Archive for June, 2010

Review: Hammock – Chasing After Shadows… Living With The Ghosts

Having now recorded four albums, Nashville’s Hammock have become an acclaimed act in the field of ambient music. Their last recording, ‘Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow’ seemed to be an outlet for their minimalist ideas but ‘Chasing After Shadows…’ is a different beast altogether, with layer upon layer merged to achieve maximum dreampop thrills.

‘The Backward Step’ is certainly a gorgeous opener; collating the best bits of Robin Guthrie and wrapping them up in to a strident, epic melody. ‘Tristia’ is more akin to Sigur Ros with “big emotions” to the fore but similarly impressive in the final analysis. After this, their successes are sporadic. ‘Breathturn’ employs some breathy wordless vocals but it’s the kind of empty gesture that has been the stock-in trade for M83 in recent years. ‘Andalusia’ begins languid and relaxed but then the waves of sound come crashing down, with many other tracks following in a very similar formula until the eventual end of the record.

‘Chasing’ is an initially beautiful record but after seventy minutes of gently shape-shifting dreaminess, the effect can become quite soporific. If they could temper the OTT moments of this record with the less is more approach of previous releases, album number five could be something special.

Web Sites:
Hammock Official Site
Hammock MySpace

Further Listening:
M83, Sigur Ros, Robin Guthrie


Review: Maiki – Sea/Sons

Barcelona-born Jordi ‘Maiki’ Rovira produced the entertaining ‘The Stalker’ album in 2009, where he revealed a taste for abstract electronica and a penchant for bizarre but inventive cover versions. ‘Sea/Sons’ is a compilation of EPs he has released in the last year. So, unsurprisingly, it’s not the most seamless album to listen to but it frequently produces great moments.

Of the cover versions, ‘Beck’s ‘The Golden Age’ sounds more like Depeche Mode, so it’s fitting that Rovira doffs his cap to Basildon’s finest for the latter’s ‘Sometimes’ as well. He also tackles ‘Way Down In The Hole’, the Tom Waits-penned title song to The Wire. Viewers of the show will be aware there was a different version used for each of the five seasons and Rovira’s lo-fi electronica is decent in comparison. Where he really excels, though, is his percussion-heavy take on Luke Haines’ politically-fired ‘Baader Meinhof’.

As far as his own compositions go, Rovira is inconsistent. His best moment is undoubtedly the longest track ‘Tell Myself Everything Is Sacred, Remember To Be Thankful For What I’ve Got’; a fascinating twelve-minute journey through techno and ambient terrain which meanders through each passage with great fluidity whilst maintaining its core melody. ‘SF’ and ‘The Soft Machine’ are interesting experiments which never seem to take flight,’Analyse’ is a fine if sombre song but three versions of it seems excessive. However, ‘The Ladder’ is deliciously tight and urgent and the standout of a worthwhile detour in to cinematically-themed music.

The variety of ‘Sea/Sons’ proves to be a double-edged sword with Rovira always producing interesting work but often at the expenses of cohesion. Nevertheless, it is to Rovira’s credit that he sounds like a unique performer, interpreting others’ work and often making them his own, whilst also establishing a reputation for quality experimental music.

Web Sites:
Maiki Official Site
Secta Records Label and Shop Site
Maiki MySpace

Further Listening:
Depeche Mode, Tarwater, Steven Brown

Review: Malcolm Fisher – Breeze Spring Music

The second of Malcolm Fisher’s seasonally-themed albums has now moved on to ‘Spring’. As one can imagine, given the shift in temperature expected at this time of year, ‘Breeze’ is a lot brighter in mood. Fisher’s compositions are frequently joyful; symbolising new life in Britain’s lush gardens.

This time the piano keys tinkle and twinkle whereas for the Winter album, they were sombre and drawn out. It is only on track 10 (of 64) where the music takes a slightly darker turn with woodwind and drums adding shade, as if in acknowledgement that not all is bright between March and June. There are also Oriental flourishes and some gorgeous flute parts towards the centre of the record and – as the album draws on – the melodies resemble the pitter-patter of raindrops.

‘Breeze’ may not be as consistently pretty as ‘Loom’ and there are moments where it’s possible to doze off but it’s hopeful, positive outlook is genuinely touching. One can only hope Summer continues the form, in both musical and weather terms.

Web Sites:
Malcolm Fisher Official Site
Malcolm Fisher MySpace

Further Listening:
The French Impressionists, Erik Satie

Review: Richard Haswell – Safety In Movement

Richard Haswell is an Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter who has self-released twenty albums to date. Intriguingly, his former projects include the dubiously-named Rhubarb and G For Gnome but based on this recording under his own name, his concerns are more grounded this time around.

Haswell’s soothing tones are tailor-made for comfort listening from the moment we hear him on ‘Magnetic North’ and when wife Shelley joins in, the song sounds even more intimate. At the other end of the scale, ‘Cause & Effect’ has the full epic band effect. Mostly though, his music is rather subtle; tracks like ‘Arise’ and ‘Driftwood’ possess a pastoral dreamlike atmosphere in keeping with the blurred cover art. The same cannot be said, however, for ‘Dream Hill’ which is discordant and unlistenable. Thankfully the chiming melody to ‘Post Goldrush Blues’ (a song which bemoans the death of music) is memorable for the right reasons and makes up fo that aberration.

Haswell’s vocals are rich with experience and sometimes I couldn’t tell whether I was listening to a 1970’s folk-rock veteran or a sonic experimentalist (witness the psychedelic/shoegazing finale to ‘The Rings Of Saturn’). What is more important is that his music is enjoyable to listen to and different enough to mark him out as a true independent artist.

Web Sites:
Richard Haswell Official Site
Richard Haswell MySpace

Review: The Shy Bunch – The Shy Bunch EP

Andrew Espinola has been featured on these pages before under the guise of A. Rex, releasing one folk-pop record and another which was more in keeping with 1970’s Americana. Espinola has now teamed up with his classically-trained wife Lauren to form the Shy Bunch and claims that this project is to fulfil his love of “whiny songwriters”.

There is no need to worry about this statement though. Espinola’s way with a light, airy melody and his own keening vocals are on a par with Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie renown. Here are moments of well-crafted and literate pop music, captured to perfection on the piano-led trio ‘Trying To Get Where You Are’, ‘The Dangers Of Whiskey And Talking’ and ‘Don’t Really Care’; each one a bittersweet gem. ‘Lauren’ is a dedication to his wife which is rather touching and both this contribution and ‘Inside’ use simplistic acoustic arrangements where the male half of the duo – not for the first time in his career – summons up the spirit of Eels’ Mark ‘E’ Everett.

At a mere seventeen minutes in length, there’s little time to get your teeth into this record. Yet there isn’t a dull moment on it as the Espinola couple have crafted six great songs of memorable, heartfelt pop.

Web Sites:
The Shy Bunch MySpace

Further Listening:
A. Rex, Death Cab For Cutie, Eels

Review: Keane – Night Train

Although music snobs turned their noses up at their shamlessly poppy music and public school background, for the first two albums Keane definitely had some endearing qualities. Firstly there was Tom Chaplin’s strident, emotional vocals and they distilled the same sense of euphoria which A-ha created in their widescreen pop phase in the latter half of the 1980’s. However, for last album ‘Perfect Symmetry’, they ditched the pianos for synths and created an album which sold well but felt shallow and dehumanised.

‘Night Train’ is a mini-album recorded during their ‘Perfect Symmetry’ tour, an idea which did little to whet my appetite, initially, but for a so-called “stop-gap” it’s surprisingly serviceable. ‘Back In Time’ is a sturdy opening song. A cynical person like myself might suggest bringing in a Somalian-born rapper is a desperate attempt at street cred. As it happens, ‘Stop For A Minute’ is one of the highlights, Chaplin’s gutsy turn complemented by K’Naan’s guest vocal but it’s the songwriting itself which deserves the most credit. K’Naan guests again for ‘Looking Back’ which includes the theme tune to Rocky of all things. Surprisingly, they strike pop gold again.

‘Ishin Denshin’ is an experiment they may regret, however, unless they really did mean to write a song fit for Eurovision. Thankfully, ‘Clear Skies’ and ‘Your Love’ are present to reclaim the A-ha influences again, as well as a semblance of subtlety. Finally, ‘My Shadow’ sees the piano back in operation and Chaplin’s tender performance offers a tender ballad to end the album with.

‘Night Train’ is a suprising good record which surpasses ‘Perfect Symmetry’ in terms of emotional reach and variety as well songwriting. A couple more of these before they make a “proper” long player would be much appreciated.

Web Sites:
Keane Official Site
Keane MySpace

Further Listening:
A-ha, Coldplay

Review: International Hyper Rhytmique – Uncity Nation

The fantastically-named International Hyper Rhythmique are made up of French siblings from the Martial-Guilhem family. With Laurence on vocals, Claire on keyboard and drums and their brother Jean on guitar, this Toulouse trio present a very attractive form of leftfield electronic pop music.

‘Monday 7.24’ is populated by luxurious synth washes, sighed harmonies, chiming guitars and minimalist beats. It’s blissful but if we’re being harsh it’s nothing French acts haven’t done before. Where the group come in to their own is when they concentrate on writing modern, slightly edgy songs. Thankfully they do this for the rest of the album.

For ‘Carry Out’ and ‘Les Yeux De Juin’, Laurence’s slightly cracked vocals match the melancholic ache of her brother’s guitar. Listen out too for ‘Monday Morning’ where it’s easy to be swept away by the trio’s moody excellence. At the opposite end of the scale, the considerably more aggressive ‘La Plus Petite Tempête De Neige’ reminds me of Piano Magic when they occasionally rock out but the decidely oddball ‘Grand Whiskey’ reminds me of no one at all. Then just when you think a great album is over, they top the lot with closer ‘My Love’, where all their hooks and emotional yearning join together to make an alternative classic, complete with a heartache of a chorus.

Although the album is a mere thirty-five minutes in length, ‘Uncity Nation’ never mistakes its insouciance for dullness. Instead we have a deep and intelligent record full of Gallic flair and original songwriting.

Web Sites:
International Hyper Rhytmique Official Site
International Hyper Rhytmique MySpace

Further Listening:
Piano Magic, Telepathe

Review: Ikons – Ikons

Krautrock, progressive rock, space rock and various other forms of rock are all featured on the new album by Ikons, who are a seven piece band from Sweden. They create huge walls of noise which are likely to induce excessive amounts of head nodding and foot-stomping.

‘Slow Light’ emulates the best of Krautrock from its glistening synths to the motorik drones which are more readily comparable with the Can’s and Neu!’s of this world. There’s also shades of Simple Minds’ early instrumental excellence on this fabulous eight minute opener. It’s a momentum which the Gothenburg septet struggle to maintain initially, where ‘Honey’ seems like an inferior younger brother of ‘Slow Light’.

Intensity is recovered towards the centre of the record. ‘Imperiet’ is a Joy Division pastiche; almost as if Peter Hook and Stephen Morris were actually guesting on the track, then ‘Guns’ continues the rhythmic charge and shoots off into space rock territory. ‘Seconds’ is another excellent offering, the themes of repetition remain but this time they’re based around a solid hook. However, ‘The Hawk’ sounds like an extended jam session hamstrung by its lack of variation.

Ikons music tends to be always driving, sometimes exciting and occasionally rather monotonous. This is a record which generally values rhythm over tunes but they are so good at the former, the lack of the latter is almost immaterial.

Web Sites:
Ikons Official Site
Ikons MySpace

Further Listening:
Simple Minds, Joy Division, Kraftwerk, Neu!

Review: Yellow6 – Cut

Hard to believe that ‘Cut’ is only the tenth full length album from Yellow6 such is the prolific recording career of Jon Attwood. Perhaps more tellingly, ‘Cut’ is also his 79th release in total – not bad for twelve years’ work. Now producing music on his own label, ‘Cut’ traces another journey of guitar-led minimalism.

‘Cut’ itself is a running theme of the album, with four different versions of it making an appearance. The first ‘Cut’, if you will, is the deepest since its delayed melody is totally spine-tingling although the final (‘Cut#4’) version runs it close. ‘Butterfly Girl’ features chords donated by another musician (Beth Georgiou) which are performed chillingly and beautifully by Attwood; rarely has repetition been this captivating, even from Attwood himself who is something of a master in this field.

After this superb start, the music drifts in to familiar ambient/post-rock territory of the darkest hue with clear nods to Labradford along the way(particularly on ‘Cut #3’). Experiments in other instruments yield great results with ‘Diagnosis (Two)’ picking up the pace and urgency with real drums, whilst ‘Cut/Piano’ represents Attwood’s output in its most funereal form.

Granted, there’s a lot here which will be very familiar to anyone who has owned a Yellow6 record. Once again the running time exceeds an hour, the same influences remain but Attwood is at least on top melodic form.

Web Sites:
Yellow6 Official Site
Yellow6 MySpace

Further Listening:
Labradford, Bark Psychosis

Review: Nick Hopkin – Reflections

After his rather ambitious ‘Project X’ album, Nick Hopkin has now reverted to his tried and trusted formula of tuneful electronica. ‘Reflections’ clocks in at a slim twenty eight minutes and its serene outlook gives the impression that Hopkin is at peace with himself.

Pleasant though they are, the opening couplet of ‘The Glass Lake’ and ‘Give To You’ represent the kind of fluffy, idealist electronica which you expect to hear on relaxation tapes. The considerably grander ‘Break Down The Walls’ raises the bar a little but it’s ‘Renewal’ which sums up the positive nature of the album the best; awash with lush synths, Hopkin repeats “I am renewed, I feel brand new” and this time it’s easy to get carried away by the persuasive flow of optimism. After that, the crisp and moody ‘Lost At Sea’ is the first track which reveals a sign of darkness. The theme is continued with bass guitar providing a grumbling undertow to the otherwise uplifting ‘Paragliding’ whilst the finale ‘Lunar’ adds beats and DJ vocals to make it the most modern sounding track here.

‘Reflections’ is decent electronica fare which maintains Hopkin’s record for easy on the ear melodies. Listening to it won’t change your life but it might make you slightly happier.

Web Sites:
Nick Hopkin Official Site
Nick Hopkin MySpace

Further Listening:
Royston Vince