Archive for April, 2013

Review: Panda Riot – Northern Automatic Music

Now based in Chicago, Rebecca Scott and Brian Cook worked together on soundtracks when they first met but then they discovered that writing songs was their true calling. Yet that background in film does pay dividends because the duo, with the addition of Jose Rodriguez’s relentless drumming, have created an atmospheric, lovingly produced album.

Panda Riot Album Cover

‘Amanda In The Clouds’ presents a brilliant, colourful start; beginning with Scott’s layered vocals and dreamily melodic guitars. It’s no fluke either. If anyone wanted to know what a shoegaze sea shanty sounded like, ‘In The Forest’ provides the answer. The title track experiments with piano keys and glitchy beats whilst ‘MTWM Glass’ is as lush as, well, Lush, arguably their nearest sound-alikes. Their film score roots are rediscovered for three rather gorgeous and very different instrumental tracks and it’s left to the exquisite, gentle ‘Camden Line’ to wrap up a great record.

Die-hards may argue that some of the guitar sounds are a little too indebted to My Bloody Valentine (especially for ‘Black Pyramids’ and the admittedly thrilling ‘Good Night, Rich Kids’) but there’s no doubt Panda Riot are a more immediate proposition; easier on the ear than those noisy, dreampop behemoths. In short, if you like shoegaze in its most tuneful form, you will love this.

Web Sites:
Panda Riot Official Site
Saint Marie Records Label and Shop Site
Youtube Video for ‘Black Pyramids’

Further Listening:
Lush, Thrushes, Spotlight Kid, My Bloody Valentine


Review: RealPolitik – The White Noise & Buzzing Static Of The Moment

Leeds’ ‘RealPolitik’ have been in operation for a few years now. Spearheaded by the multi-instrumental and arrangement skills of Richard Crossley and the pure vocals of Cleo Harratt, they’ve been quietly (and sometimes loudly, if the mood becomes them) making experimental music. Their previous EP, ‘And The Night Was All In Pieces’, appeared to have reduced the noise from their earlier recordings and placed more emphasis on Harratt as a frontwoman but the new album appears to have gone a step further to explore minimalist and classical influences.

RealPolitik Album Cover

The key elements of ‘White Noise…’ are Crossley’s “chill to the bone” stark piano, Harratt’s ever-haunted vocals and walls of atmospheric noise. Harratt impressed last year with her first solo album. That in itself was far removed from traditional female singer/songwriter fare but this new material makes her album seem like a collection of nursery rhymes such is the air of loneliness, mystery and paranoia within.

‘A Search Of Things Past’ brings in the static promised by the album title, offset by Harratt’s distant voice and Crossley’s meandering piano keys. Like much of the record, the tracks can be seen as experimental, semi-improvised pieces rather than actual songs. Yet there are moments of beauty, like when the unintelligible chatter of ‘Broken Images’ is stripped back to reveal some lovely strings whilst ‘Deserts (2nd Movement)’ and ‘Sonata II (For Prepared Piano)’ are serene examples of modern classical. The second half of proceedings is markedly bleaker and moodier with Harratt reduced to sporadic interjections; making it almost a Crossley solo affair.

‘The White Noise…’ as a whole is a sometimes elegant, often macabre listening experience which finds itself bookended between Dead Can Dance’s arcane wonder and Portishead at their most minimal. Its ideas are arguably stretched out for far too long over fifty minutes but the duo usually find the right balance between challenging and coherent music.

Web Sites:
RealPolitik Official Site
RealPolitik SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Dead Can Dance, Portishead, Joe Frawley

Review: Static In Verona – Some Things You Knew

For an EP that’s described as “a collection of indie pop songs with subtle experimental and electronic undertones”, Static In Verona’s latest release, ‘Some Things You Knew’, seems remarkably brash. Given the apparent limitations of being a solo, self-produced artist, the EP’s creator, Rob Merz, opts for the challenge of delivering a full-on band sound with each track as tuneful and as eager to please as the last.

Static In Verona EP Cover

‘White Knuckles’ isn’t quite as thrilling as the song title suggests but it could be said that Merz’s Jon Anderson-style vocals hold up pretty well against the rollercoaster effects; peaking for the emotive, powerful chorus. Merz certainly gives the impression of a man with ambition. ‘Everything You Knew’, for example, strives for the ELO experience with epic arrangements and thick chord changes but ‘Friendly Fires’ sounds like a misfire as the song recalls the twee indie pop of Owl City. Thankfully, the artist recovers to return to more likeable indie qualities as a nagging guitar riff propels ‘Love Like Gold’ whilst ‘Loud Night/Quiet Morning’ brings in strings and backing vocals to surprisingly moving effect.

Merz’s vocals may sometimes lack the strident quality his arrangements demand but you can’t fault the intention to make big, colourful, melodic, slightly left of centre indie pop. A bit more subtlety wouldn’t go amiss next time around, though.

Web Sites:
Static In Verona Official Site
Soundcloud Stream of ‘Some Things You Knew’
Bandcamp Stream of ‘Some Things You Knew’

Further Listening:
ELO, Owl City, Jon Anderson

Review: Winter Palace – Winter Palace EP

The story of Winter Palace began when multi-instrumentalist Martin Stender recalled a previous collaboration with fellow Dane and singer Line Pollas and decided to text her saying how her voice moved him. It served as a perfect pick-me-up for Pollas, who was recovering a depressive period in her life and now the fruits of their new ambient/alt-pop project can be heard on the first Winter Palace EP.

Winter Palace EP Cover

Line Pollas, with tones which wouldn’t sound out of place on either country or R&B records, adds the required melancholic ache to ‘Boys In The Park’. From this track, even though Winter Palace present themselves as a piano and voice duo, the predicted “splashes of 80s synths” are delivered in floods. Nevertheless, the soul of the song shines through the artificial layers. ‘Me And Julia’ is gentler and softer and the warmth between Pollas and Stender comes more sharply into focus; the song growing in stature as the arrangement becomes more expansive. That said, ‘Hemingway’ impresses even more with its subtle inflections and Pollas’ understated, breezy delivery. Only the last song, ‘Drum Beats’ loses its way slightly; Stender’s piano melody is certainly pleasant enough but there’s definitely a hook missing.

There was a risk that ‘Winter Palace EP’ would come across as rather mawkish but these songs boast some satisfyingly complex moments. Furthermore, with the coldest season finally over, this Copenhagen duo provide the warmth and relaxation which belies their name.

Web Sites:
Soundcloud Stream for Winter Palace

Further Listening:
Rabbit Velvet

Review: Aidan Baker – Already Drowning

Despite only releasing music since the year 2000, Canada’s poet and multi-instrumentalist Aidan Baker has accumulated an immense discography so far. The songs for ‘Already Drowning’ were inspired by myths about female water spirits and with the rich level of detail on show, one wonders how he finds the time to have made this record, let alone all the others.

Aidan Baker Album Cover

The title track ensures the dark shadow is cast early on. Clara Engel’s wounded vocals search desperately for solace but the omnipresent sense of doom provided by the slowcore backing ensures there is no light to be found. Importantly the song rises from its languid pace to approach levels of urgency and danger and by the end of it you appreciate you’ve been on an exhausting yet rewarding journey. Then the quiet, often spoken word vocals of Jessica Bailiff contrast neatly with a full string section for the sombre ’30 Days/30 Nights’. Thereafter, though the messages are delivered in a consistently melancholic fashion, there’s plenty of stylistic differences between songs from acoustic simplicity (‘Mein Zwillihng’), to post-rock/jazz (‘Mélusine’), whilst ‘Tout Juste Sous La Surface’ is engulfed in a nightmarish swirl of noise.

Music such as this can occasionally come across as rather cold and it’s true that some of these songs – not helped by the leaden pace – convey austere art rather than moving music. Nevertheless, the fifty five minutes contained here is impressively intense, powerful and superbly arranged; calling to mind the tragedy and mystery of the This Mortal Coil project.

Web Sites:
Aidan Baker’s WordPress Site
Soundcloud Stream for the Title Track
Aidan Baker Bandcamp
Gizeh Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Portishead, This Mortal Coil

Review: Bihari Beach – Little Fort EP

Chicago’s Bihari Beach clearly aren’t the first band to sound like they were born a generation too late and they definitely won’t be the last. The three tracks on their first EP embrace both lo-fi slacker rock as well as 1970’s guitar heroes and to be fair to them they’ve put their vintage record collection to good use.

Bihari Beach EP Cover

A relentless barrage of fuzzed-up guitar and thick percussion welcomes the listener to Bihari Beach’s lo-fi sound. What it lacks in production qualities, the song makes up for with nagging melody; some of which reveals a working knowledge of Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’, whilst the speed and accuracy of the guitar work points to The Fire Engines or Josef K. As if to emphasise their slacker ethos, though, (one band member even described his employment as “wanker”) ‘Shawty Farted As If Everything Was Alright’ is far more musically complex than the title promises with the song throwing out a number of riff-heavy twists and unexpected changes in pace. All of which leaves ‘I Want You To Want You To Want Me’ which starts off slowly and is clouded in a somewhat darker hue than the other two tracks; aided and abetted by the frontman’s primitive Cobain-esque snarl.

Bihari Beach’s youthful insouciance disguises more esoteric layers underneath. These nine minutes of quality art-punk may turn out to be a mere fluke but there’s definitely signs of intelligence and tunefulness which suggests they’re on to something quite exciting.

Web Sites:
Bihari Beach Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Pavement, Television, The Fire Engines

Review: Endless Melancholy – Five Songs

Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis once famously said “Before you play two notes learn how to play one note – and don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it”. It’s an ethos which Ukrainian musician Alex Sakevych subscribes to. His chosen musical avatar, Endless Melancholy, may cast worrying signs of music that is so oppressively sad it’s impossible to listen to but the truth is far removed from that. ‘Five Songs’ may be the name of Sakevych’s January EP even though “Five Piano Instrumentals” would be more accurate but – naming conventions aside – it’s hard to pick fault.

Endless Melancholy

Sakevych keeps his pieces uncomplicated and fairly short and apart from the ever present melody, the other distinctive characteristic is the sound of the actual movements of pedals being pushed so if this music didn’t sound intimate enough, it now seems like the artist is actually playing live in the room from which you listen. Unsurprisingly, each of these tracks evoke sadness but since the piano is such a graceful instrument, there’s no sense of depression, more the joy of elegiac melody. In the spirit of The Durutti Column, the key instrument may be different but there’s that sense that a tune can sound hopeful or remorseful depending on what mood the listener is in at the time. Certainly, ‘Leave’, in particular, comes across as rather triumphant and only the last piece, ‘Nostalgia’, seems wholly downbeat but its message is delivered subtly and poignantly.

So, ignoring that somewhat morbid recording name, Endless Melancholy is as elegant and as understated as one could wish for. Sakevych could have easily added more bells and whistles to draw in a more impressionable audience but it’s vital that new music in its simplest form still exists, otherwise Mr. Hollis’ words would have been wasted.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream for ‘Five Songs’

Further Listening:
Malcolm Fisher, Mark Hollis

Review: Split Screens – Split Screens EP

As an indicator of what to expect from his first proper release, San Francisco’s Jesse Cafiero recently revealed some of his favourite records. Amongst Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and The Congos’ ‘Heart Of The Congos’, the biggest clue to what his own music sounds like would be Beck’s ‘Sea Change’; the record where the hitherto unflappable American finally revealed his heart on a beautifully sad and heartfelt set of songs. Cafiero has just five tracks at his disposal for his new Split Screens moniker but he certainly makes light work of emulating that record’s greatness, as well as drawing favourable comparisons to others.

Split Screens EP Cover

‘Born’ immediately evokes languid sunny afternoons via its relaxed ambient melody and soothing harmonies. It would be too dismissive to call it a Sea And The Cake pastiche but the track could have easily been made from the same session which produced their wonderful ‘Oui’ album. ‘When It Comes To You’, meanwhile, consists of little more than vocals and a reverb-soaked guitar and sounds simply serene. ‘Hovering’ adds to the air of rarefied romance as Cafiero seems to be remembering a lost love who is “still here in this room” but ‘Paying The Price’ casts a much darker cloud over the breezy atmosphere with Cafiero’s haunted tones and the inescapable feeling that the instruments are closing in on the listener; creating a claustrophobic effect. Infact, by the EP’s finale, ‘Deep Down’, it’s noticeable that the five tracks have taken on a steadily busier and more experimental path and it seems like you’ve been listening for a lot longer than twenty three minutes, which is a good thing in this case.

‘Split Screens EP’ is definitely one of those mini albums which leaves you thirsting for an album’s worth of material from the artist. From its crisp drums to its deceptive production – light and relaxed on the surface but characterised by great depth – Cafiero’s debut is something which Beck himself would be rather pleased with.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of Split Screens EP

Further Listening:
The Sea And Cake, The High Highs, Beck

Review: Unknown Component – Blood V. Electricity

After completing ten albums’ worth of material, one would reasonably expect a levelling out in quality. Thus far, Unknown Component’s Keith Lynch has kept his arrangements pretty subtle to prolong his reputation as a bedroom studio-style singer songwriter/producer; rather like an electronic version of Eels. His new album, however, represents something of a departure.

Unknown Component Album Cover

An ambitious production is the first factor which is striking about ‘Blood V. Electricity’. There’s an opening sequence of electronica and piano to usher in opener ‘Intuition’ (which remains a lush constant) but the reassuringly downbeat tones of Keith Lynch brings the listener back to reality. ‘Nowhere Is Alone’ consists of multiple instrumental layers but at its core is an insistent guitar rhythm and a chilling echo added to Lynch’s already haunted vocal whereas ‘Sensory Deprivation’ brings on a post-rock storm of guitars. The strident ‘Pendulum’ possesses a confidence that didn’t seem so possible after a decade of retreating in the margins and it’s an impression that is only emphasised by the similarly epic ‘For All Intents & Purposes’. Even ‘Painting The Weather’, perhaps the airiest track on here, is sumptuously arranged too.

There may be a bit more spit and polish than usual on this record but be reassured that the integrity and grittiness remain intact. Indeed, this could be an album which has the potential to elevate Lynch from indie underdog to a level of fame which seemed somewhat elusive before.

Web Sites:
Unknown Component Official Site
Soundcloud Stream

Further Listening:
Eels, State Shirt

Review: Avra – In Other People’s Eyes

Avra’s biographic details claim that the band formed after attending a Chameleons gig in 2002. This is certainly a promising indicator for the New Jersey band’s own take on the post-punk sound.

Avra Album Cover

The first three songs present a gothic and earnest start but do sound a little dated thanks largely to the lack of subtlety and space. It’s as Avra are trying a little too hard to impress. Light relief eventually arrives via ‘Cellophane’; the frontman apparently singing about ‘Shepherd’s Pie’ but the slower pace and less busy production result in a more inclusive experience. Another mid-paced track, ‘Reconcile’, brings in the strings but the group carry off the endeavour with some panache and from there, the confidence the band clearly possess is backed up with better arrangements. ‘Return’ and ‘Strap Discipline’ certainly tick all the right boxes for urgency and intensity whilst ‘In Other People’s Eyes’ is the closest the group get to achieving the melodramatic sound of their Mancunian heroes. They also save one of their best songs to the end, courtesy of the chiming, cascading melodies of ‘4am’.

‘In Other People’s Eyes’ definitely displays the same self-belief and passion as The Chameleons but almost inevitably the band fall short of their status. No matter, it’s an album which stands up in its own right and has that rare quality of sounding better the further you get into it.

Web Sites:
Avra Official Site
Avra Bandcamp Page

Further Listening:
Hearts Fail, The Mission, The Chameleons