Archive for October, 2008

Review: The Week That Was – The Week That Was

Taking a hiatus from their day jobs as Field Music, making solo records under obscure names might not be the wisest career choice for brothers Peter and David Brewis. Yet in both cases the duo excel and possibly even improve on their rather overrated last album ‘Tones Of Town’. In the case of The Week That Was by Peter Brewis, it’s a return to the ever-melodic delights of the Field Music debut.

Once again it’s a quasi-concept album, this time based loosely around an imagined crime thriller. Not that this should diminish or improve on what is basically an intelligent pop album, which touches on new wave, prog and MOR. The first thing to notice is the drums; pushed into the foreground they sound positively demonic for opener ‘Learn To Learn’. Otherwise Brewis’ skill is making songs which seem almost old-fashioned in their execution. Heartfelt offerings such as ‘The Good Life’ and ‘Come Home’ are at once familiar yet it’s hard to find particular reference poins from the past, apart from perhaps 10CC; a band whose commercial success in the 1970’s was all the more remarkable given their constant shifting of styles.

The epic ‘Yesterday’s Paper’ is undoubtedly the most ambitious moment; it’s a piece of many parts which recalls The Beatles ‘A Day In The Life’, the pomp meandering of Genesis and the warmth of Wings. ‘Scratch The Surface’, the first single from the album, is the one which sounds out of place after a string of prog-influenced tracks; its stuttering new wave is the most forceful song on offer and the pounding drums on here are oddly – but thrillingly – redolent of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’. Yet the highlight for me is ‘The Airport Line’; a superbly-crafted slice of doleful pop, characterised by an exultant tune, inventive use of strings and Brewis’ always soothing yet yearning tones.

Apparently – as the title perhaps implies – the album was written in a week, which makes a mockery of the usual quota of one album every two years from most acts. With brother David also producing a great debut, the Brewis’ gifts for classic songwriting put the efforts of certain other sibling partnerships to shame.

Web Sites:
The Week That Was MySpace
Memphis Industries Page on The Week That Was

Further Listening:
Field Music, 10CC, XTC


Review: Ariel Abshire – Exclamation Love

It’s hard not to be suspicious when hearing about a new artist who is claimed to be the next Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee or anyone who was born generations after these artists last recorded. The fact that Texan Ariel Abshire has released her first album on Darla – a label more renowned for putting out dreampop and ambient music – is certainly a good indicator that Abshire is no marketing trick. Satisfyingly, the music itself is better than anyone could have reasonably expected.

Though there may be something a little disconcerting about a seventeen year-old girl singing “Why don’t you love me like you used to” in the manner of a spurned mistress, clearly Abshire is an extraordinary talent. Only on the catchy Avril Lavigne-like pop of ‘I Didn’t know People Could Do That’ does she betray her identity of a teenager with the voice and – although lyrically at least – her songs trace the traumas of a young girl growing up, that voice is something else. Indeed, the slow-burning, seductive soul of ‘Nervous’, the romantic ache of ‘Thin Skin’ and the relaxed melody of ‘Hotel Hallway’ wouldn’t shame a performer twice her age.

‘Exclamation Love’ is a more than a credible debut record for a new talent. Clearly this is not a rush release to capitalise on the short lifespans of young artists but a well written, mature and complete album.

Web Sites:
Ariel Abshire Official Site
Ariel Abshire MySpace

Further Listening:
Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Saint Bernadette

Review: My Majestic Star – Too Late The Day

Australian Chris Mason has divided time on recent musical projects as one half of Glassacre and with his solo excursions as My Majestic Star. Whilst the former released the rather brilliant Engineers-meets-Avrocar ‘Slow Attack’ EP, Mason’s solo venture is also well worth anyone’s time and comes particularly recommended for those who enjoy the ambient end of post-rock.

‘On Afternoons’ casts its dark spell via ten minutes of wintry drone and clattering effects. It’s good but it’s by no means the best track here. ‘Defects In Sunsets’  is less dramatic but more deeply satisfying as its layers of rich organ, flute, slow drum beats and subtle guitar form a more beautiful noise. ‘And Having A Reason Why’ sticks to a shoegazing template with only its metronomic drum loops attempting to break out of an early 1990’s time warp whilst ‘Fill Empty Spaces’ drifts in and out on a downbeat yet gripping melody. The journey ends with the blissful chimes of ‘Forget Idaho’.

I have occasionally been bored with the sheer amount of post-rock acts who seem to be treading the well-worn path of quiet/loud dynamics. ‘Too Late The Day’ is an album that restores my faith in the genre thanks to its sense of adventure and original melodic structures. Yet another success for the Hidden Shoal Recordings label.

Web Sites:
My Majestic Star MySpace
Hidden Shoal Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Avrocar, Glassacre, Chapterhouse

Review: Tracy Shedd – Cigarettes & Smoke Machines

I was unaware of the work of Tracy Shedd until very recently. This Tucson, Arizona-based songwriter is now on her fourth album but this is an extremely fresh-sounding record. Shedd eschews the oft-favoured singer-songwriter route and is clearly a fan of the FX pedal judging by this satisfyingly complete record.

Musically it’s a real mix of syles which operates loosely around the alternative rock scene. She is cool and airy for opener ‘Never Too Late’. The harder-edged grunge of ‘Go On’ and ‘Valentine’ boast simple but addictive melodies. Meanwhile, ‘Won Past Ten’ and ‘Not Giving Up’ rattle along very nicely. Yet despite a penchant for distortion,  Shedd arguably impresses most for the sparest songs here. ‘Paris’ is enfused with subtle melancholia whilst ‘Hardest Part Of Good-Bye’ is a stunning tear-jerker; where some understated guitars accompany Shedd’s aching tones to spine-tingling effect.

‘Cigarettes & Smoke Machines’ feasibly provides the missing link between Suzanne Vega and early-1990’s indie; although given her admiration for the shoegazing sect, perhaps Gemma Hayes’ mixture of acoustic and noise pop might be a better comparison. Moreover, Shedd is a talented in her own right and although her influences may belong in the past, she is very much an artist for the present.

Web Sites:
Tracy Shedd Official Site
Tracy Shedd MySpace

Further Listening:
Dawn Dineen, Gemma Hayes, Suzanne Vega

Review: Delays – Everything’s The Rush

Generally speaking critical acclaim is handed out to music which draws on the darker side of life whilst pop music tends to celebrate it. In the case of Southampton’s Delays, we have a group who embrace happiness and have latterly achieved the twin aims of popularity and artistic credibility. It’s a tough balancing act but one which seems to be collapsing under the weight of their relentlessly sugary third album.

Beginning in supercharged fashion with ‘Girl’s On Fire’, Delays set their course with their first “anthem”; it’s a bold, brash, rather obvious single but it’s sense of euphoria is forgiveable in the same manner as U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’. Somewhat harder to stomach is the following song ‘Hooray’, which begins with a mock-classical intro and revolves around a chorus of “Hooray, hooray, it’s not over” that could easily be heard as “Hooray, hooray it’s a holiday” and suddenly the bubbly persona of the group begins to grate as one over-exuberant song follows after another.

A notable exception is ‘Pieces’, where the group, for once, settle for a mid-paced song; the instruments and emotions here are steadily strengthened to make up a genuinely moving and powerful tune. Placed slap bang in the middle of the album, it does, unfortunately, signify a great centrepiece to an otherwise disappointing album. Whereas before this track, there’s a smattering of equal parts annoying/admittedly catchy music, after ‘Pieces’, only the punkier ‘Friends Are False’ packs a memorable punch. So for a band once compared favourably to the likes of Cocteau Twins and The La’s, Delays now sound like a pale shadow of even themselves, let alone these great bands.

Web Sites:
Delays Official Site
Delays MySpace

Review: Cranes – Cranes

When Cranes joined an already vibrant indie scene in the early 1990’s, they immediately set themselves apart from their peers with a unique musical vision that had footholds in the worlds of goth, folk and dreampop. Part of their distinctive appeal were the child-like vocals of Alison Shaw but just as important were the underrated, distinctive soundscapes of brother Jim. Since the turn of the century Cranes have reinvented themselves as an electronic-based act whilst still maintaining their mysterious melodies. Their self-titled new album is their ninth.

After a brief instrumental intro, ‘Worlds’ is, if anything, a return to the haunting rock of 1994’s ‘Loved’ where Alison Shaw’s huskier tones cry out over Jim’s intense, doomy backing. Accompanied by the twinkling, moody ‘Feathers’, it’s an excellent, edgy beginning but not entirely representative of a record which has an emphasis on subtlety. So much so that I still have trouble remembering some of the songs featured towards the middle of the record. ‘Wires’ seems like a polite version of ‘Worlds’ whereas ‘Panorama’ is remarkable only for the fact that it’s sung in French.

Thankfully the Shaws recover from this apparent lapse. ‘Invisible’ revels in a romantic, post-club atmosphere as its insistent beats and elegiac piano evoke a very elegant kind of sadness. Then comes ‘Move Along’, a slow-building track which becomes increasingly insistent as its bleeps and beats grow in stature. They sign off with the wistful ‘High And Low’; easily the most optimistic and dreamy song from the record.

‘Cranes’ isn’t the strongest album the Portsmouth duo have produced but when it’s good it’s very good indeed. Furthermore, they show sufficient invention and individualism to suggest they could continue for a while yet.

Web Sites:
Cranes MySpace
Cranes Fan Site

Further Listening:
The Plague Monkeys, The Artificial Sea

Review: The Great Depression – Forever Altered

When The Great Depression’s third album ‘Preaching To The Fire’ was finally released about six months after its original schedule, it was hard not to feel they’d missed the boat after a series of excellent reviews. It was probably my favourite album of the year; an ambitious, multi-layered tour de force which picked the best bits from post-rock, shoegaze and melancholic rock to create a moving, immaculately produced record. Sadly ‘Forever Altered’ has ended up being forever delayed again but at least it’s finally arrived and the group are still in fine form.

The sound is noticeably lusher. Female backing vocals are featured on most of the tracks and the production lends the album a cinematic, almost Hollywood feel, albeit in a melancholic, corrupted form. The first key moment occurs after ‘Holes In All Your Stories’, where the song segues from humble piano-based rock beginnings on to a stirring emotional tangent for ‘It Happens During Transit’, in which Todd Cranley’s vocals and the female singers are employed perfectly. ‘Throw Me The Ropes’ is the shoegaze vs ambient rock mix at its peak whilst the quiet/loud dynamics of ‘They’re Making Us Look Green’ and the downbeat epic ‘Ill Prepared’ are further highpoints.

‘Forever Altered’ again defies easy categorisation and – with its ambitious forays into classical and cinematic territory and unconventinal arrangements – they have also expanded their palette a little further. Admittedly the results aren’t quite as consistently stunning as ‘Preaching To The Fire’ but this is still one of the most impressive records I’ve heard this year.

Web Sites:
The Great Depression MySpace

Further Listening:
The Silent League, Bark Psychosis, Elam, The Helio Sequence