Archive for April, 2012

Review: Mirror Talk – Mirror Talk EP

It’s a testament to the times that it seems almost de rigeur nowadays for a group to have formed thanks to social media sites. However, it’s unlikely you’ll ever end up with as disparate a bunch as Mirror Talk: a gay father, a straightedge punk kid, a Nuyorican street kid, a Jazz-fusion session player and a college professor.

Their signature song, ‘The Mirror Talk Theme’ is a classic 1980’s concoction of smooth synths, swish harmonies, fretless bass and crashing percussion. The strident lead vocal and gleaming melody drags the song out of period pastiche though and it’s a great start for the quintet. ‘Choose Life’ is slightly cheesier but its hook makes the journey worthwhile. Hereafter there is a dip in quality control. The title to ‘Choose Death’ suggests darker undertones but it definitely operates at the camp end of disco whilst the verses to ‘Like Magic’ begin promisingly like Junior Boys but the chorus is more befitting of a boy band.

With so many different backgrounds involved, it’s not too surprising to wonder whether Mirror Talk want to be a cool synth band or an all out electro-disco outfit. As a consequence they end up somewhere in between and it’s unlikely individuals will enjoy all six tracks. For this reviewer, the icier side to the group is the one worth exploring further.

Web Sites:
Mirror Talk Facebook

Further Listening:
Delphic, M83


Review: Verskotzi – Lesson Learned

When an artist wants listeners to connect with his pain, loss and love, it’s hard not to feel a sense of cynicism. After all, isn’t this what the majority of singer/songwriters try to do? Step forward then Joey Verskotzi from Minneapolis whose full blooded, heart on sleeve approach is effective, if a little OTT.

The first thing that strikes you about Verskotzi is his crystal clear voice, the second is the big production. ‘Give It Rest’ toys with key changes and pure vocals in much the same way as Death Cab For Cutie. If there is a flaw it’s that too much is going on for one song and it even finishes off with a guitar solo flourish. ‘Sell My Soul’ switches between falsetto and deep tones whilst the instruments swoop between stentorian keyboards and melodramatic percussion. Infact, Verskotzi only really trims down the arrangement for the finale ‘Fountain’ but he still strains every vowel for maximum emotion. However, at the centre of the EP he finds the middle ground between ambition and depth; ‘Silver And Gold’ is strident without being showy and its chorus is held together by a strong hook.

Although obviously blessed with a mighty set of vocals, the main quality Verskotzi lacks is restraint. However, one must remember this is his debut EP and he is eager to demonstrate his qualities for maximum effect. Next time, a little more subtlety would be advised.

Web Sites:
Verskotzi Facebook
Verskotzi Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Death Cab For Cutie, Andreas Johnson

Review: The Spiracles – How Things Went Well When I Met You

Luis Rodriguez, in his own words, has set out on a quest to combine “all my musical influences such as indierock, indie pop, bossa, twee, synth pop and dream pop”. There might only be three songs here but it’s fair to say the majority of those genres are well covered on his new EP under the name of The Spiracles.


The EP begins with the infectious electro-jangle of ‘Fireflies’; brought to life by a female singer. The girlie vocals, simple melodies and innocent air point towards a late 80’s reverie akin to The Primtives’ ‘Crash’. If that song is slightly throwaway for some, then the heartbreak of ‘Merry’ is a stronger proposition. Sounding more like The Sundays this time, the track is a much stronger showcase for the guest vocalist. If Rodriguez’s indie pop credentials aren’t clear by now then an affectionate cover The Field Mice’s ‘End Of The Affair’ makes them a cast iron certainty. Finally, of the two remixes on offer, Elika’s chilly rhythmic version of ‘Fireflies’ adds new potential to the lead-off song.

Derivative it may be but the simple rule follows that if you enjoy the same musical styles as Rodriguez clearly does then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this EP too. With a new album on the way, more top tunes are expected.

Web Sites:
Saint Marie Records
The Spiracles Official Home Page

Further Listening:
The Field Mice, The Primitives, The Sundays, Elika

Review: The Cathode Ray – The Cathode Ray

There is an intriguing backstory to the first album for The Cathode Ray since it was originally a collaboration forged between singer/songwriter Jeremy Thoms and ex-Josek K frontman Paul Haig in 2006. Sometime later, Haig’s solo career started to pay off and Thoms was left to continue the project alone. This he has now done with the help of new band members, so the debut album by The Cathode Ray arrives six years after their first single.

Thoms is certainly no novice at this kind of thing, even if he isn’t as big a name as Haig. He has already helmed (with distinction) melodic pop/rock act Skyline and the soulful epic sounds of The Fabulous Artisans. Indeed, the project starts well thanks to the surging rushes of ‘Patience Is A Virtue’; an exciting journey which takes in the sights of surf, glam and retro-futurism along the way. Well constructed hooks are abound for the infectious ‘Dispersal’ and ‘Creature Of Habit’. Perhaps inevitably there are comparisons to be drawn with other Scottish acts and it’s fair to say that Edwyn Collins would be proud to have written ‘Lost And Found’ whilst the intense guitar interplay on ‘Slipping Away’ bears comparison with Josef K.

Thoms once again proves his talent and his versatility with The Cathode Ray and what is more, the band pack a punch and an energy that groups half their age would be grateful for. It may have taken half a decade to complete but this is another successful mission accomplished for Thoms.

Web Sites:
The Cathode Ray MySpace

Further Listening:
Skyline, The Fabulous Artisans, Edwyn Collins, Paul Haig

Review: Field Music – Plumb

When we last heard from Field Music it was with a double album that was populated by classical, found sounds and progressive rock, as well as their usual new wave and 1970’s pop-rock tendencies. For the first time, though, there was a sense that they had over-indulged in musical ambition at the expense of their usually pin-sharp songwriting. Perhaps mindful of this, the Brewis brothers have reconvened and done almost the opposite by clocking in songs at a rate of every two minutes for a compact single album.

At the beginning, the sound is bombastic with big drums, strings and harmonies making one think this is a step back in time to the 1970’s when Wings and 10CC flew the flag for great British singles. Even the song titles speak of an old-fashioned sense of Englishness (‘Sorry Again, Mate’, ‘Who’ll Pay The Bills’) and it has to be said that few bands perform falsetto quite so effectively as Field Music and so it proves on the terrifically hooky ‘A New Town’ (“I’m stretched like a nylon wire”) and the sparkling new wave of ‘Is This The Picture?’.

It’s also a measure of Field Music’s talents and comfidence that they are able to save some of their best material towards the end of the record. For their more reflective side, ‘From Hide And Seek To Heartache’ ranks alongside their best work with a gorgeous descending piano chord melody, uplifting strings and a superbly melancholic vocal turn. It’s also hard to resist the beautifully realised romantic despair of ‘Just Like Everyone Else’. Then the record ends with another terrific number but the finish seems really abrupt; as if someone unplugged the record player when it was in full flow.

Considering they’ve crammed fifteen tracks into just thirty five minutes, it’s incredible how they’ve incorporated so many styles and key changes, often in the space of one small song. For sure, there are several times when one wishes a moment would endure for longer but at least that ensures interest is maintained from start to finish.

Web Sites:
Field Music Official Site

Further Listening:
10CC, Wings

Review: David Francis – On A Shingle Near Yapton

If ever the term late bloomer applies it is to New York’s singer/songwriter/poet David Francis who has enraptured audiences, in Britain in particular, with his 1960’s-styled compositions. Further emphasising his love of England, he has seen fit to entitle his latest album ‘On A Shingle Near Yapton’.

There’s a satisfying earthiness to this recording from first song to last. You can certainly picture Francis at work in his friend’s shed accompanied by the minimum of equipment. ‘You’ve Come To See Me’ is full of the passion of Francis’ vocal and off-kilter musical flourishes. Those deviations occasionally derail the melodic flow of the record; the stop-start rhythms of ‘Execution Of A Spy’ being a prime example. However, ‘Dream London’ is inbued with hazy nostalgia whereas the excellent ‘The Girl Got On’ evokes a sense of intrigue and romance .

Yet it is at the end of the record when the most powerful moment of the album occurs. Backed by musician friends from Cornwall, Vancouver and Detroit, the group effort drives this song in to a convincing song of defiance which actually caused the Government to back down on plans to convert green fields in to housing developments.

Equal parts troubled folk singer, virtuoso guitarist, Green campaigner and published poet, ‘On A Shingle Near Yapton’ reflects the diverse talents of Francis but this approach also leads to a rather awkward album which isn’t as seamless as it could have been. That’s probably kind of the point though since Francis is a true free spirit; taking on the influences from both musical and environmental sources and distilling them in to his unique, if occasionally unfocused vision.

Web Sites:
David Francis Official Site
On A Shingle Near Yapton CD Baby Page

Further Listening:
John Aldington

Review: Talk Less, Say More – England Without Rain

If there’s a band Londoner Matthew Jennings needs to thank for making his music hip, it’s Hot Chip. They introduced a nerdy take on the electro-pop movement and still managed to bring it to the discos and the bedrooms. Admittedly, his sixth album as Talk Less, Say More, ‘England Without Rain’, works better in the home but the focus on tunes rather than gimmicks is clear from the outset.

From the orientally-flavoured opener ‘I Feel Like Making A Record’, it’s fair to say the vocals are an acquired taste (think The Human League’s Phil Oakey with a vocoder) so Jennings’ music largely stands and falls by the songs and the arrangements thereof. Amongst a plethora of delights, there’s staccato pleasures (‘Atlantic’), more Oriental touches for the highly addictive ‘Glockenspiel’ and an old school Pet Shop Boys-like title track, whereas ‘Like Neon’ is akin to hearing robots singing ‘London’s Burning’. The finale ‘Double Helixxx’, meanwhile, seems to pay respects to the energetic, danceable moments of the aforementioned Hot Chip.

Talk Less, Say More bring back the playful, fun side of electronica; whereby once unfashionable music is made palatable by an unfailing ear for melody. ‘England Without Rain’ may be directed more towards the nerds who refuse to dance but that doesn’t stop this music being any less enjoyable to hear.

Web Sites:
Records On Ribs Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Hot Chip

Review: The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

It’s a testament to how far The Twilight Sad have come when one considers they were once regarded as a shoegazing act. In recent years they have sounded more “not of this earth” than ever before yet their concerns always seem to be earthbound, largely thanks to James Alexander Graham’s haunting tales of childhood torment. The most noticeable change this time is the introduction of synths to their repertoire.

The first standout moment arrives two songs in. ‘Dead City’ is underscored by a thrilling rhythmic undertow made up of droning synths and intense percussion. For once The Twilight Sad do resemble another band; were it not for Graham’s distinctive vocals, the song would have fitted in well on Editors’ most recent album. ‘Sick’ is also synth driven but it’s helped along its way by a sombre slice of chiming guitar whereas a centrepiece entitled ‘Nil’ is uplifted by an almost serene wash of keyboards to counter the lyrical anguish of Graham.

If there is a black mark against The Twilight Sad it’s that some of their songs do not linger long in the memory even if the words do and therefore the listening process can occassionally be hard-going. Still, when your band can come up with a track as heart-stoppingly urgent as ‘Another Bed’ towards the end of the album, hearing about someone’s personal anguish becomes altogether more attractive.

After experiencing the album end to end a number of times, the synth and metronomic rhythm approach really does draw close parallels to the third album by Editors. However, Graham is the dominant presence as ever; his doomy involvement may be the reason The Twilight Sad are too disturbing for them to be better known but more importantly he is the catalyst to what makes the band unique and vital.

Web Sites:
The Twilight Sad Official Site

Further Listening:

Review: Milhaven – Automata

Germany’s Milhaven are one of the unsung heroes of post-rock music; consistently releasing quality instrumental music which never threatens to turn the genre on its head but almost invariably manages to engage the mind. The self-produced and self-released ‘Automata’ is their latest offerring.

At its most fundamental level, ‘DRZ’ consists of layers of sad guitars. They all sound rather desolate until about six minutes in when there’s a sudden injection of pace and urgency which rarely relents thereafter. With its slow burning power and the fact that it takes up half of the EP’s running time, one could be forgiven for thinking that ‘DRZ’ is the outstanding track. However, the more considered tones of ‘Zombi’ are more satisfying; conveying a sense of elegant world weariness which reaches a peak when the band allow some shimmering electronica to enter the mix. The title track is also a delight and is made up of pretty interweaving melodies, contrasting deliciously with the torment at the beginning of the EP.

Having heard much of Milhaven’s material over the last seven years, they have retained an ability to make some rather splendid post-rock music. The last two tracks here are also amongst their best work, suggesting more is yet to come.

Web Sites:
Milhaven Official Site
Milhaven Bandcamp Site

Further Listening:
This Is A Process Of A Still Life, Mogwai

Review: Dada Trash Collage – Fun Fund EP

According to their press release, Dada Trash Collage are known for their “far reaching experiments in pop music”. It’s a bold claim but one which this Michigan-based duo certainly fulfil on the basis of these half dozen tracks which stretches alternative into some severely dark corners.

Thanks to its snatches of film dialogue, extra thick percussion and echoed vocals, ‘Nothing But The Sea’ comes across as a haunted, modern take on psychedelia. That sense of eeriness persists for the Latin-inflected ‘Dizzy’ whilst the single ‘Migraine’ begins with tribal drumming and concludes with fairground organ but in between there’s a rather fabulous (if equally macabre) pop song. In a rare moment of clarity, ‘Little Horn’ – possibly the most disorientating moment on the EP – helpfully poses the question “Where has my mind gone?” just in case we weren’t thinking that already. In fact, the last three tracks seem to value eclecticism and weirdness over cohesion but naturally never come close to being dull.

It would be hard to pinpoint too many reference points for Dada Trash Collage’s sound, although the work of Liars is a possibility given their penchant for drum sounds and subversion. ‘Fun Fund EP’ contains so many curveballs, the listener may feel the need to lie down.

Web Sites:
Dada Trash Collage Official Site
Dada Trash Collage Bandcamp

Further Listening: