Album Reviews

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Patriarchs

Ruhe

Eilean Records

Limited to a mere 150 copies is the new ambient long player from Ruhe with ‘Patriarchs’. Mastered by Ian Hawgood in September this year, the work that is presented is largely a succession of instrumentals designed for the wee small hours that suggests nothing but a lonely, isolated state where the only company that exists are one’s own thoughts. Bleak as that may sound, the song writing crafted is of the highest calibre as it carefully depicts the loneliness by means of instrumentation that is raw and stripped back where you can almost sense the cold creeping in under the doorways or up through the cracks in the floorboards, adding further fuel to the melancholy of this album. Examples of this can be gleaned from the title track, ‘Patriarchs’, which plays out like a forgotten record player with a sustained hiss in the background and its piano accompaniment filling the space of cold empty rooms, only to be momentarily broken by the crackle of a faint voice that sounds equally forgotten and consequently left in time. Fragments of this track seep into the next song, ‘Felled’, with the piano, along with filtered harmonised vocals unearthing the beauty at the bottom of this instrumental in a combined effort towards its conclusion. Speaking of beautiful, ‘Guide’ adds shards of light via its piano melody but is frustratingly cut short midway through, due to changing direction and leaving one to ponder that, in life, you can’t have everything. With this album being a warts and all affair, ‘Shelter’ is probably the closest you will get to experiencing an artist at work where it’s the sound of ideas being tried out for the first time (piano lid closing, stools creaking, shuffling of feet, etc.) and then patched together. With ‘Patriarchs’ expressing an overall sense of solitude, never has such seclusion from the rest of the world sounded so appealing with the fragile compositions making up this album.


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I lag med deg (Single)

Erik Lukashaugen

Øksekar

Named as a strong favourite by a number of critics in his homeland is the current single ‘I lag med deg’ from Erik Lukashaugen. The song itself is taken from the full album ‘Tel si elga tid’, which has also been on the end of some very fine words indeed, that makes for an encouraging start to the current campaign for this singer-songwriter from Elverum. The favourable words are fully justified once the folk and light country tones of ‘I lag med deg’ immediately arrives at a mid-paced tempo, that maintains itself for the duration of the song, with Erik Lukashaugen singing of his affections for another without ever sounding twee. The feelings expressed in this song are given further credence with a delightful vocal coming from Linn Øftsaas, who adds to the warm intimacy at the centre of this (third person) team. ‘I lag med deg’ is likely to win you over without really trying at all because it’s such an infectious and warm song, and one that will continue to worm its way to your heart six months down the line and there’s no greater feeling than that when it comes to song writing. A job well done!


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På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt

Finn Coren

Bard Records

Beautifully presented with the upmost care and attention to detail is the latest album by Finn Coren with ‘På Jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’ (‘Somewhere On Earth – Selected Nordic Poems’). With this being his seventh solo album, and the third in a separate series that focuses on Nordic poets, Finn Coren has arranged his songs to provide an interpretation of the poetry from fourteen different Nordic poets. The poems selected will be familiar to those who grew up in such surroundings, or those who simply have a taste for Nordic culture, as the poetry centres on a selection of well-known classics from these regions, in addition to a few lesser known choices. Considering the level of detail gone into making these songs, it comes as no surprise that the majority of these tracks have been under construction for some considerable time. That’s not to say that Finn Coren has not received additional help in order to bring this latest album to life, as no less than four other musicians including Øyvind Fossheim (piano), Gjermund Kolltveit (Hardanger fiddle, kanklės), Stian Omenås (trumpet) and Lars Fredrik Frøislie (Mellotron, Chamberlin) contributed to the making of ‘På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’. With the chosen poetry relaying themes – three core themes in fact – concerned with life, love and death and inspired by classical and folk music, Finn Coren breathes the poetic words in a hushed manner that complements the often pared back sound of the instruments. ‘Salme’ is one such example where the vocals and largely grand piano provides an intimate experience that, in its combined state, drowns out all other external interferences such is the song’s alluring power. The intimacy grows even further with the pairing of acoustic guitar and faintest of horns during ‘Innbying’, that sees the vocals flit between the already mentioned whispered tones to spoken word passages making for a stirring piece of work. Finn Coren blossoms somewhat during ‘Sång’ and is accompanied by gorgeous sounding strings, only for the mood to blacken with the funeral procession feel of ‘Alle veier bort fra dig’ that, musically, could find a home on a Tom Waits album. With jagged edges all round adding to the compelling narrative of ‘Havet’, and the opening ‘Salme’ given another outing via an instrumental reworking, ‘På jorden et sted – Utvalgte Nordiske dikt’ is an absorbing experience full of light and shade, and one that is skilfully managed by way of its musicianship and chosen poetry that marks out album number seven for Finn Coren as really rather special.


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Ikke skapt for kø (Single)

Anders Bjørnvold

Safe & Sound Recordings

Taken from current album ‘Drug Natt’ Anders Bjørnvold lets slip the single ‘Ikke skapt for kø’. Whether Bjørnvold is being a tad facetious here or simply unaware that the title of his new single also lets slip a much held perception from those who are not of Norwegian decent that his ‘not created for queuing’ stance actually applies to a large proportion of his fellow citizens, if you’re one of those who’ve clocked up a enough air miles to witness such happenings, then only this singer-songwriter has the answer to such a conundrum. More importantly, the music itself is far from being a heavy affair as its Americana and folk roots lightly pollinate the air, with the instrumentation giving off a slightly sleepy feel yet one that is illuminated by a near golden haze. It will be interesting to hear if the rest of Bjørnvold’s musings are of similar persuasion because ‘Ikke skapt for kø’ is a welcome pleasure and one that will help detract attention from the cold winter months ahead.


Released Out now

 

The Ocean Floor EP

Ship Captain Crew

SCC Music

Ship Captain Crew has experienced a rather successful year thus far, having made their debut at this year’s Warped Tour and serving support slots with the likes of Knuckle Puck and Real Friends. Such victories look set to continue with the release of their latest EP ‘The Ocean Floor’. The sentiments echoed throughout this EP have more in common with the title of Ship Captain Crew’s current offering, but the tunes this crew (sorry!) serve up are far more resilient. It’s the band’s knack of writing strong melodies that lifts the songs out of the doldrums where crushed emotions often exist, but are soon answered with a fighting spirit by the likes of the pop punk ‘Honesty’, which possesses a real kick to its rhythm that constantly propels the song forward, and then followed by a moving vocal turn from Roger Alexander Moreno during the equally impressive ‘Hollows’. With two acoustic tracks added to the set Ship Captain Crew reveal another side to their song armoury, and one that shows up under a closer microscopic view the depth and details that go into the band’s song writing. Life on the bottom of the ocean is not a bad place to be when you’ve got Ship Captain Crew for company and their ‘The Ocean Floor’ EP, as there is enough here to suggest that these songs are focused on moving forward, despite the reflective stance of the narratives, and that is something to be greatly admired.


Released 13 November

 

Hatch

Grand Blue Heron

Jezus Factory Records

From the remnants of Belgian underground trio Hitch, who decided to call it quits back in 2011, Grand Blue Heron emerge with a ten-track album by the name of, don’t get confused here, ‘Hatch’. With the album having been written, recorded, produced and mixed by Grand Blue Heron at Chateau Rocque, which just happens to be owned by the band as well, there is a real sense of Grand Blue Heron merging as one here, both in their creative endeavours and ideas suggested by the detailed pen and ink illustration adorning the album’s exterior. The merging as one reference applies to Grand Blue Heron’s sound for the manner in which their sometimes, near droning and space rock influences threaten to engulf the entire band, such is their dedication to their art with all band members pulling in the same direction and therefore running the risk of becoming drowned in their own sounds. Evidence of this is convincingly served up by the poetic delivery, and intriguingly titled, ‘Gay Is The Lord’, which threatens to overspill during the enthralling ‘Last Song’. Where this album picks up extra attention, however, is for its toying with various influences by creating more direct numbers via ‘Lip Sweat’ that is more about the indie guitars than anything else, yet is most welcome in this set. This diversity extends to the, again, intriguingly named ‘Bodies Of Fire, Suns Of Wax’ where the vocals sound buried deep below a mound of earth, and the band working intensely in order to bring their ideas to fruition, despite the sense of pressure weighing down upon them given by this particular song. Comparisons have been made linking Grand Blue Heron with Motorpsycho, Jesus Lizard, Earth and Neil Young for example, which has a ring of truth once the dusty roots and blues inspired ‘Tin Soldier’, or the tail end of 70’s guitar rock of ‘AddickTed’ opens up. There may have been many who mourned the demise of previous band Hitch, but mourn no longer because Grand Blue Heron and their album ‘Hatch’ are two very good reasons to start believing once more. The much needed indie revival, in its truest sense of the word, definitely begins here.


Released 30 October

 

The Kingdom Belongs To A Child

Cashavelly Morrison

Working Brilliantly

There are personal and external issues at stake when it comes to the debut album from Cashavelly Morrison. With the title of ‘The Kingdom Belongs To A Child’ playing a significant role here, the album explores issues of loss whether relating directly to this songstress or reflecting upon those around her, as well as tackling issues of a sociological and political nature relating to inequality and empowering women for example. It’s powerful, emotive stuff that really deserves to be heard. Another part of the persuasion here is the Americana and folk roots ‘The Kingdom Belongs To A Child’ pays reference to. More specifically, it’s the darker edges of these particular genres; explored by their narratives and quoted here as ‘Southern Gothic’ as portrayed by artists such as Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams and Neko Case. By meeting her now husband, Ryan MacLeod, who was in the process of earning his stripes in classical guitar performance at UNC-School of the Arts, it was this meeting of the minds between Morrison and MacLeod which sparked a genuine creative process between the two once their love of authentic folk songs and admiration for Hank Williams had been expressed, and therefore a form of common ground established. Within a brief period of time, the songs making up the debut album ‘The Kingdom Belongs To A Child’ were recorded by use of vintage equipment at the renowned Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, NC, and the rest is now history. Musically, the songs are of a delicate nature, with beautiful vocals and acoustic guitar often leading the way, and accompanied by the minimalist of instrumentation; notably upright bass and the occasional outings of pedal steel and banjo. Equally sensitive are the subjects Cashavelly Morrison voices concern over in terms of the contents of ‘The Kingdom Belongs To A Child’, with songs reflecting harrowing tales of loss including miscarriage, police brutality and the working conditions of miners in one particular town (’29 Bells’). In addition to this, there is a real sense of emotions conflicting with each other, and expressed between the lines of these narratives with grief and guilt weighing particularly heavy, with a suggestion of dirt on the hands in some instances. With the entire album being played out exquisitely and evoking memories of an old-timey sound brought to life by the banjo during ‘Emory’ and ‘May 5th’, Cashavelly Morrison has created an album of genuine beauty, but one that is touched by much sadness and personal loss yet never shies from such sensitive topics; something of which is to be commended because in her own words, “exploring your grief can lead to empowerment with the ultimate empowerment being the freedom to speak these things through music”.


Released 16 October

 

The House

Karen Musæus

Karen Musæus Music

A melodic and lightly peppered with jazz and pop influences debut offering from Norwegian singer-songwriter Karen Musæus with ‘The House’. Having gained her formal training at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), the foundations have steadily been laid in place by Karen Musæus in order to build the momentum of writing and recording her first full-length album. The results are impressive, especially after the initial impact of the album’s title song hits you with its confident vocal that immediately arrests the senses and sounding wiser beyond its years, which lends itself perfectly to the history of the narrative and accompaniment of delicate acoustic strumming and percussion. Next in line, ‘Dark Café’, is a little harder to define and likely to divide opinion somewhat with its mixture of pop and aforementioned jazz references vying for attention, and the lyrics operating in a more traditional pop framework but also attempting to sound like a street poet on other occasions, which makes the narration sound a touch clunky in places. Where ‘The House’ truly works best is when Karen Musæus pulls the rabbit out the hat with such masterstrokes as, ‘How You’d Grow’ that is less cluttered in its approach, and handled with delicate touches via a splendid vocal and distant smoky jazz references. It’s this more simplistic tactic that also lends itself well to the slightly breezier chords of ‘Winter Hands’, and then followed by a harsher sound by way of ‘This Change’ that reveals a darker side to this debut album, and a definite strongpoint here. All in all, ‘The House’ is an album of considerable depth and one that provides a solid start for Karen Musæus, who clearly has done her homework by studying her trade, but on the evidence of this debut album, the natural talent was already in place.


Released 16 October

 

Rivers (Single)

Rattlers

Safe & Sound Recordings

A composition of strong beauty is the best way to describe the latest single from Oslo-based Rattlers. Comprising of six musicians and namely Live Miranda Solberg (vocals/acoustic guitar), Knut Rand (drums), Thomas Langård (bass/vocals), Einar Næss Haugseth (keys/vocals), Halvor Falck Johansen (guitar/vocals) and Mads Johansen (percussion), Rattlers deliver a sound that is suitably Americana and one that is held in high esteem after the band’s eponymously titled debut EP of last year received recognition on the national airwaves. Latest release, ‘Rattlers’, will not put a dent in such recognition as what starts off in a fairly minimalist approach, gradually develops into a fuller sound with a bit of a country rock coming out of the guitars and lead vocalist Live Miranda Solberg raising the decibels somewhat by remaining in defiant mood and letting her feelings known that a period of solitude is good for the soul when it comes to relationships. A second notch on the Rattlers career trajectory to further recognition as ‘Rivers’ is blessed with many qualities, and performed with an assured attitude that belies their years together.


Released Out now

 

(Do The Bored) Recluse (Single)

Dusk

Forward Records

The creative juices just keep on flowing for Tenement mainstay Amos Pitsch, only this latest release falls under a different heading that goes by the name of Dusk.  By pitching this as a single release, and one that is backed with the song ‘Too Sweet’ featuring the soulful voice as well as keyboard skills of Julia Blair, the punk roots of Amos Pitsch’s formerly mentioned main project are traded for more of a traditional rock and roll and rhythm and blues sound that is befitting of his Wisconsin background. With Colin ‘Wild Man’ Wilde joining on drums, Tyler Ditter taking up bass, and Matt Stranger on guitar and backup vocals, the two songs making up this single were largely a self-produced affair, with the record being engineered and mixed at Crutch of Memory in Appleton, Wisconsin, by Amos Pitsch and then mastered by Justin Perkins at The Mystery Room in Milwaukee. The main track itself, ‘(Do The Bored) Recluse’, is a dynamic little ditty that has a bit of early ‘Stones boogie about it with its nods to bluesy rock ‘n’ roll but also one that takes in references from The Velvet Underground to 70’s country rock via The Flying Burrito Brothers. If this single was created out of a state of genuine restlessness in relation to Dusk’s frontman Amos Pitsch, then may those days of boredom continue to plague his soul because this two-track record is a sheer joy from start to finish, and one that sits up there with the best of his creative works.


Released Out now

 

Dead Ahead EP

Dead Ahead

Panic State Records

Rather than idly passing the time away, due to the daily duties of regular band line ups remaining on sabbatical for now, the four band members making up new project, Dead Ahead, decided to get together and lay down some new material. As far as first recorded works go, the decision to pursue this fresh project was indeed a wise one, as all four tracks making up this debut EP are of the highest quality. Such has been the positive reactions to this four-track EP that Dead Ahead is likely to be pondering the next step in this new line up, which could evolve into a full-time project if the band continue along similar lines. So, to the music because it’s generally a gritty, punk rock sound, but one that contains enough melodic segments, set to raw and honest lyrics that often greets the listener. The urgency of opening number ‘Cold Truth’ is one such example of this sound, where a few (personal) realisations are coming to light and publically aired. The noise is more airtight during the caustic tone of ‘Rose Lenses’, where impassioned vocals provide a real edge. There is a fine line between the music Dead Ahead is peddling and the grunge (pop) rock influence of say, Buffalo Tom for example, albeit with a tad more dirt under the fingernails when listening to the former, where the sweet and sour ingredients of pop and punk meet and produce these coarse yet melodic songs. Such an example rears itself on closeout track ‘Exit Letters’ with its crushing confession, “From a time you had a heart” brought to life via the song’s driving rhythm and sometimes dual vocals, seemingly united in their contempt, that really touches a nerve and serves up a clear winner for song of the set. Long may this project continue, as there is only one direction that Dead Ahead should be looking in.


Released Out now

 

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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