Archive for the 'New Releases' Category

Review: Chloë March – Nights Bright Day

Chloë March’s musical past covers a stint in the sophisticated melodrama of Cousteau as well as a background in drama and playwriting. Such skills and experiences have been put to excellent use on new album ‘Nights Bright Day’ where the attention to production detail is matched with fascinating storytelling.

Nights Bright Days Cover 1000px

Bathed in magical beauty, ‘Winter Deep’ sees March cast as the female equivalent of C Duncan, with whom she shares a cool, breathy vocal and a penchant for dreamy arrangements. March’s primary focus seems to be on piano-led numbers and lambent, ambient pop, with strong echoes of Jo Hamilton on ‘Cafe Des Poetes’, yet a diversions into psychedelic soul (courtesy of ‘Boho Night’) is tackled with skill and panache. The superb ‘Orpheus Head’ bubbles with highly inventive production and oddball melody where the key lyrics, “You’re in my head. You’re in the ground, beneath my feet”, are delivered gently for maximum impact.

A clutch of spare, vocal-led numbers (‘Ember’, ‘Eurydice On The Underground’, ‘Orpheus At Sea’, ‘Eucalyptus Night’) seem like lost anthems from a watery world whilst a spectral ‘Be Lonely Roi’ threatens to lure the listener completely underwater, engulfed by the hypnotic aural bliss. On abstract offerings such as ‘Sunless’, ‘Woods’ and the Anja Garbarek-esque ‘Owl’, meanwhile, it’s as if nature itself has decided to take over and recorded its own beautiful songs.

Variations in pace may be few and far between but this is not a problem because the arrangements always keep the listener guessing from the first song to the shiver-inducing grace of the finale ‘Unlit’. Furthermore, March’s vocals manage to find that difficult balance between elegance, emotion and mystery. A joy.

Web Sites:
Chloë March Official Site
Chloë March on Hidden Shoal Recordings
Chloë March – Nights Bright Day on Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Jo Hamilton, C Duncan, Victoria Hume, Anja Garbarek, Elaine Lachica


Review: Echodrone – Five

Everything about the title to Echodrone’s latest album fits. ‘Five’ is the San Francisco outfit’s fifth album, they have five band members and on this evidence they would certainly make the top five of many best of shoegaze/dream pop lists too.

Echodrone Album Cover

Opening up with the kind of vintage synth intro most commonly associated with Boards Of Canada, the whispered vocals and crunching guitar soon add menace to disturb the serenity. It may be an incongruous way to start but the song evolves into something special as all the initially disparate layers form a lovely melodic whole. Satisfyingly muscular rhythms and a dense framework of slow-building guitars or the cornerstones which guide ‘Falling From Planes’, ‘Motion Pictures’ and ‘Glacial Place’ towards classy shoegaze territory. Amongst other highlights, On ‘Noise Bed’ the angelic tones of Rachel Lopez take centre stage as they are set against lilting key changes, ‘When The Two Ends Meet’ pushes and drives towards euphoric places whilst ‘Less Than Imaginary’ relies on a fairly simple but addictive hook.

Some intensity is lost a little towards the conclusion of the record but otherwise Echodrone provide good value over an hour’s worth of expertly-produced music. Throughout, they exhibit similar qualities to long-serving British act Engineers, steadily forming sumptuous layers of carefully cultivated sound whilst searching for (and often finding) the perfect tunes.

Web Sites:
Echodrone Official Site
Echodrone on Saint Marie Records
Echodrone SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Engineers, Her Vanished Grace, Slowdive

Review: Canopy – The Healing Sessions

Wisconsin’s Ryan Vanden Heuvel apparently “has a thing for music with no words”. This is the cue for forty minutes of sublime ambient/post-rock, where the tunes are generally upbeat but with plenty of openings for the melancholy to filter through.

Canopy Album Cover

As is often the case, when instrumental music hits home, it can often possess a stronger emotive pull than lyrics. ‘Come Alive Again’ is certainly a rousing opener; revolving around a nagging guitar refrain and propulsive bass rhythms and is a very good example of modern shoegaze.  ‘Stray’ brings in the crashing waves but as soon as the warm chords and glacial beats take hold, the track casts its seductive spell. Vanden Heuvel rarely opts for the loud side of post-rock and even when he does so – as on the towering, skyscraping ‘The Change’ – it is balanced by enigmatic melody. The slightly cheesy ‘1988’ sounds like it may have been recorded in the late 1980’s but still has a certain period charm. On the other hand, the superb ‘Isolate’ rides in on robust rhythms, squalling guitars and serene layers of melody to make some lovely modern dream pop and an experimental conclusion to the record is given further weight by the samples and haunting atmosphere of ‘Escape Control’

That ‘Healing Sessions’ title is not as inappropriate as you might thing. This is music to lose yourself in but it’s always strident and strong enough so that it doesn’t succumb to the traps of background chillwave music.

Web Sites:
Canopy Bandcamp

Further Listening:
Melorman, David Newlyn

Review: Nicholas Krgovich – On Sunset

Full marks to Canada’s Nicholas Krgovich and his team for arousing interest. His latest album is said to be “experimental music masquerading as pop” in a similar vein to classic albums such as ‘Steve McQueen’, ‘Cupid & Psyche ’85’ and ‘Avalon’, as well as drawing comparisons to Donald Fagen. What’s not to love?

Nicholas Krgovich Album Cover

‘The Backlot’ is our introduction to some sumptuously arranged soul music, with female harmonies and brass and string parts that are engaging and never obtrusive. Thanks to their rolling keyboard motifs, refined production values and nocturnal atmosphere, ‘Along The PCH On Oscar Night’ and ‘City Of Night’ come across like Vancouver-based versions of The Blue Nile. Meanwhile, further highlights ‘Cosmic Vision’ and ‘You’re Through’ are inventively arranged and produced and given further gravitas by Krgovich’s smoother than smooth tones.

It’s probably no coincidence that ‘On Sunset’ was produced by John Collins who also has credits on past Destroyer releases; another act with a penchant for exquisite 80’s-flavoured productions. The ideas seem to fizzle out slightly towards the end of the record as the album settles into tasteful but unspectacular soul music but otherwise this is a classy affair which makes light of the weight of its impeccable influences.

Web Sites:
Nicholas Krgovich Official Site
Nicholas Krgovich Bandcamp
Nicholas Krgovich – Along The PCH On Oscar Night

Further Listening:
Destroyer, The Blue Nile, Scritti Politti

Review: Postcode – Year Of The Zebra – Part One

Just when you thought all the sub-genres in the universe had been exhausted, along comes Zebracore. Needless to say, this is presumably a joke term conjured up by Isle Of Man act, Postcode, although given the fixation with the black and white striped mammal throughout the cover art, album and song titles, you’d be forgiven for thinking the branding has gone to their heads. In reality, though, their music is relatively straightforward and nostalgic for a time when British indie ruled the airwaves.

Postcode EP Cover

‘Yggdrasil’ begins with duelling jangly guitars and Marie Reynolds’s cool, cooing vocals will possibly win favour with lovers of any number of 1990’s female-fronted indie bands. The lengthy ‘At Last’ moves amicably enough between mid-paced fare and rousing anthemic rock. There’s more emphasis on acoustic guitar for the pleasant, gently seductive ‘Blue Fluff’ but the EP refuses to catch fire until the end. That moment occurs on a classy ‘Letting Go’, which has a similar lilting feel to ‘Blue Fluff’ but the fuller arrangement and wistful melancholy are wonderfully judged. They finish with a flourish too, thanks to the grungy, visceral ‘Boardwalk’; an energising song tailor made for closing out a live gig and an indicator of what is to come on the harder-edged ‘Part Two’.

One can imagine Postcode being signed to Kitchenware Records if they existed twenty years ago and they certainly bear a strong resemblance to Hug from that same label. Overall, ‘Year Of The Zebra – Part One’ is solid – if rather dated – indie rock fare but the ending to the EP certainly suggests they have special songs in them. Those seeking more darker, psychedelic adventures, however, should check out the more recent ‘Part Two’.

Web Sites:
Postcode Tumblr
Postcode – Year Of The Zebra Part One

Further Listening:
Hug, Catatonia

Review: C Duncan – Architect

These are good times for Glasgow’s Christopher (C) Duncan with A list status achieved on respected station BBC 6 and now his first album about to be released. The man doesn’t disappoint on that score either with a truly original set of songs which combine folk, choral music and dream pop.

C Duncan Album Cover

‘Architect’ is introduced by ‘Say’, with vocals which are both soothing, gentle and yet slightly eerie. The chorus is simply heavenly, consistently of lighter than air harmonies, not unlike an alt-folk Scritti Politti but really that only tells not even half of the story. A full-bodied title track heads skyward. The arrangement is reminiscent of retro-futurist revivalists such as My Autumn Empire and The Superimposers; given more magic by Duncan’s spiritual presence. The filmic, ambient-flavoured ‘Silence And Air’, the slightly unsettling couplet of ‘New Water’ and ‘Novices’ and a luscious ‘He Believes In Miracles’ are all paradigms of modern, psychedelic folk.

‘For’ really is like discovering a lost treasure from the late 1960’s; its delightful chorus, blessed with whistling and hypnotic vocal melodies are as beguiling a moment as there is to hear this year. In a rare break from the chilled reverie, ‘Garden’ signals a change in pace; Duncan racing through the song with a new found drive and yet the melody still recalls Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’, whilst ‘By’ possess a rich organ-led momentum. He even pulls off the trick of a genuinely touching lullaby on ‘I’ll Be Gone By Winter’ and it’s a real comfy jumper moment.

The word ethereal tends to get overused but the description is a perfect fit for Duncan’s beautifully tender vocals and expertise with arrangements. ‘Architect’ is a definite contender for album of the year.

Web Sites:
Stream of C Duncan’s ‘Architect’
C Duncan Page on Fat Cat

Further Listening:
My Autumn Empire,The Superimposers, Goldfrapp, Renfro

Review: Passarella Death Squad – Ghosts EP

London’s Passarella Death Squad have the distinction of being both a cult clothing designer as well being purveyors of electronica that is both chilling and chilled. 2013’s ‘Giant EP’ impressed with its mesmeric, late night drive atmospherics. The ‘Ghosts EP’ is similar in theme.

Passarella Death Squad EP Cover

The title track floats on a gorgeous bed of piano loops, Kraftwerk rhythms and serene ambience. Emilie Albisser’s vocals have the suitably haunting gravitas to do justice to the title and the song possesses the allure to be listened to in a trance-like state. ‘Ghosts’ is intended as a tribute to notorious German dancer/actress Anita Berber and it is by some distance the best of the three offerings here. ‘Empire’ is more sparse and even more slow-paced than ‘Ghosts’; head nodding is advisable as the track thrives on repetition and hypnotic elements but Albisser is the real star here as her performance adds eeriness and beauty. By the time the last of trio is presented, the EP has lost its edge somewhat because ‘Something’s Burning’ is reminiscent of 90’s chill-out remixing and could do with extra ingredients and variety to liven it up somewhat.

So, it’s another fifteen minutes of superior chill-out/IDM. Once again, Passarella Death Squad’s music remains superficially attractive and although there’s not much to engage the heart and the soul, there’s plenty to keep the brain and feet satisfied.

Web Sites:
Passarella Death Squad Official Site
Passarella Death Squad Blog
Passarella Death Squad – Ghosts EP

Further Listening: The Future Sound Of London

Review: The Last King Of England – The Last King Of England

He is blessed with a name that befits royal appointment and sure enough Carta member Sacha Alessandro Marcello Berardinelli Galvagna anoints himself The Last King Of England for his first solo album. This project has been described as a sister album of sorts to Carta’s own ‘The Faults Follow’ and there are definite parallel’s with that band’s penchant for elegant misery.

The Last King Of England Album Cover

Galvagna begins with the morose ‘Heartache’, calling to mind Piano Magic’s early career and even more so when made complete with the bleakest of lyrics (“I didn’t want to disappoint you. Again and again and again”). Set to a ticking clock rhythm, ‘Cassette’ takes the eeriness to another dark recess of arcane gloom and what comes after does little to disrupt the slow-paced melancholy.

Yet there are delights to behold throughout even if some of the shorter tracks have a “blink and you’ll miss it” approach. ‘Sink The Ships’ is arranged like a sea shanty, complete with disorientating, queasy qualities and a similarly wonky ‘Englishness’ is propelled by steady percussion, chimes and a growing sense of unease. Futhermore, hypnotic instrumental ‘5,000 Miles Away’ is beautifully despairing whilst the last hurrah, ‘Death Of A  Man (Part III)’, seems to collapse in a state of resignation after making itself heard amongst howls of feedback.

On an album characterised as much by brief sonic experiments as much as actual songs, there’s real skill here in keeping the creepiness at a consistently high level and ensuring the sonic themes segue into each other. So much so you’d be forgiven for believing the album had been imagined and then produced in the world’s most evil Victorian toy shop.

Web Sites:
The Last King Of England Bandcamp
Saint Marie Records Label Site

Further Listening:
Piano Magic, Carta, Windsor For The Derby

Review: Paperhaus – Paperhaus

Influenced by the heavier end of psych rock, Krautrock, post-punk and possibly many other sub genres in between, Washington DC’s Paperhaus have been causing quite a stir and it’s easy to hear why on this assured, multi-layered debut album.

Paperhaus Album Cover

Thanks to its escalating guitar riffs, there’s an early sign of great urgency on opener ‘Cairo’. The contrast comes from the breathy vocals, which provide an insouciant foil to the intensity of the post-punk arrangement. It’s a tremendous start but the style isn’t actually representative of the album as a whole. ‘Untitled’ settles into a subtle interlude of attractive dream pop before unfurling into a guitar storm and thereafter the album edges towards a harder-edged sound.

Bluesy centrepieces ‘Surrender To The Night’, ‘Misery’ and ‘432’ are punishing, gruelling songs; the kind you’d expect from a veteran, well-drilled unit on their fourth album rather than a young quartet on their first. Towards the end of the record, the mood brightens somewhat thanks to the optimistic vocals and janglier guitars of ‘I’ll Send It To You’, with a brass accompaniment even suggesting Dexys Midnight Runners in their prime, even if the lyrical matter is resolutely downbeat.

Paperhaus’s forte is creating lengthy, complex songs which span genres in a manner which seems natural and unforced, rather than the hamfisted “something for everybody” approach of many of their contemporaries. They may sound groovy but – as their press release proclaims – Paperhaus are “not a band of hippies” and who are we to argue based on this bruising evidence?

Web Sites:
Paperhaus Official Site
Paperhaus Bandcamp
Paperhaus perform ‘Cairo’

Further Listening:
Deaf Horse

Review: The Van Allen Belt – Heaven On A Branch

If anyone should ask you “I’m looking for a band that don’t sound like anyone else”, then Pittsburgh’s The Van Allen Belt must surely qualify. If you can imagine an alien Karen Carpenter singing on The Avalanches’ first album, you’ll get a taste of what they’re about. This is only half the story, though, as we once more enter the curious, exotic world of The Van Allen Belt.

The Van Allen Belt Album Cover

Never ones for subtlety, the record kicks off with the ultra-bouncy ‘Rain’ and the ever distinctive, classically-trained voice of Tamar Kamin: part 60’s girl pop siren, part hectoring spokeswoman. The song is underscored by Scott Taylor’s highly imaginative turntable and percussion skills and it’s Benjamin Ferris who we have to thank for the subversive songwriting and production, as well as a selection of choices of samples and mad keyboards. Time has done little to diminish the fine balance of invention and craziness since 2010’s ‘Superpowerfragilis’, so when Kamin urges “Don’t you worry your head’ on ‘Words’ at the centre of the album, the warning might come a little too late for the uninitiated.

That said, ‘Clouds’ boasts another reliably creative production but the relatively mainstream melody provides a welcome comfort and contrast to the often unhinged nature of some of the songs. Humour is at the core of much of the The Van Allen Belt’s lyrics, not least on ‘Afternoon Walk Of Shame’ (where “Everybody Knows My Name”). Versatility is undoubtedly a strength here. Some tight percussion and Tom Altes’ bass add a slinky edge to the streamlined ‘Slopes’ whilst ‘Bandi Shaum’ seems to borrow inspiration from The Chordettes’ ‘Mr. Sandman’. Then demonstrating their cinematic potential, ‘This Is The Best Shower I Have Ever Taken’ is part dream pop, part lost Hollywood film score and ‘Different Storm’ captures the melodrama of a Bond theme.

‘Heaven On A Branch’ isn’t the most coherent album you’ll ever hear. It’s all over the shop stylistically and thematically but their songs are always touched by warped genius and this record is no exception. Long may their peculiar journey continue.

Web Sites:
The Van Allen Belt Official Site
The Van Allen Belt Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Avalanches, The Carpenters, RedTails