Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

Unseen Worlds – 25th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Pitched as ‘the gleeful, heart racing sound of hijack, hotwire, and escape’, Carl Stone’s latest release of a remarkably lengthy career is a smash-and grab hotch-potch of percussion-driven pieces.

Writing on the album on its release, Stone comments, ‘These tracks were all made in late 2019 and 2020, much of when I was in pandemic isolation about 5000 miles from my home base of Tokyo. All are made using my favorite programming language MAX. However distinct these two groupings might be they share some common and long-held musical concerns. I seek to explore the inner workings of the music we listen to using techniques of magnification, dissection, granulation, anagramization, and others. I like to hijack the surface values of commercial music and re-purpose them offer a newer, different meaning, via irony and subversion.’

Stone’s purpose is integral to appreciating the album, because the sounds with which it I formulated are the epitome of derivative, and without that context, one may be inclined to consider Stolen Car a serious endeavour rather than a work of subversion and commentary.

It begins with ‘Huanchaco, is a hyperactive mess of undulating synth which duels with freakout freeform jazz horns, all propelled by some frenetic drum ‘n’ bass beats.

Stammering, overlapping vocal loops provide the fabric of ‘Auburn’. Cut and spliced in such short fragments as to bubble and blur, and as everything melts into a foamy soup, there’s a fast-pace indie tune playing on the radio in the next room, and this in turn melts into the r’n’b pop froth of ‘Au Jus’, a chopped-up summary of the sound of the autotuned contemporary mainstream – slick, stylised, and devoid of content.

As the album progresses, everything seems to accelerate, growing more dizzying as K-pop and Katy Perry are whipped into an out-of-control fairground. Each track feels – and sounds – like listening to the entire top 40 single chart for the last five years with each single playing simultaneous and 25% faster than recorded. With the quickening of the pace also comes an increasingly bubblegumminess, but also a sense that things are out of control. It feels like a metaphor for postmodern culture, its endless acceleration built on a perpetual recycling whereby surface substitutes depth.

Stolen Car is a disorientating rollercoaster of a ride – a joyride where the joy is edged with panic as the smile becomes a fixed plastic grin as the fun turns to fear that at any moment you’re going to flip off the road, meet head-on with a wall, or worse still, carry on going, ever faster, forever….

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2nd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Having been brought into Talk Talk to assist with remixing on ‘It’s My Life’ in 1984, Tim Friese-Greene became an integral contributor to the band on their subsequent albums. Short Haired Domestic sees Tim come together with his wife, Lee, formerly of 90s act Sidi Bou Said and currently lead vocalist and guitar player for Pavlova.

As the liner notes explain, the vocals for each song are sung in a different language, and ‘have at their heart a breakbeat loop, sampled fragments, scratching, insistent funk and Latin rhythms, surprising appearances of acoustic guitar and just about every sound it’s possible to wring from a WASP synthesiser’.

This manifests as a collection of songs with a quirky charm to their style, which has something of a mainland European, vaguely gallic feel to it, and their touchstones of Stereolab and Francois Hardy, among others, sit comfortably. It’s so not my regular bag, but sometimes I need something to chill to, and a complete change of scene by way of a pallete-cleanser.

The titles are helpful in their explanatory nature but disclose little about the stance on the subjects being sung about – but that probably speaks more of a global Anglocentrism when it comes to song lyrics than anything – and also highlights that you don’t necessarily need words to appreciate a song.

It’s a laid-back sashaying groove and swinging beat that sets the scene with ‘A song in Latin about the importance of comfortable shoes’, and without a lyric sheet and translation, it’s hard to be certain, but it sounds like they rather like them. And who wouldn’t? Who says you can’t have style and comfort?

They hit an insistent funk groove of ‘A song in Spanish addressed to men who drive big cars’, and work it hard, while ‘A Song in Bulgrian for Lovers of Gin; is positively loungey in its laid-back jazziness, a head-nodding groove as smooth as the silkiest chocolate. Things get a bit Prince on ‘A song in Italian saluting his mother’, and there’s even a dash of piano reminiscent of Talk Talk on the slower, sparser head-nodding A song in Hindi for insomniacs’.

For their sugared pop coating of sunny melodies, these simple-sounding and accessible tunes are layered and steeped in experimentalism, and they pull it off with a deceptive ease.

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Short-Haired Domestic (album cover)

28th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

In a format frenzy reminiscent of Mansun back in the late 90s and around the turn of the millennium, which saw the band release around two albums’ worth of material as B-sides over the course of just three or four years, this is the first of a two-part double EP release from Londonites Latenight Honeymoon. It’s a set that wasn’t only written and recorded during lockdown, but that is a product of lockdown in it lyrical explorations, manifesting as a raw, vivid, visceral and personal working through the anxiety, tension, anguish, and insomnia of living life in social separation.

The band’s biographical details may be sparse, and if on one hand it may be frustrating, it’s maybe a strong positive, in that the focus is on the music itself. Does anyone actually need to know who does what? No, of course not: that’s all ego. The singer doesn’t have a conventionally musical voice, but does have a way for delivering a lyric – which always worked more than adequately for Morrissey, Mark E. Smith, and John Lydon, among many others. Rock, pop, and punk aren’t about perfect pitch, but about communicating in a way that registers on an emotional level. And here’s a lot of emotion on the songs on offer here, to the extent that I do feel like I’m being dragged through someone’s lockdown trauma and the correspondent emotional ups and downs as I listen to this EP.

Lead track, ‘Afterglow’ has a certain swing to it, a post-punk indie cross with a dash of funk and blue-eyed soul infused into the spring-stepped guitars that bounce, crisp and clean, over a light-footed rhythm section. The band describe the song as ‘an ode to all the healthy relationships transformed into nightmares thanks to the unprecedented times we find ourselves in. Communicating so inhumanly via the phone screens we are chained too,’ [sic] and it’s likely universally relatable. Hands up who doesn’t miss people, or at least some people?

‘If it’s not your fault / then it must be mine’ the singer sings on ‘B.S.T.’, a heavy hint of resignation in his voice, and it’s a lack of conviction and a sense of hollowness that colours the lines ‘Oh baby please don’t worry / I think were both gonna be alright / in spite of tonight / 2020 / How could you do this to me?’

The vocals are particularly raw and ragged on ‘[What If?]’, landing somewhere between Kurt Cobain and Shane McGowan as he hollers every last ounce of anguish and a piano played heavy-handed hits the mark as the lyrics reprise the chorus of ‘Afterglow’, while referencing Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 18’ and Tennyson. There’s no shame in poeticism or literary referencing, and it rounds off the EP nicely.

Given that they’ve already scored some high-profile support slots, this EP is bound to only enhance their reputation and solidify their fanbase, and deservedly so.

Stream the EP by clicking the image below.

BST EP final

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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Christopher Nosnibor

Daily, I read about how the current situation is affecting bands, and, indeed, every aspect of the music industry. That said, it’s always the grass roots and lower echelons who are hardest hit, as is the case in any kind of crisis. Major-league artists will always be ok as gong as there are radio stations to play their stuff and produce a steady flow of royalties, and their millions of fans continue to stream their songs endlessly online. Beyoncé, Bono, and Ed Sheeran aren’t going to starve under lockdown.

But bands who rely on gigs in pubs alongside other bands who rely on gigs in pubs to find a fanbase and maybe flog enough merchandise to cover their fuel between said gigs have nothing to fall back on.

Sleep Kicks’ story is by no means unique, but they way they tell it as they present their new single really brings it home:

The whole live music scene shut down less than two weeks after our debut single came out. Instead of doing gigs and rehearsals, we just kept going, working on our own with a handful of songs we had recorded. Mixing, videos, artwork – the lot. We suddenly realised that one of the songs happened to describe this weird situation, and the feeling we somehow knew we would have once this whole thing was over. In short, the soundtrack to coming out of urban lockdown. It turned out an epic ode to the city, and at least it helped ourselves keeping the spirits up during the bleak times!

With ‘Recovery’, the Norwegian quartet paint scenes of an empty world springing back to life, and the difficulties of the prospect of readjustment.

A rolling rhythm and chiming guitar pave the way for a strolling bass motif and they coalesce into a spacious, reflective soundscape that sits between A-Ha, Editors, and mid-80s U2 and Simple Minds. Things kick up a notch and even nod toward anthemic around the mid-point of this six-and-a-half minute epic, before blossoming fully for a mesmerising final minute, where it soars on every level as they cast their eye to a brighter future: not the chalk-drawn rainbow on the pavement featured on the cover art, but a life of fulfilment, a re-emergence from the stasis of the now to actually living, rather than merely existing.

For a ‘little’ band, they have a big, ambitious sound that’s also got big audience potential. Here’s hoping they fulfil it.

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22nd April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Argonaut offshoot and Aural Aggro favourites Videostore have certainly been keeping busy during lockdown: just days after unleashing the lightning strike blast of the 54-second ode to redevelopment, ‘Building Breaking’, with the inclusion of three more previous singles, they’ve delivered a full ten-song album. Better still, the speed of its creation imbues every second with an urgency and immediacy that grabs the listener and keeps a solid grip right to the end.

It’s pitched as the soundtrack to an imaginary 1980s Brat Pack movie set in a Videostore. The songs provide a background for the small-town, the journey and the relationship. Please insert your own characters, plot twists and angst!’

‘Building Breaking’ kicks it off in a flurry of fizzy guitars, and keeping it front-loaded, the dreamy showgazer that is ‘Every Town’, and for all the buzzsaw bangers, there are some beautifully melancholic moments to be found here. They evoke not only a (recent and modern) bygone era, but also conjure a sense of the downbeat and the run-down.

If nostalgia has painted the 80s as an era of shininess, newness, and the dawn of the new consumerism, Vincent’s Picks reminds us that there has always been deprivation, worn-down backstreets and downtrodden folks living mundane lives. The people who rarely feature in big-budget movies. Vincent’s Picks is not about car chases and explosions, espionage and cold-war action. There’s grit and grain, and accessible lo-fi alt-pop in the form of ‘Math Club’. Elsewhere, ‘Aloner’ goes all-out on the big anthem, and they absolutely nail it: what it needs is a montage to accompany it, and lots of shots of rain-soaked brooding.

The opening lines of ‘Not Alone’ have a timeless universality about them, although resonate deep at this moment in time, as Nathan sings in a low, cracked voice that contrasts with Lorna’s clean candyfloss tone, ‘Would you like a cigarette / would you like a cup of tea? / I’m sorry you’re alone… Would you like another drink? / Would you like to watch TV?’. Around the world, there are so many who would pretty much kill to have a drink or cup of tea with another human being. It breaks into a monster guitar break and mess of overloading distortion that’s like Dinosaur Jr gone industrial.

The Pixies-esque ‘My Back’ is an absolute scorcher, and the cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ is unexpected, and really rather good: Lorna takes the lead vocals and it’s a kinds Cure meets Strawberry Switchblade that does justice to a classic. You can almost imagine a reworking of the video inbuilt into the imaginary movie, before ‘Sleep Complete’ brings things to an uplifting resolution.

Vincent’s Picks isn’t an overtly or explicitly concept or soundtrack album, but it does set itself up to present a kind of narrative flow, and it works well. More importantly, there isn’t a duff song on it, which makes it one of my picks, too.

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5th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ll spare you the retreading of old ground here, but Weekend Recovery’s evolution is one I’ve personally charted over the last few years, and debut album Get What You Came For confirmed their full transition from slick melodic alt-rock act to purveyors of fiery grunge / punk. They never lost their focus on melody, for all that, and ‘There’s A Sense’, which gives a second taste of album number two, False Friends pitches the melody very much to the fore.

‘There’s A Sense’ is ostensibly a three-minute pop tune. The guitars are a choppy, trebly, and provide a spiky backdrop to Lori’s buoyant, almost bubblegum vocals that bounce along so, so easily.

‘Tell my friends I’m coming down / and I can’t promise I’ll be back around’ she sings in the breaks when it all slows for a moment. Those slumps are relatable, and for all the bouncy and immediate tuuuuune that this blast of ebullient popness gives us, the truth is that there’s always darkness beneath the surface.

Weekend Recovery continue to expand their range, and deserve to one day rule the world.

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Clue Records – 22nd November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The thing about Team Picture is that they just don’t fit. Anywhere. Stylistically, they’re a bit of this, a bit of that. A bit indie, a but pop, a bit shoegaze, a bit Krautrock. To see them performing, they don’t even seem to fit together. They’re like a satirical homage to The Village People: despite the uniform, they present as a selection of characters / caricatures with no obvious connection, separate, pulling in different directions.

And yet somehow this most disparate bunch work, and incredibly well. They’re incredibly adept at forging strong songs – which ultimately, is what being a band is about (unless it’s an avant-garde jazz band, where the objective is to make as discordant a racket in as many different tie signatures as possible). Their songs manage to represent their divergent personalities, pulling apart as much as together. And yet they work, and this latest single is no exception.

‘Another Always’ starts with space-age synths before shifting into some new-wave / indie crossover that smooshes together jerky, quirky vocals and chorus-tinged guitar to forge a sound that’s a collision of The Cure and The B52’s with a post-millennial retro sass and a certain yet oddly distinctive Leeds twist.

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Team Picture - Another, Always (artwork)

22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

I was – for reasons I forget – watching Alain de Botton’s lecture entitled ‘Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person’ the other week. ‘We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well,’ he says. ‘In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?”’

Maybe I give off a certain vibe, but increasingly, I find myself encountering people who are more up-front about their defects, and while I find I’m still surrounded by stressers, anxietisers, low-mooders, neurotics, etc., at least I get to choose the ones I feel comfortable sharing my time with instead of discovering way down the line that they’re completely fucking nuts. That’s not actually intended as a flippantly disparaging or critical comment, for the record: we’re all fucking nuts, and I’m as warped as anyone.

It’s not just in my personal life I’m a magnet. It’s in my (second) professional life, too that people approach me from nowhere. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to assimilate. My online persona is just that: it isn’t me. Then again, I write, and I put it – a part of myself – out there, daily.

This epic digression is in fact contextual narrative. Having been approached via Twitter, a PR was angling for a review. Close friends are right: I am soft and maybe I am too nice. But then, I don’t want anyone to think I’m actually the guy who does The Rage Monologues live. Said PR was touting the latest single offering from Miel – who is, in fact, Swiss contemporary art collector, singer-songwriter, psychologist, and philanthropist, Miel de Botton, who lives in London. De Botton is the daughter of the pioneer of open architecture asset management Gilbert de Botton, and the sister of Alain de Botton. It’s a small world.

The cover art illustrates the sentiment of a desire to escape, to be elsewhere, to be immersed in someone else, and this conveys the sentiment of Londoner Meil’s new single ‘It’s been such a long hard road / I wait for you /I need your love to get me through / take me away / to the deepest sea / finally you and me together at last’, she sings in a dreamy pop tone against a backdrop of rippling piano, synth strings and understated beats.

“When I wrote this, I was imagining an ideal man whisking me away to the tropics. Understanding and thoughtful, he would be bringing me joy, ridding me of loneliness,” says Meil. It’s pure fantasy escapism, of course, and in some form or another, it’s a sentiment that has a universality to it that’s undeniable.

Neatly wrapped in some deft pop packaging, ‘Take Me Away’ radiates pure quality, and augers well for her forthcoming second album.

12th April 2019

Creativity is one of those things that’s innate, and as such, while it’s something that can be suppressed, sidelined, ignored, overlooked, and can even lie dormant for protracted periods, it’s an urge that never dies.

Karen Haglof stepped in to play guitar with Band of Susans after two of the three Susans who featured in the original lineup departed after the first album and featured alongside Paige Hamilton on 1989’s Love Agenda and the band’s Peel session, also released as an EP before departing to pursue a more solid, and what some might call ‘grown-up’ career’.

Most people in bands have day-jobs on account of the economics of music-making, but few have successful headline careers in medicine. And yet, after building a career as an oncologist for some twenty years, Haglof felt the urge to get back into music. And somehow, she’s found time to release three albums and an EP since 2015 – although their writing and evolution goes back a little further.

Karen says of her music, “I love a heavy drum beat and thick deep bass. I love noise and wall of sound guitars and idiosyncratic rhythms. I love open D and finger style. I love a crunchy guitar. I love sly lyrics and depth of feeling. I love a pop song and a pop groove. I love a dance groove. Does all this come through in my music? I don’t know, but I am always trying for it to come through.”

Tobriano is certainly a lot poppier than anything Band of Susans released, and definitely boasts some tidy grooves, bringing to the fore elements of country and vintage radio-friendly rock. But pop should never be viewed as synonymous with lightweight, weak, or disposable. ‘Humbled and Chastened’ brings some beef, while ‘These are the Things’ brings some jazz brass and a solid groove. Elsewhere, the choppy guitars, insistent drums and raw sax of ‘Favour Favour’ calls to mind the early years of The Psychedelic Furs, which is certainly no bad thing.

To describe Tobriano as ‘mature’ isn’t to do it a disservice or dismiss it as dull: it’s an album that’s laid back, confident, assured. It isn’t about testing limits or pushing boundaries, and it’s in that sense that Tobriano is mature. What it is about is enjoying act of making music, and celebrating musicianship and creativity. And this very much does come through in the music, making for solid listening pleasure.

Karen Haglof online.

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