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"Living With a Tiger"

Acoustic Ladyland – Living With a Tiger
13 July 2009, 09:00 Written by Angus Finlayson
aladyland_tigerIn the war-torn fields of cultural cross-pollination that we all inhabit, jazz and rock have certainly had a few scuffles. There was Peter Brötzmann’s uncompromisingly brutal album Machine Gun back in 1968; John Zorn’s breakneck stylistic collage band Naked City in the late 80s; and, more recently, the Italian nihilistic doom-jazz trio Zu have taken up the baton. And that’s to name but a few. But none of them do it quite like Saxophonist Pete Wareham and his band Acoustic Ladyland who, when they went electric with their 2005 album Last Chance Disco, managed to win over Indie hipsters and jazz-heads alike. In Living With a Tiger, their fourth full-length release, the distorted lounge-esque keyboard of Tom Cawley is replaced with guitar courtesy of Chris Sharkey. Is this a move towards more conventional rock stylings? Not according to album opener ‘Sport Mode’, which is a familiar slice of the Ladyland pie, laden with raucous joie de vivre and underpinned by a relentless punk bounce. Wareham’s sax playing is on form too, as the impassioned shrieks and wails on this track attest. Other glimpses of the old skool sound surface occasionally: the feverish momentum of ‘Not So’ is maintained with a riff that stumbles over itself repeatedly, threatening to throw the whole thing into disarray, while in ‘Death By Platitude’ the band venture into free jazz terrain without ever wiping the mischievous smirk from their collective face. Tellingly, these tracks are all instrumental; clearly the smattering of vocal cameos on 2006 release Skinny Grin were a tactical error not to be repeated (they certainly sounded that way at the time).At other points on the album, though, the band do seem intent on expanding their sound. In ‘Living With a Tiger’ and ‘Gratitude’, quasi-stadium riffs replace the usual tricksy blastbeats - to regrettably underwhelming effect. In both of these tracks, and other parts of the album, the groove feels sluggish, the licks predictable, and the structures - well, just plain long; only a handful of songs on Living With a Tiger manage not to outstay their welcome.Granted, there are some redeeming moments: the guitar solo on ‘Gratitude’ is deliciously atonal, sounding a bit like TMV’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez if he just stopped taking it all so seriously. And the doom-laden riff of ‘The Mighty Q’ is overlaid with squeals, clicks and rasps from Wareham’s sax, tapping into a spirit of abstract experimentalism which can be traced back to Tortoise and beyond. But these are just moments, nestled among an album’s worth of largely second-rate material.Essentially, Acoustic Ladyland seem to have lost a lot of their quirk and personality in a bid to become a more defined ‘rock’ band; the sax-thrashing is toned down, and the blow-for-blow intensity - and humour - of their earlier music is mostly lost. With sister band Polar Bear’s new material sounding similarly unadventurous, it would seem that a previously exciting movement in British indie is losing steam. Looks like it’s someone else’s turn. 56%Acoustic Ladyland on Myspace
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