Fit and the Conniptions – Sleeping Beauty (roots rock)
£0+ DD £5+ CD
Wayne Myers, singer, songwriter and principal instrumental culprit, sent me this mini-album in early February according to my records, but it somehow slipped through the net and never got reviewed. Well, better late than never. Sleeping Beauty is pure poetry. I intend that as a value judgement, but also a literal description; Myers is a poet who works in the medium of song. Now I’d think of it as a species of insult to say that this was an EP of poems set to music, but that’s not what I mean: these are songs, written as such, and the musical materials they incorporate are neither a commentary on the lyrical texts, nor a set of superficial decorations. These songs are songs, and their meanings exist in the liminal zone between semantic denotation, musical affect, performative expressivity, and verbal allusion. It’s just that their meanings are neither obvious nor fixed; instead they are inferred or implied, obliquely approached, spoken around, left to hang in the spaces between the words and sounds. The songs bear the same relation to many other, more obvious songs, that poetry does to prose: they express subtleties of intent that cannot be directly stated, because the language of things and actions is too blunt an instrument. They contain unparaphrasable observations of human experience, in the only form which can contain them, which is to say more experience. Listen to the songs and you’ll know what he means (even if you have no clue what I mean). Stylistically we have a measured set of open, understated grooves, just bass, drums and guitar, augmented with some lovely brass and cello; we’re on the funky, bluesy end of things, thick, earthy beats performed with simplicity and taste, and vocal melodies to match. Myers’s vocal delivery is that of a man speaking his own truths; he eschews a received notion of the stylistically correct in favour of a characterful enunciation, which is the only possible conduit for the personal and particular observations which populate his songs. I don’t really do heroes; there are those whose work or personal attributes I admire, but I idolise nobody, and very few figures have mythical status in my universe. One of the few that do is the anarchist ‘Red’ Emma Goldman; that the EP features a song entitled ‘The Ghost Of Emma Goldman’ could only endear it to me, but I would, of course, love Sleeping Beauty regardless. Rarely do such simple means express such an intelligent and empathic perspective so vividly. This record’s beauty is far too conspicuous to be sleeping.
Tom Slatter – Black Water (prog rock)
£3+ DD £4.50+ CD
Tom Slatter has a hell of a way with chord progressions, and with writing guitar parts to negotiate them. Given the dark steampunk thematic materials on which his lyrics draw, this gives an unusual degree of emotive nuance to narratives that might strike some as somewhat cartoonish. With Black Water the topics of those narratives are, it has to be said, a little less overt than on many earlier releases, and you could listen to this EP without necessarily twigging that it was set in a world of difference engine IT, steam powered airships and elective myoelectric prosthetics milled from brass. This is a primarily acoustic collection, which showcases Slatter’s fine guitar playing nicely; he plays almost everything else as well, but this is not about a display of musicianship. It’s all about narrative, in fact; if the EP I reviewed above is an essay in songwriting as poetry, this one is all about songs as stories. The above-mentioned chord progressions are entirely narrative in character, sketching their affective territories with an unmistakeable sense of journey and destination. Lyrically, these songs are not dramatic vignettes of the sort that Slatter has written in the past, populated explicitly with fictional characters, but expressions of subjective experience written from fictional perspectives (at least I think that’s what’s going on); in other words, these are the songs the characters in the story might write if they were songwriters, and they stand independently as very lovely songs. As ever, the succession of feelings engendered by each song makes them into miniature epics. They are sensitively arranged, in ways which enhance and expand the effects that they would elicit if performed without embellishment; dynamic and emotional gradients become somewhat more pronounced, moments of calm expand into broader spaces, defined by economical instrumental gestures or electronically processed sounds. In all cases the songs retain their inherent qualities, so expressive in their basic forms that to do much more than play them straight might over-determine their meanings. To my ears there is a new creative maturity on display here; I have been a fan of Slatter’s work since I first heard it, and I’ve downloaded every obscurity I can find, but this is his best release yet. He has also developed as a performer; his vocal delivery has been perhaps his only weakness in the past, but all uncertainties of timbre or intonation seem to have vanished, and he sings here with great clarity and precision. If concluding two consecutive reviews with facetious references to their titles is permitted, I found myself immersed completely in this Black Water. Very powerful stuff.
Delco Nightingale – Swingin’ The King (swingabilly)
$7.19 DD $9.99 CD
This is quite an extensive collection of Elvis covers played in a bare-bones rockabilly style; Delco Nightingale call this ‘swing’, or a variation on it, which just goes to show how nebulous genre labels can be, since to me ‘swing’ means a variety of predominantly big-band commercial jazz from the 1930s and 40s, and this sounds unmistakeably like rock ‘n’ roll, notwithstanding some long notes on the bass and some brushes on the snare… It certainly does swing though, with all the swagger and insouciant style demanded by the material, and I think their usual repertoire is indeed drawn from that earlier era. This would have been an album in the early days of the LP, at eight songs in twenty-one minutes, but contemporary music collectors won’t think so; it does, however, give the band more than enough to time to set out their stall. These are respectful readings of some classic texts, but they are not at all reverential; Erin Berry’s vocal delivery puts a new spin on the songs, not just (but not least) because she’s a woman singing material that is so indelibly associated with the most famous male voice in the history of popular music. The band’s style is one that demands the same flourish and charisma from the instrumentalists as from the singer, and everyone delivers; Swingin’ The King is stylish, compelling, and a masterclass in performance.
Godzilla Black – Little Things EP (avant-rock)
Dark, often frenetic and sardonic rock music, with a saxophone that acts like a lead guitar (i.e. low on the clichés, high on the dirt), and songs that sound like Godzilla Black know something you don’t. And that it’s not a good something. They list ‘surf’ as one of the tags for their music on their Bandcamp page, which seems slightly bizarre at first sight, but there is an echo of that dark, baritone-guitar, minor twang in their aesthetic (and sometimes a hint of the rebetiko modalities that made ‘Miserlou’ so compelling). The music often gets loud and full, but the dynamics and textures are very well controlled and carefully directed, the material written and arranged with a high degree of sophistication, that slips in discreetly behind the misanthropic swagger and informs it without ever making it sound ‘clever’ or contrived. It’s hard to put my finger on one thing about this band, but the various ingredients of their sound are integrated so well to their very singular creative ends that I find their recordings unusually compelling, this one as much as any. Nothing is particularly unusual or transgressive or revolutionary in isolation, but there is creativity in the way they employ all of their musical materials, and the final mix is a wild, exhilarating blast of anger and anomie, delivered with death-trip charisma and not a little stylish panache. Top-whack malarkey.
Be Like Pablo – The Post It Song (pop punk)
Stray Cat Records £1.98 DD
Happy shiny guitar pop, delivered with pleasingly undisguised Scottishness. Very well crafted and produced, and written with a real sense of fun (wordplay, back and forth male/female call-and-response, that sort of thing); these two songs are hooky, without being over-hooky (some pop-rock songs sound like the urge to write catchy melodies is a nervous tic), and both drive with high energy groove and an irresistible roar of heavily compressed rock guitar and synth. Straightforwardly entertaining in conception and execution, they are also quite impressively accomplished, presented with a great deal of polish and attention to detail. This music will make you feel good.
Dö – EP (doom)
These three songs are all pretty long; in fact they add up to a running time over half an hour, which I would usually call an album, and the only reason this release is in a round up of singles and EPs is that the band is sufficiently adamant that it’s an EP to call it EP. Not an imaginative name, but the music doesn’t really need a title; whatever it does, it does it to you really hard and slow. These are loud riffs, performed by guitars with a thick, deep, hairy sound, accompanied by tortured shouting, and thunderous, deliberate drumming. Notes are long, and tempos are slow, although there is a lot of swing and forward momentum at times, and the splendidly titled ‘Everblast’ actually gets quite quick. Basically, it’s doom metal, and although I’d be a bit hard put to describe to you exactly what sets it apart from other examples of the style, it is very atmospheric, and the band play with a great deal of conviction. I like it a lot.
Stacey – Stacey (Reconstruction) (avant-pop)
This EP is a remix, hence the parenthetical ‘reconstruction’ after its title, but I’m unfamiliar with the original, so I’ll just take it as I find it. It’s a melancholic and ethereal collection of songs, where huge, space-defining basses hulk like monumental structures, while lyrics chase melodies among them like frightened refugees. Or something. The arrangements are inventive electronic affairs, with a relatively low-key feel, and Stacey’s tunes are catchy in a take-it-or-leave-it, simply contoured sort of a way. There’s a mediated, distanced feel to the whole thing, congruent with the blurred and nostalgic image on the cover, and a dreamy feel to the sounds, although there is plenty of presence and crisp top-end as well, not to mention some pounding beats. It’s not transgressively groundbreaking, but there is plenty to set it apart, and Stacey (Reconstruction) is an intelligent, entertaining release.
Suzy Blu – Blu (electro-pop)
£2+ DD £4+ CD
This EP displays an eclectic and wide-ranging set of musical interests, centered mainly on post-punk, no-wave and synthpop, but not rigidly bound by any single set of generic conventions. What Suzy Blu does is unashamedly pop, but not in the sense of music that’s aimed at the charts; who it is aimed at is not precisely clear, which is usually a good thing. It’s intended to strike a chord with anyone whose musical interests are sufficiently congruent with hers, but once that chord is struck the intention, as far as I can ascertain, is to entertain. There’s one more sedate, guitar driven song, and two more bouncy electronic tracks, as well as a live version on the title track, ‘Blu’; all combine a misty nostalgic sensibility with overt humour and simple, memorable musical materials. It’s an essay in unpretentious, well-informed, intelligent fun, and well worth a listen.
The Incredible Tall – Rest In Pieces Vol. 4 (hip-hop)
The Incredible Tall’s deadpan humour is built around his voice, which sports the kind of German accent most people will associate with The Terminator, but it lends itself very well to the business of satirising gangster rap. He intones more than he spits, in a flat, threatening manner that would be a pretty clear psychopathological symptom if he was taking himself seriously, but humour has always been a central plank of hip-hop, and this EP is no pastiche. The beats are top notch, The Incredible Tall’s delivery is strangely compelling (in fact, the dogged commitment he shows to his unique aesthetic borders on creative genius), and the whole release is united by a vision as charismatic as it is entertaining. This one has a lot of replay value for me.
Borderline Symphony – EP1 (dreampop)
Swooshing, floaty soundscapes with pretty, artificially harmonised vocal melodies. I’m going to resort to an extended quote from the press release, because I don’t understand the Italian lyrics, and I can only take their word for it: ‘[t]he five tracks are derived from Pollioni’s interest in literature around tragic heroes. Borderline Symphony lyrics are not pop lyrics, but rather are tragic, funny and often curious lyrics in loose form. There is no “traditional” chronological story telling, but rather songs crafted from odd Klaus Kinski quotes and lines from Markus Werner’s first novel or from a novel by Giuseppe Culicchia’. That all sounds marvelous, but of course I have to just listen to what it sounds like; luckily, this is a pretty rewarding experience in its own right, and I have been left with a great liking for the sound of sung Italian by my small obsession with Stormy Six. It’s psychedelic pop heard through a bit of a mist, rather than the dense fog the above ‘dreampop’ label might suggest, with a faintly psychotropic sound that is both gentle on the ears and extremely engaging. Good stuff.
Disgruntled Noisebox – Dim Ohs (noise pop)
I was sent a nice hand numbered cassette of this, released by Tlogotawa Records, but I can find no trace of either tape or label on the web now (the Bandcamp account has been deleted), so I’m just listing the download here. Disgruntled Noisebox play noise pop with humorous lyrics and a prominently featured lead kazoo. This combination is, needless to say, one of the most innovative and groundbreaking developments in the past three decades of music history. If you want to be, as a listener, where culture is being made, then you need to be here. Or to put it less facetiously, you may have more fun at times than you will have listening to this EP, but that will only be when you’re doing very enjoyable things like shagging, white-water rafting or organising your CD collection. Dim Ohs is a challenge to every artist that takes him or herself too seriously, and a very entertaining slice of lo-fi pop music.
Charles Edison – Bitstorm (instrumental hip-hop)
Beats Laying About Records £0+ DD
The title track of this two-tune single is an electronic beat that tells its story through a short, prodding minor chord sequence and a building, intensifying texture. B-side ‘Light Up The Night’ has a short vocal sample and a funky bassline, but both share a glimmering, summery feel and a peaceful mood. This is very assured, well-made electronica, that doesn’t bite off anywhere near as much as Charles Edison could probably chew; there’s room on these tracks for some bars, and their deep hip-hop grooves obviously would obviously invite such embellishments, but they create enough atmosphere to stand very happily on their own. Beautiful tuneage.
Liminal Digs – Dragonfly (folktronica)
Fluttery Records $3+ DD $10+ CD
This EP contains four airy cloudscapes of pop folktronica; gently surprising in their choice of sounds and aesthetic manoeuvres, Liminal Digs are primarily concerned with bringing the listener along when they embark on their voyages of exploration. The sounds are a true fusion, integrating a wide range of sources (from the Andes to the Adirondacks, and the synthetic to the bodily) in a way that sounds as natural as walking, with such a relaxing, lambent vibe that it’s almost impossible to resist their mellifluous charms. There’s a surprising amount going on here, and close listening is rewarded, but Dragonfly’s musical sophistication is lightly worn, and the best way to experience this music is to let it flow over you like a glittering, sunlit stream.
Ivory Hours – Mary (indie-groove)
CAD$6+ DD CAD$15 CD
Tight grooves and well-shaped, catchy melodies make all of these simple, engaging songs easy to like; there are unassumingly nifty touches in each arrangement, intricate Afro-beat tinged guitar riffs, and punchy, motile basslines, but the music here stands on traditional pop virtues. There’s a wry humour to the writing, which saves it from the kind of callow earnestness that infests so much otherwise entertaining indie-pop, and the orchestration is of the kind that is directed as much to the hips as to the ears; in other words, for all that Ivory Hours would plainly like you to listen to their lyrics and reflect on their meanings, Mary is a collection of party songs, the melancholy ballads included. Assured and intelligent music, designed to be enjoyed.
Locas – Locas Demonstration (punk)
$0+ DD $5 CC
Locas play ragged, noisy music that largely falls within the compass of punk, but which visits enough stylistic landmarks to make it hard to categorise too precisely. There are moments of fast, and moments of slow; there are moments of harsh, and moments of sweet harmony; there are moments of coherence and moments of sheer, beautiful chaos. It all cleaves very much to a DIY lo-fi aesthetic, and Locas clearly feel no obligation to conform to mainstream notions of musical validity, although they make it perfectly clear they are capable of playing, understand how to write a good chord/melody combination, and are in command of their dynamics. This is an enjoyable and stirring bit of noise from the margins.
crashfaster – superchroma (electro-pop)
$4+ DD $6+ CD
Many bands and artists resist ‘pop’; they play it, but they are at pains to layer it with ‘irony’, just so you know they have critical minds. crashfaster just play it. They don’t ape the generic sounds of the mainstream, but they record songs designed to entertain, in a way that’s designed to make you like them. Compelling grooves, happy shiny textures, catchy melodies: superchroma is all about enjoyment, something that I did a lot of while I was listening to it. There are a lot of skills in action here, and some great production values; all of it is placed in the service of the listener (or more to the point, the dancer). A hint of futurepop anomie comes across in the closer ‘lost’, but for the most part this EP is pure pleasure.