Archive for June, 2009

Review: Black Poets – Innocents And Thieves

It is virtually impossible to describe Black Poets’ music without mentioning Interpol. They use all the New York band’s favourite elements from the robotic vocals and nagging guitars to the crisp percussion and general air that all is not right in their world. ‘Innocents And Thieves’ is the Black Poets’ debut album and it certainly sounds like a first record.

Positioned as the second track, ‘Mistakes’ is clearly one of the main calling cards from ‘Innocents And Thieves’. Here, the slow, moody verses build into what should be an exhilarating chorus; its only fault really being that this formula has been done so many times before by not only Interpol but also Editors, The Departure and many more British acts. “Oh baby, do you wanna fly the streets of New York tonight?” Gerald LeCain sings on ‘Amnesty’ and you suspect he would like nothing more than to travel there and rub shoulders with his heroes.

However, this young London-based band are not without merit. ‘Naivety’ is elevated by a cracking riff and a surging instrumental coda and ‘Paris 1932’ coaxes a decent falsetto from LeCain. The title track is also rather fine; once again the song is encircled in an escalating melody and the sense of urgency about it is nailed to perfection. Kudos too for the final song ‘Irene’, where Black Poets manage to convey yearning and longing within a relatively intricate framework.

In fairness, there are far worse bands Black Poets could have emulated and – as mentioned before – some of these songs work pretty well but much like White Lies, they seem to be treading the same ground rather than developing the genre further. Maybe the second album will be the one where they really make their mark.

Web Sites:
Black Poets Official Site
Black Poets MySpace

Further Listening:
Interpol, Editors, White Lies, The Departure

Review: Throcke – Sometimes Not Unpointful

Throcke is the electro-pop outlet for Brooklyn’s Chris Carson. An independent in every sense, Carson has created a charming lo-fi album made up of – as he puts it – “melodic instumental oddities”. As it happens, this turns out to be an accurate self-assessment.

Fairly pointless instrumentals such as ‘Leap Forth’ and ‘Lato’ give the impression of someone having fun but the amusement may not be shared by the listener. He is better served by his experience as a drummer and this shines through on the percussive-heavy ‘Matriculate Yo’. Yet despite his fragile vocals, Carson actually fares better on the song-based material. ‘A Truce’, a fine quirky tune, has the required lo-fi charm but undoubtedly his best song is the centrepiece ‘Starry’, where he makes great use of a sitar to create a cute pop original.

‘Sometimes Not Unpointful’ leaves me in two minds. On the one hand, there’s the fact that Carson has been making music for over a decade so why is much of his music made up of childish electronica? On the positive side though, I admire the DIY nature of it all and a couple of songs are very inventive and – since the album is free to download though – there’s not a lot for the curious bedroom electronica fan to lose.

Web Sites:
Throcke Official Site
Throcke MySpace

Further Listening:
Anaemic Arch, Minotaur Shock

Review: Joe Frawley Ensemble – Emperor Of Daffodils

As concept albums go ‘Emperor Of Daffodils’, would be one of the oddest. Based around the theme of female make-up rituals, ambient/classical composer Joe Frawley could have set himself up for a mighty fall here. As it is, it’s a more cohesive follow-up to the sporadically inspiring ‘A Book Of Dreams’.

Once again Frawley melds vocal samples with ambient music. ‘Crush Material’ and ‘Masque’ revolve around haunting piano motifs with words appearing from one speaker to another. Understandably, this creates a disorientating atmosphere. ‘Lipstick’ raises the ante with its classical swell and a lush melody but ‘The Supplicant’ – all disembodied girls voices and violent strings – returns to the dark undertones of the album. The title track employs Frawley’s commonly favoured tools of rainfall and breathy harmonies and ‘Narcisse’ brings the experience to a quiet, mildly disturbing conclusion.

Listening to ‘Emperor Of Daffodils’ is certainly evocative and Frawley gives the impression of someone who is fascinated by, but disapproving of, preening ladies. Within these compositions are fragments of beauty but they’re sullied by an undercurrent of evil; turning this short album into a vanity project that’s actually worth hearing.

Web Sites:
Joe Frawley Official Site
Joe Frawley MySpace

Further Listening:
Harold Budd

Review: Hatcham Social – You Dig The Tunnel, I’ll Hide The Soil

I think we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve bought a record even though it’s received some criticism for sounding unashamedly like another act. It’s quite possible, for example, I wouldn’t have bought recent records by The Twilight Sad or Wild Beasts if they hadn’t been compared to, respectively, Kitchens Of Distinction or The Associates. Which brings me neatly on to Hatcham Social, another band who doubtlessly share a similar record collection to my own.

The one act which Hatcham Social most strongly resemble – whether by accident or design – is Orange Juice. Vocally Toby Kidd is a dead ringer for Edwyn Collins, with whom he shares that strange hiccuping style, and the intricate guitar work for ‘Murder In The Dark’ is not far removed from the Postcard Records sound either. Meanwhile, ‘Crocodile’ and ‘In My Opinion’ stand up as quality indie jangle fare.

All good nostalgic stuff but can the band reach beyond their post-punk influences? Happily, they can. ‘Sidewalk’ shuffles into the shoegaze territory of Ride but ‘Hypnotise Terrible Eyes’ is a wonderfully intense song which sees the band stretch themselves to something approximating Morrissey fronting Josef K and ‘I Cannot Cure My Pure Evil’ is made up of similarly devilish attitude. The folly of youth can possibly take account of a song based on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’ but even so they still turn it into a neat slice of weird, psychedelic pop.

Admittedly, my main reason for liking Hatcham Social IS that they remind me of so many of my favourite bands. However, the way they rip through these eleven songs with such breeziness and confidence is admirable and the songwriting is top notch throughout.

Web Sites:
Hatcham Social MySpace

Further Listening:
Orange Juice, Ride

Review: El Heath – Reflecting (Ambient & Loop Tracks Autumn 2006)

The wonderfully named Eric Loveland Heath sounds more like a would-be soul lothario than an experimental ambient artist, yet this short set of tracks is clearly not one “for the ladies” unless those ladies happen to inhabitants from a distant galaxy. At Heath’s disposal is a device known as the ondes Martenot; an ancient electronic instrument not unlike the theremin, which forms a major contribution to this eerily compelling EP.

Whereas some instrumental music can lurk inoffensively and pleasantly in the background, ‘Reflecting…’ is made up of five short compositions which cannot be ignored because they are so fascinating. Weird noises like ticking clocks dominate ‘Shadows On The Carpet’ and there’s a noirish spy thriller chill to ‘Macau’.

Following the lead of Avrocar, ‘Epick’ takes us on a deeply atmospheric journey in to space. Yet the track which most impressed me is ‘Dragons Chasing Their Tails’. Amongst what appears to be radio static, there’s the sense that alien lifeforms are singing a beautiful melody; forming an incredibly haunting piece of music. Finally, ‘Ambiance d’Organe de Corde’ ends proceedings with a mournful yet attractive drone.

Despte the obvious brevity of this collection, Heath has packed an immense amount of detail in to fifteen minutes of music. ‘Reflecting…’ is at once, intelligent, inventive and surprisingly addictive.

Web Sites:
El Heath MySpace
Phantom Channel Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Avrocar, Epic45

Review: Orisha – Falling Open

Although they describe themselves as an “electro-glitch-chanteuse act”, Australian act Orisha hark back to the turn of the Century when it was fashionable to make chill-out music fronted by breathy female vocals. Time has moved on and fashions have changed of course but that hasn’t deterred Orisha on their second album ‘Falling Open’.

The music revolves around Emah Fox adding her gentle aching vocals on top of a bed of bubbling electronica. Even so, ‘Left Alone’ is not the most obvious way to start your first album. It is mournful and bleak but at least it’s hypnotic too and indicates that Orisha are here to concentrate on albums rather than go for the obvious tactic of front-loading the record. On ‘Waiting For A Change’, the beats are more vibrant and standout track ‘Beautiful Thing’ is a song of character and emotion, which compares favourably to Anja Garbarek in its playful arrangement.

Sadly, the inconsequential instrumental ‘Creature’ fails to sustain any emotion whatsoever and there’s a surfeit of breathy sighs on many of the vocal-led tracks. Even though the most experimental effort, ‘Se Tu M’Ami’, may show off impressive linguistic skills it comes across as one of the more idiosyncratic entries in the Eurovision Song Contest. ‘Cottonwool’ perhaps sums up Orisha’s problems in a nutshell: here their subtle, mysterious music is stretched by a few too many minutes so the effect is soporific rather than stirring.

If it’s a record to soothe rather than excite that you’re after then ‘Falling Open’ does a grand job. However, many like me will demand more from their music and it would have been nice to hear Orisha break free from their self-imposed restraints once in a while.

Web Sites:
Orisha MySpace

Further Listening:
Lamb, Anja Garbarek