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albums - december 2015


Metric – Pagans in Vegas

I often find myself listening repeatedly to the first four tracks off an album. Not because I have a terrible attention span and not always because they are the best songs on the album. I do it because I often want to see if an album can hold my interest.

I can confirm that I have listened to the first four tracks on this album several times. Killer opener Lie Lie Lie not even getting close to flattering to deceive. I have also listened to tracks 4,5 and 6 many times, all of which are highlights. I have listened to all of this album several times over. I haven't listened to it all the way through many more than 3 times but I think that that is largely because of disappointment that they aren't actually The Clash at Demonhead. This is a ridiculous thing to level at the band that wrote all of The Clash at Demonhead's songs and actually, really, are The Clash at Demonhead. It is wildly unfair that my only criticism of this album is that I thought that Scott Pilgrim was a great movie. It doesn't even make sense. The Clash at Demonhead aren't even a real band.

I continue to listen to this album and Metric generally, I am bummed that I didn't get to see them on this run (or at all, so far). I recommend Metric.

The only thing stopping this album being amazing as far as I am concerned is something which doesn't make sense. This doesn't stop my preference being entirely valid, but it also hasn't stopped me thoroughly enjoying Metric being Metric, which is brilliant. And if that doesn't make sense, I suggest you concentrate on the least subjective parts of that, the parts that aren't entirely internal. This album actually makes all kinds of sense, It's fantastic.

Christopher Carney

The Fiction Aisle - 'Heart Map Rubric'

Quite a few years ago, I saw the Electric Soft Parade play what I remember as a lengthy and virulent live show, at the time of their touring around their 'Holes In The Wall' album. It was one of those live shows that I would have liked a recording of, an actual wall of noise of a performance reminiscent of Fugazi, of the JAMC and the Prodigy, if they only had guitars. I went home that evening unsure of exactly what I had heard, and what with one thing and another, I lost track of what the Electric Soft Parade were about, the band based around the White brothers Alex and Thomas and whose live show was filed alongside the several other memorable gigs by bands, some of whose names I've now forgotten, from over a decade ago. After finding added success as Brakes and releasing several other albums, Thomas White now brings to us an album that's more of the way of loungecore sophistication, citing Goldfrapp and Frank Sinatra as influences, and with 'Heart Map Rubric' the emphasis is definitely on songwriting over the amp shredding pyrotechnics of previous releases.

Album opener 'Blue' couldn't sound further from what I can remember of that Electric Soft Parade gig, a smoothly uptempo ballad with pianos and trumpets doing what they can to bolster the nostalgic lyrical mood ''the past becomes a chain / hanging down around my neck' sings White, and the mood is a reflective if unsentimental one. 'Sleep Tight' moves at a similar pace and then 'Love Come Save Me' takes things in a slightly darker direction, one that's reminiscent of later Pulp songs : 'arguments unfettered by alcohol / altercations all too brief' sings White over a noir-ish piano riff, while 'Each And Every One' captures the breezy tone that The Fiction Aisle are aiming at, without sounding too near to Stereolab, Saint Etienne or Black Box Recorder. 'Major Seventh' bops along with a convincing élan, and with a brass section to give it an added gravitas. It's certainly the most energetic song on the album so far. Aware that less is occasionally more, 'The Colour Of Morning' is mostly just White's vocal over a sequence of piano chords and it's a definite highlight, right up until at around the hallway moment where the entire band get involved and turn the song into a delirious epic of instrumentation. Following that, 'Outskirts' does something similar to its predecessor, except with an emphasis on a more traditional Indie sound, right down to its fade out keyboard ending. Last track 'Soon Enough The Morning Comes' ends the album on a mellow note, with the horn section bidding us a fond farewell over a Wurlitzer keyboard, a hint that there's much more to come from The Fiction Aisle.

Not every song on 'Heart Map Rubric' is an actual classic, and perhaps it's a song or two longer than it should, but The Fiction Aisle are a band whose songs contain a very personalised performance from Thomas White, a quotable lyricist and whose music has a great amount of depth, while the musicianship from the rest of the band is really quite superb and for the most part they get the mood and orchestration absolutely right. 'Heart Map Rubric' is an album that achieves much and brings its big band, psyche rock and songwriting influences together with consummate skill..


Various: Jupiter Sounds Volume One

Dion Torres aka Secret Destroyers imagines music as if the world suddenly ended in 1985, civilization reduced to just a synthesizer and a damaged drum machine! Appropriately dystopian-sounding 'Colours' is all part of Jupiter Sounds Volume One, the British independent's bespoke selection of synthwave instrumentals, featuring artists from all over the world. It's hard to imagine a genre lending itself better to the movies of the 80s, particularly sci-fi (think droning synths and the famous Yamaha CS-80 of Vangelis's epic Bladerunner soundtrack or Daft Punk's more recent contributions to Tron Legacy).

Is it back to the future then? Posterity hasn't treated the the decade very well (some people think Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet were the high points?), but when you think of all the bands that got waysided it may be time for a fresh look. Poland's Flashdance (nothing to to do with the film) obviously think so. 'Modular' owes a lot to Visage (Steve Strange) and the new romantics, pristine retro-synth and an infectious beat with clear designs on the dancefloor, and slightly more mid-tempo Meteor's 'Infinity' follows a similar pattern. Along with Secret Destroyers, these crisp analogue synthesizer recordings recapture some of the icy sheen that runs through the heart of great 80s sci-fi, hermetically-sealed worlds that aren't a light years from the way things turned out.

Parker Benjamin's shuffling 'Raindrops' and Unibe@t's house-laden 'You're My Sunshine' let your know where your feet are so you can join the great disco in the cosmos. Sweden's Harmony & T's 'Soft 2' trances things up with acid house, while Redpine's classic analogue sound chills the whole thing out momentarily. Neatly hand-crafted songs that radiate warmth and energy, clearly curation played its part on this collection.

Oddments change the tempo nicely. Corellian Collective's 'Arctic Road' eerily transports you somewhere darker and otherworldly, its lonely vocoder and wavering orchestrations like some gloomed-out robot trapped in space. Vocal contributions are rare, odd samples for human effect only. Outer-space is apparently a cold and deserted place in spite of inter-planetary communications. London ambient and glitch artist Model 86's 'Crying Tears Of Gigantic Consequence' builds sounds up symphonically with the classic Kosmische template, leaving some more icy chills, another highpoint. Farbfelde's 'Aurikel' also stands out as a slab of classic 70s German electronica (think Tangerine Dream, Neu! or Cluster), while the album closer Mike Haunted's 'Overlook' sheds the album's dark exterior with shimmering synthpop.

It's 2015, but listening over to Jupiter Sounds Volume One is designed to take you back to the future. Each item on this compilation is hand-wrapped, so to speak, prepared by artists who lovingly ply their synth-driven craft. Flirting with all those sci-fi epics which are bound up inextricably with this sort of music, these nostalgia-busters are a tonic for the inter-galactic troops. Niche music in amongst all the consumer-driven traffic, long live the artifact!

Matthew Haddrill

Jody Seabody & The Whirls - 'Holographic Slammer'

Just from looking at the cover of this one I had an idea that Jody & his Whirls are somewhere deep in Ty Segall territory and I don't think I'm wrong, although after the acoustic harmonising of first track 'Two Atmospheres' I get the idea that the band, none of whom are actually called Jody and whose album is released on the spectacularly named Artificial Head label, are on a heavier vibe than that of Ty Segall's archly turned freakouts. If there's one influence I can hear on 'Holographic Slammer' then it's a 70s Prog Rock band whose name sort of escapes me, as second teack 'Grassman' clocks in at over nine minutes sounding like the long lost collaboration between proto-grunge bluesmeisters Ten Years After and the fully be-robed and massively overindulgent sound of Yes in their 'Close To The Edge' heyday. Stirring stuff, and expertly handled by a band of whom I find myself asking 'are there really only four of them?'

'You Only Come In Twos' keeps the momentum flying with its combination of crunching guitars and soaring keyboards, and Lennonesque phrasing. This is what it was supposed to sound like, runs the subtext, and 'Summery Zen' and 'Rake One' and then 'Battle' take things away from the Prog thing that Jody Seabody & The Whirls are really quite good at, to a more contemporary sound that's part garage Punk and part west coast singer songwriting, although by the end of 'Battle' I'm starting to think that JS&TW are just playing whatever they want to, purposefully mixing their musical styles to confuse record shop staff that won't know exactly under which description to file them, and 'Charlemagne Pt 1 and 2' and lastly 'F*cked Up Adventurous' just confirm that the Jody Seabodies are only in it for the noise quotient, and stuff what anyone else thinks.Of course we would all enjoy it a lot more if they made an album that was entirely based on the music of mid 70s supergroups. Wouldn't we?


Nymphalida – Loghi

Nymphalida's (mostly) beatless explorations combine warm drones with sounds of nature and minimal orchestration to create a strong sense of place on Loghi. There's a lot of adding and subtracting to create this kind of music, the sort of “composting” Brian Eno famously refers to on the sleeve notes for 1982's Ambient 4: On Land. The Italian electronic artist Pietro Bianco's suspended world produces sounds so “close” you can almost smell them ... forested walks in damp mossy undergrowth, with dark leafy ceilings that shield the light and silence all around … nature creates these eery spaces in amongst all its prettiness.

He may or may not have followed Eno's process. Places certainly sound familiar, possibly steeped in childhood memory, or the rich world of the imagination. Somebody once described Boards Of Canada's 'Turquoise Hexagon Sun' on their 1998 debut Music Has The Right To Children as a happy walk through the woods in an altered state. But the songs on Loghi also sound real, very tangible in fact.

'Mà' starts effusively, its warm organ drone allowing “drops” of piano to slip through some of the cracks of its delicate soundspace. The peculiar suction and breathing noises indicate a beating heart, but the subtlest of electronic beats create the smudging emerald effect of a long autumnal walk.

The ringing at the beginning of 'Silva' is quite shrill, familiar organ joining but undercut with odd crackles and creature-like noises. Bianco layers sounds, so there's rushing water in the distance, a spring perhaps, the drone finally giving way to a string glissade with light tinkles in the background.

More delicacy with a melodic piano picking its way through electronic whirring noises on 'Anda'. But dulcimer-like incantations and a mildly-driving techno beat raise the tempo of the song into obvious sci-fi/dystopian soundtrack territory. It's a rare glimpse of another side to the artist, and certainly a magisterial moment on Loghi.

There's often a sense of “distance” in Bianco's composition. The spirally machine-like drone fading in at the start of 'Kusha' creates a helicopter hovering effect, probably high up in the sky somewhere (I wonder if it refers to the Hindu Kush, the massive mountain range that pins central Afghanistan to northern Pakistan?). Sounds are again “layered” neatly on top of each other, built up with deepening bell-like chimes. The effect is congesting, but then gradually emptying as the song eventually arrives at a silence.

Richly-orchestrated 'Berchida' buzzes like daybreak, but Bianco's classical guitar intones softly and deeply, “serenading” the silence. There are again fire crackles and a distant swishing noise alongside ghostly piano tropes. Traffic perhaps, as civilization, up to that point kept in check, rears its ugly head. “Nervous” clicks appear at the end, indicating restlessness, tranquility disturbed.

There is actually a beach in Sardinia called Berchida (“Spiaggia de Berchida, Sardegna”). But whether these songs are about real places or not seems rather incidental. Nymphalida's gently effusive tones weave sound, tone and colour to create something poetic with a clear place in mind. Visual images are enhanced through Bianco's keen interest in photography.

Some dismiss this kind of music as minimalistic drift, but Loghi's charms are essentially its restorative value. In amongst all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, music with the beats taken out allows you to take a step back. You start to hear what's actually there, the same unmasking approach Brian Eno applied to his ambient experiments 20 years earlier. There's more of this talented Italian's music on his debut Portraits, released last year and also available on Psychonavigation.

Matthew Haddrill

Ships Have Sailed - 'Moodswings'

Beginning with 'Drive', a song that is built around some finely played electronics, it seems as if Ships Have Sailed are making a bid for the classy electropop market of a kind that, I think I can say, we've heard a lot of recently, ever since Foster The People laid down their blueprints for what present day synth pop is supposed to sound like and launching large numbers of imitators in their wake. Ships Have Sailed quote Foster as one of their influences (along with Coldplay, Imagine Dragons and a few others), although 'Moodswings' breezy pop sound also has a math rock influence and with one exception, the actual mood of the album is a mainly cheerful one. That opening track and its smoothly timed sequencing may lead some listeners to expect loungecore ambiences, but Ships Have Sailed then go for some easy-on-the-ear guitar pop, even calling the song 'Summertime' while invoking every soft drinks advert cliché imaginable. Not the new Jane's Addiction then? No, they aren't. Ships Have Sailed are glossy mainstream practitioners and they wouldn't claim any great amount of originality or for that matter personality in their music, which is produced with more than one eye towards its songs finding their way into adverts, teen drama and gaming soundtracks, actual music for elevators. I've had several similar albums to review recently and, for all its defined commerciality, 'Moodswings' is the sort of album that it's difficult to really dislike. Much of this is because of its production, which keeps everything ticking over, and the songwriting is also above average, and over its 11 tracks 'Moodswings' avoids sounding too contrived in its ambitions. It'd be a bit cool to know who produced and engineered it, but albums such as this aren't really made for people that are interested in things like that, easygoing and undemanding music that more people will hear than will actually buy.