Archive for June, 2012

Review: PNDC & housework – Nothing In The Sky

For all those who wanted to know what sweaty electro dance performed by a Serbian/Greek act sounded like, PNDC and housework (AKA Predrag Nedic and Athanassios Vavaroutas) have consistently provided the answer. Make no mistake though, this is as far removed as possible from trashy European music and is chiefly noteworthy for tight rhythms and housework’s breathless vocals. ‘Nothing In The Sky’ is further proof that you don’t need to be in the same room together to make music work (infact the two protagonists have never even met).

That said, the start is a little awkward. ‘Tight Rope’ takes up the challenge with some disorientating organ swirls, distorted production and general air of confusion. Then housework brings out the ever faithful croon for the snail-paced ‘Go Quiet’ but it’s another song which quietly seethes rather than stirs the emotions. Patently, this is not pop music.

The title track redresses the balances and is definitely one of the most mesmeric offerings. Against a backdrop of subtle atmospherics, the duo create a track that is intelligent, unsettling and romantic all at once. ‘Sunset Over Empty Towns’ is another piece which favours the less is more approach whereas the emotive ‘Gentleman’ brings back memories of Japan’s ‘Ghosts’. Elsewhere, ‘European Day Of You’ even boasts something approaching a happy chorus and ‘Touch Of Mad’ is like a revival of the twosome’s unique twist on club music.

PNDC and housework have always operated on the experimental end of electronic music but here they sound more eerie and adventurous than ever. At times, the icy surface can serve to alienate the listener but the further one gets into the album, the better it becomes.

Web Sites:
PNDC & housework Bandcamp
PNDC MySpace
housework MySpace

Further Listening:
Tarwater, Depeche Mode, Colder, DK7


Review: The Rest – SEESAW

The backstory behind the course of an album can so often influence the sound. For The Rest’s third long player, they had to cope with the loss of their long-time producer to a heart attack and then the prospect of not being able to recover the master tapes. Happily, the latter situation reached a positive conclusion whilst they honoured their former producer and friend by recording ‘SEESAW’ at his converted church studio.  So what we have is a passionate collection of songs full of life affirming conviction.

It seems strange comparing a relatively unknown act with U2 but the ringing guitar work, rich production and passionate vocals on ‘Who Knows’ certainly support this comparison. ‘Hey! For Horses’, on the other hand, may be based on similarly grand arrangements but its approach finds a healthy middle ground between the bombast of Arcade Fire and the more considered material of The Helio Sequence.

The mix of hope and despair is perfectly captured in the title and the tune to ‘Laughing Yearning’. Admittedly, there are a few songs here which crumble under the weight of the kitchen sink approach: ‘John Huston’ and ‘Young And Innnocent’ undeniably contain heart but they would carry more weight with less layers of sound. A better showcase is the almost hymnal ‘The Lodger’ or ‘Could Be Sleeping’, where the singer delivers a beautiful falsetto across an intense but never OTT mix of thumping percussion and chiming guitars.

So overall, the more The Rest emphasise the human voice and melody over the production, the better they fare. What cannot be doubted though, is that ‘SEESAW’ is a very emotional record and the spirit of these musicians should be bottled and preserved forever.

Web Sites:
The Rest Bandcamp
The Rest Tumblr Site

Further Listening:
The Arcade Fire, The Helio Sequence

Review: Ten – East Of The Elm

Leeds/London outfit Ten are led by Dom Deane, who started the group originally as a solo project. ‘East Of The Elm’ is the third EP by Ten and certainly sounds like the fully formed work of a band. That’s not to say this music is over-produced in any way. For herein are great moments of subtlety, imbued with nostalgia and emotion.

The title track emerges from a dreamlike fog of field recordings and rustic guitars to begin a journey rich in pastoral atmosphere. ‘Heart Beat’ is the only track to feature vocals but it’s a mere murmur of a female which forms an additional layer to the dense framework of mournful strings and sedate percussion. ‘Adrift’ seems to flow in to darker territory; the guitars suggesting sadness or even danger on the horizon. The danger soon subsides though; ‘Paper Fragments’, thanks to its elegiac piano melody, is full of elegant despair whilst the alt-country guitar for final piece ‘Little Tree, Big Heart’ is just as gentle.

Some may argue that a mere fifteen minutes of music seems criminally short for an ambient record. Yet the range of moods, rhythms and emotions covered is brilliantly varied.

Web Sites:
Ten Official Site
Ten Bandcamp

Further Listening:

Review: The Lovely Few – The Orionids

Thanks to the digital revolution, much of the music we hear is, quite literally, freely available. The key is to find special music by the likes of The Lovely Few who – in keeping with their space-themed releases – have a made a five star EP. The EP is produced by Dan McCurry who gave notice of his own songwriting prowess with Run Dan Run’s album released earlier this year. ‘The Orionids’ is the second part in the band’s ‘Meteor Series’ and could loosely be described as ambient pop.

Due to its vintage synth backing, ‘Orion’ sounds like Death Cab For Cutie teaming up with Vangelis whilst ‘Sci Fi Novels’ takes a harder-edge approach but only allows the guitars to simmer (rather than explode) with rage. ‘Try Again’ is another track which teeters on the brink of something dramatic with frontman and main vocalist Mike Mewborne deliberately suppressing any ideas of pace. The last official track from the EP is a gorgeous ambient rock number named ‘Hunter’ which just leaves the self-explanatory ‘Celestial Chord’.

‘The Orionids’ is full of songs which seem to catch fire at any moment yet always hold back at the critical moment. It doesn’t really matter, however, as the fifteen minutes of music contained here is beautifully atmospheric.

Web Sites:
The Lovely Few Bandcamp
Hearts And Plugs Label Site

Further Listening:
Run Dan Run, The Helio Sequence, Vangelis

Review: The White Space – The Crescent Wave

Robert Vandeven is best known for being one half of the songwriting team for 1980’s quasi-dreampop act The Lucy Show and he recently re-emerged with a rather decent and forward-thinking solo album. The White Space is the name of his new project with ex-Fuzzy Logic man Dave Farrow. The band name actually borrows from an old song by The Lucy Show but it is here where the comparisons end.

To sum up the album in three words would be “melancholic indie soul” and the beginning to ‘The Crescent Wave’ is a little ponderous. ‘Stay’ features a glum guitar melody that is given voice by an equally glum Vandeven. ‘Davey’ is equally muted in its approach but at least the jangly tune is a tentative step towards positivity. The first song to break out of the relative slumber is an old one. ‘Ships’ was the highlight of Vandeven’s solo album and its trippy hypnotic bliss signals a welcome gear change for the record. ‘All The Flowers’ is a touchingly tender moment, ‘Simbday’ balances distorted noises with a genuine sense of yearning whilst the finale, ‘Hold’, is as classy as a Bond theme.

To describe ‘The Crescent Wave’ as a middle age masterclass in subtlety would be a tad dismissive because Vandeven and Farrow do raise their game towards the end of the record. Futhermore, the songs are well arranged, ensuring this album has a longevity which – like the members of The White Space themselves – defies the aging process. 

Web Sites:
The White Space Official Site

Further Listening:
The Lucy Show, Archive

Review: Experimental Pop Band – Vertigo

If top 100 lists were made for unsung British songwriters then that list would certainly feature Experimental Pop Band’s Davey Woodward. Whilst never quite as experimental as the band name may suggest, Woodward is definitely an eccentric wordsmith whose ramshackle style means he is forever destined to avoid the mainstream. ‘Vertigo’ is the first new album from his current band since 2007’s ‘Tinsel Stars’ but the spirit is undiminished.

The first side to ‘Vertigo’ offers a lot of what we’ve come expect from Woodward over the years and the fondness for a grimy combination of electro-pop/glammy guitars is to the fore again. ‘Little Things’ is the first time ears will prick up, courtesy of a nagging riff and an off-key chorus and a similar trick is repeated for the infectious ‘Transit Van Superstar’. The main flaw is the rather one-paced nature of the first half that is only broken up by a song named ‘Outside’, which switches between throbbing electro and anthemic at the flick of a switch.

Side two contains much needed variation, warmer arrangements (replacing the abrasive first half’s angst) and simply better songs, beginning with the fabulous ‘The Girls With Back Combed Hair’; the kind of witty, nostalgically-infused track which ranks alongside Woodward’s best. The title track surpasses it too, thanks to some genius key changes and some surprisingly good harmonising from the band. ‘Bowling’ and ‘The Girl Wants The Boy The Boy Wants The Girl’, meanwhile, are playful and quirky; the latter even getting away with a piano melody which alarmingly recalls the theme to ‘Murder She Wrote’.

‘Vertigo’ will still be a little too oddball to win new admirers. However, for longstanding fans of Woodward’s work, the second half to the album, in particular, is a great showcase for a unique talent, ably supported by backing players sharing their frontman’s peculiar worldview.

Web Sites:
Experimental Pop Band MySpace
Wear It Well Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
The Fall, Earl Brutus

Review: Teen Mom – Mean Tom

Teen Mom are a trio of young male musicians from Washington D.C. who occupy that potentially awkward middle ground between fey indie pop and shoegaze. Based on the quality of their similarly, awkwardly named EP though, their first half dozen tracks promise much for the development of the band.

Thanks to the indie jangle and doleful vocals on opener ‘You And Me’, the trio create an impression of lovelorn young gentlemen, not unlike The Drums if they were a student band recording in a basement. That comparison isn’t to undermine their talents rather to emphasise the DIY ethic of the band and the fact that their songs possess a welcome intimacy.

They can also make a noise when they want to and ‘Always Happy’ is the first sign of their “fuzz-pop” credentials. Layers and layers of ache coincide with driving guitars for the excellent ‘All The Time’ whilst the other three songs may be less polished but all (the lilting ‘Gehry’ in particular) still carry a certain rough-hewn charm.

‘Mean Tom’ is an EP which celebrates its lo-fi dynamics and the quality of the songs usually shines through the humble surroundings. Given the success of The Drums in recent years, don’t be surprised to see Teen Mom’s harder-edged sounds reap rewards too.

Web Sites:
Teen Mom Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Drums, Drop Nineteens

Review: BalloonMan – Aurelia EP

BalloonMan are a new North London trio inspired by familiar sources such as Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth but also the somewhat less well known Auteurs. It is actually the latter with whom they have the most in common, since BalloonMan are full of similar levels of vim and vitriol, balanced with a healthy dose of South England wit.

‘Anyone But You’ begins with a complex, wiry guitar intro from the Josef K school of angular melody but more distinctive are the biting vocals of frontman Rob Briden. ‘Astro’ is angrier (not least Bridon’s threat to  “cut you up inside”) although the overall effect is on a par with a few too many Brit-pop acts from the 1990’s. However, the trio regain their form immediately. ‘Black Shoe’ possesses a welcome vibrancy thanks to its insistent rhythmic flow whilst the finale ‘Call To Arms’ impresses with its buzzsawing guitars and driving chorus.

Considering these four tracks are the band’s first released songs, there’s a strong body of evidence to suggest they are a group worth keeping tabs on. Even if the guitar work may contain too many echoes of past influences, Briden’s barbed lyrics will win many new admirers looking for the next Morrissey or Luke Haines.

Web Sites:
BalloonMan Official Site
BalloonMan Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Auteurs, Franz Ferdinand, Gene

Review: Letters – Older Motion Pictures

Earlier this year, the self-styled “dark cello pop noiseniks” group Letters released a terrific first single called ‘Halfway House’. It married the fire and brimstone of loud post-rock with the earthy realism of Scottish folk. Taking things sensibly and steadily, the Edinburgh quintet now release their first EP entitled ‘Older Motion Pictures’.

If you’re a post-rock act and you have recorded an instrumental track called ‘Explosions’ then the chances are that a storm of guitars and percussion is about to erupt and Letters do not disappoint on that score but at least the cello and raw production ensure that the experience feels different to other artists in the same genre. The title track is a proper song, however. Sure, guitars and drums rage and the frontman’s gruff vocals are powerful but the elegant keyboard wash offers a gentle antidote to the noise. ‘Torren’ wears its folk influences more readily, the anger is toned down and a better song emerges as a result and ‘From Time To Time’ is arguably even more impressive; moving deftly between different melodies during the course of its dramatic five minutes.

The kitchen sink approach doesn’t suit all bands and there are signs that Letters should tone it down a bit more. Nevertheless, they prove that no one delivers passionate music quite like The Scots and the cello offers an alternative slant to those suffering from post-rock fatigue.

Web Sites:
Letters Official Site
Letters Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Twilight Sad

Review: Lettie – Good Fortune, Bad Weather

Back in 2008, Lettie released two albums in quick succession: one acoustic, the other falling in to an alt-pop/electronic area. The latter was the better prospect with Lettie delivering more than enough personality and idiosyncracies to prove that she wasn’t just another ice queen with a great set of arrangers. Since then both Lettie and her producer experienced personal tragedy which contributed to the delay of her latest album ‘Good Fortune, Bad Weather’.

Initially Lettie comes across as a childlike (possibly childish) purveyor of pop music. There is a definite sense of her sound moving in to the mainstream and tracks like ‘Lucky’ with its piano stomp and nostalgically upbeat exterior, certainly impress. Where the album does slip a bit is in its cheery, shiny exterior and there are too few songs which offer darker shades. ‘Never Want To Be Alone’, ‘Digital’, ‘Fitter’ are so slick they sound like the product of a songwriting factory rather than the songwriter herself.

Nevertheless, Lettie is a great talent and there’s enough here to verify that fact. ‘Sanctuary’ is a cracking track with a dreamy yet captivating hook for a chorus and ‘Pandora’ possesses a reggae lilt that would have fitted perfectly on previous record ‘Age Of Solo’. Meanwhile, there’s a clever switch from ‘Mister Lighter’s acoustic strum  to the most artificial song of the lot but ‘Aluminium Man’ is actually terrifically catchy – albeit in a cold, Teutonic way – and proves to be an album highlight.

Although Lettie’s lyrics and appearance are resolutely quirky, a chunk of her material seem to have been compromised in the name of throwaway pop, even if it’s throwaway pop of a superior variety. Ultimately, there’s a very solid thirty minute album here but the line between serious artist and pop frontwoman is a tad confusing.

Web Sites:
Lettie Official Site
Lettie Youtube

Further Listening:
Stina Nordenstam, Sarah Nixey, Princess Chelsea