Archive for September, 2011

Review: Inch-time – The Floating World

Stefan Panczak may be based in the busy London borough of Hackney but his Inch-time project lives in a world where nothing is rushed and all is chilled. There’s strong elements of jazz and electronica on his latest album and these instrumentals are delivered with the same amount of urgency as an easy listening soundtrack.

As with many albums of this type, where the record excels is when it can conjure up a picture or a place. ‘Of Times Past’ and ‘Ukyo’ are imbued with a sense of loss and nostalgia whereas ‘Late Spring’ is wistful and nocturnal. ‘Electric Blue’ and ‘The Big Sleep’, on the other hand, represent rather dull, cocktail bar music.

‘The Floating World’ treads an uneasy path between unobtrusive aural wallpaper and classy, downtempo mood music. It’s definitely one of those records best enjoyed at night to appreciate its subtle charms but a little more experimentation wouldn’t go amiss either. 

Web Sites:
Mystery Plays Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Massive Attack, Tortoise, Jaga Jazzist


Review: Saso – Exitudes

Since receiving some excellent feedback for their debut album ‘Big Group Hug’ in 2001, Saso have seemingly retreated in to their shell, occasionally peering out in to the open to release their latest, consistently fine selection of songs. ‘Exitudes’, their fourth long player (but first since 2006’s ‘The Middle Ages’), is another quietly effective record which will doubtlessly delight their fanbase but be a little too understated to ensnare the masses.

Similar to previous albums, the songs on ‘Exitudes’ exhibit plenty of restraint so that even when things threaten to boil over they tend to simmer on the brink. By way of an example, the juxtaposition of chilling piano keys against rumbling percussion on opener ‘Billion Hands’ seems to be building in to a thunderous climax. Suffice to say, it never quite happens.

Nevertheless their music is frequently captivating. Resonant guitar chords propel ‘From Limbo’ in to the foreground, ‘Silent Earth’ sees them explore a richly textured form of ambient rock a la Talk Talk whereas ‘Secret Ministry’ revolves around Jim Lawler’s heartfelt vocals. Towards the end of the album, ‘Sooner Or Later’ and the instrumental ‘Pull The Plug’ soundtrack a beautifully sad conclusion. Yet it’s ‘Man Overboard’ which is the standout track as beguiling, yearning verses escalate in to a captivating but typically subtle chorus.

At times you wonder whether their thunder has been stolen by Elbow but whilst that band build their everyman appeal in to anthems, Saso choose to brood quietly in the corner. The result is intelligent, introspective rock music which reveals a little more of itself after each listen.

Web Sites:
Saso Official Site
Saso MySpace

Further Listening:
Elbow, Talk Talk

Review: Pomegranates – In Your Face Thieves/Chestnut Attic

Over the course of three albums, Cincinatti’s Pomegranates have impressed with their experimental take on 1960’s psychedelia. For their latest venture, rather than release a “proper” album, the group have joined together two five-track EPs and roped in the talents of friend and touring partner Caleb Groh.

This kaleidoscopic collection of songs begins beautifully thanks to the lazy, languid charm of ‘Softness’. Warm summery guitars bask in the sunshine with a heartache of a vocal from Groh. ‘Catatonic Crown’ continues the warm, sunshine feel but ‘Yeah’ could be defined as being a bit too lazy given that the only word in it is the title whilst the song itself sounds like an elongated outro to a live performance. Normal order is restored with a track called ‘Jesus’ (and the group make it sound heavenly too), whereas the distorted howls underpinning ‘Western Skies’ offer a more aggressive but no less effective viewpoint.

The “album” then segues in to the sonic adventure of ‘Chestnut Attic’ which starts with the self-explanatory instrumental ‘Track One, In Which Pomegranates Has A Very Good Dream’. ‘Cleveland Street Blues’ sounds like a Bob Dylan pastiche, with even the trademark nasal whine and harmonica on display. Then the demonic percussion and jungle howls for ‘Same Skies’ summon up images of witch doctors on remote islands so it’s almost a relief when the gospel/country finale ‘Take A Little Time’ ends the record.

Although there is a distinct difference between the traditional song-based values of ‘In Your Face Thieves’ and the wild invention of ‘Chestnut Attic’, the EPs actually flow together quite seamlessly. Who knows that they will come up with next time.

Web Sites:
Pomegranates Tumblr Site
Lujo Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
French Kicks, Arnold

Review: PJE – Abstractions

A solo artist from The Wirral, Phil Edwards records simply as PJE which presumably is his initials. Each track on his new EP tends to consist of an acoustic guitar figure with an experimental edge. 

‘Abstractions’ is made up of eight short instrumental pieces. The first track ‘Wakeful’ is based on a simple guitar pattern and some found sounds and a similar formula continues throughout. For ‘Lightness’, the melody is repeated over and over again with varying levels of sound manipulations holding the listener’s interest. ‘Shapes For Words’ is one of the most intriguing pieces. It employs a pretty, pastoral tune with added child’s voices to create a nostalgic aura which compares favourably to certain artists on the Cherry Red Records label. Additionally, ‘Secondary’ piles on the chords with added intensity and layers of melancholy.

‘Abstractions’ is pleasant rather than essential listening that is never less than tuneful. Those looking for sonic adventure won’t find it too much of a challenge and one feels that if a few more instruments were brought in to the mix next time, Edwards could develop his range still further and perhaps become a rival of July Skies or Epic45.

Web Sites:
PJE MySpace

Further Listening:
Epic45, July Skies, Everything But The Girl

Review: Remora – Scars Bring Hope

During a fifteen year recording career Brian John Mitchell has pursued his own musical vision as Remora whilst also establishing an impressive roster under his own Silber Records imprint. As one might expect based on the Silber catalogue, his solo work (assisted by engineer/producer Brian Lea Mackenzie) is made up of very dark materials and the title of the new Remora record, ‘Scars Bring Hope’, prepares the listener for what is to come.

‘Awake Arise’ is less a polite introduction to the Remora thought process, it’s more an assault on those with a nervous disposition as keyboards, percussion and vocals merge to form a throughly demonic experience. The song which succeeds it, ‘Let Me Die With A Coin In My Pocket’ is another gruelling, sludgy swamp of a song leavened by an strained but heartfelt vocal from frontman Brian John Mitchell. Both tracks tell the tale of resurrected soldiers.

Elsewhere, there’s evidence of Spiritualized’s gospel-influenced rock (‘Does The Music?’), twisted country-inflected love songs (‘Let’s Fall In Love’, ‘Peanut Butter Cup’) and elongated instrumental experiments (‘Static In Motion’, ‘Angel Falling Through Water’). The constant is Remora’s familiar brand of psychedelic drone, of which the chilling ‘Nevada Smith’ is the most effective.

However exhausting, apocalyptic and impenetrably dark this music is, it is also undeniably involving. This is the sonic equivalent of a good horror film, which is full of inevitable doom but impossible to turn away from.

Web Sites:
Silber Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Abandon, Monday Morning Sun

Review: Jon DeRosa – Anchored

Sometimes it seems lazy to compare artists to similar acts but at other times it would be almost irresponsible not to mention it. So whether it’s by acident or design, it’s almost impossible not to make comparisons between Jon DeRosa and Richard Hawley, even though these performers hail from Brooklyn and Sheffield, respectively.

The resemblance is to the fore from the outset, courtesy of the ballad ‘Anchored’ where DeRosa croons in melancholic fashion above rich layers of instruments. ‘Snow Coffin’ moves in to mid-paced territory. So many artists use strings to embellish their songs but so often they merely serve to cover up failings on the songrwriting front. Here, they definitely complement the natural warmth of the song. ‘Ladies In Love’, on the other hand, recalls the elegant, urbane atmosphere of The Divine Comedy and it’s then left to ‘Submarine Bells’ (a cover of a track by The Chills) to provide the lullaby moment; the arrangements surrounding DeRosa’s echoed croon like twinkling stars.

DeRosa has been better known as frontman for drone-pop act Aarktica for over a decade. Due to its limited release, ‘Anchored’ may not change that situation but whether this is a brief side project or not, there is a wonderful voice here which simply demands to be heard.

Web Sites:
Jon DeRosa Official Site

Further Listening:
Aarktica, Richard Hawley, The Divine Comedy

Review: The Bird Day – Fed Odd

Hailing from Buffalo, The Bird Day dispense a psychedelic form of electronica that is full of brash beats and baroque tunes. So whilst its body may be in Ibiza, it’s head is in space.

‘Chain Gang’ is an appropriate way to start which offers a heady mix of sugary electronica and bright beats. Even so, ‘We Taste Nothing’ is a considerable step up in class. Dreamy, lighter than air harmonies weave in and out of the bouncy synths and if those voices are light then ‘Steel Cloud’ must be helium-powered; nevertheless the key changes are wondrously inventive. Likewise, ‘Better Or Worse’ features a teen-friendly chorus which is deep and unusual enough to grab the ears of a mature listener, whilst the title track is propelled by some sturdy New Order-style basslines and minty-fresh keyboard washes.

Like contemporaries M83 and Foster The People, The Bird Day seem to be making soundtracks for a young person’s life. Yet the level of euphoria is given extra weight and meaning by a fine grasp of melody and a longing to escape which people of all ages will surely crave for from time to time.

Web Sites:
The Bird Day Blog
The Bird Day MySpace

Further Listening:
M83, Foster The People

Review: Planivaar – Between Worlds

In contrast with the majority of electronica artists, Mark Lippett always seems to be in touch with nature and its surroundings. His musical pseudonym Planivaar has proved to be a productive outlet thus far and ‘Between Worlds’ follows on from his two EP releases from last year.

The beginning could scarcely be more abrasive as the primtive electronic bleeps and beats of ‘Moustache’ collide in an almost jarring fashion. ‘Man Buys Newspaper’, then, sounds like a reassuring return to Lippett’s pastoral approach and features a pretty guitar figure that comes straight from the Epic45 songbook. However, this proves to be a blip as the experimental and bleak nature of the record takes hold.

There’s still room for the Boards Of Canada-esque ‘A Dog Without A Lead’ and the sense of eeriness is lent extra urgency by the metronomic rhythms to tracks such as ‘The Visitors’, ‘Broken Window’ and ‘Sleepwalking’. The album is then polished off by the mournful beauty of ‘Somebody Watching’.

Lippett has the confidence and vision to reinvent himself with each record. ‘Between Worlds’ is initially a little underwhelming but after the third and fourth listen, its haunting motifs and analog instrumentation begin to form a captivating whole.

Web Sites:
Between Worlds Download Page

Further Listening:
Cabaret Voltaire, Epic45, Cogs

Review: Princess Chelsea – Lil’ Golden Book

Just when you thought the world had run out of quirky female singer-songwriters, Chelsea Nikkel emerges from her New Zealand hideaway. The words “kooky” and “idiosyncratic” certainly spring readily to mind but they’re often accompanied by “twee” and “irritating” as well. Thankfully, Princess Chelsea falls on the right side of the fence.

Moods range between the playful (the childlike but annoyingly catchy ‘Monkey Eats Bananas’) and the quietly menacing (a ballad named ‘Yulia’ finds Nikkel’s pitying a friend who kids herself she’s happy in a relationship) but the constant is Nikkel’s childlike vocals and the imagery she evokes. Even the album cover art has a strong fairy tale theme.

Yet the lyrical matter is made of serious ingredients. A definite standout is ‘The Cigarette Duet’ which has a strong scent of a Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra collaboration. Other infuences emerge as ‘Caution Repetitive’ is reminiscent of Lettie whereas the tearful ‘Too Fast To Live’ recalls the doomed girl group songs of the 1960’s.

It’s questionable whether Nikkel can sustain a career on her sweet little girl act. Yet the more mature material and the neat variations in arrangement and style make ‘Lil’ Golden Book’ a more than useful start to her album career.

Web Sites:
Lil’ Golden Book Page
Princess Chelsea MySpace

Further Listening:
Lettie, Stina Nordenstam

Review: BLK w/BEAR – Sorry About Your (Remixes)

Back in 2009, Yonokiero released ‘Blue Apples’, a pleasing record resplendent in lo-fi melody. Well, Washington DC’s BLK w/BEAR has now rearranged these songs to “accentuate audio decay and broken communications”. A contrast in styles must surely ensue.

For ‘Casey Jnr’, the brass instruments are brought to the foreground and the organic feel brings to mind Talk Talk during their experimental ‘Laughing Stock’ phase. ‘Sumimasen’ follows and maintains the intimacy with static and mournful violin. In terms of atmosphere, if the original version had an air of understated menace, the remixed version provides a very real threat. ‘Blk Apples’ brings forth the strings accompanied by “deepdrone” or-  in layman’s terms – something huge and metallic. Finally, ‘Blue Apples’ – a version of the same song – is deconstructed to the basic guitar melody but distorted beyond recognition.

Listening to the original tracks again, some of the music is almost unrecognisable here. So whilst one could claim BLK w/BEAR have strayed too far from the original, the other side of the coin is that these versions tell a whole new story that is just as fascinating.

Web Sites:
Sorry About Your (Remixes) Soundcloud Page
Front And Follow Label and Shop Site

Further Listening: