29 January 2011

Van Diamond

A few months ago, I made the acquaintance of Pim Juban via MySpace. We bantered back forth via e-mails, mostly about bands we both liked. He later told me he was a member of Van Diamond, and I checked out the music of this indie French band via their MySpace. Being as shameless as I am, I asked him to send over his music to me. So many thanks to Pim and Julien Casterllan for sending me over their music and their patience.

I have this belief about geography and language and music. Musicians in English speaking countries do not have the exposure to other music scenes; from Vancouver to Auckland, the Anglo language is the predominate language of contemporary world music, and seemingly the only one that gets played on major stations. Rare is the occasion that a non-Anglophile, who might sing in English, ever get the exposure he/she deserve. However, what is coming out of places like France gives any of it a run for the money. Unlike their Anglo brethrens, the French (along side the rest of the Continent and South America) have their own rich traditions in modern music while having all the exposure to the Anglo music scenes. This mix of musical references makes for rich musical fodder. Van Diamond is another example of this.

Below are brief reviews of their discography to date. Of course, when most people think of indie rock, they do not think of France, and this is a mistake. Anyone who knows me knows that lately I have been addicted to French indie music. Van Diamond’s music is a hodgepodge of various musical references, a jamboree of soundscapes that are riveting. There is no hint of revival, nor is their any hint of festival ready music, which is becoming too prevalent. What you have with these two brilliantly crafted albums are tracks that are raw expressions, not tainted by studio gimmicks or passing trends. From the sound quality to the interesting arrangements, there is a sense of timelessness to these tracks. My advice, after reading, head over to their MySpace site (link below) and check out their music; reach out to the band and/or label about getting the music assessable here in the States or wherever you are.

“Andiamo” [“Go” in Italian] (2009)

The album opens with “Focus the Glance,” with an almost “Max Headroom” feel to the dialogue, the Spanish-esque rhythm guitar that chime in at the dropping of the beat is not expect but more than welcome. The pairing of the male and female vocals brings out the sultriness of the song. By the second track, “Stong Mimetism,” it is obvious that the musical references are broad, crossing decades and genres. No strumming but closer to an 80s electro sound, the track’s vocal recording gives it an old style feel in texture. Then “Wonder” marches in; a duet, stuck along a 90s alterna-rock feel, with vocal arrangements that are a new twist to late 60s / early 70s styles. Three tracks into the album, and the lovely schizophrenia of style is more than enchanting.

The rest of the album continues the adventure through genres and different soundscapes. From the 60s-esque “Badmilk” to the dark take of new wave in “The Attic Life,” Van Diamond plays with different musical themes. When they boldly state that they are influence from “1957 through 1989,” they are not kidding. Think of albums like “The Head on the Door,” the album does not congeal so much through musical motifs as it does through moods and the visceral journey. For instance, the slow and methodic “Raindrop” sets you up for the Britpop feel of “Seek Again.” The album flutters to its end with “Salutas Ambitus,” which I can only compare with “Sylvia” by Eurythmics in concept (and this is a very high complement!).

Track Listing:
1. Focus The Glance
2. Strong Mimetism
3. Wonders
4. Flat Iron
5. The Attic Life
6. Raindrop
7. Seek Again
8. The Separation Motion
9. Badmilk
10. Salutas Ambitus

“End Up Komedie” (2010)

The sophomore album, much like the debut, easily glistens through various different musical references. “The Flying German,” the opening track, has that late 80s guitar-rock pop feel of bands like Echo and the Bunnymen. Then “The Rays” slips in with a more noise pop / shoegaze feel to it. This time around, the songs are briefer, but continue to pack the same visceral effect as the first album. The third (and titular) track is the shortest on the album, clocking in at under one and three quarter. Though centered on an acoustic rhythm, the song is a new twist on noise pop.

Again, you journey though one musical landscape to another, but this time there is more diversity in the “density” of each song. Think of it like this, when the feelings the song is projecting is fleeting, the music is more minimal, such as in “Tale in Gold,” but when the music is projecting a viscerally heavy powerful feeling, then the music is dense, such as “Rumble / Jumble.” What I should state is that all of the “feelings” are not always weighty or gloomy at all; this album can be very playful. For instance, “Jack” is musically carefree and whimsical, while “E2E2,” which borders on synthrock, is very introspective without being broody or gloomy. Regardless, Van Diamond is able to generate undertow in their music.

Track Listing:
1. The Flying German
2. The Rays
3. End Up Komedie
4. Jack
5. Tale of Gold
6. Rumble / Jumble
7. Wake Up Lucy
8. E2E2
9. Happy Knees
10. Riverstone

Keep up with Van Diamond at their MySpace.

Here is Van Diamond’s video for “The Attic Life” from their MySpace Video Page.

The Attic Life by Van Diamond

VAN DIAMOND | Myspace Video
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26 January 2011

Mutineers Answer 5

I came across Mutineers a few months ago and reviewed their debut album, “Friends, Lovers, Rivals,” back in December (link). Two months after my first listen, the more I listen to their music, the more I like it. It was only a matter of time before I would reach out to the band and ask them for an interview. So I would like to personally thank guitarist Michael Reed for taking the time to Answer 5.

Mutineers / Photographer: Scott Kershaw

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

At the time of the writing of the album we were listening to a lot of 80s guitar pop bands like The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order; so in terms of musical decoration you could say them sorts of bands were a direct influence. Obviously we're not cavemen and a lot of what has been going on recently or what we hear on the radio has also had a general effect on the outcome of the songs. I can't really speak for Nick lyrically but I’d take a guess that a lot of his lyrics are either taken from his life experiences (especially the story telling aspect of some songs) or influenced by the fact that he was working in a book shop and had lots of spare time to browse any subject that took his fancy whilst the band were in what I'd call "writing mode."

2. “Mutineers” is an interesting name, how did you settle on it? Is there a mutiny?

The obvious answer to this is that it just sounds cool and looks good in print. The real test is whether you're embarrassed or not when somebody asks what the name of the band is after seeing a show.... It does however have some sort of meaning. We were all in different bands that were either fairly well known nationally or locally prior to Mutineers and there was a vague *mutiny* in that we all jumped ship (clever eh?) into something new.

3. At least on this side of the Atlantic, when most people think British music, they think London off the bat. But you guys are associated with the Manchester scene. How has that given you a distinct flavor than what is being paraded abut the in the British music scene?

I wouldn't say we feel part of any scene as such... Manchester is quite disparate musically, lots of bands with very different sounds and there's not really much solidarity which is quite unlike what it was like say in the late 70s with the post punk scene or in the late 80s and early 90s with all the Manchester bands centred around Factory Records and so forth. In recent times the Manchester bands that have been getting noticed are generally a product of the university students from other places forming bands whilst they're here studying... whereas in the past the vast majority of the bands were from working class or even poverty stricken backgrounds. I'd say that's the biggest change.

Mutineers / Photographer: Mickey Smith

4. I grew up on a heavy overdose of the 80s, so I am guilty of making comparisons between bands today and that now legendary decade. But as the band being compared, is that an advantage or not having those kinds of comparisons?

Well I’ve already touched upon this slightly in your fist question but I’d say the biggest disadvantage this band has had in terms of getting noticed or finding good people to work with within the industry isn't really down to musical style or comparisons with bands from a couple of decades ago...it's more centred on the snobbishness that the industry and perhaps even more so the music press has against musicians that have perhaps been around for a while or aren't quite "boxfresh" so to speak.

5. Any plans on coming to America?

We'd love to but can't see it happening anytime soon unless an extra 100,000 record sales appear overnight or Michael Stipe and his boys want to take us on tour with them! The album has been a real word of mouth/underground grower sort of thing, so you never know I guess!

Keep up with Mutineers at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is an audio clip of Mutineers’ “The Auctioneer” from the armstrongthomas YouTube Channel.

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25 January 2011

Matthew Mercer: "Pianissimo Possibile"

When I heard about the release of “Pianissimo Possibile” (25 January 2011 in the USA), I was instantly curious. Matthew Mercer, who has released music in the past as a solo artist, is best known as half of the house / electronic duo Microfilm. Upon first listen, I was amazed! What makes “Pianissimo Possibile” very interesting is that it is the opposite of what you would expect. Unlike so many artists who release a solo album that rehashes what we are accustomed to from them, he does not follow the trends of what he has done with Microfilm. Instead of delivering a collection of house music, “Pianissimo Possibile” is an instrumental study in musical construction. The best way I can describe this is by giving into a heady literary lexicon: deconstruction, pastiche, and fabulation.

“Pianissimo Possibile” revolves around the deconstruction of improvised piano and its reconstruction in various different arrangements. This is obvious from the opening track; “Slipping Through the Center Of An Hourglass” starts with a simple chord, followed by a “chasing oscillation” sound of sorts. This continues right through a series of a few chords for about a minute, and then more steady chords with low string arrangements in the background, then back. Eventually the piano arrangements expand from the rhythm chords exclusively to include melody and more play with the oscillation before returning back to the feel of the beginning. Throughout this song, we are teased and treated to the different variations of these chords and the different musical terrains they can be reconstructed into. This is followed in the next track, “My Heart Hopscotched A Beat” (incredible title!), including a beat and a great range of different arrangements. Again, methodically deconstructing and reconstructing itself into a variety of different arrangements, unlocking the different potentials for interpreting / experiencing these chords.

There is only one way to move forward, and that is to look backwards: pure pastiche. The very sounds on the album are completely reminiscent of the past; from the different instrumentalization (pianos and strings) to amazing synth effects (as in “And The Sky Opened Up”), Mercer often retreats into the past, but does so only to usurp these elements and breathe new life into them. Most evident in the closing track, “One You Me Too,” Mercer ingeniously moves from one deconstructed / reconstructed arrangement to another, with quite a large bag of old tricks, especially in the play of the beat “sounds,” and does something new and fresh. He never regurgitates the past, nor does he take cues from the past in the sense of “revival”; Mercer, instead, is re-envisioning how music can be played with. (One of the tracks’ title even eludes to the pastiche: “The Presence Of The Past.”)

As I said, this is an instrumental study, so the “fabulation” is not in verbal artifice, but rather in musical artifice. Unlike many other electronic artists, who use electronic means to create music in the same way as “analogue” artists do, Mercer does not construct his music to reference the expected. This is not instrumental music in the way that certain tracks simply remove the vocals or are written with that verse-chorus mentality; the music here is more “classical” and “organic” in feel, like the track “Your Sun-Faded Photograph.” The artifice here is to present something outside of the box as the norm. But unlike most albums that attempt to do this, your senses are never anxiously awaiting for something that you have experienced before. Instead, the music, especially “Flickering Little Flame,” is so inviting, you are swept into the soundscape without thinking twice.

The irony is that “Pianissimo Possibile” translates into “As Quiet As Possible”; though the music lacks the sonic volume as house music would, Mercer’s musical study is grandiose. Not grandiose in a loud and pretentious way, but rather grandiose in its attempt to usurp the past, merge-deconstruct-reconstruct everything in it path, and produce music that is outside of the box with the same tools that have existed for decades. I have not been as mesmerized by a completely instrumental collection since Michael Nyman in 1993. Matthew Mercer, through a minimalist approach and an elaborate visceral undertow, has really created a collection of songs that you should invest in.

Track Listing:
1. Slipping Through The Center Of An Hourglass
2. My Heart Hopscotched A Beat
3. Flickering Little Flame
4. I See You Seeing Me
5. And The Sky Opened Up
6. A Bad Case Of Nerves
7. Your Sun-Faded Photograph
8. The Perfectionist
9. The Presence Of The Past
10. Rising To The Occasion
11. At First, And Then
12. The Art Of Eye Contact
13. One You Me Too

Keep up with Matthew Mercer at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to his Bandcamp site where you can preview and purchase “Pianissimo Possibile.”

Here is Matthew Mercer’s video for “Sky Opened Up” from his YouTube Channel: matthewdmercer.

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22 January 2011

Happy Second Birthday

Have two years past since the birth of SlowdiveMusic Blog? This year posed its own problems and growing pains; from sadly parting with collaborators to personal obstacles making it impossible to be consistent for two months, I have truly learned how difficult running a blog can be. But it at this point that I need to pause and thank everyone who has and continues to read these pages and has supported SlowdiveMusic Blog.

There are many things I enjoy about running this blog, but I have to admit that reaching out to bands for interviews is one of my favorites. It is never a random process, they are always artists that intrigued me, made me scratch my head, and/or whose music / craft I admire. Of course not everyone accepts the request for an interview, but those that do really make my day! So I need to take a moment to personally thank the artists who took the time to Answer 5: Baddies, Fossil Collective, JB, Microfilm, My Luminaries, New Concept, Northern Portrait, Orphan Boy, The Silent League, Sudden Death Over Time, Via Audio, Viking Dress, VV Brown, Windy City Gentleman, and Young Michelin.

Massive thanks to The Android Angel for being the first to sit down with “Mirage” and film an interview (any other takers?).

And of course to Steve Moore and his band The Unravelling. Though indie proliferates through these pages (I can only image what Moore thinks about some of these bands!), The Unravelling, an amazing progressive metal band, not only agreed to interviews, but also has supported the blog. My thanks to them over the past two years is immense, and I would like to give them a small warning: when our paths cross, I do plan to put you in front of a camera and film an interview!

And before I carry on, there are four others I need to thank. First, DJ Chauncey D – you keep me on my toes about music! Second, Charlie Vazquez – your consistency and passion inspire me. Third, The Candyman – thanks for making me remember tons of great music I had not thought about in years. And of course, Mirage – thanks for sticking around and investing your free time on the blog.

Last year at this time, there was one video I really wanted to share with everyone, but it was no longer available. As I have stated before, when I decided to start my own blog, I wanted the name of the blog to represent musical history; I wanted the name of the blog to reflect my own discovery of music. I think that many people expected me to name the blog somehow after The Cure, which continues to be my favorite band of all time. But, oh how wrong they were!

[Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Slowdive” from their YouTube Channel: bansheesofficial.]

Inspired by the above song, Siouxsie and the Banshees were one of those bands that really helped define a generation of musicians and my own musical tastes; from punk to post-punk, from helping to lay down what would be goth rock and “alternative,” if ever a band existed that deserved much more credit than it got, it was Siouxsie and the Banshees. And their music continues to speak to a new generation, but that is thing about all great music: it is timeless.

[The Cure’s “Primary” from TheCureVEVO Channel.]

So as a new year starts to unfurl, I am thinking of how the blog is going to grow; I am not going to make predictions, though I am more than considering a few things. One thing for sure is that I don’t want to plan it to death; I think that things work out best when things are allowed to happen naturally and on their own. But some things will never change: Tuesday reviews of new music (as long as there is a release we can’t resist), videos twice a month, a strong quality of writing, official links and embeds, and no unauthorized downloads. I continue to want to be a legitimate site, with credibility that will allow artists to be comfortable to want to accept an interview and share their own music when they like, which a few have in the past. I guess I continue to use the word “journalism” in what I do, and for that reason I am really considering for the first time writing a few pieces on a few things I really do not like, for the sake of balance. (It is only a consideration at this point, and one that is more likely to follow the format of an editorial than a review.)

[Erasure’s “Ship of Fools” from the MuteChannel YouTube Channel.]

Here are two conventions that we use at the blog quite often. As of 9 October 2009, when there is blue colored text before the post, it is simply a bit of editorializing or a personal message to someone out there. When there is red text before the post, usually thanking an artist for keeping us in the loop, it means that something (usually music) has crossed from one hand to another. It is all in line with legal disclosure laws; any reader has the right to know when this or any blog (or any media outlet of any sort) has directly received anything for review. I want to state that we have chosen not to review items that we received, as neither a collaborator nor I could stand by the product. So if we reviewed it, we liked it … period.


Blur | Myspace Music Videos

[Blur’s “Parklife” from their MySpace Videos Page.]

Two of the things I really want to devote more time to this year are a few more retrospective and genre posts. Retrospective are single album reviews of important albums in a band’s discography that is at least ten years old (hint, a specific sophomore album hits the ten year mark on 17 July 2011). Genre posts surround one genre of music and five albums, and I have been working on a darkwave (which includes my favorite Dutch band of all time) that I have not yet finished but will find the time. But there are tons of genres out there that never get covered properly, such as Electroclash, Electronic Body Music, Glam Punk, Intelligent Dance Music, and Synthrock.

Everything Counts

Depeche Mode | Myspace Video

[Depeche Mode’s “Everything Counts” from their MySpace Video Page.]

Suggestions are always welcomed. If you have an idea, a band, a suggestion, or a topic you would like us to cover, leave a comment here or any of our sites (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). We will definitely consider, as we have in the past, any suggestions. Recently, I got a good suggestion from a reader who said that we should include iTunes links, especially when there are no videos to share. Not that we favor iTunes over another vendor, but their platform allows you to preview the songs; it was a brilliant suggestion that we have started to incorporate.


MUSE | Myspace Video

[Muse’s “Hysteria” from their MySpace Videos Page.]

In case you are wondering why these videos, as there is always reason behind my madness, it is quite simple. Other than the first one, which I could not post last year, these are singles from band’s third albums. Somewhere inside my crazy mind I thought “third year of the blog” worked nicely with “third albums of bands.”

[Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again” from the EurythmicsVEVO YouTube Channel.]

On that note, I would like to say once again thank you for the support!
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21 January 2011

Alphafalls (Part Two): "The Missing Seasons"

A few months back, I listened and wrote about Alphafalls’ music on their MySpace (link) and it has taken me this long to follow up on that post (my apologies). As I wrote back in November, what initially caught my attention was the band’s description of the music: “If the Beatles had grown up listening to modern pop and Seattle grunge, you would have Alphafalls. Classic song form meets current sounds…” And then I got to listening and got to thinking, and I will repeat myself: I love nascent artists – the possibilities are endless. Twenty-years ago, a young artist/act would not have the means to put their music out there in the way that MySpace has allowed artists to over the last seven years. There is no longer the need to wait for a major or indie contract … there is no longer the need to rely on promoters to get your music half way around the country or the globe. Moreover, there was a time that albums were not necessarily part of the journey, but rather the end product, but all of this is changing. This is something that Luke Scott-Hinkle (who employs the moniker Alphafalls) understands well.

“The Missing Seasons” (8 August 2011 in the USA) may be a “complete” album, but it is also the Scott-Hinkle’s journey in music and discovering his “voice.” The album opens with “Adam & Evil (This Time),” which I think is a bold move, considering that thematically the song is perfect as a closer. The two themes at work here is that of “Adam” (having everything you could imagine, an entire world of creation, but no one to share it with) and moving on through failed expectations. This sets the album up beautifully. This is followed by the savvy “Love Me Back,” which in this position on the album, the emotional drama of the music is played out in the vocals and the rhythm guitar. The third track, “Frozen Moment,” has the most haunting line in it, which has haunted me since I heard it the first time: “The smell of your lips lingers as into you I bleed.”

The arrangement of the tracks can really bring out something different than hearing it in isolation or in different combinations. “Feels Like Goodbye” gains visceral power where it is sandwiched as the fourth song on the album. It is followed by “A Little Love To Die By,” which was not streaming on the band’s MySpace. The piano / key arrangements are really different than the rest of the songs on the album. And when he sings, “What the fuck is this life for?” there is more undertow than on any other song on the album. Musically, a bit darker, a bit more sophisticated, this is one of two songs on the album that may not fit in with the rest neatly, but definitely makes you wonder what else is influencing Scott-Hinkle other than the Beatles or grunge.

This is followed by “Drink” and “Said That You Would Be” (the other track that does not fit in comfortably with the rest, bordering on a real sythnpop feel at times), the album closes with “Different,” which was also not streaming. The song addresses the recent incidents of gay teen suicides – “Who I love is not wrong, your reaction leaves me stunned …. If you were still my father, if you were still my brother, if you were still my friend, you wouldn’t see me different.” Ending on much the same note as the album started, being “Adam” and learning to stand alone, the song captures the anguish of being different and being shunned for it. It is a song that will resonate with anyone whose differences has been met with ire and ill will, at the same time bringing up an issue that seems to be rarely talked about: teen gay suicide. A bold closing to any album!

Track Listing:
1. Adam & Evil (This Time)
2. Love Me Back
3. Frozen Moment
4. Feels Like Goodbye
5. A Little Love To Die By
6. Drink
7. Said That You Would Be
8. Different

Keep up with Alphafalls at their homepage and MySpace. Head over to iTunes (USA link) to preview and purchase the album.

Here is the video for “Adam & Evil (This Time)” (original) from their YouTube Channel: Alphafallsmusic.

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20 January 2011

Fossil Collective Answers 5

Back in November 2010, I had the opportunity to review The Fossil Collective’s “Honey Slides” EP (link), and I knew that I wanted to pose some questions to the band. So, after a few e-mails and many time consuming obstacles on my behalf, I would like to personally thank David Fendick for taking the time to Answer 5.

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

Neil Young, Midlake, Fleet Foxes, Elliott Smith, Charles Bukowski (“Honey Slides”)

2. What is the genesis (and meaning) of “Fossil Collective”?

Well the project is primarily Jonny and myself, but the “collective” part means we open it up for other local musicians to help us out, which we have done on the debut EP (“Honey Slides”).

3. Composing and recording as a duo now, what is the process of composing and laying down the tracks for “Honey Slides EP”?

We usually focus on stripping it down acoustically and nailing a good vocal melody, which was always the case in our previous band (Vib Gyor). As far as building the songs up, we are very open-minded and tend not to stick to any rules - just see what comes out. It's something we really enjoy doing, so we don't ever think 'what would other people like to hear?'

4, Any live performances planned? What could we expect on the stage?

Not at the moment. It's all about getting the best album written that we can, before we hit the road.

5. I have heard whispers of a full-length album, so I need to ask, what's next for Fossil Collective?

We have a really good relationship with iTunes US and they have asked us about some kind of exclusive album release through them, so we are very busy writing new material. Expect the album out by the end of the year.

Keep up with Fossil Collective at their MySpace and Facebook. Also, take a look at Take Aim Fire (label).

Here is their video for “On & On” from their MySpace Videos Page.

Fossil Collective - On & On

Fossil Collective | Myspace Music Videos
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19 January 2011


Second round of videos for the month … earlier this week, someone told me that I best not review Esben and The Witch’s upcoming album, “Violet Cries.” She was adamant that she would review it; so I am happy to say that we will have a guest writer sometime next month. (And of course Alphafalls, Van Diamond, and Femme Fatale posts on their way.) Furthermore, earlier this month I was reunited with my sixth grade teacher; I partook in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program that she arranged at my old grammar school. To believe that all these years later, it is a song that inspired both of us – so I had to include it right off the bat. So enjoy The Human League’s live rendition of “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of” and the other videos.

The Human League performing “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of” from the Electronic Beats Viemo Channel.

The Human League - The Things That Dreams Are Made Of (live) from Electronic Beats on Vimeo.

Those Dancing Days’ “Fukarias” from the wichitarecordings YouTube Channel.

Esben and the Witch’s “Marching Song” from the matadorrecs YouTube Channel.

The Radio Dept.’s “Never Follow Suit” from the labradorrecords YouTube Channel.

Pecker’s “Paris, Tokyo, New York” from their YouTube Channel: peckerpop.

Gorillaz’s “Phoner to Arizona” from their YouTube Channel: gorillaz.

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18 January 2011

White Lies: "Ritual"

The very first album reviewed on SlowdiveMusic Blog was White Lie’s “To Lose My Life” – it encapsulated everything that post-punk (revival) was all about: dark, ambient, thriving, and introspective. As far as debut albums go, a band cannot hope to have a more solid one. I got to see the band live and the Bowery Ball Room (in New York City), and they demonstrated that they could pull off their music live, with as much … no even more … power than the album. Of course, six months after your debut release, people want more, and this is something to be weary about. Fact, most bands live with their early music, which evolves into their first album, for months, years sometimes, allowing them to pick the best of the best; sophomore albums are typically written from scratch and more often than not lack the “umph” of debuts. Not only did White Lies have to live up to the expectations they created with songs like “To Lose My Life” and “From The Stars,” there was the inevitable constant comparisons to contemporary heavy hitters, like Editors, Interpol, and The Killers, and the veterans, like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Joy Division. But the band took a deep breath, entered the studio, and now released “Ritual” (17 January 2011 in the UK, 18 January 2011 in the USA) – and I want to say that this is no sophomore slump.

First thing, get rid of false expectations … that is our own expectations; many people were expecting the next “Unknown Pleasures” or “Pornography” – that simply was not going to happen. Though White Lies takes its cues from the past, their intentions are not to be carbon copies of past monuments. (And that is the problem with expectations and comparisons; quite often they are unfounded.) What White Lies has done here is broaden their musical references; the post-punk influence is still there, but the synthpop is more overt, and though the past is parading all over this album, it still manages to be fresh.

With a big arena-ready intro, “Is Love” methodically builds up musically and Harry McVeigh’s voice is as alluringly dramatic as ever. This is the kind of track that is begging to be remixed for dance floors, with its odd ostinato that adds a very interesting sonic element that heightens the drama of McVeigh’s singing. Then “Strangers” eases in, “I’ve got a sense of urgency, I’ve gotta make this happen. No stone unturned. I’ve got a sense of urgency, I’ve gotta make something happen. No stone unturned.” Sung in an arrangement/vocal style that is completely new to their repertoire, it is this kind of anthemic posing that is all over the album. My favorite track on the album is “Bad Love.” Though it is usually a turn off to sing in platitudes, the band’s music and McVeighs vocals makes the song completely convincing: “If I’m guilty of anything it’s loving you too much.” It is obvious that the band wants to reach higher musically dramatic moments and more intense poetic lyrics than they did before, and I am sure some naysayers will critique their stabs at “big lyrics,” but it is really hard to deny that this sinsterly sensual song is as good as it gets.

I would be remiss if I did not say a few words on the production aspect of the album. Good producers help a band experiment; great producers bring out the best in whom they work with. Alan Moulder (who has produced the likes of Depeche Mode, Erasure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Killers, My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails, and Smashing Pumpkins) is a great producer. His presence may very well be the reason there are more synthpop (electronic) elements on the album, and, as alluded to above, there are new arrangement styles all over the album. And though the tempo shifts are not drastic, it is the distinct sounds and sonic quality of the each track recording that makes up the difference.

Add this album to another solid album on Fiction Records catalogue. Though I am still not sure what is “ritualistic” about the album, White Lies’ may not have produced what some people may have expected, but that does not change the fact that they did produce a solid and stoic album. Sure, even I wanted more along the line of “A Short Term Effect,” but even my jaded ears got perked up listening to this album. And like Editors before them, White Lies takes a big step from “post-punk revival” to “post-punk” with this album.

Track Listing:
1. Is Love
2. Strangers
3. Bigger Than Us
4. Peace & Quiet
5. Streetlights
6. Holy Ghost
7. Turn the Bells
8. The Power & The Glory
9. Bad Love
10. Come Down
11. Bigger Than Us (Dataseete Remix) - Bonus Track
12. Bigger Than Us (Factory Floor Remix) - Bonus Track

Keep up with White Lies at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Here are the UK and USA links to iTunes – you can preview and purchase the album.

Here is their video for “Bigger Than Us” from the WhiteLiesVEVO YouTube Channel.

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16 January 2011

Clara Engel

This should have been posted months ago!

I will admit first that I discovered Clara Engel late in the game and am still wrapping my head around many of her poetic metaphors. But that is the rub: this is poetry set to music. Let me be more specific: these are not poetic lyrics; these are powerful poems set to music. Combining elements of folk, jazz, blues, and standard pop, her music flutters (at times) and rushes (at other times) from one cathartic experience to another. The main instrument is always her voice. Actually, there are songs that her voice many not sonically drown out the other instruments, but in your reception of the song will only be haunted by her voice. It is one of those powerful, distinct female voices – like Bush, Lang, Lennox, MacNarland – that carry so much visceral power and lyrical curiosity.

An independent artist, free from the shackles of corporate intervention in the direction of her music; this freedom is paid for my not having the promotional capital that labels are able to offer. So below is a mini-review / description of each release in her discography; if curiosity gets the best of you, you should head to the bandcamp site (link below) and preview and buy her music.

Jump the Flame (February 2004)

Four tracks, twenty-seven minutes, these are gorgeously poetic lyrics: “All the cherries bleed for you / my mouth is full of sores / a sick sweetness hangs / on my breath / like a drunken lizard panting fire” (“All The Cherries”). As you may gather, this is not a collection of upbeat, mindless, throwaway pop. Highly introspective, using music to accent the visceral power of the lyrics, this is a collection of beautifully haunting songs. What makes these songs so contemplative is their air of ambivalence. Though set to a consistent emotional range musically, the four songs do not dwell on specifics. Lyrically avoiding all clichés, the metaphors are new and fresh, open to a world of interpretive possibilities: “I wish I was the absinthe drinking man, in a lethal blue” (“Absinthe Drinking Man”).

Track Listing:
1. Charcoal Morning
2. All The Cherries
3. Black Licorice
4. Absinthe Drinking Man

“Clara Engel” (April 2006)

“Landscapes fly away, I stare at my fingers and sleep is far away, father than Portugal when I am far away” (“Farther Than Portugal”) – Engel brings brooding to all whole new level with this collection of seven tracks. Increasing her range of musical references; for instance, “Whip Dance” harkens away from the acoustic feel of her previous music, introducing a dark twist to 90s rock. “Turkish Love Song” revolves around a haunting arpeggio and a metaphor of a metal flower: “I fell asleep and a strange metal flower cut me; I woke up crying, I have nothing left for bleeding…” No drums, keyboard and vox effects in the background, the song truly carries on the tradition of the dream poppers and shoegazers who infused the gothic atmospherics to their music.

Track Listing:
1. Black Garlands
2. Farther Than Portugal
3. Whip Dance
4. Turkish Love Song
5. Tabu
6. From Berlin to Broadway
7. Circus Horses

“Cousin Mary EP” (September 2006)

Starting with some French, “Le Passage d’une Vie A l’Autre Vie” demonstrates the sheer dramatic power of Engel’s voice – this is a continued motif throughout the EP. This is most wonderfully done during “A Place in the Sun.” Near a cappella in the beginning, then a gentle piano joining the arrangements for ambience, the drama of longing and desire echoes clearly through her voice: “So hold me in your arms, break a spell that’s held so long; this time I want to be inside, not looking on.”

Track Listing
1. Le Passage d’une Vie A l’Autre Vie [The Passage of One Life to Another]
2. One Wave
3. A Place in the Sun
4. Cousin Mary

“Tender” (March 2008)

Opening with “O My Love Is a Hurricane” – a slow, dark, folky song – the title may imply a harsh song, but instead the song wallows in visceral ambience as Engel sings, “O my love is a hurricane, can’t be collared or chained; o my life is a valley raped by a storming rain.” “Appetite For Pain” follows, and though the minimalist musical arrangements will definitely hook you, it is Engel’s voice that is center stage. There is something about the way she sings this song that is infectious and haunting. Another track that is haunting is the apocalyptic “Illuminate Me.” Minimalist in every sense, Engel’s voice this time borders on being detached and yet captivating in the pain it is orchestrating: “Curly haired cupid you can rest your head, the lovers lie together, dead.”

Track Listing:
1. O My Love Is a Hurricane
2. Appetite For Pain
3. White Elephants
4. How Many Horses
5. O Sailor
6. Margarita’s Got Limousines
7. Illuminate Me
8. The Opium Song
9. Forsake You
10. Narcissus Mad For Power
11. Hard To Get To Heaven
12. Why For An Hour
13. I Wear Your Coat
14. Do You Know How It Is?

“Secret Beasts” (December 2009)

The albums name made me scratch my head. It hadn’t seemed that there were any secrets in her music, and the music is definitely not “beastly.” So exactly what was the angle here? I think it hit me when I listened to the fourth track, “To Be Without,” which reminded me of the Stockholm syndrome – “I don’t want mercy to be sweet, I want the sting of your deceit, the one that drags my pride on its knees is the one that I’m loving.” The secrets here are those obvious things in life that we either take for granted or are ashamed to admit, and, therefore, don’t bother to articulate. For instance, wanting to “feel you up” (“Old Fashioned Love”) or “faithful lies keep love alive” (“Ghost Opera”) or even “my words are stones cast into the sea” till “I have no words” (“I Have No Words”). Closing with a haunting, near post-punk, acoustic epic, “Chorus of Murderous Bells” is Engel’s most harrowing and haunting song till date. Full of paradoxical, poetic musing (“So let flesh dress my bones till I’m only bones”) and post-punk stream of consciousness (“We smash our bliss with hammers, godhead swells, my love is a chorus of murderous bells”), it is all the distinct fragments of experiences conjoined together that create the visceral power of the lyrics / vocal arrangements, that are accented by the instrumental arrangements, especially the drums.

Track Listing:
1. Break in the Sun
2. Ghost Opera
3. The Beauty of Your Design
4. To Be Without
5. Old Fashioned Love
6. Madagascar
7. I Have No Words
8. Not My Child
9. Like My Fins
10. Angelus Bells
11. Blind Me
12. Chorus of Murderous Bells

“The Bethlehem Tapes” (April 2010)

As per Engel, she was in Bethlehem, PA USA guitarless. She borrowed an old acoustic guitar (from Sarah Shown) and these seven songs started to take form. She states that some of the songs she had carried with her “for a few years,” and there was never the intention of recording an album, but one afternoon it all came together. The music is at its most minimalist, the lyrics at their most poetic, but the maturity and continual mastery of her craft is more than obvious. Musically relying on the interplay of guitar with cello that do not work in tandem, but somehow still create a single visceral effect. Lyrically, the poetry has a stronger narrative quality and a mastered free verse. Whatever clicked that afternoon in Bethlehem was spot on.

Track Listing:
1. Accompanied By Dreams
2. Trembling Dust
3. I Only Bet on the Rain
4. Hole in the Sun
5. Heaven of Leaves
6. Light Years
7. Skywalk to Crescent Town

Here is a clip for “Accompanied by Dreams” from her YouTube Channel: tremblingdust.

"Raphael" (November 2010)

Though released in November of 2010, the music was recorded live at Toronto’s Tapestry New Opera Works on 14 March 2008. The opening piano notes on “Raphael” are chilling, which sets you up for the following lyrics, “O Raphael, I want to drown you in the wishing well, I want to set you free.” Not only does the chilling piano continue to play throughout the song, again the poetical paradox, this time of drowning and being free – without all the doom and gloom, she engages that old poetic tradition of freedom in death. The song that will get your attention is “Love Is Egyptian in Her Bones.” The piano arrangements are playful, with a jazzy-pop to them. The song muses about what is love, and at one point Engel sings, “go ask Jezebel, ask Joan of Arc” – two of the strangest allusions to make. On the surface, a Phoenician princess and a Catholic saint, but dig a bit deeper and I get it: love can be a false prophet or the cause of martyrdom.

Track Listing:
1. Raphael
2. Poplar Tree
3. Bloodthirsty Doves
4. Love Is Egyptian In Her Bones
5. Chorus of Murderous Bells
6. Travailler C’est Trop Dur [Work Is Too Hard]

Here is a clip of “Raphael” from her YouTube Channel: tremblingdust.

Keep up with Clara Engel at MySpace and Bandcamp, where you can preview and purchase her music.
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11 January 2011

Wire: "Red Barked Tree"

Time for a cliché: have you ever had an old pair of jeans? You may have totally forgotten about them, but when you slip them on, there is a familiar sense of creature comfort – and maybe old memories come rushing back. When I heard that Wire was releasing their twelfth studio album, “Red Barked Tree” (11 January 2011), it was that proverbial cliché of the old pair of jeans. Though I had not listened to Wire in months, I must have listened to “In Vivo” about forty times in a row! Thirty-three years into their career, surviving the original punk and post-punk movements, outliving the new wave and alternative rock eras, and now releasing in the second decade of the twenty-first century in the midst of an 80s / post-punk revival, what is on offer in “Red Barked Tree” is a retrospective of the different styles / genres the band has mastered along the way, with subtle twists in the nuisances, all the time continuing to produce some of the savviest and most contemplative lyrics.

The album starts subtly with “Please Take”: “Please take your knife out of my back; and when you do, please don’t twist it!” But this account of “another sugared lie” and “latest alibi” has some of the best lyrical play: “I felt the stab in my blind side, a poisoned blade to paralyse, a cosh of cash, a net of drink to anodise, no longer think…” And the witticisms continue in the second track, “Now Was”: “You’re the wizard of was, becalmed in because the newab of no, with no place to go. A grandmaster crashed, whose future has past. The wazir of fear, now: Seer of the year.” The first track has a definite air of post-punk almost bordering on the etherealness of dream pop, while the second has the sense of urgency that punk was built on. This urgency is visited again in “Two Minutes” – not so much sung as relying on sprechgesang, the constant wall of sound, especially at the beginning, creates a beautifully powerful undertow.

“Bad Worn Thing” is my favorite track on the album; unlike so many of their contemporaries that continue to produce music, Wire has not shied away from making bold statements about the world they live in. It is the punk in them: “Jam sandwich filled with Uzied peelers, frisking pimps and dawn car dealers; the Fat Controller’s transport inches; when stealing lives, he never flinches.” Later in the song, “Follow me! No explanations…” And that single quote seemingly sums up most politicians’ platforms. Wrapped neatly within a thriving, post-punk bassline and beautiful layers of guitars, this is the kind of anthemic song that needs to be heard on blaring speakers. But I could carry on for hours on each of these tracks … whether it is the languishing “Adapt” or the closing, socially critical, acoustic epic “Red Barked Tree,” this album does not have a single second of filler or fluff.

Gems … gems … and more gems, this album is oozing with lyrical genius and musical acuity – though only forty minutes long, this album is packed with power. Wire proves, yet again, why they have sustained the test of time. And though many bands continue to make music after their shelf lives have expired, “Red Barked Tree” reminds us that Wire still has many tricks up their sleeves and many words left to write. Check this album out.

Track Listing:
1. Please Take
2. Now Was
3. Adapt
4. Two Minutes
5. Clay
6. Bad Worn Thing
7. Moreover
8. A Flat Tent
9. Smash
10. Down to This
11. Red Barked Tree

Keep up with Wire at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Head over to iTunes (USA link) to preview and purchase this album.
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08 January 2011

First Round of Videos

Welcome to 2011 … I am back in form, so I know that over the next few weeks I have some severe catching up to do (including Alphafalls, Clara Engels, an Italian band, Femme Fatale, and a French band, Van Diamonds … not to mention a little post on darkwave and a few interviews.) And I am starting to feel giddy about the upcoming releases: Wire, White Lies, The Joy Formidable, Social Distortion, Esben and the Witches, Cut Copy, Mogwai, and PJ Harvey! And of course, I promised myself to get to more shows this year… perhaps I will be crazy enough to get out to Bestival (I wonder why?)!. Below are a few videos and clips to kick off the year – including some video catching up, White Lie’s latest single, a live version of “Personal Jesus,” and two covers (Hello Operator’s “Come Undone” and The Kooks’ “Head Over Heels” – more of a clip than a video). So, to quote Mr. Robert Smith, “ONWARD!” and Enjoy…

White Lies’ “Bigger Than Us” from the WhiteLiesVEVO YouTube Channel.

Hello Operator’s cover of Duran Duran’s “Come Undone” from their YouTube Channel: hellooperatortv.

The Kooks cover Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels” from their YouTube Channel: thekooksofficial.

Scissor Sisters’ “Invisible Light” (featureing Sir Ian Murray McKellen) from the ScissorSistersVEVO YouTube Channel.

Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” live from Barcelona, from their YouTube Channel: dmdotcom.

Hooverphonic’s “The Night Before” from the HooverphonicVEVO YouTube Channel.

Wilder’s “Skyful of Rainbows” from the RoughTradeRecordsUK YouTube Channel.

Bag Raiders’ “Sunlight” from the modularpeople YouTube Channel.

Smith Westerns’ “Weekend” from the elpossum Youtube Channel.

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