Friday, 29 June 2012

Metric - Synthetica

If there's one thing to take note of about Metric's outfit as both a band and a sound, it's lead vocallist Emily Haines' deeply emotive and testing delivery of lyrics across the band's more upfront and compelling sway of traditionally alternative and contemporary indie rock formulas. When the concept of a female vocallist pops up - spear-heading a band's expression onto both the physical and non-physical stage of music - it's not surprising that the majority are associated with drowning appliances of shoegaze filters or the upbeat quirkiness of more present-day electro-pop/indie-pop constructs. Haines on the other hand stands as both a figure-head and as a testament to the continuing string of strong, confident female vocallists whom remain fearless in the wake of an age where musicians take to the indulgence of one's voice rather than its honest beauty. But more than that, Metric's vocallist - like a Beth Gibbons or Shirley Manson for the contemporary age - remains one of the few stand-out females in rock circuits of an international scale. But to give credit to the equally-important members of the band, Metric have continued to push this honest modest rock aesthetic with a slight electronic kick in such a way, it's hard to push the Canadian quartet away as if the latter edges of their discography have seemingly become irrelevant. 'Synthetica', which marks the band's fifth outing, is also their first into the second decade of this third millenium. As we all know, music trends change as quickly as a weather forecast, but here, Metric show no sign of being left behind in the dust. And thus, the debate over whether past success is sustainable, begins.

'Artificial Nocturne' opens up with a warming sweep of synths, Haines' choice of vocal detail here melding into the swamp of electronics that creep their way through the opening third of the track. Soon though the ambience of the sounds are replaced swiftly with more associative beating of drums and guitar strings. For a track that gives a vast portion of its length to the build-up, the deliverance is quite admirable, but it doesn't add as much as one would hope to discover on the latter half of the song. Haines' vocals remain enclosed around the music - the rhythms of drums and guitars alike meshing into some kind of torrent of mellow alt-rock deliverance. Fortunately, the follower 'Youth Without Youth' doesn't waste time in letting itself out into the World. The guitars here are more raw and less reserved than previous, but here Haines feels less unsure more than anything about where her delivery lays in the overall mix. The simple one-two leading tempo actually works quite well in the larger scope of the track, and while the range of sound doesn't exactly alternate, the glow-like buzz seeping through is what makes this song catch interest.

There's a pattern running through the record of maintaining a steady and relatable beat to the song's progression - percussion being the stand-out (and sometimes stand-alone) instrumentation that the listener is quick to latch onto. And as the album continues on, there's a growing sense that both Haines and the other band members supplying the string-based sounds are fond of this similar pacing of what is mostly your typical steady alt-rock construct. That's not to say this is necessarily a bad thing, but one can't help but imagine this almighty omen of uncertainty creeping out of Synthetica's opening content. 'Breathing Underwater' then can be seen then, in regards to this issue, of a variation on this formula of previous. Anyone familar with Britain's steady output of four/five-man (emphasis on the 'man' part there) alternative bands over the past five years, will instantly find themselves accustomed to the mesh of in-between bass, the rising electric guitars and steady 4/4 timed drums. But what makes this track more than just a lead for yet another face-in-the-crowd band - that mainstream British rock has unfortunately looped and cycled into - is, again, Haines' deliverance and the way she spells out her modest emotion through the lyrics: 'Lights of days, will beat a path through the mirrored maze/I can see the end, but it hasn't happened yet'. True, this is a track that will no doubt lie on its potential hook through the lead lyrics, but here there is at least some considerate attention to the moments in-between.

Hooks such as these only emphasize Metric's balance between the alt-rock transgression of instrumentation and Haines' more pop-influenced delivery of vocals. This is no clearer than the track 'Lost Kitten' which here showcases a more colourful palette in Haines' singing. The hump-back of bass and skipping of drums add that latter pop-focused context to the band's playing, and when drawing comparisons between itself and the previous tracks on this records, it stands most importantly as a deserved branching-out from the band's usual rooting into contemporary rock structures. And given the fact that it's one of the shorter pieces not just on the album, but throughout the band's career, it deserves credit for demonstrating a keen eye for keeping things simple yet effective on the structural side. 'The Void' too carries on this same no-messing-about line of thinking - both the electronically-charged rung of guitars, and Haines' trawling voice, add a considerable measure of depth and playability to the song.

If there's one criticism I must bring to light, it's that the instrumentation doesn't exactly share the same intrigue and means of development that Haines shows in vast portions of this album. The self-titled 'Synthetica' for me lacks any differentiating mark on the album, and here I feel more focused on the vocals than I am the music, which is a shame given how passionate the drive of pace and rhythm is, here. 'Clone' too, while incorporating less of an organic sound in its drumbeat, doesn't necessarily push the boundaries. But more troubling is the way Haines' voice feels almost trapped by the music - caught in some kind of limitation for how far she can push her engrossing voice outwards. The closing track 'Nothing But Time', however, makes up for any lacking of venturing or misguided venturing that may or may not be recognized on first listen. The swatches of piano and synthesizers creates a hefty and motivating beat to the song. And while guitars - and the playing of said guitars - are lesser here than they have been, it doesn't take away from the band's signature drive of energetic rock. Again, I feel that Maines' choice of lyrics deserve some merit for actually reeling me further into the track - past the exterior layers of synths and drum beats. 'You always said love was not enough', Haines slowly burns her way in the midst of a track finally finding its feet, 'I wanted to be part of something/I've got nothing but time'.

Had it not been for Emily Haines and her continuing strike of delving vocals - both of a rock and later, pop materialism - there's a strong possibility I may not have given as much attention to Metric, as I have done here. It's a strong, and possibly misguiding, feeling to both express and suggest, but while I am impressed with 'Synthetica' as an outfitted collective, I do feel slightly wry about where the band go from here. I have no doubt long-term fans of the Canadian group will find this a refreshing burst of contemporary rock songs - with a splash of synth usage here and there - but as this marks, as stated, their fifth album, it's a record that is as much note-worthy for its future hinderances as much as it is for their present-day skills as a band. Nevertheless, in the here and now, the album we hear is all that matters. And what I've heard is deserved of praise.


Thursday, 28 June 2012

Track Review: Nas - The Don

Illmatic will forever be remembered for kick starting one of hip-hops's most defining and excelling voices. Manhattans's right wing on the east coast has always been prominent for producing big name rappers, with Nas, B.I.G and Jay Z coming and going as the three king's of New York City. It was Nas who gave the world N.Y. State of Mind,  The World Is Yours and One Love. It was Nas who released NYC's hip-hop masterpiece, and it's Nas who continues to top the game with his lyrical flow, 1994 or 2012, Nas is Nas.

He did however, declare hip-hop dead in 2006. Yet he has resurrected himself in the 'new age' of hip-hop with hype master Kanye doing his 'thang' and the ever increasing number of hip-hop artists reaching the wall street of music. We won't include those who focus on popping out their music, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A, Drake. It's the Kanye's and... Odd Future's... That keep this music relevant, talked about and modern.

The Don has this very basic bass driven beat, with an increasingly catchy and imaginative vocal sample. Apparently, as Nas states... Veteran and now deceased rapper "Heavy D gave this beat to Salaam (Remi) for me to rap to." Salaam Remi being the producer of The Don, to add to his ever growing list of excellent productions. Nas raps "All I hear is sirens" / "20 years in this game, looking 17." The Don has a constant stream of iconic rhymes made for a modern Nas audience. Two decades have passed and he stills sounds as fresh as a Panera chicken ceasar salad sandwich.  
Life Is Good will decide Nas's fate in his third decade. This track will no doubt be a highlight on this album. With other tracks slowly making their way over to my listening stream, the excitement brews. The Don is not just another Nas track, it's a step back from the gimmickry production and irrelevant lyricism. He is definitely moving forward. 

Track Review: Muse - Survival

So it's officially less than a month to go until the curtain comes up on the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, as the 2012 Olympic games get under way in the British capital. To commemorate the ever-closer starting date of sport and spectacles alike, Muse have unveiled their track 'Survival' to the World which in the lead-singer's words expresses both 'a sense of conviction' and 'a determination to win'. The track, the official song of the 2012 Olympics, will be followed by a series of contributions from artists including Dizzie Rascal, The Chemical Brothers, Delphic & Elton John alike. A fair mix of the bright and bold of British music, wouldn't you say?

So let's get to the central attraction of this supposed soundtrack to the games. Well, if you're like me and find your eye firmly fixed at first on the length - which here clocks in at just over 5 minutes - it's safe to assume that this is a track where the band once more ditch conventional verse-and-chorus progression for something more climatic and its resulting deliverance. And you'd be right. However, once again, the formulaic sum of musical choice and musical deliverance is as predictable and as rehashed as recent Muse deliveries have come to be, sadly, known for. The opening minute or so opens up with a somewhat grand, yet depacled scale of orchestral music and symphonic arrangments, it's hard to tell whether the band are giving positive or negative connotations towards an event that's meant to be shown in the former light.

If you haven't already found your neck tilted back a few degrees by now, then you will find it in that position soon enough - the symphonic arrangements almost vaccuumed out of existence by a choir of chanting voices in line with a simple piano lead. Pardon the surreality of the comparison, but I feel like I'm listening to a number from a Roald Dahl adaptation rather than a song meant to represent the reality of a competitive sports events. It's not a lasting factor on the song, however given the way Bellamy opens himself into the track, I'd take the harmonics of previous over the lyricism, and related choice of content, of latter: 'I'll light the fuse/And I'll never lose' Bellamy leads, to a stampede of percussion and voices that sound less like their intended words - 'So I told you' - and more like something very similar in sound, and sound only (I'll let you figure out what I think they're proclaiming).

I would forgive Bellamy's misguided passion and flurry of vocals had the concept simply ended on what has become a staple in Muse's lyrical context. However, the following choice of words are even more ridiculously out-of-place and questionable, it goes beyond baffling. Maybe I'm missing something, but when were the Olympics about 'staying alive' and 'vengence'? Unless the Olympic comitee have decided on introducing a Hunger Games-styled event to the list of sports, Bellmany it seems has totally lost what these games stand for. I'm no sport fanatic, but it's moments such as these that prove not just Bellamy's, but the band's too, lack of alteration and experimentation with both the musical and lyrical side to their sound. The thunderous downpour of guitars and apocalyptic wails of harmonics in the background only add to the realization that this, once more, feels more like Muse Song M.K. how many songs there are in their discography.

I don't know what's more troubling: the fact that this is the song which will be played alongside the international media coverage of the games - as well as being blurted out through the many speakers of the Olympic stadium as the World's athletes present themselves to the watching eyes of Earth's audiences - or the fact that this shows that Muse, once more, just cannot (and will not) deviate from the same-old formula they've encompassed for what's, probably, the third-and-a-bit consecutive release in their career. Well, it's a good thing this is the only material this year that has sparked both debate and disbelief over the trio's upcoming work. Oh, wait...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Track Review: The Antlers - Drift Drive

Three years have passed since the critically credited 'cult' album Hospice turned heads and brought tears to many. The Antlers are still an exciting prospect, and a continuous release schedule only emphasizes their desire to astonish audiences worldwide. Not much has been said about The Antlers since last years Burst Apart, but we do know that a four track EP will be released, July 24th, with 'head' 'single' Drift Drive topping the independent radio's B list. They sure have drifted away from that self-righteous depressive- turned uplifting rollercoaster of indie rock/dream pop literal anthems. Frenchkiss Records can only do so much for the Brooklyn trio, with Epitaph Records subdivision ANTI- releasing this EP.

If Burst Apart was an indication of freedom and expression, then Drift Drive is an indication of satisfaction. Front man Peter Silberman had his years of darkness, pre-Hospice. It doesn't take a genius to declare Mr. Silberman 'content'. The track is layered with sophisticated guitar reverb and the ever-impressive falsetto vocal, delivered with ease. This track is a walk in the park, a sea breeze... A dynamic, Icelandic, drift. Their layers of synthesized sound is a guarantee, and it would not be The Antlers without some revisited high pitched sounds and guitar swooshes. Hospice was no doubt, a winter album. Burst Apart came off as a somewhat showery Autumn album. Without listening to the rest of Undersea, I cannot be certain, but I would say... Summer, for this cataclysmic turn of direction.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Live Show - Mogwai

Where: New York City
Venue: Webster Hall

The stage was set for what would be Mogwai's third attempt at playing the historic Webster Hall in the East Village, NYC. A smooth apology by adopted frontman Stuart Braithwaite took the audience in awe. as the band played this very venue the previous night, making up for both the rescheduled show and the canceled show. Balam Acab warmed the audience with his sweet oceans, and it was left to the Bowery Presents DJ to soothe the hungry Mogwai fans with DrumNBass and electronica before the Scots took to the stage.

They started with 'Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home', a fan favourite since the early days with it being the opening track on debut album Mogwai Young Team. Excellent guitar work surrounds the room with Stuart Braithwaite and John Cummings starting early with their crossover guitar riffs at either end of the stage. Then, 'White Noise' rampaged. Stuart's movements were incredible, and as for the sound... Superb. Layers upon layers of guitar, bass, drums and keys changed the atmosphere altogether. That velvet opener fades, as White Noise took the audience by the balls.

'I Know You Are, But What Am I?' became the first of many Happy Songs For Happy People tracks to be played that night. Stuart played the effect pedals and during the louder, more abrasive segments, he twisted those knobs like the pro he is. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will took Mogwai out of their shell  in 2011. One of those highlight tracks, 'San Pedro', made an immediate effect on the Webster Hall audience. The guitar drones and a simplistic rock attitude make this track one of the fastest Mogwai tracks to date. We were then blown away by 'Mexican Grand Prix'. The live interpretation makes the studio recording sound messy, because live, the bass, the soaring guitars and the atmospheric electronic beat work a treat.

'Stanley Kubrick' made a surprise appearance on the setlist. The guitar effects and layered riffs make this track even more special live, than on the 1999 EP, EP. It's used as a lovely few minutes of bliss and tranquility before the Happy Songs For Happy People closer 'Stop Coming To My House' takes effect. All the power and energy of planet Earth is not enough to combat the sheer force of this track. The drumming is fresh and abrasive, while the guitars discover the meaning of layers. Stuart and John play very differently, but play together equally. This track is the epiphany of Mogwai's career. It's heard when defining 'fight or flight', the hair on my back was truly, standing tall during this moment of beauty.

A little break from the norm gave us two tracks from Mogwai's second album, Come On Die Young. 'Cody' being the elegant and synthetic track with Stuart's dreamy vocals. 'Ex-Cowboy' then plays tricks with time in a lengthy composition that passes ten minutes with excellent musicianship. They sounded great at this point in the gig, with all the buildups and magnificent segments of 'part 1', 'part 2' and 'part 3'. 'How To Be a Werewolf' acts as a warm-up for the following closing tracks. I personally feel this track was one of the weakest on Mogwai's 2011 album, but live, it felt complete. It's typical Mogwai and sounds alike many others on previous albums, it just doesn't do the job I think.

'2 Rights Make 1 Wrong' was always  going to make an appearance at this gig, and by golly what an impact it made. We loved the synthesized voice and the brilliant guitar riffs. Drumming has been taken care of efficiently throughout the show, and the bass, as lazy and motionless as possible, sounds perfect. It's the best track on Rock Action by a long shot, and arguably one of the best Mogwai tracks. 'Ratts of The Capital' acted as the final track before the predicted encore break. What you get from Ratts of The Capital is an apocalyptic eight minute masterpiece. It's dynamic and the guitars are in full capacity with usual keyboardist and (in my opinion) the most important member of Mogwai, Barry Burns, taking to the stage with his additional guitar.

When the band returns, Barry picks up his guitar yet again... Meaning another one of those heavy guitar tracks, oh boy! This time round, we have Rano Pano, the loud and distinctive guitar track with soaring guitar drones with distortion. This track is above all enjoyable, and Mogwai sure know how to thrill an audience. 'I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead' thunders through with the heavy buildups and the brilliant guitar layers created by John and Stuart. These two seriously know how to shred on guitar and to most peoples amazement, this track is more technical than first thought. The enigmatic closer this time around is infact, the only track from Mr Beast, 'We're No Here'. This is also the closing track from Mr Beast, and for good reason. It's loud, it's fast and it's furious. Mogwai at their best, and this type of closer is needed because we have no 'Like Herod', no 'Mogwai Fear Satan' and no 'Helicon 1'.

Webster Hall served as an outstanding venue. The acoustics stood out, and the crowd of many took Mogwai into their hearts as I did. Tracks ranged from early Mogwai to current Mogwai. They've passed the test of time if you ask me, and the eight to ten minute transitions of Happy Songs For Happy People will forever live in my memory. As Stuart bluntly put it after every track. Thanks, Thank You... Cheers.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Future Of The Left - The Plot Against Common Sense

 'No way you'll ever find peace/You'll never find peace with the name you've got', lead vocalist Andrew 'Falco' Falkous grits between the jaggedness of his band's noise rock, punk-aesthetic, edge on 'Beneath The Waves An Ocean'. It's a statement that's never been more truer for a band like Future Of The Left. The Welsh quartet play in the midst of a social surrounding painted in the bold enriching colors of a bloody red - or a stale lifeless blue - it's almost draining. While the band are in no way a political metaphor or preacher for all this motivational drivel regarding 'change' - and anything else the infrastructure of politics can hope to claim they stand for - there is something remarkably relatable between the band and the context of which their sound fits itself in. While this does feel as if it takes place against the gritty backdrop of monotonous working-class Britain, Future Of The Left, musically, stand as a tour de force of modern-day noise rock alternatives in a country where bands like Ash and Feeder feel both irrelevant and 'past it' in post-noughties rock. 'The Plot Against Common Sense' therefore is a double-meaning of a contemporary band's continuation of similarly heavy rock energy, and in equal measure, a stand-up-and-take-notice nod to the modest honesty that has grown and risen through the ranks of British rock music.

Looking at this album - fifteen tracks, most of which are labelled with titles you'd scribble down during a brainstorm rather than a finalization - it's easy to assume the album will, at some point or another, falter in achieving any significant achievement in its sound, whether individually as tracks, or collectively as a record with an undertone of bearing a 'theme'. 'Sheena Is A T-Shirt Salesman' may not exactly be ambiguous about its themes - the concept of band merchandise galore here - but for a track that opens the album with such unrivaled raw energy, you'd be forgiven to lose track of the lyrical context. Underneath the clashing of electric guitars and percussion, Falkous' vocals are immense in their scale yet striking in the way they so easily cut through the thrust of noise the track finds itself expressing. Like a impetuous knife through butter, I suppose. It's the lingering repeats of 'autistic-tistic-tistic radio, autistic license...' which stand out the most (and not just for the somewhat bold suggestion of lyrics here) for the way Falkous can immediately take command, neither hesitance nor alteration in his gritty pure-and-simple honesty.

'Failed Olympic Bid' opens up with an equally gritty pitch of synths, but is quick to be pushed aside by the roaring wave of electric strings and pounding drums. Falkous' vocals here a lot more soaked into the music, but he loses none of his truthfully analytical edge. The riff and chord progressions are simple, yes, and flicker back and forth between the tide of instrumentation, but it's nothing that leaves anything but a striking drive in the band's sound. Soon though, the guitars are added to with more rougher edges of fuzz-applied electrics that drive the track on until its eventual end. 'City of Exploded Children' for all those unacquainted with the noisiness of previous yet, will be pleased to find the band exploring more outdoor americano-style alternatives. Falkous' lyrics too are less bold and extroverted than before - here feeling more attuned to that of the likes of R.E.M - and instead show the man's more consummate tone rather than that of one intending to break out and tear apart.

Synths open up in a similar twitch on 'Polymers Are Forever' which sees the guitar usage more scaled-back and coated, jagging themselves atop the elasticated buzz of electronics that continues throughout. The mumbling of bass underneath soon begins to kick into another gear later on, giving the track that seemingly uneasy bottom to its stature. But if you want to talk uneasy, then maybe it's best we move on to quite possibly the album's worthy talking-point in the shape of 'Robocop 4...' or to give it its full title: 'Robocop 4 - Fuck Off Robocop'. Reading off as both a cinematic big-budget parody, while at the same time dressing itself in gross showings of opinion and emotive belief. There's something quite rebellious about Falkous' singing in this track; what starts off as seemingly youthful blurts of free-thought, soon passes between debating undertones of sarcasm and later, this OTT-esque storytelling that only emphasizes the track's interconnecting themes of vulgar american media culture. Here, Falkous listing (to name a few), Michael Bay, Johnny Depp & Billy Corgan in his list of rampantly rambled names. By the end, it all feels surreal in regards to how anti-climatic it leaves itself ending on, yet it showcases quite charmingly how unafraid the band - Falkous especially - are willing, quite boldly, to take lyrical content to its structured extreme.

It's only here when you come away from this stand-out composition that you realize that there is this undying unwilling nature to refute honesty and withdraw such a thing from the means of song structure. In 'Anchor', Falkous takes on a more jumbled looping of passing his voice over the soundscape while the guitars of both electric and bass alike remain letting out this moody strum of solitary notes and erratic windings. All the while, there is this feeling that this is all building up to something more immense and grand-scale, but the reality is that it doesn't. But it doesn't come off as a disappointment, and it's because the band are able to make this stable/unstable indecisiveness in their music, interesting. It may not be the most progressively-changing and impacting of their discography, but the way the music can pass across this challenging test of vocals and instruments actually works really well. 'Notes On Achieving Orbit' stands as a testament to Falkous' varying between honest and submersing presentation of lyrics, as an element of sound to the overall track's output. Even the chorus hooks, where vocals become less-lyrical and more self-explanatory in their usage, actually perform really well amidst the abrupt loosening of noise and punk rock that has found itself (overall) spilling across throughout this record.

I admire a band like Future Of The Left who can pull off this idea of no-holding-back intensity, without becoming bloated or too self-indulgent, in their sound. It would be easy to come to a record thinking the task merely involved screaming as loud and as hard as you could, whilst at the same time talking about subject matter that lacks in any form of poetic whirl. The themes on 'The Plot Against Common Sense' may well reflect the title of this album in that they are potentially all over the place and without justification. But what makes this workable and viable for a Cardiff-born band such as this, is not so much the themes that are involved, but the way in which it reacts with the people who discuss them. There may not be another individual born on this Earth who shares Andy Faulkous' typically British sarcastic honesty, but I guess it's better to have one narrator on such matters, than none at all. It's a sign that there are those who are willing to show us what 'the deal is' with such trivial debates as movie sequels, consumerist merchandise and public riots. And here, across an album that spells out both how quick it is to respond, yet how slow (and unwilling) it is in its acceptance of the present reality, the honesty addressed on this album leaves only a deep and direct sense of abruptly humble understanding.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - Trouble

My first ever showcasing of Oxford-born producer/DJ/musician Orlando Higginbottom's music - a name trumped only by the likes of his decided-upon alias, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - was during the support-act warm-up at the Newcastle O2 in December of last year where Friendly Fires had kept to their promise of playing, after the original date had been cancelled and rescheduled. Higginbottom, dressed in an almost luminescing radiant green dinosaur costume - stood behind his stack of synths, keyboards and equipment much like any other concert performer - presented to the slightly curious, slightly drunk masses a glittering array of upbeat electronica so jestingly craving, it was almost baffling to suspect this was the support rather than the main event. When my mind wasn't tagged to the sumptuous beats - or even the female dancers, likewise dressed in dinosaur costumes, appearing now and again to add some intriguing avant-garde-like expression of dance amidst the audio - it was pinned squarely on what this young university-city diversifier would come up with next.

Seven months later and the World has finally caught ear of TEED's surging likability - a certain Nokia advert trying desperately to associate the guy's music with a sort of care-free 'fuck the normality, let's have fun' socio-cultural placement. While the same can't be said for Finland's #1 phone company and their lame excuse to push their new products in our faces, Orlando Higginbottom is a man who can gladly be associated with the much simpler and digestible concept of all-round 'fun'. 'Trouble', TEED's debut release follows on from a series of well-received singles and EPs and builds itself as a culmination of a young producer's colorful take on wide-scoped electronic sound.

This is a man who isn't afraid to diversify with different angles and projections of sound, and he makes his point quite clear in the tracks this album is compiled by. 'Promises' opens up the record with a hop and skip of synths, vocals providing a very dreamy and cloudy ambience to what is already an energetic pacing. It's a very simple beat in the long-run, but Higginbottom's vocals provide that much-needed extra dimension to the music which in this corner of music, is vital if one is to keep a similar level of interest. 'Trouble' follows up with the same passion of electro analog-driven synth sounds - the likes of Ceephax Acid Crew the first name to pop into my head, as I naturally find myself attempting a reference point with the music I'm hearing. As the song progresses, the song gets a bit more bubbly and tropic in its diverging instrumentation, the synths appearing to let loose as percussion begins to become the driving factor of the track.

While it's clear to see Higginbottom's interest and affection for house and electro amidst the gorgeous warmth and flutter of his music, it's more comforting - and appropriate to bring attention towards - that this is an album not limited to said corners and sub-genres of electronic music. And it goes beyond the bright and wonderful presentation that marks Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs as both an act and a compose in equal measure. 'Household Goods' sees the album slide more in the direction of house, and more focally, into the contemporary market of upbeat dance music. But what sets this track aside from your atypical three/four-minute floor-filler is the way the track is able to quickly move between upbeat hooks of synths and the recognizable drive into his more sonic volumes of drum and electric enormities. And again, it's the vocals here - in all their dreamy glow - that leads the progression and transgression into a euphoria that's neither consuming nor stale.

'You Need Me On My Own' while paints itself as a more melancholic and somber take on a sound that usually associated with being upbeat and rhythmic, actually manages quite successfully to keep a sort of glittery atmosphere to its sound. Despite Higginbottom murmuring in-between the sails of electronics: 'I can be alone/And still picture you', his musical skills are a lot more impacting to the point where I can almost imagine the Oxford musician sitting in his bedroom beneath a decorative clutter of records and music posters celebrating the best of 90s dance. But the important thing here is that this is an album with no intent on purely standing as a look back on the past. Rather, it takes inspiration from it and pitches its sound into a wider demographic of positive upbeat sounds that are charming yet provoking in all their wondrous shades of tone and pitch. 'Garden' is without a doubt Higginbottom's finest moment on the album. What starts off as a seemingly minimal techno-orientated gymnasium-suited mustering of energy, is actually limitless in where its placement may lie. Whether it's the faint vocals and keyboard twitches fitting for a bedroom environment, or the follow-on bumbling of synths thereafter more accustomed to an outdoor care-free setting, the track has no visible parameters of hinderance or objection. It's a composition that can be enjoyed anywhere, anyhow - the unification of techno, pop, house and electro making this more than just a jolly rallying of emotions that too, is a memorable mark in the album's overall sound.

And this is, by far, the most recognizable and potentially most talked-about factor concerning Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. It's increasingly difficult to categorize this sound in such a way that it becomes easy to filter down into a unifying corner of electronic music. Not that this is a case of pigeon-holing or the like, but it makes the task of attempting to name a single genre or corner of sound, almost impossible. The reason for this, plain and simple, is Higginbottom's talent of evolving his sounds into a sort of collage of differing ideas and inspirations, and it does nothing but bring admiration to the guy's field of thinking. In the final stretch of the record, we find the man playing with more relaxed and ambient pockets of household interior electronics. 'American Dreams Part II' starts off quite hypnotically with an edge of resurgent 70s experimentalism to its sound. However, this is only a means of catalyzing Dinosaur's upbeat house vibe that leads on straight-after. Here, however, the delivery is more continuous and reeling, the hook of a glitchy patterned synth leaving a wavy texture floating aloft across the foreground. The background however is left to the work of Higginbottom's playful ambience of analog sounds.

'Stronger' the album closer while is the most bare of the fourteen tracks on this album, is by no means the weakest or recognizable in the context of it being weak. Rather, it feels less like an album-ender and more like it's ready to open into a second round of Higginbottom's distant trailing of mutterings and similarly twirling dance sounds. Even if the man's lyrics are somewhat limited in content, it's the disco-friendly hooks and the just-as-friendly execution and lead-in on every part that showcases Dinosaur's talents at making electronics for both a consumer of said music, and one more accustomed to the flow and pacing of it too. Hell, the use of what sound like cow bells - or some means of a hollow percussion - in the progressive midst of things actually gives the track that little bit more buzz and excitement about the music. Thinking about it, I guess you could say this is a clever part on the artist's thinking (intentional or not): the placement on the album's track-listing; the way a track suited more to the middle or even the opening leads, ends up being put last. It only makes someone like myself long for more like this. And while I'd hope Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs continues on this theme of branching out ideas in sound only to unify them together, the truth is that I'd be quite happy with more of the same, to an extent. 'Trouble' is a remarkable collection of debut ideas that are considerate of both the past and the present in equal measure. Orlando Higginbottom may not be the most easy and accessible name to exchange in music circles - and neither will his alias, for the right reasons - but in this field of music, names mean next to nothing. The important thing is the delivery, and the delivery here is both promising, and immense.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Linkin Park - Living Things

The all-important question concerning Linkin Park is not so much where do we start, but rather, where do we finish? No one can doubt that the Californian sextet - debatably the most infamous nu-metal act to come out of nineties suburban-scene America - are quick to catch anyone's stream of dialogue and exchange of opinions, regardless of whether the subject is centered around the music, or not. But whether they're continually used as the butt of people's jokes on teen life and being 'misunderstood' and all that malarky, or are criticized in equal measure for trying to branch out into more [politically] open territory with their music, it's the argument concerning the same-old argument 'yes, but are they good' is without end - the band somehow finding themselves in a bottomless pit without neither end nor means for escape. And even if we were to focus on the music in itself, would only draw deeper on the contrasting culture that their sound has created. On one side you have the passionate fans who openly claim - and sometimes, unaware they do so, subjugate - the music as if it were a milestone in creative thinking. And then there are others who effortlessly make a mockery of both the band and the music as if the two are interchangeable, content irrelevant in comparison to the context.

The fact remains Linkin Park have made their mark on music history, for better or for worse. 'Hybrid Theory' as I'm sure you're pretty knowledgeable on - I've heard it, you've heard it, everyone with an MP3 player or computer I'm certain, has heard it - was, to keep in subjectively neutral ground, a 'unique and memorable' experience in music listenability. Everything that has spawned from it: the joy and the hate; the respect and the criticism; the indulgence and the parodies, it's something that very albums and very few bands - less a solitary unit of output, and more a staple of young culture and the attitudes people grasp to - create to the point where it creates an almighty shift on what the subject matter presented really is. And while the band have progressed from simple-and-tired song structures to rougher electronic surges and later more politically-testing and experimental song (and album, more recently) structures, at the same time, an equal portion of the love:hate ratio keeps lingering in the swirl of social and cyber discussion. 'Living Things' can be interpreted as either a welcome, and nostalgic-inducing, return to form or be slandered as another bland uninteresting, unchallenging pile of ideas without heart.

If you've followed the band from their debut which now, amazingly, spans twelve years into the past, you'll know that both Chester Bennington & Mike Shinoda (vocallists in equal measure) have kept to their signature deliveries of vocals and subject matter albeit a shift in tone here and there. 'Lost In The Echo' begins the album by showcasing this normality of interconnecting exchange, the song here primarily electronically-generated, harmonics clogging up the background when Bennington steps up to deliver the seemingly predictable placement of uplifting chorus hooks, and surprisingly, it has its appeal in conjunction with the pace of the song. Shinoda's lyrics are equally repealable and forgettable in their content: 'Let me tell you how the odds are gunna stack up/Y'all go high, I go smart/How's that working out for y'all in the back, huh?' At face value, it's a fairly safe and workable format the band are used to playing, but considering their past three albums have all involved brief and scarce intro tracks, it's quite surprising to see the band open on something that feels a lot more extruded than previous attempts. 'In My Remains' sees the band take on more familiar rock instrumentation with Bennington providing main vocals here. But again, it's only at the choruses - which here feel more like break-away opportunities than essential components to the song - where interest in the song's overall sound and energy is taken note of. Away from it, the band sound too hesitant (too trusting as well) on moving away from synthesizers and beats to keep their songs moving.

Which here, is a shame, because 'Burn It Down' actually has quite a moderately accomplished beat to it and proves that the band know how to incorporate computers and electronics into a mostly rock-centred structure. But what's more note-worthy is Bennington's almost modest and believable sincerity in his voice, even if his vocals remain caught in a similar rehashing of war, destruction and the aftermath because of it - here talking about how 'explosions broke in the sky' and how 'flames climbed into the clouds'. And that's before Shinoda brakes what emotive construct the track tries to keep, with his tired rapping of being 'struck down when I kissed that ring'. 'Lies, Greed, Misery' then is Shinoda's attempt to consummate the track into purely beat and rhythm-driven, sacrificing once more both any hope of development in the music's sound and moreso how Bennington can support him without resorting to unneeded graveled screams. Quite the opposite entails when 'Castle Of Glass' passes by and demonstrates a more down-played lower-key less-exclaimed series of synth hooks besides Shinoda's - this time - more melodic and swiftly passing exchange of vocals. And the marching pace that slowly builds as the track progresses actually pulls off a well-deserved lead into more soaring sounds, guitars taking lead as the rhythm moves from a somber march to a manic thumping of bold, loud guitars and drums (synthetic and organic alike). And it's this same bold expression of guitars and drums that could have been so deservedly expanded had 'Victimized' not been reduced and limited to what feels like a brief interlude-like spell of exerted vocals courtesy of Mr. Bennington and the rapid drum-hits and buzz of guitars that accompany it.

Once more I feel like I'm waiting for that one track where the band completely drop all the synthesizer usage in favour of something a bit more raw and robust. But here, not only does it feel like the band have voted in favour (in a majority, I assume) of something more processed and rapid, but worse, it feels less like a rock-orientated sound and more electronic primarily. Don't get me wrong, my support and lenience with electronic sounds is clear to see - hell, the few tracks this band have put out that I find myself coming back to, have incorporated electronic elements into both the structure and the progression - but it seems more and more as if the string and percussion-based instruments they used primarily on debut, are limited now to 'bridge' placements, if they're even featured at all. And even when they decide on incorporating a more beat-statued electronic usage in their songs, the results sometimes come across almost lazily and lack-luster. 'Until It Breaks' feels as if even the song itself has no idea whether it's coming or going. What starts off as a sloppy attempt at something more hip-hop orientated in its tempo and rhythm seems to shift its attention to this simple piano-led intermission of more melodic composition, before Shinoda comes in again to spell out lyrics that, against what music is left, comes across less like vocals and more in the range of senseless, pointless drivel.

But if there is one stand-out moment on this album - and further to that, a track that I can admit to actually 'liking' in the context of actually enjoying what I hear - then it's the moment 'Tinfoil' starts - the scratchy erratic beats laying atop a fading screech of a guitar riff. And at the same time, while this somewhat nervy set-up continues to run its course, a simple but quite charming piano piece creeps its way into the mix, drastically ending...only to drop again into a more heavier hollowing of chords, leading us into the album's closer 'Powerless'. While Bennington's lyrics won't exactly strike us as provoking or admirable in their content - 'You hid your skeletons when I had shown you mine/You woke the devil that I thought you'd left behind', the way he opens up against the dropping of chords and the jittery synth still trailing along in the back, it gives the track some sense of an emotive and transcendent edge to it. This is showcased further when the song, much like previous examples on this album, lets loose with a full bellowing of both organic and inorganic sound alike. But it's the bellowing cry that follows onto this that catches the listener off-guard, so much so that it's actually conceivable that the band wrote this with some considerable measure of passion and commitment running through them. It's Bennington's final cries of the title lyric that demonstrates the track's raw and unequalled muster. Much like 'Shadow of the Day' and 'Robot Boy' did on the albums they featured on, it shows the band's willingness to strike a balance between Bennington's longing tone of voice and the mixture of simple beats and just-as-simple deliverance of consuming sound.

Despite this, moments such as these remain a rarity. A rarity that, despite its long-lasting appeal, is still stuck alongside tracks that are either missed opportunities, grave errors of judgement, or simply lacking in any originality. 'Living Things' is without a doubt the album that culminates all the band's previous exploratory outings in one brave-but-bold 12-track record. And so too is it a completed representation of the band, but that's only because it represents a seemingly limited palette of diverging ideas from an act who have made little attempt to experiment with their ideas and even littler effort in exploring them. There are some tracks here I'll come back to on this, but again, they are in the minority pile on yet another album that is filled to the brim, this time, with safety on structure rather than numbers. We may all be twelve years older - the nostalgia of that debut flooding back as much as the cringe-inducing context of it all, will so too in equal measure - but the eternal argument of whether this is objectively a good or bad album will continue on. And the answer is (subjectively) neither. It's OK, it's a mediocre album. And sadly by the look of things, that's as good as Linkin Park can hope to be.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

2:54 - 2:54

New kids on the block 2:54 seem to have manipulated the status quo of recording artist's rise to becoming acknowledged. Larry Fitzmaurice (of P4K) has been on the duo's case for the past year, with Fat Possum snapping them up after one solid single release, the dissonant punk track 'On A Wire', released by House Anxiety in early 2011. They are somewhat of a band without a bio. Veteran producer and Alan Moulder mixes the entire album, while producing the lead single 'Creeping' at the back end of the album. The majority of production is left with Rob Ellis (PJ Harvey's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea). Now I've listened to this album, many times. It doesn't take NME or Q magazine to force feed me a 'new age' of 'rocknroll'. The sound is there for the listening, go ahead and listen, make the comparisons to punk all you like, but you would be wrong. 2:54 may take their name from a Melvins song timeline, but they are far from punk and stoner rock as my new Tommy Hilfiger shirt is to expensive. Nonetheless, it's a good quality shirt, and 2:54 are a quality band who have all the elegance and ego needed to storm the live circuit.

On first impression, 2:54 are dusty, not ready, lacking in composure for their debut album. It takes time for the dust to settle and a world of murky atmospheres to appear in the dark sky of blood, sweat and tears. 'Revolving' lays the foundations with its guitar layers and new age vocals. You can feel the energy transmitted from the duo. Reverb has been used accordingly and the drumming standout between the shoegaze drones and Cocteau Twins-esque guitar layers. Strange, because Alan Moulder never produced Cocteau Twins, yet he produced Curve, Ride, Lush, My Bloody Valentine... I think you get it.

'You're Early' brings nothing new to the table. I hate to say it, but 2:54 seem to be a one trick pony. The chord progressions are predictable and the vocals sound extremely off-putting. Effects cannot cure a bad voice, and the singing female pair cannot pretend to have good voices when they sound like a bad Warpaint. That was harsh of me, I am sorry, I just do not take kindly to lazy vocals. 'Easy Undercover' stretches their capabilities with a tricky structure and excelling left sided distorted guitar drones. The track features another monotonous Centre piece drone, which gradually becomes annoying. The right sided guitar is relaxing and stays relative to the tracks mood.

Funnily enough, 2:54's self titled album improves and improves. 'A Salute' marks a clear vocal improvement. Something quite noticeable about this album is the length of the tracks. We have ten tracks which total 41 minutes, with eight of those tracks between four to five minutes long each. Making this album sporadic and open. A Salute is one of these four/five minute tracks and boy can I feel it. Theres a point when too little becomes too much, and 2:54 sure strike out with the unnecessary segments of nothingness. The more the merrier right? Not when you have a monotonous electric guitar playing the same... Thing... Every... Time. It takes the previously released 'Scarlet' to ignite this album. Arguably better live, Scarlet is the track that grabs the listener by the balls. I was lucky enough to see 2:54 play live in my home city, Leicester, in 2011. At Summer Sundae's stage, with a spectacular line-up deep in the obscurity section of Leicester's very own eclectic music festival. Scarlet is indeed loud and in your face. The vocals are outstanding on this studio recording, with the layered vocals creating an eerie atmosphere between all the hectic guitars and spacious drumming.

'Sugar' returns to the old format of slow guitars, moments of nothing, and vocals which sound raw and distracting in a track of reverberation. I am finding it difficult to appreciate this track, because it doesn't show me anything other than how repetitive 2:54 can be. Another word that is at the tip of my tongue can be applied to the female duo themselves, and I think this leaks out into the music... Especially with the sceptical 'Circuitry'. Comparisons to The XX have been made, but those people making that comparison can piss off. Circuitry has moments of genius in production. Guitars are fresh and have all the distortion and reverb at their disposal to manipulate a simple sound, into an outstanding shoegaze drone. Oh, and... The word at my tongue is pretentious.

Is this music forced? I think so. Some artists spend so long experimenting with what genre they want to divulge into, that they forget the most important ingredient, originality. I think that 2:54 have rushed into this debut album, and released something way below their personnel expectations. The final three tracks are completely different in style to the previous seven. 'Watcher' takes on a more psychedelic sound, and has mature vocals and delicious verse segments and an even better chorus which is surprisingly clear and laid back. 'Ride' is powerful and heavy with guitar notations becoming the focus. It raises questions on whether or not this is actually good, or unstrung material. It paves the way for the magnetic and the longest track, 'Creeping'. Childlike vocals and dreamy guitar riffs make up the most of Creeping, but what lies underneath is magical and spectacular. The composition is beautifully crafted and every instrument plays its part perfectly, yes, perfectly. The distorted introduction works it's magic, as the bass thumps hard and Colette Thurlow delivers her most in depth vocal to date.

2:54's self titled album has shown me that music can be manipulating, terrible, amazing and honest in one giant 40 minute gulp. Pro's and con's are needed for the ever improving musician, and 2:54 have their con's firmly in their faces. I enjoy Creeping, and I enjoy Revolving. Many tracks here are actually pretty damn good, with excellent structures and memorable moments. It's these few tracks of unoriginality and softness that crash 2:54's debut album. And that is what this is, it's a debut album. They can be forgiven for including useless tracks like You're Early. The production is as good as it can be, and Alan Moulder cannot help how ill-equipped the duo are. I've seen 2:54 live, and I can tell you now that their live performance is much better than these studio recordings. I think its mainly down to the raw instrumentals and added brilliance by Joel Porter on bass. The girls need to take a step back, listen to themselves and think about what they actually want to do with their second album, because if it includes that monotonous guitar, then they will hear about it. Their music is over here, in the better than average, decent section of music. And the girls are over there in the egotistic, pretentious, ahead of themselves world of candy. Where money grows on trees and terrorism is reality, not a government concept.


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Pixies - Doolittle

1989's Doolittle came as a splendid surprise within a decade of mediocre dance music and un-original synth pop. I can sit here and mention the usual suspects, but that would be an incredulous waste of time. Surfer Rosa was released in 1988, and was recorded by on-form engineer Steve Albini. A change of production this time round, but that did not stop the Pixies releasing one of the most influential alternative rock albums of all time. Little fame surfaced from Surfer Rosa, which gracefully gave Pixies breathing space for their second album.  It doesn't take long to understand and appreciate the Pixies influence on popular modern rock music, they've changed the aesthetics with their characteristic alternative rock.

In terms of influence and success, Doolittle is on par with London Calling. Just like The Clash, Pixies deliver an album full of serious, topical, fun tracks. And that is pretty much it, it's an enjoying listen and a listen that screams for more and more attention. You have Blacks screeching screams and layered vocals, Deals pure bass and Innocent voice which captures the art of sound. Of course It would not be complete without Santiago shredding on guitar, et al. But the focus here is on those six/seven tracks of aggressive punk and noise dynamics and single material. Whispers of "Hip's like Cinderella." And the atmosphere drones. Classic is a raw term which has been made weak by mass publications and critics, but Doolittle certainly warrants the musical term.

'Debaser' begins in typical Pixies fashion. Literal topics and exchanging vocals which are ever present. The listener has no time to breath as Santiago makes sure the riffs stay presentable and fashionable ageless. You can really hear the attentive atmosphere which has been furiously splattered in the background. Its technical, fast, short and a welcome back/opening track for Doolittle which never fails to amuse.

Nothing wakes me up better than the screams of 'Tame' by Sir Black Francis. The surrounding instrumental is indeed dynamical, with incredible levels of distortion for Santiago. Black's ferocious chorus vocals and light-hearted verse vocals create a surreal, horrific atmosphere not previously experienced by the human ear. David Lovering's drums  adds that extra bit of power towards the end as the rigorous 'Wave of Mutilation' rips open. Single, verse/chorus/verse and one of the most profound vocals given by Black in his music career. Time passes by quickly as 'I Bleed' descends down upon us with one of the most memorable bass riffs by Kim Deal. She certainly knows how to capture the moment, and this riff, supported by the brill comical flowed vocal stand out on the album as music mountains for the following array of 'indie' bands.

Black is embarrassed with 'Here Comes Your Man', understandably, however it's a catchy tune with a great pop structure. Arguably Pixies most commercial, but it's gripping in all its riffs and vocal refrains. 'Dead' feeds Black with his withdrawn, distorted vocal. The dark lyrical topic is overthrown by the surprisingly happy chorus segment. Listening to Dead will bring back memories of the mid 2000's boom of indie artists re-creating Pixies sound and embarrassing themselves, falling into a memorabilia state of confusion and fake attitudes.

'Monkey Gone To Heaven' is a great surreal track with more guitar drones and recognizable bass riffs, hello Nirvana, we are looking at you. The back half to this track is disturbing with Black screaming "If the devil is six, then the god is seven." This is a vrilliant track with a magnificent structure. Reggae makes, a split occurrence on 'Mr Grieves'. We have that blend of punk and rocksteady. It's not the best of vocals, but the brilliant instrumental makes it worthwhile. 'Crackity Jones' passes in to time with furious drumming and a productive amount of unison material. 'La La Love You' has a great childlike vocal by Kim and Francis. The acoustic guitar stands out with the whistles, you know, the 'dat ass' whistle.

'No.13 Baby' is another one of Kim's great bass pieces. The track is excessively loud as expected with one of the albums best studio effect moments, when Black delivers his absurd vocal. 'There Goes My Gun' echoes round my head for hours whenever I listen to it. Kim's effective backing vocals surpass the slide guitar and reverberation of the drums. 'Hey' is a lovely inclusion towards the end of the album, with its funky bass riff and the finger-happy guitar riff. The track takes off with Santiago's abrasive high pitched guitar. One of my favourite tracks is the Kim Deal special, 'Silver'. Dynamic guitars are nothing to mess with when Santiago and Francis jam out.

The album ends with 'Gouge Away'. Guitars turn to dust and fade and enter almost perfect. The abrasive guitars and melancholy drumming are a splendid end to the Pixies second studio album. Clinic, Nirvana and just about every 90's alt-rock band owe their careers to the Pixies. From the get-go, Doolittle never fails to excite. You do not find many critics panning Doolittle, it's because all the negative doors are shut and pixies only have open two doors, critical success, and influence. 


The Hundred In The Hands - Red Night


You can see the rising inclusion of synthesizers and effects into modern-age rock as either a good thing or a bad one in equal measure. It's safe to say that the classic tradition of primarily guitar-driven drum-accompanying three/four-minute songs, is gone. History. And while the instruments of choice remain just-as-lively and just-as-active, the rising popularity and usage of the synthesizer and other such related electronic equipment has evolved the original palette of 'rock' into this wide-spanning umbrella of sounds and diverse directions in composition. Electronic-rock - which thirty, forty years ago would have been far-fetch even for the B&W sci-fi films of that period - has stapled itself to the culture of music, for better or for worse. The Hundred In The Hands are one of many bands that follow in this lining establishment of synths and strings; beats and blips, and while their debut was more a gentle reassurance into fitting this sound to their own stylish pop set-up, 'Red Night' sees the Brooklyn duo take on a more enveloping and absorbently darker sound.

'Empty Stations' opens the album with what is, surprisingly, an unnerving murmur of violins and low-pitch strings. It feels quite foreign and could be mistaken for completely new and bold territory altogether. But gradually, the synths kick in - humming buzzes lead a rattling drum rhythm as vocalist Eleanore Evadell begins with the song's tag-line words: 'I listen to empty stations', the track thereafter thundering its way almost barbarically forth. Ming in Evadell's faint echoey voice, Hundred's other-half - Jason Friedman; guitars and programming - is left to pull the rush of panicking drumbeats and wavered synthesizers into a somewhat anxious upbeat tempo, and it only intensifies the mood that has already swallowed the track whole. 'Recognize' the following track, integrates Friedman's wavey electric guitars more closely, but the chasmic drum hits and deep bass-like hollows that surround the track remain as clear and, more importantly, niggling as was on the previous track. Evadell's lyrics, however, are more earthly and gracious in their direction this time and the accompanying harmony that calls out from this supposedly hollow background still clings to that deep cavernous consuming sound. But the way the ambience of these background vibes seem to meld and slither against one another is what makes this track memorable. The continuing instrumentation and clashing synthetics only emphasize how important the atmosphere is.

There's certainly a lot more personal and enclosed sound present here than what was on their debut. Gone is the traditional femininity of typical electronic pop music, and while Evadell still shows her human side through what is considered, in most parts, simple and easy-to-grip lyrics, the passiveness in the way they're fed across to us adds more and more dimension to her voice and begins to feel more closer to that of an actual effect or accompaniment to the music than just a mere addition of words and pitch. 'Come With Me' while showcases the band's more nostalgic rock edge, still has a somewhat gaseous weight to it. More-so in the actual lyrics - Evadell singing no less about the romanticism and risk of sticking together, yet the way the track is layered gives it a very 80s continental drive to it to the point that the actual concept itself loses any risk of coming across as too generalized or centralized in regards to the entirety of the song.

The more I listen to this record, the more I find myself drawing comparisons with the later work and methodology of Depeche Mode and how the more darker New Wave reinvention of synthesizer usage could help to both develop and envelop a region of sound rather than seeing machines being used simply as substitutes for keeping rhythm or timing. While Evadell's vocals remain instead, a lot more fresh and open to class this as subterranean as late 80s synth music was in parts, there's a definite suggestiveness about the band's sounds that gives the impression it's close to this same underground exertion as previous bands. 'Keep It Low' draws in a very tense auspiciousness about its synth usage. The way the electronics sound and feel as if having been waken and then been allowed to lively build upon itself gives a much more meaningful perspective on the way the album has progressed up until this point. The vocals here aren't as stand-out and crucial to the vibes formed, than they are on previous tracks, but where Evadell's voice falters, the erratic continuing of the drumbeats fill in what is already a clustered layering of synthetics and organics alike. It's here then that I must flag up what will certainly be, to most people, a cautionary sign for openness regarding this album's sound and deliverance. This is certainly not the most well-executed piece production-wise, and while the first-half of the album was certainly rudimentary and clear to spot where the highlighted instruments lay, there are parts in the latter half that don't necessarily share the same sense of clarity. 'Faded' could be seen as a case where the right elements are, unfortunately, dropped in the wrong places, Evadell's lyrics becoming lost at times behind the build and eventual streaming of bass and distortion that makes up a large portion of the audio.

Following on from this position, the album appears to delve more into less-spacious grounds, instead favoring what some might consider a more shoegaze-like piling of layers and mixed sounds into something more cloudy and fogged over. While this isn't necessarily a full-blown negative on this occasion, the diversity and intricacy demonstrated so well on earlier parts of this record feels departed and withdrawn on tracks like 'Tunnels' which incorporate a more dense and progressive means to their song structure. 'Stay The Night' the penultimate six-minute composite, presents itself as the duo's most effortful attempt at incorporating more experimental progression in their dark-dreamy sound. It's the faint harmonics of Evadell's vocals that receive most of the treatment here, and through it, Evadell becomes almost transcendent against the backdrop of wavering pianos and enclosed guitars. But the concern here is whether the vocals are meant to stand against the music or become a part of - the melting texture of the distortion does bring about some intriguing results, but the deliverance and mechanism for how these sounds come across is, at the very least, lost amidst the effect-laiden processes taking place.

There are some interesting ideas here, and further to that, some interesting ways the duo go about exploring the electronic side of their music. 'Red Nights' is without a doubt more in-depth, more analytical and certainly more tantalizing than their debut. But where the album succeeds in establishing this presetting of more secluded, confined sound, there's a clear and present visibility in where it falters; here, making sure it runs through from beginning to end in a consistent manner. Give these guys time and I'm sure they'll grow into something much more promising. So if 'Red Nights' can be seen as a sort of kick-start to what this New York duo can muster, then the second album from this Brooklyn male-and-female partnership will no doubt catch a fair few people's attention. And if they can improve on this interesting little pile of ideas, then that certain 'few' will undoubtedly build in number.


Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Sin Fang - Half Dreams

Sindri Már Sigfússon, also known as Sin Fang, previously Sin Fang Bous.. Is Iceland's version of Sufjan Stevens. His charismatic vocals and energetic instrumentals scream indie pop, with English lyrics and electronic undertones. He released his 'first' official album 'Summer Echoes' last year. Low-fidelity is kind of Sin Fang's thing, indulging in several unknown progressions of industrial instrumentation and multi-layered vocals. Half Dreams is far more refined, quieter and definitely his standout piece since 2009's 'Clangour'.

This EP has five tracks of indie pop tunes most comparative to the likes of Sujfan Stevens and Belle & Sebastian. Recurring MRD readers will remember the little 'Only Eyes' single review I did a few months back, well that starts the chain of delicate tunes on Half Dreams. It's unfair of me to cap the entire EP this early into a review, but I must proceed in telling you, the reader, that Only Eyes is by far the most thrilling track on the EP. The vocal twirls of 'Walk With You' are lovely and Sin Fang's vocal refrain of, "Let me walk with you in my dreams" is just utterly astonishing to hear with the reverberated brass instrumentation and echo effected electric guitars.

The mass amount of guitar effects start the third track, 'Shine For Me'. Here we have a simplistic acoustic guitar riff and an array of delay/reverb applied to both electric guitar and vocals. The song kicks in around the minute mark and the vocals assert themselves thoroughly as elegant and effective. 'Strange House' is familiar, sounding like 50's Surf and 90's electronic music mixed in with some radio recorded choir vocals. Sin Fang delivers a visionary vocal, much needed among the lo-fi background noises.

'It's Not There' establishes itself as my second favourite track from this EP because of it's dreamy guitar work and catchy vocals. The best part of this track is the final third, with an acoustic guitar riff carefully looped among a speedy and aggressive drumming pattern and electric guitars which are noble, nonchalant and noteworthy. The track comes to a steady close, with Half Dreams imagery and passion fresh in the mind. Vocals swirling and guitars looping, Sin Fang closes his most recent release with satisfaction. This EP has been consistent from the get-go. Instead of mounted low fidelity and lacklustre vocals, Sin Fang has come out with five individual pieces of music which collectively form one of the best Icelandic releases of 2012. There's always room for improvement, and Sin Fang is no exception to the rule, and I can't see him becoming a front runner in Iceland's next big export any time soon, however I can see Sin Fang releasing more sought after indie pop albums in the short coming future.


Track Review: Markus Mehr - Komo

Markus Mehr isn't exactly the hottest name on the music browsing circuit as of now - neither is it a name you'll be finding running rampant on the major music blog search engines, anytime soon. But I hope (by some enormous stretch) to change that, in the form of my first Track Review here on MRD. Yes, that's, reviewing a track.

German-born Mehr, is an ambient architect not afraid to spell out both his ideas and his visualizations onto a larger-scale than most ambient artists of a similar field. And to coincide with the start of Mehr's three-album release over the space of 12 months, 'in' - the first of three similarly simplistic states of being, follower 'on' to be released on June 21st, 'off' the third and final recording seeing the new year in on January 24th - sees Mehr spell out into two similarly-spaced 20-plus-minute compositions. 'Komo', the first track - and in conclusion, first half - of the album could, in some parallel universe, have been shrugged off as another bandcamp distribution where even the most audiophillic would find it difficult to dig up and even explore deeper. Well I'm here to tell you this track deserves far more than just financial credit, it deserves some vocal credit too.

'Komo', spanning a total of 26-minutes is a slow-burner etheral admiration of both progression and placement. Slowly creeping up from the silent confines of its initial build-up, the track unveils itself - a sweeping of droned violins and string arrangements alike sweep across in a repetition that is both soothing yet intriguingly unsettling. The source of this discomfort soon manifests in what begins as a bubbling of electric fuzz, buzzing and sizzling its way through the thinning of instrumentation that itself begins to collapse, break away...only to resurrect itself. But it's the electronics that take over here - the creepier vibes felt previous, now in full swing as the shock-like buzzes intensify into monstrous raws of electronic muster.

A track - and an artist - not for the faint-hearted, 'in' is out now. Check it out, sit back and...ahem relax.