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Tracy Bonham: Masts of Manhatta
You’d be forgiven for not knowing who Tracy Bonham is, but 90s rock fans will remember her 1996 debut single 'Mother, Mother,' an aggressive anthem for a generation of angst-ridden teenagers boasting screaming vocals that made Alanis Morisette's 'You Oughtta Know' seem like a lullaby in comparison.
Fast-forward a decade and three albums later, and Bonham seems to have a completely different, almost folksy sound on Masts of Manhatta.
Gone are the 90s heavy rock guitar riffs. Instead, Bonham demonstrates an older, more sedated style that’s heavy on the guitar and violin arrangements. A lot of detail and attention have been invested in layering the album’s eleven tracks with clever arrangements and background vocals.
The Highlight of the album is 'Devil’s Got Your Boyfriend', a 1940s folk tune that uses gypsy fiddles, an echoing cello bass and catchy vocals to tell the story of a two-timer. 'Your Night is Wide Open' is a gentle melody with finger-style guitar and cello that help create a haunting, dream-like serenade abruptly interrupted by a drum interval. Bonham gets to show off her violin talents on 'Josephine,' while on 'You're My Isness', the strong bass riff and her vocals sound very similar to Shivaree’s 'Good Night Moon'.
'We Moved Our City To The Country' demonstrates Bonham’s skills as a witty lyricist, where she mocks city folk’s put-on airs and houses in the countryside. Starting off with a simple guitar riff and soft beat, the contrast between city and countryside is clearly demonstrated midway, where the melody suddenly changes to a violin melody, only to shift into a slow melody accompanied by electric piano and haunting background vocals.
'Big Red Heart' builds up nicely with a catchy bass riff, hand claps and intelligent lyrics, while her vocals are somewhat reminiscent of a younger Sheryl Crowe or Meredith Brooks.
'When You Laugh The World Laughs With You,' is a tame and sweet love ballad that’s surely intended for singing a kid to sleep. It may have the same effect on its listeners; the melody’s too predictable, though it does have a good string arrangement.
'Reciprocal Feelings' is a weak track, where her rather annoying vocal melody is saved by a beautiful cello solo. 'In The Moonlight' boasts witty lyrics about growing up as a teenager and a similar style to 'Reciprocal Feelings' where she sing-speaks the lyrics in a rather monotonous voice interspersed by a high-pitched 'Ooh' in the chorus.
There's something very intelligent about Masts of Manhatta’s folk tunes; even if it takes a few listens to appreciate this album and Bonham's talents as a musician. However, if you don’t have the time and don’t like folk music; this album may fail to impress you.
In eleven songs, they built a unique sound that you couldn't quite put your finger on: slow beats dressed in austerity, accompanied by enigmatic lyrics and lone wondering guitars. With a Mercury music prize under their belt and almost every music critic at their feet, they started work on their sophomore album.
But overall, this album is much less introverted. Both Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim seem to have gained confidence as singers and hone their vocal skills with more conviction then they did on their debut album.
Beatmaster Jamie xx, having built a very solid reputation as a producer in between the creation of the two albums, also steps closer to the limelight on this record. Even more songs than on the debut album are built on beats instead of a guitar riff and those beats are slightly more experimental than they previously were. There is even some steel drum - certainly not the hippest of instruments - seeping through in ‘Reunion’.
American thrash metal band, Gwar, are back with their 13th studio album, Battle Maximus, marking the first official release since the untimely death of long serving guitarist, Cory Smoot (credited as Flattus Maximus).
For those unfamiliar with Gwar, the band has one of the more interesting back-stories, describing the members’ as "intergalactic humanoids, landing on Earth to rule mankind." Heavily rooted in sci-fi and gory subjects – as well as politically-fuelled satirical elements – the band have undoubtedly mastered the science of transferring strong visual elements from stage into sound.
Gwar has always merged thrash metal music with raw, punk vocals, giving the band a unique sound that can’t quite be pigeonholed into a specific genre. As is the case with most of Gwar’s previous releases, Battle Maximus uses build its tracks to tell a bigger story. In the case of Battle Maximus, the band plays out an epic duel between the recently deceased Flattus Maximus and his successor, Pustulus Maximus, adding more chapters to the band’s already extensive, fictional history.
Setting the mood for the entire album, the intro creates the launching pad for the riff-heavy track, ‘Madness at the Core’. The addition of new guitarist, Pustulus Maximus, changes the band’s direction slightly, and more death metal influences are incorporated into the album; this is especially apparent in ‘They Swallowed the Sun’, ‘Torture’, ‘Mr. Perfect’, and ‘Triumph of the Pig Children’.
Drummer, Jizmak Da Gusha, produces some of his best work to date and dominates the tracks with obscene drum-breaks and a crushing array of blast beats. One of the most interesting songs on the album is ‘I, Bonesnapper’, which features Gwar’s cave troll in his first ever vocal debut. The track cannot by any means be considered musically genius, but then again, Gwar have earned their infamy and popularity through shock-value and borderline pornographic stage antics, rather than technical mastery.
The album’s title track is an instrumental that features four guest guitarists and still manages to be nothing more than mediocre at best.
Gwar has never been a band that takes itself too seriously, relying more on their powerful stage presence and interesting subject matter. However, Battle Maximus shows that the band have completely refined their sound and have grown further into their respective characters, which may seem kitschy, but manages to add a gravity and sincerity to songs that, in any other context, would seem plain ridiculous.