albums - October 2014
Second album from the variously Texas/Seattle based duo of Robert Gomez and Anna Lynne Williams, and I never heard the first one but I think I'd like to as I enjoyed listening to 'Cartographer/Explorer' a heck of a lot. A lot of my enthusiasm has to do with the albums first track 'Beach' which is, and I am hoping you will get a chance to hear it, just superb, really. A picked guitar, a keyboard riff, distant sounding percussion and a seductive vocal - yes it's all been done a quadrillion times before but no one has done it quite as well as Ormonde, to my knowledge, for a while anyway. And the rest of the album doesn't disappoint although, after such a brilliantly performed opener, you might wonder if Ormonde can maintain their alternately sunny and noir-ish momentums.
They certainly can. Even when things take a bit of a less than cheerful
turn, such as with second track 'A Grand Design', Ormonde's sense
of self possession and unhurried instrumentation bring a subtle elegance
to even the least complicated melodies, and it didn't surprise me
when I discovered that the duo are known to actually soundtrack films
that have people like Scarlett Johansson in them. We may not ever
get to find out exactly everything that Ormonde have done for the
motion picture industry, but don't let that put you off listening
to some of the most evocative and skilfully produced electronica I've
heard for a long time.
Already tearing a hole in the Radio 6 playlists, 'Measures Of Joy' is the techno album a lot of people have been waiting for, and its overwhelmingly positive reception says much about its virulent energies and intricate production. The alternating rhythmic structures of first track 'The Body Is A Clear Place' might lead listeners to expect some retro sounding angular funk riffs, and Virginia Wing are the sort of band that could reinvigorate that particular style convincingly, but their real strengths are in the simultaneously glacial and abrasive synth glissandos that configure their songs, and the pitch perfect mixing that raises their electro noise somewhere above the crowded London scene they are emerging from. Sounding like either a very good weekend or a very very bad one, Virginia Wing have hit on a formula that succeeds consistently across the twelve tracks on their debut full length.
I don't know a lot about Virginia Wing though, such as their names,
although I've found a lot of photos of them as either a trio or a
foursome. It matters a bit when an album is as good as this is getting
a lot of attention, perhaps we'll find out later. As the waves of
insectoid synth that end 'World Contact' wash through my headphones,
I can accept that there is perhaps more to Virginia Wing than we're
being told and for a band accused of being 'too experimental' or just
maybe having one or two bad gigs they've definitely got a hit single
of the traditional sort lurking within their setlist. I heard 'Meshes'
on R6 the other day, played in near proximity to Gang of 4's 'Ether',
and it clatters along like vintage GOF4, pil, Au Pairs and any other
very early 80s band that gets namechecked when the words Post Punk
are getting bandied about although it also sounds a bit like a token
nod towards those bands, particularly when next track 'Juniper' is
a blast of swirling dissonance unlike anything I've heard recently.
I would like to know who their vocalist is, as her voice adds a measured
objective commentary to the various strands of Virginia Wings music
that provides it with a notable added depth. A lot of you reading
this will hear Virginia Wing somewhere before the end of this year,
and next year too.
From Iceland, where it seems as if every other denizen of Reykyavik is a musical genius of some description - her brother is also a well regarded composer - singer songwriter Olof brings us eight tracks of awkward fragility and finely tuned, delicately performed confessionals. So it seems as her voice occasionally strains to keep pace with the glistening backline of her songs, a blizzard of plucked strings and thougtfully tapped out percussion that stays mainly on the folksy side of things, it isn't until third track 'Hypnose' that any electronics make their presence felt. Arnalds has a stronger voice than Lykke Ly, an inventive backing band and her lyrics are very seriously of the quirky variety.
The result of these elements combining is capital T twee, it needs
to be said. Either wistfully charming or hopelessly trapped in a continual
bid to outweird Bjork, depending on your mood, and while I can't fail
to find myself impressed with the quality of the musicianship and
Arnald's unaffected lyrical and vocal honesties, 'Palme' isn't exactly
what I want to hear right at this moment although I may very well
decide that I actually do sort of like it in around 18 months or so
from now, Arnalds is too skilfull a performer to slide into mere eccentricity
and the musicianship is really quite uplifting on occasion, it just
all sounds like a more than slightly overdone Scandinavian fussiness
just now, and there were likely a few doses of helium going around
in the studio. It's meant to be fun, and 'Palme' very nearly has the
important parts of Arnalds personality neatly produced out of it,
the songs and vocals reduced to the relevance of a phone ringtone.
You might want to hear what Arnalds has to say, or you might want
to leave it to the voicemail folder.
I was about halfway through 'Tide' and I started wondering about where I had heard something like Wooden Arms before. Their music contains the duetted inconstancy of The Beautiful South, the elegaic romanticism of the Go Betweens, and the chamber pop complexities of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, whose influence is what I decided I could hear. This is only an introduction to Wooden Arms though, 'Tide' is a near hypnotically compelling record, a really quite astounding performance from a group of Norwich based musicians that I would defy anyone to feel unmoved by. Starting with 'December' which, while it begins sounding a lot like the soundtrack to a radio play set in an abandoned clifftop farmhouse, takes on a very different form when the vocal begins and the choral, piano and strings are given a defined structure with some dramatically sudden percussion. There is a definite theatricality to Wooden Arms music and that they make just about everything they do actually work - and with a quite noteworthy amount of success - is testament to both their talent and their discipline as musicians. Wooden Arms make it all sound deceptively easy.
Very often, what gets described as modern composition relies a lot
on repetition but Wooden Arms write melodies that purposefully avoid
going too far along that route. They don't get very burlesque or rowdy
with the sometimes audible folksy cabaret elements either, and when
they do slip up a gear it's done with focused precision. A lot can
also be said for the resonant and sharply attuned production of the
album, which gives even Wooden Arms more reflective moments a taut
energy. The balance between songwriting and the level of musicianship
that Wooden Arms are posessed of isn't always an easy one to maintain,
but the five piece really don't put any of their feet wrong on 'Tide'
and I quite expect they'll turn up in a few 'best of' lists at the
end of the year.
Listening to 'Noah' on a train into Salzburg that was running an hour late, I had to keep taking out my earphones. It took me a while to figure out that the muffled voice in the background was coming from them, and not passing on any useful information.
Gudrun Gut (Einstürzende Neubauten - to name one of many) and Joachen Irmler (Faust) started recording this record at the Faust studio in Scheer, before completing it via the internet, with Gut back in Berlin. The title of this collaborative debut reflects the distance between that studio space and sea level - something that Berliner Gut found dizzying. Which is quite a good word to use in describing their results, building on recent solo expeditions into combining the psychedelic organ with modern electronic production (Irmler), and in superbly off-kilter electronic city music (Gut).
What you get here is an ironically organic sounding fusion of these sounds, closer to the teamwork of Blawan and Surgeon under the guise of Trade than to the seemingly self-indulgent noodling of Dave Harrington and Nicolas Jaar as DARKSIDE. For someone who has been enchanted by the odd, reverb-soaked incantations Gut has been throwing out over the last 5 years - the Bill Callahan cover on 'I Put a Record On', and the version of 'Simply the Best' on 'Wildlife' - it is deeply satisfying to travel with one of Europe's great modern city dwellers out of her garden, and up onto the Faust mountain. It has given her a chance to re-wire her weird. Swathes of distorted sound and eerily disembodied voices emerge on the horizon, and settle into the mid-distance before they can build into a tsunami, almost reminiscent of the slow-build-then-destroy-everything approach of Ben Frost, except before you get swept away, the shimmering waves break at your feet, as bursts of sunlight puncture the clouds overhead. Unpredictable, and yet with the feeling of having been extremely deftly arranged, this is a beautifully distracting storm of a record.
“Pleasure Yourself” opens with a shoe gaze anthem, “One Day My Baby
Will Leave You”
It’s rammed with heartfelt lyrics delivered with a broken heart. It has a gorgeous girly harmony and a nod and a wink to The Jesus Mary Chain’s classic “Just like Honey” slow and sure snare/tambourine beat… it’s an instant win.
A band comprised of talent such as Sean Cook (Spiritualised) Bob Locke and Tim Norfolk (The Insects) and produced by Andy Spaceland, you’d hope the second album of Cook’s “side project” delivers. Slowly and surely deliver it does. It’s an album that unfurls in its own time, gradually wrapping its soft arms around you, sending you into a beautiful sleepy psychedelic daze.
Track 3 “All I Want” is painfully pretty, with the ‘beyond’ calling you can close your eyes, listen closely and feel Cook floating away. Passionately performed, it is heart on the sleeve stuff. In fact, the whole album is delivered with the kind of passion most handed-on-a-plate-manufactured-pop-acts would give their left Botoxed* buttock for.
This is a band recording the type of music they want, in their own time (it’s been seven years since their debut) on their own terms. Take “Lies”, a track which offers the listener a downbeat optimism that will make you smile despite yourself “Bored, I’m bored of it all / Same old lies”. There’s a heroism there.
Being a bitter has been, I unintentionally look for the weak spots in most things, but there are few to find here. In fact my only real criticism of the whole affair is they named the album after the weakest track… which is no criticism at all.
All in all The Flies second album is a psychedelic, soulful treat full of heart. What more can you ask for? Dip in your toe and be prepared for a trip down melancholy lane.
Google “Martyr Privates” and you come across the phrase “Brisbane
The Martyr Privates eponymous debut is a dull, uninspired, Spacemen 3 meets Mad-Chester knock off. The songs are special only in the fact they can barely distinguish themselves from each other. It’s the same droning guitar style over and over again. The guitar overpowers everything in the mix, which is irritating as it’s easily the most obnoxious third of the band. The production is awful, the bass is low down, vocals barely present and the whole thing is tediously lo-fi… Lo-fi, not in a “cool underground aesthetic” kind of way, but in a “my god why didn’t you spend another $5 on the production” kind of way.
The best way to describe this album is like listening to your mate’s 6th form band. Unfortunately when I was 17 and my mates wanted me to listen to another song, I had to nod my head and try to produce a “yeah sure” with as much enthusiasm as I could scrape together. Mercifully, with the Martyr Privates, I could just press eject.