Various Artists – Singles and EPs

This music is the brainchild of Michael Woodman, guitarist and vocalist in Thumpermonkey, written using the immersion composition techniques described in The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook. The method seems to work. I have no idea what method he employs when writing for Thumpermonkey, but that seems to work too, and for several reasons Eat Your Robot sound a lot like his other band. One reason is the lyrical style; another is the way the melodies are phrased; another is Woodman’s singing, which is highly distinctive; and equally important are his guitar playing and riff writing, which are a …

Review Of The Year 2013: 12 Albums

This is the fourth consecutive time I’ve written a review of the year’s albums, which is slightly scary, as I’m under the impression that writing about music is something that I’ve only just started doing. Still, as senility begins to work its erosional magic on the brain, the years do slip past without leaving so much cognitive residue, and as long as someone can confirm for me that I’ve been having a nice time, I won’t rail against it too much. At least I can look back through these annual articles, and although I’ll think it was someone else that wrote them and I can’t remember any of the music, I’ll know that a year took …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

My first exposure to Olds Sleeper was startling, and he’s yet to disappoint me, across four albums of his own and one collaboration with the beguiling Heidi Harris (not to mention the cigar-box guitar stuff he puts out as Jellyspine Jenkins). Using lo-fi production as a device to emphasise the pure materiality of his music-making, Olds Sleeper’s songwriting achieves a form of sincerity that can’t be contrived or dissembled; he gives voice to a particular form of American street-level experience, in a musical language precisely cognate with its cultural dialects. His songs speak from the soul of the alienated, hard- …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

This entire album is performed straight to tape (or whatever recording medium was used) on a Roland MC-505 groovebox; Cory Peak chose to use a particular set of simple, rounded timbres that gives it a distinct 8-bit vibe, although the machine is considerably more sophisticated, and a much more powerful synthesiser, than the devices that gave rise to that genre. The point is a similar one, as well: in an era of expanding technological possibilities, where the range of options available to electronic music producers on even the tightest budgets is dauntingly vast, defining a closely constrained set of creative …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Cassette mushes everything up and squeezes it together; on top of the warm, lush distortions naturally imparted by magnetic tape, the whole stereo recording is crammed onto half of a tape less than four millimeters wide. It takes some clever mastering to get a really spacious, clearly separated soundfield, but if what you want is a totally integrated sound then the format does half the work for you. This, you may be thinking, says ‘punk’ in brackets after the title, so why am I not talking about the songs? Production and other technical matters are a means to an end at best where punk’s concerned…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Concept albums are something that are probably most often associated with complicated rock music and high-falutin lyrics dealing with such themes as the importance of dragons as a symbol of self-realisation. Well, this is very definitely a concept album, but the music it includes is not rock, not complicated, and not endowed with any kind of lyrical content. There is a brief explanation on the Bandcamp page: 4-zero-7 relates the experiences and reminiscences of the eponymous interceptor droid 4.0.7 as it lies on the operating table after sustaining combat damage; eventually the …

Brooke Sharkey – One Dress (folk)

It can be quite hard to find your place as a singer-songwriter; it’s an idiom whose audience mainly appreciates acoustic music, and mainly doesn’t appreciate anything too weird. Its audience also has a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for frankly indistinguishable assemblages of strummed steel-string guitar and predictable vocal melodies; it’s asking an awful lot of vocal timbre and lyrical conceit to make them the sole repositories of individuality and personality, and it is conversely very easy to go with the flow, knowing that if you can spin your simple songs out with enough polish in the delivery there is probably an audience out there for you, one that will be in awe of your talent simply because you’re able to get through a song without …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

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

Daniele Camarda – Sound Act (solo bass guitar)

Daniele Camarda effectively straddles two zones of musical practice, invoking two distinct sets of assumptions about sound, art and how they relate to each other. He is a solo bass guitar performer, employing an advanced technique on an extended range (seven string) instrument; this is an unusual thing to be, but not unprecedented, and for the last couple of decades various musicians have been demonstrating to the world that the bass guitar can not only lead an ensemble, but transcend it entirely. These bass players have operated in a number of ways, producing textures that range from the ambient to the brutal, some using drum machines and samples, some employing live-looping technology, some performing in total bare-bones …

Aartwork – First Draft (folk)

‘Lo-fi’ has become an important part of the creative discourse of recorded music. Etymologically it’s nonsense: ‘fidelity’ has only ever been an ideological black-box in relation to the construction of ‘recordings’, while aesthetically the term points to a number of artistic strategies relating to the employment of specific textures rather than to any thresholds of quality or accuracy. Some of those textures are characteristic of technologies that are associated with poor quality standards, but the fact is that a cheap dynamic mic printing onto cassette can do a far better job of portraying the space and circumstances in which a recording has been made than expensive studio gear often does, not least because the listener is more likely to have some …

Review Of The Year 2012, Part 1: 12 Albums

It’s that time of year again, the nights drawing in, the pointless over-consumption going into overdrive, and the music bloggers arranging releases into spurious hierarchies of how hip they think they make them look. Well, let me issue the same caveats I always do: I don’t claim that these are the best albums of the year, simply that they are the ones I like the most out of the ones I happen to have heard. There are lots of famous records I happen not to have heard, some of which I might think were fantastic if I did hear them, but quite honestly I haven’t had time in the past year to hear any more music than I have, and I consider it infinitely preferable to stumble across music organically than to be guided to it just because it’s famous …

Straw Bear – Black Bank (folk-pop-rock)

Songwriters are faced with a number of choices, regarding the weighting of significance towards the different parts of their practice. Many or most of those that might be described as singer-songwriters signal their emphasis on writing rather than performance, or on non-verbal aspects of composition, by ensuring that the ‘music’ doesn’t draw attention to itself. Leaving on one side the issue that the music can’t be effectively separated from the lyrics (at least not when speaking of anything that makes effective use of the conventions of songwriting), this usually entails staying well within the bounds of a stylistic safety zone; one wide enough to encompass the generic tropes of country, folk, blues, rock, swing, the tamer regions of punk …