Archive for December, 2013

Review: Fold – Salvation

West Yorkshire may not be the most obvious place to look for trip-hop but it is home to Fold, who last year produced the haunting, foreboding, Jimmy Carter-sampling ‘Mr President, We’re In Trouble’. On new EP ‘Salvation’, they team up with the radio presenter and Russell Brand’s “poet laureate” Mr. Gee. It’s an inspired collaboration on this evidence.

Fold EP Cover

Strings samples and trip hop rhythms are at the core of the backdrop to Mr. Gee’s words and the two are clearly on to a winner from the moment opening gambit ‘Salvation’ kicks in, with Fold’s swing and Mr. Gee’s flow (“Save voter apathy, a crap football team and short spans of attention”) in perfect unison. ‘A Victim’s Mentality’ takes a step into darker territory with the arrangements and Mr. Gee’s urgency (“Who is the oppressor and who are the oppressed?”) reminiscent of the often overlooked Bristol act Earthling. For ‘This Common House’, Fold provides a gorgeously languid summer groove whilst Mr. Gee’s ruminates on the repeated mistakes of Governments past and present. This just leaves ‘Passing Strangers’ where Mr. Gee sticks up for the contribution of low-paid, migrant workers, (“Yet you pass me every day with nothing left to say then go home and speculate about how I don’t assimilate?”) daring us to set aside stereotypes and to appreciate their underrated role in today’s society.

The message of spoken word albums can sometimes get lost because the music crowds it out. Fold are both respectful and imaginative in this approach, providing the rhythmic and melodic backbone from which Mr. Gee can deliver his articulate and well-considered thoughts on today’s society. So what we have here are words and music which engage both body and mind and the result deserves to stand alongside the best of the Bristol trip-hop scene.

Web Sites:
Fold Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of Fold – Salvation

Further Listening:
Earthling, Ventriloquist, Massive Attack


Review: Astrosuka – ЗОЛОТАЯ / / / / / ГРЯЗЬ

Astrosuka are a duo named Tatiana and ¥√L based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Their album title translates from Russian to ‘Gold/////Dirt’ which probably goes some way to explaining the somewhat East European likeness of one of their names. However, the music, a kind of dystopian take on electro-disco, defines no particular place on this Earth

Astrosuka Album Cover

Soundalikes are thin on the ground for this admittedly unique album yet a couple of comparisons can be made. ‘//\LI/\NZ/\\\\/IOLENT/\\’ follows a similar rhythm to Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’ but then it spirals off into a swirl of psychedelic keyboards and glitchy beats. The staccato nature and digitised vocals of ‘E-GL-O_O-‘ are reminiscent of a couple of the Japanese acts on Bearsuit Records and the melody, odd though it is, becomes strangely appealing. Similar compliments can also be made to ‘SUEL₮O’, ‘∑______∑$CU₱!R__€L_₡₳LØR 201333’ and ‘KPACHbIÑ IIIAP’, which seem to be Russian disco pop songs distorted and interpreted into a format aliens would understand. At five minutes in length, ‘☒☐☐☒☐’ is the one track which allows the music to breathe with a coda which is almost blissful in this excitable company.

Given the aural assault contained within, ‘Gold/////Dirt’ may not be the obvious choice for a post-Christmas hangover but included here are possibly the fragments of the future of electronic music and you could imagine it would just need a prominent DJ to give it a few spins and they could be an overnight success in the more avant garde night clubs around the world. So for now, though, enjoy this weirdness whilst it still remains a closely guarded secret.

Web Sites:
Astrosuka Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of Astrosuka – ЗОЛОТАЯ / / / / / ГРЯЗЬ

Further Listening:
Bearsuit Records

Review: Chantal Acda – Let Your Hands Be My Guide

Chantal Acda will be better known to some as one half of Sleepingdog, the project she began with ex-Stars Of The Lid man Adam Wiltzie. With her quiet, childlike vocals in a similar vein to early Stina Nordenstam, Acda added a fragile innocence to her musical partner’s minimalist compositions. ‘Let Your Hands Be My Guide’ is her first solo venture.

Chantal Acda Album Cover

Acda works with four other musicians on this album but the music is often so spare and uncluttered, those unfamiliar with the artists will wonder what they were doing. No matter, everything is here in the finer details from Gyda Valtysdottir’s cello to Nils Frahm’s sensitive production and contributions from multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick and composer Shahzad Ismaily in between.

‘We Will, We Must’ is an example of the gentle and tender lullabies one would expect from Acda but even though the arrangements are always spare and tasteful, when they do stretch their horizons, lovely things can happen. ‘My Night’, with its gently ringing guitar figure and subtle echo provides a haunting highlight. For ‘Own Time’, Acda’s performance is shiver-inducing in all the right ways and the finale ‘We Must Hold On’ is a sweet experiment in bubbling electronica. Only on ‘Backdrops’ does one sense attention starting to waver and it’s no coincidence that Acda’s voice doesn’t disrupt the ambience and drone until three minutes into the track and when she does the song’s drama and emotional resonance increases tenfold.

‘Let Your Hands Be My Guide’ is a safe bet for any fans of the Sleepingdog albums and one would struggle to find a more comforting album this year. Yet even though Acda benefits from the input of her collaborators, the star is undoubtedly the lady herself with a delivery that is never overdone and never too frail.

Web Sites:
Chantal Acda Official Site
Gizeh Records Label and Shop Site
Chantal Acda – Jason
Chantal Acda (featuring Peter Broderick) – Arms Up High

Further Listening:
Sleepingdog, Stina Nordenstam

Review: Kramies – The Wooden Heart

Kramies Windt received well-deserved plaudits for his previous EP ‘The European’, which blended his powerful and heartfelt vocals with some sublime atmospheric arrangements. No doubt impressed by his previous work, Windt has now enlisted the talents of Grandaddy’s Jason Lyttle as well as Guided By Voices’ producer Todd Tobias for ‘The Wooden Heart’ EP. A smart move too as what we have here is an exemplar in ambient pop/dreampop.

Kramies EP Cover

‘The Beginning’ and ‘The Ending’ form the elegant, stripped-back bookends, modest in arrangement compared to what is to follow but ‘Sea Otter Cottage’ is the first sighting of the epic nature of the new production team. All manner of electronic layers merge here but its the acoustic strumming and Windt’s always appealing voice which stand out the most. For his last release, I compared this artist with Pony Club and that similarity is particularly apparent on ‘Upon The Northern Skies’ where Windt cuts a lonely isolated figure backed by an eerie, foreboding shimmer. However, for the superb title track, all the elements combine and reverberate perfectly. In lesser hands one would say it’s been over-produced but it’s no exaggeration to say the song sounds like a John Lennon number. ‘Clocks Were All Broken’ possesses a possible Beatles influence too and is reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s ‘Once Upon A Long Ago’ in terms of melody and childlike wonder.

Granted, with technology now readily available to those on even the most limited of budgets, it’s possible to emulate ELO from your own bedroom. However, there is no substitute for talent and Windt, Lyttle and Tobias all provide sterling contributions to turn what could have been a self-indulgent folly into a kaleidoscopic, fantastic story. The only criticism is that this wonderful music is over in twenty one minutes.

Web Sites:
Hidden Shoal Recordings Label and Shop Site
Video of Kramies – Sea Otter Cottage

Further Listening:
Pony Club, John Lennon, Paul McCartney

Review: The Absolute End Of The World – Whoami

In the year 2525, Zager and Evans wondered if man would still be alive. It’s probably not a coincidence that the new EP/mini album from The Absolute End Of The World clocks in at exactly twenty five minutes and twenty five seconds too. So the stage is set for Italian Luca Maugeri to unleash his latest set of melodic post-rock.

The Absolute End Of The World Album Cover

That said, ‘The Eternal Dilemna’ begins in relatively cheery mode. Although the dramatic layers hint at something apocalyptic, the countrified strumming at the heart of the track suggests happier times. ‘Lulubelle’ too begins in relaxed, languid mode but after a minute of pleasantries, Maugeri hits us with a blast of power chords and a storm of guitar layers is duly summoned. ‘C’è Sangue Dappertutto’ rather disconcertingly translates to “There is blood everywhere” but the music is no way near as austere sounding with warm, Labradford-esque keyboards merging with ambient rock and only the small matter of inaudible cries are in keeping with the track’s horrific meaning. That track is neatly followed by ‘La Ferocia Del Sorriso Idiota’ (“the ferocity of the idiotic smile” according to Google Translate) which again, whilst threatening on paper, offers refined beauty in its wall of sound delivery. Finally, ‘The Eternal Dilemna Part 2’ rings and chimes triumphantly and delightfully to provide a fitting finale.

So despite Maugeri’s album and track titles indicating the most terrifying heavy metal, he always reins in the temptation to go for full-on aural asssault, preferring to keep his finger on the pulse in terms of melody. ‘Whoami’ is a worthy addition to a fine selection of records so far.

Web Sites:
The Absolute End Of The World Tumblr Page
Bandcamp Stream of The Absolute End Of The World -Whoami

Further Listening:
Dextro, Raymond Scott Woolson, Hope Of The States

Review: Luca Ciut – Seventeen Million Lonely Angels

Italian composer Luca Ciut was born in Italy and after composing ballets and soundtracking theatre and TV productions in the country of his birth, he decamped to the USA to take on a chance at film scoring at the UCLA. ‘Seventeen Million Lonely Angels’ is a project inspired by the sounds of Los Angeles and one where his outsider view paints a very different picture from the one we are used to seeing.

Luca Ciut Album Cover

It is a rare album indeed which chooses to begin with simultaneous samples of police sirens and bird song. They are very much in the background though as Ciut’s fluid piano melodies and cello accompaniment stride into view; already giving a unique and unexpected perspective of LA living. ‘The Time Is Now’ is bright and cheerful, with the twinkling keys giving voice to summers past and summers to come but thereafter the mood is largely downbeat yet never depressing. Thanks to the heavy, even breathing underscoring it, one assumes that ‘New Obsession’ indicates a devotion to running and ‘A Quiet Place’ dips its toes into jazz.

Of the two tracks containing vocals, the melancholic shadows painted on ‘Things Are Getting Better’ contrast the title completely, suggesting nothing but dark times lie ahead whilst ‘Back To Life’ is elegantly matched with waves and mournful trumpet. Elsewhere, the album hits on a consistently pleasant patch rising from its relative slumber for the stirring ‘Lonely Creatures’ and concluding quietly with a stately ‘More Than You Think’.

Piano music is often the obvious choice for soundtrack work. It’s subtle enough to exist in the background; occasionally happy to run in parallel with the dialogue but also stirring enough to encourage emotional reactions. Pleasingly, there is a triumphant air to some of these instrumentals and some well chosen samples, which not only affirms why Ciut has been selected for a number of soundtrack commissions but also makes one think that piano music doesn’t always have to be morose.

Web Sites:
Luca Ciut Official Site
Video of Luca Ciut – A Quiet Place

Further Listening:
Sigur Ros, Library Tapes, Benjamin Finger

Review: White Lies – Big TV

I once read with interest an article on White Lies’ record collection. Their favourite albums included dEUS’s ‘The Ideal Crash’ as well as selections by The Blue Nile and Talk Talk; all of whom are known for intricately crafted music with a healthy balance of melodic complexity, atmosphere and subtlety. None of this is a clue to White Lies’ third album ‘Big TV’ which boasts an album title as subtle and as understated as Mark ‘Spike’ Stent’s shiny production.

White Lies Album Cover

The booming title track picks up where the last album left off with White Lies still the modern day equivalent of Midge Ure-period Ultravox; huge drums, power chords, the swish of European-flavoured synths and Harry McVeigh’s stentorian vocals (which reach Roland Orzabal’s levels of self-importance for ‘Mother Tongue’). White Lies do try for the minimalist approach on occasions, namely for a couple of interludes named ‘Space I’ and ‘Space II’ but they’re essentially links to the next song, whilst ‘Change’ (the inevitable slow one at the middle of the album) is still, unsurprisingly, ridiculously epic with its choral samples and OTT shimmer. Nevetheless there is gold to be found here in the trio’s quest for stadium synth pop’s holy grail. ‘First Time Caller’ digs its nails in from the moment its synth hook starts and the chorus, straightforward and brash though it may be, makes it one of their strongest songs to date. ‘Getting Even’ thunders along impressively and ‘Be Your Man’ is the nearest latter-day Ultravox imitation here.

Suffice to say, if you came to a White Lies album looking for introspection, turn around now but arena-size synth pop is clearly what suits them best. There’s no way near enough substance and variation to make ‘Big TV’ a complete album but amongst the loudness, foghorn vocals and melodrama, there are again good songs to be discovered.

Web Sites:
White Lies Official Site
Video of White Lies – First Time Caller

Further Listening:
Ultravox, Tears For Fears

Review: The Clothes – Fairy Light Dress

It’s been a fine year for Italian music so far with excellent albums from the likes of Redroomdreamers, Nosound and Francis M. Gri already in the bag. Making their bid for a place in this talented group are The Clothes, a duo consisting of vocalist/guitarist Massimo Scoposki and drummer Laura Palmiz.

The Clothes EP Cover

The Clothes have opted for an unashamedly nostalgic sound. For the exuberant opener ‘Cry Baby’, the guitars pay huge debts to both the Postcard Records era as well as the C86 brigade but the slightly fey vocals owe an equal amount to current revivalists, The Drums. On the similarly infectious ‘Creepy, Creepy World, Creepy Creepy Creepy Shoes’ and ‘Back In Town’ they sound like Buzzcocks, albeit a couple of notches slower in pace. Even though the appeal of Scoposki’s vocals wears thin by the end of the record, Palmiz’s drumming is impressive throughout, especially when she’s on inventive, rapid fire form for ‘No Future’. Kudos too for ‘Foaming Waves’, as its more introspective style hints at a maturity they should develop further on future records.

‘Fairly Light Dress’ is a derivative but thoroughly entertaining listen which should appeal to fans of a jangly guitar pop persuasion. One feels they need to expand their ambition and focus for their next release but until then, there’s twenty seven minutes of innocent fun to be had, right here.

Web Sites:
The Clothes Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Drums, Buzzcocks

Review: Redroomdreamers – Honduras

Redroomdreamers’ debut album, ‘Roosters On The Rubbish’, balanced grunge with subtle, atmospheric rock, drawing comparisons to likes of American Music Club as a result. The follow-up for the Italian outfit perfects that balance still further and is a splendid and varied thing indeed.

Redroomdreamers Album Cover

‘Going To The River’ picks up on the first album’s subtler side and quite right too. Drumming is slowed to sloth pace, each guitar pluck rings out for several seconds whilst frontman Dario Bosco yearns for some kind of inner peace. The song gradually builds up a sense of urgency, supposedly setting us up for an album of sprawling, emotive indie rock. Or so you would have thought. ‘Inside You’ is almost the opposite: FX-drenched guitars drive forward in excitable fashion creating an unexpected three-minute pop thrill.

Further on, ‘Shine A Light’ verges on cheery Brit-pop at certain times but shows its class in the end whilst ‘Sunset Song’ opts for full throttle, apocalyptic post-rock and the angst-fuelled ‘Run Of A Sick Boy’ characterises a more aggressive second half to the album. At their best, though, as on ‘New Day’ and ‘The Hole’, they recall the awkward time signatures, edginess and general brilliance of 1990’s vintage dEUS and the slowly unravelling ‘The Box’, complete with gorgeous instrumental coda, is a charming and doleful standout.

Whilst ‘Roosters On The Rubbish’ was more than good enough, ‘Honduras’ is a definite step forward in confidence and ambition. With a distinctive frontman, complex arrangements and inventive songwriting at their disposal, they are rapidly becoming one of Western Europe’s most exciting indie rock bands.

Web Sites:
Soundcloud Stream of Redroomdreamers – Honduras

Further Listening:
dEUS, Argentine

Review: Feet For Wings – Homes

The enticingly-named Feet For Wings come from Belfast, Northern Ireland, promising music that is “warm to edgy, from endearing to affronting”. Pleasingly, they make the most of their fifteen minutes of fame with a finely balanced EP.

Feet For Wings EP Cover

Rustic guitars and warm yet breezy harmonies are at the heart of a lively opening title track. On the surface, Feet For Wings sound a little like Belle and Sebastian but the rhythms are satisfyingly robust, giving the songs an earthiness that show that if they are indie folk, they definitely operate at the harder edge of the genre. Similarly, the angelic beginning to ‘Cathedral St.’ suggests The Field Mice but the gutsy backing really does pack a punch. ‘Hold Your Tongue’ is more gently persuasive and represents a minor lull at the centre of the EP but ‘Cutting Your Teeth’ piles on the guitars again, which are almost at a crescendo by the end of the song. Finally, ‘Winding Sheets’ informs us “that there’s nothing quite like being alone” and when placed in the context of the spare arrangement of the track, could this be a rebuke against the relative loudness which has preceded it?

Just as they promised, ‘Homes’ is a perfectly pitched set of tunes with heavenly voices running in parallel against a backdrop of comparatively “in your face” layers of sound. Most importantly, the group make it work without ever showing signs of conflict.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream of Feet For Wings – Homes

Further Listening:
The Field Mice, Belle And Sebastian