Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy – Amkeni (2013)

Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy - Amkeni (2013)

So, this is interesting; a couple of days ago, a friend posted this link to my Facebook page. He was introduced to them because I reviewed their album GroundUP. Well, it was my very first review on this blog and interesting to revisit it.

Snarky Puppy are an American musical collective, rather than a specific band, centring around bassist Michael League. The shear number of musicians involved has led to them having a multifaceted sound on previous albums, mostly focusing on jazz and funk, but incorporating elements from rock and music from around the globe.

It seems there could be no more perfect companion band to accompany singer Bukuru Celestin. Celestin arrived from Burundi to the USA in 2008 and is a music student at Virginia Western Community College. He, along with his sisters, specialises in afrobeat-inspired gospel.

The combination is sublime; from the disco-funk stylings of Shima to the afrobeat/gospel of Amkeni. There is not a single track that is a disappointment. Each is exciting and so perfectly realised. One striking thing is that this is not Snarky Puppy with a guest singer; this is all about Bukuru Celestin, these tracks are written by him and focus on him as the singer. Snarky Puppy provide the framework and support, but this is Celestin through and through.

His voice is fantastic and complemented so well by the choral work from his sisters. Snarky Puppy are, as expected, tight and funky, confident and dynamic.

Comparisons to Paul Simon’s Graceland would not be unfounded; Simon opened a lot of the West’s eyes to the music of Africa and did so with a blindingly good album. Well, this album is blindingly good as well.

The only negative I can say is that, at only 6 tracks, it is tragically short; however, Celestin has a wonderful future and I look forward to hearing more.

Favourite tracks: Amkeni, Ntumbero, Muzogezahe
Spotify link: Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy – Amkeni
Bandcamp link: http://bukuru.bandcamp.com/
Sneak peak: 

Messer Chups – Church Of Reverb (2013)

Messer Chups - Church Of Reverb (2013)

Surf double!

After yesterday’s review of the latest Man Or Astroman? album, I thought it would be nice to follow that up with the latest from another great surf revival band.

Formed as a spin-off from the fantastic Russian experimental-electro-exotica Messer Fur Frau Muller, Messer Chups still have an experimental edge to them, but incorporate more of a surf sound and a b-movie horror themes (unlike the kitsch futurism of Messer Fur Frau Muller).

The music is upbeat, fun and exactly want out of a surf album, reverb-laden twangy guitars that evoke the ghost of Duane Eddie, a lot of kitsch tongue in cheek, especially on a surfed-up version of Gershon Kingsley’s Popcorn.

Church of Reverb is a mostly instrumental album, which makes the songs with singing stand out a little; for example Rockin’ Zombie jars a little. Also, the scope of surf is not massive, but Messer Chups manage to stay fresh throughout.

I much enjoyed this album. It is not as experimental as it could have been given the source, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun, with great tunes, and a great cult-film feel. I don’t think Messer Chups are ever going to excite me the way Messer Fur Frau Muller do, but until they do, I’m willing to keep listening.

Favourite tracks: Dracula Hates Photoshoots, Harlem Nocturne, Hula Tikula
Spotify link: Messer Chups – Church of Reverb
Sneak peak: 

Man or Astro-man? – Defcon 5…4…3…2…1 (2013)

Man or Astro-man? - Defcon 5...4...3...2...1 (2013)

Man Or Astroman? are a band I definitely don’t listen to enough. The surf-punk quartet from Alabama have been in the game since 1990 and this is their 8th album.

While surf may have had its heyday in the 1960s, there has been a revival of sorts since the 1990s with, for example, Los Straitjackets, Messer Chups, The Mermen, Space Cossacks, Satan’s Pilgrims, Atomic Mosquitoes, etc. Man Or Astroman? incorporate punk and electronics seamlessly to create a sci-fi surf sound. With the inherent retro sound of surf, this approach tends to evoke cult B-movies, and exotica.

This album represents a return to studio for Man Or Astroman?, their first album since 2000’s A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale, and it is also a stylistic change as well. Where A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale was really quite an experimental album, Defcon… is a more restrained album. The electronics are still there; most prominently on the five Defcon tracks. On the whole, it is more streamlined and more restrained, a more alt-rock sound overall and nowhere near as kitsch.

So, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it depends on what you are after. I prefer the experimental nature of A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale, and Defcon… doesn’t quite live up to that standard, fun though it is.

Favourite tracks: Communication Breakdown Pt II, Defcon 3, Defcon 1
Spotify link: Man Or Astro-Man? – Defcon 5…4…3…2…1
Sneak peak: 

Etran Finatawa – The Sahara Sessions (2013)

Etran Finatawa - The Sahara Sessions (2013)

When listening to folk music without any background information, one is almost forced to take a journey with the music trying to determine from where it has come. Musical styles, instrumentation, vocal inflections and overall feel go towards this; however the deeper you listen to folk music, the more you hear similarities across the world and you realise that people often transfer their thoughts and dreams into music in similar ways the world over.

Now, the title of this album unfortunately spoils this little game with Etran Finatawa (though I had forgotten the title when I was listening). Going by the music alone, a simple stripped back folky blues, plucked guitar, and a simple rhythm played on a drum with hand claps. One stand out feature of the style is the wide open structure of the songs, with sections often repeated as far as the horizon; that is what led me to think of nomadic peoples. Though, because of the singing, I felt it was geographically placed Eastwards. Not as far as Mongolia (Siberian music I’m sure I would recognise pretty quickly), so I settled on Kazahkstan.

What I should have heard better is the blues influence in the music. That (along with title) would have placed Etran Finatawa squarely in Western Africa, the “other home of the blues”. In fact, Etran Finatawa are from Niger, and composed of members of two nomadic groups, the Tuareg and Wodaabe, a coming together of cultures, as songs are sang in both languages.

The music itself is lovely to listen to, very loose and low key, lamenting and heartfelt. Vocal melodies and harmonies interplay with the guitar melodies and feel like eternity, like the wide open landscape that form the nomads’ life. The album was recorded in the desert as live takes, and that adds to the honesty of the music.

Enjoyable, but not enervating, so it might just be that perfect antidote to a frenetic lifestyle that some of us find us so often in.

Favourite tracks: Matinfa, Eldam, Bakuba
Spotify link: Etran Finatawa – The Sahara Sessions
Sneak peak: 

Sankt Otten – Messias Maschine (2013)

Sankt Otten - Messias Maschine (2013)

Sankt Otten are a German duo formed in 1999 with six studio albums under their belt. On this, their seventh album, the collaborate with numerous artists including Jaki Liebezeit from Can and Anthony Paterra of Zombi and Majeure.

Their sound is on the more electronic side of krautrock/space rock and, at first, I wasn’t taken in with it; until I got to Mach Bitte Dass Es Leiser Wird, which just made everything click. I don’t think I had been listening with the right ears. What an outstanding track: beautiful theremin courtesy of guest musician Miles Brown leads the melody in an instant space rock classic. Lovely synths drive the majority of the tracks and, with deep listening, one is taken on some great astronomical journeys.

While the album is still pretty reserved overall, there are moments of outright beauty and it is a great album, but one that needs to be either completely in the background or intently listened to; there is no half-an-ear to be had here.

Favourite tracks: Mach Bitte Dass Es Leiser Wird, Das Geräusch des Wartens, Nach Dir die Sinnesflut

Spotify link: Sankt Otten – Messias Maschine
Bandcamp link: http://sankt-otten.bandcamp.com/album/messias-maschine
Sneak peak: 

David Lynch – The Big Dream (2013)

David Lynch - The Big Dream (2013)

Ah, David Lynch, purveyor of several cerebral cult films which make varying degrees of sense, director of one of my favourite TV programmes, Twin Peaks, and, most recently, musician. This is Lynch’s second studio album after 2011’s Crazy Clown Time.

Somewhere in the jumbled bag of knowledge, tropes and memes that I call my brain, there is a band which sounds just like this, but I cannot put my finger on it; it is on the tip of my ear, as it were. The general sound feels like an intelligent mix of blues and trip-hop; a sort of trip-hop noir.

Lynch’s voice comes across like a mix between (if you can try to imagine this) early Neil Young, Daniel Johnston and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers. In fact, the slower Butthole Surfers’ songs are probably a good comparison in some ways. The Big Dream is not as extreme or as psychedelic as the Butthole Surfers, but there is something about the way the tracks sounds, especially the vocals. The final comparison is not so surprising; Julee Cruise’s Floating Into The Night (1989), for which Lynch co-wrote the songs with Angelo Badalamenti and a number of tracks were used in Twin Peaks, including the instrumental mix of Falling as the title music.

It’s not as weird as you might be expecting, but it is no Straight Story either. There is plenty to get the brain ticking over and to twist your melon not quite into insanity, but into a un-ease. A great album.

Favourite tracks: Last Call, Say It, The Ballad Of Hollis Brown, The Line It Curves
Spotify link: David Lynch – The Big Dream
Sneak peak: 

Charlotte Church – Two (2013)

Charlotte Church - Two (2013)

I’m going to introduce you to a revelation I had a couple of days ago.

Remember Charlotte Church? The fresh-faced Welsh teenage classical singer, who moved into pop music and I’ve historically seen little point in listening to?

Well, she went away to have a couple of sprogs and she’s back and she’s… changed. Having released a “grown-up” pop album in 2010, she went on to begin a series of EPs. Five are planned in total, and One (2012) and Two have been released, with Three coming soon.

These EPs are a sucker punch, they are so unexpected; I have always been able to credit Church with having a good voice despite the fact that the music she made was not at all to my taste. Now she has put her voice to use in an almost avant-alternative way.

I didn’t find One that engaging, but Two is fantastic. A real showcase of talent from someone who has seen multiple sides of the music industry and has eschewed her former pop career.

Two begins with the a dark, downtempo pop number with disconcerting vocal inflections. The sparse synths give plenty of space for Church to showcase her vocal talents and I am reminded a little of Bjork; especially considering the hint of experimental coming through to close the track.

Breach Of The Peace is closer to crossover pop/folk and probably the most traditionally pop track. Her voice is very strong on this one, but it isn’t really a track to me that excites, while The Mistress has a catchy vocal hook, backed by haunting chorus, but is over too soon, an oddly engaging track.

Nerve sees Church’s vocal processed beyond recognition and leaves her sounding like Air did in 1998. An instant downtempo classic.

And she saves the best til last. Lasts, Or Eschaton is an unnerving downtempo track which builds in intensity, as Church turns from angel of hope at the beginning of the track, before the track becomes infinitely more dangerous, breaks down with massive crunchy bass kicks and I am once again reminded of Bjork as it seems Church was not an angel of hope but rather of destruction.

In total, a great EP, downtempo and perilously close to a screaming precipice of avant pop. A real explosion from leftfield that leaves you wondering just what will happen in the rest of this EP series, the preview video for Three and the recently released track from the same only heighten the anticipation.

It is testament to her talent and also to her confidence to head off on this tack, I don’t know whether she will lose fans as a result of this new direction, but she has certainly gained a fan here and I eagerly await the next installment.

Favourite tracks: Lasts Or Eschaton, Mistress, Nerve
Spotify link: Charlotte Church – Two
Bandcamp link: http://charlottechurchmusic.bandcamp.com/album/two

Sneak peak: 

Shining – One One One (2013)

Shining - One One One (2013)

For clarification’s sake, this is not the Swedish black metal band (who are not bad in their own respect), but instead the Norwegian avant jazz metal band. I was first alerted to Shining in 2010, when they released one of the best albums I have heard, Blackjazz. Not only did the title describe their music perfectly, but it was almost a perfect mixture of extreme avant metal and jazz. It was a brutal assault to the ears and absolutely fantastic.

Working backwards from Blackjazz shows the progression that they have made from third album, In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster (2005) on which they first added rock elements to their jazz sound, through Grindstone (2007), when the rock elements got heavier and more brutal leading perfectly to Blackjazz.

One One One is the hotly anticipated follow-up to Blackjazz and I would argue that the progression has continued.

A big problem for Shining is that Blackjazz was so good, that any followup album is likely to draw a comparison for the worse, and that is a shame, but I can’t help it. One One One is not as good as Blackjazz. It isn’t as experimental, it isn’t as jazz-influenced, the metal isn’t as innovative. It sounds a lot more nu-metal/industrial metal influenced. The One Inside has elements of Ministry, as well as the cliched nu-metal breakdowns, while My Dying Drive reminds me of Nine Inch Nails.

To date, Blackjazz still surprises me, even after so many listens, but One One One seems to give you everything it has in one listen.

It’s not a bad album in its own respect; there is a lesser focus on the music and more the words, jazz is not as prevalent on the album, though the excellent How Your Story Ends does a good job of pushing the balance.

So, now I have to seemingly back track on what I have said; it is an enjoyable album, but I challenge you to come at it fresh without the preconceptions of Blackjazz; I didn’t and I regret it (even though I knew it would be impossible to do, even if I did have forewarning).

Favourite tracks: Off The Hook, How Your Story Ends, The Hurting Game

Spotify link: Shining – One One One
Sneak peak: 

Deafheaven – Sunbather (2013)

Deafheaven - Sunbather (2013)

If every band is an island, and every album a town on that island, then Sunbather is a small desolate place with eternal dawn, somewhere near the bay of post-rock with a causeway to the black metal peninsula at high tide.

San Fransisco’s Deafheaven are one of those bands who manage to do something different. Here, on Sunbather, they have managed to perfectly meld the guitar-textured approach of post-rock and post-metal with the bleakness and heaviness of black metal. One of the stand out tracks on the album, Vertigo, starts with jangly post rock, complex drum rhythms, occasional hints at blast beats, building up a head of steam to a crescendo, just about getting started at the 4 minute mark, when most pop tracks are over and done with; there is no rushing this storm. Heavy is the hit of the wave and this is pure black metal territory, screamed vocals and fast guitars creating a wall of sound that envelops with terrifying intensity.

The fact that they, in company such as Wolves In The Throne Room and Alcest, had the vision to see that post rock and black metal did share similarities, despite them being in disparate musical circles, is testament to their vision.

I’m not the biggest fan of black metal, it’s true, I do like to listen to Marduk, Mayhem, Emperor, Carpathian Forest, Gorgoroth and the like, but I don’t go out and listen to every black metal band out there; however, this album is very appealing. It might be a somewhat “gateway” album to those who haven’t listened to black metal before, but I also fear that there might be a problem of audience here. Fans of black metal won’t necessarily appreciate the shoe-gaze nature of a lot of the album, and fans of post-rock might not bear the black metal sections, leaving a pretty niche audience.

Overall, it is a good album, both post rock and black metal are equally represented and neither is a cheap nod to the genre, this is authentic, intense, bleak and beautiful. A worthwhile listen.

Now what to call this genre? I’ve read “blackgaze”, which I quite like, but I think I prefer “blackened post-metal”.

Favourite tracks: Vertigo, Sunbather, Irresistible
Spotify link: Deafheaven – Sunbather

Sneak peak: 

Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down (2013)

Melt Yourself Down - Melt Yourself Down (2013)

Melt Yourself Down are not Acoustic Ladyland, but they are Acoustic Ladyland saxophonist Pete Wareham’s new band and they are fantastic!

This album is a showcase of talent. Pete Wareham is joined on sax duties by jazz sax maestro Shabaka Hutchings, but this album is pretty far from a jazz outing. In fact, if you are expecting jazz, even out-there punk-influenced jazz a la Acoustic Ladyland, then you are barking up the wrong album.

There is no denying that that same adrenaline-fueled attitude is present, but this is deep and expansive. Listening to the first three tracks throws you a curve ball as you are presented with what can only be described as dub jazz, with reverb-laden vocals, African beats, courtesy of Tom Skinner (of Hello Skinny, who has drummed with Mulatu Astatke and Matthew Herbert) and Satin Singh, big driving basslines from Ruth Goller (also of Acoustic Ladyland), as well as electronics from Leafcutter John (from Polar Bear). We Are Enough shakes it up a bit with a decidedly ska-influenced track. The Acoustic Ladyland sound is present in places, for example at the beginning of Kingdom Of Kush and other times when the music breaks down to just the duo of saxes.

There is also a big African/Middle-Eastern influence in the delivery of Kushal Gaya’s vocals, as they are belted out in French and English, with the occasional scatting. The dub reminds me in places of African Head Charge and, at times, due to the punk attitude, Public Image Ltd. I am also reminded a lot of bands, such as Chrome Hoof and Secret Chiefs 3, that seamlessly incorporate global influence with heavier and aggressive music, for example on Mouth To Mouth and Camel.

This is an amazing album, dubby, rocky, acid jazz. A worthy successor to Acoustic Ladyland and an album that I will be singing the praises of for a long time to come.

Favourite tracks: Tuna, Mouth To Mouth, Camel

Spotify link: Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down
Bandcamp link: http://meltyourselfdown.bandcamp.com/

Sneak peak: