Review: Deadwall – Bukimi No Tani

As a support act chosen by artists such as British Sea Power, Cherry Ghost and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadler, Deadwall have kept good company over the last year. Now is the time for the Leeds band to go alone with a new album which, in their words, “treads the line between beauty and brutality”.

Deadwall Album Cover

‘Blood Orange’ and its tear-stained balladry may not be the most obvious choice for an opener but this is an album which definitely doesn’t follow a set pattern. This first track is an early showcase for Thomas Gourley’s voice of vulnerability, with the arrangement stripped back so it’s largely him and a steel guitar until the crescendo of effects kicks in, or the “Deadwall Of Sound” as they might call it. For those who find the opening a little frail, the raw aggression underscoring the incisive ‘Eyes/White/Shut’ serves as a welcome shot in the arm.

After this impressive opening, the chirpy ‘Two Rakes’ whiffs a little too much of Belle And Sebastian and the angsty ‘My Mori’ comes across as somewhat overwrought.  Thankfully, it’s largely good news after that. ‘The Great Beast’ may be another piano ballad but it’s a warm and very touching piece, given further character by its vintage arrangement and another captivating performance from Gourley who seems very much at home with the more sedate numbers. Later on, ‘Daffolion’ flies the flag for lovelorn indie rock (“a weed is a flower in the wrong place) and the nagging intensity of ‘Brick’ is a refreshingly caustic interruption.

‘Bukimi No Tani’ is an album of curiosity and contrasts which thinks nothing of switching between theatrical and grunge influences. The constant beating heart at the centre of it all is Gourlay; a frontman of great charisma and owner of a heartfelt falsetto. This alone should see Deadwall shed their support billing status sooner rather than later.

Web Sites:
Deadwall Official Site
Stream of Deadwall – Bukimi No Tani

Further Listening:
Kapowski, Belle And Sebastian

Review: Pilots Of Japan – Only Perfect Rest

We have to go back to 2005 to recall the first album by Pilots Of Japan, which earned a 4 out of 5 review from Leonard’s Lair at time and was described as “idiosyncratic and fun”. Now the follow-up has arrived but Pilots Of Japan are just down to one recording member, David Smith, who has decamped to the USA since that debut, ‘The Plan To Reverse Time’. It would be fascinating to report that the other band members fell out due to musical differences or a row over royalties but the logistics of the original group living in different continents now is obviously a much bigger factor. No matter, the core values of Pilots Of Japan remain the same.

Pilots Of Japan Album Cover

‘Only Perfect Rest’ begins with a quartet of enjoyable and very different songs. ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ offers a pleasing, jangly indie breeziness, ‘Makes Me Smile’ balances guitar-driven intensity with dreamy effects and a country-flavoured ‘Tomorrow, Mobile!’ brings in some lovely female harmonies. ‘Rocketships Now Go Intergalactic’ is the kind of title you would expect a young, would-be astronaut to come up with and the song, complete with “space noise”, possesses an innocence and charm which is typical of Smith’s lo-fi but always tuneful approach. Towards the centre of the record, further highlights arrive via the wistful couplet ‘My, My, Everest’ and ‘No. 12′ whilst the rock and roll-influenced ‘It’s Not A Zoo (It’s a Vivarium)’ is an unexpected but welcome pace change. Best of all, though, is ‘All The Stars Are Out Tonight’; a romantic and genuinely touching song, blessed with just the right amount of melancholy.

Eight years later and Pilots Of Japan still fit that “idiosyncratic and fun” description but many of the rough edges of ‘The Plan To Reverse Time’ have been ironed out and Smith’s own calming vocals have matured very nicely in the intervening years. So this must make ‘Only Perfect Rest’ the musical equivalent of reacquainting with an old friend.

Web Sites:
Pilots Of Japan Official Site
Pilots Of Japan SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Theselah, A. Rex

Review: Morphlexis – E-mune

Known as a plastic and video artist in his native Israel, Benjamin Esterlis has been proving his musician/producer credentials under the moniker of Morphlexis since the turn of the Century. On ‘E-mune’, he has duly delivered another set of largely instrumental numbers which give machine music a good name.

Morphlexis EP Cover

The title track is at least a partial throwback to the days of drum and bass but the depth charge beats and wicked tempo shifts create an unsettling yet compelling atmosphere. It is basically a scene setter for what is to follow though. Lurching bass and jazz rhythms usher in the brilliant ‘Beating The Devil’, with the track characterised by a lugubrious vocal and some macabre melodies.

Based on titles alone, the second half to the EP appears to give life to inanimate objects and does a fine job of it too. The skittering beats and (what appears to be) faulty plumbing noise of ‘The Secret Lives Of Elevators’ may sound unpromising but it’s a piece which captivates. Finally, we have the equally modestly-titled ‘Parking Lot Theme’, which gives the impression of a downbeat version of 808 State’s ‘Olympic’.

‘E-mune’ is a fascinating EP full of melodic and rhythmic about-turns that never lets the you settle for a moment. The only surprise is that Esterlis has been dong this for so long as it sounds remarkably fresh and perfect for headphone listening.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream for Morphlexis – E-mune

Further Listening:
808 State, Vladislav Delay, DK7

Review: The Velvet Ants – Solt Olio

The Velvet Ants’ biographical information is fairly thin on the ground but they have a simple story to the build-up to their latest album which is both believable and admirable. They hail from Fairfax, Virginia and are based around the talents of founder member Ian Margolycz who proclaims that upon working with new members Jordon Zadorozny and Eric Sakmar, he found musicians “inspiring each other, instead of convincing each each other”. It sounds like a cliché but you can certainly hear the evidence of an almost telepathic, tight-knit unit on the seamless ‘Solt Olio’.

The Velvet Ants Album Cover

The power pop and harmonies of first song ‘Find You’ are rather misleading since this is a largely downbeat, gritty record. So the next track, a rather grungy ‘Cardigan’s Fable’, is a better indicator for what is to follow which is smart, edgy, incisive indie rock and yet the band can also server up some excellent mid-paced tunes too. The vocals may lack identity; instead they act as another layer of instruments and within the context of the song they work well, such as on ‘What If I’, which is set to hypnotic jangly guitars or the driving rhythms of ‘K9 (Return Of Youth’).

‘Mirror Matches’ is possibly the band at their best. The verses creeping eerily and slowly into the chorus, with subtle and clever hooks along the way. If it has a more well-known equivalent it would be Engineers’ ‘Come In Out Of The Rain’. The middle of the record is actually where it’s strongest with the group hitting a rich seam of songwriting form. ‘The Hornet’s Eye Is Grey’ and ‘Idle Tears’ equate mystery with melancholy and melody whereas ‘Over Harbors’ pulls back from aggression when it threatens to explode into heavy metal or hard rock, all tracks evoking the latter day material of The Comsat Angels.

Too clear to be classed as shoegaze, too light to be grunge and too left of centre to be perceived as pop. Instead The Velvet Ants take the best elements of these genres as touchstones for informing their indie/alternative rock songs. The end result is a dense record which requires some work to get into it but the investment in time will definitely be rewarded.

Web Sites:
The Velvet Ants – Solt Olio Album Stream

Further Listening
Engineers, The Comsat Angels

Review: Hotels – Cinemascope III

It’s been a while since we last heard of a new album from Seattle’s Hotels which isn’t too surprising since founding member Blake Madden is now the only constant. Yet since their 2005 debut ‘Thank You For Choosing’, Hotels’ music appears to have become more and more influenced by the world of film to such an extent that this is the final part of a trio of EPs inspired by the movies.

Hotels EP Cover

‘Relentless Practitioners’ rumbles along a backdrop of Krautrock rhythms and stop-start drums, building up to a bruising and intense chorus. It is here that the familiar sound of the Hotels’ surf guitar kicks in, by which time the vocals are all but drowned under the barrage of instruments. No matter, it’s a cage-rattling good start with a retro-futurist twist. ‘The Man Who Went To Bed’ is a far more serene affair, led by a heavenly, rather wistful synth wash, not unlike The Chameleons’ ‘Silence, Sea And Sky’, whilst ‘La Maldicion Sur La Miami’ (translating to the curse of South Miami) brings back the surf guitar again, for a frenetic boat ride on the Florida surf. ‘New Beginnings In The Sun’ is the sole concession to shoegaze/dreampop and one where the songwriting rather than the soundtrack prowess is to the fore; the verses building up slowly and elegantly like an indie Bond theme before exploding into a heart-bursting chorus with gorgeous layers of effects and male/female harmonies.

‘Cinemascope III’ maintains Madden and co’s knack for creating noir-ish soundscapes with a healthy undercurrent of romance and danger. Whatever happens next, Hotels have left behind a fine legacy of film-worthy music. Thank you for choosing them.

Web Sites:
Hotels – Cinemascope III

Further Listening:
Monocle, Stereolab, The Chameleons

Review: Gonzalo Esteybar – About (EP)

The worlds of ambient and jazz fusion are joined for this new EP from Argentina’s Gonzalo Esteybar. Esteybar is clearly a specialist in electric and acoustic guitars and his fluid, dexterous yet never showy technique may well catch the casual ears of Vini Reilly followers.

Gonzalo Esteybar EP Cover

This may be a new EP but included here is a remix of an earlier track and a version of a Bach piece. The languid jazz/funk of ‘Pero Voy’ is one of the new tracks and opens up the EP with an abundance of warmth and relaxed melody; the kind of music which could be played at a dinner party but also complex enough for headphone listening. ‘About’ itself is the moment which most easily lends itself to Durutti Column comparisons, specifically during his mid 80′s phase. Esteybar employs some rather primitive programmed beats and a selection of samples; the track then working its way into curious passages of psychedelia but with Estyebar’s infectious playing the one key constant.

The remix of ‘Paspartu’ lasts significantly longer than the original but it’s such a charming little tune, it’s a privilege to hear it in its longer format. Meanwhile, the Bach reworking (‘Prelude in C#m, BWV 849′) is clever and interesting if a little shrill and awkward so it’s a testament to Esteybar’s creative talents that his own modern compositions stand out the most. Certainly, the last two tracks ‘Cuatro, Siete’ and the bonus track featuring The Rosario Guitar Ensemble aren’t quite up to the earlier standards but they do demonstrate the versatility of the artist.

‘About (EP)’ is generally of very good quality but one suggestion would be to record a few tracks which don’t include the ambient touches. After all, Esteybar’s playing is strong enough not to need them.

Web Sites:
Gonzalo Esteybar Official Site
Gonzalo Esteybar Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Durutti Column

Review: The Crookes – Soapbox

The backstory to The Crookes begins as a chance encounter when the original band members found each other dancing alone in a Sheffield club. Fast forward six years and now they’re now an indie rock band recording their third album on Fierce Panda Records but the loneliness still remains their constant inspiration.

The Crookes Album Cover

Sonically, The Crookes are cut from a similar cloth as Chapel Club, in their first album guise. They have a distinctive frontman, duelling guitarists and a widescreen epic rock sound and the doleful ‘Echolalia’ really does sound like a Chapel Club pastiche. Lead single and first track ‘Play Dumb’ could be considered their anthem but in truth there are many contenders. Here, the twin attack of jangly and jagged guitars prompts George Waite to croon and brood on inner turmoil. ‘Don’t Put Your Faith In Me’ revels in the role of the loser too, confidently proclaiming “you can count on me to fuck it up” but even though the production and words belong to the modern era, the guitars can be back-dated to the rock and roll years.

After a breathless opening of incisive indie pop, some space is required and ‘Holy Innocents’ duly arrives. It’s just Waite and a piano for ninety minutes before the band lend subtle but trademark reverb-heavy support. Naturally the quartet had to name a track ‘Outsiders’ but its impassioned cries of defiance (“Everyone you love will leave you in the end. Oh if we’re gonna die let’s go all the way”) could well be another set text for the next set of lonely dancers in South Yorkshire. There is a tendency for the songs to merge into each other a little too easily so the introduction of the fuzzed-up, gritty ‘Marcy’ is a rude but welcome interruption, whilst the low-slung rhythms of the title track brings events to a classy close.

Concentrating on lyrics alone you would have thought these were the words of a doomed folk/blues singer but it’s to the band’s credit that their music is infectious, lively and surprisingly hopeful sounding. If they cut loose a bit more on the next record and smear some mud on the production, their songs of solitude should have the necessary edge to appeal to even more outsiders too.

Web Sites:
The Crookes Official Site
The Crookes – Play Dumb Video

Further Listening:
Chapel Club, The Smiths


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