Archive for May, 2008

Review: pndc – Fading Away

It’s heartening to know that – without the aid of the Internet – albums such as pndc’s ‘Fading Away’ might never have been made. After posting some instrumental tracks on his MySpace page, Serbian Predrag Nedic received interest from labels and also found someone to sing and add guitar to his music; that man being Thanos (AKA Housework). So here we have a collaborative album which is modern, European and darkly sensual.


Nedic specialises in delivering melancholic, synth-driven music, which is vaguely danceable. With their juddering rhythms and austere keyboards ‘Dream About Love’ and ‘Pick Up Your Tears’ represent the Serbian answer to Colder, even down to the emotionless vocals. There’s contrasts in style as ‘Thin Mood’ is chillingly atmospheric whereas the breathless ‘Disco, Disco’ conjures up image of robots dancing. Furthermore, the beguiling ‘Such A Joke’ and menacing ‘Merryground’ make up a great finale. Naturally, some will find the coldness of the record a little too detached to love but I found it compelling and pndc would certainly fit in on the Output Recordings label.

Web Sites:
pndc MySpace
Housework MySpace

Further Listening:
Colder, DK7


Review: We Are Scientists – Brain Thrust Mastery

I’m not sure I should be writing a review of a group who are renowned for their own reviews. Not that We Are Scientists review run-of-the-mill items like CDs, rather they write critiques on adventure parks and puns and even have their own advice section based on a seemingly random set of questions. Thankfully they also offer good music too. Like their first record, ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’ is nothing too demanding but contains a good quota of addictive tunes. Yet this time they’ve added synth-pop influences when previously they seemed to be riding the Franz Ferdinand (new) wave.

We Are Scientists CD Cover

Although marketed aroud the core duo of singer/guitarists Chris Cain and Keith Murray (the former celebrates the über-geek, the latter resembles a suave businessman),  there’s plenty of keyboards on show too. ‘After Hours’ demonstrate the best evidence of their throaty harmonies and nagging riffs whilst ‘That’s What Counts’ and ‘Lethal Enforcer’ sees the group use some of the worst excesses of the 1980’s (slap bass, cheesy keyboards, sighing effeminate vocals) but somehow craft them into sweetly romantic pop records. A special mention for ‘Ghouls’ too; not an obvious way to open the record but its portentous atmosphere and comparatively slow pace promises a brave new beginning.

However, not everything works so well. ‘Impatience’ is based on a riff so simplistic that it becomes dull all too quickly whilst ‘Dinosaurs’ is one of those songs where a group has thrown a load of ideas together and produced a complete mess. Furthermore, a lull towards the middle of the record is only recovered when the glammy ‘Altered Beast’ enters the fray. This in turn is followed by the latest single, ‘Chick Lit’, which combines urgency with a neat melody. Stylistically, We Are Scientists offer little that is new but they create songs that stick in the head and the way in which they’ve reinvented themselves by going down the potentially risky route of using more synths also deserves respect.

Web Sites:
We Are Scientists Official Site
We Are Scientists MySpace

Further Listening:
Franz Ferdinand

Review: Bullet For Dali – Diffical Techniculties

Since I received this debut EP by LA’s Bullet For Dali I have discovered that the group have disbanded. A shame because there’s quite a lot of promise here if you like your synth-driven indie with added art-rock twists.

Bullet For Dali EP

It is the crazed vocals that dominate much of the material; think of a particularly unhinged version of Bowie from his 1980’s phase and you’d be close to the truth. Thie first two tracks fly the flag for danceable post-punk but ‘System Error’ – as the title possibly warns – veers a little too close to 80s synth-rock pastiche to be taken seriously.  On the plus side, ‘Rise Or Burn’ benefits from a menacing rhythm section, some eerie keyboards and a despairing, demented vocal performance. I was also impressed by the way in which the group moved to the subtler dynamics of ‘Shutter Eyes’; thereby demonstrating they had quite a few strings to their bow. The final hidden track, meanwhile, is in-your-face punk. There’s definitely a lot of different personalities displayed on this record – which could feasibly have been a factor in the break-up of Bullet For Dali – but the six songs here gel nicely all the same.

Web Sites:
Bullet For Dali MySpace

Further Listening:
David Bowie, Visage, Medium21

New Releases: The Doldrums EP Released On Monday

I am pleased to annouce that the new release by The Doldrums entitled ‘Mirth And Songs EP’ is finally going to be released on Monday, the 12th May.

The Doldrums CD Cover

I posted a very positive review of it back in early April. The CD can be purchased direct from the Make Mine Music site.

Review: The Nightjars – Towards Light

Since the ascent of The Arctic Monkeys there has been a plethora of inferior indie bands riding on their coat tails. The Nightjars may exhibit some of The Arctic Monkeys traits: accented vocals, a raw sound and songs about humdrum Northern life. Yet they also have their own energy and intensity which recall both The Jam and The Fall.

The Nightjars CD Cover

An opening salvo of ‘You Set Me Reeling’ and ‘Set Them Up’ features guitar melodies that swing from speaker to speaker; like some of the best indie rock records they’re hook-filled and urgent-sounding. Thankfully it’s no fluke either. The Nightjars regularly incorporate smart chord changes which border on art-rock at times, as you’d expect from a group who count The Velvet Underground and Pavement as their influences. Yet the most impressive offering, ‘MDMA’ builds on a languid, distorted guitar figure which soon explodes into a rattling post-punk anthem. For fine moments like these, The Nightjars’ more mature and individualist take on guitar-led rock should see them stand out from the pack.

Web Sites:
The Nightjars Official Site
The Nightjars MySpace

Further Listening:
The Jam, The Nightingales, The Fall

Review: Her Name Is Calla – The Heritage

Post-rock does tend to lean towards the darker side of music but Her Name Is Calla can justifiably claim to be amongst the darkest exponents of the genre. Their second release blends the most downbeat of folk music with harrowing crashes of guitars and percussion. The black mood is balanced by cello and trumpet to offer shafts of light when all around is black.

Her Name Is Calla CD Cover

‘Nylon’ hardly eases the listener into the experience with the singer wailing like a man about to be sentenced to death. At least ‘New England’ begins quite delicately like a string-laden lament but then the dominant cello and trumpet give way to a musical warzone as guitars grind and drums are clattered in almost freeform fashion. ‘Paying For Your Funeral’ and ‘Wren’ are more refined tracks which hold back just as it sounds like they’re going to explode, much like a folkier Bark Psychosis. It takes a track called ‘Motherfucker! It’s Alive And Bleeding” to bring on the dramatics again with the vocals seemingly inspired by the tortured souls of a Hammer Horror movie. Finally, the most conventional track – in typical contrary fashion – is hidden towards the end; a relatively hopeful song called ‘Long Distance Runner’. Yet despite the seriousness of the whole experience, what cannot be doubted is the sheer conviction of all the band members as they force their bleak message home.

Web Sites:
Her Name Is Calla Official Site
Her Name Is Calla MySpace
Gizeh Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Bark Psychosis, Viarosa

Review: The Occasional Keepers – True North

In their 1980’s pomp both The Wake and The Field Mice made wistful innocent-sounding music which promised romance and melancholy in equal measure. So when members of both bands chose to collaborate as The Occasional Keepers in 2005, Bobby Wratten, Caesar and Caroline Allen duly delivered an album of music for sensitive souls. The follow-up is dispatched in much the same manner with a smattering of light electronica again bringing their style bang up to date.

The Occasional Keepers CD Cover

As an opening ‘If The Ravens Leave’ sums up all that was good about both bands; the happy/sad tune delivered by Wratten’s always comforting tones. ”Town Of 85 Lights’ and ‘I’ve Realized’ are essentially a return to The Wake circa 1990 when they moved from Factory to Sarah Records; their music becoming lighter yet not nearl as vital as before. No quite as light as the Allen-sung ‘The Life Of The Fields, though, which is as tender as a snowflake.

In a further nod to their pasts, there’s time for an ambient/experimental homage to Factory Records whilst ‘Snow And Feathers’ has a definite Durutti Column influence. Yet the real highlight for me is ‘Leave The Secret There Forever’; everything about it is subtle and beautiful from the insistent bass and the light guitar jangle to the shimmering keyboards and Wratten’s confiding vocals. It beats the similarly dreamlike ‘Elsinore’ in to a close second. Taken as a whole, ‘True North’ stays true to the musicians’ pasts and proves that – even though they’ve embraced modern production techniques – their music can still be heartfelt and touching.

Web Sites:
The Occasional Keepers MySpace
LTM Label Site

Further Listening:
The Wake, The Field Mice, Trembling Blue Stars, Northern Picture Library

Review: Ars Phoenix – Engines Of Progress

For some, the electro-clash movement was a passing fad. Clearly no one told Florida’s Jonathan Glover who continues his one-man mission to give robots voice on his second album recorded under the name of Ars Phoenix. Yet it’s pleasing to report that Glover is, above all, a good songwriter and able to combine different genres very skilfully.

Ars Phoenix CD Cover

Thanks to the breathy desperation of Glover’s voice (not dissimilar to Steve Strange in his pomp) and the occassionally dodgy lyric (“Does it not make you proud to see robots dance around”), ‘Engines Of Progress’ does sometimes err towards the camp side and after over an hour of this music, there’s quite a lot to take in one sitting. Glover works best when he incorporates other styles into his music, which he does on a regular basis.

‘The Dry, Cracked, Yearning Earth’ uses grinding, gothic guitars to get its apocalyptic message across. ‘Through Nets Of Granite’ is a doomy song made attractive thanks to its haunting keyboard melody whereas the post-punk bass propelling ‘Sovereign’ and serene synth tune for ‘Twigs’ add to the list of compelling moments. In addition, a couple of instrumental passages reveal an unexpected lightness of touch; ‘Modules’ and ‘Tone Poem (Minus Text)’ rank well above the level of incidental music and cross over into IDM territory. There’s no doubt that this record could have been trimmed (the second half is definitely weaker than the first) but the variety, melody and experimentation is usually pitched at the right level and – despite initial reservations – I enjoyed the album more and more after each listen.

Web Sites:
Ars Phoenix MySpace
For Documentation Only Label Site

Further Listening:
Depeche Mode, Visage

Review: Sidechain – Dubglitch

There are times when writing reviews that I almost have to curse the artist who made the record, simply because the title they have chosen is the most apt description of the music. A case in point is Sidechain’s first release for Rednetic Recordings, which is entitled ‘Dubglitch’. Thanks to Southend’s Mark Soye, the man behind this mini-album, I don’t need to say too much more about describing his style.

Sidechain CD Cover

Soye plays it fast and slow. The title track and final track are set to a trip-hop pace yet ‘Geiger Counter’ is more frenetic and ‘Insect’ cleverly incorporates drum and bass into the mix (although after a while I wished the intense rhythms would subside to leave something approaching a tune). No coincidence then that the pick of the bunch, ‘Violet Scratches’, balances the deepest of grooves with a cool synth melody. Overall, I found this record to be a good example of inventive and experimental electronic music and, yes, there’s a fair amount of “dub” and, indeed, “glitch” in there too. Yet despite the technical proficiency, what is lacking here is a human heart.

Web Sites:
Rednetic Label Site