Archive for the ‘Gazing at shoes’ Category

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Hush hush

July 12, 2008

It’s too early to really say, but 2008 feels like the year that a lot of quiet acts are going even quieter. Hammock’s Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow was their most zen-like album yet – you can barely make out instruments. Ellen Allien’s Sool finds a techno producer moving away from beats almost entirely.

Perhaps the most surprising is the young post-rock collective Gregor Samsa. Their first full-length, 2006’s 55:12, was a great balance between the off-centre classical of Rachel’s and the quiet indie pop of Low. The songs came from nowhere and often disappeared to the same place, but there were memorable melodies and clear vocals.

On Rest, the vocals are so hushed they’re barely more than whispers. If the instrumentation is still complex and orchestral, it doesn’t have any of the crash and bombast. The most amazing thing is how effectively it holds your attention. If anything, the quietness forces you to crouch down and plant your ear next to the speaker to try and understand what’s happening.

Where much more dramatic albums will fade from view, I think the already-faded Rest will stick around.

Gregor Samsa – “Ain Leuh”

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A Minor Comeback

June 8, 2008

This happens occasionally – a UK band catches a buzz, rockets up the local charts and then…completely fails to break anywhere else. London four-piece My Vitriol did just that back in the early part of the decade with some amazing effects-pedal-heavy singles, sort of Foo Fighters by way of My Bloody Valentine. After their album Finelines failed to get any real traction, they disappeared.

After five years on hold, Som Wardner must have called the others up and said “Hey guys, I’m thinking of getting the band back together”. So last year they put out a new EP, A Pyrhhic Victory, which I only discovered recently.

A nice little taste of what the second album might be like? I hope so, if this piano ballad by way of the Cocteau Twins is anything to go on.

My Vitriol – “Lord Knows How I’ve Tried (Mellow Version)”

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Into the endless unknown

May 9, 2008

Quite simply, I love Hammock. I loved their first album, their stop-gap EP, their second album, their ambient almost-album. I can listen to them when I am happy, when I’m sad. When I want to pay attention to every note and when I want to tune out or fall asleep. Their music is the perfect fusion of classic ambient, chiming dream pop and shoegazery guitar noise.

The sound isn’t completely unique – their are shades of half a dozen better-known acts in there: Sigur Ros, The Album Leaf, Stars of the Lid, the Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Brian Eno. But it’s beautiful and otherworldly and awe-inspiring.

I was a little bit surprised on my first listen to their new album Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow, though. The first two proper albums were a 50/50 mix of barely-there ambient wash and anthemic reverb-drenched pop. This one is a lot more like The Sleepover Sessions, Marc Byrd’s album of minimalist guitar drone. There are no lyrics, no choruses or verses, no beats. On first listen, it’s so ephemeral and wispy, it feels like it’s slipped away before it’s out of the speakers.

But it pays to know the story and it pays to listen closely. This album is an attempt to capture Hammock’s first live gig, an intimate show for Jonsi of Sigur Ros (whose design project did the cover art) where they stripped back their sound to the bare essentials that two people with guitars could create. The album is basically that – two guys with guitars and pedals, playing live in the studio, with some overdubbed cello from Matt Slocum.

And if you pay attention, you can feel the painstaking attention to detail, the loving care with which the exact pitch and timbre of each note was chosen. My love affair has only grown deeper.

Hammock – “Mono No Aware”

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Borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80s

April 18, 2008

Something that most critics writing about M83s new album seem to miss (and I did too) is that Anthony Gonzalez’s 80s fixation isn’t a product of his own experiences.  He’s only 27, so like me he was in kindergarten when John Hughes and Tears for Fears were ruling the world.  In fact, he talks about it here in an interview with Drowned In Sound – most of his 80s reference points were picked up as a teenager in the mid-90s.

I’ve noticed this a lot about people my age.  We’re actually a lot more fixated on the 80s than the 30-somethings who actually experienced it.  Perhaps they remember how bloody awful a lot of it was.

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Lust, no caution

April 1, 2008

The Raveonettes carry with them the unmistakable scent of decadence. Their songs seem to be drench in sex and tightly bound in leather – and they want you to know it. They also owe a strong debt to the Jesus and Mary Chain, whose “60s pop by way of hissing feedback” school of songwriting they have clearly attended. But for all their mimicry, you’d never mistake a Raveonettes song as being by anyone else. They mix familiar ingredients in interesting ways.

2008 brings us the third full-length from these kinky Danes and it’s a good one. I’ve recently re-discovered their ball-tearing debut Chain Gang of Love and have had it on high rotation. Lust Lust Lust is just as good.

A good example of what they do best is “Blush”, a spectactular piece of distorted dreaminess. Hazy, narcotic sexiness has never sounded better.

The Raveonettes – “Blush”

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Out with the old, in with the new

March 31, 2008
M83

It’s been three years since a newly solo Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez released the M83 album Before the Dawn Heals Us. If you missed it, it was a brilliant but pretty ridiculous album – a turbocharged Vangelis being fed through a pretentious-motion machine. So many synthesizers, so much excess. It pretty much invented a new sub-genre of progressive shoegazer synth rock. No one else joined for fear of being laughed at, so Gonzalez was left as founding president and honorary treasurer.

Now, after a stop-gap album of chilled-out ambient, M83 have toned down a lot of the excess of Dawn and released the pretty subdued Saturdays = Youth. It’s still ambitious and over-wrought in places, but it’s a much more of a conventional album. Most of the tracks would be perfect fits on an Orchestral Maneovres in the Dark album – and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s actually kind of pop.

Gonzalez can’t resist his absurdly cheesy spoken word samples, though. The superbly catchy “Graveyard Girl” includes a woman intoning “I’m 15 years old and I feel it’s already too late to love. Don’t you?” Emo kids would balk at this, surely.

But if you turn off that part of your brain that winces at cheesiness, you’ll find a lot to love in Saturdays = Youth.

M83 – “Graveyard Girl”

M83 – “Kim & Jessie”

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Stoned and dethroned

February 1, 2008

Goodnight Believer is back from holidays and full of new musical delights to share with y’all (I went to the Deep South, see). But right now, it’s time to visit some standouts from last year that for one reason or another didn’t make it onto the bonanza year end list.

Japan’s Boris got a lot of attention with their stoner metal opus Pink back in 2006 and I was pretty impressed with a few tracks, but not the whole package. Much more to my taste was last year’s collaboration with Michio Kurihara, Rainbow. It’s a mellower affair – more along the lines of early 70s psychedelia than full-on Sabbath bludgeoning.

One of the most subtle and effective tracks is the 7 minute opus “You Laughed Like A Water Mark”. I have no idea what the title means and the lyrics are all in Japanese. But it’s a melancholy track – perfect for lazy, unemployed mornings.

Boris and Michio Kurihara – “You Laughed Like A Water Mark”