiet sincerity in all. Just why do we choose to put ourselves through it? In 2017, Enter Shikari finds voice in attempting to answer whilst reckoning with the heartbreaking truth that we’ll almost certainly never know.

Frontman Rou Reynolds’ quivering plucks in the final moments of An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces is testament to the true heart of The Spark. A reflection of his losing both grandparents and long time girlfriend in the space of two years, it’s a bare-all we’ve rarely seen from the lads and Rou’s mourning is but the punctuation on a love letter to resilience and brutal honesty.

Those Shikari staples, British cheek and big synth bouncers, continue to trade blows like brothers, though deliberately downplayed this time is the ire. There’s no doubt that Rou’s yells and Liam “Rory” Clewlow’s rumbling breakdowns will be missed but if this is a new dawn for the foursome, a stirring series of falsettos, anthemic choruses and synth explosions are most welcome. It’s still Shikari and exemplifies why those who love this band do so to ends of the Earth. As with those ‘abusing music’s worthless genre boundaries since 2003’, Enter Shikari is a band confident in its direction, sights now squarely on making things better for all.

I’m thankful that The Spark has the last decade of mainstream narcissism but a blip in the rear-view. From the kind-eyed smile of The Sights to Airfield’s rousing lift-off, the boys have crafted a new timeline for pop – a wormhole from the 90s to now, skipping by all the pointless mirror gazing.

Yes, the people’s music has back its heart and good as new, we owe it all to those who tracked it down.

Enter Shikari – The Spark

Where’s Your Head At – A Musical Wellbeing

chucks

Working at a call centre, you come to realise just how terrible a trade is money and things for a daily grin. Satisfaction reworked to size six Arial and more mouse clicks than the other guy, eyes glaze, days fade and nights drag, leaving a blackness you can’t scratch off. Knowing, down to the minute, when that tiny bit of sunlight will creep through, the thought of heading back to choke mouthfuls of stale air and stare at a screen for eight hours can be nigh on crippling. It’s here that having someone to share in everything becomes invaluable.

Save for a few high school mates, the first time I saw music placed on a pedestal that it damn near punctured the clouds was by someone I found working at that same misery lab. Having realised we were surfing the same deep blue, eyes glinted, souls reignited and tunnels of dread turned two-man forums, a shared excitement encouraging yammerings on storytelling, the underappreciated art of screaming, and Rap City Saturday – a stint of genre appreciation where old and new weaved together in a soliloquy of weekend poetry. Camaraderie forged in the onslaught of scowls from those less than chuffed with our unholy union of UK garage and French metal, music bore the fibres of a friendship two twentysomethings looking for answers in something that held more understanding than any self-help book. Last year, that same friend took his life. I’ll never know why.

It’s hard not to scream when this keeps happening and harder still to suck it up and not barrel off into the night. The last few years have had me a stern lesson in sticking to the well-lit – no matter how inviting the dark, there’s always that chance you won’t come back. Also come to light has been an unhealthy belief in the infallibility of music and the people who hold it highest. Noise being the elixir of life, accepting that so too are the joy bringers full of holes remains a tough pill to swallow, but one necessary to keep on.

Yeah, life isn’t always great. In fact, it’s pretty bloody trying at best. The ‘why’ of feeling shitty sometimes impossible to nail down, continuing can become a cruel joke, making it hard to pull the veil from what, at the time, appears to be a crushing permanence. Preconceptions become teetering slips and crippling inadequacy coupled with yet another stretch of blank fantasy has it easy for us to beg why we’re even still knocking about. This barbarous mindset slashing the tyres on any from of escape, you don’t really get better, you get crafty, and find ways to live around it.

Music has always been that co-pilot and constant, steering the ship when I’m unable to. It’s the mate that stays up until the wee hours, calling for reason when a scattered loneliness and incessant hum of a laptop threatens to tip things too far. An invisible choir, screaming louder than my brain’s unhelpful watercooler pitch for idealism, if things aren’t quite there one weekend, it’s a good discography that brings solace and justifies my spending an entire day indoors. Twenty-seven years and this medium has helped in more ways than I can possibly define, bringing joy when there was none, empathy through pain and disappointment, and a constructive humility.

Why then these decisions to leave?

Countless failed attempts have had me realise that bringing something creative into the world takes guts – courage beyond words. With every work, part of you goes up for auction, bringing, in stead, a deep vulnerability. Creation is consequence of all we feel needs to exist, so stripping things back to bones can beg some pretty difficult questions – perhaps those we hadn’t thought on before or simply chose not to.

In the end, I don’t have my answer and I never will. People’s paths are no one’s business and I don’t begrudge them that left at the fork. When sadness seeps, all we can do is be patient, with ourselves as much as others. ‘Blind with kindness’ has been a mantra since I stepped back from my own ledge and the last twelve months has taught me something else: kindness is as much being there as being kind.

Go easy, friends.

Need to talk?

Where’s Your Head At – A Musical Wellbeing

Post-hardcore Retrospectus Pt. I

 

Retro

Warding off demons by day, pitching up in Camp Falsetto pre-dawn chorus, the combo sing-scream and one of post-hardcore’s many punk refurbishments begs a solid ‘yeah’ or ‘yeah nah’ when adrift new ears. A voice hitting all the right spots and just a modicum of the remarkable, punk’s younger, more articulate sibling can conjure quite a zest when given time. Likewise, if something well and truly misses the mark, all can turn to ash, leaving a wasteland and reputation for whining.

A decade plumbing these depths, it’s in the last few years that I’ve felt it decent to take a whack at how ‘nu punk’ works its magic, and if a new brand of old is worthy of a past punctuated by black eyes and mohawks.

A grand old grotesque, punk isn’t beautiful I don’t care where you’re perched. But isn’t that kind of the point? Post-harcore’s big swerve from Great Uncle Denim is the glimpse of galaxy, the wonder between all those safety pins.

In tandem, load bearers beauty and devastation keep captive those ears already attuned to a good bit of anger-babble whilst offering place for the grievers, the escapists and the dreamers. There’s still plenty of wall punching and wrenching out the copper wire but an insatiable lust-for-life to all.

An air of the irate, the continuation of protest tunes as old as the hills is undeniable, but those delicate new flourishes octave flutters, movement between soft and harsh, breathy ambience, and lyrics favouring working through turmoil personal or political add a mysticism to the mix. Gone is the idea of crushing life to dust. Why would you? It’s already gold.

 

Alexisonfire (Canada)

The streets are in distress, the sun suffocates behind darkened skies…

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Credit to one particularly grim stint of pillowcase folding in Canada, I’m of no mind that my first shot would have gone down as smooth if not for the unexpected guidance of a renegade housekeeping manager and diversion to the blistering Ontario snowdrift Alexisonfire.

Falling in love isn’t something you brush off in later life. Years on, it speaks more fortune than magic and when you find your heart set upon, there’s bugger all you can do. From This Could Be Anywhere In The Worlda scream of frivolous desperation at the Toronto homelessness epidemic, Alexis had me over a barrel. Punchy but sincere, Dallas’ funeral-march wail, George’s gravelly barks, Chris’ gat and Jordan’s blasting kept warm a spot by the window so all could share in a world slowly tearing itself to shreds. ‘Homely with a glimpse of horrifying’ suddenly answered why I felt at ease in such rough hands.

Patience when attuning to new noise is crucial (I’d been served this lesson so frequently it now may as well have come plated, with chips), so even with top-notch haunts of the Canucks on tap and my introduction to the scene sorted, there was still a fair bit of unwanted binging to get more of the good stuff. To claim fondness for a painting when you’re really only struck by that one tree seems disingenuous, so for a wee while, fandom found stasis as I continued chasing the aftershock to that emotional avalanche wrought by the Canadians.

Post-hardcore Retrospectus Pt. I

Rise Against – Wolves

Rise Against WolvesThere’s something in your eyes that shakes me back to life…

Smacking a wall is all manner of stupid, yet natural as breathing when Wolves belts brain, boils blood and pumps adrenaline so violently you risk an impromptu surfing session regardless of your locale or penchant for board sports. Book-ended by two of the most rip-roaring rock tunes in years, to term Wolves ‘great’ is a write-off and far too stingy when it sits the best bit of punk rock in over a decade.

Rise Against are old crows at this point. Ranting since the early 2000s when the Bush administration was in full swing and America had entered phase two of the end times, the Chicago rockers’ message hasn’t been one of subtlety but wisdom, and all sandwiched between some of the catchiest, most well produced rock of the last couple of decades. Wolves is an easy argument for Rise’ place on the landscape. Politically charged and with a pantheon of hugely successful tunes, Tim and co. have yet to phone it in, striking a masterful mix of commentary and fast-paced feel goodery. In 2017, Wolves stays the course – sans moderation and needless evangelism.

The passion in Rise Against’ latest lets up for no one. Heavier past offerings, Siren Song of the Counter Culture and The Sufferer and the Witness, provided an if-but-brief bit of respite; four minutes harmonious and there to help catch breath (Swing Life Away, Roadside, Hero of War). In 2017, there’s no quiet strumming or ballad and the lack thereof is noticeable in just how knackering things feel by the close. Wolves‘ breathless assault isn’t in detriment to its flow and this manic progression may even be preferable for those looking to spike a bit more punk in their P&R. 

Explosive title track to the uplifting grin of closing number Miracle (maybe everything is going to be OK?), Wolves’ slew of lyricism, skin-spiking octaves and unfaltering energy speaks volumes to a band coming up on their forties. 2014’s The Black Market wasn’t a bad shout but bar decent belters The Great Die-Off and The Eco-Terrorist in Me, it didn’t shatter earth. Wolves is Rise Against back to their best: intelligent punk in a fierce and foamy swell. Yep, the world’s still on fire but at least someone’s there to watch the tide.

Rise Against – Wolves

Periphery III: Select Difficulty

 

RiffSlip into the fray, slip between the night and day…

Countless retreats from new music’s murky creek has given me a renewed appreciation for patience. A lovely racket kicks off only to be met with hesitance? Perhaps it’ll be a few more years before I can make a good case as to why gutturals and walls of noise steal my attention like a seagull turf war. Keen for the stroll but never one to stay too far, if something heavy pops up, you can bet I’ll be there; though at the back, with a healthy hesitance in tow.

Washington D.C was the most recent victim of my arbitrary let-it-grow-on-you period. For years I’d written off Periphery as that great sounding band with the god-awful vocalist but deep down, I knew we’d get on if we put in the work.

Instrumentally, ‘Riff was cracking! Low-tuning chugged things and the odd percussion assault moved forward the melancholy when things got a tad too devastating. The vocals is where it all took a tumble.

The two styles of frontman Spencer Sotello (best described as ‘melodic nasal’ and ‘yelling’) did well to complicate my enjoyment of Periphery. Never one to knock a good whine, I too have my limits, and Periphery danced dangerously close to that… edge. For years, I’d veer from the D.C. djents. Not quite my cup of tea.

At its core, Periphery III: Select Difficulty is a metal record. More interesting is the tinkering it boasts to a genre adored by few, despised by most – the Rum & Rasin of the music world.

Rife with deviance and a subversion, P3 mucks with metal, pulling at threads and paying tribute to the genre’s strangest pastimes. Playful and confident, it curls invention around its finger and from pop-punk to 90s power ballads, the sixty-four minute symposium just dares listeners to pigeonhole.

Catch Fire punches with a 90s-fuelled bop and a snare so thick with reverb it could have been recorded in a cave. The Way the News Goes marks the album’s second act and puts forth a synth-pop & blast beat concoction a duet unlikely, but effective all the same. Not without pure slammers, P3‘s frenetic opener The Price is Wrong heads straight for the throat whilst brother-in-arms Motormouth continues the assault, putting forth a sharp-tongued manifesto against anyone looking to dispel another’s well-earned, headspace.

Standouts here are the mood pieces, those drifting closer to progressive ballads. Absolomb, Flatline and Lune all bring a sombreness to proceedings, lathering layers of poignancy and time running dry.

A band I’d banished to the hills, Periphery’s Select Difficulty is a sanding of edges to erect something eerily perfect. I’ve never heard anything like P3, and I doubt I will again.

Periphery III: Select Difficulty

The Miltones – self-titled

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Break through this exterior of mine, I have the images to your lifeline…

Imaginations run wild as the world of Milly Tabak and The Miltones welcomes you in. From jaunty opener Pursed Lips, a genuine care is evident, not to mention a smile so warm it risks setting fire to half of west Auckland. The quintet’s debut soundscape conjures a special place: one measured in magic and in memory.

Utter reassurance that the undefinable will start making more sense should we stop dwelling on the ‘why’ and simply look to those who’ve helped us find our way, words like ‘arcane’, ‘poignant’ and ‘bewitching’ can spring forth when wandering this sometimes daunting land. Curb all descriptors, as otherworld lacquer to keys, guitars and Tabak’s quiet intensity build yearning for a thesis than an entrée of adjectives.

As in Tabak’s lamentations, the young group’s debut keeps distilled (Mothers Ruin) and acts as a meditation on grief and wonder. A declaration of keeping spirits high (and close) throughout well… everything, a mood brews as thick as molasses but origins remain hidden, giving the record the air of a dream whose details have faded but fervour holds true.

The hypnotic and shivering howls of Gypsy Queen, whirling fantasy of The Wanderer, and knee-slapping bluegrassian Dancing With The Dead, The Miltones is a nuanced journey teeming with life and love. Eleven tracks mysterious and evocative, the record moves an aural Rorschach and ponders what we cling to, and what we choose to let go.

A dawn trek into the woods, The Miltones is to stumble across a beautiful old cabin. You’re not sure how it got there and at this time of day, you can’t even be sure that it’s real. It doesn’t matter. Smile, and feel damned lucky to have been passing through.

The Miltones – self-titled

More for less – refuse to pay for Spotify, still buy CDs

sportifyFor someone who prides themselves on being highly practical, turns out I’m really thick when it comes to music. What is it about drowning in choice that’s so unappealing? Well, almost certainly the ‘drowning’, but the sentiment remains: aren’t we all just so bloody spoiled nowadays? No longer do we hang around the house for four hours waiting for someone to call in order to make cinema plans, but look me in the eye and tell me there wasn’t something exciting about all that lurking?

As I trudge the mud and torrential downpour of tunes now available on platforms like Spotify, I can’t get no satisfaction… well, none akin to the shot of ink straight to the brain that comes from shoving your nose into a fresh inlay and inhaling violently. It’s taken years for me to even consider trying an online music platform, so I’ll be backing Trump before start investing in one. CDs to me are how I imagine Jesus is to Christians, or olives to those craving a slow, salty death. There’s just not quite anything that soothes the entitled rage of this shoulder glancer than a bit of paper and a bit of plastic near equivalent size.

To try and define my love for physical media I’ll jump on the dirty obvious: it’s something! No, really. With the CDs of old, often you received a veritable goody bag for your dosh: 1x booklet or inlay, 1x compact disc, (if you’re lucky) 1x DVD, and if you’re really lucky, maybe a undersized shirt or a Limp Bizkit beanie with the logo off-centre. Tat obviously, but things that you could hold and somewhat justify that twenty three dollar, the-equivalent-of-two-supermarket-chickens, reckless as hell purchase.

In contrast, the most recent digital pre-order I’ve stumbled over may as well have come with a PDF of a middle finger and barely-acceptable racial statement. A six second preview of the album – why not just give me nothing? No, really – why not just give me nothing at all? What, do they think people are going to be adding this Napalm Death-esque, joke of an audio file to their playlists, chucking it on repeat at parties in the hope that someone in the same car accident recognises it? Actually, I can’t blame the label. Obviously someone is taking the piss, that’s the only way I accept this being an actual incentive for financially backing something you love.

That being said, last month did see me finally cave and install the Spotify player on my computer. Aand… it’s really good. Not only is it good, it’s free? The only price to pay is listening to the odd 15 second commercial every 20 or so minutes? Unbelievable, I feel like I’m pulling a fast one and Spots have just yet to realise their idiocy. Here comes free music forever, because those commercials have me think I’m listening to the best damned radio station in the world, one catering completely to me and with such a good recommendation algorithm that it may as well be paired with my consciousness, which, in fact, it is! And strike two, because little do they realise that how cheap a bastard I am that I’ll never pay for anything I can’t sniff!

So, I’ll keep buying my CDs you keep up the good work, Spotify. You’ve now introduced a service into my life that I’m bound to get uppity about once you’ve sobered and come to terms with the horrible mistake you made last night.

More for less – refuse to pay for Spotify, still buy CDs