Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Watch! - Ummagma - Lama (Robin Guthrie Mix)










Who says that you shouldn’t meet your heroes? Ummagma did and the result is a stunning remix that also acts as the lead single for their forthcoming ‘LCD’ EP. 

After Robin Guthrie heard their track ‘Lama’, which originally appeared on the band’s debut album ‘Antigravity’, mutual friends put the band and the Cocteau Twins multi-instrumentalist in touch. The result is this wonderful new version of the song, which sees him not only re-arrange and re-mix the song but also add his own guitar parts into the mix.
 
Ummagma are a band whose unlikely back story matches and perfectly explains their mercurial music. Shauna McLarnon, a vocalist from the Yukon wilderness and Alexander Kretov, a multi-instrumentalist from small town Ukraine, met in the suburban sprawl of Moscow after pursuing many solo adventures and exploring unusual pathways. Bonding over their shared musical interests and fascinated by each other's divergent musical backgrounds, Ummagma began as an affair with love and sound, their relationship soon developing into both a musical and factual marriage. In 2013, Ummagma won the Alternative Eurovision on Amazing Radio, representing Ukraine among 23 countries.
 
‘Lama’ exists in an alternate dimension of ambient drifts and sonic textures that wash over you in gentle waves and then recede back into a sonorous, twilight world of fading vapour trails of sound and vocals, seemingly found between reality and possibility. This is a sound that Guthrie and his fellow Cocteau Twins helped to pioneer and evolve throughout the 80’s – a sound that still informs much of his work, though here, his trademark feedback drenched guitar sound is used more to shimmer rather than shatter, to chime rather than slash.
 
Ummagma ‘LCD’ involves not only one, but two legendary musicians, the other being maverick electronic musician Dean Garcia of Curve and SPC ECO fame. Earlier this year, Ummagma co-released the 'Winter Tale' maxi-single with yet another 4AD dreampop pioneer  A.R.Kane.
 
“I grew up listening to Cocteau Twins, Curve, and so many bands from the 4AD and Creation labels, and then later introduced them to my husband. He learned of them late, having been born in the USSR. We feel incredibly honoured that Robin Guthrie and Dean Garcia have shaped several of our tracks as they personally envision them,” says Shauna McLarnon.
 
As a calling card for the four-track EP to follow, ‘Lama’ is a perfect sonic snapshot, capturing the bands core sound, their ambient heart, and the often smoke-like musical sculptures they create. Dream pop, it would seem, is deliciously back on the menu. 





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Review - Nick Heyward – Woodland Echoes




Nick Heyward – Woodland Echoes (Gladsome Hawk Records)

LP / CD / DL

Out Now

7.5 / 10

Singer/songwriter guitarist releases his first solo album in eighteen years. 

Great songwriters don’t suddenly become bad ones, they just disappear for a while.  Once the songwriting gene is in your make-up it’s there forever, whether the music buying public thinks the same is an entirely different matter but if you’ve got the talent, you never lose it.   Of course, this is a lead up to say that Nick Heyward was a great songwriter and still is, and on Woodland Echoes, his ninth solo album, he does nothing more than prove it.

Of course, many of us remember him as the singer, songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist behind the funkadelic pop sensation Haircut 100.  In the early 1980s, they racked up four consecutive Top 10 singles with their first four releases and gained a platinum selling debut album, and even secured an American Billboard 40 success with Love Plus One.  The Haircuts split, and Heyward had success with his debut album North Of A Miracle and its four singles in 1983 then, as he famously said, ‘it’s easy for anyone to have a hit nowadays’, the hits dried up. 

With Woodland Echoes, Heyward shows us why his talent was so special and that it is still something firmly within the grip of pen, paper and guitar. Album opener, Love Is The Key To The Sea has strong echoes of The Beatles, particularly their Rubber Soul period and that influence is clear to see on many tracks.  The first track isn’t fast paced, happy go lucky pop, instead it’s a melodic, well-thought out piece with lovely harmonies and full of hope and dreamy intention.

The faster pace is instead saved for Mountaintop.  A track influenced by Americana Country roots and featuring a Jewish Harp together with excerpts of fiddle, it’s one of those annoyingly toe-wiggling fests if ever there was one and it’s catchy, oh so catchy, in maybe the way only Nick can be.  The Stars is the nearest thing you’ll hear to Pelican West but even then it’s a world away, another addictive chorus and another track pumped high to the extreme with love, love, lurrrvvv.

On the success of Pelican West, Heyward claimed he always liked to use words that hadn’t been used before in lyrics which cued references to ‘fire brigades’, ‘Toblerones’ and ‘lemons’.  Once more he inserts those phrases that you may not have heard before in songs – ‘icicle gems’, ‘camomile lawns’ and ‘glitterballs’ feature along with several ‘apple’ references and it’s all harmless, uplifting stuff.

Baby Blue Sky rocks it up and the party is in full swing – all jangly guitars and repetitive rhythms, and Heyward shows why this album has the potential to bring him decent success.  Arguably it won’t win over a younger audience but it will almost certainly attract shall we say, the more’ mature’ music fan and, more importantly will see him achieve some good airplay.

Woodland Echoes is a good album, and confirms why he is regarded as a songwriter of the highest order. 














Published on Louder Than War 07/07/17 - here









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Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review - I Speak Machine – Zombies 1985




I Speak Machine – Zombies 1985 (Lex Records)

LP / CD / DL

18 August 2017

9 / 10

Horror/Sci-fi soundtrack and film making duo release their second album. 

This is an impressive album, no, this is a very impressive album.  Self-confessed ‘synth nerd’ Tara Busch and filmmaker Maf Lewis have woven a truly inspiring project of film and album with the additional help of Benge (Wrangler/John Foxx/Blancmange).  Written and directed by Lewis himself the movie starred the three daughters of Gary Numan and the music was performed live on his tour. This album contains that score plus additional ‘mutant’ songs.

So, what of it?  It’s a triumph in itself because it really is creepy and scary as a standalone album.  Opener, ISM Station Ident begins with an 80s sounding synth prelude maybe hinting that it may go in the direction of a Jean-Michael Jarre romp but it soon morphs into an eclectic avalanche of glitched voices and experimental tones.  The opening electro sound also gives way to the continued theme of an apocalyptical Los Angeles of the 1980s and, by choice, all the equipment used in the production process is ‘vintage’ from mixers to effect units.  Think early Cabaret Voltaire influences.

Track two, the title track Zombies 1985 is a hybrid newsreel piece where a studio newscaster loses an on-site report live on air.  It’s chilling, as the realisation hits that zombified animals have escaped from LA Zoo and may be on the prowl, rabid coyotes are reported as the reporter goes missing in action.  The swirling, haunting music does little to comfort the listener as phones rings and ‘something’ is happening. 

The track titles alone suggest horror is afoot – Honey I’m Home, with a partial line obviously taken from The Shining, moves along steadily before synthesized shouts, crashes and screams dominate.  It makes the hair on your skin stand on end.  It’s incredible.  Demon Days and Blood From A Stone feature Busch on vocals with an almost Alison Goldfrapp hue which exudes a dark sexiness amidst the pulsating basslines on the former.  The power of the music to be able to effectively ‘scare’ the listener is unparalleled and is in short, work of genius, there is a paranoid sound to the latter where the line ‘you cannot get blood from a stone’ is repeated to the extent that you imagine the red stuff dripping from rock.

Hollywood Power is a high energy throb with slurred soundbites and well-timed reverb and Shame once more sees Busch take lead vocals with tinges of Grace Jones thrown in for good measure.  It’s the most commercially viable track on the album which could even see it gain some decent airplay.  The album ends on atmospheric sounds – maybe a reference to the post-Zombie world that remains after the attack – New Dawn (1986) seems to close the album with references to things lost and, a cinematic electro sweep continually rising and falling, effectively indicate remorse, regret and ultimately, loss.

Zombies 1985 is a near masterpiece.  Not for a long time has a ‘soundtrack’ been able to stand on its own merits without the accompanying imagery and unless witnessed, one can only begin to imagine how effective the two marrying together is.  Extraordinary stuff guaranteed to fuck with your mind and make your skin crawl.








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Published on Louder Than War 04/08/17 - here.









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Review - Benjamin Mason – I Asked My Friends To Cover My Songs And This Is What They Came Up With




Benjamin Mason – I Asked My Friends To Cover My Songs And This Is What They Came Up With

CD / DL

Out Now

8 / 10

Welsh singer-songwriter releases an album to raise funds for brain tumour sufferers. 

For the uninitiated a quick Google for Benjamin Mason will reveal an American artist, a seventeenth century politician or if you’re lucky, the quirky Welsh polymath that records under several guises.  For the sake of relevance, the latter is the one that has just released this sparkling album.

The album does exactly what it says in the title, thirteen Mason tracks covered by twelve artists (the mighty Pulco contributes twice) offers a fascinating insight into a truly fabulous songwriter but also into many artists you may never have heard of before.  The album has been released to help raise funds for the Thorne Mason Trust which tries to help brain tumour sufferers in the Pembrokeshire area - a fine cause if ever there was one.

It becomes apparent very early on that Mason is a slightly off kilter songwriter.  Great melodies, great choruses and very addictive indeed but there is often a quirky twist which makes his work very endearing.  From the opening Oh To Be A Drifter  with its folky moon stomp beat and subtle guitar blending with the often manic vocals of Pulco knit together a fascinating weave.  His other contribution Untitled (It’s A Shame) points more to the avant garde sound of the Bangor man with a sumptuous vocal.

Elsewhere, Yewdrops bring you Alacazam in a Sneaker Pimps/Portishead fashion.  It’s slow, lazy beat is absolutely stunning and some superb reverb effects are the work of genius.  Acoustic guitars appear and disappear and the vocals are angelic.  Truly brilliant stuff.  Todd Tuttle And Doug Seidel perform Mumma Husk with a sound of the Deep South and dry, croaky vocals against some inspiring experimental backing.

Sheer beauty comes in the form of Ian Thistlethwaite (Dipped In The Future) and, Matthew Frederick (You’ll Always Be My Girl) whose contributions will melt the steeliest of hearts.  Exquisite classical style arrangements and piano work respectively make two tracks that will make you stop what you are doing and listen intently.  Lovely stuff.

Album closer, Skies Are Falling has Jodie Marie going all Carole King on us and highlights the quality of acts on this taster.  If the songs alone weren’t enough to invest in this album then the charity should really swing it for you.  Accomplished songs from an artist clearly with a lot to offer and a man with some very talented friends indeed.



Order the album here.






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Published on Louder Than War 04/08/17 - here









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Review - Rat & Co - Third Law




Rat & Co – Third Law (Smooch Records)

25 August 2017

Out Now

8 / 10

Australian electro trio release their third album. 

Hailing from Melbourne, Rat & Co release their much anticipated third album aptly entitled Third Law.  It’s an interesting mix of electro, ambient and hip-hop dance beats and sits somewhere in the void between Public Service Broadcasting and O.M.D. with its wonderfully chosen soundbytes and perfectly placed melodies.

Following the band’s first two albums, One Uno Ein and Binary was always going to be a difficult thing to do.   Both albums were highly praised and the prospect of repeating the feat must surely have been a daunting one.  Thankfully Rat & Co have succeeded and produced one of the most fulfilling and successful albums of the year.  Opening with the voice synthesized overture that is A Place Called Home the atmosphere of the album begins to be laid into place as the sounds of exotic birds co-exists in the background.

The following track, A.I. could quite easily have nestled into the soundtrack of TV mini drama Fortitude.  It is both haunting and progressive and contains some effects that are capable of sending a chill up your spine, with some Eastern sounding effects and looped, undecipherable vocoder recordings it is a fine piece.

Third Law is not without its surprises, after two (in reality) instrumentals, the breathy vocals of Liahona add to Soldiers and the album takes an unexpected, if not cleverly thought out turn. It drifts along comfortably and satisfyingly with some lovely bass throbs and atmospheric interludes. Rumble has a drum ‘n’ bass feel again with some great bass lines and I’m Not Dead borders on trip-hop with faint voices pushed right to the back of the mix. 

Noslo again features inserted library sounds with a synthesized version of the well-known song Daisy Bell (Bicycle Made For Two) and explanatory diction describing the potential of electro intervention and Nerd Lock seamlessly follows gradually upping the tempo.  By the time Control enters the fray Third Law is a special album, a talented trio not scared to experiment but doing so with a commercial aspect also in mind.  A thoroughly enjoyable album with enough twists and turns to please everyone from indie pop lover through to ambient fiend.
















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Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Listen! - Climbing Trees - Fall









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Listen! - Holy Boy - The Blood Moon










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Monday, 7 August 2017

Watch! - Equinox - Kiss (feat Feral Five)









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Watch! - Reed and Caroline - Unseen Forces








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An Introduction to Officer



You can triangulate OFFICER’s sound somewhere between Damien Rice, The National and Florence and the Machine—that is, strong emotional intensity, huge melodies and a subtle, bittersweet Celtic edge.

Having released a rock-solid recording debut with 2015’s Myriads (see review here), OFFICER is gearing up to record a second album, set for release later in the year. The ‘indie soundscape’ songs released to this point are about relationships: with the idea of home; with the city; with the world; with what we are taught in our culture; with great books and pieces of art; with the figure of God; with family and friends.

OFFICER comprises singer-songwriter and band leader David ‘Dc’ Logan alongside various collaborators. Born in Glasgow and raised in Northern Ireland as a “working-class council estate-hopper”, Logan grew up surrounded by the sounds of Celtic folk, British pop, American blues, The Clash and Radiohead. As a teen, seeing Ash and U2 play in Belfast in the lead up to the Good Friday Agreement made a strong impression on him, both in terms of culture and the changes happening in Northern Ireland. Throw in The Smiths, Ryan Adams and Jeff Buckley for good measure and you get the makings of a passionate and eloquent songwriter.




His first song came at the age of 18, written about his parent’s tempestuous marriage and eventual divorce, and later turned into writing and gigging regularly in and around the local open mics, parties, pubs/clubs and churches.

After moving to London and becoming inspired by the likes of At The Drive In, Logan formed punk band Colourcode, touring and releasing two EP’s and an album. Whilst living in the English capital he has dedicated himself to helping the homeless and vulnerable, setting up and running community projects for the most marginalised.

Solo project OFFICER was born in 2013, drawing on his love of bands like The National, Frightened Rabbit, Iron & Wine and Local Natives—a friend’s suggestion of the name ‘Officer’ stuck after Logan, who had been stuck being an administration officer for a few years, decided to take up the challenge of redeeming the word from its bureaucratic, authoritarian implications. Over the course of a year, he challenged himself to write one new song for each gig he played, resulting in a collection that became debut album, Myriads.

Indeed, that collection so inspired fans of his intensely personal and somewhat magic live performances that they came together—without Logan’s knowledge—to gather enough money to pay for album recordings. He had spent 10 months gigging around London, UK, Ireland and Europe before several followers of his, desperate to hear his songs on record, called him to schedule some after-work drinks. To his surprise they revealed they had been working furiously to crowdfund enough cash to pay for the production of an album. In the liner notes of the resulting record, he wrote: “If not for this ninja initiative, the album would not have been made.”




Logan wrote and co-produced Myriads with producer and instrumentalist Daniel Peterson at The Biscuit Factory, Bermondsey. Sessions took place under a strict set of conditions: Logan personally would not work on a given song for more than a day. The intent was to create a sense of urgency and encourage a rawness of approach based on instinct and intuition—rather than get bogged down in painstaking attention to detail, retaking and editing.

During his day job working with homeless people, Logan came across an illustrator and painter, Dave B, with whom he became friends. They worked together on a different project before the Dave accepted a commission form Officer to produce artwork that would accompany the release of three singles from the album.

Next stop for OFFICER is the difficult second album, currently in the works. The songs will centre around various themes: the joy, awe and fear of having become a father; the paradoxical tyranny, freedom and healing abilities of time; the suffering, fragmentation and loneliness that result from the hailstorm of bullshit the world is currently going through; extremism, nationality and a global shortage of good leadership… oh, and drunk dancing (among other things).

This is an artist with a resonant sound and voice, making music that embraces the widest range of emotions; he has come from a hard place, witnesses the tribulations of genuinely vulnerable people every day and struggles with faith in a world that seems to be rewarding lies and greed above all else.
In the midst of all that he also writes a fucking great tune from time to time.


















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Sunday, 6 August 2017

Review - Ashley Reaks – Track Marks




Ashley Reaks – Track Marks

DL

Out Now

8 / 10

Genre hopping musician and collage artist returns with his new album. 

There can be few artists as original as Ashley Reaks.  His pure inventiveness alone is deserving of wider recognition and his ability to continually break musical boundaries is insurmountable.  It would be advantageous to say he has a sound of his own but he doesn’t, he is constantly re-inventing himself and challenging everything that has come before.

It is with this in mind that each new release is met with a certain amount of excitement and expectation on these pages and fortunately, the latter is never disappointing.  Track Marks is no exception, again Reaks brings us songs of everyday misfortune, regret and disillusion bound together with bewildering musical arrangements and vocal patterns.  There are some constants in the shape of Nick Dunne on guitar and Maria Jardardottir who provides some of the most inspiring vocals with a range and style that is nothing short of amazing and, regular saxophone breaks this time around supplied by Joel Purnell.

Opener, Stale Mate begins with a retro sounding Nintendo riff but soon includes Reaks’ pure vocals and a lovely bassline that continues through some wonderful dub effects and a part rendition of When The Red Red Robin from Jardardottir adding a smile to the proceedings.  The album sees a lean towards improvised avant garde rock with gentle sways towards early Genesis perhaps but also with leans in the direction of the grown-up rock that many of us can well do without.  The difference here is that knitted together with the sharp lyrics and bewildering arrangements the final result is quite inspiring.

Yes, I’ll Take My Pilgrimage contains almost every trick in the book, probably even the kitchen sink as it transcends electro, jazz and rock in one fell swoop making for one of the most fascinating listens on the album and Exposing Fiona offers endless possibilities of subject matter but most importantly holds a deep melodic masterpiece that only Reaks is capable of offering.

Tank From Grimsby features leader of The Angst Band, Paul Middleton reciting some often hilarious spoken word and joins the league of poets including Joe Hakim and more recently Equinox, that Reaks has continued to use and support presenting yet another angle to his work.

In short, Ashley Reaks should be a national treasure.  He is an incredibly talented artist and one which deserves far more success and coverage than he receives.  For an introduction to his work there is really no starting point other than to dive right in and have a taste and, Track Marks is as good a place as any to get yourself immersed.








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Published on Louder Than War 31/07/17 - here









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