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ChoirVandals_AtNight_cover

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At Night EP

Choir Vandals

FITA Records / 6131 Records

One of a growing number leading the charge for musical recognition in the St. Louis, Missouri region is relative newcomers Choir Vandals. After a successful debut campaign with the ‘Darker Things’ EP in 2013, Choir Vandals follow this with another EP release through FITA Records and 6131 Records by the name of ‘At Night’. Fusing indie guitar rock with grunge, ‘Monsters’ starts things off impressively by maintaining a tight musical direction, despite flickers of vocals and guitars trying their hardest to flee in opposite directions such is the various layers of instrumentation at work here. Being a tough act to follow ‘Medicate’ manages to maintain the quality control in a gritty flow of guitars that power along with lyrics purporting to the struggles associated with addiction. There is a genuine 90s flavour to the songs contained within ‘At Night’, with the early reference to fragments of grunge, which is a compliment indeed when the standard of songs are as consistently high as those present here. Expect standards to be raised even higher when Choir Vandals next venture out because there will be no rest in their current momentum as suggested by their own commentary, “I don’t wanna sit back and let my life run away from me”.


Razzle Dazzle

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Razzle Dazzle EP

Imperial Leisure

FXD Records

After a lengthy bout of tour dates throughout 2014, Imperial Leisure show no sign of winding down their schedule as step forth new four-track EP ‘Razzle Dazzle’. Causing reason to celebrate by rejuvenating the classic ska sound of the early eighties, but at the same time dusting this influence down and intertwining it with other components consisting of indie rock and postpunk, Imperial Leisure remain a flailing mass of anxious energy that is underpinned by their frantic sounds and barked vocals. First example fitting this description is the EP’s title track blazing fast on a wave of brass instrumentation and guitars, with a fidgety lead vocal to match the sensitive subject matter at the centre of this song. ‘Festival’ is more concerned with a leisurely pace in order to get its message across as musically it’s less troubled, starting out with simple drums and singular guitar and then supported by some brass and backing vocals before eventually picking its feet up and finding a faster rhythm.  If only all songs could flow with the same brass backing as evidenced throughout ‘Lucky People’, with its midway punctuation via a trumpet that simply enthrals, then the world would truly be a more harmonious place. With recent single ‘Nasty Boy’ applying the final touches with a bitter aftertaste in its mouth and appropriately reflected by a return to the frantic tempo of before, Imperial Leisure is closing the door on 2014 in magnificent style!


City Lights

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City Lights (single)

The Scheen

Artistpartner Records

In a show of optimism after a successful campaign winning over the hearts and minds at this year’s Emergenza contest for unsigned artists, The Scheen return with the first entry from a forthcoming EP with new single ‘City Lights’. Buoyed by their recent success, ‘City Lights’ exudes the same level of optimism with its tight, energetic rhythm that was the product of a live recording in the studio under the guidance of producer Sigve Bull. With new material on the horizon and a 2015 tour booked as part of the Europaturné with the aforementioned Emergenza contest, next year should see The Scheen growing further in stature considering the exhilarating ride of current single ‘City Lights’.


Burn

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Burn (single)

Sarah Nærø Pettersen

Prytz / Pettersen

Sounding beyond her years rather than the tender age of sixteen, Sarah Nærø Pettersen marks a new entry in her recording diary with the single ‘Burn’. By enlisting songwriter and producer Knut Vegar Prytz, who was involved in the song writing process for Norwegian artist Frøder’s ‘Speed of Sound’ which was B-listed on P3 Radio, this collective meeting of the minds results in a pop ballad that is meditative in its rhythmic pattern, greatly emphasised at first by piano and drums before revealing a richer sound by the time the song’s chorus arrives. While there is an air of confidence surrounding this single, ‘Burn’ is most definitely scorched around its edges with Sarah Næro Pettersen turning in a solemn performance that is struggling with a broken heart yet remains unwilling to give up the slightest glimmer of hope on a relationship that has since expired. ‘Burn’ is an engaging listen brought further to life by an equally impressive vocal that suggests years of experience when, in fact, is just starting out. Such qualities are hard to come by.


Big Music

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Big Machine

Simple Minds

Sony

The current surge of eighties bands not only making a comeback, but doing so credibly with brand new material is gathering at some pace. Latest off the block with new album ‘Big Music’ is Scotland’s longstanding Simple Minds. Having undergone a renaissance in recent years after the band’s decision to rediscover their early material, which saw them embark on a worldwide tour performing five tracks from each of their first five albums, the core of Jim Kerr (vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitars) and Mel Gaynor (drums) continue this journey as ‘Big Music’ treads similar experimental ground yet retains a more accessible side for the majority of its contents. Examination of those past creative endeavours also led to a calling on the experience and expertise of co-writer Iain Cook, of Glasgow band Chvrches, and producers Steve Osborne, Andy Wright and Steve Hillage – who worked on 1981′s ‘Sons And Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’. ‘Blindfolded’ opens the gates and one is reminded of ‘I Travel’, with its incessant rhythm suggesting a genuine feeling of motion sourced by a strong wave of synths and Burchill’s guitar. First impressions of the actual song ‘Big Music’ provides the first, real indication of a song that is not as clear-cut in its aims, despite massive beats propelling it forward and living up to its title, due to the gritty current coursing through it and then taking a turn skywards in swathes of keyboards providing a more soothing edge. Such songs make for compelling listening and further indication of the wise decisions Simple Minds find themselves taking by following a less commercial route and setting challenges, which first single, ‘Hometown’ suggests, as it will require a measure of patience due to its measured pace. There is great vigour to the excellent ‘Human’ that really gets under your skin after a few repeat plays, which also rubs off on the echoing, fuzzy static of second reworking (see ‘Graffiti Soul’ deluxe edition) of The Call’s ‘Let The Day Begin’. Similarities can be drawn with the aforementioned ‘Hometown’ and the considered tempo of ‘Blood Diamonds’, which reveals the experience and depth at the centre of this band. To suggest that ‘Big Music’ is a major comeback for Simple Minds would be discrediting the steps which led to this reinvigorated state – namely, ‘Neapolis’, ‘Black & White 050505′ and ‘Graffiti Soul’ – as the signs were already evident to the glorious position Simple Minds find themselves once more. ‘Big Music’ is therefore another addition in their current creative evolution, but one that is definitely their most consistent in terms of a return to their creative best.


Let It Go

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Let It Go

Ida Jenshus

Universal Music Norway

Entering a creative, transitional phase is Norway’s Ida Jenshus with the ‘Let It Go’ EP. Consisting of four tracks, this next step in the career of Ida Jenshus sees her embark on an exploratory journey which begins with the epic ‘Shallow River’ that is full of dark, shadowy imagery and roots instrumentation with a definite late sixties feel, before evolving into something lighter in tone with the vocals becoming more like Joni Mitchell. Playing out in three segments as the storm clouds gather once more to see out this opening song, ‘Shallow River’ is an audacious beginning for Ida Jenshus and one that strengthens its grip as the rest of the EP progresses. The next step is ‘Hero’, set to a more traditional structure compared to the expansive nature of its predecessor, the song starts off in a murmur and then rides out on a wave of chiming guitar and acoustic support with a fine vocal turn, which is eclipsed by the time ‘Set Us Free’ arrives as Ida Jenshus’ voice dominates from start to finish. The finale of ‘Sylvia’ is full of tenderness and perfectly expressed by the pared back sound of acoustic guitar and Ida Jenshus. With a new album scheduled for next year, it will be interesting to hear how this newfound direction will develop over a much greater scale for Ida Jenshus. In the meantime, ‘Let It Go’ is sufficient evidence that this songstress is on the right path.


Chroma

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Chroma

Three Winters

Termo Records

By holding a name such as Three Winters provides something of a clue as to the contents held within this new album release under the heading ‘Chroma’. Saturated in a number of electronic sounds that are in parts bleak and claustrophobic and on other occasions possessing a more expansive side yet retaining a dark edge, Three Winters has created a predominately instrumental soundscape that is a suitable ally for music set to film. ‘Cinematic, electronic night music’ is a fitting description, but ‘Chroma’ is also open to interpretation as the sizable blanket of whiteness of ‘A Thousand White Lights’ suggests. With the first creative shoots of ‘Chroma’ revealing themselves as loose ideas rather than anything concrete with a full album in mind, the end results are to be applauded due to the manner in which the album works as a cohesive unit. Its influences remain as vast as the creative sounds dreamed up, with pockets of early 80s references springing to mind as well as industrial music and the aforementioned nod to the ideology of film score structures. If it’s clarity of definition you’re seeking however, then ‘Atrocities’ is the closest sibling to an eighties sound that relied heavily on doom-laden synths – ditto ‘At The Centre Of Dystopia’ – but is also in line with the present considering its structural progression that could just as easily find a home with fellow Norwegians Zeromancer and their most recent efforts. ‘Daybreak Monuments’ slowly opens its eyes and acts as a brief conduit to the longer lasting ‘Animism’ that really opens its doors to a richer sound that is forever aiming higher on the back of keys and electronic drumbeats. Similar in nature is ‘Aeon Surveillance (MKII)’, only this time the rhythm is swifter and the tone is most definitely lighter. Normal service is soon restored with the recurring drone of beats and swirling electronics of ‘Hazard’ that comes to a suitable finale under the funeral procession of measured sounds that is ‘Channel 0′. While ‘Chroma’ is suggestive of a nearing of the end in terms of its atmospheric approach, there remains a shaft of light that offers the merest hint of optimism. It remains, however, that despite any small measure of hope, ‘Chroma’ is at its most engaging when operating from the depths of despair.


The Fox, The Hunter & Hello Saferide

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The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide

Hello Saferide

Sony Music Norway

Hello Saferide is the alias Annika Norlin prefers to use when the creative thought processes demand an English interpretation rather than her mother tongue of Swedish. Interesting as the inner workings of these creative thought processes might be as to why Hello Saferide lends itself to English text is one for Annika Norlin alone. Once the opening bars of ‘I Forgot About Songs’ starts up, nearly introducing OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, all such thoughts are instantly forgotten. It’s the static, droning sound and fragile vocal of this opening song that is instantaneous in its appeal, as it slowly edges itself away from the brink by revealing the things in life that matter, but somehow became lost in translation. ‘The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide’ is understated in its execution by utilising the barest of instrumentation, applied with the lightest of brushstrokes and providing a lo-fi feel overall. The songs themselves appear to be reflecting a (personal) journey, and one that is looking back (‘Dad Told Me’), beautifully relayed through bouts of happiness and deep regret during the sublime ‘Berlin’ and cascading tears of the equally moving ‘Raspberry Lips’. The pitter-patter rhythm of ‘Hey Ho’ picks up a gradual momentum of subtle electronics and ever so faint distorted guitar that gives the impression of a lengthy sigh such is its apparent regret of opportunities missed. ‘Rocky’ reveals a pent up and misunderstood narrative that is dressed up in a folk arrangement, before ‘This Body’ paves the way for a choir of vocals which strikes a chord deep within. ‘The Fox, The Hunter and Hello Saferide’ is a lo-fi masterpiece reflecting on the various interactions of personal relationships that should find a safe refuge with all those having undergone similar experiences. Miss this album at your peril!


Creation

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Creation

The Pierces

Polydor

Following up their breakthrough album ‘You & I’ in 2011 after several years of trying, the sisterly duo of Allison and Catherine Pierce, otherwise known as The Pierces, make a return with new long player ‘Creation’. The fresh outlook of this new album began after an initial trip to Peru where, under the supervision of a local shaman, The Pierces underwent an experimental trip to reach inside their innermost selves in order to induce positive changes by means of the hallucinogenic compound Ayahuasca. The results certainly had the desired effects as the sisters set about their song writing duties with much vigour after a lacklustre period as the previous held fears soon began to evaporate. While ‘Creation’ is not a great departure in sound from its successful predecessor (if it’s not broken…), the rediscovered confidence can be heard in the more subtle touches throughout the album suggesting that patience is key here, as repeat listens will prove an enriching experience. The title song is one of the strongest indicators of this renewed confidence judging by the radiant nature of its chorus. This self-assurance is reinforced with the persuasive power of ‘Kings’ with its realisation, “If we want to, we could do what kings do” as drums rumble in the distance and the influence of Fleetwood Mac is not too far away. Similar references apply to the opening segment of ‘Believe In Me’ until the song pulls away and The Pierces pursue their own route by opening up to the possibilities of love as depicted by the song’s shimmering chorus. The softened approach to ‘I Can Feel’ works wonders, building the song gradually before hitting a glorious chorus of harmonious vocals and a combination of synths and flecks of guitar that is never overstated. Just as The Pierces have taken their time to rediscover the creative formula that was such a success in 2011, but this time with an open approach to all possibilities available at their disposal, ‘Creation’ is the album to continue their success story providing the songs are given time to become associated with due to the various subtleties held deep within.


Endless Optimism

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Endless Optimism

Elsa & Emilie

Sony Music Norway

Just as the obsession has been with female vocalists in the UK from the music industry and those willingly lapping this up, the same pattern seems to be happening in Scandinavia or, more to the point, Norway where to be female and possessing a beautiful and ethereal vocal backed by an assortment of electronic pulses that have a habit of sweeping and soaring has become an obsession. The latest in an increasingly lengthening line regarding such comparisons is Elsa & Emilie who, through no fault of their own, churn out an album’s worth of all too familiar sounding material that could be any number of female artists to have graced the scene during the past few years. There is undoubtable talent present and the majority of songs are fine, with the solid opener ‘Endless Optimism’ and haunting beauty of ‘Run’ being two particular highlights, but overall, where this album would have benefitted most is a change in the creative process in order to set it apart from what has gone before rather than adhering to an overused formula. Take for example the meandering pleasantness of ‘All Our Money’ and saccharine ‘Firemaker’ as two prime candidates performing adequately at surface level, but after deeper exploratory fail to offer much in the way of substance. ‘Young and Beautiful’ patches up some of the deficiencies with more character in the vocals and complimented by the lone piano giving a source of inspiration for the duo’s next creative venture. Despite all of its professionalism, ‘Endless Optimism’ contains too much familiarity due to the current saturation of the market with similar sounding artists. On this occasion, Elsa & Emilie would do best to follow their own advice, “This could be anything, let’s find a place to start” because they need to find their own identity, which is more than viable considering the glimpses of talent evident here, and with time definitely on their side.


Siren Charms

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Siren Charms

In Flames

Sony

With the clamour for metal band In Flames to lead the way for a ‘mark two’ version of one of their previous, and extremely well-received albums from their longstanding supporters, latest release ‘Siren Charms’ sees no signs of adhering to such demands just yet. Top marks however, as In Flames stick to an agenda that sees them following a creative path that provides a slight digression from the heavier sounds of yore. That is not to say that In Flames has ditched their metal roots and trademark heavy riffs as there is enough here to hopefully satisfy older fans, as well as appeal to potential new fans. It’s more that the harder edges find themselves intermingling with the fresher approaches consisting of slower songs and ballad-esque numbers that are definitely to be welcomed. The alteration in sound owes some debt to the shift in working conditions that saw the band record for the first time outside of Gothenburg and set up base in Berlin at the legendary Hansa Tonstudio. With the likes of Bowie, U2 and Killing Joke having recorded at the same location, it seems plausible that In Flames were inspired by such artists, considering the more melodic touches mixed with the larger riffs and synthesisers. If it’s direct correlations you’re looking for, however, then think Avenged Sevenfold, Deftones, Sisters of Mercy and Zeromancer and you’re somewhere close to understanding In Flames progression, as depicted by the magnificent trio of  ‘In Plain View’, ‘Paralyzed’ and ‘Through Oblivion’. ‘Siren Charms’ might not appeal to the previously mentioned longstanding legions of supporters, but it is an album to be commended for its daring to go against the grain and drum up a different beat with almost radio friendly propositions (‘Dead Eyes’) mixing with harsher elements (‘When The World Explodes’) which takes some doing if your name is In Flames.


Hjertebank

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Hjertebank

Frk. Fryd

Sony Music Norway

A long time in the waiting, Stavanger-based Frk. Fryd is finally ready with their first long player ‘Hjertebank’. Eleven tracks of punk-rock inspired energy that accelerates from the start with the rifftastic ‘Svart Sol’ and immediately followed by the shorter and sharper shock of electricity that is ‘Skyene’, which has a fine line in knitting together its vocals in wonderfully harmonious fashion (listen to those near howls blowing down the tunnels!). The influence of grunge and its associated big sister that was riot grrrl during the early nineties are additional reference points but not something overly obsessive here, as the tunes remain focused and a lot tighter with definitely less aggression when it comes to the vocals. Occasionally, this lack of ‘bite’ becomes irksome as there are periods where Frk. Fryd should be snarling at their prey rather than sounding a tad cute ['Tok Meg Med']. Normal service is resumed, however, with the grit of ‘Tyvens Dans’ serving up its remedy with a coarser set of vocal chords, which is then shared with the melodically tight and rockin’ ‘Blod og Honning’. The rawness of ‘Blikket Ditt’ adds a more natural edge and is possibly the closest indication of this all-female group’s live sound. Topping that, however, is the layered instrumentation of ‘Virvelvind’ with its memorable high step in the vocals during the chorus. While there is a lack of variation on one or two occasions, the overall feel of ‘Hjertebank’ is positive considering it’s the first major step for Frk. Fryd to a long and illustrious career if they desire it.



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