Archive for September, 2008

Review: Rich Bennett – Music For Underwater Supermarkets

Normally the concept of background music for supermarkets would only entice advertising gurus to listen, yet this particular mini album is attractive for two reasons. Firstly, it’s for “underwater” supermarkets so it must sound a bit different and – more importantly – the music is performed by Rich Bennett, one of the key members of Monocle, whose superb ‘Outer Sunset’ album was one of the highlights of last year. Bennett’s latest solo project is entirely instrumental though and is inspired by “delightfully soporific melodies he heard while riding around in his mom’s shopping cart as a child”.

Make no mistake, some of this music does serve as muzak but it’s of the relaxed, attractively melodic variety, which should find favour with fans of Mark Tranmer’s Gnac records. Aided and abetted by flute and a keening guitar figure, ‘Entrance’ is a track to be taken seriously. Meanwhile the moody, jazzy ‘Swimming Through The Aisles’ and Bacharach-influenced ‘Abyssal Plain’ may come across as soundtracks to bored Sunday afternoons but they also contain a sense of romantic longing. Yet the real essential piece arrives at the album’s denouement as ‘The Underwater Supermarket’ itself makes its wistful, elegant presence felt; it’s a beautiful, mysterious track by anyone’s standards.

Clearly this record won’t be the most demanding record you’ll hear this year but its tunes are ultimately involving. It also has enough hidden depth to dismiss any accusations that this is purely background music.

Web Sites:
Hidden Shoal Recordings Label and Shop Site
Rich Bennett MySpace

Further Listening:
Gnac, Monocle, The Sea And Cake

Review: Televise – From Anywhere To Anyone Remixes

Although chiefly known as the drummer in Slowdive for their first two albums, Simon Scott has been extremely active in music in recent years. In the past twelve months alone, he has recorded two further Televise albums and  now runs his own label, KESHHHHHH Recordings. The crowning glory of his post-Slowdive career has been the 2006 album ‘Songs To Sing In A & E’; a triumphant alternative pop album which did much to dissuade any claims that he was resting on his shoegazing past. So here’s the belated remix album which features contributions from some fine talent and alternative versions of all but one of the offerings from ‘Songs To Sing In A & E’, as well as a track each from the last two albums.

Ulrich Schnauss – one of the key performers in the current crop of dreampop exponents – lends a suitably lush amount of layers to ‘Radiation Sound’. Scott has teamed up with Anthony Ryan to record as Seavault in recent times and the latter does great service to ‘Underwater’ under his Isan identity; here, Ryan emphasises Scott’s vocal strength whilst complementing him with hypnotic drum loops. Others, such as Library Tapes and Yellow6, experiment admirably but also end up detracting from the songs’ original melodies. Credit to Praveen though, for condensing the 15-minute original of ‘Never Alone’ to a significantly shorter folktronica instrumental.

Of course the question to ask is whether this a necessary purchase for anyone but fans of the original album? Most of the contributions are interesting diversions but they don’t tend to improve the originals and lead me to believe that ‘From Anywhere To Anyone’ would be best released as a companion CD to the original album, thereby introducing those latecomers to a great album they missed first time around.

Web Sites:
Televise MySpace
KESHHHHHH Recordings

Further Listening:
Ulrich Schnauss, Yellow6, Isan

Review: Library Tapes – A Summer Beneath The Trees

Certain people find comfort in sadness and I admit I’m one of those people, at least where my music tastes are concerned. However, there must be melody somewhere amidst the melancholy, otherwise it’s hard to derive satisfaction from it. Sweden’s David Wenngren’s has proved to be a master of this particular art, recording under his Library Tapes identity. Pleasingly, after 2007’s ‘Höstluft’ he’s produced another fine record of minimalist beauty.

The mood for ‘A Summer Beneath The Trees’ is bleak from the outset as the mournful strings of the opening track dominate. The fact that this track is named ‘The Sound Of Emptiness Part 1’ tells you all you need to know. Perhaps continuing the theme of train journeys from ‘Höstluft’, ‘Pieces Of Us Were Left On The Track’ offers little reprieve from the despair but its chilling melody is tastefully understated. Raising a smile slightly, ‘Above The Flood’ is cute and multi-layered; not unlike Icelandic group Múm in the way in which crosses between classical and folk music. Then from out of nowhere, ‘The Modest Triumph’ gladdens the heart with its stirring mix of guitars and stringed instruments whilst the glorious finale ‘…And Then Rain Did Fall’ ends events on a positive note.

It can be sometimes difficult writing about music which begins in such a sad and morose fashion as ‘A Summer Beneath The Trees’, yet when it’s presented in such a subtle and haunting style, it can be poignant and quite beautiful. Furthermore, there’s enough shades of light on offer to shift the balance.

Web Sites:
Library Tapes MySpace
Make Mine Music Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Erik Satie, Philip Glass, Múm

Review: Renfro – Mathematics

Renfro are Tim Branney and Atom-James Draper who divide their time between London and Devon. Taking their cues from West Coast harmonies, the avant garde and electronica, they have sought to combine these influences into emotive songwriting. With Branney’s gently insistent vocals and Draper’s inspired use of found sounds, the results are generally superb.

Although the two band members seem to be pulling away from each other stylistically speaking – one towards pop music and the other towards more experimental paths – the real skill is how the duo complement rather than compete with each other. ‘Half Life Of Happiness’ is, I suppose, a typical song.  Tim Branney’s tender, fragile vocals float along a mixture of fizzing, crackling electronica.

The modern soul of ‘Broken Little Pieces’ counters its romantic message with lines such as “I’ve been system resetting” as if Branney is writing love songs for IT geeks whilst the lovely dreampop of Terrain informs us “there’s a bug in this machine”. There aren’t many acts around who can convey warmth as easily as Renfro do on ‘Capture’ and ‘Painting Flags’ and – after a brief lull towards the end of the record – Renfro reach their peak on ‘Traces’; an inexplicably gorgeous collage of sumptuous sounds.

‘Mathematics’ is a thoroughly rewarding album which reveals a little bit more of itself after each play. These are quietly addictive songs which slowly lodge themselves into the head and heart. Along with Junior Boys, Renfro are at the forefront of the electronica acts who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Web Sites:
Renfro MySpace

Further Listening:
Saso, Camera, Junior Boys

Review: Various Artists – Botpop Vol. 1

The manifesto of Happy Robots Records is simple: “to highlight the best in melodic, optimistic, electronic forward-looking “pop” music”. It’s a worthwhile quest which has already witnessed some cute vintage synth-pop courtesy of Arthur and Martha. ‘Botpop Vol. 1’ showcases eleven other acts who adhere to the Happy Robots mantra.

 

The compilation gets off to a fantastic start courtesy of Sweden’s ‘The Bridal Shop’. It’s an energetic hook-filled song which follows a New Order mid-80s template before bursting into a thrilling chorus. To follow a song of such power was aways going to be a tough act to follow and not many of the artists featured thereafter come close to this brilliance but there are certainly some notable contributions and each artist is successful in concentrating on the tune rather than the technology.

Another Swedish act, Television Keeps Us Apart, provide a sweetly nostalgic offering that reminded me distinctly of Buggles. Elika’s ‘Let Down’ (whose excellent debut EP I reviewed earlier in the year) successfully marries strident Madonna-esque to more vibrant electro-pop whereas The Coal Daughters’ would-be outer-space theme is an experimental, haunting affair. Overall it’s a decent collection of songs even though many of the artists involved seem to be reliving the past rather than looking towards the future.

Web Sites:
Happy Robots Records Site
Happy Robots Records MySpace

Further Listening:
Elika, The Bridal Shop, Television Keeps Us Apart

Review: Lettie – Age Of Solo

Each year it seems another quirky singer-songwriter emerges with the unique personality and talent necessary to make her mark. This year, for me, it could be Lettie, a London-based singer songwriter whose electronic-based debut will soon be followed up by an acoustic album. ‘Age Of Solo’ is an addictive record which absolutely fizzes with well-executed ideas.

Both vocally and musically, Lettie iseems to be the missing link between the austere Englishness of Sarah Nixey and the playfulness of a number of well-known Scandinavians.  To be honest, I kept having to check her press release to confirm she was indeed English and not Norwegian, given her oddly European inflections. ‘Hero’ is the dramatic opener but it soon gives way to the cute pop of ‘My Name Is’ and the rocksteady rhythms of ‘Future Retro’. At this stage, Lettie shows she can handle a pot pourri of musical genres but there’s a question mark over whether she is a distinctive enough performer to stand out from a crowded market.

My doubts were soon erased. Towards the middle of the record, the genius really shows through. After ‘Eternity’s Black Box Recorder-esque detached cool, the smooth electro of ‘Mission’ and minimalist number ‘Future’, Lettie raises the bar another notch for the wired funk of ‘All You Want’ whilst dead-eyed disco track ‘Criminal’ is worthy of Goldfrapp.

In fact most of the songs here are single worthy which is even more impressive considering first albums are often front-loaded. This is a record which has clearly been made with care and attention, rather than rush released. Whatever Lettie does from now on, she at least has one great album to fall back on.

Web Sites:
Lettie Official Site
Lettie MySpace

Further Listening:
Anja Garbarek, Sarah Nixey, Goldfrapp

Review: Corrugated Tunnel – I Am Corrugated

On his first album as Corrugated Tunnel, respected Irish artist Edwin James produced an electronica record rich in variety which revealed more about his influences than his own personality. The follow up ‘I Am Corrugated’, however, is high on atmosphere and far more cohesive than the pick-‘n’-mix electronica of his debut.

At its most impressive – ‘High Tides’ blissed-out techno or the mournful string samples to ‘Careful What You Wish For’ for example – ‘I Am Corrugated’ is almost dreamlike. The one vocal track included here, ‘The Drifter’ is understated and club-friendly. At the more experimental end James fares less well. In a disappointing mid-section to the album, ‘Slope Type A/B’ is awkward and unmoving whilst ‘Back In The Day’ sounds dated.

Otherwise, the whole record is soundtrack-quality. It’s occasionally a bit too clean or smooth in its efforts to strive for new levels of sumptuousness but generally I think Edwin James keeps his music uncluttered enough so as not to detract from any sense of feeling he’s trying to convey. A definite step forward.

Web Sites:
Corrugated Tunnel Official Site
Corrugated Tunnel MySpace

Further Listening:
Dre’ Pauls, Polestar


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