Archive for May, 2008

Review: Colour Kane – A Taste Of

It doesn’t take a genius to guess who the primary influences are for Belgium’s Colour Kane on their debut album for Hidden Shoal Recordings. With Marjan Snykers’ multi-octave vocal range and dreamlike passages of guitar, clearly this band have owned a few Cocteau Twins records. Still, much like new young pretender Annie Barker, the talent and ideas win over any accusations that they are mere plagiarists.

Colour Kane CD Cover

Key to Colour Kane’s identity is the way in which they incorporate electronic elements into their music. ‘Eye Drops’ and ‘Astonish’ modernise the Cocteaus template with heavy beats running alongside the customary myriad of guitar effects whereas ‘Unseen’ aims for a fairly danceable sound. Proof – if it were needed – that their credentials are respected, Robin Guthrie himself guests on remix duties for ‘Slipside Dream’. Meanwhile, the serene ‘A Kiss In A Lowland’s Meadow’ is bathed in a beautiful glow of jangly noise whilst ‘Love Hurdles’ sees the ringing guitars dissipate into vapour trails. I believe ‘A Taste Of’ could have been made a little shorter, with Snykers’ vocals occasionally floating away in an almost absent-minded fashion but – taken as a whole – it’s a strong album, which has all the hallmarks of what makes dreampop so alluring.

Web Sites:
Colour Kane Official Site
Colour Kane MySpace
Hidden Shoal Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Cocteau Twins, Annie Barker


Review: Um Fall Am – Things Went By

Little is know about London musician David Cooper, save the fact that he has been playing guitar “as long as he can remember” and he has just released a download-only EP on Split Femur Recordings. I can also add to this, that his EP ‘Things Went By’ is one of the more fascinating examples of acoustic guitar pieces; given colour by subtle layers of electronica and some choice field recordings from – I can only assume – things which went by his home whilst he recorded these six tracks.

Um Fall Am CD Cover

Don’t expect any insight from the track titles either, Cooper communicates in entirely wordless form. Although nominally acoustic music, each track bears a sample of some sort. As examples, the sound of lightly running water can be heard on ‘Number One’ whilst ‘Number Three’ rambles along to distant traffic and birdsong. It is the latter track which, for me, is the pick of the bunch; a delightfully sad and poignant number that’s embellished by a warm electronic backing. The other tracks drift along nicely in a similarly minimalist style. Yet even if ‘Things Went By’ won’t be the most overwhleming EP heard this year, its relaxed, melodic approach is instantly appealing after the stresses of modern-day life.

Web Sites:
Um Fall Am MySpace
Split Femur Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:

Review: Christian McKee – Tripas De La Miseria

It was only six months ago when I reviewed Christian McKee’s last release; a full album downloadable free from his website. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear of his most recent set of songs, which is once again available for all to enjoy without paying a fee. McKee’s style may be slightly indebted to 1980’s production technique and the soul music of the time but it’s delivered in slick fashion and with a strong, all-important emphasis on tunes.

Christian McKee CD Cover

McKee’s vocals, like a strange cross between Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan, is the key to much of the success of the record and he doesn’t disappoint; infusing the lighter songs like ‘Marlane’ and ‘My God’ with a great deal of substance. Meanwhile, ‘Don’t Say’ and the self-explanatory ‘Pop Song’ are simple, infectious songs which prove that McKee is ready for mainstream airplay. Yet ‘Dented Pride’ is a darker affair, held aloft by a breathless delivery from McKee and the finale ‘Sion’ is romantic without being mawkish; it actually reminded me of The Korgis. Given the short time that’s passed between releases, it’s no shock to claim that ‘Tripas De La Miseria’ is not significantly different to his earlier ‘Songs From Wharf Avenue’ but it certainly offers more evidence of his value as a skilled songwriter.

Web Sites:
Christian McKee Official Site

Further Listening:
Merz, The Korgis

Review: Recue – All The Wrong Places

A few years ago, I remember hearing an album by Vladislav Delay, a Finnish electronica artist with a penchant for making stunningly engimatic music from what initially sounded like faulty plumbing. Riku Annala also hails from Finland and although his work here as Recue never quite achieves the heights of Vladislav Delay’s ‘Demo(n) Tracks’, he manages to convey music of depth from a variety of glacial textures and beats.

Recue CD Cover

‘Gbliss’ is a great way to begin proceedings. Some crisp, icy beats punctuate a smooth but interesting melody. The somewhat more frenetic ‘Korento’ is busier but still maintains a level of etherealism whilst ‘Bivouac’ combines bleeps and static with great walls of electronic elegance. Elsewhere, the otherwise too effects-saturated ‘Kalmacty’ recovers form to reach a serene denouement. As the album draws to its close, though – and the two superfluous remixes don’t really help – Annala seems to struggle for new ideas and memorable tunes. Yet for thirty minutes at least, this is an involving release which compares favourably to Annala’s aforementioned fellow Finn.

Web Sites:
Recue Official Site
Recue MySpace
Rednetic Label Site

Further Listening:
Vladislav Delay, Emvelope Nine

Review: QuarterAcreLifestyle – Blood On The Lawn

I’m a little surprised at the approach taken by New Zealand’s musical brothers Aaron and Cameron Pollock and their fellow band members. Their album is well produced but seems to ignore any musical developments of the last ten years; choosing instead to draw on the trip-hop and electro-rock scenes of the mid-1990s. Still, there’s some decent material on show and above all, that’s what they should be judged on.

QuarterAcreLifestyle CD Cover

It has to be said that half of ‘Blood On The Lawn’ is quite dull. Kristin Brown has a good voice but with some uninspired electronic backing and lack of memorable hooks, the likes of ‘Yeah Nah’ and ‘Walk On’ sound like the kind of run of the mill female-fronted fare that was de rigeur ten years ago. ‘Not Too Keen On That View’ and the instrumental opener ‘Captains Of Industry’ celebrate rock guitars but their dated sounds don’t do the group any favours either.

Events become more interesting the more adventurous QuarterAcreLifestyle become. ‘What Would It Mean To You’ experiments with rhythm, electronica and jazz, Brown bites the words like she means it but – most importantly – the song boasts the first interesting melody. ‘Cold Heart’ is a successful attempt at emotive chill-out whilst beat-heavy instrumental ‘Spooky Jandal’ swingsmost agreeably. More interestingly, the only track to feature Cameron Pollock on vocals – the dreamy, glistening ‘I Want To Be In Your Song’ – is possibly their best song. So it’s very much a mixed bag both in terms of style and quality but there’s enough here to suggest better times are ahead if they continue to experiment and develop their own identity.

Web Sites:
QuarterAcreLifestyle Official Site
QuarterAcreLifestyle MySpace

Further Listening:
Bench, Lhooq, Electron Love Theory, Gramophone

Review: Fiancé – Please, Ambitious, Please

Fiancé are a Denver-based quartet whose second EP veers between emo and sumptuously arranged soft-rock. It’s an odd mix but one which is ultimately likeable, thanks to the tune making skills of the protagonists involved and the fact that this band seem to be willing to sound different to so many other young bands around at the moment.

Fiancé CD Cover

The EP is partly youthful-sounding rock but equal amounts reflective and subtle. I could certainly have done without keening opener ‘Super-Soft Knife’, which seemed to be marketed at teens. Reflective piano-led number ‘Pretty Model’s Hands’ is the first evidence of their songwriting skills; cleverly combining unwinding rainy day atmosphere with anguished vocals; their storytelling prowess also very much in evidence. ‘Twenty-something’ may offer less lyrical insight (“Amy’s friends all think I’m full of shit. But all those mother fuckers don’t even know the half of it”) but its emotive delivery and aching melody more than make up for those apparent failings. On the flipside, ‘I Don’t Want You Anymore’ is noticeably more uptempo and a little too eager to please despite some decent falsetto harmonies but at least they recover their maturity with a downbeat yet blissful finale. If Fiancé continue to pursue their more ambitious ideas, I wouldn’t bet against them emulating the majesty of Ben Folds Five.

Web Site:
Fiancé Official Site
Fiancé MySpace

Further Listening:
Ben Folds Five

Music Stream: Kites – You And I In The Kaleidoscope

Click here to the stream the entire EP by Kites

Review: Kites – You And I In The Kaleidoscope

Seventeen minutes of music from three years of recording doesn’t indicate a great deal of work for an artist. Yet in the case of Jean-Philip Grobler’s Kites project, it is simply because he is such a perfectionist and any man who aims for his EP “to represent everything that … is beautiful about pop music” is clearly going to spend some time honing his craft. ‘You And I In The Kaleidoscope’ is by no means perfect but each track is clearly geared towards making stirring songs that linger long in the memory.

Kites CD Cover

‘Easy Now’ kicks off like Andreas Johnson’s early 21st Century hit ‘Glorious’ thanks to its sweeping intro and anthemic chorus. The dramatic opener ‘Daylight’ echoes ‘Seeds Of Love’-era Tears For Fears whilst the powerful finale ‘Heroes And Villains’ could easily pass muster as a Bond sondtrack. For me, though, it’s the third track ‘Game Of Love And War’ which is the best offering. Some beautifully sung melancholic verses segue stylishly into a downbeat yet uplifting chorus. Otherwise, Grobler’s songs tend to for the jugular with a huge guitar sound and ambitious arrangements. Ultimately though, what Grobler lacks in subtlety he makes up for with urgent, melodic songs that cry out for – and deserve – mass acceptance.

Web Sites:
Kites MySpace

Further Listening:
Kongos, World Party

Review: Absent Without Leave – Postcards From Nowhere

Absent Without Leave is the musical alias for George Mastrokostas from Greece. From his Athens-based home studio comes ‘Postcards From Nowhere’; an entirely instrumental work which inhabits the worlds of ambient and post-rock. It’s also the fourth CD released as part of Distant Noise Records’ monthly series and it exudes the kind of warmth and melancholy that have become the stock-in-trade for the likes of Mogwai and Yellow6 in recent past.

Absent Without Leave CD Cover

This is music which always seem accompanied by a sense of loss. The sad, doleful Mogwai-like dynamics of ‘Before The First Rain’ are an early indication for what is to come. It’s one of the sparest instrumentals and although the similarly weather-themed ‘End Of July’ embraces a fuller sound, it’s certainly no less melancholic. Meanwhile, could the title to ’25 Years’ be a clue to possible influences such as Durutti Column and The Lotus Eaters? Because the chiming guitars featured here suggest so.

Listeners will find it of no surprise that Mastrokostas has worked with Yellow6’s Jon Attwood in the past but the former’s shorter compositions mean that they’re the perfect material for those who only have forty minutes to stare longingly out of the window. Yet although I can go on listing similar artists here, ‘Postcards From Nowhere’ is a record which stands up in its own right; produced by a young talent who has the all-important gift of conveying emotion through his wordless recordings.

Web Sites:
Absent Without Leave MySpace
Distant Noise Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Yellow6, Mogwai, Labradford

Review: Merz – Moi Et Mon Camion

Merz first appeared back in the late 1990’s with a self-titled debut that was highly praised but seemed to be quickly forgotten. It took six years to release the follow-up. With a voice that could convey euphoria as capably as despair, Conrad Lambert could have been West Yorkshire’s answer to Stevie Wonder. Yet although he currently has no fixed abode, the third album has only taken three years to make and – with his voice maturing nicely – there’s still time yet to make a lasting impression.

Merz CD Cover

After a gentle folky beginning, events get really interesting three tracks in when ‘Shun’ enters the fray and Lambert really starts to show his talent. Against a light electronica backdrop, Lambert uses his seductive, soulful tones to embellish a mysterious melody. It even gets away with a power synth outro that is about as subtle as the chorus to Van Halen’s ‘Jump’. Yet the real find is ‘Malcolm’; a sad yet uplifting number where the cracks in Lambert’s always rich voice reveal a real sense of emotion. So much so that when he sings “sometimes I feel it’s just within my grasp” over a backgrond of brass and string instruments, a real spinge-tingling moment is reached.

Other songs like the bright ‘Presume Too Much’ and the simplistic yet charming final couplet ‘The Bells Left To Chime’ and ‘The First And Last Waltz’ are a joy to listen to mainly because of those wonderful vocals. Yet despite never being quite as consistently great and varied as his debut, on ‘Moi Et Mon Camion’, Merz clearly still proves his talent and he should not be overlooked again.

Web Sites:
Merz Official Site
Merz MySpace

Further Listening:
Stevie Wonder, Waterson