Archive for January, 2008

Review: The Silent League – Of Stars And Other Somebodies

The Silent League took the dreamy Americana sounds of Mercury Rev and removed some of the psychedelic elements, replacing them with 70s soft-rock stylings. It worked superbly for first album ‘The Orchestra, Sadly, Has Refused’ but I’m not quite so enamoured with its follow-up; a very “nice” sounding album yet not half as dreamy as its predecessor.

The Silent League CD Cover

Mainman Justin Russo has a fine voice, which is certainly a cleaner instrument than his ex-Mercury Rev colleague Jonathan Donahue, yet when listening to ‘Kings & Queens’ the vocal arrangements reminded me of Chicago’s Peter Cetera. Musically it’s all sumptuously put together, each brass instrument and piano key obviously thought out in finest detail, its peak emerging on the lovely warm melodies for ‘Let It Roll’; a song cut from the same cloth as a Carpenters record whereas the uncomplicated ‘Untied’ could have come from their own last record. ‘Out Of Reach’ stands out from the pack too, as the music takes on a layer of menace and it’s probably no coincidence that it sounds more like a Mercury Rev track. Yet for the rest of the album I wasn’t quite so moved as I was last time around, largely because the tunes themselves aren’t quite so memorable and occasionally the AOR sentiments descend into blandness.

Web Sites:
The Silent League Official Site
The Silent League MySpace

Further Listening:
Mercury Rev, The Carpenters


Review: Mar Project – Stepping Stone

Mar Project is the musical outlet for vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Hiroshi Kono, Japanese-born but now living in New York. Clearly the American influences appear to have rubbed off on Kono as the music within his second full-length album covers a wide area of alternative rock and pop music.

Mar Project Album Cover

Kono has an intriguing vocal style; breathy with seemingly French-accented tones which could fit in with easy listening as well as the baroque pop he seems more comfortable with. Certainly the likes of ‘Vanishing In The Light’ sees him swoon his way effortlessly through some theatrical arrangements. Many of the songs here feature classical guitar as the main instrument with electronic backing; best exemplified on the hooky title track. Kono does like to take risks though and it works well on the half-grunge of ‘Again’, the sensuous, dancefloor-friendly ‘Plastic Love’ is very good indeed and first single ‘Run’ cleverly uses Bond-style string effects. On the debit side, ‘The 21st Century Blues’ is a camp step too far whilst but ‘The Four Seasons’ sees his gushing style employed in a more restrained setting that is far more suitable. Overall, ‘Stepping Stone’ can be quite a confusing album to listen to because of its odd assortment of styles and instrumentation but there’s a nice flow to the record and Kono’s gift for unusual melody cannot be denied.

Web Sites:
Mar Creation Label Site
Mar Project MySpace

Review: Bassboosa – Bassboosa

Bassboosa are a new London-based act revolving around the vocals of Jasmine Badir and the production skills of electronic whizz Tim Clarke. Being a good-looking couple they certainly have the right appearance but do they make an impact musically? It’s a case of yes and no for much of this album is well-written electronic music with female vocals but this kind of chill-out style was done to death in the late 90’s thanks to bands like Mandalay, Olive and Lhooq.

Bassboosa CD Cover

Tellingly, Bassboosa sound better the more risks they take. Lead-off song ‘Cry’ signifies that though Badir’s vocal range is pleasant enough, it cannot set alight a rather dull tune and the cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ sounded instantly forgettable to me but it apparently became a no. 1 hit on USA radio station KNRK so what do I know? On the plus side, for ‘Wish I Didn’t’ and ‘Succumb’, Clarke offers a more robust, rhythmic backing and his partner responds well with a couple of urgent vocal performances. ‘Lost’ also shines for experimenting with Eastern rhythms but the pick of the bunch is ‘Give It Up’ where a faster tempo and – shock horror! – a guitar  provides a great showcase Badir’s soulful tones. Questions marks may remain for the relevance of this type of music in today’s climate but a strong image allied with their all-important songcraft could well see Bassboosa triumph in the long run.

Web Sites:
Bassboosa MySpace

Further Listening:
Mandalay, Mono, Cling

Review: Her Vanished Grace – Twilight

Her Vanished Grace have been offering their own take on modern shoegazing pop for over fifteen years now. Quite an achievement considering that this scene has generally been viewed as a short-lived phenomenon. Granted, the husband and wife team of Charles and Nance Nieland have never received more than a cult following but on their new album they still sound pretty vibrant.

Her Vanished Grace CD Cover

A key element is that they are basically a pop band, albeit one who love fuzzy guitars. The interplay between Charles and Nance is as strong as ever, particularly when Charles’ breathy, nonchalant tones segue into Nance’s passionate cries for ‘Suddenly’ . After a breathless opening triple salvo, ‘Motor’ slows the pace down with some grinding bass and whispered vocals. ‘It’s Not Love’ is another fine song; its taut verse exploding into a harmonic chorus whereas the excellent grinding title track is the closest they get to a My Bloody Valentine level of greatness. The album’s only real flaw is that it adheres to a rigid formula but that won’t worry students of the FX pedals + boy/girl harmonies = pop equation.

Web Sites:
Her Vanished Grace Official Site
Her Vanished Grace MySpace

Further Listening:
Joy Zipper, My Bloody Valentine, Sky Drops

Review: Various Artists – Brew Records Volume One

Brew Records are a newly-formed Yorkshire label with a disparate array of artists on their roster. However, this compilation leans heavily towards a young croup of “nu metal” bands.

Brew Records CD Cover

There are some strong tracks on here. The Butterfly’s ‘Eros And Thanatos’ may be an unorthodox place to start; this group churns out metallic riffs, funk guitars and gothic vocals to create something quite different but for the following track from I Concur, the vocals on  ‘Oblige’ emulate a grunged-up Morrissey. Furthermore, Immune’s Oriental-flavoured rock moves in impressive modern prog circles and the intricate, melancholic splendour of Vessel’s ‘Forever The Optimist’ is another high point. Sadly, too many songs degenerate into metal-by-numbers so it’s a real blessing when the stark, piano-led contribution from Glissando makes an appearance and this sets the scene for a number of noticeably quieter efforts. So it’s a quite an unbalanced compilation but there are a number of acts here who could be worth watching out for in the future.

Web Sites:
Brew Records MySpace

Review: Humanboy – I’m No Good At This

Minneapolis-based Humanboy aren’t the first outfit to use breakbeats with folk music and they certainly won’t be the last. Yet their debut record has an admirable freshness. I first heard them on the recent ‘I Can Count Volume 2’ compilation with their contribution, ‘Life In Color’, being the main highlight on a top quality collection. It’s a song where Brie Harthun’s emotive vocals are joined by acoustic guitar and those aforementioned breakbeats, with the track’s strengths being its warmth and melody.

Humanboy Album Cover

‘Life In Color’ is sensibly included on their first album but it’s joined by many other fine songs too. The instrumental ‘Pond’ is reminiscent of the intricate guitar work of Dif Juz and ‘Catfish?’ finishes with a Kraftwerkian flourish. Meanwhile, ‘Sleepwalking’ successfully manages to find cohesion from three distinct layers of music whilst ‘Something Familiar’ sounds like The Notwist with a female singer. Not too surprisingly, the formula doesn’t always work; ‘Look Away’, for instance, seems to have too many ideas going on at the same time and ends up sounding confused. Yet this is an adventurous album which – from its complex origins – successfully conveys its message to the heart as well as the head.

Web Sites:
Humanboy MySpace
Buy the CD from CD Baby

Further Listening:
The Notwist

Review: Kobol – Extempore

Kobol’s 2005 debut drew comparisons with the likes of Skalpel and Jaga Jazzist thanks to its fusion of jazz and electronica music. This Mexican-born but LA-based duo now return with the follow-up ‘Extempore’ and although it’s half-based on remixes, it shows the strength in Kobol’s development, moving from above-average background music to song-based structures and multi-layered instrumentals.

Kobol CD Cover

On the remixes, ‘Pepito’ by The Dogs features some cracking percussion and warm atmospherics, Murcof’s ‘Urano’ led me to believe that it was going to build into the theme of ‘The Third Man’ at any time whilst a reworking of Kampion’s ‘Dreamy Snapshot’ uncovers several levels of menace. Pleasingly it’s the new tracks which are even more impressive. ‘Submarino’ is fluid, rhythmic and Latin-inflected rather like Mice Parade, ‘Blue Like You’, assisted by the heart-wrenching vocals of Emma Ejwertz, is dreamily atmospheric and the finale ‘Tanque’ has enough key changes and swing to keep the most challenging of modern jazz fans interested.  No doubt about it, ‘Extempore’ is a major step forward for Kobol as both producers and songwriters.

Web Sites:
Kobol’s Official Site
Kobol MySpace

Further Listening:
Mice Parade, Skalpel, Jaga Jazzist

Review: Switches – Heart Turned To D.E.A.D.

Of all the 1970s genres, glam rock is one of the few many think we could have done without; this was the genre that gave us The Glitter Band and The Sweet after all; still adored by men in their late 40’s/early 50’s who steadfastly refuse to throw out their flared trousers. Lest we forget though, T. Rex and Bowie also found more enduring success. London’s Switches may offer salvation for glam fans but also for lovers of melodic pop/rock in general.

Switches Album Cover

All that is good and not so good about Switches is covered in the first two tracks. ‘Drama Queen’ does bring back worrying echoes of The Sweet but then ‘Snakes And Ladders’ is a song of their own making; its highlight being the full-throated chorus. Switches don’t do subtlety, that’s for sure, but they do provide more than acceptable approximations of all that was good about the glam/new wave scene. No nonsense songs ‘Lay Down The Law’, ‘Step Kids In Love’ and ‘Every Second Counts’ prove their harmonies are well executed and songs hook-heavy. They do occasionally come unstuck on the falsetto-voiced ‘Laura’ which tries too hard to sound like Queen whilst the heavy-handed ‘Lovin’ It’ and ‘Message From You’ are too contrived. Yet in a similar way to The Feeling, Switches are unashamed about their influences and they have enough good songs to carry it off the reminiscing.

Web Sites:
Switches Official Site
Switches MySpace

Further Listening:
10CC, Jellyfish, Queen

Album Stream: Morning Recordings – The Welcome Kinetic

Lose yourself in the lush atmospherics of Morning Recordings by clicking here to run the album stream.

Review: Morning Recordings – The Welcome Kinetic

Morning Recordings revolve around the arranging and songwriting talents of one Pramod Tummala, who enlisted members of Lambchop and The Coctails to create a first album which was described as “melancholic, hushed songwriter fare imbued with an orchestral sparseness”. On that basis, the second full-length ‘The Welcome Kinetic’ seems more focused on instrumental aspects but is still a moving collection of music.

Morning Recordings Album Cover

For the instrumental tracks, ‘Join The Curtains’ is a particularly warped Morricone track whilst the percussive warmth of the title track could fit in to any great 60’s movie soundtrack. However, it is the vocal-led tracks which linger longest in the memory because they are quite beautiful. ‘Songs From A Hotel Bar’ sung by Edith Frost is a lovelorn, understated number backed up with a suitably subtle, glistening backing. ‘We Loved The City Years’ is like a dream; some blissful harmonies wash over late night soul atmospherics; it echoes The Silent League and Mercury Rev in its near-perfect arrangements. Perhaps even slightly better than that, ‘You’ve Been Letting Go’ is the lushest Bond soundtrack ever, with once again the harmonies and key changes taking the listener into near-ecstasy. Lovingly produced from start to finish, it’s definitely one of those sumptuous records to just lose yourself in.

Web Sites:
Morning Recordings Official Site
Morning Recordings MySpace

Further Listening:
Mercury Rev, The Silent League, The Beach Boys, Alpha