Archive for July, 2011

Review: Menendez – Apple For Teacher

Menendez certainly promise to be an unusual proposition with brother/sister twin vocals and a Pavement influence. Furthermore, although they are feted as a “Slowcore” act, the group boast a drummer described as a “metalhead”, so an hour’s worth of off-kilter, sludgy rock would seem to be the order of the day.

For ‘Androcles Begins To Regret His Initial Decision’, the grinding guitars, shoegazer harmonies and stop-start pace dovetail to form an early highlight. After that it’s queasy, uneven ride held together by a constant atmospheric chill.

Primitive tracks such as ‘Candyland’ possess a rough-hewn intimacy but ‘Triple Negative’ and ‘Fragile’ seem like experimental fare which register little interest after the first couple of listens. Having said that, the near ten wordless minutes of ‘Interrupted Monologue’ builds up a satisfying air of tension and sadness thanks to some insistent rhythms and Dif Juz-style guitars.  Generally though, there’s more enjoyment to be had from Menendez’s song-based material. ‘They Said It Would Happen’ boasts a satisfying doleful melody and the appropriately-titled ‘Ballad’ and ‘In Breach Of Nature’s Demise’ offer a hushed, lullaby-like finale.

Taken at face value, ‘Apple For Teacher’ sounds like a very drunken kind of stoner rock but there’s an intelligence under the surface. Those moments of tenderness also serve to emphasise that this record has a beating heart too.

Web Sites:
Menendez Official Site
Function Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Pavement, Low


Review: Steel Keys & Brass – Vaudevillians

As befits a band who incorporate folk, jazz, bluegrass and funk into their œuvre, New York’s Steel Keys & Brass have also grown a reputation for eclectic covers by anyone from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Miles Davis. ‘Vaudevillians’ is their first attempt at nailing all these influences in to one album. Good luck chaps!

There are few greater indicators of versatility when country rock and jazz pop appear in the course of the first song but it’s hard to swallow. Similarly, though it’s easy to imagine the frenetic likes of ‘Shots At Walter’s’ and ‘Some Stranger’ faring well in the live environment, their impact is lost on record.

However, ‘Broken Bottle Cap’ demonstrates that one of the foursome’s real skills is in slick jazz rock; with the song bolstered by rock-solid hooks. If they’re not quite in the Steely Dan league, British fans may appreciate a kinship with Matt Bianco and The Style Council here. Credit to for ‘Hope You Don’t Meet Me’; a rare moment where the group deliver a sense of romantic longing and if the vocals can be a little too forceful at times, ‘Whiskey Wine & Grass’ has an inner core of tenderness that the group should explore more often. Then just when things seem to be getting a bit predictable they throw some real curveballs with the twisted funk of ‘Caught Me’ and then ‘In The Basement’ crops up; a track which incorporates a rap element of all things.

This kind of music normally requires a huge group of players but Steel Keys & Brass confine their team to a mere four people. Considering its variety, ‘Vaudevillians’ is a surprisingly coherent compendium of music but there’s a  danger that it could alienate rather than enrapture by trying to appeal to so many audiences at one time.

Web Sites:
Steel Keys & Brass Official Site
Steel Keys & Brass Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Steely Dan, Vee Device, Matt Bianco

Review: Destroyer – Kaputt

When musicians release their latest album, the usual promises come out that “this is the best one yet” and “this band has reached their peak”. When the new record in question is your ninth though, that belief will inevitably slide. To my knowledge, Destroyer’s Dan Bejar has not made this statement anyway but ‘Kaputt’ has been praised almost universally by the music press and it’s easy to understand why.

Bejar’s voice is an unusual instrument; he sings in the style of a relaxed yet world-weary Frenchman (he’s Canadian). The music undoubtedly evokes the 1980’s but in its most understated form. Some of the arrangements are exquisite, with liberal use of brass instruments and there’s a consistent lush atmosphere which compares favourably with the production expertise of The Blue Nile; particularly for the nocturnally-flavoured ‘Downtown’. There’s also room for New Order-style bass on ‘Savage Night At The Opera’.

As this edition is a seventy minute album, there is plenty of time for Bejar to build mood and scenery. The first time he really uses this is for ‘Suicide Demo for Kara Walker’ where the subtle melodies (flute, sax, horns all to the fore) echoes the majesty of Prefab Sprout before Bejar calmly recites some free association lyrics written by Waker herself; a contemporary African American artist. Surprisingly, it sounds wonderful. The last two tracks take up nearly half an hour alone but there’s a sense of yearning and dreaminess to ‘The Laziest River’ and ‘Bay Of Pigs (Detail)’ which adds to the record’s languid but ultimately romantic feel.

It’s fair to say that the album is longer than it should be (original versions omitted at least one of the last two tracks) but those long instrumental segments, which would be superfluous indulgence in lesser hands, are beautifully developed. Bejar gathers together all the song elements with an expert hand, presumably skilled to perfection after all his experience with previous records. So regardless of how long it’s taken to reach this standard, at least this great album is with us now.

Web Sites:
Destroyer Artist Page

Further Listening:
The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout

Review: Burning Codes – Rivers Of Hope

With his third album in as many years, Paul Archer has shown with his Burning Codes project, how quickly confidence can grow. Being the brother of Snow Patrol’s Iain Archer probably helps but there’s always been a sense that the siblings sing off a different hymnsheet. In fact, hymnal has been a good way of describing Burning Codes in the past; given the allegiance to gospel music.

On ‘Rivers Of Hope’, brother Iain and other members of Snow Patrol and Athlete  join in to lend a hand and – based on first song ‘We Are Like Gold’ – there’s a sense of a growing ambition to play stadiums too. As the title promises, the mood is confident and celebratory. ‘Last Time’ is edgier and builds from tense verses in to a driving chorus; also serving as a great showcase for Archer’s powerful yet soothing vocals.

‘Switch’ features satisfyingly crunchy guitars whilst the yearning qualities of ‘A Lifetime’ is the highlight of the second half of the record. Strangely, Archer’s trademark gospel sounds a little tired for the title track but the lilting, insistent strains of ‘The Ladder’ and ‘New Ground’ recover the form convincingly.

Even though Archer is always aiming higher, he is still able to maintain his own identity and ‘Rivers Of Hope’ signals another step forward for him. Meanwhile, the heady mix of heavenly harmonies and low-slung guitars proves to be an unusual yet involving combination.

Web Sites:
Burning Codes MySpace
Indiecater Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Snow Patrol, Spiritualized

Review: I LIKE TRAINS – He Who Saw The Deep

Along with Forward Russia and This Et Al, I LIKE TRAINS helped to form an exciting independent Leeds music scene. All of them loosely fitted underneath the experimental/post-rock umbrella but I LIKE TRAINS stood out because of their fascination with history rather than the future. As the only one of those three acts to be still active, I LIKE TRAINS re-emerged last year with ‘He Who Saw The Deep’; signalling an ambitious move in to a nautically-themed concept album.

The record begins in a familiar crash of post-rock guitars but in truth this is not a melodramatic record. Instead what follows is a brilliant set of controlled emotion. If guitars rage – as they do on ‘He Saw The Deep’ – then it’s for a good purpose and frontman David Martin is always on hand to offer a calming presence in stormy waters.

‘Progress Is A Snake’ is one of the few songs which reverts to bombastic tendencies but the military percussion and air of doom ensures the voyage is uninterrupted. ‘Sea Of Regrets’ also has plenty of storm and bluster in its attempts to emulate Sigur Ros. Yet these are forgiveable sins considering the last three songs are so glacial and elegant.

The tone throughout is one of regret; as if all band members are aware that their ship is doomed to destruction but they proudly sail on undeterred. ‘These Feet Of Clay’ and ‘Sirens’ cast a deep, chilling shadow but the melancholic melodies rank amongst the band’s best.

For those who disapprove of British Sea Power’s ever more anthemic music, I LIKE TRAINS provide the thinking man’s alternative to atmospheric, oceanic rock. As well as being a masterpiece in subtlety, ‘He Who Saw The Deep’ maintains a thematic coherence and atmosphere from first track to last.

Web Sites:
I LIKE TRAINS Official Site

Further Listening:
British Sea Power, Echo And The Bunnymen, Sigur Ros

Review: The Antlers – Burst Apart

Far from easing listeners in to their musical sphere, The Antlers broke through in 2009 with ‘Hospice’; the story of an abusive relationship “told through the analogy of a Hospice worker and terminally-ill patient”. So will ‘Burst Apart’ follow an increasingly insular and darker path?

In truth, all fears of inaccessibility are addressed from the outset. ‘I Don’t Want Love’ is widescreen, emotive rock and based on a simple but addictive riff.  Likewise, ‘French Exit’ employs euphoric synths. ‘Parentheses’ is as haunting as the trio get; Pete Silberman’s falsetto howling over some menacing drum loops. After that brilliant opening, the only fear is whether the group can maintain the momentum.

Sadly, they don’t quite manage that. ‘No Widows’ and ‘Rolled Together’ offer plenty of layered, ambient rock but as songs they provide only light melancholia and little in the way of impact. It’s not until the eighth track – the lilting ‘Hounds’ – where The Antlers’ subtle apprach pays dividends. Similarly, ‘Corsicana’ masters dreamy Americana and ‘Putting The Dog To Sleep’ is delivered with a tenderness that is only hinted at in the title.

‘Burst Apart’ is undoubtedly an emotional album which is realised beautifully both at the beginning and at the end. It’s just a pity the record is let down by a fairly inconsequential middle section.

Web Sites:
The Antlers Official Site
The Antlers MySpace

Further Listening:
The Helio Sequence, My Morning Jacket