Reviews
RECORD REVIEW: BEACH HOUSE - BLOOM
Reviews
Sunday, 22 July 2012 00:00
 

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Sub Pop

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The fourth album from Baltimore duo Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally has been hotly anticipated, following on the heels of the massive previous LP, Teen Dream. Bloom, the fourth long player in the Beach House discography does not fly off wildly in a new direction, nor is it a mere extension of Teen Dream (that is to say it's not a Radiohead Kid A / Amnesiac situation). What we have is a continuation of the beautiful chemistry that exists between the two band members, that flows through the music and lyrics, through your speakers and into your head, delivering the best Beach House album yet. 

The track that opens Bloom is 'Myth'. Within seconds you are taken back to the delights of Teen Dream and reminded instantly of how damn good this band is. The two year gap between albums disappear in a glinting flash off the mirror ball and it's time to settle in and soak up the next hour. There is a lyric about  "momentary bliss" in there, which fits beautifully, as that's exactly what this LP offers. 'Wild' showcases the incredible depth and layering infused into each track, and holds a feeling of adolescent angst "my mother said to me that I would get in trouble / our father won't come home 'cause he is seeing double". The slide guitar is prominent in this one, almost becoming another vocal track, melting into one with Legrand's amazing voice, which in turn at times throughout the LP blends into the arrangements as if a musical instrument itself.

'Lazuli' is such a beautiful track that you want to hear it well past the mere five minute length, but you know there are more gems to come. Scally's backing vocals add to it immensely, and the track has a bigger electro feel (as do a few across the playlist) but it is kept restrained. 'The Hours' begins with a psychedelic, Beatles-esque ten second intro, before morphing into a dreamy, pop paradise and another example of how Beach House just nail each song on Bloom. All of them have a unique quality, the simple use of drum machine, Legrand's harpsichord, piano, and organ in conjunction with multi-instrumentalist Scally would have new listeners visualising an orchestra on stage. 'Troublemaker' has a heart wrenching chorus and instrumentation which soars skyward only to then dive headlong into an abyss. This track bridges into 'New Year', a standout on Bloom. It's the song that seems to pull everything together and has everything going for it. Layers of dreamy sustained keys, combined with Legrand's gorgeous presence is perfect.

'Wishes' continues the swirling, hypnotic nature of Bloom, with simple synth progression and looping, it stands out as one of the most uplifting songs and is well placed towards the back of the list. 'On The Sea' spotlights the piano, present throughout this masterful song, which seems as if it is a moment away from becoming an operatic spectacle. It swirls, swims, rises and then sucks you down the vortex, culminating in a sound (standing alone) that evokes exactly that feeling for the final few seconds. Then it all makes sense, as 'Irene', the final track on Bloom begins over the sound of the vortex. "It's a strange paradise" sings Legrand over and over, her voice one element of the whole magical package wrapped around this amazing track. 

When you combine the honeyed, affecting vocals of Legrand with the gorgeous arrangement and instrumentation of Scally, what is achieved is that momentary bliss mentioned on track one. And after the final track fades away, the atmosphere of Bloom will linger and follow you around all day, or go to bed with you which is even better.

Dave Roberts - July 19, 2012

 

Other People

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

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RECORD REVIEW: TOPS - TENDER OPPOSITES
Reviews
Saturday, 14 July 2012 03:46
 


 

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Arbutus/Atelier Ciseaux

Tops Bandcamp

Buy vinyl here

The last decade or so has seen the onset of a cerebral and nostalgic form of pop music largely thanks to the left field single minded work of outsider luminaries like Ariel Pink, John Maus, Matt Fishbeck, Geneva Jacuzzi, Gary War etc. It has produced an array of bands and artists that have taken up that torch and have moulded that off centre creativity into a discernable lo-fi, yet musically
intricate and challenging take on 70s and 80s pop music. Twin Sister and Puro Instinct instantly come to mind. The fact they're on tour with Maus at present (one hell of a show!) illustrates the point. It's important to note though that Pink and Maus still undoubtedly lead the pack are are simulateneously providing that intangible feel that drives this particularly unique blend of pop.

Another band to have joined the ranks is TOPS, a coming together of some of Montreal's finest purveyors and players of independent DIY pop music. The quartet has sprung from local bands of the ilk of Silly Kissers, Paula, Sugar Boys and Pat Jordache. Their debut album, Tender Opposites, more than lends itself to the growing list of works that just don't celebrate and respect the work of the past, but add lustre and a fresh take to those sounds.  Anybody who thinks TOPS are simply aping the past do not recognise subtlety and/or are just not listening.

One of the impressive things about the TOPS approach is their determination to avoid bells and whistles. Tender Opposites is a warm and rich listen but at the same time it's spartan in the sense that it employs nothing else but the traditional - guitar, bass, keys and drums. And these guys, David Carriere, Thom Gillies, Jane Penny and Riley Fleck respectively are all over them, constructing astute melodies and sharp rhythms that are immediately infectious and enduring. Besides the creativity on the music side, Penny's vocals make Tender Opposites an even more intriguing album. She's just as much at home in the lounge bar of a jazz club as she is playing to a pop crowd. She can be sweet and innocent, sultry and powerful, distant and detached, urgent and immediate. No mean feat. Yet, there's also a fragility attached to her voice as well as the music. For all the assuredness in each track, you get the feeling there's a restlessness apparent in the songwriting at times and a wariness of undeserved contentedness.

Tender Opposites, vinyl wise, sits nicely at four tracks per side and kicks off with 'Evening' with its ethereal keys, canoodling guitar and metronomic beat. 'Diamond Look' is an ever-immersing number as it oscillates between a laid back and urgent feel. But its lyrics belie its sparkly appearance. It's an ascerbic and cautionary tale and a non-gender take on the blankness of mainstream, consumer dominated, plastic relationships. "VII Babies" is another track that contains two distinct parts; a smooth verse is rudely but gloriously punctured with flute, an elastic bass line and an urgent latin inspired off-beat. When the percussion kicks in, bridge and outro alike; the song becomes almost the most appropriate track for the promulgation of a conga line ever! The final track on side one, the lengthy 'Double Vision' is more introverted musically and heartfelt vocally, taking the album out of the club and into the lounge.

Side two opens with 'Go Away', a track that is dominated by its strong bass lines and Penny's chorus call to anyone who'll listen. First single 'Turn Your Love Around' saunters along with a funk like disposition where all instrumentation is in synchroncity including the vocal arrangements. The keys and guitars sparkle over the disciplined yet spirited rhythm. The song then turns on its head as the bass, guitar and vocals get busy but the drums stay in a slow groove - absolute gold. The introspection returns on the chilled out and otherworldly 'Rings Of Saturn'. Vocal harmonies are used to great effect but the most impressive thing about the track is how it utilises space and tone allowing all elements to breathe and illuminate the other. The album is completed by 'Theme', an instrumental that collects the essence of the aforementioned seven tracks in the way that suggests a multi-faceted reprise was in
order.

The most impressive thing about Tender Opposites is its clear exhibition of the quartet's songwriting chops within a familiar generic paradigm. It's simply lazy to label TOPS derivative or unoriginal. To do so completely ignores how independent pop music developed historically and organically. Artists have always worn their influences on their sleeves, whether they are going out of their way to embrace or eschew them. Repeated listens of Tender Opposites will reveal a band that clearly revels in its songcraft and takes familiar sounds down an individual path, not only blending but disturbing conventional pop aethestics.

James Stocker - July 14, 2012.

 

Diamond Look

TOPS (CAN)
From the album, 'Tender Opposites', Arbutus/Atelier Ciseaux.

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RECORD REVIEW: DEAD MELLOTRON - GLITTER
Reviews
Sunday, 08 July 2012 04:10
 


 

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Sonic Cathedral

Dead Mellotron Bandcamp

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Dead Mellotron began in 2007 as the solo project of Louisiana native Josh Frazier and its first incarnation came in the form of the heavy and atmospheric digital only release Ghost Light Constellation. That title is telling as there has always been something otherworldly about Frazier's approach. Between that release and the next, Frazier moved to the independent music bastion of Baltimore and enlisted Aimee Bowen and Courtney Corcoran to his cause. In 2010, a Beach House cover, 'Saltwater' ensued as did a self titled second LP.  That nod to the Baltimore duo is telling as there is definitely has been a trajectory toward a more pop oriented sound, albeit a dense dreamy one, on both the self titled album and the perfectly named Glitter, the band's third record and the subject of this review. Rather than worry too much though about wordy contextual fare in tracing the background to understanding Glitter, you can grab both Ghost Light Constellation and Dead Mellotron for just three bucks each here.

What sets Dead Mellotron apart from likely and somewhat lazy comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain and Ride is their tendency to use bass guitar to great effect. The shoegaze scene of the late 80s and early 90s contained quite a penchant for centreing itself in the treble zone, putting reverb drenched guitar front and centre. This trio however, prefer a fuller, more rounder sound and thus employ a powerful sonic carriage which is placed underneath to complement Frazier's free, yet disciplined melodies and effects. Taken together on Glitter, the stream of conciousness writing process yields a delicate, yet alternatively blistering blend of introspection and outward displays of raw power. Each song melds effortlessly into the next to the point of, if your not careful, the all too brief sonic experience will be over before you know it.

Many have commented on the puzzling brevity of Glitter, clocking in as it does at just 26 minutes spanning seven tracks. However, what needs to be understood is that the songwriting process, just like any creative endeavour takes painstaking time. Frazier had particular difficulty in this area after writing the self titled second record. In fact, in a back and forth email exchange and a five month silence with his now London based label Sonic Cathedral, Frazier actually scrapped the entire first write and started again. What he sent as a result was again re-written and re-recorded in the form of seven tracks bound together into a single mp3. That in itself gives a strong insight into the nature of Glitter. Indeed, it can be taken as one long track as each of the tracks wind in and out of each other and unless you are sitting there looking at the track display on your stereo you'll struggle to pick where one song ends and another begins.

While it may be futile to stick to my tried and tested run down of describing an album's tracks in order, I'm going to give it a whirl anyway. Glitter begins with the memorable 'Stranger', which more than adequately sets the scene for what's to follow. A delicate guitar melody is combined with a swooning vocal harmony before the track launches into a driving four to the floor bass driven approach as that harmony develops into gorgeous, yet indecipherable vocals that almost form a fourth instrument, a pattern that is present throughout. A starry like ending segues perfectly into 'Can't See' which begins with a familiar beat and an effective yet understated bass line while the guitar noodles away alongside as Frazier's vocals agonise away. Then the vocalless chorus joyously chimes in as Frazier's guitar hook cascades away. 'Bye' is a gorgeous piece of introspection as dirge like effects loop and swirl until the rhythm section comes in and in combination leaves a soaring impression. The piano and keyboard laced ending provides the springboard for the snare shot beginning that ushers in 'Making Up', the albums most accessible track. Its a work of exquisite beauty and positively floats along sporting dispassionate vocals, a disciplined beat, hypnotic guitar and a bass hook to die for. The song then explodes into a celestial celebration of sound replete with ride cymbal (great to see it back and put to great use here) to complete that unearthly feel.

The all too brief second side runs virtually like a ten minute track in three parts. 'Babe' begins proceedings with exceeding care before launching into a joyous sonic explosion where big drums and squalling reverb complement each other perfectly. The sat back harmonies return on 'Ooahhh', a sound just as its title suggests it should as Frazier repeats a familiar hypnotic guitar lick. That almost exact same guitar lick dominates 'Dying' which is layered with an almost industrial sound sitting alongside tremblo pulling at the tracks centre.

Why do I feel that the previous two paragraphs are woefully inadequate as descriptors of Glitter's contents? It's because Dead Mellotron are wonderful exponents of creating something that is tangibly undefinable. You know its there because you can hear it, but is it really? I'm no physicist, but I do know innately that the concept of time can mean different things in different contexts. If it was Frazier's intent to make this album sound timeless in the sense of the here and now, he has succeeded. But you get the feeling, that even after all the painstaking effort expended to create this record, Frazier just doesn't work that way. What comes to his mind in this process is seemingly just that. No invented frills and no preconceived gimmicks; just the generating of a journey filled with pure blissed out enjoyment. And during your journey, you'll inevitably get lost, figuratively and literally, but in the end you won't have a care in the world as to where you are are or where you've been nor whether you find you way home or not. For a songwriter, to achieve that gift for your listener is pure music gold; and all that glitters is gold herein.

James Stocker - July 8, 2012

 

Stranger

Dead Mellotron (USA)
From the album, 'Glitter', Sonic Cathedral.

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Official Video

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Making Up

Dead Mellotron (USA)
From the album, 'Glitter', Sonic Cathedral

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Unofficial Video

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RECORD REVIEW: PS I LOVE YOU - DEATH DREAMS
Reviews
Wednesday, 04 July 2012 00:00
 



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Paper Bag

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If you head out of Toronto towards Montreal on the 401, around the 240 km mark on the banks of Lake Ontario, you'll hit Kingston, a smallish city that in a rock sense, punches above its weight and is home to the indie rock duo, PS I Love You. Formed by guitarist/bassist Paul Saunier and drummer Benjamin Nelson back in 2006, the aptly named Death Dreams is their second album and impressive follow up to their 2010 debut Meet Me At The Muster Station. Listening to PS I Love You is instantly confounding if you know beforehand that they number just two people and even more so if you consider one of them is the drummer. Where then, does that cacophony of powerful sound stem from. The answer is at Saulnier's feet, the end product of a mesmerising array of effect pedals that give the impression that you are listening to a fully fledged band.

2012 is already shaping up as a year that has seen the return of hard arsed guitar music. In terms of skirting the boundaries of vitality, last year was largely dominated by electronic genres of different persuasions so its refreshing to see guitars back and contributing appropriately. Death Dreams is an album chock full of nods to the past and the present; hooks, licks, solos and razor like melodies coalesce around Saulnier's indecipherable yelp that yield up his melancholic, introspective and at times anxious lyrics. It's a step forward from their debut with longer, more fully formed tracks and a discernable thematic approach - dark anguish.

The title track introduces proceedings taking you on a trip into that darkness before 'Sentimental Dishes' makes an all too abrupt entrance, with its squalling guitar ripping the place to shreds. A better segue would have been appropriate. 'Don't Go' sports a melodic disposition and two excellent riffs, one full of space and delay, that make the track an infectious listen. It turns on a cacophonous deafening roar half way through and ends with the aforementioned riff, swirling delay, busy percussion and space to burn. The powerful rock and roll stomper 'Toronto' is dominated by a massive beat while 'Future Dontcare' rests on its consistent bass line which provides the platform for the sheen emanating from the multiple guitar tracks.

After the immediacy of its opening, there's definitely a touch of Sonic Youth about the two more circumspect sections of 'How Do You' as Saulnier loops the riff and applies off kilter licks over the top in the first and strips it back about as bare as PS I Love You get. 'Princess Towers' is an almost exhausting ride while 'Red Quarter', with its familiar riff takes things down a notch and holds the second stanza together. There's an almost Velvet Underground nod in its elongated bridge section before Saulnier finishes with a multitude of squalls and a big melody that sounds like Big Star on steroids. As with 'Toronto, the wistful 'Saskatoon' again geographically represents their country of origin and reflects their travails on the road touring their last record. Closing track 'First Contact' begins with contemplative acoustic guitar before a defiant driving rock disposition appears. The massive guitar riff that takes the track beyond its rock stomping verse is one of the best I've heard for a while, oscillating as it does back and forth for around 15 seconds.

If there has to be a Canadian indie rock battle between PS I Love You and Vancouver's Japandroids, the former for this reviewer wins hands down and a mythical win over such a formidable 'competitor' is high praise indeed. Death Dreams is a record full of nuance and cleverly constructed counterpoints that unbelievably all stem from Saulnier's virtuosity.  The inventive nature of PS I love You shines through, rendering indie rock still as vital as it ever was.

James Stocker - July 2, 2012.

 

Princess Towers

PS I Love You (CAN)
From the album, 'Death Dreams', Paper Bag.

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RECORD REVIEW: FATHER JOHN MISTY - FEAR FUN
Reviews
Sunday, 24 June 2012 00:00
 



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Sub Pop

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"It's all of me and none of me" is how Joshua Tillman has described his relationship with Father John Misty, a new incarnation and a step in a different direction for this talented and quirky singer-songwriter. The sombre and melancholic atmosphere of his previous work has given way to a warm, rich, bold and at times darkly humorous tone present across the twelve tracks found on Fear Fun. He has said that prior to writing the album he "got into his van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go. After a few weeks I was writing a novel which is where I finally found my narrative voice....it was a while before that voice starting manifesting in a musical way, but once I settled into a Laurel Canyon spider shack, where I'm living now, I spent months demoing all these weird-ass songs about weird-ass experiences, almost in real time, and kind of had this musical 'Oh there I am' moment, identical to how I felt when I was writing the book." 

This move to California, and in particular Laurel Canyon, has given Tillman a new context both in climate and history. This LA neighbourhood has been home to the likes of Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and members of the Byrds and Love. A crossroads of counter-culture that still retains a bohemian atmosphere, it serves as the antithesis to the lush homes of Beverly Hills, a ten minute drive away. The surrealism of LA shines through on Fear Fun and sees Tillman brimming with confidence and strangeness. It's an ode to this city of equal measure dream and nightmare, where lives are fake, fickle and all too often crushed in search of something that was never really there. All is this is encapsulated over the forty-three minute debut of Tillman's Father John Misty incarnation.      

'Funtimes In Babylon' opens proceedings, with a simple structure highlighting the vocals "Look out Hollywood here I come / fun times in Babylon / mama they've just begun / before they put me to work in a government camp / before they do my face up like a corpse and say get up and dance / before the beast comes looking for last years' rent". 'Nancy From Now On' is a hypnotically infectious song, that is immediate and will go down as an indie classic. It actually sounds like it has been around as a classic for ages, with a sound that is timeless, but not in a way that is a rip off of anything. This is including his own work as J. Tilman (of which he has seven LP's) or Fleet Foxes (of which he was drummer from 2008 until recently), this track and the album as a whole, has an at times morbid playfulness about it, but hits the mark straddling the line between folk and indie pop bringing out the best of both genres.  

'Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings' was the first single and another highlight of Fear Fun, a track that is full of driving percussion and full throated vocals, brimming of reverb and the sound of Americana. The video is epic featuring actress Aubrey Plaza wondering about a surreal landscape of a drugged out party and forest, it's another immediately likable track you'll want to keep hearing all week. 'I'm Writing A Novel' tells a narrative of the seedy life of West Hollywood, as he croons "I ran down the road / pants down to my knees, screaming / 'please come help me' / that Canadian shaman gave a little too much to me!". 'O I Long to Feel your Arms Around Me', 'Misty's Nightmares 1 & 2', and 'Only son Of The Ladiesman' each have their own identity but stand strong in their own right, and are each a cohesive part of the whole. The track placement works perfectly throughout. 

The LP closes with 'Everyman Needs A Companion', which came from Tillman's solo west coast journey from Seattle to LA, a trip over several months from which the persona of Father John Misty was born..."Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones / couldn't give me a myth / so I had to write my own". This release seems to have been a liberating experience for Tilman, and it comes across in the sound and warmth of Fear Fun. The mysteries of a haunted urban landscape prevail, and as FJM there is an outlet for this terrain to explored through the eyes of an outsider, and sung with the lyrics and voice of a poet.

Dave Roberts- June 24, 2012

 

Nancy From Now On

Father John Misty (USA)
From the album, 'Fear Fun, Sub Pop.

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Live Performance on KEXP

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The Only Son Of A Ladiesman

Father John Misty (USA)
From the album, 'Fear Fun, Sub Pop.

Live on Letterman

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RECORD REVIEW: AMANDA MAIR - AMANDA MAIR
Reviews
Saturday, 16 June 2012 01:31
 



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Labrador

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It would be easy to see Amanda Mair as a mere musical product. After all she came of age and turned 18 just this week, is easy on the eye, doesn't yet write her own songs and appeared last year out of nowhere with two pieces of pop bliss in the pure Swedish tradition; sweet vocals and a big, almost cavernous and emotionally driven rhythm section replete with elements of orchestral drama. However, while Mair might have some indie luminaries in her musical corner, namely Labrador founder and Acid House Kings, Pallers and Club 8 member Johan Angergård, songwriter and collaborator Roger Gunnarsson and producer Philip Ekström, its quite clear that she is far from a muse in their company. Indeed, you get the feeling that while the Angergård and Gunnarsson compositions and the Ekström embellishments are central to the record in many ways, without Mair these songs may never have seen the light of day. That notwithstanding, anyone doubting the bona fides of the protagonist or the results need to remember that Labrador Records is not into smoke and mirrors and major label trickery. As its consistently honest output demonstrates, Angergård is into putting out pop music that's full of sincerety.

Mair herself, in addition to her beautifully fragile voice, plays her favoured instruments, piano and keyboard with panache but can also take her hand to bass, guitar and drums, the latter was done while playing Hellacopters covers in a band at school. Hardly the curriculum vitae of somebody that would simply wait around and open her pipes in certain ways when told to. In fact, she was presented with a number of songs to choose from herself and ended up taking the ones that most suited her musical approach. She then added her own unmistakable vocals and playing style, so much so, you get the feeling that she now owns them. And even a cursory listen to her vocal artistry suggests that she is miles apart from those who are cynically and artificially produced automatons.

Those aforementioned two singles, the big beat driven, yet restrained pop genius of the lyrically pensive and debilitating 'Doubt' and the emotive Mary Onettes sounding orchestral fragility of 'House' finally led to a full length self titled long player. While these songs and third single, the jaunty, upliftingly innocent and ultimately danceable 'Sense' are undoubtedly standouts on the album, there's certainly other highlights to be unashamedly devoured.

The sparkling, lush and full bodied opening track 'Said And Done' with its powerful drums, cascading keys and an almost middle eastern string section puts the self titled albums first four tracks ('Doubt', 'House' and 'Sense' follow) up there with the best start from a pop record for long a day. There's not a mis-step or wasted moment. It's almost as if the tracklist order was done to hopelessly hook you in for the somewhat more musically restrained tracks that follow. Indeed, the first half of the record ends with a gorgeous Pelle Carlberg penned ballad, 'Skinnarviksberget'*, which allows her unique voice to flourish in less upbeat circumstances.

The second half begins with 'Before', a retro sounding track with a verse full of room to move and a wonderously optimistic chorus which is followed by the immediacy of 'It's Gonna Be Long' which contains an infectious off beat and another rapturous like chorus. 'What Do You Want' sports an almost balaeric feel as it dives headlong into a musical tropical paradise that belies the frustration of the lyrics. 'You've Been Here Before', another ballad, takes us back a notch, and like 'Skinnarviksberget*', again allows time for us to contemplate Mair's delicately natural vocals. The album is completed with 'Leaving Early', a title that is telling because, like all good pop albums, things are over before you know it.

Amanda Mair the album is a delightful trip through the best that Swedish pop has to offer, high praise indeed. When you assemble Angergård, Gunnarsson, Ekström and Carlsberg et. al. together you're always going to get something special and it continues to amaze how they manage to make their arrangements so dense and yet provide space within them that's almost palacious. But undoubtedly what gives this album its unique character is Amanda Mair herself. You get the feeling that without her, these songs would still be great songs, but they are made even greater for her presence. Her vocal mark is indelibly stamped all over them just as her collaborators would have intended. And that's the great thing about the Swedish indie pop disposition, it always gives far more than it takes. While they gifted Mair the songs, she gifted them exactly what they would have hoped for in return. As for Mair herself, what lies ahead of her may be undoubtedly as immense as her talent and the direction that she will take is anyones guess. It is hoped though that she can keep those soul destroying major label predators at bay. For now though lets just appreciate and celebrate what we've got, and that's a superb album of pure pop pleasure from an already very talented artist.

*a party hill overlooking the city of Stockholm from the adjacent southern suburb, the island of Sodermalm.

James Stocker - June 16, 2012.

 

Sense

Amanda Mair (SWE)
From the album, 'Amanda Mair', Labrador.

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Official Video

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House

Amanda Mair (SWE)
From the album, 'Amanda Mair', Labrador.

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Official Video

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Amanda Mair, Live at Pianos, New York City

12/4/12

Tracklist

You've Been Here Before
It's Gonna Be Long
Doubt
Before
Skinnarviksberget
Sense
Leaving Early
House

Live Performance - vocal and piano only.

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RECORD REVIEW: LOTUS PLAZA - SPOOKY ACTION AT A DISTANCE
Reviews
Tuesday, 12 June 2012 00:00
 



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Kranky

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The Floodlight Collective from 2009 saw Deerhunter's guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Lockett Pundt give his all to creating his own album, full of reverb laden guitars and washed out vocals. While similar to the work of Deerhunter it definitely had his own stamp of dreamy guitar pop, that has shone through with his contributions to Deerhunter tracks such as Halcyon Digest's 'Desire Lines' which was a standout of that album. Three years later he is back with Spooky Action At A Distance, an album able to withstand multiple listens revealing a new layer each time. Like the other songs he has penned for Deerhunter such as 'Agoraphobia', 'Neither Of Us' and 'Uncertainly' the confidence and strength of his abilities are clear to see on this second album as Lotus Plaza. 

'Untitled' is an ethereal introduction to Spooky Action At A Distance, a short instrumental track that seems to waft in on a breeze, and depart just as suddenly. It sets the tone for the remaining ten tracks though; forty-two minutes, which are over before you know it, and will have you reaching for the play button once more. 'Strangers' is immediately catchy and bound to be stuck with you long after you hear it. Seemingly simple in form it is dense with layers, not an easy feat to pull off, but one in which Pundt does effortlessly. The driving use of snare drum, crisp vocals and melange of guitar melodies give it a different sound to many of the tracks found on The Floodlight Collective, while still retaining his distinct style.

'Out Of Touch' crashes forward, the first few seconds sounding like someone tuning in an AM radio station before percussion takes over and a big chorus ensues, sure to go down well at live gigs. 'Dusty Rhodes' is a leisurely stroll of a track, strumming guitars at the centre with Pundt's laid back vocals clear and mournful, and an outro that peters out to dust. 'White Galactic One' comes in loud and stomping, electric guitars this time screeching and a bit distorted throughout, a more gauzy mix on vocals making it hard to pick out the lyrics but still it's catchy as hell.

'Monoliths' you can imagine listening to ten years from now, and being just as fresh as it is today. One of the most engaging and upbeat tracks on Spooky Action from A Distance, it's well placed in the middle of the list. Again, there is a lot going on here but it doesn't sound over-produced or over worked, just the opposite in fact, it sound deceptively simple. 'Jet out Of The Tundra' has a motorik rhythm cutting through it, as Pundt sings  "High above the sea / I haven't slept in days / There's no looking back / Afraid of what's ahead / Head is full of rocks / Pockets full of change / It has been so long / Since I have felt this way", the feelings found in these lyrics can kind of sum up the feeling of the entire album. His vocals stop dead half way through the track for us to be left with a looping maxed out scratchy guitar and a powerful but simple piano to close the song. It's brilliant.   

'Eveningness' lets his voice fully roam the sonic landscape he creates, maybe more so than any other track on the LP. Wavering, warbling synths and a steady driving percussion give momentum that makes this another highlight. 'Black Buzz' with its strum of acoustic guitar is a fitting closer, stripped back compared to the other tracks, and bookends nicely with the opening song 'Untitled' both being more ambient affairs than what's sandwiched between them. This is an album that is over all too soon, and it's probably that which makes it so re-listenable, and bloody enjoyable. Lockett Pundt must have found it an awkward step to put himself out there, going by accounts of how reclusive and shy he apparently is. It certainly appears that way if you have seen Deerhunter live, with Pundt slipping into the background giving the spotlight to the outgoing Bradford Cox. He has not severed himself from the band however with his solo outings, Lotus Plaza's debut LP was named after the band he was in with Cox during High School when they met. The similarities are there but it's the differences that count, and that's what make Spooky Action At A Distance a great listen, time and time again.

- Dave Roberts, 12 June, 2012


Strangers

Lotus Plaza (USA)
From the album, 'Spooky Action From A Distance', Kranky 

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RECORD REVIEW: PHÈDRE - PHÈDRE
Reviews
Saturday, 02 June 2012 02:41
 


 

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Daps Records 

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Trying to access experimental music can sometimes be very alienating experience, stemming as it does from the deep recesses of individual creativity. It can run the risk of being a self-indulgent stand offish affair where the distance created between artist and listener is difficult to breach. But at the end of the day, creating experimental music should be a very personal pursuit. Filtering, interpreting, pulling part and putting back together existing influences can only be this way. But when the experimentalism present is covertly accessible for one who possesses a modicum of intelligence, it can be a unifying, uplifting and educative experience. So it is with Canadian trio Phèdre, two thirds the scuffed up retro pop/rock of Hooded Fang members Daniel Lee and April Aliermo and one third, the wild unpredictable electronic music of Airick Woodhead (Doldrums)

The result of this coming together is an ultra-impressive self titled debut record that is nothing short of a triumph. That Phèdre manage to combine a vast array of disparate influences and fashion them into seamless balls of experimental pop at its finest is testament to their songwriting chops and unique imaginations. The album employs a myriad of rock and pop hooks with driving synth, weirded out samples, Lee's sexually charged weirded out croon and Aliermo's effectively dispassionate vocal accompaniments. Try as they might to apply tongue in cheek sabotage to the mix by employing deliberate lags to the execution, the trio cannot undermine a record that sports at least six class pieces of vital electronic pop.

'Aphrodite' begins with a lounge inspired opening before launching into a synth bass intro that its the precursor to a collective of wailing banshees and a digitally inspired catchy beat signature. The track then settles down and rests on a killer harmony and a standout built up chorus. As its title suggests, its a strange lament of sorts for the ancient goddess of love and beauty. The strange mood that surrounds the track is in keeping with an ode for a goddess that was apparently born from the cutting off of Uranus' genitals and throwing them into the sea.

'Cold Sunday' is an example when off kilter driving electronica is combined with the best elements of hip hop. Hip hop is a genre that often out hypes itself and overplays its hand. The contribution from Toronto hip hop artist Rober Bolton, aka Arowbe is perfectly suited to Phèdre's aesthetics, laid back and always appropriate and complements Lee's warbled deadpan vocal.

'Ode To The Swinger' sounds like Lee has enlisted the fog horn of a merchant navy ship to accompany his duelling vocals with Aliermo while 'In Decay' is pure fun, if you can get that out of a song about multiple murders; a mixture of starry pop with an 80s inspired dance beat. Again the complementary nature of Lee's and Aliermo's vocals standout here.

'Dreams' positively canters along with its slow jamming beat, with Lee's nasally vocals and celebratory harmonies in the background of its chorus. The twisted 'Love Ablaze', like 'Ode To The Singer' takes us back a few decades and brings to mind the less than shiny work of Dirty Beaches. Album closer, 'Glitter On Her Face' finishes things off nicely with optimistic synth and a just plain weird vocal contribution from all three band members.
 
This album has been criticised in some quarters for being featureless and lazy. I for one cannot countenance this for one minute. Repeated listens reveal some incredibly strong ideas flowing throughout the record, ideas that push the boundaries of possibility and sensibility, all the while doing so through a lens of light-heartedness. With all its quirky electronic flourishes and restless arrangements, at times sense is stretched lyrically too which is represented in the wildly flamboyant vocal delivery. All of this suggests that Phèdre aren't taking themselves too seriously and far from being a factor that weakens the album, it's this approach that makes it so vital, so relevant and so now.

James Stocker - June 2, 2010.

 

Love Ablaze

Phèdre (CAN)
From the album, 'Phèdre', Daps Records.

Phèdre Official Site

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RECORD REVIEW: CHROMATICS - KILL FOR LOVE
Reviews
Friday, 25 May 2012 00:00
 



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Italians Do It Better

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Portland, Oregon's Chromatics have transformed themselves since their punk inspired beginnings in 2001 to become one of the most interesting and talked about groups of the year. Their rise has been a slow burn, a process which piece by piece has gathered momentum to the point they are at now, firmly on the indie radar and the jewel in the crown of the inspired and progressive indie label Italians Do It Better. Jewel quite literally, as the label (an offshoot of the noise-punk label Troubleman Unlimited) was co-founded by Chromatic's Johnny Jewel, who has been a creative driving force on more than a few projects.

A crackle of needle-on-vinyl marks the first couple of seconds of 'Into The Black' and the album itself, before that bitterly sweet guitar riff and the honeyed voice of Ruth Radelet comes in like a warm breeze. A re-named Neil Young cover seems an interesting and brave choice of song to open Kill For Love, but it works perfectly. A lamentation written thirty five years ago about his own growing irrelevance, it has some of the most poetic lines found in any track; "my my, hey hey / rock and roll is here to stay / its better to burn out / than to fade away / my my, hey hey"...the tragedy and sense of foreboding is all there, (a line was quoted in Kurt Cobain's suicide note). The haunting guitar and simple synths underscore the Chromatic's wash over the whole track, they completely own it, and it's beautiful. And with that, the album is set for us, turn the lights down, settle back. This is no half measured LP. It's taken five years to create and the playlist of seventeen tracks have been chosen from around thirty-seven written for the album. 

The dark lyrics found in the title track, 'Kill For Love' are sung clearly and without emotion, sharply capturing a feeling of decay, alcohol haze and drug induced comedowns. The new-wave atmosphere is also there, with the 1980s seen through the 20teens sound honed to perfection, in a way only few can pull off (Twin Shadow / Ariel Pink also being up there). 'The Page' has a soupy mix with reverb and the lo-fi crackles that give it a warmth that is found throughout the album. 'Lady' begins with urgent synths and gains momentum to become a classic piece of dream pop and a highlight on Kill For Love.

The opening bars that are looped on 'The Streets Will Never Look the Same' remind me of the intro to a sports program I recall fondly from the 80s (Wide World Of Sports!) where as a kid we used to spend summer holidays watching cricket with the air con. blasting. The whole album has that comfortable and familiar feel, while still taking you to places new and unexpected. 'Broken Mirrors' is one of three tracks that comes in over seven minutes in length, an instrumental piece that messes with time signatures and is downright creepy in places, another example of how cinematic the sound of Chromatics can be. Halfway through this track things change up as percussion enters the mix, the synths become more sinister, and images of dark lane-ways punctuated by spots of lights thrown from overhead come to mind, a lone figure looking over their shoulder.

It comes as no surprise that Johnny Jewel has in fact been involved with soundtracks, he contributed two tracks to last year's Ryan Gosling film Drive, where music is a key feature and used in a distinctively affecting way, jarring completely with modern day Hollywood fodder. 'Under your Spell' was chosen from his work as a member of Desire, a side project with Nat Walker also of Chromatics, and vocalist Megan Louise, from their debut and so far only album, 2009's II. The vintage keyboards and 80s pop influence found on the soundtrack sit at odds with the action on screen, but this strange mix of American (almost) art-house meets mid-week tele-movie manages to pull it off. Though set in contemporary LA, the visual style of the film at times has such an 80s feel that a smart-phone just looks out of place. 'Tick Of The Clock' from the 2007 LP Night Drive is also featured strongly in the film.   

'There's A Light Out on the Horizon' kicks off with Atari pings and bleeps, is joined by cross-fading swooshing sound effects, then out of nowhere, like we are a Murdoch employee, we hear a voice-mail intercept. "Hi, it's me. Just wondering if you got my text. Anyway, I'm going to bed pretty soon. Hope your OK out there, wherever you are. Goodnight, I love you." The  silent recipient of the message hits 'delete'. It's cold, the music goes on. Out of the blue and into the black.

- Dave Roberts, May 25, 2012

 

Into The Black

Chromatics (USA)
From the album, 'Kill For Love', Italians Do It Better

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Lady

Chromatics (USA)
From the album, 'Kill For Love', Italians Do It Better

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RECORD REVIEW: CATS ON FIRE: ALL BLACKSHIRTS TO ME
Reviews
Thursday, 10 May 2012 11:12
 



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Soliti / Matinee

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It's been a long and frustrating road travelled for main Cats On Fire protagonist Mattias Björkas and company. The now five piece pop troubadors had their beginnings in the then somewhat small and isolated west coast Finnish town of Vaasa where in late 2002/early 2003 as an 18 year old Swedish speaking Björkas, Kenneth Höglund and initial members Kim and Johan  put out a couple of demos and a debut EP, Solid Work, on vinyl to heartening reception in the Finnish big smoke, Helsinki. However, like many good starts, the initial buzz turned out to be a false dawn and despite moving to Turku, gaining Ville Hopponen and Henry Ojala (now the mastermind behind Burning Hearts) and despite releasing two more EPs over the next three years, the Cats On Fire project failed to make the right connections and stalled.

Slowly though, a collective around Björkas began to take shape. Finally in a position where they could get people taking notice they were rejuvenated in the summer of 2006 and released their first album proper, The Province Complains, to deserved acclaim among the indie pop community throughout Europe. Two years later, they released the equally impressive Our Temperance Movement. Two prominent shows at NYC's 2008 and 2009 Popfest, alongside Ojala's Burning Hearts and Sweden's The Radio Dept. and it seemed things were starting to fall into place.

The last three years then seem to have seen the band tread water again and you only need to do a quick English language search of the band on the web to understand that Cats On Fire, for some bizarre reason, haven't exactly set the English language world on fire over their long journey. It is hoped then that their new record All Blackshirts To Me will change all that.

Once again incorporating traditional melodies with sparkling jangly pop that spans the ages, All Blackshirts To Me builds on the work done on previous releases but overall is more exploratory and diverse both in approach and sound. Still prevalent though is the intellectually and politically piercing lyrical content that has always characterised Cats On Fire, no better illustrated than on '1914 and Beyond', a track that contains pointed criticism for the European elites financial penchant for imposing austerity in the wake of the 2008 GFC, policies that serve to insulate and reward them from their fuck-ups while they fuck over ordinary people, policies so widely rejected by popular forces in both Greece and France in recent days. Bjorkas advises, "Greece don't pay your debts, don't bother with debts, Iceland, go on and cover us in ashes". Also present again are doses of withering self-criticism, clever self-deprecation and more than a flirtation with obtuse laden reality, lyrical qualities that Björkas has come to be renowned for.

Throughout the album's eleven tracks, there's almost an encylopedic sense to Björkas's pop knowledge. While his vocals have always had a little Edwyn Collins about them, that's about where the similarities with bands like Orange Juice and other c1980 British bands end. Opener 'Our Old Centre Back', an example of Björkas's prediliction for playing the part of the one that loses out begins with a traditional flavour and combines old folk vocal stylings with laconic six string work. It also sets the tone of the record, that is Cats On Fire seem determined to deliberately play within themselves; the sum of its parts making up the whole.

'My Sense Of Pride' is a joyous listen with chiming guitars but lyrically is an example of the self deprecation aforementioned, "Takes courage to say I’ve been mistaken, I’ve been an idiot for years, Now I speak in a lower voice to blend in, I try not to dress up queer". 'A Different Light' is an absolute pop gem that begins with a soaring hook before settling down in a disciplined fashion before rising to flourishing finish.'There Goes The Alarm' is a sparkly ballad that hums away beautifully as intricate guitar arrangements dominate both in idea and execution throughout. Bjorkas completes the delicate nature of the track by vocally almost nursing his lyrics through. 'After The Fact' bounces along with angular bass prominent with gorgeous harmonies surrounding its chorus.

'The Sea Within' continues the  trajectory and follows a traditional bent vocally and the melancholic, yet defiant European history lesson, the aforementioned, '1914 and Beyond', completes the middle section. 'Well Well What Do You Know' features Bjorkas and Iiris Viljanen, not for the first time delivering exquisite harmonies together in another irresistable traditional arrangement.

'Smash It To Pieces' evokes a mixture of a little bit of Belle And Sebastian at times together with good British and Irish nineteenth century folk. Standout track, 'A Few Empty Waves' is a sweeping statement of intent in terms of what All Blackshirts To Me is about - a band determined to keep relevant and vital. The track contains much power in its own restraint musically as Bjorkas uses the pitfalls of being at sea as a metaphor for the mixed experiences of Cats On Fire thus far. Closing track, the instrumental accordion dominated 'Finnish Lace' could almost be seen as a muted musical celebration, the culmination of a great record by artists that are satisfied but fully aware that music is but just one part of life.

Throughout All Blackshirts To Me, Cats On Fire never overplay their hand. Each track stays firmly within itself, allowing the listener to come to each of them on his or her own terms. This has been something that the band have been known for throughout their career and perhaps one of the reasons they haven't 'cracked' the English language independent music world. One hopes this record will change that and early signs are that it will. The most pleasing thing out of that is the fact this very special pop band have always marched to the beat of their own drum. That they are producing their best work after eleven long years is testament to the band's timeless ability to add social and political intelligence as well as musical virtuosity to the full spectrum that pop has to offer. It may have been a long and hard road travelled over the past decade for Cats On Fire, but I for one hope that All Blackshirts To Me simply stands at the centre of another decade to come.

James Stocker - May 10, 2012.

 

A Different Light

Cats On Fire (FIN)
From the album, 'All Blackshirts To Me', Soliti/Matinee.

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ALBUM OF THE YEAR

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Have You In My Wilderness

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LOWER DENS (USA)

Your Heart Still Beating

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EP OF THE YEAR

KELELA (USA)

Hallucinogen 

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