Archive for January, 2011

Review: Monday Morning Sun – The Usual Mile

 There are dark records and then there are records featuring London-based musician Umair Chaudry, who seems to be hell-bent on creating a one-stop shop for the glummest releases of this Millenium. Whilst his solo assignment, Abandon, balanced the blackness with an air of elegance, Monday Morning Sun gives Chaudry an outlet with which to share his bleak vision with vocalist/bassist Marco Ruggiero. They certainly hammer home the message too.

At first, ‘Bad Bones’ seems to signify a playful, experimental heart. Snatches of film dialogue, African rhythms and digitised vocals all dovetail in to a rhythmic, entertaining opener. One thing hasn’t changed from Chaudry’s Abandon project though; ‘Bad Bones’ alone lasts for an energy-sapping ten minutes. However, it turns out to be the lightest moment of the record.

‘Blind Leading The Blind’ doesn’t really build from its wah-wah guitar beginning in to anything more than a grim post-punk throwback whereas ‘Never Put A Foot Wrong’ comes close to emulating the atmosphere of Joy Division, or at the very least a credible A Certain Ratio. ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is better still as it finds the hitherto undiscovered middle ground between Bauhaus and Spiritualized. Yet, as on the Abandon record, Chaudry saves his powerful statement of intent to last, courtesy of the pummelling beats and doom-ridden aura of ‘Questions’.

The overtly aggressive, masculine nature of the record means that melody is not high on the agenda. As a result, the album is only recommended for those who avidly collect the more obscure releases from the early days of Factory Records.

Web Sites:
Monday Morning Sun MySpace
Blindsight Records Home Page

Further Listening:
A Certain Ratio, Crispy Ambulance, Abandon


Review: Return To Mono – Framebreaker

Welcome to the world of San Francisco’s Return To Mono. The formula will be familiar to those who followed indie-dance music in the late 1990’s. The trio are made up of two balding DJ types whilst their music is given voice by the distinguished presence of Tanya Kelleher.

‘Song Of The Beast’ is an arresting opener as Kelleher emerges from a crunchy mix of beats, bleeps and guitars with a cracking chorus. Similarly impressive is the title track where Kelleher’s staccato vocal techniques represents a captivating USP. It’s at this point when you realise Kelleher’s time as a nanny for Butch Vig’s child creates a nice link between Return To Mono’s style and Vig’s own dance-rock hybrid, Garbage.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be charmed by ‘The Promise’ as its breakbeats circle around the colourful ambient soundscapes, or indeed the excellent ‘Seeker Circuit’, which is edgy and hook-filled. After this, the band have a tendency to consolidate their formula and anonymous chill-out numbers like ‘Dreamer’ and ‘See You On The Other Side’ are indicative of album which gradually runs out of ideas towards the end.

Although ‘Framebreaker’ will seem like a step back in time for those who listen to it, for the first half of the record at least, they keep the arrangements fresh and inventive. Furthermore, in the form of Kelleher, they have a frontwoman with a great versatility.

Web Sites:
Return To Mono Official Site
Return To Mono MySpace

Further Listening:
Garbage, Lhooq

Review: The Bathtub Sophist – Main Crop: Vol 1

The Bathtub Sophist is the nom de plume for New Zealand musician Arron Stewart. It’s true to say that his mix of nature samples and “sublime sonic storytelling” is quite commonplace nowadays but his uncomplicated approach turns out to be rather refreshing.

‘Rise And Shine’ opens, quite appropriately, with a rooster’s cry. It’s a brief, one-minute piece but it sets the tone for a record which is happy in its outlook. ‘Fledglings’ balances summery guitars and classically-inspired keyboards with bird song, then the beats kick in and convert a pleasant tune in to something really rather moving. Stewart is no stranger to dabbling in genres either. To this end, ‘Bask’ experiments with dub whilst ‘The Tribe’ toys with African rhythms but both are arranged in Stewart’s usual warm, playful style.

‘Main Crop: Vol 1’ isn’t one of those ambient records with an undercurrent of melancholy and its samples (bird song, insects) could be deemed fairly obvious. Yet despite the apparent lack of mystery or depth to Stewart’s music, his approach is always centred on melody. Best of all, for the curious, this release is free to download too.

Web Sites:
The Bathtub Sophist Bandcamp Site
The Bathtub Sophist MySpace

Further Listening:
Minotaur Shock

Video Feature: Lidwine – In The Half-Light

Although it doesn’t qualify as an album, Lidwine’s ‘LW’ (see the review here) represented one of the musical highlights of last year. It reminded me of the greatness of Björk’s early career but Lidwine carves out her own style with a penchant for original key changes and classical accompaniment.

This example of her idosyncratic methods reveals Lidwine’s key strengths: a superbly melodic voice, unusual instrumentation and now accompanied by this slightly eerie, yet dreamlike video.

I hope to hear more from her this year.

Web Sites:
Lidwine Official Site
Lidwine MySpace

Review: Youth Sounds – The Bit Parts EP

Youth Sounds are a new group from New Orleans, formed by siblings Erika and Federico Mejia. As with many new acts on their first EP, there’s a sense that they are still finding their feet before establishing their signature sound.

As a singer, Erika is quite unassuming, delivering a cracked whisper whilst the music around her is formed by meaty percussion and layers of guitars, which veer between indie rock and dreampop in tone.  Nevertheless, it’s a combination which works well for ‘As Strangers Would’. ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ begins with sweet acoustic melody and the most hushed of vocals; taking nearly three minutes to explode in to harder riffs. Finally, ‘What Is It Like’ signs off in pleasant fashion, suitable for drivetime accompaniment.

‘The Bit Parts EP’ is rather undemanding but still produces highly palatable, fuzzy rock fare. It threatens to catch fire but cautiously holds back before it becomes anthemic. It’s tough to assess them after just ten minutes of music but you sense there’ll have to be more dynamic on their next release.

Web Sites:
Youth Sounds MySpace

Review: Rich Bennett – Buddy Cop

Via a sequence of regular releases, Rich Bennett has revealed a strong desire to make cinematic music encompassing many different genres. ‘Buddy Cop’ comprises, once again, a series of instrumentals for an  imaginary theme; in this case featuring a classy, refined cop from uptown named Dan Lyman.

‘Main Credits’ balances steel guitar with heavyweight Miami Vice-style percussion; (in fact, the latter becomes a common weapon used by Bennett for this “score”). ‘Chase Scene’ is the track which most closely relates to one of Bennett’s parent bands, Hotels, thanks in no small part to its intricate guitar interplay, whilst ‘The City At Large’ is awash with layers of electronic melody. Topping everything else, though, is ‘Goodbye To Love’; a subtle slice of melancholia, evoking nocturnal romance of the most refined variety.

‘Buddy Cop’ is so authentically 1980’s that the press release claims the music and film were found on an old VHS tape. They’ve even taken the trouble to make a tongue-in-cheek trailer. Just don’t try looking for too much depth here as ‘Buddy Cop’ should be treated as a fun and nostalgic release.

Web Sites:
Rich Bennett MySpace
Hidden Shoal Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:

Review: Warpaint – The Fool

Warpaint have been earmarked as one of the bands to watch in 2011. This can mean various things; perhaps they really are talented or perhaps they just have an influential PR company. Considering they began in 2004, though, releasing their first EP is surely an example of taking time or a bad case of tardiness. Using their debut album ‘The Fool’ as evidence, though, patience is most definitely rewarded.

This LA-based all-female outfit are referred to as an experimental art rock group. It’s a fair description although much of their music appears centred on the fringes of goth and post-punk music. Crucially, they also know their way around a killer hook when they need it.   Although not the best track, ‘Set Your Arms Down’ certainly sends out an eerie statement of intent. The quivering in Emily Kokal’s voice, the threatening rumble of percussion and the jangly guitars are all present and correct and indicative of what is to come. The title track is stunning as its ghostly harmonies and post-punk guitars collide in to a malestrom of intense but hypnotically beautiful noise. 

As singles go, ‘Undertow’ and ‘Shadows’ contain surprisingly spare arrangements but this only adds to their haunted brilliance. Only ‘Baby’ disappoints because it’s the one time when their “less is more” approach sounds too much like other artists; in this case take your pick from any female-led acoustic act from the last 10 years. However, the same cannot be said for ‘Lissie’s Heart Murmur’, where the group bring in piano to accompany Kokal’s most heartbreaking turn in front of the mic and remind us how special they actually are.

‘The Fool’ is a frequently startling and great record. The stark arrangements shiver and shudder their way into the body and head, creating both visceral and cerebral thrills. Looks like those media types got it right after all, then.

Web Sites:
Warpaint Official Site
Warpaint MySpace

Further Listening:
The Organ, Telepathe

Review: Abandon – House Of Cards

On the face of it, Blindsight Records seem to be just a normal independent record label. Further investigation, however, reveals nearly all the named artists seem to feature label founder Umair Chaudry as a contributing member. Abandon is one of his solo projects.

‘Cower’ does little to hide the fact that Chaudry is representing the darkest of slowcore outfits. Lumbering guitars, grumbling basslines and Chaudry’s monotone change little over the course of its fourteen minute length, with only an ambient segment and glimpses of melody offering the merest chinks of light.  ‘Clapping Hands’ is close in mood, spirit and vocals to the uncompromising post-punk sounds of Crispy Ambulance whilst ‘Buried’ coaxes the best vocal performance from Chaudry as he reveals some humanity above some marginally more uplifting guitar patterns.

‘Washed Ashore’ is the most ambitious moment and the most riveting too. A repeated mantra of “Just you and me, beneath the ocean” can be heard as the grinding guitars align themselves to an accompaniment of deathly percussion and subtle electronica. Chaudry gives a convincing portrayal as a lost sea dweller; doomed to a lonely life until the end of his years.

Despite its almost overbearing sense of misery and sloth-like pace, ‘House Of Cards’ has an elegant gothic style and air of vulnerability which makes it strangely appealing. Needless to say, his other projects appear to possess a similarly downcast outlook but are well worth investigating for genre fans.

Web Sites:
Abandon MySpace
Blindsight Records Home Page

Further Listening:
Crispy Ambulance, Lowlife

Review: Roommate – Guilty Rainbow

Based on their press photos (below), Roommate’s geeky image suggests either another set of new wave revivalists or the cast of Seinfeld. The music the Chicago-based outfit produce, however, is too earnest for comedy and rather more enduring than the latest set of retro-indie rockers. Indeed, frontman and songwriter Kent Lambert began Roommate over a decade ago and has steadily built up a group of like-minded bandmates, which in turn has led to a fuller sound.

Where groups like Mercury Rev and The Silent League conjure up images of fantasy worlds, Roommate’s songs have a familiarity which is entirely earthbound. ‘August Song’ is the first of many tracks full of heartfelt yearning whilst ‘Flicker Flame’ and ‘The Country With A Smile’ reveal their roots in 70’s soft rock. At its most experimental level, ‘Ghost Pigeon’ finds Lambert at his most despairing, lost amongst the layers of  jazz and electronic instruments but the single ‘Snow Globe’ is more indicative of Roommate’s skills, as it slowly winds up the tension and tears in the manner of Radiohead circa ‘The Bends’.

As easy as it is to admire Roommate’s seamless blend of acoustic and electronic instruments, the constant is Lambert’s emotive vocals. Guilty Rainbow’ is a lesson in how to expand your musical ambition without losing the ability to convey intimacy. 

‘Guilty Rainbow’ is set to be available from March 22nd.

Web Sites:
Roommate Official Site
Roommate MySpace

Further Listening:
In Civilian Clothing, The Silent League

Review: Pandit – Eternity Spin

Waaga Records are becoming specialists in dreampop and Pandit are another name to add to the increasingly impressive roster they have built up. The brainchild of Texan singer/songwriter Lance Smith, ‘Eternity Spin’ is a compelling debut album.

The record is bookended by ‘Pack Your Bags’ and an eerie, untitled number; both are songs which emulate Deerhunter’s ghostly take on indie rock. Yet Pandit’s main achievements occur in between. His forte is pop music of the most heavenly variety, captured on single ‘Artichoke’, which sounds like The Beach Boys with a drum machine. As a definition of getting the basics right, ‘Kathryn, My Love’ is hard to beat. It relies on sighed vocals and simple chiming guitar chords but the result is stunning. Likewise, ‘Scotch’ and ‘We Reach Out’ are blissful and romantic.

He may sing in a whisper and some of the music seems so fragile it could be blown away at any moment but Smith has ultimately conjured up an album of great power. For the best songs here linger long in the memory and are likely to haunt whoever hears them for months and years to come.

Web Sites:
Pandit MySpace
Waaga Records

Further Listening:
Deerhunter, A.R.Kane, Dominant Legs