Category Archives: album reviews
Klara Lewis’ debut release on the excellent resurrected Austrian label Editions Mego is made up of found sounds, processed and looped and washed through with pad and soft industrial ambiance. There is drone here, and noise, and clouds and rhythm. It came out in April 2014, but I only caught up with it over the last few months, and I’ve been enjoying it greatly.
I hesitate to use the term ambient. After all, “Brain One” himself made ambient music to be as “as ignorable as it is interesting”. This is anything but wallpaper music, although you could certainly use it like that (music as a resource or tool to be “used” – discuss).
As far as the “industrial” influence goes, there are metal things being banged here, but you’re not being showered with flakes of rust. You’re standing on a green hill overlooking a factory city, with the oppressive noise softened to melody by the distance, mixed with the stormy weather and tape noise. That said, it’s not all listening to surf wash up on the rocky shores. There is some rhythmic input as well. Percussion is rarely used, rather the deep throbs of the effected sounds act as pacemakers, and the sudden end of a sound can act as percussion.
‘Shine’ is a standout track. A bass throb, with the resonance turned up to give a high pitched distortion, and an echoing synth stab, before the heartbeat resolves. Then the breathing starts, along with a suggestion of a distant tolling bell. End of the shift in the factory, perhaps.
‘Muezzin’ had me looking at the clock. Living and working as I do in Abu Dhabi, the voice of the muezzin, calling the faithful to prayer via the subtle medium of roof-mounted tannoys on every minaret on every mosque on every block, is a regular and familiar sound. This is a sound with such meaning for some, that it could be used as a cheap shorthand to make a piece of music more “ethnic”. But here it is simply a sound that has been captured, and used as a looping foundational phrase, before the hovering machinery approaches to spray down the dust. As such, the heavy meaning it could be said to have is replaced by a purely musical and structural effect, and a beautiful one at that.
Another personal fave, ‘Untilted’, is definitely percussive. Competing pulses of sonar, the closest thing to a drum on the album, a scraping as if you were brushing your teeth in time with unheard marching feet. The sonars allow you to home in on a single bass note, and a single repeated spoken phrase, and the track ends.
‘Altered’ is a 12 minute walk down a tiled corridor, carrying a Geiger counter to measure the effects of some disaster on the final residents of this abandoned tower block. Construction sounds (or the opposite) echo down stairwells, snatches of gentle music leak under doors as you pass. The hum of the building services shows that things still work here. It’s not oppressive, you know you’re welcome, you see and hear the residents as they watch you walk by. But when you complete your pass, you’ll be glad to drive back to the lab with your findings. You just don’t know if anyone will believe you.
It’s strange to think that a stark, almost cold album like this could simultaneously be warm and almost comforting, but somehow Klara Lewis has achieved it. A great album and a great debut. Buy it here.
I heard ‘Untilted’ originally on the Brainwashed Radio Podcast Edition, which (along with BBO itself) has become a reliable source of new and fresh vibes for me over the last few years, vibes which have done a pretty good job of acoustic lithotripsy on my calcified tastes, and for that I thank them. I’d also like to thank the BBO boys for the opportunity to write for them. I hope I can contribute.
Fourteen consistently excellent songs in thirty minutes… when you get to the end of Sauna Youth’s second LP you just have to play it again. For a band with such a clear idea of what they want to do and such a deliberately DIY approach to doing it, Sauna Youth are full of smart ideas. Short sharp post-punk pop songs, propelled by insistent no wave guitars. Spoken word pieces. More expansive songs like ‘Creeper’, which here seems positively epic at three minutes and forty three seconds. And the sonic oddity ‘End Loop’ (which is a loop but comes at the start of the record. How very Sauna Youth).
Here are two of the livelier tracks, because I love them so much. First off, ‘Transmitters’. Mind the dinosaurs.
And then ‘Abstract Notions’, which might well be the best 99 second song ever recorded. Why would you need a hundred seconds for a song? This is perfect.
I saw Sauna Youth once, supporting their Upset The Rhythm labelmates No Age. One of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. And of course Sauna Youth are also Monotony, on different instruments but equally amazing. You can tell I’m a fan, can’t you?
Buy this now here!
So because we are always on the pop pulse, I missed the news that the great Fanfarlo have shut up shop. I hate it when bands we have loved (since 2008!) fold, but at least you can hope that each member will go on to produce interesting new music. That’s certainly the case with Cathy Lucas’s new project Orlando, who share this cassette/download release with Tomaga. RAM Tapes (or The Association for the Re-Alignment of Magnetic Dust to give them their full title) re-use old tapes for that essential crackle and pop experience, and the theme is suitably 80s: video game soundtracks, kerbside frogs, ghost mazes, etc. It’s too sophisticated – at least to these cloth ears – to be just more chiptune landfill but it’s extremely playful all the same. The Orlando side is closer to Cornelius in terms of its invention and charm; the Tomaga side is a little more spacious, dubby, dronish. As an album it’s a pretty irresistible combination.
Orlando’s opening track brings you the croaks of a telepathic amphibian, a bit of bossa nova and a steely science-fictional theme, all in 3 minutes and 25 seconds.
While Tomaga’s ‘Giant Bitmap’ made me wonder whether Pacman ever got the cold sweats while cruising those haunted midnight mazes…
Highly recommended. Of course the tapes sold out long ago but the download is available from Bandcamp here. We look forward to the next RAM Tapes release.
This review is written in a hurry. It’s written with a strong desire to say something about something magnificent. To say something now…right now. And it’s written, partially, to rebuke others.
I’ve read some mixed reviews of the new Godspeed! Some say it’s a bit ‘meh’, some say it’s treading water.
Well fuck them. Fuck the naysayers. It’s incredible.
Listen, Godspeed!, alongside Mogwai, for all intents and purposes, invented this epic orchestral dark/light post-rock stuff. And if they’re repeating or playing to a formula then, frankly, I couldn’t give a gnat’s scrotum. They’ve earned the right to do so. It’s one that they crafted. It’s one that they helped create. So, let them show all the wannabes how it’s done. And Christ’s soupy beard they do on Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress.
It drones. It explodes. It soars. It’s angular. It’s melodic. It groans with noise and harmony. It’s guttural and majestic.
Put it this way, by the time ‘Piss Crowns Are Trebled’ erupted I was practically in tears, shot through with yearning, loss, transcendence, anger and so much more besides. I very-much- really shouted ‘Fuck yes!’ at its climax. I was left in post-coital auditory stupor. I waited five minutes and went again.
Fucking yes. Buy it.
Anyone who has social media tags, “Only Dogs Can Hear the Clarinet Solo of Death”, “Face Palm Sunday” and “Playing a show near you, never” is going to pique our interest. And Adderall Canyonly does more than pique with his incredible Beneath The Crystal Canyon A Spark Remains .
A deep, deep pulse of analogue hits you within seconds of pressing play, and is soon accompanied by Mellotron choirs and radio commandments. Just over a minute later we’re in the realms of Goblin greeting Morricone on ‘We Walk The Streets of Flesh’; a track that freshens that hoary genre post-rock and takes it in sublime directions.
With its Berlin School transcendence, lift-off is achieved with the magnificent space dreams of ‘Beneath the Crystal Canyon’ (which, somehow, seems a fitting tribute to Edgar Froese). ‘Dramazeta Dei’ is fugged stoner-electronics with hints of Dead Sea Apes or Carlton Melton, and gives way to the Radiophonic lab-based modular burbling of ‘Left/Mono’.
The Gnod-esque fuzz throb of ‘Shadow System on High’ is fabulous, but there’s something wrong…it needs to be twenty minutes longer (minimum). The mesmerising peaks of ‘Dark, Slow Submission’ suffers from a similar fate – you’re just left wanting more. Yet finisher, ‘Fields Of Green, Smoke Ahead’ soothes and brings the album together gloriously.
Goblin, Berlin School, Stoner-psyche, Gnod, Radiophonic, and Modular? This is an amazing tour-de-force of everything that is good in music for me, right now. Let’s cut to the chase, it’s one of the best things I’ve heard this year. Out on a long since sold-out cassette through Moss Archive, luckily the wonders of Bandcamp allow you to buy it immediately.
‘We Walk The Streets of Flesh':
‘Shadow System on High’:
What is it with the North East and motorik soundscaping? With Warm Digits, (Neil from) Eat Light, Become Lights and now Parastatic finding their origins therein, it seems the region is a real milieu for the driven and driving. Suggestions as to why this might be should be scrawled on a 1960s Mercedes-Benz and driven up the A1.
Parastatic trade in a layered intensity of guitars and synths, and are practised in the vast and the panoramic. ‘Arches’ opens with a thumping abandon and builds the tension before the release of the groove kicks in. When vocals enter the fray, on ‘Saint Mary’ for example, there’s a real hint of Parts and Labour, which augments this sense of distance and travel.
It’s not all driving though: mid-album track ‘Sorby Sunrise’ is stretched out somnambulism and ‘I am the One’ is building synth-Pop. ‘Old Street’ heralds the return of the propelling rhythms and we’re safely back on the road again.
Recall Fade Return is great of example of sonic motility and mobility. The nu-Kraut revival continues. Get it here.
I can tell you that Gondwana are definitely not a reggae collective from Chile or the project of an Australian didgeridoo player (LastFM 2015). In fact, Gondwana is the a solo outing for one of Belgian-Italian duo Lumisokea who dwell (unsurprisingly) in Berlin. Of course, you knew that, right?
AUM is out on the amazing Opal Tapes as part of their slew of new releases in January. Opal Tapes is definitely and definitively the place to go for forward thinking and genuinely exciting electronics of various shapes and sizes – all their releases are pretty much essential.
AUM opens with the sub-bass blastings of ‘A Gospel of Dirt’ that remind of Haxan Cloak’s experiments in brain cataclysms, whilst ‘Bootstrapping’ is composed of delightful complexities in rhythm, reverb and resonance. Extreme timbres of tone affront you on ‘Binaural Beats’ which segues into the cunning clankathon of ‘Right Brainer’.
Standout track has to go to ‘Þingvellir’: a stunning ritual offering that drones and throbs with a totemic and shamanic intensity. Just when you thought your supplication to the ancestor spirits was total, ‘Þingvellir’ finds a whole new level of reverent power. Incredible.
‘Entelchia’ is the woozy daydream of a submariner and ‘The Invisible Prison’ is similarly confined. Not available on the bandcamp site, but part of the download from it, ‘Belief Based Blindness’ brings back the skull throb as it slowly morphs into a jam of modularity and the polyrhythmic.
Definitely recommended. Buy here.
As the Crow Flies was and is one my favourite albums of the last five years. Hence, it was without hesitation that From Out Here was pre-ordered from the ever reliable Ghost Box. I did not regret that decision.
With this release, The Advisory Circle has seemingly left the lanes of the crepuscular autumn countryside and moved into the laboratory. Yet the hazy low sun still streams in through the windows, casting shadows from the equipment stacked on the benches. At times the experiments in sound modules, low frequency oscillators and controlled voltages suggest something more cosmic, more inter-planetary. It’s as if the white coated ones are readying some space mission, but aren’t quite sure of the destination or what shape the means to get there will take. However, it is apparent that this undertaking will be a lonely endeavour, caught between solipsism and holism, as earth disappears from view, and haunted by an ever-receding sense of home and vague memories of leaves crunched underfoot and the sting of frost.
The melodies that co-ordinate this album are some of the most stunning you will hear in any form of electronic music (there are too many to mention here, but ‘Vibrations and Waves’ and ‘Winter Hours’ standout).
Jon Brooks is simply a (or possibly the) master of the analogue made achingly, almost painfully, beautiful. Buy it here.
This is a remarkably coherent record, which is slightly surprising given that it is a collection of three EPs issued this year and last, and that it demonstrates a very healthy eclecticism in terms of influences, sounds and rhythms. The sinuous melodies, woven from Dearbhla Minogue’s voice and guitar playing and Daniel Fordham and David Stewart’s lightfooted drumming and bass, are twisty but often irresistibly catchy, and the record – particularly opener ‘Microsleep’ – grabs your attention in the way all good pop music should. The songs dip and shift from genre to genre, including a lovely afrobeat section on ‘Playground’, and these dramatic changes of direction have encouraged reviewers to make comparisons with Deerhoof, perhaps prompted by Minogue’s pure, high, voice, or the Breeders, or Pixies. Not bad company to be keeping, if you’ll pardon the pun.
This blog was very keen on post-rock marvels Fighting Kites,who we reviewed here and elsewhere, and we’re very glad to see that Fordham and Stewart are keeping busy while the Kites are on a hiatus… having seen them live I can tell you that it would be a shame for such talented players to be idling their thumbs. Minogue, who is also in the Wharves, is equally gifted and her lyrics match the complexity of the songs. All in all, this is a surefire recipe – these twelve songs sound like they were recorded together, despite the differences between and within them, which suggests that alongside all that talent they have a remarkably clear vision of how the band is meant to sound.
Here’s hoping they take over the world.