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Monday, September 22, 2008

Album Review: Pope Joan - Hot Water, Lines & Rickety Machines

With this debut album, Brighton’s Pope Joan have confidently thrown down the gauntlet to the listener to keep up with their deliberately obnoxious in-your-face avant-pop and not feel overwhelmed. Like a particularly vicious alcoholic shot, it’s short, invariably sugary-sweet but it kicks like a mule.

Opener ‘No TV’ trades in feedback and crunched guitar. The dense, stabbing vocals are breathlessly delivered, becoming almost constrictive. It’s followed by the double-time drums and curiously juvenile 8-bit synth of ‘49 Years Time‘ which descends into a childlike tantrum of bum notes. With the processed, strained and scratched guitar of ‘A Length Of String’ leaving the low-end fully open for the bass to step in, it is the climax of the assault that the band had been threatening.

These three songs introduce the Pope Joan blueprint perfectly well enough. Repetitious stop-start structures, ham-fisted, detuned instrumentation and shouted, stereotyped tales on love and modern life; think Wombats but with a touch of Maximo Park vigour. Then, just when you think you’ve got them pinned down the band throw in two songs that change everything. Quirky complexity becomes composed simplicity as ‘It’s The Same As When You Asked Me The Last Time’ finally grabs hold of an idea and runs with it, allowing a dark motif to dominate. Insistent strings and a raw emotive vocal pound out a hook which is infinitely easier to immerse yourself in. ‘An Alternate Route To The End’ is similar in that it lets one instrument dominate giving room for the vocal to breathe and explore, allowing it’s natural strength to shine.

A mixed bag this one. There’s plenty of bands out there who’ll provide more in the way of inventive wit and instantly gratifying hooks, but not as many who can offer quite the range of tempos that Pope Joan have displayed here. Yes, they’re oddball. Yes, they’re colourful. But when they forget all that and inject a bit of heart into their music they really can shine.

www.myspace.com/popejoan

Also online @ Music-Zine = http://www.music-zine.com/reviews/?id=561

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Interview: Less Than Jake

There is no doubting that Less Than Jake are ska punk legends having ingrained their infectious upbeat rhythms into the consciousness of festival and gig-goers everywhere over many years of constant touring - the delay in getting this interview together is testament to that! Formed back in 1992 the band have evolved from melodic pop through third-wave ska before finally settling on a sound that is undeniably their own - a mixture of punk, ska, rock and metal. Now, with a new album due out soon recognising the importance of their roots - it’s titled ‘GNV FLA’ after their hometown of Gainesville, Florida - and with a single currently on free download, there is no better time for Subba to get the inside story on the band and their plans. Drummer Vinnie Fiorello was more than happy to oblige.

Vinnie, the band name comes from the name of your family pit-bull and the fact it was treated better than you. You must have hated that pooch! Was it your job to walk it or something?
It was an English bulldog actually, and no I didn't hate him. He was treated better than anyone in the house though - he had his own section of the couch!

Apparently you and Roger have vast Pez dispenser collections, hence the name of your first album, 'Pezcore'. What's your favourite dispenser and do you still use it?
My favorite is the Batman with the cape from the early 60s. I don’t use it; it’s up on the shelf with the rest of my collection right now.

Who's got the bigger collection? You or Roger?
I’m not sure whose collection is bigger. For awhile we had about the same but we don’t compare what we have, ha.

You seem to have a lot of love for your toy companies. In fact, Wunderland War Toys sponsored the FX Project Vinyl Artist's Jam this year. What inspired you to chip in?
Anytime that a hobby can help people with cancer, I am all for it. I mean why wouldn’t I be involved in a great cause with the toys I have a passion for?

A short while back you left the record label, Fueled By Raman, you had started 10 years previously with John Janick. What had you felt gone wrong?
There’s a simple saying… "If there's too many cooks in the kitchen the food will not taste well." That became the relationship between me, John and Atlantic Records.

Less Than Jake are credited with starting the Florida Ska Revival Movement. I recently spoke with Bad Manners, a big ska band in this country, and their lead singer had started his own ska festival. Have you ever thought about doing a similar promotion of the genre?
We talked about doing a yearly festival and once things quiet down, with the new record coming out, we will continue to talk about it.

You were the first band I crowd surfed to. Is it something you get a lot of happening at your gigs?
It still happens. I mean high-energy music always draws crowd surfing. It’s died down. I remember when people crowd surfed to slow pop music. Hahaha, so funny to see.

Do you ever get grief from venues for inciting it?
We get grief sometimes but we don’t really incite it. It happens on its own enough.

You recently played 6 albums at 6 consecutive nightly shows in Florida and then again in London. What was that like? Tiring? Alcohol-fueled?
It was like a final exam every night trying to remember 90 songs, it was a crazy time, a trip down memory lane and a good way to get in touch with our roots.

What kind of music do you guys have playing on the tour bus stereo?
Everything from Dizzee Rascal, Fishbone, Slayer to Bob Marley and Hot Water Music.

You often go back to your hometown in Gainesville, Florida. Are they still the best gigs or have you another favourite place to play?
Well we have to go back to Gainesville, we live there!!! Our favorite cities to play are London, Tokyo, and Chicago.

You've recently left Warner Records and started your own label, Sleep It Off Records, which you intend to release your new album and all your back catalogue on. Does it feel good to be free from the industry shackles?
It feels good to be in control of your future and the band you’ve been in for 15 years.

You recently suggested that you don't quite fit in the modern music industry. I guess you're a band that has retained its own identity. Is that something you can be proud of?
It’s absolutely something to be proud of.... we have weathered so many trends and turmoil. It feels good to have a strong foundation.

For the new album, can we expect a less-produced, rougher-sound?
I think the record blends the old with the new. It is a bit rougher than the last record but it’s not a step backward.

Finally, 16 years, still kicking arse, and you guys play at some pace.
Had any thoughts as to the future? The future holds what it holds… Hopefully we can stay healthy and happy. Come say “hi”� when we are in your town. We will be somewhat funny and won’t urinate on your carpet… most of the time.

Also online @ Subba-Cultcha = http://www.subba-cultcha.com/features/article.php?contentID=13032

Check out this review of their last album: http://www.subba-cultcha.com/article_album.php?id=7742

Previous LTJ reviews: http://www.subba-cultcha.com/article_album.php?id=2160

Thanks to David @ Cooking Vinyl for helping set this interview up.