Archive for December, 2011

Review: Red Painted Red – I Am Nothing

During 2011 many compliments have been delivered to Esben And The Witch for their intense Witchcraft-inspired songs. Those same plaudits could easily be applied to Manchester duo Red Painted Red who offer a similarly riveting selection of arcane songwriting. Their new album features the usual lovingly hand-crafted packaging but surprising signs of lightening up too.

There is undoubtedly a sinister undercurrent and surface to Red Painted Red’s material. One only has to glance over titles such as ‘Days To Die From Paracetamol’ to know this. However, there is also more ambition on show this time. So look beyond the oppressive, thunderous noise of ‘Misunderstood’ and turn instead to ‘Safe In Sleep’. It’s actually a tender-sounding ballad even if it’s most likely to be about dying. ‘God Song (Fools And Fire)’ and ‘I Can’t See’ also reveal a hitherto hidden commercial flair; if you weren’t aware of their dark lyrical matter they’re not so far removed from Florence And The Machine. Still, it’s a relief to note they haven’t shed their black cloaks completely, as ‘Wondering How They Fly’ brings events to a full-blooded, shuddering halt.

So overall, this an interesting development in the career of Red Painted Red. There is a risk of losing a cult following but balanced against the potential of appealing to a wider audience of gothic folk, it’s a risk worth taking.

Web Sites:
Red Painted Red Official Site

Further Listening:
Esben And The Witch, Kate Bush, Florence And The Machine


Review: Masterface – Freedom Tower

Following on from Natureboy’s excellent debut, Bleek Records have put out another stunning record courtesy of Masterface’s ‘Freedom Tower’. The brainchild of Brooklyn-based producer Cedar Apffel (an interesting name since ‘Apfel’ is the German word for “apple”), his album merges shoegaze, post-rock, dub and electronica to create a brilliantly diverse end product.

‘Ancient Face’ begins with a simple riff and layered vocals but then after two minutes the track slows down to allow for space and dub to work its magic. It’s arguably this use of dub which singles out Apffel from so many other dreampop acts, calling to mind the out there experimental pop of A.R.Kane.

The euphoric ‘Excuse Me Girl’ sounds like Foster The People after discovering shoegaze but thereafter the album moves away from immediacy to lengthy passages of gorgeous ambient and post-rock with each track seamlessly segueing to the next. The instrumental ‘My Yums Yums’ offers a cavalcade of percussion provided by drummer Rory O’Connor but the wonderful ‘Magic Dragging’ starts a three-track sequence of blissed-out dub reggae and ambient music and is redolent of Bark Psychosis in their prime. To end with – and in keeping with this time of the season – sleigh bells propel final track ‘XMasterface’ as well as a mysterious vocal loop.

Apffel is currently producing the next Natureboy album so heaven knows what they could conjure up together. In the meantime, the sugar rushes and dense atmospherics of Apffel’s solo project will keep listeners entranced for some time yet.

Web Sites:
Masterface Bandcamp
Bleek Records Label Site

Further Listening:
A.R.Kane, Bark Psychosis, HIJK

Review: Natureboy – Natureboy

Natureboy is Sara Kermanshahi, an American of Iranian descent. Blessed with a voice that will haunt the listener long after her records have been played, her performance rivals Beach House and Bradford Cox (of Atlas Sound/Deerhunter renown) for sheer impact.

It’s hard to think of an opening song as stunning as ‘Curses Fired’ this year. The genius is in the simplicity; just a simple acoustic figure and Natureboy’s heartbreaking vocal. She repeats the trick again – but with added echo – on the similarly perfect ‘Famous Sons’. Comparisons have obviously been made with Beach House thanks to the dreamy production and the singer’s emotive vocal and although it’s an excellent compliment this is a talent who can be as independent as she wants to be. Witness the lovely, delicate instrumental passage ‘Dither’ and the chiming ‘Railroad Apt.’, both of which hark back to a very English kind of 1980’s indie rock.

With both her intricate finger picking and shiver-inducing vocal, Kermanshahi possesses an intimacy that is all too rare in today’s artists. What is more, her debut is excellent from start to finish.

Web Sites:
Natureboy Soundcloud Album Stream
Natureboy Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Beach House, Atlas Sound, Deerhunter

Review: Bunny & The Electric Horsemen – Fall Apart In My Backyard

There will be few more extravagant names than Bunny & The Electric Horsemen to have released records in 2011. It’s actually the brainchild of a Scottish musician (he’s the Bunny) who has enlisted the talents of various other arists signed up to the ever more eccentric Bearsuit Records label and to say that ‘Fall Apart In My Backyard’ is an experimental work would be the understatement of the year.

‘The Moth Poets’ is less a song, more an approximation of the sound effects records which were used to show off new vinyl record players back in the 1960’s. However, we are on safer territory with ‘Snowflakes’. It still resembles the more avant garde moments of Björk but there is a structure which eventually builds up in to an impressive art punk chorus. Other images evoked by the music are underwater childrens’ fantasies (‘Banjo Williamson’) and Japanese exotica (‘Chikyu Wa Mawaru’). The madness does settle down for the spare ‘Singing Ringing Tree’ and the relatively sombre ‘Quel Vino è Generoso’ but in between ‘Pomorksi’ provides an explosion of vivid colours.

The press release suggests listeners may dispute the album’s “melodic and pop sensibility” but in reality the album is tuneful pretty much all the way through.  It’s just tuneful in a childlike, oddball scientist kind of way.

Web Sites:
Bunny & The Electric Horsemen Soundcloud
Bunny & The Electric Horsemen MySpace
Bearsuit Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Björk, Cornelius

Review: goodbyemotel – Wish Your Way EP

goodbyemotel hail from Melbourne in Australia. Perhaps their biggest claims to fame are that, firstly, Storm Thorgerson, designer of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ among many other album covers, has agreed to do the artwork for their second album. In the meantime, they have released a compact and flab free EP of quality indie-rock, produced by Julian Mendelsohn.

The ringing guitar figure propelling opener ‘Redroom’ suggests Interpol but the lighter vocals and easy on the ear chorus is likely to appeal to fans of The Killers. There’s certainly no signs of post-punk on ‘Wish Your Way’ but the earnest indie rock sees the band at their peak with the frontman’s yearning vocal matched by a melancholic melody. ‘Remember’ is chiefly memorable for some rumbling percussion and some neat key changes which recall a slew of American college rock acts. This just leaves ‘Burning Since Sunday’, which is another decent track even if the chorus is a tad uninspired compared to the portentous verses.

goodbyemotel have a lot going for them with their crisp yet emotional vocals and some impressive, tightly knit arrangements. Their next album should prove that they can stretch out beyond their influences and live up to Thorgersen’s artwork too.

Web Sites:
goodbyemotel Official Site
goodbyemotel MySpace

Further Listening:
Interpol, The Killers, HIJK

Review: The Workhouse – The Coldroom Sessions

It’s been five years since ‘Flyover’, the second album from The Workhouse. However, there is a sad subtext to the release of the third album by the Oxford-formed post-rock/dreampop exponents in that Rich Haines – who produced the first two albums – passed away before he was to due to lend his talents to ‘The Coldroom Sessions’.

If The Workhouse were wanting to expand their fanbase the angry drone of ‘Fading Fast’ may not be the best way to achieve that aim. Nevertheless, a picture of attractively bleak drama is painted by the track’s searing guitar lines and intense percussion. Familiar territory is rediscovered for the chiming ‘Stalker’ and by the time we hear ‘Drag Queen’, we know the group truly are back in business. Here the skill is evoking a beautiful but sad image of an end of the pier act who perhaps always had the talent but has now stumbled on hard times. That’s quite an achievement for an instrumental track.

The underrated song-based material is also demonstrated well here. The relatively chipper ‘The Whistler’ is followed by the considerably doomier ‘Seen Sometimes’. Then to end with there is ‘Rock And Roll’; a controlled storm of a song imbued with the kind of nostalgic longing The Workhouse perform so well. All are voiced by Chris Taylor, whose post-punk croon is always captivating.

The best instrumental music can tell a story and make one feel emotion and ‘The Coldroom Sessions’ delivers a piece of romantic tragedy. So ultimately this is a more than welcome return for The Workhouse; its air of sadness made all the more poignant by Haines’ passing.

Web Sites:
The Workhouse Official Site
The Workhouse MySpace

Further Listening:
Raymond Scott Woolson, Kitchens Of Distinction, Redjetson

Review: Matt Bartram – The Dreaming Invisible…….

Once of Air Formation and The Static Silence, Bartram has offered more than a decade of good service to the shoegaze genre. For his latest album though, he has applied certain constraints. Firstly, there would be no vocals or drums and only one guitar would be used plus – in his words – “whatever effects I felt necessary”. Cleary, he felt effects were absolutely essential as ‘The Dreaming Invisible…….’ is absolutely covered in them.

‘Absent’ gets events underway with lush drones to the fore. The melody and pace changes little so the variations in key change offered by the relatively brief ‘Alight’ are welcome. ‘Cadence’ conjures up deep walls of gut-level despair which do battle with a hypnotic jangly loop. Meanwhile, a heady euphoria is reached on ‘Healing’ before the multi-layered tapestry finds a new focus (and even more layers) for the closing ‘Illuminate’; the effects seemingly giving voice to shards of ice for a full thirteen minutes.

This will be the definition of hell for the shoegaze haters buit for those who enjoy glacially shifting guitar effects accompanied by gradual mood changes, ‘The Dreaming Invisible…….’ delivers time and again. After all, without those effects, this wouldn’t be a Bartram album would it?

Web Sites:
Drifting Falling Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Air Formation, Hammock, The Static Silence, Flying Saucer Attack

Review: My Foolish Heart – Ocean Ocean

Italy’s My Foolish Heart are based around the talents of multi-instrumentalists Stefano Ordazzo and Caterina Sandri, with the latter a proud owner of one beautiful voice. Their first album, ‘Ocean Ocean’, is described as “a peaceful island in a hot ocean” and – as if to confirm their good taste – their MySpace page even features a cover of Prefab Sprout’s ‘Pearly Gates’.

Much of the record is built around lush arrangements with the delicious vocals of Sandri on ‘After Eight’ immediately recalling no less than Minnie Riperton. Not unlike her own records, My Foolish Heart’s songs sprawl and glide along classy piano and guitar arrangements with equal nods to folk, soul and psychedelia. ‘A Lawn Sprinker’ is an irresistible slice of summer with a dreamlike turn from Sandri. ‘Sootiness, Sonsy Girl’ takes on chugging indie rock with distinction and there were will be few songs which are as wonderfully odd as ‘Let’s Jam The Brakes’, which manages to shoehorn lyrics like “My involutional psychosis” in to a fabulously happy-sounding chorus.

Yet whilst the musicianship cannot be denied, the second half of the album suffers from a lapse in to self-indulgence following the bright melodies which preceded it and – although it fits in as a period piece -it’s unlikely those who enjoyed the first half of the album will be returning to the title track’s song cycle finale which endures for an energy-sapping twelve minutes; it has its glorious moments en route but it meanders so much it’s hard to keep focus. Likewise, ‘Nothingness’ descends in to psychedelic jazz workout.

Musically speaking, My Foolish Heart are located somewhere between the psych-soul/folk records of the 1960’s and late-period Cardigans. Their thirst for ambition shouldn’t be discouraged but they’re at their best, the more concise their songs are.

Web Sites:
‘Ocean Ocean’ Soundcloud Page
Happy Mopy Records Label Site

Further Listening:
Minnie Riperton, Mary, The Cardigans

Review: Annie Barker – …For A Better Place.

If an artist must have comparisons bestowed on her than there are few better to be linked to than Karen Carpenter, Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins’ Liz Frazer. Such accolades were thrust on to LA-born/UK-based Annie Barker in response to her 2007 debut ‘Mountains And Tumult’. She has been a little quiet since but a new EP is a solid reminder of this great talent.

The press release indicates that Barker is fitting in to the Dreampop and ethereal genre seamlessly. This is a slightly disappointing announcement given some of the most exciting moments on the debut were to be found in the more outré material conjured up by Barker and producer Robin Guthrie. Neverthless, ‘Cruel’ begins and ends the EP and finds Barker in great voice – cooing, ululating and warbling quite beautifully – even if the arrangements are a little pedestrian. ‘So Refined’ drifts in to ambient territory but ‘Coats Off’ benefits from subtle yet diverting hooks from both the jangly backdrop and Barker’s own enigmatic tones. That just leaves ‘Ghetto Birds’, which is unfortunately only dreamy in the soporific sense.

Both lyrically and vocally, Barker clearly has some great tools at her disposal but the arrangements on this EP aren’t really imaginative enough for her to stretch her wings and truly fly. One can’t help feel that more experimentation next time would help her achieve her full potential.

Web Sites:
Annie Barker Official Site

Further Listening:
Cocteau Twins, The Plague Monkeys, Heligoland

Review: The Kickliner – The Kickliner EP 2011

About a year after their last EP, Sheffield/Derby act The Kickliner return with their latest effort. Whereas last year’s release was a mixture of lilting and harder-edge indie, these four new tracks concentrate on the latter route and are all the better for it.

For ‘Accident Or Design’, the style is the definition of Brit indie-rock, with driving riffs and percussion ensuring the song builds up in to an anthemic proposition. ‘Arcade’ maintains the urgency levels and ‘Paper And Grass’ raises the bar still further with the interplay between the musicians achieving breathless levels of intensity. The breakneck pace is eventually broken by ‘Romance Is Ruined. Just like on their last EP, the final track is a slower song but the craftsmanship is strong enough to merit attention.

Comparisons will inevitably be made with Arctic Monkeys and several Northern British acts. The Kickliner still don’t quite convince with creating a unique sound (and their vocals certainly aren’t the most distinctive) but these four tracks are stirring and energetic enough to make casual listeners prick up their ears and take notice.

Web Sites:
The Kickliner MySpace
The Kickliner Soundcloud

Further Listening:
Arctic Monkeys