Archive for October, 2014

Review: Rat Trap – Halfway To Infinity

If Rat Trap’s three album career were a school report, they performed with merit on their indie folk-flavoured debut ‘The Western Boundary’ and achieved distinctions in alt rock for the follow-up ‘Blueprints Of A Paper City’. It seems a long time ago when I wrote about the California-based band’s first album in 2011 but main songwriter Grant Simmons has actually only just graduated from high school.

Rat Trap Album Cover

A sense of confusion and inner turmoil is apparent from the opening line to their new album: “Lately I’ve been sleeping in a head that isn’t mine”. It’s the first of an opening two parter called ‘Canoe’ but it’s the second part where Rat Trap show their arranging prowess much better; augmenting a stylistically varied song with string and brass instruments. Then they unleash the brilliantly wired and infectious ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’ and – in a similar vein – ‘Hippopotamus’ revisits their favourites Pavement with a typically awkward, off-key melody. ‘Creeks And Rivers’, meanwhile is a lovely, bittersweet tune featuring a sweet vocal turn from Simmons. Yet this album is as much about sensitive souls as arch songwriting. On that score, some of the material comes across as rather timid but ‘The Best A While’ rings and chimes delightfully and ‘Saltwater’ is a joyful ramble through strings and piano.

The album closes in somewhat valedictory fashion via the fading keys and poignant words (“The swan only has one song”) of ‘Outro’. It represents a somewhat fitting finale because this is the band’s last outing for the “foreseeable future” as presumably the band members find their next path after graduation. So it’s the end of a musical era but the beginning of something exciting for the individuals concerned. Whatever happens, ‘Halfway To Infinity’ presents the last part of a musical trilogy in growing up and Rat Trap have done themselves very proud throughout.

Web Sites:
Album Stream for Rat Trap – Halfway To Infinity

Further Listening:
Pavement, Belle And Sebastian


Review: Kahl Monticone – Monkey-Flower-Shell

Australia’s Kahl Monticone is a man to be envied. For the last decade, he has been working four days a week at Queenland’s largest and oldest independent record store and away from the shop he is a busy musician; having played in numerous bands and shared stages with Low, Rowland S. Howard and Damo Suzuki during a lengthy career. Judging by ‘Monkey-Flower-Shell’, he’s a very talented artist too.

Kahl Monticone Album Cover

Each of these short pieces are named as Part numbers 1 to 11; varying in texture and tone but following a logical progression. Most tracks feature woozy ambience, rustic passages of guitar and rumbling percussion. The inclusion of these layers creates a folktronica feel which hits a peak for the tender and forlorn Part 5. In addition, Monticone populates his compositions with playful, children’s TV-worthy segments (Part 8) and gorgeous juxtapositions of disorientating rhythms and sweet tunes (Parts 3, 6 and 10 deserving special mention).

These “carefully constructed miniatures” are delightful, with the only criticism being you want them to last for longer. However, treated as one long instrumental piece, ‘Monkey-Flower-Shell’ consistently delivers with its intricate melodies and arrangements.

Web Sites:
Duskdarter Label Site
Stream for Kahl Monticone – Monkey-Flower-Shell

Further Listening:
Minotaur Shock, Four-Tet

Review: Delay Trees – Readymade

In a rare display of overstatement, Finland’s Delay Trees claim to have “found a way to a mystical sphere of music that had overtaken us by surprise”. Until now these shoegazers have been a largely unheard of outfit but now they’ve been playlisted on BBC 6 Music and created a sure-footed third album, that situation surely needs to change.

Delay Trees Album Cover

Followers of LA’s The Meeting Places will immediately appreciate ‘Fireworks’, which has all their hallmarks of breezy, insouciant vocals, shimmering production and low-slung guitars. ‘Perfect Heartache’ and ‘Howl’ embrace similar chiming aesthetics and propulsive rhythms but with more strident choruses. Yet the core of Delay Trees’ music really portrays them as sensitive souls.

In keeping with the title, ‘Steady’ floats on the surface but its insistent Krautrock-like groove ensures an uneasy undercurrent prevails. In their most understated moments, the subtle, ringing charms of ‘Sister’ sits alongside ‘Woods’, which is such a quiet number, it has more in common with folk music than shoegaze. Then, as the album draws to a close, an elegant ‘Big Sleep’ recalls the mystery of early Engineers and even the glacial end piece ‘The Atlantic’ is epic without being overbearing.

Delay Trees never push too hard on the effects pedals, meaning that this is a gently persuasive set of songs. ‘Readymade’ may fall under the radar on that basis but here is evidence of a band fully aware of their strengths on an impressively atmospheric and moving third album.

Web Sites:
Delay Trees Official Site
Listen to Delay Trees – Fireworks

Further Listening:
The Meeting Places, Engineers, Windsor For The Derby

Review: Emby Alexander – Frontispiece

The first EPs from Emby Alexander painted pictures of baroque pop where it was tough to decide whether it was the band or the listeners who were in need of medication. Nevertheless, there was clearly an awful lot of creativity and imagination on display which makes wonder how they would handle a full album’s worth of material. ‘Frontispiece’ is the vibrant, mind-bending answer, then.

Frontispiece Album Cover

‘Come Breathe The Downstairs Air’ is structurally more coherent than their earlier material. Sure, the song sounds like no other bands (particular the curious female backing vocals) but the set-up of military percussion and a distinguishable verse and chorus show signs of a new maturity. Sometimes, there’s a real sense of “blink and you’ll miss it” since several songs flit by before you’ve had chance to digest them but ‘Sleeping In The Library’ sounds like a drunken children’s choir and ‘Lower Come Closer’ is a twinkling highlight. ‘Don’t Go Bed Tonight’, meanwhile, distills the intensity and passion of early Arcade Fire.

The second half is something else entirely with the band’s theatrical side coming even more into the foreground. The key moment is the seven minutes of ‘E Major Baroque Youthful’, where the group tread a fine line between high camp, madness and exuberant chamber pop. ‘Tallwave II’ heads off into edgy post-punk territory, ‘Lay Your Wet Hair Down’ brings in jingle bells and ‘Losing Your Teeth’ is one of many tracks to feature glockenspiel but its vocal melody and pin sharp guitars certainly provide one of the most enduring moments. Finally, thanks to its stately, trembling piano melodies and wounded singing, ‘Make Me Feel Unsafe Again’ is also a timely reminder that underneath the performance, there are vulnerable humans behind this project.

‘Frontispiece’ is the kind of album you can listen to ten times and still not be able to work out whether you like it or not. Ultimately, I found it equally confusing and fantastic but undoubtedly original and entertaining. For these reasons alone, Emby Alexander should be heard and applauded.

Web Sites:
Emby Alexander Official Site
Stream for Emby Alexander – Frontispiece

Further Listening:
Mystery Jets, Arcade Fire

Review: Field Mouse – Hold Still Life

Not to be confused with sensitive types and occasional shoegazers, The Field Mice, the singular Field Mouse are fully committed to staring at their footwear for their debut album. The New York outfit have certainly come a long way since their frontwoman recorded a cover of No Doubt’s ‘Just A Girl’ when she was a mere teenager.

Field Mouse Album Cover

Not that ‘A Place You Return To In A Dream’ isn’t a lively, urgent way to start though. Andrew Futral’s guitars hurtle ferociously whilst Rachel Browne’s vocals are snappy and sharp enough to never be in danger of being drowned out. A youthful and effervescent ‘Tomorrow Is Yesterday’ and the catchy as hell ‘Netsuke’ follow suit. In this genre, comparisons are inevitable and even though ‘Horizon City’ sounds a bit too close to Lush’s ‘For Love’ at first, the song soon develops into another bruising, infectious little number and the experimental ‘Happy’ even heads off into Autolux territory.

The excellent ‘Two Ships’ moves the band into moodier, atmospheric waters, complimented by Saysha’s Heinzmann’s strident bass; serving as compelling evidence that the band can cater for mature tastes as well as more immediate fare. Likewise, the introspective ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Kids’ counter Browne’s innocent, cooing vocals with machine-made aggression and ‘Reina’ offers some anthemic fuzzy, guitar pop.

Throughout the record, there’s an well-judged contrast between effects-laden guitars, smooth keyboards and pure vocals. All of which means ‘Hold Still Life’ finds a healthy halfway house at the crossroads of shoegaze and dream pop.

Web Sites:
Field Mouse Official Site
Stream for Field Mouse – Hold Still Life

Further Listening:
Lush, Autolux

Review: Vestige – Vestige

The word “vestige” means a trace of something which is disappearing or no longer exists. Highly appropriately, the duo of Lewis Brown and Paul Matthews, who have emerged from the now defunct Portsmouth band, The Rivers Of Sound, have created an album which seems to pine nostalgically for the late 1990’s. Happily, they recall this time by referencing many of the best bands of the era too.

Vestige Album Cover

After a long but interesting introduction of glum guitars on ‘Innocence (Your Best Disguise)’, the vocals announce themselves and recall the bruised delivery of Richard Ashcroft. It’s a short but confident example of what is to come. ‘Eye To The Sky’ begins rather uneventfully but the song soars on the impressive chorus and suddenly the duo sound as anthemic as Puressence. Likewise, ‘Misery/Joy’ could easily be a James track, or the shuffling indie ‘Faded Memory’ could have been written by Echo And The Bunnymen circa 1987. All very retro of course, but it’s performed with period-level panache.

Quality control is maintained as the album progresses. ‘Falling’ builds up convincing walls of tension, the propulsive, chiming guitar pop of ‘Wired’ is another highlight and even the lighter material, such as the lilting ‘Lost Property’ and ‘What To Say?’, are gently infectious. Only towards the end of the album do the group slip into cliché, courtesy of a stomping ‘London’ and you can certainly visualise cigarette lighters being held aloft for last track ‘Live, Love And Shine On Me’.

Putting aside the fact that this music could be a lost album from the latter days of Britpop, Brown and Matthews have created a high quality indie rock album, which emulates the sound of an arena act on a tight budget. The indie youth of today could do a lot worse than investing their time in Vestige.

Web Sites:
Vestige Official Site
Vestige SoundCloud
Vestige Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Puressence, The Reverse, Echo And The Bunnymen

Review: Astronauts – Hollow Ponds

It’s heartening that one of the most intriguing indie-folk albums of the last few years was written whilst its songwriter was awaiting surgery following a badly fractured leg. Formerly of alt-folkers, Dark Captain, Dan Carney has made the best possible use of his time which – whilst at least partially informed by the frustration of his partial disability – sparkles with inventive arrangements and infectious songwriting.

Astronauts Album Cover

The single ‘Skydive’ went viral earlier this year and yet the song itself is a deceptively slight thing; an alt folk number which is content to murmur and glide in the background before burrowing under the skin. The kind of song which would normally be placed towards the middle of the album to tide you over until the exciting denouement. However, this is an album which gets better the deeper you look.

‘Everything’s A System, Everything’s A Sign’ is a more immediate highlight. It actually sounds like a Hood track; complete with shuffling hip-hop beats, bleak, rustic guitars and Carney’s weary voice nagging at the ears persistently. ‘Vampires’ brilliantly walks the tightrope between edgy and playful whilst the plaintive, haunting folk of ‘Flame Exchange’ is an eerie standout. Foraging further, ‘Slow Days’ and the title track revel in slow burning moodiness whilst ‘Openside’ temporarily replaces the subtle melancholy with wild, underground guitar noise and a foray into free jazz.

The second half may not be as addictive as the first but it does give licence to a more improvisational, free flowing approach. This makes ‘Hollow Ponds’ a restless record which demands attention and rewards the listener for it. Carney’s leg is a lot better now too but if he fractured the other leg and it led to him producing a similar quality record, this reviewer, for one, won’t be complaining.

Web Sites:
Lo Recordings Artist Page
Astronauts – Everything’s A System, Everything’s A Sign

Further Listening:
Hood, M. Craft