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Norman Records

Staff reviews this week

Young Alaska
Christian Loffler

9/10 according to our Clinton on 17th April 2014

New one from the German producer reviewed in war-like conditions in the middle of the office with chuntering going on round my ears. The first track that rises above the cacophony is ‘Mt Grace’, the second track on the record where Loffler marries some neat electronics to a stretched out vocal sample which reminds me of something Caribou might have done when he was called Manitoba. Its pretty nice really. Once he’d done that he does a track called ‘Notes’ which is equally impressive. Again it uses cut up vocal samples to excellent effect, this time over a pulsing 4 note bass figure. Its reminding me of a particular track, I think its by the French electronic duo Hypo. If thats too obscure a reference for you think the glory days of Warp records, Plaid, the listenable side of Squarepusher etc. Its cinematic, and later on there's some everythings-ok-electronica in your Ulrich Shnauss vein.

‘Beirut’ is also an excellent track effort with some eerie almost steel drum like sounds tinkling away under a 4/4 beat. Just the way I like it. Really excellent stuff, its all dark and moody and between the chat people keep stopping to interrupt me to enquire as to what it is. Once the sixth track ‘Roman’ has got going with its droney cellos and sweet rhodes piano Kim has asked what it is, and the cleaner has just suspended her mopping to listen intently.

Is there any better recommendation than that? The kind of music Phil loves to drive to. You can imagine him sweeping his Honda Jazz through the hairpin bends of the Swiss alps to this.

 

  • Available on:
    LP £15.29, CD £8.69

Kanute's Comin' Round
Beaty Heart

7/10 according to our Clinton on 17th April 2014

Its been a couple of years since Animal Collective released a new one and even then it was an impossi-listen. Fear not though here we have Beaty Heart doing the Animal Collective thing for you in their absence. Its all Bhundu Boys guitars, African poly-rhythms and silly voices. Who can sing the silliest? Well its a tough one as they are all at it. Its like waking up from a dream where They Might Be Giants try covering ‘Graceland’ in its entirety. Backwards. The B side sounds like Animal Collective too - makes my job a whole lot easier. Would be innovative and radical if Animal Collective hadn’t already existed.

  • Available on:
    7" £4.89

Shoe Prints In The Dust
God Damn

7/10 according to our Clinton on 17th April 2014

Crumbs. This is loud. One of the loudest records I've heard all year. its pressed so loud that I've turned the volume off and its still blasting away. Ladies and gentlemen this is Rock Music. An incendiary burst of anger pressed up onto vinyl thats ever so pink. Its like they are saying  - so we like pink, yeah? But just fucking listen to us.

Its rifferama central, like that time where Nirvana turned from 'Bleach' to 'Nevermind' i.e on 'Sliver'. Its an absolute blast. There's just two of them but what a racket. The A side is quite restrained compared to what happens on the B side - it sounds like an emo Adam Ant fronting Mudhoney. You'll like it if you think Drenge are just a little too whispery. Its certainly blown away the cobwebs  - my cardigan is all a quiver.    

  • Available on:
    7" £5.79

Blood Forest
Dead Fader

8/10 according to our Ian on 17th April 2014

Electronic producer Dead Fader comes at us with a double release this month, here we have ‘Blood Forest’ on the excellent Robot Elephant label which throws both warped electronica and neoclassical melodies together, what you get is an interesting melting pot of sonic ambience and dancefloor rhythms much like Boards Of Canada or early Autechre. Warped synth sounds and bass heavy hip hop/D&B/dubstep beats make for a murky almost industrial vibe that doesn’t stray too far into dark territories, moments of old school house and R&B sound like they’ve been fed through a blender and spat out in a mess of urban goo.

John Cohen is an electronic producer with a mischievous streak, just when you think it’s safe he’ll jolt you with a skittery dub beat or a shuffling dancefloor hi-hat, ‘Blood Forest’ is a distorted but shimmering view of electronic dance music that’s stripped back without sounding empty or overly minimal.

  • Available on:
    LP £14.09

Health
Farewell J.R.

7/10 according to our Ian on 17th April 2014

Four track EP released on Talking Shop Records from Cambridge based Farewell J.R, starting out as a solo project of Nick Rayner and now blossomed into a fully fledged band complete with violin and french horn. This second release is a spacious take on the singer/songwriter theme with a penchant for the reverb pedal, Nick’s soft breathy vocals are complemented by brushed drums and occasional piano giving it a bit of a Bon Iver crossed with Sigur Ros sort of feel.

It’s very atmospheric and forlorn and one of those soundtracks to autumnal walks in the park type scenarios, with only four tracks it does seem a little short for music on such a grand scale but maybe that’s a good thing, clocking in at just under 20 minutes it’s a nice introduction to a band that could move on to great things.

  • Available on:
    12" £7.39

Guilt Culture
Multiple Man

9/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

I’m liking this single from Brisbane’s Multiple Man. On the A side is ‘Guilt Culture’, a paranoid pop gem built around echo-treated spoken vocals, ominous synth drones, pumping sci-fi drum machines. There’s some kind of backing vocals, I can’t figure out if they’re a sample or not, but they’re kind of a disembodied choir hanging low in the mix - early on they’re doing a weird moaning thing and then this bright synth comes in with some Italo-horror arpeggios and they start chant-singing but it’s so muddy and distant you can’t really make out what they’re saying. It contrasts really effectively with the singer’s deep and echoey voice, which is kind of Teenage Panzerkorps meets ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’.

‘Boiling Down’ on the other side is good too, a coldly industrial instrumental where weirdly shifting synths modulate and phase queasily around a big aggressive bass drum heavy beat. It’s reminding me of Total Control in that it’s pulsating Aussie synthpunk that’s as confusing as it is awesome, but on this side with the vocals out of the way it’s also got a bit of a Golden Teacher-ish danciness to it. Both these new 7”s on Detonic are awesome, and by the look of it they’re the first two on the label. Where has this label appeared from and when will they give us more? Consider my appetite well and truly whetted.

  • Available on:
    7" £6.59

Hercules Initiative EP
Diesel Dudes

9/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Ace 7” here of goofy digital punk from the amusingly named Diesel Dudes, whose homoerotic opening paean to weed and working out is a hilarious mixture of dirty Atari-Teenage-Riot-doing-Iggy Pop’s-‘Real-Wild-Child’ distorto-beats and a kind of A Frames meets Devo meets Rammstein vocal delivery, very on-beat and almost chanty. ‘East Bay Rats’ again mixes heavy and distorted drum machine beats and aggressively repetitive modular synth action with obnoxious chant-like vocals to entertaining effect.

This mixture of primitive electronics and angry, snotty punk attitude makes them seem kind of like steroid-chugging transatlantic cousins to Sleaford Mods, but the synths actually sound pretty good here, much less tinny and rinky-dink, and the social commentary is less sharp, mostly a goofy satire of macho culture. Both bands peddle a kind of disaffected and primitive and very 21st century electro-punk sound though. ‘Muscle Memories’ on the other side is a fist-pumping bit of robotic industrial aggression. I like this, it’s brash, confrontational and pretty unique.

 

  • Available on:
    7" £6.59

Interlude Music
Cavern of Anti-Matter

9/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

The records from Deep Distance just seem to get cheaper and cheaper, and my pick of this week’s £6.99 wonders is this LP from Cavern of Anti-Matter, a synthesizer trio featuring Stereolab maestro Tim Gane. The LP is effectively a single 45-minute improvised track edited down into two sections.

The ingredients are heavy on drones, beeps and busy little arpeggios which encompass a wide variety of synth tones. As far as I’m gathering from the press release, the idea behind these recordings was to have a lengthy passage of interlude music which they could fade out between tracks when playing live to create a more seamless performance. It makes for a great listen just as a stand-alone piece though, fast-paced and pulsating and never dull, a constant barrage of metronomic modular melodies and squidgy synth tones.

Heartily recommended, a bargain at this price!

  • Available on:
    12" £6.99

Ambience2
Agathe Max

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Here's the latest from the reliably good short-run 7" label Box Bedroom Rebels, who've focused on indie rock thus far but this time venture off-piste into the chin-strokey world of minimal ambience. The sleeve to this 7" may look familiar, since it's a little homage to Mr Ambient himself, Brian Eno, although the music here isn't as Eno-esque as I had anticipated, focusing for the most part on graceful, plaintive piano and violin sounds.

You're getting pretty good value for money here too, since the 7" is accompanied by a single track 75-minute CD. That works out at less than 10p per minute, I've had more expensive phone calls. On the 7" the natural sounds of the piano and violin are the focus, while on the CD (or what I've listened to of it thus far) the focus is more on droneloops and eerie little percussive details and breathy hovering vocal tones.

 

  • Available on:
    7" £7.39

Dub Guns
Tinniens

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Here’s a tape featuring Landing’s Aaron Snow and Daron Gardner, producing delicate songs full of drones and loops that occupy a space somewhere between dreampop and ambience. There’s a warm, almost tropical feel as they mix soft synths with loops of gentle electronic rhythms and a slowly lapping ocean of gently plucked guitars.

There are moments when they snap out of the dream-like haze, notably on the second side which springs to life with a krautish chug and clear, upbeat vocals. It’s a strangely jarring change of pace but the dreaminess is still there, and gradually engulfs the mechanical Philip Glass-ish clarity in a shroud of fog. It’s a strange mixture but casually paced and melodic and ultimately very enjoyable.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape £5.99

Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina
Various

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Listen. I feel very heavy-hearted on reaching this 2CD set in my review pile, which pays tribute to the late, great Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. fame, who passed away last March at the age of 39 after a long battle with alcoholism. Molina was a man whose records were bleak and confessional but provided a real comfort to those of us who also struggle with our darker sides. ‘The Lioness’ and ‘Didn’t It Rain’ were staples in my angst-ridden youth, an oasis of comfort in a cold and unforgiving world. It was only last week that I brought myself to listen to the former LP for the first time since his passing and it was like seeing an old friend. I’m not sure I could handle the latter yet without weeping openly though.

Over the course of these two CDs, in case you hadn’t figured it out, various artists are playing Molina’s compositions. It’s a mixed bag as I suppose you’d expect, but it’s for a good cause and the highlights are pretty wonderful. My Morning Jacket’s ‘Farewell Transmission’ for example, turns into a hazy psychedelic shuffle with a sleepy tambourine-heavy percussive backbone, dirty bass fuzz, tiny touches of mariachi-esque trumpet, weird psychedelic slow-downs, it’s a ghostly but celebratory transformation which keeps the important elements of the song intact and frames them in a whole new context, really quite special. There’s a lot of dreary alt-country type covers to trudge through but even these are pretty; it’s pretty hard to stop Molina’s simple, understated confessionals from hitting the spot. Wooden Wand’s ‘Don’t This Look Like The Dark’ is another highlight.

Overall it’s mostly just making me want to cry, but it’s worth getting if only for that magnificent My Morning Jacket cover.

  • Available on:
    CD £13.39

In The Hollows
Nat Baldwin

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

If you were to tell me that someone played low-key indie rock with falsetto vocals and understated violins it’d probably be enough to keep me from checking them out, but Dirty Projector Nat Baldwin’s latest effort is actually something a bit special. It has the clarity and purity of focus that makes his other band so special, bringing to mind the likes of Sandro Perri in his smooth and upbeat melodies and bare-bones arrangements.

Opener ‘Wasted’ is a great example, with staccato bowed strings offering a rhythmic momentum throughout, with only a few sweeping little violin touches and a boomy plucked double bass getting between the listener and Baldwin’s clear, high voice. Instrumentally speaking the emphasis throughout this album is on the string family. Sometimes Baldwin will sing accompanied just by a snare and bass drum and the scratchy rumble of his double bass, other times it will have more of a kind of chamber pop feel to it. It’s a brave move placing the vocals in such a focal position within the sound, but it pays dividends and the songs on here really grab your attention, pulling you straight into their weary indie-soul narrative.

Undeniably impressive stuff; beautiful songs presented with a stark, naked intimacy.

  • Available on:
    LP £14.09, CD £8.79

Loom
Fear Of Men

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Brighton’s Fear of Men drop their debut LP this week, an ambitious and sprawling piece which takes in elements of dreampop, coldwave and minimal indie rock for a delicately formed pop aesthetic which will appeal to fans of Broadcast and the Cocteau Twins and The Smiths; dreamy and twinkly, with chiming Marr guitars and Morrissey-ish verbosity draped in a languorous shroud of nostalgic reverby haze.

It’s a gentle but well developed aesthetic, incorporating subtle synth drones and orchestral touches along with weird backwards effects, but at its heart are simple, pretty pop songs which pack a hefty emotional punch. Although I don’t have a lot to say about this record, it’s good and you should check this lot out of you’re into bands like the ones mentioned above and Lush and Death & Vanilla.

  • Available on:
    CD £10.39, LP £14.79

Mortology 1990-1996
Morthound

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Morthound was the creative alter-ego of the man we now know as BJ Nilsen between the years of 1990-96, starting when he was just 15, so all this stuff must’ve been over by the time he was 22! You certainly can’t fault his creative drive, can you? Anyway, this is a beautifully presented box which contains four full-length albums and then a fifth CD titled ‘Unleashed 1990-1996’ which mops up any other recordings that might’ve been lying around.

It’s spooky stuff of course, and very difficult to try and make a proper evaluation of a five CD box in the short time we have to describe the week’s releases. Largely this is steady and sinister dark ambience with lots of gliding drones and mystyckal atmospherics, like Dead Can Dance died and made some recordings as ghosts. Clocks tick, distant solar winds whoosh, drones drone, the tones are very understated and sensitively constructed considering how young he was! A fascinating and gigantic collection.

 

  • Available on:
    CD box set £43.49

Rosy
The FLK / Marry Waterson

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Mysterious post-folk experimentalists The FLK (definitely nothing to do with the KLF since you were wondering) have a new 7”! Fans of their last CD, and I know there are a lot of you, get the chequebooks out now. As previously, this is folk music repurposed in weird and modern ways.

This time round they take an a capella from folkie Marry Waterson and offset it against a dinky little Edge-from-U2 guitar line and some subtly sinister little synth touches. It’s just a one-sider but it’s a beautiful and mysterious track, foggy uncertainty rubbing sensuous but uncomfortable against sunrisey optimism.

 

  • Available on:
    7" £9.99

The Ballad Of Willy Robbins
Vikesh Kapoor

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Say hello to the new contender for the Great American Songwriter crown, Vikesh Kapoor. His debut LP ‘The Ballad of Willy Robbins’ follows in the traditions of songwriters like Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen, a series of portraits of hardworking Americans and their everyday trials and tribulations, cast in bronze through Kapoor’s slow and important-sounding songs.

It’s hard to say he hasn’t mastered the genre, too. Opener ‘Bottom of the Ladder’ melodically sounds just like a Tom Waits ballad, although Vikesh’s voice is clear and bold, a little like Hawksley Workman on his early records. The general mood is one of grand sadness, almost church-like even on the tracks where there isn’t a church organ in the background; a sincere and solemn tribute to the ordinary common Americans who go on making America the American place that it is, with precious little thanks for their trouble.

The songs are beautifully written, but this self-important over-seriousness can get a bit much in places, every line a lingering, clinging prayer. It’s evocative and accomplished stuff, but not a lot of fun. I guess that’s not the point.

 

  • Available on:
    CD £8.89, LP £13.29

The Child
Umberto

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

‘80s soundtrack loving dude Umberto is back this week with the full-length 12-minute version of ‘The Child’ which appeared in an edited form on his debut. A right old doozy it is too, a labyrinthine passage of cold disco beats and John Carpenter synths which will delight any fans of Zombi and all the recent horror reissues that have been flooding out over the last two or three years. My favourite part is in the middle when a cheeky little Daft Punk-ish ascending melody kicks in.

Over on the other side Umberto’s cousin Silvio takes on remixing duties, for a harder and more dancefloor ready interpretation, the beats are brash and housey and the synths are watery and woozy, but it reaches quite a crescendo towards the end with pumping electro-house precision and craftily used synth choirs taking that Daft Punky refrain to new levels of cosmic euphoria. Fun times.

  • Available on:
    12" £6.99

Two
Owls

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

There’s a post-it on this one saying “‘97 math rock/twiddly post rock”, but thankfully an explanation is not needed today, for this is the long-awaited second album from post-Cap’n Jazz twinkledaddy pioneers Owls, aka Mike and Tim Kinsella with guitarist Victor Villareal and bassist Sam Zurick. I for one was under the impression that this lot kicked the bucket years ago - the first album came out in 2001 and the members have been keeping themselves perfectly busy with other projects.

Back they are, though, and ‘Two’ is actually very good, ‘This Must Be How...’, bang in the middle of the album, perfectly encapsulates what was great about the band to begin with; measured and busy guitar twinkling paired with a muscular rhythm section and distracted-sounding vocals that build a twisty-turny tension that’s very satisfying. They’re not exactly breaking new ground but the most convincing example of the late ‘90s midwestmo sound I’ve heard in a long time, miles better than that disappointing Braid comeback EP.

  • Available on:
    LP £14.09, CD £11.69

You Can't Hide Your Love Forever Volume 10
Clipd Beaks

8/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Couple of tracks of woozy experimental rock from Minneapolis veterans Clipd Beaks on this new 7". On side A there's a number called 'North Hard Daze', a blurred, dreamlike bit of psychedelia with all the sounds strangely muddied. There's a simple drum groove and the bass guitar gets quite lively in places, but everything else is fucked with until it's just another textural smudge.

Unfocused vocal babblings smear and flicker and drift over a weird broken loop, joined in places by a squealing guitar drone. Despite the fact that it's a little chaotic it's pretty effortlessly likeable, warm and immediate, kind of like if Wet Hair focused on guitars rather than synths.

Over on the other side is 'South Sky Burial', a slower number that opens with reverb- and echo-drenched guitars streaking across the cosmos before the rhythm section settle into an earthy post-dub groove which burbles nicely alongside a soft layer of guitar and synth ambience. I like this 7", it's like a broken transmission from the future.

  • Available on:
    7" £6.99

Full-On Rager
The Tenses & Guzo

7/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

The Tenses and Guzo are both part of the mighty Smegma collective and this confusing tape here collects two live sets, one with them together in Portland, and one with the Tenses on their own in Paris. I’m listening to the Portland set right now and it’s pretty head-melting stuff, a weird lo-fi gumbo of concrete field recordings, broken machinery and squeaky sax and unsettling throbbing tropical guitar drones.

It’s pretty surreal stuff, veering between hallucinatory intensity and dreamlike soundscapery which incorporates all kinds of sounds, from tapes to synths to an array of live instruments. The non-collaborative side is more of the same playful lo-fi twiddlings, but with a less dense palette of textures which makes it a slightly less exhausting listen. Totally out-there stuff.

 

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape £5.39

Get Pure
Mount Carmel

7/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Beardy blues-rockers Mount Carmel have a new album of beardy blues-rock out this week. I’m not sure I’m totally sold on it, but it’s slick and big-sounding, I can imagine a big hall full of rednecks totally getting down to this country-grunge slickness. In fairness there are some nice windy riffs and bombastic drums but what we’re looking at is basically a modern-day cross between Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

It’s competent but hackneyed stuff basically, with my favourite point being the instrumental ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ which ends the first side, a cheeky little riff full of Billy Gibbons-ish pinch harmonics, overused to the point where it becomes good again. I’m less fond of the Blueshammer swagger of the vocal tracks, although like I say some of the riffs have a kind of Pearls and Brass complexity to them which can be pretty tasty (if a little dinosaur-flavoured). Slick and hairy American man rock.

 

  • Available on:
    LP £17.19, CD £13.19

Junk EP
Tuff Love

7/10 according to our Mike on 17th April 2014

Here’s an EP of C86ish indie jangle from a new trio from Glasgow called Tuff Love. The formula is simple, bouncing and slightly antipodean-sounding numbers with jagged clean tones and fuzzy distorted ones, accompanied by bored sounding, breathy vocals that are somewhat at odds with the energetic music and lend it a wistful, nostalgic feeling.

They’re reminding me a little bit of September Girls. Economically written songs with cute harmonies and catchy tunes with a delivery which is equal parts androgynous dreaminess and playful indie-rock chunk. They’re hardly rewriting the rulebook here but it’s very pleasant stuff with a charming and carefree feel, I think I’d enjoy seeing these songs live.

 

  • Available on:
    10" £7.39