Archive for April, 2009

Review: Oppressed By The Line – Kiku

Fresh from last year’s well-received ‘Soft Focus’ album, Oppressed By The Line (or Jon Thompson to give him his real name) has wasted little time in releasing the follow-up as well as managing his own Drifting Falling label. For his latest venture, Thompson used an excursion to Japan as the inspiration for the songs. ‘Kiku’ is the result and it’s a nocturnal delight expressed via the medium of shoegaze and electronica.

After the optimistic but mysterious ‘Mountain Mist’, the self-explanatory ‘Sunset From The 16th Floor’ twinkles and dazzles via its dreamy tune. Meanwhile, ‘Paper Cranes’ is the clearest indicator yet of Thompson’s love for Morr Music; there’s a definite link between this track and the Teutonic melodicism offered by the artists on that label. To draw on another comparison, the wistful, melancholic ‘One Thousand Red Stars’ reminded me of The Occasional Keepers. Finally, ‘Shinkansen’ sources found sounds from the titular bullet train. Its melody is closer to ‘Neon Lights’ than ‘Autobahn’ but it’s a model of metronomic efficiency nonetheless.

Also included on the CD are two fine remixes, with Winterlight adding further layers of gorgeousness to ‘Sunset From The 16th Floor’. All in all, it’s another good album from Thompson and one which keeps up the interest with its variations in pace, samples and atmosphere.

Web Sites:
Oppressed By The Line Official Site
Drifting Falling Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Styrofoam, Weevil, Ulrich Schnauss, The Wake, The Occasional Keepers, Kraftwerk

Review: qbik – sheba is like the clouds and the wind without rain

Until now I was blissfully unaware that there was an electronic scene in Bucharest but apparently there is and the talent is now being mined by Christian Sumser and Romanian-born Michaela Treffi, who decided to move from Germany to try their luck with the local talent. qbik is one such talent and his latest album is inspired by a passage from the Bible.

Inspiration from religious texts is not commonly associated with electronica and most of the time it’s hard to see the link on ‘sheba…’. Certainly, no one could accuse qbik of front-loading his album either, as it begins in subversive and austere fashion. ‘sabotaj’ is rather ugly and shapeless but at least thankfully brief. ‘down pog’ switches to a more agreeable trip-hop pace and ‘spin jazz’ recalls the post-punk minimalism of Colder. So far, it all sounds thoroughly evil.

For ‘spring love’ – with its glitch/drum and bass collision – the ideas begin to take flight; lurking beneath the noise is a synth melody trying to find a way out. On ‘urie’ the melancholy is more fully realised and the atmospheric ‘magik canit’ would make sense in a space exploration movie.

Overall, it’s likely that no one but qbik himself would make the link between his music and religion but this is decent, experimental electronic music. More importantly, it’s a suggestion of a new source of talent for the genre.

Web Sites:
Patpong Records Label and Shop Site
qbik MySpace

Further Listening:
Avrocar

Download: Free Gizeh Records Sampler

I thought you’d like to know that there is a free to download Gizeh Records sampler available on the label’s website. Either click here to download the actual album or check out the track listing here.

I have reviewed quite a number of releases from this fine label (see below) and all these artists are featured on the sampler plus many more:

Reviews of Gizeh Records artists:

Worried About Satan – Arrivals
Redjetson – Other Arms
Sleeping Dog – Polar Life
Glissando – With Our Arms Wide Open We March Towards The Burning Sea
Her Name Is Calla – The Heritage

Best wishes

Jon

Review: A Dancing Beggar – How They Grow

A Dancing Beggar is the chosen moniker for twenty one year-old Brighton student James Simmons who handily describes his music as “post rock with a little bit of shoegaze”.  ‘How They Grow’ is his first release and this EP certainly wears its influences on its sleeve but is very enjoyable nonetheless.

The title track is full of jangly effects as if Vini Reilly had decided to permanently relocate to a flower garden; the simple, uncomplicated arrangement means that it avoids the usual shoegazing comparisons though. Likewise, ‘We Could Be Anywhere’ reminded me of Epic45’s delicate guitar patterns until it built up into something heavier and headed disappointingly for some rather predictable post-rock territory. ‘Storm At The Undercliff’ sounded instantly familiar yet I couldn’t place it.  ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ experiments with melodic structure and is the time when Simmons begins to define his own niche and – by the time ‘I’ve Washed My Hands Of This’ has built towards its towering finale – a brief but enjoyable journey was complete.

There’s nothing particularly original about ‘How They Grow’. Whereas close comparisons Epic45 evoke a time and a place, A Dancing Beggar merely evokes lazy, summer days. Still, there’s no crime in that and considering Simmons’ career is in its infancy, this is a very accomplished start. He clearly has the gift for melody but the next stage will be to make his own distinctive mark on the genre.

Web Sites:
A Dancing Beggar MySpace

Further Listening:
The Workhouse, Epic45, Raymond Scott Woolson

Review: The Scaramanga Six – Songs Of Prey

If you asked the average person in the street to name a British band who have made a habit of recycling 70’s hard rock mixed in with a dash of humour, they would most probably come up with The Darkness. Yet a small percentage, possibly living in Yorkshire, would opt for The Scaramanga Six. The humour is clear from their self-effacing press release, in which they debunk the hyperbole and clichés that are so prevalent in the media. However, the proof of the music can be traced through their six albums so far, which manage to stretch out a formula with so much verve and melodicism it’s hard not to admire them.

Witness the opening statement to ‘Songs Of Prey’ for evidence of this band’s eagerness to entertain. An explosion of power chords and choral harmonies suggests nothing but Queen and the song maintains its heroically unsubtle approach with raging riffs and over the top vocals making for a rock opera beginning and this is just the first song, remember. Full throttle anthems such as ‘I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today’, ‘By-Product’, ‘Sophia In Blue’ (despite its theatrical interlude) and ‘Misadventure’ go straight for the jugular with some exciting guitar work to the fore.

Although it seems initially that The Scaramanga Six are a one-trick pony (albeit a very talented one) they produce two stunning pieces of music which reveal them to be great and versatile arrangers. Whilst last track ‘Pink And Blue’ plots an ambitious but successful route through rock, prog and pop, ‘Another Coward’ must surely be the defining moment in which they convey the power of Metallica and then top it off with a towering Bond theme of a chorus

Granted, there are a few times when the group miss the target but on a two-part album lasting just under a hour, a lapse is to be expected. For despite thinking the formula may have run out by this time, I found ‘Songs Of Prey’ just as invigorating as the last two albums and – just so I don’t offend anyone – they actually remind me more of The Stranglers’ early material than The Darkness.

Web Sites:
The Scaramanga Six Official Site
The Scaramanga Six MySpace

Further Listening:
The Stranglers, Queen, The Darkness, Being 747

Review: Infinite Scale – Ad Infinitum

I first encountered Infinite Scale on an EP entitled ‘Automated Compositions’; a collection of tracks which betrayed the impression of cold, robotic imagery the title suggested. Instead the electronica within was strangely involving and came equipped with a sense of longing. Finally, that same artist has now found the time to record his debut album.

‘Cells’ is a riveting opener. Drum and bass rhythms circle around some beautifully arranged synth melodies. There’s a feeling of impending danger but in reality it turns out to be just poignant melancholia. It is arguably the most riveting moment on ‘Ad Infinitum’ but the rest of the record has plenty of highlights. ‘Slow Down’ borrows some classical string arrangements whilst ‘Step Above The Surface’ is set to a stalking trip-hop pace but both are beautifully sad instrumentals.

Not surprisingly, Infinite Scale disappoints the further detached he is from humanity so ‘Behind The Scenes’ and ‘Decisions Of Despair’ are decent efforts but a little tricksy by comparison to the other tunes on offer. This brief lull is soon forgotten once ‘Knock Twice’ enters the fray. Although not an obvious single, it recovers the depth and emotional reach missing on the two tracks preceding it. To finish, ‘Landscape’ is unusually bright and positive but is none the worse for it and then ‘Liquid Shock’ returns to familiar, darker territory.

With ‘Ad Infinitum’, Infinite Scale has succeeded where so many other ambient/electronica performers have failed and produced a consistently impressive album. If you like your instrumental music to be multi-layered, melodic and durable, look no further.

Web Sites:
Infinite Scale Official Site
Infinite Scale MySpace
Rednetic Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Line Noise, David Newlyn

Review: The Van Allen Belt – Meal Ticket To Purgatory

Given the amount of technology currently available to budding artists, will there ever be a chance to invent a new style of music altogether? Well, Pittsburgh’s The Van Allen Belt truly belong in the genre called “unclassifiable” even if they helpfully categorise themselves as “other/psychedelia” on their MySpace site. No matter, their first album could become an obscure classic.

On the one hand there are Tamar Kamin’s vocals and the big Motown production. Then there’s Scott Taylor and his mad skills on the turntables. If you can imagine Phil Spector ever decided to make a soundtrack for a political satire and enlisted The Avalanches to help out, ‘Meal Ticket To Purgatory’ might have been the result. The lyrics are an even more surreal experience. ‘Charity Sex’ seems like a swish swinging Sixties song until you really start to listen to lines like “She already ditched you for another man but I’d stay with you ‘til my final breath. For I’d sooner move to Afghanistan where girls like me get stoned to death”. Clearly something has gone awry in Pittsburgh at some point in time.

It’s a theory borne out several times. The most twisted take on gospel music can be heard on ‘Dr. Layman’s Terms’.  ‘So It Goes’ starts off as the kind of devoted, soulful ballad which Dusty Springfield would have been proud to sing, although she may have objected to the raging guitars and maddening rhythms accompanying her. In fact, each song seems to give out contradictory messages; ‘The Revolution Will Be Merchandised’ is delivered with passion and conviction rather than the sarcasm you’d expect and the lush ‘I Can’t Believe You Murdered Me’ evokes TV themes from the 1960’s like Stingray and even adds a cracking percussive break for good measure. I’m afraid I have no clue what ‘The River Hive’ is about but it’s a fabulously epic pop song nevertheless.

Without a doubt, The Van Allen Belt have made the kind of music which is likely to make people sit up and listen as soon as they hear it. Yet the real achievement of ‘Meal Ticket To Purgatory’ is that it can still cause a thrill even after a few listens; a testament to the durability of these wonderfully odd songs.

Web Sites:
The Van Allen Belt MySpace
Indiecater Label and Shop Site


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