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albums - august 2016


Scientist - '101001100101'

From Chicago, loud guitars, double timed drumming, shouted vocals, you know the drill, and Scientist are making what can sound a bit formulaic work. Perhaps they have more in the way of methodology in their music, or one or two of them are real scientists, whatever it is their combination of chaotic instrumentation and tightly paced timing makes '101001100101' consistently listenable. All the members of Scientist have previous band experience under their collective belts and it's probably this that makes the album a more accessible listen than this stuff usually is (at least for me). The electronics give the guitars more definition and the varying elements of the sound don't jar against each other, with even the shouty vocal sounding as if its in tune. Assortedly delving into post-rock and electronica, this is a metal album with more to offer than just mere headbanging.

Things are far from repetitive in Scientists soundlab, as matters develop from the grunge-paced growl of 'The Lighthouse' onto the rhythmic stop/start dynamics of 'Baptistina', the reverse-ambient soundscaping of 'Luminal', the verging on glam metal guitar shredding of 'Gravity Well', the experimentalism of 'Limb', the controlled pyrotechnics of 'Bloodless Breathless' and that list only includes about half of the complete album. I don't get too many quality hard rock albums to write about and Scientist's full length is about as good as it gets for this sort of thing.


Tau - 'Tau Tau Tau'

Very much figures of the current Psyche/drone scenes, the Berlin based duo of Gerald Pasqualin and Shaun Nunutzi are doing much to evoke the sounds and vibes of - well exactly when is becoming more of a question as the late 60s slide into actual history and musicians, some of whose parents weren't born when Buffalo Springfield were in their folk rock heyday. Not a criticism really, but something about the opening tracks of Tau's album had me reaching for the thesaurus and it's mostly about the chanting. I don't really like chanting very much, even when it's done as well as Tau and their accompanists are doing it on 'The Bridge Of Khajou' and 'Mother', alongside the sort of repetitive drumming that's probably designed to invoke a shamanic experience of some sort, usually a headache in my instance. Things get a bit livelier as Tau bring in folk rock and heavier instrumentation, particularly with the Led Zep influenced 'The Midnight Jaguar' and the acoustic 'I See You' echoes some of Arthur Lee's guitar artistry.

'Venadtio' starts off promisingly enough, its mix of electronics and live percussion, plus one or two other instruments is probably the strongest tune on the album so far. Then the chants begin once more and much as I appreciate the effort that's going into all of this, I cannot help but feel that, if I were walking one twilit evening, perhaps near the coast or in some shaded woodland, and I heard Tau going off at full pelt somewhere in the distance, I would turn around and hope they hadn't noticed me as I slunk off home for a nice cuppa and a listen to something with less in the way of chanting attached to it.


Gravitysays_i - 'Quantum Unknown'

I've heard some interestingly conceived and intricately played music emerging from the various boxes marked Prog in recent times, but Gravitysays_i, while they might find themselves filed alongside Muse and Kasabian in the racks of your nearest large music store, are a band of another kind entirely. From Greece, and perhaps there's an informed urgency in their music that can only emerge from Athens in this day and age, and their music does contain the occasional bouzouki, but right from the opening chords of first track 'More Than A Matter Of Instinct' it seems as if we're in for something a bit away from the usual space rock motions. Alternately referencing Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre and, in a very direct way that suggests his actual involvement in the album somewhere, of Vangelis, Gravitysays_i are following in paths of actual greatness, and for the most part achieving them.

It's certainly a while since I've heard an album whose synths generate the controlled depth and ferocity of Gravitysays_i's music. One minute we're floating in reverberating cyberspace, the next what sound like more traditional Greek instruments are brought into the song arrangement along with a brass section, and the combination of all of this is astounding, in the 1950s sci-fi definition of the word. After the spectacular opening track, things do settle down slightly although Gravitysays_i don't let the pace slacken much, from the spatiality and handclaps of 'Dowser', the less challenging although no less frenetic 'An Ivory Heart' and the title track, an improvised epic of colliding synths and blistering percussive motifs. Anyone hearing 'Quantum Unknown' and its mixture of hard rock and eastern European instrumentation will at the least be very impressed by it, no question.


Imperial State Electric - 'All Through The Night'

I've always possessed a sneaking admiration for The Darkness, the band that did a lot to make guitar rock a bit respectable again. At a time when it seemed actually every indie band were taking part in a competition to make the most accurate recreation of the sound of Joy Division, Justin and his mates brand of cartoon tomfoolery and several actually better than alright songs were a colourful antidote to a music world that was taking itself more than slightly too seriously. From Sweden, and formerly of The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric are very much a Scandinavian version of The Darkness, at least on paper. The guitar riffs, the mid tempo rhythms, the idea that the band aren't taking themselves very, very seriously, alongside the acknowledged nods to shared influences such as Whitesnake, Aerosmith and Bachman Turner Overdrive.

It is, of course, a lot more difficult than it sounds to make an album like this and make it work consistently, plus relying on our being 'in on the joke' to make the album succeed. This is most obvious when fifth track 'Over And Over Again' fades out slowly at just two and a half minutes when it could have comfortably gone on for at least another minute and a half, or when 'Bad Timing' really does begin to resemble a 70s hair metal b-side. As the album progresses they variously delve into country rock, Lennonesque ramblings and lastly a song whose intro so closely resembles 'Stairway To Heaven' that it could land them in legal trouble, although the copyright laws are probably slightly less strict in Sweden itself. Treading the line between skilful tribute and Spinal Tap level irreverence, 'All Through The Night' isn't taking itself too seriously, and neither should anyone else.


Meg Cavanaugh - 'Hello Mr Magpie'

Jazzy, bluesy, folksy, sultry, Meg Cavanaugh's music seems designed for descriptive verbs that end in the letter 'y', and with the mix of burlesque revelry and colourful images, Ms Cavanaugh seems destined to make a bit of an impression on her audiences. From the US state of Ohio and now relocated to Hackney, a lot like her probable inspiration Piney Gir, Meg's music is less wistfully storybookl and slightly harder edged than Piney's tales of woodland intrigue, instead taking on a more urban theme with titles such as 'Fire In The Streets', 'Hard Times' and the altogether treacherous sounding 'Snake In The Grass'. With an also probable influence in PJ Harvey, the lyrical themes and the foottapping country tunes don't always complement each other, but then Meg's tuneful and unforced vocal easily gloss over any deficiencies in the lyrics, and the folksy (yes, I know I already said that) backing band provide some spirited playing to complement Meg's voice, with some notably dextrous piano and other keyboard highlighting the easy on the ear tunes.

Meg cites Norah Jones as a major influence, and I think very nearly everyone heard 'Come Away With Me' back in the day. There isn't a song on 'Hello Mr Magpie' quite as breathily seductive as that, although 'Number's Up' and 'The Road' both make the requisite bluesy impression, leaving me to wonder how Meg's version of 50s standard 'Trouble In Mind' would sound. Probably quite effective, given the actual strength of the songs on 'Hello Mr Magpie' and if the imagery sometimes jars against the music, the overall tone is a darkly soporific one that relies on subtlety rather than stridency to make itself heard. All that's really missing is a sax or maybe one or two more uptempo songs, but Meg and her band have turned in a coolly appraised set of songs that hark back over half a century for their inspirations, and which are played with convincingly lived-in charm.