Archive for January, 2014

Review: The Harrow – The Harrow

Based on the story behind the name of New York’s The Harrow, it may not take a genius to imagine what music they offer. The Harrow is “an elegant means of capital punishment: a series of needles to inflict torture, pain and understanding”. The Harrow in musical form create an authentic aura which doesn’t just sound influenced by the early 1980’s post-punk/cold wave movement but could easily be mistaken for actually being made between 1981 and 1983, such is the attention to period detail. A key member of the group is Greg Fasolino who achieved similarly impressive results with Bell Hollow in the mid-2000’s.

The Harrow EP Cover

‘To A Figure’ sounds classy as soon as its doomy bass and programmed drums can be heard; recalling both The Wolfgang Press and The Cocteau Twins on a purely instrumental level. At the forefront are Vanessa Irena’s clear yet doomy vocals casting an inescapable feeling of despair whereas Fasolino’s delicate, chiming guitar offers a rare chink of light. ‘The Fall’ witnesses Barrett Hiatt’s prodding keyboards and Frank Deserto’s bass driving the core melody and by the time of the sinister ‘Milk And Honey’, the talented foursome are clearly on a roll; the song carries an insistent and gripping momentum which doesn’t let up. It is left to ‘The River’ and ‘Requiem’ to bring the EP to an atmospheric, almost funereal close; both show an excellent understanding of space and dynamics and are likely to haunt the listener for some time after they have finished playing.

The Harrow may receive some flak for obsessing with a sound which was at the peak of popularity thirty years ago but nostalgia is rarely delivered with such dignity and devotion to the post-punk scene. Just like the instrument which inspired the name, they are certainly elegant performers but the message they deliver is darkly addictive rather than painful.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp stream of The Harrow – The Harrow
Soundcloud Page for The Harrow

Further Listening:
Cocteau Twins, The Wolfgang Press, Breathless, Lowlife, Bell Hollow


Review: Tone Color – The Last Day

Tone Color is the work of Manchester’s Andy Lomas and for his first album he has crafted two years’ worth of environmental sounds, ambient and experimental music into ten mesmeric instrumentals. ‘The Last Day’ is a cosmopolitan work too with many tracks inspired by visits to European cities.

Tone Color Album Cover

For the opener, ‘Alex’, blurred layers of sound effects mix in with all kinds of chatter and field recordings of machinery, suggesting busy times at a railway station. Yet from this point onwards, the sounds are less frenetic and complex and hypnotic drones become the most prominent factor. A rather more coherent ‘Vorantreiben’ still makes use of hazy electronica but its nocturnal melody and use of static suggests a tale of loneliness whilst the contrasting drones of ‘Ebowed an’ Clear’ and ‘Deuxième étage’ (the former gentle, the latter throbbing through the speakers) provide a comforting but intelligent experience. In an all too accurate echo of its title, ‘An English Summer’ is resplendent with bird song and, of course, rain but the key element is a serene wash of melody.

‘The Last Day’ won’t set the world alight and it never tries to. This is electronic music which is evocative and warm; revelling in its unhurried tunefulness.

Web Sites:
Free Download of Tone Color – The Last Day
Assembly Field Label Site
Tone Color – An English Summer

Further Listening:

Review: A Ninja Slob Drew Me – [Before/After, Tilt]

Mysterious in terms of both name and musical direction, A Ninja Slob Drew Me’s output so far certainly defies easy categorisation. The work of one Daniel James Brown, he is a proponent of the eight-stringed bass guitar which forms the basis for instrumentals and songs which could belong to all manner of different genres. His latest album, ‘[Before/After, Tilt]’ possesses a real cosmopolitan influence with inspiration coming from space, Finland and computer games.

A Ninja Slob Drew Me Album Cover

The beginning of the album is a suitably convincing showcase for Brown’s bass playing skills. ‘Valles Maineris’ is propelled around Brown’s rubbery bass lines, hyperactive beats and dramatic percussion. The modern film-noir ‘Waiting For It’ is noticeably subtler but no less effective in its approach. After the moody couplet ‘Cosmic Sound Waves Rule’ and ‘V. 1.1’, Brown has certainly proved his soundtrack credentials but there’s a sense that more is needed; this duly arrives via a series of vocal contributions courtesy of spoken word/hip-hop for ‘Squid Lizard’ and yearning soul for ‘All That You Are’. The instrumental tracks pick up too with the infectious grooves of ‘Nallikari’ followed nicely by the stentorian keyboards of a stately ‘Not I’ and an ultimately rewarding post-rock tribute to obscure Scandinavian TV, ‘Anteeksi, Rakas’

By the end of ‘[Before/After, Tilt]’, you can be forgiven for feeling rather confused by Brown’s view of the world but after a rather same-y start, the album becomes a thoroughly diverse and entertaining listen. Furthermore, although the guest vocals add a necessary fizz to proceedings, Brown proves his worth as both a fine arranger and a virtuoso performer.

Web Sites:
A Ninja Slob Drew Me Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Red Snapper, Andrew And The TV Cowboys, Rothko

Review: The Angling Loser – Author Of The Twilight

A common criticism concerning ambient records is that they are so subtle in their approach you barely notice them. So when an ambient record is based on the largely uneventful pastime of fishing, alarm bells may ring, or at least, in this case, distant ships bells may tinkle. Yet fear not, for The Angling Loser AKA Lee Anthony Norris “and friends” is a simply inspired instrumental record, abundant with pastoral delights.

The Angling Loser Album Materials

The album is split into six distinctly-labelled pieces, beginning logically enough with ‘Dawn’. Here we get the expected bird song and gently running water, with drone effects simulating that hazy, “just woken up” vibe as nature comes into focus whilst languid guitar passages provide the gentle melancholy. Yet even though it sounds obvious on paper, it’s a beautifully evoked scene in reality. Then comes ‘Morning’ and amongst the throbbing layers, the piece emerges slowly and majestically not unlike Bark Psychosis’s ‘Pendulum Man’. ‘Evening’ is a mesmerising marriage of resonating acoustic guitar and shimmering effects, the shape shifting ‘Twilight’ blurs and distorts to disorientating effect, in turn seguing into the murky, sinister suggestions of ‘Night’. To conclude, there’s a final version of ‘Dawn’ in busier, reprise mode to end what has been a throughly eventful journey after all.

We’re not actually short of gentle ambient records these days but ‘Author Of The Twilight’ is one of those special albums with its own unique atmosphere, which deserves to be savoured. Just like fishing then, spend enough time on it and you will eventually be rewarded.

Web Sites:
The Angling Loser – Author Of The Twilight Bandcamp Stream
Time Released Sound Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Planivaar, The Green Kingdom, Bark Psychosis

Review: Hearts Fail – The Tower

As the proverb goes: “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself”. These words may have been at the forefront of the founder member of Hearts Fail himself, Edward Wagner, for this is the first album in the band’s ten year existence to be written, arranged, performed and produced entirely by him.

Hearts Fail Album Cover

Despite referencing the likes of Sister Of Mercy, The Mission and various British post-punks acts in their overall sound, Hearts Fail are a goth-inclined rock act with several tricks up their sleeve too. Any song which opens with the line “This is where the angels come to die” may sound a tad clichéd but throw in some surprisingly psychedelic keyboards, crisp percussion and Wagner’s own murmuring and you have an unusual and fascinating band (or solo act). Earnest, soul bearing anthems such as ‘Always’ and ‘Two Worlds Apart’ pass muster but it’s evident the more risk Wagner takes, the more intriguing his music becomes. For instance, the intense opening to ‘In My Head’ suggests The Teardrop Explodes with once again the opulent keyboard work set against Wagner’s moody crooning; it’s an incongruous but winning combination. The title track is a fine Bunnymen-esque ride through glum rock. There’s even a brilliant interlude, courtesy of the Comsat Angels homage ‘Writhe’ and the Sheffield band’s influence crops up again on the shuffling drumming on ‘Stars’.

Wagner is clearly trying to do something different to stand out from the usual post-punk, goth rock revivalists and to a large extent he’s succeeded. There are times when the songwriting may lack the immediacy of his contemporaries and the album could have done with being pruned a little but otherwise this is nostalgically-flavoured music performed with a flourish; made all the more admirable by the fact that this album is the work of a one-man band.

Web Sites:
Hearts Fail Official Album
Hearts Fail Reverbnation Page
Hearts Fail – Album Preview

Further Listening:
The Mission, The Comsat Angels, Echo And The Bunnymen

Review: Brothertiger – Future Splendors

Wheher by accident or design, thanks to his 2012 debut ‘Golden Years’, Brothertiger became a member of the new Chillwave movement. The record captured that same feeling of 80s synth pop dressed up in dreamy, ambient clothing and it was all the work of Brooklyn-based John Jagos. ‘Future Splendours’ is a swift follow-up and one which flows seamlessly from the first long player.

Brothertiger Album Cover

Firstly, the bad news. What cannot be doubted about Jagos is his ear for a fine tune but, this doesn’t always bring lasting rewards. A surprising choice for a lead single, ‘In Mind’ is light and insubstantial and not helped by Jagos’s pleasant but rather indistinct vocals, and an insipid duet on ‘Further On’ also fails to convince. Yet these prove to be exceptions. Opener ‘Up From Below’ seems to be rather lightweight initially but the key change for the chorus is uplifting and a jangly guitar figure and strong rhythmic pulse create a very infectious ‘Crazy, Again’ but it’s also a song with depth and intrigue. Furthermore, ‘You Should Know’ is populated by busy programmed beats and a charming, wistful turn from Jagos whilst disco anthem in-waiting ‘Particle Horizon’ is another definite highlight; here Jagos keeps the melody simple but the 80’s cheese is balanced with insistent rhythms.

Brothertiger still resembles a less complex Junior Boys but within the retro-stylings and airy vocals, there’s a lot more going in here than you might initially think. Chillwave, dreampop or whatever you want to call it, Jagos writes good pop songs, pure and simple.

Web Sites:
Brother Tiger Official Site
Mush Records Label and Shop Page
Brothertiger – Crazy, Again

Further Listening:
Washed Out, Junior Boys

Review: Cuushe – Butterfly Case

There are some very special talents emerging from Japan at the moment. Following hot on the heels of Ikebana’s brilliant debut, comes another Japanese female act, a solo artist named Cuushe. Her second album follows four years on from her debut but it sounds so fresh and dreamy, any prolonged absence is immediately forgiven.

Cuushe Album Cover

Kicking off with the ambient disco of ‘Sort Of Light’ is an ideal way to start and it’s possibly an alternative dancefloor anthem in the making. Hypnotic blissfulness reaches even greater heights for the following ‘I Dreamt About Silence’ and the head-nodding brilliance of ‘Twilight’. Remarkably, Cuushe’s vocals rarely stretch outside of her default whisper and sigh but she forms an additional layer to the already gorgeous instrumental arrangements on offer. Yet whilst Cuushe’s vocals are in the clouds, the production is grounded enough so the tunes don’t get washed away. By way of an example, ‘Butterfly’ is propelled by beats and propulsive keyboard washes. Later, in a rare moment of tension on ‘Lost My Way’, an unusual but compulsive mix of stentorian piano and bubbling keyboards seem to be closing in on Cuushe as her cries become increasingly more desperate but she sounds released again for the spine tingling sugar rush of ‘Swing Your Heart’

To say that ‘Butterfly Case’ acts as a kind of soothing balm would be to dismiss the other side of the record because it’s so euphoric in terms of melody, beats and heavenly vibe. At the heart of it all of course is Cuushe herself, a romantic soul lost in her own wonderful dreamworld and what a world it must be.

Web Sites:
Cuushe Official Site
Bandcamp Stream for Cuushe – Butterfly Case

Further Listening:
Rabbit Velvet, Ikebana, Color Filter

Review: Colornoise – Polychronic

Colornoise are an experimental noise duo from Costa Rica; sharing stages with The Flaming Lips, Skrillex and Bjork, as well as causing a stir in Brazil and Canada. The Icelandic artist in particular must certainly approve of the invention of the female duo’s startling debut although the post-punk anger of these songs are more in keeping Savages or Warpaint.

Colornoise Album Cover

After ‘Button’ introduces their bluesy punk rock side, Sonya Carmona (on guitar and lead vocals) and drummer/backing vocalist Alison Alvarado begin to come into their own. Together they form an edgy and driving force for the excellent ‘In Trance’ and ‘Pieces’, creating double the aggression and thrill of their somewhat more calculated fellow female acts. ‘No Name’, thanks to some fabulous stick work from Alvarado, gives the command “don’t be a slave” and it’s clear the twosome are never likely to compromise themselves. With this in mind, for ‘The End’, the increasingly confident Carmona is a ghostly presence resembling Grace Slick in her 60’s pomp as the song works itself into a psychedelic frenzy.

Towards the conclusion of the record, the album gives way to the psychedelic meandering a little too much as the duo momentarily forget the hooks and incisive qualities which are a trademark on the remainder of the record. However, it’s still a gripping debut, kept under the thirty minute mark in true punk style. So even if ‘Polychronic’ may not come from the most likely of locations, its edginess and power means the group should be taken just as seriously as their contemporaries.

Web Sites:
Colornoise Bandcamp Page
Video for Colornoise – Button

Further Listening:
Savages, Warpaint

Review: Giorgos Grigorakos – Somewhere In A Field

Armed with his analog modern synthesizer, Giorgos Grigorakos de-constructs and disassembles sounds to form well hidden melodies. In layman’s terms, this aint pop music, folks. Rather, ‘Somewhere In A Field’ consists of six carefully structured compositions of slowly unfolding drone patterns.

Giorgos Grigorakos Album Cover

Each individual track varies little from beginning to end but within the repeated melodies, there are fascinating, macabre and sometimes beautiful layers to discover. In many ways, it’s hard not to slip into clichés when describing what impressions Grigorakis’s music gives. ‘Mindfield’ and ‘Loner’ contain the requisite shimmering walls of noise whereas ‘Afusia’ and ‘Apolia’ shower mesmeric keyboard washes over female choral voices to stunning effect. Most memorable of all is ‘Jigsaw G’ which, incongruously enough, contains a tune which recalls the verses to Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ complete with its very own version of cathedrals of noise.

The album draws comparisons with a less mannered take on John Foxx’s ‘Cathedral Oceans’ series but also the more out there dreampop of Flying Saucer Attack. Either way, it’s moving, compelling and evocative music which would no doubt be perfect for soundtracking large, slow moving objects on nature documentaries.

Web Sites:
Somehow Ecstatic Label Site
Bandcamp Stream of Giorgos Grigorakos

Further Listening:
John Foxx, Flying Saucer Attack

Review: The Farewell Circuit – We Were Wolves

Despite the somewhat misleading name, The Farewell Circuit are a relatively young band from Minnesota, who have earned comparisons with Death Cab For Cutie for their brand of melancholic, indie pop. After their well received last album ‘In Our Bones’, ‘We Were Wolves’ is a follow-up EP.

The Farewell Circuit Album Cover

It’s clear from the outset that Danny O’Brien’s warm, rich vocals and countrified guitars are the core strengths of the band’s output. The mood on ‘We Were Wolves’ is gentle, left of centre indie and even as the song approaches a slightly grungy deviation halfway into the song, one can imagine young couples swaying gently together at their concerts. ‘Years Of Youth’ aims for reverb-heavy guitars and a thunderous rhythm section and on the slightly more adventurous ‘From The Sun’, the group coax their guitars into making satisfyingly dirtier noises. On the other hand, for ‘Faces Of Friends’ and ‘Admission’, they hit their ambient pop stride and what could have been dull detours turn out to be highlights thanks to the winning combination of O’Brien’s tender vocal and a subtle production.

‘We Were Wolves’ is pretty solid fare and a good sampler for a band who are obviously comfortable at crafting sensitive material but also yearn to truly let rip with their instruments to show off their angst. Overall it’s the former side to their personality which is the most convincing but a few more risks and distorted guitars on the next release could see them rise above the ranks and their influences.

Web Sites:
The Farewell Circuit Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of The Farewell Circuit – We Were Wolves

Further Listening:
Death Cab For Cutie