New Music Through Old Ears — Biffy Monkee Blink Gone

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It’s time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro, California punks Blink 182, metal supergroup Gone is Gone and the return of the Monkees!

New Album from an Old Artist

Biffy Clyro Ellipsis

Biffy Clyro are the best band that almost nobody has heard of. Formed in 1995 in Kilmarnock, Scotland, the band consists of singer/guitarist Simon Neil, singer/bassist James Johnston and singer/drummer Ben Johnston.

After releasing three albums of discordant art-rock, the band achieved a level of mainstream success in 2007 with the album Puzzle and the singles Semi-Mental and Who’s Got a Match?

After tasting moderate commercial success with Puzzle and follow-up album Only Revolutions (2009), Biffy Clyro released the slightly more challenging Opposites (2013), followed by the B-side release Similarities (2014). These albums saw the band adopting some of their old tricks like diminished chord patterns and sudden shifts in tone, which had the effect of alienating some casual fans, but still performed relatively well on the charts.

New album Ellipsis continues the trend of the band embracing chaos, and the result is spectacular. It takes a couple of listens to really get your head around, but tracks that sound almost like random noise on first pass transform into beautiful maelstroms upon repeat exposure.

With three singers to choose from, Biffy Clyro have always balanced light and shade, but Ellipsis is both heavier and more delicate than anything they have done to date.

From the crunching rock of Animal Style to the stark beauty of Friends and Enemies, Ellipsis covers a lot of musical ground, and it’s hard to pick two songs that sound alike. Despite this, the songs coalesce into a pretty great album with more depth than the entire Top 40 put together.

Standout tracks: Wolves of Winter, Animal Style, Friends and Enemies, Howl

Sample lyric: “Cause you were not right, you were just righteous. With a friend as good as you, who needs enemies?” (Friends and Enemies)

Verdict: 9/10 — intelligent, challenging rock ‘n roll

New EP from a New Artist

Gone is Gone Gone is Gone

The term “supergroup” has been used many times over the years, describing everything from a meeting of generational legends to a thrown together collection of has-beens. In this case, Gone is Gone is a “metal supergroup”, which lowers the bar slightly in terms of name recognition. What? You’ve got the guitarist from Cannibal Corpse and the singer from Ratt?  Super…

Anyway, Gone is Gone is made up of members of Mastodon (singer Troy Sanders), Queens of the Stone Age (guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen), At The Drive-In (drummer Tony Hajjar) along with multi-instrumentalist Mike Zarin. Formed by Hajjar and Zarin after collaborating on video game scores, Gone is Gone retains a lot of the gaming heritage in its DNA, using spoken word interludes on a number of tracks.

Whether this works or not probably depends on your love for the bands these guys work for their day-jobs…

Feeling at times like the soundtrack to a grindhouse movie, Gone is Gone is somewhat comparable to Rob Zombie’s recent album The Electric Warlock… although without some of the more stylistic flourishes. It’s not a terrible collection of songs by any means, but feels somewhat rushed and half-finished – a problem that may be remedied on the full length album planned for later this year.

Standout tracks: Violescent, Starlight

Sample lyric: “I’ll stay awake tonight, floating in nothing.” (Starlight)

Verdict: 5/10 — interesting for fans of sludge-metal

Album I Expect to Suck

The Monkees – Good Times

Famous for once having outsold The Beatles, The Monkees have long been treated as a bit of a joke in the music industry, mainly due to the fact that they didn’t write their own songs. I have always found this prejudice a little odd. After all, Elvis didn’t write his own songs. Most of the successful boy bands in history didn’t write their own songs. Hell, the guy that sang “I Write the Songs” didn’t even write that song!

To be fair, Monkees members Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz didn’t actually play their instruments on early Monkees recordings, but that was hardly justification for the massive backlash that hit the band in the late Sixties.

While they never really gave up, The Monkees never regained their initial success, limping along with various members drifting in and out of the band. When Davy Jones died unexpectedly in 2012, his passing encouraged Dolenz, Nesmith and Tork to get back together and give it another crack.

What distinguishes Good Times from previous Monkees albums is the calibre of the songwriters involved. In addition to resurrecting unused songs from Neil Diamond and Harry Nilsson, producer Adam Schlesinger put together a "supergroup" of contemporary writers including Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, Noel Gallagher from Oasis, Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie and Paul Weller. The result sounds like the best of The Monkees, but filtered through a modern sensibility.

The perfect album for those who think music reached its zenith in 1967, Good Times is a fine album for a Sunday afternoon BBQ with some old friends.

Standout tracks: Good Times, Whatever’s Right, Birth of an Accidental Hipster

Sample lyric: ‘Whatever’s right, don’t let me change your mind. If I’m the one, then you’ll find out in time.’ (Whatever’s Right)

Verdict: 7/10 — old-timey fun

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Blink 182 California

Blink 182 have had a bit of a rough time over the past few years. Founding member Tom DeLonge quit the band, drummer Travis Barker was almost killed in a plane crash, DeLonge re-joined the band then quit again, Barker starred in a MTV reality show that led to divorce and Mark Hoppus threw himself into producing and podcasting. There was the sense that Blink 182 were a relic of the Nineties, and had about as much chance of a comeback as Pokemon. And then look what happened…

Essentially a concept album, California sees Hoppus, Barker and former Alkaline Trio guitarist Matt Skiba professing their love for the home state of U.S. punk rock. Almost every song talks about California in one way or another, from the disconnected youth of Teenage Satellites to the unashamedly nostalgic San Diego, a song that recognises the reality that you can never really go home.

Long known for their immaturity and toilet humour, California sees a band finally forced to grow up. From the open lines of the first track, Hoppus talks about fighting anxiety and the feeling that his best days are in the past. While there are a couple of throwaway joke tracks, these seem to exist mainly to appeal to the perennial teenagers who still have Dude Ranch on high rotation.

Still, credit must be given for brevity on the 17 second Built This Pool, the entire lyrics of which are: "I want to see some naked dudes, that’s why I built this pool."

With a nice mix of punk, pop, and the odd slow song, there is no wheel reinventing going on with California, but fans of Blink 182 will find much to like on this surprisingly good album. 

Standout tracks: Cynical, Sober, Los Angeles, Teenage Satellites

Sample lyric: “I know I messed up and it might be over, but let me call you when I’m sober.” (Sober)

Verdict: 8/10 — way better than a Blink 182 album in 2016 has any right to be

Enjoy what you've just read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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