Archive for December, 2009

Review: Lake Lustre – Mountain Math

It was back in 2004 when I first heard the work of Joe Scerri AKA Lake Lustre. Although it encompassed a wide variety of styles, ‘Indecipherabilia’ was essentially a superior chill-out record. With twice as many tracks, ‘Mountain Math’ is the follow-up, which presumably has given Scerri even more licence to experiment.

Much of ‘Mountain Math’ is as inventive as his debut. For instance, ‘Ghosts As Guests’ brings in African influences but it is the guest appearances which are most memorable. Thanks to its sensitive vocals and delicate but modern electronica, ‘Shoplifter’ calls to mind the romantic pop of Junior Boys, ‘Good Day’s Damage’ is a nice slice of fragrant soul whilst ‘(I Am An) Inland Sea’ indicates why David Sylvian is listed as one of Scerri’s MySpace friends.

Yet as you’d expect for a largely instrumental record, over seventy minutes of fairly subtle music is way too much for a single sitting. So after the psychedelic vs beats concoction ‘Eyelid Flytrap’, the album falls into a sleep-inducing second half, salvaged only partially by the filmic, mysterious ‘Brick Beauty Drive’.

If Scerri had kept ‘Mountain Math’ to the same as its predecessor, he would have a very good album on his hands. As it is, it recalls the times in the mid-1990’s when every trip-hop/chill-out album had to be at least an hour long.

Web Sites:
Lake Lustre MySpace

Further Listening:
Röyksopp, Mr. Meeble

Review: Unintentional – Tales Of Travel

Unintentional are a male/female duo originally formed in Lincolnshire, England. Their new EP evokes lying on a well manicured lawn on a summer’s day whilst looking into the clear blue sky and since it’s snowing in Lincolnshire as I write this, it seems like a good time to get nostalgic for those brighter times.

The EP opens with ‘Acknowledge’; a blissful delight from its delicate strumming to Daryl Ashton’s slightly croaked outpourings. ‘You Only Fall Once’ is even better. Vocally it contains little but sighs and murmuring from Nicola Swift but it unravels into a superb ambient folk instrumental. Boosted by male/female harmonies, the next track, ‘Old Light’, reassuringly informs us that “Tonight, it’s all right” before disappearing into guitar and piano-led vapour trails. Elsewhere, ‘Solitary Interlude’ captures the intimacy and Englishness of Everything But The Girl, ‘Dinga’ resembles a spirited but asset-stripped version of Sigur Ros and the innocence of The Field Mice is evoked on the gentle finale ‘Paradox Waiting’.

‘Tales Of Travel’ represents a very dreamy form of folk music and it’s a very moving, atmospheric EP too. Moreover, though you can hear various influences in these six fragrant offerings, they seem to have fused these into a formula that is both fresh and distinctive.

Web Sites:
Unintentional Official Site
Unintentional MySpace

Further Listening:
Everything But The Girl, Epic45, Lorna, Slowdive, The Field Mice

Review: Gradient – Dispersing Sectors

‘Dispersing Sectors’ is another quality offering from Rednetic Recordings’ series of 3″ EPs. Created by Saint Petersburg native Igor Arsenjev, here are three tracks of quality dub techno. Appropriately enough, they epitomise the chill of the Russian winter.

‘Membrana’ is spare and lonely; evoking the spirit of a deserted East European city. The title track stutters and spits out icy beats and synths. It takes its time but eventually its glacial, melancholic melody takes hold. Finally, ‘Duplex’ squelches its way to a finish. Each track makes use of repetition but never threatens to bore the listener. Instead, there’s a profound sense of sadness to be discovered.

‘Dispersing Sectors’ may not be one of the most immediate techno releases ever heard and a full album’s worth of this could be too much to take in one sitting. Yet after a couple of listens its subtle dynamics work their way in to the brain and refuse to be dislodged.

Web Sites:
Gradient MySpace
Rednetic Label and Shop Site

Review: Greenhorse – Transcontinental

Greenhorse are two bassists who met in Wyoming and have turned to synthpop as their genre of choice. Granted, it’s not a typical move but it’s a good one as it happens, for contained in their first release are five little gems with designs on your heart.

‘Transcontinental’ may be a fusion of cheesy synths and emotive vocals but it is – on the whole – rather glorious. After two minutes of commercially savvy electro-pop, ‘Hot Nights’ shifts incongruously but brilliantly into dreampop melody. ‘Finally Human’ smacks of 1980’s teen rom-coms but its melody is unshakeable whilst ‘Buried’ is less dramatic but it’s gentle verses and chorus are as minty fresh as the finest toothpaste. In fact, only some high-pitched “emo” vocals on ‘Psycho Somatica’ spoils this otherwise perfectly formed EP.

In essence, Greenhorse are like a brasher version of Junior Boys. They certainly share their tastes for vintage synths, their music is based around the song rather than the dance and each tune is backed up my some heartfelt harmonies.

Web Sites:
Greenhorse Official Site
Greenhorse MySpace

Further Listening:
Chromeo, Junior Boys, Mackintosh Braun, Friendly Fires

Review: Elaine Lachica – I Think I Can See The Ocean

New York-based Elaine Lachica is an idiosyncratic singer songwriter whose propensity to sound unique can lead to conclusions that are just as likely to frustrate as they are to enrapture. Four years on from her previous record, album number three arrives backed by a new label.

As it happens, Lachica couldn’t have started her third album any better. ‘Behind My Mind’ rides along a rolling piano motif whose attractive twists and turns are matched by Lachica’s own ululations. ‘Tumbleweed’ signals a jazzier approach but is still catchy enough to ensnare curious ears whist ‘Bewilder’ and ‘Capture’ both echo the elegance of mid-period Cocteau Twins from the dreamy atmospherics to Lachica’s murmuring. An excellent and varied beginning to the record is rounded off by the aggressive post-punk guitars on ‘Jinx The Line’.

Yet as on previous albums, Lachica is prone to meandering through watery insubstantial tracks like ‘April Train’ and ‘Wild Wielding’ features Mariah Carey levels of emoting. Pleasingly, she recovers form towards the end of the record and ‘Hold On Fire’ has a fine melody that is somewhat overshadowed by ‘Collective Myth’; the moment where her melancholic side is given perfect backing by a subtle string section.

As with previous albums, ‘I Think I Can See The Ocean’ is not without its flaws yet it’s also Lachica’s best record thanks to a stronger focus on songs rather than mood. Perhaps now is the time for her to emerge from cult concern to an artist with a much broader appeal.

Web Sites:
Elaine Lachica Official Site
Elaine Lachica MySpace

Further Listening:
Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush

Review: Piano Magic – Ovations

Based around the songwriting craft of Glen Johnson, Piano Magic have been chroniclers of gloom for well over a decade now. Maintaining their consistency, ‘Ovations’ shows no sign of lightening up. In their case – and thanks to some appropriate guest contributions – it’s a good idea too.

Ex-Dead Can Dance member Brendan Perry probably couldn’t believe his luck when presented with ‘The Nightmare Goes On’ for it is the perfect base for him to demonstrate his brooding, tremulous vocals. Elsewhere, his erstwhile band member, Peter Ulrich, lends his skills with ancient instruments for several more tracks. In fact the Dead Can Dance presence seems to cast its influence over much of the album as some of the material seems to be infused with almost Victorian atmospheres.

A criticism of Piano Magic is that they can be too cold to love. Witness ‘A Fond Farewell’ where glockenspiel and Ulrich’s darabuka and claves add interest but the song itself is arch and austere. They actually fare better when they resort to post-punk edginess; ‘Recovery Position’ and ‘The Faint Horizon’ (the latter completed by a thrilllingly intense coda) are lean and slick and prove that Piano Magic can excel at a visceral – as well as a cerebral – level.

As Piano Magic albums go, ‘Ovations’ is reliably doomy. Yet such is the talent of Glen Johnson and co. that even when they seem to be stuck in a miserablist furrow, they manage to make music which is always articulate and inventive and occasionally even exciting.

Web Sites:
Piano Magic Official Site
Piano Magic MySpace
Make Mine Music Label and Shop Site
Darla Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Dead Can Dance, Dead Leaf Echo

Review: Grubby Mitts – After The Facts

Grubby Mitts involves Johnny Parry, whose solo material is usually more geared towards the melodramatic singer/songwriter side. Here he takes a back seat to concentrate on percussion, production and string arrangements whilst his artist friend Andy Holden writes the material.

From the outset it seems clear that Grubby Mitts is an experimental project. For opener ‘Her Laughter/For Tomorrow’, a loop of vocal samples and some woozy instruments eventually take flight as the strings, guitar and brass contributions manage to agree on a very pleasant melody. Ivor Cutler fans will rejoice at a cover of his ‘Beautiful Cosmos’ and if anyone wanted to know what a marble game and a piano sounded like when played together, ‘Last Stop For The Good Old Times’ provides the answer. As it happens a lovely, warm instrumental passage ensues but I could have done without the marbles. A simlarly gorgeous and comforting tune underscores ‘The Mountain & I’ but once again outside infuences (in this case a repeated chant) undermine some of the good work. Then the EP concludes with some melancholic clarinet and guitar work for the doleful ‘So Long See You Tomorrow’.

Despite these minor gripes though, this is an enjoyable EP. That’s because ‘After The Facts’ appears – on the surface at least – to be a highbrow concept record but looking beneath some of the quirky touches, there’s some quality instrumental moments to be discovered, which are full of both heart and melody.

Web Sites:
Grubby Mitts MySpace
Lost Toys Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Johnny Parry, Tortoise