Published December 1, 2013
Last year, England’s Cleo Harratt released her first solo album under the guise of Halcyon. ‘Eating Cherries And Listening To The Rain’ was an arresting, if slightly fragmented record which nonetheless proved that Yorkshire-based woman could become a singer/songwriter in her own right after her impressive vocal contributions to the austere, post-rock project RealPolitik.
There’s a raw, almost grungy edge to the opening tracks which suggests that Harratt is no longer the innocent, wounded sparrow figure, so apparent on the first album. She begins confidently with ‘At My Feet’; a song as strident in guitar and voice as the title suggests and the arrangements on ‘Cold Pink’ confirm there is little time for willowy etherealism. ’Sylvia’ may use childlike instrumentation but Harratt’s bold performance suggests All About Eve’s Julianne Regan whilst the words of ’13:13′ (“Get back to your computer. Show’s over. You’re here forever”) will appeal to anyone who has experienced the daily grind and ennui of office work. It’s also one of the most infectious songs on the album. So too is the appealing jangle-fest that is ‘Wedding Dress’.
‘Snake Eyes’ could be classed as the beginning of the second half of the album and boasts the most ambitious production with sinister strings and angry guitars to the fore. Then there is the near eight minutes of ‘Shadows’, where xylophone and military drums accompany Harratt on an epic, dark journey. Her own vocals seem quite adolescent and playful in contrast to the haunting arrangement but this only adds to the macabre nature of the song. If the album does subside in drama after this, it’s completely forgiveable because the listener needs a break from the intensity just as much as the artist does. That said, there is still much to enjoy in ’Dreamless Sleep’, which in lesser hands would seem like a a gentle, romantic folly but the song is so beautifully sung it’s hard not to be won over by Harratt’s charm, whilst ‘Wilderness’ has the get up and go to be a potential live favourite.
‘Qualm’ sets the uncertainties of ‘Eating Cherries…’ to one side and confirms the development of Harratt into a solo performer of great distinction. If her debut could be viewed as the work of a distracted adolescent, this is the affirmation of her womanhood. Kudos too for the sterling work of her bandmates who inject the album with just the right amount of gothic drama, without it becoming overbearing.
Bandcamp Stream of Halcyon – Qualm
Kate Bush, All About Eve, RealPolitik
Published November 28, 2013
After recording their first two, anthem-heavy albums, Editors retreated from the limelight somewhat with an electronically inclined third. It was a dark, deep and compelling record and for my money, their most consistently satisfying. One of the most significant pieces of news in preparation for the release of ‘The Weight Of Your Love’ was that guitarist Chris Urbanowicz had departed the group citing “differences in musical direction”.
The new album can almost be divided into four quarters, with the first quarter being the most appealing. ‘The Weight’ witness Mr. Smith emerging like a wild west hero claiming “I’m a lump of meat with a heartbeat. Electricity starts me” and it’s the first indication this could feasibly be a Tom Smith solo album. That’s not to dismiss the quality of his bandmates’ contribution. The music is grand and cinematic but it’s over-polished. For a short while the formula really works. ‘Sugar’ benefits from muscular backing and is reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s ‘It’s No Good’ with Smith giving his own portrayal of a dominant frontman, then the song swells into a dramatic ending a la Echo The Bunnymen’s ‘Ocean Rain’. On ‘A Ton Of Love’, the psychedelic intro is also Bunnymen-esque whilst Smith could almost be Bono, particularly in the way he yells “Desire” but other than that he stamps his own identity on the song and is on his strongest chest-beating form for the chorus.
Then the wheels begin to come off. Adorned with strings, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ sounds like a vehicle for a former boy band member, Smith certainly has an impressive vocal range but the song itself is in ‘Fix You’ territory. ‘Nothing’ is noticeably classier but the classical arrangement can’t disguise the fact that this song will be tailor-made for the “emotional backstories” in X Factor. This leads to the third section of the album where the group attempt to get angrier but seem to be missing the inspiration of Urbanowicz; certainly ‘Hyena’ makes all the right noises on paper with a searing guitar line but the song comes across as a polite attempt to recall the anthemic glories of yore. By the time of the final quarter of the record, the momentum has even descended into bland acoustic fare such as ‘The Phone Book’, where the title of the song turns out to be its most interesting aspect.
Judging by the largely undemanding indie fare on the album, one can only surmise that Urbanowicz wanted to steer the group away from this stadium-friendly direction so what we are left with is effectively a Tom Smith solo project, with some orchestral backing. Just as their nearest American sound-alikes Interpol disappointed with their last release, Editors also seem to be on a similar creative downward spiral. Let’s hope for a more worthwhile musical direction next time.
Editors Official Site
Youtube Video of Editors’ ‘A Ton Of Love’
U2, Coldplay, Echo And The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode
Published November 26, 2013
The trend of anonymous DJ acts has been all too prevalent since the turn of the Century. So when another electronic dance duo led by a DJ shows up, anticipation of substance and addictive tunes may not be high on the agenda. Yet long time friends DJ Bhate (the “DJ” is actually an abbreviation) and Miguel Leiva have a couple of tricks up their sleeve, courtesy of a relaxed vibe and an assortment of guitar hooks.
They may sound trite on paper but the generic lyrics of “close your eyes to the sun” and “fade in, fade out” make sense when attached to the melody of ‘Close’; characterised by playful beats and a nagging guitar line. It is from such solid ground that Bhate and Leiva build their songs and is the most convincing case in point, the remarkably slick ‘First Time’ rides on hip-hop lite and a slinky guitar line straight from the Orange Juice school of funk.
Somewhat bizarrely, ‘Veil’ uses a children’s’ TV-friendly tune making it an incongruous centrepiece for the EP. However, normal order is restored as ‘Let Me Know’ sets the controls for summer time again with another sunny motif, this time using the bassline as its USP but considering it’s marketed as the lead track, it’s not the most compelling moment on the EP. ‘To Forget’ is more like it as the duo recapture the form of the first two tracks with another hook which meanders and curls its way around the vocals like a coiled cobra.
The EP lasts just twenty minutes and although it may lack a little depth, the methods by which the duo recapture indie guitar for the dance generation is done in an admirable style. Infectious and sensual.
Bandcamp Stream of behave. (EP)
Playground, Orange Juice
Published November 24, 2013
Easy comparisons to The Durutti Column and July Skies notwithstanding, Rick Senley’s previous outing under the moniker of Music For Voyeurs was a delightful set of poignant songs and instrumentals inspired by a tragic time in the artist’s life. ‘The Long Sleep’ is now swiftly followed by another EP of somewhat more abstract and challenging music on Everything Is Chemical.
It certainly begins in incongruous fashion. Based on the funereal piano keys for ‘Sing One Note Man’, Senley appears to have picked up from where he left off from ‘The Long Sleep’. Yet slowly the melody picks up and conjures up images of pastoral beauty, slightly tarnished by snatches of dialogue but Senley is not one for going down the obvious route. Thanks to its hypnotic collision of spoken word, busy electronic beats and discordant noise, ‘Agua, Cola, Beer’ could be a low budget version of Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’. The remaining three tracks follow a similarly strange pattern: ‘What If It Turns Out Good’ and ‘I Knew It Was Love’ both balance the elegance of Senley’s piano and guitar playing with downright odd vocal and field recordings whilst the final track, ‘Colliding Lovers’, could even be Mike Oldfield jamming with The Stranglers whilst recording ‘The Raven’ LP.
Neither electronic, club, spoken word or classical but taking elements of all these genres, Senley has packed an awful lot into fifteen minutes. It may lack the cohesion and poignancy of ‘The Long Sleep’ but the willingness to experiment is plain for all to see and that has to be applauded.
Music For Voyeurs Official Site
Download Link for Music For Voyeurs – EICV7″ 50
Bandcamp Stream for Music For Voyeurs – EICV7″ 50
Published November 22, 2013
Sometimes it’s easy to imagine artists the we admire as superheroes. By day, Simon Housley and Tom Honey may go about their business in mild-mannered, unassuming fashion but when it comes to music they become the fantastically-named Oathless and Good Weather For An Airstrike; both releasing ambient works with a pleasingly hopeful outlook.
The beginning to ‘Sol’ is blissful and evokes feelings of being transported to a higher plane. The instrumental framework of slow beats and keyboard washes set out by Honey and Housley should be dreamy enough but Jamie Brett’s angelic vocal performance lifts the song even higher into the clouds. The chilled-out vibe continues for the weightless ‘Your Childhood Races Towards You’ but just when you think the EP is drifting into relaxation therapy territory, ‘Fragment’ appears, casting its melancholic spell with indecipherable dialogue and haunted piano keys. This turns out to be the catalyst for change. ‘What Are You Doing, Lyla?’ builds on drones and expands from minimalism to layers of carefully manicured noise whilst ‘Through The Iris’, the last track, is a combination of what has gone before; on the one hand heavenly vocals and dreamy soundscapes but on the other a darker, mysterious edge prevails.
All of this makes for a fascinating half hour’s listening where Housley, Honey and Brett prove that these gifted performers are stronger together than apart. In a field where musicians often prefer to work alone, this is a great case for collaborative working.
Bandcamp Stream of ‘Sol’
Published November 19, 2013
The amount of hype generated by London’s Savages might seem confusing for some. Their monochrome image and post-punk sound have been tried by so many acts before. However, they carry themselves with a refreshing aloofness, their live shows attract rave reviews and their songs, though studied, suggest that this is an all-female British band who can translate their appeal on to foreign shores too.
‘Shut Up’ is an arresting opener in more ways than one. Jehnny Beth’s clipped vocals evoke a petulant schoolgirl or, to give a musical comparison, early Siouxsie Sioux. There’s a satisfying grittiness to the bass/guitar interplay from Ayse Hassan and Gemma Thompson which elevates the songs above post-punk pastiche level and Fay Milton’s tribal drumming dominates tracks like the punishing ‘I Am Here’.
The stark ‘Strife’, with its spindly guitar lines, huge rhythmic pulses and Bauhaus-esque (or even Joy Division-esque) atmosphere provides a stunning moment, matched by the “straight for the jugular” approach for single ‘She Will’. Furthermore, on ‘Waiting For A Sign’, Beth begins to grow her own voice and she is the definite focal point for this dramatic centrepiece, as she is for the relatively refined ‘Marshall Dear’. Other tracks, such as the visceral and shouty ‘No Face’ and ‘Hit Me’, possibly work better in the live environment but they’ve already done enough to ensnare the curious by that point.
This is a supremely confident debut and one whose musical manifesto is laid out clearly for all to enjoy. In short, if you like authentic post-punk music, you will most probably like ‘Silence Yourself’. Then again, there is a sense that with music as austere as this, there’s a risk that it’s not an album to keep returning to on a frequent basis. I feel that they can and will do better on their next album but as an opening statement, it certainly convinces.
Savages Official Site
Savages perform ‘She Will’ (Live on KEXP)
Bauhaus, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Published November 18, 2013
My first introduction to Bihari Beach was via the brief three song ‘Little Fort EP’. It combined heroically lo-fi rock with a youthful penchant for lewdness in the song titles. Yet whether by luck or judgement, it sounded raw and alive. As an EP title of ‘Eurowanker’ might testify, similar levels of lewdness remain on their follow-up but there’s also a real growth and maturity in the musicianship too.
‘Is Lemons’ begins the frenetic action with the song distinguished by Eric Reyes’ reliably slurred vocals but the combination of his murmurings with the intense framework of guitars, bass and drums is like listening to Julian Casablancas fronting early Joy Division. ‘Graduation’ builds up like it wants to be an anthem but pulls its punches somewhat when Reyes remembers he’s the vocalist in a basement-based indie band rather than Nirvana. Nevertheless, it’s a fine song which emphasises their improvement on the arrangement side; the lo-fi production sounds so close, it gives the impression of the cymbals crashing and bass thundering directly into your eardrums.
Elsewhere, ‘Yellow Melody’ stops short of chaos thanks to Jose Catalan’s sterling stint on guitar and that reference to The Strokes rears its head again on the full throttle ‘The Party, After You Left’ but this is clearly a band in love with making music which is hook-filled and thrilling on its own terms. The EP ends, appropriately enough, with ‘Friends Series Finale’; taking a more introspective slant with the musicians slowing things down to deliver a vulnerable, teary-eyed closer with arguably their most vital chorus. It actually sounds like a drunken, beaten-up version of Ambulance Ltd.’s ‘Stay Where You Are’.
With ‘Eurowanker’, Bihari Beach have found the (if you’ll forgive the pun) pulling power to entice new listeners in. The trio have stepped up their standards to deliver a set of songs which accelerates the transition from youthful pretenders to garage rock giants. Keep watching the show, this could get exciting.
Bihari Beach Bandcamp
The Strokes, Pavement