Archive for December, 2010

Review: Szymon Kaliski – Out Of Forgetting

Poland’s Szymon Kaliski might wish to choose a more attractive press release next time around. The prospect of “lingering drones from badly played acoustic instruments and field recordings” is unlikely to get fans of ambient music salivating. Yet this is an often inspired release whose wintry charms are ultimately very persuasive.

‘A Point To’ quietly emerges in a field of static and sombre piano and is the perfect scene setter for this subtly unsettling album. Whereas ‘As Unimportant’ is all about the drone and frosty soundscapes, ‘Or Delicate’ revolves around a sad and simple sequence of piano keys. Despite being interspersed with spoken word, ‘In Twelve Scenes’ recalls the languid, reverb heavy guitar work of Yellow6 but it’s the last track – the lengthy ‘To Specific Place’ – which lingers longest in the memory as every shift in note sends a chill down the spine.

Static and drone don’t always form the basis for compelling music but Kaliski ensures there’s an undercurrent of dark emotions running through each track. In short, if this is his “badly played” stuff, it would be marvellous to hear him when he’s on form.

Web Sites:
Szymon Kaliski Official Site
Szymon Kaliski MySpace

Further Listening:
The Fun Years, Yellow6


Review: The Wind-Up Birds – Courage, For Tomorrow Will Be Worse

West Yorkshire’s The Wind-Up Birds have the distinction of being one of the few bands to actually sound more Northern than The Arctic Monkeys. Their youthful spirit and punk-fuelled swagger has been matched by a growing maturity across a slew of EPs and ‘Courage, For Tomorrow Will Be Worse’ is their latest call to arms.

For all its vitriolic lyrics, ‘Good Shop Shuts’ can’t disguise what is essentially a top pop-punk anthem whereas it’s no surprise that ‘In A Yorkshire Call Centre I Knelt Down And Wept’ features the protagonists struggling to adapt to an office environment and meeting the company’s targets. ‘The Boat Is Going Nowhere Again Tonight’ is more of the same but the group still thrill with a great pay-off on the chorus. The best is saved to last, however, as ‘Some Slum Clearances’ rides along a fantastic chugging bassline. It is here where Wind-Up Birds match their working class aggression with a modern-sounding edge.

Although a full album still seems to be elusive, this is arguably The Wind-Up Birds most coherent and addictive effort yet. Their songs give voice to the credit crunch effects on Yorkshire; skilfully balancing their gritty but articulate lyrics around rock-solid riffing.

Web Sites:
The Wind-Up Birds Official Site
The Wind-Up Birds MySpace

Further Listening:
The Arctic Monkeys, The Jam, The Buzzcocks

Review: Admiral Byrd – Goodbye Cruel Worldview

Though it was sad to hear that The Great Depression are no more, I was equally thrilled to receive the news that the two core players, Todd Casper and Thomas Cranley, had re-emerged and enlisted two more members to become Admiral Byrd. Doubling the amount of musicians doesn’t always equate to an increase in volume but in this case it definitely does; ‘Goodbye Cruel Worldview’ is huge.

Admiral Byrd’s agenda is set out clearly from the beginning as the distortion-heavy ‘Don’t Touch The Radio’ displays its unwillingness to compromise. ‘Every Day Is A Picnic At The Zoo’ is even more emphatic in its execution and its line of “I’d round up the corporate elite and I would put them in the zoo” sums up the angry tone of the record too.

At its most impressive moments, ‘Closer To Animal’ and ‘Holiday Murder Sequence’ combine towering guitars, beats and atmospheres to create loud but melodic stuctures of noise. Casper and Cranley still remember the importance of space though and ‘Empty Threats’ and ‘Whatever You’re Building’ both apply the restraints for the verses; letting the ghostly vocals and lilting guitars have their say before the FX pedals are fully unleashed.

Admiral Byrd take on the dreamscapes laid down by The Great Depression and convert them into nightmares. Naturally, these are the nightmares which are too fascinating and beautiful to shy away from and they become just as addictive as their previous releases. In fact, the songs often remind me of the euphoric rollercoaster rides which The Kitchens Of Distinction became renowned for.

Web Sites:
Admiral Byrd Official Site
Admiral Byrd Bandcamp Site

Further Listening:
The Great Depression, My Bloody Valentine, Kitchens Of Distinction

Review: Runningonair – Selected Works ’94 – ’00

Earlier this year, Joseph K Evans released an album under the name of Runningonair. Although slighly out of time in its approach, it balanced the digital age with glimpses of human emotion. Surprisingly, Evans has been making music since the early 1980’s but this was actually his first long player. A fine time, then, to scour the back catalogue and here’s a compilation of his early electronic experiments.

The track ‘Running On Air’ itself maps the way forward for Evans. The melody is built from lush, clean synths and icy beats. It is music designed for large open spaces – like an airport or a design exhibition – yet it has an inner core of melancholy to counter any claims that this is merely background music. ‘In Heaven’ visualises cities full of towering office buildings whilst ‘In Search Of W’ conveys loneliness and commuter stress.

Faring less well are ‘Turn To Gold’ (complete with house piano) and the similarly dance-influenced ‘Peaceful’, which probably sounded dated when they first came out. Along the way there are clear moves into jazz territory (‘Rush Hour’ especially); itself no surprise given that Evans’ studied jazz and classical compositions in the early 1990’s.

Based on the nine tracks alone, there’s not quite enough to suggest Evans would be a musician to watch. Instead, the music firts between jazzy experimentalism, easy listening and techno but without consistently excelling at either. Since then Evans has clearly raised his game, as evidenced by ‘Out Of Process’, but these recordings tell the interesting story of how he got there.

Web Sites:
Runningonair Official Site
Runningonair MySpace

Further Listening:
Kraftwerk, 808 State

Review: The Kickliner – The Kickliner EP

The Kickliner are described as a pair of “bookish lads from Derby”. So if earnest, hand-wringing indie rock is what you’re expecting, you won’t be disappointed. ‘The Kickliner EP’ is the second EP from the duo.

There’s a huge difference between the opening brace of songs. Whereas for ’17th Floor’, the drama and tension is maintained from beginning to end, ‘Amsterdam’ is gentle and lilting. Then ‘Emilies Room’ balances pretty jangling with angst-filled outpourings. ‘Seventeen’ is definitely single-worthy, thanks largely to its ringing guitar melody and a rousing chorus but the finale ‘This Is A Gift’ is a slightly drippy indie pop number which should be subtitled “for ladies only”.

On the face of it, The Kickliner offer little that is new. Added to that, the mix is a bit muddy and the singer sounds like he’s suffering from a winter cold. Yet there’s something undeniably charming about these songs, which may be lo-fi and insular in terms of production but the songwriting has the potential to reach out to wider audiences.

Web Sites:
The Kickliner MySpace
Rainboot Label Site

Review: Planivaar – Concrete Beach

After some gloriously evocative recent releases, Mark Lippett of Planivaar has now made available a small collection of previously unavailable tracks for free download. The five pieces – recorded between 2006 and 2008 – are heavy on voice manipulations and gentle melody.

After one minute of news recordings and summery guitar chords, ‘When The Carpet Melts’ appears to mix keyboards of both the modern and ancient variety. ‘Undertow’ is timid and furtive initially but its distorted vocal samples become central to the subtle melody and vocals are toyed with even further on ‘Brave New World’, where they appear to be played backwards.

Given its low key release, we shouldn’t have expected too much from ‘Concrete Beach’. Although each track is inventive and invites curiosity, they are not really involving enough to demand further listening. Nevertheless, it’s worth a listen for those who’ve enjoyed Lippett’s previous offerings.

Web Sites:
Planivaar MySpace
Concrete Beach Download

Video Feature: AM – Christmas Time Is Here

I wouldn’t normally succumb to the lure of the Christmas promo but this new single from AM really is special and I had to make an exception.

Some of the more experienced readers may recognise this as a tune featured on Charlie Brown and this is actually a cover of a song penned by Vince Guaraldi for the animated TV series. It’s an incredibly sweet song with a wistful undercurrent.

Enjoy the Christmas holidays everyone!

Web Sites:
AM MySpace

Review: EL Heath – Shropshire Hill Country

Following hot on the heels of the new release from My Autumn Empire, labelmate Eric Loveland Heath returns with another record strong on psychogeography. Few album designs will have received such care and attention as ‘Shropshire Hill Country’. Inside the recycled cardboard sleeve there are some Ordnance Survey Map stickers and a leaf. Both are samples from England’s largest inland county and add a tangible slice of the atmospheres Heath captures on record.

Jolly folk instrumental ‘Bishop’s Castle Carnival’ – replete with accordion and flute – evokes images of villagers dancing and cheering but it’s the only time when happiness seems to be the dominant emotion. ‘A Song For The Village Of New Invention’ sees the tone shift towards darker waters with a sample from a folk evening.

‘Knockin Radio Telescope’ is guaranteed to cause a chill, whilst ‘Round And Round And Round Again’ drifts in to pastorally-flavoured dreampop territory. The nostalgic ringing guitars of ‘The Bridges, Ratlinghope’ will be familiar to those who’ve followed the music of July Skies and Epic45 down the years, although it has to be noted it’s also one of several tracks which remind me of Greg Lake’s ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’.

Comparisons to seasonal singles from prog-rock heavyweights aside though, ‘Shropshire Hill Country’ enhances Heath’s position as an expert in evoking the daytime reverie and nocturnal mystery of the English countryside. He could have easily made a folk pastiche record but his thirst for experimenting is once again rewarded here.

Web Sites:
EL Heath MySpace
Wayside And Woodland Recordings Label MySpace

Further Listening:
Mike Oldfield, Epic45, July Skies, Les Étoiles, Talk Talk

Review: My Autumn Empire – The Village Compass

Despite being active for nearly a decade, Ben Holton’s My Autumn Empire project has never delivered a full album until now. Yet ‘The Village Compass’ will be familiar fare to those who’ve followed the pastoral and nostalgic music of Holton’s regular band, Epic45.

Guitar lines ring and resonate and although he doesn’t sing much Holton relies on his trusty whisper of despair. ‘The Approach Of The City’ may sound like an optimistic little ditty but its theme of rural life being overtaken by housing development (Holton sings “They’re building around you and you won’t even notice”) is quietly chilling. Likewise, ‘We Were Happy’ and ‘The Playing Fields’ seem to be hanging on doggedly to memories of better days. Holton reaches his peak on ‘Woodland Theme/Wood Alcohol’; layering his own vocal harmonies on top of each other against the most melancholic of melodies but the deliciously languid title track – a battle between traffic noise and rustic arrangements – runs it close.

‘The Village Compass’ is a beautifully realised piece of work. If you were unfamiliar with his previous material, you would have thought Holton would be a middle-aged romantic but the fact that he is still in his twenties and able to articulate nostalgia so poignantly through his music has to be this album’s main achievement.

Web Sites:
My Autumn Empire MySpace
Wayside And Woodland Recordings Label MySpace

Further Listening:
Epic45, July Skies, Hood

Review: Nick Garrie – The Nightmare Of JB Stanilas

The late 1960’s was a fabulous time for original singer-songwriters. Whereas Scott Walker is rightly revered, there’s also rewards to be gained from checking out relatively obscure artists such as Bergen White, Mark Wirtz  and Nick Garrie. Garrie was a Yorkshireman whose debut album – not helped by the record label owner committing suicide immediately after its release – has been a collector’s item until its recent reissue. 

Clearly, Garrie deserved more fortune as his talent emerges fully formed. It’s there from the lush atmospherics which greet you as the title track begins proceedings. The orchestration is ambitious and colourful, rather like Mark Wirtz’s ‘A Teenage Opera’ soundtrack and many of the songs exude a similar kind of magic.

‘Can I Stay With You’ is a charming, countrified love song full of self-effacing lyrics (“Everything I seem to do is wrong” being the key line) whilst ‘Ink Pot Eyes’ has a similar yearning quality. ‘Wheel Of Fortune’ is embellished by a gorgeous string arrangement, that contrasts nicely with the spare, Nick Drake-like ‘Evening’ . In fact, only the ‘Queen Of Queens’ feels out of place with an ill-advised, Americanised vocal from Garrie.

‘The Nightmare Of JB Stanislas’ is worthy of better status than a rarity. The whole album has an innocent quality, touched by darkness and self-doubt and its clever, imaginative arrangements keep the interest going from start to finish. The bonus tracks also include several acoustic version, which prove that these stripped back songs hold up without the fancy production lending a hand. Happily, Garrie still records to this day and is arguably more popular now than he has ever been.

Web Sites:
Nick Garrie MySpace

Further Listening:
Bergen White, Mark Wirtz, David Francis