Archive for December, 2009

Review: Mr Cloudy – Sensitive Crop

Rednetic Recordings are rapidly earning themselves a reputation for quality dub techno releases. Further evidence is added by Sergey Barkalov whose Mr Cloudy avatar provides an outlet for his dark, underground music. It also follows neatly on from the EP by fellow Russian and labelmate Gradient.

Each track seems to be accompanied by tape hiss. ‘Excursion’ sounds menacing and chilling, like the emerging sounds of faulty pipework from a sewer. ‘Thereform’ is noticeably bouncier although its beats are produced at gut level. Nevertheless its attractive Teutonic click-clack rhythms resemble the works of Tarwater or To Rococo Rot. ‘Datura’ comes submerged in sound effects but its core melody is an elegant, hypnotic beast trying to make sense of the noise which envelops it. Finally, we have ‘Dry Breakfasts’, which may or may not be a eulogy to cereal bars, but is certainly a fittingly haunting way to end twenty minutes of captivating music.

Much like the aforementioned Gradient EP, ‘Sensitive Crop’ initially sounds like any other dub techno record. Yet its slow-burning charms successfully marry together haunting atmospheres, subtle melody and rhythmic intensity.

Web Sites:
Mr Cloudy MySpace
Rednetic Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Gradient, Tarwater, To Rococo Rot

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Review: Flashbulb Fires – Glory

Eighteen months ago I wrote a review for Fiancé, a Denver-based group whose first EP couldn’t decide whether it was aimed at emo kids or the considerably more mature Ben Folds Five market. Now using the name of Flashbulb Fires, ‘Glory’ is undoubtedly more polished but still sees the band positioned at a crossroads.

The album’s beginning is undeniably impressive. ‘Pyramid Scheme’ shows that they have come far with ringing guitar and ambient production to the fore. ‘Revenge Song’ is the first of several tracks to suggest they have been studying the grand arrangements of Arcade Fire and ‘Sleep Money Dawn’ expands this feeling even more clearly; from the moment its opening line “When I was young, I was a bullet in a gun” is heard, the attention of the listener is grabbed as choral melodies and elegant piano patterns usher in its reflective charms, before ending with a brass finale.

Then bizarrely, from out of nowhere, ‘Brunette’ seems to return to the keening pop of their past band. It’s not a bad song but it’s surely a step backwards to them being embraced by the adult alternative rock followers. It seems to be a small aberration though, because on ‘Heavy Hands’ they successfully straddle youth and individualism with storming piano-led rock. Elsewhere, ‘Et Lux Perpetua’ and ‘Ambulance’ tackle country rock although the latter collapses in to a disappointingly ramshackle ending.

There’s a danger that Flashbulb Fires have taken on production values that may be too big for their actual songs. Yet however flawed ‘Glory’ may be, it is a big step forward for the group. A little more individualism and focus on their next album and they could achieve the major success they are so obviously searching for.

Web Sites:
Flashbulb Fires Official Site
Flashbulb Fires MySpace

Further Listening:
Arcade Fire, Fiancé, The Helio Sequence

Review: Zoot Woman – Things Are What They Used To Be

Despite their well-connected status in the pop music fraternity, Zoot Woman proved with their eponymous second album that there was substance beneath the style. This was a world where slick, danceable synth-pop tunes met with darker undertones and introspection. Since that time though, Canadians Junior Boys have taken emotional synth pop to a whole new level with three largely flawless albums.

‘Just A Friend Of Mine’ and the similarly breathless ‘Lonely By Your Side’ form a satisfactory opening brace of songs. After the thudding rhythms of ‘More Than Ever’, though, the problems begin to unravel. On the surface they recreate the sweat and energy of the dancefloor but there’s little insight to be found underneath.

Even an effort to slow the pace down (‘Take You Higher’) is remarkable for the lack of a hook. ‘Lust Forever’ may shimmer and shudder attractively yet what is clearly missing is anything nearly as good as ‘It’s Automatic’ or ‘Grey Day’, their fine, romantically-fuelled singles from the earlier part of their career. ‘Blue Sea’ comes closest but it’s simplistic, lovelorn imagery does sound rather like a lukewarm Junior Boys.

The failings of ‘Things Are What They Are Used To Be’ are unlikely to cause core duo Adam Blake and Stuart Price any sleepless nights, since they are more well known for their remix work. However, after the triumph of their last album, it’s a shame they couldn’t have applied themselves better on their own band’s next step.

Web Sites:
Zoot Woman Official Site
Zoot Woman Myspace

Further Listening:
Junior Boys, Nite Club

Review: Mukaizake – Unknown Knowns

The somewhat awkwardly-named Australian act Mukaizake are exponents of the often equally awkward sub-genre of “math rock”. Any concerns at this stage though, should be alleviated since ‘Unknown Knowns’ is full to the brim with hooks and an emphasis on songwriting.

Single ‘The Yeah Conditioner’ combines their complicated guitar shapes with the spirit and passion of a bar band; like Springsteen indulging a hitherto unknown passion for grunge and post-rock. ‘Rule Norse’ piles on layer upon layer of heavy guitars but these layers are also supremely melodic and there are some impressive harmonies on show too. In a not totally dissimilar way, the pummeling riffs propelling to ‘Corporal Steam’ are offset by emotional vocals. No less impressive are ‘Frisbee’ (featuring the line “there’s a parachute inside your soul”) and the relatively gentle double salvo of ‘My Friend Flicker’ and ‘Slack Bees’.

The problem with many math rock artists is that they tend to value technical ability over coherence. Comprising six excellent tracks (and no makeweights) ‘Unknown Knowns’ shows that beneath complex time signatures it is possible to craft music that is intelligent, exhilarating and addictive.

Web Sites:
Mukaizake MySpace
Hidden Shoal Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
HIJK, The Mitchells

Merry Christmas and End of Year Lists

Hi readers

Many thanks for anyone who reads the blog and to all the artists who have sent submissions for review. I hope you all enjoy the seasonal holidays, however you spend them.

I will be publishing my best of 2009 list when 2010 starts but in the meantime, it would be remiss of me not to direct you to the [sic] Magazine Writer Top Tens, 2009 These include the top 10 favourite albums of the year from music writers who know what they’re talking about, as well as yours truly.

Cheers

Jon

Review: Yellow6 – Merry6mas2009

It’s Christmas time and what better way to celebrate it than with the latest compendium from instrumental wizard Jon Attwood and his Yellow6 project? As with previous seasonal offerings from the Yellow6 stable, the Christmas reference is restricted to album title alone although the music within is undoubtedly on the wintry side. This time round, the majority of the tracks were intended for a film by Swedish director Niclaz Erlingmark.

With a foothold in several genres (post-rock, shoegaze, ambient) but not limited by any particular boundaries, Attwood has been a symbol of consistency since he released the first Yellow6 7″ in 1998. ‘9732#2’ and ‘Light#1’ in particular are models of familiar gentle shape-shifting misery, designed to edify and haunt in equal measure. The chilling ‘9732#3’ builds up layer upon layer of drama and then stops dead just as you think some awful horror is about to be unleashed whilst ‘Stolen’ merges drone with some grimy glum rock guitar segments. Still, it’s probably no coincidence that the track with the most warmth (Light#2) is the one that sounds most like another act; in this case Labradford.

For once, Attwood has limited his recordings to under an hour. A good idea too since a few of his releases have seemed overlong with similar-sounding tracks. So here we have a record which largely maintains its interest and momentum from beginning to end. Merry6mas indeed.

Web Sites:
Yellow6 Official Site
Yellow6 MySpace

Further Listening:
Labradford

Review: Nosound – A Sense Of Loss

Although it may be true to state that Giancarlo Erra’s Nosound project has picked up the post-rock baton from the likes of Bark Psychosis and Talk Talk, this Italian outfit have taken these influences and fashioned them into emotionally-scarred epics of their own with progressive rock sections rubbing shoulders with ambient washes. The fact that Erra describes ‘A Sense Of Loss’ as an “even more emotional recording” than its predecessor suggests handkerchiefs should be on standby but the album is also leaner and more song-based this time too.

The essence of Nosound’s music is captured on the opening track ‘Some Warmth Into This Chill’. The steady percussion and melancholic guitars plot a course for unavoidable despondency, merely confirmed by Erra’s always yearning vocals. Yes, once again this is sprawling, exhausting music but what keeps it afloat is the utter conviction of Erra and his trusty bandmates as they appear to invest every ounce of emotion into their music.

‘Fading Silently’, recalls the loss of a loved one drowned at sea; its ambient drone making the experience as beautiful as it is sad. ‘Tender Claim’ disappears further into the abyss of misery as strings, drums and guitars converge into a tear-jerking whole whilst ‘Constant Contrast’ proves that though Nosound are undoubted masters of despair they also know when to apply the restraints. Alas, ‘Winter Wil Come’ pushes the buttons marked “bombastic” and “epic” to revert to post-rock melodrama but on the second part of the track, Erra’s barely heard cries beneath a stampede of military drums recover the poignancy.

Added to the album itself is a DVD which shows – amongst other things – some discussions between Erra and string conductor Enrico Razzicchia where one can imagine the most infinitesimal detail is discussed passionately until Erra is completely satisfied with the end product. ‘A Sense Of Loss’ could have been overbearing but Nosound have now perfected their songcraft and the results are as exquiste as they are tragic.

Web Sites:
Nosound Official Site
Kscope Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Talk Talk, Bark Psychosis


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