As long as there has been mainstream music there has been an alternative scene. Sadly “alt” sub genres have become as calculated and predictable as those they claim to provide the escape from. Alt-rockers in particular with their complicated hair and skinny, designer ripped jeans seem to be the biggest culprits. So the obvious conclusion is that we have to create an alternative to the alternative rock scene and if it does indeed exist then Polly Panic is its leading light.
By and large pop music tends to follow some pretty tried and tested templates. Most chart bound offerings fresh off the music industry production line seem to have more in common than the things that instead make them stand out from each other. Homogenisation thy name is modern pop music. But even if the creative benchmarks in the genre weren’t currently so low, Jaguar Grace, perhaps the coolest name in music, would still shine like a beacon in the murky musical night.
If at one end of the wide pop spectrum you have brash identikit, dance routine driven, short shelf-life throw-aways, Box comes from the furthest point in the opposite direction. Here Alisa Chirco has created an elegant ballad that fuses pop with more classically minded sounds. The result is a song which has enough modernity to appeal to the current wave of pop fans but which has enough poise and grace that it will also appeal to an older and more discerning audience.
Despite having only encountered Floating Beauty twice before, via the single Larissa and the album that spawned it, Larva, I already look forward to any of their music which finds its way to my review pile. Why? Because musically it is so different from almost everything else that comes my way, it runs against the usual fads and fashion of pop culture, in short it is always a truly unique experience. Floating Beauty makes music which is slow and purposefully, which builds tension and anticipation, that demands patience and rewards the listener for taking the time to journey with it.
Like a Glare in the Night sees Floating Beauty continue to mix classical grandeur with ambient electronica, but whereas the previous album seems to come more form the former, full of sweeping strings and drawn out elegance, this time out there seems to have been a slight shift to the latter. Not so much that you would say that the sound has significantly changed, rather that the style is less about classical sounds being formed into ambient landscapes but more interested in ambient sounds capturing the blissful grace of those timeless sonics.
Right from opening track Glow, there is a more electronic feel, glitchy and echoing radio noise, and punctuated by industrial sound shocks and pummelling beats yet between these sonic peaks the more expected gossamer-like textures still reign supreme. Halo takes such near emptiness to the extreme, twinkling acoustic guitars and the noise of the natural world forming the translucent body of the song and Gleam returns us to a place of piano led beauty with just enough droning electronica to remind us that this album is a meeting of worlds.
It is a meeting of the formal and the inventive, of the old and the new, of the familiar and the strange. And it is as those parameters get used in differing amounts that the music takes its form. The music seems to reflect the differing night time visuals that you might see looking out over a cityscape… The Glare a pulsing beacon broadcasting at intervals, Glitter the gentle shimmer of effervescent patterns, The Whisper, the slightest of flickers and Dark Storm the crackle of thunderous energy and dancing lightning as a storm approaches.
This is music as light, light as sound, sound describing a visual aspect, vision as a sonic rendering, it’s brave and marvellous and such an intriguing concept. It is almost like the soundtrack to a piece of film that is yet to be created, or perhaps one that only needs to exist in the listeners mind. Or maybe this is the starting point of a new creative process whereby, rather than have musicians and composers create music for existing films, that film makers instead create the visual component to accompany the music. Now that really is a tantalising new idea.
If you are one of those people who shudders when confronted with the notion of someone known as a sit-com actress pursuing a career in music then Tres Hanley Millman is probably who you need to hear to break those cliched images already forming in your head. Tres has always juggled a number of disciplines, acting, musical theatre and music, and with her fourth album, Shades of Darkness, already underway, it is clear that she is no fly by night pop wannabe using music to shore up a waning career. Anything but.
Road Not Taken is a wonderfully emotive piece of music, sitting somewhere between pop ballad, show tune and modern classical piano piece. But whilst musically it is woven from subtle washes of strings and plaintive piano work, it is in the lyrical message that the power of the song lies, made all the more effective for the space around it. It is a song of optimism in the face of heartache, of taking those leaps of faith against all logic, of being brave and doing what feels right rather than what you are told is right.
It is a wonderfully graceful song, one that is woven from the lightest musical structures, the most ethereal of vocal deliveries and the most important of philosophies. Glorious.
In the movie Jerry Maguire there is the often-quoted line “you had me at hello” and when I was given the press release regarding this album it had me at “cello”.
The cello is one of a handful of instruments that I never tire of hearing in music, this is partly because I’m always interested in where it sits in the overall sound and its inclusion here makes for a beautiful addition to an already impressive bunch of songs.
The instruments on show here reads like a who’s who of folk music; guitar, upright bass, and banjo but don’t expect songs about life in the shipyards or the working man, these songs tread confidently through subjects from the love song of ‘Love Is’, through indie-sounding ‘May 18’ and ‘Any Light’ and the anxious offerings of ‘(Don’t Tell Me) There’s Nothing In My Head’ and ‘Everything’s Just Fine’ (that, by the way, has a brilliant intro) which are edgy and ironic in their subject matter, you can almost picture the calm interior of a psychiatrist office.
I’ve had this album playing for the last two weeks and I’m still finding things to keep me interested, the songs are well thought out and delivered. The strength of any album should always be the songs and the writing partnership of Johnathan Harms and Ryan Evans really do have something worth exploring. Boasting songs like ‘White Spider’, ‘Deal’ and ‘Bed’ the whole package is handled carefully. Sure, sometimes the lyrics try to be a little too clever but when the songs are this strong, who cares?
What this album shows is this small band of musicians (Grant Gordon, Kenny Befus and Katherine Canon make up the band along with Harms and Evans) can tackle and blur the boundaries of different genres, subjects and styles without losing that overall sound. I also like the way the vocals can be sweet and clean in one moment and then broken and angry in another, a strong weapon to have if you intend on keeping your listeners on their toes, and I think maybe this is the secret to this album, you are never really certain of where the music will take you next but when the journey is this good, do you really want a map?
Outermost Edge is a collection of songs which sees contemporary classical music heading into experimental jazz territory and takes the form of sonic creations which happens as much between the notes and in the breaths between the lyrics as in the more conventional sonic communications. There is a wonderful minimalism and deft composition at work here, every beat, every pass of the violin bow, every poetic line, has been honed and whittled to provide the most impact with the least presence. It’s an art which often seems missing in the bombastic and showboating of the modern musical world.
If opening salvo Black Drops wanders the same off-kilter modern classical pathways as the likes of Karl-Heinz Stockhauser and the desolate musical spaces of Philip Glass, it is followed by the sultry, jazz tones of Serves All Loss a piece which seems to conjure black and white noir-ish cinematics and European sophistication. And it is between these two extremes that the album makes its way, adding hints of electronica, sounds gathered from various world music and neighbouring genres but always used to create cool understatement and beguiling sounds.
But even within these parameters boundaries are pushed and rules flaunted. Silence in Between comes at you like a scratched 78 rpm record, creating off-beat jumps and glitches as part of its own sonic personality, Andalusia is a sweeping, distant sounding summation of exotic climes and Way Out is a strange blend of whimsical calypso and lilting pop rhythms somewhat at odds with its apocalyptic lyrical nature.
Outermost Edge is an exercise in virtuosity reduced to its minimal requirements, there is no questioning the skill and technical ability of all involved but as always it is a testament to the bravery of leaving space, of knowing what not to play and of drawing the listener in to the atmospherics and moods that swirl around between the heard and the anticipated.
The worlds of pop and the strains of the classical world may seem worlds apart but on Honey Dear, Daniel Alejandro proves that the two can, not only co-exist, but do so to great effect. The focal point of the song is immediately Alejandro’s voice, one which seems more usually found in the world of stage, opera and musical theatre than the more cliched world of pop. But it is his sleek and heady tones which straight away sign post this as more than just another pop wannabe. No, this is something far cleverer than just a pop song. But it is also everything you expect a pop song to be, how clever is that?
It is built on orchestral sweeps, brooding cellos and confident back beats, reminiscent of the way songs were made before pop music became the thing it is today, and as such is full of drama and dynamic, from minimal plaintive piano interludes to spiralling crescendos. Pop music is normally full of tricks and gimmickry, of short cuts and sugar rushes, Honey Dear is however a much more honest affair. Rather than resorting to such easy options, it is driven by the power of the vocal delivery, the quality of the song writing and more than anything else the romantic heart which beats at its very core.
This is a song about lost love, of loss and longing, of regret for the past and of how things should have turned out differently and it is this which is the connection more than anything else. It may come from a private and personal place but the song carries a message which we can all relate to, which will strike a chord with anyone who has let that one special person slip through their fingers. There are few people out there with whom it won’t resonate.
It is the deft weave of classical grace, classic pop and romance that really jumps out at you, the oft cited less is more qualities, the pauses between, the notes, the unresolved tensions in the music and the inherent melancholy or at least reflection. It may be out of step with most pop music being made today but that is its strength rather than a failing. The fact that it follows its own path, one of sleeker musical lines, of timeless majesty and of a more heart-felt intent is exactly what new music should be brave enough to do. Let the production-line, pop-dross, identikit chart wannabes fight for space in their insular world, this is pop music designed for a much more discerning market and for that you have to applaud it.
Last month Floating Beauty’s gorgeous album Larva found its way to my review pile, not so much dropping into the in-box more seemingly coalescing slowly from the sound of the elements and the world around, growing from smoke like intangibility until it became perceptible to the sense. Larissa, the album’s opening track, provided my first steps into that sumptuous world and so to find myself in a position to explore it more full was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass.
Floating Beauty is a world of music like little else I have heard before wandering between modern classical orchestration and post-everything minimalism, it avoids the obvious and the immediate instead revelling in a slow burning majesty and Larissa captures these concepts in all their glory. Strings brood and bruise rather than drive, chime rather than create melody, often doing little more than painting musical colour to frame the anticipation and atmosphere found in the natural world. And it is this tense reserve which feels like the calm before the storm, the deep breath before the plunge, but tantalisingly the storm and the plunge never happen, not on this track at least.
It moves at glacial pace, sure footed but unhurried, feeling at times like you are hearing just one part of a song in isolation, that this is merely the base for a more dramatic, more dynamic musical piece. But that is indeed the beauty, that this sparse and spatially aware music is the be-all-and-end-all, no embellishments or musical motifs need to be threaded through or bolted on to achieve its goals, such a move would be gimmicks at best, at worst, totally distracting. The accompanying video makes the same bold statements as the music, a slide show of hazy woodland landscapes, backdrops rather than images and barely changing.
That is the bravery of the music, that it knows it is the antithesis of most modern music, that is has nothing to say directly to the listener but instead tugs at emotions, dances with the heart and becomes one with your very soul. When was the last time music gave you that experience?
The artist himself describes his music as sad and epic, and to be fair, those are exactly the right words. His brand of orchestral music is build on dark swathes of classical grandeur, a bristling nervous edge which occasional spills over into outright terror and wonderful dynamic highs and lows. It broods and bristles, shudders and sighs…a manic church organ painting chaos one moment, a plaintive piano or gently sweeping strings tugging at your emotions the next.
Without the limitation of words, the music paints pictures and suggests scenes and scenarios that are limited only by the listener’s imagination, irrespective of the composer’s intentions, you are the interpreter here, this is your dream. Its very nature has your mind writing the film it should accompany, a film of high drama and unrequited love, of loss and longing, of dark intent and the colliding of worlds. When was the last time a pop song gave you that?
Find out more about Roberto Cavallo here
Larva is one of those albums which is a reviewers dream. So much music follows firm templates and, good as it may be, from a review point of view you are often just reworking the same language and over used descriptions, into slightly new forms. Larva is not like that. It is sweeping, ephemeral, restrained and elegant. In short, it is gorgeous. And that’s my point, I have already slipped into the sort of descriptions which I would never get away with when confronted by the usual three minute pop workout or a bedroom rapper armed with a set of beats and a working knowledge of auto tuning.
But maybe that is unfair to pop music as Larva is built from everything not pop. It is built from classical grandeur, from drawn out strings, from both dark brooding menace and ethereal fragility, it is as much about the space between the notes, the anticipation and the atmospherics, the echo of the music as much as what is being played. It also takes its time, many songs, such as the opening Larissa, moving at almost glacial pace for over seven minutes but never once failing to carry the listener along with it.
It is not until track three, Clytaemnestra, that any form of beat is introduced, tribal, primal and brutish, wonderfully at odds with the classical sweeps and gentle piano motifs, adding claustrophobic intensity as it builds to a crescendo. Daphne, is the epitome of the spatial awareness of the record, piano notes often acting merely as heartbeats through the silence, again making the point in the most eloquent fashion that it isn’t about how many notes you play, how dexterous and full you make the music, sometimes the right singular note at the right moment of the song is more powerful than a whole album of showboating.
Tenebrae VII could be echos from deep space, the sound of glaciers moving or the musical ghost in the machine as a computer network learns how to make music, it is strange and beautiful, haunting and addictive. Like much of my favourite music, Larva goes beyond the limits of modern song, way beyond, it avoids conventional structures and expectations and just builds its own identity, beguiling and separate. It is both of the now, of the what might be and of the not quite remembered, a blend of classical tradition and shamanic channelling.
Timeless is a word that is much over used when applied to music, but here the perfectly named Floating Beauty does indeed fashion something timeless but also something without genre, location or direction. Why road sign your music for the listener, far better surely, to have them follow you off the beaten track with eyes full of wonder, open to adventure and ready to go with the flow?
A band closely associated with a previous era returning to the musical fray has a few problems when it comes to recording a new musical calling card, something to underline that this is more than just a bank balance driven, rose tinted, nostalgia trip. New material finds you ignoring your obvious selling point and the power of your back catalogue but a straight out greatest hits collection brings nothing new to the table. The Christians, however, as their deftly crafted, hard centred, soul-pop songs indicated first time around, were always smarter than most. So the idea of a reimagined and rerecorded collection of their best known numbers seems the perfect way for the recently reconvened band to make their presence known.
Sings and Strings does what it says on the tin, a greatest hits package but one made up of new recordings. That in itself shows a commitment to the here and now, a willingness to not merely rely on past glories but this album is even better than that. This hits package is set to the distinctive vocals of original frontman Gary Christian, joined by band members for the last decade Joey Ankrah and Neil Griffiths, but largely driven by piano, the eloquent strings of The Echo String Quartet and the harmonies of the AMC Gospel Choir, and it works brilliantly.
Their music has always been seeped in soulfulness and melody, and driven by an elegant dynamic which lends itself to such a rendering, and it is a reimagining which keeps the beauty of the songs front and centre but just dresses them in more exquisite musical trappings. The band were once described as “The Temptations in ripped jeans, producing gritty-centred songs in a sugary vocal shell,” this is the sound of those ripped jeaned soul boys all grown up. Ideal World in particular moves from poignant pop to transcendent classical grandeur with effortless ease, Harvest For The World is a sumptuous vocal cascade yet retains its original sassy groove and Forgotten Town seems even more lyrically effective and hard hitting being stripped to its vocal core.
The Christians have never really gone away, though recent years have seen them slip from many peoples mind, but this collection, which underlines their ongoing 30th Anniversary tour reminds us that they wrote some brilliant songs, songs which lend themselves to this brilliant make over. Even if you have the songs from back in the day, Sings and Strings really adds another dimension to the bands musical heritage. And if you are new to the band and looking for a way in, this is the perfect place to start.
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.
It isn’t very often that new genres present themselves and if they do they normally don’t stand up to too much scrutiny, usually being akin to genre-spliced musical Frankenstein’s Monster, a revolutionary idea on paper but with an end result which is far from palatable. Caterpillar Chronicles, however, is anything but such a clumsy hybrid but is instead a slick blend of cutting edge hip-hop, timeless classical lines, sophisticated jazz vibes and an honesty born from the soul and gospel undercurrents which bring the whole thing together like an unseen musical glue, more presence than substance.
Having accidently joined the school orchestra instead of jazz band at a young age, John soon fell in love with the violin and began a carer which saw him study and perform with the instrument at the highest levels, learn from some of the most iconic names and play as a member of, and composed for, the most highly regarded orchestras and ensembles working today. So what do you do once you have conquered such musical heights? In John’s case the answer is to write, arrange and perform all of the music for an album which chronicles your own life and which is a wonderful fusion of the traditional and the modern, rap and rapture, the beat driven and the beautiful, the street and the Stradivarian.
It is interesting to note that his chosen nickname is actually an acronym, All Day I Dream About Music and this album is indeed proof that his dreams are vivid, wide ranging and musically boundless. Caterpillar is a slow, R&B groove, Rain Please Stay is an emotive soulful, staccato ballad and Who Cares is a wonderful slice of modern classical reminiscent of another contemporary classical fusionist, Ed Alleyne Johnson, had he not been an Oxford University busker but brought up in one of Michigan’s tough inner-cities.
And if the music is exploratory, the lyrics also cover a lot of ground, weaving his faith through social commentary, trying to match the ideals he adheres to with the tougher, grittier world of modern urban life. But the importance of this album may not lie so much in the individual songs, great as they are, but in the way they are put together, that subtle and supple joining of musical worlds that rarely meet. Worlds which often represent very different paths through life and The Caterpillar Chronicles is the perfect reminder that we are not very different from one another other and that one ill planned or random act can change the whole course of your life, often for the good of everyone it touches.
It is a common misconception that making music which falls into brackets such as chilled, ambient and understated is about taking a song and stripping back to leave space. Actually it is about using the right few musical statements, the perfect notes, the most effective and concise melodies to encase that space. Knowing that, Grace Freeman’s Oliver is more about using music to create musical bubbles around the existing atmospheres and intangible feelings that naturally linger around us all.
The tangible elements of the music are a blend of classical ballad, 70’s folk and cinematic soundtrack but the art is that beyond, behind, above and below those sparing and carefully chosen notes, deft guitar and plaintive piano lines the atmospherics and emotions seem to just hang in the air.
And that vocal! It is fantastic to hear a voice so pure and charmingly innocent sounding and one seemingly so out of alignment (thankfully) with the modern pop template of over statement and over enhancement that it seems to be not just from a different time but a whole different place. I can’t begin to overstate the power of understatement.
I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for kickstarter funding I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have is a very particular set of words. Words I have acquired over a very long career. Words that make me a nightmare for musicians like you. If you stop sending me your music that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will describe your music in the most verbose way possible.
Just as some of the more production line music, style over substance pop and unadventurous artists with their skinny jeans and complicated hair cause me to trot out the same well rehearsed lines, when I find myself on the receiving end of such mercurial music as that on the debut album from Astroblue Express, I feel like writing about it is what I have been training for all my reviewing life. Finally music so textured so well crafted, so layered, subtle and supple, that I feel like I am wielding a pen like a scalpel, that I am less reviewing, more attempting open surgery to dissect, reveal and understand what lies before me. But where to make the first incision? The heart!
The heart of this music, the pulse, the very lifeblood of the album is a wonderful blend of classical ethereality, sonorous dream-pop and ambient soundscapes. Sometimes this is driven by trip-hop beats or glitchy, futuristic sounds, but more often than not it is all about a sense of quiet majesty, one often built less out of the sounds being conjured and collided and more about the atmosphere and anticipation that lingers behind the vocals and between the notes.
Often these post-genre experiments feel less like songs and more like a series of musical statements that conjure scenes and scenarios of a fleeting cinematic memory or a glimpse of the future, otherworldly soundtrack or alien music being picked up in high tech laboratories. Ranging from atmospheric minimalism, though slow-burning post-rock dynamic builds, to soaring anthemic crescendos, and back to quiet classical granduar, it covers a lot of ground even within each individual track.
It is music based on mood rather than message, music that depicts scenes rather than tells stories, music about images rather than ideas. It is music of the isolation tank, just exist within it, become one with it, heavy meditation, a solitary experience. Some music is aimed at the brain, intelligent and intricate, some at the heart, emotive and alluring, Astroblue Express does nothing less than aim for your very soul.
One of the advantages of reviewing music in the rudderless way that I do, not fixed to a magazine or website, trend, genre or even brief, is that I am truly at the mercy of the Gods of Fate and the prevailing winds as to what comes my way. And whilst half of the resulting influx is, to be polite, a bit same old, same old, people adhering to tried and tested templates in an effort to be the new Oasis/Green Day/Ed Sheeran/Taylor Swift (delete as applicable) the other half is where the magic is found.
The latest slice of magic comes in guise of Shambhu, a West Coast guitarist and composer who creates ambient instrumental pieces, gentle and meditative soundscapes that provide the bridge between silence and music. Now that is a description which may already have people mentally earmarking this as just some new age, knit your own tantric yogurt nonsense, but if you think that Soothe, his third and latest album, deserves to be found in a hippy head shop rubbing shoulders with Gregorian chant and whale song, then think again.
As you would expect from someone who has recorded or performed with the likes of Whitney Houston, guitarist Carlos Santana and even the big man himself, Clarence Clemons, there is much more going on here than that. More depth, more intricacy, more deftness and more beauty.
Acoustic and electric guitars, pastoral folksiness, eastern esoteric vibes, sonorous jazz and much more besides go into the mix but it is the arrangements and texturing that really marks the work out as being head and shoulders above most of its generic rivals. Space, atmosphere and anticipation are blended with the more tangible elements and it is this room to breathe, this lack of urgency and this dreamlike quality that are its real charm.
This really is mood music, the sort of thing to put on when you need to free your mind of the stresses of the day, need to zone out, need to spend some time detached from the slings and arrows of everyday life. Certainly it’s otherworldly, ethereal qualities and enchanting sounds are the perfect conduit to achieving such a state and its unobtrusiveness also lends itself to being the perfect soundtrack for meditation, yoga or any number of activities that require you to look inside rather than out into the world.
But as I said before there are those who scoff at the idea of such an approach claiming music should have something to say, should be about storming barricades and changing the world. They are totally missing the point and should consider this. What if the message is unspoken, what if you can pass through the barricades without breaking them what if you don’t need to change the world, just your attitude towards it? I’m not claiming that Soothe can do that for you, what I am saying is that it is the perfect soundtrack to have playing whilst you work out how you do!
If my first venture into The Marica Frequency’s musically strange and wonderfully hypnotic world was via the minimalism and elemental atmospherics of Hallowed Ground, this second excursion was quite a different experience. For whilst That Voice Behind is based on similar floating ethereal sounds, here it eschews the pastoral, post-folksiness understatements that were the essence of the previous offering and goes for nothing less than widescreen, cinematic choral beauty.
Washes of synth blend with both mass choral ranks and hypnotic lead lines. But, again unlike Hallowed Ground, it opts for a less tangible vocal delivery, one that explores the idea of vocals as an instrument. Marisa Frantz is the voice that is at the core of these explorations and they seem to take over where Karl Jenkins left off. If the canon of work that began with the ground breaking Adiemus experimented with vocals as communication without language, here this concept is taken a stage further. Communication as pure emotion.
Visually a similar approach to before is taken, a slide show of fixed, pastoral images with strange and teasing animations running through almost as if Terry Gilliam had been asked to do the screen projections for an early Pink Floyd show and is, like the music, unique, clever and anonymous.
Two brief encounters with The Marica Frequency, it is more than enough to make me want to hunt down the parent album Nursery Rhymes as it is clear that something interesting and musically important is happening behind these unobtrusive yet tantalising videos. The music is genre-hopping, it pushes the boundaries of the role of vocals, language and communication, it builds interesting musical structures around existing natural atmospherics and it wanders through different cultures finding no fixed abode in any one.
The Marica Frequency make world music but the world it describes isn’t one that you immediately recognise, certainly not the one that we live in on a day-to-day basis. It reflects the intangible, the unspoken, the atomic and the unseen and does so in a way that is understated yet majestic, distant yet imposing. It’s a world I am more than happy to spend a lot of time in.
Sleep Keepers are a band built of contradictions and collisions, of both celebrating differences and sharing common ground. The core players behind the music describe themselves as being “ a guitar player from a war zone and a lead singer from the capital of Ukraine” which already imbues them with a wonderfully enigmatic cloak. When in full flow they are a wonderful mix of dystopian melodies, trippy dance beats and raw alternative rock, of sweet soaring vocals and visceral underground experimentation. It is dark, it is futuristic, it is effortlessly cool.
It is an interesting, not to mention brave, move then for the band to release an album like Hearts Get No Sleep, a piano led collection of songs which hints as much at a past classical tradition and symphonic soundscape as it does their usual dark future visions. All the hallmarks of the bands sound are still there but it has been cleverly stripped back; loud dynamic breaks have been replaced by chilling atmospheric interludes, shimmering pianos now fill the space that would otherwise have been occupied by rigid beats and the overall affect is altogether less tangible. If their usual sound can be seen as a flame casting dancing shadows and illuminating the space around them, this then is the spiraling smoke that is left to drift and softly fade once the candle has gone out. Hypnotic, emotive and ghostlike.
Not just a brave move then but a confident and clever one, one that shows a different side to Sleep Keepers yet still has the same heart beating at its centre. As an introduction to their music or as an alternative to what you already love about them, this is a set of songs that will really put them on the map.
For all things Sleep Keepers, including this e.p. click HERE
When the dark musical strands that came to be termed goth first coalesced in the post-punk melting pot, the bands pushing that genre always seemed to have more to do with dance and pop music than the rock and punk that had kicked down the barricades and ignited the various musical revolutions of the 80’s. It is only natural then that even after all this time, those same atramentous elements can still be found in the most unexpected of places.
It is surprising how many references are evoked from such a minimalist delivery and the song writing itself does share some common ground with any number of pop and R&B acts albeit given a slower, more atmospheric spin. However, it is the more eclectic choices that really make this track stand apart from the competition. It is the clash of classical grace and gothic etherealness that really jumps out at you, the oft cited less is more qualities, the pauses between, the notes, the unresolved tensions in the music and the inherent melancholy.
Comparisons to a similar black lace shrouded torch singer, Zola Jesus, are easily drawn but where as she surrounds herself with cold and inhospitable musical layers, Neonomora revels more in a classic elegance and classical eloquence. The overall effect is one of richly textured chic and that will sit much more easily with the wider commercial market she is destined for.
Music is always going to be the sum of its maker’s influences, whether those reference points are consciously included or otherwise. On their latest single, the traditional music of Eleni Zafiriadou’s Greek birthplace and the classical background of Daniel Benjamin are not hard to find, but it is the sweeping dreamscaping and the shoegazing structures that they encase them it that takes this into wonderful new territories.
Although built on a prominent Bouzouki riff, this is anything but a folk outing. Peace Begins at Home shimmers with rich pop sensibilities, sweeps with symphonic grandeur, glides through wonderfully textured waters and delivers lyrics with depth and poignancy. The air around it is tinged with melancholy and regret and it is easy to see why they refer to their music as Ghost Pop (a phrase I’m sure I will be stealing for future reviews.)
Although this is the new single from their recent sophomore album, Evropi, it found its way to me as the lead song on an ep of remixes and re-imaginings which also include an ambient drone deconstruction by Sebastian Reynolds and an acoustic cover by Duke Special. Good company indeed.
Sometimes you need a bit of a break from writing about the earnest indie-rockers or pouty pop wannabes that clutter my inbox looking for one more piece of publicity before their quest for global domination ends in the reality of a job on local radio or opening the new Aldi in town. Sometimes you need something more honest, something that exists for all the right reasons. Three Cane Whale exists for all the right reasons. I’m sure as musicians they are driven to compose and perform as much as the next but when your sound is one of quiet reflection, of classical finesse, folky frivolity and the vibe of a soundtrack to a film made by Chaucer had he forgone the job of legitimising Middle English vernacular and invented cinema instead, integrity looms large.
Although a live album, in keeping with the world they inhabit, only a wave of polite applause at the appropriate juncture indicates this is anything other than a studio recording thanks, in no small part, to the trio’s ability to recreate their sound flawlessly. The spoken word pieces set to minimal accompaniment remind us of the purpose of early music, if it wasn’t devotional in nature then it was to drive a narrative, the tales and news of the day and hearing Jon Hamp’s delivery it is difficult not to picture a captivated audience in long forgotten inn or travellers sharing stories around a campfire.
This is music as a primal whisper, a not often heard sound which is usually lost, drowned out by the noise and ambition of this fast-paced world. As I said before, when trying to find the words to adequately describe their album Palimpsest, their music talks in an ancient language, one that the head may sometimes struggle with but the heart and soul is fluent in.
I received some new music from dreamscape collective Mr. Dog The Bear today and was driven to issue the following warning.
I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for kickstarter funding I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have is a very particular set of words. Words I have acquired over a very long career. Words that make me a nightmare for musicians like you. If you stop sending me your digital links that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will describe your music in the most pretentious way possible.
Thankfully my longwinded and verbose approach somehow seems appropriate for this music, not that there is anything longwinded or verbose about the music, but sometimes those everyday words just don’t cut it. New release Fireflies may be woven from their usual complex and shifting, intangible and sonorous threads, a blend of post-rock, dream-pop and classical sounds, but this time it comes with a new card to play, vocals!
Up until now the sound of Mr. Dog The Bear has been one of purely instrumental expression but here a fragile and soothing female voice dances just out of earshot, adding waves of vocal mist rather than anything more defined and thereby working as one more layer of instrumentation instead of taking a more traditional lyrical role. As always the end result is perfect and would not feel out of place on a My Bloody Valentine or Moon and Pollution album and that’s about as good as it gets for me.
We have speculated, postulated and discussed who might be behind the enigmatic Mr Dog The Bear but to no avail. But whilst the identity of the composer might have eluded us thus far, the beauty and sheer creativity of the music hasn’t. Like all of the best music it is not easily tied down or labelled and the best analogy I can think of is that this full length album is like a train journey across a continent, where the countries you pass through are musical genres and the landscape constantly changes, often subtly but occasionally with stark, dramatic consequence.
If the teaser e.p. I am Jack’s Broken Heart, wasn’t alluring enough, Sharks and Butterflies is the full story and if possible pushes the dynamic even further. Its blending of post-rock structures, classical grandeur, sweeping cinematic cascades and soaring, spiralling crescendos are even more breath-taking, even more heart-wrenchingly beguiling, even more…well, just more.
Without the limitation of words, the music paints pictures and suggests scenes and scenarios that are limited only by the listener’s imagination, irrespective of the composer’s intentions, you are the interpreter here, this is your dream. In just one listen I saw galaxies dying and being reborn, ancient city streets, I viewed the world from the top of mountains and I swam in its deepest oceans. All that and I hadn’t even had breakfast yet.
This is the sound track of the universe and everything in it from the massive to the minuscule, the solid to the intangible, the past and the possible: the music is just a guide, a door to memory, a key to unlock the innermost corners of the subconscious, how rewarding that journey is, is largely down to the limitations or otherwise of the listener.
Who is Mr Dog The Bear? It is the product of two Italian college friends. It is the sideline project of a famous musician maintaining their anonymity. It is the experimentation of a group of Japanese students. It is the secret communication between two ostracised Americans. It is based on truth, it is all a lie, it is none of the above and it is not what you think. I love the fact that even the small amount of on-line information the band/artist/studio/project has is clearly a smokescreen. But I do know that maybe if we stopped fixating on the people who make music, their every move and utterance and just embraced their product we might be in an altogether better place culturally speaking.
I Am Jack’s Broken Heart is the soundtrack to a film that is yet to be made or maybe one that exists in the head of each person listening to it. A series of instrumental statements that conjure scenes and scenarios of a fleeting cinematic memory or a glimpse of the future. Ranging from atmospheric minimalism, though slow-burning post-rock dynamic builds, to soaring anthemic crescendos, it covers a lot of ground even within each individual track.
It is music based on mood rather than message, music that depicts scenes rather than tells stories, music about images rather than ideas. It is music of the isolation tank, just exist within it, become one with it, heavy meditation, a solitary experience. Some music is aimed at the brain, intelligent and intricate, some at the heart, emotive and alluring, Mr Dog The Bear does nothing less than aim for your very soul.
Who is Mr Dog The Bear? Who cares, just listen.
Fans of truly progressive music will be thrilled to know that Richard Wileman, the man behind the mercurial Karda Estra, has just posted a free album on the bands Bandcamp page. Spanning over a decade of the bands evolutionary path, the eight tracks that make up “An Introduction to Karda Estra” are a wonderful addition to any broad minded music fans collection.
For a band that have wandered between symphonic, progressive rock, classical, film noir sound tracks, gothic and much more besides, this will provide the perfect spring board from which to dive into their sublime waters.
Grab your free album HERE
As a reviewer, I often feel bombarded by bands and their music trying too hard to force superlatives down my throat in an effort to stand out from the crowd. Everything is “awesome,” when it used to be enjoyable, bands “totally smash” gigs, rather than perform well and the more they force such unwieldy descriptions on me the less I want anything to do with them. It is wonderful then when a band just drift past at the very edge of my peripheral senses, a mention here and music sample there, making no obligations or promises. That is the music I engage with most. And so it was that I came to My Northern Sky’s debut album, Glasswing. Fly; delicate, emotive, elemental employing Nick Drake sounding titles to match the music I was to find within.
And just like the subtle and un-presuming way the band, or should I say one-man band -being a musical nom de plume of one Christopher Ryman – gradually drifted into my consciousness, the music matches that approach. Sounding like the score to a film that was too beautiful to ever be shown to the public, the music often hangs almost beyond reach, like morning mists being described with classical piano passages and scratchy electronica that comes across like half heard radio white noise, the distant voices of aliens or angels being harnessed into a translating format as a way for us to understand it.
At the most song driven end of the album, such as Old War Horse the obvious reference is Damien Rice at his most chilled, but it is not an album designed to play by the rules and whilst it may or may not be a concept album, many of the shorter instrumental pieces only make sense when they are listened to, in sequence, as part of the whole, the way we used to list to albums in the pre-digital age.
In short it is an album of mesmerising aesthetic beauty, audio works that exist somewhere between music and art, sound sculptures rather than songs in the conventional sense and a reminder that art for arts sake is reward enough.
There are not many bands that seem to sit in a genre of their own making, but such is the unique and immediately recognisable sound of Bridie Jackson and The Arbour that if they were to make such a claim it would be greeted by nods of approval and murmurs of agreement. Far From The Tree highlights everything that is great about this band, one whose supporters and well-placed media champions seem to grow daily. It is not just the mix of minimalist folk and classical choral, the crystal clear deliveries and the perfect, clean-limbed arrangements; it is because they know just where the boundary lines are. The lines that enable them to be melancholic rather than miserable, sonorous whilst retaining accessibility and hooks, beautifully chilled, whilst possessing a warm heart.
The B-side, Final Lullaby, has its roots in a piece originally written for massed choirs and as such is presented here very much with that in mind, the strings sweeping through the vocal melody lines in perfect harmony suggesting the big choral sound it was born of.
One advantage of knowing where the generic boundaries, largely a journalistic device anyway, lay, is that you know how to avoid them, to fuse sounds together in new ways and even suggest new territory to aim for. Bridie Jackson and The Arbour is at the forefront of a whole new classical/folk wave creating music that seems able to be both highbrow and popularist at the same time and for that I can’t thank them enough.
Karda Estra is like a box of chocolates. Okay, Karda Estra is like a box of chocolates that has been through a blender and then served up on a plate whose colour, texture and even dimensions seem to mutate even as you eat from it. The point being that every time you press play on a Karda Estra record, you really don’t know what you are going to get. Past offerings have veered from symphonic Prog epics to pastoral dreamscape pop, from gothic film score to experimental jazz, often within the same album.
From a review point of view I found this their most challenging to put into words. Past reflections of composer Richard Wileman’s journeys into realms of classical grandeur or ambient drifts through space opera soundtracks are still noticeable but like 2007’s Last of The Libertine; here there are slower, free jazz vibes, tangential modern classical meanderings and avant-garde cinematic structures.
But for all its lack of generic conformity, or its creation of whole new ones, the composition is powerful, hypnotic and eminently listenable and should be experienced the way all such mercurial creations should, with a totally open mind. It is baffling and beautifully, musically poignant yet a wonderfully open canvas of sounds and above all it is uniquely Karda Estra or maybe just Karda Esoteric.
Everything you need to know about KE can be found HERE