Marley Butler – Romance (electronica/ chill-out)
Naplew Productions, 2011, DD single, 7m 36s
£name your price
Marley Butler makes music of remarkable clarity: his soundscapes are usually clean, open affairs, in which the boundaries between sonic elements are clearly defined; his rhythms are regular, precise and simple; ideas have room in which to breathe, and although he does not overuse spatialising effects such as reverb and delay, the worlds he creates are three dimensional ones. He’s not bucking the trend with this two track release, and why should he? A familiarity with his discography makes it clear that there is plenty of mileage left in his working method, and that there is still a great deal for him to say about the themes that he has been exploring.
Romance is, as usual with Butler, a serious artistic endeavour, where everything about the sound and presentation seems poised, each element juxtaposed to all the others with a sense of deliberation; and yet, also as usual, it is entirely accessible and gentle on the ear. The more I hear of Butler’s work, the greater the accumulation of his statements I am able to retain, the more complex and interesting his musical meanings seem to become. A work like this stands alone as a thing of beauty, but in the context of his larger output, it seems to gather further significations about itself.
Soulful and fragile vocals are provided by Eleanor Williams in English on ‘Bad Romance’, and by Monika Wieczorkowska in some other language on ‘Good Romance’, perhaps to avoid prescribing anything too specific to the predominantly Anglophone audience. Either way, this is a lovely, listenable release, ready to yield plenty of meanings to the attentive ear.
Oo is an Instrument – the Song, the Ship (cabaret/ euro-jazz)
Gattoblaster Records, 2011, DD EP, 22m 30s
Oo is an Instrument is the name under which Bloem de Wilde de Ligny releases her music. Amusingly, on her website she refers to herself by the project name, saying things like ‘Oo just completed her first EP…’ I wonder if her friends call her Oo?
She is possessed of a slightly coquettish, jazzy singing voice, like a less melodramatic, more cabaret Tara Busch. The reedy warmth of a harmonium is the prominent accompanimental voice, but she is also ably backed by a number of players, including the excellent Mao Yamada on double bass. I mention him not because his lines are particularly prominent, although they are very pleasing, deep grooving, rich toned affairs, but because I was at college with him, and having never reviewed anyone I studied with before, Mao is the first of two in this article!
Oo is an Instrument’s music is playful, witty fun, but it is also applied with some seriousness to the contemplation of a subject position in a complex world. Harmonic sequences develop genuine narrative arcs, and melodies invite the listener into places where the lyrics will gently challenge them. This is thinking person’s music, probably best enjoyed in a smoky club with a moderate dose of red wine, but since smoky clubs have been declared dangerously illegal, this EP is a good place to start. the Song, the Ship contains some very creative music, realised with great skill and taste, that is both entertaining and thought provoking.
The Lovely Eggs – Panic Plants (grunge-pop)
Cherryade Records CHY042, 2011, DD single
Panic Plants is to be released on Hallowe’en, although the press release is a bit short on detail: I can’t tell you what formats it will be available in, or what it will cost, and although I know the titles of the three tracks that will be included as B-sides, I haven’t heard them, as the press pack only includes ‘Panic Plants’ itself (which is on the wonderful Cob Dominos in any case). Generally, I prefer to review a release in the round, but I guess I’m old fashioned. So what about this track then?
Well, for one thing, it’s very funny. For another, it comes with The Lovely Eggs’ signature disregard for the rules of pop-rock music; it’s a paean to OCD, and although it is (uncharacteristically) possessed of a relatively conventional pop-song structure, it’s full of quirky, individualistic creatively. It’s neither the most interesting Lovely Eggs track I’ve heard, and nor is it the best, but it’s a charming and entertaining sliver of aural delight, and well worth getting. This band is my favourite new discovery of recent weeks, for their sheer lunatic indifference to convention, and their unceasing creativity; Panic Plants will be a good place to start with them.
stevepuddle – black bullets (roots rock)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 19m 21s
I know stevepuddle’s work from the far sillier datapuddle album MonkeySkyMonkey, which I reviewed on this very site (as if anyone else would publish my scribblings). This record takes a far subtler approach to humour, and a far more straightforward approach to the music.
This is roots rock, performed with respect and understanding for its generic conventions, and a mature and burnished musicianship, that elevates the recording to a stature far beyond what might be suggested by the first part of this sentence. These are songs of rare intelligence, musically lyrical and lyrically musical, rich with sonority, and compellingly delivered by stevepuddle’s frankly stunning voice. From the peaceful acoustic guitar meditation of ‘Blue’ to the frenetic country rock groove of ‘staring at the sun’ there is an impressive range on display among these four tracks.
I know very little about this performer, but I do know that recordings like this are rare beasts, and that on the evidence of these tunes he deserves some recognition. They appeal to me for all the usual geeky reasons, but they are hugely accessible and moving songs, and I think most listeners will find it hard not to like them (whatever brand of hipsterism they may be obsessed with). This is uncomplicatedly lovely music.
Catscans – Catscans EP (post-rock/ progressive rock)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 16m 29s
£name your price
I am, as I have already admitted above, a little bit old fashioned, and for me the term ‘progressive rock’ will be forever tainted by the excesses that were, in an era cut from broad, brown lycra cloth, committed in that name. I do use the term in a non-judgemental way, to describe music that is… well, rock, and progressive, but it’s always a bit of a wrench.
The strands of music sometimes self-identified, or referred to as ‘post-rock’, on the other hand, have largely positive associations for me. Here is instrumental rock (or, in Catscans’ case) predominantly instrumental rock, that is concerned with texture, melody, feel, groove and mood, rather than with being sophisticated, intelligent, proper, difficult, technical and complicated. Good music can be all of those things (not sure about ‘proper’, mind you), but if they are the point of it, it will never be good.
Apologies, Catscans, for using your review as the venue for a pet rant. Here are some adjectives: richly textured, flowing, melancholy, oceanic, heartfelt, moving, beautiful. Catscans EP is a really nice listen, that covers a wide emotional range, and includes some excellent playing, in highly detailed, carefully crafted arrangements. Chrissie, (violin, nyckelharpa and cello) who also plays violin on the most excellent Relic by Matt Stevens, makes some lovely sounds, but here, as on that other release, it would be great to hear her drawing a little more attention to herself. This is a very listenable and rewarding release, and it’ll be hanging around the top of my personal playlist for a good while.
John Gomm – Passionflower (acoustic/ jazz/ folk)
self released, 2011, DD single, 6m 25s
£pay what you want
Jon Gomm, for present purposes, is not a guitarist. I mean, he plays the guitar (boy, does he play the guitar), and I’ll return to that, but he’s a composer, a singer-songwriter if you will, who does what he has to do to realise the musical ideas that his fertile imagination throws up. This is first and foremost a very pretty, profoundly thoughtful song, which sets a contemplative pace, albeit with moments of kinesis, and is arranged in a way which uses Gomm’s considerable arsenal of techniques to express its musical meanings with the utmost artistic clarity. There are moments of complexity in this recording, but they are also possessed of that beautiful simplicity that comes with a complete command of the musical materials in play.
Jon Gomm is the second person I was at college with to be mentioned in this round of reviews. I had been signally unaware of his post-education activities until Matt Stevens (second plug for you there, mate) mentioned that he was supporting him at a gig. I watched a video or two, and have been evangelising for him since. One person I showed his stuff to, a guitarist in his early sixties who has been a professional musician since the 1970s, said it made him want to put his guitar in the case and never get it out again! I know that Jon Gomm would never wish to have that effect on anyone, but it gives you an idea of his audacious and wide ranging guitar technique. A variety of percussion effects are elicited from the body of the instrument; harmonics are bent in time with the machine heads; notes are tapped and hammered (with either hand) as often as they are plucked; and he does all these things simultaneously, while singing in a beautifully liquid countertenor.
My only issue with this is with the production: the guitar sound is rather distorted, in a way that doesn’t appeal to my ear. Whether that’s a digital artifact, an overdriven input stage, or a deliberate strategy I’m not sure, but it’s the sole fault in a simply stunning single release from an artist I will be following very closely from now on.