Beyond Sunsets and Rainbows –  Arthur Rivers (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

40581708_890260687811269_5455143928082726912_oIt’s reassuring to find Arthur Rivers exactly where I left him last time, kicking off the album with the previously encountered single You’re the Ocean Waves, You’re the Sea. And although this gentle and wonderfully wonky folk creation gives you a hint at the soft textures and delicate treatments that make up the rest of the album, this is more a vague signpost rather than a road map. It would, of course, be perfectly lovely to follow such pre-designated folk paths pretty much knowing where you are going but instead the album wanders any number of rootsy routes and world music byways. As a famous man once said, it is better to travel well than to arrive and Beyond Sunsets and Rainbows is definitely about the journey. Armed with a vague sense of direction and a sense of musical adventure you head off wide eyed into his music.

Lead You Home takes us past cosmic country bars, You & Me is haunted with the mournful sound of gothic Mariachi, We Remain The Same wanders the bayou’s and backwaters of the Deep South to blend a gospel spiritual with a work gang chant and Heal Your Pain is a suitable soothing infectious pop-folk song. One of the most telling lines on the album is when Arthur sings “Let’s start a fire” and where many would follow that up with some rabble rousing rhetoric, he merely suggests that the “Dance around it remembering the past.” This is an album of intimate reflection, soul-searching and personal nostalgia something that comes as a welcome change of pace in a world where big seems to be regarded as better.

The clever pay off here is that many people mixing up folk, country, sweeping string sections, banjos and the like often produce some sort of nu-country or dream state folk music, something that seems to lose its rigidity and sense of direction, but not Arthur Rivers. For all the soft edges to the music, its gentle textures and subtle musical weaves it is inherent with melody and memorability. The basic structures are rigid and accessible, it is just that he is so adept at knowing just what needs to go into the song to make it work that you end up with a set of songs that do everything they need with the minimum of fuss. 

Rather than resort to studio tricks, over-playing, solo’s and similar showboating, instead the lyrics remain the focal point offering emotion, remembrance, love and connection, and rather than merely trying to get feet tapping along is designed to to do nothing less than get the very soul dancing.


Battle of The Grumbles – Thomas Nation (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

29495757_1688938834518753_5033431066497515520_nPerfection is by and large over-rated. Let me qualify that with a question. Is it better to capture the most perfect version of  a song with little merit or to commit to prosperity a deft and delicious set of songs recorded on a minimal budget and with fairly basic facilities? I guess it comes down to which you value more beauty or brains. Not that the music that Blue House frontman James Howard makes under the moniker of Thomas Nation isn’t beautiful in its own hazy, rustic way, but it is natural beauty, an honest beauty and for me that is the only real beauty.

It’s a mercurial sound that Nation captures here, drifting and wistful, it often oozes rather than drives, blending washes of church organs and spoken word with dark baroque pop, hints of 60’s nostalgia and twisted folk styles. It is such an approach which flavours the lyrics too and tales of a forgotten London, and indeed a forgotten world slips by mixing the frivolous and fun with the serious, the macabre and the melancholic.

It echoes with the sound of The Kinks had they focused less on the obvious pop melody and take a more windswept and soundscaping approach but it is largely its own person, musically speaking, and that is what it is of ultimately important. Originlity is paramount and Battle of The Grumbles is wonderfully original. It is proof that beyond the ability to get the basics sorted when recording it is really about capturing ideas and creativity and that is exactly what is going on here.

The Pull of Autumn –  The Pull of Autumn (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

320658Trends come and go, it has always been that way, but music built more around emotion and feeling, timeless grace and fundamental truths transcends fad and fashion. It connects with us at a less transient, more deep rooted level, speaks to our primal urges, feeds something that goes beyond merely our needs to listen to music or contemplate art and seems to resonate with an older, wiser truth. The Pull of Autumn is just such music.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the people behind the album have always worked in the more left-field and alternative fringes of music in bands such as Fashion, Johanna’s House of Glamour and includes Belly co-founder and early Throwing Muse Fred Abong. The bulk of the songs grew from the collaboration between Daniel Darrow from Johanna’s House of Glamour and Luke ‘Skyscraper’ James, frontman of Fashion, but soon grew into a collaborative affair and it is this wide range of input and influences which gives The Pull of Autumn’s music such a fascination and musically wide ranging sound.

You could take Post-Rock as a starting point, though that is such a broad term it hardly pins down the sound, but from there the album wanders between ambient soundtracks, swirling and chilled alt-rock, mercurial psychedelic-folk mixes and much more besides. They Came Down is reminiscent of a Brendan Perry Dead Can Dance composition and  Breathe feels more like a collection of textures and echoes which takes the post-rock moniker and its allusions to unstructured forms to its logical (or possibly illogical) conclusion. Laurasong wanders strange folktronica pathways, haunting, staccato, mercurial and angular and Heaven Now is a lush and hypnotic acoustic track drenched in glorious banks of washed out sounds and drifting, subtle white noise.

The fact that it is impossible to find a suitable label for it, even though ironically it is what I have tried to do though-out this writing, makes me love it. The fact that it shifts and shimmers through any number of genres, never sitting comfortably in one or the other and crying out for new generic descriptions along the way, makes me adore this record. I guess when you realise that genres only exist as a map for those who wish to stick to the well travelled sonic roads, it becomes easy to head out into the musical wilderness and see where the journey may take you. It is better to travel well that to arrive, as they say, and this album, and indeed this band, is not about merely travelling, this is exploration down the unbeaten paths of the glorious unknown.


Micronations –  Andrew Howie (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

35297812_2657005187645537_884040986915766272_nMicronations sounds like the result of a computer achieving a sentient state and then as a result leaving the IT world to become a folk musician. Its a wonderful clash of worlds, of the organic folk sound and the hushed and clinical inner workings of what a computer might be singing to itself when it thinks no one is listening. For folk music this is, but it is folk music embracing and perhaps even predicting the future, and the result of the meeting of that ancient and the organic form with the cool, technological driven potential next chapter is both intriguing and beautiful.

Andrew Howie, armed only with his trusty compact synthesiser, converted songs originally written on guitar and piano into, ambient an reworking of their original or, for want of a better word, folktronica. There is a hushed gorgeousness to the songs from pulsating opener Memory Verse to the washed and brooding Look At Her Go and from the claustrophobic depths of Pick Axe to the shimmering dream-pop grooves of Fragile.

Micronations reminds us that the instruments are merely tools, means to an end and if the songs are good enough then they will stand on their own two feet whether built from acoustic guitars or synthesisers. It is safe to say that Andrew Howie has created an album that is both fragile, gentle and beguiling yet robust and striking in its beauty.

Keld – You Are Wolf (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

26804565_10155487265446312_5010824276782110551_nAs someone who grew up on a mixture of tradition and progressive folk sounds, as well as a host of other musical genres from the challenging to the commercial, I’m so glad to see that a whole wave of artists are again pushing the genre to explore its potential. You Are Wolf is one of the most fascinating of these new kids on the rootsy block.

Seeped in gorgeous vocals and just as often happy to stick to traditional rules as subvert them, Keld is a masterpiece of folk for the future. Taking the theme of water (keld being an old northern English word for the “deep, still smooth part of a river) Kerry Andrew collected a mixture of folk songs with female heroes centred on water spirits, drowning boys and powerful witches. This she blended with original tales inspired by her love of wold swimming and of vengeful rivers, nymphs and naiads. At times it feels like the sonic representation of Roger Deakin’s classic book Waterlog, and if you don’t get that reference, believe me when I say that reading it with this album gently playing in the background is a perfect pairing.

Where her debut Hawk To The Hunting Gone was built heavily on vocals and loop manipulations to form its core sound, this second offering is painted from a wider ranging sonic palette, marrying old school folk with its modern counterpart, adding delicate and deft instrumentation as a frame for the vocals which are still the beating heart of the overall sound.

As I have said before, folk, like any genre needs to move forward, to evolve if it wants to stay relevant and Keld is certainly the sound of gentle evolution, a clever intertwining of the familiar and the fanciful, the exploratory and the timeless. Change is inevitable, but it is rarely this beautiful.

Circuit  –  Rowan Coupland (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1786366840_10Folk music, like any other genre has to move on, it’s only healthy after all. But the trick is not to move quickly and radically but to evolve rather than revolt. And for every Fleet Fox or Mumford and the Whale type chancer, bands who claim to be furthering the folk cause but who are really just indie scensters in ironic knit ware, there are acts like Wildwood Kin, Brona McVittie and this fellow. I suppose we are talking neo-folk, new folk, post-folk, alt-folk…whatever….but it is all really just folk isn’t it? Folk moving with the times, folk talking about its own surroundings, its own time and place. Today’s folk.

And that is one of the great things about the music found on Circuit. Sure, it is unashamedly folk, Coupland being a multi-instrumentalist, bending the traditional instruments you might expect to his will, guitar and harp being his chosen musical armaments. But rather than finding inspiration in dusty traditions and finger in the ear folk clubs, he explores the modern world, his world and talks of it as he sees it.

Musically there is also a nowness at work, the chiming guitars and shimmering harp joined by clarinet to add jazz allure to Silhouette or electric guitar bringing a strange rootsy rock edge to Frozen River. So for all the traditional sounds found on the album, there is also the sound of folk music embracing the modern age, the contemporary world and fresh expectations. Circuit is not only a great album, of chilled and skilled music, it is the sound of evolution at work. It works at a suitably slow and respectfully gentle pace but that is what is going on here.

I’ll Be Ready When The Great Day Comes – John Johanna (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2984411118_10I didn’t realise people still made albums like this, but I’m damned glad that they do. Well, that John Johanna does anyway. Even before you immerse yourself in the music you encounter a mercurial air that hangs above its sonic presence, one that swirls with the sparse lo-fi technology of studios past and a feeling that this is all about the music rather than any gimmickry or unnecessary polish.  I’m not saying that it is in any way scrappy or unpolished, I’m saying that it doesn’t need to be and doing so would probably detract from the purity of the music rather than bring anything useful to the table.

Musical it wanters between 60’s psyched out pop and acid folk and the modern era’s indie bands who have completed the circle and revisited those times as a reaction to the corporate commerciality of the modern industry. But apart from the music it also wanders further back in time in spirit too. If musically you can place the sound it in a small basement club in Ladbroke Grove courtesy of an enlightened but brooding promoter fed up with the hippy-dippyism of the Summer of Love going on outside, pull at its threads and it takes you back even further in time. Bound takes in remembered conversations about Promethean mythology and World Unknown is centred around 18th century theological writings. Neither does it limit itself to purely western ideas, Knowledge and Power, Nathaniel in particular grooving on an Indian raga.

It is an exploratory album, one which heads off in so many directions, into academia, non-western musicality, spirituality and any number of ideas which see east and west, occident and orient, clashing in a wonderfully creative way. Combining the folk delicacy of Nick Drake, the soaring delivery of Jeff Buckley and the outsider thought process of Tom Waits, I’m happy to report that he rarely sounds like any of those. In fact it only ever sounds like John Johanna, which is as it should be.

Sfardo  –  Alessio Bondi (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

alessio-bondi-cover2015Listening to an album in a language that you are not fluent in (I’m English, most of us barely have a handle on our own language let alone those of our neighbours) is a bit like watching a subtitled film. For just as then you have the translation running along the bottom of the screen, a good songwriter can use music in the same way. I may not be able to exactly translate the meaning behind the song but the music translates it into emotions, feelings, highs and lows, energy, passion and melancholia as directed. And whereas language is limited by the number of words available, music can be used in far wider variety of ways and so when it comes to communicating with the heart, and indeed the soul, music is a much more eloquent form. And Alessio Bondi is master of that language.

Sfrado is a collection of songs exploring the artists life, both as a child growing up in Sicily and as an adult discovering the romances and relationships of his adult life. Musically it also covers a lot of ground too, wandering from funky brass driven boogies such as Vucciria to the lilting latin folk-pop of Di Cu Si to the more traditional Mediterranean guitar sounds of Wild Rosalia and the wonderfully named Un Pisci Rinta A To Panza, A Fish In Your Belly!

Sfardo is a heady blend of the personal and the universal, of local sounds and global sonic adventures, of childhood innocence and more worldly concerns. But more than that it is a beautiful album and if the music alone is enough to make me appreciate its breath-taking and heart-breaking appeal, those who are fluent with his Sicilian words and sun-kissed tales are in for a real treat.

Field Theory –  Broads (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Broads_-_Field_Theory_(cover)Somewhere around the halfway point of the effervescent Climbs, the first calling card from this new album, I realised that I wished I still took drugs! There is something about their wonderful musical chemistry experiments, their mixing of hypnotic background drone with trippy folktronica, sweeping strings and brooding undercurrents that feels like a euphoric trip. It is music which seems to roll over you in waves, it builds slowly cocooning the listener in fuzzy warmth and claustrophobic loveliness. And whilst it does all of that it also feels like a defining moment for music, it feels as if barriers, which up until now have kept certain genres from socialising, have been crossed and trampled to dust. This feels not just an important musical step, this feels actually groundbreaking.

Yes, I know that similar electronic experiments have been going on for many years and many new musical forms have sprung forth because of it, but with Broads, and Field Theory in particular there is something new at work. An ability to create celestial music on the one hand and evocative electronic dance at the other, both worthy in their own right but it is when this musical duo weave the two halves of their collective musical brain together that the magic really happens.

One half of that brain is responsible for the neo-classical minimalism of tracks like Romero, all space and mournful piano, silence punctuated by sound, the other gives us shimmering and more structured song moods such as Tiamat or the more conventional dance floor vibe of Us And The Buzzing. But when those two hemispheres met the result is glorious. The Lecht wanders from brooding soundscaping to widescreen electro-rock drama, Built Calypso is a Floydian cinematic soundtrack and Lund is dark, dystopian and atmospheric.

This Norfolk duo, hence the name I guess, stride a number of genres on this, their forth album, from vibrant synth-pop to ambient drone and pass through any number of post-rock, shoegaze and post-punk sub-genres along the way, throw in some film score, geographic interpretation, the sound of isolation and incidental meanderings and you have a startling and exciting leap forward. Okay, I don’t miss taking drugs, and after all why would anyone need to when you can now inject Broads straight into the brain…in a manner of speaking.

The Raven and The Rose –  Wisdom of The Trees (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2461722928_16Most modern music is made for all the wrong reasons, be it the desire to be a career musician or to get that 15 minutes of fame, a means to an end and a very shallow end at that. That is what I appreciate about Wisdom of The Trees and Will Elmore, the man at the heart of these wonderful musical projects, he is the total opposite of that star chasing ethic. Every so often a new album pops up on the radar, no fanfare, no fuss, just a sonic message in a creative bottle being dropped into the ocean to see who will find it and what they will make of it. Music made for all the right reasons, a creative outpouring, the need to communicate, the desire to build something.

And if last time around Fragments of Sound was an eclectic collection of trippy, ambient dance instrumentals, this time the focus is more song based and having gathered a collection of guest vocalists, with Nigel Boyd Robinson taking the lions share and doing a sterling job, to add the required lyrical dimension and the result is a wonderfully smooth, pastoral folktronic journey.

The titles and subject matter suggest some very familiar, traditional motifs being played with but it is the reimagining of these standard forms into hazy, drifting post-folk gems that is the real charm of the album. Come Away With Me plays with buoyant east European grooves and Under The Moonlight revels in 60’s folk revivalism and then you have songs such as Rambling Man which somehow captures a strange, smokey 80’s Hall and Oates pop vibe whilst still staying well within the albums remit. For me it is The River’s Daughter that is the highlight of the collection, a mercurial blend of The Incredible String Band and the bucolic pop of The Lilac Time.

It’s a fantastic collection of music, it shows just one future path of folk toward the potential of the new roots sunrise. Folk music has been with us since the first proto-human banged a stick on a fallen tree trunk to create rhythm and then stuck his finger in his ear to better harmonise with it, and so its reinvention every generation or so is only natural, necessary even. What The Raven and The Rose does so well is help keep the evolutionary forces at work, it may not seem like much but it is the most vital job in the musical landscape.

Human Giving – Darto (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Darto_'Human_Giving'_LP_(cover).jpgWhat I’m still trying to fathom out is how Darto manage to sound both bucolic and anthemic at the same time. How can songs, which seem to be pastoral, gently chiming, sonorous lullabies through one ear, suddenly sound like they are the most rousing of folk charges or rock wig-outs just by changing the way that you as a listener approach them? And it is their balance of widescreen cosmic Americana, neo-psychedelic pop vibes and experimental post-folk, post-rock…post-everything that sets up this wonderful conflict and also shows a band with an astute sense of when to play to their strengths and when to just swing for it, to hit out and hope.

The diverse nature of the album illustrates the bands easy facility for mixing together a variety of textures, drawn from all corners of the musical spectrum, and blends them into an oddly cohesive sound without allowing one style to smother the other voices. One moment the listener is offered spoken narrative pieces, the next sumptuous West Coast retro-pop, post-punk pasts meet post-rock futures, florid baroque grandeur meets restrained minimalism, musical minds meet and meld and opposites seem to effortlessly attract and form new musical partnerships.

For all the albums brave, uncompromising nature and the bands willingness to break interesting new ground there are no gaping holes or head scratching moments, which often come as the price you pay for such forward thinking musical quests. Instead Darto’s impressive confidence comes through on every moment of the album and they pursue their ambitious musical goals which they never once appear to strain meeting.

Ephemeral EP – Stephen Shutters (reviewed by Dave Franklin)


If opening tracks on records (yes, I still call them records—get over it) are normally about setting the scene, giving the listener a taste of what they can expect, and as a by-product giving lazy journalists, such as myself, a quick hit from which they can write a review for a record they have hardly listened to and move on, Stephen Shutters doesn’t play that game. Opening with the aptly titled Bustle, he instead strings together a strangely claustrophobic, agitated intro piece, which whilst lyrically sets a scene, musically just makes you think that this could go anywhere or even everywhere. A teaser if ever there were one. Cleverly, instead of offering you a tangible snapshot, a taste of the music to follow, he instead offers you a tantalising glimpse into a strange and singular sonic world.

It is a musical world built of a heady blend of singer-songwriter narrative—post folk delicacy, sonorous and brooding dreamscapes, personal reflection and intimate soul searching. Lyrically there is something of the Beat to be found in the poignant poeticism: a mix of the profound and the profane, of social commentary and existential thoughts blended with the minutiae of the modern world. Crushed, in particular, reading like a Kerouacian stream of consciousness and, depending on how much of the writer is in the song’s narration, feeling like either notes for a new great American novel or a very intimate collection of diary entries and love letters to his own past.

And if the lyrics are intriguing, the music also follows suit. Starting with a recognisable stripped-back, slightly warped, rock template, it is what he hangs on such a musical structure that makes for a fascinating journey. For whereas most would use bombast and big guitars, drive and drumbeat to make their point, Ephemeral as the name might suggest, is built more on transient sounds and temporal musical passages. Post rock structures subsume the traditional approach, but often where you would expect the big dynamics you instead get space and atmosphere; where guitars would drive home the point, instead they chime in the distance and shimmer around the edge of the song. Bass and drums, where they even exist, do so to build just a framework or add intriguing musical motifs in their own right, and even the vocals wander through effected soundscapes adding to the dark dreamland that Ephemeral is.

When troubled young men first grab a guitar in their bedrooms and dream of diarising their lives in the form of a meaningful and artistic collection of songs, this is the album that they dream of making. And though many try, few get the balance as perfect as Stephen Shutters does here. The art is walking a path that is melancholic rather than miserable, dark-edged rather than mournful, reflective but not reactionary, self-analysing rather than self-pitying. With Ephemeral, Stephen walks that perfect line.

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You Look Like Hell – James Parenti (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

19959263_1810824049228584_5055518380596650395_nWhy merely be a singer-songwriter when you can be a sonic painter? Why be a guy with a guitar when you can be a conjuror of taste and texture? Why settle for playing songs when you can create worlds? Why be average when you can be James Parenti. Yes, I like the guy. He may be new to me but by the time the soft ethereal opening harmonies of Bones are drifting out of my speakers I can honestly say that I am ready to fall in love with his latest release, the wonderfully named You Look Like Hell. A couple more plays and he will have me in his web.

The real charm of the album is that the core of it IS all the things I listed as the first part of those arguments in my opening salvo but it is his ability to lift those songs into higher states that changes everything. There are holes where rhythm guitars would normally be, minimal pulses of bass where others would over state the case, it plays with deft dynamics, crackling anticipation and sonorous dimensions. It isn’t so much of a “less is more” situation, more a case of some interesting sonic choices, ones that move the music out of the obvious and into the beguiling.

This is the sound of modern indie folk pushing into dream-pop realms, commercial guitar playing reminding us that there are other, better, more articulate and more emotive ways of doing things. It may look like hell but it sounds like heaven.

Let’s Be Friends – Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Thunderbolt___Lightfoot__Cover.jpgStriping music back to its very essence is something that sounds easy but is rarely done well. The Civil Wars did it, though they never sounded like they were having a lot of fun doing so, The Black Feathers and Flagship Romance excel at it and now I can add this Michigan duo to the list. The art isn’t just knowing what to strip out of a song, it is what you do with what is left, how to build structure and more importantly emotion with the hushed tones and gently chiming guitar lines that remain.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (incidentally one of my favourite films) seem to naturally understand that the power of the sculpture you build with these minimal materials is as much about the spaces as what surrounds them. It is about the anticipation between the lyrics, the atmospheres that hang between the notes, it is about using your music to draw the lines and let the imagination of the listener and the near silent of the universe colour between them. Sounds simple huh?

An Introduction to Failure – Daudi Matsiko (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

avatars-000275681710-5rdcrz-t500x500Some music is made to be experienced on mass, a joint and joyous celebration to be shared with those around you. Other music is more of a one-on-one experience and Daudi Matsiko definitely falls into the latter bracket. More than just a singular experience it is also one that is personal, confessional and strikingly intimate as if the artist were on the listeners own therapist couch unburdening thoughts and feelings for your ears only.

It that very sparse and melancholic way of that defined the likes of Nick Drake and Damien Rice before him, Daudi blends gossamer thin sonic textures and half heard vocals to create a sound that begs the listeners attention for fear of missing anything. It is nuanced and elegant, mellow cascades of guitar picking providing most of the structure behind the voice, but for all its sparseness it is also warm and enveloping, creating an aura of hushed, late night conversations and shared memories.

It is amazing how much you can create out of so little, especially when the little you chose, rather than being the bare minimum, is everything that you need to communicate your thoughts in the most concise way.

New Music of the Day – CLXIX: That Voice Behind – The Marica Frequency

510b9ubvvyl-_ss500If 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.

Fairy Tale Ending – Fear of the Forest (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1420886106_16Discovering new music can be like dating, sometimes the chemistry just isn’t right, other times you agree to be friends but know that you won’t see each other again apart from a probable awkward encounter at a diner party a few years down the line and just occasionally it works out beyond expectation. And in this analogy I have just turned into an annoying, lovelorn idiot, fawning over Fear of the Forest’s every move, dreaming of marriage and one day having a brood of medieval instruments of our own. If you haven’t followed that, suffice it to say that I totally love the music that Fear of the Forest make.

As an ex-goth turned folkie with a house full of history books and a penchant for visiting the Middle East when ever money and political climate allow, it is almost as if Fear of The Forest are the result of a series of options I have selected on some futuristic, customise music producing machine.

The album is a clash of occident and orient, of exotic arabesque and pastoral folk threads, of medieval and modern, the classic and the classical, of dark intensities and frivolous jauntiness. It is baroque’n’roll, it is renaissance-core, it is world trotting classical punk…oh, the fun we can have with making up new music labels.

In the hands of lesser musicians and arrangers this might be a bit too much to work with, an audio overload for the listener but the fact that at any time you can clearly identify four or more different musical strands, from any number of genres and cultures running through the song, is a testament to just how deft these people are at weaving exotic musical patterns.

Occidental tourists indeed!

New Music of the Day CLXVIII: Hallowed Ground – The Marica Frequency

christhemaricafrequencyinterviewAll too often a song and its accompanying video seem to be at odds with each other, great in their own right but serving drastically different purposes, one artistic, the other ticking commercial and fashionable boxes. The first thing that strikes you with Hallowed Ground, however, is that there is a wonderful harmony between the song and its visual counterpart.

Visually we are offered pleasing, elemental and emotive backdrops with wonderful animated details highlighting and enhancing just enough to gently beguile the viewer. And that is exactly what the music does too. Simple, lilting acoustica supplies the canvas on to which simple lines and teasing sounds are painted. There is a wonderful light and shade in the male/female vocal trade off, again reflecting the dark tones and will-o-the-wisp lights of the video.

Like all the best music it is difficult to pin down generically. Post-folk? Ambient dream-pop? Earth song? It feels like a cinematic soundtrack or the play out music to some sort of fantasy film, but one big on ideas and emotion rather than the usual silly concepts and blatant, mass appeal, special effects. But who cares which label we feel the need to put on such music. What ever it is, it’s great.

Objects – The Nightjar (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

14425402_1297984110221096_7921356469733013422_o.jpgMusic can do many things, it can blend subtly into the background, it can act as a rallying call, it can inspire, alter moods and it can make you think, make you forget, incite joy or provoke reflection. It also affects what happens when you put pen to paper on its behalf. Whilst some music will demand information, solid facts and tangible reasoning, the most interesting will cause you to be drawn into its world and approach the task at hand accordingly. That is why as I listen to The Nightjar I get the urge to eschew the normal approach and write like an opium addled 18th century romanticist.

They may be a post-folk, close harmony group, built of minimalism and empathy, entwined vocals and gentle moods, but those are just facts, the way that the head would try to describe them. The heart has other ideas. Get beyond information and you find a timeless grace, a vulnerable beauty and soundscape built of gossamer thin elements, bucolic pastel washes, emotions made into sound.

But that is just the heart doing its usual reactionary thing. Beyond that the soul will tell you that there is something else at work underneath these sounds, something primal, ancient, shamanic;  the drifting voices of ghosts and the elemental language of the earth itself. And so on back through sub-conscious levels of understanding and a resonance that can only be felt in our ancient DNA.

Too much? Maybe, but it is sometimes hard to do justice to the most wonderfully elemental and timeless of music and without hearing it yourself I’m sure that all seems like pretentious nonsense. So here is the challenge. Play Objects to yourself, in a dimly lit room, a sonic isolation booth if you like, immerse yourself in its simple majesty and then tell me any of the above is too much.

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