Posts Tagged ‘Acoustic’

2nd June 2021

James Wells

So often, less is more. Ben Denny Mo’s latest single is simply acoustic guitar and vocal. As such, it’s certainly less in terms of arrangement, and with so few elements in the mix, it’s hard to go particularly OTT on the production too. This is what really makes this: there’s no multitracking, no gimmicks or studio trickery, no deception or other kind of alchemical wizardly to enhance the performance. What we have here is just a staggering wealth of musical talent and ability on display.

The Fakenham-based singer-songwriter has already become a firm favourite with BBC Introducing at home in Norfolk, having drawn comparisons to a wide range of singers from Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, Michael Jackson, Sam Smith and John Martyn. It’s testament to his range and versatility, and there’s a lot going on, all packed into this concise little number. The guy’s got real soul, and she swoops, soars, leaps and bounds all over the song with unbridled energy, calling to mind Everything Everything’s Johnathan Higgs.

But with so much focus on ben’s voice, what about the musicianship, and what about the song? There’s a complexity of technique that belies the apparent simplicity of tapping a few chords, with some fast fretwork that blends classical and jazz with a dash of funk.

In cramming so much in and dazzling so brightly with it, it’s sometimes a little difficult to follow the song itself. The hooks are overshadowed by the performance itself, and I suppose ‘6am’ evokes the same kind of sensation as listening to Jamiroquai – which of course is subjective and divisive. The popular perspective is that it’s a groove, and there’s no question Ben’s got mass appeal, and ‘6am’ could yet prove to be the breakthrough.

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14th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I’d take cheap red win over red, red wine any day: back in the early to mid-90s as a poor student (back when such a thing existed), Liquorsave – the off-license department of Kwik Save, who at the time were selling their No-Frills baked beans for 3p a tin – it was possible to purchase a bottle of Hungarian red wine at 12% ABV for £1.85. It was actually better – by which I mean not only stronger, but also fuller-bodied – than the £5-£6 bottles of French wine. Nowadays, cheap mis under a fiver, but I’ll still stand by budget wines from the right sources, and in the absence of pubs, people, and life in general over the course of a year of lockdown, cheap red wine has become a friend on a par with strong Polish lager.

Anyway: on ‘Cheap Red Wine’, Muca and the evasive, semi-illusory Marquise paint a laid-back, smoky picture from a minimal sonic palette, evoking the spirit of smoky basements bars of times gone by. It wasn’t so long ago you could find somewhere down some stairs that was open till 1 or 2am and sip a bottled beer or a whisky and feel like you were somewhere else while people smoked… but time is relative. Nevertheless, the easy-going, laid-back jazzy vibes of ‘Cheap Red Wine’ evoke a pretty deep nostalgia, and it hits harder than the song itself, which is simple, melodic, reflective, landing somewhere between Amy Winehouse and Portishead.

Based around a simple acoustic guitar and Muca’s magnificent vocal that drawls, but isn’t quite lazy per se, ‘Cheap Red Wine’ builds to incorporate layers of strings and a wandering electric guitar solo, and conveys a heavy ache of emotion, too. An understated instant classic.

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10th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve said it before, but it’s always worth saying again: oftentimes, less is more. This adage seems to have informed the latest offering from Milton Keynes hybrid indie quartet Ali In the Jungle: at two and a half minutes, ‘Fuel on the Fire’ is succinct, and based predominantly around acoustic guitar and vocal, it’s a pretty minimalist work, at least on the face of it. But being simple and direct, it’s got room to breathe, and that also means more room to absorb everything that’s going on, and focus on the details. And the details reveal themselves over time and through repeat listening.

‘Fuel On The Fire’ initially cultivates an intimate feel that contrasts with the darker subject matter that informs the lyrics. And as the song progresses, thing get busier, with some quite lively jazz-influenced drumming and more noodly, mathy guitar and a buoyant bassline pushing everything along at quite an urgent pace, and before you know it, there’s a lot more going on than you realise. At times, the vocals soar in a style reminiscent of Mansun’s Paul Draper – which is most definitely a compliment.

Everything comes together to form a rich and detailed sonic tapestry, and ‘Fuel On The Fire’ is a well-considered, deftly arranged rush of a tune.

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18th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

If you’re drawing comparisons to PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi, Tori Amos, and Kate Bush, you’re probably doing something right, even if it may be through lazy journalism. Despite female artists and female-fronted bands having made massive headway in recent years – and seriously, not before time – and frankly, it shouldn’t erven be a talking point or even a subject of reference – the pool of major-league female artists who aren’t pop or r’n’b is quite limited. Consequently, comparisons are often drawn almost out of desperation due to the lack of choice. This is unfair on both sides, and incredibly reductive. But then, comparisons are problematic anyway, and are perhaps indicative of another issue in the music industry: labels, radio stations, media outlets, even fans – most of the time, they’re not really looking for the next big thing, but the new replica of the last big thing.

It’s far easier to market ‘the new PJ Harvey’ than ‘something like nothing you’ve ever heard before.’ Amazon and most streaming sites operate on ‘recommendations’: if you like x, you’ll probably like y’. It’s likely true, but this only leads to a narrowing: where is the encouragement of broadening horizons? Strong female voices are being pigeonholed – and I don’t mean just strong in vocal terms, although Kristina Stazaker is strong on both fronts when it comes to voice, with songs that are imbued with deep emotional resonance delivered with the kind of passion that comes from the very core.

On Follow Me, Stazaker showcases a selection of songs which are stripped back and direct. Primarily centred around acoustic guitar and vocals – often layered up with backing vocals and harmonies – the style is angry folk, but the voice uniquely Stazaker’s. Follow Me is simple but effective: that is to say, it’s imperious, free of fancy production, and is absolutely about the songs. It’s fitting for an album so lyrically concerned with nature, and the lyrical preoccupations are reflected in the honest, earthy instrumentation.

‘Don’t let those bastards beat you down’ Stazaker sings with a strong hint of venom on ‘Everyday’. It’s not an oblique reference to The Handmaid’s Tale, but it should be a feminist / working class anthem in the offing.

The album’s longest song, ‘Goddess’, is a multi-layered emotional dredger that functions on multiple levels. ‘Hail Hail Rain and Sail’ is a lively, even fiery folk tune with just vocals and energetically-strummed acoustic guitar. The format is simple, but the effect is powerful, and Follow Me succeeds because of its confidence: Stazaker demonstrates perfectly that less is more when done right, and with so many strong songs, Follow Me is all the force.

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25th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Following what, at least to the outside world, appeared to be a fallow spell between the release of beech and its attendant remixes version, during which time elk became elkyn, Joseph Donnelly returns remarkably swiftly with a new single, ‘if only it was alright now’.

It’s a sentiment that’s so, so relatable right now as we find ourselves eddying along in a relentless tumult of who knows that the fuck. And in the space of just over three minutes, Donnelly captures and articulates all of the uncertainty and wraps it around with a warm, thick blanket of home and opens the window to let the light in.

It begins in what’s swiftly become trademark style, his quiet, introspective vocals almost a mumble, trepidatious, accompanied only by sparse, picked acoustic guitar. And it’s truly beautiful, in that most intimate, soul-searching of ways. But from here, things evolve as layers of textured sound build on one another, and at pace, and in no time, galloping drums are bounding along, pushing the song onwards, and it’s a rush – a clean, uplifting rush, like a warm breeze on a perfect summer’s day, where the clouds are just wisps, high in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Comparisons and references that spring up here and there, but to evoke them feels futile, and moreover to diminish the emotional and sonic richness of the work, which exists in its own self-made space, and completely apart from all external forces of influence and time, creating a brief but magical moment you wish could be frozen to last for all eternity.

Tambourine Machine – 20th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Nine years on from their inception, and seven years since their last release, Epilogues return from hiatus with a brace of new EPs, simply entitled ‘me’ and ‘you’. Mikey Donnelly has been keeping occupied, recently working solo as miles. and alongside his brother, Joey, who goes by elk.

If the title sounds like this is an exercise in narcissistic, egotistical self-indulgence, you’d be way, way off the mark: yes, Donnelly’s primary focus is himself, but this is a work of deep introspection and is one of those magical moments of fine artistry where the artist finds universality in the personal.

The recording is intimate, close-up, and you can hear every last breath, every scratch and scrape of finger on string and fretboard. The instrumentation is simple, essentially acoustic guitar and voice, with occasional incidentals so subtle as to be barely there. There is nowhere to hide, and that’s largely the point: this is a set of songs that explores identity and picks it apart unsparingly.

In the opening lines of ‘Me’ he sings, quietly, ‘Hello again; it’s me / At least I think that’s who I’m wearing; my character this week’, as he begins to lay himself bare, pulling back the layers of the onion to reveal a fragile core.

A softly quavering ambient drone marks the understated arrival of ‘Two Weeks’, a song so quietly mournful and reflective, and if one applauds the bravery of a statement which says, unashamedly ‘this is me, with all my flaws’, then it’s perhaps even bolder and more powerful to find an artist turning it around and asking ‘who is ‘me’?’. And here, Donnelly succeeds in bringing the two together, taking the listener on a journey that both questions and answers.

Donnelly is, it has to be said, a remarkably eloquent lyricist, each line adeptly spun with a rare poeticism: it’s rare to find a record where simply reading the words on the page is a moving experience.

The final song, ‘The Gap’ begins in typically hushed, reflective style, buy blossoms into a full-band finale, with drums, bass, and chiming guitar as Mikey sings out the refrain, and suddenly, he emerges from the shadows and into the light. For all the rust and dust, death and decay, there is hope and optimism.

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Click on the image to listen.

Ideologic Organ – SOMA034

Digital release date: July 3/10 / Physical release date: mid August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ideologic Organ label owner Stephen O’Malley effuses over Ai Aso’s ‘immaculately crafted form of minimalist pop music skirts the edges of tensity with the manner and with the skill of a tight rope walker, calmly balancing repeatedly at every step, with a combination of surety and the risk of a slip, a fall, and an unknown uncoiling of events’.

Pop may not be a genre commonly associated with he label or the Sunn O))) founder, but Ideologic Organ do have a track record for venturing beyond the expected and showcasing some unusual talents, and Ai Aso is definitely one of those, as the nine tracks on The Faintest Hint demonstrate. Legendary Japanese rock band Boris accompany Aso on two of the pieces, but if you’re expecting powerchords, keep moving on.

Picked acoustic guitar alone accompanies Aso’s voice for most of the first song, ‘Itsumo’, and indeed, much of the album, and even with the multi-tracked vocal, it’s a simple, spartan, and intimate recording. The guitar and voice are in the room with you. And they touch you accordingly.

‘Scene’ is more post-rock, a slow, quivering bass chord echoes out against chiming guitar notes and Ai’s soaring ethereal voice calls to mind Cranes at their most delicately haunting, but also at times is simply a shy humming that’s endearing in its understatement and apparent reticence.

Sometimes, quietness and sparseness simply seem to equate to sadness, and the low, mumbling low-note repetitions of ‘Gone’, despite the words being unintelligible, emanate an aching sadness, while in contrast, ‘I’ll do it My Way’ carries something of a playfulness, not to mention a certain Young marble Giants lo-fi bedroom indie vibe. The straining electric guitar discordance that disrupts the singsong easiness of the song toward the end is a nice touch. She trills, swoops and croons on ‘Floating Rhythms’ in a way that sounds like she’s singing to herself – and this intimacy provides a large part of the appeal.

If there’s anything about The Faintest Hint that may suggest ‘amateurish’ to some, that’s certainly not the reaction from my ears: Aso’s minimal approach to songwriting and performance gives a rare immediacy, and it’ss unhampered by conspicuous production. It’s touching, intimate, and special.

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5th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ontario-based singer, guitarist, songwriter, and visual artist Clara Engel has been keeping busy: Hatching Under the Stars is their thirtieth release, and follows just over a year on from Where a City Once Drowned – The Bethlehem Tapes Vol II.

Engel’s songwriting style is subtle and understated, but there’s detail in the arrangements, and they imbue each composition with undercurrents that belie the soft, smooth surfaces. Many of the songs on Hatching Under the Stars share a common theme that links in with the title, with oviparous creatures – mostly birds, as represented by ‘Oiseau Rebelle’ and ‘Old Feathered Devil’, but also the occasional reptile (‘Baby Alligator’) – dominating an album riven with wildlife, ranging from ‘Little Blue Fox’(foxes are notorious raiders of nests for eggs) and ‘Any Creature’.

The instrumentation is sparse across the album’s nine lengthy songs (most it between six and eight minutes in duration), placing Clara’s exquisite voice as the focal point, although there’s a delicate and wistful-sounding slide guitar break and the song builds in both volume and depth in the second half.

‘Oiseau Rebelle’ is slow and haunting, the elongated notes undulating approximating an otherworldly birdsong that sends a chill down the spine. Departing from the album’s overarching thematic, the acclaimed early Modernist artist Marc Chagall is the dedicatee of ‘Preserved in Ice’, a sedate, reflective piece built around a cyclical guitar motif augmented by woodwind.

‘Let me out of this cage,’ she pleads in a soft croon on the eight-and-three-quarter minute ‘Old Feathered Devil’. ‘Let me run around the growing lake / until the morning comes / and I’ll be on my way.” It sounds like a sly deception, somehow, and Engel’s lyrical mastery lies in their ability to slide into different personas. Deftly, and by stealth, they ‘become’.

The version of ‘Little Blue Fox’ here is a completely different recording from the ‘Little Blue Fox’ EP: over a minute longer, it’s slower by miles, and more ethereal, subtle harmonic notes peak above the rolling picked strings while distant beat rumbles almost subliminally in the background.

While Engel’s majestic vocal is the most captivating feature on the album, it’s the way they work it around the quietly hypnotic musical motifs that makes Hatching Under the Stars so special, and listening to the album and allowing it to flow through conjures a reconnection with nature. Listening now, locked down and closed in, recalling stumbling over a urban fox on my way to work early one morning less than a month ago, the creatures of the wild feel like another world.. but as Engel reminds us on the final song, ‘The Indifference of Fire’, ‘mystery will carry on without me’… and so does life. And through it all, nature always wins.

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Ici d’ailleurs – 27th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Matt Elliott’s solo work released under his own name is a world apart from his output under the Third Eye Foundation moniker. However, as the press release reminds us, he’s ben flying solo for a while now: The Calm Before, released four years ago, was his seventh solo effort. Farewell To All We Know is not the storm his previous album, The Calm Before alluded to, but nor is it an entirely mellow affair either. There are currents that run deep and perturbed in Farewell To All We Know, an album that leaks a certain sense of despondency which is often hard to define. It’s all in the mood.

The title track, which arrives after a brief instrumental introductory piece, is representative of the album as a whole: sparse acoustic guitar is the primary accompaniment to Elliott’s Leonard Cohen-esque growling drone. He sings low and mumbles his lyrics, but there’s something appealing about this gruff unintelligibility. Oftentimes, the vocals are emitted in monosyllabic breaths, breaking the words down to simple sounds, at which point they become less about linguistic meaning than the conveyance of a feeling, a mood, an emotion.

Flamenco favours and understated piano colour the instrumental slant of the album, giving it an almost continental hue. The soft, vaguely romantic – but bleak – stylings of the compositions are charming, sedate but with an undertow from currents that run dark and deep.

‘Can’t Find Undo’ is dark, stark, and brings a rumbling ambience as a prelude to the almost nursery-rhyme sing-song melodies of ‘Aboulia’ and the scale-driven ‘Crisis Apparition’ is easy on the ear but still drags on the soul.

Farewell To All We Know is a lugubrious and at times slow to the point of dragging effort, but one feels that’s the intention: this is not a pop album. Or a rock album. Farewell To All We Know is bleak and harrowing, but also charming and enjoyable in a dark, dark, dark folksy way.

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Chelsea Wolfe has returned with another stunning track from her forthcoming album, Birth Of Violence out September 13th on Sargent House. The song is accompanied by this video which Wolfe tells us is an “expression of freedom and beautiful humans being themselves.”

She continues, “It began as a sort of homage to a scene in the Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia, where the characters are singing along to the Aimee Mann song “Wise Up,” but I wanted our version to be explored through the lens of The Tarot. I’ve been reading tarot cards for myself for many years, and researching the symbolic expressions of the cards for this video made me want to dive even deeper. To represent that, I played both The Fool and The High Priestess cards in the video, to embody both the beginning of the journey, and the realization that the sacred knowledge I was seeking was inside me all along. We cast friends to play a few other tarot archetypes, and Karlos’ idea was to bring the symbols and signifiers into the contemporary; deconstructed, and made everyday – “the magical and the unexceptional.” I loved that. At the same time, we really wanted to challenge the binary of the traditional tarot cards, and give them more diversity, which is something important that many cool artists and witches are doing. I’m such a fan of Karlos Rene Ayala as a writer, director, documentarian and friend, and have looked forward to making a video with him for a long time.”

Watch the video here:

Wolfe will be embarking on an extensive, acoustic North American tour this Autumn starting with a special performance at Pasadena Daydream Festival with her full band. All tour dates are listed below.

Chelsea Wolfe Acoustic Tour:

31/08: Pasadena, CA – Pasadena Daydream Festival * (Non Acoustic Set)
18/10: San Diego, CA – Observatory North Park
19/10: Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
21/10: Salt Lake City, UT – Metro Music Hall
22/10: Estes Park, CO – Stanley Hotel
24/10: Chicago, IL – Metro
25/10: Detroit, MI – Senate Theater
26/10: Toronto, ONT – Queen Elizabeth Theatre
27/10: Montreal, QC – Le National
29/10: Boston, MA – Royale
31/10: Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
01/11: New York, NY – Brooklyn Steel
03/11: Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
04/11: Charlotte, NC – McGlohon Theater
05/11: Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
06/11: Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge
08/11: Dallas, TX – Texas Theatre
09/11: Austin, TX – Levitation
10/11: Houston, TX – White Oak Music Hall
12/11: Santa Fe, NM – Meow Wolf
13/11: Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
15/11: Los Angeles, CA – The Palace Theatre
16/11: San Francisco, CA – Regency Ballroom
18/11: Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
20/11: Seattle, WA – The Showbox
21/11: Vancouver, BC – Vogue Theatre

* All dates with special guest Ioanna Gika except 8/31