Archive for April, 2012



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:
Editors

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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:
Liars

Review: Markus Mehr – In

When a musician stretches just two tracks over the course of fifty minutes, the most likely barrier to success is the ability to hold the listener’s interest for such a long period of time. As is often the case with such a concept, the tracks that make up Markus Mehr’s ‘In’ (save a few snatches of dialogue) are entirely instrumental too.

‘Komo’ is the first offering and for the initial minute or so it’s so quiet, it would be forgivable to check the volume control to know that it’s playing. However, after five minutes of scene setting, the cinematic string sample and bass rhythms merge together like a huge menacing creature of the sea getting nearer and nearer and becoming louder and louder until it starts to blur and distort. In terms of scope and doomed romance, it makes a fine bedfellow for Paddy McAloon’s ‘I Trawl The MEGAHERTZ’.

Yet whereas ‘Komo’ possesses a clear elegant beauty, ‘Ostinato’ seems more like an experiment in noise and drone. Soon the layers are stripped back to reveal a core lonely guitar melody and even though the sound is submerged like crashing waves by distant trumpets and warped effects, this track also reveals a serenity amongst the turbulence .

Far from being an exercise in endurance, ‘In’ creates an atmosphere which evokes both the danger and the beauty of the sea. ‘In’ is the first in a triptych of albums from Mehr, soon to be followed by ‘On’ and ‘Off’. One can only hope that these records maximise their impact with similar levels of expert minimalism.

Web Sites:
Markus Mehr Official Site
Hidden Shoal Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Talvihorros, Paddy McAloon

Review: Screen Vinyl Image – Strange Behaviour

Although they could claim to be a shoegazing act, Screen Vinyl Image operate at the harder edge of the genre. In fact, the duo of Kim and Jake Reid have amassed influences from 60s psychedelia, goth, post-punk and electronica on their latest album ‘Strange Behaviour’.

As a statement of intent, ‘We Don’t Belong’ is thoroughly convincing as soon as the powerful intro comes hurtling towards the speakers. It’s fast, effects-heavy and rather aggressive; the title alone speaks of their reluctance to be members of any particular scene. If anything, it resembles Killing Joke covering The Horrors. Elsewhere, the early work of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is recalled on the rockier ‘Revival’ and there are shades of a gothic New Order for the metronomic ‘Station 4’ .

‘New Visions’ has even drawn comparisons with Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ and its easy to see why considering its elegant glacial melody and sense of doomed euphoria. The most unexpected and thrilling moment, though, occurs after four minutes of the bleak ‘Stay Asleep’ when a shuddering sub-bass instrumental coda kicks in and holds for a further four minutes.

What impresses most about Screen Vinyl Image is not so much the noise levels they generate as a duo but how dense and multi-layered that noise turns out to be. They aren’t related but this couple of Reids are making music their namesakes in The Jesus And Mary Chain would approve of.

Web Sites:
Screen Vinyl Image Official Site

Further Listening:
New Order, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Horrors

Review: The Retro Trade – This Time Next Time

The Retro Trade make a noise not unlike their band name suggests. There’s a strong sense of 1990’s lad rock, a touch of soul and even a little funk. In fact not that much has changed since their 2009 debut ‘Sunday Rain’ although an electronic edge seems more noticeable this time around.

For a duo, Jon Marett and Ainz Charlton make one hell of a noise. The title track is the first sign we hear of Ainz Charlton’s powerful vocals which soar in the manner of so many Northern Rock giants before him. The song itself is driven home with conviction but is largely based around one rather simple hook. ‘Its Alright’ is bolstered by an old school rock riff and fares much better whilst the gloriously unsubtle ‘Lost’ sounds absolutely huge and Charlton is certainly up to the task in front of the mic.

The album loses its way towards the centre as the slow-paced ‘Hundred Ways’ and ‘Some Bitter Soul’ seem to be weighed down with sentimentality and over-production. The standout track, however, is a dancefloor-friendly ‘Don’t You Ever Stop’, which suggests that the duo have impressive funk credentials should the occasion demand it.

Needless to say this is very straightforward music but the passion of Charlton and Marett ensures that this example of British indie rock music is undeniably rousing and occasionally uplifting. Given the rather dated nature of the music though, one would imagine they would fare better on the live circuit where their anthemic material could still go down a storm.

Web Sites:
The Retro Trade Official Site

Further Listening:
The Hours, INXS


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