Archive for March, 2013

Review: Gospel Claws – Put Your Sunshine Away

The story behind the title of Gospel Claws’ second album, ‘Put Your Sunshine Away’, may be partially informed by frontman’s Joel Marquard’s ultimately successful battle with testicular cancer. Top marks for black humour, though, as the Arizona-based band apologise that their second album may sound less “ballsy” than their first. This claim seems rather modest too, since the record is bursting with a very masculine form of exuberance.

Gospel Claws Album Cover

It’s natural that when we listen to a record for the first time we look for reference points. Based on opening track ‘Pale Horse Dry Cleaning’, there’s a strong resemblance to those other purveyors of bruised, drunken Americana, The Walkmen, although the echo effects and shimmering production points equally to ghostly dreampoppers Deerhunter. On a less deeper level, the likes of ‘I Want It All’ and ‘I Move Around’ are disarmingly simplistic versions of rock and roll. A similar path continues for the next few songs; ‘I Can, I Will’ standing out for its defiant, if slightly haunted, chorus whereas ‘Anything I Can Do’ witnesses Marquard croon his way through with an admirable lack of self-awareness. Yet the real ace in the pack is an impassioned anthem named ‘Hambone’ which sends shivers down the spine as soon as the first chorus kicks in. It’s a  truly excellent track that makes a mockery of its modest title.

‘Put Your Sunshine Away’ could be viewed in a number of ways. On the surface, it’s a rock and roll pastiche albeit with modern production values but peer beneath the boisterous noise and there are poignant tales of doomed romance waiting to be discovered.

Web Sites:
Gospel Claws Official Site
Gospel Claws Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Walkmen, Deerhunter



Review: Francis M. Gri – Ghost Dreamers Town

The KrysaliSound label is chiefly noteworthy not for its vast array of artists but the fact that all of its projects are helmed by one man, that artist being Francis M. Gri from Italy. The second album in his own name, ‘Ghost Dreamers Town’, appears to be an outlet for his ambient/post-rock direction but its subtly seductive charms ensure it is far deeper than any vanity affair.

Francis M. Gri Album Cover

‘Urban Passengers’ plays on repeated themes of steady electronic pulses, stately keyboard melodies and a general air of ennui. Levels of tension are gradually built up during the track’s nine minute length; making it a good appetiser for what is to follow. In contrast, the superb ‘Elements’ possesses a sense of urgency as soon as it begins; resembling a high speed train journey through European cities. There’s a lovely mix of piano keys and Cocteau Twins-like layers of etherealism on the graceful ‘Blue Desert’ and ‘Quiet Place’ does a decent job of recalling Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ but most stunning of all is ‘Run Escape’ which bolts dreampop melody on to a relentless rhythmic undertow.

The tendency with instrumental albums is that they can drift in to aural wallpaper and by clocking in at just under an hour, this record was in danger of falling into that familiar trap. Fortunately for us, Gri’s journey through ‘Ghost Dreamers Town’ is a deliciously melodic, flowing set of pieces which evoke, relax and inspire in equal measure.

Web Sites:
KrysaliSound Label and Shop Site
Francis M. Gri Soundcloud

Further Listening:
Good Weather For An Airstrike

Review: Hug – Clay

Ask most music fans who they associate with the early days of Kitchenware Records and the first name they would come up with must surely be Prefab Sprout. Keener students may offer The Kane Gang, Fatima Mansions or Martin Stephenson And The Daintees. Digging further through the archives one might also mention Hug; a promising indie rock outfit hailing from Newcastle whose brief career yielded an album and a few EPs in the early 1990’s. The band recently reconvened after digging up some of their old demos and polishing them off for the public to hear.

Hug CD Cover

Despite this album consisting of three new tracks and five live versions, all the songs exhibit a satisfyingly fleshy sound with thick rhythms and Gemma Wilson Pitt’s strident, throaty vocals to the fore. As has been mentioned, the new songs were old demos re-worked but they possess the rawness and intimacy of a live gig in a local arena. There’s no room for layers of abstract electronica here, just gritty guitars and an earthy production. Indeed, apart from the audience interaction there isn’t a whole load of difference between the live versions of ‘Clay’ and its studio counterpart and there’s certainly not a bad thing.

The squalling guitars and muscular bass on ‘Kingdom Come’ and ‘Kaleid’ will be familiar to followers of early 1990’s bands such as New FADs or Adorable, whilst ‘Dark Eden’ is the best showcase for Wilson Pitt’s controlled wailing. ‘Walk On Fire’ was better known as ‘Firebrands’, their best-known song and it has stood the test of time well but but the unerringly melodic ‘Meltdown’ could have easily become another anthem for them.

Everything about ‘Clay’ suggests Hug were and still are a very decent band. Perhaps the lack of a truly distinctive sound meant they never sat at the high table at either Kitchenware Records or with the indie rock fraternity but like a lower league football team, they deserve their moment in the sun for a spirited and passionate performance.

Web Sites:
Revenge Western Label and Shop Site
Bandcamp Page for Hug’s New Tracks

Further Listening:
Adorable, Catatonoia

Review: Plumerai – Mondegreen

The press release to Plumerai’s new album ‘Mondegreen’ comes with the self-effacing promise of “If you remember when shoegaze was a derogatory term for a branch of alternative pop music, this record’s for you”. In truth, the music is only slightly shoegaze-y and would more likely appeal to fans of female-fronted indie groups such as My Foolish Heart.

Plumerai Album Cover

Eliza Brown is certainly a dominant present on the record and far more distinctive than other shoegaze vocalists. Her vocals possess a jazzy quality as she murmurs and meanders through opening track ’13’. The band are in excellent form for ‘Trip’ where they provide an nagging, infectious backdrop from which Brown swoops in and out and likewise for the brightness and colour of ‘Marco Polo’, the title track to last year’s EP and possibly their most effects-driven track.

Yet as much as Brown can make good songs into great ones, her moody approach could be viewed as disinterest as she seems to go through the motions on some of the less immediate tracks like ‘Come & Go’. On a more positive note, the album is distinguished by a couple of real curveballs as ‘Six Ton Gorilla’ successfully contrasts the band’s relaxed style with an inventive jazz-funk song structure whilst ‘Loss’ makes them sound like an obscure 4AD alt-country act.

If it needed a sub-genre, ‘Mondegreen’ might be loosely defined as “indie jazz” thanks to its unusual mix of styles. For the most part, it’s a winning formula too, even its languid exterior could do with a few more regular injections of excitement.

Web Sites:
Plumerai Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of ‘Mondegreen’

Further Listening:
My Foolish Heart

Review: Kobol – Centipede

Their story began in Mexico but post-rock duo Kobol now call Los Angeles their home. Thus far they have released three albums. The first, 2005’s ‘Broken Ebony’, set the scene with moody jazz, then came the more fully realised ‘Extempore’ which added colour and variety thanks to some remixes and guest vocalists. However, until now, they had yet to prove themselves over the course of an album’s worth of original material. ‘Centipede’ is the perfect way to address that issue.

Kobol Album Cover

The album settles into a groove very quickly. There may be mournful trumpets welcoming ‘Elephant’ but the beats are positively bouncing with life. It’s an excellent start, abundant with rhythm and melody. ‘Abyssal Drive’ and the title track evoke intelligent spy thrillers via their inventive rhythms, evoking post-rock behemoths Tortoise in the process. ‘Atlantico’ begins as a melancholic jazzy piece but then steps up the pace with some frantic yet controlled percussion to make up a virtually flawless first half to the record. Towards the end of the album, Kobol head off on a more electronic tangent but whilst ‘Leather Cloud’ is a rather middling affair, ‘Neotoma Syndrome’ provides a modernised version of Kraftwerk’s nocturnal longing and ‘Moonseed’ brings ‘Centipede’ to a muscular conclusion.

‘Centipede’ is a challenging record in a good way, complete with a fine selection of melodic twists and turns and propulsive rhythms.. It is certainly not one of those jazz-inflected albums which languishes in the background but one which is more likely to leap out and punch you squarely in the face. So post-rock and word play fans alike will be relieved to learn that this particular ‘Centipede’ has plenty of legs.

Web Sites:
Kobol Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of ‘Centipede’

Further Listening:
Tortoise, Mice Parade

Review: Snow Globe – Branching From Roots

Although there were elements of Signum Umbrae’s debut which implied that its teenage creator was making music for his own amusement, there were even more indications that the man behind it, San Jose’s Amrit Mahi, was a raw talent with specialisms in playing guitar and production. With that record somewhat dismissed by the musician as a parody, his current project, Snow Globe, is a much more serious proposition.

Snow Globe Album Cover

This much is apparent from the multi-layered electronica introduction of ‘Flashbacks’ but ‘Once A Whole, Never A Hole’ brings this idea into sharper focus as a sitar melody and Eastern rhythms contrast with techno. It’s just a shame the track didn’t exceed much more than two minutes and one wonders if Snow Globe will continue the Signum Umbrae trend of extremely short instrumental tracks. Thankfully, everything thereafter is at least three minutes long which gives time for Mahi to seduce the listener with the addictive tunes and hypnotic rhythms of ‘Blurred’ and ‘In Essence, In A Sense’; the latter, particularly, proving his expertise in percussion with Mahi adding live rather than pre-programmed drums. Thereafter, the album continues along this consistent theme but the quality is also maintained, perhaps peaking with the fluid Four Tet-like swirls of ‘The Foundation’.

Clearly, the improvement between Signum Umbrae and Snow Globe is vast. As well as making a seamlessly, flowing record, Mahi proves himself to be a very talented producer and arranger, who impresses even more with his drumming skills and a well-tuned ear for infectious melody.

Web Sites:
Snow Globe Bandcamp
Soundcloud Stream of ‘Branching From Roots’

Further Listening:
Four Tet

Review: Carpet Of Horses – It’s Only Light

The first EP from Berlin-based Carpet Of Horses heralded a talented band with a taste for a very eerie, ambient strand of folk music, accompanied by a high quality production. They now return a year later with six new tracks which promise much in arrangement but fall some way short in creating memories.

Carpet Of Horses EP Cover

A brief instrumental piece  named ‘Almagest’ begins the EP with a portentous swell of effects but then there is a sharp transition to the rustic guitars and crisp percussion of ‘It’s Only Light’. The song begins a pattern for languid-paced post-rock/folk with whispered vocals. The guitars are also laid on thickly for ‘Gloss’ as they crawl towards the song’s end. ‘Oblomov’ could be accused of building up too slowly too but the use of whistling and variations in percussion at least adds colour to proceedings. Tellingly, the final track, ‘The River’ and its stark, simple melody possibly makes it the standout track overall.

As finely arranged as it is, ‘It’s Only Light’ cries out for a change of pace, specifically of a faster kind. Each song is structurally similar making you think that something important and dramatic is going to happen but by the end there is a sense of slight disappointment as the track peters out quietly. In terms of production, ‘It’s Only Light’ ticks all the boxes but more work needs to be done on the songs.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of ‘It’s Only Light’

Further Listening:
Band Of Horses

Review: WTCHS – Wet Weapons

Obviously no fans of the digital age,  Canada’s WTCHS only offered their first EP on tape originally; making great pains to say the songs were meant to be listened on tape. In truth, they probably have a point since the no-frills production values certainly suits a primitive format. Thankfully, though, there’s more than a few flickers of talent lurking amongst the raw materials too.


Thick, sludgy guitars and rhythms usher in demonic vocals for the opener ‘Parties Of Three’. The track resembles The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and there’s even a few seconds of melody at the end of the song. Tunes are in much greater supply for the excellent two minute anti-anthem ‘Adult Crimes’, which marries the band’s muddy, grinding rock to some infectious chord changes and an insistent drive towards a chorus. A slightly longer (by one second) ‘Hot Mexican’ is the next offering. Here, the blood-curdling howls and intense rhythms call to mind early Liars. Quite why anyone would need two minutes of silence after it, though, remains unexplained. Perhaps it’s to prepare for the uncompromising instrumental ‘barbara’; a grind-fest featuring shouting and general state of discontent. This being the least commercial track on the EP, it is also, of course, the longest one.

For lovers of this type of music, enticingly, the physical version of the EP promises six minutes of “drone-out”. Yet despite the band’s insistence to celebrate lo-fi vocals, anger and to avoid pop music, the energy and aggression on display is not without merit.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream for ‘Wet Weapons’
WTCHS Official Site

Further Listening:
Blag’ard, Liars

Review: Death Of The Neighbourhood – DOTN Redux

There’s a common and perfectly natural perception that artists save their best work for their main projects but when a musician can operate within the freedom of a new moniker, it provides a useful outlet for trying out different styles without suffering too much loss of face if it doesn’t come off. The prolific Stephen Jones of Babybird fame chose his Death Of The Neighbourhood moniker to deliver a somewhat subdued state of the nation address via a self-titled double album in 2008, yet its subtle melancholia and electronica formed a winning combination. Now comes the surprising news of a ‘Redux’ edition which features some of the best tracks from the original album and plenty of new ones.

Death Of The Neighbourhood Album Cover

In truth most of the new material is too brief or incidental to sink your teeth into but ‘Elvis Is Coming’ (complete with classic vocal inflections) plus ‘And The Children Sang A Song That Never Ended’ are fluid instrumentals abundant with warmth and affection, to compliment the older tracks. Newcomers to DOTN, however, will be enchanted as ‘God’s Not Coming’ returns to the beats of Babybird track ‘It’s Not Funny Anymore’, ‘I Love My TV’ is underscored by a sickly yet seductive melody, whilst the sinister but infectious ‘Dumb Down’ ranks amongst Jones’ best work. Infact, sinister and infectious sums up the Babybird back catalogue quite effectively.

On a purely musical level, ‘DOTN Redux’ is a surprisingly relaxing listen, not a million miles away from the image portrayed by the idealistic cover art of a vintage family get-together. Naturally, as all followers of Jones will testify, there’s something far darker going on underneath and this new release does a very tidy job of compiling some of his best recent ideas into a seamless and compact thirty five minutes of fine music.

Web Sites:
Death Of The Neighbourhood Official Site
Atic Records Official Site

Further Listening:
Babybird, Eels

Review: My Autumn Empire – II

As much as they have always been admired for their nostalgic, lovely sounds, there was a certain shyness about Epic45 which may have prevented them from transferring from indie cultdom to indie heroes. As good as it was, the first album from Ben Holton’s My Autumn Empire did little to change that situation but did much to satisfy his followers with its warped folk and sensitive songwriting. For the follow-up, he seems to have cast off any inhibitions and made the brightest, most colourful record he could possibly make.

My Autumn Empire CD Cover

Could a record be started in dreamier fashion than ‘Every New And Then, I Fall Apart’? An expansive production, an explosion of harmonies and jangly, rustic guitars. It features the lyrical motif of “Everything’s wrong and then nothing’s wrong”; a reflection of the song and the whole album’s air of “happy being sad”. As opening tracks go, it’s pretty much perfect. The equally superb ‘Help Me Out’ is reminiscent of the retro-futurist, summery arrangements of The Superimposers. Both songs embrace the joys of repetition but when what is repeated is so enjoyable there is no cause for alarm. The main highlight of ‘Sleeves’ is its wonderfully infectious instrumental parts which call to mind New Order, Stereolab and The Montgolfier Brothers all at once. Then continuing the virtually flawless trend, ‘Say It Again (I’ll Kill You)’ pushes all the right big production buttons whilst the finale ‘Sleep’ is the coolest, crispest lullaby you could wish to hear.

‘II’ is more than just a confident return for Holton. It is celebration of melody and harmony and this time Holton is not afraid to share it. With new Epic45 material on the way, it will be fascinating to hear which direction Holton and his musical partner, Rob Glover, will follow next.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of ‘II’
Wayside And Woodland Label and Shop Site
Youtube Video of ‘Every Now And Then, I Fall Apart’

Further Listening:
The Superimposers, Stereolab, The High Llamas, The Montgolfier Brothers, Epic45