Published September 20, 2016
This is the first album in what seems like aeons from Southport’s Paul Sumner. In fact it’s his first album since the solo debut, ‘A World Of Horses’, from 2006; a record which was described here as being “strong on heart-on-sleeve sentiment”. Much like that record and many artists from the North West of England, themes of melody, innocence and nostalgia are writ large over ‘That Ladybird Summer’.
There are tunes here that a milkman would whistle. In fact, the first song, ‘Our Milkman Is The Morning’, is just that, complete with children’s chorus. Similarly, ‘Let’s Go And Play’ and ‘Picture Book’ are happy, singalong songs which wouldn’t sound out of place on Mark Wirtz’s ‘Teenage Opera’ soundtrack. ‘Pauline Curry Swore’ and ‘News At Ten’ bask in dreamy atmospheres whilst Sumner’s soothing tones fit in remarkably smoothly; it’s at this stage where the album seems to be growing up, both in subject matter and the mature, less child-friendly arrangements.
Perhaps the most poignant lyric arrives on ‘Remember Village Life?’ where the songwriter intones “There’s something pure and honest there. I can feel it in my bones”. It’s a really comfy slipper moment on a record which has warmth in abundance and it sums up the album in a couple of sentences too.
The excellent ‘Soul Love’ will draw inevitable comparisons with The Lotus Eaters, thanks to the glistening, chiming guitar refrain and Sumner’s falsetto. Then comes the twelve-minute finale, ‘The Battle For Barney’s Farm’, an ambitious suite, if you will, and one which finds the right balance between emotion, guitar solos and the inevitable big psych finish and fade-out.
Those familiar with XTC’s similarly whimsical album ‘Skylarking’ will appreciate ‘That Ladybird Summer’ and it’s surely no coincidence that XTC man Dave Gregory features on a couple of the songs. Yet it’s Sumner himself who is the real star here and his Utopian vision based on growing up in an English village has resulted in a really charming and colourful album.
Mark Wirtz, XTC
Copenhagen trio The Foreign Resort have been touted as the most exciting act from Denmark since The Raveonettes. Praise indeed but connections with their compatriots are few beyond their nationality as these particular Danes create epic, synth and guitar based indie rock with crossover appeal to goth, shoegaze and Europop fans.
Beginning in arresting fashion, ‘Dead End Roads’ is propelled aloft by icy synths and muscular rhythms. The song screams with urgency but tempered by a cool European flair. Mikkel B. Jakobsen’s vocals embody tension, panic, frustration and possibly a little sweatiness too. The next song, ‘Breaking Apart’, chugs and swirls along aggressively too but the guitars chime prettily for ‘Alone’ and the frontman’s teary-eyed tones evoke a sense of tenderness and romance for the first time. It’s an idea which is expanded on by the A-ha-like ‘Quiet Again’.
Later on, the chilling gothic shapes of ‘New Frontiers’ are reminiscent of Modern English. Yet attention will doubtless be cast towards ‘Flushed’, at least initially; the band simulating a wind tunnel arrangement hurtling towards Jakobsen’s desperate cries. It’s an instantly attractive track which deserves the honour of being lead single but the swooning, “Ultravox on steroids” effects of ‘Landslide’ offer a similar drive and intensity and the instrumental coda to last track ‘Dark White’ is immense.
Although the album is like a guessing game of “spot the influence”, overall this is a very strong album and one which befits the promise of an “aural rollercoaster of emotional intensity”. It’s definitely a thrilling ride which demands repeated visits, that’s for sure.
The Foreign Resort Official Site
The Foreign Resort Bandcamp
Further Listening: kIM NOVAk, Wolfsheim, Modern English, A-ha. Ultravox
Published October 7, 2015
Chloë March’s musical past covers a stint in the sophisticated melodrama of Cousteau as well as a background in drama and playwriting. Such skills and experiences have been put to excellent use on new album ‘Nights Bright Day’ where the attention to production detail is matched with fascinating storytelling.
Bathed in magical beauty, ‘Winter Deep’ sees March cast as the female equivalent of C Duncan, with whom she shares a cool, breathy vocal and a penchant for dreamy arrangements. March’s primary focus seems to be on piano-led numbers and lambent, ambient pop, with strong echoes of Jo Hamilton on ‘Cafe Des Poetes’, yet a diversions into psychedelic soul (courtesy of ‘Boho Night’) is tackled with skill and panache. The superb ‘Orpheus Head’ bubbles with highly inventive production and oddball melody where the key lyrics, “You’re in my head. You’re in the ground, beneath my feet”, are delivered gently for maximum impact.
A clutch of spare, vocal-led numbers (‘Ember’, ‘Eurydice On The Underground’, ‘Orpheus At Sea’, ‘Eucalyptus Night’) seem like lost anthems from a watery world whilst a spectral ‘Be Lonely Roi’ threatens to lure the listener completely underwater, engulfed by the hypnotic aural bliss. On abstract offerings such as ‘Sunless’, ‘Woods’ and the Anja Garbarek-esque ‘Owl’, meanwhile, it’s as if nature itself has decided to take over and recorded its own beautiful songs.
Variations in pace may be few and far between but this is not a problem because the arrangements always keep the listener guessing from the first song to the shiver-inducing grace of the finale ‘Unlit’. Furthermore, March’s vocals manage to find that difficult balance between elegance, emotion and mystery. A joy.
Chloë March Official Site
Chloë March on Hidden Shoal Recordings
Chloë March – Nights Bright Day on Bandcamp
Jo Hamilton, C Duncan, Victoria Hume, Anja Garbarek, Elaine Lachica
Manchester’s Last Harbour have been offloading their doom-laden rock to angst lovers for over a decade now and it is to be expected that their new album ‘Caul’ will reveal no sign of them lightening the mood. Yet there’s shafts of light here which indicate there is hope after all these years.
‘Caul’ opens like a finale with mournful drones and strings and a sedate piano melody emulating the last paragraph of a tragic novel. After this brief instrumental comes the first song, ‘Fracture Fragment’, where K. Craig’s lugubrious tones set the scene for more familiar territory. It’s a weighty number which lurches all the way from bleakness to misery, yet elegantly so.
Then come the surprises. ‘Guitar Neck’ benefits from a shift in momentum, as guitars and rhythms picking up the urgency and intensity; resembling the missing link between Piano Magic and The Stranglers. ‘Before The Ritual’ veers even more towards rock and there’s even a playful keyboard motif thrown in for good measure.
Further about turns arrive via ‘Horse Without A Rider’, where they move into the warmth of country music before unleashing a post-rock storm. ‘The Deal’ starts like the main event; beginning so ominously with sinister string segments and then relentless percussion. The only disappointment is that it doesn’t build into the towering epic that it promises and merely broods. As the album draws towards its conclusion, ‘The Pressure’ is as weary as the title suggests and final song ‘The Promise’ is a beautifully-arranged suite; seguing from its forlorn beginning to an uplifting middle section and then reverting to a valedictory, peaceful end.
‘Caul’ offers unexpected shifts in pace and style without disappointing fans of their previous work. So their glass is still half empty but Last Harbour offer comfort and solace at the end of the voyage.
Last Harbour Official Site
Gizeh Records Label Site
Last Harbour – Caul on SoundCloud
Piano Magic, Tomorrow We Sail, Her Name Is Calla
Published September 9, 2015
Everything about the title to Echodrone’s latest album fits. ‘Five’ is the San Francisco outfit’s fifth album, they have five band members and on this evidence they would certainly make the top five of many best of shoegaze/dream pop lists too.
Opening up with the kind of vintage synth intro most commonly associated with Boards Of Canada, the whispered vocals and crunching guitar soon add menace to disturb the serenity. It may be an incongruous way to start but the song evolves into something special as all the initially disparate layers form a lovely melodic whole. Satisfyingly muscular rhythms and a dense framework of slow-building guitars or the cornerstones which guide ‘Falling From Planes’, ‘Motion Pictures’ and ‘Glacial Place’ towards classy shoegaze territory. Amongst other highlights, On ‘Noise Bed’ the angelic tones of Rachel Lopez take centre stage as they are set against lilting key changes, ‘When The Two Ends Meet’ pushes and drives towards euphoric places whilst ‘Less Than Imaginary’ relies on a fairly simple but addictive hook.
Some intensity is lost a little towards the conclusion of the record but otherwise Echodrone provide good value over an hour’s worth of expertly-produced music. Throughout, they exhibit similar qualities to long-serving British act Engineers, steadily forming sumptuous layers of carefully cultivated sound whilst searching for (and often finding) the perfect tunes.
Echodrone Official Site
Echodrone on Saint Marie Records
Engineers, Her Vanished Grace, Slowdive
Having first written about Brooklyn’s Elaine Lachica some thirteen years ago, it’s fascinating to gain an insight into the development of a musician. As a solo artist, Lachica immediately stood out with her impressive vocal range and inventive way with song creation but she did seem like a talent who needed a bit more focus, even if her most recent solo album 2009’s ‘I Think I Can See The Ocean’ was a gem. Arc Waves are a new band based fronted by the vocal talents of Lachica and – like her solo records – they’re not content to stick to one genre either.
For opener ‘Half Dome’, Lachica’s ululations are kept in check by shoegaze-indebted guitars and nagging indie pop basslines. She is more controlled for a gentler but ‘Look Straight At Me’, which heads for the territory of dream pop heaven.
On the strength of these first two tracks alone, Arc Waves are clearly a good match for each other; complimenting vocal originality with tight musicianship.
For the straighter-edged reverb-heavy rock of ‘Cascades’, however, the band sound less interesting, with Lachica’s style somewhat at odds with the Interpol-like production. By the time of the final offering, ‘Galaxies’ the group have moved into ambient rock circles and it’s no exaggeration to say the group seem to be attempting a more danceable version of latter-day Cocteau Twins on this song and with some success too.
This is an interesting move for Lachica after her somewhat wayward displays on previous albums. Perhaps the unity of working in a band gives her the solid structures she has been craving but importantly her individual talents are not compromised here either, even if sometimes the genre choice seems like an awkward fit. Minor quibbles aside then, all of this promises much for the debut album.
Arc Waves Bandcamp
The Attic Ends, Elaine Lachica, Cocteau Twins
Nottingham’s Surfacing aim to give voice to (amongst other things) the horrors that society tries to suppress. Yet anyone who likes their experimental music embellished by post-punk yet curious about the terrors of the night club will find an album worth pursuing here.
Thanks to its tribal drums, whispered vocals and dystopian, industrial atmosphere, ‘Surfacing (Susanna’s Song)’ builds up as if it’s going to turn into an alternative dance anthem. In fact, to be perfectly frank, there are strong undercurrents of Underworld here. ‘Hypocalypse’ also has roots in the club scene but the edgy spoken word and sense of claustrophobia suggest an affinity with angry post-punk obscurities such as The Royal Family And The Poor too.
As the record reaches its halfway point, ‘Amaurot’ mesmerises with its mix of chants, Eastern rhythms and modern beats; the overall effect sounding like the lost cries of forgotten prisoners as they rattle their cages. It’s a stunning moment. ‘Melancholy Of Fulfilment’ cuts the production layers back further still with vocals now represented by dislocated echoes. This excellent mini album then ends in dramatic fashion with ‘Her Smoke Rose Up Forever’; where the beats, bleeps and rhythms merge into one another to form the thinking man’s floor filler Surfacing had been threatening from the start.
Within each track there is music of stark beauty which haunts the listener with every ghostly step. Experimental music very rarely sounds as vital and as invigorating as this.
Records On Ribs Label
The Royal Family And The Poor, A.R. Kane, Underworld, Ultramarine