I Just Can’t Make My Mind Up About SLONK!!

Slonk, a garage pop/punk project out of Bristol are on the eve of releasing their fourth record “Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years” and after being sent an early link by the lovely folks over at Breakfast Records, I initially was grabbed by the intriguing album cover and upon further listening, I have many thoughts. So, if you’ll indulge my ego once again dear reader, I’ll have a bit of a ramble.

Led by Joe Sherrin, Slonk, which by the way I think is such a cool band name, have had a modicum of success. Many thousands of listens across a variety of streaming platforms have developed a small but respectable following and I’m sure the fans are all geared up for this new record. But personally? I have very mixed thoughts on “Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years”. Don’t get me wrong I think the songs are good, and the record overall has a fun, upbeat quality to it. I will also commend the fact that this album boasts a total of 15 tracks, over double the length of their debut “Losing My Mind On The Outside Of Everything”. My issue is that these are all sounds we’ve heard before. The garage punk sound was old in the mid noughties, and in 2021 really has no place unless you are a die-hard fan of the genre.

The A side is mostly made up of the safer poppy tracks, this was probably done intentionally in the hopes of a hit, but I don’t understand why someone would try to go for hits in a genre that is largely dead. If this is music that you genuinely love then why not take risks! I do like the synth melody on “Colin” and the synth work throughout the record is simple and tasteful. But the guitar work is so generic, especially in its rhythm, which is a real downside. The vocal performance is raw and authentic and I love the harmonies, which almost makes up for the more negative points throughout but not quite.

There are some slightly heavier cuts on the album, a slight nod to stoner rock with the fuzzed up lead guitar bends, and I do like the addition reverb heavy backing vocals on tracks like “Margaret”. But most of this album is rather by the numbers. I would have liked to hear some unusual chord voicings or odd time signatures. Just something not so stereotypical for the genre. However, Slonk achieve a few standout moments that I only wish I could hear more of. The swelling strings on the end of “Tracy” and the synthesisers in introduction to “Little Tod” really point to what could be. In fact, the whole B side is pretty solid. I can see Sherrin and company are wanting to experiment with the formula and I am hoping that in future Slonk go even further in that regard.

The thing is, these are quality songs, catchy and infectious. I genuinely believe all punk bands should have a pop sensibility, ala the Ramones. But like those early punk recordings, the production is very DIY and while it can work for some bands, here it does not. The lo-fi filter on vocals throughout just becomes very annoying. I will also note that whoever mixed this did an awful job on the balancing. I found myself regularly having to adjust the volume to hear certain things and to generally keep things at a low to mid volume. You cannot gun this album without it sounding harsh and noisy. Bands, get the memo on this, you can sound raw without making everything lo-fi. If they’d gone in the realm of a vulnerable Neil Young style production I could easily bump up the album a point or two (If I actually did scores, I’m not Fantano) but in its current state its unforgiveable.

So, pros and cons. Great pop songwriting, cool visual aesthetic, good performances, the beginnings of unique ideas, with the downside of piss poor production, generic guitar work and everything sounding a bit too samey. Would I recommend you listen to this album? Honestly, yes. In its entirety. I just can’t make my mind up on if I like this record or not! I have a feeling Slonk is like marmite. It’s going to be hugely different to different people and will be loved or hated depending on who tries it. It comes out August 27th on Breakfast Records and I will be awaiting the release of this and all future Slonk records. Now I’m off to check out the rest of their discography. You should do the same.

Peace, Love and Cowbells,

Oscar

“What Is A Life” Without Third Lung?

Hailing from the land of Reading, England, Third Lung have very quickly established themselves as an indie rock band to be reckoned with. With a powerful band dynamic on their latest track “What Is A Life” they have pushed the boundaries of indie rock to limits I haven’t heard in the genre in many moons. I’ve often thought that modern indie rock was getting stale, yet every time I think it is counted out, it manages to flare up somewhere else, such is the case here with Third Lung.

Taking influence from Motown, jazz, and funk, yet still sticking true to the loud guitars and catchy vocal hooks present throughout indie rock. Yet even with these influences, the band takes on a fifth element beyond just the four members. Together they create a larger than life sound reminiscent of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” or for a more modern example, Nothing But Thieves’ “Excuse Me”.

This is largely thanks to the enchanting performance of Tom Farrelly, on vocal and rhythm guitar duty. The vocals have all the power of the classic rock greats, yet maintains an effervescent, haunting quality that keeps the listener entranced. I also really like the use of the backing vocals and delayed guitar, really adding some girth to the sound. The rhythm section does its job well, and I like some of the funk and Motown inspired moments throughout the drum track, but I feel the bass could perhaps be a bit more defined.

The minimal use of bass is one of the few aspects of the production and song-writing I can fault. I do also feel myself getting a bit bored during the later verses, perhaps shortening them during the latter half of the track could have been a better idea, but I do manage to stay engaged. I can imagine the current length would work well live, but as I keep telling bands, studio versions and live versions are allowed to be different!

One thing I absolutely love about this song is the subtle backing instrumentation. Strings, keys, and synths all going in different directions really keep things wonderfully interesting. I’m glad to see an indie rock band experimenting with themes outside the norm. I get sent multiple indie rock bands every single week and this is one of the few I have decided to review thanks to their originality. I urge the band to continue this trend and become not just another indie band, but rock stars to rival the greats themselves.

All in all I can heartily recommend Third Lung to people who like myself, are looking for the next step in modern rock music. So many bands fail to achieve what Third Lung have, and I can honestly say that I will follow their progress and wish them luck in their future endeavours, musical or otherwise.

Peace, Love and Cowbells,

Oscar

The Best Solo Artist I’ve Heard In Half A Decade

So, as some of you may or may not know, recently I’ve been volunteering for a local studio/venue learning how to do live sound and being support for their weekly gigs. I’ve really enjoyed the experience and the atmosphere at Dubrek has reaffirmed it as my favourite place in all my hometown of Derby. While doing sound I’ve seen quite a few acts in a few short weeks and not even one has disappointed, which is a testament to the organisers for their good taste! However, a couple of weeks ago I saw what is potentially the best solo artist I’ve heard in half a decade. She’s brilliant, with an angelic voice and superb songwriting ability to make even Max Martin jealous. Her name is eam and this is one critic’s look into one of the finest examples of alternative pop music in the U.K. today.

You wouldn’t have thought from the beginning of her set that you were about to have your mind blown, technical difficulties proved to be rather stressful and she came very close to cancelling the set before it had even started. Turns out it was a dodgy cable on my end (oops! My bad!) so after quickly swapping it out and adjusting some levels, I sat back, and what happened next… any description I give doesn’t do it justice, but I’ll do my best.

Using a combination of a drum pad, a looper and her outstanding vocal technique eam built up the layers until she recreated the sound of a full band, starting with long low bass notes I would struggle to hit, just going to show how impressive eam’s vocal range is. Often hitting the microphone in order to replicate the sound of a kick drum, and constantly building the soundscape with even more layers of vocals, making the sounds of snare hits just with her voice. Once everything was in place on the looper and she’d had a moment to sway with the ethereal gargantua she had birthed for us, eam unleashed a mesmerising lead vocal that had the entire venue in a trance.

This is all done just with vocals and a looper, the drum pad was only used for one song. Considering she had just acquired the machine a few days prior, she nailed the performance, demonstrating a dedication towards practice so rare in musicians today. I’d personally love to see eam experiment with even more unusual sounds, world instruments, guiro, berimbau etc. take pop in a whole new direction while still maintaining those infectious vocal hooks.  I only really have one real complaint. Simply put, give me more! eam’s spotify page is barren of all but a few songs, and while those are great, the tracks you performed live that night I need in my life as soon as the gods of music allow. eam, when you read this, get cracking on that album. With skills like yours, you have potential for a long career in this industry. You just need to reach out and grasp it!

It is the true artists like eam that give me hope for modern music. So many critics bang on about “the good old days” and I would hold Eam up on a pedestal for all those old bastards to see. True musicianship, true dedication, true passion. That right there is a recipe for success and it is no surprise she has won awards for how outstanding she is. So, you’ve read the review, you’ve heard my thoughts, now what are you still doing here?! Go buy her singles, book tickets to her next show, do whatever you can to get more of that goodness in your ears. You won’t regret it.

Peace, Love and Cowbells,

Oscar

The History of Punk Fanzines

One thing that is in the heart and roots of the punk movement is the DIY mentality and aesthetic, from cut up charity shop clothes, to literally wearing bin liners as an outfit, this is obvious throughout the punk fashion world. The music too, was very DIY, recording albums themselves, doing promotion themselves and even booking country wide tours from nothing more than a van, a list of phone numbers to different venues and, most importantly, some raw rock n’ roll. But there is one aspect of punk culture that is seemingly overlooked by all except the most hardcore of fans. Fanzines.

Fanzines have existed in nerd and science fiction culture since the early 1940’s but it seems that punk, with its do-it-yourself mentality, gave Zine culture a whole new life. They were drawn up by hand, usually by one or two people. They would then find a primitive 1970’s photocopier, sometimes through sneaking into office buildings, and copy as many as they could before getting into trouble. These sheets would be taken home and either folded or stapled together by hand, often only numbering a few dozen zines at a time. But what these pieces of paper could do for a young zine writer and the punk scene in general no one could have anticipated.

Often punks in their early to mid-teens and would not be allowed entry to gigs, either from parents protests or bouncers outside clubs. And when they finally were old enough to go to gigs, zines had two key advantages for bands and audiences alike. The zines acted like promotion for all the punk gigs in the area, and what’s more they were a great way to make friends. Simply go to a gig and if you see someone you think might make a cool friend, walk up and offer to sell them a zine, breaking the ice and often leading to interesting conversation about the bands featured. So, Zines (along with the John Peel show) became the definitive way to find out about all these new and emerging punk bands. Fanzines like Sniffin’ Glue became legendary instruments in educating those band of youths that eventually would form their own punk bands into the 80’s and 90’s.

Today, most fanzines are just like this one, digital blogs numbering into the tens of thousands, and will rarely get made into physical copies. But that is why I think my plans for a Needs More Cowbell fanzine, if executed properly, could work extremely well. It’s a largely forgotten concept I am trying to give new life, using the same methods that those punks of old did. Sure, the chances of getting rich are slim to none, but that’s not why anyone should be interested in music. It is all about passion, passion for art, passion for culture, passion for people. I truly hope that when this zine is finally ready. You, my dear viewer, will be prepared to read it.

Peace, Love and Cowbells,

Oscar

The Future of Needs More Cowbell

Hello you lovely lot!

So, as some of you may or may not know, For the past couple of years I have run Needs More Cowbell. I’ve always called it a blog “focusing on alternative guitar music” and while that still holds true, it has become so much more than that. Along with the music reviews/rants that most of you know me for, it is the home for my own music releases, a youtube channel and a small budding community of punks, weirdos and alternatives. At time of writing there are exactly 300 of you who like the page and I am grateful for each and every one of you. I wanted to clue you all in on my plans for the future of Needs More Cowbell and no, you don’t need to worry, I’m not quitting. 

My plans for Needs More Cowbell as a platform for my art and as a community extend far beyond a few blog posts and single releases. Indeed I see a future and a career for myself in this little group. What many of you don’t realise is that while I am at university studying music I am simply keeping the seat warm with my occasional updates on Facebook. The real work begins post degree, with plans for three blog posts and a youtube video every single week along with a musical release every six months at minimum. The thought does scare me at times, as that is a lot to keep up with but I know if I want to make a little piece for myself in this mad world we call the music industry I know I have to give it my all. There is already an album in the works, I have plans for a Needs More Cowbell Fanzine and other merchandise later down the line. The more and more of you follow, like and share this page will grow our reputation as a community and from that, opportunities will arise that we all can take together. I imagine tours, trips to NAMM, perhaps even a signature guitar! This will take years of hard work, learning, networking, creating and taking very few breaks in order to pay off and you know what? I may never see a penny for all of that. But it will be a hell of a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get started. 

I hope you all have enjoyed this brief look into my aspirations for our budding community. 

Peace, Love and Cowbells,

Oscar

Yammerer: The Beachgoer

The slow and impending doom of Yammerers latest track, The Beachgoer, is truly something to be in awe of. It’s as if Kyuss wrote a song for The Cures “Disintegration”. Wailing guitars, feedback, howling vocals and dissonance all used at a hauntingly slow pace, backed up of course by a powerful rhythm section. However, there are still some kinks to work out…

There are many influences at play here including stoner rock and goth, which is a combination I just adore. The intro is especially gothic with spoken word, bass and a droning stringed instrument which is most likely a guitar through a bucket load of effects though it is hard to place through all the sheer noise. The Beachgoer opens up into a pounding ambiance when the drums kick in, however it is a beat rather typical for the style, and I would perhaps like to see some improvement on that front. Still, they do their job and it certainly works well. The screeching guitars feedbacking all over the place is definitely powerful, and I must applaud the vocalist for bringing such emotion to the track. I did notice on a couple of occasions that his voice was struggling a bit to stay in key on the longer notes, mostly towards the start of the track.

I also have concerns when I comes to the production, less so the mix, you can hear everything and it is balanced well. My issue is with the tone of each instrument. With the exception of the vocals a lot of this track could be improved. The drum sound is rather boring and exactly what I would have expected from this genre. I want to be surprised. I would suggest they take a bit more of an influence from the gothic side of things when it comes to the drums, perhaps layer the snare with some midi electronic sounds to give it that extra punch. The bass too, just feels a bit uninspired. On a track like this the rhythm section is critical, and again while it does its job and is played well, the tone could be improved drastically with EQ and perhaps some re-amping. As for the guitars, we really could have done with a different texture. Adding in a clean guitar in certain sections would give the track the respite it sorely needs, we all love distortion, but it’s a bit too intense on the gain side and goes far too heavy for far too long.

You may be thinking from my numerous complaints that I am not a fan, while in fact nothing could be further from the truth, I wish more bands went in a slower, more experimental direction. They all play well and I have no doubt that this kicks ass live. This track has a lot of potential, with a better producer and some work on the dynamics this could be truly a masterpiece. Yammerer are so close to greatness on this one and I believe with time they will create something truly special. It’s a bit of tough love from someone like me that I hope pushes them to do just that.

While I very much like this track in concept, it is brooding, monstrous and ultimately I would recommend adding it to your playlists, there are a few issues I have with it when it comes to its execution. What Yammerer do next however, could blow your mind entirely.

Peace, Love and Cowbells,

Oscar

It’s Time To Do Nothing

A perfect blend of frantic guitar, a driving rhythm section and Chris Bailey’s crooning vocals are what make up the minimalist powerhouse that is Do Nothing. My Dad mentioned these guys to me a while back and I’ve become obsessed these last few weeks. While I’m certain most people in the underground punk scene have heard “LeBron James” or “Gangs” Do Nothing’s entire short but ever so sweet discography is worth listening to.

Musically Do Nothing take influence from many other post punk bands both old and new. I can see many influences from bands such as Ought and Radiohead. However, they clearly have a definitive sound. Sure, they may have strong basslines and a handsome vocalist, but what band doesn’t? It’s the little mutes, chucks and sparse notes from the guitar, such as those heard on “Handshakes.” This coupled with the expert use of cymbals from the drummer really bring out this soundscape.

By that, I do not mean that the bass and vocals should be overlooked. The bassline to “Gangs” is inspired and the bass tone on each track is brilliant, though that’s not difficult to achieve with a P bass. Each member of Do Nothing brings something to the table, expanding the musical palette, and they must be applauded for that. A lot of bands, especially young ones such as this, have a focus on one particular instrument. Yet despite their youth, Do Nothing have achieved balance, or harmony, if you’ll excuse the musical pun.

However, if I had to point out any one performer, it’d have to be the frontman. And while it is unique and very cool, no it is not for his vocal style. Bailey’s charisma as a frontman rivals a young Morrissey (though hopefully this one won’t turn into a racist) and this is all without leaving his mic stand, something unheard of from most acts. That signature mic grip has already become ingrained in my consciousness and makes me want to try it for my own live shows.

The fashion too should be mentioned. Sandstrom, Howarth and Harrison look like your typical rock band, but Bailey wears a suave tan suit and sunglasses, which coupled with his disorderly vocal style creates quite the impression.

Their latest track “Uber Alles” is quickly becoming a favourite, largely thanks to its hypnotic introduction. It is available now along with many other great tracks on your favourite streaming sites, and there is even a vinyl version, which I am definitely considering. Now all I need is for their merch to come back in stock! Now you’ve finished reading my inane ramble, check out Do Nothing! Link below.

Peace, Love and Cowbells,

Oscar

Do Nothing: https://open.spotify.com/artist/73N7cGNNww6Uod1d3IiBKP?si=LdiY4veuSHigdeaa5UuyMA

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https://www.facebook.com/NeedsMoreCowbellMusicUK

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https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZyB5U6xFByIO_vHFgxoEKg

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Classic Review: Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”

Fleetwood Mac released their critically acclaimed album “Rumours” In 1977, with the newly recruited guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and his at the time girlfriend Stevie Nicks for vocal duty bringing in fresh sounds to a band that sorely needed it, Fleetwood Mac’s popularity had been dwindling in the years prior despite their previous fame and “Rumours” success skyrocketed them into rock superstardom. I guarantee that everyone in the western world will recognise that iconic bassline from “The Chain” but in order not to be obvious, today I would like to instead discuss a personal favourite: “Go Your Own Way.”

Go Your Own Way lyrically is one of the few downsides to this track, while the vocals do carry a decent impact with Buckingham/Nicks powerful harmonies, the lyrics are nothing special, as you would expect from a love song, lines such as “baby I’d give you my world” are painfully boring. The structure too is a simple AAB pattern, with an extra chorus and solo section following the second B section.

So, what makes this song so special? For me the instrumentation plays a huge role here, especially the guitar work. A beautiful 12 string acoustic provides a much-needed pop element, and yet the fast-paced rhythm section and bluesy lead guitar really create a rocking atmosphere.

The production is a far cry better than tracks heard just a few years earlier, and it’s clear technology is moving ever closer to the sonic boom that is the 1980’s. You can clearly hear each instrument, even the subtle percussive elements thanks to some creative panning. I definitely want to praise Buckingham’s guitar tone, apparently many Hiwatt amps were blown out in pursuit of the sound thanks to a certain Alembic Stratocaster pre-amp, while we mourn those amplifiers, the tone they got was certainly spectacular.

Historically Fleetwood Mac are very interesting and, shall we say, destructive. The band was still active following Rumours, releasing more records and being a very popular rock act throughout the 1980’s and even today. They have sold over 120 million records worldwide, have a place in the rock and roll hall of fame and with all that fame and money bring with it a certain lifestyle. Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll is a phrase exemplified by Fleetwood mac. With the bands polygamy with each other and raging narcotics addictions being infamous rock drama. If you look back at some of their performances from the early 80’s especially, you can feel the cocaine emanating off them. Buckingham and Nicks relationship had fallen apart rather dramatically, the other members left and re-joined many times over the years, with the most recent firing of Lindsey Buckingham in 2018. Fleetwood Mac have certainly led a full life, that’s for sure.

In summary, Fleetwood Mac are a legendary band with a huge repertoire of classic tracks, Go Your Own Way is my personal favourite, and I am clearly not alone in that, the song has garnered over 479 million streams just on Spotify alone!

Peace, Love and Cowbells,

Oscar Quick

Is Joy Division Worth Listening To In 2020? Yes.

If I, at 16 had been told in a just a few years’ time I would have a girlfriend that bought me Joy Division records, I would not have believed a word. Yet here I am, with two Joy Division records as a Christmas present from a beautiful woman, a host of other gifts and cards from friends and family and well on my way to getting a degree in music. To my young self I say “there is a light at the end of this tunnel, the next few years will be the hardest of your life, but through perseverance, hard work and a love of music, you will get through it. Rock and roll is your ally, follow its teachings and most importantly, be nicer to your mum.”

Now that my nostalgia and of course my dramatic flair has been appeased, I’ve got a Joy Division record to review! I know it has been a while, but I’m back in action with a new series of “classic” reviews! And where better to start than Joy Division’s Closer…

Joy Division are one of those bands that have achieved every rockstars dream. To be so famous that the average person haven’t heard them, but they do recognise the t-shirt. Unknown Pleasures, the bands previous record is one of the greatest debut albums of all time, thanks to excellent songwriting, unique style and the expert production of Martin Hannett. So many amazing bands came from Factory Records, Joy Divisions independent label, but Unknown Pleasures is their flagship record, their magnum opus. So how do you follow it up? How do you recreate that magic? I cannot even fathom the pressure they must have been under. But you know something? They did it. Closer is a masterpiece. My favourite tracks have to be Isolation and Heart and Soul. I know everyone bangs on about Colony but for me these tracks beat it pretty easily. Isolation is extremely catchy with Peter Hooks bassline hooking you in (see what I did there? eh? Okay I’ll stop now) and the introduction to Heart and Soul just gets my blood pumping! Martin Hannett is once again producing and honestly if it wasn’t for his style of production I don’t think anyone would know the name Joy Division, let alone recognise any t-shirts!

To sum up you can certainly tell the difference from Unknown Pleasures. Closer is noticeably more synth driven, and you can see the bridge between Joy Division’s punk roots and what would eventually become New Order following the death of Ian Curtis. Speaking of Ian Curtis. A legendary figure in post punk. Iconic voice and infamous dance moves. I love his music, and while his suicide and struggle with depression and epilepsy is a very sad story. Things I have heard (though sources are questionable) about the way he behaved, particularly towards his wife make me question the scenes idolisation of the man. Still, as one of my hero’s Henry Rollins once said “when they finally write the true book of rock and roll, when all the dust settles, at the top of the mountain, alongside the David Bowie’s and the Rolling Stones, there will be Joy Division.”

Peace, Love and Cowbells,


Oscar

Jem Woolley: Skyscrapers

Nottingham artist Jem Woolley is a busy musician with his solo work and he plays with Mighty Lightweights and Edward Stackpoole but this lockdown release is a belter that deserves your time. Skyscrapers reminds me of the best in 70’s experimental synth electronica and has a great ‘play and record once only’ feel to it. Jem informed me that he made this album by mainly using his iPad and downloading lots of free synth apps and basic laptop recording software which only helps to give it a real homemade vibe.  He confesses to recently listening to lots of stuff like Tangerine Dream, Steve Reich and Terry Riley since his lockdown in March Listen to tracks Night Light, Ghosts and Endurance on the album if you’re into the Brian Eno feel and know that lockdown just got a little better.

 Peace, Love and Cowbells

Bassey