The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'Ronan Lawlor'

23

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse 'Dark Night Of The Soul'

Danger mouseReview Snapshot: Artists fall out with record label, release album for free online as a parting shot. Nope I’m not talking about Machina II by the Smashing Pumpkins, but Dark Night of the Soul by Danger Mouse and friends. DNOTS does dabble, however, in similarly dark realms. Shiny summer pop this isn’t, store it up for the winter. It's late night introverted pop and it's a curious aside in the Danger Mouse canon.

The Cluas Verdict? 6.9 out of 10

Full Review: As if parting ways with Paul McCartney and Radiohead wasn't enough kudos-shattering for one decade, EMI now finds itself embroiled in a right kerfuffle with the enduringly zeitgesity producer-cum-cash cow Danger Mouse. His über collaboration-compilation with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse - featuring such luminaries as Frank Black, Iggy Pop, Julian Casablancas, Gruff Rhys, and Nina Persson (The Cardigans) - has been streaming online on NPR for the past few weeks , originally in anticipation of a physical release through EMI. However, following disagreement with EMI over release logistics, Mouse et al have opted for the pragmatic route. With David Lynch contributing a vast collection of photography described as a "visual narrative" to the music, the album's completion was marked by a limited release of an artbook of these photographs along with "a blank CD-R as an artefact to use however you see fit".

It might not be available on an official CD release, or via a legitimate download, but this is not something that would stop CLUAS from reviewing it. That nice NPR stream of the album came in handy... 

So, how does it rate?

Well, Gnarls Barkley it isn't. Nor would you expect Danger Mouse not to diversify with every new project he embarks on. Given the time of year this album has reached Cluas Towers, you might expect Danger Mouse to have one eye on shiny summer pop-ulism. Not the case. Its a remarkably dark album, perhaps best stored up for those dull introverted winter nights.

Album opener 'Revenge' finds a pensive Flaming Lips churning out what can loosely be described as a sombre retake of 'Fight Test' in that it features the same Wayne Coyne confidence-inducing brand of lyrics but in a far more stifled and moody fashion. Although slow-paced a lá Beck's cover of "I Need Your Lovin (Like The Sunshine)" it does reach an intense drum-laden crescendo, the kind that leaves you wishing that this was a full-length Flaming Lips album in its own right so they could continue exploring this newfound dark sound.

The renaissance of Gruff Rhys finds a new chapter on 'Just War' - it starts out as a swampy slide guitar effort but quickly sidesteps into electricified layers. Although oozing in complexities, its actually quite a simple tongue-in-cheek anti-war song.

Another highlight includes Frank Black's appearance on 'Angel's Harp' - it has all you would want from Black - the thrashy guitars, the iconic wail, its fantastic. Although sounding quite fresh and new, its possibly the most Pixie-esque track he's written since that band stopped recording together.

Apparently all the vocalists on this album were sent instrumental tracks and simply asked to record over them with whatever vocals they wanted and its pretty evident on Iggy Pop's effort 'Pain'. By no means Iggy Pop's worst ever project - see his Sum 41 collaboration - it does come across as a self-indulgent imitation of Ian Curtis. Even though there mightn't have been a Joy Division without the Iggy influence, this song just isn't good.

The rest of the album is very filler-ed - albeit with some bright spots from Nina Persson and Julian Casablancas - but on the whole DNOTS keeps Danger Mouse up there on the producer wishlists across the popular music landscape. Surely Michael Jackson will be on the phone to recruit him for that comeback album any day now...

Ronan Lawlor


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22

Mogwai

Mogwai (live in The Academy, Dublin)

Review Snapshot: A long overdue Dublin gig by the purveyors of post-rock brings The Academy to never-before reached sonic levels on the opening night of a 3-day residency at the Dublin venue. The Hawk is Howling might disappoint in its recorded format, but it was the focal point around which this gig rocked.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
The term "post-rock" has attached to it Celtic Tiger levels of stigma - who coined the phrase, who invented it, who pioneered it, who defines it? From Slint to Explosions In The Sky, there have been many life-altering post-rock moments but for me post-rock was born upon hearing Mogwai's 'Like Herod' at Witnness 2003. Its raucous and tense "bridge-chorus" section completely outshone the quiet-then-loud formula of bands I worshipped like The Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. As much as Mogwai might dislike being pigeonholed by an umbrella term, their live show does put them head and shoulders above whatever people may consider their contemporaries in the spectrum of instrumental rock.

Although never quite reaching their characteristic earplug-essential levels of loudness in this intimate club gig, the set-closing rock-out of 'Like Herod' and 'Batcat' - along with an intense feed of strobe lighting - was awesome. Leaving the stage before 10pm, there was a palpable sense of anti-climax amongst the crowd. They needn't have worried. Returning with an encore consisting solely of the 20 minute-plus epic 'My Father My King', it was the closest thing to metaphysical I had encountered since being told to use the term on the Yeats' question in the Leaving Cert. Centred around one brief arabic-esque melody, the track is somehow kept alive with intricate riff variations and in particular the crunching guitar of Stuart Braithwaite. This is all sounds very Spinal Tap - especially since the volume was turned up to eleven - but it works. Well worth checking out the Steve Albini-produced EP that brought this track to life.

'Scotland's Shame' aside, this reviewer was not overjoyed with Mogwai's latest offering The Hawk Is Howling. However the layered crescendo of 'I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead' and Barry Burns' eerie keyboard tinkering on 'Thank You Space Experts' did give the album a new breath of life in its live format. Burns himself induced the biggest headf**k of the evening with some indistinguishable-yet-haunting vocoder acappella at the end of 'Hunted By A Freak'. I'm going to park this review now, Mogwai's is not a medium to which words can do justice. In a dream world, these guys would be filling stadiums in their own right but until then lets hope they play the Electric Picnic.

Ronan Lawlor


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03

 Franz Ferdinand (live in Dolan's Warehouse, Limerick)

Franz Ferdinand

Review Snapshot: 400 lucky ducks witness Franz Ferdinand 'warm up' for their '09 tour with considerable aplomb. Watch out Europe.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
The anticipation amongst the lucky 400 in Dolan’s Warehouse ahead of this ‘warm-up’ gig was that the Glaswegian art-rockers would use this chance to rehearse material from their new Tonight album with one eye on their upcoming European tour. Not so. They played what seemed like every memorable moment from their already-classic debut album, kicking off the setlist with a stomping rendition of ‘Come On Home’. Alex Kapranos made sure he reminded the crowd where they were with frequent ‘Thank you Limerick’s between songs, but whether he was aware the Terry Wogan namedropped in ‘Dark of the Matinee’ is himself a Limerickman was unclear. However a spontaneous crowdsurf at the end of the gig did ensure Kapranos left Shannonside with an intimate knowledge of the city Wogan left behind!

Kapranos’ authentic vocal talent was a constant but what also impressed was his frenetic double-jobbing as lead guitarist, especially during ‘Do You Want To’. A banging ‘Take Me Out’ was played surprisingly early in the set, followed by a string of new songs (DISCLAIMER: I haven’t heard the new album yet. For shame.) Recent single Ulysses was warmly received by the crowd - a welcome endorsement for FF in these days of Kings Of Leon daytime-radio overkill. The encore comprised a subtle-then-manic delivery of their best-ever song Jacqueline, a surprisingly tasteful 4-man assault on the drumkit at the end of another newbie, and regular curtain-closer ‘Burn This City’.

Lasting Impact: The bulk of the tiny crowd remained subdued throughout – even for Take Me Out – which annoyed this reviewer given the rarity of gigs like this and the energy FF put in to their performance. In fairness, it was stadium-rock in a room the size of a small community hall - what more reason do you need to rock out? As for Franz themselves, here was a band that cared more about playing their favourite songs rather than pushing their new record, and the enjoyment of such was clear to see on their faces at the end of the gig. Having seen them play in Lansdowne Road 4 years ago, its great to think they still give me the same buzz. It was a privilege to be there. Keep the big guns coming, Dolans.

Ronan Lawlor


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13

Neon Neon (live in Tripod, Dublin)

Review Snapshot: Side-projects are so hot right now, but these guys are just cool. Neon Neon is a conglomerate of decidedly super-ferrite animals, and they transported the Tripod crowd through an audio-visual interpretation of John DeLorean’s life with the same frenzy in which he lived it. DeLorean’s car was the pièce de résistance in Back To The Future trilogy, and over 20 years on Neon Neon are still making the DeLorean past seem like the future.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Neon Neon

Full Review:

I think the term juxtaposition applies here: Neon Neon is a collaborative project from producer Boom Bip and Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys - amongst others - entirely devoted to Detroit-born engineer and entrepreneur John DeLorean and the “dream” car he produced near Belfast primarily for the American market. Hmmm....

Whilst The Good, The Bad and The Queen had their Dickensian, urbane merits, Neon Neon’s Stainless Style album stands out as the most energetic and ambitious side-project this side of John DeLorean’s alleged affair with Raquel Welch.  Indeed, NN’s early stomper ‘Raquel’ (on said liasion) is accompanied by a cinematic montage of Welch’s voluptuous career. Phwoar. This, along with in-house DeLorean footage, air drums, moog synths, casio guitars and applause placards ensured Neon Neon’s Tripod performance was a surreal homage to the slick lifestyle of the first playboy engineer. I’ve seen the term ‘retro-futuristic’ attached to Crystal Castles of late, but its far more appropriate when faced with soundtracked Bond-like visuals of DeLorean sports cars speeding around mountainside backdrops. You simply forget all subsequent technological advances and want to be an affluent cigar-smoking businessman in the early Eighties with a copious disposable income.

One man who knows how to live that lifestyle – as least in his typecast 1980s roles – is Michael Douglas, who haunts his namesake song in one of the most memorable moments in NN’s live show: the chorus’ tagline “I see my reflection... in Michael Douglas’ famous sunglasses” in tandem with the image of Warhol–esque portraits of MD on the big screen and Gruff Rhys on his knees playing air drums! As if that wasn’t enough of a headfuck, the sight of Obama-loving wigger Har Mar Superstar rapping whilst standing on his head during ‘Trick for Treat’ left the indie kids in the crowd faced with a completely different type of animal to the Golden Retrievers normally associated with Gruff Rhys’ live repertoire

Musically, NN did aural justice to their album. ‘I Told Her on Alderaan’ stood out – imagine a synth-laden version ‘Jessie’s Girl’ and you’re not far off. ‘Belfast’ is a beautiful organ-drowned track, and seeing it accompanied with footage from the Troubles sparked the thought that the song will probably be used in a Prime Time report if Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness don’t make friends soon.  ‘Steel Your Girl’ was the perfect wind-down song late on in the set, with a backdrop of early-morning, high-speed DeLorean-dashing round an autobahn whilst the chorus sang “goodbye for the final time”.

You could say Neon Neon rocked, but it’d be more accurate to say they oozed. On average, a painted DeLorean sports car is worth up to 20-30% less than an unpainted, stainless equivalent. Likewise messrs Rhys, Boom Bip et al won’t be adding another layer to the Neon Neon project, so those who catch them live before they soon disband really will have seen a stainless and stylish concept at its peak.

Ronan Lawlor

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24

A review of the 2008 Open'er festival (Gdansk)

Snapshot:

  • What? Open'er Music Festival, Babie Doly Airfield, Gdynia, Poland.
  • Who? Chemical Brothers, Jay Z, Goldfrapp, Sex Pistols, Massive Attack, and some cool Polish bands!
  • Why? the cost was cheap but the lineup wasn’t.

Full Review:
Opener Rock Festival 2008 Gdansk PolandIn recent years foreign music festivals have become an alternative for the Irish music-lover unable to cough up €200+ for a ticket to EP or Oxegen. Roskilde, Benicassim, and Rock Werchter are always guaranteed to attract the big names en-route to Ireland, and then some. Aside from these majors, there is an underbelly of emerging festivals on the continent, one of which is Poland`s Heineken-endorsed Open'er festival, sprawled on a disused air-field outside the city of Gdansk on Poland's Baltic coastline - easy to get to via Ryanair & shuttle buses. Although the 5-year old festival has expanded at rapid speed by all accounts - boasting diverse recent headliners such as Beastie Boys, Bjork, Sigur Ros and The White Stripes - the price has not. €83 was the cost of a 3-day (with camping) ticket, topped off with access to a fully-stocked-with-fresh-food 24-hour shop on the campsite as well as an on-site offy (downside: it only sold Heineken, as did the bars inside the festival). Add to this relentless sunshine in the high-twenties and we're ready for the music.
 
Highlight of the weekend were the Chemical Brothers. They brought down the curtain on Sunday night with an exerting set (more details below) that caused even the surprisingly reserved Polish crowd to engage in hysterics. Earlier that evening Alison Goldfrapp pleaded with the 25,000+ present to get moving. Even a boisterous triple-play of Ooh La La, Train and Strict Machine - coupled with the sight of multi-instrumentalist Will Gregory clad in Steve Irwin gear - couldn´t stir the crowd to dance en masse. This lack of energy from what was a large crowd was apparent all weekend. Maybe I'm overlooking a concerted effort by the Polish audience to appreciate the music on display. Or maybe I've been exposed to remnants of the Féile-induced "let's damage our bodies in every way possible" Irish prototype for far too long.
 
The antithesis of this self-destructive approach was evident during Massive Attack's set on Sunday night.  Performing to a main stage crowd of over 40,000 - the majority of whom were sprawled on the grass taking in the music - it was an amazing sight to behold, a chilled out gig on such on a mass scale. Almost a decade on from the heights reached in the 90s, the Bristol trip-hoppers still deliver a stirring live show, with their touring guest vocalists giving tracks Angel, Teardrop and Unfinished Sympathy the stamp of authenticity that the crowd wanted.
 
The big-chill of Massive Attack's set was the perfect ease-in to the Chemical Brothers-enduced madness that was next on the menu. Taking to the stage following a medley of Kraftwerk tracks and a looped narration of the line "Open your mind, relax, and float downstream" from The Beatles 'In The Beginning' you just knew the most culturally in-tune act on the bill was about to rightly grasp the 1am Sunday headline slot. Hallucinations-on-demand followed as high-res visuals of FREAKY clowns/robots/kaleidoscopes provided the backdrop to the Chemical Brothers 2-hour assault of re-interpreted yet instantly familiar classics (esp. Believe), proving once again that the Chemical Brothers are the night.
 
Where the diligence and attention to detail of the Chemical Brothers set left a lasting impression, Jay Z's lack of the same did likewise. Still on a high from his much hyped success at Glastonbury the week previously, Carter hastily re-enacted live fave 99 Problems (with AC/DC 'Back In Black' guitar reference) early on but quickly resigned to carefree rapping in the company of spinmaster-of-choice Eight Track (he tours with Kanye West also). A cover of Amy Winehouse's 'Rehab' was cringeworthy (but fun) and a long way removed from the ghetto sensibilities of Jay Z's Bronx-savvy image, but he was clearly performing in a night-off-duty "let's have have a laugh" capacity. What harm.
 
Meanwhile, over on the Tent Stage, a mobbed marquee witnessed a subdued (by his standards) Johnny Rotten utter anti-establishment mumblings whilst fronting a musically sound original Sex Pistols lineup - then again the power chord punk that "revolutionized" rock music in the seventies was never going to be difficult to remaster.
 
Back to the Main Stage proceedings and without wanting to lessen the merits of Interpol & The Raconteurs, they just did not work in these environs. The Raconteurs probably went on to rock the Pet Sounds Tent at Oxegen (comments please..) whilst Interpol's main stage slot at Open'er was in broad daylight which certainly did not befit their tone.
 
Speaking of Oxegen success stories, positives may have been reported of Roisin Murphy's headline slot in the Pet Sounds Tent at same but she went above and beyond this secondary prestige at Open'er, headlining Friday night's Main Stage in a manner befitting the coolest female performer in the world right now. Her image and vibe are impossible to define but suffice to say she oozes sexual prowess on stage whilst still giving the crowd a big hug - she she spoke the lingo throughout and reminded the 40,000 present (in a noticeably Irish accent) how she's played more gigs in Poland than she has in Ireland. Her dance troop, outfit changes and ever-present and distinct voice wrapped up day one perfectly and standout tracks were obviously the hits 'You Know Me Better', 'Moviestar', amongst other upbeat offerings from her acclaimed 'Overpowered' album. She must headline a main stage in Ireland soon.
 
Being a Polish music festival, it would have been either impossible or racist not to sample some Polish acts along the way. The band-names certainly impressed, especially Hungry Hungry Models and Pornohagen! Although Pornohagen were a cheap imitation of The Hives, there was other quality rock of Polish origin to find elsewhere. Tapping into the international language of post-rock, the Czech-shirted Polish-born 3-piece California Stories Uncovered had a nice instrumental-rocking-out-in-a-garage sound to them (albeit a pretty obvious yet incomplete rip-off of Mogwai). Krakow's Gasoline also delivered a more atmospheric instrumental-rock set, Eno-esque in parts and definitely worth checking out if you're looking to add to your go-to-sleep playlist. Hatifnats also impressed - this Warsaw 3-piece stuck to the good 'ol stadium rock - albeit in a marquee - but their sound is laden with New Order riffs coupled with a vocalist whose shouty vocals I can think remind only of Jane's Addiction’s Perry Farrell. 3 bands worth MySpaceing.
 
A major downside of the festival was the Heineken overkill - it was the only alcoholic drink available, no alternative of wine/smirnoff ice etc was on offer throughout the festival site (smuggled vodka only lasts for so long). However if lager is your cup of tea then Open'er 2008 was for you. The weather was hot, the campsite was mudless, the music was great - so after a weekend of extreme product placement I'd give the Open'er a highly recommended 4 Heineken cans out of 5!

Ronan Lawlor


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10

Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco (live in Tripod, Dublin)

Review Snapshot: On the tails of his hotly received second album 'The Cool', Chicago's Lupe Fiasco hits Dublin to energetically deliver a repertoire of songs that have seen Jay Z describe him as a "breath of fresh air".

The Cluas Verdict? 6.5 out of 10

Full Review:
“I'll tell you what you should do, Dumb it down” - that's a line belted out by Lupe Fiasco from his song 'Dumb it Down' during his visit to Dublin's Tripod on Saturday night. And he's a man of his word, with a no-fuss stage set up of him, a microphone and a DJ providing backing tracks. Given the extravagant stage shows endorsed by his contemporaries Kanye West and Pharrell Williams – with whom Fiasco founded supergroup Rebel Child Soldier – the stripped down stage presence was disappointing at first sight. Having previously witnessed Kanye West's mixture of groundbreaking content with an extravagant stage show, I had hoped Lupe would attempt something to make his music come across in a more 'live' way, rather than have a DJ rehash his backing tracks. But it worked. Fiasco's interaction with the DJ and acapello rapping gave the crowd the atmosphere of a club gig, whilst giving an insight into the raw environment in which all rappers must learn their trade.

Lupe has come a long way from his first visit to Ireland as part of Kanye West's world tour in 2005 – his hit single 'Superstar' has catapulted him to the top of the charts of late and it naturally got the best reception from the Dublin crowd. On a night of little speaking to the Dublin crowd, Fiasco did tell the crowd of his delight at hearing the song on the radio so often and (worringly) at it being used as a ringtone. But 'Superstar' isn't his first brush with regular airplay – his appearance on Kanye West's 'Touch the Sky' brought him to the attention of millions and he performed his rap from that hit in an intro medley that included an improv rap to the tune of Jay Z's 'Show Me What Ya Got'. The set ended with his mixtape fave ‘Happy Industries’ (a mash-up with Gorillaz' 'Feel Good Inc.'), but it was Lupe's original material that was the lasting point from this concert.
 
As well as 'Superstar', Fiasco's well-known tracks 'Daydream' and 'Kick, Push' (who else could pull off rapping about skateboarding on their first single???) were the best received by the large-but-not-mobbed Tripod audience. But it is the lesser known album tracks in which he really let loose and displayed his awesome rap delivery. Flavouring the set with intense acappello raps, Fiasco's voice flows with such speed that it is impossible to decipher what he is saying but he does it with such rhythm and coolness that it is enjoyable nonetheless!
 
As someone not well versed with Fiasco's two album discography, it was hard to get into the tracks I was hearing for the first time – apart from 'Dumb it Down' and ‘The Instrumental’. Lupe's hour-and-a-bit long performance left me with the sense that if I’d been more familiar with Lupe's albums beforehand, I'd have been as impressed with the content of the show as I was with Fiasco's energetic delivery. However the lasting impression of the Tripod show was that Lupe Fiasco is a fresh, new lyricalist who’s here to stay. Watch out Jay-Z and Kanye, the next generation of rap has arrived.

Ronan Lawlor


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Nuggets from our archive

2000 - 'Rock Criticism: Getting it Right', written by Mark Godfrey. A thought provoking reflection on the art of rock criticism.