If Exponents demonstrated Agency’s distain for generic boundaries and for following other people’s pre-conceived ideas of what one musical style or another should conform to, Question’s continues very much down the same non-conformist path. Having made a name for taking strands of broadly urban music – R&B, hip-hop, soul and the like – and taking it to strange, illogical conclusions, this latest album shows that there is a lot of sonic territory yet to be explored. As R&B seems content to become a modern substitute for throw away pop and hip-hop gets taken to a lowest common denominator by a wave of mumbling, bedroom rappers looking for a quick shot at fame, Agency’s musical machinations remind me more of the early pioneers of UK’s underground 4AD label such as A R Kane who mixed soulful sounds with dream pop soundscapes.
Does Kate Bush actually make music that can be simply categorised as pop? Although it is an idea that has been levelled at many artists, normally out of some act of promotional hyperbole, Kate Bush is one of those few who makes music that only ever sounds like herself. With the exception of a few acolytes in later years, most notably the exquisite Bat For Lashes, Kate Bush conjures songs which are so original, so of the artist herself as to defy generic pigeon-holing. But pop will do as good as any.
This Woman’s Work is a masterclass in emotion, in space, in atmosphere and anticipation, of how so much can be done with so little. The art, of course, is editing just the right bits of “so little” and that was always been where she left everyone else behind.
If ever proof were needed that music is a cyclical process, Sharp Divide is that wonderful blend of past and future combining to make something perfect for the present market. The album pulses with a post-punk heart beat and captures that musical innocence that existed back then, when those disillusioned punks took broken keyboards and newly available studio tricks and gimmickry and turned them to their new musical visions. Visions which became New Romantisicm, new wave, new pop, goth, indie-dance and shoegaze. But it also sounds like an album stood in the present day looking into the future of pop music. It’s all about perspective I guess, of where you are stood as the musical wheel turns.
It drips with wonderful dreamstate otherworldliness, it shimmers with indie majesty and crackles with pop energy, the title track itself being a lesson in laidback art-pop, of making music that is both brilliantly languid, effortlessly sultry yet compelling and cool. Bleed Me wanders into later Human League territory, when they were happy enough just to dance around their handbags on the nightclub floor and Losing Our Control is both the most cultish nod to the past and the most confident stride into a commercial future.
If you like dreamy indie music a la early Lush you will love the textures here, if you are a discerning pop picker you will fall for the spacious melodies and even dance fiends will fall for its chilled grace and groove. Perhaps if you go far enough into the future you find yourself arriving in the past and if you are going to try it, Sharp Divide is perhaps the best soundtrack that you can take along for the ride.
People who know me or who are familiar with this site will be more than aware that I’m not the biggest fan of covers. Yes, they serve many purposes but for me it is all about creativity, adding to the musical canon and looking to the next musical adventure and covers, standards, pre-loved songs, call them what you will often seem a bit redundant. At best they feel like treading water when you could be striking out for the azure blues of new musical horizons. Occasionally a song comes along that brings something new to the table, something that redefines the original, explores new territory, gives it new life, provides a second chapter to the story rather than merely plagiarises.
People will point at Jeff Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah or The Sunday’s reworking of Wild Horses for their sheer gorgeousness, I for one always hold up Kirsty MacColl’s cover of A New England, and in particular the 12 inch version (remember those kids?) as being, not just a perfect reworking but possibly the perfect pop record. And with the arrival of The Marica Frequency elegant cover of His Bobness’s most famous song, I have another to add to that small but illustrious list.
Unlike many bands who just seek to merely pay homage to the song, The Marica Frequency truly make this their own. They take nothing away from the greatness of the original but by drenching it in their own dream-pop gorgeousness, their eloquent vocal lines and ethereality, the song becomes more than the sum of its already considerable parts. The fact that it takes almost two minutes for the lyrics to kick in (again I refer you to the aforementioned 12” record) shows their desire to take this into new territory and the almost spiritual nature of this rendition is probably the most in keeping with the creation of the original than any of the many covers have got close to. Remember this song was written as the sound track to accompany one of the most memorable and moving death scenes in movie history for the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid and this is one of the few renditions of the song that could have been used in its place.
For someone who doesn’t like covers I can safely say that I love what The Marica Frequency have done here. The drawn out introduction, the gentle dreamscaping, the contrasting vocals, the hints of Mazzy Star (always going to get me) and again as mentioned The Sundays and the fact that considering that this is a cover of one of the most recognisable songs in history it is actually one of the most original songs I have had pass through the review pile for a while. If only all cover versions took the job this seriously.
Following her debut album ‘Penelope One’ for Optimo Music, London based Antipodean vocalist, musician and soundscaper Penelope Trappes presents sophomore longplayer ‘Penelope Two’, for Houndstooth.
“’Penelope Two’ was built around field recordings, mantras and meditations. Emptying my mind of clutter, I explored writing with guitars and synth drones, along with piano and reverb, to create depth and texture”, says Trappes.
Elements from multiple sources are subsumed by Trappes’ sonic presence; one hears Badalamenti and Julee Cruise’s work for ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Twin Peaks’, Slowdive’s dreampop, the scorched comedowns of early Primal Scream, Colin Newman’s dark melancholia, plus contemporaries like Tropic Of Cancer and Sky H1.
But to say this sounds like any of the above is a glaring oversimplification. It’s as if she’s sculpted her own pieces using only the reverb tails of other’s music, or has set fire to her record collection to paint audio pictures using just the smoke.
These distilled, rarefied creations take echoes as their starting point, with Trappes summoning swathes of tones, textures and emotions into something ethereal but also powerful, like an evocation of spirits. It’s also deeply melodic, with her intimate, maternally-tender voice floating in the middle of each three dimensional, womb-like sonic space.
Saint Sister, the duo from the North of Ireland, are set to release their debut album on 5th October 2018. Today they share their new single You Never Call. Known for their stunning vocal harmonies and fusion of traditional Irish folk and minimalist electronica, on this track they deliver a chorus with a vocal performance much bigger than anything we’ve seen previously from the band.
Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre began making music together after meeting at University in Dublin. Their first EP “Madrid” was a breakout success. 2 million streams on Spotify in the first year as well as daytime playlisting on BBC radio 1 propelled them to a European tour with Lisa Hannigan and a single via Communion Singles Club. In September they embark on a 40 date headline world tour across North America, Australia, and Europe to promote their debut album.
The twelve tracks on Shape of Silence are steeped in a sense of longing. The band hail from different parts of Northern Ireland (Belfast and Derry), yet they both talk about growing up with a yearning for an intangible sense of ‘Irishness’ and a romanticised, idealised vision of what it might feel like to live in the cobbled streets of Dublin.
Doherty says “We both moved to Dublin at the same time. Our paths didn’t cross for a couple of years, but when they did, we both knew what it felt like to live in a place that you had dreamt up in your head, only to realise that people don’t quite understand the place where you’ve come from; and that the longing isn’t necessarily reciprocated. Although we didn’t grow up together we shared a lot of the same experiences, it felt like having a childhood friend who knows everything about your family.”
The essence of shared upbringing influences Saint Sister’s music and, more than that, their friendship. They embody an “us against the world mentality” – “The most striking thing about our relationship, which at this point is all encompassing, is that when we started making music together we were effectively strangers to each other”, MacIntyre explains. “
We jumped in head first and invested everything in each other.” With Shape of Silence Saint Sister prove how worthwhile that investment has been.“We wanted to explore the connections between people, and the conversations that are borne out of figuring yourself out in relation to another person. The beginning of the record feels very conspiratorial. But then the songs become a little darker, a little more self aware and discerning and a little lonelier. ”
The band’s first few singles and debut EP focused heavily on the harp, an instrument Doherty has been playing since childhood. She recalls a time when she thought she had to learn the guitar to write a certain type of music; the myths of “how to be a band” coupled with a self-doubt many young female musicians experience. In the end it was her Father who encouraged her to use what she had and write in a way that was natural to her.
That “you do you” mentality has seen the band explore new sonic directions on this album, as MacIntyre says “There are some very introspective songs on the record, songs in which we gave ourselves the space to experiment and use textures we hadn’t used before, but then we’ve also got a few songs that are much poppier than anything we’ve released up until now.”
There are a lot of ways to make an impact with the opening salvo of a record. Many take the obvious and over done step of coming out with all guns blazing, of taking the more is more approach and shooting their musical load in one embarrassing opening act. Catgod are smarter than that, but we’ve always known that, and they chose to offer a heart tugging, slice of chilled pop as their opening gambit. On the titular track Cat’s voice is the perfect blend of ethereal and emotive, soaring yet lyrically delving into deep rooted inner feelings as the music – tinkling pianos, gentle harmonies and subtle beats – build around her poignant pleas.
Let Go wanders similar spacious, dream-state pop pathways, vocals contrasting and then combining as they build a lulling, soothing musical cocoon out of gossamer sounds and sonic haze and Keep My Promises weaves arabesque vibes through alt-popness. Owing You wraps the e.p. up, a shimmering gathering of soft spoken word, lush harmonies and meandering music occasionally cut through with electronic shards as it builds towards its crashing crescendos.
If you think that pop music needs new places to go or to further explore until now suppressed elements of its own make up, then Heartbeat in My Hand is for you. If you are looking for an alternative to the production line pop-pap but still crave accessible and commercially viable music, again this is something that you are going to check out. If you crave the fledgling days of dream-pop or just hold that music should value beauty as much as success, that something can find a sizeable audience without necessarily pandering to the fickle finger of fashion or merely re-inventing the wheel, again Catgod is your go to band. In fact, it is hard to imagine who would not find much to love in their lush and deftly crafted musical halls.
People of a certain generation always claim to know where they were when they heard that Kennedy had been assassinated. Others recall the moment that they found out that Elvis had left the building for the last time. Then there are others, like myself, who remember where they were when they first heard 69, the debut album from A.R.Kane. (If you must know I was sat in the corner of a friends bedroom, going through her vinyl collection as its dulcet and beguiling tones oozed into my own DNA; myself and dream-pop, a term that A.R. Kane coined for themselves, have been embraced in a love affair ever since that day.)
As a person who plays with words all day, inventing imaginary genres and often meaningless soundbites, I always appreciate a good turn of phrase, especially if it comes from a band themselves looking to find tempting labels for their music. “Sun-damaged American music” sounds excellent even before you have matched it to any music. It conjures images of music warped and twisted through too much exposure to the heat, broken yet exuding warmth, light and cracked, torn and crumbling, breaking apart through being handled too incautiously. That sounds like something I would like and as it is main man Joseph Lekkas summation of Palm Ghosts music, I find myself braced and ready for a sonic treat.
And a treat it is too. A blend of gorgeously cinematic, dream pop meeting a more structured indie ethic of the sort that cool and imaginative left field musicians have been making from Cocteau Twins to Alvvays and at every point in between. Throw in some wonderful vocal textures and an occasional wander into darker pop territory and you have an intriguing and beguiling proposition. The Crown and The Confidant in particular runs along the same mercurial commerciality that saw the likes of The Cure move from alternative, arty upstarts to arena favourites, The Hound takes more brooding ambient routes and Rhythm To Rage matches dance floor finesse with indie otherness.
A fantastic slice of all things that sit on the border of cultish and commercial, cool enough to appeal to the discerning tastes of the underground and hot enough to sell to the masses. Not only does that blend not come together very often, who’d have thought that you’d find it in the alt-country confines of East Nashville.
In a world of entrenchment and demarcation, of accepted norms and conformity, A Shoreline Dream is a transient and translucent haze that can’t be tied down. When everyone else is playing by the rules of commerciality or bowing to the fads of fashion they would rather move, smoke-like, on a breeze of their own making. They eschew genres, preferring to drift tantalisingly above them all or even create their own unique sonic space to inhabit.
If music were a painting and the usual pop and rock players were working in vibrant, well-defined oils, then this is music as watercolour, music which sketches the basic lines and then proceeds to blur the colours into the most translucent and sparsest of musical hues. It is musical layers washed out and then built up from many gossamer thin soundscapes, it is space used as an instrument, it is about texture and tone rather than drawing the eye in more obvious ways. It is the space and the suggestion as much as the chords and the beats that revel the musical ideas to the listener the listener and which allow the listener to see, or in this case hear, the whole picture.
Songs such as Waitout and Barnum play with their well established neo-shoegazing and dream state indie sounds whilst songs such as In The Ready Sound move towards a tighter, left field alt-pop vibe, though not one your average pop picker would recognise Im guessing. But that’s good, for even when they sail their swirling ship closer to conformity, they are still in some very original waters. The same waters that the likes of early Ride and Spiritualised charted a generation ago and which the likes of North Sea Oscillation and Engineer have continued to explore right up to the present day.
You know that you will never be disappointed with anything A Shoreline Dream produce, this is a safe pair of musical hands and a band who manage to raise benchmarks, personal and otherwise, with everything that they release.
Originally formed by 3 passionate female Leeds based producers, Luna Pines showcase modern electronica and refined dream pop and mix it with ambient, almost post-rock echoes. Influences ranging from Explosions In The Sky to Beach House can be felt across their debut EP ‘The House We Lived In’ that is due June 1st. Today, the band have released their new single taken from it, ‘Spring’.
A deeply sensitive tone is felt in ‘Spring’ that serves as a spacious, indulgent moment on the EP, exploring painful issues such as death and loss in a mask of Cocteau Twins inspired melodies.
Leeds based producers Luna Pines, showcase modern electronica and refined dream pop and mix it with ambient, almost post-rock echoes. Influences like The Japanese House and Daughter can be felt within their beautiful new single ‘Spring’.
Names can be an important choice for any artist and, if you are one of those people who likes to read meaning into an artist’s chosen moniker, well, you can read a lot of meaning into an artist’s chosen moniker. Sailing Stones is a particularly well chosen title, named after the rocks which seem to move at a snail’s pace across California’s Death Valley of their own volition. Well chosen because like those rocks, singer and multi-instrumentalist Jenny Lindfors makes music which also gently wanders, shimmers like the desert heat, is gauze-like and mysterious, ethereal and majestic, in an understated, unhurried sort of way.
Opening track She’s a Rose is wonderfully mercurial song, examining the transformation that happens as we grow and change to overcome life’s obstacles and indeed undergoing its own musical evolution as it plays out. From a core indie heart it adds piano lines, jazz vibes, hazy angelic choirs and sultry saxophones before exploding in a tangle of high drama and controlled cacophony.
Into Space is a gorgeous weave of textured music, dream-like and even when fuzzed out guitars build to drive the song to its final crescendos, they are simple and sleek, brooding and distant rather than dominating and obvious, wandering some Floydian landscapes and doing so with a wonderful sure footedness. Debut single, The Blazing Sun is an exercise in sheer gorgeousness, a slice of heavenly alt-folk and the perfect vehicle to show case Lindfors voice with the beautiful swan song of Sit Silent adding some gentle Americana vibes to close the e.p.
It’s a rich tapestry of sound and sentiment, it travels from the depths of the heart to the outer reaches of space and whilst it explores some big concepts along the way, it remains intimate and personal, accessible, approachable. A triumph of complex music and big ideas sounding anything but.
I have had an influx of dreamy, soundscaping tracks of late which fall more into the realms of soundtrack or film score than they readily sit under the title of song, but few have ticked as many boxes for me as this little gem from Emotive Grey. Whereas most seem set in a fairly predictable ambient- electro genre, Victory, from the forthcoming e.p. Destiny, seems to cross genres at will. It is powered by a fairly confident dance floor beat and melodic synth riffs but woven through it are the wonderfully classical piano sounds normally associated with the likes of Ludovico Einaudi, someone, it has to be said, with a similar flagrant disregard for generic demarcations.
It is this mercurial blend of classical interludes, vibrant clubland urges, alt-pop synth riffs and more hazy dream-pop washes which stands Victory apart from the pack. Tulsa based musician and producer Allen Clark, the man behind the this sonic gorgeousness, has had a tumultuous time since starting his music career just before the turn of the century and admits to having given up music five times, but forming Emotive Grey in 2013 marked a new chapter and a new focus for his energies.
I’m still holding out for the modern dream-pop sound, a blend of commercially aware accessibility and late 80’s shoegazing references, pop infectiousness and cult integrity, to become the new, dominant form of mass market pop music. Unlikely I know, but if it ever happens Emotive Grey are going to be right at the front of that wave as it crashes into the modern consciousness and becomes the zeitgeist. As the music industry wanders further into a music by numbers situation, using templates providing more of the same to catch the pop fan dollar, the rise of such brilliant blends of dance vibes and old school integrity, artists who understands the long game and the cyclical nature of music, rather than the knee jerk reaction to this weeks fashion are the only real way forward. Welcome to a glimpse of the future. Hopefully.
You can trust Wasuremono to be both right on the current zeitgeist but still way out ahead of the pack when it comes to any video that accompanies their gloriously beguiling music. So only a day after watching Ready Player One I find my screen filled with retro gaming shenanigans and music which sits somewhere between 4AD style, shimmering, post-punk dreamscapes and strange futuristic oriental infused experimentation.
Something Left Behind, their most recent album that spawned this track, presented the listener with everything from groove laden alt-pop, to minimalist slices of musical understatement. Then again they have always been a band to cover a lot of sonic ground and Holy Now seems to encompass a whole swathe of what they are about neatly into one song. It plays with tribal electro-beats, ethereal and disembodied vocals, 80’s synth-pop lines woven into Vangelis-esque soundtrack vibes, brooding and ominous undercurrents and a wilful disregard for song structure and traditional pop penmanship. And if you can’t find something to love amongst all of that creativity and otherness, I would suggest than new music might not be for you and perhaps those Oasis CD’s were a good investment after all!
At that point where the haze of shoegaze meets the pristine lines of pop, where cool of the underground overlaps with the more discerning end of the commercial music machine, where the dream-like meets the danceable, you find Soft Science. They join dots between that pre-Brit pop territory of the likes of early Lush or The Darling Buds and modern alternative pop fringes encapsulating the same pure pop heart wrapped in shimmering sonics that has always reminded us that pop can be big and it can be clever.
Undone, the first single from the band’s forthcoming third album, Maps, mixes strident guitars with shimmering synth washes and Katie Haley’s soft and floating vocals into a wonderfully swirling thing of MBV-esque beauty.
They really nail their sonic colours to the musical mast with the accompanying song on this double A side as they take on The House of Love’s classic I Don’t Know Why I Love You. Originally recorded for the House of Love tribute compilation album ‘Soft as Fire in The House of Love’ it sees them staying fairly faithful to the original whilst adding their own mercurial blend of sometimes soft, sometimes spiky touches. After all there isn’t too much you need to change about a song this great.
If their references harken back to the golden age of independent record labels, that balance of commerciality and dream-like otherness never really went to far away. With the music industry at large becoming a closed shop for anything which doesn’t fit their pre-ordained template, maybe, hopefully Soft Science are destined to be part of the rising movement coming from the grassroots and locked out fringes that forms a viable alternative path.
I’ve long been an advocate of modern pop becoming influenced by older and more alternative dream-pop forces. Keep the production values and infectiousness of the modern sound but soften its edges and haze things out a bit with those sonic dreaming spires and ethereality that the likes of Kate Bush and a whole host of more underground eighties acts worked with so well. Do that and you have a sound which has the ability to be both commercial and cultish, cool enough for the discerning pop fan and addictive enough to pick up the commercial pop dollar.
It seems that Dani knows this only too well as Blue is almost a blueprint in just how to do this. She blends confident and sultry dance grooves with sumptuous vocals and the result is exactly this new form of pop I am trying to describe. Given her background, growing up in Singapore before heading to London to pursue her career in music, maybe there is something of that culture beating at the heart of the song. A quest for inner peace and tranquility, of stillness and almost mediative quality wrapped in the broader and more vibrant sonics of very western musical structures. The result is wonderfully atmospheric pop which seems to mix the best of both worlds, a heady blend of eastern dreams and western directness and a whole new way of making pop music.
Chandelier is an album which reminds us that the post-punk and gothic originators from which autumn, at least in part take their lead, were essentially pop bands, although ones not afraid to revel in a quirkiness and outsider stance. And whereas the likes of Souixsie and the Banshees, who are always going to get mentioned in autumn reviews not least for Julie Plante’s vocal similarities and The Mission’s dark Byrds-esque guitar work took things to darker places, autumn are more content to shimmer than brood, chime rather than moan.
Not that the two were ever very far apart anyway but Chandelier errs as much on the side of dream-pop as it does goth, happy to bathe in celestial light and bright ethereal haze rather than turn to the shadows. And it is this play off that creates the perfect sound. One about which the bat cavers and the creatures of the night will find a lot to like but also appealing to those mining a more 4AD and 80’s indie shaped furrow.
The Fall sums this dichotomy rather succinctly, dripping with melody and grandeur, accessibility and poetic poise but staying on the right side of the encroaching nightfall. It evokes dusk rather than the dark and that makes all the difference. Even songs with titles as in keeping with the image as Shadow Girl 2 and My Last Confession owe more to a dreamy pop canon, whilst driving on a strong sense of dance groove. This is music with mystery and majesty to spare but it is also perfect for the alternative club dance floor.
It was, and still is, easy to see the gothic scene as a monochrome set, a Poe faced bunch, the musical equivalent of a stack of Penny dreadfuls, cliched, derivative and pretentious. Chandelier and the band behind it are miles from that narrow view reality. Maybe the Banshees reference is even more apt than it first appears for autumn are also a band who have managed to out grow and evolve beyond the inner sanctum of what people would have you believe goth was really all about. Goth heading into the light of a new musical day? Oh the irony!
Dean Garcia’s post and parallel Curve career is a CV which demonstrably shows that he has never been someone to rest on his laurels and coast on past achievements. Bands such as The Secret Meeting and more recently SPC ECO prove that he hasn’t lost his sense of musical intrigue, always moving forward as he wanders new and less well trodden sonic landscapes. Volker, the second album from his intriguing collaboration with Polish musical protagonist and multi-instrumentalist/producer/composer Jarek Leskiewicz, sees the pair of them heading into hazy, post-rock minimalism and the quieter echos of shoegazery to wonderful effect.
It is an album which drifts as much as it pulses, skitters as much as it beats, is shrouded in gloom and glitch, in pause and effect and there is a restrained and smoke-like beauty to the music it contains. But this minimalism is in constant flux and flow with more robust and well-rounded sounds and it is this dynamic which creates the charm of the album as it drops down into near silence, reaches for noisy crescendos and explores every combination in between.
Night Crawlers is as tense and scratchy as its name suggests, Is This It wanders between clinical beats and a wall of cavernous industrial noise forged into a melody which seems just outside the range of human senses and Starry Eyes draws a line between the then and now of alternative synth music. And all the time the vocals seem to lurk below the music playing an instrumental rather than a communicative role.
Blurred City Lights is helping to add a wonderful new genre to the modern musical canon, one that sits between post-punk dream scapes and modern ambient pop, between post-rock excess and cinematic delicacy. It revels in space and a whole new and evolving sound palette which doesn’t seek to conform and in not doing so is being picked up by a whole new alternative pop and indie audience.
The wonderful Cherry Coloured is back with a song which blends the usual dreamy, ambient soundscaping with something slightly more driven, slightly more tangible. Without abandoning the washed ambience and tentative tones, Paper Cranes is instead built on a throbbing, hypnotic, motorik beat and some lovely and exotic, skittering chiming charm. It is this walk between the previous understated nature and a new found musical confidence and solidity which shows real evolution.
That restrained and smoke- like musical beauty is still present but now it shares the space with more robust and well-rounded sounds and it is this dynamic which creates the charm of the song as it drops down into near silence, reaches for noisy crescendos and explores every combination in between. Alongside bands such as the ever exploratory Wasuremono and dream-dance of Himmel, Cherry Coloured is helping to add a wonderful new genre to the modern musical canon, one that sits between post-punk dream scapes and modern ambient dance, that revels in space and a new sound palette, which doesn’t seek to conform but in not doing so is being picked up by a whole new alternative pop and indie audience.
Commercial success is not something that should be sought ahead of creativity, but stumbling over it on your way to writing the opening paragraph in a whole new chapter in the history of music is a very happy accident. It is something Cherry Coloured and the bands mentioned in the same breath are doing without even trying. How cool is that?
I always approach writing about new music from Wasuremono with a mix of joy and trepidation. Joy, because immersing yourself in their strange, musical world, one which seems to mix musical whimsey with clever sonic choices, left-field approaches to the job at hand and a genre-hopping …well, otherness is always time well spent. Trepidation because trying to truly convey how great, mercurial, beautifully strange and truly original their music is with mere words is one hell of a job.
Even before you get to delving into the way they make music, the first thing that jumps out at you is the sumptuous approach to the vocals. Rich, sharp edged, slightly disembodied and often a beautiful blend of oriental exotica and occidental charm. This is both the voice as lyrical communication and as an instrument in its own right adding additional layers ranging between the soft and sonorous, the deft and the dynamic.
Musically there is no point playing the genre game, they seem to have long ago fashioned their own and then immediately set about knocking down its musical boundaries to push ever further into new musical landscapes and possibilities. It is pop, of sorts, but pop that refuses to play by the rules, instead ricocheting between eighties experimental post-punkery, 4AD influenced sonic dreaming, feel good psych-pop, acid laced avant-gardening and a whole host of sounds and styles which you might be hard pushed to actually put a name to.
Heads Will Roll is a wonderfully meandering song which seems to hang strange chattering harmonies and skittering drums on to the one constant of a gently wandering bass line which acts as its spine whilst Cold Tadpole revels in a dance floor groove – albeit of a club which is so exclusive you are never going to get in anyway. England’s Slave sees the band making maximum musical use of the available space whilst Soft Lullaby sounds like a haunted piano from an abandoned music hall.
And that’s the problem really, though it is a wonderful problem to have as a reviewer. That even if I tried to describe every song, words really don’t always cut it. Damn them! Maybe we should try an analogy…Abba doing karaoke with Talking Heads? Flaming Lips writing a new album for Soft Cell? No, that doesn’t really help either. Best you just buy the album.
The story detailing the relationship between a man and a woman light years apart is a beguiling concept which requires equally beguiling music. Daniel Angelus second album Wired For Heartbreak is the sound track to that story, and Reflection is just one fascinating dipping of the toe into the musical waters of what a concept album can sound like at the sharp edge of the 21st century. If the term conjures images of pretentious prog-rockers, playing stages the size of small planets, singing Tolkien inspired nonsense… possibly dressed as wizards, then Angelus take on the concept album…err, concept, is exactly what you need.
Musically it is everything you need to restore your faith in such an idea, built from shimmering dreamstate pop, hazy synthwave, understated dance grooves and wonderful dynamics which run from brooding near silence to falsetto crescendos. Reflection feels like a snap shot of a past that never quite happened, a late 70’s Berlin era Bowie track that didn’t quite come to fruition, a band that broke up before making their defining 4AD record, the experimentation of a New Romantic band before they copped out and accepted the commercial coin. It also sounds like the way forward, a cinematic vision of pop to come, a snap shot glance and teaser, for dance and pop’s next chapter.
Like all good science fiction, the subject matter here is a very good mirror of reality, whilst the over arching theme may be one of love, loss and longing across achingly vast distances, love, loss and longing are the mainstays of the human condition in every era. Whilst the song conjures futuristic images, the song is much more easily relatable than it might appear, something born out by the video which juxtaposes the lonely space farer dreaming of the very earth like settings that his loved ones still inhabit. Space isn’t the final frontier…love is!
I guess what I am trying to say here is that although using the same studio building bloacks as everyone else, Daniel Angelus seems to have few obvious comparisons. Some of it is familiar, you have heard snatches of that sound in the hidden depths of cinematic indie bands in ambient, early hours, apres-club chill outs and long forgotten dream-pop explorers but can I give you a solid reference upon which to hang Reflections overall sound? No. And that is the curse of originality and of course its blessing too. It is a world of comfort zones out there, one where tribute bands and TV show cover versions seem to get the spotlight and if that appeals to you then Angelus will confuse and confound you in equal measure. Of course, he might also be your saving grace.
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I’m still holding out for the modern dream-pop sound, a blend of commercially aware accessibility and late 80’s shoegazing references, pop infectiousness and cult integrity, to become the new, dominant form of mass market pop music. Unlikely I know, but if it ever happens Himmel are going to be right at the front of that wave as it crashes into the modern consciousness and becomes the zeitgeist.
Himmel is based around the wonderfully named producer Luca Bluefire, a multi-instrumentalist and studio whizz-kid who operates a revolving door policy when it comes to his musical collaborators. Here Flora Lin takes the lyrical and vocal duties and her understated and breathy deliveries are balanced out with soaring musical crescendos and pulsing electronica and the result is a both unique and powerful play off.
As the music industry wanders further into a music by numbers situation, using templates providing more of the same to catch the pop fan dollar, the rise of such brilliant blends of dance vibes and old school integrity, artists who understands the long game and the cyclical nature of music, rather than the knee jerk reaction to this weeks fashion are the only real way forward. Welcome to a glimpse of the future. Hopefully.
It has a been a difficult year for those living in coastal regions and areas prone to flooding and other climatic backlashes, and that certainly applies to those communities that found themselves in the path of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria which devastated the Caribbean and the American gulf coast this year. In response to those tragedies, Philadelphia based Patetico Recordings have renewed their altruistic efforts and gathered a host of like minded musicians, record labels and supporters from the creative world to help raise funds to aid those affected.
The concept of the Rock Back compilation series was born in 2011, when disaster hit Japan, and Tom Lugo, Patetico Recordings’ label owner, acted upon his empathy for charitable causes and non-profit organisations by reaching out to the community of artists he had in his network. Rock Back compilation albums have gone on to raise money for devastated communities around the world as well as for notable non-human charities.
The result this time around is a collection of 56 tracks from artists across the globe which represent some of the most interesting acts to be found working in the musical fringes today. They lean towards genres that start with suffixes such as alt- and post- but then so many of the bands pushing the right creative agenda and generally moving music forward have always been found in such places. Obviously any such a collection of songs is far too vast an array to cover effectively in a review but even on an album of wonderful, new, exciting and challenging music there are a few stand out moments.
Ummagma contribute Human Factor, a song which punctuates muscular alt-rock urges with a downtempo groove and chiming Dave Gilmour-esque guitar motifs with buzz saw blues and Sounds of Sputnik take things into a darker dreamscape with Shades of The Cosmos. But if nothing else it is an album of light and shade and My Favourite Things deliver a hazy, Neo-psychedelic wash with A Little Closer and The Raft channel an almost retro pop vibe as they wander sub Beatlesque landscapes and 90’s alt-pop climes with Glad I Don’t Know.
Parson Rocket Project also wander similar paths as The Sundays or Mazzy Star blending dense musical texture with pop accessibility as shoegazing and stargazing clash on Exit Launch and the whole affair rounds off with the dark and majestic, eerie and effervescent sound of Panaphonic and the suitably named After The Storm. As I said, this is not an album which is quickly or easily captured in written review form but it is an album you should buy not just for the fact that all money goes to a good cause but also because if ever you wanted a sampler of what new music you should be watching out for, which bands are really challenging the status quo…and indeed Status Quo…who will be making the headlines amongst the discerning bloggers and tastemakers very soon, this is basically a road map, a check-list to keeping one step ahead.
Never have worthy causes and excellent music been more in harmony that on this must have record.
Having written about Tel Aviv dream-pop outfit Screens 4 Eyes for a while now, we thought it was time to find out a bit more about them and so we sat down with Yael Brener to dig a little deeper into the band and its music.
Firstly it is an interesting name for a band, is there any deeper meaning behind you choosing it?
I started to feel more and more haunted at the time by the new technology era, which so much have already been said and written about. I realized my own life is now totally mediated by screens. My office day job, my then long distance relationship, listening to and making music etc. I was in terror when hearing about the google glasses invention, talking about the ability to – for example – scan the people in front of you and know if they’re lying, or other details about them. Losing all sense of mystery, humanity, curiosity to discover.
Canadian – Ukrainian duo Ummagma have just launched a crowdfunding campaign for their next original album on vinyl and CD on Indiegogo. Their’s is an eclectic yet harmonious potpourri of sublime resonance, beats and rhythm, with McLarnon’s delicate airy gossamer-like vocals often compared to Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins) with glimmers of Stereolab, The Sundays, Lush, Curve, Nathalie Merchant and Slowdive. Kretov’s spellbinding potion of guitar, vocals, synths, beats, programming & effects create impeccable soundscapes with elements of Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Bill Nelson and Brian Eno to help the listener take flight.
Their music is always evolving, never staying too long in one place, an eternal quest for new musical landscapes, new sonic pastures, new sound textures and new creative horizons and their current position on the musical map can be found on their third, forthcoming album Compass.
“We’ve poured our souls and channeled our hopes and worldview into this release over five years. But it will take you only a few minutes to support this wonderful project! Please share our vision and journey. Pre-order our new album and access merch, experiences, updates and more.”
Please share this link via all your social media tools https://igg.me/at/ummagma so that they can can reach page 1 on #Indiegogo (your tweets, pledges and comments all boost Ummagma in their #GogoFactor algorhythm.)
Thank you for your time.
If dream-pop seems a nostalgic and cultish notion which has long ago had its day in the post-punk sun and pop proper is a form too concerned with playing to the gallery and making music with the widest appeal, the more switched on modern artists have realised that you can take the integrity of the former and the commerciality of the latter to make music which is the best of both worlds. It is a sound which Ava does better than many.
Her blend of modern pop electronica, brooding undertones, raw and glitchy sonics and fantastic dynamic payoffs coupled with an easy accessibility and a fresh and vibrant modern vibe is exactly why this futurist pop revival is producing some of the most rewarding music of the moment without having to compromise cult appeal for commercial potential. Don’t you just wish you’d have thought of that?
They say that one swallow does not a summer make, similarly two bands does not quite equate to a scene, but from the outside looking in with bands such as Screens 4 Eyes and now Amit Buium working under the new name of Cherry Coloured, it does seem as if Tel Aviv is engaging in the same dream-pop/shoegaze revival that’s gaining momentum in the UK and US. Last year’s Void wandered though some drifting and hazy soundscapes, perfectly living up to the dream-pop moniker by combining a certain otherworldliness with enough pop structure to keep things from floating too far out of reach. A Sudden Warmness wanders similar territory.
And despite the musical references that Cherry Coloured alludes to, not least the one in the title, it is music which sounds familiar yet not quite reminiscent enough to be able to tie it down, an awareness of the musical heritage it is a continuation of yet clever enough not to just run amok with its legacy, an extension to the canon rather than just a reworking of its core tenets. More than anything A Sudden Warmness is as thoughtful as it is beautiful, it delicately pulses and shimmers, drifts and chimes and whilst doing so ponders emotional distance, loss and separation but reminds us that kindness and optimism are still inherent qualities of the human condition. Gorgeousness personified.
Step into a swirling, warping re-imagining of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds constructed with analog synths, glitchy vocal effects, trip hop beats, and kitten samples… plentiful kitten samples.
I was a tad apprehensive about listening to a full LP re-interpretation of one of my favourite albums, but I’m not sure why, as I happily listen away to The Flamings Lips covering the entirety of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. I guess it is because YYY (multi-dimensional songwriter/producer Austin Carson) was an unknown to me, but why should such a thing dictate what my ears wish to listen to? It’s a good thing I don’t, really, as my ears love this!
I’m not sure how you pronounce YYY, so I’m going with saying ‘Y’ three times. You can say it how you like.
Starting life as a little musical experiment only one song was planned, but this soon beach balled (see what I did?) into a project that included many of Austin’s musical friends including rappers P.O.S and deM atlaS to dream pop duo Fort Wilson; who provide a beautiful set of harmonies for the technically-not-on-the-original-album-but-what-the-hell ‘Good Vibrations’. If you can imagine The Magic Numbers having a crack at this iconic Beach Boys track with Hot Chip providing the music, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
This is the YYY’s first release and was recorded and produced in Austin’s home studio, ‘The Aqua Dungeon’. Found sounds are slotted and warped into all sorts of interesting places. I’ve heard some nice chilled waves and cats (quite a few cats) car horns and fireworks.
While Austin does a tremendous job at mimicking Brian Wilson’s melancholy cries, the album is illuminated by plenty of additional vocals. The female vocalists really do add something refreshing to this album, particularly on ‘Still Believe In Me’ ‘Don’t Talk’ and ‘I’m Waiting for the Day’.
‘Waiting for the Day’ also includes some glorious scream samples buried between the chorus and verses.
Also listen out for laughter, coughing fits and timing checks all distorted and slammed through various glitch machines.
‘Sloop John B’, one of my favourite songs, includes a slow throbbing synth bass, which gives way to a delicate acoustic guitar and closes with a max-fuzz guitar. Amazing!
Everyone’s favourite, recently destroyed by the BBC tune*, ‘God Only Knows’ kicks off with a question about cat sleeping tactics and shows plenty of reverence for the delicateness of the original, and draws out with a harmonica and acoustic guitar.
‘Hang On To Your Ego’ includes Caribbean drum samples and a deep bass wobbling around beneath the tender vocals.
Drums across the album include live sets and some nice drum machines and tasty trip hop beats (Just check out ‘Let’s Go Away for Awhile’ for some true trip hop beauty).
This is a very confident and entertaining re-interpretation of Pet Sounds, which is a lot of fun to listen to and sounds like it was even more fun to make and is a much more enjoyable listen than The Flaming Lips recent efforts at album covers.
I’m looking forward to hearing what Austin and his little cat army create next!
*I never once mentioned Dave Grohl sitting on a f**cking cloud!