Archive for February, 2008

Reviews: herMajesty – And Now This…

Back in 2005’s I reviewed herMajesty’s first album ‘Memory & Loss’, a rather patchy affair which sounded like The Flaming Lips performing a more commercial form of rock. It benefitted from at least three excellent tracks and it’s pleasing to hear the New York trio have worked on their potential to deliver a new release and – although it’s only a short EP – it’s a noticeable improvement.

herMajesty CD Cover

First track ‘Across The Rooftops’ is attention grabbing from its opening riff and even though the chorus doesn’t quite match up to it, it’s a likeable song. ‘Turn To You’ also features some great guitar playing to lend the song a widescreen rock quality; providing several hooks along the way. With the core trio now bolstered by additional musicians, herMajesty’s music now sounds bolder, colourful and more expensive which must be partially due to producer Nic Hard (former clients include The Church and The Bravery). ‘New Way Out’ features swooping vocals and ambitious arrangements whilst the final track (forgetting the unnecessary reprise of ‘Across The Rooftops’) tries hard to be dramatic but is hindered by a so-so chorus. Overall, this is good quality pop rock music which straddles the alternative/commercial scene.

Web Sites:
herMajesty’s MySpace

Further Listening:
The Flaming Lips, Darlings Of The Day


Review: Millimetrik – Northwest Passage’s New Era

Clearly, Pascal Asselin is a man on a mission. After enjoying critical acclaim for his involvement in dreampop outfit Below The Sea, Asselin’s solo career has already witnessed four albums (including one remix effort) and an EP. The latest album sees him developing his sounds still further. Whereas recent releases have focussed on chilly ambience, here Asselin embraces hip hop structures and a clearer sense of melody.

Millimetrik CD Cover

Furthermore, from the fluid piano keys on ‘Sournoise Supercherie’ to final track ‘Pascaline Knight’, everything is rhythmically tight. The melodic shifts are often quite gradual, each track settling into one groove before making a slight shift into another and the results (for ‘La Sonate De L’Homme Bon’ and ‘En Memoire De Terror Et Erebus’ in particular) are slick, menacing and very impressive. Although Millimetrik’s music remains ostensibly dark, ‘Les Artefacts Du Futur’ and ‘A Travers Le Temps De Retour’ are bright and hopeful. ‘Suicide Bi-Polaire’ embraces warm techno like a cross between old school 808 State and the faraway sounds of Ultramarine whilst ‘Le Libraire Obscur Du Mont D’Iberville’ melds film noir with trip hop.  So Asselin has developed his palette still further and this is arguably his most consistent and addictive offering yet.

Web Sites:
Millimetrik Official Site
Make Mine Music Label Site

Further Listening:
All Sides, Phobos 3

Review: Keny Butler – The Strange Cabaret

Keny Butler served as songwriter, guitarist and vocalist in the shoegaze ambient rock band Zen for more than a decade. As a fellow follower of artists on the 4AD label, I didn’t need too much encouragement to comply with Keny’s review request. Not that this is a typically 4AD album, I hasten to add. It embraces progressive rock elements and no little soul.

Keny Butler CD Cover

‘The Waiting Is Over’ benefits from a menacing pulse and Butler’s gradually more distorted vocals. At other times I thought of Peter Gabriel, not just because Butler has a similar voice but also because of the experimental nature of the music. At times it’s hopeful, like on ‘Ordinary Man’ and ‘Escape’, but mainly it veers towards the dark side. Along the way, Butler tries his hand at various genres. ‘Broken Carousel’ is a worthwhile detour in to macabre instrumental waters whilst ‘The Great Demise’ merges proggy guitars with ambient rock and – most bizarrely of all – the final bonus track sounds like a paean to Barry White and Luther Vandross that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the record but is performed with some panache.

Butler’s best moments actually occur on ‘Locusts’, a yearning mid-paced song which is bolstered by a moving string accompaniment and ‘Mountain Mind’; a mysterious and soulful highlight. Butler calls this new venture a “gothic novella” and – despite the low budget – he achieves these grand ambitions with admirable versatility and fine songwriting skills.

Web Sites:
Keny Butler MySpace

Further Listening:
Noise626, Peter Gabriel

Review: Radiohead – In Rainbows

Never ones to let the grass grow under their feet, Radiohead unleashed their latest strategy by allowing buyers to name their own price for their latest album. In these cynical times it’s refreshing that they have apparently become financially better off by trying out this honesty tactic. Since their unremarkable first record though, their albums have never been a risky purchase quality-wise and it’s pleasing that Radiohead have pulled out another fine record and one which reveals a refreshing sense of humanity.

Radiohead CD Cover 

Initially, Radiohead seem to be embarking on awkward territory. Some complicated percussion and bluesy guitar characterise ’15 Step’ and halfway through it enters a dreamy groove; essentially developing into a second song in the process. Likewise, ‘Bodysnatchers’ is confrontational and stylistically all over the place; its frantic instrumentation reminding me of dEUS. It’s an arresting beginning but, after that, something quite strange happens.

It is here where Radiohead reveal their soulful side. ‘Nude’ will be known to many as a live track. It has a sad vibe to it but think of it as a happier ‘Pyramid Song’. I prefer ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’; despite its odd title, the insistent guitar rhythm and Thom Yorke’s yearning vocal make this track an understated but spine-tingling and highly emotive track. Likewise ‘All I Need’ isn’t musically complicated but it’s another beautiful song where the group prove they are romantic souls after all.

Thereafter Radiohead use strings, more bluesy guitar and what amounts to fairly conventional music, which is good but never outstanding. Neverthless I still enjoyed the album and quite like the fact that Radiohead are maturing and exploring their soulful side in a less experimental manner.

Web Sites:
Radiohead’s Dead Air Space
Radiohead MySpace

Further Listening:
Junior Boys, A Pacific Model

Review: Joaquin Esquivel – What We Know Of Heaven

Imagine The Montgolfier Brothers if they had Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on singing duty and you might be close to appreciating the unique sound of Joaquin Esquivel. Esquivel has a timid voice which veers on extreme politeness, so much so it’s no surprise to hear him plead “One moment please” to begin the third track. Yet this is a fascinating album and certainly the finest I’ve ever heard from an artist living in The Philippines.

Joaquin Esquivel CD Cover

Although enjoyment of ‘What We Know Of Heaven’ will depend on whether you can stick with Esquivel’s vocals, there’s actually some rich, atmospheric music going on here. The jazzy arrangements and archaic keyboard accompaniments made me think of day trips to dodgy seaside towns. ‘Solitude’ echoes a typical Gnac instrumental whilst ‘Evening’, ‘All’s In Place’ and the title track epitomise the rainy day reflectiveness of the record. The air of nostalgia is never far away and each track seamlessly blends into the next; bringing with it an air of melancholy and dreaminess that is ultimately involving.

Web Sites:
Joaquin Esquivel MySpace
Bendi Records Site

Further Listening:
Scritti Politti, Gnac, The Montgolfier Brothers, Louis Philippe

Video Nostalgia: Pale Saints – Kinky Love

‘Kinky Love’ has the distinction of being one of the last singles I bought. It’s one of those songs I just fell in love with. Not in a kinky way, I hasten to add, but I just fell for the jangly guitars and Meriel Barham’s languid voice. The video isn’t too shabby either in a dreamlike, shoegazey-way.

I know a lot of Pale Saints purists would argue that the floppy-fringed Ian Masters was the true vocalist of the band but there’s no doubt that Barham added commercial appeal and those lyrics of “Kinky, take me inside and let the honey slide” must have been some of the most risque lyrics featured on The Chart Show, which was the programme where I first saw this video.

Compared to a lot of indie/shoegaze acts, The Pale Saints had a relatively long career which started in 1997 and ended in 2006, by which time both Masters and Barham had departed. For me, the key album is ‘In Ribbons’, where they perfected their quiet/loud dynamics and the regular shifts between the desperate melancholy and grungy euphoria ensured listeners were always kept on their toes.

Web Sites:
Pale Saints on Wikipedia
Unofficial Pale Saints Site
Pale Saints MySpace

Review: The French Impressionists – Fête

Despite being linked with the Postcard scene, The French Impressionists didn’t necessarily fit in with label signings Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and Josef K. However, their “new jazz” recordings have aged well, as proved by the recent ‘A Selection Of Songs’ compilation. Revolving around the skills of pianist Malcolm Fisher, their time was sadly shortlived. Thankfully Fisher has now produced a new album with an assortment of new singers and it’s as if the French Impressionists have gone straight back to the studio after their last time together.

French Impressionists CD Cover

Fisher’s solo piano compositions are always a delight. The title track and ‘Dress’ all feature lovely rolling melodies; their wordless elegance conveying heady romance and intrigue. Of the vocal tracks, ‘Indiscretion’ emulates the dolefulness of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ and ‘My Guardian Angel’ certainly has echoes of ‘Try A Little Tenderness’. Meanwhile, on ‘Se Nella Luce’ and ‘L’Infelice Luna’, Sara Cicenia sings with immense passion in her native tongue. ‘Just Take A Moment’ is the only track credited with guitars and percussion. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful, warm understated number and one of the highlights of a fine album. There’s also a showcase for the near-operatic vocals of Japan’s Masako Kodera.

There is an argument to say that there has been no real music development since The French Impressionists first started out but that’s the beauty of that music; much of it could have been made fifty rather than twenty-five years ago. ‘Fête’ doesn’t rely on gimmicks to display its charms, rather it’s a triumph for old-fashioned musical values such as melody and minimalism.

Web Sites:
The French Impressionists MySpace
LTM Record Label Site

Further Listening:
Erik Satie, Dislocation Dance

Review: Giorgio Maggiore – I Colori Che Cambiano

Foreign language albums don’t fare traditionally well in Britain yet recently the likes of Sigur Ros have managed to cross over thanks to their unique beauty. Lest we forget, Cocteau Twins sang incomprehensible songs yet could also sound magical. With that in mind there should be an opening for artists like Giorgio Maggiore, an Italian singer and multi-instrumentalist whose own take on gothic rock is surprisingly palatable.

Giorgio Maggiore CD Cover 

I’m afraid my Italian language skills are basic to say the least but I think I’m safe in guessing that ‘Insaziable’ is the Italian word for “insatiable”. It’s a typically passionate number with the guitars grinding away and battling against Maggiore’s semi-operatic vocals for supremacy. The main flaw in ‘I Colori Che Cambiano’ (that’s “The Changing Colours” to non-Italian speakers) is that there’s little in the way of variety and after an hour’s worth of this music, it’s a lot to take in one sitting. Still, for the quiet/loud dynamics of ‘Aquilone’ and the Siouxsie-esque rhythm of ‘Emozioni Meccaniche’, Maggiore makes a viable claim to being the European answer to VAST’s Jon Crosby. I also enjoyed the lighter material such as ‘La Nebbia’ and ‘Correre’ and only the guttural ‘Un Mundo Di Plastica’ and the proggy keyboards on the final track were difficult to listen to. Overall, fans of gothic melodrama with an Italian twist would be well advised to investigate Maggiore’s work further.

Web Sites:
Giorgio Maggiore Official Site
Giorgio Maggiore MySpace

Further Listening:

Review: Marina Siertis – The Much Needed Second Cold War

Marina Siertis are a band to be taken seriously. Very seriously indeed in fact, for their second album covers subjects such as the Iraq war, the recent hurricane disasters in the USA and the killing of their own Swedish foreign minister. Their political statements are nailed to a sparse backdrop of electronic minimalism, austere vocals and melancholic guitar. On paper this should prove difficult listening but ‘The Much Needed Second Cold War’ is as strong musically as it is lyrically powerful.

Marina Siertis CD Cover

The opening ‘Minister Is Dead’ asks questions such as “Did it kill society or did it just kill one person?” and why the stabbing of a five year-old girl on the same day barely registered a headline in their homeland. Set to a doomy drone, it’s a startling opening and the intensity doesn’t let up for the song which succeeds it, ‘Horror Tin Can’, a swipe at George Bush set to a harrowing Bauhaus-like backing. After this, the music seems to lighten up even if the words don’t. Were it not for its obvious tragic message, ‘Suicide 2’ could be a touching love song, with its subtle electronica and André Öberg’s emotive performance recalling the early, innocent years of Depeche Mode.

Towards the middle of the record, the trio reach their peak with the menacing, rhythmic title track and the moody ‘I Never Went To The English Beach House’ benefiting from robust key changes. Marina Siertis fare less well when they offer dated gothic electronica for ‘Cold Anger’ and the self-pitying ‘Suicide’. Thankfully the group usually avoid such clichés and form their own individual sound; even when they’re at their bleakest for the closing ‘I’ll Begin’ it’s done with a certain elegance. For sure, Marina Siertis should be admired for taking a stance on controversial incidents but what impresses most is their musical ability.

Web Sites:
Marina Siertis Official Site
Marina Siertis MySpace

Further Listening:
Depeche Mode, The Cure, Bauhaus

Review: Royston Vince – London Nights

Royston Vince created ‘London Nights’ in an effort to explore the sense of place of the city he calls home. Inspired partly by Vince’s journey through London on foot, the music he has produced is a fine body of instrumental which does a decent job of evoking what is always a fascinating journey.

Royston Vince CD Cover

‘London Nights’ is very much an album of moods. The title track and the following ‘Soho Midnight’ provide a romantic, sweeping opening; promising the kind of excitement newcomers to London always wish for. Fittingly, the final track – entitled ‘Home’ – is a relaxed affair, its acoustic backing and warm ambience conjuring up images of a relaxing evening by the fireside after a tough day in the city. In between, ‘Behind The Light’ is slower and (not unexpectedly) darker whilst stark piano pieces like ‘Shining River’ and the minimalist Satie-like ‘People Horizon’ are low-key reflective numbers.

Vince’s approach certainly isn’t groundbreaking; largely consisting of either lush electronic melody or melancholic piano pieces, accompanied by simple beats and the occasional sample. This isn’t a criticism because – apart from the dated, noodly space melodies on ‘Brick Lane’ – it’s an intelligent ambient work which achieves Vince’s aim. In fact the whole album would be the perfect soundtrack for a high-speed journey through England’s capital city; if only London were capable of providing such transport facilities.

Web Sites:
Royston Vince MySpace

Further Listening:
Dre’ Pauls