Published April 14, 2012
If there’s a band Londoner Matthew Jennings needs to thank for making his music hip, it’s Hot Chip. They introduced a nerdy take on the electro-pop movement and still managed to bring it to the discos and the bedrooms. Admittedly, his sixth album as Talk Less, Say More, ‘England Without Rain’, works better in the home but the focus on tunes rather than gimmicks is clear from the outset.
From the orientally-flavoured opener ‘I Feel Like Making A Record’, it’s fair to say the vocals are an acquired taste (think The Human League’s Phil Oakey with a vocoder) so Jennings’ music largely stands and falls by the songs and the arrangements thereof. Amongst a plethora of delights, there’s staccato pleasures (‘Atlantic’), more Oriental touches for the highly addictive ‘Glockenspiel’ and an old school Pet Shop Boys-like title track, whereas ‘Like Neon’ is akin to hearing robots singing ‘London’s Burning’. The finale ‘Double Helixxx’, meanwhile, seems to pay respects to the energetic, danceable moments of the aforementioned Hot Chip.
Talk Less, Say More bring back the playful, fun side of electronica; whereby once unfashionable music is made palatable by an unfailing ear for melody. ‘England Without Rain’ may be directed more towards the nerds who refuse to dance but that doesn’t stop this music being any less enjoyable to hear.
Records On Ribs Label and Shop Site
Published October 26, 2011
It was barely six months ago when I wrote a review of Aube Lalvée’s last album, the stirring, melodramatic ‘Souls To The Wind’. The record had some excellent moments even though Lalvée’s vocal histrionics needed reining in on occasions. Certainly, ‘I Am’ is a noticeably more subdued experience.
‘Something Simple’ is one of the louder tracks on the record. It features a threatening rumble at its core which is reminiscent of early gothic acts on the 4AD label (particularly The Wolfgang Press) but Lalvée herself is content to be brooding here. For ‘Love’ we hear her wounded cries, ‘Kiss Me’ is weighed down with self doubt but the effect is leavened by one of the album’s strongest melodies.
Subversive talent that she is though, there are songs here which have an improvised feel as the flow and the structure of the track meanders in to something completely different; the quasi-classical title track being a case in point. Yet it’s perhaps telling that ‘We Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Let Me Go’ are built around stabbing keyboard riffs and their simplistic approach yields more satisfying moments.
Lalvée has certainly toned down the theatrics but this is still a very emotional record. Whereas ‘Souls To The Wind’ was partally defined by angry arrangements, here the sense of vulnerability is far more apparent. The average listener’s attention may waver from time to time but this is undoubtedly a progression.
Aube L Blog
Aube L MySpace
Ragga And The Jack Magic Orchestra, Anna Calvi, The Wolfgang Press
Published September 25, 2011
Over the course of three albums, Cincinatti’s Pomegranates have impressed with their experimental take on 1960′s psychedelia. For their latest venture, rather than release a “proper” album, the group have joined together two five-track EPs and roped in the talents of friend and touring partner Caleb Groh.
This kaleidoscopic collection of songs begins beautifully thanks to the lazy, languid charm of ‘Softness’. Warm summery guitars bask in the sunshine with a heartache of a vocal from Groh. ‘Catatonic Crown’ continues the warm, sunshine feel but ‘Yeah’ could be defined as being a bit too lazy given that the only word in it is the title whilst the song itself sounds like an elongated outro to a live performance. Normal order is restored with a track called ‘Jesus’ (and the group make it sound heavenly too), whereas the distorted howls underpinning ‘Western Skies’ offer a more aggressive but no less effective viewpoint.
The “album” then segues in to the sonic adventure of ‘Chestnut Attic’ which starts with the self-explanatory instrumental ‘Track One, In Which Pomegranates Has A Very Good Dream’. ‘Cleveland Street Blues’ sounds like a Bob Dylan pastiche, with even the trademark nasal whine and harmonica on display. Then the demonic percussion and jungle howls for ‘Same Skies’ summon up images of witch doctors on remote islands so it’s almost a relief when the gospel/country finale ‘Take A Little Time’ ends the record.
Although there is a distinct difference between the traditional song-based values of ‘In Your Face Thieves’ and the wild invention of ‘Chestnut Attic’, the EPs actually flow together quite seamlessly. Who knows that they will come up with next time.
Pomegranates Tumblr Site
Lujo Records Label and Shop Site
French Kicks, Arnold
Published July 11, 2011
As befits a band who incorporate folk, jazz, bluegrass and funk into their œuvre, New York’s Steel Keys & Brass have also grown a reputation for eclectic covers by anyone from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Miles Davis. ‘Vaudevillians’ is their first attempt at nailing all these influences in to one album. Good luck chaps!
There are few greater indicators of versatility when country rock and jazz pop appear in the course of the first song but it’s hard to swallow. Similarly, though it’s easy to imagine the frenetic likes of ‘Shots At Walter’s’ and ‘Some Stranger’ faring well in the live environment, their impact is lost on record.
However, ‘Broken Bottle Cap’ demonstrates that one of the foursome’s real skills is in slick jazz rock; with the song bolstered by rock-solid hooks. If they’re not quite in the Steely Dan league, British fans may appreciate a kinship with Matt Bianco and The Style Council here. Credit to for ‘Hope You Don’t Meet Me’; a rare moment where the group deliver a sense of romantic longing and if the vocals can be a little too forceful at times, ‘Whiskey Wine & Grass’ has an inner core of tenderness that the group should explore more often. Then just when things seem to be getting a bit predictable they throw some real curveballs with the twisted funk of ‘Caught Me’ and then ‘In The Basement’ crops up; a track which incorporates a rap element of all things.
This kind of music normally requires a huge group of players but Steel Keys & Brass confine their team to a mere four people. Considering its variety, ‘Vaudevillians’ is a surprisingly coherent compendium of music but there’s a danger that it could alienate rather than enrapture by trying to appeal to so many audiences at one time.
Steel Keys & Brass Official Site
Steel Keys & Brass Bandcamp
Steely Dan, Vee Device, Matt Bianco
Published June 7, 2011
Whereas The Chameleons are often seen as one of the forefathers of dreampop, another early stakeholder were For Against from Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s a testament to their enduring appeal and increasing importance, that they now see a three track EP released; taken from their first recording session, way back in 1984.
Concise and incisive,’Black Soap’ sounds like a a very exicting single. Harry Dingman III’s guitar circles around Jeffrey Runnings’ foreboding vocals to create a classic song which bridges the gap between Modern English’s post-punk misery and the beginning of dreampop. ‘Dark Good Friday’ relies lies less on punk and more on swirling atmosphere but still delivers a thrilling chorus. The mix of ‘Amen Yves (White Circles), meanwhile, seems pitched between the dancefloor and the ringing atmospherics of the aforementioned Chameleons.
Based on these three early tracks alone, For Against already sound like an fascinating act to follow. The fact that they still record great albums even now, proves they’re not merely surviving on past glories either.
For Against MySpace
Words On Music Label Site
The Chameleons, The Opposition, Modern English
Published May 27, 2011
Although based in Manchester, Pierre Hall’s Trinidadian and Mauritian heritage means his music is likely to sound less localised than most acts from the area. Furthermore, in a sure statement of “keeping it real”, the new album from Golden Glow is a four-track recording but one which sounds rich with promise.
Thick, heavily echoed beats and staccatto vocals usher in ‘Adore Me’ and Hall sticks to these base elements throughout the album. Yet don’t be fooled into thinking there is a lack of invention here. ‘Locked Inside’ features summery guitar and possesses a wistfulness which makes the association with The Drums so easy to understand, then extending the link still further is the “Orange Juice on a budget” nugget ’All Time’. Only ‘The Blizzard’, with its drone-heavy backing, could be called an experiment but it’s not one of the songs which listeners are likely to return to very often. Yet when he can put out off-kilter indie-pop gems such as ‘On My Own’ or ‘Retreat’, it’s easy to forgive any misguided attempts at adventure and admire his insouciant charms instead.
There’s a consistency to ‘Tender Is The Night’ which could be considered as a lack of variety but each song has something different to offer within the boundaries of indie/alternative rock. One would imagine that the next album will have a bigger budget thrown at it but this must not drown out the talent which Hall clearly has.
Golden Glow MySpace
Mush Records Label and Shop Site
The Drums, The Strokes
Published May 24, 2011
Although it should be taken as a huge compliment, it is almost impossible to disassociate Kansas City’s Parts Of Speech from Junior Boys. Because, just like the Canadian synth-soul experts, Brandon Knocke and Alexander Thomas take on 1980′s electronica and inject it with a dose of vulnerability.
For ‘Canopy’, Knocke’s breezy vocals float upon an ambient wash of keyboards. As the album develops, the origins of synth pop are even more pronounced. The primitive melodies for ‘ABC Islands’ and ‘Tasted Comfort’ could have come from OMD or Depeche Mode’s initial recordings with only the insouciant but perfectly pitched tones of Knocke bringing the songs in to the 21st Century; the latter is a brilliant example of their lovelorn yet eerie approach. ‘Electric Lime Timeless’ goes one step further by incorporating a sax solo whilst the blissful grace of ‘Hidden Pigeon’ is kept grounded by Thomas’ precise drumming. The album does noticeably drift towards the end but the air of studied cool is ever present.
Because of the obvious comparison mentioned earlier, Parts Of Speech could be in danger of becoming a pastiche act. They get away with it though because their songs are fully formed in their own right and blessed with irresistibly romantic, nocturnal atmospheres.
Parts Of Speech Official Site
Parts Of Speech Bandcamp
Published February 27, 2011
Along with 10CC, Wings were one of the great singles’ acts of the 1970′s but what of their albums? ‘Band On The Run’ is usually perceived as the classic example of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles career and it now comes reissued with a bonus CD and nearly ninety minutes of DVD footage.
“Stuck inside these four walls. Sent inside forever. Never seeing no one, nice again” is the kind of lyric you’d expect from a group isolated in a primtive recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria. Still, this being McCartney, ’Band On The Run’ brightens up dramatically and effectively offers at least three great songs for the price of one. The great form continues with ‘Jet’ – inevitably linked by some to (BBC comedy creation) Alan Partridge’s ”tribute” in a Travel tavern - but the song is a peerless slice of power pop. Then we have the lovely, acoustic simplicity of ‘Bluebird’.
After that, the record may be a bit more hit and miss than others will care to remember. ‘Let Me Roll It’ operates in the middle ground between Alvin Stardust and John Lennon’s ‘Cold Turkey’. ‘Mamunia’ is a pleasant little ditty full of joyous harmonies but ‘Picasso’s Last Words’ is a drinking song made marginally more interesting by segments from the first two tracks on the album. In fairness, though, the fiery, piano-led ‘Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five’ draws the album to a rousing close.
‘Band On The Run’ is viewed by many as the quintessential Wings album but it is undeniably front-loaded and not the most cohesive record in the world. The bonus CD of spirited but superfluous session tracks is recommended for devotees only but at least includes the US single ‘Helen Wheels’. However, the DVD is definitely worth watching for the imaginative promos for ‘Band On The Run’ and ‘Mamunia’ plus a behind the scenes look at how the album cover was made featuring Christopher Lee, Michael Parkinson and the frightening stares of Clement Freud.
Jellyfish, 10CC, The Beatles
Published November 28, 2009
After his recent ‘Gamma’ album, Tommi Bass proved that he could still make techno music sound vital and intelligent even as he enters the “veteran” years. His latest release takes a similar bass-heavy and minimalist approach but augments it with sounds from Berlin, the city he now calls home.
Typically, tracks are numbered. ‘Bronze 1′ sets the scene in the familiar unsettling atmospheres featured in ‘Gamma’ but with the added Berlin recordings, they are given further chill factor. ‘Bronze 2′ is based around what sounds like an 80′s arcade game loop and seems to vary little but its click-clack rhythms and air of doom resemble a very sinister version of Kraftwerk. The track segues into ‘Bronze 3′ which includes more frequent punctuations of industrial noise, handclaps, vocal samples and some seriously bowel-shifting beats.
At only eighteen minutes in length, ‘Textures From Berlin’ is too short to really be appreciated. Yet in its limited timespan, its depiction of Berlin is nightmarish, exciting and beguiling all at once.
Tommi Bass MySpace
Rednetic Label and Shop Site
Nathan Fake, SI-CUT.DB, Colder, Kraftwerk
Published September 26, 2009
On their last album ‘Velocity:Design:Comfort’, Sweet Trip made a pretty good job of becoming the Stereolab it’s easy to love, with extra layers of warmth taking the place of those explorations of Krautrock. That was way back in 2004 though and the follow-up is a welcome return to their psychedelic, oddball songs.
‘Conservation Of Two’ bridges the gap between easy listening and shoegaze. Carefully crafted harmonies are at the heart of ‘Forever’ whilst groovy lounge and bossanova dominate the seven minute long epic ‘Acting’. Elsewhere, Valerie R. Cooper’s vocals have never been captured quite so dreamily as on ‘Milk’. Thereafter the album experiences a disappointing lull but it is partially redeemed by the excellence of some of the later tracks: ‘Pretending’ being a jangly delight and ‘Your World Is Eternally Complete’ is a triumphant finale (ignoring the uncredited experiment ‘Female Lover’).
However, you categorise them, ultimately, Sweet Trip are a pop band and a very good one too. The only criticism is the disinct twenty minute sag at the centre of the record which spoils an otherwise sumptuous listen.
Sweet Trip Official Site
Sweet Trip MySpace