Saturday, 28 June 2014

Album Review:Tom Vek – Luck

(Moshi Moshi)

London multi-instrumentalist Tom Vek gained a cult following with his 2005 debut We Have Sound with a modest reception it gained him a dedicated following who'd have to wait six years for a follow up. In 2011 he released Leisure Seizure and whilst it didn't win him further exposure it still shown an artist work keeping an eye on. Now he's got his third album in just under a decade, Luck, and whilst he isn't the most prodigious artist it might be enough to cement his cult status.

Jittery and agitated post-punk of Sherman (Animals In The Jungle), the first single form Luck really stands out. It has the kind of simple three note guitar line that would be at home on a track form the mid-2000s post-punk revival. Whilst it all sounds a bit like Bloc Party's first album it doesn't come across as old with a sharp synth line cuts in alongside a restless drum beat. As the song's title forms the track's chorus Vek's ability for creating urgency in his half-spoken deadpan vocals becomes apparent.

Broke stands as one of the more ambitious genre-hopping tracks, with big pop song keys and middle eastern scales mixing with big garage rock riffs and and messy drum beats, throwing a succession of hooks and riffs at you for it four minutes. Trying To Do Better brings together a mixture of heart on sleeve emotion and aggression from post-hardcore with electronic sounds that works way better than you think it will.

The songs keep themselves around the four minute mark and simple verse chorus pop structures which is both a strength and weakness. Vek's penchant for mixing up disparate genres keeps things interesting but you always feel you know it is often leading to a big chorus. He has never been striving for lyrical complexity and for the most part his straight up and simple approach works but there are a couple of lines like “If you say you didn't do it /I'll believe you didn't do it” on the chorus of Ton of Bricks that are hard to overlook. He started ahead of the curve with his mix of indie rock and electronica but now it's common place for bands to incorporate electronics and smart production in the mix with the tried and tested band dynamics.

Luck is a varied piece if work, covering enough musical styles to give nineties Beck a run for his money but the risk with that is you can lose out on cohesion and that's were it falls short. You'd be hard pressed to find another recent album that touches on such varied genres as tracks like the acoustic The Girl You Wouldn't Leave For Any Other Girl to the cut-up jungle beats and squelchy digital bass lines of You'll Stay where Vek pushes his electronic influences to the forefront. Even in the internet age that has brought about the blurring of genre lines when he's at his best Tom Vek's musical approach still sounds unique.

Album Reveiw:Tobacco – Ultima II Massage


As popular music becomes increasingly electronic, it's also aided the rise of the computer as an instrument, along with digital instruments and interfaces. Whilst this is a prevalent trend there are always those acts who go against the tide. Eschewing modern equipment for analog synthesizers, tape machines and old drum machines, Tobacco would be one of them.

Tobacco is an offshoot of cult act Black Moth Super Rainbow allowing frontman Thomas Fec to take the BMSR aesthetic into a stranger and often darker place with his primitive bedroom hip-hop and no computer in sight. I became familiar with Black Moth Super Rainbow's 2009 album Dandelion Gum, an album full of sunny and pastoral electronic music. Tobacco seems like an outlet for a completely different side of Fec. He has provided beats for rappers like Aesop Rock, Beans and The Hood Internet and his last album Maniac Meat also featured Beck on two tracks, an artist who also made his own oddball take on hip-hop on his breakout album Odelay.

His third album under the Tobacco moniker Ultima II Massage sounds like a seedy video game title and it mostly lives up to that as opener Streaker begins with all the tact of a grubby adolescent. There is none of the perfect EQing and over-laboured sound that you can find in a lot of modern music, the bass drums thud clumsily like a drunken madman. When Tobacco does take a step back into something a little more chilled out it often sound like a Boards of Canada demo, like on Self Tanner with its hazy and slightly-off synth lines or the stoned beats of Beast Sting and Creaming For Beginners. The slinky and funky Lipstick Destroyer is the music Daft Punk might make if they were locked up in a basement after making Homework with an 4-track and some early hip hop records as a vocoder and a disco beat fight through fuzzy guitars whilst album closer Bronze Hogan could be the theme from a long forgotten 1980s straight to VHS film as a big guitar riff and keys jostle around.

Eruption (Gonna Get My Hair Cut at the End of the Summer) has some of the more obvious vocal hooks (and some of the most discernible lines) like “Twist it like a pigtail/I can make your heart fail” along with a synth sound that is just gloopy. The song finds Tobacco liberally dropping “Motherfucker” like a teenager playing tough and reinforces a teenage viewpoint seems to come through a lot of this music, capturing an age where nothing is over thought and the world is still a strange place that you haven't quite figured out yet. There are a few tracks like Good Complexion that are a little closer to the sunnier psychedelia of Black Moth but for the most part Ultima will leave you feeling like you've taken a swim in a sewer.

It's a journey into a strange and grimy place, in fact if you have Chromesthesia I imagine you'd see the music as the yellow-brown stain left by tobacco, it's that dirty sounding. Whilst the retro and vocoder sound may seem to make Tobacco a one trick pony, there is a pretty surprising amount of variation and ideas in the lo-fi tunes that make up Ultima II Massage. It's gleefully strange, with song titles like Dipsmack, Spitlord and Video Warning Attempts that only seem to aid the oddness and make it all the more indecipherable. If you like your music a little on the weird side then it may well be worth taking a trip down this particular rabbit hole.

Album Review:Sharon Van Etten – Are We There


Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten has gathered a dedicated following with her delicate and personal music since emerging with her debut album Because I Was In Love in 2009. Winning the adoration of fans, including musicians Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and reaching a larger audience with 2012's break through Tramp, which saw her opening for acts like Nick Cave and St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten Returns with her fourth album Are We There and seems set to keep building upon her successes as she continues to refine her confessional style of songwriting.

Like the title and picture on the Are We There's cover, the album evokes a road trip with close friends, with plenty of space for laid back contemplation where daydreams and past mistakes find their way into the mind as you gaze out of windows. And like a journey, you move forward, whilst having space to reflect. In that respect this might be Sharon Van Etten's most personal and honest album yet, and that is from an artist who has already gained a reputation for her intimate song craft, taking a step back from the larger sound of Tramp, produced by Aaron Dessner of The National.

Her albums have always brought together a host of talented musicians. This time she has gathered Torres' Mackenzie Scott, Peter Borderick, Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg as well as borrowing Dave Hartley and Adam Granduciel from The War on Drugs to make up her band. After meeting putting together music for the HBO show Boardwalk Empire, Etten brought in Stewart Lerman to co-produce the album with his natural and unfussy style giving lots of space for Etten's voice to lead.

Taking Chances brings in The War On Drugs penchant for drum machines but it's Etten's voice and use of harmony that is the real strong point here. It allows here to have a depth and delivery that is all her own and it really helps that the song provides one of the albums best choruses with scuffled up guitars and keys adding some bite to the otherwise laid back beat. The stark and violent imagery of Your Love is Killing Me makes for one of Etten's most powerful songs to date. The lyrics 'Burn my skin so I can't feel you/Stab my eyes so I can't see' conjure suffering as her voice is outright defiant with drum rolls and soaring guitars backing her to an effect that feels emotionally cathartic.

Our Love, which follows Your Love is Killing Me, sounds a bit too light and breezy, just drifting by never really leaving it's mark. I Love You But I'm Lost leads with a piano and the kind of soul searching themes that Etten can make feel so relatable and Tarifa, named after a small Spanish town, continues to conjure up the ideas of isolation and introspection but backed by shining horns it feels bigger and brighter turn. Near the end of the album Break Me stands out with it's 6/4 drum rhythm and chiming Robin Guthrie guitars give it a dream pop feel that really complements Etten's layered vocals. Are We There closes with the sun-kissed americana of Every Time The Sun Comes Up, ending the album on a lighter note with it's lyrics bringing to mind youthful abandon as it sounds like all the albums collaborators join in on the chorus of 'Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble'.

On Are We There, Etten is thoughtful and hopeful, introspective and confident. At times it feels so personal she is opening herself completely to the listener and musically she matches it with her most focused songwriting. At points the deeply personal lyrics make it feel like it's just you that she has chosen to share and confide in. Whilst it doesn't reach the same big high points as Tramp, Are We There still makes for an engrossing journey with one of the best singer songwriters around right now.