Archive for June, 2009

Review: Sleeping Me – Cradlesongs

Hidden Shoal Recordings have introduced a succession of great ambient works since their inception in 2006. Next up on their roster is Sleeping Me AKA Clayton McAvoy from California. ‘Cradlesongs’, his debut, sets out an ambitious manifesto including delivering “the poignancy of an ever-elusive yet omnipresent love” through his music. Needless to say, much melancholy will ensue.

‘Empty Cradles’ begins the story and will be familar to those who favour the delayed guitar techniques of Yellow6 or Labradford. Immediately, that sense of loss which was promised is delivered in spades. The Robin Guthrie-esque ‘Tired Hearts’ builds on the dark, dreamy textures whilst ‘Egdon Heath’ and ‘Here In The North’ are blessed with a classical, stately elegance. Towards the album’s denouement, the spare acoustic simplicity of the title track tingles with glorious melody and the story ends with the vibrant ‘The Rattle In Or Hearts’ in a surprisngly compact forty-one minutes.

‘Cradlesongs’ is a record which only suffers by its similarity to so many other artists. Given the quality of those comparisons though, that’s certainly no crime. Other than that, the music is a gorgeous happy/sad ride that – due to its relative brevity – never outstays its welcome.

Web Sites:
Hidden Shoal Label and Shop Site
Sleeping Me MySpace

Further Listening:
Yellow6, Labradford, Robin Guthrie

Review: PNDC & housework – Secondhand Language

With last year’s sterling album ‘Fading Away’, PNDC provided a new source for cool European electronic music. It came from Predrag Nedic from Serbia and here he teams up again with the strangely monikered Greek vocalist/guitarist housework to produce another fine slab of icy electro/dance sounds.

As with ‘Fading Away’, the key strength of the record is the telepathy that seems to exist between Nedic and his remote colleague. In the manner of The The’s Matt Johnson, housework snarls with way through ‘30,000 Feet’; wrapping his tongue around lines such as “I can’t spell and I can barely read. And my flesh ain’t good for the piranhas to feed” with a high degree of self-contempt. The evil sounding ‘Animal Farm’ is dominated by a Peter Hook-like bassline whilst not even a pure-sounding contribution from guest singer ‘Shadowlike’ can disguise the menace beating at the heart of ‘Pilots’. All these tracks are riveting.

The second half to the record cannot quite sustain the momentum but still throws up occasional delights. Even when housework does lose his way with an ill-advised falsetto turn for ‘Lost Message’, Nedic resecues the situation with an addictive synth melody. There’s an experimental edge to ‘The Buzz’ which reminded me of early Wolfgang Press releases and ‘The Fix’ builds up impressive layers of tension. The only real disappointment is ‘Goodnight’ where rhythms fly off randomly as shadowlike narrates a bedtime story.

On the face of it, ‘Secondhand Language’ is Depeche Mode with all sense of emotion and harmonies removed but for the most part it’s actually a compelling record. housework expresses fear and anger in his voice, as he and PNDC throw up some terrific hooks with their respective skills on guitars and synths.

Web Sites:
PNDC MySpace
housework MySpace

Further Listening:
Colder, DK7, Circlesquare

Review: Section 25 – Nature + Degree

Of all the old Factory bands, Section 25 are the ones whose critical approval has always eluded me. With their dry Northern vocals and experimental electronic/dance music, the Cassidy brothers struck me as a decent but lower division version of New Order. How delightful then – that 29 years after their debut record – they’ve made an album which I’ve enjoyed from beginning to end.

Sure, it takes a while to get going but ‘Nature + Degree’ is a remarkably fresh-sounding set of songs. Indeed, ‘Remembrance’, ‘Attachment’ and the supremely catchy ‘L’Arte Du Math’ are as pop as Section 25 have ever got. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the former track features our first glimpse of the band’s new secret weapon, Beth Cassidy, who does a more than decent job of fulfilling the vocal role of her late mother Jenny Cassidy; adding a youthfulness which seems to have brought life to the rest of the band.

‘Garageland’ is dignified and melancholic, ‘One Way Or Another’ is three minutes of controlled anger, whilst the rough edges of Larry Cassidy’s tongue are smoothed over by a beautiful string section for ‘Saddled With Something’. ‘Mirror’ is the definite standout for me though; a very unusual and cleverly-constructed song which cleverly mixes Beth Cassidy’s narrative with her own harmonies. Section 25 were hailed for their ground-breaking dance music and this track deserves to be praised in a similar fashion.

After New Order’s hugely disappointing last album, Section 25 have shown it is possible for Factory veterans to create something relevant and addictive for the modern age. Credit to them for making the most unlikely of comebacks.

Web Sites:
Section 25 Official Site
Section 25 MySpace
LTM Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
New Order, The Other Two

Review: Circlesquare – Songs About Dancing And Drugs

That Jeremy Shaw is from Canada isn’t much of a clue to the music he makes. Sure, there’s a fair share of electro/dance acts from there (most notably Junior Boys) but the colder, more austere side to electronic music has its roots in Germany. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Shaw recorded ‘Songs About Dancing And Drugs’ in Berlin.

Most songs feature stuttering drums, understated beats and some very icy, almost spoken-word vocals. Some of it is very impressive. ‘Dancers’ could only feasibly be danced to by robots but its precise rhythms are almost sensual in their execution, whilst ‘Hey You Guys’ begins slowly but soon disappears into a void of effects and ghostly harmonies.

The one true moment of warmth is reserved for ‘Music For Satelliites’ as a lonely guitar and some ambient passages create a gentle atmosphere that borders on the romantic. Finally, ‘All Live But The Ending’ takes its time – thirteen minutes in fact – but its relentlessness and sense of loneliness is performed well.

Given the rather basic instrumentation employed on the record, some songs seem trapped in their own self-imposed minimalism; blessed with plenty of cool but little in the way of hooks. I envisage Circlesquare’s music being played at fashion shows and art events but back in the bedroom it only makes its mark half the time.

Web Sites:
Circlesquare Album Site
Circlesquare MySpace

Further Listening:
DK7, Colder

Review: Nick Hopkin & Friends – Project X

Nick Hopkin’s musical adventures have thus far centred around the electronica scene; covering pop to ambient moods. ‘Project X’ sees the artist stretch himself further still, by not only taking on new musicians but also expanding into concept-led music and veering away from the traditional song structures he has been used to. This mini album is split into four sections – helpfully titled ‘Part One’ to ‘Part Four’ – but listening to it as a whole is a confusing experience.

Project X CD Cover

‘Part One’ begins as an ambient/chill-out journey, which nods to dub on its way and then explodes unexpectedly into life for a multi-harmonic fragment in the vein of The Polyphonic Spree, urging us to “remember to smile”. As if that weren’t enough styles covered in one track, the same piece then moves towards an acoustic guitar passage, a ghostly narrative and then a chilling finale which reminded me of an UNKLE collaboration.

‘Part Two’ starts gently enough but all feelings of calm are rudely interrupted by grunged-up guitars and distorted vocals. Bizarrely, the route is taken up with more dub, whilst a blissful techno tune competes with some irritating frog and baby samples. The third part is less experimental but ultimately more addictive, as a heavenly mix of elegant strings and ambient music combine beautifully. ‘Part Four’ is better still and is characterised by a seamless synth theme which brings the album to a dreamlike end.

Eclecticism and a sense of adventure are usually a good thing but Hopkin’s meanderings on Parts One and Two lack any kind of cohesion. So much so, it was difficult to know when each part started and ended, without keeping a close eye on the track number. Nevertheless, by the final two pieces, I’d been won over again by Hopkin’s undoubted talent for melody.

Web Sites:
Nick Hopkin Official Site and Free Download of Album
Nick Hopkin MySpace

Further Listening:
They Came From The Stars (I Saw Them)

Review: Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications

A lyric whose key line is “Your life is just a carrier bag”, songs called ‘Pilchard’ and ‘Leftovers’. Yes, another idiosyncratic British songwriter is back and it’s Jarvis Cocker, who has been relating his own idiosyncracies to recorded music for over a quarter of a century now. ‘Further Complication’ is his second solo album and it’s noticeably rawer in sound than the first.

‘Angela’, ‘Fuckingsong’ and ‘Homewrecker!’ are straight-ahead glam rockers, free of pretension or, indeed, much production but all the better for it. For ‘Caucasian Blues’ he even loses his breath whilst singing; perhaps again wanting to prove that he is human and he is flawed. If the aforementioned ‘Pilchard’ is a fairly pointless dronefest, ‘Leftovers’ is much better than its title suggests, where Cocker claims he just need a cuddle after all and a similar self-effacing theme is explored for ‘I Never Said I Was Deep’ as he admits “his lack of knowledge is vast”.

So Cocker is laying his emotions bare for all to see and the primitive production for most of ‘Further Complications’ reminds me of his work as one half of Relaxed Muscle. Then at the end are two surprises that reveal ambition beyond the rough and ready outlook. ‘Slush’ is a slow burning but atmospheric number and for ‘You’re In My Eyes’, Cocker goes all Barry White. It may sound like Cocker singing along to an Avalanches track being played in a separate room but it’s arguably the most stunning offering here.

‘Further Complication’ does – on more than one occasion – sound like the diary of a dirty old man and it makes no effort to hide that fact. Yet as well as this, the music fits Mr. Cocker very well and he relates his inner troubles to an audience that still finds him fascinating. On this evidence, it’s easy to see why.

Web Sites:
Jarvis Cocker Official Site
Jarvis Cocker MySpace

Further Listening:
Pulp, Relaxed Muscle, Pony Club

Review: The Rest – Everyone All At Once

The Rest are a Canadian outfit who deserve far more attention than they have gained thus far. Their second album ‘Everyone All At Once’ comes highly recommended for those looking for emotive songwriting and ambitious arrangements, topped off by glorious vocals. Although they have been compared to media darlings, Arcade Fire, The Rest are a tad less bombastic and all the more likeable for it.

The highlights to ‘Everyone All At Once’ are many. ‘Apples & Allergies’ is all over the place melodically but is held up by Adam Bentley’s emotive turn in front of the mic and ‘Blossom Babies’ features passages of shoegaze effects but is chiefly notable for Bentley’s unfathomably high falsetto.  Then ‘Coughing Blood/Fresh Mountain Air’ rides in on a sweeping, cinematic motif whilst ‘Drinking Again’ contrasts nicely with its intimate, acoustic simplicity.

With all this emotion flowing out though, there is a danger of the listening experience being too much to take in one sitting. ‘Modern Time Travel (Necessities)’ overdoes the whooping and hollering and ‘The Lady Vanishes’ is just over-produced; rather like Arcade Fire in fact. Fortunately, ‘Walk On Water’ is pitched more evenly and sounds like The Guillemots teaming up with The Beach Boys.

The Rest are one of those treasurable bands who are too wayward to atract mass attention but alongside equally heralded but obscure acts like Thin Cities and Argentine, they have left a legacy of some special music that, with any luck, will be hailed as classics in years to come. Hopefully, The Rest will return again once more and turn some of the occasional excesses on this album into something subtler.

Web Sites:
The Rest MySpace
Indiecater Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Thin Cities, Argentine, In Civilian Clothing, Arcade Fire, The Guillemots