29 March 2011

Skywatchers: "The Skywatchers Handbook"

My thanks to Jarrod Gosling for keeping me in the loop.

Have you ever been a starwatcher, gazing at the stars in the night sky for hours on in? As you see the stars shining and flickering down, you are hardly conscious of the time and space traveled by the light for you to contemplate on. And this is the appropriate metaphor for me to start on “The Skywatchers Handbook” (13 September 2010 in the UK, 13 September 2010 in the USA in digital format, 21 September 2010 as physical import). Just as it is impossible to watch the totality of those starry skies, this debut by the Skywatchers was not originally in my radar. My introduction to the world of Skywatchers came this past February, when Jarrod Gosling reached out to me about their latest single, “Serves Me Right” (link). A few weeks later, I came home to a parcel, with the CD in it; I unwrapped, flipped through the liner notes, and listened to the album, unaware of all the time and space traveled before I was having this experience.

The new project of I Monster’s Dean Honer and Jarrod Gosling, with vocalist Kevin Pearce, “The Skywatchers Handbook” is a seductive collection of electronic and electroacoustic tracks. One of the hardest things for musicians that rely heavily on an electronic mean to produce music is producing vocals that are warm, full of conviction, and engaging. Not every vocalist can do this against electronic music, but Pearce’s voice not only melds well with the musical arrangements, its distinctiveness and mutability from style-to-style continuously allows the music to unravel in the most unexpected ways. Musically, the band’s references are everywhere, from current indie trends to synthpop, from trip hop to lounge. From the simplest arrangements for a big ambient feeling to complicated interplay of sounds and textures for a spacey feel, track-to-track the music is constantly weaving distinct soundscapes. For instance, the album opens with “Dead Flowers For Her.” With a simple guitar arrangement and a synthpop influenced ostinato, you are introduced to a seemingly tranquil world, which is subverted into musical anxiety. No, the underpinnings of the arrangements are not distinct, just the beat and part of the accompaniment. But it is the ingenious reconfiguration from track-to-track, and often within a track, that is the genius of this album.

I love the ambience of “Soul Baptist.” The key arrangements reminds me of the arrangements you may hear on an aboriginal didgeridoo (occasionally the sound is also reminiscent). Albeit, it is a spacey, trippy take on these kinds of arrangements, but what gets me is how contained the song is; you may be waiting for the song to explode into something else, just as the previous (opening) track did, but it never does. And it is in that “containment” that the song gains visceral power. Later on, the single “Serves Me Right” surfaces; the most urgent sounding song in terms of current indie rock trends, what makes it different is just how sophisticated this song is. From the subtle changes in the percussions to the multilayered keys, it is the most obvious track to point to just how much attention to details the band places on their production.

Hands down, my favorite track is “Ever Felt the Sky?” The best ostinato I have heard outside of the 80s! Alone it conveys a ponderous feeling, but not the anxiousness that comes with it. But it is the layers of the ostinati and the fact that the chorus is ingeniously phrased as a question draws the listener right in. And just like “Soul Baptist,” the song is contained from exploding into something else, which adds to the deep-seated desire to ponder away. Soon, the album twinkles to an end with “Keep Watching The Sky.” Definitely the trippiest and most psychadelic song the album, it breaks into a tribal-esque beat, as if watching the sky is part of a ritual. Two thumbs up for including the unexpected: the saxophone solo (played by Michael Ronald Somerset Ward).

I, personally, regret not discovering this album last year; but just as that light from stars travels time and space for us to experience, this long traveled album, “The Skywatchers Handbook,” is a brilliant experience. Now it is time for me to arrange a (loud) listening to this album while actually stargazing.

Track Listing:
1. Dead Flowers
2. Soul Baptist
3. The Curious Village
4. Rhythm Of Ashes
5. Serves Me Right
6. The Lunar Time
7. Do You Want To Go To Space Young Man?
8. Ever Felt The Sky?
9. Small Lights
10. Keep Watching The Sky

Keep up with Skywatchers at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Serves Me Right” from their YouTube Channel: skywatchermusic.

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28 March 2011

The Hope Slide Answers 5

I reviewed the eponymous debut by The Hope Slide back in December (link). If you are half as obsessed with the world of dream pop / shoegaze as I am, this is a band that you need to listen to; conversely, if you know little about this world, this band is infectious enough to make you a fan. So with an apology to the band for this not going up sooner, I would like to thank both John and Michaela for taking the time to Answer 5.

Photographer: Rebecca Blissett

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

John: Musical influences are a funny thing, because no matter what we would consider to be influencing us, in the end we just do what we do. My tastes as a listener are constantly evolving, but the way I play the guitar hasn’t really changed much in the past six years or so. I’d say Robin Guthrie and Kevin Shields have inspired me in that area, although I don’t actually try to play like either of them. As far as production goes, I like Ulrich Schnauss and M83, but I honestly have no clue what they do in their studios. It’s probably a lot different from what I do.

Michaela: I’m influenced by anything that makes me feel something. This could be music, literature, philosophy, world events, personal relationships.

2. Both of you have worked together for quite some time, previously in Hinterland. But The Hope Slide is a duo; how has this new dynamic changed your approach to composing and recording music?

John: Having fewer opinions to take into account makes it a lot easier to get things done. Michaela and I don’t tend to have many aesthetic disagreements.

Michaela: More music, less politics. We are able to just focus on writing, and making the songs sound how we want them to sound without having to navigate diverse opinions and preferences.

3. The name of the band, The Hope Slide, seems to be a double entendre. How did both of you settle on the name?

John: I think we both claim to have come up with it! It was actually floated as a potential title for the last Hinterland album, but it fits our current music a lot better.

Michaela: We’ve both travelled past the location of the Hope Slide disaster since childhood. Knowing that there are still human remains under all that rock, and knowing how suddenly the mountain fell on top of unsuspecting people just going about their lives, leaves a lifelong eerie impression.

Photographer: Rebecca Blissett

4. Most musicians seem to sway away from political and social statements, but not The Hope Slide. How important do you feel it is for musicians to take a stance on different political and social issues?

John: Our songs might bring up various issues, but I don’t think anyone could accuse us of suggesting what other people should think about those issues. I tend to dislike the mixing of politics and art, because I feel that one inevitably compromises the other. The imperative to deliver a message tends to limit what you can do artistically, because every aspect of the art then needs to be “on message”. Mostly, I just don’t like being told what to think.

Michaela: I think it matters that people write about what resonates with them. I think life is political, so it is hard for any kind of art not to be. But, I don’t think that artists need to be overtly political unless that is what compels their expression.

5. Accompanying your album release, you have released "The Hope Slide Remixed." Why release alternate versions of these tracks? As artists, what do you think is the importance of remixes of tracks?

John: It was just for fun, really. It’s something I would like to keep doing. Also, I’m available for remixing other people’s tracks!

Michaela: Even though the songs are about specific events, they have an open texture – they are not overtly representational. So, there is room for people to bring themselves to the songs. Having remixes done is a really interesting way to glimpse other people’s aesthetic experience, and provide listeners with different ways to experience the songs themselves.

Keep up with The Hope Slide at their MySpace and Submerged Records page. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can preview and purchase “The Hope Slide” and both remix collections.

The Hope Slide has contributed a track, “The Survivor,” for “Rock Back for Japan,” a fundraising compilation series for disaster relief. Support the cause at this link for Patetico Recordings.

Also, check out the photography of Rebecca Blissett at her homepage.
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26 March 2011

The Internet: “The Internet” EP

Shoegazing is really gaining more and more traction in the USA, and The Internet (band’s real name, imagine trying to Google them!) are trying to put their own spin on the genre. The Internet came across the blog’s radar via Twitter, when the band started to follow us there. Hailing from Santa Barbara, California (USA), we thought we would cover the release of their debut EP, “The Internet” EP (28 May 2010). Though a year old, this is shoegaze that gets right under your skin in such a good way.

First off, the album’s cover, for a person who knows quite a bit about computer circuitry, is a picture of a very retro computer board like the one I have recently been working on. When looking at the cover, it holds true to the name of their band, the Internet in a primitive sense: just a bunch of wires, transistors and pretty red lights. In many ways, this is analogous to the band; the shoegaze references are of the older kind, from before its heydays.

The first song of the album, “Don’t You Know?,” gives you that feeling of having a montage of you and a few friends on the beach, having a good time surfing. Shoegaze meets surf rock, this song proves that current American music scenes have something to add to the British indigenous shoegaze. “Pretty Please” has a solid bass line accompanied by the guitarist use of pedals giving you a noticeable cry of the guitar. Once all that is said and done, there is a smooth transition from the first minute thirty to post-punk for the rest of the song. “Spaceships” starts off quite funny with three simple words. “Suck On This!” overall is a very ingeniously melodic song. “Sill Otter!” is one of those songs that are very cute talking about an Otter that they meet while at the beach. “What You Think” starts off with a guitar leading in the rest of the musical arrangements. The track continues to amaze you with the brilliant guitar work and brilliantly crafted guitar solo.

One listen, there is no doubt that this young band, The Internet, is intriguing. Keep this band on your radar; I for one am ready for new music.

Track Listing
1. Don’t You Know?
2. Pretty Please
3. Spaceships
4. Silly Otter!
5. What You Think

Keep up with The Internet at their homepage and Facebook. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can preview and purchase “The Internet” EP.

Here is a clip of a live performance of “Don’t You Know?” from their YouTube Channel: WeAreTheInternet.

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Pendentif: “Pendentif” EP

Our thanks to Renaud from La Bulle Sonore for keeping us in the loop.

Mentally, I’ve surfed the seven seas dozens of times in search of a dream, a dream whose concoction is made from imagination, high-spirits, and things that are borderline fantasy. To find music such as this there is usually a journey that is involved; pop music is found to be rather exciting, there is an essence of freedom coursing through the veins of the music makers and when experienced on an auditory level, listeners can further vouch for this notion. To be said in a more descriptive way, most people listen to music because it is a counter-intuitive escape to their rather normal lifestyles.

I’ve pondered the oceans of music in search of music to make me tired on happy terms and with such ponders I’ve found artists such as Daft Punk whose elaborate work of synth-pop can induce a high amount of amusement into the blood stream; there has also been one of my favorite violinist/singers to have ever reached my playlist by the name of Alexander Rybak whose folk-pop is both sad and enticing in every way. And surely I cannot exclude a great artist known as Imogen Heap who creates both mental and visual dreams that do in fact become a reality. I will admit that it is nice to step out of the circle every once in a while just to chase a dream or two.

Originating from France this band is in my opinion a small epiphany for what true, classic French-pop is; having always been intrigued by the French language, I automatically found this group to be quite enticing. Pedentif [Pendant in English] just happens to be one of those bands that strives to create a new world. A specific need to portray their feminine influences within their music, they have developed a way to mix almost dream like lyrics with surf colliding rhythms. Their songs are mostly influenced by natural elements, seasons, gems and friends. Their new EP, “Pendentif” (28 February 2011), is in fact their way of showing off their exuberant knack for dreamscapes.

Their introduction to their EP is “Rivera,” I am fondly reminded of past music videos that I have watched where there is a recorded shot of the sky in fast forward and there is an expression of how things change with the continuation of time. There is a strong array of feelings that could be felt solely towards their friends. Personally I wish I was a speaker of French so I could further understand the lyrics that are sung so eloquently to one’s ear. Soon after the most enchanting opening is the “Les Villes,” which I am pretty sure means Cities. The rhythms are definitely paced and considered to flow evenly with their almost angelic voices. And again I feel like I am in a place where they sky is flowing past me at top speed but to be more idealistic in a city whose scenery is underneath the setting sun. I am elapsed in a dream state when I listen to their next track, which is self named: “Pendentif.” There is an essence of relief from all the high paced rhythms that were played prior to the third track. I enjoyed this song very much because it seemed slower than their usual choice of musical portrayal. The ending track is “God Save La France,” to be honest is doesn’t sound as desperate as the name, in fact it sounds like there might even be a cheering underneath that same fast forward sky but this time under a tree with many happy faces.

Everyone needs a little pick me up every now and then, now am I right? Pendentif is my idea of such a thing, with the upbeat tones and catchy French lyrics. So there is an advised need to listen to the “Pendentif” EP on a sunny day when you just want to make someone grin!

Track Listings:
1. Rivera
2. Les Villes
3. Pendentif
4. God Save La France

Keep up with Pendentif at their MySpace.

Here is the track “Rivira” from La Bulle Sonore’s Bandcamp page.

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Ports of Call Answers 5

Hailing from The City of Brotherly Love, Ports of Call’s “Fractals” EP blew my mind away back February (link to review). Trust me, being so close to Philadelphia, on my list of things to do is to check out the band live, because as you listen to their songs, you are can only imagine how powerful they can be live. A few e-mails later, and too much time elapsing on my behalf, I am really excited to post this very in depth interview. I would like to thank Ports of Call members Tom, Thomas, and Charles for taking the time to Answer 5.

Photographer Barry Lindenmuth

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

Tom: Lou reed, Echo and the Bunnymen, Radiohead. Countless others that I am not worthy of.

Thomas: Grant Morrison, Pale Saints, Sarah Records, Sartre, The Lilys, The Swirlies, many other bands with the word “the” in their name, Sebadoh, Stereolab, The Muppet Show, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Charles: I'm typically influenced by whatever music I'm listening to at any given moment in time. Lately, it's been a lot of older bands like Afghan Whigs (a band I'm ashamed to admit I missed out on in the '90s when I was younger), Swervedriver, and The Dismemberment Plan, as well as new(er) bands like Warpaint, Tamaryn, and Deerhunter, among many others. I'm constantly discovering older music I've missed out on as well as checking out new stuff, so anything that catches my attention is an influence on me.

2. One of the things I really like about “Fractals” is just how hard it is define musically. To call is shoegaze and move on seems a bit inane, but of course “labels” are always used in describing music. So here is your chance, how would you define the Ports of Call sound?

Tom: We try to stay away from calling what we do "shoegaze" just because it would be misleading. We love shoegaze bands, and some of that definitely makes its way into what we do, but we don't consider ourselves a shoegaze band. We are just a rock band that's been influenced by tons of different sub-sub-genres of whatever. We like spacey keys and fuzzy guitars. So... we are a spaceykeyfuzzgaze band... I guess.

Thomas: Yeah, it's hard to label, probably cause we're somewhat frantic and a bit ADD; I usually just say we play fuzzy pop songs.

Charles: In my opinion, one of the best things that defines our sound is that none of us are extreme virtuosos at playing our instruments or being "musicians"... although Andrew Grossman, who played bass on both the first album and the EP, is pretty close to being a bass master. In any case, we try to utilize what we have within our abilities and play off each other when we make music.

3. Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle – that is what most people think of when they think of “rock” in the USA. What does The City of Brotherly Love have to add to the mix?

Tom: It's funny you say that, because there are a bunch of Philly bands that, in the last couple of years, have really started to gain some attention... Kurt Vile, Reading Rainbow, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Free Energy, The War on Drugs, etc... And there are plenty more who should get some attention. It seems like it's always been hard for bands from Philly to get fans outside the city. There have always been tons and tons of great bands here.

Thomas: What Tom said; Philly has a lot going on right now, a lot of great bands on the cusp and some great bands just getting rolling like Party Photographers, Creepoid, Pet, Milk, Memory Tapes, and so forth. I think what Philly has is we aren't NY or LA or seattle. What I’m amazed at is I hear there are some bands coming out of Brooklyn now, I was amazed, I mean bands.... from Brooklyn, who knew?..... But seriously I think what Philly has is a passion and a hunger that can only be found in a city that isn't.

Charles: Philadelphia equals a working class city, so it's fair to say it's a city full of working class musicians. I feel that most artists and bands from Philly, no matter what genre, work hard to make great music and do everything in their power to earn what they get.

Photographer Barry Lindenmuth

4. One of your recent Tweets really got my attention: “Congrats to Arcade Fire. Maybe it’s not rigged after all!” Are you as cynical about the music industry as I am? What is your take on the current state of the industry?

Tom: I wouldn't say I'm cynical about the music industry... I think the parts of the industry that we care about are thriving right now. It is easier than ever for bands to get their music to a wide audience. What I more meant by that tweet was a cynicism about the Grammy awards specifically. The album of the year category has always been kind of a commercial award, given to the most financial viable nominee, and not necessarily the most creative, innovative or critically acclaimed one. It was just very refreshing.

Thomas: Yeah, though that wasn't my tweet, I still think it’s rigged – the industry at large I mean. There are tons of people doing great stuff and starting to get recognition, but still its hard not to see that it's a lot easier to pay a promotion company a couple thousand dollars to pimp you out to all the big blogs and college and Internet radio stations, than it is to just push yourself as much as you can. I mean we've had those conversations with people inside the industry and it's a bitter pill to swallow, but it kind of comes down to what road you'd rather take and what kind of stuff you're willing to put up with.

Charles: Who is Arcade Fire? Ha, just kidding... Like every other year, I didn't watch the Grammy Awards. I mean, good for them and all, but I couldn't care less. The real winners out there are the kids who are making music with their friends in garages and basements, and don't care about record sales or award shows, but rather just having fun creating something to share with anyone who is willing to listen to them.

5. I love vinyl, but this post-broadband revolutionized world is all about digital music, especially in the USA. Trust me, I am excited about getting “Fractals” on vinyl, but what is the rational?

Tom: Surprisingly, vinyl sells much more often than CDs at shows. CDs are dying out because they're just a digital format that takes up physical space... if you can get the exact same quality or better without having the physical product, wouldn't you just opt for downloading it? Independent labels have been doing a great thing for a few years; they give a free download with the vinyl copy of the release. Vinyl is made for people who want a physical copy, something they can't just download. You can be much more creative with a vinyl release than you can with a CD release... choosing the color of the vinyl, the quality of the vinyl and there is a lot more room for creative artwork. Also, Thomas and I are pretty big vinyl collectors ourselves.

Thomas: Yeah, I think the digital revolution brought vinyl back alive with a vengeance. With an iPod/iPhone what’s the point of a CD? But with vinyl and a digital download you get great bit art, something big and fun to have and cherish, and a digital file for all your 01001001 goodness. I mean for me there is something wonderful about the experience involved in vinyl. Having to get up, flip the record, listen straight though. I remember in college I worked at a little record store in West Philly and I bought a used copy of My Bloody Valentines “Loveless” that came in, and I went home and listened to it on vinyl for the first time and it was like a religious experience. Laying on my bed just zoned for the entire first half, and then at the perfect time getting up just as I was falling to the lull of the music, and switching the record to fall right back in from a rest point. It was amazing and I think it's a connection with music that a lot of people are still looking for. It’s something you can never get from an mp3 alone, and with vinyl + digital download you cover all bases.

Charles: I'm not a big vinyl collector, and I don't really buy CDs anymore either. In fact, I sold all my CDs a few years ago so I could make room for other junk. But to Tom's point, I think a lot of true music lovers out there either want the ease of digital media, or the tactile experience of owning and collecting vinyl. Or both! CDs feel like throwaway media more and more these days; I don't think any of my friends even buy CDs anymore. We all get our music digitally or on vinyl.

Keep up with Ports of Call at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can preview and purchase “Like Thieves...” and “Fractals.” Also, head over to their Kickstarter page and help support the release of the “Fractals” EP on vinyl!

Here are the tracks “Fadophobia” and “Ballinora” from their Bandcamp page.

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22 March 2011

Cult of Youth: "Cult of Youth"

When I first heard Cult of Youth’s eponymous full-length debut (22 February 2011), I was not sure what to make of it. Actually, to be completely honest, I originally decided not to review the album. Not because I did not like it, but rather because it perplexed me, and I could not figure out exactly why. Folky but as aggressive as punk, energizing but broodingly dark as goth … I was simply not sure how to approach the album. A few days ago, I was driving (at high speeds) when a song came up on my iPod (“Requiem” by Killing Joke), and all of the sudden something clicked. I flipped through my iPod and played “Cult of Youth” again, this time listening to them on their terms – not on mine, not as a critic, but definitely as a lover of music.

First off, let me say that Cult of Youth is a welcome addition to the world of folk music; they defy, in many ways, the typical aesthetics of folk by incorporating the aggressiveness of punk. For instance, “Cold Black Earth” has the urgency and the anxiousness that is present in all great punk, except that it is done acoustically. Secondly, let’s not call them folk! The band is most definitely more than that label, or even punk; “Casting Thorns” has that broodiness of the goth rockers that hailed from post-punk, as the string arrangement does not only serve for ambience but also to keep the song wallowing in dramatic sadness. And tracks like the epic “Lamb” or the closer, “Lace Up Your Boots,” bring (post)industrial references into the mix. Like the Pogues, Cult of Youth has the ability to deconstruct a familiar genre and reconstruct it in their image. Instead of feeding into any of the clichés that you would expect from folk, this New York band has taken the familiar to create something that is viscerally disarming. If you insist on using the “folk” label, remember this is nowhere close to your parents' folk!

The opening track, “New West,” is one of the most cinematic songs I have heard. Folky, but western, propelled by a “trotting” rhythm (with almost an air of new wave to it), what really makes the song is Sean Ragon’s vocals. Somewhere between a young Morrissey and a young Peter Murphy, the best way to describe the style is “detached but tortured.” This is most apparent in the vocal arrangements of “Lorelei,” which is accented with horns as detached as the vocals. Of course, anyone can get up in front of a mic and be detached while singing, but that usually leads to bad vocals, devoid of conviction, and a feeling of disingenuousness. With Ragon, like the post-punk masters before him, what is conveyed is his sense of contemplation, the feeling that he is thinking (and feeling) through the words as if they were being created on the spot. Not only is the style of his vocals as urgent as the music, his very voice bestows a sense of visceral relevancy to the lyrics.

So what clicked? Simply, as anyone else, I had to put my own expectations aside; just like some other great musicians/bands out there, like Killing Joke or Dead Can Dance, the only way to listen to Cult of Youth is with reckless abandonment. This is an album that deserves that “post” label; beyond folk, beyond punk or industrial, beyond trite expectations, the music on this album may take cues from the past (as all musicians do), but what is created is something so fresh (in terms of folk) that it is bewitching, even though you may not want to be. If that is not enough to convince you to listen to “Cult of Youth,” let me be cliché for a moment, here are two words to define this album: New York – a soundscape that is diverse, riveting, uncompromising, and boomingly urgent and relevant! Take a plunge and be as perplexed as I was when listening to Cult of Youth.

Track Listing:
1. New West
2. The Dead Sea
3. Monsters
4. Casting Thorns
5. Through The Fear
6. Weary
7. The Pole-Star
8. Cold Black Earth
9. Lorelei
10. The Lamb
11. Lace Up Your Boots

Keep up with Cult of Youth at their MySpace and Facebook.

Here is a video clip of Cult of Youth playing “Cats” (apparently renamed “Casting Thorns” on the album) and “Monsters” from the unARTigNYC YouTube Channel.

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Femme Fatale Answers 5

Anyone who mentions Velvet Underground in an interview gets extra bonus points from me! Back in February, I reviewed Femme Fatale’s EP, “Fading Night Sounds” (link) and of course got curious about the Italian music scene. A few e-mails later (and an apology for taking a bit long to post this interview), I would like to thank the members of Femme Fatale – Mick, Rox, Dave, and Nick – for allowing us to stream "Fading Night Sounds" in its entirety and for taking the time to Answer 5.

(Photographer: Lucia Rosini)

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

[Nick] Well, as a band, we clearly have some common influences that made us decide to play together; for example, we share a love for ’90’s Britpop, indie rock, and shoegaze. Besides that, it is not that often our musical tastes coincide, but I don’t think this is such a negative thing. We started from a collective base, now what we want is to keep on this way, trying to put in our music more about our different ways of being, listening to music and so go on, since we are pretty convinced that our differences are strengths!

The same about the non-musical ones: everyone has his own, inspiring things. Even if it seems a little strange, weather changes and late night hours are really inspiring for the members of a band.

2. “Fading Night Sounds” was an independent release. Could you share with us how the EP came together?

[Dave] The making of “Fading Night Sounds” has been a hard but instructive experience. When we arrived at the studio, the songs were virtually written, we only had to work more on some arrangements. Since we are all hi-fi’s sounds admirers, we rejected the idea of trying a home recording, deciding upon a recording studio in a city we’ve already visited.

We wanted to give to “FNS” the most professional feel we could, even for the artwork (which I personally think is amazing), the final product’s printing, copyright’s stuff, etc… Naturally, this process brought us through a lot of bureaucracy, and an investment of time and energy. But now we are really proud of it, since we have a “product” that can be compared even to professional [corporate] ones, and we made it all by ourselves. You can imagine how satisfied I get to see people’s positive surprise about this!

3. “Fading Night Sounds” is sung in English; are any of your songs in Italian? Or have you chosen English as your music’s language? If so, why?

[Mick] “Fading Night Sound” is sung in English and for now there are no plans on writing in Italian, but who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow.

We have chosen the English language along the kind of music we wanted to play when we begun, and we got used to it. But I repeat, we don’t want to give ourselves a limit to a specific genre or language for the future; we’ll sing in all the languages we want sing, eheh!

(Photographer: Lucia Rosini)

4. "Femme Fatale" is an interesting name for a band composed of men; why did you guys settle on this name?

[Rox] I clearly remember the moment when Dave, the other guitarist, came out with Femme Fatale. We were looking for something that could have been easily remembered by people, but with a soft “decadent” touch. Last but not least, “Femme Fatale” by Velvet Underground is one our favourite songs!

Of course, sooner or later, I’d like to hear, during a show, something like “Hey! What’s that, I was waiting for a bunch of beautiful girls!” It would be really funny!

5. Any plans on releasing more music in the near future?

[Collectively] Naturally, besides promoting “Fading Night Sound” and touring the most we can, everywhere we are requested, one of the goals for the near future is to keep on evolving our music. We’ve written a lot of material in which we really believe, even if it sounds, as I told you before, a little different than what we have done in the past. We are looking forward to recording this material, but we won’t probably seriously speak about recording until this summer’s end, or autumn, because we want to be sure to produce something even better than “FNS,” musically and technically.

Keep up with Femme Fatale at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you happen to be in Italia, check out the band on the following dates:
Friday, 25 March: MILK CLUB, Genova
Friday, 20 May: at the second round of Contest Torino Sotterranea, Torino

As mentioned above, here the stream of Femme Fatale's "Fading Night Sounds."

Femme Fatale - Fading Night Sounds by Femme Fatale band
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16 March 2011

The Joy Formidable: "The Big Roar"

Every time I hear someone mention The Joy Formidable, there is never a consensus as to what to call them; some refer to them as art rock, others as noise rock/pop, others as generic indie (rock), but there is never any agreement to where exactly to place them. This, in fact, is one of the attractions to this Welsh trio: you cannot commodify them by any single label. I learnt that myself when I interviewed the band (link) and reviewed their debut release, “A Balloon Called Moaning” (link). Releasing their first full-length album, “The Big Roar” (24 January 2011 in the UK, 15 March 2011 in the USA), The Joy Formidable proves true to form: powerful music that does not follow the clichés of current indie. Miles away from revivalism, and even further away from glossy, frilly recordings that capitalize on production gimmicks and not songwriting talent, this is an album of amazingly brilliant craftsmanship.

Here are three ways to look at the album: confident, big, and poetically brutal.

There is nothing tentative about this album. No production gimmicks to enhance the band’s sound, the band is confident enough to put their music out there in the most minimalist fashion possible at times, and at others as bombastic as the best of them. In fact, The Joy Formidable was so confident of their product that they included previous released material on this much-anticipated debut, which breathes new life into these songs. It was like I was listening to “Cradle” for the very first time. Regardless if you are listening to the epic opening, “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie,” which wallows through noisy arrangements and backgrounds, or the straightforward “Austere” or the mysterious “Chapter 2,” each song on the album breathes conviction through and through. There is no feigned posturing, just viscerally powerful music.

It is rare for a trio to have such a big sound … and “The Big Roar” as a title is more than appropriate. It is not big in the sense of arena, stadium, or festival ready (which it is on all three fronts!), but it is big in concept. Just relisten to the familiar “Whirring.” Is it indie pop? Is it noise pop? Is it art rock? Is it shoegaze? Is it Britpop? No, no, no, no, no … it is all of that and more. The music on the album capitalizes on its mutability within each track and each track’s ability to reference musically more than most bands do. What should be a cacophony that makes you run in the other direction ends up becoming a big adventure through different, often time aggressive, sonic terrains that are tempered and made seductive by Ritzy Bryan’s mesmerizing voice. But make no mistake, that aggressive music is as mesmerizing; take “A Heavy Abacus” for example: from soft and hollow, to lusciously full and dreamy, each terrain of music is meant to illicit not just a visceral response, but a physical one as well.

I am a lyrics person, but lyrics fall short when the band cannot sell them with the music and the vocalist with conviction – not the case here. The music wraps around the lyrics perfectly (or is it the other way around?), while you cannot stop wanting to listen to Bryan’s voice. But these are not great poetic lyrics for poetical posturing; these are great and brutally honest poetical lines for catharsis. “My Love, love is the everchanging spectrum of a lie, a lie to hide behind when nothings right…” (“The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie”). Now I’ve been there! But not all the lyrics are personal, some have great social implications, like in “The Magnifying Glass”: “…the world is cruel and outsides licking lips, all I know let’s shed the myth.” Of course, the most heart wrenching one is at the close of the album: “..this dream is in a telescope now…” (The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade”), far away, perhaps never reachable.

I have waited for quite some time for this album, and “The Big Roar” was well worth the wait. In a nutshell, I think everyone should give The Joy Formidable’s “The Big Roar” a bash.

Track Listing:
1. The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie
2. The Magnifying Glass
3. I Don’t Want To See You Like This
4. Austere
5. A Heavy Abacus
6. Whirring
7. Buoy
8. Maruyama
9. Cradle
10. Llaw = Wall
11. Chapter 2
12. The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade

Keep up with The Joy Formidable at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

“Austere” (original video), “Cradle,” “I Don’t Want To See You Like This,” “Austere” (official video), and “Whirring” from their YouTube Channel: TheJoyFormidable.

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Streak and the Raven: “The Federation” EP

With the modernization of all the worlds’ music, it is nice to take a step back and take a breath. There is a strange anamorphic vision that seems to float through the mind when listening to music that flows like a quiet stream on a spring afternoon with the birds relaying their songs to one another. Nice imagery huh? Sometimes it is hard to come by bands that convey this type of expressionistic overlay; there are known bands such as Explosions in the Sky, Chairlift, Télépopmusik, and maybe even Emiliana Torrini. Unfortunately they have not had the recognition they deserve; they need to be dug up and put on display to receive their rightful recognition. In many ways, that process is the best part, when there is something new and unknown that can become enchanting, and what is enchanting me at this moment is Streak and the Raven. After they e-mailed SDM (blog), we took a listen, and I knew I wanted to be the one to review “The Federation” EP (8 February 2011). They have the ability to reintroduce their listeners to easy-listening music with a twist, whether it is the use of words or even the choice of how instruments should be played.

Hailing from Finland, this nascent band came into existence two years ago, with their instruments in hand and straps slung over their shoulders. They created their own vortex in the time and space continuum by conveying music that illustrates the everyday with its peaks and valleys – in essence, panorama pop. After a few dates at major festivals during last summer, the band would return to the studio in December to compose and record their new EP, “The Federation,” which they mostly recorded live. Hopefully you will also notice the warmth of the sessions comes through in their songs despite the biting cold of the past winter. This time they dropped some of the guitars and devoted themselves to vocal harmonies and oscillators.

The title, “The Federation,” does indeed convey the idea of unity that embodies something significant. The music is not as strict as the names are but when considered it is imagined that one is trying to eradicate memories from a lost time, it is almost as if there is an idea of floating that needs to be passed through the songs, an idea of what it might be like to be a Raven, perhaps. The first track is “The Federation Begins”, as for a beginning this definitely is one: I see it as there being an essence of a journey that is near and with its approach there is a raven that has come to lead them. “The Federation March” is like a marching song, and most seemingly it is almost dangerously painful. Painful in the context that there is something important to be conducted, there is imagery of one traveling with strangers who are focused on the same concentration. And finally there is a feeling of relief and a lack of tension which was indeed needed for the final track; “Stones and Berries” gives vision of being alone with only a single heartbeat resounding in the open air… somewhere in a forest maybe. As an artist, I figure it is a wonderful thing to float through the visceral creations of one’s mind and this band might be one of the best that I have heard thus far this year, in terms of the way that I am inspired to paint things that fly everywhere.

One listen to Streak and the Raven and I was instantly hooked. Like a fish caught fast in a net, Streak and the Raven caught my attention. I so suggest that if you would like to float off into a parallel universe of illustrated backgrounds and a constant heartbeat of drumming, you should then take a moment to introduce yourself to Streak and the Raven’s “The Federation” EP.

Track Listing:
1. The Federation Begins
2. The Federation March
3. Stones and Berries

Keep up with Streak and the Raven at their homepage (where you can experience their music), MySpace, and Facebook.
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15 March 2011

Videos on the Ides of March

Happy Ides of March … hope that no one got stabbed twenty-three times! First off, I apologize that we have been busy … or as my saying goes, life, life, life… But over the next few days expect to see quite a few posts. Posts will include Brothertiger, Cult of Youth, Femme Fatale, The Internet, The Joy Formidable, Pendntif, Ports of Call, The Skywatchers, and Streak and the Raven. In the meantime, here are some videos. Enjoy!

Guillemots’ “The Breakfast” from their YouTube Channel: Guillemonts11.

Patrick Wolf’s “The City” from his YouTube Channel: patrickwolftv.

The Answering Machine’s “Lifeline” from their YouTube Channel: AnsweringMachineBand.

Senses Fail’s “New Years Eve” from the vagrantrecords YouTube Channel.

The Sound of Arrows’ “Nova” from their YouTube Channel: TheSoundofArrows.

Plan B’s “Writing’s On The Wall” from their YouTube Channel: planbuk.

Diego Garcia’s “You Were Never There” from the Nacionalrecords YouTube Channel.

The Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood” from the NakedFamousVEVO Channel.

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10 March 2011

Art vs. Science: “The Experiment”

Art vs. Science are not the dance-punk you are accustom to listening to when you listen to bands like Metric or Head Automatica, but what Art vs. Science have done is take it to a new level. Hailing from Australia (and of course I am really into the Aussies music scenes lately), their debut album, “The Experiment” (25 February 2011 in the USA), is not an album you want to pass up.

Art vs. Science has a method to their madness: keep their listeners on their toes, destroy any predictability, and changing up the style of each song. They never give you the song or feel twice on the album; this is a testament to their strong songwriting chops. In “Higher” you have funky melodic harmonized singing and later some auto-tuned vocal arrangements, while mixing in a bit of new school phasing noises to old beats. Then all of a sudden they are rapping about Augustus Gloop, a character from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Go figure.

“Finally See Our Way” and “Magic Fountain” are the first two singles off the album. “Finally See Our Way” is a fun song, something that you would play to put a smile on your face, generally try to put you in a good mood with its upbeat tempo. “Magic Fountain” is one of those songs I would expect to hear in original UK series “Skins” (hint to the producers), for it is one of those tracks that you play when you are about to do something illegal … I mean fun.

“Bumblebee” has to be one of the most hypnotic songs I have heard. Its beat will make you bob your head until you get a headache, or something starts shaking and you are thinking I best stop this shit. Not to mention that the lyrics are just one word, “Bumblebee.” I assure you that the song will stay with you. When I played this song for my friends, the moment I sang “Bumblebee,” they all joined me within ten seconds – now if I can get them to shut up! It is the most addictive song … sort of like those chemicals in “Skins.”

Whether you think this is art or a cold calculated electronic science, it is hard to refute that Art vs. Science has created a masterpiece with “The Experiment.” Experimental from beginning to end, get ready to listen to this and then hit repeat over and over and over again.

Track Listing:
1. Finally See Our Way
2. Take a Look At Your Face
3. A.I.M. Fire!
4. Higher
5. Magic Fountain
6. With Thoughts
7. Meteor (I Feel Fine)
8. Rain Dance
9. Bumblebee
10. Heavy Night
11. Sledgehammer
12. Before You Came to This Place
13. Finally See Our Way, Linus Love Remix – bonus track

Keep up with Art vs. Science at their homepage, Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter

Here are the videos for “Magic Fountain” and “Finally See Our Way” from their YouTube Channel: ARTVSSCIENCE.

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09 March 2011

Those Dancing Days: "Daydreams & Nightmares"

Stockholm … five young women, between the ages of twenty and twenty-two … savvy indie pop … perfect production ... Of course I am talking about Those Dancing Days’ sophomore album, “Daydream & Nightmares” (1 March 2011). Sophomore albums are usually a tricky thing to compose and record; from the moment of the debut release, critics and fans start to speculate what direction the band should venture down. The kiss of death, more often than not, is a sophomore slump; these slumps destroy any hope for momentum and usually have people reevaluating what their initial feelings about artists were. Of course, Those Dancing Days have nothing to worry about; without a doubt, “Daydreams & Nightmares” far surpasses the debut album, “In Our Space Hero Suits” (2008), and offers up what indie pop is really supposed to be about: inviting, radio-ready music that is not boggled down with clichés or production gimmicks.

Musically, though not a great departure from the debut, the album sees Those Dancing Days refining their sound, at the same displaying a wide range of styles. Opening with a very synthpop rift before the beat drops, “Reaching Forward” explodes into an infectious guitar arrangement that plays off the beat and synth, in much the same way as the guitar in the chorus of the Tears For Fears’ classic “Pale Shelter” did. The feel of the music shifts to the carefree, but dreamy, “I’ll Be Yours.” “Dream About Me” plays a little with the style of percussion arrangements the band uses, closer to classic post-punk experimental beats than the obvious new wave influences. So three songs in, and you cannot help but notice that the each song that follows slightly shifts and expands on what the band is sporting out.

The album includes the (indie) rocking “Fuckarias” (video below). I loved this song from the first moment I heard it back in December. What I love about this song is that it does exactly what a lead single is supposed to do: get you curious enough to listen to the rest of the album. Not the obvious single on the album, as musically it is a bit distinct from the other tracks, but then again there is no obvious single on “Daydreams & Nightmares.” Reality, just about any of these songs could have been the first single, but the band gets two-thumbs up for realizing the one the track with the sketchy title and the most rocking beat.

But gems are all over the album. Something that the band has mastered is how to arrange the music to work in tandem with the vocals; on this sophomore album, the vocals are not as focal as they were on the debut. Though the vocals and lyrics are better than the first time around, you immediately are aware of the fact that this band is finally working as well-oiled machine. So why play with this winning combination for the closing track, “One Day Forever”? Orlando Weeks, of The Maccabees, duets on this song. Now, I love Weeks’ singing, but I just could not see this working, but oh how I like to be proven wrong! Linnea Jönsson’s voice may not merge with Weeks in perfect unison, but they do converge to generate an allure that I have not heard since Jarvis Cocker and Miki Berenyi [Lush] sung “Ciao!” (one of my favorite duets of all time). The chaotic, disarray of the music as the song comes to an end just adds to the allure of the song.

Simply put: Those Dancing Days’ “Daydreams & Nightmares” is no sophomore slump. This is an amazing indie pop album for anyone interested in listening to pop that breaks the clichés and molds of what it means to be radio-friendly. And for those that consider “indie pop” such a dirty phrase, I assure you dirty never sounded better!

Track Listing:
1. Reaching Forward
2. I’ll Be Yours
3. Dream About Me
4. Help Me Close My Eyes
5. Can’t Find Entrance
6. Fuckarias
7. Forest Of Love
8. When We Fade Away
9. Keep Me In Your Pocket
10. I Know Where You Live, Pt. 2
11. One Day Forever

Keep up with Those Dancing Days at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for “Fuckarias” (from the wichitarecordings YouTube Channel) and “Reaching Forward” (from the UniversalMusicSweden YouTube Channel).

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04 March 2011

Videos, Videos, Videos

Thought I would sneak on and post some videos. Enjoy!

Glasvegas’ “Euphoria, Take My Hand” from the glasvegasVEVO YouTube Channel.

Kyte’s “Fear from Death” from their YouTube Channel: kytetheband.

Senses Fail’s “The Fire” from the vagrantrecords YouTube Channel.

IAMX’s “Ghosts of Utopia” from their YouTube Channel: iamx.

Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers” from her YouTube Channel: lykkelivideos.

Beth Ditto’s “I Wrote the Book” from the BethDittoVEVO YouTube Channel.

Erland & The Carnival’s “Map Of An Englishman” from the FullTimeHobbyRecords YouTube Channel.

Hurts’ “Sunday” from the HurtsVEVO YouTube Channel.

Sea of Bees’ “Wizbot” from the HeavenlyRecordings YouTube Channel.

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01 March 2011

Barnacle Bill: "Barnacle Bill"

My thanks to Stu Klinger and Yianni Naslas for keeping me in the loop.

Imagine for a moment a band that had no shtick – just solid, no frills, music. It is not a rarity, but it is not commonplace in a music industry that is content with selling image and attitude, that is content on using celebrity and the personality of artists to sell an album. However, in reality, what makes a good album is one that sells itself for its music and not anything extraneous of what you are listening to, and Barnacle Bill’s eponymous sophomore album (1 March 2011 in the USA) is one of those albums. Let me start with what I would usually leave for the end: this is solid craftsmanship, devoid of production gimmicks. A New York City trio composed of Stuart Klinger (guitars, vocals), Yianni Naslas (bass, vocals), and Steve Wickins (drums, vocals), the band is truly representative of what I love about this city: straightforward, uncompromising, and passionate.

In the sense of a pre-broadband revolutionized world, “Barnacle Bill” is an album; there is sonic and thematic unity streaming through these twelve songs. Even though there are two lyricists and lead vocalists (Klinger and Naslas), they both continually question change and stability, failing love and true love. But even more intricate is the fact that the band can be anti-anthemic, that is composing songs that appear to be an “anthem” but belied by its lyrics. The opening track of the album, “Like You’re Supposed To,” is the perfect example of this. From its big fuzzy guitar chords (verging on early New York punk), the spot on thriving drumming, and Naslas de facto singing style, you expect anthem, but instead of definitive lyrical posturing to mirror the music, you get, “Change like you’re supposed to; rearrange like you’re supposed to, like you’ve been told to.” In “That’s Me,” change, as an agent, is seen very differently; Naslas sings, “from the start we’ve been asking for change, waiting day after day.” This time the music is more intimate, more personal, with a beautifully harmonized chorus, but change is not seen as force acting upon you, but rather the expected.

“The Things I’ve Done,” one of three tracks with a saxophone (played by Lloyd Goldberg), on the surface has all the makings of a carefree ballet, but again lyrically the antithesis is presented: “If I ever got to go my own way, maybe you’ll see what I’ve been trying to say…” And this is when you start to realize that early 60s rock, late 70s New York punk, and even 90s guitar pop must have influenced the band. The disconnect, between music and lyrics, is completely intentional: one draws you in (the music), as the other gives you something of substance to ponder (lyrics). But the album does not always languish in change or tortured love. In “It Doesn’t Matter Anyway,” which includes some beautiful acoustic strumming, Klinger sings, “We’re meant to be together…” So even in the ever-shifting world of change and failed relationships, there is always solace in eventually being “heart opened up and filled.”

The punky straightforward “Running Around” is followed by “Timeline,” which feigns straightforward rock until a jazzy interlude takes you by complete surprise. But it is “Uhm” that really plays with our expectations of arrangements. Definitely my favorite drumming on the album, the song consistently changes tempo and atmosphere; when you think you know what is coming next, the change is a twist on what you expected. Not every band can make as many shifts in one song, normally because the drummer is not capable – not a problem here. The close of the album is the antithesis of the opening on every level. “Oh No” is not considering change, but questioning life and relationships through a series of hypotheticals: “Would you wait,” “What would you ever do there,” and “would you wait alone” to point out a few. Musically more intricate than the arrangements sound, it is a perfect metaphor of how we often find ourselves at the end of cycles: contemplating what could be and/or could have been.

Allow me a moment to deviate in the spirit of full disclosure. My coworker (and friend), who I ride into work with almost every day with, turned me on to Barnacle Bill, as she is in a relationship with the guitarist. Of course I was very wary about committing to writing a review (and refuse to commit to any review until I have heard the music). But one listen to “Barnacle Bill,” and I was immediately drawn into the music. This is an alluring album, which is miles away from revival-mania and current indie clichés of any sort. If anything, the only revival going on with Barnacle Bill is a return to solid rock-pop craftsmanship that sells itself and not some shtick.

Track Listing:
1. Like You’re Supposed To
2. For the Best
3. That’s Me
4. The Things I’ve Done
5. World
6. It Doesn’t Matter Anyway
7. Iron in the Garden
8. Running Away
9. Timeline
10. Nth Street Girl
11. Uhm
12. Oh No

Keep up with Barnacle Bill at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.
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