31st Aug 2014Read on Twitter
17th Mar 2012Read on Twitter
17th Mar 2012Read on Twitter
video from the new 4AD signing, good album too
31st Jan 2012Read on Twitter
Having dinner in the pub next to 4AD. No sign of the Cocteau Twins.
22nd May 2010Read on Twitter
Stumbling across Alligator in Fopp on a non-descript weekday afternoon in 2005 worked out to be one of the sweetest and unexpected musical highlights of the past ten years. Since then, this Brooklyn band has consistently honored that experience by confidently building on Alligator's success. 2007's Boxer raised the bar to heights that even Alligator rarely hinted at - and so, expectation was swollen and bloated beyond the humble proportions that this band cultivate. Since Boxer the Dessner brothers have proved themselves to be quite a creative force in today's industry putting out the Dark Was The Night and Long Count projects, so with all that added experience High Violet was set to be stellar.
I have to admit though to feelings of disappointment throughout many of the initial listens here. Boxer's rich soundscapes and widescreen ambition seemed to have been compromised in favor of a much more low key sound. Matt Berninger's dichotomous writing can lift you up on "A wingspan unbelievable" with confessions of inadequacy and insecurity but here seemed to fall short of those heights and feel more content to leave you wallowing. The pace also hints at this redirection of vision. Boxer was a drummers album and High Violet rarely exploits this aspect to the same extent.
But to cut a long story short, now I bloody love it. I must have had it on repeat constantly for the last week and this new direction has seeped into my soul and to this day refuses to release me. I guess a good way to describe High Violet is in depth rather than height. While Boxer could often soar, these songs bury deep and take you to much darker places and all with the same tools. The same rich pallet is employed here as it swirls and builds with intricate subtlety around Berninger's baritone hum. Having their own studio and the gift of time afforded them space to obsess over every minute of this record, but instead of suffocating under these conditions it thrives - and it takes a skilled group of musicians with enough self awareness to achieve such a result. Speaking about their approach to High Violet, Aaron Dessner says "Matt expressed a desire to hear things that "sounded like hot tar. Or loose wool." This goes some way to describe the finished product that is High Violet. Songs like Sorrow and A Little Faith drip out with such thickness that given a decent pair of headphones it's quite easy to lose yourself in their density. Anyone's Ghost and Afraid Of Everyone are hollow depictions of loneliness and isolation, while Bloodbuzz Ohio continues where the Boxer heights left us.
Seeing them on their tour of Boxer I was quite worried to witness the bloated endings that seemed to have been tacked on to most of the songs. At the tail and of the vocals the Dessners' would step forth tho the front of the stage and elevate each song to a Wilco like frenzy of feverish guitars, and it really didn't suit their style. High Violet opener Terrible Love does this too but I am very pleased to see the restraint that this album shows and it never does it again. Given their astonishing rise this band would be forgiven for letting some of it go to their heads but this record shows this not to be the case. It is a work of admirable restraint yet progressive enough to honor the memory of what's gone before.Read more 4 star reviews
Deerhunter's Bradford Cox continues his creatively lucrative side project with a stunning followup to 2007's Let The Blind Lead Those Who Cannot Feel. Adopting a more introspective addition to day job's astral soundscapes Let The Blind was conceived from the loneliness of a hospital bed and emanated as a whisper from the cracks of Deerhunter's wall of sound. After the unbridled confidence of Microcastles. Cox reintroduces Atlas Sound with renewed energy and the results are impressive.
Logos is the sonic equivalent of an overexposed photograph. Bleached out with excessive warmth the vocals are absorbed by each sound that gets introduced into the intricately structured sonic compositions. As light permeates every corner of these songs details are washed out with sound creating the trademark dreamscapes that accompany all of Cox's music. But as with Deerhunter it's the moments where the album pulls focus and these otherwise hidden details come into sharp view that the power is unleashed. A prime example is the transition between the lethargic An Orchid and the emerging skip of Walkabout. Similarly the presence of the epic Quick Canal in the middle of the record resembles a fire-break in a forest. As its delicate rhythm creeps into view and stretches out over eight blissful minutes it's like stepping out of the thick undergrowth into a magnificent clearing. Laetitia Sadier's otherworldly vocals blow through the song with such refreshing lightness.
Musically this album is a treasure chest of ideas and sounds. Much like Let The Blind we get programmed clicks and bleeps that jostle against buried acoustic guitar and muffled drums support airy melody that shuffles along awkwardly. Cox's words almost trip over themselves in their reluctance to pick up any kind of pace. The result can be akin to a fine rain that ends up soaking you right through. But it's a welcome soaking.Read more 3 star reviews
Brixton Academy, London
First a confession - this is the first time in my life I have ever seen the Pixies, and since I've been going to gigs for (oh dear) 30 years, I've missed many a golden opportunity, and the Pixies always figured high on the list of "ones I shoulda seen". Suddenly the opportunity miraculously arises as the Pixies undertake a tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the stone classic Doolittle album. I say stone classic since I don't think I'll hear many arguments to the contrary - an album packed with great pop songs, ferocious guitars, great lyrics and brilliant vocals (plus it's on a British label). With the band playing Doolittle in full tonight, I had a slight concern that I might be seeing something that reeked only of nostalgia and might be best left alone, but in the weeks coming up to the show I've found it hard to suppress my optimism - just really hoping that these worthy veterans would deliver the goods.
Of course, they DID deliver the goods. The Pixies are a band - and by that I mean they are a genuine example of the sum adding up to more than it's (considerable) parts. They play like a band, with that wonderful sense that they are all at home where they belong when they are doing this. This was the first of three nights in Brixton - a venue the Pixies have a long history with - and their name on the dome outside could not have looked more like it was meant to be there. Indoor gig and a crowd who felt like this was their very own special band coming back to see the fans that first embraced them. All of these things meant there was a happy vibe from both band and audience.
Starting up with Dancing The Manta Ray, they warmed themselves up by plundering the b-sides box and treating us to some rare gems - Kim Deal told us that they were playing some of these songs for "maybe the fifth time ever, tonight". Then, after maybe fifteen minutes Kim Deal plays the opening riff to Debaser and the party really starts. God, they sound great. Upstairs in the Academy the sound was pretty good although I'm told it was a bit muddier downstairs, while the visual elements of the show can't be faulted - great lighting and projections, tastefully done. Each track from Doolittle sounds teriffic and the band play them all with deserved enthusiasm. It's kind of surreal - there they are playing Here Comes Your Man and Monkey Gone To Heaven, Tame, Dead, No.13.... right through to Silver which was a bit of a highlight despite it's being the slowest song they played all night, but then to follow that closely with Into The White was a masterstroke. Back for encores (twice) which included more b-sides (UK Surf version of Wave Of Mutilation) and classics (U-Mass) and ending with Gigantic - the word best used to describe the smile on Deal's face the whole night.
I was not disappointed.Read more 4.5 star reviews
A Brief History of Love
Big Pink eh? Classics like ‘The Weight’ and ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ comprised an impressive first album by The Band and in retrospect, while the songs are more divergent than their eponymous...
Hang on, where am I? This isn’t Mojo magazine. Any comparisons to Robbie Robertson’s folk-rock outfit can stop there. We’re talking Neo-Shoegaze baby, we’re talking Shoetronica, we’re talking 'bout Nu Gaze. Sonic cathedrals of noise are all the rage again right now… though when I tried playing my M83 album in the whispering gallery at St Paul’s, I was rudely ejected.
The hype machine for 4AD’s new signing is starting to crank up like a string of Kevin Shield’s effects pedals and if you listen to the radio you’ve probably already heard The Big Pink's single ‘Dominos’ – a catchy FM friendly stomp that equates girls who have inner-ear balance issues to pizzas or South London-based Indie labels.
‘A Brief History of Love’ is a big sounding album. Vast swathes of sound echo wash over you, all fizzing noise and blankets of warm guitar under sweeping skies of analogue static, with a backbone of drums and epic machine-made beats. It makes for a good headphone listen, although I imagine they’ve got other spaces in mind, like playing to the sunset crowd on the Other Stage at Glastonbury – you can pretty much see the light show in your head during the more climactic moments.
More than a few times it brought to mind School of Seven Bells’ album ‘Alpinisms’, which has a similar intricate yet expansive production. Ultimately though, that became my problem with this record, in that ‘A Brief History of Love’ kept coming out unfavourably in comparison. School of Seven Bells minus all the clever sounds would still make for a very weird and interesting listen, with their crystalline harmonies and strange poem-like lyrics. If you strip out The Big Pink’s shimmering soundscapes, what’s left?
Underneath what’s fair to say is an immaculately produced record, I kept on finding The Verve (on the slow, moody ones) or Kasabian (on the meaty, beaty ones). Lyrically, the word ‘baby’ seems to come up quite a lot. But what do I know? I don’t imagine School of Seven Bells sell that many records, while Kasabian definitely do. The Big Pink will probably become immensely successful and next year, as I’m flicking channels and come across their sunset Glasto slot on the BBC iPlayer, I’ll be able to say “I told you so”.Read more 3 star reviews
Now here's a gig I would have liked to be at: the Pixies turned up to their own box set launch to play a surprise set to the 300 strong crowd.
Turns out that rumoured Pixies album isn't a new Pixies album after all - just a mega-deluxe re-issue of their previous work. No remastering, possibly no bonus tracks - but definitely a whole bunch of new artwork by original designers/photographers Vaughan Oliver and Simon Larbalestier. And some under-graduate design students.
Luxury release specialists Artists in Residence are in charge of the box - called Minotaur, and due on June 15th for a considerable sum of money.
Rough Trade band the 1990's have a new single and video - 59 - while 4AD's new signings Camera Obscura are back with a new mobile-phone-commercial-friendly single - French Navy, out April 13th.
Inside My Guitar
Maybe I'm just getting too long in the tooth but I feel like I've been here before. A recession sound-tracked by shoe gazing kids playing fuzzy guitars from behind their fringes. It must be the early 90s again. No its just the debut album of Kent indie foursome It Hugs Back. I don't know for a fact that they have long fringes but I'd bet a fiver in these credit crunch times that they do stare at the floor when playing live. Like I said maybe I'm getting old. To be fair 'Inside Your Guitar' does grow on you with time but then with time hair grows on the back of old men too.
Listening to Inside your Guitar fills me with a sense of turning into one of those 'it wasn't like that in my day' veterans grumpily crossing their arms at the back of a gig I used to mock as a wide-eyed indie 17 year old suffocating against the crash barrier at the front. Dylan summed it up my current dilemma best in my Back Pages with the lament 'fearing that I'd become my enemy in the instance that I preached.' So it is, age catches up with all of us. Melancholic opener Q merely makes me want to patronisingly encourage them to download some early Mogwai to hear just how dark brooding music really can be. 'Back Down' makes me glad that The Jesus and Mary Chain didn't sand paper down their edges. I could go on but then I'd become the enemy preacher.
When It Hugs Back admit to their youth and in throw in a bit of fire and mischief they do show promise and inspire the thought they may be worth persevering with. When they rip up the world weariness that doesn't suit them and plug into the energy of their age Inside Your Guitar has fleeting moments of real joy. 'Work Day' is the sound of escapades on an afternoon bunking college and 'Unaware' is like walking home drunk on a summer's night. They've definitely got potential. I wouldn't be too shocked to discover they release a classic in a few years and look back on Inside Your Guitar slightly embarrassed by just how seriously young men take themselves. Again Dylan's Back Pages springs to mind “ah but i was so much older then I'm younger than that now”. If the boys of It Hugs Back ask the old cynic with arms crossed at the back of their next gig he might just tell them that 'youth is wasted on the young'.Read more 3 star reviews
If I've counted correctly, this is M. Ward's sixth studio album - not including She and Him, last year's well received collaboration with actress Zooey Deschanel.
What's new this time around? Well, not much to be honest . The honey soaked vocals are still very much to the fore and M. Ward will certainly never lose his understated elegance. Yet despite the Glam drum effect on 'Never Had Nobody Like You' or the Orchestral backing to the title track, it all seems very familiar. You can't help the feeling that Ward has done it before and done it better, notably on 'Transfiguration of Vincent' and the excellent 'Transistor Radio'.
So although it's hard to criticize something that is played and sung so beautifully, it just isn't particularly exciting.Read more 2.5 star reviews
Things are hotting up over at the Dark Was The Night Myspace, with 4AD previewing one new track a day from the forthcoming charity compiliation - which will be released on double CD / triple vinyl / download on Feb 15th.
Today: So Far Around The Bend, from The National - whose Aaron and Bryce Dessner curated the compilation.
32 artists have recorded exclusive tracks for the album, which will be released by 4AD on February 16th. In alphabetical order:
Antony + Bryce Dessner
Blonde Redhead + Devastations
Bon Iver & Aaron Dessner
The Books featuring Jose Gonzalez
Buck 65 Remix (featuring Sufjan Stevens
Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues
Dirty Projectors + David Byrne
Feist + Ben Gibbard
Grizzly Bear + Feist
Iron & Wine
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
My Brightest Diamond
My Morning Jacket
The New Pornographers
Conor Oberst & Gillian Welch
Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio)
Yo La Tengo
Dear American Chimps
if you've got a few hours to kill today, why not pop on down to those fun election booths and pop some chads for us? Personally, we'd go for the ch-ch-changes guy over the white-haired dude but hey, why not surprise us?
Thanks ever so much,
Fans of this Atlanta four-piece are in for a real treat with the release of their first album for 4AD. Microcastle is the followup to 2006's critically acclaimed Cryptograms and departs from the highly constructed debut by doing away with much of the vast atmospherics, lifting the overall tempo of the record and injecting some exciting muscle into their sound. But this isn't the only treat in store. The release is accompanied by a bonus disc entitled Weird Era Cont. and is an album in its own right consisting of 13 new tracks.
Like The Pixies quiet/loud contrasts, Deerhunter construct their sound using a similar grasp of opposing forces. Their success lies in it's ability to build great, all-encomassing soundscapes of fog that swirl around you like soup, and then in a blink of en eye pierce this density with a clarity that dissipates all around it and appears, standing alone and shining with dazzling intensity. The other contrast widely used here is in scale. Opening track Cover Me (Slowly) launches off with crashing cymbols and soaring melody that instantly evokes visions of an ever expanding landscape growing wider and wider from a bounless basis. In a blink of an eye Agoraphobia follows this with stripped down drum beats and Bradford Cox's intimate vocals and the listener is abruptly jolted down to earth. Cryptograms employed the same use of contrasts but did it from song to song with almost every other song being an expansive and densely textured instrumental composition. Microcastle incorporates all this but does it in a way that brings a smoother flow to the album.
Bradford Cox's vocals shift greatly according to the musical arena they find themselves in. The slow pace of Activa brings with it Cox's thick, laborious delivery as if each word is wading through treacle. Whereas Nothing Ever Happened with it's deep driving guitar and relentless beat sees Cox drift with dreamy buoyancy. Like his side project Atlas Sound, Cox creates very thoughtful compositions where each word uttered is enveloped by bristling synth fuzz, gentle percussion and layer upon layer of subtle sampling and production. But he builds on this greatly with this release adding muscular guitar chords that, in the case of Nothing Ever Happened and closer Twilight At Carbon Lake, gather up all this delicate construction and cary it all away on huge waves of spund that never seem to end. They bring an epic quality to the latter half of the record and continue the trend well into the bonus disc.
Weird Era Cont. is far less considered and benefits greatly for it. The songs seem to be less precious like the hard work was done with the first disc and the pressures off here. As a result it's as good if not better than the lead record. Once you reach the end of this disc you get a dazzling idea of what it was all building up to in the form of the final track Calvary Scars II / Aux Out. It's a ten minute finale of epic proportions that ends up pounding and pounding and in the course of this it changes the face of thsi whole release and it, and the entire second disc bump the whole thing up to a fine score.Read more 4 star reviews
In Ear Park
Though predating Grizzly Bear, Department Of Eagles is the side project of Daniel Rossen - and after a few years off he returns with an album totally different from their debut but one that sounds nothing like a side project. In Ear Park is a collection of songs that are described by its creator as being too personal for Grizzly Bear. It's dedicated to Rossen's father who passed away in 2007 and the title comes from the nickname for the park in Los Angeles the two used to visit. Gone are the programmed beats and eclectic genre shifts in favor of a much more cosistant album of expertly crafted and infinately layered pop songs.
These songs are set on slow release as if they're really not bothered whether you like them or not. Having enlisted many of his band mates Rossen relies heavily on delicate construction of melody that runs through the heart of Grizzly Bear. Rossen's vocals run down the center of each song. They float as light as air and rarely exert themselves but gently rise on the vast waves of rich instrumentation that surround them. The attention to detail on this record is stunning with piano, double bass, strings, flutes, and acoustic guitars all rising and falling as if being encouraged out by a hard working conductor. No One Does It Like You sounds like it's being played in a cavernous ball room while Around The Bay stays so close to your ear it's quite unnerving - and this balance and contrast of space is what makes these songs so compelling. Phantom Other maskerades as a gentle folk song then with the contorted groan of a chello the whole thing lifts like a lost city rising from the sea, then just as quickly it tapers off with the same gentle acoustic pluck like the whole thing was a figmant of your iagination.
Themes of mortality, memory and nostalgia run through this record. The instruments emplayed and Rossen's distant vocals all conjure images of empty music halls, but through this is often a melancholic image there is a vibrant sense of joy the seems to preside. The use of incredibly subtle sampling and a texture built from a miryad of instruments so delicately employed not only create a rich foundation on which these songs lie but also evoke a ghostly feeling. They emerge and recede like spirits from the past, some more dominant and impatient than others but together bring about a feeling of gathering company rather than haunting lonelyness.
The debut album The Cold Nose was an exciting patchwork of beat driven instrumentals, but did play out like a collection of slightly unrelated but good ideas. In Ear Park is startlingly consistent and unified, evoking everything from Sgt. Pepper to Van Dyke Parks to The Beta Band. Form is definitely king here, but the surpressed experimentation that lurks behind each note and every word is what makes this record reveal more of its soul with every spin.Read more 3 star reviews
Sweeping and ambitious in scope, this is an eclectic record with so many levels it will take literally weeks to properly decode. Near impossible to predict, the record twists and turns, changing key, pitch and tempo - but never seems disengaging.
Halfway Home starts the album with pounding drums, hand-claps and a be-bop harmony building up the pace and pressure quickly and steadily. The track is a perfect gateway into the album - to the point that that it momentarily seems to have escalated things prematurely to a momentum that cannot be maintained. Just when it can't build anymore, a last minute tempo shift takes things up another notch - leaving you floating on the full steam of this relentless album. Like a crash course in TVOTR you are now schooled and ready to proceed.
Described as having a 'pop edge', that edge could at its most accessible be described as being as equally inspired by the likes of N.E.R.D. or Outkast as by the more rock roots of T.V.O.T.R.'s previous records. The rapped vocals of Dancing Choose stray dangerously close to cringeworthy, holding strong on just the right side of Blondie or the Edge's embarrassing efforts for long enough to balanced out by the delicate chorus - just one of dozens of unpredictable changes in the electric song-writing of the album.
The sound may be wide, but never seems scattergun. It's radio friendly but still relatively weird - and as a band TV On The Radio seem thoroughly cohesive and dedicated to the task at hand. Dave Sitek's production is immaculate, polishing and smoothing the uncountable elements into a densely packed whole - from the Bob Marley-esque bass-line of Golden Age to the twisted ballad Family Tree, which slows the pace a little, pitched perfectly at the old "end of side one / start of side two" point on the record. Close in style to 4AD's own This Mortal Coil, the track layers slow vocals over delicate string arrangements, building beautifully in momentum to end with trip-hop drums.
Red Dress and Love Dog provide side two highlights, and by the time you make it through to the electric frenzy of DLZ, or the anthemic drums and brass-band of Lover's Day it's all become something of a rousing finale, bookending the record by maintaining the momentum of the opening track so totally, that there's an almost euphoric atmosphere as the last note passes. There's a substantial range of bonus track and limited-edition type versions of the album, but after the logical conclusion of Lover's Day I can't imagine they'll do much to improve the shape of this perfectly paced and superbly crafted album.
TV On The Radio set the bar pretty high with Return To Cookie Mountain, but I'm happy to report that their 2006 album now seems like The Bends next to Dear Science's OK Computer. Both great records for sure, but this seems like an evolutionary leap forward and a shoring up of the band's sound and ambition. A certain contender for 2008's best-of lists and a consistently rewarding listen.Read more 4 star reviews
The indie revival continues with this album from Brooklyn's Vivian Girls - pulling girl-group harmonies over the top of shoe-gazing guitars that know a bit about feedback. After a vinyl-only release on Mauled By Tigers sold out in no time, In The Red have stepped in to give this debut full-length a wider distribution.
The album starts as it means to go on - jumping striaght into the already full-flowing maelstrom of All The Time - and the tempo seldom slows from there. You could easily megamix the tracks together with a half-dozen (Going Insane, Tell The World, No ...."No, no, no. No. No. No.") all following a clearly cut template.
Such A Joke tries to bend the formula a little, with the spinal bassline tying together an almost surf sound, but here the production values just blend the promising track into mush. In the era of home studio and Garageband, there little excuse for sounding like an 8-track recording. Where Do You Run finds the band heading into Lush's well mapped territory - emulating Miki Berenyi's love-lost lyrics over charming harmonies, making for easily the most successful track on the album.
There's no doubt that some of the production problems would be overcome in a live setting, as the band have an undoubted energy and charisma. At best they head towards the steady sound of 80/90's 4AD and the likes of Lush or The Amps, but next to someone like Electrelane, these Vivian Girls seem pale and tired in comparison.Read more 2.5 star reviews
Stereolab return with Chemical Chords - their ninth studio album, which is being billed as something of a comeback. While technically this is the band's first studio album since 2004's Margerine Eclipse, it's not like there's been nothing but silence. 2005 brought the EP collection Oscillons from the Anti-Sun, while 2006 brought 6 new singles (collated on Fab Four Suture) and the 'Greatest Hits' collection Serene Velocity. With the winding down of Too Pure, this album is brought to your senses by 4AD, but Stereolab's own label Duophonic is still calling the shots.
In the seventeen or so years that the band have been going, their once unique style has been much appropriated - by other bands, as well as dozens of Stereolab-esque purveyors of music-for-mobile-phone-adverts. With the odd exception, as time has passed the band themseleves have become less abrasive - less post-rock, more yacht rock - and that trend contunes here.
Stangely, the upbeat Neon Beanbag is not dissimilar to Yo La Tengo's bean bag infused track - Beanbag Chair. They must have got that memo. While there are darker moments here and there - such as the atmospheric title track - it's Laetitia Sadier's upbeat vocals that provide the defining constant here, floating in and out around through the light pop of Valley Hi!, the xylophones of Silver Sands and the piano of Daisy Click Clack. There are touches of Motown here and there and the electronics have a more organic, less organic sound than on some efforts - but to be honest, having pretty much pioneered this style, it's hard to criticise Tim Gane and his merry band of popsters.
The delay may have been (somewhat) significant but the results are the same. Another album of pleasing, if not challenging electronic nicety.Read more 3 star reviews
Bristol musician David Edwards is taking the internet pricing model one step further with his new Minotaur Shock album Amateur Dramatics on 4AD.
Instead of offering a fixed price, or even a pay-what-you-want price - Edwards has rated the tracks on "technical difficulty, musical difficulty, extra musicians, computer crashing and other considerations" - with prices ranging from 33p to 75p.
You can pick up the album at www.minotaurshock.com - as well as read Edwards reasoning behind each rating, which is thoroughly informative.
"David has since taken his scoring system idea to other aspects of his life and is currently working out which child of his he should save first in the event of a fire."
After a pretty slow period, the 4AD label is revving up for expansion - mainly by taking in the bands from Beggars Group sister labels Too Pure and Beggars itself. That puts chimp favourites like The National, Tindersticks and Electrelane under the same roof as Pixes and The Breeders, which can't be a bad thing. Unfortunately it does spell the end for Too Pure and Beggars as entities... R.I.P.
Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
"The dream of one summer, this last summer I had. It's almost as if I had one continuous dream and the product of achieving it is the album you have here." And so writes Bradford Cox, the creator behind Deerhunter and this, his earliest incarnation and solo pursuit, Atlas Sound. Let The Blind... is the debut album under this name and "one continuous dream" would be an accurate way to describe it. With themes of nostalgia and childhood infiltrating every pore of this sound much of its conception can be attributed to one whole summer where, as a 16 year old, Cox lay immobilized in a children's hospital undergoing surgery on his back and chest. This lost summer, spent bedridden and gazing longingly at the world, echoes the bleached out warmth of this sound and the endless dream-like imagery that loom in and out of focus throughout the record.
Let The Blind... is the vehicle by which Cox can express the ideas he feels unable to in Deerhunter. It's a one man bedroom recording of great depth and beauty that spends much of its time swimming in hazy pools of warmth while occasionally rising to minimal peaks of focus before receding back again. It employs similar washes of sound as Deerhunter's 2007 Cryptograms but assumes the roll of its more reserved cousin, lonely and sedated it spends its time indoors dreaming and anticipating.
A muffled child's voice clumsily narrates a ghost story in the opening few moments only to be overcome by a slow approaching wave of sampled glockenspiel that blissfully fades to the gentle rhythms and distant vocals of Recent Bedroom. Cox uses repetition to convey this dreamlike state with looping vocal formations drifting in and out of the listeners consciousness like the various stages of sleep. As the distant muffle of Recent Bedroom gives way to the crisp and clear pitter-patter of River Card you can feel yourself rising from slumber with ease and gentleness. Cold As Ice sees you fall back into the abyss only to be summoned back with angelic grandeur by the chiming synths of Small Horror. From the clipped drum roll of River Card to the sunken 4/4 techno beat of Winter Vacation, Cox smothers every minute of this record in rich effects conjured from homemade electronica.
Compared to his work with Deerhunter this is very much the sound of an individual. Sonically and thematically Let The Blind... describes the space inhabited by this one individual, be it the swirling pastoral landscape of his mind or the confines of a hospital bed. This is a very personal piece of work which manages to shimmer with warmth and shiver with icy melancholy. On Quarantined he sings "quarantined and kept so far away from friends," so his only option is to escape into this dream while he lies there "waiting to be changed."
As the closing fuzz of the final title track echoes opener A Ghost Story, you really have to emerge from this record to rejoin the real world. It's effects are subtle and it's not until it fades away that the spell is revealed and you realise how deep you have been taken. This is an abstract musical journey and seems to flow with a disjointed perfection that makes it work best as a unified whole rather than a collection of songs. It's headphone music to really disappear to and like most of Cox's work it's a fiercely original sound that knows exactly where its going and will take as long as it wants to get there. Your only choice is whether you've got what it takes to tag along.Read more 3.5 star reviews
For Emma, Forever Ago
Imagine you're in a public place, say a train station or doctors waiting room, and you can see this person going round gently and methodically whispering in peoples ears. You notice the look on these people's faces change slowly from one of skepticism to one of wonder and delight. You'd really want to know what this person was whispering right? Well as soon as the opening notes of For Emma, Forever Ago come to rest gracefully on your ears you'll realise what everyone else was hearing and your face will too be full of wonder.
Bon Iver (an intentional mis-spelling of 'Bon Hiver,' french for 'Good Winter,') is the work of Justin Vernon and his debut album is a very special thing indeed. It's one of the most beautiful sounds I've heard in a long time and its conception came about under fiercely controlled circumstances and time scale. After the break-up of his former band, DeYarmond Edison in 2006, Vernon opted out of society and took himself off into voluntary exile. Armed with only a couple of microphones, a baritone guitar, two drums, a horn and a reverb pedal he set off for the desolate landscape of Northeast Wisconsin and spent three months alone in a log cabin. Living off the land and hunting for food Vernon was able to shut himself away from the usual chatter of the world and allow an inner voice to emerge in his work. "I recognise that the record is enigmatic and special in a strange way. I can't take full credit for it, and I was the only one there." With no firm musical objective and the basic pressures of survival to worry about these songs grew organically and were governed purely by the natural artistic process that can only flourish under these circumstances. "I was able to access deeper, darker and even happier shit just by this sort of subconscious way of doing it."
Knowing this back story is not necessary, but it adds to the uniqueness of this record. Each song reflects the barren land in which it was born, as shiver and shudder under the clear sub-zero sky, with Vernon's spectral falsetto delivery trembling delicately like the frail trees that sway in the wind outside his window. But the glow of honesty and dedication burns with the comforting warmth of the log fire that crackles within, making this record endlessly captivating and welcoming. A bleak and lonely guitar strum opens the record, with Vernon's vocals tentatively creeping into view, but it's not long before they gently swell with an increased musical accompaniment like a rising flame. "I am my mother's only one, it's enough," is the line chosen to open this record and with it we see Vernon's thoughts turn inwards to memory as if forced by the elements outside. Lump Sum produces a choral arrangement so spacious it suggests a relationship between the empty space outside and the cavernous boom of a mind devoid of worldly noise. Skinny Love sees a rising of tempo and a new gravel sound creep into the voice as it gets louder. As if by way of response to the deafening silence that prevails, Vernon's words "I told you to be patient, I told you to be fine," lift with striking force but stand ambiguous to their target, a past love or Vernon himself?
There was some degree of post production added to the record once the exile ended, with instrumental accompaniments added by Chrissy Smith of Nola on Flume and Boston musicians John DeHaven and Randy Pingrey supplying horns on For Emma. Vernon achieved the choral sound, seen to great effect on The Wolves, by countless overdubs of his own voice. The subtle addition of these third parties and overdubs work in contrast to Vernon's solitary voice, making an interesting mark on the album's atmosphere. Instead of shattering the illusion of confined spaces this only serves to enhance the loneliness, with these added elements circling the central sound like ghosts of past regret rising to the surface of the memory. For Emma is the penultimate song and the inclusion of the horn section is so startling it brings with it a sense of the regret lifting and some conclusion being reached to the questions that have encircled us throughout. It's presence here is like a brief sighting of human company in this desolation and it swells the heart to triumphant heights. But as the achingly beautiful Re: Stacks fades in, the cold and loneliness encroach once more and you wonder if this sighting was only in your mind.
Re: Stacks brings the record full circle and tapers it off with delicate melody, gentle, resolved guitar strums and the sweetest vocals on the record. It leaves you with quiet resolution and the silence that reigns after the song is finished is all the richer for the sounds that have proceeded it. In this silence you beg the world to give you just a little more time, but slowly and surely it crashes in and the spell is broken - until of course you press play again.Read more 4 star reviews
Started as a side project spin-off from both the Pixies and the Throwing Muses, The Breeders' first album Pod snuck out without too much fanfare. After Pixies-riffers Nirvana exploded the Alternative music scene, the groundswell built - and thanks to a string of great singles, second album Last Splash hit the mainstream. Part time Pixie Kim Deal became a full-time Breeder and with Tanya Donnely's departure she was now clearly in charge. Progress slowed. With the Breeders now becoming a day job, another side project was needed to get things going and the GBV-influenced Amps hit the spot.
With The Amps essentially re-branding back to the Breeders, Title TK marked a return in 2002 with some critical accclain (certainly from me), but as the pace dropped back to a crawl album four didn't seem likely. With absence making the heart grow fonder, the extended hiatus that The Breeders have found themselves on has done less to little to lower expectations from the band and with the Pixies barnstorming reunion still fresh in the mind those expectations must seem astronomical, so it was with some surprise that the band's website announced new material late last year.
So what's the result? Another Breeders album. Probably not their best, perhaps not their worst - but it's a welcome return, with many individual highlights. While Mountain Battles may be a title more suitable for a Led Zeppelin comeback, it highlights a notable theme through the record and opener Overglazed sets the bar high with a slow building call-to-arms that is crying out for a Viking clad video to accompany it. Night of Joy is a beautiful masterpiece, building a complex mood with little other than a subtle chord progression and reapeating, simple lyrics ....delivered in Deal's unique style. We're Gonna Rise continues both the evocative mood and the theme ("Light hits my shield"), followed by a track that actually seems to be sung in Orc - although title German Lessons might suggest otherwise. Here unfortunately we hit one of my all time pet hates - foreign language singing (David Gedge, you know who you are).
In this case the second language strangely illustrates the magic formula that Kim Deal seems to find when she hits the mark. The minimal lyrics of Night of Joy convey all their emotion through her singing style, adding weight to the words through tone and repetition - but when singing in a second language, not of that emotion comes across, leaving nothing but slightly cold words. Don't even get me started on 'epic' Spanish language track Regalame Esta Noche.
Re-visiting something you clearly get a bit sick of is a thankless task, and with the album never really hitting the highs of those few opening tracks again it could be argued that The Breeders have never in fact had a bonifide classic. As their raft of great EP's, covers, b-sides and alternate versions stand testament, The Breeders were always most successful as a singles band and in many ways, nothing has chnaged. There's no Cannonball or Safari here, but Overglazed leads the charge into a string of great tracks, while Night of Joy is as good as anything they have done.Read more 3 star reviews
If you've ever come in contact with our hip hop reviewer HHG you'll know it's probably not something you want to happen on a daily basis. He knows his stuff but he's a snob and thinks hip hop's the only music, not to mention his uncontrollable temper and borderline chauvanism. He's a valid member of the Chimp team but most of us here try not to have much to do with him for reasons already mentioned. So you can imagine my disappointment when his hulking frame approached me in the Chimp canteen one day last year. Standing there stinking of weed he asks, " Yo, Bear dude, who the fuck is this John Darnielle?"
Turns out his narrow field of musical experience was momentarily widened when The Mountain Goats frontman guest starred at the end of the recent Aesop Rock album. Much as I resent Darnielle for inadvertently bringing me into contact with my skunk soaked colleague it's clear that last years collaboration has opened the flood gates on Darnielle's own sphere of musical experience and brought out a thrilling surge in volume, tempo and excitement to this bands work.
Darnielle has always expressed a masterful penchant for storytelling, in few words he can evoke oceans of emotion, the slightest turn of phrase and he can explain a feeling or situation that you've been trying to pin down your whole life. When we last saw him he was struggling with solitude in the aftermath of a breakup in 2006's desolate Get Lonely. It's clear from the first drum stick count ins that the volume has picked up here but don't think for a minute that Darnielle is using this volume to express a new found lust for life. He might have addressed his romantic troubles since Get Lonely exclaiming in the album opener "I am coming home to you" but he follows it "with my own blood in my mouth." This new surge in musical arrangements serves more to express his heightened sense of fear and impending doom. The sorrow from 2006 has grown into taut anguish. On Lovecraft In Brooklyn he admits, "I woke up afraid of my own shadow, like genuinely afraid."
At the heart of this record lurks paranoia, tension and violence seen most effectively in the two songs that form the records backbone both in form and theme. In The Craters On The Moon builds with tight, drumbeat like guitar strums and heightened strings to a thunderous crescendo while Lovecraft In Brooklyn is a switchblade-wielding powerhouse prediction of death and destruction. This is contrasted in songs like Autoclave and the delicate So Desperate, which both show this songwriters continuing vulnerability.
Whether he's gently plucking, violently thrashing or soaring on great orchestral waves this record shows a refreshing array of musical expertise. How To Embrace A Swamp Creature employs sparkling jewels of instrumentation that glisten around Darniell's lyrics like looming rocks in the dazzling sunlight. Another reason for this renewed rise in tempo could be that Darnielle has more company on this record. Get Lonely was a stark portrayal of a man alone while here we have complex string arrangements (San Bernardino) and airy female vocals (Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident) all joining together to create a far richer landscape than the ones inhabited in the past. This is undoubtedly The Mountain Goats most accessible record to date but it sacrifices none of the qualities that made the other albums. Darnielle is a very human song writer, weather he's using himself as the subject or creating complex characters to play out his view of this experience we call life he casts a light over this experience and though this reveals things we don't want to see they serve to enlighten us and inform us that little bit more about the human condition.Read more 4 star reviews
Following the end of the never-ending Pixies reunion, Kim Deal has been back in the studio and has now finished a new Breeders album - Mountain Battles. Recorded by Steve Albini, Manny Nieto and Ben Mumphrey, Mountain Battles will be released on Monday 7th April by 4AD.
2. Bang On
3. Night Of Joy
4. We're Gonna Rise
5. German Studies
8. Walk It Off
9. Regalame Esta Noche
10. Here No More
11. No Way
12. It's The Love
13. Mountain Battles
The band are set to play a full UK tour in April...
The Flying Club Cup
Beirut’s Gulag Orkestar was a critical success that slowly gained popularity by word of mouth. Zach Condon’s first album was, as is often noted, recorded at his parents house when he was all of nineteen. Beirut is no longer a one man band - he has since collected a group of musicians to tour and record, first the Lon Gisland EP and now the new album - The Flying Club Cup.
The first album featured no guitars. Violins, trumpets, piano and ukulele were used to produce a traditional Balkan sound. It was Zach’s melancholic, sombre singing which gave Beirut an added sophistication, making the East European sound more digestible to the average listener.
The Flying Club Cup is very much more of the same, which for me is the problem. Opening song A Call To Arms is very reminiscent of Black's Wonderful Life. The comparison is not an insult or a compliment but does represent the reflective mood of the song and the album as a whole. It is the continuation of this tone throughout that frustrates me. Zach Condon's voice does not have enough expression to allow distinction or variation to make many of the thirteen tracks memorable. The Penalty is the exception, with a lovely accordion backing a restrained and expressive performance. This allows the music to sound complete and not a sullen teenage boy singing with his dad’s band. The Flying Club Cup never picks up from this point and continues to slowly deflate by the end.
The only time I can fully appreciate Beirut is when I listen to one or maybe two songs consecutively. I also struggled to hear the French influence (culture, history, fashion) which The Flying Club Cup is supposedly inspired by. This could be one album too many from Beirut if they have to state progression rather than been able to expand on their sound. If I were reviewing a single (with a b side) there would be more praise, but maybe in time (and as I grow old) my opinion will change.
The Modern Tribe
I had a quick listen to this in the car with Chimpovichs’ brother – who has been accurately dubbed a musical Mr Miyagi. (Coincidentally, our journey home was from a football match where he’d scored a crane-kick goal that Daniel LaRusso would have been proud of). However, much like watching all four Karate Kid films back-to-back we were glad when it was over.
Now, the original review ended here, but conscious that while the might of Miyagi-san's wisdom is rarely wrong, the car stereo may not have given it a fair run for its money. I can’t remember if the bass was on / was off – and as such I gave it another couple of listens. (You’ll be pleased to know I think I’ve run out of lame, unrelated, out of place, Karate based links).
So - The first thing to say on the second album from this Baltimore three piece Celebration is that it is actually pretty good. The melodic, beat driven art rock (?) tunes here have a kaleidoscope of layers while the stirring vocals of Katrina Ford lend a hot blooded rousing jolt. She’s got a set of lungs on her, oh yes, but she can also do soft and tender too..
The chief creative mind in the band pulses in the head of Sean Antanaitis. According to Wikipedia he plays Guitar, Guitorgan, Organ, Wurlitzer, Piano, Moog Pedal Bass, and Electronics and, according to the photos on their website, all at the same time. David Bergander - who ONLY plays the drums - maintains a steady and inventive beat throughout and he creates the setting for many a deep groove.
Now. Let’s say you got annoyed by the inability of this review to enlighten you as to the ‘sound’ of this band. Then, in a red rage, you break all the rules governing self-defence and launch an attack on me, force me in a choke-hold to encourage me to namecheck bands that have influenced this sound. What would I cough up? How about: the Cocteau Twins, Moloko, a hint of the intensity of Arcade Fire and, if I had any breath left in my oxygen starved lungs, a touch of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Judging by what I’ve read, I think this lot may well enhance their reputation with their energetic and engaging live shows. According to their web-site, your woman, Katrina, “wishes a violent death upon the era of glum audience members motionlessly watching glum bands with glum arms crossed” and dances around in the crowd as they get everyone going.
This whole experience has taught me that the secret of Karate is in the heart and mind. Not in the hands.
In what seems like a good move for everybody, Rough Trade records has joined forces with the Beggars group - already home to 4AD, Matador, XL and others. Hopefully that means we'll have a few more reviews from Rough Trade coming down the pipe....
Rough Trade, the seminal UK Independent label founded and run by Geoff Travis and Jeannette Lee, have today joined the existing labels within the Beggars Group, following the purchase by Beggars of Sanctuary's interest in the company.
There are some feelings in life that you simply can't beat. I'm not talking here about the grand feelings of joy or euphoria that come with such landmark events like having your first child, no I mean the kind of everyday, low key moments that produce an indiscribable feeling of utter satisfaction. Like the first sip of an ice cold beer after work on a hot summers evening, or sliding your foot into brand new socks, or finding a forgotten favorite album for £2 in a second hand record store, or putting on an album by Blonde Redhead who seem to be able to produce moments such as these with blissful ease.
Ever since 2004's Misery Is A Butterfly my heart has been in love with this band. There is something about Kazu Makino's sweet soprano vocals that make me sigh with delight. They ache with sadness yet float with effortless grace over the claustrophobic wall of sound that underlie them. She has the ability to gently take your heart by the hand and carry it away on the most perfect of melodies. Misery Is A Butterfly was the first album where this quality was brought to the forefront, moving away from the bitter squall of their Sonic Youth inspired sound of previous albums and now with 23 the change is well and truly complete.
The title track chimes in with an eery emptiness that is then discarded as you are pulled close and smothered by sound. The first glimpses of Makino's voice sees the spell cast once again and the love affair re-ignited. The voice is more energetic here and though it will always contain the traces of melancholy that make it so addictive it's more soaring and wonderful than ever on these first two opening tracks. With The Dress things open up a little and as the music is stripped down we get more space to look around and really appreciate the delicate nuances of this band. As usual vocal duties are shared between Makino and Amedeo Pace who's contributions bring valuable muscle to the proceedings with songs like SW and Spring And Summer Fall.
It's hard to talk in depth about these songs for fear of breaking the spell. Blonde Redhead's music is hypnotic, rapturous and holds within it a kind of mystical wonder that is almost impossible to pin down. They make beautiful pop songs but there seems to be something more, something special that once it has touched you you feel privileged. So with this new album my heart is once again buoyant.
4 years ago His Name Is Alive released Last Night which would prove to be their final outing with longstanding partners 4AD. Now they resurface with Detrola, their debut for the aptly named Reincarnate Music and after repeated listens this proves to justify the wait. Sounding like a best of compilation of the band Detrola is a very rewarding listening experience spanning many tempos and moods. After the ever increasing applause of the introduction that turns into a deafening wave of noise the listener settles into some of the warmest and sublime avant-pop produced by this band for years.
I Thought I Saw is perfect lounge jazz while In My Dreams is more of a pushier, synth driven affair. *C*A*T*S* is the standout peak of the album, and with it this band reach new heights of song craft perfection. Lovetta Pippen's sweet vocals are simply heart melting and dance effortlessly around the delicate beat and layered textures. Though nothing after this quite reaches its heights the mood is sustained and the beauty maintained until Send My Face ends things on a somber note and makes you want to start over again.
Detrola mixes a spot on blend of glitchy power pop, melancholic soul and soaring beauty with such refreshing playfulness. It's broody and sexy yet profoundly heart breaking. In My Dreams' innocent lyric sums it all up perfectly. "It's so beautiful, it's like a 6 it's like a 9."
This distinctly English sounding band (a la The Sundays) are surprisingly Australian - with a heavy dose of inspiration do doubt coming from the Throwing Muses school of early 90's, pre-nirvana indie. Their soulful Indie Blues (a term I'm coining now - TM) is immediately engaging, and with Kirsten Hersh and Tanya Donnely back in business, former Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde's Bella Union have obviously decided to pre-empt a 4AD revival. Break out the maroon Doc Marten's - this is great stuff.Read more 3 star reviews
2007 is already looking like a good year. Wilco are nearly done with their new album, Clap Your Hands 2 is out in a couple of weeks, Arcade Fire 2 is nearly finished, The National should have a new album in May, Radiohead will surely deliver a new album, M. Ward has a new EP out soon (with Jim James guesting) ...and 4AD inform us that The Breeders have been recording new material. Not to mention some new bands.
The Forum, Kentish Town, London
Veteran Indie shufflers Yo La Tengo are in Europe this month, in support of both their recent album I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Kick Your Ass, and their soundtrack to the Will Oldham movie Old Joy, for which they made a panel appearance at the London Film Festival. For they London show they booked up The Forum, with support from post-rockers Minotaur Shock.
There was anticipation in the air from the muso crowd, which included to my surprise a heavy set tough-guy tout that I had seen outside. He was re-directing people who were blocking the view of others, and was ready for a punch up when one guy was chatting as the band started.
For a band with such a vast back catalogue, the show was dominated by ...I Will Beat Your Ass for a good 75%. After a beautiful I Feel Like Going Home and a jaunty Beanbag Chair we were straight into the 10 minutes epic Pass The Hatchet.
The band had the aura of seasoned veterans, and the crowd were loving it. Ira read out an amusing item from the Independent regarding the dangers of being a drummer (Bloc Party have unsurprisingly fallen foul) and warned that Georgia would be taking it a little easy' tonight, but thankfully that was not the case. Working the stage like a three-man-one-man-band (or even a Marx Brothers musical interlude - Ira would be Chico), they swapped instruments and tasks seamlessly, avoiding the tedious, self-important setting-up delays that so many bands seem to fall into. The variation ads another dimension to their show and they easily motored through inspired versions of most of their awesome new album - plus a handful of older tracks, including a great Don't Have To Be So Sad.
While Ira and Georgia seem to have all the fun, you can't help but feel sorry for James who definitely gets the short straw - repeating the same bass-line for 10 minutes, while Ira freewheels along like an indie Hendrix. Sometimes that freewheeling goes too far off the tracks, and the songs get just too strung out - dwindling into free-jazz territory, and it was hard not to notice some of the crowd developing visible headaches - me included. This was most noticeable on Blue Line Swinger. The song disintegrated into 10 minutes of jazz-feedback - and while it did pay off with a great finale as the rhythm synced out of the chaos, it's hard to know if it was worth it. Much like Less Than You Think, the poison pill on Wilco's A Ghost Is Born.
Although they were chatty and the crowd certainly seemed engaged, the band can seem rather distant on stage. When the audience stop stroking their beards and get more involved the band softened up and it became more of a rock show that a performance. The encore put the whole thing up a notch and was they highlight of the show - with the band returning to the stage and literally taking requests from the audience, a technique which might be useful more often. It seemed that the audience were universal in their choice of favourites, and classics like Autumn Sweater show this band to be truly magnificent.
M Ward has signed to UK label 4AD, who will release his new record Post-War in September.
That album is produced by one of Bright Eyes (no, the other one) and features chimp favourite Jim James amongst others.
M Ward is also on tour in the UK August 11th:
Friday 11th // London Bush Hall
Saturday 12th // Oxford Zodiac
Sunday 13th // Birmingham Glee Club
Tuesday 15th // Manchester Late Room
Wednesday 16th // Glasgow ABC2
Tursday 17th // Shefield Leadmill
Saturday 19th // Bristol Fleece & Firkin
Sunday 20th // London Bush Hall
TV On The Radio's new album Return To Cookie Mountain is out today
4AD are lining up a series of gigs to celebrate 25 years of very nice covers… and releasing a new 4AD compilation, a "deluxe Cocteau Twins 4 CD box set", and something from the label's founder Ivo Watts-Russell, operating as Hope Blister.
Thursday 17th Nov: TV On The Radio plus special guests - The Scala
Friday 18th Nov: Minotaur Shock & Magnetophone plus special guests - The Luminaire
Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th Nov: The Breeders plus special guests - Blackheath Halls
(also : an exhibition of the artwork of Vaughan Oliver / v23)
Monday 21st Nov: Kristin Hersh performing the songs of Throwing Muses - The Scala
Tuesday 22nd Nov: Kristin Hersh performing songs from Hips And Makers onwards - The Scala
Wednesday 23rd Nov: The Mountain Goats plus special guests - Bush Hall
Thursday 24th Nov: Celebration plus special guests - The Water Rats
Friday 25th Nov: Mojave 3 & Mark Kozelek performing the songs of Red House Painters - Conway Hall
Sunday 27th Nov: Blonde Redhead & Johann Johannsson - The Scala