albums - december 2013
Joel Carey's distant forlorn voice echoing around a big empty room on '500 Days' (“Contact me wherever you are and I'll come to the very same place … thought of you for 500 days and I'm never going to go away!”) gives some indication of the lo-fi aesthetic of Peak Twins eponymous debut. The band's name isn't great, whichever way you look at it. There are traces of 'Twin Peaks', but thankfully a few more listens reveals more than homage from these slo-mo lounge punks from Adelaide, Australia. 'Divine Nature' certainly starts off with familiar country twang which could pass for the TV series theme, but the song then morphs into a sprawling 8-minute indie-gospel number aka Spiritualized or Blur's 'Tender', the long chant parting with a soaring guitar solo. 'So Long' and even album closer 'The Dolphins' sound like they're sailing a bit close to the wind again, with their attendant reverb-heavy echoey guitar, various 'shoo-wops' and sax solo, but vocalist Carey (usually the drummer with Aussie stoners Wolf & Cub) and his partner Liam Kenny on guitar (part of the Adelaide indie crowd Kitchen's Floor & Bitch Perfect) work enough into their songs to steer them off in odd and interesting directions.
So Peak Twins' sound is very stripped back, a cross between Mazzy Star and the Velvets third album. Vocal-heavy songs like Mamas & Papas-esque 'China White' are easy on the ears but still deliver the big pop chorus. 'Only One' serves as an introduction to 'Salvation' where they crank the guitars up Spaceman 3-style for some shoegaze, and 'Steppin Off' sees them rocking out again, but this time more like the Modern Lovers, Carey's solid vocal and Kenny's neat guitar work making the song really groove-a-pace.
So there are some promising moments, but Peak Twins' first official solo album lacks depth and breadth. To get a fuller idea of what the band are about, you'd need to hear the split-LP they released with fellow Aussie slackers Scott & Charlene's Wedding last year, which includes a version of the Sonny Bono classic 'Needles & Pins', psychedelic 'Only Sun', and the more ambient and experimental-sounding 'Orange Tree'. Both albums are released by Brisbane indie label Bedroom Suck and distributed by Fire Records. Put them altogether and you have a much more rounded selection of songs showcasing the band's talents. In fact, listening to both slim editions suggests Peak Twins may have been a drunken idea that snowballed into something more promising: be careful what you wish for!
Mass Grave. is the first full length album by The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries. All three band members have been part of various successful other projects. What brings together Bob Weston (Shellac, Volcano Suns, Mission of Burma), Elisha Wiesner (Kahoots) and Chris Brokaw (Come, Codeine, The New Year) is a long time friendship and a love of Martha’s Vineyard, the island off the coast of Massachusetts.
The band’s sound is somewhat difficult to classify, but the whole album oozes a dark, foreboding quality. You can hear Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in there as well as hardcore bands such as Flipper. There is no specific style or genre to pin the band down on, but one thing’s for sure, the album certainly grooves. The bass is constantly exceptional and Weston is certainly an expert at knowing the tone to choose for the feel of a song. Setting the agenda for the lyrics, guitar and drums to layer on the polish.
Wrist full of holes has a deep looping bass hook and as you’d expect from the title sick subject matter. All tied together by Elisha’s droning vocal.
Parachute has a riff that bands most bands would die for. And feels really fucking heavy, in a good way.
She’s a Fucking Angel (From Fucking Heaven) is a pure piece of dark pop magnificence, with catchy lyrics about having sex with the devil. It’s the albums high point and Brokaw calls it the best song he’s ever written. It’s easy to see why. If it weren’t for the profanity, it’d be a sure fire radio hit. The lyrical harmonies are beautiful and elevate the song to one that’s sure to stick in your head.
Ramon and Sage is a wonderful sweeping piece of alt rock magic. The flowing guitar weaves brilliantly with the low lyrical tones blending into another alternative classic.
Blond on Blonde’s thumping bass is brutal, but the track drags a little under its weight. It feels a little labored.
Look Up is another fairly forgettable track. While it does have another impressive bass sound, it doesn’t have the force of Parachute’s riff mastery.
One White Swan ends the album on high. With marching drums and a slow plucked guitar line. The only problem is it ends so abruptly you’ll be left wanting more.
Unfortunately, Mass Grave. trails off slightly towards the end. But it’s still a fine piece of work by a band that will only improve with time. The production on the album is a little shaky, but that’s almost the point. Albums like this don’t come around often anymore. It’s a strong hark back to the late eighties alt-rock boom. And that for me is a period more bands should look to for inspiration.
If you describe yourself as Minor Threat meets the Byrd’s Eight Miles High your direction might be a little clouded. But The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries have certainly got the credentials to make it as a band in their own right. They’ve got that vast cauldron of influences, open minds, and most importantly, it looks like they’ve got the song-writing ability to back it up.
Not that long ago, I wrote a review of Wimpy Milshake that was entirely negative. Part of my attack (What word do you mean?) was directed at their self-identification as “indie-pop”
The Ballet could very easily be termed indie-pop, but that would not mean that they are something I dislike. If I were to dislike them, it would not be because of this. Remember when there's been any genre ever and some bands are successful, some bands are awful, some bands are intelligent and there's sometimes intersection? Well, The Ballet are just intelligent. Like Gene were a long time ago. I do wonder just how much of this genre is left to explore though.
Where Wimpy Milkshake were irredeemably awful, The Ballet write good songs. I adore The Ballet, Wasps, the sticks outside my house and some gum I left under a book because they are not Wimpy Milkshake. I also like The Ballet for writing songs I like.
I admit, you wouldn't need to read their bio to guess that they are from New York and perhaps they should lay off that sound a little more than they do. That New York laconia can lead to everyone acting bored until they are. We could use you as part of a class which argues determinism.
The counter argument would be that sad disco will mean you'll make out with people and it'll be great. But you'll all look cool and eye liner-y. That's hot. Damn. Good argument, New Yorkers.
In truth I enjoyed this album but I think I enjoyed thinking up things to say about it more. It isn't amazing, but I'll listen to it again. I can't get too attached to it because I've shut all my feelings down... Oh HELL, it's got under my skin. What do I feel about this album? You can't tell? You don't know? Maybe I don't either or maybe I'm just as cool as this album and you've not got the joke.
I don’t see how it’s possible not to begin any review of Pollard’s work without even the slightest mention of how prolific this man’s outpourings are. I’m going to try and be brief. 2013 has seen an oeuvre consisting of a new Guided by Voices album (the fourth with the reunited lineup, rejoice!) and EP, two simultaneously released LPs from his more surrealist outfit Circus Devils, a solo LP, two new LP’s from two equally new side projects, plus a variety of singles. The man doesn’t do lax.
Where his excellent last offering Honey Locust Honky Tonk was by all means a Robert Pollard solo album (that is, consisting of jovial wordplay, and Todd Tobias’ colourful and recognisable production), albeit with a slight veering towards country-esque balladeering, Blazing Gentleman sits closer to last year’s Mouseman Cloud. In other words, full throttle riffs and pounding Tobias drums are back (track 5: ‘Return of the Drums’, need I say more?). It could be the most drum-heavy solo album of his yet, as it goes. He recently proclaimed that whilst his ever-adulated and recently reformed Guided by Voices may still currently be the talk of the town, he nonetheless maintains the more ‘mature’ stuff for his own LPs. The testament rings true, as Blazing Gentleman flows through pretty quickly, but worms its way under your skin after about three listens (as is the case with most of Pollard material). Single ‘Tonight’s the Rodeo’ has a chiming guitar passage that follows through with a suitably melodious chorus, a hook as good as anything he has ever written, but also a suitably concentrated dose of the characteristics and tropes that make his solo albums so listenable and rewarding. There are the atypical rhythms and breaks and of course, the pulsing lyrical forefront.
Blazing Gentleman doesn’t waste anyone’s time thanks to this level of convergence. Nothing is overdone, and most songs fall short of the two minute mark, meaning that the steam is retained through to the very end. It arguably gets better too, with swaying highlight ‘Tea People’ and epic closer ‘Lips of Joy’. I can pretty much guarantee that ‘My Museum needs an Elevator’ will be a firm fan favourite.
The fact that this man continues to make music after all these years, at the rate that he does is frankly, a miracle. His conviction as songwriter and postmodern troubadour, with offshoots left right and centre, gives credence to Pollard as the gift that keeps on giving. May he have many more Miller Lites.
I was waiting ages to hear this album.
I think that every influence I can hear is a band I like more than Dinosaur Pile-Up. All I can hear is influence. To put it another, perhaps kinder, way: I think they've done a very good job of sounding a lot like bands they like and they've done a great job of pointing out how good some of those bands are.
It is a horrific shame that this is the case because once you get past that barricade of influence, there's a skill and heart visible. It shouldn't be such hard work to see though. It shouldn't be hard work to listen to this kind of rock album. There's a rock album well worth listening to in here, but it's buried behind much better albums you still haven't gotten tired of and as a result you're not going to get around to this.
The route into Ulrich Schnauss's music is usually his prolific remix collection. You can catch up with this enigmatic electronica producer who veered into shoegaze on his 2010 Missing Deadlines collection. The third revival never quite happened for Schnauss and fellow shoegazer Engineers guitarist Mark Peters, so the pair intelligently shifted their focus. Schnauss retraced his footsteps with the techno-driven sound of A Long Way To Fall released earlier this year, along with recent Kirsty Hawkshaw, Jonas Munk and ASC collaborations, while on the evidence of their latest work together Peters has rekindled the pastoral and euphonic influences that characterized his early Engineers work.
The Schnauss-Peters pairing has emerged over a series of releases, notably 2012's Underrated Silence (although Schnauss actually joined Engineers on their last album In Praise Of More in 2010). The two combined their musical 'voices' (Schnauss on keyboards and various electronic effects, with Peters' playing bass and electric guitars) into a sonically-unified piece, with songs like the intoxicatingly dreamy 'The Messiah Is Falling', sci-fi-esque 'Long Distance Call' or moody choral-backed 'Forgotten' revealing a deeper melancholy at the heart of this slow-burner. It was never quite the fluffy clouds which even the twinkling 'Yesterday Didn't Exist' suggested.
Their latest release Tomorrow Is Another Day is very much the 'yang' to Underrated Silence's 'yin', a much brighter and (inevitably) more optimistic album than its predecessor, with skilful and beautifully textured sonics. Opener 'Slow Southern Skies' bubbles away at the outset with some nice electronic effects before Peters' clean-cut guitar picks up the pace, and windswept closer 'There's Always Tomorrow' is also embellished with some tasty prog. guitar and washes of Tangerine Dream-like keyboard, both tracks leaving traces of the sort of shoegaze explorations Schnauss experimented with on 2003's A Strangely Isolated Place. In truth though, there's a great musical expanse in front of us on Schnauss and Peters' latest work.
The players have grown together musically, yet their sound is focussed and perhaps more individually expressed on this album. Standout 'One Finger And Someone Else's Chords' indicates how they finish off each other's thoughts, the strange whip-like effects at the beginning giving way to Mike Oldfield-esque guitar backed with Schnauss's 'eastern' style syndrums sounding like Indian tabla. Similarly, Peters fills in the masterful echo effects Schnauss creates on 'Additional Ghosts' with very clean and rapid phrasing which lifts the song out of its underwater base sending it soaring into flight. The guitarist's energetic playing throughout Tomorrow Is Another Day is like a rush of bright colours on a clean white palette, a sort of musical 'Holi Festival Of Colours.'
They're not totally out of the woods though. 'Das Volk Hat Keine Seele' has a deeper foreboding in spite of its pretty sounds. The odd-sounding radiophonic interference effects with the wiry twang of guitar and echoey background piano give it more of a haunting quality, something like the whirring of telephone cables in the wind, the inspiration behind a lot of Harold Budd's ambient music. Schnauss's vocals take the robotic march of 'Walking With My Eyes Closed' to a nihilistic place, an intro of crashing sounds is followed by structured beats which eventually go out of phase as the singer admits ominously: “Walking with my eyes closed next to you/I dreamed of white and blue/There was only one things I could say/I let it fade away”.
The more uptempo 'Inconvenient Truths' pumps with a bass synth and Peters' sprightly guitar flourishes, and 'Bound By Lies' actually funks like a Daft Punk instrumental. Percussive effects are used novelly, from the clock chimes opening the title track set to lovely swirling Boards Of Canada-like keyboards through to the metronomic beats accompanying all the rich guitar- and synth-fills on 'Rosmarine'. On the latter, Peters and Schnauss spar playfully and its bright and hopeful serendipity is a theme which seems to underlie the whole album.
So on Tomorrow Is Another Day Ulrich Schnauss and Mark Peters offer us a bright counter-point to the slower and more introspective Underrated Silence. Sounds stand out more clearly against the unified background, colours and textures engage the senses and seem to burst into your ears! It's uplifting and great music for the headphones, streets ahead of the standard ambient fare, but I think there'll be more to come … especially as I can't see a shoegaze revival any time soon!