Archive for May, 2014

Review: Pillar Point – Pillar Point

Seattle songsmith Scott Reitherman is better known for being a member of indie pop outfit Throw Me The Statue but he may become even more renowned for his new alter ego, Pillar Point. Emerging from the same Polyvinyl label as the hugely impressive Painted Palms, Pillar Point offers energetic, synth pop music which touches the head and the heart as well as the body.

Pillar Point Album Cover

There’s no steady build-up on the new album. ‘Diamond Mine’ goes straight for the jugular with a fizzy cocktail of strident synths, disco beats and a compelling chart-friendly chorus. Reitherman’s dark lyrics but bouncy songwriting makes his songs a perfect bedfellow for Foster The People. ‘Eyeballs’ explores the themes of loneliness and so-called social networks amidst a parade of hyperactive electronica. However, the retro synth pop tones of ‘Cherry’ and ‘Black Hole’ tone down the liveliness, echoing the morning after a trip to the night clubs and the quest for a deeper experience continues towards the centre of the record, peaking with the perfect balance of space and dynamics on ‘Strangers In Paradise’. Some momentum is lost on the more throwaway material at the end of the record; ‘Touch’ amounts to little more than energetic disco fodder and ‘Curious Of You’ at one point borrows the melody from Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’, but at least he recovers ground for the hook-filled, euphoric closer ‘Echoes’.

Spin-off projects don’t always bear fruit but in this case, Reitherman has captured the Zeitgeist. Representing the sugar rush and the eventual comedown, Pillar Point offers alternative dance music with depth which can genuinely appeal to both the young and the old.

Web Sites:
Pillar Point Official Site
Stream Pillar Point – Pillar Point on Bandcamp
Polyvinyl Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Foster The People, Painted Palms


Review: Armisticio – Decay Dreams

Armisticio is a new project dreamed up by seventeen year-old Chilean, Matias Andres. Blending influences from dream pop, to synth pop to chillwave, ‘Decay Dreams’ may be heavy in terms of its melancholic lyrics but is lighter than air in terms of arrangements. In keeping with his moniker, Andres also has the ambitious aim of using his music as a means of finding peace in a hostile world. No pressure there then.

Armisticio Album Cover

At the beginning ‘Maybe You’ indicates the confidence of youth. The bold arrangement of shuddering beats and analog keyboards may drown out the digitised, lovelorn vocals of Andres but there’s no hiding the vibrant tune. ‘Change Me’ and ‘Caer, Volver’ are gentler numbers, like low-budget chillwave and there’s a pleasant flow of songs from here to the end of the album. ‘Fin’, for example, revolves around summery guitar lines and the repeated lyric of “Adios” but the smooth synths make it the kind of music perfect for lying on a beach somewhere.

However, what most of the material does lack is an edge or a sense of urgency with some of the songs so breezy they tend to blow away and disappear into the ether. ‘Cuando Vendras’ uses more strident beats and the insistent melody sinks its teeth into the listener whilst ‘Keep Trying’ is a definite highlight; beginning with a ringing, guitar hook and a more confident vocal from Andres. Like a lot of songs on this album, the track is blessed with an innocent charm and this moment imagines a pre-graduation version of The Drums. Drums of a different kind dominate the final track ‘Aqui No Estare’; the song having a military feel without diminishing the upbeat flavour of the EP.

In fact ‘Decay Dreams’ seems like a misleading title for the album since this record has a summery, washed-away kind of vibe, even taking into account Andres’ subdued vocals and some rather lovelorn lyrics. Whilst there’s nothing which would stop you in your tracks, this is, nevertheless, an album which bodes well for the talented teenager and a good start for his similarly youthful new label, Lick Records.

Web Sites:
Armisticio – Decay Dreams
Lick Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Foreign Television, The Drums

Review: Ninetails – Quiet Confidence

Liverpool quartet Ninetails promised so much with the mesmeric guitar work and atmospheric post-rock of their 2012 debut ‘Slept But Did Not Sleep’. However, since then the group have had to survive the departure of their frontman/guitarist Ed Black; a difficult obstacle to overcome for any band, let alone such a fledgling act. Yet Ninetails have not just soldiered on but broadened their horizons even further. The fact that their new EP has been released on Pond Life, which has already provided a home to Talk Talk and Mark Hollis reissues in recent times, suggests that their confidence is shared by label owner and former Talk Talk boss Keith Aspden too.

Quiet Confidence EP Cover

Beginning with a lion’s roar, ‘Radiant Hex’ is a curious assembly of brass, female soul/dance samples and the trio’s own half-spoken/half-chanted vocals. If it sounds like an exorcism in musical form then it’s job done because that’s what the band actually intended. ‘An Aria’ is attached to a more recognisable melody, where washes of dreampop, choral voices and pastorally-flavoured guitar textures hit on a blissed-out vibe but the band’s restless spirit, characterised by regular ebbs and flows, ensures the listener never quite relaxes. Indeed, just when you think the song has ended it begins again. Thanks largely to its glistening white funk-flavoured guitars and it’s nocturnal aura, ‘O For Two’ is the closest we get to their debut EP and possibly the most soulful moment.

After this relative period of calm, the second half of the EP opens with samples of church bells which provides an all too rare moment of clarity as ‘Quiet Confidence/Pure Utopian Moment’ veers between dissipating vapour trails and spine-tingling, almost hymnal moments. The defiantly experimental ‘Hopelessly Devoted’ contains some lovely passages of mournful trumpet and then goes all James Blake on us with incongruous sequences of vocal distortion (apparently using a sample from Andre 3000 no less). Finally, ‘Sinn Djinn’ arguably bears the closest resemblance to Talk Talk but only because it sounds like they’ve been recorded backwards and remixed by My Bloody Valentine.

When all’s said and done, ‘Quiet Confidence’ is a record of great moments which initially seems like too many disparate formed together in the hope something sticks. The persistently shifting soundscapes mean the songs are never allowed to settle and the effect is part religious experience, part prog-jazz, part late night soul, part future pop. However, eventually the ingenious hooks and inspired samples begin to make perfect sense and the trio have ended up crafting their own particularly unique and magical experience. Heaven knows what mind-bending gems their first album will generate, though.

Web Sites:
Ninetails Official Site
SoundCloud Stream for Ninetails – Quiet Confidence

Further Listening:
Delicate AWOL, Talk Talk, These New Puritans, James Blake, Hood

Review: The Notwist – Close To The Glass

Lest we forget, The Notwist began as a grunge/metal band in the late 1980’s but since then they have largely indulged in the parameters of inventive post-rock and sweetly melodic electronica; fondly associated with memorable singles such as ‘Pilots and ‘Pick Up The Phone’. Their much-heralded album of that time, 2002’s ‘Neon Golden’, should have been a springboard to further success but instead it led to a surprising six year hiatus before their next record (‘The Devil, You + Me’) and the band do the same again for this year’s ‘Close To The Glass’.

The Notwist Album Cover

The story of their eighth long player begins in a somewhat uncompromising manner. ‘Signals’ is certainly not pop. It’s a rather awkward number, full of electronic squiggles and off-kilter rhythms, with frontman Markus Acher not trying desperately hard to make sense of any of it. The title track is a little more like it but the repetitive, jarring rhythms threaten to overshadow the ghostly harmonies and it’s not until track three, the lead single ‘Kong’, that the first real song emerges. It’s a catchy little story-based number based on Acher’s childhood memories of superheroes with a  tune which recalls fellow indietronica act The Postal Service.

Thereafter, the uneven nature of the record continues to dominate. ‘Casino’ possesses those familiar levels of The Notwist’s warmth thanks to a comparatively simplistic set-up of acoustic guitar and Acher’s heart-tugging vocals and ‘Steppin’ In’ seems to be pulling off the same trick but ends before it has been given any chance to progress. The most pleasantly surprising moment is ‘Seven Hour Drive’ which begins like My Bloody Valentine’s ‘When You Sleep’ and develops into a fine blast of buzzing, fuzzy guitar pop. Alas, several other tracks (‘Run, Run, Run’, ‘From One Wrong Place To The Next’, ‘Into Another Tune’) appear to be half-formed, shape-shifting experiments which confuse rather than entertain. At least there is a late recovery due to lengthy instrumental ‘Lineri’ which may conform to tradtional Krautrock values in some respects but it definitely has all the atmospheric and dynamic qualities to merit comparisons with their Teutonic forefathers. Then, to end with, ‘They Follow Me’ emerges from the beats and the bleeps to present a genuinely moving farewell.

One only has to glance at their biography to realise The Notwist are a band who don’t take the easy route to success; seeking to reinvent at each point in their career. There are certainly great moments to enjoy here but ‘Close To The Glass’ is an album where sometimes you wish for the group to experiment slightly less and concentrate on the songwriting instead.

Web Sites:
The Notwist Official Site
Video of The Notwist – Kong

Further Listening:
The Postal Service, Tarwater, Lali Puna

Review: Human Colonies – Demo/EP

This new EP from Italy’s Human Colonies may set expectations low with the unpromising title of ‘Demo/EP’ but for the most part it certainly doesn’t sound like it. Indeed, there are strong indications here they can be a band of some distinction rather than one who modestly describe themselves as “blurred dreamy cloudy fuzzy something”

Human Colonies EP Cover

‘Sunshine Jesus’ pushes all the right shoegaze buttons from the song’s rhythmic intensity to the blank vocals and the guitar crescendos which sound like an aeroplane taking off. ‘Falling Deeper’ is cut from a much more eerie cloth, thanks largely to the track’s metronomic percussion and subdued voices. The Florence trio come into their own for ‘Cross’, where the guitars satisfyingly grind and drive their way relentlessly and a welcome lightness of touch is added by the airy yet yearning vocals and elegant synthesizer washes. It’s the longest track and justifiably so since it’s the one with the most depth and variety. Although it can hardly be described as a setback but ‘Hey You’ muddies the water a little and is arguably the track which sounds most like a “demo” but at least it eventually stirs from the submerged effects to deliver a memorable coda.

Overall, ‘Demo/EP’ is an encouraging start for what will hopefully be a long journey for the talented Italians. For now, file them alongside Ride and Chapterhouse but given that each song is different to the last, who knows where they will go next?

Web Sites:
Human Colonies Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Ride, Chapterhouse

Review: Should – The Great Pretend

They may not be blessed with the most Google-friendly of names but US act Should have earned their place at the shoegaze/dream pop top table over two decades. Their last album, 2011’s ‘Like A Fire Without Sound’, may have been a little too sensitive and pleasant at times but the new long player ‘The Great Pretend’ arguably provides the fire with extra sound, as there are noticeable signs of aggression here which proves band members Marc Ostermeier and Tanya Maus are more powerful forces than ever.

Should Album Cover

Opener ‘Don’t Send Me Your Regrets’ is backed by satisfyingly robust rhythms. Then comes ‘Loveless Devotion’; a glorious mesh of throbbing bass and bruising guitars countered by the soft but still clear vocals from Ostermeier. There’s pounding drums adding extra muscle to ‘Mistakes Are Mine’ and cheery lead single ‘Down A Notch’ is like hearing The Field Mice team up with New Order.

Continuing the complexity, ‘Everybody Knows’ begins a sequence of the most shoegaze heavy tracks on the record but the skill with both this song and the excellent (and far too brief) ‘Dalliance’ are the relentless intensity and insistent melodies they convey. They even merit unexpected comparisons to The Workhouse on the downtempo guitars and vocals to ‘Amends’. That said, it’s nice to be able to take a pause for breath occassionally so ‘In Monotone’ and the lullaby-like finale ‘Don’t Get To Know Me’ oblige by reverting to the default shy setting of Should and it’s always a pleasure to hear Ostermeier team up with Maus on harmonies again.

Naturally, it would have been easier to continue the gentler approach of their last album but here Ostermeier usually set their controls to “loud”, driving the songs home without ever losing their naturally melodic core. All told, ‘The Great Pretend’ is a triumphant return.

Web Sites:
Words On Music Official Site
Should – The Great Pretend on SoundCloud
Video for Should – Dalliance

Further Listening:
The Field Mice, Lorna

Review: Tomorrow We Sail – For Those Who Caught The Sun In Flight

Tomorrow We Sail are a seven-piece band from Leeds who make the kind of slow-burning emotional epics which have served the good ships of Heligoland, Sealight and former labelmates Her Name Is Calla in recent times. It is immediately apparent why they are signed to Gizeh Records too. This is bruising and despairing music but just like other members of the roster, there is beauty to behold as well and Tomorrow We Sail have clearly used the four years of preparation purposefully in making their first album; honing their arrangement skills to perfection.

Tomorrow We Sail Album Cover

‘The Well & The Tide’ builds steadily from modest orchestration and frontman Tim Hay’s quiet murmuring to thunderous drums, bursts of classical accompaniment and then Hay transforms to harrowing cries and ever-more emotional outpourings. ‘Never Goodbye’ is the most gentle track and features lovely interplay between the Hay baritone and Ella May Blake’s folky tones but then there’s the most dramatic track, ‘December’, which grows from eerie unsettling ambience into an apocalyptic storm of wind-tunnel guitars and thunderous percussion.

After this sudden outbreak of post-rock, ‘Testament’ reverts to sailing in calmer waters, the guitars audibly glistening in the sun as a wounded bird vocal from Blake appears to reflect on the drama has gone on before. ‘The White Rose’ revolves around the line “We will not be silent” with all band members harmonising together, united in a powerful demonstration of their confidence and beliefs. Then the album ends with the monolithic ‘For Rosa’; acting as a final intense suite combining all the best elements of what has passed before.

If Tomorrow We Sail were a sea-worthy vessel it would be a rickety old war ship, ravaged by great battles and tragedies yet within every nook and cranny, there is an air of dignity and defiance. One could complain that Tomorrow We Sail sound over-burdened with the weight of their despair but it’s rare to witness a band handle that weight so effectively and by the end of it you might feel just a little bit euphoric as one gorgeous and elegantly arranged song follows another.

Web Sites:
Tomorrow We Sail Official Site
Gizeh Records Label and Shop Site
Tomorrow We Sail SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Heligoland, Sealight, Her Name Is Calla

Review: Various Artists – Matt Sewell’s A Crushing Glow

One only has to glance at Matt Sewell’s collection of illustrations, canvasses and wall art to know that this is an artist with a penchant for the most vibrant and colourful of designs. It’s indicative of his music choices as well, since Sewell has been lucky enough to have the chance to make his very own music compilation (as well as design his own gatefold vinyl sleeve) for Caroline True Records. What a kaleidoscopic listening pleasure ‘A Crushing Glow’ is too.

A Crushing Glow Album Cover

Parsley Sound’s ‘Twilight Mushrooms’ is a perfectly pastoral way to to begin. Full of dream-like harmonies, sunny guitars and an even sunnier outlook, the late 1960’s psych-pop vibe serves as an introduction to both a largely unknown band and the “voyage of musical discovery” which is promised. The atmospheric quality continues thanks to Luke Howard’s wonderfully fragrant ‘Portrait Gallery’ and The Durutti Column’s ‘Otis’; one of the sweetest and most moving tracks from Vini Reilly’s prolific and brilliant career.

In a strong middle section, Ashra’s ‘Slightly Delayed’ imagines a progressive version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’ whilst the superb Lobt Noch Irrt contribution, ‘Heizgas Meter’, begins with extravagant keyboards and thick beats but ends with evocative passages of nocturnal longing. Although an admirable level of attention has clearly been invested to ensure there’s a seamless flow from beginning to end, the music loses its urgency somewhat on the predominantly Eastern-flavoured final section but even here the meditative quality of the contributions from Popol Vuh and Saddhu Brand almost guarantees some very sage nodding of the head.

‘A Crushing Glow’ is a vibrant, expertly-selected compilation which does much to reflect Sewell’s cosmopolitan and spiritual tastes. There’s creativity aplenty and – at the very least – curious listeners will be frantically Googling for more information after hearing some of these largely obscure acts for the first time.

Web Sites:
Matt Sewell Official Site
Caroline True Records Label and Shop Site
Listen to Lobt Noch Irrt – Heizgas Meter

Review: Lilies On Mars – Dot To Dot

Singing like willowy girls whilst dazzling with some space age pop, Lisa Masia and Marina Cristofalo were certainly right on the money when they named their band Lilies On Mars. Having also added to their growing reputation with a song named track of the week on Simon Raymonde’s Amazing Radio show and earning heaps of praise for ‘Dot To Dot’, these are exciting times for the duo who spend their time recording in both England and Italy.

Lilies On Mars Album Cover

Early impressions suggest Lush fronting Stereolab thanks to the spooked-out girl vocals and retro-futurist arrangements but they actually end up sounding more ethereal than both on the chillingly atmospheric opener ‘See You Sun’. Great invention is at the heart of this record as ‘Dream Of Bees’ glistens in its shimmering 1960’s pop setting, ‘No Way’ profits from vintage keyboards and ‘SIDE ABCDE’ all present the kind of experimental, electronic pop which shows these ladies aren’t just another dream pop/shoegazer act (even though they could fulfil this task and still make a very good album).

Strong songs appear at the end of the album too, such as the warped keyboards and eerie pop of ‘Impossible Child’ whilst ‘The First 3 Years’ unexpectedly comes across as the moody cousin of Sugababes’ ‘Overload’. That said, although the vocals are impressive enough on a technical level, they do little to break out from their blank, emotionless default setting which makes ‘Oceanic Landscape’ a worthy centrpiece, here veteran singer/songwriter Franco Battiato’s contribution exudes heartache as Masia and Cristofalo provide a subtly majestic and wistful backdrop

Whereas some revel in the nostalgia in vintage dream pop, Lilies On Mars are pushing further with their ambition, bringing in new influences and genres into their already complex songs. Not everything works perfectly but Masia and Cristofalo largely succeed in their request to offer lunar pop melodies and on just ideas alone Lilies On Mars are an exciting band to keep your eyes on.

Web Sites:
Lilies On Mars Official Site
Video for Lilies On Mars – Oceanic Landscape
Saint Marie Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Lush, Stereolab, Monocle, The Concretes

Review: Black Walls – Communion

People deal with death in so many different ways and although there have been many examples of musicians making the best use of their talents as a form of emotional release, it’s hard to imagine just how difficult it must be to put pen to paper or finger to key and create a piece of music which not only provides catharsis for the creator but also develops a listening experience that can be appreciated by a complete stranger. The latest album by Black Walls, the solo work of Canadian Ken Reaume,  is a prime example of such an experience. Reaume recorded ‘Communion’ from his bedroom at night, aided and abetted by his solitude and memories of a deeply religious upbringing.

Black Walls Album Cover

Throughout the record, certain aspects are presented just like one would expect. So the pace of the album is unsurprisingly funereal and the mood is largely bleak. The music itself features drone and those impressions of black walls are immediately brought to life in vivid detail thanks to Reaume’s usage of reverb and dark effects. Words are kept to a minimum with Reaume repeating the line “fall asleep for years” on the opening title track; his own soft vocals acting as a calm, almost soothing balm against the inescapable and understandably elegiac arrangements. At the centre is ‘PTSD’, where the only human voices are sequences of ghostly moans as the speakers throb under the sheer weight of the doomy textures. ‘Funeral/Wake’ is another instrumental production and possibly the most elegant and beautiful moment on the record; its twelve minutes of modern classical majesty swelling and subsiding in a powerful but never overpowering manner.

Yet put all these bleak layers together and the sum effect isn’t one of depression. ‘Communion’ could have been tortuous but Reaume fills these pieces with space and there’s an uplifting feeling generated by the outpouring of emotions and melancholic grace showing that there is a chink of light at the end of all the suffering.  The subject matter is afforded dignity and respect, with the largely wordless approach being more fitting and appropriate than any generic hymn which comes to mind. It is a privilege to hear ‘Communion’.

Web Sites:
Black Walls – Communion Full Album Stream

Further Listening:
Yellow6, Caught In The Wake Forever