Review: Memory Drawings – There Is No Perfect Place

Hibernate Records have come up with the goods on a regular basis when it comes to intelligent and atmospheric instrumental music. One could say it’s quite a coup for them to be the chosen home for a new album featuring Hood members but maybe it’s those Hood members themselves who are the lucky ones, as Hibernate have taken them under their wing. The Memory Drawings project boasts its own string section courtesy of cellist Florence Fawcett, Joel Hanson’s dulcimer and Sarah Kemp on violins. Add in Chris Tenz’s banjo too and you have the makings of a versatile chamber folk crew.

Memory Drawings Album Cover

‘The Island Of The Day Before’ is possibly the closest we get to Hood territory. The backing players create that distinctive rustic environment and Richard Adams’ sighed vocal and doleful guitar add to the blissful despair which characterised much of Hood’s back catalogue. Meanwhile the drawn out percussion on ‘There Is A World Without You’ will immediately cast minds back to 1999’s morose classic ‘The Cycle Of Days And Seasons’.

However, this is largely an album where the arrangements and interplay between the band members hold the key, rather than references to individual and past performances. Each wordless piece is a moving, achingly sad document, possibly to the ruins which dominate the album’s artwork, or perhaps just to life’s disappointments and regrets. Either way, it works. Even short fragments like the refined ‘I Could Live Like This Forever’, or a stately piano-led ‘In The House At Midnight’ make their mark on the soul and ‘Golden Afternoon’ manages to sound both merry and ominous at the same time. Most poignant of all, though, is the glorious title track which would have fitted perfectly on This Mortal Coil’s ‘It’ll End In Tears’.

The album is bolstered by a bonus CD of re-works and alternate versions. The most impressive contributions including full-bodied re-interpretations from Ryan William Fitch and typically chilling offerings from both Talvihorros and A New Line (Related). There also some lovely female vocal-led re-workings too, including a take on the title track which is the equal of the original.

Web Sites:
Memory Drawings Blog
Memory Drawings Bandcamp
Hibernate Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Hood, The Declining Winter, This Mortal Coil

Review: Sleep Rebellion – Empire Of Lies

Portland’s Sleep Rebellion promise “libertarian sci-fi lyrics” within a new prog/hard rock framework. If that concept fills you with dread then it may be best to turn away now but the more broad-minded listener will be rewarded with a surprisingly melodic and durable album.

Sleep Rebellion Album Cover

The title track sets an early template for heavy post-rock guitars and mighty percussion. Guitars and drums are duly slayed although one of the most pleasing elements is Chris McGraw’s strident yet somewhat innocent-sounding vocals. Even better is ‘Dark Is Our Fear’ which comes across like a prog version of Ultravox’s ‘Hymn'; a portentous anthem concerning surveillance state society, complete with a powerful chorus. Granted there are moments of over-indulgence with showy guitar solos (‘Helicopter Ben’) and unnecessary keyboard solos (‘Transhuman’) which threaten to undermine some otherwise impressive songwriting but for the most part the duo of McGraw and Randy Hart stick to a formula which merits repeated plays.

The unfussy ‘False Messiah’ makes a mockery of its six minute length with a lean, bruising, no-nonsense delivery, the synth-heavy ‘New Worlds’ is swish and energising and on ‘The Creator’ they could give Muse a run for their money. Furthermore, ‘The Agorist’ is rich and complex and the last song ‘Fearless’ is a defiant way to end the record (“Courage takes passion. Revolution takes persistence. So rise up, and join the resistance” sounds like a political call to arms at this time of year).

Those melodramatic lyrics aside, ‘Empire Of Lies’ is a record to be taken seriously. Their music may belong to another time zone (hereafter referred to as the retro-futurist prog period perhaps?) but the duo have created an album of largely memorable sturdy rock anthems and there’s certainly no crime in that.

Web Sites:
Sleep Rebellion Official Site
Sleep Rebellion Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Ultravox, Rush, Muse

Review: Daniel Halliday – Surface Tension

It was a decade ago when I first encountered Daniel Halliday’s work via his Motodestra project and this was my first introduction to his intricately-crafted guitar-based compositions. Since then he has released a handful of EPs under his own name and as Pictureville. Latterly this has included the sparse, acoustic-based ‘Haunts’ but new album ‘Surface Tension’ is closer in spirit to 2008’s ‘First Signs’.

Daniel Halliday Album Cover

Don’t be fooled by its tongue-in-cheek title, ‘Serenade For Tight Jeans And Metal Detector’ jangles delightfully; melodically speaking it’s akin to the lighter side of banjo duelling in ‘Deliverance’ you might say, although there’s a slightly melancholic edge to the arrangement which suggests not all is well in the Western world. That sense of darkness segues into sadness for ‘Recall’ where every ringing chord seems to resonate like another teardrop. The pattern of Western soundtracks versus pretty elegiac tunes becomes a common theme with the title track, ‘Streetlight’, ‘Night Scene’ and ‘Telegraph Hill’ all echoing feelings of languid, lovely loneliness. Meanwhile, the rambling, Wild West atmospheres of ‘There’s Fire On You II’ and ‘Foreshadow’ hint at cinematic ambition. Then, for the final excursion, ‘Last Wave’, there is the last sign of The Durutti Column comparisons but this time they’re imbued with the delicate insistence of The Sea And Cake.

A few may carp about a lack of variety on offer here and production-wise all emphasis is placed on the guitar skills of the musician rather than any outside accompaniment. However, it’s heroically tuneful from first to last note with no little emotional weight either, which means that ‘Surface Tension’ is another fine chapter in the Halliday catalogue.

Web Sites:
Daniel Halliday WordPress
Daniel Halliday Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Sea And Cake, The Durutti Column, Ry Cooder, Mike Oldfield

Review: The Bronze – The Bronze

With those whispers of The Sundays making a long-awaited return yet to reach fruition, the door is left open for other bands with a penchant for jangly guitars and vulnerable female vocals to make their mark. Step forward then, The Bronze from York, with their very accomplished debut album.

The Bronze Album Cover

Chris Bilton’s relaxed, opening strums and frontwoman Holly Taymar’s aching tones on ‘Gun To The Floor’ immediately point to where the story ended for The Sundays last time and the first three songs in particular, could feasibly be lost tracks from that group’s ‘Static And Silence’ album. Mirroring that record’s understated nature too, Taymer and Bilton never consistently raise the urgency and intensity. Instead they appear to be content to quietly strum and coo away pleasantly; too much so for the pretty but insubstantial ‘Half Life’.

Yet it would be a severe oversight to focus solely on these inevitable comparisons, even if they are favourable. As it happens, The Bronze hit their best form when they branch out to form their own sound for the hushed romanticism of ‘Not Just For The Day’, the languid melancholy of ‘Shadows In Time’ or on ‘Next Week’, where they compliment lyrics of struggle (“I have been fighting with a wall of conscience”) with a more muscular arrangement to create a surprisingly tough centrepiece. When the two protagonists team up their vocals on ‘This Life Is Yours’, they recreate some lovely harmonies which make you wonder why they don’t do this more often and the intimacy of the final two songs (‘New Year’ and ‘Hush’) are further defining moments on a strong second half.

There’ll never be a shortage of sensitive folk/indie bands but The Bronze tug on the ears and the heartstrings more insistently than most of their rivals and the fact that they sit comfortably between the aforementioned The Sundays and Nottingham’s Lorna is a testament to the quality of their songwriting. So in the grand scheme of things, The Bronze aren’t quite deserving of the top prize, but they certainly deserve their place on the podium.

Web Sites:
The Bronze Official Site
The Bronze SoundCloud

Further Listening:
The Sundays, Lorna

Review: Kryshe – In Between

‘In Between’ is a fitting title for Christian Grothe’s latest EP. Touching on ambient, post-rock and classical music, the German composer could be perceived as a dabbler but Grothe’s versatility is one of his main strengths and his music under the moniker of Kryshe reveals great maturity and subtlety for someone who only released his first compositions less than a year ago.

Kryshe EP Cover

The title track is bathed in warm ambient textures; the piano parts emerging like the pitter-patter of gentle rain. It’s undoubtedly melancholic but in a comforting way and the key melody is like rediscovering an old friend. ‘Iceland’ is unerringly tuneful, reshaping a music box motif into a yearning post-rock number, where each key change seems to ache a little more than the last. After ‘Lone’ represents a stark, reverberating centrepiece, a watery, portentous ‘Africa’ threatens to work itself up into a storm but instead holds back with some delicious use of restraint and experimental touches. This just leaves the stately, tear-stained melodrama of the finale ‘Lullaby'; the nearest Grothe gets to modern classical.

With each track offering something different, Grothe packs a great deal into twenty five minutes of instumental music. Minimalist this may be but ‘In Between’ is abundant with possibilities.

Web Sites:
Kryshe Official Site
Kryshe Bandcamp
Hidden Shoal Label Page for Kryshe

Further Listening:
Harold Budd, Bruno Sanfilippo

Review: Grammar – Grammar EP

Barrie Lindsay originally began Grammar as a 15-piece chamber pop group during her studies in music theory and composition at Wesleyan in Connecticut. The band has streamlined somewhat since then and Lindsay calls on her older brother as part of the surviving quintet. With the reduction of contributors, comes the inevitable changes in approach but on Grammar’s first EP, Lindsay make light of this to produce some really poignant, lovelorn moments.

Grammar EP Co er

‘Summer Skin’ is a decent scene setter even if Barrie’s cooing vocals, assisted by echo, err towards the cutesy side. Although there are suggestions of Fleetwood Mac, the song comes across as a little slight, almost as if the band are saving themselves for a big moment but then you begin to appreciate one of Grammar’s main qualities is their restraint. Propelled by bouncy beats, summery guitar and positive lyrics, ‘Head Up’ has a cheerier outlook which is both charming and likeable. However, ‘Cambridge’ is surely the definitive demonstration of the benefits of downsizing and stripping away the glitz. Lindsay and some gorgeous backing harmonies carry along a beautiful melody. At once the song echoes an innocent (possibly doomed) young romance and the chorus is a gem.

‘New World’ and ‘Foxes’ continue the trend in tender songwriting and subdued arrangements. It has to be said, there may be times when Grammar sound like a muted version of The Mummers but it would be tough to find five songs as warm and as intimate as this.

Web Sites:
Grammar Official Site
Stream Grammar – Grammar EP

Further Listening:
The Mummers

Review: Worrywort – Fridge Horror

In a perfect display of self-effacement, Worrywort’s Bandcamp page says “Please insult me”. Worrywort is Bobby Mitchell from Reading in Berkshire and is a fan of Tim Burton’s soundtrack buddy of choice, Danny Elfman, it seems. The opening instrumental ‘Soda Blossom’ certainly reveals cinematic ambitions albeit in a lo-fi way.

Worrywort Album Cover

The first actual song, ‘Milk’, is charming in a ramshackle way although the protagonist’s frail Americana-style vocals are unlikely to trouble Neil Young or Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue any time soon. Yet persistence with ‘Fridge Horror’ is rewarded. ‘Blurg’ revels in playful Sunday teatime Wurlitzer sounds whilst ‘Soapbox Whimper’ and ‘Rowing Over Katie’s House’ really deserves a longer showings than their respective 60 and 75 seconds allow and from here on in, the album begins to find some cohesion with Mitchell seemingly telling a story via consistent musical themes and no lack of quality. ‘Miracle Cure’ and its careful combination of classical interludes and The Simpsons Theme-style cutesiness demonstrate further talents and a great ear for melody just before ‘The Greedy Hordes’ veers into prog (and even grunge) territory and emerges in respectable state despite the confusion. Mitchell arguably saves the best moment for last via the vulnerable, tender ‘Bubbles’ which sounds like a lost, lush romantic number from The Korgis.

From an uncertain beginning, Mitchell gains in confidence with each song and composition. His style may be unfashionable but there is more heart and tunefulness in ‘Fridge Horror’ than so many other better-promoted musicians. So, sorry Mr. Worrywort, but you won’t get any insults from me.

Web Sites:
Worrywort Bandcamp
Video for Worrywort – Bubbles

Further Listening:
Grandaddy, Mercury Rev, Eels, The Korgis


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