Archive for March, 2012

Review: Kanstantsin Yaskou – Ludus Mobilis

Kanstantsin Yaskou is the conductor and composer of the Belarus Modern Ensemble on ‘Ludus Mobilis’. Yaskou is a key member of the Society for the Development of New Music, whose lofty aims are matched by the talents of musicians who are willing to stretch the boundaries of the modern classical genre.

For the opening piece (catchily-titled ‘Ludus Mobilis I, Diatonic Metaepitaphy in Memory of Conceptualism’), there is a lovely pastoral swell which is admirably maintained by the performers for its seven minute duration. Thereafter Yaskou takes a turn for the experimental from the percussion/violin-heavy ‘Ludus Mobilis II, The Dance of Yin and Yang about The Deepest Emptiness’ to the drones of ‘Ludus Mobilis III, Sanctus Benedictus’. ‘Recitativo and Aria’ and ‘Toccata and Fugue’, however, return to the beauty and melody of the first piece but without compromising on invention.

Yaskou claims that ‘Ludus Mobilis’ is a genre he invented. The exact meaning may have been lost in translation but what is for sure is that the album is a fascinating and varied collection of classical music that – at its best – can be loved as well as respected.

Web Sites:
Ludus Mobilis Bandcamp
Society for the Development of New Music Official Site


Review: Run Dan Run – Normal

Sometimes it’s not necessary to feel the pressure of creating something new and just concentrate at what you do best. Led by singer/songwriter Dan McCurry, South Carolina’s Run Dan Run are a case in point. Their second album, ‘Normal’, is simply a rather fine exercise in old-fashioned indie rock songcraft.

Summery gutars, sad-hearted vocals from McCurry and even a brass section contribute to ‘Lovesick Animal’. Few pop songs have as much emotional ache as this but then few bands possess a frontman quite so capable of communicating quiet despair as McCurry. ‘False-Hearted Lover’ is slower-paced but hits its mark with a full-bodied arrangement and this song moves to the languid verse/vibrant chorus set-up of ‘Cut-Outs’. Further standouts are ‘Anonymous Girl’ where the band add a wired intensity to their sound, whereas ‘Fresh Faces’ approaches the crazed tunefulness of Broken Social Scene.

Run Dan Run are reminiscent of both The Postal Service and – even more so – German act The Notwist. They share with these bands a knack for literate songwriting, heart-aching vocals and ambitious arrangements. The key is that, despite the dark lyrical matter, Run Dan Run redress the balance with an abundance of sweet melody.

Web Sites:
Run Dan Run Official Site
Run Dan Run Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Postal Service, The Notwist

Review: She Makes War – Little Battles

Laura Kidd’s early CV saw her perform with such varied artists as ex-Fame Academy winner Alex Parks, Duncan James from Blue, A-ha and Tricky. It may come as a relief to some that it is the latter which Kidd most resembles, with a second album as She Makes War that demonstrates a real growth in confidence. 

There’s a real bite to this record, which is clear from ‘Minefields’, the first song on this album which makes a case for Kidd as a young PJ Harvey and ‘Exit Strategy’ only strengthens this idea. If ‘Delete’ represents the blank, emotionless side of She Makes War, the gentle caress of ‘Butterflies’ (featuring Kidd on ukelele) is the polar opposite. Elsewhere she excels equally at grungy hooks for ‘Magpie Heart’ and the chillingly spare ‘In This Boat’, whereas ‘Never Was’ seems like an affectionate tribute to The Sundays.

‘Littles Battles’ is probably a few tracks too long to make it a truly great album but Kidd performs with passion, fury and – should the occasion demand it – a sense of vulnerability. Those early days with pop stars has probably helped her add a few hooks to her edgy material too.

Web Sites:
She Makes War Official Site
Little Battles Bandcamp Site

Further Listening:
PJ Harvey, Lettie

Review: Cultfever – Cultfever

The bedroom studio-based girl singer/male producer setup has become a well-used combination over the last thirty or so years. It is a formula which has produced recent successes with artists as varied as Goldfrapp and The Ting Tings. Hoping to add their names to the list are Manhattan-based J. Peter Durniak and Tamara Jafar who operate under the name of Cultfever.

The duo describe their songs as “cinematic vignettes” which is a fitting description since their arrangements are often ambitiously executed. The best moments of inspiration come from ‘Knewyouwell’ which builds neatly on a simple drum loop, (what sounds like) a female choir sample and a soulful turn from Jafar. It screams to be released as a single. ‘Duress’ also impresses thanks to Jafar’s seductive whispers, subtle ambient washes and nagging guitar riff.

Elsewhere, the duo’s education in audio engineering are always evident but there’s a feeling of the songs themselves not being “hooky” enough to stand up in their own right. There’s a moment on ‘Spill’ where Jafar seems to singing the melody from Sting’s ‘Fields Of Gold’ and there’s just a bit too much going on for the closing track ‘Collector’.

If a parallel can be drawn it is with The Other Two, an equally modest electronica side project spawned by Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris of New Order renown. Like Cultfever, the musicians were real life partners but despite great singles they never achieved a great album. There’s still plenty of time for Cultfever to buck that trend though and this is a decent start.

Web Sites:
Cult Fever Official Site

Further Listening:
The Other Two, Goldfrapp

Review: Coast Jumper – Grand Opening

The PR blurb for ‘Grand Opening’ claims that Coast Jumper recorded their debut album in a dimly lit basement. It’s hard to fathom, therefore, that they could produce a record as bright and as melodic as this. The young Californian group have certainly mastered the art of dreampop and are keen to throw in a few surprises too.

‘Sutures’ is the first chance we get to experience the pin-sharp harmonies of the group whilst ‘For Youth’ sounds like The Drums with FX pedals. Covering a Beach Boys song may not be the most original route to take but their version of Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On Your Shoulder)’ is both respectful and original enough to add a new level of dreamy melancholia to an already heavenly piece of music. The heavier moments tend to be the most disappointing, so the shoegaze-meets-Klaxons racket that is ‘Disabler’ shows admirable invention but it sits uneasily amongst the beautiful noise. Much more palatable are blissed-out experiments such as ‘Infinite Something’ and the languid perfection of ‘Windowsill’.

There are a growing number of American bands taking the dreampop route so it is commendable that Coast Jumper attempt to throw in a “loud one” every now and then, to keep the listener on tenderhooks. However, it’s on the slower more romantic material where the quintet really excel.

Web Sites:
Coast Jumper Official Site

Further Listening:
Arnold, Pandit, The Beach Boys

Review: HorHey – Home Recordings

George Burton hails from Moncton a city in New Brunswick, Canada. For his solo project as HorHey, Burton chooses lo-fi rock, grunge and post-rock as his reference points for an occassionally confusing but likeable debut.

The start, brought to us by ‘Cobalt’, is an incongruous combination of glum rock guitars and what can only be described as plinky-plonk keyboards. What follows is also fairly disoritentating as ‘Fever’ adds unhinged vocals to a base of lo-fi and grunge. This style turns out to be HorHey’s main calling card and the formula reaches its peak for the fuzzy, distortion-heavy delights of ‘Nothing Familiar’ which rides in on a rock-sold rhythm. Guiding the listener to the end are a softer take on post-rock (‘Corinth’) and the crazed off-kilter melodies of ‘Ergon’.

‘Home Recordings’ is certainly an apt title given its modest production values but there’s much to like about Burton’s approach. Some of his methods may be those of an amateur but his skills with crafting hooks amidst the chaos make you wonder what he can achieve in the future.

Web Sites:
Horhey Bandcamp

Further Listening:

Review: Death By Chocolate – Bric-a-Brac

It’s been a decade since Death By Chocolate last cut a disc but their approach goes back to a time thirty years earlier when psychedelia and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were at their peak. However, as with previous records, the trio’s new album is just as distinctive for its obsession with food.

‘Bric-a-Brac’ is less an album of songs but more a mixture of spoken word interludes containing listings of menus and scientific facts, interspersed with instrumentals and a couple of cover versions, namely a breezy run through the ‘Are You Being Served?’ theme. The album stands out more with the actual songs. The title track captures the retro-futurist glories of Stereolab, ‘Bantam Motorbike’ draws on the innocence of the Swinging Sixties whereas ‘Dining With Death’ cunningly attaches devlish guitar shapes to girl harmonies and handclaps. Meanwhile, vintage keyboards help to maintain the interest on the wordless pieces.

This record would fit in nicely with the nostalgic sounds of the Cherry Red or more accurately the Èl Records roster. It may never consistently deliver on its potential for classic melody (like, say, The Superimposers) but the authenticity of the experience is undeniable.

Web Sites:
Darla Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Stererolab, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, The Superimposers

Review: Yellow6/Egsun – Worth Wasting Time

Often cited as the nearest Britain have to a version of Labradford, it’s hard to think of a current artist who has assembled such a vast collection of new material as Yellow6. So here he is again on a split CD with Greek artist Egsun.

‘Concorde’ is Yellow6 in discordant and evil form; taking a full five minutes for the nightmarish effects to settle and reveal the usual languid but disarmingly pretty chord sequence that we normally associate with Jon Attwood’s output. Ignoring its doomy title, ‘The Start Of Our Decline’ brings back the warmth as Attwood hits on a hypnotic pattern of crisp percussion and a repetitive yet enduring guitar melody.

In total, Egsun’s five contributions take slightly more time than Yellow6’s two tracks yet they are no less distinctive. In fact, trom the moment ’38 Grey Days’ kicks in with its chiming motif and haunting strings, it’s hard not to be hooked. His instrumental pieces swell and subside at just the right moments (‘The Ocean Near You’ is particularly gorgeous) and are resolutely tuneful, even when drone is employed for a sparse ‘Long Soak’.

Yellow6 once again proves that there’s plenty of mileage in his minimalist material whilst Egsun impresses with his more expansive arrangements. The artists compliment each other rather well too.

Web Sites:
Somehow Ecstatic Label and Shop Site
Yellow6 Official Site
Egsun Soundcloud

Further Listening:

Review: Brothertiger – Golden Years

For Ohio native John Jagos AKA Brothertiger, the 1980’s is a time to be celebrated and presumably forms the inspiration for his new album title ‘Golden Years’. Much like Memory Tapes and M83 before him, it’s lush synth pop being revived here although Jagos’ music is said to fall under the considerably more modish “chillwave” banner.

Whereas many acts tend to frontload their album, Brothertiger takes a different approach. With its “ooh” harmonies and fairly dated simple electronic melody, ‘The Young Ones’ is no more than a scene setter and even the track which follows it, ‘I’ve Been Waiting’ veers towards throwaway synth pop. It is, however, a bubbly and infectious song.

Soon the airy charm of ‘Wind At My Back’ takes hold and from here  the album envelops the listener like a warm nostalgic blanket. ‘Too Convinced To Care’ is one of several compositions to capture the romance and intimacy of Junior Boys, things improve even further with the breezy tunefulness of ‘Reach It All’ whilst the first single ‘Lovers’ is an exercise in studied cool.

If there is one criticism it is that the light, breathy vocals of Jagos are just a bit too light and breathy to transmit any real soul but his music is usually involving enough to make this criticism redundant. Indeed, it may take a few listens to transcend its electronic facade but ‘Golden Years’ is a record which possesses far more depth than is initially apparent and ultimately, it’s hard not to be seduced by its subtle synth pop alchemy.

Web Sites:
Brothertiger Official Site

Further Listening:
Riding Paper Aeroplanes, Junior Boys, M83

Review: Northerner – I Am On Your Side

When Martin Cummings emerged with the first Northerner album, ‘The Ridings’, in 2009, he helped to put Yorkshire on the map for quality ambient/post-rock music. Whilst that contained lots of different styles, ‘I Am On Your Side’ cranks up the ambition further as it tackles a number of genres that are usually more closely associated with American artists.

The key to ‘I Am On Your Side’ is subtlety as much as variety. Not everything sticks, for instance, there simply isn’t enough going on in the dubby ‘Shipley Hush’ to make it exciting. However, hip-hop and soul samples converge on Ultramarine-sytyle ambient folk for ‘Hey Come On, It’s Love’ and ‘Line Noise’, house music is covered courtesy of ‘Health And Safety’. whilst ‘Cala Macarelleta’ brings a level of intelligence to chill-out. 

There’s also another constant in ‘I Am Your Side’ and that is Cummings’ understated guitar playing (best heard on the serene title track). Like the oft-revered Durutti Column, his style is understated, evocative and never less than melodic.

Web Sites:
Home Assembly Music Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Durutti Column, Ultramarine