Some Releases we missed in March

Unfortunately we were unable to listen to some of the releases we recommend for March those releases are Mi Ami’ “Decade” album, the self titled début albums from Geoff Barrow (Portishead) side project Quakers and Voices From The Lake plus King Felix (aka Laurel Halo) “Spring EP”, which I believe may have been put back to the 9th April. But now its time to discuss both a release we missed out of our recommendations and then are recommendations. Let us know what you think of the releases we talk about in the comments or via our Twitter.

Andrew Bird – “Break It Yourself” (Bella Union)

Though this is the first Andrew Bird album I’ve listen to properly I’d always been intrigued by his music since seeing him supporting The Handsome Family in the early ‘00s. I was prompted to check out “Break It Yourself” after enjoying his brilliant contribution to the “Congotronics vs. Rockers” compilation from 2010. The first that struck me about the album was it aesthetic similarities to his Bella Union label mate Peter Broderick both share a love of creating unique sonic married with traditional song writing and play violin though Bird utilises his in many more ways than Broderick. On repeat plays I noticed the album divides into three distinctive types of song one is the more country influenced songs, the next the indie rock tracks (the most disappointing category lacking the imagination and lightness of touch evident elsewhere) and the soundscape based epics/interludes. The highlights of the first type include the strummed acoustic guitar, shape shocks of violin, shuffling beats of ‘Danse Carribe’, the unpredictable ‘Give It Away’ and the sparse ‘Lusitania’. The second type features the album few let downs including ‘Eyeoneye’ which I’m perplexed as to how this song has gained so much acclaim and attention to maybe the single but it’s the worst song on the album. Many of the soundscapes appear towards the end of the album creating a natural climax the best of these is the epic ‘A Hole in the Ocean Floor’ which I’m lost for words to describe though Pitchfork got pretty close with “majestic” “fever dream”. Overall “Break It Yourself” is an excellent addition to Bird’s highly acclaimed back catalogue.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Breton – “Other People’s Problems” (FatCat)

The biggest disappointment of the month is the debut album from London based collective Breton, who Sonic Fiction first tipped for big things back in 2011. Breton combine post-punk sounds and aesthetics and sounds with those Dubstep and Electro over the course of their previous three EP’s had produced mixed results but I still had high hopes for this album. However, the album fails on all fronts lacking in both melody and imagination, on paper (and the earlier releases) the combination of sounds is exciting but the problem is that the sounds are generic rather than mould breaking and the unique combination doesn’t make up for this. This is compounded by the singer’s flat and monotonous vocals which quickly grate as the album progresses through it first few tracks. I’m not some who demands that singers/vocalists are able to sing five octaves above middle C, in fact some of my favourite singers struggle to hold a note at all. But Breton’s singer doesn’t have the vocal personality to make up for his lack of singing ability. Breton could be so much more, a Cabaret Voltaire for the 21st Century (they work in both music and video) but they fall well short on this album.

Grinderman – “Grinderman 2 RMX” (Mute)

Last year’s “Grinderman 2” album was one of the biggest disappoints of 2011, the band’s debut album had reignited Nick Cave with its complete abandonment of his usual writing methods and the effect was felt on the next Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album “Dig, Lazarus, Dig” the second album was set-up to repeat the trick. However, what we got was a lot of lumpen and unsubtle music that seemed to fall victim to the clichés the debut had avoided. This new remix album goes some way to right the wrongs of “Grinderman 2”. The highlights including Nick Zinner’s remix of ‘Bellringer Blues’, Barry Adamson’s cinematic take on ‘Palaces of Montezuma’, Cat’s Eyes version of ‘When My Baby Comes’ (featuring a fantastic shoegaze inspired second half), Factory Floor noisy dancefloor take on ‘Evil’ and the bass heavy version of ‘Heathen Child’ by Andrew Weatherall all share a subtle the original lacked while also delivering the visceral punch the track demand. There are a few interesting remixes that caught me out, I wasn’t expecting Josh Homme to deliver such a dynamic and ethereal version of ‘Mickey Mouse…’ here re-titled ‘Mickey Bloody Mouse’ or the yearning violin and noir country stylings of Six Toes and Matt Berninger intriguing take on ‘Evil’ all of which expand the emotional and sonic palette of the original. There are a few tracks that complete miss the mark too UNKLE produce a dull dirge for their version of ‘Worm Tamer’ (‘Hyper Worm Tamer’), A Place to Bury Strangers & Micheal Cliffe unconvincingly tack on cosmic synths to ‘Worm Tamer’ & ‘Evil’ respectively and Robert Fripp adds unnecessary fret-wank to ‘Super Heathen Child’. Grinderman’s swansong does have some great tracks that make-up for the disappointment of “Grinderman 2” but it’s still a 60/40 split that doesn’t fully convince.

Yeti Lane – “The Echo Show” (Sonic Cathedral)

I only heard of Yeti Lane after reading a review of ‘The Echo Show’ in Uncut magazine so I can’t comment on the progress they’ve made on their second album. However. I can say that it’s an album that lives up to the hype of the positive reviews it’s been receiving. The duo strike a balance between the space-rock of Spacemen 3 and the dream-pop of the likes of the Cocteau Twins, while their synth sounds recall krautrock acts like Harmonia. The album bursts into life with a wall of feedback guitar riffs and synths that set the tone perfectly. The album continues into the warm and more spacious with the focus on electronic sounds though they are offset by twanging guitars. This is followed by the first of four interludes which acts as segues or palette cleansers and help glue the album together. ‘Logic Winds’ (8-bit video game style synth and guitar chime in harmony) and ‘Alba’ (slowly unfurling cosmic dream pop) demonstrate Yeti Lane’s ability to keep things interesting. The album ends with the Twinkling synth arpeggios, twanging guitars, churning synths and hurricane of guitar effects outro of ‘Faded Spectrum’ and the gentle fourth interlude that round out the album perfectly.

Carter Tutti Void – “Transverse” (Mute)

This live collaboration brings together Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle/Chris & Cosey/Carter Tutti fame with one of their direct descendents Nik Colk Void from dance floor noiseniks Factory Floor. Unsurprisingly the overall sound is raw and chaotic featuring no post-production touches, however this adds to the appeal rather than decreasing it. Carter provides most of the rhythmic sounds via a selection of drum machines, Korg Monotron micro synth and various effects devices, its Tutti and Void who provide most the harmonic and melodic content, though the sound rarely touches on conventional harmonic or melodic sounds/ideas. They provide these sounds through another Korg Monotron, laptop with various pieces of software and heavily processed guitar, Void even uses a drum and violin bow to create sounds and textures with her guitar. In a recent interview with FACT magazine Carter observed that “You can sense on the recording how we got into the groove, so to speak. We began to lock together more, and figure out what we were doing as the set progressed” and is the feeling you get across the four long form tracks. The grooves improve, the interaction between the sounds seems more responsive and the trio know when one of them should drop out/play more gently to let the others shine. By the last track ‘V4’ the trio are locked a hypnotic groove which pulls the listener in and keeps them locked in even in the tracks most chaotic moments. Overall the album is a great success and while fitting into the lineage of Carter and Tutti’s career. It’s also a unique document in its own right that demonstrates what can be achieved by experiment electronic music created in a short time with a few choices piece of gear. It’d great to hear these three work together again live or in the studio and even better if the other two members of Factory Floor were involved.

Mirrroring – “Foreign Body” (Kranky)

Mirrroring is a collaboration that was bound to happen sooner or later between Liz Harris aka Grouper and Jesy Fortino aka Tiny Vipers whose individual styles are so obviously complimentary it was only a matter of time before they worked together.  “Foreign Body” is the breathtakingly beautiful result of said collaboration and brings together the transparent drones of Harris’s songs with the picked acoustic guitars and soft vocals of Fortino. Their sound is both gentle and yet thoroughly engaging, it may be lighter than much drone music but it isn’t light-weight. The dynamics employed across the album are one of the most striking things about it and demonstrate these are skilled artists able to exercise control while never strangling the life and emotion from a musical idea. The two best examples of this are ‘Cliffs’ which builds to a peak at the halfway stage before repeating an even better version of the song for its second half and ‘Mine’ which starts with a simple drone and acoustic guitar combination builds to a peak and then gradually twists itself into ever more complex shapes. It’s difficult to find the words to describe this astonishing album, it has to be heard to be believed.

Thee Satisfaction – “awE naturalE” (Sub Pop)

In “awE naturalE” Thee Satisfaction have delivered an energetic album filled tracks that both provide amply bounce need for a hip-hop jam but also manages to subtly subvert both traditional methods of creating sounds and challenge the overly simple ‘soulful’ vocals used so liberally in hip-hop music. It refreshing to hear an act pushing the limits of hip-hop while still managing to make music that moves your body. The fact that these tracks are stuffed to the gills with soulful vocals, jazzy tunes and an expressive emotional palette makes an engaging and entertaining listen. The half an hour run time demands that the album be played again immediately and is the album is equal satisfying and reveals more of its charms with each repeat listen. Never out staying their welcome and yet able to go distance on the longer tracks Thee Satisfaction will be a welcome addition to your music collection.

Various Artists – “Stellate 1” (Stroboscopic Artefacts)

Stroboscopic Artefacts’ signifier is dark, abrasive and heady techno and “Stellate 1”, the first of a new series of conceptual releases, features Lucy, Borful Tang, Perc and Kevin Gorman who contribute two tracks each.  Fitting for Stroboscopic Artefacts’ brutal minimalist sonic and visual aesthetics, this is dark, uncompromising music made up of the deep textures and emotive, immersive atmospheres that typically sit underneath deep bass drums. Lucy’s opening tracks ‘Estragon’ and ‘Vladimir’ are brief, delicate pieces of melodic ambient music. Borful Tang’s two contributions are sinister noise excursions while Perc’s desolate ‘Paris’ and ‘Molineux’ twists swells and grainy textures into bleak soundscapes. Kevin Gorman’s ‘Frequency Phase’ in three parts delivers a melodic phrase played through a delay that builds on itself again and again. As the processing swallow the tune, it produces elegant tones that surpass the seemingly simple use of effects. “Stellate 1” promised to be an intellectual release that would tap into the places where electronic music began and by delivering eight unique and accomplished tracks from some of the leading names in present techno, this new series justifies and fulfils its aim and existence; creating anticipation for the next instalment.

Symmetry – “Themes for an Imaginary Film” (Republic of Music)

On ‘Themes for an Imaginary Film” Symmetry aka Johnny Jewel and cohort Nat Walker (of Chromatics and Desire) cover a huge range of emotional and musical ground utilising banks of synths, drum machines, guitar, piano, orchestral percussion, Bassoon, Cello and Viola. Despite the vast array of moods and instruments on show the duo create a cohesive and impressive album that wastes non of its 2 hour running time. Though some of material and sounds used recall Johnny Jewel’s many other projects there much evidence of his application of more compositional techniques found film scores and he weaves this into this ambitious album with aplomb. From the song titles to some the sounds selected the album screams film score however this no mere pastiche, more a humble doffing of the cap to the many great score composers that have gone before. In addition to this is the fantastic sound design which ranges from lush, warm and beautiful through to cold, spiky and dissonant, Symmetry and their equipment can feel you with dread, put a smile on your face and everything in between. “Themes for an Imaginary Film” is an amazing achievement that could have so easily failed to live in to its ambition but instead goes above and beyond simply being a tribute to soundtrack music as it captivates and thrills the listener in equal measure. Two hours of instrumental music (with the exception of the last track) won’t be for everyone but it’ll be worth it for those who stick with this incredible album.

Top Release of the Month

Julia Holter – “Ekstasis” (RVNG INTL)

The first thing that strikes me about the new album by Julia Holter is the brightness of its sound, gone is the shadowy and foggy atmosphere’s of last year’s excellent “Tragedy” replaced by a sharp and incisive production job to revival today’s most intelligent pop stars. Ok, so Holter’s not going to be the next million selling pop star but this album’s production is almost the opposite of “Tragedy”’s. Then there’s the effortless feel of a lot of the music, despite many of the tracks being over 6 minutes in length. There’s no feeling of over indulgence even when a saxophone rears its head on ‘Four Gardens’ and ‘This Is Ekstasis’ everything here earns its place and makes sense within the context of the songs. It would be tempting to compare Holter to her many contemporaries within the hypnogogic pop genre especially her friend and collaborator Nite Jewel. Though her use of delay and reverb create similar feelings/images the musical content aims instead to transport the listener further back than the 1980s and into the ancient world which Holter is so interested in. With “Ekstasis” Holter has created her own sound world that combines the elemental, experimental and electric with the ancient (sounding), accessible and acoustic. An artist who can switch with ease between different sounds and sections without breaking a sweat or alienating the listener, Holter is an artist with a bright and long future ahead of her.