Archive for June, 2011

Review: The Royal Bear – Attack

The press release for the debut album by The Royal Bear is almost endearingly naive. The first two paragraphs describe where they recorded, who produced them and who else recorded there (James Brown, Lionel Richie and The Strokes) although this reveals little about the Seattle band’s own music. How refreshing, though, that they want to “make music fun” and they achieve their simple mission on this energetic record.

On production duty is Ryan Hadlock who has mixed for The Strokes in the past. He probably enjoyed the way in which Cory Rain’s vocals slur in the manner of Julian Casablancas. ‘Guns At The Hip’ is a stirring opener and ‘Keeping Secrets’ emphasises their anthemic credentials further. When many albums enter a lull around the middle, the likes of ‘Sheppenwolf’ and ‘Dreamcatchers’ defy convention by bouncing off neat and incisive post-punk riffs. Rather like close sound-alikes We Are Scientists, their songs stick like glue to verse/chorus formats and even though several sound similar, any lack of invention is covered up by cohesion and a sense of urgency.

As a result, ‘Attack’ is undemanding fare but it has an undeniably infectious quality. One can imagine most of the songs here being played on the “indie” section of a commercial radio station. Nevertheless, a few more risks and changes of pace would serve them well for the future.

Web Sites:
The Royal Bear MySpace

Further Listening:
We Are Scientists


Video Feature: OfeliaDorme – Naked Evil

Earlier this year I wrote about ‘All Harm Ends Here’, the very promising first album from OfeliaDorme, an Italian alternative rock act (read the review here). Here’s their latest promo for the album track ‘Naked Evil’:

For this DIY video, they’ve spliced together some vintage erotica clips, which I think I’m right in saying is a first on this blog! The song, meanwhile, is a masterpiece of subtlety.

Web Sites:
OfeliaDorme Official Site
OfeliaDorme MySpace

Review: Epic45 – Weathering

As natural successors to the likes of Talk Talk,  Hood and Bark Psychosis, Epic45 create incredibly atmospheric post-rock, tinged with a very English sense of nostalgia. With each release, Ben Holton and Rob Glover have steadily shown more ambition. So it should be no surprise that ‘Weathering’ involves no less than thirteen musicians, including Stephen Jones (Babybird), Richard Adams (Hood) and regular guest member, Anthony Harding from July Skies.

Initially, the arrangments couldn’t be more subtle with Holton’s gentle caress of a vocal heard above the barely-there instrumentation. After four minutes of ‘People Say This Place Is Slowly Dying’ though, strings swell and rhythms become more intense as the music flowers in to something altogether more expansive and sweetly atmospheric. ‘The Village Is Asleep’ sounds like a lost Hood track, with static and electronic noise merging with strings and brushed percussion to create a bleak but beautiful track. Jones makes his presence felt on ‘With Our Backs To The City’; employing his falsetto to haunting effect as the filigree melodies help to build up the tension and desperation. Now more than ever, it seems as if the Stafordshire-based outfit want more listeners.

Yet after this arresting start, Epic45 disappointingly lose momentum, as if they become self conscious at the prospect of commercial potential  and choose to retreat back into their shells. ‘Afternoon, Shadowed’, ‘The Weather Is Not Your Friend’ and ‘These Walks Saved Us’ are undoubtedly distinctive mood pieces but they lack the focus and drive of the earlier tracks. That said, the title track is a belated but stunning recovery which makes the “epic” in their name seem less ironic.

After barely putting a foot wrong throughout their long career, ‘Weathering’ sees Holton and Glover seem doubtful of which direction to turn to next: should they embrace their flair for songwriting or retreat into the experimental margins? That’s not to say ‘Weathering’ is an unfulfilling album;  rather it’s an uneven one, which sounds like a couple of mismatched EPs.

Web Sites:
Epic45 Official Site
Epic45 MySpace
Make Mine Music Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Hood, Baby Bird, July Skies, El Heath

Review: Caught In The Wake Forever – All The Hurt That Hinders Home

Caught In The Wake Forever is a new project developed by Fraser McGowan from Paisley in Scotland. He is one of several artists to feature on the Mini 50 Records roster; a small Edinburgh-based label who have recently released impressive albums by both David Newlyn and Conquering Animal Sound. McGowan is another artist who is fond of mixing minimal electronica with lo-fi acoustics and field recordings.

Although marketed as an EP, the added remixes of each of the five tracks expand it to nearly fifty minutes of music. The “bonuses” are well worth hearing too. Whereas McGowan’s original version of ‘Recorded With You In Mind’ is a quietly melancholic affair, characterised by the whirrs and clicks of machines, Yellow6 turns it in to a richer, reverb-heavy experience. Elsewhere, Library Tapes and Fieldhead add a touch of nocturnal mystery with their own re-workings.

‘Fragments Turn To Dust’ is arguably the track where Mcgowan gives the best account of himself; the melody is sad and intimate and operates in the same field as the much-missed Labradford. Morose piano and static dominates the spare ‘Mount Batten Ferry’ whilst ‘I Have Nothing Left To Give You Anymore’ conveys Internet problems on a wet afternoon.

Sometimes McGowan struggles to create his own identity and it’s clear that many of the artists he’s worked with here sound a lot like him. Credit where credit’s due though, it’s easy to picture scenes of remote Scottish life whilst listening to the EP. That power to evoke should server him well on future outings.

Web Sites:
Caught In The Wake Forever
Mini 50 Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Library Tapes, Labradford, Yellow6, Fieldhead

Review: For Against – Black Soap

Whereas The Chameleons are often seen as one of the forefathers of dreampop, another early stakeholder were For Against from Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s a testament to their enduring appeal and increasing importance, that they now see a three track EP released; taken from their first recording session, way back in 1984.

Concise and incisive,’Black Soap’ sounds like a a very exicting single. Harry Dingman III’s guitar circles around Jeffrey Runnings’ foreboding vocals to create a classic song which bridges the gap between Modern English’s post-punk misery and the beginning of dreampop. ‘Dark Good Friday’ relies lies less on punk and more on swirling atmosphere but still delivers a thrilling chorus. The mix of ‘Amen Yves (White Circles), meanwhile, seems pitched between the dancefloor and the ringing atmospherics of the aforementioned Chameleons.

Based on these three early tracks alone, For Against already sound like an fascinating act to follow. The fact that they still record great albums even now, proves they’re not merely surviving on past glories either.

Web Sites:
For Against MySpace
Words On Music Label Site

Further Listening:
The Chameleons, The Opposition, Modern English

Review: Should – Like A Fire Without Sound

Many will be unfamiliar with Should but they were one of the founding artists on Minneapolis imprint Words On Music; a label who have consistently picked out great artists over the years. ‘Like A Fire Without Sound’ is only the third album from Marc Ostermeier and Tanya Maus and it’s their first since 1998. No matter, their minimalist shoegaze pop has stood the test of time well.

After the gentle but magical ‘Glasshouse’, solid gold harmonies and guitar jangle distinguish the equally excellent ‘Turned Tables’. The spare arrangements to ‘Awake At Night’ evoke modern favourites The XX, ‘Broken’ possesses a gripping rhythmic pulse and last song ‘The Great Pretend’ is an epic folk-flavoured send-off. There are, unfortunately, moments where the album loses momentum too; the five minute instrumental ‘Always Returning being the main cuplrit.

As is the case with many albums which appeal to sensitive souls, there are occasions when this record is a little too pleasant and unassuming to truly divert attention. More often than not, however, the duo convey heartache and warmth and prove they are still a class act.

Web Sites:
Words On Music Label and Shop Site
Should MySpace

Further Listening:
The Field Mice, Coastal, Lorna

Video Feature: Roommate – Snow Globe

Back in January I reviewed the Roommate album ‘Guilty Rainbow’ (see the review here). At the time, it sounded like a contender for one of the albums of the year. The only problem was that it wasn’t released until several months after I reviewed it, so I think I owe it to the band and the readers of this blog, to alert you again of its greatness, courtesy of the promo for ‘Snow Globe’.

This charming promo (made by Roommate’s frontman Kent Lambert), cleverly uses vintage arcade game footage to accompany Lambert’s appealing yearning. Then the pay-off arrives courtesy of a euphoric chorus to soundtrack young romantics. Although it’s the most anthemic offering here, there are lots more delights on offer on ‘Guilty Rainbow’ which – for the record – is still one of my favourite albums of the year!

Web Sites:
Roommate Official Site
Roommate MySpace