Friday, 31 August 2012

Holy Other - Held


Acts like Holy Other owe a lot to the re-envisioning of contemporary electronic music. Closer to [our] home, UK's increasing garage scene and 2-step rhythms showed those with little knowledge of the World to speak up and express themselves. But so too, the cross-atlantic revolutionaries of RnB and hip-hop - that took such simple elementals and forged an entirely new identity within itself - are worthy of mention all the same. These two collectives may not exactly stand shoulder to shoulder in their present state, but there is still that sense that this is a sound fully basking in the shining bliss of libertarian-like experimentation and unity of composites, that was so dominant in the late 90's on both sides of the pond. It's no wonder then that here, this young Mancunian on his full-length debut 'Held', presents himself as a man who takes to these delves in experimentation like a moth to the flame. And coming from the same city that has brought us such respected pioneers of all-round multi-branching electronic music - from the early house architects of 808 State, to the latter venturers between the physical and the abstract via The Future Sound of London - Holy Other is a man on a mission of discovery. A discovery of his sound, and the sound, as a result, of discovery itself.

From the word go, the sounds that tread across in muddy stepping-stones of motion are deep and cavernous. Opener '(W)here' is like an open mouth to a cave, yawns and moans of droned vocals and padded electronics trickle and tumble through the darkening ambience. All the while, the glitchy stop-start rhythm of both the bass and clattering beats overhead fill the space with even more claustrophobic nerviness - this foggy billowing of sound growing more and more closer before it crumples and fades into oblivion once more. 'Tense Past' a similarly compact-yet-tremblingly-wide offering pushes even more emphasis on the use of sampled vocals and their incorporation into the song's inhaling/exhaling texture. Reminiscent of current musical experimenters like Four Tet, Bonobo and even the likes of Caribou, vocals and instrumentation become interwoven with one another - losing all natural identity, and instead, purposely blurring the line to the point where obscurity is the key.

It's not something that comes across as pretentious or losing itself in indulgent experimentalism, but it is still a recurrent theme - and recurring palette of sound - that comes through in Holy Other's material. 'Inpouring' could be seen as one of the album's more gloomier and deeper-rooted tracks - 2-step and garage clearly tapped into within the track's tense beat arrangement and vocal choppiness. And on an album that, collectively, is as compact and as direct in its focus, this is certainly a song that gets straight to the matter and makes no attempt to fill in any unwanted gaps or spaces. It's that very decision - or rather lack of - that keeps listeners glued to this young man's sound. It's a style that is often more honest - be it, brutally or even outright bluntly in its fermentation - and approachable to an outsider like you and me, not just on the musical side (unchallenged by such elements as noise or intensity) but on the relational side too. The depth and emotion flowing through this record pulls the listener in. And like many a record before it within this genre - where the collage of vocals and instrumentation, with electronic acting as the supposed glue melding it all together - the album's beauty lies beneath all the trajectories of vocal highs and electric bleeps.

'U Now' sees Holy Other truly testing his dubstep ideas; some possibly finding a similarity with James Blake here, in the way his glitchy indecisiveness in rhythm and composition cuts through the drone of vocals that wane somewhere between the foreground and the background of the music. But unlike Blake, Other doesn't leave the track wide open and hollow - the bloated drone and hum of ambient synths inflating the track to the point where it's almost about to rocket itself away from reach. 'Past Tension' by comparison takes all the safety and insecurity of Other's previous attempts and throws it out up in the air as if to be rid of it. Instead, the wail of looping strings and jargon of vocals, strike atop the empty percussion hits that hit the track with a jagged hop of rhythm. Listening to this - and the way the intensity of the instruments clash against the harmony of the vocals - certainly reminds me of Oneohtrix Point Never and his recent display of emphasis on samples and repetition. And just as that record showcased so magnificently last year, Other in 2012 succeeds in smothering all this tension and swirl of thought with wave upon wave of reverb and similarly-drowning effects - transforming the solidarity of the music into an almost liquidizing surreality.

'Held', the title track - and the longest on the album - is more of an elevatory rise than a sudden drop down as were the previous tracks. The hum of bass is what steers this forth, aided too by the trailing of rooted beats and glisten of vocals reaching above and beyond the rest of the composition. But for a six-minute long track, and one that far contrasts the other shorter more snapshot-like moments on this album, the progression here feels far more panned, as if stretched into some musical panoramic. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does raise some suggestions as to Other's abilities when moving away from the more simply-led ideas - ones where listener access is somewhat tested, and patience is a virtue meant for more than just the sounds before us. It's a risky card to play, and it does leave an impossibly ignorable question as to the variance Other is willing to show in future ventures.

Most great slow-burners, as 'Held' here clearly is, don't usually sway too much from the musically psionic field they've generated. Rather, they stay put and simply wait for the obstruction to come to them. But instead of patience, Holy Other's field of both expertise and state-of-mind, here takes us on some of the most exploringly descents into spacious open-air sound, without running the risk of losing sight of the exit. At the same time however, that same consistency suggests an artist who is clearly interested in bringing this lonely narrative of eery beats and ghostly vocals, that it feels he's willing to sacrifice what humanity this album is tampering with, in order to express itself to the fullest. But above all, what I find interesting about this album - and thus, why it strikes such a strong and deeply-rooted chord with me as an individual - is the way Holy Other has managed to take from such passionately personal influences as garage and dubstep (through the music) and RnB (through the vocals) and pull to the forefront, the metaphysical mystery of it all. And it's the philosophical wavering of this debated wonder, this questionable mystery, and here specifically, this air of analysis, that breathes such non-earthly life into an album that, in large portions, feels more ghostly and gaseous than it is human and physical.


Live Show - Jake Bugg

Where: Summer Sundae Weekender, Leicester
Venue: The Beer Tent / The Watering Hole

I'm going to be as honest as I possibly can with this review. Some of the things I mention may not be his fault, however I think the festival organizers could have prevented some of the 'bad' aspects of this show. OK, let's begin. It's a Saturday afternoon, it's been warm all day.. And all I want is a beer from the 'Real Ale' beer tent. However, I'm stopped from a rather mean looking security guard/personnel/guy who's informed me that the tent is full. This didn't happen to me, because I was inside the tent waiting to see Jake Bugg.. But this happened to literally hundreds of people standing outside the tent. Some didn't want to go to the bar.. They just wanted a glimpse of 'sensation' Jake Bugg.

I do like my folk music. It's true, I do like my folk music... That's why it's hard for me to actually appreciate Jake Bugg, let alone enjoy his music. People are 'demanding' for Jake to be discovered, or brought to fame. This has already happened, yet organizers see fit to put the most up and coming and one of the most popular for teenagers, to play on the smallest stage. Regardless of this silly mistake, Jake filled the tent, he filled the entire surrounding of this tent. He takes influence from 50's and 60's American folk music. That's clear as ABC. I think some/most of his fans have only ever heard Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, because they seem to think Jake is this unique, iconic upcoming folk legend. In fact, it's the opposite. America has literally hundreds of folk artists who are more skilled, intelligent and older. An average country singer in America makes Jake look meaningless. This isn't Jake's fault though, is it?

It's not fair of me to disregard Jake Bugg so soon into his career. He hasn't released an album yet, but I've heard enough material to disregard him. I'll take my 50's - 70's folk music over anything Jake Bugg releases. 'Lightning Bolt' is the song everyone is waiting for. He doesn't disappoint the audience, but he doesn't half keep them waiting. He wades from several tracks from his upcoming album, which fail to amuse the sweaty audience. These songs are not memorable whatsoever, just featuring Jake with three or four chords, finger picking. If this is the sound of the future, then somebody shoot me. This is the sound of 1920, before the days of Leadbelly. 

'Trouble Town' and 'Taste It' brighten the mood towards the end of his set, but the audience is left wondering what the fuss was all about. What is the fuss all about? I turn to my American girlfriend who hears artists like Jake Bugg day in day out.. She says, "Is that it?" Yes, that was it. For an artist supporting the likes of The Stone Roses. Was I disappointed? No, I wasn't. I knew that Jake Bugg wasn't exciting to begin with. He was still good, playing his songs the way he wants to, it's just not that good. Look to America if you want some decent music along these lines. Better yet, look at British music in the 50's through to the 70's. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Vaccines - Come of Age

I don't like this album cover. I don't know whether it's the guy in the back pretending to like The Ramones, or the geezah at the front who looks like he's escaped from a mental hospital. It could be the short hair cut and denim jacket of the girl on the right. It might just be me, but I don't like the colour, the dark red does not match the black and white. It's not a meaningful album cover to me. It's an indication of fake cultural differences and exploitation in today's music. Screw the pre-release hype, throw all the previous years work out of the window. The Vaccines have returned, and they're here to tell us why they have returned.

The sophomore album, the hardest of the bunch. The Vaccines made a pure indie rock debut album with 2011's 'What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?'. What would you expect from The Vaccines this time around? I for one expect a more mature sound with deeper, darker tracks about what went wrong before??? Perhaps this is what Come of Age is all about, but I don't think this is what they tried to achieve. I have seen The Vaccines live and I can tell you, the average age of the huge 4 / 5,000 audience was about 16. That's their target audience. Forgive me if I'm wrong or offencive, but that's kind of perverted given The Vaccines members are what? Mid twenties.

Come of Age isn't the album The Vaccines wanted it to be. I know they wanted to get away from that 'indie band' persona. Well, they sort of have.. But they took the wrong junction off the motorway. It's as if they've taken a U-turn. 'No Hope' is an electric rock anthem. It does have many variations and clear vocals. The guitar progression is far more mature than anything on the debut album. The drumming and lead guitar bring them back down to indie rock, but even then they sound rather refined and... Contemporary. They're a British rock band from London for Christs sake, not an American band from Alabama. No Hope does have a banging, self loaving chorus though, "There's no hope, and it's time to come of age. I think it's a problem, Does it ever go away? I know I am so self-obsessed, I guess, But there's, no hope, and I hope it's just a phase. Oh, I'll grow." Justin Young understands the bigger picture, but this song... It alienates their cult fan base of Vaccineites.

'I Always Knew' has a rather enjoyable guitar riff. It's quite Western, again moving away from the indie persona with an American feel. The vocal is extremely and almost cunningly clear. The progression is recycled and singer Justin Young knows this. 'Teenage Icon' has a blunt guitar riff which echo's on the left side. Justin gives another clear vocal. The thing here is, they know what they don't want to be.. Yet they highlight this fault, "I'm no teenage icon." By the way, who's calling Justin Young a teenage icon??? NME? Is this your work. There's little improvement musically. I imagined a more mature sound, but instead it's just the same. It's lacking in three chords, but it doesn't gain in anything. 

Things become horrific on the track 'All In Vain'. This track has a terrible vocal by Justin Young. Sorry, but you clearly are not American, stop pretending you're something you're not. It's as if they've become obsessed with Guns 'n' Roses. They're a traditional rock band, granted.. But The Vaccines are and will always be known as the indie rock revivalists for the skinny jean generation of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There's this awful section about two minutes in, where Justin tries to sound twee over an acoustic guitar. Where's the thunderous guitars? Where's the punk influences? What's been going on.

'Ghost Town' is a forgettable track with slide guitar, as expected. I've heard this type of song before, in 19 fucking 50. The Vaccines are not unique in anyway at all, but I expect something grander than this. Ghost Town has a simple groove that some kids may enjoy live, but overall, it's a massive disappointment when you compare it to Noorgard or Wetsuit. 'Afershave Ocean' is just as weak and.. And.. And I'm going to use the word now, boring, as previous tracks on Come of Age. The vocal work is respectable, but the progression is predictable.. It's so predictable. It may be because I've been listening to Animal Collective for the most part of today, but The Vaccines are sounding aged and out of ideas so early on in their career. 

This is ultimately a simplistic album for, well I don't know who this is for. I'm almost certain the hardcore Vaccines fans won't welcome this album. The 'new' sound is off putting, it's disastrous. 'Weirdo' is another horrific track. I don't get any bit of enjoyment out of the right sided guitar which plays one note but in a wah wah style. I can do this, it doesn't take any skill to crate this guitar sound. The drumming is extremely repetitive, but without this and The Vaccines would be inducted into a mental asylum. 'Bad Mood' is heavier, more abrasive and better than every other track on Come of Age. I don't like the production, but that's just me. Many people like this style of production, for example Kings of Leon, I don't think it fit's rock music. It's a forgettable track, but then again, so is this entire album. It's forgettable, something their debut wasn't.

'Change of Heart pt.2', 'I Wish I was A Girl' and 'Lonely World' are deeply saddening to listen to. I'm not sad because they're sad songs. I'm sad because they're bad songs. They're so pretentious and simple it's painful to listen to. The simplicity of the debut album was presentable. They knew it, I knew it and every critic knew it. But that didn't make it a bad album, their debut was reasonably good, even if it did attract a new age of bandwagon teenage girls and tank top makes with V05 hair gel. Out of these three final tracks, I think 'I Wish I Was A Girl' has to be the worst. Is it a sexual track, or is it serious? I don't know. People of Earth, I don't know what they were thinking. The guitars are predictable and bland. It's just so plain, that's what brings this album down.

Although I did like their debut album, moderately. I think it lacks skill and honesty. Come of Age lacks skill and honesty, but it's also a bad album. The fast paced, reverberated dance floor fillers like 'Wreckin' Bar' and 'If You Wanna' are respectable British indie tracks, but they've been followed up by this fake, self loathing sound of americana, rock and adult contemporary. It's not soft at all, it still has energy and decent songwriting. I just don't think Come of Age is a worthy follow up to an already weak album. I'm thoroughly disappointed, but then again.. And I'm deadly serious here.. What did you expect from The Vaccines?


Animal Collective - Centipede Hz

"Why am I still looking for a golden age?", sings Avery Tare on Animal Collectives ninth outing in twelve years. Avey Tare's aggressive and load vocal make several appearance's on Centipede Hz, rather than his delicate and heavily reverberated vocal on previous album Merriweather Post Pavilion. Throughout reviews of Centipede Hz, you will notice a trend in comparison with previous album. Every artists has this, but not as much as Animal Collective. MPP had beautiful easy synth loops and above all, pop songs at it's heart. Strawberry Jam was heavily electronic, with a spectacular amount of synth loops and soundscpaes used to create a vivid, yet clustered atmosphere on tracks like 'For Reverend Green' and 'Chores'. Three years have passed since Animal Collectives most accessible album. Centipede Hz is a step in a new direction. Structurally, the band stay grounded in the indiesphere of music. Nevertheless, Animal Collective are back in our minds, and who wouldn't want that?

The thunderous synthesizer riff enters on 'Moonjock' with layers of percussion and guitar adding to the mix. Tare's quick paced vocal drifts with the peculiar synth soundscapes and blunt instrumentation, clearly provided by Deakin; Who returns after a five year break. There's a brilliant instrumental segment about three minutes in where the synths and bass collide to create an enigmatic clustered sound, this can only be achieved by Animal Collective. The lyrics are surprisingly clear, with a 60's road trip theme. The track comes to a sudden stop, with a hard hitting bass loop and some ambient synthesizers at a low volume, bringing to present the tracks of 'Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished' back in 2000. Of course this wouldn't be an Animal Collective album without a sweet crossfade. 'Today's Supernatural' has a lovely left sided synthesizer riff and sporadic percussion, live and drum machine. Avey Tare delivers an aged vocal, it's a very back of the throat vocal and heavily distorted. His vocal directs the track, as he did in Moonjock. The instrumentation is extreme, literally... Extreme. There's so many explosive beats and synth layers. The odd bit of ambiance comes through with the heavily effected vocals and (what I can only imagine) time consuming production. Nine minutes in and Animal Collective are in full throttle.

'Rosie Oh' does bring the tempo down drastically, thank god for that. The excitement and fast paced structures of the previous few tracks reminded me of The Go! Team. The catchy layered refrain of "I'm on my own" is ear catching and makes me want to go back and listen again. Rosie Oh is far less in your face, it's by far one of the sweetest and slowest on Centipede Hz, not to mention the shortest. There's two sides of Animal Collective, the story telling, indie rock/pop structural side and the layers of soundscapes and musique-concrete. With Rosie Oh, this can be picked apart and heard differently when you ignore certain aspects of this track. The vocal is fantastic, as is the bass and synthesizer loop, it's the mass amount of 'unnecessary' and do quote me, 'unnecessary' noises that weaken Animal Collective here. Most of the time it works... But on Centipede Hz, it should be left out and applied during live sets.

'Honeycomb / Gotham' was a great single released earlier in the year. Centipede Hz seems to lack this style of track. 'Applesauce' is kind of confusing. The lyrical content is very different, "I eat a mango and I'm feeling like a little honey can roll." I mean, what? This is like a food appreciating track, "Oh Pink Lady your days so distinguished are a movement so fluid. So smooth against my palm. Reminisce of the days when they all praised your sweet red delicious." I'm feeling the fast paced vocal. The drumming is surprisingly relaxing and groovy. That's because Centipede Hz is an odd album... 'Wide Eyed' features Deakin on lead vocals. He has a bitter and light vocal that fits the mood of this track like apple and pie. The off beats and synthesizer crescendos on the left side are great to hear. The further in to Centipede Hz you listen, the more you understand and appreciate about the recording process. I can't continue mentioning a left sided synth or right sided, because theirs so many different musical aspects to Animal Collectives music. So many variations and synth sounds come across in just one track.

I think I'm not alone in asking for more Panda Bear on this album. It seems he's become more of a drummer, relegating his top two position alongside Avey Tare to Geologists samples. Of course Panda Bear adds his sampler parts, but how are we supposed to negotiate between all these sounds. 'Father Time' is probably my least favourite track on Centipede Hz because of it's inability to excite me. The synth loop is melodic, but the vocal and drumming is a little too predictable and recyclable. The follow up track, 'New Town Burnout' is much brighter and better. I'm sure I've heard them use this drum pattern before, nonetheless this track is a delicious electronic symphony. The drum machine is heavy, with brilliant keyboard sound son the left side. There's this sci-fi synthesizer running aimlessly in the background, which I think makes this track. It's just there for effect and it does that perfectly. The synth samples fade in and out on Panda Bear's outstanding vocal. Avey plays the high pitched organ-esque sound, with Panda Bear using his voice to add textures to the instrumental segments. This track isn't the best on Centipede Hz, although it is up there. People don't realize the simplicity of Animal Collective at times. Especially when Panda Bear takes the lead. He makes a very simple song complicated. He's an exceptional vocalist.

The crossover between New Town Burnout and my favourite 'Monkey Riches' is extraordinary. I've been waiting for this synthesizer loop since I heard it live on year ago. Avey Tare takes lead vocals, respectively, this is his kind of track. The drumming thumps in with rhythm. I can feel a dance groove going on as Avey Tare repeats, "I don't wanna knock you down." The synth loop returns and is always heard vividly, even when the track erupts with several layers of synth and percussion. This is a good example of a unique Animal Collective track where everything just seems to go correctly. The synth loops and the chord progression on the chorus, Tare's vocal and the ecliptic moments...The synth is always there. It's a triumphant track with the most catchy, mature and technical pieces of instrumentation. Avey Tare's layered vocal at the end closes it off fantastically. It's one of my favourite tracks of 2012. The white noise distortion leads us in to the following track 'Mercury Man'. Animal Collective have always been a band that do their best, meaning the back album tracks are neither worse or better than the opening few. They know by now that their fans want the album experience, and my do they give it. Mercury Man does have a rather static beat, but Tare's spacious vocal leads the way with an enduring chorus. The lyrics are generally better than some of the other tracks on Centipede Hz, "Bad vibes I've got hold dementia. When I'm one thousand Hz from home." It's a sad song and the haunting synths bring the mood down after the Monkey Riches energy-fuelled happiness.

Avey Tare takes the lead vocals on 'Pulleys'. This track has more percussion rhythms and vocal layers than first expected. Like many Animal Collective albums, the first listen is always the hardest, and I'm sure many people have never returned to some of those albums because of the inaccessibility. Centipede Hz is no different. When you get passed the layers and production, something delicate and sweet still stands. Tracks like Pulleys and Rosie Oh have that ethereal edge. It's an admirable direction to go from your career highlight with MPP to this jangly and avant-garde like album. 'Amanita' brings Animal Collective back down to Earth with a reverberated and delayed guitar by Deakin and odd ball samples by Geologist. Tare delivers one of his best vocals, while Panda Bear puts every ounce of effort into creating a percussion based atmosphere that doesn't hide behind the layers of synth.

Centipede Hz is the longest Animal Collective album since their debut. All 54 minutes can be felt. It's not particularly a hard listen at first, it's just a loud and unusual listen. The AnCo experience is still present. Five / ten listens later and it becomes evident Animal Collective have acquired a further taste for 60's psychedelia and musique concrete. The synth loops are outstanding as always, however they're not as accessible or in focus as previous albums. Each member does their thing individual thing, it's still a surprise that these four individuals can create this sound. Animal Collective are the psych-pop version of what The Velvet Underground where in the 60's and 70's. Strip this album down to it's very core and you have a beautifully structured pop album. The themes are still there, they've just painted and plastered these tracks with layers of percussion, synth and vocals. That's the Animal Collective way, you have to admire that.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Wild Nothing - Nocturne

Wild Nothing is the pseudonym of Virginia based multi-instrumentalist Jack Tatum. 2010's Gemini was well received by critics and I alike. There was a key emphasis on his ability to create sweet dreary dream pop tracks without indulging in to lo-fi hypocrisy like many other 'one man bands'. Wild Nothing is different in a way of influence and output. Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush and My Bloody Valentine lead the way in Wild Nothings play list. What surprises me about up and coming dream pop / shoegaze artists is that they love the sound more than anything. It's not about Kevin Shields or Kate Bush's kooky appearance and style. The layers and beautiful reverberation attracts Jack Tatum to re-create and personalize this sound, making it Wild Nothing.

The dream pop / shoegaze / indie pop takeover of modern music is quite extreme, not that this is bad at all, I welcome all artists that don't imitate the 80's / 90's surge, but take direction from it. Kate Bush's reverberated synthesizer openings make an appearance for Wild Nothing on the album opener 'Shadow'. I love the chord progression here. Tatum sings lightly and with ease. He almost has a throat-y, bitter style of singing this time around. The strings are fresh with no artificial sounds coming from them. I can't stand an artist that's descended into a sound blockade of reverb/distortion/delay with nothing else visible by ear. Shadow does have a great guitar and string riff which is repeated throughout the track, picking up with the slow moving and backing drumming which never clouds the track with loud and in your face percussion. The bass sounds heavy at times, but this is to be expected. 'Midnight Song' also has an ear catching chord progression with a very dissonant guitar sound. The effects are being used to full potential, with the rhythm guitar sound coming through on the verse. The chorus has a sweet melody with a backdrop of many guitar layers, some light and high pitched, others heavy and low pitched. A good contrast between emotions and sounds are brought to life on Midnight Song. The lyrical content isn't a let down either.

These tracks are complex like My Bloody Valentine, whilst keeping the indie pop feel and freshness of 2012 with acres of reverb. It's not the reverberation that makes this album great, it's the structures and overall final piece. Just like Cocteau Twins and just like Slowdive, it's the final piece that's judged, and Wild Nothing has it all on Nocturne. The title track is a mix between vintage synthesizers and delay effected guitars. The dreary vocal is highlighted like a sunrise. Something tells me this album isn't an August album. The lengthy guitar drones and dark lyrical content (at times) scream for a December / January playing of this album, and I will do just that when the time comes. One of the darkest tracks 'Through The Grass' has a bass heavy synthesizer and Lotus Plaza-esque guitar riff. The delay shines through and brings to light several artists comparable to Wild Nothing. The most noticeable comparison in my opinion would be the dream pop days of M83. The synthesizer reverberation is going nowhere, just like on M83's Saturday = Youth. 'Only Heather' continues the flow of mouth watering dream pop tracks. The moments of instrumentation stand out, nonetheless, Jack Tatum's vocal is brilliant. The chorus is catchy, with the refrain repetition of the tracks title and the following few lines to emphashasize the tracks theme, "Only Heather, can make me feel this way."

Yes, there is a vast majority of artists playing this kind of music ineffectively for many number of recent years.  DIIV, Beach Fossils and Minks come to mind when listening to this album. Wild Nothing has more skill and quality than these artists, it shows. The simplistic one chord progressions on 'This Chain Won't Break' are polished and refined. The drumming and bass are not as audacious and exciting as other tracks. 'Dissapear Always' has a beautiful array of colours brought forward with the eerie soundscapes. The louder vocals are sprayed with reverb and sit eagerly above the delay effected guitar riff again. The similarity between tracks obviously would have been a problem. Even before listening to Nocturne, this potential issue took a seat in my mind. There's a nice variety of guitar music and synthesizer music on Nocturne, Disappear Always does have this exceptionally good closing segment where 80's indie rock and 60's psychedelia meet, great stuff to listen to in a dark room late at night.

'Paradise' is a fantastic track. The chord progressions are to die for. The atmosphere of this track never clashes with the lyrical theme / song structure. Images of a beach come flooding in around the halfway mark, where a small instrumental segment with the four chord synthesizer and layers of instrumentation come into effect. The percussion fades in and out in a circular motion on the speakers. Very basic, yet very entertainign and effective. A build-up forms with the original drum pattern returning with further synth loops and guitar layers. Five minutes and a half pass without even realizing it. Paradise is my favourite track off Nocturne because of the imagery I'm exposed to whilst listening.

Nocturne never backs down. 'Counting Days' has a dazzling guitar riff which has plenty of the old guard of effects applied. The synth sounds come through distinctively, there's a joy of grace and happiness when listening to this track. I really enjoy listening to this album all the way through, the way it's intended, because of the last three / four tracks of uplifting dream pop atmospheres. 'The Blue Dress' is equally as atmospheric. The keyboard riff and faint guitar riff makes the track sound even more exciting than on first hearing. The drumming is very good, with many variations and character. The guitar does have all the passion needed, with it's reverberated and clear sounding textures.

The album closer 'Rheya' has all the excitement and riffs as the album opener. Nocturne is a positive, overall improvement of Gemini in many ways. Tatum has matured his songwriting, the production quality has greatly improved and the human interference of drumming and strings add every bit of quality Gemini failed to administer. From start to finish, Nocturne surprises and excites. The addicting guitar riffs use an array of effects to draw in listeners of dream pop and indie pop. Gemini fans are left in a state of confusion between 'the better album'. This doesn't matter. Nocturne does everything I wanted Gemini's follow-up needed to do. From the bursting strings of Shadow to the hazy atmosphere of Paradise, Nocturne ticks all the boxes.


The Vaccines - Please Please Do Not Disturb

If this EP is anything, it's a statement by The Vaccines that they're no Wire, Jonathan Richman, Nick Lowe, Johnny Cash or ABBA. The Vaccines recorded this EP while on tour in Europe. They have gave it away for free, which is understanding seeing as these four cover tracks are all very basic and acoustic. It begins with a classic, The Beast In Me, written by Nick Lowe and famously performed by Johnny Cash. They don't have the passion, desire or ability as the late great country legend. Do they do the song justice? Yeah, it's not that bad. For an acoustic cover in a hotel room, it's not bad. It doesn't lack character, it's hard for The Vaccines not to add their twang on covers. Their version of 'The Beast In Me' is far less bitter. It's not as ruthless, but does have moments of beauty.

Next up is Wire's classic 'Mannequin'. I don't like to be accused of prejudice, but I'm pretty sure.. The majority of The Vaccines fans have never listened to the original, or have heard of Wire. I'm just saying.. You know, Their fanbase isn't the most... Mature. Nonetheless, The Vaccines obviously take influence from the wave of 70's punk bands, with Wire topping the list as the most eclectic. The Vaccines deliver the 'sha la la la la la la's' first, before going straight into the verse. The quiet, reverberated and clear vocal makes Wire's version standout even more than I first thought. The lyrics are stunning, making The Vaccines look amateur. I'm enjoying the backing vocals on this track, with one guitar which hits the correct notes throughout. Mannequin is the most accurate cover on this EP. They highlight the song writing over Wire's aggressive three chord punk power. 

The hardest of these four tracks to cover is clearly ABBA's song about a broken down relationship and self-guilt, The Winner Takes It All. I'm not a fan of ABBA.. But this is one of three tracks I genuinely enjoy because of the lyrical theme. The Vaccines also enjoy ABBA's self-guilt / relationship classic. Just look at The Vaccines debut and you see this theme stamped all over it. The Vaccines can't sing as dominantly as Agnetha Fältskog, they also can't write like Benny & Bjorn... They do however give it an indie, working class touch. The acoustic guitar isn't as well sounding as ABBA's synth and piano. Justin Young can't reach the high notes, although he does sing the verses exceptionally well, using distortion (bad recording) to cover up his vocal. This version of The Winner Takes It All is far less emotional than the original. 

Jonathan Richman's 'That Summer Feeling' has always been one of his most famous and well known tracks. His Boston twang once ruled the airwaves with The Modern Lovers, way ahead of their time in the mid 70's. Richman is an influence on many artists, with himself taking influence from the great Velvet Underground. Richman's hidden talent was his songwriting, which he now thrives off in his solo acoustic sets. The Vaccines understand the lyrical theme, taking advantage of their easy going vocal. Richman's loud and appropriate vocal cannot be matched by any cover, and The Vaccines are no different to any other artists when covering That Summer Feeling. It's a tremendous song, with The Vaccines producing a friendly, catchy track for their cover. 

These four tracks are brilliantly recorded by their original artists. The Vaccines are influenced by all of these tracks. It becomes clear that The Vaccines intended to cover tracks that they themselves enjoy. Neither of these covers are amazing, but they're not bad either. I didn't expect anything better than a swift, simple cover. That's what I got, and I'm sure fans of The Vaccines will welcome these four covers with open arms. It's free, it's simple and it's acoustic, what's not to like. The original artists won't suffer, only gain from this little exposure. Even though this is just a free EP, I recommend listening to it.


Aimee Mann - Charmer

It's a shame that credible artists like Aimee Mann struggle to find a record label, when utterly useless artists like this.. sign big. Now Aimee Mann may not wear leopard skin trousers with a see through slutty top.. But she does know how to write songs. 1999's Magnolia gave birth to Aimee Mann as a 'popular' artist. Her songwriting abilities captured the emotion and varied subjects of that great movie. Her few albums released in the years following Magnolia were rich in songwriting, however lacked the hits and killer 'seller' instinct which failed to capture a deal with Interscope. Tracks like 'Red Vines' and 'The Moth' brought a brighter, youthful and more appreciative audience to her feet. Radio personalities began playing her songs during prime time, with Radio 6 comedic writer genius Stephen Merchant consistently playing Aimee Mann during his shows.

Mann's eighth album features James Mercer of The Shins. Yeah, that's pretty much it. Mann was never about guests, she's consistently been average throughout her career as a solo artist. The past decade has been secluded in a way that Mann is only catering for her audience. The Magnolia audience. It would be a hard job spreading her wings and crossing genre's this late in her career. Charmer doesn't have the firepower to draw any outside listeners to her work, it's the same music as Mann's career in the 80's and 90's. She does however have more of an electronic sound which is welcomed amongst her heavily acoustic and sometimes lacklustre music. Mann's music is rather simple and it's always been that way. Country music and modern concepts have been focal points in her musical work. The upbeat instrumentals are completely different to her usual downbeat lyrics.

Titular track 'Charmer' begins with a synthesizer loop and a rather straightforward drum pattern. Compare it to Passion Pit's Gossamer opener, 'Take A Walk'.. And it becomes clear how simplistic and 'easy' Aimee Mann is. I've never found her music exciting, except the piano ballad 'Wise Up' and a few tracks here and there. She's always been about the lyrics and Charmer continues that trend. 'Disappeared' has another synth loop with some interesting sparks of percussion. The guitar is rather basic, as is the structure and progression. Mann delivers a multi-layered vocal, making it hard to understand the lyrics as her vocal rises for the chorus and lowers for the verse.

This material is nothing like the Magnolia soundtrack or the two albums either side of Magnolia. Mann's attempt at writing 'pop' tracks are faulted by her enigmatic history of being a sadcore-esque songwriter. 'Labrador' offers nothing new to the table. A piano riff parallels the vocal and the bass.. With no variations whatsoever. It's not fresh, it's old and rotten. 'Crazytown' does add a little bit of psychedelia to the mix with her sweet vocal that sticks out with the light synth riff and fast piano playing. This track reminds me of 'Spiteful Intervention' from Of Montreal's latest album. Contemporary music can sometimes be refreshingly enjoyable, so far Charmer is almost the opposite.

Aimee Mann can't hit the high notes. This isn't frustrating, it just becomes quite clear her vocal isn't as strong as other female vocalists. 'Strong Enough' highlights her inability to sing alluringly. The instrumental is arguably the best on the album, with a charming melody and admirable guitar solo towards the end. The lyrics are much darker than the previous few tracks, with Mann emphasizing this with a simple and understanding final lyric, "Everyone has got their differences." Mann's sadness theme continues on the next track 'Living A Lie'. James Mercer opens up the track, with Mann adding to his vocal on the chorus. In typical Shins fashion, the instrumental is quite simplistic and easy flowing.. Catchy. The synth doesn't stand out on this track, it's all about the vocals and the song structure with a huge emphasis on the chorus.

It's not hard to see where Mann is going wrong. The Magnolia soundtrack was special because of Mann's almost incredible emotion in tracks such as Wise Up and Save Me. The story lines flowed with these tracks, with the instrumentals becoming brilliant ballads. When she has a full band backing her, it's not quite as special. She goes from Aimee Mann when it's her with guitar / piano, to Shania Twain when she's backed up. 'Slip and Roll' and 'Grumpy' are both saddening tracks with depressing story lines. The lyrics are not great, with the instrumentals sounding flat. I'm not impressed with Mann's eighth album as of yet. It's not as if these tracks will grow, because once you've heard them, that's it.. You're not going to have a life-changing experience whilst listening to this. 

Mann is no Joni Mitchell, that's as clear as A B C. 'Gamma Ray' has a weak chorus with the refrain of the track title. I'm not taking anything from this track other than a weakened Aimee Mann singing second half album tracks. The synthesizer riff towards the end starts well, but has no character. 'Barfly' is basic and slow. I like the reverberated guitar and the chorus, however the verse brings Barfly down. The percussion is just too stark in comparison to other folk/singer-songwriters. These last few tracks, along with 'Red Flag Diver', prove that Aimee Mann is heading nowhere. Adult contemporary music such as this is heading nowhere. 

Charmer is generally a poor album. The little moments of excitement are clouded by 35 minutes of simple instrumentals and easy predictable song structures. Better yet, I could write better songs than this and I'm ****. The years of Red Vines and Save Me are truly over. Mann's solo career has hit a new low, not that this wasn't expected. There's no variations, no real interesting features and no magical songwriting, which is what Mann is all about. 


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Shed - The Killer


Have you ever stopped for a second and thought - maybe out of curiosity, maybe so out of some tiny spark of intrigue - about just what emotions an artist brings to the table when the time comes to convert the brainstorm of notes and jotted-down ideas into musical form? Certainly you've made assumptions whenever a band or maybe a solo artist displays some means of context in their lyricism or perhaps their stylizing of tone and rhythm. But less so perhaps, has the same been said for the humble electronic musician. Maybe it's because such genres as house, ambient and even the techno of today, are anything but humble. For Shed, Germany's very own techno architect, a personality as secluded and as confined as this, may not come across as the most talkative and outspoken of individuals, but beyond the human interface of words and voice, it's the man's obtrusive beats and overlay of menacingly moody production and mixing, that strikes a far-flung chord with the ear. And with 2012's release 'The Killer' presenting itself through the album's solitary cover of a bluntly metallic-shaded composite of a giant speaker, Shed's cleverly-fused house-techno message is nothing short of grand and direct.

It's these very deep bass-shattering ground-shaking beats that are at the heart of Shed's sound as is detailed in early track 'Silent Witness', which is anything but. Despite it starting things with a lightly treading wash of pitchy minimal beats and hushes of vocal samples looping through, the track soon reveals a more enriching depth to its content, a vague descent of string-like synths and ambient hums leaving the more grounded beats less treading on ground and more gliding desperately across the open air of the track. But things pick up tremendously in the following track 'I Come By Night', which sees Shed almost gritting and grinding his signature rough-edged synths into a pulp, the earthly stampede of beats rising in waves against what soon becomes a swirl and coil of more analog sounds later on. Shed certainly does keep to this same rhythm throughout, but it's the compelling characteristics of these quaking of sounds that provide a very brood and batted background to the music.

Likewise, listening to 'Day After' despite all the vocalized mumbling of words, actually conjures more of a baroness to its environment than most other techno sounds. Whether it's the tracks' nervy twitching of synths, or even the hop-scotch beats that cut through the waviness, that drives this conjuring of visuals, is all for the listener to decide. But this very straight-forward yet compelling directness in Shed's music certainly succeeds in conjuring an atmosphere about the space. 'Prototype' by contrast, shows the artist's homage - almost nostalgic homage - to the early 90's and the experimentalism of house music. Shed's mix of the rough and the rounded fall into a calming equilibrium, crashes of drums gelling with the lighter treads of keyboards and cloudy synths that rise above it all. And while it is nice to see Shed almost withdrawing back to the softer and more analytical approach to electronic music, it's these palettes of sound and direction that, here unfortunately, don't exactly share the same delightfully abrupt nature of his previous tracks.

'Ride On' then, could be seen as the middle-ground between these two differences in mixture. While the spacey synthesizers still show their more cosmic glow throughout, the percussion doesn't feel haltered or affected by the way the track finds itself progressing, and even growing out. There's still that darkening chasm-like drop in Shed's production and mix of beats, yet the cosmic glow of his experimentalist sounds still provide that glistening in the distance. 'You Got The Look' too manages to keep the heavy-hollow unison in check, this time trying its hand at giving Shed's sound a more glitchy and retaliatory refining to its progression. A short track, but the ghostly passage between the synths and beats almost makes it feel infinite in its breadth, electronics phasing in and out of one another to the point where length becomes merely absent in presence.

The final track 'Follow The Leader' however is Shed's most withdrawn and without a doubt, the shining gem in his roughening stone-like composite. The inclusion of a solitary piano, in what simple shades of keys that pass by, tug the track from its former hum of mid-air bliss - helped again by the rummaging of analog synths and rattled percussion work - into something a lot more reachable both emotively and conceptually. It certainly feels as if this is Shed's most personal and direct track on this album, and the feeling is expressed to tremendous effect in how simple and minimal these composites of notes and effect-changes come.

Despite what slight adventures into minimal sounds and transcendent layering you come across here - as you would on many a 2012 release for a genre such as this - Shed meanwhile sets his sights way past the trajectory of the cosmic and the surreal. What sets 'The Killer' aside from the majority lying in the same field, is its instinctive urge to push the mark that little extra forward through its direct use of beats and its no-holding-back expression of emotion. True, the minimal attempts provide less of a punch than those which are more substance content-wise, but aside from the delves and the descents - that are as equally uplifting and spacious in their output - Shed is an artist/producer who can not only create a beat, but direct it in a thoughtful yet strongly-evoking manner. And without going over-board and slipping casually into electronic for the sake of being electronic, synthesizers here are no longer caged and limited to buttons and knobs, but actually tear away from the mechanics; across the void of effects and applications, and directly into our ears. Something that punchy, doesn't often suggest an artist's deeper and more personal intentions on visualizing his ideas...except it seems, on here.


Monday, 27 August 2012

Death Grips - The Money Store

Zach Hill's future-esque project is only a few years old, yet has all the notoriety and widespread fanbase 'Hella' could only dream of. Last years 'Exmillitary' was welcomed with open arms by the hip-hop/industrial community. Ever since Charles Manson 'introduced' listeners to Death Grips on the opening track 'Beware', people were gripped. From track one, Death Grips were sticking around for quite some time. Exmilitary was only a mixtape. It was given away for free on their website. Only one year has passed since Exmilitary, and a record deal with Epic has funded Death Grips 2012 projects. Fans await the fall release 'No Love Deep Web' because of how rich 'The Money Store' is.

The flaccid industrial beats of Exmilitary have re-formed into a synthesizer frenzy of layers and intense drumming. The production of The Money Store is on a different level to Exmilitary. 'Get Got' has a thumping distorted beat and a bitter percussion section with a messy synth which becomes rather accessible after a few dynamic changes. The moments of synth reverberation add a whole new dimension to Death Grips. Vocalist MC Ride delivers a plain and bitter vocal. He never sounds clear, it's always partially distorted and dissonant. His voice sounds smooth amongst all the skips and glitches. Get Got serves as a brilliant introduction as to whats to come, surpassing their mixtape massively in the process.

'The Fever (Aye Aye)' is just as intense as Get Got. A common theme throughout The Money Store is anger. The forceful and intense instrumentals are backed up by MC Ride's loud and in your face vocal. He shouts down the mic with delay on his vocal. The quiet and out of timed 'aye aye' fits in nicely. Death Grips manage to fit everything into a three minute track, giving them power. The utilize production techniques and synthesizers to create this magnificent sounding track. The synth loops on the 'chorus' are innocently catchy. The horn sirens and odd soundscape segments are delicious; I'm swallowing it all up.

There's plenty of things to take in on The Money Store. 'Lost Boys' is remembered due to it's off beats and didgeridoo sounding instrumental. The vocals aren't as strong as previous tracks, but that's not to say they're weak. The repetition of , "lost boys, lost boys, lost boys" works. Everything goes together like a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are present, they're all jagged... And they always fit together in the end, The Money Store is that jigsaw puzzle. Every piece of instrumentation sounds different to the previous. Even MC Ride's vocal changes and progresses with time. 'Blackjack' has a creepy drum section, with a dance frenzy with the Moog synth sounds. The samples and sound manipulations give Death Grips the killer shot. 

'Hustle Bones' uses a repeated regurgitated female vocal as the tracks chorus section. The verse segments have heavy soundscapes and hard hitting drumming which has brilliant textures. You don't notice it at first, but the percussion moments in the background are unique and fresh. The simple sounding bass synthesizer acts as a safe guard to the brilliant production on the drumming. The track ends with the female vocal repetition and slight two second break before one of the best tracks 'I've Seen Footage' resumes. This track utilizes the distorted synthesizers heard in the previous five tracks. The drumming is spacious and the beats set MC Ride up nicely to deliver his best lyrics to date.. "Ambulance hit and run over pedestrian in Brazil. Little tiger, boy soldier. Twist a cap back and kills." The refrain at the end sums up the entire track. Repeating the tracks name in anger and desperation at society.

If The Money Store is anything, It's unpredictable. Here we have 40 minutes of unique sounding instrumentals, which must have taken the production team many sleepless nights to craft. 'Double Helix' doesn't let the album down. Although the sample and beat isn't as gripping as previous, it still sounds fresh and different. The distortion and heavy bass formulate nicely during the verse, with a female vocal sample yet again. Add some reverb and time stretch this sample, and you have something Burial would put his name towards.

Arguably my favourite track on The Money Store is 'System Blower'. The beat progresses, raises, retreats, loudens, hardens, softens and crashes throughout it's entirety. The bass heavy and loud driven synthesizer sounds stunning. The structure is alien, with actual alien-esque soundscapes in between the clear drumming, clear vocal.. And the distorted drumming and fast paced shouting by MC Ride. 'The Cage' continues the brilliant flow of music. There's never a moment to stop and think on The Money Store. Theirs so much music clustered into this album, it's unbelievably compact. The Cage does have clearer MC Ride vocals, but that's not the point. Death Grips isn't about understanding the vocals. They're all about sound and textures and the overall end product rather than the individual pieces. 

A Bollywood sample acts as the base for 'Punk Weight'. This fast paced experimental track takes several sampled vocal sections, manipulates them, adds a large amount of Sleigh Bells-esque distortion and makes it a Death Grips production. It's loud and in your face, just like the rest of The Money Store. 'Fuck That' is an angry, energetic track with more exquisite percussion and a dissonant bass synthesizer. The novelty effect does come in to vision when listening to the later third of The Money Store due to the overall intelligence of this music/the lyrics. Nothing here is mind-blowingly brilliant or long-lasting. It's all rather short, snappy and loud. It's unique in it;s own right, but it's overblown by tracks like Fuck That and 'Bitch Please'. 

To close Death Grips first studio album, they pick one of their strongest tracks to date, 'Hacker'. A lengthy vocal introduction in typical MC Ride style adds to the build-up, with a further few percussion segments before the killer synthesizer and vocal refrain kicks in. We finally have some melody as MC Ride delivers one of his few singing moments with, "I'm in your area. I know the first three numbers. I'm in." All for the listener to be brought back down to Death Grips level with the confusing and out of place "teachin bitches how to swim." What, the fuck... 

Death Grips have surpassed 2011's mixtape. Their chaotic style adds flavour to a wet towel community. The Money Store has everything they could possibly include, with the exception of excessive meaningful lyrics. It's not hip-hop in the traditional sense, it's more of an industrial sounding album than hip-hop. The loud and aggressive shouting by MC Ride is backed by the wall of distorted synths and crazy drum production. The little things count, and on The Money Store everything counts. Improvements can be made, but those improvements won't be made, because then it wouldn't be Death Grips anymore. 


Saturday, 25 August 2012

Live Show - Savages

Where: Summer Sundae Weekender, Leicester
Venue: De Montfort Hall

Savages have been creating quite a stir on the punk circuit for the past few years. Hype has generated all over the United Kingdom thanks to their recent tour of the north, in particular Manchester, where some of their idols descended from. Savages are unlike most bands, taking on a Gothic, punk style in a decade of synth loops and pop hooks. Soaring guitars and a chokey high pitched vocal set them away from today's punk/post-punk. It's doesn't surprise me that Savages have already been compared to the post-punk rocking greats. Comparing between class and unsigned rock is a great leap forward. 

When the four lasses took to the stage, darkness shrivelled upon us. I didn't know what to expect at first, a nice easy and relaxing post-punk track ala Unknown Pleasures, or Siouxsie & The Banshees. It was Siouxsie & The Banshees with some extra noise, think 'Make Up To Break Up' with some Melvins, Boris. What does this tell me about Savages? That they're not unique or original in anyway. This isn't to say they're bad in anyway, their sounds are fantastic, refreshing and courageous. PiL-like in dynamics, taking on Johnny Rottens fantastic dynamic vocal in a female Gothic way. Tracks like 'I Am Here' are magnificent to hear. Soaring guitar riffs work with the Peter Hook-like bass. It's completed with punk-rock drumming which is constantly changing in style.

First single 'Husbands' is stunning. Hearing this live really gives the track a new dimension. Savages are designed to be heard on the stage, and I can see why. The dark, spontaneous lighting was perfectly adept to the punk nature and beat rhythms of Savages. Husbands has this retreating guitar riff and a secondary splash of noise which sounds like it could be at the end of a Mogwai 12 minute blast. Everything is really sharp, bass, drums, guitar and the Siouxsie-esque vocal all come together on this track. 

They looked like a band who had been around for 30 years. They sounded like they had been around for 30 years. People left not so long into their set, just like Japandroids. This could have been the mass amount of noise created by four females. Seeing a band live can be the turning point in whether you actually like them or not. Savages made me think more about the deeper connections of lyrical content within the blood busting punk tunes. It's much like Echo & The Bunnymen in that sense. 

It was a loud, angry and historic show. I felt like I was watching the female version of Joy Division, but not quite as musically capable as the four northern legends. I couldn't fault Savages. They play music that's been mastered, but that doesn't mean it doesn't need to continue. It may not be original in the sense of easily comparable artists, but it's definitely a passion the members share and will continue to share. EP's / Singles are welcome and will be popping up in the coming months, check them out if they play near you in the UK.

The Antlers - Undersea

The temptious and somewhat chaotic 'Hospice' served a great purpose in 2009. Rising out of seclusion, Peter Silbermann put together a lyrically pleasing album remembered by so many for it's sadly depressive concept. The simplicity of this record spurred The Antlers into releasing a cooler and refreshing follow-up, with 'Burst Apart' in 2011. Although thoroughly enjoyed, I couldn't help but notice a contrasting emptiness. Hearing The Antlers play these songs live in the same year made me realize Peter's desire for melancholy dream pop. It's no surprise to me that 'Undersea' has the same soft edges and delinquent atmospheres as Burst Apart.

Hospice was a one off album. It's not easily accessible nor 'deep'. It was quite simply a cry for help and understanding. Peter let go with a concept and the outcome was magnificent. This is no more. Undersea has literally been stripped down and produced seemingly to fit with image of a steady flowing body of water. 'Drift Dive' features laid back brass and an array of synth instrumentation which helps settle the listener. The guitar riffs here are effective and sound dreamy, with Peter hitting the high notes in his falsetto voice. 

Undersea isn't an exciting EP. Slower melodies and far quieter instrumentation paves this dreamy landscape which just doesn't cut it for me. 'Endless Ladder' comes across slightly predictable. Don't get me wrong, the soundscapes are lovely. Peter's vocal couldn't be stronger and the synth work is unusual. Eight minutes of similarity without any real dynamic change or build-up can only go one way, the wrong way. The drumming becomes repetitive and the synth swooshes become common and un-authentic. It's a respectable track. I wouldn't want to endure hearing it live, and I'm sure it wouldn't top any 'must play' lists.

'Crest' adds a bit of tranquillity into the mix. Again, the soundscapes sound lovely with a stark bass driven drum beat in the background. Production seems to have taken a toll on The Antlers authentic lo-fi original sounds. The direction they've taken is far more slower and relaxing for the lo-fi/indie aesthetics. Crest comes across as a 'sexy' track in The Antlers catalogue. It's not quite so 'Rolled Together' from Burst Apart, it's further afield.

Peter Silbermann is in a happier place than three years ago, clearly. He now loves dolphins and the sea / water. The glistening dream pop swooshes fit the concept, however, will Hospice fans truly want to continue listening to this type of music. They might just be a band who release their best album first. 'Zelda' is more of the same instrumental seascapes. The brass adds a more complex sound with all the synth swooshes and the heavy bass. Two minutes of instrumentation is enough to prepare the listener for another Peter falsetto vocal. Although this isn't the strongest of tracks, it still has tranquillity. The passion is there, as is The Antlers desire to make new music. This EP won't stand the test of time. Crest and Drift Drive will be played live, and these are the two most enjoyable tracks on the EP. Too much water and not enough Antlers. Great vocal work yet again by Peter.


Friday, 24 August 2012

The xx - Coexist

Now here's a[nother] act that puts an uncanny fork in the MRD road, The xx. The London trio and their moody minimalist songs - together with the ambient murmurs of vocalists Romy Madley-Scott and Oliver Sim - provide a solitude of guitar strums and spacious awe together with Jamie 'xx' Smith's synthetic direction as the third member, producer and, most recognizably, the leader and face of the band. Regardless of whether you want to see this as Smith's project or not, it's this bare-bone palette of beats and guitars that has split the music scene into the arguable crowds of lovers and haters. There is no middle ground it seems, and it's all down to the London trio's take on the quieter less-extruded deliverance of melody and rhythm as was detailed in the Mercury prize-winning universally-acclaimed debut. It's no surprise then that this is kept yet expanded upon in variance on the band's follow-up, 'Coexist' which unsurprisingly may not appear as a huge shift in direction, is in fact a tremendously revealing of contrasts of wanting to expand yet maintaining their sound all in harmless unison. The result, then the album suggests, a well-sought coexistence of the new and the old.

'Angels' is a far contrast to xx's opener in that the mood is not of withdrawing tensity, but rather it comes across more warming yet still maintaining that humble solitude we know and love/hate from the band. Romy provides vocals here, but even when the instrumentation is at its simplest - a lonely strum of guitar strings and the heavy padding of drum synths in the back floating teasingly in appearance - her voice still carries that human-esque honesty and vulnerability across this track. And while the vocals still continue that opening honesty on 'Chained' - Oliver once more adding that duality of voices - the track here is more upbeat than previous attempts, yet still maintaining that stretched spaciousness between the brisk echoes of electric guitars and the lowered strum of bass rummaging its way in-between. But again, it's Jamie's production and heightened awareness that molds these sounds together to create this auspicious air about the track despite it being slightly more in substance.

For anyone having come straight from the previous record and into this one, there will be that noticed similarity in the positioning and deliverance of instrumentation. It's clear the methods featured so heavily on their debut are visible here, yes. But all the while, amidst these introverted vocals and enclosures of guitar work and synthetic rhythms, there's, what can only be described, as a sort of shrouded blossoming about the way the music develops. And while this maturity is still kept amidst this shadowy cast of sound, collectively on the planes of each of these track's identities, the results is quite extraordinary. 'Fiction' is unlike anything, emotionally, that The xx have put out before. As Oliver starts off proceedings, the guitars here feel a lot more direct and relatable to the mood set out in the lyrics, 'Last night the World was beneath us/Tonight comes, dear love/We'll be torn apart by the break of day.' It's intensified by Jamie's synths which again continue to sound less and less mechanical and more engrossing and suited to the relational setting of a club or a late evening revelation that this track becomes more and more the visualization of.

But even when the concept or the growing of tension through these emotions is left untainted or built upon, the band still express this strength in realization and continuing on. 'Sunset' especially, carries this acceptive inner-struggle amidst the bubbling of low-key drum beats and outspoken guitars. 'We make believe, I've never seen your face, you neither me' Oliver and Romy carry across in equal hushes of acceptance and struggle, 'You catch my eye/I'll register a smile.' Alone, the feeling carries across quite strongly through the music's isolated simplicity, yet together - in unison and fused into one - the message and theme of moving on, from both sides, gives it that extra depth and level of uncertainty over whether it will actually develop and see through. The romanticism and realization in the record's lyrics may not have come across as clearly and as strongly had the music been shaped in a less awakening state as is present here, but even without the sounds of synths and guitars, because the lyrics are so revealing and emotionally blunt in their context, it sweeps over us like a cloud, and never tries to let go or move on. That unison of moving on yet never letting go is one of the finest usage of vocals, and with it, the overall sound has a lot more of a personal dimension to it.

'Unfold' emphasizes that acceptance of denial and denial of acceptance through its blunt and straight-forward narrowness of lyrics, 'Oh let it unfold/I won't leave it untold/The feeling goes on and on and on'. The echoing effect applied to their voices may provide additional impact, but there's no denying the strength at which these two direct their vocals lies in how outright hypnotic their deliverance comes across as. And on the album's closer 'Our Song', the title certainly emphasizes the music's more humble expression of shared intimacy. The looping drone of guitars and bass notes create an elevating spirituality about the track - the vocals then becoming a carriage, or even a vessel, for the music to simply lift off and take flight. While it is the more leaning towards the left-alone attitude of some electronic genres, that is the stand-out element here, the consistency in keeping both its rhythm and its mood is what compels this track upward and is the most crucial focal point here.

On the whole, it's the very rhythmic continuation and flow of the entire album that makes 'Coexist' such a unique and aspiring listen. On their debut, they showcased how both life and experience can be recreated, not only through music, but by this signature of stripped-back simplicity - thus coming out equally revealing, as much as it was inviting. But here, however, the band have used that same stylizing and method of instrumentation, and instead of simply producing more of the same, have built upon the directness it holds, thus intensifying it to the point where the concept of keeping hold to something, while at the same time letting go, becomes an emotional struggle in itself. It's no surprise then that a title such as this was chosen, as it represents the ideology that such things as love and hate, peace and war, acceptance and denial, can be equal in their effect yet exist in unison amidst all the anxiety and chaos that might ensue around it. And this is an album that sees that exact same struggle come to fruition, and expresses it in as bold and as beautiful as the most simplistic and humblest of sounds such as this, can be.