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“Remember, you heard it here first!” shouts the high and mighty publication. “Remember, they heard it here first!” sighs the blog in return. Can we be honest before I start writing this, as long as it was around the right time, I frankly don’t care. If you’ve switched me on to something new and great, thank you, but there’s a good chance I read it somewhere else first and just passed it by. I’m glad I’ve got that out of my system, it feels good to release ‘buzz band’ anger from time to time. I suggest you try it next time someone tells you they heard of Django Django first and just check their last.fm to save us all the hassle.
So here we come to another ‘hype band’ and their 2012 effort of a debut record.
A little background perhaps, if you’re not tired by the monotony of press regurgitation. They met in Leeds at university whilst all forging out life paths. They messed around, they played shows under different names and then they got out. They’re ‘a Cambridge band’, having recorded the majority of this record in Cambridge and having lived there since leaving university. Their name makes no logical sense unless you know Mac keyboard shortcuts. They’re called alt-J and in the last 380 days (at time of writing) since their eponymous demo EP, everyone and their cat has laid claim to their folk-step chains.
So, the record. Yes! For music as difficult to describe, it’s surprisingly accessible. In not over-complicating time signatures and instead channelling into our desire to understand each and every layer of any given sonic cake, alt-J have found a formula which can crossover between the simple hip-hop feel of their ‘Intro’ track through to the jumping lines of ‘Breezeblocks’ (video below). Its playful nature crosses between wordplay and illegible wordsmithery as it pulses on. You feel though that even with this kind of atmosphere about their music, the refined madness destined for radio, alt-J are aware that they still exist in a sub-culture. As such, a few interludes appear throughout the record, breaking up the studio-sheened final products with a series of snippets of down time. They’re not exactly organised in the best of ways, but they’re a welcome getaway.
Just like that, you’re back in and it’s slowly but surely back to the layers. For a four-piece, its hard to place where each new layer actually forms from and dissolves away to again but in tracks such as ‘Something Good’, the multitude of ideas presented can seem a bit messy. It’s borderline bipolar as a series of logical yet strange lines are introduced and taken away again. In contrast, ‘Matilda’ is simple, relaxed and welcoming whilst “Ms” is just not very good.
The centrepiece of the record, though, is ‘Fitzpleasure’. It swirls around the pan with acapella vocal lines fused quickly with deeply powerful guitar and synth lines. It makes no sense, but all the same time, does. And that’s what this band do best. That’s the reason everyone wants to claim them. alt-J are the absent madness from modern music whilst also being the calm before the storm within the same record. They’re by no means the messiahs, but they’re onto something. In mixing African influences of complex lines that fit together with the ever-growing British electronic scene and a safe amount of guitar, they’ve created a formula that many are aiming for but few are achieving.
alt-J’s debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ (whose triangles prove impossible to post properly through our Twitter feed so we’re not even bothering to insert them) is out now on Infectious Music.
Imagine this: Sigur Rós get back into the studio for the first time in 4 years after taking a hiatus. They pick up their instruments and start to record the first few notes of their sixth record. Their only real decision to make is which direction to take their eclectic career as a unit. With the likes of ‘Hoppipolla’ gaining them an accelerated curve of fame from their near perfect ‘Takk’ and most recent record ‘Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust’ even breaking into the top 5 of the UK album charts, the knowledge that your work will be heard regardless of its merit is something that could’ve made many acts lazy. Not Sigur Rós.
What they’ve actually done is write their least accessible record yet. It’s expansive and rich in its tapestry, but there’s much less structure to it. Gone are the jumpy lines found in 2008’s ‘Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust’. They’re replaced by full sounds of choral lines and orchestral fills.
Opener ‘Ég Anda’ (Video of the Moment here)is a prime example of this as its string lines glisten in the background of Jonsi’s trademark gobbledygook lyrics. As a record, its much less approachable than any of their music before. ‘Valtari’ feels much more difficult to listen to than past efforts as there’s nothing really to draw the listener in. The most approachable it gets is listening to ‘Varúð’ in which it’s near impossible not to get snowballed into its incredible build. On its own, it’s probably one of the best tracks the group have ever written. It’s pretty much an artist’s impression of heaven in 6 and a half minutes. Without it, ‘Valtari’ really suffers.
It’s hard to say though whether these changes are a good thing. Whilst there’s so much beauty to be found within ‘Valtari’, you really have to dedicate your ears to it. The whole record demands attention as if in some way a little more regal than anything the band have created before. As a standalone record though, it never really lives up to those demands. In many ways, it’s the England football team of Sigur Ros records. There’s a lot of good tracks to be found, but it never really shines when the time comes. It’s fantastic in so many ways, but there’s no big finish. The comparison may be cheap, but the boot fits I’m afraid.
It’ll probably fit in to add depth to their already perfect live set, but as either tracks adding up to over 50 minutes, it just doesn’t quite match expectations.
Sigur Ros’s ‘Valtari’ is out today.
There have always been echoes of Bon Iver and the Temper Trap about this group, but – for better or for worse – ‘Burial’ sees a calibration of influences on this alt-indie four-piece. Having released their first single ‘Post Gospel Blues’ back in 2011, Escapists have honed the gothic concept on their debut EP following months of touring the capital, culminating in lead track ‘Burial’ getting airplay on on Huw Stephens’ Radio1 programme this month.
It pains me to say, but it is evident right from the haunting vocal melodies and Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit’-like drone of opening track ‘Ghost in Your Bedroom’ that since their last offering the guys haven’t got much further than an NVQ in ‘Atmospheric Music 101’. There’s a certain simplicity to the lyrics that allow them to float like a sinister lullaby throughout the verses, before being tied – with vocal melodies that Chris Martin wants back – to the minor key meander of the chorus. The track lifts with a notably organic piece of call and response between the vocals and the cello, but is sadly cut short.
Title track ‘Burial’ (video below) appears to pay homage to alt-indie forefathers Arcade Fire and their seminal album ‘Funeral’, with a marching paradiddle on a reverb soaked snare and guitars that focus more on rhythm than notes. There’s something uplifting about this number: a lyrical suggestion of contentment away from the cruelty of nature and the over arching realisation of time as both creator and destroyer of everything. The drums are the most free reigning instrument and lift this track to a satisfying crescendo that begs for some kind of slow-mo ‘got the girl’ kiss.
In ‘Witching Hour’, Escapists explore further how their spiritual wanderings can have tangible relevance to expectations of age and love. The choral line “you’re a ghost in my head now / you’re a spirit I can’t get out” is made old by the classical Spanish guitar trills, while the final track ‘Northern Lights’ sees the band freed from their mechanical structure with a swinging beat and chorus with such a hook that it overshadows the lack of a proper end to this track.
What is unavoidable about ‘Burial’ is that placing too much onus on one concept has left it restricted. While they fit the same mould as many bands who have forged their careers on the festival scene – and could easily sell – without some drive and originality to their instrumentation Escapists tread a path so worn by their predecessors that they risk becoming trapped in a landslide of mediocrity.
The new EP from Escapists, ‘Burial’, will be released next week (the 28th of May) on Euphonios Records.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 10th May 2012 at 12:00 pm
Worry sets in when I’m sent an album by a band I know nothing about; I become most anxious about not representing the band appropriately when I review the release. Often it is even worse when there is little to read up on the band that’s either for or against them, because you don’t really know what you’re getting into (big band vs. indie) and the wind (it’s hard to tell with what Patrick Wolf calls “the fickle press”) doesn’t seem to be blowing one way or another.
This is just as well, since the band in question, Apparatjik, had live appearances last year – including superimposing images of themselves on the side of a cube at an art installation in Berlin – that seem to be downplaying who exactly is in the band and instead embracing their oneness in their…weirdness. Which all seems a bit strange, given the principals, who need no introduction, as they’ve all been involved with megagroups of current or at least recent memory: – Magne Furuholmen of the now defunct a-ha; Guy Berryman, bassist for Coldplay; Jonas Bjerre of Mew; and producer Martin Terefe (who’s worked with the likes of Jason Mraz and KT Tunstall).
Their latest album length effort, ‘Square Peg in a Round Hole’, surprised me a lot– pleasantly, I might add – with its intriguing combination of electronic and urban elements. That said, this is an ‘experimental’ record in the sense that there are some unusual things at work here too, so don’t expect a tune by Apparatjik appearing on Radio1 anytime soon. I mean, come on, who writes a song called ‘(Don’t Eat the Whole) Banana’, expecting us to keep a straight face? (If you’re wondering, Bjerre is using some kind of autotune function on his voice, which makes the song all the more ridiculous. Or experimental, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.)
The kookiness continues with ‘Gzmo’, with the effects taking centre stage rather than the robotic words proferred, and ‘Combat Disco Music’, which has a chorus sounding exactly as the title suggests: the Village People in the military (“whoo, ha! / whoo, ha!) Yet throughout, it’s a mix of dance, hip hop and new wave on show here in ‘Square Peg in a Round Hole’. It sounds futuristic, and it’s probably not your cup of tea if standard rock ‘n’ roll is your usual poison. Just saying.
‘Do It Myself’ featuring Pharrell Williams (masquerading on this album as ‘Auto Goon’) comes across as a wonky, Gorillaz-styled jam and deserves to see the light of day. (Take back that comment I said earlier about this not having a chance with Radio1…) Opening track ‘Time Police’ (live video from Berlin below) also gets the Midas touch from Williams; it’s not as inherently catchy as ‘Do It Myself’ – it’s more of a new wave-y, slightly new age-y track with a hip hoppy poppy lyric – but still, a major surprise.
Surprises continue with tracks like ‘Cervux Sequential’, in which Berryman takes the vocals but the surprise are synthesised baby voices; ‘Blastlocket’, sounding like a Nintendo game overlaid on top of a late ‘80s slow jam; and ‘Your Voice Needs Subtitles’, where a mesmerising beat, piano chords, and the stretched vocals lead to a dream. So it’s disappointing to hear tracks like ‘Signs of Waking Up’ and ‘Superpositions’ (despite having gorgeous a capella harmonies), which sound like a completely different band. A better representation is ‘Tell the Babes’ , a dance anthem standout clearly pointing out that the more overt – and dare I say it, even the weird – dance numbers are where this band shines.
‘Square Peg in a Round Hole’ by Apparatjik is available now from Metamerge. They have an appropriately weird Web site that reports on future gigs but the one that I’m aware of – since I’m on their festival mailing list – is an appearance at Roskilde, and the band have already requested that they want people’s faces and have invited people onstage with them.
The brothers Jarman have surged back onto the scene with their latest album, ‘In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’. This, the Cribs‘ fifth studio release, is an album full of the raw guitar and emotion you’ve come to expect from this punky, once again three piece rock band.
Arriving with 14 tracks, the Cribs deliver the goods too, none of that 10-track garbage. The West Yorkshire boys are known for their energetic live shows and you can hear the potential for such raucous showings in songs like lead track ‘Glitters Like Gold’ and ‘Jaded Youth’.
The first track made available to the public, ‘Chi-Town’, was a free download, and while it was not my favorite on the album, it gives a good taste of the whipping frenzy that the record is capable of. ‘Come On, Be a No-One’ (video below), a much better track, was released as the first single. However, I like the plodding distortion of ‘Back to the Bolthole’ and the thick sounds of ‘Uptight’ more.
I have to say that I am pleased to hear that, despite the trend of more and more bands latching on to the notion of adding electronic bits and pieces, the Cribs have remained blissfully apart from this. It’s just the lads flailing away on their guitars and drums, no orchestration, no electronic keyboard peeking in. While I know it’s all the rage, it’s nice to get back to a good guitar band sound.
With former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr’s departure early last year, the Cribs worked hard to get back the feel they had pre-Marr, who was only with them for ‘Ignore the Ignorant’. Undoubtedly while that was a great album, it seems more like Marr was on for a few years just to give them a leg up (similar to what he did with Modest Mouse?), but it was something not really needed for a band that had already produced three albums at that point and had a loyal following before Marr’s addition. Marr should probably stick with guesting and not serially joining bands.
This time working with producer Steve Albini, Gary Jarman noted that “…we’re on our fifth record now, we’ve got the luxury of realizing when we’re that far in, maybe you don’t have to worry so much about pleasing everyone all of the time, and you have more freedom to sort of do what you want.” They spent just 3 days with Albini who was able to give them “how you guys sound” and nothing more. I think nothing more was needed.
Released this week, ‘In the Belly of the Brazen Bull’ is now available from Wichita Recordings.
There seems to be every permutation of the genre ‘pop’ in the music business today. But this is a new one, even for me: fantasy pop. It’s the genre that Brooklyn duo Savoir Adore use to describe themselves, and I find it a great compromise. There’s an ethereal dreaminess to their vocals, yet I think putting them alongside dream pop bands like Beach House would be lazy journalism. Fantasy, whether Harry Potter, Japanese manga or Xena: Warrior Princess is your chosen poison, is a broad enough category that the uniquely crafted sounds by this pair of best friends can use this sobriquet and not feel stifled by the restrictions of the box. Tagging on the word ‘pop’ works in this instance because when you listen to this music, it’s not a question, it’s a given: these songs will get inside your head and you will remember them. For the best of reasons.
Savoir Adore will be releasing their next EP, ‘Dreamers’, on the 21st of May on Neon Gold Records, who acted as Wolf Gang’s stepping stone into a major label deal. The title track ‘Dreamers’ is actually a track that will feature on their second album, ‘Our Nature’, which has an expected autumn release date in the UK.
This release is structured rather unusually; you might think ‘single’ is a better description of it, since of the seven tracks, there is ‘Dreamers’ itself and then five very different remixes of it. The only other song on this EP that’s not a variant of ‘Dreamers’ is ‘Sea of Gold’. But let’s focus on the original songs.
‘Dreamers’ has a childlike playfulness to it; while synths buzz along with the dream beat, you can practically feel like the purest sunlight is shining down on you while you’re sunbathing at the beach. When I first heard this EP, I assumed they were from Australia or somewhere else far flung and potentially idyllic. It doesn’t sound like it’s come out of Brooklyn. There’s a sweet refrain by Deidre Muro of “you can stay where you are / I will wake you / I will wake you in the morning / you can stay where you are, so don’t you worry / don’t you worry, keep on sleeping.” Really? This sounds like a commercial for a Hawaiian resort hideaway. It’s the kind of “enjoy the life you’re living” song that I suppose the more jaded people will detest, but sometimes you need music that can put you in that zen mode when you’re stressed out, and this fits the bill nicely.
Now let’ shave a listen to ‘Sea of Gold’. It’s funny, for some reason I was hearing a Cut Copy vibe at first hearing this, but it’s actually a deceptively simple track, with a mesmerising drum loop with expansive vocals that build as the song continues. Lyrically, it’s not as evocative as ‘Dreamers’, which is too bad, because sonically it has the potential. It’s a little too sleepy.
The remixes on the EP come from some famous folks: Chiddy Bang’s Xaphoon Jones, Brazil’s Database, plus fellow new Yorkers the Golden Pony, Body Language, and French Horn Rebellion, all of whom their very distinctive spin on the original. I’m torn between naming either the Golden Pony and French Horn Rebellion’s versions the best, as I think both embody the bouncy, fancy free feeling in the original. I like remixes, so I found this EP to be fun and refreshing; however, if remixes leave you cold, you might want to have a listen to this on Spotify before forking over your change.
The ‘Dreamers’ EP by Savoir Adore is out on the 21st of May on Neon Gold. The band will start a short tour of the UK on Sunday at London Notting Hill Arts Centre.
Sunday 6th May 2012 – London Notting Hill Arts Club (Communion show)
Monday 7th May 2012 – London Queen of Hoxton (Simply Rad show)
Tuesday 8th May 2012 – Cardiff Undertone
Thursday 10th May 2012 – Brighton Great Escape Festival (Record of the Day show)
Friday 11th May 2012 – Brighton Great Escape Festival (Neon Gold show)
Thursday 17th May 2012 – London Camp (Pop Shop / Neon Gold show)