Archive for September, 2014

Review: Abee Hague – Novus

Abee Hague hails from Falmouth in Cornwall, an English town more famous for its harbour than its burgeoning songwriting talent. Still in her teens, Hague’s debut EP not only showcases some wonderfully mature vocals but also plenty of production savvy.

Abee Hague EP Cover

Hague has a fine soulful range which she demonstrates fully in first song ‘Bringing It Back To You’. She is due to visit India “to learn about music and life” and the song’s inclusion of native Eastern instruments is the first indication that we are witnessing a young artist prepared to experiment with arrangements, when the easy route would be to be stick to a rigid R&B formula. ‘The Way It Is’ revolves around languid, chilled rhythms and some neat sax playing; its nocturnal vibe and Hague’s own vocal ululations making it a definite highlight. She reaches further into her reserves for ‘WOAH’. Even though the premise of a song whose chorus consists entirely of the word “WOAH” doesn’t set the heart racing, it’s the most soulful and mature number here.

Another tasteful track follows in the shape of ‘Valentine’ and although Hague sings with the required heartache, it’s the least interesting song in terms of arrangement. In contrast, the aquatic effects on ‘Now Breathe’ successfully convey the feeling of being trapped underwater and the singer’s strident vocal emerges unscathed, despite the unnecessary inclusion of a showy guitar solo. Finally, (although not officially included on the EP but provided in the download I received) ‘Never Make Him Happy’ is a contribution from London-based producer Après with Hague lending her vocals to the club-friendly mix. The combination is quite sublime with Hague providing some deliciously smooth tones to accompany the warm arrangement; making it an after hours delight.

Although Hague’s style could be loosely described as soul and R&B infused with electronica, there’s actually a lot of bases covered here and she eases impressively and seamlessly into other genres on these subtly-textured songs. Her travels to Asia may provide the enlightenment she desires but it’s her musical journey from here which will prove most intriguing.

Web Sites:
Abee Hague Official Site
SoundCloud Stream for Abee Hague – Novus EP

Further Listening:
Kaela Sinclair, ROSïE & The Bees, Ellie Goulding

Review: The Wind-up Birds – Poor Music

Like the Jam if they had come from Wakefield rather than Woking, The Wind-up Birds have fought hard to establish their Northern rock credentials. That’s not Northern rock in the Oasis sense of course but music made by Yorkshire lads whose tales are raw, real and vivid. After a long sequence of EPs, the real test for the Leeds band came in 2012 when they released their first album, ‘The Land’. Political and fiery, they passed with flying colours and now comes the follow-up.

The Wind-up Birds Album Cover

‘There Will Be No Departures From This Stand’ begins typically with a protest song, albeit a challenging, hook-free one, which might make sense of The Fall comparisons but unlikely to get them on Radio 1 anytime soon. It’s an unwieldy start but they hit their stride for third track, ‘Bus Drove Off’, which recalls teenage youth set to an escalating chugging riff whilst ‘Two Ambulance Day’ and ‘The Gristle’ recover the group’s ability to make anthemic music; both are high on drama and rough and tumble rhythms. The definitive moment, however, must be a “Song Or Two’, where they deliver a typical outsider view of a middle-class band’s gig (“I never felt more alone when the lead singer said everyone say “yeah”… I had to leave”); employing the band’s skills of slowly ratcheting up the tension before the frontman spits out vitriol in the manner of the most passionate trade union worker you could possibly imagine. Even film director Guy Ritchie gets it in the neck and it’s a track which boasts one of the album’s best choruses, to boot.

Across fifty minutes though, all the anger and working class grief can be a bit too much to take in one sitting. So you’re thankful when a relatively straight-ahead and jolly indie punk song like ‘Mate Crime’ shows up and primitive experiments with electronica (‘Bar Sadness’, ‘Jesus Puns’) evidence a willingness to embrace more modern music. However, The Wind-up Birds’ concerns always engage with a modern audience (even if they are tempered with stories of misspent youth) and their output continues to become more accomplished; never compensating on their trademark fury and dry wit.

Web Sites:
The Wind-up Birds Official Site
Bandcamp Stream for The Wind-up Birds – Poor Music
Video for The Wind-up Birds – The Gristle

Further Listening:
The Jam, Arctic Monkeys, The Fall

Review: What Moon Things – What Moon Things

Listening to New York’s What Moon Things it’s easy to believe they were conceived in a dark mouldy basement. In fact it’s hard to imagine them existing anywhere else for this is a band who sounds like they’re operating in society’s gutter amongst the meths swilling vagrants. Fortunately for us, this means some cracking “lumbering shoegaze” too.

What Moon Things Album Cover

From the opening trauma of the ‘The Vampire’ the vocalist already seem on the verge of cracking up while the band play a fuzzed up variation on slowcore; lurching towards an almost drunken finale. ‘The Astronaut’ puts all the elements into more coherent and hook-heavy form though, where the wails and murmurs convey crazed emotions as the band produce their finest off-kilter pop moment. Quality-wise, that song is accompanied by the dream pop-flavoured ‘Squirrel Girl’ whilst the chiming, infectious ‘Staring At The Radio’ builds from disarmingly pretty chiming post punk/new wave guitars into a gloriously intense finale.

Judging by the line “My brain’s full of holes” on the bleak finale ‘Sun, Where’s The Fire’, all three band members have earned a rest after half an hour of committed vocals, sludgy stoner riffs and clattering percussion. Yet the album is thrilling and visceral from beginning to end, which means What Moon Things have stumbled on to something special here.

Web Sites:
What Moon Things Tumblr
What Moon Things – The Astronaut

Further Listening:
The Walkmen, Six.By Seven, Menendez

Review: Torn Curtain – Dogs And Whales

Biographical information on downtempo act Torn Curtain is scant to say the least. However, what we do know is that the man behind the moniker is Nick from Ryazan in Russia.

Torn Curtain Album Cover

‘No Matter’ represents a sombre start but then the subtle melody of ‘Untitled #1’ takes hold and amongst the synth melodies and slow beats, the nocturnal charm of the instrumentals begins to take effect. Nick’s technique works most tellingly on ‘Little Jack Davy’ and ‘Underwater’. It can be no coincidence that both of these tracks employ soul vocal samples; emphasising the lonely, late night atmosphere of this album. The musician is prepared to experiment even though the forlorn guitars and somewhat new age atmospherics for ‘Stormy Weather’ amount to little more than pleasant background music. Indeed, sometimes the music drifts along a little aimlessly, like the space chill out by numbers of ‘Voyager 1’ but at least the long drawn out beats and crisp rhythms of the last two offerings, ‘Accident’ and ‘Arctic Sunrise’, provide more substantial moments of melancholy.

‘Dogs And Whales’ is too understated to make it essential listening but it works well as an album to listen to in the wee small hours. The curtain may be torn but more can be achieved if it were to be fully opened to new influences, because that’s when this material begins to take flight.

Web Sites:
Album Stream for Torn Curtain – Dogs And Whales

Review: William Adolphe Bouguereau – Byblis

William Adolphe Bouguereau was a French painter, known for his specialisms in mythology and the female human body. It is also the nom de plume of a twenty year old Texan musician named Ricardo Marrero. In keeping with his inspiration, Marrero has taken the trouble to make a mortality-fixated EP and released it in the form of a pink cassette tape with a pressed flower.

Byblis EP Cover

‘Byblis’ is such a fragile thing you could be forgiven for thinking it could be damaged as easily as Marrero’s floral gift. This being a set of demo recordings too, the production quality isn’t fantastic but this does help to add to the intimacy and loneliness evoked by these sad but attractive songs. Each one is characterised by the performer’s delicate acoustic guitar and his despairing, ghostly cries and moans, which recall ‘Dying Happy’, Babybird’s most subtle and spare album. Amidst the production fuzz, ‘The First Morning’ emerges like a hazy sunrise and a track called ‘Day Of The Dead’ is far removed from any visions of the zombie film of the same name; the descending notes falling like a steady downpour. ‘Elegy’ is blessed with a melody as tender and melancholy as the work of July Skies but on ‘Love Takes Flight’, the arrangement seems to have grown wings too, with the frail song surrounded by heavenly ambient washes.

Despite, or maybe because of, the low budget quality of these recordings, these songs should resonate with anyone who has experienced loss. They are imbued with a dark, quiet beauty that leaves a mark long after the tape has stopped and the flower has withered and died.

Web Sites:
William Adolphe Bouguereau Bandcamp
William Adolphe Bouguereau Art Blog

Further Listening:
Babybird, July Skies, Tyler Sullivan

Review: Pacific Mean Time – Pacific Mean Time

After releasing some well-received power pop albums, Portland’s Little Beirut called it a day in 2010. Lead guitarist Edwin Paroissien also found himself unemployed from his day job but undeterred he soldiered and began writing songs as Pacific Mean Time. Drawing on teenage influences of REM, The Smiths and The Replacements, Paroissien and his bandmates now aim to “make a record that sounded like something the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse would make”. So we have a folk-tinged but dreamy indie rock album.

Pacific Mean Time Album Cover

The beginning strains of ‘Blindfolds’ make for a rather unassuming start, amounting to little more than subtle indie rock. However, the following ‘Minutes To Midnight’ definitely warrants a closer listen. It’s the moment where the yearning vocals gain a new strength and the decision to back those up with an infectious banjo melody and modern beats is a stroke of genius. ‘New Blood’ is lively and inventive, bolstered by some satisfyingly fleshy percussion. Meanwhile, ‘A Simple Thing’ and the terrific ‘Bo Derek’ bubble along nicely (the latter’s lyric of “gotta get outside and get some air” could be Paroissien’s manifesto after toiling away in his basement studio).

These are quietly insistent songs which only get under your skin after the third or fourth listen. The excellent run continues on to the most immediate track as ‘Straight Shot (Towards The Sun)’ offers a beautifully, modern take on the Yacht Rock sound. Granted, on a somewhat less even second half to the record, the trio fare less well on the stomping rock of ‘How To Cheat Death’ but make up for it with the sensitivity shown on ‘White Blackbird’ and the twinkling closer ‘Last Song On The Record’.

Pacific Mean Time may not shock their world with their first album but this is intelligent and well-crafted indie rock music which slowly hooks you in. So given what Paroissien has been through, this is a definite tale of triumph winning out over despair.

Web Sites:
Pacific Mean Time Official Site
SoundCloud Stream for Pacific Mean Time – Straight Shot Toward The Sun

Further Listening:
Sparklehorse, A. Rex/Andrew Espinola, Sport Of Kings

Review: Young Boy – Other Summers

It’s a sign of the times that we are no longer surprised when two artists exchange ideas over the Internet and form their own band. Young Boy’s USP on that score is that they are actually half-brothers, who grew up separately on different continents. Yet Alessandro Baris (from Italy) and Joseph Costa (from USA) reunited over their shared love of music to form Young Boy.

Young Boy Album Cover

Costa may be known for being a member of trip-hop outift L’altra but synth pop euphoria is the result here. As far as introductions go, ‘Chasing Sun’ and ‘Rides Away’ are high on bouncy uptempo values but somewhat lacking in substance. However, when they slow down the pace and the bounciness, the siblings make some lovely minimalist pop; the first of which is ‘Secret Place’, where some bubbling electronica, chiming guitar and breathy harmonies create a subtle, special moment. ‘Wooden Ships’ is another song which seems to relive the childhood nostalgia they possibly never had together (“You hide up in the trees. You scratched your knees and broke your wrist”). It’s wistful and romantic as is the title track and ‘Let You Go’ even if the melody to the latter sounds alarmingly similar to the 80’s BBC comedy ‘Just Good Friends’. Elsewhere, ‘Walk Cheerfully’ offers some infectious indie jangle and there’s even a bit of shoegaze for ‘Love Incidence’.

Taken as a whole, ‘Other Summers’ is blessed with an innocent, lightly melancholic feel, which recalls not only British indie pop but specifically a another retro-indebted group, pacificUV. Whatever its influences though, this is heartfelt, charming and enduring music.

Web Sites:
Young Boy Official Site
Young Boy – Other Summers on Bandcamp

Further Listening:
pacificUV, L’Altra, Scarlet Youth