Posts Tagged ‘Curve’

22nd September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Ummagma really do have some impressive friends and fans. The Canadian dreampop duo’s lush, textured shoegaze has garnered them not only and admirable fanbase and favourable critical reception, but has placed them into direct contact and collaboration with a number of their heroes.

The ‘LCD’ EP, which follows up their ‘Winter Tale’ maxi-single with 4AD dream pop pioneer A.R.Kane earlier this year, features four tracks, including the new original title track ‘LCD’, and reworkings of Ummagma songs two legendary British musical figures in the form of Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, and Dean Garcia of Curve and, latterly, SPC ECO.

The lead track is a classic slice of 90s-tinged dreampop with tangents ago-go: a slippery funk-infused groove envelops what sounds like two independent drum tracks which interlace and intertwine, while synths bubble and grind. It all comes together to create something strangely nebulous and at the same time compellingly propulsive despite its lack of obvious form.

Dean Garcia’s SPC ECO mix really accentuates the spaciness of the track, stripping it back to a sparse frame around which echoed notes and voices drift. Gloopy beats reverberate around dripping synths and elongated drones to conjure a rich atmosphere. Garcia takes a similar approach to the minimal drift of ‘Back to You’, which takes a turn for the darker as its resonant bass tones hang in a rarefied air, cloud-like and barely tangible yet present.

What Robin Guthrie brings to ‘Lama’, which originally featured on their debut album, is a real sense of appreciation of the original, and an accentuation of the nuance. He also provides not only a new arrangement and mix, but additional guitar work, which renders it more of a collaborative piece than a straight remix. There’s something magically organic about it, and as Shauna McLarnon’s soaring vocal tops off the sonic soufflé perfectly.

AA

Ummagma – LCD EP

Advertisements

ELaB Records – 10th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Being a teen of the late 80s and early 90s, I discovered curve through the pages of the music press as was, and absolutely bloody loved them. It’s perhaps hard to appreciate now, in these jaded, music-saturated ties, just how exciting it all was back then. I’m not disparaging the current music scene: far from it. I find new bands which excite me on a weekly basis. But that’s part of the problem: it’s all there, streams and links shared by friends and reviews rippling across social media within hours of posting by a single person of note. And said person of note can be anyone with a high media profile. Back then, it was all about the ability of a critic to capture the imagination, and then for the music fan to seek it out. If you were lucky, John Peel would be spinning something by the act in question. If not… well, you’d got legwork to do. If it sounds arduous, think again: it was fun. It was rewarding.

Anyway. Post-Curve, Dean Garcia formed SPC ECO with his daughter, Rose Berlin. The parallels between this current vehicle and Curve are abundant, to the extent that they require no comment: you can likely find those observations elsewhere all over the internet, and such duplication is such a bore.

What you want – need – to know is that this EP which features five tracks which break the mould: instead of bursting with compressed guitar and mechanised drum-machine led shimmering walls of sound, these are hushed sedate and understated works. Restrained and dreamily subdued as they are, they’re rich in atmosphere depth.

Instrumentally, ‘Under My Skin’ has hints of Moby and The XX about it.. It begins quietly, Rose’s voice close to the mic singing quietly and backed by only a brooding piano. But there are layers building beneath, with tapering synths and delicate reverb filling the space and the space between.

‘Creep in the Shadows’ is a weird one: the bloopy autotuned vocals are so heavily processed as to be essentially robotic, detached, unhuman, and they drift over a backing so minimal as to be barely there: a sparse beat clacks away way back in the distance as a super-low, dubby synthesised bass wanders at will. There’s practically nothing to get a hold of, and it’s so produced it’s hard to position. Contrast that with the lo-mo tri-hop dub of ‘Lt it Be Always’: murky beats and swampy bass conjure dark atmospherics while Berlin comes on like Beth Gibbons at her most hauntingly ethereal.

In its pursuit of the fragile and the paired-back, this EP is by no means SPC ECO’s most immediate release, and doesn’t offer the dynamics of some of their previous releases, but it does follow their recent trajectory which has seen the duo create music of an increasingly claustrophobic, hushed intensity.

 

SPC ECO - Under My Skin

No Sleep Records – 16th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I have to admit, I’d been wondering what was happening with Battle lines. Following the single releases ‘Colonies’ and ‘Hunting’ (split with Post War Glamour Girls), and a storming set at the Brudenell to launch it, there was talk of an album when I chatted with the band afterwards, and then… Well, they seemed to drop off the radar. Carly had mentioned work and all of the things that get in the way of doing things, although it was some time ago, and I’d had a few pints during the evening and what with work and an endless stream of new releases demanding my attention… well, I sort of forgot about things. I’m sorry for the fact that this makes me the same as pretty much everyone else: I blame the ‘net age, the insane pace of our post-postmodern culture, where memories are overlaid and replaced in an instant, buried in the endless blizzard of shiny new things, images, sounds, more bad news and another media frenzy over the latest celebrity scandal. And so, a guilty late review of an album by a band I’m a big fan of.

While I’m looking around at intangibles to blame, I’m also aware that I’m feeding my own anxieties and understanding more the pressure on any artist, in any medium, to devote as much time to promotion as to the production of actual art. It’s all about the momentum! Paradoxically, to weather the storm that is the blizzard of social media, one is required to contribute to it further, and constantly. If you’re out of the public eye, you’re forgotten in a flash. It’s an absurd situation, of course: artists need to retreat in order to produce. In an over-loud world, silence is good, and importantly, silence from a band means they’re likely holed up working on material.

Battle Lines, individually and collectively, have been getting on with their lives, and thankfully, have been doing the things that are important, instead of fretting over their public profile. The press release apologises for their apparent absence, but is matter-of-fact about things:

It’s not a secret that we’ve been very quiet over the last year… There’s no big story, we love each other, we’re as good friends as we’ve ever been. Life has moved on for all of us, and we now reside in New York, London, Brighton and Leeds, geography prevents us from touring, but it can’t prevent us from releasing new music.

And so, while I was busy being distracted, Battle Lines slipped out their debut album, a record I’d waited more years than I care to count for: having first discovered them in their previous guise as Alvin Purple, I’d been captivated by the quality and richness of their dark, post-punk influenced material and the incredibly assured live performances they gave so consistently.

The switch to Battle Lines marked a refocusing: the energy which effused from their earlier songs was directed more inward, and the material displayed an almost ascetic discipline in its execution on those first single releases and in the live shows, more clinical, more icily intense than their previous incarnation.

This is all captured perfectly on Primal. The sparse title track and album opener hints equally at The XX and Closer era Joy Division. But then, glacial electropop undercurrents and thunderous tribal drumming also define the sound. And the sound… the fact they’ve taken their time over this means that the sound is honed to perfection. There isn’t a note out of place. That isn’t to say it’s overproduced within an inch of its sterile life or stripped of its soul: they’ve pulled everything to tight as to render it almost claustrophobically dense, a work which offers an insight into a near-obsessive control over the output. In context, it makes sense:

There’s an honesty about the notes which accompany the release which is at once uncomfortable and refreshing:

Lyrically this was an incredibly dark place to go to, I had come out of a relationship that became mentally abusive; looking back I wondered who I had become in excusing that kind of behaviour. This is what drove me in the album, those darkest moments became a journey of self discovery and a realisation of who I really am and what I deserved.

When life is out of control, what can you do but obsess about the things you can control – your art? But from darkness comes light, and creativity can be so cathartic. As dark as Primal is, it contains some truly beautiful and magnificently uplifting musical moments. Carly’s vocals at times soar so high as to disappear from the register of the average human ear, but ‘Sea of Fear’ is a swelling anthem of a track, and the sunburst shoegaze of ‘Smother’ ripples with the joy of drinking in clear air and rediscovering the potentialities of life.

‘Outsider’ is built around an insistent motoric beat and exploits the quiet / loud dynamic, bursting into explosive shoegaze wall-of-FX guitars which call to mind Ride in their early years, but as is always the case with Battle Lines, Carly’s ultra-high-frequency vocals means they don’t really sound like any of their forebears, or their contemporaries.

Of their single releases, only ‘Hunting’ has made it to the album. This is a bold and admirable choice, and one which makes a statement: a statement which says that \Primal is an album proper, a document, and not a ‘Hunting’ is, of course, a belting wall of noise driven by a twitchy disco beat and shuddering synth with metallic screeds of guitar peeling off a Donna Summer groove, over which Carly comes on like Siouxsie Sioux, breathy and intense.

The album concludes with ‘Riot’, a richly-layered and uplifting song which blossoms in a screed of guitar noise over an insistent rhythm section, the drums and bass tight and locked into a sedate groove.

Primal displays remarkable poise, and as much as its architecture is concerned with the turbulence which inspired its lyrics and overall tone, its coherence and control are remarkable. But rather than feeling soulless in its clinical execution, there’s a clear sense that Primal is about holding it together and showing just what can be achieved through sheer will and determination and the exertion of mind over matter. Despite the obstacles, personal and geographical, Battle Lines have (meticulously) produced a powerful album that was more than worth the wait.

 

Battle Lines - Primal