Friday, 27 January 2012

Funin - Unsound

Bergen indie outfit Funin released this, their debut waxing back in November 2010 in their home territory Norway but it did not get a world release until a year later, and it seems to have gone under my radar until now, more's the pity. Undoubtedly influenced by heavyweights such as Arcade Fire, Björk, Radiohead, Portishead, they have created an interesting listen with their seven piece line up, expanded from their beginnings as a duo, and now featuring a string section and sundry electronica.

The electronic beats and sundry strangeness on Inch Of Me combined with Marit Elisabeth's elfin tones come direct from the Björk work manual but there are other things going down here, like Øyvind's lounge-jazz ivory tinkling with languid flute that lend the song its own sound.

Away from the sphere of Iceland's premier chanteuse, we have the gorgeous electro-soundscape ballad Everything initially sung by co-vocalist Gaute in the style of an angst-free Thom Yorke before swapping verses with Marit, and very nice it is too as the string section take the lead. Here it is...

Rocking Chair lurches along like a Tom Waits jazz from the dark side moment, but instead of Tom's nicotine stained growl we get more of Marit's dulcet tones, a combination that works well as handclaps and what sounds like a picked banjo bring the song to a close. Machine is not so much mechanical as menacing, eerie electronica on the beat backing Marit again, and this one has the Bristol sound of Portishead and Tricky going on, with Eastern sounding strings on top, ending with some distant piano. Strange and toe-tapping at the same time this song sums up the confidence of a band not afraid to tackle something a wee bit out there. We end with Skywalkers which starts off threatening to be an Arcade Fire style pop song but then abruptly goes deliberately awry.

All in all a confident and complex debut from a band that should go far, and indicative of the amazingly varied music scene that comes out of Norway.

1. Unsound
2. Everything
3. Wonderland
4. Tornado
5. Last Day
6. Inch Of Me
7. Indestructible
8. Rocking Chair
9. Machine
10. Skywalkers

Line up:
Marit Elisabeth Svendsbøe - vocals and flute
Øyvind Vie Berg - piano and rhodes
Gaute Stedje - vocals and guitar
Aleksander Tveit - guitar
Sissel Ørstavik - violin
Audun Berg Selfjord - cello
Edvard Mjanger - bass
Hans Christian Dalgaard - drums

Buy this here from those fine folk at Karisma Records, a label that gets more esoteric by the day!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

"Daddy's got a Porsche"


M83 live at the O2 Academy, Oxford, January 24th 2012

Arriving after some for once peerless navigation through the city of Oxford well in time for a couple of pints of rather nice Hooky Gold at a nearby hostelry, big noses #1 and #3 entered the steam bath that was the O2 Academy about 10 minutes or so before the band were due on.

Two things - one it was sweat drippingly hot, as the venue was rammed, and two there were an awful lot of Tarquins & Jemimas about judging by the preponderance of upper middle class accents.

This gig was a gift from Phill, bless him, as who else would go and see this odd bunch with him? M83 (named after a distant galaxy) are a band who I have tried hard but largely failed to get into in preparation for tonight's shindig, Phill having bombarded me with several discs of Euro pop flavoured shoegaze-techno-strangeitude.

Bang on 9pm the band, led by guitarist/synth player/vocalist Anthony Gonzalez and three others, two guys on bass and drums respectively and a gal on keyboards and vocals. I have no idea who these others are but they do a sterling job around Gonzalez who despite his name is French and lives in LA!

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Parking ourselves by the merch stall so we could lean on the counter was a mistake as the muggy heat was compounded by two spotlights shining at the stall almost directly overhead. It did not take long before we retreated to the back of the venue, which is where we belong at our age, let's face it.

Not knowing anything about this group I was amazed at how popular they are with their largely early twenty-something audience who stuffed the venue to bursting point - I'd guess around 1200 in total. It becomes apparent that the at times almost techno stylee music obviously makes them faves with the young rug cutters, but this aspect of their sound leaves me largely unmoved. Their music, be it the more club oriented stuff, or my preference the weirder Klaus Schulze meets Jean Michel Jarre with shoegazey guitars, which I'm told by Phill is their earlier sound, is pretty basic stuff played with a great energy. In other words, it is pop music folks.

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A highlight was their hit single Midnight City when they all too briefly included a sax player, which added another dimension to their occasionally samey sound. The vocals whether sung by Anthony or his female companion, included a lot of ooh-oohs and like the albums were largely indecipherable, buried in the mix. It may have been the sonic absorption qualities of hundreds of clammy bodies, but the sound was a bit muddy and simply not loud enough until the end.

After playing for exactly an hour, which included a lengthy break while a faulty keyboard was replaced, they came back for a rather pointless encore which mostly consisted of an uninspired techno workout. A strange band who flit between commercial dance choons and left-field oddness at a whim, M83 seem to have found an audience that love them, and good luck to them, but I doubt I'll be investigating further.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Iron Kim Style - Iron Kim Style

Listen to some of this fine album while reading on, here.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Seattle’s Denis Rea fresh from having released Moraine’s debut album Manifest Destiny in 2009 joined up with Ryan Berg in the latter's improv project Iron Kim Style in order to unleash the harder side of his frequently mesmerising guitar playing. This coruscating jazz-fusion ensemble recorded and released an hours worth of improvised densely heavy fusion in 2010 to local acclaim and to anyone outside of North West USA promptly seemed to disappear from whence they came, much to the loss of lovers of challenging music everywhere. Named after the martial arts style favoured by loony North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, the inner cover of Iron Kim Style's debut playfully proclaims "Your boxing has no power", and proceeds to show us exactly what that power sounds like.

Starting off with The Mean Streets Of Pyongyang, where a sinuous bass groove leads us into an example of free association ensemble playing of the highest order I can tell I’m in for a bit of a treat. Dennis’ guitar strikes some open tuned chords inviting the others to fill the spaces, and Bill Jones trumpet duly obliges. There are obvious comparisons to be made with the trumpet playing of Miles Davis but most trumpet players would take that as a compliment I’m sure. Jay Jaskot reprises the military beat and the open chords are back leading to some lurching reluctant ensemble playing – join in or face the wrath of Kim! The crowds fight back after a passage of melancholy world-weary guitar that leads to some incendiary soloing from Dennis. The proletariat will not be stomped down forever! A fine start to the record, painting a bleak picture of oppression, but infused with hope.

There are moments of strange avant weirdness introducing Gibberish Falter, sounding like a traffic jam in Hell broadcast over a short wave radio. Once another funky bass groove from Ryan Berg has nailed things down Bill’s exemplary trumpet playing reminds me of Chris Botti from Bruford Levin Upper Extremities’ wonderful Blue Nights live album. In fact there are a lot of connections between this and the B.L.U.E. sound, albeit that Iron Kim Style have a slightly harder edge. Forgive me if I have missed the contributions of the charmingly Dickensian sounding Thaddaeus Brophy on 12-string, but as a non-muso it’s not always obvious which guitar is which, although I’m convinced the Ollie Halsall style jazz scale runs on Po’ Beef are Dennis’….probably! And Bill’s trumpet blasting goes up another notch here too…boy is he some player.

Time is given to reflect after the martial cacophony with the lovely jazz ballad that is Don Quixotic, and I can definitely hear the 12-string in this song, without a doubt, but Roger McGuinn it ain’t! On these more restful phases of lyrical beauty Denis puts me in mind of Terje Rypdal, and contra to that, athough this track ends in distortion and a soupçon of feedback, it remains a thing of beauty. The otherworldly feel is maintained on Adrift and we have left the city, traversing the starkly lovely hinterland and feeling the pain of the people. Stunningly evocative, Adrift shows what can be done with a basic line up of instruments of just the two guitars, with minimal bass and percussion, and some very understated clarinet from Izaak Mills to lead the track out. The ensemble set out to create a definite mood on this piece, and stick to those parameters, which must be a difficult thing to do in an improvisational setting.

Amber Waves Of Migraine relies on dissonance rather than cacophony to instil its mood, stumbling along in a dystopian nightmare of echoes and reverb and wah-trumpet. Marvellous! This is the sort of record that I can only play when my long-suffering other half is out of the house, bless her, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Bill really lets fly on Pachinko Malice where I can also hear Halsall again in Dennis’ playing. The references I’m making are only for your guidance dear reader, as this band have constructed their own wilful and powerful sound on this beast of an album beyond any kowtowing to styles or other players.

The Dreams from Our Dear Leader are surprisingly peaceful given his many megalomaniacal pronouncements, and Jack Out The Kims (“Motherfuckers” optional!) wins track title of the album award and is a hellish racket as you might expect. Several strings died in the making of this track, although no pandas were harmed. And let’s end by Slouchin’ At The Savoy where an air of faded ersatz colonial influence mixed with Chinese percussion and Bill’s lounge-jazz trumpet from the Seventh Ring bring to a close this at times frightening and at times austere but certainly fulfilling album.

In that same alternate universe where Simon Cowell is on public trial for crimes against the soul, Iron Kim Style are the house band at the Dead Dictators’ Club, but should this group ever decide on another Five Year Agrarian Plan then a name change must be in the offing, now that his son has replaced “Iron Kim”, but I’m guessing that neither “Bewildered Panda Kim Style” or “Fat Kim Style” will be chosen somehow!

1.      Mean Streets Of Pyongyang (10:32)
2.      Gibberish Falter (4:36)
3.      Po’ Beef (6:17)
4.      Don Quixotic (7:37)
5.      Adrift (7:44)
6.      Amber Waves Of Migraine (5:37)
7.      Pachinko Malice (5:10)
8.      Dreams from Our Dear Leader (3:20)
9.      Jack Out The Kims (2:34)
10.  Slouchin’ At The Savoy (2:24)

Line up:
Dennis Rea – 6-string guitar
Bill Jones – Trumpet
Jay Jaskot – Drums
Thaddaeus Brophy – 12-string guitar
Ryan Berg - Bass
Izaak Mills - Bass clarinet (1,5)

Buy this from the frequently wonderful and rarely disappointing Moonjune Records for a mere $10 (USA) or $12 (outside USA) both inclusive of P&P - another irresistible bargain folks!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Earthling Society - Stations Of The Ghost

I hadn't listened to this band in quite a while when I received this album from Nick at Prog Sphere, and it seems that they have evolved considerably since I last spun one of their discs.

The classic Hawkwind and Gong influences are still there, but they have developed their own brand of psych rock now. A brand that is infused with indie attitude, sounding as The Verve might have done if they had continued on the psych trip from their debut album A Storm In Heaven instead of combining the psych with a rich vein of indie pop. There is a confident swagger on such tracks as Child Of The Harvest which has some nice sax work as it charges along. The reverbed vocals remind me of early Richard Ashcroft crossed with Shaun Ryder, which maybe is not that surprising when you consider that those two and the band come from the same area of the UK. There's a touch of keening Ozzy too, especially on Night Of The Scarecrow, which you can listen to below as you read on...

The band hail from Fleetwood in Lancashire, UK, an area that is more often damp and misty than not, the fuzzy nature of the atmosphere being reflected in this reverb-heavy production. So thick is the reverververbbbbbb laid on that it is rarely possible to decipher what singer songwriter/guitarist Fred Laird is enunciating, and after a while one wishes for a bit more clarity. As Stations Of The Ghost is a ostensibly a concept album based around the pagan occult withchery stories of the band's Lancashire homeland, it would have been helpful to have deciphered more of the lyrics. Still, the production certainly manages to create a mystical atmosphere, that's for sure, weaving a darkly menacing tapestry.

The music goes some distance towards creating a ghostly land of sorcery, referencing classic 70s space rock, Krautrock, folk rock, as well as elements of stoner rock, all filtered through a sonic gauze. Fans of Øresund Space Collective, Ozrics, and their ilk should love it.

A snip at only £6.50 including UK P&P from the band's website where you can also download two tracks from this opus to try before you buy.

1. Stations Of The Ghost (2:22)
2. Dark Horizons (7:32)
3. The Last Hurrah (9:20)
4. Child Of The Harvest (14:26)
5. The Halloween Tree (3:39)
6. Night Of The Scarecrow (13:30)
7. Lola Daydream (6:45)

Line up:
Fred Laird / guitars, vocals, keys
Jon Blacow / drums, percussion
Luis Gutarra / bass
Joe Orban / keyboards (2,4)
Ellie Willard / backing vocals (2,4)
Ian Wright / saxophone (4)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Moraine - Metamorphic Rock

One of the pleasures of this reviewing lark is that once in a while something hitherto unheard of will land in your inbox that simply takes your breath away. 

This is as you might imagine, a fairly rare occurrence, for although during the course of a year the reviewer may receive a handful of seriously good CDs amongst the piles of average and worse, to receive something astounding is a rarefied pleasure indeed.

Such a thing is Metamorphic Rock whose irreducible complexity, to borrow one of the song titles is of such a seriously magical content I just can’t put it down. This band is filling mega stadiums in a parallel universe where Simon Cowell is on trial for crimes against art.

Formed by composer and guitar player Denis Rea, Moraine have so far released just one studio album, Manifest Destiny in 2009, and Metamorphic Rock is a document of their appearance at the 2010 Nearfest in the USA (see video below) in front of a small but appreciative crowd, most of whom no doubt know how lucky they were to have witnessed such a wonderful ensemble in action.

Covering the many strata of styles that combines into an easily identifiable cogent whole is no mean feat but Dennis Rea – guitars, James DeJoie – sax, flute, percussion, Alicia DeJoie – violin, Kevin Millard – eight string bass, and Stephen Cavit - drums  make it sound easy. Dennis Rea, guitar player extraordinaire, covers all bases from Page-like riffage to Fripp math excursions, along the way taking on Chinese scales and Far Eastern imagery, amongst a whole gamut of other influences. Until last year I had not heard of this man, and I regret that a lot! He is also a member of Moonjune heavy jazz-fusion combo Iron Kim Style and has recently released a gorgeous solo album, but they are stories for another page.

The compositional credits are dominated by Dennis, with contributions from James and Alicia and Kevin, with one group composition, and another written by since departed cellist Ruth Davidson who appeared on Manifest Destiny. Indeed, since that album her cello contributions have been replaced by James’ sax and flute.

After the almost Zeppelin-esque power of James’ opener Irreducible Complexity, an early highpoint is the three part track Disillusioned Avatar/Dub Interlude/Ephebus Amoebus. The first part is composed by Alicia and her violin takes a plaintive lead melody with Dennis’ subtle guitar sounding like an elongated sigh as the tune sways along, conveying the melancholy of a deity disappointed with the results of mans' “achievements”. When I read the word “Dub” in a rock context, the aural results are often cliché-ridden and cringeworthy, not this time though as the short unobtrusive section soon leads into Kevin’s jazz-infused Ephebus Amoebus. As a non-muso I often wonder how drummers write songs, but this guy has come up with a mini jazz symphony over which Dennis goes through all kinds of gear changes including an avant cacophony. Marvellous!

Dennis’ Disoriental Suite follows with a marked change of style with much Eastern percussion and is lifted from his solo album Views From Chicheng Precipice and manages to mix traditional Chinese music and Dennis’ take on that sound with a sort of alt-blues with absolutely no problems at all. This is a truly beautiful piece of music my friends, and one not to be missed, and the band’s easy intuitive style is one that should, if there was any justice, make Moraine a household name, at least amongst the prog community. Here I should mention the rhythm section which as is necessary cope with all the style changes and Eastern time signatures with a casual ease that should frighten off lesser mortals. Stephen replaced the original drummer and so had to learn most of this from scratch, which shows how good he must be.

Some of the other things I can hear in this are chamber prog, Zappa, jazz-fusion, avant garde sound painting and hoedown….that last one was possibly a joke. Unusually for a live album there are previously unreleased compositions on here as well as a good few tracks from Manifest Destiny, and the aforementioned lift from Dennis’ solo album. The new songs were included to showcase the new line up where the cello is replaced by the sax & flute, and the older songs from Manifest Destiny do sound fuller in this new context.

The Okanogan Lobe has some nice squalling guitar and sax and violin and is a tremendous thing running amok until it ends with a melancholy air featuring some nice reverbed violin and a soaring solo from Dennis. Even when things get a bit out there, as on Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for instance, the madness never takes over to the detriment of the arrangement, such is Dennis’ and the band’s compositional flair. Blues For A Bruised Planet does what is says on the tin, free of tired old 12-bar cliché too. Some nice trading of licks and interplay between the guitar and violin permeates Middlebräu and we reluctantly come to the end of a stunning musical tour-de-force…damn, just hit repeat!

Hell, I’m beginning to sound sycophantic, but honestly, it’s not intended. Metamorphic Rock is a timeless slab of an album and there is nothing at all terminal about this Moraine! Do yourself a favour, if you like good adventurous music, be it prog or any other genre, buy this awesomely good CD, currently available from Moonjune Records at a bargain $12 (USA) or $14 (outside USA) including shipping. That, my good people, is a steal, go treat yourself!

1. Irreducible Complexity (3:39)
2. Manifest Density (3:45)
3. Save the Yuppie Breeding Grounds (4:07)
4. Disillusioned Avatar/Dub Interlude/Ephebus Amoebus (10:25)
5.  Disoriental Suite (11:46):
a) Bagua
b) Kan Hai De Re Zi
c) Views from Chicheng Precipice
6. Kuru (4:31)
7. The Okanogan Lobe (7:36)
8. Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (3:44)
9. Blues for a Bruised Planet (4:35)
10. Waylaid (5:31)
11.  Middlebräu (9:09)

Line up:
Dennis Rea – guitars
James DeJoie – baritone sax, flute, percussion
Alicia DeJoie – violin
Kevin Millard – NS/Stick (8-string extended-range bass)
Stephen Cavit – drums, percussion

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Flower Eaters - The Spectre Loiters

The first album from this two man London group mixes classic space rock sounds with Klaus Schulze like sequencer led synth extrapolations to produce an open inviting sound.

Stretched phased guitar chords invites us into The Flower Eaters' universe, languorous phased soloing leading into mid-paced riffage that thankfully stays well outside metal territory, Vitamin BC slightly reminiscent of mid-90s Porcupine Tree. The Schulze influence looms large over Hyperspace Mood, and there is also a feel of Quark period Hawkwind.

Suitably distant and swirly vocals feature briefly on Bend The Rainbow whose muddy caveman riffing recalls the heady days of The Rainbow, Finsbury Park circa 1973. You can almost smell the patchouli, and I'm sure that was Stacia I saw, grooving in the corner to Clearlight Symphony. If Jam 2.0 were played at twice the speed it would have made a good rave tune. As it is, it stays in the chillout zone where it shares a bong with an Ozric or three.

After this we head across Le Manche and end up travelling the autobahn for a few hundred klicks as Euro sequencers take charge, Microdots being well into an early Kraftwerk vibe. The album ends with Hyperreality Doom, which as its title suggests rocks out, but in a fashion much faster than that normally associated with "doom" and is a fitting end to the journey, although the ending seems unnecessarily abrupt, almost as if the tape ran out, but maybe that was deliberate? If so, I don't think it quite worked.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that a young modern audience would be aware of all the sounds I've listed as references, unless their grandads' were old hippies, and if it leads to a new audience for good ol' spacerock, then I'm all for it. The sound on my downloaded review copy is not that good, being a bit fuzzy and too muddy in places, but one hopes this is just down to the inferior quality of my low bitrate download over the physical CD. Overall a fine debut effort from this young group of apprentice stoneheads, and it will be interesting to see where the trip takes them next.

Oh, and the guys would like it known that they were never an Avril Lavigne covers band!

Listen to some tracks on myspace.

Buy the CD here.

1. Vitamin BC
2. Hyperspace Mood
3. Bend the Rainbow
4. Jam 2.0
5. Frozen Technology
6. Microdots
7. Buttercups
8. Hyperreality Doom

Line up:
Thomas Perryman - guitars, synthesiser, bass, and vocals
Leo Pérez - drums

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madne...