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If you have found this blog, it probably means you were searching for something that isn’t in the public eye. My intention is to promote awareness of artists that you would otherwise likely never know existed. If you like what you hear, support the artist by purchasing their music so that they can continue to create, and enjoy the release in the quality they intended.

Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Axis of Metal.

Akira Kosemura – Tiny Musical

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 30 December 2009 0 comments


Akira Kosemura – Tiny Musical – 3.5/5
Link

When my cravings for picopop subsides I find myself reaching for something a little more, shall we say relaxing. It is this gentle combination of electronic synths, slightly fuzzed out piano melodies and organic acoustic guitars allowed to resonate throughout that form the simple but effective formula implemented in this Tokyo musician’s aptly titled release; the influence the likes of Eno’s “Music for Airports” has had upon this albums overall atmosphere quite apparent, even if the manner things are done is rather different.

Whereas Eno would have a strong focus on the synths, utilising other instruments to supply the variation, here he will often have the same melody repeated from all the instruments, resulting in a sound that tires very quickly. It was Eno himself, the genre’s godfather who once stated that ambient should be as readily ignored as listened to intently, and whilst Kosemura is more prominent and thicker in layering the atmosphere, it is on certain tracks (e.g. ‘Seaside’ or ‘Shorebird’) that the repetition becomes too much, showing us his weakness.

Yet this flaw isn’t always the case, at other times he switches to demonstrate what feels like his real musical passion in his neo-classical piano work, rawly produced to allow every imperfect detail majestically come forward, simple melodies slowly gliding with a certain delicate precision that never fail to demonstrate a powerful emotion capable of contending with the best. He never allows the music to settle into the background quite as easily as some – a fact which suits me just fine – but there are sadly almost as many times where rather than feel the atmosphere coming through loud and clear, it just feels like a repeated loop that whilst doesn’t become frustrating, becomes difficult to pay attention to.

At under an hour, for all its repetition and slow melancholy, it never feels off time; never rushed nor extended beyond what is required, with both a clear beginning and an end resulting in a feeling of completion or solidarity to the end result. The tracks are different enough from one another to stand alone yet there is still a remarkable cohesion between them. Ultimately this remains one primarily for the ambient fans; the high points are genuinely impressive, capable of hypnotically sending you into a trance-like state only for the lows to let your mind wander to other things.

Highlights: Departure, Light Dance, Moon, Smile


Sonic Coaster Pop – Super Miracle Circuit – 3/5 [EP]
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I tried to end my cycle of listening back to my normal routine but it wasn’t long before I found myself suckered back. It would seem my taste is beyond even my control, and so without further ranting I come onto yet another short Shibuya-Kei gem. Along similar lines to most of the others I have thus far mentioned, the overt electronic melodies whilst not as frenetically cut as others have lost nothing in the pacing. Instead what results is not so much 20 minutes of sugar-coated fluffy picopop as much as it is the result of too much sugar; the unrelenting tempo like your heartbeat in overdrive, frantically bouncing to the addictive substance pulsating through your mind.

The vocals are if anything – rather sadly – the weak link in this piece. In other artists work you’ll often find them either gently whispered to great effect (e.g. Strawberry Machine) or high pitched and childish (e.g. Hazel Nuts Chocolate), or at the very least processed to sound appropriate for the electronic backing (e.g. Marino) whilst hiding their inexperience. Here they receive no such treatment, left bare and bouncy but ultimately fairly mid-pitched and feeling perhaps a little unenthused (though admittedly this may be seen as an advantage to many disliking the high pitched tone). Fortunately their position in the production is further embedded within the backing beats so as to not become too prominent.

Assuming you make it past the introductory track it won’t be long before you hit this synth laden backing, high speed drum programming and various 8-bit effects frantically covering the background in a bizarrely dissonant yet perfectly suited manner, playing in the background accenting the main rhythm without drawing too much attention to its chaotic demeanour. Make no mistake about it, this music really is like taking a shot of adrenaline. The frantic pace and aggressive beats combine with a lavish coating of dazzling effects to produce a far more effective stimulant than that cup of coffee nearby, and eventually it does all get a bit much. This music is a little bit like crack; addictive and great at getting the heart pumping, but best in short doses (as well as coming with an advisory warning for those with a weak heart).

Highlights: SOCOPOGOGO, Super Speed Pop*Star, Shooting-*

Marino – Lollipop+

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 28 December 2009 0 comments


Marino – Lollipop+ [EP] – 4/5
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The re-mastered and re-issued version of this ‘cult classic’ (apparently), a solo artist with a short 23 min EP of picopop/Shibuya-Kei madness, produced by a member of ‘Plus-Tech Squeeze Box’ and another member from ‘Capsule,’ it is their influences that are unmistakable in this piece. From the overtly ‘cute electro’ tone in the second track demonstrating capsule’s trademark sound, to the frantically paced ‘Strawberry,’ the guitar solo in particular instantly reminding us of the other producers part to play; their input is prominent in the end result, but it is all just a support for the new talent on display.

It is the influence of marino herself that brings the new element to the table; her DJ origins at times lending themselves to a distinctly ‘dance’ like style with a simple rhythm and prominent beat taking the forefront. Throwing in a multitude of elements to the mixture in a superfluous manner to create little touches of flavour; glockenspiels, accordions, guitars, keyboards and other instruments are all rammed into this short piece, never drawing focus from the bold high pitched vocals reminiscant of something between an excitable child and a chipmunk and all the more adorable for it.

But despite this, there is little new really being brought to the table; both the producers have taken up a large enough chunk of their own styles within the composition that she at times begins to lose her identity. There is an incoherency between the tracks, each one seeming to do things a little differently resulting in an assortment of flavours, and not all of them are good; the three bonus tracks in particular feeling like B-sides that didn’t originally make the cut, the vocals feeling like an entirely new singer. Looking up pictures for this artist, there are about as many of her as there are of her cat 'Mikomonta' and various elaborate cakes she’s made. If that doesn't tell you what to expect from her music im not sure what else will.

Highlights: フレイバー (track 2), Strawberry

Piana – Snowbird

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 27 December 2009 1 comments


Piana – Snowbird – 4/5
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Incapable of making things easy for myself, it is the solo artist Naoki Sasaski under the ‘Piana’ pseudonym that sparked my interest. Indescribably beautiful, it has an emotional power behind it that doesn’t feel as though it should work but somehow does, and in a manner that nothing else I know of can. It is the job of this review to attempt to convey how this works and I’m dubious of my own abilities in this regard; those who have seen David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” and remember the rabbits (Episode One here) may be best suited to understand this comparison, for as bizarre and unfathomable as the point being made is, the confusion over the woman crying over this unusual scene is a reflection of myself listening to this release. Emotionally torn but without any idea why. Confused? You aren’t the only one.

On the one hand this music is very simple and minimilist in the utilisation of the ambient soundscape. Slowly rising layers of synths and chords at a very slow tempo, the vocals drifting across in a dream like state layered with all the atmospheric work, stripped of all pretension and dishonesty, everything is presented in a pure and innocent yet hopeful manner. It is this side of the music that proves exemplary at displaying an ambient atmosphere of hope and of everything that should be loved and cherished in the world, and it is for precisely this reason that when the ‘glitch’ influences come into play everything becomes rather more multi-dimensional; this hope intermingled with despair in a bittersweet medley.

It is also this ‘glitch’ influence that forms the other side of this artists music, essentially consisting of layer upon layer of seemingly random, dissonant and chaotic intentionally placed ‘errors;’ buzzing, blips and scratching, tracks skipping and all manner of other track defects. Perhaps odd given the attention given to removing these defects in the past is their decisive inclusion in the music, the more ‘dance’ orientated style with a far more rhythmic focus is easier to comprehend but in music intended to have an ambient and emotional focus, the decision to use them is not one that hasn’t had a lot of thought gone into, not only by me but clearly from the artist as well.

It is before as I described it, the pinnacle of music reminding you of all that is worth cherishing in this world, and it is all the errors and glitches can do to rob this from you, teasing you on one hand only to cruelly deny you the pleasure a short way in the distance. It is these constant undulating hills of hope that define this release and lend its emotional weight, and even through the worst times with all the mechanical, frantic and chaotic whirring of the harsh machines performing at their fullest that the faint glimmer of hope offered by her distorted and barely recognisable delicate vocals are given all the more importance. I began listening to this out of a curiosity for the music at hand, but the more I listen the more appreciative of it I become. People will often derogatorily dismiss all electronica as shallow music for the simple minded, but this release proves to be anything but.

Highlights: Butterfly, Spring has Come!!!, Monster

Maggot Brain – Land

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 26 December 2009 1 comments


Maggot Brain – Land – 4.5/5

I think its no coincidence that I spend more time looking for rock classics from the past than I do trying to navigate the present, as something fairly impressive has happened this last decade: rock musicians have forgotten how to play. Lumbered with badly sung whiny frontmen and three chord wonders, or perhaps a reunion of musicians trying to remember how they managed to rock so hard in the glory days, in either case the result is rarely good, and its with releases such as this that you can’t help but crack a smile and give a small internal cheer that there are still artists holding down the fort.

Now I must confess after the manner things kicked off before, the opening track had me a little worried as it’s a lot slower paced than much of the album. Despite being one of the albums highlights, boasting an impressive emotion-laden chorus that’ll stay with you for weeks, it comes unexpectedly. These Spaniards have disappeared for 5 years since ‘Second Chance’ but it doesn’t feel as though they’ve been twiddling their thumbs; everything feels more polished, more mature. From the greatest southern rock solo since Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ in ‘Birds in the Head’ to the stoner grooves in ‘Beggars House,’ they’ve not just matched their previous efforts but done it in a gloriously diverse style.

It is the attack of the four guitars that drive this release, able to afford the versatility of an acoustic, rhythm, lead and a bass all working together, or even provide a duelling lead solo with plenty of backing still behind them. The drums maintain the beat with an often simplistic vivacity that whilst rarely feeling overtly technical or frantic, never quite seem content doing the bare minimum, all finished off by the vocals capable of presenting his hard hitting pulsating rhythms that remain addictive whether being played for the first time or the fifteenth. It is this simple musical formula that has played to a standard that hasn’t felt this fresh for decades, and all this is neglecting the tasteful little touches; the occasional use of keyboards, backing chorus’ and trumpets adding a little bit more of a flavour to the insatiable southern grooves.

The production is immaculate to reflect all this, which is no easy feat with such a quantity of tracks to mix together; the vocals soaring over the many intertwined guitar lines and the drums allowing for every strike to read loud and clear, never drowning out the rest of the instruments with their cymbals. Sure, there are little issues to be nitpicked; the occasional distinct accent from the vocalist, or the perhaps questionable track order (opening with a ballad, and having many of the strongest tracks early on), but when the result is of such a high standard it doesn’t matter. How they haven’t garnered appeal outside of the native country remains a mystery to me as they have demonstrated once again their abilities above and beyond much of the competition. In the days where rock looks like its on its last legs, it is bands like this that remind us that there is still hope yet.

Highlights: Awake, Birds in the Head, Long Distance Call, Land

Pending an international release, details to order direct from the artist will be added at the bottom. Alternatively you can purchase through itunes here, and/or listen to their last album, Second Chance, reviewed here

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Lullatone – Little Songs about Raindrops

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 25 December 2009 0 comments


Lullatone – Little Songs about Raindrops – 3.5/5
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So I’ve had a small bout of writers block of late, except its luckily had something of a 'dodgy seal' allowing brief snippets of insight to trickle through. For the past few days I have been working on the new “Maggot Brain” release (which needs a wider release than it currently receives) but its been slow to formulate, and since I want to break this infernal cycle of not knowing the right word, im presenting to you lullatone in the mean time, working under the assumption most people will read the title and switch off. If you are not one of those people, I apologise now.

The reason I call this a challenge is because I havent the foggiest how to describe them; its ambient – this much is apparent – and despite being electronically designed is too ‘organic’ to really fit. They slightly jokingly refer to themselves as ‘Pajama pop’ due to the number of times their own lulling melodies cause them to spontaneously nap mid-track, and as odd as it sounds, it does fit. In fact, so does the album title; with each track making gratuitous of the glockenspiel along with basic acoustic guitars in the background, it isn’t hard to envisage the - at times almost random - patterns of the gently resonating steel of the glockenspiel as small drops of rain falling, evoking past memories of watching it pour; your child-like optimism and care free attitude as you let the liquid gently trickle down your hair and onto your feet, happily getting soaked by the wonders of the most commonplace of events.

Following a ‘day’ type scenario, there are tracks specifically carved out for drifting to sleep and waking up again, going from the morning coffee to the journey to school and back once more. Its oddly surprising how the small variations can lend itself to shedding a new light on the concept, each track like a small classical composition with regards to the detail gone into its immaculate production and the notes used; the extended electronic synths in the back to ‘wake up…’ transforming an otherwise simplistic piece into a slow rise in tension, or the carefully picked guitar in ‘drip drops…’ demonstrating a new slant, giving the impression of the rain gently jumping as it hits the ground.

In many ways this reminds of my first encounters with the genre, back when it was simple music with a clear cut purpose; an atmosphere or situation it was devoting all its energy into conveying. At forty minutes it can easily feel repetitive with only two instruments at hand, and some tracks begin to bleed together, but there is a simplistic beauty to it all. It has genuinely succeeded in its purpose as there is no music quite like this for delicately demonstrating the vivid sound of an oddly pleasant rainy day. These lullabies may have been intended for children but the effects are ageless. Now if you’ll excuse me, my bed is calling me.

Highlights: Leaves Falling, Morning Coffee

Astra – The Wierding

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 23 December 2009 0 comments


Astra – The Wierding – 4.5/5
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I admit it, I screwed up. The christmas special was intended to finish on the 24th, but about 2 days in I realised it would finish a day early so to compensate I had to think fast. Coming in as a recently discovered impressive debut from a supergroup of “Yes” and “King Crimson” members comes the bonus! 80 minutes of epic prog rock goodness with 4 tracks over 10 minutes long (and two over 15)! Sweeping psychedelic melodies galore, riffs swooning and vocals soaring as though the last thirty years had never actually happened and…and…

Alright fine. Its not actually a Yes/Crimson supergroup that somehow snuck under the radar, but it might as well be; unashamedly retro, you could easily be forgiven for mistaking this as some early 70s release, but in truth this Californian quintet begain making waves with this release as late as last summer. With a strong instrumental focus comprising of space-like Floyd or Hawkwind psychedelia streaming from the guitars, all the time complemented by the rhythm behind him, bass and drums seamlessly worked into the slowly shifting soundscape created as it gently meanders its epic course. It’s a little bit of shock to the system when the vocals finally kick in after so long, produced in what feels like the same manner as the classics themselves, their ever so slightly crackly tone only enhancing the atmosphere.

But its not just the core either, an album of this length has pulled out all the stops in creating many different styles in their repetoire. The occasional liberal helping of minimoog bringing fond flashbacks of listening to Yes’s “Roundabout,” or King Crimson’s flute work with more than a couple additions of Jethro Tull’s folk like atmosphere, and yet for all this versatility, it eventually does feel as though its dragging its heels a little. The music is superbly composed, but its length makes this an album you need to go in headstrong and alert, charging in full pelt to make it through to the other side. This is not easy listening and many may find themselves struggling to make it through the entire release in one sitting (myself included).

From tracks like ‘Broken Glass’ which wouldn’t have felt out of place on a ‘Beatles’ album; short yet oddly simplistic and poignant, and all the more beautiful for its deceptive haunting melodies, to the lengthy title track still capable of maintaining its momentum like a lost Crimson epic; for all its combination of styles taken from prog rock’s glory days it never comes off as a mere imitation, instead serving to remind us of how powerful the genre used to be. If this was released 30 years ago there is no question in my mind that this album would be mentioned alongside “In the Court of the Crimson King” and “The Wall.” Late is indeed, far far better than never.

Highlights: The Weirding, Broken Glass, Beyond to Slight the Maze

Anthem – Hunting Time

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 21 December 2009 0 comments


Anthem – Hunting Time – 5/5
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Five Metal Classics you’ve never heard of: Number Two

Amidst the cries of the big Japanese bands, ‘Loudness’ and ‘Galneryus’ given plenty of mention these days, it is perhaps surprising that nobody seems to mention Anthem. Formed around a similar time, and frequently sharing members with ‘Loudness,’ what separates them is the speed; like an early ‘Blind Guardian’ the furious drumming and impeccable production leaving a thick and heavy tone retaining all the melody that their name would allude to whilst still capable of belting out head banging riffs with the best. Accept might be as fast as shark but even they’d have a hard time matching up to the full blown stampede on display here.

Picking apart flaws in this line-up is made incredibly difficult by the fact everyone knows their place; the drums roar furiously in the production, raw and energetically setting the quick pace for the rest of the band to match; the bass punching through to set the rhythm like he has something to prove, and the combination of these two allow for a great deal of versatility in the focal points. Despite the vocals being sung almost entirely in their native Japanese tongue, they are the only real giveaway of their origins and yet impressively they fail diminish the memorability of the passionate mid ranged sing-a-long melodies as he dramatically soars authoritatively.

Yet what makes this artist stand from the other leagues of excellence is the masterwork from the phantom guitarist, leaving the band shortly after completing this release (for photography due to a hearing condition sadly) never to play guitar professionally again. An unrelenting display off riffs playing against the bass guitar, he is one of the fewer Japanese guitarist not to simply submit to the over neo-classical shredding, capable of creating incredibly powerful melodies combining speed with style, perhaps more akin to ‘Schenker’ than many other virtuoso guitarists.

With only eight tracks clocking in at a meager 37 minutes you could argue for it being a little too short, but that’s simply because there’s no fat. Everything’s been trimmed to provide an unrelenting assault of Heavy Metal bliss, but what impresses me perhaps the most about this band is not just that they seem to have gone by unnoticed, but that they have done so for over two decades. Releasing ‘Black Empire’ just last year, the production’s improved but the music is just as impressive; insane solo’s and soaring ‘Kursch’s-Lost-Japanese-Twin’ vocals galore, showing a evolution of their sound. They may not be breaking any conventions here, but when the musics this good why change?

Aco – Absolute Ego

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 20 December 2009 1 comments


Aco – Absolute Ego – 4/5
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I write this during my christmas special as a continuation of my current listening trends (much of the special was written earlier in the month), penetrating the mysteries of the secluded country of Japan to uncover non-metal releases that many seem to have missed. As with the last discovery, this is a release that weighs in far from the buzz of the overtly bouncy electronic ‘picopop’ realm of thinking, instead playing for the trip-hop crowd before any other; feeling like an early portishead release no longer constrained to the electronic, synthetic effects, instead making use of the downtempo electronic beat in conjunction with a sprinkling of jazz guitars, classical violins and reggae beats to accent the breadth of her own versatile voice.

Constrained by the language barrier – the power of the lyrics sadly lost as a result – despite singing entirely in Japanese, the way she caresses the foreign notes lends a unique tone to the proceedings that I wouldn’t want another way. Furthermore, she actually does have an incredibly versatile voice, dynamically fluctuating in a soothing pop-like manner (and I particularly refer to more western styles than the cutesy mannerisms Japan is known for), reaching both delicately sung soprano high notes and a deeper pitched contemplative melancholy both with a seamless ease. Whilst not capable of reaching the same emotional power of the best, at no point does she become anything less than elegantly interesting, capable of letting you drift off like a lullaby to the caressing atmosphere she creates.

But this is not the main aspect that drew my attention – there are a lot of decent vocalists singing (ok, fewer decent japanese vocalists it would seem) but that alone isn’t enough to keep me listening for long – instead it is the composition and instrumentation that elevates this above the competition. Perhaps unusually so, the backing whilst at its core consisting of little more than a handful of slow chords played on the keyboards and a basic drum beat feels unusually varied; the drums will add an assortment of fills to ease the transitions and the keyboards wont just keep to the same range of notes. It is this shifting dynamic that shows a level of consideration that maintains the rhythm whilst preventing it from tiring too quickly.

And each track, too, lends its own flavour to the proceedings; the sublime classical violin interlude in ‘Spleen’ or the use of steel drums in ‘Intensity’ lending a carefree ‘reggae’ tone to a release that could easily become monotonous. She may not be the most adventurous composer or the most talented vocalist but she is instead capable at both, succeeding in combining a wealth of ideas into a manner that feels fresh and original. Having since done my homework I’m now armed with the knowledge that she was not an artist to stick to one sound for long, quickly moving further into avant-garde territory. With this in mind, whilst this may have been my first foray into her back catalogue, I expect it wont be my last.

Highlights: Spleen, Black Maybe, 哀愁とバラード

Gargoyle – Misogi

Posted by T. Bawden 0 comments


Gargoyle – Misogi – 4.5/5
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Five Metal Classics you’ve never heard of: Number Three

In the year of thrash; Slayer brought out “Seasons in the Abyss,” Megadeth “Rust in Peace,” Bathory’s “Hammerheart” and Acid Drinkers’ “Are You a Rebel” all in 1990. By any measure it was a good year for the genre, and in the shadow of the ultra-aggressive and punk-filled chaos came the wave of Japanese thrash lending their own brand of insanity, this debut filled with slow emotional solo’s, classical interludes, neo-classical shredded guitars, groove-laden bass-work, flailing drums and nonsensical falsetto rasps; like an old school thrash version of ‘Diablo Swing Orchestra,’ this is thrash but not as you know it.

Saxophones and jazzy guitars, piano interludes and randomly interspersed female backing vocals (once from the lips of a small child), sombre violins and whispering flutes complementing the emotion-laden guitars in a rare absence of vocals only to be abruptly ended when the vocalist becomes aggravated about the lack of gas (apparently). To really get a grasp of what is presented here is not easy to concisely describe; even the vocals sound unlike anyone else I can care to name, perhaps an odd combination of ‘Gama Bomb’ and ‘The Mighty Mighty Bosstones,’ if they both happened to be Japanese. The thrash resemblance at times wearing extraordinarily thin, it is nonetheless the only safety line this band seems to have in creating a coherent song, often settling into mid-paced rhythms only to go off on a tangent at a moments notice.

The bass prominent in creating the rhythm, it performs a vital duty in maintaining the structure of the track (because none of the other three musicians are going to) allowing the guitars to do everything from swaggering chords, jazz-like twanging tremolo-laden riffs and blues-like crunchy tones, excelling with further variety during the solos; from the slow and melodic to the slayer-esque shredding and malmsteem’s neo-classical, always somehow oddly suited to the track at hand. There is none of this muddy production either; of particular note is the incredible impact the drums manage to convey, unafraid of using the full extent of the drums before him, the cymbals never become overpowering and the toms never become lost behind the snare.

In some senses, this album feels so varied that it loses much of the coherency, only the distinct energetic vocals tying everything together and making them instantly recognisable through all the classical and jazz passages. They have broad influences and know how to incorporate them all in such a manner as to make bouncy, energetic and aggressive music that stands up to multiple listens. There really is nothing quite like them, and despite this unconventional amalgamation of styles boast a career spanning two decades, with only two line-up changes and a back catalogue without any weakness (to my knowledge), Gargoyle are unquestionably one of those unsung metal bands that deserved their name in lights a long time ago.

Highlight: Bala Bara Vara, Purple Heaven, 人形の森


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Los Campesinos!

Posted by T. Bawden 2 comments

Los Campesinos! Discography: Hold on Now Youngster… and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

This seven-piece indie pop rock group stands as a testament to music getting better and better as time goes by. All members, who also balance the use of their wide instrument range, including the two guitarists, two keyboardists, bassist, drummer, horn player, violinist and glockenspiel player, share vocal duties, with a witty combination of snide whiny male vocals countered by melodic girlish-toned responses. Such a diverse range of talents for a group that all claims the same last name of ‘Campesinos!’ (Think like the Ramones, but with an exclamation point). Both these albums were released in 2008, a mere eight months apart, no minor feat considering the considerable tour between the release of their debut and their sophomore effort. Described as a combination of Art Brut’s tongue-in-cheek style of garage rock with Architecture in Helsinki’s instrumentation, as an emotional and literate lyrical whirlwind, and as simply a roaring good time, Los Campesinos! is worth a cursory listen at the very least, I assure you.



Hold On Now, Youngster… - 5/5
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Despite being released so closely together, these albums do not hold as much in common with each other as one might think. In fact, Hold On and We Are really have a whole yin-yang, light vs. dark, happiness/misery duality thing going on, with Hold On being the lighter of the two, with only hints of how low the band will go in the near future. But for now, we are treated to some of the happiest music on the face of the earth, with catchy hooks and sing-along lyrics that tread a thin line between nonsense and pure poetry. All the tunes here have a decent amount of progression in their writing style, but never let the album slow down from the flat-out dash for more than a breath or two. This is the more balanced of the two albums, with male and female vocals sniping back and forth in an intimate conversation gone very, very wrong. The composition defies against easy dissection with guitar and keyboards trading off leads and melodies while violin, horn and glockenspiel all hitting highlights until the music reaches the shout out moments which define the kind of charismatic energy that makes this group such a winner. It is actually these brilliant dynamics, which allow the band to employ the range they do without appearing sloppy.

If you want an actual complaint on this group, it is almost too high energy. Let’s face it, if you listen to this album tired, you’d better catch a second wind or you’re going to develop an attitude worthy of a middle-aged retiree trying to keep those damn kids off the lawn. Selected songs include the brilliant opener ‘Death to Los Campesinos!’, the delightfully ironic ‘My Year in Lists’, the slightly deeper, emotionally revealing ‘This is How You Spell “Hahaha, We’ve Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics”, which makes up for it’s slightly annoying chorus with the closing spoken word confession, and the cutesy closer of ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’.



We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed - 4.5/5
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However, just as for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every moment of brilliant luminosity and comradery, there is a moment of bleak visions and forlorn despair. We Are is a collection of those bleak moments. The sassy back and forth from the earlier Hold On is replaced with the male vocals taking on the role of confessor of romantic failings, and the sweet female vocals take a backseat, with a more sympathetic air. Even the compositions trade their happier approach of indie pop, for a more aggressive and desperate style, and all the moments where you felt like you wanted to laugh at the incredulities of relationships from before are substituted by lyrics you remember after a fight with that special someone. The lyrics are still witty in their nonsense poems nature, but with a darker tone. The shout-out moments are no longer of jubilation, but frustration, making this undeniably an album by the same band, but feels like a complete mental opposite of everything they were before. The album is deeper, but for some reason, just not as evocative as its predecessor.

The main complaint is this album is just not as fun as before, which is of course the nature of the beast, but one a more positive note, everything here is slightly slower from the earlier whirlwind, giving a listener a greater chance to appreciate the songs. This might be what they were going for on the songs ‘Between and Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky’ and ‘Heart Swells/ Pacific Daylight Time’, but instead their, different composure gives them a feeling of being half-developed song ideas. On the other hand, songs like the title track, ‘You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing’, and ‘Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1’, while not instant hits, are perfect at what they do, giving the listener an out for any emotional angst. Check out Hold On first and if you like that, I promise you will like this too.

Doom – Complicated Mind

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 19 December 2009 0 comments


Doom – Complicated Mind – 4/5
Link

Five Metal Classics you’ve never heard of: Number Four

Say hello to Doom. They’re a trio of Japanese musicians, which means naturally they have some sort of odd quirk; an avant-garde band of sorts, you might think doom might make up a healthy dollop of their sound, and you’d be wrong. With a sound rooted in thrash (I say rooted, its not really ‘rooted’ anywhere but thrash forms the bread and butter basis of their unconventional formula), they feel as much ‘Spiritual Beggars’ as ‘Sodom;’ with too much of a groove to their sound, a quirky bounciness to many of the riffs that almost feels stoner rock in its ability to create simple but ultimately addictive melodies that prove the perfect launchpad for whatever direction they desire.

The guitars deal much of the damage with their versatile attack, playing everything from a psychadelia-laden slow placed melodies, gently bending notes to create floyd-like rhythms, great care taken to demonstrate that brief period of melancholy only to break out into a blackmore-like shredded solo that feels perfectly in tune to the rapidly shifting sounds created. He is also responsible for the vocals, less growled as much as yelled frantically over the cacophany behind him, he lends his rough and ready tone to the proceedings with an unashamed willing to vary in style and aggression to suit the passage at hand.

Complemented superbly by the fretless bass work from Morota, doubling as both bass and rhythm (particularly during the solos) and the frenetic drumming, both are superbly produced (the bass is perhaps a little too quiet, heard but rarely prominent) in this foray into unfamiliar territory. Whilst many strong thrash influences emerge, it never feels as though it was trying to attain that same rebellious attitude, instead utilising that same energy in a flurry of broken english and varying tempos to demonstrate a dissonant internal struggle of emotions, chaotically fluctuating like a stroppy teenager going from melodramatic to weepy back to bouncy all in the space of a minute.

You couldn’t pin a better album title to this; a ‘complicated mind’ describing precisely what you’ll find within, all the time shifting and transforming from all out aggression to melancholy, the cheery face you put on in the company of others all too readily shifting into something more sinister. If this had been the origins of ‘groove metal’ I dont think anyone would have minded, and the only real disappointment from these nutters are the closing moments, taking a further step into the bizarre and losing much of their insatiable groove in the process, resulting in a somewhat disjointed finalé to an otherwise superb release.

R.I.P. Koh Morota (1999)

Highlights: Complicated Mind, Bright Light, Can’t Break My Without You

Dodgy – Homegrown

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 18 December 2009 0 comments


Dodgy – Homegrown - 4.5/5
Link

It probably should not be surprising that this album of catchy power-pop-punk is relatively overlooked when you consider the year it was released. By October of 1994, the music scenes of America and Britain were saturated with great music in a range of genres, and Homegrown was competing with the likes of Soundgarden’s Superunknown, The Offspring’s Smash, Nas’ Illmatic, Weezer’s Blue Album, and Jeff Buckley’s Grace, and the UK was experiencing the generation of the Britpop genre with Blur’s Parklife and Oasis’ Definitely Maybe. In fact, Dodgy hails from the same Camden scene that spawned Blur, and was often an opening act for Oasis, making it simply a shame they never became more than third-tier artists with minor hits within the scene.

The music is relatively simple in and of itself, amplified guitars that switch between slight distortion and acoustic, higher leading vocals with breathy supporting choruses, and upbeat percussion. However, the music is emotionally deeper than most pop punk, supplied by Dodgy’s ability to write songs that remain catchy and happy with hints of melancholy. Let none of that distract from the album’s true power, which lies in it’s ridiculously catchy choruses most notably in songs like ‘Melodies Haunt You’, ‘So Let Me Go Far’, and “Making the Most of What We’ve Got’ and in the band’s ability to writes songs that flow well as an album without blending together into a undistinguishable mess. Dodgy experiments with elements of baroque pop in ‘Crossroads’, with distortion vocals in ‘One Day’, minimalist composure with ‘What have I Done Wrong’ and with progressive elements in the epic album closer ‘Grassman’.

Minor complaints stem from parts of the songs like when ‘So Let Me Go Far’ sometimes feels a little bloated and overwritten, and “We Are Together’s chorus comes off as wince-worthy. Also, placing the albums shortest and longest song not only right next to each other but also towards the tail end of the album throws off the balance a bit to an otherwise well-flowing album, especially considering they are the most emotive songs in the album as well. Nevertheless, as you all can no doubt tell, I am stretching to locate problems with this amazing record in an ill-fated attempt to be unbiased. Overall, this is a great record not only deserving more critical attention, but also deserving a spot in your collection.

Track Picks: Melodies Haunt You, Making the Most, and Grassman.


Blitzkrieg – A Time of Changes – 4/5
Link

Five Metal Classics you’ve never heard of: Number Five

Perhaps emerging a little late in the NWOBHM era, this effort coming after the small island in Europe had unleashed the likes of Riot, Maiden and Judas Priest unto the world, it was 1985 that saw Blitzkrieg release their dazzling debut, filled with plenty of anthemic chorus lines, frenzied fretwork, bombastic drums and a boisterous bass that doesn’t just sit in the back. Built almost with a stadium in mind; the overall reverberated sound wonderfully conveying a larger than life feel to the album, the simple yet superbly addictive qualities of the never ending supply of completely original sounding ideas in each track going towards creating one of the under appreciated gems of the era.

With everything coming across anthemic in style, adding just a touch more punk attitude to their sound than the average band of the time; the drumming remains consistent in their aggressive focus, clearly heard powering away at all the drums at his disposal, punching through the guitars to be heard through the frenzy, the vocals swooping and soaring with a mid-range melody that distinguishes himself from the falsetto-laden style of the day (not that he doesn’t provide his screams from time to time), superbly capable at his own style that still manages to fit with the sound created, his presence provides both emotion and attitude to the piece.

Like the vocals, the guitars too don’t feel content merely following suit with those that came before them; the dark and mysterious opening track or the almost ‘oriental folk’ like riffs in the title track showing a willing to explore with new ideas, the bass constantly maintaining the blunt attack in the background, allowing the guitars to perform from their large supply of solos at every opportunity given to them.

It is the raw atmosphere from the rough and ready ‘poor’ production value that lends it much of its character. Far from detracting from the end result, the music is perfectly capable of supporting the format, lending a personal aspect that feels as though they are performing right in front of you, and the volume levels of each instrument painstakingly balanced to perfection the impact is incredible. By modern standards this may not be considered the most innovative albums produced, but breaking from the cookie-cutter mould of NWOBHM just enough to distinguish themselves, this is one release no fan should go without.

Highlights: Blitzkrieg, Pull the Trigger, Armageddon

Kahimi Karie – Kahimi Karie

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 17 December 2009 0 comments


Kahimi Karie – Kahimi Karie – 4/5
Link

So this would be my opening confession: those who have noticed the ‘Shibuya-Kei’ reviews up to this point have probably been given a narrow view of the genre thanks to my own interests, which have just begun to shift in exploration of this genre. Taking influences from Bossa Nova (a smooth brazilian samba/jazz), J-pop and electronica (often picopop and trip-hop), naturally some artists will favour one side over the other. This is the first that features very little in the way of electronic effects, leaving an almost avant-garde indie pop in its wake. Born in Japan, she spent most of her time in France and both languages – as well as English – are frenetically mixed in the cornucopia of styles she has created.

Working closely with fellow Shibuya-Kei-er ‘Cornelius’ and indie pop musician ‘Momus’ in producing much of this album, her openness and willing to diversify her style allows for such a variety that feels like a music 101; from the blues guitar and harmonica work in ‘Elastic Girl’ to the folk-like ‘The Way You Close Your Eyes,’ the overt jazz not content with one specific style, the bossa nova coming strong from the acoustic guitars oddly interspersed with ‘Sun Ra’ like psychedelic effects in the background and the more than occasional ska like melodies coming into their own. And through it all comes the dream-like vocals that take precedence, hazily whispering through the layers of instrumentation behind her like Okabe for ‘Strawberry Machine,’ lending a beautiful simplistic elegance that allows you to spend as much or little time devoted to the carefully orchestrated backing.

Whether performing the more conventional bounciness of ‘Candy Man’ or the almost twee-pop ‘La Roi Soleil,’ the consideration of the backing melody is spared no expense either; lavishly layering bossa nova acoustic guitar melodies on top of the psychadelic electric; 80s style post-punk keyboards and synths combine with jazzy bass rhythms and rock drum beats to create odd contrasts that inexplicably fit together seamlessly. This degree of genre mixing feels as though it should all come unwravelled in a big mess of experimentation, but the dominance of the vocals in the production maintain its continuity. Only the poor cohesion between the tracks bringing it down, being formed from the ashes of her scattered early EP’s, the sheer variety of styles interspersed with the beautifully atmospheric whispered vocals and strong jazz sensibilities make this one of my more impressive discoveries.

Highlights: Elastic Girl, Le Roi Soleil, Serieux Comme le Plaisir, The Way You Close Your Eyes

Jia Peng Fang – Moonlight

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 15 December 2009 0 comments


Jia Peng Fang – Moonlight – 4/5
Link

There was a point in time when I alluded that this was an album that needed to be reviewed; discovered following my obsession with the last Chthonic album, and of particular importance, the manner the erhu performed in their compositions. It wasn’t long that I uncovered this chinese instrumentalist that demonstrates his mastery of this rarely heard art, serenading us with a distinctly orientally toned thematic tragedy, combining an elegant beauty with an overbearing sense of loneliness and despair.

The first point to elaborate on would be an explanation of what an erhu actually is, as it isn’t an instrument often found in western music. Since an image can say a thousand words, i’ve found an image and added to the right of this paragraph. Almost an odd type of violin, with only two strings and snake skin used to reverberate the sound from the base, rather than fretting the string, instead the finger is simply placed upon it to alter its pitch.

The result of all this is a highly distinctive delicate sound with an incredibly warm, bittersweet, earthen timbre. Originally intended to mimic the voice, with great emphasis placed on the control of volume and tremolo to create melodies that combine the sorrow of the greatest classical works whilst defying the epic orchestration they require. Displaying his prowess at this versatile instrument being used to display a great number of emotions, he takes the forefront of the music but at no point works alone. Always complemented superbly by carefully worked orchestration including most notably acoustic guitars, piano and violins, that whilst their western association could easily detract from the ethnic tone strived for, succeeds in doing nothing more than provide a warmth to the background, creating a thick and lavish framework for the erhu to perform its peaceful serenade.

Part of the beauty of this is that it succeeds in making its point, providing an atmosphere with a universal emotion that defies language barriers, not requiring concentration to interpret the lyrics as the music simply washes over you with its calming melodies. Compositionally, it may not be the most creative or experimental work conceived, they’re not trying out anything new as much as they are reminiscing about the very old, transporting us to the tranquility of the Yellow River or the breathtaking expanses of the Jinggangshan mountains with them. This is one classical album sure to be like little else in your collection.

Highlights: Tango of Asia, Mai Kyoko, Cherry Blossoms

Bad Actor – Portrait of Finality

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 12 December 2009 0 comments


Bad Actor – Portrait of Finality – 3.5/5
Link

The introductory assault of ‘Through the Blue,’ constantly hurtling forth with wave after wave of bass driven cascading crescendo’s, or the drastic change in pace with the following track, ‘A man with ideas,’ proving just what the title implies; that this isn’t just another band to follow a preset mould. Whilst taking clear influence from those before them they can’t quite be passed off as a mere clone of either ‘Mastodon’ or ‘Baroness,’ but rather a slightly different breed altogether.

The definitive highlight is unquestionably the lead guitars that whilst not often a driving force for the track at hand, seem to carry most of the responsibility regarding the variety for the unfolding events. Transgressing from the gentler psychedelic passages to an all out fury; it at times becomes quite technical in its nature yet never feels too dissonant or chaotic, never feels out of place and instead acts as more of a meandering additional layer, assisting with easing the transition between the many paces and styles utilized within the steadily shifting track and allowing the other instrumentation to maintain the rest of the track at hand.

Often harmonising with this is the bass, working with the rhythm to keep the tracks shape and preventing it from descending too far into chaos whilst successfully maintaining the level of intensity built up with the frenetic drum work, but this is limited sadly by the production. Not quite loud or thick enough to sustain the slower passages, the bass in particular needing more of an all encapsulating tone to engulf the listener, it fails to entirely ensnare the listener in wave after wave of bombast and provide the much desired contrast between passages.

And despite these apparent strengths, it is the unconventional vocals that so often disappoint me; utilising three vocalists, each with a highly limited range monotonously growling, it varies from the mediocre to the at times frustrating. More attuned to a ‘black metal’ artist, the tone strived seems to be all too thin, icily detracting from the warmth provided by the rest of the instrumentation, and I can’t quite comprehend what they are trying to accomplish. In particular the extended notes all too often come across as furious rather than conveying the sense of grinding desperation and frustration that the genre has become known for.

This is not a release without its issues and still shows plenty of areas for improvement, but it is the core compositional ability that shows the most promise, having both the intelligence to come up with new ideas and the confidence to experiment with them. It has always seemed that in the battle between the two progressive sludge bands that fans could only enjoy one, and whilst I expect few fans will switch allegiance with haste, what has been a two-horse race for a number of years might just have a new contender emerging.

Highlights: Through the Blue, As Meredith Explodes

Between the Buried and Me - The Great Misdirect

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 11 December 2009 0 comments


Between the Buried and Me - The Great Misdirect - 4.5/5
Link

I came in as a HUGE fan of the band, having traveled in many different directions in previous, their latest release would prove no different. Although it still fits the description of Progressive Metalcore it has taken a definite heavier style than that of “Colors”, but more in the direction of “Alaska”.

The band not only displays this heaviness in the guitar riffs and overall atmosphere, but the bass and drums often add to this as well. The drummer, Blake Richardson, displays his extreme talent multiple times with fast paced solos and fills, as well as making excellent choices on the selection of notes making the atmospheric transition from dark to a brighter one in a second. Now, the bassist of this band, Dan Briggs, who also has extreme talent, unlike the usual situation of plucking along to the guitars in the background, often complements this with his own melodies, almost as stand out as the guitar at some points.

The vocalist, Tommy Rogers (who also plays the keyboards for the band), are comprised of about 90% of the album heavy vocals and the rest sung cleanly, and whilst many find his more aggressive tone irritating, I find them excellent and a perfect fit to the band’s sound for they yet still add the heaviness displayed throughout the album. The few times he displays clean vocals, I realize he has quite a mellow voice and he could definitely do well with a progressive rock band, mostly performed during the choruses of the song, he comes up with quite beautiful melodies often followed with a backup voice to add more of a “spacey” effect. The keyboards for the band are barely ever displayed although there is a quite lengthy keyboard solo in “Swim to the Moon”.

And lastly I step into the subject of the guitarist Paul Waggoner, although many may not prefer his style of playing a fast mixture of notes and amazing technicality during some parts of the song, none can deny that he is a very skilled guitarist, and for those times when he switches time signatures throughout the song, he always finds the most suitable riff to go along with it.

Highlights: Obfuscation and Swim to The Moon

Carach Angren – Lammendam

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 10 December 2009 0 comments


Carach Angren – Lammendam – 4/5
Link

From the ever crowded scene of symphonic fans comes something perhaps a little unusual, almost as though someone made a thick soup out of ‘Limbonic Art’ and ‘Bal-Sagoth’ and slapped it onto the bowl of the most delightfully demented theatrical production to hit the west end. Whilst strictly speaking the result doesn’t feel too out of the ordinary, it has an certain finesse about it, an originality that few others can boast, and this isn’t just a gimmick either; the lyrics spoken with melodramatic conviction like a black metal re-make of “Phantom of the Opera,” complete with a free trip to hell with every drinks order and an interval between the two acts. Everything has been spit-polished to help with this dark macabre lending that gorgeous atmosphere so carefully constructed, which does genuinely put them as something unique, the different focus from the majority of others in the genre lending a truly theatrical feel, but this all comes at a cost.

Those looking for virtuoso guitar work – or indeed much more than carefully calculated mid-paced plodding and a variety of interesting but perhaps slightly unenthused tremolo riffs – may find themselves wishing for something more, often relenting for the synthesizers superbly worked into the composition, and probably my main gripe: the drumming. Now don’t get me wrong, the drumming in themselves aren’t performed poorly, but this production has left them standing loud in the end mix, and yet just a little too mechanical, metronomically blasting his variety of beats for the benefits of the other musicians. The vocals despite not being as icy cold or furious as others, still retaining some semblance of warmth, perform with as much variety as you could ask for, unable to reach the extreme highs or lows he makes excellent use of the range he does wield, and with the carefully adjusted reverb and layered vocals ensure that the style always fits the task at hand.

But as well as giving way to their weakness, it is the elegant composition – and I mean that with all the connotations and ‘orchestra’ implications attached – that gives way to their greatest strength; meandering from lighter delicate keyboard work, the occasional distant ethereal choral work creating a haunting feel to the already twisted theme, morbidly garnering pleasure from the unconventional theatrical brand of evil swooning created by the very deliberate interwoven guitar and keyboard lines. Taken individually, it is perhaps only the versatility of the atmospheric, gothic, orchestral and neo-classical keyboards, performing so much more than just the basic chords that stand out, but it is the sum of all the parts, far more powerful than the individual contributions, working with one another to create a thick multi-layered sound isn’t readily exhausted.

With a strong lyrical theme rooted in legends – and in particular ghost stories – they neither pander to a humorous ‘horror’ gimmick, nor do they feel entirely serious and incapable of having fun, residing comfortably in the melodramatic middle. I can easily envisage more ethereal chorals working to great effect to create a ‘operatic’ feel, two vocalists arguing amongst another, and whilst I would like to hear more of the guitars, the keyboards stepping back a notch, these four Dutchmen have succeeded on putting their own spin on a tiring genre. Creating a unique feel within already well established boundaries is no easy feat, and whilst they haven’t quite convinced me this is the best way to do it, there’s no denying that they just might be onto something with this.

David Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 7 December 2009 0 comments


David Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive – 4.5/5
Link

This is one release that has had my attention for a long time. Released in the late 80s, this emotion-laden piece of avant-garde plays like nothing you would associate with other acts in the genre; like a marriage of ‘Green Carnation’ and ‘King Crimson’ (the latter of which he was asked to join in the early 90s), this acoustic combination of folk, jazz, ambient and prog rock plays like a collection of simple yet powerfully themed tracks. Graceful strings resonating behind gentle trumpet harmonies and the ever present neo-classical piano work, leading into the vocals themselves, soothingly he caresses each word, letting the carefully chosen lyrics speak for themselves.

At no point does the music become too obtrusive, it never seeks the attention of the listener like a child begging for approval, the melancholic vocals drained of raw power but not of their elegant despair, content to drift into the background with a haunting atmosphere provided by the immaculately conceived variety of backing instruments. Worked so as to meander with an odd coherency, slowly evolving between the cornucopia of influences, always to provide a very nature-inspired rooted and realistic feel far from the influences of electronics that provides a bittersweet warmth to the icy atmosphere, the cold despair given the briefest glimmer of hope amidst the lavish production.

Minimalist drumming plays for maximum effect loud and clear in the production, and yet are rarely heard out of choice, allowing plenty of room for the other instrumentation to weave their course; the acoustic guitar and piano the mainstay of his hypnotic rhythms, alternating between tracks they create constantly meandering passages that provides a consistency despite their progressive nature, never quite repeating themselves in the fluid manner they explore the breadth of sounds at hand. Frequently complemented by classical strings in the background to create an altogether more organic, full tone that defies the need for artificial keyboards, completing the line-up are multiple short contributions from other musicians creating a seemingly endless source of variety.

And yet for all the variety, it never loses sight of that atmospheric intention, the desire to portray a sense of overbearing darkness and despair, encapsulating the listener like an ominous shroud of mist going over a black lake. This is avant-garde for convenience sake, only when trying to think of comparisons do you realise that nothing is quite alike to this, and yet it never comes of as forced, rolling out of the speakers more fluidly and naturally fitting than many other contemporary musicians. Perhaps best compared to the aforementioned acoustic Green Carnation, Ambeon gone Jazz, a Diablo Swing Orchestra/Carved in Stone cross or Motohiro Nakashima with vocals, none quite convey the sense of beauty in this deceptively simple piece that offers much to be cherished.

Highlights: The Boy with a Gun, Orpheus, When the Poets Dreamed of Angels, Waterfront

Hazel Nuts Chocolate – Cute

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 5 December 2009 0 comments


Hazel Nuts Chocolate – Cute – 4.5/5
Link

Seeing me make another brief return to the world of J-pop, very much more Shibuya-Kei (that quirky combination of jazz, electro and pop) than the more picopop focused ‘Capsule’ and ‘Plus-Tech Squeeze Box’ reviewed recently (both of which she has worked with in the past, a fact that is clearly demonstrated here), if the title of the album hasn’t already given you an idea what to expect, allow me re-state it. This is the smile on a child’s face, watching them boisterously run around in an excited frenzy; this is music to watch kittens to, rolling about and playfully biting one another in an effort to get to the saucer of milk. This is all that with a sweet cherry on top; ‘cute’ doesn’t even begin to get the message across.

Eccentrically performed, they rely on less frenetically cut together pieces, instead resorting to far more conventional song structures, its frequent strong jazz leanings often results in a tone that doesn’t feel too far removed from a pop-influenced ska. The gentle trumpet rhythms to ‘Swing Life’ or acoustic guitars in the closing moments, the semi-scatted lyrics and whistled tune in ‘Boushi to Watashi…,’ the electronic synths, ‘carousel’ organs, xylophones, double bass, ‘marching band’ sound, or picopop focused ‘Koi Wa Kyurukyuru,’ each track takes you to a new location to reminisce back to your childhood, each time the flighty, gentle boisterous vocals, almost whispered at times but always with a certain bounce to them completes the line-up of adorability.

The entire album can almost be considered a concept album, focused on the idea of the lead vocalist ‘Yuppa’ going on a romp through a fantasy cartoon world, taking strong inspiration from classic children’s stories from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ to ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ The nonsensical lyrics doing nothing to detract from the obvious atmosphere created through a wide variety of instruments, packed into 34 minutes of dream-like bliss; I’m sure few will actually pay attention to the pop review on what is primarily a metal blog, but for those that do: be prepared for an overload of tooth-aching sweetness, kitten-like cuteness and delectably delirious day dreams.

Highlights: Hello, Swing Life, Future Popp

Lost Soul – Immerse in Infinity

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 2 December 2009 0 comments


Lost Soul – Immerse in Infinity – 4.5/5
Link

In truth I’m not sure entirely how to tackle this one: its Tech Death, but it never really feels like it. Sure, you have the drums blasting away at ridiculous speeds and the technical crazy riffing to boot, but whether from the immaculate production allowing crystal clear clarity of each instrument, performed like a master swordsman (short, sharp, and powerful but still with finesse), the mid-paced melodic magic to some of the solos or what I can only really describe as ‘ambient’ passages, it never comes off as forced, the technical aspect feeling naturally used; rather than to create an unpredictable dissonance between changes of tempo, it’s used to demonstrate the genuine turmoil of the music as it progresses through both the calm and the chaos.

It is perhaps the guitars that do the most to ease these transitions, performing outside of conventional styles to combine deep bombastic bass rhythms, at times even bringing an odd sense of groove to the proceedings, lending a far greater variety than raw speed could ever do. The rhythm spends a good deal of time complementing this, creating the basic, often quick tempo to the proceedings, allowing the leads to combine crushingly slow, almost doom like chords to frantic sweeps amidst tremolo riffs and triplets galore, galloping with a mechanical precision, grinding like mechanical cogs to this polish war machine.

Continuing this diabolical mechanical efficiency and putting the guitars to shame enter the drums, at times feeling perhaps a little sterile; a little too perfect for their own good, but the speeds accomplished coupled with the constant variation of beats, timing the use of the expected blasts so as to not become overused, make this issue negligible by comparison. Roaring once more in the face of convention, the normal situation of the incredibly deep vocalist has been replaced with an odd mid-range growl, as if he couldn’t decide whether to mimic ‘Nergal’ (Behemoth) or Dickinson (Maiden), and so combined the two resulting in an unusual soaring, crystal clear growl, which as odd as it sounds, actually fits the indefinable music at hand.

But it’s not just the individual parts, everything has its place; the slower ‘ambient’ passages slowly introducing many of the tracks, the guitars hanging back to let the bass carry its groove, the drums crashing down to welcome the slow melodic introduction to the guitar solo that wouldn’t feel all that out of place in a power metal ballad, proving to be just the calm before the technical shit storm; the flurry of notes that still doesn’t feel out of place amongst the frenzied work going on behind it. At an hour long it outlasts most others in the genre too, but between the atmospheric interludes, blackened riffs, oriental overtones and conga intro’s, the variety here is staggering. I would never claim to be a big fan of the genre, but if this is the direction the genre is heading, then I must say, I could get used to this.

Highlights: …If the Dead Can Speak, Breath of Nibiru, Simulation

Factory of Dreams – A Strange Utopia

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 25 November 2009 2 comments


Factory of Dreams – A Strange Utopia – 4/5
{Link Removed at Request}

Oddly referred to as ‘progressive metal,’ this descriptor should be used in the same manner than Within Temptation’s last effort was called Gothic ‘Metal,’ or even how Ayreon is referred to as ‘metal’ as well, and interestingly, whilst one is often the subject of elitist derision, the other is praised endlessly, and yet both remain superb comparisons. Now don’t misunderstand me, I have nothing but respect for Arjen’s masterful creations, but there is a limit to the versatility one man can accomplish, and when this is reached it is time to hand over the reigns and let your work influence others. This feels like the next evolutionary step, maintaining that same type of rich tapestry of composition to form a lavishly surreal atmosphere, worked by the Portuguese multi-instrumentalist Hugo Flores.

Not without its shortcomings; the manner in which styles collide initially sounds horrendous and is sure to turn many off, but it is when you become accustomed to the rapid fluctuations and fighting between styles that you come to comprehend their purpose. The occasional use of polyrhythms feeling as though multiple separate backing tracks are vying for dominance of the piece, leaving only the solitary frightened vocals over the cacophony of the rapidly shifting landscapes. Sadly, at 70mins, this is no short album and becomes to feel tired by its end; it’s superb variation still only capable of carrying things for so long, and whilst difficult to find specific areas that could do with a trim, the slightly quicker pace could have worked to its advantage.

Furthermore, the electronic tone feels out of place until you come to understand why its there. This isn’t just a collection of conveniently themed titles; the middle of a three-part epic story that takes place amongst the stars, it is from the first album (poles) that we learn about the two poles, the light and the dark ruled by the powerful overlord; the Generator of Illusions; The Factory of Dreams, fueled by the human mind with rivers of emotion his lifeblood. With this abstract, sci-fi, sociopolitical philosophizing running at its heart, the open ended questioning of our current civilization, and how any Utopia would ultimately feel so alien that we may never fit there (or at least this is my impression but it really is very open to interpretation) it actually makes an odd sort of sense. It doesn’t click at first but it has evidently been carefully thought out, treated like a piece of art to be studied and appreciated, rather than merely a collection of generic themes gone a little wrong.

The vocals of young Swedish woman ‘Jessica Lehto’ lend the rooted feel to the music; the only constant that we can be sure of, she is readily comparable to the likes of Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) in her reluctance to add excessive vibrato, resulting in a delicate and emotional simplicity that counteracts the complex backing wonderfully, allowing it to meander and shift around her. Not outstanding against the tough competition, the occasional lack of power – particularly during the higher notes – is weighed up against the control over the breadth of her voice, allowing her to either drift off in an ethereal manner or come boldly into the forefront.

It is the backing, however, that has seen the greatest level of attention; both acoustic – 6 string and 12-string – as well as electric guitars, fretless bass, (guest) violins, sitar, keyboard synths, acoustic drums over programmed drum loops, and apparently even a berimbau (a sort of acoustic African violin). Impressively, he has managed to work all this into a coherent composition; the fretless bass pounding away like a mechanical buzzing over the drum loops, the synths maintaining the backing chords, sharing duties with the electric guitars as they perform in a virtuoso, at times almost floyd-esque manner. Then a sudden pitch shift emerges, seeing a far earthier gothic violin harmony come forth, accented by gentle acoustic guitars, slowly transitioning into the more aggressive electric chords sequence and acoustic drums. Clearly a very competent virtuoso guitarist not obsessed with speed, all this will happen over and over again, resulting in a rollercoaster of emotions and atmospheres that leaves you constantly questioning the direction the track will take next.

People often like to make comparisons to what they know, finding familiar ground from which to base their opinion from, but in this case that only gets you so far. It’s perhaps interesting to think that I initially passed this for review, for only on subsequent listens did it really dawn on me what what was trying to be accomplished, allowing the music to rapidly grow on me, and it is this that’s partly what separates this from other artists. It unashamedly has its own purpose in mind, the crashing of styles too overt to ignore; we are instead left to question the reason behind it, and whilst it fails to live up to the natural compositional fluidity of Ayreon’s “Into the Electric Castle,” or the epic heights of Kalisia’s “Cybion,” these are mighty high targets to aim for and it doesn’t fall far behind.

Highlight: The Weight of the World, The Road around Saturn, Garden of all Seasons, Chaotic Order

Menhir - Hildebrandslied

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 24 November 2009 0 comments


Menhir - Hildebrandslied - 4.5/5
Link

I haven't written a review in a while, so bear with me if I'm a bit rusty.

"Hildebrandslied" is the 4th full-length album of the Thuringan-based, self-proclaimed Pagan Metal band Menhir. After a 6-year absence from the recording-studio the band came back with a bang with this 42 minute masterpiece.

The ablum takes its name from one of the oldest existing German texts. Believed to be the oldest surviving example of a traditional Germanic tale set to text, "Hildebrandslied" ("Lay of the Hildebrand") is one of the most treasured items in German culture. The 1000 year-old text, consisting of only 2 pages, on the back and front of what appears to be religious codex, is also the lyrical content of two of the tracks on the album ("Hildebrandslied - Teil 1" and "Hildebrandslied - Teil 2"). It is a story of a father who returns home after a long journey to find that his son has forgotten him. The end of the text sees the father (Hildebrand) and the son (Hadubrand) and their respective armies facing off.

Together with the unique and touching subject-matter of the album, it also has an outstanding musical content. Menhir manages to blend acoustic folk elements with Black Metal elements in such a way as not sound clumsy, as such fusions often do. Instead it feels flowing and well-structured, never lacking and never superfluous or pretentious. Passages of pure Black Metal fury duly give way for acoustic sequences to take the lead and vice versa. All in all a well-structured and skilfully planned album.

The musicianship is just as pleasing. The druming is brilliantly done, never too noticeable, but never too subtle either, instead providing the music with a rhythmic coherency to build forth on without ever being overbearing. This lays the perfect foundation on which the main features, the guitars, vocals and keyboards can freely work their magic. The vocals, sung entirely in German and Old High German by Heiko Gerull, vary between operatic and enchanting song to outright Black Metal screeches, the latter not being brilliantly done, but solid nonetheless. The keyboards, also never taking centre-stage, provide a beautiful melodic background that manages in enhancing the impact of the album considerably.

The guitars are probably my favourite part of the album musically. Not exceptional, but with a certain virtuosity that gives the album that edge above most Black/Folk Metal projects. The guitarists, Fix (Thomas Ussfeller) on lead and Heiko Gerull on rhythm, consistently succeed in creating beautiful melodies that never cease to entertain, never become overdone or boring. The lead guitarist also plays a few well-executed solos that provide the extra kick that most albums of this genre seem to lack. The addition of violins and other acoustic string and percussion instruments in "Hildebrand - Teil 1" and "Hildebrand -Teil 2", lends a varied feel to the album that makes it that much more enjoyable.

Despite not being especially conceptually original, this is, without a doubt, one of the best Folk/Black Metal albums I've heard so far and I hope we don't have to wait another 6 years for the next release. Thumbs up!

Highlights: Hildebrandslied - Teil 1, Hilderbrandslied - Teil 2, Dein Ahn

Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 23 November 2009 2 comments


Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day – 4.5/5
{Link Removed on Request}

Whenever the name" Arjen A. Lucassen" is mentioned, the first idea that comes to our mind is "Ayreon". I won't deny it; I'm a big fan of "Ayreon". Here "Arjen" comes to us in a different suite, "Guilt Machine". A work that might share some resemblances with other projects, namely "Ayreon", it's still unique in its own right. The name "Guilt Machine" relates to what we shall be exposed to, a spectrum of dark and relentless emotional experience that focuses guilt, remorse, shame… "On This Perfect Day" is one of those albums where we must not expect mind stunning instrumentation, something that leaves us forget about what the album tries to deliver and rest focusing on, for instance, "How the hell do you play that solo?". We should expect an album that we listen to thoroughly, from beginning to end, while being moved by what is delivered. I listened to it numerous times, with each time feeling as if it's my first time to be exposed.

One of my favorite aspects of this album is the vocals done by "Jasper Steverlinck". We can easily say the man must be tormented in his life, though there'd be still an air of mystique that surrounds it. "Season of Denial" always gets me for its strength and delicacy. "Lori Linstruth" always comes to us each song with guitar soloing that is harmonious and going with what is going on. It is melodic, yet also elegant. She wrote the lyrics to this album. The lyrics smartly portrayed the dark atmosphere and emotions of this album without being a silly rant of a depressed mind. I respect her. "Chris Maitland" was a good choice for drumming. He can be really powerful, and can be really gentle. He won't go unnoticed as "the dude who played drums". The album can be a melancholic voyage. The music ranges from heavy riffs bombarding us to soft moves that are in agreement with what we will be hearing. A smart move in this album is the recorded messages we shall hear. Fans from all over the world, in their language and way, would be heard expressing their feelings in quick flashes as we move through. I am sure we won't understand all, but we will feel them.

Although the album isn't as diverse as we might expect it to be, it surly is worth the purchase. No one let the song lengths intimidate you, it pass without us feeling the time. This is a great concept by a great mastermind. We play the album, and then all of a sudden it ends this how it honestly happened with me. There is no fooling around or trying to be "genius", it just comes out naturally. Here is a good example of how theme and music goes along well. Now turn around and face the darker side of you…

Highlights: Season of Denial, Green and Cream

Lye By Mistake – Fea Jur

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 22 November 2009 0 comments


Lye By Mistake – Fea Jur – 3/5
Link

Forty minutes of madness that is no easy feat to assimilate; to call this release technical would be an understatement, and without any vocals rooting it, everything very quickly descends into anarchy with polyrhythms and tempo fluctuations galore that requires intent listening to follow. But don’t be thinking this is another ‘wankery’ outfit, they may make contemporaries like ‘Dillinger Escape Plan’ and ‘Rolo Tomassi’ look like simplistic amateurs, but they don’t stoop to the lows of pointlessness that ‘Behold…the Arctopus’ get praised for. Instead, they have a spell binding trick up their sleeve: jazz.

Though it is fairly difficult to describe what kind of jazz is being offered; the drummer like some weird mix of Reinhert (Cynic) and Tsagakis (Rx Bandits, Sounds of Animals Fighting), varying from blistering beats to gentle lounge melodies, he never drops the pace and accents the music with startling variety, never feeling as though he’s repeating himself. The guitars, however, are the ones truly pushing for the technicality; occasionally falling into the trap of dissonant speed with little purpose but for the most part successful in varying the pace and style, adding swinging rhythms to hard hitting punk-like chords, flirting with bluesy tones and heavy metal powering solos, they demonstrate nothing if not a willing to experiment, leaving only the poor bass struggling to keep the two virtuoso’s tied to a single rhythm whilst making his own mark, and only just succeeding. But sadly this release isn’t without its issues.

One of the main issues regarding technical music is the inherent nature of turning people away, sounding too unrefined and coming across as an array of noise without structure. Whilst this is less of an issue thanks in no small part to the jazz rhythms, it is still a difficult album to assimilate, requiring multiple listens to come to really come to terms with. Furthermore, many of the additional experimental sections come and go with all too much futility, feeling more like a throwaway cheap trick than anything that pushes them further into avant-garde territory; shown no respect and merely used as a means to break up the monotony. Furthermore, even after multiple listens none of the passages have really stuck, and I’m unable to recall a single riff, bass line or drum beat. This is an artist with incredible technical talent, and the drive to excel beyond that. Armed with an array of influences, they may before too long find themselves settling into a style that remains as unique and experimental as shown here whilst becoming more accessible, but they simply aren’t there yet.

Highlights: Invincible Bad Ass, Stag

My Sleeping Karma – Satya

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 20 November 2009 0 comments


My Sleeping Karma – Satya – 4.5/5
Link

Most comfortably fitting under the ‘stoner’ genre tag, it doesn’t quite fit; instead, for me, this is what stoner should sound like. Far removed from the ‘harsh’ sounds of many contemporaries, rather than feel as though it were composed by stoned musicians, it feels carefully orchestrated instead to make the listener feel its effects through the music. This is the stoner equivalent of ‘easy listening;’ the buddhist inspiration coming through loud and clear allowing you drift off into a psychedelic sleep, almost entirely void of anything but smooth grooves; this is music that lets you simply lie back and let it wash over you as you drift off to sleep, but not because its bad or uninteresting, rather because of such a calming and relaxing atmosphere they manage to create.

But perhaps what’s more impressive about this outfit is much like how ambient operates, as well as readily drifting into the background it holds up to intent listening just as readily; despite the overt ‘smooth’ tone to the proceedings, that isn’t produced through minimalism. The guitars are critical to this; the wonderfully thick bass gently performing a riff that merges into the back, creating this thick – almost sludgy – framework, ensnaring the rest of the instrumentation within its clutches. With a dry reverb and with plenty of tremolo, the guitar releases a variety of twangy 70s psychedelia upon the listener, all the time backed up by the thin space-like keyboards, hypnotically mesmerizing as they meander and shift, all the time weaving in and amongst each other, never becoming too alien from what came before but never quite capable of staying in the same place either.

But more thought has gone into this than the comparatively simple matter of writing the complementing guitar riffs; the composition of the tracks themselves have been carefully orchestrated to allow for a slow build up, the drums central in the manner the piece slowly increases in tension until the crescendo, and the resultant overbearing sense of weight, the depressive pressure of life grinding you down. Every drum beat seemingly a fraction of a second slow, struggling to slog through as best as they can, and all this reaches a peak with the only track with vocals (‘Svaatnaya’) deep, delicate and mournful, she floats across in powerful yet ethereal manner. The Zen Buddhist tone coming across thick, the notion of karma the belief clung to in order to pick yourself up and survive, even making use of short interludes between tracks to ‘refresh the musical palette.’

I can’t name another piece of music quite like this; an almost ambient or chillout inspired collaboration between ‘Sleep’ and ‘Hawkwind,’ easy to drift off to and yet emotionally thick; epic in tone and yet feeling so marvelously simple. This technically fits the genre of psychedelic stoner rock, but it’s without the bombast, the focus on hooks and catchy passages, the fuzzy echoing smooth grooves all too happily taking precedence and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Highlights: Ahimsa, Satya, Svaatanya

Kalevala – The Cuckoo Children

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 19 November 2009 0 comments


Special Edition

Normal Edition

Kalevala – The Cuckoo Children – 4.5/5
Link

For anyone who caught the review of their debut album, to say I was excited at the prospect of another release so soon my initial discovery of their own Russian brand of folk bounciness would perhaps be an understatement, and the album doesn’t disappoint. The vocals are once more entirely in Russian, but rather than feel harsh like you may expect of the language, it simply feels energetic, bubbling away in a frenetic manner, almost aggressively forcing you to have fun to the easy to listen to melodies. Not that they particularly have to; in truth its kind of hard not to.

Mixed in with a greater strategic use of reverb and effects, her versatility has increased to suit the rest of the instrument and, from a technical standpoint, they’ve all succeeded in bettering their last efforts; the drums feel more varied in their use of beats (even if perhaps still not providing the number of fills as I would like), and are more than capable of maintaining the pace. The production, too, has seen a slight improvement in differentiating all the instruments; the bass feeling more distinct than ever before, playing simple riffs but at no point degraded to simply following another instrument, solidifying the backing and allowing the other instruments to come forward.

The accordion is as boisterous as ever and the music would genuinely feel entirely lacking without it, making it something of a linchpin in the sound they’ve created, providing the atmosphere for much that follows. And the guitars too, succeed in simultaneously stepping back to allow more room for the bass to maneuver, whilst still contributing without feeling a permanent requirement for the music to function, allowing for a greater degree of versatility that allows them to add an additional layer to the sound without being stuck performing basic rhythm.

On paper, it would seem as though they’ve excelled themselves, but despite all this it still doesn’t quite match up; it’s missing a little touch of that ‘fun’ that made their last so incredible. Not to say that they’re slipping at all, or even that this is a bad album – it really isn’t – it shows them moving on slightly from the care-free attitude of before, burdened perhaps now with expectations of them, compelled to try and excel at their technical proficiency and squeeze out every ounce of goodness from each note, and in doing so have just begun to lose that aura of improvised boisterous banter that made you feel they were right there in front of you. This is the album that shows Kalevala maturing, evolving, and starting to come out of their shell, playing with new sounds and styles, and even if it is just a touch less addictive, they’re still easily one of the best things the genres produced.

Highlights: Горсти талого снега (Track 3), У разбитого корыта (Track 6), Про жеребца (Яйца) (Track 10)

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Guide to the Ratings
0/5 - This caused me physical pain
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.

I cant guarantee all reviewers adhere to these guidelines, but work as a general guide.

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