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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.

Model 500
Digital Solutions

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

7/10 according to our Ant on 27th February 2015

Juan Atkins returns as Model 500 (accompanied on a few tracks with Underground Resistance head Mad Mike Banks) with just his third album under the alias and the first since 1999’s ‘Mind and Body’. ‘Digital Solutions’ is out on the "Godfather’s" own Metroplex label, celebrating 30 years in action for the seminal Detroit imprint. I absolutely adore Model 500 -- Atkins has made some of my favourite records of all time but I wasn’t exactly blown away by more recent 12” offerings on R&S so I’ve approached the album not expecting anything as revolutionary as ‘No UFO’s’ ‘Nightdrive or ‘Interference’. Both stylistically and in terms of it’s appeal to my ears in 2015, it’s pretty mixed bag really but there’s certainly the odd moment of pure “Magic” Juan.

Things kick off with the full on cosmic disco of ‘Hi NRG’, a homage of sorts to Giorgio Moroder, in particular recalling Moroder’s ‘The Chase’ which has been documented as one of Atkins’ influences and a cut I heard him spin some years ago at a Lost party. ‘Electric Night’ is a mellow, sorta melancholy electro track with electro-funk flourishes that recalls the direction Drexciya took on a few 'Neptune’s Layer' tracks, complete with Juan’s deadpan/ Kraftwerk style vocal delivery. As the title suggests ‘Standing In Tomorrow’ has it’s eyes set firmly on the future with crisp drums and lush celestial synths. The initially bewildering ‘Encounter’ is built from an exoskeleton of weedy plastic dubstep along with soulful keys, strings and a smattering of acidic melody.

Of the nine tracks, ‘Storm’ most closely resembles contemporary techno/ house and is reminiscent of some of his collaboration work with Moritz von Oswald or his own dub techno classic ‘Starlight’. 'The Groove' unleashes a cringeworthy spandex rock/ ‘Purple Rain’ flavoured electric guitar solo that I’ll not be revisiting. ‘Station’ is a pretty standard spaced out electro affair with proggish synth lead. The title track is comprised of plinky plonky/ bleepy electronics and Atkins repeating the words ‘Digital Solutions’. Here the contrast between the early analogue productions really becomes apparent, lacking the warmth of older Model 500 material but perhaps there is an intention to sound more sterile, synthetic and less human. The album closes with ‘Control’ which was the previous Model 500 12” release on R&S. Although much of “Digital Solutions’ fails to resonate with me it’s always a pleasure to hear what this legendary figure is up to -- still on a mission, after 35 years creating electronic music.

  • Available on:
    CD £11.39
    Double LP £16.79

Bruno Sanfilippo
ClarOscuro

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

9/10 according to our Brian on 27th February 2015

Goodness me. I should have put this on last night, It's utterly gorgeous. I'll be straight with you and admit I know relatively little about classical music other than enjoying many of the obvious contemporary composers. I love the more sombre stuff be it the older boys such as Gorecki and Arvo Pärt or the gradually-getting-more-legendary Max Richter and the beautiful strains of my favourite Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir.

Barcelona's Bruno Sanfilippo also has that rare gift for composing hugely emotive and highly personal music from tender, melancholic peals of piano, both ponderous and also joyous plus a highly acute awareness of the power of acoustic resonance. His playing has a grace, purity and tenderness I've not heard in some time. Neither chocolate box whimsical nor overwrought, there is a sincere and powerfully talented master at work here. Obviously it's the tracks burnished with cello and violin that strike most strongly. This truly is profoundly mesmerising and powerfully understated music, supremely high in stately prowess and quality as regards this timeless genre.

Sad music to induce damp eyes and help mend dried-out hearts, I'm grateful to our Clinton for saving this beauty for me. No more words. Let 'ClarOscuro' work its magic on you. Comes with lovely postcard, can't see these around for too long once word gets around. No more words needed other than nine spacious tracks that can only be described as "achingly beautiful"

  • Available on:
    CD £8.79

Ata Kak
Obaa Sima

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

9/10 according to our Brian on 27th February 2015

Oh ATFA. What an utter legend Brian Shimkovitz is. Ata Kak's album was a chance roadside market stall discovery and due to his passion for this hidden music from the African musical depths it became the first ever post he made on his burgeoning blog almost a decade ago and has subsequently become the fourteenth release on what has become an undeniably important archive re-issue label worldwide. Crate digging deep into the very heart of the vast continent's little thrift shops and stalls to unearth forgotten and obscure masterpieces is this other Brian's passion (I wish I could trade jobs) and from the gorgeous lilting folk of Na Hawa Doumbia's rare as hell second album to the sweetly ecstatic organ-laced grooves of Hailu Mergia there is a tremendous sense of excitement attached to every discovery he has made available to a wider audience.

To say how rare the original cassette from this Ghanaian musician is (fifty copies only ever produced) It's a wonder that I'm listening to this right now. Seven tracks of perky lo-fi basement house and joyous casio-like rhythms topped with Ata's endearingly child-like party-starting lilt and sweet backing vocals from one Lucy Quansah, 'Obaa Sima' was recorded in Toronto, CA of all places! It took Shimkowitz absolutely ages to track down the roots of a recording with which he is undeniably smitten. With clear influences stemming from highlife and rap and the lighter end of old-skool techno and piano house, this little gem has been delighting folk on his website for years.

So much so he's bent to popular demand and finally introduced it into the physical realm on wax and CD. As it was painstakingly mastered from Brian's own cassette copy (after all that endless research it transpires the original masters had become too disintegrated to consider using) there are the usual to-be-expected faint traces of tape drop-out and light flutter but this matters not a jot, it sounds wonderful - he's done the world a real service here and put a real grin on this Brian's face.

  • Available on:
    LP £17.69
    CD £11.69

Detail
First Detail

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

8/10 according to our Brian on 27th February 2015

I think we've always had a problem with jazz at work even now neither "Classics" Brett or Scandophile Mike no longer continue to perish within our decaying walls of chaos and strife. The two directors and Clint hate most of it, but the rest or most tolerant to various degrees.

Problem is me being a slightly feckless man-child it's difficult for me to articulate such obviously complex and academically-attuned music in terms that any Jazbo would admire or take note of. It's either too wanky and annoying, too whimsical, too cheesy or from the other free-jazz stable too raucous and demented.. But then some days I adore the full-on Finnish super-skronk or a spot of classic Steve Reid at his most vibrant and god-like. Then there's this middle ground of mesmerising, sensual, slightly spiritual stuff that teases you. 'This is The', First Detail's epic opener from the three-pronged Detail specialises in that without losing its gradually unfurling avant-edge. Drums deliciously tumble, a piano sings and clunks, and sax, bass clarinet and alto flute vie for attention. I think it gets a bit madder as it goes on for nearly 25 minutes.

It certainly gets a lot more mental as the album proceeds but somehow retains the smoky vibe within the berserk 'non-confines' of shorter centrepiece 'First Version' but I must confess I am loving the insanity here right now. This stuff must be jaw dropping to observe live. I know it's not everyone's thing but in the right frame of mind, this music will wipe your brain free of any trace of concern. Except for the mental health of the players. Closer 'Of Detail' gets progressively more ecstatic and unhinged as it builds which leads me to state that despite my occasional grump at jazz's excesses when in the wrong frame of mind, First Detail' is a grand and epic piece of Scandinavian free/bloody mindedness and deserves a right big round of applause.

  • Available on:
    LP £16.09
    CD £12.29

Echo Lake
Era

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

7/10 according to our Brian on 27th February 2015

Echo Lake are one of those middling but completely enjoyable ethereal/twee/shoegazer bands they have these days. As I accidentally fell asleep early last night listening to something else completely different I've now got half an hour to write two reviews but most people already know that Echo Lake are very good practitioners within their field.

It opens with something quite cosmic and unexpected, there's a really lovely indie pop track with the right balance of cooing female vocals and bobbly bass, frazzled ponderous peals of guitar etc. Other tracks are a bit slower and tweer. I believe they sadly lost a member to the other side a while ago so it's truly heartening to see them continue making really likeable and genuinely harmonious music still together. They're always gonna get accused of being derivative but I think they have the considerable charm, quality and attitude required and help keep the genre's bright flame alive

  • Available on:
    LP £13.69
    CD £11.29

Ghostpoet
Shedding Skin

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

9/10 according to our Clinton on 25th February 2015

Ghostpoet certainly starts like an express train on his third album. Opener ‘Off Peak Dreams’ is a skittering, soulful effort driven by pounding drums, sparse piano notes and a funk ladled synth. It’s like he’s woken up and realised that he’s spent two albums making underground hip hop with esoteric appeal but has now decided to really go for it. Thing is - nothing is spoilt. This is Ghostpoet as was but also new and improved.

Comparisons could be made to Tricky and there are certain similarities in the vocal delivery but whereas Tricky’s music is paranoid dark and latterly dreadful, I find Ghostpoet’s music to be life affirming and hits at that spot in your psyche where you think life is pretty darn good after all. Certainly the Radiohead-ish guitars and traded male/female vocal interplay on ‘X Marks the Spot’ hint at Bristol’s favourite weed smoker but I’m also reminded of Dean Blunt’s recent ‘Black Metal’ (or the first half of it) which also has the sound of an artist finding the light and the end of a long dark tunnel. What I like about this album is that it sits perfectly in the mid point between decent indie rock and decent hip hop, blurring the edges to the point where I’m not sure what his influences actually are.

Certainly the brooding indie of dreamers as diverse as Mogwai, Joy Division, TV on the Radio can be heard in the myriad of sounds- ‘Shedding Skin’ is particularly eerie with its ghostly guitars and gothy bass lines, then in come the vocals spoken word before a chanted chorus and a skittery drum and bass beat. Like Blunt’s album it gets darker as it progresses (with a severe Massive Attack/Bristol scene influence on the trip-hoppy ‘That Ring Down the Drain Kind of Feeling’) but this record never descends into indulgence.

This is an excellent album, very accessible but also really interesting -not too polished nor slick with every track having it’s own merits. When the dust settles this has gotta be one of the strongest records of the year.

  • Available on:
    CD £10.19
    LP £16.29

Vessels
Dilate

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

8/10 according to our Clinton on 26th February 2015

It shouldn’t take anything away from Vessels brand of electronic post rock that they’d have surely been one of the best bands of 2005. They create a music that was at one point everywhere but is rarely spotted now - namely complicated, mathy, electronica with live drums. It’s very well executed  - the beats are tight, the melodic bass lines are wonderfully fat and they know all about dynamics.

The fact that these guys rehearse next door and we regularly hear them through the walls tells us that they’ve spent ages nailing this sound. All traces of their former life as a well-liked progressive math-rock band have been swept away in a sea of triumphant synths and polyrhythmic drumming - it’s big, it’s bold, it’s at times beautiful. This really isn’t that far away from what the likes of Fuck Buttons have been doing over the last few years. It’s just with added post rock that’s all. They start and end with the best tracks.  ‘Vertical’ opens with a pummelling drum pattern and ghostly voices  - it’s arranged as all good electronica should be with little earworms coming into the mix on different bars setting you up for the jump over the cliff which comes three minutes in with a pounding 4/4 beat. The following ‘Elliptic’  has a gentle teasing melody built around layers of percussion and staccato synths. Fast forward to the closer ‘On Your Own Ten Toes’ which marries glassy synths with full on Jaki Liebezeit style drumming to create a burst of electronic euphoria. In between times Vessels are at times caught between a rock and a hard place. A full album of instrumental electronica could sound samey yet the vocal tracks they introduce aren’t quite as impressive -certain tracks drift into The Orb territory and one or two tracks pass by without registering.

It’s not without its faults and probably best heard loud and live but this is a bold move forward for the band and if loads of you out there don’t love this - I’ll eat my computer.

   

  • Available on:
    LP £15.29
    CD £9.49

Au.Ra
Jane’s Lament

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

8/10 according to our Clinton on 26th February 2015

It’s not often I’m impressed but in deciding what on earth we could review this week I chanced upon the opening track of this album by Sydney duo Au.Ra which is immediately ear friendly. It’s kind of like the House of Love covering PIL’s ‘Public Image Limited’ with a healthy dose of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ in the grooves - certainly the bass line is naggingly familiar but the guitars are in all the right places whilst the vocals take a back seat to the glory of the music. Glorious stuff.

What else is on offer? Well the quality doesn’t slip on ‘Sun’ which has the dreamy sun-drenched dapple of Washed Out about it. The album is lovely on the ears, soft and bubbly and melodic. I can hear bits of Ride here and there and bits of Real Estate but it’s all shot through the prism of Australian sunshine. Sometimes they head back to the ‘80’s for inspiration, there’s hints of Sleepy Jackson/Empire of the Sun in ‘You’re On My Mind’ with some luscious synths stretching out like a dog catching the afternoon sun. They haven’t stopped at half time either  - a flip overleaf sees things getting weird and discordant with the pulsating bass and feedback opening of ‘Spare the Thought’ which leads in turn to some serious John Squire jangling.

This is luscious dream pop that sits somewhere in that sweet spot between the Stone Roses, House of Love and Empire of the Sun. It’s early days but it’s fair to say I’m enjoying what I’m hearing.

  • Available on:
    CD £11.79
    LP £16.79

Bruno Sanfilippo
Inside Life

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

8/10 according to our Clinton on 25th February 2015

Not wept in a while? Then try this LP by Argentinian neo-classical composer Bruno Sanfilippo. The second track here ‘Freezing Point’ could melt men with steel hearts. A piano flutters in and out of the mix as if being caught on a breeze, the cello is used in a sparing but devastating fashion, appearing in the mix at just the right moments to add colour to the proceedings. It’s a short tranquil piece of escapist neo-classical and it’s gorgeous. Mastered by Home Normal head Ian Hawgood, the album contains seven pieces of varying themes within the framework of minimalist neo-classical composition.

Generally more abstract than the beautiful ‘Freezing Point’, ‘A Door Opens Forever’ is full of reverbed, slightly discordant piano, cashback comes when the cello enters the fray, it’s not that involved and never over- plays so when it’s around you enjoy every moment.  A fine album of contemporary composition sitting somewhere between the Home Normal world of drifting sound art and sweet sounding composers like Max Richter and Yann Tiersen.

  • Available on:
    CD £8.79

Colleen Green
I Want To Grow Up

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 27th February 2015

If stuck then think of our office as a kind of gruff northern version of the Sugarape offices from Nathan Barley. Lots of men-children playing and messing about. Who can blame them? Growing up involves things like dealing with broken taps and gradually getting more and more depressed until you eventually get worn down by it and die.

Colleen Green has decided at the age of 30 that she needs to grow up and has themed her second album of fuzzy west Coast sunshine pop around the subject. Green’s music is nothing that hasn’t been heard a million times before but it’s charming and sweet and tuneful. Her sugary harmonies are slathered over mid-fi punk influenced buzzsaw pop which at times reminds me of Best Coast and at others of Charlotte Hatherley.

It’s fun stuff without taxing the brain too much and occasionally she hits on a killer melody as on ‘Pay Attention’ which is perfect candy floss pop with a tough edge sorta like Veruca Salt crossed with the Ramones. I wish I lived in L.A.

  • Available on:
    LP £12.89
    CD £10.59

Motorama
Poverty

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 27th February 2015

Like with football, nationality in music doesn’t really matter any more  - everyone just mucks in and that’s the way it should be. It shouldn’t be that unusual that what we have here is a Russian band sounding like they were one of the more hidden treasures from early 80’s Manchester with a FAC catalogue number under their belt.

Initially they sound more jaunty than Joy Division therefore I’d say early The Wake and Stockholm Monsters are a more apt comparison on the opening ‘Corona’ with its jaunty keyboard pattern (keyboards having only been legalised in Russia in 2012). ‘Dispersed Energy’ however sounds exactly like Joy Division. ‘Dispersed Energy’ being the sort of phrase that may have emerged from Ian Curtis’s drooping mouth. I’m happier when they are happier though and the jangly ‘Red Drop’ has a very Sarah Records feel to it’s jangly guitar and drum machine. I love the vocals though  - its like those times Curtis tried desperately to be happy on record.

The rest of the album pretty much carries along in this manner. Lovely indie pop with Ian Curtis fronting the nascent Field Mice  - just imagine!    

  • Available on:
    CD £12.75
    LP £15.19

Dennis Young (Liquid Liquid)
Reel To Real

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 27th February 2015

Dennis Young was the percussionist in legendary New York art funksters Liquid Liquid. Here is a collection of all of his rare and unreleased solo recordings from 1982-83. If you like drums you are going to like this. It’s full of them from the pounding burundi styles of opener ‘Big Boom’ to the dub inflected styles of ‘Overdub Dub’. The first two tracks are pretty darn effective in a really primitive way. Young hollers over the percussion like a wild man and on ‘Gravitation’ the result is something akin to an Arthur Russell working with percussion rather than cello.

But then things change tact ‘Little Girl’ is an eerie lament sung over discordant guitar and as the album wears on it’s not quite the drum fest I was expecting  - the music veers around from synth manipulations to  eerie soundscapes to a kind of anti-folk. My favourite bits are when Young sticks to his pulsating, rolling percussion style but I’m really enjoying the beamed-in-from-outer-space weird folk of ‘Signals in Time’ with detuned guitars and improvised vocals. Interesting stuff.

  • Available on:
    LP £15.19
    CD £15.19

Herzel
Shades EP

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 27th February 2015

There's very little house or techno in this week so I’m going to something about it and tell you all about this 12”. I’m sooooo nice.

The opening track here is pretty darn enjoyable. Its neither tech nor house to me just decent quality ‘lectronica with a nice catchy synth motif that gets stuck in your head worryingly quickly. The two remixes on side A don’t add too much to make the track better and are pleasant if non-essential.

Overleaf there are two more originals, the bouncy and floaty ‘Closure‘ which has the warmth of old school electronica such as Manual or early Caribou and the closing 'Shades' introduces a lovely heat hazed style with streaming synths and bouncing bass. A distorted, muffled vocal sits under the mix, ocassionally appearing out of the murk like shards of light.

A really good EP. Sequencing-wise I’d kind of preferred to have the two remixes at the end as the three original tracks work beautifully together. But I’m always going to have a gripe aren’t I?

  • Available on:
    12" £8.99

Clarence Clarity
NO NOW

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 26th February 2015

If only people would write their names properly on album sleeves. Firstly it’s not written at all on the front and on the rear it looks something like Clarence Carthy.What chance does anyone walking into Woolworths have? Anyway, possibly responding to all my nags that Bella Union do not take enough risks, they’ve left the gentle folk rock murmerings of most of their acts to have a big long snooze in order to head down the club,  saunter into the VIP section and unleash this mess of pop on us.

It’s confusing from the start, Clarence sounds like he’s taking pop music and mangling it into incomprehensible shapes. If I were to describe the first main track here, ‘Will to Believe’,  I’d start at Justin Timberlake but then I’d throw him into the back of a bin lorry, let him get chewed up for a bit and then just before he gets turned to pulp I’d take him back out and play the results on a record player. It’s mangled but luckily for those with ears it launches into a pop chorus which is pretty damn infectious. The influence of chart/pop r&b is everywhere but it takes on left field hues under Clarence’s webbed hand. ‘Alive in the Septic Tank’ ain’t no title to bother the download charts but there is enough modern pop nous to get it into the Itunes playlists of particularly adventurous 12 year olds. Similarly, ‘Buck Toothed Particle Smashers’ bobs and weaves around the pop rulebook -  its no more sonically adventurous than The Neptunes work with Timberlake but it’s likely to appeal to knowing adults above the voracious appetites of children.

I’d certainly get told off by half the office if I played it out loud but it’s their loss  - there’s some fine tunes amongst the chaos here. But the question must be asked...what must Midlake make of this?

  • Available on:
    Double LP £18.99
    CD £10.19

Ras G & The Afrikan Space Program
Other Worlds

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 26th February 2015

Starting with a J Dilla esque siren wail,  this is some seriously squashed dub sample with the bass all subby and booming. Dancehall vocal samples are spread sparodically overleaf. Next up the sound of a reggae festival taking place in the next avenue with shards of mc's rattling rhymes over the top. This is interesting stuff  - I can only describe it as a Dilla who, instead of using soul and r&b samples,  is working with dancehall and reggae. On the B there’s a faster rhyme placed on top which clutters things slightly before something a little more world music. Well im pretty sure they live in the world right? Whatever, it's full of cut and splice avant hop collages.

  • Available on:
    7" £10.49

Palmbomen II
Palmbomen II

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 25th February 2015

Ever wanted to put down the computer and do something less boring instead? Well Palmbomen guy Kai Hugo decided to swap the  screen for using old school hardware and locked himself in his mothers attic for the entirety of the summer to make this, his second album.

What results is a truly DIY affair which harks back to the early ‘90’s sound of men grappling with technology that was just not advanced enough to deal with what their brains are wanting them to do. It’s sometimes inspired, sometimes mundane but always with ancient wheezing drum programming sitting under fizzy synths and electronics. It’s been playing whilst we have been doing the post and it’s not done anyone the hapeth of any harm. Post to the beats!   

Sometimes it reminds me of ol' Rephlex records (‘Lorraine Kelleher’) and at other times it’s quite chillwave-y with certain moments taking influence from old nu-agey synth type stuff. Whatever, if an album rammed full of primitive electronic music production suits your palette then please dig in.

  • Available on:
    Double LP £20.99
    CD £11.69

Lusts
Temptation

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 25th February 2015

With an opening guitar riff that's seriously 'Into the Valley', Leicester brothers Lusts produce a dark overcoated slab of '80's rock, perfectly designed to fit right into the 'Dark Side of the '80's' collection. Think Echo and the Bunnymen, The Chameleons and early U2 with lots of dry ice. It's perfectly executed and with an immediately infectious chorus to be sung whilst overlooking mountain ranges. Over on the flip is a fuzzier slab of stuff. Instrumental,  it weighs in somewhere between Killing Joke and early New Order. It's a bit of filler but the A side is killer. 

  • Available on:
    7" £6.99

The Stones
Three Blind Mice

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 25th February 2015

It takes a bit of chutzpah to call yourself The Stones what with that moniker being the oft-used shortening of those Rolling ones. Still, these Stones deserve a place in the rock and roll back pages all of their own.

They emerged out of the Dunedin scene of early 80’s New Zealand in the wake of front runners like The Clean with a tougher sound than some of their contemporaries with none of the poetry and artistry of the likes of The Chills. Instead the Stones were a primal rock and roll force albeit a skewed one. This compilation of their short career has been put together by Dead C leader Bruce Russell and sits studio tracks next to live tracks, perfectly summing up their ragged charm. Opener ‘Gunner Ho’ is an eerie, typically Dunedin composition with slash and burn guitars and heavy nods to Television. The placing of a live version of ‘See Red’ disrupts any kind of flow immediately though ‘Mother/Father’ exemplifies their rudimentary playing which appears on the verge of falling apart.

They are discordant, the vocals waver off key with regularity but like a lot of NZ bands the whole is better than the sum of its parts. ‘Down and Around’ is superb, a grinding churning riff is intersected with the oddest of guitar tumbles that is sorta reminiscent of that on the Smiths ‘How Soon Is Now’ without sounding anything like it. In other words it creates an atmosphere that elevates the song into the stratosphere. It’s not all good though, the last few tracks are typical jokey garage rock affairs but the band were young and split not long after their debut release on the legendary Dunedin Double EP. Wayne Elsey went on to form the Doublehappys with Shane Carter before his life was cut short in a tragic incident which later immortalised in the incredible Shane Carter and Peter Jefferies song ‘Ranolph’s Going Home’. 

  • Available on:
    LP £17.69
    CD £11.69

Evans The Death
Expect Delays

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

8/10 according to our Hayley on 27th February 2015

Proving that the C86-influenced acts of today aren't all just jangle and fey posturing, Evans The Death continue their affinity for reverb and fuzz on second album Expect Delays, heightening it perhaps a little more here, which is what I felt was missing from their self-titled 2012 debut. They sound more sophisticated this time around though, but their aptitude for melody and perfect pop remain firmly intact.

Katherine Whitaker’s striking vocals have developed since their debut, but are similarly beguiling. They conjure a sound somewhere between Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry and the fragmented folk of Intrinsic Grey at times, showing proficiency that seldom sounds this good in bands of their ilk. 

There are so many nuanced triumphs here: the soft, buried vocals and ethereal discordance recalls my Bloody Valentine’s sonic explorations, while the hurried fuzz of tracks like ‘Enabler’ ‘Bad Year’ and ‘Sledgehammer’ are beautifully counteracted by the contemplative quieter moments like the languid, introspective brilliance of ‘Waste Of Sunshine’ and loud – quiet, frantic balladry of ‘Idiot Button’.

Overall, Whittaker's vocals are their most prevailing aspect, and it’s perhaps what separates them from the rest of the modern indie pop contingent. Evans The Death are at their best when her voice takes centre stage: bringing soul and gravitas on jangle-heavy ’Sledgehammer’ and fabulously fuzzed-up single ‘Enabler’, for example. The song writing is strong; the band make everyday existence sound almost captivating. Expect Delays is a master class in intelligent, well-crafted guitar-pop perfection.

  • Available on:
    LP £12.89
    CD £9.89

offthesky
Light Loss

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

7/10 according to our Jim on 1st March 2015

Here's another Offthesky album of flawlessly produced, ethereal ambient music. Offthesky is basically the solo project Denver-based sound/video artist Jason Corder, who has been releasing electronic music for a while now on labels such as 12k, Zymogen, Home Normal, Hibernate, SEM, Symbolic Interaction and Experimedia. As its title kinda suggests, 'Light Loss' takes its inspiration from the turn of the season from Autumn to Winter; that time when, as I seem to remember Knut Hamsun once put it, everything changes colour and dies.

So as you might have guessed, slowly enveloping drones, wistful ambience and mournful arrangements are the order of the day -- although it's not as dark a listen as I was expecting. It took Corder two years to put this album together and he's sourced quite an array of musicians who contribute to the luxuriant tonal richness of the music here; there are sparse cello and violin stretches, the more familiar electric guitar drones, some atonal noise textures, a drum kit freakout and some gorgeous vocal harmonies. The whole album is seamlessly put together and the weighting of relatively silent passages in contrast to moments of imponderable density is extremely deft. For my tastes its almost too perfect; I keep yearning for something more rough hewn to break out of the glacial, elegiac drift. But that's just me, as this is an undeniably beautiful recording.        

  • Available on:
    CD £8.59

Raccoglimento Parziale
Homoheterogeneity

Nobody loves me. Be the 1st...

6/10 according to our Jim on 28th February 2015

Raccoglimento Parziale consists of Berlin-based Florentine duo Stefano Meucci and Andrea Giachetti, whose work will be known to some of you as part of minimal house trio The Clover. This disk is a much more experimental affair, blending acoustic guitar with radical digital editing techniques and some imaginative arrangements. It's a pretty unique sounding record but obvious points of reference for me would be Alva Noto's collaboration with Opiate released under the moniker Opto, which also combined the organic warmth of gently plucked guitars with alternately subtle and stark layers of electronica.

Raccoglimento Parziale's approach is a lot more open ended than Opto though, with the tracks accruing layers of unusual and sometimes fractured sounds and then taking off on an unexpected tangent that makes it feel as if it could have been somehow improvised. The second track here 'Screws And Atoms Between The Toes', is a good example of this. It starts of with an off-kilter abstract beat over which some moody, flamenco-like chords ring out and are then chopped up and genetically modified by weird flanging and spatial effects before being swallowed up into a slick micro-house rhythm that gets eventually caught in the spokes of some spidery free improv-style scrabblings. 

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Raica
Dose

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

9/10 according to our Laurie on 27th February 2015

This day marks a special day in the world of music. We are witnessing the birth of a new style, shiny and glistening against a backdrop of the mundane and the humdrum. It gives new depth to the phrase ‘hidden gem’ and contributes to the already bulging mass of bullshit journalistic labelling. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Crystalwave.

Crystalwave, just like its subgenre Glassworks (of which there exists only one album by Philip himself) is a blend of electronic ambiances and musical shimmer, resulting in something distinctly magical and just nice. It’s not as smooth as Bubblecore and synthier than Field Schmaltz, occasionally dipping into the same distorted, fragmented depths that you find inside a crystal. Post-Gandalf.

Anyway this rambling is all a total disservice to Raica aka Chloe Harris, founder of the Further Records imprint who have recent-ish-ly been dropping things from Pye Corner Audio, Ekoplekz, and Jo Johnson’s excellent Weaving. It’s safe to say then that she has a good ear for the abstract side of electronica, and Dose wears this heavily on its sapphire-encrusted sleeves. Like light reflected in the centre of crystals, her expansive sound collages include synths split into a melee of tones, throbbing monolithic drones and glassy swathes of texture that hold beauty with a sharp, menacing edge.

The first side is more heavily on the drifty ambient side of things, with several artefacts placed amongst it for character, but it’s on the second side that things become a lot more intense. Darker, minor melodies dominate as well as sound design that focuses on abrasion and decay, sort of like Ben Frost if you kept him away from his guitars. You’ll be presented with a timbral hit that fades into the murk, only to resurface a little more twisted a few seconds later. See ‘Harchone’ for more detail and total annihilation. It all wraps up with a more droney synth melody wall on ‘Skrt’ that builds to a fizzy high right at the end of the album.

So remember, Crystalwave is gonna be big. Expect the next Crystalwave release to be out on Public House Records this year.

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David Borden
Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments

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

9/10 according to our Laurie on 26th February 2015

Ah, the ol’ conceptual synth record. Never before has the line between pretentious gear flauntery and textural interest been so easy to misstep. You’ve got sounds from the 70s that were so caught up in the new medium that they forgot to write great music, and modern records that fetishise just that. But there are some who aren’t content with playing the same old chords with an out-of-the-box Moog tone. Enter New York’s David Borden, whose compositions harness the timbral potential of the synth and feature outstanding weaves of melody and rhythm.

Composed in the late 70s and early 80s, the tracks, or should I say pieces, contained within Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments convey a certain mental picture that holds Borden’s gaze, from runs around a lake at night to the smooth motion of a dancer he taught. Synthetic but rich tones propel his figures forward through lengthy patchwork explorations reminiscent of Laurie Spiegel, Steve Reich and Jo Johnson with only a slight hint of Jarre. Most of the layers are fast and staccato, with a few joining to play slower drawn out chord figures. The ‘continuing story of counterpoint’ parts here are the most enthralling, gripping you in their race towards a comfortable resolution which may never come, but ‘worry’ is something that doesn’t exist within these soundworlds. So um yeah I’m just gonna go and stash this now.

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Juxta Phona
We Will Not Be Silence

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

9/10 according to our Laurie on 26th February 2015

One of the two latest instalments of Home Normal’s bag in a bag in a bag packaging series is a little, heh, abnormal for them. It is almost as if Jason Corder, the man behind the Juxta Phona and Off The Sky masks, is speaking for all of the interested beat-driven ambient artists when he proclaims that We Will Not Be Silenced. He manages to prove that beat-driven ambient can have the same atmospheric and detailed effect as the smudgy stuff, providing infinite variation around what is essentially the same bar for each whole track.

The beats constantly shift and glitch about with the touch of the electroacoustic mastermind. Who knows where all these sounds were lifted from - you can hear a disparate quality to each and every one that when assembled replace but resemble the ‘wall of sound’ . It kinda reminds me of Hibernate’s found sound percussive edge but with that warm, comfy backdrop that has become associated with Home Normal. Xylophones and chimes join the junk orchestra to slowly drift through some minimal harmonies, occasionally taking over the track and almost falling to bits at ‘Faster Still’.

Focusing in on individual layers is a bit futile when compared to the intricate whole, a shapeshifting mass of collected sonic oddities and considered grandiosity blended to near perfection. Or at least, as near as you can get. Hence no 10/10s from this reviewer.

So, does the number of plastic sleeves that a CD is packaged in correlate to musical quality? Find out in the next episode of Home Norman featuring Christopher Hipgrave and the plant conspiracy!

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Yannis Kyriakides & Andy Moor
A Life is A Billion Heartbeats

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 26th February 2015

What do you get when you combine a spaghetti western, a music box and some abrasive noise? A Terrence Malick film. Well, take that film, set it instead in a rural Greek village full of audio abstractors and you get A Life is a Billion Heartbeats, a frankly bizarre album of treated guitar variations on traditional greek themes that unfold with repeated haunting melodies that fade in and out of the digital mist.

Yannis Kyriakides, well known for his out-there sound experiments and Unsounds label shares the recorded stage with label co-boss Andy Moor, who apparently is the guitarist in a band called The Ex, who are somewhat off my radar. They sound like a band Robin would enjoy after a good green haze. Regardless, his dynamic guitar phrases have nuances that Kyriakides is all too good at detecting and promptly destroying. Because that’s all guitar music is good for nowadays. That whole ‘drums bass guitar vocal band’ shenanigan has reached its inevitable end where every avenue has been thoroughly exhausted by shits with perms. Time for the computers to move in. Picking noise becomes a swarm of glitch bees, fret buzz is morphed into machine-like screeches and clinks, and tonal nicety is splayed into swells of unease.

But what is most admirable about A Life is a Billion Heartbeats is the fact that it hardly ever drops into PURE cacophony. It ranges from dronelike static tones and desert meditations to the original Greek harmony in full colour, all with the noise deluge intensifying and diminishing in turn. All fans of treated instrument/sound art/experimental, take heed.

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Testbild!
Belka & Strelka

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 25th February 2015

Argh, getting really sick of space-themed records now. It’s almost like the guitar toting egoheads of the last decade have all bought themselves a neo-analogue synth, hit a preset and, blown away by the shuttle-takeoff tones, proceed to record an album of vapid twonk. So upon reading that Testbild [exclamation!] have named their latest record after the first two earthly beings to enter space, hostility ensued. BUT, they’re dogs. And this is the crucial point.

They’re dogs. It seems like they’ve chosen this theme as a self-conscious, mocking nod to such cliched records, an attempt to approach the concept with a bit of a light hearted touch. It reflects well in the music too, the spacey use of synth being actually quite minimal, focusing mainly on single note phrases with a few effects instead of the overblown, sickeningly evocative chords that form the usual theme. The intro of ‘Rymdfolk’ is a prime example of this - a simple, understated shimmer that gives way to a laid back drum groove akin to the Cinematic Orchestra, complete with thick plucked double bass and shiny chimes. They’re calling this jazzy in the press info, so I guess that’s what it takes to be jazzy. Or perhaps they’re referring to the adventurous chords. Mahler is well jazz.

I’d say it has more in common with classical though. It’s an atmospheric synthpop overture with a light touch of badassery and a fair dollop of proggy tendencies, the chords being unexpected but interesting like a Focus track that you’d rarely admit that you even listen to, let alone enjoy. But you do. And you pretend that you’re better than that. You fool.

Anyway I’m not sure how the review has got this far without mentioning the ever so soft vocals, because they’re great. Clean but slightly breathy and with a definite scandinavian edge, they lilt phrases about flying dogs and crazy gravity shifts. A nice, tasteful venture into the stratosphere this is, but everyone, please stop with space. We know it’s big and inhabited by bleeping buttons.

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Sonmi451
The Limbic System

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 25th February 2015

As far as cerebral electronic music goes, you can’t get more cerebral than a record about different parts of the brain. The limbic system is the collection of neural pathways and regions of the brain that govern emotion, memory and behaviour, and those are exactly the brain parts that are being massaged right now. Ok, most music will garner an emotional response of some kind, usually a cry of bloodcurdling rage in Clinton’s case. But this seems to be devoted to grabbing the emotion currently held by your head bits, and ironing it out into smooth calm. The sonification of your happy place.

In this place, you will find bubbling swoon textures of plucked guitars and harps, throbs of warm keys, echoes of distant cymbals and otherworldly whispers. I have no idea what they are saying, but it’s nice to hear another, if rather obscured human here with you. From the Somni451 name, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the future Korean citizen as depicted in Cloud Atlas. It’s ambient music but with real structure and a wide palette, the different elements taking it in turns to fade into the mix, leaving behind a tail of spine-shivering delay. Chords hover between peace and melancholy, the touch of yearning being especially stirring. Hisses and crackles surface, and, while being an overused feature by 2015, build a chilled wall around your ears.

Expect some serious elaborate packaging for the deluxe version. Presented as a hospital case file to fit with the record’s theme, it contains an old photo behind some glass, a brain scan (???), poetry sheets, sheet music, oh, and the album itself of course. For those with lighter purse strings, the regular CD will certainly be a kool aid to your end-of-day wind down. Or early morning mountain crawl. Whatever you do.

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Christopher Hipgrave
No Greater Hero Than The Least Plant That Grows

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

7/10 according to our Laurie on 26th February 2015

Ah, here’s the Home Normal lot back to business. Super minimal driftwood ambiance to accompany anorak magazine reading, scented candle bathtime or romps on the moors. I jest, but you could probably do all of those things comfortably to this music, but I’m sure Mr. Hipgrave wouldn’t be too happy about such pigeonholing. Well, that’s what reviews are for, aren’t they?

So on to the ridiculous compartmentalisation. On No Greater Hero… Hipgrave builds 1 dimensional bits of variable texture, tracks that occupy only 1 space, but each being quite unique and beautiful. Presumably rendered using his own custom Ambient software, the layers subtly bubble and sizzle away like a solitary campfire roasting some sweet sweet chestnuts. It’s ambient-y ambient, occupying the blurry world of Chihei Hatakeyama but with more artificial noise layers than natural. Some nice swelling high frequency detail is welcome, but ultimately it feels a bit standard and explicitly saying ‘I am an ambient drone release’. But it does what it does well, sits just behind your perception providing you let it wash over. I’ll have to end this prematurely because Brian is blasting some silly downcast synthpop thing next door which is definitely not behind my perception.

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Arovane
Aarlenpeers EP

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

6/10 according to our Laurie on 27th February 2015

IDM, I miss you. You and your obnoxious genre tag and frenzied percussive onslaught. Actually do I? I guess the worst thing that happened to it was the same thing that happened to most genres - self-indulgent musical joyriders taking the surface elements and regurgitating them without any unique edge or feeling. Presumably this is why producers and originators such as Arovane come back into the game after 9 years or so, because they might be the only ones with any robust ideas.

The Aarlenpeers EP is half in the former and half in the latter camp. The A side is a whirlwind of chopped glitch perc while emotional chords sing away their syrupy song in the background. Unfortunately the chords take the centre stage, causing the drums to actually stand in the way rather than enhance the experience - it’s closer to IDM for IDM heads only, playing it too close to the comfort zone of the style. Flip it over and you’ve got invigorating flexes of rhythm, with phrases that vary constantly but still with a really driving underlying groove. There’s barely a hint of melody anywhere, in its place a barrage of atonal shrieks and distortion. Side B is a great example of what IDM can be in 2015 - not pure showmanship - so learn from this, side A.

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Havah / His Electro Blue Voice
Split

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

9/10 according to our Robin on 27th February 2015

This post-punk split pits gloomsters in one corner against more gloomsters in the other, and there’s plenty to talk about, you philistines. Cast your eyes first on Havah, a band that features members of old-school skramz outfit Raein, who once had the same kind of provenance in the hardcore genre as Saetia, Off Minor and Orchid -- bands who let melodies and memories filters into their chaotic hardcore, but not as keenly as contemporary post-hardcore. That kind of discipline is carried forward in Havah’s record; it’s a post-punk record, yes, but it tackles discordant, homogenous strums with grooving, barely audible bass lines and the occasional vocal line that carries a song toward something more romantic. Think Total Control with none of the bright synth or hopeful future: it’s just an occasional slip of something catchier and less defeated.

Havah’s songs are short as you like, and they quickly give way to a nineteen minute piece of scattershot noise from His Blue Electro Voice, a band who scour their vocals in the dirt of feedback. The result is that their work sounds wheezed rather than sung, melodies spat out as guitars wail, distorted, towards their landing point (a brick wall, I’m pretty sure). The noise this trio are making goes where it will and changes hands a few times -- it occasionally hits transcendent sweet spot of early shoegaze bands, transitioning from a hazy whitewash into a spacey, tripped out melody that briefly gets its own spotlight. The band mine post-rock, receding and climaxing with all their might before diving back into a torrent of screams, both vocal and instrumental. This final, feral outburst makes this split feel like a noise rock novel: Havah’s work feels like a suitable preamble to the epic send-off it sets up.

If you like your music surging and seething, tearing off its own face and then recording the sounds, then this shit is for you.

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Jonas Munk
Absorb / Fabric / Cascade

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

9/10 according to our Robin on 26th February 2015

There's so much to sing the praises of in this gentle giant of an ambient record from Jonas Munk. Let's start with “Absorb”, which is early morning kraut drone; its synths fade slowly in, like the rising sun getting incrementally lighter. Munk sets the pace with a subdued rhythm that acts as the first part of a day’s long cycle; he seamlessly ups volume and intensity, juxtaposing gentility with drama before stripping away the extra layers to rest on the quietness he’s been studying. It’s at this point that the constant comparisons of Munk’s work to traditional motorik and krautrock artists feels overstated: his interest in making emotive, liminal drone is leading proceedings here, and while he introduces fumbling effects and a minor climax that recalls both recent Steve McGuire work and the orchestral post-rock of Rachel’s -- only synthetic and futurist -- he’s ultimately crafting a piece around sustain, not repetition.

On the flip, things are quite stunning indeed, though the approach is less about background subtleties, and more about what we infer from the foreground. Or, long story short: it’s more accessible. “Fabric” uses outmoded synth sounds to recall the strange sci-fi traditionalism of Boards of Canada, the blaring chords sounding like a prediction we made of the future in the past. The piece climaxes by converting its arbitrary, droning pace into a freefall of notes and swirling effects. “Cascade” sounds nothing like its title promises, an extremely stifled passage of ambient that does away with any kraut influences and takes Munk to the most minimal of places -- no interacting textures, no warm tones, just a squeaking synth peaking and fading. The track eventually clamours, in a haze of estranged hiss and distortion, into a piece of cosmic ambient Jason Urick would be proud of.

Munk can do so much with so little, and proof of that exists on this gorgeous knockout of a drone record. He can make landscapes out of skeletons.

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Aerial
Put It This Way In The Headlines

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

8/10 according to our Robin on 27th February 2015

An open field of sonics, this one: we could call it post-rock but we’d be cheapening Aerial's concerted efforts to create a landscape on which anything can be expressed, in any way. It is post-rock, yes, but not in the way we know it; not because of sick guitar tones, although there are those, nor climaxes -- again, though, check that off the list. It’s post-rock because it assimilates a bunch of your favourite bands, sounds and textures and tries to carry them lovingly over the fence. It sounds a little Death Cab, totally Built to Spill, momentarily Mount Eerie, and I’ll relent and say these dudes know a thing or two about Explosions In The Sky. But not too much! Never too much; ‘Put It This Way In Headlines’ is just a sweet indie rock record taking the next furthest step away from home.

Aerial’s double LP is driven, first and foremost, by a warm vocal performance: Sebastian Arnström’s pleading nasal pitch recalls both Douch Marsch and Ben Gibbard, reliable singers who hummed their feeling out to us. Behind him he’s got a band who understand the importance of clarity and desperation in equal measure; they go back and forth, trading a forest of acoustic strums for slightly distorted guitars and spontaneous, woozy synths. Their main focus is squeezing their instruments of all their emotive juices, which: good. We need that.

There are some post-rock hallmarks in here, and they work in the band’s favour -- suppressed samples from what sound like educational after-school specials appear, but only for seconds on “In Our Wake”. And while there are a lot of moments where the band up the ante and start building songs like post-rock skyscraper dudes -- such as on “Zebra”, which has hints of a more crystalline Jaga Jazzist -- this is by no means a tragic, self-involved record. There’s a song on here called “Malkmus In The Middle” -- you know what I mean? Closer “Guitar Ode To A Sunny Afternoon” is their most fanciful moment, a long-form exchange of varying guitar twinkles that sounds both suppressed and echoed, full of bends and pull-offs and interlocking. You have to let them have it, because they calibrate it quite perfectly, bringing it down with vocals to sound more akin to Broken Social Scene than anything. It’s a cheeky sign off to a very impressive piece of secret post-rock.

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Beech Creeps
S/T

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

8/10 according to our Robin on 26th February 2015

It seems that a few months ago I carelessly decreed that this sounded like Superchunk from hearing a fragment of a song, which is good grounds for me being tried and sentenced in a court of law and then forced to walk an endless deserted road for the rest of my life. The punishment fits the crime, considering that this is one of the most thoroughly, resplendently un-Superchunk records of all time. I’ll get my things.

Anyway, while I’m walking that post-apocalyptic trail of indie rock descriptor failures, let’s talk about Beech Creeps. Their self-titled record screeches and howls and groans with a hundred shades of feedback -- the first track offers the sound of a guitar being shaken and turned upside down and buried, recalling one of White Suns’ guitar abstractions but without the yelped vocals. Beech Creeps do sing, though, which is the most accessible part of their sound -- their vocalist has strands of Pixies’ Black Francis, but he’s serving a cause of pure evil rather than merely singing about it, buried under riffs that are being crunched inbetween a giant’s teeth.

This is noise, but it’s tight as fuck: all of the distortion feels well calibrated, and even seems to climax perfectly, and while the record is mostly founded on faultlines, the band trace their way back to melodies and sneak them in under the rubble. “Times Be Short” sounds like a romantic slab of indie rock underneath the relentless shoegaze, recalling A Place To Bury Strangers’ knack for hiding their tweeness underneath. It’s surprisingly gorgeous. Occasionally the band come too close, and it’s obvious why we usually hear them in a sonic thunderstorm: “Son of Sud” sounds a little silly and the backing vocals give it a prog affectation. Ultimately, though, this is high grade shit-gazing. Feel it at your preferred volume.

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Moon Duo
Shadow of the Sun

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

8/10 according to our Robin on 25th February 2015

Foolhardily did I proclaim that there wasn’t a slab of psych rock in sight on my review pile today, forgetting that Moon Duo are more psych than Laurie on LSD; these prime spook rockers play with a myriad cosmic tones and worship the endless black dot of space that hovers above us all -- and if that’s not enough, they’re repetitive as fuck. It’s easy to forget about Moon Duo, though: ‘Shadow of the Sun’ is a record crafted around a firm belief in deception and unconscious interaction, using repetitive riffs and motorik rhythms to stupefy its listener before they can say a word against it. Moon Duo are sneaky. They are in your ear right now and you don’t even know.

Holding true to the Sacred Bones mantra -- it’s Halloween all year round, so learn to normalise your fears -- Moon Duo mix their hushed sensibilities with grand goth gestures, struggling to keep compulsive grooves in place as they get surrounded by vampiric organ, woozily treated guitar and synth that sounds as loud as a truck backing up. It comes together for a whispered pantomime of a record. The duo’s harmonies never rise too high in the mix, with the heavily layered “Zero” punctuated by overloud piano, a post-punk riff worthy of Have a Nice Life and abyss-gazing ambience; you barely hear Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada underneath, who are doing their best shit-shy Yo La Tengo impression.

Moon Duo lean to the hypnosis side of Sacred Bones proceedings, taking a more modest and abashed approach to kraut resilience than the more rock ‘n’ roll Dream Police -- melodies and amusing effects happen in the nooks and crannies, between the rhythm but never outside of it. Occasionally the record lets up, such as on “In A Cloud”, which momentarily suspends the forward momentum for a lazily strummed piece of slacker psych. It’s proof of Moon Duo’s versatility, though ‘Shadow of the Sun’ works best when it’s walking in a straight, doomed line.

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H-Burns
Night Moves

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

8/10 according to our Robin on 24th February 2015

‘Night Moves’ opens up with a vortex-tearing slice of dad rock that feels almost like the younger, aspiring sibling of the War on Drugs’ “Red Eyes”, full of the same Springsteen urgency, coastline reverb and urgent, brimming guitars -- plus the same vocal yelps and a bunch of lyrics that just roll off H-Burns’ tongue regardless of meaning, so long as the sentiment remains. It’s a folk rock panorama, and though it sounds wholly derivative, it’s bound with gorgeous melodies and a clear throughline that makes it irresistible.

Unlike some recent carbon copies we’ve encountered, such as Mac Demarco’s resolute fanboy Travis Bretzer, H-Burns’ music feels special at the same time as it does a total rip. The guitar tone on the first two songs is engineered as if to specify a debt to Adam Granduciel and his band, and that’s fine -- it’s not like they haven’t already ripped the Waterboys over and over. But ‘Night Moves’ carries H-Burns’ very own urgency and feeling, and that’s enough. By “In The Wee Hours”, a lo-fi acoustic jam with whizzing synths layered atop, this record has proved itself to have a vision of its own, one based around a personal loneliness and the eeriness of empty landscapes. Listening to this record is a solipsistic experience, with one deep, unloved voice singing into the wind, rarely harmonised with. No matter how it’s decorated -- usually with synths and crystalline guitar -- this is a chilling and ultimately solitary listening experience.

We’ve heard this all before, but there’s something peculiar about ‘Night Moves’, a record that ultimately streamlines a bunch of different indie pop conventions and meshes them together. At its best, it sounds like a mix of the War on Drugs, London Grammar, Coldplay and John Maus. It’s not a bill I’d ever pay to see, but thrown through a blender, there’s a beauty to it. Those are quiet artists -- but there’s a disquiet, and a discomfort, in this dramatic music.

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The White Birch
The Weight Of Spring

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 27th February 2015

The soft, ever hushed uplift of ‘The Weight of Spring’ is strange; naming themselves after Codeine, it’s only natural that The White Birch’s music moves as slowly and sadly as that band, offering a communal, hand-in-hand take on total misery. Remember how every Low song has harmonies, no matter how dour and defeated? Thank God for that: the best songs on ‘The Weight of Spring’ are those with the shamed, saddened backing vocals flittering in. Friends in isolation.

The White Birch’s sound is more akin to the pastoral folk of Sufjan Stevens (or an artist of similar stature with a more brooding voice, but I don’t listen to that mature nonsense, so take Sufjan, please) as shot through the lens of early slowcore’s aesthetic. With banjos and quiet strums, it plods; it uses strings as if they’re a boat’s sail catching a modest draft of air -- they move dramatically, but not intensely. Each piano admonishment and quiet drumbeat is used as part of the wallpaper, where it might otherwise be cause for a crescendo. When there are climaxes on this record, they’re barely noticed.

A double LP of this makes for sonorous listening, but that’s not necessarily cause for criticism: this is early-morning listening for the downtrodden, a record whose climaxes ascend like a bedsheet being lifted up. Ultimately, though, this is fine, reserved music that aims for little more than purity and prettiness. Good stay at home music, because home is where the broken heart is.

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Black Yaya
Black Yaya

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 25th February 2015

With a suitcase of weird metaphors (“waiting like a tomato on the market”, anyone?) and a few thousand instruments equipped to various parts of his body, David Ivar reincarnates as Black Yaya, a new project with more bluster (and more electro-pop!) than the anti-folk Herman Dune. This record goes between brash, noxious indie rock with ambitions to be performed like a cabaret, and silky synth pop in the style of Destroyer’s ‘Kaputt’ -- only with more balloons and party bags. It’s all united around a dedication to being ever-so-slightly off kilter.

Vocally, Destroyer’s Dan Bejar is a good starting point for Ivar’s tenor, though he also has the sillier and gentler coo of A.C. Newman going for him (he doesn’t have much of Neko Case’s twang, though, so the buck stops here, New Pornographers fans). It’s the less bombastic moments that work in Ivar’s favour on this record; he’s good at making gorgeous folk ballads and estranging them a little bit, and “Watchman” proves that, with full-on strums, harmonies that stay lovely and simple, elegiac choruses. “O & Behold” sounds like a strike of Kevin Morby, sifting through understated bass grooves and sadly receding guitar riffs.

It’d be nice if Ivar could stay like this forever, and he offers us a few good tracks of contemplative pop with none of the silly impersonator shtick -- but you can’t take the quirk out of a Herman Dune dilettante, and so some of the silliness creeps back on, such as the faux-brood of “Gimme A Gun”, which begins with a hilarious bit of harmonica and continues on a path of destructive, pantomimic rock 'n' roll. Overall, though, ‘Black Yaya’ is the sign of a smart songwriter worrying about his presentation -- he needs to chill out, because he's most certainly got this.

  • Available on:
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Bruno Nicolai
La dama rossa uccide 7 volte (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times)

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 25th February 2015

Enino Morricone’s protege Bruno Nicolai occasionally got to step out of the conducting spotlight and compose his own works for the big screen, and ‘La Dama Rossa Uccide 7 Volte’, known in our shittier language as Red Queen Kills Seven Times, shows off his ability to write romantic, soft classical arrangements that set the mood for a seven-times-murderous painting of a queen (that’s as succinct a synopsis I can give of this film’s delightfully wacky premise).

Nicolai’s work seems to deliberate less than Morricone’s, though it is able to create the same tension with the taut aggression created by rising strings and climactic piano; he’s also able to mine a good sense of irony out of his compositions, with melodies that juxtapose his larger-than-life traditional scoring with an easy listening lounge aesthetic. Nicolai exchanges tones as if they can both contribute to the same chilling atmosphere -- he puts you at ease with the mutual understanding that blood and mayhem is to follow.

There’s a lot to take in here, with Nicolai writing momentary vignettes that fade away and then get re-emphasised in similar pieces, the film circling back on its constant stream of fear. It’s a convincingly melodramatic score for a film that couldn’t have dreamt up a more ridiculous idea for a thriller if it tried.

  • Available on:
    LP £18.59

Group of the Altos
R U Person Or Not

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 25th February 2015

It rocks, it rolls and it whines: ‘R U A Person Or Not’ is askew art rock with a secret reverence for the harder stuff of old, back when riffs were endearingly over-articulated, drums were slapped down with more enthusiasm than precision and everything sounded blood red impassioned. Featuring members of the more formally avant-garde Volcano Choir, Group of the Altos have been at it for a little while now, and while their sound has licks of experimentation in it, it lives for riffs. It sounds kind of like a meditating Aerosmith -- though citation is very much needed for such an outlandish comparison.

Group of the Altos are tightest when slow: the centrepiece might just be the immaculately constructed and accidentally proggy “News From Wino”, which builds from its slow tempo to a climactic flurry of gang vocals and fiery guitar -- it strangely recalls the communal energy of TV On the Radio circa ‘Dear Science’, harbouring both a great deal of melodic force and the feeling that it’s secretly judgment day. At a snail’s pace, Altos know how to be both good and weird, with “Gun” coming in shots fired with a choir of frenzied wanderers and a few slapdash chords that pay them no attention -- the violin strings swell and the trumpets blare as if confused as to their purpose, making for a delightful bit of disorientating but anthemic rawk.

‘R U A Person Or Not’ is audacious art rock that has no right achieving greatness when it exists on such a ridiculous compass: it sounds showy, obsessed with bad tropes and occasionally spits out a lyric like “FUCK / ahhhhhhh! / YOU” over a languishing beat. But it does work, and with gusto -- Altos know what they’re doing, and they frame you as one of their choir’s people -- always a character, never an observer.

  • Available on:
    LP £13.99

BADBADNOTGOOD ft. Ghostface Killah
Sour Soul

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 24th February 2015

Here’s an idea: bring together the best of Wu-Tang’s alums with a jazz collective famed for their overpowering live prowess. BADBADNOTGOOD are not exactly working within the trends of hip-hop right now, which is favouring a free-for-all sampling approach that has resulted in some of the most creative work in the genre’s recent history; instead, these dudes want to hone in on the supposed virtue of live performance and recording, taking the musical aesthetics of the ‘60s and ‘70s as their queue. Fair enough; everyone’s gotta have their “those were the days” moment. This can be theirs.

Whether or not the branded liveness makes a difference to Ghost’s tracks is debatable; the record is lent an unbelievable flow simply because BBNG are elevated, allowed the same gravitas as the MC they’re working with; instrumental segues flow through the record, and “Mono” becomes “Sour Soul” seamlessly, echoing one of the outfit’s fluid live shows. At times, Ghost feels like little more than a stamp on proceedings; he raps throughout “Tone’s Rap”, but the dingy bass and sulking guitar makes his part feel more supplementary, like he’s just signing off on a sealed jam. It works within the parameters of ‘Sour Soul’, though; this is a smoky record that juxtaposes bluster with subtlety, and so it’s only right that Ghost fades in and out.

As far as Ghost goes, though, his rapping is surprisingly reserved, with less frantic and dense raps and more stuff that works in tone with the smoothness BBNG provide. He’s still overpowering in context -- when put against Danny Brown or the chill-as-shit Tree, he sounds breathless and full of his old urgency -- but this record grounds him impressively. Ghost has obviously spent a lot of time cramming himself in-between samples (shout out to that weird moment in his career when he threw off “2getha Baby”), and following his inspiringly pantomimic work with Blaxploitation soundtrack artist Adrian Younge, BBNG do well to offer an easy backdrop for one of the most self-contented moments in his career. It's no bad thing to hear Ghost knowing he's great.

  • Available on:
    CD £9.39
    LP £15.29

Mats Gustafsson With John Russell & Phil Minton
A Duo(S)

Nobody loves me. Be the 1st...

5/10 according to our Robin on 24th February 2015

I am listening to this record, and I am not hyperventilating, which is a start. Here are some things that are happening: I am typing; Mats Gustafsson is doing some things with reeds; John Russell is occasionally making strange noises with his guitar, which he does not realise is a guitar; I am laughing, nervously; Phil Minton is speaking gibberish; Phil Minton is sighing gibberish; Phil Minton is method acting Lord of the Ring’s Gollum; Phil Minton is huffing and puffing; Phil Minton is licking his lips as close to a microphone as possible.

Phil Minton is scary. Much like John Zorn scat singing into empty space, he attempts to unnerve the listener through a pastiche of vocal sounds that you would be told off by your parents for performing at a dinner table, or in public, or in your sleep. His yelps and hurls are unmusical in the sense they are never expected to appear in music, let alone performance art -- here they create a suffocating atmosphere where all we are presented with is this man and his voice, his eyes meeting our exact line of sight. It is terrifying.

Avant-garde collaborators John Russell and Mats Gustafsson only make the work more skeletal, offering hints of instrumentation that die out rather than get birthed. Russell’s guitar comes on quietly and impossibly, disappearing before it can temper Minton. Basically, there’s no respite from this very man-made tension. Also recommended: the Beach Boys shred.

  • Available on:
    LP £13.99

Breast Massage
Heavy Metal

Nobody loves me. Be the 1st...

4/10 according to our Robin on 26th February 2015

Must we?

Breast Massage are a band, because all words are bands now, including Twin Peaks, but that’s a complaint for another day. The band brings together Jake Orall, as well as members of Diarrhea Planet, who are also a band with a name. Their new 7” sees them attempt a premature, gritty and toiletified type of doom metal that focuses on being primal first and everything else later. The first track, which is of course called “Heavy Metal”, chugs and riffs and spooks, with distant vocals calling out like Moses from the mountain, if all he was decreeing was a strong belief in rock ‘n’ roll, momentary feedback and blazing it. Choice lyric: “Heavy metal / gets me high / heavy metal / I want to die”. We all want to get high and we’re all going to die, but Michael McIntyre tried to be observational too, and where did that get him? Pretty okay riff though -- not quite Sleep, but it’d make a good hardcore breakdown on another day.

On the b-side, “HermAphrodite”, there’s more putrid broiness, riffs squelching out of line and drums plastering the walls like thickly applied paint. It’s largely instrumental and thoroughly uninteresting, using feedback more provocatively while throwing out a lot of classic-but-tried sounding doom guitar tricks. Beyond the music, I’m kind of cautious of a band of dudes naming themselves Breast Massage and having a song called “hermAphrodite” -- it seems careless, if not transphobic, and mostly just stupid. Recommended if you want some lite doom. Don’t google the name. Don’t go on the internet.

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    7" £5.89



Your random quote:
Phil has heard of cats

Timestamp: Monday 2nd March, 11:08:49