Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Fear and my other FriendsLouise Petit – Fear And My Other Friends (Americana)

£0+ DD £5 CD £25 limited edition CD with handwritten lyrics booklet

Positive vibes abound on this perfectly formed EP produced by the estimable Rich Huxley, whose main gig Hope And Social sits in exactly the same affective territory; clear-sighted optimism is the order of the day, and because the songs are notably lacking in trite sentiment or spurious closure the effect is genuinely uplifting. The musical engine that drives the feeling is a light but deep acoustic groove, which swings hard with an upbeat lift on even the most laid-back of the tunes. The band is locked in so tightly that it’s hard to credit how relaxed they sound, and the dynamics are shaded and weighted with real sensitivity; the mix strikes a perfect balance between separation and integration, or more to the point, it has a shedload of both, so although the musicians have a major hive-mind thing going on, they still come through clearly as individuals. The songs are animated with a gentle linguistic playfulness, and an empathic humour that chimes precisely with every aspect of the arrangements and production. The melodies have wings, or an independent relationship to the earth at any rate, bouncing off the ground beat at just the right moments to replenish their impetus and soar; Louise Petit’s subtle phrasing and limpid vocal timbre weave confidently through chord sequences that combine simple folk progressions with sophisticated borrowings from the American songbook, and the atmosphere created by the whole shebang is so full of light and space that you can almost forget that it’s made of sound. The stylistic language of the music is mostly derived from the hinterland of American country and folk, but it’s not tied to it by some hidebound sense of respect or authenticity; that tradition merely supplies the palette from which Petit selects her pigments. Fear And My Other Friends is neither groundbreaking nor conservative; it is a supremely articulate statement in terms that can be understood by anyone, and it gives the lie to any ‘artist’ or producer that thinks that’s a goal that can only be attained by recourse to the lowest common denominator. This is a simply beautiful recording.


DisgracelandTooms – Disgraceland EP (dance-metal)

Industrial Strength Records £3.95 DD

I first heard Tooms on a ‘proof of concept’ demo they sent to me for review; the only thing wrong with it was a slightly flat mix (nothing that couldn’t have been fixed in mastering), and its brevity. Well, a couple of years later, they’ve come up with this EP, consisting of one track and four remixes. With a work-rate like this they might have recorded an album by the time I retire… ‘Disgraceland’ is a high-octane slab of metal/ drum ’n’ bass fusion, as heavy as it is intense; it bears some resemblance to the sounds of electro-industrial music, but its heart is in the hair-raising hedonism of rave rather than the affected gloom of a cyber-goth nightclub. Chunky nu-metal guitars rub shoulders with vowely sawtooth leads in an insistent ascending riff, distorted vocals scream and roar, and thunderous snares and kicks skitter and break like machine-guns and jackhammers. There are moments when its inspiration sounds more grindcore than metal, but Tooms never forget their allegiance to the dancefloor. There’s a liminal zone between drum ’n’ bass and industrial music, where producers with a taste for the heavy explore the limits of brown noise and percussive intensity; although this music comes from a different angle, a deliberate attempt to fuse metal with drum ’n’ bass, the four remixes included on the EP combine a reduced focus on the sound of the guitars with an equal obsession for maximising the sheer devastating heaviness of the recording. The Dirty Fingers Licked hardcore mix sounds as much like powernoise as anything else. The mastering deficiencies of the demo release have been eliminated, and these five versions of ‘Disgraceland’ are a perfectly crafted, uncompromising brain-fuck from start to finish.


IrisOlekksii – Iris (ambient/ electronica)

Fluttery Records FLTTRY053 $5.60 DD $10 CD

Intermittent radio communications at the threshold of audibility add stochastic grit to the plaintive melodic contours of Olekksii’s piano lines; chilly pads and grumbling basses envelop them in regret. This music speaks alienation and solitude, with its single acoustic voice picking a tentative path through fields of technological automation. Iris owes a creative debt to ambient music, but most of the tunes have a strong rhythmic skeleton, and although there is a strong element of dysphoria in its atmospheres, the sense of forward motion is somehow optimistic, or comforting at least; it’s a very relaxing listen, sad, but calm. On a tune like ‘Light Sorrow’, where the beat comes in so hard amidst the faded washes of the harmony that it jars initially, by the time it’s run for a couple of bars it is wholly absorbed by the affective landscape of the piece; on tunes with less aggressive percussion, the effect is even more pronounced. Time is passing, the music seems to say, and there is something to regret in that, but there is also something to value in the regret. This is a very well made EP with a very coherent emotional vision.


Soundtrack For A Quiet PlaceElara – Soundtrack For A Quiet Place (post-rock)

Fluttery Records FLTTRY052 $2.60 DD $10 CD

‘Me And You Under the Aurora Borealis’, the opening track of the three tunes on this EP, begins with a soft, harmonic pad, which is progressively interrupted by a minor scratch on the apparent vinyl, some static interference, and finally a great outburst of rugged electric guitar; after that we’re in unequivocal post-rock territory. This music is about texture and atmosphere, and a very absorbing sense of comfortable forward motion; guitars, bass, drums and synths produce dramatic emotional vistas, big landscapes into which the listener can empty themselves, cathartically or otherwise. I felt myself pulled at walking pace into a roseate future of promise and self-realisation; a nice feeling, but sometimes I could have used a bit more tension to contextualise the release, of which Soundtrack For A Quiet Place has a great deal. Elara clearly know exactly what they’re doing, musically, technically and stylistically, and although their sound is not exactly unprecedented, I can think of many worse ways to lift your mood than listening to this album.


Better DaysRun For It – Better Days (pop-rock)

$5 DD

Tight, rhythmic riffing with a dense, rich guitar sound could herald any of a number of musical scenarios; as soon as the vocals come in it’s obvious. This is heartland rock; Run For It claim some form of punk stylistic allegiance, but even though they have the good sense to append ‘pop’ as an adjective, I’ve rarely heard rock music that sounded any less punk. I mean sure, the guitars have a certain ragged edge (to their amp settings, definitely not to the playing), but the central element of each song is a succession of sugary vocal hooks; the emotional tenor is in safe, feel-good territory, with a strong whiff of the prematurely nostalgic bittersweet. It’s very well put together, from writing to mastering, but for me the mix squeezes what real energy and wildness might once have been present into such a mediated and domesticated form that it felt like eating a burger; I prefer to have to chew my meat a few times before I swallow.


Lashed To The Altar Of FornicationForest Of Remorse – Lashed To The Altar Of Fornication (deathgrind)

$5+ DD

Forest Of Remorse don’t go out of their way to make things easy for anyone. The production of this EP is decidedly lo-fi, and the mix unstable; it’s never too clear what might happen next, musically or sonically. The vocals tend toward an inchoate growling that is impossible to decipher denotationally, but whose affective content is abundantly clear. The ab-human malevolence of the music’s surface textures is relieved only by the ever-present humour, but it’s not the sort of humour that might disarm the threatening atmosphere through obvious satire; the mood remains unrelentingly heavy, in every sense of the word. The guitars are subterranean, in pitch and tone, with riffs that seem intended to squeeze the life out of small animals (or even large ones); the songs are frequently bizarre, formally and structurally – I’m not sure it’s even possible to speak about the music’s melodic content. There are successions of pitches, but they, like every other element of Lashed To The Altar Of Fornication, are present less for their aesthetic value, than to make the auditor defecate in terror. Magnificent lunacy.


widows sons demowidows sons – Demo

$0+ DD

I usually maintain a strict policy of not comparing my reviewees to well known bands; it’s a bit of a cop-out, and you the reader may not have heard the band I’m comparing them to, so it’s better to make the effort to describe the music myself. There’s something about widows sons that reminds me of The Velvet Underground, but without sounding like them. The EP contains five short songs, of a generally strummy country rock nature, played quite deliberately out of tune, without much conviction; it’s miserable in tone. But strangely, it’s worth listening to: there’s an element of humour, there’s an element of the lo-fi philosophy, re-cast to take in musical technique, and there’s an element of gothy psychedelia. This is the product of some very independent minds, refusing traditional measures of value the better to define their own.


Concrete GardenThis April Scenery – Concrete Garden EP

€0+ DD

This April Scenery are some of the most consistently interesting orchestrators of indie rock textures that I’m aware of. Although the basic materials of their sound are not unusual (textural rock with a hint of shoegaze anaesthesia) they never rest on their laurels in terms of the imagination with which they combine and contrast its various elements. This is combined with a mathy approach to rhythm and phrasing, but somehow all this restless creativity is presented in a genuinely accessible and aesthetically inviting manner, in singable songs delivered with considerable gusto. The Concrete Garden EP contains two songs, one of which is remixed four times, a bit like one of those pointlessly elaborate restaurant meals incorporating ‘aubergine prepared four ways’ and the like; the remixes are all splendid, and unsurprisingly introduce an element of electronica into the sound. The upshot of this is that the 23 minute EP is really a single, but as it’s a pay-what-you-want download, you can just ignore the remixes if they’re not your thing. I’d recommend it.


DaylightTori Tori Bird – Daylight (avant-pop)

£0 DD

Lively, dreamy pop that mixes warm piano harmonies with agile double bass and broken drum beats into a textural sound that resembles pioneering jazz trio E.S.T. with added singing (and less improvisation). Particularly creative in the way it orchestrates its musical materials, Daylight presents an engaging pop sensibility with little regard to conventional notions of how pop should be made. This is a beautiful and imaginative song, and Tori Tori Bird perform it with a great deal of musicianship.


Chinese DragonYoung Smoke – Chinese Dragon (electronica)

Automation Records $0.89 DD

Billowing dubby bass and twinkly melodic synth ostinatos mark out a broad sonic frame for this track, the middle of which stays predominantly empty. Double-time snare and electronic percussion maintain a frenetically insistent counterpoint, but always as a current beneath the surface; the dominant feeling is a summery one of illuminated spaces and unhurried pleasure. Nice.


Pain CallSkyence – Pain Call (Hecq Remix) (ambient)

edged edg001 €1+ DD

I don’t know what Skyence’s original cut sounded like, but Hecq’s remix is a skyscape of atmospheric pads and aural tints, given focus by gentle abrasions, the crackle of dusty vinyl, and a very subtle pulse of midrange synthesiser percolations and aortic sub-bass. Unlike much music which employs ambient strategies within an otherwise conventional practice, Pain Call is the real deal; it’s all about the ebb and flow of sensation, and the sense of inhabiting a space. It’s expertly crafted, with sonic depth and breadth, the results both immersive and beautiful.


Lockeys FlagMarley Butler – Lockeys Flag feat. Ellie (synthpop)

£0.79+ DD

There’s a distinct eighties vibe to this delicate slice of luminescent synthpop. Staccato notes stutter in funky little flurries, some percussive, some pitched, but most too short to be wholly one or the other. Butler’s rap/spoken-word bridge is melancholy and full of doubt, while Ellie’s vocal celebrates in contrast. What comes of their differing perceptions is beyond the compass of the song, but within it, the emotional tension is a good counterpart to the summery vibe. Intelligent and subtle, and as well-made as all Butler’s work.


Lady MaryAir Bacha – Lady Mary (nonnon’s ouioui remix) (electronica)

Automation Records $0.89 DD

Beginning with a sample of Stravinsky describing the circumstances under which he composed the Rite Of Spring, it’s clear from the outset that this track is not going to be the most conventional piece of mainstream pop music. It is pretty catchy, nevertheless. It’s driven along by a shuffle beat that’s reminiscent of 70s blues boogie, but the sounds are pure millennial thunder, weapons-grade synth bass and complex overlapping filters. With vocals declaimed in English with a strong French accent, and no obvious topic, it’s a verbal puzzle, and an aural indulgence. Great stuff.


Always RainCorvx de Timor – Always Rain (electronica)

Automation Records $0+ DD

This is a sepulchral tune that takes place in the rain. With a beat that’s too skittish to be a march, but never propulsive enough for dancing, it’s basically a piece of atmosphere, with dark harmonic washes framing a a descending minor melodic contour. I know Corvx De Timor’s secret identity from his work as C/A/T, a now defunct electro-industrial project; it seems he’s as good at sombre introspection as he is at rhythmic harshness. Expertly made and beautifully gloomy.

MindblankTrim The Barber – Mindblank (post-punk)

£0+ DD

Cold and gloomy post-punk, a continuous stream of small rhythm section subdivisions whizzing past while melodies sweep and flow across their filigreed surface. It has a definite eighties feel, lurking somewhere in the liminal zone between big stadium music and the grim underbelly of goth’s more outsider adherents. Kudos for putting a flanger to its proper use, and more kudos for making a generally excellent tune; shedloads of drive and atmosphere.

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