Archive for August, 2008

Review: Taro Kawasaki – Sing Me A Song EP

Clocking in at under ten minutes, Taro Kawasaki’s debut EP must rank as one of the shortest releases I’ve reviewed to date. In the case of ‘Sing Me A Song’, though, it’s short but particularly sweet. Kawasaki, who hails from Kawagoe City in Japan, likes to blend acoustic instrumentation with electronic programming; prompting comparisons with artists like Mole Harness or the rather more well-known Eberg and Múm.

Each of the four tracks blend seamlessly into innocent, multi-layered tunes. It might be fanciful to suggest such a thing but this could be the sound childrens’ toys would make if they were left to entertain themselves. In fact, the end to final track ‘Fossette’ even sounds like the batteries fizzing out. With a few aforementoned artists attempting a similar style of music, it will be fascinating to hear if Kawasaki can expand his repertoire on future (and hopefully longer) releases but this will do for now.

Web Sites:
Taro Kawasaki MySpace
Drifting Falling Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Múm, E-berg, Mole Harness


Review: Talk Less, Say More – Go Lucky

As part of Leeds act The Butterfly, Matthew Jennings was a key part of a respected metal/avant rock band. So it was with some surprise and delight when I heard material by his side-project Talk Less, Say More. Far removed from “loud” music, here was a lovely, tuneful electronica release. Since The Butterfly are now no more, Jennings now has time to turn his side-project in to a fully-fledged solo act. ‘Go Lucky’ is the first result and one which jettisons the guest vocals from the first album to be replaced by Jennings’ own soul searching over some “pound shop electro”.

‘Up Close, Far Away’ blends fragile guitar melody with clod-hopping beats whilst jittery drum beats and cello work wonders for the warm ‘Sensations Spring’. In lesser hands, these experiments wouldn’t work but Jennings is a skilled songwriter. Added to this is his ghostly narration; initially off-putting but ultimately able to carry a tune and a deal of emotion.

Indeed, ‘Go Lucky’ is a very introspective record. Jennings often looks back (with some regret) over his childhood life; best articulated for the haunting ‘Roots Alive’. Along with the delightful pop of ‘Someone Else’s Summer’, it’s a track where the early, innocent days of Depeche Mode are gathered to memory.

If ‘Go Lucky’ were a high-profile release, genre-mixing comparisons would be made with The Notwist or Four-Tet but Jennings has concentrated on creating a personal record rather than a stylish record. In the longer term, this may prove to be the greater achievement.

Web Sites:
Talk Less, Say More MySpace
Download the Album for free here

Further Listening:
White Town, The Notwist, Depeche Mode

Review: Panophonic – Untouched In Ages

Tommy Lugo is a prolific artist who divides time between the identifies of Stellarscope and Panophonic. Whilst the former covers a traditional style of shoegazing, Panophonic takes on board electronic elements. His latest free, downloadable EP is one of his more modern-sounding records and is well worth a listen.

Although I’ve enjoyed previous Stellarscope releases, the limitations of Lugo’s nasally voice sometimes undermines the song-based material. ‘Nothing To Do’ is a case in point; a decent track but one which deserves a proper singer. Thankfully, ‘Untouched In Ages’ is a largely instrumental work. The charming, melodic simplicity of guitar piece ‘Ensueño’ and enigmatic ambient number ‘Fifth Day’ reveal the impressive breadth of Lugo’s talents. As it happens, it is a vocal piece which stands out the most though as the wistful ‘Sail’ compares favourably to the recent material of Durutti Column.

Certainly Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly would be a suggested influence for Lugo’s future musical projects. Not only for Reilly’s virtuoso talents but also because Reilly isn’t blessed with the best singing voice in the world either.

Web Sites:
Download the EP from here
Panophonic MySpace

Further Listening:
Stellarscope, Durutti Column

Review: Daniel Land & The Modern Painters – Imagining October EP

I reviewed Daniel Land & The Modern Painters’ debut EP at the beginning of 2008. At the time, a second EP was set to swiftly follow but was scrapped so ‘Imagining October’ is their belated second release. Although it’s still impossible not to describe Land’s music as anything other than dreampop or shoegaze, there is a clear musical development here and one which embraces different moods and song structure.

After the feather-light, insubstantial opener ‘Off Your Face Again’, ‘Chagall Repeat’ is awash with the kind of sumptuous guitar effects employed by the Cocteau Twins in the latter stages of their career. However, whilst Land is clearly no Liz Fraser (and frankly who is?) his vocals are distinct and emotional enough not to be washed away by the dreamlike atmospheres of the music. Despite the often-used guitar jangle, ‘Between The Acts’ is enveloped in much darker territory; haunting echoes adding a ghostly tinge to the layered vocals. The similarly troubled ‘The Nights Are Falling’ is an exercise in weird instrumental meanderings whereas ‘Look At September, Look At October’ is suitably mournful and autumnal.

‘Imagining October’ signifies an ambitious step forward for Daniel Land and co. Whether it leads to exposure beyond the usual genre fans is another question but Land and band should be admired for attempting something new when they could have easily stuck with their original sound.

Web Sites:
Daniel Land & The Modern Painters MySpace

Further Listening:
Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Chapterhouse

Review: Elapse-O – Elapse-O

Everything about Elapse-O suggests an assault of the ears. Their press release boasts of “Songs About Fucking-esque” drum machines and “Fuck Off Riffs” whilst the first song on their debut EP is entitled ‘Sonny Liston’. Such a pugnacious approach certainly made me feel wary when pressing play on the CD player. Granted, this is certainly a challenging listen but one which has an oddly mesmeric feel.

‘Sonny Liston’ it is which opens up the EP. Like an angry version of Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s ‘Love Missile F1-11’, huge drum beats and leering vocals mutate into a well-constructed mass of noise. ‘Golden Ships’ is, if anything, more confrontational than the opener; yet despite being dominated by distortion it is undeniably arresting. In the spirit of Jesus And Mary Chain, for each track, a tune always lurks within but Elapse-O give it a few kicks and punches to make it appear less pretty. ‘Island’ and Public Image Ltd.-soundalike ‘Mars’ continue this trend with a refreshing lack of subtlety.

I suppose ‘Elapse-O’ isn’t the kind of music I’d reach for if I was looking for some kind of escapism. Nevertheless its experimental nature and well-buried melodies are worth unearthing for those looking for something a little different.

Web Sites:
Elapse-O Labe Site and Free Download
Elapse-O MySpace

Further Listening:
Liars, Jesus And Mary Chain, Public Image Limited

Review: kIM NOVAk – Luck & Accident

Whilst the new wave of post-punk is centred in cities like New York and Manchester, it’s refreshing to hear of a French act joining the fray. Led by the tear-stained vocals of Jérémie, kIM NOVAk’s ‘Luck & Accident’ is an exercise in epic yet controlled post-punk balanced with human feelings. With plenty of support in their native country, their chosen name (Kim Novak the actress was chiefly famous as the female lead in Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’) and distinct New York and English influences should see them win fans in foreign fields.

Jérémie is very much the key to the record. Were it not for him a few of the songs contained here could have come from the spiky guitar melodies of a thousand other bands before them. Sensibly the group play to their strengths with mid-paced backing providing the undertow for some languid, melancholic music. This works best on opener ‘Better Now’ and again on the stunning ballad ‘In The Mirror’ where The Velvet Underground resemblance is writ large. Switching to faster-paced songs occasionally reveals the band’s limitations but ‘Lost At Play’ and ‘Female Friends’ sound vital and urgent. Then towards the end of the album, the quartet really come into their own with some mesmeric guitars and rhythms for ‘Some Photographs’

kIM NOVAk may face quite a lot of competition in their chosen field, yet this is a strong and mature first offering. With a number of unique factors in their favour as well, they certainly deserve wider coverage.

Web Sites:
kIM NOVAk MySpace

Further Listening:
Interpol, The National, Editors, Medium 21

Review: The Union Trade – Everyday Including

San Francisco’s The Union Trade impressed me with their debut EP in the early stages of 2007. Within ‘Now The Swell’ were four tracks which avoided post-rock/dreampop cliché thanks to their slightly-countrified guitars and a song-based approach. Although slightly dirgey in parts, ‘Everyday Including’ consolidates the good form.

‘Talk’ sees the twin-guitar approach screaming towards a nerve-jangling conclusion. It’s referred to as a key track but I prefer some of the more refined material included here. In fact the first three songs are pushed towards the heavy-handed side of post-rock. ‘For The Resilient’ – in contrary to its title- is easier to listen to; its refreshingly simple chorus is a defiant, fist-punching affair that packs a genuine urgency. Meanwhile, another track clocking in at under four minutes, ‘Like Minded’, manages to invest some emotions into the crashing waves of guitars.

Tellingly, two tracks from the EP – the subtly aching ‘Strings Break’ and the self-explanatory ‘Violent And Beautiful – are included and rank amongst the best material here. I would have also loved to have heard an extended version of the short but elegant instrumental fragment ‘The Nights Are Getting Longer’. Unfortunately, too much time is given to ‘Crescent’ which bulldozes towards its conclusion in gruelling rather than melodic fashion.

Overall, ‘Everyday Including’ is a little disappointing because it doesn’t improve enough on the earlier (admittedly highly impressive) EP. However, so long as The Union Trade concentrate on writing songs rather than focus on dramatic noise, this will serve them well for future releases.

Web Sites:
The Union Trade Official Site
The Union Trade MySpace

Further Listening:
Explosions In The Sky, Argentine