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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

Finite World EP
Maia

8/10 according to our Clinton on 16th April 2014

Huddersfield’s Maia seem to do tremendously well amongst folk-loving sorts yet as yet remain relatively unheard of above sea level. Their previous album was a technicolour smorgasboard of sounds veering a little too closely towards disco-folk at times yet a number of extremely strong psychedelic folk pop songs saw it through.

Onto this EP. If you aint a fan of the fey and the feathery you might as well look away now. Opener ‘Small High Whistle From a Bird’ is like Anthony Hegarty channeling Tyrannosaurus Rex era Marc Bolan. It is however quite unbelievably beautiful, just vocals and acoustic guitar and sounds like like its drifted down like a leaf caught on a summer breeze. ‘Milky Boy’ starts in similar fashion before exploding into a chorus that I can’t help but compare to Chris De Burgh’s ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’. ‘Maisie’ showcases their unusual 60’s influenced pop stylings, one part early Bee Gees, one part Three O’ Clock, another the High Llamas. Closer ‘Finite World’ is equally good, again High Llamas spring to mind, a sweet summery treat of breezy acoustic pop.

Saccharine for sure but quite lovely. Check the packaging - its in a wooden box!

  • Available on:
    10" £9.99, CD £4.99, 10" £11.99

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

Some Friends I Lost To Bedlam, Others I Abandoned There
Some Truths

7/10 according to our Clinton on 16th April 2014

Oh what has he given me here.  Ian is doling out the records this week and hands me a blue sleeve saying nothing, already I'm floundering.

Let me do an investigation.....its by Some Truths and its an album of synth wibbliness. Opener ‘Too Much Bone in Yr Skull’ fizzes and twists and pulses and goes discordant on your ass. Nicer is ‘Quaalude and the Fugue State’ a series of jittery old school 70’s synth tones, hints of a rhythm underpinning it all, not sure what its all reminding me of, one minute I’m thinking 70’s kosmiche type thing but then there’s hints of early Aphex Twin melancholy amid the tones.

A patchwork quilt of electronic sounds, the album will appeal to all those who worship at the foot of Human League’s ‘Dignity of Labour’ through to the early Warp label affiliated experiments in primitive techno.

  • Available on:
    LP £13.39

The Root / Range On Castle
Kim Deal & Morgan Nagler

7/10 according to our Clinton on 16th April 2014

Always got plenty of time for Kim Deal. While her former band name gets dragged through the dirt, Kim is having fun playing with a bunch of people and releasing these nice 7” records of the results.

This one is more collaborative than ever as Kim shares vocals with Whispertown singer Morgan Nagler. As a result I just can’t get into it as much as the other records ‘cause y’know  -
I just like her voice. Opener ‘The Root’ is a spindly garagey lollop with the repeated mantra of ‘I’m happy for you but I feel like crying’. Like all of Kim’s stuff its oddball but enormously catchy at the same time to the point that it sounds kinda like the Belle Stars in an underground thicket.

Overleaf ‘Range On Castle’ is at times ear- hurtingly discordant and with Nagler taking lead you really miss Kim’s vocals though she’s there somewhere in the undergrowth. Not as life affirming as the previous singles but I’ll be enjoying myself when they compile all these onto an album.

  • Available on:
    7" £7.99

Weird Drift
Heterotic

7/10 according to our Clinton on 16th April 2014

The sticker we’ve written on the front of the promo reads “Paradinas and wife. Good.” That could pretty much do as a review but I’m sure you want a bit more jam to lace the bread, right?

Well the second collaboration for the pair (Paradinas being the U-Ziq/Planet Mu man) opens with ‘Self Importance’ ,one of those old school slightly BBC Radiophonic Orchestra type sci-fi instrumentals you see knocking about from time to time. I’m more interested in the album when it veers into smooth yacht rock vocals stylings as on ‘Rain’ which has that old 80’s referencing chillwave sleekness that reminds you of trying to park your BMX to the background hum of Michael McDonald on the Chart Show. Lovely soft squishy goodness.

This continues into ‘Boxes’,  now this is gonna appeal to fans of the likes of Toro y Moi, Small Black, Washed Out and looking a bit further back, Junior Boys. Bands that link up squeaking electronics with hushed, dreamy vocals to create an 80’s heat haze. The only issue being that by the time the dubby ‘Lumber’ er lumbers along the vocals are sounding rather samey, still I’m enjoying the lolloping music on this track with the overall vibe coming across like How To Dress Well’s first album. To break it up they’ve stuck in a few instrumentals ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Sultana’ (yup) are dead 80’s, ‘Sultana’ dangerously so but ‘Triumph’ has a nu-soul glow and ‘Shoe Soul’ is all sweet Anita Baker/Imagination 80’s shimmer.  

Possibly using a couple of guest vocalists could have provided a bit of variety as the album drifts along in a sea of slick 80’s loving pleasantness. Nice, but no dizzying heights.        

  • Available on:
    LP £14.09, CD £10.19

Hendra
Ben Watt

6/10 according to our Clinton on 16th April 2014

Its hard to say when or why Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn became such national treasures as there was a time in the late 80’s where they were in severe danger of being shot for crimes against music. Their early solo albums and the first flush of Everything But The Girl before it all got bogged down in gloopy sentimentality probably saved them from the chop.

Ben Watt’s only other solo album ‘North Marine Drive’ is a lovely thing; a counterpart to Tracey’s unsurpassable ‘A Distant Shore’, its a jazz inflected, windswept bedsit classic. Fast forward 30 odd years and this follow up is much more ‘adult’ themed, understandable given the years that have passed but the overall sound too often straddles a safe MOR territory. Opener ‘Hendra’ is nice enough with a lovely Nick Drake-like chord progression and woody double bass. The first alarm bells ring with the Americanized pronounciation of ‘again’ as ‘agayyyyyn’ before we hit the lilting rock of ‘Forget’ which isn’t that different from the recent War On Drugs album with the spectre of Dire Straits always lurking, guitarist Bernard Butler has been given carte blanche to explore his inner Knopfler and his busy twiddlings often seems surplus to requirements.

‘Spring’ showcases Watt as a decent enough vocalist, still I’d be happier with a less fussy arrangement. ‘Golden Ratio’ is the first track that even half way recalls ‘North Marine Drive’ with its sumptous jazzy chords and smokey atmosphere, we’re deep into John Martyn territory here and lovely moments abound (particularly ‘The Levels’ with Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour twiddling away) but the tasteful, earnest,  middle aged singer songwriter feel prevents a full recapture of past glories.

  • Available on:
    CD £14.39, LP £14.99

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

Busy Earnin'
Jungle

9/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

Who are Jungle? The press release tells me there are two of them, sometimes expanding to a seven-piece live band, but I genuinely have no idea if any of these people photographed on the sleeve are actually playing any of the music on the record. It's a bit confusing. These guys impressed me with their last 7" though, and this new one isn't disappointing. They've got a bright and modern electro-soul sound, with 'Busy Earnin'' finding an addictive middle ground between TV on the Radio and Gnarls Barkley. It's an unashamedly catchy dancefloor filler, opening with atmospheric Italo-disco synths and slap bass before plunging us headlong into an irresistible funk-soul boogie full of uplifting brass and clever synth work and disembodied "Woop. Huh." vocal embellishments, along with a tightly harmonised falsetto vocal lead that'll be stuck in my head all day now.

Over on the other side we've got their first two singles, 'The Heat' and 'Platoon', repackaged as B sides. A bit of a swiz you say? Yes, there is that, but these are still good songs and some people haven't got them yet. They're more understated and introspective than the brash A side, with the TV on the Radio influence even more apparent, but both great examples of their impeccably executed nu-soul sound. It's amazing how this band have just appeared on the scene fully formed and ready for stardom, and if they can capitalise on this faultless run of singles with a debut album of similar quality then it's there for the taking. The cynic in me, however, thinks this kind of class doesn't materialise out of thin air and maybe they're staying mysterious because otherwise we'd recognise them...either way this is good pop music and I'm backing it.

 

  • Available on:
    12" £7.39
  • More from: Jungle
  • More on this label: XL

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

As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still
Schnauser

8/10 according to our Mike on 16th April 2014

More psychedelic covers from Fruits De Mer. This one's by Schnauser, which sounds appealing to me, like a cross between a much loved synth twiddler and a friendly domestic dog. It's got a Soft Machine cover on one side and a Yes cover on the other. I'm on the Soft Machine one now, 'As Long as He Lies Perfectly Still' it's called, and I like what Schnauser is doing with the synths and the wah guitar, all very well measured and psychedelic without being overdone. It's a weird, stumbly song but warm and fluid in Schnauser's culpable hands.

The version of Yes's 'Astral Traveller' on the other side is totally likeable too, one part Morgan Delt, one part Syd Barrett, one part Magic Roundabout theme. The way the guitar, bass and organ textures are matched with one another is very satisfying and the wibbly psychedelic reworks are sufficiently different from the original for this to be a worthwhile exercise. I find these covers 7"s Fruits de Mer are so fond of rather patchy personally, but I'm happy to give this one my thumb of recommendation.

  • Available on:
    7" £5.49

Suspiria
Schizo Fun Addict

8/10 according to our Mike on 16th April 2014

The first rule of covers is to be wary when approaching an iconic piece of music - there's already a definitive version and most likely already a long list of people who've done it badly. On this 7" Schizo Fun Addict laugh in the face of such rules, going straight for one of the most iconic pieces of film music ever made - Goblin's theme to Dario Argento's horror classic 'Suspiria'.

Thankfully it's far from a straight cover, opening with wildly modulating synths before a pulsating drumbeat comes in with the melody dropped rigidly on the on-beat and some great shuddering Morricone/Link Wray sounding guitar chords. It's pretty groovy actually, it's the drumbeat that saves this one I think.

Over on the other side is a piece of music I'm less familiar with - 'In the Long Run' from Russ Meyer's 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls'. This is what I was talking about - I'm much less wary of this because I have no attachment to the source material. It's a nice hippie-ish ballad with girls singing and trumpets and jangly guitars. It's got a really warm, sun-bleached Californian feel, a little bit twee but just too indulgently lovely for me to mind all that much. Enjoyable 7". Also comes with a DVD titled 'Towers' which I haven't watched.

  • Available on:
    7" £5.49

A Collection Of Lost Songs From 1996 - 1998
Danko Jones

8/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

Toronto's Danko Jones are probably best known for their slick and sleazy high energy hard rock antics of latter years, but this fascinating LP collects together various demos recorded in the two years between the band's formation and their first EP. Far from the radio-friendly theatrics of their latter releases, these recordings are chock full of filthy garage rock which owes obvious debts to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

To be honest I think I prefer this side of the band to their more lucrative stadium Backyard Babiesisms. Although the recordings are pretty basic (the bulk of this material was self-recorded to four-track) the emphasis on simple galloping rock'n'roll riffs and clattering primal boogie rhythms works well, with the lack of production values fitting in just fine with the wider garage aesthetic. Jones himself is on fine form throughout too, cussin' and sleazin' with the natural charisma that has since earned him legions of fans.

While JSBX are definitely the most obvious reference point here, I'm getting touches of The Make-Up in the brutally minimal arrangements (particularly when they take things down a notch for garage-soul crooner 'Move On' at the end) and sometimes a rattling momentum that seems to have echoes of Motorhead or Turbonegro, but rendered in tinny lo-fi. Even if you're not a fan of their later stuff this is actually really great '90s garage rock that'll fit in fine alongside your Dirtbombs and Blues Explosion albums.

 

  • Available on:
    CD £8.19, LP £13.99

Electrode
Martial Solal joue Michel Magne

8/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

Here's a pretty historic reissue from Finders Keepers' baby sister Cacophonic, significant not only because it is Jean-Claude Vannier's first full-length commission as album arranger, but also because of the two headlining names on show, legendary French jazz pianist Martial Solal and experimental composer Michel Magne.

It's a strange mixture of stuff, from silky jazz piano accompanied by orchestral drones, to beautiful cinematic grandeur with tightly arranged flourishes from brass and strings, right through to confusing and chaotic squeaks and ivory plonking, and then back to languorous lounge jazz. It does get quite experimental and bizarre in places, but that's tempered by a light-hearted jazziness and Vannier's smooth and assured arrangements, which confidently navigate a path through the cluttered and changing soundscapes. It's intriguing and ambitious stuff which has genuinely stood the test of time and makes for a fascinating listen today.

  • Available on:
    LP £14.99

Heartburn Destination
Dracula Legs

8/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

Here's a band called Dracula Legs who I've not heard before. They're from London via various places. One of them is from Canada and I'm assuming that he's the singer because that accent doesn't sound like it's from this side of the Atlantic. They play a nasty swaggering hard country-blues type thing. It's quite snotty and a bit grungey, a little bit Nick Cave, a little bit Mule, a little bit Gallon Drunk, a little bit Meat Puppets. Not bad.

On the A side the singer's baritone croon clashes nicely with the scratchy, breakneck guitars. Things slow down a bit (but not much) on the other side and the vocals are distorted and it's a bit kind of White Stripes-via-Mudhoney. There's a cheesy guitar solo but they never venture too far into Blueshammer territory. If you're into the more countryish side of grunge this'll probably make you dance around a bit.

Omi Palone
Omi Palone

8/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

Here we have a short but sweet debut LP by London quartet Omi Palone, who play a kind of post-punky take on that shambly jangly NZ indiepop sound. It's pretty strong stuff, too. The songs have a surging momentum to them that's nicely offset by Philip Serfaty's deadpan, almost bored-sounding voice. It's dead casual in delivery, but you don't have to look far beneath the thin hi-gain guitars and clattering drums to find big uplifting tunes.

That's where this mini LP's strengths lie. These are perfectly formed little pop nuggets delivered with a wry nod to sloppy, fuzzy '90s lo-fi indie and naively catchy '60s garage pop. It's not lo-fi though, it's quite well recorded, and it's over before you want it to be over. I like it, but I also feel like I've still not really got the measure of these lads yet, despite having listened to this record several times and now having a pretty good idea what music they like. "Promising" isn't quite the word, though, because they're not deficient, this is more tantalising. A taut taster of hopefully great things to come from these four.

  • Available on:
    LP £14.99

Zoloto
Brown Brogues

8/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

That scuzzy garage rock duo from the other side of the Pennines, Brown Brogues, are back with a new 10" EP, initial copies of which come with a bonus copy of their six-song debut 7" as an added RSD-related treat. The 10" has all the hallmarks that made their previous releases winners. Deceptively well crafted little grunge pop numbers disguised in sloppy lo-fi delivery.

Immediate stand-outs here are opener 'Shit in your Eye' and closer 'A Man'. The former is a glammy stomp with a chugging riff that's like a filthy western take on Japanese child star one-hit wonders Finger 5's 'Koinodaiaru 6700' and some nicely placed backing vocals; the latter a rare but well-executed slowie with a jangly guitar and wistful falsetto vocals and a tambourine and loads of reverb.

The stuff on the 7" is more stripped back and kind of on a sludge-punk tip without so much of the '60s pop influence. Overall it's a patchier package than their excellent 'Triflin'' LP but there's still enough mucky little gems hidden on here to maintain my interest.

  • Available on:
    10" £16.39

Sin Gas
Mats Gustafsson & Paal Nilssen Love

8/10 according to our Mike on 14th April 2014

Wire Magazine's official King of All Skronk Mats Gustafsson is back with his partner in time Paal Nilssen-Love for a new duo record this week. I'm rather struck by the creepy skeleton on the front cover, and I'm also gleaning enjoyment from the textural bubble'n'squeak madness on the disc.

There are quite a few droney periods on this one, with Gustafsson eking soft moans and primal howls and jagged rasps from his saxophone, with the drums often puttering around amorphously, but there are also moments of wild repetitive grooving. Towards the end of the side-long opener Mats is squealing out repetitive flurries of notes while Paal gets in touch with his inner John Bonham with some enthusiastic acrobatics of his own. This kind of thing is not for everyone, of course, but if (unlike our Phil, whose saxophobic lugholes would despise this) you don't think skronk is a dirty word, this is a super little package from two very reliable head-manglers. Get involved!

 

  • Available on:
    CD £9.19, LP £14.59

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

Doctor Who - Sound Effects
BBC Radiophonic Workshop

7/10 according to our Mike on 16th April 2014

Thanks to the hard work of the mavericks at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Doctor Who has found a place not only as classic pulp sci-fi but for its pioneering sound design. Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire's theme is a staple of early experimental electronics, and this LP here compiles various sound effects from the much loved series.

Ever wanted to experience the sound of a 'Wind-Mine Machine' or 'Sutekh Time Tunnel' or 'Kraal Disorientation Chamber' or 'Inside Dr. Who's Mind' without all that pesky dialogue getting in the way? This is the record for you. The first half of the 30 tracks here are longer tracks covering background ambience, lots of drones and weird little analogue twitches and beeps and gentle ambient hums capturing otherworldly futuristic locations. The second half covers doors opening and closing and different ray gun sounds, it's less relaxing.

If you're a fan of Doctor Who or vintage sound design in general then there's some interesting nostalgic sci-fi sounds on here, but by its nature it is a bit disjointed and probably more something you would use as a sample source rather than one you'll be returning to regularly for fun, hence the lowish score. In terms of doing what it says on the tin effectively, though, I can't fault it. It is an LP of Doctor Who sound effects.

  • Available on:
    LP £11.49

Into the Failing Light
Lost Harbours

7/10 according to our Mike on 16th April 2014

Drone or folk; which is sadder? It's a question which has divided opinions throughout the ages, causing bitter rifts between families which ferment through generations into bloodshed. Striding purposefully through this smoke and chaos come Lost Harbours, with the purpose of bringing union to these two disparate miseries, uniting them in a grandiose dirge of an album, a mogadon smear of freeform hums and rumbles and tinkles and moans that grumbles along with steady purpose.

In other words, this is a droney folk record, or a folky drone record, it's hard to tell which. It surprises me that Lost Harbours are only a duo because sometimes the textures can get pretty thickly layered and ominous. I'm not too sure about the vocals and am finding them a bit distracting, but if you like the idea of Nico singing on a Current 93 song then you might disagree. This is definitely one for people who like their music slow and miserable like Tibet & co. Considering how drifty and indistinct it is, it has a truly heavy feel to it, particularly in 'Portal' where a grossly distorted guitar spews out earthy thrums and whining feedback, but even in its quieter moments there's a feeling of cold, dark heaviness to it.

I'm finding it sonically interesting, but in terms of enjoyment a bit of a slog.

 

  • Available on:
    CD £7.99

Stolen Shore Lines
30km Inland

7/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

Here's an LP of sleepy, richly arranged folkiness from 30km Inland which was constructed over the space of six years, so truly a labour of love. As I gather from the press release, the driving force around this loosely drifting ensemble is guitarist and arranger Xavier Marti, who has managed to assemble an impressive cast of musicians including a sizeable string section, so some of the pieces on here really do sound lush.

There are a mixture of instrumentals and vocal tracks here, but they sit nicely together and the album flows along very gracefully. It's classy, understated and delicately layered, a consistently relaxing listen, although the lack of rough edges might not be to everyone's taste. The song I'm enjoying the most is where they seem to head out of their comfort zone a little on 'Wharf 77' with a rinky-dink drum machine and some awkward little guitar loops and weird echoey vocals. It's quite cheeky and upbeat compared to the sombre mood of the rest of the album, a welcome little mood-lightener. It plods in places but it's all very pretty.

  • Available on:
    LP £10.69

Time Waits For Norman
Bronco Bullfrog

6/10 according to our Mike on 16th April 2014

There's some more titles in from the ever-popular Fruits de Mer this week, and I picked up this one first because it's called 'Time Waits for Norman'. It must be good, right? Well, it contains three songs.

On side A we get the song about Norman. This is desperately English psychedelic pop which wants to sound like the last 50 years never happened, but it sails dangerously close to satire and is quite Thamesmen-esque, opening with some clumsy English cliches about going to the "corner shop" to get some "fizzy pop". Later we get the couplet "What a life, what a waste/All alone, with his chicken paste". In other respects it's quite well realised though, I really like the guitar tone and the Beatles/Kinks inspired harmonies are lovely, but gee, those lyrics.

Over on the other side 'Rocking Horse Mender' again sounds like satire. I can really imagine Serafinowicz and Popper doing a funny video for it. Both the self-penned songs on here really do remind me of on TV shows and things when they're trying to do something with as many '60s tropes as possible in a short space of time, but as far as I can tell this is deadly serious. The single's highlight is closer 'Listen to the Sky', originally by Sands, which delivers similar style '60s psych pop but less hackneyed and more rocking. Eh, I've heard worse, but I expected more from a record with "Norman" in its title. I'm heading off to the corner shop to get some fizzy pop now, see ya.

 

  • Available on:
    7" £5.49

Brother
The Mispers

6/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

London hopefuls The Mispers release their second single this week. The debut passed me by entirely so this is my first exposure to this lot. A side 'Brother' is an epic bit of indie pop with windswept violin and some cool little palm muted guitar melodies, led by a plangent vocal bleat that's somewhere between Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and that lad from Razorlight. It's quite dramatic stuff.

'Trading Cards' is on the other side. They quieten down a bit here and I'm struggling with the singer's voice even more, but instrumentally it's not too bad. The guitarist is once again throwing in some cool little palm muted bits, the fiddler continues to fiddle away, and the band switch between a sad lollop and celebratory Roxy Music-ish pop grooves with nimble efficiency. I have mixed feelings, it's all a bit slick and grandiose and I'm struggling with the guy's voice but the band are tight and the arrangements are sometimes interesting so I'm filing this one under "not to my taste" rather than "total disaster".

  • Available on:
    7" £5.59

Grain Loops
Austin Buckett

6/10 according to our Mike on 15th April 2014

Here's an LP called 'Grain Loops'. When Phil gave it to me he said "I think it's literally just loops of somebody pouring grain" but on closer inspection that doesn't seem to be the case. This is in fact "30 works for sandpaper and 4 snare drums". Anybody who wants a record with tunes on should turn away now, for no good will come of this.

The plus side is that each of these loops is only about a minute long. The downside is that there are 30 of them. I presume from the description and the sounds I'm hearing that he's just put sandpaper on a record turntable and played along with drums? There are some truly disgusting sounds here, it's amazing how long a minute can feel sometimes. Sometimes the sandpaper lets up and the pounding drums take the fore. Here again a minute feels like an eternity as the relentless repetition drills into the very core of your skull. It's punishing stuff and you'll love it or hate it I guess, but you can't say I didn't warn you.

  • Available on:
    LP £16.49