Archive for March, 2008

Review: Auburn Lull – Begin Civil Twilight

Hard to believe that Auburn Lull have been in operation for more than a decade now. Yet this is only their third album; their less than hasty recording schedule mirrored by their peculiarly lambent style of dreampop. ‘Begin Civil Twilight’ is a deeply atmospheric record but – unlike say Mahogany’s last album – this isn’t one which gives shoegazing music a shot in the arm, in fact it’s more like a record which waves a portable fan over the forehead of the listener.

Auburn Lull CD Cover

Rather than rely on hooks and clever key changes, the tracks on ‘Begin Civil Twilight’ merge into a dreamlike whole. ‘Broken Heroes’ seems to borrow the bird calling noises from The Delays’ ‘Long Time Coming’ but here our feathered friends are content to just float away in a sea of glistening effects and ethereal harmonies. Likewise the title track is just a wash of glacial textures. ‘Stanfield Echo’ is a more tangible affair thanks to its acoustic flavour whilst ‘Arc Of An Outsider’ swoops and glides in the most elegant of fashions. Otherwise the music is somehow elusive; beautiful but a little superficial.

Web Sites:
Auburn Lull Official Site
Auburn Lull MySpace
Darla Label Site

Further Listening:
Slowdive, Mahogany


Review: Dallas Orbiter – Motorcycle Diagrams

The Minneapolis-based Dallas Orbiter are another group to have successfully fused space and psychedelic rock with pop music. Now on to their third album, this record of full of fascinating ideas and an abundance of tunes. In fac, the only problem the listeners may have is not having their mind fried by such a vast array of sounds and styles.

Dallas Orbiter CD Cover

Bonkers fairground keyboards provide the backdrop for ‘Ampbuzz Is For Lovers’. It’s one of the less coherent songs but despite that it’s decidedly off-key melody is still a winning one. ‘The Dawn & Jitters’ uses verses that build up like a creepy fairy tale before a dreamlike chorus takes hold. ‘Stabbed By Grace’ starts off elegantly and wistfully like a long-lost effort by The Sea And Cake but by the end it sounds more like a power ballad. It’s probably a compliment to their diversity that the only song which does sound like The Flaming Lips, ‘The Damocles File’, is the most commercially viable moment on ‘Motorcycle Diagrams’. Elsewhere there’s post-punk guitars (‘Maybe Soon The Lakeflies’), girlie harmonies (‘Brow Of Zeus’), Krautrock instrumentals (‘Bzzjh’) and AOR (‘Hallelujah, The Jetpack Dandies’). Given their wilfully subversive songwriting, Dallas Orbiter will doubtless remain a cult concern but this is still wonderfully creative music that deserves wider audiences.

Web Sites:
Dallas Orbiter Official Site
Dallas Orbiter MySpace

Further Listening:
The Umbrella Sequence

Album Stream: The Diggs – Ctrl-Alt-Del

Listen to The Diggs’ second album in full by clicking here.

Review: The Diggs – Ctrl-Alt-Del

The Diggs are a three-piece from Brooklyn with a strong signature sound that draws on influences from both shoegazing and grunge. Led by the anguished, rock vocals of Timothy Lannen and the tight rhythm section of Rob Haussmann and Charlie Schmid, their second album is dense and powerful.

The Diggs CD Cover

From the beginning it is feasible to think that Lannen’s strained vocals are liable to break down at any minute, given the immense effort he seems to be conveying on each track. Still, he manfully keeps his notes pitched at the same level throughout the record. In fact, similarly hard work might be required for the listener to reap the rewards on an album which only really makes its mark after the first few airings. As the perfect examples, ‘…And In The End Shoot Back’ and ‘Brigante’ build slowly but gradually the insistent guitars drew me in to their delicately weaved melodies. In contrast, ‘Carpal Tunnel’ is the most immediate song on the record thanks to a fine array of clever key changes. However, the otherwise one-paced nature of the record means that on the lesser tracks, the trio seem to be grinding away; struggling to deliver a memorable hook. The end result, therefore is a bit hit and miss.

Web Sites:
The Diggs Official Site
The Diggs MySpace

Further Listening:
The Stills, New Rhodes

Review: Claire Toomey – Found

There always has and always will be a market for female singer-songwriters. This must come as a relief to South London’s Claire Toomey who has opted for the unplugged route on her ‘Found’ EP. Containing just three songs, there’s nothing here to set the world alight but I consider Toomey to be one of the brighter talents amongst a crowded genre.

Claire Toomey EP Cover

The title and lead-off track is memorable, urgent-sounding and shows all Toomey’s talents in the best possible light. Her ‘Norwegian Wood’-style strummed melody is pitched alongside a emotive slightly cracked vocal, which resonates impressively for someone who is barely out of her teens. Yet whilst ‘Found’ is the most arresting track here, the other two contributions are hardly makeweights. ‘Somewhere To Hide’ is slower but no less moving; Toomey’s tones once again providing considerable warmth in a folky environment. ‘Still Life’ is the least impressive of the bunch but at least features some decent harmonies. Stylistically this EP isn’t adventurous at all and I’d definitely like to hear her attempt more styles, just like close soundalike Gemma Hayes. However, it’s a fine example of how to make acoustic rock and pop interesting.

Web Sites:
Claire Toomey’s Official Site
Claire Toomey’s MySpace

Further Listening:
Gemma Hayes, Karina Berry, Little Fish

Review: City Rain – Light Turned On

For his first album Philadelphia resident Ben Runyan has sought to balance melodic electronica with acoustic simplicity and human emotion. It’s a tricky combination but one in which the likes of Four Tet and The Notwist have made in to an art form. Possibly not equipped with same instruments at his disposal as his contemporaries, Runyan has to rely on mundane objects like jingling keys and handling dishes. All things considered, I’d say he’s done a fine job of delivering a fascinating album.

City Rain CD Cover

After a rather over-complicated beginning, ‘Back On Track’ employs glitchy beats to deliver a surprisingly bright and sunny tune. Of course, the key to a record like this is the ability to deliver melodies. Runyan is adept at this but on the first couple of listens ‘Light Turned On’ sounded removed from humanity. However, once I got beyond the layers of digital trickery, there’s clearly some warmth underneath. ‘Mia’ conveys faraway beauty, ‘Well You Said’, ‘Click Clack’ and ‘Philaedlphia’ are further excellent offerings thanks to their mysterious, melancholic synth lines. It’s no coincidence that all these tracks are uncluttered, stylistically simplistic and ultimately more involving than some of Runyan’s earlier efforts. ‘Light Turned On’ therefore comes well recommended for those who enjoyed recent efforts by Boltfish labelmates David Newlyn and Line Noise.

Web Sites:
Boltfish Recordings Label Site
City Rain MySpace

Further Listening:
Four Tet, October Man, David Newlyn, Line Noise

EP Stream: Saint Bernadette – I Wanna Tell You Something…

Click here to listen to the full stream of Saint Bernadette’s new EP

Review: Saint Bernadette – I Wanna Tell You Something…

A couple of months ago I reviewed the debut album from Saint Bernadette. It was a dramatic and stirring album chiefly because of the powerful vocals of Meredith DiMenna and the classic Western guitar stylings of partner Keith Saunders. It’s only flaw was that the jazz rock flavour of the songs was not easily marketable. A quick follow-up EP signals a new direction and one which should crossover to the masses.

Saint Bernadette EP Cover

DiMenna is at the forefront of the songs more than ever now. Each track seems to showcase another aspect to her voice and personality. She belts out the choruses to ‘In Between’ and ‘Love Is A Stranger’ in a manner which suggests none other than American idol winner Kelly Clarkson. Not such a shameful comparison when you think of it since Clarkson has a decent set of pipes herself and both these songs cry out “hit”. The centrepiece ‘One In A Million’ is the least arresting track; hamstrung as it is by the lack of an obvious hook. It’s a brief lull as DiMenna is back in diva mode for ‘Hard To Believe’, biting the words with gusto, like a reborn Nancy Sinatra as Saunders’ supercharged grinding guitar provides the perfect foil. Finally, the couple settle into country ballad mode for the title track. It’s a song which further expands the range of this talented couple. Could they be the next Eurythmics?

Web Sites:
Saint Bernadette Official Site
Saint Bernadette MySpace

Further Listening:
Kelly Clarkson, Eurythmics, Sam Brown

Review: Paul Haig – Go Out Tonight

The unexpectedly great reception which greeted 2007’s ‘Electronik Audience’  has clearly given Paul Haig a lot of confidence. Proving that he wasn’t just a product of the influential early-80’s post-punk scene, content to trade on former glories, on his ninth album Haig reinvented himself as the voice of slick and surprisingly danceable electronic music. Less than a year later, ‘Go Out Tonight’ seeks to take advantage of the acclaim with a rapid follow-up.

Paul Haig CD Cover

The gritty ‘Stay Mine’ uses the kind of confrontational riffs that were the stock-in trade of Paul Haig’s erstwhile colleagues in Josef K. Yet this is otherwise an electronically-themed record, based around the dark after-effects of a night out. The only problem with ‘Go Out Tonight’ is that (not unlike Section 25) it can be quite a cold, unmoving experience and as a consequence the likes of ‘Shut Down’ and ‘Acidic Snowdrop’ sound dry and robotic. It’s probably no coincidence that one of my favourite tracks is also one of the lightest in mood. With its catchy click-clack rhythms and Haig’s ghostly vocal, ‘Believe’ would have been hailed as an alternative disco-pop classic in the mid-1980’s. Furthermore, the excellent ‘Scene’ tones down the pace and digital effects to reveal a reflective and emotive song whilst ‘Gone In A Moment’ is an insistent and addictive closer. All things considered then, ‘Go Out Tonight’ is a respectable follow-up and continues Haig’s recent good run of form.

Web Sites:
Rhythm Of Life Label Site
Paul Haig MySpace

Further Listening:
Josef K, A Certain Ratio, Section 25

Review: The Hepburns – Something Worth Stealing

Of course, it’s not unusual for groups to be immensely popular in the UK but unheard of abroad. Then there are those acts who seem surprisingly popular in foriegn climes yet can’t get arrested on British shores. Perhaps the problems The Hepburns suffer from is that they are too British; an amalgamation of cultural references and light indie-pop. Even so, Japan, Spain and Sweden have appreciated them in the past and all credit to them for that.

The Hepburns CD Cover

Don’t be deceived by the funny but throwaway ‘During British Winters’. Usually there is serious songwriting talent on show. Jazzy opener ‘The Last Thing I Saw Before I Saw Goodbye’ and ‘Geoff’s Cape’ are reminiscent of easy-listening Swinging Sixties pop.  ‘Devil Up A Drainpipe’ is the pick of a set of songs perfect for bored weekend teatimes; it’s uptemp melody instantly appeals and – just to prove they have a potential in their native UK – the whimsical folk-pop of ‘Fire Red Car’ reminded me a lot of Belle And Sebastian. There’s even a touching tribute to Velma from the Scooby Doo stories; a typically witty tribute to the character who did all the detective work in the series.

One could say The Hepburns are irrelevant in modern day music. In a media-dictated world of music where the “next big thing” is force-fed to us, they probably are irrelevant but their unfashionable yet tuneful music is far more palatable to me than the latest batch of post-Libertines wannabes.

Web Sites:
The Hepburns MySpace
Radio Khartoum Label Site

Further Listening:
Anthony Rochester, The Monochrome Set, Belle And Sebastian