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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.

Michael Head and The Strands
The Magical World of The Strands

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

10/10 according to our Clinton on 29th July 2015

It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for for months. A record so brilliant that I’m already preparing perfect conditions for myself pre-listen. I’m fed, I’m watered, I'm toileted and I’m sat in a comfortable position at my keyboard. Let’s go.

So Michael Head has some history. He was in parping Liverpool poppers the Pale Fountains when he was nobbut a youth then he later formed Shack with brother John Head and released several acclaimed albums. The NME in a moment of clarity described him in a front cover feature as 'our greatest ever songwriter', yet he is still relatively unknown. Fortunately the passing of time proves that the good will out eventually and Mick Head will get his day.

‘The Magical World of The Strands’ is surely his greatest work. For the uninitiated, imagine a scouse scally cross breed of Nick Drake and Arthur Lee given a string section and carte blanche to do what he likes for 40 odd minutes. The album is exquisite throughout, from the foggy, folky finger-picking of ‘Queen Matilda’ through the sweeping strings of ‘Something Like You’ to the La’s-like beat pop of ‘X Hits the Spot’, the quality never lets up throughout. Its two year gestation period allowed the band (basically made up of Shack people) to work at their own pace and unlike the Shack records it sounds completely free of record company interference. There’s a heavier folk influence in this than any of his other records - songs often sound like shanties dredged up from the sea-shore. There are lovely interludes - ‘Undecided (Reprise)’ can’t fail to put a smile on your face -- and there’s a Wickerman feel to certain tracks (‘It’s Harvest Time’). You also get a lovely drifting piece from Mick’s brother and partner in crime John (‘Loaded Man’).

As I flick through the album my guardedness about giving top scores is slowly eroded away as every track reveals itself to be majestic. Late in the album comes ‘Hocken’s Hay’ in which banjos pick and cascade over glorious melodies and my mind is made up. I’m aware that it’s easy to give higher marks to re-issues such as this which have had years to sink into your consciousness and are tangled up with your own memories but fuck it. Here Mick, have a 10.     

Danny Elfman

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

Review this item for us? Best review each week wins a £10 voucher!

Waxwork Records and Morgan Creek are proud to present the deluxe LP re-issue of Danny Elfman’s score to CLIVE BARKER’S NIGHTBREED. Long out of print and prohibitively expensive, the original soundtrack release of NIGHTBREED has become a sought after collectable LP for horror fans and vinyl soundtrack enthusiasts alike. Waxwork Records and Morgan Creek have partnered to release the NIGHTBREED soundtrack as a deluxe re-issue …view full details.

Spotlight Kid
Ten Thousand Hours

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

8/10 according to our Clinton on 29th July 2015

Phil commented quite correctly that there are no good bands with the word ‘kid’ in their name. I’d also like to add that there aren’t that many great bands who have taken their name from a famous album. So Spotlight Kid are 2-0 down before the needle even goes on the record. Luckily they start clawing things back pretty quickly - the flute samples on ‘Sugar Pills’ recall My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Soon’ but the drums are heavy and compressed and the female vocals punchy and distinctive.

Just at this precise moment our ‘90’s throwback Ian walks into the room. How could he know? In further pleasing news for him ‘A Minor Character’ features the lyric ‘catch the breeze’ but if he thinks this is some kind of Slowdive wish-wash he’d better get ready to rock baby as these guys have the power rock chops. It sounds more like the heavier thumpier end of shoegaze like Curve and they add a hand waving chorus too which you can’t help but find infectious.It’s a confident, strident album best exemplified on ‘Can’t Let Go’ where Kathy Heath’s vocals twist and turn over each other until you are forced to give in to their charms.

The record will probably most appeal to fans of the brash nu-gaze of Pinkshinyultrablast. Derivative? Yes but the songs are as strong as girders.

Ultimate Painting
Green Lanes

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

8/10 according to our Clinton on 28th July 2015

Imagine a cheery Lou Reed strutting down Stoke Newington high street on a sunny Wednesday morning. “How ya doin’ Mr Postman”, “Good to see you Mr Dealer”, he’s full of vitality as he flips an apple in the air. This is the image that Jack Cooper (Mazes) and James Hoare (Veronica Falls) manage to conjure up on the breezy ‘Kodiak’ which opens this excellent second album by the group.

They have an insouciant charm and three songs into the album they could have you believe that nothing really matters after all. It's raining? So what - as long as you can sit and listen to the Velvet Underground’s third album over and over again then life is sweet. What I like about this is that despite them coming from Manchester and London respectively, their Englishness doesn’t supress their cool. On tracks like ‘The Ocean’ they channel the sunnier end of the Clean’s catalogue with some twisty turny guitars intertwining beautifully. Elsewhere they are as laid back as Mac Demarco on the carefree ‘Two From the Vault’.  

It’s a really sweet album that has been released just at the right time. If this damn weather picks up it’s going to sound even better.

Split EP

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

8/10 according to our Clinton on 28th July 2015

Why bother finding a band to share a split 12” with when you can just reverse your name and do it all by yourselves. This is also a double B side and if you thought that meant all the songs were bad then you’ve got another thing coming. They are all good.

On the first side Geoff Barrows's Beak do two swirly krauty almost gothy numbers which are jam packed with atmosphere. Opener ‘The Meader’ is the sort of thing Joy Division might have done had they come from Berlin. It’s cold, it’s bleak, it’s murky and it has wracked vocals. ‘The Broken Window’ also has that rhythmic early ‘80s post-punk sound where hi-end bass is married to atmospheric keyboards.

Overleaf Kaeb are really the stars of the show. On ‘When We Fall’ they play a misty form of folk, that recalls oddball finger picked mystery folk as played by (back in the day) Arthur Lee and more recently Tunng and Parsley Sound. This is utterly gorgeous and builds beautifully with some stellar strings. You must hear it. It’s very hard to believe that the second track ‘There’s No One’ is the work of the same band. US rapper Jonwayne is brought in for some growly rhymes above what I can only describe as a kind of off kilter hymnal music before veering off into discordance.

There are three or four different styles at work here - from krauty post punk, to glistening folk, to hip-hop to power noise wig out. Luckily all of it is brilliant in its own way.

Jon Collin
Early Music

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 30th July 2015

I’m a 'pop' man at heart so I find it hard to write about records like this. The opening track is basically Collin picking away at a guitar like you’d pick at a scab. It’s very enjoyable but I’m finding that when he gets really excited and the needles start pushing into the red, it gets a bit intense for early on a Thursday morning.

Each of the first two tracks consist of a similar style - he doesn’t so much play the guitar but claw at it. The second pair of tracks are much more lo-fi and sound like he's playing live in an art gallery whilst a dictaphone was placed in a nearby toilet. It’s a really fractured take on folk that recalls the strung out pastures of Sir Richard Bishop and his ex Sun City Girls. The record is more of an atmosphere piece rather than anything else  - it’s oblique and cut up yet it's an enthralling listen. Some of the slide and pick particularly on track 6 is gorgeous. He certainly has his own style - something akin to John Fahey sliced into several pieces, turned into glass and re-assembled in the dark.  

Lone Wolf

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 30th July 2015

Prone to over-sharing in press releases and blogs, Paul Marshall aka Lone Wolf has done the right thing and locked himself away in a studio and made an extremely personal album that speaks more than a billion web words.

I’d venture that since his last record Marshall has been listening severely to Talk Talk and These New Puritans. This is the sort of record that recalls Wild Beasts or Elbow having a mid-life crisis and finally doing something truly in the name of art. I don’t fully get on with Marshall’s voice (it’s too Garvey with many a hint of the high Wild Beasty) but I like where he’s headed musically. ‘Alligator’ is an early highlight that strikes in the exact mid-point between melancholic Radiohead, Wild Beasts and Talk Talk. The muted trumpets that appear throughout hint towards the latter but even without them this is good stuff. ‘Give Up’ sounds like one of the more solemn efforts on Wild Beasts lovely ‘Smother’ - it features a nice build up that I feel is just a bit too earnest to be truly effective.

My general feeling that Marshall will be better the weirder he gets is exemplified on ‘Mess’ where some gorgeous piano chords collide with a sweet vocal, and the pulsating ‘Taking Shapes’, which is stripped back to bass and drums. The customer review below rightly compares ‘Token Water’ to Robert Wyatt’s ‘Gharbzadegi’  - it's very, very similar sounding and has a lovely intimate feel. Its subtly building melancholy is probably the highlight here.

I now read on his blog that Marshall is retiring the Lone Wolf moniker. Sometimes music takes a while to seep into people’s consciousness and everything takes time. ‘Lodge’ certainly needs investment - its best bits are where Marshall disappears into the ether so lets hope he can balance doing that with continuing to make records. 

  • Available on:
    LP £18.69
    CD £12.69


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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 30th July 2015

Soothe me... someone please soothe me. This release by Tengui is kind of soothing in a completely mashed up way. It's techno I suppose but doesn't really use beats. Instead it gathers together a myriad of sounds and mucks them all up into a big smudgy mess where everything crackles and appears to be chewed up by tape. Synths whirr in and out of the mix as oscillating keyboards flit between speakers. It keeps developing too, with big walls of drone appearing and taking over the murk. I really like how it all fits together and keeps evolving. It flaunts imperfections in the sound and has obviously been tinkered with for a long time... lots of patience required.

It does feel important; it has the feel of the best underground dub techno but with more of a sound collage-y atmosphere. It soundtracks things you don't really want to think about... yet its easy to get lost in its mega drones.

  • Available on:
    Cassette tape £5.99

Presents For Sally

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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 29th July 2015

‘Wishawaytoday’ is the type of title that could have been used by any shoegazy indie band between 1988 and 1992 before Britpop killed shoegaze with idiocy. But now it’s back back back, baby, and where are Oasis now? Yup.

Aaaanyway, being really old, I’ve heard all this type of stuff before -- but it’s certainly not without merit. It chugs along lazily with a nice melody that you’ll have to remove from your head with an enormous pair of pliers. It has shuffly ‘Loveless’ type drums and scratchy guitars. Reminds me of The Telescopes and of Revolver. Overleaf ‘Hits Like Kisses’ (™ the shoegaze book of songtitles) is a driftier, hazier affair that recalls Slowdive circa ‘Pygmalion’.   


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

7/10 according to our Clinton on 28th July 2015

Helping clog up the vinyl release schedules are Syntoma, a Mexican synth-pop outfit from the early ‘80s. The record is split into two sides -- not just two sides of vinyl, but instrumental and vocal sides. Although the instrumental side comes first, I’ve skipped straight to the vocal side (I don’t do “rules”, y'know) and what I’ve found is a kind of naive sci-fi synth pop with bloopy keyboards, guitar(!) and Lena Lovich style yelping vocals. It’s odd, that’s for sure, and horrifically dated -- but of course that’s what you all love about this kind of stuff. It reminds me of that X Ray Pop re-issue from a few years back though this crew like to add huge guitar solos onto their compositions.

The instrumental side is less madcap with lots of fuzzy interlocking synths. Imagine an 8 year old Vince Clark toying with synths at home and you are somewhere close. At times they make Trio sound like Kraftwerk - it’s so damn cheesy and jaunty. One for aficionados of daft synth composition and retro-craziness.

  • Available on:
    LP £15.99
    CD £15.99

Ghedalia Tazartes
La Bar Mitzvah du chien

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

6/10 according to our Clinton on 30th July 2015

Look at the sleeve. It's a naked, bearded man on all fours. Ghedalia Tazartes is a 'legendary' name in the European experimental community. The sort of man whose recently re-issued records had our former scribe Mike dishing out 9/10s as if they were confetti.

I find it hard to critically assess music like this so I'll simply describe it instead. The opening track consists of Tazartes half singing over what sounds like a fairground and a distant choir. At certain times the rhythmic movement of the choir creates a pleasantly disorientating effect. The second track is wailing over a hopeless funk track, the distorted harpsichord on track three is not meant to be user friendly. Comparatively the spoken word mayhem that follows it is relatively straight forward. Overleaf (and this could be the A side I dunno) is the sound of a troll (in the old sense of the word) muttering before picking up a jaws harp and twanging it.

Incomprehensible and almost impossible to listen to, it's not for me to decide as to whether this lives up to previous work. That said I really rate his coughing solo.    

Albert Hammond Jr.
Momentary Masters

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

6/10 according to our Clinton on 28th July 2015

I listened to the opening track here from the Strokes guitarist (I wanted to say former the Strokes guitarist but they are still dragging on indefinitely aren’t they?) whilst answering a few emails. This is perfect email answering music - it’s pleasant enough on the ears but at no point did I want to break off from my work. Solo Mr. Hammond makes a kind of danceable guitar pop - the type that was quite popular in the mid-2000s when The Rapture ruled the airwaves. Opener ‘Born Slippy’ (no not that one) has pleasantly taut guitars and moves along in a fairly Killers direction before stopping. So we are onto ‘Power Hungry’ with some nice Fine Young Cannibals-like guitar. This song has grown on me on second listen but I’m still unsure about the rap bit.

Hammond appears to be a wealthy contented man enjoying himself. His songs are ok  - they are no disaster but don’t really inspire much either. It has that compressed fuzzy production that the Strokes liked to lose  - not a vocal goes by without some distortion on but the production isn’t the problem really. ‘Losing Touch’ is typical of the fare on offer here  - it’s a slice of late ‘70s power pop with a touch of Death Cab For Cutie on the vocal. The chorus sounds exactly like something by the Strokes.

No calamities here but I think I’ll go back to answering that email.

Aisha Devi
Conscious C*nt

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

9/10 according to our Laurie on 29th July 2015

Here we have a 12” of electronic wonderment, complete with an aggressively alliterative title. Hide this one away from yer kids, Mr. Cameron. In short, this record is amazing. Aisha Devi has created a whirling melancholic semi-techno noisescape featuring bold synthwork, raspy beats and spaced-out samples.

The opener ‘Kim & the Wheel of Life’ features 3am rhythm cycles interspersed with some pretty complex textural shifting, with melodic breaks acting as breathing space. Our descriptions machine Tom described these as “dominating electronic productions” and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. ‘Aurat’ takes a break from introspective thwacking to do some introspective musing in an ambient electronic setting of one of Kishwar Naheed’s poems, the voice morphed through vocoding and the silences between the words filled by detailed synth bursts. Things get downtempo on the final tune, some more post-club vibes coming through (pitched down vocals n all), but with some completely punishing beats and barely a hint of timidness. Devi’s attention to detail gives the whole thing a relentless feel, with new electronic washes emerging constantly. Killer.

John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
Escape From New York

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 29th July 2015

More '80's soundtrack worship from Silva Screen. I know, I can hear your scream of “OMG THIS ISN’T JUST ANY SOUNDTRACK” because it’s John Carpenter who is a man that provides music, mostly for super tense slick (and completely outrageous) action/horror things. He’s joined by Alan Howarth to tackle the monstrous task of soundtracking a classic film. I mean, most of this stuff sounds like an '80's disco club, I guess with a certain level of badassery no doubt inspired by Carpenter revelling in a certain serpent.

Snake Plissken. Now that’s a name. Plisssss, hissed out like a real snake. Kurt Russell’s most famous performance cemented the archetypal ‘Kurt Russell character’, dropping ridiculous one liners and generally being a nonchalant but troubled coolguy throughout the film. The music’s really all about him, theme to Snake, Snake’s mean walk, Snake runs (away from) this town. Dramatic synth lines weave in and out of pounding idiosyncratic pop/rock beats, playing with intensity and drama. Clint says “it’s all over the place”, and he doesn’t lie, perhaps because the film is too. There’s some guitar that joins in parts for rawk cred, and you even get some snappy quotes from the film in there too. Now you can scratch with the famous “the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about” line. Cool huh?

The The

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 29th July 2015

Gotta love the level of spook here. As with most Death Waltz OSTs, I’ve never seen Hyena, but it sounds dark ‘n’ uneasy as you’d expect. On this one, The The is main man Matt Johnson doing it all solo, building atmospheres of criminal suspense to reflect the main character’s descent.

Johnson’s usually doing one of two things here. On one hand he’s lazily & hazily thwacking on chimes, guitar strings and synth keys, sparsely placing sound objects in a cavernous echospace as if recorded in a sewer under our beloved capital. ‘The Invisible City (Reign)’ is a highlight from the deeper tracks, with distant distorted washes rearing up and crashing down like that recent FIS record. But there’s also thumping 80s funtimes too, which you reach at track 4 with ‘Blondes Before Bedtime’, continued with ‘Blue Eyes’ and ‘Fear Porn’ but getting increasingly more tense and foreboding. ‘Take Me Away From This’ is a nice borderline between melancholy and impending fate, presumably the main guy’s fed up by now and the music shows.

This is one of the better things I’ve heard come from the Death Waltz label, Matt Johnson’s sounds going far beyond most of the old soundtracks that they unearth. Sorry DW, I was born in 1991, as Ian would say, I wouldn’t understand.

  • Available on:
    CD £15.29
    Double LP £23.79

Karen Gwyer

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 24th July 2015

Traversing the outer boundaries of techno once again is our fave Karen Gwyer and her cluster of technological massage. The machine grooves on Bouloman are set to drift and hypnotise you with her now-perfected contrast between the thump-squelch of acidic drum lines and deeply moving synth washes, which vary in subtlety from a hint (‘Keisa Kizzy Kinte’) to an engulf (the whole of side B).

Ever since seeing her tear up the Golden Cabinet, I’ve been drawn to the natural rise and fall of intensity in her tracks. My housemate almost cried during the last couple in her set, but he’s got a synth fetish so that’s gonna happen. The B side of this perfectly encompasses that - the shift between the banging and the beautiful, that point when the slowly oozing melancholy layers form the vapor trails to the drum’s engine.

Pvre Matrix

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 24th July 2015

This looks like the next part of LIES .5 series of mostly white labels, releases between releases. This time Pvre Matrix takes the reins, throwing hard rhythmic shapes mercilessly at your withered ears. ‘Burning Sulfur’ sets things off on a bit of a crazy note, the quickened pace combining well with the subtle dissonant arps to create something indistinct but insistent. Things get a bit more legible over on the flip, with repeated perc figures contrasting with synths that moan in relative agony on ‘Refusal’ and a spooky, low-key hypnotic exercise in ‘Hyper Object’. Everything’s got that extra little distorted sheen for added techno whack, recommended for those after hard-hitters.

Flapper That

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

7/10 according to our Laurie on 29th July 2015

Drums? Who needs them. Just because it’s on Powell’s label doesn’t mean that it has to be banging, and Evol’s synth alchemy skills prove that you can drive people crazy with just a single oscillator flexing and wobbling away for minutes. It’s an obvious study in minimalism, the A side focusing only on changing pitch and timbre in a repetitive, gradually-changing way. The result is a sort of electronic didgeridoo bouncing off the floor like a rugby ball - you think it’s gonna settle into a loop, but it bounces off to its own tune. Over to the B and the synthesised ode to the aboriginal continues, this time slightly more regular and constant, showcasing some squeaky acidic high frequencies with that unchanging low drone anchoring you down. I’m all for minimalism and the algorithmic crowd, but for some reason a monophonic synth alone isn’t catching me - expand your mapping, yo. Maybe you’re different, you oddballs.

Moon Pool & Dead Band

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

7/10 according to our Laurie on 29th July 2015

With the Death Waltz-esque cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is another dusted-off soundtrack to an adventure film where a man hunts cybermoths on a planet full of foliage rooms. Nope, that’s all image, but the music on MEQ is reminiscent of such things - after coming off a review of Escape from New York, it’s an easy thing to notice. And easy is good.

The beats are lo-fi and muffled and the synths are many. Shoddy machines pulse out an electro plod with varying speed, following the intro-build-breakdown-build again format of good house and techno. Some even get a disco feel going on, with Michael Dykehouse’s remix of ‘MEQ’ sounding like a techno robot jamming with Chic. I’ve just realised that these are all remixes of the original ‘MEQ’ tune, all 7 of them! The originals steady pace is maintained by Patrick Russell, but injected with some lazergun synth lines and additional stutter on the beats. JTC brings this into full on acid territory, the 303 squelching away amidst 808 pulses. Watery synth layers enter later, but it’s hard to see how this relates to the original.

BMG’s ‘Interdimensional mix’ explores a dark, industrial morphing of dub techno that sounds a bit like a muted version of that noisy buzz tone that emerges from speakers when you forget to plug things in. ErNo summons noise ghosts come his turn, with the drums taking a more tribal, hand-whacked feel, resulting in one of the best on here. Ice Cold Chrissy turns it into cosmic techno funk or something, sort of in line with the feel of the original. Things fall to bits during the final remix from Nate Young, one of the orig. creators, and it’s a weird semi-rhythmic noise collage that is a nice way to end it all. Kinda get the feeling that most of the tunes on here aren’t unified enough to be considered a full release, despite all stemming from the same point. But as an exploration of the possible directions of the original, it works well.

Antenna Happy
Rotor / Late

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

7/10 according to our Laurie on 24th July 2015

Antenna Happy is the new project of a man called Nathan Pope, who was well into house and techno back in the day but gave up because of all the gigs Tiesto was getting. 20 years later, he’s back, with this duo marking his second (i think) set of tunes. ‘Rotor’ has a funkier house feel, very cleanly produced, building to a bright, beachy wave of melodic synth layers. It’s punchy and would make a fun late night groover no doubt, but it’s over on the other side that things get interesting. You could call this tech-house I guess, but not too obvious, with tech-y percussion layers on the edge of breaking up and a relaxed Chicago chord progression fizzing away til the end.

TT / Love

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

7/10 according to our Laurie on 24th July 2015

Ah, Koreless, where have you been since Yugen? Playing with string quartets? Taking coke in sheds? That’s all well and good, but without some new music we’re all left stranded, trying and failing to guess which direction you’ll take next. TT / Love suddenly appears, and we realise you’re more or less the same Koreless we saw then.

TT begins the 12” with that stuttered vocal sample thing that was crystallised on Yugen, with a handful of percussion giving it a strong rhythmic drive, like if you concatenated ‘Ivana’ and ‘Sun’ minus that sunscorched synth line. This is the better of the two, with a rushing feel that probably will make it onto the dancefloor, despite the lack of heavy beat elements. Love crosses wires between this and almost Radiophonic synth techniques to make a more uneasy, tense slab of beatless beat. DJs take note, these will be great for set breakdowns. Otherwise, something more substantial has got to come soon, K!

The Myrrors / Cult Of Dom Keller
Fuzz Club 10" Split Single No. 7

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

8/10 according to our Robin on 29th July 2015

If you are reading this please feedback it. It’s The Fuzz Club, friends, back to spoil us for the seventh time with another one of those slightly smaller inched but no less waxy records. This one brings together the culprits of much slow-roasting psych rock, the Myrrors, with the extremely fussy and uncompromisingly experimental Cult of Dom Keller. Together at last! If you like your psych rock taking the scenic route and then just deciding to live there instead of going home, this split couldn’t be anymore perfect: it treats the genre like a building block.

The Myrrors’ side of proceedings moves lethargically, aesthetically caught between a dizzy downtown drone and the intro to a stoner metal album. The drums keep time sluggishly but precisely as noise creases in and out with tickles of flutes, abstracted guitars and yawned distortion. There’s no endgame in sight, for these dudes: rather, the piece writhes through pastiches of jazz, psych and avant-garde before fading hopelessly into the black.

Flip it over and Cult of Dom Keller honour their pals’ with a soundscaped bit of psych that does the record’s conceptual symmetry justice: it’s measured and heavy, but also forceless, its drums crashing onto a shoegazed seabed. Both sides of this split have a woozy beauty, but the Cult go one better by trading distorted vocals with short, sweet backing refrains -- you know, because everyone secretly wants to make pop music. It’s just that the Pop Club sounds kinda rubbish.

Olan Mill
Cavade Morlem

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 30th July 2015

Olan Mill are a drone duo rather than an obscurely named lower division football club, and ‘Cavade Marlem’ is their latest offering of supremely minimalist, Youtube-playlist appropriate ambient. Earlier this year, Laurie fell into a blissful and smiley sleep while taking in the sounds of the band’s ‘Half Seas Over’ record on Home Normal, and this release for Dronarivm doubles down on the quiet ecstasy: these tones sound like a landscape disappearing in high definition.

Much of ‘Cavade Marlem’ came from live performances which were then traced back from and sampled; live processed violin appears, as well as organ drones and vocal fog, each discombobulated by an anonymous framework of sound. It’s hard to tell apart different fragments of the band’s sound when all we hear is the sheen from each processed instrument, rising and falling like Stars of the Lid tucking in Chihei Hatakeyama. As far as Olan Mill records go, this is the least epic, fleeting by in subtle layers and requiring little patience in its seamlessness.

Choice moments see Olan Mill make the kind of gorgeous, epiphanic moment we’ve come to expect, like the screeching sounds of “Byruck”, which recall Julianna Barwick’s beautiful arrangements on ‘Nepenthe’: slicing through the ether of drone to deliver a message, the song eventually backs down and lets the record float on. Floating is pretty great; y'all should try it.

Long Distance Poison
Human Program

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 28th July 2015

Sometimes you’ve gotta make it look like you’re doing something in a hurry. ‘Human Program’ is a busily scheduled slice of music in which a suspended ambient backdrop is filled with effects, synth extrapolations and pounding drums made on modulars. The blissful drone that predicates this album sounds nice, but Long Distance Poison break it down with timbres most unwelcome in the ethereal green room -- at turns this record is ugly, hazy and psychedelic, three things that also make up the phases of avant-garde commuting.

Expo 70 will come to mind first as a touchstone for Long Distance Poison’s sound; as with his music, this band drive the chaos of synth-kissed krautrock into their sound, modulating their backdrop until it ceases to exist. There’s strands of Jonas Munks’ unfussy kosmische drone here, too, but Long Distance Poison are more rhythmically compelled, evolving their sound through syncopated beats with enough forward momentum to carry the record.

On the flipside, things get gorgeous, a washy synth drone resting on lovely staccato bass notes and a modest, clicking beat. It’s blissed-out meets foot-tapping in a world where club nights could just be ambient music all night. Long Distance Poison are a restless bunch, though, and the synth eventually trembles, the melodies trundling into the next phase. It’s how EDM should be, if you ask me -- quieter, but also louder.

J Fernandez
Many Levels of Laughter

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 28th July 2015

Please enjoy supreme pleasantness. There may be a lot of chill low-stakes indie rock out there, but that doesn’t stop J Fernandez from popping in for a record of slight treats inspired by a hopefully reciprocated fondness for his listener. On ‘Many Levels of Laughter’, the riffs are twinkly and sweet, the arrangements are smooth, and Fernandez is ever so slightly psychedelic. Not too much, mind; he’s just living on the cosy fringe of reality.

While this record would do well in the collection of a Yo La Tengo fan seeking further sleepy respite, it also delves into Jacco Gardner’s realm: rather than create nine seamless songs, Fernandez offers a pic ‘n’ mix selection of tunes that go from laid back lounge pop to hallucinogenic psych in a moment. On “Casual Encounter” he uses his voice to a more pantomimic effect as toy keyboards blare against growling guitars of an Ava Luna persuasion. Even in these moments, though, Fernandez is none too hyped, humming “Please don’t listen to me” offhand like he’s only half-aware there’s an album going on. The smoky and shakily strummed “Holy Hesitation” moves at a curious pace but feels much the same, resting on a chorus of soft-spoken mantras (“Focus on what you’re not”!) around a fading melody.

J Fernandez makes a good replacement bus for all the indie songwriters who have become too obnoxious to really lounge with us: on “Souvenirs”, he sounds like he’s doing a low-key Ariel Pink song (do they exist anymore?) alongside a Badly Drawn Boy arrangement of twinkling keys and obscured sax. If people could keep it on the down low as well as he did, I’m pretty sure indie pop wouldn’t be so terrible.

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Red River Dialect
Tender Gold and Gentle Blue

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7/10 according to our Robin on 28th July 2015

Red River Dialect used to make the Big Folk Music way back when they released ‘awellupontheway’, a schmaltzy rock record kindly taking its branch on a family tree of Mike Scott and Fairport Convention. Come ‘Tender Gold & Gentle Blue’, though, and they’ve decided that they can strip back their sound to an acoustic framework while keeping the many ornaments that make their being a quintet worthwhile. This record sounds like it was made in someone’s living room, but with a disastrous people to sofa ratio. It’s quiet and busy folk in the plurative.

Red River Dialect’s brand of folk is knotty and plaintive, with tunes showing off their abilities to pick complex tunes out of thin air while keeping them intimate: “Child Song” is a gorgeous instrumental that slides frantically down the frets while still sounding like it’s all happening over your shoulder. “Amelia”, meanwhile, brings the whole band back to encase frontman David Morris in instrumental swells: banjo that sounds like it’s being played in a snow globe, fiddle that’s floating up towards the ceiling and guitar that’s as nimble and warming as ever. The focus is on Morris’ stories, which pretty much always concerns an abstract form of heartbreak -- but the sound is lusher and bigger than him, whether in the scorched arrangements of “Khesed” or the ghostly harmonies that intrude on the solo performance of “Sceillic”.

‘Tender Gold & Gentle Blue’ suffers from its romantic home recording, in the sense that it meanders and forgets itself like a lazy Sunday, bringing the band in at choice moments and doing away with them the very next. It doesn’t cohere very well, but then neither did the musicians David Morris is tributing; The Waterboys never made an album that worked top to bottom, so why should he? This is pretty music, all things considered. And staying at home is cool. I can relate.

William Basinski
The Deluge

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7/10 according to our Robin on 28th July 2015

Tape looper to the stars William Basinski has been stripping away excess concept from his work since the rise of ‘The Disintegration Loops’, composing pieces that are important more for the sounds they make than for their process or history. ‘The Deluge’, however, finds him back with the stories: this record is thematically related to CD release ‘Cascade’, whose piano loop is carried like a stream into silence. ‘The Deluge’ takes that loop and straddles it with feedback loops spiralling into different lengths. The result is that the piano is hard to follow: it’s a straight line, but bridges go over it and tunnels under.

Basinski’s overtones might be the result of trial and error, here, in so far as he’s modulating the time-lengths for loops and seeing how they mesh together -- as ever, though, he proves himself to be the master of blending overtones into drone. The piece is gentle but doesn’t feel like it should be, the piano disjointed as if it were being replicated through parallel universes taking place at minutely different times. A subtle drone exists to upend the piano’s half-melodies, but it’s hard to tell if it’s permanent or not; Basinski makes his drones so subliminal you feel you might have dreamt them.

Back when Tim Hecker was less interested in scarred noise drone, he made records like this one: ‘Mirages’ may have been louder and more intrusive, but it also obsessed over conflicting overtones and the strangely muzak quality of ambient. It’s been done before, but Basinski is not trying to make singular art here; he’s made a pretty piano piece, taken it out of its frame and then let it be forgotten. The quiet and forceless fade out of ‘The Deluge’ suggests a rather contented pioneer.

Samantha Crain
Under Branch & Thorn & Tree

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 28th July 2015

Unless there was a recording studio under that branch, thorn and tree, I contest this record’s pastoral chops. Samantha Crain has made a fine record, here, but it’s not the sparse folk story you might expect, involving instead a great deal of enigmatic production and electronic supplementing. Though Crain has her guitar and voice to lead us in with, these songs sparkle with languishing synth chords and twinkling keyboards -- it’s countrified, of course, but sometimes country needs a helping hand, and the double bill of “Killer” and “Kathleen” suggest an artist halfway between proper electro pop and the organic folk rock keys of Okkervil River.

“Elk City” is proof of the genius songwriter Crain can be: singing with futility against a dramatic rise of strings and twang that seems to pull her in the other direction, she eventually cracks through for a chorus of conviction and plain words. Here, Crain eschews her long, confessional storytelling for choruses of unabridged emotion, using three words to elucidate verses as long as lists. The melodies are beautiful, too, by the way, and they’re only highlighted by the busy arrangements that brought them here.

As grossly traditionalist as it sounds, it’s the less electronically enhanced moments that strike me on ‘Under Branch, Thorn & Tree’. It’s the violin’s hurried fury, reminiscent of an ‘Axxess and Ace’-era Molina, that makes “Outside The Pale” hit; it’s the way the lethargic acoustic meander of “You Or Mystery” is kept on lockdown, only occasionally flourished with twang; it's the way that “When You Come Back” is soppy but not symphonic. The slight electronic experiments that the record opens with subside for the most part, and while that’s not a rule of thumb that all artists should follow, Crain's no frills folk songs are the ones that get me.

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Timestamp: Thursday 30th July, 19:08:39