Archive for March, 2014

Review: Anzio Green – A Day Without Distance

‘A Day Without Distance’ is the second album from a seasoned duo of electronic artists, Mark Streatfield (Zainetica, Cyan341) and Wil Bolton (Cheju and The Ashes Of Piemont), operating under the banner of Anzio Green. The twosome have been used to collaborating from remote locations in the past (Streatfield from the UK, Bolton in New Zealand) but this latest album was recorded in the rather more unglamorous setting of Bolton’s Liverpool studio.

Anzio Green Album Cover

First impressions vary wildly based on opener ‘Morning Tea’. There’s a twinkle of folktronica here, the shivery, rumbling electronica of Vladislav Delay there; all managing to evoke images of both frosty evenings and summer mornings. On ‘Fall Down’ their named influence of Slowdive begins to make sense as a wispy turn from a guest vocalist glides along lush layers of dreamy synths. Yet whilst that track is a little too insipid and in danger of being washed away, the far more involving ‘Sunset Solitude’ intrigues with its haunting mix of nature samples and abstract ambience. Thereafter, Bolton and Streatfield find a reach seam of form which continues to the album’s conclusion, the mesmerising, New Zealand-referencing ‘Never Go Back’. The most edifying moments are saved for the centre of the album, however, where the enigmatic title track and ‘Tall Grass’ bookend the disarmingly subtle ‘Thunderstorm’, which achieves the impact promised in the title by means of slow-building stealth.

After an inauspicious beginning, ‘A Day Without Distance’ gradually worms its way into the brain and Anzio Green join an impressive new wave of artists who bind together nature and electronic music to achieve moving results. This is complex, multi-textured music which proves these experienced hands can still show the way forward for the young pretenders.

Web Sites:
Stream of Anzio Green – A Day Without Distance
Rednetic Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Planivaar, The Angling Loser, Vladislav Delay, The Green Kingdom

Review: Charles Bordeaux – Fables

The concept to Charles Bordeaux’s ‘Fables’ is based on themes of gratitude and appreciation and tells the story of a farmer’s life from birth to death and his mistakes in between. None of this backstory is especially relevant to the quality of music on ‘Fables’, which is simply a great collection of modern synth pop/dream pop tunes with a soulful edge.

Charles Bordeaux EP Cover

It begins brilliantly. The immediately infectious ‘Sandman’ is set to a twinkling electronica melody and the slightly cracked emotional tones of Bordeaux’s own voice. Then instrumentals ‘First Grain’ and ‘Nostalgia’ are distinguished by lovely gorgeous layers of synthesized melody and flowing folktronica respectively. However, ‘Bloodpacts (The Weeds)’ takes an unexpected step into psychedelic soul territory and it’s a detour which shows what a versatile performer Bordeaux is. He’s a canny enough songwriter to save one of his best moments for last too; ‘Forest & The Moon’ building up slowly from its glacial beats and twinkling lights to becomes a tour de force for not only Bordeaux the singer but  also Bordeaux the arranger of a miniature epic.

Whatever you think of the somewhat unusual narrative, on this evidence, this Long Island-based artist is on to something pretty exciting. May his fragile psychedelic soul continue to prosper.

Web Sites:
Charles Bordeaux SoundCloud
Youtube Stream for Charles Bordeaux – Fables
Emerald And Doreen Label Site

Further Listening:
Chris Zurich, Christian McKee

Review: Emby Alexander – Summer Blood And All The Parties I Wasn’t Invited To Anyway

After causing a ripple with their oddball psychedelia for their previous EP, Arizona’s Emby Alexander return again with a longer EP but one which certainly doesn’t compromise on madness. In fact, it possibly doubles it.

Emby Alexander EP Cover

‘Lie Down In The Ocean’ brings back the unhinged vocals, accompanied by what appears to be the sounds of a vintage carnival. Once the song settles down there’s an air of obscure 1960’s pop about the track, filtered through a modern dreampop veil. On ‘I Don’t Mind If You Call Us Friends’, there’s an abundance of harmonies (or even “disharmonies”) and vocal manipulation, with even more extreme techniques used on Jim Perkins’ “Cattle Class Mix” treatment of ‘Dressed Undressing’. Meanwhile, the ghostly surf pop of ‘O Here We’re Tangled’ rubs shoulders with the distinctly tribal feel to ‘Manieres’; a song which evokes Adam And The Ants on a baroque holiday.

As before there are times when Emby Alexander’s persistence in sounding weird can get in the way of a good song but overall the balance is about right. Recalling variously The Walkmen on happy pills or the more exuberant material of early Mystery Jets, one might actually need a lie down in the ocean after listening to this crazed but compelling set of songs.

Web Sites:
Emby Alexander Official Site
Emby Alexander – Summer Blood And All The Parties I Wasn’t Invited To Anyway on SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Deerhunter, Mystery Jets, Adam And The Ants

Review: Tucker Grindstaff – Bookmarks

Helpfully describing his album as “lo-fi trip hop style electronica”, listening to Tucker Grindstaff’s ‘Bookmarks’ is like hearing a throwback to those times when bedroom studio musicians didn’t have the facilities to make their songs sound hi-fi. Grindstaff may not be a Babybird or Ariel Pink just yet but this debut has much to recommend it.

Tucker Grindstaff Album Cover

‘Edge Of Earth’ introduces us to the artist’s moody bedroom trip-hop. Grindstaff doesn’t sing at this point but he doesn’t need to as the track’s gloomy atmosphere is characterised by an attractive combination of meandering guitar lines and an assortment of clicks and beats. Then when he does sing it’s often little more than a murmur but this actually suits the understated, subdued arrangements and sense of isolation. At its best, the slacker hip hop feel of ‘Separated Cables’ suggests Beck Hansen is working on a tight budget, there’s also the deliciously subdued melancholy of the title track, the charming warped folk of ‘Girl From Encinitas’ or the relatively bouncy electronica of ‘Birds’.

Whether there’s quite enough of the good stuff to sustain interest for the full fifty minutes is debatable. This is bedroom-recorded pop and makes no effort to come across as anything more grand. Yet amidst the low-key arrangements, there’s some surprisingly effective songwriting here and Grindstaff clearly has a knack for a doleful instrumental too.

Web Sites:
Tucker Grindstaff Official Site
Tucker Grindstaff Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Beck, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Babybird

Review: The Divided Circle – These Regrets

Based on name alone, The Divided Circle suggest a macabre inner sanctum with perhaps an interest in geometrically precise electronica. It turns out that opinion is not far from the truth but as their new EP title ‘These Regrets’ implies, there is a core of sadness underneath the glacial pop surroundings.

The Divided Circle EP Cover

‘The Bright Lights’ sets the tone with a wash of melancholic keyboards, evoking a lonely, futuristic city. It takes a full two minutes for any vocals to come in and when they do they are gentle yet haunting and foreboding as they predict “the ghost lives on”. The title track recalls the early subtlety Depeche Mode or even the dark disco of DK7. ‘Monster’ takes us back to our childhood with the line “You’re the monster under the bridge, waiting for me” but the overall chill effect generated by the Hammond organ frills and disconsolate guitar is definitely aimed at adults. Elsewhere, skeletal Kraftwerk-esque synths and steady beats cast a black spell on the moving ‘Transcience’ and the only blot on the copybook is the use of digitised vocals on the otherwise lovely ‘All At Sea’.

‘These Regrets’ contains the kind of quietly insidious and eerily atmospheric electronic music which is all too rare nowadays. They remind me of several of the fine acts on the Australian label Hidden Shoal Recordings and long may their enigmatic journey continue.

Web Sites:
The Divided Circle – These Regrets SoundCloud
Lonely City Records Site

Further Listening:
DK7, Glassacre, Kraftwerk

Review: Solotundra – What We Did Last Winter

Solotundra are an Italian alt-country/folk led by multi-instrumentalist Andrea Anania who plays guitar, bass, piano and banjo (though presumably not all at the same time) as well as taking on vocal duties. Turns out he’s a very decent songwriter with an album replete with surprises too.

Solotundra Album Cover

It may not be the most popular instrument in the world, but the banjo is at the core of Solotundra’s best work. After a polite and rather safe opening two tracks, ‘Queen Bee’ is simply thrilling as Anania combines the throaty menace of his own vocal with the rattling intensity of his banjo picking. That same instrument is a focal point for the similarly frenetic ‘Traces Of You’ and a rather more tender – but no less effective – ‘Song For Christian’. Also of note are a lovely warm ‘A Monster’, the impressive quiet/loud dynamics of ‘Franco’ and a rousing finale called ‘The Deepest Pit’.

With its reliance on traditional instruments and folk/country trappings, ‘What We Did Last Winter’ may not sound like the most exciting of prospects yet its delivered in a fresh, crisp way, with the ferocity of a punk performer. This is definitely the kind of folk/country album which could win over those who don’t normally have the time for this kind of music.

Web Sites:
Solotundra Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Doug Hoyer

Review: Winkie – One Day We Pretended To Be Ghosts

There’s something a little contradictory about a band who share their name with a slang term for a male member whilst also showing a penchant for doomy and dramatic song titles such as ‘To Die A Thousand Romantic Deaths’ or ‘Death At The Heart Of The Disco’. Such an incongruous proposition is offered by New York shoegaze/drone rock duo Winkie.

Winkie Album Cover

Most of the songs here consist of droning bass and repetitive drum patterns which often seem to be in direct competition with the group’s keyboard melodies and submerged vocals. The levels of distortion are pitched so high for ‘Illuminated’, for example, that any aspect of light is shut out by the claustrophobic walls of effects. However, if that doesn’t put you off there is actually a lot to recommend on ‘One Day We Pretended To Be Ghosts’. Not least on ‘My Eyes Are Closed When The Sun Comes Up’ where Peter Santiago’s gothic bass trades murky 4AD style shapes with Gina Spiteri’s sinister keyboard washes, the intense intro to ‘The Line Up’ builds up like The Chameleons’ ‘Less Than Human’ and on ‘Sometimes’ Spiteri gives her best vocal performance, soaring above the chugging bass and her own sparkling keyboards. Later on, in ‘Death At The Heart Of The Disco’, the production is overplayed in favour of distortion but there’s clearly a shimmering tune underneath all the noise whilst the relentless ‘Killer Behind Those Masks’ and ‘Arrows’ build up impressive levels of seductive menace and evil.

All told, Winkie offer an interesting and surprisingly complex version of the shoegaze story. What is more, however impenetrable their music seems to be to the uninitiated, just like My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus And Mary Chain before them, there is always beauty to be found within.

Web Sites:
Winkie Official Site
Winkie Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine