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

Review: Seashore Darkcave – Raw Wave EP

It’s hard to know what to expect from a Brazilian one man band calling himself Mad Mario. Certainly not instrumental variations of the classic early years of Factory Records, that’s for sure. Nevertheless that’s what Mad Mario and his intriguingly-titled Seashore Darkcave project has presented.

Seashore Darkcave EP Cover

‘The Plunging Breaker Evocation’ begins with a glummer than glum guitar intro; the kind of which The Drums would surely approve. Also prevalent are some neat retro synths and the crisp beats of a drum machine and thus the scene is set. ‘Strobo for Grootslang’ continues the theme with the music evoking a persistently moody era of post-punk a la The Wake or any number of bands you could care to mention from the period. Each track is interspersed with samples of crashing waves and sea birds; adding to the eerie aura. ‘Myotis Vivesi’ ratchets up the intensity with layers of reverb adding layers of doom to some already deeply melancholic music; in contrast with the more drawn-out movements of ‘She Sells Sea Shell’. Finally, a darkly hypnotic ‘Leviathan Trial Pride’ ensures the EP closes in compelling style.

Say what you will about the period fixation of ‘Raw Wave EP’ but these offerings are intricate, hook-heavy and surprisingly beguiling. For those who find the The Drums’ vocals a little too mannered but love the guitar work, Seashore Darkcave fill the void.

Web Sites:
Seashore Darkcave Bandcamp
Seashore Darkcave – Raw Wave EP

Further Listening:
The Drums, The Wake

Review: Fran Minney – Leaving Our Bodies

With her striking blue hair and a promise of stories documenting “the wild forces of nature and relationships”, Leeds-based Fran Minney is the kind of singer/songwriter who demands attention. Happily she has the talent to back up the first impressions too, on an EP which serves as a more than promising start for a new voice in UK folk/pop.

Fran Minney Album Cover

Based on the opening seconds of ‘Leaving Our Bodies’ alone, it is obvious Minney is blessed with the kind of control and range you’d expect for someone on her third or fourth album. It’s an ambitious opener which skips through the annals of folk, blues and pop and ends with her rocking out. It’s an empowering song (“We’re climbing the mountains that we built inside our minds”) which leaves a lasting and positive impression too.

It is unlikely anyone could accuse Minney of ticking too many genre boxes in one go but – for the singer/songwriter purists – ‘Rise’ just leaves Minney with her guitar plus some minimal strings and hushed backing harmonies and she passes the examination with flying colours. Even when she sings “But every anchor is being cast off and I’m just floating around”, you sense that this is a young woman who seems very confident in her performance and direction. The lilting, slightly jazzy ‘Dumb’ is another assured number; showing the full extent of her vocals whilst never threatening to let her emotions take over. Surprisingly, Deceit.’s imaginative remix of ‘Leaving Our Bodies’ really does take the song in new directions; suggesting that Minney has the option of developing a niche as a techno/euphoria pop diva should she wish to.

So the verdict is that even though there are just three original songs here, the possibilities are many for Minney. This is a mature, well-written EP which – to borrow one of her lyrics – provides a compelling piece of evidence for “Making our little voices heard”.

Web Sites:
Fran Minney Official Site
Fran Minney Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Beth Orton, Victoria Hume

Review: Novanta – Best-Selling Dreams

“Novanta” is an Italian word meaning ninety and Italian Manfredi Lamartina chose such a name because every song is a “sort of tribute” to music from the Nineties. Granted, there may not be much in the way of Drum and Bass or Brit Pop here but shoegaze fans will possibly rejoice at the sounds generated by Lamartina’s one man band project.

Novanta Album Cover

‘Light Changes’ is a strange, turtle-paced, dream pop/trip-hop concoction. It’s a peculiar beginning and the following track, ‘Windows’, is hardly conventional but its searing Telecaster melody makes a fine bedfellow for some wounded vocals on a convincing shoegaze number. It seems the Telecaster is the key to the album as a whole as Lamartina often reduces his guest vocalists to a mere whisper or murmur; his guitar cutting swathes through ‘Worthless Whirls’ but then the track morphs into the kind of glum rock arrangement which The Wolfgang Press used to revel in.

Elsewhere, Lamartina experiments with electronica such as delightful instrumental ‘Novanta Song’, whilst ‘A Fever’ dabbles in ‘Kid A’-era weirdness as a stark piano motif and harmonium accompanies Giampiero Riggio’s haunted tones. On the flipside, though, the uplifting techno of ‘2Young2Die’ sounds as dated as the track title. Thankfully, Lamartina saves one of his best moments for the end with an arresting ‘La Maledizione Degli Affetti’. The title means ‘The curse of suffering’ and for some the huge guitar lines will make their ears bleed but for genre fans there are gorgeous layers of noise to enjoy.

Even if it will never live up to the tongue in cheek title, ‘Best-Selling Dreams’ is not as hamstrung by Nineties influences as you might think. Indeed, it’s possibly more “nugaze” than shoegaze thanks to Lamartina’s willingness to embrace newer technology.

Web Sites:
Novanta Bandcamp
Seashell Records

Further Listening:
Matt Bartram

Review: Involved – Revolving Maze

Informed by four decades of electronic music and aiming to “curate fresh sounds” from the genre, Maryland’s Joe Dorsey and Korea-based Reivilo Enoignor have set their targets high on their first album as Involved. What follows is fifty minutes of soundtrack-worthy material which demonstrates two composers finding fertile common ground via their remote connections.

Involved Album Cover

In an early statement of the dark cinematic feel to the record, ‘Ingress’ introduces shadowy synths and rolling piano and ends with a Kraftwerk-esque melody, then the single ‘Machiavella’ augments the consistently lush keyboards with ghostly female vocals samples and motorik beats. Yet just as the album starts to feel slightly flat after the subdued, morose ‘Radiation Leak’, ‘Inner Spaces’ and ‘Angular’ locates the perfect space between busy electronica and a sense of light and optimism. Further special moments follow, in particular the chilling title track, populated by subtle but seductive key changes and enigmatic ambience; fully justifying its nine minute length. Meanwhile, ‘Patient’ is as suitably epic and energising as the finale ‘Egress’ is soothing and elegant.

‘Revolving Maze’ isn’t quite as dynamic as the title suggests but every moment here is appropriate filmic. Unusually, the more complex and intricate the track is, the more memorable (not to mention involving!) it becomes. So it’s another worthwhile cross-continental collaboration then.

Web Sites:
Hidden Shoal Label and Shop Site
Involved Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Dissolved, Radio For The Daydreamers

Review: Sounds Of Sputnik – New Born

Sounds Of Sputnik is the brainchild of Roman Kalitkin; one of many promising acts to emerge from Russia in recent times. It actually transpires Kalitkin is something of an old hand with twenty years service to post punk and shoegaze to his name. Here, he teams up with Ukranian duo Ummagma (who themselves produced two excellent, eclectic albums in 2013) to present ‘New Born'; drawing on a myriad of genres and contributors in the process.

Sounds Of Sputnik Album Cover

‘New Born’ sets the album off to a flyer with an addictive keyboard riff, bruising guitars and some strident vocals from Ummagma’s Shauna McLarnon. It’s an impressive multi-layered tune even if hearing it in five alternative versions is possibly stretching it a little. Nevertheless, some big names have been roped in to lend their hands, most notably OMD producer Malcolm Holmes. For the soaring ‘Light Scheme’, Alex Kretov and McLarnon team up on some lovely, interweaving harmonies backed up by Kalitkin’s dreamy backdrops. Although this album was released in the summer, ‘Blizzard’ seems so seasonally appropriate now and its fuzzy, experimental leanings and the doomy, post rock flavour which informs ‘Shades Of The Cosmos’ show the quality of Kalitkin’s production credentials. That said, it is still the vocal-led songs which stand out the most, exemplified by the final original offering; a lively Lush-like offering named ‘Overdrive’.

The remainder of the album concerns itself with the alternate mixes. Even considering each variation of ‘New Born’ adds something extra (‘Morozov’s glitchy beats, Oleg Mezherovsky’s excitable techno and a crispy, crunchy performance from the aforementioned Holmes), the Sputnik remix – thanks to its employment of pulsing dance beats and plenty of echo – is possibly the most memorable version. As for the alternate takes on ‘Light Scheme’, Fran Ashcroft takes this already euphoric song to an even dreamier level whilst Brazil’s Mind Movies evolve and morph the original into a busy psychedelic concoction.

Granted, ‘New Born’ may have benefited from a few more original tracks but the multiple versions are each worth more than just a cursory listen. Moreover, Kalitkin and his helping hands have put together a bright and consistently fascinating album.

Web Sites:
Sounds Of Sputnik Bandcamp
Sounds Of Sputnik SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Ummagma, Broken Social Scene, Elika, Lush


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