Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Album Review:Poltergeist – Your Mind is a Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder)

(92 Happy Customers)

    Featuring members of Echo & The Bunnymen, including the only constant band member and guitarist Will Sergeant and long serving bassist Les Pattinson, with the line-up completed by Nick Kilroe on drums, Poltergeist is a group concerned with exploring the same mind-altering territory tread by many experimental rock groups of the last five decades. The group serves up lengthy meditations based around simple grooving basslines and repeating, motorik drums that could have come from the early 70s German music scene. Band leader Will Sergeant cites Neu! as a big influence on this project, amongst psychedelia and early progressive rock (if you hadn't already guessed that from the album's trippy title).
   The guitar is the focus and driving point of the group, as band leader Will Sergeant displays an impressive and creative mastery of effects pedals, with reverb and delay often used in abundance amongst the sounds of reversed and otherwise altered guitars. His melodically straightforward playing style delivers catchy hook after hook with the same ease that served him so well in his main project.
    Opener, Cathedral, lays out their intent as after less than a minute of build up the solid drum lines and simple bass lines enter the fray, giving away their krautrock influences, as the track continues to grow into a propellant motorik workout, soon joined by guitars that chime around echoing synth lines building further before guitars kick in with thick blistering distortion. On album stand out Dreamer Dreams of Spectrums, clean guitars switch between simple melodies, fleshed out with bubbling atmospheric synths. The track evolves naturally, feeling like a spaced-out journey takes place over its eight minutes, though other tracks like Psychic Warfare wears thin and doesn't require all of its length to explore its ideas.
   It does veer into indulgence at points, with some of the guitar solos feeling unnecessary in an album that is lead by the guitar playing, which is at its best when its making creating use of effects and distortion. Whilst it doesn't take its influences anywhere new, there are some creative moments within these limitations. The guitar playing is the real star of the show, there are plenty of moments where I tried and failed to figure out how the guitar sounds are being made. There is a wide range of additional instruments, with keys and and synthesizers being used to good effect alongside what I'm fairly certain is a mellotron, further evoking the era they're playing homage to.
   The album sounds like a band relishing the joy of creating, experimenting and just jamming with friends for the fun of it. Its an enjoyable take on some of the more interesting musical scenes of the the 60s and 70s filled with melody and skilled musicianship, though its sounds a lot more safe and less radical than the music it is clearly indebted to.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Album Review:Palms – S/T

(Ipecac Records)

   A collaboration between three fifths of revered post-metal act Isis and Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno, Palms' long awaited debut release finally sees light, after being revealed shortly after Isis disbanded in 2010. When speaking to Figure8, Palms drummer Aaron Harris revealed the intent behind this project: 'I think it wasn’t like a fully conscience thing to make it different but I think we knew that we didn’t wanted it to be Isis lite or like we were covering ourselves.' and with Palms, they manage to differentiate themselves from their past work, but its not a complete departure. Chino's vocals manage to help the band move further away from the Isis sound, but still hold a similar affecting weight behind them, wrought with tensions ready to boil over, and lyrics, though vague, hinting at science fiction concepts. This is music that could soundtrack post-apocalyptic wastelands and burning supernovas. Much of the atmosphere is created with the dense guitar sounds, as reverb and echo create an empty landscape, looking to what the future brings after disaster.
   Future Warrior sets the scene as clean guitars enter, covered in reverb, backed up with subtle keys and a sturdy drum beat. Chino's vocals are as strained and emotional as his lyrics, 'The closer I am am/I notice somethings wrong with you'. The guitars don't get as heavy as they do in Isis, or Deftones, but when the distortion erupts at the songs mid-point, there is still a power behind them. First single, Patagonia, begins with a clean guitar sound covered in chorus and reverb recalling that early dream pop sound, before distortion takes over. The song builds in a straight forward and predictable way, standing as one of the least adventurous moments on the album.
   Tropics provides a welcome serene moment, as the song begins drum machines and subtle electronics covered by waves of clean guitars. Only in the songs final quarter does the distortion kick in, a powerful single note power chord releasing the built-up tension in dramatic fashion. Album closer Antarctic Handshake, steady delayed snare keeps the form of a mid ranged guitar drone. The dense ambient passage that ends the song stands as a highlight, with the track highlighting the strengths of the whole band.
Chino Moreno proves to be an capable fit for the group, with his vocals easily slipping between barely contained anger and hushed contemplation over the band's drawn-out chord progressions. The albums second half provides the more interesting material with the biggest departure form either acts previous output, embracing electronics and extended ambient passages.
   With their first release, Palms further embrace the dreamy shoegaze influences that have seeped into the music of their previous bands. Though still desolate and dark in places, it doesn't have the continuous bleak oppression of Isis' best regarded work like the 2002 album Oceanic, in fact it has a more positive undercurrent to it, almost sounding triumphant in places. Though it doesn't match up to either bands seminal work, it's still an engaging listen and fans of Isis and Deftones will undoubtedly still find much to appreciate as the shadows of their previous works are cast over the album, not that its necessarily a bad thing.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Retrospective: The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? Ten Years On


Ten years since its original release, the sole album from Canadian three-piece The Unicorns, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?, still comes across as a effortlessly quirky, ambitious and unique release. Not by any means are they the first (or last) band to make weird, lo-fi pop music, but I don't think there has been another album like it, and after years of listening to it, I'm still glad to enter the strange world they created and find new things within it when I do. When I first saw the album, it's whimsical title and the messy cartoon doodle that made up its cover after buying it on a recommendation, I immediately fell for its charms.

Album review:Jon Hopkins – Immunity


   Somewhere between a composer and producer, Jon Hopkins has spent the last decade or so pursuing his own form of electronic-aided classical music. After creating the soundtrack to the 2010 film Monsters, alongside three previous more classically inclined albums, he has made an effort to embrace more direct elements of left-field dance music into his sound with his latest record.
   After starting with the sound of a door opening, We Disappear takes the form of sparse bleeps and shuffling, warped 8-bit percussion. The serene piano outro highlights the juxtaposition between clean intimate piano and ambience and huge electronics that lies at the centre of the album. Breathe This Air follows a similar path as drones grow around lonely echoing piano notes, bringing togetherstumbling beats and dark, techno synths in a similar manner to the German production duo Moderat. Its the first single and album highpoint, Open Eye Signal, that really lays out Hopkins' dance floor intentions. A pounding 4/4 rhythm surrounded by deep and heavy bass morphs and progresses gradually over the track, pulsating and rising like a crescendo, before giving itself up to the beat for it's last two minutes.
   Collider takes a stab at dense minimal house, though seems somewhat meandering under its 9 minute duration. Likewise, Form by Firelight seems aimless, but the middle of the record is redeemed by Abandon Window, coming close to the ambience of Brian Eno, who he has frequently collaborated with. It slows the pace of the album down, like taking a long period of time to consider a single moment. It provides a moment of serene reflection before the album heads back towards the dance floor one last time as Sun Harmonics provides some of the albums most direct and immediate thrills next to One Eye Signal. The 11 minute track starts with piano and a simple bass drum beat before a full house-influenced rhythm forms, driven by some deep bass, building upon layers of percussion and glittering ambience. The album ends with title track, Immunity, following a simple piano melody pieced together with acoustic percussive samples to create an organic rhythm. An ethereal voice is added to the mix, recalling the dreamy post-rock of Sigur Rós.
   The effect of incorporating current strands of electronic music whilst fitting in with the texturally focused neo-classical that’s the speciality of labels like Erased Tapes, can at times be jarring, though he clearly understands both of these different musical worlds and fans of either will find much to appreciate here. At its worst it can sound quite similar to other artists who have been exploring some of the same sonic directions for some time, yet its hard not to admire the faultless production and beautiful ambience that Jon Hopkins seems to deliver with ease.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Album review:Tricky – False Idols

(False Idols)

   Tricky has some big questions on his mind, and on his latest album False Idols, released on his own label of the same name, he concerns himself with searching for answers. It sees him returning to the dark Bristol Sound he made his name with, an exploration of alienation and disillusionment like much of his early output, and these themes seem to have kept their relevance in the digital age. Tricky's vocals sit in the background for much of the album, often letting his collaborators take the limelight, but when they do surface they're delivered with a hushed, world-weariness.
   The album begins with Somebody's Sins, featuring the repeated phrase 'Jesus died for someone's sins, but not mine', looking at where people put their misplaced hopes, Tricky points his finger at the targets that hold us back. There is an anger submerged in the quiet vocals, a call for change maybe. Bonnie & Clyde and Is That Your Life take a surprisingly groovy direction, almost becoming danceable whilst still maintaining the soulful night time atmosphere that resides at the core of Tricky's sound. A couple of other tracks come close to having dance floor sensibilities such as Nothing Matters with its steady 4/4 beat, though its shrouded, sombre mood, surrounded by sparse horns and rising strings, stop it from taking off.
   Showing his capabilities as a producer, Tricky showing a range of approaches, for the restless, skittering beat of Nothing's Changed to the down-tempo rhythm and cut up vocal sample deployed on Tribal Drums. Does It features Francesca Belmonte's intimate voice (which also features on Tribal Drums and Nothings Changed) as she sings 'Where are the protesters/The slogans and the signs?' filled with quiet frustration, a cry for protest and rebellion amongst the wrongs of the world and a derision of the modern apathy that lets them prevail.
   Though not an outright criticism, some of the tracks like Valentine, If Only I Knew and I'm Ready could have come straight out of his mid 90's records and the occasional song, such as Chinese Interlude, feels aimless and fails to create the immersing mood of some of the stronger songs.
   None of the tracks outstay their welcome, with the longest track coming in at just over three and a half minutes, though that does leave the feeling that some of the tracks could develop a little more, but the album is consistent, often reminiscent of his breakthrough album Maxinquaye. Though False Idols may not reveal all the answers Tricky is looking for. he shows his skill for capturing a certain sense of modern dissatisfaction with his music that few others can match.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Album review:The National – Trouble Will Find Me


   With their sixth album, whilst not providing much in the way of surprises, The National show they are good at what they do and what they're good at is they're own brand of stadium indie rock, thoughtful and grandiose in equal measure. On Trouble Will Find Me, they enlisting a varied group of collaborators, amongst them; Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent and Sharon Van Etten, who add to the groups already large sound.
   The first single, Sea of Love sets out with steady driving drums but builds into something huge, with the backing vocals almost taking over in the tracks final moments, and its when they reach these epic moments that the band shine. Similarly, Demons builds into a powerful number, with waves of guitars and synthesizers building over each other and introspective and confessional lyrics, though the accompanying string section feels unnecessary and gets lost amongst everything else by the songs climax.
   The National tap into Dark & sparse 80's sounds on Humiliation with its motorik drum rhythm leaving lots of space for frontman Matt Berninger's distinctive baritone as he sings, 'Tunnel vision lights my way'. Closing song, Hard To Find, goes down an alt-country route, also taken on Slipped, and sees Berninger looking back at the past, featuring the lyric 'They can all just/Kiss off into the air', re purposing a line from the Violent Femmes' song (which is not the only lyrical reference to other songs on this album) to explore memories of youth.
   Fireproof features rolling drums and low growling synths hidden just beneath its surface of clean picked guitars and subdued vocals. Its a track that seems to threaten to erupt into something bigger, but never quite makes it. There are a couple of tracks that like Fireproof, that lack the drive of the more effective songs on the album. An obvious comparison would be to to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and the subdued and inviting atmosphere of Push the Sky Away, an album that has also been carefully produced and arranged, but Trouble Will Find Me becomes a little tiring, and could have done with having a few tracks being cut out. Not setting out to subvert expectations but playing to them, The National have done little to change their sound, instead still show themselves as a band who are happy playing to their strengths.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Album review:Deerhunter – Monomania


   Deerhunter are a band that despite exploring similar sonic path to their peers, have taken a path that has set themselves apart from their peers. This may be in part down to the direction of the bands outspoken front man Bradford Cox, who remains a strange and unique presence on Monomania, where they offer a more immediate approach, distancing themselves from the dreamy shoegaze influenced sound that they originally found success with. Very little of the ambience that crept its way into their previous efforts, mainly Cryptograms and Mircocastle, remains here. Instead they've made an impulsive rock 'n' roll snarl of a record building on the more direct approach of their previous album Halcyon Digest, here the songs replace the reverb with more distortion soaked simple, messy garage rock riffs.
   Opening track Neon Junkyard starts the album of with a garage-rock strut as Bradford Cox's lyrics display the same balance between the easy to relate and the obscure, 'Finding ancient language in the blood/Fading a little more each day' and the chaotic use of distortion continues on the hectic Leather Jacket II. Fans will recognise the familiar tones of The Missing, featuring guitarist and sometimes vocalist Lockett Pundt taking over as front man, delivering a tune more in line with the Microcastle-era dreaminess, as synth lines wash around the guitars. If Deerhunter have a classic sound, this song comes the closest to it on Monomania.
The ramshackle Pensacola is a weak point in the album, sounding like an out-take from the early 90's lo-fi scene, with fuzzy country riffs that don't quite suit the band. Things pick up with Blue Agent, starting with an uneasy lead guitar line, as Cox sings with a quiet, detached vitriol 'If you ever need to talk/I won't be around/If you ever need to fight for life/I'll make no sound', before the song transforms with riff and simple guitar melody that could have come from one of the Pixies final albums.
   The title track exemplifies their new approach best. The chorus finds Bradford Cox franticly repeating Monomania in a crazed and erratic fashion. Instead of using noise to gently smother you like a tide, here it it hits you with the impact of a car crash, ripping apart the track under layers of guitar noise that build like an accelerator put to the floor until only the sounds of a moped engine are left. The subdued Nitebike acts as a necessary respite from the noise with an acoustic guitar strumming as Cox croons in a mournful falsetto, aided by reverb and delay, reminiscent of Halcyon Digest track Sailing, highlighting how the band have always created some of their best moments when they take a direct and simple approach.
   Much of Monomania seems to be trying to set itself apart from what’s happening right now in music, whether its looking back to the 90's or early rock n roll music, revealing a direct and rebellious streak that hasn't really shown itself in Deerhunter's previous releases, and provide a collection of 12 Rock 'n' Roll songs put through a filter of distortion and effects. Though it doesn't deliver the variety of sounds that their other albums have, with Monomania, Deerhunter seem to have tapped into a new attitude, and with it remain one of the most consistently interesting guitar groups of the last decade.

Album review:She & Him – Volume 3


   She & Him present a third album, where they give their take on 60's pop very much influenced by girl groups like the Shangri-La's. The group is a collaboration between actress Zooey Deschanel, best know for her role as a ditsy and naive 20-something in everything she’s ever starred in, and M. Ward, who has been steadily releasing his own brand of singer songwriter folk-rock for over ten years under his own name and as part of the 'super-group' Monsters of Folk with Conor Obesrt and Jim James.
   Album opener I've Got Your Number, Son sets out She & Him's agenda of simple, catchy hooks and straight forward lyrics dealing with romance. Its the same template that informs the rest of the album. The next track, Never Wanted Your Love, states 'I'm tired of being clever/Everybody's being clever these days' and she's not trying to be, and its She & Him's down to earth approach that does manage to draw you in when they get it right. Amongst the original songs are a few covers, including Blondie's Sunday Girl and pop classic Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, which prove to be fun but unadventurous takes on the originals.
   The album gets weaker as it leads into its second half. Together starts out with a somewhat soulful verse before leading into a chorus that could have come from a musical number for a straight-to-video Disney film, and Snow Queen falls flat where Zooey reveals her cold character over an upbeat rhythm.
   This album won't change your mind about about She & Him if you don't think much of them already, and really it won't blow you away, but as Zooey sung, she’s not trying to be clever and Volume 3 instead stands as a sincere if harmless collection of songs written by two people who are clearly enamoured with an era of pop song-writing. If you're looking for a nice collection of songs to soundtrack a lazy sunny afternoon, then you could do a lot worse than Volume 3.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Album Review:No Joy - Wait to Pleasure

(Mexican Summer 2013)

   Wait to Pleasure, the second album from Montreal based No Joy, sees the band continuing to look back for their sound, clearly informed by dark, noisy and ethereal alternative rock from the 80s and early 90’s. They’re not the first band to look back at that period of music, but display an appreciation and willingness to move that sound forward, similarly to their Mexican Summer labelmates Tamaryn, that many acts fail to achieve. The Four-piece band is centred on Jasmine White-Glutz and Laura Lloyd, who both share vocal and guitar duties, and it’s their mix of soft, interweaving vocals and distortion-soaked guitars that form the core of their sound.
   The opener E has sturdy 6/4 rhythm and a distorted bass that sit at the centre of the track under twin vocals twist in and out of each other as layers of guitar build up around them until the track almost falls apart beneath the noise. The song seems destined to make eardrums ring in a live setting, recalling the rougher end of Isn’t Anything-era MBV, whilst the next track Hare Tarot Lies starts with dense jangling guitars and a drifting vocal hook, before erupting into the kind of low, fuzz pedal aided guitar riff that could have come straight out of the early grunge scene.
   The album delivers some immersive dream pop on tracks such as Slug Night, Lunar Phobia and Wrack Attack, which sees the usually hushed vocals brought forward in the mix, though still submerged in so much reverb amongst other effects that they flow in and out like a slow tide. Blue Neck Riviera takes a different approach to the other tracks, starting with simple processed drum loop, adding accompanying percussion, squeezed through delay, and an icy, simple guitar line. The vocals hang around, semi-intelligible after being warped by distortion, before the song kicks into double time, imbuing the track with a jolt of energy that makes you assume No Joy don’t spend too much time looking down at their shoes.
   No Joy finish the album with Uhy Youi Yoi, a track that could have come off Slowdive’s Souvlaki, with its hushed vocals and clean guitars displaying the somewhat cold, but intimate atmosphere similar to that of the classic shoegaze record. It epitomises the bands approach, where they display great care to evoke the sounds of that era but never stray into obvious imitation. Wait to Pleasure sees No Joy finding their own space ahead of the latest wave of bands taking cues from 80’s and early 90’s alternative rock, without sounding like a carbon copy.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Album Review:Alessi’s Ark – The Still Life

(2013 Bella Union)

    The Still Life is the third album by singer-songwriter Alessi Laurent-Marke who performs under the name Alessi's Ark. The twenty-two year old's latest album, and second for her label Bella Union, sees her offer a collection of short and sharp folk-pop tunes delivered with a straight-forward honesty that difficult to dislike. Produced by frequent Bright Eyes and Azure Ray collaborator Andy LeMaster, elements of these acts shine through in Alessi's music, though she never reaches for the introspection of either, she takes on their personal approach, and like those acts she invites you into her own particular world.
   The strength of her song writing comes through on tracks like Afraid of Everyone that doesn't rely on a standard verse chorus structure. The track moves away from her folk sound, beginning with a sparse intro with a lonely bass before Alessis voice is joined by a driven drum beat as the track grows along with the paranoia presented in her lyrics into one of the standout moments on the album. Other highlights include Veins Are Blue, which features arrangements filtered through reverb and delay that bring to mind the sounds of Hope Sandoval, and The Rain, which sees her continue to veer into dream pop territory with its drifting backing vocals.
   Another track, Money, shows her upbeat earnestness that centers many of the songs here. It ends with the playful refrain, “You are rich with my love” where her simplistic message is delivered with a direct sincerity. Though this approach falls short on Big Dipper, ending with the clunky line ‘my fists are clenched/I long to sit with you on a garden bench’ which calls for a more personal and intimate expression.
   The album doesn't stay in one place for very long, with most of the songs coming in at less than three minutes, and she displays a creative variety of instruments that accompany her voice and acoustic guitar. Beyond a few missteps, Alessi shows herself to be a talented musician and her pop hooks and creative arrangements could easily see her already prolific output gaining a larger audience in the future.

Originally posted on Figure8magazine.co.uk