Category Archives: Album reviews
I don’t know if it’s age, new fatherhood, some deep psychic need for contemplation and peace, or a combination of them all, but I’ve been drawn to much more quiet and gentle music recently. Now that is not to say boring. You can be raucous, frenetic, and boring, and you can be gentle and quiet, and still capture and hold my attention.
That’s where Debs McCoy comes in. A musician and artist based in the UK NE covering many disciplines, her music is a mix of folk guitar, layered piano, trance-like rhythms, and her own voice, which weaves among the other elements in a quite haunting way.
Her album ‘Silent The Corner’ was released in 2013, but it’s taken me this long to get to write about it. The conditions had to be right (see above). It was released as a collection in two halves: one half acoustic folk with textural elements, one half more cinematic instrumental pieces.
I’m not a big vocals fan, as you may know. I tend to treat the voice in music I listen to as just another sound – I don’t tend to catch lyrics (again, this may be due to age). In addition, I have to admit I don’t have the vocabulary (musical or emotional) to describe this music. I will probably embarrass myself by referencing styles and techniques at odds with what Debs is doing, or revealing I could go my usual route of writing down what the instruments were and how they interlace. But that would not do this music justice (and I’m sure you’re sick of it anyway). So please bear with me as I wade into unfamiliar waters, trying to describe how the songs make me feel.
A spoken phrase, a strummed guitar, a cello, even the “tape” noise adds to the atmosphere of opener ‘Propagate’. The song mentions sunshine, wind, leaves, and brings to mind walking in the stark low winter sun.The strummed guitar is joined by a tambourine in ‘Wendy’ giving a little Western tinge to the song.
‘Beauty, Majesty & Drama’ is something different, and one of my favourite tracks on the album. The instrumentation is the same, but the vocals are more dramatic as the name suggests. The lyrics deal with the artistic process, as a face is drawn and changed. The artist’s relationship with the subject is touched upon. The song is reworked with piano and cello later on the album, to great effect. It transforms into a more melancholic version of itself. Perhaps from the POV of the artist’s subject?
The title track blends close lyrics, simple synth textures and cello into an intimate lullaby, while single piano notes over guitar give ‘Ruben’ a Mountain Goats feel. The subject is lying about their identity, but the singer knows better.
Train rides always provide good backdrops for gentle thoughtful songs. ‘Recoil’ is no exception. This journey is one to a gathering of people, but the narrator still feels alone, trapped outside. This is a very personal song, clearly, and the simplicity of the voice and guitar bring us into her confidence. The voice is closer and gentler than ever, with an almost childlike feel to it, on ‘Sound Carrying Flowers’. The piano beneath sounds like it is taking the singer’s hand and gently guiding and encouraging them as they explore the music room.
The first of the second set of pieces, and definitely a soundtrack , ‘Insufferable’ would work over the final “climactic” scene to a grainy black and white film. Perhaps in the days after a heavy bereavement, as the character emerges back into life, bruised and sore, but somehow renewed, as the credits roll. The processed strings and piano are joined by a momentary harmonica – perhaps memories of the lost one.
Cello, electric piano, xylophone drops like rain in a simple cycling phrase, ‘Spring’ is perfect for sitting at a window with a steaming cup, waiting for the sun to break through a little. Cabin fever is at an end. ‘The Lake’ sounds like a deep family secret being revealed. Tentative piano, rumbling strings, cello, and a sense of realisation. The secret could be good or bad, or both. The excuses anchor the piece, while the repercussions ripple out, affecting many lives, in various ways. In the end, the teller is left alone on the shore.
The beautiful ‘For The Birds’ occupies the same English landscape as some tunes by BBO regulars The Advisory Circle. Trilling flutes, tinkling piano, slow pulsing bass. And finally, album closer ‘Begotten’ opens with a rotating piano line overlaid with xylophone, while the strings below provide an insistent tone. This ending sounds more like an urging or continuation, even as it closes.
Even if my feelings have not been clearly expressed here, it has had an impact on me. ‘Silent The Corner’ is a beautiful album. Buy it here. Buy Debs more recent improvised works here, especially The Therapy Sessions. Buy her box set as well.
HOX is a project from Graham Lewis (Klara‘s dad, Wire bassist) and longtime collaborator Andreas Karperyd, and guess what, surprise surprise, it’s on Editions Mego (a label which seems to have grabbed me recently). This album came out late 2015, and scraped into BBO’s Top Thirty of the Year with a brief mention, but now it deserves some more words.
Duke of York has a lot in common with Lewis’ earlier solo efforts, with some beefy updates and fresher sounds. Many tracks have a definite Wire feel, with Lewis’ buzzing bass and distinctive sonorous vocals. Others lean toward the He Said synthpop style. The first three tracks demonstrate this variation. Opener ‘Anthracite’ dives straight into the He Said/Mute/Ebb/Mode slow tech march territory, with a wry spoken commentary. Rocky guitars introduce my personal favourite ‘Javelin’, leading into a fast beat, driving staccato tune, distinctive Lewis vocals, and stuttering guitars. Then ‘Correct Co-ordinates’ is definitely Wire-y. No beat as such, semi-spoken lyric, mutating into an guitar and synth layered texture.
Tense stuttering synths crash into a driving beat and howling guitars in ‘It’s Too Much’, with the title being the only vocal. Direct and to the point. In a more mellow zone, flutey tones and plucked strings open ‘X In Circle’, then a crunchy groove leads into Lewis’ signature wordplay. Deep horns round off the mixture.
Want tribal drums via Nitzer Ebb with Kraftwerk jabs? Instrumental ‘White Space Conflict’ has you covered, while standout ‘Track and Field’ is a fun exercise in bait-and-switch. What starts out as a synth-driven instrumental on Mute records, suddenly transforms into a Warp-released pulsing workout, before veering back and combining the two.
‘Goodbye’ is a strangely naive song, clearly dedicated to a late beloved friend. Its simplicity and basic rhyming lyrics make it clear that this is a sincere and heartfelt tribute. Other than that, the tune is nice, there are some nice strings and boingy synths, with Lewis’ bass rumbling throughout.
To round off the album, ‘Frequency’ a very He Said sound. Simple bass and guitar with distant sounds, then the vocals appear very close in. The chorus is classic Lewis, with the whole managing to be soothing, tense, relaxed and paranoid all at once.
This album is a good collection of functional and interesting pieces. That sounds like faint praise, and it’s true that it’s hard to get too worked up about it, but in the area they’re working, Lewis and Karperyd deliver (and if you know me, you’ll know I’m not the kind to bandy the word “deliver” about). I will continue to be a fan of the Lewises if this is what I can expect. Buy it if you want.
The most recent album by Maserati actually came out last year, and had I actually listened to it during 2015 it would have stood a very good chance of getting into my top 10 albums of the year. But, such is the life of a downtrodden music blogger such as I, there is so much music I want to listen to that I neglected this until the end of January this year. Sorry lads.
Anyway, Rehumanizer lays down its intent from the very start with 10 minute long opening track “No Cave”, swelling synths eventually segueing into driving space rock. And it’s got a euphoric bass and drums only midpoint which makes me very happy indeed.
“Montes Jura” takes the tempo down, and is an absorbing synth-led epic. It’s dark, it’s portentous and it’s absolutely massive. I want you to listen to this while staring at the album cover. Go on.
After their previous album, Maserati VII, became the first to feature a song with vocals, Rehumanizer has two – and while the overriding feeling I had about much of the album was one of John Carpenter meets Krautrock (in Space), “Living Cell” strays into a post-punk world reminiscent of The Chameleons. The other vocal track, “End of Man” is a tightly driving piece that features heavily processed vocoder singing and is none the worse for it; in fact it sounds like how you were told the future was going to sound in an Atari 2600 sci-fi game. If it doesn’t get you chanting the word “Institutional!” like a demented robot while just walking down the street, much to the surprise of your fellow commuters, then nothing will.
“Rehumanizer I” and “Rehumanizer II” bring the album to a close, both songs paring back the synths to allow twin guitars to fight to the finish, pushed on by a chugging, propulsive bass. And just like that, 40 minutes in, it’s all over and you’re back on earth – but Rehumanizer is an interstellar trip you’ll absolutely want to take more than once.
Look, I don’t want to start out this review in an aggressive tone, but you and me have got to have words. I see you there, looking all smug, banging on about how there are no famous Belgians. Well, smug face, there are loads. LOADS. And hopefully Go March, hailing from the vibrant city of Antwerp, will also be joining that esteemed list of famous Belgians very soon if the quality of their debut album is anything to go by.
Opener ‘The Ship of Bambi’ is a slow burning kick off. Personally, I don’t think I’d want to be on a ship that was being navigated by Bambi. I wouldn’t hold out any great hope of getting to my intended destination. But I defy you to not be smiling by the time the synth organ breaks in around the 3 minute mark.
‘Chase’ takes the tempo up, spiky guitar rhythms and bubbling synths justifying the Krautrock plaudits that Go March have been accumulating, and recent single ‘Rise’ pulls you in from the get go with a hypnotic arpeggio and doesn’t let you go. ‘Like a Record’ follows that, and is a fabulous slab of Motorik which unexpectedly dissolves into a post-rock guitar ending.
There’s no let up in the second half of the album, with ‘Slow Horse’ almost serving as an interlude before you get hit with the 1-2-3 sucker punch of ‘Earthbound’, which steadily builds to a beautifully synth/guitar duel climax; ‘Lighthouse’ (with hints of Modular Synths meets New Wave to it); and finally ‘The White Lodge’ provides a suitably brooding ending to a beast of a record, evoking the feeling of dark clouds and rain over the river Schelde if you’re into that kind of thing (and I am).
If there was one small criticism it would be that a gradual building-style formula is adhered to on pretty much every track on the album. Repetitive? Yes, a little. But is that a bad thing, especially with songs as strong as this? Never. There’s plenty here for Motorik, Krautrock and synth fans. And anyone else interested in Famous Belgians for that matter.
Pick up Go March from the band’s website (or your other favourite retailer, most probably)
I know it’s less than ideal for a reviewer to write about their own projects, but I’m not worried about subjectivity concerns in this case, because this new male-female two-piece is objectively amazing, and their debut is the most exciting thing to land in the satellite suburbs of Abu Dhabi since the British stopped shelling the place.
Before this initial release A&E were in development for nearly nine months, with my co-producer Cassie doing the bulk of the work. We’ve both invested a lot in their development, and as a result, we hope they realize the potential we know they have – in just one short month they have already accrued a devoted following.
I asked the band where they got the title for this album, and was told that it was a very personal, cerebral reason, but would say no more. I decided it would be best not to press them too hard on it.
Their output to date has been quite soft, with varying shades and textures. Despite the gentle, almost fluid consistency of what they produce, it can be quite jarring, and some of it needs a strong stomach to handle. I’m sure that as they mature, the consistency will become more stable, and the soft releases will make way for self-contained, firmer and more structural pieces, which are more palatable and easier to deal with.
A&E are prolific, with several releases per day, if you can believe that. A lot of it is shapeless filler to be honest, but that said, it’s reassuring that they are so regular. One way they keep their rate of production up is by continuing to work and produce through the night. It’s been quite hard for us to keep up with their pace, but it is worth it to discover what amazing new work they have produced. A couple of times I’ve been lucky enough to witness the very moment of creation of a new piece – a moment I would not wish to share with anyone.
Lyrically, A&E come from a much stranger place. On this debut they work not with recognizable words, but with what can only be described as primal emotional utterances. These can range from gentle whispers which wouldn’t be out of place on a Steve Hauschildt piece, to percussive grunts worthy of a darker, rhythmic Klara Lewis, ranging up to nerve-shattering William Bennett/Whitehouse-like shrieking, which brings to mind BBO’s 2015 #2 faves Ubre Blanca.
We expect A&E’s lyrics to become more literal and literate in the future. I’m sure there will be missteps and embarrassments, but I believe that all art must go through these phases and exploratory experiments before the artists can be sure they’ve done what they can.
I’m very proud to be associated with A&E. The members of the group, Arthur Elliott Petty and Edith Lenore Petty, have the looks, the talent, the potential, and the support to do great things. Watch this space.
Hello readers. If you can tear yourself away from TOTS and Bon’s excellent review, I’m back with another collection of electronic soundscapes, and another dose of tortured stream-of-consciousness purple review prose, with a few references to video games thrown in.
Having tripped over and enjoyed Mr Hauschildt while listening to a Brainwashed podcast, I was pleased to see that Kranky were releasing a new album from him in September, so I grabbed it when it came out.
It’s a beautiful album of lush synths and arpeggiated tones. There’s definitely shout-outs to your German pioneers here, so if your copy of ‘Phaedra’ was getting a bit worn, this will do you just fine. The tracks generally fall into one of two forms, the einatmen-ausatmen sweeping forms, and the sequenced synth workouts.
The opener, ‘Eyelids Gently Dreaming’, doesn’t grab you immediately, but sidles its way in with a gently persuasive sequence of strings. But it’s just a palette-cleanser before the following ‘Arpeggiare’. This is much more of a melodic piece, and it lives up to its name, with overlapping sparkles and trills of sound, reminiscent of Cauty and Weston’s ‘Space’, and a tuneful line that is almost hummable. Don’t get used to that, though.
The title of ‘In Spite of Time’s Disguise’ is reflected in the way the organ stabs summon a clock movement, but a digital one. No swinging pendulums here. Xylophone trills herald a delicate reverbed tune, which comes and goes until all that’s left is the pulse of the clock and a gentle string wash. A personal highlight.
Title track ‘Where All Is Fled’ starts with melancholy piano, and in between distant almost-voices, it forms the bulk of this track. Definite soundtrack material, very pretty indeed, but I think a little out of place – although the artist put it here, so it belongs here.
The sounds on some tracks do seem to act as messengers and guides, leading you on to some secret location before leaving you to wonder how to get home. For example, arpeggiated phrases introduce ‘Vicinities’, then claves and wood percussion add a bit of a rainforest feel. Bass swells, and the phrases start to resolve themselves. A certain urgency builds, the phrases simplify, and having made their point the group disappears through the trees.
Or this – I’ve had my share of hospital needles, and been under the knife a few times, and I can say that if they could have piped ‘Anesthesia’ in while I was drifting away, it would have been a much more relaxing glide into oblivion. I might even have met some of the folks “out there”, as they were attracted to what I was listening to.
I was caught out by ‘The World Is Too Much with Us’, starting as it did with what I thought was just more synth sweeps. Then suddenly I was tripped by sinuous driving running appegiated synth rills, and a voice chanting through the atmosphere. This is definitely my favorite track on the album. The lines build and blend, growing to a smooth rounded hilltop, before scattering to the winds to spread their message.
There are some IMHO filler tracks. ‘Edgewater Prelude’ is a short plinky-plonky piece, but nice nonetheless. ‘A Reflecting Pool’ is a stroll through a vaulted hall, droplets of tone reverberating randomly. ‘Sundialed’ brings together the chatter of a cellphone, the swell of an LFO-driven phaser, and a simple bassline, then trips you up with sudden skipping offsteps to keep you on your toes.
Whether it’s actual birdsong or a some form of robotic simulation matters not in the alien forest of ‘Aequus’. It reminds me of the music used (created?) in the game Proteus. With the bass and clicking muffled beat, it wouldn’t be out of place on an FSOL album. We return to this location later on in ‘Lifelike’, only this time it’s nighttime. Hooting cries, insect violinists, and pond dwellers mix with a quite urgent rhythmic pulse, reflecting the rush of nocturnal life.
What did I say about this album wearing its influences on its (mylar?) sleeve? It had to happen. After the rains and the climbing chimes of synth open ‘Caduceus’, a distinctly familiar octave-jumping bass takes us back to the mid 70s. Very nice indeed. The final track on the album, ‘Centrifuge’, sums up what we’ve learned on our journey (if not tourney, no, not tourney). As the name suggests, it takes all the parts and spins them, but instead of separating them, it combines them into a final curtain closer.
As other reviewers have suggested, this album (indeed this kind of music) would be well accompanied by one of the new breed of procedurally-generated space exploration games. It’s certainly worth listening to while exploring your own space, inner or otherwise. Buy it where you can, or from iTunes if you have to.
In the lead up to Hallowe’en, it seems apt to finally get round to reviewing this stunning EP/album by Ubre Blanca (out on the ever reliable Giallo Disco Records). If you don’t want to read any more of this review, then your take-home message is that this is a stonking slab of Goblin Carpentry with all the bravura dramatics and creeping atmospherics you could want, and then some. Go buy it.
‘The Sadist’ will be many people’s flagship tune from this release: sinister surveillance pervades the first half, replete with synth sweeps, power chord crashes and anxious drone builds, until it gives way to an upping of the tempo, as something intent on doing its hideous worst closes in on its prey. It’s ace. ‘The Quarry’ accentuates the VHS aesthetic with woozy pulses that succeed in scoring a sense of urgency across the skin and synapses, whilst Mellotrons tell of something supernatural in the air.
Some may baulk at the ominous glockenspiel-esque opening to ‘Fear of God’, but the sheer dramatism of the song as it erupts into life engenders a knowing smile and a desire for theatrical posturing. It’s a tune that reveals that Ubre Blanca know exactly what they are doing with The Sadist and are doing it with a knowing sense of origins and genre. ‘Saeta’ places Flamenco theatre and passion firmly in the horror soundscape and acts as brilliant prelude to the exquisite closing credits of ‘Invocation’ – all shards of ghostly choirs, tensed drums and grieving synths.
When The Sadist finishes it is difficult not to stand up, clap furiously and scream ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ in some cod posh accent befitting the realms of High Culture. Given that Ubre Blanca obviously found their inspiration in B-movie slashers and bucket-bin horror, you realise how far this release can take you. Problem is, you may never come back.
‘Fear of God’:
Sisters Julia and Maria Reis play guitar, drums and keyboard between them – and that’s it, just them. They set up their own label, Cafetra Records, in Lisbon five years ago and this is their second album, released here on the peerless Upset the Rhythm label. And in a sense they remind me of No Age – the set-up is similarly simple, but can be so flexible and creative, and there’s a mix of songs demonstrating pace and power on the one hand, and reflection on the other.
Opener ‘Braco de Ferro’ has what I think is the best-sounding riff since ‘Teenage Kicks’, and the vocals are perfect though I have no idea what they’re singing about.
Then we’re straight into ‘Branca’, with its cracking drumming and driving pace:
The short album does have more light and shade; ‘Es Tu, Ja Sei’ fades in and out, distorted like a Lisbon version of the Shop Assistants, ‘Amendoa Amarga’ drifts from lively verse-chorus dynamics into ragged noise and back again.
When you get to the end you just want to play the whole thing again.
Parts & Labor were, and remain, the greatest noise-rock band of this century thus far. Don’t agree? Well you’re wrong.
For his second solo outing on Thrill Jockey, Dan Friel, front man of now defunct said band, has coordinated his machines to reflect, ruminate on and represent his experiences of the birth of his son. Arguably then, this is his answer to Raymond Scott’s Soothing Sounds for Baby, but Life is often anything but comforting – it’s an album akin to a sweet tasting pacifier wrapped in sandpaper.
Off-axis opener ‘Lullaby (For Wolf) is the perfect woozy disjunctive for the mayhem ahead. ‘Cirrus’ at first listen is anything but little fluffy clouds with its sharpened bullet beats. Yet floating through it is the sugary, most airy, of melodies. And this is where Mr Friel has always excelled – simple lead lines that are equal parts uplifting and melancholic. One wonders what he’d achieve if he went all-out Pop. I’m convinced Chart domination would be guaranteed. Of course it ain’t gonna happen, but it’s an intriguing proposition.
‘Lungs’ wheezes and pants its way into your chest cavity, before upping the rattling noise and breaths per minute. ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is wonky synthesised mosquito whines. ‘Life (Pt. 1)’ sees our maestro place melody at centre stage once again and results in an overwhelming sadness for the demise of Parts & Labor. On ‘Bender’ that curious Celtic lilt to Friel’s work returns.
Friel’s makes his machines perform the most brilliant arcade crunchstep; this is 8-bit stomping beyond any hipstered discovery of SID chip aesthetics. And once again he’s triumphed.
Life is out on Friday 16th of October. Buy it here