Archive for February, 2009

Review: Telepathe – Dance Mother

Scouring the pages of music reviews, certain names appear again and again. Just as Kanye West seems to crop up on every hip-hop album, Dave Sitek seems to be the name to drop in the alternative music world. 2008 was a great year for him, chiefly because of his involvement with TV On The Radio. Personally, I’m not quite convinced by the band because underneath the clever style, it’s hard to detect a heart. Sitek is now spoken in favourable terms for his production on Telepathe’s first album; an electro-pop project led by New York females Busy Gangnes and Melissa Livaudais.

 

Vocally the ladies are nothing remarkable; they usually show off the kind of blank, nonchalant vocals which have been Ladytron’s stock-in-trade for the past few years, or even Bananarama for that matter. There’s far too many “oohs” and “aahs” as if Telepathe are trying too hard to sound cool and effortless and this can naturally detract from the music. Yet really the voices are a sideshow for some adventurous arrangements which owe as much to modern synth pop as  the golden age of the 4AD label. This is, overall, a good album and I assume much of it is must be down to Sitek as producer.

The first highlight is the opener ‘So Fine’, which  blends synth-pop with the cavernous production of early Cocteau Twins.  ‘In Your Line’ sounds superb as soon as its opening jangly guitar lines and military drums kick in; the singing is also strong and for once there’s a feeling of genuine heartache within the beautiful structured song. ‘Can’t Stand It’ is the other standout; again there’s much melancholia to enjoy amongst the hypnotic walls of manicured noise and – after a slow start – ‘Trilogy’ picks up the urgency as soon as the drum and bass enters the fray.

‘Dance Mother’ is – it must be said – a clever album but beneath the intelligent, artistic veneer there’s some razor sharp hooks and that all important sense of feeling. Clearly, Sitek isn’t qute as overrated as I thought he was but credit must obviously go to Gangnes and Livaudais for what should turn out to be one of the most inventive albums of the year, even if it’s too inconsistent to be one of the best.

Web Sites:
Telepathe Official Site
Telepathe MySpace

Further Listening:
Ladytron, TV On The Radio

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Review: Jumpel – Deuxième Bureau

Everyone has to start somewhere with music and Germany’s Jo Dürbeck had to make do with the tools he had at his disposal in the mid-80s. A Commodore 64 may have been state of the art back then but using empty detergent cans and boxes takes primitive recording techniques to a whole new level. Thankfully, Dürbeck’s equipment has moved on a bit since then and he now embraces electronic and organic music together, melding them into a form which is melodic, emotional and deeply satisfying.

The key to so many records is how they begin. ‘Leaves’ opens with some lovely jazz textures and continues on a journey of warm electronics with the minimum of fuss. ‘Considering The Kicker Knows It’ combines Bark Psychosis’ immaculate sense of space with the nostalgically-inclined arrangements of Gnac. ‘Things Are Different’ conveys an acute sense of loss as if the artist is saying to us “Things are different. I’ve moved on, I don’t need you anymore”. Likewise ‘Joe Couldn’t Make It Tonight’ is imbued with sadness and regret.

If ‘Clay Slate’ bores a little as its easy listening feel recalls too much the early work of Air, Dürbeck makes up for it by delivering a very intimate sense of melancholia for ‘Matter Of Time’. There’s even a couple of nods to the oft-imitated Boards Of Canada on the final two tracks but Dürbeck is such a classy performer, even this supposed homage is carried out in his own, quietly seductive style.

Jumpel is like the electronic equivalent of Talk Talk; adhering to the Mark Hollis theory of “Before you play two notes learn how to play one note and don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it”. ‘Deuxième Bureau’ isn’t initially attention grabbing but like a lot of great albums it gradually takes hold of your ears and refuses to relinquish its grip.

Web Sites:
Jumpel Official Site
Jumpel MySpace
Hidden Shoal Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Gnac, To Rococo Rot

Review: Glimmer In The Ganzfeld – The Voyage Of Vona

Glimmer In The Ganzfeld is the somewhat strange moniker chosen by Athens, Georgia resident Micah Proffer. Apparently, Glimmer is Icelandic for Micah and Ganzfeld is the German word for a featureless field. Proffer writes, performs and produces all his own work and his first release is ‘The Voyage Of Vona’, which is – in Mr. Proffer’s own words – “the soundtrack to a journey experienced by a crew of existential sailors at sea”. I don’t feel qualified to dispute that but in layman’s terms it’s twenty-one minute of instrumental post-rock split into four parts.

The first of these parts employs several pretty and intricate guitar patterns and the second is similar but starts off more gently; even using some pleasant keyboard washes before heading for heavier territory. So far so good but one factor which clearly distinguishes ‘The Voyage Of The Vona’ from other post-rock releases is the drums. They are very prominent throughout; it’s not that they are particularly loud but because they are pushed to the foreground of the mix. Track number three features too much of Proffer’s percussive skills and is the most difficult stage to listen to whereas the final section tries to build into a crescendo of noise but the dated synth sounds somewhat diminish the apocalyptic effect that the musician is clearly aiming for.

At its best, ‘The Voyage Of Vona’ is strongly reminiscent of early Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It’s reasonably melodic, makes all the right dramatic moves and wouldn’t seem out of place as a film soundtrack but there is a strong sense that this has all been done before and with more consistently favourable results.

Web Sites:
Glimmer In The Ganzfeld MySpace
Glimmer In The Ganzfeld Last FM Page

Further Listening:
Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Review: Adorable – Footnotes 92-94

Ideally, we would all like to discover bands before they become recognised so we get that rather tenuous sense of pride and ownership when they do become “known”. Sadly, I missed out on the wonders of Adorable whilst at University and it’s only through a fellow music writer that I got to hear their albums a few years ago. By a strange coincidence I received an E-mail from Kevin Gritton, former drummer in the band, who made some nice comments about the original Leonard’s Lair site and mentioned that he was also the brother of Martin Gritton, a former footballer at Lincoln City who I had sponsored several years ago. Adorable were signed to Creation Records in 1992 by Alan McGee and dropped a couple of years later. A shame, because they were often brilliant as this overdue compilation testifies.

Granted, much of ‘Footnotes’ sounds very much of the time but you can see why McGee liked what he heard. Singles ‘Glorious’ and ‘Sushine Smile’ are the kind of big, brash numbers he has always championed; these songs featured shoegazing guitars but frontman Pete Fijakowski’s distinctive vocals and the fast rhythm section added an aggressive edge which gave them their unique qualities. ‘Sistine Chapel Ceiling’ swings like early Charlatans but ‘Sunburst’ (credited as one of their earliest tracks) evokes disturbing images of the baggy scene. They arguably had an impact on the future as well, Feeder’s entire career seems to be based on ‘Homeboy’ and did Supergrass hear the guitar parts of ‘Favourite Fallen Idol’ before recording ‘Richard III’?.

If ‘Feed Me’ and ‘Crash Site’ (brilliantly) represent the angrier and grungier side to Adorable then ‘A To Fade In’ reveals the more introspective qualities of the group; not bad for a record intended as a B-side and a homage to The Go Betweens. Elsewhere, intricate fare such as ‘Lettergo’ and the Smiths-inspired ‘Man In A Suitcase’ deserve to be hailed as lost treasures of the era.

Listening to these songs is still quite a thrill. Adorable packed their records with an admirable energy and tension, offset by moments of elegiac beauty and their short career featured even more great songs that were not included here. It is never a good time to be dropped from a record label (although, as the band’s sleevenotes state, not face to face by McGee as he had promised) but at the cusp of Britpop, Adorable can consider themselves rather unlucky not to be as revered as they should be.

Web Sites:
Adorable MySpace
Adorable Fan Site

Further Listening:
Chicane, The Auteurs

Review: French Kicks – Two Thousand

French Kicks occupy an uneasy position in New York indie scene. Lacking the detached cool of Interpol, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Walkmen, instead they play music seemingly intended for people with feelings. ‘Two Thousand’ was released in the US in 2006 but only seemed to be available on import for UK listeners. A shame because ‘The Trial Of The Century’, their second album was one of my favourite records of 2004.

‘So Far We Are’ is a lively, promising way to begin the record and the good form continues for ‘Also Ran’; featuring the unashamedly high-pitched harmonies that have been one of the trademarks of the band’s career thus far. ‘Cloche’ is the one song which does sound a bit like The Walkmen thanks to its heavily reverbed guitar as well as its romantic delivery and there’s a lovely chiming melody underscoring ‘Knee High’, one of those songs you would quite happily languish in for at least another five minutes. Alas, Nick Stumpf and co. can’t keep up the songwriting quality on a record that is seriously front-loaded.

For ‘Keep It Amazed’ the drums are mixed too much in the foreground as if it’s a demo, ‘No Mean Time’ revolves around a monotonous keyboard “hook” and the second half of the album adds up to nothing more than unremarkable soft rock. Only ‘England Just Will Not Let You Recover’ is worthy of redemption, largely because of its experimental studio trickery; doubtless influenced by one of their heroes, The Beach Boys.

In a way it’s understandable to see why ‘Two Thousand’ didn’t get a UK release and the title of the England-referencing song seems to accept this fact. Not only are they fairly unknown on these shores anyway but the album lacks the emotional gravitas of past releases. Nevertheless their well-received latest album ‘Swimming’ could prove to be another belated import purchase for me.

Web Sites:
French Kicks Official Site
French Kicks MySpace

Further Listening:
Magic Bullets, The Walkmen

Review: The American Dollar – A Memory Stream

John Emanuele and Rich Cupolo formed The American Dollar a few years ago and ‘A Memory Stream’ is their third album in as many years. Their music is essentially post-rock but they have been able to shape their own identity with the use of layering techniques, an inspired choice of instruments and the fine art of tune-making.

The Slow Wait (Parts 1 and 2) ushers in The American Dollar sound. Although its powerful dynamics are entrenched in post-rock territory, there’s a lovely piano melody here, which is soon joined by the rich, church-like noises of a Hammond organ. ‘Call’ could be part 3 of the suite since it flows almost seamlessly from the last piece. Here, a squalling guitar is the dominant instrument; it threatens to rock out but even the percussion seems to be holding back; definitely a good thing in my book.

‘Bump’ is the first track which threatens self-indulgence as the guitar and percussion get heavier but it’s a rare false step. The synths for ‘Lights Dim’ add yet more texture to The American Dollar’s already varied oeurvre whilst ‘Transcendence’ reminds me of the glorious aching instrumentals performed by This Is A Process Of A Still Life. For the next few tracks there’s a pleasant victory for subtlety over bombast as the album moves into ambient Bark Psychosis-style territory, particularly for the chiming, atmospheric closer ‘Starscapes’.

Considering the genre has been done to death in recent years, ‘A Memory Stream’ is definitely post-rock of the superior kind. Using instruments like the Hammond organ adds warmth and emotion to wordless music. So contrary to current financial reports, The American Dollar is clearly flourishing after all.

Web Sites:
The American Dollar Official Site
The American Dollar MySpace

Further Listening:
Explosions In The Sky, This Is A Process Of A Still Life, Bark Psychosis

Review: Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke

Although often described as the decade that taste forgot, it seems no era is referenced and revived quite so much as the 1980’s. New Zealand’s Pip Brown makes no secret of this and her stage name is even inspired by a film starring 80’s staples Matthew Broderick and Rutger Hauer. Don’t let that put you off though, her debut as Ladyhawke represents energetic, danceable synth-pop in its most palatable form.

Between strident opener ‘Magic’ and dreamy closer ‘Morning Dreams’, this is a great pop album. Some songs, such as the throwaway ‘My Delirium’ work best on the dancefloor rather than record, ‘Another Runaway’ may sound like a homogenised 80’s disco pastiche and ‘Back Of The Van’ cries out for an accompanying Brat Pack film but the album isn’t always so shallow. ‘Better Than Sunday’ is set to compelling rhythms; as if Sneaker Pimps suddenly found a new singer whilst cool, robotic number ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ is worthy of Ladytron. Brown’s aching voice as well as her crafty songwriting is a joy, even if it does resemble Kim Wilde most closely.

Harsh critics would dismiss Ladyhawke for her shameless pilfering of a decade that had much to be ashamed of first time round but it’s so hook-heavy, it’s hard not be seduced. Indeed, Brown has provided the antidote to those who find other 80’s revivalists too austere to love.

Web Sites:
Ladyhawke Official Site
Ladyhawke MySpace

Further Listening:
Ladytron, Kim Wilde


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