Archive for August, 2011

Review: Collapse Under The Empire/Mooncake – Black Moon Empire

Germany take on Russia in a post-rock battle. Or more accurately, Collapse Under The Empire have joined forces with Mooncake to produce a five track EP which deviates between subtlety and full-on rock onslaught.

The first song is a collaborative effort between the two bands. Surprisingly, it’s also the quietest and most memorable moment as the band members reveal the tender and graceful side to post-rock. Alone, C.U.T.E. are in heavier form for ‘Spark’; in fact the guitar work is borderline metallic whereas the portentous ‘T.S.D.’ tantalisingly holds back the dramatics until three minutes in when the percussion and histrionics are finally released . Mooncake seem to be a much more sedate proposition who are unafraid to use a mournful string section to embellish the appealingly sad ‘Turquoise’, ‘before they too unleash some inner demons for the bombastic finale that is Novorossiysk 1968’.

Even with only a couple of tracks each, the two groups are given plenty of opportunity to flex some post-rock muscle but it’s also heartening they can work together to produce the ego-free moment of wonder at the beginning of the EP. On this evidence, a further union would be welcomed.

Web Sites:
Black Moon Empire Official Site
Collapse Under The Empire Official Site
Mooncake Official Site

Further Listening:
Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky


Review: City Of Glass – The Diving Bell EP

City Of Glass hail from Vancouver and have recently been wooing British audiences with their brand of guitar and beats-driven indie rock. It’s a tactic which has recently brought the likes of Delphic success but the Canadian duo of Michael Champion and David Phu tend to aim for the heartstrings a little more.

‘Sticks And Stones’ is festooned with ringing guitars and keyboards and topped off with some rather earnest vocals that don’t seem to match the happy exterior of the instrumental backing. For the second song, the duo seem to be hitting their stride and finding the right balance between melancholy and vibrancy. ‘Tourist’ features synth backing which varies between the epic and the subtle and this fits the emotive pull of Champion’s tones so much better. Meanwhile, ‘Little Shadows’ dispenses just the right amount of yearning. It’s actually ‘Control’ which impresses most though, as layers of electronica help to forge that level of nocturnal longing which Junior Boys have turned in to an art form.

Overall, it’s a promising EP from a new act that bodes well for an upcoming album. If they can explore their soulful side still further, then that promise should also be fulfilled.

Web Sites:
City Of Glass Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Delphic, Junior Boys

Review: Tuesday Glass – High Wired EP

Lending their weight behind the shoegaze revival are LA’s Tuesday Glass. Perhaps their most impressive calling card is that they are current high school students, since their EP is faithful to the genre cause but also blessed with maturity and tight musicianship.

Across half a dozen tracks, Tuesday Glass’ talents are clear to see. ‘Little Tokyo’ kicks off events in dreamy, highly melodic fashion where thick layers of guitar and brooding vocals are bolstered by driving rhythms. ‘Sunny’ is poppier but its echoed production takes it into Jesus And Mary Chain territory whilst ‘Summer Falls’ lays on the effects even more thickly. The rather fine ‘Less Than Zero’ breezes along in pleasant, jangly fashion too.

‘High Wired EP’ is a more than credible slice of nostalgia, which bolsters the group’s claim to evoke a “hazy reverie”. These “kids” are definitely all right.

Web Sites:
Tuesday Glass Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Jesus And Mary Chain

Review: Talvihorros – Descent Into Delta

Talvihorros is a solo project from Londoner Ben Chatwick and his second album is a coming together of guitar and pedals-based live performances and studio material sourced from various instruments. Thus, ‘Descent Into Delta’ is the tremendously moving result.

Initially, there’s an aura of hostility and danger but then the searing drones of ‘Gamma’ soon give way to ‘Beta’. On this eight-minute piece, static and crumbling beats skate along a simple, glacial hook-line to mesmeric effect. Then ‘Alpha’ evokes a ghost ship drifting aimlessly in a lost sea; where every fragment of instrument sounds dislocated and lonely. It’s an impression that can only be exacerbated by ‘Theta’; employing descending guitar chords and angelic moans to symbolise drowning in the watery depths. Finally, for ‘Delta’ itself, there’s a serene, funereal air as Chatwin adds the most plaintive of guitar arrangements not unlike the eternally graceful work of Labradford.

The real skill of ‘Descent Into Delta’ is turning a harsh and angry beginning in to an elegant acceptance of destiny; however sad it may be. For a record that relies solely on instrumental music this is a considerable achievement which gives true meaning to the much over-used term, “emotional journey”.

Web Sites:
Talvihorros Official Site
Hibernate Records Label and Shop Page

Further Listening:
Flying Saucer Attack, Labradford

Review: The Wild Swans – The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years

The golden rule of all 80’s bands is that they will eventually have a revival, whether it’s via a tour, a deluxe reissue package or even the often dreaded promise of “new material”. Taking the brave option, ‘The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years’ is the first album from The Wild Swans in over two decades but it’s reassuring that their distinctive formula of chiming, jangly guitars and spirited, emotive vocals hasn’t noticeably changed. Erstwhile leader Paul Simpson chooses guests from far and wide including members of fellow Liverpool veterans Echo And The Bunnymen and The Christians; whose understanding of times past can only help create an authentic, vintage ambience.

The first thing which is striking is a real affection of Britain in both the trademark guitar sound and especially the lyrics. Simpson appeals to “the Treasury Man to the fish and chip van, can you hear me?”, it’s a world where “Elizabethan costume dramas” are uttered in the same verse as “cash converters” whilst Simpson fondly recalls when “Billy Fury split his keks”.

In the chiming refrain and euphoric chorus of ‘Chloroform’, they even have a song which could be desribed as anthemic. Simpson eloquently evokes English nostalgic longing in the charming ‘In Secret’, the mighty ‘Underwater’ is almost too infectious a track to be located in the middle of the album, whereas ‘Glow In The Dark’ sees the group belatedly discover dreampop.

In fact, it’s arguable this is a more consistent album than The Wild Swans’ original records. The production is glossy but the songs shine through like classic indie pop gems. Granted, the shameless nostalgia won’t float everyone’s boat but those who loved this kind of music the first time around will be in their element here.

Web Sites:
Occultation Label and Shop Site
The Wild Swans Official Site

Further Listening:
The Lightning Seeds, The Lotus Eaters

Review: Radio For The Daydreamers – Mother Superior And Her Fields Of Migraine

Pittsburgh’s Radio For The Daydreamers tick so many of the pre-requisites for post-rock. This is a world where lengthy track titles attempt to give some meaning to dark instrumental music. ‘Mother Superior…’ is said to be the first album from their ‘Praying For The Be(a)st Triptych’ and includes various messages about “accepting evil” as well as indulgences in misery, phobias and anxieties. Yet beyond the portents of doom lies a surprising accessibility.

The first half of the record covers an impressive range of styles and largely succeeds. An opening ‘Black River Time Bombs’ merges spy thriller atmopsherics, jazz and some light drum and bass. On ‘Wasted Faces In Secret Places’ and ‘Crawl Into My Crawl Space’ the band members dispense achingly sad guitar melodies. The nagging hook quotient passes the baton to the piano-driven ‘Ghosts Keep Me Safe While You Are Gone’ and the impression is that if the group could maintain this form, the album could be an obscure classic.

Sadly, on a patchier second half, the group try too hard to be all things to all men as if they feel a need to prove themselves in every genre. ‘I Am Not Coming Back Home’ features (shock horror) some singing albeit of an odd kind of digitised soul, ‘Freelance Dream Killing Machine’ sounds like it might be the first rave record whilst ‘Every God Is A Monster’ descends in to heavy metal riffage. The brittle percussion occasionally grates too but at least a graceful passage of semi-classical elegance such as ‘No One Ever Comes Here’ But Me’ is never too far away.

With a bit more focus, one hopes that part two of this triptych will represent a more cohesive listening experience. Nevertheless, the creativity and atmospherics on show are often as beguiling as the track titles are confusing.

Web Sites:
Radio For The Daydreamers Bandcamp

Review: Infinite Scale – Ekko Location

With every man and his dog seemingly capable of dabbling in electronica (assuming said dog has access to a computer), there is a lot of competition in this genre. It is even more difficult to make a thoroughly satisfying album but DJ/broadcaster/musician Harmi Palda came very close with 2009’s ‘Ad Infinitum’. ‘Ekko Location’ aims to repeat the feat of making machines sound human again and eventually succeeds.

Far from front loading the album, Palda takes a significant amount of time to get going. ‘Out Of The Blue’ kicks off in familiar fashion; the deep techno rumble surrounded by an aura of discarded computers playing out old school electronica in an abandoned open plan office. Yet, the first three tracks seem to be doing little more than laying a foundation for clever background music.

Four tracks in, ‘Live Feed’ picks up the urgency as a distant piano melody is joined by barely audible radio dialogue and evil synth lines and beats. ‘Somehwere Inside’ takes the experience to new levels of subtlety as if the machines are winding down for the last time; the effect is nocturnal and lonely, whilst the macabre, stately ‘Witness’ would make an ideal soundtrack for a modern spy thriller. ‘In Your Mind’ even offers vocals which lend a chill to the Avrocar-like ambience. Most impressive of all, though, is ‘When Power Runs Dry’, as elegant layers of frozen melody and glitchy beats combine to draw on deep wells of melancholia.

Once it finally gets in to its flow, ‘Ekko Location’ proves that it has the ability to haunt the listener’s thoughts. Admittedly, there’s nothing particularly new about this music but it has a class and intelligence which Palda’s contemporaries struggle to maintain.

Web Sites:
Infinite Scale Official Site
Infinite Scale Last FM Page

Further Listening:
Line Noise, David Newlyn, Avrocar

Review: The Horrors – Skying

When band members get involved in side projects, this can sometimes be a sign that the daily grind of their “day job” is beginning to bore them. It was only a few months ago that The Horrors’ frontman Faris Badwan released a well received  album with soprano Rachel Zeffra as Cats’ Eyes, whilst Rhys Webb and Tom Cowan have made use of spare time with electronica outfit Spider And The Flies. 

However, if this time can be spent to get creative and broaden the horizons, then there is no problem. Indeed, as a surefire gesture of their growing confidence, The Horrors’ third long player is entirely self-produced.

‘Changing The Rain’ is an early indication of their class. The sound effects blur into each other like classic My Bloody Valentine but – rare for a “shoegaze” act – the vocals of Faris Badwan are strident and dominant. ‘You Said’ bounces off emotionally swooping choruses and hooklines; making them rivals for Chapel Club in terms of making the best dreampop songs of the year. ‘Endless Blue’ begins at glacial pace but then rides along dirty riffs. ‘Moving Further Away’ builds on metronomic rhythms a la Kraftwerk whilst ‘Monica Gems’ sounds like Suede at the depths of their anguish (and if you’re familiar with their work, that’s very deep indeed).

In such fine company, ‘I Can See Through You’, the most anthemic song here, does feel a little bit disposable. ‘Dive In’ recalls Chapterhouse, one of the original shoegaze bands but leads to a brief lull consisting of the unremarkable ‘Still Life’ and ‘Wild Eyed’.

‘Skying’ seems clearer and more obviously melodic than its predecessor. It’s still dark but noticeably less gothic in its outlook and possibly even more shoegaze-driven than before. It’s a brave move given many people’s indifference to the genre but The Horrors have the charisma, the rhythm and the tunes to ride roughshod over any critics and win over the masses.

Web Sites:
The Horrors Official Site
The Horrors MySpace

Further Listening:
My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, Chapel Club

Review: Junior Boys – It’s All True

Junior Boys have been expert electro-pop revisionists since they started out in the mid-2000’s; adding extra smooth layers of gravitas and nocturnal atmospherics for good measure. ‘It’s All True’, if anything, drifts even further into mid-1980’s synth soul pop territory.

From start to finish, the fourth album sounds a little uneven; almost as if two EPs have been joined in to one in random order.’Playtime’ is an early standout and arguably the best song: the pace is languid, the electronica uncomplicated, the mood romantic (the line “Come A Little Closer” has rarely sounded so seductive) and the sense of intimacy at the centre of Junior Boys’ best work is duly restored. For ‘A Truly Happy Ending’, Jeremy Greenspan’s delicious tones provide as much melody as the machines whilst ‘ep’ features one of the best synthetic hooks on the album.

There are also signs where Greenspan and (instrumental wizard) Matthew Didemus’ telepathy begins to fail them. ‘Itchy Fingers’ could be better named as ‘Itchy Beats’ given its over-excitable synths and bleep-fest ‘Kick The Can’ comes across as an experiment in monotony. More intriguingly, ‘Banana Ripple’ is arguably the record’s clearest indication of club music and one which could alienate old fans but open them up to new ones. During its lengthy pscyhedelic meandering, however, the disco grooves prove to be infectious albeit in a rather disposable way.

It is very hard to be critical of Junior Boys but occasionally they drift in to being just another synth pop band, albeit a high class one. Once again though, their best is better than just about anyone performing in this genre at the moment and a record that is 75% great is still a pretty good return.

Web Sites:
Junior Boys Official Site
Junior Boys MySpace

Further Listening:
Parts Of Speech, Hot Chip, Greenhorse, Mantronix

Review: Roman Mendez – The Never Ending Album

Roman Mendez has developed an interesting concept. Since January 2011, this Buenos Aires-based musician has been creating one song after another in order to establish ‘The Never Ending Album’ project. As things stand in early August, there are ten songs.

Slightly left of centre indie rock would be an adequate description for Mendez’s music. ‘Travelller’ and ‘Ya Sé’ possess a slightly grungy edge but ‘Thoughts & Chords’ reveal a deftness of touch which recalls Felt. The constant is Mendez’s keening and rather thin vocals. Nevertheless, some of his songwriting deserves praise, not least the wistful melancholia of ‘Percy’ and the haunting acoustic-based ‘Cavern’.

As an artist, Mendez keeps the arrangements and styles reasonably interesting without losing any cohesion. However, some of the songs tend to get undermined by the fraility of the vocals.

As a concept though, ‘The Never Ending Album’ is only likely to work for well-established artists who can command a fan’s interest for a lengthy period. At the moment there are just ten tracks and thirty three minutes of music but if Mendez keeps up a rate of a track a month next year, it’s unlikely even devotees of his work could sit through 100 minutes of hand-wringing rock of this calibre.

Web Sites:
The Never Ending Album Bandcamp
The Never Ending Album Official Site

Further Listening: