Monday, August 12, 2013

Vuvuvultures - Push/Pull

Vuvuvultures have been carving their way through the underground press for a little while now, charming at every turn, readily provocative and exposing their genuine curiosity for innovating in sound and noise. Stepping out with last year's 'VVV' e.p. they reminded us that pop music really can be interesting and fun at the same time with a brace of four seductive and risqué gems infused with an enticing mix of electronically spattered goth rock and indie.

Which brings us to Push/Pull. 'Ctrl Alt Mexicans' opens up proceedings in familiar territory having previously lead the VVV e.p. It is, quite literally, a very groovy piece, peppered with plenty of homemade inventive noise (possibly produced by one box of tricks the band refers to as The Appliance Of Science). It's a great intro, with quirky riffs and fills from Paul and Matt, swept along by Nicole's thunderously dirgey bass and of course, Harmony's exceptional voice. What follows is the whale sinking pop hook that anchors 'Steel Bones' together and the jaunty interplay of vocal and harpsichord-esque synth in the pacey, dark swirl that constitutes 'Deaf Epic'. It's a thrilling triumvirate to get things going on an album with deadly purpose.

But it's here that 'Push/Pull' falters for the first time with 'Your Thoughts Are A Plague'. It swaggers with great confidence, loitering with intent but it comes to naught and frustratingly there are further examples that suffer this symptom. Three in a row in fact; 'The Professional', 'Tell No-One' and 'The Strangler' clatter along, hanging in the wind, aloof and looking to prove their sophistication by sheer battery. It's not enough, although 'Tell No-One’s industrial overtones bring the track back over to the right side of dangerous.  These are the slower, seemingly more introspective entries in the set – slow burners snuffed of their potential.

Bookending this are 'Whatever You Will' and 'Another Hit', both returns to form, two tracks which unsurprisingly by now, show off Vuvuvultures’ super toned pop chops to great effect. These are tracks in the vein of the notably absent but both brilliant ‘Still’ (their previous single) and ‘Safe Skin’ (from ‘VVV’) and it’s a shame these don’t make an appearance here. 

Push/Pull is a remarkably apt title for a record that seems so evenly split in terms of direction and focus. Don't get me wrong, Vuvuvultures are a tremendous band with plenty to give and they’re well defined when it comes to their signature sound. It just feels a bit like they're holding a little too much back when they clearly have the best hand many of us have seen in a long while. It’s all here; Vuvuvultures just need to cut loose with it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pond - Hobo Rocket

There’s something very charming about the ramshackle and raw edge that a Pond record tends to exhibit. That’s not to say the sound is amateur by any means – honing their wild live repertoire within the confines of the studio is no mean feat and the songs on offer here certainly hold their own. ‘Giant Tortoise’ lumbers along delightfully with many of psychedelia’s signatures comfortably in tow. ‘Xan Man’ comes right at you and six minutes later you wonder the hell just happened.

There’s a purity invested in what Pond do. Part of the sound bite at the end of the title track appears to be testament to that; something along the lines of “Everyone’s professional and we do it only once”.

With the next Pond record, ‘Man, It Feels Like A Space Again’ originally planned as the follow up to ‘Beards, Wives, Denim’, it’s hard to judge if this is a precursor of sorts or a mini masterpiece in itself with a successor already mapped out. The sound is expansive but at 7 tracks elapsing for a total of 34 minutes its duration seems at odds to its ambition. That’s not say the overall impression is lessened – Pond’s sound and the multi-layered depth to their music is consistently interesting. It’s possible the ideas count kept the track count low because there is a lot to appreciate from song to song (that’s a good thing, by the way).

Pond are a music machine, an effervescent locomotive of noise and sound you’d gladly tie your head to the tracks for, just to get closest to the experience. That said, ‘Hobo Rocket’ might not be quite enough to change everybody’s world but it will provide you with a wonderfully immersive rock n’ roll fix and, most of the time, that’s more than enough.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Big Black Delta - Big Black Delta

There’s something quite other worldly about Big Black Delta, which is just as well considering mastermind Jonathan Bates’ UFO obsession (also the source of the moniker – mysterious dark triangles in the sky being just as prevalent as flying saucers).

Other worldly this debut may be but it’s grounded with anything goes rock n’ roll spirit and firmly anchored in bass-heavy synth and experimental noise. For the most part it’s a high-energy record that’s fired up from the outset with opener ‘Put The Gun On The Floor’ through to tracks like ‘The Zebrah’.

In truth, this Big Black Delta record was previously available about 18 months ago or so but, for whatever reason, it was quickly pulled, presumably due to a change of tack to build up to the album with a traditional volley of singles rather than an immediate flash bang LP release. That was ‘BBDLP1’ which clocked in with 9 classic tracks. Now, in ‘Big Black Delta’ we have 8 of those remastered and  5 new songs to bolster the ride. 

And what a ride. Three blinding singles in ‘Ifuckingloveyou’, ‘Betamax’ and ‘Side Of The Road’ have set the tone for a platter that should figure in many critics’ and acolytes’ top 10s come the end of the year. You can detect much traditional song writing between the layers of treatment that these songs have received and that’s probably where a good chunk of the appeal lies whether you appreciate that or not.

The music swings along, one foot firmly in the past, the other striding into the future. For example, if it’s not too heavy an analogy, Jonathan blends his harpsichord-esque intro into ‘Betamax’ then punches through it with driving, practically industrial, beats and sequenced noise. Or consider ‘Side Of The Road’, wrapped up in heavy electronics and vocoder but eminently danceable with a charmingly ace video that evokes a Tron-like green screen version of Gene Kelly’s ‘Singin’ In The Rain’.

Newer songs like ‘Money Rain Down’ add new dimensions to the BBD sound with its sampled horns and funky bass. When the pace slows a little we’re welcomed with hopelessly romantic and gorgeous tracks like the evocative ‘Dreary Moon’, ‘Into The Night’ and ‘Love You This Summer’.

Far from being a mixed bag, Big Black Delta is a measured and varied album, brilliant from start to finish. It’s tempting to call it a masterpiece because it probably is but beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. One thing is certain though. Big Black Delta is a belter.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Remote Control

Once upon a time, there was a little boy. He was born half the world away from where he was from to parents from opposite sides of the Earth. He grew up in two different places and saw things that people from either location could not imagine.

On a black continent he saw suffering and hope in equal measure, experience privilege and saw kindness and brutality play out in recurring cycles. He travelled great distances to marvel at plunging waterfalls, great lakes and rift valleys full of life. The worldly people he met at these places entertained and informed, sharing of what they had and the boy felt rich and lucky and alive (though sometimes he did not say as much).

Further north, in the country of his citizenship (awarded to him by birthright in that other place far away) he also experienced privilege – education and modern conveniences that he appreciated greatly as they were in short supply where he was born or simply not supported by the institutions and infrastructure of that place. It was colder but many things made up for the drop in temperature and so life here too was good.

His first memories there came from the black continent but not from the country of his birth. He and his parents had travelled back north for a while, for the birth of his sister before returning but to another country, on the other side of the black continent, a place generally agreed to be its warm heart and the home of a lake so expansive it felt to him like he was standing on the edge of the earth.

He felt fearful one day as a toy boat raced off into the distance, thinking he would never see it again, swallowed by the lake. His father chased it in a real boat and eventually brought it back but the boy still remembers the terror he felt and still wonders why its grip affected him so.

How was he learning to feel like this? Was he being taught? Is this what crept up on you in life? How could such a sensation exist in such a beautiful place? How could it be he didn't even care that much for the object yet its potential loss tore at him?

These and many other questions would come to the boy. Some he would answer himself straight away. This was gratifying. Others he would ask of other people and sometimes the answers were satisfactory. Many though he could not fathom and the answers from others were unacceptable or did not tally with what he already knew. Some people did not expect him to know as much as he did from what he had observed. The answers were not patronising, they were meant to soothe but the weight they carried was unsubstantial and they were frustrating. For all he knew and all he was learning his inability to divine solutions to some of his most pertinent dilemmas sometimes blighted life.

It was another occasion, another vivid memory, this time at sea proper that the same kind of fear returned. Back where he was born again, another picturesque location, a sandy white beach within a small bay with a ramshackle shop and bar of its own. It was popular but not crowded. The atmosphere was jubilant, as it usually was, and the water was clear, yachts and boats peacefully moored and at anchor on the far side, close to the breakwater. Friends had come on the weekend trip or had been rendezvous'd with and later in the day, castles had been made in the sand, much swimming had been done and water games played. The adults, as they did, congregated about the bar while the children played in the waves or close to the water. But suddenly, it was proposed they take the boats out further than the distance where they had rounded the bays edge to come to the beach. There was no destination, just to head out toward the horizon between the two heads that bordered the bay. There seemed to be no purpose to it either yet some of the adults seem keen. Others were easily swayed and duly trouped into the pair of small speedboats with the children.

The journey there was fine. Fast, fun and familiar for the most part as it was pretty much back the way they came, the same way they always returned home from the beach. But they weren't to bare left as usual and they sped out to sea. Very quickly, the water became turbulent and the waves rolled high so that from one boat to the other you could see the other craft either climbing a steep wall of water or descending a frothy mound. To look forward was to see a toiling blue expanse up to where the sky met the water. And behind, the waves were so high that as the boats bobbed on their traverse the coast would disappear from view as their sterns were pointed towards the sky or great waves obscured the line of site to the land.

In the great expanse of ocean he felt trapped and scared. So did his mother. He wondered if you had learned to feel this way from her or he should try to delight in his fathers boldness. Perhaps his mother was over reacting. He should trust the boats and trust his father regardless of this competition to do something daring that seemed to have sprung from nothing amongst the men whilst back at the beach. It did not matter, fear was the overriding emotion. He pretended to be okay as his mother insisted they return and to get back to the beach was such a relief.

This was supposed to be fun. Where did these troubles come from? He'd felt similar displeasure another time in the same boat, its tank nearly empty he noticed, with half the journey still to go. Not only was he afraid of being stranded but also possibly being crushed by the towering oil tankers that lined the route to the beaches. This was probably easily remedied if it did happen – someone passing could probably spare some fuel or a tow would be exchanged for money. But still it put fear in him. And just like the other occasions he wondered where it came from, had he learnt to feel it, to expect it? Why was he so prone?

It was not the sea or the water – he loved it. He watched the skiers and hoped he could enjoy what they were doing one day. It looked thrilling. And to pilot the boat when his father deemed the waterway clear enough was amazing and fun. He'd hung off the side of a catamaran once, skimming the water, legs and feet planted on the pontoon and as taut as the steel cables suspending him and that was also reassuringly exciting.

Later in life, he had mastered some of his fears. Some he had banished, others came and went. Others emerged, seemingly inexplicably considering he was previously fearless about some experiences that now newly disturbed him. He had flown, long-haul, six times a year for every year for most of his early life. He relished it-the anticipation of the car ride to the airport, usually an imposing building full of procedure but peppered with gracious people looking to make your journey more comfortable. And finally the opportunity to step aboard a jumbo jet again and to thrill at lifting off, to enjoy being held aloft occupied by the creature comforts the flight afforded him and the attentiveness the stewardesses paid a young flyer.

As a teenager, his taking to the air was paused. Life had changed and he missed flying to and fro so often. There were a few more trips which were enjoyable enough but then all of a sudden (after the end of a broken relationship) he felt just as claustrophobic and isolated as he had on those waves as a small child.

He controlled his panic and his fear as best he could. After much thought (probably too much) and more flights (probably too many) it became a little clearer. Maybe that little boat on the lake in the warm heart of Africa is where all this came from. The small machine was his as much as it was his fathers. It broke free from the signal that directed it and propelled off into the distant nowhere. And there was nothing that the little boy could do about it.

It was not the fear of losing the toy. It was the inability to act, as it shot away, his options for resolve plunged to nothing. The radio control had failed and so had is capability to remain measured. The lack of mastery of the situation in an isolated place was his greatest fear – at sea, on a plane, in life.

And so in his head, he remembered the moment his father had returned with the little boat, over and over again. And then for the final time he embellished the memory with his imagination. He took the radio box from his father, checked the signal indicator read full for one last time and smashed it on the rocks by the water. Now, just as back then, he did not need control, only trust, and he decided he would never lose that little boat, no matter what the situation, ever again.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

2:54 - 2:54

Wow, oh wow - this has been anticipated. Since the "Scarlet E.P." a pair of excellent singles ("You're Early", "Creeping") have hinted at what this band might unleash.

2:54 (or '6 Minutes To 3' as some colleagues prefer) are Dalston based but there's some kind of Bristolian history in there somewhere too which automatically brings them closer to our hearts. Good thing thing then that the music is on the money.

There's space and simplicity in the songs but with each element of the music intertwining as they do, every tune on their debut is a vertiginously blissful experience. There's real atmosphere here. It's genuinely exciting. 'Revolving' is an apt opener considering this album will spin you right 'round.

We're immediately into familiar territory with the driving 'You're Early' second song in. Haunting, layered stuff with a few welcome twists. Sisters Charlotte and Hannah Thurlow share vocals, guitars and the limelight. Their rhythm section is a solid, un-flashy affair - they let the music breathe whilst keeping it firmly grounded. And they're brilliant for it.

'Easy Undercover' is probably the most upbeat the band can manage. It's supremely pleasing - Siouxsie vocals wrapped up in a mutated version of the the riff out of Bowie's 'China Girl'. And if we're making lazy comparisons let's get the Curve and Shirley Manson mentions out of the way too, eh? 2:54 only borrow from the best.

And so it continues, from first e.p. opener 'Scarlet' at the halfway marker through to their last single 'Creeping' closing out proceedings it's a moody, sometimes vicious but always beautiful set.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beach House - Bloom

I made the mistake of listening to this... The first time, that is. Preoccupied, it's delicate chime output by some crummy laptop speakers turned out to be a very unfortunate circumstance. I'd already made my mind up whilst the record was drawing to a close. Beach House had lost it and the impending greatness and ubiquitousness promised by their previous album, 'Teen Dream' (and those before it) had gotten the better of them.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. Listening again and again on a better suited system or plugged into your good headphones and you're met with a soothing treasure trove of delightful noise. And layer upon layer of grandiloquent sound. It's so laid back they could score a sedative commercial. A much needed tranquilliser when the world around you cracks on at it's crazy, confusing pace.

There are plenty of beautiful songs on this record. Beach House have honed a compelling, definitive sound over the course of their four album history. This set is not some kind of genre-hopping odyssey. It's not so crass as to hide a lack of ideas in some kind of perceived eclecticism. But it is definitely an adventure. Their very own sonic tapestry and each song is a quiet, knowing, joyfully melancholy exploration of many of it's facets. Listen and you shall be rewarded.