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:

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


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

Review: Lilies On Mars – Lilies On Mars

Lilies On Mars are Italian-born duo Lisa Dply Masia and Marina Cristofala, who now call London home. Having already met and performed for David Lynch and collaborated with experimental musicians, you would expect the two ladies to create an album that veers towards avant garde rather than songcraft. Thankfully, they make room for both on a delightfully quirky record.

At times their debut does seem to be aiming deliberately for minor cult status. Witness first track ‘Maory Legend’ for evidence, where the inspiration is a book of the same name by philosopher Manlio Sgalambro, with narration by an Italian actress. Furthermore, ‘Honourable Horrible Friend’ and its onslaught of crunching rhythms and shouted vocals verges on the unlistenable.

Lilies On Mars are undoubtedly best appreciated when they aim for more song-based material. The grungy ‘Passing By’ is the best example of their harder-edged product whilst the Cranes-like ‘Hey, What’s Wrong? Wake up!’ might overdo the “kookiness” of the vocals but the beguiling melody of this folk ditty cannot be denied. Likewise, ‘My Liver Hurts’ – and particularly its “you hurt me, you make me sick” refrain – treads a unique line between fairytale horror and quirky pop music and ‘Electric Fits’ is reminiscent of 4AD acts like Lush. They also finish the record brilliantly for the chilling, driving chorus that forms the core of ‘X2’

So, Lilies On Mars are a mixed bag then but they do impress overall despite those ill-advised diversions. The question is whether they will pursue their performance art direction or channel their quirkiness into something consistently coherent. From my point of view, I would certainly hope for the latter course.

Web Sites:
Lilies On Mars MySpace

Further Listening:
Cranes, Lush

Review: St. Kilda – EP

St. Kilda is a tiny archipelago and a world heritage site which provides residence to military personnel and colonies of seabirds. Graham Richardson – better known as Last Days – has produced a fitting tribute of quietly beautiful music in its honour.

Key to the EP are the drones and samples which create the warm yet troubling atmosphere. The regular use of interference certainly supports the latter but maybe it’s there to help us understand how contact with other lands isn’t so easy on St. Kilda. Certainly, ‘This Small Boat’ perfectly evokes the loneliness and mystery of life on Britain’s most remote island.

On ‘You Are In Every Dream’ the steady swell of the music is comforting and serene. ‘Clutching At Straws’ threatens to build into something dramatic as a crackly female voice struggles to be heard above the shimmering ambient noise and ‘The Sirens’ is accompanied by a consistent layer of static which seems to compete unnecessarily against the almost hymnal melody in the foreground.

Like, I would imagine, the island itself, the music drifts along at a glacial pace with the distant bird song adding to the tranquility.  The EP is clearly not designed for those seeking excitement but is perfect for post-headache recovery and certainly intrigued me to learn more about this tiny dot on a map.

Web Sites:
St. Kilda MySpace
Phantom Channel Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Last Days

Review: worriedaboutsatan – Arrivals

If you were ever to endure one of those frustrating delays at an airport terminal, the least comforting soundtrack to the occasion might be worriedaboutsatan’s new album, ‘Arrivals’. Put together by Gavin Miller and Tom Ragsdale, it’s a record which deals with wide open spaces and frightening, disorientating atmospherics.

‘Evil Dogs’ is the ideal antidote for bland Enigma records, with beautifully eerie foreign voices circling ominously overhead like swooping vultures as thudding beats prod lightly but persistently on your brain. ‘I Am A Crooked Man’ evokes ten minutes of steadily-approaching evil and ‘History Is Made In Night’ feels like darkness closing in as the music becomes increasingly claustrophobic. Venuring further into this most bleak of journeys, ‘Pissing About’ sounds like a vidiprinter stuck in a panic-stricken loop and ‘All Things But You Are Silent’ features the glummest of guitar passages.

Much of the music within ‘Arrivals’ reminded me of the early Bark Psychosis track ‘Manman’ accompanied by the weird samples of the last Avrocar record. The only track which seems to escape from the gloom is ‘You’re In My Thoughts’ where a lovely chiming melody pierces through the darkness; in the context of the entire album, it’s the one ray of hope that there is humanity in worriedaboutsatan’s world. Otherwise, it’s bleak but undeniably captivating stuff.

‘Arrivals’ is not without its fragments of beauty but it’s usually accompanied by impending doom and unsettling layers of music. Even though it has a cinematic feel to it, it’s a very deep record which is designed to be equally rewarding when rediscovered a few years later; if ever one feels curious to experience these oddly comforting, nightmarish visions again.

Web Sites:
worriedaboutsatan MySpace
Gizeh Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Bark Psychosis, Avrocar, Phobos 3