Review: Michael Flynn – Face In The Cloud

Michael Flynn will be known to a few as one half of Slow Runner, a pop rock outfit from South Carolina. Their bio boasts that their music has been employed to promote “useful products like cars and shampoo” as well as the oft-referenced Grey’s Anatomy (do they ever make room for dialogue in that show?). With his new solo album, though, Flynn has produced arguably this year’s guilty pleasure.

Michael Flynn Album Cover

An album which opens with a frenetic burst of military drums mixed with ambient music and ends with a trip-hop/film noir piece called ‘That Danny Glover Feeling’ surely has to be cherished. Unafraid of sounding brash when he needs to, ‘Winsome Lonesome’ begins with a burst of synths which wouldn’t sound out of place on the theme to Flashdance but the song then unfolds into soulful electronica; Flynn’s warm vocals urging “somebody take me home” to anyone who will listen. ‘Old Soul’ is Flynn in his most infectious mode from the catchy synth lines to Flynn’s unerringly melodic tones. It’s a glorious moment and ‘Face In The Cloud’ is full of these moments.

Exploring his darker side, ‘Holy Ghost’ moves into spooky circles both literally and musically, thanks to frosty beats and bleeps which chill to the bone. An appealing falsetto and further cheap but hooky synths distinguish ‘Pop Culture’. Further pleasures occur on the smooth ‘Bird In The House’ (“just let me run my fingers through your feathers”) and the “last song at the school disco” feel to ‘The Arrow At Your Feet’, whilst some forlorn digitised vocals on the piano-led ‘A Love That Bends’ imagines romance for robots.

No matter how cheesy and retro some of these songs may be in their approach, the constants are Flynn’s imagination and unfailing ear for melody. He also deserves great credit for creating a sense of intimacy with his emotive take on bedroom studio pop.

Web Sites:
Michael Flynn Official Site
Michael Flynn Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Postal Service, Scritti Politti, Christian McKee

Review: Creation Myth – Always

Having recently suffered from a migraine, some gentle, soothing balm-type music was called for so it seemed entirely appropriate to revisit Creation Myth’s EP. Modestly publicised, modestly produced and modestly sung, ‘Always’ is a long way from perfection and yet there are plenty of indications this Brooklyn trio could be a special band.

Creation Myth Album Cover

Floating along like a gentle version of Cocteau Twins (think ‘Victorialand’ with a drum machine), ‘Savor’ is a subtle and elegant way to start this EP. Granted the singer is no Liz Fraser and the production is nowhere near as polished (to be honest, whose production is?) but there’s a definite mystery and ethereal quality on this track which runs right through the whole EP. ‘It’s You’ is simply lovely and the best offering here. A glacial, lilting guitar melody floats along the languid rhythms whilst the vocals caress the listener into a state of euphoria.

‘Hold Me’ provides the most distortion-heavy moment and initially comes across as rather abrasive but at its core is an unwinding, chiming motif which holds the key to a fine if somewhat messily produced song. The title track is distinguished by a steady electronic pulse pushed to the foreground whilst a menagerie of effects provide the requisite atmospheric shimmer as the song heads into darker, murkier territory. ‘Lower’ returns to the ambient approach from the beginning of the EP and even though the song drifts into nowhere in particular, it maintains the appealing warmth of ‘Always’.

The final three tracks aren’t quite so captivating as the first two and yet they are still mesmerising and chilling in their own way. Given the lo-fi quality of this EP, it’s exciting to think how good this band could be even if they’re a long way from being the finished article.

Web Sites:
Creation Myth Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Cocteau Twins, The Plague Monkeys, Annie Barker, Cranes

Review: Cockatoo – Present

Cockatoo are a Canadian based-band led by the virtuoso talents of guitarist/singer Robyn Bright, who also performs as a solo act and one half of experimental duo Hamsas Xii. Cockatoo themselves are content to shimmer around the genres of post-punk and dream pop whilst casting longing glances at goth music.

Cockatoo Album Cover

‘Present’ begins with satisfying fleshy tribal drums and Bright’s forlorn yet powerful vocals. It’s a bewitching beginning continued by ‘Lost In My Own Sound’, which draws on Siouxsie And The Banshees’ ‘Juju’-era but brings forth its own intensity and melodrama. Both lyrically and musically it captures the essence of ‘Present’, with the band seemingly adrift in a gothic storm or perhaps the ‘Abyss’ that is name-checked in track number nine. Mood-wise the only way is down which can create a claustrophobic atmosphere, particularly on the less urgent material from the second half of the album where Cockatoo begin to sound like a spent force; seemingly exhausted from hammering away on guitars and percussion.

Cockatoo aren’t a band to go for obvious hooks, instead they play the long game with their songs building and building in tension, grinding the listener into submission. It’s a technique perfected on The Mission-like guitar walls for ‘Disguises’ and the similarly mesmeric, multi-layered likes of ‘Static’, ‘Barricades’ and ‘Pokerfaced’. In a rare case of immediacy, ‘Kashikikawa’ is one of only two songs to clock in under four minutes and a few more shorter songs would have been welcome to break up the prolonged angst.

By the time of the gruelling, driving finale ‘Hit & Run’, it’s hard not to feel a sense of fatigue due to the sheer relentlessness of the band’s performance. Certainly, given the lack of variation on the near hour-long ‘Present’, the album could have done with a little bit of pruning. However, the doom-laden conviction of the band can be captivating and for the first half of this album at least, their manifesto is gripping.

Web Sites:
Cockatoo Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Siouxsie And The Banshees, All About Eve, The Attic Ends

Review: Fractions – Fractions

Newcastle’s Fractions are possibly the archetypal modern indie pop band. Ideas were formulated by the band members sending their individual contributions back and forth from their own “secluded home studios”. Their first EP definitely shows their talents but at times their EP does sound like five musicians competing against each other.

Fractions EP Cover

The portentous ‘Into The Earth’ presents a doomy atmosphere made further unnerving by sharp stabs of electronica. An enticing beginning but slightly misleading given what is to follow. The exuberant ‘Burst’ is noteworthy for Lucy Gallagher’s strident vocals backed up by some equally strident bass guitar whilst synth washes weave attractively in between; comparisons will be made with New Order although New York’s Elika are possibly a closer match.

‘Breathe’ is the epitome of shiny, 21st Century pop; there’s a strong chorus but the mix buries the vocals somewhat under a collision of beats and synths, thereby diluting the impact. It’s the first occasion when the band sound like they’re trying to out-do each other rather than perform as a collective unit. To some extent, ‘Resist’ suffers from too many cooks as well but the underlying hooks are undoubtedly solid whilst the finale, ‘Fate’, begins subtly enough but then explodes into rather shapeless nugaze.

Fractions are not quite the sum of their parts yet but these issues could be ironed out quite easily, simply by making their songs less busy. Furthermore, a leaner, more collaborative approach would be advisable for any future releases to elevate them from promising talents to electronic/dream pop heroes.

Web Sites:
Fractions Bandcamp
Fractions SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Elika, The Other Two, Dubstar

Review: Lettie – Crossroads

It was back in 2008 when Suffolk songstress Lettie released a double whammy of albums; showcasing both her acoustic and quirky electronica talents. Interest was duly piqued for lovers of female-led idiosyncratic pop although – and through no fault of her own – it wasn’t until 2012 that her next album arrived, the more commercially-friendly ‘Good Fortune, Bad Weather’. In anticipation of album number four, Lettie now teases us with a short but most definitely sweet EP, recorded with legendary drummer Dave Barbarossa, of Adam And The Ants and Bow Wow Wow renown.

Lettie EP Cover

‘Crossroads’ gets events underway with smooth synths and Barbarossa lending surprisingly subtle support. It’s a hopeful, optimstic number, positively declaring “I’ve made a decision, I’ve got to change my ways” with Lettie’s breezy yet mature delivery and rich arrangement ensuring that the song is moving rather than throwaway. As the title implies, ‘Drowning’ is a darker affair, Lettie’s innocent vocals forlornly declaring “I never thought you were drowning, you seemed so happy to me” against Barbrossa’s slick, crisp support. The song itself is reminiscent of the groove-pop of Luscious Jackson but with an added sinister undercurrent. ‘Lake’ is the track where the drummer’s reputation for tribal percussion is most noticeable; his lively backing and some primal guitar riffing providing the perfect foundation for Lettie’s most exuberant, playful performance, even if the song follows on from the theme of finding the supposed victim of the second track.

The EP is all over in under ten minutes but this is bittersweet pop music of the highest order, which will leave Lettie’s fan salivating for the next installment. Let us hope we will not have to wait too long.

Web Sites:
Lettie Blog
Lettie Official Site
Lettie Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Black Box Recorder, Sarah Nixey, Adam And The Ants, Luscious Jackson

Review: Maybeshewill – Fair Youth

Hailed by the metal press as well as the more fashionable indie mags, Leicester’s Maybeshewill are one of the acts whose brand of post-rock has that all-important crossover appeal. Yet perhaps their most interesting claim to fame so far is that they provide the “skate out” music for the Finnish national ice hockey team.

Maybeshewill Album Cover

‘Fair Youth’ is their fourth album and one which could appeal to a brand new audience together. This is apparent from the brief ambient introduction, simply titled ‘…’. Granted, this relatively calm beginning soon segues into the dramatic ‘In Amber’ but some beautifully flowing piano and seductive strings ensures the elegance is maintained. ‘You And Me And Everything In Between’ is the track which most fits into metal genres but once again the piano holds the key hook.

On an album which seems to continually improve as it progresses, the digitally enhanced title track is awash with twinkly atmospherics whilst ‘All Things Transient’ and the stunning ‘Sanctuary’ make light of their complex arrangement to create something bold, triumphant and melodically fascinating. Meanwhile, ‘Waking Life’ and ‘Permanence’ are exemplars on how it is possible to merge ambient music with heavier elements and produce results which are both vital and rather moving.

By the final swells and surges on a closing ‘Volga’, it’s easy to see why Maybeshewill are one of the most intriguing instrumental bands around and ‘Fair Youth’ proves that sometimes words are not necessary to convey emotion. On this form, we shouldn’t be surprised to see these mature yet stirring anthems being adopted by national teams the world over.

Web Sites:
Maybeshewill Official Site
Video for Maybeshewill – In Amber

Further Listening:
The Absolute End Of The World, One Star Closer, Explosions In The Sky

Review: Double Eyelid – Seven Years

Faced with the promise of “theatrical electro-rock”, there might be worrying glances cast in the direction of Canada’s Double Eyelid. However, it’s a measure of the confidence and individualism of Ian Revell’s band that the result is some frequently thrilling music and the kind of record which provides a welcome shot in the arm for new goth and cold wave music.

Double Eyelid Album Cover

‘Black Box’ is a markedly different way to open up an album. Using a bedrock of fretless bass, slinky, jazzy piano and shimmering synths, Ian Revell lures in the listener with his unusual vocals which seem to be informed by the suaveness of Bryan Ferry, the sophistication of David Sylvian and the angst of The The’s Matt Johnson. That alone is quite an achievement but this opening track and many others which follow it are delivered with real class. ‘Diamond Cutter’ features Revell and co. in their most commercial-friendly form; the key being the cold, stuttering rhythms and glammy guitars, which recall French act Colder in their most infectious form. As a frontman, Revell is certainly not one to hold back. One could accuse him of being overwrought for the excellent, lurching ‘She’s Falling’ but his OTT performance is perfectly suited to the wonderful ‘John’ which moves from quiet balladry to power chords with a great deal of confidence and style.

A less even second half is still full of invention and personality. Moving from the horrific imagery of ‘The Hanged Woman’ (“She rolled her eyes right back”), to a sparse yet complex ‘Dirty Weather’, checking in on the escalating tension of ‘The Stranger’ and ending with the sinister sonic experiment, ‘He Fell’, there’s a refreshing energy and dynamism to these songs. Indeed, there’s never a dull moment here and the frontman is a revelation.

Web Sites:
Double Eyelid Official Site
Double Eyelid Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Japan, Roxy Music, Cold Cave, The The, Bauhaus


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