This Page

has moved to a new address:


Sorry for the inconvenience…

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
White Noise: May 2011

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Playlist #3 – Techno Mix

Well I've got a busy few days coming up so I thought I'd leave you with some nice slow-burn tracks. These aren't all straight-up techno but all have the basic build and payoff structure with great layering we've all come to know and love in techno tracks. I sequenced it so the heavier and more dancey tracks are at the beginning and the lighter, happier and more chilled ones are at the end. So hop in wherever you want, it's all basically techno by way of house, electro, ambient and shoegaze. Enjoy!

Frivolous – Back Into The Deep
Burial & Four Tet – Moth
EQD – 003 A
Actress – Maze
Chaim – Love Rehab
Ulrich Schnauss – On My Own
Pariah – Orpheus
The Field – Everyone's Gotta Learn Sometimes
Lawrence – Forever Anna
Pantha Du Prince – Saturn Strobe
Phaseone – Being With You
Walls – Burnt Sienna
Superpitcher – Joanna 

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner

The electro scene is always bursting with artists trying to push their technology and do something which actually sounds different, but the music tends to either go down the route of dance or home-listening. Gold Panda's aesthetic seems to aim for a curious middle ground. His short samples and tech melodies hint at dance music, but the lo-fi fuzz and slow rhythmic variations are more suited to home listening. Throughout this LP he combines an undeniable warmth with brilliant songwriting and composition, and the album just keeps on giving.

The album crackles into existence with the sound of a record being played, and the far off one word vocal sample of You is turned into a beat itself, bursting exuberantly into life. The beats are hard but not overwhelming, and the two vocal samples are weaved together with an expert intricacy that showcases the skill and care that has been put into every track on this LP. He deals in feelings of nostalgia and contemplation, the brief but sweet guitar instrumental of Parents opening with a vocal sample of his own grandmother indicates the often thought-provoking nature of his tracks.

Not all of the tracks are cerebral, however (and even when they are his music is never boring or unsatisfying). Snow & Taxis opens with a propulsive single synth note hammered home with a slight radio fuzz, changing up and then riding beneath a swelling accompaniment and eventually joined by twinkling starlight-synths. The music combines this drive with a hypnotic edge – his samples are always clipped so carefully that there is a feeling imbued of repetition, of memory recurring and decaying, of forgotten sunsets and half-remembered faces. Stellar highlight Marriage is another more powerful track, a recurring synth overlaid with oriental strings and a deep bass that is relentlessly satisfying. The lo-fi textures are expertly implemented throughout the album to give the songs a lush sonic depth.

Although the album is backloaded with more slow, contemplative pieces, Gold Panda doesn't fall into the standard trap of letting the standard slip on an electro LP; these tracks are as exquisitely composed and as endlessly listenable as the more dancey cuts. I'm With You But I'm Lonely builds gloriously slowly from a meandering hazy synth line into an increasingly strong tribal rhythm, and each musical movement occurs at exactly the right point, no melody outstays its welcome or recedes before it has had proper time to shine. Some of the later tracks admittedly can take a little longer to appreciate, but the way some of the slower tracks on the album unfurl is so masterful it would be a crime to just listen to the poppier cuts.

More evidence of Gold Panda's compositional genius can be seen in the very structure of the album; the ebullient opener You is bookended on the other side by the beautiful and fierce longing of the closer, also called You. Elsewhere, effusively catchy Before We Talked is given a sense of continuation in the darker and more complex After We Talked, the straightforward melodies and synths of the first warped into something emotionally very different, a distorted mist of mixed up feelings. More impressively his clipped samples definitely show they have legs in longest track India Lately which travels from a building synth line into a thumping beat before almost collapsing under its own weight and intricacy, decaying into the ether towards the close of the track, with one final and fiery reprieve.

Every track on this album is expertly composed and thoughtfully performed, imbuing the tracks with all the precision and mastery of Aphex Twin alongside a nostalgia and warmth that is entirely Gold Panda's own. Not every track is superb, but this debut album arrives as a fully formed accomplished vision, bursting with life and beauty. A real success.


Labels: , ,

Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

You don't always have to make something blindingly original to create great music. Some bands recently like Arcade Fire have shown that there's still life in the seemingly staid genre of indie rock, and Grizzly Bear go some way to consolidating this proof; this album is lush and pretty, and in equal parts brilliant and frustrating.

In their formative albums Grizzly Bear showed off the various aspects that could be expected in their music, and all of those are present here. The perfect vocal harmonies, richly textured instrumentals and generally an uplifting and relaxed tone permeates their music, and for the most part these tried and tested features make for a satisfying product. Opener Southern Point is a taut and structurally complex journey with propulsive guitars and a stunning drive that opens out into a broad and rich soundscape. Early highlight and second cut Two Weeks is a genuine summer anthem, a simple piano line (which curiously bears more than a passing resemblance to a slowed down version of the backing in Dre and Snoop's Still D.R.E) swells with gorgeous harmonies and a melancholic vocal melody; it's sharp, well composed and positively infectious.

When Grizzly Bear are assured and know what they're doing, the tracks really do shine. Cheerleader haunts the listener with a throbbing bassline; Ready, Able is a tense composition that threatens to blossom into a lush soundscape so many times that when it finally does, the payoff is immense. Yet too often on this record the band seem to lose their way. Indeed, when listened to in one go, many of the tracks on the album are indistinguishable from others unless you pay close attention. All We Ask crawls along for 5 minutes with a predictable payoff, Dory transitions so many times into different melodies that it completely gets lost, and the crashing crescendo of I Live With You just sounds kind of off; the normally delicate instrumentation all coming down at once in a very heavy-handed manner.

After a long listen, I'm just left wondering if they couldn't deviate more whole-heartedly from the formula that they've established; previous album Yellow House showcased a great deal more variation than this album. Granted this is a richer and more fully-formed offering, but slick production values can't hold as much weight as good songwriting. It's a shame that some of these tracks can get murky and bothersome, because there's some really great stuff here. While You Wait For The Others is very possibly the best track the band have ever written (rivalling Colorado and Knife from their last LP); an expertly sparse and minimal composition with great harmonies and the most interesting and poetic lyrics that the group have come out with. Meanwhile closer Foreground is a piano-based composition of rare beauty. Melancholy and exquisitely textured, it really doesn't go on long enough. And I don't mean that like 'I could listen to it forever because it's so good'; I genuinely think the song is cut somewhat short. I would've preferred for the last song to take the form of a long exhale after the whole, and it could really have been taken further. But maybe that's just me, anyway. I do still love the track.

Veckatimest is a fantastically accomplished album in terms of intelligent use of melody and lushly textured tracks, but it's a shame that they couldn't keep up the consistency by making each song audibly unique from the rest. Yet Grizzly Bear are still one of the most brilliant and satisfying indie rock outfits around at the moment, so let's hope they can get the balance right next time.


Labels: ,

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Playlist #2 - Dance Mix

Okay, so I've put together a mix of tracks that just beg to be danced to. This playlist runs through House, Dubstep, Grime, Garage, Rave, Acid House and Dancehall tracks that I've picked out (not quite in that order). I've put a lot of love into this mix and I think every track is a banger but they're all quite different so play them loud, and if you're not so keen on one I'm sure there will be a few there to love. Enjoy!


Altered Natives – The Bitch
Addison Groove – Footcrab
Ramadanman – Tempest
Mount Kimbie – Blind Night Errand
Deadboy – U Cheated
Becoming Real – Closer
Girl Unit – Wut
Deadboy – If U Want Me
XXXY – You Always Start It
Zomby – Float
Roland Appel – Unforgiven
The Bug – Poison Dart
Terrorist – Haters Dub

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Why? - Elephant Eyelash

Coming from a background of anticon's experimental Hip-Hop groups like cLOUDDEAD and Hymie's Basement, Yoni Wolf's project Why? was never going to make conventional indie-rock. Although all of Why's releases are solid albums, all suffer from the same problems – inconsistency and general lack of range. But that's why I'm reviewing this album, his first, as it shows the greatest range and variation in composition mixed with his always excellent and evocative lyrics; it's the best showcase for how the band works.

The music to these tracks is nothing particularly new. There is a lo-fi fuzz to most of the songs that gives them a pleasant DIY aesthetic, and although the guitar riffs aren't especially original they're never less than compelling and catchy, generally helped along by a stray piano or bass that rounds off the sound. But really, the reason you listen to Why? is because of his lyrics. His vocals are distinctly white and nasal which contrasts rather magnificently on first listen with the way he hurls his voice around, tripping over with Hip-Hop flow in one verse and yowling out with overblown emotion in the next. His writing is always tremendously evocative, whether unveiling his distinctive sense of humour in tracks like Yo Yo Bye Bye; “You get stoned like death in the bible” or when he's hurling out wonderful obscenities like “What do you dream up when I tongue you down” in Gemini (Birthday Song).

Added to this, the first half of the album is consistently enjoyable. Opener Crushed Bones sets the scene perfectly, his vocals tumbling over each other in a humorous self-referential track about the pressures of being an artist in contact with a label and the toil that travel takes when touring. His first line “To inhaling crushed bones through a dried-out white pen” showcases all the individual facets that make his writing so engaging; he turns drugs and sex into obliquely funny poetry while engaging with more serious issues on occasion. Added to this, he has a knack for extraordinarily catchy vocal choruses; “And us in fish net hats / and canvas shoes as was the style that year” is a seemingly simple line that nevertheless will remain lodged in your head for days. The next few tracks keep up the quality; Yo Yo Bye Bye is a more sombre song about a break-up in which some of his more serious lines are kept afloat by his mastery of language and his ability to switch the tone of his voice perfectly to suit the feeling implied; funny turns to deep in the space of a line when he switches from puns to a call out “The Monterey birches were bare / raising their skinny arms out to the sky in surrender / we have to change if we're going to stay together” - you really feel for him through the occasional isolating beauty of his language. Following this Rubber Traits is a hook-laden pop track with some magnificent verses such as “Unfold an origami death mask /and cut my DNA with rubber traits / pull apart the double helix like a wishbone / always be working on a suicide note”; his lyrics rarely fail to hit a sweet spot between funny and profound.

Unfortunately the album just can't quite keep up this momentum. The Hoofs and Fall Saddles are nice enough but don't quite pack the punch as the previous tracks with their slighter compositions (although the chorus of Fall Saddles does drop quite satisfyingly). Waterfalls is an interestingly lo-fi approach but the scratchiness of the instrumentals isn't quite successful and sounds too difficult for an album that generally deals in easy hooks and sounds attached to more complex lyrics; it doesn't quite work so well the other way round. Gemini (Birthday Song) and Sand Dollars again are quite good tracks, but they just don't really have the strength of earlier songs.

Thankfully the last two tracks are both absolute knock-outs. Act Five has one of the best guitar melodies on the LP with a great distortion effect plied liberally throughout the track. The vocals switch up tones rapidly and the metaphor of the final act of a play as the final age of someone's life works well. The track really hits the spot; “All the people who taught me card tricks are dying / I've been trying to get my pop-pop's good looks from old snapshots” is both haunting and slyly funny; showing Wolf's lyrics at their subtlest. Final cut Light Leaves is an undeniable album highlight, the first thing you notice is that the aesthetically difficult combination of sharp guitar janglings and his nasal vocals just isn't present on this track, the two come together very beautifully, and this is without doubt because this is the most serious and philosophical track on the album. It's a discussion of death in modern society, and lines like “and if you do leave the earth / when the earth leaves you” ask some very serious questions. The entire song probes a depth that none of the other tracks do, and it makes one wonder why these themes aren't discussed further in the rest of the album. Granted humour is a big part of his thing, but if Wolf can write like this, it would be nice to see more of it.

This album has some absolutely stellar tracks on it, particularly the first and last few, but droops heavily in the middle. There isn't a whole lot of range on display which is also slightly disappointing; but this is still more interesting than all but the most out-there indie rock outfits. So I'm not saying it's an excellent album, but give it a try because you may find a whole lot to like.


Labels: ,

The Microphones – The Glow pt 2

I'm finding this a very difficult review to write, pretty much for one sole reason: I really want to give this album 10/10. I regard it as an extraordinary release and it has been one of my personal favourites almost since I first heard it. Now you've probably already looked down and seen that it didn't quite get there, so allow me the space of the review to explain my thoughts on this beautiful and complex album.

Unusually, I'm going to start with the negative and move onto the positive, it just seems a more sensible to go about reviewing this album. So here goes: this is a very dense and difficult listen. Although almost entirely the work of Phil Elverum with conventional instruments, it doesn't help the listener to understand it. The album is a long piece, and each track requires a dedicated listen, preferably through headphones. Vocals are often drowned by rushes of instrumentals, leaving you scouring lyrics sites to find out just what he's saying. The actual composition is frequently jarring even though it is quite simply put together, with a light and airy track such as I Felt Your Size transitioning into the monstrous Samurai Sword without any sort of warning to the listener. Each track will take repeated listens firstly to understand, and then probably even more if you want to like them.

But it's more than worth the effort. On repeated listens almost every track unfurls into a beautiful piece, expertly composed with astonishingly profound and poetic lyrics. Elverum created the entire album on cassettes in the old-fashioned analogue style, which not only makes the effort more laudable but also adds a lovely lo-fi texture to the instrumentals. Elverum's subject is almost invariably the vastness of nature and a ceaseless quest into just how he fits into everything; into the natural world around him, into his own body, and into existence itself. Opener I Want Wind To Blow starts easily, with recognisably folky guitar melodies and light percussion. The deceptively simple lyrics discuss feeling out of touch with the natural world, and without fail Elverum expresses himself beautifully, each word expertly plucked and sung with a true weight of meaning. His voice may sound like an all-American drawl but the vocal melodies are brilliantly implemented throughout not just this track but the entire album. The sweet song ends with a long and lushly orchestrated instrumental that suddenly begins to crash all around with booming percussion as it leads into title track and album highlight The Glow Pt. 2. His vocals take on a desolate longing, this song is just about living, and what that really means. He sings over organs, drums and guitars timed exquisitely to emphasise the complex questions and ideas that his poetic lyrics raise. When he sings “my blood flows harshly”, the word 'blood' is stretched to almost 10 seconds in length, and though it may seem weird, this is a man grappling with his own existence, confounded by the physicality of his own body, asking just why it is that he is alive. The elongation is not just acceptable, it is demanded by the weight of these concepts. This track ebbs into third cut (and another stunner) The Moon, where after a short instrumental a rushing percussion all but drowns out every single line he sings. But go and look up these lyrics, because they are simple and exquisite- Elverum here tells a story about returning to a place he used to visit with a lover.

It's very hard to explain just what makes each of these tracks so special, and I could happily go on describing each of these twenty songs in even more detail than I have for the three above. The music could be said to be difficult but it is more a case of the instrumentation being uncompromisingly focussed on the subject of the songs themselves, not pandering to a poppy aesthetic. But once you get to the bottom of these tracks, they could even be described as catchy, thickly-veiled pop songs. There are two tracks titled Instrumental and both are stunning, particularly the gorgeous piano on the first one. Headless Horseman, My Roots Are Strong And Deep, You'll Be In The Air and I Felt Your Size are easier listens, and all use a simple metaphor to discuss sophisticated issues of life and love. Other tracks such as The Mansion, The Gleam pt. 2 and Samurai Sword are less inviting, but each track has so much to explore. His lyrics chart the totality of life across the beautiful soundscapes which perfectly express the gorgeous, cruel and exacting natural world that Elverum finds himself in the middle of.

I believe that every single track on this album is worth a dedicated listen, and each is extremely rewarding in its unpacking. However I know that some may find it a difficult and unapproachable listen, and more to the point a lot of people don't want listening to music to be an effort. That's completely fair enough, but this album rewards devoted listeners with more beauty and meaning than almost any other I've come across. So give it a listen, and if it happens to pique your interest then I can assure you that you are on to an album of boundless beauty and quality.


Labels: ,

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Forest Swords – Dagger Paths

New genres seem to be invented everyday. Every week the music sites show some band with a name like Posthumous Tiger Learning Centre with their new fusion between doom metal, ambient and calypso (yes I think we should definitely attempt to make this a reality). So it's not unusual to encounter an artist like Forest Swords -Matthew Barnes, a lone producer from England- who doesn't really give any clear indication of belonging to any specific genre. What is unusual is to encounter something that sounds new but that is also as beautiful and atmospheric as this album.

The album clocks in at about 40 minutes, putting it rather on the short side. But the depth of the music here will certainly mean that no one will feel short-changed by this LP. Barnes conjures dark and sprawling soundscapes that completely engulf you with their dense atmosphere. Yes, this record is all about atmosphere, and yes it sounds better as a whole than when played as single tracks; but when it's as good as this it really oughtn't make a difference. Opener Miarches establishes his aesthetic flawlessly. Somewhere far-off a creepy distorted cry is heard. A crackling drum slowly establishes a beat. Ghostly vocals echo offstage. Then the guitar kicks in. And what guitar- this album has some of the finest, most brilliant guitar pieces around. They storm into each wordless track on the album and create swirling riffs that will distinguish each song from the next instantly. Minor atmospheric noises punctuate the thick fog that the track creates, and it goes on, leading you by the hand down a misty path into a spooky forest. Or some other image equally atmospheric and creepy.

All the tracks clock in at around the 6 minute mark apart from a couple of exceptions. Though the instrumentals sound organic and atmospheric, potentially placed somewhere between post-rock and ambient, there is a surprising amount of dance influence to be heard in the album. The length of the tracks seems to take some cues from techno, allowing them to develop and unfurl beautifully at their own pace. This isn't the only evidence of a slightly dance-influenced mind, though – the beats are stronger than you'd expect from music so drenched in atmosphere, pounding out through the fog of carefully textured sound. The tracks never once get boring, Barnes gets a remarkable range out of his few instruments and production techniques. Tracks drift in unexpected ways with surprise silences or cymbals clashing out of nowhere- and although the sounds are similar each track is easily distinguishable from the others.

Holylake Mist is a thumping piece that could be set in a far-flung temple in the mountains, shorter cut Visits has a strong vibe all to itself with a fantastic riff and a dubby underlayer. Album highlight (but they're all so brilliant it's hard to choose) Glory Gongs echoes and arrests attention with brilliantly distorted and textured instruments penetrating the glorious (ha) central riff. The surprise inclusion of Aaliyah cover If Your Girl reveals an absolutely inspired take on the original, and closer The Light is a cooler, off-kilter retrospective on the sound of the album, almost as if it's taking one final look at itself before moving on.

This isn't ambient music. The beats are bold and striking, and the overall aesthetic of the record is strong and uncompromising in its relentlessly enigmatic feel. Each track shines with nuance and overwhelming atmosphere. If you like your music rich and evocative, knock this up to a 10. If, on the other hand, synths and vocal hooks are what you're after, it may read more like an 8. This album won't be for everyone but if you're into atmospherics, this will be the treat of a lifetime.


Labels: , , ,

Glasser – Ring

Glasser, or Cameron Mesirow, however you like it, is quite the prodigy. She's gained a lot of critical acclaim recently after the release of her first track Apply, and after being touted as the next Fever Ray, Bat for Lashes and even Bjork, she released Ring, her first album, apparently made entirely on garageband. So does she deserve such accolades? At the moment I'd say not, but there are definitely the makings of an interesting album here.

She's fusing quite a lot of styles together at once, and somewhat predictably as a result it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Lead track Apply is a stunner; a track with a powerful beat, a dubby accompaniment and some fantastically elastic vocals. She's clearly another one of these 'uses her voice primarily as an instrument' artists that seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment, but to give her the credit due, she does it better than most. In fact the strength of her voice on the soaring chorus and her little percussive shrieks really make the track, it's overflowing with strength in terms of composition.

Let's keep going with the positive for a moment. Her tribal beat patterns are often well accompanied by low-key synths, and her voice truly shines on track after track. Plane Temp has a rousing melody and is a great deal prettier than much of the rest of the material here, it has satisfyingly restrained percussion and exudes a very natural, analogue atmosphere despite the dominance of electronic instruments. Tremel is probably the standout track on the album, the vocal melody is absolutely infectious and the beats build in clever layers, while punctuating cries and synths enhance the force of the overall sound.

She shows such promise in these tracks, but this album gets wrong more than it gets right. She's trying to do so much and fuse so many styles that often the songs feel lost and slight, in fact it would take a dedicated listen to be able to distinguish each song from all the others by ear. The result is a sort of hypnotic mush of tribal beats and gilded vocals that just doesn't shine enough to be worth an extended listen. Opportunities for the music to be taken further are often missed, with the instrumentals often building up and then just sort of fading out inconsequentially. Furthermore on certain tracks the layering just doesn't gel, and the instruments just don't sound good when all put together, most notably on third cut Glad and vaguely jarring penultimate track Treasury of We.

The album is conceptually inspired by Homer's Odyssey and its framework of having no true beginning or end (hence the name 'Ring'), and this can be heard in the short ambient pieces that follow each track, and in the breakdown of recurring melodies at the end of closer Clamour (which has quite a nice memorable little saxophone part running through it, incidentally). But these sections don't really sound like anything, and the album gets lost in the concept too frequently, trying so hard to be a concept in its entirety that any sense of coherence gets lost in the mix.

Glasser is trying to do something interesting, and she clearly has a lot of skill to even be partly successful in melding these styles. I do also wish to note that the album cover is absolutely gorgeous. The album sounds completely unique, but that's not enough to make it good music. There just aren't enough good tracks here to make it worth recommending too highly, but as a debut album it's highly ambitious and perhaps we can expect a more refined approach from her follow-up.


Labels: ,

Memory Tapes – Seek Magic

I'm not a fan of the chillwave aesthetic. Re-appropriations of nostalgic sounds and structures often stick so close to the original they sound more like parody than original output. Added to this, the summery sound that every single chillwave album aspires to often comes off as substanceless and light. However these styles can be done well, as was seen recently in How To Dress Well's new album which isn't chillwave but is the same nostalgic re-producing, just done with a purer, more original vision and a deft hand at inserting these sounds only where they belong. I'm pleased to say, Seek Magic is another such success, this time with these sounds of the past being brought into the present in the form of at first unassuming but defiantly brilliant dance pop.

Dayve Hawk, the man behind Memory Tapes, certainly knows what he's doing. His music is all about payoff, waiting for that next riff or that next chorus, because each time we get a hook it's so damn satisfying. Swimming Field kicks off the album rather quietly, with lush outdoor sounds of crickets and reverb-drenched, floating vocals. But about halfway through the track it starts to come together; a sparklingly irresistible slow synth-line breaks through the haze, and about a minute before the end it breaks, drums booming around twisting background synths, it's a transcendent moment on an album that's absolutely full of them. The track perfectly shimmers out of existence and breaks straight into the absolutely fantastic album highlight, Bicycle. On this track he keeps building more and more satisfying riffs and layers onto the track until you almost feel it's gonna break; twice the music drops off before coming crashing back with an insatiable vigour. Just before it all gets too much, the whole track builds into a gorgeously sunny instrumental with a beautiful wordless vocal melody, and then at 3.40 you get literally one of the best guitar riffs I've ever heard on an album this straight.

The majority of the album is pure unadultered summer; but it doesn't sacrifice any weight in the achievement as so many similar artists are prone to doing. Third cut Green Knight is another stunning track, and there's a real emotional heft behind his vocals, placed somewhere out there in the lush soundscape calling “I wanna give you my love / I wanna call your name / At the sound of my voice / You turn away / I remember when you were young and afraid”. It's simple stuff but it's surprisingly affecting, and it's pretty indicative of the whole album – Hawk never goes for anything too crazy or unusual, but everything he attempts he gets absolutely spot on. Green Knight, like Bicycle, spins out into a great dance track (more for the bedroom than the club, admittedly), and later track Plain Material is an absolute blast of a pop track. It's the straightest cut on the album but from the darkly funny first line “Suicide, I know you mean well” it just builds into one of the catchiest things I've heard in a long while.

Still, this album isn't perfect. Pink Stones puts a bit of a foot wrong as an electro-tinged instrumental, and Graphics is slightly relentless on the synths. Stop Talking, too, is far too long, but the stunning synth line 5 and a half minutes in makes it just about worth it- but I feel these synths would've been just as good without the long build up.

Run Out is the closer, it's a darker track edged with a little more longing than the rest of his stuff, but its pulled off nicely through a series of great breaks, widening the soundfield each time it feels big enough already; a neat trick Hawk seems to have picked up somewhere. The synths layer beautifully and it ushers out the album in style.

This album is for the most part absolutely stunning and feverishly enjoyable. If it weren't for a few missteps which can't quite be granted considering the short length of the album (40 minutes rush by in no time), I would easily give it a 9. It's well worth a listen, and from the sounds of it Hawk has a lot more planned for us quite soon – check out the great new track Wait in the Dark on his myspace – and I for one can't wait.


Labels: , ,

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

Gang Gang Dance are always doing so much. That's why the first few times you listen to one of their albums it just sounds like a condensed mesh of noise. It's also why all of their output so far has been frustratingly inconsistent; when there's so much there, some songs just aren't going to gel for you.

It feels like for the first time in Eye Contact, they've hit the sweet spot. They've always had an unnatural knack for layering just the right amount of different styles and sounds onto a single track; you're always pleasantly surprised but never overloaded; they sound enjoyable and interesting but the music never sinks into a mush of synths. This is a more clean, optimistic album than 2008's St Dymphna, and it feels like a move in the right direction.

I've made two mistakes in listening to the album. The first was that I thought the first half was better than the second half, and the second was that I thought the ∞ interlude tracks were filler. This is definitely an album of two halves, the latter is more slow-burn, but the first bursts into life. Well actually, it doesn't burst so much as slowly warm up for about 6 minutes, after the slightly profound/on the nose line “I can hear everything. It's everything time.” But the warm up is an exquisite journey through a swirling soundscape of synths that gradually develop a fluttering melody that finally, after an achingly long time, explodes with a shining kick into a racing rhythm, anchored in place by Lizzie Bougastos' distinctive vocals.

I could easily describe each track in that much detail and explain why I think it's so wonderful, but I recommend you just listen yourself. They've almost all been highlights for me at one point or another. Adult Goth is a dark and syrupy dance song with one of the most distinctive intros of any track I've heard in a long time. It could well be argued to be the best track the band have ever produced. It goes on with Chinese High's bouncing hark back to St. Dymphna which surfs into a gloriously sunny instrumental, followed by MindKilla's brute force and expert, energetic composition.

The second half of the album is definitely more of a grower. It takes a while to get into those tracks, but each one is just as brilliant as the first. Romance Layers is a gloriously sensual throwback to funk and new-jazz stylings. The next track, Sacer is a wonderfully poppy and oddly haunting cut. These are all bound together by the ∞ tracks which I'd argue serve as brilliant interludes; this is an album to be listened to as a whole.

Closer Thru and Thru is an astonishingly powerful piece of music. The driving beat of the percussion with Bougastos' ethereal warbling and the vaguely video-game sounding 'Egyptian-style' synth somehow transform into a huge, thumping thing which races along beside you. That's what's so special about this album- it is utterly transportative. We are told at the end of this track “Live forever”, and because you've been on this journey with the music the message really hits home.

On this transcendent and exuberant album, Gang Gang Dance have finally done good on their promise to make a solid, consistent LP to display all the skill they've had all along. This album is an absolute stunner, and it's genuinely worth giving a good listen to every track. I could hardly recommend it higher.


Labels: ,

The Antlers – Burst Apart

The Antlers' last album was about as ambitious as indie-rock gets. A narrative concept album about an abusive relationship with a woman dying of bone cancer; it set beautiful lyrics and cloying hospital gauze-rock onto an emotional widescreen and it was an absolute triumph. Since its release its been on my list of most treasured albums. So how could The Antlers successfully follow up with their major-label sophomore album, coming from such an emotionally damaged place?

The answer, rather disappointingly, appears to be that they couldn't. They made the sensible decision to not try another concept album, and the over-arching narrative and crushing emotional depression has vanished to be replaced by... blandness, apparently. It's almost hard to say anything beyond that about this album, in general it's shockingly bland.

Pete Silberman's aching falsetto and beautiful lyrics made up a big portion of the emotional weight of the last album. His voice is still great, and the lyrics sometimes shine when he resumes the acidic lover's observations found so frequently on Hospice ; “Everytime we speak / You are spitting in my mouth” he sings with venom on French Exit. However in general he's gone for a more vague, interpretable style to his lyrics now and it just doesn't quite work. Much of this has to be down to his musical accompaniment, which sadly is unfailingly weak across the album.

On Hospice, The Antlers got the hazy hospital layers down to a tee, but in this album, apparently more influenced by electro, the instrumentals are endlessly predictable. Opener and lead single I Don't Want Love is vaguely catchy, but it is structurally formulaic and fails to really pack a punch. Every time they try a different atmosphere it just comes off sounding kind of half-baked; French Exit's more 'upbeat' sound has more than a passing resemblance to lounge music with some synths clumsily laid on top, and Parentheses is clearly supposed to be a darker track but the creeping bassline sounds like its had its venom removed. Because the sound of Hospice was such an overwhelming wash it seems when the haze is removed these instruments are detached and, to be honest, they sound fairly unenthusiastic. There's never any genuine punch to the drums, and the guitar melodies are consistently weak. There's just no strength here.

It may seem unfair to compare the album so endlessly to their previous work but frankly I'm incredibly disappointed by this LP. Hospice was a masterpiece and seemed to have enough skill behind it to show that even if their follow-up wasn't great it would be good. And midway through the album we get Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out which has a catchy vocal hook and some improved lyrics (I really can't understand how he wrote such poetry before but ended up with half-cooked vagueries with such unoriginal themes for this album) ; but it's not that great, it's okay. In later track Corsicana the Hospice sound is somewhat re-evoked with a heavy reverb on a haunting piano melody, but it feels slight compared to wealth of superior and similar songs they've produced in the past.

The second half of the album isn't that bad, it's passable (apart from dreadfully overblown closer Putting The Dog To Sleep). So if this was from a random band I hadn't heard of I'd just ignore it, I wouldn't have given it a second listen to see if there was anything under the mesh of blandness. But this was The Antlers, who up until now I had nothing but respect for, so I gave it another listen, and another. But I just feel let down. It's plain that repeating the raw emotional power of Hospice wasn't a good idea, but they've gone too far the other way and these tracks end up feeling weightless and sterilised. Let's hope for better next time.


Labels: ,

Burial – Street Halo

I wouldn't normally review a single of only three tracks, but this isn't just anyone, it's Burial. He's been off the radar for almost 4 years apart from a few collaborations (including the stunning Moth/Wolf Cub collab with Four Tet), and the question on everyone's lips is; is he still something special?

From listening to these three tracks, the answer is a resolute yes. Marking a slight movement towards more traditional house beats, title track Street Halo is a straighter cut than any of the material on Untrue. The layers of paranoia are gone but the listener is still left with a surprisingly strong sound that switches its focus in classic Burial style every so often. He's using all the same materials that create his distinctive tone but somehow he's reappropriated them to make not something miles away, but something that is certainly different enough to be worth individual evaluation. Second cut NYC is more of a throwback to his past atmospheres, with those distinctive drums and the slight bass drops that just about allow the ghostly vocal echoes in once every so often. Both tracks are huge and rich, he creates the same sense of isolation but with a new, stronger drive; it's brilliant stuff.

Worse luck, there's only one other track on the single. On the good side, it happens to be absolutely brilliant. As there are only three tracks here, and as I think I've made clear, they're all excellent, each person will probably find themselves liking one of the cuts more than the others. This final one, Stolen Dog, is definitely the standout for me. It's more down-tempo than the other two and the faded synths ache with desolate longing, a wind noise builds, vaguely hopeful-sounding vocals briefly intrude and swirl back into the ether of the song. It's a stunning exercise in creating something so dense and emotive with so little, and Burial shows an utter mastery over a style he created and still pretty much dominates to this day. The thing which separate Burial from the rest of his contemporaries is that, if you'll pardon me going into potentially pretentious territory, there is a beauty and emotion in his music which is a rare find in any electronic artist, let alone in the dance-centric world of dubstep.

So, not only has Burial come back after a long hiatus with a brilliant selection of tracks, but they're more different than perhaps we had any right to expect them to be. Bring on the next LP.


Labels: ,

Panda Bear – Tomboy

Panda Bear could hardly have had more pressure to perform than on this release. Following the release of Animal Collective's arguable best work Merriweather Post Pavillion, his own album Person Pitch which Pitchfork rated one of the top ten albums of the decade, an Animal Collective film release, a new line of shoes... expectations were high. Perhaps this explains the almost year-long delay in the release of this LP, but all that preparation and pressure clearly paid off. In Tomboy, Panda Bear has somehow managed to pull it off all over again and has created his most accessible and triumphant work.

The album is indebted the hypnotic swirling melodies of his last LP, Person Pitch, but there is a distinct forward drive in this album, the music propels itself forward rather than unfurling slowly. This is especially apparent on some of the more dance-indebted cuts from the album. Title track Tomboy is driven forward by a brilliant guitar riff (there's a notably heavier reliance on the guitar throughout the LP, definitely part of the reason it has such drive) as Noah Lennox's distinctive reverb-drenched vocals cascade across the track. Penultimate cut Afterburner is another more propulsive track, a swirling mesh of exquisitely produced synth layers that verges on dancey. The production of the record is something you will notice time and time again, these are not the skeletal (but admirable) single releases that Lennox peppered us with throughout last year, these are massive soundscapes that reveal more and more luscious detail with every repeated spin.

The other thing that really makes this album stand out is its remarkable range. Panda Bear traverses territory from ambient drone-inspired psych, in the form of Drone or great track Scheherazade which is simply Lennox's echoey vocals wrapping their way around a single piano chord, all the way to sunny tracks with almost pop-like structures such as Friendship Bracelet or the excellent Surfer's Hymn with its skilful layering of textures as diverse as an (appropriate) sample of waves crashing ranging to wind chimes, turned into a sparkling sun-drenched anthem. In other places he demonstrates an even broader palette; Slow Motion has a J Dilla inspired combination of a cracking beat and a decayed descending synth line and is perhaps the highlight of the album, as well as Alsation Darn which has a brilliantly constructed melody and erupts into the handclaps and rhythm of some sort of psych-folk chant.

But despite all the ambition on show here and the great range of sounds, this is a distinctively coherent album, tied together both by Lennox's oddly catchy vocal melodies (which come more to the fore here than on any of his previous LPs) and the exquisite detail of the production; layers and layers of beautiful gauzy textures, and tiny things like the recurring explosion sound that announces Slow Motion's harsher sound and the similar sample that detonates the dark textures of Scheherazade into the sunny Friendship Bracelet.

The album may be considered too difficult or dense for some listeners, but if you're going to start anywhere with Panda Bear, this is a smoother, more melodic and more consistent album than any he's produced.


Labels: , ,

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Lovers

Dubstep isn't as simple as it used to be. Whereas before you could hear a deep wobble and some decaying synths while off your face on the dancefloor and go 'ahhh, dubstep'; arrival of newcomers like Mount Kimbie and James Blake, who make dubstep for the home, has complicated matters somewhat.

What it really means is that you have to listen to these tracks with a different ear. You're not listening out for something that gets you on your feet, but nor are you looking for a reassuring melody or recurring chorus that gives everything a nice cosy structure. In effect, listening to this album it seems that Mount Kimbie know where they're going, but they just won't tell you. The genre influences dart from funk to RnB to glitch-hop literally within seconds, and it can all be rather disorientating.

But if I'm saying one thing here, it's that this is one worth sticking with. Granted there are no tracks that'll make you sit up and take note like classics Maybes or Sketch On Glass from their two previous EPs, but I'd argue that's because this is an album, and it requires a more subtle approach. Because once you get into this album, it really does shine. Blind Night Errand is an instant classic, the dubby build is recognisable but before you can quite latch onto it it's snatched away and glitchified (yeah, I'm coining that one) into a snappy, compressed beat that's built upon with minimal layers of synths- the combination is utterly intoxicating. When the build up evaporates with a condensed vocal sample of a woman's breath midway through the track you just want to find these guys and shake their hands.

Before long it becomes apparent that this album is studded with gems like this track. In Would Know the opening sample of lots of people talking at once fades into a fuzz as snappy beats and a lilting rhythm is established with clipped samples of a man's voice; perhaps the integration of background talking into part of the melody is a comment on the innate musicality of the world around us. Perhaps it isn't.

The album isn't showy. The triumphs are quiet, and there is no attention drawn to them. The glitchy synths grounding Before I Move Off are expertly used both in the original Asian-sounding plucked-string instrumental and the sinuous groove a sampled guitar carries through the latter part of the track. Kimbie often change their songs midway to great effect, Field's glitchy beat is transposed onto a guitar midway through the track, and stunning penultimate track Mayor is the dance hit they seem to have been threatening for the last half hour, with a choppy vocal sample that is tumbled into a glorious synthy melody. The quality of their production is also evident throughout the LP, tracks like Carbonated really shine through a high-quality soundsystem or headphones.

But their style is so chopped-up that I think it's probably going to alienate a good amount of their audience, it's just not easy to know how to listen to an album like this. And as subtle and strong as the compositions may be, the moments where the LP really shines are slightly too few and far between. It's a really interesting listen and what they're doing is pretty unique and I like it, but I wouldn't be surprised if others didn't. Still, I do heartily encourage you to at least give it a try, the skill on display here alone is enough of a reason, and I'm sure some will find a whole lot to love.


Labels: ,

Braids – Native Speaker

Guitar? Check. Drums, keys, bass? Check. Female vocalist with crazy voice who occasionally hurls out surprising obscenities? Check. So really, on paper Braids shape up to be exactly what everyone's doing right now, a fairly standard indie-rock group. But this album is both much much more than this and at the same time, curiously less.

What this album gets right, and more right than almost anything I've heard for a long time, are its sounds. Each individual track on this album is a vast, swirling soundscape of lush, natural samples and twinkling, spiralling synths that are completely enthralling at every turn. Opener Lemonade builds slow, from bird calls to a shimmering guitar line, from the guitar to a regular, driving beat, and then Raphaelle Standell-Preston's voice kicks in. By a third of the way in, she's wailing “Have you fucked all the stray kids yet?” Although her lyrics are odd, she has an incredibly strong voice, it really packs a punch. But at the same time, it reminds me of all those other female vocalists that people don't tend to like so much (your Joanna Newsoms and your Bjorks). Call it a marmite voice. I dig it. The track advances into a hook-laden, summery synth instrumental and then her voice comes back, almost spiralling around the track as she chants “All we want to do is love”; it's easy to get pleasantly entangled in the gorgeous layers in each of these tracks.

Put simply, the sounds in these tracks are beautiful. Plath Heart's intro sounds like someone literally breaking through a wall of sound, Glass Deers is a hazy ethereal soundscape and a perfect compliment to title track Native Speaker, with more downbeat textures and a tangible sense of longing. They even have range: Lammicken has a surprising dubby edge to it, this is sound lost and frantic in a vast landscape. It's a really important track as well, because without it (and its impressive mastery of a darker atmosphere) Braids could be accused of being too samey. Although even that accusation wouldn't be so bad, the first two tracks do showcase a real talent at exuberant, sparkling electro-pop.

Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, this album faces a few problems which rather pull the carpet out from under its own feet. It's not very well sequenced, the two poppiest tracks and the two longest tracks are both nextdoor neighbours, so after the first two you're wondering if its a bit light, and by the fourth it all feels like a bit of a slog. Which is a shame, because the album has all the ingredients of a really great one. Added to this, some of the tracks err on the slight side (Same Mum and Little Hand being the main culprits), and it's not quite long enough to have substanceless tracks.

Braids haven't quite pulled it off with this one, although there's a lot to like. I really can't stress enough how beautiful the soundscapes they've constructed are, the production is wonderful and displays a really sophisticated mastery of sonics and timing. It's worth one listen just for that. But the vocals will certainly be divisive, and most of the tracks feel very slightly off the mark; Glass Deers could be a bit shorter and Same Mum could use some variation. I'd say its worth a listen, and whether it strikes a chord is probably going to be mainly down to individual tastes.


Labels: , ,

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Playlist #1 – Stoner Mix

Too often in music you come across artists who've made one excellent track and a bunch of less impressive stuff, or other tracks that are just more of the same, but worse.

So the other thing I'm gonna do this weekend besides remixes is give you a little playlist, of which I have quite a few planned – and this time I'm going for a chilled out groove; so there'll be Trip-Hop aplenty, with some electro, dub and reggae thrown in.

Not all of these artists only have one good song, some of them have great albums as well. But I figured people reading this probably already know most of the albums I review, so here's a little taster of some other stuff you may or may not wanna get your teeth into. 

So here you go:


Tricky – Overcome
Classic trip hop, breathy track with a pulse.

Death In Vegas – Dirge
Some fine trip hop, a haunting female vocal overlaid with strong beats and a great build to the end.

Cut Chemist – The Garden
More of an electro track, still very chilled out from a skilled producer.

Fugees – How Many Mics
Laid back hip-hop from the 90s.

Gonjasufi – Change
Lush and trippy track with an echoey beat and Gonjasufi's distinctive vocals.

Wax Tailor – Que Sera
Great trip-hop with a fantastic sample (which you should recognise) from cool French producer.

///▲▲▲\\\ - Spit Shine
Lo-fi trippy witch house (it's pronounced 'Horse Macgyver', apparently)

King Midas Sound – Cool Out
Great track, quiet, chilled and dangerous from The Bug producer.

Alpha and Omega – Who Is the Ruler
Great dub, was included and remastered by Diplo in a recent mix.

Massive Attack – Karmacoma
You might recognise bits of this, Tricky (the first artist in the list) sings and writes the vocals, lyrics which he used again in his track Overcome. Either way, two very different and very good takes on the same lyrics.

Deadboy – Brock Lee Riddim
(Unfortunately I can't find this track on youtube, but here is a link to it on Spotify)

Really nice dubby track, a little less laid back but a great reggae sample.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,