Archive for April, 2008
There are lots of albums where you listen to the opening track and are instantly taken back to a time and place. Such is the case with Soundpool’s second long player, which transported me to my Sixth Form years studying for exams whilst listening to shoegaze music. One of these acts was Lush who created very dense guitar music, layered with effects and fronted by girlie vocals. I’m guessing that Soundpool may have listened to Lush at some point; they’ve even named a song ‘Lush’ so the clues are there, you might say.
So unsurprisingly a few of of these songs return to the Lush sound to the level of pastiche. Thankfully most deviate from the formulaic and some even explore space rock. ‘Pleasure & Pain’ for instance uses a psychedelic swirl that recalls music from four decades ago rather than just two. Meanwhile the grinding undertow which propels ‘Do What You Love’ is redolent of the considerably more venerated My Bloody Valentine. ‘The Divides Of March’ is also made up of sturdy stuff thanks to its dominant bass and a driving tune.
Then come more suprises. ‘The Only One’ and ‘So Much For That’ are ambient, low-paced efforts that are mysterious and beguiling but the clincher is the stunning ‘Dream Sequence’; a three-part suite that is as beautiful as it is complex. At times ‘Dichotomies & Dreamland’ is a little superficial and too much in touch with the past to be considered a great record but for the times when this New York outfit experiment they prove they are an inventive and very special outfit.
Lush, Stereolab, Ulrich Schnauss
The striking thing for me when listening to These New Puritans is the sheer coldness of their first album. Granted, it’s the sound of four highly intelligent musicians from Southend with impressive record collections but they show little in the way of hearts. Thankfully it’s also music given a modern twist with short, incisive bursts of songs, which at least sound exciting and different.
“What’s your favourite number? What does it mean?” is the key line to ‘Numerology (AKA Numbers)’; its barked lyrics seem half-influenced by childrens’ education programmes but it’s allied to a funk/post-punk backing. Likewise ‘Colours’ marries funk guitars to intense percussion. Choruses are chanted rather than sung. It led me to think that if this group were around at the time of Joy Division they would be accused of being Nazis. Lighter moments are few but ‘Doppelganger’ and ‘Costume’ provide welcome respite from the austere atmosphere even if their titles promise otherwise.
Nevertheless several tracks are impressive, ‘Infinity Ytinifni’ makes the best use of military drum beats and abstract electronica to create a dark and original song, ‘Elvis’, perhaps the most poppy offering, has traces of new wave and builds dangerously into a shouted chorus. In the same way, ‘Navigate-Colours’ understands the need for melody. Overall, though, it’s a record to be admired rather than adored and because of its very “now” feel, it will be interesting to see whether it stands the test of time.
Arthur And Martha have the honour of being the first artists to have a release out on the new Happy Robots label. Together they (“they” being Adam Cresswell and Alice Hubley) make retro-futurist electro-pop which will doubtlessly endear them to the Stereolab crowd.
And so we have the title and lead-off track. Like a female-fronted Kraftwerk, Hubley’s slightly robotic voice is the perfect foil for Cresswell’s clean yet poppy synth melody. ‘Japanese Kiss’ is an altogether more human-sounding song. Hubley sings with a very British sense of emotion; a break-up characterised by the line “You called me to sort out financial matters and custody of the acoustic guitar” as vintage keyboards capture the spirit of early-80s Factory records. The instrumental ‘Squareway To Heaven’, however, moves into more obscure Krautrock territory, with lots of drone and a hypnotic metronomic rhythm. Then the EP ends with a brief reprise of ‘Autovia’. Although their style is a little throwaway, in less than fifteen minutes of music, Arthur And Martha skilfully capture the essence of some of the most endearing electro-pop acts.
Kraftwerk, The Wake, Stereolab, Dubstar, Helvissa
Dead Leaf Echo turned miserablism in to a very attractive art form on their first EP ‘Faint Violet Whiff’. The follow-up doesn’t differ too much from this direction but they now embrace a fuller sound; partly explained by a remix contribution supplied by dreampop exponent Ulrich Schnauss but there’s now a growing confidence evident in this New York trio.
Guitar and bass lines shimmer whilst LG still sounds more disaffected than a Piano Magic record. The first two tracks are basically moody scene setters. Then on the third track ‘Tears’ the guitars really start to ring out and segue neatly into the even more aggressive ‘Cry The Sea’, forming a kind of concrete jangle if you will. ‘Pale Fire’ itself is the song which seems most entrenched in shoegazing influences; it is awash with layers of guitar effects in a manner which makes Chapterhouse seem subtle. Unsurprisingly perhaps, this is Schnauss’ remix. Much better is ‘Reflex Motion’ where the group return to what they do best: intricate, gothic melodies. Overall, I think I prefer the first EP over this one because of its unusual haunting ballads but there’s no doubt that ‘Pale Fire’ is a development in their sound.
Dead Leaf Echo MySpace
Pale Saints, Piano Magic, The Gubernatorial Candidates
The Superimposers were responsible for a fine debut album in 2005. It trod a clever line between early Beach Boys and 1960′s easy listening music. Apart from a stopgap demos album (released by their old label), the duo of Miles Copeland and Dan Warden have taken a while to release a proper follow-up. Once again it’s a short record but just like their own label shows, they really do make a Wonderful Sound.
The first half of the record doesn’t even offer a weak moment. Sure, the nostalgia is there for all to see but The Superimposers are masters of production as well as songwriters. ‘The Northern Song’ contrasts melancholic verses with a euphoric chorus perfectly, ‘Make It All Better’ contains some splendid Beatles-inspired harmonies whilst ‘Autumn Falls’ is such an aparently simple but great song that it’s a miracle no one thought of it before. Then there’s the glorious filmic ‘Golden’; another heart-stopping moment reached as verse switches to chorus.
Slightly disappointingly, the second half of the record is only sporadically great as the formula starts to run dry. Of the highlights though, ‘Kicking Around’ revolves around a hypnotic guitar line and a sun-kissed tune and ‘Special’ makes full use of some angelic vocal effects. Yet despite the tail-off in quality as the album progresses, ‘Harpsichord Treacle’ is a lovely, colourful pop record.
Arnold, The Beach Boys
With their last album ‘Coalesced’, Nebraska’s For Against proved that twenty years had done little to quell the spirit and musicianship of the talented trio. Since that release, an exhaustive reissue process has been begun by their label Words On Music, which only serves to highlight that they have always been a great band to rank with other underrated post-punk/dreampop outfits such as The Chameleons and Kitchens Of Distinction. Even more impressively, a quarter of a century into their career, they are still making great records.
The difference between ‘Coalesced’ and ‘Shade Side Sunny Side’ is there all for all to hear in the opening track ‘Glamour’. The rhythm section kicks in like rumbling thunder, Harry Dingman III’s guitar work (back in the fold after a twenty year absence) is more aggressive than ever whilst Jeffrey Running’s always youthful vocals have taken on a degree of urgency. After the similarly powerful ‘Underestimate’, the mood settles down for ‘Why Are You So Angry?’, the gentler delivery offering a subtler glimpse into a troublesome life before ending in a dreamy coda that is pure Chameleons. The other ballad ‘Game Over’ also impresses; here Runnings’ goes it alone with voice and piano for much of of the song; it’s a deeply personal track wih the emotion and melody pitched at just the right level to avoid the overly-sentimental. ‘Quiet Please’, on the other hand, is one of those tracks which builds up and up in to increasing menace as its mood descends into a well of increasing darkness. Another stunning moment.
In fact the only track which didn’t impress me is a cover of Section 25′s ‘Friendly Fires’, probably because the group don’t actually need to release versions of Factory Records’ favourites to prove their worth; they have enough songs in their own armoury to do without such homages. Otherwise, For Against work on their own identity which – whilst certainly influenced by the early 1980s – has a freshness and vitality of its very own. Furhermore, with their balance of euphoria and miserablism nailed down to perfection, remarkably For Against seem to have reached a peak after all this time.
The Chameleons, The Comsat Angels, The Opposition
I wouldn’t recommend listening to Progress Centre if you have a fragile disposition. The press release explains the first album from musician Craig Champion ”focusses around the psychological effects of paranoia” and claims to create “apocalyptic sonic chaos”. Strong words indeed, yet ‘Mind Out!’ is chillingly effective and soundtrack-worthy thanks to its omnipresent atmosphere of menace and well-chosen samples.
‘Subtle City’ is the idea of paranoia shaped into its most memorable form. Over a queasy distorted melody, a line from one of Charles Bukowski poem’s is read out. Meanwhile, the crazed ‘Fear The Worst’ recalls the early days of Baby Bird’s twisted pop offerings. There’s a consistent feeling of approaching danger throughout the record and it’s none more apparent on ‘Metropolis’ where the music builds up subtly into a harrowing wall of noise. ‘Bleach’ is even more impressive; some head-nodding beats, a distant voice and eerie synths combine to form a subtle but nightmarish work of ambience. Crucially, Champion cleverly juxtaposes each main track with happier-sounding interludes to add a bit of light to the bleak landscape. Because of this - and also thanks to its cinematic feel – ‘Mind Out!’ is the most commercially viable offering from Split Femur Recordings yet.
Poomse, Phobos 3, Baby Bird
Brian Wenckebach and Evageila Maravelias hail from New York and they refer to their music as “blissed-out ambience with head-nodding beats”. They’re actually selling themselves short because their music is made of robust material, heavily geared towards addictive melodies. For ‘Trying Got Us Nowhere’ is a clever mixture of New Order-style basslines, often energetic electro/indie pop and strident female vocals.
‘The Whip’ is busy with electronica but its supercharged production rushes headlong towards an exicting chorus. ‘Nowhere’ begins in a more doleful, subdued mode helped by Maravelias’ crystal clear vocals on the verse. The song then transforms into a wordless but hook-laden chorus. At the softer end of the spectrum, ‘To The End’ takes a slower, trippier approach (although this song evolves into a loud finale) whilst the bittersweet ‘They’ll Hate Us’ cleverly weaves disturbing lyrics into an apparently dreamy experience .
Elika remind me of a less-dated, more tuneful Garbage with Maravelias’ cool vocals also reminiscent of New Order’s Gillian Gilbert, whose own The Other Two project bears comparison too. With that band in mind, ‘Let Down’ is the formula in its most sugary form; it boasts a radio-friendly chorus of head-spinning proportions. For a first album, ‘Trying Got Us Nowhere’ sounds surprisingly complete with each song offering something memorable and – although its influences are many – the duo have clearly hit on a product that they can call their own.
Garbage, The Other Two, Madonna
Back in 2005, Shaheen Sheik released her debut record ‘Rock Candy’. Although it revealed plenty of promise, it was a typical first album effort where the artist seemed to be trying out different genres to work out which ones suited her best. As it happens, the follow-up record covers a similar range but also contains higher production values and better songwriting.
That said the first song represents a false start. Night Call’s key line of “this is the tale of the girl who grew up” seems rather forced and doesn’t convince on either a cerebral or visceral level. Ironically, the title track which follows it sounds like the work of someone a lot younger and it’s modern girlie pop is far more attractive. Even better is ‘Coconut’ where Sheik is assisted by slick rhythms and beats. At this point she reminds me of a one-woman Sugababes.
However, Sheik has a number of strings to her bow. ‘Dainty Lady’ is the first number which embraces Sheik’s Indian heritage and contains a seductive tune whereas the similarly Eastern-flavoured ‘Play With Me’ opts for vocal acrobatics. All good stuff but my favourite moment occured six tracks in as the warm, soulful sounds of ‘In You’ make an appearance; not only does it feature a neat drum and bass-led chorus but also Sheik’s finest performance in front of the mic. The only other track I didn’t appreciate was the final one ‘Elevate’; in contrast to the first song it sounds too immature. Overall, once again Sheik demonstrates an impressive range of styles but crucially ‘rEvolution’ still sounds like the work of one artist and this is definitely an improvement on the potential of ‘Rock Candy’.
‘Revolution’ will be available to purchase from May 15th.