Posts Tagged ‘EP Review’

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, stuff just gets buried in my inbox. People – bands, PRs, family, friends – all probably figure I’m ignoring them, or just being a twat as usual. The latter may well be true, and as for the latter, perhaps so, but unintentionally. John Peel always used to make a point of listening to everything he was sent. Unfortunately or otherwise, depending on your perspective, I’m not John Peel.

“We all have that need to break out of the cycle of daily life,” says the band’s guitarist and vocalist Dein Moore. He’s right. I’m at work all day every day during the working week, which makes wading through review submissions hard. So, yeah. I’m almost six months late this this. But better late than never, right?

The seven tracks on Kleptocracy showcase the band’s immense range, often within a single track. Opener ‘Alleviate’ begins quiet, lilting, an amalgamation of folk and prog with a distinctly mainland European flavour, before rupturing into a surging alt-rock climax.

Salsa rhythms clack through the delicate, supple guitars and build gradually on ‘Colour Tone’, and if ‘Autumn Leaves’ manifests as a rather middling, mellow radio-friendly acoustic rock number, the soulful depth of the vocals have a certain appeal. There are also elements of 8 Storey Window (whatever happened to them?) and Amplifier in the arrangement, and the comparisons carry through on the driving title track, too.

There’s plenty of meat to Kleptocracy, but also a lot of detail, making for a neat balance and an EP that’s got a fair bit to hold the attention.

 

Sonitus

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Leonard Skully Records – 9th December 2016

James Wells

I’m growing rather weary of arty shots of naked or semi-naked women adorning the covers of releases by post-rock and shoegaze bands. And shit post-metal and post-hardcore bands. Everything’s post-something now, and I’m beyond weary of that. But we live in a click-bait world where adolescence is suspended in perpetuity, and despite the fact that everything’s freely available and as hardcore or strange as you want it at the click of a button, there’s still a certain lure in the risqué.

Call it art – and it should be possible to do so – but the prevalence of the practice makes it feel hollow, cheap and exploitative. ‘Yeah, let’s slap a chick on the cover of our meandering, ponderous post-rock EP… it’ll make us look arty and interesting and like we know photographers who can get girls to pose for them. Incidentally, I hate photographers as a rule, especially the ones who manage to make like they’re ‘safe’ aren’t sleazy… and no, not because I’m jealous. I really do just think they’re cunts.

The_Veldt_-_In_a_Quiet_Room

In a Quiet Room’, the single cut from The Veldt’s preposterously-titled The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation has an arty black and white head and shoulders shot of a woman, or a girl, by way of a cover. Apropos of absolutely bloody nothing. It certainly says nothing of the layered, textured, murky, glitchy, drum ‘n’ bass influenced soulful post-rock sonic expanses they conjure, the trickling cymbal work which grips a tight tension over squalling, drifting guitar treble on the EP’s opener ‘Sanctified’ or the shimmering post-rock / r’n’b crossover of said single ‘In a Quiet Room’.

Quite how comfortable I am with their seemingly incongruous but seamlessly smelted hybridity, I’m not sure, but there’s no faulting its execution. The Veldt get atmosphere, and they get sleekness. I’m not sure I get it, or the appeal, but it’s neatly executed and sounds nothing like the cover art suggests.

 

Veldt EP

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

12th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Ummagma have been making quite a name for themselves, and have done a great deal in revitalising the shoegaze / dreampop crossover style characterised by early 4AD releases. This release finds the Ukranian/Canadian act join forces with dreampop pioneers A.R. Kane (who also released music as half of M/A/R/R/S) and who have been silent since the 90s.

To try to get to the root of what it is about dreampop’s capacity to touch the listener is, indeed, akin to trying to locate the source, and subsequent emotional resonance of a dream. Waking up at 5am – as I often do – I was groggy with the images of dreams melting from my mind as I made the uneasy transition from unconscious to conscious. Some of the scenes clung, but their significance, which had been immense whist in sleep, swiftly evaporated as I rose to the surface. There was a logic to some of the more anxiety-inspired elements of the dream – desperately trying to send a text message while trapped in an eternal office meeting held in a room with no windows, for example – required little unravelling, but others subscribed to a dream-logic which only sustains any sense of coherence while in a dream-state.

Dreampop, at its best, suspends the listener’s connection with the concrete world and transports them into a mental zone somewhere in between realities. For the three to five minutes the song plays, the sound occupies the mind completely, and conjures a rarefied emotional state, a distillation of a deeper inner self that’s only partly accessible at any given time. This is why, in order to fully appreciate the cream of dreampop, it’s necessary to fully surrender oneself to the music. Anything else is likely to leave the listener feeling very much on the outside, looking in, and completely untouched.

‘Winter Tale’ is a song by Ummagma, featured here in its original form and subject to a substantial reworking by A.R.Kane, and accompanied by an abridged radio version of the A.R. Kane interpretation.

The original is a dainty, delicate ditty, wistful, softly blurred, a lightly skipping vocal melody careening its way over a sparse backing of simple percussion and cloud-like synths, and it’s full of wintry imagery and a pervading sense of suspense. Shauna McLarnon’s vocal is delicate, airy, and floats mellifluously on the breeze.

The alternative version is quite different. A.R.Kane’s primary addition, however, is an overloading guitar. It’s kept at a respectful distance and doesn’t submerge the entire frame of the underlying original, but crashes like waves and breaks into howls of feedback, bringing textural layers and additional depths to the song, accentuating the darker aspects. The absence of percussion somehow abstracts the song in some way, and the gently rising bubbles of synth bring a sense of colour.

But when it ends, it’s hard to recall exactly what it was about it, like a cloud that’s changed shape and the rabbit is now just a streak in the sky.

 

Ummagma   A.R.Kane - Winter Tale (cover artwork)

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s nothing shameful about pop music per se, and there’s no two ways about it: a good hook is a good hook, and however much you – or I – might adore obscure noisy shit of the most punishing velocity, there’s no substitute for a killer chorus, well-delivered. So, enter Chess Smith. She looks the part, and sound it, too.

So how’s ‘Queen of the High Held Head Walk’ for a tongue-twister of a song-title? It’s the first we’ve heard of Chess Smith here at Aural Aggro but hopefully, it won’t be the last. A sharp-edged, dark-pop tune, it’s the lead track from her six-track EP of the same title, and melds a heavily chorused / flange-treated Curesque bassline to a hard-edged 80s disco beat. Smith’s vocal is strong without being shrill, as she delivers a powerful message of self-affirmation.

The other tracks are far from weak, showcasing a pop talent with a heavy 80s influence, benefiting from 21st century production values. The seething dark electro of ‘Pinocchio’ offers up an undulating rhythmic force, and as a whole, this EP shows more than a little promise: there’s a confidence and coolness about Smith’s presentation which suggests she’s got big prospects.

 

 

Chess Smith - Queen

23rd December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This is Nine Inch Nails? That whipcracking Roland snare, thin and snappy, in a landlside of scuzzed-out bass noise, sounds more like Metal Urbain or offshoot Dr Mix and the Remix. Were it not for the distinctive vocals, the throbbing punk guitars of ‘Branches_Bones’ isn’t immediately regonisable as the work of NIN. But then again, it does distil into its explosive one minute and forty-seven seconds all the violent fury of the best tracks recoded under the NIN moniker. Nevertheless, you weren’t expecting that, were you?

Or maybe you were. Trent Reznor had not only promised new material before the year was out but also warned, on announcement of the release of Not the Actual Events, that ‘it’s an unfriendly, fairly impenetrable record that we needed to make’. And it is.

‘Dear World’ is dark, murky, tetchy, twitchy, deeply electronic. Bleepy synths ride the crest of an insistent drum loop, while Reznor croons in a hushed tone. It’s probably the closest they’ve come to looking back to the Pretty Hate Machine days, and I can’t help but think of the stark, claustrophobic groove of ‘Ringfinger’.

The six-minute ‘She’s Gone Away’ is a messy, mid-tempo dirge that, with its dense, dubby bass groove calls to mind ‘Reptile’ from The Downward Spiral (which along with its immediate predecessors in the shape of Broken and Fixed still stand as the band’s artistic apogee, and there’s nothing which quite scales those heights to be found here). ‘The Idea of You’ is a tense affair, and the thunking, leaden guitar slabs border on Nu Metal. Reznor builds layer upon layer of vocal until there’s something approximating an entire arena’s worth of voice – or a choir’s worth, at least, and it’s actually quite uncomfortable. If the cacophony of overdriven guitars, anguished vocals, layered synths and extraneous noise, which build to a cranium-compressing density sounds like classic Nine Inch Nails, that’s because it is.

Unveiled on the same day as the EP to advance purchasers, ‘Burning Bright’ is brutal assault buried in a dense sonic sludge. And yes, it is unfriendly, a grinding bass-led barrage that draws together the pulverizing grate of Melvins with a black metal and the ground between dark ambient and black metal. Don’t come looking for a chorus or nifty hook here: this track is predominantly about battering the listener. Yet for all its weight, there’s a contrarian element to the arrangement, with bombastic synths and an extravagant guitar solo that goes on – and on.

The overall effect of this bears parallels with Foetus’ Butterfly Potion EP; emerging as a standalone studio release, it was a relentless sonic assault, and a productional tour de force. In the same way, Not the Actual Events is evidently a studio-borne project, which utilises the kit available to achieve a bewildering sonic experience.

From reading Linda Hutcheon on postmodernism, and from digesting William Burroughs’ theories of the cut-up, I’m aware that history is essentially a construct, a representation and reinterpretation of events. As such, while it may be entirely coincidental, it’s notable that Not the Actual Events emerges synchronously to a bundle of souped-up, ultra-deluxe expanded and ‘definitive’ reissues of back-catalogue classics, which are a boon for collectors or a cynical and sacrilegious cash-milking exercise, depending on your perspective. It’s interesting, then, that while Reznor rewrites his own history, his latest material also contributes to its development, drawing on elements of the past while very much looking to the future.

Not the Actual Events is a stronger work thanks in no small part to its brevity: having kept it concise and focused, it has impact to match its density.

And if anyone’s ordered the digital version rather than the vinyl, I’d love to know what the ‘physical component’ is when it’s delivered. If it’s simply a CD, I’ll not be impressed.

 

nottheactuaevents

1st December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

With Stranded on the Path, The Clouded Lights showcase a sound that’s very much rooted in the distinctly post-millennium revisioning of the post-punk sound, in the vein of early Interpol, Editors, et al, as well as contemporaries both regional (The Exhibition, for example) and international (New York’s New Politicians come to mind). So, there’s a real precedent, and a sense that The Clouded Lights are part of an expansive zeitgeist. Increasingly, it feels like that zeitgeist exists under the shadow of the apocalypse: the fear of the mushroom which loomed large over the 1980s is in many ways reborn in the 2010s (which still don’t sound like a real decade, but what can you do?) It’s an observation I’ve made previously, but the point is worth restating: the parallels between the early 1980s and the present are astounding – and depressing – and it’s small wonder that so much contemporary music echoes the sound of 30-odd years ago.

One of the key elements in the bands of the original new wave – Joy Division in particular, but listen to any of the darker, gothier bands, like Danse Society, Skeletal Family and you’ll find the same stylistic features – is strong, dominant drumming. The Clouded Lights have nailed the drumming, with a percussion style that’s urgent, tense, and, importantly, tight. The EP’s first track, ‘Borrowed Hearts’, is arguably the strongest and an obvious choice of lead, which balances bounce and bleakness, and is propelled by a busy, bluster-filled bassline that brings energy.

I’m a sucker for songs driven by rolling tom-led drumming, and the slower ‘Barter With the World’ ticks the box nicely. Chiming guitars and a vocal melody which casts melancholy shades define the song, and across the EP’s four tracks, there are some strong harmonies.

While shaded with heavy hints of darkness and defined by spindly, fractal guitars, Stranded on the Path is by no means a wholly bleak, pessimistic release, and the strong choruses and a leanings toward more uptempo material means it’s a release that’s inspiring, rather than a soundtrack to hang yourself to. It’s also a strong set, which suggests that, with live dates booked for the new year, The Clouded Lights could well be ones to watch in 2017.

 

The Clouded Lights - Stranded on the Path