Archive for May, 2010

Review: Nedry – Condors

Although dated back to the end of the last Century, dubstep seems to be the new genre of choice for those in the know. Its successes seem to revolve around a number of key artists making instrumental music; Burial being the key name to drop. London’s Nedry are now attempting to bring this incorporate dubstep in to their songs. They consist of two British DJ types and a Japanese frontwoman.

Stuttering, glitchy beats punctuate ‘A42’ with a glistening guitar figure and Ayu Okakita’s Björk-isms providing the humanity. ‘Apples & Pears’ shows even more signs of vulnerability and will come as a slap in the face for those who say dubstep isn’t emotionally involving enough. After that though, the trio only succeed sporadically.

‘Squid Cat Battle’ is rather ugly as the abrasive electronica grates along to Okakita’s panicky delivery but the predominantly instrumental ‘Scattered’ signals a brief but welcome revival for drum and bass music. They do save one of their best moments for last too; ‘Where Dead Birds Go’ proffering a very desirable nocturnal atmosphere. In between times, it’s hard to feel moved by the songs which, though undeniably interesting, seem closer in spirit to sonic experiments.

‘Condors’ sounds very of the moment and you can’t help thinking a certain Icelandic female artist would have wanted to make this record. However, it’s often a very cold listening experience which frequently teeters towards the austere in its effort to sound original.

Web Sites:
Nedry Official Site
Nedry MySpace

Further Listening:
Burial, Björk


Review: Thrushes – Night Falls

The Baltimore-based act Thrushes consist of two ladies and two gentlemen. ‘Night Falls’ is their second album and successfully allies shoegazing music with the euphoria and despair of 1960’s girl groups.

Each reverb-heavy track is given voice by the bittersweet lyrics of Anna Conner and ‘Trees’ is a  strident opener with Conner performing well to make herself heard above the noise. ‘Crystals’ experiments with a Spector-esque production whilst on the opposite end of the scale ‘Used To You’ is much gentler, as Conner bemoans her broken heart (something that seems to happen quite often to the poor girl judging by her emotional outpourings). Elsewhere there’s the Howling Bells-style twang of ‘As Much To Lose’ but a couple of the later tracks are too submerged in noise to be truly appreciated.

Drowned in love’s disappointments as much as the whirpool of guitar effects, ‘Night Falls’ is epic in both emotional reach and production. Yet although they’re not particularly remarkable in the originality stakes, Thrushes could certainly give Glasvegas a run for their money as they have the potential to coax a similar amount of tears from their audience.

Web Sites:
Thrushes Official Site
Thrushes MySpace

Further Listening:
Glasvegas, Dorian Gray

Review: Librarians – Present Passed

Librarians are a West Virginian quartet with a talent for delivering a haunting, eccentric pop music. Never having heard their first album, I can’t determine whether this is a great leap forward or not but taken as a standalone record, it’s a great album in any case.

The story begins with the brilliantly eerie ‘Marilla Park’; a glorious fusion of breathy vocals, glum rock guitars and glacial keyboard passages. To maintain this form is quite a challenge but Librarians hit the mark with just about every style they embrace, whether it’s warped Americana (‘Candy Season’), icy synth pop (‘Hard To Unwind’), mumbling Beach Boys (‘Island Jam’), doleful indie (‘So What’) and – for ‘Cranberry Palace’ – harmonic 1960’s pop meets Interpol echo in a glorious collision.

Reminiscent of obscure but great bands such as Glassacre and Theselah, their songs are original and special. Librarians may give the impression of a band making the weirdest sounds they can imagine but they also share a canny nous for a pop tune.

Web Sites:
Librarians MySpace

Further Listening:
Glassacre, Theselah

Review: Joe Frawley – Left Cincinatti

With a clever use of voice samples and piano melodies, Joe Frawley’s music is often beautifully evocative. Frawley himself calls these pieces short stories but it’s really up to the listener to interpret what tales are being told. ‘Left Cincinatti’ is based on the memories and dreams of an identity-shifting female.

‘Left Cincinatti’ uses a repeated refrain from a girl who “didn’t like high school” but the surrounding shimmer of noise drifting in and out of the speakers suggests all kinds of bad things happened to this young lady. ‘Secretary In Slowmo’ cuts up phone tones and white noise. On ‘Vanishing Point’ there’s an impression of a woman being suffocated, not necessarily in the literal sense but trapped in a cycle of life; the morbid piano melody only adding to the chilly, austere air. ‘The Girl On The Quay’ contains mutterings of the “birds and the bees down by the sea” set to strings and seagull cries whilst at other times women giggle and sigh for reasons unknown.

The messages in ‘Left Cincinatti’ are all too vague to truly know what’s going on but they’re undeniably hypnotic. Moreover, Frawley’s compositions have steadily taken on an increasingly darker hue and you wonder how far he will go next time around.

Web Sites:
Joe Frawley Official Site
Joe Frawley MySpace

Further Listening:
Out Of Process, Harold Budd

Review: Gouthy – A Long Travel For The Space

Gouthy Pueyo Perez hails from Spain, not a country that’s renown for electronic music but Gouthy continues undeterred. This proves to be a good move since ‘A Long Travel For The Space’ seems remote from other influences and therefore sounds rather special.

Warm techno and bouncy beats dominate ‘BCN Connections’ which is one of the more mainstream offerings. The two ‘Intro’ tracks appear to source samples from ancient film soundtracks and there’s an air of childlike wonder to most of these instrumentals; the twinkly ‘I Love You’ is charming and melodic whilst ‘Indochina’ is cinematic and epic. Yet although the mood tends to be often playful, ‘Oriente’, ‘Instrumentalmente’ and ‘More Music’ take an elegant and slightly sinister approach that leaves a lasting impression.

Gouthy is not a groundbreaking artist but has an intriguing way with melody which manages to be both experimental and accessable. Following on from last year’s Nheap album, Internet label Acustronica are beginning to gain a reputation for unearthing European electronic talent.

Web Sites:
Gouthy MySpace
Acustronica Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Avalanches

Review: Sasha Is Acoustic – What Every Young Man Should Know

Since it’s so easy to get your music on a MySpace site these days, the world is hardly bereft of singer/songwriters. Sasha Is Acoustic is an eighteen year old Londoner, equipped with an acoustic guitar and a drum machine, along with the hopes and dreams of many other young men of a similar age. Luckily, he adds talent to the package too on this lo-fi but endearing first album.

Sasha’s voice sounds a little too affected by the London environment but when he harmonises with himself, (especially on the chorus to ‘Every End Has A Start’) such minor crimes are forgiveable. ‘Fear And Loathing In Edgeware’  expands the palette to include post-rock guitars whilst ‘You’re Stuck In My Head’ and ‘I Will Learn’ deviate from the guitar/drum machine rule but they also benefit from a fuller production.

His finest moment is reserved for the penultimate track; a spare and sinister song called ‘Doubt’ where he seems to be mourning the passing of a loved one. Finally, the infectious, singalong ‘Celia’ signs off on a postive note.

The pleasure of hearing someone’s first record is that the flaws have yet to be smoothed over and the real quality of the songwriting has to shine through. In this respect, ‘What Every Young Man Should Know’ is an album which gives bedroom lo-fi a good name and Sasha Is Acoustic could become Sasha Is Quite Popular On National Radio very soon.

Web Sites:
Sasha Is Acoustic MySpace
Not Yet Retro Records MySpace

Review: Goldfrapp – Head First

Now a decade into their career, the duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have been unashamedly pilfering from the vaults since their second album, 2003’s ‘Black Cherry’ and with largely inventive results. Much of this exercise has revolved around 1980’s themes, in particular synth pop. ‘Head First’ revisits this genre again only this time in its most disposable form.

‘Rocket’ opens proceedings with the line “I got a rocket, you’re going on it” and a shiny upbeat chorus to match. ‘Believer’ and ‘Alive’ follow in quick succession; both fine but perhaps best suited to keep-fit routines than home listening. Goldfrapp always seemed to play their music with a knowing wink but as each moment ticks by you’re left waiting and waiting for the time they switch from disposable pop to something more substantial and introspective.

That moment does eventually arrive courtesy of the fifth track, ‘Head First’; the backing is still distinctly cheesy but Goldfrapp herself stirs enough emotion and Gregory saves some memorable key changes for the song. The recovery is maintained for the breathy ‘Hunt’ but comes to a halt thanks to ‘Shiny And Warm’, a noticeably darker track but lightweight in its execution. The album ends disappointingly too, with a pointless ambient experiment that is totally forgettable.

There’s a sense that this music could have featured on films as ‘Flashdance’ and ‘Footloose’; the ideal accompaniment to equally insubstantial cinema history. Furthermore, if it’s 80’s soundtrack fare you’re after, Ladyhawke does it far better.

Web Sites:
Goldfrapp Official Site
Goldfrapp MySpace

Further Listening:

Review: Royston Vince – Cold Air

Having already reviewed two albums by Royston Vince, this London-based artist seemed focussed on creating ambient/electronic music. On ‘Out Of The World’ though, he gamely took on vocal duties for the first time and has now had the confidence to construct a song-based album. Not a bad move, as it happens.

As a frontman, Vince is a good performer with a very clear, appealing voice and you wonder why he didn’t step up to the mic on previous albums.  If the opening ‘Cold Air’ is a little too crisp and superficial then the lightly melancholic ‘The Rest Is Silence’ is a much more attractive offering. ‘Home Again’ is arranged very nicely too, with crisp percussion and flute adding layers to this warm, hopeful track, whereas breezy number ‘Run And Tell’ adds a little white funk to the mix. That said, Vince’s best (not to mention bravest) showing is perhaps saved for ‘In Dublin’; a very moving track where his teary tones are complemented by subtle strings and piano.

On the flipside, he comes comes unstuck on ‘The Longest Conversation’ which seems largely based on ‘The Art Of Conversation’ from his last record (which still sounds like a theme tune to a holiday programme). Likewise, ‘A Quiet Place’ gets nostalgic for the 1980’s in a bad way.

Listening to Royston Vince is a srange but quite uplifting experience. The fact that his music seems so out of touch with modern times and he sings in a consistently uplifting but unaffected manner actually works in his favour. Classify this one as a guilty pleasure, then. 

Web Sites:
Royston Vince Official Site

Further Listening:
China Crisis

Review: Burning Codes – Burning Codes 2

Having earned ringing endorsements from the unlikely pairing of Snow Patrol and ex-Neu! man Michael Rother, Burning Codes are quietly becoming an act to watch. ‘Burning Codes 2’ retains the values of its predecessor but also signals an upsurge in ambtion with fuller production and songs whose appeal stretches from the local church to the stadiums

‘Speaking In Codes’ opens like a Snow Patrol song actually, with a semi-grungy guitar line. This is not entirely representative of the record as a whole though, which is still rather gentle in tone. So much so, that for the next two tracks, the voice of main man Paul Archer’s becomes a conciliatory whisper. The latter of these efforts, ‘Can You Hear The Sound’, is quietly anthemic with the echo-heavy production expanding the arrangement to its full potential. He offers a soothing vibrato for the hymnal ‘Sharper Than Gold’ and ‘Away’, then some ghostly sighs are heard above the shoegaze-influenced closer ‘Codes Are Innate’; a track which should go down well as the finale to a live set too.

In lesser hands, these songs would sound like quasi-religious twaddle but Archer sensibly keeps the arrangements spare; allowing guitar lines and lyrics alike the space to breathe. Moreover, he seems to have defined his own little niche in spiritual music that is kept grounded by its indie roots.

Web Sites:
Burning Codes MySpace
Indiecater Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Snow Patrol, Spiritualized

Review: Harold Nono/Hidekazu Wakabayashi – Harold Nono/Hidekazu Wakabayashi

Harold Nono and Hidekazu Wakabayashi belong to the ever-growing list of artists who started as an online collaboration from their respective homes in Scotland and Japan. The partnership began with file sharing of piano pieces which gradually flowered into the fragrant instrumentals on this, their self-titled debut.

‘Family’ features aching guitar lines, plangent piano keys and sublime harmonies. Fulfilling the promise of its title, ‘Let’s Go Find Mushrooms’ is one of the more dreamlike offerings that is reminiscent of both Cornelius and The Beach Boys, whereas ‘I’ve Heard Giants’ and ‘Teenage Desk’ are all about twinkling lights and warm textures.

Some fragments are definitely “out there” though. Take, for example, the faded-in and out vocal samples for ‘I Wanted To Go The Party’ and its complete lack of song structure. The last few tracks retreat further for the avant garde with accordions and xylophones putting in appearances but it’s the spare elegance of the piano pieces (especially the haunting ‘Wild Blue Yonder’) which linger longest in the memory.

Despite some odd moments which don’t really come off, Nono and Wakabayashi complement each other’s talents very well. The fact that, for the most part, the results are very tuneful as well makes it a very easy record to listen to.

Web Sites:
Hidekazu Wakabayashi MySpace
Harold Nono MySpace
Bearsuit Records MySpace

Further Listening:
Cornelius, Malcolm Fisher