Archive for May, 2009

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

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: