Archive for October, 2009

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

Review: We Fell To Earth – We Fell To Earth

Rich File and Wendy Rae Fowler met in the High Desert of California. In truth, it’s not too surprising since their music seems so far removed from anything or anyone else; evoking scenes from a modern Wild West movie that has yet to be made.

‘Spin This Town’ is typically sinister; it calls to mind images of a nightmarish visit to an African drug den. The foundations for ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Lost In Flames’ appear to be built upon Silver Apples-like vintage percussion. Everything about the record is bleak but deeply involving because of the stark, imaginative and varied arrangements. Yet amongst the many highlights, ‘Sovereign’ certainly stands out. Above the droning atmospherics, File and Rae Fowler cast their deadpan harmonies like a black shadow and eventually they are joined by the most ghostly of keyboard melodies. ‘Careful What You Wish For’ would have been another dead-eyed track to chill the bones but Rae Fowler injects some soul to remind us, fleetingly, that they are human after all.

‘We Fell To Earth’ is not merely dark it’s deadly. Perhaps the miracle of it all though is their music is such compulsive listening; a great testament to the production skills of the duo.

Web Sites:
We Fell To Earth Official Site
We Fell To Earth MySpace

Further Listening:
Silver Apples, Suicide

Review: Deleyaman – Fourth, Part One

Equilibrium Music is a record label choosing to focus on the “finest, exquisite dark music” from around the world. Although based in Normandy, Deleyaman’s four members originate from USA, France, Armenia and Swedish making them a world music act in both sense of the term although their material dips in to classical, ambient and darkwave too. They certainly combine their disparate gifts and cultures well on an album which makes good use of brooding vocals, ancient woodwind instruments and subtle atmospherics.

‘Stay On’ is magnificently understated; Aret Madilian lending his haunted tones across some minimal accompaniment. In fact everything about ‘Fourth, Part One’s is understated. For ‘Aravod Luys, Be Still, Temples’, the Godlike combination of Madilian and fellow vocalist Beatrice Valantin serves to emphasise their cinematic potential as does the stately and deliciously sombre ‘Somehow’. Perhaps what the record does lack though is an injection of pace and ‘Jardin’ is the one track to move away from moody introspection; its vigorous percussion being the clearest indication of Madilian’s time spent in an LA post-punk band

Some may dismiss Deleyaman as being dour purveyors of misery yet there are regular spine-tingling moments to be discovered here with the two singing members of the group frequently lifting the music out of artistic posturing mode. They are also strongly recommended for fans of Dead Can Dance, their nearest soundalikes.

Web Sites:
Deleyaman Official Site
Deleyaman MySpace
Equilibrium Music Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Dead Can Dance

Review: Prefab Sprout – Let’s Change The World With Music

Not many artists can get away with unearthing a seventeen year-old album for the first time and it already being regarded as one of the best of the year. But that sums up the genius (and the frustrations) of Paddy McAloon who could arguably write one great song a day but then very few would ever get to hear it. At least now we have ‘Let’s Change The World With Music’ and one of those near-mythical records is unleashed to the general public. It should almost go without saying that it doesn’t disappoint either.

It begins, rather suspiciously, with an uptempo dance kind of vibe, exemplified by some seriously dated one fingered piano. Fortunately the song is saved by a breezy chorus. Then again McAloon was never one for being a fashionable artist; where any attempt to move with the times seemed endearingly out of step. ‘Ride’ bounces along on layers of synths and beats and is the first of many to use the religious theme. In fact there’s not a track on here which does not celebrate a combination of music, love or religion.

Its two most stunning songs are superbly arranged. ‘I Love Music’ allies toe-tapping rhythms with killer synth hooks and ‘Earth: The Story So Far’ is made up of a breathtaking collage of sounds that hints at a brave new future (as it was imagined in 1992 of course); it is at once innocent, ambitious and beautiful. Lyrically, there’s a naivety on show with McAloon bordering on the overly simplistic at times but then the intention of the album title states that all too clearly. Some of the arrangements border on white soul; you can imagine Simply Red approving of ‘God Watch Over You’ for instance. Yet even the comparatively weaker tracks (‘Music Is A Princess’, ‘Last Of The Great Romantics’, ‘Angel Of Love’) are charming for McAloon’s unashamedly romantic sentiments.

‘Let’s Change The World With Music’ was recorded a couple of years after 1990’s brilliant ‘Jordan: The Comeback’ and it definitely falls short of that standard in terms of ambition, coverage of musical styles and overall quality. However, it is undoubtedly superior to 2001’s patchy ‘The Gunman And Other Stories’, Prefab Sprout’s last release. Furhermore, whilst the production techniques have aged, the songwriting  quality remains undiminished.  Let’s hope those other rumoured albums will eventually get a release and if they sound as behind the times as this record, then who cares so long as McAloon maintains his unerring knack of melody?

Web Sites:
Prefab Sprout Unofficial Site

Further Listening:
Simply Red, Aztec Camera, The Blue Nile