Archive for October, 2013

Review: Quiet Child – The Coming Storm

Quiet Child are an Australian progressive rock band who have recently announced, as a live band at least, to call it quits. This is certainly a shame although for purely selfish reasons this may be a good thing, since they can now concentrate on crafting more fine albums such as ‘The Coming Storm’, their most recent effort.

Quiet Child Album Cover

There is a focus about Quiet Child which means they avoid the usual prog rock clichés. These songs have been written and arranged to merit repeated plays. Instrumental solos are few in number and when they do use them, they are present for better reasons than to merely show off. ‘Dawn Brings Warmth’ represents an early showcase for the vocal  range of Peter Spiker but also for some subtle keyboard skills. A morose piano melody adds dignity to the stately ‘Ghost Town’ and the subtle ‘Hotel Shade’ is shrouded in an attractively eerie cloud.

They fare less well when they add a harder edge to their music so the metallic guitars of ‘Cannonfire March’ signals a rare misstep but when the anger is controlled for the meandering but compelling ‘Without Borders’, the results are much more appealing. The band reach their peak, though, on ‘I’ve Found Some Poison’ where the elements of Spiker’s falsetto, a  rich Hammond organ, anguished guitars and caressed percussion all dovetail together in perfect unison, whilst the unbridled emotion of ‘Conditions’ is a powerful and excellent way to end the record.

Quiet Child are definitely a prog rock act but – for the most part – there is little indication of the self indulgence often associated with this music. This is a band who have clearly honed their skills from over nine years as a live act and it is hoped this won’t be the last recording we hear from them.

Web Sites:
Quiet Child Official Site
Quiet Child Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Radiohead, Genesis


Review: Jesse Ruins – A Film

The name may suggest the latest in a long line of earnest young American singer/songwriters but Jesse Ruins is something rather different. In fact, dreamy synth pop would be a more apt description for this band from Tokyo which was originally formed as a solo vehicle for Nobuyuki Sakuma before he enlisted the services of bandmates Yosuke Tuchida and Nah.

Jesse Ruins Album Cover

‘Laura Is Fading’ sets early expectations by sounding like a Japanese version of early 80’s synth pop acts like Ultravox. Those elements of brash synths, driving bass and a thirst for colourful melody are all in place, with only the light, breathless vocals to distinguish the Oriental influence. ‘Talk To Alicia’ consists of  keyboards so clean and shiny you could brush your teeth with them with only an incessant drum machine marring the otherwise alluring listening experience. After this the songs become a little more blurred and a little less hooky, exemplified by a bouncy but rather cheap sounding ‘Sharon Is Frozen’. ‘Uxbal In A Illusive’ brings ‘A Film’ back into sharper focus with a strident rhythm but the remaining tracks seem to be slightly inferior versions of what’s gone before. Last song, ‘Valentine at 2am’, is the notable exception; it has an empowering surge that unearths hitherto unnoticed levels of romance.

Don’t go looking for much introspection on this album. The somewhat insipid vocals add to the idea that this is a largely superficial experience where the emphasis is on concise pop tunes rather than Junior Boys-style explorations of the soul. Think of M83 on a strict budget which is not necessarily a bad thing at all.

Web Sites:
Jesse Ruins Official Site
Jesse Ruins – ‘A Film’ SoundCloud Stream

Further Listening:
M83, Visage, Ultravox, Color Filter

Review: Digital Noise Academy – Synemy

Digital Noise Academy is an internet collaboration featuring a sextet of musicians and producers, with songs sent to each member in turn who then added their individual contributions. However detached and inhuman that prospect sounds, what we have here is a largely cohesive record where any suggestion of ego battles gives way to genuine songwriting and arrangement prowess.

Digital Noise Academy Album Cover

‘Stop Running’ bursts onto the scene in a supercharged blast of fuzzy guitar pop. Its busy nature is reminiscent of the Canadian “supergroup” Broken Social Scene at the peak of their powers and the excellent, lively ‘Thursday Night Party’ follows suit in terms of style and is every bit its equal in terms of quality. Charlotte Martin proves to be, if you’ll excuse the excessive use of TLAs, one of DNA’s USPs. On ‘Melting Inside’ she resembles ‘Black Cherry’-era Alison Goldfrapp to the level of pastiche but she really comes into her own on the dreampop-flavoured title track and a catchy ‘Star Clusters’.

A rather less exciting second half follows as tracks such as the mid-paced ‘Old Ways’ and ‘Gone Cold’ derail the momentum somewhat and although the dub-inflected ‘What’s Left’ offers something different, it’s an experiment which doesn’t sit right with the exuberance of the rest of the album. Thankfully the finale is salvaged by the return of grungy guitars and Martin’s youthful vocal for the resurgent ‘Touch’

There may be a slight problem with Digital Noise Academy falling short of having a true identity and it must be said they do a very convincing job of sounding like other bands. However, with a pool of obvious talent at their disposal, this is an extremely worthwhile project characterised by some great indie-centric pop songs.

Web Sites:
Digital Noise Academy Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of Digital Noise Academy’s ‘Synemy’

Further Listening:
Broken Social Scene, Stars

Review: Monocle – Transpacific Sound Paradise

Monocle greatly impressed with their first album ‘Outer Sunset’, which came across as the New York born child of Broadcast and Stereolab. Since then mainman Rich Bennett has released several mini albums, one an imaginary soundtrack for an imaginary 80’s cop show whilst the other two, ‘Music For Underwater Supermarkets’ and ‘On Holiday’, largely sounded like the titles suggested. Intriguing and inventive though they were, it’s refreshing to hear him placing the emphasis on song-based material for the belated second album by Monocle.

Monocle Album Cover

So what’s changed since the first album? For a start, Bennett has brought in Dead Leaf Echo’s Ana Breton to share vocal duties which adds a welcome contrast to Bennett’s own baritone. There’s also a commendable array of unusual instruments used in these songs. Steel drums (‘Breeze Along With Me’), surf guitar (‘Plastic Beach’) and Wurlitzer instrumentals (‘Swinger400’) all feature but in all honesty only the first of these is essential listening. Otherwise, though, classy moments are generously offered from track to track.

On the first song, ‘Snake’, the bouncy synth lines and strings usher in a great chorus, which is equal parts 1960’s easy listening and electro-pop. ‘Chances Glide’, the single, is an easy choice for a highlight; a pop song which is as much about mystery and intrigue as it is about being insanely addictive. This signals an upsurge in quality from the noirish urgency of ‘Exus’, to the moody jazz-pop ‘Inside The Gate’ and ending on a great high as a wonderfully meandering bassline takes on Stereolab-esque passages of beauty for ‘Most People Believe’.

Being hyper-critical, it’s hard not to feel a little short changed by ‘Transpacific Sound Paradise’, because at just thirty three minutes, this is a very brief album. Nevertheless, this being a Rich Bennett record, it’s a richly diverse offering with the majority of songs clearly touched by his retro-futurist pop genius.

Web Sites:
Hidden Shoal Label and Shop Site
Bandcamp Stream of Monocle’s ‘Transpacific Sound Paradise’

Further Listening:
Stereolab, Broadcast, Hotels, Rich Bennett

Review: The Stargazer Lilies – We Are The Dreamers

There will be no prizes for guessing what kind of music The Stargazer Lilies are offering with their debut ‘We Are The Dreamers’. Add together the knowledge that core band members John Cep and Kim Field served time in Soundpool and we obviously have some classic shoegaze/dreampop on our hands. Doubtlessly the term “classic” being attached to this genre will be a contradiction in terms for some but this record is a powerful and rather brilliant return to head-bobbing music for the disaffected.

The Stargazer Lilies Album Cover

The title track and album opener is a real barnstormer with ghostly  female vocals straight from the Lush school of indie rock, backed up by shuddering layers of reverb and crashing guitars. It’s dramatic and huge sounding and ended by a haunting fade-out. Naturally, after this excellent start, it would be hard to maintain this form and sure enough the following song, ‘Del Rey Mar’ seems to be acoustic-based, float away pop initially but then the FX pedals begin to dominate as if in direct battle with the pure vocals. The competition is less closely fought for ‘Undone’ where there’s too much noise and not enough melody but it’s a rare error of judgment on an otherwise wonderfully-produced album.

Cep and Field draw on older influences than you might think. ‘How We Lost’ seems to be on the threshold of breaking into a cover of The Hollies ‘The Air That I Breathe’ whereas the gorgeous ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ harks back to 60’s girl groups complete with the obligatory Wall Of Sound. Drawing on more expected influences, the cavernous production on ‘Endless Days’ recalls ‘Head Over Heels’-era Cocteau Twins and the trippy ‘Sad Colored Days’ is blissful heaven. As we reach the conclusion, it seems entirely appropriate that the last track is a fragile, uncomplicated little thing and the spare folk of ‘Because’ definitely doesn’t disappoint on that score.

Granted, ‘We Are The Dreamers’ could do with one or two variations in tempo from the default setting of slow to mid-paced. That mild criticism aside though, The Stargazer Lilies have raised their game significantly since the Soundpool days and it’s impressive the way these songs, in their own special way, seem like a soundtrack to the end of the world.

Web Sites:
The Stargazer Lilies Official Site
Graveface Records Label and Shop Site
Pure Volume Album Stream of The Stargazer Lilies’ ‘We Are The Dreamers’
Video of The Stargazer Lilies’ ‘Endless Days’

Further Listening:
Lush, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive

Review: My Bloody Valentine – m b v

Possibly the only act to make The Blue Nile look prolific, earlier this year My Bloody Valentine made what must rank as one of the most anticipated indie/alternative albums ever. In between times, hundreds of other acts have been compared to them, which of course merely prolongs the mythology about them.  Even the reissue of their EPs and first two albums were delayed for what seemed like eons. Well, Kevin Shields and co. are now back with their first new album in twenty two years and it actually sounds like they went into the studio the week after ‘Loveless’ and just started recording again.

mbv Album Cover

On that basis, ‘m b v’ is not a particular forward-thinking record but it is one which re-establishes their status as a special band with an expertise in production. One can naturally expect a middle-aged act to learn about subtlety but even so, for a band infamous for being a threat on your ears, ‘she found now’ acts as an unexpectedly soothing balm. Naturally, this being My Bloody Valentine, it literally throbs with effects as the woozily charming melody mesmerises and drifts pleasantly. Yes, pleasantly is the word, for this an album which – for the most part – won’t upset anyone. One would think that the next track, ‘only tomorrow’, would bring back the shock factor but despite the riff apparently being played out on a drill, it’s smoothed down and provides a solid and rhythmic undertow to counter the sweetness of Bilinda Butcher’s vocal. It is also the first of many great songs from ‘m b v’.

‘who sees you’ resembles a lumbering dinosaur grinding and groaning is way towards the conclusion but there’s a sweet tune to be discovered along the way and ‘is this and yes’ delights with its fairy dust keyboards. The shifts and warps of ‘if i am’ make it one of the more disorientating experiences on the record but its hooks (with Butcher in effortlessly graceful form) are seductive. Whereas that track takes a while to sink its teeth in, ‘new you’ is immediately arresting. It contains a disarmingly cheesy keyboard hook, unusually crisp drumming and narcoleptic “do do doo” vocals from Butcher. It should be awful but it’s brilliantly catchy. ‘in another way’ appears to be the loudest and most discordant track initially but the quartet manage to coax a defiantly, off-kilter, wordless chorus of beauty from their arsenal of FX pedals. Just when you think everything is going perfectly, though, ‘nothing is’ represents the only tune-free track: a relentless barrage of percussion which goes absolutely nowhere. This just leaves ‘wonder 2’ which, if we’re being hyper-critical, is the track which most sounds like a band covering MBV but its ability to turn plane take-off sounds into something so addictive and compelling is certainly worthy of kudos.

It’s debatable to say whether this record is worth the wait (no matter how legendary you are, it’s hard to justify over two decades of inactivity, after all), nevertheless it’s immensely satisfying to say that the record doesn’t disappoint. The only surprise is the relatively gentle nature of the record so unless you play it really, really loud, it won’t scare your parents either. In fact, come to think of it, they’ll probably remember the early stuff and claim they’ve gone a bit soft. All in all though, this is still one of the outstanding records of the year.

Web Sites:
My Bloody Valentine Official Site
My Bloody Valentine – ‘new you’

Review: Signal Hill – Chase The Ghost

Call it post-rock, post-Mogwai or whatever you desire but there should always be time given to guitar-based instrumental albums which ache like there’s no tomorrow. Signal Hill’s ‘Chase The Ghost’ is one such  album and here the NYC/LA-based band pile layer upon layer of sad melody into the mix, to such an extent that one almost feels spoiled listening to it.

Signal Hill Album Cover

That’s not to say the music is over-saturated in melody as there real moments of subtlety to be found, such as when ‘Imaginary Friend #2’ is introduced by warm keyboards that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Labradford record. Meanwhile, jazzy textures underscore ‘Van Gogh Sky’. To begin with,’The Fantastic Hours’ is a delightful partnership of circling percussion and chiming melody and the gorgeous ‘Collide Us’ is festooned with melancholic layers of guitar hooks. In a similar manner to The Workhouse, though, ‘Corners’ is arguably the centrepiece; it seems to teeter on the edge of something dramatic for four minutes before finally exploding into glorious walls of noise.

Signal Hill are said to have emerged from Los Angeles’ so-called “urban sprawl” but there is something very warm and intimate in these complex tracks which speak of sadness and hope in equal measure. Originality-wise, it’s fair to say the quartet don’t exactly rewrite the post-rock rule book but this is a glorious return to addictive instrumental music.

Web Sites:
Sun Sea Sky Label and Shop Site
Bandcamp Stream for Signal Hill’s ‘Chase The Ghost’

Further Listening:
This Is A Process Of A Still Life, The Workhouse, Labradford, Raymond Scott Woolson

Review: Carta – The Faults Follow

The backstory to Carta’s third album is dominated by upsetting times with band members experiencing cancer, death, rehab and divorce within their family circles. Therefore the challenge for the San Francisco act is to create music which communicates grief, acceptance and eventual release in a sensitive and attractive way. Happily, there’s no concerns on that score.

Carta CD Cover

This is music which may be forever on the verge of attack (or occasionally on the cusp of joy and escape) but instead chooses to lurk in the shadows, exemplified by the album opener and title track, which evokes a languid, threatening undercurrent. ‘The Iowa Fight Song’ brings in a female guest vocal and rivals Piano Magic for glacial elegant misery whereas the rumbling menace of ‘The Hollow Greeting’ resembles Windsor For The Derby. The real genius of ‘The Faults Follow’, though, is the band’s ability to maintain interest with a varied and creative approach to conveying bleakness. Thus, even an instrumental like ‘Header’ makes perfect sense, thanks to its beautiful sleepy melody and what appears to be a typewriter sample. Further on, ambient ballad ‘Morse Code’ and a string-supported ‘Saragosa’ (another classy instrumental) captivate and delight whilst The Last Name Of Your First Love’ seduces with its chiming guitar figure and caressed percussion.

It’s a rare trick to make slow to mid-paced music so compelling but ‘The Faults Follow’ reveals that all band members have the experience and the confidence to write an album which haunts long after the record has finished playing.  The title may set low expectations but Carta seem to be one of those acts who take their craft far too seriously to make any noticeable mistakes.

Web Sites:
Carta Official Site
Saint Marie Records Label and Shop Site
Bandcamp Stream for ‘The Faults Follow/The Iowa Fight Song’ Single

Further Listening:
Piano Magic, Windsor For The Derby

Review: British Sea Power – Machineries Of Joy

Surely it is the aim of most acts to be both successful and unique at the same time. British Sea Power come closer than most to this aim. Granted, their sound has been smoothed round the edges over the years but few pull off that combination of anthemic indie, post rock, punk and national identity with such aplomb. The group appealed to their most devoted fans by releasing a sequence of EPs, with many of these songs now appearing in more streamlined form for a new long player called ‘Machineries Of Joy’.

British Sea Power Album Cover

The first three songs are like a microcosm of British Sea Power’s career thus far, taking on post rock, post punk and Echo And The Bunnymen-esque epic indie. The title track settles into a Krautrock groove. Next comes the “shouty punk one”, with Yan shireking and caterwauling whilst guitars riff like the Manics’ ‘Australia’ through the album’s most visceral track, ‘K-Hole’. Then there’s “the quiet one” in the shape of ‘Hail Holy Queen’, where Hamilton brings in his underrated vocal to the party and his gentle style is perfectly suited to this sophisticated and elegant song. Both frontmen team up for the excellent ‘Loving Animals’, featuring typically quirky subject matter and an arrangement which is both edgy and catchy.

Eyebrows will be raised when a track unimaginatively entitled ‘What You Need The Most’ appears but the lyrics are full of references to glassware and this being British Sea Power you wonder whether these are metaphors or they really are in love with a Pyrex jug. The jury may still be out on that one and a couple of other songs on the slightly weaker second half, ‘Spring Has Sprung’ and ‘A Light Above Descending’, seem to lack the usual BSP hooks. Otherwise, ‘Radio Goddard’ is another affectionate tribute and ‘When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass’ ends the record in a chilly, mysterious way to confirm that this Brighton act are still thirsty to experiment.

Half a dozen albums in (if you include their instrumental ‘Man Of Aran’ soundtrack), British Sea Power have still yet to really put a foot wrong, even if none of their albums could ever be regarded as classics. Yet, like a site of national heritage, they offer reliable and consistent pieces of work which can make one proud to be British.

Web Sites:
British Sea Power Official Site
Video of British Sea Power’s ‘Holy Queen’

Further Listening:
Echo And The Bunnymen, Manic Street Preachers

Review: Midnight Moodswings & Seiswork – The Dopamine Recursive

An album named ‘The Dopamine Recursive’ is described as “Imaginary people telling imaginary stories to imaginary listeners”. So that’s cleared any vagueness up then. To give a more tangible description, Seiswork is a glitch-hop artist from Belgium whereas Midnight Moodswings is a post-rock act operating from Pittsburgh. It would be fair to say that neither act particularly compromises on their chosen style on this collaboration but what could have led to self indulgent results is instead replaced by intelligent, evocative instrumental tracks.

Album Cover for 'The Dopamine Recursive'

Ambient/modern classical opener ‘The Floor Is’ turns out to be one of the more simplistic and relaxed pieces but its haunted piano motif is surely an appetiser that something really bad is about to happen. This being a rather unpredictable record, though, the sense of expectation is only half right. ‘A Good Place’ and ‘To Sleep’ both consist of infectious, rustic guitar melody allied with a selection of busy beats whilst the excellent ‘Tell The Difference’ paints a picture of dangerous times in futuristic cities via its dramatic stentorian keyboards and dark trip hop. Granted, the air of nightmares is never far away but the artists refuse to overstep the mark of challenging music being made unlistenable.

Indeed, however incongruous these supposed sound clashes might appear on paper, the results are surprisingly approachable and tuneful. The only slight flaw is that the album is a rather austere experience, meaning that it would work better as a soundtrack to visuals rather than as a standalone piece.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of Midnight Moodswings & Seiswork – The Dopamine Recursive

Further Listening:
Radio For The Daydreamers, PNDC & Housework, Dissolved