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albums - march 2013


Filiamotsa – Sentier des Roches

Dark, French avant-garde records don’t get more… dark, French or avent-gardey as this.

Formed as a violin and drum two piece, Filiamotsa have produced a record that manages to be sparse and BIG at the same time. Sonically the album weaves together protracted moments of menacing ambiance with driving psychedelic jazz-rock.

Despite not really being mon tasse de the, there are parts of this record that really shone out for me, like the retro 80’s disco section in closing track La Porte De La Fontaine and the alt rock section in So Noise.

Having heard it through at least six or seven times over the past few weeks it’s not something I’ll be returning to anytime soon. However if you want something different and challenging to listen to, you can’t go far wrong.



Mogwai – Les Revenants Soundtrack (Rock Action)

It’s a tricky feat to carry off the writing of a soundtrack album. Some absolutely set the scene around the ‘action’ while others end up just being very gentle incidental music to hide the silent pauses and still air. As a consequence you can get accused of either scene stealing (by the filmies) or not really writing music to be heard in its own right. I’ve got to admit that I struggled a bit with Mogwai’s ’Zidane’ score – I just found it a bit too ponderous. There you go you see – even Mogwai can’t win.

But with ‘Les Revenants’, Mogwai have achieved a massive return to form. There’s none of the fiery stuff and walls of feedback from their ‘proper’ albums. In fact ‘Les Revenants is heavily key based. But there’s a wonderful underlying malevolence throughout which you would have thought impossible with the muted palette of instrumentation.

I know nothing about the film but there’s a very purposeful yet gradual progression about the way this album slots together as a whole. ‘Hungry Face, ‘Kill Jester’ and ‘Jaguar’ all brood nicely before the first signs of a broadening sound palette come into play in ‘The Messiah Needs Watching’ and it’s twinkling electric piano. During the course of the record you realise that every track is conceived as an individual piece – this is no aural wallpaper backing music. And gradually we reach the summit of the fizzling ‘Modern’ and the awesome single ‘Wizard Motor’.

I’m not sure I’ll be heading to Manchester in July to see Mogwai perform the whole of Zidane live. But it would take wild horses to keep me away if they ever decided to give this one a live showing. 8/10



Nicole Moudaber – Believe (Drumcode)

I feel like I’ve just awoken from a deep sleep and I’ve arrived back in 1995. And in my mind this is a good thing. Nicole Moudaber’s 9-track ‘Believe’ is dense collection of unadulterated, unapologetic techno which doesn’t try and sound cutting edge, doesn’t try to be gimmicky or feature loads of celebrity collaborators. It just sounds great. I’m no expert on techno (after Jeff Mills and Carl Cox I’m pretty much out of references) and I can’t quite work out why this pounding, thrumming beat interspersed with a few swooshes and samples is so attractive but it is. I even like it while tucked up at home with a hot chocolate – you don’t have to be pharmaceutically enhanced in some club to enjoy it. But I bet if you were it would be even more amazing than it already is (which is pretty bloody amazing). 8/10



Remember Remember – The Mixening

The Mixening is an album of songs produced and re-mixed by various artists taken entirely from Remember Remember’s well received second album The Quickening.

While the idea of getting a bunch of your favourite artists to take one of your tracks and put their own spin on it sounds appealing… this album sadly does not.

Give a classroom of GCSE music students a copy of Garageband and a spare afternoon and this is the kind of thing they’d produce. It’s fine, I mean it’s not unpleasant and there is at least one standout song, One Happier. But that’s it.
Certainly one “for the fans” and even then I can’t imagine they’ll be revisiting it that often.



Die! Die! Die! – Harmony

This is the fourth album from New Zealand power trio Die! Die! Die!

Musically, they’re not a million miles away from the pioneering, alt rock, power trio Husker Du. They share the same urgency, tight drum beat and melodic guitar progressions. Harmony has a cleaner, “spacey-er” sound than its predecessors and while the sound might have developed and mellowed slightly Die! Die! Die!’s zeal has not.

Opening track Oblivion is the perfect opener, I love its relentless pounding bass and cheeky jangly guitar riff which slips us beautifully into the titular second track. Which, is then followed in turn by Erase Waves, a song so saturated with the influence of the Minutemen, it’s dripping with the sound of D. Boon’s guitar.

There’s a mixture of soundscapes that follow, the dark, brooding distorted intro of Trinity flows into an optimistic bass driven power pop anthem, while 16 Shades of Blue is lovely Kevin Shields-esque exercise in discordant guitar.

Harmony is the sound of a three piece spreading their wings, keen to see what else a guitar, bass and drum combination can produce. It’s not a spectacular album, but if you like the likes of Husker Du, Pavement, Jesus Mary Chain etc. It’s well worth a listen.



Arbouretum – Coming Out Of The Fog

It's hard to separate the music of Arboretum from their talismanic singer Dave Heumann. His distinct vocal sounds crashing and fierce, but somehow wounded at the same time, like the haunted cry of an animal caught in the hunter's trap. It's a powerfully dark tenor which could arguably take its place alongside the great pantheon of folk-rock singers down the years. One thinks particularly of Alan Hull of Lindisfarne or Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, or even John Cale in his 70s Paris 1919 heyday. The Baltimore band's vocalist and de factor leader is certainly a strong presence on their latest album Coming Out Of The Fog, a collection of ghost stories set to the sort of dense and meandering stoner rock which has become their trademark in recent years.

Arbouretum remain part of the great American folk tradition, often referred to as 'Americana', and their split album last year with Keith Wood's Hush Arbors Aureola showed how bands from different points on the musical compass often arrive at the same road of lost dreams. While the dreamy folk of their partners typically champions the vistas of American artists like Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot, or their modern-day equivalent in say Bon Iver, the music of Heumann's outfit takes much longer strokes on an experimental canvas, psychedelic-sounding, but with a singer that lends the music quite a British 'feel', something like Richard Thompson and Fairport Convention.

Reviewers get a bit carried away when they're trying to describe the sort of dense riffage this band grinds out. Suffice to say if Arbouretum were a river, there'd be plenty of dredging to do! Their music paints the sort of wide open spaces desert rock bands Califone and Giant Sand tend to inhabit, but Heumann's world also reeks of the dark apocalyptic landscapes Cormack McCarthy describes in his Purlitzer-winning novel 'The Road'. His lyrics are thick with poetic imagery and mythology, like on the band's Carl Jung-inspired album of 2011 The Gathering.

So the characteristic voice opens Coming Out Of The Fog with a strident rallying call on 'The Long Night', but the music percolates away gently in the subconscious rather than relying on any big hooks or other musical quick fixes to grab the listener's attention. The results can sound a bit ponderous, some slightly insipid Palace Brothers minor keys fed through a Black Sabbath amp of distortion, but I find it's best not to fight it: if you love the psyched-out misty drug jams of bands like Bardo Pond, Om or Wooden Shjips, you'll love Arbouretum.

But has he subdued some of the intensity of the band's earlier material to substitute a dreamlike quality to the songs this time? Coming Out Of The Fog evokes some time and place 'other', and there are plenty of musical ghosts swirling around in the mist, too. There's more than a hint of Neil Young's 'Dreamin' Man' on the the piano-led title track, a bit of Jethro Tull's classic 'Aqualung' on the stirring opener, and I swear I could even hear 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' on 'The Promise'? Stranger still is the likeness of 'Renouncer' with The Velvet Underground's 'Sister Ray', itself a ghost story, but perhaps oddest of all is the instrumental 'Easter Island', which brilliantly segues into the title track to close the album. With its clawing discordant guitar-playing and metronomic beat, it actually sounds like Joy Division's 'Atrocity Exhibition'.

The band's typical kick-drum thuds and heavy bass drones induce a trance-like quality which leaves the listener navel-gazing inwards. The stoner and acidy psych-rock on this album draws on many musical strands, but one song very much blends into the next. The exceptions are the calming ballad 'Oceans Can't Sing' and the gently rolling title track at the end. So although they've toned down some of their prog excesses (nothing over 10 minutes here!), on Coming Out Of The Fog, it's very much business as usual for Arbouretum.
Carl Jung believed that dreams were like a hidden door to the soul, and the way to right the wrongs of the conscious ego. Dave Heumann and his band's music implores us to dream a bit more, which can't be a bad thing, can it? Like Neil Young sang at the end of his 1991 Harvest rematch Harvest Moon:
"I'm a dreamin' man,
yes, that's my problem
I can't tell when I'm not being real.
In the meadow dusk
Another time or place,
another civilization
Would really make
this life feel so complete."

Matthew Haddrill


Sara Jackson-Holman - 'Cardiology' (Expunged)

This US singer songwriter has found herself compared to among others Amy Winehouse although so far as I can make out Sara Jackson Holman hasn't either much in the way of visible tattoos or a significant vodka habit. Her music is also compared to Feist (remember Feist?) and more accurately Adele, whose sense of drama and soaring melodic power she does share, and on this, her second album, her measured piano playing and occasionally heartfelt lyricism and vocal are the marks of a quite real talent. 'Come By Fire' is the track that provides a useful introduction to the softly poised balladry that is gaining her quite an amount of attention over the pond, while 'Do I Make It Look Easy' has a soul rhythm at its core that in other hands could turn into a full-on brass and slap bass funk workout without much difficulty. 'Empty Arms' with its electronica backing and air of mild gloom recalls Dido in one of her more wistful moments (a more accurate comparison than mentioning the late Amy) while 'Risk It All' takes on an Urban vibe, the bass notes slamming out of the speakers in a way that might leave Sara's piano a little redundant, although as the album progresses both Sara and her backing musicians tread the Classic/Modern line with adept confidence, and the songs weave their own tales of love and loss through the combinations of electronics and more traditional musicianship. Really quite lovely and with only a hint of twisted archness behind the melodies, 'Cardiology' might just make you swoon if it catches you unawares.



Markus Mehr - 'Off' (Hidden Shoal)

Last summer I had the pleasure of hearing 'On', the previous release from the Augsburg based electronic composer, and a very lively and sklilful mixture of synth and sequencing it was. The second of a trilogy of albums, 'Off' revealed a notable musical imagination at work, with some cleverly handled touches keeping the mood wryly surreal. Now the final part of the trilogy has arrived, and it's a quite different album in just about every aspect. Consisting of one track 42 minutes in length, 'Off' is Markus Mehr's actual symphony, a repetitive sequence developed with a series of keyboard and percussive breaks, lengthy but not overlong, ambient but possessed of conflicting energies, the kind of album that you'd either like a lot or find repetitively unlistenable, depending on your own opinions. Where anyone hearing its predecessor might've expected more in the way of jump cut sound collages and booming beats (Mehr is quite up to providing both of these and more), 'Off' is instead a well timed and subtly composed meisterwerk, and displays a confidence and grasp of form that puts his music into a very rarified category indeed. Krautrock buffs will savour 'Off' for its inspired rewriting of much of the Tangerine Dream back catalogue while others will wonder what it's the soundtrack to and while it isn't often that a 42 minute long track keeps its momentum and even remains listenable throughout, 'Off' is an album that rewards repeated listening.