28 May 2011

Back ... with Videos

My schedule is finally freeing up once again that I can start writing, and I have finally dealt with all my hardware issues with failing external hard drives. I am going to spend some time this holiday weekend on finishing my review of “Marble Sun” by The Android Angel, and I know that Painted Bird is working on a few things. (While Mirage is causing havoc in London!) Enjoy the videos!

Sons & Daughters’ “Breaking Fun” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Those Dancing Days’ “Can’t Find Entrance” from the UniversalMusicSweden YouTube Channel.

Friendly Fires’ “Live Those Days Tonight” live at The Lightbox, from the XLRecordings YouTube Channel.

Austra’s “Lose It” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

Art Brut’s “Lost Weekend” from the video directors’, Alex de Campi, YouTube Channel: alexdecampi.

Blondie’s “Mother” from the ElevenSevenMusic YouTube Channel.

Cut Copy’s “Need You Now” from the modularpeople YouTube Channel.

Villagers’ “The Pact (I’ll Be Your Fever)” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.

She’s A Tease’s “Why?” from the Nacionalrecords YouTube Channel.

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17 May 2011

Should: “Like a Fire without Sound”

Our many thanks to Marc Ostermeier for keeping SDM Blog in the loop.

April showers bring May flowers. “Like a Fire without Sound” (26 April 2011); personally I think those two fit together as snuggly as a sock on a foot. Where am I going with this? Well I’m trying to convey a sort of therapeutic imagery. Recently, I sat down with SDM and listened to Should’s new album “Like a Fire without Sound”; in the midst of opening this little music box I wasn’t sure what I’d be expecting. To my surprise… this was something extraordinary for the auditory. (Knowing how busy SDM has regrettably been, I knew I had to write this review with urgency and get the word out on this amazing band.)

I’ll be honest, “Like a Fire without Sound” is an extremely peaceful album, and in fact it has to be the most tranquil album I’ve listened to thus far. Should is a two person band who has been creating spectacular mental mosaics since 1998. Should’s music is neither absurd nor too silent; their music is actually very dream-popish with a hint of shoegaze. And as the melodies continue there is always the little spice of post-rock that spruces up the vicinity.

First of all I’d like to pull out the album’s name into spotlight: “Like a Fire without Sound,” what is traced into one’s memory? The Yule log? The 70’s? “Kingdom Hearts” (for all the modern readers)? The album starts off very slowly and well it remains at such a pace. Since May has started off as an extremely busy month for me it’s actually nice to take a seat and listen to something as calming as Should’s new album.

On my very first listen, I was automatically seduced when the first track came into play: “Glasshouse,” as attractive as the name is I was inspired to whirl myself into a midday daydream. With the intro being so eloquently composed one can only have a world of imaginations. Should enlaces their listeners with very enchanting lyrics -- “And I think I heard silence, for the first time it hit me,” which is why I am rushed into thoughts of a crackling fire that cannot speak through its charring cinders or being besides a babbling brook that refuses to hum.

With the following tracks of “Turned Tables,” “Slumberland,” and “Awake at Night,” I was sent on a prolific emotional roller coaster. When “Turned Tables” announced itself in my ears I was quiet excited since the prior track had made me a bit exhausted mentally. Its upbeat flow and slightly exotic use of guitar and drums allows the song to rise effortlessly just like their lyrics “Floating to the stars above, falling in clouds of love, daylight would have to wait.” But after this song slowly dissipates we are reduced to the rather quiet and slowed “Slumberland,” which seems to set the rather hyped heart from before to calm down a tad. And even with “Slumberland’s” catchy riffs we are introduced to the anxiety of “Awake at Night.” As vocalist Marc Ostermeier begins the song slowly in almost a lullaby-esque ambience by singing softly, “His hands are small, they settle down to rest upon his lap; his mind’s at ease, he breathes night air; there’s nothing much to see and I like watching him fighting to stay awake at night.” As I listened to this track (maybe the first several times) I imagined Ostermeier’s words as they were put into play, in my mind I see simple flash backs of being in a silent suburb, somewhere in a car driving down a road with much foliage. The fact that I can envision something so intricate really shows that Should has set a stable in my mind.

Of all the amazing tracks on Should’s “Like a Fire without Sound,” the very last track. “The Great Pretend,” has to be my favorite track. It’s a little more upbeat than the rest despite the extremely soft vocals of Ostermeier and Maus. Together they convey a harmonic peace that seems to captivate the noggin and send it into a side to side head bob. But let us replay all the thoughts that were placed on the table and simplify them: why listen to the same old music over and over again? Especially when you’ve had a hideous week thus far? Why not, instead of listening to the playlist that is literally embedded into your brain, listen to something that isn’t of the norm! Personally I think shifty dream-pop is an amazingly tantalizing for the ears when you’re used to the heavy creamer. And maybe, just maybe, you too will “Sit there for hours.” But to end on a rather serious note, take a scroll and a couple clicks over until you find Should’s new album, honestly it’s worth the listen, and it’s definitely worth the midday daydreams.

Track Listing
1. Glasshouse
2. Turned Tables
3. Slumberland
4. Awake at Night
5. Just not Today
6. Broken
7. Always Returning
8. Famour for Her Dress
9. The Great Pretend

Keep up with Should at their homepage and MySpace. Feel free to head over to the Words On Music site where you can preview tracks and purchase the album.

Here is their video for “Turned Tables” from their Vimeo Channel: Should.

Should - "Turned Tables" from Should on Vimeo.

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10 May 2011


My thanks to Matt Errington, of Medina Music, for keeping me in the loop.

I have been sitting on Kites for too long … but I have heard these tracks over and over again, and it has reminded me of what made the 80s incredible. Stop for a second and consider why 80s pop has survived now three decades removed. Unlike the decade that followed, that frowned upon obvious gimmicks (though its prepackaged angst was the greatest of all gimmicks!), the 80s was a fertile terrain for artists (of any genre) to unfurl their pop sensibilities anyway they wanted, at the same time experimenting with classically standard forms, nascent technology (especially in electro and synthpop), and visually stunning self-expression. At the bottom of it all, these bands understood that music was not about three power chords in succession, but rather about the nuances, about the little details. And Kites not only follows this tradition of grand pop music, they are pushing it to a higher level.

Kites is truly a nascent band, which has only started to pen music early in 2010; however, there is an air of maturity to their music that is reminiscent of veteran musicians. This is testament to their solid craftsmanship and vision. Already this solid craftsmanship is getting noticed (from BBC 6 to XFM), their self-produced demo has all the hooks of grand 80s pop (think Talk Talk), the sophistication and intelligence of master songwriters (think New Order), the urgency of contemporary indie (think Macabees), and yet a singular feel that makes it all Kites.

The latest collection of four songs kicks off with “You Are Dead (To Me)”; on the surface it is an electronically enhanced pop song with big vocals, but as you listen to it again and again (and again), the sophistication of how the different instruments (digital and analogue) are all arranged and mixed to perfection really grabs you. There is no vying for dominance in the soundscape; quite the opposite, everything works together brilliantly. “The Disappearance of Becky Sharp” (a “Vanity Fair” reference, and I love literary references!) mixes up Italian disco with a darker electro. “Art Tastes Better Blind” is the most infectious song in the collection. With a slow, syncopated intro, when the words, “Oh you silly girl, did you think the world was kind?,” the tempo may not pick up, but the luscious arrangements that follow gives that audible illusion – not an easy feat to pull off. Why is the song so infectious? It is not just those luscious arrangements and (again) big vocals; it is the fact that this song is an ingenious pop song … to the point, direct, concise, and potently visceral. Closing with “Take the Reins,” Kites gets the thumbs up for closing their collection off with an “anti-climatic” track. Let me explain. So many bands rush for these big endings, the sort of big sonic finish that is common on too many albums and EPs. Instead, Kites goes for the tighter finish, which capitalizes on inspiring the listener to get lost is the soundscape… contemplate… and feel.

I have one last comparison to make, and it is perhaps one of the highest compliments I could give. When I listen to Matthew Phillips, Kites’ vocalist, sing, there is something there that reminds me of Billy MacKenzie. The ability to convey conviction and drama at the same time is not common; to do it well is even scarcer. When combined with the solid and sophisticated craftsmanship of the rest of the band, Kites has all the underpinnings of a great band. My advice, checkout their Soundcloud site and support the band by following them at one or all of their sites.

Track Listing
1. You Are Dead (To Me)
2. The Disappearance of Becky Sharp
3. Art Tastes Better Blind
4. Take the Reins

Keep up with Kites at the homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is the track “Art Tastes Better Blind” from their Soundcloud site.

Art Tastes Better Blind by Kites

Here is their video for “Take the Reins” from the BRITSchoolFilms YouTube Channel.

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07 May 2011

Viva Stereo: "Endure the Dark to See the Stars"

My thanks to Stuart for keeping me in the loop.

The first time that Viva Stereo entered my radar was when I received an e-mail back in December; unfortunately it was in the midst of all the holiday shuffle and I was not able to give the music the attention it deserved. Then I received another e-mail, about the imminent release of “Endure the Dark to See the Stars” (9 May 2011). Again, time became an issue, but after a few listens to the album, I had to write about it. Now, again, I do not know much about the band’s history or previous releases; however, this Glaswegian band does exemplify everything that is really meant by “indie,” and not that adulterated label we all use to signify bands that live on the festival trail. Free from the corporate fetters, the band is able to develop music on their terms and not jump on some bandwagon. And I believe that it is because of their independence that this is one of the must albums of 2011.

From a sonic point of view, “Endure the Dark to See the Stars” is a cohesive album. Admittedly, I prefer schizophrenic albums that leave you guessing what style of music is coming next. However, this is usually the case because most bands do not have the craftsmanship to stay within a predetermined range and still create songs that are eloquently distinct from one another. Not a problem for Viva Stereo; they have created a soundscape that flows effortlessly from track-to-track. The production value of the collection is outstanding; I point this out only because there is a false belief that big, label owned studios are needed to produce strong tracks – rubbish! “Endure the Dark to See the Stars” could not have been produced more superbly anywhere else. Just like artists like Northern Portrait, not only is the production spot on, it is the music that speaks for itself and not studio gimmickry.

Opening with a synth-didgeridoo sound before the syncopated beat drops in, “Vultures” represents what the band does best: the ability to write music that cannot be generically labeled. A bit of the shoegaze, a bit of psychadelia, a bit of straightforward guitar playing, a bit of electronics – what it isn’t is the generic “rock-pop” that is becoming trite. And though most of the music is straightforward, songs like “New Life” has some of the best arrangements you can listen to. Combining constant and savvy strumming with strings, the band displays their pop sensibilities here, even in the closing interlude – the song hooks you without using the same “hooks” that are constantly used by other bands.

Though most of the songs have a thick wall of sound, Viva Stereo changed it up for “Good Friend.” This song is bare – an acoustic guitar, ambient keys, minimal strings, and vocals. It is the most distinct shift on the album. The album also contains one other distinct shift, and that is with “My Beating Heart”: emotive strings and key effects, a subdued guitar, and the strongest vocal arrangements on the album, this is definitely the heart tugging track on the album. The first of two other tracks I have to point out is “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” which really brings in the electronic references, quite often this track employs an ostinato. The second track, of course, the closing track, the epic of the album and my favorite, “We Set Sail.” Epics are not the easiest things to compose; most repetition can be disengaging and three-minute concepts stretched further are irritating. So, in a nutshell, the concept has to be big and the repetition has to be inviting and captivating – it must make you feel and wrestle with that feeling. That is what Viva Stereo hits on with “We Set Sail.” With a slow and steady build up that never explodes into cacophony, it is not the dirgeful sea lament one might expect from the title. Unlike so many of the epics that I love, which pivot on the keys or bass, it is the lead guitar arrangement that carries this song. Simple but sophisticated, fading out seconds before the end of the song along with the beat, the simple chord on the keys at the end is viscerally powerful, without being haunting.

“Endure the Dark to See the Stars” will be released on 9 May 2011 by De-Fence Records, which is a Scottish independent label – an offshoot of Fence. Head over to the website (link below) and support Viva Stereo, support the label.

Track Listing:
1. Vultures
2. Endure the Dark to See the Stars
3. New Life
4. Dogs
5. Got Myself Lost
6. Good Friend
7. There’s a Riot Going On
8. My Beating Heart
9. Nocturne
10. We Set Sail

Keep up with Viva Stereo at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Also, visit the De-Fence Records where you can pre-order and purchase “Endure the Dark to See the Stars.” Also, check out the band’s Bandcamp, where you can preview and purchase past entries in their discography.
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03 May 2011

Arc in Round: "Diagonal Fields EP"

My thanks to Jeff Zeigler for keeping me in the loop.

Between hardware issues and the daily grind, consistency has been more than difficult. This, however, does not mean that I have stopped listening to music. To the contrary, I have been immersed in a world of sonic euphoria, which Philadelphia’s Arc in the Round has been part of. Recently, the “Diagonal Fields EP” (25 January 2011) has come across my radar, and it has given me many reasons to pause and listen again and again. Curiosity started to swell, but I avoided all temptations to read up on the band simply because I did not want to taint my own impressions of the music. As a lover of dream pop, noise pop, and shoegaze (my once again obsession this year), I find it difficult to stop listening to this too brief collection of songs. The best way I can describe this album is falling asleep to waking up in morning, a process so natural but so subconscious, and yet so sublime.

The journey starts with “3a.m. all the time”; crashing into that not so comfortable but familiar bed, finding it hard to fall asleep. The beats twists and turn, the interplay between crisp and affected guitars is as sophisticated as it comes, and the subtle background, ambient sounds makes this song (the shortest on the album) a treasured gem. The consistent and dreamy phase of REM kicks off with “Spirit.” The most “traditional” shoegaze on the collection, the track reveals the pop sensibility of the band. The ability to straddle shoegaze mixed with post-rock, while incorporating subtle pop hooks is brilliant and done so naturally by the band.

As you fall into deeper sleep, “Follow” and “Light” proceed. Aptly, both songs are the strongest showing of dream pop; even the gritty “Light” is tempered with luscious vocal arrangements to gain that dreamy, trippy feeling that great dream pop, like Cocteau Twins, brings to the table. The showstopper, though, is “Slow Ceiling,” that becoming conscious once again in the morning … that slow drawn out process between here and there, dreams and reality. A true instrumental (written as such, not just as a song with lyrics/vocals taken out), the beauty of this song is how it slowly builds. The keys in the background reminds me greatly of “The Kiss” by The Cure: though mainly for ambience, their haunting presence makes the visceral anxiousness of the song that much more powerful. But when that beautiful acoustic strumming kicks off, amongst all these arrangements that keep on getting layered.

What I love about “Diagonal Fields” is that for as polish and sophisticated as the album is, the band has kept some of the grittiness in the mix; there is a definite sense that this is music, like that of Spirtiualized, that really needs to be experienced live … at blaring volumes. What I really like about Arc in Round is that this is not yesterday’s shoegaze. Arc in Round does not jump onto this current shoegaze revival to emulate the past; they have instead learned and incorporated the past, bring in a slew of musical references, and have created a orgiastic, euphoric collection of music that lovers of dream pop and shoegaze should run (not walk) to check out.

Track Listing:
1. 3 a.m. all the time
2. Spirit
3. Follow
4. Light
5. Slow Ceiling
6. Spirit (Pink Skull Remix)

Keep up with Arc in Round at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can preview and purchase “Diagonal Fields”

Here is an audio clip of “Slow Ceiling” from the bands YouTube Channel: arcinround.

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