Sunday, 11 January 2015

Tanya Tagaq - Animism

Given that Tanya Tagaq has worked with the likes of Bjork, and is considered an inuit throat singer, it’s almost obvious that Polaris Music Prize winning album, Animism, her fourth to date, was going to be a little out there. Here then, is not an album in its traditional sense but a collaboration of repetitive vocal grunts, sighs, howls, rasps alongside organic and electronic instrumentation that pours in an out of the listeners ears before reaching its climax. Songs like Uja with its aggressive distorted electronica and the almost fragile Tulugak are the best examples of this with monstrous tribal growls interweaved with hauntingly soft high pitched howls and minimal scratches and taps of instrumentation creating spine clawing sensations. While latest single, a cover of Pixies ‘Caribou’, is Animism’s most accessible track; exquisite orchestral violin work offset by grumbling bass and ‘real’ lyrics before skull crushing screams rip the song into its end. Animism then feels like the anxiety forging twisted soundtrack to a fear wretching horror film with seemingly structureless songs of ghostly whispers whilst occassionally falling into a Joanna Newsom meets Battles ‘Mirrored’ era meets Tune Yards ideology with psychadelic folk melodies superseeded by repetitive rhythms both instrumentally and vocally being layered into a glorious battle of sound. This leaves Animism as a conflict of a record, utterly captivating and all the same, excessively self indulgent. Why should you listen to this album? Because it’s interesting. But equally with very little to grasp onto this is very much a when the mood takes me release. Tanya Tagaq’s Animism will be released via Six Shooter Records in the UK on January 26th.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Black Foxxes - Pines

A couple of days before getting the Black Foxxes EP 'Pines' to review, I was told by a friend that the biggest problem that music (and the music industry) faces is incest. He said that bands aren't just taking inspiration from their musical idols, and rebranding it as something altogether different, but infact just out and out copying it (but obviously at a poorer quality) and labels are snapping this up for a quick buck, leaving audiences with watered down music that doesn't take risks and tread new water.

And this is exactly how Exeter based band Black Foxxes sound.

It's not that 'Pines' is bad, by all means, it isn't at all, and lead single 'River' showcases the quality of a band able to pen a song that is emotive, fragile as well as gut wretchingly heavy in part. It's just that between that guitar tone, those almost cute little guitar slides that are littered everywhere on this EP, those moments of silence before the crushing gravelly shouts, and that almost American vocal tone, you can say that you've heard this done before, by Manchester Orchestra. And by the time the final track rings out, you're almost wondering if Andy Hull will persue suing the band for stealing his intellectual property.

If you want to listen to emotive rock that sounds like Manchester Orchestra, avoid this, just listen to Manchester Orchestra.

2 / 5

Monday, 1 September 2014

This Will Destroy You - Another Language

This Will Destroy You - Another Language

Ah, post rock. Crescendos, melodic and cinematic interweaving guitar play. Beautiful songs that were made for dramatic movie scenes. I would listen to you all day, every day. But that was ten plus years ago before a slew of bands came along with the imprint and did nothing with it beyond unashamedly copying. The bands to survive this; Mogwai, Sigur Ros, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. All bands who you could argue were never post rock in the first place.


So, how to avoid copying and maintain relevancy in a genre that's a corpse so dead that it's beyond rotting? 


This Will Destroy You luckily have always stuck their necks a little higher out of the sinking post rock ship than most. On earlier releases (Young Mountain and Self Titled) they still did the "oh my god is this record skipping or something" thing, but attacked melancholy guitar work with a slew of electronics and drum work which betrayed the post rock rule of 'only hit the hi-hat until the crescendo'. This actually led them to becoming one of my favourite bands until the release of their third album (which I either 'didn't get' due to me no longer liking the genre, or just simply knew that it wasn't a good album). The point being that, to maintain relevancy, an artist must be willing to make changes to the genre they are in. Challenge themselves, and their listeners.


On latest album, Another Language, have This Will Destroy You achieved this? Well on first glance it would appear so (nine tracks instead of the standard four/five tracks each lasting up to eight minutes). Look beyond this however and you have songs that feel like introductions that have lasted far too long (as on first track, New Topia, before it swells into the predictable crescendo), and songs like War Prayer, which initially sound fresh with fuzzy distorted bass, only to passively lull into a silence before yes, you've guessed it, the crescendo. When the band look at the rule book but only from a distance, they create tracks like The Puritan. A three minute ambient track that doesn't as much do anything special but grabs you by the ears and focuses your attention because it doesn't do anything except for being unashamedly beautiful. Leading into the almost jazz drum infused feel of Mother Opiate which is sparse and calmly alarming, not ever needing to be aggressive with guitars. As well as Invitation, an upbeat snare driven track with cutting guitar work that very much competes with even Mogwai's best work. 


So, Another Language, worth parting cash for? Yes. If you're into post rock or instrumental music then sure, this is as good as recent releases from Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But if you're one of those who gets two minutes into a track and always says "where are the vocals", then steer clear. This isn't one of those albums that will bridge the gap into the mainstream. The rule book has definitely been printed and published meaning that, for most, post rock remains another language. 



Monday, 31 March 2014

Sam Brookes - Kairos

It's no wonder that Sam Brookes is being compared to the greats such as John Martyn with his new album 'Kairos' sitting somewhere between the legendary Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley.
    Standout, and opening song 'Numb' showcases Brookes at his best, with soothing vocals sitting comfortably upon intricate finger picked guitar playing. It is here, while Brookes vocals almost break under the fragility of his story telling, that layers of whistles and vocal harmonies just passively soak into your willing ears.
    'Crazy World and You' picks up the pace, with up-tempo strummed guitars, anthemic drumming and one of those pre-chorus build-ups that just begs to become the folky soundtrack for one of this summers festivals with Brookes almost spilling into crooning as he belts out the chorus lyrics, 'Out in the countryside where it feels like there's just a crazy world and you', but luckily saving himself with a glorious high note (of which there are many on the album).
       However, it isn't all positive. At times, 'Kairos' feels like it doesn't really fit anywhere. It's a little bit seventies folk, influenced by jazz, with tracks like 'On The Mend'  bordering, musically at least, on being cheesy and sounding dated. Whether this is a musical issue, or lyrical, or vocal, I'm not quite sure, but on a couple of tracks the album begins to feel almost like a guilty pleasure (as if you are secretly listening to one of dads old records that you said was awful previously). To some, including myself, this isn't a bad thing, but it could just be the difference between 'Kairos' being ignored, or getting the attention it deserves. This reviewer at least, hopes that music buyers can see this album for what it is, sonically heavenly, lyrically intelligent and an absolute pleasure to listen to.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Spring Offensive - Young Animal Hearts

Eight years to release a debut album seems an awful long time. In the case of Spring Offensive it comes after a series of record label false starts leading the band to release 'Young Animal Hearts' independently, gaining the funds to do so through Pledgemusic. Luckily however, this long delay in releasing a full length has only seemed to increase the bands resolve and their willingness to think outside the box and the release of this album and its low budget theatrical music videos are testament to the bands work ethic.

Instrumentally 'Young Animal Hearts' is a well rounded and accomplished record. Indie at heart with the occasional subtle post-rock guitar moment, it's the creative rhythm section that mostly triumphs here, reminiscent of a 'Total Life Forever' era Foals, with snare rim shots, hand claps, tambourines and egg shakers ever present and a disperse bass rhythm that creates an often surprising groove that belies the emotive nature of the bands lyrics. And lyrically it is perhaps where the band are at their most impressive, recalling the prowess of Elbow's Guy Garvey and Counting Crows Adam Duritz before they both had too much success and ran out of things to write about. Songs like 'No Assets' are for the affected and financially struggling youth of today; "Our parents didn't wait for this long to have big ideas and our big homes". While in songs like 'Speak' the band tackle relationships with a masculinity theme with them announcing "I can't easily communicate how I feel to you, where I'm from, we tend not to speak until we're spoken to".

'Young Animal Hearts' is the soundtrack to those in the twenty to thirty age bracket, caught in dead-end jobs, or no jobs at all, all the while watching their relationships fail as their lives go nowhere. At times it is musically gorgeous and yet still, lyrically affecting and utterly, emotionally, destructive. If ever an independent record deserved to be listened to, it's this one.

4.5 / 5

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Falling Off Maps - A Seaside Town In Winter

Nottingham five piece, Falling Off Maps debut album, A Seaside Town In Winter, is a tale of two halves. On one side, songs like 'Honest', 'The Redeemer', 'I.D.S.T' and 'Through The Forest' have an emotive fragility which doesn't so much sucker punch you in the gut, but more so prods your heart to check it is still pumping. It is on the earlier stages of the album and the aforementioned tracks where this is most visible with singer Dave Wrights often childlike high vocals almost cracking under the weight of the burden of his words with a story telling lyric style of damaged relationships, as well as the difficulties of getting older at the forefront of subtle guitar work, trip-hop styled drumming, groove driven bass playing and intelligent, minimalist piano and electronic work that we've seen before in a less subtle way from the likes of Radiohead's In Rainbows.

Sadly though, somewhere along the way, A Seaside Town In Winter seems to lose itself and the pacing of the album goes awry. While the early subtle tracks sound like a mix of Radiohead, Portishead and folkier acts, tracks like 'Visiting Hours' sound from the offset more like a lackluster Coldplay or Keane (think epic piano build-up with repeated vocal melody and you have the whole seven minute track figured out). While 'Wolf River/The Smoking Room At Hotel Cafe' suffers from the being an eight minute track mid-way into an album, with more repeated (and this time chant) vocals which don't seem to be the bands forte.

At fourteen tracks long, A Seaside Town In Winter is the victim of being too long, and with the inclusion of a more anthemic turn, seems to lose sense of the narrative the band were clearly trying to tell with the album titles theme. That said, if this is anything to go by, Falling Off Maps have clearly got a bright future and are one to watch out for.

3.5 / 5

Monday, 28 October 2013

Radical Face - The Family Tree: The Branches

Following the mainstream success of song, Welcome Home, which was featured on the ever so popular Nikon advert, Ben Cooper, aka, Radical Face, has been, for better or worse, thrust into a place of popularity. This often goes two ways, either where Radical Face threatened to go with the albeit frankly underwhelming release of album Ghosts, or to a place where this new found popularity creates enough security for the artist to develop and take chances.

New album, The Family Tree: The Branches is part two (part one, The Roots, was released last year) of a three part conceptional series where Cooper tells the story of a 19th century family whilst only creating using instruments from that era. Arrogant right? Yeah, I thought the same when I researched the album, but actually, the record works because of this with songs so stripped bare, often only featuring guitar and vocals, that they allow Cooper to let the song writing breathe for itself. Stand-out track Reminders is a strong example of this, with vocal harmonies interspersed between a half picked-half strummed guitar melody that is just utterly beautiful. It also contains possibly my favourite lyric of the year so far; 'I wish I had more nice things to say but I was raised not to lie, I'm either honest or I'm an optimist but never at the same time.'

No album is perfect though, and there is a part of me that just says, what's the point? It isn't like The Branches offers anything new to the folk genre, let alone to music. This isn't going to be one of those albums where you are going to look back in ten years time and say 'this album changed my life'. In part this may be due to the conceptual theme. There is no doubt that on an intellectual level the lyrics are great, but emotively there are only rare moments when you feel a sense of honesty and vulnerability (and it is often these songs that are the stand out moments). If Radical Face could move beyond that on this conceptual set and allow listeners to see their soul, then they could really be onto something because gripes aside, The Branches, at least sonically, is a warm, cuddly hug of an album that envelopes your ears as the world passes you by, and is more than worth of a space in your record collection.

4 / 5