Friday, 20 December 2013

Album Review:Harold Budd - Wind In The Lonely Fences 1970-2011

(All Saints Records)

All Saints records have made themselves the home for some of the most compelling ambient music from the last two decades, releasing well regarded albums like Biosphere's chilly classic Substrata and attracting a plethora of established musicians. Artists synonymous with the genre, like Brian Eno, John Cale and Harold Budd, whose music has now been collected as part of a series of reissues in a retrospective of sorts titled Wind In The Lonely Fences 1970-2011.

Budd grew up in America's Mojave Desert, you can see a loneliness in his music, though not always sadness, like staring out over an endless landscape in the quiet of the late night. Through this retrospective of Budd's career it becomes clear that one of his main strengths resides in the way that his music utilises empty space in the way that much of the best ambient music does. Budd, like Eno, has spent much of his career working with others, and the two have worked with each other on a number of occasions. It has allowed him to take many different approaches on a style wrought with new-age cliché and make it unique.

His earliest piece in the collection comes from the start of the seventies. The Oak of The Golden Dreams – and the obscure song titles might be Budd's biggest weakness – exploring drawn-out synthesizer drones, like a more meditative version of Terry Riley's electronic experiments like A Rainbow In Curved Air. Some of his best known work arisen from collaborations with Brain Eno including the lush slide guitar of The Pearl from the album of the same name and the track which this retrospective has taken it's title. Both of which are some of Budd simplest and starkly beautiful pieces.

Ooze Out and Away, Onehow, a collaboration with The Cocteau Twins, allows Budd to bring his atmosphere's to the shimmering guitars and Liz Fraser's distinct vocals. The song sounds more like a Cocteau Twins track and makes a nice change with its reverb washed drums and Budd's tactfully placed washed of sound fill the edges of the mix. Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie performs on How Distant Your Heart, a more recent collaboration from 2007, where he mixes his chorus laden guitar sound with Budd's gentle piano.

Sounds become more tangible on the contemplative, slow burning She's By The Window, where a string and woodwind section bring a full, classical sound, without electronics or echo, but still an evocative and emotional core remains. Other forays into contemporary classical sound with the percussive Hand 20, featuring XTC's Andy Partridge. Elsewhere Budd explores the spectral jazziness on Bismillahi 'Rrahman 'Rrahim and or the dystopian dreamscapes on Dark Star, a track that could have sound tracked a forgotten John Carpenter film (and shares it's title with the director's first film).

Whilst much of his music focuses on the sounds of echoing piano keys a surprising range of styles and approaches are shown over these 18 tracks. The music on this collection covers a large amount of sonic ground and at its worst, die to it's non-intrusive nature, it can sometime fade away from you into the background like a forgotten dream. Ambient music works best as long form pieces or on an album where it can be digested whole but Wind In The Lonely Fences makes for a perfect starting point for those who want to dig deeper into the composer's impressively varied back catalogue.

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Album Review:Laraaji – Two Sides of Laraaji

(All Saints Records)

After spending some time creating his own recordings Edward Larry Gordon, better known by his adopted name of Laraaji, was discovered by Brian Eno busking on the streets of New York playing his modified auto harp filtered through an electronic pick-up. He featured on the third of Eno's Ambient series, Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance making use of his modified harp and the zither, creating long-form spiritually informed pieces of music using his chosen instruments to communicate both rhythm and melody to conjure an otherworldly effect.

All Saints Records, who have released many of Laraaji's varied recordings, have collected two of his mid nineties albums Flow Goes The Universe and The Way Out Is the Way In on Two Sides of Laraaji presenting two distinctly different but compatible visions of the musician.

The first album Flow Goes The Universe creates a meditative experience, influenced by eastern spirituality, you could lose yourself in the sprawling sounds. Track titles like Deep Celestial and
Being Here let you know what you're in for. At twenty five minutes long, and lacking any tangible melody, there is little else you can do while taking in Being There other than shut your eyes and letting the treated instruments carry you away to their own world.

It isn't all abstract ambience though, with the field recording experiments on A Cave In England letting the sound of tumbling water rain down over soft heaven gazing strings. There's the astral gazing of Space Choir where masked vocals come to the fore over a low and pulsing drone.
Rhythmic constructions of Zither Dance add a momentum and textures than may well have inspired some of Animal Collectives more restrained moments. The album ends with Mbira Dance, with the inclusion of soulful upfront vocals make it a highlight as the voice falls in and out of a plucked Mbira rhythm.

The Way Out Is the Way In , a collaboration with Japanese dub reggae group Audio Active and takes the spiritual exploration to another place as the group lay down a bedding of dub bass lines driven along by hip hop beat and samples as Laraaji offers vocals that shift and warp as he delivers spiritual messages or requests that you 'laugh/ just laugh'. The whole effect is heavier, not suited to meditation, instead inspiring head nodding grooves as it weaves samples of Laraaji's work through the music.

The mid-nineties recording sounds of it's time with it's processed drum sounds showing their age and many of the tracks go on long enough to feel like unfocused jam sessions. It still has its moments, like the opening and closing tracks Still Laughter Mode, or the instrumental beats of How Time Flies sometimes reaching a trip-hop murkiness, other times reaching Flow Goes The Universe's ambience.

It seems Laraaji is better suited to letting his music speak for itself as The Way Out Is the Way In often drifts into cheesy synthesizer washes of new age cliche. Flow Goes The Universe is the easier album to recommend especially for those familiar with Ambient 3 for its moments of human interaction amongst the otherworldly aspirations, where he reaches for other states of mind with only a limited set of instruments at his disposal.

Originally posted on

Album Review:Roger Eno – Little Things Left Behind 1988-1998

(All Saints Records)

Never gaining the attention that his brother has earned, Roger Eno has still made a name for himself working on is piano led ambient music over the last three decades. He creates short compositions unfurl slow and meditatively like the daydreams of Eric Satie. This new collection Little Things Left Behind 1988-1998 brings together music from five of his now out of print albums for All Saints Records, covering slight string and piano arrangements vocal experiments and chamber music compositions and at just over two hours long its a comprehensive release.

Starting with short and lonely piano pieces, Eno shows a keen ear of melody in his streamlined and uncluttered compositions. They build up slowly around arpeggios and strings like delicate structures, small but intricate. His songs from The Familiar, an album with multi-instrumentalist Kate St. John tracks a darker path with wider reaching ambition, creating a cinematic darkness and unease on tracks like The Familiar and Lament.

He also shows his voice on the albums second disc with tracks from his album Swimming sounding not unlike his brother did on his more vocal-led seventies albums. they share the same skill of creating cryptic and somewhat impenetrable lyrics, though Roger often displays more of a stripped-down folk charm. Amongst the peaceful performances there are occasional moments of experimentation like the vocal layering on Amukidi,which becomes a drawn out almost tribal chant.

The last fifth of the record come from Eno's The Flatlands and these string and piano pieces make for some of the most serene and evocative music on offer here conjuring images of the natural world, beams of light form a rising sun filtered and fracturing through trees, rolling country side on a summer's morning. This is music to let your mind wander to and Eno creates fitting sprawling landscapes to explore.

All Saints records discography maps out a history of modern ambient music and with this series of reissues asserts - albeit in a softly spoken voice – the variety of talent they have assembled. Roger Eno might be the quietest voice amongst them with his short and slight creations but that’s not to say his music should be overlooked. For those who seek peace from the restless noise of everyday life or a retreat from urban surroundings then Little Things Left Behind can guide you to another place.

Originally posted on

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

This Week's New Music feat St. Vincent, Burial, Flying Lotus and more...

It's that time again, so here I am with another look at the music that is worth checking from the last seven days. This week I've got a whole load of murky electronica, a club banger form another era and some fuzzy indie pop.  

Friday, 13 December 2013

Last Week's New Music feat The War On Drugs, Factory Floor, Tacocat and more...

*I'm a bit late posting this one, stay tuned for this week's edition in the next few days*

Welcome back to my weekly run down of of the best new tracks that have popped up over the last week. I've got everything from laid back indie rock to beat driven techno so forget about everything else and treat your ears to some new music.  

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Album Review:The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat deluxe box set


With the recent passing of Lou Reed, the central figure in much of the Velvet Underground's output, there has been a lot of evaluating into Reed's legacy to music, which is no easy task when looking over one of the more diverse outputs in rock history, spanning close to fifty years. Still, his influence and impact on music is undeniable. Veering from the wildly successful pop of Transformer to the alienating experimentation of Metal Machine Music Reed has covered a substantial amount of sonic territory, though looking at the recent remaster of White Light/White Heat, his second album with The Velvet Underground, it might be the most representative release from one of the greatest talents in contemporary music.

The history of The Velvet Underground is already well-documented; especially the turbulent inter-band relationships (with White Light being the last album with John Cale as a member of the band). That tension between the group's members didn't stop them from creating some of the greatest albums of the sixties. Their ramshackle sound seems like it would have been stumbled upon by accident, filled with youthful aggression that paved the way for punk and noise music that wouldn't really take off for another decade. Their music was out off step with pretty much everything else at the time, and despite never reaching widespread renown in their heyday, time has judged the band kindly as their influence has grown and continues to inspire new generations of artists.

The White Light/White Heat Deluxe Box Set is made up of remastered studio and mono recordings of the album itself alongside other tracks from the same studio sessions, including alternate takes as well as a live recording from a show in New York in 1967, shortly after the band had released their debut album. White Light/White Heat has always felt to me like a companion piece to their debut, slightly more accomplished musically and experimenting in new ways, with recording processes and the spoken word. It doesn't have anything as basic and primitive as the drum beat to I'm Waiting For My Man, but it's still much more raw in its sound and maybe more assured in execution.

The title track kicks off the album, a ramshackle rock song with jangling piano and Lou Reed's oddball delivery, it's a perfect culmination of the talents of the group, creating a unique, catchy rock song obscured under distortion. Despite the remaster the recording still retains its scruffy and raw presentation. During the recording sessions, they ran everything through distortion and compressors, breaking with the standard record procedures, leaving a muddy and dense recording sounding unlike anything else.
The Gift can still draw you into it's narrative after so many listens, with Cale's unemotional and matter of fact delivery, even when you know every twist and turn in the unfortunate story of the unhinged Waldo Jeffers. Cale takes the lead again on Lady Godiva, a song that feels like its constantly falling out of time with itself, maybe due to Reed's dazed delivery, or the different sounds that invade the mix in its second half.

Providing a light respite from the noise Here She Comes Now features clean guitars and Lou Reed's calm singing making for a much need change in tone, even if it doesn't last long. The album closes with the seventeen-minute long epic Sister Ray, still sounding like nothing else that's come along since, relentless and overwhelming. Part-freak-out-jam, part sonic assault, it takes the template of tracks like European Son and builds upon the ideas creating a larger and much stranger beast in the process.

Amongst the demo tracks is the original recording of fantastic Stephanie Says, which wouldn't be officially released until the eighties, though was remade for Lou Reed's Berlin album in 1973 as Stephanie Says (II), but the track makes much more sense surrounded by other tracks from the same recording sessions, sounding like the sweeter pop moments from their album with Nico with its picked clean guitar lines, you can see why it wouldn't have fit so well amongst the dirt and sleaze of the recordings that made up White Light/White Heat. There are two versions of the Cale-penned Hey Mr. Rain featuring some of his best violin playing with the group, with one version adding to the tempo and noise enough to give it a little more urgency, though turns into more of an extended jam.

The third disc of this collection is a live set from The Gymnasium in New York from 1967, and whilst it is rougher than the studio recordings, it does capture some of the excitement, and shows the groups' experimentation didn't finish in the studio, with the versions played here often becoming wildly different from their recorded counterparts.

White Light/White Heat proved that their debut wasn't a fluke and cemented their worth as a band that would be an important piece of musical history. Many of the band members like Reed and Cale had more successful solo careers after leaving the Velvet Underground but here their unique musicianship and approaches to song writing and recording create what might be the most unique and lasting legacy of all their work. It's hard to get across just how big of an impact they had, but it is unlikely that seminal album by acts such as Television, Spacemen 3 and The Strokes would have ever existed without The Velvet Underground.

The Deluxe remaster of White Light/White Heat is a comprehensive collection and long time fans will enjoy hearing the album anew though additions like the instrumental and vocal only versions of The Gift feel unnecessary. These kind of box sets have been thrived recently, and whilst they clearly make their moneys worth from them, there has been an effort to include something unique for the more dedicated fan or collector. And that is who it will really appeal to, if only for the few previously unreleased tracks, but the b-sides and tracks from the same recording sessions. Whether you want all the bells and whistles or not, the six tracks that make up White Light/White Heat are absolutely essential for any music fan, containing an energy and restlessness that still makes it a vital listen forty five years after it was first committed to tape.

Originally posted on

This Week's New Music feat. Forest Swords, Ka, Xui Xui and more...

Yep, It's time for another weekly run down musical goings on. This week I have gathered six tracks from from disparate reaches of sonic spectrum and drawn them together in this very column that sits before you. How convenient.  

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Album Review:Nils Frahm – Spaces

(Erased Tapes)

When songs are played live, they are in a constant state of transition, every note, beat or timbre is open to change, and over time it likely will, with a recording only being a starting point in a piece of music's lifespan. Nils Frahm seems to know this and has allowed his music to grow and continue to develop long after the albums they first appeared. His latest album Spaces is a live album, but not in the traditional sense, pieced together from years of performances but given the hindsight and care to detail of the recording that comes with a studio treatment. Spaces has allowed Frahm to capturing unique moments where everything comes together perfectly like it only can in a live setting, utilising unique sounds of the different venues he has played and showing how songs have evolved over time into something different from their original recordings.

Whilst sharing similarities with the other composers based around the Erased Tapes label like Ólafur Arnalds and A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Frahm has separated himself from other musicians in part due to his role as a technician or producer as well as composer but here more than ever, it's his musicianship laid bare in a hall before the audience. As a result Spaces lacks some of the sonic subtleties of his last album Felt, in which the background noise was almost as prominent as the piano, it is the performance, not the ambience, that is the highlight. It works because of the keen ear for a good melody that is always on show and which is what I suspect has made his music so approachable to many, even those who are unfamiliar with the classical world and comparable to Eric Satie's instantly recognisable work, who shares his knack for melody and mood.

Right off the bat Frahm alludes the mistakes and imperfections that that go hand in hand with live performances on the opening track An Aborted Beginning. It seems to fall apart, breaking into pieces over it's short duration, but still shows of a facet of Frahm that we doesn't often see as a beat, blanketed in reverb, stomps around synthesizer flourishes. One of the original pieces on the album, Says, features synthesizer arpeggios that wrap themselves around soft piano notes. It lets you sink in amongst the interweaving melodies that feel like cogs in an old clock working together, where each detail is necessary to create the whole. The track seems to lull you into its atmosphere before a chord sequence develops adding new elements until it's climactic and breathtaking peak.

Said and Done has become completely different from it's original state, propelled by its single note backbone, on which the rest of the tune is built, it grows in to an almost ten minute epic, reaching some unexpected intensity as you imagine Frahm striking at the keys with a rhythmic ferocity. On Hammers Frahm displays some impressive high tempo playing as the piece begins at a much quicker pace than the relaxed ambience of most of his work and it doesn't relent, making for a pleasantly chaotic change of pace. Familiar, originally from Felt, takes on a much fuller sound in the live setting, and lets it strong melody ring out all the clearer for it.

At over seventy minutes it feels more like a concert that you've sat through than just an album. Spaces' greatest weakness is that the album feels like it only really sticks to one tone. Even though it sees that tone taken through the whole dynamic range, Frahm rarely breaks out of his tuneful, melancholic compositions into something either darker or brighter.

Fans of Frahm's work can hear reinterpretations and widely developed versions of older tracks, most of which surpass the originals or just alter them enough to make them seem fresh and new There are also little snippets of humour, which is refreshing in the often cold world of classical music, with song titles like Toilet Brushes and Improvisation for Coughs and a Cell Phone adding something to the otherwise vague names, left to interpretation. Spaces still displays the work of a skilled craftsman who carefully builds his sonic sculptures layer by layer, and listening to the end product its hard not to be taken with the impressive work he has created.

Friday, 22 November 2013

This Week's New Music feat. Vessels, Neneh Cherry, Bonobo and more...

Once more I've gathered some of the most interesting audio arrangements that I've recently stumbled upon and collected them together in this here column. What have I found this week? Well I have a collaboration, a comeback, a remix and a refix amongst my selection. Read on to find out more...  

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Album Review: Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe

(Domino Records )

 Dev Hynes, the man behind Blood Orange, has been an interesting man to follow through his unpredictable musical career. He began as a member of the short-lived Test-Icicles, and despite the band name they gained some attention for their energetic mix of indie,punk and electronics. Still the band fell apart after one album and Hynes began releasing music as Lightspeed Champion taking on Bright Eyes and Mountain Goats style of confessional folk music. This in itself was a big departure but still felt like a more honest and comfortable fit for the seemingly restless musician. Now Dev Hynes has made another big change with his Blood Orange project, the product of studio time and an admiration for well-crafted pop music of the last few decades.  

Cupid Deluxe is his second album under this guise and sees him continue to mine Prince-like soul, as he brings in a wide range of collaborators, amongst them Dirty Projectors front man Dave Longstreth, sought after producer Clams Casino and New York rapper Despot. Still Hynes brings these disparate voices together into something cohesive, whilst many of the lyrics focus on relationships, and I really think this would make for a good breakup album, there is also an introspective look into youth and growing up.

Chamakay starts off with a modern, stripped back beat, and I make a point of saying it's modern because much of the album looks to the eighties for its points of reference. The track shows of Hynes production abilities, as the beat and melody leave lots of space for his hushed and soulful delivery as a female voice follows behind picking up his lines, “I tried my best last time/I'll leave you with your feelings/I'll leave you in your lies”. It's a song that stands up to repeated listens, its lush laid back feel can hide its detailed and emotional core. With its message of acceptance, It Is What It Is makes for a pleasingly optimistic change from the heartbreak, bouncing along on drum machine rhythms and marimbas. Elsewhere, Uncle Ace breaks down into the polyrhythm experiments of the Brian Eno-produced Talking Heads records, with jagged intertwined guitar melodies playing out ruptured funk.

 High Street features grime artist Skepta, with a beat taken down to its basics, just a bass drum and hi hats marking out a rhythm. It makes a nice change of tone near the end of Cupid Deluxe with lines like “I was in the club/doing the 2-step/wishing it was me on the decks/want to do it for the love” showing a complex rhyming scheme and and full of quick fire pop culture references tapping in to growing up in the nineties name checking everything from Michael Jackson to The Crystal Maze. Clipped On let's Despot's rapid delivery shine as the track recalls late eighties hip hop when acts like A Tribe Like Quest ruled hip hop, with its mid-tempo beat and record scratching (when was the last time you heard that on a record).

Still, as it is an undeniable pop record it unfortunately relies on a few pop clichés, including lines about 'playing games' showing up on more than one track amongst other llines you've heard in a million pop songs before it. Still Hynes shows himself to be a smart lyricist on most of the record with his thoughtful takes on relationships past and present and chooses collaborators who easily fit in with his aesthetic.

Whilst Cupid Deluxe pends much of its time looking back into the past, it does so in a way that contextualises its references as formative experiences of youth and intrinsic to growing up in a certain time, allowing genres like hip hop, funk, contemporary R&B and pop to sit easily next to each other. Time Will Tell ends Cupid Deluxe with a markedly positive tone, you feel that after all the relationships and inward thinking through the record you can come through it all ready to take on the next challenge. It seems that Dev Hynes may think the same way with everything he does as he moves from one project onto to whatever is next.

Originally posted on

Friday, 15 November 2013

This Week's New Music feat. Metronomy, Angel Olsen, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks and more...

Here's another selection of musical offerings from the last seven days and I think I have something for everyone with the diverse range of music that has fallen upon my ears this week. Want some jangly lyrical indie rock? Got ya covered. Electro pop? Got that too. Hip Hop? Noise? Warped electronica? Ch-ch-check it out...  

Sunday, 10 November 2013

This Week's New Music feat. Kurt Vile, Dum Dum Girls, Darkstar and more...

I'm back once more for another round up of music from the previous seven days. This week I've brought you some dream pop, hip hop and surf rock as well as some hard to define electronica amongst my eclectic selection. Let's get straight to it...

Album Review:Midlake – Antiphon

(Bella Union)

After failing to think of many bands who continued to release worthwhile music after the departure of their lead singer, I was hesitant to approach the new album by Midlake. Whilst a band should be a sum of all its members, the singer holds this charismatic weight at the centre and without it it can be a shell of it's former self. Midlake found themselves in this unenviable position when front man Tim Smith left the band last year but, despite the departure, the Texan rock group might prove themselves to be an exception to the rule with their new album Antiphon.

On the groups fourth album and first with the altered line-up, guitarist Eric Pulido steps up as front man and does so with ease, as well as bringing in two new members to fill in on guitar and bring in a greater variety of instruments to the mix. The Texas band often look across the Atlantic for inspiration, taking in the gentler side of classic rock, folk and early progressive rock.

Antiphon opens with the title track, and Pulido steps up right away with his voice, that has a soft edge that conceals the discord breaking out within his lyrics as he repeats 'Fight a war'. The track builds slowly held together, and as is the case with much of the album, with some melodic bass playing and restless drumming whilst staccato guitar chords strike. Ages shows the band's musical prowess as they steadily unravel a tale then in track's final minute the song reaches a peak with the crashing drums and guitars roll in like a storm at sea. Corruption tells a Grandaddy-style science fiction story of space travel, opening with the line 'We went to the moon with oil tycoons'. Despite the outlandish subject, Pulido's voice manages to have a down to earth qualities that holds it together, especially its lush, floating instrumental break at its centre as a piano line guides the skittish jazz drumming.

The instrumental track Vale feels a bit unfocused at the centre of the album, still the band seem to be having fun making a surprisingly noise-filled racket around a descending bass line, bringing the distortion and a little aggression that we haven't really seen from the group and it's juxtaposed nicely with a quite lull of clean guitars and strings before it kicks off. The band clearly took they're time playing with different sounds through the making of this album, from the synthesizers on Provider to the harpsichord on the Grizzly Bear-like It's Going Down evoking a pastoral scene. Whilst the far ranging number instruments used creates variety through the album, there are a few moments, like with the flutes seem to risk falling into folk cliché, but they avoid Jethro Tull comparisons.

Pulido doesn't have the same weight to his voice as Tim Smith but still shows himself to be a capable front man and the increased emphasise on well written backing vocals really stand out. Together the band are able to create a sense of a narrative journey wrought with drama in their song writing. There is also a level of detail and subtleties in the recording, from string flourishes to quiet electronics that show up with repeated listens. Long time fans may be split about the line up change, but the band sound as focused and cohesive as they ever have, but also freer to experiment, try out new ideas and even if there are the odd missteps along the way the end product is still in intriguing listen. Antiphon shows that, despite the line up change, Midlake are not to be written off just yet. 

Originally posted on

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Album Review:Los Campesinos! - No Blues


It can be hard to shake off a label once it gets tagged to you. Welsh band Los Campesinos! Know this better than most, being grouped in with other twee bands, . The group didn't do themselves any favours with xylophone melodies and by giving their band name an exclamation mark. Still, the twee label didn't seem to sit so well with them and their albums following their debut seemed to be a reaction to it, embracing darker themes and more varied sounds.

The band, who formed in Cardiff, put out their first EP Sticking Fingers into Sockets way back in 2007 and rode upon a wave of hype with their ramshackle indie pop early tracks like We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives and You! Me! Dancing displayed a sharp wit and humour in singer Gareth Campesinos! which he combines with the emotional weight, and confessional honesty of early emo. The band's fifth album No Blues carries the pressure of being the first without bassist and founding member Ellen Campesinos!, but this album feels like it has a sharp focus, as they bring some light back in to their sound.

What Death Leaves Behind, the albums first single, also holds its biggest chorus, with it's talk of tautology. But nothing is redundant here, with backing vocals overlapping on the chorus its easy to get drawn in to the grand melody. With a title that displays the word play that is a standard for Los Campesinos!, Cemetery Gaits continues the pop direction with its synthesizer arpeggios and acoustic strums. The band are at their most direct and uplifting as Gareth sings 'Happenstance can wait for tomorrow/ cause you got to do it right', his voice carrying a melodic weight to it that is a world away from his coarse outbursts that made up his singing style when he began in the band, at times coming close to a Morrisey-like baritone, as he continues 'Your shoulders flow from neck like a wine bottle's/ bare them broad tonight'. Its firm and resolute but doesn't hide a sadness within the song tale of death and acceptance.

Avocado Baby somehow manages to adopt the dangerous pop cliché of using a children’s choir without it being in any way grating. Much of the album manages to be bigger than before and whilst still sounding huge, the songs have a variety of instruments and details you might not pick up on first listen giving the recordings a depth. Elsewhere the distorted guitar leads of As Lucerne/The Low remind you of their noisier beginnings and the victorious build of The Time Before The Last Time shows the can try their hand at different structures as the song grows on the back of drum rolls and a triumphant horn section. Selling Rope (Swan Dive To Estuary) might be the best song they've done, with its huge scope, narrative intricacies and sweeping orchestrations, their most definitive statement on facing life and death head on.

Gareth's lyrics still feel like emotional outpourings and it can sometimes be tiring just keeping up with his manic delivery, still his words can be poured over for double meanings and metaphor. He has a knack for unique and articulate observations that you can't imagine being written by anyone else. Of course, his heart on sleeve approach may be off putting for some but just as many others will relish in picking them apart. No Blues finds the band at their most confident, every song seems direct and refined. The group are unafraid of simple, upbeat songs with a verse chorus structure,
in fact they excel at them. They've outlived and outgrown the twee label, now it is just smart pop music, and not smart for its own sake either, just a mature balance of light and dark and, more impressively, both thoughtful and immediate.

Originally posted on

Saturday, 2 November 2013

This Week's New Music feat. Warpaint, Mogwai, Mount Kimbie and more...

Where has this year gone? Writing up this article, I noticed how many of these tracks are from albums due out next year. Still, at this rate next year should be rather good with new albums from Mogwai and Warpaint out within it's first weeks alone. And let's not get too ahead of ourselves, there are still two months remaining and a whole load of releases you should keep an ear out for. So let's see what I've got here...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Album Review:White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade

(Full Time Hobby)

Sometimes a band comes along that reminds you of the simple joy of a straight forward rock band. White Denim are that band, the kind that will make you think that guitar solos shouldn't be a guilty pleasure, though to call them a straight forward band is a disservice, even with their use of offbeat melodies and the time signature changes of progressive rock they manage to stick to three to four minute songs. The band utilises twin guitar harmonies, rolling drum fills, big riffs and bigger choruses. There are always a slew off young bands looking to the era where rock music reigned, but many only serve to highlight the genre's clichés, White Denim mostly manage to bypass this pitfall, taking in more contemporary sounds and complex song writing. You can hear elements of other acts, with Portugal. The Man's streamlined math-rock and Tame Impala's psychedelic leaning pop experiments. White Denim's fifth album Corsicana Lemonade sees them continue the path they’ve followed with their last releases, but here there's a real sense of a band being comfortable and assured in their sound and capabilities.

At Night In Dreams wastes no time before laying down the album's first great riff, before jumping right into a verse that Marc Bolan would be proud of. The song is held together by some impressive drum playing that leads to some seamless changes between rhythms mid way through before the group indulge in a quick solo. The title track feels a little bit light by comparison with its almost country leaning guitar lines, though its laid back groove oozes cool it doesn't bring the same urge to head bang like a loon.

New Blue Feeling has more than a little of the glam rock of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust or Diamond Dogs. Jumping between half speed and quick tempos and featuring more than a little guitar theatrics. Come Back is filled with quick-paced pentatonic licks, coming across like a less bloated Lynyrd Skynyrd whilst the curiously titled Distant Relative Salute features what might be the album's biggest chorus and on album full of big choruses and the kind of fast paced drum that tires you out just trying to follow it. The soulful A Place To Start winds down the album with some of the of singer/guitarist James Petralli's most direct and relatable lyrics laid out over a cool groove. As the lyrics concern being honest with yourself it could easily become cheesy but its delivered with sincerity and simplicity, along with the kind of tenderness you often find in the best soul music, that makes for one of the best tracks on the album.

At the centre of the Corsicana is Let It Feel Good is unashamedly positive with it's upbeat chorus of 'If it feels good/Let it feel good to you', recalling the major key power-rock of Fang Island, and its easy to see this as a mantra that the band live by with there music. There are the odd moments that can be reminiscent of middle of the road radio rock, but the White Denim probably doesn't care, they're to busy enjoying themselves and that joy is infectious.

Whilst the group is technically impressive, they never come across as overly showy. The guitar solos are to the point and never lose touch with the melody. Instead the song writing is where the band are most radical, their songs comprised of interesting structures, always taking unexpected turns. White Denim have crafted something that echoes another era but sounds contemporary but much more importantly, Corsicana Lemonade is just a real fun listen.

Originally posted on

Friday, 18 October 2013

Album Review:Cass McCombs – Big Wheels and Others


It's hard to not admire the work that goes into a double album, its an undertaking and commitment that requires dedication that isn't seem very often in the musical world, especially in an era of easy downloads and Youtube ready singles. That’s why its easy to appreciate Cass McCombs, a Californian musician who could easily have been born decades earlier and made the same music that he does today. It's not for appearance either, he comes across as someone who has found himself unintentionally left outside of contemporary culture. His latest collection of songs, Big Wheel and Others, clocks in at a little over 85 minutes, more than enough for two reasonable length albums, but McCombs seems to be one of the hardest working musicians around these days, releasing two albums in 2011 and despite only putting out records for the last decade he has amassed a fairly considerable discography. Big Wheel and Others, his seventh album, being the latest and his longest yet.

 There is no conceptual hook holding this album together, instead it comes across like its just a big scrapbook of songs. It has a mismatched quality to it, recorded over a large period of time in various studios and homes. Some of the tracks seem like rough sketches, others are more complete. The only obvious strain that runs through the record are short clips of the innocent and charming insights of a child named Sean answering questions that crop up between songs and of course, McCombs laid-back delivery.

You can image Cass McCombs as an artists from a bygone era, or he at least listened to his father's folk records when everyone else was into grunge. The blues indebted swing of The Burning of The Temple, 2012 serves as one of the best tracks from the albums first half. Its the kind of song you can imagine played in the kind of old and smoke-filled jazz bar you only see in films. McCombes does his best wounded crooner as he sings the chorus of 'When you're crying in the shadow of love', leaving you to contemplate the sentiment as a clarinet plays out some mournful jazz licks. Morning Star echoes The Shins' easy going pop, the music seems suited to a warm summer evening as he McCombs has some of his strange humour on show 'What's it like to shit in space?' rhyming it with ' us from this world of hate' with all of the hazed cool of Lou Reed. Brighter! features vocals from the late Karen Black, who also featured on his album Catacombs, adds her commanding and assured voices to the songs' country pop that could have been a big hit four decades earlier.

 The end of the album provides some more highlights like Aeon of Aquarius Blues' stripped-back folk and the lo-fi country of album closer Unearthed, both provide some of the most direct and intimate material on the album. The nine-minute long Everything Has To Be Just-So strolls along over light hand percussion and tropical leaning guitars as McCombs channels the wisened reasoning of Bob Dylan with lyrics go into a meandering examination of equality. The track may very well go on too long but it's one of many moments that make you realise he only makes music for himself, there is no pandering to an audience. Elsewhere there are the odd missteps and ideas that don't hold together as well like the the lounge feel of the instrumental It Means a Lot To Know You Care and there are plenty of moments that could have done with some harsher editing but you get the idea that isn't part of McCombs style.

It takes some effort on the listeners part to get into McCombs' seemingly impenetrable headspace, but with repeated listens the album is consistently rewarding, revealing new favourites and hidden moments. Sticking with the scrapbook analogy, his work is uneven and sometimes patchy but it is honest, insightful and often very personal. This seems like it would lead to the album being inconsistent but there is something about Cass McCombs and his sound which is out of step with anything happening right now, that holds it all together. Big Wheels and Others shows that sometimes the most simple and raw ideas, with out the fine-tuning and editing, are the ones that stay with you.

Originally posted on

Thursday, 17 October 2013

This Week's New Music feat. Fuck Buttons, Tycho , High On Fire and more...

Welcome to my regular column, where I collect some of the finest music from the last seven days into one place. Amongst this week's tracks I have some soothing electronica to put you at ease and then some stoner metal to put you on edge. But first up I have what might be the most interesting combination of artists I've seen for a while...

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Album Review:Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind


Long time fans of Four Tet may be caught off guard by Gong, the first track on his latest LP Beautiful Rewind, as there is no slow build up to gently ease you in like previous album openers Angel Echoes or Hands. The track starts as if its already half way through, a worn-down jungle beat already in full motion, which seems to typify the offhand way in which Kieran Hebden, better know as Four Tet, has approached his seventh album (if you count last year's Pink) under his moniker.

Four Tet has never been easy to pin down to a particular genre. His early work took in some of the post-rock structures of his first band Fridge with hip hop production and beats with samples, primarily made from acoustic instruments. His later work took in a wider scope, bringing in soul, gospel, free-jazz and more recently he has been a mainstay of the house and techno resurgence with a focus on DJing, identifying with different scenes whilst keeping his singular identity. With last years Pink, a collection of his recent 12” releases, his aim was directed straight for the club. Now Beautiful Rewind sees Four Tet building bridges between his 4/4 beats with his more meditative efforts, his past and present and between dance music's history with its future facing perspective.

Having always had a playful touch with his music, here more than ever Four Tet seems to mess with an idea or a melody and then, without hanging around too long, moves on to the next one. This rough and scruffy sound brings to mind a beat tape, a collection of ideas and sketches, rather than experiments that have been seen through to the end. It feels like a counterpart to Daphni's 2012 album Jialong, a side project by Caribou who has shared Four Tet's dancefloor direction over recent years and released an album made up of analogue synthesizer jams and house beats with little of the considered approach he is known for, but instead it was delivered with an uncluttered immediacy and a sense of excitement and spontaneity.

The centrepiece of the album is the pirate radio referencing Kool FM which eschews much of the classic Four Tet sound, and what is there is submerged behind a rough and ready, early-jungle/breakbeat front. Muddy and messy, a short vocal sample shouts out above the beat, amongst a sample of that rewind sound, the track is a homage and celebration of an era, of a time and place in dance music. Buchla asserts its dancefloor commandeering intentions with echoes of the more direct moments of warped techno producer Actress as cut up vocals seem to phase in and out of time with the heavy bass drum beat. The following track Ariel keeps the 4/4 beats going with layers of percussion indulging in polyrhythms and drum rolls around its bass drum stomp as a sample of an MC spitting out a few lines is repeated, pitch-shifted and otherwise played with.

The rhythm of Parallel Jalebi takes on a solid, mechanical quality over a stripped back hip hop beat. The soft, high pitched voices that float above the rhythm add some human element to the mix but – and this is the case for most of the album - Four Tet is happy for the machine led sounds to take up as much space as the human. Unicorn has a melody that slowly forms before you in parts like the unfolding melodies of a Steve Reich composition. It rides above a low bass line that forms the backdrop for this beat-less track and alongside Ba Teaches Yoga recalls the prettiness that defined his first releases. The album isn't perfect though, with Our Navigation feeling frustrating, gaining momentum over its three minutes but never taking off. Four Tet seems to have taken more than a couple of tricks from his collaborator Burial, with female R&B samples cropping up frequently but by the time it gets to the albums closing track Your Body Feels, it feels a little tired and over-relied upon, especially from a producer who has only used vocals samples very sparingly in the past.

It doesn't have the beauty other LPs in Four Tet back catalogue have but that’s not really where it's aiming. Because of this, it may not win him more fans, and those who didn't follow him down his club ready direction won't find as much to like. Still, those that have immersed themselves in Kieran Hebden's own take on current and past electronic trends will continue to enjoy his unique appropriations. The best moments here are the most brazen ones, where he seems to be following impulses, and some of that excitement comes across to the listener. Its an interesting mix of more immediate ideas but its still has plenty of signs of Hebden's meticulous ear for detail. Beautiful Rewind is an impressive stage in the continuing sonic evolution of one the UK's most creative electronic musicians.

Originally posted on

Album Review:Mazzy Star – Season of Your Day

(Rhymes Of An Hour)

Co-written and co-produced by founding members David Roback and Hope Sandoval, on Seasons of the Day, the group's fourth album and follow up to 1996′s Among My Swan, Mazzy Star sound very much the same as always. A mix of dream pop and gently sedated Americana, their sound is simple and unfussy, like the Cocteau Twins if they came from the American Mid-West. In the meantime, Hope Sandoval released two albums with the Warm Inventions alongside the occasional guest appearance - including providing vocals on the last Massive Attack album - though on the whole the group's members have been fairly quiet over the past 16 years. You wouldn't have thought it had been that long listening to this new album as they sound comfortable carrying on right where they left off.

In The Kingdom begins with a warm, inviting organ before Hope joins in alongside a full band, making for some soft and blissed-out country pop. The following track California is a stand out moment on the record. Despite just being acoustic guitars and some quiet percussion, the track really hits, giving plenty of space for Hope's unmistakeable voice to fill up the minor key backdrop which seems to contain faint echoes of Joni Mitchell's song of the same name. Her sultry voice and deliberately slow delivery have always been the centre point of the group, and they carry the same wait and ability to demand your attention.

Does Someone Have Your Baby Now contains a sparingly used slide guitar that riffs along under a wash of cascading cymbals as Hope intimately expresses “I want to get it on with you”, a lyric that should be more at home in a chart pop song, but here it is carried with an emotive and earnest wanting. On Sparrow, Sandoval's delivery is similarly slow and drawn out but still you hang on to every word as she says “You used to say/I'll be fine on my own”. Flying Low finishes up the album with, a dirty guitar tone and a reverbed harmonica jamming out. The song is spacious and unhurried, feeling like an approximation of Mazzy Star's work as a whole so far.

The album is not a bold reinvention or a rehashing of old success', instead Mazzy Star are just doing what they've always done. If you've enjoyed their past work you'll get something out of this, and even for those unfamiliar with the band there is very little to dislike here, though maybe not enough to really latch onto and cherish. Whilst Seasons of the Day never sounds like its in a rush like a lazy, Sunday morning, not that the music is lazily made, it's evident that care and attention has gone into this album, but it can, at times, slip right by like a forgotten dream.

Originally posted on

This Week's New Music feat. David Bowie, No Joy, Mapei and more...

  Another week, another selection of mighty fine tracks for you to check out. Strangely enough this week's biggest track might just be a remix, though we have a rather big pop song hot on its heels. There's also some dream pop, unreleased electronica and trip-hop leaning music all vying for your attention so let's get down to business...  

Album Review:Danny Brown – Old

(Fool's Gold Records)

Being a musician from Detroit with such a prestigious musical history must bring with it a sense of pressure. The city brought the world Motown and Techno, as well as proto-punk groups MC5 and The Stooges, hip-hop mega star Eminem and cult heroes like the late producer J Dilla. Following the success of his breakout record XXX, Danny Brown may well be joining those ranks, at least as a cult success, as over the last few years he's shown himself to be one of the most unique voices in contemporary hip-hop.

His new album Old seems him continuing to elude obvious classification with one of the most varied lists of collaborators on an album in recent memory. It sees electronic pop and grime get look in along side Glaswegian maximal dance producer Rustie, samples of 1970's pop are followed by coarse trap beats. All of this makes it very clear that Danny isn't looking to fit in to any one scene or trend. After all, this is the guy that said Joy Division’s Closer was the biggest inspiration for his last album. Old is split into two sides, like a cassette tape, starting with side A embracing the 'classic' Danny Brown style, with his lower register rapping, whilst side B embraces the new, featuring more of the club ready sound that’s made its way into hip hop in recent years, filtered through Brown's drug-addled gritty world view and crude sense of humour.

The Return featuring Freddie Gibbs is amongst the stand out tracks on Side A, with some smooth and soulful samples and Dilla-esque production from Paul White. Its followed up by some huge sounding production from electronic group Purity Ring on 25 Bucks, still Danny holds his own amongst the synth heavy sound though the track may have fit better in the albums more club ready second half. Clean Up captures that moment of bleak, burnt-up, come-down clarity. Brown raps 'It's time for me to clean it up/I came too far to fuck it up' with a disheartened flow. Red 2 Go, produced by Madlib's brother Oh No, finishes Side A. The track blends old and new production with ease and its steady 4/4 beat it makes for a perfect transition into the modern production of Side B.

Dope Song begins the second side and is, well, pretty dope. It's just as in your face and brash as a Danny Brown and Rustie collab should be. The track features a very generous low-end sound amongst the drum machine hand claps, RPG video game sounds and twisted high pitched vocals very much in the same vein as his 2011 album Glass Swords. Dubstep has more than a little humour and ends with an fast-paced appearance from West London MC Scruffizer. Previously released single Dip is the most club friendly thing on offer here, the lyrics all based around gratuitous pure MDMA excess. A pitched down chorus and dark, early Hyperdub bleeps make for an aggressive and energetic change in direction which is continued through most of the albums second half with tracks like Smokin & Drinkin and Way Up Here.

In the aftermath of the intense weed dream of Kush Coma things take a turn, with the chilled out closing track Float On which is aided by the R&B vocals of hotly tipped singer Charli XCX. It the perfect end to the run of hard hitting tracks, giving a moment of calm reflection before the album's end, thinking on the pressure of success, 'trapped in the beat, stuck on every line/ nothing else matter except my next rhyme' before a chorus that seems him talking about how he just floats on over an appropriately hazy beat.

He's toned down some of the explicit lyrics on show on XXX, though his sexual exploits still remain but there's more space for his acute insights alongside the expected debauchery. Even though there's a few anomalies in the track list, like Wonderbread, plays out like the result of a weed-induced in-joke, though much of the humour hits the spot, with lines such as the Forest Gump referencing 'Like Lieutenant Dan I'm rolling' , having always been a large part of Brown's appeal. Still, if Old is Danny Brown showing his age then I'm all for it, with his more contemplative moments being the one that stick with you once the album is over. Despite being put into two halves it works as one complete whole, a testament to the talent of one of the most interesting and forward-thinking rappers in modern hip hop.

Originally posted on

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Album Review:Anna Calvi – One Breath


Getting the support of irrefutable musical heavyweights like Brian Eno and Nick Cave must be one of the best starts imaginable to a career in music. That’s just what happened to Anna Calvi, amongst being listed on BBC's sound of 2011 poll and nominated for the Mercury award for her self-titled debut album. The recognition made Anna Calvi one of the biggest names to emerge in the last few years, with a timeless style her voice manages to harken back to classic jazz singers like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, who unsurprisingly Calvi idolises, not to mention her complex yet unflashy guitar style which at times manages to outshine her voice with its intensity.

This second album One Breath sees the singer/guitarist continuing where she left off with a complete sense of ease. The same bold and interesting song writing is here, alongside a wider palette of instrumentation allowing for an album that encompasses much more than on her debut. First track Suddenly opens the album with the kind of melody that you can instantly memorise before the song unleashes a great, soaring chorus to match anything from her first album. A short and sharp breakdown brings to mind the louder and more physical moments of Grizzly Bear, a band which shares her penchant for non-traditional song structures. The following track Eliza rides on the back of a momentous galloping rhythm never letting up the pace over its three and a half minutes. After a surprising arpeggio shredding solo things take a turn for the grandiose with a pentatonic riff that builds with all the splendour of an Ennio Morricone western soundtrack, with her voice another instrument as she cries out 'Eliza'.

Calvi has a knack for these big moments, displaying an affinity for the kind of orchestral pop that has long been out of style, by artists like Scott Walker. These cinematic arrangements and an acute grasp of dynamics make for an exhilarating listen, constantly taking unexpected turns. Her orchestral abilities are shown on album highlight Sing To Me, with its sweeping string section complementing Calvi's take on Baroque pop. The title track once more lets the albums orchestral influences take over for a lush and melodic extended outro and The Bridge ends with serene vocal-led ambience in a similar vein to Julianna Barwick.

Elsewhere Calvi shows how effective it use to use noise sparingly with the outbursts intense blasts of unhinged guitar wails on Cry whilst Love Of My Life stomps along atop a blues-ridden garage-rock beat before Calvi's distorted guitar, drenched in fuzz, dishes out an aural beating, especially at the songs surprisingly heavy centre. There are the odd weak points where Calvi is almost doing too much, such as on Carry Me Over which come across as cluttered with a string section, noisey guitar and what sound like a marimba all cloying for attention around a central drumbeat. Still, it displays ambition in droves though feels like a misstep in her otherwise very considered approach.

Whilst it doesn't sound as startling and original as Calvi's debut, One Breath is much more assured. It clear that she has grown in confidence, the crescendo’s are bigger and noisier and the quiet moments are more considered and spacious. What’s more the her sound still sets her apart from everything else around right now, sure there are comparisons, but she has achieved widespread appeal and acclaim without sacrificing any integrity or originality. With One Breath Calvi has taken the opportunity to explore and expand her sound, a wealth of new instruments are used through the album, but it never sounds like a huge departure just a logical continuation of what she had started.

Originally posted on

Saturday, 5 October 2013

This Week's New Music feat. Samiyam, Russian Circles, White Denim and more...

This week's selection might be the most diverse yet. There's some instrumental hip hop, slacker pop and even Cambodian garage rock (yes, you read that right) and that isn't even the half of it. And I was going to share the stream of Four Tet's new album, but it seems to have been taken down after just one day. Bugger. But I've still got plenty more new music for you so, with little more to do, lets get on with it.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Album Review:Quasi – Mole City


There's a line in the song Bedbug Town on the new Quasi album that goes “You work all your life and you don't see a dime”, it may not have been intentional but it say a lot about this hard working band, whose extensive back catalogue seems to have been overlooked. They continue in the vein of cult nineties bands channelling the scruffy slacker pop of Pavement mixed in with the sci-fi conceptual leanings of Grandaddy and the psychedelic eccentrics of The Flaming Lips. Since their first proper album, 1997's R&B Transmogrification, the group has proved to be just as comfortable with progressive rock leaning synthesizer excursions as they are with jagged-edged riffs. In fact there seems to be very little that is of limits in this groups hard to pin down repertoire.

The group centres round ex-husband and wife Sam Coombes and Janet Weiss with a revolving line-up of band mates assisting them. Members of Quasi may be better known for the projects they have worked on, rather than for the band itself, having at times been members of Sleater Kinney, Bright Eyes, Stephen Malkmus, Elliot Smith and Built to Spill. Their latest record Mole City, a double album, has a rather busy and intricate album artwork that gives some idea as to the chaos that lies within.

You Can Stay But You Gotta Go begins with a guitar riddled with the kind of fuzzy distortion that makes it sound like its ripping itself apart. The vocals fall about the guitar line, Coombes sings of the incomprehensible nature of life “What’s it all about?/ Haven't got a clue”, ending the song with the kind of low-end noise befitting of a doom metal band. Headshrinker is amongst the highlights, it hints at something ominous with short and hushed vocals and bubbling synthesizers before a the haunted lead line kicks in for the tracks instrumental second half. On the following track RIP drummer and occasional vocalist Janet takes over, making for a pleasant respite with folky finger picked chords on a clean electric guitar. The Goat starts of as a piano led pop song that could've come from Bowie's early seventies work, especially as it gives itself up to some of the traits of prog rock excess with its duelling guitar harmonies

The lyrics can range from indecipherable to straight forward. Sam Coombes has a handle on effective imagery of which this album is lined with, from the apocalyptic to the to comical. His songs feature down and out characters and critiques of society as he sings, “Live the dream that dreams itself”. And despite his raw and strained delivery, Coombes does know how to employ a good vocal hook.

This double album could have had some harsher editing to make for a leaner more approachable track list, but that would have taken away a lot of what makes Mole City rather good, you have straight up rock and punk alongside piano ballads and retro synthesizers, all held together with a patchwork of interludes made up of guitar noise or cut up samples. On paper it looks like it'll fall apart, but on record it somehow all holds together whether the group are exploring discordant blues of Fat Fanny Land and power chord punk rock on Double Deuce. They may not have reached the commercial success of some of their peers, but you get the impression that it won't ever bother them, as long as they can keep on making whatever music they want to try they're hand at next.

Originally Posted on

Saturday, 28 September 2013

This Week's New Music feat. Grizzly Bear, CocoRosie, Nils Frahm and more...

So I said I'd try and get some more guitars in this edition and I might have failed you. Though I have at least got some guitars from Post-Metal veterans Pelican and a new track from Grizzly Bear that'll hopefully suffice. Apart from that, I also have some neo-classical, some electronic pop and some folk-hop (yeah, I just come up with that genre and I don't think I'll be using it again) amongst your weekly dose of new music.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

This Week's New Music feat. Beck, Four Tet, Janelle Monae and more...

Looking at this week's selection, I seem to have an electronica bias. It wasn't intentional but I think I've just about managed to even things out with noisey dream pop and some hip hop thrown into the mix alongside a new track from genre blender Beck. I'll try and get some music with distorted guitars for next week to even things out but in the meantime, Enjoy.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Album Review:Sebadoh – Defend Yourself


The musical output from recently reformed bands can seem to go one of two ways, it either shows a group revitalized, regaining the inspiration and energy that originally held them together, or it can serve to highlight why the split in the first place as they re-hashing past efforts. Thankfully, the first Sebadoh album in fourteen years, Defend Yourself, is the former. After Dinosaur Jr. reunion back in 2006, Lou Barlow and company have decided to give Sebadoh another go and seem to pick things up where they left off. The group had a knack for bringing together riffs that veered between melodic and dissonant, often within the same song. With lyrics that mixed the cryptic with a relatable earnestness that often put them closer to emo bands like Fugazi, rather than their peers like Guided by Voices and Pavement.
Nowadays, where anyone can make a decent recording with little investment, lo-fi is more of an aesthetic choice rather than a budget related necessity and Defend Yourself, despite being self-recorded by the group, eschews much of that low quality sound. What they have retain is that inconsistency that gave the band a certain charm, songs would switch between the noisey and abrasive to downbeat and heartbreakingly direct that often managed to catch you off guard.
I Will starts the album off with a with a deceptively folk-leaning intro as Lou claims 'Things have changed' before the electric guitars burst through reassuring listeners that, at least musically, this is the same Sebadoh as always. With tracks like Beat and Once revelling in murky grunge distortion, you could be forgiven for thinking your still in the 1990s. Elsewhere the band allow for some clean power pop moments on State of Mind and Inquiries is a welcome change to the preceding, letting the their weird, off-kilter tendencies shine through with it's strange country riffs.
Love You Here has the kind of heart on sleeve lyrics that have made the band so endearing, managing to be miserable without descending into complete self-pity. If anything has changed, it's Lou's voice. Maybe it has matured a little, often sounding like Michael Stype and in fact, the up-tempo number Oxygen sounds quite a lot like an R.E.M song. Let It Out is a highlight, with the group at their most direct and without the lo-fi distraction the emotive lyrics and considered melodies ring out even louder. There a few tracks that fall short, lacking the energy or engaging lyrics that the best material here has. Can't Depend slumps along with the hooks never taking hold and the aforementioned Oxygen sounds almost too clean cut for the group.
Sebadoh may well be defending themselves with this new release, proving they still have something to offer, and they do. The album reminds you that they created a certain strand of indie rock all of their own, and while Defend Yourself may not capture quite the same magic as releases like Bakesale and Harmacy, it is still put together with the same DIY tenacity and makes a worthwhile addition to their discography.

 Originally Posted on

This week's new music Feat. Arcade Fire, Tricky, Jessy Lanza and more...

 Yep, looks like the clouds are rolling in and summer has officially long gone, but fear not music never stops. In fact I have quite a selection of brand new tunes that I have put together from all over these here interwbs. This week's section contains everything from stadium-sized indie-rock to subdued electronica and the latest in the seemingly never ending run of reuniting 90s bands. Do read on...

Friday, 6 September 2013

Album Reveiw:Cloud Control – Dream Cave

(Infectious Music)

Australia has been providing a whole host of psychedelic leaning bands of late, and with an ear for melody Cloud Control stand out amongst the ranks. They create sun blazed psychedelic pop, owing as much to the music coming out of the west coast of America through the 60s as they do to current musical trends. The band have made a name for themselves supporting bigger acts like the Foofighters, Arcade Fire and Weezer, and you can see why, their melodies are immediate but have a tendency to stick around in your head after the song has finished. They've also nabbed to Australian Music Prize (which is the Australian equivalent of the Mercury prize) for the debut album back in 2011 amongst a whole host of plaudits, so the expectations are high for their sophmore release, Dream Cave.
They relocated to the UK to put together the new album, gaining more studio time and even utilizing a 2000 year-old quarry for the perfect reverb. You can tell they've taken their time, each song sounds considered and ideas don't stick around any longer than they need to. Take Moonrabbit for example, on which the major key melodies and girl-boy harmonies rick get irritating, but the track has moves on before outstaying its welcome. This particular track also epitomises their not so subtle 60s worship which is evident throughout the record.
The laid back Dojo Rising rides along on cool drumbeat as lead vocalist Alister Wright repeats 'I don't want anything' with the loose slacker feel of American indie rock, while Promises has a 50s pop vibe with its 6/4 rhythm and displaying a creative use of backing vocals. Co-vocalist Heidi Lenffer takes the lead on The Smoke, The Feeling an unashamedly 80's pop track. Effected vocals soar over track's propellant drum beat and simple, shimmering guitar lines. The epic pop sound remains on Scar, which starts off with the sound of organ arpeggios. The song provides the album's biggest chorus, powered along by a solid drum beat and distorted guitars, its hard to not imagine it going over well in a live performance.
Their sound can come across as being a bit light at times, tracks like Happy Birthday seem to slip by without ever taking hold. Still, they change things up near the end with the slower tempo and darker feel of Tombstone, allowing space for some huge echo to wash over the track amongst a great little warped guitar solo.
They may not as dedicated to recreating an era as other psych rock pedallers like Tame Impala, instead Cloud Control sound modern whilst keeping sonic reference points intact. Maybe their not as offbeat as other groups drawing on similar sounds but Cloud Control have crafted their on sound, with the kind of effortless pop hooks and uncluttered songwriting that could easily lead to them being the stadium headliners in the near future.

Originally posted on

This Week’s New Music feat. Natasha Khan, Jon Hopkins, Pixies and more...

Welcome to my latest run down of the most interesting music to bleep on to my radar over the last seven days. This week we have some experimental classical, interesting collaborations, and surprising comebacks amongst the tracks I've gathered for your listening pleasure.

Friday, 30 August 2013

This weeks's new music feat. Karen O, Sebadoh, Darkside and more...

The sun has made an effort these last few days and I've got a couple of good tracks suitable to see out the summer before things take a turn for the cold. We've got everything from sunny electronica, weirdo hip-hop and the return of some alt rock veterans to feast your ears upon (can you feast with your ears, that doesn't sound right...). Anyway, happy listening!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Album review:The Jar Family – Jarmalade

(Jar Records)

Made up of a group Cumbrian singer songwriters and musicians coming together to form a collective of sorts, The Jar Family centres around six core members with a larger family coming and going for their live shows. They bring together blues, folk and country with a streamlined 70s classic rock drive. As good as that sounds, for the most part their second album Jarmalade is a by the numbers affair. A pub rock band in style and substance.
It isn't to say its all bad though. Moya Moya is a fun tune you can imagine having a drunken jig to in a bar, the lyrics are performed with a suitably strained delivery as a bunch alcoholic drinks are name checked as it stumbles along, held up by its ramshackle country blues rhythm. Tell Me Baby keeps the scruffy rhythms going and the track's back and forth lyrics sound reminiscent of The Libertines more together moments, its jaunty beat surrounded by duelling harmonica and guitars in its final moments. But unfortunately it all gets worse from there.
Where Do You Come From Babe? sounds like Bob Dylan's It Ain't Me Babe crossed with Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, that is if he'd run out of good lines from his scrapbook. It gets a little more interesting when a female voice enters but unfortunately the lyrics don't improve. In fact there's no lyrical flair on display here, there are no metaphors or symbolism, everything is just literal, with any attempts at soul searching end up being about as deep as a puddle. On top of that, the record is filled with distracting studio trickery, including an over reliance on EQ'd backing vocals, a cheesy and overused technique that doesn't fit in at all with the bands sound.
Despite trying, I couldn't get the idea that Waiting There For You sounded like Flight of the Conchords' Ladies of the World out of my head as the line 'You're a beautiful lady/Picking petals of a daisy' repeated, and its just as cheesy though, I assume, that was not intent. Elsewhere, Tears We Cried sounds like the kind of ballad that Axl Rose could've written when Guns 'n' Roses were at their most bloated and overblown.
Is God My Witness examines religion with all the bite of Christian rock and might be the albums low point, but its not the only offender for poorly thought out lyrics. The band mostly stick to obvious rhyme schemes, leading to some absolutely awful lyrics, by far the worst element in this group. From Paint Me a Picture's poorly thought out social commentary or the perils of social networking on You'll Never Know, its not so much a scathing criticism as much as obvious pot shots.
We need more bands that a rough round the edges, just as at home playing in a small bar as they are larger venues, but I don't know if this band is up to the task. Its all just harmless pub rock, and there is plenty of competent musicianship at hand and a great range of vocals. Maybe if I was in a small crowded pub in an inebriated state my opinion would change, but on record The Jar Family are just a bit bland.

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Friday, 23 August 2013

This week's new music feat. Forest Swords, Volcano Choir and more...

This here is a new segment I thought I'd try out, putting together some of the best music I've run across this past week into one place. I'll try and keep it diverse and interesting, and making sure to put in some release dates as well as any other info I can find. Lets see how it goes.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Album review:The Lucid Dream – Songs of Lies & Deceit

(Holy Are You Recordings)

  On their debut Songs of Lies & Deceit this Cumbrian four piece take on a vein of noise infused psychedelia that informed influential bands like Spacemen 3 and Ride bringing together melodic song writing with the kind of distortion that threatens to derail a song but never quite does. With a name like The Lucid Dream you might expect this to tap into some of the sleepy, stoner vibes of the sixties but the songs here are sharp and focused for the most part, even if they do give in to extended rock freak-out moments from time to time.  
  How's Your Low When You're Low Alone start things off. A simple rock song led by some energetic stomping drums and some big garage rock riffing interspersed with wah pedal abuse before Glue (Song for Irvine Welsh) continues with the straight forward riffs and ups the ante even further, with guitars buried under their own effects dominating the mix as the vocals desperately repeat 'I'm a broken man' delivered with a Stooges-like attitude. A Mind At Ease Is A Mind At Play rushes along at a frantic pace coming across as a track A Place To Bury Strangers could have written while Love in my Veins has some big hooks in it recalling a certain kind of 1990s brit-pop swagger that hasn't been around for a while. Despite its psychedelic leanings, Songs of Lies & Deceit never strays into the territory of obvious meandering solos and simple sixties era pastiche, maintaining a focus and drive throughout, though it does fall short with the lyrics.
  Some of these lyrics can border on cringeworthy, often playing on cliché but sometimes taking it a bit too far. Lines like 'Girl, you are the sweetest thing I ever seen' stand out in a clunky manner. Still, the album is redeemed by songs like Heartbreak Girl, channelling Ronnettes style sixties girl group pop to good effect, though the constant tempo changes don't sit so easily, giving the effect of two or three different songs being jumbled together. Throughout the record vocals are covered in reverb but rarely to the extent that you can no longer make out the lyrics, instead making reference to the walls of sound from Phil Spector productions. They sound confident in these songs with their straight forward, no nonsense approach imbued with a punk rock energy. Its delivered with an appreciation of their influences and enough earnestness to hold it all together, especially when they get that balance between melody and noise just right.

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Album Review:The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

(Sensibility Recordings)

  The Civil Wars, comprised of singer songwriter team of Joy Williams and John Paul White,
rose to fame in 2011 with the critical and commercial success of their debut album Barton Hollow. It displayed the duo's stunning voices as they traded lines back and forth or harmonised over well-written country and folk songs. After selling over half a million copies and earning themselves two Grammy awards for Barton Hollow, the group suddenly seemed to be on the verge of dissolution, cancelling a European tour due to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.” whilst also claiming there are not on speaking terms, putting the group on hiatus. Still, despite lacking a willingness to communicate, the duo have managed to return with their self-titled second album.
  The album starts off with rock 'n' roll vitriol and anger on The One That Got Away as fuzzy, crackling electric guitars filling out their sound with more of a stomp than anything heard on their first album. The distortion continues with the fuzzy blues rock of I Had Me A Girl, accompanied by a thudding drumbeat, the kind of track that is made for a sleazy bar in the American South, but the record gets a bit softer from there.
  Whilst inter-band conflicts have worked wonders for other groups like The Beatles or Fleetwood Mac, here it seems to have stifled the duo, as the album they've put together is not as consistent as Barton Hollow, even the delivery which would see them often trading lines and harmonising now sees one them taking the lead more often than not. Tracks like Same Old Same Old, well, sound just like that, veering into the middle of the road territory that popular country music often can, and it isn't the only offender on the album. They try to mix things up with a cover of The Smashing Pumpkins' Disarm, which is pleasant enough, but doesn't have the same motion and drama of the original, which is a shame as their cover of Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love was a great choice as the ending to their first album.
  There are high points though, like the build up that ends Eavesdrop, as Williams earnestly repeats 'Just hold me' as a guitar strums powerfully, but ends to soon. Devil's Backbone is another highlight, a dark country tale of misplaced love, 'Oh Lord, Oh Lord/ What Have I done?/I've fallen in love with a man on the run' ending with a stunning a capella outro. Those voices themselves, which are still amazing whether singing in hushed tones or soaring, but the tension between them isn't the same, despite or because of the strains around the records production. Here, the duo have allowed for the whole scope a studio can bring, bringing in a large ensemble of backing musicians, but it all feels unnecessarily distracting, taking away from the group's talents. It comes across as over-blown, filling out their sound with a full band has taken away from the more personal feel at the centre of Barton Hollow. The album as a whole feels lighter as a result, never grabbing your attention in the same way despite some stand-out moments.

Originally posted on