Archive for March, 2010

Review: Four Tet – There Is Love In You

If you’ve been off the electronica scene for as little as a year, it can be difficult to stay relevant. Kieran Hebden has waited a massive five years after his last album to release a follow-up. Not that he should be worried, ‘There Is Love In You’ reveals his talent has not diminished.

‘Angel Echoes’ borrows a vintage soul sample and dreamy melody; proving that the “folktronica” tag he helped invent is still at the core of many of his tunes. It prepares the listener for an even more hypnotic experience courtesy of the nine minute-long ‘Love Cry’; where a fairly simple danceable groove is kept exciting by Hebden’s knowledge of what makes a good beat and another mesmeric vocal loop.

Elsewhere, beneath the bleeps ‘Sing’ is informed by a genuine sense of longing whilst ‘This Unfolds’ demonstrates that Boards Of Canada aren’t the only successful exponents of creating a weirdly nostalgic kind of psychedelia. Look beyond the beats and ‘Plastic People’ even recalls a recently modernised Kraftwerk.

‘There Is Love In You’ is a consistently rewarding record that does much to re-establish Hebden as an important contributor in the electronica field. So whilst it’s hard to say ‘There Is Love In You’ is a ground-breaking return, it signals a welcome return to the old-fashioned values of melodic electronica informed by human emotion.

Web Sites:
Four Tet Official Site
Four Tet MySpace

Further Listening:
Boards Of Canada, Kraftwerk, Minotaur Shock


Review: Untied States – Instant Everything, Constant Nothing

You would think that if an American indie act called itself Untied States, it would be for the purpose of mocking politicians. The source, however, is “a brief encounter with a heightened sense of dyslexia”. In fact, on the evidence of their fourth album, their music is as far removed from political commentary as you can get.

‘Gorilla The Bull’ is chiefly noteworthy for its combination of grunge, post-punk and Colin Arnstein’s blood curdling vocals. It contains melody but only of a very off-kilter variety. It’s also a excellent beginning to one of the most original records you could hear this year. ‘Not Fences, Mere Masks’ is propelled by urgent riffs seemingly beamed in from a futuristic emergency services department, before the song collapses in to a heap as each wall of sound comes crashing down. ‘Unsilvered Mirrors’ continues the drama; possibly the darkest and most deeply satisfying track on here and it possesses devlishly good hooks amidst the chaos.

So far so brilliant, coupled with the uneasy impression that if the songs were played backwards, they might make more sense. However, fifty minutes of such subversion is a lot to take and as much as I enjoyed the maddening art punk of ‘Take Time For Always’ or the charming lo-fi  of ‘Holding Up Walls’, I felt my brain had been tampered with by the time the CD had stopped spinning.

The main flaw to ‘Instant Everything…’ is that it is extremely disorientating as a listening experience. The dissonant layers of sounds switch from speaker to speaker with barely a pause for breath as if there’s almost too much invention on show. Suffice to say to say, experimental rock doesn’t get any more experimental than this.

Web Sites:
Untied States Official Site
Untied States MySpace

Further Listening:
HIJK, State Shirt, The Umbrella Sequence

Video Feature: Elika – Let Down

Admittedly the formula of striking female vs electronic boffin was done to death in the 1990s. Take time for Elika though, Evagelia Marvelias’s vocals remind me of Madonna in her 1980’s pomp whilst her songwriting partner Brian Wenckebach throws up all kind of grungy, electronic shapes.

‘Let Down’ is the duo at their most commercially viable with a killer chorus which provides a neat counterpoint to the haunting verses. Elika have recently released a new EP ‘There Was No Summer’, which reveals their more experimental side.

Web Sites:
Elika Official Site
Elika MySpace

Review: Finneyerkes – Bastard

Finneyerkes is a two-man electronic project from Alabama. The unusual moniker is a combination of the two protagonists’ surnames, (Matt) Finney and (Randy) Yerkes and ‘Bastard’ is the latest fruits of their labour.

By calling your album in this way and beginning with a track named ‘Cobain’ one would expect this to be an aggressive record. For this particular ‘Cobain’, however, lush synths merge with twinkling atmospherics. ‘Mountain Lion’ and ‘Keely’ bear distant echoes of 4AD Records releases with the passage dominated by cavernous production and layers of effects.

‘Lins’ and ‘Chicago’ move into darker territory; their subtle textures and sense of space recalling a credit crunch-hit Bark Psychosis. Cylon’s remix of ‘DisMIX’, meanwhile, seems to combine bird song, layers of keyboards and some heavy duty gardening equipment. It’s undoubtedly dissonant but at the same time beautifully mysterious.

‘Bastard’ borrows elements from post-rock, ambient and electronica but the skill here is how Finneyerkes arrange and produce these influences in to some deeply moving instrumental pieces. Not a bad effort considering the band members didn’t know what to do with these tracks.

Web Sites:
Finneyerkes MySpace

Further Listening:
Bark Psychosis, Mole Harness, Planivaar

Review: Eels – End Times

A number of acts have made a living on making themselves sound older than they really are. Yet for every Gomez or Paolo Nutini there’s someone whose premature ageing seems totally genuine. Despite being a relatively sprightly 46 years young, Mark Oliver Everett’s cracked, world-weary vocals could have come from a septuagenarian. Needless to say, after a life frequently marred by family tragedy, there is clearly nothing staged about this latest Eels performance. ‘End Times’, his eighth album, switches focus to broken love.

Bluesy rocker ‘Gone Man’ is one of the livelier tracks but elsewhere this seems to be a sombre reflection on old age. The gentle, atmospheric ‘In My Younger Days’ could have cropped up on career highlight ‘Electro-Shock Blues’. It’s a track full of poignant lines, part hopeful, part doomed where Everett states “I’m not yet resigned to fate.. not gonna be ruled by hate, but it’s strong and it’s filling up my days”.

Thankfully the guttural roar from last year’s ‘Hombre Loco’ has been dismissed in favour of husky, intimate tones so ‘End Times’ is a much more comfortable listening experience as a result. ‘Nowadays’ is a typically understated, beautifully rendered piece where subtle strings and acoustic guitar set the scene for a happy/sad tune that ruminates on the decline of society. For ‘I Need A Mother’ he sounds so desperate and lonely, only the hardest heart could deny him a hug.

Despite its permanent downbeat nature,  ‘End Times’ is never depressing as Everett always manages to convey that all-important warmth on his records. Although this would be a fitting epitaph to Everett’s career, hopefully this won’t be the final act from him.

Web Sites:
Eels Official Site
Eels MySpace

Further Listening:
Unknown Component

Review: Field Music – Field Music (Measure)

I’m a firm believer that the ideal length of an album should be around the thirty-five to fifty minute mark so when a well-established band releases a double album, there’s usually justification for the endeavour to be condensed to a single disc. The idea of Field Music releasing a double should hold no fears though. Between them, the prolific Peter and David Brewis have delivered six albums’ worth of largely superb material since 2005.

Right from the start, courtesy of the yearning melody of ‘In The Mirror’, the first CD takes on all the hallmarks of what has made the Brewis brothers such an inspired writing team. There’s jolly, doleful pop (‘Them That Do Nothing’), new wave (‘Effortlessly’), heartfelt “slowies” (‘Lights Up’) and the delightful string-embellished title track. Admittedly there’s a strong sense of 1970’s influences but to be compared to Wings and 10CC (two of the UK’s most imaginative singles acts) should be an honour rather than a curse. In fact, only the final ballad ‘You And I’ could be classed as ordinary.

The second CD is much more baroque and makes sense of the “progressive pop” tag the group have been bestowed with in recent times. Each track seems to shoot off in all manner of directions where pop, ambient, found sounds, prog and 1970’s rock live in harmony and sometimes all in the same song. Needless to say, structure is less important here. For two minutes, ‘Something Familiar’ settles into its XTC skin and then gradually transforms in to a moody piano ballad whilst ‘Curves Of The Needle’ resembles a ponderous Talk Talk experiment. It’s fair to say that the second CD is less easy to return to but it proves beyond doubt that Field Music are ploughing their own musical furrow.

‘Measure’ is certainly a successful return for Peter and David Brewis. Whilst the first CD celebrates the melodic genius of their past endeavours, the second may show the way forward. I just hope the latter doesn’t indicate they will be saying goodbye to the pop ideals which have been beating at the heart of all their best material.

Web Sites:
Field Music Official Site
Field Music MySpace

Further Listening:
Wings, 10CC, XTC

Review: Venus Bogardus – Spitting At The Glass

In the UK we’re used to American bands decamping to England when their native country doesn’t appreciate them. Venus Bogardus have made the rare move of travelling in the opposite direction. They have an unusual name too, which comes from a character in ‘The Beebo Brinker Chronicles’; a set of lesbian pulp fiction novels from the 1950’s and 1960’s. ‘Spitting At The Glass’, their third album but first since moving to the US, celebrates all things no-wave.

Gothic guitars and frantic vocals dominate ‘Judy Davis Lips’; an opener which is brimming with intensity. ‘Flat Planes’ is sharper and contains even more hooks whilst ‘Scatter’ nods to the grunge movement. Proving these are no flukes, ‘Permanent Notice’ and ‘Exiles’ have great edgy choruses too. However, towards the end of the record the detuned guitar/scuzzy rock style begins to lose momentum and the eighteen minutes of ‘Brett Smiley Pile-Up’ is a real exercise in endurance that seems to last even longer.

Although rather dry and seemingly lacking in emotion, Venus Bogardus are canny enough to embellish most of these songs with neat melodic hooks. These qualities alone should make ‘Spitting At The Glass’ well worthy of investigation for fans of both post-punk and Sonic Youth.

Web Sites:
Venus Bogardus Official Site
Venus Bogardus MySpace

Further Listening:
Sonic Youth

Video Feature: Uniform Motion Interactive Gig

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a short piece on Uniform Motion Pictures; a unique concept whereby each new song by the band Uniform Motion was accompanied by a video of them performing the song as well as a comic book version which told the story of the song via words and pictures.

Well, Uniform Motion have done it again. This time you are all invited to an interactive animated gig! Yes, now’s your chance to play God so if you don’t like drums, guitar or voice you can switch the individual elements off. Or just click on the playlist to select your chosen track, sit back and enjoy the show. The tracks are all featured on Uniform Motion’s rather fine album ‘Life’ which I reviewed back in January.

Click here to enter the gig.

Review: Poostosh – Herbarium

Poostosh are a Moscow-based three piece, their name meaning “uncultivated plot or heath”. It turns out to be quite accurate. ‘Herbarium’, their third album, is the sonic equivalent of nature being left to look after itself; growing wildly yet not unattractively without the care of human hands and machinery. Yet that would be to dismiss the work of these Russian musicians who have created a collection of gloriously evocative instrumental music.

As if to hammer home the point that Poostosh aren’t going for the obvious route to capture the listener’s attention, ‘Overjoyed To Hear The New Poostosh Album’ is on the surface a jolly folk ditty but with strange unsettling vocal samples lurking underneath. ‘Life As We Forgot It’ is part elegiac piano keys and ambient wash.

Poostosh’s real genius is being able to unearth beauty. The fragrant ‘Sasha’ is like the soundtrack to a secret garden imagined by Vini Reilly, ‘Swallowed By Untime, Vol. 2’ harks back to the pastoral subtlety of Mike Oldfield and ‘The Meadow Of Infancy’ turns the cheesiest of vintage organs in to a gorgeous melody. In their quest for the unusual, Poostosh do occasionally slip up. ‘Corneal Abrasion’ is as unpleasant as it sounds whilst one track borrows instruments from a “cool busker” including an accordion.

Admittedly, nearly an hour of this music is a lot to take in one sitting but for most of the time I was mesmerised by its invention and weirdness. ‘Herbarium’ seems informed by the echoes of a 1970’s dream, close in spirit and execution to UK act Junkboy.

Web Sites:
Poostosh MySpace

Further Listening:
Junkboy, Ultramarine

Review: BFF – The Mossy Rock Album

BFF is the musical outlet for Californian Egan Rice. Despite being aided by several other musicians, ‘The Mossy Rock Album’ sounds like one of those bedroom boffin albums where a warped imagination produces moments that suggest either inspiration or emergency psychiatric treatment. Rice is not without his mad moments but his first album happily falls in to the former category.

The opening ‘Mossy Rock’ gets things off to a flyer; building from its Beck-like verses to an attractively grunge-fuelled chorus. Influences from further back are captured for ‘Daily Wage’ and ‘Aslant’ (a sleazy funk track), where Squeeze seems to be a reference point.  Rice’s vocals are strident and versatile without being overpowering, which isn’t always the case with singer songwriters. On ‘Bertha Champagne’ he even manages to sound soulful. Other standouts include the simple but catchy ‘Don’t You Know’ and quirky electronic nuggets ‘Not Yet’  and ‘Racetack!’.

A few amateurish moments aside, ‘The Mossy Rock Album’ is a very infectious little album that embraces the more idiosyncratic side of pop. It’s a world where no song is like another and each follows its own melodic and stylistic journey.

Web Sites:
BFF Official Site
BFF MySpace

Further Listening:
Squeeze, Beck