Friday, 28 June 2013

Track Review: Franz Ferdinand - Right Action/Love Illumination

There haven't been many survivalists of the dreaded indie rock decline of 2007-08 I can come back to time after time with a sense of glee and accompanied satisfaction in what I've come to love, than Franz Ferdinand. The Scottish four-piece made headline news and headline slots on the musical scene with the release of 2004's self-titled debut; a rather unorthodox, feet-tapping, crowd-repeating, body-pumping cast-iron collection of alternate anthems for the new millennium of British bands redefining the age of rock which, for a time, had seen the surge of electronic almost kick the genre into a foreign second gear of relevance. With the release of 2005's You Could Have It So Much Better and 2009's Tonight...[Franz Ferdinand], the highland four-piece have taken quite an off-focus passage into the neo-10's decade - choosing instead to work preciously and closely into making their forth outing as competitive a record as former mid-noughties band can hope to avail with in an age seemingly ever more dominated by the synthesizer and the umpteen amounts of effects and sneaky post-production tactics. The result, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, sounds as much a boosting of confidence as much the album cover carries on the recognizable nod to modernist graphic design and past visual endeavors. The first release, a 7" double A-side in the form of Right Action & Love Illumination, seems hoping to reinvigorate that gestural swagger the Scots have enjoyed so gallantly thriving off.

Right Action, which sees the band proclaim the album title in a string of mid-range crooned vocals and elevated marches of rhythm, makes no hesitation to bring back the flavoursome groove of their past records straight into this the next decade of the third millennium. As if dusting off the cobwebs and fine-tuning to the best of their abilities, the song quickly glides down into recognizable foot-pounding, hip-swaying guitar leads and bass rummages. Lead vocalist Alex Kapranos, despite the increase of four years in both age and voice, is as centrifuged and focused as he's ever been - a bit more of a maturity coming through in his voice, even in the titular marching of 'right thoughts, right words, right action'. But the band still know how to epitomize the collective ferocity of British crowd chanting - fuzzy brass the backing to an onomatopoeia-esque carriage of amplified crowd surfs and festival on-goers. Illumination Ritual, by comparison, gets things going straight off the bat. Guitars unveil a more loaded surge of energy. Bass guitar gives off a very rhythmic and groove-orientated directness about its delivery - pounding through the middle of the listener's ears like a throbbing knife through snared butter. Vocals this time tend to position themselves more in the middle of production, and the support from the backing gel fairly deeply into Kapranos' mutterings - at times, coming off a little muffled and noisy. But it's not long before the lavish lead of guitars and quirky grin-widening offering of keyboards come into play fortunately, and the track returns to that groovy, attitudinal piece of previous to leave its listener ending proceedings with a smile.


So from the looks of things, even after nearly a decade of seeing their self-titled debut remain one of critics' favourites of the recent surge of alternative and post-punk revival records, Franz Ferdinand it seems still have it in them to craft some fine-sounding, street-marching, stadium-swaying anthems for both the jolly masses and lone music fans alike. If there's one thing that still remains a mystery, is whether or not we'll get anymore of the opposing measure of slowly-creeping-up, synthesizer madness that we were treeted so brilliantly with on their previous album. But if the pompous guitar, percussion and accompanying instrumental offerings are anything to go by, the Scottish four-piece certainly aren't willing to let character sacrifice itself for mass appeal, and if I had to choose, I'd definitely let the charisma - that has done them justice already - keep to its course over anything else. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is out 26th August via Domino Records.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

I can barely register with categorical confidence the first time I encountered a track that not just exceeded the normality of spanning four minutes, but continued thereafter until it surpassed the single-digit maximum. I must have been five or six; my dad's stereo playing a track from a CD I can't recall. 9:37 - or somewhere near - blinked on the screen, and for that brief period, I was caught in a kind of unfathomable awe at not just the length at which sound could possibly expel in a single unitary moment, but too the fact that the sounds being offered were both progressive yet truly expressive in equal measure. In 2008, an album called Street Horrrsing, made by an electronic duo with a profanity in their name - the eyebrow-raising Fuck Buttons - offered that kind of reminiscent reminder that I'm referring to. The album's sprawling, blistering colour of noisy, drone-flanged electronica was one of the year's most refreshing but visceral records. To follow the record up a year later with Tarot Sport - the duo continuing to amaze with a (at the time) new-found presence of beats and rhythm in their sound - cemented Buttons' arrival as one measured both by their intensity as well as their quality. Four years of silence have since followed that excellent sophomore (one half Benjamin John Power exploring the intricacy of noise within post-rock on his respectful solo outing as Blanck Mass) and the roar of delight and equal excitement has been overdue and gratifyingly expectant for third-album, the tentatively-implied Slow Focus.

As we'd expected from the edited release of single The Red Wing, Fuck Buttons are no strangers to the potential and risk:reward ratio that beats and percussive synths can create, even for a sound of their attitudinal ferocity. On this album, the UK duo take a bold step into pushing their more rhythmic and tempo-driven melodies to accompany their colourful, tonal delicacy of noisy electronics. But in a way, as we come to realize, that signals the arrival of a story...and thus, a feeling of marveled scenery and narration as a result. Brainfreeze, the first of seven tracks, starts with a charismatically heavy thrust of percussion - its metallic, thick-rimmed lack of hesitance having as much the same punch and immediacy as a trash-can lid being beaten by lead piping. That metaphoric, materialistic comparison never wanes as the track quickly ascends/descends into pure noisy extroversion. Synths waver and smack against the listener's front-adjusted senses; further layers of electronics conjure even more gravitated rise-and-falls. And through the more composed (albeit still chaotically rampant) layers of rampant percussion and snarling synths, the more crystalline, pristine of electronics glisten and shoot through in harsh rays towards the listener again. But it's the snarling guitar relays thereafter that cement the track's tense atmosphere and feeling of uttermost rampancy - its low-frequency grinding and slicing through the composition almost doing battle with the high-shoots of electronics that continue to beam down on the musical chaos offered to us.

Year Of The Dog, though starting off as trying a sort of musical regeneration in its ghostly veil of  resuscitating synths soon finds itself fading behind the duo's more lucid, floor-bobbing rhythm of electronics and lured, creepy surrounding of background wanes that turn what might have once been a fairly gestural dance-floor somber to one (now more-so) as one of tense, anxious devouring. And the fact that the track never seems to clarify or confirm its interest or [sinisterly] sentient presence only makes me feel even more captivated yet, strangely, unable to let go from the piece. And as the track slowly increases in frontal intensity - synthesizers slowly climbing with bubbly, static texture, that familiar resuscitating sounds comes back to almost haunt its listener - its heavy-breath desperation to lead us through never fading...and never failing to cast a succumbing shadow over us. 

So it's with both absorbent joy and weary culpability that The Red Wing makes itself known in all its near-eight minute, unabridged, unedited form. The hip-hop styled orthodoxy of beat patterns and the attack-minded shift they take across the track is clear to see. So too, the synthesizer off-shoots that pounce from time to time suggest as much a keenness to instigate rhythm, as well as the notion Buttons' objectivity this time seems to feel rather more on the emotive and instigated vibes of their sounds, as well as that of its intensity and its deliverance. Said delivery however, doesn't in any way feel or sound compromised because of it. The shuffled, abrasive texture of guitars begin at first subterranean in their worming trickle underneath the layer of synthesizers and beats. But soon, they rise from the ground, almost overshadowing everything that once stood above it, like a great cosmic star radiating its harsh, fuzzy drone across the piece...and then, just as keenly, setting again to nestle once more in the hollow crust of Buttons' abrasive World. It's this rise-and-fall balance that gives the listeners a sense of ordered chaos; unruly elements meeting a kind of neutral agreement to which the duo greatly hold control over in both their production and their measured treating of these stereoscopic paramount of noise and sound.

For certain, there's an air of high intensity unruliness - almost profound retaliation surfacing from out these tracks. And it's clear that Fuck Buttons both want to be seen as concurrently managing such high-volume outbursts, and at the same time (perhaps as some musical or aesthetic doublethink) seek to profess the idea of control as both irrelevant and insufficient for such sounds. Sentients seems to feel more and more like the track that presents Buttons' manifesto as both a means of control and a catalyst for chaos in that respect. The metal-grated texture of percussion makes a return; the track this time showcasing more of the duo's interest in beat-driven rhythms to accompany their knob-twisting sine-wave-bobbing enthrall of electronics. But as the track evolves further and further into gelling the tone of synths with the bulky, solidity of beats, there's a feeling here that a balance is not just possible, but being met. There is of course the resurgence of encapsulating drone and mountainous overcasts of synthesizer toning, but the way the beats here are that more direct and that more sizable - almost authoritative in that objection - adds a bizarre yet quite soothing measure of stability to the duo's composition. But this isn't in anyway a sign or even a suggestion that Buttons' persistence in such manic overshoots of percussion and synthesizer sound don't excite, because they certainly do. It's a more a case that the duo find perhaps an sinister beauty; a comforting turmoil behind the quite bold and protruding character of their sounds. As if the message here is that even the most chaotic and conflicting of imagery or stances...holds within it a sense of unrivaled beauty and modesty.

That sentimental discovery of an unsentimental horde of rash sound and rasher atmospherics, carries through boldly on the following track Prince's Prize. Here, the focus once more switches to a more human-driven, industrial leverage of sequential electronic and hip-hop-fueled drum beats. But even with the throwback to societal influence, Buttons' succeed in producing even as intense a punchy, self-conflicting state of repeal and rejection even in the most self-mannered and appeasing of environments. The beats especially tend to feel painted (perhaps drenched, soaked, bled with even) of this same charismatic offense of that which it feels a part of. The rising sail of the more serene string-like layers in the latter moments add even more drama to the profoundness of the track's emotion, but even with the attention to such humane honesty, the song never seems to lose itself either physically or emotionally to this revolted stance it takes. The arpeggio of electronics continue to loop in that same concocted, industrial-like piston of motion while the crunchy, thirsted texture of percussion carries with it a level of thorough, and profoundly detailed leverage of mood the backing synths in parts push the overall piece even closer towards. Stalker is perhaps the result when the gagging, pressurized inner-build reaches breaking point and the inevitability of structural collapse - that organized chaos - soon comes to be. Buttons' drumbeats still hold that gestural, rhythmic charge beneath the surge of synthesizers. But as the piece slowly progresses - electronics gradually increasing an even heavier dose of charge and retaliation against the looming atmosphere surrounding it - the music soon finds its emotional (and perhaps most vulnerable) form taking hold. With it, the unleashing guitar drone and high-end electronics come off both lost to their mindsets, but clearly purposed into finding a state of self-destructive liberation from the World it's been shackled too.

That scorning of its environment - that desperate seeking for something more clearer, more honest, more liberating - is a theme that finally meets its climatic conclusion on closer Hidden XS - a rightful play on words of the music's own emotional clinging-on to the notion that amidst its troublesome, rampant exterior there lies a treasured essence of human-like innocence. Of course, there is no simplicity and modest holding back to Buttons' sound. What the duo do instead here is allow the raw emotional narrative of their music to take centre-stage; the chord and notational key changes of their primary guitar sounds conjure that heart-stricken, heart-tugged desperation the duo have seemingly increased in suggestion as this album has progressed. And once more, the physicality of the percussion's rampant display shows that even with this emotion, Buttons' still manage to succeed in creating that tense, anxious difficulty in finding a sort of ascended peace. It is, perhaps, the duo's most provoking and conceptualized piece to date. With it there's a clarity of context and of emotional clarity likewise with just how profound and intense Buttons seek to elevate this piece towards. And the more the track continues to remind and reinstate that structural destruction of self and identity in order to find reason and purpose in the final four/five minutes to what has been an incredible journey of freedom (perhaps, as we realize, at a dire cost), it only strengthens this raw, unhinged power the duo continue to excel at, without losing any of their original textural identity for colossal electronics with extreme delivery.

What we heard - what we felt too - in both 2008 and 2009 through their debut and the following sophomore was an open honesty in the raw intensity and power the most blurred and noisy of synthesized production can conjure even when at its most progressive and sprawled of delivery. Four years after they left the electronic scene glaring with profound conceptualizing of beats and tone, Slow Focus sees Fuck Buttons elevate themselves to the top of any and all archetypical ladders of electronic music as both a creationist means of theme as well as human being's testing of another's manner of interactivity and visaged understanding. But the best thing of all Buttons' fifty-plus minute third album, is that nowhere does this album suggest that its themes being offered - that of a frantic search for reason or purpose or even just some manner of understanding - leans itself towards being tarred with the same brush used for those records that are categorically brushed off as merely dark, moody or responsive towards something.

What this album stands as, instead, is the common and naturally explicit state all humans inject into their societal and cultural selves as individuals but also as tiny specks of life in this grand, complex, self-attacking Universe. Slow Focus - as much as previous Buttons' tracks demonstrated when being offered to the World as part of the reflective soundtrack to the 2012 Olympic games - is a vast introspective, multiverse of analytical self-reflection and self-surveillance in both its intense barrage of beats and synths, and its interjected, counter-weighing of ascended melody and emotive placement likewise. Throughout, this is an album that can be seen through both the eyes of the external spectator, as well as the eyes of the one striving for individual self-destruction from such shackled consummation. It's the sound of Middle East nations striving for freedom; it's the sound of a self-identified 99% fighting against capitalism; it's the sound too of a single individual seeking creative esteem in a World plagued with depression and austerity. This is the album that speaks, breathes and lives all such moments. Its message, from out such extremities of sound and harsh recollect of imagery, accesses the honest simplicity of human existence, and beautifully re-imagines it as the clearer flux of complex emotion and unhinged chaos the World we know is so beautifully/artistically/sinisterly composed as still being.


Monday, 24 June 2013

Deerhunter - Monomania

Deerhunter have a repetitive listening style that drives listeners back and forth from love to hate, hit or miss. Halcyon Digest was released to a similar reception in 2010, the difference this time being a genre shift. Instead of continuing down the path of glorified indie rock without the lo-fi attitude their previous albums bolstered, Monomania went down a gritty route of hells angels and pain. They grind their teeth and address their debut album Turn It up Faggot. Some call it experimenting, others, a U-turn. 

Pre-release single "Monomania" is an exciting garage rock track that made Lockett Pundt swallow a bittersweet pill of delay and reverb from his 2012 solo album Spooky Action at a Distance. It seems as if Monomania's recording sessions are akin to that of Captain Beefheart, or a verbally abusive Lou Reed in a warzone. Bradford Cox continues to turn heads with his unusual attitude which has been at the centre of attention in recent years. His character is less in your face and more in your ear on Deerhunter's sixth album. He hasn't cooled down; he's just worked out an angry way to move Deerhunter forward. 

"Nitebike" shows this cool side to Cox without the backing of Pundt and co. It's the back end of Monomania that makes this a special Deerhunter record. In previous efforts, Deerhunter have succeeded based on the first three/four tracks - still delivering on the back end, but not as efficient as this. With Monomania's hectic first half, the back end makes for a great cathartic cool down. Tracks like "Sleepwalking" and "Back to the Middle" really bring Deerhunter's developed sound to light. There's an outstanding vox recording on Cox's vocal, whereas the drums and bass, although turned down a notch from Halcyon Digest, reap the rewards.

The finger-picking ingenuity works with a VU-esque structure and vocal delivery on "T.H.M", signalling a deeper meaning to garage rock as heard on Monomania. All the perfect timings and foot stomping drum beats are here. Everything exciting about Deerhunter comes together like a Neapolitan ice cream. Monomania really is Deerhunter's breakout album. Cox is breaking out of his shell vocally and Pundt musically. The 'rock' aspect of this album starts and ends on side one. "Dream Captain" finalises a run of five chaotic tracks that tear Deerhunter out of their Hipster Runoff description. "Leather Jacket II" has the invigorating guitar riffs, "Neon Junkyard" the vocal reoccurrences and 'prog'; "Pensacola" has the fun and "The Missing" contributes the single. 

To sum up Deerhunter's sixth album in one word - Monomania. Each member of Deerhunter has their own thoughts, ideas and input to what would be the band's sixth album. They know how to play rock music, and they certainly know how to please and displease a dedicated audience that was once cult, but now something far more special. Deerhunter continuously impress and do it with such conviction that albums released in the same sub-genre just seem minimal. The character of Cox, the skill of Pundt - the heart of Deerhunter.


Lloyd Cole - Standards

I still talk about Rattlesnakes, the debut album by Glaswegian education formed Lloyd Cole & The Commotions in 1984. Nothing but good can be said about Rattlesnakes, which features all of Cole's tranquil-reference lyricism from Greta Garbo in "Perfect Skin" to Arthur Lee and Norman Mailer in one of my all-time favourite songs, "Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?" The three minute finale steered Cole to a career of acoustic indie pop gigs and experimental steps in Germany. He collaborated with avant-garde musician Hans-Joachim Roedelius last year pre-dating Cole's 11th solo album, Standards.

Cole's previous solo album Broken Records was just as stripped back as solo album number one back in 1990. Living in the USA has certainly played a vital part of regenerating energy and sound into Cole's musical lifestyle, as Standards suggests. There's little Springsteen spruce in Cole's baritone vocal delivery, its more Massachusetts inspired Jonathan Richman. "Women's Studies" starts with a general American hinged rock riff. He sings: "Out here in the meadow, A Peoples History of America," referencing a book by Howard Zinn, going on to make his continual references: "I smoke a pipe, to Johnny 99, by partisan consensus." Johnny 99 being a popular Springsteen song, from Nebraska. Cole does this on every album - it heats my heart when such literacy in songs become real - "The bars were filled with lawyers." Listeners can hear a guitar riff similar to AC-DC's "It's A Long Way to the Top" - just as Cole intended.

America is on the tip of ones tongue throughout Standards. "California Earthquakes" starts the album off with some rock & roll for all ages. Simple song with a simple message of possible destruction to California, specifically Los Angeles. Cole takes the San Andreas Fault line and uses it as a danger to him rather than the city/state. Standards is not all macho, automatic driving and promise that the early tracks suggest. His soft spot is his heart, his passion, his love. Cole relocated to the USA following his marriage to an American. His work of love massively outweighs his personal visions of a mid-life crisis - "Period Place". And Standards isn't without Cole's nostalgia - "Kids Today". He sings: "Isn’t it so? We're juvenile delinquent wrecks I know, with our heavy metal comic books and our rock and roll. We wear red leatherette; we'll be burning churches next."

Cole makes reference to a past song ("How Wrong Can You Be?") in "Myrtle and Rose". He sings: "You became the women in the German car," crediting from his 2008 album Antidepressant, where he sings: "A pretty girl at the wheel of a German car." It’s not unusual to hear references throughout Cole's work; this is what makes Cole such an interesting singer-songwriter. Aided by regular comrades Matthew Sweet on bass and Fred Maher on drums, Cole crafts a surprising comeback album that surpasses expectations after his previous few stumbling solo efforts. 

Standards starts strong and ends well with "Diminished Ex", a jangle pop track with all the 80s essence of a Commotions single. Cole's voice is slightly ageing, making him sound just as wise as his philosophical days in Glasgow. This album does drop considerably at the flip over - "Blue Like Mars" fails to match the beauty of the bass-led "Period Place". And "Silver Lake", although touching upon personal lyrics, never lives up to the ballad demeanour.

This isn't a simple collection of songs written by Cole after finding eureka while reviewing the latest Bob Dylan album. It's chock-full of ideas from the past mixed with rock and roll and americana of the present. "Women's Studies" sounds like a Rolling Stones A-side, while "Kids Today" makes Cole come across as a member of Arcade Fire. Standards is a fresh piece of music Cole can showcase and be deeply proud of. It's one of his best and it's come at the most important time in his career. After stepping away from the solo scene and scene in general, Cole can now start to move closer to stardom - maybe not as a Derbyshire lad, but as a Massachusetts boy. 


Gold Panda - Half Of Where You Live

The best thing about returning to the past to seek inspiration, is that it refuses to hold restraint or even a grudge on when in life you decide to fulfill that desire. Gold Panda is not exactly the youngest of spurred, hot-heeled producers in today's electronica community - he had just reached the looming three-zero mark at the time of the release of his debut, the stunning Lucky Shiner. But like the man four albums more his senior, Four Tet, Gold Panda's aim seems to be of joyous recollection regardless of physical age; reminding one's self the simpler joys in life are that of memory and of the vast rekindling support such thoughts entail on getting us through what might be, perhaps, more trivalent of days. In an age fueled by digital perseverance and social enclosure, Gold Panda's sound conjures feeling of analog meddling; colourful bits-and-bobs that don't sincerely aim to be clear, but strangely hold a kind of personal understanding in how they go about explaining particular feelings or phases of existence. Perhaps this is why we here at MRD have grown to respect the UK-based producer's skill at crafting this particular toning and externalizing vibe for electronics. So it's no surprise that 2013's Half Of Where You Live sees Panda throw himself at the visage of past travels and memory of that location and of scenery; many titles on this album both references as well perhaps markers of importance, influence...or maybe even self-structure.

One of Panda's skills, and something he strives to excel in on his sophomore, is the epicentral forgingof theme with location. Opening track Junk City II certainly attempts to capture that monotonous, slightly broken sparseness in its robust, ear-filling synth notes. But so too there's a more heightening visual of industry, technology and futurism in Panda's play on percussion hits (frantic hand-claps and shuffled hi-hats jiggling about the mix) and scurried pace help lift the scenery from off of his initial palette and out into what feels a very considered approach to space and traversing such scenery with a sense of discovery. An English House likewise sees the UK producer mesh the distant clarity of such a spectacle with the more eery and ambitious toning and decoration that, possibly, can only come out of likely curiosity or deep, prolonged venture. Panda's style here however works to give the track's title a two-fold meaning: one is of that more humbler, comforting enclosures - keyboards and glockenspiel hits alluding to that homely, easing of mind - and the other, via the stylized upbeat strike of beats, is of a clear reference to House music; the profound effect it's had on not just our country, but on Panda himself definitely coming across as both reasoned and passionately striven. It's the tentative craft to which he puts into his more mechanical accompaniments - drumbeats coming off a lot more shone on and clearer, while the eery texture of electronics give the surrounding atmosphere that equal delicateness in shade and colour.

Not all of Panda's visuals are as clearly obvious as this though as is the case on the track Brazil. The repeating calls of the title do partially degrade the fairly low-key environment - such repetition by the end coming off really as amateurish and slightly boring - Panda seems to suggest (for the most part musically) as to some interesting textures at work. Especially with the minute, wood-like percussion lead. Here, a driving twitch of eighth/sixteenth-note beats loop and coil like tensed-up springs, ready to let loose and finally shooting through in unfathomable bounds. The way it both meshes and strikes against the air of the track's mystical, almost treasured opacity of sound, is perhaps not the most insightful of offerings, but it's clear this is an exciting and substantial moment for this record sonically. Further to that, Panda conjures some intriguing sets of emotional and gestural rhythm in regards to how his beat management and manner of production goes about reinstating its listener to a particular point, and likewise, time in the producer's thought of mind. My Father In Hong Kong 1961 is the most considered use of space and the sociology in this regard, because of said consideration. The 1961 part especially, in both its age and indeed its mythology comes through immensely in the sounds Panda puts out. Everything from the vinyl crackling in the backdrop, the oriental-styled chimes nestling at mid-point, the rise-and-simmer of ambiance clouding over the song. It's that charismatic reference to old memories and old visages - an idea of retracing a moment even if going about it in as simple a fashion as putting a decade-age record on play or looking a desaturated photo - Panda does so well at conjuring in the track's detailed interlink of sound and layered production, in order to create that full perspective of view.

It's nice to see, following this, Panda flexing his more visceral muscles on the track Community which finds the electronic synths taking precedence (if not suitably placed at the top/front of the mix) in driving the actual textures and vibes of the piece through. Panda's vocal looping here is slightly more interlinking and keenly fitted into the analogous darting of sound. But again, his drum work is what emphasizes the track title's meaning and cause for visual strength. It's the variety - percussion offering a foray of simple machine beats, jungle-like bongo hits, and some bass-focused passages too - despite at times surfacing as if brimming with risky conflicting interests, actually combine thoroughly well. Even, in most occasion, coming across as if meeting one another's strengths but aiding their potential weaknesses. This empathetic, synchronicity leads me to draw an even clearer comparison with that which is far more human and living in this collective pattern...vis a vis, a living, breathing community. What's striking then is despite such broad space and simplicity of structure, Panda's faith in his listener - how it's left even more in how hands to speculate - that emphasizes just how delicate but in-tune the man seems to be in instigating context out of such simply-led rhythms, but never necessarily demanding it there and then.

This is only but one listener's take (my take) on his allusions, but the fact is that Panda's foray into repetition with percussion and beats seems to feel evermore accompanied and actually purposeful in creating a scenario for which we can draw from to carry us forward. S950's more melodic approach conjures the same level of delicate detail and means to project a state of past stance, but instead we find our subconscious imagery overtaken by passing scurries of sound - translucent keyboards and crunchy electronics tending to suggest a motorway or even just a distant passage of blurred positions simply lost to the memory of previous gradually building behind us. And with follower We Work Nights, the tentative move forward seems to feel evermore like distant sight-seeing. The simple drumbeats make a return, but they don't carry as much the same weight and importance as previous. Panda's focus, it seems, is on the continuing voyage and humble curiosity of these new surroundings; glittered strums of colourful guitar tone definitely alluding to the  liveliness of what feels more a nightly tourist environment. But because of the pacing, it feels less a long-haul entertaining of local delicacy, and more a scurried check-list of sights to see and things to do. So while I admire Panda's adamancy in trying to see/deal with everything all in one sitting, I can't help but perceive this track as being just too quick or hurried along to fully appreciate the environment being conjured.

For certain, I feel this is a record that showcases some good conjuring of rhythm and tempo in order to excel an instrument's quality or navigation across to the listener. But again, with a track like Flinton, things feel slightly too frantic. Maybe not 100mph frantic, but at the very least coming off the musical equivalent of a sprint through jostling but reclusive shopping malls. The music at times tends to run as opposed to walk through the scenery. Enoshima is quick to remind us though, even when the tempo and pacing is at such an ascent, what's offered - and the relations they conjure - are not at fault. Panda's focus on toning of percussion, especially on this track, emerges some provoking spectrum of emotion as well as that of a sonic variety. The slightly auspicious, looming vibe the beats create definitely feels like an attempt to replicate the geology of the small Japanese island of the same name; the end-of-land retreat; the voided oceanic presence; even the fact that it's such a distanced location from what [me and Panda alike] consider our original country of origin. It adds a measure of tension, but only because the music - much like the location being suggested - feels so withdrawn and conflicting, in the first place, with our own cultural understanding. With the closing Reprise, the album's fond send-off and reminder that 'you don't know where or how much I miss you' perfectly sums up both the despondency of leaving new territory, but so too - via the gradual build of intense synthesizers and delivery of looping key tone - the joy in remaining to that theme of embarking towards different territory to where the future lays, but too may generate an opportunity to share a past delight in.

There's no question this is a record that aims more to spell out the many cultural scenes - via a rich panoramic and host of lively activity - Gold Panda has clearly experienced in his vast touring of the World's differed corners of culture and societal activity. Unfortunately at times, the album suffers because of its emphasis (which borders on desperation even) in trying to get from A to B in as compact and dramatic a viewpoint one can assert. However, these moments never really weaken or even deflate the strong muster of visuals and textures Panda manages to create in his lavish use of percussion and atmospheric tension in order to bring his scenery to life. When going through the motion of Half Of Where You Live, the listener will find themselves clearly aloft in South American territory one minute, carried eastwards into Asia the next, and then not thirty minutes afterward even more eastwards across Panda's humble palette of electronic recollect and instrumental momentum. Sure the trip is fast-paced at times, and maybe a little bumpy, but when given the time of day to view and take notice of such varied scenery, Gold Panda's sound leaves no photographically captured imagery unseen to, or better yet, at the mercy of ambiguity or background sparseness. Gold Panda's photo-album chock with past trips is mostly clear and so clearly audible, it's like you're actually there discovering it for the first time, but for yourself.


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Discovery: Indigolab - The Last Cartographer Of Dreams

Downtempo electronica holds within itself a deep sense of discovery. Regardless of how distant or preserved (or held back even) the sounds might resonate onto its listener, one key theme that runs through a vast portion of records in this sub-genre, is the concept of movement to the new...even if not precisely of a physical manner. It's that beyond-physical metamorphosis; that potential to carry sound and texture into a scale of some indecipherable uniqueness of emotion and posture, that a lot of artists tend to direct their ideas and navigate such sound as trudging through. Indigolab, if his music sleeves are anything to go by, might get a laugh from one or two passers-by. But bizarrely, the man's humorously striking series of silhouette-like poses about such abstracted visages, bodes well with the vibes these particular sounds in electronic music tend to portray: liberation. The free-roaming intrigue and the stand-alone liberation certain places, locations or states of being hold for themselves. Who, what and even where it is that manifests about this new realm? From its title alone, The Last Cartographer Of Dreams appears to spell both a definition and a ultimate dispelling of such mannerism. And from its fourteen-track, seventy-plus minute voyage, Indigolab's mixture of downtempo, chillout and ambient electronica alike, tends more and more to be the shinier glossary of suggestion - for newcomers and old followers alike - that this sub-genre just might require a bit more of.

The first notes of reference we get is the uncompromising emphasis on space and simplicity as is the case with the somber opener The Morpheus Tear, with its gentle acoustic strums lavished with layers of washed reverb and clammy percussion. It's a disclaimer that the importance of all these sorts of ventures is the opportunism, but at the same time, it's the understanding about this new space of which we enter. Zed, by contrast, opens up the brief phase into new territory, with a similar reclusive stance amid the sprawl of clouded tone and weightless mystery. But amidst it all, there's a deeper sense of mystery - perhaps invitingly seductive in its distant haze of vocals and looming synth patterns. And with Conscious, the journey starts from whence the first move into sweeping electronics eventually takes hold. Indigo's progression tends to feel tentatively pervasive, but at the same time still manages to conjure that attractiveness and aroma about its part-soothing, part-boggling slur of ambient electronics and wavy rhythms.

But of course there is space, and perhaps remembrance, of the recollection that this is a journey. With that, brings the perspective of that of the individual; the spectator, the wanderer, the lost little lamb finding its way in a realm of profound ambiguity. Chaos Falls Forever seeks to emphasize, almost epitomize, the listener with its off-shot acoustic strings and greater translucency of ambient drone. But even with the lingering bafflement of space and position, Indigo's latter leading into more clearer organic instrumentation suggests there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. Or in this case, a clearing from out the neutrality of unsuspected fog and confusion. Once there, perhaps through the vocal chatter (and maybe even the very titling) to Dreamland & Recurring Shapes of Dreams, Indigo's focus now lies on the more clearer and concrete of visuals - the latter track's twitch of high-pitch synths that lead into more frostier, high-paced loops of electronics - and how exactly that directly affects the listener's journey through the void of unfathomable tone and shade.

When, however, the focus is not on the flow and the direct sequence of events for which Indigo lays out in front of us, tracks like Mesmer tend to favor the momentum more than anything else. It's interesting because from initial perspective, the way the guitar and murkier, lower-grounded swell of drone meet feels anything but simmered or relaxed. If anything, there's a slight tension - maybe even sinister behavior - to how the guitars seemingly and happily loop while the remaining sound around it morph and phase between positions. Perhaps it might have benefited had this new-found state of conflict and anxiety be investigated further, than simply left to blissfully fade off. But as Nocturnimal follows suit - the way this track particularly holds onto those same measures of high and low frequency sounds feels more the perfect balance or unison, than conflict of interest - my belief is that this World; this realm of openness and spacious electronics, is rather more truthful in its identity, if abruptly tense at times. The Portal, despite its name, acts as a kind of panoramic to all these sounds' nature as being that of texture, but also that of lead and a sense of reason for why such visuals are conjured. Quite useful then, as follower Spectra Reverie immediately captures the listener's scampered state with a much punchier and colourfully lively stream of percussion and strings. And with the added focus of synths and reverb, there's an unrivaled tensity and hefty momentum carried through the track, perhaps alluding to as much the raw power as much the untapped mystery of a genre such as this.

And as the album slowly leads off with acoustic guitars more spacious and dreamy than previous - vocals offering foresighted abodes albeit through slightly humanely distorted tone - it gives an underlining idea as to the way The Last Cartographer Of Dreams seems to set off and rediscover (as much for itself as well as for us) just how promising, even uplifting, this genre's potential for state and stance, can generate from such simple methodologies. Traversing a great abstract distance of space and environment. Indigolab's offerings are never quite thoroughly story-based or even conceptual in that they carry a specific message or key context tying all songs together. Instead, what we get (to its benefit) is a more pinnacle, keenly-sought definition in what such utterances of distance and position mean when the laws of conventional physics and identity are left behind in music. And the greatest thing of all values coming through here, is Indigo's clear-cut reminder to us that even in such architecturally-rich dreams - even those manufactured from out our own blissful delicacy - there is no peace without conflict, psychologically-bound or not. And even in the most voided and open of texturally crafted Worlds, there's always that partial spot - regardless of size - that looms on the horizon...ready to conjure as close to chaos as one can imagine. The Last Cartographer Of Dreams is out 24th June via the artist's bandcamp.

Track Review: Julianna Barwick - One Half

It's no secret that Julianna Barwick's sweet vocal tones are well loved throughout the lands. Her music is relaxing, spiritual and organic. The basic raw ingredients are mixed heavily with electronic effects such as reverb and delay to create her astounding ethereal sound. After releasing her debut album The Magic Place in 2011, we wondered whether Barwick would continue down the path of smoky vocal refrains or take a deeper electronic route. Her second album Nepenthe will be out shortly, but not before the pre-release single "One Half" to force excitement back in to our summers. 

The word 'layer' may as well be Barwick's middle name after The Magic Place. Barwick has even enlisted a teenage female fronted choir and Icelandic string stars Amiina. They provided strings on Spiritualized fantastic seventh album Sweet Heart, Sweet Light last year. Barwick even turned to Iceland for the recording of her second album, surprised? I'm not. The delicious vocal ambience and church-like atmosphere create a blissful mood intended for the beautiful nature our planet provides. The landscapes and soundscapes of Iceland have rubbed off on Barwick as "One Half" suggests. It shows that even after The Magic Place, Barwick can still do the same all over again and excite her audience.