Archive for January, 2010

Review: Cajita – The Ellipsis

Cajita is a dreamy electro pop act based around the talents of Bristol-based Jay Chakravorty. ‘The Ellipsis’ is his debut album and does a sterling job of aligning chill-out atmospheres with moving songwriting.

‘Don’t Panic’ does exactly as its title promises; it’s a sweet electronica melody given a gentle caress by Chakravorty’s calming tones. It’s a reminder that all is right in the world. ‘Constant’ maintains the warmth factor but it’s a considerably glitchier, beat-heavy affair. Then Cajita goes full blown for the mighty ‘Walk Don’t Walk’. The backing choir vocals may be a bit too much to stomach for some but it’s hard not to be moved by this heartfelt tune.

After that surge of emotion, the music moves into downbeat and considerably less euphoric moods.  ‘Daybreak’ is serene but the album does flag a little from the rather subdued ‘You Ought To Know’ to the final song, ironically titled ‘First’.

Overall, ‘The Ellipsis’ could have probably done with a little pruning. Yet it still achieves that difficult task of creating music that is uplifting without sounding trite.

Web Sites:
Cajita Official Site
Cajita MySpace

Further Listening:
The Postal Service, Moonshot, ReCoup, Renfro


Review: Band Ane – Anish Music Too / And Free

Band Ane is a solo project by “the danish electronic wondergirl” or Ane Oestergaard to those who know the lady behind the music. She released her debut in 2006 and ‘Anish Music Too’ and ‘And Free’ represents albums two and three respectively. ‘…Too’ was recorded in Oestergaard’s wooden hut, alone in the countryside whilst ‘…Free’ is influenced by “crazy neighbours” who visited and the stories they told.

The music styles can be roughly split in to three parts; one dispensing cute tuneful electronica, another part offers far-out experimentation whilst the remainder is concerned with the spoken word. Since the spoken words are in Oestergaard’s native Danish it’s hard to appreciate what is actually being said and this is likely to diminish any chances of success outside of Scandinavia. Nevertheless when she crafts tunes as blissful as ‘Alma Krathus’ and ‘Harddisken’ or as quirky as ‘Soester Rosenmund’ and ‘Skildpaden Dennis’ (the latter experiments with both speed and melody delightfully), it’s hard not to be touched by this singular talent. Further variations arrive via drum and bass (‘Braendsel’ and ‘Ild’) and Boards Of Canada pastiche (‘Cirkel’). At other times though, Oestergaard seems too wrapped up in her own world to realise that her music is too awkward to listen to (‘Broedrene Malmborg’ sounds like tremendous fun if you’re Danish but here it swiftly becomes irritating).

‘Anish Music Too’ is the recommended starting point thanks to its greater accessability and coherence although its companion piece is not without its idiosyncratic highlights (in particular the folktronica of ‘Hvis De Ville’ and beautifully warm finale ‘Aladin Oestergaard’). Equal parts charming, inventive and frustrating, it’s a mixed offering from a talent whose individualism is never in question.

Web Sites:
Band Ane MySpace
Jenka Music Label Site

Further Listening:
Múm, Mint

Review: The Longcut – Open Hearts

Having formed at Manchester University in 2002, The Longcut’s nascent career was given an almighty jolt when their vocalist departed. After originally deciding to focus on instrumental music they then took the brave step of appointing drummer Stuart Ogilvie as their new mouthpiece. Although not the most versatile of leaders, it turned out to be an inspired move of sorts. After the promise of debut ‘A Call And A Response’, comes the belated follow-up.

The first song ‘Out At The Roots’ epitomises their greatness. Introduced by angry guitars and thunderous rhythms, we are then assaulted by Ogilvie’s foghorn and then something rather wonderful happens as an elegiac piano melody appears from nowhere; adding a sense of beauty whilst all around is mayhem. ‘Something Inside’ is similary stirring and what it lacks in tunefulness it more than makes up for with sheer conviction.

Although many of their songs could be described as post-rock, their songs are given further energy by techno beats; a technique which works particularly well on ‘Evil Dance’ and the mesmerising title track. It’s a pity they can’t maintain the form though as the hypnotic energy from the beginning of the record sounds tired by its conclusion. With less dependence on Ogilvie’s voice too, the core of their music is weakened, signified by the solid but rather generic post-rock of ‘Mary Bloody Sunshine’.

So ‘Open Hearts’ is much like Redjetson’s second album. An intermittently great record driven by a passionate frontman, largely bereft of melody but still able to stir the emotions. However, the danceable element to their songs indicates they have a wider appeal and they do make one hell of a racket.

Web Sites:
The Longcut Official Site
The Longcut MySpace

Further Listening:
Six.By Seven, Redjetson

Review: Damien* – Crippled Cute

Damien* are another new band with a taste for all things post-punk and new wave. What distinguishes them (apart from the use of an asterisk) is that they are from Italy and they also happen to be rather good at what they do; at times recalling the excellence of Magazine.

‘Crippled Cute’ begins in hyperactive fashion as a yelped vocal from frontman Enrico and grimy bass usher in ‘On Ice’, with barely a pause for breath. The explosive beginning is continued by ‘Unaware Unaware’. It’s a vibrant start but it’s hard not to feel relieved when they slow the pace down a notch. As it happens, the more refined sounds of ‘Courtship’ are the clearest indication that they have a prolonged career to look forward to; here, the chiming guitar riff, the ever-present chugging bass and the vulnerabilities to Enrico’s tones indicate a real depth to their songwriting. It’s an idea reinforced by fellow mid-paced tracks ‘Lesser Thoughts’ and ‘Night Rush’. Meanwhile, the single ‘Confidants’ finds the hitherto missing link between the escalating riffs of The Walkmen and the boyish charm of early Supergrass.

Although it’s their second album, ‘Crippled Cute’ sounds like a debut. This is a compliment since it is so abundant with energy and ideas. Amongst these incisive, hook-laden songs there’s that rare combination of the visceral and the cerebral joining together to shape a great album.

Web Sites:
Damien* MySpace

Further Listening:
Magazine, The Pecadiloes, The Manic Street Preachers

Review: The Lucy Show – …Undone

The Lucy Show are credited with creating an early form of dreampop so it seems entirely appropriate that Words On Music (who have championed both the old and new exponents of this genre) have chosen to reintroduce their material to a younger audience. Following the reissue of their second album ‘Mania’, now we take a step back further in time with the reissue of the 1985 debut ‘…undone’. It’s a timely reminder of what this London act used to get up to, since core members Mark Bandola and Robert Vandeven have both been active with solo projects a quarter of a century later.

As is often the case with 1980’s releases, the production (particularly the artificial sounding drums) has dated somewhat but the best songs overcome this. ‘Come Back To The Living’ is based on imaginative flourishes from Bandola and he also adds some post-punk guitar to the angsty Cure-like ‘The White Space’. Meanwhile the swirling atmospherics to ‘The Twister’ signal their experimental side and ‘Dream Days’ benefits from a welcome, aggressive undertow. On the negative side, for ‘Resistance’, Vandeven struggles to keep up with the pace of the rhythm section and most of the songs from the second half to the record are not distinguished enough to be remembered.

It may be unfair to say it but The Lucy Show’s songwriting falls short of the consistency of contemporaries The Comsat Angels or The Chameleons. So much like ‘Mania’, ‘…undone’ represents them as a solid rather than groundbreaking act. Nevertheless, at their best, their chiming post-punk songs were still ahead of their time and they deserve more than footnote status.

Web Sites:
The Lucy Show MySpace
Words On Music Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Cure, Easterhouse, The Comsat Angels, The Chameleons

Review: Dreams From Gin – Station Songs

Dreams From Gin inhabit a world where detuned guitars rule the world. Their MySpace blurb claims that they are a “direct response to market research which suggests that the perfect unsuccessful indie rock band can be created by forcing three irrational young men into a freezing cold abandoned gas station”. The New York trio may be disappointed on that score as ‘Station Songs’ is certainly a critical success which could even lead to greater exposure.

‘Stereo Fire’ – an obvious choice for the opening track – is a grungy song with a killer hook on the chorus that will doubtless please fans of ‘Creep’ or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.  To follow such a gripping start is tough and sure enough the next offering, ‘Stoic’, is a downbeat affair, chiefly distinguished by doleful guitars and even more doleful vocals. Elsewhere on this mini album, there’s shouty, lo-fi anthems (‘Onoff’, ‘Never Knows Best’) but they also give indication of their cerebral side too with the unwinding mystery of ‘Broken Window’ rubbing shoulders next to ‘Seasons’; both tracks containing subtly infectious key changes and emotional vulnerability.

‘Station Songs’ is not a typically lo-fi album. Beneath the menacing exterior lurks an obsession with dark melody that could yet lead them out of the gas station in to considerably larger venues. Somehow, though, you sense they may be perfectly comfortable in their surroundings.

Web Sites:
Dreams From Gin

Further Listening:
Nub, Nirvana

Review: Strumpets – Hello Strumpets

Strumpets won’t be the first psychedelic pop band to come from Belgium and it’s doubtful they’ll be the last. This is a good thing. They even team up with representatives from two likeminded compatriots, namely dEUS and Sukilove, to deliver a short but colourful album.

Led by Miguel Horacio Sosa, they have an arresting frontman but oddly enough his vocals resemble none other than Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals. Eclectic to the very end, they cover barber shop vocals (the title track), languid, summery pop (‘Who Pulls The Reins Of The Sun’) and even some harmonica and twanging country guitar for ‘The Alcove Of Cecilia’. The wry charm of ‘Walking On Air’ recalls The Kinks whilst ‘You’re Far (To Love Me)’ and ‘Gliding In Orbits’ are both glorious space pop tunes that would surely be hits if played on daytime radio.

As is the case with their aforementioned countrymen, Strumpets are a wonderfully weird group who move effortlessly between different genres without sounding unnatural or too eager to please. Let’s hope that this project, which was originally intended as a solo vehicle by Sosa, now continues on to further albums.

Web Sites:
Strumpets MySpace
Jezus Factory Records

Further Listening:
Sukilove, Super Furry Animals, The Umbrella Sequence

Review: Uniform Motion – Life

I last covered Uniform Motion when I wrote about their Uniform Motion Pictures online project; a splendid idea where a whole album’s worth of songs was accompanied by a virtual comic strip and a live video of the band performing the track. They have now revived that old-fashioned idea of a new album without the niceties of visual accompaniment.

From his days recording as Angle, main songwriter Andrew Richards has created sensitive folk-ish songs with electronic flourishes. Uniform Motion concentrates on acoustic material but with added muscle from a punchy production and strident rhythms; like a less awkward and more approachable version of Hood.

Underscored by crisp percussion and lovely harmonies, ‘Back Up Your Soul’ is undoubtedly one of the highlights but the warmth of ‘Oskar’ is equally persuasive. Even at its most forlorn (‘Storm Eye’), thanks to Richards’ hushed tones and his gift for finding a hook, the music is always fresh and involving.

Compared to his work as Angle, Richards has clearly developed as a songwriter and found a stronger voice too. So together with his bandmates, ‘Life’ is a confident – if slightly too short – album that grows in stature after each listen.

Web Sites:
Uniform Motion MySpace
Uniform Motion Pictures

Further Listening:
Angle, Angel Tech, Hood

Review: For Against – Never Been

Although they have never officially split, 2008’s ‘Shade Side Sunny Side’ probably counts as a comeback album for For Against since founding member Harry Dingman III had rejoined for the first time since 1990. Dingman’s guitar work was one of the chief distinctions of their early albums as they forged a dreampop sound before the term was even invented. As it turned out, his return was an inspired move with the trio of Dingman, Jeffrey Runnings and Nik Buller (a more recent recruit) seemingly at the peak of their powers. Keen to repeat that form, they seem to have gone straight back into the studio to record a very quick follow up. Is it a case of too much too soon though?

The broadly pessimistic tone of ‘Shade Side Sunny Side’ seems to have been jettisoned judging from the opening to ‘Never Been’. ‘Sameness’ begins with trademark ringing guitar but Runnings – with his evergreen vocals – sounds fresh and glad to alive. Mind you, the tone of the guitars soon goes downhill and gathers intensity as the melancholy is rediscovered. Better still is ‘Different Departures’. Set to a gloriously aching melody, Runnings narrates a tale of family woes with lyrics such as “You were dealt such a difficult hand, you thought no one would understand”. Rather like ‘Game Over’ from the last album, it has a tenderness and intimacy that makes it one of the standouts of their career, let alone this album.

Even the instrumentals are beautifully delivered. ‘Black Willows’ recalls Eyeless In Gaza or Felt whilst ‘Per Se’ is a darkly subtle piano piece. The centrepiece ‘Of A Time’ represents the most significant departure for the band though. Based largely around piano, it is essentially an epic ballad but one delivered with that usual quality of controlled emotion. Finally, ‘You Fade’ is a perfect way to end the album as Runnings’ vocal disappears beneath effects-saturated layers of music.

Releasing a new album eighteen months after the last one is prolific for this band’s standards. However, ‘Never Been’ is not in the least bit rushed with each song having its own identity and poignancy. For Against are one of the minority who make a mockery of the usual rate of failed comebacks and their run of great form since the turn of the century now surpasses their early work.

Web Sites:
For Against MySpace
Words On Music Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Chameleons, Kitchens Of Distinction, The Comsat Angels

Review: Bad Lieutenant – Never Cry Another Tear

After 2005’s hugely disappointing ‘Waiting For The Sirens’ Call’, it was almost inevitable that New Order would split soon after. Sure enough it appears New Order’s career will now be bookended by their two weakest albums. The chances of either Peter Hook or Bernard Sumner staging an injury time recovery seemed unlikely but the latter’s new band – formed with fellow New Order member Phil Cunningham – is a surprisingly youthful-sounding  and vibrant record.  So much so, it’s easy to forget Sumner is now in his early fifties.

To say that Bad Lieutenant revisit the past would be a massive understatement. ‘Sink Or Swim’ is based on a spiralling riff; not unlike that other New Order “spin off” project Monaco. and surely the opening to ‘Shine Like The Sun’ is more than a passing nod to ‘Love Vigilantes’. Elsewhere, ‘Poisonous Intent’ revives the digital glories of Electronic and ‘These Changes’ is strongly reminiscent of Doves.

Of course, not everything works. The inclusion of female backing vocals sounds instantly dated for all the wrong reasons and several songs are largely devoid of inspiration (summed up by “Lift up your heart and sing. Life is a precious thing.” from the inappropriately-named ‘Dynamo’). No matter, because the good outweighs the mediocre this time around. In keeping with the happy/sad moods of the album, ‘Summer Day’s captures a sense of sun-kissed melancholia and ‘Walk On Silver Water’ is another strong album track.

Rather like Peter Hook’s aforementioned Monaco, Bad Lieutenant will never achieve the invention and high points of New Order but ‘Never Cry Another Tear’ still qualifies as a strong indie guitar album, resplendent with summery charm. They may no longer be at the head of the pack but they still snarl at the heels of the front runners.

Web Sites:
Bad Lieutenant Official Site
Bad Lieutenant MySpace

Further Listening:
New Order, Monaco, Doves