Review: The Great Depression – In A Starry State

As architects of some of the finest atmospheric rock albums of the last twenty years, Minnesota-born The Great Depression are one of music’s best kept secrets. For their first album in seven years, The Great Depression’s ‘In A Starry State’ promises “a science fiction romance which finds the band on a search for lost Gnostic wisdom deep in the woods”. If this all sounds a little proggy, perhaps even more disconcertingly, the album begins with spoken word over an ambient backdrop.

The Great Depression Album Cover

Maybe the group have spent too long apart and have forgotten the noble art of writing songs but this is The Great Depression and this was never going to happen. Indeed, true to reputation, ‘Hey Go Easy (Serpentina)’ makes a nonsense of such fears; it’s a track which shimmers with vitality thanks to rattling guitars, fleshy percussion and the kind of multi-layered arrangement which characterised the greatest of The Great Depression’s songs. Its boisterous brother, ‘The Thirteen Bells’, appears towards the end of the record but matches the song’s energy and vitality. These tracks also form a logical progression from main songwriter Todd Casper’s and Tom Cranley’s intense and more direct Admiral Byrd project.

For the lighter moments, there’s the unashamedly catchy pop of ‘New Salem’ and the humorously-titled ‘Philip K Disco’ which sounds just like the high brow techno-fest you would hope it to be. However, The Great Depression are often at their best when they slow down the tempo and let their richly textured arrangements unfold. The stately chamber pop ‘Visiting On Davenports’ and ‘A Dreamy Brochure For Elsewhere’ are possessed with the aura of vintage Hollywood. Meanwhile, the fabulous ambient rock formations of ‘Something Like Shame’ and the title track are reminiscent of The Helio Sequence at their finest.

‘Psirene’ is the kind of song which only Casper and Cranley could develop. Warm, complex and jazzy like Steely Dan and as imaginative and colourful as a modern ELO. This fine band have made a habit of saving some of their best songs to the end of the record and the finale ‘Sophia And The Fool’ is the perfect balance of beauty, grace and cinematic wonder. So much so that on hearing the lyric “I can’t believe it’s finally happening”, there’s a genuine sadness as the final anthem plays out.

The narrated interludes play a vital part in maintaining the filmic atmospheres, serving to heighten the anticipation of the next killer track and ‘In A Starry State’ is full of such moments. All told, it’s a fantastic tale and a magical and triumphant return from The (genuinely) Great Depression.

Web Sites:
The Great Depression Official Site
The Great Depression – In A Starry State

Further Listening:
The Helio Sequence, Mercury Rev, The Silent League, Admiral Byrd

Review: The Burgeoning – Love Alchemy, Life Algorithm

Pennsylvania’s The Burgeoning will have probably heard plenty of comments about their growing reputation but on the strength of their first half dozen songs, their fledgling music career is off to a flyer.

The Burgeoning EP Cover

After some BBC Radiophonic Workshop-style oddness for ‘(Nostalgia)’, it’s difficult to know what to expect next. However, worries are set aside when ‘Speak’ emerges with a heart bursting slice of euphoric pop and even if Logan Thierjung’s vocals veer towards emo territory, the layered, angular guitars are especially impressive. An involving ‘Death Of Social Networking’ boasts some escalating riffs matched by a sense of heightened pleasure. ‘Flicker’ and ‘That Day Of Yesterness’ resemble a cheerier Bloc Party although both songs begin to grate after their initial exuberance has worn off. However, the same cannot be said for stand out song ‘Lighthouse’, where Logan unleashes his full vocal repertoire on a joyful chorus. It’s a beautiful song, embellished by some sympathetic jangly melodies. There is further variation (not to mention further emphasis of the frontman’s star quality) on an the acoustic finale ‘I Am Deaf, You Are Blind’, too.

Perhaps typically for a new band, some of the songs favour complexity over emotional depth but on the basis of the outstanding ‘Speak’ and ‘Lighthouse’ alone, there is clearly a band here who can write ingenious, moving pop songs. Now they just need to expand these talents over the course of a full album.

Web Sites:
The Burgeoning Official Site
The Burgeoning – Lighthouse

Further Listening:
Bloc Party, McAlmont And Butler

Review: Dive Index – Lost In The Pressure

Dive Index were formed in the mid 2000’s by producer Will Thomas. An impressive list of past collaborators have included Roger Eno, Joseph Arthur, Ride’s Mark Gardener and Ian Masters of The Pale Saints. However, this time the latest album revolves around Thomas plus singers Isaiah Gage and Simone White (the former also lending his cello skills for good measure).

Dive Index Album Cover

‘Rewind Your Patience’s slick hybrid of trip-hop beats and smooth soul vocals call to mind the ambient/soul ensemble approach of Alpha or The Beauty Room. The sublime glitch-soul ‘A Person To Hide With’ contains a lyrical urge to “keep your shit together”, contrasting neatly with the dreamy aura. ‘Counting Umbrellas’ is the first time we hear the soothing tones of White and it’s a perfectly judged song where her almost effortless, calming contribution fits the subtly infectious arrangement like a glove; there’s even a luxurious string-laden passage to add further gravitas. Three songs in, it’s an almost perfect beginning.

It’s somewhat unfortunate then, that after such a bright start the album sags in the middle as the constant moodiness gives way to a number of songs which retain the album’s class and high production values but struggle to sink their hooks into the listener. ‘If I Ever Have You’ and ‘Constant Chatter’ are content to simmer away in the background; sophisticated and elegant but lacking an edge. That said, ‘Pattern Pieces’ makes the most of a latin-jazz arrangement in the manner of Stereolab and – in keeping with its dramatic title – ‘No Stab Wounds’ benefits from some robust rhythms and clicks; kicking in a stronger end to the record. Finally, there are few more dignified ways to end a record than Gage’s elegiac performance on the lovely ‘Singing To Bats’.

Thomas is clearly a real experienced hand at this kind of music and the production is right on the money. A few of the songs are less easy to remember than you would expect but when the collective step out from the shadows of coffee table ambience, they can create some very special moments indeed.

Web Sites:
Dive Index Page on Neutral Music
Video for Dive Index – Singing To Bats

Further Listening:
Alpha, Herbert, The Beauty Room

Review: Le Garçon Rêvé – Songs For Mediocre Men Vol​.​1

A detached Gallic cool and a British grittiness are the hallmarks of the first album from Valencia-based duo Le Garçon Rêvé. The project name translates to “the perfect son” although one could imagine frontman John Martinez has the tales to contradict such a noble title.

Le Garcon Reve Album Cover

Within a few moments of ‘Come On, Stranger’ Martinez’s attractive brooding makes an immediate impression; languid yet rich in expression and charisma. Martinez is undoubtedly the star; injecting each song with his own singular personality and charming way with words (“Shut up, turn down the volume of despair. Forever annoyed, so much distress in an armchair”). It almost seems ghoulish to wallow in other’s misery. Nevertheless, for standout track ‘Stained Heart’ Martinez’s voice seems so worn with disappointment and bad luck and we the listeners are the beneficiaries of his angst.

There is a tendency for the songs to favour bruising, yet rambling melancholy over addictive songwriting so it’s no coincidence than variations in the mood offer the best moments. A guest female vocalist livens up ‘The Crack-Up’, guitarist Diego Summo summons up his best hook for the wired, bruising and French-spoken ‘Bora’ and the spare, chiming ‘Gandia Blues’ is a delight. The lyrical despair reaches its low (or high) point on ‘Blossoming Apathy’ where Martinez is “anchored in misery” before being finished off by a sax solo coda, whilst the dramatic, full-bodied ‘The Man That Exploded’ brings the album to an anthemic close.

For all the sophistication and controlled angst, a few more exuberant songs wouldn’t go amiss as there’s a sense of Martinez and and Summo being too cool and ambivalent to think about rocking out. That said, ‘Songs For Mediocre Men Vol. 1′ is an attractively presented and darkly seductive affair.

Web Sites:
Le Garçon Rêvé Bandcamp
Le Garçon Rêvé – Stained Heart

Further Listening:
A Singer Must Die, The Milling Gowns, The National, Destroyer

Review: The Drums – Encyclopedia

After releasing two albums in quick succession, The Drums now find themselves reduced to core members Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham, so one would have thought ‘Encyclopedia’ would be a more minimalist affair. Not so. They race into their first album like excitable puppies.

The Drums Album Cover

Detractors tend to object to The Drums’ fey approach and the problem is cast in another light for opening song ‘Magic Mountain’ where Jonny Pierce’s high-pitched vocals rail against jagged guitars and a drum machine; evoking images of youthful post-punk fans high on ice cream and jelly. Likewise, lightweight affairs ‘Kiss Me Again’ and ‘There Is Nothing Left’ are teenage dreams we don’t need to hear. The Drums are at their best when they slow the pace down and the breathy melancholy of ‘I Can’t Pretend’ is much more like it.

For ‘I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him’ there’s the essence of 1960’s girl pop; hand claps and helpless romance all present and correct. Urgent burst of guitars and primal electronica usher in the dramatic, exciting ‘Let Me’ where even a childish lyric of “They might hate but I love you. They can go kill themselves” sounds more like a genuine threat rather than a silly outburst. Throw in the glum yet catchy pop of ‘Face Of God’, a swooning ‘Deep In My Heart’, the sinister experimentation of ‘Bell Labs’ or the neatly-arranged vulnerabilia of ‘US National Park’ and ‘Wild Geese’ and we actually have a very good album on our hands.

Critics of The Drums won’t at all be swayed by ‘Encyclopedia’. If anything it’s even less emotionally mature than their previous two albums but their infectious songs demonstrate they are establishing a neat little line in 60’s romance crossed with 80’s indie pop. Moreover, they’re becoming a band who are influencing others rather than the other way round.

Web Sites:
The Drums Official Site
The Drums – I Can’t Pretend

Further Listening:
The Wake, Seashore Darkcave, Teen Mom, The Clothes

Review: Craig M Clarke – The Kid And The Cobra

Craig M Clarke’s music site features him dressed up as a rather warped-looking Lion King. We are also informed that for the Nevada musician’s latest album, ‘The Kid And The Cobra’, “the songs have a deep devout tendency to his feelings but also showcase his dislike for controlled faith.”. Clearly listeners are not in for an easy ride. A good thing.

Craig M Clarke Album Cover

Beginning with ‘Stop The Beat'; an intriguing mix of shimmering downtempo electronica, excitable beats and Clarke’s sinister vocal tones, it’s a challenging start bubbling with invention. The second song, ‘Happiness On The Other Side Of The Armageddon’, is a brilliant, thrilling slice of driving rock every bit as potent as its name, whilst the title track blends Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ with eerie space rock; Clarke claiming “You are my greatest seducer”.

Compelling lyrics can tend to dominate, not least when ‘Brother Blood’ documents a two-way confession between the singer and “The Organisation” (“No one ever said sin wasn’t fun. I only suggested that maybe you were done” our narrator explains). This then leads to the more conceptual side to the album and ‘Finally Love With Trust’ picks up this flow; characterised by bruising guitars, crisp beats, snatches of dialogue and the conclusion that “to give love with trust is better than any dream”. Likewise, ‘The Witness’ hurtles from ghostly ambience to crazed psych-rock.

By the time of the heavyweight, eight minute finale ‘Surviving The Cult’ it’s likely you’ve either opted out or become a fully-fledged disciple of Clarke’s cause. What is certain is that this is another fascinating, uncompromising and unique release from Everything Is Chemical’s leftfield roster.

Web Sites:
Craig M Clarke – The Kid And The Cobra on Everything Is Chemical
Craig M Clarke Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Richard Haswell

Review: Night School – Heart Beat EP

It may not be a great selling point when the main songwriter starts a new band “because I had nothing better to do”. The fact that Alexandra Morte is a former member of the much-heralded Whirr, though, should pique the interest of shoegaze fans. Teaming up with drummer and fellow songwriter Baylie Arin plus her friend, guitarist Sarah Trevena, the result of just six hours’ worth of sessions may be brief but it’s a belter.

Night School Album Cover

‘Best Friends’ begins like all the best 60’s girl groups with huge drums and pained vocals. The curveball is Trevena’s fuzzed up guitar which throws deliberately off-key shapes. For the first song the dissonance may be a bit too much but the second offering, ‘Birthday’, is much more convincing where the vocals and effects dovetail in glorious (dis)harmony amidst Arin’s pounding percussion. By way of contrast, the noise is stripped back on ‘Casiotone’, revealing the tenderness and vulnerability of the young ladies before they release their pent-up emotions in a powerful and highly effective vocal-led finale. No doubt recovered from her breather, Arin resumes her thunderous techniques for the closing title track and her fellow members follow suit to pile on more guitars and anguish.

‘Heart Beat’ is an excellent update on the 60’s girls group format with the band successfully integrating shoegaze and punk elements into their repertoire. Certainly, for those middle two songs alone, the effects are really rather beautiful. Let’s hope this fledgling band can continue to find nothing better to do and crack on with recording an album.

Web Sites:
Stream Night School – Heart Beat EP

Further Listening:
The Shangri-La’s, Twinkle, The Crystals, Thrushes, Whirr


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