Archive for March, 2010

Review: Elika – There Was No Summer

If you could possibly imagine Madonna ever fronting New Order then Elika’s 2008 album ‘Trying Got Us Nowhere’ may well have been the result. Based on the crystal clear vocals and keyboard playing of Evageila Maravelias and the skills of multi-instrumentalist Brian Wenckebach, their album turned out to be one of the finest of the year. Despite the follow-up EP lasting a mere thirteen minutes, the duo retain their ability to excite.

That said, ‘There Was No Summer’ is a whole lot different to its predecessor and ‘Already Know’ is an odd way to start an EP. For the first minute there’s just Maravelias accompanied by acoustic guitar and rainfall effects. Then the song goes even weirder as her vocals are distorted. To follow, ‘Analog Alpha’ features what sounds like a distorted child’s voice trapped in a futuristic underwater prison.

‘Death & Avalanches’, arguably the most conventional moment on the album, recalls a modernised Mamas And The Papas (quite a feat considering there is just one singer) whilst ‘You Win Hearts’ is beat-heavy but also has its decidedly strange moments of childlike mystery. Finally, ‘Catalan’ is a dreamy ambient instrumental which drifts along at glacial pace.

‘There Was No Summer’ could have cheekily been called ‘There Were No Songs’ since there’s little evidence of the alternative pop from their last album. Yet this a brief but fascinating journey into the experimental interests of Elika and one which is curiously attractive.

Web Sites:
Elika Official Site
Elika MySpace

Further Listening:
Madonna, Boards Of Canada


Review: Delphic – Acolyte

You have to feel slightly sorry for Delphic; a much-hyped dance rock outfit from Manchester weighed down with comparisons to the untouchable New Order. ‘Acolyte’ infact, more closely follows in the footsteps of Friendly Fires with electronica, emotion and glossy production very much to the fore.

Recent single ‘Doubt’ comes complete with the kind of clever, infectious synth breaks that make perfect sense of the New Order comparisons. Opener ‘Clarion Call’ and the A-ha-like ‘Submission’ master that difficult euphoria/melancholia trick whilst ‘Red Lights’ is amongst several tracks which demonstrate that one of this threesome’s main strengths is their harmonies.

On the debit side, several songs here sound like extended mixes with the title track being a major culprit; a fine example of what may sound great on the dancefloor can sound repetitive and tedious in the home environment. Also, even if the energy levels of the band are constantly high the finale ‘Remain’ represents subtle relief.

Beneath the gloss there’s certainly some evidence of substance to be found but the album is a little too slick to be loveable. This being a debut album though, it’s perhaps no great surprise that they can’t hold their form from beginning to end. Album number two, therefore, will be the real test.

Web Sites:
Delphic Official Site
Delphic MySpace

Further Listening:
Friendly Fires, Keane, We Are Scientists, Hot Chip, New Order

Review: Milhaven – Milhaven

Hailing from Germany, Milhaven are a post-rock band who have grown with each release. Their self-titled new album is their third release and once which harks back to the early days of post-rock behemoths like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor but with a little less heaviness on show.

‘Milhaven’ the album begins chillingly with a speech by Margaret Thatcher, although the sense of doom never really takes hold from there. Indeed, after the drama of ‘Supervulkan’, the overall feeling is one of melancholic beauty. ‘Barnabas’ is a gentle affair where pretty guitar textures dominate. Even as the drums increase in pace, everything is kept under restraints with the focus on a lovely core melody. A similar method is spun out for ‘Miami Jesus’. The momentum builds slowly and surely to ‘Animal 3k’ before the calm of ‘The Trees In Misery’. Then just when you think it’s safe those Godspeed influences surface again for the final, bombastic ‘Hunter’.

More than fond of guitars which can tremble as well as chime, their new album does nothing earth shattering in a stylistic sense. Yet it is a real measure of their growing maturity and their focus on tunes makes them thoroughly likeable.

Web Sites:
Milhaven Official Site
Milhaven MySpace

Further Listening:
This Is A Process Of A Still Life, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Video: Epic45 – Ghosts On Tape

Remember those halcyon days when videos used to tell a story that made you think about what it was all about and your interpretation of it was different to that of a friend or associate? Staffordshire’s Epic45 certainly do.

This is a wonderful video featuring a Mark Hollis-lookalike who appears to be struggling to come to terms with childhood memories – a common theme explored in Epic45’s releases so far. According to Ben Holton from the band, the creature represents an imaginary friend from childhood.

What is more, ‘Ghosts On Tape’ is a fabulous song from its rustic intro, to the breathy, dreamlike vocals and finallly to the wonderful head-spinning chorus. Definitely one of my favourite tracks from last year or, indeed, any year.

Web Sites:
Epic45 Official Site
Epic45 MySpace

Review: The Other Two – The Other Two And You

Spin-off projects very rarely yield great results but all the members of New Order can at least boast significant arguments to the contrary. As well as the terrific first album by Electronica, less heralded treats include Monaco’s debut and The Other Two’s contributions; the latter being the self-consciously titled project from husband and wife duo Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert. Originally concentrating on TV soundtrack work, The Other Two released two albums over a six-year period.

Although they somehow avoided the charts, ‘Tasty Fish’and ‘Selfish’ are perfect electro-pop singles. In lesser hands, they would sound cheap; here they sound fresh, vibrant and incredibly infectious. As for the album as a whole, ‘The Other Two And You’ is still poppy but not as disposable as you might think.

Indeed ‘The Greatest Thing’ and ‘Feel This Love’ are top quality smooth Euro-pop with a melancholic edge whilst ‘Moving On’ is uptempo in outlook even if its underlying story (a Thelma and Louise-style tale) is less so. One of the keys is Gillian Gilbert’s voice which is crystal clear and perfectly suited to the synth pop movement; hard to imagine that Kim Wilde almost ended up fronting the band. There is, however, a fair amount of filler, instrumentals such as ‘Spirit Level’ and ‘Night Voice’ do not need to be heard again but the Gilbert-voiced tracks all offer something worth hearing.

This LTM reissue is augmented by some pretty decent alternative mixes too; Moby’s ambient take on ‘Moving On’ being the standout. Tellingly, The Other Two’s bittersweet tunes can lay claim to showing the way forward for the likes of Dubstar, Snowblind and a slew of other female-fronted electronica acts.

Web Sites:
The Other Two MySpace
LTM Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
New Order, Dubstar, Snowblind, Life Project

Review: dEUS – Worst Case Scenario

The history books of indie music will recall the mid-1990’s as the highpoint of Brit-pop where Blur, Oasis and Pulp dominated the airwaves and gave great interviews. Though they all had a positive input, a new band in Belgium were creating some very original music which got them high praise from critics and a reasonably-sized cult following. dEUS’s first album, now reissued as a deluxe 3 CD package (I’ve focussed on the original album for the purposes of this review), is definitely worth a reappraisal.

The invention on display here still leaves the mouth watering. From the beginning we have the Velvet Underground meets UK punk of ‘Suds & Soda’ and then ‘W.C.S. (First Draft)’; one of several tracks to incorporate jazz in to alternative rock (a long time before it was fashionable to do so). Meanwhile, ‘Jigsaw You’ and the almost teary ‘Right As Rain’ reveal the sensitive side that was always at the heart of their music and also offer the best evidence of Tom Barman’s highly emotive vocals.

That said, ‘Worst Case Scenario’ is not perfect. If dEUS were credited with making the likes of Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits listenable, the ugly, crazed ‘Mute’ and ‘Great American Nude’ seemed to be a step backwards. Such small sins were forgiveable, however, as ‘Via’ and ‘Hotellounge’ standout as alternative classics of their time and lasting documents of their unique melodic genius.

Although not their best album (by 1999’s ‘The Ideal Crash’ they had smoothed some of the rough edges whilst still retaining their idiosyncratic charm), ‘Worst Case Scenario’ is an important record as it was arguably the first time Belgian rock was taken seriously outside of its homeland. Moreover, its eclectic mix of styles was pioneering for alternative music in general and it still sounds exciting today.

Web Sites:
dEUS Official Site
dEUS MySpace

Further Listening:
Dawn Of The Replicants, Captain Beefheart

Review: Malory – Pearl Diver

Malory are a Dresden-based act who formed in the mid-1990s and are now on to their fourth album. As unlikely as it is that the term “German shoegaze” will get music fans salivating, ‘Pearl Diver’ is worth persevering with.

Breezy vocals and a rock-solid rhythmic backbone are the key to the menacing ‘The Signs’ whlst ‘Caché’ and ‘Back To The Point (I’ve Started From)’ are made on similarly strong foundations as well as being blessed with great vocal hooks from Daniela Neuhäuser. Malory have also recognised the need to sound less like 1991 and more like a modern version of the shoegazing imprint so programming is the key to much of their songs. The title track and it’s minimalist electronica and insistent drone prove that they are masters of subtlety and the gorgeous ‘Dragon In You’ gives dreampop instrumentals a good name. Less essential, though, is an eight-minute live version of ‘Ajar Door’ which doffs its cap a little too much in the direction of Slowdive.

‘Pearl Diver’ avoids being “just another shoegazing revival” album with some style. Beyond its genre classification, it’s a multi-textured, sensitively produced album that never relies too much on the FX pedal.

Web Sites:
Malory Official Site
Malory MySpace

Further Listening:
Slowdive, Rumskib, Lush, Cranes