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albums - april 2016


The Leaf Library - 'Nightlight Music'

I've listened to 'Nightlight Music' more than once now, and I wonder if I'm really hearing what The Leaf Library are intending me to. Essentially, the eleven tracks on the album are variations on one particular theme, coldwave electronics given some blustery effects and played without anything in the way of percussion, which is very laudable as far as it goes for ambient, glacial and indeed ethereal soundscaping. It's just that the tempo never seems to vary and the subtleties of the Leaf Library's music are of the sort that can only really be heard if you listen very, very closely. Then discover that 'Nightlight Music' is very likely a remix of 2015's 'Daylight Versions' and appreciate that The Leaf Library are going to take what they do with the necessary amount of seriousness, regardless of what anyone else thinks, although describing themselves as 'droney two chord pop' does hint at a certain dry humour in their music.

So for those that missed out on the previous album, it's perhaps best to describe the tracks on 'Nightlight Music' as soundtracks for as yet unfilmed documentaries, music that would lend itself very well to film sequences of the ocean, of glaciers, of underwater landscapes - second track 'Acre' is a really good example of this, with its keening ending that segues into the pulsating, echoing 'Slow Spring' and perhaps aware that if they don't up the tempo very slightly that they could end up as the soundtrack to a slightly morbid semi-documentary set in an abandoned churchyard, The Leaf Library display a lightness of touch, even mystery with the glassy tones of the first version of 'Evening Gathers' although the second version, which seems like an exercise for harmonium and oboe is the more effective of the two. 'April' is the one track on the album that steps away from the ambience and shows that The Leaf Library's music does possess a more abrasive side on occasion, although it is one of the shorter tracks. Not everyone is really going to enjoy 'Nighlight Music'. It's an album that is only just accessible musically and really does belong in the 'experimental' section of your local music store. If however you are making a short film or documentary that has a lot of coastal footage or similar, perhaps you could give the Leaf Library a call and ask if they'd want to collaborate in some form, as I expect they'd probably say yes.


Future Elevators - s/t

I get a lot of albums a bit like this debut release from Future Elevators, trippy club pop that relies a lot on studio trickery, or at least albums that sound a lot like this but as of third track 'Losing Sleep' I decided that Future Elevators have something more to offer us than just technopop retreads. About a good a song as I've heard by anyone this year so far, 'Losing Sleep' would have made a more effective choice for a single from the 10 track album, although that hasn't prevented one or two influential radio shows from already featuring Future Elevators' actual single 'Modern World', a swirling although slightly underwhelming electronica number. There is more to Future Elevators than that though, and the tapped-out alt.folk of 'Just Another Day' reveals another side to the smoothly played electronics, although a bit more of a tune would help the song somewhat.

As it unfolds, Future Elevators' production sound seems to get in the way of the songs themselves. Every track has a strangely muffled sound that doesn't vary across the ten tracks and while I've heard this work for other musicians, the retro thing isn't quite happening for Future Elevators which is a bit irritating when they can write songs as good as 'Losing Sleep' and other album highlight 'Everything Everywhere'. The album ends with ten minute epic 'Aphrodite', a meandering sound collage quite reminiscent of Noveller that really doesn't go anywhere very exciting, its edges blunted by the hazy production sound that pretty much dumps a ton of sand on top of anything interesting Future Elevators can do. Their album certainly has its moments, but my advice to Future Elevators is to take it back into the studio and get away from the idea that making an album sound as if it was recorded on 4 track mono is really a very cool one in 2016.


The Evening Shades - 'Alright'

Medford, Oregon is the sort of place where nothing happens at the weekends, literally, the epitome of small town America, so boring and uninteresting that the only way to make life there even remotely survivable is for its inhabitants to pretend that they are in fact living not in the west of the country in a medium sized farm town but are actually in New York, the fabled cultural metropolis of, y'know, Noo Yawk bands n stuff, where there are numerous clubs and cool places to go, where everyone is famous at least four times an hour and there are buildings over six stories in height and the most influential albums are written and recorded, such as 'Is This It' by The Strokes.

I haven't, to give The Evening Shades the credit they actually deserve, heard the Strokes replicated with such detail, each guitar riff, the conversational vocal of Julian Casablancas, the Evening Shades frontman even looks like Casablancas, and actual Strokes fans will either nod their heads appreciatively or wonder why they hadn't heard those songs before. As for the other inhabitants of Medford, Oregon, since none of them have probably even ever heard of the real Strokes then the Evening Shades can probably do whatever it is they want.


exMagician - 'Scan The Blue'

From Belfast, exMagician have made the sort of impression that musicians always want to make, firstly as Cashier No. 9 - no, me neither - whose 2011 album gained all manner of plaudits in NI and received a lot of airplay from radios 1, 6 and others. Brilliant, that's what you want, and now five years later songwriting collective Danny Todd and James Smith are returning with an album that presses every button in the studio, in its practised and very confident 11 track reconfiguration of their numerous influences, including Beefheart, the Fall, Super Furries, Add N To X, all of these brought together with the sort of skill and attention to detail that can and does win awards. Really, for all that they only admit to the presence of one other musician in the studio (that would be Linley Hamilton, who probably does more than just play the trumpet) the Todd/Smith duo make an album of consistent quality that's probably going to win one or two awards of its own, after the successes of their previous project.

They cover a wide range of influences but the overall tone of 'Scan The Blue' is an essentially laid back, psyche pop one, an album that although its music is very often fast paced and smartly attuned such as second track 'Bend With The Wind' and its echoes of Arthur Lee complete with actual trumpets, and the whimsical soft pop of 'Desperado' with its hummable hooklines and shades of 'Illumination' period Paul Weller about, it's the albums longest track 'Smile To The Gallery' that strangely overshadows the album, a soporific six minute ballad that might have made a more effective appearance at the end of the album than at its halfway point. That's a minor criticism though, 'Scan The Blue' hasn't really a dull moment on its 11 tracks, and exMagician's take on psyche pop dynamics does deserve a large and appreciative audience.


Steven James Adams - Old Magick

The first and only time I have seen Steven James Adams play live or heard his music was at Indietracks 2015, where I was fortunate to be be crammed sardine like into the church on the site. I had no idea who this person was, but someone suggested I go to see him. That someone was very wise indeed. This LP reminds me of that very fine 40 minutes or so spent in and finally outside the church, as he led his disciples into the fresh air of the kids' playground for a final song singalong, after a set full of hope and bonhomie. That song was "Sonny" and it ends this release. This is context, folks.

This is a great LP, full of mainly acoustic pop nuggets with the odd electric guitar for emphasis. The songs are upbeat, with opener "Togetherness" celebrating what keeps us together and being afraid of becoming what keeps us apart. As the political debate increases its finger pointing at the wrong targets, this song is a welcome breath of "fuck you, neoliberal twats". In an indie pop style. Clever, eh? Other topics cover self-doubt, concern about impending World War 3, making choices, some good, some bad, all songs making their point and then stopping, so this ten track LP comes in around thirty minutes. No chaff is allowed.

The strength of a good LP, as the cliche goes, is that the songs contained in it complement each other and that the LP sounds like a rounded piece of work, thus making it hard to name "the best song" or "the best songs". This LP satisfies that cliche. There are songs on here that are easy to fall for straight away. Basically, what I'm saying this LP is really good. You should get it. Spend less time reading reviews (except this last sentence) and get listening - buy this LP.

Dave Procter


Whiplash OST

Have you seen Whiplash? Did it feel like it lasted about twenty breathless minutes, screaming from point to point at different levels of speedy intensity? There was little respite, it was amazing.

Do you remember the music? Do you know that Miles Teller was playing those drum parts? All of them? In the context of the film (and in the context of what Miles Teller achieved) that is amazing.
My concerns are twofold:

i. Will this music work outside of the breakneck storytelling?;
ii. Are these versions good enough to not just be replaced by better, more popular ones?

Ultimately, I've completely dismissed my concerns. The music is great, near flawless versions of classics, familiarly arranged so they could easily answer in the affirmative to the two questions. The main thing though is really how good the music is outside of their context. I admit that I was initially back in the film as I listened but more and more I just enjoyed the arrangement of what are solid American classics.

Do you pick up a soundtrack to be reminded of the film? Of course you do and the soundtracks work best when they can go beyond that and just point out the great songs you've been introduced to or reminded of. I've listened to this often and listened to it all. I've listened to favourite pieces. I've treated it like an album. I'm always reminded how the film had an impact on me.

That's what a soundtrack, outside of the film it is compiled or written for, is meant to do. Is that this got released so late. Was the aim to work against the connection to the film and highlight the pure musical feat? I don't know. I do know that I like the parallel. In the music, the drums, the central character's instrument, are often asked to sit at the back and be laser precise, only coming to the fore when given room (and maintaining the precision all the while), the soundtrack is the same. It sat in the film, making things go by at the right speed until it was asked to take four bars. They got it exactly right here on all counts.

Christopher Carney