Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury

Q&A: Portishead producer Geoff Barrow on hip hop, krautrock, and film scores

DROKKGeoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury: Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega-City One (Invada, 5/1/12)

“Lawmaster Pursuit”

Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury: “Lawmaster Pursuit”

If there’s one band that pulled off the long, mysterious hiatus with mystique intact, it’s Bristol, England’s Portishead. Yet when the ’90s trip-hop act resurfaced in 2006, it had substantially changed — gone were the down-tempo beats and much of the melancholy, replaced with a new sound and sparse, driving rhythms that owed more to krautrock than Def Jam.

Beatsmith/songwriter Geoff Barrow was guiding it that way. Since the reunion, he’s been on fire, issuing music in a variety of guises with Beak> (a rock band), Quakers (a sprawling hip-hop project), and as Drokk (a soundtracking duo). That’s not including the records that Barrow has produced for others and released on his label, Invada.

With no shortage of topics in tow, we caught up with Barrow to talk about drum sounds, film scores, and writing music for Judge Dredd.

Interview: Dinosaur Jr.’s chemistry, formula, and pursuit of perfection intact on I Bet on Sky

This content appears in ALARM #40. Subscribe here to get your copy!

Dinosaur Jr.: I Bet On Sky (Jagjaguwar, 9/18/12)

“Watch the Corners”

Dinosaur Jr.: “Watch the Corners”

When punk hit in the 1970s, it was popular to call the prog rockers and stadium-filling FM-radio vets “dinosaurs” for their size and presumed extinction. That only made it more fun for J. Mascis and his pals to dub their thunderously loud Amherst, Massachusetts, trio Dinosaur in the mid-’80s (it added the Jr. on its second album) to confuse things a bit more.

The band dealt in volume and aggression learned in hardcore act Deep Wound, but guitarist Mascis’s laconic and numb musings and bassist Lou Barlow’s emotional wail were another planet removed from typical punk spit and anger, and Mascis’s graceful, dense guitar solos showed more than a passing knowledge of classic-rock chops. The band has always been a unique balance of aggression and cuddle — snot and bedroom blues — and few of today’s indie rockers ever think to combine both.

Bloc Party

Interview: Bloc Party on new frontiers, life after hiatus, and a return to Bloc rocking

This interview appears in ALARM #40. Subscribe here to get your copy!

Bloc Party: Four (Frenchkiss, 8/20/12)


Bloc Party: “Octopus”

Rumors of Bloc Party’s demise circulated after it concluded touring on Intimacy in 2009. Front-man Kele Okereke released an electronic solo album in 2010 and hinted in interviews that he might have been replaced in the band. So it’s all the more surprising that the band returned in 2012 with Four, a rawer, more aggressive, rock-based take on the band’s energetic Brit-rock sound that also features a more confident, crooning Okereke. We caught up with the singer/guitarist to talk about new frontiers, making Four, and dropping fiction into interviews.

Bloc Party

Review: Bloc Party’s Four

Bloc Party: Four (Frenchkiss, 8/21/12)


Bloc Party: “Octopus”

After a hiatus that saw front-man Kele Okereke testing the solo waters of R&B-inflected electronics, London indie outfit Bloc Party has returned leaner, meaner, and more dynamic than ever. Some studio banter between tunes is a dead giveaway that Four is a more documentary approach than the boys have taken previously. Rawer sounds and a live recording environment make this the closest to representing the band at its naked best.

Beachwood Sparks

Review: Beachwood Sparks’ The Tarnished Gold

Beachwood Sparks: The Tarnished GoldBeachwood Sparks: The Tarnished Gold (Sub Pop, 6/26/12)

“Forget the Song”

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Beachwood Sparks was at once a throwback and, from a 2012 perspective, ahead of the wave. In the early aughties, the band of former college-radio chums single-handedly revived a laidback, country-rocking West Coast sound famously pioneered in the late ’60s by Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers. The band’s spacier second album, Once We Were Trees, flirted with psychedelia. And by 2003, it had said its peace—and it was left to the likes of Fleet Foxes to win over the indie masses with CSNY harmonies and flower-power earnestness in folk-rock 2.0, all territory the Sparks had well under control.

Giant Sand

Review: Giant Giant Sand’s Tucson

Giant Giant Sand: Tucson

Giant Giant Sand: Tucson (Fire, 6/12/12)


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Every writer of dusty Western laments has a few items on his or her bucket list. If you are Howe Gelb, of the long-running Arizona-based Giant Sand, recording an expansive country-rock opera was on it. Or perhaps, after nearly 30 years of making records, it was the only thing left to do?

The Hives

Review: The Hives’ Lex Hives

The Hives: Lex Hives

The Hives: Lex Hives (Disques Hives, 6/5/12)

“Go Right Ahead”

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In 2000, The Hives hijacked the garage-rock takeover with a two-tone wardrobe, the huge single/video “Hate to Say I Told You So,” and the very sharp studio album Veni Vidi Vicious. Exemplifying the Swedish indie scene’s knack for reinterpretation of retro genre details, the band also brought the charismatic energy of punk rock to the table. It didn’t hurt that the quintet cornered, shifted, and raced like a well-tuned hotrod. The Hives seemed poised to dominate the genre for the rest of the decade. But the hard-touring group only mustered one new full-length between 2004 and 2012, the glossy 2008 release The Black and White Album. Sue us if we feel a bit deprived.

Sigur Rós

Review: Sigur Rós’ Valtari

Sigur Rós: ValtariSigur Rós: Valtari (XL, 5/29/12)

“Ekki Múkk”

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Things haven’t looked good for Icelandic “post-rock” act Sigur Rós in recent years. In light of the front-man Jónsi’s well-received solo album Go and massive world tour, an “indefinite hiatus” looked more like an end. The band even scrapped an entire album that it recorded in 2009. Speculation about the band’s future has been intense: when it announced its sixth studio album, Valtari, rumors ranged from the overly optimistic (that it was one of two new albums) to the dire (that the quartet was splitting up for good).

The truth turned out to be a bit muddier. The band wasn’t breaking up, but multi-instrumentalist string arranger Kjartan Sveinsson was sitting out the forthcoming tour. In other news, the band is releasing a “mystery film” for each song — videos made by directors working independently of one another. As for Valtari, the band’s new album, it makes a statement of its own.

Damon Albarn

Review: Damon Albarn’s Dr. Dee

Damon Albarn: Dr. Dee

Damon Albarn: Dr. Dee (Virgin, 5/8/12)

“The Marvelous Dream”

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Brit-rock fans may have been more excited to learn that a Damon Albarn-fronted Blur has become an active prospect again, but fans of music in general should be more thrilled to know that he’s been up to a lot more than that. Albarn, as a solo artist and a collaborative one at that, has stirred up some amazing music by delving into Malian blues, scoring the Chinese opera Monkey: Journey to the West, and continuing his hip-hop cartoon group Gorillaz. Now he’s created the soundtrack to an opera based on the life of 16th Century astrologer/mystic John Dee — and it’s beautifully accessible.

Nick Waterhouse

Review: Nick Waterhouse’s Time’s All Gone

Nick Waterhouse: Time's All GoneNick Waterhouse: Time’s All Gone (Innovative Leisure, 5/1/12)

“Some Place”

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The phenomena of the digger-turned-frontman is nothing new — often the youth of a record fiend leads to a life on stage. It’s just that, well, these days, the digging is deeper and the diggers are a bit more passionate about sounding just like their heroes. The wonder is that sometimes they do just that.

Don’t let the Buddy Holly spectacles put you off San Francisco’s 25-year-old Nick Waterhouse — whom we correctly guessed was a record-digging DJ even before reading up on him, just like, ahem, soul revivalist Mayer Hawthorne. This young guy loves the sound of records as much as the music on them — and what he lacks in originality he makes up for in fervent, giddy exploration of sounds and styles nearly half a century old.

Photos: The Vaccines at The 100 Club (London, UK)

The Vaccines

It doesn’t look as if the famed Central London spot The 100 Club, where The Sex Pistols detonated one of its most famed and chaotic live sets during the 1976 Punk Fest, has upgraded the green room much. Earlier this month, a contemporary London slash-burn pop band, The Vaccines, brought a bit of that on-stage chaos back to the heralded stage. Our good pal and rock photographer Pat Graham was on the scene to commemorate the occasion. See more after the jump.