Mimi Soya – ‘I Can’t Stand Pop Bands’

By Phil Micallef

Before getting round to even listening to this EP from Brighton quartet Mimi Soya, there are several pre-conceptions that I can’t help but notice upon looking at the CD artwork.  The bright, mainly pink-orientated, cartoon-like colour scheme, along with a photo of a female vocalist with dyed red hair to boot (never seen that before!), just scream the words ‘POP PUNK’.  And that’s precisely what we have on show here.

The band are very good at what they do, although what they do is very much pop punk by numbers and nothing that no one hasn’t heard a million times before.  Lead singer Jorja has a naturally gifted voice with a great deal of range, which must no doubt be quite a draw live.  Unfortunately though, I find myself horribly put off by the over-bearing American accent that she thrusts into her vocals.

The whole sound of these four tracks instantly makes me think of the OC (or whatever idyllic American teen-drama is cool nowadays), along with music videos where the band are playing at a house party where all their really cool mates, all smarted up in the latest pop-punk threads, are dancing around like idiots, whilst being ceaselessly aware of how funny and daft they look, but not caring because they think it makes them look cool.

If you’re into this sort of thing, which a lot of people seem to be, then fine – go ahead, enjoy.  It would be far too easy for me to end this review with a generic witty twist on the EP’s title by stating firmly that ‘I can’t stand pop punk bands’, so I’ll just leave it there.

The Sonic Boom hits Sheffield

Last night I went along to The Academy in Sheffield to see one of my favourite bands – Sonic Boom Six – after an email from Laila reminding me it was on. Plus it coincided nicely with my wife‘s birthday, so she got dragged along too.

Arriving fashionably late, about 40 minutes after doors opened, I was hit by a wall of sound. That’s a much overused metaphor, but it was literally like wading through a painful soup of noise. Nothing to do with the band, but just a PA turned up *way* too loud, considering it was a half empty venue with a disinterested crowd peering at a mildly uninspiring support from afar. Armed with my professional earplugs (grabbed some bog roll) I was able to listen without it actually hurting (am I getting too old for this?).

Anyway, so the first support. A bit too croony, with the singer holding notes a wee bit too long, and not enough going on with the rest of the band to capture your attention. Plus the crowd weren’t into it, meaning they fell rather flat. And I don’t know their name, an appropriate fact considering I’m giving them 3/10.

After a great chat with the delightful Adam on the merch table, covering varied subjects such as “Why Fugazi are awesome”, “Why Easy Star All Stars should do a cover called ‘Yellow Dubmarine'”, and “How old is your tshirt? It’s signed by a guitarist who left like 7 years ago!”, it was time to stumble helplessly back into the firing path of the 16 speaker PA cabinet – overkill for 100 people?

It was worth the future development of tinnitus however, since Knock Out did us proud. Kicking off with just the right amount of ska, punk and reggae, I was gripped, especially considering I’d never heard any of their stuff before. That said, the sound tonight was more suited to their punk foursome lineup than it was to SB6’s vocal driven technical precision. It was a lot of fun, especially the reggae version of “It Must Be Love” –  I still don’t get how the bassist can do actions to the songs, and yet still play slamming bass lines. Still, with a final clashing song, they were done, with an 8/10 for their effort.

This was followed by a longish gap, explained by the third support band failing to turn up. They get a 1/10 – the single point because at least as a result we got a longer SB6 set.

The arrival of Sonic Boom Six was heralded by the fall of suitable mood lighting and the appearance of half the band on stage. And by half, I mean everyone except Laila. Then, amidst a whirl of guitar, mega bass and vinegar, she rolled onto the stage, and we were hit with a scattering of songs off Arcade Perfect and City of Thieves. Doing what they could with a slightly paltry crowd, most of us were quickly dancing, fist waving and sweating. “Strange Transformations” showed what SB6 could have done with a crowd 10 times bigger. With its strategically placed “aaaaahROOOOO!” howls throughout, we did our best, but a thousand voices would have made it creepily fantastic.

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions” had us all Beep Beeping, and then, mixed in with a few couple of songs off the latest two albums came two even newer songs, called “Bandito“, which needed more audience participation, and “Shockwave“, which was really good, with a surprisingly dub intro, or at least, as dub as SB6 get.

Barney Boom then gave a bit of a shout out – “Let’s hear it for Liberty? LIBERTY!”, which was met with rousing cheers, “JUSTICE?!”, again met with a positive crowd response, and then, “UK POLITICS?!”, accosted with a few dispassionate boos. Laughing a little sadly, he said “Well, yes. We won’t get into that now; we aren’t going to tell you who to vote for. That’s not what a band should do, we’re here to entertain you!”

All too soon, it was over, and the band disappeared off the stage for the time honoured encore. No one was fooled, specially when a sound guy came on stage to bring on a trombone – hardly the first step in packing down the set. And then they were back, with the highlight of the set “Rum Little Scallywag“, an upbeat number about a downbeat subject. Mixing in a little Specials, the skanking reached its height at this point. With two final songs, including tonight’s only Sounds to Consume number, “Rape of Punk To Come“, the evening’s entertainment was over.

So, how was it? On the one hand, it was great. Sonic Boom Six are a stalwart of the UK scene, and, having seen them about 10 times now, they were enjoyable, energetic and catchy. Yet, they were let down by the venue. My wife didn’t have a great time, because she could hardly make out any vocals – she said the sound on the speakers in the toilet was about right – but watching the stage it was all too big, too boomy, too loud. They would have been better at the Casbah, or the small room at Plug.

Aside from this, I would have liked to hear a few other hits. Laila was impressed with my nearly decade old Sonic Boom tshirt, and I think I would have enjoyed a few more songs from this era. That said, the band are probably pretty sick of “Blood for Oil” and “Monkey See Monkey Do“, plus the political climate has totally changed since them, making them no longer relevant (that was a joke, by the way).  So, I’m giving them a 7/10, mostly due to poor venue sound, and the fact that I can’t quite accept that its been 6 years and I need to move on.

Check out Knock out on Myspace at http://www.myspace.com/knockoutrock.
Hit Sonic Boom Six on their website at http://www.sonicboomsix.co.uk.

Sheffield Green Room gig

This Thursday (the 15th April) Names Not Numbers are hosting a night of excitement at the Green Room in Sheffield.

With two exceptional musicians all the way from London town!!! – Roxanne Emery and Mariam Razak – and the resident singer-songwriter-poet-writer Phil Ugochukwu, this is going to be a night of fun, laughter and delightful acoustic tuneage.

So! Come along and say hello, you know you’ll be supporting some really worthwhile causes and you’re guaranteed a good night on top!

Donations on the door, all proceeds going to our two community projects that the charity supports in India and South Africa!

Join the facebook event over at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=113145745368917

Find out more about the artists at:
Roxanne Emery – http://www.myspace.com/roxanneemery
Mariam Razak – http://www.myspace.com/mariamrazak
Find out more about the charity at http://www.namesnotnumbers.info

Orange UK tour with Zebrahead and MC Lars

Hellcat power-pop punk rockers Orange announce spring 2010 UK tour with Zebrahead and MC Lars!

Straight out of LA and raring to go, Hellcat’s finest ORANGE hit the UK’s shores on a two week tour with pop punk favourites Zebrahead and MC Lars from March 16th. Touring material from their hugely well received third album ‘Phoenix’, the band will kick off proceedings in Southampton on March 16th and appear at several Academies on their route.

This is the first time that the band has appeared live in the UK, and front man Joe Dexter can’t wait to get playing to the crowds. Talking of the tour, he said;

“We’ve been dying to tour England ever since we started the band and to come play for all the fantastic fans we have there. It’s my home land and my favorite place on earth, well second to Disney Land. We’re the best we have ever been live and we’re ready to MELT SOME FACES! Dads – lock up your daughters ‘cus we’re coming. ”

The full UK tour is as follows:
16th March – Talking Heads, Southampton
17th March – Islington Academy, London
18th March – Orange Box, Yeovil
19th March – Club Revolution, Peterborough
20th March – Chords, Poole
21st March – Furnace, Swindon
22nd March – Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd
23rd March – Academy 2, Birmingham
24th March – Waterfront, Norwich
25th March – Roadmender, Northampton
26th March – Academy 3, Manchester
27th March – Academy 2, Newcastle
28th March – Rock City, Nottingham
29th March – Cathouse, Glasgow
30th March – Cockpit, Leeds

For full details on the tour and more information on Orange please visit www.myspace.com/orange

CHEW LiPS – Unicorn [Album Sampler] (Kitsuné)

chew-lipsOne of the first bands announced for next year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas, CHEW LiPS are quite literally a band going places. Signed to the unimaginably hip French electronica label Kitsuné, they seem to be perched right a-top the cutting edge.

 At this point one might be imagining the next Crystal Castles; a blaring cacophony incomprehensible to anyone but self-proclaimed ‘musos’. However, shrouded under a layer of hype and scenesters lies something you might not expect; CHEW LiPS are a rather sweet pop-group.

 Set for release in January, their upcoming record Unicorn has been produced by David Kosten. Famed for his work on Bat for Lashes’ Mercury nominated second LP, Kosten seems a natural collaborator. While vocalist Tigs possesses a poppier sheen than Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan, she shares the ability to gleefully warble away the end of phrases. Indeed both Tigs and Khan have something of an ethereal quality about them, as if their voices belong to the same angelic apperition.

 Instrumentally though, the group escape comparison to Kosten’s previous venture and are more easily likened to LCD Soundsystem. ‘Karen’ shows they posses the ability to craft gently throbbing electro interspersed with riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Interpol record.

 However it’s ‘Slick’ that does best to showcase their sound. A mimalist bass line plays host to a swathe of twinkling electronica but ultimately it’s all driven by Tigs’ playful vocals. The track hooks almost instantly before retreating into it’s own melody and building to a layered finale.

With Little Boots and La Roux hitting the top of the charts, synth-pop might be the breakthrough sound of 2009 but on this evidence 2010 won’t look much different.


Johnny Foreigner – Grace And The Bigger Picture (Best Before)

JoFoJohnny Foreigner is doing all the things that no-one else will do.

In Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light JoFo [as they have been affectionately abbreviated] released one of the best records of 2008 and the best debut from a British band in many a year. Grace And The Bigger Picture still has everything the debut was lauded for; it’s spasmodic in its delivery and it’s quintessentially British.

With dueling boy/girl singers eager to step over the other’s lines JoFo has always been a band in a rush and thankfully they’ve lost none of their verve or enthusiasm, nor have they re-hashed last year’s effort. Notably the songs are leaner, with just two reaching the three minute mark.

It would be somewhat misleading to say that the record is a more focused affair because it still exists somewhere off of the wall; a place where lo-fi garage rhythms mix with bright and clear vocal tracks that lift into sprightly scratches and screeches.

By rights this should be a mess but JoFo always manage to catch themselves. They get faster and more unwieldy, but they retreat back to precisely picked strings and an all-together more stable form. They have perfected the precision and dynamics of reckless abandon [see ‘Security To The Promenade’].

They understand that beauty born from madness is all the more striking, as so often Kelly’s sweet voice battles with Alexei’s and victors, finishing the phrase in isolation. They have realised that their sum of parts are equal without each other.

That’s not to say the gang-chants of ‘Feel Like Summer’ are anything other than thrilling. ‘Some Summers, some Summers’ is something of a catchphrase for the record. Indeed when the track starts with a sharp shock of feedback and ignites into the riotous sing-along you prick up your ears, duly noting their most single-worthy track.

The refrain is repeated at the rear of the album in an unsubtle attempt to instill some continuation. A trick repeated on the ‘More Tongue, Less Heart’ variation of ‘More Heart, Less Tongue.’ However this does little to mask the albums gloriously sporadic nature. It’s too quick-witted, too enthused to be cohesive.

Whilst lyrically the bands’ ‘revelations in student unions’ style can be straightforward, the overall image is ingrained as much with glib as sincerity. The band is liable to turn itself on its head in a split second. It’s the trademark of one of the best bands in Britain.

Rating 5/5

Bane – Camden Underworld, London (02/09/09)

Old-school hardcore from the Massachusetts crew and touring partners Down to Nothing aimed to decimate a less-than-timid London crowd.
Gold Kids from Cagliari, Italy were to set the precedent for the evening’s entertainment.  It was to be all about loud, aggressive hardcore.  Theirs was a mix of the technical incisiveness of Converge and a looser more 80s vibe that come to prominence in flailing guitar parts.  A walking tattoo of a front-man, Andre Suergiu proved energetic and ultimately over-zealous as he fell to the amusement of his drummer.

Slower and heavier than Gold Kids, Lewd Acts played with reckless abandon and if Andre was over-zealous then Lewd Acts vocalist Tylure [sic] was downright hostile.   Lewd Acts ratcheted up the aggression levels further.  The front-man threw himself into the crowd, on a mission literally batter all in his wake.  By the end of the set, his vocals had firmly taken a back seat behind his antics.  The sound had gone, the band was bathed in feed-back, the monitors were strewn across the venue floor and the drummer had to ask for his cymbal stand back. 

When Down to Nothing hit the stage the Underworld was fast becoming an arena of carnage.  The two-stepping crowd went ballistic and the band stopped as a punter was carried out in a state of unconsciousness.  Needless to say, this wasn’t about to turn into a wet-blanket scenario and the band continued to belt out the distinctive Revelation Records brand of hardcore.  Bordering on preachy, the vocals were spat as if some kind of sport, Down to Nothing was exactly what you associate with the label.

The crowd might have diminished for Bane but went about their set dutifully and came across as the scene heavyweights they are and launched into ‘My Therapy’.  Aaron Bedard was a fair ringmaster, delivering lines about following dreams and not letting things stand in your way with considerable verve.  This act could have got hackneyed but set to such a ferocious assault it couldn’t fail to induce a little tingle.

They have been accused of being more of a clothing label than a band, but in a music scene notorious for poseurs Bane came to simplify proceedings.  Theirs was a sound that aimed straight ahead and went directly for the jugular.  Theirs was a message of righteousness and self-belief; an ode pure hardcore, largely uncorrupted by metal. 

Rating 4/5

The Chemists – ‘A Love Like No-One Else’ (Distiller)

The ChemistsBudding Bristol pop-rockers strive to fill stadiums.

It’s too easy to criticise a band that plays with a foot in both rock and pop camps. The age-old adage for music writers is to bear frustration at ‘yet another band that hardly treads new ground’. With a well-trodden and stale genre concern, it is better to describe how good the band is at being average; The Chemists measure somewhere in the middle.

‘A Love Like No-One Else’ has a big pop chorus but constantly over-reaches itself. The group are treating their pop-balladry as if it were power-balladry. The singing borders on strained in an attempt to be expansive and the production only exasperates the feel. It is a fair-to-middling track which undoes itself in its delivery and ultimately becomes a source of embarrassment for the listener. You want to pity the band for creating a pastiche of something so achingly un-cool.

The single will please a few local halls and a group of 40-year-olds will scratch their heads, wondering why this big, anthemic tune hasn’t sold a million. Meanwhile an equally average band with a cooler look or a showy gimmick will climb the charts and go platinum. Pop(/rock) music is a cruel beast; let’s just hope The Chemists are having fun.

Rating: 2.5/5

A Wilhelm Scream, Polar Bear Club, A New Day – Camden Underworld, London (05/09/2009)

By Phil Micallef.

Having missed the Reading festival a week earlier for the first time in five years, I took some scant consolation in the fact that two of the bands that I would have wanted to see the most there were both barnstorming the stage tonight in Camden Town.

Before tonight’s all-American co-headlining duel though, Welsh quartet A New Day got the wheels into motion with their crunching post-hardcore sound. It wasn’t anything particularly ground-breaking, but the young group certainly demonstrated enough to suggest that they are perhaps a band to keep an eye on in the future. A good set all in all then.

Throughout the last year or so, Polar Bear Club have been making quite a name for themselves upon these shores. Their impressive debut album Sometimes Things Just Disappear was followed by a UK tour earlier in the year alongside The Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner and appearances on the Lock Up Stage at last week’s Reading and Leeds festivals will surely have boosted their growing reputation.

The quintet, hailing from Rochester, New York, exceeded all expectations tonight, sounding just as rock-solid live as they do on record. The packed out and excitable Underworld crowd responded well, which was reflected in the band’s evident enjoyment on stage. With new record Chasing Hamburg out this week (from which several songs were played tonight, suggesting that this should be a release not to be missed), Polar Bear Club can only go from strength to strength. This was the first time I have seen them live and I am already keeping my ears firmly close to the ground for news of their next UK dates.

The first time I saw A Wilhelm Scream was in 2006 supporting Lagwagon at the Astoria 2 (or Mean Fiddler as it was known back then – it is now known as a building site for some pointless high-speed train station). That was their first UK appearance, so quite a special gig, but unfortunately I wasn’t really that aware of them then and foolishly didn’t pay much attention to their set. Luckily, three years down the line, I am somewhat wiser and have added the band’s fine repertoire to my music collection, meaning that this time round I was much more prepared before experiencing their truly breathtaking live show.

The Massachusetts-based five-piece beautifully combine catchy melodic post-hardcore punk with highly technical metallic guitar and bass riffs, with effortless tempo changes here and there. Tonight at the Underworld, fresh from also appearing on the Lock Up Stage at Reading and Leeds with Polar Bear Club, they were on top form with their high musical prowess firing on all cylinders and endearing them to the audience.

One of the great things about A Wilhelm Scream is that, despite their ridiculously talented musical ability, they seem so down to earth and jump around every inch of the stage with big grins plastered on their faces, interacting with the audience as if they are as one (like all bands should do). Songs such as 5 to 9, The Rip, The King Is Dead and Famous Friends and Fashion Drunks stood out as highlights, although the whole set was of a consistently gargantuan standard throughout. The wondrous finger-tapping of bassist Brian J. Robinson was particularly eye (and ear) catching. As the set ended, the crowd inevitably demanded one more song to which the band duly obliged, rounding off the night perfectly with the rousing Anchor End.

The crowd tonight were almost spoilt silly after being treated to two excellent sets from two of the best American bands doing the rounds at the moment. Top marks all round. It almost made up for missing out on Reading this year…

Suicide Bid, The Filaments, The Grit, Mouthwash – Garage, London (15/08/2009)

UK dub/ska/punk ‘super-group’ collective return along with the re-union of one of Essex’s finest exports.

By Phil Micallef.

Due to a concoction of rushing into London straight from work and somebody’s ingenious idea to shut down the Victoria line (for arguments sake, let’s just blame Boris Johnson – it’s easier that way), I unfortunately only managed to catch the last few songs from opening band Mouthwash. From the small portion of their performance that I did catch, they sounded as tight as always. The decent sound in this newly refurbished and now energy drink-affiliated North London hotspot (officially re-christened as the “Relentless” Garage) complimented the band’s solid sound, which they have been perfecting for well over a decade. A cover of Minor Threat’s I Don’t Wanna Hear It rounded off the set very nicely, which seemed to please the hordes of punks now assembled in the audience.

Up next was The Grit whose lively psychobilly added a nice mixture to proceedings, what with all the ska-punk on offer throughout the rest of the evening. They played a thoroughly entertaining set full of energy and even threw in a bit of Geordie folk music for good measure in tribute to their hometown. A good solid showing then from this quartet and the perfect way to lead into the third band of the night, who it seemed most people in the venue had come to see.

When The Filaments split in 2005, they were well established as one of the best and hardest touring bands on the British punk scene. Their brass-fuelled ska/street punk earned them a dedicated legion of fans, many of whom were packed into the Garage tonight to witness this special one-off reunion gig – the band’s first performance since two reunion shows three years ago. As soon as they stormed into opening number Oi! The Filaments, it was easy to see why they were, and indeed still are, so loved. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was a band still constantly on the road and playing every night, such was the tightness of their entire set.

All of the fan-pleasers, such as Sick Joke, Punk Unity, BPC and Bastard Coppers, were played with full venom, along with an excellent cover of The Clash’s timeless classic (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, which was particularly well received by the vivacious crowd. The Chelmsford septet (they were joined by their original trombone player, taking their headcount up to seven) were clearly enjoying every second spent on stage and with good reason too. The good feeling rubbed off on the audience with everyone feeling like they had been taken back in time several years to those wonderful days before that old adversary the “glass ceiling” forced so many great home-grown ska-punk bands to call it a day (e.g. Lightyear, Farse, Adequate Seven and so on). Finishing with sing-along friendly Trevor, the band left the crowd in the highest of spirits following a practically faultless set. The only negative was that this was just a one-off and not a permanent re-union. We can only hope that there will be more “one off” reunions in years to come as on tonight’s evidence, there was no reason to suggest why the band would not be up for doing this again some time.

Most of The Filaments entourage stayed on stage for the final act of the night to form part of Suicide Bid, the punk/dub collective also featuring members of Sonic Boom Six, The King Blues, Inner Terrestials, Ex-Cathedra, P.A.I.N., Deathskulls and King Prawn (although Mr Babar Luck was unfortunately absent tonight). This was the first time the band had played since taking to the stage almost exactly a year ago at the Islington Academy. For some reason though, there wasn’t quite the same level of energy present tonight. This was most probably due to the fact that on this occasion they were following such a magnificent and highly-anticipated display from The Filaments, which would always take a lot to beat (although half of Suicide Bid are Filaments, which makes this all a bit confusing, so bear with me).

That being said though, the ‘Bid were still well worth the money and got the crowd skanking away to top quality tunes like Demonized, When The Morning Comes and Like A Lion. Jonny One Lung from The Filaments and Itch from The King Blues interacted well with the crowd as usual, making sure that their vibrant political message got through in equal measure to the fine ska, punk and dub being played. This was quite apt as the gig was organised by No Sweat, a campaign group that fights sweatshop exploitation.

Sadly, the gig was all over before it was even 10 o’clock, thanks to some club night having to take place after (which no doubt played music nowhere near the fine quality that was performed live beforehand). This meant that Suicide Bid’s set was quite rushed and, despite the chants from the audience, they were unable to come out and do an encore, which would have topped the night off perfectly. Nevertheless though, it was still a strong set, but it goes without saying that the night belonged to The Filaments who probably should have headlined in hindsight. Here’s to the hope of another re-union in the not too distant future…