Archive for May, 2011

Review: Wild Beasts – Smother

Three albums in and already Wild Beasts have shown how a group can develop seemingly effortlessly from record to record. Their 2008 debut ‘Limbo Panto’ banked a lot on the vocal acrobatics of frontman Hayden Thorpe but it was a record which sought to surprise and shock rather than soothe. The following year’s ‘Two Dancers’ underplayed the melodrama but achieved more depth. ‘Smother’ is not a dynamic step forward from its predecessor but – to quote one of their new songs – it certainly does “reach a bit further”.

‘Lion’s Share’ toys with sexual imagery (a continual theme) whilst Thorpe’s intimate vocals and the subtle arrangements evoke a male version of Kate Bush. The melodies to ‘Bed Of Nails’ and ‘Plaything’ are original and beguiling. This is a group that doesn’t need to hammer home their talents; instead they unfurl themselves slowly.

As with ‘Two Dancers’, just as important are the vocal contributions from Tom Fleming. He adds a mature warmth to ‘Deeper’ and even more so for ‘Invisible’, whose nocturnal majesty seems to be cut from the same cloth as The Blue Nile. The sign of a good track is when you yearn for it to last longer and ‘Albatross’ is one such moment as Thorpe’s romantic desperation demands attention. The record ends on a high too with the delicate ‘Burning’ followed by the slowly unwinding, chiming delights of ‘End Come Too Soon’

‘Smother’ further emphasises the idea that Wild Beasts are an albums’ act; apparently rejecting the notion of delivering obvious singles. On the first listen, it seems as if the record is almost too understated for its own good but it gradually reveals and rewards for each subsequent play. Better still, no one is making records that sound anything like this right now.

Web Sites:
Wild Beasts Official Site
Wild Beasts MySpace

Further Listening:
Kate Bush, The Associates, The Blue Nile


Review: Vliot – Invisible Cities

Vliot is a musical outlet for Puerto Rican Fabian Wilkins and an assortment of local talent. To expect his new record to be entirely representative of his country would be a big mistake though. By the standards of ‘Invisble Cities’, Wilkins has reached much further for inspiration.

Wilkins’ Peter Gabriel-like tones on ‘En Lo Que Sea’ set the album off to a smooth, jazzy start. There is a distinct air of summer on these languid songs and instrumentals. The sweet melodies of ‘Amanecer’, for example, seem perfect accompaniment to a lazy day at the beach. Wilkins sretches himself on several occasions. If ‘En Os Aires’ is intended as a homage to Tortoise, Wilkins certainly achieves his aim, whilst on the final instrumental – the warm, throbbing keyboards of ‘Beautiful Machine’ – he arguably reaches his peak. Tellingly, even if ‘Falling Ice’ and ‘High Hopes’ may sound like (admittedly classy) incidental music, the sunny charm remains constant.

Wilkins cleverly stays true to his Puerto Rican roots but clearly his influences have been just as informed by Western culture. If there is one recommendation, though, it is that he should utilise his voice more since this instrument lifts the occasionally soporific moments on the record.

Web Sites:
Vliot Official Site
Invisible Cities Bandcamp Page

Further Listening:
Tortoise, Mice Parade

Review: Golden Glow – Tender Is The Night

Although based in Manchester, Pierre Hall’s Trinidadian and Mauritian heritage means his music is likely to sound less localised than most acts from the area. Furthermore, in a sure statement of “keeping it real”, the new album from Golden Glow is a four-track recording but one which sounds rich with promise.

Thick, heavily echoed beats and staccatto vocals usher in ‘Adore Me’ and Hall sticks to these base elements throughout the album. Yet don’t be fooled into thinking there is a lack of invention here. ‘Locked Inside’ features summery guitar and possesses a wistfulness which makes the association with The Drums so easy to understand, then extending the link still further is the “Orange Juice on a budget” nugget ‘All Time’. Only ‘The Blizzard’, with its drone-heavy backing, could be called an experiment but it’s not one of the songs which listeners are likely to return to very often. Yet when he can put out off-kilter indie-pop gems such as ‘On My Own’ or ‘Retreat’, it’s easy to forgive any misguided attempts at adventure and admire his insouciant charms instead.

There’s a consistency to ‘Tender Is The Night’ which could be considered as a lack of variety but each song has something different to offer within the boundaries of indie/alternative rock. One would imagine that the next album will have a bigger budget thrown at it but this must not drown out the talent which Hall clearly has.

Web Sites:
Golden Glow MySpace
Mush Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Drums, The Strokes

Review: Parts Of Speech – Floyd Biz

Although it should be taken as a huge compliment, it is almost impossible to disassociate Kansas City’s Parts Of Speech from Junior Boys. Because, just like the Canadian synth-soul experts, Brandon Knocke and Alexander Thomas take on 1980’s electronica and inject it with a dose of vulnerability.

For ‘Canopy’, Knocke’s breezy vocals float upon an ambient wash of keyboards. As the album develops, the origins of synth pop are even more pronounced. The primitive melodies for ‘ABC Islands’ and ‘Tasted Comfort’ could have come from OMD or Depeche Mode’s initial recordings with only the insouciant but perfectly pitched tones of Knocke bringing the songs in to the 21st Century; the latter is a brilliant example of their lovelorn yet eerie approach. ‘Electric Lime Timeless’ goes one step further by incorporating a sax solo whilst the blissful grace of ‘Hidden Pigeon’ is kept grounded by Thomas’ precise drumming. The album does noticeably drift towards the end but the air of studied cool is ever present.

Because of the obvious comparison mentioned earlier, Parts Of Speech could be in danger of becoming a pastiche act. They get away with it though because their songs are fully formed in their own right and blessed with irresistibly romantic, nocturnal atmospheres.

Web Sites:
Parts Of Speech Official Site
Parts Of Speech Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Junior Boys

Video Feature: Lidwine – In The Half-Light (Acoustic)

As readers of this site will be aware, video features are quite rare occurences. Rarer still are artists who make more than one appearance but Lidwine is a rare and special talent. This is an acoustic version of ‘In The Half-Light’ from Lidwine’s ‘LW’ EP ((see the review here and the original video here)).

The video was made in Saint Jean Bosco church and featured recently in French webzine Le Cargo. What a lovely sound the harmonium and the human voice can make!

Web Sites:
Lidwine Official Site
Lidwine Facebook
Le Cargo

Review: Mob Fandango – Dig

Mob Fandango are a new Dublin act, made up of ten performers. Although basically a funk/soul outfit they probably need so many members given that they cover such a range of musical styles. Quite an achievement for this highly polished fifteen-minute EP.


The opening ‘Funk Epidemic’ contains everything you’d need for a lively funk act. It’s surely designed to fulfil the band’s manifesto to “get you on the floor and help you remember how to  feel good”. Instrumentally, it’s a 1970’s Cop theme even down to the wah-wah guitars. ‘Dancefloor’ is more soulful and fun and emphasises their tight musicianship. Yet it’s track three which demonstates their classy songwriting prowess best as the killer Steely Dan-style chorus smoothly attests. It’s left to ‘Dig’ to end the EP with a comfortably warm reggae sound and a happy glow.

Like their fellow Irish band The Burning Effigies, Mob Fandango take on black American influences and prove that they can groove and swing with the best of them. The mood is generally fun and it’s easy to understand why they’re a live draw but one senses there’s a greater depth here which needs to be explored further if they have ambition to be a successful albums act.

Web Sites:
Mob Fandango Official Site
Mob Fandango Bandcamp Site

Further Listening:
The Burning Effigies

Review: Paperfangs – Paperfangs EP

Paperfangs are a trio from Finland and present their wares as a downloadable three-track EP. It can be hard to convey much depth over the course of ten minutes but the group have created three enjoyable synth pop songs nevertheless.

Paperfangs have demonstrated their influences with a version of a Pet Shop Boys’ track but the first song on this EP harks back to a more obscure part of history.’The Fastest Planes’ is reminiscent of The Wake, thanks to Juri’s airy vocal and the light, melancholic synth melody.  Rather bizarrely, ‘The Vastest Plains’ seems to open with the sound of vacuum cleaning but then a sugary tune in the mould of The Lightning Seeds takes hold. The EP ends with a cover; a fluffy version of ‘Violet’ by Kiss Kiss Fantastic.

One could argue that Paperfangs fulfil their chosen name with music which lacks real bite but there’s an endearing charm present which harks back to the innocent days of the 1980’s. A full album, though, wlll surely be the true benchmark of their talents.

Web Sites:
Paperfangs Tumblr Site
Paperfangs Soundcloud Page

Further Listening:
The Wake, The Pet Shop Boys

Review: James Blake – James Blake

Figuring highly in BBC’s Sound Of 2011 might be considered to be a dubious honour but no one could accuse of James Blake of lacking imagination or orginality. Informed by dubstep, soul and experimental electronica, this is an addictive debut which lives up to the hype.

Underneath the sonic trickery the songs are effectively a showcase for a soul singer and Blake is pretty good at performing that role too. It’s most evident on the simpler material such as ‘Give Me My Month’ or his cover of Leslie Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’, which sounds like an updated version of the 1990’s trip-hop sound. ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ is intimate and romantic; not unlike lost hits from the 1980’s such as David Cassidy’s ‘The Last Kiss’, for example. That is until the layers of static and shuddering beats gradually descend upon the underlying melody. As an indication of his versatility, ‘Never Learnt To Share’ builds from a fragile vocal in to a baroque club anthem whilst album closer ‘Measurements’ even pulls off gospel music with some panache.

With all the sonic trickery at his disposal, Blake never forgets the core of the song and each of the tracks radiate equal shades of invention and warmth. BBC predictions aside, James Blake could be the sound of future years too.

Web Sites:
James Blake Official Site
James Blake MySpace


KIDCITY comprise Caleb and Kelly Ann who present their style as “clip hop”. Since they also claim their sound is positioned between Enya and Dr. Dre, it’s clear that the Toronto twosome have a sense of humour too.

For a more accurate representation of their music, there is no greater indication than ‘Bloody Face’. Against a glitchy backdrop of noise and beats, Kelly Ann’s distorted vocal shifts from robotic threat to melancholic ache. The shift from cold, austere music to something rather serene and beautiful is a masterstroke from the duo and this turns out to be their USP. ‘Blackened’ and ‘Values’ are made of a similar formula with Kelly Ann’s clear vocals recalling the singer-songwriters from the 1970’s rather than the trendy frontpersons of today’s electro acts. Not everything works: ‘Phyrne’ comes across as rather shrill and even though trip hop is well covered for both ‘Insurance’ and ‘All Grown Up’, the random bleeping effects begin to grate after a while.

KIDCITY offer a different perspective on the usual boy/girl electro acts. Having said that, it would be interesting to see them break out of their defiantly lo-fi production and embrace their melodic side a little further next time.

Web Sites:
KIDCITY Official Site
KIDCITY Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Van Allen Belt, The Artificial Sea

Review: How How – Bumpy EP

How How are a new electronica act from Poland who describe their music as “wobbly, ethereal, electracoustic music”. In accordance with their promise, they’ve even named their first release ‘Bumpy EP’ and it’s a rather uneven listen, in all honesty. 

Rather than East-European, ‘Before And After’ is more akin to Japanese music with light vocals clashing with experimental melodies. The song meanders tentatively but manages to stir itself briefly for a chorus of sorts. ‘February March’ is longer and more edifying; it has an easy listening vibe but with a staccato tempo. That uneasy alliance between sweetness and abrasion continues for ‘Flimp’ but these explorations finally reach fruition on the last track ‘Fircyk’. It’s no coincidence that the song is relatively straightforward but the combination of acoustic backing and queasy harmonies proves ultimately seductive.

‘Bumpy’ is certainly a very promising release which seems to improve track by track after its rather awkward beginning. The group’s commitment to experimental pop music is also something Cornelius would be proud of.

Web Sites:
How How MySpace
How How Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Cornelius, anata wa sukkari tsukarete shimai