NEW MUSIC REVIEW
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA

Featuring: The Bordellos, Diagnos, Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf, Lucy Leave, The Telescopes and Terry.





More eclectic sounds from across the whole spectrum and from around the world in this edition of Dominic Valvona’s ramshackle reviews roundup, including the disarming snappy punk and cool pop of Melbourne’s scenester gang Terry, Oxford’s elastic new wave funk and math rock trio Lucy Leave, the pastoral pagan psychedelic and folky Kosmische Swedish duo Diagnos, St. Helen’s most dysfunctional lo fi rock’n’roll gods, The Bordellos, paragons of the (rather missive termed) Krautrock epoch, Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf, and sonic vessels of the void, The Telescopes.

Terry  ‘Remember Terry’
Upset The Rhythm,  July 7th 2017

 

The Terry gang is back in town. The disarming world-weary punk and quirky pop touting quartet of Melbourne scenesters, banding together under the ubiquitous titular moniker, follow up a prolific run of 2016 EPs and their debut LP with another acerbic witted, snappy melodious release of profound disenchantment and wistful “wish fulfillment”.

Continuing with the shared girl/boy dynamic of lulling, placeable idiosyncratic vocals and flexible punk, country and new wave bubblegum backing, Terry look to expand their repertoire on Remember. The combined musical savvy and experiences of band members Amy Hill (of Constant Mongrel and School Of Radiant Living), Al Montfort (UV Race, Dick Diver, Total Control), Zephyr Pavey (Eastlink, Russell St Bombings and also Total Control) and Xanthe White (Mick Harvey, Primo) push the quartet into all kinds of nonchalant mischief. The gang embraces nonplussed French new wave chanteuse vibes on the brilliant breezy, mosey country lilting, Toy Love meets Serge Gainsbourg Take Me To The City (one of the tracks of the summer), and snappy, bouncy indie synth pop on Rio. At their most raucous, rough and ready to tumble, Terry softens the edges of The Damned on both their keystone kops rave-up Start The Tape and spiky frazzling Give Up The Crown.

Suggesting nothing more rebellious than a cheeky smoke behind the bike sheds, the group’s knockabout catchy hooks and charm cloak a personal profound response to the political and personal anxieties and dramas of the times. And they do this with a certain aloof coolness and adroit ear for a great tune, making this a most melodious and catchy album of knowing pop slanted punk.






Lucy Leave  ‘The Beauty Of The World’
15th June,  2017

 

Venting opprobrious discourse at the result and ongoing shambles of Brexit – though I’m waiting for creative responses from the “leave” camp to materialize – the burgeoning Oxford trio Lucy Leave put forward an ennui fit of 80s downtown white funk and erratic polyrhythm bendy protestation on their latest EP’s opening diatribe, Talk Danish To Me.

Written whilst on holiday in the Danish capital, this discordant yet highly elastically funky number is as complicated as it sounds; the group reflecting the Brexit vote of 52% for leave with irrational dissonance and a whole tone scale flourish. Yet, despite this, that opening tumultuous track is surprisingly flexible and even melodic; tracing a path back through The Rapture, Liquid Liquid, ESG, A Certain Ratio, American alt rock, grunge and Oxford’s own synonymous – well made famous by – “math rock” scene.

The press one-sheet may have other ideas on where the trio’s influences lie, citing Deerhoof, Tortoise and The Minutemen. But on songs such as the spasmodic disjoint title track they channel PiL (the bass lines most definitely deftly sliding and dipping towards Jah Wobble), and, of all groups, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (though don’t hold that against Lucy Leave, as they sound a whole lot more credible), whilst it’s the floating semblances of Pink Floyd coupled with the slacker mumblings of grunge in the ascendance on Josh. Their appetite for sounds is as omnivorous as it is pliable.

Lucy Leave’s siblings Pete (on drums) and Mike Smith (guitar), and Jenny Oliver (bass and occasional succinct saxophone jazz gestures) all take it in turns to sing. Each bringing a subtle distinct tone and phrasing, especially Oliver who sounds like a submerged Vivian Goldmine or Dominique Levillain of Family Fodder, on the watery reggae gait and psychedelic swelling car crash inspired NIGHTROAD.

Hurtling without a map but a studious head for music theory and figures through The Beauty Of The World, Lucy Leave produce a magnificent bendy chaos. Without a doubt one of the most interesting new bands and among the most unpredictable releases of 2017 for me.






The Telescopes  ‘As Light Return’
Tapete Records,  7th July 2017

 

After thirty years of tuning in and out of the void The Telescopes – or rather the only founding member to have endured this sonic travail, Stephen Lawrie – suggest there might be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel on their ninth drone behemoth album, As Light Return. Don’t get your hopes up just yet though. The miasma caustic discord still hangs like a millstone around Lawrie’s neck; a heavy weight that all but keeps him from clawing out of the vault towards the surface for air: the shoegaze melodious elements and audible vocals of yore all but dissipated and recondite.

If there is any kind of let up in this latest album’s unrelenting sustained waves of abrasive and searing feedback then its very subtle one. Whilst not quite daemonic and not quite as bleak as the visions of Sunn O))), As Light Return is still unyieldingly dark.

Relief is hard won, with any emerging semblances of a Mogadon induced Spector motorcycle gang doo-wop and Spacemen 3 redemption – most notably on the opening lament You Can’t Reach What You Hunger – being obscured and dragged under the ominous efflux of guitars. Just as the fuzz, squalls and unflinching bed of drawn out drones resemble anything moodily melodic they meet a stubborn indolence of gnawing white noise. As usual Lawrie’s vocals remain cryptically veiled in the gauzy production: detached in a stupor as the overpowering seething vortex of layering consumes all.

Using a revolving door policy of guitarists and continuing to change set ups, though Lawrie once again indoctrinates band members from St Deluxe on this album, As Light Return shares much musically, within the perimeters of anyway, with the previous drone suite album, Hidden Fields. However, the tone is even darker and serious, despite the light referenced title; sonically turning the cursed ashes of unheeded augurs into an atmospheric malaise and sound experience.




Diagnos  ‘Diagnos’
Control Kitten Records,  July 14th 2017

 

Building on an initial music project stemming from Marcus Harrling’s filmskills (one half of the Diagnos duo) this extended eponymous soundtrack of concomitant mystical ambient electronica, folk and psych is the perfect accompaniment for an imaginary 1970s set pagan horror: a kind of Scandinavian Wicker Man if you like.

Harrling, a graduate filmmaker of The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, originally developed Diagnos with Per Nyström to score a number of his super 8 camera shot travel films. Both stalwarts of their native Swedish independent music scene; members of The Concretes, Monsters, Mackaper, and Sons Of Cyrus; the duo ask a number of compatriots to contribute to their debut (proper) album. The roots of which first emerged in 2009 when Daniel Fagerström of The Skull Defekts arranged a “one-minute-festival” show for them; a performance that led to the creation of the incipient radiant synth and swooning incantation When The Sun Comes Up: a full version of which now closes this album.

Made up of instrumental passages, vignettes and cooing, psychedelic folky vocal tracks, Diagnos uses a backing of suffused sampled sounds, keyboards, purposeful attentive drums and guitar loops to create the right dreamy esoteric and folkloric atmosphere. Guest collaborators Nadine Byrne, Tove El, Maria Eriksson, Niek Meul, Oscar Moberg and Felix Unsöld add wafting, swaddled saxophone, lulling and supernatural pastoral lush vocals and hallucinogenic inducing tones to this magical journey.

Floating between flute-y synthesizers, primal tribal reverberation percussion and more drawn-out, but softened, drones, this suite weaves progressive and Kosmische influences into a gauze-y bed of spiritual and ominous layers; recalling the dissipating echoes of early Popol Vuh, Kluster, Ash Ra Tempel, Sonic Youth, Land Observation, Air, and on the languid trip-hop like Reflections, the soundtracks of Basil Poledouris.




Eberhard Kranemann & Harald Grosskopf   ‘Krautwerk’
Bureau B,  28th July 2017

 

Stalwarts of Germany’s influential late 1960s and 70s experimental transformative Kosmische and Krautrock music scenes, Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf join forces to celebrate a legacy. Representing two of the country’s most important epicenters and incubators of electronic music, Berlin and Dusseldorf, the duo glide and ponder through all the various iterations from that era on the pun-intended Krautwerk album.

Provenance wise Grosskopf drummed on a number of early Klaus Schulze albums (reverberations of the legendary electronic composer can be found throughout) and recorded thirteen albums with the Ashra incarnation of the iconic acid transcendental Ash Ra Tempel originators (again, traces of which can be heard here). Kranemann’s travails in Krautrock took the usual course, studies in more classical music at the Dortmund Conservatory and art at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf (studying under the behemoth of European conceptualism, Joseph Beuys), followed by a baptism of fire, propelled into the earliest developments of German electronica, co-founding such giants of the scene as Kraftwerk, Neu! and Pissoff.

In the aftermath of that most important decade in German music history both artists went on to release numerous solo projects. Their paths however didn’t cross until 2016, and by chance; both solo artists booked to perform at the very same music festival, where they planned this melding of minds project.

Two schools of thought and conceptualism, Krautwerk is a sophisticated, sagacious sextet of analogue (featuring of all things an Hawaiian guitar and, not so surprising, a cello) and synthesized peregrinations and moods. Channeling a wealth of experience and influences this congruous partnership combines the graceful transience and stirring futuristic ambience of Cluster and Tangerine Dream with the tangled, industrial guitar playing of Manuel Göttsching and the progressive kinetic beats of the Pyrolator and Kraftwerk. Clandestine romanticized reflections captured at midnight appear alongside mystical cello etched beasts in the Tibetan mists, on the Deutsch Nepal trail, and more nonsensical Japanese phonetic silliness to cover a swathe of Dusseldorf and Berlin inspirations.

Though there’s also a strong nod in the direction of the musical styles that evolved from and ran parallel to Krautrock/Kosmische with Moroder style arpeggiator propulsion and 80s drum machine percussion on the vortex sucking and reversed hi-hat Basic Channel transmogrified Be Cool, and Jeff Mills cerebral techno on the Tresor club turn Banco de Gaia trance journey Happy Blue.

Every bit as erudite as you’d expect; finely tuned and considered, Kranemann and Grosskopf celebrate a full gamut and heritage. Yet sound relatively contemporary at times and fresh despite the fact that these musical genres were created in the 60s. Fans of Kosmische and electronica music in general will lap it up.




The Bordellos  ‘Life, Love & Billy Fury’
Recordiau Prin,  16th June 2017

Prolific, if haphazardly, dropping albums upon the unsuspecting, and quite frankly undeserving, public, St. Helen’s greatest dysfunctional family bring us one of their most ambitious collections of cynical derision and honest yearned anxiety yet: a kind of Joy ‘de vive’ Division.

More or less The Bordellos love songs collection, this latest lo fi affair – that makes even The Fall sound professional – is a raw opening of the heart, and in some cases, the veins. Transmogrifying Spector’s voices of the beehives (The Crystals to The Ronettes), the Spacemen 3, The Cure and, of course, The Velvet Underground, The Bordellos eulogize the nearly man of British rock’n’roll, Billy Fury, craft (perhaps) one of their most beautiful ballads, Starcrossed Radio, and pen a “speeding train” metaphor themed ode to breakups.

That signature mumbled and pained expression of malaise and the miserable backbeat and tambourine jangled foundations, we Bordellos fans love and find so endearing, prevail but are joined by meandered detours and passing fancies of inspiration: on the heavily medicated Secret Love it’s a touch of (would you believe it) Lee Hazlewood and Nick Cave, on the breezier “what’s cooking” kitchen sulk Brief Taste it’s a conjuncture of Siouxsie Sioux’s Banshees and The Clean, and on the Adriatic wooing Signomi, Arketa!, I can hear Talk Talk beating out a military tattoo rhythm on Adam and the Ants Burundi drums.

Romancing the stoned, the life, loves and failures of rock’n’roll are laid bear and as usual, ignored by an unsympathetic, disinterested public. But despite mostly alluding recognition and validation (because that seems to be all that matters in the social media age: affirmation from the echo-chamber of peers), The Bordellos mope and grind on, producing some of the most important diatribes and, in this case, scuzzy, dirge-y and primal garage band spirited love-pained grievances.





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NEW MUSIC REVIEWS ROUNDUP

Words: Dominic Valvona


Roll Call: The Black Angels, Anna Coogan, Cotton Wolf, Happyness, King Ayisoba, Lake, Alex Stolze, Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods, Vassals, Andrew Wasylyk.




A mega edition of the regular tickling our fancy reviews roundup this month, before the Easter Break and the Monolith Cocktail’s week long sabbatical to Palermo, we take you on a whirlwind trip through some of the “choice” most recent and upcoming releases. Pleasantries aside. Let’s crack on…

King Ayisoba ‘1000 Can Die’
Glitterbeat Records, 31st March 2017

Credit: Jacob Crawfurd

 

Sounding the klaxon call in defense of his native Ghana, and Africa at large, on his inaugural LP for Glitterbeat Records, the striking King Ayisoba, from the roots up, uses his guttural earthy howl and atavistic kologo lute to great effect in demonstrating not only a raw anger but also a deep love for a much misunderstood continent.

From the very outset Ayisoba and his contributors Wanlov da Kubolar & Big Gad – just two of the many guest appearances on this album – rap, sing and stamp a slogan sentiment on the opening Africa Needs Africa of, “Let’s fight for Africa/Africa needs us.” Covering the North African diaspora, the boat people’s sorry saga, the colonial past and umpteen other issues that more or less shape the image that those observers from outside the continent believe is the only side to Africa – between a misplaced sentimentality and outright ignorance. There is protestation and indictment, but also a lively focus on the positives too; finding solutions through the medium of music and culture.

Though Ayisoba advocates the “power of tradition” and the primal thrust of instrumentation is one passed down from generation to generation, 1000 Can Die features an eclectic and electric fusion of musical styles. The homegrown Ghanaian “hiplife” – a mix of rap, electronic beats and traditional rhythms – rubs up against ragga, dancehall and dub; a grandee doyen of which, the inimitable Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, appears postulating a herb-hazed wisdom on the album’s rustically plucked and enraged title track.

In-between the fiery, bordering on punk, clatter of guluku, dundun and Djembe drums and rambunctious electronic phasing beats there are more plaintive, yearning stripped-back moments: Grandfather Song, a toiled from the soil of tragedy lament, offers a more intimate knee-jerk from the full-on band sound, and Dapagara is sent off into a sweeping, wafting vista by the Nigerian legend Orlando Julius’ traversing, reedy accentuated saxophone.

Raw from the heart, highly evocative and rebellious, King Ayisoba’s songs of rage and vitality actually offer a kind of hope in the face of adversity. The future of Ghana’s music scene is in good hands at least.






The Black Angels ‘Death Song’
Partisan Records, 21st April 2017

 

If you were looking for a creative musical reaction to Trump and the anxious times we live in then The Black Angels beautiful apocalyptic melodrama, Death Song, must be one of the most anguished and daemonic of responses. The Austin psych-rocking overlords first album in four years was written and recorded during the miasma of the US elections after all: and doesn’t it show!

An emotionally charged despair and anger with moments of catharsis, carried out to a Byzantine flavored soundtrack of esoteric Amon Duul II and Far East Family Band psych, a vortex of 80s Goth inspirations – including The cult and Siouxsie and the Banshees – and the tolling chimes of doom and drone, Death Song is, as the title suggests, a heavy, but most excellent trip. It begins with one of the Angels heaviest productions yet; a dark arts pulsing bestial diatribe on the controlling influence of money, entitled Currency. From there we’re guided across choppy seas between brighter less cymbal crashing hypnotics and swaying macabre, through the metaphorical “killing fields” of the huntress (I’d Kill For Her); the enslaved intoxicant spell casting of enchantresses (Half Believing); and the upside down: the final Floyd and Amon Duul II-esque Orpheus-is-comfortably-numb-in-the-underworld opus, Life Song.

Brooding romantically in Gothic tragedy as the world continues to turn, undaunted by the prospects of universal uncertainty, The Black Angels spread their wings magnificently on what is, perhaps, one of their best albums yet. The leviathans of the psych-rock scene have learnt much and after a recording hiatus return with something sharper, refined but just as mystical and hallucinatory.









Anna Coogan  ‘The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time’
28th April 2017

 

Not the easiest of bedfellows, difficult to love and often (rightly) condemned as indulgent and overblown, but the worlds of rock and opera do occasionally overlap in a congruous union. The unquestionably talented Anna Coogan for instance, mixes the two majestically, using her finely trained 3-octave soprano and classical background to offer fluttering siren-like arias that seem to surreptitiously manifest from, what is, an ever-changing metamorphosis of musical styles, on her latest album, The Lonely Cry Of Space & Time.

Spanning country, Ry Cooder desert meditations, Anna Calvi like trembled sensual emulations, PJ Harvey and even bubbly synth pop, Coogan together with musical collaborator Willie B – offering atmospheric Moog bass line undertones and drums – produce a wave (whether the gravitational kind, as serenaded and alluded to on the brilliant opening title track or, the metaphorical high seas kind, as referenced throughout) fixated lamenting and balletic travail.

 

Inspired by scientific discoveries, a “childhood listening to Puccini’s La Boheme”, the fateful poet Sylvia Plath, the tumultuous grave mistakes of intervention in the Middle East and, no surprises, the 2016 US elections Coogan’s ambitious suite of songs and instrumental evocations is far from lofty and classical. The operatic, learnt at the prestigious Mozarteum University of Salzburg, elements are transduced through a background of rifling through her father’s record collection of protest troubadours, and busking on the streets of Seattle, to leave only traces that appear naturally.

Occasionally rocking, most of the music has a cinematic more expansive touch, with three of the songs on this album originally composed to accompany the Soviet filmmaker Jakov Protazanov 1929 camp alien invasion/Russian revolution analogy Aelita, Queen Of Mars (the title track) and the French director Jean Epstein’s 1928 interruption of Poe’s classic, The Fall Of The House Of Usher (If You Were The Sun, A Wedding Vow).

Almost uninterrupted with each track flowing or bleeding over into the next, the album moves seamlessly between its musical and thematic influences. I could probably do without the romantic twinkled space helmet vocal synth pop Meteor, but overall this is an impressive performance, Coogan’s quivering wah wah and tremolo articulations matched equally by that heavenly, soaring voice.





Lake ‘Forever Or Never’
Tapete Records, April 7th 2017

 

Meant as anything but disingenuous, it’s surprising what the experimental pop group Lake get away with on their latest and eighth album, Forever Or Never. Remodeling an array of 70s/80s influences with a 21st century spin, they can turn some of the stalest MOR vaporous blue-eyed soul synth ballads and soft rock melodramas into something melodically enchanting but very poignant; analogies channeling the political and social maelstroms of our times, as most of the music coming out of the USA does in 2017.

Celebrating a recent tenth anniversary with perhaps the most exhaustive of performances, playing every song from their ninety-track back catalogue in an Herculean ten-hour set, Lake continue to submerge themselves in the Pacific Ocean Blue waters of nostalgia.

Finely attuned, lean and devoid of the superfluous, Forever Or Never is a mostly gentle, wistful breeze through yacht rock, Belle & Sebastian daydreaming romanticism, shoegaze and pop. Shared male/female vocals duties offer a constant variety that bears traces of Blonde Redhead, Harry Nilsson and The Pastels. And joining the betrothed founders Ashley Eriksson and Elijah Moore, and long-term band members Andrew Dorsett and Mark “Markly” Morrison before she passed away, the artist/musician Geneviève Castrée (for whom this album is dedicated) lent lush coos and backing vocals to the tumultuous Gone Against The Wind and bright, easy-going finale, Magazine.

Sometimes it’s like hearing Fleetwood Mac if they’d formed during the C86 phenomenon, and at other times, a strange transmutation of Captain & Tennille, and a vague stab at a post Sunflower Beach Boys jamming with Hall & Oates. Disarming and emotionally sophisticated throughout, with subtle, warm but diligent songwriting, Forever Or Never is a melody rich harmonious meditation on inner turmoil, forgiveness and mourning, that can’t help but also comment on the recent political landscape.








Alex Stolze  ‘Mankind Animal’
Nonostar Records, 31st March 2017

 

Transforming the traditionally entrenched sound and indeed reputation of the violin, German composer/producer Alex Stolze attempts to reanimate the instrument, “preserving” it, as he states, “for future generations, without being a conservative classicist.”

No stranger to reinvention, recently performing radical deconstructions of Bach’s Kunst der Fuge with the Armida Quartet, at Berlin’s Radial System venue, Stolze has gained a certain exploratory reputation for his work with the electronica acts Bodi Bull and Unmap (amongst others).

Concentrating the mind, finding a certain solace, the Berlin urbane stalwart has relocated to the German/Polish borders for a more pastoral life of contemplation; spending time on rebuilding an old ruin in the countryside but focusing on the vision for his solo work. Nothing short of guiding humanity towards a less destructive, more empathetic spirituality, Stolze attempts to bridge classicism and contemporary amorphous electronic music on his debut solo record, Mankind Animal.

Less Roedelius neo-classical, or for that matter Tony Conrad Dream Syndicate, and more John Cale inspired viola distortions and that titan of the German avant-garde Stockhausen and his electronic processing of orchestral instrumentation, the five-track Mankind Animal suite is surprisingly fluid and melodic. Conceptual and avant-garde in influence certainly, but far from a grueling or challenging experience.

A chamber ensemble mix of electro-acoustics, ambient traverses and, at times, kinetic beat undulating soul, this pan-Europa soundtrack often evokes transmogrified traces of traditional scores and folkloric music from central and eastern Europe: The articulate plucks, quivers, wanes and yearnings that emanate from Stolze’s five-string custom-made violin often sounding a link back towards the past, and ghosts of an old continent. Tradition is very prominent, but an intricate bed of low synth, contained sophisticated beats and mechanics bring it into the present.

Over the top of this score, Stolze’s succinct campfire lyrics of profound prose make allusive references to the here and now though again these concerns are often age-old: from, “where to start if you want to change the system”, on the lyrical resigned meander through the universal condition The Crown, to the more personable inner sage advice of “don’t try to be someone else/otherwise who would be you”, on the opening Don’t Try To Be.

From the cinematic Eraser to the softened timpani minor-overture Stringent, Stolze and his ensemble produce a considered postmodernist suite, both experimental in merging the classical with the contemporary, and yet a pleasurable, even soulful and thoughtfully poised listening experience.






Joji Hirota & The London Taiko Drummers  ‘Japanese Taiko’
ARC Music, 28th April 2017

 

One of Taiko drumming form’s most prestigious of stars of the last forty years, Joji Hirota cements his sizable reputation with this latest collection, simply named Japanese Taiko. Literally, as is the case with most of these direct from Japanese translations, the ancient style of Taiko itself means “big, fat drums”, (which you can’t really argue with) and on this album features a number of these drum shapes and sizes, from the smallest, a “uchiwa tom”, to the behemoth sized “oh daiko” (again, literally a “big drum” that measures 140cms in diameter).

Inspired by the volcano piqued hot springs landscape of his native Hokkaido – Japan’s most northerly of main islands – Hirota, who started training at the age of eleven, merges majestic traditions with a unique modern approach: He was after all among the first of the Taiko practitioners to bring the style to the West, and has more recently lent his music to the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese’s latest martyrdom, Silence. Together with his four male and eight female strong London ensemble the maestro thunderously rolls through Taiko’s folkloric, Noh theatre, Kabuki, Buddhist and Shinto religious ceremony origins with agility and at times entrancing aplomb.

Building up pattering rumble evocations of the Spring Breeze or, stroking the drum skins to an atavistic Japanese flute accompaniment in ritual to a Harvest god (Kokiriko), this dynamic, though often monotonous, chorus of drummers is surprisingly melodic. A barrage yes, but the drumming wall of sound is often elevated by poetic vocals – usually in chorus, though there is a strange mix of call and response staccato rapping on Akita – and subtle mood and tonal changes; from wood clapping to finger bells and cymbal swells.

To experience live is something else: a synchronized art form of music and theater. But this showcase of tradition and experimentation, with half the compositions written by the man himself, is a great introduction to the form.


Cotton Wolf   ‘Life In Analogue’
Bubblewrap Collective, 28th April 2017

 

As technology’s ever-domineering progress takes over and algorithms creep into the creative process it’s a relief to see and hear that the Kraftwerkian dream of complete immersion between humans and machines, with all music created by a computerized brainiac, is still a long way off. And though by its very democratized nature and access electronic music is obviously wholly reliant on tech, which is getting ever cheaper and easier to use, there are many artists who wish to (and excuse my trite cliché) put the soul back into the machine. The Cotton Wolf Welsh duo of “super producer” Llion Robertson and classically trained composer Seb Goldfinch are among those, “living in the analogue”, who leave an indelible human mark on electronic music.

Their debut album is an often sophisticated, downtempo, merger of small, organic Leaf Label like synthetic drums and tight percussion and subtle atmospheric waves and suffused strings – part of the symphonic quality and melody the duo wish to emphasis. With guest vocals from the attentive soulful Alys Williams, on the gauzy veiled Lliwiau, and calm fluttering siren Lois Rogers, on the softened Massive Attack-esque Future Never, Cotton Wolf omit for a sense of performance and humility.

“Unapologetically” Welsh, Williams for example sings in the dialect, the duo is rightly proud of their heritage. And they are in some ways in the middle of a golden resurgence, with countless fellow Welsh electronic artists, from The Conformist to R. Seiliog and Gwenno Saunders to name just three, gaining critical attention and flying the flag. But, apart from the language, there isn’t a common identity in the music itself. There is no such thing as a “Wales sound” in the genre. Life In Analogue is if anything a global soundtrack, with traces as diverse as Kosmische, EDM, Bonobo and even mellowed South American electronica all under one roof.

More than a little classy, electronica with a human touch, Cotton Wolf weave the symphonic articulately into an album with depth but also commercial appeal.



Swamp Sounds/Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods   ‘ST’
Bearsuit Records, 24th March 2017

 

A split offering from the Edinburgh label of idiosyncratic experimental sonics and more lo fi indie pop fare, Bearsuit Records bring us an incongruous curious pairing of, mainly, electronic music mavericks.

From further up the Scottish east coast, Dundee artist/musician Douglas Wallace, under the strange Uncle Pop & The Dumbloods appellation, has fashioned an imaginary Hondo City futuristic soundscape that bares little relation to the track titles. With a backing of trebly crisp electronic percussion, tetchy cymbals, clean crystalized synths and trans mutated guitar wails, Wallace’s science fiction travails make ephemeral references to Murcof, Bowie’s Heroes peregrinations, Ryuichi Sakamoto and the sort of 80s vapour ice-misty synth soundtrack fare you’d find on the video-nasty, Shogun Assassin. Reverent at times, primordial at others (check the lost world of Song For Broken Singers), ole Uncle Pop’s contribution is a subtle, meditative counterpoint to his album companion’s ennui flitting Casio car-crash bombardment.

Hailing from Nagoya, Japan, experimental electronic music artist and founder of Sleep Jam Records, Yuuya Kuno flirts with a number of aliases including House of Tapes but for this label and in this capacity goes under the Swamp Sounds moniker. Chopped-up into a loopy soundclash of Casio pre-set schlock and drama, Kuno’s 80s meltdown collage is both ridiculous and yet full of interesting surprises. Tracks such as Skull Disco feed Daft Punk through a dial-up connection and grinder, and Houndstooth sends Atari Teenage Riot to a laser quest showdown.

Run of the mill for Bearsuit, who constantly release such curiosities, but for us the listener these experiments prove intriguing; bringing to our attention some unique artists, working on the peripherals of sonic reinvention and cut-up mania.





Andrew Wasylyk  ‘Themes From Buildings And Spaces’
Tape Club Records, 28th April 2017

 

The second artist in my roundup to hail from the fair city port of Dundee, musician/composer Andrew Mitchell (nee Wasylyk) pays a moving sort of homage to his home on Themes From Buildings And Spaces. With the onus on the psychogeography of the architecture in Scotland’s fourth-largest city, its history as the capital of Jute production features heavily as a recurring theme; the ghosts and lingering traces of Tayside mills and the people who worked the oppressive Industrial Revolution machinery within them making their presence known on the reflective Lower Dens Work.

Memories both haunting and meditative are made concrete, prompted by the iconic images of the late, “father of Scottish modern photography”, Joseph MacKenzie and a mix of architectural markers – only ever seen in Scotland – from across time: stoic granite beauty to hard-to-love Brutalism. The very evolution of Dundee, over eight instrumental evocations, is lent both a melancholic and romantic soundtrack of lapping piano tides, gentle swooning colliery jazz brass, synthesized choral voices and peaceable textures. Sounding unique, even pastoral at times, these suites conjure up a Caledonian Air, yet at other times errs towards the ether, conjuring up those old ghosts and spirits.

Andrew sheds a new light in many ways on Dundee with the most reflective of timeless scores.






Happyness  ‘Write In’
Moshi Moshi, 7th April 2017

 

Ah…the sound of a band embracing the heartfelt warmth, accentuated dazed melodies and special feel of such 70s fare as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Big Star, Happyness evoke the hazy fond memories and subtle sophistication of these and other complimentary artists on their new album, Write In.

Having previously covered and absorbed tootsie roll Beach Boys idyllics and the Athens, Georgia college radio rock of the obscure Club Gaga on last year’s Tunnel Vision On Your Part EP – the title-track of which appears alongside the drowsy-sighed pop spankler Anna, Lisa Calls on this, the group’s second LP –, and often drawn favorable comparisons to Wilco and Pavement, Happyness find themselves liltingly tuning into a more eclectic array of influences for their most melodious, engaging songbook collection yet.

The opening Falling Down gambit, with its radiant phaser guitar, conjures up the Scottish indie supremos (and fellow Big Star acolytes) Teenage Fanclub, whilst the pastel-shaded saddened tone of The Reel Starts Again (Man As Ostrich) sounds like a lost, ghostly remnant of a George Harrison and Jeff Lynne malady. A touch of the Brighten The Corners era Pavement permeates the band’s weary slacker muffled Uptrend/Style Raids, but by the time we reach the halfway stage of the album the lads are back to thrashing out a languorous grunge-y grind on Bigger Glass Less Full.

Subtle and confident, Write In is a halcyon, beautifully executed album with real depth and personality. Happyness have found their flow with loose but perceptively well-crafted gentle pop songs of a timeless quality: to be played as the “credits roll forever”.





Vassals  ‘Halogen Days EP’
Post Fun, 7th April 2017

 

You have Audio Antihero’s indefatigable Jamie Halliday to thank for dropping this EP from Brooklyn misfits Vassals onto my radar. The backing band of Audio Antihero signing Magana, the trio’s latest release bandies between, as the press release puts it, a sort of “bleak beauty” and “chaotic minimalism” that strays into “slacker-rock ambivalence” and “post-punk cynicism”. I can confirm all of that, but would like to add the following if I may.

There’s more than a touch of the new wave on Halogen Days quartet of power-pop and grungy-romanticism. The slacker and grunge elements made brighter and indolently tuneful for it.

A run through of the EP then: We have the pendulous drum and echoed vocals of the opener Sea Spells, which sounds like a young Glenn Tilbrook fronting The Yeah Yeah Yeahs; the Moonless (“night”) build up swell of crescendos that evokes the Tokyo Police Club and Wampire; and the return to the source of inspiration with traces of The Pixies and Dinosaur Jnr on the stumbling SoHo. The finale meanwhile, Ghostwood, traverses Pavement and The Strokes (when they were something), on a peaks and lulls, heavy and accentuate crafted N.Y.C. indie resigned anthem, that literally spirals and pounds away until lifting off.

Bright hopes indeed and nowhere near as petulant as you’d expect. There is amongst that cynicism and effortless sounding despondency some real thought and musicianship, the lyrics actually far more aching and heartfelt than they might admit.






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