Archive for January, 2013

Review: Nosound – At The Pier

With their sprawling, emotional music, the thought of Italian act Nosound releasing an EP may seem like an impossible prospect. Or at least, their definition of an EP would be at least the length of a mini album. Surprisingly and pleasingly, Nosound’s “post rock meets prog rock” approach can be concise and they pack a generous three tracks into fifteen minutes for ‘At The Pier’.

Nosound EP Cover

How appropriate that one of the EP’s tracks should be called ‘A New Start’. Yet at once it sounds familiar; brushed cymbals and slo-mo drums usher in Giancarlo Erra’s disconsolate vocals as bluesy organ and guitars embellish tales of great anguish. Erra could probably express forgetting to leave the iron on as an emotional trauma but his tones are always controlled and restrained enough for his delivery to offer a comforting form of pain. To demonstrate this point, ‘The Anger Song’ is anything but an exercise in violence even if the percussion offers a bit more venom and urgency than usual. This just leaves ‘Two Monkeys (Alt Version), which begins unassumingly enough but the mix of glorious fade-out and desolate piano to accompany one of Erra’s most forlorn vocal performances yet, ensure the EP ends on a classy and poignant note.

‘At The Pier’ will doubtlessly satisfy current followers of the group but this EP also serves as a useful introduction for possible converts to their cause. The curious may well be rewarded because, as one of a number of Italian acts taking the post-rock route, Nosound come closest to achieving the elusive greatness of Bark Psychosis.

Web Sites:
Nosound Official Site
Kscope Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Bark Psychosis, No-Man


Review: Fantasy Rainbow – Bos Taurus

North Yorkshire may not be the most obvious place to look for Pavement-inspired guitar rock but it was from here that a young lad named Oliver Catt started his Fantasy Rainbow project. Marketed as “euphoric slacker indie”, Catt and an assortment of local players certainly fit that description well, since their album is full of happy/sad vocals and gloriously off-key melody.

Fantasy Rainbow Album Cover

In a largely flawless first half, ‘Condominium’ sets the standard for what is to follow with naggingly infectious guitar hooks, echoed self-harmonies and a rich yet lo-fi production. ‘Nothing But’ and ‘Bread Biscuit’ are impassioned college rock tracks where Catt sounds more and more anguished as the songs progress and even when ‘Earwax’ slows the pace down, the track’s finger-cramping key changes ensure that the band keep things interesting. Indeed, as the album draws on, Catt embodies the spirit of Eels’ Mark ‘E’ Everett; his voice cracked with similar levels of anguish and heartache. Nevertheless, he emerges from premature ageing to stir himself and perform superbly on the undeniably warped but youthfully infectious ‘Or; Comfort’ and the breezy ‘Golf World’ is just sublime.

British bands who attempt an American sound rarely achieve success but Fantasy Rainbow could prove to be an exception. Their album is packed with energy, creativity and killer tunes and in Catt they have an endearing and original frontman and songwriter who may grow to be the inspiration for more teens to detune their guitars.

Web Sites:
Fantasy Rainbow Artist Page on Heist Or Hit Records
Bandcamp Stream for ‘Bos Taurus’

Further Listening:
Death Cab For Cutie, Pavement, Eels, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Review: Argonaut – Argonaut

Wise old sages may say that “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” and with this in mind, London’s Argonaut simply wrote an e-mail to Criminal Records and asked them to come and listen to their tracks and watch them perform. The band were duly signed up and now the female-fronted five-piece have made their first studio album.

Argonaut Album Cover

They begin impressively. ‘Monet’  immediately calls to mind all-girl act, Warpaint, thanks to the song’s hypnotic, rhythmic undertow and breathy, detached female vocals cooing killer couplets such as “It’s a great place to get out of your head. Looking at pictures painted by the dead”. The second track, ‘Touch Electric’, is punkier and more muscular and not unlike another all-girl act, but this time it’s the somewhat less-celebrated Fuzzbox. Thereafter, the record is a little consistent, ranging from the gothic stylings of ‘Two Lights’ to the underwhelming female-fronted 1980’s rock of ‘Vintage Dress’ and ‘Spectres’. Interestingly, Argonaut are actually at their best when they slow things down and create a sense of mystery. This level of intrigue is most apparent on their opening song but ‘They Can Buy You’ and ‘Sleep Tight’ are full of similar levels of lurking menace and tight musicianship, whilst ‘Chemistry’ manages to be both sinister and touching.

‘Argonaut’ is an odd album to listen to since it seems caught halfway between early Altered Images and the considerably cooler, more modern acts such as the aforementioned Warpaint. Perhaps what they do lack is enough distinguishing features to make them stand out from the pack but as a debut, this is promising enough to make it a slick and enjoyable listen.

Web Sites:
Argonaut Official Site
Soundcloud for Criminal Records’ Acts

Further Listening:
Altered Images, Warpaint, Garbage

Review: Bark Prelude – Start Of Something Minor

Bark Prelude is the brainchild of Philip Lewis-Jones, a songwriter/arranger with a flair for colourful pop arrangements and grand gestures, topped off with a knowing wink. Even the group’s press release claims local Norfolk farmers describe their album as “a work of confident sensitivity which has increased milk yield in pigs, whilst others say it has been instrumental in causing crops to fail”. ‘Start Of Something Minor’ represents old-fashioned, heart-warming songcraft that is not at all self conscious in its approach.

Bark Prelude Album Cover

Some decide whether they’re going to like a record based on the first track and ‘Rainbows’ is definitely one of those “love it or hate it” moments. The track introduces the idea of an almost naive kind of optimism as Lewis-Jones sings hopefully about the power of the titular phenomenon. Nevertheless, it’s a winning start. ‘America America America’ is a lot more cynical but its swish arrangements verge on 1980’s high camp, whereas ‘Move Away From London’ wouldn’t sound out of place in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. These prove to be the rare moments when Lewis-Jones misfires because elsewhere, there are many positives to be discovered. ‘Festival’ and ‘Ether Ghost’ are superbly arranged songs which marry a “nice at dinner parties” vibe with astute lyricism, ‘Arthouse Films’ has a touch of Jacques Brel whilst ‘Why Do You Still Bug Me?’ seems like it’s going to turn into Tears For Fears’ ‘Head Over Heels’ at any moment .

Given the somewhat theatrical arrangements on ‘Start Of Something Minor’, sometimes it’s hard to decide whether Lewis-Jones is a singer/songwriter or someone with ambitions for the stage. Yet at his best, his style is reminiscent of Prefab Sprout or China Crisis: music that is concerned about being melodic rather than sounding trendy and edgy.

Web Sites:
Bark Prelude Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of ‘Start Of Something Minor’

Further Listening:
China Crisis, Prefab Sprout, The Big I Am

Review: Suturee – Skim The Surface

Back in 2008, I was given the opportunity to review the debut album from Suturee. Led by two Puerto Ricans, Julian Brau and Rebeccca Adorno, the duo captivated with their insouciant harmonies dovetailing perfectly with arrangements which straddled the boundaries of folk and shoegaze. As befits a group who have a distinctively lazy charm, the follow-up has taken another four years to produce and it sounds like they took their time over it too.

Suturee Album Cover

Initially, ‘Void’ seems to continue where the first album left off but now the production is grander and made up of new layers. At the song’s core are jangly guitars and the familiar languid harmonies from the two main protagonists. They may sound effortless and carefree but this belies the clever melodies underpinning the song. ‘Bleak’ builds slowly and gloriously before exploding into an effects-driven finale, whilst Brau and Adorno combine so beautifully for ‘In Spite Of” and ‘To Lend’, it’s hard to think of a pair of male/female vocals being so in tune with each other. Now as a four piece, the group also incorporate brass and strings into their portfolio and even if they lose a little dynamism towards the end of the record, the moodiness they generate is unerringly seductive right up to the command to “calm down now” on final track ‘Fell’.

Suturee have been compared to Beach House amongst others and it’s a favourable connection they have but whereas that band are bullish in their approach to melodrama, Suturee are more introverted in their approach and yet no less effective in delivering the end product. So, definitely a band who have more depth beneath the surface then.

Web Sites:
Suturee Official Site
Suturee Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Beach House, Low

Review: Remote – Remote

If you can judge a new band on its choice of support acts then Remote must be a glum, atmospheric rock band from the early 1980’s. This Cornish outfit have played second billing to Modern English and Sad Lovers And Giants so far and these comparisons suit them to a certain extent. As their self-titled debut reveals, though, they are far greater than the sum of their parts.

Remote Album Cover

‘Hold Me Now I’m Yours To Keep’ definitely represents a stirring start. There’s more than just echoes of the early 1980’s thanks to the track’s gothic drums and doomy bass but the song has a thirst for adventure and a sense of space which makes you want to listen to more. That patience will certainly be rewarded since ‘Silhouette’ takes the intensity up a notch with breathless vocals and supercharged synths whilst the drone-heavy ‘Prototypes’ sounds like The Twilight Sad without the Scottish accent. Thereafter, the variety continues to impress as the epic, Secret Machines-style prog of ‘Black Rain’ and ‘Time Of Our Lives’ rub shoulders with instrumental tracks entitled ‘God’s Playground'( complete with “woo hoo” and children noises) and ‘Web Of Convergence’. The fact that these latter two tracks do not sound self-indulgent is of immense credit to Remote.

Far from being in thrall to the bands they have supported, Remote play a modern, vibrant form of prog rock which could well see them becoming headliners in their own right. There’s even an aura of Simple Minds about them as they skilfully balance the subtlety with the bombast.

Web Sites:
Remote Official Page
Hear ‘Silhouette’ on Soundcloud

Further Listening:
120 Days, Secret Machines, Simple Minds

Review: Spotlight Kid – Disaster Tourist (Deluxe Edition)

Depending on where you stand on the shoegazer front, ‘Disaster Tourist’ will be a dream or a worst nightmare. For here we have seventy minutes of “classic” shoegaze which harks back to the early 1990’s, the time where this genre was at the peak of its brief period of popularity. Naturally, recent years have shown that the scene is just as much alive today as ever. Another recent exponent is Spotlight Kid, who have found that all-important middle ground between rock-solid rhythms and float-away tunes.

Spotlight Kid Album Cover

Ex-Six.By Seven man Chris Davis is an integral member of the band (as both drummer and co-songwriter) and his influence is partly responsible for Spotlight Kid’s heavy spin on the shoegaze sound. It’s apparent from the opening, aggressive strains of ‘Plan Comes Apart’ and there’s rarely a let up in the intensity. Drones also play a part to ‘All Is Real’ which is swamped in distortion. There are times when, perhaps unsurprisingly, Katty Heath’s light yet blank vocals threaten to become submerged but she puts up stubborn resistance to the noise around her.

‘April’ may possess a relentless chugging rhythm but it’s got a melody which floats most agreeably. ‘Forget Yourself In Me’ wastes no time at all and rattles along like the band’s own version of ‘You Made Me Realise’ but it’s ‘Haunting Me’ which lasts longest in the memory. The guitar effects fade in and out beautifully with Heath’s heavenly sighs; both bleeding and crying their way through six minutes of glorious melancholia. That track is followed by the sparse, rustic sounds of ‘Lifeline’, a nicely judged comedown that is reminiscent of Slowdive’s ‘Dagger’

Seventy minutes of any album, let alone one which is drowned in effects, is always going to be something of a slog. However, this is a deluxe edition so if you can do without alternate versions and a shimmering take on Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ (not to mention ace early single ‘There’s A Reason Why’) what you have is a mostly good and occasionally brilliant record which includes some welcome variations on a supposedly limited genre.

Web Sites:
Spotlight Kid Official Site
Saint Marie Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
My Bloody Valentine, Six.By Seven, Her Vanished Grace, Thrushes

Review: Jimmy Rosso – “32.32”

If there is a consistent quality which identifies the output of Bearsuit Records it is a refusal to conform. Assembling musicians from around the world, it’s refreshing that independent labels continue to put out music that immediately demands your attention even if the response is not always positive. Jimmy Rosso could be described as a typical Bearsuit artist. As well being a member of punk-rock-classical collective DOLLYman, he is also a composer, cellist, keys player and vocalist. Even taking those facts into account, this electronica-based release is weirder than you can imagine.

Jimmy Rosso Album Cover

‘Anything Goes’ echoes its title as shifting soundscapes merge with mournful strains of cello, distorted vocals and what sounds like a percussion section based on kitchen equipment. The question is, though, is it any good? The answer is, on the whole, “yes” but there are caveats. The songs or instrumental pieces generally work better when there’s at least one instrument maintaining consistency. ‘Undone’ has such a clarity about it, chiefly thanks to its melancholic cello melody keeping it afloat,  ‘Held’ bubbles with mystery courtesy of eerie glitchy beats and atmospherics whilst the brilliant final song ‘Home’ is unusually old-fashioned, warm and comforting. On the flipside of the coin, not even a desolate sequence of piano keys can quite save ‘If There Was A Place’ from a descent into madness but the equally crazed ‘Ripped’ fares better due to its multiple layers of instruments working together in unison.

Rosso, like so many of his fellow labelmates, is another ideas man but one who needs to occasionally be reined to formulate those ideas into more more clarity and more of the addictive qualities which make the listener come back begging for more. That said, most of these tracks work better on record than they have any right to do on paper and Rosso and his producer Owain Rich deserve immense credit for that.

Web Sites:
Bearsuit Records Label and Shop Site
Bandcamp Page for “32.32”

Review: Good Weather For An Airstrike – Lights

Good Weather For An Airstrike’s sole member, Tom Honey, provides a music-based service of sorts; his compositions are designed to relax the listener and it’s a need that is borne out from Honey’s years of suffering from tinnitus.  As a self-confessed lover of Sigur Ros and Hammock too, it won’t be a revelation to learn that Honey likes post-rock of the dreamy, cinematic variety. ‘Lights’ certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front.

Good Weather For An Airstrike Album Cover

The album begins with ‘A Quiet Day’. It’s a grand, hopeful number which could soundtrack a beautiful island or, perhaps more likely these days, the beginning of a major sporting event. The album could be regarded as consisting of separate tracks (or, more accurately, soundscapes) but it also works well as a seamless piece since each offering segues easily into the next. There’s plenty of samples of dialogue/field recordings towards the middle of the record but these really serve as background chatter and even when ‘Storm Fronts Collide’ features a brief but surprising cameo of a banjo, its quiet and unassuming enough not to interrupt the flow. Tellingly, the longest segment, ‘An Ode To Fring’ is the one which changes the least; it’s really a warm, pleasant drone murmuring its way through eight minutes, but the final track wins the day courtesy of its wistful, graceful melody and a stronger sense of emotional weight.

Pleasingly, ‘Lights’ never goes over the top in its quest for instrumental utopia. Instead, it steadily builds up layer after layer of swelling atmospherics. If on occasions its lofty ambitions seem a little out of reach to connect with and the record never comes close to entering the realms of excitement, Honey deserves credit for making music which is both epic and peaceful.

Web Sites:
Good Weather For An Airstrike Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Hammock, Sigur Ros

Review: Talvihorros – And It Was So

Talvihorros seems to be one of those acts who fully commits, engaging every brain cell and emotion into his instrumental outpourings. It was very apparent on his last release ‘Descent Into Delta’, which represented the aural equivalent of drowning, both metaphorically and literally. ‘And It Was So’ was originally intended as a seven day project but ended up taking three years of Ben Chatwin’s time. It is said to “evoke the expansiveness, dynamicism and density of the cosmos” and a talent like Chatwin is one of the few who can live up to such a claim.

Talvihorros Album Cover

Darkness was a dominant feature of ‘Descent Into Delta’ and it’s hard to feel much else from the harsh walls of noise which greet you as soon as the paradoxically-named ‘Let There Be Light’ begins. Yet beneath the drone and storm, fragments of crystallised beauty can be discovered. By the end of the track the drums, strings and guitars have slowed down to a crawl; as if they had collapsed through exhaustion after the first step of this seven part album.

The good (or bad) news is that the next offering is noticeably less intense and there’s a welcome sense of space as the shards of noise melt and dissipate. ‘The Two Great Lights’ seems forever caught on the edge of something monolithic and ‘Swarms Of Living Souls’ echoes its title with a forceful explosion of alien chatter but even this harsh moment soon evaporates into some lovely vapour trails. The remainder of the album shifts slowly and gloriously between the realms of Bark Psychosis and Labradford’s soul-baring post-rock.

‘And It Was So’ is another emotionally tiring but rewarding album from Chatwin. It should certainly satisfy those who were engulfed by the torrential drama of ‘Descent Into Delta’ but this is a record that seems lost in space rather than water, with an all pervasive sense of doom as it seems destined to eternally drift in a far-flung galaxy.

Web Sites:
Talvihorros Official Site
Bandcamp Page for ‘And It Was So’

Further Listening:
Flying Saucer Attack, Bark Psychosis, Labradford