Archive for October, 2012

Review: Paul Buchanan – Mid Air

Paul Buchanan is chiefly known for being the frontman for The Blue Nile; a group who are known as much for making stunningly atmospheric white soul music as the lengthy gestation periods between albums. Just like his parent band then, Buchanan has taken his time producing his first solo record; his mid-50’s, infact.

Ostensibly, ‘Mid Air’ could be referred to as a quieter version of The Blue Nile. Most of the tracks here feature the base components of Buchanan’s comforting blanket of a voice and his own piano accompaniment. Themes covered are grounded (as one can imagine with titles like ‘Buy A Motor Car’ and ‘Two Children’) but there’s still that air of romanticism and positivity usually captured when Buchanan’s vocal soars so high it seems in perfect harmony with the strings. Very few people can get away with humming away almost absent-mindedly as he does so on ‘A Movie Magazine’ but Buchanan is one of the few to do so and when he can still produce a three track sequence as warm and soulful as ‘Newsroom’, ‘I Remember You’ and ‘Buy A Motor Car’, there are few more pleasant sounds to experience.

Comparisons to The Blue Nile’s sequence of exquisite albums would be a little unfair since ‘Mid Air’ rarely strives for studio perfection but instead opts for simple intimacy. This is an album to sit down to in a comfy chair, whisky in hand and contented but secretly wishing for one last dream to be fulfilled.

Web Sites:
Paul Buchanan Official Site
Paul Buchanan Soundcloud

Further Listening:
The Blue Nile, It’s Immaterial

Review: Machine Birds – Save Yourself EP

They make music with machines and they are – to use the British vernacular – “birds”, so Machine Birds is a logical name for this Norwegian female duo, one surmises. Naturally this only tells half the story because Maria Skranes and Marte Eberson are masters of arrangement rather than the lightweight synth act you might expect.

‘Save Yourself’ is the first exhibit of their prowess and delights with Skranes’ powerful, emotional vocals and Eberson’s vibrant layers of ambient pop. ‘The Way It’s Meant To Be’ swaps between vocoders and Skranes’ purity and its darker, experimental hue calls to mind fellow Norwegian Anja Grabarek. ‘If I’ is simply gorgeous, though, from its lush synths and the tenderness of the singer’s tones to its glorious Euro-pop chorus. It deserves to be a big hit. The same could be said for ‘Time’; another song which demonstrates the joys of an original melody and even when they attempt instrumental weirdness – as they do on ‘Interlude’ – they emerge with dignity intact.

This may just be an EP but based on the evidence before us, the potential of Machine Birds is enormous. ‘Save Yourself’ rivals the best work of Björk and The Mummers for production values, ambition and sheer love of pop.

Web Sites:
Machine Birds Official Site
Machine Birds Soundcloud

Further Listening:
Anja Garbarek, The Mummers, Björk, Lidwine

Review: Matthew Dear – Beams

Matthew Dear’s records have been remarkably consistent in terms of both quality and in his successful rebooting of Teutonic electronica (“Teutronica?”). Whereas modern music can be stylish yet uninvolving, Dear has a clever way of getting under your skin through a sequence of beats or an unexpected key change. ‘Beams’ continues his excellent form.

Dear’s voice may not appeal to everyone. Imagine hearing The Human League’s Phil Oakey the morning after a particularly heavy night on the tiles and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. However, his music is often tailor-made for the dancefloor; bouncy opener ‘Her Fantasy’ is a chip off the old Hot Chip block whilst ‘Headcage’ aims for Junior Boys-style sensuality. ‘Earthforms’ is more downbeat and robotic and therefore in keeping with Dear’s familiar style but he never loses that gift for finding something infectious.

With that thought in mind, ‘Up & Out’ is typical Dear genius; all tight rhythms and sharp metallic hooks whereas ‘Get The Rhyme Right’ possesses an unshakeable groove and unexpected melodic about-turns. Furthermore, for those who find Dear’s music rather cold, look no further than the warm washes of sound which accompany his soothing tones for ‘Ahead Of Myself’.

So overall it’s business as usual for Dear but whilst he’s still able to craft cunningly addictive and intelligent pop songs, there is absolutely no reason to complain. More of the same German-style efficiency next time please, Matthew.

Web Sites:
Matthew Dear Official Site
Ghostly International Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Hot Chip, Tarwater, Colder

Review: Crash Island – II

The days of indie bands belonging to just one genre are certainly becoming less common. In the case of Crash Island, a four-piece based in London but with roots in France, Spain and South Africa, the group source their influences from electronica, rock, soul, pop and funk. It could have sounded like a mess. It doesn’t.

On the face of it there’s a sense of confused identity to Crash Island. ‘Nothing’s Fine’ is heavy on guitars, synths, pounding rhythms and anguished vocals. If that sounds over-busy then be reassured by the fact that the group know their way around a hook-laden melody. ‘Soul Train’ takes a more streamlined approach but also packs a lot into its four minute length. ‘Leaving Me Roar’ is the one track which leaves doubts. In the context of otherwise fine musicianship, the bouncy, uptempo chorus seems out of place. There are no such worries with ‘Living Dead’, however, as the group rediscover their muse to unveil their strongest and most urgent song to date.

Even if Crash Island do appear to want to be all things to all men, their songs have plenty of substance and often emerge with triple-barbed melodies. So far so good but the true test will be to see whether they can sustain that form over the course of a whole album.

Web Sites:
Crash Island Bandcamp

Further Listening:

Review: Solo Project – Unwind

Raf Batchelor is an English musician with a liking of the folk genre and all its multiple possibilities. Apart from the album cover art, ‘Unwind’ is all his own work which means his chosen name of Solo Project is accurate if rather lacking in imagination. Thankfully, it’s pleasing to report that imagination isn’t in short supply where his music is concerned.

Batchelor is just seventeen and this is his second album already and initially his songs border on the naive. Yet if ‘Camera Rolls And Casios’ gives the impression that we’re in for a record of frail freak folk then it proves to be a false dawn. This is a folk album but one which takes all kinds of experimental detours and about-turns. Indeed, ‘Lily Of The Emerald Valley’, the track which follows the opener, witnesses Batchelor switch from lily-livered teenager with a falsetto to a dark knight of deep-voiced decadence; still vulnerable, only now he sounds rich with experience. Thereafter, we can enjoy rattling intensity (‘Around My Head’), shoegaze effects (‘I Don’t Care (It’s Summer)’) and eerie rock (‘Friends’). Yet perhaps the most impressive moments are saved towards the middle of the record where the artist unveils the ghostly ‘Hazed Dream’ and the beautifully desolate ‘Holiday’.

It’s an over-used compliment but Batchelor does prove to have the talent, songwriting and arrangement skills that are well beyond what we can expect from a teenage solo performer. Some may label ‘Unwind’ as freak folk but it sounds equally at home alongside the ghostly psychedelia of Deerhunter.

Web Sites:
‘Unwind’ Bandcamp Page and Free Download

Further Listening:
Deerhunter, That Ghost

Review: Sone Institute – A Model Life

In 2010, Roman Bezdyk unleashed his ‘Curious Memories’ album to an unsuspecting world. With its inspired sourcing of samples and surreal genre clashes, Sone Institute provided the closest we’ll probably ever get to a second Avalanches album. As if we weren’t spoilt enough, ‘A Model Life’ arrives just two years later and with a barrel-load of more ideas.

‘Witchcraft And Pornography’, a shuddering mix of rock guitar solo and trip hop effects, is a bizarre way to open the record but neither this piece nor the breakbeat vs spoken word ‘The World Is A Confusion’ is not really representative of what is to come. For if there is a period in time which Sone Institute tends to prefer it’s the 1960’s, whether it’s his favoured chill out/ easy listening approach (‘Back At Yesterday’, ‘Scuppered Flow’ and ‘Tradition And Dream’ are all sublime), would-be Western soundtracks (‘M’Ling’), BBC Radiophonic Workshop-style experiments (‘Brittlestar’) or “dreamfolk” (the title track). ‘Struck By A Rock’ continues the easy listening theme but adds country guitar and guest boy/girl vocals which provides a human counterpoint just when it’s easy to get lost in Bezdyk’s weird creations.

After several tracks which rely on surprise and shocks, once it gets going ‘A Model Life’ begins to make sense and the result is a surprisingly coherent record. Bezdyk takes us on a fascinating trip through a 60’s inspired fantasy world and it’s to his credit that most of the tracks here sound like lost treasures from a forgotten age.

Web Sites:
Sone Institute Official Site
Front And Follow Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
King Of Woolworths, The Avalanches, BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Review: Man Without Country – Foe

Man Without Country subscribe to the school of thought that electronic music should be of epic proportions. It turns out to be a good move in the skilled hands of Welsh duo Tomas Greenhalf and Ryan James who chose their name to convey their “sense of not belonging”.

Even though ‘Foe’ sounds like its sung by a droid, the melodic core to the song is a good indicator for quality of the remainder of the album. There can be few more impressive contributions than ‘Clipped Wings’. Its glistening synth hook is bolstered by Greenhalf’s vocals which swoop and soar between yearning melancholy and impressive falsetto. The bird-inspired titles continue with ‘Migrating Clay Pigeon’; a track that is as ingenious as the title, thanks to its Klaxons-esque take on rave music. Even when their lyrics border on White Lies-style awkwardness (“You are a mild irritation like a stone in my shoe”) they sound endearing rather than annoying and with mighty songs like ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Closet Addicts Anonymous’ at their disposal, it’s easy to see why their music is popular with Radio 1 DJs and disaffected youth alike.

Man Without Country may think big but Greenhalf and James have the writing and arranging skills to back up their ambitious soundscapes. Infact, it’s doubtful there will be an album out this year which demonstrate a better mixture of geeky, lovelorn lyrics and the power of popular electronic melody.

Web Sites:
Man Without Country Official Site
Man Without Country Soundcloud

Further Listening:
Delphic, White Lies, Foster The People, Mirror Talk