If someone like Nick Cave best typifies the dark, sweeping and majestic end point of the western blues derived musical experiment; Gongkreeper is the flipside of that coin. Joe Cherry, the man driving this creative vehicle, makes music which comes from a younger, angst ridden and intense place, one that has evolved out of the possibilities afforded by more recent technologies and more likely to tip its hat to Krautrock pioneers and New Romantic non-conformists than the more traditional canon.
Sonnets x Sketches is an intriguing sonic package, wandering from smooth, ambient and almost soulful sounds to warped sonic claustrophobia, from a sort of computer brained ethereality to a broken industrial onslaught. And somehow the two ends of the chosen musical spectrum seem to blend remarkably seamlessly.
There is something of the city and the night inherent in the music, it evokes shadowed back streets, rain lashed buildings, neon gaudiness and aged and decaying architecture. Its myriad musical blends of the modern via hip-hop beats and synth wastelands and the more traditional musical structures perfectly reflecting the juxtapositions of the urban sprawl.
But more than anything these five sonic sonnets and skittering sketches paint pictures, not necessarily those intended by the author but music is at its best when it engages and evokes. This dark suite, which sits between cinematic soundtrack and down beat alt-pop, does all of that and more. Now all you the listener have to do is make the film that it suggests.
I always knew that there was something a bit special about Rhett Repko. If Where You Ever Really Mine? hinted at the eclectic and adventurous nature of his musical thought process, this new offering really hammers that point home. Last time out he played with nothing less than pop reinvention, a slick re-presentation and the perfect singer-songwriter make over, Thnx For the Ride (not sure I approve of the wilful misspelling though!) however, pushes those genre-hopping ideas a lot further.
Acoustic normality is soon subsumed by big, stadium rock guitars, which in turn get overtaken by reggae beats and if that wasn’t enough, around the edges club culture electronica add wonderful musical motifs and unexpected detail.
Yet again, Repko and his forward thinking troubadours subvert expectation. Pop-rock…or in this case rock that is happy to embrace the popular market with open arms, is a wide genre. But whereas most who make music under its generic umbrella seem content to either polish the rough edges off the usual rock sound or merely pump up the muscle of a pop song to create impact, Repko shows that he is happier conducting music gene splicing experiments and if not creating a whole new musical genre at least show that those generic boundaries never really counted for much in the first place.
The last time Leah Capelle crossed my path she was giving the music world a lesson in just how to match rock muscle with pop infectiousness to build the perfect pop-rock sound via the song Joshua. This time we find her in a more contemplative mood, one where reflective balladry and emotive acoustic folk deliveries are the core ingredients. This duet with Hayley Brownell, normally found keeping the beat in the band, was co-written about the experience of toxic relationships and having the strength to walk away and move forward without them.
It is a gloriously understated song, built on beautiful and passionate joint harmonies and a simple guitar line to root the whole thing down. We know that Leah is totally at home at the centre of a storm of sonic textures, layered instrumentation and big impactful sounds, so it is great to see that she, or should I say they, can make such emotive minimalism hit the listener with just as much force. Never understate the power of understatement.
After achieving a pretty high profile status for the band in their native South Africa, Saints of Bliss have taken the end of their 5 year record deal, which garnered 2 albums and a number of heavily rotated singles, to begin a new chapter, one which sees them pursuing their musical dreams across Europe and North America. And why not? It is easy to see where their brand of slick and chilled indie fits into those markets. Its perfectly balanced blend of maturity and commerciality will see them fit into both the pop market and tick more than enough adult orientated boxes.
But if musically they sit comfortably alongside classic songwriters such as David Grey and Damien Rice, sharing the same romantic undercurrents and polished yet passionate deliveries, it is the content of their music that is the most intriguing. On the surface they trade in love songs, driven ballads of heartfelt emotions and longed for dreams. But there is a wonderful ambiguity in this, like many of their songs, one that blurs the intent of message. A love song certainly but who is the recipient here, a desired love interest, a higher power or even a less tangible, more abstracted desire? Like all the best songs, the lyrics may come from a personal place but they have a universal relevance, the listener being able to take the lyrics and apply them to their own different, but no less personal situations. How great is that?
The ability to produce a suite of five songs which simultaneously seem part of totally different musical genres yet somehow sonically sit perfectly side by side is a great, and indeed brave, trick in this often musically narrow-minded world. It is probably because the driving force behind it, Ashkan Maleyeri approaches his music as a writer of scores, rather than someone interested in taking the more obvious route of song writing for a popularist market.
Long Vivid Dream moves at it’s own, often unexpected, pace from the opening, creeping strains of Migraine to the dark, raw edged dynamism of The Life of Lily then from the down beat, Kate Bush-esque Black and Grey to the drifting nature and cold musical climes of Poor Receipts. But if there is one song that stands out from the more ethereal sounds that colour the e.p. it is What Pain Brings and its ability to wander through the sounds of the jazz era, re-appropriating beats and incorporating brass section grandeur but still sounding like the product of a near-future, dystopian cocktail bar band.
And it is such strange juxtapositions which see big rock guitars sit along side slick eighties styled electronica, dark and haunting grooves bristle with pop aware catches and neo-classical vocals deliver fractured dreamstate operas.
The inherent eclecticism to be found here reflects something of Ashkan’s own journey from the warmth of Tehran to cooler Cambridge climate and the decidedly harsher Canadian Winters but just as everybody draws their own story across the world map, that story also suggest a very unique soundtrack. Add to that the breathy and sultry tones of vocalist of Alexis Nadeau and you have a very enticing soundscape indeed.
I love the fact that I have lived long enough to witness the word Lynchian become a recognised label, one that can be applied to art and creativity across a wide range of spectrums. In the visual aspect it is synonymous with delving beyond the ordinary surface to find the dark and unsettling underbelly of modern society, to turn the familiar into the something elusive, uncertain and eventually horrific. 68 Creep seem to be the perfect band to take such an attitude and render it into the perfect soundtrack.
As Kimberly Q sings “I killed my baby in the middle of the night” and then throws in a unemotional “I’m sorry” you get to the heart of what the band are about. Slow, meandering gothic jams and visceral garage rock grinding creates a canvas onto which they paint their terrible visions. But the real terror is not the things they sing about so much as the wistful detachment with which they deliver them, the horror seems so much more intense when it appears to be pointless or just for kicks.
Part PJ Harvey and part The Cramps, 68 Creep inject their own brand of darkness into the gothic musical heart, one for a more modern, smarter musical audience. Whereas first time around the genre was clinical and romantic, florid and pretentious, now it is focused and intense, raw and threatening. Guitars wander between razor wire shape edges and cavernous onslaughts and the vocals are 60’s girl group leads warped and lacerated by life all driven by an unrelenting distant industrial beat.
Strangely beautiful, wonderfully weird, taut and tense and as I said in the introduction, brilliantly Lynchian, it comes as no surprise that the album title derives from the great man’s most examined, interpreted and brilliantly confusing film Mulholland Drive.
As the central hub around which the musically intricate world of Karda Estra revolves, Richard Wileman has been responsible for a wide range of wonderfully textured, unpredictable and eclectic music. He has wandered from intense noir-ish soundtracks to sweeping celestial grandeur and embarked on everything from progressive Avant Gardening trips to jazz infused meanderings. But everyone needs some time out now and again and so here we find him playing with a musically straighter bat. Voice, acoustic guitar, a guest Clarinet for the final track and little else, a far cry from the usual musical layers we find him swathed in but no less glorious a result.
The title track is one of emotive acoustica dressed with just a few musical motifs and sonic embellishments, simple yet stylish and acutely reflective. Best of all after producing a body of, if not instrumental work then music where vocals are used more as ethereal instruments, we hear Richard sing and immediately wonder way we haven’t got to hear more of this with Karda Estra.
Andromeda Variations takes some classical Latin guitar pathways but the songs that top and tail the e.p, The Veil and Chaos Theme For Clarinet, skirt his more familiar territory. What is both exciting and revealing is that these compositions feel like they are the sound of Karda Estra as first thoughts, its ideas refined, polished but retained as more direct and immediate musical communiques, you can occasionally see the same sonic thumbprint in evidence but here the joy lies not in the way those ideas are built into complete musical worlds but in their straightforward and unadorned beauty.
Ghost is a wonderful view into what the composer himself sounds like with the depth of his compositions stripped away, the beating heart and the nerve centre of the whole affair. But more interestingly with the complexity and therefore live logistics of his usual widescreen sound stripped away, does this e.p. herald Richard Wileman as a more regular live performer? I do hope so.
Music and alcohol have always been in a relationship; from the inspiring to the fatal they are both connected in an on going dance. Music has long celebrated and cursed the liquid in equal measure and here Willodean take a more reflective approach to the subject. This modern take on the barroom serenade is refreshingly honest and accepting of the inevitable, a Tom Waits ballad but with a more accessible and commercially viable vibe.
The piano frames the vocals and a meandering violin acts like a second harmony voice but the power of the song comes from the stark subject matter and the space in the song which allows the realisations to hang heavy in the air. Neither a glorification nor a dismissal of the hooch and the hard stuff, more an acknowledgement that, in the western world at least, creativity and the barroom are more often than not intrinsically linked and rarely has this intertwined conflict been better or more poetically put into song.
The fact that Beto Hale discovered the Beatles at a young and impressionable age is indelibly woven into the heart of this album. Whilst not always obviously Beatle-esque, the album seems to often think in similar ways and certainly Orbs of Light has a late 60’s charm and slightly nostalgic pop attitude about it. Nostalgic not so much in that it feels as if it trying to re-capture or pastiche those formative pop years but more that it echoes a similar classic feel, a deft and clean limbed approach to song-writing which seems to have been overshadowed by the march of studio technology and a lowering of musical expectation in recent years.
And in the cyclical nature of musical fashion, that 60’s vibe is often experienced through an 80’s post-punk filter and songs such as The Only One could easily have fitted along side a raft of, mainly British, bands such as Scritti Politti, The Psychedelic Furs and even Echo and The Bunnymen as they searched for the new pop sound.
But Beto Hale is nothing if not his own man and whilst it is easy to draw comparisons, Orbs of Light has a sound all of its own, proving that whilst it is often easy to be able to identify the building blocks of any given album, it is the sonic architecture which the artist fashions out of them which is the real story. The architecture here is quite brilliant.
As a tonic for these darker days which we find ourselves in, Hale’s way to combat the times is to make an album of optimism, poise and poeticism, one which revels in escapism and a universal celebration of the finer points of the human experience. He also does so by blending the infectiousness of pop and the rigidity of rock and then enhancing that structure with memorable choruses, wonderful hooks and blistering guitar embellishments. It is bold and beat led, poised and poppish, eminently accessible and wonderfully ambitious, given the cynical times that spawned it. Proof that no matter how worrying the world gets, there will always be the need for life affirming pop rock and it doesn’t come much better than Orbs of Light.
If in the past I have described Nick’s work as being drifting and dreamlike, his latest album, Sleep Safari, is the logical extension of those signature sounds being nothing less than an exploration of the lucid dream state, a homage to unconsciousness and a mission to make music which reflects such a meditative condition. Ever since Joe Meek first conducted his homemade musical experiments at the start of the rock ‘n’roll era, musicians have been fascinated with trying to capture the idea of the otherworldly in sound, be it journeys into outer or inner space, and Nick’s musical odyssey into the subconscious stands alongside the best of them.
All too often such music has been the bastion of the progressive rocker or the wide-eyed avant gardener, the results wandering between the bombastic and the boggling, the pretentious and the purposeless. But the deft touches, creativity and wide sound palette that he employs here means that Sleep Safari encompasses much within its 10 tracks. It moves between futuristic dance and widescreen, cinematic soundscapes, rich psychedelia and stark clinical rhythms, eclecticism and electronica, plays with past glories and paints future visions.
It is a collection of musical scenarios built from a textural and conceptual richness plus a wonderful grandeur that exceeds the mere musical melodramatics which is more often the case when navigating such wide open sonic possibilities. As always Nick gives us something fresh and truly unique and again, as always, he is more than aware that even when you have such a wealth of sonic wizardry at your fingertips it is still all about producing something musical, something which has substance, purpose and poise as well as mere style. Thankfully Nick, as is his want, delivers all this and more.