Archive for December, 2012

Review: Maitland – (from a cabin in the woods)

Favouring the approach made famous by Bon Iver in recent years, Maitland’s Josh Hines and Jeff Mach have opted for that increasing popular “back to nature” style with their second EP, ‘(from a cabin in the woods)’. This Pennsylvania-based duo come equipped with just two drums, acoustic guitar and their own voices so the intimacy suggested by the EP’s title may be the obvious reference point yet it forms an accurate description too.

Maitland EP Cover

‘Embers’ is a great way to show off their skills. The twin drum sound adds a neat twist to the usual nu-folk recordings by fleshing out the arrangement but it’s the harmonies of the two protagonists (calling to mind past masters such as Simon And Garfunkel and Kings Of Convenience) which stand out the most. The centre point, in more ways than one, is the absolutely delightful ‘Drop Down’; a song which revolves around some gorgeously doleful guitar patterns, rain imagery and experimental yet stunning work on the vocals. Even a twelve-minute finale is carried off with panache as the music swells and calms at just the right moments to keep the listener on their toes.

Infact, all five tracks offer tunes which are richly layered and utterly melodic and you wouldn’t put it past this duo taking their well crafted songs to wider audiences in the future, given the current demand for this style of music. The important thing is, though, that they don’t do lose the combination of tenderness and etherealism that makes them so special.

Web Sites:
Maitland Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Bon Iver, Simon And Garfunkel, Kings Of Convenience


Review: Lidwine – No Monkey

Self-taught and self-produced, Lidwine Du Royer’s first EP, ‘Lw’, enchanted those who were lucky enough to hear it back in 2010. Combining the magic and innocence of early Björk with modern classical values, the songs within delivered on tunes, craftsmanship and emotional reach. Two years have now passed and here we have ‘No Monkey’, which was recorded in a Parisian church and consists of three previously unreleased songs and two new versions of ‘Lw’ tracks; serving as an appetiser for Lidwine’s first album, due out in 2013.

'No Monkey' EP Cover

As a harpist and a versatile, distinctive singer, Lidwine should have no worries with the stripped-back approach and this idea is evidenced throughout the EP. The spare innocence of ‘Duet For Ghosts’ exudes fairy tale magic but ‘Back & Forth’ contrasts Lidwine’s sweet tones with chilly production. Her best song thus far, ‘In The Half-Light’, is given another welcome airing too; this time as an organ-led piece and is the final of the five impressive songs featured here.

It’s evident on all these tracks that Lidwine’s vocals are so rich that they can carry the melodies by themselves. Naturally, ‘No Monkey’ is likely to entice previous fans of the artist and with only 200 copies released of the EP, they better be quick about it too. Nevertheless, even a newcomer would appreciate the minimalist allure of these songs and the arrangements are abundant with imagination and creativity.

Web Sites:
Lidwine Official Site
Gizeh Records Label and Shop

Further Listening:
The Mummers, Björk, Alice And Michi, Machine Birds

Review: Component #4 – Barbed Wire Sunday

With a non-committal name such as Component #4, it’s perhaps no surprise that the talent behind the “handle” is a one man electronica performer known as Mike Rowley. Rowley has found a home on Wayside and Woodland, the label formed by Epic45 and – much like that act and their other labelmates – they share a penchant for psychogeography. In Rowley’s case, the source of inspiration came from a couple of visits to Berlin where he took in the sights of the old crumbled ruins as well as the new developments.

Component #4 EP Cover

The title track is a smooth journey through a city at night, characterised by smooth keyboard washes and downtempo beats. ‘Come Over’ loops the title words as a robotic appeal but it’s the hazy fade-in/fade-out and staccato style that provides a level of warmth, whilst ‘Goodbye To Berlin’ is a touching tribute to the German capital and perhaps unsurprisingly is the nearest we get to Kraftwerk. Of the remixes, Field Harmonics makes the title track sound like Washed Out whereas EL Heath adds some strident Krautrock grooves to ‘I Know Nothing’.

‘Barbed Wire Sunday’ is certainly evocative but in a more generic way than the peculiarities of Berlin architecture. Instead, one can picture a European city where lonely people take in some dubstep on a Friday night to remove themselves from the stresses of modern life. That said, the music within the six original tracks is compelling enough and the remixes from Rowley’s fellow Wayside and Woodland artists often expand the horizons of his more subdued offerings.

Web Sites:
Wayside And Woodland Recordings
Norman Records Shop Page for W & W Artists

Further Listening:
Washed Out, Fieldhead, EL Heath

Review: Ninetails – Slept And Did Not Sleep

After some dazzling live performances and glowing press from the music media, Liverpool’s Ninetails seem to do no wrong at the moment. To describe their music is a somewhat elusive task but if complicated, yet highly melodic guitar work and atmospheric post-rock are your bag, then there is much to gain from on ‘Slept And Did Not Sleep’, their second EP.

Ninetails EP Cover

As if to say they are not desperate for mass appeal, ‘Maybe We’ begins with an assortment of distorted guitars and loops and takes a full minute before a distinct melody can be detected. That melody is languid and after three minutes the instrumental parts begin to form a song; so thick with nocturnal atmosphere, we then find ourselves in Bark Psychosis territory. The compelling ‘Body Clock’ deconstructs synth pop and post-rock and throws in all kinds of tuneful curveballs both in terms of harmonies and basslines. In lesser hands, ‘Rawdon Fever’ could come across as an indulgent funk guitar workout but Ninetails turn it into a glorious technicolour version of Haircut One Hundred’s ‘Lemon Firebrigade’. Alas, ‘Boxed In’ sound like an experiment in underwater minimalism which builds promisingly but doesn’t really justify its eight minute length. Thankfully, the group sign off on a positive note with another salvo of aching guitar lines and angst-ridden vocals.

Putting press adulation to one side, by anyone’s standards this is a highly inventive and hook-filled EP that can only make one yearn for the band’s next release, which should be due in the New Year. Until then, be mesmerised by ‘Slept And Did Not Sleep’.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Page for ‘Slept And Did Not Sleep’
Artist Page for Ninetails from Superstar Destroyer Label

Further Listening:
Bark Psychosis, Millimetre

Review: The Title Sequence – Straight To Video EP

Based solely on first impressions, London’s The Title Sequence would appear to be a 1980’s obsessed act and one with a video recorder obsession too. They offer an instrumental track called ‘VHSEX’ and their EP cover is based on blank cassette artwork. However, they prove in a mere five tracks that there is so much more to them than nostalgia.

The Title Sequence EP Cover

‘Out Of This’ is triggered by vintage synths and bleeps and accompanying Krautrock rhythms, topped off by breezy vocals. It turns out to be a false dawn if one was expecting faintly superficial synth pop. ‘My Light Was On’ is close to perfection. It builds from a pretty acoustic guitar intro but then the doleful vocals add another layer of melancholia to create a beautifully atmospheric, sad song. The desolate acoustic theme continues for ‘Hide And Seek’ too. Finally, ‘Desert Song’ is a respectful and likeable homage to Ennio Morricone which shows ambition and production levels  you wouldn’t normally expect of a new act.

‘Straight To Video EP’ is a very brief introduction to a new outfit who reveal more in twelve minutes than many bands can muster in a whole album. The songs here are mature, multi-faceted and surprisingly moving.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Page for ‘Straight To Video EP’
The Title Sequence Tumblr Page

Further Listening:

Review: Keith Canisius – Beautiful Sharks

In the last decade, the American-born Danish musician, Keith Canisius-Baerken, was largely known for being the frontman for dreampop revivalists Rumskib. Now Canisius goes it alone; dangling the carrot of “alternative production techniques” as his USP. Rather brilliantly, despite the slimmed-down approach, Canisius the solo performer sounds more vibrant than ever before.

Keith Canisius Album Art

Right from the outset, ‘Beautiful Sharks’ is a compelling listen. Propulsive rhythms usher in ‘Interesting Corners’, which prepare you for the exhilarating, driving addictiveness of the chorus. The gentler ‘LSD’ rides in on a bed of Kitchens Of Distinction-style vapour trails whereas ‘Juno’ is like listening to a digitally-enhanced Lightning Seeds. As beautiful as the early tracks are, though, Canisius demonstrates the possibilities of his unique approach at the centre of the record with ‘Home By Five’, where one begins to feel overcome by the aura of underwater beauty, or the tremendous ‘The Great White Shark’ as Canisius presents his most endearing melody amongst a plethora of endearing melodies. There then follows a brief lull until ‘Don’t Go Inner Doubt’ recaptures the multi-layered magic from the beginning of the record.

From beginning to end, ‘Beautiful Sharks’ feels like a complete sugar rush as vocals, guitars and effects cascade, swirl and revole into one gorgeous whole. There might be one or two lulls along the way but these only serve to make the emotional swell of the next song all the more powerful and when you’re drowned in this much beauty, you have to come up for air at some point.

Web Sites:
Keith Canisius Official Site
Keith Canisius Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Rumskib, Lightning  Seeds, Kitchens Of Distinction, AC Acoustics

Review: The Wind-Up Birds – The Land

If bands were called up to represent the North of England, there would be few more worthy choices than The Wind-Up Birds. This Leeds-based acts have been assaulting Yorkshire ears since the mid-2000’s but their first album has only recently arrived. Yet will the longer format dilute their impact and vitriol?

Wind-Up Birds Album Cover

There is an argument to say that The Wind-Up Birds wouldn’t have existed without The Arctic Monkeys but just as apparent is the punky sneer, working class pride and energy of The Jam. It’s all in the acerbic state of the nation address of opener ‘Good Shop Shuts’ and they aren’t afraid to tackle rascism for ‘There Won’t Always Be An England’ either but ‘Nostalgic For…’ is arguably the most heart-stopping moment. It debunks the whole idea of fondly looking back at the old days with horrific descriptions of mindless violence and casual abuse. It’s a song so harrowing one feels the need to stop and take a breather outside.

So the more addictive material is all the more welcome. To this end, as lyrically incisive as it is, ‘Being Dramatic’ is chiefly memorable for its supercharged guitars and rhythms. It’s somewhat unfortunate that the first half of the record is so powerful that the last few songs would inevitably feel like a polite retread of their acerbic stance. As such, ‘Tyre Fire’ come across a little jaded in comparison until its belated burst of aggression towards the end.

So after a slew of EPs, The Wind-Up Birds have made a good start to their album career. The top-heavy nature to ‘The Land’, however, means there is a bit too much emphasis on the calm after the early storm. Pleasingly, though, their lyrical message remains as cutting as ever and when they are at their best, their Northern brand of post-punk really catches fire.

Web Sites:
The Wind-Up Birds Official Site
Bandcamp Page for ‘The Land’

Further Listening:
The Jam, The Arctic Monkeys

Review: Crushing Blows – Crushing Blows

As their band name might well imply, Crushing Blows are a noise pop act who have been recently championed by NME and Radio 1. Yet despite the potentially violent nature of their music, this Derbyshire duo are not without a soft side.

Crushing Blows EP Cover

From its opening salvo of falsetto vocals and chiming guitars, ‘The People You Will Never Meet’ sounds special. It’s a track which finds the perfect combination between dreampop heartache and melodic euphoria where guitars soar, collapse and merge into each other in a way that never comes close to self-indulgence. ‘I Dream Of Becoming A Girl’ is a little more out of control and – that title aside – sounds rather confused in comparison and if the frontman seems like he’s straining his voice too much on that track he is all but drowned out by the increasingly louder ‘Love Is Dangerous’. ‘No Halcyon’, though, sees the band edge more comfortably into fuzzed-up indie rock territory, including an excellent, punchy pay-off on the chorus.

Such is the anthemic, epic feel to this EP, there’s a sense that Crushing Blows are aiming to become a two-man Arcade Fire but there’s a lot more to them than that. The two best tracks here demonstrate they can make beautiful dreampop and rawer, punkier material too.

Web Sites:
Crushing Blows Bandcamp
Crushing Blows Official Site

Further Listening:
HIJK, Arcade Fire

Review: Minotaur Shock – Orchard

Although he was not fond of the “tag”, David Edwards’ Minotaur Shock project was at the forefront of the folktronica movement; most notably with 2001’s ‘Chiff-Chaffs And Willow Warblers’.  Since then, the Bristol musician has released new solo material on an increasingly sporadic basis, although his imprint remains on newer faces such as Giraffage and Zoon van snooK. ‘Orchard’, the first Minotaur Shock album in four years, is less a case of how it used to be done but more a case of how it should be done now.

'Orchard' CD Cover

Edwards’ style is actually quite innocent in its approach; very much like a child let loose in a room full of instruments. The melodies are bright, colourful and almost old fashioned in their execution. Opener ‘Janet’ is a parade of beats, keyboards, chimes and general joie de vivre with only its ornate core tune keeping things from getting too bouncy, then halfway through the piece turns into a guitar/violin partnership that is relaxed and beautifully performed. ‘Ocean Swell’, ‘Quint’ and ‘Westonbirt’ engage on a deeper level and seem altogether more urgent; their many layers folding back to reveal instrumental mysteries and curiosities with the latter even taking on IDM and – in electronica terms – “owning it”. ‘Too Big To Quit’, meanwhile, is reminiscent of the 70’s folk of Mike Oldfield or – to give a more seasonal comparison – Greg Lake’s ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’.

As with many other Minotaur Shock releases, the initial impact of the tracks are light and breezy. Yet as the listener grows into the record, the attention to detail becomes more obvious and the music moves from mildly quirky background fare to foreground music which demands attention. Needless to say, it’s great to have Mr. Edwards back.

Web Sites:
Minotaur Shock Official Site
Melodic Label Page

Further Listening:
Zoon van snooK, Giraffage, Four Tet

Review: The Wake – A Light Far Out

Sometimes it seems to require a new band to coax an old one out of “retirement”. After being regularly name-checked by The Drums as an inspiration, The Wake have returned with a fresh album of their own, their first since 1994. In fairness, the core duo of Ceasar and Carolyn Allen have actually been fairly busy on other projects in the meantime, most notably with The Occasional Keepers; the collaboration with ex-Field Mice leader Bobby Wratten. It has to be said that there’s certainly a smooth transition between the way these past albums flow from then to now.

The Wake CD Cover

Indeed, it’s reassuring that the first song they play sounds like the duo went straight back into their studio after their last album. The trademark elements of jangly guitar, an insistent bass throb and warm but melancholic synths are all in operation and then the chorus kicks in; precisely constructed yet wistful and romantic too. ‘If The Ravens Leave’ adds slick, modern beats but the underlying construction of this smooth and breezy song is very much classic Wake. Importantly, even when there may be a bit too much going on for the jangle-fest that is ‘The Back Of Beyond’, the sweet simplicity of the Allen-sung ‘Starry Day’ or the gentle closer ‘The Sands’ restores their indie credentials.

Two decades on, ‘A Light Far Out’ is no major development from The Wake’s last record but then there was never a requirement to offer anything else. Caesar and Allen have instead delivered what their original fans would have wanted and their distinctive taste for light melancholia remains as satisfying as it ever was.

Web Sites:
The Wake Discography on LTM

Further Listening:
Field Mice, The Occasional Keepers, The Drums