Posts Tagged ‘Single Review’

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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Big Stir Records – 4th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Well here’s a wakeup: The Speed Of Sound are into their fourth decade, yet are so underground they’ve bypassed me all this time. I feel a certain sense of both guilt and shame for this. Obviously, no reviewer can know everything about every band going, but sometimes, a band will slip under the radar and leave you kicking yourself. The Speed Of Sound is one such band.

The fact they’re releasing a double A-side says something about their vintage. 7” singles may still be a thing, but they’re a niche, collector thing rather than the thing you’d experience as a youth. I was in my early teens – perhaps younger – when I’d go into town and visit WHS or Boots or perhaps Woolworths and pick up a 7” single for 99p, and the B-side would often be as integral a part of the experience as the A-side, while a AA said sometimes meant the second A-side – the one less likely to be played on the radio – was the better one. Hearing it would be a revelation after you slipped it over the spindle and onto the turntable. It was a magical experience that words struggle to convey.

The two tracks on this release are thematically-linked in that they’re all about the band’s love for sci-fi soaked in reverb and with some hints of dappled sunlight mellowness.

The inspiration behind ‘Replicant’ probably requires little explanation as it draws the comparisons to the world of Bladerunner and the contemporary corporate world. The Hearing Ann-Marie Crowley enunciate ‘Replicant’ calls to mind Johnny Rotten emphasis on ‘Pretty vacant’, but more than anything, the uptempo acoustic guitar that leads the track has a distinctly 90s indie flavour to it, and it jangles along nicely.

‘Melancholy Rose’ is a spacey indie-psychedelic folk effort with the jangle of the early 90s and some mellow shoegaze meanderings, sort of like The Fall covering The Charlatans. There are hints of sleepy, summery funk to the track, too.

Together, it makes for a nice single that does very much evoke the experience of yesteryear’s 7” purchase.

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The Speed Of Sound Artwork

26th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been a whole month since we heard from lo-fi bedroom duo Videostore, and their latest effort continues the narrative trajectory that’s been running through so many of their releases.

The pair describe ‘Bounce Back’ as some ‘Cathartic song writing after they closed down the Videostore and everyone lost their jobs… Channelling some New York new wave/ no wave with special thanks to Blondie and Sonic Youth!’

This one starts of slow, stripped back and sedate, but as it builds, it balances lugubrious wallowing with some clean, poppy backing vocals. It’s one of their longer songs, and it’s a slow-burner that simmers before finally going off toward the four-minute mark – and when it does go off, it blazes hard.

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Nomark

James Wells

Stone Giants is Amon Tobin’s new musical vehicle, and marks yet another chapter in the versatile and eclectic electronic innovator’s quarter-century spanning career that’s seen his music feature in films and video games.

‘Metropole’, the second release from forthcoming album West Coast Love Stories, is a bewildering work, with so much happening simultaneously, to the extent that it feels like several different tunes overlaid. A steady, pulsing synth remains a constant throughout, as layers of droning organs, reverbed vocals, yawning synth washes and a meandering baritone melody that’s seemingly wandered in from another track and ambulates around.

The effect is disorientating, but not unpleasant: the confluence of the numerous contrasting and superficially discrepant elements is not so disparate and difficult so as too induce tension or cerebral disharmony, nothing of the gut-lurching bewilderment of something like, say, Trout Mask Replica. More, it draws the listener in to explore the ways in which the different pieces fit together, the ways each layer of this sonic palimpsest ebb and flow and reverberate off one another at varying frequencies.

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16th May 2021

James Wells

The government has a vested interest in controlling information. The media is driven by its own agenda, be it pro- or anti-government. Everyone has an agenda. Social media is war, and inchoate babble of conflicting views, most of which are based on opinion rather than information. But then information is suppressed, manipulated, statistics cut to suit specific ends… who can you trust? Well, probably no-one.

When governments and people in power blatantly lie, it’s no wonder people get suspicious and there’s a spreading air of mistrust – and of course, that’s when conspiracy theories spread like wildfire. In this kind of information war, what can you believe?

As Ilker Yucel of ReGen Magazine writes, ‘Talk City’ was written ‘with lyrics addressing the spread of misinformation and the resulting distrust that pervades modern society’ during the Summer and Fall of the pandemic in 2020. ‘Talk City,’ then, has a very clear message, that is one should not believe everything they read or hear in the media, but rather, research and find the truth.

Things have become deeply clouded and also deeply divided of late, with an ever-growing ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. It seems that questioning the media – who we’ve long known to be skewed by agendas, be they left, right, pro-government, or whatever – now automatically makes one a conspiracy theorist. We live in a polarised world, in which anyone who isn’t pro-Tory or pro-Trump is a communist, anyone who didn’t vote to leave the EU is a remoaning lefty, and so on. There are no grey areas anymore. Anyone with reservations about vaccine side-effects is lambasted is an anti-vaxxer. Debate is dead. Might is right. But there’s a vast difference between questioning what you’re fed and buying into conspiracy theories, and that’s the message here: think, question, do your research.

‘Talk City’ is a pretty catchy tune, the perfect coming together of pop hooks and grainy industrial guitars and thunderous beats. It’s a combination of gritty industrial percussion, an insistent bass groove and growling vocals, that’s reminiscent of RevCo, KMFDM, and PIG. It’s solid stuff and has real bite. Right tune, right time.

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28th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

In recent weeks, there have been features in certain quarters of the media on the death of the band, led by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine proclaiming there ‘aren’t any bands any more’, and outlets like The Guardian supporting the claim by noting ‘if you look at the numbers, he’s right’, substantiating this with the statistics: ‘Whichever metric you use, the picture is clear. Right now, there are only nine groups in the UK Top 100 singles, and only one in the Top 40. Two are the Killers and Fleetwood Mac, with songs 17 and 44 years old respectively, while the others are the last UK pop group standing (Little Mix), two four-man bands (Glass Animals, Kings of Leon), two dance groups (Rudimental, Clean Bandit) and two rap units (D-Block Europe, Bad Boy Chiller Crew). There are duos and trios, but made up of solo artists guesting with each other. In Spotify’s Top 50 most-played songs globally right now, there are only three groups (BTS, the Neighbourhood, and the Internet Money rap collective), and only six of the 42 artists on the latest Radio 1 playlist are bands: Wolf Alice, Haim, Royal Blood, Architects, London Grammar and the Snuts.’

But this takes a very narrow perspective. Are the charts representative? No. And it should be born in mind that the same debate was happening five or six years ago on online forums as to why there are no bands in the mainstream anymore. People were bemoaning the fact the only bands left are Coldplay and Mumford & Sons, and how rock’s no longer a mainstream force.

What goes around comes around, and for those of us who have been around a bit longer and who have longer memories, the whole reason grunge was such a thrill was because it broke through at a time when the charts had been utterly swamped with lamecore rap and dreadful dance. But with such a fragmented scene now, does the mainstream represent anything other than itself? Arena-filling acts like The Manic Street Preachers and Placebo won’t trouble the charts not because they don’t have an immense fanbase, but because of how charts are calculated and how music is accessed by different generations.

Third Lung may belong to the new generation of streamers, but stylistically belong to the generation before. Just two months on from ‘I A Fire’, Third Lung give us ‘Hold the Line’ as a further showcase of their immense mass-market appeal. And once again, they’ve got epic chorus bolstered by epic production as their signature, and this one really soars.

The piano that’s as integral a part of the rhythm section as the bass and drums is almost buried under a surge of skyward guitars, and while certain aspects of their sound does hint at (early) Coldplay and turn of the millennium ‘bands’, there’s also a 90s alternative slant that points towards the like of Mansun.

Third Lung remind us that it’s possible to be ‘alternative’ or ‘indie’ and still break the charts without being mainstream – and while that seems unlikely at this moment in time, ‘Hold The Line’ is one of those songs that by rights should be an indie classic while also smashing the charts. In the current climate, they6’re unlikely to touch the charts, but ‘Hold The Line’ is a corker, and Third Lung prove that there really are plenty of bands, and good ones, too.

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SN Variations – 7th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Did downloading really kill physical formats and the music industry? If you believe the media and the major labels, yes, and again, when it comes to non-major artists, it’s clear that the current industry model is not one that benefits them kindly. Then again, streaming services probably did more damage than downloading – or home taping – ever did. But there is also a very definite flipside, in that the cost of producing physical releases on a small scale is phenomenally expensive on a per-unit basis, to the point that it’s often prohibitive, and that’s before one factors in issues of distribution and postage.

There’s also a matter of purpose: conventionally, singles were released to promote albums, and in order to achieve that aim, tended to be the most commercially viable song(s) from said album that radio stations (and, later, blogs and the like) may play and draw potential buyers in. But artists like Adrian Coker don’t make music that has that kind of marketability. You won’t find his music being played on commercial radio, and a single is probably likely to sell a bunch of albums.

No artist makes music for it not to be heard. And so it is that SN Variations release Adrian Corker’s ‘9 Spaces’ single as a download only, and it makes sense, particularly in context, as a musical work that was only possible via digital means, as Corker explains: ‘This piece started quite a while ago in a room with me, Chris Watson and an electro magnetic receiver made in Russia. It ended with the processing of these parts by Takuma Watanabe and a percussive improvisation by Tatsuhisa Yamamoto that left my original demo in his recording worldising my track in Japan. In between over the last year musicians such as Aisha Orazbayeva, the Ligeti Quartet and Pascal Wyse sent me parts remotely from London and various places around Europe. A track that was made in 9 spaces of which I was in 3’.

It’s in this context that the title makes sense also. And the roll-call of contributors is quite something:

Tatsuhisa Yamamoto – percussion

Takuma Watanabe – max

Chris Watson – field recordings

Aisha Orazbayeva – violin

Pascal Wyse – trombone

Ligeti Quartet:

Mandhira de Saram – violin

Patrick Dawkins – violin

Richard Jones – viola

Val Welbanks – cello

The first version, a quite punishing nine-and-a-half-minutes in duration, begins with grating drones and serrated buzzes, somewhere between an electric hair clipper and a palm-sander, before transitioning into trepidatious territory, with skittering fleeting buzzes and swarming sounds creating an unsettling tension atop a sparse, hesitant bass that stops and starts, single notes echoing and halting, And ultimately, it’s quite challenging – but to be clear, that’s no criticism. Art that isn’t challenging isn’t really art, but entertainment.

‘V2’ is subtler, quieter, stealthier, the drones trimmed, more mid-range, cleaner, manifesting as more like organ notes that quiver and quaver into space, disturbed only by the occasional extraneous disruption. As such, it’s more ambient and less upfront. It’s also everything a single should be: a snapshot of the artist, showcasing different aspects of their sound in contrasting and complimentary fashion.

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21st May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

With their latest single in the run-up to their debut album due to drop in July, SENSES threaten ‘an absolute stomper soaked in bass and synth… one for any BRMC fans out there’. And in a bit of a shift from the previous two singles, which showcased more psychedelic and indie leanings, that’s what they deliver. ‘Harder Now’ is one of those classic, scuzzy rock ‘n’ roll tunes that’s simple but effective, and centres around a solid rhythm section and nagging, repetitive riff.

So maybe it does nab the bass stylings of the intro to ‘Spread Your Love’ and the drawling vocal hook of ‘Stop’, but so what? BRMC always amalgamated an almost stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll swagger with a dash of The Jesus and Mary Chain – breezy melodies in a collision a with a whole load of overdrive – and no-one owns these things. That’s the beauty of rock ‘n’ roll: it doesn’t have to be radically new, or break new ground to be of merit: it just has to be good. ‘Good’ can be many things, of course, is subjective, but objective good is having that all-important riff that hook, that self-confidence, and a certain knowingness.

In context of their releases to date, it’s clear that SENSES have a sense (sorry) of history, and a keen appreciation of a span of music of a certain vintage – a vintage that has come to possess a timeless quality.

They’ve got some savvy songwriting going on, and the musical skills to deliver it with just the right vibe, and ‘Harder Now (For Love)’ is a cracker.

Harder Now (For Love) single cover

Christopher Nosnibor

Six months on from ballsy grunger ‘Underground’, Kath & The Kicks return with their fourth single, ‘I’m Alive’. The news of their being alive comes as something of a relief. It may sound like I’m being facetious – As usual – but I do mean it. Even before the pandemic, I’ve discovered people who’ve been off radar for a while are no longer with us, and in the last year or so, many of us have lost friends or relatives – not necessarily to Covid-19 – without being able to exchange our last words or see them that one last time.

For bands accustomed to working together, in a room, lockdown has impacted many, including Kath & The Kicks, who’ve had to adjust their approach in order to continue writing and recording new music, and ‘I’m Alive’ marks something of a stylistic shift from its predecessor.

‘I’m Alive’ starts out subtle, brooding, with lacings of post-punk draped around a soft, insistent bass and understated chorus-tinged guitar… and then when the chorus hits it absolutely erupts. Bass and guitars set to stun, it kicks in with maximum swagger and a deep, deep groove that’s hard and absolutely gripping, going straight for the jugular.

This is more stoner rock than anything else, for those set on genre: otherwise, it’s just a monumental riff-led beast of a tune which really showcases Kath & The Kicks’ versatility and their knack for monster riffs. What more do you need?

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Cleopatra Records – 23rd April 2021

James Wells

Ahead of their debut album, set for release on longstanding industrial / goth-leaning label Cleopatra Records – who will forever be a favourite with me for their releasing Rozz Williams-fronted Christian Death albums in the early 90s, although their catalogue is impressive in its depth and breadth – Handsome Abominations deliver their debut single, ‘Slave’.

The band are pitched as purveyors of ‘sleaze industrial’ – but then, isn’t that so much industrial? Leading exponents of technoindustrial, like Revolting Cocks, KMFDM, and PIG are aaaaaall the sleaze, and NIN – probably the biggest name in the field – are hardly clean and family friendly (‘Closer’, anyone?). This kind of grind has long associations with dingy nightclubs, latex, and S&M, and Handsome Abominations are all about that scene here.

As Baron VonSchnell says, “When I heard the strong, primeval beat that Tufty Hacka had programmed, I instantly knew that we had to write a writhing, sleazy anthem that would suite a fetish club.” And that’s precisely that we have here: ‘Slave’ is grimy, sweaty, slippy, heaving with all the wrong desires, and it’s clearly pitched at a specific audience.

There’s a whole lot happening, and a whole lot to unpack and discuss. ‘Slave’ is, without doubt a quintessential industrial disco cut that combines that low-down groove and blends it with some less than subtle lyrics that are all the sleaze. Of course it does. Nor would the blurb be justified in promising a song where ‘a sleazy, groovy musical orgy breaks out’ if it didn’t.

But at what point does the world of S&M fantasy stray into something that’s uncomfortable? I’m no advocate of trigger warnings, especially having run into trouble over an absence of them when referencing suicidal thoughts at a spoken word night a couple of years ago, but sometimes it’s possible to wander over lines in the name of ‘provocativeness’. So when Mistress Misha moans ‘Tie me down and rape me’, it sends a prickle. What is the message there? I suppose the question may ultimately come down to an understanding of the scene, in that rape fantasy is an entirely separate thing from the reality of rape, and the rape culture under discussion in the media right now, although it’s likely difficult to understand the distinctions and nuances of the scene for a straight. It isn’t the job of Handsome Abominations to explain this, and nor should art have to justify itself: it’s just difficult to draw distinctions in the current climate. But one thing is without contention, and that’s that ‘Slave’ is a cracking tune.

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