Archive for March, 2008

Review: Kidnapper Bell – Less Me, More Sky

Kidnapper Bell are a new act from the West Midlands who handily name their genre as “poppunkpostrockshuuuuuuuuuuugaze”. In fairness I can’t think of any other band who describe themselves in those terms so that makes them quite original. On ‘Less Me, More Sky’ there’s certainly a lot of styles covered and although I hesitate to use the “emo” word, they represent the acceptable face of that phemomenon and fit along quite nicely with HIJK; another outift who like to include as many tunes in to one song as they possibly can.

Kidnapper Bell CD Art

The EP (which comes housed in a hand-made, wax-sealed package) begins in arresting fashion for ‘What Arthur Said’. After an intro of squiggly electronica and jagged riffing, the group waste no time getting to the shouted chorus. In direct contrast, ‘The Frequency’ twinkles like a lullaby before building into an aggressive but melodic punk anthem. The staccato third track, ‘Have Another’ is also a cleverly-constructed song with a good grasp on dynamics. Finally, ‘Pixel’ begins slowly and languidly before building into a glorious climax and is a fitting way to end a highly impressive EP.

Web Sites:
Kidnapper Bell MySpace

Further Listening: 
The Mitchells, HIJK

Review: Chancellorpink – Valentine Parade

It’s no surprise to learn that Chancellorpink’s ‘Valentine Parade’ was released to coincide with Valentine’s Day. However, this is a dark, lovelorn affair rather than a record of swooning romanticism. The man behind the idea is Pittsburgh’s Raymond G. McLaughlin; owner of a deep croon that ensures this love album stays on the melancholic side. He also writes, plays keyboards, bass, electric and acoustic guitars and produces the whole shebang. It’s very impressive too although I can’t help hoping that McLaughlin cheers up a bit for Easter. 

Chancellorpink CD Cover

“Out of all your male friends, you like me the least” is just one of the self-pitying lines uttered on the typically bitter ‘Red Wedding Dress’. The perfect moment is reached for ‘Mrs. Kowalski’ where McLaughin’s yearning vocals are balanced against rattlingly intense guitars. It’s a terrific song by anyone’s standards. Opener ‘Unfinished Valentine’ and ‘Baby’s Gone To Bible’ are also fine alternative pop songs, fired this time by electronica. ‘The Red Sea’, though, is an adventure into experimentalism that lacks the fluency of his other material but it’s a rare false step as ‘She Came In Dreams’ veers towards glam rock and ‘I Tear Window Down’ sees McLaughlin cleverly harmonise with himself.

There’s a good range of musical styles (not to mention voices) which McLaughlin employs, as befits a man who – to paraphrase his own mission statement – plans to record an album every year until he dies or becomes boring. So provided he stays healthy, we could be hearing a lot more from him yet.

Web Sites:
Chancellor Pink Official Site

Further Listening: 
Pony Club, Pulp

Video Nostalgia: Eyeless In Gaza – New Risen

Since regular site reader Scott commented on Eyeless In Gaza and the group have a batch of new releases/reissues along the way, it seems like the perfect time to show a video from this unusual band. ‘New Risen’ is one of two Eyeless In Gaza tracks that feature on the ‘Pillows And Prayers’ video that was first released by Cherry Red in the early 1980’s and has since been reissued in DVD format along with the attendant double CD of music.

‘New Risen’ represents Eyeless In Gaza in their most accessible form. This is a conventional pop song by their standards and comes from the album ‘Rust Red September’, which happens to be my favourite album of theirs. I have compared Eyeless In Gaza to OMD in the past but the former weren’t ones for compromising.  Their early tracks have aged rather well; experimental and often semi-improvised but never over-complicated and I can hear their influence in modern-day artists such as Daniel Patrick Quinn.

For those seeking out more on this interesting duo (Martyn Bates and Peter Becker), I would certainly recommend a very informative official site on where you can read about and listen to samples of music old and new from both Eyeless In Gaza and the band members’ other projects.

I can also heartily recommend the ‘Pillows And Prayers’ DVD. It features promos of Cherry Red artists sandwiched between vintage television commercials and public information films. The music is quintessentially English with appropriately quirky videos and serves as great nostalgia for lovers of cult indie pop bands of the time such as Everything But The Girl, The Monochrome Set and the haunting ‘It’s A Fine Day’ by Jane.

Other Resources:
Cherry Red Label Site & Shop

Further Listening:
Daniel Patrick Quinn, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Black September

Review: Cheju & Stoosh – Awkward 24

Awkward Silence originally started releasing their split records in the traditional format of 7″ singles. However, since June 2005 the chosen format has been a 3″ CD, the latest being two tracks each from Cheju and Stoosh. The former is the prolific Wil Bolton who – as well as being co-owner of Boltfish Recordings – has recorded under numerous labels over the last few years. Shoosh, meanwhile, are a three-piece who include Neil Carlill, erstwhile member of mid-90s acts Delicatessen and Lodger.

 Awkward 24 CD Cover

In truth, Cheju and Stoosh are barely comparable although both operate in the broad church we know as “electronica”. Of the two, Cheju aim for the more direct route to melodies. ‘Moody Copy’ is as smooth and approachable as the warmest of European techno whereas the slightly darker ‘Drago’ is a nice mixture of glacial atmospheres, precise beats and a harpsichord-like tune.

Shoosh is definitely more leftfield. Their two tracks explore a psychedelic world. ‘Elastic Soil’ begins with Spanish guitar before some warped vocals convey an evening of stoned abandon in Madrid. The haze doesn’t clear for ‘Come In From The Cold’ either. Nevertheless there’s a certain nightmarish charm to their songs.

With two very contrasting styles on the CD, it’s difficult to recommend this to newcomers but for those who like a mixture of straightforward and experimental electronica, look no further because salvation is here.

Web Sites:
Awkward Silence Label Site
Cheju Official Site
Shoosh MySpace

Review: July Skies – The Weather Clock/The Weather Clock EP

The work of July Skies and Epic45 complement each other so well that it seems nonsensical that they should not show up on each others’ records. Both capture a rarified sense of nostalgia; the kind which longs for the innocence of summer holidays and a simplistic life. Yet in Antony Harding’s case, the nostalgia is the type he cannot recollect himself since he was born several decades after the Second World War (the inspiration for 2004’s ‘The English Cold’) and the samples featured on ‘The Weather Clock’ also hark back to a time before his own, namely post-war Britain in the 1950’s. Yet through research and his skills in capturing atmospheres of a bygone age, Harding has barely put a foot wrong on his unique musical path. ‘The Weather Clock’ and its companion EP once again features the talents of Epic45’s Ben Holton and Rob Glover and it’s no surprise that both releases contain magical moments that are both respectful of history and sonically gorgeous.

The Weather Clock Album Cover

With its delayed guitar effects, ‘Branch Line Summers Fade’ sounds like the kind of experiment Eyeless In Gaza delivered in their heyday. Beautiful moments occur as the unashamedly pretty ‘Distant Showers Sweep Across Norfolk Schools’ segues into the melancholic piano piece ‘Waiting For The Test Card’. Of the song-based material, the pick for me is the blissful ‘Girl On The Hill’; a definite highlight where acoustic and effects-laden guitars provide the perfect backing for the shy, lovelorn vocals of Harding. My spine also tingled when I heard ‘See Britain By Train’; an instrumental offering which is just the perfect accompaniment for a pleasant sight-seeing trip on the railways, both in terms of pace and its wistful evocation of England’s green and pleasant land. The last track features a reading of a poem by Edna Taylor, which would sound crass in lesser hands but here it delivers a poignant, touching finale.

The EP could almost be classed as a proper album itself as it is only ten minutes shorter than ‘The Weather Clock’. However, since it contains alternative versions of the album tracks, it’s best viewed as a companion piece. That’s not to dismiss this EP as a “fans only” release though. In the case of the song called ‘The Weather Clock’, Harding arguably finds his most brilliant moment; its repeated melody a stunning piece of romantic longing whilst the lyric of “Don’t you know how much it hurts, when the pain breaks my heart” is genuinely affecting. Otherwise, Harding goes for the experimental approach with fascinating (but not superior) versions of ‘See Britain By Train’ and ‘Girl On The Hill’ although the harrowing wall of sound employed on ‘Harlow’ is unlikely to be used by the tourist board of the Essex town anytime soon.

Web Sites:
July Skies Official Site
July Skies MySpace
Make Mine Music Label Site

Further Listening:
Epic45, Durutti Column, Eyeless In Gaza

Review: Nosound – Lightdark

Giancarlo Erra received praise for 2005’s ‘Sol29’ from both critics and soundalikes No-Man and Porcupine Tree; his main shtick being a mixture of progressive/post rock and ambient music. Impressively, after a slow start, the new NoSound album now adds even more layers of emotion to the mix and successfully takes his music to the next level.

Nosound CD Cover

After the minimalist opening ‘About Butterflies And Children’, ‘Places Remained’ is a return to prog rock territory. Then the record starts to come into its own. ‘The Misplay’ is a moving piece made up of a serene synth wash, mournful cello and wistful piano. This builds up to the intended centrepiece, which is the fifteen-minute long ‘From Silence To Noise’. It’s an epic in terms of its sense of desperate, romantic longing. After a sedate first four minutes, the keyboards crank up the urgency and some powerful harmonies make their presence felt. If there is a weakness, though, it is Erra’s tendency to go in to full sprawling guitar mode like a prog rock lord from yesteryear.

Thankfully, there’s no room for such indulgence on ‘Someone Starts To Fade Away’. With Tim Bowness of the aforementioned No-Man guesting on vocals and a lush, melancholic keyboard melody, the results are quite stunning. Also, whilst Erra’s vocals are not the strongest he delivers a powerful turn for ‘Kites’ and the title song, the former backed once again by cello, the other using subtle but blissful instrumentation. Therefore, my lasting impression of the record is that it’s one which gets gradually better from the first to the last track.

Web Sites:
Nosound Official Site
Nosound MySpace
Lightdark Site
Burning Shed Store

Further Listening:
Noosfera, No-Man

Review: Moses And The Burning Bush – Moses And The Burning Bush II

One evening last year, a pleasant round of listening was interrupted by the ugly sounds of an artist from Texas calling himself Moses And The Burning Bush. Consisting of just voice, guitar and drum machine, it was a raw, primtive noise but nonethless an exciting one. Now equipped with a human drummer (although he pounds the cymbals like a beast), the follow-up EP is a new development.

Moses And The Burning Bush Cover

Events begin in typically sneering fashion for ‘Cheeseburger’ where the key lyric of “I’ve been turned down by better looking women than you” certainly sticks in the memory. Then comes ‘Head On Fire’; it’s the poppiest of the four tracks, with its chorus dispatched with the same expediency as a Ramones record. Paul R.’s untutored vocals are just as detuned as his guitar but he injects the right amount of blunt passion into proceedings. ‘The Perfect Life’ sees the duo expand their sound further still with the addition of some bluesy organ frills. Yet my favourite track is saved until last, courtesy of the rumbling, thunderous ‘Vacuum Mouth’. As I grow older, I tend to prefer cerebral music over the visceral yet Moses And The Burning Bush are one of those groups I make an exception for.

Web Sites:
Moses And The Burning Bush MySpace

Further Listening:
Pavement, Ramones, Minimal Man

Review: British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?

Three albums in, British Sea Power seem to be stretching further away from their awkward beginnings and moving effortless into anthemic territory. ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’ is a logical progression from its predecessor ‘Open Season’. The former punk noises are now completely jettisoned in favour of an altogether more comforting noise.

British Sea Power CD Cover

I have to say I do rather miss the quirkiness of early British Sea Power. Save the spiky guitars for the celebratory ‘A Trip Out’, there’s no sign here of the group who made ‘Spirit Of St. Louis’ and ‘Remember Me’ such individual post-punk songs. Also, some songs (‘Waving Flags’ and ‘Atom’) veer too close to Arcade Fire territory. It is here where British Sea Power opt for bombast over subtlety and melody. Thankfully, the group plot an otherwise trouble-free course.

The “easy, easy” football chant that begins ‘No Lucifer’ may sound like an obvious route to ensnare the lad rock fan but the song itself is certainly not obviously commercial; Yan’s vocals now have a yearning melancholic quality as he competes with the unwinding guitars. Yan also shines for ‘Canvey Island’ where lyrics like “I can’t believe it’s happening” are delivered with the subtlest form of angst. Similar to ‘Open Season’, there’s a cavernous quality to the production (once again provided by ex-Bark Psychosis man Graham Sutton) where it’s easy to imagine the group setting the story of an epic sea voyage to music. This point is emphasised by ‘The Great Skua’; a lush, instrumental homage to a large seabird.

All in all, it’s a very impressive, moving record and although I miss some of the aforementioned band trademarks, British Sea Power sound more cohesive and approachable now than they have ever been. Furthermore, given the ambitious arrangements – as the band put it themselves on ‘A Trip Out’ – “it doesn’t get much bigger than this”.

Web Sites:
British Sea Power Official Site
British Sea Power MySpace

Further Listening:
Echo And The Bunnymen, Arcade Fire

Review: Ubyk – Matryoshka EP

Ubyk offer something a little different in the world of acoustic rock. Their music is simplicity itself, often consisting of just plucked guitar strings and the echoing vocals of songwriters Roman Bleum and Samantha Tobey. With the Russian-born Bleum providing the the breathy melancholic tones and Tobey bringing a narcotic sweetness to the table, together they have crafted five songs which remind me of Low.

Ubyk EP Cover

The title song to ‘Matryoshka’ sets the scene for twenty minutes of understated miserablism. It is in fact the most hopeful song here thanks to Tobey’s heavenly intonations. ‘Work, Work, Work’ is one of their relatively complicated tracks; even using samples of an alarm clock and some weird keyboard noises. It documents the futility of the working life; literally wheezing and sighing to a halt as the song comes to a close. Events don’t get any happier on the next track ‘Just Fine’ either, with the subject matter and harmonies almost suffocatingly bleak. Naturally the title is ironic. It’s no surprise that ‘Merry Go Round’ captures similar feelings of relentless doom but its harmonies are pretty and psychedelic. Yet despite the almost depressing mood of the record, Ubyk have hit on a strangely hypnotic and intoxicating formula that still attracts after several listens.

Web Sites:
Ubyk MySpace
CD Baby Link To Purchase CD

Further Listening:
Bridge And Tunnel, Low

Review: M.I.A. – Kala

So carried away was I by the youthful exuberance of Maya Arulpragasam’s debut album that I referred to her as a ninteen year-old. The latest report I read was that she was thirty-two at the time of the follow-up’s release so I suppose ‘Kala’ could be called a coming of age record. The truth is ‘Kala’ is as punchy and exciting as her debut, perhaps even more so.

M.I.A. CD Cover

M.I.A.’s skills revolve around her employment of Eastern music into a British-American framework. ‘Birdflu’ blends the use of jungle bird noises with the kind of Burundi drums last thought fashionable for Adam And The Ants records whilst ‘Paper Planes’ incorporates elements of ‘Straight To Hell’ alongside gunshots. In typical style, both songs still sound fresh and boomingly infectious. In fact, ‘Kala’ barely sits still and is a constant source of ideas. In the case of ‘Jimmy’, she resorts to Bollywood cliché but usually the fertile imagination reaps rewards. Even a potentially disastrous recording with a didgeridoo and children on ‘Mango Pickle Down River’ is delivered with elan. Kudos too for the nod to The Pixies for the shuddering digital pop of ’20 Dollar’. Granted, M.I.A. can call on some big name producers and songwriters but her enthusiasm, good taste and genuine talent make her a more exciting prospect than, say, Madonna. The only question is how relevant this very modern music will sound in the future.

Web Sites:
M.I.A. Official Site
M.I.A. MySpace