Posts Tagged ‘Acoustic’

Curation Records

Christopher Nosnibor

Elkyn is very much about the slow burn, the gradual diffusion, both musically and in terms of career trajectory. Joey Donnelly unveiled elkyn in 2020, having made the subtle shift from performing as elk and releasing the magnificently understated beech EP in 2019. Since then, he’s continued to release a steady stream off beautifully-crafted singles as teasers for the album, the most recent of which, ‘if you’re still leaving’ emerged in March of this year. Interestingly, the melody bears certain parallels with U2’s ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, but nothing could be further from the bombast of the stadium-fillers’ epic: this is introspective bedroom indie, quiet and contemplative; there’s no ego, no pomp, no big production. ‘So this is it,’ he sings with a weak resignation.

So while progress certainly hasn’t been slow, it’s not exactly been swift, either, and listening to holy spirit social club seemingly explains why. To begin with, there’s the level of detail in the arrangements: on the surface, they’re fairly sparse, simple, acoustic works, but listen closely and there is so much more to hear, from delicate bass and washes of synth, rolling drums and incidental interludes with rippling piano and more. Reverb and layering are applied subtly and judiciously, too, and these things don’t happen by accident, but through a close and careful ear on every bar. The absence of capitalisation may niggle a pedant like me, but it’s clearly another conscious decision and rather than coming across like an irritating affectation, feels more like another aspect of elkyn’s self-opinion, the small ‘i’ indicative of a kind of abasement, while in no way seeking sympathy or validation. It’s a cliché to the point of a running joke when musicians say they write songs for themselves and aren’t bothered if anyone likes them, but with elkyn, it seems genuinely plausible: these songs are so intimate, it’s as if he’s playing them under the assumption no-one else will ever hear them.

If ‘found the back of the tv remote’ (another single cut) sounds like dreamy, winsome indie, it’s equally reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr’s more stripped back moments, and Donnelly shares that sense of almost being embarrassed to be audible as he sings comes through in J Mascis’ delivery. But then, this leads us to the second reason why elkyn isn’t banging stuff out every few weeks – these songs are intensely intimate, and filled with vulnerability and self-criticism, and one suspects that tendency to self-critique extends to his recordings in the same was as social situations, relationships, and life in general.

But while the tone is plaintive, mournful, regretful, sad, that isn’t the vibe of the songs in themselves, because elkyn manages to infuse every song with a certain optimism, the melancholy flavoured with hope. There’s a breeziness, a brightness, I might even say a ‘summeriness’ about many of the songs on holy spirit social club that renders them uplifting. But even at its saddest, most disconsolate and dejected, holy spirit social club brings joy simply by virtue of being so achingly wonderful in every way.

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11th March 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Elanor Moss seems to be drawn to water, but not necessarily in the most soothing of ways. You’re more likely to find her gradually sinking than floating on the crest of a wave of soaking in the soothing ebb and flow of a coastal tide. Her debut release, the five-track Citrus EP finds the York-based artist reimagining Millais’ ‘Ophelia’ for the twenty-first century on the cover art, while the video for ‘Soundings’ finds her awash and adrift in a bathtub, water threatening to plunge into her mouth as she sings of her ‘Drowning / the sound of my heart / As I’m sounding / the depths of this whisky jar’.

If the metaphor is obvious, it’s also highly effective. The sensation is relatable. When things become too much, and you start to feel overwhelmed… drowning is the closest simile in the common vocabulary. While few of us have actually experienced drowning, there’s an innate sense within all of us of what it would be like – struggling for air, to stay afloat. Most of us have felt that way at some point, and the beauty of Moss’ art is articulating it so succinctly.

According to the bio, ‘The Citrus EP is a collection that addresses the tension that arises within yourself when you need to muster the courage to will yourself well again. The protagonist in this collection of tracks is someone teetering on the edge of pulling themselves out of a hard time, resisting ‘getting better’ with force. You go with her through a series of unfortunate events; each one she knows full well what is happening but does anyway. But this is not a hopeless record, not at all. Their reflections from the other side and recorded from a place of empathy, strength and kindness towards a bruised past self.’

I’m not about to press the alignment of art and artist, and knowing nothing of Moss beyond her art, I’m in no position to comment on whether or not her life informs her art, but it very much feels like she’s speaking and articulating and assimilating her experiences through her songs, where certain themes recur, subtly, but undeniably. ‘I want to drink ‘till I’m too drunk to think’, she sings on ‘Sober’, while on ‘Soundings’, she croons that ‘this whisky is burning’. ‘His breath was like a heart attack / the whisky stung me like a slap’ she recounts on ‘Citrus’. But not to dwell on this unduly, the songs are ultimately positive, empowering, and the realisation of the songs is magnificent, balancing sparseness and directness with multiple layers of vocal harmony and reverb. It’s a slick production, but one that doesn’t impinge on the intimacy of the songs and their delivery, essentially centred around acoustic guitar and voice. Only a fraction below the layers and reverb is a collection of acoustic folk-flavoured songs that are raw, sincere, and relatable. Citrus is bittersweet, and-pretty special.

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Christian Death – Quicksand

10th January 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Christian Death have long shown a love of Bowie, which has subtly permeated their work but was rendered concrete with their version of ‘Panic in Detroit’ in the Rage of Angels album. But anyone who would think that the Bowie fandom was specific to the Rozz Williams era of the band would be mistaken: Valor has long embraced androgynous elements in his style, and never shied away from pop / art rock elements within the music itself.

There have, of course been numerous covers of ‘Quicksand’, and the one thing that’s apparent from all of them is that a great song is a great song, whoever’s playing it, even Seal. If Dinosaur Jr’s cover was a brilliant example of reconfiguring the song into a slacker anthem, Christian Death’s take, which stretches the original five-minute song well past the seven-minute mark is remarkably faithful to the original and doesn’t goth it up in the slightest. This isn’t a complete surprise: their previous covers, from Garyn Numan’s ‘Down in the Park’ to Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Angel’, which appeared on All the Love, were straight and sensitive, even reverent in their approach.

Performed by Valor and Maitri, it’s predominantly acoustic guitar and piano, but there’s a full backing with drums, bass, and sweeping string sounds, making for a take that’s bold, theatrical, and yet, at the same time, intimate, and fitting at a time when Bowie covers and links to his songs are proliferating on social media: it may be the fifth anniversary of his death, but the week also marks what would have been his 75th birthday, and it’s fair to say few, if any artists have had quite the impact he did. Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, may have all broken immense ground, but Bowie was an entirely different proposition, on so many levels, and it’s clear the shock and grief are still strong for so many. This, then, is a fitting and well-executed, heartfelt tribute.

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Emma Ruth Rundle’s lauded new album Engine of Hell is stark, intimate, and unflinching. For anyone that’s endured trauma and grief, there’s a beautiful solace in hearing Rundle articulate and humanise that particular type of pain not only with her words, but with her particular mysterious language of melody and timbre. The album captures a moment where a masterful songwriter strips away all flourishes and embellishments in order to make every note and word hit with maximum impact, leaving little to hide behind.

Just off the heels of its release, Rundle has unveiled another stunning and self-directed video for Engine of Hell’s ‘The Company’. The visual was made on the Isle of Skye.

Rundle reveals, “I dreamed this visual poem about innocence of the spirit, sadness and the dark deceiver I spend my life trying to run from. Or is it a friendly entity? What does it mean? Upon waking – I acquired the equipment and made a plan to film it. I enlisted the help of my dear friend, Blake Armstrong, who helped shoot and plays part in the video as well. It was edited by Brandon Kahn. Written, directed and shot by me.”

Watch the video here:

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Photo Credit: Cintamani Calise

The Melvins recently announced their most ambitious project yet: Five Legged Dog (Oct. 15, Ipecac Recordings), a 36-song newly recorded, acoustic collection featuring a career-spanning collection of songs, from 1987’s Gluey Porch Treatments to 2017’s A Walk With Love & Death, the entire gamut of the legendary band’s catalogue is represented.

Today the band share the acoustic rendering of "Pitfalls In Serving Warrants" which originally appears on Honky. About the track Buzz Osborne explains, "Pitfalls is one of my favourites. A severely underrated song and one that works very well on acoustic."

Check it here:

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Melvins

Photo Credit: Bob Hannam

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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Cheap Red Wine_Artrwork_Kelly Emrich

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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