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albums - october 2012


Laetitia Sadier – Silencio

There are few clues on Laetitia Sadier's latest solo album about how the Stereolab story will eventually play out. Silencio has a strong sense of the music both Sadier and her former partner Tim Gane brought to the band, elements of electronic pop and dance music, bossa nova rhythms and lounge jazz, pop and new wave, a dash of the avant-garde, but the lyrics here are less skewed or surreal, more politically-channelled, as Sadier comments on some of the issues of the day, like the recent G20 summit and the current economic crisis … Crisis? Yes, that one! Whatever your views on capitalism and Marxism, few would question the inherent instability of the former, nor the ability of the latter to interpret the world situation with some clarity. Marx himself just wasn't sure what to do with capitalism in crisis! Silencio doesn't claim to have any of the answers, of course, just a few ideas being passed back and forth, from a thoughtful artist who won't go gently into the night. Perhaps she's trying to shake us from our complacency while she catches her own breath in these heady times? In fact, there's a strong philosophical undercurrent running throughout this album, something which goes beyond sloganeering (although there's a bit of that as well!), as the French singer encourages us to look beyond ourselves. Finally, there's a meditation on silence based on an unusual experience Sadier had in a church (on closing song 'Invitation Au Silence'). You can also add a little speculation about Stereolab, as 2 of the songs on Silencio were written and performed with Tim Gane.

She starts as she means to go on, with opener 'The Rules of the Game' using Jean Renoir’s classic 1939 movie La Règle Du Jeu to reflect on how the decadence of a ruling class can create the conditions for fascism. Sadier's voice is Gauloise cool, of course, reminding us Brits how the French always seem to make politics so sexy:
“Their ruling class neglects the game, responsibility, over-indulged children
Drawn to cruel games, pointless pleasures, impulsive reflexes, a group of assassins
There we are disarmed a neo-consciousness, flick across paving the way to facism”

Before the song's message has entirely sunk in, characteristic Stereolab style it takes a different turning and speeds up towards the end, shades of earlier classic 'Slow Fast Hazel' from 1996 album Emperor Tomato Ketchup. 'Silent Spot' has a similar feel about it, but the sirenlike vocal accompanying the orchestrations is posing existential questions of the personal politic this time. Both songs have a strong melody at their heart, and reveal Sadier's leanings towards the orchestrations of Jobim, Gainsbourg and Morricone.

'Auscultation To The Nation' zips along with a nice groove, as Sadier drops down an octave to question the G20's legitimacy to make world decisions. The song ends with distorted wave sounds which seem to signify something falling apart. 'There Is A Price To Pay For Freedom (And It Isn't Security)' is slower, with majestic sweeps of keyboards, sung half in English, half in French, following another meandering thought before fading out, a more serious tenor being adopted in both the musical and lyrical content. 'Moi Sans Zach' becomes a spoken work reflection on life in her native tongue, while 'Fragment Pour Le Future De L'Homme' is an odd disco-funk number which reverberates like the famous 'Miss Modular' from the classic 1997 Dots And Loops album. 'Between Earth And Heaven' is jazz-infused and marks another promising musical development.

Tim Gane contributes 2 songs on the album. 'Find Me The Pulse Of The Universe' is bossa nova beat and again classic-Stereolab, as Sadier's questions tip over into maths and the surreal. 'Next Time You See Me' is a more straightforward 2-4 time signature pop song, homage to The Beatles perhaps. The pair of 2-minute pop songs, simple enough, but possibly signifying a willingness to work together again when the time is right, of course?

This album has a lot to commend it, and ''Invitation Au Silence' its self-proclaimed finale is the vocalized/whispered meditation on silence in a church. In it the artist recognizes the resonance of silence, and I wonder if the whole aim of this album was to reach some kind of accommodation with the present, that silence may be as useful as a sound (or song?)? In other words, Stereolab or no Stereolab, Sadier has taken the plunge again and followed up her 2010 album The Trip with another solid solo effort. While the former was an open and personal eulogy to her sister Noelle who committed suicide, Silencio ranges more widely over a number of matters, part-personal, part-political, part-meditational. There's no mistaking electropop's famous chanteuse whose music has almost passed into the unmistakable currency of her Krautrock and dance music heroes. Laetitia Sadier's latest album suggests a willingness to keep pushing boundaries as an artist and develop a career on her own if necessary, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This anglicized Brit has also shown us again how much more sexy politics is in France … God knows it may be the only way for Labour to get re-elected :)

Matthew Haddrill


Guns or Knives – Can't Beat Him, Can't Join Him

Somewhere a hardcore band has just done an internet search for the great name they came up with. They are a little disappointed. Hopefully they listen. After being surprised that the music they've found is one man and a guitar, I hope they keep listening.

This is not the slow strum and emoting of the regular crop of singer-songwriting, you may actually be able to dance to Guns & Knives' Country-Blues honk. I'd certainly try. It has a tendency to occasionally sound made up on the spot, but that's quite charming, mostly. Otherwise, this is interesting stuff that's technically excellent while not boring the heck out of me.

Is it an admission of redundancy if I want to just say that this is really good, not homogeneous music that you should listen to? I am going to say no, because there is no universe where I am not vital and also because there is a place for all good music in all of us. Go, get.
[Pun based on name of album and your need to get it omitted]
[Some sort of Frank Turner comparison omitted also]

Christopher Carney


Volcano! - Piñata

This was a tough one to listen review at first. It's hard to get instantly into. At first listen the squall, the dischord and what appears to be random visits from someone playing an entirely different song are what grabs you. Revisiting reaps rewards and things settle into coherence , in a similar way to when Tom Wait's pre-rock shambles is done perfectly.

Volcano! Have, in piñata is an inventive, rewarding and, ultimately, pretty listen. Similar to Dirty Projectors in their use of instrument, voice, tune and style and not diminished by the comparison. Like all the best things, a little effort provides rewards greater than the effort. There is beauty here.

Christopher Carney


The Cinematic Orchestra presents In Motion #1

Featuring The Cinematic Orchestra; Dorian Concept & Tom Chant; Grey Reverend and Austin Peralta, this is very interesting indeed! An exploration of the link between vision and sound, this project aims to provide soundtracks to or re-imaginings of the favourite avant-garde films of those involved. Written with visuals in mind, but also to stand alone. Even before listening I was intrigued.

Music is inextricably linked to cinema now. At it's best it can completely change your perception. At it's worst it can cloud everything and impose itself too greatly. Here, the stakes are not so high. The music does not come packaged with visuals and so it will almost always be only listened to. Music can conjure images where there are none, that is not a revelation, soundtracks such as this are designed to interpret the visual as well as to compliment they can be stories of their own.

It is quite quite beautiful. All involved should be tremendously proud of an album which fills all the space it is given when necessary and shrinks to almost imperceptible to allow that space to be appreciated anew. It is not just a case of accurately telling a story, rather this is a compilation of excellent music which achieves the stated aims.

I am thoroughly hooked on this album. The use of the orchestra is, where it could be an indulgence or add-on, lovely. I want to go where it is and I want to be part of the stories it tells.

Christopher Carney


Fighting With Wire - Colonel Blood (Xtra Mile)

Presenting the album that almost never was… released. Whilst the story of its heavily delayed unveiling is nowhere near as publicised and bloated as Guns N’ Roses ‘Chinese Democracy’ saga, Fighting With Wire (and particularly their fans) have had a frustrating time of it in the past 4 years. With the band wrapping up the recording sessions for their second full-length, Colonel Blood, in late 2008, it’s quite astounding that it has taken until September 2012 for this absolute belter of an album to be unleashed.

Colonel Blood picks up exactly where the band’s debut, Man vs Monster, left off. It’s packed full of ‘grab your mates and sing along as loud as you can’ tracks, which you’ll still find yourself nodding along to hours after listening. With vocalist and guitarist, Cahir O’Doherty, drawing on the 90s alt-rock bands that have influenced and shaped the sound of FWW, he seamlessly accompanies his self-produced wall of modern grunge riffs with upbeat, wholehearted, and ever present anthemic vocal melodies.

The first single to be released from Colonel Blood is Waiting On A Way To Believe, which wastes absolutely no time in grabbing you by the scruff of your neck and hurling you head first into the record. It’s jagged, stop-start riffing and dual vocal sparring from the off take just 37 seconds to launch a juggernaut of a chorus with vocalist, O’Doherty, belting out “it’s now or never” over a fierce, yet equally melodic chord progression. Make no mistake of it, Fighting With Wire are sounding as fresh as ever.

The album continues to hurtle along with tracks such as Erase You, The Great Escape, and Didn’t Wanna Come Back Home showcasing the band at their most memorable, whilst Graduate is a sure-fire contender for my fictional ‘coolest song to come out of Northern Ireland this year’ award. “Are we having fun yet?” yells O’Doherty. Oh, er… go on then… Hell yeah! It’s been worth the wait.

Lee Swinford


The Douglas Firs - 'The Furious Sound' (Armellodie)

You may have noticed, as I have done, that concept albums are very much in vogue these days. 'The Furious Sound' is inspired by - prepare to either gasp in amazement or guffaw heartly with unbridled cynicism - the East Lothian witch trials of 1590, when around 70 suspected occult practitioners were burned at the stake. That'll cheer us up, eh? Well, it is nearly halloween and Edinburgh's The Douglas Firs are supposing that everyone's in the mood for a bit of a scary story, with some moodily performed post rock soundtracking. 'The Furious Sound' and all thirteen songs on it all share a common theme and some of them were even recorded in the dungeons of Tantallon Castle, where the trials actually took place. Nothing like adding a bit of authenticity, the Firs.

I would, I think, have enjoyed 'The Furious Sound' a lot more had I not been distracted by the ghoulish preamble to what is a much better album than its presentation might lead us to believe. It really is quite good. It's atmospheric, tuneful, the vocals soar mesmerically the Firs display a keen grasp of post-rock dynamics and sharply turned artrock sensibilities and even the albums one relatively dull moment, the too-Joy-Divisiony-for-my-taste 'Eulogy' is saved by some neatly played keyboard. They might have overdone the scary stuff but 'The Furious Sound' is a somehow greater album than the gruesome medieval tale that has inspired it. Toffee apples all round, The Douglas Firs.



Lupen Crook - 'British Folk Tales' (Preservation Society)

'It feels like I'm so far from myself / I'm in dire straits needing something else' sings Lupen Crook on first track 'The Counting Song' with a hurdy gurdy providing some atmospheric screeching in the background. Unlike some singer songwriters whose deeply personalised lyricism reveals all manner of depths of desperation and misery, Lupen Crook is very much on top of things and his first album in five years (double checking this as I'm sure he released one in 2011) is a very near bit of a classic.

He doesn't overdo it, is Lupen Crooks approach to his only too beleivable tales of romance, rejection, meeting angels and hillwalking at the weekends. A greasy sounding keyboard gives 'My Mistaken Angel' and its tale of dark deeds in alleyways a convincingly grubby edge, while 'Note To Self' is a breezy summer anthem with a harmonica taking over from the hurdy gurdy in the backing stakes. 'Herding Cats' is a gritty tale of bedsit claustrophobia, and 'The Emerging Seas' had me digging out my own guitar and strumming along appreciatively, attempting to replicate Lupen Crooks rapidly played minor chordage. Really one of the best albums I've heard this year, why Lupen Crook isn't recognised as the significantly talented performer he actually is might not baffle us for very much longer.



Caspian - Waking Season (Triple Crown)

Swirling atmospherics culminating in vastly layered soundscapes, intricate swells evolving into crescendos of beautifully reverberated delays, pulsating and punctuated by mounting waves of distorted guitar, naturally flowing like the tide laps the shore. Gorgeously rich harmonies, teeming with dynamics, naturally arranged to absorb and flood the mind with worldly imagery. With warped samples, sporadic overdriven drum loops, and sprinkles of falsetto vocals complementing the varying tonal textures, this is very much a soundtrack for accompanying grand occasions. This is musical escapism at its hypnotic best.

Waking Season is the third full-release from Caspian, a band who have been raising the post-rock flag for the best part of a decade now. However, it is with the aid of Matt Bayles, the former keyboard player from Minus the Bear and producer of bands such as Isis and Mastodon, that Caspian appear to have evolved from a good shoe-gazing band that know their way around a pedal board, to an exceptional band capable of producing the soundtracks to wandering minds and daydreams. Isn’t that a joy of instrumental music?

In Waking Season, Caspian have developed their musicianship skills, honing in on producing a body of work that is emotive in design without continually falling on the ambient cliché of a tremolo lead on a fuzzy guitar. With the sustained, full-chordal synthesised strings in High Lonesome, and Collider In Blue, combined with the reverb soaked harmonics in Akiko, and the industrial beats in Halls Of The Summer, this record adds a much-favoured new dimension to the band and I, for one, am looking forward to where it goes next.

Lee Swinford