Archive for July, 2011

Review: Offthesky – The Beautiful Nowhere

Offthesky is the solo work of Colorado resident Jason Corder. Corder was diagnosed with Attention Deficiency Disorder as a child and there is a defiinite kind of restlessness to ‘The Beautiful Nowhere’ which suggests a lack of sleep, despite its quiet, glacial facade.

‘Surface Of The Skin’ is the musical equivalent of waking up as various unidentified acoustic instruments and drone combine in a blurry, unfocussed way. ‘No We’re Nowhere’ is more coherent as plucked guitar strings provide a melodic structure but some distant howls, moans and reverb ensure that danger is lurking every step of the way. ‘Whittling You Little Lights’ takes a similar setup but its stark simplicity sounds like the most haunted of folk music whereas ghosts of Yellow6 is recalled on the twangy ‘Waiting To Fade’. Other tracks like ‘Daydream Tarnation’ are rich in mysterious detail.

‘The Beautiful Nowhere’ takes a while to get under the skin and can occasionally be underwhelming. Yet towards the middle of the record, in particular, Corder has cultivated a pastoral atmosphere that takes you into his world of dreams.

Web Sites:
Hibernate Records

Further Listening:
Flying Saucer Attack, Planivaar

Review: RealPolitik – And The Night Was All In Pieces

Yorkshire’s RealPolitik impressed with last year’s ‘2repelGhosts’; a debut full of confrontational sounds, offset by the  haunting vocals of Cleo Harratt. The nature of the music was that it was compelling albeit a little too austere to love but ‘And The Night Was All In Pieces’ could possibly be the way to address that perceived shortfall. 

‘Nocturne’ is the first sign that the group are now fully focussed on spare arrangements and letting their frontwoman take centre stage. The effect is now no longer redolent of Portishead but more of Dead Can Dance. ‘These Lullabies’ contains some lovely string passages whilst the stark piano-led ‘Sonata’ comes dangerously close to a verse-chorus arrangement. However, the real moment of class appears courtesy of ‘Something Forgotten’ where Harratt gives a restrained yet heartfelt performance above a backing of beats, percussion and orchestral swell.

RealPolitik deserve a lot of credit here for making their songs far more approachable, yet without compromising too much on the experimental touches. They are definitely on to something here and 4AD Records would have loved this twenty five years ago.

Web Sites:
RealPolitik MySpace

Further Listening:
Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil

Review: Doug Hoyer – Walks With the Tender and Growing Night

Canada’s Doug Hoyer is known as a ukelele troubador but this is a very simplistic take on the music he produces. The other side of the tale is that he is an immensely talented and versatile artist who injects his songs with emotion and wit.

With the addition of brass instrumens, there’s a warm, traditional heart to album opener ‘Little Things’, which is reinforced further by Hoyer’s comforting vocals. ‘With You In My Arms’ has the air of a classy C86 record whilst ‘Oh, The Wind Will Blow’ is delivered in the style of a 1960’s soundtrack, complete with female backing vocals but at its core is Hoyer’s rich vocal and insistent ukelele. It would also take a heart of stone not to be moved by the tender, romantic ‘Tattoo’. Early single ‘Northern Lights’ is largely synth driven but still packs an intimacy and the Belle and Sebastian-like ‘Snow Bank’ is a lovely way to end the record.

Granted, a few of the later songs lack a little energy but Hoyer’s delivery is never less than charming. In summary, ‘Walks With the Tender and Growing Night’ is an exemplar in how to make traditional folk music sound contemporary and relevant.

Web Sites:
Old Ugly Recording Company Label Site
Doug Hoyer Bandcamp

Further Listening:
M. Craft

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