Archive for May, 2013

Review: Ashley Reaks – Power Failure

With a colourful CV behind him, the one guarantee with musician/artist Ashley Reaks is that his new album is not going to be dull. Once a promising cricketer, Reaks’ musical career is nothing less than eclectic given that he had stints in (ex-Take That member) Mark Owen’s backing band, toured with Francis Dunnery and also had the honour of appearing on the main stage of Glastonbury for the short-lived and much-hyped outfit Younger Younger 28’s. Rest assured, though, that his solo work resides in a different musical sphere altogether.

Ashley Reaks Album Cover

The cover artwork to ‘Power Failure’ is a clue to the music since this is essentially a collage of incongruous layers of sound. It’s captivating from the moment the rumbling bassline of ‘Egg To Worm To Fly’ thunders in. Reaks’ delivery, part-sung, part-spoken is arresting (“I’m a Christ!” he declares) but he is also acutely aware that bringing in guest vocalists adds even more vibrancy. So Maria Jardardottir soothes on ‘Lucky Gordon’ and a collaboration with Lucy Mizen for the melodic jazz number ‘Bulldog Grace’ is worthy of commercial radio.

Using a spoken word contribution can be a dangerous idea but poet Joe Hakim’s contribution is compelling, especially when his state of the nation musings are set to slinky Happy Mondays-esque rhythms. Further demonstrating his versatility, Reaks is just at home whether he is making strident piano instrumentals, (‘No Wonder Camels Spit’), chanting (“the shouldn’t work but it does” approach of ‘Miss Holy Holy’) or offering some surprisingly palatable progressive jazz (‘The Glances Of Mercy’).

‘Power Failure’ is not pop but Reaks has an ear for grooves and hooks which makes what should be a challenging listen into one which is ultimately addictive. Reference points are hard to identify since this is a very unique-sounding album but Public Image fans are likely to love it. So given his chequered past, Reaks could be classed as a late bloomer and after making this excellent record, one would hope he wouldn’t need to work with Mark Owen again.

Web Sites:
Ashley Reaks Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of Ashley Reaks’ ‘Power Failure’

Further Listening:
Public Image Ltd


Review: The Kickliner – Vultures

The Kickliner operate in a sphere of hard-edged indie and comparisons to fellow Sheffield dwellers The Arctic Monkeys haven’t entirely been out of place. Yet The Kickliner have never sounded like one of those regional rock acts. These three new songs emphasise this argument as the band embrace punk, hard rock and even a little prog.

The Kickliner EP Cover

Courtesy of its bluesy riffs, ‘Ostrich’ travels back in time to the 1970’s, with only the youthful vocals bringing the experience up to date. It’s certainly an arresting opener but it’s slightly awkward pace and rhythm shifts means that it meanders a bit too much to draw in the casual listener. The group stick to that earthy feel for the second track, ‘Black Blankets’, only this time their efforts yield better reward as the song is much more focused in its direction. It makes the brave step of only bringing in the vocals after a minute of intense guitars and frenetic percussion but the track itself is a real powerhouse  and now they’re multi-part (dare we say punk-prog?) approach begins to make sense. Finally, ‘In The Evening’ continues that sense of visceral vigour; aggressive yet never overpowering.

The Kickliner have clearly developed well in a few years. Their skills in arrangement and songwriting have matured to the extent that they now sound like they have been doing this kind of thing for a decade. However, surely the next step now will be to see whether they can maintain these levels of breathless intensity over the course of their first album.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of ‘Vultures’

Further Listening:
The Arctic Monkeys, The Jam

Review: The Title Sequence – Stills

Sweetly nostalgic for the 1980’s but in a very individual sense, London’s The Title Sequence are one of those acts who deserve to be cherished. They released an extremely promising EP at the back end of last year which serves as a “companion” piece to their first long player.

Stills Album Cover

Just as on their EP, ‘Stills’ begins with an acoustic number but its borders of the arrangements become wider to match the ambition of this excellent record. So, whilst ‘Stills’ is essentially indie pop, it is multi-faceted. At their best, as they often are, The Title Sequence specialise in literary (or wordy), infectious pop nuggets such as ‘You Belong To Me’ and the single ‘Payday’ but they also make time for moody, lovelorn material like ‘Ashamed’. Yet towards the middle of the record they create a very special song called ‘Jigsaw Days’; a towering slice of Simon and Garfunkel-style epic folk. Furthermore, the similarly reflective ‘Evenings Spent With You’ and ‘Ghost Of The Relationship’ position them as mature, idiosyncratic songwriters in the same bracket as The Montgolfier Brothers.

By the end of its forty minute length, it takes a while to digest what has gone on before. There’s a fine mixture of concise, quirky songs which a milkman could whistle but there are also longer, introspective songs perfect as soundtracks for gazing in to the middle distance. Either way, The Title Sequence are on to a winner.

Web Sites:
The Title Sequence Tumblr
Bandcamp Stream of The Title Sequence’s ‘Stills’

Further Listening:
Seeland, The Drums, The Montgolfier Brothers

Pine For Cedars – Pine For Cedars EP

Math-tinged alt-rock from York is the tantalising prospect awaiting curious listeners to Pine For Cedars’ debut EP. This new quartet duly set about their business with a set of four incisive tracks which, whilst clever in their execution, have the drive and addictive qualities to make you want to hear more from them.

Pine For Cedars

Introduced by choppy guitars, ‘Love By Numbers’ is an encouraging start. The frontman has one of those love it/hate it vocals but it’s likely to be the former if you’re a fan of Placebo’s Brian Molko angst and anguish. Certainly the song stands up to the test too with a strong melodic flow and all band members clearly heading in the same direction. ‘Platform’ is less infectious but its melancholic verses and fuzzed up chorus are full of vigour and invention. Then there’s ‘Taking Over’ ; a song that sees the group deliver their most convincing Placebo impression with the nagging guitar hook, in particular, standing out. Slightly worryingly, on the final offering the group threaten to encroach on the whiny territory of Wheatus but manage to hold back just enough.

Based on the thirteen minutes of music here, the comparisons may seem obvious but every fledgling band takes a while to find their own identity. Pine For Cedars have at least appeared to have chosen a style which suits their age group, their songs are sufficiently complex and it has to be said that these songs bode well for a promising future.

Web Sites:
Pine For Cedars Soundcloud

Further Listening:

Review: Matthew Collings – Splintered Instruments

The background to Matthew Colling’s ‘Splintered Instruments’ is an interesting one since it was recorded over a period of three years in Iceland. There is certainly a cold chill running through the heart of this unmistakably intense album, which one feels could have only been inspired an austere, sleepless environment. Nevertheless, the album is also a deep and compelling affair.

Matthew Collings Album Cover

Thanks to complex layers of frenetic percussion, string samples, Collings’ own despairing vocals and all kinds of sonic manipulation, the artist evokes paranoia, danger and rainy days of an industrial city all in one song. Tellingly, it’s one of the most straightforward offerings as tracks frequently veer off on to unexpected routes, stopping, starting and twisting around into what seems like a totally different song.

Although not quite as busy in its construction as the opener, ‘They Meet On The Subway’ is, if anything, even more oppressive as great slabs of sound shift around with disorientating results. There are moments of beauty as the sadness of ‘Pneumonia Loves The Moon’ strips away further layers to reveal some minimalism, infusions of woodwind instruments take us from the city to the country (not unlike Hood in their execution) but these fragments are a brief respite as the restless atmosphere soon returns and sucks out any moments of hope. It’s a testament to the power of the album that the sombre post-rock of the last track, ‘Routine’, manages to sound so eerie and yet seem so calm.

Unquestionably, ‘Splintered Instruments’ is a dark affair but it is nonetheless intoxicating as you begin to feel dragged into Collings’ world of abstract melancholia. The skill is that the “immense, violent force” which Collings claims informs this record, is translated into a musical form which is both hypnotic and something which we can emphasise with.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of Matthew Collings’ ‘Splintered Instruments’
Fluid Audio Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Hood, Flying Saucer Attack, Shoeb Ahmad

Review: Sans Nom – Vol. I – Self Obsessed

Modesty can be a valuable asset but when you call your band “Sans Nom” and the frontman, Simon Peacock, modestly describes his Canadian outfit as a “collaborative musical project with a few of my friends”, expectations can’t be set too high. No matter, ‘Vol 1 – Self Obsessed’ is far better than its understated introduction promises.

Sans Nom EP Cover

Indeed, from the dreamy arrangements and angelic vocals of ‘Borders’ to the eerie combination of harmonies and electronica for ‘Self Obsessed’, this is clearly an EP worth listening to. Quite why the group chose to name a song ‘Think McFly’ is open to debate but the shoegaze meets grunge pop on show is a joy to behold and it’s clearly the best thing here. Then to demonstrate their versatility, right at the centre of the EP is a cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ where the female singer reveals she has an alternative career path as a country singer to fall back on, should the need arise. ‘Tongue In Cheek’, meanwhile, projects menace and melodrama.

Sans Nom certainly don’t go out of their way to market their material and, in fairness, their music is essentially an above average mix of electronica and shoegaze. Yet there’s enough songwriting talent here to suggest these Winnipeg musicians could convert their potential into a quality album.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of Sans Nom’s ‘Vol. 1 – Self Obsessed’
Sans Nom Facebook

Further Listening:
Lush, Thrushes, The Lovely Few

A Note For Leonard’s Lair Blog Followers

Dear Blog Followers

I know quite a few of you readers have signed up to “follow” this blog which I believe sends you a notification whenever I post an article here. Please be aware that I link to all new reviews via the Leonard’s Lair Facebook Page too and I also post links to videos and songs (with succinct music-related comments) from there, which may appeal to your tastes. It depends which format of notification you prefer I guess but feel free to “subscribe” or “friend” Leonard’s Lair on Facebook, if this option is better for you.

Best wishes


Review: Univore – Beasts From A Silk Womb

It was hard to know whether to take Univore seriously, judging by their somewhat exuberant press release. Does anyone need an album which celebrates “the confluence of apocalyptic imagery and the expected human responses of preparation, celebration, and defiance to the end of the world” or need a cover of the two musicians in daft blonde wigs, for that matter? Well, we have these elements anyway but a more meaningful description of their output would be subtle indie-dance.

Univore Album Cover

The Chicago-based duo of David Bachmann and Nicholas Flandro may be able to express dry wit on paper but it’s their music which shines the brightest. ‘Humanity Family’, for instance, may feature the kind of digitised vocals we’d normally expect to find on anonymous DJ projects but the space-disco backing track and languid rhythms add touches of class which tells us something more edifying is going on in the arrangements to match their literary skills. ‘Lay The Hands’ is propelled by chugging rhythms but the distinctly European vocals suggests a German synthpop act on an IDM trip. Full marks too for the final two tracks: the lilting instrumental ‘Ice Trust’ and wistful closer ‘Victory Days (Victory Ways)’.

Make no mistake, there’s a strong emphasis of fun on show as you might expect for an album entitled ‘Beasts From A Silk Womb’. Yet more importantly, there’s also a sense that Bachmann and Flandro are two guys with their finger on the pulse where infectious, electronic music is concerned.

Web Sites:
Univore Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of Univore’s ‘Beasts From A Silk Womb’

Further Listening:
Grand National

Review: Flowerss – Charm

California dwellers Christapher Larsen and Andrew Hoke apparently drew inspiration from the cool, deep Pacific for the dark, moody sounds of their new project, Flowerss. ‘Charm’ is a record which adds robust rhythms to the ethereal shoegaze surroundings the duo have created.

Flowerss Album Cover

It’s an album which begins with a serene ambient soundscape but from thereon in it’s all about languid but naggingly infectious indie/dreampop. Larsen’s vocals mirror the detached, disaffected style of Glen Johnson from Piano Magic and in some cases, the songs are just as bleak too. However, the USP is that ‘Halo’ balances Larsen’s insouciance with euphoric arrangements. The class truly tells for tracks three and four on the album. ‘Every Mile’ contains a simple but addictive guitar hook but the way it weaves in and out of Larsen’s cool, despairing vocal is pure melancholic pop genius. The same could be said for ‘Big Hands’, which contains the most propulsive and hypnotic mix of (what can only be described as) liquid funk and another perfectly tuned showcase for Larsen’s airy musings.

It would be extremely tough for Larsen and Hoke to maintain this quality for the second half of the record and sure enough there is a slight tail-off. Yet there is still much to enjoy, including the slow, Spiritualized-aping sway of ‘Sun Dial’, the blissed-out ambient pop of Engineers is referenced for ‘Drag’ and the hazy, trippy, acoustic charm of the title track is also highly recommended. In this company, the two remixes are rather perfunctory except to remind us what good songs ‘Every Mile’ and ‘Drag’ actually are.

If some shoegaze music can be accused of achieving big sounds but little lasting impression, ‘Charm’ is anything but. It is music with a strong rhythm and a beating heart. So all hail the new kings of Sacramento dreampop.

Web Sites:
Test Pattern Records Label and Shop Site
Stream ‘Charm’ on Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Piano Magic, Spiritualized, Engineers

Review: Tristan Coleman – Still Life With Sound

Of all the solo electronic musicians currently in operation, Melbourne’s Tristan Coleman favours the late night intimacy and weirdness of James Blake. Yet whereas Blake’s vocals tend to veer between tentative and romantic, Coleman’s tones are rich, dominant and soulful. Whilst this debut EP recalls collaborative producer-led outfits such as Alpha and The Beauty Room, Coleman takes on both producer and singer roles himself here and the results are beguiling.

Tristan Coleman EP

It’s apparent from the opening strains of ‘Good Money’; a track which meanders like a psychedelic journey, taking on 1980’s synths, soul music, and more modern day techniques en route. ‘Rituals Pt. 3’ combines strings, alien noise, clarinet and back-breaking basslines into an intelligent stew; recalling the often overlooked Red Snapper. Of the two other tracks, the macabre ‘Precious Ghostly Metal’ is either eerie or just plain evil, with only Coleman’s own vocals reminding us that this music has been engineered by a human being and finally it’s left to ‘Bad Money’ to find that rarely discovered middle ground between downbeat and hyperactive electronica.

An awful lot of ground is covered in just twenty minutes of abstract listening material, with Coleman frequently surprising with his mind-bending arrangements. Yet whether its soul, jazz, psychedelia or just plain old electronic music you like, ‘Still Life With Sound’ already seems like the opening chapter to the story of an exciting artist.

Web Sites:
Tristan Coleman Official Site
Mystery Plays Records
Bandcamp Stream of ‘Still Life With Sound’

Further Listening:
Alpha, The Beauty Room, James Blake