Published March 9, 2014
Based on name alone, The Divided Circle suggest a macabre inner sanctum with perhaps an interest in geometrically precise electronica. It turns out that opinion is not far from the truth but as their new EP title ‘These Regrets’ implies, there is a core of sadness underneath the glacial pop surroundings.
‘The Bright Lights’ sets the tone with a wash of melancholic keyboards, evoking a lonely, futuristic city. It takes a full two minutes for any vocals to come in and when they do they are gentle yet haunting and foreboding as they predict “the ghost lives on”. The title track recalls the early subtlety Depeche Mode or even the dark disco of DK7. ‘Monster’ takes us back to our childhood with the line “You’re the monster under the bridge, waiting for me” but the overall chill effect generated by the Hammond organ frills and disconsolate guitar is definitely aimed at adults. Elsewhere, skeletal Kraftwerk-esque synths and steady beats cast a black spell on the moving ‘Transcience’ and the only blot on the copybook is the use of digitised vocals on the otherwise lovely ‘All At Sea’.
‘These Regrets’ contains the kind of quietly insidious and eerily atmospheric electronic music which is all too rare nowadays. They remind me of several of the fine acts on the Australian label Hidden Shoal Recordings and long may their enigmatic journey continue.
The Divided Circle – These Regrets SoundCloud
Lonely City Records Site
DK7, Glassacre, Kraftwerk
Published March 8, 2014
Solotundra are an Italian alt-country/folk led by multi-instrumentalist Andrea Anania who plays guitar, bass, piano and banjo (though presumably not all at the same time) as well as taking on vocal duties. Turns out he’s a very decent songwriter with an album replete with surprises too.
It may not be the most popular instrument in the world, but the banjo is at the core of Solotundra’s best work. After a polite and rather safe opening two tracks, ‘Queen Bee’ is simply thrilling as Anania combines the throaty menace of his own vocal with the rattling intensity of his banjo picking. That same instrument is a focal point for the similarly frenetic ‘Traces Of You’ and a rather more tender – but no less effective – ‘Song For Christian’. Also of note are a lovely warm ‘A Monster’, the impressive quiet/loud dynamics of ‘Franco’ and a rousing finale called ‘The Deepest Pit’.
With its reliance on traditional instruments and folk/country trappings, ‘What We Did Last Winter’ may not sound like the most exciting of prospects yet its delivered in a fresh, crisp way, with the ferocity of a punk performer. This is definitely the kind of folk/country album which could win over those who don’t normally have the time for this kind of music.
Published March 6, 2014
There’s something a little contradictory about a band who share their name with a slang term for a male member whilst also showing a penchant for doomy and dramatic song titles such as ‘To Die A Thousand Romantic Deaths’ or ‘Death At The Heart Of The Disco’. Such an incongruous proposition is offered by New York shoegaze/drone rock duo Winkie.
Most of the songs here consist of droning bass and repetitive drum patterns which often seem to be in direct competition with the group’s keyboard melodies and submerged vocals. The levels of distortion are pitched so high for ‘Illuminated’, for example, that any aspect of light is shut out by the claustrophobic walls of effects. However, if that doesn’t put you off there is actually a lot to recommend on ‘One Day We Pretended To Be Ghosts’. Not least on ‘My Eyes Are Closed When The Sun Comes Up’ where Peter Santiago’s gothic bass trades murky 4AD style shapes with Gina Spiteri’s sinister keyboard washes, the intense intro to ‘The Line Up’ builds up like The Chameleons’ ‘Less Than Human’ and on ‘Sometimes’ Spiteri gives her best vocal performance, soaring above the chugging bass and her own sparkling keyboards. Later on, in ’Death At The Heart Of The Disco’, the production is overplayed in favour of distortion but there’s clearly a shimmering tune underneath all the noise whilst the relentless ‘Killer Behind Those Masks’ and ‘Arrows’ build up impressive levels of seductive menace and evil.
All told, Winkie offer an interesting and surprisingly complex version of the shoegaze story. What is more, however impenetrable their music seems to be to the uninitiated, just like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus And Mary Chain before them, there is always beauty to be found within.
Winkie Official Site
Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine
Published March 6, 2014
‘There Can Be No True Beauty Without Decay’ is a follow-up of sorts to Antonymes’ 2009 album, ’Beauty Becomes The Enemy Of The Future’. The man behind the moniker, Ian M. Hazeldine enlists assistance from like-minded and talented collaborators from the ambient/classical world such as Offthesky, Ian Hawgood and Wil Bolton.
From the warm, refined opening of ‘Means Of Escape [I]‘ there is an immediate impression of feeling comfortable and relaxed, whether that “escape” is retreating to a location remote from civilisation or the simple pleasures of home life after a tough day at work. The slowly undulating drone patterns of ’Strange Light [II] consolidate that feeling of being somewhere nice and it’s not until ‘Forever Without Hope [II]‘ that there’s any sense of “decay”, where the drones are gentler but the steady infusion of beats and eerie synth noise indicate the darker tones suggested in the title.
So far the album is lovingly put together but doesn’t pull on the heart strings or send shivers through the body too much. Then the music becomes rather striking and poignant especially the way the strings swell and fade for the heavenly ‘Falling’ and the beautifully sad ‘The End Of Everything [I] and [II] could be the soundtrack for to the last dance on Earth. Credit too for the haunting cries and echoes of ‘Misshapen Beauty [II]‘; the most experimental offering on the album.
Admittedly this is an album that takes a little while to truly appreciate but since there’s over an hour’s worth of listening here, the project demands a patient listener anyway. Then once submerged under Hazeldine’s hypnotic spell, you will be duly rewarded and it’s a heaven you won’t want to leave.
Antonymes Official Site
Bandcamp Page for Antonymes – There Can Be No True Beauty Without Decay
Hibernate Recordings Label and Shop Site
Library Tapes, Offthesky
Published March 3, 2014
A product of the newly-developed Drone Warfare Tapes cassette label, London’s Universal Son are one of the first signings and a very astute one by all accounts. The music on their first EP is apparently a soundtrack to a forthcoming graphic novel by James Eve but a bigger clue to their musical vision are comparisons with Orange Juice and Belle And Sebastian.
The band’s opening statement is an impressive one. With vocals from an apparently slightly inebriated David Sylvian (or at the very least a close sound-alike) and sad, insidious guitar melodies from the Josef K school of finger-bending hooks, ‘He’s The Son’ could be labelled an early 1980′s pastiche but it’s a classy product nonetheless. ‘EMI’ resembles a slightly creepy but ultimately attractive post-punk/funk concoction, which builds up nicely from its fuzzed-up beginning whilst ‘Zoe’s Dream’ and ‘Don’t Sleep Tonight’ are more wistful and romantic in their outlook as the band recall the optimistic soul sounds of Orange Juice. Finally comes ‘Listen Up’, easily the most synth-heavy song on the album which conjures up images of Roxy Music recording in a broom cupboard.
One could harp on about the retro-fixated nature of the music but bear in mind this is a cassette-only release (with an mp3 download option) so that kind of goes with the territory. More importantly, the lo-fi production accompanying the band’s all-important tight musicianship lends the EP a distinctive warmth and intimacy and it’s possible both Universal Son and Drone Warfare Tapes could be on to something quite special here.
Stream of Universal Son – Universal Son
Drone Warfare Tapes Label Site
Orange Juice, Josef K, Roxy Music
Published February 28, 2014
Goldfrapp’s run of strong albums finally came to an abrupt halt with 2010′s disappointing ‘Head First’. As they often do, Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp referenced the 80′s for their inspiration but on this occasion it was in a largely superficial way, with too many of songs best served as soundtracks for keep-fit routines. That’s keep fit routines, 1980′s style of course. ‘Tales Of Us’ attempts to correct the aberration with an introspective approach that sees them return to the atmospheric, filmic quality of their debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
The good news is that all the trashy suggestions of the last album will become a distant memory as soon as one hears the opener ‘Jo’, where Gregory assembles a familiar orchestral backing and Goldfrapp herself whispers and swoons her way through this elegant, understated opener. It’s like being in 2000 all over again. Similar things happen on ‘Annabel’ and ‘Ulla’, everything tastefully arranged, subtle strings here and there but the songs never break into anything stirring. Likewise, ‘Alvar’ promises much with its Indian guitar figure but fails to develop from his intriguing origins.
However, there are a few excellent moments which suggest Goldfrapp are back on track. For ‘Drew’ the strings become exciting and vital, the kind of Bond theme in waiting which Goldfrapp made a habit of at the beginning of their career. Meanwhile, the wistful, enigmatic couplet of ‘Stranger’ and ‘Laurel’ are destined to accompany tragic French romance. A notable exception to the somewhat refined nature of the record occurs right in the middle, courtesy of ‘Thea’. The song is dramatic and really stands out with its shuddering rhythms and stormy weather ambience; the effect is rather like the wonderful surprise of hearing Bjork’s ‘Bachelorette’ on her otherwise fair to middling ‘Homogenic’ album.
Everything on ‘Tales Of Us’ is lush and sumptuously arranged and yet even though Goldfrapp have returned to what they do best, somehow the songs don’t lodge themselves into the brain as easily as their earlier records. The result is an admittedly classy and polished record but demanding listeners will be expecting a much deeper listening experience.
Goldfrapp Official Site
Goldfrapp – Thea (Radio Mix)
Published February 24, 2014
London duo The Title Sequence released one of the best indie pop albums of 2013 with their debut, ‘Stills’, which stretched from the fey 80′s guitar pop of The Drums to the classic melancholic sounds of The Montgolfier Brothers. Now comes No Middle Name, the “lo-fi dream pop solo project” of one half of The Title Sequence, David Bailey, and it continues in a similar catchy and nostalgic vein.
If The Title Sequence were accused of being nostalgic, then we should all travel back in time thirty years and ensure ‘No Middle Name’ is released by Cherry Red Records. It follows a similar theme to the label’s renowned ‘Pillows and Prayers’ compilation, with the songs lovingly interspersed with samples from children’s television programmes. ‘Another Season’, the single released late last year, enchants with its clever vocal loop and will be the main draw for newcomers but in truth there’s a number of very infectious songs to be enjoyed here. The doleful ‘Feels Like The 90′s Again’ is so sweet and jangly, the song could have more accurately been called ‘Feels Like The 60′s Again’ and the record reaches its peak for the darkly atmospheric couplet, ‘No Sleep’ and ‘From The Barrel Of A Loaded Gun’, where Bailey proves that there’s devilish melody to be had with nagging guitar hooks and boy-girl harmonies.
When the main criticism of Bailey’s debut is that it’s too short and some of the individual songs should last a little longer, then that’s a pretty accurate indicator of a fine album. However, short and sweet are common hallmarks of classic indie pop albums so just sit back and enjoy this shamelessly addictive record.
No Middle Name Bandcamp
No Middle Name Tumblr
The Title Sequence, Pillows & Prayers Volumes 1 & 2 (Cherry Red 1982-1984)