Tag Archives: UK

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: 

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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: 

Mogwai – Les Revenants (2013)

Mogwai - Les Revenenants (2013)

I don’t know if you have been watching/have watched the excellent French dark supernatural drama, Les Revenants (The Returned). Here in the UK, we are five episodes in, with only three to go.

Les Revenants is a brilliant TV programme about the human stories surrounding the return from the dead of various members of a small community in the French mountains, overlooked by a dam. The programme shows the changes in relationships that death had brought and the effect resurection has on them, as we learn more about the circumstances surrounding the deaths, having revelation of the characters and second guessing motives and even who is dead or alive, all-the-while being immersed in mystery after mystery as new information is slowly dripped to us. The whole programme is the rightful heir to Twin Peaks’s crown.

It is quite a bold move on the part of Channel 4, here in the UK, to show a French programme with subtitles, but I am so glad they did.

One of the things that makes the programme so special is the atmosphere; it is so enveloping, at times dark and dense, and part of that is the music.

Mogwai were commissioned to record the soundtrack before the first shots were even made, and it is said that the director, Fabrice Gobert, played the soundtrack during filming to get the atmosphere right. If that is true, then Mogwai have had a hand in creating the atmosphere rather than just ameliorating it.

This album is great, just great. On its own, it is a great work, dark, brooding, thoughtful and evocative; it can hold its own in a context outwith the programme.

Mogwai are a well-known Scottish post-rock band, formed in 1997, who, to my mind, have released some great albums in the form of Mogwai Young Team (1997) and Come On Die Young (1999), before they dropped off my radar. Five albums and two soundtracks (including Clint Mansell’s fantastic score to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain), and Mogwai are still going strong.

The final track here, Wizard Motor, is a deep heavy fuzzy number, as claustrophobic as a casket, but wonderfully crafted. Most of the rest of the tracks aren’t as heavy, but are just as dark and oppressive. Whisky Time starts with a foreboding little melody, ever so evocative in the show as it precludes the coach crash in episode one, which is the first of many shocking moments. The track over the opening credits is the first track on the album, a sort of sinister nursery melody accompanied by a minimalist cello and piano combo: ominous, very ominous, but very beautiful!

All the pieces are instrumental apart from a rather curious but unsettling cover of Washington Phillips’ What Are They Doing In Heaven Today. As it stands, this track kind of sticks out like a sore thumb, and changes the atmosphere of the album. On its own, it isn’t a bad track, it is just so different to the rest of the album.

Overall a great TV programme and a great album to match; both are highly recommended.

Favourite tracks: Wizard Motor, Kill Jester, Fridge Magic

Spotify link: Mogwai – Les Revenants Soundtrack
Sneak peak: http://youtu.be/WJ7EV-HVTC0

Matthew Herbert – The End Of Silence (2013)

Matthew Herbert - The End Of SIlence (2013)

In 2011, war photographer Sebastian Meyer took this photo. He also recorded the sound of that bomb, dropped in Libya by a pro-Gaddafi plane, as he fled from the scene.

“There is something terrifying in the sound, that the photograph just can’t capture.  There is no composition to the sound.  No thought.  Just the raw noise of a bomb falling and exploding.” he wrote of the experience.

This is where Matthew Herbert steps in. British electronic musician and soundscape artist used as a source material a 10-second excerpt of that raw noise and created this album, The End Of Silence. Through digital manipulation, the entirety of this album captures this one act, in the midst of war, and allows the listener to be enveloped by it. “I wanted to freeze history, press pause, wander around inside the sound” Herbert states.

This is, on the whole, an experimental album, dark dangerous but intriguing and beautiful soundscapes are presented and we are left exploring this act, an act with deadly intent.

Part 1 is mostly very quiet and foreboding, starting with the raw sound before entering a subtle loop sounding like minimalist glitch, that, by repetition, begins to sound rhythmic. The atmosphere creaks and the manipulation of the clip gives rise to roars sounding like the wind in the desert. Further manipulation and the hint of melody appears, distorts and then goes. Distorted screeches break the reverie and the track builds in intensity, as the roars become more regular and more intense. Parts of the soundscape take on an almost science fiction-like tone and another clearer bomb sound is heard, before a bassline emerges, sounding like a processed synth of some kind and the track begins to take on a more musical sound. The music stops and the samples are almost imperceptible before winds and cattle seem evident, a repeating bassy hum becomes more and more incessant, until a vague rhythm is settled upon, like a distant drum beat of an enemy marching forward. Gentle chords are discovered within the frequencies and masterfully brought to the fore by Herbert. But even this beauty found deep within the clip is fighting against the onset of destruction, as the melody finds a bassline and walks a precipitous and dangerous path, and you fear that it could be expunged at any moment. The bomb crunches down again and the melody is more frenetic, ringing distortion infects the rhythm before it finally finds it feet again, marching forward with intensity. Wailing and whistling lead back into a bomb blast resetting the palette once more. Laboured angry metallic sounds come to the front, sounding like a semi-broken klaxon, reminding us of the danger this track portrays. The bomb blast once again hits, but this time, instead of destruction, there is creation, a quirky alien rhythm is discovered and nurtured like new life as the track fades out. It is a dark and frightening track, made even more grave by the subject matter, but Herbert’s treatment is so engaging and at times so intense that the deeper you listen, the more you get back out of it.

Part 2 starts by expanding the moment of impact out, drawing it apart and replaying sections over and again, like some some time-travelling scientist investigating the minutiae of the blast. An industrial, breakcore/glitchcore beat picks up the pieces and the track is thumping onwards. Where Part 1 was an exploration of the sounds, Part 2 uses them to create a more traditionally musical piece. The hard-hitting nature of the act isn’t lost, as the track is intense industrial, evoking Throbbing Gristle or Whitehouse. This is dangerous music and you should never forget it.

Part 3 is again more musical, but where Part 2 was more about the beat, Part 3 is about the melody. Herbert once again delivers, as, from the guts of the sample he forges a haunting whistling melody, something akin to whale song or a train whistle; but, the whole thing is tragically unstable and delicate as it is, it falters, like a newborn animal. But in a fight of strength, it finds itself once more and the haunting melody re-emerges. It is lost once again in the cross fire, as the blast is once again dissected. Like a phoenix from the ashes, a bassline emerges with an almost free jazz organ feel about it. The sweeps and explosions give way to a rhythm until the whole thing falters once more, as if digitally consumed, until two notes of the melody are stuck in a repeating loop and the world is destroyed around them. Electronic plucking appears from nowhere and attempts to pull the sound this way and that, but the blasts put up a fight, until the intensity increases and the haunting whale song is back, stronger than ever, caught in a fierce aural battle, as if at first underestimated and finally carrying the entire force of the universe against an unknown attacker. Intense stuff made more intense as we are ripped from this fantastical battle scene into real life as the raw sample is once again played to close out the album, reminding us that while we dream of where the treated sound takes us, it is still rooted in an horrific act of war, and that this war is real, with real death and real pain and real suffering.

Herbert has a habit of taking environmental sounds and creating music with it. The second part of his One trilogy, One Club (2010), took field recordings from a Berlin nightclub to create an album of original material, through manipulation, while the third part, One Pig (2011), documented the life of a pig from birth to slaughter.

Herbert is a visionary, an aural auteur and an artist. He reaches into the sound and pulls from it the gushing insides and presents them on a platter for your perusal. Seemingly he doesn’t care if you like it, or if it offends you; he isn’t looking for approval, he cares only that you have explored what he has to offer. Mesmerising; both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.

Spotify link: Matthew Herbert – The End Of Silence

The Focus Group – The Elektrik Karousel (2013)

The Focus Group - The Elektrik Karousel (2013)

The Focus Group is the one-man project of British experimental musician Julian House.

Here, he is collaborating once again with Broadcast, following up their joint album, Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (2009) and the outlook between the two groups seems very similar, as Broadcast released the soundtrack to Berberian Sound Studio, a somewhat experimental soundtrack utilising sound effects to great effect.

Here, the feeling is almost the same. Electrik Karousel reminds me a great deal of my early investigations into the obscure realms of music. I used to raid charity shops (and later the internet) for anything that seemed to be “interesting”. One of the main discoveries was the sound effects releases, particularly of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. These must have been impulsively popular for a time, because there used to be plenty of vinyl records in the charity shops.

And that is the mode for Elektrik Karousel; sampled music and voices is presented in a musique concrete way, reminiscent of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, library music, found sounds and the early electronic music pioneers. Occasionally, a prog influence seems to step in, but that might just be an extraction that I hear. On the whole, it is disorientating; the use of repetition to form a stable basis for the tracks is counterbalanced (or indeed offbalanced) by some of the shifts and that does evoke some kind of demonic carousel.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this album, the off-kilter nature is a good remedy to steadfastly predictable pop music. Individual tracks would not preview the album or do justice to it as a whole experience, so I won’t recommend any.

Spotify link: Focus Group – The Elektrik Karousel

Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – Black Pudding (2013)

Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood - Black Pudding (2013)

Ipecac records was founded in 1999 by Mike Patton and Greg Werckman (formerly of Alternative Tentacles); its raison d’etre is to be a sort of aural emetic, its namesake medicine, to purge bad music, by dosing you up with good music. It has always been a source of joy for me, the releases have covered such a wide range of music, that one can never really know what to expect next.

However, one has a vague idea of what to expect from former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan. His solo albums falling into the bluesy alternative rock sound and his multiple collaborations including Queens Of The Stone Age.

Duke Garwood is a British multi-instrumentalist, who recently has collaborated with Savages on their great album Silence Yourself.

First and foremost, Black Pudding is a blues album. The guitar work is totally solid, straying into jazzy territory on some tracks, while becoming more drone-like on others. Vocals are stoic and reserved, gravelly and full, sounding like a Tom Waits in training. Most tracks are without backing, but occasionally drums are used, the style of which, again very reserved but up-beat, giving an overall sound like a trip-hop meets blues fusion which is really good.

I think this album is just fantastic, I really can’t stop listening to it. Favourite tracks are hard to narrow down, such is the overall quality.

Favourite tracks: War Memorial, Mescalito, Cold Molly

Spotify link: Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – Black Pudding
Sneak peak: 

Savages – Silence Yourself (2013)

Savages - Silence Yourself (2013)

Savages are a London-based post-punk band that have entered an anachronistic scene with this, their debut album. The all-female group caught my attention on one of the rare occasions when I listen to the radio. I was listening to BBC Radio 6 and after nodding my head and smiling with approval to Public Image Ltd, I was treated to a track that I hadn’t heard before, and I thought it was god. My immediate impression was that this was a Lydia Lunch track that I hadn’t come across, but it was Savages.

Their album cover and website offer up manifestos of sort, but while the aesthetic is undeniably important in the post-punk/goth culture, the music is most important to me and, frankly, Silence Yourself is brilliant.

The vocals really make this album; singer Jehnny Beth, to me, sounds like the perfect mix of Siouxie Sioux, PJ Harvey and Lydia Lunch and has a passing resemblance to Ian Curtis on stage, while the music is gloriously rich and deep. Stark solid drum rhythms underpin, at times, noisy post-punk. Big guitars drive on tracks like Strife and Waiting For A Sign, while Dead Nature is an dark instrumental piece. It would fit so perfectly next to your Bauhaus, your Cure, your Siouxie, and your Sisters; despite entering the scene 33 years after it began, they sound so authentic.

An interesting diversion, which jarred a little on first listen is the closer, Marshal Dear; piano led with a distinctively more jazzy feel, including a dark sax solo towards the end. Jarred on the first listen only, because it is a great track, and shows great versatility. If the goth thing doesn’t work out, there’s a dark jazz field out there to move into.

Overall, I loved it; time to dig out the black nail varnish and guyliner.

Favourite tracks: City’s Full, Strife, Marshal Dear

Spotify link: Savages – Silence Yourself
Sneak peak: