Archive for June, 2014

Review: Carbon Handshake – A Dive Right

Carbon Handshake are a group from Minneapolis who are ostensibly part of the post-rock scene. However, this term doesn’t really do them justice. They write complex, intricately arranged songs which deserve dedicated listening.

Carbon Handshake Album Cover

This creative group certainly defy pigeon-holing, so there is space for ‘Technicolor (Waste Our Days)’ and its full-on chamber folk-pop whilst ‘Circumstance’ is a terrific excursion into ambient rock and country territory.  On ‘Kids Are On Their Own’ they also pursue a rock-ier approach, not unlike Arcade Fire in their pomp.

The second half of the record gives the impression of an extended suite or at least passages of music, seguing into each other. It’s an ambitious but worthwhile set of ideas with ‘The Horseman’ standing out in particular as it burns with a quiet intensity. Furthermore, whatever Carbon Handshake achieve from here they have made at least one really special song in the shape of ‘Synapse’. It’s another busy, multi-layered arrangement propelled by a simple but addictive sequence of stabbing keyboards but most impressive of all are the yearning vocals of Clancy Brady.

Not for this band the traditional verse-chorus format. Here are songs carefully arranged and intended to provide atmosphere and drama rather than go for obvious hooks. Better still, for all its craft and technical detail,  ‘A Dive Right’ is a frequently warm and joyous record.

Web Sites:
Carbon Handshake Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Arcade Fire, Silicon Ballet

Review: Atom Band – Atom Band EP

Any band which attracts the label of “Craptastic melancholic punk” has got to be worth investigating. In the case of Johannesburg’s Atom Band, we have a group made up of members called John Gonzo (lead guitar), Ryan the Toyota (the bass guitar), Riaan Nirhoo (guitar) and Vasane Sinatra (vocal). It’s possible these may not be their real names but the music they make is as convincing and raw as you could wish for.

Atom Band Image

Upon listening to ‘Betsy (Stalker Sympathy)’, there is certainly a wild 1970’s vibe about the band. The murky production doesn’t help but give the impression that the band members are not necessary on the same page, with post-punk bass clashing with howling feedback and the Sinatra’s almost state of consciousness wailing. Yet despite the crazed nature of it all, there’s something very thrilling to behold here. Imagine Suicide’s Alan Vega performing a cover of Department S’s ‘Is Vic There?’ and you wouldn’t be a million miles away from the truth.

‘Flies In The Marketplace’ is a much more haunted affair; the band this time work in unison to create a claustrophobic shroud of a song which captures the essence of 1979. Then comes the equally fine ‘The Panic In Needle Park’ which combines rattling punk with Postcard Records-era funk/post-punk. If these songs sound dirty then ‘Description Of A Struggle’ is positively filthy with the South Africans summoning up the rawness and visceral energy of a live performance on their strongest song.

It’s debatable whether this is a proper EP since their site info suggests the four offerings here are individually produced songs. This might explain the lack of cohesion between each track but it matters little because The Atom Band are clearly on to a winner based on this brief but compelling evidence.

Web Sites:
Atom Band Bandcamp
Atom Band SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Suicide, Department S

Review: Victory Kicks – The Decibel Age

London’s Victory Kicks created a largely impressive first EP which drew comparisons with fellow indie rockers French Kicks and The Stills. A new album has followed swiftly and stays true to their promise of “lean catchy rock music”. Interestingly, the title ‘The Decibel Age’ came from a 60’s article in The Chicago Herald decrying the increased noise levels in the city and there is a quiet confidence to this record which only rarely threatens to “rock out”.

Victory Kicks Album Cover

Carried along by chugging rhythms, ringing guitars and John Sibley’s breezy vocals, ‘Suitcase’ is an arresting opener. What the song lacks in intensity it makes up for in insistent melody and energy. That’s Victory Kicks’ charm and appeal in a nutshell really; their songs don’t blow you away but they are certainly infectious in a controlled and intelligent way. ‘Junior Code Course’ and ‘Autumn Machine’ tick the right boxes too, with strong footholds in the new wave scene.

‘The Decibel Age LP’ is a model in consistency for the most part and whilst deviations from the slick formula are encouraged, the acoustic number ‘Losing Time’ possibly loses momentum too although the twinkling, wistful ‘Replaced With Birds’ is a much more effective variation. It’s perhaps no coincidence that they sound better when the band toughen up a bit so ‘Expected A Ghost’ and ‘Mercy Rules’ both have a satisfying muscular edge, whilst Part II of the title track closes the album with another compelling hook.

Across thirty five minutes, ‘The Decibel Age’ consolidates rather than progresses the band’s oeuvre and one feels if they are to achieve the next step up, they need to develop a greater urgency and dynamism. Nevertheless, Sibley and his bandmates prove themselves to be a tight little unit who are content to make their mark with tunes rather than high volume levels.

Web Sites:
Victory Kicks Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Pilots Of Japan, French Kicks

Review: epic45 – Monument EP

Although it’s only been two years, it seems like an age since we last heard from epic45. This is more a reflection of their prolific output thus far and the core members of the band, Rob Glover and Ben Holton, have hardly been slacking in the meantime. Whether reveling in vintage electronic pop (in the case of Glover) or the joyous, harmonic glories of Holton’s My Autumn Empire, the duo have been creating their own individual take on nostalgia. Nevertheless, it’s good to have them back together again even if ‘Monument EP’ features a mere three new tracks.

epic45 EP Cover

‘Defeat’ begins the EP in subdued, minimalist and rather morose fashion, with Holton whispering “these are the end days” (hopefully not a premonition for the future of the band) over a primitive foundation of beats. The title track is made of several more layers and takes a more familiar approach for those accustomed to epic45’s previous offerings, with pretty guitar patterns and choral voices resembling a summer’s dream, particularly for the exquisite coda. ‘Skeletons’ is dreamier still. Indeed, Holton has emerged as a much more strident vocalist on his My Autumn Empire albums so even when he’s singing dark lyrics such as “It’s like you’re dead” over a blissful arrangement, it still sounds like the sweetest music.

A cover of Tears For Tears’ ‘Ideas As Opiates’ is treated with a hushed piano-led reverence; Holton’s warm, soothing tones providing a satisfying alternative to Roland Orzabal’s low register. There are two alternative takes of ‘Monument’ added to the end of the EP. The first by ISAN begins with steady electronic pulses but by its denouement it is positively dripping with lovely vapour trails whilst ‘Monument II’, recorded with ex-Disco Inferno man Ian Crause, witnesses the collective in full-on experimental mode, in keeping with the adventurous spirit of their collaborator’s former band.

They’ve not been away long enough for ‘Monument’ to be considered a comeback but this EP is an elegant, refined return to the magic of epic45. The songs within may be too gentle and unassuming for some but the essence of what makes epic45 special is still very much there as those endless British summer holidays are once more brought into vivid form via some expertly arranged songwriting.

Web Sites:
epic45 Official Site
Wayside and Woodland Label and Shop Site
Video of epic45 – Monument

Further Listening:
My Autumn Empire, Field Harmonics, Depeche Mode, Robert Wyatt

Review: One Star Closer – Another Shape Of Purity

Hailing From Belarus, One Star Closer is a post-rock project dreamed up by Vladislav Petkevich. ‘Another Shape Of Purity’ is the second album from this one man band as he conjures up some impressive instrumental works which endeavour to steer clear from genre clichés.

One Star Closer Album Cover

‘There Must Be A Song Called Home’ is an epic and darkly cinematic introduction to the world of One Star Closer. Thereafter Petkevich’s journey continues to explore other landscapes whilst still staying true to post-rock roots. ‘Earth Doesn’t Always Seem To Be The Place Where We All Belong’ is full of nagging guitars but buoyed the sounds of lovely strings, ‘And The Sirens Will Follow Us’ edges into heavy metal territory (whilst ‘Alaska Awaits’ merely revels in it) and the modestly-named ‘Interlude’ is a lovely, fragrant piano piece.

When Petkevich puts all the best elements together he can make some beautiful and stirring instrumentals too; hitting a real purple patch towards the middle of the record for the joyous ‘Make Friends With Mountains, They Said’ and a dynamic ‘Burn As Bright As The Stars’. Only when nearing the end of the record does the album lose its intensity, as the ideas begin to run out or drift into pleasantness, although the rather fine ambient closer, ‘Mesonoxian’, opens up possibilities for future albums.

All in all, even if it never threatens to catch fire, ‘Another Shape Of Purity’ is a worthy addition to the ever-growing collection of quality post-rock albums. The album possesses insistent melodies and the willingness to incorporate different moods, styles and instruments, to ensure that the listener is kept entertained for the vast majority of the record.

Web Sites:
One Star Closer Bandcamp Page

Further Listening:
Explosions In The Sky, The Absolute End Of The World

Review: A New Line (Related) – S/T

In a long and distinguished history in music, Andrew Johnson is chiefly known for his time as a former member of both Hood and The Remote Viewer. The first album under his new solo identity, A New Line (Related), confirms him as an expert manipulator of deep house, dub and techno.

A New Line (Related) Album Cover

This is just the ninth release on the small Home Assembly Music label but they seem to have the Midas touch when choosing artists. The early signs are certainly understated but as the track ‘A New Line (Related) Vote Malcolm Eden’ develops, the rhythm and intensity begins to increase and by the time the track ends, it feels like the aural equivalent of being surrounded by a horde of hungry insects. ‘A Withering Attack’ follows a not dissimilar course but the atmosphere is eerier still thanks to a combination of pulsing beats and a chilling melody.

Even the less strident material, such as the moody ‘The Slow Sounds Of Your Life’ contain mesmeric and involving delights. ‘People Kissed Underneath Me’ resembles the idea of waking up at dawn to the sound of farm machinery whilst ‘Three Octave Voice’ touches on the early global techno sounds of 808 State. The most hypnotic moment, however, can be found on ‘Repetition (for Pryzbylewski)’, which is dominated by clanging, bell-like patterns. After seven minutes it should become irritating but the constantly shifting backgrounds ensure the track is disorientating in all the best ways. Finally, the shuddering yet blissful ‘Great Palaces’ is a great way for Johnson to sign off.

The album clocks in at just over an hour which could have been a mistake for a record which certainly celebrates the beauty of repetition. However, the music is chilled, complex and blessed with so much nocturnal longing that it is perfect for a late night headphone listen.

Web Sites:
A New Line (Related) – S/T
Home Assembly Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Hood, The Remote Viewer, Si-cut.db

Review: Greguy – Minor Injury

Frenchman Grégory Vrecsics claims inspiration from electronic stalwarts Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre and Vangelis but as is often the case with artists on Bearsuit Records, this only tells half the story. Using a nom de plume of Greguy, Vrecsics may have titled his EP ‘Minor Injury’ but he has the potential to have a major impact.

Greguy EP Cover

The title track is the obvious place to start and immediately demonstrates a penchant for mixing strings with vintage electronic music and a modern production. There are confident swathes of synths and beats here but these are balanced by noirish viola and some lighter than air harmonies from guest vocalist  Léa Cervini,  all of which creates a wonderfully original alternative pop song. ‘Close To Me’ follows suit and is another sublime combination of strings and electronica, with Vrecsics also revealing himself to be a romantic at heart with a tender and vulnerable delivery in front of the mic. Elsewhere, ‘Temps’ rides on the kind of opulent keyboards which aforementioned influence Monsieur Jarre would be proud of whilst  ‘American Way Of Life’ is a less exciting affair but gains flight and gravitas on the bonus version recorded with Cervini. Credit too for the last bonus track  which paraphrases Depeche Mode’s ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’ and this surprisingly excellent dance/pop number has a wired, cracked-up energy of its own making.

Considering there is less than twenty minutes of music here, there are ideas in abundance which will keep fans of maverick electronic pop salivating in anticipation for what Greguy does said. That said, this is still one of the more mainstream records from Bearsuit Records and arguably their most commercially-viable offering to date.

Web Sites:
Bearsuit Records Label Site
Bandcamp Stream for Greguy – Minor Injury

Further Listening:
Avril, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream