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Staff reviews this week

Good or bad, here's what we think of this week's crop of new releases.

Please note: All views expressed are those of individual staff and not Norman Records as a whole.

R.E.M.
Life's Rich Pageant

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

9/10 according to our Clinton

Right, people listen up. R.E.M were fucking amazing. Let's just take what they did in the '80s on it's own and we have an incredible body of work. 'Lifes Rich Pageant' was the moment they went from pastoral mumblers to a potential stadium rock band and hits the sweet spot just right.

The album has so many highlights that it's hard to know where to begin but we could start at 'Begin the Begin' that has amazing riffage and tubthumping drums yet still manages to not be blindingly obvious. 'Fall on Me' has to be one of the finest songs written by anyone ever and is so life affirming it makes you want to pop a balloon and 'Cuyahoga' harks back towards the southern song stories of 'Fables of the Reconstruction'. And if you had REM down as being rather brow furrowing proposition then listen to the marvellous '60s power pop of closer of 'Superman'.

I'm barely scratching the surface. Cleverly, they brought in John Cougar Mellancamp producer Don Gehman in to oversee this and he perfectly supersizes R.E.M's sound without ever be at risk of anyone screaming sell out.

Hideous Towns
EP

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Clinton

The some might say legendary label Fluff (of Loughborough) had a reputation for putting out ace noise pop in the '90s (Hood, Boyracer, Liechenstein Girl) they then slinked off as labels do but are now once again putting out ace noise pop in very limited numbers. 

This one sided LP from the magnificently named Hideous Towns comes in a limited edition of 8 hand drawn copies exclusive to us. The band have the kind of dark post punk sound that once emerged from rain lashed Manchester suburbs with drizzly atmospheric guitars underpinning wracked vocals. Opener 'Solipsism' show them at their gnarliest but elsewhere there's a softer approach with nods towards Cocteau Twins and the early 4AD bands. They've pretty much nailed that flanged bass sound exact but i like them better when they add feedback drenched guitars to the mix especially on 'Um Expression' where propulsive Can like drumming helps kick forward the heavily treated guitars and eerie feedback.

An enjoyable slab of goth tinged post punk which begs the question, how is it possible for a band from Australia to perfectly soundtrack a twilight rain sodden drive down Bury New Road? 

  • Available on:
    LP, £9.99

Soda Eaves
Murray, Darling

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Clinton

Like the Pink Panther in that episode where he battled with the hairdryer I'm all Fluffed out this morning. This is the third LP on the reconstituted Fluff label that has arrived this morning and they are all worth telling you about. This time it's a full two sided album but in common with Emily Edrosa and Hideous Towns it comes from the bottom side of the planet and features scratchy lo-fi music that is full of inspiration.

These are dusty lo-fi songs that owe something to the ballad side of Sparklehorse and something else to Dirty Three. Jake Core creates claustrophobic folk and sings in the sort of whisper normally reserved for sharing secrets of the utmost importance. He sounds utterly wracked as if the album was recorded after a night on the whiskey. Behind him the musicians play in that loose style of Dirty Three where guitars wander insouciantly and strings are screeched quietly.

This very secretive music has similarities to the marvellous music produced by Chris Tenz on his 'Nails Through Birds Feet' album. Slow sprawling songs that sound like they were recorded in a cabin at midnight whilst trying not to disturb the people sleeping upstairs. 

  • Available on:
    LP, £16.99
  • Artist: Soda Eaves
  • Label: Fluff

okamotonoriaki
Happy Ending

14 people love me. Be the 15th...

8/10 according to our Clinton

This sounds interesting. Certainly much more interesting than the endless wailing man solos that pass for music in the office this morning. It's a collection of cut and chopped Japanese pop music with a delightfully trilly style and lots of micro cuts. On 'At the Window' (with Cuushe) this is very similar to the sounds of Mum, a delightfully wispy and wistful form of micro electronics with delicious vocals. On 'Here and There' they use melodica to build up lovely soundscapes but it's the more realised tracks that I'm enjoying more such as 'Citylights'. It has a springy atmosphere like a breezy walk through a Tokyo park when the blossom is in bloom. There's a real lightness of touch with the programming too so that the whole thing skitters along like a new pup.

This sort of stuff used to be all the range in the mid noughties but we don't hear too much of it now. Fans of Tunng, Mice Parade and Mum might enjoy.  

Building Instrument
Kem Som Kan A Leve

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Clinton

Right, people this is going to appeal to you. yes YOU! The group use hand instruments such as bells, shakers and all manner of percussion to build up sweet tronica and on 'Rett Ned' top this off with some superb swooping vocals to create something great and unusual sounding that sits somewhere between Grouper and To Rococo Rot. There's a folky vibe to some of the pieces especially on 'Historia' which is build around auto harp trills in it's first half but mutates into a kind of ambient style of jazzy composition with hints of Talk Talk and Efterklang. They really are all about the bells and whistles 'Alt e Bra' is a perky number with vocals so high that I've just had to chase a pack of dogs out of the office. I don't think I've heard anything this high pitched since Alan Ball screamed at Geoff Hurst to pass in the 1966 World Cup final. 

An interesting album of hand prepared home curated ambient and electronic composition.  

  • Available on:
    CD, £11.99
    LP, £15.49

Sad City
Shapes In Formation

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

8/10 according to our Clinton

I'm enjoying this. It seems that Sad City guy Gary Cureth has a wide range of sounds at his disposal. It's like he's fished things out from all over the place to make his rickety brand of house and techno vibes. What he's expert at is creating unusual loops using samples of voices then adding bass lines or melancholic synths over the top. He does this on several occasions throughout the LP but most noticeably on opener 'Rain Call' which opens with whooping sweaty house before a deliciously chilled synth settles things down  - the juxtaposition between the two elements works nicely. 'Smoke' begins with an undulating voice for what seems forever before skittering percussion adds a swinging groove.

There's something of DJ Sprinkles in this light on it's feet house music but Cureth also explores beatless ambience on closer 'Again' which is a mesh of shimmering and gurgling synths. It's only on 'Steady Jam' where I find the sampling distracting, elsewhere this manages to weld disparate elements together to create unusual, though provoking dance music.          

  • Available on:
    LP, £15.49

R.E.M.
Eponymous

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Clinton

It is indeed a compilation as Jack notes in his review below and perhaps doesn't flow as well as their albums but this was my introduction to R.E.M when I was nobbut a youth and I enjoyed following their trajectory from oddball pastoral post punk janglers on the opening 'Radio Free Europe' to the closing chart-ready dash of 'It's the End of the World As We Know It'. In between you get all the IRS era singles plus a non album track 'Romance' which is rather excellent. I do hope that this re-issue includes the inner bag photo of Michael Stipe with bubble perm and airbrushed face. Another example of how the group didn't take themselves too seriously despite their obvious brilliance.  

  • Available on:
    LP, £17.99
  • Artist: R.E.M.
  • Label: IRS

Kino Kimino
Bait Is For Sissies

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

7/10 according to our Clinton

The main selling point here is the inclusion of two grizzled Sonic Youth veterans in Lee Ranaldo and former milky bar kid Steve Shelley but it's really all about singer songwriter the improbably named Kim Talon.

The album is a quirky mix of oddball grunge pop songs with strange lyrics. For example, the opening 'Passion' has a chorus which seems to go "passion is a mashed potato". Musically what you are getting is a kind of lesser the Breeders/the Amps. Talon's voice certainly has something of the Deal graininess about it. The music is clattering post grunge pop which on 'Blood Bath' has the kind of skewered guitars that could only come from former members of Sonic Youth. It's this musicianship that elevates the album from just being a typical noise pop record.

Talon swoops and shrieks throughout  - coming across like a grunge Kate Bush on 'Loincloth' and sometimes I'm reminded of a lo-fi Alanis Morissette.  The album doesn't quite always hit the spot but when it does as on 'Chalk Like' it is going to be heaven for fans of the brand of angular oddball girl fronted indie bands that were everywhere in about 1994.

  • Available on:
    CD, £13.99
    LP, £16.99

Eliza Shaddad
Run

1 person loves me. Be the 2nd...

7/10 according to our Clinton

Eliza is a curly haired songstress who makes songs that brood. The opening 'Run' is a very well produced slab of brood heading towards radio pop that slowly, slowly builds and threatens to reach stadium levels but always holds back. It's big, bold and bombastic and not normally the sort of thing I'd listen to nor recommend but there's no stopping quality when you see it. It's one of those things you imagine being rather big if someone at Radio 2 dares to play it.

'Wars' is more in the style of her earlier EP 'Waters' showing some signs of PJ Harvey influence but smoothed out with sleek production and again that cavernous sound. What keeps her music interesting is that it retains an edge and sounds like the musical equivalent of a tightly wound fist.

There's something of Daughter in the slow atmospheres of 'Always' and the epic closer 'Make It Go Away'. I hope she can retain that edge I mentioned earlier and doesn't head off in too much a slick direction as the songs could easily go over your head. For now this is a decent EP of confessional dark songwriting.   

  • Available on:
    CD, £5.99

Plantman
To The Lighthouse

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

7/10 according to our Clinton

Awful true story: I bought the last Plantman CD on the strength of my own remarkably generous 9/10 review but have barely played it in my own home.  I wondered if I made a mistake but here I am enjoying their follow up record so there must be something about this chair at work that makes their music the perfect soundtrack. They have a lazily spun acoustic sound and songs that ebb by slowly, never actually asking your attention but getting it anyway by way of haunting melodies and evocative lyrics. 

There is much here to enjoy, 'Honeydew' is a particularly sweet lollop with nice backing vocals from Chantal Acda. There is more than a hint of Tindersticks here is the slow moving acoustic melodies and bookish sensibilities. If Plantman lack anything it's a bit of oomph. I'm sure with a bit of prodding they could write a neat pop song. They get close on the eerie 'Slow Design' with it's relative upbeat nature but in generally they are content to be slow and content all over our asses. On 'Spring Letter' they show off their abilities to wring haunting notes out of spangling guitars and a melody that sounds like it could have been written by Grant McLennan.

Plantman are a band of nice moments content to drift in your sub conscious. It's ambient guitar pop for lazy days and it means no harm.   

  • Available on:
    CD, £7.99
  • Artist: Plantman
  • Label: Arlen

Repeated Viewing
Art Imitates

6 people love me. Be the 7th...

8/10 according to our Jamie

Repeated Viewing is film score composer Alan Sinclair. Alan’s synth and organ sounds create a suitably atmospheric opening to this electronic soundtrack to the film ‘Art Imitates’ (2015), a ‘cautionary tale of American dream turned Hollywood nightmare’, it says here. The label, Spun Out Of Control, suggest this cassette is ‘music made for late night listening’, and Alan certainly has consistently captured a dreamlike quality in his music. Late at night, on your own, listening on headphones though? It’s a tantalising prospect, if a slightly unsettling one.

The last film score I reviewed was Steve Nolan’s ‘Sodium Party’, also on a cassette from the Spun Out Of Control folk; the tone and quality of the music are comparable here. Film reviewer types often use words like ‘lyrical’, but since a) I'm not a film critic, b) this is music and c) there are no lyrics, I won't. Crazy atmospheric though, it really is. ‘Night Thoughts’ features sublimely nocturnal, introspective synth chords on loop and a shadowy guitar figure; the only shafts of (street) light provided by the hushed electronic percussion.

Alan recorded much of the soundtrack late at night onto his battered old 4-track and the background hiss from the tape adds to the air of mystery as electronics and guitar drift hazily and lazily across the soundscape. On ‘Clawed Back To Earth’ the keys and tones are supplemented by tinkling water sounds to fade. Sinclair has kindly added some bonus tracks on side B, these falling into similar psychological horror soundtrack territory between John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream. It’s all appealingly dreamy stuff, not too fluffy; just how it ought to be.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape, £7.99

Kink Gong
Erhai Floating Sound

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

8/10 according to our Jamie

‘Erhai Floating Sound’ is a recording of a live performance which took place on Erhai lake in Yunnan, China in 2010. Kink Gong -- Laurent Jeanneau -- and Julien Claus produced electronic sounds from their fishing boat, floating on the lake, which connected via underwater cables to four other boats, each of them carrying a speaker, to produce the sounds which must have amazed their audience that night in May 2010. On this tape is a stereo version of the quadraphonic performance, split into halves of just under 30 minutes on each side of the cassette.

Laurent Jeanneau is an electroacoustic composer and ethnomusicologist who has released more than 150 records of ethnic minority music, over the last 15 years. The electroacoustic output is a result of the deconstruction of original recordings, which feature vocals, gongs, mouth harps and strings to produce immensely, immaculately well-crafted, cut-up and carefully reassembled soundscapes.

The sounds on this tape are immersive and of such a wide variety of texture and colour. The resulting, pieced-together mix of electronic pulses, voices and acoustic instrumentation hold you in a grip; soft as lace but strong as steel; it’s as if each sound is tied to the next by a robust but flexible cable. Chant and chatter drift into the mix and in and around the sound channels amongst the sounds of gongs, chimes, blips and drones, like the most enthralling mixtape. It’s can be a slightly challenging listen at times, but spend some time and give it your attention and this tape can become a hugely rewarding experience.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape, £6.49

Gultskra Artikler
Industria

8 people love me. Be the 9th...

8/10 according to our Jamie

Yes, this is what I like! 2- 3- and 4- minute electro / techno jams are the way forward and this latest Opal Tape has them in spades. ‘Distortion’ opens this tape by Gultskra Artikler (I dunno) and jackhammers those beats while subtle sounds come in from all parts of the spectrum. Great stereo imaging, real nice on headphones or big speakers. And then, suddenly I’m transported into ‘Melted Percussions’ with its rumbling distortion, nice scrapey sounds (all sourced from organic field recordings, apparently) and spiralling, dissipating... um, percussion. ‘Thunderfall’, ‘Phone Hum’ and ‘Savage Mechanism’ bring in the Autechre-ish staccato beats and noise. Foreboding ambience and decay permeate the squelches of acid through tungsten on ‘Rust and Drop’.

‘Beams of Light Through the Cloud of Dust’ is yet another literal title and apt description as the sounds of soothing, muted-brass-like chords ring through the din. ‘Shipping Details to Track 1’ adds in Basic Channel / Deepchord type synth stabs, the chords coming to the fore and clarifying through the maelstrom of electronic background conversation, leading into the final track, one minute of ambient calm after the storm. As the chords decay and fade, I for one am left wanting more.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape, £7.49

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
Songs Of Remembrance

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Jamie

OK one, no two -- no, three things first. Firstly, and most importantly, there was a mis-press so this is ‘Songs of Remembrance’ and not ‘Songs of Forgiveness’ as stated on the centre label. That’s right, they (re-)released two Jefre Cantu-Ledesma albums and we at Norman received them on the same day with misleading information, and I’m easily confused anyway but it’s first thing on a Monday morning god-dammit! Secondly, and I know this is a full album or ‘vinyl LP’, with 21 tracks on it but they’re all really short -- ‘miniatures’, if you will or ‘snapshots of various times and places’, it says here (press releases, eh!) -- but the first track sounds great played at 45. But of course it’s a 33. Long player. Right... Oh, and thirdly, I just got back from the toilet and when I went to wash my hands there was a large spider in the sink, minus two legs. I wonder if any of my colleagues knows anything about this? It stared at me, accusingly.

The eleven tracks on side A of the record cycle through eleven of Jefre’s remembered spaces via drum machine, floating guitar, watery synth and just a smidgeon of tape noise and glitch. ‘Remembrance 01’, opening the record as I mentioned, is a particularly spacey, slo-mo example and a taster of what is to come for the rest of the disc. It just sounded a little too slow, at first. Cantu-Ledesma just sets his drum machine to ‘luxuriating plod’, picks his guitar through a fug of reverb and lets the synth wash over us as the machines and tape conspire to ensnare in a gently entangling web of electronic thrum and burble like a distant relative of Kraftwerk’s ‘Radioactivity’.

Over to side B then, where the dream-like quality of these interrelated vignettes becomes more clear, or more hazily clear; if you see what I mean. These presumably work in tandem with the other half of the suite -- Ledesma’s ‘Songs of Forgiveness’, of course -- but Robin will be reviewing that record so I couldn’t say for sure. He’ll be able to clarify and explain better than I. The drum machine seems to become so chilled it just lies back and seems ready to grind to a halt any moment now… The guitar sounds not just horizontal but weighed down. Synths become denser save for the occasional chiming quality. Tape distorts and fizzes deliciously. Space echo permeates the latter quarter of the record as REM sleep gives way to deeper slumber.

But hey, flip the record back over and give track 1 a go at 45 rpm. You might just love it! Nice one Jefre.

Various
U S S R (Ur Social Status Resistance)

8 people love me. Be the 9th...

8/10 according to our Jamie

U S S R (Ur Social Status Resistance) collects together the work of a few of Russia and Ukraine’s contemporary electronic music producers and experimenters, compiled by Kirill aka YancityGurl for the ever consistent Opal Tapes.

Rad Machine (Valeriy, from Yekaterinburg) runs his techno beats, snares and kick drum over samples of birdsong; the pads are punctuated by tweets on the track ‘Nightingale’. Camin Mraz’ ‘Quagmire’ is a heads-down, bass and kick heavy, rumbling club banger. Amnfx explores those cavernous spaces and sends pulses of sub-bass rumbling and ricocheting off all surfaces; ‘Please Do it Gently’ is a late-night, mind-and-body shaker.

YancityGurl herself opens side B of the cassette with the contemplative ‘Thou Shalt Not Forget’. Deep keys, sub-aquatic bass and a slow but steady kick and snare push the late-night introspective feeling on for a beautiful head-nodder of a track laden with emotion. Yung Acid’s track, ‘Sonic’, is a propulsive groover with nice chunky synths, some underwater bass pulses, delicious 808 drums and acidic 303 touches. Very nice. In fact, this is a very good compilation introducing the current underground scenes from Moscow, Kazan, Kiev and beyond.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape, £7.49

Pierrot Lunaire
Dog Chakra

8 people love me. Be the 9th...

7/10 according to our Jamie

OK, I’ll cut to the chase just to save everyone’s precious time. Droning electronic grooves, looped and chopped up and spliced side-by-side with organ miniatures mangled by distorted, hissing tape. Opening track, ‘Elegy for a Plastic Bag’, on this latest Opal Tape by Pierrot Lunaire sequences these spiralling elements seductively. Then a manic saxophone squarks and squalls all over the place to ruin my notions about where this was heading. ‘Transient Surroundings (Too Much LSD)’ (really?) features this possibly most abused of the woodwind family and it -- is -- demented. Nine minutes of this intercut with thrum, tape noise and the occasional sound of background bar chatter. Nice.

There’s more messed-up, smacked-up, looped-up sax and a cymbal being struck on ‘A Conversation with the Flowers in my Kitchen’, coming at you through a disorienting haze of manipulated tape, of course. Although a similar effect could have been achieved digitally, I guess… or is that blasphemy? Whatever, it’s pretty hypnotic once you let it wash over you. ‘Fuck Em’ adds a staccato, chopped and looped female vocal to the recipe as electronic hum lull you before an unexpected slice of an old Strauss waltz from ‘78 record hits you between the eyes then massages your brain as if to reassure you; “There there, it’s not weird at all, everything’s F-I-I-I-I-N-N-N-E.” And you know, I think it is. No amount of pipes banging together at the end of this tape can persuade me otherwise.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape, £7.49

Winged Ma’at
The 42 Negative Confessions of Wingéd Ma’at

8 people love me. Be the 9th...

7/10 according to our Jamie

Wingéd Ma'at is the collective name of the duo who individually name themselves ‘Ra’ -- that’s him on arghul, mismar and qanum -- and ‘Thoth’ who just plays plain ol’ sistrum and Tutankhamun's trumpets. They certainly appear to have an ancient Egyptian theme going on and I suspect they think they’ve positioned themselves, sonically and thematically, somewhere between Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre live at Giza. What I hear is some guitar atmospherics and dynamic tape experimentation with a whole heap of head-in-the-clouds synth jamming. They’re most likely ‘analog’ synths, and modular ones at that, kids -- but it all sounds like cool electronic noise to me. Which is pretty great.

‘Bread of the Gods’ has a spooky, echoey sound to it as if recorded in a temple or deep within the bowels of one of the pyramids, as Ra and Thoth attempt to awaken the ancients. There is chanting and distant bell-ringing on track 3, ‘Ma’at & Ra’. Mordant Music arrive with their arpeggiation to summon up a huge pulsating organ from the centre of The East to augment Ra and Thoth’s ethereal drone. You can’t get much more Hauntology than that, I thought... But then it does, on ‘Instruction of Amenemope’. Chunky analog gets chopped up and distorted then shot through with laser-like electro pulses and staccato reverb-drenched guitar. ‘Feather of Truth’ plies those synths with the elixir of Cleopatra then piles them up sky-high so it can overlook Giza in all its concrete and steel glory. ‘Weighing of the Heart’ closes the record on a crescendo of E-bowed guitar and rises above the thrum and Tutankhamun's tomb for a glorious and noisy finish. I need a glass of water.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape, £6.99

Brett Naucke
Executable Dreamtime

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

9/10 according to our Robin

Umor Rex bingo: does the press release have “modular synthesis” in it? You sunk my battleship. We love it though: the label has been going from strength to strength with its abstract, sometimes meditative, often chilly records. Of the tape batch recently dumped into the world, though, Brett Naucke’s might be the loveliest, a noisy but brightly giddy release that speaks to how comfortable things can seem in the most confounding dream.

On ‘Executable Dreamtime’, Naucke puts one patch to a synthesizer at a time to speak to the different tone palettes of his dreams. While often noisy, confused and high in frequency, these excursions are accessible, offering a sort of primer of the dreamworld without weaving too much of the story contained within it. The opener is a lovely journey with a tinny rhythm fit for a video game start-up screen. The automated melodies generated for each track sound fresh, growing into their own but never losing their original twinkle -- “1028 Modulated Tunnels” doesn’t last long, but lands on a squeaky IDM sheen that wouldn’t be out of place on a FRIENDZONE instrumental for Main Attrakionz. Could Naucke make hip-hop beats? Yes. Sure.

“Dying Season ‘93” shows that Naucke can let the patch be -- giving his electronics the space to learn to walk and talk their own way -- while also determining the environment it’ll best do that in. A lovely piano figure underpins the scarred noise, which sounds torn in a hundred different directions, while ambient sheen comes in as if to clean up proceedings. I’m reminded of label pal Kara-Lis Coverdale: his messy ideas come in big, beautiful layers that help clarify one another. Modular expect Laurie isn't here to approve this, but I'll go all in on a 9 and face the consequences later.

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
Songs Of Forgiveness

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

9/10 according to our Robin

Two Jefre Cantu-Ledesma pressings! Count them: one, and then, subsequently, two! So similar in name are these two records, both songs of something, that the pressings have been stuck with the wrong labels, meaning that Songs of Forgiveness will arrive with its disc plastered as Songs of Remembrance when really it’s nothing of the sort. You can’t go wrong with either release, but I’ve a soft spot for this one, a cascading slow march of gorgeous, vintage guitar abstractions and avalanching beats. He went on to name another of his records Love Is a Stream; on this one, it’s a big, busy ocean.

The story is relatively simple: between his scuzzy, Tim Hecker-esque drone, Root Strata head Cantu-Ledesma likes to make his version of love songs, stretching out and regurgitating hazy melodies ‘til he’s left with twenty minute odes. The music on ‘Forgiveness’ is incredibly simple, but so effective in its poise; “I” flows gorgeously, loaned its grandiosity through bold, remotely recorded drums that punctuate the swirling, sometimes whistling ambience with something earthier. It’s like someone doing band practice from within a vaporwave album, making the unreal feel quite fucking real.

Flip onto side B and Cantu-Ledesma has merged suites “II” and “III” together, marrying forgiveness and efficiency for the first ever time. This track feels like a kindly reprise to its predecessor, leaking out arpeggiated guitar onto slow and splintering beats. It’s twinkling but unfussy, as if simply picking up the pieces of the track before it, before it switches into “III”, a noisier and weirder collage that sounds like a malfunction in response to all this romantic meditation. To hell with that, though: record is all things lovely, a washy ambient pop record that feels like a lament and a celebration at once.


Ex-Easter Island Head
Twenty-Two Strings

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

8/10 according to our Robin

The trio known for banging guitars with mallets and generally doing the band thing wrong (but so right) are back here with an album for the experimental music fan cursed with a short attention span. Hi, that’s me. This record is an emphatic compression of their previous records, moving seamlessly between its shorter vignettes with striking percussive accents and tectonic volume-shifts through simple, static rhythms.

If you’re an Ex-Easter Island Head head, not much will be new to you here, but the band continue to impose their musical semantics on the world -- placing their guitars out on canteen tables, they bang them as if they were extra drums, focusing on gorgeously discordant extractions (as on the shimmeringly percussions and high octave pulses of “Two Coins”) or Reichian melodic knots. Their sound focuses on what can be garnered in the space between pre-established rhythms -- it’s the easter eggs of their sound you go after, the moment where another band member starts playing or where a separate striking of the guitar seems to air out the stuffiness.

Throw in a couple of oddballs -- a Low Point traditionals in the sonorously processed ambient cascades of “Twenty-Two Strings” and the almost funky but then post-rock “Six Sticks” -- and you’ve got another record that considers pushing the envelope of this band’s sound while ultimately keeping their joyous, unique craft ticking over. Can I get a "that's nice"?

  • Available on:
    LP, £12.99

Cheena
Spend The Night With...

8 people love me. Be the 9th...

8/10 according to our Robin

Look at these dang punks. Leaning on a slab of concrete. Reclining, if you will, in the dark of night. Yep, Cheena are a right bunch of whippersnappers; when they’re not on your darn lawn they play in garage bands like Hank Wood & the Hammerheads and hardcore outfits like Crazy Spirit. The missing piece of the puzzle is of course Margaret Chardiet, who raises eyebrows by ditching the distressing power electronics of Pharmakon to thrash along in this here throwback band. I guess you could call Cheena a directionless supergroup; they can’t really pool together their musical resources, ‘cos it’d be a mess. Instead they just play funtime punk music they all happen to enjoy.

‘Spend the Night With…’ is scuzzily recorded but quite affectionately pored over; listening to “Cry for Help” you can hear handclaps, covered over by the lo-fi production, keeping the energy high while the listener wades through the muk. “Car” sounds directionless in its verses, which just list and list and list upon a deadend melody -- but the chorus becomes communal, those twanging psych riffs combining with an effective one-line mantra. “Electric Snoopy Gang” tries its best to involve the whole band on a very Johnny Thunders kinda ballad, its opening bassline acting as a train for each player to bundle onto -- acoustic guitars, sloppy drums and plenty of howling at the moon bring the band to an emotional crux. Isn’t it lovely?

Isn’t it grubby? There’s something appealing about a band making a very nice guitar record and then ensuring you never quite hear it right. “Tarzan” is so full of slick string bends and twanging abstractions -- not to mention its actually good riffs -- that you get lost trying to follow it around. Trust in Sacred Bones for the burped punk history lesson.

  • Available on:
    CD, £10.99
    LP, £17.99

Maar
Absolute Delay

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Robin

The line-connecting name Maar belongs to two electronic folks who make cold, minimalist music that booms out of your speakers and into your refrigerated heart. It could only be Umor rex. ‘Absolute Delay’ brings together Michael Vallera, who’s been about on Opal Tapes before, and Joseph Clayton Mills, known previously for Haptic. Their music is a sort of chiming circuit, with sounds moving around as if in a maze of musical science; one bassy beat pounds into the ground, and a rising electronic hiss seems to grow out of it, as if in direct consequence.

The duo create a rather interesting juxtaposition of hopeless and lovely sounds: on the record’s opening title track, chiming bells signal a crack of light amidst a backdrop of foreboding minimalism and the narrow-corridor techno that comes into place at the end. It’s reminiscent of Jason Sharp and Vanessa Amara in one -- an earthy and yet artificed sound. Seemingly as infatuated with the ethereal as they are the cerebral, “Rime” rests on an ambience that sounds largely vocal, a shifting choir fog in the vein of ‘R Plus Seven’ Oneohtrix. With these huge drones trying to convince you everything’s quite lush, it’s easy to forget the beatwork Maar are espousing, and when it comes in on this thirteen-minute epic, it sort of sounds like someone’s ran a steaming hot bath for the whole genre of IDM.

This tape will trick you into thinking it’s some labcoat excursion, for electronic fans who like to focus but not feel -- as a matter of fact it’s a lot earthier, and far more moving, than it first lets on. The short “Contour” is content to fade rather than develop, introducing cricket-chirping sounds that could be either natural or synthetic. “The Hour Angles” is the kind of pounding techno you hear from afar -- remote metallic percussion bears down, but the sustained electronics are enveloping, bringing you closer to proceedings. Okay, so this is mostly the cold and stiff Umor treatment, and we're more than in to that -- but it’s also not without its loveliness.

K. Leimer
Closed System Potentials

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Robin

Longtime synth experimentalist K. Leimer goes all archive on himself here, repressing his electronic hammock record ‘Closed System Potentials’. Recorded way back in ‘79, this record of generously lilting chords and uplifting figures would sound vintage as hell, if it didn’t sound like what many a new-age leaning ambient musician had predicated their career on. Melodies fall into place atop the shining synths you’d hear on any Constellation Tatsu release, sounding as if they’re trying to replicate the sound of a plucked guitar.

K. Leimer was not content to make music that just sat there; his arm was twisted by the potential for narrative in electronic music, and ‘Closed System Potentials’ makes true on its name, taking what sounds like stasis and opening melodic -- often cinematic -- throughlines. “Derivative” has the kind of slowly unwinding piano movements you might find in a John Carpenter film, if he’d been moved by his heart instead of the funny bone. As a result, the more droning pieces feel like interludes, waiting music both anticipating and building tension -- the volume of “The Random In Nature” increases drastically over its seven minutes of ambient swarm.

A fine but perhaps overdramatic pianist, K. Leimer’s music is rarely subtle. He pounds on his piano with more intent than Nils Frahm, strums with great effect and focuses on the peaks in his synth swells (like Stars of the Lid at a constant capacity). That said, it’s hard not to get lost in this record, which seems to exist between being influenced by and influencing a roster of new age masters. It’s a gorgeous record that defines itself around an empty space and how loudly you can put music into it.

  • Available on:
    LP, £18.99

Siavash Amini & Matt Finney
Familial Rot

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Robin

After listening to his gorgeous, forest-wading drone record ‘What The Wind Whispered to the Trees’, it’s kinda hard to ever envision a version of Siavash Amini who’s released on Umor Rex. The plot twist of my life today is that he has: ‘Til Human Voices Wake Us’ was an early Amini work with a similar strand of literary influence and tone poem poise, using ambient fog to tribute the poems of T. S. Eliot. Since then he’s written a record loosely homaging Dostoevsky -- with lovely synthesis and really pretty violins -- and now he returns to Umor for one with Matt Finney. Called ‘Familial Rot’, this one’s definitely a little disturbing.

Amini’s music was somewhat sentimentalised on ‘What The Wind Whispered to the Trees’, offered a melancholy through its string affectations -- here, it’s almost like it’s being brought back to the centre. An extra player is present in Finney, whose crucial bit-part role sounds like it’s soaking up Amini’s sound and reflecting on it with poetry -- in reality, Amini is taking up Finney’s words and offering them musical tracing. Finney’s voice is grizzled and hushed, and it ends up resting uneasily on Amini’s evaporated ambience -- if Amini is responding to how these words feel, it’s with a sometimes restful, often despairing drone suite.

Finney’s words are few and far between, so Amini’s music becomes something of a barren landscape -- occasionally Finney enters into it, but what rings in your head in the afterward is Amini’s textural mix of processed bass, guitar and piano, each resolving ominously but beautifully.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape, £6.99

Johnny Foreigner
Mono No Aware

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Robin

Long-time emos Johnny Foreigner have been mining their personal style in the corner of the room while everyone pays attention to the bands reviving the same sound they play around them, but if you feel like listening to ‘Mono No Aware’ everything will be fine. On this record, they make no bones about their mathiness, nor their sentimental noise pop approach, bringing it back to the days when their records were as stormy as they were sad. It’s the usual mix of guitars whining, people whinging and drums whittling, for a skeletal emo sound that goes to the source.

It’s nice to hear JoFo full of angst again: “I Can Show You The Way To Grand Central” is loose and blistering, the band randomly chiming in vocals as and when they feel pissed off enough about things to do so. It’s so full of life that the real hooks -- sick riffs and groaning sustained notes -- feel secondary. “Don’t, Just Don’t” plays coy with its mathiness by making it happen on a squeaky, guitar-sounding synth (or maybe...) before the usual chaotic song takes place: a verse begins in earnest before crashing into little riffs, hugely distorted tone bursts and gang vocal singalongs. It’s been everywhere.

For those who err towards the lowkey side of JoFo proceedings -- at their best on the more greyscale ‘Vs. Everything’ -- there are bits and bobs, though chopped and cracked. “Our Lives Incandescent” skims its beat like an attempt across water, and still exchanges vocals -- not just voices but warped octaves and intertwining combinations. “Mounts Everest” is vintage sparse emo, with a twinkling guitar line and unmiced shouts -- but its harmonies are light and inviting. JoFo can never quite be one thing at a time -- their emo is in the plural.

  • Available on:
    CD, £11.99
    LP, £15.49
  • Artist: Johnny Foreigner
  • Label: Alcopop

Joan La Barbara
Tapesongs

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

7/10 according to our Robin

Bypassing any and all puns that can be made about tapes I’ll move swiftly into a declaration that ‘Tapesongs’ is a repress from the late ‘70s, when Joan La Barbara stood as pretty much one of the only people prominently utilising the tape as an object of song composition. That’s not to say these sound like songs as you know them -- rather, they sound like what we’d envision it to be like if tapes sang, allowing multi-tracking and layering to dictate the plays of vocal iterations.

Listening to the first track proper (after a brief clarification of La Barbara’s work) you’re met with ghastly annunciations and screeching elongations that sound like tape rewinding. A droning vocal figure dominates proceedings, with the sound ultimately one that’s looping amidst slight changes -- think Morton Feldman’s haunted-house vocal pieces, with lots of tutting and squirming to boot. On “Song for Voice”, a piece workshopped with John Cage, the voice becomes more conversational, with squeaks and mutters seemingly responding to (and sometimes interrupting) one another. These staccato iterations are met with occasionally sustained vocals, seemingly melding together lightning fast speech with moments of clarity.

The final track is a twenty-three minute epic in which the vocal work of La Barbara is met with an equally disorienting percussive chaos, with a 48-beat cycle driving a light storm of noise through the silences. It’s an immensely uncomfortable but equally striking piece that focuses on the dynamics of volume and the anticipation of voice work both harsh and random in its placement. When Uh. It's intense?

When Laurie gets back from his holiday I’ll ask him to explain it all.

Asylums
Killer Brain Waves

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

7/10 according to our Robin

On ‘Killer Brain Waves’, Asylums move so fast they kinda leaves themselves behind. From those thrashy opening moments -- coupled with a “woop!”as the first word of the record for good measure -- they’re raring to go, unbelievably psyched as they are to deliver unto you the catchy bits in all their loud, feeling glory. “Second Class Citizen” is loud enough to spell a support slot for Metz with the same jaunty, hard-edged hooks that speak to Future of the Left -- but the truth is Asylums are about as intense as Feeder and serious as Superchunk. They just want to deliver riffs.

‘Killer Brain Waves’ keeps it brief, and is right to do so: the only things I remember about the thrashing, loosely hashed “I’ve Seen Your Face In A Music Magazine” are a stomping, erratic chord progression and that whinging riff centering things -- it’s not the chorus, but it might as well be. The emotively leaning “Joy In A Small Wage” ultimately relies on a booming bassline and a rawky guitar line over its lite chorus. “The Death of Television” taunts and pouts like a late, stormy Dananananaykroyd number, but it’s best for the gimmicks -- for the cowbell. There are little bits and bobs to delight in on each song, and that’s all you need.

That cowbell is a good signifier for how good Asylums are when they just decide to relax on it and be silly, while their emphasis on heaviness can often be a problem (the chant of “babeh!” on “Music Magazine” comes off like a Queens of the Stone Age addendum in a much lighter band) while the slowly march and transgressive mumblings of “Monosyllabic Saliva” both slow and dull the pace of the record. For short, fast bursts.

  • Available on:
    CD, £13.49
    LP, £16.49

Lay Llamas/ Tetuan
Split

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

7/10 according to our Robin

Yes yes, it’s psych rock. You don’t need to yell. Lay Llamas and Tetuan join forces here to see who can outswirl who, and just as it used to be in my pointless second-year Philosophy seminars, I’m sure we’ll be none the wiser after we’ve listened.

Concerning the Lay Llamas side: it’s something of a psych rock lament, unfolding on a groaning synthesis of electronics and siren-song guitar, before chants and drums begin to cascade, like a queue that’s lost its single-file order to a bout of chaos. It’s something they do well: their intros an incredibly long time, usually lead to nothing but further curiosity, and then It Happens. Get ten minutes into this one and acoustic guitars start strumming -- recorded out in the distance to sound like a waterfall self-aware about being new age -- and a straightforward acoustic jam meanders from then on. Eventually, it’s rhythmic, even if it sounds stoned out in the corner. Those keyboard notes help things, sorta: they whirr so out of the normal timbre of the tune that you never find a moment for shut-eye.

Tetuan split their side into two tracks, and they’re a little more disgruntled: a gnarled bass line introduces the thenon distorted wah of “Juju”, melding together the hard edge of garage rock with a muddy production that makes everything sound repetitive and feedbacking. The longer piece de resistance is “Lame Rosse”, whose groaning vocal pastiche at the beginning (a la a forlorn Cloudland Canyon) is coupled with a storming percussive march and skyward electronics. It all sounds a little too lo-fi, mixed together, each sound sorta contradicting the other in one big palette of mush -- but Tetuan build their psychedelic tunes rather gorgeously, crafting melodies and subtly pretty jams with the same passion for locking into a mesmerizing rhythm. Kisses and hi fives.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape, £6.49

Celer
Tempelhof

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

7/10 according to our Robin

New week, new Celer. I don’t even have a calender in my house -- I just stick Will Long’s records to my wall every month. Just last week we were singing the praises of his new record for Chloe Harris’ Further label, under the alias of Mogodor, which saw a more space-respecting, even Frahmian approach to ambient -- let the silences speak to their sounds. Celer’s usually about the covering approach, though, and ‘Tempelhof’ offers an unwavering, blissfully foggy set of drones that sit in place of that horrible thing we don’t call sound.

You know what to expect if you’re already familiar with Celer, but otherwise, this might just be a good starting point. It’s a surprisingly huge record, with the layering of “Lights Inside and Ahead” creating a triumphant, seemingly vocal effect in the vein of Grouper and the recent Ekin Fil record. Long also calls upon his collaging chops here, using vocal samples of different public transport stops on “Transfer to Frankfurt”, “Beijing Layover” and “Night Train to Berlin”, as if using ambient music the way you use a time lapse shot in a TV show -- this music sees day cross into night back into day, folding the passerby conversations and moving mechanics into light, endless chords. It wouldn’t just make good travelling music, this: it would do the travelling for you.

It’s a lovely record of quite neutral ambience -- some will read a deep melancholy into it, others will find it shimmering and summery. Like much of Celer’s music, the best thing about it is its pick-your-own-adventure listenership: it moves so fluidly that you can adapt it to whatever you’re doing, whether passive or active.



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Timestamp: Thursday 28th July, 05:49:48