Archive for February, 2014

Review: Goldfrapp – Tales Of Us

Goldfrapp’s run of strong albums finally came to an abrupt halt with 2010’s disappointing ‘Head First’. As they often do, Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp referenced the 80’s for their inspiration but on this occasion it was in a largely superficial way, with too many of songs best served as soundtracks for keep-fit routines. That’s keep fit routines,  1980’s style of course. ‘Tales Of Us’ attempts to correct the aberration with an introspective approach that sees them return to the atmospheric, filmic quality of their debut ‘Felt Mountain’.

Goldfrapp Album Cover

The good news is that all the trashy suggestions of the last album will become a distant memory as soon as one hears the opener ‘Jo’, where Gregory assembles a familiar orchestral backing and Goldfrapp herself whispers and swoons her way through this elegant, understated opener. It’s like being in 2000 all over again. Similar things happen on ‘Annabel’ and ‘Ulla’, everything tastefully arranged, subtle strings here and there but the songs never break into anything stirring. Likewise, ‘Alvar’ promises much with its Indian guitar figure but fails to develop from his intriguing origins.

However, there are a few excellent moments which suggest Goldfrapp are back on track. For ‘Drew’ the strings become exciting and vital, the kind of Bond theme in waiting which Goldfrapp made a habit of at the beginning of their career. Meanwhile, the wistful, enigmatic couplet of ‘Stranger’ and ‘Laurel’ are destined to accompany tragic French romance. A notable exception to the somewhat refined nature of the record occurs right in the middle, courtesy of ‘Thea’. The song is dramatic and really stands out with its shuddering rhythms and stormy weather ambience; the effect is rather like the wonderful surprise of hearing Bjork’s ‘Bachelorette’ on her otherwise fair to middling ‘Homogenic’ album.

Everything on ‘Tales Of Us’ is lush and sumptuously arranged and yet even though Goldfrapp have returned to what they do best, somehow the songs don’t lodge themselves into the brain as easily as their earlier records. The result is an admittedly classy and polished record but demanding listeners will be expecting a much deeper listening experience.

Web Sites:
Goldfrapp Official Site
Goldfrapp – Thea (Radio Mix)

Review: No Middle Name – No Middle Name

London duo The Title Sequence released one of the best indie pop albums of 2013 with their debut, ‘Stills’, which stretched from the fey 80’s guitar pop of The Drums to the classic melancholic sounds of The Montgolfier Brothers. Now comes No Middle Name, the “lo-fi dream pop solo project” of one half of The Title Sequence, David Bailey, and it continues in a similar catchy and nostalgic vein.

No Middle Name Album Cover

If The Title Sequence were accused of being nostalgic, then we should all travel back in time thirty years and ensure ‘No Middle Name’ is released by Cherry Red Records. It follows a similar theme to the label’s renowned ‘Pillows and Prayers’ compilation, with the songs lovingly interspersed with samples from children’s television programmes. ‘Another Season’, the single released late last year, enchants with its clever vocal loop and will be the main draw for newcomers but in truth there’s a number of very infectious songs to be enjoyed here. The doleful ‘Feels Like The 90’s Again’ is so sweet and jangly, the song could have more accurately been called ‘Feels Like The 60’s Again’ and the record reaches its peak for the darkly atmospheric couplet, ‘No Sleep’ and ‘From The Barrel Of A Loaded Gun’, where Bailey proves that there’s devilish melody to be had with nagging guitar hooks and boy-girl harmonies.

When the main criticism of Bailey’s debut is that it’s too short and some of the individual songs should last a little longer, then that’s a pretty accurate indicator of a fine album. However, short and sweet are common hallmarks of classic indie pop albums so just sit back and enjoy this shamelessly addictive record.

Web Sites:
No Middle Name Bandcamp
No Middle Name Tumblr

Further Listening:
The Title Sequence, Pillows & Prayers Volumes 1 & 2 (Cherry Red 1982-1984)

Review: Kaninchen – Broke Up

It would be foolish not to think that most of the best music contains at least an element of sadness or melancholy. Yet whilst some artists hint at it, others are engulfed by it. With this thought in mind, we are introduced to Kaninchen, a Cornwall-based duo who perform a potent mix of spoken word, folk, samples and visual art. Assessed as a standalone EP, ‘Broke Up’ is an aural document of almost suffocating darkness.

Kaninchen EP Cover

The mood is inescapably bleak and yet the sadness is often beautifully delivered too just as on the opening, wordless ‘Laying In Bed And Wondering’. Yet from ‘Do You Love Me’ onwards we hear narration documenting the despair of a one-sided relationship, the female desperately clinging on whilst the male is disaffected and non-committal, regretting what used to be just a casual relationship. On ‘Everytime You Leave’, thunder and lightning and strummed guitar (apparently recorded in a toilet) accompany a separate recording of a mournful singer from a derelict building several miles away, perhaps evoking the distance which now exists between the couple. (‘The Last’) is based on an audio sample from the Judica-Cordiglia brothers who supposedly recorded failed Soviet space flight mission in the early 1960’s. Whether genuine or not, the feeling of panic and helplessness set to minimalist ambient music is striking and disturbing.  Continuing the space theme, ‘Man On The Moon’ asks “When were we last happy?” before the track signs off with an intense bout of acoustic guitar and post-rock noise as the narrator utters his final words “and I looked out, saw no-one and began a desolate scream”. It’s a chilling and highly effective ending.

In fact everything about this EP is chilling and effective. Imagine bands like Hood or Piano Magic at their absolute lowest ebb and you might get close and even though the listening experience only lasts sixteen minutes, it would be hard to withstand any more of the feelings of utter despair captured in these five pieces of music. One can only imagine members of their audience being overcome with grief or shivering with fear. That said, for those who have the strength, ‘Broke Up’ has much to recommend it. It is undeniably compelling, fascinating, provocative and challenging; staying true to its experimental roots which is surely the whole point of Kaninchen’s endeavours.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Page for Kaninchen – Broke Up
Live Demonstration of Kaninchen performing ‘The Infinite Sad’

Further Listening:
Piano Magic, Hood

Review: Orange Yellow Red – A Rose Made Of Galaxies

Their name may suggest it and the music merely confirms it. Yes, Orange Yellow Red are a shoegaze act signed to the very shoegaze-orientated label, Saint Marie Records. Whereas others choose noise, on ‘A Rose Made Of Galaxies’, this UK band opt for the jangly, dreamy, poppy route and stick to this winning formula throughout.

Orange Yellow Red Album Cover

The description of second track and single ‘All The Hopes’ as “sounding almost like a more concise Cocteau Twins, being produced by Brian Wilson” may be praising the song a little too highly but it’s certainly a very likeable dreamy pop song which makes one instantly feel of summer. Emma Hayward expresses her words clearly and with a distinctly English air of innocence; recalling acts such as Snowblind and The Sundays in her bittersweet delivery. Meanwhile, guitarist Ross King and multi-instrumentalist Philip John Mayor provide the drive and chiming melody. In fact Mayor tries lead vocals himself and his doleful tones are perfectly suited to the despair and longing of ‘The Sea’ and the wistful ‘Some Things Are’.

Towards the middle of the album, the trio’s appeal begins to lose its earlier edge. ‘A Long Goodbye’ and ‘Shattered’ are pleasant and tuneful enough but rarely venture beyond their comfort zone. Thankfully their stir from this relative slumber to deliver the downbeat yet sparkling ‘Always Tomorrow’ and – just like the situation with labelmates Scarlet Youth – the bonus track tacked on at the end of the album, the dramatic, exuberant ‘Of Yesterday’, turns out to be one of the stand out songs.

Overall, ‘A Rose Made Of Galaxies’ is a strong, if slightly one-paced album. Importantly, although the record prompts one to think of any number of female-fronted indie bands, the band have still formed their own identity; creating infectious songs which are balanced on the knife edge between despair and euphoria.

Web Sites:
Orange Yellow Red Official Site
Orange Yellow Red – A Rose Made Of Galaxies

Further Listening:
Bondage & Discipline, Scarlet Youth

Review: Sukilove – Drunkaleidoscope

Ask most music fans to name a Belgian alternative rock act and top of the list is likely to be dEUS, who have been ploughing their unique furrow for well over two decades now. Scratch beneath the surface though and there are lots of fine other acts from this country, notably Strumpets and Sukilove. As well as sharing nationality, they also have one other in common: innovative, edgy rock music which goes out of its way to be extraordinary.

Sukilove Album Cover

It’s clear from the moment ‘Calm’ rides in on its slinky rhythms, eerie atmospherics and Pascal Deweze’s smoky vocals that this is music as far removed from indie clichés that you can get. The fact the song doesn’t really contain a chorus but instead concentrates on sinister, slow building tension only emphasises the point that Sukilove are a brave and uncompromising act. Thanks to its loose-limbed grooves and Deweze’s captivating performance in front of the microphone, ‘Somehow Someday’ has an infectious quality not normally associated with experimental rock of this kind. Elsewhere, the musical mood and tone varies between catchy and playful (‘Beatlesnake’), raw minimalism (‘Lost’) and soul/funk hybrids (for both ‘Lancelot’ and ‘You Are All I Want From You’). Yet the main stand out performances are the brilliant ‘C Thru Masquerade’ – a fantastic combination of modern psychedelia and ghost train ambience – and on the soul-baring intensity of ‘Whatever You Have (Now Now Now)’, where Deweze gives his best man on the edge performance.

Sukilove formed in 2002 and still continue to make music which is inventive, adventurous and downright addictive. Furthermore, twenty years on from dEUS’s landmark ‘Worst Case Scenario’ album, ‘Drunkaleidoscope’ deserves to re-establish Belgium’s hold on the alternative rock map again.

Web Sites:
Sukilove Official Site
Bandcamp Stream of Sukilove – Drunkaleidoscope
Jezus Factory Label and Shop Site
Sukilove – ‘Somehow Someday’

Further Listening:
dEUS, Strumpets

Review: The Reverse – Kind Words For Cruel Times

Nathan Loughran, frontman for The Reverse, runs a successful series of live shows in London named ‘Under The Influence’. In this event, new bands get the chance to play two of their own songs and are then set the challenge of performing a cover version of the month’s featured artist. Looking back it was in 2004 when I reviewed the first EP by London’s The Reverse, where I compared them to mid-late 1990’s literate indie rockers, Gene and Clearlake. It has taken them ten years to release their first album and on ‘Kind Words For Cruel Times’ they appear to be under the same influences as they were a decade ago.

The Reverse Album Cover

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Gene are currently receiving something of a revival thanks to a reissue of their first album whilst Clearlake never seemed to get the audience their idiosyncrasies deserved. Loughran himself is a decent frontman and a fine lyricist in his own right too. After a subdued verse on the opening ‘Encore’, the guitars kick in and the song is driven forward to give it some much needed vitality. Propelled by a ringing, winning melody, ‘Atoms’ is infectious and likeable. A moody ‘Then They Came For Us’ stands out with its string-embellished chorus, whilst what could have been a crass reference to the ubiquitous model/presenter Myleene Klass is turned into a clever, infectious and rather sweet little song. Elsewhere, on a more reflective second half to the record, there’s a touching and sad tribute to a lost loved one in ‘The Longest Day’ whilst the excellent ‘Lucy’ revisits The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ for inspiration.

In fact the album as a whole is a consistently good set of songs even if it never quite elevates itself out of mid-90’s indie guitar rock territory. Loughran stands out as a witty and self-effacing performer and no matter how under the influence he may be, his bittersweet, nostalgic songs stand up well in a world of faceless popular music.

Web Sites:
The Reverse Official Site
The Reverse SoundCloud
Under The Influence Site

Further Listening:
Gene, Clearlake, Lloyd Cole And The Commotions

Review: Talvihorros – Eaten Alive

Followers of Talvihorros’ past work will have become accustomed to nightmarish, dystopian musical visions so when the man behind the mask, Ben Chatwin, is calling his latest album ‘Eaten Alive’, it’s safe to say he’s not put his feet up for an easy life just yet. Indeed, on this album, Chatwin has collaborated with Fluid Radio owner Daniel Crossley for inspiration; drawing on his own harrowing experiences of London life.

Talvihorros Album Cover

In a familiar game of contrasts, on ‘Little Pieces Of Discarded Life’, feedback and glitchy effects represent the evil side but on the side of good, there is a warm keyboard melody which wouldn’t sound out of place on Labradford’s landmark ‘Fixed::Context’ album. For ‘Four Walls’, the track begins with a simple guitar refrain as minimalist electronica pulses in the manner of a life support machine. Slowly the guitars become more aggressive, the rhythms and abstract layers of sound darken; becoming so intense that the effect becomes unavoidably claustrophobic. Those themes of slowly escalating horror become a constant, the pain eased somewhat by achingly gorgeous melodies such as those featured on ‘Objectum’ and the glistening, reverberating ‘Dyspnea’. Then there’s the stunning ‘The Secrets Of The Sky’ which gives the impression of a modern, deeply troubled take on Kraftwerk circa ‘Man Machine’ and is relentless in its quest to uncover the trauma lying in the capital city’s murky streets.

‘Eaten Alive’ may be a departure in sound for Chatwin but he has perfected the art of making instrumental music which is so powerful and evocative, foolish ideas like words seem unsubtle and redundant. It also rounds up a a satisfying triptych of albums from Chatwin, the first lost in water, the second lost in space and now the third, lost in the gaping maw of London life.

Web Sites:
Fluid Audio Label Page for Talvihorros – ‘Eaten Alive’
Bandcamp Stream for Talvihorros – Eaten Alive

Further Listening:
Labradford, Kraftwerk, Bark Psychosis