Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Single of the Week: Girl Band - "Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage" (Blawan cover)

As brilliant as the original is, there's evidently something about "Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage" that when let loose turns Blawan's most recogniseable tune from dread-y techno into noise-punk assault. Thank Albini that Girl Band found it then. The Irish group originally submitted their cover of  "Garage" as their contribution to Quarter Inch Collective's Quompilation #3, but it's a ferocious piece by itself; all tight, monotone drumming and held-out distortion reaching an inevitable climax and going over the top. With only eight words to work with the vocals rely on both the band's intensity and the inane excellence of the titular phrase; the results are quite spectacular. This isn't dance-punk (at least not in the DFA sense) but Girl Band's "Garage" encounters the possibilities when the doors between the two worlds are broken down.

For a comparison, here's Blawan's original:

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Single of the Week: Rainer Veil - Struck EP

In Rainer Veil, Manchester's Modern Love label has found a duo similar in sound to their big gun Andy Stott, whose Luxury Problems album found great success for all involved at the end of last year. It's still early days for Liam Morley and Dan Valentine - Struck is their first release together - but there seems to be a lot more going for them in the EP's 25 minute stretch than simple copycatism or capitalisation. Amongst its influences sit the cerebral tropics of Clams Casino's Rainforest EP, especially on the busy jungle (no pun intended) of the title track and the 2-step stretch "Wade In". Elsewhere "Slow Beaming" revels in soft, forceful bass and heavenly vocal samples. The seven minutes of "Bala" are perhaps the most Stott-like and seem to repeat ideas put to better use elsewhere on the EP, such as "Yield", but overall Struck is a very impressive debut for Rainer Veil and maintains a consistent hazy atmosphere against the grain of the heterogeneous nature of their ideas.

Rainer Veil - Wade In from Rainer Veil on Vimeo.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Album Review: Darkstar - News From Nowhere

Growers often pass by unnoticed. Fads garner attention to collective sounds, but obscure individuals. Frozen in these moulds, these individuals are expected to dissipate along with the freshness of their sub-genre, be forgotten, maybe get a job at the Carphone Warehouse if they're lucky, and get on with life as underappreciated as the rest of us. We're a fickle lot.

Such is the curse of "post-dubstep". Here today (2010-2011), gone tomorrow (2012+). Naturally at the time we knew it was ridiculous to group any new UK bass-inspired pop musicians as being inherently alike, but we did it nonetheless. If the post-dubstepper wants another fair crack at the whip, there are two ways in which to progress. The safer, though less rewarding path to follow is the same one they walked roughly 2-3 years earlier, knowing that the fashions have changed, and the chances of ever releasing an album as successful as their debut have already floated away on the breeze. In the case of the xx, it's probably enough to get by. Musicians, consumers and critics alike are a lot more resilient to the second path, change. The second album is always a baptism of fire, but for Darkstar it's hopefully saved them in the long run.

It feels especially unfair to lump Darkstar in with the others (I'm bored of the word already, forgive me), given their careers' resemblance with an (admittedly marginally earlier) trajectory of the equally adored and reviled poster-boy James Blake, who is also setting co-ordinates for 2013 for his re-emergence. Originally a duo on Hyperdub Records, Darkstar's first public turning point was the introduction of permanent vocalist James Buttery, a decision which ushered their something-else-entirely debut album North with a cover of the rare Human League b-side "You Remind Me Of Gold" (ringing any bells?). But as I say, people still curiously fear change, even when a group have shown to be adept at it, and are eager to sneer at anyone attempting to do something beyond the one or two things they've been prescribed. Which bluntly, is ridiculous. The first steps for News From Nowhere were relocating from Hyperdub to Warp, and bringing in frequent Wild Beasts producer Richard Formby. A more drastic, inspired or brave proposal couldn't be made.

The album begins with soft, manipulted drones. "Light Clock Body Starter" really is lovely, and an avid, confident statement not necessarily of less being more, but certainly more beautiful. It cuts suddenly to the jack-in-the-box of "Timeaway", which is where we're really treated to the group's vocal harmonies (as are the vocals themselves). In fact on every song the vocals are vague, disconcerting, even pensive; greatly contrasting the album's playbox of colourful loops, synths and samples. It's something Darkstar have above the rest. Often song structures are abandoned for great periods of time, leaving the listener to wallow in uncertainty in their absence, like in "Armonica", or left hanging altogether ("Amplified Ease"). It's pleasant to find an altenative to the build/drop formula, one post-dubstep was previously inclined to keep in some form. Percusssion as a whole is used sparingly, yet effectively. Sometimes as compensation songs are vocal-led, recalling old nursery rhymes, or the Beach Boys. It's probably not intended to actively tug at nostalgia, but as ever its hard to say where these songs are really coming from.

Conversely, it can be argued that songs on the album don't really go anywhere either. This is true, and previously I may be inclined to say this is a bad thing. Even Animal Collective, the album's closest reference point, usually have a stronger direction to their music, for all their recycled bloatedness. But here Darkstar use aimlesness as a form of expression. Animal Collective would never release an album called News From Nowhere. Lost in the thick fog rising above second album wasteground, the trio courageously re-emerge with wide-eyed expressions, resisting the temptations of clinical IDM or old soul dirge for something more adventurous, yet introspective and unique. These conflicts of situation and intention result in a feeling of damp happiness. When distilled into "Amplified Ease", I'm rewarded with one of my favourite songs of the year so far.

"Hold Me Down", the album's final seven minutes is another great example of this feeling. Like Wild Beasts' Smother closer "End Come Too Soon" it's content to take things slowly in order to drip every last drop from Buttery's voice. It's sign of maturity, of being satisfied with reality and realism, and is ultimately more effective than absolute escapism and whimsy. The sleeve of News Frrom Nowhere evokes that of Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam, but instead of depicting an instantly digestible sugary substance it shows unnaturally coloured, inedible-looking  flowers and berries. Darkstar's album takes a little time, and may not sustain interest for the whole year, but for now is charming and different enough to justify being ingested in a different way.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Single of the Week: CHVRCHES - "Recover"

It's hard to understand the instant appeal of CHVRCHES' music; their successful formula that they've employed to the handful of songs they've so far released. It certainly has something to do with their simplicity. "Recover", from the upcoming EP of the same name, is the latest of their "#1-smash-hits-in-a-perfect-society", and goes some way to proving this point. It starts loudly and unexpectantly, vocal and sampled drum in unison, with no room for intro, a lengthy bridge, or any part that isn't verse or chorus (even then the former is only really there to accentuate the latter). But of course there is more going on here. Huge synth sounds are everywhere. Martin Doherty's breathy, processed male backing vocals are the softer companions to Lauren Mayberry's brasher, "anthemic" offerings. There isn't much variation between this single and their last, but that hardly matters. CHVRCHES understand how to adapt the dynamics of volume, tempo and intensity in a way that really works for them.

Here's a remix of "Recover" by Cid Rim, which presumably will also feature on the Recover EP:

Friday, 8 February 2013

Album Review: Serafina Steer - The Moths Are Real

In the video for "Island Odessy", the second single to be released in conjunction with The Moths Are Real, we see Serafina Steer on sun-glared beaches and in uninhabited coastal woods. The setting for this video shoot is not immediately apparent, but although there are shots of exotic-looking flora and fauna, I suspect that on this occasion she hasn't actually travelled beyond the British Isles. Sometimes we forget how strange and adaptive our home can be. The story of Britain is in itself an island odessy, which Serafina and her collaborators have expressed superbly on this new album.

The second-in-command cultural ambassador for The Moths Are Real may not be of a huge surprise to those in the know. Jarvis Cocker, who has apparently been waxing lyrical about the previous Serafina album Change Is Good, Change Is Good on his BBC Radio 6 show, takes the helm as the album's chief producer, also astonishingly his first role in the seat. However no-one comes across as a novice here; The Moths Are Real shines with confidence and sophistication, not least in Serafina's yarn-spun quests. Creating vivid locations appears to be one of her many fortes, whether it be the curiously attractive return to the street in "The Ballad Of Brick Lane", or the transformative whirring of "The Machine Room", which the narrator wishes to appease "in my boiler suit and hard hat", Serafina reveals her thoughtful character differently to these musical and thematic settings.

In addition to Cocker and roster of guests (fellow Pulp-man Steve Mackay, Polar Bear's Seb Rochford, Capitol K, David Cunningham and Simon Bookish), there are at least two other qualities Serafina possesses to boost the quality of The Moths Are Real. Her voice is one of them, and perhaps most significant. It darts between her harp (the other, more on that soon) and additional instrumentation as an extension to her often knotty and perplexing storytelling and enables her to surpass twee with a definite poise and latent sensuality. Consider "Skinny Dipping", which counterbalances the perversity of sneaking a glimpse at her fellow swimmer with a delicacy, even beauty. Or the following "The Removal Man", who Serafina scolds as he "called my cathedral a chapel", adding the baffling but not inappropriate "my removed patch, my arse" as a kiss-off. Jarvis's recognisable baritone adds to the mockery of the situation; they equally seem glad to be rid of him. Or better still the opener "Night Before Mutiny", which tells the story of departing seamen from the potent female perspective. The melancholic humour of The Moths Are Real may be expressed most perfectly here. "I kissed the captain but the cabin boy / Was the one that did it for me".

If not the voice, the predominant instrument on The Moths Are Real is the harp. Serafina's playing (do not file next to Joanna Newsom) is usually as tart and piquant as her lyrics, existing somewhere between functunal and elaborate. I'd say it gives the album evidence towards the idea of an instrument being an extension of its musician, captivating right from its opening notes. Serafina takes her harp to places it doesn't seem to have fit before, and bizzarely manages to make it work every time. In the "Machine Room" it feels airy when hovering over its rugged electronic drumbeat companion. It can signify an alien invasion in the song bearing the same name, giving an alternate soundtrack to English science fiction literature. And in "Disco Compilation", possibly the best thing here, it introduces the loneliness of the celebratory dancefloor not heard since Robyn's "Dancing On My Own". Jarvis's mix swells in a house beat and trumpet fanfare until the song is overwhelmed completely. He should be doing this more often.

Call it the real deal, or a complete package, or whatever you like; The Moths Are Real is the first great album of 2013. It has the personality and wit for the folkies, but the forefronted leftfield influences will likely keep the non-folkies interested in at least a few places. The title track serves as the album's closer, a beautiful piece of chamber-pop that shows the sweetness of Serafina's music's simplicity; a simplicity that's brave enough to keep the door ajar for any odessy.

"Feels like... a moth... to the light..."

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Single of the Week: Melt Yourself Down - "Fix My Life" / "We Are Enough"

WARNING: Video contains strong flashing images

This single may appear to be the first attached to Melt Yourself Down, but a look through the band's credits reveals the project as a number of accomplished figures coming together, most notably Kushal Gaya, vocalist of the ever-vibrant Zun Zun Egui and Polar Bear/Acoustic Ladyland saxophonist Pete Wareham. These elements seem to represent the forefront of these two tracks. Kushal brings vigour to the mantras of  "We Are Enough" (a track that has been available since last October), whilst opting for mostly wordless, sporadic grunts and yelps to the superior "Fix My Life". Pete (and Shabaka Hutchings's) sax lines take the opposite approach on each track, being mantraistic and riff-like on "Fix My Life", and knotty and confounding on the b-side. Add to this the excellent contributions from drummer Tom Skinner (Hello Skinny), bassist Ruth Goller (Acoustic Ladyland), and percussionist Satin Singh (Transglobal Underground) and the result is a meeting of minds capable of inventing a new direction to take psychedelic Afrobeat and noisy electronics.