Archive for December, 2008

Review: Luke Jackson – …And Then Some

Londoner Luke Jackson is certainly a happy chap and with good reason. For this seasoned musician not only got to team up with long-time hero and former Favorita frontman Magnus Börjeson but also had the benefit of Robert Kirby’s orchestral arrangements; the latter being chiefly famous for his work with Nick Drake and Elvis Costello. The results on Jackson’s debut solo album are understandably mixed, with cheery Swedish pop rubbing uneasily against more refined and mature songwriting.

The mood ranges between eager to please optimism and doleful melancholia. “I can taste it, I won’t waste it, I’m, alive!” is the key line to infectious opener ‘Come Tomorrow’. ‘This Life’ is classily-delivered 70’s MOR whilst ‘Goodbye London’ is sugary power pop that borders on the annoyingly chirpy side. At least Kirby is on hand to embellish ‘A Little Voice’ and the excellent ‘The Fear’ with suitably colourful but never overpowering arrangements but – thanks to Kirby’s know-how and a vulnerable turn from Jackson – ‘All I Can Do’ is the standout track.

Jackson represents the acceptable face of an unfashionable type of music; in this case swish 1970’s pop. Kirby also provides the experienced hands to prevent Jackson’s childlike enthusiasm from running riot.

Web Sites:
Luke Jackson MySpace
Popsicle Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Wannadies, John Howard, Nick Drake


Review: The Silence Kit – A Strange Labor

So many bands refuse to reveal their influences, presumably as a means of avoiding easy comparisons or accusations of imitation. In the case of Philadelphia’s The Silence Kit, they celebrate their post-punk influences and list many of the best bands from that area on their web site. Of course a great record collection doesn’t always equal a great band but The Silence Kit do their heroes justice even if they are unlikely to reach out beyond fans of their chosen genre.

Judging by ‘Two Halves’ they’ve lightened up since their 2006 debut but the song never really gets started; a real worry considering this is their opening gambit. Likewise, ‘Dry Summer’ sounds like watered-down indie. ‘A New Disappointment’ is a notable improvement but – thanks to McCay’s pained delivery – it comes across like a Cure pastiche. There’s a general air of resignation about ‘A Strange Labour’ which sometimes threatens to suffocate the listener. However, there is a flipside to this initially unpromising story.

Thankfully ‘Reassurement’ is free of cliche and full of the brooding intensity which made their first album a treat. Then the true moment of magnificence comes five tracks in. ‘Am I Missing Something’ features a great rumbling intro, skyscraping guitar from the House Of Love songbook and an urgent performance from McCay where even his cries of “Aah” towards the end of the record sound perfect. Not quite as brilliant but still great is ‘And If I Ever See You Again’ where once again the group bridge the gap between doominess and vitality. It’s hard not to admire the gloomy psychedelia of ‘You Can’t Be Serious’ where Echo And The Bunnymen’s Arabesque guitar sound is given a murky makeover and the dominant bassline of ‘Geometric’ has more than a hint of New Order about it.

As one can imagine, listening to these songs is like playing a game of “spot the musical reference” but it should certainly delight post-punk fans. What is more, The Silence Kit hit more than they miss, providing enough excitement to overcome the studied gloom.

Web Sites:
The Silence Kit Official Site
The Silence Kit MySpace

Further Listening:
The Cure, The Reverse, Calla

Review: Jessica Bailiff – Since Always EP

The penultimate release from Distant Noise Record’s twelve-part collection is by Ohio-based Jessica Bailiff. A relative veteran on the experimental folk scene, Bailiff has contributed a five-track EP. At least it’s listed as five tracks but the CD only contains one track which appears to be made up of several smaller pieces of music. No matter, it’s well worth a listen, especially for those who like their melodies twisted beyond all recognition.

To call the opening instrumental ‘Euphoria’ is a little off the mark considering it’s a wall of noise. ”In My Yellow Room’, on the other hand, begins with a simple harp melody that is soon warped into a huge, but strangely beautiful crescendo. ‘Summer Demo’ is arguably the highpoint; it takes on some lovely female vocals and languid guitars and then subverts them into a ghostly, reverberating song. ‘Dear One’ is drowned in more effects and lastly comes ‘With You Again’; a wistful folk number and the most conventional offering on the EP.

There’s certainly a sense of “blink and you’ll miss it” when listening to ‘Since Always’ yet some of the fragments of songs within are really spine tingling. For those who need fifteen minutes music caught somewhere between eerie and pretty, look no further than this record.

Web Sites:
Jessica Bailiff’s Page on Brainwashed
Jessica Bailiff’s MySpace
Distant Noise Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine

Review: Calder – Lower

Calder are an Icelandic duo consisting of Lárus Sigurðsson and Ólafur Josephsson. Together they’ve made a bewitching second album of warm, ambient music. Comparisons with fellow Icelandic musicians are bound to me made and it’s fair to say that some of the tunes are quite similar to Múm, except those occasionally grating child-like vocals don’t feature in Calder’s repertoire.

Whatever music Calder produce, they execute it very slowly. Thanks to its shimmering wall of effects, ‘Calc’ enters the realms of shoegazing whilst ‘Tuft’ is redolent of Sigur Ros on a less epic scale. I was particularly impressed by ‘Semi’ where some lovely Spanish guitars and steady percussion appeared to joined by a drone which resembles the sound of a plane in flight. This drone persists for the next three tracks, building up to the delightfully melancholic ‘Vessel’ and then picking up to a faster pace for the conclusion of ‘Rond’.

Although ‘Lower’ is a slightly derivative album, Calder are masters in the art of subtlety. Their songs initially may seem merely pleasant but they soon grow in stature as each subsequent listen reveals new layers of warmth of melody. 

Web Sites:
Calder MySpace
Calder Home Page
Norman Records Label and Shop Page

Further Listening:
Múm, Sigur Ros

Review: Elite Barbarian – It’s Only When You Get To The End That It All Makes Sense

Front & Follow are a new record label who specialise in limited edition hand-crafted CDs. The first is by Elite Barbarian and comes with a hand-stitched badge stuck to the large cardboard cover; a nice individual touch. The music itself is similarly in a field of its own. Benjamin Page is a member of ambient act Rothko and his solo work here is abstract electronica.

It begins with glitch-fest ‘Going Down’ then the haunting, malevolent feel of ‘Less Words’ fades in and out through the speakers. ‘Tropic’ seems to contain several different layers of beats and melody but each is clipped abruptly as if it’s the sound of industrial machines competing against each other to increase their productivity. It is not until the fifth track when a recognisably conventional instrument makes its entrance and that’s the piano on the lovely three-minute piece ‘Shore’.

Though, repetitive ‘Soft Remind’ is one of the standouts. Once again, a piano can be heard but the metronomic beats and melody are truly captivating. Even the initial awkwardness of ‘Clips’ eventually gives you way to a tune amongst the noises of faulty plumbing. The full sixteen minimalist minutes of ‘Let’s Go Back To Morse Code’, though, suggest an indulgence too far; on more than one occasion I had to check that my CD player hadn’t got stuck.

So does it all makes by the end? Well, if the aim is to create an hour’s worth of experimental electronic music then the answer is an emphatic “yes”. Considering the different approaches made to each track, the album also flows surprisingly well and offers music to continually satisfy the mind if not always the heart.

Web Sites:
Elite Barbarian MySpace
Front & Follow Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Rothko, Vladislav Delay, Komputer

Review: NaYR – The Prism EP

Readers of this blog will know that hip-hop isn’t a genre I give regular coverage to but last year I was seduced by the hooks and grooves produced by both Haiku and S.E.L.F of Lotus Tribe. As with those artists, I was unfamiliar with Philadelphia artist NaYR (backwards spelling of his real name Ryan) but feel privileged to have listened to this addictive, superbly produced EP.

“When you’re coming from the slums the only right to die is when you’re 21” may not be the most positive message to convey but NaYR’s outlook usually offers some hope. ‘Greatness’  implores us to never stop looking for better days and finale ‘All Things Come To An End’ possesses an uplifting tone. 

The choice of samples are inspired.  ‘Moral Of The Story’ combines stuttering beats and a film noir loop that recalls Earthling’s sterling ‘Radar’ album from the mid-1990’s. ‘God Knows’ employs cut-up soul vocals whereas ‘Exclusive Sh*t’ borrows from what sounds like a Blaxpoitation movie. Meanwhile, ‘Whatever Goes Around’ laments an ex-partner set to the tune of languidly romantic verses and a soulful chorus.

NaYR is relentless in his pursuit for perfect samples and grooves. It’s a quest that sees him at least match his contemporaries for creativity, melodic flow and – of course – “keeping it real”. A twenty-five minute record may be short in hip-hop terms but NaYR uses the time wisely and I can’t fault this EP at all.

Web Sites:
NaYR MySpace
NaYR’s SoundClick Page

Further Listening:
Earthling, Common, Nas

Review: Kind Of Girl – Lonely In A Modern Way

Considering the size of the country, Denmark has consistently produced some top quality indie bands. Whilst Mew and Diefenbach have excelled in epic widescreen rock, The Superheroes and Lovebites have mastered cute pop. Add to that list the not inconsiderable talents of Copenhagen’s Kind Of Girl who fall somewhere between those two camps.

The first half to ‘Lonely In A Modern Way’ distills all that is brilliant about European pop. ‘Slave To Your Charms’ begins with unpromising, stuttering electro-clash fashion but then the song is turned on its head with the sweetest of crystal clear choruses. Following suit, ‘Meet You’ and ‘Watch In Wonder’ are urgent and slick electro-pop anthems. Yet although this is ostensibly a pop record, a mid-paced song such as ‘Someone You Replaced’ reveals the maturity and aching vulnerability in Sissel Olander’s vocal.  The album is also full of beautiful touches like on ‘Makes It Hard To Love You’ where the gentle electronica wraps itself around another heartbreaking turn from Olander.

It would be extremely difficult to maintain this quality throughout the record and – sure enough – the second half isn’t quite as strong but it certainly has its moments. Another joyful chorus makes ‘If You Say’ a standout whilst ‘The More’ reminded me of the early melancholic work of Dubstar.

Though attention will doubtlessly be directed at Olander (the band name says it all), she is well supported by her bandmates who assist in forming imaginatively arranged melodies. Followers of this site will know I have a penchant for Scandinavian pop albums and this is certainly the best example I’ve heard this year.

Web Sites:
Kind Of Girl Official Site
Kind Of Girl MySpace

Further Listening:
Lovebites, The Cardigans, Dubstar

Review: Suturee – Suturee

Suturee are a new act formed in San Juan, Puerto Rico but their indie-centric music must have been a key factor in them relocating to New York. Whereas many people comment on the marked transition between Slowdive and Mojave 3, Suturee capture elements of both groups on a debut record which straddles the gap between folk and shoegaze music.

Although the duo of Rebecca Adorno and Julian Brau take a sombre approach to songwriting, they are capable of stirring up excitement and danger in their dark tunes with each of the tracks taking melodic twists just when they seem to be careering into an acoustic cul-de-sac. It’s a tactic that works particularly well on ‘This Hour’ and the boy/girl harmonies are instrumental in creating a haunting atmosphere for ‘Name Remains’. Elsewhere, opener ‘Afraid Of Hands’ features what sounds like a storming ukelele solo.

Some may criticise the languid pace and mood of the record but there’s enough twists and turns to keep listeners alert. So, in their own subtly attractive way, Suturee are a band worth keeping an eye on.

Web Sites:
Suturee Official Site
Suturee MySpace

Further Listening:
Dead Leaf Echo, Slowdive, Mojave 3, The Sky Drops