Hexit – Hexit  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1348632185_16Hexit is an album, and indeed a band, that you arrive at from different directions depending on which musical thread you pull at. The thread that drew me in was a Jim Johnston shaped one but the musical gathering that makes up Hexit is of such a calibre that this album is likely to draw the musically inquisitive in from many different corners. The musical roots of the players found here run deep. In a past and more hyperbolic era, Hexit would probably be referred to as a super-group for dramatic and journalistic purposes at least, but with its ranks made up of people from Hi Fiction Science, The Dead Astronaut, Pigbag and Red Snapper as well as the aforementioned Monk & Canatella man, there are, I guess, less appropriate monikers to use.

And given the interesting history of this musical gang, it is obvious that you are not in for a bunch of three-minute pop songs or narrow genre workouts. No, this is much more interesting…challenging even, taking in warped jazz meanderings, post-rock and proggy structures at its most cerebral and no-wave workouts, experimental kosmiche and post-punk muscle at its most cultish. It walks a fine line between forward planning and improvisation and gives you the feeling that whilst this is the album that they recorded on the day, the following day would have delivered something different and the exact nature and content of any live show that may follow is anyone’s guess. 

Hexit is too clever to be merely rock music but stays the right side of art-rock to avoid accusations of pretentiousness and is too together to be free jazz, more of a near-jazz experience. Too original to be just another post-punk referencing bunch of nostalgists, this really is forward-thinking, more interested in where it goes next rather than where it comes from. Dark Sun is a bruised and brooding piece of dystopian jazz-rock, McSly is a tense and terse slice of industrial pop (I’m just making genres up now, you might as well as none of the off the shelf ones work for this album) and Damballa is a uptown cocktail club groover from a band who recently headlined two nights at the Mos Eisley Spaceport Cantina. If Clap in Hand was an actual song before it was a punning title, I’ll eat my hat. 

Many won’t get this album, some just won’t like it…people don’t like to be challenged these days, being truly original is seen as a suspicious act and not sounding like Oasis has just been declared a hate crime by the politically correct little darlings. But if you are the sort of person who’s idea of looking for the next new music to fall in love with is exploring the basement bars of late night Antwerp’s underground scene, then you are going to find a lot to like here.

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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.

 

We Were Promised Jetpacks – signing and tour

mail.jpegScottish rock mainstays We Were Promised Jetpacks have announced their signing to revered boutique record label Big Scary Monsters, alongside an enormous tour in the UK, Europe and US throughout September, October and November (full list of dates below).

 

Tickets go on sale on Friday 13th July via https://www.wewerepromisedjetpacks.com/.

First emerging a group of 20-year-olds in 2009, with their exciting debut These Four Walls, the four members went on to release two further widely lauded albums throughout their ‘20s, 2011’s In the Pit of the Stomach and 2014’s Unravelling. Each band member recently turned 30 and felt like vastly different people to the four 20-year-olds that they were when they first started releasing music.

Continue reading “We Were Promised Jetpacks – signing and tour”

I Shouldn’t Have Watched The Film What Lies Beneath (When I Was Twelve) – Robocobra Quartet (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a2075378893_16It is safe to say that Robocobra Quartet confuse the hell out of me, and this short, sharp, shock of a number has done little to help me get my head around their strange musical blend. But fear is our greatest enemy and the unknown is often the place that reveals the most unexpected rewards. Okay…I’m going in!

Driving backbeat and heavy bass provides a platform for this rhythmic workout, the riffs and melody seem pushed right back into the foundations of the song, hiding behind the post-rock, wall of noise heart, but they have never really been verse-chorus-verse-chorus, riff lead sort of guys, well not in any conventional sense anyway. At times the song evokes the strangeness of They Might Be Giants, if they had studied jazz and tried to form a metal band, at other times it feels like Talking Heads if they had….well, studied jazz and tried to form a metal band!

It is dark and brooding, challenging and non-conformist, intense and claustrophobic, sort of like being run over by a musical glacier, which then makes you wonder why you didn’t get out of the way first, it’s not like you didn’t have time! And that’s the charm of their music, you might not understand it, you might not even see what it is trying to do, you may not even be able to put into words what you like about it, but once you spend even a small amount of time in their sonic world you become a rabbit in its headlights. Its slow-moving, hypnotic, all consuming headlights. If glaciers had headlights!

More info and music HERE

 

Ghosts – Mr Dog The Bear (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22308787_979491262205802_8608101021869377211_nYou can trust Mr Dog The Bear to take an unusual approach to releasing an album. Normally, as a reviewer, I receive an intangible link to the album’s on line home, if I’m lucky I get a physical version through the post. But Mr Dog The Bear has always been about music built around a visual aspect, cinematic and wide screen in its scope it has always felt more like a film score or a soundtrack than a conventional music release. Which is why, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, the new album arrived as a series of videos, as visual representations of the sonic emotions being created.

Previous releases have often felt like an ambient band testing deeper waters, gentle, understated and restrained but with glorious crescendos of music threaded through as they occasionally leave the safety of the shallows behind. Ghosts, however, is the sound of full immersion and opening salvo All These Constant Reminders draws a line of intent which is hard to ignore. Growing from familiar slow burning grace it eventually takes the listener to a place where dramatic post-rock walls of sound and exquisite symphonic sweeps are the norm.


And something else that they previously only toyed with but now forms an integral part of the sound is vocals, Wait being a more conventional pop-rock groover with classical undertones, Eleutheria a dark and brooding piece with modern indie vocal deliveries and Fireflies calls back to their earlier Cocteau Twins infused haze. Apostrophe combines the conventional wisdom of song structure with the left field thinking that we have come to expect, commercial enough to be popular, cultish enough to be cool and the title track is a slow, mercurial piano piece, the perfect contrast of space and intensity to wrap the album up.

Watching Mr Dog The Bear grow over the last few years has been a joy. They have been a band..project…collaboration…I still don’t really know what they are, that has subverted expectation at every turn and in their solitary and masked way made music for all the right reasons, that is, for their own sake. The results, of which this album is the perfect summation, show that you don’t have to follow fashion, advice, trend or zeitgeist, that the best and indeed the most original music is that which just naturally flows from the creative soul. A lesson more people could probably do with learning!

Catharsis –  Aidan Koop (Reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Unknown.jpegIt is interesting to see how our musical tastes mature over time. Much of the music of my formative years was about making a lot of noise in the shortest amount of time, short, sharp musical shock treatment designed to get the job done in the time it takes to lightly boil and egg. But today with more life experience, a broader approach to music but still a thirst to find the next artist who’s music truly affects me in new and unseen ways, I find my musical taste palette a much wider place. More often than not I find my needs in more considered and understated pieces and in albums like Catharsis.

Aidan Koop makes music 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. Catharsis 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.

Continue reading “Catharsis –  Aidan Koop (Reviewed by Dave Franklin)”

Halo Tora release lead single ‘Always The Last To Know’ from forthcoming album

HaloTora_Square-1024x930Halo Tora release lead single ‘Always The Last To Know’ ahead of their new 6-track album, ‘Man of Stone: First Chapter’ and UK & European Tour




Glaswegian prog-rock five-piece, Halo Tora have released the lead single, ‘Always The Last To Know taken from their new 6-track concept album ‘Man Of Stone: First Chapter’ which is due to release on the 6th April 2018. The self-release was supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

 Halo Tora’s immersive music builds layer into their songs creating atmospheric, melody-driven, alternative rock music. With influence pulled from the likes of Coheed And Cambria, Leprous and Karnivool, Halo Tora’s music offer deep and meaningful content creating mood and feeling throughout each track. Halo Tora have their own unique sound.

 On the release of the single, vocalist, Chris Alexander says; ‘Always The Last To Know’ is a song which has allowed me to address an issue which myself and many of my friends have had to deal with over the past few years. From trivial worries to losing friends or family, these things become a daily struggle for everyone and the lyrics relate to getting on top of them and letting go.”

Continue reading “Halo Tora release lead single ‘Always The Last To Know’ from forthcoming album”

Volker – Blurred City Lights (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

472749Dean 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 Moral Crossing – AUTOBAHN (Reviewed by Thomas Haynes)

AUTOBAHN have created an ambitious album that comfortably sits beside the darker parts of Brian Jonestown Massacre with moments of purposeful hesitation that underpin the self-doubt and uncertainties inherent in understanding the moral crossing.
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Something dark and near biblical lies at the heart of AUTOBAHN’s post-rock progressive second L.P. ‘The Moral Crossing’

Leeds based post-rockers AUTOBAHN bring the industrial clatter and howl of their homestead into focus on ‘The Moral Crossing’, which developed organically while they built their own studio space under a disused bridge in Holbeck. Lead singer and principal songwriter, Craig Johnson taught himself how to record as the new studio and album were constructed, allowing the band to create the sound of melancholic, industrial romanticism they were after.

Johnson, along with guitarists Michael Pedel and Gavin Cobb, bassist Daniel Sleight, and drummer Liam Hilton create a sound akin to progressive rockers Secret Machines with a northern England twang that is part Joy Division-like melodic angst undercut with At The Drive In.

The album opener ‘Prologue’ slowly builds into ‘Obituary’, which is fast paced and reminiscent of The Longcut. The track ‘Futures’ then changes gears altogether with a bouncy synth loop more akin to the bands name sake featuring lyrics echoed throughout the song that can only be heard in whispers, letting the instruments do the talking.

Hilton’s big, distorted drums are something to admire on most of the tunes here and are put to good use on songs featuring violins and cellos, such as ‘Torment’ which starts with slow, mournful strings and is suddenly cut through by the pulsing drums as they take control along with a women speaking French, which all coalesces into something beautiful and haunting.

‘The Moral Crossing’ is almost biblical at times, both lyrically and with track titles such as ‘Execution/Rise’, which features a lovely build into a roaring finish, ‘Creation’ and ‘Fallen’. This effect is given more depth by the inclusion of gospel singers from the bands local church on both ‘Low/High’ and ‘Creation’.

AUTOBAHN have created an ambitious album that comfortably sits beside the darker moments of Brian Jonestown Massacre with moments of purposeful hesitation that underpin the self-doubt and uncertainties inherent in understanding the moral crossing.

Offerings  –  Typhoon (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Typhoon Offerings album sleeve_previewThis fourth album from Typhoon sees them caught in an eternal creative struggle and Offerings sits at a wonderful crossroads. In one direction the road leads to commercial success but they often seem to be moving in the opposite direction towards cult interest. This road is crossed by one whose binary choices are either delivering the existing followers music similar to what has gone before or taking newer and even braver choices. But rather than being seen as a problem for the band, it is this skittering between options, this push and pull between then and now, the known and the unknown, the comfort zone and new horizons which is its real strength.

Add to that the album is a concept album, or at least an album of concepts, a Quadtrych following the main characters evolving mental state with music as dark to match and it is clear that we find Typhoon pushing even further into the poignant, dark and difficult territory that previous albums have started to explore. But as heavy as the sentiments hang and as weighty as the music often gets, its saving grace is that the music remains accessible, for the most part, can be melancholic rather than miserable, is cerebral rather than intense, is wonderfully textured, it has to be with a band featuring 11 players, and toys wonderfully with alt-rock density, post-rock looseness and progressive structures.

It is hard to see many of these songs finding traction far beyond the underground circuit but then you don’t make albums like this looking for chart success, this is music made as a cathartic and self-examining process but it will certainly find a following amongst a smarter, more discerning musical set.

In My Veins  –  1921 (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

1921_In-my-veins_COMP012_DigiJust as some of the best and most unique experiences happen when you go off grid, as it were, where the road runs out and turns to green, when art runs out of rules to follow; music often only truly comes to life when you run out of labels that easily capture its essence. The music found on In My Veins might in part be pop, ambient, neo-classical, progressive, operatic, post-rock and cinematic but no one term can sum up more than a fraction of its beauty, so at that point you might as well stop trying.

Even terms like songs or tracks seems too inappropriate words, for what 1921 do is create cinematic scores for films which haven’t even been made yet, but which just through their sonic grace conjure a thousand images. Images of wind-swept vistas, dream-like worlds, night time city streets, ancient landscapes and far flung regions of space. It is chamber-pop, but with sweeping electronica replacing the graceful strings and gentle percussion and to no less emotive effect. The tools of making music may change but its effect on the soul remains undiminished and the music that David Ahlen and Andreas Eklof make that which bypasses head and heart and talks directly to the soul.

David’s ethereal falsetto and Andreas’ sonic sculptures combine in a way rarely heard before, slightly reminiscent of Jon and Vangelis similar vocal/electro blends perhaps but little else readily springs to mind as a comparison and when you draw such blanks in the over-crowded musical market place of today, you know that you have found something a bit special.

And special it is, and unique, and beautiful, haunting, ambient and otherworldly, built through seamless and graceful musical lines and angelic vocals. Like I say, the best music is found in a place that has no need for pigeon-holes and labels, and 1921 seem only to use that place as a base camp as they strike out even further  to explore new sonic realms.

Scene and Heard  – CCXXIX: The River  –  Sky Orchid (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Sky_Orchid_coverSky Orchid is a band that could only really exist today, who make a sound which whilst using familiar musical tools and sound palettes feel part of a post-genre world. A world were tribal divides and musical demarcations are long gone, where ironically alternative music is also mainstream, where even the very notion of what a band has been questioned. More than that Sky Orchid are the sound of restraint, space, understatement and the slow burning dynamic.

Oddly enough, most two-piece guitar and drum bands seem to want to compensate for the other missing musical elements by turning up the volume, hitting the power chords and drenching everything in a wall of scuzzy noise and thunderous beats. Sky Orchid take a different tack and play to the strengths of being a duo. Music is layered up gradually, plaintive piano notes chime, simple beats form an open structure and guitar textures are laid one on top of the other like swaths of gossamer, delicate cloth each one shifting the mood, building and altering the musical hues but doing so almost imperceptibly And even when the obvious crescendo comes they are still throwing curveballs, dropping down to create tension and anticipation before delivering the goods.

It is a song which whilst feeling like a cultish alt-pop, art-rock, post-indie number is in fact as accessible and infectious as anything bothering the charts today. It is also ten times cleverer.

Lies! Lies! Lies! –  Nick Harper and The Wilderness Kids (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

83c58c068c83f6253dfc4892e6eec3a8In a world that seems to be brimming over with guys with guitars, pop troubadours and fey, indie-folksters it would be very wrong to place Nick Harper anywhere amongst their ranks. Yes, he is a guy. Okay, he has a guitar. But that is where the similarity ends to the new kids on the singer-songwriters block (and whilst we are at it, it’s not a genre!) Over a 12 album career to date he has constantly defied and re-defined what that term means and what it can be, wilfully trampling generic boundaries, switching styles and probably inventing a few of his own along the way. History notes that he met the “Wilderness Kids” at a record store day jam and the sonic potential of a more permanent musical relationship was obvious to everyone. It comes as no surprise as you listen to the album that the “kids”in question are members of Port Erin and Wasuremono, two bands with a similar wide ranging and hard to pigeonhole approach towards rock and pop.

“350 reasons why, written on the side of a bus” is the opening salvo of the album, and straight away you realise that Nick, as always, has something important to tell you. Colours are nailed to masts, sides are chosen and lines are drawn in the sand. Essentially Lies! Lies! Lies! is a comment on the state of the western world, from the manipulation of the masses for political gain to the ugly consumerism of Black Friday, the rise and increasing normalisation of right wing attitudes, to religion, globalisation and everything in between. Lyrically and poetically he just says what many of us think, though the likes of Big Tony who drinks in The George and Dragon may well find himself seething into his pint of John Smiths!

And if the words are as honest as they are challenging, then musically it is just as groundbreaking. Nick has always had the ability to capture a massive sound with just an acoustic guitar, one loaded with rock intensity, folk infectiousness, jazz creativity and classical dexterity, well now he has a band to push that into even wider sonic realms. Leaving The Club is a bluesy groover, Tiina is a lilting ballad with brooding undertones, We Keep Turning Right is built on funky-jazz rhythms and Dark Forces is a fluid and mercurial post-rock growler. It’s a triumph of an album, musically exploratory, lyrically direct and the perfect musical product for our times.

There is an obvious point that if a vote or decision doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop making the argument, if that is the case then this is the most pointed and poignant musical debate I have heard in a long time and 48% of the country should buy it immediately.

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.

Thanks to The Moth and Areanna Rose –  The Veldt (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a4045149065_16I continue to be amazed by The Veldt’s ability to similtaniously shimmer yet saunter, chime but groove. How do you even do that? On the one hand they play with sounds which seem built of almost intangible, ethereal qualities, the stuff of stardust and dreams but the clever part is that they then bolt those fey and ephemeral vibes on to soulful and sultry rhythms, pulsating beats, raw post-rock guitarwork and infectious boogies to fashion the perfect blend of texture and solidity.

Whilst there are undeniable parallels with a whole raft of challenging post-punkers, timeless progressive trailblazers and modern day sonic explorers, what keeps the band tied to the real world, rooted in something more structured, is the soulful, R&B undertones and the ability to mix unreconstructed and unabashed grooves with these more gossamer and floating sounds. I can’t think of any other band who walks a more perfect line between such seemingly unconnected worlds.

And proof of just how original a path they do walk is demonstrated by the calibre of the people they attract to work with. People like A.R. Kane’s Rudy Tambala, New Kingdom’s Jason Furlow, the godfather of soundscaping Robin Guthrie and Carlos Bess of The Wutang production team all adding their not inconsiderable skills to the mix and production of the record.

Yes, you can tell a lot about a band by the company it keeps and such associations speak volumes, but it is their mercurial and singularly unique sound, one which evokes old soul records as easily as it does dense walls of shoegazery, which draws such icons to their flame, and rightly so.

Orbs of Light – Beto Hale (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

artworks-000238890517-hydwa0-t500x500The fact that Beto Hale discovered the Beatles at a young and impressionable age is indelibly woven into the heart of this album. Whilst not always obviously Beatle-esque, the album seems to often think in similar ways and certainly Orbs of Light has a late 60’s charm and slightly nostalgic pop attitude about it. Nostalgic not so much in that it feels as if it trying to re-capture or pastiche those formative pop years but more that it echoes a similar classic feel, a deft and clean limbed approach to song-writing which seems to have been overshadowed by the march of studio technology and a lowering of musical expectation in recent years.

And in the cyclical nature of musical fashion, that 60’s vibe is often experienced through an 80’s post-punk filter and songs such as The Only One could easily have fitted along side a raft of, mainly British, bands such as Scritti Politti, The Psychedelic Furs and even Echo and The Bunnymen as they searched for the new pop sound.

But Beto Hale is nothing if not his own man and whilst it is easy to draw comparisons, Orbs of Light has a sound all of its own, proving that whilst it is often easy to be able to identify the building blocks of any given album, it is the sonic architecture which the artist fashions out of them which is the real story. The architecture here is quite brilliant.

As a tonic for these darker days which we find ourselves in, Hale’s way to combat the times is to make an album of optimism, poise and poeticism, one which revels in escapism and a universal celebration of the finer points of the human experience. He also does so by blending the infectiousness of pop and the rigidity of rock and then enhancing that structure with memorable choruses, wonderful hooks and blistering guitar embellishments. It is bold and beat led, poised and poppish, eminently accessible and wonderfully ambitious, given the cynical times that spawned it. Proof that no matter how worrying the world gets, there will always be the need for life affirming pop rock and it doesn’t come much better than Orbs of Light.

 

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)

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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.

Purchase Ephemeral here  – http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep

Also available at the following sites:

Apple Music: http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep/applemusic

Spotify: http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep/spotify

iTunes: http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep/itunes

Google Play: http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep/googleplay

Bandcamp: http://smarturl.it/ephemeralep/bandcampbuy

Who Shot Bukowski? – Jack of None (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

19029646_1009741825796211_3868496801321503321_nThere is something to be said for a band that you are able to fall in love with just because of what they seem like on paper, their ideas, their essence and their exotic nature. A band built around three siblings may not be that new but when they are split between Manila and Chicago then you are moving into much more interesting territory. And look at the album titles; anything that references Bukowski is going to make serial library card wielders like myself take notice and the fact that their debut album was amazingly titled Who’s Listening to Van Gogh’s Ear? is just the academic icing on the surrealist cake.

But admiring from afar is one thing, meeting your newfound heroes is quite another. I may admire the clothes this new exotic musical stranger dresses in, but do I like them as a person…the needle drop test as it used to be called.

The answer is simply no. I don’t like them. I love them! I loooove them!

The album wanders through glitchy, electronic enhanced dark experimentations, lurching from razor wire, clinical rock onslaughts to Lynchian film scores, ambient dream-pop as envisaged by dying computers to futuristic dance moves.

But this is dance music built from the detritus found scattered across an industrial wasteland, all sharp edges and jagged design and driven by a dark apocalyptic narrative and searing sparks. It is the white-hot groove of factory noise being rendered onto the nightclub floor, but not the club that just anyone can find. This one is probably in a decaying warehouse or dead car plant miles away from civilization and possibly even in some sort of parallel universe, and as the clock strikes thirteen this is the sound which hits the sky for probably the last party before the end of the world.

It is an album that is as strange and otherworldly as it is forward thinking and inspiring. It is strangely poetic in its own bleak and terrible way, and brilliant in the way it seems to assimilate and warp recognisable musical genres to its own dystopian will.

Not much music these days feels like a glimpse of the future, most feels like the here and now just trying a bit to hard to get the jump on its rivals for commercial reasons. Jack of None, however, sound like an on coming techno-storm, one which will level current trends and usher in a whole new brutal scene. Their music has that quality of chilling you to the bone but as we know from all good horror movies, you can’t help but watch until the end. And by then, for some it will be too late….

Room For The Others (and other singles) – A Shoreline Dream (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

A_Shoreline_Dream_-_Room_For_The_Others_(cover).jpgThe past is a different country; they promote their musical releases differently there. And whilst there are lots of recognisable references shooting through A Shoreline Dream’s hazy, neo-shoegazing, the idea of releasing each track on their planned album as a single in its own right before a physical, vinyl only release, is very much a marketing technique in keeping with the modern promotional drum beat.

Room For The Others is the fourth instalment in a series that wanders down some interesting musical pathways linking early post-punk explorers with modern adaptors and the result is music which matches familiarity with forward thinking, hazy sonic drifting with confident structural dynamics and moody gothic shades with cinematic, post-rock soundscaping.

A Shoreline Dream is the master of time travel and generic cross-pollination. There is something detached and remarkably North European about their sound but it is also flooded with acid tinged psychedelic waves washing in from the darker underbelly of California’s lost hippy dream. Part of it seems as specifically located as the M4 corridors original shoegazing scene and part of it is as progressive, wandering and limitless as anything in the post-genre world.

And if Room For The Others is happy to take a loose and sonorous journey, one that is lush and wonderfully orchestrated, elsewhere in the package, such as on Whirlwind and Revolvist, they show a more intense and muscular side to themselves and touch on what perhaps the dark visions of Joy Division may have evolved into had they not burned out so spectacularly and quickly.

It’s an interesting journey that takes us towards the halfway point of the final album and one that matches a inward looking, dark intensity with the sound of celestial soaring, claustrophobic insularity with shimmering crescendos. A blues-less blueprint for cleansed rock reborn? Perhaps, but either way it gets my vote.

 

 

 

 

Quarter to Somewhere – Astroblue Express (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Astroblue-Express-350I 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.

 

Pioneer – Common Tongues (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

17992091_1374439439258037_614246594097008703_nIt’s very easy to hold partisan ideas regarding music technology. Acoustic sounds are either true and honest or Luddite and antiquated depending on where you stand, similarly, noise altering and sound replicating technology is seen as either cheating or the way forward. But it doesn’t have to be this way and Common Tongues know that only full well.

 
Pioneers is like wandering down a wooded pathway that gradually opens out on to striking modern landscapes. Gentle acoustic sounds draw you down this familiar path as hints of something new, bold and vivid can be glimpsed fleeting through the trees. Then suddenly you are gazing out on a beautiful city skyline and the future beckons.

The slow burning build here is wonderful; it creates anticipation and atmosphere before propelling you into the sweeping dynamics of the full band sound. It soars and swoops, heads up towards crescendos, drops back towards quiet lulls as it applies an almost post-rock attitude to more defined alternative rock territory. I can think of a lot worse ways of spending 5 minutes.

 

 

 

Ocean Grey – Port Erin (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

C8KyO4UVoAAgTEdIf the Floydian teaser of the albums first release The Fuzz and All That They Feed promised great things, even the high musical benchmarks that Port Erin have already set for themselves didn’t quite hint at just what a musical gem they had created. They have often proved that they are a band capable of exploring, expanding and exploding in many directions, often simultaneously; effortlessly fusing genres that have no business rubbing shoulders into new musical worlds. But even after a string of impressive albums to date, this is the one where you just have to stand back and recognise that things have moved into an altogether different league.

I can’t help thinking that a year reflecting on the loss of David Bowie and the delivery of what would prove to be his final musical statement has somehow found it’s way into the DNA of this album. The plaintive and melancholic cry of “Here we are again” in Just Like TV comes like some call from beyond the grave as slow funk jams and rock dynamics swirl around creating the perfect musical storm. But as always, if he is in there, he is far from alone.

The title track, which they save as the albums swansong, has a wonderful post-punk feel to it, the sound of a recently unearthed, long misplaced 4AD band that got lost in the archives – taut and taunting, enhanced by sumptuous vocals, distant brass attacks and chord crescendo’s playing the part of the crashing waves.

But it isn’t all subtlety and suppleness; Chaos In The Streets sees them play their rock card but even this they shade with clever musical hues. Its claustrophobic nature and power keg vibe is a far cry from most of the foot on the monitor rock clichés that still seem to plague the genre. It twists and turns, creaks and cracks and is filled with dark glamour and pent up energy.

As always though the joy of Port Erin’s music is in the detail and the way they cut and splice, weave and sew the different sounds into gossamer textures and underplayed layers so that even when there is a myriad of instruments being juggled with, they all do just enough, get blended perfectly and never become more important than the over all track. Pastoral watercolours being mixed and blended into new tones, water down, blended again; shifting and ephemeral.

But even when you have all this music to paint with, what it comes down to is three fantastic and imaginative musicians and the choices that they make. Choices that avoid the obvious and opt for skittering jazz beats and high end pulsing bass, funky guitar undertones, drifting ambience and never being afraid to leave room for the listener’s own senses to fill in the gaps. Choices that most bands wouldn’t even know are an option.

New Music of the Day – CLIII : Acacia – Blanket

25d844fd-2404-42ab-9ab5-0e7db1564719Post-rock quartet blanket are pleased to reveal another stunning video for album track ‘Acacia’ today alongside news of an EU tour in February 2017 hitting the UK, Germany, Belgium and Poland.

 

Where previous single ‘Starlight Filled Our Minds’ was a missive on never being held back and carving out your own future, ‘Acacia’ is a look at the things we cannot prevent, an ode to the passing of time and self-reflection.

 

“We all have relationships; some that are spiritual, some that we cannot prevent, some that we wish were longer, or shorter” explains drummer Steven Pellatt of the new track “The video is about the fragility of human relationships, fate and what we’re left with to look back on once we’ve lost something from our lives.”

 

A brand new four-piece originating in Blackpool, Lancashire, they specialise in sweeping, post-rock-influenced, ambient sounds inspired by the likes of Caspian, Sigur Ros, Circa Survive, This Will Destroy You, Nothing and Failure. Their whole aim is to create an audio-visual soundscape that will take both listeners and spectators on a journey of sensory discovery.

 

Comprised of four professional musicians with years of experience in the music industry, across their various projects the members of blanket have toured the world extensively alongside names as diverse as Youmeatsix, The Wonder Years, Skindred, Four Year Strong, Super Heaven, Every Time I Die and The Story So Far, had tracks featured on international television and the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game series, and received coverage from music publications worldwide.

 

 

 

This Makes Us Human – This Makes Us Human (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

coverIt is interesting that the tag line of their label, Fluttery Records, declares itself to be the “home of modern classical, ambient and post-rock” as this is pretty much the perfect starting point for the album. A three-way Venn diagram if you like, with the music drifting in and out of the various common grounds as the mood takes them.

They build their sound on a wonderfully fluid post-rock template, one that eschews the 4/4 signature and rigid verse-chorus ethic of traditional rock and instead wanders its own musical journey, often lingering long in one lush musical landscape before flitting through more minimal territory, languishing in gentle, bucolic beauty and then climbing acoustic peaks.

It isn’t hard to see this approach as a modern day progressive classical music, the instruments may have been updated from the traditional format but the symphonic nature of the music is obvious to all. And like a symphony it tells its story through sound rather than lyric, it maybe be a less obvious, less direct method, but it is no less heart tugging, emotive and effective.

It is music of the heart and soul, requiring total immersion. Whilst most music contains its own user manual amongst its beats and notes, one that tells the listener exactly how to interpret the message, This Makes Us Human is more about osmosis, a vibe to be soaked up and ingested. And without the directness and constraint of words, the message found in the music is…well, whatever you think it is.

Rainbow’s End – Hollow Water (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

rainbows_end_cover16k_x16kStephen Hawking famously said in his introduction to A Brief History of Time, that he had been advised that every equation included in the text would halve the sales in the mainstream market. I feel the same about analogies in music reviews, better just to get on with the task at hand rather than beat around the bush too much. Like him though , I will allow myself just the one.

 

Although all musical works starts with the same empty canvas, it is what the artist choses to create there that allows people to label and package the results. And if the simplest pop music can be seen as a mere shopping list of ideas and rock music perhaps a bold but basic cartoon drawing, progressive rock, for want of a better initial label, is often an intricate landscape painting, one which deftly blends subtle pastoral hues yet also has space to play with the dramatic colours and stark contrasts of the tumbling skies above.

 

Hollow Water, a name that references the fluidity, spacious nature and energy of racing rivers, whirlpools and waterfalls, began life as an instrumental 2-piece consisting of Alan Cookson and Huw Roberts, but with the inception of Rainbow’s End a wider team was recruited to bring this concept album to life, one garnered from across the western world.

 

And if the term concept album conjures horrific musical flash backs to the genre’s past excesses, of keyboardists dressed as wizards or 3 day long bass solos, fear not, the one thing progressive music is good at is…well, progressing. And although Rainbow’s End retains all that is great about the genre, it is also a product of the here and now, of the contemporary music scene, music which looks to the future a lot more than it glances over its shoulder to yesterday’s glories.

 

And talking of looking forward, the narrative driving the album is a futuristic, sci-fi tale; three acquaintances looking for an ever-lasting rainbow, which takes them into parallel dimensions where the very laws of physics behave differently. Very quantum!

But is there anywhere new to take sci-fi themed progressive music? Well, it would seem that there is. Hollow Water have a way of retaining some of the established structures of the genre; long, fluid musical statements, that not so much eschew the verse-chorus structure but more stretch it out, building dynamic, atmosphere and anticipation along the way. And where as of old the penchant was for long, meaningless solos and passages that seemed to have little relevance to the rest of the song, the hand played here is one of melody and meandering musical subtexts that rather than wander off at tangents to the musical direction instead just take a scenic route to the same destination.

 

The execution of the music is excellent, that goes without saying, anyone with such ambition is hardly going to arrive at the task without the relevant tools, but it is the imagination and scope of the piece, the composition and energy levels that are maintained that are the real joy. To keep the listener enthralled across such as grand tale, to remain focused on the story whilst subverting musical expectation, switching styles and pace and to do all of that and find something new to say, somewhere new to take the genre, that is a real skill.

 

Progressive rock has followed many twists and turns over the decades, from the clichés of its early years which are sadly still a short hand for those not in the know, to jazz fusions and neo-prog reinventions to popularist pastiches and everything in-between. What makes Hollow Water’s corner so appealing is that they manage to offer all the familiar tenets of the genre whilst giving them a contemporary feel. A concept album with roots in the past, that feels very much of today and looks unashamedly towards the future. How great is that?

New Music of The Day – CXXII : Burst – Vasa

33c95af4-88a1-4475-a1bb-6836407d409b

I know as a musical commentator and judge and jury of the new music of the moment I should really be armed with up to the moment points of reference and fashionably astute observations but there is a lot in that guitar work that reminds me of Big Country. There I said it. It’s probably something to do with my age, but there you go. In it I hear the same soaring, shimmering, wide screen cinematic deliveries, that same Celtic-ness in the riffs, the same scope and grandeur.

 

Okay, this is that sound reimagined, repackaged and then threaded over a more intense back drop, one full of majestic post-rock tricks and polarized dynamics that take us from intense onslaughts right down to gentle atmospheric breaks but somewhere above the complex weaves of sound and intricate structures the spirit of Stuart Adamson seems to loom. Maybe there is something in the water, the air, the whiskey, the DNA, in their shared lowland Scotland…I don’t know. What I do know is that this is great.

 

Compulsion Songs – The Lucid Dream (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

 

14067682_10150667609454990_8854624607541711754_nBands that challenge me as a writer are always those I look forward too the most. Where is the fun in trying to find new ways of describing a band who are ripping off something you failed to get excited about 5 years ago when you can try to put into words music that really is striding into new, greener musical pastures? The Lucid Dream is just such a band.

 

And if it is a challenge to find ways of pinning down the myriad of shifting sounds that they weave together to create their individual albums, it is also fitting that haven woven such vivid colours on one album, the next will always see them working with intricate and often unexpected new patterns.

 

It says something about a band who even on CD divide their album into side A and side B and then present only 7 songs ranging from under 2 minutes to over 11. Certainly they work in a way that has no truck with fashion or mainstream conformity.

 

It is no co-incidence that this 3rd album has the media taste makers and musical scribblers of note falling over themselves to applaud their music. Their ability to create walls of sound, which somehow sound sonorous and hazy, jangling post punk lullabies that descend into post-rock soundscapes and even dub grooves, wrapped in shoegaze lullabies mark them out to be one of the most inventive bands working today.

Fireflies – Mr. Dog The Bear (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

FirefliesI 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.

 

 

Void – Amit Buium (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1880712961_16Some music is about impact and immediacy, the quick hit that fires you up for a Friday night out on the town, some is good time, throw-away music, a fast fix to be used to fire you up and then be cast off. Void is the antithesis of all of that. Amongst its dreaming sonic spires and meandering song lines you find subtler, deeper attachments, music that seeps into the soul via osmosis rather than any conscious ingestion.

These wonderful soundscapes are just one possible conclusion on a line that runs back through Chvrches, Zola Jesus, My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, The Cocteau Twins and Berlin era Bowie. But more than just another contemporary musician looking to hang their hat on the shoegaze revival, this is far harder to pin down. Some songs, or parts of them at least, are rooted in solid structures but the shifting nature of the music means that at any given point the song could float off like the smoke from a dying candle to be replaced by different textures, stranger motifs or head off on a different musical tangent althogether.

These long opuses to intangibility and delicacy capture everything I find endearing, from their unpredictable post-everything nature to their dark, organic and often claustrophobic qualities. This is music made without any existing template in mind; it’s Sigur Ros on a chill pill; it’s the soundtrack to a fitful sleep; it may suggest so many influences but it isn’t quite like any of them. It is quite possibly the darkest dream-pop I have heard in a long time and I love it everything about it.

 

Listen to Void

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