Benji Hughes

Los Angeles, CA — Hidden behind flowing rusty hair and Shakespearean beard is Benji Hughes, a complex, and often funny, dreamer with a harmonious voice. The singer-songwriter from North Carolina subtly infuses his music with flavors and colours, evoking the numerous feelings that love brings. From happiness to misery, Benji describes relationships with friends, women and life in general. New West Records released Benji’s debut, 25 song, two album set, ‘A Love Extreme’ in 2008 and Benji toured with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis in the UK around its release.

Benji Hughes spends much of his time masterminding his blend of inventive rock and ballads. At times earnest, at others whimsical, Benji is equally adept at keyboards and guitar. He loves beer but he loves women even more. Underneath his thick mane of strawberry blond hair and beard is a versatile singer/songwriter, full of heart. His music collection – spanning everything from The Crystals, Merle Haggard, and Kinky Friedman to Talking Heads, The Cars, and Slayer – is as wild as his gracious exterior.

The Thermals

“’You should have seen us in our prime!” barks Harris on ‘When We Were Alive’, and you wonder why he’s talking in the past” – 4/5 Uncut

“Their stock-in trade is earnest passion. It’s impossible to deny the adrenaline rush of ‘I called out Your Name’ or the title track [Now We Can See]” – 4/5 The Guardian

“Perfectly formed, homely melodies amount to an album set to be the soundtrack to several of your summers. This is one of the must-hear albums of 09” – 9/10 Rock Sound

Portland-based the Thermals formed in early 2002 as a way for its members to play purely for fun. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie fame became one of the Thermals’ first fans and got the group in touch with Sub Pop, the label which signed them very early on in their career.

‘Fuckin A’, the Thermals’ second album, was their first release for Sub Pop in 2004. Next up was album ‘The Body, the Blood, the Machine’ which was released in 2006. Following a subsequent departure from Sub Pop’s roster, the Thermals signed with Kill Rockstars and released the indie-pop goodness-filled full-length ‘Now We Can See’ in April 2009.

White Belt Yellow Tag

“The artistic solemnity of Elbow or Doves” – NME
“An impressive effort, with the spirit of early Echo & The Bunnymen providing the firepower” – Daily Mirror
“A rare thrill to behold” – The Fly

Essentially the creation of Justin Lockey (ex Yourcodenameis:Milo) and Craig Pilbin, White Belt Yellow Tag  formed in 2008 with the two meeting for the first time in Newcastle. Lockey had built up a reputation as one of the UK’s leading new band producers having worked with White Lies, Late Of The Pier and Get Cape Wear Cape Fly and the pair met when Pilbin was looking for someone to work with on a number songs he had written.

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls is named after a childhood memory of Brent Knopf. As a boy, he and his family would drive out to the trail on Mount Hood and hike the three-mile loop. Knopf drank it in: the proportions of space; sunlight and shade; the potential of this place, as a refuge from the world, as a place solely his, even as his family gathered there. An ideal of what woods should be. Years later, that memory remains with him, now represented in music: Ramona Falls, both a refuge from the world and a gathering place within it.

A sanctuary as Menomena, the sharply intelligent indie rock band from Portland in which Knopf honed his craft, eased into a period of rest; and a community, as Knopf emailed and called fellow musicians in Portland and New York and asked them to collaborate with him on his so-called solo album (including members of The Helio Sequence, Mirah, Loch Lomond, 31 Knots, Talkdemonic, Nice Nice, Tracker, Dat’r, Dear Reader, 3 Leg Torso, and Matt Sheehy). Those joinings give the album breadth, rendering the solo tag something of a misnomer. But then, much of this album represents several things at once: solitude and gathering, community and refuge, the ideal and the real. Fixing a memory into the world.

Knopf grew up halfway between Mount Hood and Portland Oregon, far enough out of the city so that he could see the stars clearly at night. He later spent time in France, attended college in New Hampshire, and spent a semester abroad in Germany. He returned to Portland after graduating college to form Menomena.  These days, Knopf has a cat, a raging chocolate addiction, and a determination to plant a vegetable garden even though it will likely ripen while he’s away on tour.

Ramona Falls is Brent Knopf’s first solo venture, but he has an extensive musical resume as part of trio Menomena (that’s snagged plaudits from such tastemakers as Pitchfork Media and the New York Times.). “Intuit” is a beautiful and breathtaking glimpse into a profound journey of love, loss, exploration of life and one’s self. From the very beginning, you find yourself spellbound and longing to continue down the 11-track pilgrimage. From the internal struggle to follow one’s heart in the song “I Say Fever”, to the drowning dream and betrayal imagery of “Salt Sack,” to the bittersweet and delicate album finale of “Diamond Shovel,” Ramona Falls blends acoustic and electronic elements into songs that feel at once surreal and real, both strange and familiar.

NME Best Acts ‘09

How do you make sense of a whole year’s worth of music? A whole year’s worth of new bands, new tracks, and new releases from all the hottest bands.  Look no further than…NME Best Acts ’09…a guided tour through the coolest breakthrough acts and the bands that you need to hear. NME has its finger on the pulse so you don’t have to, presenting an eclectic mix of the hottest bands in Rock and Indie.

Spanning two spectacular CDs, NME sifts through the rubbish to create a compilation jam packed with all the biggest hits. CD 1 features ‘Uprising’, the huge comeback single from Muse, Kasabian’s ‘Fire’, and the stunning indie-electro crossover ‘Zero’ by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Meanwhile, CD 2 combines massive singles ‘That Golden Rule’ by Biffy Clyro, and Green Day’s ‘Know Your Enemy’ along with exciting new British talent from the likes of Wild Beasts, Dananananaykroyd and The Horrors.

North Atlantic Oscillation

“Their bright, friendly electronics and Brian Wilson harmonies suggest Scotland may have the beginnings of its own Animal Collective. Ones to watch.” – Metro

If Brian Wilson could operate a laptop…or Pink Floyd were young and skint in 2009……or Wayne Coyne was Scottish….or Grandaddy came from a land of drizzle…or Sigur Ros cracked a smile from time to time…or…we could go on.

Because this is the sound of straws being clutched as we struggle to find the perfect epithet to describe the sound of North Atlantic Oscillation. ‘Colourful’, ‘crepuscular’ and ‘expansive’ are three that spring to mind, but even they don’t quite do this Edinburgh-based three-piece’s sound justice. Perhaps you should just trust your own ears and join us as we cut to the back story…to Edinburgh in 2005.

It was here that Sam met Ben and the pair bonded over a love of unusual time signatures, jazz, Tom Waits, Squarepusher, post rock outfits such as Godspeed You black Emperor and a thousand other disparate sounds besides. At this point they were strangers still sounding each other out. Originally from the Midlands, Ben gravitated to Edinburgh as a student, while Sam had played in a variety of bands and spent time in Dublin and the US. When it soon became apparent that they were kindred spirits, a band was born. A two-piece band – but a band all the same.

Sam sang the songs, played guitar, bass, keyboards and even the occasionally saxophone on them, while Ben was the drummer who was also happened to be a dab hand at programming. Bill would join them later as a live bassist.

Choosing the name North Atlantic Oscillation, the duo spent 6 months rehearsing before debuting live with a set of songs that have long since gone. Because North Atlantic Oscillation are an ever-evolving entity, mad studio scientists who prefer to conduct their sound experiments on stages, as opposed to the thousands of bedroom-bound boffins across the land. NAO got out there, playing with Explosions In The Sky, Everything Everything, Stardeath And White Dwarfs and many others

Incidentally, the name North Atlantic Oscillation refers to the climactic phenomenon caused by fluctuations in the atmospheric pressure between the Icelandic low and Azores high; a clash of hot and cold, basically. It seems a perfect moniker for a band of such contrasts – the contrast of melding timeless rock moves with sequencing and the latest laptop technology (the band pride themselves on creating every single sample themselves), the contrast of citing Blur, Chick Corea and Orbital as influences, the contrast of dark foreboding tones and blissed-out serotonin-fuelled pastoral sweeps.

North Atlantic Oscillation’s big break came in a manner that we have all read about, but rarely actually happens – they got signed after cold-calling record companies via e-mail. That’s the simple version of the story, anyway. The longer version goes something like this: aware that no band should wait for the world to come to them, Sam elected to finance and record NAO’s debut album Grappling Hooks himself. This he did throughout 2008, recording it in Glasgow and flying over to a studio in Dublin every two weeks to mix it.

“You get so immersed in the music that I knew that if we left it any longer I wouldn’t maintain enthusiasm long enough to commit them to recordings,” explains Sam. “Sometimes you just have to go for it – sometimes you just have to do it yourself.”

Armed with a complete album they then put it out there and received eight offers from record labels. “We went cold-calling,” recalls Sam. “We contacted dozens of people unsolicited, went through a quiet period and then the offers started coming in. And, amazingly, it worked.” The band elected to sign to KScope (Anathema, Porcupine Tree, Engineers), with their debut album ready for release in 2010.

Musée Mécanique

“It is [the] ability to viscerally effect an audience that make[s] Musée Mécanique such a powerful, if unusual, folk force. Their shy yet florid debut is tinged with sadness, like a painted carousel sitting empty in winter, mourning for a time that they—or we—never even knew.” – Pitchfork

“Armed with a hoard of antique instruments, this multi-tasking band create ornate pop full of sepia-tinted nostalgia” – The Guardian

Another in a seemingly endless string of new and unique musical gems spawned amongst the hubbub of Portland, Oregon is Musée Mécanique. Releasing music through new European label Souterrain Transmissions (formed by staff from legendary labels Touch & Go and City Slang), their music is warming, subtle and elegant  folk-pop.

After their recent stripped down two-piece shows supporting Laura Gibson on her European tour, Musée Mécanique were selected as a Guardian ‘New Band of The Day’. They described the quintet’s sound as “ornate pop based on acoustic guitars fleshed out with orchestral flourishes and programmed electronics”.

First conceived in a museum of antique arcade machines and later actualized in a small Victorian home on the banks of the Willamette River, Musée Mécanique’s album ‘Hold This Ghost’ began its journey in a high school literature class.

Sean Ogilvie and Micah Rabwin met, started their first band together, played their first shows, and wrote their first jointly-penned songs before either of them could legally drive a car. Their early friendship fostered a creative partnership that has endured distance, estrangement and more than a decade of their lives.

While living in the Bay Area of California, the two songwriters developed an affinity for the collection of vintage coin-operated games, player pianos and novelties housed at the Musée Mécanique (Mechanical Museum) located on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Much like the recordings of ‘Hold This Ghost’, the machines within the museum are a hybrid of technology and humanity: mechanical by nature, but animated via a dedicated craftsmanship that reveals the unique flaws and personality of each.

Their Portland, Oregon home studio, itself a collection of interesting instruments and antiques, is peppered in every corner with second-hand flotsam. Tack pianos, trumpets, musical saws and garage sale Casio keyboards mingle among forgotten amateur landscape paintings, broken 1930s-era radios and hand-cranked ice cream makers. Their neighborhood – an integral source of the album’s inspiration – is flanked by giant Redwoods that overlook the scenic Willamette River. Nearby, an eerie mausoleum perches above a wildlife refuge and one of the oldest running amusement parks in the world.

Lovvers

LOVVERS (before you ask it’s two “V”s because it looks good) made a record in 2009 – ‘OCD Go Go Go Girls’ – that in their own words is “an unconventional weird pop record”. Comparisons to Mark Sultan and Clorox Girls are clear but it kicks off with something that almost resembles The Clash. This isn’t “Overpowered By Funk” but more “Career Opportunities” then next we get the Ramones meets Minutemen then 13th Floor Elevators.

Whilst this is budget rock, this time around the budget was actually pretty good so they relocated to Jackpot! Studios (owned by Larry Crane, editor of Tape Op Magazine)  in the musical Mecca of Portland, Oregon. With Pat Kearns (Red Dons, Clorox Girls, Exploding Hearts) manning the desk they set about making a record that you’re definitely going to want to keep spinning for some time from now.

The album is new-meets-old but by the end it’s fuzzed out Woodstock. This is vintage stuff; a completely analogue recording. New instruments have been embraced but when was the last time an independent English band made an interesting, raw, guitar record?

As LOVVERS frontman, Shaun Hencher puts it “there’s a wealth of American bands, it’s a good time, but when was the last time we championed our own? With bands like Shitty Limits, Hipshakes and, hopefully, us raising the stakes, surely it’s time for people to stop listening to what they’re told and make up their own minds. And when was the last time that happened? (If I remember correctly there was a baby on that cover as well.)”

The Hickey Underworld

From Antwerp, Belgium we introduce The Hickey Underworld. Forming from the closely-linked worlds of hardcore, punk and alternative rock, this is a band that a stagnant scene has been waiting for. Owing a small debt to the likes of Nirvana, Jesus Lizard and Minor Threat and possibly sharing common ground with fellow countrymen such as Evil Superstars, Millionaire and Deus – but still maintaining a stance of their own. There are no scene haircuts here, no false American affectations; no horrible emo posturing. This is the real: noise and anger and energy and ideas. And songs!

Yes. Plenty of songs. Their self-titled debut album is a juddering, thunderous, multi-headed monster of a record – part post-hardcore catharsis, part discordant melody overload…part unknown other.

The symbolically-loaded, talismanic / pseudo-Masonic artwork of The Hickey Underworld (and website for that matter) is something else too. Open up the sleeve or log on and you’ll find a mystical world full of symbols and hidden messages, a psychedelic state of the world representation inspired by Brazilian horror/sexploitation film maker Zé do Caixão aka Coffin Joe. The artwork took many months to construct, yet such attention to detail is all part of the band’s reaction to a digital/download culture that’s big on accessibility but down on the idea of a band as a complete package.

It’s a sentiment also echoed in their shocking and controversial video to single ‘Blonde Fire’. Directed by Joe Vanhouttegem, THU guitarist Jonas describes the concept behind it as being “Creation VS Destruction, Life VS Death”.

KASMs

KASMs are London-based Rachel Mary Callaghan, Gemma Fleet, Scott R. Walker and Rory Brattwell. Gemma and Rachel met in late October 2007 when Gemma spotted Rachel dancing to Nirvana and decided that she should be the singer in her new band, irrespective of whether she could sing or not. They then bumped into each other a week later at a Get Hustle show and met up with likeminded musicians Scott and Rory at the bar afterwards. All were inspired by what they had seen and decided to start a band together.

All four members have been other bands: Rachel was the singer in spazzcore band Sin o the East, along with Rory on guitar; Gemma was in London based grunge-pop band Wolfie; Scott was in an ethnic/improv band called Aum Sahib and Rory was in quite a few bands, the most well known being short-lived NME favourites Test Icicles.

I guess you could say KASMS sound is Punk/Deathrock but they coined the genre “Shriekbeat” to describe their music, which pretty much encapsulates the essence of what KASMs are all about. Taking in varied influences starting with dark, pulsating, rhythmic bands such as Trial, Crash Worship, Live Skull and better known dark 80s stuff such as Bauhaus and Death in June, they cite their sound as being more heavily skewed by recent Alternative American punk bands such as Subtonix, Nation of Ulysses and Six Finger Satellite.

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