Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

Review: epic45 – Through Broken Summer

I have followed the career of epic45 pretty closely after first hearing them on an Earworm Records compilation from 2001. I noted in my review at the time that their contribution, ‘The Motorway Journey Of Hope’, was my favourite and my ears have always been receptive to their music ever since. Across almost two decades, this journey continued from the pretty instrumental textures of ‘Reckless Engineers’ to their most recent, slightly uneven and collaboration-heavy ‘Weathering’. Their records have always concentrated on very admirable characteristics such as musicianship, melody, melancholy, experimental production and lost childhood. It was music made by sensitive souls for sensitive souls.

All of their albums have been received positively, but if there was one thing they did lack it would be power and confidence or the willingness to step out from the minor label shadows. My main criticism of ‘Weathering’ at the time was that after a bold start they were a little tentative thereafter; retreating into their shells once more. Since then, core members Ben Holton and Rob Glover went on an indefinite hiatus as a songwriting partnership but have each used the time wisely; the former with My Autumn Empire and the latter with Field Harmonics, both of which embraced a distinct love of pop music from the 1970’s and 1980’s. After a slight return with 2014’s ‘Monument EP’ (which tellingly features a Tears For Fears cover), ‘Through Broken Summer’ sees them emerge from a nostalgic haze into their most ambitious offering yet.


‘Remember The Future’ is a bold yet haunting opening, mixing the band’s love of the pastoral with a confident production. It almost sounds like a satisfying end to an emotionally exhausting album as the last lights of summer slowly fade out. ‘The Lanes Don’t Change’ may not scream “indie hit” as much as their unheralded classic ‘Ghosts On Tape’ (surely one of the most beautiful songs of his Century) but the combination of Holton’s distinctive whispering tones, the repeated guitar hook and shuddering percussion is just as dreamy and intoxicating. By the time of the fourth track, the wonderfully warm melancholy of ‘Sun Memory’, there’s a definite sense that this will be the best album I’ve heard for several years. Songs are segued by unusual snatches of samples and ambient music, reminiscent of Boards Of Canada and emerging into a fully-formed experiment for the mysterious ‘Cornfields And Classrooms’. Single ‘Outside’ is another statement of intent, where brash slabs of vintage electronica blast from the speakers but there’s so much more going on in the multiple layers underneath to set this apart from a cheap electro-pop revival.

‘Hillside #6’ arrives at the midpoint and is a collaboration with regular touring partner Antony Harding of July Skies fame. It’s another serene moment and possibly the most practical way for a Brit to enjoy summer without needing to venture abroad. Yet this is a very British sounding album, made by a group brought up on a diet of Children’s Film Foundation and living in a Staffordshire village. This track signals a slight shift in tone as the music drifts into a gentler vibe, characterised by the hazily hypnotic melody to ‘New Silence’ and the hushed harmonies of ‘From Quiet Houses’ and ‘Cloud Phantoms’. Then just as things seem to be settling down towards a peaceful slumber, another stunning moment arrives. ‘Life Fades Whilst It’s Still Yours’ embodies magnificence as soon as the flute sounds, satisfyingly crisp drums a la late period Talk Talk and another compelling guitar hook kick in. It takes a glorious two minutes for Holton’s vocals to creep in; forming another beautiful layer and creating what Martine McCutcheon was probably talking about when she spoke of a ‘Perfect Moment’. On the title track, there is rain on the horizon, or rather the rainy day rock perfected by Epic 45’s old touring mates, Hood (circa the turn of the Century) but by the end of the track, they have worked their way up (or down) from a drizzle to a storm of their very own making. By the final plaintive, glistening notes of the last song, ‘We Don’t Love Here Anymore’, it’s clear that we have witnessed something special.

‘Through Broken Summer’ is a brilliant album and a perfect statement in how to appeal to a broader audience without compromising what made the artists so special and unique in the first place. Perhaps the “epic” part of the name was a prediction of what they would eventually become.

Web Sites:

epic45 Official Site
Wayside and Woodland Label and Shop Site
Video of epic45 – Outside

Further Listening:

July Skies, My Autumn Empire, Field Harmonics, Bark Psychosis, Talk Talk, Hood, Radiohead, Boards Of Canada


Review: Sumner – That Ladybird Summer

This is the first album in what seems like aeons from Southport’s Paul Sumner. In fact it’s his first album since the solo debut, ‘A World Of Horses’, from 2006; a record which was described here as being “strong on heart-on-sleeve sentiment”. Much like that record and many artists from the North West of England, themes of melody, innocence and nostalgia are writ large over ‘That Ladybird Summer’.


There are tunes here that a milkman would whistle. In fact, the first song, ‘Our Milkman Is The Morning’, is just that, complete with children’s chorus. Similarly, ‘Let’s Go And Play’ and ‘Picture Book’ are happy, singalong songs which wouldn’t sound out of place on Mark Wirtz’s ‘Teenage Opera’ soundtrack. ‘Pauline Curry Swore’ and ‘News At Ten’ bask in dreamy atmospheres whilst Sumner’s soothing tones fit in remarkably smoothly; it’s at this stage where the album seems to be growing up, both in subject matter and the mature, less child-friendly arrangements.

Perhaps the most poignant lyric arrives on ‘Remember Village Life?’ where the songwriter intones “There’s something pure and honest there. I can feel it in my bones”. It’s a really comfy slipper moment on a record which has warmth in abundance and it sums up the album in a couple of sentences too.

The excellent ‘Soul Love’ will draw inevitable comparisons with The Lotus Eaters, thanks to the glistening, chiming guitar refrain and Sumner’s falsetto. Then comes the twelve-minute finale, ‘The Battle For Barney’s Farm’, an ambitious suite, if you will, and one which finds the right balance between emotion, guitar solos and the inevitable big psych finish and fade-out.

Those familiar with XTC’s similarly whimsical album ‘Skylarking’ will appreciate ‘That Ladybird Summer’ and it’s surely no coincidence that XTC man Dave Gregory features on a couple of the songs. Yet it’s Sumner himself who is the real star here and his Utopian vision based on growing up in an English village has resulted in a really charming and colourful album.

Web Sites:

Further Listening:

Mark Wirtz, XTC

Review: The Foreign Resort – New Frontiers

Copenhagen trio The Foreign Resort have been touted as the most exciting act from Denmark since The Raveonettes. Praise indeed but connections with their compatriots are few beyond their nationality as these particular Danes create epic, synth and guitar based indie rock with crossover appeal to goth, shoegaze and Europop fans.

Foreign Resort Album Cover

Beginning in arresting fashion, ‘Dead End Roads’ is propelled aloft by icy synths and muscular rhythms. The song screams with urgency but tempered by a cool European flair. Mikkel B. Jakobsen’s vocals embody tension, panic, frustration and possibly a little sweatiness too. The next song, ‘Breaking Apart’, chugs and swirls along aggressively too but the guitars chime prettily for ‘Alone’ and the frontman’s teary-eyed tones evoke a sense of tenderness and romance for the first time. It’s an idea which is expanded on by the A-ha-like ‘Quiet Again’.

Later on, the chilling gothic shapes of ‘New Frontiers’ are reminiscent of Modern English. Yet attention will doubtless be cast towards ‘Flushed’, at least initially; the band simulating a wind tunnel arrangement hurtling towards Jakobsen’s desperate cries. It’s an instantly attractive track which deserves the honour of being lead single but the swooning, “Ultravox on steroids” effects of ‘Landslide’ offer a similar drive and intensity and the instrumental coda to last track ‘Dark White’ is immense.

Although the album is like a guessing game of “spot the influence”, overall this is a very strong album and one which befits the promise of an “aural rollercoaster of emotional intensity”. It’s definitely a thrilling ride which demands repeated visits, that’s for sure.

Web Sites:
The Foreign Resort Official Site
The Foreign Resort Bandcamp

Further Listening: kIM NOVAk, Wolfsheim, Modern English, A-ha. Ultravox

Review: Last Harbour – Caul

Manchester’s Last Harbour have been offloading their doom-laden rock to angst lovers for over a decade now and it is to be expected that their new album ‘Caul’ will reveal no sign of them lightening the mood. Yet there’s shafts of light here which indicate there is hope after all these years.

Last Harbour Album Cover

‘Caul’ opens like a finale with mournful drones and strings and a sedate piano melody emulating the last paragraph of a tragic novel. After this brief instrumental comes the first song, ‘Fracture Fragment’, where K. Craig’s lugubrious tones set the scene for more familiar territory. It’s a weighty number which lurches all the way from bleakness to misery, yet elegantly so.

Then come the surprises. ‘Guitar Neck’ benefits from a shift in momentum, as guitars and rhythms picking up the urgency and intensity; resembling the missing link between Piano Magic and The Stranglers. ‘Before The Ritual’ veers even more towards rock and there’s even a playful keyboard motif thrown in for good measure.

Further about turns arrive via ‘Horse Without A Rider’, where they move into the warmth of country music before unleashing a post-rock storm. ‘The Deal’ starts like the main event; beginning so ominously with sinister string segments and then relentless percussion. The only disappointment is that it doesn’t build into the towering epic that it promises and merely broods. As the album draws towards its conclusion, ‘The Pressure’ is as weary as the title suggests and final song ‘The Promise’ is a beautifully-arranged suite; seguing from its forlorn beginning to an uplifting middle section and then reverting to a valedictory, peaceful end.

‘Caul’ offers unexpected shifts in pace and style without disappointing fans of their previous work. So their glass is still half empty but Last Harbour offer comfort and solace at the end of the voyage.

Web Sites:
Last Harbour Official Site
Gizeh Records Label Site
Last Harbour – Caul on SoundCloud

Further Listening:
Piano Magic, Tomorrow We Sail, Her Name Is Calla

Review: Arc Waves – Arc Waves EP

Having first written about Brooklyn’s Elaine Lachica some thirteen years ago, it’s fascinating to gain an insight into the development of a musician. As a solo artist, Lachica immediately stood out with her impressive vocal range and inventive way with song creation but she did seem like a talent who needed a bit more focus, even if her most recent solo album 2009’s ‘I Think I Can See The Ocean’ was a gem. Arc Waves are a new band based fronted by the vocal talents of Lachica and – like her solo records – they’re not content to stick to one genre either.

Arc Waves EP Cover

For opener ‘Half Dome’, Lachica’s ululations are kept in check by shoegaze-indebted guitars and nagging indie pop basslines. She is more controlled for a gentler but ‘Look Straight At Me’, which heads for the territory of dream pop heaven.
On the strength of these first two tracks alone, Arc Waves are clearly a good match for each other; complimenting vocal originality with tight musicianship.

For the straighter-edged reverb-heavy rock of ‘Cascades’, however, the band sound less interesting, with Lachica’s style somewhat at odds with the Interpol-like production. By the time of the final offering, ‘Galaxies’ the group have moved into ambient rock circles and it’s no exaggeration to say the group seem to be attempting a more danceable version of latter-day Cocteau Twins on this song and with some success too.

This is an interesting move for Lachica after her somewhat wayward displays on previous albums. Perhaps the unity of working in a band gives her the solid structures she has been craving but importantly her individual talents are not compromised here either, even if sometimes the genre choice seems like an awkward fit. Minor quibbles aside then, all of this promises much for the debut album.

Web Sites:
Arc Waves Bandcamp

Further Listening:
The Attic Ends, Elaine Lachica, Cocteau Twins

Review: Surfacing – Surfacing

Nottingham’s Surfacing aim to give voice to (amongst other things) the horrors that society tries to suppress. Yet anyone who likes their experimental music embellished by post-punk yet curious about the terrors of the night club will find an album worth pursuing here.

Surfacing Album Cover

Thanks to its tribal drums, whispered vocals and dystopian, industrial atmosphere, ‘Surfacing (Susanna’s Song)’ builds up as if it’s going to turn into an alternative dance anthem. In fact, to be perfectly frank, there are strong undercurrents of Underworld here. ‘Hypocalypse’ also has roots in the club scene but the edgy spoken word and sense of claustrophobia suggest an affinity with angry post-punk obscurities such as The Royal Family And The Poor too.

As the record reaches its halfway point, ‘Amaurot’ mesmerises with its mix of chants, Eastern rhythms and modern beats; the overall effect sounding like the lost cries of forgotten prisoners as they rattle their cages. It’s a stunning moment. ‘Melancholy Of Fulfilment’ cuts the production layers back further still with vocals now represented by dislocated echoes. This excellent mini album then ends in dramatic fashion with ‘Her Smoke Rose Up Forever’; where the beats, bleeps and rhythms merge into one another to form the thinking man’s floor filler Surfacing had been threatening from the start.

Within each track there is music of stark beauty which haunts the listener with every ghostly step. Experimental music very rarely sounds as vital and as invigorating as this.

Web Sites:
Surfacing Tumblr
Surfacing Bandcamp
Records On Ribs Label

Further Listening:
The Royal Family And The Poor, A.R. Kane, Underworld, Ultramarine

Review: Lukas Creswell-Rost Go Dream

Back in 2011, the Berlin-based The Pattern Theory released their excellent self-titled post-rock album; which found that all-important middle ground between sonic invention and a strong emotive pull. A few years on and it’s time for former member Lukas Creswell-Rost to release his latest album. It has more in common with the likes of Destroyer’s ‘Kaputt’ than the kings of post-rock but undoubtedly possesses similar levels of creativity and emotions.

Lukas Creswell-Rost Album Cover

Creswell-Rost is a fine vocalist with his gentle, breathy tones bearing favourable comparisons with Green Gartside. His song structures are even more distinctive and even if this means some of the risks don’t pay off (the sax solo on ‘Week Of Warmth’ for instance), he generally hits the mark with some clever melodies. Added to this, the lyrical matter is based on rarely-covered subjects such as Yngwie Malmsteen’s air rage, Badfinger and Seinfeld.

‘Foreign Movies’ is busy with squelching beats, seaside samples and smooth synths and the song’s pattern is all over the place but Creswell-Rost has clearly put in the hours; turning incongruous elements into a rambling, warm and intriguing opener and it’s a good indicator of what’s to come. ‘Time Waster’ features a relatively sparse production which gradually develops in intensity and is a definite stand-out but even lighter, less complex material such as ‘Stolen Thunder’ bears the hallmarks of classic songwriting.

A hook-laden vocal and languid Sea And Cake-like rhythms ensures that ‘Own Night Out’ perfectly encapsulates Creswell-Rost’s charm. Yet the album reaches glorious peak as it nears its conclusion. ‘Patient Pilot’ possesses a breezy elegance whilst the stunning title track begins like a beat-hungry Durutti Column and then morphs into a fabulously epic ambient rock piece.

Although it obviously bears influences, ‘Go Dream’ signifies its creator as a true original; creating oddly-structured songs and turning them into multi-layered, dreamy, wonderful tunes.

Web Sites:
Plain Sailing Records
Lukas Creswell-Rost – Go Dream on Bandcamp
Video for Lukas Creswell-Rost – Time Waster

Further Listening:
Destroyer, Scritti Politti, Michael Flynn, The Pattern Theory