Archive for July, 2012

Review: Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge

Richard Hawley’s albums thus far have featured several constants: titles inspired by Sheffield landmarks, twanging guitars and possibly the best modern croon in Northern England. Well, there’s a litle less crooning than normal on ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ as Hawley gives vent to his hitherto undiscovered psychedelic leanings.

Indeed, Hawley’s usually understated steel guitar is now replaced by a howling gale of immense noise, complimented by sitar and pounding drums. For all followers of Hawley’s tear-stained tales of Northern loss, this will come as quite a shock. It tales a while to get used to the new regime but ‘Time Will Bring You Winter’ sees Hawley’s voice mutate from a vocally-blessed best mate at a pub to an evil Hammer Horror figure, ‘Down In The Woods’ is one of many songs to possess admirable levels of velocity and energy and the denoument to ‘Leave Your Body Behind You’ must be the Yorkshire Apocalypse.

Those worried that Hawley has sold his soul to the devil (quite literally in this case given the inescapable feeling of darkness) will be consoled by ‘Seek It’ which is a return to the gentle comforting blanket of Hawley’s previous records. ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’, meanwhile, seems to stand at the cusp of the old and the new Hawley world and is arguably the best track; it’s akin to hearing Gerry And The Pacemakers performing ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’ in a wind tunnel.

Certainly it’s fair to assume that Hawley has wanted to make this record for some time, given his mighty band’s full blooded endeavours. It’s a testament to his talents, that it’s often quite a thrilling record too, even if there’s that nagging thought that he conveys tenderness so much better.

Web Sites:
Richard Hawley Official Site

Further Listening:
The Animals

Review: Adios Amigo – Dos

Released not long after their first EP, San Francisco’s Adios Amigo have created a second (craftily entitled ‘Dos’) that may sound even more like summer than their first, which is saying something. However, they have also added some heft to accompany the heavenly side to their material.

The opening to ‘Colony’s Dead’ isn’t so far removed from a boy band as some “oh oh oh” harmonies introduce the song. The track itself is rather slight both lyrically and tunefully but at least partially rescued by some impressively aggressive guitar work. ‘Chicken’ is much better and revolves around clever interplay with acoustic guitar and a banjo to create a fine alt-country number. ‘Never Forget’ balances the Beach Boys harmonies with heavy indie guitar riffing and it works surprisingly well and by the time of the aching finale ‘Pretty Pretty Princess’ the band sound like they’ve put themselves through the wringer such is the breathlessness of their performance.

Although Adios Amigo’s easy on the ear gifts remain, they’ve also added urgency thanks to some intense guitar work. So this is a good follow-up and one which shows a willingness to progress even if the same style as the last EP would have been perfectly acceptable.

Web Sites:
Adios Amigo Official Site
Adios Amigo Bandcamp

Review: Shmu – Discipline/Communication

As one half of chaotic duo Zorch, Sam Chown is known for making music which requires the tagline of “challenging” cosmic rock. Chown’s solo endeavours as Shmu, however, are certainly inventive but also very accessable and unashamedly pop-centric.

‘Discipline/Communication’ has an unmistakable sun-kissed vibe, reminiscent of 1970’s yacht rock as much as dreampop. Sure, the opening gambit of ‘Impressions’ contains a hazy sequence of guitar effects but its core song is more akin to The Sea And Cake in style. ‘House Of Stares’, a fine choice for a single, revolves around a hypnotic hookline and Chown’s warm vocals. Thereafter, the radio-friendly pop moves tend to give way to more experimental fare but the excellence and tunefulness rarely peters out.

Jazzy detours take place via the Stereolab-like ‘Directions’, ‘Shadowgames’ gives an opportunity for a shoegaze pastiche, ‘Vanitos’ is one of many tracks with a Latin twist, whilst stunning couplet ‘&Hearts’ and ‘Heads Will Fall’ and their fuzzed-up psychedelic craziness could give Cornelius a run for his money. Even the eight minute finale makes the most of its repeated motif.

‘Discipline/Communication’ lasts just short of an hour but its melodicism and interest is almost relentless. Hopefully another solo excursion will follow for Chown in the future.

Web Sites:
Shmu Official Site
Shmu Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Mice Parade, The Sea And Cake, Cornelius

Review: Stomacher – Clara

When a band gets compared to Interpol, U2, Radiohead and Portishead they’re clearly not short on ambition or, perhaps, realism. However, these bands wouldn’t have got anywhere without self confidence and San Francisco’s Stomacher, with their epic indie rock sound, certainly sound like they mean business.

‘Moonlight Blues’ – all stentorian keyboards and mannered Gothic vocals – presents an arresting if rather over familiar beginning. ‘Motel’, however, is marvellous. Although comparisons to Interpol may dog Stomacher, this track is something to be proud of thanks to a drum pattern similar to Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, searing guitars, sinister synth washes and the frontman’s performance in studied cool. Nothing quite matches that moment but then for any band, it would be a difficult task to do so.

Elsewhere, ‘Carnival Rock’ threatens to give Scissor Sisters a run for their money although the likeness may not be what the band intended. ‘Hesperian Fruit’ is another track to prove the worth of a great rhythm section; the muscular funky backing is instrumental in providing another album highlight, whilst ‘Kicking Up The Dirt’ is effectively eerie and epic.

Overall, Stomacher sound a little too much like a hybrid of all their influences to truly stand out. However, thanks to some finely polished post-punk numbers, there’s enough evidence here to suggest that their time will come

Web Sites:
Stomacher Official Site

Further Listening:

Review: Zoon van snooK – (Falling From) The Nutty Tree

Alec Snook spent the formative years of his music career supporting the likes of Skunk Anansie and I Am Kloot with his sampling and keyboard skills; making the move to go solo as Zoon van snooK with a well-received EP in 2008. ‘(Falling From) The Nutty Tree’ is the first album and one which adds his own childlike whimsy and experimentation to form some interestingly diverse “oddtronica”. 

In an early evidence of eccentricity, accordions and the shipping forecast are the most noteworthy elements of opener ‘Shall He? Shanty’. This moment couldn’t contrast must more from the track which succeeds it, ‘Cuckoo’, which adopts an epic Euro-techno approach. Eclectic for sure but there’s not much cohesion. However, towards the middle of the record, Snook’s talents begin to make sense. ‘The Cross I’d Bear’ operates in a ramshackle folk sphere, whereas  ‘Half Term (8:08)’ swoops in to classy ambient territory and sub-bass frequencies and is the sonic equivalent of crushed ice.

A remix version of the album came out soon after but given Snook’s adventurous, ADHD-like approach to instrumental music (who else could make drum and bass vs bossanova sound right as he does on ‘Pearl St Mess’?), one can imagine he would be sought after as a remixer/producer himself. ‘The Nutty Tree’ works better as a showcase for his skills but it’s still an extremely enjoyable if rather confusing album.

Web Sites:
Zoon van snooK MySpace

Further Listening:
Four-Tet, Minotaur Shock

Review: Swordfishtrombones – Aftertaste

Naming yourself after a Tom Waits’ album certainly indicates a willingness to embrace alternative music. Using this inspiration, we welcome Swordfishtrombones from the Czech Republic who are looking to expand their profile beyond their home country and ‘Aftertaste’ might well be the record to achieve that aim.

Miloš Rejsek is an ideal frontman with a great emotional range and – rather like dEUS leader Tom Barman – there is a lot of warmth to his gruffness. Instrumentally the band pull out all the stops too, whether its swirling psychedelic keyboards (‘Compass’, ‘Bulldozer’), morbid accordions (‘Skeleton Key’), abstract electronica (‘Monorail’) or left of centre guitar rock (pretty much everything). ‘All Of Unseen Beauty’ is an unexpectedly touching, tender moment but ‘Anoraks’ and ‘Dandy’ prove they are best at performing anthems that are, respectively, ramshackle and polished.

Much like the aforementioned dEUS in their heyday, Swordfishtrombones are a band who provide a welcome alternative to indie rock. They are keen to show it too with a stylistically diverse bunch of songs, full of invention and emotion.

Web Sites:
Swordfishtrombones Official Site

Further Listening:

Review: DJ ADA – The Work Album

Of all the DJs around today, DJ ADA (otherwise known as USA resident Adam Butler) must be one of the most modest. ‘The Work Album’ was created a couple of years ago but until now he has not promoted it. The concept may not be the most exciting (it’s all about an average working man’s day) but it’s actually an involving album with a largely seamless flow.

DJ ADA keeps things interesting by sticking to short fragments of instrumental passages populated with beats and samples from both spoken word and vintage music. There is that general air of melancholy partly because there’s little or no evidence of social interaction for this man’s working day but also because the music itself, with its minimalist melodies, snatches of soul and spare hip-hop rhythms, reflects a state of loneliness. It’s the kind of record where standout tracks are rendered redundant by the strength and continuity of the whole package.

Make no mistake, DJ ADA is no DJ Shadow but this home produced album possesses an intimacy which more polished efforts tend to lose. Its creator should certainly be less modest when promoting his music, too.

Web Sites:
DJ ADA Bandcamp