Archive for June, 2008

Review: Sea Dweller – Underwater Town

Shoegazing at its worst can be dreary, tuneless and appear to last for an eternity. In the case of Italy’s Sea Dweller, they have, rather ominously, taken eight years to release an EP. For two stunning dreampop moments though, it’s arguably worth the wait. Sea Dweller occupy the louder end of shoegazing; the kind where layer upon layer of guitars are merged whilst the vocals are barely audible.

Sea Dweller CD Cover

The middle section to ‘Underwater Town’ is relatively unspectacular but it’s bookended by a couple of fantastic tracks. Of the two lesser offerings, ‘Every Inch’ sets a collision course between Ride and Chapterhouse, right down to the blank vocals whilst ‘Settings’ is all jangle and effects. However, the title song is a fabulous racket, full of My Bloody Valentine’s combination of noise and melody. Meanwhile, the gorgeous finale ‘She Whispers’ drifts between quiet and loud music; at its essence is the impression of a doomed love drowning underneath great waves. Admittedly, Sea Dweller do border on pastiche but they still deliver a mighty, tuneful racket.

Web Sites:
Sea Dweller Official Site
Sea Dweller MySpace

Further Listening:
My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Chapterhouse


Review: The Last Army – Dark EP/Light EP

The Last Army are a London act who have produced an eight-track mini album/double EP that is full to the brim with radio-friendly indie pop gems. The songs recall female-fronted 90s bands just as much as older school references such as punk and new wave. In the shape of singer/keyboard player Rebekah Delgado and fellow vocalist/guitarist Micky Stickson, they also have a couple of strong personalities who can surely only drive the group to further success.

The Last Army CD Cover

If it’s variety you want, The Last Army are only too happy to oblige. ‘A Day Like Any Other’ is a reflective number, conveying warmth as well as aching sadness, ‘Every Party Ends With You’ is the full-blown epic with backing vocals whilst ‘It’s Friday Night But It Feels Like Moday Morning’ reveals their Buzzcocks punk-pop side. Even though ‘Submit To The Chemical’ reminded me of iffy 1990’s acts like Sleeper, the dual vocalist approach reminded me of The Delgados (obviously no relation to Rebekah) and certainly Strickson’s performance in front of the mic suggests he should not be discouraged to make more contributions.

However, it is Delgado who seems to be the driving force of the record; injecting each song she sings on with her own character, whether its huskiness, child-like spoken word or even a spot of French for ‘Broken Down In London Town’. Yet despite the doomed romance featured in much of the lyrics, The Last Army lift the hearts with their finely-honed melodies.

Web Sites:
The Last Army MySpace

Further Listening:
The Delgados, Sleeper

Review: The Wind-Up Birds – In These Great Times

I reviewed the fifth EP by The Wind-Up Birds last year. I seem to have received a lot of music Leeds’ bands in recent years and a common factor seems to be “The Arctic Monkeys Effect” i.e. ragged guitar pop and regional accents. Still, if it’s delivered well and contains original ideas, I can’t complain. Happily The Wind-Up Birds’ music holds up well with four tracks bearing a strong identity and a raw intensity.

The Wind-Up Birds CD Cover

All four songs here could have only come from Northern Britain thanks to some grittily realistic lyrics. There’s a certain skill when the chorus to ‘This Bailiff’s Bravado’ manages to coax a melody from the lines of “And the letter from the service provider lies beside her. The language within seems deliberately ambiguous”. ‘The Families Of The Disappeared’ features distinctly more romantic imagery but the aggression and edginess of the delivery couldn’t be less sutle. Bookended by the punky tunefulness of ‘White Hair’ and ‘The Neutral Counties’, the influence of The Buzzcocks is there for all to hear. It’s all enjoyable, primal rock music but after six EPs, is there any chance of an album now lads?

Web Sites:
The Wind-Up Birds Official Site
The Wind-Up Birds MySpace

Further Listening:
The Jam, The Arctic Monkeys, The Buzzcocks

Review: Out Of The Afternoon – Out Of The Afternoon EP

Out Of The Afternoon were formed less than a year ago and took their name from a Roy Haynes album. The influence of Dexys Midnight Runners is instantly recognisable on their first EP; a collection of four fun and joyous tunes which are blessed with an indomitable spirit.

Out Of The Afternoon CD Cover

Fronted by Steven Eagles’ passionate vocals, each song has something to recommend it. ‘See You Back Sally’ even seems to take time out for a little Irish jig whilst ‘Samba Song’ is a strong, yearning ballad. Generally though, their strength is in faster-paced, easy on the ear melodies. Due to the old school feel of the EP, it could feasibly been recorded twenty five years ago but their sound is instantly accessable and I can imagine Out Of The Afternoon being an excellent live act, thanks to the joie de vivre they convey.

Web Sites:
Out Of The Afternoon MySpace
Tip Toe Records Label Site

Further Listening:
Dexys Midnight Runners

Review: Yellow6 – STHLM

I don’t tend to count how many reviews I’ve written for a single act but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve written more about Yellow6 then anyone else in the music scene. The reasons are two-fold: firstly, Jon Attwood is an extremely prolific musician and secondly his music is ace. Touching on the influences of two of the finest post-rock acts, Labradford and Bark Psychosis, his output continues to impress. ‘STHLM’, his latest release, takes in some recordings from an autumn spent in Sweden, from the same sessions as this year’s double album ‘When The Leaves Fall Like Snow’.

Yellow6 CD Cover

Attwood’s languid guitar and effects-based compositions tend to suit the longer format very well. So it’s a surprise to learn that ‘STHLM’ is less than forty minutes long, even considering there’s only five tracks on there.  ‘FYRA’ and ‘8 Days’ tread the well-worn path of Labradford’s minimalist melancholy but there’s sufficient variety here too.  ‘Kulturhuset’ throbs menacingly; always holding back just as it’s about to explode. In contrast, ‘3 Em’ is almost disarmingly pretty, not a description normally associated with Attwood’s melodies. Finally, the violence threatened earlier breaks through as the walls of noise from ‘No Common Understanding’ bring events to a harrowing close. Considering these offerings didn’t make it on the last album, ‘STHLM’ is as deeply satisfying as any recent Yellow6 material I’d care to mention.

Web Sites:
Yellow6 Official Site
Yellow6 MySpace
Distant Noise Records Label Site

Further Listening:
Labradford, Absent Without Leave

Review: Giorgio Maggiore – Dentro Ai Tuoi Sogni

There’s a lot to admire about Giorgio Maggiore. For one thing there’s the proficiency and melodicism of his keyboard skills, then his melodramatic voice and also the way he sings in his native Italian, when so many feel they have to sing English in order to gain popularity.  When I reviewed his previous album, ’I Colori Che Cambiano’, the chosen style was gothic rock but for ‘Dentro Ai Tuoi Sogni’ (‘In To Your Dreams’) the emphasis is on instrumental music and quieter moods; handily described by Maggiore himself as “progressive ambient”.

Giorgio Maggiore CD Cover

Clearly Maggiore is giving in to his fondness for twin-keyboard techniques with several tracks – incuding the first one, ‘Bagliori Di Luce’ – featuring dreamy synth washes to complement the intricate piano melodies. Occasionally he references the dramatic style of old (angry blasts of guitar for ‘Illustre Sconosciuto’) but it’s an otherwise more sedate affair; the new-found romanticism reflected in titles which translate to ‘Your True Flower’ and ‘The Endless Dream’. There’s no doubt that ‘Dentro Ai Tuoi Sogni’ is less gripping than the last album but its elegiac washes of sound are certainly pleasant and tuneful enough in their own right.

Web Sites:
Giorgio Maggiore Official Site
Giorgio Maggiore MySpace

Further Listening:
Wim Mertens, Durutti Column

Review: Glissando – With Our Arms Wide Open We March Towards The Burning Sea

A few weeks ago I wrote about the new album by Her Name Is Calla, a post-rock act whose bleak world-view made for an uncomfortable yet compelling listen. Glissando – signed to the same Gizeh Records label – offer a slightly more approachable form of music, with the emphasis on quieter but no less powerful sounds. Based around the duo of Elly May Irving and Richard Knox, ‘With Our Arms Wide Open…’ is a record which demands attention.

Glissando CD Cover

‘With A Kiss And A Tear’ introduces the listener to the fragile beauty of the Glissando sound where Elly May Irving’s folky vocals are balanced against the steady raindrops of piano keys. ‘Floods’ is the most poignant of all the songs; it’s a relatively relaxed track full of swelling strings, Irving at her most emotive and the piano at its most melodic. For the first half of its fourteen minutes, ‘Floods’ also reminded me of the early-80s (and recently revived) Factory act The French Impressionists but then it flows into experimental, ambient territory. Later on, these ambient moments lose focus from what is an otherwise flab-free record, with the meanderings redeemed by stunning moments like the passionate, foreboding ‘Grekken’ where Irving claims “You made me kill myself”.

Certainly the album could have been cut down from its seventy-minute length (the drone-fest of ‘Like Everything You See’ lasts for quarter of an hour, for example). Nevertheless, ‘With Our Arms Wide Open…’ is a very moving record, made all the more convincing by the knowledge that Irving and Knox ended their long term relationship before the songs were recorded.

Web Sites:
Glissando MySpace
Glissando Blog
Gizeh Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The French Impressionists, Her Name Is Calla, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance

Review: The Helio Sequence – Keep Your Eyes Ahead

Portland, Orgeon has achieved a reputation for being the place to be seen for wannabe indie stars in America. Already home to the likes of The Shins, Modest Mouse and The Dandy Warhols, The Helio Sequence are one of the less “known” names, yet after hearing their new album for the first time I was immediately struck by the heart of the record and its original melodic structures.

The Helio Sequence CD Cover

‘Lately’ not only sets the high standard for great songs but also gives witness to a fantastic widescreen production where guitars shimmer, some light electronica bubbles away whilst Brandon Summers’ throaty warble all help to deliver an opening full of colour and beauty. Impressively, The Helio Sequence only lose momentum right at the end of the record. In between, the dramatic ‘Can’t Say No’, ‘Hallelujah’ and the title track deliver on big, emotive choruses which emphasise their commercial potential.

Another point that struck me is that there are only two core members to the group yet the sound they make is huge. Along with guitarist/vocalist Summers’, there is just keyboard player and drummer Benjamin Weikel who is credited. Yet despite their obvious ambition, the duo also understand the need for space as well as melodrama. To this end, ‘Shed Your Love’ is a lovelorn spine-tingling number that sounds as desolate as the Australian desert. Meanwhile, ‘Back To This’ is pure class; some bouncy yet understated beats, smooth synths and glistening guitar shapes complement a dreamlike tune. In fact, they only lose their way for the drunken Americana of  ‘No Regrets’. Otherwise, ‘Keep Your Eyes Ahead’ is one of the most deeply satisfying albums of the year.

Web Sites:
The Helio Sequence MySpace
The Helio Sequence Official Site

Further Listening:
The Great Depression, Argentine

Review: The Static Silence – Found

It used to be so dfficult to maintain togetherness within a group when the members position themselves in far flung areas of the world. Then the Internet was invented and suddenly things got a whole lot easier. Rachel Staggs and Matt Bartram recorded their music in their respective Texan and English homes, with Staggs putting together the final mix. I would hesitate to call the results “shoegazer lite” but ‘Found’ definitely occupies the softer side of the dreampop genre.

The Static Silence CD Cover

The duo both have a track record; Bartram is a member of Air Formation whilst Staggs has served time in (amongst others) Experimental Aircraft. Staggs’ vocals are – if you can forgive the oxymoron – strong on fragility and I was often left to recall the song-based material of Portal when listening to the melancholic likes of ‘Looking For Light’ and ‘Candles’. The evil-sounding drones employed on ‘Set In Starlight’ indicate a darker sound but otherwise the music is relaxing rather than unsettling. In the case of ‘Time Bends’, for example, the song embodies the essences of fairy tales and lullabies. ‘Lost’, meanwhile, stands out for Staggs’ haunting tones above some shifting, experimental layers of sound.

Key to the success of this mini-album is the melodies underpinning each track; ensuring each song is tied to a solid footing. What comes across equally as well, though, is that Bartram and Staggs clearly occupy a similar mindset and ‘Found’ is a cohesive record that’s perfect for floating away to.

Web Sites:
Distant Noise Records Label and Shop Site
The Static Silence MySpace

Further Listening:
Portal, Slowdive

Review: Guy Gelem – Works

Guy Gelem’s debut for Split Femur Recordings is a minimalist set of tracks which combines guitar, laptop and cello. This three-pronged approach works well in a delightful half-hour of gently stimulating music; the twenty seven year-old London dweller faring well in combining three very different forms of instruments in to a cohesive whole.

Guy Gelem CD Cover

For the opening shot of ‘Rise’, intricate guitar patterns are weaved over cello melody, resulting in a lovely haunting composition. Elsewhere the approach is rather more understated, journeying from the timid twinkling of ‘Answers’ via the noirish ‘Drawing Dates’, on to the menacing Windsor For The Derby-esque ‘Phlegmatic’ and concluding with the stark ‘Three’.

The music never sounds over-complicated and the electronica elements are used sparingly; letting the cello provide much of the melodic core. ‘Works’ is a fascinating and original start for a new name on the scene; skilfully evoking rainy day atmospheres just as much as spy thrillers set in French towns.

Web Sites:
Guy Gelem MySpace
Split Femur Recordings Label Site

Further Listening:
Windsor For The Derby