albums - september 2012
It is, unsurprisingly, difficult to sound completely bombed and also good. It is hard to sound as killer as you think you do when you're playing the piano with your forehead, because you're playing the piano with your forehead. While you think you sound like Jerry Lee and The Stones, you are making people want to kill you.
If you can sound like you're having the best party and the listener has joined you just as the wave crests, you're doing fine. If you're doing that, you're almost certainly sound tracking someone else's party and if you're drowning out their tired nonsense, more people are going to have a good time.
Deer Tick manage to hold it all together while sounding like they're about to fall off whatever their stood on. It's great. They're using their foreheads to hold excellent hats at the right angle and they're using their mouths to grin and shout and slur some rock. Deer Tick should play the party you have when the only thing left is an act of complete stupidity.
What's better is that this album is not two dimensional. There are at least two sides to this album. It's cool too. What I really want though, is full-tilt party but that's OK. It's OK because I'm pretty happy listening to songs that sound like even a party band knows that sometimes you have to stand outside during the day. I'm a little embarrassed to be liking it at the moment because I think it might be a concept album. I think it might be based on a night out that's hectic and brilliant but ultimately unsustainable. The best thing about it is that it isn't a bad night. It just knows it can't be full tilt and at some point you should probably watch the sun come up with your arm around someone and then take them for pan cakes. One of the things that makes me more sure I am right is that the last song sounds like a more party orienteated Belle & Sebastian song.
Leeds-based prog rock. And none of this “modern take on prog rock” nonsense either; old fashioned prog rock. Disjointed time signatures, endless songs that fail to get anywhere, odd lyrics, and lots of noise. In other words, quite hard to listen to.
I don’t listen to very much progressive rock, which doesn’t render me very well qualified to claim this album is uninspiring. But claim I do. What the tracks do fantastically is seem to last forever and keep you on your toes as far as melody and rhythm goes - but on very few occasions do they ever get close to blossoming into an exhilarating riff, or featuring any kind of rousing vocal. I mean he’s shouting but the variance in pitch seems to range about three notes, which very rarely fit the key of the music itself. The riffs that are used lurch on awkwardly, incessantly, and not memorably.
Keiki are a Brussels-based twosome who proclaim themselves as satanic rock, but are slightly post-hardcore spoken word amalgamation. Satan would laugh at this.
It’s drum machine, guitar, and female vocal. You’d expect satanic rock to be full of fuzz, detuned to fuck and growling like a hellish beast; but the guitar featured here is surprisingly thin and timid. The synthesised beats are cheesy, fresh off a Casio keyboard and the vocals are almost entirely spoken. This may have all been recorded in a bedroom in one take. 3/10
Fusing elements of ambient techno, krautrock, post-rock and film music, Kreidler continue the long-running trajectory of forward thinking German musicians. As with fellow countrymen Mouse On Mars, the sheer sonic depth of their music sets them immediately apart from the vast majority of their contemporaries.
Unusually for what is essentially an electronic band, Kreidler are also masters of the organic. Den, their 11th studio album, full of earthy, mossy textures, treats electronic instruments in the same kind of way Brian Eno does – as real, living, sensual beings. The result, as with Eno, is a mesmerising and rich sonic world.
One of the things that makes Den so interesting is the power the composition has over the sounds used. Light, delicate ornamentations are bound together into dark, tense shapes. Dissonance is sometimes used, but in context the result never sounds dissonant. Almost tuneless percussion sounds become melodic patterns, and melodic voices become percussive patterns. Very little on the album can be said to be performing the role you’d expect it to.
Kreidler’s original vision for the album was to lose the drums altogether, and towards the end of the album we get a glimpse of what that would have sounded like. Without their skeleton of understated rhythm the softer elements lose their sense of purpose, slipping away into an ambient slop. Where Mouse On Mars are able to move seamlessly from hard-hitting grooves into ambient, watercolour washes, Kreidler unfortunately appear to be slaves to their rhythm section. However, when locked into a solid vibe, Kreidler are masters at their game, and Den is a real treat to listen to.
If you already know about Swans, you can probably envisage what the
album Michael Gira has described as '30 years in the making' is going
to sound like. If you don't, then it wouldn't be completely out of
the character of Gira's carefully constructed borderline psychotic
persona for him to personally visit your home and 'persuade' you not
to buy his newest album on the grounds that 1) there's a queue 2)
you really aren't cool enough to actually hear it and 3) who are you
anyway? No other band has spent its career cultivating big town cynicism
and making quite as much out of intimidating audiences as Swans have
done. Some people revere them, others ask why are they called Swans
when they make such a densely atonal and overwhelmingly loud sound,
to the point of actual unlistenability. Make no mistake, Swans were
and are the ultimate New York noise band
Really, there hasn't been a band as convincingly innovatively Britop
as Spector for what seems like, well, ages. Everything about them
is just about spot on besuitedly perfect - the anthemic powerpop produced
with subtly resonating flair, Frederick Macpherson's not overly personalised
observant lyricism, the modish band look that resembles a Burtons
window display suddenly springing to briliantly conceived three dimensional
life, the vogueishly glamourous sleeve artwork - Spector pull out
every stop they can find and the result is one very stunning debut
album, one that's every bit as memorably iconic as any of their acknowledged
influences, a trail of Glampunk excess that stretches all the way
back to Roxy Music's 1973 debut. Why, I found myself asking, has it
taken quite so long for a band to make an album as spectacularly realised,
as artistically credible, as downright fantastic as 'Enjoy It While
It Lasts'? It's not as if we've been horribly bored for the last year
or two, but Spector are the kind of band whose appearance redefines
the boundaries of our music, perhaps the most important new UK act
since Pulp, what with one thing and another.
From Berlin, Camera are noted for their impromptu live gigs where
they set up their equipment unnanounced in parks, side streets, U
Bahn stations and anywhere else they're able to until someone pulls
the plug on them. They've collected praise and kudos from Moebius
(they probably borrow his equipment at the weekends) and Neu! guitarist
Michael Rother, and Bureau B is probably the top label for new German
music just now, so 'Radiate!' is perhaps one of this years most noteworthy
new releases in the field of Krautronica. Camera aren't taking themselves
very seriously, describing their music as 'Kosmiche' (doesn't mean
exactly the same as our English word Cosmic), and while making the
neccessary genuflections towards their 70s inspirations - Cluster,
Harmonia, and indeed Neu! - they're making a quite effective attempt
towards, if not exactly breaking the electronica mould, to pushing
its boundaries somewhere. Into the future, if you will.
Now there's a name from the late 80s, the forgotten masters of Shoegaze? AR Kane are a band I don't know very much about, unlike their namesakes the Kane Gang and even those actual Kane brothers Hue And Cry. Unfortunately , I now know why. Some bands should stick to releasing 'best of' compilations instead of reminding us how unspeakably pathetic they actually were and AR Kane, you are very near the top of that particular list. I had been sort of looking forward to hearing this, but when confronted by tracks with titles such as the genuinely worrying 'Sado Masochism Is A Must' and the frankly repulsive 'Sperm Travels Like A Juggernaut' I found myself unable to finish downloading the 26 tracks that make up AR Kane's complete singles output, and I make no apologies for this. They were signed to 4AD and did enjoy a sort of 'cool' reputation at one time but they'll probably wish they'd kept quiet about what they were up to in the late 80s after some people hear about this. Talk about scraping the barrel, OLI.
A second, superb release from Marry Waterson and Oliver Knight, following on swiftly from last year’s highly praised debut album, ‘The Days That Shaped Me’. Although very different from that first, introspectively personal and more traditionally ‘folk’ album, in terms of the eclectic musical styles covered and the character-based narratives of the songs, both albums have in common the same high quality of song-writing, singing and musicianship.
Despite having released their debut in 2011, Marry and Oliver are not newcomers, since, as son and daughter of the late, great Lal Waterson, and part of the wider Waterson / Carthy Family, which includes their aunt and uncle, Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy, and cousin, Eliza Carthy, both are accomplished performers and have already made significant contributions to Waterson/Carthy recordings and performances for several decades. Oliver Knight also made two acclaimed albums as part of a song writing partnership with his late mother and released his own solo album in 2002, featuring his sister as one of the guest vocalists.
This new album assembles an array of musicians from The Athletes, The Imagined Village, Bellowhead and Show Of Hands; along with guest appearances on individual tracks from Martin Carthy, Eliza Carthy, and the acapella trio Coope, Boyes and Simpson. Collectively they deliver a diverse and finely crafted set of songs, populated with real, contemporary characters who share, as the album’s title suggests and Marry states in the press release, “ ... similar traits of concealment, deception and avoidance.”
While, after only a few listens, I already had a set of personal favourites, ‘Hidden’ is a complete album, with each song a jewel that sparkles on its own merits. This is an album that takes you on a journey, both lyrically and musically, and you just know that while it is very much a personal creation, these songs will be covered by other artists in the years to come. Meanwhile, I look forward to an opportunity to hear these songs performed live.
Opening with ‘I’m In A Mood’, a sort of mellow, late night, ‘one more whisky before bedtime’, melancholic track, awash with mellotron and subtle, tremolo guitar, the album picks up the pace with the ridiculously catchy, ragtime, cabaret sing-along of ‘Going, Going Gone’, with Eliza Carthy and Marry singing harmonies over jelly-roll piano and understated, emotive guitar from Oliver. If you get the chance, check out the idiosyncratically quirky animated video, made by Marry herself to accompany the song.
‘Gormandiser’, a song about one woman’s relationship with food, provides something of a showcase for Oliver’s guitar playing, in a sort of relaxed and fluid, J.J. Cale groove, with Reuben Taylor of The Athletes providing swelling organ accompaniment.
‘Benign’, features a low key guest appearance by the legendary Martin Carthy, along with piano accompaniment, and some achingly beautiful cello from Barney Morse Brown of The Imagined Village. This is one of maybe two or three tracks on the album that fits comfortably into the narrow, genre pigeonhole of ‘folk’ music, and even then it is perhaps more to do with folk music as a means of storytelling that allows such a flimsy and redundant label to stick at all.
It’s hard not to succumb to the temptation to write about each of the 11 tracks in turn, but for the sake of brevity I’ll try to resist my inclinations and confine my comments to just one more of my personal favourites.
After wracking my brains, I realised that more than anything, ‘Professional Confessionals’, with its musical box piano, distorted guitar and electonica outro, reminds me of the sort of magic that This Mortal Coil managed on their first album, and I would dearly love to hear this performed live, perhaps with Oliver letting rip for a few more minutes before the track fades out with its blips and loops. Still, as it stands, the album track is just over four minutes of lyrical and musical perfection. If I’d been listening to this on vinyl I’d already be well on the way to wearing out the grooves!
I had to sleep on this review. The album, at first, had me lost. I was entirely unsure of what I thought. I knew that I thought one of two things. I either thought that it was a brilliant attempt at aping the soundtracks to, amongst other things, a possibly imaginary 80's comedy about golf or the soundtrack to the computer game Out Run or I thought that it was a synth-washed attack on all my senses by people projecting their utterly objectionable personalities perfectly
It would be a gigantic cop-out to say that it is both of those things wouldn't it? It's the most obvious of set ups and I will not stoop so low. If you view this album as entirely hilarious, you see that it is neither of the things I mentioned. This is also an obvious writing device and I will almost apologise for it. Almost.
Junior High is almost a parody. It is definitely hilarious and that is almost certainly intentional. The thing that makes it very nearly really work is that the people involved are playing it straight. I would recommend not listening to the whole album all the way through, it becomes hard work, however, if you can actually see the possibility of brilliance in something being entirely, wilfully and expertly 80's synth-pop, then you can spend some time really enjoying this record. I would also recommend that you resign yourself never really fully understanding why you don't think this is an atrocity.
Junior High is the worst band name to internet search for. The. Worst. Worse than Google. If I listen to the album for too ling, I get a headache. I think it is all the neon, all the man-made fibres and frowning at the sun.
I think that that album title is awful. It sounds like something
Alan Partridge would call something.
I still want to take a batch of reviews and one-sentence them. I'd love to have a go at two word reviews too. But I can't and I understand. I'd still like to.
Some music is made for particular seasons. This was released in June and yet, it's made for autumn. Bespoke. It is curling leaves and wind-banged doors. It is the muffled wind while you sit warm and dry. It is a field, struggled through and hectic with cycloned leaf piles. It is wonderful for that alone. Like autumn, at its best, it looks both ways. There are still days when the sun hits your cheek and there is, over the western hills, the eyes of a waiting winter. I am not entirely in love with this album, but I am very fond of it and I must point out that once I had recognised autumn, I was sold. I am almost certainly seeing past faults. Just as this album reminds me of passed faults. I am not sorry for that. I do not think that I would regret telling you to listen to this. Listen to this over the next few months. Wrap a scarf around your chin. Hold a hand.
Guitars and chimes, bass and time-keeping drums. Look who the band members are alumni of (Dirty 3, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai) and know exactly why you'll like this album. Not know exactly how it sounds, but definitely know why you'll like it. What's more, it doesn't drag, at all.