One for the Road threatens Nanfang with legal action over our review

Posted: 10/24/2012 9:15 am

It’s not everyday our humble website is threatened with legal action, but that is what has transpired over The Nanfang’s review of a fabled Dongguan bar and restaurant.

One for the Road has contacted us regarding our review, in which one of our staff visited One for the Road and wrote about their experience. In our view, the review was fair and based on the writer’s impressions of the food quality, ambiance, price, and service. The review attracted several comments, with some explicitly disagreeing with the review’s conclusions. Those comments all remain on the site and can be reviewed here.

The owner of One for the Road, Jason Cakebread, contacted us to dispute the review and requested us remove the bar’s listing and event information from The Nanfang.  The email chain below is in chronological order (all typos, spelling mistakes, etc have been retained):

Dear Madam/Sir,

You are entitled to write any form of review you wish about what ever establishment you wish.

However, I never gave you idiots permission to place One for the Road or her events in your website.

We do not want our good name associated with your sorry excuse of a website/magazine.

As I said, write any review you wish as the people who have gone to One for the Road know it’s full of shit.

But remove us from your crappy, out of date listings! (you had no permission from us to use our name)

Take our events off your sorry excuse of a website! (as I said you had no permission from us to use our name)

If this is not done we will pursue the matter further as we have consulted our lawyer who says we have grounds to sue.


One for the Road Traditional English Pub

[email protected]


I personally replied on behalf of The Nanfang:

Hi Jason,

Thanks for your email. We’re sorry you feel so strongly about the review. Just as some background information, we’re quite big fans of One for the Road and have visited several times. In fact, I personally recommend visitors to Dongguan to try OFTR and we did a Nanfang TV video promoting the restaurant – totally free of charge – here.

We have a team of writers in the PRD that occasionally review venues. Of them, we ask a couple of things: 1) they do not inform the bar/restaurant that they are conducting a review for Nanfang to ensure as authentic of an experience as possible; and b) be clear about their experiences, both positive and negative, specifically with regard to food quality, service, price, and ambiance.

We edited the review for One for the Road but generally find it to be fair. In the review, the writer noted the mac & cheese was “tasty”, that good things were said of the ribs, that the portions of the crab cakes were “generous”, and so on. On the negative side, comments were made about service and time waiting for the food, which is a factual representation of what that writer experienced on the day they were at the bar.

Our primary responsibility is to our readers, and we want to do the best we can to provide them with the latest information pertaining to bars and restaurants across the PRD. We have comment sections open on all of our articles and venues for people to leave their own feedback, and we are pleased that people have used this forum to respond to our review of OFTR.

We hope to work cooperatively with One for the Road going forward. We receive substantial traffic from overseas and Hong Kong, specifically from people who are unfamiliar with Dongguan and are looking for a place to eat, have a beer, and relax. Many of these people stumble upon your bar’s listing page, and I have no doubt that many have visited your bar as a result. We have the legal right to list your bar’s information on our website, however would regretfully remove it as a courtesy should you restate your request to do so.

Kind regards,
Cam MacMurchy
Editor in Chief
The Nanfang
Jason followed-up with another email:

Your review was absolute shod, we are not just here for hangovers greasy food burgers and mash!

You will have quite a few comments from customers as they were as offended by what said as I am.

I challenge you to allow those comments to remain on the review.

You will have no cooperation with us and you WILL remove us from your events and listings from today otherwise I will pursue this matter. As stated by our lawyer, you do not have the legal right to add us on your listings and events without our permission and I will test this in court.


We do not need you to help with visitors from anywhere as our reputation is far greater internationally and domestically than your website and is the main reason you are desperate to keep our name on your site.

To which we replied:

Dear Jason,

We run an open platform that encourages an exchange of opinions. As such, the comments under our review (and any other comments posted in the future) will remain posted as long as they adhere to our terms of conduct. So far, all of them do.

I’d like to reiterate that we have a legal right to list public venues in a database of bars and restaurants. We do this as a service to both our readership and our bar and restaurant partners. As of today, we have over 1,000 venues – many of which are in Dongguan – comprising the largest English-language bar and restaurant database in the Pearl River Delta. Our readers have found us to be a very useful resource, and we will continue to be so with or without One for the Road in our listings. As a courtesy and according to your request, will will remove One for the Road listings and event information within the next 24 hours.

Best of luck with the restaurant.

One for the Road’s listing and event information have been removed as of now, in accordance with Cakebread’s request.  We also contacted Cakebread to inform him of our intention to publish the email correspondence, and he had no objections.

This is a good opportunity to elaborate on what we do at The Nanfang. Our staff has been based in the Pearl River Delta for many years. I have lived in Beijing and Shanghai as well, while my other co-founder has spent years in Taiwan. We believe the PRD is the best place to live and work in all of China, and we launched the Nanfang to celebrate South China by providing information not found anywhere else. This includes the largest collection of bar and restaurant listings in English anywhere in the PRD as well as news and translations from the Chinese press.

However, we are not perfect. We are a very young site and there are still many things we need to do to make it better for our readers. Several of you have left us comments in our stories, left reviews of venues, or emailed us to disagree with how we do things, offer praise (thank you!) or suggestions. We deeply appreciate it, and have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline to share with you in the months ahead.

Our staff pour countless hours into their contributions to the site, and that includes restaurant and bar reviews. Most do it for no compensation at all, other than their love of the PRD. All reviews are edited by our team to ensure accuracy before they are posted to the site. We stand by every word of our reviews. However, we don’t expect everyone to agree with our conclusions, which is why we have a vibrant comments section that is open to everyone.

Also, we will not remove any review under threat from anyone. Our reviews are not done haphazardly and are based on the reviewer’s impressions of a venue based on price, quality, service and ambiance. In terms of service quality, things like food delivery times are factual representations and are not subjective in any way. By publishing this, we are passing along valuable information to our readers. Issues pertaining to food quality and ambiance are all subjective, which again is why we encourage dissenting opinions in our comments section.

We are publishing this email exchange so our readers understand why One for the Road’s listing and event information are no longer listed on The Nanfang. Although no longer found on our dining and nightlife pages, we still have over 1,000 venues in our database and that list grows everyday.  We will work closely with our bar and restaurant partners across the PRD to get the most relevant information to you in the best way we can.


The Spin Doctor – Sean Rowe, “Magic”

Posted: 09/18/2011 8:47 am

Sean Rowe, “Magic” (ANTI-)

3.8 out of 5

New York native Sean Rowe just has one of those voices: part Van Morrison, part Tom Waits (his fellow label mate) and part Leonard Cohen, his baritone feels immediately recognizable, yet it is uniquely his own. And, much like the aforementioned artists, Rowe’s voice commands your attention and is not to be ignored. To say Rowe can “project” is something of an understatement; his bellow hits you like a ton of bricks. Rowe also looks like the owner of such a big voice: he is a big, burly and bearded man that, when not recording (or on tour playing gigs), is a dedicated naturalist and wilderness survivalist (he has even studied under wild food expert Samuel Thayer). While this certainly explains some of the lyrical imagery describing humanity’s interaction with nature, it also explains why so many of the songs on his debut LP Magic, feel as though they were written around the campfire. The record’s production further reflects this intention. Rowe’s voice completely dominates the mix, and is often accompanied by little more than acoustic or electric guitar. While Magic was initially self-released in 2009, Rowe went on to sign with ANTI- Records who have wisely re-released it.

“In your letters I can see your mouth was moving, your voice was at the tip of my recall. Then your ghost could only blush against my t-shirt, now your body shows up to take it all.” sings Rowe on the excellent opener “Surprise”, while an electric guitar, light percussion, and a single, sustained organ chord rings in the background. Equally impressive is “Night”, where Rowe’s heavily reverberated voice and acoustic guitar tell the haunting story of soldiers coming in the night through the eyes of a frightened child: “the snow was heavy and the sky was deep, and death was looking for a dancer.” Magic isn’t all slow and somber. There are a number of dirty blues-rock numbers to be found here, including the Nick Cave vibe of “Jonathan” and the excellent Cohen-esque numbers “Black Dodge” and “Wrong Side Of The Bed”. As the pace picks-up, and the arrangements get louder, so too does Rowe, who’s voice feels truly weathered and torn when he pushes into his upper register, particularly on “Wet”, where the accompanying string swells build to a moving crescendo as Rowe screams: “When your heart is broke, when your eyes are wet”.

Despite Magic’s exceptional production, Rowe’s a better folk-singer than blues rocker, and by your third spin through the record you may find yourself editing. Nevertheless, it’s rare to find such focus and maturity on a debut record. And, even where the arrangements are lacking, there’s still Rowe’s force of nature baritone to enjoy, and for many listeners, that might just be enough.

Read previous Spin Doctor reviews here


The Spin Doctor – Active Child, “You Are All I See”

Posted: 08/27/2011 10:39 am

Active Child, “You Are All I See” (Vagrant Records)

3.4 out of 5

For an instrument with such a rich history, it seems odd that the harp is largely absent from contemporary pop music. While Joanna Newsom uses the instrument regularly and PJ Harvey has flirted with the autoharp, the instrument remains a rare sight on the indie-pop/rock touring circuit. Pat Grossi is looking to change that. Performing under the moniker, Active Child, the L.A. based artist is a harpist and former choir singer who performs a rather unique blend of baroque synth-pop and post-dubstep experimental R&B. While that may sound like a bubbles and squeak musical description, Grossi’s sound isn’t far removed from the works of James Blake (who Grossi recently opened for), Antony & the Johnsons and even Bat for Lashes. Following the success of 2010’s Curtis Lane EP, Grossi’s debut LP, You Are All I See, finds the artist picking-up much where the EP left off, only on a grander and more ambitious scale.

Aside from his accomplished harp playing, Grossi’s greatest asset is his impressive falsetto. His formidable vocal range never sounds thin or syrupy and brings a lush, at times, ethereal tone to You Are All I See. For someone who allegedly does the bulk of his recording in his bedroom, his heavily reverberated vocals are more akin to something one might hear in a vast and empty cathedral than a home studio. This is immediately apparent on the album opener and title track. “You Are All I See” is a mesmerizing blend of delayed harp arpeggios, synth washes and Grossi’s, frankly, angelic voice. It’s an impressive opener. So impressive in fact it’s a tough act to follow. The hooky R&B flavoured chorus of “Hanging On” and the simply stunning “High Priestess” come close but, by the record’s second half, Grossi starts to run-out of steam and ideas. “Ivy” is a pleasant enough instrumental, yet is a little too 80’s soft rock for it’s own good. While “Way Too Fast” at 5:16 is way too long and meanders without ever really getting anywhere. Then there’s the interesting choice of “Playing House”. Featuring vocals from Tom Krell of the R&B project, How To Dress Well, the track is the most heavily James Blake influenced moment on the record. Stealing a page from Blake’s experimental R&B playbook, the track works well as a single, yet, in the context of the more baroque synth-pop moments on the record, it feels out of place and, with the auto-claps and distinctly 80’s synth measures, a tad gimmicky.

Despite the weak mid-section, You Are All I See bounces back on closing track “Johnny Belinda”. According to Grossi, the track was inspired by many late nights watching Turner Classic Movies on mute. Take that as you will, but here all of the record’s elements fuse perfectly. Grossi’s voice and harp are given an additional dose of urgency due to the accompanying string treatments, which swell beautifully around the 2:50 mark before giving way to a beautifully restrained outro.

While Grossi’s arrangements are often grandiose and enveloping, his lyrical content doesn’t operate on the same level as his musicality. With a voice like Grossi’s this is certainly forgivable, however the huge, at times near operatic arrangements only highlight Grossi’s lyrical shortcomings. Although his harp playing and layered vocals on “Hanging On” are impressive, the arrangement is compromised with lines such as: “tell me if you feel this pain, cause I don’t want to be a ball and chain”. While the first person narrative certainly keeps the record intimate, it’s not enough to bring the music the gravity it deserves. Still, despite the album’s weaknesses there are some truly compelling moments here, and I doubt you’ll hear fans of Grossi’s EP complaining. While far from a perfect debut, there’s certainly enough moments to hold one’s attention from cover to cover and, of course, there’s always that beautiful harp.

You can stream “You Are All I See” in its entirety here

Read previous Spin Doctor reviews here


The Spin Doctor – Beirut, “The Rip Tide”

Posted: 08/6/2011 8:12 am

Beirut – “The Rip Tide” (Pompeii Records)

3.8 out of 5

In the realm of Western Indie pop, traditional Balkan and Eastern European music is hard to come by. Throw in a touch of French and Mexican balladry for good measure, and you’ve essentially narrowed the field to 25 year-old, New Mexico native, Zach Condon; better known as the songwriter behind Beirut. If you’re thinking that that’s a lot of musical baggage for one band to have to carry around, you’d be right. After taking over four years to follow-up Beirut’s excellent sophomore release, The Flying Club Cup, it would appear as if the band has decided to scale things back a tad.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Condon conceded that he’s trying to be less of a “dilettante” with instruments and that for The Rip Tide he wanted to bring a greater sense of focus to the record, sticking primarily to piano, ukulele and trumpet. True to his word, The Rip Tide is Beirut’s leanest record to date, shedding much of the meandering, avant-garde elements of his prior LP’s and EP’s for something much more pop oriented. Whether or not that’s a good thing will largely depend on the aspects of Beirut’s catalogue you’re most fond of. Opening track “A Candle’s Fire” is a fantastic blend of brass and ukulele and suggests business as usual for Beirut, as does excellent first single “East Harlem”. Things shift gears however on “Sante Fe”. Utilizing what sounds like the $5 drum machine used in “Scenic World” from Beirut’s debut LP, the attempted shift in sound feels forced and acts as more of a distraction than anything else. The same can be said for the title track, where the drum machine compromises an otherwise gorgeous string and brass melody. For a band with an army of musicians at its disposal, it seems an odd choice to compromise such brilliant, rich instrumentation with something so cheap and tinny sounding.

There are clear indications however that Condon’s songwriting chops have flourished since The Flying Club Cup. Condon has stated in interviews that he struggled with writing lyrics for The Rip Tide, and that the works of E.E. Cummings have been a great source of inspiration (apparently he finds Cummings’ written rhythm “very singable”). Whether or not E.E. Cummings is singularly responsible, the influence has certainly strengthened Condon’s lyricism. If there were any doubt that aside from the excellent musicians Condon surrounds himself with, that Condon himself is an immense songwriting talent, standout tracks “Goshen” and “The Peacock” should put such suspicions to rest. Both songs are stunningly beautiful ballads that start with nothing beyond Condon’s signature baritone (which still sounds at least a decade beyond his 25 years), and piano/organ, before gradually introducing further accompaniment. The former plays like a lullaby, while the latter plays like a lament: “Calls and sings, Berlin, Berlin. Among the camp, we’re done with him. We’d shoot him down, but then, but then. Where should I, begin, begin? He’s the only one who knows the words.”

At nine tracks and 33 minutes The Rip Tide is a slim, streamlined affair, yet I can’t help but feel something has been lost in the process. While this is easily the leanest, and most pop oriented collection of tunes Condon has composed, and will undoubtedly introduce him to a broader fan base, it has been at the expense of the more rustic, scattershot aspects of Beirut’s repertoire. There are few moments of instrumental madness such as The Flying Club Cup’s “In The Mausoleum” or Gulag Orkestar’s “Bratislava” to be found here. And though I would happily recommend The Rip Tide to those unfamiliar with Beirut’s work, hardened fans may find the makeover somewhat disappointing.

Note – Though The Rip Tide was released digitally August 2nd (you can buy a digital download here), the record is not available physically until August 30th.

Read previous Spin Doctor Reviews


The Spin Doctor – Richard Buckner, “Our Blood”

Posted: 07/30/2011 9:35 am

Richard Buckner – “Our Blood” (Merge Records)

4.1 out of 5

Whether or not you’re a fan of American alt-country veteran Richard Buckner, it’s hard not to feel for the man. Following a prolific run of releases through the 90’s and early 00’s, it has been five years since Buckner has released an LP, although not for a lack of trying. With his real life trials and tribulations playing like a character from a Lars von Trier film, it’s a wonder Our Blood ever saw the light of day:

1. Completed film score for a film that never happened: check.
2. Loss of material due to complete and utter failure of recording equipment: check.
3. Further loss of material due to burglarized apartment and stolen laptop: check.
4. Murder investigation involving a burned-out car, headless corpse and Buckner’s truck: check.

For an artist not exactly known for his verbosity, it was Buckner himself who in a single sentence (albeit an extremely long one) best summarized the whole debacle: “Insinuations were re-insinuated until the last percussive breaths of those final OCD utterances were expelled like the final heaves of bile, wept-out long after climactic drama had faded to a somber, blurry moment of truth and voilå!, the record was done, or, let us be clear, abandoned like the charred shell of a car with a nice stereo.” Enough said.

With such a dramatic back-story, one might expect the nine song collection of Our Blood to be among the bleakest of Buckner’s catalogue. Even some of the titles suggest as much: “Traitor”, “Thief” and “Collusion”. Our Blood certainly hints at something dark and desolate, yet the warm and full arrangements aren’t nearly as bleak as one might expect. Buckner has always exercised great restraint in his arrangements and Our Blood is no exception. Tracks such as opener “Traitor” and the excellent “Thief” integrate guitars, pedal steel, organ and well placed electronic atmospherics. Yet just when you think the guitars are going to take-off, Buckner reels everything back in. It’s a compelling effect and it leaves a lot of minutiae to explore on repeated listens, such as the guitar work on “Thief” which sounds like it was performed using old, rusted strings. As for Buckner’s vocals, they’re as weathered and grainy as ever. On the more stripped arrangements such as “Escape” and “Hindsight”, Buckner’s warm voice is given room to really dominate the mix: “Let’s waste the night. Pay the price and get out of here”, he sings on “Escape”, something of a mantra for the record, “It’s not enough, backing up just to disappear. Without a fight, they’ll never know we’ve won.”

At the precise mid-point of the record, instrumental “Ponder” is the aural equivalent of tumbleweed rolling through the desert. Easily the bleakest moment on the record, the track plays as the perfect interlude between the record’s first and second half. And, thankfully, the second half picks-up much where the first left off. “Witness” has a wonderful march behind the guitars, and the organ brings a real warmth to the track, while the acoustic guitars of “Confession” play as the sister track to the first half’s “Escape”: “Come when you can, so close to the light. You won’t understand when there’s no place to hide from what we’ve done. When will you come?”

With regard to tempo, there’s not much variation to be found on Our Blood, but then that’s kind of the point. At nine tracks and 37 minutes in length, Our Blood is an economical and brilliantly restrained mood piece: nothing feels out of place, and each track is perfectly complementary of the last. There are so many subtleties to discover on Our Blood that you may feel as if you’re missing something after only a few listens. Like the somewhat enigmatic song titles, the record takes time to reveal itself, but it is well worth the effort.

At this point in Buckner’s career (Our Blood is his 10th LP), it feels cheap and cliché to speak of his “cult following” and fringe status. Although he may never enjoy the commercial success of some of his contemporaries, Buckner’s fan base is strong enough to keep him going for as long as he feels he has something to say. From his excellent debut Bloomed, back in 1994 to the present, Buckner’s mission statement has remained the same: compelling song craft with equally compelling lyricism. If that’s not a good enough combination to sell records to the masses, then that’s just their loss.

Read previous Spin Doctor reviews here


The Spin Doctor – Yuck, “Yuck”

Posted: 07/23/2011 12:23 pm

Yuck – “Yuck” (Fat Possum)

3.9 out of 5

The sheer abundance of new record releases each week is truly staggering. Between major and indie labels, self-releases, bedroom recordings, mix-tapes and all of the blogs monitoring all of the above, it doesn’t take much for a great record to fall through the cracks. As we’re now moving into the second half of the year, I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight a record from the first half of 2011 that I… ahem… missed.

Music should never be evaluated on whether or not it’s aesthetically pleasing but if it were, London, England-based band, Yuck certainly wouldn’t win any awards. With their rather questionable choice of a band name and the equally questionable “cover art” of their self-titled debut, one might presume Yuck is actively trying to dissuade listeners from purchasing its record. Yet what the band lacks in aesthetics, it more than compensates for where it matters: the music. Yuck is most accurately categorized as “90’s revivalists” (yet another genre catchphrase created by the blogosphere), blending a quiet/loud alt-rock dynamic that picks up where Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Pavement and even early Sparklehorse left off. Yet, unlike this year’s over-hyped Pains of Being Pure at Heart LP, which plays like a bunch of tweens doing Smashing Pumpkins covers at the local karaoke bar, Yuck has legitimately earned the 90′s rock comparisons, due to some true grit, and an impressively diverse repertoire. Not bad for a bunch of kids that are barely 20 years old.

“Tell me when the pain kicks in.” snarls frontman Daniel Blumberg’s fuzzed out vocals on opener “Get Away”, while overdriven guitars and a solid bottom end courtesy of Mariko Doi on bass lay it on thick in the background. It’s impressive just how catchy of a melody Yuck is able to extract out of all of that fuzz. “The Wall” is equally hooky, with some great lead guitar work courtesy of Max Bloom and a simple, yet economical vocal line: “Trying to make it through the wall/You can see me if you’re tall”. Prior to forming Yuck, Blumberg and Bloom cut a record with their former band Cajun Dance Party. Though they disbanded after only one LP, the recording sessions, which were completed with the help of Suede mastermind, Bernard Butler, have clearly given Blumberg and Bloom some formidable songwriting chops. Tracks such as “Shook Down”, “Stutter” and “Suicide Policeman” remove the fuzz from Blumberg’s vocals and incorporate brass and acoustic instrumentation. It’s these more subtle moments that show that Yuck has approached its debut with a complete absence of pretension and, more importantly, that they aren’t one-trick ponies as one might suspect following the one-two punch of “Get Away” and “The Wall”.

The record closes on a stellar note. First with “Rose Gives a Lilly”, a back-to-basics shoegaze instrumental that perfectly sets up “Rubber”, my vote for album closer of the year thus far. At just over seven minutes, it’s an opus of distorted guitars, crashing cymbals, fuzzed out vocals, feedback, and… well, more distorted guitars. Reminiscent of Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins, or Mogwai (who have already re-mixed the track), “Rubber” spends most of its time plodding along slowly like its trudging through a foot of mud, before finally exploding in a barrage of cymbals and bottom end distortion: “Should I give in?” sings Blumberg, before resigning himself in the final verse: “Yes, I give in”. There’s something immensely cathartic about the track, as if Yuck is somehow aware of all of the 90’s tags that will be thrown at them and have chosen to take the final few minutes of their debut demonstrating that, where their equally young contemporaries (looking at you Smith Westerns/Pains of Being Pure at Heart), are more concerned with plagiarizing a specific era’s tone without the soul, Yuck isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty.

“Dinosaur Jr. light” will undoubtedly follow Yuck. As will complaints of sounding like Pavement, Sonic Youth or Pixies hacks. Though there’s certainly something to be said for going straight to the source material rather than listening to some contemporary mélange, that argument presupposes that the listener is aware of the source material. Just as teenagers of the 90’s discovered The Replacements and Dinosaur Jr. listening to the aforementioned 90′s legends, teenagers and 20 something’s of this generation also need a reference point, and as far as reference points go, they could do a whole lot worse than Yuck.

Read previous Spin Doctor reviews


The Spin Doctor – The Rosebuds, “Loud Planes Fly Low”

Posted: 06/17/2011 9:39 am

The Rosebuds – “Loud Planes Fly Low” (Merge Records)

3.7 out of 5

Like any other form of journalism, the music critic isn’t above a little voyeuristic sensationalism. Classic songwriting confessionals such as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, The Beatles Let It Be, and The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street, to name but a few, are as famous for their dramatic back stories as they are for their music. As an additional layer of narrative grit is often as compelling as an album’s music (particularly when broken relationships are involved), it’s no wonder a record label may want to capitalize on the drama. Enter North Carolina-based band, The Rosebuds. Fronted by former husband and wife duo, Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp, the band had recorded four prior LPs, most recently 2008’s Life Like. But as relationships often do, things fell apart, and in 2009, Crisp picked-up and moved to Brooklyn… alone. Yet, rather than call their musical and creative relationship quits, Howard and Crisp persevered, culminating in the band’s fifth LP, Loud Planes Fly Low. Getting back to voyeuristic sensationalism, Merge Records’ press release describes the record as (amongst other things): “…born of the struggle to define their relationship as bandmates – and more importantly, friends-outside of the context of marriage.” Yeah…subtle it ain’t. And though there’s no shortage of melancholic testimonials, these are not turgid, gut-wrenching songs; rather, the mid-tempo arrangements are restrained, if not a little safe.

This is apparent right from the get-go. Opener “Go Ahead” is a typical Rosebuds track in so much as it’s a mid-tempo, guitar driven piece of pop music. However the accompanying piano, shimmering guitars and vocal effects through the chorus push for something larger. “Go ahead and be my world, and everything will be okay.” sings Howard. The track builds with the introduction of an organ in the second verse and continues to swell through the piano and cymbal crashes of the outro. “Limitless Arms” builds on the momentum, introducing strings and additional keyboards. Though the lyrical content is anything but merry: (“And I feel that I’m reaching out… for the last time.”), the arrangement never pushes the envelope into morose sappiness, and wisely cuts the accompaniment back to a gradual fade-out rather than a string-drenched bombardment. This tone continues through the record’s first half, including the disco flavoured “Come Visit Me” (the only track here where Krisp goes it alone on lead vocals), before hitting album standouts “Without a Focus” and “Waiting for You”. The former strips back the accompaniment, leaving Howard alone with his acoustic guitar to recount his heartbreak. Void of any reverb or other vocal effects, Howard delivers a frank testimonial: “I don’t know how I am supposed to feel”, he sings. It’s one of the more stirring moments on the record, particularly when accentuated by a lead guitar, cello and stand-up bass introduced a minute into the track and left to quietly reverberate in the back of the mix. “Waiting for You”, is the flip side of the coin, delivering a similarly frank relationship narrative, yet with the most soaring instrumental accompaniment to be found here.

With the exception of the raucous “Woods”, which turns up the guitars and pushes Howard’s layered vocals into the red, the last three tracks stick to the restrained delivery of the record’s first half, which is somewhat disappointing considering the record’s excellent midsection. It’s that aforementioned restraint that may be a deal breaker for some. Even at its most earnest, Loud Planes never beats you over the head with relationship trauma (thank god), yet with the notable exception of “Without a Focus” and “Woods”, the record more or less plays it safe, sticking to the same mid-tempo moody atmospherics throughout. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite the repetitive formula, producer Chris Stamey clearly runs a tight ship, and he extracts a lush, fluidness from the mix that allows tracks like “Go Ahead” and “Waiting for You” to really soar. However, while the polished finish ensures an enjoyable listen and plenty of replay value, it lacks the necessary grit to be the “riskiest and most rewarding” record that Merge wants you to believe it is.

- Ewan Christie

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Explosions In The Sky – “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care”

Posted: 04/29/2011 8:07 am

Explosions In The Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

4.1 out of 5

Austin, Texas’ Explosions In The Sky is one of those bands that hit you like a ton of emotional bricks. Their rapturous crescendos and diminuendos are often accompanied with an emotional gravitas sorely lacking in contemporary music. The fact that Explosions achieves this feat in the general absence of vocals is all the more impressive. Broadly branded as “post-rock”, a label the band continues to vehemently reject, Explosions has been tossed among similar artists of the genre. And though there are obvious similarities, most notably the loud/soft dynamic and instrumental nature, to my ear, Explosions has always operated on another playing field; not necessarily “better”, but undoubtedly unique. Explosions has never sought to play harder and louder than their contemporaries (see Mogwai), to be overtly political (see Godspeed), or to be avant garde (see Do Make Say Think), rather, Explosions has taken the middle ground, appealing to an emotional warmth and richness often absent from their peers’ work.

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is the band’s fifth proper LP, and first since 2007’s All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. Though Take Care is largely business as usual, the four-year break between records has brought a renewed sense of focus and direction missing from their last LP. Moreover, the band has taken a decidedly different approach in the album’s arrangements. In a recent interview with Spin magazine, members Michael James and Munaf Rayani stated that on past Explosions records the goal had been to strictly write songs that could be performed live: “recording an album is basically just making a document of these songs as we play them live. [For Take Care]… we wanted to make the songs as they sounded in our head, as opposed to how we could make them sound onstage.” This change of approach has resulted most notably in additional overdubs, and though it’s a welcome development in the band’s sound, it’s hardly a paradigm shift.

The opening track, “Last Known Surroundings”, easily bests the majority of All of a Sudden. Opening with droning, e-bow laden guitars, and what sounds like a rather ill ticking clock, the band quickly announces that despite a discography stretching back to 2000, there’s still plenty of fuel left in the tank. The acoustic guitar driven transition at the halfway point gives way to one hell of a payoff with the band firing on all cylinders, eventually pushing to a crashing crescendo. The second track, “Human Qualities” speaks to some of the aforementioned overdubs; incorporating drum treatments, handclaps, strings, additional percussion and vocal harmonies. Though clearly evident, the additional layers on the track are subtle enough to be complementary without being distracting. Ironically, it’s the shortest and most unique track here that fails to resonate. “Trembling Hands” starts off interestingly enough, with mountainous drumming and a clever vocal loop. The three and a half minute running time however incorporates too much too fast, and results in awkwardly forced transitions.

The standout track here is “Postcard from 1952”. At 7:07, the track doesn’t waste a second of its running time. Opening with a simple, slow moving guitar line, the track gradually builds before exploding in a cascade of guitars around the five and a half minute mark. Speaking of which, the cascading guitars at the beginning of the album’s closer, “Let Me Back In”, are striking, while the climax of the track is one of the heavier crescendos in their repertoire. With a grimy guitar underpinning and drumming salvo, the song will reverberate in the pit of your stomach, before its denouement gently drifts off into the sunset. At 10:07 the track pushes its luck slightly, though all of the pieces of the puzzle are there and it proves to be a worthy closer.

Despite some compelling guitar counterpoint, the real treat of Take Care is Chris Hrasky’s drumming. Long the driving force of Explosions’ unique instrumental sound, the band seems to have resigned itself to his crushing power and have clearly pushed the drums up in the mix. Though this will no doubt be overpowering to some, to my ear, it adds an emotional depth and a sense of urgency I felt was largely absent on their last LP.

So there you have it: another Explosions record. Detractors will argue it’s more of the same, yet another demonstration of a band that has failed to change with the times. Perhaps. Though Take Care is hardly a game changer, it doesn’t make it any less of a fantastic record. What Explosions does, it does exceptionally well and the fact that fans and critics alike are still paying attention eleven years later is evidence of that. There’s an emotional intensity with Explosions’ work that is at times haunting, but always compelling, and until it isn’t, I’ll keep listening.

- Ewan Christie



Literati – True Grit, Charles Portis

Posted: 03/13/2011 8:32 am

“True Grit is when you are a 14 year-old girl from Yell County, Arkansas, and you’ve just shot a dangerous outlaw and the gun’s recoil has sent you backward into a pit, and you are wedged in the pit and sinking fast into a cave below where bats are brushing your legs, and you reach out for something to hold on to and find a rotting corpse beside you and it’s full of angry rattlers, and then it turns out you didn’t kill the outlaw, he’s up at the rim of the pit laughing at you, about to shoot you – and you don’t lose your nerve. That’s True Grit.”

- Eliot Fremont-Smith, The New York Times


I don’t usually like to start anything with a quote, but I just couldn’t write anything better that summed up True Grit quite like this one. For those that haven’t been properly introduced, True Grit was written by Charles Portis, and was published in 1968. It has twice been adapted for the silver screen; it won John Wayne one of his two Oscars, and the remake collected 10 nominations, including best picture, director, adapted screenplay, actor and supporting actress.

True Grit is told from the perspective of 14 year-old Mattie Ross, shortly after the end of the American Civil War. Mattie leaves her mother and siblings in search of Tom Chaney, the hired hand that robbed and murdered her father. In order to hunt him down, she hires a U.S. Marshall with “True Grit”, Rooster Cogburn. They are joined by Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (pronounced “La Beef”), who had already tracked Chaney across several states. Together, Mattie, Cogburn and LaBoeuf follow Chaney into “Indian territory” in order to bring him to justice.

Although Mattie is telling us this story, she tells it years after the fact. We hear the voice of an old woman telling of her adventures in the Wild West, as remembered and filtered through time. Hers is the voice of frontier America, recounting shootings, stabbings and murders without inflection. She quotes the bible and often colours her story with lessons learned in a 19th century Presbyterian Sunday School. In Mattie, it is easy to see shades of what will eventually be called America’s Manifest Destiny. And, despite her searching for the right U.S. Marshall to help her catch her father’s killer, she most certainly demonstrates the true grit she was hoping to find in Cogburn.

Outwardly, Rooster Cogburn is everything that Mattie is not; he is fat, violent and alcoholic. He is a veteran of the Confederate Army, as well as the border gang of William Clarke Quantrill, a violent group that earned its notoriety by massacre. Although Cogburn could easily have been pigeon-holed as a violent and one-dimensional character, Portis gives him more depth by weaving a moral centre, not completely unlike Mattie’s, through his being. His is bold, loyal and possessed of a strict sense of right and wrong. And, like Mattie, he is as stoic as he is unwavering in his determination to find Chaney and bring him to justice. Cogburn, however, is a symbol of an already passing era in American history, one of reconstruction, adventure and the Wild West. He describes these eras as if they were already behind him, and they were more freewheeling and courageous. He is almost illiterate and, when filling out his fee sheets, he complains of the “regulations laid down by Uncle Sam,” and that “…if you don’t have schooling you are up against it in this country, sis…that man has no chance anymore. No matter if he has got sand in his craw, other will push him aside, little thin fellows that have won spelling bees back home.” Cogburn is not unaware that his time is passing. This is made all the more evident when, in the final chapters, Mattie attempts to find Cogburn at a travelling “Wild West Show” in which he has been performing for the last few years of his life.

In the end, True Grit is a novel of change; but, traditional values such as courage, loyalty and justice still have their place in the new world, just as new values are accepted and prized. As I said, I could not write a better synopsis of True Grit than Mr. Fremont-Smith of The New York Times, above. Go – get the book and read it. Now. I promise you won’t regret it.