Friday, 18 October 2013
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 '...free 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 figure8magazine.co.uk
Thursday, 17 October 2013
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
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 figure8magazine.co.uk
(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 figure8magazine.co.uk
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...
(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 figure8magazine.co.uk.
Thursday, 10 October 2013
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.
Saturday, 5 October 2013
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
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 figure8magazine.co.uk