Another round-up of the diaphanous, intriguing, psychedelic, awkward, abstract and polygenesis releases.

the wands

Bedroom pop dreamers think big;  jungle vine swinging nouveau jazz;  Danish and Italian sepia soaked psych; forlorn new wave protestation;  kooky birdsong choral folk; and blue-eyed ragging pop soul from this lot…

My Autumn Empire,  Marius Neset & Trondheim Jazz Orchestra,  The Wands,  The Vickers,  Matt Finucane,  You Are Wolf,  flies + flies.

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My Autumn Empire  ‘The Visitation’  (Wayside And Woodland)  21st April 2014

Transducing the, often over-egged, bombastic and Beatle-esque string pop of Jeff Lynne’s ELO into something subtler, yet still radiant and sparkling with touching melodies, Benjamin Thomas Holton produces an idyllic paean to the cosmos with his own soft bulletin, The Visitation.

Under the nom de plume of My Autumn Empire, Holton who is also half of the ‘post-pop pastoralists’ epic45, follows up his previous two albums with a gentle lilting homage to the light entertainment of passed sci-fi from the 70s and 80s. This particular LP’s inspiration springs from a Doctor Who, the protagonist of which was an alien stranded on Earth. With plenty of Holton’s beautifully crafted nostalgic memoirs blending into veiled elements of fantasy, the loose concept of feeling remote in the digital era, could never sound lovelier.

 

As displayed in the opening Air-esque solar wind generated space voyage ‘When You Crash Landed’, the acoustic rhythm guitars jangle softly, the vocals uttered in a Wayne Coyne finds himself growing up in a provincial British village green, harmonise, and the electrified atmosphere of a resigned Sparklehorse lingers. From then on in it’s a diaphanous cruise through a luminous landscape, with the rousing ‘Blue Coat’, British pastoral vaporous space dreaming of the Thunderclap Newman meets The Hollies ‘Summer Sound’, and Beach Boys take a vacation with the Bee Gees (when they performed with actual instruments in the early halcyon days) on ‘It’s Around’.

As the record meanders to its nebula destined conclusion, the music shifts towards the 80s, recalling a softened mix of XTC, The Cars, Dire Straits and even The Wedding Present – especially on the title track. Hardly announced with a loud clarion call, yet no less a heralded triumph, The Visitation is one of those surprisingly wondrous records that will melt not only your cold heart but charm you into submission. Already earmarked for our 2014 choice list.

Marius Neset & Trondheim Jazz Orchestra  ‘Lion’  (ACT)  Available Now

Like expensive Swiss clockwork the aficionados and adroit collectors of Europe’s most blessed experimental jazz, ACT, roll out another series of impressive releases. From the highly successful comradely between the scenes most venerated jazz advocates and new talent, via the ‘duo’ flagship, to a steady stream of trio, big band and even classical orchestral fusion collectives, the label has been busy.

But this time around it’s the exotic world tour vibes of the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Marius Neset that caught the Monolith’s ear. His latest suite of prohibition era ‘Big Apple’ jazz brought up-to-date by the explorative tenor horn imbued spirit of Jan Garbarek and Michael Brecker, is this collaboration with the prestigious Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Boasting of a pedigree that has seen the orchestra work with such luminaries as Chick Corea, Pat Methany and Joshua Redman, they first worked with Neset on a commissioned performance for the Norwegian Molde Jazz Festival in 2011. Admired greatly by Neset that initial meeting has extended to this eight-track recording, the fruits of which result in a congruous union that flows between the diaphanous melodic, quasi-Gershwin via the Cisco streets soundtrack brilliance of ‘Lion’, to the broken-down and built back up, pecked honking fusion of ‘Golden Xplosion’. Or there’s the herd of elephants trampling through Weather Report’s impromptu street gig in New Orleans of the upbeat, experimental carnival atmospheric ‘In The Ring’.

 

Often the backing band for a litany of leading lights from the continent and beyond, each member proves their own unique ‘chops’, performing as individuals and each granted space and the bars to show off their natural and well-crafted skills, without losing sight of the, often avant-garde but harmonic, leitmotif. Tumbling their way through a rambunctious yet highly controlled landscape of both tenderly sweet city skylines in the rain and squalling Hitchcockian birds like grandeur, Neset and his Orchestra create one of the year’s jazz highlights.


The Wands  ‘The Dawn/ Totem’  (Levitation Records & Fuzz Club Records) – 14th April 2014





From the ether breathing side of the calico wall the latest in a long heritage of popsike dreamers from the northern European hinterlands, it’s time to surround yourselves in the backward whispered dirge of Copenhagen outfit The Wands.

Brought up on too much Hammond sustain and fuzz the Danish duo languor through a late 60s backwash of Harrison, The Seeds, Beefheart, The Who circa Tommy, and immerse themselves in a kaleidoscope of Gothic 80s moodiness, on their latest 7”.

Taking a leaf out of one of their many nearest sounding fellow disciples of the psych, Electric Eye, they seem entirely at ease with the pseudo perceptions of your mind language of the most overdosed acid tab lickers from a pre-Woodstock era.  It all sounds warped and bended to evoke some far eastern via the sunset stripe or UFO club indulgent trip, with the A side (as we shall call it), ‘The Dawn’ or paisley soporific, whilst the equally dreamy flip, ‘Totem’, draws out the exotic, and often flute-y flights of fantasy coated ponderous shoegaze elements.

Not quite a brave new world, embedded in the hazy work of so many others who came before, but still a capable and enjoyable trip and favourable taster from their upcoming debut.


The Vickers  ‘Ghosts’  (Black Candy Records/Rough Trade)  Available Now



Dipping a toe into very similar halcyon dazed waters, Florentine psych outfit The Vickers lose themselves in a ‘Pink Floydian’ world of mooning acid and soft-hues. Their latest album is a thickly laid on cycle of acoustic guitars, float-y kool aid melodies and esoteric organs, which lingers between slow methodical Brit-psych and the more up to date intonations of the Horrors and Artic Monkeys – the opening motoring beat on ‘She’s Lost’ almost suggest a hint of krautrock. Though even when there is a distorted drum rampage here and there, its still soaked and muffled in dripping effects to dampen it.

 

Underpinned then, by soft patted tribal beats, Sam Flex and Unknown Mortal Orchestra flange and 80s Gothic garage lament, The Vickers echo the same furrow as their comrades in psych. The fifth, sixth, seventh I’ve lost count, great revival since the days of yore, they stand out perhaps for their penchant for the 90s.


Matt Finucane  ‘Evil Empire’ 





Surly troubadour commentator in the mould of an embittered Lou Reed, Matt Finucane has been sporadically releasing wise and blissful melancholy like this attentive anthem, ‘Evil Empire’, for the last decade and more.  Both as a band member and more recently as a solo artist carving his own niche among the turgid landfill of excessive blandness, Matt has despite his talent and well crafted spite, failed to reach the wider audience he duly deserves.

This slice of new wave blues, moves elegantly through its time changes and harks at the resigned beauty of David Slyvian and Jonathan Richman as Rome burns.


You Are Wolf   ‘Hawk To The Hunting Gone’  (Stone Tape Recordings)



Nature’s daughter Kerry Andrew has a uniquely quirky lilt vocally and lyrically; sounding not too dissimilar to tUnE-yArDs’ Merrril Garbus roaming through a folkloric imagined English woodland back in time.  Masquerading under the You Are Wolf alter ego, Andrew continues to wear many colourful and evocative disguises: the choral composer/singer already involved in a trio of different acts including the a cappella trio Juice, punk/jazz outfit DOLLYman and folk-jazz sextet Metamorphic.

The opening account on this aviary themed debut, ‘Cuckoo’ has the kooky spirit of Regina Spektor and The Dirty Projectors, whilst the following aptly named lamentable ode, ‘Swansong’, wastes no time in changing the mood from awkward spritely innocence to bygone forlorn. Both sang with effortless grace and emotive prowess.

Backed by the PRS foundation for the Women Make Music scheme, Kerry’s conceptual bird themed suite is at least partly, and in some cases wholly, based on a selection of traditional British folk songs. Her narrated, strung out, siren cooed, breathless and even beatboxed adaptations take those originals in whole new directions – shared with the atavistic Scottish burrs of Alasdair Roberts, ‘Doves’ attentively merges Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ with the our very own old staple, ‘Turtle Dove’, and ‘The Buzzard’s Heart’ achingly weeps, setting the T.S Elliot poem nominee, Robin Robertson’s ‘Answers’ to stirring violins.

 

Often twee, but never saccharine or fey, the songbook gazes upon mortality and the inevitable passing of time with all the splendor of a pastoral pagan scene from the Wicker Man.


flies + flies  ‘Bad Crab Hand’   Available Now as a Single and Limited Edition 10” vinyl



From the remains of a failed ‘art project’, the London trio flies+flies have thankfully salvaged an angry, but soulful, sound template, self-consciously dubbed by the group as ‘rhizomatic pop’: a layered conceptual term coined by those fun guys of philosophy, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation.

 

Well they certainly boast of a rich array of influences and reference points, citing luminaries from the ‘ascetic world’ like Kubrick, T.S Elliot and Isa Genzken, and basking in the imbued glow of Jeff Buckley, Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but they sound unlike any of these. And that is probably a positive, as their sound is actually far less obvious and difficult to pin down; their debut single ‘Bad Crab Hand’ sounding like a sort of electro Hot Chip and Left Of Manila playing the most strung-out and bitter lamented rage of the Cold War Kids.

 

As to be expected the Robert Glassford & Daniel Zuccco directed official video, is a symmetrically cut, pyramid correlation of the group foot tapping their way from pop to swearing outbursts of primal spite.


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