Album Reviews

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Tapestry’d Life

Pretend

Topshelf Records

It’s been a long journey for the four members who make up the band Pretend as Joel, Luke, Mike and Tim have been pitching their creative ideas and performing together since 2004. Whilst those initial creative forays as a unit weren’t necessarily under the guise of Pretend, the four comrades now found themselves at the stage of first full album with ‘Tapestry’d Life’. With their sound being cited as post rock and likely to appeal to those who have a penchant for American post-hardcore band Shellac or the math rock/post-rock sounds of Slint, ‘Tapestry’d Life’ certainly lives up to such a billing as the songs are intelligent compositions, with an abundance of ideas that sound detailed in one instance, and then minimalist at other times, and all of this occurring within the duration of one song. Therefore, with much variation occurring within each and every song structure, what you’re likely to hear are songs that are approached with experimentation in mind, that often sounds like improvised segments à la opening track ‘Wrapped In Fantasy’, which is a rhythmically complex beast and one that is expertly dispatched. The pursuing ‘Patternless Tide’ appears to take this experimental approach to even greater lengths, with drums and guitars weaving in and out and around each other in complex patterns that brake, pause, and shift into another gear that transports the listener to a different stage, and it’s simply awe-inspiring. ‘Your Own Embrace’ is the shortest offering here, and makes sense considering its more direct route to get its message across which, by the way, is expressed compellingly by a tender vocal. Pretend’s debut album may have been roughly five years in the making, which is insignificant once the contents of ‘Tapestry’d Life’ unravel because it’s the sound of a band who’ve worked tirelessly and painstakingly (‘Record of Love’ provides one or two clues concerning such a process) in order to bring to life the passages of music that have been floating around for some considerable time. Such an achievement is to be commended as ‘Tapestry’d Life’ is a true work of art, and one that is deserved of much attention.


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The Butterfly Effect EP

Aleksander With

Aleksander With Music

Far from being the standard format for an EP with the customary four or five tracks, Aleksander With stretches such a format with the inclusion of seven tracks, that gives his latest release, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ the feel of a mini-album. Format issues aside, ‘The Butterfly Effect EP’ shows Aleksander With back to his best after a period of absence from the music scene. That’s not to say that the man has been lying dormant these last few years, quite the opposite in fact as Aleksander With tried his hand at writing for other artists, which led to an award in Sweden during the ‘Melodifestivalen’ for the song ‘Why Start A Fire’ together with Lisa Miskovsky, Bernt Rune Stray and Berent Philip Moe. By turning his attention back to his own song writing, Aleksander With made the decision to collaborate with producer Anders Kjær and the talents of Martin Sjølie and David Sneddon, as well as undergoing a period of soul searching in order to give a more honest reflection of his own life through his works. The results of these combined efforts bears a collection of profound pop songs, brought to life by Aleksander With’s strong vocal, which has never been in doubt. Evidence of this natural talent can be heard during the light, electronic pop of ‘Sell Me Out’, where the vocal sounds so effortless yet commands much attention. Current single, ‘All We Ever Do’ alludes to the former reference of soul searching as it transforms the atmosphere to a darkened state, with Aleksander With brooding over a relationship that turned sour set to a moody electronic beat. There’s a personal message attached to ‘Better’, expertly communicated by the various layers of its pop sound that suggests, overall, a sense of optimism at the end of this tunnel. Optimism is the right choice of word here as ‘The Butterfly Effect EP’ provides enough reasons to suggest that the tide is finally turning for Aleksander With and his music.


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Backbeat (Single)

DAGNY

Propeller Recordings

Minus the grating vocal intro that thankfully remains for only a brief stay, DAGNY’s literally hot off the press single, ‘Backbeat,’ reveals itself to be an absolute belter. The reason for such praise is down to the ‘songbird from the north’ DAGNY powering her way through this song at breakneck pace, aided efficiently by an infectious rhythm and fuelled by a robust ‘backbeat’ that definitely lives up to its namesake. Most appealing of all, however, despite ‘Backbeat’ sounding naturally modern, there is just the hint of something old-fashioned woven into its pop tapestry that has the faintest aroma of an 80s pop sound, but more likely down to the song writing being given the upmost care and attention. No matter as DAGNY has created a pop tune of great worth, and one that will have your limbs moving in no time. It’s time to salute the ‘songbird from the north’!


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I See You EP

Frøkedal

Propeller Recordings

Released earlier this month is the new EP from Frøkedal. Having fronted Norwegian indie band Harry’s Gym and performed a major role with the delightful, I Was A King, Frøkedal continues to pursue the solo route with ‘I See You’ EP. With this latest effort consisting of four tracks, Frøkedal continues her exploration of more traditional elements of music, combined with pop and electronic influences. Such an example gradually bubbles to the surface during the excellent introduction to this EP, ‘Surfers’, that leans on folk music for its main inspiration, but also filters in broader instrumentation, such as use of keyboards, giving it a fuller and more modern sound. Follow up, and title track, ‘I See You’, reaches out to the past and offers a clearer example of traditional folk music, without quite being that as well. Clearly not content to dispose of her past creative works, and rightfully so, Frøkedal produces a clip, cut and then pasted together electronic rhythm that passes through darker waters than anything else present here. With the melancholic and downright beautiful ‘Silhouettes’ adding the final piece in the set, Frøkedal has produced a consistently strong EP that bodes well if, and when, a decision is made to convert this rich form to a full-length album.


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The Minge Dynasty EP

OPM

MNO Records

As a means of celebrating their skate classic, ‘Heaven Is A Halfpipe’ from their album ‘Menace To Sobriety’ which is now in its fifteenth year since its initial success, OPM return with a brand new EP under the cheeky title, ‘The Minge Dynasty’. For those who remember the aforementioned smash success of single ‘Heaven Is A Halfpipe’ will revel in the new material from OPM, which treads familiar turf by (re)capturing the SoCal lifestyle in an amusing manner, as well as creating an abundance of catchy hooks and infectious rhythms that is instantly recognisable as the OPM sound.  With ‘The Minge Dynasty’ EP having been produced by legendary producer Marshall Goodman (AKA Ras MG of Sublime), in addition to John e. and OPM’s very own Johnathan Williams, the attention to detail is noticeable in order to recreate those addictive qualities that made their former song such a success during the year 2000. Evidence of this approach can be gleaned from central track ‘#Millionaire Like Me’, which has hit single written all over it as it’s an irresistible pop song that will be cruising around the top echelons of BBC Radio One and Two’s playlists without a doubt. The hooks keep on coming with the following three tracks making up this EP in a blend of pop, rock and mild rap, with ‘Speakers’ being the pick of a fine crop due to its use of keyboards appealing greatly. With an European tour underway, taking in twenty-six dates to promote this latest EP, and rumours of their ‘Menace To Sobriety’ long player to be reissued on limited edition vinyl later this year, OPM could be on the verge of recreating those former glory days with a whole new chapter in their career starting with ‘The Minge Dynasty’ EP.


Released 18 September

 

All We Ever Do

Aleksander With

Aleksander With Music

There has always been something intriguing about the artist Aleksander With, in the sense of being the loner standing on the fringes of the pop market, which his musical compositions often get lumped under. The truth is that With’s ideas are a little more complex than the standard fare that passes for pop music these days; something of which this Norwegian artist showed glimpses of during his ‘Still Awake’ long player back in 2009. This is where the intrigue deepens because the major breakthrough has still to materialise, as it would appear the marketing chaps are a tad jittery when it comes to placing With and his music, despite the aforementioned pop label tag. Such confusion has no doubt hindered With’s progress because the ability is definitely present. However, such a predicament looks set to change with the first taste, ‘All We Ever Do’, from the forthcoming EP by the name of ‘The Butterfly Effect’ due out this month. By recruiting the additional song writing skills of Curtis Richardson and closer to home, Anders Kjær, who is also responsible for production, reveals a renewed determination, but more importantly, the welcome return is a solid effort that’s full of reflection regarding a relationship turned sour, set to the backdrop of a moody, yet smooth electronic tempo that is far more of a slow burner than some would lead you to believe. As mentioned earlier, there is far more going on beneath the surface when it comes to Aleksander With and his music, which is why he remains an intriguing prospect.


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Amorosa Sensitivia

Benjamin Finger

Blue Tapes and X-Ray Records

Benjamin Finger trades houses once more, and this time with Blue Tapes and X-Ray Records to release his latest album, ‘Amorosa Sensitivia’. Where previous effort, ‘Motion Reverse’ offered more of a cold, bleak world via its often harsh sounding electronica, ‘Amorosa Sensitivia’ is generally one of a calmer ambience that is detailed and pondering, and therefore taking its time before reaching any sort of conclusion. There is a sense of being hard on oneself in addition to the deep thought processes on offer here, with suggestion of creative progression hitting something of a stumbling block in the mind of Benjamin Finger; hence the song titles ‘Headspincrawl’, ‘Waltz in Clay’ et al. Fear not, however, as the mind of this Norwegian artist may be a tad scrambled, but the sounds emanating here suggest a far more cohesive unit, and one that expresses a wild rush of blood to the creative thinking at times. For example, ‘Whirlbrainpoolin’ jolts ‘Amorosa Sensitivia’ with considerable impact, shaking it from its slumber with a concoction of scrambled  instrumentation, utilising the formulaic electronica but with added full band in his repertoire where short, sharp stabs of brass pick their notes, depending on which hot coal they managed to tread on, and let fly in a free jazz form, thus offering a side to this artist that has not been heard before, as far as the plethora of releases issued this year. The follow on, ‘Bum Finger Notes’ rises to its feet via delicate piano and a whisper of electronics in the background, yet the dark textures of the previous ‘Whirlbrainpoolin’ fails to subside due to the occasional twitch of brass instrument dragging this darkened mood to an eventual finale of improvised electric guitar. By closing with ‘Darnskullgreyness, the pale electronica aptly expresses the impassive suggestion of its song title, and provides no clues to the cause(s) of such emotions. Despite ‘Amorosa Sensitivia’ finding Benjamin Finger at a juncture where thoughts weigh heavy, this ‘Waltz in Clay’ of the mind is transformed into a truly fascinating experience where personal creativity is expressed in new ways, and serves as a conduit to the next phase without its creator necessarily fully realising such a progression.


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What Went Down

Foals

Warner Music Norway

Album number four for indie five-piece Foals, who decided to recruit the services of producer James Ford (Artic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine, Mumford & Sons) to help realise their latest creative processes and thoughts via ‘What Went Down’. What transpires is an examination of a variety of emotions stretched to the extreme in order to test and gain greater understanding; something of which lead singer, Yannis Philippakis alluded to during the album’s construction: “I wanted to tap into my inner madman and feel like I was channelling some sort of fevered creature”. Such words certainly have a ring of truth about them once the album’s title track gathers momentum and draws to a dramatic conclusion with Philippakis bearing his soul.  Despite the intensity of this opening track, the pursuing tracks treads more of a melodic terrain with the soaring tempo of ‘Mountain At My Gates’, and synthpop of ‘Birch Tree’ being two such examples. With the album having been recorded in a 19th century mill in a rural location in the South of France, the surroundings of such a location no doubt played their part considering the reflective mood of ‘Give It All Away’ and sorrowful yet musically stirring ‘Lonely Hour’, as there is real beauty at the centre of these particular songs. With Foals steadily collecting a number of accolades for their work to date, as well as appearing at festivals around the world and headlining those in the UK, the band look set to raise their profile even further with latest album ‘What Went Down’ because despite the raw intensity and robustness of some of the tracks here, the band retain their poise to serve up a balanced long player that should suit fans of old and appeal to many new admirers.


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Motion Reverse

Benjamin Finger

Shimmering Moods Records

It’s the halfway stage in a year that has seen much activity from Norway’s Benjamin Finger. In order to continue this creative momentum, ‘Motion Reverse’ is the latest addition with nine fresh tracks detailing the thought processes running through the mind of this Norwegian DJ, producer and songwriter. Kicking off this latest exploratory creative venture is recent single ‘Vocal Limited’ that hisses, pulsates and rattles at different intervals as well as joining forces to give off a general sense of foreboding.  Such emotions, generated by use of electronics, overlaps somewhat when ‘Frontal Waves’ gives the impression of a journey in motion, yet the direction is unclear as sounds flicker and the faintest of vocals can be heard intermittently in the background with the softest of horns that suggests it’s trying to recall lost memories. The probing continues with the subsequent and rather similar in sound ‘Dubstore Light’, only the search is more thorough with Benjamin Finger adding numerous droplets of electrical pulses that give way to moments of intensity where the sound is attempting to hack its way to discovery. ‘Black Hat’ ratchets any lingering tension with an almost metallic feel to its sound and its mood considerably black where sounds swirl and clash in a circular motion. Light relief arrives in the form of ‘Sunny Echoes’ where segments of its sound are lighter in tone, as well as utilising other instruments with what sounds like the electric guitar and giving way to the idea that this particular track was recorded live such is the overall natural vibe. The atmosphere of ‘Spacecore Dust’ is captured to perfection by sounding as distant as its title and then concluded by ‘Dream Logic’ which, despite its ethereal beginnings, blossoms into a glorious sound that can be described visually as a blinding white light before fading and drifting further in the vacuum of space. By creating a fuller sound and general consistency where songs interconnect more closely, ‘Motion Reverse’ functions as a complete album. Furthermore, it is the sound of Benjamin Finger attempting to make sense of the past, as well as trying to fathom the present, which makes perfect sense once this latest album opens up its contents. Quite possibly his strongest accomplishment yet, but then again the halfway point has only just been reached with promise of more to come. Either way ‘Motion Reverse’ is a major step in the right direction for Benjamin Finger.


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Brooklyn, I Am

The Satellite Year

Midsummer Records / Engineer Records

Arriving in the postbag recently was the sophomore album ‘Brooklyn, I Am’ by The Satellite Year. With a melodic post-punk sound that incorporates elements of electronic and pop music, The Satellite Year give the impression of deriving from the very city that is encompassed in their latest album title rather than their actual roots of Saarbrücken, Germany. Geographical roots aside, The Satellite Year know a thing or two about creating a catchy melody that often is graced with abrasive edges. Think 30 Seconds To Mars, Hundred Reasons, Thursday et al and you’re somewhere close to the influences running through ‘Brooklyn, I Am’. There is much to consider here as The Satellite Year shoehorn in great levels of detail into each, and every song with the pace never sauntering. Such a feat is to be admired, and really takes hold during the first half of the album, ranging from the melodic blast of ‘That This Was Wrong’, to the nimble guitar entrance of ‘Early In December’. Despite some familiarity with a couple of the songs, such familiarity is never allowed to stagnate as evidenced by the passionate delivery of ‘Fireworks’ that rattles along at pace and possesses one heck of a meaty chorus. The following ‘In Vitro’ gives the impression of a band reaching for the stars, musically, whilst searching for honesty in those around them on ground level. As it stands, ‘Brooklyn, I Am’ is a record that will grab your attention from the off but, more notably, it will keep pulling at your senses because it is an album with much depth that throws up new twists and turns via subtle hooks that will see any listener return, and return again to The Satellite Year’s brand of post-punk and alternative rock. A truly impressive piece of work.


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How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Florence + The Machine

Island

The storm clouds were circling leading up to Florence + The Machine’s third long player, ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’. In order to set the creative wheels in motion for this latest inclusion in the works of Florence + The Machine that seemed to involve a personal cleansing of the artistic soul, so to speak, has been suggested by the band’s leader, Florence Welch herself: “I was thinking about my own self-destructive side, and how you can make something only to tear it down, enjoy/destroy, create/devastate etc. When you’re in that whirlwind, you often end up breaking the thing you love the most”. Such words refer to, in particular, current and ubiquitous single, ‘Ship To Wreck’. It’s this very single which kick starts this latest chapter fully into life, and deserves all of the plaudits it’s currently receiving and blanket coverage in terms of TV networks and radio stations because it’s a glorious comeback considering the personal chaos that was threatening to engulf this artist. Producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Björk, Coldplay) also plays a role here by applying strict guidelines to the song writing (i.e. no more songs about water apart from the previously mentioned single) in order to derive a fresh way of thinking from Florence + The Machine. With contributions coming from John Hill, Kid Harpoon and Paul Hepworth, the combined efforts pay dividends as Florence + The Machine roll out a succession of well-crafted and thoroughly engaging songs. From earlier single release ‘What Kind Of Man’ with its inflections of blues held in its rhythm, to the sublime title track with its glorious conclusion of brass horns, to the thought-provoking duo of ‘Queen Of Peace’ and ‘Various Storms & Saints’, the troubled times Florence Welch underwent has seen her come out the other side a much stronger artist as ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ is a triumphant success.


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Carl Bradychok

Carl Bradychok

Bradychok Music

Just before anyone gets all hot under the collar, the indie tag applied to Carl Bradychok’s self-titled debut album reflects both the status of this release (i.e. independent) in addition to the pick ‘n’ mix of genres chosen. Rightly, as its press release declares, the man at the centre of this long player feels a sense of unease at the thought of being ‘clumped in to one genre of music’ with rockabilly being the main source of contention here. Negative connotations aside, there are examples as clear as daylight where rockabilly exerts its influence, with the intent held of ‘Do Me No Wrong’ being one of the most obvious candidates. Elsewhere, the confident swagger in the rhythm of, ‘The Way I Walk’ complete with nice backing vocals, is balanced appropriately with the opposite sound of ‘Please Give Me Something’, due to the edginess of the guitars with hints of Johnny Burnette and The Rock ‘N Roll Trio, and occasional hollers in the lead vocal adding to the pleading nature of this particular song. Having indicated a definite pulse to the aforementioned track, the country ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ falls flat due to a lack of conviction in the vocals. Balance is soon restored, however, with the excellent instrumental ‘Malaga’ with Bradychok this time allowing his guitar to do the talking. ‘You Ask Me To’ allows for more country but offers a different approach with its singular vocal kicking things off, before walking the listener through what sounds like a personal song where great affection is expressed. Country is the obvious choice when presented with the song title ‘Heartaches By The Number’, which contains some clever lyrics when counting through the number of distresses involved. With two more instrumentals presenting themselves – ‘Double Agent’ and ‘After Five’ – and concluding with the philosophical ‘End Of The World’ which, by the way, is the clearest indicator that Bradychok’s music is anything but straight rockabilly considering its American alternative-rock (and pop) references. The debut album by Carl Bradychok is to be admired for its technical abilities, strong song writing and for its daring to include broader references that should appeal to a wider audience rather in the same way that one Brian Setzer has managed so successfully.



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