Posts Tagged ‘music’
Since finding myself on the press list for the marvellous post rock and electronica label Fluttery Records (and if you’ve not yet listened to Ana Never’s Small Years, stop reading this and go have a listen), I’ve enjoyed receiving their occasional updates about recent releases.
Given I’m getting the music for free, I feel somewhat obliged to write reviews, however small. Though the task is made somewhat easier by the music being (mostly) excellent.
No, I’ve no idea what any of those words mean either. But Amp Rive are Italian, so we’ll let them off.
Italy is not exactly a country that naturally springs to mind when you think about post rock – my mind is drawn more naturally to countries with sprawling wastelands of nothingness (be that urban or otherwise) that inspire sweeping, dreamy soundscapes. I certainly don’t think of exquisitely pretty nations like Italy. And certainly Irma Vep doesn’t sound anything like Mogwai or other such big names of the genre.
Instead it’s a brighter, breezier album, and while the opening track starts rather suddenly it has grown on me as a fine piece of music that drifts along catchily without being shallow. Later tracks emanate a rich and melodic sound, and while they’re not at the epic soundscape end of the post rock spectrum, Amp Rive have delivered a lovely, warm album.
Also, the last track, The Apocalypse in F, is a candidate for one of the best post rock track titles I’ve heard in a long time.
From Italy to Russia, Neko Nine are, like Amp Rive, a band I only heard about on a mailing last year and I’m finally getting round to reviewing.
And while I’ve suggested above that Italy isn’t natural post rock hunting ground, Russia, with its dark history, vast open spaces and unrelenting winters strikes me as ideal territory for the genre, such that I’m surprised on reflection not to have heard of any bands from there before.
And the music is certainly a lot darker and angrier than Amp Rive, with a relatively explosive opening couple of tracks of heavy guitars drums. Later on, the sound is a softer and more melodic, with pianos and strings helping to add a soothing, and at times feintly sinister, feel.
It’s a good album with a consistent and engaging feel, and something of a grower on further listens.
Apparently a Dutch “philosopher and musician” based in Japan, Gate (real name Lajos Ishibashi-Brons). The media pack explains that name “Gate” summarizes its intended nature: a gate is in between, in between inside and outside, between here and there, between now and then; and a gate is a passageway, both an entrance and an exit, and a point where paths cross.
The media pack goes on to quote the artist’s description of the album:
“Bury your romantic proclivities for harmony, for order, for purpose. All of that is illusion, paint. Look at the world, listen. There is beauty in discord, dissonance, disorder, destruction, decay, corruption, contrast, arbitrariness. Life is discord, life is destruction, randomness, change. Look at the world, look at the powerlines, open-pit mines, rivers and lakes, factories and power plants, mountains and roads, buildings and forests, trash dumps and oceans. Look at them clash, interpenetrate, infest, defile. Look at the transformation of landscapes. Look at the haphazard collections of streets and buildings, and at the people living in them. Look at the dirt, the mess, the disharmony. Just look: it’s beautiful. And listen. Open your eyes and ears. Listen to the sounds of the world, to the crashing, grinding, and banging. Embrace the dissonance, the discomfort, the randomness. Those are our sounds, our world. Listen. And travel in sound.”
As you can imagine, it’s utter shite.
From Italy to Russia to Japan to Portugal, Fluttery’s stable is nothing if not diverse. It’s also not very diligent with grammar, as however many ways I say it in my head, I just can’t get the name “how comes the constellations shine” to make any sense whatsoever.
Neither does the music on Mémoire, initially – with a long, slow build up in the first track failing to deliver any sense of suspense and expectation before rather disjointedly launching into a space-rock-esque melody that does admittedly evolve into a rich and sweeping track. The album as a whole struggles to retain a sense of coherence throughout, despite a number of the tracks being excellent.
Admittedly, though, it is only a compilation of various tracks written over the course of a few years in the run-up to the much flowing and coherent 2012 release Belongs to Mafra.
Mémoire may grow on me. I hope it does, but I doubt it. Belongs to Mafra is much, much better.
Something much more consistent can be found in this album Eternal Glory from the Ukranian artist Olekksii. It’s a thoughtful blend of classical and electronic sounds worthy of Jon Hopkins and the ilk, with lovely strings and pianos joined by soft beats that create beautiful, film soundtrack-worthy pieces. It’s great music to chill out to, with a coherent flow to the whole album.
If I had a criticism, though, it’s that the songs build up so nicely it’s a shame they all seem to be so short, with none stretching much beyond four minutes. Listening to the album I find myself wishing that Olekksii could aim for track lengths of around ten minutes, as he’d surely come up with some absolute belters.
Taking the album together as a single piece of music, however, it is thoughtful, gentle and soothing; and as background music for a journey, a quiet gathering or to set a nice, relaxing atmosphere, it’s ideal. It’s probably the one I’d return to most often out of all those I’ve reviewed in this post.
We come full circle in this set of reviews, returning to Italy to this three member band who have delivered a three-track EP with a delightfully evocative title. It contains very unItalian track names, though, such as “Seljalandsfoss”, which refers to a famous Icelandic waterfall.
The music itself is firmly in post rock, with just guitars, piano and drums doing all the work here – and it’s a lovely sound that exudes a beautiful, careful simplicity, the tracks seeming to last longer than they actually are. The music provides echoes of bare empty spaces and soft snow, while at the same time being uplifting and cheerful in a way that post rock rarely manages.
As I say, very unItalian. But very, very good.
I hate it when you get spam emails you don’t want. Particularly from mailing lists which somehow you’ve found yourself on, don’t remember signing up for, and to unsubsribe from can often be fiddly.
Such irritation was to the fore again the other day when I received an email from a record company called Fluttery Records, telling me about their latest releases. I was poised over the “spam” button in my email when my eye was drawn to the magic words “post rock”. Aha! Probably my favourite genre of music.
I checked out the website and, in their own words, Fluttery Records are a label especially for “Post-rock, Ambient, Experimental, Electronic, Modern Classical music.” This was very good news indeed.
I read a bit about the bands in the email, and clicked links to have a listen.
One band absolutely gripped me. Called Ana Never, they hail from northern Serbia and have been around for over a decade, though with only a small number of releases in that time.
They’re clearly a band for quality not quantity, though, as typified by their forthcoming album that the email was introducing.
Have a listen to it for yourself via the player on the right or here.
The album is called Small Years, and lasts over 75 minutes. It’s a surprise to note, though, that there are only four tracks on it, with the opening and closing ones both weighing in at over 25 minutes each.
That’s my kind of post rock – music that takes its time to carefully, meticulously build up a complex and meticulous sound, rather than just jumping in.
The result is a beautiful album of epic, soaring proportions, with sweeping guitars and drums softened and complemented by beautiful strings to make a magnificent orchestral composition.
Although firmly post rock, Small Years is gentler than Mogwai, richer than Mono and creates a tone that is mournful and introspective without being unduly dark or angry. It’s a magnificent listen and I’ve played it more than a handful of times in the last few days.
It’s always a pleasant surprise to discover new music, and having listened not only to Small Years but their back catalogue too, Ana Never – who I’d never heard of before and who don’t seem to have much of a high profile – plant themselves as a firm favourite of mine. They’re definitely my number one Serbian post rock outfit, that’s for sure.
I’ve been exploring some of the other bands on Fluttery Records, and it’s a veritable Pandora’s Box, an Aladdin’s Cave of post rock treasure. There’s too much to listen to at once but the little I have delved into has been great. I’ll be back to the website to listen to more in the coming days I am sure.
Having made the discovery of Ana Never’s magnificent Small Years album, I replied to Fluttery’s email. I told them I didn’t appreciate unsolicited email, but thanked them and said I was making an exception because the music was so great.
Curiously, I got no response. They’re rude to have sent the spam, and rude not to have replied to my message.
But hey, the music’s fantastic. So I’ll forgive them.
You know you’re in a unique place when you’re watching an exploration of gay experiences of spirituality told through the mediums of poetry and dance, and where one of the poems has the quite magnificent title of:
“The visit of the Queen of the Lesbians to the gay men’s prayer group in West Belfast”.
Not least when that’s followed up by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in full moderatorial garb, playing on-stage with his band.
I must add, though, that much as the poem title above is funny, the poet responsible, Pádraig Ó Tuama, told me when we spoke later that the story behind it is sad. The men involved have churches and often even close family members who do not know about, and would not approve of, their homosexuality. Thus they are forced as a result to live a lie and meet each other for fellowship in relative secrecy.
That’s a little snapshot of the sights, sounds and issues of Solas Festival, where I spent the past weekend.
It was a remarkable place and event: a small, family-friendly festival of arts, music, discussion, spirituality and not a little wind and rain in the south of Scotland. I’ve been to Glastonbury and T in the Park once each, and while they were fun neither of them come close to Solas for the atmosphere.
Set in a field next to the little village (and old YMCA lodge) of Wiston in South Lanarkshire, the festival has a laid back, inclusive feel to it, with all age ranges and a diverse calendar of activities. It’s been running three years now, and this is the first time I have gone, thanks to an invite to speak. It was, above all, a friendly place, and I met loads of interesting people, and rather delightfully bumped into around a dozen familiar faces.
The most remarkable thing about it, though, is its size. Just a few hundred people attending, Solas is mostly run by volunteers, with dedicated enthusiasts working hard throughout the year to create each festival. That dedication manifests itself in the atmosphere – it’s friendly, inclusive and really feels like a labour of love on the part of those who make it happen.
I took in quite a bit of music, the outstanding highlight by far being Wester Ross band Grousebeater Soundsystem who, besides having the best band name I’ve heard for a long time, purvey a terrifically catchy blend of Celtic and electronic sounds. Check out their music on SoundCloud.
But mostly – and this is maybe a sign of me getting old – I was into more of the talk stuff. There’s a strong ethos of generating debate around society and justice, and so there were quite a few well-kent faces there from the political world on top of various other talks about matters spiritual.
I saw an interesting talk with Gerry Hassan and Douglas Alexander MP, which was mostly notable for the amusing attempt by a certain SNP MSP in the audience to bite his tongue and sit on his hands at some of the bizarre things Douglas Alexander was saying on the independence issue.
I also really enjoyed two presentations from land reform campaigner and author Andy Wightman, whose clear presentations on the relationship between land, poverty and economic development persuaded me of a number of things, not least the need for a land tax.
I’d never really thought much about the politics of land a huge amount before, but came away really enlightened as to how it underpins so much of politics as a whole, both here in Scotland and elsewhere in the world, and how it is not just the concern or domain of those in rural areas who work on it.
Another highlight was the champion slam poet Harry Baker, whose geeky verse on maths, dinosaurs and all sorts of other random topics were hilarious and well worth looking up.
I was there principally, of course, for my own talk on the Sunday about travel. I think it went well, at least from the bits of feedback I got, and I enjoyed talking about various bits and pieces of travel and doing some readings from my first book and forthcoming sequel.
When there was nothing particular to take in, though, Solas was an easy place just to amble around. The atmosphere was friendly, relaxing, undemanding, and I felt quite comfortable wandering camera in hand, taking in the sights and sounds.
There was a particularly engaging and eerie atmosphere very early on the Saturday morning, when the rain had woken me in the wee small hours, and I explored the ghostly, empty site before anyone else was up. So while my experience of Solas was full of fun and colour, there might be a slight misrepresentation of the weekend in the more muted photos I’ve uploaded.
I’d love to go back to Solas next year. There was a real sense of the artistic, the spiritual and the political all coming together and shaping each other. It was quite a special place.
I’m thoroughly chuffed to announce that I’m going to be appearing at the Solas Festival later this month.
If you’ve not heard of Solas before, it’s a wide-ranging annual arts festival based in Biggar, South Lanarkshire, and it features music, talks, performing arts, literature and a wide range of family-friendly activities. This year it will be held over the weekend of 22-24 June.
Solas has a broadly Christian ethos, with a strong emphasis on justice and equality – so it’s broadly comparable to the bigger and more famous Greenbelt Festival, but I’m told that Solas is has a real strength in its small size and sense of community.
I’ve never been to Solas, or Greenbelt for that matter, though many friends have persuaded me that I would hugely enjoy both of them. It is a great privilege, then, to be invited to Solas as a presenter. As I say, it’s a Christian-inspired festival, but the content is not particularly religious, so I’ll be talking about my travel writing – in particular the mullet mission, but also my approaches to travel and writing more generally.
I’ve yet to firm up precisely what I’m going to do, but I think I may focus on the theme of the unexpected under our noses, an idea that lies behind The Next Stop and which is currently stirring a few other projects in my head. I might also give a little preview of my forthcoming second mullet book (an update on which I’ll be blogging next month, I promise) and I’ll hopefully have some copies of my first book for sale too.
It’s my first big event since the Inverness Book Festival last year, so I am a little nervous. Not least because – the location effectively being a few tents in a field – there’s not going to be any capacity for a technological accompaniment. The story of my adventures – and I am sure anyone’s adventures – is always easier to tell with visual aids. So I will have to rely purely on my own spoken word to enthuse people about getting out to explore the world and picking up their laptop or pen to write about it.
I’m looking forward to it, though, and to taking in the wider event as a whole. There are a number of interesting things on the bill, including various writers, speakers and politicians who should be worth hearing, and a number of big-name bands (some of whom I’ve even heard of). I’m also excited to see that Calamateur, of whom I am a friend and fan, is also playing.
I don’t yet have full details about the timing of my talk, and I’ll no doubt blog or tweet again once things are confirmed, but I do know that it is going to be on the Sunday. If you’re coming along, it would be lovely to see you. If you’re interested, there are still tickets available.
It’s not that far away now, so I’d best get preparing. And I’d best dig out and dust down my tent.
Called The Last Projectionist, it’s something of a departure for them. The Liverpool-based purveyors of beautful, arty post-rock have produced their first concept album, and this interview explains in a bit more depth that they aimed to produce an album that evoked something of the impact – both positive and negative – of technological progress. You perhaps get the idea from the album cover (right) – a retro, steampunk hint at the blend of the human and the technological.
The title in itself, The Last Projectionist, hints at some of those ideas, and I was delighted and privileged to be given a digital copy of the album to listen to and review.
I suspected I would love the album, as I have enjoyed their previous output, ranking one or two tracks from both the debut album and Arecibo as among my favourite tracks in the post-rock genre, easily comparable to the greats such as Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky or Mono.
Indeed I did enjoy The Last Projectionist, but I confess it took me a while to get into it. I eventually realised that it was because The Last Projectionist represented a slightly deeper, richer and more mournful sound than their previous work, and is different in that it attempts to capture the concept that inspired the album.
The opening track, This is Fucking Glorious, has a dramatic start with cathedral-like richness in the initial keyboard tones, soon joined by a pulsing drumbeat and then tense guitar rhythms that build up with great suspense to an eventual crescendo. This releases the track into a soaring, funky screech of guitars that that is so catchy and compelling that the song feels a little too short. It is followed by Rockets Don’t Need Fuel, a similar fusion of tense guitar, deep bass, edgy drumming and atmospheric keyboards, blended to create a sense of expectation, anticipation and almost danger.
The next track, A Show Of Hands feels initially like a gentler and barer offering, with its lighter and perhaps more cheerful feel nevertheless delivering a tantalising, catchy riff and heavy conclusion; and it’s followed by another more gentle track IR Monster with a real haunting film-score melody.
She’s A Sleeper, the one track available for preview (above), returns to rich, heavy and dark guitars, and is perhaps the angriest on the album, hinting at some of Mono’s heavier tracks or The Smashing Pumpkins’ later works. The album’s finale, eponymously titled The Last Projectionist, is another change of mood, back to soft, thoughful and mournful, hinting at the more negative, nostalgic elements of the album’s theme.
And that theme is something that, if I had a criticism of the album, I struggle to truly see in much depth outside the final song. While they are all great tracks – particularly the first two in my view, which are among MinionTV’s best – the sense of nostalgia for a technologically simpler era doesn’t come out so strongly except in the last track. That’s not to say it’s not an evocative album as a whole (it is, like most of their music), and it’s maybe a matter of interpretation as to how much the concept shines through.
Either way, for me personally, it doesn’t really matter. As it is, concept or not, The Last Projectionist is an energetic, thoughtful, rich, deep album that is up to and perhaps even exceeds MinionTV’s own high standards.
Disclosure: I was given a free download of The Last Projectionist by MinionTV.
I was at a gig tonight. Well, last night, as you’re probably reading this tomorrow. I’m writing this tonight but it’s just turned into tomorrow, which will be today for you. As it is for me too, come to think about it.
Anyway, I was at a gig. Not just any gig, but a house concert. Playing was my friend Andrew Howie, otherwise known as Calamateur. I’ve mentioned him before, and reviewed a couple of his albums on this ‘ere blog, and this evening had the privilege of attending one of a series of house concerts he has been playing around the country.
It’s a novel format in one sense, stripping back music to a simple format; but as Andrew said himself a very old format too in that this was what music was like before the music industry: people playing in other people’s houses.
Calamateur’s style very much suited this format too: intimate, thoughtful, and contemplative. Only one song from the dramatic departure that was his heavier, darker, fuller last album The Quiet in the Land made it on to the setlist, and unsurprisingly it sounded very different accoustically.
I enjoyed the unusual atmosphere of the gig. No standing around with a plastic glass of lager trying to see over someone’s head, no deafening wall of sound from speakers larger than a bus, no trying to hear the band over the noise of a busy bar: just music, a reverent gathering, and an open fire gently crackling in the background.
It was a good way to hear music.
I blogged last year about Calamateur’s album Each Dirty Letter, and it barely seems like five minutes later that he’s produced another album – The Quiet in the Land. I mentioned in Each Dirty Letter’s review Calamateur’s vocal versatility, comparing his voice to Thom York. Such is his versatility, though, that I am going to have to revise that temporarily to somewhere in between Bono and Billy Corgan.
There is comparison with U2 and the Smashing Pumpkins beyond their lead singers though, because those two bands are who The Quiet in the Land reminds me of most. Calamateur’s sound on this latest offering is rich, deep, dark, and verging at times on the tense and sinister. As he says himself on his website, this new album, which regularly seems to crosses the line from rock to electronic, is very, very different from his previous album (effectively a collection of sweet but gently catchy ballads). Time to use that “versatility” epithet again.
The music boasts sharp, dramatic guitars; haunting and evocative background instruments; edgy samples; uncompromising lyrics on Calamateur’s favourite topics of spirituality and humanity; and industrial rhythms that evoke the Smashing Pumpkins’ later electronic phase. It is such a full, rounded, mostly heavy, and engagingly complex sound that it’s often hard to forget that Calamateur is not a band, but an individual: and an individual making the music in a tiny wee studio at that.
The Quiet in the Land is a thoughtful, engaging and absorbing listen. I think it’ll take more than the few listens I’ve had to really appreciate it.
You may remember me raving some time back about the self-titled debut album by Liverpool post-rock outfit MinionTV. The album was my favourite listen of last year, I think, and its opening track, We Are Ghosts, a magnificent piece of music that remains one of my most-listened tracks of late. You can listen to it via the magical widget gizmo below.
The band have just released an EP called Arecibo, and I was delighted to be sent a free download for review purposes. So here goes.
A slow, dreamy opening blurs into the first substantive track, also called Arecibo. Reverberated guitars set out an enticing melody, evocative of a journey into the unknown, and the song compels you to listen as you find out where. The early melody soon is joined by soft keyboard music and moody bass, as if a cathedral had sacked their organist and got Sigur Rós in to do the job instead. A light drumbeat soon coming along to add to what is a tense, expectant song just waiting to boom into life, that does eventually do so with a wave of spaced-out guitaring that would make Hawkwind proud.
A great opener though the title track is, I’m not convinced it’s the best on the EP. That, in my view, is the subsequent track There Will Be Bulldozers. A soft and mournful intro evokes a dreamy sadness, and then a floaty keyboard tone takes us on a gently psychadelic journey, a light pulse provided by drums that draw you deep into the track and build up slowly to present a wonderful change of tempo where lovely guitar riffs send the track soaring. It’s a curious mix of the cautiously energetic and warmly downbeat, and reminds me of Explosions in the Sky‘s excellent latest album.
Track three, Keep The Negatives, is something of a change of feel. Though still soft, warm and as mournfully nostalgic in feel as the first two tracks, the echoey piano and lilting guitar invite comparison with Dire Straits, the track occupying a curious isthmus between 80s soft rock and shoegaze. The final track, Vi, opens with sharp, echoey guitars calling out like a searchlight in the mist, and this gives way to more lilting, floating sounds to round off the EP. Though like many short releases, it all ends too quickly, and I can’t help thinking the band have a sound that lingers, haunts and stretches, and therefore better suits the wide canvass of a full-length album than the comparative snapshot of an EP.
Though MinionTV’s debut album was moody and atmospheric, this EP Arecibo sometimes feels somewhat darker, with four dreamy songs that draw you in and create evocative soundscapes that evokes both a science fiction other-worldliness and a deep draw into the emotions of the world in which we are. I’ve listened to it several times, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Many of the songs’ riffs linger long as earworms, and there is a depth and richness to the sound that suggests the band will come up with plenty more great music in time to come.
I think it comes from being a over a hundred miles away from any place of a similar size and thus being in no other city’s shadow, but there is a great confidence to Inverness.
No more so is this true than in the city’s music scene.
Half-decent (or, indeed, full-decent) bands can crop up in the city or the wider area, last for years, and accrue large and loyal followings.
The flip side of this, however, is that the Highlands’ best bands are rarely on the radar of the music industry’s labels, venues and promoters in the central belt or beyond Scotland and thus rarely gain the coverage or success they arguably deserve.
That must be a frustrating experience for bands who genuinely believe in themselves yet who admirably choose not to relocate south.
That’s probably especially true for The Side, a long-running indie rock band from Alness, not desperately far north of Inverness, who after seven years and a handful of EPs decided to quit. Their farewell gig was at the Ironworks on Friday past, and I was not only there but (unintentionally) first in the queue at the door which got me jokingly labelled a “groupie” by the security staff. Not that I know the band – I’ve never met any of them but have seen them play a handful of gigs in smaller venues around Inverness and their bouncy, catchy songs are all the more enjoyable for the band’s energetic performances that are almost exhausting simply to watch.
Their album “Nowhere Left To Run” was my album of the year a couple of years ago when it came out (check out “One Fine Day” on their MySpace which is a particular favourite track). The release threatened to propel them into the big time, with the band played in various locations around Europe and got some big gigs supporting names such as Texas and Bon Jovi.
However, the band sadly made the recent announcement that they were to split – it was sad that the intended success did not emerge, with my network of spies in the Easter Ross music world speaking of that old chestnut “creative differences”. It’s a credit to the band that they’ve decided to go their own way before sliding into obscurity, instead leaving as they do pretty much at their peak.
Their gig was excellent, and a fine send-off to one of the best bands to have come from the Highlands in recent years. Their album is still available, and they have a number of songs on MySpace. For much better photos of the gig than my grainy, shaky efforts, I refer you to local music photographer Al Donnelly’s blog (1|2).
Twitter is a great way of discovering great examples of the sorts of stuff you’re into, not least music.
When you tweet about a certain topic, you will often find yourself being followed by someone who has searched for that same topic. The downside to that is the huge amount of spam on the go in Twitterland (just tweet words like “iPad” and see what happens), but sometimes there are gems. If I tweet about the music I like listening to, I get the occasional follow from bands who presumably find me on the back of search terms like “post-rock”. One such band was MinionTV, who I blogged about some time ago, and whose magnificent music I was thrilled to discover.
Then, a a few weeks ago, I was followed by the Echelon Effect (Twitter | website | Bandcamp), so out of curiosity I listened to a bit and was instantly hooked. The Echelon Effect, a one-man outfit from England, produces electronic post-rock soundscapes and have a haunting and ethereal yet quietly energetic feel. With soft, gentle rhythms, beautifully subtle melodies, echoey samples and an aura evocative of film scores, the music is engaging but because of its subtlety I have found it is firmly joining the likes of Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss and Lindstrom as great music to write to.
Like many relatively little-known musicians these days, much of the Echelon Effect’s discography is available free online, though of course you have the option to pay what you like (and the more you pay, the more able they are to spend time making music).
I can highly recommend taking a peek at it, and although I am not sure I have a clear favourite yet the first track of Seasons Part 1, Recalling Winter’s Casualities (right), is proving to be a real grower and the album Mosaic is a particularly consistent one.
Overall, the music is not demanding or in your face (though I don’t wish to imply it’s in anyway simple or shallow), and the way that the tracks blur into each other to create wide, sweeping sounds that provide a magnificent soundtrack to a day.