Archive for August, 2008

Review: Lethosomn – Mind’s Isle

New York has often been referred to as the city that never sleeps. This may explain NYC native Joel Bidwell’s insomnia; the original inspiration behind his first album. Recording under the name of Lethosomn, the music is essentially minimalist yet it has a restlessness and bleakness guaranteed to cause a shiver in anyone who listens to it. Certainly, the nightmarish visions evoked kept this reviewer awake for a while.

‘Fight The Current, Adrift In The Tide’ is a dramatic opener; its gripping amalgamation of haunting, desolate piano keys, reverberating walls of noise and samples of raging seas presents a scene of all-consuming darkness. ‘Left Behind’ begins with a thunderstorm and rainfall which reminded me of my recent holiday in the Lake District where I listened to ‘Mind’s Isle’ for the first time; accompanied by the appropriate weather. As the storm eases down, a Satie-like melody becomes ever louder whilst the more modern sounds of keyboard washes ebb and flow. ‘The Path Least Travelled’ may start quietly but soon develops into something more dangerous like a soundtrack to an underwater horror film. The gruelling journey ends with ‘Your Answer Lies In The Mirrored Wood’ which reprises the chilling motif of second track ‘Engulfed In Red Clouds’.

Whilst it’s difficult to describe ‘Mind’s Isle’ as a record to enjoy, it’s certainly one to stimulate the mind. It should be viewed as a modern classical/ambient piece, where unsettling moments occur throughout the journey. Although I advise you don’t listen to Bidwell’s music just before retiring to bed.

Web Sites:
Lethosomn MySpace

Review: Blag’ard – Bobcat

Top marks for bravado go to North Carolina duo Blag’ard who are described as “Hollywood handsome” and drummer Adam even has a great personality, to boot. Their music is a far more brutal beast, however, made up of crunchy lo-fi riffs and punk vocals. Nevertheless I found their first EP ‘Blank Faced Clocks’ endearing thanks to the no-nonsense focus on hook-laden songs. Can ‘Bobcat’ their first long player continue that trend?

In short, Adam and Joe can continue the trend.  There’s no subtlety here just a set of short, incisive songs kicking off with an ode to Yul Brynner. There’s clever melodic twists abound; ‘Shame’ managing to work a chorus around the word “surgery” whilst ‘Dogskin’ and anthemic centrepiece ‘Bachelor Party’ successfully bridge the gap between Placebo and old-school grunge. However, by the end of the record I did begin to tire of the formula; as the duo struggle to replicate their EP form consistently over the course of a full album. Having said that, penultimate song ‘Kick Out Queen’ features some excellent, urgent riffage.

Certainly the simplicity of the music means there’s no time for introspection, solos or even space to breath but Adam and Joe work the best out of an apparently limited setup of vocals, guitar and drums. So for those who like their music raw and uncomplicated, ‘Bobcat’ comes highly recommendedd.

Web Sites:
Blag’ard Official Site
Blag’ard MySpace

Further Listening:
Placebo

Review: BirdPen – Breaking Precedent E.P.

Sometimes I receive a great CD by a group, give it a great review and then hear nothing more from them. Usually this means the band has split up for whatever reason. I feared that a similar fate had befallen BirdPen whose excellent EP ‘Fake Kid’ whetted my appetite for something more in 2005, an album perhaps? Well, the album isn’t quite ready just yet but ‘Breaking Precedent E.P.’ is a taster of what’s to come. Furthermore, just as I remembered them, BirdPen still craft urgent, hook-heavy songs which follow an alternative path of their own making.

In the first track alone, BirdpPen unveil a new set of hooks; the slightly off-kilter nature to ‘Breaking Precedent’ reminding me of Dawn Of The Replicants at their peak. ‘Machines Live Like Ordinary People’ is easily the most in your face song here; its shouted chorus repeated in most convincing fashion. The melancholic ‘Man The Thinker’ is dominated by a rolling piano melody whilst ‘Implode And Fold’, the slowest and most considered song off the EP reveals the reflective side to the trio, not to mention some vocals which rival My Morning Jacket’s Jim James for emotion and clarity.

‘Breaking Precedent’ is a well produced, dynamic and genuinely exciting set of songs from the kind of idiosyncratic band which only Britain could produce. Since the album is due for release in October too, that’s another reason to celebrate.

Web Sites:
BirdPen Official Site
BirdPen MySpace

Further Listening:
Dawn Of The Replicants, My Morning Jacket

Review: The Fun Years – Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Possibly the most ironically titled group ever, The Fun Years represent the minimalist, melancholic end of post-rock. Since their first album was called ‘Now that’s what i call droning, volume 4’, the Californian duo of Ben Recht (Baritone guitar) and Isaac Sparks (turntables) have clearly always had a sense of humour. This doesn’t come across quite so well on record but that’s because The Fun Years drone like few other bands.

 

‘My Lowville’ kicks off the miserablism with ten minutes of slowly unwinding drone and guitar. ‘Auto Show Day Of The Dead’ is based around a downcast piano loop, gradually bringing in new elements such as static and a resonant guitar hook. These tracks are actually quite dramatic in comparison to the next two. ‘Fucking Milwaukee’s Been Hesher Forever’ ambles along in a pleasant but rather unexciting way whilst ‘Re: We’re Again Buried Under’ threatens to turn into something quite horrible but forvever teeters on the edge of evil. That just leaves ‘The Surge Is Working’ where twin guitars and whooshing sonic effects create a gripping finale.

‘Baby, It’s Cold Inside’ is a subtle record; concerned with slight shifts in melody and mood but it’s one which hits its mark after a few listens. The sum effect is rather like listening to Labradford but with less emphasis on beauty and emotion and more on bleak atmosphere and chilling effects.

Web Sites:
The Fun Years Official Site
Barge Recordings Label Site

Further Listening:
Labradford, Zelienople

Review: Unknown Component – In Direct Communication

Unknown Component is a one-man band effort written, produced and performed by Iowa resident Keith Lynch. Over the past few years I have reviewed four of his albums and witnessed a consistent run of downbeat but always tuneful set of songs. ‘In Direct Communications’ maintains the slightly happier outlook indicated on his previous release ‘Separately Connected’.

 

For those new to Lynch’s music the first thing to be noticed is undoubtedly his gruff vocals, which sneer through each song like a particularly petulant adult. That said, his songwriting is almost always worth hearing. ‘Retrospectively Speaking’ and ‘Never Ceases To Remain Unchanged’ possess easy charm and melody a-plenty. ‘It’s A Fine Line’ boasts a rousing, edgy chorus. The reflective ‘Between Guilt And Relief’ is built around a simple but hypnotic keyboard riff whilst ‘Somewhere A Light Has Gone Out’ is almost classical in arrangement.

Throughout Lynch cuts a disconsolate figure but one with a twinkle in his eye as every apparently bleak tale is delivered with warmth and wit. The net result is that ‘In Direct Communication’ is another fine demonstration of the talent of a truly independent artist.

Web Sites:
Unknown Component Official Site
Unknown Component MySpace

Further Listening:
Bob Dylan, The Walkmen, Eels

Review: Keep Away From Heat – Helium Bliss

When I reviewed pndc’s ‘Fading Away’ back in May, I was impressed by the modern European electronic music that had been created. The only problem was that the record lacked warmth. In fairness, his nearest soundalikes Colder and DK7 suffer the same problem but the man behind the moniker, Predrag Nedic from Serbia, has answered that mild criticism almost immediately with another of his projects, Keep Away From Heat. The result is ‘Helium Bliss’; a record orientated less towards clinical dance music and more towards ambient/dreampop music.

‘Everyting… Senseless’ is equal parts elegiac keyboard piece, sampled female vocals and electronic layers. The main highlights, though, are ‘Heavy Metal Birds’ which merges shoegaze effects with insistent, hypnotic beats and elegant strings whilst the Air-like melodies at the heart of the sumptuous ‘Des Notes De Clementines’ similarly impress. Also, ‘Tear Me Apart’ is tight and vaguely danceable and is the only track which could have appeared on a pndc release.

Unfortunately, towards the second half of the record, Nedic seems to lose his way. The effects are too much for ‘Toys’ – an over-egged sugar rush of an instrumental which matches M83 for its lack of subtlety – and ‘Rainbow Drops’, which is slower but lacks a hook. It’s also hard to remember the final two tracks once the CD has stopped playing.

Overall, ‘Helium Bliss’ is a dreamy album, which usually features a rhythmic undertow but loses momentum as quality control isn’t maintained to the end of the record. It does, however, add another string to the bow for Nedic, who is now demonstrating he is one of Europe’s more versatile exponents of electronic music.

Web Sites:
Keep Away From Heat MySpace

Further Listening:
pndc, M83, Air

Review: Obfusc – Cities Of Cedar

For his day job, Joseph Burke works as a photographer and graphic designer in New York. Yet away from his usual employment, Burke becomes electronica artist Obfusc who sees his first album as a “sort of statement of acceptance to urban existence, for good or worse”. As one would hope for, ‘Cities Of Cedar’ is an evocative record and one which stands on its own two feet as an exercise in melodic electronic music.

For ‘Delayed Sunshine Reaction’, the analogue keyboards cast images of blinking into the morning sun on to the “empty streets”. ‘Close Your Eyes And Daydream’ initially seems to be another Boards Of Canada rip-off but the cute analog tune and layers of electronica mean that the title of the track is really a recommendation for how it should be listened to. Other notable moments such as ”Morning Walk To The Pier’ and ‘Mood Gradient’ resemble an earthbound Avrocar.

Remixes added to the end of an album tend to be a way of padding out shorter, less substantial releases but the ones included here actually add value. Boltfish labelmate Milieu, for example, filters ‘Sounds From Shattered Seashells’ through a chilly, ambient gauze whilst Phasen’s wintry treatment of ‘Morning Walk To The Pier’ is eerily beautiful. Then Ova Looven manage to make ‘Close Your Eyes And Daydream’ even more blissed-out.

Burke is very astute in his choice of samples whether it’s the sound of rushing water or snatches of conversation, there’s always an air of mystery apparent. Similarly, the music is enigmatic but uncluttered and always melodic and atmospheric enough to hold the listener’s attention for its sixty-minute duration. In fact, Burke’s only problem is that several of the remixes here are superior to his own original versions.

Web Sites:
Boltfish Recordings Label and Sho Site
Obfusc Official Site
Obfusc MySpace

Further Listening:
City Rain, Milieu, Boards Of Canada, Avrocar, David Newlyn, October Man


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