Archive for July, 2014

Review: The Landing – We Are

In a world populated by faceless solo projects, the decision by New York’s The Landing to keep his identity hidden is hardly an original one. One may also cast suspicion on the artist’s quest of “seeking to turn the struggle of finding one’s place in the Universe into an anthem for the optimistic”. What is most important, though, is that his music is a fascinating and addictive type of “space pop”.

The Landing EP Cover

A spoken word introduction from Alan Watts’ ‘Who Am I?’ lecture adds a layer of intrigue to the start of the EP but on a musical level ‘We Are’ amounts to little more than slightly odd electro-soul limbering up for the main events to follow. However, on ‘Anxieties’ the talent begins to shine through. It’s a strident number containing infectious lyrics such as “Fall asleep just to wake up. Still I don’t want to go to bed.” perfectly fitting in with the dance-friendly, almost tropical pop sound. The falsetto vocals are in full flow for ‘Pale Blue’ and they are layered impressively alongside beats, bleeps and synth melodies, then the well-titled ‘Strange Charm’ revolves around an elegant classical piano hook, contrasting with swooning, lighter than air vocals. To end with, ‘Write It Down’ employs another looped melody (this time from a guitar) and a late night soul ambience to form the foundations but it then spins off into the ether with a state of twinkling atmospherics.

The Landing joins the recent daysdeaf as another excellent one man operation to merge soul with dream pop arrangements. Despite its short length, the five songs form a compelling and seamless whole and philosophies and cover stories aside, what The Landing does next should be very interesting indeed.

Web Sites:
The Landing Official Site
The Landing SoundCloud
Video for The Landing – Anxieties

Further Listening:
daysdeaf, The Beauty Room


Review: Cormac O’Caoimh – The Moon Loses Its Memory

It took five years to make but Cormac O’Caoimh’s second album was certainly worth the wait. Whereas previous releases from The Citadels and his solo debut promised much, 2012’s ‘A New Season For Love’ showed consistent indie-folk class; earning well-warranted comparisons with Ben Watt and Kings Of Convenience as well as stage-sharing experiences with compatriots Declan O’Rourke and Damien Rice. Presumably flushed with new-found confidence, O’Caoimh has taken only a fraction of the time to bring out ‘The Moon Loses Its Memory’ and it continues the rich vein of form.

Cormac O'Caoimh Album Cover

‘The Moon Loses Its Memory’ introduces itself in rather gentle, upbeat fashion and opener ‘Maze Of Your Heart’ sounds even more joyous when Aoife Regan joins in on backing vocals. However, like a few of moments on here it ends too briefly. This is an album where fourteen songs are packed into less than forty minutes, after all. Yet crucially, most songs here are long and deep enough to leave a lasting impression. On the delightful ‘Yellow Crumbs’ and the closing ‘Similes And Metaphors’, for example, it’s like hearing Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon and Wendy Smith team up again. Meanwhile, the title track and its moody feel recalls the rainy day atmospherics of the previous album and ‘Basement’ finds fun with an experimental, staccato arrangement.

The variety continues towards the middle of the record. The acoustic simplicity of ‘You Stole December’ contrasting sharply with the full-bodied production of ‘Man Of Sand’ but each are fine songs in their own right. It is light melancholia which is O’Caoimh real strength, though, exemplified in the rolling melody of ‘Morning’ where he reflects on aging and romance with lines such as “My senses are for hire. I’m selling them if the price is right” and then proceeding to hope that his partner will “stay around until the morning”. He’s better in this form than cheery but less substantial material such as ‘Place A Letter On My Porch’. As we near the end of the record, there’s another dramatic twist as darkness unfolds in the words of ‘Silver As Mercury’ where a pretty melody contradicts the self-critical lyrics (“A glitch in my brain. A click in my head. I can’t stop causing hurt causing pain”) and on the next track, ‘Burning Coal’, even the instruments begin to turn into a particularly bleak form of folk music.

So it’s an album which switches from lightness to darkness and all points in between. Throughout the album, O’Caoimh is given sterling support by Regan, Colum Pettit’s violin and multi-instrumentalist Cormac O’Connor. However, his warm, intimate vocals and intricate yet free-flowing guitar playing are the real joys here, ensuring O’Caoimh’s star still shines bright.

Web Sites:
Cormac O’Caoimh Official Site
Bandcamp Stream for Cormac O’Caoimh – The Moon Loses Its Memory
Cormac O’Caoimh Youtube Channel

Further Listening:
Prefab Sprout, Ben Watt, Kings Of Convenience, Declan O’Rourke

Review: Triptides – Colors EP

It’s entirely fitting that a city named after the power of flowers has given birth to a new psychedelic rock act. Triptides hail from Bloomington, Indiana (so-called because it’s a “haven of blooms” apparently) and seem hell bent on messing with your mind on half a dozen tracks of kaleidoscopic nostalgia.

Triptides EP Cover

The opening title track is virtually swimming in propulsive rhythms, breezy vocals and swirling keyboards that dazzle in the best space rock tradition. However, there is an immediate switch from energetic to chilled; ‘Destiny’ taking on a sun-kissed atmosphere courtesy of some deliciously languid guitars and breezy vocals and therefore showing a level of depth to the trio’s output. On the other hand, the strident forms of ‘Throne Of Stars’ and ‘I Didn’t Know’ display the kind of trippy, wigged-out psychedelia which an indelible stamp of late 1960’s all over it; the former in particular taking on very pronounced Eastern influences. All well and good but the lighter material is where the true gold lies.

‘Moonbeams’ takes up where ‘Destiny’ left off but looks even further to the heavens and heads for a dream pop destination in the clouds, with its glistening, doleful charms making it the best song here. As with the rest of the EP, the track still has its roots but this time the reference would be The Monkees’ ‘Porpoise Song’ crossed with The Pale Saints’ cover of ‘Kinky Love’. Finally, the relaxed grooves of ‘Lullabye’ is a joyous way to end ‘Colors’, with the band allowing the listener to rest again for a final time.

The EP is cleverly sequenced so that each heavier song is followed by a blissful number. It’s effectively the musical equivalent of being thrown back and forth between a room full of sweaty old rockers and lying in a peaceful meadow. It is the latter style which proves the most enduring; perfectly fitting in with the current trend of retro-driven dream pop.

Web Sites:
Jaunt Records Label and Shop Site
Bandcamp Stream for Triptides – ‘Colors EP
Triptides – Moonbeams

Further Listening:
Modern Rivals, Jefferson Airplane, Zoo Brother

Review: Wild Beasts – Present Tense

Possibly the only band to harness the arrangement skills and sensitivity of three of Britain’s most distinctive acts, namely The Blue Nile, Kate Bush and The Associates, Wild Beasts have honed their own craft to near perfection over their second and third albums; ensuring they have become a unique foundation in British indie in the process. Judging by ‘Present Tense’, they have opened up the window to their souls a little further.

Wild Beasts Album Cover

It begins, unusually, in rather brash mode. ‘Wanderlust’ could be the opening to a Hot Chip record and continues to build on energetic rhythms whilst Hayden Thorpe’s seemingly soothing tones invoke all kinds of suggestions on some overtly priapic lyrics (“In your mother tongue, what’s the verb “to suck””). ‘Nature Boy’ arguably goes even further back through the annals of synth pop, employing similar keyboard melody to those used on The Human League’s early records. This time Tom Fleming is employed to take the lead; his baritone the brooding foil to Thorpe’s sexualised cooing.

Quite often Wild Beasts are stronger on mood and texture than actual hooks and so it proves for those first two tracks. However, the ambient pop of ‘Mecca’ has a universal appeal with Thorpe on his best form guiding the melody. One could argue this is the closest Wild Beasts get to Coldplay but don’t let that put you off. ‘Sweet Spot’ is more like the Wild Beasts of previous albums, constructed from subtle but nagging hooks and the decision to team up Fleming and Thorpe on harmonies was an inspired one. ‘Daughters’ begins in even subtler fashion but from its shuffling arrangement to its eventual refined techno finale, this song is an eerie minor classic and contains the album’s most harrowing words such as “All the pretty children sharpening their blades”.

After this, there’s perhaps a necessary toning down of drama so ‘Pregnant Pause’ and ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ present a classy kind of pop soul; the immediacy of the latter making it the obvious choice for a single. So after the curiosity that is ‘A Dog’s Life’, the tightly-wound ‘Past Perfect’ recovers the band’s early intensity (quite literally in fact given that Thorpe keeps repeating the line “It’s tense for me”) and on ‘New Life’, Fleming’s overt masculinity contrasts beautifully with a floating bed of understated, shimmering electronica. Then, after a somewhat downbeat passage of music, the album possibly required a final lift and ‘Palace’ responds with the most optimistic moment on the record.

With every subtlety and shift, ‘Present Tense’ revisits Britain’s sensual, moody past and looks tentatively to the future on an impressive fourth album. It reaffirms the idea that Wild Beasts remain a very special act and they seem incapable of putting a foot wrong right now.

Web Sites:
Wild Beasts Official Site
Video for Wild Beasts – Sweet Spot

Further Listening:
The Associates, Kate Bush, Hot Chip

Review: WTCHS – It’s Not A Cross, It’s A Curse!

Thanks to a lethal combination of blood-curdling howls and sludgy guitars, WTCHS’ introductory release ‘Wet Weapons’ could never have been accused of playing it safe. Its successor doesn’t let up in the aggression stakes either and this band from Hamilton in Canada continue to convince with their brutal, angular punk.


Picking up where they left off, ‘Young Girls’ offers ominously doomy bass, guitars which clang, thick drums and chanted vocals; the atmosphere hangs heavy for an aural asssault and the group never let go of your ears after that. ‘Top Prize’ is less drone-influenced and offers sequences of staccato rhythms and grimy post-punk. It’s licenced to thrill and chill in equal measure and there’s even a totally unnecessary burst of static halfway through the song just to make sure you’re paying full attention, one presumes. Then comes a surprise: ‘Overkilmer’ rides on a relatively smooth passage of melodic bass and even the shouted vocals seem slightly restrained, making it the most mainstream moment on the EP and perhaps realising this, WTCHS have even made a video for it. After the Motorhead-esque ‘Tiger’, there’s an eerie almost religious, possibly devil worshipping feel apparent, exemplified by the intense psychedelia of a song brilliantly named ‘Neil’.

WTCHS are a band who can control their own brand of chaos making their punk-infused songs swell with excitement and danger. With so much intensity and energy on display on record, one can imagine they’re an incendiary live act too.

Web Sites:
WTCHS Official Site
WTCHS – It’s Not A Cross, It’s A Curse! On Bandcamp
WTCHS SoundCloud
Video for WTCHS – Overkilmer

Further Listening:

Review: Oh Halo – Ghosts Can’t Be Buried

Indie pop/rock with a gothic edge is the name of the game for New York’s Oh Halo. Their latest album may be entitled ‘Ghosts Can’t Be Buried’ but the spirit of the late 1980’s has been at least partially exhumed on this evidence. Thankfully it’s a good move.

Oh Halo Album Cover

Fronted by the strident vocals of Julie Dicterow, Oh Halo have an immediate USP and with guitar work recalling the post-punk glory years on opener ‘Arthur Martha’, the scene is set for a classy journey into nostalgia. In the first of many twists, ‘Blow’ wheels out some early 80’s keyboards on a song which slowly evolves from a squiggly synth backing into an anthem of yearning and a moody ‘Beau Geste’ follows; the arrangement building impressively and eerily for Dicterow to deliver another dominant performance.

That said, although the album revolves around its main singer, the piano-driven soul of ‘Postscript’ and ‘New York Under The Sea Of Our Dreams’ sound more like solo vehicles for Dicterow (albeit with added muscular rhythms towards the end of the latter track to give it a welcome edge). They sound more like a unit for the ethereal pop of ‘In The Cathedral’, recalling fellow NYC indie band Elika in the process. The lyrics appeal to “Slow it down” and the band comply with a chilled-out, blissful backdrop. Arguably it’s the stand out moment but the band provide other highlights too. Harmonising Dicterow with the baritone of Ronan Conroy is a good move as he adds his brooding presence to ‘Dream Lucy’ and ‘(Gifts Of) A Lesser Man’ whilst Oh Halo even try their hand at a ballad for the last track and achieve surprisingly moving results.

With the safe hands of Her Vanished Grace’s Charlie Nieland overseeing operations, the production is crystal clear, allowing the melodies to flow. Oh Halo may have a 1980’s gothic pop sheen to them but much like the similarly-styled The Attic Ends, they have the distinctive characteristics to make them a band to follow too.

Web Sites:
Oh Halo Official Site
Bandcamp Stream for Oh Halo – Ghosts Can’t Be Buried

Further Listening:
The Attic Ends, Elika, Ending People

Review: Marsan – Music For Agoramaniacs

The definition of ‘Agoramania’ is, if you didn’t already know, a mania for open spaces. It’s a big clue to the music on Jeremy Marsan’s aptly-titled debut too, which evokes wide open spaces and takes an expansive, free-thinking approach to embrace multiple genres. On a more prosaic level, though, its inspiration partly came from the labyrinthine layout of a shopping mall.

Marsan Album Cover

As an indication of what is to follow, ‘Strain Theory’ is a perfect start. It’s a fabulously constructed song which begins as a ringing guitar/ambient pop number and then shoots off on a brilliant unexpected tangent towards lush, dream pop territory, accompanied by shuddering echoes. The style changes are impressive throughout, especially so when the slowcore atmospherics of ‘Fluorescent’ escalate into angsty indie. The instrumentals are fascinating too: ‘Trans’ is an eerie trip into ambient rock and jazz rhythms, reminiscent of the early work of Engineers or indeed latter day Breathless, whilst ‘Institute Of Open Space’ and the reverb-heavy ‘Snow Day’ explore the realms of post-rock. Marsan’s vocals are a lovely instrument in their own right, sounding like a young Sam Prekop for the brief but delightful ‘Sirin’ and that relaxed but intelligent air (of fellow Illinois act) The Sea And Cake is prevalent on ‘Dominoes’ and ‘Reawaken’.

If there is a small criticism that could be aimed at Marsan, it would be that this record could do with a few more actual songs since there is an emphasis on long instrumental sections which, although mightily impressive and inventive, would benefit by being broken up slightly more by Marsan’s appealing vocals. Nevertheless, ‘Music For Agoramaniacs’ is a wonderfully textured debut from a promising young talent.

Web Sites:
Marsan Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Sea And Cake, Engineers, Lake Trout, Breathless

Review: Static In Verona – Everything You Knew Before You Knew Everything

Static In Verona entertained with the vibrant ‘Some Things You Knew’ EP last year, consisting of five songs which witnessed this one man band from Chicago making as big a pop noise as possible within the confines of some ambient-tinged indie pop. The effect was akin to listening to ELO on a budget and its creator, Rob Merz, has delved into his Big Music Songbook to write a second full album.

Static In Verona Album Cover

A grand, lush opening to the album suggests we’re about to witness royalty enter the building but then comes a reassuring burst of guitars for ringing, atmospheric ‘Bitter Branches’. ‘White Knuckles’ and ‘Look Like Gold’ were among the highlights from the earlier EP and hear they sound stronger still surrounded by anthemic, weightier material. Merz may have a voice which you would expect to be singing lighter material but the pounding drums and grinding guitars on ‘Rosemary (Bury Me)’ prove that he should pursue the heavier side of his arrangements more regularly.

Unfortunately, all this good work makes the inclusion of ‘Roman Candle’ rather mystifying; variety should not be discouraged but this an annoyingly cheery song which you can imagine providing the theme tune to a daytime television programme and it seems totally out of place here. Quibbling aside, ‘Black Windows’ is much more like it, an ambient pop track populated by thick beats and a pretty yet substantial chorus and even though both this track and ‘Friendly Fires’ may be classed as lighter material, the arrangements are satisfyingly fleshed out. Furthermore, the multi-layered ‘Something… Anything’ ascends into dreampop whereas ‘Blindfold’ and ‘Loud Night/Quite Morning’ are big and brash numbers in the familiar ELO mould.

After suggesting Merz should apply a bit more subtlety based on ‘Some Things You Knew’, the lack of subtlety actually pays off in the end with most of the bigger songs justifying the ambition of the production. On an album lasting just short of an hour, the overall effect can be a bit overpowering but Merz’s winning way with his own version of “The Big Music” is admirable.

Web Sites:
Static In Verona Official Site
Static In Verona Bandcamp

Further Listening:
ELO, The Helio Sequence

Review: Whizz Kid – There’s Conjuring To Be Done

In typically bizarre Bearsuit Records fashion, Whizz Kid’s two protagonists are described as a Banjo playing Scot called Yo-yo Nielsen and a windsurfing Belgian named J-Kane. In even more typical Bearsuit fashion, their first album ‘There’s Conjuring To Be Done’ is as unorthodox as the band members’ backgrounds and can loosely be described as exotic instrumental music.

Whizz Kid Album Cover

So if we’re prepared to expect the unexpected, ‘Clones’ opens predictably with wind chimes, triangle, brass sections and thick beats. Somewhere within this melee is a tune. Certainly an oddball tune but a tune nonetheless. Unsurprisingly it’s the melodic strength which is the key to the good stuff. The wonderfully strange ‘Summer Bubbles’ is kept in check by a rolling piano melody and even though it is accompanied by xylophone, babies’ cries and abrasive techno, it’s as hooky as hell. ‘Falling Out Of Trees, Falling Out Down Hills’ is one of four tracks which made up 2012’s ‘Covered In Santa Wheels’ EP and both this piece and ‘Charly Stories’ resemble a band running amok in a shop of toy instruments. On this always vibrant album only ‘Burlington’ overdoes the experimentation; a discordant sound clash too far perhaps. However, when that thirst for something new bears fruit, such as the mixtures of cosmopolitan influences on the stop-start ‘Ballade A Chaud Fontaine’, Nielsen and Kane are a delight to listen to.

If you’re after an instrumental record full of quirks but balanced by warmth and hooks, let Whizz Kid take you on their gloriously oddball journey; stopping off at Cornelius crossing, Anja Garbarek station, Zoon van snooK junction and BBC Radiophonic Workshop Central en route. Magic will surely ensue along the way.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream for Whizz Kid – There’s Conjuring To Be Done
Bearsuit Records Label Site

Further Listening:
Anja Garbarek, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Cornelius, Zoon van snooK

Review: Billy Moon – Young Adult.

With songs about porn, some childish cover art and an unfortunate choice of name, the odds of Billy Moon would appear, on the face it, to be limited to a teenage audience. Which just shows how wrong you can be because the recently-graduated Mr. Moon has an understanding of great hooks and respects the forefathers of punk and garage.

Billy Moon EP Cover

So ‘Young Adult.’ ostensibly stands up for old school rock values yet there’s an exciting edge to this band which makes them stand out from the opposition. It’s in the chugging rhythms and riffs which propel blustering opener ‘Kalashnikov’ and it’s also in Moon’s own sneering vocals. Wherever you look, the intensity and power is there for all to see. A punkier ‘Bad Kids’ may doff its cap to The Beastie Boys’ ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)’ but pushes all the right distortion buttons and never seems to come up for air, whilst a similarly breathless ‘King Of The Sun’ resembles a more youthful version of The Walkmen. Meanwhile, ‘Video Girls’ may have a dubious theme but the underlying message (fuelled by a mixture of addiction and self-loathing) is an interesting one and the song itself is as infectious and hooky as you can hope for. Rather worryingly, the last track ‘The Days Are Just Packed’ may threaten to turn into J. Geils Band’s ‘Centrefold’ at certain points but thankfully veers away (and brutally so) just in time.

With a similar-named and equally retro-themed New Zealander courting publicity right now, Billy Moon may consider themselves victims of unfortunate timing in one respect. Yet on the flipside of the coin, their own aggressive, back to basics approach pays thrilling dividends and will serve a need for those with a taste for something more raw and visceral.

Web Sites:
Billy Moon Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Walkmen, The Clash, Blag’ard