Archive for March, 2011

Review: Aube L – Souls To The Wind

At a time when there are a number of dominant females surging to the top of the pile, France’s Aube Lalvée is distinct enough to stand out in her own right. As well as being a versatile guitarist, she has a voice equally capable of conveying vulnerability and threat.

‘I Don’t Care’ is a typically melodramatic opener; kicked off by a magnificent chorus made not of words but of powerful wailing, whilst the verses build up an atmosphere of impending doom. However, this is not your average verse-chorus album as very few songs subscribe to this format.

Instead, there’s a fondness for post-punk and grungy guitars (‘Black Moon’, ‘Sense Of Life’), with equal space given to the spare, stripped back ‘Tell Me’ and the title track, where Lalvée puts on a performance of bone-chilling proportions. There are also moodier moments where songs drift a little aimlessly as both band and singer struggle to find a hook to ensnare wayward ears.

Texturally, ‘Souls To The Wind’ is an impressive album and Lalvée is a passionate performer who injects every syllable with maximum emotion. The key will be to hone her occasionally wayward talents in to a more coherent record but her spirit of adventure and individualism and (of course) that voice marks her out as a special talent.

Web Site:
Aube L Blog
Aube L MySpace

Further Listening:
Ragga And The Jack Magic Orchestra, Anna Calvi


Review: Poomse – Star EP

Llorenç Rosselló hails from Mallorca, not a location usually associated with experimental folk-pop but it’s this loose genre term which most closely fits his recordings under the name of Poomse. After the 2006 demo ‘The Phantom Hand Theory’ (the biggest compliment being it didn’t really sound like a demo), the artist returned with a full length album last year and now this new EP.

Poomse’s odd singing style resembles Robert Wyatt or – in layman’s terms – he has the voice of someone much older. When it’s filtered through youthful regret as on ‘Kitchen Floor Epiphany’ the effect is oddly satisfying. ‘Star’ begins as a blues-influenced track but its string sampling-ending is more reminiscent of classic Hollywood. In keeping with the unusual approach of the EP, ‘Heaven’ switches between grimy post punk and trumpet segments and ‘The Elephant In The Room’ balances discordant noise with off-kilter melody.

Given the eclectic approach to Poomse’s songwriting, there’s a lot to take in here even in the EP’s concise seventeen minutes. Tellingly, though, Rosselló makes a decent fist of becoming the Balearic Islands’ answer to Eels.

Web Sites:
Poomse Blog
Poomse Bandcamp Site

Further Listening
Robert Wyatt, Beck, Eels

Review: Her Vanished Grace – See The Moon

Forged on the dynamic interplay between husband and wife duo Nance and Charlie Nieland, Her Vanished Grace dispense verses and choruses like a shoegazing Roxette. That’s not to dismiss the complexity of their songs (which are amost always very well produced and written) but it does demonstrate their commercial appeal.

From the hopeful ‘I Know What Time It Is’ to the gentle finale ‘Stars Are Made Of Fire Too’, their latest album is typically abundant with tunes. ‘Passenger’ fades in and out amongst the vapour trail effects whilst ‘Beauty Lingers’ boasts a sugary pop chorus. A strong middle section to the record begins with ‘All That Matters’ as Nance Nieland’s sweet vocals float on a dreamy bed of jangly guitars; an illusion which is soon jettisoned in favour of the aggressive but hook-filled ‘Sparkling Diamond’. Meanwhile, the emotionally-driven ‘Make It Lighter’ makes you wonder why HVG aren’t better known.

So it’s business as usual for ‘See The Moon’. Granted, the Nance-led songs tend to linger longer in the memory than Charlie’s and those looking for musical progression should look elsewhere but if it’s rhythmic, shoegaze pop you’re looking for, it’s hard to find a group as consistently good as Her Vanished Grace.

Web Sites:
Her Vanished Grace Official Site
Her Vanished Grace MySpace

Further Listening:
Echodrone, Joy Zipper, The Sky Drops

Review: Frankie & The Heartstrings – Hunger

With so much competition and the pressure on to deliver something that’s new, connections are an important part in becoming part of the indie establishment. Sunderland’s Frankie & The Hearstrings have had their first album produced by Edwyn Collins; an artist who is more revered now than he has ever been. So armed with a 1950’s image and a 1980’s-indebted sound, the quintet serve up ten likeable, uncomplicated songs.

‘Photograph’ is a  chirpy opener which rivals The Housemartins’ ‘Happy Hour’ in terms of boyish charm. On a more esoteric level, ‘Ungrateful’ may contain simplistic lyrics but Frankie Francis’ passionate delivery and Michael McKnight’s jangly accompaniment serve as a reminder of all that is good about 1980’s guitar pop. Likewise, ‘Fragile’ arrives after two spirited but disposable album tracks to slow the pace down and deliver a yearning quality largely absent on the rest of the album. Indeed for all the spiky guitar melodies and Frankie’s pleading vocals, about half of the songs tend to pass by without leaving much of an impression. A notable exception, however, is the rattling intensity of ‘Don’t Look Surprised’ which rescues some belated urgency.

Collins even contributes backing vocals to three tracks but it’s probably a testament to FATH’s abilities that you don’t really notice them. Unlike recent albums by The Drums and Wild Beasts, however, ‘Hunger’ lacks any real unique elements and you’re left wondering whether the album is a pastiche, albeit a very well produced one.

Web Sites:
Frankie & The Heartstrings Official Site
Frankie & the Heartstrings MySpace

Further Listening:
The Monochrome Set, Orange Juice, The Housemartins, Dexys Midnight Runners

Review: My Ceramic Rabbit – Sex A Word

The vocalist can often sway a love/hate relationship with a band. In the case of  Wales’ My Ceramic Rabbit, they have Daniel Evans as a frontman, who will almost definitely provoke some kind of reaction. His yelping is the most distinctive element of the band; like a younger, more excitable version of Puressence’s James Mudriczki.

‘Until The Moon Bites Back’ is an arresting start. Based around a disarmingly cheap-sounding synth riff, the melody is strong and memorable for the right reasons. Whether by accident or design, the quartet conjure up some odd influences but turn them in to something that’s all their own work. The keyboards propelling ‘White Emotion’, for instance, bear close comparison to Altered Images’ ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ whilst the frenetic ‘Run Rabbit Run’ rides along a bed of Duran Duran-style guitars and features a typically wired (and inspired) turn from Evans. The title track is even reminiscent of The Mission if they had ever diversified in to synth pop. The remainder, however, is less comparable to other artists but also lacks the hooks necessary for them to stand apart from the raft of young indie bands out there.

At its best, ‘Sex A Word’ offers several slices of refreshing, energetic pop music with nods to post-punk, new wave and synth pop. If they can control their natural exuberance to deliver a more consistent, mature work next time, they could yet turn a good album into a great one.

Web Sites:
My Ceramic Rabbit MySpace

Further Listening:
Puressence, Friendly Fires

Review: Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

With youthful female singers being flavour of the month, at 28, Londoner Anna Calvi can be considered a late bloomer. Her musical career began playing the guitar but shyness prevented her from singing until her early twenties. This is hard to fathom considering the sheer power she generates on her debut album.

Calvi is undeniably a virtuoso. It’s a brave move opening a debut album with a surf guitar solo and then she follows it up by seducing like Alison Goldfrapp for ‘No More Words’.  The verses to ‘First We Kiss’ tells us more about her vulnerability but the swooping orchestral finale is a joy to behold. ‘Desire’, the melodramatic, multi-octave brilliance of ‘Suzanne And I’ and the thunderous thrills of ‘Blackout’ are the most memorable songs and tellingly the most commercial too but in this company, the instrumental segments (regardless of how technically proficient they are) tend to serve as a distraction from the main event.

Calvi is a unique performer, capable of taking on a number of styles with considerable aplomb and adding her distinctive qualities to each. The by-product of this is that the album occasionally lacks cohesion but it’s easy to tell all the elements are here to confirm that Calvi is a future star.

Web Sites:
Anna Calvi Official Site
Anna Calvi MySpace

Further Listening:
PJ Harvey, Goldfrapp

Review: The Mummers – Mink Hollow Road

Based around the orchestral arrangements of Mark Horwood and the vocal acrobatics of Raissa Khan-Panni, The Mummers emerged as one of the most exciting bands of the last decade with their unique brand of technicolour pop. Tragedy hit home, though, with Horwood taking his own life in 2009 as they reached a popular and critical peak. Without such a key member, it must have been questionable whether the group could carry on.

Pleasingly, the remaining band members (and many new ones) have dusted themselves down and prepared for the next phase of The Mummers journey. ‘Mink Hollow Road’ contains a mere six tracks but the future looks brighter than ever on this evidence.

It certainly helps if you can call on The Slovak National Symphony Orchestra to assist as The Mummers do on the opening track ‘Call Me A Rainbow’. Yet the Brighton-based outift have earned the right to this experience and the sheer hopefulness of the song should melt the hardest of hearts even if, at the back of your mind, it feels like listening to a Hollywood musical. The cutesiness is taken a step further for ‘Fade Away’; perhaps the best girlie pop song to be heard for some time but it’s actually a cover of a Todd Rundgren track. To contrast, ‘Driving Home’ takes one on an aurally sumptuous journey but its lyrics of “bruises that no one ever sees” and Khan Panni’s aching chorus reveals rare signs of a darker underbelly.

Horwood is credited with the arrangements for the final half of the record. When Khan-Panni sings “I begin to see in sepia” on ‘Cherry Heart’, the nostalgic sentiment is a shared experience. ‘Your Voice’ wavers and meanders as if filtered through several dreams but ‘Stuck In The Middle’ is refreshingly modern; Khan-Panni demonstrating her full range over the twinkling, fairy light atmospherics.

Certainly, Horwood’s legacy remains undiminished but others have taken up the baton and it’s pleasing to report that The Mummers sound just as good now as they always did. Moreover, in the true spirit of the band, ‘Mink Hollow Road’ conveys a celebration of life .

Web Sites:
The Mummers Official Site
The Mummers MySpace

Further Listening:
Lidwine, The Divine Comedy, Björk

Review: Esben And The Witch – Violet Cries

Naming themselves after a sinister Danish fairy tale, Brighton’s Esben And The Witch are a band who have put a lot of effort in to making their gothic music seem real. Their authenticity extends to song titles representing distinctly dark ideas. For instance, ‘Eumenides’ comes from the names of deities of vengeance in Greek mythology, ‘Argyria’ is an allergic reaction to silver whilst ‘Chorea’ refers to involuntary dance-like movements.

‘Argypia’ encapsulates modern goth music. Although it’s initial sounds of tribal noise recall Siouxsie And The Banshees, the music then moves into post-rock territory with the usual apocalyptic results. It’s a disarming start but not entirely representative of the trio. ‘Marching Song’ is more arresting and also more original. Here, frontwoman Rachel Davies comes in to her own with menacing chanting. Though it’s stunningly atmospheric, it can be considered less as a song, more a promise of eternal doom. It’s a feeling that’s exacerbated further by the accompanying video which depicts the three band members’ faces becoming more battered and bruised with every moment.

Events never get quite so dramatic after that as the intensity often gives way to ethereal subtlety. Nevertheless, ‘Marine Fields Glow’ is just as captivating and haunting as the louder material. ‘Light Streams’ and ‘Eumenides’ revert to pounding rhythms again whilst the excellent ‘Hexagons IV’ piles on the echo with chilling effect.

Whereas many of today’s gothic acts can seem hamfisted and contrived in their approach, no one could doubt the commitment of Esben And The Witch to the cause. Tunes may be in short supply but it would be hard to find modern music which is as macabre, spine-tingling and riveting as this.

Web Sites:
Esben And The Witch Official Site
Esben And The Witch MySpace

Further Listening:
Warpaint, Siouxsie And The Banshees

Review: Dotsun Moon – 4am

Back in January, I reviewed an album by Framebreaker, an American outfit with a taste for female-fronted indie dance music; the kind last made fashionable in the late 1990’s. In a possible case of deja vu, Dotsun Moon arrive from New York with a similar tactic.

‘And I Rest’ begins with a host of clean synth lines and squiggly electronica. It doesn’t really break out from its mid-1990s trappings and for an opener on a song-based album, it lacks a distinct chorus. It’s a worrying start but ‘Flutter’ is much better with Mary Ognibene lending her dance diva vocals over the top of some House piano. It’s undeniably retro but also classy.

There are times when Ognibene threatens to run the show; an idea bolstered by some rather pedestrian arrangements but the band raise their game on a number of occasions.  ‘Heed The Warning’ is groovy and sensual, ‘Westwind To The Boulevard’ is a decent New Order impression. ‘Glory’ is soulful and yearning whilst ‘Forever Tied’ is epic and defiant.

Some might wonder whether the last ten years have passed Dotsun Moon by. Having said that, their undeniably nostalgic approach also encompasses an understanding of subtlety amongst the digital trickery and with the dominant form of Ognibene as the focal point, you wouldn’t bet against them achieving more success.

Web Sites:
Dotsun Official Site
Dotsun Moon MySpace

Further Listening:
Framebreaker, Lhooq

Review: White Lies – Ritual

When White Lies emerged at the beginning of 2009 with ‘To Lose My Life’, they generated equal amounts of suspicion and respect. For on the one hand they brought doomy electro-rock to the masses but to a more cynical audience they had mutated from a cheery indie pop band in to a very stylised, very mannered version of Interpol or Editors. 

Much of the album sees White Lies sticking to the previous formula. Lyrically, listening to ‘Ritual’ is still a hoot. “You were writhing on the floor like a moth in molasses” is, you would hope, supposed to be tongue in cheek but much better is the less awkward “Hold tight for heartbreak. Buckle up for loneliness”. The widescreen pop of ‘Strangers’ and ‘Bigger Than Us’ certainly won’t offend their youthful audience but won’t win over new fans either.

Yet, for all that, this is an album which demonstrates evidence of significant progression on a musical level. It’s there in the way ‘Is Love’ moves from Harry McVeigh’s portentous words in to a dance-inflected elecro-groove. ‘The Power And The Glory’  benefits from eerie subtlety whilst ‘Streetlights’ and ‘Holy Ghost’ are swish and stylish but kept edgy by aggressive rhythms. For ‘Turn The Bells’, McVeigh’s vocal reveals refreshing signs of vulnerability beneath the usual stentorian chanting. It has a moving chorus too. Kudos too for the closing ‘Come Down’, which safely negotiates the grandstand finish hurdle with some aplomb.

Rather than make themselves sound more real and raw, White Lies have turned the other way and succumbed to the synth-driven anthems of A-ha or Ultravox. Surprisingly, it suits them rather well and ‘Ritual’ is more addictive than some naysayers might care to admit.

Web Sites:
White Lies Official Site
White Lies MySpace

Further Listening:
A-ha, Ultravox