Thursday, 31 May 2012

Secret Rivals - Make Do And Mend (Part 2)

EP review by KevW

Oxford trio Secret Rivals have done pretty well over the past year or two. Their handful of singles and a mini-album have seen them picking up play on a number of alternative music shows and landing them a slot of Bestival last summer. Their new EP is something of a mixture; a hybrid of indie, pop and rock styles. Single 'Once More With Heart' is a fairly routine run through of spiky guitar music with boy/girl vocals. It's a bit like Idlewild ditching Roddy Woomble in favour of him and her from Los Campesinos!. While it's certainly attention grabbing and decent enough, it's too routine to be considered the best track here.

That accolade goes to the marvellously agitated and melodic 'The Part That Kills' where those dual vocals really shine and combine brilliantly with some woven guitar lines. It gives them a more unique sound, less easily compared to the work of other bands. The guitar is allowed to roam free again on 'I Hope She Knows'; it's a sound that works wonderfully for them. 'I Know Something' also strays away from a conventional formula and is all the better for it, and the title-track is a sweet and tender acoustic song that brings a subtle end the EP. There are some neat touches from Secret Rivals on this EP, and it's when they're allowed to be themselves, resisting the temptation to follow where others have already trodden, that they sound best of all.

Secret Rivals' website

Buy the EP

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Band To Check Out: XNY

Article by KevW

This pair of Brooklynites came together to form XNY after hearing each other practising through the walls of their apartments, and soon the neighbours decided to combine their efforts and work as a duo. The full results of the collaboration are due on June 12th when they release their debut album which is called (of course) 'Through The Wall'. The first few tasters reveal an acoustic sound that's pretty far removed from any folk/Americana stylings and nearer in spirit to the experimental/art rock scene that's so vibrant in their city right now.

Ahead of the album's release you can check out a couple of tracks: free download 'Make Me' and album track 'Another Way' which comes accompanied by a Serena Reynolds directed video. 'Another Way' is an acoustic alt-rock tune backed by electronic beats and it's not short of genuine feeling courtesy of Pam Autuori's impassioned vocals. 'Make Me' has a more traditional feel but again brings with it a certain amount of power. Comparisons to The Kills have been bandied about but are slightly off the mark, with these two songs having the air of a more robust Slow Club or a less predictable Blood Red Shoes. Whoever you compare them to, they've been getting a fair bit of hype and on the strength of these two tracks they could well live up to it too.

XNY's website

Pre-order the album

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Beach House - Bloom

Album review by Stephen Wake

Bloom by Beach House or The (Bad) Science of Dreampop


Listening to the album 'Bloom' by Baltimore dreampop duo Beach House will result in a better sleep and pleasant dreams.


A single subject (the author) case control study with the subject acting as their own control.

A free smartphone app which when the phone is placed under the subjects pillow uses the phones in built accelerometer to determine nocturnal movement and provide an analysis of the subjects sleep pattern into three stages either awake, asleep or deeply asleep.

The study was conducted over three consecutive night's sleep with the subject going to bed the first two nights as normal without listening to any dreampop.

On the third experimental night the subject lies in bed in the dark and listened to 'Bloom' from start to finish prior to the evening’s sleep.

Each morning following the two control nights and the experimental night the following were recorded.

Time of retiring and time of waking (i.e. total time in bed)
Total time asleep
Total time in deep sleep
The number of periods awake
Any dream activity

The results of the control nights were averaged for comparison to the experimental dream pop night.


Control NightsDream Pop
Total bed time hours7.58
Hours Asleep56
Hours of Deep Sleep24
Awake Periods21

Discussion and Analysis

Whilst at first glance it appears that listening to 'Bloom' by Beach House just prior to sleeping resulted in better sleep in all areas analysed i.e. hours asleep, hours of deep sleep and awake periods. The limited number of subjects tested, the fact that I used a crummy smartphone app and extrinsic factors beyond the control of the investigator (i.e. my wife’s snoring and our two dogs fighting each other over who gets to sleep on the bed with us) does not allow us to conclude with any confidence that the dream pop of Beach House results in better sleep or sweeter dreams.

What can be confidently said is that when I listened to 'Bloom' during daylight hours, Victoria Legrand’s floating vocals and the album's dreamy synth and keyboard tended to fade away into the back of my consciousness making it difficult to stay focussed on the music to the exclusion of everything else going on around me. Whilst listening late in the evening without distraction allowed me to hear the individual nuances of each track and appreciate the beauty of 'Bloom' in its entirety without distraction.

There are some beautiful songs on 'Bloom'. The album opener 'Myth' draws me in everytime I hear it on the radio and I love the upbeat feel of 'Lazuli' and the simple tempo of 'Other People'. Each track is wonderful in its own right, but when listened to in its entirety the album tends to merge into one and drift away.

To fully appreciate 'Bloom' you’d be best off in front of a warm fire with the drink of your choice, the lights off and maybe a light rain on a tin roof. Anything more would be just too distracting.

Also lying on my pillow with earbuds in hurts my ears.

Beach House's website

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MJ Hibbett & The Validators - The Battle Of Peterborough

Single review by KevW

As far as bonkers ideas go, MJ Hibbett & The Validators writing an indiepop concept album about space dinosaurs invading Norwich certainly is one. What could have ended up as a cringeworthy and forgettable 'wacky' album turned out to be remarkably entertaining, witty and cleverly thought out. It was an accomplishment that deserved a round of applause at the very least, and if you're yet to sample it's madcap delights then you can join the story here, as things begin to come to a head with the military setting up camp in Peterborough as they attempt in vain to put as stop to the nuclear dinosaurs with bazookas from rampaging further across England.

Yes it's all as silly as it sounds, but far funnier than you're expecting as we hear of local landmarks being destroyed and news reports of the potential next stop for the savage beasts. "It's got excellent rail and bus links and good parking and an ice rink, but if it gets destroyed it won't be missed." This is all set to an upbeat indiepop backing complete with triumphant brass flourishes. While residents of the town may or may not laugh at lines such as "And so ended the battle of Peterborough/as the nation tried to look as if it cared/but the blackened smoking hole/and the terrible death toll/was the first exciting thing to ever happen there" the rest of us will be thoroughly enjoying a marvellously imaginative lo-budget indie opera, complete with a video that includes special effects that are nothing short of dazzling.

Free download: 'The Battle Of Peterborough'

MJ Hibbett & The Validators' website

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Five For Free #83

Smile - From Time To Time

No, not the pre-Queen band featuring Brian May and Roger Taylor, this particular Smile are a new Swedish duo comprising of Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn & John fame and Joakim Ahlund from The Teddybears (no, not the 1950s Phil Spector group...) and their debut album 'A Flash In The Night' is out this week. Check out the lovely kraut-pop of 'From Time To Time' (no, not a cover of the Ride song...).

Free download: 'From Time To Time'

Smile's website

Buy the album

Tassles - Shake Them Shackles

Keeping things much less confusing is Canadian producer Tassles who also has a new album, 'Pressure Mounts', out soon. It's available on tape or download and you can get a free sample in the form of the superb psychedelic drum and bass of 'Shake Them Shackles', a track that mixes psych-pop with samples and beats, which it turns out is a winning combination.

Tassels' website

The album will be available from Pour Le Corps

GHXST - Doomgirl

GHXST describe themselves as "noise grunge" and they do indeed combine elements of noise-pop and grunge but also a heavy dose of shoegaze and JAMC scuzz-rock. The New York trio have just announced a UK tour for June where they'll be playing tracks from their first two EPs as well as new material including the excellent 'Doomgirl' which you can pick up below.

GHXST's website

Pre-order the album

VSP - Svenska Sauna

We recently featured a track from Finnish band VSP who we compared to Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Well if you want further proof that they are indeed the Scandinavian Gorky's then have a listen to their new single 'Svenska Sauna' which is just the kind of off-kilter pop the Welsh indie heroes were creating in their pomp. Oh, and it's apparently about three businessmen going to a sauna in Sweden.

VSP's website

Mister 1-2-3-4 - Information Age Vampire

Tim Durland, or Mister 1-2-3-4 to you and me, is a producer based in Brooklyn. His debut album 'Wetwear' was released in December and this month he follows it up with a brand new single and free download 'Information Age Vampire'. It's a dark and menacing electro slow-jam with slightly creepy lyrics about obsession. A great track, but don't invite him in to meet your parents.
Mister 1-2-3-4's website

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Violens - True

Album review by KevW

Much like the batch of recent artists labelled as 'chillwave', this second album from New York trio Violens takes elements of the past thirty years of synth-pop, indie and shoegaze and pieces them together to create an entirely modern sound. The outcome is similar in that these songs glide by in a soft-focus manner with a hazey glow and effected vocals, but while 'True' may be a close cousin to chillwave, it can't really be labelled as such due to the heavier use of guitars and conventional songcraft, which is then filtered to create what should really be classed as dreampop, throwing a few elements of baggy in to the mix. It's a new sound but is made using so many well known elements that it seems familiar.

Nothing here quite matches the giddy rush of 'Acid Reign' from their debut, but there's no real need for the skip button either. 'True' is a solid, consistent and often beautiful album, with full but soft production, a bit like a fur-coated wall of sound. The opening pair of 'Totally True' and 'Der Microarc' tastefully blend 80s yacht rock with the ethereal sounds of the floppy-fringed guitar bands that followed a few years later. It's a warm and comfortable listen that owes its cosiness to the layered harmonies that feel like several voices smudged together, like a pastel drawing.

This of course means that there's not a great deal of bite to be found, but Violens aren't trying to make a punk record, they're aiming for a velvety texture and that's exactly what we get. 'Every Melting Degree' with its guitars that almost crunch is about as harsh as things get. Despite essentially being a dozen variations of the same theme, 'True' is a surprisingly colourful listen and there are moments when the songs soar, plus it works just as well as a piece to dip in and out of as it does to digest as a whole. I guess this makes it ideal for the digital age and is another example of how the band have taken inspiration from the past and moulded those influences into something bang up to date. To quote that beer ad, you could say that 'True' is tripled filtered with a smooth outcome, and it's definitely worth drinking to.

Free download: 'Der Microarc'

Free download: 'Unfolding Black Wings'

Stream the album in full

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Muj - Got You

Single review by KevW

Although formed and based in the USA where the pair met at college, Muj are a duo of Turkish descent and the music they create reflects their transcontinental journey, mixing a variety of familiar genres with the influence of traditional Turkish structures and sounds. It's a great approach that gives their style-mashing music a slightly exotic bent that may not be familiar to those accustomed to more routine Western pop and rock fodder. Debut album '2012' has steadily built up momentum and plaudits, and the release of this new video/single will hopefully help spread the word further still.

It seems incredibly apt that such label-hopping music is accompanied by similarly mixed up visuals, combining animation with live action, black and white with colour and regular speed with sped up footage. Much like the song, the video for 'Got You' is a little trippy and surreal, but huge fun at the same time. The track itself is an exquisite fusion of electro-pop, indie-rock, baroque and big beat sounds. You can try and tag it if you like, but you'll probably find it'll wriggle free with casual grace and then stick its tongue out at you, knowing full well that labels are for jam jars and not music. A real Turkish delight and no mistake.

Muj's website

Buy the single

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Monday, 28 May 2012

One Era - We Repeat

Album review by KevW

The intention of this debut album by One Era, a musical project helmed by Philadelphia resident Matt Coogan, is to interpret and re-interpret musical sounds past, present and future, experiencing sound in a new way thanks to modern techniques. It's a very grand mission statement, but as a general rule of thumb, such proclamations on a press release usually mean you're in for a load of nondescript electronic noodling and wafty ambient soundscapes, the likes of which you've been bored to tears by countless times in the past. So it's a relief to find that 'We Repeat' is nothing of the sort, instead being a welcoming set of somewhat more conventional alt-pop tracks.

Quite where the innovation or experimentation lies isn't clear, and not being involved in the album's conception or construction it may be unfair to speculate on those aspects, but in terms of sound there's little to be found that hasn't been done before. That's not to deride the album, it's very good, but the overview and the end product might be one for the trade descriptions act people to look in to. As for the music, 'We Repeat' is consistent in quality and well thought out, essentially a batch of electro-pop tracks that hover around the three or four minute mark. In many ways this feels like an modern disco record, certainly tracks like 'Again & Again', 'Nothing Gets To Me' and 'The Ocean' fit that description like a glove - probably one of Michael Jackson's glittery ones.

It's not all four-to-the-floor party tunes though, in fact the album's best moment comes with the lush, shimmering 'It Only Happens One Time' which is built around a more conventional band format of guitars and drums, and the rather nice 'You're Leaving Alone' uses the same ingredients. Synth-pop gets a good airing too, 'No Begging' and the like have cowbells and they're not afraid to use them, and the scent of Air's early retro-futurist sounds hangs heavily over much of the album. Ignore any blurb, 'We Repeat', however it was made, is an album to be listened to, not studied and dissected. So if you're after some decent but accessible pop tracks with a smooth and easy finish then step right this way.

One Era's website

Stream the album in full

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Out This Week - 28th May 2012

King Tuff - Keep On Movin'

The enigmatic King Tuff releases his second album this week following his 2008 debut. 'King Tuff' is his first record for the ace Sub Pop label and while we have scant information on the guy himself, album track 'Keep On Movin'' speaks for itself, being a hand-clapping, sing-along punky pop track that will be echoing in your head long after you've listened to it.

Free download: 'Keep On Movin''

King Tuff's website

Stream the album in full

Buy the album

2:54 - The March

The Thurlow sisters and friends finally release their long-awaited debut album as 2:54 this week, riding high on the crest of a wave of hype and expectation. They manage to live up to it too, with '2:54' being a robust and brooding alt-rock record that's been on the receiving end of some sparkling reviews. You can stream or download excellent, atmospheric track 'The March' below.

2:54's website

Buy the album

Citizens! - Caroline

Precariously positioned next to 2:54 on the wave of hype are London quartet Citizens! whose debut album 'Here We Are' also hits stores this week. Many have been suggesting they could break through to the mainstream and it would certainly be great to have this kind of quality alt-pop mixing it with the big boys. Check out 'Caroline' which has a superb radio-ready chorus and sounds a little bit like Sparks.

Citizens!' website

Stream the album in full

Buy the album

Husky - History's Door

Melbourne's Husky made a small piece of history by becoming the first Australian band to sign with the legendary Sup Pop label last year, and now they have a debut album ready for us to check out. From 'Forever So' is free track 'History's Door' wich mixes gentle Americana (or should that be Australiana?) with hazey production and isn't short of the odd bit of harmonious singing.

Husky's website

Stream the album in full

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She's So Rad - Confetti

We featured a track from hugely promising New Zealanders She's So Rad a couple of months ago and now they have another freebie available in the form of lush new single 'Confetti'. This is a gorgeously snug and cosy piece of dreamy shoegaze that will remind you of those early 90s heroes along with more modern proponents such as The Radio Dept. Whoever you wish to compare it to, its loveliness is undeniable and perfectly designed for ushering in the summer.

She's So Rad's website

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Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Yarns - Chase Me To The Hills EP

EP review by KevW

Given their style and location, I think it's safe to predict that Oxford's The Yarns are in for their fair share of Stornoway comparisons in the lead up to their debut EP next month. Not only have that group given this first release their stamp of approval, 'Chase Me To The Hill' comes from a similar place both geographically and instrumentally. Digital sounds are shunned in favour of brass and acoustics and they live up to their name, using their songs to tell stories. This gives The Yarns' songs a traditional folk bent, but while they have one foot in the past the other is firmly planted in the present and they're not shy of talking about the current political and economic troubles facing the world.

This is done cleverly, without either preaching or stating the obvious. We're not exactly talking The Enemy and their faux political stance or the ham-fisted statements of The Levellers. 'Chase Me To The Hills' deals with these issues in a more subtle manner and if you strip away the meaning you find the music is a vital as its words, not just an empty vehicle for the lyrical message. The maudlin 'Properly Of Michael Docherty' is a threadbare, heartfelt ballad that shows a softer side, and 'The Engagement' tackles the age-old subject of a relationship breakdown but does so in a lyrically inventive way and minus the usual slush. With so many others jostling position in the indie/folk world it's not yet quite clear where The Yarns will fit, but hopefully they can muscle their way in somehow, as they have some very decent stories to tell.

The Yarn's website

Buy the EP

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Artist To Check Out: Paul Durango

Article by KevW

French electro artist Paul Durango initially started out making films at the beginning of the last decade but gradually and naturally made the transition to music through his love of analogue electronic equipment as well as more conventional instruments, and he soon began to discover similarly minded artists who'd gone before him as he started to develop his sound. A few early tracks were released on limited vinyl and now he's set to release a compendium of his work from 2006-2011 in the form of his first proper album, the fifteen track set 'Just Bodies'.

Paul Durango's music sounds incredibly organic considering it's electronically made and doesn't contain many of the acoustic instruments that commonly litter the genre, perhaps having more in common with 70s bands such as Cluster or Can. The likes of 'Prison de Femmes' and 'Tape 'O Tape' carry the odour of prog rock in their beats and abstract, wandering construction. It's retro but not in the 8-bit/Casio keyboard sense. These are warm and muscular tunes that carry enough of a pop sense to limit themselves in length to that of conventional pop songs, resisting the temptation to stick around too long. It's a clever way of ensuring that 'Just Bodies' remains an engaging listen start to finish.

Paul Durango's website

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Saturday, 26 May 2012

English Singles - Backstreet Pages EP

EP review by KevW

The four tracks on this debut release for Sacramento's English Singles are over and done with well before the EP can reach the eight minute mark. It might not be the kind of bumper crop that will have your iPod groaning under the weight of the gargantuan files, but it will have you smiling at some wonderfully executed and enthusiastic D.I.Y. guitar-pop. The ramshackle, instantly lovable variety that probably makes up a fair portion of your record collection already and always seems to sound fresh. It jangles like the lighter end of 80s British indie and has the gentle fuzz of the alternative guitar revolution happening simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic.

Yes, you can hear The Vaselines, The Television Personalities and the college rock of the fledgling REM or Campervan Beethoven. Guitars are crisp, drums rattle and the melodies scream "pop" in such a wide-eyed and homemade way they they could never really rub shoulders with any kind of mainstream. 'Grey Skies USA' lays down the blueprint that they rigidly adhere to, its light burning briefly but brightly. That title doesn't really suit a song so summery, and the same can be said for the sunshine-pop of 'Winter'. 'Daydream' is like a miniature version of something Teenage Fanclub would have released circa 1992 and the punky 'Finer Points' has rightly been compared to The Buzzcocks. Where the 'English' bit comes in to this isn't clear, but 'Backstreet Pages' does sound like four singles.

Download 'Finer Points' for free by heading here

English Singles' website

Buy the single

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Air To Achilles - Wild Palms

Single review by KevW

This new single from Newcastle indie/synth quartet Air To Achilles feels like the work of four men with the ambition to push their music to the grandest level it's possible to reach without being distasteful, and on 'Wild Palms' they just about make their lofty goal. There are no cheap tricks here, no welding a string section on to the thing to take a short-cut to a big sound. Instead they aim for the epic using a huge chorus and bellowing, chest-beating vocals backed by gentle guitar and synths. Sticking a clattering, crashing beat behind it all doesn't do their cause any harm either.

If comparisons are to be drawn, then the radio-slaying synth-pop of Duran Duran and the epic post-punk of early U2 or Simple Minds are obvious influences, but Air To Achilles are a far less garish proposition to any of those, they seem to have better taste than that. Of course this means 'Wild Palms' is never likely to repeat that kind of chart success, but it aims for the skies, gets within tickling distance of them and returns with its integrity intact, and that's no mean feat.

Air To Achilles' website

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Five For Free #82

Toys That Kill - Stye

Originally formed in 1989 as F.Y.P, Toys That Kill have been in their present form since the turn of the millennium and have just released a new album, 'Fambly 42', on Recess Records. Taken from it is 'Stye', an awesome piece of punky powerpop that packs in plenty of energy and melody into its two and a bit minutes, grab it for free below.

Toys That Kill's website

Stream the album in full

Buy the album

XPiRiMiNT - Rain Dance

American solo artist XPiRiMiNT is dedicated to creating new sounds using a multitude of organic and electronic instruments. New track 'Rain Dance' includes ukulele, electric and twelve string guitars along with some processed beats and effects. The end result is a seductive and warm piece of folktronica that should appeal to fans of both electronic and acoustic sounds.

XPiRiMiNT's website

Liz Lawrence - Hold On

London-based singer-songwriter Liz Lawrence released a new EP on Young & Lost Club records this week titled 'Live From No. 82' and it features three songs recorded in her band-mate's living room. Free download 'Hold On' is once such track and is an excellent piece of modern folk that shows off her beautifully restrained vocals. If you're in the London area she has several upcoming gigs and should be worth catching.

Liz Lawrence's website

Buy the EP

Derek Lambert & The Prairie Fires - The Woods

Derek Lambert & The Prairie Fires are from Iowa and have been gigging for just over a year, releasing their debut single last October, swiftly followed by second release and free download 'The Woods' a few weeks later. No news of an album just yet, but there are plenty of songs in existence so hopefully it won't be long, in the mean time enjoy this gruff and ragged punk-rock blast.

Derek Lambert & The Prairie Fires' website

Eugene McGuinness - Lion/Shotgun

At the end of June Eugene McGuinness will be releasing his new album 'The Invitation To The Voyage' and ahead of release you can pick up singles 'Lion' and 'Shotgun' for free. The former is a hybrid of indie-rock and psychobilly whereas the latter lays on some surf guitar and a meandering Peter Gunn like riff. It's the darker of the two, but only just, and both suggest the new record should be pretty good.

Free download: 'Lion'/'Shotgun'

Eugene McGuinness' website

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Friday, 25 May 2012

Still Flyin' - On A Bedroom Wall

Album review by KevW

Debut album 'Never Gonna Touch The Ground' showed us that Sean Rawls and his vast collective of helpers were capable of mixing a plethora of styles from new romantic to reggae to post-punk to create an eclectic brand of indiepop that occasionally bordered on the novelty but was always a heap of summery fun. This anything goes approach has changed little on Still Flyin's second effort. New-wave basslines and 80s pop synths are combined with a hotch-potch of beats and uplifting tunes that are best served sun-drenched. The tempo isn't allowed to drop and they retain the fun factor of the first album, but minus any novelty aspect.

In essence 'On A Bedroom Wall' is a new-wave record that's been given some shades and a Hawaiian shirt and plonked in front of an azure blue sea. 'Elsie Dormer' and 'Spirits' take similar base components to The Cure or early New Order, but here the elastic bass and retro electronic beats have an altogether lighter feel than the pop-noir that those two created. Single 'Travelling Man' is like someone's taken a photo of Goth and is showing us the negative: it sounds like Goth, but night is turned to day. 'Big Trouble In Little Alabama' adds a sprinkling of The Postal Service to their joyous indie blueprint.

There's a touch of variety in the stop/start funk of 'Clear Talking' and the pure 80s pop of 'Camouflage Detection', whereas electronic dreampop is visited successfully on 'Surrender To Me'. The tinkling 'Take These Streets' and the tropical flavoured 'Candlemaker' both have single potential and 'Jacket In July' could be a metaphor for their approach to music. Looking to big coated new-wave bands such as Echo & The Bunnymen but dragging their sound away from the fog and towards the beach. 'On A Bedroom Wall' is a good solid album without really containing any particularly exceptional tracks, but that shouldn't serve as a warning, because anyone looking for a stack of inventive, feel-good indiepop tunes will be more than happy giving this lot a spin.

Still Flyin's website

Buy the album

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Ali Young - Love Animal EP

EP review by KevW

Ali Young is a singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles and cites influences such as La Sera, Rilo Kiley and PJ Harvey, and although the tracks on this new EP display a poppier sound than those female icons, they're charming enough to appeal to fans of indie, folk, pop and alt-rock alike. 'Love Animal' is a digital only release (including a name-your-price download via bandcamp) but you wouldn't mind betting it won't be too long before a label comes sniffing and the vinyl junkies have something to get their grubby paws on.

'Love Animal' keeps itself just the right side of the lovably sweet pop/a bit sickly line thanks to Young's delivery, but it shows that heading in a more commercial direction is a route that's open to her should she choose to pursue it. 'Make Believe' offers more in the way of muscle while remaining accessible enough for radio to be all over it. The more folky 'kaBoom' hints that the option to take a darker path is also well within her grasp, and the closing 'Drift' is chugging indiepop. On the strength of this quartet of songs, it would seem that Ali Young is a songwriter of no small talent and has the ability to take her music forward in many different ways. It'll be very interesting to see where she goes next.

Ali Young's website

Stream or download the EP

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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Exitmusic - Passage

Album review by KevW

Actors' forays into the world of music are not often a success. Sure, famous names will inevitably sell records, but the actual product wouldn't make it past most labels' quality control were it not for the celebrity attached to it. Rarer still is the likelihood of any boundaries being pushed or genuine musical input or ingenuity from the face that fronts the campaign. Exitmusic however, are a little different. While she may have starred in several films, Aleska Palladino isn't exactly a hollywood A-lister, and the band she formed with husband Devon Church is anything but a vanity project or a major label cash-in. Exitmusic have made this music themselves, the way they want to and secured a contract to independent label Secretly Canadian in the exact same way as any other artist would: through the sounds they create.

Following self-released collection 'The Decline Of The West' in 2008, it was last year that the band really began to make headway, and as such their first label release, 'Passage', can be seen as a debut album of sorts. Palladino's quiveringly powerful voice is nothing short of spellbinding; passionate and chilling in equal measure. The nearest contemporary comparison would be to Beach House's Victoria Legrand. Exitmusic's sound would come under a similar dreampop umbrella and is equally as stirring. Opener 'Passage' gently builds layer upon layer of shimmering atmospherics before blossoming into a pained yet beautiful crescendo, those vocals sending shivers down the spine. It's a format they stick to for much of the album and as such the only criticism you could level at them is that more variety wouldn't go amiss.

It's a minor quibble though, and it's difficult to knock any track individually. 'The Night' is what would happen if Sigur Ros grew some balls, and they continue to delicately construct a substantial wall of sound throughout, a shuddering force that's destined to cause goosebumps. 'Storms' is indeed a tempestuous melee of beautiful noise, then just as you think the album has settled into a familiar routine on the sleepy 'The Wanting' and 'Stars', they go and drop the quaking musical megalith of 'The Modern Age', a towering tour-de-force of spine-tingling power and emotion that blows other bands' entire oeuvres out of the water in one fell swoop. The album is worth owning for that alone, but the sheer beauty of that voice and those shimmering sounds mean that this record rarely drops below the 'startlingly good' level. Exitmusic may not be headed for the top of the charts but in 'Passage' they've created a musical blockbuster that will surely stand the test of time.

Exitmusic's website

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Knickers - My Baby's Just A Baby EP

EP review by KevW

If you're still mourning the news that indiepop darlings The Loves called it a day last year, then you'll be pleased to know that, just as every cloud has a silver lining, from those ashes have sprung another top-drawer, 60s inspired group led by Simon Love. Knickers have only a handful of shows under their belt, but this debut EP comes to us fully formed and remarkably well defined. Lead track 'My Baby's Just A Baby (But I Love Him So)' is a cracking Northern soul stomper that's heavy on both organ and handclaps and infectious enough to close down a hospital ward. The cover of Dave Davis' 'Are You Ready Girl?' provides a different retro soul hit, mixing doo-wop with Dusty In Memphis.

There's sprightly indiepop in the shape of 'A Thousand Ways' which has a country twang and horns of a similar variety to those that adorned Belle & Sebastian's early work. However, the best is saved for last and the sensory pop-overload of 'Darling' which brings further proof that the correct use of handclaps can lift a song up a notch and that the more hooks you can squeeze into a tune the better (although Buddy Holly's estate might like to play it back to back with 'Everyday' and compare melodies). Of course a band name like this is blatently asking for puns, so as this is their debut release we'll get in first by summarising that this EP is most certainly not pants and is well worth getting your Knickers in a twist about. In fact you could say it's bloom(er)ing great.

Knickers' website

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Fort Fairfield - Loop 3

Single review by KevW

It's always interesting when music arrives for review with next to no information attached. Firstly because it gives you the chance to listen in a completely objective way, letting what comes out of the speakers talk for itself without the usual back story, ridiculously gushing press release and selected quotes from other media outlets, and secondly because the intrigue tempts you to seek further information using all the tricks the internet has to offer (yeah, we could have emailed them back and asked for a bio, but where's the fun in that?). This new single from Fort Fairfield landed in our inbox without so much as a "hello". Here's what our investigative journalism (um, Google) has revealed.

Fort Fairfield are two brothers from Sweden who've been making music together for several years, apparently inspired by things they find in their book shelves. There are at least two albums available so far, with a new one, 'The Straw Boys' due out soon. That's pretty much all we have, so, to the music. Well, the name 'Loop 3' suggests the album may be made up of sections of repetitive sound (this presumably being the third) and indeed this is a looping piece of chilled electronica which has no particular direction and doesn't really need one, being three and a half minutes of gently hypnotic beats and twinkles. It has to be said that this is a pretty good track, but whether they can repeat the trick over an album remains to be seen. In the mean time, enjoy this rather cool video they've made to accompany it.

For Farfield's website

The album will be available via Acustronica

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Leitbur - Think Of Tomorrow

Single review by KevW

The untimely passing of Donna Summer served as a reminder of just how important her pioneering work with Giorgio Moroder was. Not just did it breathe new life into the stale and sickly disco scene, it also played a huge part in forming what we now know as electronica. From New Order to Hercules & Love Affair, the pulsing sounds and dance beats have been a staple in many forms of popular music ever since. This new single from Californian electronic artist Leitbur is no exception, neatly updating the formula to combine those retro sounds with gleaming modern production.

Having grown up listening to the sounds of 80s rock and dance music Jaron Widman will be well aware of the history and that knowledge is put to great use on 'Think Of Tomorrow', a track that's straddles genres and uses a Moroder-esque bedding as the base on which to build it's layers of synth bleeps and whooshes. This is a song that would probably find itself filed under the 'alternative' banner, but there's a big pop tune here too and you don't need to be a connoisseur of electronica to appreciate this work. Much like Donna Summer, Leitbur should find fans in many corners of the musical world.

Leitbur's website

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Five For Free #81

Psychobuildings - Baby Cops

'Baby Cops' is the new single from New York retro-futurists Psychobuildings and it blends together elements of Goth, new-wave and 80s electronica with a catchy pop tune that transports you back thirty years. If this tickles your fancy then keep an eye out for next single 'Wonderchamber' which is also taken from their 'Hearts' EP, due out next month.

Free download: 'Baby Cops'

Psychobuildings' website

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Let's Say We Did - The Stars Above Looked So Bright And Green

Swedish quartet Let's Say We Did are set to follow up last year's excellent self-titled debut album with a second offering later this year and the first single lifted from it is available as a free download. 'The Stars Above Looked So Bright And Green' is a slightly mellower take on their 90s inspired alt-rock that draws comparisons to Teenage Fanclub and Deus as well as current indie darlings Bombay Bicycle Club.

Let's Say We Did's website

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Gold Fields - Treehouse

Dragging alternative music back to the dance floor it occupied a few years ago are Australians Gold Fields whose track 'Treehouse' comes at you like Bloc Party remixed by The Rapture and is brimming with energy. They're currently putting the finishing touches to their debut album which looks set to be released on the Astralwerks label sometime soon.

Gold Field's website

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Race Horses - Mates

Also putting the finishing touches to a new album are Welsh guitar-pop band Race Horses who have recently signed to Stolen Recordings and are offering up a free track, the summery and melodic 'Mates'. The done thing is to compare any slightly experimental Welsh indie band to Super Furry Animals or Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, so we'd try to avoid doing that - if they didn't sound a bit like SFA and Gorky's that is...

Download 'Mates' for free from Race Horses' Facebook

Race Horses' website

Like Pioneers - Boggs

Like Pioneers are a seven-piece collective from Chicago who make gutsy alt-rock in a similar vein to The National and The Walkmen and free track 'Boggs' should appeal to fans of either of those. It's taken from their new album 'Oh Magic' which is out on June 8th and is the first that's been recorded as a full band, following previous offering 'Piecemeal'.

Like Pioneers' website

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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Band To Check Out: The Seed Coat

Article by KevW

Sweden's The Seed Coat is essentially the work of Alexander Eldefors who writes, plays and produces most of the material on new album 'Mammal Days', along with the occasional contributions from a squad of helpers (Lisa Gagerman's vocals on psych-blues track 'I Was Gonna Say Something' are particularly effective). 'Mammal Days' is a melting-pot of psychedelic influences ranging from 60s blues and garage through to Spacemen 3 and the trippier end of 90s shoegaze. The bulk of the record takes in mid-paced, soulful blues-rock doused in effects and hazey, blurred guitars.

'Lose Lose Lose' looks to Sonic Boom for inspiration and comes across sounding like an early Spectrum track, it's a definite highlight and probably the most immediate song here, but those looking for deeper psychedelic grooves will find plenty to get stuck into if they immerse themselves in the kaleidoscopic, foggy haze of 'Blind' or the funky drone of 'Same Thing All Over Again'. The Seed Coat is an ample exploration into sonic deep-space for both those familiar with these territories and those just embarking on their adventures into psychedelia.

The Seed Coat's website

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Mothlite - Dark Age

Album review by KevW

As the saying goes, first impressions last, and this fact could be a stumbling block for Daniel O'Sullivan on this, his second full-length under the Mothlite guise. Not because 'Dark Age' is a particularly cold or impenetrable album, quite the opposite, it sounds warm and fairly easy to listen to. Unfortunately at first glance it's all very beige; a one-paced voyage through pedestrian beats, wishy-washy synths and unexcited vocals. It feels repetitive, bland and generally quite dull. Nothing sticks out and grabs you, nothing captures your imagination.

While this may be off-putting to the casual listener or those not just looking for pleasant enough background music, it's worth persevering with. There are no startling discoveries, but once you become familiar with 'Dark Age' it becomes increasingly welcoming and slowly begins to reveal its true colours: it's not all beige after all. That said, there are great big lumps of filler mixed into its sonic building blocks. Tracks such as 'Wounded Lions' and 'Milk' barely register as they float by.

When he gets the mood right, as on the slow-burning 'Seeing In The Dark', the rare brush with gusto on the 80s-tinged 'Something In The Sky' or twinkling centrepiece 'The Underneath', the results far more attention grabbing and make picking through the fluff a reasonably rewarding experience. 'Dark Age' isn't exactly poppers o'clock but if you have the time to get to know it well the high points outweigh the drab bits and make it just about worth the effort.

Mothlite's website

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