Saturday, 20 February 2010 00:00

LOCAL NATIVES - Gorilla Manor

French Kiss

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As anyone who has been in a band for keeps knows, the writing process, when ideas are spread across a myriad of personalities with disparate ambitions and interests can be simply just damn hard work. Even harder is committing to that process, heart and soul, especially when it seems anything of substance may prove ever elusive. I guess that's why many bands are often controlled by one or two strong figures and the rest just fall in and do as they are told. So its heartening to hear of a successful transformative process that saw a talented collective go from treading water to realising what was possible with a bit of grit and focus. A group that became so hellbent and 100% committed to producing something of quality and substance that they moved into a house together and devoted themselves completely to writing an album that turned out to be of immediate and lasting quality. Thus, it was with Silver Lake five piece Local Natives. In an area of Los Angeles that has been dubbed the 'Williamsburg of the West' and is and was home to the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pavement, Jane's Addiction, Beck, Porno For Pyros, Lou Barlow, Mark E. Smith and the late Elliot Smith it is unsurprising that in such an environment, a group of enterprising and accomplished musicians would enter into such an artistic and organic endeavour.

What has been produced is a set of eleven consistent, accessible, catchy yet technical original songs that sit together perfectly with the excellent rounded out Talking Heads cover, 'Warning Sign'. Led by the golden multi-layered vocal harmonies of guitarists Tim Rice, Ryan Hahn and keyboardist/percussionist Kelcey Ayer whose voices and instruments provide plenty of lasting and embedding hooks throughout the album, the influences old and new that drive Local Natives are easily identified and won't be dealt with here. Review wise, they have been overdone almost everywhere else. Tied together with the work of drummer Matt Frazier, whose combo work with Ayer is outstanding, complementing each track and the powerful driving and looping bass guitar of Andy Hamm, the meticulous attention to detail spreads across every corner of the band's sound.

There is an effervescence constantly bubbling away on tracks such as 'Wide Eyes' and 'Sun Hands' and an aggressive, yet pensive and immediate, yet patient feel to the likes of 'Shape Shifter' and 'Stranger Things'. The straight ahead rock that begins 'Camera Talk' gives way to reggae before emotive strings and keys combine with pounding drums and open hi hat that gives a flourishing finish. This is followed by the simple three chord hook that permeates the slower 'Cards And Quarters', that slow dances its way into the aforementioned Talking Heads cover, a rendition that adds so much to the original. Although the shuffling beat and clean guitar that drives 'Cubism Dream' rounds out the highlights it feels irresponsibly remiss to omit mention of the other tracks. Full kudos goes to Infectious Records in the UK who had the foresight to release this album last year. It is extremely strange that, given Local Natives are an American band, it hasn't seen the light of day in the US until now. Gorilla Manor is an album of enduring stature that combines grand ideas with flawless execution and attention to detail, fully shining light on what a group of five talented and dedicated individuals can produce when their creative stars align. Absolutely outstanding.

James Stocker - February 20, 2010.


Saturday, 13 February 2010 00:00


FOUR TET - There Is Love In You


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Four Tet (aka Kieran Hebden) has been making his own brand of electro experimental music for some time now. Back in 1998 he had his first venture under the moniker Four Tet with the craftily titled single 'Thirtysixtwentyfive', which was, yes, 36 minutes 25 seconds in length. Since then a swathe of EPs and five LPs have followed. His resume as a remixer is long and impressive, covering a wide range of genres. Manic Street Preachers, Beth Orton, Aphex Twin, Super Furry Animals, Radiohead, Sia, Kings Of Convenience, Battles, Badley Drawn Boy and even Black Sabbath have had their work remoulded in Hebden's hands. A double CD of his remixes came out in 2006.

There Is Love In You, out through Domino, marks his first long player release since Everything Ecstatic in '05 and it has been well worth the wait. The soundscapes have never sounded better and the whole album lends itself beautifully to a variety of listening experiences, be it late night chill time, as a soundtrack to walking city streets with headphones or a hung over Sunday session, it suits them all. Hebden honed these tracks during a DJ residency at the London club Plastic People (after which he has named one of the tracks) tweaking his music after judging the response from the patrons. 'There Is Love In You' is a stripped back pure experience. Tracks range from reflective and cerebral to hypnotic and jubilant.

Kicking off with a tap on the cymbal and a simple beat 'Angel Echoes' opens the music box that is There Is Love In You. A female voice drifts in on a clipped sampled loop and floats along for four minutes of bliss, overlappping onto the next track 'Love Cry'. A crackling and droning intro builds the anticipation and when the beat kicks in at 1:06 you know straight away this track will get multiple plays and stay on repeat in your head all day. It builds and builds with the brilliant and sexy vocal loop entering the mix at a restrained four minute mark, halfway through the track. At 7:10 the vocals drop away as the killer beat continues and the track moves into third gear. This nine minute epic brings us back for a soft landing with some sweet guitar to round it off nicely. It's clear to see why this track made the number one position in the first Top30 list for the year. 'Sing' has an optimistic, upbeat feel to it and more female vocals adding to the mix. 'This Unfolds' does just that, with a complex mix of sounds, showcasing Four Tet's sophisticated take on the electro genre. Each track sits perfectly alongside the next, and as a whole There Is Love In You is a soothing and heady experience.

James Stocker - February 13, 2010


Saturday, 06 February 2010 00:00


BEACH HOUSE - Teen Dream

Sub Pop

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When Baltimore duo Beach House lit up the musical landscape late last year and delivered a definitive knockout track in the form of the fully formed 'Norway' off their then yet to be released third effort Teen Dream, I couldn't help but get excited about the prospective ear candy that the Chris Coady produced release proper promised to deliver. I also felt a little trepidation that the album may not live up to those lofty expectations and at the risk of sounding sacrilegious given all the critic and blog love the album has recieved, initially the first couple of listens failed to deliver. I needn't of worried because no matter, in the end, as with the first two Beach House albums, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have again produced a collection of exquisite slow burners, with more accessibility yet lasting qualities where nothing misses the mark. The fact that I've listened to this album more than any other this year thus far is early testimony to how great it is and will turn out to be in posterity. The lesson for reviewers is, don't be premature in judgement. Does Tom Hughes of Guardian fame want another go?

The amazing thing about the Beach House sound is how remarkable it is by being well, unremarkable. Let me explain. The consistent pulse and timing behind the lush, ethereal soundscapes whether it be by using Legrand's synth or a thin or deep sounding drum machine is repetitive across the album but it lays a base for the creation of those soundscapes which are accompanied by lasting hooks and alternation between light and dark, cold and warmth. Scally's guitar is immediately prominent on the metaphoric opener 'Zebra' and combined with Legrand's sun-drenched keys and soaring vocals, its a knockout combination that is immediately on show and extends throughout the albums' 53 minutes. The fact that each song sits between four and six minutes and none outstays its welcome often finishing before you're ready is evidence of the lasting qualities of Teen Dream.

'Silver Soul' is a classic example of the feel on the first two albums but sounds more rounded in an aural sense and delves organically deeper musically. That the pristine 'Norway' is still a standout after three solid months on repeat is unsurprising and the excellent 'Walk In The Park' is further evidence that Beach House is one of the tightest, most innately tuned into eachother duos around. 'Used To Be' sits pretty as the middle track and its change in tempo is a welcome distraction and perfectly paves the way for the familiar melody that dominates 'Lover Of Mine', a track that sports a shoegaze shuffle. 'Real Love' is the best example of Legrand's vocal growth as she displays an almost chanteuse quality. 'Take Care' rounds the album off perfectly and is sublime in its simplicity with only Legrand's vocals changing noticeably backed by Scally's always more than complementary pipes as the musically driven beat continues on relentlessly until the fade out leaves you longing for more. Just start again. I have many times.

James Stocker - February 6, 2010


Zebra (Live)

Beach House (USA)
From the album 'Teen Dream', Sub Pop

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Monday, 01 February 2010 00:00

OWEN PALLETT - Heartland


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Stepping out from behind the Final Fantasy moniker he wore for his first two albums, Canadian violinist, composer and pop music extraordinaire Owen Pallett has produced with his third, Heartland, twelve tracks laden with a perfect organic fusion of pop and classical arrangements that bear the mark of a skilled yet sensitive hand. Armed with the class of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and ably assisted in parts by Nico Muhly, the orchestral arranger for the last Grizzly Bear and Antony And The Johnsons albums, Pallett has released a singularly original, vital and lyrically existential piece of work, an excellent way to kick off the new decade for true music lovers and aficionados of the artist in particular.

Always sporting a pop centre, Heartland ebbs and flows, resting on a meticulous mixture of electronic loops, tweaks and beats that combine seamlessly with rich strings, horns and traditional orchestral percussion. The tension that underpins the music is readily recognisable with every twist and turn. Equally impressive is the navel gazing lyrical theme that sees the artist pitted against an ultra violent unreasonable farmer named Lewis. The album is peppered with literate contemplation as Pallett examines his actions in response to his protagonist. Vocally he has never sounded better, in fact musically, lyrically and vocally, Heartland is the total package.

Standout tracks include the sonically adventurous opener 'Midnight Directives and the album's two centrepiece tracks, the jaunty, trippy, yet pastoral  'Oh Heartland, Up Yours' and the pulsing tangle 'Lewis Takes Off His Shirt'. Other highlights are the off kilter, almost creepy 'Keep The Dog Quiet', the immmediate 'The Great Elsewhere', the beautiful lament, 'E For The Estranged' and the punchy 'Tryst With Mephistopheles'.

Overall, Pallett has excelled with Heartland. It's depth of arrangement and mastery of the pop genre is truly remarkable It's an ambitious yet humble effort and by far his most complete effort surpassing in depth and ambition his last under the Final Fantasy moniker, the unusually titled He Poos Clouds.This album had a great deal of competition in grabbing the first Indie30 feature album of 2010. With the quality of the competition, in essence, its a testimony to Heartland's intelligence, imagination and lasting qualities, most of which are yet to unravel. This reviewer looks forward to unfurling this album further as the year progresses. Stunning! 

James Stocker - February 1, 2010


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Have You In My Wilderness





Your Heart Still Beating

Ribbon Music





Cherry Coffee/Warp Records




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