albums - august 2016
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.
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
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.
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
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.