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albums - august 2015


The Unravelling – Tear a Hole in the Collective Vision

Gustavo De Beauville and Steve Moore, together known as the Canadian rock/industrial/progressive duo The Unravelling, have returned to the music arena after a lengthy hiatus due to Steve being diagnosed with cancer in 2011. He spent the following year and a half recovering from surgery, while Gustavo, the duo’s founder, released solo instrumental material under his own name. Steve and Gustavo reunited as The Unravelling after Steve’s successful recovery and in early to mid-2015 they dropped two hard-hitting, lyrics-centered singles. In a recent surprise move, Gustavo and Steve have released their sophomore album, Tear a Hole in the Collective Vision, months ahead of schedule and it’s available for free (or name your price), with complete lyrics, at their Bandcamp site.

Gustavo and Steve collaborated with Shaun Friesen of Free Zen Design for the visual concept and artwork of their latest singles and album which sport images that meld the natural and the artificial into eye-catching designs. The band’s two latest singles have made their way onto the new album, and on the first one, the foreboding “Revolt”, Steve sing-exclaims about the dichotomy between the inner truth and false beliefs and the need for positive change. There is no instrumental or vocal uplift to be found on this track – It’s a resounding warning cry about the state of the world in which we live. Second single “Master Drone” continues with the dire statements as Steve intones that we live in a “World of mimicry / Not an original thought.” while the industrial aggression of slammed bass line, heavy drum hits and cymbal crash, and winding siren line give way to a smoother stream of synth notes and supporting wordless vocals.

Centerpiece “Tear a Hole in the Collective Vision” is a manifesto for, in Steve’s own words, “complete psychological freedom” from what we think we are; a tearing off of the mask we wear every day, so to speak; a release from the chains of history and society that weigh us down. Steve exhorts us to “Take off your frightened mask and breathe.” A heavy marching drum beat starts off the track amid vocal whispers and light percussive clinks. Steve intensifies his sing-talking vocals to an exclamatory level as the needling buzz of an electric guitar circles around him like a fly.

This rebirth of human (self-)perception continues on “The Fearless Seed”, with Steve singing in an urgent tone that “Fires of change / come for me.” An ominous vibe runs through the song that is carried along by gritty, distorted synth notes, kinetic percussion, searing electric guitar lines, and sometimes doubled vocals. Album-ender “We Have No Problems” delves more intensively into metal genre with jagged guitar distortion and a hard drum beat. Steve expressively growls out his vocals, encapsulating the state of humanity with the lines “Everyone… / programmed with drama and pain / The hopes of the masses dragged across the rocks / Playing the human game…” Whether we can change this is other matter and one that The Unravelling addresses with vivid, bleak, and eye-opening lyrics on its powerful and restless album.

Jen Dan

Winter Calling – As Darkness Falls

Florida seems like an odd state to base a hard rock/metal band, especially one called Winter Calling, and the sunshine and palm trees do seem to have had a calming and uplifting effect on many of the songs of its recent debut album As Darkness Falls. But maybe geographical location has nothing to do with the brand of melodic and tuneful rock/metal Winter Calling plays and has to do more with the mindset of its members Chris Hodges (vocals), Ian Medhurst (guitar), Tim Gilbreath (bass), and Wayne Hoefle (drums, piano, keyboards). They embrace both the loud and the quiet on As Darkness Falls and have created a polished, sophisticated, powerful, and contemplative progressive heavy rock album.

Fans of gritty, pitch black, and overwhelmingly aggressive metal/rock should look elsewhere for their kicks, but metalheads and rock aficionados who are attuned to symphonic metal and melodic rock will get a kick out of As Darkness Falls. The album is full of big sounds and vocals that are mainly projected out in the manner of a stage production performing in front of an audience. The vocals and instrumentation are equally strong and in a welcome change, the words on each song can actually be heard clearly! The band members are in total control of the quiet versus loud dynamics and know when to go all-out and when to rein in it.

There are several reflective songs (or parts of songs) scattered across the album that include softer sung vocals, piano notes, pulled, sustained strings, and/or lilting acoustic guitar lines. Chris is not afraid to show some vulnerability like on the Iron Maiden cover “Wasted Years” where he poignantly aches in a high register. Instrumental album-ender “108” mixes the harder rock with contemplative passages, alternating between stormy electric guitar whirlwinds and interludes of cello and mellifluous acoustic guitar lines.

The guys in Winter Calling know how to rock and do so to powerful effect on the epic number “The Stand”, with Chris nearing throat-ripping levels as he expressively pushes out his words on the catchy chorus, intoning “I will not let you go / even if I don’t survive / “My soul outlives the mind / and I’m not afraid to die.” Backing vocals are added to bolster the sound on various tracks including “The Stand” and they give the song a fuller texture along with the bashed out drum beat and searing electric guitar lines.

Jen Dan

Dan Latner - 'No Fun Intended'

We've all done it. Picked up a guitar, banjo, or other stringed instrument and started singing the first load of old nonsense that springs to mind, improvising lyrics on the spot or turning in quickly arranged interpretations of songs that aren't usually played on acoustic guitars ie: 'The Smurf Song', the theme from 'Auf Weidershein Pet' with added verses, Johnny Cash and Dylan songs made up as they go along, or that one about a pig that everyone remembers but no-one will ever admit to knowing the words to. Dan Latner might've started his musical career in this way, after a late night session that began as a bit of a joke but then took on a life of its own, and as other musicians joined the throng actual songs appeared and next thing you know, here's 'No Fun Intended', which is, if you're in the mood for some quirky, witty and occasionally ribald bluegrass songs, the best album you'll have heard since the late Merl Haggard passed away. Not that Merl Haggard was ever really what you'd call a comedian, just that 'Okie From Muskogee' never fails to get the party going when the jam session starts after an evening's imbibing of fine liquers. Dan Latner knows this. He also knows that Merl Haggard isn't quite dead yet.

So, kazoos at the ready and with his vaudeville chops firmly intact, it's a foot tappin' trad jazz inflected entirely acoustic evening of assorted revelries around at the Latner place. Tales of lost an unrequited relationships are swiftly dealt a smart repost, and the backing music will make you want to buy a ukelele if you don't already own one, or even start writing comedic tunes of your own devising, if you haven't already ever done that. What may have originated as a jokey late night singalong has now developed a momentum entirely of its own, and 'No Fun Intended' is really a lot of fun to listen to, its title a purposefully disingenuous one which merely hints at the maniacal glee and coruscating lyrical invention that make it an album that not everyone will really like but that a lot of people are going to enjoy singing along to. All together now : 'I haven't brushed my teeth in two days / but I'm still going to give you a kiss …'


The Jackals - 'People'

Previously known as the Old Town Jackals (they could have kept that), The Jackals first album is one of those albums that appear completely formed and seemingly from out of thin air, one of those works of near actual genius which if you write about music, you sort of need to know a bit more about so that you can review it properly. Research has shown that in one form or another the Jackals have been making music for over a decade, that there are four of them, and that before 'People' was publically available they'd signed a licensing agreement to allow their songs to get played in Starbucks and some other places that play music for their customers. Now, don't think I'm accusing Jackals of 'selling out' or putting commercial considerations before their actual music as, I only got to hear Lana Del Ray's 'Brooklyn Baby' when I overheard it coming over the speakers in River Island one afternoon, memorised part of the lyric and Googled it when I got home, a song that I probably wouldn't have heard if I hadn't been buying denims that day, and the last time I was in Starbucks they were playing the Greatest Hits Of 1981, so bands like The Jackals are needed for all sorts of reasons and when they make albums as good as 'People', it's difficult to criticise then too much. Even if more info is probably required.

The Jackals (the Edinburgh Jackals, not the Norwich, LA or Carl Barat Jackals) are describing themselves as Cosmic Rock 'n' Roll which, in fairness, could leave them open to as many criticisms as kudos in 2015, with Anton Newcombe's muse drawing him towards lengthy modern compositions and the actual heyday of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the other bands, all of them from the US, that made up the Committe To Keep Music Evil now a decade past. Opening track 'Eyes Awaken' is a more than creditable tribute to the softly paced menace of 'Bravery Repetition And Noise', cello and piano accompanying the guitar meanderings. Next track is a different tack completely though, 'Raspberry Moon' is very in the mould of Mumford & Sons, rattling drum part and phones-in-the-air chorus all present and correct. And if Maroon 5 ever got their mojo back, 'Call Out Mellobird' or a song very like it wouldn't seem out of place on their comeback album. 'Ghost Soul Traffic' is going in the direction the Jackals want more effectively, as the Jackals remember that the two biggest influences on the BJMs were Echo & The Bunnymen and the Monkees, and after that fourth track the album and the type of song the Jackals are playing settles into an exploration of the laid back West Coast sound, with one or two excursions into rousing folk rock, for the remainder of the album.

As far as it goes with the BJMs thing, the Jackals are more than competent country psyche rock interpreters and 'People' contains songs that you might even suspect Anton Newcombe had a hand in somewhere. 'Two Heads' blends all their influences together, with an identifiably sixties garage punk tune that's only a key change away from 'Last Train To Clarksville', 'Where The Face Of Angels Lay' borrows a lead riff from the BJMs 'Just For Today', and last track 'Dust' is the album's epic closing number, replete with anthemic vocalising and a sitar to provide a suitably esoteric background vibe. 'People' is a an album that, while its influences are definably audible, is played and produced as more than just background noise for happy shopping. I only wonder if the Jackals actual audience is going to extend beyond just Starbucks customers that don't know who they are.


Iglomat - 'III'

So is that '3' or 'eye eye eye' or even 'aye aye aye' given that Iglomat's activities extend beyond Los Angeles and Austin TX to Edinburgh (the Scottish one, not the American Edinburgh that's just a few miles south of Indianapolis)? I did some research and it does mean Three, and as this is my first listen to anything the multinational band have released, I yet again found myself wondering exactly why music of this quality and listenabiity has only just reached me. Or has it? Something about Iglomat is putting me in mind of the Beta Band, the quite underrated Scots band whom I saw almost fill a very large venue at their farewell show over a decade ago, and while Iglomat's instrumental post rock sound isn't one that really sounds in any way what I could describe as 'retro' they are reminding me of a number of interesting albums that I heard about a decade ago, and longer, releases by The Low Frequency In Stereo, Tortoise, Dawn Of The Replicants, others whose band names and titles I've forgotten. Oh, and Mogwai. Definitely some Mogwai in' III'.

Of the ten tracks on 'III' that are in my music player, nine of them are in an album folder while one track has gone off and started a folder of its own, and 'My God It's Full Of Stars' is a mid paced and unlike a lot of the rest of the album relatively uncomplicated track, guitar and drums and bass and with a resonating piano that provides a measured redefinition of the track's tune. It might, for those music listeners over thirty, bring references to such as Moby (We Are All Made Of Stars) and Air (Kelly Watch The Stars), the sort of mainly instrumental and intergalactically themed stuff that a lot was heard of in the late 90s. That is very much the vibe of Iglomat, and the rest of the album has a lot of purposed and intricate musicality about which I've only really one criticism, which is that the tracks are a bit short. 'My God It's Full Of Stars' is good enough as it is, but it'd work much more successfully if it were about five and a half minutes instead of three and a half.

Of course I may have intruded on a band joke here, with each of the tracks numerically sequenced in such a way as to add up to the number 42 or something, and if that seems like I'm reading more into Iglomat than is actually there, then consider that they recently provided the soundtrack to a time lapsed film of the building of the Kelpie sculptures (near Falkirk, which is near the Scottish Edinburgh), and that they're the sort of band whose music isn't put together in a haphazard or improvised format. Listen to 'The Kelpies' which is the opening track on the album and you'll appreciate just how much Iglomat are putting into their mixture of electronics, guitars and keyboards, and that music like this is a lot more difficult to make and to make work than Iglomat are making it appear, with acoustic instruments and other elements appearing at far from random moments throughout. Listening to 'III' will make a few people want to hear Iglomat's other two albums.


Eyes Of A Blue Dog - 'Hamartia'

'Hamartia', I've just found out, isn't a name or a place. According to a dictionary I found myself looking at, it is 'a character defect that causes the downfall of the protagonist of a tragedy'. There then, you don't learn something new every day, and I could only speculate on why I've never heard that word anywhere previously. I've certainly read enough tragedies, and their introductions, not to say reviews and feature articles on films with tragic elements and I think I'd know if I'd heard that word anywhere before. But I haven't. And for a few moments I did think that 'Hamartia' was the band's name, although Anglo/Scandinavian band EOABG decided against calling themselves that, if they ever considered it.

Enough preamble. Calling your album 'Hamartia' isn't something you'd really do unless there was a proper reason for it and, citing Portishead, Explosions In The Sky and Talking Heads as influences, the trio have made an album which, while it's often musically complex and has a lot going for it as a piece of TripHop Nouveau, is resolutely downbeat when it comes to the lyrical content vocalist Elisabeth Nygard, sounding a bit like Nina Persson of the Cardigans, is on a very definite summertime downer, with just about everything that could go wrong actually going wrong at the EOABG Sunday afternoon barbecue and it's only beginning with the weather. At least that's what a first listen sounded like, with lyrics like those of 'Closer' with it's 'your voice is clear / but I have chosen to ignore it' and its tale of indoor stalking - 'I'll be stood outside your door / prepare to pay my debt', only the second track and the Hamaritc protagonist is already getting burgled. It goes on : 'my cure is fatal / and there's a risk with me' runs the wordage of 'Desire', so no pulling a sickie when EOABG are about. Then there's the title track, with its not really convincing cheerfully phrased wordage 'let's run away / see what's in store' which in context sounds a lot like an invitation to a kidnapping, and I won't even quote any of the lyric of 'Unhappy Mondays'.

The music's pretty good though and often undermines the album's theme of, well, the kind of things that unlucky characters in classic works of literature get Hamaritic about, driven by the fates to unfortunate destinies by their own combinations of obstinacy, wilfulness, treachery and indeed lechery. Hands up who's in the mood for a full on Scandinavian gloom fest, its edges smoothed by some skilfully played Nu Jazz? Not really me, right now.