Archive for October, 2009

Review: Sukilove – Static Moves

A well as being frontman for Sukilove, Pascal Deweze is a member of at least five other bands in his native Belgium. Yet although names like Mitsoobishy Jackson and Chitlin’ Fooks sound intriguing, I must confess I hadn’t heard of any of them. There was no need to worry though, Sukilove subvert pop and rock music in a not dissimilar way to their equally brilliant countrymen dEUS.

‘New Beginning’ strides out confidently with psychedelic rock and 1970’s power pop being driven through a modern alternative filter. Pascal Deweze proves himself to be not only a great songwriter but also a great singer, easing between Thom Yorke melancholia and 1980’s AOR for the glorious mood swings of ‘4 AM’. Other delights are the Pet Sounds-indebted ‘Sugareyes’, a Bond-theme worthy single named ‘Choose Yr Gods’ and the soulful ‘Contemplaying’. Only the unnecessarily lengthy ‘Fear’ spoils an otherwise enjoyable party.

Sukilove pack their songs with ambitious arrangements and off-kilter hooks. It is to their credit that eight years into their career, they are a band to get genuinely excited about.

Web Sites:
Sukilove Official Site
Sukilove MySpace

Further Listening:
Kongos, dEUS, The Flaming Lips


Review: Fieldhead – They Shook Hands For Hours

Paul Elam first came to my attention earlier in 2009 as a member of The Declining Winter. Now the Leeds-based artist sets his course for a solo ambient project. Taking a similar approach to music as Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, Elam’s theory is that “a note is only there because it has to be”. Elam is true to his word but still manages to create some deeply evocative soundscapes.

‘This Train Is A Rainbow’ sets the agenda for the glitchy electronica and tape hiss that become notable features throughout the album. For ‘Document One’, some low-slung guitar work and warm ambient textures form a melody that is almost comforting. Listening to ‘Of October’ at the end of this month makes perfect sense and it’s infused with an appropriate chill factor that promises another cold English Winter. Meanwhile, mournful strings underscore the dark loveliness of ‘He’d Found The Sea’ and ‘Songs Well Known’.

‘They Shook Hands For Hours’ never comes close to being the highbrow exercise in experimentation it could have been. Instead, Elam always manages to convey emotions and there’s a constant sense of loneliness and despair to these tracks. In fact, one could imagine this album being the perfect accompaniment to walking through disused buildings on a cold autumnal day in Yorkshire.

Web Sites:
Fieldhead MySpace
Home Assembly Music Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Northerner, The Declining Winter, Hood


Dear readers

I must apologise for the lack of updates on the blog. Unfortunately my day job has been taking over my spare time recently so I haven’t been able to post any reviews for a while now. However, normal service will be resumed over the next few days.

Thanks for the support.


Review: Robert Vandeven – Lost Days

As one half of the songwriting team behind 1980’s alternative act The Lucy Show, Robert Vandeven can lay claim to being in a proto-shoegazing act. For their layered guitar sound and poppy melodies arguably formed a reference point from which future dreampop stars would be inspired by. With his erstwhile bandmate Mark Bandola now recording as Typewriter, Vandeven himself has released his first solo record.

Light undemanding fare like ‘Cloud Number Nine’, ‘Lover And Friend’ and the sprightly electro-pop of ‘Baby You’re A Star’ sound like the work of a much younger man but they all (the latter in particular) seem strangely dated. However pleasant these songs are, it would be hard not to be disappointed by the lack of adventure from a respected artist on the alternative scene.

Thankfully Vandeven stirs himself for the superb ‘Ships’. Set to some modern, minimalist beats, Vandeven’s half-whispered threat is both menacing and energising. It reminds me a lot of ‘Mirror’, the standout track from Section 25’s recent comeback album. Just as chilling and effective are ghostly trip-hop detour ‘Sometimes Naked’ and the insistent digital pulse and African rhythms which underscore ‘Last Night In Spain’.

‘Lost Days’ is a very varied album in terms of both style and quality. Yet the lesson here is simple. The more Vandeven experiments and embraces his advancing years, the more memorable his music becomes.

Web Sites:
Robert Vandeven MySpace

Further Listening:
The Lucy Show, Section 25

Review: Nheap – Skymotion

Hailing from Italy, Massimo Discepoli began his journey into music in 1990; beginning with the drums and belatedly with piano and self-produced material some sixteen years later. From the evidence of ‘Skymotion’ – his second album recorded under the name of Nheap – the time taken has been carefully spent perfecting his craft.

Opener ‘ab’ travels down a lovely progressive route calling to mind Tortoise’s landmark ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ album. ‘hldrrr’ shuffles along on a nocturnal jazz trip; it would sound like mere noodling but its light percussion and jazzy keyboards blended with wistful ambient backings make it a perfect Sunday morning listen.

There’s only one blot on the copybook as the more experimental ‘Translucent’ test the brain but is ultimately less endearing. ‘Gravitational Assist’ would be cheesy easy listening in lesser hands but the light-fingered melodic skills of Discepoli render all concerns redundant. Meanwhile, the mysterious ‘Panthalassa’ is intriguing and cinematic and ‘Gong’ transforms itself cleverly from Four Tet playfulness to the weirdness of Boards Of Canada.

‘Skymotion’ is a delightfully atmospheric record which combines jazz, post-rock and electronic music into something wonderfully warm and intelligent. An album which contains style and substance in equal measure and it’s free to download until the 30th of October.

Web Sites:
Nheap Official Site
Nheap MySpace

Further Listening:
Tortoise, Skalpel

Review: The Fauns – The Fauns

Full marks to Bristol band The Fauns for their honesty and humour. Their reaction to the current indie scene is “to buy a million cool guitar effects pedals and grow our fringes”. They were also mentored during the production of their first album by a certain local musician named Geoff Barrow, although you couldn’t get much further away from the harsh sounds of Portishead’s last album than this.

For a group made up of three guitarists, The Fauns make a surprisingly gentle noise. This is the softer side of shoegazing where swirling atmospherics wash over the speakers. Added to this is Alison Garner’s light, aching vocals to caress each song, making them even smoother. Jangly affairs like ‘Understand’ (actually a cover version of a song by 1980’s indie act Brian) are multi-layered and mesmeric, ‘Come Around Again’ revolves around a subtle hook and ‘Fragile’ is simply lovely as its slow percussion, effects and Garner’s tender tones build into a fabulous glacial melody. The only problem is the lack of urgency on the album where even the faster tracks like ‘Black Sand’ are blurred around the edges.

The Fauns arrive at a time when shoegazing is more in demand than ever but I’m not sure that they bring anything particularly new to the genre. That said, if you like your music to float rather than to grind, you could do a lot worse.

Web Sites:
The Fauns MySpace

Further Listening:
Fiel Garvie

Review: William Gray – None Of The Above

Self-written and self-produced, the debut mini album by William Gray is a real gem. This is quite an achievement bearing in mind it is increasingly difficult to find something orginal from the singer/songwriter scene. ‘None Of The Above’, however, mixes pop, folk and alternative music into a charming and idiosyncratic set of eight short songs.

‘Clutter’ is a typically self-effacing tune, embracing his “slacker” style in which Gray is the clutter referred to in the title and readily admits he has “got no gainful employment”. For ‘Music To Her Ears’, Gray welcomes string accompaniment, ‘Gambling Man’ drips with attractive melancholy and both these songs and ‘Easy Avenue’ possess a warmth and intimacy to add further qualities to his repertoire. Yet ‘Freaky Dreams’ is Gray’s main calling card and certainly deserves wider coverage. Here, Gray’s vocal matches the insouciance of Damon Albarn and it’s accompanied by an inspired mix of drum samples, sitar and strummed guitar. Also, ‘Like Orange Juice On A Newly Pierced Tongue’ bears similar inventive and unusual qualties.

Granted, there are a couple of tracks which don’t convince on the album yet, above all, Gray shows he is predominantly a singer/songwriter and one who demonstrates a real versatility. Let’s hope his next release is just as delightful.

Web Sites:
William Gray MySpace

Further Listening:

Review: Lama – Look What You Made Us Do

Until now, Nils Martin Larsen has been chiefly known as a member of Norwegian post-rock collective Jaga Jazzist,  with whom he played keyboards from the age of eighteen.  Yet he always wanted to spread his wings further as evinced by his new identity as Lama. Although ‘Look What You Made Us Do’ features a number of credited musicians, as his MySpace site declares “Lama is Nils Martin Larsen”.

‘Beginning’ is a dramatic introduction with only the shrill Sigur Ros style cries to stop it being an instrumental. There is no doubt about the best song here though. Taking its cues from Hope Of The States’ wondrous ‘Black Dollar Bills’, in the shape of ‘Then You’ll See’ Lama have a post-rock anthem in-waiting. It’s a great song which builds from the sensitive vocal of Larsen into a full-blown epic that sounds angsty and hopeful all at once. Nothing is quite as memorable as this moment but that’s not to say it’s an average album, merely one with a killer single and several strong supporting tracks.

‘Wake Up Call’ impresses with intense chatting and percussion to match and ‘Now Will You Remember Me’ is resplendent with delightful warm harmonies. Meanwhile, the meandering ‘Fighting’ features nods to Larsen’s erstwhile employers and it’s easy to imagine ‘Came Through Stone To Get Here’ and the equally stirring ‘Ending’ soundtracking a heroic sporting achievement in the future.

‘Look What You Made Us Do’ is a fine record, full of the kind of wintry atmospheres that Scandinavian acts have turned into a fine art over the last decade. Whether that makes Larsen an artist who has jumped on the bandwagon a little late is a debatable point but it’s nice to here this style of music performed well again nevertheless.

Web Sites:
Lama Official Site
Lama MySpace

Further Listening:
Sigur Ros, Hope Of The States, Do Make Say Think

Review: One For Jude – Bonheur Dynamique

One For Jude describe their style, rather self-effacingly it has to be said, as “some moody pop folk alternative music”. This Parisian outfit should be more confident, since their third album is brilliantly off-kilter at times.

Whilst it’s fair to say that One For Jude are an experimental group, it is something they are particularly skilled at. ‘Une Fois’ marries the twin loves of classical music with the trio’s gloomy rock side quite brilliantly. Throughout the album, the bass guitar figures highly in the mix in the manner of Peter Hook in his heyday; the aggressive ‘Aux Doux Anges’ being the most obvious example of this. Meanwhile, the final two tracks, ‘Récalcitrant’ and the title song, are doomy but equally involving. Where the record does comes slightly unstuck, though, is in the vocals, which sound fine on the native language tracks but slightly awkward on the ones sung in English.

‘Bonheur Dynamique’ will doubtlessly sound a little too strange for casual fans of alternative music. However, their warping of song structures and genre-bending laments display a creativity and innovation which belies their decade-long existence as a recording act.

Web Sites:
One For Jude Official Site
One For Jude CD Baby Shop Page

Further Listening:

Review: My Milky Way Arms – Lightsaber Circuit Breaker

In an effort to sound truly original, new acts often find that the fine line between unique and unlistenable is frequently blurred. My Milky Way Arms have definitely nailed it on the originaliy front; the music of Space Kill (real name: Chase Hill) takes space-rock into a whole new level with the sound allegedly formed by crystals found in an icy tundra.

Essentially, ‘Lightsaber Circuit Breaker’ is a collision of big colourful beats straight from the Black Moth Super Rainbow school of electronic music, accompanied by falsetto harmonies. Using these methods, ‘Fillenium Malcon’ is as wonderfully deranged as anything Ariel Pink has produced. Against the backdrop of some immense percussion and cute electronic bleeps, Hill adds alien harmonies to ‘Marvin Zendler’ whilst ‘Colossus’ seems to be based on the beautifully weird noises from a theremin.

That’s not to say Hill has perfected his style. As each track goes by, the high-pitched harmonies can grate (witness the repeated “You’re my best friend” line on ‘Helicopter’) and the primitive electronica for the instrumental ‘Corellion Bloodstrips’ is merely a novelty. At least ‘Eleventeen’ revaptures the sense of maddening melody displayed in the first half of the record and ‘Early Retirement’ is a welcome but belated diversion into downtempo Blade Runner territory.

It may sound like an overstatement but My Milky Way Arms manages to make the Flaming Lips sound relatively grounded, such is the otherwordly approach to tune making. That alone should make this album a “must hear” for lovers of experimental pop music.

Web Sites:
My Milky Way Arms MySpace
Milky Syndication Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Flaming Lips, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti