Archive for April, 2014

Review: Porya Hatami – Shallow

As an experimental sound artist based in Iran, Porya Hatami is likely to be one of the more fascinating prospects in the ambient genre. On a musical level, he certainly delivers but what did surprise me, was the unexpected connection between the artist and me, a humble blog writer.

Porya Hatami Album Cover

This is because, as a resident of Lincolnshire, England, I felt an affinity with the opening piece named ‘Fen’. The Fens are a marshy region in Eastern England and Hatami’s careful and intricate assembling of water-themed field recordings and ambient drone will conjure up images of these wetlands even if you’ve never seen them. The track stretches out for an initially daunting twenty one minutes but reshapes and reforms itself along way including a lovely, ethereal centrepiece. For ‘After The Rain’, delicately-played keyboards simulate the last remnants of precipitation. It would sound clumsy in lesser hands but Hatami proves himself to be a master of light melancholy; even recalling the magic of Harold Budd as the track nears its piano-led conclusion. There is a twinkling nighttime aura on ‘White Forest’ but it’s offset by a refreshing breeze which fades in and out on twelve relaxed (but always compelling) minutes.

Hatami sticks to the promise that these recordings will be “rich in tone”, for here are three compositions which evoke places known and unknown, minimalist yet multi-textured and – in contrast with that album title – blessed with so much depth. Certainly, ‘Shallow’ deserves its place alongside other nature-inspired instrumental works by The Angling Loser and Tench labelmates The Green Kingdom.

Web Sites:
Tench Label Page for Porya Hatami – Shallow
Video for Porya Hatami – After The Rain by Pejman Pabarja and Azad Jannati
Porya Hatami Bandcamp

Further Releases:
The Green Kingdom, The Angling Loser, Harold Budd


Review: Caught In The Wake Forever – False Haven

When I last heard from Fraser McGowan’s Caught In The Wake Forever on 2012’s ‘Against A Simple Wooden Cross’, I was given a very tangible insight into his breakdown. It was a compelling but often uncomfortable listening experience but one where his musical prowess always won the day. Thankfully, McGowan has continued to find solace in music and this is his third solo release since that time.

Caught In The Wake Forever Album Cover

Painful self-analysis may still be high on the agenda judging by the title to ‘I Know I’ve Suffered More Than Most’; its downbeat guitar line and minimal electronica will be familiar to followers of Yellow6 (who McGowan has previously collaborated with). ‘A Morning Without Decay’ is similarly languid but here the pretty piano keys twinkle and indicate there is some hope out there. Further on, abstract pieces such as ‘At Least You Had My Cigarettes’ and ‘Black Nectar’ offer fascinating experimental tangents to surround the haunting ambient washes so prevalent on ‘Castle Semple Loch’. Then finally, for the last two tracks, (‘All That I Try To Console’ and ‘This House Is Not The Same’) McGowan finds beauty and warmth respectively amongst the despair.

‘False Haven’ is nowhere near as harrowing as ‘Against A Simple Wooden Cross’ but that doesn’t mean it’s any bleaker in tone. What is different is that, shorn of McGowan’s own voice recordings, listening to these compositions is a more comfortable experience. Furthermore, taken as a standalone instrumental album, ‘False Haven’ stands out as another fine document of McGowan’s melodic and arrangement skills which continue to match quality with quantity.

Web Sites:
Caught In The Wake Forever Official Site
Caught In The Wake Forever Bandcamp
Sound In Silence Label Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Yellow6, Labradford


VULPIX is a one man dream-pop project from Hoppers Crossing, Australia, fashioned by Jordan Barrow. ‘SWARMS’ was designed to capture the dying moments of a perfect day but there’s a definite underlying sadness to these four songs which have their roots in early 80’s indie pop.

Vulpix Album Cover

Beginning with ‘Child Star’, there’s a mélange of slurred, delirious yet appealing vocals from Barrow and a strident, continuous bassline. Normally when strident basslines are employed, comparisons with Peter Hook aren’t too far away and the second track bears the hallmarks of New Order’s gift for melody even more, right down to a slightly off-key chorus. On the superb ‘Hazy’ Barrow’s airy vocals contrast beautifully with the doleful indie rock melody. It’s a wistful, sad and romantic tune, like a rendezvous between The Wake and Ambulance Ltd. To end with, ‘Nightvision’ may feature prominent usage of a primitive drum machine but the song conveys human emotions of loneliness and helplessness via the medium of glistening guitars and lovelorn lyrics such as “Take me out to the ocean. I will drown”.

Barrow admits that he spent a lot of time in bands without to anything to show from it. On the evidence of ‘SWARMS’, he certainly has songs to be proud of now and it would be much appreciated if he could follow it up with an album of similar quality.

Web Sites:
Vulpix Bandcamp

Further Listening:
New Order, The Wake, The Drums

Review: Foreign Television – Youthless

Francis Allen is a one-man music machine originally from Wales but now residing in Moscow. Three years in the making, his debut recording under the name of Foreign Television favours an ambient/dreampop sound to formulate an immersive, mesmerising experience.

Foreign Television Album Cover

Each song tends to be wrapped up in shoegaze layers but moments of clarity are to be found like an acoustic guitar on ‘Neva’ as he sings “You’re wrapping question marks around my neck. To make me wonder why I left”. Allen may not be knocking on the door of his birth country’s famous male voice choirs anytime soon but he is able to capture emotion on these melancholic songs, which seem to be at least partially fuelled by romantic loss. He is also canny enough to make use of vocal layering which captivates on ‘Longlights’ (a track also characterised by some crisp and lively beats) and the bizarrely-named ‘Olympic Christie’. The opener ‘August’ shimmers elegantly and gradually whilst the rumbling ‘To Brazil’ opts for a blissed-out approach and right through to the grandiose finale, ‘Beach’, Allen is still experimenting and pushing the boundaries of his production skills.

‘Youthless’ is blessed or cursed (depending on your outlook) with a strong sense of isolation but even though the lyrics seem completely downbeat, the songs drift pleasantly by. Naturally, glacial, lambent music like this won’t be to everyone’s liking but for any fans of the slower side of the shoegaze and ambient movement, it certainly comes recommended.

Web Sites:
Foreign Television Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Oppressed By The Line, Daniel Land And The Modern Painters

Review: La-Di-Da – Suburban Plea

La-Di-Da are Pennsylvanian duo Brandon Bigos and Taylor Johnson. Based on the themes of their debut album they are lost souls, dreaming of romance and escape and yet never quite bothering to get out of their beds to do anything about it. Never mind, they have at least managed to put their ideas on record and some of the songs are really rather good.

La-Di-Da Album Cover

Early indications imply that La-Di-Da are a lo-fi indie rock act with echoes of early Beck. Their slacker ideals are encapsulated perfectly on the title track which includes the line “My identity means nothing, so why do I seem to care?”. Given the low-slung, shoulder-shrugging atmosphere of the record, there are times when you wonder whether La-Di-Da actually do care. ‘My Brother’ and ‘Fishing’ both feature unnecessary laughing from the protagonists and the songs themselves don’t seem to have been taken too seriously either.

Yet there is sonic gold to be found here. On ‘Let’s Go Someplace Nice’ they go from uninterested verses to breaking out into a sweetly addictive chorus. ‘Vicarious Me’ matches the wit and quirks of Pavement. Their finest song is ‘Anagrams’. The usual air of resignation is present and correct in the lyrics (“Everyday we seem the same. Everyday we stay insane”) but they’re encased in a beautifully, dreamy arrangement, the vocals (including falsetto harmonies) for once have an emotional ache and suddenly the band have a an alternative anthem on their hands. This moment also leads into a fantastically-layered instrumental called ‘Cold Goodbye’ and later on, the piano-led ‘Already Famous’ and nocturnally-themed ‘Good Morning, Sleep Tight’ are sprinkled with melodic fairy dust.

‘Suburban Plea’ could have been an excellent 30 minute mini-album but instead it can be a frustrating listening experience. So, much like a pair of talented but demotivated students, when Bigos and Johnson stir themselves they sound like they can rise above their slacker ethos and become a band to be genuinely excited about.

Web Sites:
Album Stream for La-Di-Da – Suburban Plea

Further Listening:
Beck, Pavement, Fantasy Rainbow, Bihari Beach

Review: Burn Devils, Burn – EP

When we last heard from Shawn Bann it was via LA’s Nightmute, a gothic/post-punk act with an unashamedly epic feel. Twenty five years ago they may have been stadium regulars but time has moved on and it appears Bann has too, at least temporarily, judging by the more modern, back to basics approach of his new project, Burn Devils, Burn.

Burn Devils, Burn Band Pic

The trio bring feedback, wild guitars and grimy bass to the party, or rather to a sweaty basement club since that’s the kind of atmosphere their music evokes. On ‘Call And Response’, the frontman yells “time is short”, an appropriate statement given the incisive and aggressive way the song is delivered. ‘Blue Lights, Red Siren’ is similarly vital, the strident bass rhythms guiding the song on its way in the manner of early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, complete with psychedelic wig-out at the end. ‘The Take’ is another bass-driven track, guaranteed to get the head nodding along in time but the song has a lot more going on, thanks to the urgent, throaty vocals and a few great riffs for good measure. For ‘Promise True’, the singer seems to have aged by about ten years to take on the role of a veteran rock singer but the band rattle through this fine number regardless with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of conviction.

Bann’s other outfit may have fitted him very well but Burn Devils, Burn could ultimately be better suited to him. The group may opt for a no-frills approach but they are clearly a tightly-drilled unit and the result is a set of songs which are leaner, rawer and even more energised than before.

Web Sites:
Burn Devils, Burn on Reverbnation
Video of Burn Devils, Burn – The Take

Further Listening:
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Six.By Seven

Review: Mount Pressmore – Enjoy

Comparisons with Steely Dan are thrown about on a regular basis but Mount Pressmore have a greater claim than most since not only do the Austin, Texas act favour complex, jazz-flavoured arrangements but they have a frontman who is blessed with a similar, precise and rasping delivery to Donald Fagen. That man is Thomas Shaw, son of 14-time Grammy award winning conductor Robert Shaw. His band, all of whom have musical degrees to their name, certainly have the credentials but do they have the songs?

Mount Pressmore Album Cover

The worry is that sometimes the songs are too complex, as if the band are all too willing to show off their technical proficiency; straddling that line between clever and the “clever clever”. ‘Interchange’ is an example of the latter; it’s jerky, staccato style too awkward to love. To balance this, the lyrical matter is concerned with somewhat prosaic matter which at least ensures the songs remain grounded even if the ambitions are lofty.

‘Vice-Presidential Material’, for instance, views the subject matter from the perspective of three different people in a political triangle but the propulsive rhythm section and Shaw’s yearning vocals steer the track away from indulgence. ‘The New Regional Branch Manager’ begins with the line “all day long I’m shuffling paper in my brain” and continues with its tale of everyday ennui and paranoia. Crucially, it’s also one of the catchiest songs with some ingenious electric piano hooks. ‘Dry Land’ pulls out another fine sequence of keyboard-driven melody and contains the most infectious of choruses. The band are careful to maintain an emotional distance for much of time but they do strike an chord on ‘A Place In The Sun’ where the words “On comes the tide of age. Day giving way to night .To an infinite night” reveals an unexpected gift for poignant poetry.

Despite a slight tail-off in hooks towards the end of the record, Mount Pressmore are a far more accessible proposition than they might originally appear. Their songs may be carefully constructed but they give indie jazz rock a very good name. Shaw senior will certainly be proud of his son and bandmates but so would Messrs Becker and Fagen too.

Web Sites:
Mount Pressmore Official Site
Album Stream of Mount Pressmore – Enjoy

Further Listening:
Steely Dan, Tortoise

Review: Deadwall – Bukimi No Tani

As a support act chosen by artists such as British Sea Power, Cherry Ghost and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadler, Deadwall have kept good company over the last year. Now is the time for the Leeds band to go alone with a new album which, in their words, “treads the line between beauty and brutality”.

Deadwall Album Cover

‘Blood Orange’ and its tear-stained balladry may not be the most obvious choice for an opener but this is an album which definitely doesn’t follow a set pattern. This first track is an early showcase for Thomas Gourley’s voice of vulnerability, with the arrangement stripped back so it’s largely him and a steel guitar until the crescendo of effects kicks in, or the “Deadwall Of Sound” as they might call it. For those who find the opening a little frail, the raw aggression underscoring the incisive ‘Eyes/White/Shut’ serves as a welcome shot in the arm.

After this impressive opening, the chirpy ‘Two Rakes’ whiffs a little too much of Belle And Sebastian and the angsty ‘My Mori’ comes across as somewhat overwrought.  Thankfully, it’s largely good news after that. ‘The Great Beast’ may be another piano ballad but it’s a warm and very touching piece, given further character by its vintage arrangement and another captivating performance from Gourley who seems very much at home with the more sedate numbers. Later on, ‘Daffolion’ flies the flag for lovelorn indie rock (“a weed is a flower in the wrong place) and the nagging intensity of ‘Brick’ is a refreshingly caustic interruption.

‘Bukimi No Tani’ is an album of curiosity and contrasts which thinks nothing of switching between theatrical and grunge influences. The constant beating heart at the centre of it all is Gourlay; a frontman of great charisma and owner of a heartfelt falsetto. This alone should see Deadwall shed their support billing status sooner rather than later.

Web Sites:
Deadwall Official Site
Stream of Deadwall – Bukimi No Tani

Further Listening:
Kapowski, Belle And Sebastian

Review: Pilots Of Japan – Only Perfect Rest

We have to go back to 2005 to recall the first album by Pilots Of Japan, which earned a 4 out of 5 review from Leonard’s Lair at time and was described as “idiosyncratic and fun”. Now the follow-up has arrived but Pilots Of Japan are just down to one recording member, David Smith, who has decamped to the USA since that debut, ‘The Plan To Reverse Time’. It would be fascinating to report that the other band members fell out due to musical differences or a row over royalties but the logistics of the original group living in different continents now is obviously a much bigger factor. No matter, the core values of Pilots Of Japan remain the same.

Pilots Of Japan Album Cover

‘Only Perfect Rest’ begins with a quartet of enjoyable and very different songs. ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ offers a pleasing, jangly indie breeziness, ‘Makes Me Smile’ balances guitar-driven intensity with dreamy effects and a country-flavoured ‘Tomorrow, Mobile!’ brings in some lovely female harmonies. ‘Rocketships Now Go Intergalactic’ is the kind of title you would expect a young, would-be astronaut to come up with and the song, complete with “space noise”, possesses an innocence and charm which is typical of Smith’s lo-fi but always tuneful approach. Towards the centre of the record, further highlights arrive via the wistful couplet ‘My, My, Everest’ and ‘No. 12’ whilst the rock and roll-influenced ‘It’s Not A Zoo (It’s a Vivarium)’ is an unexpected but welcome pace change. Best of all, though, is ‘All The Stars Are Out Tonight’; a romantic and genuinely touching song, blessed with just the right amount of melancholy.

Eight years later and Pilots Of Japan still fit that “idiosyncratic and fun” description but many of the rough edges of ‘The Plan To Reverse Time’ have been ironed out and Smith’s own calming vocals have matured very nicely in the intervening years. So this must make ‘Only Perfect Rest’ the musical equivalent of reacquainting with an old friend.

Web Sites:
Pilots Of Japan Official Site
Pilots Of Japan SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Theselah, A. Rex

Review: Morphlexis – E-mune

Known as a plastic and video artist in his native Israel, Benjamin Esterlis has been proving his musician/producer credentials under the moniker of Morphlexis since the turn of the Century. On ‘E-mune’, he has duly delivered another set of largely instrumental numbers which give machine music a good name.

Morphlexis EP Cover

The title track is at least a partial throwback to the days of drum and bass but the depth charge beats and wicked tempo shifts create an unsettling yet compelling atmosphere. It is basically a scene setter for what is to follow though. Lurching bass and jazz rhythms usher in the brilliant ‘Beating The Devil’, with the track characterised by a lugubrious vocal and some macabre melodies.

Based on titles alone, the second half to the EP appears to give life to inanimate objects and does a fine job of it too. The skittering beats and (what appears to be) faulty plumbing noise of ‘The Secret Lives Of Elevators’ may sound unpromising but it’s a piece which captivates. Finally, we have the equally modestly-titled ‘Parking Lot Theme’, which gives the impression of a downbeat version of 808 State’s ‘Olympic’.

‘E-mune’ is a fascinating EP full of melodic and rhythmic about-turns that never lets the you settle for a moment. The only surprise is that Esterlis has been dong this for so long as it sounds remarkably fresh and perfect for headphone listening.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream for Morphlexis – E-mune

Further Listening:
808 State, Vladislav Delay, DK7