Archive for May, 2009

Review: Parhelia – Shifting Sands

Parhelia certainly love their guitar instrumentals, as demonstrated by 2006’s ‘First Light’ and the following year’s ‘Oceans Apart’. After these two EPs, a full album of this kind of music could have proved to be a hard slog but ‘Shifting Sands’ is not at all laboured even if it is rather one-dimensional.

On ‘Our Ship Has Sailed’, the guitars unwind and ache producing an epic but also admirably melodic instrumental. This is the key to what Parhelia do best and even though they seem to be about to break into heavy metal at any moment they usually hold back at the crucial moment. In this way, ‘Perpetual Motion’ and the title track frequently threaten to explode but never stray too far from a hook. The centrepiece ‘Pacific’ stands out for its shifts in pace, driving rhythms and a riveting, melancholic allure whilst ‘Time & Tide’ initially serves as an understated finale until it unleashes one last blast of metallic fury.

For those familiar with their earlier work, ‘Shifting Sands’ signifies no great diversion from their powerful rock formula but then again this should be no surprise. Since Parhelia could arguably be considered the Mötorhead of post-rock: no pretension or artistic conceits, just hard music played with uncompromising conviction.

Web Sites:
Parhelia Official Site
Parhelia MySpace

Further Listening:


Review: A Ninja Slob Drew Me – One Week In Sand

I’m not aware of too many artists advertising themselves as a “solo bassist”. However, Daniel James Brown is one such example and he records under the similarly original name of A Ninja Slob Drew Me. Don’t let these ominous signs put you off too much though as ‘One Week In Sand’ is far more than one man’s quest to make the eight-string bass sexy.

The signs are promising from the beginning thanks to the optimistic echo-laden melodies of ‘Withering Trash Receptacle’ and ‘Nest’. Brown frequently drifts into ambient waters and usually with splendid effects. He is also only too keen to diversify. The folky ‘Deleted Water’ is improved by a strained vocal from ‘RC’ and ‘Miu’ enters post-rock territory with some ferocious percussion adding to the sugar rush of euphoria and the crushing weight of despair. There’s also a very presentable jazz piece called ‘That Was A Brand New Hat’ which really swings.

Events go a bit wayward the more adventurous Brown gets, resulting in the horrible ‘Tired_Staff’. Perhaps it is a homage to Mike Oldfield’s ‘Piltdown Man’ character for his ‘Tubular Bells’ opus but either way it’s ugly. Furthermore, the idea of A.R. Kane going drum and bass may sound exciting but the results on ‘Student Gene Pool’ don’t quite deliver and then the track deviates into a blurred voice recording and radio interference. All this indulgence should be forgiven though when the penultimate track ‘Time Lost Part 2’ is heard; a spare and beautiful instrumental.

‘One Week In Sand’ is so all over the place stylistically that it’s hard to remember that this is the work of one artist and a bass player at that. Yet the eclecticism usually bears fruit and this is why artists should stay independent, to pursue their own creative ideas without worrying about record company overheads.

Web Sites:
A Ninja Slob Drew Me Official Site
A Ninja Slob Drew Me MySpace

Further Listening:

Review: Dextro – Winded

Although it skilfully avoided mainstream appeal, Dextro’s ‘Consequence Music’ bridged the gap between shoegaze and electronica with a very likeable blend of addictive melody, floataway noise and solid rhythmic backbones. That was back in 2006 and the ideals of Ewan Mackenzie may have changed little but crucially, the quality also remains for the follow-up ‘Winded’.

‘Closer’ makes perfect sense of the Boards Of Canada comparisons. The track is a collage of unintelligible voices and warped effects with only the shoegazer hook keeping it afloat in a sea of confusion. For ‘The Pacifist’, a sombre piano loop provides the tune before it is joined by some queasily seductive guitar work. The widescreen feel of ‘Momentary’ even features a Mackenzie vocal for the first time and although it amounts to little more than a husky whisper, it’s a timely reminder of how human this music can be. These ideas are supported by the fact that ‘Winded’ is based on more live instrumentation than before.

Thereafter a few tracks are a little wishy-washy. The trickling water and acoustic strumming for ‘The Unknown’ or the breathy harmonies of ‘Ilm’ resemble little more than mood music. ‘Sanna’, however, reasserts Mackenzie’s hold on the listener by recapturing that gift for mystery and the rhythmic intensity with which he began the album.

‘Winded’ begins well but suffers towards the end with some tracks that – not unlike the similarly epic M83 – lack substance. However, as with ‘Consequence Music’, this is also a very cohesive record that frequently conjures up macabre, beautiful and nostalgic images through its hazy, dreamlike sounds.

Web Sites:
Dextro Official Site
Dextro MySpace

Further Listening:
Nathan Fake. M83, Boards Of Canada

Review: Conrad Vingoe – Spare Buttons And Bones

When it comes to folk music, I must admit I’m a bit of a dabbler rather than a true fan. Beyond the obligatory Nick Drake CD reissues, there’s little representation for the genre but occasionally – as is the case with Declan O’Rourke and now Conrad Vingoe – I make exceptions. Not unlike many of his contemporaries, Vingoe makes folk pop songs with occasional nods to rock but he has such a great ear for melody and a beautiful warm voice, that I find ‘Spare Buttons And Bones’ hard to resist.

I was enchanted immediately by ‘Burn Down Love’, where Vingoe is joined by the subtle tones of Kate Walsh to deliver some lovely harmonies. ‘Great White Hope’ sees the combination of Vingoe’s soothing voice, strings and strummed guitars at its peak whilst ‘Vapour Trail’ is just perfect thanks to its luscious spine-tingling chorus. Proving that he’s no one-trick pony, ‘Black Spot In The Sun’ is rattled off at frenetic pace and ‘Boy Morning World’ sees Vingoe straining the throat to be heard above some shoegaze atmopsherics. Right to the end quality control is maintained and the soaring ‘Last Call’ is arguably the best performance in front of the mic from this Brighton-based musician.

Undoubtedly, Vingoe is infuenced by Nick Drake but his songs have a much sunnier outlook so that even the more melancholic material is impossible to listen to without feeling contented. All told, this is definitely another addition to my admittedly limited “Great Folk Albums” list.

Web Sites:
Conrad Vingoe Official Site
Conrad Vingoe MySpace

Further Listening:
Nick Drake, Declan O’Rourke

Review: The Wind-Up Birds – We Fixed The Raffle: The Post War Years

Rather like rugby league, it’s hard to imagine there’s much of a market for The Wind-Up Birds outside their Northern England base. This is a band who take great pains to explain where they’re from. ‘We Fixed the Raffle’ is the seventh release from the Leeds quartet although this has yet to include a full album. Still, their mixture of Northern rabble-rousing shows no sign of letting up and these eight songs rank amongst their best work.

The Wind-Up Birds CD Cover

Set to a thrilling Jam-like riff, ‘The Craze That Never Caught On’ and ‘What’s For Dinner’ sound like they’ve been performed by a bunch of football hooligans, complete with thuggish chanting but The Wind-Up Birds are far more articulate than they appear on the surface. ”There Won’t Always Be An England’, for example, documents the shame of not being brave enough to disagree with a rascist bigot and the title track slows the pace down to fit in some Pavement-esque guitar work.

Musically, this is no great development for The Wind-Up Birds but then they were only recorded this EP a short time after their last release. It is better to respect them for their punk-fuelled anthems which offer the kind of angry, political fare that makes you thankful for a recession.

Web Sites:
The Wind-Up Birds Official Site
The Wind-Up Birds MySpace

Further Listening:
The Jam, The Arctic Monkeys, The Buzzcocks

Review: Millimetrik & Building Castles Out Of Matchsticks – The Attic EP

Sound In Silence is a label run by George Mastrokostas whose own music recorded as Absent Without Leave was one of the standout ambient albums from 2008. For the latest release on his imprint, there are three tracks each from Millimetrik and Building Castles Out Of Matchsticks, which contrast and compare the former’s harder edges with the latter’s smooth surfaces.


Huge beats and grooves dominate Millimetrik’s offerings. The second, the delightfully titled ‘Sympathie Pour Les Robots Remix’, is industrialised and menacing and even includes some hip-hop hollering. Asselin is obviously still in the fine form he showed on last year’s ‘North West Passage’s New Era’. Then Asselin gets to work on Building Castles Out Of Matchsticks, adding crisp percussion and bowel-shaking rhythms to turn ‘Around My Heart’ into a real thriller.

His fellow Canadian resident Anne Sulikowski repays the favour for ‘A Travers Le Temps De Retour’ where she blends the original with folky vocals and encases it in drum and bass and weird ambient soundscapes. ‘If Knew The Day Before’, however, demonstrates that solo Sulikowski is an entirely different proposition. It’s a song characterised by gentle voices whilst beats are caressed rather than jackhammered and there’s a genuinely ethereal feel to her unremixed work.

On the face of it ‘The Attic EP’ mixes together two artists with little in common but it is the remixes themselves which show they can combine fruitfully; adding atmosphere and texture without diminishing the power of the original composition. This is an attic well worth exploring.

Web Sites:
Sounds In Silence Records MySpace
Building Castles Out Of Matchsticks Official Site
Building Castles Out Of Matchsticks MySpace
Millimetrik MySpace

Review: Depeche Mode – Sounds Of The Universe

For Depeche Mode’s last long player, ‘Playing The Angel’, they reclaimed their dark electronica crown. A classy affair all round, it was an excellent way to mark twenty-five years in music and show that they were still setting the standards which so many devotees have adhered to since. That was four years ago though and ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ asks whether they can raise the bar again. The answer is not quite but this is certainly no disgrace.

In fact, the only real surprise regarding this record is that it’s taken them over quarter of a century to come up with a song called ‘In Chains’; surely Martin L. Gore, the chief scribe of pain and suffering, has been desperate to use this title since he began writing music. Unfortunately a few songs here are perfectly produced but tread unmemorable cliches – namely ‘Hole To Feed’, ‘In Sympathy’ and ‘Corrupt’ whilst ‘Spacewalker’ evokes an electro theme for a Poirot mystery.

Experienced merchants of musical doom that they are though, Messrs Fletcher, Gahan and Gore hit more than they miss. There’s an attractive fragility to Gore’s vibrato for ‘Jezebel’ where he comes across as very corrupted choirboy. ‘Wrong’ is classic DM: where everything is black, aggressive and dominated by a simple but propulsive rhythm and the beautifully arranged ‘Peace’ joins the old and the new sounds together to form a glorious whole. Meanwhile, ‘Come Back’ is the most invigorating track; for once the trio sound energised and youthful rather than just menacing. Once again it proves the quality of Gahan’s own compositions.

‘Sounds Of The Universe’ never threatens to push the boundaries but then, just like the similarly aged U2, it is best to satisfy the core fan base and produce a very decent album rather than go all Scott Walker and appeal to only the haughtiest of critics. For those who’ve followed the band all this time then (and I count myself amongst them), it will provide the dark comfort they have been asking for.

Web Sites:
Depeche Mode Official Site
Depeche Mode MySpace

Further Listening:
VAST, Nine Inch Nails

Review: Autorotation – Everything Is Everything

Autorotation are a new act formed around the core duo of Robyn Sellman and Igor Olejar, who met in Toronto over a shared love of all things dreampop and ambient. Since then they have moved to London, expanded into a quartet and added classical and acoustic elements to their oeuvre. Given the desire to cross into so many genres, ‘Everything Is Everything’ features bags of creativity yet often struggles for clarity.

Sellman is key to the Autorotation sound, her vocal inflections often providing the melodic hooks whilst the beats and instruments often seem to be a little aimless. Take the opener ‘Mittelschmertz’ for instance, which merges glitch with strings uneasily but Sellman’s Kate Bush-isms add a welcome personality and humanity to combat the confusion. Elsehwere the band doff their cap to 4AD with the doomy bass guitar and shoegaze sounds of ‘Clearscope’.

In a way it seems odd that the album contains two remixes since some of the tracks seem so carefully processed to embrace the digital age that they sound like remixes already. Yet the band are always inventive and capable of creating some brilliant moments. Positioned at the centre of the record, ‘Metal And Wood’ is – arrangement-wise – arguably the least complicated track and its core tune is full of warmth of and mystery. It’s a similar story with ‘Citoyenne’ where some gentle guitars and bleeps augment rather than distract from the childlike air of the song. Finally, the title track is improved by some triumphant trombone blowing from Olejar.

‘Everything Is Everything’ is an album which boasts plenty of beats but sometimes it lacks a heart. Yet even though the songs may be too experimental for electronica novices, persistent listeners will be rewarded because, amongst the apparent soundclashes, lay evidence of songwriting genius.

Web Sites:
Autorotation Official Site
Autorotation MySpace

Further Listening:
Ragga And The Jack Magic Orchestra, Kate Bush

Review: Doves – Kingdom Of Rust

Doves and Elbow arrived on the scene at roughly the same time. Both from the North of England and neither young or good looking enough to attract “the youth vote”, they were at the forefront of a new era for alternative music; the kind of which can be appreciated by those with little time to listen to music due to family and work commitments. Doves will be hoping for a similar amount of plaudits for their new record as was dished out to Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ in 2008. Personally I found it their most boring album to date but no matter, whether Doves achieve the critical garlands at the end of the year or not they have made another brave album and also a very good one.

‘Kingdom Of Rust’ begins with two Doves’ rarities; not only Jez Williams’ freshly melancholic voice but there’s also a strong electronic undertow to the song ‘Jetstream’. Yet despite those differences it does contain the essence of what Doves do best: putting despair through a euphoric, exhilarating blender. The title track begins with similarly ambitious intent as it touches on country music but by the end it has reached epic proportions whilst ‘The Outsiders’ and ‘10.03’ are relatively heavy rocking beasts by Doves’ standards. Then comes ‘Winter Hill’ with its hypnotic, psychedelic hooks and Goodwin’s most strident vocal performance. As first halves go, this is a breathless start, especially so when you consider Doves are on their fourth album and therefore due some kind of lapse.

If there is a criticism it is with Goodwin’s vocals. Hamstrung by what is often a nasal whine, Goodwin hiimself can sound like a human dirge which threatens to undermine the creativity he and the Williams brothers put into their arrangements. That said, ‘Spellbound’ – one of the most energetic songs on the less consistent second half – sounds like an offcut from their first album ‘Lost Souls’ but the most impressive offering is ‘Compulsion’; essentially an inspired reworking of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ but without the rapping bit.

Make no mistake, ‘Kingdom Of Rust’ will not alienate old fans. Despite its experimental leanings, the songs still inhabit a workmanlike ethic and make the kind of comforting noise which touches the lives of the everyday working man. In that sense, it’s a perfectly judged record.

Web Sites:
Doves Official Site
Doves MySpace

Further Listening:
Elbow, Coldplay

Review: Ring Of Truth – Everything’s The Same But In A Different Place

Ring Of Truth’s first single ‘The Horse’ was a former favourite of John Peel and it’s easy to see why. It’s a lo-fi gem distinguished by a witty narrative and Fall-like guitars. Surprisingly, the band have yet to produce their debut album until now and although their mixture of post-punk and indie-pop will never fly the flag for originality, it’s a spirited debut which passes muster.

‘The Horse’ is sadly not included here but on ‘Well, I Walked’ the scabrous guitars recall The Fall again as frontman and songwriter Nic Bunker sounds as embittered and neurotic as Howard Devoto. For ‘Why Should This Be?’ the wah-wah pedal is gainfully employed whilst gentler melodic fare such as ‘Passing Of Time’ and ‘The Sweetest Heart’ provide decent but inessential jangly indie rock. At least the group stir themselves towards the end of the record for the intense punk of ‘Here And There’ and ‘Smile’, whose chorus perhaps possesses the strongest hook on the record.

Ring Of Truth lack that special something to make them great and it arguably comes down to a lack of a killer song in the end. Yet there’s clearly a passion stirring within, not least in Bunker’s lyricism and vocal performance.

Web Sites:
Ring Of Truth MySpace
Sound Archive Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Fall, The Nightingales