Archive for September, 2013

Review: Melorman – Waves

There’s a new IDM artist in town and sure enough those inevitable Boards Of Canada comparisons are delivered on the new album by Melorman AKA Greece-based Antonis Haniotakis.  After a rather underwhelming last effort from Scotland’s electronica enigmas, though, Haniotakis would probably choose another reference point but he gives a decent account of his own skills on his always pleasant, occasionally excellent new album ‘Waves’.

Melorman Album Cover

Gentle ambient chill-out seems to be the order of the day based on the evidence of ‘The Sky Out Of Your Window’ where samples of female ghost vocals ease in and out of the glacial beats. On the face of it there’s not much to it but the next track should strike a deeper chord. ‘Glow’ augments the relaxed arrangement with skittering beats and a sense of melancholy. Thereafter, a similar ratio of sounds emerges with nice but a little underwhelming tracks juxtaposing those which evoke the emotion and invention which Hankotakis strives for. The tracks which fare best tend to have more urgency or, rather, a quicker sequence of beats whereas others are content to follow the intelligent background music route. ‘Girls In The 70s’ is arguably the stand out moment; made up of several lush layers of electronica, it’s a complex piece which has the crucial element of a rock solid hook. ‘Numbers’ deserves similar praise even if it owes to Kraftwerk’s song of the same name as well as being the clearest indicator of the obligatory Boards Of Canada influence but its main calling card is its variety and the willingness to make the listener’s ears prick up.

So overall, ‘Waves’ sums up all that is good and not so good about electronic music today. On the one hand, there’s the warm comfort of superficial background music but for at least half the time, Haniotakis demonstrates these instrumental works have more depth than one might initially expect from a man and his laptop. Ultimately, Melorman certainly shows enough talent to make one intrigued about what he will do next.

Web Sites:
Melorman SoundCloud
Bandcamp Stream of Melorman’s ‘Waves’
Sun Sea Sky Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Boards Of Canada, David Newlyn


Review: House Of Love – She Paints Words In Red

Barring death, it seems there’s a law that all bands must reconvene at some point regardless of how the acrimonious the split was. When lead guitarist Terry Bickers departed The House Of Love in the late 1980’s, one of the great partnerships of alternative/indie rock was broken up just as the band were on the cusp of becoming huge. Happily, frontman Guy Chadwick and Bickers put their differences aside roughly ten years ago and brought out an album called ‘Days Run Away’. On its own terms, it was a decent album, albeit one limited by its beat group production. The biggest problem was that it didn’t really sound like The House Of Love.

House Of Love Album Cover

Any feelings of trepidation of which incarnation of The House Of Love will show up this time will subside as soon as the opening track plays. ‘A Baby Got Back On Its Feet’ contains the key elements of Terry Bickers’ jangly guitar and Guy Chadwick’s ghostly vocals. In terms of its place in the order of great career moments, it may not trouble the Top 20 but it’s a sure sign that this is a “proper” House Of Love album. A playful and undemanding song called ‘Hemingway’ follows. So far, so respectable. The title track is, however, much better; featuring an effortlessly cool performance from Chadwick with easy on the ear harmonies and Bickers’ ever-reliable melodic prompting, then there’s the impressive, menacing rumble of ‘PKR’. Best of all is ‘Money Man’ where the telepathy between Chadwick and Bickers reaches a glorious peak, or even the perfectly-judged languid charm of ‘Sunshine Out Of The Rain’. Admittedly, the countrified stylings of ‘Lost In The Blues’ and the last two numbers may lack the necessary edge but these are quibbles on an otherwise strong album.

‘She Paints Words In Red’ is not a classic but in all fairness – despite a plethora of great songs in their back catalogue – it’s debatable whether House Of Love ever really made a consistently great album. Nevertheless, this is a rewarding and dignified reminder of their earlier magic with some cracking songs worthy of a place on any future “best of” compilation. At its best, one can almost imagine the band and original producer Pat Collier have done a “Rick Rubin”, gone into the studio and remembered the glories of twenty five years ago. They did a fine job.

Web Sites:
The House Of Love Official Facebook Page
Cherry Red Label and Shop Site
The House Of Love – Sunshine Out Of The Rain

Review: Michelle Cross & Joe Frawley – Dolls Come To Life

With his ingenious choice of samples and ambient arrangements, experimental composer and pianist Joe Frawley has always demonstrated the ability to haunt the listener even if the subject matter can be quite innocent. So when he entitles his new project with Michelle Cross as ‘Dolls Come To Life’, teeth could be set chattering well before the “Play” button is pressed. Meanwhile, Chicago native Cross has established her own foothold as a respected pianist/composer and this partnership frequently sounds inspired.

'Dolls Come To Life' Album Cover

The stark piano keys of ‘Scenes From The Doll Hospital’ may get proceedings off to slightly creepy footing  but ‘Dolls Come To Life – Part 1’ turns events into a completely different direction. Cross’s Kate Bush-style murmuring is a comforting presence on a surprisingly accessible song which doffs its cap to the genre of musicals.  ‘Part 2’ is more typical of Frawley’s output with lots of sonic manipulation; here Cross appears to be singing from every corner of the room. Keeping the variety and creativity flowing, fully formed songs like ‘Marionette’ and ‘Lullaby For Girls Without A Grandmother’ rub shoulders with shape-shifting modern classical pieces such as ‘March Of The Dolls’ and ‘Porcelain’. Cross even gives Tori Amos a run for her money with the hand-wringing trauma of ‘No More Dollies’ and the duo also handle a flamboyant and potentially disastrous version of ‘My Favourite Things’ with some aplomb.

Overall, this is a very successful collaboration with both Cross and Frawley complimenting each others’ talents rather than competing against each other. They also stick close to the doll concept; managing to produce a work which is coherent, inventive and often delightfully melodic.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of Michelle Cross & Joe Frawley’s ‘Dolls Come To Life’
Michelle Cross Official Site
Joe Frawley Official Site

Further Listening:
Kate Bush, Dead Can Dance, Tori Amos

Review: Ummagma – Ummagma/Antigravity

It’s rare to release two new albums on the same day and rarer still when these are your first and second records. After a presumably high amount of productivity, this prospect is presented by Ummagma, a collaborative project between Canadian Shauna McLarnon and Alexander Kretov from the Ukraine. As an intriguing subtext they are both partners life and music too. Fear not, though, for there’s little in the way of soppy ballads on this highly inventive couple of albums.

'Antigravity' Album Cover

The self-titled record is arguably the most experimental of the two. The first track alone has enough ideas for a full album’s worth of material, with African rhythms merging with jangly guitars and samples whilst Kretov’s half-spoken/half-sung contributions counter McLarnon’s more soulful performance. The excellent ‘Upsurd’ and ‘Outside’ ride in on surging guitars and hip-hop beats, ‘NIMBY’ is infectious and beat heavy whilst ‘Human Factor’ combines beats with country twanging. At these times, Ummagma resemble the style and cool of Luscious Jackson. On the debit side, there is a sense that they try too hard to be different and unfortunately the last three tracks are ponderous, tentative attempts to merge styles, with neither of the couple doing quite enough to make the song memorable.

If ‘Antigravity’ can be viewed as their second album, it is a marked progression from the first. Here, there’s a consistency and new-found conviction  as the hitherto blurred visions of experimental music are given more focus by an emphasis on production and arrangement. As an instant example, ‘Lama’ begins unassumingly enough but soon the song gravitates into multi-layered dreampop. Four tracks in comes the brilliant ‘Kiev’ where McLarnon’s haunting tones weave in and out of a glistening guitar hook; it’s a bona fide ambient pop classic. It’s swiftly followed by ‘Live And Let Die’, which is not a cover of a Bond soundtrack although it’s just as dramatic and glorious in its own ethereal, My Bloody Valentine-esque kind of way. Full marks too for blissful, acoustic number ‘Photographer’ and even the instrumental track ‘Autumnmania’ has a drive and an urgency to make it stand out. Once again, though, the album ends is disappointingly subdued fashion as the ideas run out.

There’s an argument to say that the best of the two albums could have been combined to form a superb hour-long album. However, thematically it is easy to see the logic in separating ‘Ummagma’ and ‘Antigravity’. Put it simply, the former is recommended for fans of beat-heavy experimental pop whilst the latter is a shoe-in for dreampop followers but either display admirable levels of creativity and talent.

Web Sites:
Ummagma Official Site
Ummagma Bandcamp Site

Further Listening:
Luscious Jackson

Review: The Attic Ends – The Sky Begins (Part One)

The Attic Ends are a female-fronted ethereal indie rock band from Brooklyn. Each band member came from wildly different backgrounds in music, from a singer who spent three years in a Germany-based pop act, to a keyboard player with classical and Afro-Caribbean inclinations and a drummer who paid his dues on the hard rock circuit. Like all good bands, though, they demonstrate on ‘The Sky Begins (Part One)’ that the experiences of their varied CVs can be put to positive use.

The Attic Ends Album Cover

It’s important for a new act to make an arresting start to an album and The Attic Ends could not have begun in more convincing fashion than ‘Fortress’. If the problem with female-fronted bands is that often the female dominates so much that the band members seem more like session musicians for their singer’s solo career, ‘Fortress’ pours scorn over that worry as they provide strong rhythmic and melodic backing to match the intensity of Samantha Rex’s vocals. Yet ‘Garden’ and ‘The Real You’ are a little more wayward with guitarist Pete Hur and Rex seemingly trying to out-perform each other. Happily, these are the only real missteps on an otherwise good album. ‘Giving Up’ reclaims the mojo, as it were. It’s a much subtler, moodier affair than ‘Fortress’ but what it lacks in melodrama it makes up for in atmosphere. Keyboard player Jan Christiansen comes to the fore for the melancholic soul-baring of ‘Somebody Found Out’; another powerful showcase for Rex. Finally, the shuffling percussion on ‘Your Light’ reveals the importance of Bob King’s crisp and precise drumming.

There may be a couple of occasions when band and singer seem to be at odds with each other but the counter-argument is that it never did a certain Mr. Marr and Mr. Morrissey any harm on records by The Smiths. So long as these different influences can be channelled in the right way, there’s a sense of more good things to come from The Attic Ends which all bodes well for ‘The Sky Begins (Part Two)’ of course.

Web Sites:
The Attic Ends Official Site
The Attic Ends Bandcamp Stream for ‘The Sky Begins (Part One)’

Further Listening:
All About Eve, Ending People

Review: Nightmute – Apparition

It may be 2013 but here are LA’s Nightmute who make the kind of old school epic, gothic rock which harks back to a time when non-ironic bands such as The Mission ruled certain airwaves. ‘Apparition’ is the group’s debut EP and one which wastes no time in setting their agenda.

Nightmute EP Cover

‘Lipstick’ reads like a checklist of post-punk/gothic rock with passionate, full-blooded vocals, driving guitars, insistent keyboards, intense drumming and epic production all to the fore. It’s a great way to start the EP though. ‘Gloria’ is calmer and more controlled, at least initially. Guitars jangle this time and the song only really lets fly on the full-throated chorus, which steers just far enough away from Eurovision territory to make it palatable. The band are brave enough to bestow the title of ‘The Anthem’ on the third track and in fairness their confidence is not misplaced as the hard-working Americans fully commit to rhythm and melody. That only leaves ‘She’s The Score’ to continue the formula of gothic verses and the inevitable big chorus.

In these days of bands wanting to sound as arty and off-kilter as possible, Nightmute provide a refreshing antidote with an uncompromising take on arena rock. Yes, they could have existed twenty five years ago but the polish of these songs is offset by the gritty musicianship of the band members. Indeed, each song here is delivered with a relentless energy and conviction which suggests they are stadium bound.

Web Sites:
Nightmute Official Site
Video of Nightmite’s ‘Gloria’

Further Listening:
The Mission, Hearts Fail

Review: Emby Alexander – Dressed Undressing

When faced with the description of “Experimental indie/baroque pop”, there’s a fair chance it’s going to be a love it or hate it experience. The only guarantee is that it’s unlikely to be dull. With this note of caution, any danger can at least be mitigated by the fact that Emby Alexander’s latest EP is only ten minutes long.

Emby Alexander EP Cover

The Arizona quintet exhibit oddness in spades on this brief but many coloured EP. The opening track shifts wildly between an A.R. Kane abstract intro and a girl group chorus, whilst in between the early exuberance of the Mystery Jets are brought to mind. ‘How Hard It Is To Be A Boy’ is no less strange. Once again the chorus seems almost unrelated to the verses, not that Emby Alexander are particular obsessed with orthodox song structures. This time the vocals echo from speaker to speaker in a disorientating and eerie take on modern psych-pop. The third and final track, ‘Drag The Long Way Home’, is close in spirit to Deerhunter with an air of vintage punk-pop at its core but on the surface there’s a deranged yet addictive approach to coherent songwriting. Once again the crazed vocals are to the forefront, of course.

In a way it’s a blessing that the whole listening experience is over in ten minutes because lengthy exposure to this kind of bizarre music is bound to have an effect on one’s sanity. Furthermore, there is certainly a sense that they’re trying too hard to bottle a myriad of influences into each of their songs. Nevertheless, there’s much to be fascinated and thrilled by on Emby Alexander’s first EP which should lure in all lovers of macabre art pop.

Web Sites:
Emby Alexander Official Site
SoundCloud Stream for ‘Dressed Undressed’

Further Listening:
Mystery Jets, Deerhunter

Review: Deaf Horse – Human Meat

Somerset’s Deaf Horse make all the right moves in their bio as they promise post-grunge with influences including Six.By Seven, Pleasingly, this intriguing prospect is backed up by a tidy bunch of no holds barred tunes which go straight for the jugular.

Deafhorse Album Cover

‘Dead’ opens in howls of feedback and deadpan narration, then an onslaught of howled guitars and angsty vocals are held together by some wonderfully forceful drumming, which encircles the band in a vice-like grip. The appropriately named ‘Pierce The Skies’ is another intense affair but the rhythms here resemble a threatening rumble; making it the closest point they get to the aforementioned Six.By Seven. Thereafter the pace slackens a little but the bluesy ‘Fire’ is not unlike Red Hot Chili Peppers whereas the comparatively simplistic but equally compelling ‘Modern Warfare’ and ‘Figure It Out’ offer raw and angry statements of intent. Meanwhile, ‘Terry Thompson’ depicts the story of the Ohio man who set free his collection of caged exotic animals before shooting himself. It’s testament to the band that the song is just as chilling without taking the subject matter into consideration and it is certainly a more convincing song then the underwhelming “slowie” finale, ‘India Joy’, which may or may not be an ode to the American teen actress of the same name.

Deaf Horse could receive some flak from cynics for sounding too American in terms of style, subject matter and vocals. However, the band perform here like a visceral ball of energy and they create a concise and thrilling racket on their own terms, proving that the Bristol scene isn’t just about trip-hop nowadays.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream for Deaf Horse’s ‘Human Meat’

Further Listening:
Six.By Seven, Blag’ard, Queens Of The Stone Age

Review: Victory Kicks – Rockets For Ghosts EP

Alternative rock bands from London aren’t exactly thin on the ground but Victory Kicks are certainly worth twenty one minutes of your time for this debut EP. A promise of “lean, unfussy, fun catchy rock music that doesn’t feel overly indulgent” certainly sounds good on paper and for a British band, they also sound distinctly American and probably come closest to the style of French Kicks or The Stills in that regard.

Victory Kicks EP Cover

‘Dive! Dive! Dive!’ fulfils their early promise for riffy, rhythmic guitar work. It’s no nonsense, fuzzy, indie rock with repetitive but effective driving guitars at its core and the airy vocals from the frontman offer an unusual counterpoint. ‘Eventually It Breaks’ also benefits from a fuzzy exterior but its softer, bass-heavy approach is ultimately more hypnotic. Disappointingly, the lighter ‘Pioneer’ is more in keeping with the post-Britpop/rock scene, but is a little too undemanding to warrant repeat listens.

Pleasingly, the more the band expand their horizons, the more they prosper. With ‘January Man’, they begin dipping their toes into atmospheric country rock, including some neat ambient touches. ‘Birdcage’ is similarly impressive as the group aim for a echo-heavy production and avoid the obvious verse-chorus format. By the time of the last track, ‘Exit Industry’, they have come full circle with a catchy riff and a harder edge to match the verve of the opening track but since they’re fine exponents of this particular trick, who can blame them for trying this technique again?

Overall, this is an encouraging start for a new band who express a thirst for experimenting that will serve them well for future releases. ‘Rockets For Ghosts EP’ perhaps lacks a truly killer track but is made up of a consistently decent set of songs.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream for Victory Kicks – ‘Rockets For Ghosts EP’

Further Listening:
French Kicks, The Stills

Review: Boards Of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

For any electronica act who surround themselves with a sense of mystery, all reference points will eventually lead to Boards Of Canada. I should know as I’ve compared to them to countless acts over the years, lazy journalist that I am. Whether it’s the sounds of muffled childrens’ voices or unheard samples of space shuttle recordings, Boards Of Canada are your go-to act. ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ is only their fourth album (they started trading in 1986) and one which was announced via some typically cryptic advertising. The sounds on the album itself are just as oblique yet somehow familiar.

Boards Of Canada Album Cover

Those usual reference points are there. The album begins with what sounds like the title sequence to a 1970’s regional TV channel, there are samples of an aged scientist counting “1, 2, 3, 4” and everything is covered in a shroud of eeriness. ‘Reach For The Dead’ is the first track which brings on those sinister, elegiac feelings; the leaden-paced beats and glacial wash of keyboards are certainly worthy of the track title.  This highly effective start is surpassed, however, by the superb track number four, ‘Jacquard Causeway’. It too begins in relatively unassuming fashion with a Portishead-style percussive loop which is accompanied by initially random alien noise yet soon the lines of communication become less blurred as the alien noise becomes more complex and melodic and the air of frenzy, urgency and no little sadness is the result.

Thereafter Boards Of Canada seem to settle into a homogeneous version of themselves with little to distinguish one track from the next. Moments such as the beats vs space-y atmosphere ‘Sick Times’ sound like a group trying to emulate the BOC style but without reaching the required ethereal heights. Exceptions are the rubbery (and I suppose lovely) ‘Palace Posy’ and the machine-made elegance of ‘Nothing Is Real’ whilst the rhythms to ‘New Seeds’ resemble none other than early Simple Minds.

So overall it’s business as usual for Boards Of Canada. Their air of mystique and unidentifiable nostalgia is maintained and there is an admirable seamlessness to all their records which many of their peers cannot match. However, there is also that nagging thought at the back of the mind which makes one wonder whether they deserve the praise that tends to be thrust on them, since this album is made up of several great tracks and lots of suggestions they are recycling their own past.

Web Sites:
Boards Of Canada Official Site
Video of Boards Of Canada’s ‘Jacquard Causeway’

Further Listening: