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 figure8magazine.co.uk

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 figure8magazine.co.uk

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 figure8magazine.co.uk

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 figure8magazine.co.uk.