Seek The Northerner – The Chosen Road (hip-hop)
Killamari Records, 2012, DD single, 11m 37s
If you want to you can put your own rap to this beat, you can slip your own beat beneath the words, or you can chop both into a stew of your own devising. From my perspective, as a reviewer, the habit of packaging a single with its bare beat and an a cappella is an absolute godsend, enabling me to get another sense of each component, and doing a certain amount of my analytical work for me. The beat here has a heavy enough drum part, but the piano filigree that tops it works with the lyrically melodic bassline to evoke that combination of optimism and regret so characteristic of the UK underground’s more contemplative moments. A nostalgia for childhood is not overtly stated in the lyrics, but I thought I could detect it as an undercurrent flowing from the beat, as the flow delivered its tessellated phonemes of optimism and self belief. The clue is in the title, and the cover art: ‘what’s the point in dwelling on the past?’ asks the opening line, and the future we’re offered is an autumnal country track, strewn with the summer’s detritus, which is rotting down to feed the trees that grow either side of it. The message is relentlessly upbeat, but the atmosphere acknowledges the struggle inherent in seizing the day. Hip-hop for me is at its best when it evinces this kind of indefatigable brash hope; Seek The Northerner (I’m guessing that’s the MC’s nom de guerre) delivers his bars with solid, earnest intensity, always dropping the one like a bomb, and the whole thing is a great piece of work.
seven sciences of plenty – one second burns like a billion years (post-rock)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 15m 28s
€0+ (name your price)
’Post-post-instrumental’ is the genre this band avows on their Facebook page. It’s a good joke, and also a respectable statement of artistic intent. Being ‘post-’ is a great way to make it clear you’re hung up on the past, or at least consciously entangled in recent creative history; this is instrumental rock music that could readily fit inside the discourse of post-rock, but I’m willing to believe I can hear the difference. This is a band that enjoys making sound with a rock instrumentation, not one with a dogmatic agenda to advance the language or to transcend the need for vocals (and there are vocals on this release, although they are far from dominating the arrangements). seven sciences of plenty seek to suggest that they are over themselves, and for me this only serves to highlight how incredibly conservative rock has been; this stuff is hardly riding rough-shod over the tradition, but not long ago it would have sounded incredibly radical, for its textural focus, its variable, raw approach to guitar timbre and its foregrounding of instrumental performances that eschew the obvious cock waggling of traditionally ‘good’ rock guitar. This is a very listenable EP, full of layers and complexities that the ear exposes over repeat visits. Of which I hope you’ll be making plenty.
tigeryouth – live at lala studios (acoustic punk)
Lala Schallplatten, 2012, CD/ DD EP, 22m 16s
€8 (CD edition of 50) £5.99 (Amazon DD) £7.90 (iTunes DD)
Ten songs in twenty-two minutes make this an album really, but I have rigid, arbitrary rules for this blog, and one of them is that anything under thirty minutes gets written up as an EP. The punk aesthetic is not only audible in the song lengths, but in the impassioned vocals, and much of the guitar work. This is an entirely acoustic recording, mind, and for all that it acts like its by a band, I think it’s performed entirely by Tilman Benning (but I could be wrong, because my German’s incredibly bad). The playing is energetic strumming, sometimes of the classic ‘acoustic guitar song’ type, sometimes all post-punk downstrokes; it has plenty of dynamic variation (as it needs to, to carry off a ten song set), and it’s beautifully recorded. The recording is a live studio performance, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, and it signals its liveness (humorously, I suspect) with the sound of about three people clapping at the end of most of the songs. The chords are pleasing, and mainly diatonic, and the melodies are simple but shapely. I’d have more to tell you if I knew enough to German to understand the lyrics (a disclaimer I have made repeatedly, since I often get stuff to review from this most excellent label), but I can tell you that this is a great listen regardless. I’ve heard a fair bit of music recorded at Lala Studios now, and it always has superb clarity, full range warmth, tons of dynamic range, and most importantly, the bands always give totally committed performances. I don’t know what kind of voodoo they use there, but it works.
Wolfman Conspiracy – AntiVamp (reggae)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 21m 38s
When The Wailers got into a major label studio, with all the expertise and equipment that implies, their sound changed. They forged a form of reggae that had clarity, precision, and complex, literate arrangements, like a Jamaican equivalent to the sophisticated commercial funk that was pouring out of US studios. Lots of bands ran with that ball, taking it down a lot of different roads, until they all seemed to lead to lovers’ rock, on the one hand, and the technologically induced collapse of Jamaica’s traditional studio system on the other. Reggae as we knew it in the 1970s and 80s is no longer made, except by small bands of enthusiasts, and Wolfman Conspiracy are one of them. AntiVamp contains twenty minutes of clean, sophisticated, sonically inventive and irresistibly hard grooving reggae, that sounds a worthy successor to The Wailers’ Island albums, but also contains clear echoes of Aswad, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Alpha Blondie and the entire commercial end of that era, occasionally sounding a little sugary à la lovers’ rock, and produced with a slick 80s gloss. This is really good stuff, that is probably nothing more radical than the reggae equivalent of ‘classic rock’, but for some totally obscure reason hardly anyone is doing this. I enjoyed this EP a lot, and I’d love to hear a full length release from this very accomplished band.
Ernesto Schnack – Jackson (solo guitar)
self released, 2012, DD single, 8m 3s
€0+ (name your price)
Ernesto Schnack performs solo acoustic guitar pieces in a very distinctive style. His compositions are melodically sophisticated, animated by a dramatic sense of dynamics, simultaneously complex, technically demanding and simple. He yanks a hugely expressive, meaty sound from his instrument, sounding as though he’s thumping it ridiculously hard, controlling vibratos to perfection, and presenting his music in the round, equal parts melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics timbre and texture. Both the tunes presented here have moments of incredible, heartbreaking delicacy, and passages where Schnack’s bare, un-processed guitar sounds as heavy as a full band playing metal. This is not an easy trick to pull of with an acoustic guitar; I’ve heard a lot of different approaches to solo guitar performance, all with their specific attractions, and this one is unique and particular, sounding as though it’s taken a long hard journey for its proponent to arrive at it. It takes a lot to make people listen to instrumental music with the same attention they pay to the human voice, but I think this music will get inside most listeners in just the same way that a singer does. Ernesto Schnack is one of the finest musicians I’ve come across recently; Jackson is a moving and beautiful release.
Pirate & Cobie – A List Of Things I’m Scared Of (post-punk)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 14m 37s
Clean but raw guitars, bony, structural bass and drums, gritty tonewheel organ, tastefully selected synth noises; the whole thing working like a contrapuntal mechanism of interlocking cogs and gears; driving beats, but no fear of stillness. Atmospheric songs, laced with melancholy, never wallow in sadness, but recount their first person narratives with realism, equanimity and an observational distance. This is an altogether more poised recording than the self-titled EP I reviewed some months back; it has lost a certain ragged experimentalism that I found appealing, but comparing the two versions of ‘Not Here’ they seem to be chasing hooks less concertedly now. A List Of Things I’m Scared Of seems to be more about finding the right arrangements for the songs, rather than arranging the songs to make the best recording. It’s a fair decision, a creative choice that could yield benefits either way, and I have to say I’d likely have appreciated the results either way. It’s still a jangling, crystalline onrush of melodic energy, and it is still animated by a vocal that is both passionately sincere and engagingly cocky. This is enjoyable, creative music, fun to listen to, and serious enough about its songwriting to reward more thoughtful attention. It’s also very well realised, with a lot of groove, and a really nice crisp production.