Archive for May, 2009

Review: The Retro Trade – Sunday Rain

The name The Retro Trade tells you all you need to know about this duo from the South West of England. Although they are based in a part of the country not usually associated with Brit-rock, they certainly fit in with those times, both sonically and confidence-wise. I first reviewed a band featuring Jon Marett in 2003 when he was a member of rock/soul outfit Breathe. Back then he was accompanied by a powerful vocalist and he’s found another in the shape of Ainz Charlton.

The first song ‘Spitting Bullets’ allies the twin spirits of Oasis and The Stone Roses. It is essentially 90’s bluesy lad rock but here it’s in its most palatable form. ‘Mutual’ piles on the distortion to its Beatles-like melody and has the requisite strident chorus to boot but ‘Empty Afternoon’ is starker and darker; creating a haunting atmosphere absent from some of the more obvious gestures on the album. Nevertheless, it must be said ‘Innocent Days’ does a fair job of emulating the chest-beating hyperbole of U2 whilst ‘Release Yourself’ has a pleasing psych-rock hook, even if the duo do tend to rely on this trick a little too often on the album.

Whatever your feelings are about this kind of music though, The Retro Trade summon up an impressive sound for a two-piece. They have a strong frontman in Charlton whilst Marett’s guitar licks seem somewhat less contrived than a certain Mr. Gallagher’s.

Web Sites:
The Retro Trade Official Site
The Retro Trade MySpace

Further Listening:
Oasis, The Stone Roses, Doves

Review: La Snacks – New Fangled

For many new bands, the intention is to appeal as wide a range an audience as possible. After all, we’re in a credit crunch and we all have to earn a living. This issued eosn’t seem to trouble Texan outfit La Snacks who have clearly gone for the slacker American rock niche market with lo-fi production and a selection of sarcastic songs covering such light topics as Hunter S. Thompson and the trade deficit with China. We must applaud their move for cultdom as this is EP is made up of sterling stuff.

Some heroically off-key vocals and an equally off-key melody do sometimes make a great song and they certainly do for Pavement-esque anthems ‘Kristin Was A Meteorologist’ and ‘Devil Has Left The Building’. ‘The Circle Argument’ is summery and dreamy like French Kicks messing around on the beach with The Sea And Cake (if they ever felt inclined to do so) whilst ‘Oil And Water’ coaxes a chest-beating vocal from frontman Robert Segovia, embellishes it with some glammed-up guitars but still sounds defiantly alt-rock.

Admittedly, the challenge to fill seventeen minutes with greatness is easier than cramming it on to a proper album. No matter, La Snacks have put together six excellent tracks of warped but tuneful indie rock which hark back to a time when this kind of music filled college radio airwaves in the 1990’s.

Web Sites:
La Snacks Official Site
La Snacks MySpace

Further Listening:

Review: Hannu – Hintergarten

In many respects, Hannu Karjalainen’s approach to record making is simple and common to most artists, namely “to capture a mood or a feeling or a place”. However, what is unusual is that Hannu actually achieves this aim with flying colours. ‘Hintergarten’, his second album, is an often remarkable ambient/experimental record which manages to convey surprising depth within its adventurous arrangements.

‘Pop’ twinkles away quite happily almost like instrumental pop music and then – two minutes in to its duration – some ear-piercing noises and dub enter the fray, the melody gradually slows down and the first track duly ends. It’s certainly a brave and fascinating opener. ‘Lauttasaari’ is a showcase for slow beats and an off-kilter Four Tet-esque tune though the influences on ‘Theme For Grant’ have their roots in Asian music.

Much as I enjoyed the beginning of the record it’s the central pieces which are the most stunning. ‘Kimallus’ appears to take on a sombre accordion and adds wind chimes to make  a beautifully blissed-out piece of music whilst ‘Maniac Moshers’ rivals Cornelius for its highly experimental take on easy listening. The title track, meanwhile, bizarrely (but brilliantly) recalls the theme tune to BBC’s children’s programme The Moomins and by the time melancholic endpiece ‘Valssi’ has finished, I fully appreciated the fact that I’d heard a very special collection of music.

‘Hintergarten’ certainly manages to evoke visions of wintry scenes and there’s always that air of childlike fantasy offset by haunted memories. Kesh Recordings owner Simon Scott thinks this album is the best release on his label so far and he’s right.

Web Sites:
Hannu MySpace
Kesh Recordings Label Site

Further Listening:
Four Tet

Review: Konntinent – If I Could Buy A Map of Hope – Volume 2

Sometimes it’s possible to associate a piece of music with the place in which it was recorded. In the case of Konntinent, an instrumental project developed by Antony J Harrison, the last place I would have thought of would be London. That’s because ‘If I Could Buy A Map Of Hope – Volume 2’ is gentle, occasionally pastoral and unrushed in its execution.

The album begins as some post-rock collections might finish. With ‘Shutting Down’ there’s that air of an archetypal sad ending as the Labradford-esque guitars are strummed sombrely. ‘Ololo’ is an interlude distinguished by glockenspiel and drone and ‘PinPoint’ elaborates on these twinkling atmospherics with a gentle spoken word vocal and a wam, languid melody.

The second half to this download-only release isn’t quite so involving. ‘Pebbles’ mixture of found sounds and pulsing atmospherics seems to be building up into something special but never quite gets off the ground. Similarly, ‘Sold On Solid’ swells into blissful Talk Talk territory but is cut short far too soon. Finally, ‘The Adhesive’ and ‘Paper Thin’ are lengthy ambient compositions which – whilst undoubtedly fascinating – are too austere to be moving.

The skill here is crafting ostensibly bleak moods into something interesting and poignant. Harrison achieves these aims some of the time with his subtly crafted soundscapes and the album comes recommended for those seeking post-rock music of the quietly experimental kind.

Web Sites:
Konntinent MySpace
Phantom Channel Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:

News: Interview with Hotels

Dear readers

Last week I had the pleasure of firing questions at Blake Madden from the ace NYC/Seattle band Hotels. Hotels released their excellent second album ‘Where Hearts Go Broke’ earlier this year. The interview was done for [sic] Magazine and you can read the transcript in full here.

Best wishes


Review: Paneye – Wilt And Loom

Although it’s not acknowledged on his MySpace site, Will Treffry’s music – recorded under the name of Paneye – is definitely informed by the classic early years of 4AD Records. The title to ‘Wilt And Loom’ alone suggests Cocteau Twins but the music is darker, mysterious and notably less song-based.

Paneye Album Cover

The beginning is deliciously weird. ‘Sun Wax’ recalls all at once the indie cool of Pale Saints, the sonic experimentation of A. R. Kane and that aura of desolation which Piano Magic produce so often. ‘Pasta And Chalk’ is equally captivating, from its distorted guitar to the attractively blank vocals. From here it seems Paneye can go in two directions: the first to build on this great start and continue the quest for classic 4AD miserablism or to deliver a number of comparatively inconsequential pieces of music which meander through avant garde, watery soundscapes.

A little frustratingly, Treffry chooses the latter route which probably explains why this undoubtedly talented artist isn’t signed to a known label by now. That’s not to say the rest of the album is poor but it’s hard to get excited by what sounds like the most impenetrable parts of an Eyeless In Gaza record. Although there’s plenty of tracks here, they have a tendency to merge into one another which induces a state of  hypnosis encapsulated in the lyrics to ‘Paths To Pools’ where Treffry murmurs “I drift now. I can only dream”. Towards the end, the attention is raised at the piercing noises of ‘Angel Lust’ but it’s hardly a track you’ll want to return to by the end of the record.

As a whole ‘Wilt And Loom’ serves a purpose as intelligent mood music but it could have offered so much more if there was more emphasis on songs. To paraphrase Treffry himself though, if you want to “inhale the gloom” then feel free to breathe in his music.

Web Sites:
Paneye MySpace
Click here to download the album

Further Listening:
Eyeless In Gaza, Pale Saints

Review: Russell Huie – Cheer The Bombs On

The world probably doesn’t need an earnest singer-songwriter right now but – just in case it does – Texas-based Russell Huie comes armed with the requisite yearning voice and a trusty guitar. ‘Cheer The Bombs On’ is his second EP following a six-year gap from his last solo effort.

After the impressively lovelorn opener ‘Brighter Dark’ (which has more than a knowing wink to Nick Drake about it), ‘Matinee’ has a disarmingly happy-go-lucky charm about it and seems to aim for white soul territory. Acoustic number ‘Peppermint Blues’, meanwhile,  is sung with conviction and possesses an attractively spare atmosphere. It sounds as if Huie recorded it in a location far away from civilisation. However, the tune itself is pretty workmanlike. ‘Cobwebs’ certainly has its air of David Gray-isms but is well executed and there’s a noticeable ache and weariness to Huie’s delivery which is quite appealing. Most impressive of all is ‘Hum’, though, chiefly for its languid Sea And The Cake-style arrangement.

Although the genre Huie performs in is one that resists innovation, ‘Cheer The Bombs On’ is nevertheless a well-produced and accomplished set of songs. Furthermore, with many of his potential competitors a little quiet lately, don’t bet against him making appearances on commercial radio by the end of the year.

Web Sites:
Russell Huie Official Site
Russell Huie MySpace

Further Listening:
David Gray

Music Stream – Trespassers William – Sparrow

Here’s a stream of the first track from Trespassers William’s great new EP. Click here to listen to ‘Sparrow’.

Review: Trespassers William – The Natural Order Of Things

Taking their name from a Winnie The Pooh story, Trespassers William seem to exist in their own fairy tale world. It’s a world partly informed by both Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star and its leader is Anne-Lynne Williams whose quivering vocals dominate proceedings, whilst her bandmates push the boundaries with a varied set of soundscapes.

‘Sparrow’ is a lovely scene setter; set to a swirling backdrop of dreamy guitars and caressed percussion, it’s hard not to bask in the luxurious arrangement. Underscored by its warm organ sound, ‘The Lids’ sees Williams’ voice pitched at its most aching level but then the EP reaches its most Cocteau Twins moment for the elegiac ‘Red’. The fragile folk of ‘Catch Not Break’ and the shuddering melancholia of ‘I Could Go Back’ complete an excellent set of songs.

This has been my first experience of Trespassers William and I was surprised to read that they were established over a decade ago, since ‘The Natural Order Of Things’ offers the kind of variety of atmospheres and emotions in its compact twenty-five minutes that you would normally expect from a new act. For here is a band willing to an experiment, fronted by a woman with the voice of a wounded angel.

Web Sites:
Trespassers William Official Site
Trespassers William MySpace
Gizeh Records Label and Shop Site

Review: Nite Club – My Tronic

Since Junior Boys released their first album in 2004, there have been a handful of artists who have sought to turn old school hip-hop into something emotional and soulful. One such act is Richard Spitzer who released his debut EP as Nite Club in 2006. Happily he’s come back with a full length record which definitely proves his first foray was no fluke.

For much of the time, Nite Club’s compares favourably with Junior Boys. “It’s all right, no matter which way the river flows” (from ‘No Matter Which Way’) would be a naff lyric in lesser hands but when Spitzer sings it in his seductive whisper it’s reassuringly heartfelt. Likewise, the nocturnal delights of ‘License Control’ exude warmth and ‘Left Right’ – with its vintage synths – is irresistably infectious; only the digitised vocals threatening to betray the sense of romance and melancholia.

Much as it’s easy to admire the way in which Spitzer remoulds Kanye West’s ‘Good Life’ into a dreamy soul number, there are plenty of snatches of vintage hip-hop to spot too (‘BK Nights’ even gets away with those “Wooh, Jack!” calls which were a staple of the late 1980’s) but it’s always classily done and usually within the framework of a solid song. It’s just a shame that towards the end of the record, there is a tail-off in quality; the rot started by a mix of ‘Cape Navril’ which sounds like Spitzer is on auto-pilot.

Yet despite the form not beng maintained quite to the end, ‘My Tronic’ is surprisingly durable for what is – on the surface at least – dance music. I can imagine if these songs were played in an actual night club they might just get submerged amongst the latest DJ fodder but only when it’s listened to in the privacy of one’s home can the true depth of the album really be appreciated.

Web Sites:
Nite Club Official Site
Nite Club MySpace

Further Listening:
Junior Boys, Mackintosh Braun