Archive for August, 2009

Review: Electric Assembly – White Splinter

Little is known about Electric Assembly, save they are a quartet based in London whose MySpace page describes them as “The Velvet Underground plays Boards Of Canada produced by Kevin Shields arranged by Sun Ra listened to by Syd Barrett”. Naturally this conjures up all kinds of images of psychedelic experimentation. In truth, they deliver on this promise pretty well too.


If I were to judge ‘White Splinter’ on three of its tracks, it would be a decent but unremarkable post-rock record. ‘Descent Pattern’ is a fairly pedestrian piece full of austere, savage noise which borders on prog metal. ‘Broken’, however, takes its foot off the pedal and its spare, solemn balladry offers a subtler version of Spiritualized’s quasi-religious symphonies, whilst ‘Wipe The Sun Off Your Shoes’ ends proceedings in a hopeful manner led by pleasant layers of bass and organ.

This just leave one track, which is not only the longest (it takes up more than half of the EP’s thirty five minutes) but also easily the most rewarding piece of music here. Built around what sounds like a loop of drone, wispy shoegaze guitar melody and insistent percussion, ‘11.43’ varies little until shards of feedback interrupt the flow and then settle down again to let the hypnotic groove ease to its denouement. It’s very rare that such a repetitive track should remain so captivating after so many listens but it is nevertheless a wonderfully enduring instrumental.

I wouldn’t normally advocate an EP on the strength of just one track but for ‘11.43’ alone, ‘White Splinter’ is recommended for drone rock/shoegaze afficionados. Perhaps its main achievement though is that you can actually hear elements of the aforementioned influences throughout the record, without diminishing Electric Assembly’s own identity.

Web Sites:
Electric Assembly Official Site
Electric Assembly MySpace
Dream Driven Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Mogwai, Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine


Review: anata wa sukkari tsukarete shimai – Sweetness And Light EP

I am reliably informed by their press release that anata wa sukkari tsukarete shimai is Japanese for “you are completely tired”. Despite this band’s EP encompassing just twenty five minutes of music, listening to it feels like a long battle against hypnosis. That’s not because it’s a hard slog but because the ideas and moods are both exhausting and impossible to ignore. The men to blame are the bizarrely named Gnomefoam, _ and Bunny, who hail from England, Japan and Scotland respectively.

‘Forsake’ makes A.R. Kane’s visionary forays into dreampop look rather tame as some computerised vocals combine with warped effects and a doleful guitar. ‘Cataract’, meanwhile, recalls the distorted atmospheres of teenage prodigy Khonnor but its breakbeat “chorus” is arguably the most commercial thing on offer here. Then beneath the heavily digitised vocals of ‘Bearsuit’ I could hear the distinct words “I put my arms around you” which is the first sign of the sweetness promised in the EP’s title, although its potentially romantic ideas are undermined by a long sequence of seemingly random bleeps.

It is left to the last two tracks to recapture a sense of emotion. The title song revolves around a doomy piano hook and spine-tingling harmonies. Then the end arrives via ‘My Drive’. Once again it’s a queasy macabre journey but one which is quite beautiful in its own twisted little way.

‘Sweetness And Light EP’ is, to say the least, experimental. Yet there are frequent moments of fragile beauty to be treasured from the apparent dissonance and chaos. Overall, it’s another winner from Bearsut Records who seem to have a neverending supply of wayward geniuses on their roster.

Web Sites:
anata wa sukkari tsukarete shimai MySpace
Bearsuit Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Tropical Australian Stinger Research Unit, A.R. Kane, Khonnor

Review: A Dancing Beggar – What We Left Behind

When I last wrote about James Simmons it was to commend him for producing an effective EP called ‘How They Grow’, which married together the sounds of Epic45 and Durutti Column. It did, however, lack its own unique voice. Despite being possessed by similar ghosts, it’s pleasing to report the first album by A Dancing Beggar sounds much more complete and cohesive.

The Epic45 comparisons are apparent from the outset as delicate summery guitars and field recordings evoke that same sense of childhood nostalgia but Simmons has clearly drawn on his own memories here. Although its title sets its aim clearly, the gorgeous ‘Sand Beneath Our Toes’ is capable in music alone of conjuring up images of the beaches in South West England and even if the brilliant ’22 Summers’ may forever be teetering on the brink of sadness, its beguiling melody is as hopeful as it is haunting.

The samples are well chosen too: ‘Branches And Nettles’ is one of several songs to put bird song to good use whilst ‘Our Distant Memories, Our Idle Dreams’ allows Cynthia Lawson to recall almost jumping into an empty swimming pool as a child.

Promising though it was, ‘How They Grow’ now seems like a naive piece of work. That’s because, by turns emotive, melodic and evocative, ‘What We Left Behind’ is a major step forward in the career of this young performer and is a rewarding experience for those still hanging on to the last days of youth and dreaming of an endless summer.

Web Sites:
A Dancing Beggar MySpace

Further Listening:
Epic45, Durutti Column

Review: Alternati-v- – Turning Points

As one of the acts on Romanian-based electronica label Patpong Records, Alternati-v represents the downtempo side of the scene. The work of Victor Mihailescu, it’s hard to think of an album I’ve heard recently which is quite as relaxed as his ‘Turning Points’ record.

Breathy vocal samples and twinkling ambient touches make for a blissfully undemanding opening. Some of the blander material betrays the influence of fellow Romanians Enigma but generally Michailescu avoids faux etherealism. He adds beats to infuse chill-out number ‘Moonstruck’ with some much needed impetus, ‘Night Revelation’ is an impressive mix of synth washes and strident rhythms whilst ’21st Century Breeze’ manages to evoke floating in space. It’s probably indicative of the album as a whole though, that two of the best tracks, ‘Better’ and ‘Perfect Cure’, feature guest singers.

All things considered, ‘Turning Points’ is a likeable album which doesn’t demand too much effort from the listener. However, once you get beyond its coffee table pleasantness, there’s little to divert the attention.

Web Sites:
Alternati-v- MySpace
Patpong Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Lhooq, Life Project

Review: The Brent Flood – Katy McCain EP

London’s The Brent Flood achieved their first level of fame by winning the honour of Best Indie Act at the 2008 Indy Awards. Granted, awards ceremonies aren’t always a guarantee of quality but – on this evidence – The Brent Flood at least know their way round a decent tune.

The lead-off title track is a familiar tale of romance; the kind of which young teenagers may seek solace in. It is, however, lifted from obscurity by a terrific nagging chorus and the soaring vocals of Jay Marsh. It’s a similar story for ‘Pleasure Seeker’; there’s some fairly pedestrian verses again but the chorus is stirring and memorable. ‘Kiss The Dirt’ is probably the most complete song where Robin Chesterman’s guitar work resembles the speed and dexterity of Josef K, or at the very least Franz Ferdinand, whilst the final two songs are slightly inferior to what has gone on before but make up an enjoyable, if slightly one dimensional EP.

It’s probably a sign of the times that the winners of a prestigious award don’t really have a distinctive sound. Despite that though, The Brent Flood songs are infectious and have an appeal that should appeal to fans of  slightly leftfield indie rock.

Web Sites:
The Brent Flood MySpace

Further Listening:
The Reverse, Blackbud

Review: Engineers – Three Fact Fader

I was a little surprised to read that Engineers were perceived as a shoegaze act. Sure, there are elements of shoegaze/dreampop in their first album and EP but for me they were more like an ambient rock act. Typically though, ‘Three Fact Fader’ has confounded my theory with an album which says “Sod it, we are a shoegaze act after all”. Thankfully, they prove themselves just as brilliant in their new “guise”.

‘International Dirge’ – despite the lack of promise in its title – is an elegiac moment of wonder based around a lovely flowing piano hook.  Yet as much as ‘Sometimes I Realise’ and ‘Hang Your Head’ represents their pounding anthemic side there’s a song like ‘Brighter As We Fall’ which is as gentle, emotional and beautiful as this kind of music gets.

Later on in the album, the London-based trio get more experimental. It pays dividends too, with the heady spiralling psychedelia of the title track and the thrilling dynamics of ‘Emergency Room’. They also employ a string section for three songs and emerge with flying colours. Another point to note is that – unlike so many other dreampop acts – the vocals on ‘Three Fact Fader’ seem whispered but they can still be heard above the tremendous noise.

Despite my initial apprehensions that the band had retreated in to their shell, ‘Three Fact Fader’ eventually emerges as a triumphant record, swathed in gorgeous layers of melody. All of which proves that if Engineers are just a shoegaze band they are a great one.

Web Sites:
Engineers Kscope Page
Engineers MySpace

Further Listening:
Chapterhouse, Slowdive, The Great Depression, Doves

Review: Tommi Bass – Gamma

Two decades on from when the term “techno” was first coined, it’s pleasing to report that one of the veterans of the scene, Tommi Bass, is still active in the genre. Although born in Britain he now calls Berlin his home. Thus we have ‘Gamma’ a collection of eight tracks, each imaginatively titled ‘Gamma’ and this album constitutes one part of his Radiation series of releases, with ‘Alpha’ and ‘Beta’ already available on other labels.

Bowel-shaking beats and dub are certanly well employed here but the overall tone is one of dance minimalism. ‘Gamma’ is entirely wordless apart from a few utterances of ‘OK’ on the stealthy ‘Gamma 02’. The album as a whole may lack warmth but each track is different enough from the last to sustain interest. ‘Gamma 04’ mixes menace with playful noise, ‘Gamma 05’ moves along to a train track rhythm and by the final track – that’ll be ‘Gamma 08’ then – there’s a sense that an undercurrent of evil has been gradually encompassing the air space since the start of the record.

With its stubborn refusal to let in any shades of emotion, ‘Gamma’ could have been a rather sterile experience. Yet “Mr. Bass” has infused his music with enough idiosyncracies to make it a thoroughly listenable hour of sophisticated electronic music.

Web Sites:
Tommi Bass MySpace
Rednetic Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Nathan Fake, SI-CUT.DB, Colder

Review: Sad Day For Puppets – Unknown Colours

Sonic Cathedral was originally set up as a club night for shoegaze music and its myriad of influences. Since its inception, the project has now expanded into releasing records from new artists to the genre. One of the first is Sad Day For Puppets who hail from Sweden. Their debut sticks to the sugary side of dreampop and certainly has its moments.

By and large, ‘Unknown Colours’ is an effervescent pop album singled out by jangly effects and Anna Eklund’s cutesy vocals. ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘Lay Your Burden On Me’ are typically light and feathery but also dreamy; their harmonies would work wonders on the hardest of hearts.

‘Marble Gods’, ‘Shiny Teeth And Sharpened Claws’ and ‘Last Night’ possess echoes of The Primitives, ‘Mother’s Tears’ veers brilliantly and promisingly into grungier territory and ‘Cherry Blossom’ nods towards a different “Wall Of Sound”, namely the one built by Phil Spector. In fact there are many parallels to draw between Sad Day For Puppets and fellow countrymen The Concretes even down to Eklund’s husky turn in front of the mic. The only drawback is that the album is perhaps three or four tracks too long as the energy and ideas flag towards the end of the record.

‘Unknown Colours’ is an admittedly lightweight album which struggles to keep up the momentum for over fifty minutes. Yet it is unerringly melodic as if the band have distilled the shoegazing formula into pure pop and made it as palatable as possible for the masses. That’s not to say it’s a sell-out record though; just one which is tuneful and free of indulgence.

Web Sites:
Sad Day For Puppets Official Site
Sonic Cathedral Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Lush, The Concretes

Review: Singapore Sling – Perversity, Desperation and Death

It’s safe to say Singapore Sling won’t be the last outfit to be compared to those darlings of British drone rock, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Spaceman 3. What is perhaps more unusual and intriguing is that the group hail from Iceland and their suitably grimy sound can be attributed to most of the album being produced in a cellar on a 4 track recorder.

Much of ‘Perversity, Desperation and Death’ (including the title) might be considered a pastiche. Their frontman Henrik Björnsson sneers in the manner of JAMC’s Jim Reid (especially evident on the actually rather fine ‘Demoniac’), whilst ‘Darklands’ and Black Rebel Motorycle Club’s early material seems to have been on heavy rotation during the songwriting process. What is especially noticeable though, is the band rattle through their songs at a good pace; each one taking up an average of four minutes and never threatening to bore the listener with any drone rock indulgence.

 It’s hard to pick a standout as each track segues seamlessly into another, with chugging, metronomic rhythms, dark guitar melodies and malevolent vocals the centrepiece of everything they do. Still, the slower, haunting qualities of  ‘Call Me Trash’ brings to mind The Velvet Underground and centrepiece ‘Song For The Spirit’ is noteworthy for its rock and rolll guitar figure.

Enjoyment of The Singapore Sling’s work largely depends on whether you enjoy drone heavy music as there’s little deviation from the formula. Nevertheless, after a few listens it’s hard not to nod your head in appreciation of the insistent and persuasive menace at the heart of this music. 

Web Sites:
Singapore Sling MySpace

Further Listening:
The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Velvet Underground, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Review: The Arrest – 01

For their first album, Minnesota act The Arrest vowed to stick to the idea that they would only record what could be reproduced in a live setting. It shows, for ’01’ is epic but also grounded and free of studio trickery. The result is a combination of the doomy euphoric sound of Doves mixed in with Springsteen-style earthiness.

’01’ is satisfyingly multi-dimensional. The band are just as adept at crafting widescreen anthems such as ‘One x One’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’ as they are comfortable with writing American rockers like ‘The Surgeon’s Wife’ and ‘Transmission 01’. Only one track seems out of place; the workmanlike ‘The Tightrope’ recalls the earnest rock trappings of Nickelback. Yet the definite standout is ‘Sleepy John’ which revolves around a rich organ melody, a ringing guitar figure and an emotive vocal turn from Seth Doran. It even has time for an interlude of maddening percussion to make a special song even more special.

’01’ avoids pastiche or plagiarism because of its unusual mix of influences. All the same, there are strong parallels to be drawn between Interpol’s ‘Our Love To Admire’; another powerful weighty album which showed there’s a heart beating underneath the sonic bluster. Just think what The Arrest could achieve on their own third album as this is a very strong debut.

Web Sites:
The Arrest Official Site
The Arrest MySpace

Further Listening:
Interpol, Doves, The Stills