Archive for July, 2008

Music Stream: My Milky Way Arms – My Milky Way Arms EP

Click here to listen to the full stream of My Milky Way Arms’ debut EP

Review: My Milky Way Arms – My Milky Way Arms EP

Something suggests to me that the two protagonists behind My Milky Way Arms aren’t entirely earth-bound. Musicians named MilkMan and Tim2k claim to have received messages from wizards, with their sound informed by crystals which they used to produce a specific frequency heard by the human ear. Such a story can either lead to a drug-addled shambles or a gorgeous collection of tunes. Fortunately the latter is true for their debut EP.

With heavenly harmonies and effects to rival the The Flaming Lips’ best work, there are five tracks here which set a high standard for dreampop/space-rock and two of them are quite brilliant. ‘Unbearable Lightness Of Being’ takes centre stage with a raft of excitable drum beats, blissful choruses and ecstatic melody. ‘All Awful Impossibilities’ is noticeably more languid but no less head-spinning; it takes the best elements of shoegazing and turns it into something euphoric. For these moments alone My Milky Way Arms deserve the highest praise but the whole EP is recommended for anyone with an interest in shoegazing, space-rock or just great multi-layered pop songs.

Web Sites:
Milky Syndication MySpace
Milky Syndication Label Site

Further Listening:
The Flaming Lips, Bossanova, Color Filter


Review: Portishead – Third

Great albums though they were, Portishead’s first two records were associated with coffee houses and James Bond themes as much as the cutting edge of trip-hop and torch songs. Clearly the Bristol trio (and one presumes Geoff Barrow in particular) have done as much as they can to distance themselves from ideas of popularity by creating a record designed to gain a reaction, one way or another.

Granted, ‘Third’ is often provocative but it’s also tender and not as scary as some critics would have you believe. Beth Gibbons remains the constant; her vocal performances don’t differ drastically from the first two albums. This is definitely not a criticism, more an indication that this is still very much a Portishead record. Where ‘Third’ does differ is in its uncompromising arrangements.

Opener ‘Silence’ is one of quite a few tracks to use similar primal percussion techniques to 1960’s electronic pioneers Silver Apples; a tactic repeated on ‘We Carry On’. Songs tend to range between the spare, folky likes of ‘Hunter’ and ‘Deep Water’ and harsh, industrially-infused music (‘Machine Gun’) and sometimes they include both styles (‘Small’ being a fine case in point).

Elsewhere ‘The Rip’ flows surprisngly well, not unlike Goldfrapp in fact. ‘Plastic’ incorporates what sounds like rotating helicopter blades whilst Gibbons wails despairingly against a wall of drones; if there is one track which could have appeared on a previous album, this is the one. Another highlight is the stunning closer ‘Threads’ where Gibbons is at her most forlorn as sinister strings, stuttering percussion and a murky guitar figure hammer home a bleak but brilliant finale.

With ‘Third’, Portishead may have discarded the trip-hop stylings of yore but – fourteen years since landmark record ‘Dummy’ – they have set a new agenda and one which many of their contemporaries may follow again. Although initially uncertain about it, it’s also an album I have learned to appreciate more and more upon each listen.

Web Sites:
Portishead Official Site
Portishead MySpace

Further Listening:
Silver Apples, Goldfrapp

Review: Avrocar – Against The Dying Of The Light

The clue to the thought processes of Avrocar’s second album is in the press release which details how the band had been “isolating themselves… from people and places they would normally encounter”. Appropriately, ‘Against The Dying Of The Light’ contains sounds and atmospheres that seem alien yet familiar, machine-driven yet emotional.

Despite the fact that the band members come from Birmingham in the dead centre of England, I will forever associate Avrocar with the sounds of space travel. That’s not in a generic soundtrack sense but in terms of capturing the loneliness, dark beauty and mystery of being miles from Earth.

Imagine, if you will, that ‘Illustrate A Way To Survive’ is the take-off, ‘IAC’ is a monolithic spacecraft entering orbit and ‘Ultra Bronte’ symbolises floating gracefully through the night sky. On another level, ‘Dialogue’ takes the metronomic heart of a machine and applies it to melancholic synth washes and distant female dialogue whilst the title track increases the tension with great slabs of noise and austere synths. It sounds like a cliché these days but even instumental fragments such as ‘Our World Is Heaven’ and ‘Soft Lightning’ really do manage to emulate the poignancy of Boards Of Canada without being contrived. The record ends with the eerie, metronomic ‘From An Adjacent Field’. Never before has the calling out of random colours been so compelling.

With the advances (and availability thereof) in technology today, it’s getting easier and easier to be an electronica artist. What is difficult, however, is to produce a distinct trademark and an ability to stimulate the listener whilst conveying emotional depth. Avrocar hit the mark on every count with this stunning release.

Web Sites:
Avrocar MySpace
Make Mine Music Label And Shop Site

Further Listening:
Boards Of Canada, Vangelis

New Releases: Auteur Labels – Factory Benelux, Les Disques Du Crépuscule, New Hormones

Since resurrecting LTM Recordings in 1997, James Nice has overseen the reissues of just about every post-punk album you can think of from the early 1980’s. It’s testament to his knowledge of the scene and the power of the material from these times, that LTM shows no signs of flagging either. The latest set of reissues is a set of compilations from Belgium-based Les Disques Du Crépuscule and Factory Benelux as well as Manchester’s own New Hormones.

Although originally set up as a label to put out “spare” Factory releases, Factory Benelux certainly deserves a better reputation. It started badly though, their first releases was set to be a live mini-LP by none other than Joy Division but the tragic death of frontman Ian Curtis meant that honour went to A Certain Ratio with ‘Shack Up’. Neither ‘Shack Up’ or other celebrated singles such as New Order’s ‘Everything Gone Green’ appear on this label compilation but there are certainly tracks which make up for it; namely The Durutti Column’s curiously beautiful ‘Lips That Would Kiss’, The Wake’s chilly pop (‘Something Outside’) and the lengthy but hypnotic attractions of ‘Crispy Ambulance’s ‘The Presence’.

Les Disques Du Crépuscule were another Brussels-based label but one which had its own clear identity and its own roster. Doubtlessly considered by many Factory fans to be a little highbrow, space was given to modern classical (Michael Nyman, Tuxedomoon) as well as the spoken word (Richard Jobson). However, as this compilation proves, eclecticism is no barrier to talent. Whilst Josef K, Durutti Column and Thick Pigeon prove as reliably great as ever, Devine & Statton offer their magnificent cover of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and The Pale Fountains turn in the sweet indie pop of ‘(There’s Always) Something On My Mind’.

The journey of New Hormones follows a similar story to Factory Records but on a much smaller scale. Label founder Richard Boon was clearly a true music lover, who just wanted his artists to be heard rather than to make money for himself. This honesty even led him to turn down The Smiths as he didn’t have the resources to manage them. As a result, there are slimmer pickings to choose from here. New Hormones peaked early with Buzzcocks’ ‘Boredom’ but with diverse and wilfully obscure acts such as Ludus, Biting Tongues and Diagram Brothers on the payroll, top 75 placings were clearly never going to be an option. That said, the collection of tracks assembled here makes a fascinating listen; not least Eric Random’s experimentalism which sounds more relevant now than ever.

As ever, the CDs can be purchased directly from the LTM site.

Web Sites:
LTM Recordings Site

Review: The Notwist – The Devil, You + Me

It’s been six years since The Notwist’s ‘Neon Golden’; a record which signalled a new wave of groups who embraced both folk and electronica music. What made this German act so remarkable though was that they were plying their trade with a grunge and hardcore punk sound in the late 1980’s. The long gap could have resulted in another change of direction but really it’s more of a detour with The Notwist maintaining the folktronica blueprint with an expanded sound.

‘Where In This World’ embodies the new ambition of The Notwist. Subtle strings, glitchy electronica and Markus Acher’s furtive vocals create a tune which is both unsettlingly beautiful and original. At other times, The Notwist seem to be seeking inspiration from their fellow countrymen. ‘On Planet Off’ sounds like a successful collaboration with Tarwater and although ‘Alphabeat’ may employ the klick-klack rhythms used by Kraftwerk, it’s balanced with a healthy amount of industrial noise. Amongst all this creativity lays the plaintive title track; a relatively straightforward ballad but one which shows the band still in touch with human feelings.

On the flipside, the more downbeat second half of the record is a little pedestrian compared to the bright, imaginative first half; a few too many tracks too understated for their own good. A shame because, for a while, The Notwist prove they’re still the masters of emotionally-bruised electronica.

Web Sites:
The Notwist Official Site
The Devil, You + Me Album Site
The Notwist Myspace

Further Listening:
Lali Puna, Styrofoam, Weevil

New Release: Uniform Motion Pictures

Uniform Motion Pictures is a very interesting music concept. It’s interesting because it delivers music in three different ways. Firstly, there’s the song itself but this can also be accompanied by live video footage of the musicians performing the track as well as a flipbook which tells the story of the song through words and pictures.


The man behind Uniform Motion Pictures is Andrew Richards. In 2003 and 2005 I reviewed a couple of his EPs when he recorded under the name of Angle. His new project offers a similar strand of sensitive music, except it’s now guitar-based rather than electronic. Then of course there’s the extra gravitas provided by the accompanying media. Sound-wise it pitches close to Angel Tech or Elbow; each track normally starting quietly and gradually growing in tension.

As well as Richards, the other key collaborators involved include illustrator Reuno Forestié, fellow musician Trevor O’Neill-Walsh and filmmaker Soline Rampillon. The plan is to publish a new song, video and flipbook every fortnight; a tough task to accomplish but Richards and co. have admirably kept roughly up to schedule.

So I encourage musicians and music fans alike to check out the site and discover the quite original ideas of Uniform Motion Pictures.

Web Sites:
Uniform Motion Pictures

Further Listening:
Angel-Tech, Elbow

Review: KK – Telescopes

Clearly not one to sell himself short, KK proclaims himself a “21st Century Genius” and although the name may not be familiar to many his CV boasts work with such diverse artists as Bjork, Eno and Britney Spears. ‘Telescopes’ is very much his own work though and it’s a journey through space, time and continents, largely based on electronic music.

The first thing to notice about ‘Telescopes’ is that it is occasionally irritating – anyone who is frustrated with Mohinder’s narration for the TV series ‘Heroes’ will find parallels in KK’s similarly-styled voiceover on ‘Sol 3’ and ‘Crunch’. Yet despite dispensing astrological wisdom, KK also knows how to write music that is attractive and listenable. ‘Magic Spell’ and ‘Voyager’ are made up of serene instrumental parts whilst ‘Pale Blue Dot’ takes the dreamlike state one step further with a beautiful sequence of synth melodies. Here, the journey of space exploration makes perfect sense.

Further on in the album, ‘Codebreaker’ mixes Eastern mysticism with beats and KK’s own Green Gartside-like singing. KK comes unstuck the more inflated his ego seems to get; ‘Ancestor Simulation’, for example, begins with the noirish atmosphere of a detective story before collapsing into a bombastic arrangement which wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Riverdance’.

This track neatly sums up ‘Telescopes’. Most of the music is soundtrack-worthy but that doesn’t necessarily mean its good soundtrack music. So the genius tag is pushing things a little too far. Nevertheless KK has created a concept album which generally flows nicely; capturing the ideas of an artist who has clearly learned from the vast range of talent he has collaborated with in the past.

Web Sites:
KK Telescopes Site
KK Music Site
KK MySpace

Review: Ponies In The Surf – See You Happy

Ponies In The Surf are a brother and sister duo who originate from the Colombian capital of Bogota and now call Massachusetts their home. Fittingly their music bears influences of both North and South American, but there’s plenty of English indie pop thrown in for good measure.

The charms of ‘See You Happy’ are built around the sun-kissed harmonies of siblings Alex and Camile McGregor and the often glorious pop melodies they write. The snappy ‘Walkin’ In The City’ echoes the eccentric, anglicised indie-pop of The Monochrome Set. The escalating guitars underscoring ‘Another Mind’ may indicate a rare sense of danger but otherwise its a happy set of songs; none more uplifting than ‘Holes In The Walls’ and its killer chorus that Belle And Sebastian would die for. Elsewhere, ‘Ventricle’ and ‘Once In A While’ effortlessly and beautifully evoke youthful romance.

Also included with the first 1,000 CDs is a bonus CD containing six covers and a couple of demos. With source material from Talking Heads, Henry Mancini and Leonard Cohen, their eclectic tastes are even more apparent. Furthermore they perform them all of them well; adding their own unique slant on the originals in the process. Admittedly, there’s a strong sense that ‘See You Happy’ could have been made decades ago but the songs sound so remarkably fresh and breezy that it barely matters.

Web Sites:
Ponies In The Surf MySpace
Darla Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Belle And Sebastian, The Monochrome Set, The Hepburns

Review: Mystery Jets – Twenty One

Amongst the new wave of young indie bands in 2006, ‘Making Dens’ by Mystery Jets stood out as a genre-defying album of ramshackle tunes, not to mention the inclusion of a father and son partnership in their line-up. The follow-up sees senior member Henry Harrison reduce his involvement to leave son Blaine and his gang to take charge. Perhaps not surprisingly, the result is a record which sometimes comes across as a little too perky and youthful for its own good.

After a breathless start where the band members seem over-reliant on wordless harmonies (content to “woo woo” and “la la” when they could go for a sense of understatement), ‘Half In Love With Elizabeth’ reveals itself to be an exuberant song with a winning melody to match. ‘Veiled In Grey’ makes the best use of a nagging guitar riff whilst ‘Two Doors Down’ is an infectious singalong that recalls 1980’s acts such as ABC and the rather more obscure JoBoxers. 1980’s references crop up quite a lot in fact; white funk, sax solos and tinny synths all employed without irony. Nevertheless they nail a great song towards the end; a new sense of urgency apparent on the rousing ‘First To Know’, where all group members combine their obvious passion with intense and tight-knit instrumentation.

Due to its kitchen-sink production and the relentless eagerness to please, ‘Twenty One’ sounds more like a debut than ‘Making Dens’. It’s just disappointing Mystery Jets have toned down the eccentricities to sound more like an act who will doubtless win favour with students. It’s good enough for now but may sound irritating after a few years of hindsight.

Web Sites:
Mystery Jets Official Site
Mystery Jets MySpace

Further Listening: