Archive for November, 2010

Review: The Sewing Room – And Nico

The Sewing Room were an obscure act from the mid-1990’s and part of the Dublin independent music scene.  Why they were obscure is fairly obvious given the lack of killer songs in their armoury, yet their music contains a lilting charm which may not have been so appreciated at the time of Britpop as it is now.

Lacking the consistency of many of their contemporaries, there’s no doubt that a few of these songs could do with an injection of pace. The frontman’s tones define the term low-key but they are tailor-made for the understated arrangements. 

The Sewing Room’s best songs are beautifully subtle. ‘Stop The Rain’ is characterised by aching guitar lines with the singer reduced to a whispered despair, whilst ‘Instrumental’ shifts from intricate, delicate verses to a delightfully doleful chorus. For their darker side, ‘Delve’ – one of the more robust offerings – compares favourably with fellow Irishmen Whipping Boy and ‘I Take Pains’ builds up an atmosphere of understated menace. There’s much to enjoy for Lloyd Cole And The Commotions fans too, since the The Sewing Room exhibit a similar penchant for jangly, countrified rock.

The album title reveals a knowing wink to The Velvet Underground and The Sewing Room adopt that same approach of underselling themselves. You won’t find any anthems here but instead there’s a fine selection of melancholic indie rock numbers which are quietly brooding rather than thrilling.

Web Sites:
The Sewing Room MySpace
Indiecater Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Loft, Lloyd Cole And The Commotions, The Velvet Underground


Review: Dollboy Meets Sone Institute – The Sum And The Difference

Where once acoustic and electronica were seen as mutually exclusive art forms, it’s an indication of how far we’ve come, that when the two combine it’s now considered to be perfectly normal. So the meeting of minds and instruments between Roman Bezdyk (Sone Institute) and Dollboy’s Oliver Cherer seems entirely sensible. Even so, there’s no treading of water here. The two artists have crafted sixteen minutes of instrumental loveliness.

In many ways Bezdyk, picks up where he left off with this year’s ‘Curious Memories’ release; once again evoking a similar feeling of a weird seaside resort. Deliciously resonant strummed acoustic guitar and sighed harmones feature heavily on ‘Sunshine. ‘A Slow Reader’ borrows strings and builds up an atmosphere of a remote island and ‘Hotel Oriental’ continues the sun-kissed theme. Throughout, a vision of long summer days and innocent nostalgia is prevalent even when ‘Play For Today’ (which resembles a vintage childrens’ TV theme being played by artists who may have partaken something not entirely legal) makes itself known.

All the pieces are a little too short to completely enjoy but – as the press release states – these are “fragmented” songs and whilst they are being played, they are so dreamy and melodic, criticism seems irrelevant. A proper album together seems the next logical step for these two talented artists.

Web Sites:
Dollboy MySpace
Sone Institute MySpace
Front And Follow Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Junkboy, BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Review: How To Dress Well – Love Remains

Remember those polished soul records from the 1980’s and 1990’s, when the singer’s voice inspired comparisons to “melted chocolate”? Now imagine those singers recorded on a battered tape recorder and loaded with effects and the result would sound something like How To Dress Well; a project by philosophy student Tom Krell.

On the surface, the music seems just badly produced. The vocals sound as if someone secretly recorded Krell in another room. The reverb often threatens to take over the words, as wonky rhythms are interspersed with Krell’s falsetto. The end product is naturally disorientating but occasionally bordering on genius. At its very best, the lo-fi production imbues ‘Suicide Dream’ with an eerie resonance, ‘Endless Rain’ revolves around a hypnotic swingbeat motif, whilst the wondrous ‘You Don’t Need To Know Where I’m Goin’ is most reminiscent of turn-of-the-1990’s dreampop act A.R. Kane. Other songs resemble fascinating experimental demos from a once commercial act.

The overall album is akin to smooth R&B remixed by producers from the 4AD record label and – to take that reference further – the nearest modern day equivalent would be Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Whatever the comparison though, Krell is an artist who actually merits the overused term of “otherworldly”.

Web Sites:
How To Dress Well Official Blog
How To Dress Well MySpace

Further Listening:
A.R. Kane, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Review: Working For A Nuclear Free City – Jojo Burger Tempest

Working For A Nuclear Free City are a Manchester band who like to revisit the past. This potentially harrowing prospect may naturally lead some to tread carefully before approaching the record but they pay homage to their heroes with such panache, it’s hard not to be charmed by what they do.

The album opens like a ball of energy and doesn’t really let up. Big, rhythmic hooks propel the excellent first CD. On ‘Silent Times’ and ‘Alphaville’ they move in to Ride-like shoegaze territory and ‘AutoBlue’ recalls, bizarrely, a livelier version of Orbital. ‘Faster Daniel Faster’ ups the ante further with its mesmerising Stone Roses-style chorus, whilst elsewhere, glorious instrumentals of the calibre of ‘B.A.R.R.Y.’ and wired pop of ‘Little Lenin’ and ‘Burning Drum’ ensure interest is maintained for nearly an hour. There’s something undeniably mid-90s about the first CD which should give it a dated feel but the meaty beats, songcraft and relentless vibrancy make it addictive and relevant.

The second CD is an altogther different story where the title track meanders along for nearly thirty five minutes. It’s certainly varied, inventive and ambitious but amongst its psychedelic swirls, spoken word, synth pop, ambient and Krautrock segments there’s a distinct lack of focus and cohesion. It’s probably best to treat it as a bonus disc as it’s Part One which really does warrant repeated plays.

Web Sites:
Working For A Nuclear Free City Official Site
Working For A Nuclear Free City MySpace

Further Listening:
Ride, Orbital, The Stone Roses

Review: The Gubernatorial Candidates – Triggerman

Hailing from New Orleans, The Gubernatorial Candidates brought something a little different to the post-rock party when they debuted in 2007. Their music was an intoxicating stew of jazz, blues and post-rock which distanced itself from the pack and ‘Triggerman’ seeks to do likewise.

‘Grand Terre’ and ‘Coffin’ seem like decent scene setters; the kind of atmospheric post-punk/funk you might hear on records by moody experimentalists like Wolfgang Press or A Certain Ratio during the 1980’s, whereas ‘Muscle’ revives the metronomic, primitive electronica of early Cabaret Voltaire. These are hardly the sounds of a band on the cusp of a major label deal but the way in which they recall the unsung heroes of British indie is admirable.

Where the album comes in to its own though, is when the group break out from nostalgia. ‘No Remainder’ is the first moment to provide light relief from the gloomy early 80’s trappings and moves in to more modern, spacious territory and ‘Jamette’ ends accompanied by the mournful tones of a trumpet. The album’s centrepiece, however, is the towering title track. Built from machine drone, guitar loops, found sounds and mysterious layers of noise it is like finding a lost Bark Psychosis single.

Unquestionably, ‘Triggerman’ is an album which relies more on mood and texture, rather than melody and excitement. It’s also the epitome of the slow burner; where small fragments of seemingly disparate noise steadily make sense and form a fascinating whole.

Web Sites:
The Gubernatorial Candidates MySpace

Further Listening:
Cabaret Voltaire, The Wolfgang Press, A Certain Ratio, Bark Psychosis

Video Feature: Rose Elinor Dougall – Hanging Around

It’s that time of year when I start thinking about which albums will feature on my best of year list. A definite inclusion will be Rose Elinor Dougall’s ‘Without Why’ and here is a preview of a track entitled ‘Hanging Around’, which is due to appear on her next album.

As demonstrated on her album, Dougall and her trusty bandmates are certainly fond of guitar heavy songs when they feel the need but the singer always manages to sound dominant and triumphant above the wonderful noise.



Review: Tjutjuna – Tjutjuna

Tjutjuna are a four-piece outfit from Colorado, consisting of childhood friends. They ply their trade in a strange mixture of rock types (particularly of the space, psych and post varieties) but are also partial to music of an altogether blissful flavour.

‘Mosquito Hawk’ is a typically manic display of flamboyant keyboards, punishing percussion and driving guitars; you can visualise them pushing against the speakers fighting to get out. ‘Rise/Set’ is – to be frank – more of the same pummeling rhythms but also begins to break in to the realms of dreampop on its otherwise tortuous journey. It’s quite a relief, therefore, when ‘Fist’ comes next. This elegant piano-led piece is definitely the calm after the storm.

It proves be a brief respite, though, for the droning ‘Tobermorey’ soon restores normal order. ‘The Swish’, however, is the most enigmatic offering. The drums kick in like a steady train whilst a weird but rather beautiful melody surround it. Finally, ‘Tatanka Spirit’ is gentler still and by the end of it the heavy psych rock which dominated the first half of the record feels like a distant memory.

The group may well persevere with their deeply textured layers of instruments but Tjutjuna are one of those bands who sound better and more original the subtler they are. It will be interesting to see if they focus on the quiet or the loud next time.

Web Sites:
Tjutjuna Official Site
Tjutjuna MySpace

Review: Various Artists : Bearsuit Records – The Fall Will Probably Kill You

Even by a compilation’s standards, the Bearsuit Records showcase ‘Captain Woof Woof’s Guitar’ was an incredibly eclectic affair, taking in to account classical, funk, folk and indie pop. The common link between the artists was essentially creativity and invention. Much the same can be said for ‘The Fall Will Probably Kill You’, where some of the key personnel crop up again, together with new stars for the future.

As with the last Bearsuit compilation, the opening tracks are as uncompromising and uncommercial as you can imagine so naturally low budget psychedelia (courtesy of Alyosha Het) must be followed by hypnotic accordion loops (thanks to France’s Rhizottome). Whilst the likes of PNDC & Housework and Harold Nono have already produced fine albums in recent times, moments of great individualism and skewed pop brilliance arrive in the form of Belgium/Scotland partnership Whizz Kid, Scotland’s Forofo and Tidy Kid’s curiosity ‘Smell’. It is left to the remarkable MoomLooo to sign off with the enigmatic, melodramatic ‘Girl Of A Skin Coloured Brown’.

The ideas are wayward at times but Bearsuit have assembled a roster of talent who want to do something different. In these times of imitations and revivals, they should be applauded for that.

Web Sites:
Bearsuit Records MySpace

Review: Interpol – Interpol

Interpol’s fourth album sees them in a potentially difficult position, with their increasing popularity earning them a prestigious support slot with U2. This is a great opportunity but also one which risks the group compromising the studied cool with which their music is associated. Rather like a modern U2 album though, their self-titled next step is immaculately produced and immediately recognisable as the work of the band who made it.

‘Success’ begins in typically portentous fashion but it takes almost two minutes before it breaks from its polished veneer to the urgent pay-off. At least frontman Paul Banks sounds reassuringly frantic by the song’s conclusion. Indeed, Banks is once again the distinctive presence in the band; his vocal performance continually on the verge of a nervous breakdown but always restraining himself when others might have broken in to a falsetto. However, guitarist Daniel Kessler often seems to be going through the motions; driving and supporting the front man but actually varying little in his approach.

Admittedly, he and his bandmates are in fine form for ‘Memory Serves’, which feeds off a typically jagged guitar line but by the time of fifth track ‘Barricade’, the formula shows signs of wearing thin. From here to the end, there’s a distinct lack of imagination and even though’All Of The Ways’ features a rare sonic experiment, (and welcome for it since this is not an album that reveals any radical re-invention) it lumbers towards its conclusion with nothing resembling a hook.

Great moments tend to be the exception to the rule and it’s hard to remember particular tracks from the record even after hearing the whole album several times. However, ‘Summer Well’ epitomises what the group normally do so well, by locating the point where euphoria and depression meet, whilst the piano-led ‘Always Malaise’ sees them break from the mid-paced to the sloth-paced and it turns out to be the most affecting song on offer.

Interpol may be a stylish, slow-burning institution, reliably bringing darkness to the masses but they have clearly lost the power to thrill or to suprise. ‘Interpol’ is still a consistent, seamless album, which shows the band consolidating their position as the lead merchants of gloom. Just don’t expect much in the way of originality.

Web Sites:
Interpol Official Site
Interpol MySpace

Further Listening:
The Departure, The Arrest, Black Poets, Editors, White Lies

Review: Painted Romans – …And Time!

Like many Norwegians before him, Mats Davidsen recalls UK influences so accurately, he ends up performing them more convincingly than those he tries to emulate. Yet he certainly doesn’t choose the obvious artists; rather a cornucopia of British eccentrics from the last thirty years. ‘…And Time!’ is the second full length release under the Painted Romans moniker.

To demonstrate his peculiar reference points, ‘Age Took Us By Storm’ employs the most awkward keyboard melody and when that’s matched with Davidsen’s heavenly accented vocals, he sounds like the Scandinavian answer to early Prefab Sprout. On a more approachable level, the acoustic-based ‘I Love Money’ operates in the ironic territory of The Divine Comedy, whilst instrumentals ‘The Long Hour’ and ‘Soundless Diving’ will have people digging for their old Simple Minds and Blue Nile albums respectively.

‘…And Time!’ is no pastiche record though and Davidsen expresses his unique vision on several occasions. ‘Waiting For The Day’ features a sweet, innocent melody topped off with bizarre lines such as “But you don’t seem to understand that what I want is tin can Fruit”. For ‘Don’t Be Serious’, he enlists his partner Kari Bergliot Tyvoll to provide harmonies. They should sing together more often as the contrast undoubtedly works. Nevertheless, the lush synths and Davidsen’s oddly appealing croon reach their peak for the romantic finale ‘Bide My Time’.

‘…And Time!’ isn’t perfect but its imperfections are often what makes it so charming. Indeed, despite hailing from Trondheim, this gentleman deserves an award for being an honorary eccentric Brit; the kind you don’t hear much from nowadays, probably because they don’t fit in with record executives’ ideas for maintaining profit margins. Needless to say, there’s more creativity in one song here then there is in a whole albums’ worth of many big name, so-called “alternative” releases.

Web Sites:
Painted Romans Official Site
Painted Romans MySpace

Further Listening:
China Crisis, Prefab Sprout, Simple Minds, The Blue Nile