Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Orb featuring David Gilmour – Metallic Spheres (Columbia)

Having been labelled by some as the Pink Floyd of house music, it is quite fitting that for their tenth album in a career spanning over two decades The Orb would work with David Gilmour. This is a dream collaboration for anyone who is a fan of both Pink Floyd and The Orb, or an intriguing listen for those who like one or the other. The album itself was apparently born from a jam session between David Gilmour and producer Martin “Youth” Glover (probably best known as bassist for Killing Joke), which led to The Orb’s Alex Patterson taking these sessions and manipulating them into an full length LP.

‘Metallic Spheres’ consists of only two tracks (or as they are labelled, sides); ‘Metallic Side’ and ‘Spheres Side’; both in excess of twenty minutes and both with an extremely different feel. ‘Metallic Side’ contains the classic ambient house groove that The Orb are so famous for: The beats are slow, and the track evolves seamlessly between sections. David Gilmour’s guitar sound and style is exactly as you would expect; it is clean, smooth and full of sustain. Using both his lap steel guitar and a standard electric in the recording, the combination of the two creates a powerful and almost psychedelic sound over the top of Patterson’s production. They compliment each other to perfection, making me wonder why it has taken so long for this collaboration to come about. Continuing through the first side, there comes along an unexpected folk breakdown which kicks into a few minutes of what could quite easily be a song in itself. This cleverly breaks up this twenty-eight minute piece, adding a little bit more for someone who might only be listening to The Orb for the first time as a Floyd fan. It is a great touch; just enough to add a bit more interest but not too much to take away from the ambient house that is the main focus of the album.

‘Spheres Side’ immediately starts more aggressively than its predecessor; the guitars are being strummed harder, the synths sound much harsher and there are delays a plenty. Only three minutes in and the beat is getting heavier by the bar, and now Gilmour’s guitars are getting more distorted with howling high notes cutting through the mass of noise. However this is only a taster for what is to come as everything quietens down again, with only the drums that have now become more reminiscent of a break beat sound keeping things moving. This is quite consistent for the next ten minutes, broken up only by occasional moments of vocals from Gilmour and the odd breakdown here and there. However as the side is coming toward its close things start to get very interesting: A breakdown that sounds like something from the Australian Outback leads to some heavy rock drumming and then Youth’s bass kicks in. The sound is huge, dirty and very welcome. Gilmour is in his element and you can hear it as he jams along, his guitar singing every note perfectly. This is the moment that it all comes together for me, the moment that some of the most influential musicians in their respective genres collaborate and show all the kids how it’s really done.

I can’t quite express how much I recommend going and ‘Metallic Spheres’ when it comes out on 4th October. For those who like The Orb, Pink Floyd or just hearing how great music is made, this is well worth a listen. The excessively long tracks might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you give it a go you will notice how it flies by and before long you are starting the album over again. 10/10

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Clinic – Bubblegum (Domino Records)

Over the past decade, Clinic have released five albums full of wailing organs, gritty guitars and an overall love it or hate it kind of sound. Album six was always going to be big for the Liverpool based four piece; they could stick with what they know and release another generic Clinic album or they could push the boat out, take some risks and write something altogether new. Happily they have gone for the latter option with ‘Bubblegum’, an album that is much more relaxed and accessible than their previous releases, without losing their sound completely.

Album opener ‘I’m Aware’ starts with dreamy vocal oohs that lead into a lazy acoustic rock sound. As the album progresses there are a lot of moments like this, laced with charmingly simple string sections and lots of psychedelic wah-wah guitars. The obscure organs and gritty guitar tones of old are much more subtle within the tracks, creating a more edgy sound in what would otherwise seem like your average pop record. ‘Radiostory’ contains a bizarre monologue that after a couple of listens I can’t quite decide if I like or not,: It is a very inventive interlude in the middle of the album, but at the same time it comes along a little unexpectedly and then is forgotten about by the time next song ‘Forever (Demis’ Blues)’ comes shuffling along.

As the rest of the LP plays through, you do feel like everything has become all too familiar in this new Clinic sound. The songs although diverse in style do become quite predictable (if you ignore the monologue at least) and by the time the last note is played in album closer ‘Orangutan’ I was reluctant to listen to it again. There are some great moments in ‘Bubblegum’ and I think this new style is a positive change in Clinic’s career, however I do feel like it needs a little tweaking in future releases to stop it becoming too repetitive. 6/10

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Pegasus Bridge – While We’re Young (Lab Records)

Hailing from Manchester, Pegasus Bridge are a four piece that have got a bright future ahead of them. After Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe picked up their song ‘Yoko’ they went on to get some major radio airplay as well as having the opportunity to open Radio One’s Big Weekend. They are now releasing their first full release in mini-album ‘While We’re Young’, and it’s obvious why they are getting such a good response from the media. Their sound is fresh and energetic adrenaline fuelled electro-pop. One minute reminiscent of The Wombats, the next sounding like Jimmy Eat World.

The songs themselves are infectious and hook heavy; after just one listen there are moments from each track that will stick in your head. Whether it’s the catchy introduction from album opener ‘Ribena’, the chorus line from ‘Yoko’ or even the power of the closing song ‘Paris’ which has to be one of the most well crafted rock ballads I have heard in a long time. The vocals throughout the album are strong, although they do sound slightly Kooks-esque at times which might not be to everyone’s taste. Add to this some extremely tight harmonies and the overall vocal sound is very clean and adds to the pop styling of the band. ‘While We’re Young’ takes the listener on a journey of styles and rhythms, but none of the songs sound out of place. I think it’s fair to say that each one of the seven tracks on this mini-album is a possible single, leaving Pegasus Bridge with the potential to storm the charts if they keep the media on side. This is definitely a band to keep an eye on. 8/10

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Heathers – Here, Not There (Aunthill Records)

Heathers are an Irish female acoustic duo consisting purely of vocals and acoustic guitar. Apart from a cello subtly providing a drone to two songs on the album there is absolutely no other instrumentation which is quite a bold move. In my opinion you have to be either an amazing guitarist or an extremely talented songwriter to get away with such a minimal setup…

As the first chord of ‘Remember When’ is struck, the sound is loud and boomy: If you only have one instrument in a band you might as well make it sound huge, right? The vocals are as aggressive as the guitar playing, with both band members always singing at the same time, sometimes with harmonies and others with counter melodies. However there is no sign of that intricate guitar playing or complex song writing I was hoping for to make this an interesting album.

I never expected Heathers to sound like a punk act, but they do. This makes me wonder where the rest of the band is. Surely there must have been a point when they thought about getting more instruments involved. As it is, the songs start to sound very similar to one another as you get three or four tracks in which is a shame as they really shouldn’t do. If Heathers had a full band production, I can imagine the songs having enough variety to keep interest but this just doesn’t happen with an acoustic guitar and two vocal lines. As it is it becomes an album that you can switch off from and still enjoy, but not something you would want to listen intently to. 5/10

Jon Thorne Danny Thompson – Watching The Well (Naim Edge)

It’s not very often that you hear of musicians or composers writing albums as a dedication to their musical mentors, but this is one case. Jon Thorne (previously known as bassist of trip-hop act Lamb) has indeed composed this album for - and as a celebration of - his mentor Danny Thompson. Composed initially to be a live performance piece, Thorne decided to produce a recorded version of ‘Watching The Well’ featuring Thompson on bass. Alongside Thompson, the album features the likes of award winning jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and Cinematic Orchestra guitarist Stuart McCallum.

The album itself is extremely calm right from the start; gently played strings, haunting choral melodies and saxophones set the tone for what is to follow. It is quite slow moving, with each track being long and drawn out with very little variety from minute to minute. The overall sound is almost a nu-jazz style, but with a slight classical edge; as if Cinematic Orchestra and Craig Armstrong worked together to make a chill out album. It is a beautiful listen, and very relaxing as a background album. But that’s all it really is; there are no moments in the album that lift it away to a more energetic vibrant sound. There are a couple of points where some percussion starts coming through, but it never kicks in enough to make an obvious change in mood.

The musicianship on ‘Watching The Well’ really is truly amazing, especially the bass work of Danny Thompson and Gilad Atzmon’s exquisite saxophone solos. It is a great way to recognise the importance of Danny Thompson’s career and an extremely generous thing for Jon Thorne to have done. I personally would have liked to have more variety between songs, but I do think that is mainly down to taste. However this doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a very well written and interesting album. 7/10

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

One Dog Clapping – Dude Awakeneing (Self Release)

‘Dude Awakening’ is the sixth album (but first official release) from solo pop act Flipdog AKA One Dog Clapping. Describing himself as ‘hypnotic, playful, epic and relaxing’ amongst others, it seems on paper that this might be quite an intriguing listen. This was short lived though as I pressed play and first track ‘From Here to Urantia’ started. A song consisting of acoustic guitars repeating the same two chords over and over as bongos play along out of time, it’s not a good way to start the album. Unfortunately it just gets worse as second song ‘Going to a Stoning’ kicks in; the guitar sound is horribly cheap, the drums have obviously been played in using a keyboard (once again, very out of time) and the vocals sound a bit like Johnny Rotten if he were even worse at singing that he already was. It’s painful to listen to.

I’d like to say that as the album continues it improves, but I would be lying through my teeth. The songs are long and repetitive, the instrumentation is out of tune and out of time. The whole package sounds like it was written and recorded in a day, by someone that is still learning how to play music and use recording equipment. With a little further investigation into Flipdog’s career I found out that he has been writing and recording since 1994, and that he is embarrassed by his first album to the point that he wont let anyone hear it. I don’t believe it can be any worse than this though. More to the point, why hasn’t anyone been honest with him at some time over the last sixteen years?

I have absolutely nothing positive to say about this album, it is one of the worst CDs I’ve heard in a long time. If you want to have a listen to see if what I am saying is true then make sure you keep the receipt, otherwise I recommend avoiding it at all costs. I want to give a score of zero but at the same time I don’t think that is fair on anyone no matter how bad they are. So purely for having the audacity to release such a terrible album I will give ‘Dude Awakening’ 1/10

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Diamond Sea – Second Move (This Is Music)

‘Second Move’ is the debut album from Leeds born three piece The Diamond Sea. Bringing together their broad range of influences that include the likes of Max Richter and Wilco, the sound they create is quite nostalgic. It echoes the indie bands of the late eighties and early nineties; in fact the word shoegaze comes to mind. The songs are slow and sombre, with gently picked guitars, delicately hit drums and careless sounding vocals. Even when the pace is picked up everything still seems to be being played with half the amount of effort that you would expect. It all seems very lazy.

It is not just the playing style that sounds lazy in fact, the songs themselves also sound a little half hearted. Everything is on the same level with no highs and lows to the album, which over nine songs can start to get a bit dreary. Individually the tracks don’t really seem to go anywhere and there are no really memorable moments, stand out choruses or catchy guitar licks. It just seems to lack any sort of feeling. I don’t believe what lead singer Ben Eyes is saying, it sounds like he has come up with a few words that rhyme then has put them together without any thought of what they could mean to him. None of this helped by the fact that he can’t really sing either; there are moments where it is so piercingly out of tune (sometimes even out of tune with himself when there are layered lead vocal parts) it is completely cringe worthy. There, I’ve said it now.

It’s not all bad for The Diamond Sea though; putting all my previous negativity aside, their music could be a lot worse. Apparently in a live setting they deliver a tougher sound, something that if replicated on a recording it could make their music a bit more edgy on CD. I just feel like they need something else, a bit more passion to their music to make it believable, some more energy at times, a bit of variety to their songs. Oh and maybe a new lead vocalist. 3/10

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Good The Bad – From 001 To 017 (Self Release)

Having heard that Wayne Kramer of the legendry MC5 noted The Good The Bad as the best band at SXSW 2010, I had high expectations of this album. Describing themselves as a new school surf and flamenco band, they are a completely instrumental three piece from Denmark. As I started listening I got taken back to the 1960’s, and could immediately imagine this music in a Quentin Tarrantino film now. If he were to remake Pulp Fiction then these seventeen songs would be laced through the whole film, peaking at the moment he uses ‘001’ in the dancing competition at Jack Rabbit Slim’s.

The Good The Bad are making music that has no hint of any modern influence; the songs are short and to the point with a pure surf rock sound that seems unaffected by any modern genres or technology. As well as each track being written to echo that classic era, the recordings do it justice as well. They sound grainy and are heavy on the reverb & delay; every time the band gets louder the definition between the instruments gets taken away as if they are really pushing the tape to its limits. There is none of this always-sounds-perfect digital recording malarkey.

As I got about half way through the album, the fully instrumental side of the band did start to become extremely apparent though. With a lack of vocals, everything started to get a little dull. It’s not that it sounds monotonous; each track is obviously different, which is helped by the lead guitar parts that give each song its melody and character. I just felt like some vocals might have helped to keep everything moving a little faster. But then the keyboards and brass sections kicked in. They add that missing edge to a few of the songs in the second half of the album, which steps the tracks up a notch and keeps everything interesting. It is a great touch to the album, and an even better addition to the music.

The Good The Bad aren’t going to become a household name with their sound, just as I don’t believe they are going to sell millions of records. But if you are a fan of surf rock, a fan of Quentin Tarrantino soundtracks or just fancy something completely different from the norm to listen to, then I highly recommend getting a copy of ‘From 001 To 017’. 8/10

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Frisvold & Lindbæk – Diskoism (Beatservice Records)

Remix albums are a funny thing; some artists like to use them to promote their own material (for example Linkin Park’s ‘Reanimation’ or Bloc Party’s ‘Silent Alarm Remixed’), whereas others like to use them to promote their own remixing skills (this isn’t so common if I’m honest, and no obvious names come to mind right away). Frisvold & Lindbæk fall into this second category with their album ‘Diskoism’. 

In my personal opinion, I don’t think it’s worth doing a remix album if either the artist remixing or the artist being remixed is unknown, which is unfortunately the case with this CD. It is ten songs by relatively unknown artists, remixed by a couple of guys from Norway that I have never heard of, so I feel like the point of the record is a little lost on me. This isn’t to say that what is on the CD is all bad, because it’s not. There are some well produced dance tracks on there; admittedly none that are mind blowing enough to get the dance floor buzzing, but at the same time I’m sure people would keep dancing while waiting for the next tune to start. 

However as you listen more carefully to ‘Diskoism’, you realize that there are a couple of very interesting songs. Most notably there are two or three tracks with vocals attached, such at their remix of The Phenomenal Handclap Band’s ‘All Of The Above’, that demonstrates a classic New York disco feel (like Radio 4 if they were to lose their guitars), and their mix of Holly Heckler’s ‘I Wish For You’ which has a great deep house sound with some strong female vocals over the top. But it is the original songs that make these tracks good; the remixing skills shown on the album as a whole come across as very average. Maybe if they could have got some bigger name artists to work with then Frisvold & Lindbæk’s abilities would be there to see more clearly, but as it is ‘Diskoism’ is just another dance remix album that will blend in with all the other hopefuls. 2/10

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Black Daniel – Consciousness [Secret Garden Party Mix]/ Lonely Screen Boy [Radio Edit] (Dustbowl Recordings)

Black Daniel are a three piece post-punk-pop-electronic-shoegaze-prog band, kind of, I think. From what I have heard they seem to change their style from song to song, indeed on this double A-Side single that is exactly what they do. ‘Consciousness’ is a shiny pop rock track full of big synth sounds, complemented with chugging guitars and heavy bass. While ‘Lonely Screen Boy’ is a roughly recorded song with elements of folk and blues running throughout, vocals all over the place and (I’m guessing intentional) mistakes aplenty in the accompanying instrumentation. 

I have to say my first impression of these songs wasn’t good. I thought they were poorly written, dull and badly recorded just to add insult to injury. However they grew on me every time I pressed play. ‘Consciousness’, although very repetitive with really only two sections repeated a few times through, is an infectious party track high in energy reminiscent of Joy Division. ‘Lonely Screen Boy’ compliments the upbeat first song with its down tempo gritty sound. It shows the polar opposite of Black Daniel’s style, a moody, dark and dirty song that brings you back down from the party you might been attempting to start on Side-A. The song finishes abruptly after two and a half minutes, leaving you wondering what exactly it was that you were just listening to. It was all over so quickly, but I think I liked it. 7/10

The Strange Death Of Liberal England – ‘Drown Your Heart Again’ (Republic of Music)

Having only released a mini-album previously (nearly three years ago), The Strange Death Of Liberal England were received with critical acclaim which no doubt put a lot of pressure on the band not to rush their full debut. So to find out that ‘Drown Your Heart Again’ has been eighteen months in the making makes a lot of sense. Some might say that eighteen months is a long time to make an album, especially a debut album, however when you have taken the time to involve full orchestras, military drums and brass sections (apparently all for free) then I think that TSDOLE can be excused for their delay. 

The passion that has gone into creating this album is clear to hear; throughout there are many little intricate moments that prove how much time and effort has gone into making the music. This is not a band that has gone into the studio just to record a few songs; they have gone in to craft an exact replica of what I can imagine they were hearing in their heads when writing the material. The string sections swell in and out of the music seamlessly, the brass sections emphasise the power of the instrumentation it is accompanying, and the layers upon layers of vocals weave in and out of each other to create a mass of noise that you don’t hear very often these days. The end product sounds in the same vein as Arcade Fire. It is very grandiose to the point where some might consider it extravagant and pompous, but in fact I think it makes for a very personal and almost intimate album. 

I do have one huge gripe though: It is possible to use too many sea metaphors on one CD. The album is called ‘Drown Your Heart Again’ and the phrase ‘drown your heart’ is heard so many times throughout the ten songs that it starts getting silly. There is too much talk of sinking, sailing, swimming, drowning, tides rising etc. I think you get the picture. I feel it is the one massive downfall on what would otherwise be a very positive debut for TSDOLE. So much time has been taken on making the instrumentation perfect that it seems like the lyrics have been forgotten about. Maybe they were only worked out at the last minute in some kind of rushed panic. Whatever happened with them, it ruins the listening experience for me and it makes the album feel tedious and almost laughable towards the end. 6/10

Monday, 6 September 2010

For A Minor Reflection – Höldum Í Átt Að Óreiðu (Self Release)

I first came across For A Minor Reflection whilst they were supporting Sigur Rós on their 2008 tour; I was completely blown away by the Icelandic four piece’s live performance and immediately went and got a copy of their debut album ‘Reistu Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft…’ This debut was impressive, but not a touch on what I had experienced when seeing them live. It was an hour long CD full of highs and lows, but also six tracks that became more and more predictable as you went through. Each song starting quietly, building up to a mass of noise by the eight or nine minute mark, and then getting quieter again to the end. So when looking at the tracklisting for their latest release, I was very happy to see that there are only three songs over six minutes out of the ten on the album. Could this mean a new, more concise For A Minor Reflection? 

In a word, yes. Right from the start it is clear that the band have grown up and are now writing much more mature and technically impressive material. There are moments of intense noise, moments of even more intense calm and many points that can be found somewhere in the middle. They are no longer predictable or monotonous, helped along by the fact that they haven’t stuck to their standard instrumentation of keyboards guitars and drums, instead deciding to add string sections throughout the album. It makes for some extremely engaging listening. Even in ‘Sjáumst Í Virginíu’ (a song that is over fourteen minutes in duration) there was a part of me that thought it would be back to the same old formula, but not at all. The track is full of changes of speed and volume, with no two minutes sounding the same. The album as a whole reminds me exactly why I was so impressed with them when first seeing them live. It manages to get across all of the intensity of their live show, without ever losing its pace. It is a huge step up from their debut, and an album that I hope at least all Sigur Rós fans will be able to appreciate. 9/10

Bombay Bicycle Club – Rinse Me Down [Single] (Island Records)

Being a very big fan of Bombay Bicycle Club’s first album ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose’ I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when hearing their latest album release ‘Flaws’. An entirely acoustic album, it seems to lack the energy and quirkiness that I enjoyed so much in their debut, and ‘Rinse Me Down’ is a good example of this problem. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think that ‘Rinse Me Down’ is an alright song. It is well constructed, with the instruments taking the forefront over any vocals that become extremely forgettable when you hear the beautiful plucked string accompaniment. But this is the problem; there is no chorus or even a simple hook to the song, nothing to remember it by and definitely nothing to sing along to. It feels very much like an album track that they are forcing out as a single. I know that this might be largely down to the concept of an entirely acoustic album, but there are plenty of fully acoustic bands out there that can produce better, more energetic and quirky music than this. 5/10

Friday, 3 September 2010

Kick Up The Fire – Kick Up The Fire EP (You And Whose Army? Records)

This debut mini-album from London based four piece Kick Up The Fire is the first release from You And Whose Army? records in several years. Having formed from the remains of various other bands such as Johnny Truant and Down I Go, this is definitely a band with experience and this shows in their song writing: Each track on this short but sweet album has its own place, whether it’s the Franz Ferdinand style disco rock of ‘Cocktails and Gold,’ the almost Chili Peppers-esque bass driven rock of ‘Because of You’ or the At The Drive-In sounding opening track ‘These Canvas Shoes.’ Every song is full of hooks and sure to get stuck in your head. Thom Wicks’ vocals are strong and precise, and every now and then he throws vocal lines back and forth with Alan Booth which adds another dimension to the band. Add to that the very polished and bold sound of the rest of the instruments and what comes out is high energy and very strong. 

Kick Up The Fire have given the world an idea of what they are capable of with this mini-album, and I personally am looking forward to hearing what they do next. 7/10

Le Coup Du Parapluie - Philosophie, Bien-Etre & Crimes Passionnels (Self Release)

Le Coup Du Parapluie are quite a mysterious band: While trawling through various websites trying to find out some information (getting more and more frustrated with Google Translate’s grammar) all I could really find out is that they are a power rock trio from Belgium that describe their music as ‘cinematic’. Either that or I’m about to review a French comedy film from 1980. So, knowing very little else about the band I suppose I should get straight to the music: 

As album opener ‘Bend and Break Fast’ played through, I thought I could predict what was to follow. It sounded like it was going to be a conventional ride with changing rhythms here, riff sections there and lots of over the top instrumental sections that last about five minutes longer than required. But listening through the album in its entirety, I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is gritty and fast paced (imagine Incubus crossed with The Mars Volta); the songs are long and expansive, but never dull. Some of the instrumental sections are so well thought out that I would almost put them on a par with those of the aforementioned The Mars Volta. Indeed with better production I think they would almost certainly be at the same level. ‘Le Loup Dans La Bergerie’ is an eight minute track that is fully instrumental, but not once during those eight minutes do you wonder when it’s going to end, which is quite an impressive feat. The soundscape they create using little more than the guitar-bass-drums combination with a few synths here and there is huge and makes sense of them describing their sound as ‘cinematic’. 

Although very good, ‘Philosophie, Bien-Etre & Crimes Passionnels‘ is nowhere near a masterpiece. There is something about it though; it’s not the greatest album I’ve ever heard by any means, however I have had it on repeat all day and would recommend that you get your hands on a copy of it and do the same thing. 8/10