Monday 31 December 2012

Neko Nine - Summer Is You

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The city of Yaroslavl in Russia (160 miles north-east of Moscow) is most likely enjoying sub-zero temperatures and few hours of sunlight right now, two factors that make it the perfect location to stay inside with some instruments, a few ideas and just see what happens, see where the music takes you. At least that's the sense you get from listening to 'Summer Is You', the debut album from Neko Nine. After playing in punk and alt-rock bands, Seva Shaposhnikov decided he wanted to broaden his horizons, and so over the next few years his experimenting and collaborating led to this album, and it really does feel like a voyage of discovery.

Everything here is instrumental and unusually for post-rock, no song is allowed to get past four-and-a-half minutes in length. There are points when the ferocity and density of these tracks borders on metal ('Supernova' and 'Colors Of Universe' are two good examples) but remain more interesting thanks to the lightness of the other instrumentation that underpins the gnarly guitar. It's only really on 'Nevernevernever' that we stray into post-metal territory and even then it's only brief. 'Summer Is You' works best when it tries to be breathtaking rather than brutal. The juxtaposition of stargazing and dead-weight grunt is an unusual one, but when they open things up and allow the music to become freer it makes more sense.

Strings are draped over 'Let Me Explode' and nicely offset the stabbing riff, then when the electronic beats join it it encapsulates the album into one song. Delicate piano leads us into the sweeping 'Shining', perhaps the best song here, and devoid of the weight of those grinding guitars around its neck its allowed to soar. 'My Stars So Cold' is another example of how the spaciousness can add to a song, proving that sometimes it is a case of less is more, and when it does burst into flames of noise towards the end it sounds stately as opposed to sluggish. With repeat plays 'Summer Is You' becomes an album you can get lost in, although the heavier points could happily have been left off. Plus there is something magical about towering instrumentals this time of year.

Neko Nine's website

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Black Flowers Cafe - Black Flowers Cafe

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This eponymous album is the first full-length by Italians Black Flowers Cafe and follows a handful of EPs released over the past couple of years. Theirs is a difficult sound to pin down as they not averse to chopping and changing things here and there, although broadly speaking they fit somewhere into the alternative-rock bracket. You know to expect something a little cosmic from their debut, as opening track 'Baikonur' contains samples of astronauts talking to ground control during the famously aborted Apollo 13 moon mission. The instrumental backing isn't far off those early Pink Floyd albums, before they themselves went to the 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and left their psychedelic past behind.

Black Flowers Cafe leap forward in time on next track 'Ophir Chasma' which also show a jump in tempo and could prick up the ears of a few Stereolab fans out there. They're also no mugs when it comes to more conventional alt-rock, as they prove on 'Dubhe/Merak' and the excellent closer 'Vega'. A highlight comes in 'Mintaka', a song that takes retro organ sounds and mixes in post-punk as well as more recent indie sounds. It's a musical mongrel but it works. Guitars and organ aren't the only vintage sounds we hear; 'Altair/Denab' has a similar feel to 70s electronic pioneers; there's a tribal, dreampop slant to the atmospheric 'Thuban', and 'Alnitak' is a soup of familiar references.

This is an album loaded with voice samples, some of them quite bizarre, which add an extra air of psychedelia to certain songs; hearing strange voices can have an odd and surreal effect on the brain. This is most prominent when they revert back to Syd Barrett-like sonic experimenting on the creepy 'Alnilam'. What's refreshing about 'Black Flowers Cafe' is that they never labour the point. Some songs seem to end suddenly where other bands would have continued things further, and this helps keep the interest level high. There's nothing here that will blow your socks of but this is a competent, interesting and inventive album nonetheless.

Black Flowers Cafe's website

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Amp Rive - Irma Vep

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Let's face it, an album of instrumental post-rock isn't going to go down a storm with everyone. Long songs, no lyrics, abstract sounds, lots of truncated guitarscapes; it's always going to put some people off. Italians Amp Rive just about encapsulate the genre, so if you're not sure exactly what post-rock sounds like, then take a listen. Like most branches of music this too has its devotees and there will be plenty here for those people to get excited about, because while they may not add anything particularly new to these sounds, they do make them incredibly well and they also do away with some of the unnecessary excess than can creep in to such records.

They begin with 'Procession', a song which very much sets a tone, and that tone is an anxious one, as though something bad is on the horizon. It's not metal but if you like things a little harder-edged then this will more than satisfy. The load is lightened for 'Best Kept Secret', the shortest and maybe best song on the album, where they embrace melody a little more. It's unlikely to be coming to a daytime radio playlist near you anytime soon, although it is Amp Rive at their more accessible. They're aiming from a bold statement with 'A Sort' Of Apology' and for a while those guitars soar impressively above the clouds before the appropriately-titled 'Clouded Down' is brought back to earth with a more sombre mood and urgent, panicky drumming.

A classic word when used to describe some forms of post-rock is "apocalyptic", and 'Irma Vep' is no different. These vast and sprawling atmospheric sounds with their peaks and troughs and menacing overtones do conjure up images of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. They even end with a track titled 'The Apocalypse In F', and if that song is the slow-building soundtrack to the end of everything, then 'If' is the calm before the storm, being probably the most delicate here. The apocalypse itself begins steadily, leading to a sense of impending doom and it's not until the final couple of minutes that hell is allowed to break loose. On this album Amp Rive have used all the tricks of the trade, but there's a reason why these tricks are so popular; because they work, something that's proven once again here.

Amp Rive's website

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Out This Week - 31st December 2012

Tribes - Wrapped Up In A Carpet

Being a four-piece, male indie-rock band from Camden is always going to turn people against you, but Tribes have somehow managed to retain credibility and record some top tunes with it. They've just announced that new album 'Wish To Scream' will be out in May. If first single 'Wrapped Up In A Carpet' is anything to go by then they've been listening to a lot of T. Rex, which is no bad thing.

Download 'Wrapped Up In A Carpet' for free from Tribes' website

Lonesome Leash - Ghosts

New Orleans group Lonesome Leash put out their debut album 'I Am No Captain' this week. You can download epic last track 'Ghosts' below, it's a stirring mix of thumping percussion and indie-folk that they transform into a sheet of sound. Combining all these elements into such a grand din is no mean feat and they manage to create something quite unique. It might be six minutes long but it's never dull.

Lonesome Leash's website

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D/R/U/G/S - The Source Of Light

The done thing nowadays is to release your music digitally and then follow it up with a physical release a week or two later. D/R/U/G/S have turned this on its head slightly, making the vinyl of pounding, psychedelic electronica track 'The Source Of Light' available in November (with a download code). Well the track, with remixes, is available to buy separately from today and you can grab the radio edit below.

D/R/U/G/S' website

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Maglevs - Bicycle Dream

Maglevs are another product of the excellent music scene in Turku, Finland and have spent the year putting together their debut EP which should be with us before too long. First single 'Bicycle Dream' is slightly strange, but in a very good way. Beginning as kind of indie-rock with some stabbing synths, it ends up like the epic score to a sci-fi film and is an ambitious and impressive journey.

Maglevs' website


Joe Gideon & the Shark - Higher Power/Where Have All The Good Times Gone

It's been three years since the debut album by brother/sister duo Joe Gideon & The Shark and this has been a slightly turbulent time, with "births and deaths" accounting for their long absence. Some of these events must have influenced the music, and we'll find out just how much when the album is released in the UK next week. New single 'Higher Power/Where Have All The Good Times Gone' suggests something very special, being a stunning piece of experimental indie/alt-rock, and quite possibly the best track they've released to date. It's great to finally have them back and sounding so amazing.

Joe Gideon & The Shark's website

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Sunday 30 December 2012

39th And The Nortons - On Trial

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It's not just the cassette artwork you can see above (it comes as a pea-green tape with hand-stitched sleeve... or download) that give this album by 39th And The Nortons the feel of a relic. In fact the sounds contained therein predate the common use of home cassettes. The latest project from Sheffield-born, Paris-based musician Nick Wheeldon (formerly of The Creep Outs and The Jesus Loves Heroin), 'On Trial' is like discovering a long-lost crate of 45s hidden in the loft of a closed-down record store, probably somewhere in America. These dusty gems sound as though they were both written and recorded in a bygone era when you were lucky if you got four-track and more than a couple of takes.

A list of influences and comparisons could be endless, but if you think Nuggets combined with some country recordings that were shelved for no apparent reason then you're roughly in the right area. If Gram Parsons needed a blueprint for his 'Cosmic American Music' then here it is, forty years later, on songs like 'I Won't Hurt You' and 'Itching + Scratching'. There's even more of a Western swing on 'Without Regret'. As these bands felt the influence of the beat explosion and the prominence of Bob Dylan pushing the genre further forward they'd go on to make songs with the same genes (particularly Gene Clark - pun intended) as 'Carefree' and 'On Trial'.

The overriding sound to 'On Trial' is taken from the garage scenes that sprung up on both coasts of the US in the mid 1960s. 'Don't Look Back' (not a cover) and 'One Mistake' are the stuff Lenny Kaye's dreams were made of and sound as authentic as those original artifacts. There's a light dusting of psychedelia over this album, with 'On The Run' and 'I Can't Do That' being particularly good examples. 'Disconnected' has the glimmer of punk in its eye although it remains routed in the previous decade. Everything here might be imitation, but because it's far less one-dimensional than so many other bands trying to achieve a similar thing, 'On Trial' stands out as one of the best psych/garage albums of recent times.

39th And The Nortons' website

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Fax Holiday - Lots Of Glass/Good Longing

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The world's musical web spreads far and wide and is full of connections. We heard about Massachusetts band Fax Holiday following our piece on the fantastic Lisa/Liza album which we recently covered. Should you happen to be in Portland, MA on January 19th then the two will be playing a gig together, and from what we've heard from both it should be a good night out. This single from Fax Holiday was released earlier in the year and will feature on their forthcoming second album which they're currently in the process of recording, so assuming all goes well it could be set for a release before too long.

There's a very natural feel to these songs which would make them a good choice to share a billing with Lisa/Liza, although Fax Holiday have a fuller sound and make use of a wider variety of instruments, typically what would be described as a traditional band set-up. 'Lots Of Glass' is smothered in distortion and has a laid-back thing going on, you could compare them to Pavement in that respect and they seem very much influenced by the US college-rock scene. The ending of echoing drums and fuzzy, ringing guitar is top-notch. 'Good Longing' is constructed from the same building blocks but feels more introspective, almost like early Teenage Fanclub at their most reflective. It's chilled and noisy in just the right proportions.

Fax Holiday's website

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By Million Wires - Letters To The Absent

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When a band tells you that listening to latter-day Radiohead was the spark that ignited their formation it's best not to get your hopes up. Love them or hate them, there is only one Radiohead, and whether going for the glitchy, abstract sounds of their post 'OK Computer' output or the immense power, passion and innovation of their mid-nineties phase, the results are rarely more than a watered-down imitation. Polish group By Million Wires are better than that though, much better, and the reason is simple: they've set out to create inspiring, well-thought-out music using their own ideas. Just like their heroes, they're may take the lead from different bands but they're not copying anyone.

Debut album 'Letters To The Absent' feels like an accomplishment and is a very strong set of tunes. Unless you were told, then Thom Yorke's mob wouldn't be the first band you'd think of when hearing By Million Wires, and this is in part down to the female vocal but also their music drawing as much from early 90s psychedelia as anything else. The chiming guitars have a touch of the Nick McCabe about them. Despite their nationality, all songs besides 'Filiżanki' and 'Nic' are sung in English, although they're often commanding enough that it would make little difference what language they chose. This is no slight on the lyrics by the way, more an example of how the songs are good enough to transcend language barriers.

At eight tracks long 'Letters To The Absent' could really be considered a mini album. However, the stature of the songs that bookend this record give it the feel of a bigger work. Finishing with the towering instrumental 'Ketonall', they show us they can do skyscraping guitar psychedelia and post-rock with the best of them. It's maybe first track 'Minutes' that encapsulates them best, beginning with quietly ringing guitar and vocals, it's not too long before it blossoms into something far bigger and more impressive, those guitars being allowed to roam freely over the top of everything and toying with shoegaze and dreampop. They may not be new tricks but they're very good ones and By Million Wires deserve to be taken seriously in their own right.

By Million Wires' website

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Smoke Off Vinyl - One For The Road

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It can be interesting to see which acts influence a band's music or who they'd put themselves in a similar bracket to. Chicago's Smoke Off Vinyl have this new two track single available from their Bandcamp page where they tag Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (so we can expect a post-rock thing going on) as well as Band Of Horses, Pink Floyd and Pearl Jam (so we can expect their post-rock to be more song-based than drawn-out atmospherics) and also Snow Patrol (how the hell is that going to work then?). They also tag "epic" and "classic rock" and both songs are around the five-minute mark which seems reasonable for this sort of thing, but we're still not sure how you combine Godspeed... and Snow Patrol.

Somehow they do manage to fuse these other bands together, with 'The Night The World Waved Goodbye' having a clear, anthemic indie-rock sound that bursts into an inferno of post-rock guitar towards the end. At this point they're totally soaring, everything works brilliantly, even if the beginning did seem a little watered-down. They opt for a similar widescreen alt-rock intro for 'One For The Road' but it almost feels like a compromise. They could do with losing the Snow Patrol here and getting a bit more guts, some more bite. Again the guitars do begin to lift the song but it never achieves the heights of 'The Night...' and then the vocals turn a little Chad Kroeger which isn't great. Smoke Off Vinyl are potentially sitting on a great idea here, they just need to iron out the creases and they could be on to a winner.

Smoke Off Vinyl's website

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Saturday 29 December 2012

Nils Bech - Look Inside

Album review by

On the one hand you could say that someone who claims to "explore the tensions between art and dance, contemporary music and pop music" is talking arty-farty nonsense and is probably a little on the pretentious side. On the other hand you could say that it's refreshing to have someone approaching various art forms in such a way and bridging the gap between them. Either way you probably wouldn't be expecting to be swept of your feet by an album of party anthems, indeed you may be expecting the kind of sounds that are made to be admired by musos rather than listened to by music fans. So where exactly does Norwegian artist Nils Bech fall in all of this?

The answer isn't straightforward. Predictably there won't be many events ringing in the new year to the songs on this 'Look Inside', however this is an accomplished album, and while it might not be the perfect gift for the fun-loving pop fan in your life it shouldn't be the reserve of chin-stroking, highbrow critics either. There are classical aspects to some songs, not least the swelling 'Breaking Patterns Part 2 (The Break Up)' or 'Pass Pass Me By (Home Town/Family Affairs). You can also hear the dance element on 'I Say This Twice (A New Meeting)'. Nearly every song has brackets by the way, as there is a story to the album for those looking for a touch more depth, although this story seems to be falling in love, falling out of love, feeling incredibly sad and then falling back in love again, so the plot isn't particularly challenging, although it does include a possible reincarnation.

That said, on 'A Sudden Sickness' you can feel the heartbreak, immediately following a classical-influenced piece, these electronic beats and more contemporary sound should feel disjointed, but what Nils Bech does brilliantly throughout this record is to make all the parts gel. You soon forget any worries about pretension and get lost in this strange, genreless world. One key part of 'Look Inside's success is Bech's voice. It's highly distinctive and has the ability to convey emotion splendidly. The closest comparison we can think of is to Anthony & The Johnsons who tread a similar path at times. 'A Scar A Past (Formative Years)' is purely a good song whichever way you label it. If you want to look for the story and explore the album as an artistic statement then feel free, but if you're just seeking something a little different to add to your collection then 'Look Inside' should meet those needs as well.

Nils Bech: When You Looked at Me from Nils Bech on Vimeo.

Nils Bech's website

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Three Second Kiss - Tastyville

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Considering they've been making records since the mid-nineties, you'd think we'd be a little more familiar with Three Second Kiss by now. They may be from Bologna in Italy and therefore slightly off our UK-based radar, but with a couple of albums produced by Steve Albini, a US tour supporting noise-rock legends Shellac and an appearance at All Tomorrow's Parties to their name we can't help but feel a little bit off the ball here. Still, there's a brand new album available so we can see if we've been missing out on anything important over the last decade and a half and whether or not some backtracking is required to investigate the band further. They must be doing something right to have such staying power.

The experimental alt-rock made by this trio will instantly let you know why Shellac have taken them under their wing, these guys can do power, they can do atmosphere, they know when to put their foot down and when enough is enough. As such 'Tastyville' is a great listen, especially for anyone who fell for the US college-rock and grunge scenes of 20-odd years ago (is it really that long?!). Three Second Kiss have a penchant for unusual song structures, broken, stuttering beats and occasional bursts of cutting guitar. All of this is offset excellently with melody and with less muddy guitars, it's possibly 'A Catastrophe Outside' that sums them up best, combining all those elements with a dose of math-rock.

What's really striking about, for example, 'Maya', is that they have a sound that will appeal to fans of hardcore and maybe even metal, but at the same time they're devoid of any mindless crunching that lovers of indie/alternative/experimental bands can find so brainlessly off-putting. I guess in that respect you could put them alongside bands such as Les Savy Fav or even Fucked Up. 'Vampirized' seems possessed by the ghost of John Bonham and it's not the only time they make your mind flash back to the 60s and 70s; they even dabble with blues on 'Don't Dirty My Heart'. So have we been missing out on anything over all these years? As the spidery 'Mood Red' clunks to a halt I think the answer is an emphatic 'yes'.

Three Second Kiss' website

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Lisa/Liza - Ancient Edge

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You would think that the more you add to a song, the more it's processed and played around with, the more strange noises and otherworldly production techniques that the music is adorned with, the more mysterious it would become. This may be true in some instances, but then think back to very early recorded music, those ancient blues cuts or trad-jazz 78s, they had nothing to hide behind. They were lucky if they had more than one very basic microphone to capture the whole shebang. Music like that is filled with mystery, the question is whether that mystery is because the music is teleported in from another era or whether this direct approach can somehow add to the mystique.

You could debate for hours and the answer is bound to be subjective, but this new album from Lisa/Liza could be used as evidence for one argument at least. Fairly primitive recording techniques are utilized; most of the album was made on a four-track, with two songs on reel-to-reel tape. It's free from GarageBand or other such common tools favoured by smaller artists nowadays, in fact the majority of 'Ancient Edge' is nothing more than guitar and voice, both are slightly muffled and reminiscent of those early blues pioneers. Just one track, opener 'Black Out' contains any drums. You can hear background noises and the hum of the equipment.

You would think such simplistic intimacy would expose any secrecy and leave itself open, but in fact the opposite is achieved. Tracks like 'Grief Wave', the beautiful 'Song To Another Self' or the Mazzy Star like  'There In The Water' are so exposed that it somehow makes them even more enigmatic. 'Off Track' is just that, doing away with guitar and vocals for an unusual instrumental segment that's more a sound experiment than a song. By stripping down these compositions to their very essence, Lisa/Liza has made an album that's full of mystery. This approach may not be easy to digest at first, especially to people more used to compressed, digital, modern pop, but if you bear with it then you'll find that 'Ancient Edge' is incredibly captivating.

Lisa/Liza's website

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Maxwell Demon - Strange Beings

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And so the flood of bedroom singer/songwriter/producers continues. Some may argue this is a bad thing; any half-baked, badly written, even more badly recorded junk can be made cheaply, easily and uploaded on to the internet for anyone with a phone line to hear the very same day. Personally I'm all for it. Sure, you get loads of crap flooding the market but music should be available to anyone, and the more people we can get laying down their ideas the more good music we're likely to find. Imagine if we'd had this technology in the 1960s, or even the 1920s? It makes you wonder what amazing talents have slipped through the net, with maybe only themselves and a few friends ever hearing the amazing songs they created.

This album from New York's Maxwell Demon has all the hallmarks of a home-recording and on the strength of this release he's unlikely to be topping the charts any time soon. That said, 'Strange Beings' has some decent tracks on it and shows a willingness to experiment and embrace different sounds. All of this is part of the creative process. Do you think The Rolling Stones' initial ideas and demo recordings were all as good as 'Paint It Black' or Gimmie Shelter'? No, they, like everyone else, would have started out as a good little band before the training paid off and they were match-fit world-beaters. 'Strange Beings' sounds like the start of something, not the finished article.

Clearly the guy can write songs, some of them very good, and clearly he has plenty of ideas about different techniques and effects that could be used. So if we take this album as a selection of demos, which is essentially what it is, you begin to see the potential here. Excellent final track 'Worthless' could be likened to Granddaddy, 'Suffer & Burn' is misty dreampop, there are hints of Galaxie 500 to songs like 'June'. 'Kill//Love' pushes electronics ahead of the distant vocal. Some moments would benefit the production of a proper studio or a more experienced head, although the haziness and impurities do add a subtle charm. So 'Strange Beings' won't win any awards but there's plenty here to win a few fans for sure. As stepping stones go, this is enough to get things rolling.

Maxwell Demon's website

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Five For Free #143

Brave Baby - Living In A Country

As we wrap up another year in music and look forward to the next, we discover Brave Baby, a four-piece indie-rock outfit from South Carolina. They release their debut album 'Forty Bells' on January 15th and the first single from it is freebie 'Living In A Country'. I know you're probably thinking there's a lot of indie-rock bands out there, but give this a try. Definite potential here.

Brave Baby's website

'Forty Bells' will be available from Bandcamp

Max Cooper Feat. The Slow Revolt - Only You

This is what it sounds like when acclaimed UK electronica DJ meets up-and-coming electro-pop singer-songwriter. Max Cooper teams up with The Slow Revolt for this trip-hoppy and soulful piece of experimental electro-pop that is planned for release sometime in 2013. Not wanting to keep us waiting, they've made the track free to anyone who signs up to their mailing list before January 3rd.

Download 'Only You' from Max Cooper's website

The Slow Revolt's website

Some Kids - When The Fire Fades

Some Kids - When The Fire Fades (Official Video) from Some Kids on Vimeo.

London trio Some Kids have been perfecting their sound on the city's gigging circuit and have recorded their debut single 'When The Fire Fades'. The idea is for a proper release next year, but as they've made a video accompaniment and because they love you all very much they've decided to make it available for free. It's only temporary though, so be sure to get in quick and sample their catchy guitar-pop.

Some Kids' website

Au.Ra - Jane's Lament

Earlier on this month we featured the very first recording (or at least first public recording) made by brand new Sydney duo Au.Ra. Here they prove it was no fluke by giving us another song, 'Jane's Lament', which is an instrumental track that fuses psychedelia with dreampop and is generally all fuzzy and warm and exactly what we need to wrap around our ears right now.

Au.Ra's website

Put Your Hands Up For Neo-Tokyo - The Rosy View Effect

Well the band name's an odd one, that's for sure, maybe they're fans of the Japanese capital. Put Your Hands Up For Neo-Tokyo are actually a Norwegian duo and made this track available for free in celebration of their birthday, and apparently more free tracks are planned. So fans of meandering and captivating psychedelic pop should stay tuned. 'The Rosy View Effect' is definitely a fitting title for this one.

Put Your Hands Up For Neo-Tokyo's website

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Friday 28 December 2012

Anton Muller - Merantau EP

EP review by

New to our ears, Anton Muller is a French producer, musician and DJ with a residency at the Paris Social Club, and is also director of the Class Of 84 label. Citing Giorgio Moroder and Anoraak as influences was always going to persuade us to check out his own work, and we're glad that we did. There's a cinematic element to these electronic sounds and a definite 80s vibe, something which Muller himself acknowledges and you suspect his long term goal may be to venture more into the world of film scores. Judging by the 'Merantau' EP it could be a field he'd excel in.

There are three tracks here and all are instrumental but despite this they never really fall into the ambient category and manage to keep you engaged throughout, something so many others fail to do. The spooky air of 'Sacrifice' could have been made for screen but works equally well as purely an audio piece, avoiding slipping into monotony with a few neat tricks. The title-track has a more modern sound and a more clubby feel, but it's still retro by comparison to modern dance movements, and this is a compliment. It all goes a bit sci-fi on final track 'Save Me', a reminder to any directors out there that Anton Muller could just be able to come up with the electronic sounds your work needs.

Anton Muller's website

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Sillyboy - Coast To Coast

Single review by

Greek musician Sillyboy has made a wise choice in picking the next single from his recent 'Nature Of Things' album. The Athens-based producer easily made the transition from writing jingles for TV to creating proper music with more substance and depth a few years ago and his latest effort, while not perfect, contained enough to get us interested. 'Coast To Coast' was a track we picked out as a highlight and it looks like he agrees, giving it a separate push with a new video to accompany it, although the sunshine and ice creams may not be ideally suited to this time of year.

Let's not let that stand in the way of what is a very good song and a very good video though, after all, music is partly about escapism, and escapism is what we get. It's not entirely clear what the video is about, or even if it's happy or harrowing. Scenes involve a girl on a beach, falling over on a golf course, levitating and drowning. So not your regular, everyday activities then, and we're left to conclude that it may be a dream sequence. Still, it holds your attention and is soundtracked by some decent alt-rock, so that's good enough for us.

Sillyboy's website

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Wildarms - Unity

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We've featured several releases from independent New York/London based electro-pop label Cascine in the past couple of years, and as is their tradition, they're using their third end of year message to unveil something new. The alias of Brooklyn-based musician Duncan Cooper, Wildarms is the latest addition to their enviable roster and he will be making his first release through the label in February, and is kicking off the campaign with a free download of the sparkling instrumental track 'Unity'.

Consisting of reverberating, clattering electronic drums that stammer their way through the song, 'Unity' makes use of primitive electronic sounds, so much so that it almost sounds as though it's the theme tune to a 1970s technology show, with someone displaying how music can now be created using machines as instruments. There's no novelty factor though, it's too good a song for that. Speeding up towards the end it glitters even more and the seeming innocence of it all becomes quite uplifting. Hopefully we'll be hearing more of the same before too long.

Wildarms' website

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Soapy Jefferson - Balloon

Album review by

The original intention when the three Js (Jim, Josh and Joe) formed the band in London in 2009 was for Soapy Jefferson to be an acoustic trio. Unless you're aiming for some form of folk music, then acoustic bands can easily and naturally head in two directions. Overly polite, soppy singer-songwriter AOR boredom, or the dark path down to doom and gloom. It's the second option that yields the best results and is usually by far the more interesting. Doom and gloom needn't be depressing or turgid, it can be inspiring, powerful and passionate. Just ask anyone who's a fan of Tom Waits, Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen, three artists who you can't help but think of when listening to Balloon, especially gravel-voiced closer 'Next Exit'.

Skipping back to the start and the title-track we find something more upbeat but seemingly unsure of just where it will go next. It's still lyrically bleak but there's optimism in the cinematic strings that fill the background and the brass that lights up the ending, but before that there's uncertainty in lyrics like "all you do will decay" and places where "sadness and joy are restrained". It's a grand entrance though and it's difficult not to be impressed at the emotion of it all. Most uptempo of all is the countryish 'The Fury-Belle' which may have a jaunty tune but the lyrics tell a sinister tale of falling for a woman who "liked to cause pain" and was "a dealer of violence" and goes on to murder a priest.

There are some quality tracks on this album and several of them are up to the standard of the aforementioned lords of darkness; 'Resurrection Song' is a creepy and atmospheric highlight with some great guitar, it's another fast-paced song and the kind that Soapy Jefferson do best on this album. They put the brakes on when they reach 'Pictures Of My Eyelids', it's spooky and downbeat but it works. There is a slight lull in the middle although no particular song is below par, your attention can begin to wander. That said, the Tom Waits-influenced 'Skinful Of Poison' has some interesting ideas. The twists and turns of the epic 'The Mad Captain' is a voyage of discovery, again draped in misery but of the variety we mentioned that can be inspiring, powerful and passionate. If the festive cheer is beginning to grate then the sometimes spectacular 'Balloon' could be the perfect antidote.

Soapy Jefferson's website

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The Gary - Remains

Album review by

On the surface it would seem like Austin, Texas trio The Gary deal in a fairly straightforward version of garage-rock, mixed with hardcore influences here and there. They'd probably appeal to fans of Future Of The Left maybe, but without the hallowed status that band have earned. It's hard-edged guitar music; simple, honest and sometimes brutal. The riffs hark back to grunge, the drums pound and the vocals are spat and half-spoken, a bit like Pixies with a political agenda that they were really angry about. The songs are heavy but they're not metal, they're intelligent but they're not indulgent.

Yes, The Gary have a fire in their belly, some instruments that they want to punish and a message to drill home. The opening quartet, particularly 'Innocent Bystander', show this side of the band brilliantly, even though we're looking at a niche market. If at first you don't succeed then it's worth trying again as there's more to them than meets the eye and the songs unravel themselves over several listens. When we reach 'The Evidence' a change of pace is brought in and breaks the (what at first seems like) monotony, but that anger and power is still there, it's just a touch more considered and makes use of faint strings embedded in the mix.

The punk heart returns on 'Spending', almost like early, ragged Pearl Jam covering 'Ticket To Ride'. Things get more interesting on 'Idleness & Velocity' where they let their sound stray, becoming more free, and the result is more psychedelic and could almost be labelled as shoegaze, it's possibly the stand-out track. Once those shackles are shaken off the band roam further afield, with 'Monozona' slowing things further, although it remains loaded with guitar. 'Water Song' continues down this route and despite its rawness almost feels anthemic. 'Remains' is a good, solid album from a band who know exactly what they're doing, but they're at their best when they experiment that little bit more.

The Gary's website

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Thursday 27 December 2012

The Neighbourhood - Thank You

Single review by

It's commonplace for bands to give names to EPs and albums that are unrelated to the name of any of the songs included. 'Led Zeppelin IV' didn't have any track of that name, 'Abbey Road' isn't even referenced in any of the songs on the album. But for a band to give an unrelated name to a two-track single is a little unusual and we're struggling to think of any other examples (answers on a postcard, or the comments box below, whichever's easiest). Californians The Neighbourhood are giving it a go though. Their new 7" single is called 'Thank You'; the songs are called 'Let It Go' and 'A Little Death' respectively. We know not why and I guess it doesn't matter.

Of the two songs it's 'A Little Death' that comes out on top. 'Let It Go' isn't a bad song per se, in fact it fairly good if you're happy with more mainstream sounds. It's just a shot away from being sterile chart-pop but they just about prevent it overstepping the mark. It's likely to be too close for some though. On 'A Little Death' they again take a pop route, only this time it's more tastefully done and has has a darker and more experimental air to it. Aiming for upmarket pop with an alternative edge is something they've proven they can do here and it would be good to see them push this idea further on future releases and see just what they can come up with.

The Neighbourhood's website

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Phosphorescent - Song For Zula

Single review by

Alabama-born Matthew Houck has steadily grown from being another US singer-songwriter to something of a cult hero on the Brooklyn scene, his Phosphorescent project getting rapturous reviews over the course of several albums. Little has been heard since 2010's 'Here's To Taking It Easy', a record that included the wonderful 'The Mermaid Parade'. Maybe the album's title was a subtle way of letting us know that a man who'd released an album almost every year since 2001 would be taking a brief break, or maybe it's just a coincidence. Either way, on March 19th he will release its follow-up 'Muchacho'.

From our point of view we can hope that the best things come to those who wait, and initial indications look like backing up that statement. The album's first single is 'Song For Zula', is not coming back with a bang, more announcing his return with a quite beautiful, classic sounding track in which he talks about not wanting people to see his "struggle to stand" and not wanting to "open myself up this way again". Yes it's a song about heartbreak alright and the battle to trick himself into believing that things are in fact alright. The melody and the strings tell a different tale, as does the cracking, emotional vocal. His heart may be broken but his masterful songcraft remains intact.

Phosphorescent's website

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PoP Campaign - Maggie's Farmers

Single review by

Forget any connection to the Bob Dylan song, the Maggie in question here is Thatcher and this new single from PoP Campaign is peppered with samples of her speeches. Being taken from an album called 'Britain Isn't Working' with cover art like that you can be fairly safe in assuming that they won't be voting Tory in the next general election. They're a slightly enigmatic duo, PoP Campaign; they go by the names Exclamation Mark and Anna Gram and many promo shots make good use of Photoshop. Their history reads like a tour of cities often heralded for their musical history. In their own words they were "Born in Glasgow. Hibernated in Berlin. Now lording it in Londres."

You can hear the electronic sounds of the legendary Berlin scene being used as an influence for definite, plus the indie ethic of the Glasgow underground. 'Maggie's Farmers' has no vocals except for Iron Lady stating all the great things she's supposedly did and how amazing Britain could be under the Conservative party. So lesson one is that she was hardly Nostradamus was she? These samples are played underneath a layer of retro electronica and Casio pop which is upbeat and sunny, almost like an electro remix of a kid's TV theme, all of which just goes to make those false predictions that little bit more sinister as she crows on about privatizing half of the country. Yeah, thanks.

PoP Campaign's website

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Songs Of The Living, And Of The Lived In (Free Double Digital Edition)

Albums reviewed by

The only way to review a collection such as this is to allow oneself to become truly involved in the immersive qualities these intense, decorated sounds have to offer and then let them lap upon you as though they are the waves and you the shore. Lawrence English has achieved a careful and fine feat, he has framed these sounds much like a wilderness photographer looks at composition and then frames a photograph. Field recordings are not an immediate art, just as literature is a less immediate art than film or music, but that does not in any way make these field recordings less acknowledgeable, and it is of benefit for sceptics to recollect that for many years photography was not considered to be a proper art at all. These sounds should be approached with enthusiasm for they are captured moments of natural musicality within nature, and in the case of the second album, within more human environments as well. They are obtained from very wide-ranging locations and geographies from all the continents of our earth.

This musicality is evinced by the artist and given to us to appreciate. All he asks for is our time. Once that is given, delights occur. After listening to ‘Screaming Piha And Mealy Parrot Amazon Brazil’ I was so enthralled by its rich, fruitful sounds that when I could not find it again I became impatient and almost sad. ‘Antarctic Fur Seal Sleeping Esperanza Bay’ is one of the intimate tracks on this album, and it truly feels as though we are there with this creature, for the audio we are privileged to, as on all these tracks, is wonderfully detailed and fine, highlighting the power within these landscapes of sound. Lawrence English explains himself well when he writes: "I have collected together a series of recordings revealing in their brevity and focus a type of sheer intensity." Indeed, if this collection were to be used in appropriate clubs in London, in quiet rooms, I imagine a few souls would really greet these novel, non-impressionistic experiences; some would just half hear perhaps but I feel some would treat it as true event.

‘Experience’ is perhaps the keyword when listening to Lawrence English. From the point of view of simply capturing and highlighting individual sounds of the natural world this album can be considered, too. ‘Rhinoceros Beetle’ is an extraordinary and prized look into the microcosm of the creature in the title. However, in terms of melody and awareness of notes the principal success of this collection has to be the extravagant gem that is ‘Suikinkutsu Taima Japan’. It appears to be raindrops falling on pipes, and it is evocative to the point of wonder. Field recordings such as these are arguably more healing than many art forms, for they are more primal and real. The signature of the artist does not appear in these recordings. These sounds speak themselves clear and we cannot truly know the countenance or temperament of the one who records them. This is very likeable. It is almost impossible to rate a collection such as this. The number 10 comes to mind, or 0. Are their faults on this album? Lawrence could have recorded a freeway/motorway and yes, that would have been a mistake and likely would have given this collection a pretentious, out of place sentiment.

Instead, this album is pure meekness and what he has included is approaching a more plausible ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ territory perhaps? Reminiscent of that very influential film which captured visual field recordings and presented them as patterns in a very groundbreaking way, especially considering tracks such as ‘Microphone Collapsing In Grass Sinclair Wetland New Zealand‘ a piece which honestly causes the mind to ask: ‘What is melody? Is this a melody of a kind?’ It must be said that from the starting point of neutrality or indifference on the part of the listener, Lawrence’s written introduction to his work is engaging and shows us the context of his motives, valuably. There is purpose in these recordings, perhaps undefinable, but there is purpose. Meekness and purpose combined is a very engaging combination, always has and always will be. We very much look forward to the future release, ‘Viento’, which is an LP of wind recordings, conceived not by Lawrence himself but by an enormous windstorm which delayed his partner Rebecca and himself in Patagonia while on their way further south to Antarctica.

Lawrence English's website

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Wednesday 26 December 2012

The Sound Of 2012 - Andy's List

Tracks Of The Year by

2 x Cucumber
Monster Munch Multipack
3 x Polka Dot Y-Fronts
Squirty Cream (Extra Large)
'Sensitive Skin For Him' Moisturiser
2 x Rub....

....emmm that's not the list I was meant to post is it....shall we just pretend this never happened? Good, I think it's for the best!!

It's an easy mistake to make really, I mean who doesn't love a good list or ten; after all the ability to procrastinate is what separates us from the diligent and successful, and who'd want to be one of them - not me sir!!

Anyhow, as you'll have gathered from the not at all fiendishly vague tagline up above, the actual list we're here to critique is a countdown of the 25 best musical compositions 2012 had to offer, as selected by the good taste guide that is yours truly. Long term Sound Of Confusion stoics will already be sickeningly familiar with this annual arrangement, but for the newbies amongst us all you need to know is that today you get to gorge on my chosen tunes. As ever I've applied merely a single rule to my culling process, which is that only one track is permitted per artist. Easy peasy? Then let's get it on!



1) Field Mouse - You Guys Are Gonna Wake Up My Mom

Ok so they use 'mom' instead of 'mum' or 'mam', tut tut tut, but we'll forgive Field Mouse that dreadful aberration, partly due to their American roots, but mainly because they write such scintillating tunes. Pipping their other releases to the number one crown is this brilliant surge of shoegaze-pop ('Shop' anybody?) that's like a woozy waterfall of melody and magic. A worthy winner.

Field Mouse's website

Buy the single

2) Tennis - My Better Self

Seafaring was sidelined for soul stomping when Alaina Moore offered up hints of Dusty Springfield as her becalmed vocal wandered an absent minded path amongst crisp snares and piano.

Tennis' website

Buy the single

3) Fort Lean - Sunsick

Taking his lead from the title, Keenan Mitchell does indeed sound thoroughly sick with, and devoid of, the brighter things in life, but his anguished yelps and moans only enhance the mood as a persistent drum roll and grinding guitar lick team up to close in and crush him even further - great!

Fort Lean's website

Buy the single

4) Internet Forever - 3D

Back in February I described this as "'Tomorrow Never Knows' with muscles" - I see no reason to change that diagnosis. Brief but bursting with big beat energy.

Internet Forever's website

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5) The Bilinda Butchers - Teen Dream

Last year's top spot holders are back again. Can I let them in on the secret recipe please gents? A)source shimmering dreampop, B)stick 'Teen' in the title - Voila you make the list! P.S. I dare anyone not to sing along to the 'Pa ah ah ah ah ah ah'.

The Bilinda Butchers' website

Download the EP

6) Splashh - Need It

Right then, I want you to imagine taking BRMC and schooling them in grunge before then handing them over to The Delays to undergo a rainbow respray, OK? Too hard? Alright, just listen to this corker instead, it's much the same effect!

Splashh's website

Buy the single

7) Them Swoops - Take Your Time

And if the above track wasn't enough psychedelic-rock fun for you then worry not because here's some more flown in from Australia. Unconfirmed reports suggest this is the exact sound you'll hear as you fall asleep on the beach while squinting at the sun. So uplifting it could sit you on the moon.

Them Swoops' website

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8) The School - Never Thought I'd See The Day

Perky in the extreme, this heart warmingly innocent piece of organ led indiepop is officially impossible to listen to without wanting to twist and shuffle like a girl in a 1960's dancehall.

The School's website

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9) Peace - Follow Baby

It's easy to forget there was a time when Britain brimmed with bands of aggressive intent rather than meekly flouncing to flimsy folk. Peace haven't forgotten the lineage though and deliver a crunching sing-along guitar anthem worth of any of their predecessors.

Peace's website

Buy the single

10) Clockwork Radio - Resolver

This track would merit a top ten spot purely off the back of the build up and breakdown section that leads into the Jimi does 'All Along The Watchtower' squalling riff. That the rest of the song is funky, fluid and fun simply seals the deal.

Clockwork Radio's website

Buy the EP


11) Ultraista - Smalltalk
12) Memoryhouse - The Kids Were Wrong 
13) BRNS - Deathbed
14) Lupe Fiasco - Around My Way
15) Solar Systems - Throw Your Hands Up
16) Discopolis - Oso Abrazo 
17) Tiny Fireflies - Picture Perfect
18) Still Corners - Fireflies 
19) Dead Mellotron - Stranger
20) Letting Up Despite Great Faults - Bulletproof Girl
21) Zulu Winter - Key To My Heart
22) Egyptian Hip Hop - Yoro Diallo
23) Day Ravies - Sunshine Punch
24) Passion Pit - I'll Be Alright
25) Colour Coding - Perfect


We've reached the end of our descending numerical journey so all that remains are the niceties. If you wish to pass judgement on my choices, or even better give us an idea of what might make your own end of year playlist, then please get in touch via the comments box below or through Facebook and Twitter where you'll find Kev manning the lines, or give me a shout direct on

If you want to have a gander at last years list then you can do so using the link below, and with that tidied up all that remains to be said from me is thank you for reading and have a top notch Christmas and New Year.

2011 List