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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.

Hoops EP

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

9/10 according to our Clinton

My week off taught me that it is possible to live while only listening to music you like. The first Monday back was therefore a shock to the system especially when the How To Dress Well album got an airing. Thankfully Hoops make my worlds collide, they make music I like which I can listen to while I work. I feel so happy about this that I’ll do my best to sell you a copy of their debut EP which I can summarise as the sort of music you’d choose to listen to whilst running through a sprinkler. 
Opener ‘Cool 2’ is a fabulous slice of jangling ice lolly pop with a riff Real Estate might reject for just being too sun-dappled alongside gorgeous laid back vocals presumably about doing very little at all. Fans of Triptides and Wild Nothing should be already striking the buy button even before ‘Yeah’ drifts it’s way in from some kind of morning fog. They have such a wonderful underwater sound that you sort of begin to think they have something to hide but the songs are lovely too. ‘Going Strong’  and ‘Gemini’ suggest that there’s some way to go before they become ‘classic songwriters’ as such but both sounds so good on the ears that all is forgiven. ‘Give it Time’ though features perfect gentle jangles whispering sweet nothings at you and features a time change which makes the song go even slower.
As nice as a long summery slurp of ice cool squash.

Ghost Wave
Radio Norfolk

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

8/10 according to our Clinton

Despite naming their album after a very close wireless affiliate of Alan Partridges Radio Norwich, Ghost Wave hail actually from New Zealand and appear on that country’s seminal Flying Nun imprint. However, all their influences are anglophile and it’s only apt that they’ve got Spacemen 3 dude and Norman Records telephone botherer Sonic Boom to master this. 
It’s apt because Ghost Wave come across like a rather spangling and palatable take on Mr Boom's old band. They use the classic psych bedrocks of stoned vocals, hazy guitars and metronomic drums to create compositions that are both lazily spun and have decent attempts at pop hooks to get you singing along. ‘Whosdoingthetalkin’ comes across as a recording of that time the Chills jammed with the Brian Jonestown Massacre being both anthemic and darkly mysterious. In fact the BJMs are your most apt comparisons here  - they lack somewhat the dark menace but have a chirpy charm that sounds like the sort of young upstarts who would kill for a day stroking Anton Newcombe's mutton chops.
It’s psych rock mixed with puppy dog enthusiasm and if they lack perhaps that killer track you know full well that they have their house in order, especially when ’If It Was Up To Me’ recalls the Rain Parade and their Paisley Underground brethren. If you like your psych drone with a smile then tune into Radio Norfolk. 

Cass McCombs
Mangy Love

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

7/10 according to our Clinton

I don’t know what it is with Cass McCombs. I own and enjoy several of his records yet when he releases a new one I’m not all that bothered and as I place the needle on his latest opus I am somehow surprised that it sounds really good. I should know this by now to trust him but there’s something about Cass that I just take for granted.

This is his first record for Anti and as usual McCombs comes up with pleasing results without knocking your hat clean off.  Opener ‘Bum Bum Bum’ chooses the oddest title out of any of the words he sings in the song which is a pleasant drift through Red House Painters territory. This smooth sound contrasts somewhat with the bluesy sludge of ‘Rancid Girl’, it’s a shame as this track destroys the laid back mood completely being a simplistic composition that is totally at odds with the rest of the material. Otherwise there seems to be an extra sheen about McCombs here, ‘Opposite House’ has an almost soft rock feel with smooth synths brushing over the delicate guitar figures, there’s something about this lush orchestration that relegates McCombs voice to a background instrument and so the dark words we are promised don’t quite filter through the way you’d maybe want them to certainly on the first couple of spins.

On ‘Medusa’s Outhouse’ McCombs uses the Al Green -  aping falsetto Kurt Wagner used on Lambchop’s ’Nixon’ yielding very similar effective results. It’s an easy-listen hi end album full of interesting, entertaining songs and lyrical twists and turns but I feel like the rich production dampens down some of McCombs personality - ‘In a Chinese Alley’ is pure Knopfler  - but the Smog like closer ‘I’m A Shoe’ returns to the bleak lyrical territory of his dirge like masterpiece ‘Wits End’.

Elsewhere though he sounds happy enough with his lot and his music has never sounded so lush and textured.

  • Available on:
    CD, £12.49
    Double LP, £18.99
    Double LP, £19.99

Vinyl Williams

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

7/10 according to our Clinton

Vinyl Williams previous album ‘Into’ was a bit unfairly maligned in some places for not being the  most consistent album of all time, yet amongst the sprawl were various examples of how dream pop can still thrill in a world where we chase fake things around the street with a phone.

The follow up ‘Brunei’ has the sort of convoluted concept that makes you want to give up before the needle strikes the vinyl but once on board you are in a similar sound world to ‘Into’ where heat haze melodies rub up against what we used to call chillwave on song structures that wander like a lost drunk clawing out for the night bus. It’s alarmingly pleasant on the ear if sometimes near impossible to actually find any hooks and so it comes as no surprise that Toro Y Moi leader Chaz Bundick has helped play hide the tune as well as releasing it on his own Company Records without screaming ‘I CAN’T HEAR A HIT!’ at Williams. But that’s the nature of this dreamy sound, it’s indistinct and swirling and enjoyable unless you listen too hard. On 'Voidless’ there are some sweet harmonies that sit in the exact space occupied by C Duncan but with the deep funk of Toro Y Moi welded on.

The album is a heap of sun drenched harmonic pop and will appeal to those (me) who thought that Washed Out never improved on that first EP. 

Motion Graphics
Motion Graphics

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

7/10 according to our Clinton

Motion Graphics is the new name for the guy who used to record under the alias White Williams not that I remember a thing about that particular project. Probably a good thing as I won’t be tempted to suggest he's lost his way.
He makes clever electronic pop that lollops in the same way as this years Bracken album but with a sunnier disposition celebrating sunshine rather than rainfall. He used all manner of production ticks to make his points then sings all over them. I suggest he’s trying to soundtrack summer by means of ticking electronics and off kilter rhythms that sometimes sounds like Junior Boys with access to Tuneyards sound bank ( esp. on ‘Minecraft Mosaic’) and eschews actual pop songs for weirder off kilter laments which i sometimes which exploded out of their shell a bit more. The delicious voice samples of ‘Vistabrick’ take an  age to build but it’s fascinating learning how he held back from adding in a pumping bass line and going for the jugular.
It’s music that is so clever  that it almost causes it’s downfall by not letting you in emotionally. But I enjoyed listening to all the sounds bouncing around.  

  • Available on:
    CD, £9.99
    LP, £17.99

Will Long & DJ Sprinkles
Purple / Blue (Long Trax EP 1)

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

7/10 according to our Clinton

*First up ..some actual useful information. You are going to have to move quick if you want one of these as it already appears to be sold out everywhere.*

It’s a intriguing sounding collaboration between Celer’s Will Long and Terre Thaemlitz (aka DJ Sprinkles). Anyone who has heard the deep soft house of Sprinkles previous works will know what they are getting here and the unusual blunt sampled voices that occupy many tracks on ‘Midtown 120 Blues’  are immediately evident along with those loose bass lines and minimal percussion. If anything it’s more unfinished sounding than Sprinkles usual work, less tight and clipped more like a pleasant studio jam session. In fact the working method has been that Sprinkles has worked atop original material by Long. It has the same sense of slow detachment as Long’s other work with slow moving synth washes creating soothing atmospheres as a bedrock for the unhurried compositions.

Full disclosure is that I only have a handful of samples to listen to here (do you really want me to spoil your LP by putting my grubby mitts all over it?) but it’s easy to get swallowed up into this sound world and for once the collaboration does what you’d think it might do even if you only have a cursory knowledge of the artists previous work.

Sam Coomes
Bugger Me

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

7/10 according to our Clinton

There’s something heartwarming about Domino’s insistence on releasing and re-releasing every utterance from US West Coast organ ’n’ drum duo Quasi to what I presume (I may be wrong) is complete public indifference. None of this has even stopped with the dissolution of the band as they are now foisting on the world organ guy Sam Coomes' preposterously titled solo effort.
And an effort it is as this patchwork quilt of an album is really only going to have limited appeal amongst obsessive Quasi fans and those who like their lo-fi pop messy and buzzing. Now that he doesn’t have Janet Weiss to beef up his songs with her drumming, Coomes relies on a vintage drum machine for beats and it wheezes along here trying to keep up with his stabbing organ melodies which renders tracks like ’Tough Times In A Plastic Land’ something like Suicide with a bit extra pop nous. Coomes voice sounds almost exactly like the dBs Chris Stamey and if that is no help to you that means a kind of stretchy whine that is slightly unhinged. The album is a bloody mess with squeaks and squawks and noises amongst the unchanging landscape of organ and drum machine. On ‘Fordana’ there’s even something of the Brian Wilson ‘Cocaine Tapes’ in the fugue-like organ and screaming vocal.
Opener ’Stride On’ is as palatable as it gets with a neat pop hook opening the record in fine style but Coomes here just spends his time doing what he does and that's fine. It’s niche music but it’s a niche worth having I think.

  • Available on:
    CD, £9.99
    LP, £16.99
    LP, £18.99

The Veils
Total Depravity

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

6/10 according to our Clinton

I like it when bands go insane. The Veils have been steadily emerging out of their London based indie roots refining a sound that was once pretty jangly and safe and getting progressively more scary. This one has been co produced in one of the more interesting international hook ups by E.L.P of Run the Jewels and showcases a sound that is one part Nick Cave and shows up Wild Beasts for the knitted sweater indie boys they always have been ‘neath the fake sleaze.
‘A Bit on the Side’ screams filth and has an undeniably catchy chorus paving the way for the Black Keys slink of ‘Low Lays the Devil’ which is produced in true Danger Mouse style with distorted vocals, buzzing guitars and bluesy organ. The Veils indeed are a rather preposterous proposition at times, they aim for the sky and sometimes fall stone flat. But at least they aim.

  • Available on:
    CD, £11.49
    Double LP, £16.99

New Song

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

4/10 according to our Clinton

Meeting in plush LA office, Spring 2016. 

Exec: Ladies, well done on your last album. Lovely music but....we don't hear a hit.

Warpaint: But what we are about is creating a body of work that takes time to settle in. We don't do pop hits.

Exec: Well that's it for Warpaint unless you can guarantee me some radio action.

Warpaint: Well... we have this new song. It's the worst thing we have ever done but if you wanna hear it?

Exec: What's it called?

Warpaint: New Song.

Exec: I know it's a new song... but... ah just sing me it.

Warpaint: "You're a new song, you're a new song baby you are new song to me".

Exec: That's it! You've nailed it. Totally disposable. 100% facile. You are gonna be the next Haim. (to assistant) Go get me a Kit Kat.  

  • Available on:
    7", £5.99

The Album Leaf
Between Waves

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

8/10 according to our Jamie

Jimmy LaValle has been working consistently on his solo ambient project since 1999, although ‘Between Waves’ is the first full-length record we’ve heard from the Album Leaf in over six years. It’s also the first LaValle has recorded and produced as / with a ‘complete’ band, but that’s not important right now. His music is still meditative as ever, capable of weightless drift and cloud-reaching melody. He is a long way from his beginnings in hardcore bands and the post-rock-isms of Tristeza. Although that was all good too.

From the beginning, we are treated to krautrock beats, shiny machine-driven grooves and towering loveliness. Lush bursts of synthesis greet us on ‘False Dawn’. ‘Glimmering Lights’ is full of post-dusk sparkle. ‘New Soul’ breaks away (slightly) with its moody, Bristolian trip-hop beats only briefly threatening to weigh down LaValle’s cloud-surfing melodies, with a rare vocal from him. It’s a largely instrumental album, as ever, but I sometimes wish he would sing more often. It’s so damn effective.

‘Back to the Start’ uses synth-pop mannerisms, sounding somewhere between vintage instrumental Pet Shop Boys and the more melodic end of something you’d once here on Kompakt Records; Michael Mayer, maybe. Evaporating melancholic drone pervades the synthetic sheen and skittering beats running through the record. On ‘Wandering Still’, the melody builds in a symphonious and immersive way and ‘Never Far’ sees LaValle’s bittersweet vocal fit happily amongst dreamlike synth melodies. Unfolding and tumbling drums set the tone for ‘Lost in the Fog’, then cool electro glitch is countered with unhurriedly warm guitar.

Do people say ‘Folktronica’ anymore? Did they? Should they? Whatever, it’s very nice. No, I might even go so far as to say this record is gorgeous. He saves the best track for last.

  • Available on:
    CD, £9.49
    LP, £15.49

Sam Grant / Joseph Curwen / Daniel Rejmer / Stanier Black-Five

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

8/10 according to our Jamie

Great news, for Rail Cables have released their 2016 collection! It follows a set of four compilations -- one for each season -- that gratified our ears last year here at NR, especially those of us who travel by rail. The guys seem to have abbreviated or streamlined their processes; here are a mere four train-inspired long-form tracks, each from a different producer working within the realm of slightly dark and experimental drift and drone.

Sam Grant first, with ‘Chariots’. He uses a large metallic sheet, manipulated to create eerie and ethereal sounds which he augments with droning violin and cello. It all combines to hint often at melody and even harmony, before resolving its selves into building dissonance. It’s a piece evocative of decay but also pointing at latent power. Joseph Curwen takes a marginally lighter path / track on ‘Heavy Growth’. Warm sub-bass kicks and blips stutter along in the back while melodic scrapes start to pile up in the foreground. The flow becomes more intense as layers of noise tumble in on top of one another, before the inevitable decay of dissipating reverb.

Daniel Rejmer -- sound engineer to Ben Frost and Hecker, no less -- contributes ‘Faithful drunken adorers, mourn / the radiant child’. Lines of sleepy-headed, twilit melody burst through walls of mournful drone and textures of melancholy. There’s even a piano in there somewhere. Then harmonious noise. Nice. Thanks, Daniel. Finally, ‘Alone with the Black Spirits’ by Stanier Black-Five is… horrifically scary. Hissing steam manipulated to sound proper demonic. The ghost of the 7:55 to Ilkley from the year 1912.

A haunting and interesting compilation.

  • Available on:
    Double LP, £15.99
  • Artist: Sam Grant / Joseph Curwen / Daniel Rejmer / Stanier Black-Five
  • Label: Rail Cables

Kemper Norton

9 people love me. Be the 10th...

8/10 according to our Jamie

When Clint handed me this CD to review, I immediately sensed he was affording me the chance to learn about my ancestral roots -- although I’ve only been to Cornwall twice. It rained both times... So, ‘Toll’ by Kemper Norton then. Opening track ‘Yadnik’ is the aural equivalent of mizzle, that dense moistness in the air that often plagues mid-summers in the area. Heavy drone and skittering melody are soundtracking my memory of enjoying a pasty in the car, surveying an overcast Padstow harbour.

The record tracks the intersection of a lost Cornish kingdom and the sinking in 1967 of the Torrey Canyon tanker. The wreckage let loose millions of gallons of crude oil and the effects are still apparent on many beaches. Lyonesse, long since submerged, has featured in many stories and notable poems by Tennyson. There is correspondingly more than an air of hauntological atmosphere about this album. ‘The Town’ recounts poetic tales about this lost geography in an Eno-ish voice; ringing of bells erupting from lost churches as the Atlantic Ocean stirs and breaks over the Seven Stones reef, giving up its ghosts in bursts... only to vanish again in the burst of a bubble.

‘Sirens’ continues the theme of mythology converging on history and the resultant destruction and flooding of communities. The disembodied wails of sirens return later on ‘Danaoin’. On ‘Coming Home’, tales of lost land, homes and families are resolved through delicately weaved ambience. Textural drone and dark ambient collage meet contextual storytelling that resonates through every note of this emotively charged, beautiful and illuminating record.

David Allred

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

8/10 according to our Jamie

The human voice: making music since forever. Long before recording technology came about, anyway. When it works, it really works. Am I right? When used in combination with others voices or accompanied with acoustic instrumentation it can produce the most affecting results, but I don’t need to tell you that. Why am I telling you that? Well, because the music here falls into the ‘very good’ territory. Here, David Allred uses his gentle, reassuring tones to sing sweetly, directly and disarmingly honestly, weaving his folky and childlike melodies into silky spun gold.

The opening track ‘Differences’ recruits the talents of Heather Woods Broderick, Peter Broderick’s sister. This was a wise move; their voices, a cappella, create the perfect harmonious foil for one another. The rest of the record is all David, but that’s no problem: his vocal reminds me instantly of Arthur Russell. ‘Song for Chantal’ is all misty-eyed reminiscences and hazy wonder. David plays his guitar beautifully and he also plays bass, violin, occasional unobtrusive synth, gentle percussion and trumpet (on ‘Jones’, an elegy to his cat, and on the instrumental title track). His reading of Judee Sill’s ‘Jesus Was a Crossmaker’ is spot-on. I’m not in the least bit religious, but I have a tear in my eye... Excuse me. But I'm OK.

Seriously, this is a beautiful record. My only gripe is the EP, at seven songs and about a half-album in duration, is over way too quickly.

  • Available on:
    10", £13.49

Saturn and the Sun
Focus On the Centre Of Your Skull

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

8/10 according to our Laurie

The second album from psych power-synth group Saturn and the Sun once again promises to invade your cranium, and that’s just the title of the LP. This is my head, my rules. How do I know that you’re not agents from the government sending out these sounds to brainwash and nullify the population? Huh??

Truth is, this is music for people to space out to and talk about how the government are sending us Coldplay albums in order to pacify us. I haven’t heard their debut but I’d imagine that it’s in a similar vein: lengthy, wild, distorted cycles of rasping synth and throbbing boom percussion. The brutal rumbling in the second track is quite overpowering and incredibly tense, while in the gaps someone unleashes screaming feedback tones. It’s all very freeform, the two members (which is Henrik Rylander and iDEAL label founder Joachim Nordwall) playing off the gaps in each other’s noise statements whenever they feel like hurting your ears. It’s sort of similar to that Bear Bones, Lay Low thing that came out recently, just a bit more monstrous.

I’m actually pretty impressed by this. It’s got a gnarled Shit & Shine sort of feel, displaying the many faces and temperaments of distortion over these four tracks. Four tracks, but that’s many many minutes of glorious spaced out tension interrupted only by the flip of the wax. What’s more, they care lots about the quality of their sound, this being supposedly recorded straight to tape then pressed to vinyl. Once the government have added their subliminal messages, of course.

Elizabeth Parker at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
The Living Planet

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

8/10 according to our Laurie

It’s now time to ask the all-important question: what music did the Radiophonic Workshop members not make? It seems we’re snowed in by the number of nostalgic sci-fi bleeps and surreal dream-scene vistas from Derbyshire, Hodgson & co, but they’ve still got new things to offer in abundance. This time round we have then-newly-joined member Elizabeth Parker, one of whose tasks was to compose and produce the entire score of The Living Planet, to accompany the voicings of a younger David Attenborough.

And quite the task it seems too, trying to sum up the blooming diversity of Earth with a room full of circuits and tape. But not only did she try, she also succeeded; The Living Planet reads as a synth orchestral suite, at one time being a sweeping, majestic sunbeam and 10 seconds later dripping dissonance like a damp cave. Of course it’s cheesy to modern ears. That goes without saying. But so is the entirety of New Age, and apparently that’s big. I think it was recorded slightly before the rise of pristine recording techniques of the mid-80s, so there’s still a vintage hissy tinge and warmth to it. Those flute sounds, though, are hilarious.

She’s an adept sound designer as well as having complete command of melody to evoke such places as ‘The Northern Forests’. I think there are a lot of forests in the North of the Earth, but ok. The weird musique concrete sounds of the 60s Radiophonic workshop are long gone by this point, but it’s clear that only those who know their way around the dials of late 70s / early 80s synths can find a place there. For fans of anything Ghost Box, J.D. Emmanuel, and Ariel Kalma.

  • Available on:
    LP, £20.49
  • Artist: Elizabeth Parker at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
  • Label: Silva Screen

Human Rays
A Tension

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

7/10 according to our Laurie

I was gonna write something about how it’s fun trying to review cold ambient music while the sun’s blazing in and hip-hop is snapping into the left earphone, but the truth is, it’s not. It’s really fucking difficult and now I’m all sullen. Not even this fish sandwich can help. Argh.

Human Rays is a noisy folk who has released many cassettes prior to this, of apparently a bit more techno-oriented stuff, but this is Robin Smeds Mattila’s debut on Further Records as well as their debut on wax. They’ve minimised their setup here too, using only a few lo-fi soundmaking things to improvise stark, isolated beds of sound that feature trace elements of rhythm, downcast, small melodies and distant hisses and rumbles. ‘Between the Hours’ features what could almost be a single percussion loop from a techno track, overlaid with some paranoid chords that sorta remind me of chanting monks. If it wasn’t so obviously a synth. It all recalls the isolated, slightly melodic works of Strie.

‘Neverendless’ enters the wind tunnel for some OK feedbacking drone that gets a bit more interesting when some vague tones lurk in the corner in the second half. The repeating chords that dominate closing track ‘Manual Litany’ almost manage to exorcise my demons and actually sound sunny. They’ve been cycling round their warm pattern for around 3 minutes now with minimal variation, only a very subtle build over the 13 minute duration, so this is one for the folks that like to be dropped into one idea and like to stay there.

One for the hardcore droneheads.

  • Available on:
    LP, £18.49


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

8/10 according to our Robin

In which Stephen O’Malley screams “we have to go deeper” and continues to dive into the metalception netherworld. Once again enlisting his buds in Ulver, who now prioritise electronic beatwork atop their black metal CV, the Sunn member who isn’t Greg also gets jazz drummer Steve Noble into the studio for a record of dark, tectonic jazz, the likes of which Oren Ambarchi and co have probably dreamt of making. Bring these three separate musical entities together, and you get Aethenor, who largely sound nothing like you’d expect them to.

And yet… ‘Hazel’ is the most intense thing any of them have made in years. It’s a surprise, first and foremost, with its rhythmic implosions navigating lounging improvisations on the Rhodes and O’Malley’s guitars, their iced jazz sound recalling the recent, skeletal reworks of standards by Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison. Mixed with the subterfuge of metallic ambience more suited to Have a Nice Life, and a backwards medley of remote vocals -- sometimes a droning chorus that crawls up the wall, and at other times grainy filmic samples of conversation -- this record becomes a tug of war, a record as euphoric as it is claustrophobic in scope.

Call it dark ambient, I know you want to, but that’s mere wallpaper on this record: it conjures up ghosts while the earthy, more terrestrial collaborations delve into a cacophony of sonics. You wouldn’t think the slow and steady trendsetters of Ulver and Sunn could make something quite this intense, this deep into their bag of tricks, but Noble has unleashed them.

Cara & Mike Gangloff with the Great American Drone Orchestra
Knock on Life's Door

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

8/10 according to our Robin

There’s a Great American Drone Orchestra? Cool. Can I join? Please take me with you. If ever this crew of psychedelic instrumentalists could make an opus, it may just be ‘Knock on Life’s Door, a record in which experimental couple Cara and Mike Gangloff come to the fore to shape, stretch and shatter some American traditionals. You might know “Moon River” as that famous tune that played over and over and over ad nauseum in ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ -- here, its hummed melody floats through blips of accordion, acoustic drones and brambles of acoustic picking.

That’s what we’re going for, basically: an imagining of storied old American music as New Weird America music. “Moon River” is a lovely listen, in that its sauntering psychedelic drones only make the returning central motifs (“offfff to see the worllllld”) all the more euphoric. “Misty” is a stuttering marriage of strums and wired violin trip-ups, creating a musical chasm for Cara Gangloff’s voice to jump over. It’s interesting to hear an orchestra improvising underneath such established songs, as if they’re creating entirely new scenarios for tunes that’ve been lying dormant in history.

It’s the percussive chaos of “Cry Me A River” that best shows the noise inclinations of the Gangloffs off, with voices intertwining with jarring contradictions (high and wild hums versus fucked off statements of fact) as the orchestra goes haywire on drums, strings and the like. These kind of tracks show how much this music is being felt: rather than pick these tunes off sheets, they’re being shaken out of the songbook.

  • Available on:
    Double LP, £15.99
  • Listen: Sound clips
  • Artist: Cara & Mike Gangloff with the Great American Drone Orchestra
  • Label: MIE Music

Brandon Vare
Music for Film

11 people love me. Be the 12th...

8/10 according to our Robin

Talk to me about the imaginary soundtrack. There are a lot of musicians making them, so ratio me this: where are the directors making films for imaginary musics? This stunning one-way-street of respect brings Brandon Vare into the fold as our latest maker of in-vein cinema sounds. His synth-studded debut swirls about in search of a dystopia to no avail, even quoting Philip K. Dick in its liner notes in the hope of that Original Netflix Series money. It ultimately has to be listened to on its own terms, as its own series of isolating vignettes. Poor Brandon. Give him your pounds.

Vare’s music has an imposing and ghostly feel to it, with its droning backdrops feeling devoid of sentiment in favour of the haughtier, more unforgiving ambience seen in keen kosmische producers -- when rhythms start up, they do so unceremoniously, as if perpetuating themselves to nobody. The glassy soundscapes have touches of the ghost towns Steve Hauschildt scored last year, though their overbearing approach -- the sustains always so insistently in the foreground that they take the rest of the world’s sound away from you -- makes for a claustrophobic and encasing listen. How very tape. There’s fanfare, of a sort, with chords shifting about minute synth effects and vocal samples, but it feels short-lived compared to the long, barren compositions Vare’s crafting.

He knows a melody, too. When we get a little synth pattern to our ears, it sounds like a diluted John Carpenter cut, bright and slapdash in the fore but slightly vaporwave in its presentation -- juxtaposed with the groaning ambience Vare’s so good at, these become truly ascendent moments. As time goes on, Music for Film embraces new age, battles with the noise romantics of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and even hints at pop hooks. Who wouldn’t want to hear these on the big screen? Put them in your film’s central montage or shut up.

Shit & Shine

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

8/10 according to our Robin

The noncompliant jukebox that is Shit & Shine once again malfunctions on your attempt to put in 50p and a request for like, I don’t know, the Stones. Having made one of our favourite dirge dance records with ‘54 Synth-Brass’, the Shit committee went on to make ‘Chakin’, a gloriously weird slice of longform jazz in the vein of Sun Ra. Continuing to make you wonder what’s in a name, ‘Teardrops’ is a lo-fi grindcore smash hit, full of blastbeats, breakdowns and spliced shock tactics that remind one of the sillier, more carefree place the genre’s ended up in recent years.

Full of silly samples and random blasts of sound, Shit & Shine are doing what a lot of grindcore bands accidentally do, which is: making atmosphere simply through trying to break up the endless swipes of extreme metal. Mostly, their arsenal consists of the breakdown, which takes up the primary focus of the record's first side -- they can be fast, but in fragments. With this weird structural distinction, Shit & Shine are sort of making laboratory grindcore, randomly enhancing volume, switching in extra percussive samples and cutting others in their prime, often while letting whole conversations take place under the mess. Put DJ Shadow onto Total Fucking Destruction? Put Shit onto Shine.

A gurgling lo-fi mess, this record buries grindcore’s hallmarks under weird effects, broken glitches and troll-in-the-dungeon voices, showing you just how immaculately structured and fucking difficult it is to make the most extreme betrothing of metal and punk. As such it’s really fun to listen to, but if you’re expecting no frills grind, you’re looking in the wrong place: Shit & Shine's the kind to get a laptop and fart all other the thing. In a weird way, it reminds me of the purposely bad and exceedingly good grindcore made by happy accidents such as Archagathus. There is no higher compliment.

Morgan Delt
Phase Zero

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

8/10 according to our Robin

Hell hath no fury like a chilled out psych rock album. Or... hell just hath no fury. There’s no fury. As far as escapism goes, Morgan Delt makes ‘Phase Zero’ the best in town, flying into a fantastical pop paradise on his fluorescent blimp to make sure everything’s okay, no one’s sad, nothing’s real. It’s like Tame Impala without any of the anxieties, break-ups or attempts at making something fantastic -- rather, this is just music dreaming in the hopes of never waking up.

Morgan Delt made a record us Normans loved with his s/t, one that quoted the weirder and harder utterances of psych rock (be it Syd Barrett or White Fence) alongside the bubblegum of newer indie offerings. This record follows up with a distancing of M.D. as the record’s protagonist, diluting his vocals ‘til his lyrics sound like airy impressions on a landscape of shimmering synth, twinkling guitar and light, windswept percussion. Choice moments see an edgier and more hard won version of his sound, such as the ominous downward inflections of “Sun Powers” -- but this record ultimately keeps itself in the clouds, away from harm’s view. Its melodies, as always, are strung halfway between sincerely emotive and dinky jokes, the fanfare synth of “The Age of Birdman” going both ways at once. Morgan Delt is a joker with a straight face.

It’s lovely. And within its busied, lush sound, M.D. still compels you to notice the work that goes into his utopia, to take heed of moments. It could be where bass lines worm their way into the main, or the little fragments of ambience that tableset the tunes right after them, or just the little riff that could, as on “Missr. Monster”. He saves best ‘til last, by the way: “Some Sunsick Day” is sun-soaked joy, rising from its chilled motifs into a levitating pop anthem. Never again will I doubt the substance of psychedelia.

  • Available on:
    CD, £9.99
    LP, £19.99
    Cassette tape, £7.49
  • Artist: Morgan Delt
  • Label: Sub Pop

Tomorrow The Rain Will Fall Upwards
Wreck His Days

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

7/10 according to our Robin

Tip: if you really want the rain to fall upwards, just cry while standing on your head. Works every time. I won’t hold it against this most strange electronic crew for not being privy to that life hack, though, and anyway, congratulations are in order: ‘Wreck His Days’ is another masterful record of uncanny unpop. With whispered hints of post-dub, ambient and what they call “death jazz” (writer’s diagnosis: post-rock), ‘Wreck His Days’ becomes another example of how to make electronica without cheeseballing in 2016.

There’s a sly wink at prog to TTWFU’s sound. Maybe it’s in the fluidity, the easy with which things change -- this record moves like it exists within a constant time-lapse shot, but never struggles to keep up with it. A shake-up in instrumentation and timbre means nothing for the record’s steamrolling narrative, with the record’s opening track eventually unfolding its skittering beat-work onto a gorgeous, equally nervous piano motif -- which loops around on the noisy additives surrounding it like CFCF did on his grand ‘Colours of Life’. It moves onto the jazz-brushed “Ghost from the Coast”, which sneaks around like the Pink Panther trapped in a discarded Prurient soundscape.

TTWFU are doing a lot, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. “...And I Tried So Hard” almost entirely drowns out certain melodies while letting other more abstracted notes squawk like robot crickets in the fore, as if wrapping two different perspectives on Krautrock into one another. “I Beat As I Sleep As I Dream” is the entire X-Files series reduced to one whirring pattern, and then… there’s “Ay Carmela”. There’s “Ay Carmela”. An occasionally treated, largely acoustic take on a Spanish tune. Take in that and then the spoken hauntology that is "Rosa", and this record doesn’t half go through it. It's a journey I can only begin to outline for you.

  • Available on:
    LP, £13.49

Slushy Guts
Honey Is Not For The Mouth Of An Ass

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

7/10 according to our Robin

You listen to “Barely Standing”, the opener to Slushy Guts’ weirdass piece of fucking pop music, and you may just get it. If you’ve ever been in a bedroom and tried to write a pop song, but came out the other end with the same three notes playing on a circle in repeat as your voice badly warbles through improvised garble… you may release a record yet? When people talk about “bedroom pop”, this is what they should mean: a totally serendipitous tune that comes out of the bare necessities of sound.

As we proceed, we learn a lot more about Sir Guts, also known as Stephen Keane -- we discover he knows his way around chord progressions, light melodies and basic song structure. We come to know him as someone really just fucking about on his talents, with “Thoughts Hurt” striking a balance between a Velvets-esque guitar jaunting and some slapdash riffage. We come to see a folkie trapped in a self-imposed sea of lo-fi noise -- listen to the way the guitar line swings out of “Blue Born”, rounding on itself like a sabotaged old-school traditional. It’s followed by the cut-up and badly glued “Flags Waving In The Airless Vacuum of Space”, a non-tune of nothing for no-one, the kind you could imagine hearing on a very early Guided by Voices record.

You might argue Keane is doing too much, or aiming too aimless, but it’s clear that he finds charm in pop’s abstract, in the idea that you find a beautiful moment among a bunch of discarded ones. It’s a powerful idea, and with his wobbling near-baritone, you can hear Keane sorta winking at you about his album. There’s nothing to do but put on your anti-distortion hat and enjoy the nonsense.

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Timestamp: Friday 26th August, 07:35:56