Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 CATCH UP no.3 :Sea Pinks

Any band which begins their biog with "A band from Belfast inspired by sea glass, bleached grass and ghost guitars" deserves your attention.
That is how Sea Pinks describe themselves. The band have been around for a few years now and I first became aware of them when they played a few shows with fellow Belfast band Girls Names a few years ago. Back then Sea Pinks singer/guitarist Neil Brogan was the drummer in Girls Names, and I think it's fair to say that the two bands complimented each other well, both coming from the same place in terms of geography as well as musical influence.
Sea Pinks most recent album Dreaming Tracks is their fourth but it's their first to be recorded in the studio with the full band line up of Davey Agnew (drums) and Steven Henry (bass) along with founder singer/guitarist Neil Brogan and cellist Jonny Agnew. It has been released on their own CF Records, a label which grew out of the Cass/Flick imprint, which began in 2006 with a series of cassette only releases and went on to issue material from the likes of Cloud Nothings and Thread Pulls.

Some compare Sea Pinks to the Smiths but it is not as straightforward as that. There are post-punk influences (Orange Juice and the Go-Betweens might be a more accurate comparison than Moz and co) but there is also a healthy dollop of sixties style garage-rock and summery-pop, and the resulting mix would sound perfectly at home on a K Records release from the 90s. Given that their sound is essentially fairly clean guitar bass and drums with regular melodies, there is plenty of variety on offer.

Anyway, enough of my prattling, check them out yourself below. Releases are available on vinyl or bandcamp downloads.

Holy Sons

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

2014 CATCH UP no.2 :smallgang

[pic by Katie Harris]

A power trio of sorts, smallgang comprise of brothers Simon and Toshi Kobayashi with their friend Matt Atkins on drums. Their sound is curiously out of time in the uk at least, given that it owes a lot to American post-hardcore and indie-rock. Back in June we reckoned that their second full length 'san (三)' was "a more ambitious album than their debut 'Trespasses'" and that still holds - the songs are varied and there are a couple of female vocal guest spots too courtesy of Gill Sandell (Emily Baker and the Red Clay Halo) and Jen Macro (Something Beginning With L, My Bloody Valentine). It is an energetic and noisy album, with all the instruments sounding big in the mix and brutal and half-spoken vocals sometimes deliberately submerged.

Well worth hearing if you like Shellac, Wedding Present, Sebadoh, etc, which I reckon you do if you're reading this. More info (biog, audio, dates) from their label Damnably. London types should be aware that they are playing the Windmill in Brixton on the January 18th, 2015.

2014 CATCH UP no.1 : Holy Sons

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

2014 CATCH-UP No1: Holy Sons

Today's overlooked act is Holy Sons, which is essentially the solo project of Emil Amos, who is perhaps better known as the driving force behind Grails, or the drummer in Om. I reviewed Holy Sons fine new album The Fact Facer for the 405, it was released in September this year.
"The Fact Facer applies variety and imagination throughout, which doesn't dilute the melancholy, yet ensures that the album doesn't become an overbearing listen. If anything it is the opposite, as the band are full of surprises and Emil Amos's voice is often a joy to hear. By the end of the album you can scarcely believe that this man is the drummer in Om."
Holy Sons are playing some European dates in February 2015, with Watter, and Lilacs and Champagne. If you don't already know, Watter feature Britt from Slint and Zak from Grails, whilst Lilacs and Champagne are Emil himself and Alex from Grails. I can feel a Grails family tree coming on! Full tour dates are on the Thrill Jockey website. Meanwhile here is the official video for 'Transparent Powers' (from the Fact Facer)

Monday, December 01, 2014

The best new albums of the month, November 2014 edition

Deerhoof 'La Isla Bonita'
Their twelfth studio album and whilst it is very much a case of them staying within their familiar boundaries - snippets of catchy hooks, skeletal yet tight arrangements making the most of their guitar-bass-drums line up - this time they have taken a step away from the moody synth touches of previous album 'Breakup Song'. The band sound great as ever and Satomi's lyrics manage to be both playful, anthemic and puzzling, almost at the same time, but then that's one of the things we love about Deerhoof.

The Wharves 'At Bay' my review (the 405)
"The most striking thing about London based trio The Wharves, whether it is on record or in their live show, is their knack of combining two lead voices. On paper they are a standard indie-rock trio, comprising Dearbhla Minogue (guitar), Gemma Fleet (bass) and Marion Androu (drums), but in reality they manage to create a lush mix of gently psychedelic folk-influenced music without losing sight of the pop sensibilities of '60s girl-groups and garage rock....At Bay is a musically rich and varied debut which proves that you can still do a lot with guitar, bass and drums when you have as much imagination as these three."

TV on the Radio 'Seeds'

The fifth full-length studio release for the indie rock band is its first since the death of bassist Gerald Smith, and sees the band emerge from that tragedy to create an album full of life. It is much more an indie-pop-rock album and fans of their early doom-gaze material may struggle with it, but it still has an edge to it, and the pop touches are both triumphant and surprising, particularly as some people were expecting a heavy dose of melancholy.

Clark 'Clark'

To file this simply under "techno" does it a disservice, as this seventh album from Warp's often overlooked maestro builds some lush atmospheres along with some doom laden ambient textures. That's not to say that it isn't dance music - you only have to listen to 'Unfurla' or 'The Grit in the Pearl' to hear the floor filling material - but weird tunes like 'banjo' and the sheer beauty of 'Winter Linn' prove that Clark has the variety and the talent to rival the very best of his peers.

Hookworms 'The Hum'

Not only does this follow-up to Hookworms debut sound brilliant, its songs are sequenced together so well as a set - a proper "album" if you like. The bridging tracks are also called 'iv', 'v', 'vi', as if it has continued seamlessly from the debut album. The main elements that made 'Pearl Mystic' such a triumph are still present, though the songs are stronger and the distorted lead vocal is even more of an instrument in the mix this time. The tracks make most sense as part of the whole album, so forgive me for posting a lone one below.

Dean Blunt 'Black Metal'
This has nothing to do with black metal by the way, let's establish that straight away. I wasn't completely convinced by Dean Blunt's previous solo album, but 'Black Metal' is a beaut. Somewhere between noise-rock bliss-out, dub reggae and melancholic rock, he has a knack for putting together delightfully unhinged tunes, with suitably laconic vocals that sit somewhere between Bill Callahan and Rudy from AR Kane. The female counterpart on 'Molly and Aquafina' and the superb '50 Cent' gives the sound an extra dimension.

Alex G 'DSU'

Alex G is a university student who has created a buzz through a steady stream of self-released music over the internet, As far as I know, 'DSG' is his first full length album to see a conventional release and it shows him to be a songwriter with a wealth of influences. It is early days for him yet, but he has been favourably compared to Elliott Smith, Big Star and even the Beatles. This is also a full band record, though his scratchy lo-fi past isn't too far from the surface.

Virginia Wing 'Measures of Joy'

All I know about Virginia Wing is that they are based in Camberwell and they have made one of the debuts of the year with 'Measures of Joy'. The vocals of Alice Merida Richards are central to it all, and her delivery plus the accompanying drifting psychedelia of the other musicians create something not unlike the more experimental moments of Broadcast and Electrelane. It is so much more than a carbon copy of those acts and each listen reveals new layers and twists and turns.

Tim Wheeler 'Lost Domain'
Tim Wheeler's latest solo album is both a tribute to his late father, and an account how a family deals with the dementia. It's a difficult listen for me as my own mum has vascular dementia, and there are so many triggers here, several times the lyrics really hit home. There are no pop songs, and no noisy Ash-style tunes either, and I find it more affecting when he writes reflective short songs, although the two epic songs in the middle of the album, 'Hospital' and 'Medicine', are quite striking.
'Lost Domain' is not what anyone could call an enjoyable listen, but as a cathartic one it works very well.

Exit Verse 'Exit Verse'
Although Geoff Farina's recent run of solo acoustic guitar records have been hugely enjoyable, some fans have been hankering for Geoff to either reform Karate or get back into playing rock music again. Well, Exit Verse is what happened when Farina put together a new rock band, although people expecting a slice of jazzy post-hardcore here might raise their eyebrows at the finished results. Exit Verse has taken on board lots of classic rock influences (Thin Lizzy in particular) and at times this reminds me of Ted Leo or the Hold Steady. It's a grower though, and repeated listens bring out Farina's subtle guitar lines.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The best new albums of the month, October 2014 edition

If you are the sort of person inclined to chop up your year into monthly chunks, you know that some months are better than others. And in 2014 terms, October astrides this calendar year like a collossus. The overall quality meant that it was harder than ever to keep the list to ten choices only, and as I listened to roughly double my monthly amount and had more reviews published than usual, I have gone giddy and selected 15 albums. Enjoy.

Vashti Bunyan 'Heartleap'
my review (the 405)
"Vashti has said that Heartleap will be her final album, and with that statement it is as if she has come full circle. For someone who walked away from the music business at the age of 25, it is fitting that she has bookended her career with this album. It has been made on her own terms and in her own time, with her in total control of the finished product. In other words it is a total re-establishment of the self-confidence that she lost in the '60S. Best of all, Heartleap works superbly as a collection of songs, and can only serve to extend and preserve her legacy."

A Winged Victory for the Sullen 'Atomos'
my review (the 405)
"Apparently conceived and performed over a relatively short time span, Atomos is a very powerful work and one which could well bring modern classical music to the attention of people with only a passing interest in it, in much the same way as Philip Glass and Steve Reich have done. It's a beautiful record which well worth your attention."

Wrekmeister Harmonies 'Then It All Came Down'
my review (the 405)
"Then It All Came Down was premiered last year in the National Bohemian Cemetery in Chicago, under a full moon. When you hear it, that all makes sense. The natural yet eerie setting, surrounded by reminders of mortality, and the potential interest in the occult. This is a superbly assembled piece, with a great grasp of dynamics and an understanding that its subtle moments can be just powerful as those times when it becomes a complete aural assault. Then It All Came Down is a noisy beast, but it is a beautiful one too."

The Twilight Sad 'Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave
my review (the 405)
"This fourth album comes across as a consolidation of the edgy noise of their early records and the electronic aspects of its predecessor. They sound as powerful as ever, and their penchant for weaving subtle folk melodies amongst their noise is still pretty special. Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave is a highpoint for the Twilight Sad and in many ways it is the best record they've made to date."

Scott Walker and SUNNO))) 'Soused'
A controversial record of course, but a brave and brilliant one as well. Despite the fact that it sees the enigmatic Scott join up with the experimental doom-metal of Sunn0))) this seems like a step away from his very challenging Avant Garde trio of albums. Sunn0))) play with a fairly straight bat, hitting the fuzz when they need too, and the main eyebrowing raising moments come from Scott's barmy attempts at poetry.

Allo Darlin 'We Come From the Same Place'
Personally I never thought Allo Darlin were that "twee" so it is odd to read reviews which say they have grown up. This album was created with the members living in different countries for the first time, due to Elizabeth leaving the UK. Musically and lyrically however, We Come From the Same Place carries on where its fine predecessor Europe left off. There are some lovely lyrical gems and some decent tunes, and if anything has changed it is that Elizabeth's voice sounds more confident and established. Maybe that's what people mean by sounding grown up. Hear for yourself...

Grouper 'Ruins'
It's early days but this already seems like a very special record. Grouper aka Liz Harris nearly always works alone, but this time she has dispensed with any artificial studio work and recorded four long sad songs with just voice and piano in a seemingly untreated room. There are many incidental sounds that are picked up - thunder and rain, crickets and the ping of a microwave - it is quite a revealing listen on headphones. The songs themselves are sad and beautiful, and overall Ruins is pretty wonderful.

Azar Swan 'And Blow Us A Kiss'
my review (the 405)
"Azar Swan have set out to make a pop record and have succeeded. Currently there is so little darkness and experimentation within the world of pop that And Blow Us A Kiss comes across as a genuinely exciting record, and one which shows a lot of their contemporaries in the worlds of the goth/industrial/dancefloor crossover that they have plenty of tricks up their sleeve."

Flying Lotus 'You're Dead'
When FlyLo emerged last decade people became aware of his jazz heritage and the family connection with Alice Coltrane. However, 'You're Dead' is the closest any of his records has got to jazz, albeit in a free-form freaked-out version. The psychedelic touches are there of course and that frustrating, teasing way that he flips away from one idea before it is really finished with is still in evidence as well. The title does hint at a fairly morbid effort, and it does get darker than he has before, but ultimately it is well worth hearing for the adventurous and ambitious turns that the music takes.

Run the Jewels 'Run the Jewels 2'
Run the Jewels debut appeared out of the blue and - like this one - was given away free over the internet. At the time it seemed like a one-off but after a couple of successful tour and a great reaction to that debut, the duo of El-P and Killer Mike have released a follow-up. Album two continues where the debut left off, though this time around it flows even better, and sits together as a set really well.

Jane Weaver 'The Silver Globe'
This is Jane Weaver's sixth solo album, and although some people may know her as a folk influenced musician, The Silver Globe is a concept album taking its name from a Polish sci-fi film - yet it manages to be both a coming of age tale and a romantic paean, though I haven't quite got to grips with the story yet. It goes heavy on the synths and prog touches, yet equally unafraid of pop melodies. There are some gentle subtle songs, some electronic noodling and this tune, which sounds like Can and Hawkwind at the same time...

Thurston Moore 'The Best Day'
The most Sonic Youth sounding effort from any former Sonic Youth person to date, and I don't think many people would complain about that. It is half of SY of course, as Thurston is joined by Steve Shelley on drums, whilst Deb Goodge from My Bloody Valentine and James Sedwards from Chrome Hoof form the rest of the four-piece. This time Thurston has side-stepped the obvious noise, improv and folk stylings of his recent projects to make a damn good rock record. It isn't all straight SY songbook though, and the likes of the drone-folk piece 'Tape' show that those other influences are never far away.

Iceage 'Plowing Into the Field of Love'
I haven't gotten on with Iceage's records to date, but 'Plowing Into the Field of Love' is totally different to anything they've done before. So much so that a lot of their fans have turned their noses up at it. In contrast to their earlier efforts, this time the singer has adopted an unhinged Shane McGowan style delivery - not quite in tune - and the music is a rich cacophony of edgy 80s acts like The Gun Club, Crime and the City Solution and the Bad Seeds. Brave to see a band completely change tack, and I hope they can gain some new fans in the process.

Caribou 'Our Love'
The contented Caribou album. A record all about love, and consequently one that is more in touch with Dan Snaith's equallty great Daphni project than previous Caribou releases. It is joyous, dig in!

Heat Leisure 'III & IV'
I'm on a mission to reclaim the word 'psychedelic' from the epidemic of garage bands, so this is the second psychedelic album in the list, after Flying Lotus. Heat Leisure are a collective featuring both of Guardian Alien, the Pontiak brothers and Steve Stromhier from Beach House and these two long pieces owes a debt to the early records of Can and Amon Duul II. The voice which introduces the whole thing is the original Merry Prankster, former Grateful Dead MC Ken Babbs, who has contributed a long monologue. The rest is a joyous, often improvised jam.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The best new albums of the month, September 2014

Release schedules usually mean that it's easy to pick 10 albums in the summer months, while the Autumn and New Year sees so many releases it is hard to limit the list to 10. Step forward September, which always manages to overwhelm me. This time it was even worse as I had no laptop for half of September and I only got to hear 29 of the 33 albums I had on my long list. I can't quite believe that I haven't got around to people like Laetitia Sadier and Thom Yorke yet, but that's why they are missing from the 10.

Holy Sons 'The Fact Facer'
my review (the 405)
"The Fact Facer applies variety and imagination throughout, which doesn't dilute the melancholy, yet ensures that the album doesn't become an overbearing listen. If anything it is the opposite, as the band are full of surprises and Emil Amos's voice is often a joy to hear. By the end of the album you can scarcely believe that this man is the drummer in Om."

Camera 'Remember I was Carbon Dioxide'
my review (the 405)
"Whilst there is no escaping the Krautrock influences, Camera have at least updated that sound with their own imagination, punky energy and a willingness to progress. If you enjoy the music of those German bands mentioned at the start of the review, you should get something out of this energetic 21st reboot of the genre."

Karen O 'Crush Songs'
I guess it's deliberate that the demos that make up 'Crush Songs' are barely there, recorded in a single take and often only about a minute long. The melodies are simple, delicate, and the instrumentation is mostly just a roughly recorded acoustic guitar, though there are little beats dotted around. It is a glimpse into her private emotions and manages to sound and feel like exactly that.

Tweedy 'Sukierae'
A double album created by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer, this is a lot better than I thought it would be. Spencer is a clearly a great drummer and his work on this manages to leave as distinctive a stamp of some of this material as his Dad's voice does. 20 songs as well, which are much more than Wilco cast-offs, in fact some of them are superb.

Aphex Twin 'Syro'
A much acclaimed return for Aphex Twin, with an album more succinct than its predecessor 'Druqks'. It immediately sounds like Aphex, though some of the edginess, crazier aspects have been tempered in favour of fairly accessible, almost house-influenced tunes.

Half Japanese 'Overjoyed'
I can't remember the last time that I listened to a full Half Japanese album, but I'm thrilled that they are such good form here. Cracking guitar sounds, the usual dubious rhymes in the lyrics, and Jad Fair is completely in your face throughout.

Shellac 'Dude Incredible'
Anyone was has seen Shellac in the last few years will be familiar with some of these songs. This album is one of their most immediate - and time will tell if it's amongst their best. Naturally it sounds brilliant, and quirky as well, with an a cappella opening on side 2 and more songs about surveyors on one album than anyone else has ever written.
(Obviously no Spotify on this one, but some chancer has put some of it on youtube, see below)

Sea Pinks 'Dreaming Tracks'
Relative unknowns in this list of heavy-hitters, Sea Pinks hail from Belfast and have a neat line in indie-pop, with nods to the heyday of Postcard records. Their fourth album, but the first to be recorded in the studio with a full band, complete with cello to add a bit of melancholy. Some strong songwriting, and the tracks flow really well together.

Perfume Genius 'Too Bright'
It took me longer to get into this than it had with his previous albums, first impressions were that the greater ensemble of musicians made PG's music more robust, less fragile. The songs do get under your skin in a pleasant way after a few listens, though the tracks with more dynamic range come across better

Tricky 'Adrian Thaws'
Not a perfect album by any means, but it's a sprawling, surprising effort by Tricky, hot on the heels of last year's False Idols. Random nods to past influences with a cover of Janet Kay's Silly Games and a cheeky Massive Attack steal. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Embedded: Slowthrills double edition no.2

Slowthrills double edition no.2 by Slowthrills on Mixcloud

This is the second long show, intending to highlight some of the best new music that has come our way in the latter half of the summer. The next series of podcasts/ radio shows will be shorter in length and more frequent, so look out for those in October. Tracklisting is below, thanks in advance for listening and sharing.

Second double edition Aug-Sep 2014
1. Chem Trails – Spider Bags
2. Archie, Marry Me – Alvvays
3. Falls Away – Childhood
4. Stamford Hill – Mazes
5. Dartford Tunnel – Splintered Man
6. Dripping – Blonde Redhead
7. Salo – Analogue Wave
8. In Love With Useless – A Sunny Day in Glasgow
9. Overdrive feat. Ummagma – Sounds of Sputnik
10. This Once – Acre Tarn
11. A Mirror in my Mouth – Susanna and Jenny Hval
12. Welsh Corgis in the Snow – Mary Lattimore and Jeff Zeigler
13. Seven Year Glitch – Rumour Cubes
14. Unshaven Boozer – David Thomas Broughton
15. Doomed Myself – Holy Sons
16. Tender is the Night – Robyn G Shiels
17. Mister Skeleton – Grumbling Fur
18. Out for the West – Castanets
19. Guidance – Meter Bridge
20. Forerunner Foray – Shabazz Palaces
21. The One – The Bug
22. De Bom Bom – Girl Band
23. Sea Sick – Dot Dash
24. Synchron – Camera