- Genre: Classical
- Produced by: Fiona Brice and Julian Simmons
- Released: 2015 on Bella Union
If you’re wondering who Fiona Brice is, you’re not alone. I had to admit, I had never heard of her until Berlin alerted me to her work as composer, touring musician and multi-instrumentalist for the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Midlake and Gorillaz, to name a few. And also, as the cool “sidewoman of Placebo”, which comes as a timely reminder that there’s still lots of music for me to discover. Besides, Brice’s description of Postcards From whetted my curiosity further. In this interview, she portrays the songs as auditory manifestations of her mood in a certain place at a particular time, as a result of her travels to unfamiliar territory while working for other musicians. These unfamiliar territories have turned up in the album as track names, the labels to these “moods”, and also as an appeal to the listener’s wanderlust: to fling their doors wide open, and embark on a mental trip with her.
Berlin opens the album with the silvery keening of the violins, and the voluptuous drone of the cello. Every note hangs heavy in the air, swollen with the surge of passion and wistfulness. Paris is the complete opposite of Berlin, lost instead in the luminous reverie of the dainty piano, with the occasional sigh from the violins. Unfortunately, the album tends towards one too many similar-sounding songs, at a similarly pedestrian pace. Fortunately, St.Petersburg provides some unexpected drama, the stabbing strings adding to an ominous feel in the music. You can almost feel the forbidding mood of the former Communist empire breathing down your neck.
On the whole, the album is still pleasingly decent to warrant at least a few more listens, although others may get frustrated with the benign nature of the record. Oh, me? I’m just saving this for another rainy day in the car. It sounds like the perfect soundtrack to daydream to.
- Released: 2002 on Rough Trade Records
- Produced by: Mick Jones
- Genre: Garage Rock Revival
Up The Bracket was the album that made The Libertines thrilling for all the right reasons, apart from their beguiling 19th century English romantic-wastrel image and the songwriting partnership of Pete Doherty and Carl Barât, before the drugs, internal politics and bad press forced the band into increasingly rapid decline. You probably already know the nasty gossip, so I’ll just skip those bits and head over to the review.
On their debut, the first half of the music is pure, anarchic joy – Horrorshow is a blitzing feedback of scratchy, dueling guitars, drums, and bass that engage in a furious tug of war in the middle of the song, as if to pull the song apart into bloody bits of flesh.Then there’s the rickety, just-been-round-the-pub vibes of Radio America, with some equally knock-about acoustic guitar playing, and the Strokes-baiting commentary of The Boy Looked At Johnny…which is ironic in hindsight since they were getting lumped into the same category as these folks back then.
Unfortunately, the album just pans out into blank rock territory towards the end, which is a real shame. Begging lacks the sweaty, scumbag atmosphere that made the first half of the album genuinely exciting to listen to.
Still, it’s a lovely introduction to these boys, who have now reformed after spending various stints in other bands. Thank god for that – I think Doherty and Barât pretty much belong together, in terms of musical partnership!
- Released: 1984 on Cherry Red Records
- Genre: Indie Pop, Dream Pop
What I love about Felt is how Lawrence and Maurice Deebank shared the same spirit in aesthetics. Their song titles seem to have been carefully stringed together with the most ornate words of the English dictionary, with a dash of Lawrence’s eccentricity. Combined with Deebank’s classically-trained background, which allowed him to drop elegantly melancholic Spanish melodies against Lawrence’s acerbic poetry with ease, the early Felt line-up produced a tier of top-class albums that still sound pretty amazing some 30 odd years on.
The Splendour Of Fear is a pretty special album in the early Felt canon, mainly because of Lawrence’s magnanimous attitude towards Deebank’s guitar-playing ability. Indeed, four out of the six tracks are instrumental in nature. It isn’t a bad thing though. Out of their entire discography, this is the most elegiac-sounding record and the essential gist of the Lawrence/Deebank partnership. The World Is As Soft As Lace betroths Deebank’s pearly guitar line to Lawrence’s Verlaine-esque warble, which also features a favourite Felt line of mine:
And all my great plans get blurred
By the softest touch, the gentlest word.
In The Stagnant Pool, Lawrence’s obtuse lyrics take on a much more macabre feel with vague biblical references, delivered with Deebank’s guitar playing that borders on pathos:
The stagnant pool,
Like a drowned coffin,
Still as a deceased heart,
Haunting the ghost of the noble crusader
A Preacher In New England shimmers, blurs and melts into a blinding pool of emotion, with Deebank creating his own brand of wordless through his guitar. He recalls huge cathedrals of sound that twist and wind artfully at his fingers, making your heart skip a beat – and then finally leaps into wondrous oblivion, fading out like a receding dream.
It should be noted that Maurice Deebank left Felt shortly after recording The Splendour Of Fear, and also subsequently recorded his only record Inner Thought Zone in the same year. There are similar parallels to this and The Splendour Of Fear, so you might want to check out Inner Thought Zone as well if you liked this.
Today’s Soundcloud Pick arrived in a rather unobtrusive manner: I found a message sitting patiently (I say patiently, because it had been sitting there for 10 days. Yikes!) my Last.fm inbox from user Luke, who thanked me for the follow and left me a link to an album sampler, from his band Unquiet Nights. I had to Google and gather bits and pieces, but here’s what I turned up.
Unquiet Nights are members Luke Mathers (guitarist and primary singer-songwriter), Rodger Firmin (drummer) and John Rossi (bassist). They originally hail from Northern Ireland, forming from the ashes of a previous band, but are now based in Italy. They’ve also garnered mentions from BBC Radio 1 and Absolute Radio, which is impressive considering the insane amount of new bands seemingly emerging out of nowhere these days. Unquiet Nights have released two LPs: 21st Century Redemption Songs that came out in 2014, and Postcards In Real Time, that came out in December last year. Luke Mathers also happens to be a huge Roy Orbison fan, which is a highly endearing fact (do you remember that review I did?)
I clicked on the first track, and wasn’t prepared for what came next: I found myself falling in love with the gently-picked chords of yearning and despair, shimmering over Luke Mathers’s voice. That track happened to be Someone’s Love On Drugs. Then I headed over to their Soundcloud page, listening to their newer material – Don’t Wanna Kill For Religion had an earnest yearning that appealed to me in the dregs of my mind. The title, if taken literally, seems to allude to the prolonged religious tensions between the Catholic and Protestant communities (turns out I was right, as Luke Mathers reveals more about the track here.)
Okay, what’s more important is the music. Here’s the Soundcloud link to Someone’s Love On Drugs!
- Artist: Rolling Stones
- Genre: Country Blues
- Released: 1969 on London Records (US) & Decca Records (UK)
Records like this have a lovely, wide-eyed wonder to them. There is a subtle, organic harmony of the overlaying riffs with the drums and the bass, the way they’re allowed to breathe. You can hear Keith Richards just noodling along, and then thinking, “Hmm, what about if I play this?” and Charlie Watts rising to the challenge. Mick Jagger simply delivers. The best part of it all? They pull it off so perfectly. It doesn’t sound like a wankfest of instruments, or an awful overdone affair. There’s only the essential muscle and bone, with nary a trace of fat.
Its ragged charm also plays a major part in its allure – Keith’s guitar playing slowly unravels like a ball of yarn, while being accompanied by Ry Cooder’s pretty mandolin tremolos on a cover of Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain. Mick Jagger’s blissed-out vocals stretch like a lazy cat to the heavens, probably made possible by some tabs of acid. Live With Me brings the infamously debauched, wildcat side of Mick Jagger out, with him making a rather crass but irresistible proposal (“Don’cha think there’s a place for you/In between the sheets?”). Wild, huh. Then comes Let It Bleed. Practically everyone but me knows this song. It’s an eye-opener to the occasional enfant terrible methods of Jagger for me. The insouciance of Jagger’s voice and lyrics manage to infuriate and charm in equal amounts (“We all need someone to cream on”). You Can’t Always Get What You Want is an amazing wall of GLORIOUS sound, with the raw ululations of the London Bach Choir battling against Watt’s drums and sending goosebumps up your arms. It’s an uplifting anthem for the “live and let die/go” mentality, with an almighty shrug.
Here’s a sample: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
- Artist: Glaxo Babies
- Released: 1980 on Heartbeat Records
- Genre: Post-punk, experimental
Ah, Glaxo Babies. They happen to make the same strain of mutant music along the likes of The Pop Group, and why wouldn’t they? They also happen to come from Bristol, the multi-cultural city that also spawned trip-hop in the early 90s’, and brought much more joy and mischief to post-punk in the form of funk/dub/jazz mashups. There’s another group that could be counted as the yin to Glaxo Babies’s sound: Maximum Joy, who made cheerier, raucous funk, along with fellows Rip Rig + Panic. But that’s for another review anyway.
Glaxo Babies formed in 1977 with original members Tom Nichols, Dan Catsis (current guitarist for The Pop Group) and Geoff Alsopp, and subsequently brought Rob Chapman onboard as singer. The line-up went through another drastic change (a completely new line-up, in fact, with Rob Chapman leaving after recording a few tracks) before they recorded Nine Months To The Disco. As a result of this, their approach to the record became much more experimental, throwing in liberal doses of jazz, sound-collaging, funk and dub and finishing the recording of the music within a day. Wow. Hats off to these guys, because it doesn’t sound shoddy at all. Glaxo Babies put out another album, Put Me On The Guest List in 1980, and continued to record music periodically until their demise in 1990.
In a nutshell, the closest approximation of Nine Months To The Disco would be something like the result of bringing bloodthirsty savages to a disco party. Tribal drums underpinned with tight, primeval bass riffs, sans the overt politicizing of The Pop Group – but with an ominous undercurrent.
Maximum Sexual Joy has oodles of orgasmic bass and funky scratching, with what appears to be a delirious masked orgy and neanderthals having some fun tearing people apart in progress, while Seven Days has the most intense driving bass rhythm ever, with the fractured piano improvisation fading in and out throughout. The eerie synths sweep in and out of the song like a pale spectre. Free Dem Cells finally sets the party alight, and sees trebly guitars face each other in a Gang Of Four-style showdown, with the drums and bass serving as the spectators instead, egging the guitars on with glee. I love the drums on this one – the high hats sound crispy enough, mmm. Album closer Shake (The Foundations) sees them ditch the genre-bending and go full out funk, which may come as a relief for some people, although it may also come as a disappointment to other people. Just saying.
- Artist: Autechre
- Released: 1994 on Warp Records
- Genre: IDM
Where I live in Singapore (ha, ha), there’s this particular road in Malaysia that serves as the perfect place to listen to Amber in the car, which starts from the Tuas car checkpoint and begins again from the Malaysian side, through the Batu Pahat checkpoint. This is an inconvenient detour from where I reside, and we undertake this 30+ km detour only when the damned Causeway is jammed to the brim with cars.
There’s nary a single soul in sight, with lush forests full of deciduous trees lining the long, snaking road that has been fenced up to prevent unsavoury types from entering the area. This road is the most tranquil of places, but there’s an current of unease trickling in the background. It’s the weirdest feeling ever: an uncomfortable juxtaposition of the proverbial oasis of calm, with the wire fences that serve as a reminder of your presence in a restricted area.
So what do I do? I put on Amber, and snuggle comfortably in the backseat. I love the weird spacey, blissed-out vibes that Amber radiates in spades. It’s the most surreal experience ever. You’re half expecting someone to run out on the road but nobody appears. Even the shophouses to the right of the road are closed. How the fuck are shops closed in the daytime? It’s an apt avenue down H.G Wells, so I always imagine that the area has been evacuated in the light of an impending alien invasion. If you could see what I saw, you might have agreed with me anyway.
Album opener Foil sounds like aliens have beamed themselves down from their 60’s themed spaceships and Piezo is one of my favourites, where you get this quirky, bursting pogo-ing rhythm and a haunting synth floating somberly in the back. It’s like having a rave at the bleakest of funerals. Nine shimmers with an unfathomable beauty, with the keyboards unfolding their wings and pulsing like radars, spreading their indecipherable signals to the listener. Underneath it all, there’s this underground battle; a tug-of-war between harmonious melody and jerky, syncopated rhythm. It’s an essential pivot of Amber, which was probably why it appealed to me so much. I’ve tried listening to it in other places, but nowhere beats the surrealism of the fenced forests and deserted road.
Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve is an electronic music duo made up of Erol Nolkan and Richard Norris, who hail from London. I’ve been peeking at their Facebook page and it describes them as the “warped-Balearic-meets-psychedelic-brotherhood of Erol Alkan and The Grid’s Richard Norris”, which sounds hella fascinating. It sounds like some hidden music paradise that you can only gain entrance to via a magical dance club, and it definitely sounds better than my own description. They’ve remixed some tracks by Franz Ferdinand (Ulysses), Interpol and Goldfrapp, which should have whetted your appetite by now, eh?
Diagram Girl sounds like a pleasant Pet Shop Boys-esque synth-pop ditty, but it’s accompanied by a monochromatic, surreal video that features mirrors, a tarot card marked “Labyrinthe” and a girl trapped in her dream. Damn, I like this band already.
It’s also worth noting that their debut album, The Soft Bounce will be released this coming July 1st on Phantasy Records, so…you heard it here first, and a million other music blogs.
I’m going to bend the rule slightly and feature the video too, because it’s actually worth watching.
Here’s the Soundcloud version if you’re not into music videos:
- Artist: Decades / Failures
- Genre: Post-punk
- Released : 2014 on Dead Tank Records, self-released on Bandcamp
This review came about as a recommendation from Instagram user and fellow music fan lightningpaw, who suggested checking out Decades/Failures’s music. Thanks for the recommendation, lightningpaw!
Decades/Failures is Philadelphian Adam Juresko’s post-punk worthy moniker, and I suspect, a knowing nod to two of Joy Division‘s songs. Swathed in glacial synths, complete with distorted baritone and haughty gothic overtones, 002 manages to retain the philosophic introspection of Joy Division and Kraftwerk-aping early New Order, but suitably updated for the millenium with very pretty synths.
I (Never Wanted To) Believe cracks out the cavernous reverb, and the thudding drum machines and primitive synths recall the ceremonial sombreness of early New Order (Movement and Power, Corruption And Lies), while Gentle Forces ‘s industrial clackety sound is reminiscent of the eerie ascending elevator effect on Joy Division’s Insight. The song gradually gains momentum with the addition of ominous bells and fuzzy synths, but cuts off again with the same effect on the intro. Tell Me How is mired in Interpol-esque melancholia, complete with the same tidy rhythm, while the synths weave themselves around the bass like gossamer-thin spider silk.
As a whole, despite the obvious influences 002 is still a joy to listen to, especially for fans of the primitive electronic sound that was prevalent in the late 70s to the early 80s.