Archive for August, 2014

Review: Blue Cast Catalyst – Socrates Sculpture

The cover art for Blue Cast Catalyst’s sophomore album is decorated with a brightly-coloured ice cream sundae. It’s a huge clue to the bright and sweet psych pop music main songwriter Adam Trull creates in his downtime from being a “corporate worker bee”.

Blue Cast Catalyst Album Cover

Comparisons to The Beach Boys and Phil Spector are bold and somewhat optimistic claims but ‘Socrates Scultpure’ does contain an impressive variation in the “Wall Of Sound” approach with layers of looped melodies the favoured calling card here. Opener ‘Surrender Love’ sets an early benchmark for Blue Cast Catalyst’s warped, psychedelic melodies. It’s energetic, multi-layered and it also employs similar vocal manipulation techniques as Two Twins’ terrific debut album. Cast aloft on hip-hop beats, the hypnotic ‘Dixie’ possesses an almost nursery rhyme like quality, whilst ‘Agree Machines’ brings on the trumpets and steel drums and is a fine choice for the first single.

Gradually, though, the exuberance can become a little wearing and towards the second half of the album, there is a sense that too much ice cream has been consumed so perhaps less sugary tastes need to be catered for. The needs are addressed to some extent. ‘Dresden Novel’ amasses jungle sounds and analog synths into a beat-heavy whole and the rapping on ‘Like Pink Skies’ adds a change in tone even if it seems slightly misplaced. The only semblance of melancholy is reserved until the final song, ‘Epilogue’, as Trull sings “I miss you” repeatedly over a stately keyboard melody and ‘I’m Not In Love’ style vocal effects. He would do well to capture this side of his personality more on future releases.

No one should ever be criticised for enthusiasm and positivity but for much of ‘Socrates Scultpture’, the abundance of ideas and sunny outlook becomes overpowering. Having said that, Trull shows great potential here and maybe just needs to add darker shades to balance his rainbow of sound.

Web Sites:
Blue Cast Catalyst Official Site
Youtube Stream for Blue Cast Catalyst – Socrates Sculpture

Further Listening:
Two Twins, Sweet Trip


Review: My Autumn Empire – The Visitation

My Autumn Empire appears to be Ben Holton’s outlet for romantically-fuelled sunshine pop, albeit sunshine pop which has overcast spells from time to time. After the more strident material on his second album ‘II’, ‘The Visitation’ consolidates Holton’s passion for bold, 70’s pop with production values to match.

My Autumn Empire Album Cover

The album starts with an acoustic guitar emerging from a hazy gauze of atmospherics, then Holton’s comforting voice comes to the fore too. It’s not the most thrilling start but one can already hear the likes of ELO or Cleaners From Venus may have had some influence here. The melody may be sunny and chipper but the helplessness of young love is evident on ‘Blue Coat’ (“I saw you walking from the science class window”) and throughout these songs deal with loneliness and love (sometimes both at the same time). “I never get lonely. I never feel blue” he sings possibly ironically on ‘The People I Love’ and all the way up to the tender finale ‘All In My Head’ he sings of ‘She walked into my dreams again… Just like a ghost”.

‘Blue Coat’ may benefit from a particularly robust rhythm section but this track and the title song apart, most of ‘The Visitation’ seems so dreamy and sensitive it could fall apart in strong winds. However, the terrific and so aptly-named ‘Summer Sound’ goes for the full ELO production treatment; Holton’s voice now easing into the mix like an extra layer of instrumentation and – somewhat unexpectedly – the unfashionable world of The Korgis comes to mind after hearing ‘Where Has Everybody Gone?’. The delightful ‘It’s Around’, meanwhile, recalls the retro-futurist arrangements of The Superimposers; all 60’s melodies but with space pop arrangements. It’s only the little touches such as the fragrant guitar patterns on ‘Andrew’ and ‘The People I Love’ which remind us that Holton is still an active member of Epic45.

So the mood is one of rainy day wistfulness even if the bright and shiny production suggests otherwise; “bittersweet” would possibly be the most appropriate definition here. What is clear is that Holton is now a man going further back time for his sources of inspiration and is increasingly enamoured with not only the idea of the perfect pop song but that of being in love itself. Faced with the evidence of ‘The Visitation’, that surely has to be a good thing.

Web Sites:
My Autumn Empire Official Site
Wayside And Woodland Label and Shop Site
Bandcamp Stream for My Autumn Empire – The Visitation
Video for My Autumn Empire – Blue Coat

Further Listening:
Cleaners From Venus, ELO, The Superimposers, The Korgis, Epic45

Review: Pjusk/Sleep Orchestra – Drowning In The Sky

After meeting at the Storung Festival in Barcelona, the members of Norway’s Pjusk and England’s Sleep Orchestra decided they needed to collaborate on a set of ambient works “that move you slowly and steadily through an ever changing landscape”. Before you think that sounds worryingly like a relaxation tape, rest assured this is a deeper experience.

Pjusk/Sleep Orchestra Album Cover

For the opener ‘Donitsk’, smooth walls of synths wash over a constant throbbing drone, perfectly encapsulating the project’s ambition to capture the experience of flying majestically over the clouds. ‘Daithn’ is another immersive pleasure, bringing in distorted bell chimes, with the sounds of running water echoing around the room. The standout moment ‘Skdiv’ consists of distant trumpets converging with static and icy blasts of machine noise. It could be defined as chill wave in its most literal sense but those dissonant layers create an ethereal, stark and lonely picture.

After this impressive beginning, the music seems content to be bathed in cavernous, glacial atmospheres but struggles to match the involving nature or variety from the beginning of the record. ‘Vansunbarth’ for example, seems to be building up into a dramatic finale but is content to simmer when it could have been boiling. To interrupt this relative slumber, Pleq’s remix of ‘Ronzemef’ injects the original with a welcome rumbling rhythm and new layers of frostiness but after an hour, one feels the effects are wearing off.

‘Drowning In The Sky’ would probably make more sense listening to on the headphones whilst trekking through the snow or on a long haul flight, since that’s the kind of environment that’s being conjured here. Yet although it’s atmospheric quality cannot be doubted, treated as a standalone record, the music is a little too cold and slow to be consistently compelling.

Web Sites:
Bandcamp Stream for Pjusk/Sleep Orchestra – Drowning In The Sky
Dronarivm Label Site

Further Listening:
Vladislav Delay, Anzio Green, Recue

Review: David Newlyn – Disintegrating Suburban Dream

England’s faded architecture has become a popular source of inspiration for musicians in recent years. Indeed, labels such as Wayside and Woodland and Home Assembly Music have almost made it their business to despair of the crumble and fall of once-majestic buildings. Hibernate Recordings are specialists in this area too and there are few better equipped artists than Durham’s David Newlyn to convey such a “celebration of dereliction”.

David Newlyn Album Cover

Evoking faded nostalgia is familiar territory for Newlyn, having covered similar ground on his 2007 album, ‘Ancient Lights’. On that occasion, the subject matter was Northern England nostalgia communicated via the medium of electronica but ‘Distintegrating Suburban Dream’ is more reliant on acoustic arrangements, with the source being Newlyn’s fascination with photographing abandoned buildings. ‘Longer Days’ begins like an end with a forlorn, tired-sounding piano and a distant violin playing on defiantly to an oblivious chattering public. ‘No Rest In The Silence’ could almost be a comment on this chatter but the piano continues to play on prettily and sadly.

The album gradually brings in more ambience and field recordings, most memorably on the chilly ‘(Possibly) Subsequent Disorientation’ and ‘Moon’ and continuing the darker themes right through to the suggestively eerie ‘Walking In The Dark’. In between, the stark ‘Rule Of Thirds’ threatens to turn into ‘Gymnopédie No. 1’ and therefore leaning perhaps towards the modern classical flavours of Newlyn’s most recent recordings but the sense of despair is still a constant, hanging particular heavy on a poignant ‘Feeling No Remorse Must Be A Blessing’. In fact, only on the final track, ‘Winterheight’, is there an indication that better times may still lie ahead.

Given the melancholic nature of this record, ‘Disintegrating Suburban Dream’ could have been a bleak, uncomfortable affair. However, the memories brought to the fore are delivered sensitively; fully appreciating the former beauty and grander times for the locations remembered.

Web Sites:
Stream/Purchase David Newlyn – Disintegrating Suburban Dream

Further Listening:
Library Tapes, The Montgolfier Brothers, Caught In The Wake Forever, Fieldhead

Review: The Death Notes – Lost And Found

Nottingham’s The Death Notes took the unusual and possibly brave step of replacing a female singer with a male one. Based purely on hearing the songs on second album ‘Lost And Found’, the switch seems like an inspired one with new frontman Mark Saxton the perfect foil for the band’s gothic-flavoured brand of post punk.

The Death Notes Album Cover

The Death Notes build and build their songs, slowly ratcheting up the intensity and breathlessness to an almost intoxicating level. The opener ‘Panacea’ is a brilliant case in point. Naturally it sounds nothing like what the title suggests; there is no universal remedy here. A moody bass, electronic squiggles and Saxton’s bleak vocals (“don’t you come round here” he sneers) put paid to this. However, in this case, the glummer this band are the better.

‘Malice’ lets in brief rays of light and hope via its chiming guitar and Saxton’s higher vocal register on some sublime verses. Then the song takes us on what will be a familiar dark path, rising towards a chorus which is powerful, moody and euphoric in a satisfyingly gothic way. ‘To The End’ is even better; the band positively soaring by the time they reach their triumphant chorus. Along the way, ‘Blowtorch’ balances smooth synths with heavier guitars whilst those hearing ‘Damnation’ will be reminded of those lengthy anthemic singles The Mission used to put out in the late 1980’s.

If there is an area to suggest improvement, it would to be vary the song structure and pace slightly with the band sounding rather jaded by the end of the album. Apart from the slightly Eastern-influenced ‘Scream’, the band rarely attempt to move away from moody beginning to shouty chorus but to be fair, most of the time they pull the trick off brilliantly and the rough and ready production only adds to the defiant, underdog nature of the songs. It seems obvious to make favourable comparisons with those other Nottingham-based veterans of glum rock, Six.By Seven, but one can also detect the tension and relentlessness of 120 Days and mid-80’s period Killing Joke beneath this highly appealing gloom.

Web Sites:
The Death Notes Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Six.By Seven, Killing Joke, 120 Days, The Mission, Hearts Fail

Review: Winchester Revival – Eyes In The Canopy

Winchester Revival hail from East Bay, California and are assembled from the “dust and sparks of other bands past” and there is certainly more than an essence of hard-grafting, heavy-gigging indie rockers being portrayed on ‘Eyes In The Canopy’. The four songs on their new EP draw from the annals of LA 70’s pop, post-punk and prog and are played with the conviction and intensity of a live performance.

Winchester Revival Album Cover

‘Chemical Yellow’ sets the scene with epic, widescreen rock, reminiscent of the early work of The Stills. From early impressions it appears that these guys don’t “do” subtle but ‘Matterhorn’ does actually take a slightly more understated approach. Elegant synth washes build up a quietly mysterious atmosphere on the verses and even though the chorus is strident and breast-beating, “WinRev” (to give them their abbreviated name) are canny enough to make the contrast work and it’s the best track on here. The strangest track, however, is ‘Wonderland’ where the 1980’s style guitars take the song in one direction but the intense delivery of lyrics such as “so fucking hungry all the time” push the song to an almost contradictory raucous, punk-ish destination. Then ‘Submarine Bell’ ends the EP in incendiary fashion but for all the crisp cymbal thrashing and howled vocals, it’s an overly proggy ending to a promising EP.

One could imagine Winchester Revival being a great act on the live front with their no-holds barred delivery. On record, they sound like a collection of earnest indie rockers with no intention of following any trends or satisfying demographics but based on the material from ‘Eyes In The Canopy’ that’s definitely something to admire them for.

Web Sites:
Winchester Revival Bandcamp

Further Listening:
(early) U2, The Mission, The Stills

Review: Bruno Sanfilippo – ClarOscuro

With two decades of making minimalist piano-based and electro-acoustic music behind him, it would be fair to say that Barcelona-based Bruno Sanfilippo is not lacking on the experience front. What is important is that he continues to make music which ensures that each note and tempo shift really matters; maximising emotional impact with the minimum amount of effort you might say. For ‘ClarObscuro’, Sanfilippo enlists the assistance of violin player Pere Bardagi and cellist Manuel del Freso.

Bruno Sanfilippo Album Cover

When these instruments combine, we’re probably more used to hearing them create a sombre atmosphere but the music on the title track here evokes life, nature and no small amount of hope; setting the standard for instrumental music of great warmth. Here, the pretty, evergreen piano textures are interspersed with Baradgi’s and del Fresno’s string parts. The saddest moments seem to be reserved for the solo piano compositions (‘Absenta’ and the Satie-meets-Harold Budd couplet ‘Aquarelle Sur Papier’ and ‘Aquarelle Suer Toile’). That said, there is an aura of creeping horror to ‘A Constant Passion’.

Even more moving moments occur in the second half of the album. ‘The Movement Of The Grass’, a lovely poignant melody, is accompanied by the merest whisper of the wind, which lingers for ten wonderful minutes. On ‘It Happens On The Ship’, a repetitive, unwinding motif is balanced by the invention of del Fresno and Baradgi and the closing ‘Day By Day’ is rich in unraveling melodrama.

The press release calls it “The perfect soundtrack for an imaginary movie”. The press release is right too with many of these pieces perfectly suited to a tale of romantic tragedy. In fact, ‘ClarOscuro’ is really rather beautiful from beginning to end.

Web Sites:
Bruno Sanfilippo Official Site
ad21 Label and Shop Site
Bandcamp Stream for Bruno Sanfilippo – ClarOscuro

Further Listening:
Harold Budd, Erik Satie, Malcolm Fisher