Archive for November, 2013

Review: Editors – The Weight Of Your Love

After recording their first two, anthem-heavy albums, Editors retreated from the limelight somewhat with an electronically inclined third. It was a dark, deep and compelling record and for my money, their most consistently satisfying. One of the most significant pieces of news in preparation for the release of ‘The Weight Of Your Love’ was that guitarist Chris Urbanowicz had departed the group citing “differences in musical direction”.

Editors Album Cover

The new album can almost be divided into four quarters, with the first quarter being the most appealing. ‘The Weight’ witness Mr. Smith emerging like a wild west hero claiming “I’m a lump of meat with a heartbeat. Electricity starts me” and it’s the first indication this could feasibly be a Tom Smith solo album. That’s not to dismiss the quality of his bandmates’ contribution. The music is grand and cinematic but it’s over-polished. For a short while the formula really works. ‘Sugar’ benefits from muscular backing and is reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s ‘It’s No Good’ with Smith giving his own portrayal of a dominant frontman, then the song swells into a dramatic ending a la Echo The Bunnymen’s ‘Ocean Rain’. On ‘A Ton Of Love’, the psychedelic intro is also Bunnymen-esque whilst Smith could almost be Bono, particularly in the way he yells “Desire” but other than that he stamps his own identity on the song and is on his strongest chest-beating form for the chorus.

Then the wheels begin to come off. Adorned with strings, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ sounds like a vehicle for a former boy band member, Smith certainly has an impressive vocal range but the song itself is in ‘Fix You’ territory. ‘Nothing’ is noticeably classier but the classical arrangement can’t disguise the fact that this song will be tailor-made for the “emotional backstories” in X Factor. This leads to the third section of the album where the group attempt to get angrier but seem to be missing the inspiration of Urbanowicz; certainly ‘Hyena’ makes all the right noises on paper with a searing guitar line but the song comes across as a polite attempt to recall the anthemic glories of yore. By the time of the final quarter of the record, the momentum has even descended into bland acoustic fare such as ‘The Phone Book’, where the title of the song turns out to be its most interesting aspect.

Judging by the largely undemanding indie fare on the album, one can only surmise that Urbanowicz wanted to steer the group away from this stadium-friendly direction so what we are left with is effectively a Tom Smith solo project, with some orchestral backing. Just as their nearest American sound-alikes Interpol disappointed with their last release, Editors also seem to be on a similar creative downward spiral. Let’s hope for a more worthwhile musical direction next time.

Web Sites:
Editors Official Site
Youtube Video of Editors’ ‘A Ton Of Love’

Further Listening:
U2, Coldplay, Echo And The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode


Review: behave. – behave. (EP)

The trend of anonymous DJ acts has been all too prevalent since the turn of the Century. So when another electronic dance duo led by a DJ shows up, anticipation of substance and addictive tunes may not be high on the agenda. Yet long time friends DJ Bhate (the “DJ” is actually an abbreviation) and Miguel Leiva have a couple of tricks up their sleeve, courtesy of a relaxed vibe and an assortment of guitar hooks.

behave. EP Cover

They may sound trite on paper but the generic lyrics of “close your eyes to the sun” and “fade in, fade out” make sense when attached to the melody of ‘Close’; characterised by playful beats and a nagging guitar line. It is from such solid ground that Bhate and Leiva build their songs and is the most convincing case in point, the remarkably slick ‘First Time’ rides on hip-hop lite and a slinky guitar line straight from the Orange Juice school of funk.

Somewhat bizarrely, ‘Veil’ uses a children’s’ TV-friendly tune making it an incongruous centrepiece for the EP. However, normal order is restored as ‘Let Me Know’ sets the controls for summer time again with another sunny motif, this time using the bassline as its USP but considering it’s marketed as the lead track, it’s not the most compelling moment on the EP. ‘To Forget’ is more like it as the duo recapture the form of the first two tracks with another hook which meanders and curls its way around the vocals like a coiled cobra.

The EP lasts just twenty minutes and although it may lack a little depth, the methods by which the duo recapture indie guitar for the dance generation is done in an admirable style. Infectious and sensual.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of behave. (EP)

Further Listening:
Playground, Orange Juice

Music For Voyeurs – EICV7″ 50

Easy comparisons to The Durutti Column and July Skies notwithstanding, Rick Senley’s previous outing under the moniker of Music For Voyeurs was a delightful set of poignant songs and instrumentals inspired by a tragic time in the artist’s life. ‘The Long Sleep’ is now swiftly followed by another EP of somewhat more abstract and challenging music on Everything Is Chemical.

Music For Voyeurs EP

It certainly begins in incongruous fashion. Based on the funereal piano keys for ‘Sing One Note Man’, Senley appears to have picked up from where he left off from ‘The Long Sleep’. Yet slowly the melody picks up and conjures up images of pastoral beauty, slightly tarnished by snatches of dialogue but Senley is not one for going down the obvious route. Thanks to its hypnotic collision of spoken word, busy electronic beats and discordant noise, ‘Agua, Cola, Beer’ could be a low budget version of Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’. The remaining three tracks follow a similarly strange pattern: ‘What If It Turns Out Good’ and ‘I Knew It Was Love’ both balance the elegance of Senley’s piano and guitar playing with downright odd vocal and field recordings whilst the final track, ‘Colliding Lovers’, could even be Mike Oldfield jamming with The Stranglers whilst recording ‘The Raven’ LP.

Neither electronic, club, spoken word or classical but taking elements of all these genres, Senley has packed an awful lot into fifteen minutes. It may lack the cohesion and poignancy of ‘The Long Sleep’ but the willingness to experiment is plain for all to see and that has to be applauded.

Web Sites:
Music For Voyeurs Official Site
Download Link for Music For Voyeurs – EICV7″ 50
Bandcamp Stream for Music For Voyeurs – EICV7″ 50

Further Listening:
The Stranglers

Review: Oathless & Good Weather For An Airstrike – Sol

Sometimes it’s easy to imagine artists the we admire as superheroes. By day, Simon Housley and Tom Honey may go about their business in mild-mannered, unassuming fashion but when it comes to music they become the fantastically-named Oathless and Good Weather For An Airstrike; both releasing ambient works with a pleasingly hopeful outlook.

'Sol' Ep Cover

The beginning to ‘Sol’ is blissful and evokes feelings of being transported to a higher plane. The instrumental framework of slow beats and keyboard washes set out by Honey and Housley should be dreamy enough but Jamie Brett’s angelic vocal performance lifts the song even higher into the clouds. The chilled-out vibe continues for the weightless ‘Your Childhood Races Towards You’ but just when you think the EP is drifting into relaxation therapy territory, ‘Fragment’ appears, casting its melancholic spell with indecipherable dialogue and haunted piano keys. This turns out to be the catalyst for change. ‘What Are You Doing, Lyla?’ builds on drones and expands from minimalism to layers of carefully manicured noise whilst ‘Through The Iris’, the last track, is a combination of what has gone before; on the one hand heavenly vocals and dreamy soundscapes but on the other a darker, mysterious edge prevails.

All of this makes for a fascinating half hour’s listening where Housley, Honey and Brett prove that these gifted performers are stronger together than apart. In a field where musicians often prefer to work alone, this is a great case for collaborative working.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of ‘Sol’

Further Listening:

Review: Savages – Silence Yourself

The amount of hype generated by London’s Savages might seem confusing for some. Their monochrome image and post-punk sound have been tried by so many acts before. However, they carry themselves with a refreshing aloofness, their live shows attract rave reviews and their songs, though studied, suggest that this is an all-female British band who can translate their appeal on to foreign shores too.

Savages Album Cover

‘Shut Up’ is an arresting opener in more ways than one. Jehnny Beth’s clipped vocals evoke a petulant schoolgirl or, to give a musical comparison, early Siouxsie Sioux. There’s a satisfying grittiness to the bass/guitar interplay from Ayse Hassan and Gemma Thompson which elevates the songs above post-punk pastiche level and Fay Milton’s tribal drumming dominates tracks like the punishing ‘I Am Here’.

The stark ‘Strife’, with its spindly guitar lines, huge rhythmic pulses and Bauhaus-esque (or even Joy Division-esque) atmosphere provides a stunning moment, matched by the “straight for the jugular” approach for single ‘She Will’. Furthermore, on ‘Waiting For A Sign’, Beth begins to grow her own voice and she is the definite focal point for this dramatic centrepiece, as she is for the relatively refined ‘Marshall Dear’. Other tracks, such as the visceral and shouty ‘No Face’ and ‘Hit Me’, possibly work better in the live environment but they’ve already done enough to ensnare the curious by that point.

This is a supremely confident debut and one whose musical manifesto is laid out clearly for all to enjoy. In short, if you like authentic post-punk music, you will most probably like ‘Silence Yourself’. Then again, there is a sense that with music as austere as this, there’s a risk that it’s not an album to keep returning to on a frequent basis. I feel that they can and will do better on their next album but as an opening statement, it certainly convinces.

Web Sites:
Savages Official Site
Savages perform ‘She Will’ (Live on KEXP)

Further Listening:
Bauhaus, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Review: Bihari Beach – Eurowanker

My first introduction to Bihari Beach was via the brief three song ‘Little Fort EP’. It combined heroically lo-fi rock with a youthful penchant for lewdness in the song titles. Yet whether by luck or judgement, it sounded raw and alive. As an EP title of ‘Eurowanker’ might testify, similar levels of lewdness remain on their follow-up but there’s also a real growth and maturity in the musicianship too.

Bihari Beach EP Cover

‘Is Lemons’ begins the frenetic action with the song distinguished by Eric Reyes’ reliably slurred vocals but the combination of his murmurings with the intense framework of guitars, bass and drums is like listening to Julian Casablancas fronting early Joy Division. ‘Graduation’ builds up like it wants to be an anthem but pulls its punches somewhat when Reyes remembers he’s the vocalist in a basement-based indie band rather than Nirvana. Nevertheless, it’s a fine song which emphasises their improvement on the arrangement side; the lo-fi production sounds so close, it gives the impression of the cymbals crashing and bass thundering directly into your eardrums.

Elsewhere, ‘Yellow Melody’ stops short of chaos thanks to Jose Catalan’s sterling stint on guitar and that reference to The Strokes rears its head again on the full throttle ‘The Party, After You Left’ but this is clearly a band in love with making music which is hook-filled and thrilling on its own terms. The EP ends, appropriately enough, with ‘Friends Series Finale’; taking a more introspective slant with the musicians slowing things down to deliver a vulnerable, teary-eyed closer with arguably their most vital chorus. It actually sounds like a drunken, beaten-up version of Ambulance Ltd.’s ‘Stay Where You Are’.

With ‘Eurowanker’, Bihari Beach have found the (if you’ll forgive the pun) pulling power to entice new listeners in. The trio have stepped up their standards to deliver a set of songs which accelerates the transition from youthful pretenders to garage rock giants. Keep watching the show, this could get exciting.

Web Sites:
Bihari Beach Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Strokes, Pavement

Review: Azwel – Fact And Fantasy

Using his Azwel identity, New York’s Jason Perillo has been producing albums roughly once every year since 2003. He crafts lovingly arranged songs and arrangements which makes you think you’ve discovered a wonderful obscurity from the late 1980’s/early 1990’s.

Azwel Album Cover

There may be a noticeably 1980’s indie pop sound to ‘Fact And Fantasy’ but it’s not in a clichéd sense. In fact the influences aren’t the most obvious. Listening to the romantic and wisftul opener, ‘Pleasant Dreams’ could be a Scritti Politti song and the jangly ‘Can’t Be Too Careful’ possesses the same innocent and hopeful charm as early Orange Juice. ‘Tell Me What You Want From Me’ and the title track exhume the early work of The Pet Shop Boys whilst ‘The Voice That Carried You’ and ‘I Always Get My Way’ are the most strident moments on the album; reminiscent of The Lightning Seeds on a budget. On the debit side, ‘Over And Out’ and ‘Summer Gets Me’ seem too light and watered down to last long in the memory but then Perillo can delight us with a lovely, pastoral flute-led instrumental named ‘Svetlana’, which a certain Paddy McAloon would be proud of.

Yet perhaps that’s where the only problem lies. Perillo writes melodies which are memorable, strangely familiar yet still original but the vocal performances, although perfectly servicable, lack the distinction to turn these predominantly excellent songs into something more commercially viable. If Ian Broudie could get his hands on these little gems, he could work wonders but until then Perillo’s unquestionable talents are likely to attract a relatively small yet devoted following.

Web Sites:
Azwel Official Site
Youtube Stream of Azwel’s ‘Fact And Fantasy’

Further Listening:
The Lightning Seeds, Skyline

Review: Prefab Sprout – Crimson Red

Prefab Sprout fans rejoiced in 2009 when ‘Let’s Change The World With Music’ was finally released to the public. Emerging from one of the almost mythical batch of albums which Paddy McAloon had locked away in his vaults, forever destined to be unheard, it was the first new Prefab Sprout album since 2001’s ‘The Gunman And Other Stories’. Created in 1993, the production was very much of its time but the songs were a reminder of one of Britain’s finest songwriters. ‘Crimson Red’ is another new album and one which cherry picks from the famed McAloon archives.

Prefab Sprout Album Cover

The story begins in almost vintage Prefab Sprout fashion. The keyboard melody and police sirens would be naive and kitschy in other people’s hands but this is an artist clearly still in love with music. The song in question, ‘The Best Jewel Thief In The World’, contains a wonderfully joyful melody and Paddy even gives us a few blasts of his trusty harmonica. Far from being a traditionalist, on this particular record, McAloon performs better the more risks he takes and the more vibrant the arrangement, the better the song sounds.

The grand keyboard washes of ‘Adolescence’ (“it’s a psychedelic motorbike” apparently) enchants whilst ‘Grief Built The Taj Mahal’ is a subtler number but the Eastern arrangement is a delight. Furthermore, the rattling and rumbling ‘Devil Came A Calling’ (easily the nearest the album approaches a level of menace) is the closest he will come to writing ‘Faron Young Part 2’. Yet the centrepiece is ‘Billy’, an autobiographical piece which exemplifies all we expect from Paddy; the song is so bright and colourful (“Her smile is like a fairground, I’m basking in the glow”) that it’s hard not to listen to it without a smile. Along a similar idealistic line is ‘The Dreamer’ and although it’s a little too light on drama, the instrumental sections are wonderful.  A couple of other songs, however, ‘List Of Impossible Things’ and ‘The Songs Of Danny Galway’, rarely rise above a status of pleasant but they are resolutely tuneful.

Overall, ‘Crimson Red’ isn’t quite up there with classics ‘Steve McQueen’ and ‘Jordan: The Comeback’ and it would be unfair to expect them to be but ‘Crimson Red’ is a statement record, which really does show the young music makers that it matters not how many bells and whistles you add to your production, what matters are great songs and this album has plenty. Rest assured, McAloon is still, to quote the title of one of his songs, the last of the great romantics.

Web Sites:
Prefab Sprout Net
‘Crimson Red’ Official Album Site
Prefab Sprout – ‘Billy’

Review: Anna Jordan – Dust EP

Ireland has proved to be a reliable source of female singer/songwriter talent through the decades and it’s no surprise to hear of another talented newcomer. Also known as being one half of Selk, Dublin’s Anna Jordan has ow stepped out on her own with a debut EP which marries folk and jazz music with unexpected moments of electronica.

Anna Jordan EP Cover

The opening title track is definitely not one that can be ignored. Lyrically, it contains little more than the line “Gonna tear it all apart, as it chips away my heart” but the increasing angst of Jordan’s delivery is captivating. The vocals are part piano balladeer, part jazz singer but all around her is the kind of production which certainly falls outside the usual singer/songwriter domain, with clipped and chattering beats bringing the song into the modern age.

For the comparatively traditional ‘Air That You Breathe’, Jordan dispenses with the beats but her wounded sparrow tones are given full flight for this lovelorn yet never cloying multi-part folk song. ‘She Dances’ shows further thirst for experimenting, with Jordan harmonising against her own vocal loops in a peculiarly addictive pop song; calling to mind the playfulness of Anja Garbarek. So this just leaves ‘Silent Sea’; a desolate and elegantly performed song which strips the music back again to just Jordan and her piano and she delivers a wonderfully understated performance.

‘Dust’ is a delightful beginning for Anna Jordan. Her willingness to try out new techniques marks her out as an original, adventurous performer with more than just a great voice and a sad tale to tell. It will be fascinating to hear what her next release sounds like.

Web Sites:
Anna Jordan Official Site
Anna Jordan Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Anja Garbarek, Beth Gibbons

Review: Deerhunter – Monomania

The cover slip to Deerhunter’s new album helpfully indicates ‘File Under: Nocturnal Garage’; a hitherto unheard of sub-genre but one which sums up this strange but rather wonderful band very well. Back in 2010, the Georgia-based act crafted the outstanding ‘Halcyon Digest’; giving birth to a new batch of dreamy garage-punk artists as a result.

Deerhunter Album Cover

If the last album was remarkable for its unexpected moments of beauty, the beginning to ‘Monomania’ is unquestionably ugly, evidenced by the guttural outpourings of frontman Bradford Cox for ‘Neon Junkyard’ and ‘Leather Jacket’. It’s an abrasive start which will deter the less patient listeners looking for a sign of melody. However, things get a whole lot better from then as Deerhunter hit a reach seam of form without losing their natural murkiness. ‘The Missing’ takes the rumbling menace of the first two tracks but aligns it into a more insidious whole, with Cox’s murmurings now perfectly co-ordinated with his bandmates. ‘Pensacola’ and ‘Dream Captain’ encapsulates the garage-punk sound which Deerhunter do so well; both rough and ready tracks but – for all their apparent awkwardness – they’re also extremely catchy.

For the excellent ‘Blue Agent’, the underdog nature of the song makes it a modern day equivalent of Magazine’s post-punk classic ‘A Song From Under The Floorboards’. For all those who find Deerhunter’s too unsubtle, direct them to ‘T.H.M.’; a marvellously keyboard-led slice of warped pop music whilst on ‘Sleepwalking’ and ‘Back To The Middle’, the guitar work of Lockett Pundt and Frankie Broyles truly shines through; rivalling the talents of Television’s Tom Verlaine. It’s somewhat inevitable that the quality at this point dips slightly, with the title track coming across as uncharacteristically self-indulgent chaos but by that time their brilliance has already been proved and they stir themselves again for the starkly-named and perfectly-judged finale ‘Punk’.

It’s easy to imagine Deerhunter recording their songs in a dark basement room, riddled with disease but their music is infectious in all the right ways and what we have here is a wonderful collection of original, seedy pop songs. File Under: Nocturnal Garage, maybe, but file alongside other great mavericks like Magazine, Babybird and Dawn Of The Replicants too.

Web Sites:
Deerhunter Official Site
Youtube Video of Deerhunter’s ‘Back To The Middle’

Further Listening:
Dawn Of The Replicants, Magazine, Babybird, Television