Deep Purple – Whoosh!
Deep Purple arguably haven’t been canonised within rock history as much as they should. They’ve unquestionably got the longevity and legacy – they’re well past their 60th birthday at this point and literally everyone who knows what a guitar is knows Smoke On The Water – but their inclusion in the Unholy Trinity has always felt conducive to Anthrax’s in thrash’s Big Four. Both Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin have become swallowed by their own godlike legacies for decades now, where Deep Purple seem to be content with chugging along and releasing new music without resorting to bleeding their legend dry at every turn. That’s why they’re up to their twenty-first album with Whoosh!, and though 1972’s Machine Head remains their classic album that they’re never going to eclipse, the fact that a band this long in the tooth can deliver anything close to quality even now is borderline miraculous. As such, any evaluation of Whoosh! does fall on a slightly amended scale, if only to accommodate for a band who are well past their prime but, even as recently as 2017 with Infinite, are still willing to give it a good go regardless. And yet, if there’s an album that strives to negate so much of that good will, it would be Whoosh!, as Deep Purple seem to have fully and unequivocally embraced the made-for-oldies state of their career that their advanced age would welcome. It’s not exactly the worst of this sort of thing either; the tawdry pub-rock of What The What notwithstanding, the boldness and high profile of Don Airey’s synths err towards an ancient prog aesthetic which, when allowed to get a bit more gothic and regal on Step By Step or paired with Roger Glover’s firmer bass work on The Power Of The Moon and Dancing In My Sleep, actually sounds rather good on the whole. Furthermore, Ian Gillan still has a commanding voice that definitely does the job, and even a lyrical turn towards more conscious material and pseudo-conceptual tracks on Man Alive (again, rendering What For What as almost unbelievably redundant) makes for a bit more creativity than average. That’s not to oversell this by any means, as even within Deep Purple’s own catalogue, Whoosh! is far from an original prospect, and a clear succumbing to age means it can be a lot more middle-of-the-road than it otherwise might have been from a younger band.
And while it mightn’t seem fair to compare material now to what the band were doing half a century ago, that doesn’t have to be an excuse; Judas Priest have roughly the same timeframe as Deep Purple and their album Firepower just a couple of years ago was their best in decades. But as is made evident by Whoosh!, Deep Purple haven’t aged nearly as gracefully, and they’ve instead leaned into a more mid-paced, Radio 2-ready sound that might be akin to someone like Rod Stewart more than the peers they originally found themselves among. A track like Drop The Weapon even sounds like a Rod Stewart song almost entirely, though most of the album isn’t too far behind, with the grainier soft-rock production style that’s having hard rock filtered through it in a way sounds unavoidably old. That’s perhaps where Deep Purple stumble the most as well; there’s not even any youthful intention that permeates through these songs, and that can lead to an inescapably bland and forgettable listen when it’s so devoid of drive. It’s arguably not horrible seeing as Deep Purple have more of an inherent ambition than some of their contemporaries might, but they’re really testing the limits of what they can get away with here, especially in the sound. It’s difficult to say whether or not long-term fans would even be onboard with this one, but the chances are that, after just a couple of listens, and like the astronaut getting Thanos’d on the artwork, Whoosh! will disappear without a trace. • LN
For fans of: Thin Lizzy, Blue Öyster Cult, Rainbow
‘Whoosh!’ by Deep Purple is out now on earMUSIC.
Jamie Webster – We Get By
Jamie Webster got his big break through writing about Liverpool Football Club and getting invited to perform at the team’s BOSS club nights in 2012 and 2013, and if that’s the sort of rise that feels like it has undeniable echoes of the everyman facade of Gerry Cinnamon, no one would blame a cynical reaction. In all fairness, Webster’s journey towards his big break hasn’t felt quite as dictated by the industry powers that be as Cinnamon’s, but when the majority of his buzz circles around his activity within the LFC community rather than any sort of musical output, that does give the impression of a good-will gesture over anything else. It’s not like Webster is much of a musical powerhouse in his own right either, with his work so far slotting perfectly into the vein of acoustic singer-songwriter resting perfectly comfortably in the shadows of Dylan and both Gallaghers, and reliant on some sliver of personality to act as the differentiating factor. As such, a titling this debut We Get By is quite telling, especially since Webster has already been pegged as the down-to-earth man of the people that such a title connotes, a persona that’s very rarely conducive with interesting music from the singer-songwriter crowd. And lo and behold, that’s an almost perfect summation of what this album is, and it’s not like Webster is doing that much to advance beyond that either. His regionality is worn on his sleeve with his native Scouse accent to only further how ‘relatable’ he is, something that only feels compounded even more by writing that hits all the broad beats these albums usually do with some very slight tailoring to hit his existing audience more deeply. The obvious example is This Place, his love letter to Liverpool that, apart from some scant details, could apply to literally any city in the world, while Common People and the title track have the angle of working-class appreciation and camaraderie that’s almost customary for singer-songwriters like this to extol. This is all very cut-and-dry stuff, and apart from some admittedly evocative lyrical angles earlier on, it doesn’t do a whole lot to establish who Webster is as an artist, something that doesn’t help when his more politically-driven material isn’t all that incisive. Apart from Out On The Street’s tackling of homelessness which makes for probably the best song here, the general point is a need for change that isn’t expanded on by a great degree, and once again, it’s indicative of an artist prioritising his own populism over real drive or power. There’s no doubt passion behind these songs, but it could hit so much harder if Webster actually doubled down on detail in his writing that he’s perfectly capable of bringing.
Even so though, We Get By is so firmly entrenched in the past-worshipping singer-songwriter mould that it’s uncertain if that would make a difference, as Webster once again seems to bring nothing to that table that could discernibly be described as his own. The folkier rollicks he’s liable to dip into certainly can have an infectiousness, but it’s still always the basic setup of acoustic guitar and light drums with maybe some bass in a way that has next to no malleability to it. That’s, of course, the point, and the ability to frame that setup as both intimate and capable of sparking huge crowd reactions feels entirely conducive with what Webster – and, indeed, every artist in his lane – is looking to achieve here, but that just makes the whole seem all the more passé. Once again, Webster is displaying no individuality, and trying to fall into the mould of a self-made troubadour isn’t new or appealing when there’s so many other artists doing the exact same thing. There’s nothing at all about this album that’s special, and that can make it fall away before it’s even had chance to land, more often than not. It’s got the feeling of a local artist being bigged up to a degree that reaching a national stage is unavoidable, even though he’s nowhere near adequately prepared to meet the demands that would come with that. As a result, it’s tempting to slot Webster in with the ever-growing crowd of faceless indie-folk singer-songwriters and be done with it, but he’s not even ready for that; there are flashes of potential that haven’t nearly been expanded upon to hit the watermark of quality that’s needed, and that leaves We Get By feeling extremely hollow and almost universally anonymous. • LN
For fans of: Gerry Cinnamon, Liam Gallagher, Jake Bugg
‘We Get By’ by Jamie Webster is released on 21st August on Modern Sky.
Lord Of The Lost – Swan Songs III
The Swan Songs project from the dark metallers has seen their music explode with huge success by exploring the orchestral aspects of their music. This album is the latest of their releases to celebrate the fusing of beautiful orchestral instrumentation with haunting vocals and gothic elements. The orchestration has been executed wonderfully – the balance of strings, woodwind and lead piano melodies creates a haunting effect in each track across the album. Acoustic guitars intertwine nicely with the piano melodies; it gives a strong texture and fills out the sound. This is heard distinctively in the opening track A Splintered Mind. Sections of organ melodies or held chords, such as in Agape, introduces the band’s distinctive Gothic mood. The vocals are also an essential part of Lord Of The Lost’s sound. Chris Harms’ low sultry vocals sound as though Dracula himself is singing. The contrast of the high-pitched strings and his vocals is very dynamic. With his vocals filling out the lower tones of the music, the instrumentation doesn’t feel like its competing with the main lyrical melody, but rather is compliments it. Dying On The Moon features vocals from Joy Frost. The texture of her voice combines smoothly with Chris but enhances the overall sound of the track.
The tracks on this album all have unique elements. The single One Ton Heart gives the album a powerful ballad. It’s an emotive track which also has a catchy chorus; the lyrics and simple and effective. Hurt Again introduces some theatrics with the sound effect of a clock ticking in the introduction. It complements the mood of the track and immerses the listener into a Gothic fairy-tale. You can just imagine an elaborate clock on Victorian mantlepiece in a candle lit room. The 70+ choir Heaven Can Wait, featuring on We Were Young, challenges the notion that music is for the young. The tones and textures of the choir deliver an ethereal sound that takes the track to another level. The second disc included in this release sees some of the bands popular tracks transformed into the style of their Swan Songs productions. One of them being Morgana from their sixth studio album Thornstar. This rework gives the track a dynamic sound, with a softer more ethereal soundscape from the orchestration. Lord Of The Lost have produced an incredible album that explores the orchestral and Gothic side of their sound. The emotion that comes through the music is intense throughout each track, and this isn’t just achieved through the vocals. The orchestration has been aptly composed for each song. • HR
For fans of: Nightwish, Dommin, Blackbriar
‘Swan Songs III’ by Lord Of The Lost is out now on Napalm Records.
Other Half – Big Twenty
Like a lot of bands in the indomitable Venn Records library, Other Half find themselves defined by two primary features – volume, and an unbridled DIY spirit. That’s rather easy to glean from their affiliations with other underground stalwarts like Ducking Punches and Maths, encompassed in a sound pulling from older, more discordant post-hardcore with various shades of noise-rock and post-punk. It’s definitely targeting the same headspace leaning towards bands like Fugazi and Hot Snakes, and it’s the shamelessness of that that makes Big Twenty such a good listen. For one, it’s the clear mirror to the audience that holds that appeal in place, taking the form of semi-autobiographical musings of recurring characters passing the freedom of youth and subsequently being broken down and wallowing in their own nihilism by the same society that would also shame them for not falling into rigid boundaries. That runs across a huge gamut of topics, from feigning ignorance to social causes if it doesn’t further some greater imposed plan on Trance State to an almost perverse sense of depravity on Tiny Head that comes as a result of what was once such a key part of the narrator’s identity. There’s such a deliberate grottiness and unpleasantness to it all, but Other Half know how make the most of it and retrieve a truly compelling narrative from it. Its protagonists have good intentions at heart, but have become almost unrecognisable by the world around them, and it’s that attention to detail and distinction (not to mention a killer knack for lyricism and imagery) that give Other Half the edge right off the bat.
It’s all good sonically too, and the balance of sounds that Other Half maintain always feels clearly defined even with how ragged and scorched it can sometimes be. There’s barely a hint of polish here, but that gives Cal Hudson exactly what he needs for a shredded, imperfect vocal delivery and guitars that factor in both a punky, raucous bite with the quaking tones of modern post-punk. Exacerbated by Sophie Porter’s bass, that’s what keeps Big Twenty held remarkably steady; it never gets lost in how volatile it can be, and while a track like Sticks At The Side lands a bit deeper into lo-fi territory than some others, every track here feels fully-formed without having to resort to cutting itself back as another blast of noise. To be fair, a couple of cutbacks wouldn’t be out of the question – it’d probably be a better album a just ten tracks instead of fourteen – but there’s a quick enough pace and sense of intensity that it’s never an overly-implacable obstacle to get over. Honestly, it’s just not really an album that requires much sonic evaluation beyond nitpicks like that, as Other Half have entrenched themselves into a couple of pretty notable sounds and pull it all off well. At the same time though, there’s a good amount of depth and wryness that’s always cool to dive into, and it’s definitely the sort of album that rewards repeat listens and attention given to it. It’s really good stuff overall, the sort of thing that’s locked to the underground but has the style and verve to where that’s undoubtedly more of a feature than a flaw. • LN
For fans of: Fugazi, METZ, Meat Wave
‘Big Twenty’ by Other Half is released on 21st August on Venn Records.
Era Bleak – Era Bleak
A punk band called Era Bleak releasing a self-titled album with an eponymous opening track in 2020 might seem a bit like a round peg going in a round hole. It’s roughly about as obvious as condensing the general attitude towards modern life goes, and when said album just about crosses the twenty-minute mark and finds itself heavily indebted in style to the genre’s genesis, it’s hard to think of a purer example of the punk mindset in recent memory than this. That isn’t without its limitations though, and when Era Bleak’s output is as straight-shooting as it is, it makes them a lot easier to pluck out. It’s primarily in the broadness can feel rather stock at times, particularly in the parts of modern life that the band are trying to single out in any particular moment; both the title track and Struggle default to a standard summation of how hard life is, but even zooming further into that, takedowns of the sensory overload of everything in modern society on Option and global warming on Burning Sky aren’t exactly swinging for the fences (even if there’s some okay imagery in the latter). It’s just difficult to work out where Era Bleak’s niche is because of that, even if they are a bit more inclined towards earlier punk than many (it’s why vocalist Candy not being the greatest singer in the world isn’t an issue), and as such, this album can struggle to stand out a bit without that necessary individuality in the writing. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s kind of middle-of-the-road in its intentions, and not as pointed as it perhaps could be.
Granted, that makes it sound like Era Bleak are boring or uninteresting, which really isn’t the case. On a compositional basis alone, keeping these songs as short and tight as possible already does keeps them a bit more potent and concentrated, and the inclusion of motorik post-punk basslines and a colder, more severe production style is pretty sharp as Era Bleak’s most defiant individual characteristic. That more industrial steeliness is most prominent on Struggle in its overall tautness and cyclical, grinding nature, but tracks like Mind Control Tower and Robot keep the bass nice and prominent with all the spikes and jagged edges allowed to protrude through with excellent regularity. There’s definitely a bit of one-noteness to it all, but again, a short, sharp album like this mitigates a lot of the damage that can do, and instead draws more attention to how well the post-punk grit works within a ragged old-school punk template. It’s not necessarily revolutionary, particularly when Era Bleak hammer it in for pretty much the duration of this album, but it’s good to see they’ve got at least one cool trick to keep themselves afloat upon. That’s where the majority of Era Bleak’s success here hinges, given that the writing doesn’t hit the distances that it should, and serves as a means of picking up most of the slack for a decently enjoyable listen, albeit one that could be better. Honing that lyrical muscle to the same degree as the music will see Era Bleak find a lot more success; right now, the disconnect is a bit more obvious than it could or should be. • LN
For fans of: Adolescents, Gang Of Four, The Germs
‘Era Bleak’ by Era Bleak is released on 14th August on Dirt Cult Records.
Poisonous Birds – We Can Never Not Be All Of Us
Poisonous Birds represent an interesting case of just how far post-rock’s creative broadness stems. Heady atmosphere is still their prime objective, but with no guitars and an approach that’s deeply rooted in sampling and layering vast numbers of tracks over each other to create musical collages above anything else, it’s no surprise they’ve found their greatest comparison point to be Radiohead, compounded further by their own IDM and ambient influences. It’s not a bad listen either, but just like with Radiohead, it can be difficult to isolate where the overall appeal lies beyond appreciation of how far Poisonous Birds are going. We Can Never Not Be All Of Us isn’t an EP bound by a great amount of structure, and that does mean it fades more quickly than would be preferable. It’s honestly the sort of thing that would go down much better in a live setting, given that Poisonous Birds are more reliant on fostering an engulfing sound above anything else. The main positive that holds them together is that they aren’t going out of their way to oblique or impenetrably avant-garde, and instead there’s a nice consistent shuffle to Mood Stabiliser and a dense, thick soundscape comprising True Colour that gives them some grounding amongst everything else.
Honestly though, it’s a tough thing to evaluate, especially since Poisonous Birds’ form of creativity feels much more off-the-cuff in how it evolves at its own pace. It means the frigid production has more of a fidgety sense of progression that can find it difficult to stick, and moments like the heavier, almost tribal percussion on We Move, Plastic or some more organic bass notes on Warm Jets don’t really stick around for long. Even vocalist Tom Ridley finds himself contributing more to the instrumental landscape than anything, with a thin, willowy register and generally esoteric lyrics that, like everything else here, are driven more by emotive sway than anything concrete. That does give Poisonous Birds a platform to do some really interesting things, but it also leaved the recorded format as somewhat limiting for them. The band have said they’re more inspired by performance and visual art pieces than music, and that definitely shows in how they tap into a movement of sounds that might even be above the post-rock they find themselves locked to. As such, it’s easiest to settle on the notion that Poisonous Birds are a lot better than the traditional recorded format might suggest; in that regard, We Can Never Not Be All Of Us is a solid listen for some more off-kilter post-rock and electronica, but it’s not the best light in which this act can be shown in. When that time comes, it’ll likely be much more obvious how much they have to offer. • LN
For fans of: Radiohead, Battles, 65daysofstatic
‘We Can Never Not Be All Of Us’ by Poisonous Birds is released on 14th August.
Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Holly Royle (HR)