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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.

Mosam Howieson
Spirals

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

8/10 according to our Ant on 27th August 2015

Promising debut EP on Seattle’s Further Records from Australian producer Mosam Howieson. ‘Spiral 7’ is slowly unfurling submerged, aquatic, ambient leaning techno. Dubbed out, shimmering and trippy. Recalling the mood of Donato Dozzy’s ‘K’ album on the same label or even his work as Voices From The Lake. Some classy sustained strings and Plastikman flavoured acid and the job’s a good ‘un.

Bleeper ‘Spiral 4’ is all dreamy and floaty with a big spooked synth that sweeps in and evaporates away in pink neon trails while distant voices hover.

The final Spiral’s gently throbbing bass, swirling liquid synth trails and fluttering percussion build into a hushed crescendo before slowly fizzing away. This 12” should come with a hammock.

Yo La Tengo
Stuff Like That There

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

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

It doesn’t matter how hard you try,  there’s no avoiding comparing this record to 1990’s superb ‘Fakebook’. This was the one where Yo La Tengo stopped making a racket, stripped down their sound to barely a whisper and raided their record collections for the finest songs you’ve never heard. It really was a great collection that just never ages.

Yo La Tengo were once my go to band for pretty much any sound my pretty little ears could crave but over the last few albums I've sorta lost interest despite everyone telling me that everything was still ok in the YLT world. Therefore I’m pretty pleased they’ve done this - I could listen to this sound day in, day out. It’s beautifully drifty and Dave Schramm the guitarist who sprinkled his magic over ‘Fakebook’ is back to work his wizardry once again. It’s a mixture of generally well chosen covers, the odd re-worked track and a couple of new compositions that fit in nicely done in a nicely old fashioned style. Opener ‘My Heart’s Not In It’ is a lilting country lollop, they weep their way sadly through Hank Williams ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and their new compositions fit in between just fine. They have that breezy laid back nature that only comes from listening to the Velvet Underground’s third record over and over again.

The sticking point for a few reviewers so far has been their take on The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’ - it’s completely lovely of course but is perhaps just a little too familiar a tune amongst the downcast tones found elsewhere and in the company of hidden gems such as Great Plains magnificent ‘Before we Stopped to Think’ it just seems a little too obvious a move. That said this is a wonderful listen. It sounds like it was recorded about a week after ‘Fakebook’ and mysteriously the band haven’t aged either. Again like 'Fakebook' a totally timeless record.

  • Available on:
    CD £9.79
    LP £15.29

Endless Melancholy
Her Name In A Language Of Stars

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

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

Endless Melancholy  - I know the feeling having snagged the headphone wire in the wheel of my chair two times since this record began.

The music isn’t exactly going to lift my mood but for fans of enormous swathes of ambient post-rock you might just get your kicks here. I can’t find a single shred of information within the CD so let’s forget all about song titles (one would imagine they are bleak).  The opening track is one humongous drone which gets more distorted as it goes on with spark’s of noise dripping everywhere. Everything is grand  - as the next track starts up I imagine Stars of the Lid and Sigur Ros collaborating on a soundtrack to a film about volcanoes. It’s massive yet sad if those two things can work together successfully. I hear the sound of seagulls through a reverb unit so we’re kind of in new age territory but these slabs of sound are nothing if not tuneful and they tug pretty neatly at that part of you that wants to drive a VW Passatt across the Himalayas. Get the lad some TV soundtrack work pronto.

If that’s not sold it to you then there’s some remixes tagged on the end by Benoit Pioulard, Wil Bolton and Desolate Horizons. I’ve since located the track titles and they are called things like ‘Her Name in a Language of Stars’.

OKADA
Impermanence

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

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

Ah I remember this, the sleeve was so dark I almost threw it straight in the stock room hoping it would sell ok without being talked up. Then I listened to a soundclip and once I’d fast forwarded a bit there was some nice spliced up ambience and icy vocal to be consumed. The music swirls around like some extremely bleak person on 4AD in the early ‘80’s but these vocals are interesting. At first you would say it was Lisa Gerrard-like before some pitch shifting completely reconfigures your mind and you start to think of this like you would a sludgy slowed down Burial.

They aren’t afraid to mix it up  - I was already startled by a drum & bass type beat trying to sneak its way into opener ‘Vulnerability’ when the black distorted drum noise of ‘Unrequited’ pounded my ears into submission. ‘Ruiner’ is kind of like Fly-Lo at 16rpm with woozy synths and sluggy beats creating an evocative swirl. Although I can hear nods to Haxan Cloak and Balam Acab this has a sound all of it’s own.

Just four tracks but they are all unusual and different from each other. As the rain lashed William Basinski style piano melancholy of ‘A Halycon Moment’ fades from view I’m very pleased I gave this a chance. you should too.

  • Available on:
    CD £12.69

Hooton Tennis Club
Highest Point In Cliff Town

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

5/10 according to our Clinton on 26th August 2015

Ach. When debut single ‘Jasper’ piped out of the airwaves I thought Hooton Tennis Club could be the next great British hope for slacker guitar pop. This debut however disappointingly falls way short of finding us a new Teenage Fanclub for the post mp3 generation.

Concerns start early, opener ‘Up in the Air’ just never convinces, it’s slackly produced which would be fine if it had a killer tune but it doesn’t. The same criticism could be applied to ‘I’m Not Going Roses Again’ - many bands can’t play their instruments all that well and it doesn’t really matter but but marry some quite obviously out of time drumming to a melody which is bored of itself before the first chorus then alarm bells start to ring. The album continues in this vein and far more effort seems to have gone into the ridiculous song titles than into actually constructing decent songs.

Maybe I'm being a bit unfair, it’s ok ish in a fun summer pop way but I feel the band are absolutely not ready to record their debut. They sound like a bunch of lads who have formed at University for a laugh, written a couple of decent songs and have been expected to fill a whole LP with them. True,  they have a nice laid back Lemonheadsy sound which could do well for itself given time but you need a bit more insouciant charm and songwriting chops before you can start imagining you are Evan Dando.

Give them a couple of years off to write some decent stuff and then let’s see what happens.

Asmus Tietchens
Ornamente (zwischen Null und Eins)

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

8/10 according to our Jim on 30th August 2015

A new album by Asmus Tietchens can be quite an intimidating prospect. The Hamburg-based acoustics professor has been investigating the inner and outer realms of electronic sound production since the mid-sixties. He makes no concessions to mass marketing: the ‘press release’ for this disc simply features a quote, in German, from everyone’s favourite Romanian misanthropist philosopher, Emile Cioran, taken from a withering critique of French culture and high gastronomy. But you can forget about all that once you put the disc on and immerse yourself in the delicate, ethereal sounds that unfurl like wisps of light-reflecting dust.

The otherworldy tones and subtle dynamics here are rich in detail and complexity, but the drama is on a microscopic scale, giving that sense of being opened up to a new dimension of musical experience. Some of the weird tonal characteristics Tietchens favours remind me of Alvin Lucier’s ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’­– where a narration is gradually blotted out by the resonant feedback of the room through a process of replaying and re-recording. Tietchens manipulates and arranges his strange resonances to open up a haunting sound world of tones that float eerily amidst watery, metallic glints. The disc’s final track builds into the most expansive composition with a melodic arc surging through the deceptive stillness, suggesting more cosmic dimensions that I can imagine gracing an intense, introspective sci-fi film that’s probably impossible to make.

Richard Garet
Meta

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

7/10 according to our Jim on 30th August 2015

You can always count on Richard Chartier’s label, Line to introduce us to new levels of subtlety in ambient minimalism. This disc by Uruguay-born, New York-based multimedia artist, Richard Garet is based on an installation in which background noise is brought to the fore; lifting previously present but unconscious sounds into our active awareness. What we get on the disc is an hour-long journey through alien textures, radioactive static clicks, humming and buzzing of many kinds and intricate sonic patterning at all thresholds of the audible spectrum. It’s the kind of music that sounds like it could have been beamed to Earth from a remote intelligence in a distant solar system, but is actually being made by mundane domestic appliances like the microwave oven, fridge-freezer and mobile phone.

Part of the thrill of this kind of music is the insectoid, alien quality of these sounds that we’ve heard before but probably not really paid much attention to them. Garet seems to structure and arrange the sounds too so that there appears to be an ebb and flow of intensity with stark, desolate passages building into periods of furiously teeming activity. This is most definitely a challenging, but engrossing listen, with some of the most punishing high frequency sine-wave surfing I’ve heard since I last checked out Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura’s sound-mixer feedback jams.      

Aleix Pitarch
Canis

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

6/10 according to our Jim on 29th August 2015

Here’s an extremely limited 10” from Blackest Rainbow featuring the soundtrack to a disturbing, stop motion animation film, Canis. Apparently it’s about two men trapped in a house that’s under siege from a pack of wild dogs. There’s no dialogue in the film, just the sounds of dogs and vaguely human noises, and of course this. The music here is a stark and unforgiving series of droning ambiences, each one varying the level of density and distortion, providing a veritable smorgasbord of claustrophobic atmospheres ranging from generalised unease all they way through to full-on, ‘I’m being savaged alive’ horror. The tracks are monolithic with little distinguishing details beyond their overall level of intensity, with occasional details hidden in the depths of static- like the baby crying that I swear I heard in there at one point. So, one to check out if you’re a fan of the industrial soundtracks of weird cultish films like Eraserhead or Tetsuo.  

Isnaj Dui
Dioptrics

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 28th August 2015

A new CD from Isnaj Dui is always a treat, particularly for the cause of proving that the flute has a life far beyond the likes of Debussy and Jethro Tull. Katie English succeeds at this again and again, revitalising the instrument with unique techniques and modern electronic messery all gained from extensive studies of classical, electroacoustic and gamelan music.

You can definitely hear the influence of all of the above. As with the majority of Isnaj Dui’s recent output, the flute instantly begs pastoral descriptions but then things happen that you don’t expect - notes that break the loveliness, deep clunking noises, whirring electronically-altered textures. What was once a beautiful instrument becomes a foreboding series of slow throbs on tracks like ‘Ancestral Paths’, held loosely together by frail rhythmic clouds of tapped sounds colliding like neglected windchimes. Echoes of gamelan exist in these mildly dissonant phrases. ‘Flea Circus’ is a dark waltz that seems to be attempting to summon a pagan deity, while ‘Hoop Diving’ opposes with carefree ignorance.

A great textural outing here from the flute revisionist extraordinaire.

Silicon
Personal Computer

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

8/10 according to our Laurie on 28th August 2015

Kody Neilson is a crazy figure, a point that the media has insisted on making, this heralded as his ‘maturation’ compared to past monkey antics. Well sure, this isn’t as hi-NRG as The Mint Chicks, but that’s a band, and this is one person.

I was about to remark about how this is sort of like an electro Unknown Mortal Orchestra or and more indie Galaxians, but then found out that it is in fact the UMO guy’s brother. Do your fucking research Loz. Does melodic character run in the family? It seems to be so, it could almost be Ruban singing the octaves on here; likewise, the groovy funk edge of Multi-Love is present, but amplified and drenched in delicious effects, the synth-bass of ‘Submarine’ playing off Neilson’s trippy bubble choir. But the two groups are ultimately separate entities, the emphasis on hazy synth touches and a generally more upbeat electropop vibe carving Kody his own little niche while marking his family name in musical history. Daddy would be proud.

‘Little Dancing Baby’ is pure cheese for those so inclined. ‘Love Peace’ is so UMO it hurts, to undermine what was said 10 seconds ago. Anyway, this is fun, synthy and melodically rich, so a feast for pop ears.

  • Available on:
    CD £10.19
    LP £21.99
    LP £16.99

Jean Guerin
Tacet

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

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

What could the music to an anarchic film sound like? Visceral punk? Challenging war-collage? Johnny Rotten’s butter ads? To the musical mind of Jean Guerin, none of the above would do. Only the most avant-garde of psychedelic jazz could cut it, presented here for the first time since 1971 on black or (more) limited grey wax.

Hold on to your hats, this isn’t quite the Zorn-skronk that you think it is (luv u really John). Rather than blast with the endless dissonant sax of post-modal era jazz, Tacet takes a more cautious approach, melding minimalist brass phrases with miscellaneous electronic timbres and delays to form a unique but unsettling whole. I pose you this question - does the use of a trumpet mean jazz? I’d say no, I’d say that this is more of a modern classical, musique concrete piece, playing with foreboding, consuming textures like Gyorgy Ligeti collaborating with Stockhausen.

The steady low swirl of ‘Gaub 71’ is a prime example of this - a shifting tumult of moans interspersed with what might be flutes, trumpets, who knows, all taking turns to goad your brain. Some vocals join the mix at various points, a disembodied reminder of humanity. A great record that only slightly resembles other composers, sitting at a fragile midpoint between styles.

18+
They Remixes

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

7/10 according to our Laurie on 28th August 2015

Ah, the gruesome twosome’s remix EP. Yep, there are secrets hidden behind those innocent high school impressions of the members of 18+, secrets that I wouldn’t even understand. Have a listen to their LP ‘Trust’ and tell me I’m lying. Aside from the disappointment with their omission of a remix of ‘Eyes Shut’, this is an exciting release for sure.

Suicideyear make a trap tune out of ‘Cake’ that doesn’t piss me off. it’s much dreamier that the rest of the genre, and lacks the annoying hihats and arrogant vocal slices that will usher the style to a necessary grave. Mr. Mitch switches the lights off during the act, slowing the tempo to create a durty R&B dirge, weaving some strings and synths around Ms. 18+’s vocals. Things get funky Portuguese-style on Tia Maria Produções’ choppy house-esque rework of ‘OIXU’ that’s bouncier than Ian’s pump-up Jabba the Hutt. This one is undoubtedly the party tune, a crowd of smashed folk is going wild in my head. ’Crow’ gets changed slightly by the Puerto Rican Audri Nix, who records a translation of the lyrics, leaving the crow and its surrounding beats intact, because she knows they’re amazing as they are. So yeah there’s some cool stuff on here, nothing too groundbreaking, but great nonetheless. Out now on Houndstooth.

Innercity
ABABABABABABAS (Blue Lion Child)

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

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

Chloe Harris’ Further Records introduces seasoned anti-musician Innercity’s latest LP, named after the key-smashed results of an angry encounter with an internet troll. The first word on the micro description on the sleeve is ‘uncompromising’; let the trauma commence.

A chamber ensemble of guitars and violins are scarred by torturous noise practices, taking the form of a harsh scald rather than the honest, pastoral tones usually associated with them. ‘Post apocalpytic’ - yeah, you could say that… Take for example the introductory tones of ‘Baal’s (Kitten Trumpeteer Choir)’, which could go either way after the high-pitched youthful parps of the ‘kittens’ (violins), but chooses to throw subtlety to the wind, take no prisoners, and pile on the distortion til the kittens screech. While side 1 is an exercise in pure minor abrasion, things get a bit more legible on the second side but equally as rough-hewn. A looped sample underpins most of ‘In Abra and Umbra’, allowing Hans Dens to introduce various extremities over the drone.

A similar, more frail version of this follows with even more space for variation, before the final brutal moments pound through walls of noise. It’s an interesting dark ambient LP that suffers a little from having only 1 flavour of noise, but is still a good example of altered instrumentation.

The Doubling Riders
Garama

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

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

Time Released Sound release a sound that has aged well with time in The Doubling Riders’ Garama, a beautifully constructed ode to a lost Berber kingdom, the ruins of which lie in modern-day Libya. It becomes their first foray into re-releases so keep your ears open. Historical ambient? But why? Well, the mystery of the archaic and the monolithic rigidity of surviving buildings brings a certain wonder to some folks, and if those folks can make some good ambient things then why not?

The record is chock full of patient atmospheres consisting of pointillist phrases from pianos, strings, flutes, mallets - everything you’d associate with the ancient age. And synths. Pianos came way after the Garamantes anyway, artistic license, etc etc. It’s ponderous and dramatic, but also with a sort of loose pulse through it all, never straying too far from rhythm. The music itself hasn’t aged a day, presumably something they aimed for when writing it. The synths still sound fresh as ever, but it’s unfortunately let down slightly by artificial acoustic instruments - some of the strings, mallets and shakers sound like they were played on a cheap casio keyboard, but glossed up to try to sound as hi-fi as the vocals or flute, for example.

It was 1991 I guess, things have changed since then, so once you get past this (or not even notice it…) then there’s an intriguing set of imaginary ancient desert songs to explore. Just try not to imagine them all getting slaughtered by the Romans.

Beach House
Depression Cherry

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

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

If you didn’t like ‘Bloom’, that’s okay: I don’t think Beach House did either. The dreamer duo’s last record amped up their sound and stretched it out against a widescreen; where their combinative organ/guitar melodies used to melt into each-other, they now crashed under the weight of expectation and, um, real drums, clamouring towards the best choruses rather than shrugging their way to them. ‘Bloom’ rocked the boat, but who wants anything but plain sailing from indie rock’s chillest band?

‘Depression Cherry’ seems to have repressed every bad memory ‘Bloom’ brought to the surface: no more theatrics for sold-out shows, no more fucking live drums, just the call-and-response of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, two artists seeking a perfect solution for their whispered pop music -- on their own, barely audible terms. If it sounds subdued at first, it’s because the band are actively doubling down, trying to make everything sound like its own minute incident: let’s start at the end of all things and say “Days of Candy” is the best example, punctuating a downcast piano ballad with drums as tinny as sprinklers turning on. “Space Song” does what the band did best on ‘Teen Dream’: guitar riffs curl around organs and vice versa at the tempo of a long hug. All modulations, all flourishes, are momentary gasps: the little, Krautish melody that ascends on this song’s tail-end is gone before you can do shit with it.

There’s one moment of real pantomimic furore, and it comes early, the metal-inspired riffs of “Sparks” combining with a shoegazed vocal choir: the way the duo sustain the song’s high drama only serves to make it feel as monochrome as the rest of the record, part of their patient, streamlined dogma. Hearing them play out this song is like hearing them try to tame ‘Bloom’ for themselves, which feels like the mission statement of ‘Depression Cherry’: make an amazing record, but weigh each song as an equal partner of it. I’ll go ahead and say they don’t quite succeed, because “PPP” is a knockout: it winds gorgeous guitar riffs and the most adorable love song the band have ever crafted, kissing it off with verses, choruses, bridges and outros that could each be considered the hook.

It’s the best Beach House song, on one of their most deceptively interesting records. No drama: let's just have one nice day.

  • Available on:
    LP £20.39
    CD £10.19

Laura Cannell
Beneath Swooping Talons

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

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

A master of bows and strings, Laura Cannell is a soloist who can sound responsible for a whole orchestra on her own. ‘Beneath Swooping Talons’ is an improvised record that trusts in first takes, suggesting many different classical disciplines but not quite fitting any. Cannell commits to a kind of neo-classical melancholy pioneered by Max Richter but reduced to total sparsity by Colin Stetson; on her own, she creates sounds louder and harsher than most groups would have the capacity for.

There’s a real diversity in Cannell’s music, which can often sound harmonious and multifaceted -- especially in the bowed works -- but often takes on a rawer discipline on medieval inspired compositions like “Deers Bark” and “Two Winters”. “Deers” has an unexpected propulsive energy, considering the reverent, slow sound of double recorders -- the results are similar to Aine O’Dwyer’s ‘Music for Church Cleaners’, in taking an old, stoical sound and granting us modern access to it.

There’s a harshness to this music that comes with the timbres of instruments used; it’s something Yair Elazar Glotman recently considered by converting the physicality of an instrument into drone, but Cannell is mostly creating more straightforward, melodious compositions which only occasionally lull into ambient. ‘Beneath Swooping Talons’ demonstrates how much sound can come from a solitary player.

Frog Eyes
Pickpocket’s Locket

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

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

Carey Mercer sounds furious, but his music is meditation. With its bold, endlessly ricocheting guitar tones, his last record sounded like it was trembling; really, it was ruminating, parsing through different crises and deciding on certain defiant truths for them. He concluded, halfway through ‘Carey’s Cold Spring’, that “The world is sick, the world is sad, but what you gotta try and do is be glad”; as if to say that and then some, he later delivered an essay for the Talkhouse dealing with his own cancer struggle and the concept of respecting death after life. It might sound as post-apocalyptic as literally every Canadian rock band that has ever existed, but this music is good for you. Trust in it.

Mercer’s new record, ‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ is arguably just the same but brand new: a rock opera for acoustic guitar, it comes with all the yelping and shaking in tact, Mercer mumble-frowning lyrics as things crest and explode around him. Old bandmate Spencer Krug provides strings to create some sense of ascension in each song (“Joe With the Jam” is at turns epic and quietly romantic, thanks to the rise and fall of its swells), while the acoustic guitar is used as a modest device, something to open up each song’s orchestration -- that guitar belonged Mercer’s father, and he wrote the songs on this album on it, suggesting that they later developed into these Americana sagas, doused in twang and celebrated with symphonies.

As ever, these songs sound urgent and drastic, but there’s a real warmth in them that’s only ever been implied by Mercer in the past. As he pants through “Death’s Ship”, he creates generous and thoughtful imagery (“This is a song for a wild cat”) and lets strangely gleeful melodies connect with the more anxious ones. “In a Hut” sees him crackle through an a cappella intro before a gorgeous piano ballad opens up to the sort of melancholy acceptance of “When The Ship Comes In”. Maybe I’m imagining it, but it’s nice to hear Mercer give in to acceptance: the stakes are lower in this rock opera, but that just means the sounds are nicer.

  • Available on:
    CD £10.69
    LP £15.39

Ancient Ocean
Blood Moon

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

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

You know ambient has gone too far when someone’s playing the bowed banjo. I’m pretty sure we could just get the same sound out of slowing down a Mumford & Sons music video on YouTube, but Ancient Ocean have opted to go the more grassroots route. The musician tasked with the bowing is Aaron Martin, who’s recently been releasing astonishing release after astonishing release, starting with ‘Comet’s Coma’ over on the warmest of drone labels Eilean. Here he works with about four different synthlords and piano processor J. S. Aurelius for a record that strives to tone typically cold electronics into a natural, washy sound.

With this many bleating on synths, a record tends to get a sharper and more linear sound than this; Sarah Davachi has released two howling synth masterstrokes this year, while acts like CRIMEWAVE and Raica have been making chilling, uncomfortable music in the same vein. Ancient Ocean somehow manage to create a far more layered atmosphere, coating the synth in distanced piano notes and crackling field recordings. There’s a whole ecosystem in ‘Blood Moon’, and often the synths strive to be only a minimalist factor in proceedings, the record presenting many different contours. “Beargrass Creek” spends most of its time presenting the setting before rising into a flurry of unresolved strings and processed sax.

This is a beautifully tense record that should satiate lovers of both dark and light ambient sounds; it has the continuous moan-sounds that Dirty Beaches’ offered on ‘Stateless’ while offering the melodic dusk of Secret Pyramid. Though it’s a given, I guess I should say that anything Aaron Martin is associated with is gonna be real pretty. Let’s band around the banjo.

Advance Base
Nephew In The Wild

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

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

Since his last record as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, slumbering songwriter Owen Ashworth contributed to Sun Kil Moon’s critically acclaimed and objectively terrible ‘Benji’, which I hold him in a great deal of contempt for. PSA everyone: do not help a man like that write songs like those. Ashworth’s own music is comparatively pretty and modest, and hearing ‘Nephew In The Wild’ proves a songwriter who can mix twee aesthetics in with a full-bodied Americana that never sounds too much like one or the other.

At first blush, this record did not make did not make a lot of sense to me; I now know that it was because I was playing it in a room full of people, where it works far better as a solitary listening experience that matches the mostly solo vocal performance Ashworth is offering. The arrangements -- often featuring drum machines, xylophonic misdemeanours and twinkling keys -- sound playful, but they disguise the sparseness of Ashworth’s stories, which are mostly plain verse love songs a la one Mark Kozelek, but after more interesting anecdotes and more bizarre scenarios (“your mom complains about the tree” is a nice slice of weird suburbia).

With his shaky near-baritone and his penchant for minor-key melancholy, Ashworth’s music has always sounded best next to your Daniel Johnston records and your favourite Boduf Songs. But it’s his arrangements that are killer: they can enfranchise his stories with a whole new vibe, the twang of “Christmas in Dearborn” giving a whole backyard to the house of quiet keyboard. These are lovely, stay-at-home songs and none of them are about Ben Gibbard. So… cut your losses.

  • Available on:
    LP £15.29
    CD £11.89

Hills
Frid

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

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

It’s been a pretty good season for flute psych, I must say, and Hills are here to finish what Pridjevi started, offering an unbranded type of swirler rock that’s as loose as my shoelaces (n.b. I have a problem with shoelaces; I’m working through it at my own pace). On ‘Frid’ they groan out riffs like your average psych jam band, but keep them crunching with a continuous lock-in on distortion; in the process, they sound as much like a stoner band or a recent jam of Godspeed’s, but they also incorporate sitars, flutes and hand drums as a way of breaking down the wall of sound. So, you know: in trying not to be a cliche they have totally succumbed to being a cliche.

Which is okay: these instrumentals still sound nice. The band create swell grooves (as on the beginning of “National Drone”) and are good at slowing things into a droning segue (the end of “KolleKliv”). “AnuKthal is here” is arguably the record’s high point, switching the wailing circular riffs for acoustic strums that suddenly reposition the band as a folk freakout band who owe a vibe or two to Exuma. You don’t have to be original to be versatile, and Hills are able to create an atlas of psych, rather than write a new book for it; this acoustic track incorporates faraway vocal moans and reverberating effects to sound bigger than any hypnosis rock you might be used to.

You can sound like the Heads and still make vast jams for your listeners to fall into, and part of Hills' appeal is that they're trying new things, not inventing them.

  • Available on:
    LP £15.29
    CD £11.29

Royal Headache
High

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

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

By now it’s clear there’s an indie rock renaissance taking place over on the Oceanic shores, more prominently in Australian cities such as Sydney, where scuzz rockers like Royal Headache are offered the chance to play at the opera house. ‘High’ actually exists in a different indie stratosphere to a lot of the Oz rock that’s been in our world recently: it’s less stoned-out, less furiously noisy, not quite as twee. Rather, Royal Headache sounds kinda like a glut of indie rock bands from the early oughts we might have forgotten about: on first take, many of the songs on ‘High’, whether through their melody or the half-gravelly vocals, recall folks like the Pigeon Detectives or the View.

The caveat here is that it’s a lot better, and many of these songs are pleasing to the ear: “Another World” glides by on a nifty chord-sequence and overenthusiastic drum fills, sealing the deal with a mix of screams and “la la la la las”. A pleasant riff introduces the world to “Wouldn’t You Know”, a sombre track that still twinkles with bright keys -- an old Tindersticks trick if ever there was one. These songs don’t break new ground, but they do make the old ground sound better, for the most part.

It’s the more jangly propositions that do the best work: “Carolina” strikes with acoustic strums and an insatiable chord sequence, while the vocals are ramshackle and distraught. It recalls recent records by Twerps and Dick Diver in its melancholy pop brilliance, and it’s that instinct that works best for ‘High’; when they’re rawking out over fuzzy old Britrock, I’m less about it. The rest of time, these folks go in.

Dope Body
Kunk

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

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

Post-hardcore dudes Dope Body come described as “a four-way conversation”, and that might just be the realest thing said about them: with last year’s ‘Lifer’, they released a pretty democratic punk record that swirled between discordance, melody and a little bit of pop-punk action. ‘Kunk’, which definitely isn’t a Kooks record, seems to add a fifth participant to the conversation, but it isn’t a person: rather, it’s an unshaped blob of noise and jazz and the avants. Whatever doesn’t fit, Dope Body have invited it to houseshare with them.

The record starts on a striking and fairly accessible moment, with riffs refusing in the catchy noise rock way, as with how Unwound or Fugazi used to open records -- thrilling and killing with their guitars. From there, it crumbles into a segue of clamouring contact noise and struggles its way back to a proper song through stuttering feedback gloop and half-operated drums. Otherwise, straightforward tunes like “Old Grey” wobble with effects that sound like Woody the Woodpecker fronting a hardcore band, while feedback squeals its way to an unrelated polyrhythm.

The elements are in Dope Body’s music; the way they swing between genres and blend some in without a lid on is wonderful, but hearing the little blasts of noise among what are otherwise structured songs creates a suffocating, close-contact sound very few other noise rock bands stop to think about. If White Suns started to write songs rather than just yell them from atop a rainstormed mountain, I believe 'Kunk' would be their blueprint.

  • Available on:
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Pete Um
Contempt

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 26th August 2015

Today: be thrifty and listen to some budget pop. Pete Um follows on from a long-standing tradition of fourtrackers and indie weirdos who grabbed whatever they could and crafted the catchiest half songs. Um does it, for the most part, on shitty keyboards, singing stoically and haphazardly over farty sounds, squeaky non-melodies and sleepy beats. It’s quite a freaky time -- twenty-six songs and none of them quite reach a conclusion.

This record’s immature abstractions and silly sound collations will be familiar to fans of the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, R. Stevie Moore and even the odd Cleaners From Venus tune; bits that should come together instead flail around each other, with bass lines often grooving their way through a totally different universe. There are often inspired moments of true pop, deliberately fucked up by a lack of tempo gatekeeping.

I think Um would make good robot dance pop a la the Pet Shop Boys if he’d been commissioned the right equipment for it, but ‘Contempt’ is a rather delightful trail through a messy history of musical smudge that started with Syd Barrett and got drilled into our brains by Robert Pollard. If Um can bring out more of the miraculous miracles this sorta-genre’s forebears are famous for, he'll be fine. Thank you for the um music, Mr. Um. 

Bernard Vitet
La Guepe

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 26th August 2015

It’s all very reasonable. The French avant-garde scene of the ‘70s spawned many a musical dilettante making interesting music from the sidelines of sound, and the latest in an effort to reissue the works of the era’s Futura label brings Bernard Vitet to the fore. The cover for ‘La Guepe’ offers a characteristically sparse picture of a weirdly decorated alien playing a primitive flute, and if you swap that flute for a piano, you’ve got the record’s vibe down: these performances show Vitet to be a curious and largely unfussy soloist just trying out his instruments, like a bank robber going through combinations on a safe.

Opener “Et Cetera” is perhaps Vitet’s calmest and quietest work, simply going through varied and unrelated motions on the piano as time folds in on itself. Vitet clearly considered himself a polymath in both instrumentation and aesthetic, though, and his second track proves altogether less minimalist, combining barbed violin and piano that sounds like glass being clanked together in a coffee shop. The groaning vocals that intercept these sounds serve as an example of Vitet's penchant for improvisation: not only did he let certain arrangements go where they wanted, he introduced totally disparate intonations of sound. These wordless operatic vocals feeling like another way of framing the song’s distress signals.

The vocals take the record into a dimension that will surely appeal to fans of throat-wailers like Phil Minton, as well as fans of more beautified choral ambient, at a push; ultimately, though, they fit the woozy, formless diversions this record plays out, groaning over confused drums and scraped-together double bass. I don’t think I would have wanted to be in Vitet's scene, but I’m happy to just know it exists from this here chair.

The Last Hurrah!!
Mudflowers

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 26th August 2015

If I had a car I would fill it up with twang instead of petrol and everyone would have a real nice time whenever I was trundling down the motorway. The Last Hurrah!! are with me, on this one, fueling their symphonic, full-to-the-brim Americana with a high dosage of guitar rings. That’s the kind of record this is: overwhelmingly pastoral, yearning for traditionalism and all about going back to the country.

For ‘Mudflowers’,  HP Gunderson and Maesa Pullman have banded together and created a gorgeously produced folk pop record that harkens back to the olden-days scenes they love: it will appeal to fans of ‘Year of the Cat’ era Al Stewart, in all honesty -- the melodies from “The Weight of the Moon” are uncanny -- while ringing out to fans of radio country, the schmaltz-end of Cherry Ghost and early-period Neko Case. All this to say: there are so many melodies, cornily presented and done up by arrangements on guitars, strings, organs -- anything that you can fit in the back of a good truck.

With such a full body of sound, the twang can often be this record’s undoing: the insistence on it on heartbroken ballad “Those Memories” creates an beachy aesthetic against the song’s will, making it feel hella chill instead of incredibly dramatic. I’ll never say no to twang, but I’ll turn my back on a record if it starts parodying itself. Just bring me the twang on its own. On a plate.

Parquet Courts / Joey Pizza Slice
Split

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

7/10 according to our Robin on 26th August 2015

It’s 2015 and I’m still reeling from the reality of band names like Joey Pizza Slice, but I’m brought back to earth knowing that a band with this name is doing a split with Parquet Courts, because of course. In today’s funtime, don’t-give-a-fuck, sofa-snoozing indie rock news, two bands do a split wherein they take on each other’s songs. With a nasal vocal hidden underneath a thick sneeze of distortion, JPS give “Picture of Health” a go, an early Court’s number from way back when ‘Light Up Gold’ had indie revivalists stoked. They play it pretty straight-and-narrow, developing it into a slightly more rocking anthem -- or maybe that’s just the placebo effect of drenching a song in bucketful of fuzz.

On the flip, you have your Parquet Courts, your Parqay Quartz, your Parquetzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Coorrrttzzzzz, or whatever name they most recently yawned out of their effortlessly nothing mouths. Armed with cowbell and tambourine and some Supertramp-styled keyboards and whatever else they found in their bouncy castle beds, they do a nice version of JPS’ questionable titled “Pretty Girls Is a Motherfucker”, cussing themselves out in a rewrite of the lyrics (“Parquet Courts is a motherfucker”, y’all). It’s jangly and it sees the band in higher spirits than they’ve managed to maintain for a while, maintaining that late-evening garage jam vibe they brandish so well. Nice riffs and easy hooks and I guess it’s not their fault about the dumb lyrics.

All in all, these are truly two indie rock bands, covering each other’s songs, on wax that’s smaller than the usual wax.

Destroyer
Poison Season

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

6/10 according to our Robin on 27th August 2015

Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer used to be in yelping Canadian indie rock band Swan Lake, and now they’ve released new albums on the very same day -- apparently nobody told their pal Spencer Krug, who’s probably out in Finland singing to wolves. We’ll get to Mercer’s new folk opera in another review -- his earnest songs are something entirely different from a sarcastic Destroyer record -- but now it’s time to do what the blogosphere does best: humour Dan Bejar.

A few years ago Bejar’s Destroyer unleashed ‘Kaputt’ and shocked everyone with a stupefying roundabout turn. Rather than inject a bit of sincerity into his project by losing the Bowie schtick, he prepared a record of differently sarcastic music: slick, sax-adorned ‘80s yacht rock worthy of (and obsessed with) Prefab Sprout. As far as records that I love to hate and hate to love go, ‘Kaputt’ sits on the throne. It proved Bejar as a great linguist as much as a lyricist -- a dude who knows how to place, repeat and rearticulate words rather than simply write them. With its obsessive stories about music and its press, ‘Kaputt’ is the high point of musical snark, one of my favourite records ever, and I despise it. In a few years, I imagine I’ll say the same about ‘Poison Season’.

This record once again reimagines the Destroyer project, which is now in its third wave of uncool: here is a serene, almost pantomimic record shining with blase string arrangements and jaunty melodies. Each climax only serves to further cheese up a record of preternatural cheesiness: the urgent rushes of violin on “Hell” are eventually broken down with a cabaret of piano and sax. “The River” is so much about its dad Americana that it sounds like it’s on autopilot, like an ambient Steely Dan; “Archer On The Beach” is much the same, imagining Bejar as a smoky balladeer who barely cares to mumble his way through the clouds of sax.

One of the best things about ‘Kaputt’ was how Bejar played with language until it took on a myriad new meanings, but here, the language isn’t as thrilling -- nor as amusing. The separation of “Times Square” into three separate songs doesn’t have the immediacy of the fleeting, randomly stammered words of “Bay of Pigs”, while many of these songs lose their lyrical stitching due to Bejar’s hazy songwriting and long pauses. There’s one moment of simple brilliance, and it’s “Dream Lover”, a bleating rocker a la ‘Let’s Dance’ that repositions the same lyric until it feels like the most important phrase in the world: “Lovers on the run!”. I can’t explain why any given Bejar lyric sounds so good, but when it does, it takes on its own characters and backstories. It’s a shame that the rest of this elaborate record can’t find an inch of that personality.

  • Available on:
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Timestamp: Tuesday 1st September, 06:57:17