Reviews
RECORD REVIEW: THE FIELD - LOOPING STATE OF MIND
Reviews
Wednesday, 21 September 2011 03:14

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Kompakt

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Axel Willner is the man behind the music that is The Field, and the Swede has just released his third album, a somewhat different take on previous work and a step forward for this renowned musician. The tracks here have a freshness and vitality which is infectious as hell and so very easy to listen to. One listen is not enough, it's virtually guaranteed not to leave your music device for a good while as the seven tracks grow even more beautiful in real time.

The journey has been a swift one for Willner who was signed up to Kompakt, a German Indie label, after giving them a demo tape in 2005. Within two years he was remixing Thom Yorke, and had an album under his belt. Fast forward to the end of this year which sees The Field invited to participate in the acclaimed All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Minehead, England. Curated by Battles, Les Savy Fav and Caribou, and re-dubbed ATP The Nightmare Before Christmas festival, Willner will be playing alongside the likes of Four Tet, Toro Y Moi, Holy Fuck, No Age, Junior Boys, Flying Lotus and Gary Numan.

So many bedroom producers are able to get their work out in the world at the click of a mouse, and many are fly-by-night, making only fleeting appearances on the indie radar. The Field has thankfully lasted the distance already, and built upon the strength of his releases one by one. From Here We Go Sublime was a standout of 2007, relished in equal parts either listening on headphones or working up a sweat in a club, he advanced on this two years later with Yesterday And Today, an altogether more fluid release featuring Battles drummer John Stainer on its title track. Which brings us to this third outing, keeping with the every-two-years release, Looping State Of Mind.  

The LP opener 'Is This Power', introduces the seven track play-list nicely. The synths layered but simple, building up momentum as the track progresses, with it all dropping away through a trap-door at four and a half minutes, leaving the bass twang exposed and the drum machine shuffling behind. 'It's Up There' is impossible, like all of these tracks actually, to listen to without moving something on your person, tapping a pen, foot, a bit of head-bobbing, it's hypnotic at times and perfect gym music. 'Burned Out' is one of the shortest tracks, coming in at just over seven minutes has a bit more going on that the previous two, with a minimal bass line joined by high hat loops and a pure lushness that radiates light. The sampled garbled vocals enter the fray around halfway through and are used sparingly throughout. It's blissful and a standout on the LP.

'Arpreggiated Love' is just short of eleven minutes, but like all these tracks they never labour on or get boring. The ambient atmosphere that shows the masterful control with which Willner manipulates the loops and samples. The title of the album and the next track is a perfect fit. 'Looping State of Mind' has another slow build but gets faster than most of the others, although the gears shift up and down throughout the track. 'Then It's White', with its brooding piano, and mournful vocals is a big shift down in energy, and is nicely placed at the back of the track list. It is beautiful, evocative, and very cinematic. 'Sweet Slow Baby' closes the show here, and is dense with layers of carefully constructed loops and synths, in a somewhat industrial sounding track. The placings of the seven tracks are important and well thought out. His use of restraint is another factor that makes this LP so powerful and consuming. 

I was in city traffic while listening to this album in my car the other day, and for a moment, as I sat there watching the trams rattle by, the work-day commuters making their way across the street, and the general buzz of modern city modern life, I had a 'Baraka' moment as it all seemed to snap into place synchronising perfectly with what I was hearing. It continued for a while until the traffic light turned green and reality descended back upon me. This LP is like a soundtrack to whatever you want, enhancing it and adding a layer of gloss over the top. Even if it's just for a short while, it's a welcome addition. 

- Dave Roberts, September 21, 2011

 

Then It's White

The Field (SWE)
From the album, 'Looping State Of Mind', Kompakt

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Looping State Of Mind

The Field (SWE)
From The album, 'Looping State Of Mind', Kompakt

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RECORD REVIEW: GIRLS - FATHER, SON, HOLY GHOST
Reviews
Thursday, 15 September 2011 00:00

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True Panther / Matador

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It doesn’t seem so long ago I sat down and wrote a review for the debut album from San Francisco’s Girls. That album, called, Album, became an indie staple and cemented a place for Christopher Owens and Chet ‘JR’ White in playlists and music libraries everywhere. The follow-up EP Broken Dreams Club just left us waiting for more. Now, with the sophomore LP Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the boys from Girls have shown another side to their diverse breadth and range.

It seemed as natural as osmosis the way Girls infused certain 60s sounds into Album, and now they have moved forward a decade to the 70s to do the very same thing on a number of tracks. From big stadium guitars to smooth and sensual female backing vocals dripping with sensuality, this LP has several genres covered, while carefully and firmly stamping their individual mark all over it. The pathos of the first album continues, with songs of lament and reflection scattered throughout the eleven song track list. But not to despair, there are enough rays of light beaming through the storm clouds to leave you feeling uplifted rather than melancholy at the end of the albums journey.

‘Honey Bunny’ with its pure sweet pop sensibilities begins the show, as we hear Owens sing about his boney body and his dirty hair, launching straight into the self deprecation that has always been there in his lyrics. ‘Alex’ follows featuring the first hints of the turned up lead electric guitars that are prominent throughout this LP, and in this track doubling Owens’ more subdued vocals.

‘Die’ begins with an explosion of guitar as its stadium rock and twinges of metal takes hold in a track that leaves the vocals behind. Then all of a sudden the glaring lights and blaring sounds fall away around halfway through, and now you realise, how good this album is going to be, and what a treat we are in for. No sign of a bedroom studio here that’s for sure. ‘Saying I Love You’ is utterly infectious, with a gorgeous Spanish guitar influenced bridge and unlike anything we’ve heard so far, the aforementioned range is astonishing.

'My Ma' marks the beginning of a holy trinity of tracks found in this middle section, the slow jammed bliss highlighted by the simple structure and incredible female backing vocals that add that something special. It’s completely sexy. Maybe I’m just visualising the three girls from Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig In The Sky’. Pass the reefer and settle in for ‘Vomit’, a theatrical and majestic ballad and complete standout.  “Nights I spend alone, I spend them running around looking for you, baby” the atmosphere carried in the track is palpable.  ‘Just A Song’ spirals further down the hole, “Seems that nobodies happy now, Feels like nobodies happy now”.  ‘Magic’ returns to pop and lifts the mood. ‘Just a look was all it took, suddenly I’m on the hook, it’s magic, I feel like starting anew”.

The closer to Father, Son, Holy Ghost is ‘Jamie Marie’, (is it a relative to Lauren Marie from the first LP?) It has a beautiful and strong riff, and Hammond blazing to make a fitting end to this 54 minute impressive follow-up, to what was universally praised as an impressive debut.  The fact that Owens had no exposure to music during his childhood almost makes it seem like he is discovering it for the first time through his own. The boys from Girls have created a sound that while incorporating the ghosts of the past, is truly and solely their own.

- Dave Roberts, September 15, 2011

Vomit

Girls (USA)
From the album, 'Father, Son, Holy Ghost', Matador/True Panther

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RECORD REVIEW: THE WAR ON DRUGS - SLAVE AMBIENT
Reviews
Monday, 05 September 2011 11:22

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Secretly Canadian

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Allowing yourself to be hypnotised by music is one of life's great pleasures and with Slave Ambient, the new album by Philadelphia's The War On Drugs, going under is an absolute pleasure. With every listen, you find yourself getting more and more lost in its inordinate pleasures that reveal themselves gradually . A feast of 70s AM rock, psychedelia, 90s alt-country and more than a nod to Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bob Dylan are as apparent as they were in Wagonwheel Blues. But what sets The War On Drugs apart is a relentless drive to create endless musical structures and carefully crafted appendages that transport you away to a place that is forever restless, forever moving but in the same sense, time stands still. A record of propulsion, yet blissful inertia.

Like former band member Kurt Vile's brilliant album earlier this year, Jason Granduciel, has produced an album for the ages that confounds time and space but respects both in spades - a difficult thing to achieve musically at the best of times. It's almost as if a stream of consciousness has been wrapped up in a meticulously constructed vortex, at once earthy but almost space like in feel. Combined with the familiar guitar, bass and drums are futuristic electronic flourishes that set Slave Ambient apart from where its criticism may stem from, that is that is a 'slave' to its influences. Under the surface though, nothing could be further from the truth.

And that therein lies the tale of this album. The subtleties are its major strength and a signature of Granduciel's song craft. While rhythms are relentless and repetitive for effect, riding right alongside are, on first listen barely discernable chords, hooks, licks, beats and loops. These may escape you on first listen, but repeated listens will draw awareness to their majesty and that's where the hypnotic aura kicks in. This album has been four years in the making and it shows in its diversity and development.

Highlights include the hook laden 'Brothers' where Granduciel's laconic Dylan like vocals work to full effect amongst the incredibly catchy and familiar pop like chord structures. 'I Was There' is a exquisitely paced and classic take on laid back 70s rock that literally does take you back there. Hypnotic rhythms abound both in traditional and an electronic sense on 'You're Calling My Name' as a single guitar chord creates a sense of galactic proportions. 'Come To The City' ebbs and flows and drifts along handsomely while 'It's Your Destiny' is almost liquid in its essence where a straight four four beat is almost literally dragged along by the carefully layered instrumentation. Closer 'Blackwater' is dominated by Granduciel's gritty vocals which are layed over the top of a slow and disciplined rhythm which suitably ends the intricate and delicately poised record in the perfect way.

On first listen, there is little that seems remarkable about Slave Ambient. It can appear a little unimaginative and repetitive. But as with all good music, it rewards time and renders those initial feelings foolish in the extreme. The most significant thing about the'rewards time' statement is that the time spent is not even noticed. Each song just seamlessly ends up being part of you without you having to put in any effort at all. There are many bands around that do Americana, the road trip, the linear drive, that classic sound but none do it with as many forks in the road and subtle twists and turns as The War On Drugs.

 James Stocker - September 5, 2011

 

It's Your Destiny

The War On Drugs (USA)
From the album, 'Slave Ambient', Secretly Canadian.

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RECORD REVIEW: ACTIVE CHILD - YOU ARE ALL I SEE
Reviews
Monday, 29 August 2011 15:23

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Vagrant

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The moment I took the stunning single 'When Your Love Is Safe' for a spin last year, I knew that Active Child was going to give me many memorable musical moments to treasure. Indeed, Denver's Pat Grossi, the man behind the moniker, has been impressing all and sundry with his unique, homespun brand of genre defying music for a couple of years now and the culmination to the impressive start to his career comes with his debut album, You Are All I See. Sporting ten songs laden with atmosphere and emotion, containing elements of 80s chamber pop, R & B, dubstep and hip hop beats all overlayed with a glistening shimmer that gives a sense of permanent twilight.

We knew with the release of the EP Curtis Lane last year that Grossi's falsetto voice could command attention, but on You Are All I See, he demonstrates that his voice can not only soar but prove subtle at appropriate moments too. Similarly, the intricate, almost ornate musical arrangements show Grossi can bring more to the table musically than just the one trick or two.

The self titled opener sets the scene beautifully as harp and hopeful horns take centre stage and wrap themselves around Grossi's poignant ode to a significant other. 'Hanging On' is an album standout with its slow build tempo and arresting and diverse vocal arrangements, a real showpiece of Grossi's ability. The collaboration with Tom Krell (How To Dress Well) on
'Playing House' is a prime example that when R & B is done with humility and a lack of self-conciousness, it can actually sound
good. The two voices meld into each other effortlessly. 'See Thru Eyes' gives a nod to the emotional synth pop of the 1980s with its slow beat and hige drum sound while 'High Priestess' is a slow burner full of questions unanswered.

The second side starts with 'Ivy', an instrumental that it is atmospheric and contemplative as its synths whirl around in grand style. 'Way Too Fast' starts of with an icy feel as Grossi regrets his incapability to resist falling in love while at the same time laments the inability of the other in the song to feel and trust warning of inevitable loneliness. There is a definitive spacey feel to 'Ancient Eye' but still manages to tug at the heartstrings. 'Shield and Sword' cuts a disciplined sonic path as bass synth rumbles beneath its surface until the simple hook brings it to life. Closer 'Johnny Belinda', takes things down a notch for one hell of a poignant ending.

There's little doubt that Grossi's towering vocals are the star of the show on You Are All I See and along with Justin Vernon and James Blake, one of the standouts in creative music today. But that's not to say that he is a one trick pony. There is enough density and variety in this album musically throughout with intelligent use of manufactured and real instruments and arrangements of real and lasting meaning. While some might feel that the album is somewhat distant and self-indulgent and have written so, or that the hype surrounding the album's release has not been realised the counter argument that it is intensely immediate, personal, easy to embrace and rewards and value adds to the hype hold much more sway with this punter.

James Stocker - August 29, 2011

 

Way Too Fast

Active Child (USA)
From the album, 'You Are All I See', Vagrant.

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RECORD REVIEW: COM TRUISE - GALACTIC MELT
Reviews
Monday, 22 August 2011 00:00

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Ghostly International

Com Truise Official Site 

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For those of us who fall into the generation marked 'X', the recent proliferation of 80s inspired and influenced electronica has been somewhat bemusing. Saturday morning cartoons, cheesy TV graphics, Atari game consoles, happy pants, stone-wash double-denim, and Knight Rider mark the time. Drum machines and synths entered the mainstream via beginnings in Kraut rock, and with bands like Ultrovox, Roxy Music and New Order amongst many others. To find yourself at a festival in 2011, dancing your arse off to artists like Ariel Pink in his full 80s glory is a wonderful thing. This musical trip back in time is not a carbon copy however, it shouldn't be that acts of today sound exactly like Duran Duran did thirty years ago. With Com Truise we are certainly in the 'greed is good' decade, but not without the luxuries of the 21st century.

Seth Harley, is the man behind Com Truise, and is based in Princeton, New Jersey. Last year he dropped his debut under this moniker, the EP Cyanide Sisters, which was initially released as a free download via the AM Discs label. Just making music as a hobby, he has said he had no intention of the EP going any further than a give-away track through a blog he liked. Things soon changed, and upon signing with Ghostly International it was re-released digitally to critical acclaim. Galactic Melt is his first LP and first physical release. Drawing from Italia House, Hip Hop and funk, Harley has described the album as a sound-track to an un-filmed sci-fi movie. It certainly has this feeling about it, you can almost see credits rolling up the screen over some of the tracks here.

The music found on Galactic Melt sounds vintage and analogue throughout. 'Terminal' opens the album, a quick two minute track that sets the scene with its synth laden melody, for what is to follow over the next ten tracks. 'VHS Sex' has an Italia disco house flavour with a bit of Kraut rock tinged around the edges. Vocal loops and high pitched synths underscored with a slow mechanical beat make up this track complete with video featuring a montage of cringe-worthy Top Of The Pops style performances and...aerobics. It marks the beginning of the four strongest moments on the album, the next being 'Cathode Girls' beginning with staccato keyboards on what is a funk laden track. 'Air Cal' has a pumping bass that sets it apart from other numbers on the LP, and one of the most dance-floor friendly. 'Flightwave' has a computer sounding voice announcing the title with glimmering synths and a delicious groove entering the mix at the one minute mark. 'Hyperlips' embodies in one track how Harley has described the album; "mid-fi synth wave, slow motion funk", it's one of the most cinematic found on Galactic Melt, you can almost see the blue screen dodgy special effects as you listen.

'Brokendate' lumbers along in a confident way and builds up as it progresses, it gets better with every listen. 'Glawio' is a standout track, that cruises along nicely. 'Ether Drift' has a fitting title, a slow and steady trip layered with a multitude of beats and bleeps sliding nicely into 'Future World', closing the LP suitably. Hints of early New Order can be heard here, and it's a more energetic offering than other tracks on the album staying up throughout its three minutes. The music on this debut is familiar and at the same time new. What we Gen X-ers heard as snippets in 80s TV ads, and through arcade machines are fleshed out to their musical logical conclusion with Com Truise. Nostalgia aside, this is an enjoyable album, the best of both worlds. Those great 80s sounds while we sit here in 2011.

-Dave Roberts, August 22, 2011


Brokendate

Com Truise (USA)
From the album, 'Galactic Melt', Ghostly International

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VHS Sex

Com Truise (USA)
From the album, 'Galactic Melt', Ghostly International

Official video

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RECORD REVIEW: BATTLES - GLOSS DROP
Reviews
Monday, 15 August 2011 00:00

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Warp

Battles Official Site

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You must know you are doing something right when the godfather of electro and experimental music, Brian Eno, turns up at one of your gigs and says he was blown away by your artistry. Even better when he admits to gritting his teeth because he wished "he thought of that". High praise indeed for the boys of Battles. When Eno curated the 2009 Sydney Luminous Festival, he made sure they were on the bill, playing the Opera House while his own visual art was projected onto the famous sails. 

The first album, 2007's Mirrored, followed on from five EPs, all released in within three years of each other. It has therefore been a long time between drinks, with fans eagerly awaiting any news of the next release. And many fans there are, the reaction to the debut was massive, with frontman Tyondai Braxton's energy and vocals creating something left of centre that caught people's attention. With Braxton's departure to pursue a solo career, Battles were faced with a few decisions with the second release. Go all instrumental? Have another band member step up with vocals? Or get a random assortment of guest artists in to lay down their particular style of vocals...as you probably know by now, this was the way they went. 

Gloss Drop has a diverse range of people swing by the studio; the legendary and pioneering electronic guru Gary Numan, Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, Chilean electro producer Matias Aguayo and Yamantaka Eye, a Japanese vocalist, DJ and visual artist. Each of these offer something different, not looking to replace the style of Braxton, which would be impossible, but to bring their own angle to the recording. 

'Africastle' has some damn catchy guitar going on, in this perfectly positioned opening track. The pace is hectic as the track builds and the anticipation rife of what lays ahead over the next fifty minutes. 'Ice Cream' is the first single off Gloss Drop and features the voice of Matias Aguayo. It's a doozy of a track, with a strange and brilliant intro, vocal percussion sounding like a steam engine building up momentum with a carousel chiming away behind it. These sounds get faster and more frantic, until you are not sure what you are even listening to. Is it all synth through a program, or something played by humans? The outro is just as cool and just as strange, in that Battles kind of way. The video, which you can have a look at below, is a superb mash of vintage clips put together by Barcelona based directorial collective, CANADA. The 'Icecream' single was limited to 3000 copies and was released in three different flavours. Well, of course! 

'Inchworm' was recorded by guitarist Dave Konopka shortly after Braxton's exit, so as to ensure the band kept things moving forward. It has one riff looped with a dancy edge, sleigh bells and steel drums. 'My Machines', named after lyrics by Gary Numan, and sung by the man himself, is a standout. Heavy on the percussion thanks to John Stanier, with a grinding undertone and sparkling effects popping up occasionally, but the spotlight is firmly fixed on the drums in this one. 'Sweetie & Shag' features Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino delivering dreamy, wistful lines with a killer rhythm and melody. 

'Rolls Bayce' begins with tiny sounds and soon grows into a beast. It thumps along, a clash of opposites, mechanical, marching like percussion married with what could be a sample from an ancient music box. It's a track that is over to soon, making you want to hear it all over again immediately. The closing track on Gloss Drop is 'Sundome' with Yamantaka Eye stepping up to the mike. His vocals, indecipherable as they are, made more mysterious by being layered way back in the mix, like an echo through a forest at night. Synths are jarring and play around with time signature, it's a playful track that could well describe the LP as a whole. This album may take a few listens for some. But often this is a sign that something special is afoot. Pure art, at its best shouldn't be easy. The payoff is what it's all about, and when that moment arrives you realise it was well worth that extra listen. 

-Dave Roberts, August 15, 2011 

 

My Machines (Featuring Gary Numan)

Battles (USA)
From the album, 'Gloss Drop', Warp

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Brian Eno talks about Battles

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Ice Cream (Featuring Matias Aguayo)

Battles (USA)
From the album, 'Gloss Drop', Warp

Official video

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RECORD REVIEW: WU LYF - GO TELL FIRE TO THE MOUNTAIN
Reviews
Monday, 08 August 2011 00:00

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Self released

WU LYF Official Site

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"World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation" is what their band name stands for, it's pronounced 'Woo Life' and they are a band like no other. Four guys from Manchester make up the group, 'Ellie Jaie' Evan Roberts, 'Jeau' Joe Manning, 'Lung' Tom McClung, and 'Evanse' Evans Kati, information that wasn't even known until the release of this original and impressive debut. In an age where artists have the whole universe of media outlets available at their fingertips, WU LYF have gone in the opposite direction. Deliberately keeping their distance, declining interviews and listing their manager as 'War God' they have carefully created an anonymity which only recently have they lowered their guard on.

It has been revealed that their manager is Warren Bramley, who has previously worked at the famous Factory Records with Tony Wilson. It seems fitting then, that when watching the video for the track 'L Y F' you are reminded of videos for the Happy Mondays, with a bunch of blokes jumping around on stage like 'nobody is watching', as the saying goes. The music couldn't be further from that happy early 90s chemical induced scene however, except that both have an air of wild abandonment about them. Pulsing with positivity, which sadly seems so distant from any feeling possible in the UK as I write this at this moment in August 2011. 

This debut LP, Go Tell Fire To The Mountain, has garnered a lot of attention, as have the band since they formed in 2008. Full of contradictions, for a band who master in keeping information withheld they have formidable websites and online presence you can check out below. WU LYF's uncategorisable music is dominated by a myriad of layers and instruments including organs, walls of guitar, massive percussion and while their music can soar, it can also be toned right down to a sad whimper. 

The album was recorded in an abandoned church, as they wanted to get away from the 'sterile environment' of a recording studio. The decision paid off, Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is an album that sounds like nothing else. 'L Y F' kicks off with an electric organ, reminding us of where it was recorded, and builds up with guitar and percussion entering the fray over mostly indecipherable lyrics. It seems like a loose production at this point with the  emphasis turning to focus on the vocals as the track progresses, with the one line that stands out 'I love you forever'.'Cave Song' is a revised version of an earlier demo track 'Lucifer's Calling', and has a free and almost manic garage sound to it. 'Such A Sad Puppy' has more of the church organ sound with the vocals of Roberts sounding abrasive as tarmac at times, "(Winter went down him/ the mountain spat snow again) My baby/ my baby’s got no words for me/ you know a brothers in jail/ My father said son/ oh son I can’t afford his bail/ (Now don’t let me/ take up my fathers dreams)".

The reverb on the  vocals make them stand front and centre, even when the cymbals are crashing and guitars are wailing. 'Dirt' starts with a thumping drumkit in the spotlight, then the keys come in and the vocals come in almost in the role of another instrument to join the others, "And no matter what they said/ dollar is not your friend/ and it’s the feeling that are hard to know/ are the feeling that all come slow". These lyrics are as cryptic as the band is, but the closing line on this track is one of the clearest to be found on the LP, "No don’t let go/ till you find a home/ World Unite and I’ll love you forever". 'Concrete Gold' and 'We Bros.' are positive and inspiring tracks but not in a predictable way, you can kind of feel the honesty and passion coming through the speakers as you listen.  

In a rare statement released to the press, Roberts has said that they "want WU LYF to be more than a band, in the same way that Barcelona FC are more than a club". This band has the feeling of being a collective, both with lots to say, and nothing at all. We have seen this before, in a totally different way the Afrocentric band of the early 90s, Arrested Development tried to make their voice heard through their music. A brilliant debut gave them this platform, before they vanished from the radar as quickly as they appeared. Go Tell Fire To The Mountain will also be a tough one to follow up. But I don't think WU LYF are ones to rest on their laurels. These guys have a lot more to say, and while they might appear to at times be hiding online, when they have something to say, they will be there with gusto to let us hear it. 

- Dave Roberts, 8 August, 2011

We Bros.

WU LYF (ENG)
From the album, 'Go Tell Fire to The Mountain', self released

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WU LYF Official site 


L Y F

WU LYF (ENG)
From the album, 'Go Tell Fire To The Mountain', Self Released

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RECORD REVIEW: SOFT METALS - SOFT METALS
Reviews
Monday, 01 August 2011 10:36

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Captured Tracks

Soft Metals Soundcloud

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The couple (literally) that form Portland duo Soft Metals certainly wear their musical influences on their sleeves and they're there in spades on their debut self titled LP. Ian Hicks and Patricia Hall, music and voice, have combined to make a mechanical, robotic yet very human record and it's the result of the by-play at work between Hick's machine like synths, effects and beats and Hall's ethereal and dreamy vocals. Influences at play are more obscure The Units and The Young Marble Giants combined with the more familiar Kraftwerk, Souxsie And The Banshees, Depeche Mode and even Blondie. Hall could have dominated this record with her talented vocals but like Deborah Harry, she deliberately stays as just a part of the whole, the way musical construction should be, allowing Hicks to create the musical landscape that Hall heaps mood upon perfectly.

First track and album standout, 'Psychic Driving' is a case in point. Dramatic synths make a clarion call at the start before the beat kicks in and takes things down a notch in a very unexpected way readying you for the slow build up that stalks throughout. A simple synth note pulses as Hall sings the verse almost hopefully before the chorus kicks in with full melody underneath Hall's ominous threat that she is to 'take back what's mine'. The gradually layered and measured build up continues as more synths are added into the mix and background effects a and loops come into their own. It really is on the of the best songs of 2011 so far.

Hicks's use of repetition is a trademark of the album and 'Always' is a perfect example. It consists of two very repetitive and simple synth lines that underpin the song accompanied by Hall's dreamy vocals and when paired with just the right amount of otherworldly effects gives it form and muscle. 'Voices',  melds metronomic structures with an 80s dance sensibility while industrial oscillators whirr about towards its end. Kraftwerk's prints are all over the looped beat on the short 'Celestial Call' which owes a great deal to 'Trans-Europe Express', a track that's probably been more influential than other in modern music history so they're not the first and won't be the last to use it. As the name suggests, there's almost some sort of pagan ritual going on alongside it that adds interest. The excellent 'The Cold World Melts', could almost be called 'The Cold War Melts' with its 80s new wave workings reminscent of the last decade of that era. Hall mirrors Deborah Harry's delivery on the Blondie track, 'Rapture' for extra effect.

The second half of the album begins with the robotic instrumental, 'Hold My Breath' and acts as a perfect lead in for the more substantial 'Eyes Closed', with each different synthesiser used to great effect diversifying the track and taking in different directions simultaneously. In fact, much of the album does this and that is it's strength. 'Pain' uses vocal filter samples before launching into old disco stylings that powerfully drive the track forward, almost Depeche Mode like at times. 'Do You Remember' is a more emotionally charged track and probably the most organic on the album. It's metronomic beat is softened by spacey synths and Hall's heartfelt lyrics. Slow burning closer 'In Throes', again reminds of Kraftwerk's early years, especially the synth sound and repetitive beat.

The combination of sound textures and music technology is something Soft Metals trade in and Hicks makes the point that experimentating with different sounds and influences and melding them together makes up much of their soungwriting approach. While the criticism will be out there that they are too close to their influences, great electronic music has always been about manipulating existing sounds to create something new. On their self titled debut, as the strength of 'Psychic Driving', The Cold World Melts' and 'Do You Remember' and other tracks indicate, the potential is there for the duo to drive for further experimentation and reach even greater heights in the future.

James Stocker (in Oslo) - 1 August, 2011

 

The Cold World Melts

Soft Metals (USA)
From the album, 'Soft Metals', Captured Tracks.

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RECORD REVIEW: WASHED OUT - WITHIN AND WITHOUT
Reviews
Tuesday, 26 July 2011 00:00

JPG

Sub Pop

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Having evolved over the last few years from a bedroom producing lo-fi solo outfit, Ernest Greene of Washed Out has just dropped an album that proves that this approach to making music is as worthy and proven as any other. This democracy of expression is obviously more suited to the indie scene; it's where the word "indie" actually comes into it. And it is a polar opposite to the formulaic and robotic, production-line that has emerged over the last ten years via such crowd pleasing shows as "(insert country here) Idol", and the dozens of money grabbing spin-offs it has spawned. Not that this is a new thing, commercial vampire-like producers have been around since the birth of vinyl, (remember Stock Aitken Waterman from the heady 80s?), it's just that the exploitation and cattle calls looking for the 'right package' weren't broadcast live to millions of people in the car crash of reality TV we see today.

Artists like Ariel Pink, Noah Lennox and Washed Out's Ernest Greene have the ear and talent to deliver music that moves us in ways Kelly Clarkson couldn't dream of. No need for a massive TV studio orchestra to back you up when you now have all the technology needed from the local electronics store to get a good talent started from your own bedroom, basement, or kitchen studio. Greene produced three EPs over two years (High Times, Life Of Leisure and Untitled) plus a stand alone single (Feel it All Around) in his home town of Perry, Georgia. From these releases people took notice and Washed Out made an impact in the already crowded genre of "chillwave". In two short years Greene has found one of his tracks used as the theme song for the Independent Film Channel's TV series Portlandia, he has performed at the Pitchfork music festival, been chosen by Battles to play at their incarnation of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival (Nightmare Before Christmas) taking place in Minehead, England, and he has been signed up by legendary label Sub Pop Records. Here he joins their stable of acts such as Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Wolf Parade, Foals, Fleet Foxes and No Age.

Within And Without is an album built off the back of the home-produced EPs. Moving on from the lo-fi solo persona, Greene has enlisted the help of Ben Allen from Animal Collective / Deerhunter for bass, percussion, producing and mixing and Caroline Polachek of Chairlift to add vocals in this tightly packaged LP of nine tracks. The album sounds and feels vast and expansive, like a ten mile beach with soft focus and warm sunshine. It's a surround sound embrace.

'Eyes Be Closed' begins things on the LP, its jilted synths gliding along with more layers being added as the track progresses. The vocals of Greene are hazy and soulful, and the song has an air of familiarity about it. Not in a 'ripped off, I've heard it all before' kind of way either. 'Echoes' comes next, 80s inspired and a good example of the meld of the hip-hop/electro structure used throughout this album, with a measure of early house thrown in. 'Amor Fati' has a cosy romantic atmosphere about it, stripped back percussion and synths up front. This track showcases Greene's vocal abilities, suited perfectly to this track.

On 'Far Away' we hear a beautiful frail violin exuding sadness with the gauzy vocals extenuating the track and xylophhone offering a sparkling glimmer of positivity. 'You And I' is one of the highlights, a song to curl up with as it swirls cosily around you. Within And Without the title track is the sound of Washed Out at its most pure. These tracks don't seem to flow into each other in any deliberate way, but still sit side by side in a way that if left on repeat, will have you on the third lap without you realising at all.

Washed Out has captured the digital rays of Summer and captured something that many people, even those who don't usually partake in "chillwave", can enjoy. Within And Without is fresh, nuanced and a joy to listen to. Greene has inspired many since his early EP offerings only a couple of years back. This solid debut shows a great leap forward from those bedroom productions and can only leave you hanging out for more.  

- Dave Roberts, 26 July, 2011

 

Amor Fati

Washed Out (USA)
From the album, 'Within You, Without You', Sub Pop

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Eyes Be Closed

Washed Out (USA)
From the album, 'Within You, Without You', Sub Pop

Official video directed by Timothy Saccenti

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RECORD REVIEW: JOHN MAUS - WE MUST BECOME THE PITILESS CENSORS OF OURSELVES
Reviews
Monday, 18 July 2011 00:00

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Upset The Rhythm/Ribbon Music

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I headed down to a little pub called Le Motel in the Bastille area of Paris last Thursday night to hear some old and obscure new wave and post punk magic. The tiny two roomed venue was awash with the sounds of bands from around the globe I'd never heard of even though I was well and truly alive back then. The French have always been a little snubbed by the anglophile music world when it comes to pop music but in terms of new wave and early 80s electronica, they were in many ways ahead of the pack. Which brings me to the new album from John Maus, the unconventional eccentric re-maker of these new vouelle pop stylings. We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves is at once a homage to those sounds as much as it is a satire on the absurdities of modern life itself. Maus's dishevilled and drowned out vocals are testament to the latter as he stretches and strangles the shit out of familiar melodies at will.

This album is Maus's third and best effort. Although it doesn't possess the extent of quirks and downright sabotage present on Love Is Real, his last release from five years ago, it is a more taut affair that still sports enough 'out there' moments that allows it past the inevitable criticism that it is just the sum of its influences. If it is just that how can 32 minutes of music make such an impression and leave you rendered momentarily cerebrally immobilised every time you hear that bass line, that synth hook - new wave has that effect. It is much more than just ear candy. From the very start of We Must Become... something intangible grabs hold and keeps you close for the whole ride.

The album begins with 'Streetlight'; the arpeggio synth work immediate as Maus works a starry theme to pop perfection. But you get the impression there's something not right amidst the wonderment. First single 'Quantum Leap' features Joy Division influenced basslines and signature and boasts an almost choral chorus before the whole song gives way to chaotic blips and sonic screeches. The next two tracks take things down a little '...And The Rain' has a metronomic beat that underpins simple bass and synth. The chorus musically mirrors the song title with its descending three notes. The embellishment of the extra synths polish the song off perfectly. The next track sees Maus lift, 'Hey Moon', a ballad of sorts by talented Berlin based Swedish singer-songwriter Molly Nilsson taken from her 2008 album, These Things Take Time. Virtually the same song, Maus employs his reverb drenched croon alongside Nilsson's laconic vocals to great effect as synths again add the bells and whistles. 'Keep Pushing On' forces you back on to the dance floor as Maus brings back the arpeggio style synths of Giorgio Moroder and channels Phillip Oakey from The Human League. The highlights on the track are where Maus disciplines the thing through stripping it back with a single synth loop and a straight beat, almost allowing for introspectivity.

The all too short and excellent 'The Crucifix' with its raw post punk bassline and gothic like synth work reads like something out of a film noir horror flick. 'Head For The Country' is a pop gem as its electro bass line bubbles along in funked up style while synths and chimes swirl around before the song gives way to simultaneous sci/fi and blaxploitation influence. And that therein is Maus all over. The intellectual has packed so much into so small a box that your head spins, exactly the reason for the album's existence - the excessive affirmation of all things technologically 80s, hence the sublime synth overkill, that renders the era's limits pushed and overcome. The Stranglers make an appearance on 'Cop Killer' as the ascending vocal arrangements of Golden Brown's chorus are mirrored in slower tempo as Maus sings the line 'against the law'. The dark undertones and equally dark song title should not be confused with Maus wanting to kill cops - you're not going to get something that simple. Rather it's about the killing of our inner cop, the cop that sub-consciously takes it cues from authority, public or private, government or corporation who are forever attempting to kill any free spirit we might like to have. As I sit here writing this review in a hotel room in Copenhagen and having visited the largely self sufficient and self-governing free town of Christiana yesterday, the efforts of the right wing Danish government to regulate and draw that community in over the last few years spring to mind. Maus reminds us that the good things in life should never be taken for granted or at will on 'Matter Of Fact' where he repeats the mantra of 'pussy is not a matter of fact' over and over again, indeed the only line in the song. Surrealism abounds on 'We Can Break Through' before the album closes with one of the best tracks of 2011 so far 'Believer'. Possessing more power that ten power stations put together, you'd almost need to generate that much base load energy to propel the huge driving bass line and the massive wall of synth sounds built around Maus's optimistic lyrics.

While on the surface, We Must Become... seems little more than the sum of its parts, Maus's ability to combine sheer exhiliration with intellectual discourse makes the album as lasting as it is affecting. Every listen peels back further layers not immediately apparent and this will be the reason the album will enjoy great longevity despite is brevity of length. The affecting cleverness of the interplay between bass and synthesiser dominates this album and they almost act as metaphors for gay abandon and deep thinking simultaneously. As I think back to that night in Paris, listening to Maus and watching three immaculately dressed Frenchmen pine over what new wave and post punk gem to play next reminds that far from being mindless fodder, independently made pop music is the musical language of the twenty first century and with this album, John Maus has announced that he will be one of its major players.

James Stocker (in Copenhagen) - July 18th, 2011.

 

Head For The Country

John Maus (USA)
From the album, 'We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves', Upset The Rhythm/Ribbon Music.

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Official Video

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