Wednesday, 29 February 2012
‘Ghostory’ sees the return of School Of Seven Bells with their third studio album, with a new line up after Claudia Deheza left due to ‘personal reasons’, leaving her twin sister, Alejandra Deheza, to write with Benjamin Curtis. The sound, though distinctively theirs, is quite far removed from the first, essential album, ‘Alpinisms’. ‘Low Times’ is the most similar with short, breathy vocals and wandering background guitar, but it feels that the album does fall a little short, never quite reaching the euphoric highs of the first.
The definite highlight of ‘Ghostory’ is ‘Lafaye’, the first track to be revealed by the band from this album, with Deheza’s voice shown at its best, especially during the beautiful chorus of ‘Lafaye, Lafaye…’ It's close to capturing the euphoria of the first album but it feels like it has been placed a little early in the album and, as the jewel in the crown, should have been placed in the middle of the tracklisting. Another highlight is the first track, ‘The Night’, which is an 80s-esque pop song, and seems like the most obvious choice for a second single with its insistent backing and catchy lines such as ‘devour me / devour me…you have my arms/ you have my legs’.
There are other moments of beauty too, the icy ‘Reappear’ seems a slow burner but manages to capture a different mood than other songs on the record, and involves you so much in this mood that it feels much shorter than its 4 minutes. It’s not that the other tracks are dull, either, ‘Scavenger’s almost industrial drums and strange howling noises add interest. The same can be said for ‘White Wind’s robotic vocals and bouncing bass, allowing it to sound like more of an outright dance track in places.
The album as a whole, having a concept, seems slightly more cohesive, with the story of a girl (named Lafaye) overcoming her demons and ghosts, but seems to have lost the euphoric, essential nature of the first. Saying that, I have no doubt that School of seven bells will always manage to create music so beautifully far removed from ‘real life’ that it can whisk you away from all needless thought and worry. With Deheza’s effortless, husky vocals beautifully entwined with Curtis’ ethereal guitars and backing, they have done all the work for you. All you need to do is close your eyes and listen.
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Monday, 27 February 2012
John Lagos, the man behind Brothertiger, hasn’t given me an easy job. To make it harder for myself, I’m excluding these words from the following review: ‘Chillwave’, ‘nostalgia’, ‘gaze’, and finally, ‘haze’. Oh, and the phrase ‘soundtrack to your summer’.
The name ‘Brothertiger’ is a portmanteau, a combination of two words to make one new one, and in this case, a combination of human and animal elements. It sounds like a man to me though. I wonder what it would sound like if a goat did the singing. That would be interesting. Like that video mash up with Usher and ‘the goat that sounds like a man’. Sorry, I got carried away. Back to the album. Golden Years starts with the sound of children’s voices, clichéd indeed, but setting the tone for the album nonetheless. Then the synths arrive. The synths arrive. Oh boy have the synths arrived. They aren’t going anywhere. The synths are staying put. For the whole length of the record. All of it.
Oh and here are the vocals.
“Hey vocals, long time no see. When was the last time? Teen Daze? Blackbird Blackbird? Good to see you again though man.”
“Synths, meet vocals... vocals, meet synths”.
“Good, now you’ve met, let’s continue. Hey there, don’t get too intimate, you’ve only just met! Hey! Don’t be so flirty synths. Stop it. Stop it. I got distracted again. Back to the album.”
Golden Years is a collection of upbeat pop songs that float and flitter. The best of these being ‘Lovers’, a song that stands out like a sore thumb amongst the rest with its cut and paste vocals and infectious synth hook that strongly recalls Passion Pit’s debut Manners. I wonder where Passion Pit have got to... they were quite good whilst they were around. Wasn’t the singer Greek? I think he might have been. I wonder what will happen to Greece. They don’t look like they’re in a very comfortable position right now. Certainly not in their ‘Golden Years’...
Sunday, 26 February 2012
Oh Kendal Calling, you’ve done it again! You quietly came onto the festival scene as an intimate 900 capacity festival in the Lake District, Cumbria. You’ve moved about quite a bit over the 6 years you’ve been running and increased in capacity ever year. But that hasn’t got you down and you’ve managed to blossom into a brilliant yet still intimate festival that’s set in a picturesque deer park in Penrith. Oh and you’ve also hosted the likes of Blondie, The Cribs, Doves, Mumford & Sons, Pendulum and Calvin Harris to name but a few.
This year sees old favourites such as Dizzee Rascal, Twisted Wheel, Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip and of course The Lancashire Hotpots returning to Lowther Deer Park. Dizzee joins Maximo Park and James as the main stage headliners. Although the majority of the acts haven’t been announced yet the line-up does look promising with the likes of Benga, Feeder, Shy FX, Utah Saints, Ms Dynamite and reggae legend Little Roy gracing the fields.
As a Kendal Calling devotee the line-up isn’t the only attraction at the festival. Kendal Calling is also home to the Soapbox, a stand-up comedy, dance class and spoken word tent, a “Garden of Eden” which is a chill haven with plenty of stalls to pamper yourself the morning after, the “Happy Slap” Boutique that puts on burlesque shows and fire performances, a Houseparty tent with sofas to lounge on, beds to jump on and karaoke. And if that’s not enough the Holy Quail pub hosts a real ale festival within the festival. The latest addition for 2012 is a Twin Peaks style diner café curated by Tim Burgess and aptly named “Tim Peaks”. Tim Peaks will be home to DJ sets, book readings, a mean cuppa and the only place to purchase his “Totes Amazeballs” cereal!
Oh and to top that all off, Saturday is fancy dress day. With the theme last year being Beasts and Machines it’s hard to predict what they’ll think of this year.
Kendal Calling is an eclectic, lively and fun festival that appeals to families and teenagers alike. With a unique line-up, amazing entertainment and a friendly feel Kendal Calling is set to become more and more popular every year. It’s a festival that never fails to please.
See you in the fields!
Saturday, 25 February 2012
Once in a while a song will catch my attention for being in equal parts puzzling and beautiful. ‘Jenny Cohn’ by Walter Skin & the Motorboat Sunshine Orchestra is exactly that. The version of the song that has surfaced online is purportedly a live recording from 1974. In this recording, Skin’s vocal delivery is pitched somewhere between Daniel Johnston and a Woody Allen soliloquy in the way that he mumbles and trembles as he tells of both his woes (“I was a wreck... I was in a bad dark place”) and his love for who you’d assume to be Jenny Cohn. The music itself provides the beauty, but what is puzzling is the back story. A biography accompanying the song claims that Walter “disappeared for several years” and was later (1976, to be exact) found dead in a New York hotel room aged just thirty two. It goes on to claim that most of his recordings were either “lost or corroded due to cheap manufacture”. This is, however, where the story ends. Untraceable online and with only three songs available for listening, my speculation over the history and legitimacy of Walter Skin was only furthered. How can there be no traces – but for three songs - of a musician who only stopped playing thirty six years ago?
The other two songs that appeared online, ‘That Porch’ and ‘King of Everything’, feature Skin singing as opposed to rambling ambiguously. Whilst they lack the fragile beauty of ‘Jenny Cohn’, they remain fascinating and well composed, yet there are clear implications in the songs (all three of them) that argue against them being legitimate 1974 live recordings. For a start, they come across as over-produced. The track levels are close to perfect and the crackles and hiss seem synthetic. The end of ‘Jenny Cohn’ is inevitably ushered in by (sparse) claps, however, these inhabit a totally different ambience to the vocals; if the recording were live, there would be a very atypical acoustic in the room. This is also noticeable in the final track, ‘King of Everything’. In this song, the expected background noise of a bar and audience is present, however it is unsuited to the recording.
These arguments lead to the real question; if the songs were in fact not by Walter Skin, then who did record them? The obvious answer is a small – and damn clever – artist looking for publicity. If so, the story is very well conceived, but the recordings flawed, however, no matter who, or when, they were recorded, they still remain a great work. For now it is unclear whether the person behind the recordings is a contemporary artist, or Walter Skin himself, but what is clear is that the songs produced are some of the most interesting of the year, be it the year of 2012, or the year of 1974.
Thursday, 23 February 2012
2010 saw Brooklyn’s noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells released their debut album, the aptly named Treats. Containing eleven short but sweet tracks filled with the wonderful combination of Derek Miller’s ear-splitting electric guitar, ferocious drumbeats and Alexis Krauss’s saccharine sweet vocals, the album was literally a treat for the ears, although I’m convinced that if you listen to it at full volume, there’s a strong likelihood that you will actually go deaf. (This is yet to be medically proven)
It’s only February but 2012 is already a good year for Sleigh Bells, having appeared on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago and then, of course, the much anticipated Reign of Terror being released. Perhaps this album, like Treats is accurately named, as Sleigh Bells seem set to take over the world with their own 'reign of terror'.
The album itself manages to combine some of the traits that made Treats so brilliant – that GUITAR, turned up to 11 as always and Alexis’s innocent whispery vocals and yelps – yet also tries to go in a different direction. Reign of Terror begins with 'True Shred Guitar', which clocks in at only 2 minutes 20 and could easily be a distant relative of Treats rowdy foot-stomper 'Riot Rhythm'. So far it seems that sticking to their original formula seems to get the best results for Sleigh Bells, as is proved in 'Crush' and 'Born to Lose', two songs which both could’ve fitted perfectly onto Treats. In fact, it’s when they try to change the formula that I started losing interest. With the exception of 'Rill Rill' from the first album, which shows off the band’s softer side yet still manages to be a lovely song in it’s own right, Treats managed to keep a listener hooked and interested by making all the songs really really loud with sinister and distorted lyrics. Taking the lead from the success of 'Rill Rill', it’s clear that the duo wanted to show off their lighter sides on this album, and it pains me to say that this was probably not the best idea. At first the more vocal-heavy tracks seem interesting purely because they’re so different, but after a while I find myself having to check the track names just to see if the song has changed because they all begin to merge into one.
This may sound petty but another element of Reign of Terror that could be seen as either a good or a bad thing is the fact that it contains – shock horror – real lyrics! On recent single 'Comeback Kid' and fiery standout song 'Demons' for example you can... understand what Alexis is singing! I’m still unable to decide how I feel about this.
So overall, my final verdict of Reign of Terror is a reluctant “meh”. While a few tracks such as Comeback Kid, Demons and Leader of the Pack stand out, the rest of the album managed to lose my interest entirely. Is this the fault of Sleigh Bells “new direction” or merely just second album syndrome? Who can say? All I know is that I’ll stick to their first album until Sleigh Bell’s “reign of terror” blows over.
Mike Hadreas has always been good at emotion. Perfume Genius’ 2010 debut ‘Learning’ was a realisation of the emotive combination of vocals and piano, wonderfully under produced, filled with heart wrenching songs which could not fail to move the listener. ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’ has been given more production than the debut and Hadreas’ voice sounds stronger and more confident, while at the same time retaining the kind of hurt and confusion which made everyone fall in love with Perfume Genius in the first place. Neither of these are bad things, although I expect some fans will say they are, but they simply show Perfume Genius progressing. The contrast between the stronger production and the insecurity of the songs makes the album’s fragility all the more noticeable and all the more poignant.
Having courted controversy after the promo video for the album was removed from Youtube due to it being deemed ‘inappropriate’ (it depicted Hadreas embracing half naked porn star Arpad Miklos), you might have expected the album to be bold. Instead it is understated, not much less simple than ‘Learning’. The album opens with a single intake of breath before it begins with a simple piano melody to open ‘Awol Marine’. ‘No Tear’ is a compelling story of indifference, Hadreas’ vocals supported by baritone repetitions. If you were not to listen closely you could easily miss the sadness and hope that pervades every lyric on the album. The excesses of modern music are carefully avoided, which is especially effective on ‘17’ where everything is stripped back.
Nothing on the album quite manages to live up to the absolutely heartbreaking ‘Hood’, the first song that was released from the album. At only two minutes, it is one of those songs which you just wish went on for a little bit longer. The album’s title track comes closest to beating it though, as Hadreas pleads “let me be the one to turn you on”, as once again his emotional fragility is displayed.
If you were looking for a cheerful album this isn’t it, but that hardly diminishes its beauty. Any of the 12 songs could easily contend for saddest song of the year and by the time you reach the end you’ll just want to give Mike Hadreas a cuddle. I honestly find it hard to put into words the amount of inescapable emotion on every song on this record.
Keen readers may remember Dropzone from our recent Sound Inbox feature. To recap for those that missed it, Dropzone is the musical guise of 23 year old Londoner Louie Denniston who makes exquisite guitar based tracks topped with rich vocals. We liked his music so much we grabbed an interview with the man himself, so read on as I quiz Louie on his influences, his recording process and his plans for 2012.
Talk us through the beginning of Dropzone. What made you decide to start making music?
I had been playing instruments for years with a love for a huge variety of musical genres. Ditching piano, I started learning the guitar and it’s been the core of my sound ever since. I started recording demos a couple of years ago that were of poor quality and no depth but were the stepping stones to finding my sound and interpretations of my influences.
What’s the idea behind the name Dropzone?
Well Drop Zone meaning a safe zone area into which soldiers or supplies are dropped into, I feel like that every time I make music as if I’m initially starting in a safe zone state of mind with the possibility of adventure and danger the further I go outside the safe zone, or without being too literal, it’s as if I’m going to war.
What’s your song writing process like? Is it quite lengthy and considered or do you tend to just record things more sporadically?
The music comes before the lyrics in most cases of my tracks, I record a couple of ideas per session and then listen to them for a while before choosing which idea to develop further, there has been times where I’ve brought a number of ideas together to form 1 track. Whatever artist/band I’m listening to a lot at the time always sneaks a hint of their influence into my tracks. I tend record a lot when I’ve recently been to a gig, inspired and buzzed to develop my ideas further. Some of the tracks on my e.p are from 2 year old demos that were very minimal in depth but had the potential to grow and there is still a lot of old material that I’ve recorded that’s worth developing further. For now I’m moving on with new ideas, also with the use of a kaossilator that I have, I’m looking to introduce that into my sound.
You’ve got some interesting covers on your soundcloud of SBTRKT and Cults songs. What is it about Abducted and Hold on that particularly appealed to you?
With SBTRKT-hold on, I knew exactly how I would interpret it with guitars from the first listen, for me it was always about the vocals as a central focus of the track so I wanted that also on my cover with the guitars to be loosely present in the background and a strong lead to enhance how fragile the song is. With Cults-Abducted, I wanted the challenge of keeping the energy and power of the track while covering it acoustically, in its simplicity it was fun to cover.
Do you think being from London influences your music in any way?
With a constant supply of amazing new artists and bands in London, there’s never a shortage of influences but I don’t feel like my music would be much different being from anywhere else. For me, my sound development comes mostly from within and less of what’s going on around me.
In terms of recent music, which artists do you particularly enjoy listening to?
I think King Krule is one of the most promising UK song writers in a while, I have been following KINDNESS for a long time and am looking forward to his LP and The Maccabees new album Given to The Wild is a masterpiece in my opinion which I listen to regularly.
Which one band/artist do you think has moulded you most as a person?
My fickleness with music genres, bands and artists makes it hard to pin point what may have moulded me as a person but as a true smiths fan It would have to be the Smiths.
Are there any artists or genres you enjoy listening to, that people might not expect?
I would probably say ASAP ROCKY, there’s great atmosphere and authenticity in his music and I like his shameless vanity.
What’ve you got planned for the rest of 2012?
Other than more recording, I’m looking to figure out how I’m going to play sound of my tracks live and play a couple of gigs to bring these tracks to life. I’m also in the first year of a Film Degree and looking to keep focused on that as well as my music.
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
The thing with Death Grips Exmilitary album was that it suffered from a lack of cohesion. Lots of experimental music makes the mistake of failing to reign in its excesses and allowing the music to build up into something that’s unpalatable and uninteresting. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun or inventive, quite to the contrary, it was the most original record released last year. The issue was that several dozen different ideas all jostling for top spot made the whole affair a touch unfocused. Blackjack is a much more streamlined beast. MC Ride’s doom-mongering flow is processed to within an inch of its life, reversed and sped up at will, to stomach-churning effect. Clearly they’ve decided that it’s all well and good going straight for the jugular, but if you want to see real suffering, you fuck with their heads as well.
Their Planes Will Block Out The Sun
First this week are New Jersey band Their Planes Will Block Out The Sun. The band's free EP (available from their bandcamp) is decidedly indie, with slightly darker elements also touched upon. The influences are quite apparent over the four tracks. 'Brasil' is heavily indebted to Radiohead, while highlight 'youth and angels' could easily be mistaken for a more solemn Interpol cut. It's an impressive EP, combining gloomy lyrical tendencies with precise production and brooding sometimes Jazz-like instrumentation. Entirely listenable and largely enjoyable.
Off the back of their debut track 'Electro Track' receiving some attention from BBC Radio and over 2000 plays on soundcloud, young Maidstone band Trophys have just put out another cracking track. 'Funeral' is clearly a response to a lot of the best and brightest of British Indie and Synth-pop of recent years. There's nods to the likes of Bloc Party, Los Campesinos and Foals certainly present, but with more of a synth gleam and added angsty lyrics about subjects such as how hard it is being alone. The drums are loud, the vocals carry meaning and the electronics are pleasant if not massively varied. Trophys are youthful, memorable and their sound is surprisingly realised and with an upcoming tour with Casiokids on the cards, their tracks will likely find a wider more devoted audience as part of a live set up.
For more info on Trophys check out their facebook page here
Now THIS is more like it. A young UK band with buckets full of ambition and a fantastic EP available for only £2 may sound a bit too good to be true, but Reversal are very promising. They're versatile too, their excellently titled EP 'The Society of Portly Gentlemen' is crammed full of ideas and energy. There's plenty to get excited about here, from the Franz Ferninand like bop of 'City Life', the thrillingly frantic 'Rusty City Martyr', or even the interesting contemporary experimentation with Bhagra (yes bhangra) on 'Bhindie'. Bewilderingly unsigned, Reversal knock out thrusting energetic tracks which I imagine would also work pretty well live. Their new EP 'A Monotonous Menagerie' is also on its way, and from first impressions sounds equally as gripping.
Check them out on facebook here
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