Archive for September, 2010

Review: Unknown Component – The Infinite Definitive

In the field of independent artists, there are few quite as consistent as Keith Lynch AKA Unknown Component. Since 2002 he has recorded nine albums, with each following a similar pattern of indie rock, made distinctive by a nasal but appealing vocal.

‘The Infinitive Definitive’ is a return to the downbeat form he showed on earlier albums. However, the best songs have great depth. As a good example, ‘Future Circles’ is made up of several instrumental layers but at its core is a pretty acoustic melody.

Unusually, the record reaches its peak towards the centre. ‘The Experience Of Understanding’ is built upon a stately keyboard motif with Lynch’s voice given the echo treatment; it’s a lovely, gentle song. ‘Every Measure And Space’ is lovelier still; the subtle electronic accompaniment adding to the track’s spine-tingling majesty. Elsewhere, Lynch is reliably yearning but for much of the time he seems to be covering old ground, with music that will struggle to grab the listener’s attention.

Although this is not Lynch’s best album, the consistent rhythmic flow and tunefulness almost guarantees he would never make a bad album. So the simple rules applies that if you like his past releases, this one does the job too.

Web Sites:
Unknown Component Official Site
Unknown Component MySpace

Further Listening:
Bob Dylan, The Walkmen, Eels


Review: Marie Ingerslev – The Other Side

With a mass of red hair and a voice which dovetails at the point where Karen Carpenter and Minnie Riperton meet, Marie Ingerslev really should be better known than she is now. Her first album was recorded under the band name of Mary; presumably to capitalise on interest outside her native Denmark. Certainly, it was a fine album and ‘The Other Side’ continues the upward curve with a record that soothes the heart and the head.

Equally well equipped to deal with soul, jazz and folk music, Ingerslev’s main calling card seems to be Carpenters-style soft rock. The first three tracks are arranged imaginatively; ‘Goodbye Old World’ and ‘I Search A Place’ feature the brightest of choruses whilst the song which divides them, ‘Lock’, meanders through a psychedelic soul journey.

On other tracks Ingerslev meanders just a little too much; take the over-emoting on ‘Daily Life’, for example, or the lengthy title track; which moves pleasantly through ambient waters but its experimental nature doesn’t make the best use of her talents. To make up for it there’s always the warm, jazzy textures on ‘This Glow’ to enjoy, which serve as a fabulous showcase for her relaxed but powerful vocals and for ‘Ice’, she proves capable of carrying the melodies with her voice alone.

‘The Other Side’ falls short of perfection but it’s a mark of Ingerslev’s quality that even on the most unambitious settings she still sounds classy; her performance never overbearing but always capable of transmitting spine-tingling spells with the minimum of effort. To be fair, though, her band are just as important in creating a record with an authentic aura of a time which often gets overlooked by today’s artists.

Web Sites:
Marie Ingerslev Official Site
Marie Ingerslev MySpace

Further Listening:
The Carpenters, Minnie Riperton

Review: Dominant Legs – Young At Love And Life

Dominant Legs are represented by Ryan Lynch (who plays guitar for Girls) and Hannah Hunt. Together, the San Francisco-based duo have released an EP which straddles the worlds of indie guitar and synth pop.

Each track tends to employ a melody built from a jangly guitar figure and synths but it’s the unique harmonies between the two protagonists which delight the most.  Across the first three fairly similar (but consistently good) songs, ‘About my Girls’ stands out the most as the duo hit upon their most addictive and original key changes, given further power by Hunt’s heavenly backing vocals. ‘Run Like Hell For Leather’ is the one moment of deviation from the formula thanks to its acoustic backing but the quality of the songs before it are so good, it’s almost a disappointment.

With a mere four tracks at their disposal, this is a taster for what could be a very good album. Given their unusual approach, a tour of New York and Los Angeles with fellow oddballs Mystery Jets makes a lot of sense.

Web Sites:
Dominant Legs MySpace

Further Listening:
The Drums

Review: Matthew Dear – Black City

Matthew Dear may forever be one of those artists who will always be respected but not necessarily popular. A shame because all of his solo albums demonstrate not only his renowned production skills but also his less heralded songwriting prowess. This has led to a support slot with Hot Chip, with whom he shares an affection for infectious electronic music.

Most of his fourth album, ‘Black City’, is superb. ‘I Can’t Feel’ revolves around addictive electronic hooks; the kind of which remind me of the vastly underrated German act Tarwater. He repeats the trick again on the similarly catchy ‘Soil To Seed’, ‘You Put A Smell On Me’, ‘Shortwave’ and ‘Monkey’; each following their own original, rhythmic path.

If there is one moment which reveals the true mark of his genius it is ‘Little People (Black City)’, which begins as euphoric synth pop but then mutates in to steadily darker territory; it’s essentially an epic dance track in three distinctively brilliant parts. Meanwhile, ‘Slowdance’ and the Kraftwerk-esque ‘More Surgery’ are top class examples of melancholic and vulnerable synth pop.

Dear’s growled vocals make Phil Oakey sound high-pitched and although they suit the moody nature of the music, they could be one of the main reasons why he isn’t a more recognised figure in his field. Nevertheless, it’s hard to think of techno pop full of so much depth and mystery.

Web Sites:
Matthew Dear Official Site
Matthew Dear MySpace

Further Listening:
Tarwater, Richard Davis, Hot Chip

Review: One Dog Clapping – Dude Awakening

“Think lo-fi with ambition. Shitgaze that isn’t shit” is how Leicester’s One Dog Clapping describes his music. This one man band has produced six albums now, although this is the first I’ve heard. Based on ‘Dude Awakening’, what he lacks in slick musicianship, he makes up for in menace and anger.

With his thin, limited vocals  it’s likely Flipdog (as he likes to call himself) is a stranger to singing lessons but his instrumental skills  impress on a number of occasions. As an early taster, the filthy punk of ‘Going To A Stoning’ features typically rudimentary production but the song provides all the necessary thrills. ‘Join The Dots’ enters the realms of dark psychedelia as he proclaims again and again that he is a madman; it’s hard to argue based on the evidence. ‘This Roman’ is also worthy of investigation for its sprawling post-punk guitars but perhaps his most appealing moment is the last song; the comparatively gentle ‘Kiss The Moon Goodbye’. The remainder of the record is a mixed bag covering grunge, minimalism and glam-rock.

‘Dude Awakening’ is – in many ways – a typical home-produced record. Its amateurism charms as much as it annoys yet, on its brightest moments, there’s a good understanding of hooks and controlled aggression.

Web Sites:
One Dog Clapping Official Site
One Dog Clapping MySpace

Review: M. Ostermeier – Chance Reconstruction

Marc Ostermeier presents his third record of the year but ‘Chance Reconstruction’ is his first full album. It’s also the first release from Tench, a sister label to the excellent Words On Music imprint, which – it would be remiss of me not to mention – is also co-owned by Ostermeier. His first album is a quiet, ambient offering. 

‘Last’ begins with a swelling piano melody which suggests a quieter Sigur Ros but – just as the impression is given of an epic finale – the music moves in to more sedate territory. Its quiet tone dominates the remainder of ‘Chance Reconstruction’; exemplified by the moody title track which immediately follows it. ‘Harp’ is moving and hopeful but on ‘Beacon Adrift’ and ‘Deepr’ Ostermeier edges towards Yellow6 territory with languid and heavily reverbed guitars and that inescapable feeling of sadness.

Ostermeier falls a little short of carving out a true identity for himself on this record. Yet he performs each piece of music with a touch of class and the variety (piano, guitars, field recordings) enables this release to be one of most fascinating ambient records I have heard this year.

Web Sites:
Tench Home Page
M. Ostermeier Artist Page

Further Listening:
Yellow6, Stars Of The Lid, Labradford

Review: Malcolm Fisher – Balm Summer Music

Some may mock that a Scotsman wouldn’t know what Summer is but Glasgow-born Malcolm Fisher is now based in Italy and this latest instalment of seasonal homages celebrates what should be the sunniest time of year. True to form, the ex-French Impressionists man delivers his usual quota of piano-based melodies with customary class.

The general impression is music of a surprisingly melancholy nature, although it’s usually quite pretty too. The mood is gentle and soothing and promises the same amount of impending danger as a Yellow Pages advert. Neverthless, the ‘Prism’ sequence (which represents roughly half of nearly eighty minutes of instrumental music), contains a variety of extra touches to accompany the piano; a few tracks are filtered through or separated by a hazy shimmer and there’s plenty of times when you wish these miniatures would flourish into lengthier pieces. The second half of the CD, entitled ‘Theme And Variations’, is less cohesive and consequently some momentum is lost.

Despite the limited framework, Fisher still gets a lot of mileage out of his compositions. What surprises most, though, is the sad, reflective nature of the music given that this is traditionally the brightest time of year.

Web Sites:
Malcolm Fisher Official Site
Malcolm Fisher MySpace

Further Listening:
The French Impressionists, Erik Satie

Review: Dead Leaf Echo – Truth

‘Truth’ is a welcome return for Dead Leaf Echo. After enlisting one of the main exponents of the “nu gaze” movement in Ulrich Schnauss for their last release, their new album has been mixed by John Fryer, a key producer for many acts on the 4AD label. This is a sure sign that this New York trio are considered the real deal.

‘Half Truth’ begins with military-style drums, jangly effects and LG’s dispassionate vocals. As a opening track, it’s a little effete but the same cannot be said for ‘Dance In The Light’, where the layers of instruments gather a strong and hypnotic momentum. 

One of the keys to the brilliant ‘Act Of Truth’ are Liza Baker’s backing vocals (or rather sighs) as she flits in and out of the swirling backdrops of carefully-crafted noise. Elsewhere, the gloomily attractive ‘Woolgathering’ brushes shoulders with the considerably more dynamic ‘Trial’; both fine tracks in their own way.

‘Truth’ may be dismissed by some as shoegaze revival music (and significant parts of it do recall early 1990’s favourites The Pale Saints and Lush) but it’s built around solid hooks and strong rhythms that ensure the songs don’t get washed away. After the slightly patchy ‘Pale Fire’, this is a much more convincing statement from Dead Leaf Echo and one which is consistently atmospheric and doomy.

Web Sites:
Dead Leaf Echo Official Site
Dead Leaf Echo MySpace

Further Listening:
Pale Saints, Lush

Review: Madness – Keep Moving

It was 1984 and – this being Olympic year – Madness’ cover to their fifth album depicts them as sprinters. Once again, it’s a picture of fun for Britain’s apparently wackiest band. Of course, now we know them as the matters of a very British form of ennui who were clever enough to articulate their melancholy in to chipper pop music.

Once again they tackled subjects which most pop groups wouldn’t even dare to cconsider. ‘Michael Caine’ was based on IRA informants but it’s got such a pretty little chorus and the lyrics are obligue enough to make you think it’s something far more innocent. Even prettier still is Mike Barson’s delightful piano melody underscoring ‘One Better Day’; the hook to one of the band’s most underrated singles. All the more suprising given that Suggs sings the affectionate ode to a homeless couple, accompanied by the the kind of cocktail jazz you might have heard from Sade in the same year.

For a band so good at picking singles though, it’s surprising the bouncy, infectious ‘Victoria Gardens’ never got released in its own right whilst ‘Waltz Into Mischief’ sounds more like a sea shanty. Proof that Madness took heed of their record title, even if it meant travelling backwards into song styles from previous times. Digging deeper still, ‘Samantha’ is urgent and dark on the surface as well underneath.

The sleevenotes from Phill Jupitus describe the album as a move from adolesence to adulthood. It’s a good point and there’s also a sense that vitality had been replaced by despair. Sadly, key member Barson left after this album and its successor ‘Mad Not Mad’ was described by the ever self-effacing Suggs as a “polished turd”.

Web Sites:
Madness Official Site
Madness MySpace

Further Listening:
Blur, The Kinks

Review: The Colourfield – Deception

When the sleeve notes for an album reissue struggle to say something positive, it’s not normally a good sign. A case in point is ‘Deception’, the second and final album from The Colourfield. With the group fragmenting around main songwriter Terry Hall and session musicians a-plenty, there’s a definite lack of cohesion here but there’s also songs which are worth salvaging.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the album features one of the kings of 1980’s excess, Tears For Fears’ Roland Orzabal, although to be fair his contributions to ‘Running Away’ and ‘Confessions’ are barely noticeable. The former, a cover of a Sly And The Family Stone contains the tinniest of production and programmed drums (a regular feature on ‘Deception’), not to mention obscene amounts of sax but it’s still quite charming. Another cover version, ‘She’, is a further highlight.

Sadly, gems of original material are less easy to come by. ‘Miss Texas 1987’ avoids stylsh tics with a comparatively subtle arrangement. ‘Monkey In Winter’ is featured here with versions by two vocalists, Hall and Sinead O’Connor. Both are worth a listen for their fine performances. Much of the rest, however, sounds as if an excitable child randomly cycled through the pre-programmed buttons on a Casio keyboard. Thankfully, bonus tracks ‘Things Could Be Beautiful’ and ‘Frosty Mornings’ (the latter unbelievably relegated to B-side status) turn an average album into a decent compilation.

Although it’s not without its moments, there can be little debate that ‘Deception’ is a far inferior bedfellow to ‘Virgins & Philistines’, the wonderful debut. Clearly, Hall was ready to move on to his new project, Terry, Blair and Anouchka.

Web Sites: