Archive Page 91

Review: Elaine Lachica – I Think I Can See The Ocean

New York-based Elaine Lachica is an idiosyncratic singer songwriter whose propensity to sound unique can lead to conclusions that are just as likely to frustrate as they are to enrapture. Four years on from her previous record, album number three arrives backed by a new label.

As it happens, Lachica couldn’t have started her third album any better. ‘Behind My Mind’ rides along a rolling piano motif whose attractive twists and turns are matched by Lachica’s own ululations. ‘Tumbleweed’ signals a jazzier approach but is still catchy enough to ensnare curious ears whist ‘Bewilder’ and ‘Capture’ both echo the elegance of mid-period Cocteau Twins from the dreamy atmospherics to Lachica’s murmuring. An excellent and varied beginning to the record is rounded off by the aggressive post-punk guitars on ‘Jinx The Line’.

Yet as on previous albums, Lachica is prone to meandering through watery insubstantial tracks like ‘April Train’ and ‘Wild Wielding’ features Mariah Carey levels of emoting. Pleasingly, she recovers form towards the end of the record and ‘Hold On Fire’ has a fine melody that is somewhat overshadowed by ‘Collective Myth’; the moment where her melancholic side is given perfect backing by a subtle string section.

As with previous albums, ‘I Think I Can See The Ocean’ is not without its flaws yet it’s also Lachica’s best record thanks to a stronger focus on songs rather than mood. Perhaps now is the time for her to emerge from cult concern to an artist with a much broader appeal.

Web Sites:
Elaine Lachica Official Site
Elaine Lachica MySpace

Further Listening:
Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush

Review: Piano Magic – Ovations

Based around the songwriting craft of Glen Johnson, Piano Magic have been chroniclers of gloom for well over a decade now. Maintaining their consistency, ‘Ovations’ shows no sign of lightening up. In their case – and thanks to some appropriate guest contributions – it’s a good idea too.

Ex-Dead Can Dance member Brendan Perry probably couldn’t believe his luck when presented with ‘The Nightmare Goes On’ for it is the perfect base for him to demonstrate his brooding, tremulous vocals. Elsewhere, his erstwhile band member, Peter Ulrich, lends his skills with ancient instruments for several more tracks. In fact the Dead Can Dance presence seems to cast its influence over much of the album as some of the material seems to be infused with almost Victorian atmospheres.

A criticism of Piano Magic is that they can be too cold to love. Witness ‘A Fond Farewell’ where glockenspiel and Ulrich’s darabuka and claves add interest but the song itself is arch and austere. They actually fare better when they resort to post-punk edginess; ‘Recovery Position’ and ‘The Faint Horizon’ (the latter completed by a thrilllingly intense coda) are lean and slick and prove that Piano Magic can excel at a visceral – as well as a cerebral – level.

As Piano Magic albums go, ‘Ovations’ is reliably doomy. Yet such is the talent of Glen Johnson and co. that even when they seem to be stuck in a miserablist furrow, they manage to make music which is always articulate and inventive and occasionally even exciting.

Web Sites:
Piano Magic Official Site
Piano Magic MySpace
Make Mine Music Label and Shop Site
Darla Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Dead Can Dance, Dead Leaf Echo

Review: Grubby Mitts – After The Facts

Grubby Mitts involves Johnny Parry, whose solo material is usually more geared towards the melodramatic singer/songwriter side. Here he takes a back seat to concentrate on percussion, production and string arrangements whilst his artist friend Andy Holden writes the material.

From the outset it seems clear that Grubby Mitts is an experimental project. For opener ‘Her Laughter/For Tomorrow’, a loop of vocal samples and some woozy instruments eventually take flight as the strings, guitar and brass contributions manage to agree on a very pleasant melody. Ivor Cutler fans will rejoice at a cover of his ‘Beautiful Cosmos’ and if anyone wanted to know what a marble game and a piano sounded like when played together, ‘Last Stop For The Good Old Times’ provides the answer. As it happens a lovely, warm instrumental passage ensues but I could have done without the marbles. A simlarly gorgeous and comforting tune underscores ‘The Mountain & I’ but once again outside infuences (in this case a repeated chant) undermine some of the good work. Then the EP concludes with some melancholic clarinet and guitar work for the doleful ‘So Long See You Tomorrow’.

Despite these minor gripes though, this is an enjoyable EP. That’s because ‘After The Facts’ appears – on the surface at least – to be a highbrow concept record but looking beneath some of the quirky touches, there’s some quality instrumental moments to be discovered, which are full of both heart and melody.

Web Sites:
Grubby Mitts MySpace
Lost Toys Records Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Johnny Parry, Tortoise

Review: Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter

Though it would be a little harsh to say Richard Hawley had lost his muse, the past two albums have certainly seen him treading water. It’s somewhat inevitable given that Hawley releases records at such a regular rate and his style is, after all, based on music recorded over forty years ago (Roy Orbison, Scott Walker, even Elvis) when crooners ruled the world. How nice to report then, that ‘Truelove’s Gutter’ is not only a return to form but also contains some of the best songs of his career to date.

The tender ‘As The Dawn Breaks’ is as subtle an opening as you could imagine. The grand gestures from recent albums are still very much in evidence yet here they’re backed up by the emotional weight of the songs and some key contributions from the Red Skies string section. ‘Open Up Your Door’ sends shivers down the spine from the outset with its intro of its shimmering strings and Hawley’s magnificent voice and a glorious finale. Yet this is arguably eclipsed by the gentle/dramatic dynamics of ‘Soldier On’ and ‘For Yor Lover Give Some Time’ where Hawley extols the virtues of not taking the love of your special one for granted. This excellent album concludes with ‘Don’t You Cry’, a superbly arranged lullaby. Only ‘Remorse Code’ overdoes it but within its near ten minute length there is still some great guitar work and a warm melody to be enjoyed.

Quite how this man who was known as guitarist for Pulp and The Longpigs in the 1990’s for so long seems almost unbelievable now. Thankfully, Hawley – who was also rejected from Morrissey’s live band for singing an Elvis track nearly twenty years ago has now had the confidence to step into the limelight once again.

Web Sites:
Richard Hawley Official Site
Richard Hawley MySpace

Further Listening:
Scott Walker, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley

Review: Woodchucker/Jonatan Nästesjö – Leaves Never Leave

Jonatan Nästesjö hails from Jönköping in Sweden and uses the woodland area in his homeland as a source of inspiration for his experimental project. Using the (entirely appropriate) moniker of Woodchucker, ‘Leaves Never Leave’ is a charming collection of largely instrumental music where nature and melody are joined in harmony.

For ‘I’ll Tell You A Story’, the faraway vocals are reminiscent of the skewed pop of His Name Is Alive whereas ‘Fields’ is a lengthy drone excursion given shades of lights by bird noise. Yet, however fascinating his experimentation sounds, Nästesjö tends to fare best the more he sticks to a structured framework. On the gorgeous ‘At My Windows’ there are ghosts of animated childrens’ programmes as acoustic guitars compete with primitive alien noise whilst ‘Waiting For Bus And Boat’ is a wonderful moment of romantic bliss.

Nästesjö has been touring with fellow Swede David Wenngren (from Library Tapes) whose distinctive music is also inspired by his environment. Yet perhaps his nearest soundalike is Mole Harness, another exponent of the nature vs electronic/acoustic sound. Either way, Nästesjö has much to offer in his own right on this highly evocative and enjoyable album.

Web Sites:
Woodchucker MySpace
Walk Through Records Label Site

Further Listening:
July Skies, Epic45, Mole Harness, Library Tapes

Review: Daniel Land & The Modern Painters – Love Songs For The Chemical Generation LP

After a steady stream of EPs, it has taken a while for Daniel Land & The Modern Painters’ first album to be produced. Indeed, ‘Love Songs For The Chemical Generation’ has been two years in the making but don’t be alarmed by the title. Although Land and his band mates are ex-ravers, it is only their music which searches for a form of ecstacy.

Land claims that their music is only partially shoegaze but it’s hard to describe it as anything but. Country guitar makes a significant contribution to ‘Glitterball’ and ‘Smiling In Slow Motion’ but those familiar “walls of sound” are all too apparent. Some songs shine through; the languid charms of ‘Locust’ and ‘Run Silent’ making up a satisfyingly mellifluous mid-section. ‘Codeine’ ambles along in the manner of Slowdive’s early songs and ‘Off Your Face Again’ benefits from a more aggressive rhythm section.

At seventy minutes, the album is unquestionably too long with most of the songs merging into the next like superior background music. Yet the record certainly has its moments to counter the times when it becomes too indulgent.

Web Sites:
Daniel Land & The Modern Painters MySpace
Daniel Land & The Modern Painters Shop Site

Further Listening:
Slowdive, Ulrich Schnauss, Engineers

Review: City Of Satellites – Machine Is My Animal

Towards the end of 2008, I was enraptured by the an EP from Jarrod Manuel and  Thomas Diakomichalis. Performing as City Of Satellites, this Australian duo operate in the same sphere as Talk Talk, Breathless and Bark Psychosis; creating deeply emotional music with a keen sense of space and dynamics. Now their first album has arrived and it’s largely a case of their promise being fulfilled.

‘BMX’ demostrates the sum of their disparate components perfectly; crisp percussion, Manuel’s lemon-fresh vocals and glorious synth melodies are at the heart of everything they do. ‘Victor! Burn City Lights’ even begins with two and a half minutes without vocals but it’s varying pace and rhythms always keeps the listener interested. Meanwhile, the title track features glistening guitar lines and seems engulfed in a deliciously attractive feeling of sadness.

If there is a criticism – and it is a small one – a couple of the tracks seems a little too smooth. single ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ is essentially synth pop of the most sophisticated kind whilst ‘Skeletons’ also reminded me of Scritti Politti (but Manuel’s soothing, effeminate tones may have much to do with that).

‘Machine Is My Animal’ falls a little short of classic status but it is still a hugely impressive first album. Most of the tracks exhibit mystery and exquisite, glacial melodies backed up by pristine production.

Web Sites:
City Of Satellites Official Site
City Of Satellities MySpace
Hidden Shoal Recordings Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Breathless, Scritti Politti

Review: Kings Of Convenience – Declaration Of Dependence

In the early part of this decade, Kings Of Convenience delighted many with their beautifully subtle music. Five years on from their last album, the time was obviously not spent on complex arrangements. The Kings Of Convenience oeuvre remains an uncomplicated affair with the duo of Erlend Oye and Eirik Glambek Bøe relying mainly on acoustic guitars, their own harmonies and what can only be described as good old-fashioned songwriting.

As with their previous records, ‘Declaration Of Dependence’ only begins to take shape after a few listens. On first hearing, the music sounds merely pleasant then it moves the mildly interesting to the really rather beguiling. Initially light songs such as ‘Me In You’ reveal a tapestry of intricate chords reminiscent of the very early years of Everything But The Girl whilst ‘Renegade’ and ‘My Ship Isn’t Pretty’ form an airy, melancholic middle section. However, no matter how many times I listened to the likes of ‘Rule My World’ or ‘Peacetime Resistance’ (to pick out just a couple of indifferent tracks) it was hard to recall them an hour later.

It may appear harsh to criticise Kings Of Convenience for not maintaining the form of their previous two releases but they set such high standards that a tinge of disappointment is inevitable. Yet even if their simple formula of indie-folk shows signs of drying up, there’s enough good songs here to accompany rainy weekends for a while yet.

Web Sites:
Kings Of Convenience Official Site
Kings Of Convenience MySpace

Further Listening:
Simon And Garfunkel, Everything About The Girl, Nick Drake

Review: Tommi Bass & B.B.S.C. – Textures From Berlin

After his recent ‘Gamma’ album, Tommi Bass proved that he could still make techno music sound vital and intelligent even as he enters the “veteran” years. His latest release takes a similar bass-heavy and minimalist approach but augments it with sounds from Berlin, the city he now calls home.

Typically, tracks are numbered. ‘Bronze 1’ sets the scene in the familiar unsettling atmospheres featured in ‘Gamma’ but with the added Berlin recordings, they are given further chill factor. ‘Bronze 2’ is based around what sounds like an 80’s arcade game loop and seems to vary little but its click-clack rhythms and air of doom resemble a very sinister version of Kraftwerk. The track segues into ‘Bronze 3’ which includes more frequent punctuations of industrial noise, handclaps, vocal samples and some seriously bowel-shifting beats.

At only eighteen minutes in length, ‘Textures From Berlin’ is too short to really be appreciated. Yet in its limited timespan, its depiction of Berlin is nightmarish, exciting and beguiling all at once.

Web Sites:
Tommi Bass MySpace
Rednetic Label and Shop Site

Further Listening:
Nathan Fake, SI-CUT.DB, Colder, Kraftwerk

Review: Light Of Words – Those Left Behind

Light Of Words are a new five-piece band from Bristol who offer a new angle on the hand-wringing indie rock subgenre that has filled up the airwaves since the appearance of Coldplay. Their songs are given great warmth and charisma by the gravelly whisper of frontman Chris Dean.

The album begins delicately enough, courtesy of the acoustic melancholia of opener ‘Trip Up’.  However, it soon becomes clear that Light Of Words have a penchant for slow-building epics in the same vein as Snow Patrol (‘A Sound Will Guide You’, So Calm Now’ and ”Too Soon’). Yet the songs don’t fall under the weight of the big build-up and thanks to Dean’s unique vocals they retain an individuality too.

Good though these moments are, they really achieve their peak on the terrific ‘Snowfall’, which sees the band align their sadness-tinged music with a thrilling post-rock storm of guitars. Similarly, the nine minute long ‘One More’ reveals even more depth and its deviation in to progressive territories whilst still retaining an emotional edge make it another standout moment.

‘Those Left Behind’ is a fine soundtrack to the onset of the coldest season with Dean’s tender tones providing the comforting words to keep away the wintry chills. Whilst it has plenty of commercial potential though, the Bristol band have achieved a level of subtlety to ensure they don’t fall into the levels of shallowness, which undermines the work of so many of their contemporaries.

Web Sites:
Light Of Words MySpace

Further Listening:
Saso, Camera, Renfro, Snow Patrol