telling the scene kids what to listen to since 2001.

Monday, January 16, 2006

cats and cats and cats

It's all very well and good salivating over US/Canadian bands but the chances of them appearing in the UK and Europe for you to see can be quite slim. Sometimes us Pommies/Limeys/Wankers need home-grown talent to make challenging yet rewarding music. One such band, called cats and cats and cats, appear to be holding up the fort on this side of the pond. I am ashamed that I heard the name ages ago and thought it was a fantastic band name but thought they would be shit, but alas I was wrong, they are wonderful.

They share the same vision as Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies of making experimental schizophrenic post-hardcore. However, where said band can appear to just throw ideas together and sometimes not pull them off convincingly, cats... can just idea hop all the while without sounding contrived. One such example is "Happiness for Lola"; which begins as a spaz-math-rock-indie workout and then moves into lilting post-rock enviable of Explosions in the Sky. The guitars sound so pure on every song, both clean and when they come crashing in. The UK has a real problem with bad guitar production so to hear some warm tones emanating from their axes is a breath of fresh air.

They are from the South of England and I can't find out much more apart from the fact that they are on tour across England in February. They have recorded a CD called Victorialand which can be picked up at one of their gigs or ordered via their Myspace.

Monday, January 09, 2006

the player piano.

Utah's The Player Piano are exactly the sort of band I secretly love in my emo heart; taking influences from the late 90s US indie scene (Death Cab, mostly) as well as underground instrumental champions Pele, Tristeza and Sharks Keep Moving, they've created something that sounds almost timeless. If you stripped The Appleseed Cast of their bombast and focused on those quiet moments before Chris makes his guitar growl, if you've heard TOE's new album, if you imagine Tristeza without the mindnumbing blandness, you're getting close to what The Player Piano sound like.

Beautifully intertwining guitar lines dominate this record, sounding like Death Cab around the We Have The Facts with weirder time signatures or, again, The Appleseed Cast's quiet bits. Vocals are sparse and generally heavily processed, keeping the main focus on the sophisticated melodic shifts the guitarists are capable of. Though the opener, "Scanning Faces", betrays a little too much of their clearly emo band past, the second track, "Sudden Left" will have you hooked. A pretty little twin guitar melody is backed by a walking bassline as the drums alternate between tapped hihats and open, splashing sounds, before the track opens up to a gorgeous emo-influenced guitar pattern. As they return to the main guitar riff, the drums pound out beats that drop neatly between the guitar melody - they even allow themselves to flick off the clean channel for the grinding ending.

The track that follows, P1/4, reminds me of Ganger's drifting bass-led soundscapes, with slightly more emphasis on the upper registers of the twin guitars. Without feeling the need to move anywhere, the band slowly work around the riff, exploring, creating branches, before returning to the original theme.

Other tracks of note are "Milwaukee Mile", which hammers away with the band's version of hardcore riffs - in reality, they don't push too hard, as if concious of their roots in the clean guitar sound. "NJB" opens with frantic off-kilter riffage before slowing to half-speed in what becomes almost a dirge, all splashy cymbals and big trebly chords. "Mayday" makes the most out of its simple riff patterns and explodes into Appleseed Cast big-chords-and-anthemic-yet-muted-vocals near the end.

I'm glad I stumbled across this record; I pretty much played it on repeat for a few days and I'm still not sick of some the tracks. Check out "Sudden Left" and tell me you're not convinced.

Tracks
The Player Piano - Sudden Left [#2 from "Satellite" on Sunset Alliance Records, 2002]
The Player Piano - Scanning Faces [#1 from the same]
The Player Piano - Mayday [#6 from the same]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

the beans - bassplayer

I've been listening to this record on and off for the last few months. whenever I'm spending some time concentrating on work (coding or revising, as the case may be). On paper, The Beans (one of many, many bands/artists to have recorded under that name) aren't a particularly interesting prospect - another post-rock band out of Vancouver, Canada; once did a 48-hour performance; unconventional instrumentation, etc. Basically, Godspeed. Sort of.

In reality The Beans create something that is truly refreshing. They're as jazz-influenced as bands like Do Say Make Think or Tortoise, but where those bands often fail is in creating a sensation of space, of pieces coalescing out of the aether rather than being strapped to beats. Laid-back brush drum grooves, thoughtful and minimal guitar work as well as delicate basslines drive this record.

The Bean's schtick is seriously improved by their production quality. Instruments sit beautifully in the mix, cymbals seeming to have their own frequency space, and the guitars sitting below them with a big fat low end. Reverb is used tastefully, far more tastefully than I've heard on many recent post-rock albums.

The opener, May 6th Expires, slinks along on a descending bassline and spacious drums, before breaking down into ambient keyboards and foreign radio samples. The continiously shifting theme keeps your interest, though the movements never feel contrived or designed, simply organic.

Galuda spends several minutes setting up a driving, trebly riff that combines with some deliciously martial drumming and tasteful Rhodes. The absolutely sublime Number Four drifts between simple basslines and surging guitars, the piece sounding as if it was composed on a beach somewhere in the Pacific. The brilliantly titled My Love Is A Rhinestone Infused Dodecahedron toys with folk riffage for nearly six minutes, before some very EITS-esque drumming lets the guitars and keyboard open up into spiralling, glassy crescendos - this three minute section should be Canada's new national anthem.

Monday, December 26, 2005

mordy - of'fruits

No, that's not a stray apostrophe in the title.

Mordy are part of the collective centred around Post_Post Records in Poland; as such, information for the non-Polish speaker is hard to come by. Little known outside their native country, the group are attempting to shake off the dour, poor image of Eastern Europe under Communist rule by experimenting with traditional Polish forms along with Western influences.

Mordy would fit into that incredibly broad category referred to by the lay music listener as "post-rock". In essence, they probably owe more to the "post-jazz" of bands like Do Say Make Think than the sound of traditional post-rock (Mogwai, Mono, et. al.) Drums are light and brushed, jabbing with off-beat snares dotting the landscape. The opener, Morskie Opowiesci, floats along on a gorgeous four-note guitar riff and broken jazz drumming. Brief sax interludes and high-fret basswork punctuate the early parts of the song, gradually becoming more and more complex. Drifting keyboards appear and disappear; the whole thing gives a wonderful feeling of movement, as if on a train.

Mordy - somewhere in Poland, maybe

The impossible-to-pronounce Deszcz that follows features sinister guitar parts with a distinct Eastern twinge, and whispered vocals that eventually become chromatic screams as the song dissolves into guitar noise and insane bass work.

Other tracks explore the slightly lounge edge of Mordy - Z Mozgu takes rimshots and smooth guitar and somehow makes something incredibly compelling out of them despite the lounge overtones. Zmora showcases their ability to write twisted pop in the same way as Electrelane; fuzzed-up bass and simplistic guitar patterns. Samurajski is probably the closest they get to traditional post-rock, with its swirling guitars and dischordant jazz sax that eventually compel the band to step on the distortion pedals and pound the crap out of their instruments. Good stuff.

A very interesting and unique record from a country you wouldn't normally think of as a bastion of musical experimentation. I shall be keeping a very close eye on these guys and their rather excellent label from now on.

Tracks

"Morskie Opowiesci" from the album "Of'Fruits", released on post_post (2003)
"Zmora" from the album "Of'Fruits"
(Plenty of tracks available here, though it's in Polish. Break out Google Translate and check it out.)

ryoji ikeda

I think as you get older, the entrenched lines of taste you had as a teenager get gradually eroded away until you're pretty much capable of finding the good in everything. I can remember a time when I would have dismissed any electronic music (dance, electronica, IDM, anything) as "fag music". Clearly I thought that only floppy-haired white boys with a Fender Tele their mother bought them could make valid, life-changing music. We were all like that once.

My enjoyment of truly minimal electronic music began when someone recommended Jan Jelinek's loop-finding-jazz-records to me. I rapidly became obsessed with it's seemingly effortless sea of gentle clicks and whirrs. Though by nature repetative, Jan keeps the listener's interest by subtly altering his loops, slowly and carefully, introducing more melodic elements, adding a slight phase to one beat, or maybe fading a synth line in over four or five minutes.

This highly-anticipated (so I'm told) new record by New York via Japan's Ryoji Ikeda is of a similar breed to Jan's earlier work. Ikeda's modus operandi with Dataplex is the exploration of the sound itself - the fragments of noise from which a track is contructed. As such, glitchy beats and barely-there melodic elements comprise the whole of this 55 minute piece.



I say 'beats', but what I really mean is a loose collection of sounds, sequenced in an order that provide some sort of semblence of structure. What Ikeda is very good at is using the whole frequency range to entertain your ears; very high pitched clicks, slight warbles, and incredibly deep bass parts make your speakers really work for it. Though a "concept" piece in nature, there is some of the nature of pop in Ikeda's work - catchy melodies (though unconventional in execution), syncopated beat workouts, and a series of innovative structures which he effortlessly glides between make this a memorable listen.

Though I'd normally hesistate to recommended something as pretentious as this (or at least, that appears to be this pretentious, if you get what I mean), this is actually a fine record - minimal electronica, exploring contemporary electronic music, but not doing it's best to turn the listener away; a refreshing change.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

the newfound interest in connecticut

Welcome back. After a long hiatus, I'm going to try and get this thing rolling again.

First up for your delectation today is the rather superb The Newfound Interest In Connecticut. Though tastefully advertised on their label's web site as "standard emo rock" (oh, they must have hated that) these guys lie way closer to the Appleseed Cast post-emo (can I coin that?) side than the MCR/JEW/SDRE side. Delayed, heavily distorted guitars abound, and even some hardcore-esque drumming and elastic basslines, while the vocalist makes a very passable attempt to imitate the sing/scream style of bands like Fall Of Troy, or anything on Level Plane.


(Photo taken from ambushthenight.com)


Their full-length is pretty schizophrenic - the opening track "The Computers Stopped Exchanging Information" (you know you're onto a winner with titles like that) brings to mind Dilute's "Alphabet"; all shifting, interlinked guitars wound round a tight core of melody, gradually building to a rather tasteful climax. The follow-up, "And Started Sharing Stories" kicks off with what sounds like a less spazzy Stop It!!! intro, its driving bassline plunging into some big emo chord workouts while the vocalist demonstrates what years of being in screamo bands does to your voice. By the opening of the third track, you're totally confused; three minutes of melancholic trumpets and single guitar chords, and is that a choir I hear in the background?

The whole album works as one long extended song, effectively; the previous guitar attack opening a whole new section, the leadout feedback forming the melodic base for the next movement. I'm not going to lie and say these guys are truly breaking new ground, but their footsteps are falling with bands like the 'Cast and this can be no bad thing. Just stick it on, sit back, and try not to air guitar.

Footnote: Sadly, NICT have now broken up/gone on hiatus, having played their last show in March. I'm sure the guys will pop up in some other band, so I'm keeping my eye on them.

Tracks:
Head on over to purevolume to hear "His Steps Could Be Heard, Sah Sah Sah" and another track.
http://www.purevolume.com/thenewfoundinterestinconnecticut

Friday, July 29, 2005

Unsung guitar heros (or, my top five axe players)

Top ten guitar players. Lists appear in the less adventerous music publications from time to time, to inform the public which axe masturbator can fretwank with the greatest efficiency; these have the predictable figures in the in the upper few. Hendrix. Clapton. Vai (urgh, dirty). Gilmour, if they're feeling slightly risqué. While these esteemed gentlemen may be technically superb (Gilmour, Vai) and, at times, innovative (Hendrix), their 'sound' has become almost familiar to the listener's ear. Imagine how revolutionary 'Voodoo Child' must have sounded the first time around; now, it barely elicits an attempt to air-guitar that riff, or maybe a quick hum: "dummm, de dum dum..". We can't blame Jimi for this; after all, he's dead. Who knows what he would have been doing had he been alive today.

So I present unto you my favourite strummers and pluckers from recent history, and maybe one from the past. Guitar music isn't dead; all the good players can't make enough to quit their dayjobs.

5. Joni Mitchell (Blue era)

Although usually credited for her ethereal and yet to be bettered singing voice (despite a prodigious death-stick habit), Joni's guitar playing sounds as quirky and fresh as ever on Blue. When asked (probably in by Mojo) about her technique, Joni simply responded: "I turn the keys and strum chords until it sounds good." Simplistic at the best of times, Joni's strength is that her strange tuning often lead to very original chord progressions - Blue is stocked full of them.

4. Aurelio Valle (Calla)

With their third full-length, Calla became something much greater than the sum of their parts. On paper, they make deeply melancholic, minimal 'slowcore'. In reality, these words do little justice to the unique mood they craft - a large proportion of their sound rests upon Aurelio's evocative guitar-playing. His touch is slight and subtle, as for most of the record he doesn't actually play in the traditional sense; he allows his guitar to gently feedback, and the few notes he plays are carefully chosen to meld with the beautifully minimal basslines. When he does crank up the distortion and let rip, as on "Strangler", his riffs are jerky, angular and lurch from moment to moment. No doubt strange tunings abound. Please go and listen to Televise, at a substantial volume, in a darkened room, with a glass of whisky.

3. Adam Pierce (Mice Parade)

Better known for his incredible drumming ability having manned the stool for bands like HiM, The Swirlies and The Dylan Group, Adam Pierce became "Mice Parade" (an anagram of his name; clever) for his first solo release in '98 and since then has produced a series of albums that have mixed world, folk, jazz and post-rock influences into one cohesive whole. Mookoondi (2001) showed Pierce at his most progressive - the record is a collection of pieces with a number of movements, tied together by his beautifully simple yet innovative playing; chords are layered, perfectly syncopated riffs fall between the snappy snare drumming. His most recent release, Bem-Vinde Volade, has received a somewhat lukewarm reception due to his inclusion of vocals on almost every track - however, his guitar playing is better than ever.

2. Alex Hall (Grails)

What can I say? Simply the best traditional post-rock guitarist still recording today. Grails' sound is much more than simply an update of Dirty Three's violin-versus-guitar schtick, and the reason for that is the melancholic and maudlin melodies Hall produces. Rather than do the whole quiet-loud-quiet cliché that bands like Mono have done to its logical conclusion (read: inpending apocalypse-loud bits), the band explore each riff and quickly move on, creating a feeling of each song having distinct movements - despite being (almost without exception) under five minutes. Redlight (2003) sees Hall at his very best; the menacing buzz of The Volunteer (complete with sax arrangement), the sparkling traditional Dargai, and the simply sublime title track.

1. Victor Villereal (Cap'n Jazz, Ghosts & Vodka, Owls, Noyes)

If you haven't heard either the full-length Ghosts & Vodka (now reissued with the 7" tracks included as Addicts And Drunks) or the Noyes self-titled EP, lay hands on them however you can. Technically brilliant and sounding unlike any other guitarist that ever lived, VV moves in a space of his own. As G&V, he blended huge emo riffs with difficult time signatures and grotesquely large hooks. As part of Owls, he brought his jerky, notes-dropped-everywhere style to the more serious playing of the Kinsellas. As Noyes, he explored jazz influences, with no less sucess. Describing his playing is difficult at best: at times, heavy and unrefined; elsewhere, his riffs are relentlessly complex in both time signature and melodic composition. Seriously, go out and listen to him. You may ask what he's been doing since, and the truth is no one really knows. Some friends say they've seen him on the streets of Chicago with a heroin addiction, some say he's cleaned up and is furiously working on another record. I can only hope for the latter, in the vain hope that this astonishing guitarist doesn't go unrecognised.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Sexually Frustrated White-Boy Geography (Sefruwhibog)

Lesson #1: Baltimore, Maryland, USA (that’s the United States of Americanisms kids)


According to reliable sources, Baltimore is the “Greatest City in America” [1] and in this city there is stuff to do if you like doing stuff, or maybe even things. This city resides on the east coast of the USA near the capital city of Washington DC, as can be seen on our beautiful map:


As well as being a place to do stuff and things, it is also home to the wonderful Monitor Records label [2] which houses many an agitated math-rock soul. If the spirit of math-rock lies in Chicago (home of Touch and Go, save that for another lesson you scamps) then, for me, the testicles of math-rock reside in Baltimore. Monitor Records house the delightful Battles and Bellini who have connections with Don Caballero (well before Damon Che left Bellini, silly boy).
Within their ranks they also have the noisy schizophrenic energetic little ragamuffins, The Oxes, who must be witnessed live but their Oxes EP and Oxxes LP are available, erm, around. The terrific “Half, Half, & Half” is down below and is a marvellous guitar and drum workout with tasty hi-hat trickery, discordant guitars and the occasional badger mating call. What more could you want? Also amongst the ranks of these luminaries are the up-starts Big Bear who make a hardcore tinged mathy noise (cf the originally titled “Track 1”).
However, Monitor do have a diversity of acts in their roster with the more conventional, yet pretty, indieness of Cass McCombs and the instrumental odd pseudo-tweeness of More Dogs if you like that sort of thing you weirdo. Monitor are essentially so indie it hurts sometimes but they do have some gems. The focus in this lesson has been on this one record label, but with competition in Baltimore being the “Hit-Dat Records” label amongst others, I think my concentration is well deserved.
Class dismissed.

[1] http://www.ci.baltimore.md.us/
[2] http://www.monitorrecords.com/



Bellini – Conflict Between the Fire and the Wet Wood (3.44MB) [from "Snowing Sun"]
Oxes – Half, Half, &Half (3.04MB) [from "Oxxes LP"]
Big Bear – Track 1 (5.01MB)
Cass McCombs – Sacred Heart (5.65MB) [from "PREfection"]