Archive for November, 2009

Review: Lee & Willbee – North Carolina

Lee Chameleon and Markus Willbee were once the rhythm section for the Chicago psychedelic rock/electronic outfit La Makita Soma. Thank goodness they stepped out of the shadows for ‘North Carolina’ is a real summer breeze of a record which makes you wonder why they hid their talents away for so long.

The summery ‘Day Of Sunshine’ and ‘Love’s Not Worth It’ are deceptively light and insouciant but in truth they only tell half the story. ‘Snowtrain’ is a spine-tingling  journey through the worlds of ambient and folk; its beautifully strummed guitars and sighed harmonies slowly growing in urgency. The verses to ‘Little Palomino’ are The Sea And Cake at their most gentle but then the duo unleash a nagging chorus that is part grunge, part 70’s AOR but wholly addictive. Equally ace is ‘Throwing Stones At Manhattan’, where the quietly seductive verses give way to a brilliant but acerbic pay-off, eventually eclipsed by a gorgeous swell of guitar effects.

By modernising their folk harmonies with subtle electronica, Lee & Willbee have perfected a sound which has its roots in traditonal songwriting but always has one eye on the future. Half of the songs here are amongst the best I’ve heard this year, the rest is merely good.

Web Sites:
Lee And Willbee
Lee And Willbee MySpace

Further Listening:
The Sea And Cake, Royce

Review: The Big Pink – A Brief History Of Love

Even the the most resilient defenders of the shoegazing scene would have to admit that it’s a genre where the music sometimes gets lost in a haze of effects. Yet in the case of London’s The Big Pink, this time the haze is empowered by a Brit-rock swagger. Their own band name and album title indicate a level of ambition high above an underground fanbase and ‘A Brief History Of Love’ is a brash, confident debut on any musical terms.

‘Too Young To Love’ features robust dance beats to create a weird kind of hippy/rave hybrid. ‘Dominos’, easily the most commercial offering from the album, is danceable, anthemic and uses an “in your face” chorus. It’s probably worth pointing out at this stage that one half of the duo, Milo Cordell, established the Merok label which unearthed Klaxons and Crystal Castles releases amongst others and everything about The Big Pink sounds equally “now”.

Second single ‘Velvet’ is another strident song; its looped female backing vocals adding an ethereal counterpoint to the industrial size beats and ‘Frisk’ is just as memorable and possibly even more laden with hooks. ‘Love In Vain’ turns the volume and speed dials down a few notches and here Robbie Furze’s vocal is as soulful and confident as Richard Ashcroft whilst the title track is a virtual ballad with distortion adding an eeriness to this gracefully brooding number.

Although by no means perfect this is an album which reaffirms the belief that 4AD (a label which has somewhat lost its identity over the last decade) are still capable of producing great new artists. The Big Pink also have the potential to crossover into more popular circles whilst still retaining their edge and credibility.

Web Sites:
The Big Pink Official Site
The Big Pink MySpace

Further Listening:
The Verve, Klaxons

Review: Red Painted Red – Colours EP

The brainchild of Yvonne Neve and Simon Carroll, Red Painted Red are – it’s safe to say – not a typical Manchester band. In fact, one feels they would be more at home five hundred years ago, around the time Shakespeare was writing Macbeth. ‘Colours’ is the final part of a trilogy of an EPs and from its childlike cover art of witchcraft to the dark songs within, this is uniquely disturbing material.

Time has done little to crush the ghostly malevolence at the heart of Neve and Carroll’s music. ‘Colours’ demands immediate attention with tribal drums and Neve’s demonic brooding. ‘Room’ witnesses Neve’s vocals shifting between Kate Bush-style squealing and a threatening rumble, uttering lines such as “You hope my eyes and my mind and my soul don’t work no more”. ‘Goldmine’ and ‘We Are Here’ seem fairly sedate by comparison although the former’s minimalist electronica backing maintains the underlying tension whilst the latter recalls the etherealism of Dead Can Dance.

Now it is possible to buy the three EPs as part of a limited edition boxed set although just one EP is enough to give nightmares. ‘Colours’ may be easier to admire than to enjoy but Red Painted Red have concocted these sinister spells so that once you hear them, you feel compelled not to interrupt for fear of some kind of spiritual retributiion.

Web Sites:
Red Painted Red MySpace
Red Painted Red Shop Site

Further Listening:
Kate Bush, Portishead, Dead Can Dance

Review: Sunbear – Bits

With only one album to their name and then both label and band dissolving soon afterwards, fate decreed that dreampop act Sunbear would be an obscurity forever. It’s unfortunate therefore that this Dublin band passed me by but some of this music sounds marvellous now; a real achievement considering this compilation is dubbed as a rarities collection.

First up is ‘Leadbelt’. It’s a real emotional powerhouse with some excellent key changes and a soaring chorus every bit as euphoric as a Kitchens Of the Distinction classic. ‘Seeing Stars’ is another lost treasure; as some breezy bass-driven verses give way to another explosive volley of guitar effects. Amongst other highlights are the uncomplicated brilliance of ‘Each To Their Own’ and some heavenly harmonies at the core of ‘Somebody Change The Season’.

The title track of the ‘Dog’ EP, meanwhile, sounds alarmingly like an Oasis ballad, only much more palatable and it as this stage where the band seem to be shedding their shoegaze skin and heading into a Brit-rock/indie direction. Sure, there are weaker moments (‘Send That Monkey To Mars’ is a charming epic but is hamstrung by a lack of a hook) but this being a collection of EPs and unreleased tracks, the occasional lapse can be forgiven. The delicately undulating ‘Fond Memories Of New York’ though, is an example of their late-period genius.

Pleasingly Sunbear now perform as The Ruby Tailights meaning they still exist in another form. Well done to Indiecater for releasing their music and showing what shoegaze fans missed out on the first time.

Web Sites:
Sunbear MySpace
Indiecater Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Ride, Chapterhouse, Swervedriver

Review: EastStrikeWest – Wolvves

Just when you thought it was safe to go out on to the streets again, another British post-rock act has emerged with the dystopian vision and ambition to cause the next apocalypse with their music. This time it’s London’s EastStrikeWest and for a young band they seem to have a lot to get off their chest. ‘Wolvves’ is their debut and it’s not a record that’s easy to ignore.

Everything EastStrikeWest do is loud and portentous. ‘God Can’t Take His Eyes Off Me’ is every bit as dramatic and self-important as its title suggests with thunderous rhythms and guitars seemingly burrowing through the Earth in order to achieve maximum impact. ‘Stumble’ is marginally more subtle but does feature a impressive soaring vocal from Tom Clark and some swooping strings.

It’s no coincidence that another strong single, ‘The Architect’, sees Clark shine again but his colleagues create a surging call to arms that is hard not to moved by. ‘Electricity’, meanwhile, takes a warmer, shoegaze-influenced approach and here the mixture of piano and guitar effects is almost beautiful in parts.

For the most part, ‘Wolvves’ is a stirring and riveting record but also one which is prone to being over-earnest. Yet for all its grand noise, there’s no lack of melody, they have an arresting frontman and they also provide a convenient replacement for the recently disbanded Redjetson.

Web Sites:
EaststrikeWest MySpace Site
Thirty Days Of Night Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:

Review: On Shoulders Of Giants – Come Crashing

Hailing from Israel, Idan Epshtein and Avital Tamir formed On Shoulders Of Giants in 2006 with the intention of creating an experimental acoustic pop group. Three years down the line they are still together and making similar noises but have now recruited a new singer. Pleasingly, despite their name being similar to a dodgy Oasis album, they have crafted a very eclectic and interesting record.

Although her bandmates push and pull on the experimental front, undoubtedly Katie Danielson is the star turn even when she’s singng prettily on lighter material such as ‘Box Of Ivory’ and ‘Symphony Of Trees’.  On a more aggressive scale, ‘By Then…’ switches from innocuous verses to a stunning chorus led by Danielson’s surging vocal melody, whereas ‘Liquid Diet’ rumbles along frenetic rhythms and more of Danielson’s inspired ululations to create arguably the key moment when the trio sound most together.

Frustratingly, an inconsistent second half partly undoes the good work of the first. For instance, ‘Star Quality’ incongruously and unwisely switches between a jazz club style and some laboured alternative rock. At least ‘Remember To Breathe’ offers the dreaminess and a sense of space that the title suggests.

The overall effect is a little similar to Evanescence in that the group seem to rely on a female singer’s talents and when she doesn’t feature so much the songs are less memorable. Nevertheless there’s no harm in being labelled with the “female-fronted band” tag so long as it doesn’t cause frictions within the band.

Web Sites:
Official On Shoulders Of Giants Site

Further Listening:
Evanescence, Mary

Review: Josh Fix – This Town Is Starting To Make Me Angry

Josh Fix is one of those artists who will doubtlessly polarise opinion. Firstly, there’s that conveniently snappy name, then the shamelessly poppy songs he writes which occasionally veer towards the high camp. Nevertheless, this mini album is a fine showcase for his retro-referencing talents.

The title track is heavily geared towards the pop market. Like a lost Elton John single, it’s a cheery track brimming with shiny melody where the verses are actually more uptempo then the chorus itself. The second song ‘Dirty Bloody Naked’ follows a similar keyboard-led journey but Fix’s yearning vocal and 70’s piano rock (positioned closely to 10CC’s baroque pop) prove to be a perfect match. ‘Ghosts In Your Head’ maintains the tune formula and will doubtless go down well at gigs whilst the acoustic ‘Dear Lord’ has the warmth and self-effacing lyrics to counter its earnest outward appearance. This just leaves the finale ‘Barely Insane’ which sounds not a million miles away from The Scissor Sisters.

I would probably be more convinced by Fix over the course of an album to see if the sense of bonhomie would wear me down or leave me irritated. Yet the songs are undeniably catchy, Fix is an impressive vocalist and a witty lyricist and if he fulfils his obvious commercial potential, good luck to him.

Web Sites:
Josh Fix Official Site
Josh Fix MySpace

Further Listening:
Elton John, 10CC