Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

30th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I had something of what you might call an epiphany of sorts last night. I was cooking dinner, and as is standard, had put the TV on. I usually have it on mute and watch the news with subtitles while listening to a CD, but instead, while chopping veg for a healthy stir-fry, I had a music channel playing 80s hits, and it was good – mostly the early 80s, with some ABC and Aha (‘The Sun Always Shines in TV’ for change) before plummeting into the shit of Bros and Brother Beyond just before I served, at which point it went off. But it was during this unashamed nostalgiafest that I realised that for my daughter, who’s 9, the 80s are further in the past than the 60s were when I was her age. And that at her age, I had no interest in the 60s because it was so far back in history it was tinny, trebly, scratchy, dated, sepiatone or black and white. It was historical relics and I never got why my parents rated anything 60s. I still don’t really have much interest in the main.

But chowing my chow mein, I came to realise that things have changed, largely, one assumes, on account of the Internet. Now, we have truly hit peak postmodern in the sense that the historical is now part of the present, and everything and anything goes. The 60s likely feel a lot less distant and alien to a nine-year-old than to someone like me in their mid-40s, because they’re simply so much more accommodating.

And so it is that 23-year-old singer/songwriter Bethany Ferrie takes in a wide range of influences, from the likes of Fleetwood Mac to Lewis Capaldi, Kings of Leon to Taylor Swift. And also, I’m reminded that no longer is anyone purist in their allegiance to rock, pop, or folk. For those under thirty who can extricate themselves from the mundane bilge of R1 mediocrity, whereby music is so much wallpaper, music is music, and there are only two kinds – good and bad. There’s perhaps a certain naivete in the idea that all of these things sit together, but Bethany demonstrates an admirable songwriting prowess with her new single, ‘Bones’. The piano-led song is low-key, but layered, melodic yet heartfelt. It’s also one of those songs that has a slow, contemplative start, before bursting into a cinematic chorus, aided by some reverby production that really does the scope of the song justice.

Is it alternative? Is it niche? No. Is it commercial? In terms of R1 circa 2004 when Keane’s ‘Something Only We Know’ and playlists were wall-to-wall Coldplay, yes and no. ‘Bones’ isn’t dreary, drab, or manufactured, but does have clear commercial potential.

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Plinki – 15th April 2021

I’ve been vegetarian since around 1994 or 95. My vegetarianism amuses some people, including a couple of friends who are such hardcore meat enthusiasts the prospect of a meal without at least some meat element makes them shudder and quiver and slowly foam away like a slug having salt poured over it. Then again, there’s a real risk they might dehydrate through salivation at the prospect of a tray of meat. Yes, the promise of meat can have a profound and indeed physical effect.

On this album, Anat Ben David and collaborators aren’t promising any meat you can actually eat and digest, but only chew on, which will no doubt disappoint my carnivorous chums. But there is much to chew on, and to ponder, as they present a vast array of styles and sounds that don’t always sit comfortably aside one another and will test many listeners on a number of levels. At times it’s pop, and with an electronic beat, but at others, it’s overtly experimental. And what does the cover art say?

Each of the songs on the album according to the liner notes, takes as its starting point ‘a text by a different author’ with ‘the new compositions bringing out a shared theme: the interaction of humans and the natural world and the assimilation of technology into our being’.

The five tracks on The Promise of Meat are stunning in their dramatic structures, their contrasts, their juxtapositions, and Anat’s soaring operatic vocals are utterly breathtaking. And there is no one overarching style that defines the album beyond the method, a focus on the minimal, the brooding. Pitched against groaning, droning electronica and stammering synths, it’s a striking sensation that creates a certain cognitive dissonance? What is this? How does one process and assimilate it?

‘Naked Axes’, the first song, is sparse and dissonant, dramatic and while the vocal is perhaps most reminiscent of Billie MacKenzie and there are hints of the high drama and tension of The Associates, it’s Scott Walker’s later work that’s perhaps the closest comparison here.

‘Cherish the Birds; is a chorus of delirium, while ‘Face Mixed With Phone’ is a stuttering barely- there dual-vocal acapella / spoken word piece with some bloopy, gloopy incidentals. It’s a shade awkward, especially when growls and whoops collide with shuddering organ-like drones and the crack of the snares of vintage drum machines to forge a wibbly sonic mirage.

The title track, a sprawling ten-minute morass of meanderance, is where things really get weird, and it’s sonorous, lugubrious, as an acoustic guitar plods a deadened strum, augmented by mournful brass sounds sad, lost notes into nothing, and amidst squelches and digital glitches. As atonal and varikeyed vocals collide against one another in the instrumental drift, it becomes increasingly disorientating and deranged.

Maybe this isn’t an album to process or assimilate in the usual ways. There is no clean or simple way to position this or to otherwise feel comfortable with the unexpected transitions and perspectives. But it is an album to spend time with, and to reattenuate your expectations by.

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28th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

VVolves seriously impressed with their debut single, ‘Momentum’, unveiled last June – a heady rush of shoegaze and pop with ethereal vocals and a repetitive groove, it was, well, impressive.

‘Well-Loved Tales’ is an admirable follow-up: rich in atmosphere, but at the same time, a bold electronic pop tune, it’s a magnificently balanced composition. The rolling drums and teetering piano add drama to a guitar soaked in chorus and reverb, and with a rich, luscious production, the sound and the feel and the vibe is every inch the Cure’s Disintegration. And let’s be straight: if you’re going to take your cues from any classic album that has a truly timeless feel, that’s probably a top pick. There’s also a hint of ‘Naked and Savage’ by The Mission in the brooding, hypnotic hues, too.

There isn’t an attention-grabbing hook or an overt immediacy about ‘Well-Loved Tales’ – rather it casts a dreamy sonic spell that draws the listener in with a captivating sense of melody.

The ‘sparse’ version which serves as the B-side lives up to its name: stripped of the drums and the drama, slow-drifting synths provide the main accompaniment to a dreamy vocal that’s almost folksy, and equally, almost part of the instrumentation, and it’s nice. Very nice. As is the mesmerising video which accompanies it.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Lifted from their forthcoming double album Duel, scheduled for release in April, Deine Lakaien have unveiled their cover of The Cure’s 1983 classic pop tune ‘The Walk’.

The duo, comprising pianist Ernst Horn and vocalist Alexander Veljanov, have over the course of ten albums attained a significant status in their native Germany, but haven’t quite the same reach further afield, but there’s a strong change that this could change with Duel, which pairs an album of original compositions with an album of paired covers, ‘The Walk’ being one of them.

And it’s good. By which I mean, it’s an affectionate, even reverent cover that pays an overly sincere homage to the original – as it should, of course. Much of the appeal of the original is its rough edges, and the sound of those early 80s synths and drum machines, recorded to tape. Listening to it now, along with so many contemporaneous songs, reminds us for that for all we’ve gained with advancing technology in terms of fidelity and ease of recording, mixing, and so on, so much has been lost in terms of essence.

As Ernst Horn comments, “For an old-school synthesizer freak like me, ‘The Walk’ was of course a welcome opportunity to celebrate beautiful old sounds in simple tone sequences, although I really blunt my teeth on the hook… I guess I couldn’t get it to sound as dirty as in the original. ‘The Walk’ is really an acoustic advertisement for the original sound of a vintage synthesizer. The instrumental part was also a lot of fun, the increase to the last, ‘Take Me to the Walk‘, where I could let my equipment totally off the leash.”

It’s telling that the artist himself feels a certain sense of shortcoming, and in a way, it’s refreshing: instead of artistic ego, we get an insight into the anxiety of influence experienced by the influencee.

Horn’s comments demonstrate an unusual degree of self-awareness, and it’s true that Deine Lakaien’s efforts to recreate the spirit and sound of the original falls short: the playful exuberance is lost to a certain self-applied pressure to deliver, while the sound is close, but somehow artificial. But for all that, I’m not going to do this down one iota: it very much does capture the 80s vibe, especially wit the dominant crack of a processed snare sound that cuts through everything… everything… everything. The brooding, swampy break is nicely done and if for the most part it sounds like A-Ha covering The Cure, the play-out goes darker and sounds more like a post-First and Last and Always Sisters of Mercy demo. And from me, that’s a compliment, and this is a solid cover, for sure.

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Deine Lakaien by Jörg Grosse-Geldermann

Multi-genre artist, SINthetik Messiah has just unleashed two new singles for Christmas. ‘In My Dreams’ is a collaboration with The Other LA. You can listen to this here:

The track ‘In My Dreams’ was originally produced by Cj Pierce of Drowning Pool for The Other LA’s self-titled album that was released in 2016. The Other LA approached Bug Gigabyte to take the music and bring it on a more twisted,  electronic journey. After receiving the original track stems, Bug took the audio , ground it up into a new composition and added more drums, guitars, synths and vocals. Grammy nominated engineer Joe Haze (Lords of Acid/The Banishment) then used his mastery of analog mix and mastering technology to glue all the chaos of the track together.

The band also presents their cover of Atari Teenage Riot’s, ‘Destroy 2000 Years Of Culture,’ which seems quite appropriate in 2020. 

Their first cover was meant to be an updated American version of the 1997 track ‘Destroy 2000 Years Of Culture’ by the revolutionary electronic noise act, Atari Teenage Riot.  Originally ATR sampled the track ‘Dead Skin Mask’ by American metal  act Slayer, from their 1990 album, Seasons in the Abyss
In continuing the tradition of the ATR song and ideas behind both acts’ music, Bug Gigabyte sampled the same Slayer track and gave a new spin to the fundamentals of what makes Atari Teenage Riot. Once Bug finished composing the cover, he then passed it on to Grammy nominated engineer, Joe Haze(Lords Of Acid, The Banishment) for mixing and mastering with analog technology.

Check out ‘Destroy 2000 Years Of Culture’ here.

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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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