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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Harpist soundtracks train journey across England on a winters day

 

 

Sitting on a train, watching the ever whitening landscape flash by. At times it’s surreal. Less than an hour ago I was in London. There was no snow, and even less grass and trees, and now all I can see is pastoral land. Each meter that passes reminds me of Christmas cards from elderly relatives in the 1980’s. Snow covered farms with “Happy Christmas” written in copper plate. But this isn’t a card, this is real-life. With each meter than passes I forget the scene immediately, and take in the new vista.

 

 

The soundtrack to this journey is American harpist Ana Caravelle’s 2014 album Benthic. Caravelle’s music is as lush and ethereal as my view out of the window. The comparisons to Joanna Newsom are immediate. How many contemporary harpists are there with high ethereal voices? But this is where the comparison should end. Unlike Newsom, Caravelle isn’t happy to stick within the formula of pop/indie music. Caravelle layers her music, and uses electronic instruments and production techniques to add texture and juxtapose the words and melody. This is chamber music for the 21st Century!

 

 

Releasing her debut album Basic Climb, in 2010 on LA’s Non Projects label, Caravelle showed that the harp wasn’t just for medieval and renaissance fairs. 2011 saw the follow up remix album Basic Climb Re-Imagined. This showed that mixing Caravelle’s beautiful voice, tender song writing and exquisite harp playing with contemporary electronic music worked just as well. The seeds were sowed for her sophomore album.

 

 

Choosing Non Projects again, Caravelle released Benthic last year. It was one of the best missed albums of 2014. Everything that was hinted at on Basic Climb and Re-Imagined was fulfilled on Benthic. Since 2010 Caravelle’s song writing and composition has improved. Her voice has also matured. Sounding like a cross between Newsom and Lana Del Rey at times, her sugar vocals ooze out of the speakers and draw you. The album is broken in to three suites, each one containing three tracks. Each suite tells a story and they overall they tell a bigger story. This is clever and impressive stuff!

 

 

There is enough going on here to play either at a dinner party or in those moments of quiet introspection. As I look out of the window, the swaths of arable land, and snow, are getting more and more sporadic, so it’s time for me to start getting my bags ready to disembark. But in the dying moments of this album I have the Christmas card fields lodged in my head, with an ethereal voice and plucked harp strings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For one night Putney had the best gig in town!

 

 

The Half Moon in Putney was celebrating Independent Music Venue Week, but not only putting on two of the best unsigned bands in London, but by releasing a 12” of some of the best songs performed in their hallowed venue. The bands in question are Du Bellows and Two Hands and the album is Live from the Moon.

 

 

After getting drinks we made our way into the backroom. The room was filling up but we found a place, under a massive print of Kate Bush, and settled down for the first De Bellows set of the evening. As it is this set was for press and friends of the Half Moon. From the opening of Silurian Woman you could tell they were enjoying themselves. Next up was Otherside, here Jade Williams really started showing what she could to with her vocals. At one moment Williams’ vocals were whispering, then BAM a full blown gravelly bellow. Next up they played Isa Du Bellow. For a long time this has been my favourite of their songs, but hearing it live, and seeing the interplay between the members and how they extended certain sections, it took on a life of its own. After that I was locked into their groove based folk blues charm, as was everyone else in the room. Just as soon as they started, they ended. The doors were opened and general public flowed in so the next section of the night could start.

 

 

After a short interval Two Hands took to the stage. The beauty of seeing a band for the first time is the anticipation. Since I received their debut EP, it has been on a heavy rotation. I knew what to expect, big riffs, catchy shouty choruses, basically a good time. What I wasn’t expecting however, was the ferocity and aggression of their playing. They opened with a barrage of open chords and feedback, this continued for the rest of their set. The songs left like short sharp busts from an automatic weapon. Listening to the EP from the comfort of my sofa/desk at work/tube seat the EP’s influences were easy to spot, Queens of the Stoneage, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys, but live the tracks took on a totally different feeling. Elements of Texas is the Reason, Glassjaw and Rival Schools were creeping through the melodic heavy riffs. When lead singer Tom Stock announced they had one song left, a sign could be felt through the crowd. We wanted more! I’ve been a fan of Stock’s previous many, many bands and for the first time we are seeing him make the music that he likes. He also took the occasion with both hands (no pun intended, ok, I meant it…) and seemed to really enjoy his set. In the break I briefly chatted to him, what he told me made their performance even more impressive. It was only their second gig…

 

 

Having already seen Du Bellows leave the stage less than an hour before, we knew they were on top form. However we weren’t prepared for how on form they were. Williams had changed into a billowing top that brought to mind Stevie Nicks at her most ethereal. This costume change, wasn’t just for the eyes, musically they had changed too. The earlier set was more subdued and restrained to this second set. The playing was harder, faster and more frenetic. While Silurian Woman and Otherwise had been excellent in the first set, they were acoustic demos compared to the second time round. They were punchier, yet there seemed to be plenty of room for playing round and improve. In between songs Williams was eloquent and chatty with the crowd. To say she has stage presence is an understatement. Jack and His Queen was the highlight of the second set. Everything about it typified this new sound. It was heavy, yet ethereal. And what’s more they were having fun playing. Paper Soles received a rapturous applause. It was their inclusion in to the Live at the Half Moon album. The delight they all showed from being included on this 12” was there for all to see. They ended the set with Spin, which again they had managed to improve from their flawless first set. After some cajoling they returned and played Dry Flowers as an encore. After rousing applause, whistles and proposals of marriage, it was time to leave.

 

 

On the way home, I took in what we had just witnessed. While both bands are totally different, they both showcased the growing power of the West London music scene. For years now all the attention has been on the East. This is now changing and thanks to bands like Du Bellows and Two Hands, the attention is starting to drift West. On the strength of these three performances, I don’t think it’ll be the last time we hear of Two Hands and Du Bellows! Oh no, I think we’ll be hearing a lot more from these two this year…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LA prolific lo-fi producer returns two months after last album

 

 

Last November Miguel Baptista Benedict released meek(ch)o. It further cemented his reputation as a producer who not only makes quirky idiocentric music, but isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what contemporary composition can be. It was an album that didn’t just get under your skin, it got in your head. While it wasn’t an easy nut to crack, once you had, every listen yielded new surprises and pleasure.

 

 

Two months after this release, Miguel Baptista Benedict returns with bedsores (regurgitations and loops). The only note that accompanies the album says “soundtrack to sleep paralysis” This is quite a fitting note as the whole album has a lurid surreal feel to it. Swaths of droney synths permeate sections that were filled with clinky loops. Sounds fade in and out without explanations, some become part of the track again, others vanish forever. One of the tracks that exemplifies this is Romulus. On the surface there appears to me not a great deal going on, but when you start to penetrate it, there are layers upon layers of texture and tone. Polar bear boredom track starts with an off kilter synth that is peppered with acoustic guitar, that has been heavily manipulated, to give it a surreal feel. What Benedict is playing on the individual instruments isn’t that jarring, but combined, which is uplifting as well as eerie and unsettling.

 

 

There is one track in particular that needs a mention. Mouth girth. At 38 seconds it is one of the shortest tracks on the album, but it packs a massive punch. Sounding like an indie band demo CD that has been found on the side of the road, the track glitches and pulsates until its (il)logical conclusion.

 

 

On bedsores Benedict has proven, yet again, that in terms of scope creativity and arrangement no one can touch him. The way he seamlessly mixes textures of sounds, acoustic guitars synths and digital manipulation techniques, to create soundscapes that completely capture and represent a dreamlike state perfectly. At times if feels like you are listening to an audio version of David Lynch’s debut Eraserhead.

 

 

Again this isn’t for everyone, but if you are willing to put in the work and enter with an open mind, this could be the soundtrack to your next sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Half Moon Putney hosts two of the brightest lights of West London scene

 

Keep 29th January free. One of the most anticipated gigs of the year is taking place at Putney’s Half Moon. The bill is simples Two Hands and Du Bellows. Both hail from West London, and are at the forefront of helping to move the attention from East London to West London.

 

 

First on the bill are Two Hands. Forming in the embers of 2014, this trio are purveyors of heavy melodic rock. If you are into Queens of the Stone Age, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys, BRMC and Band of Skulls, this is a band you need to first listen to, secondly see live, thirdly listen to again and repeat until their lyrics and rhythmic brand of rock penetrates every cell of your body!

 

 

 

 

Headliners are the more seasoned veterans of the live scene Du Bellows. At times it’s hard to remember that Du Bellows have only been around since 2012. Forming from impromptu sets at the start and end of an open mic night, Du Bellows have taken the London music scene by storm, gaining praise from almost everyone who sees them, most notably Jimmy Page who declared “Du Bellows are by far one of the most interesting and musically adept bands I have seen recently” then added “There is a cosmic counterpoint alive and well here”. Musically they run the gauntlet between Country, Folk, Blues, Gospel and Rock, however with vocalist Jade Williams, she conjures up and evokes the spirit of Janis Joplin, Sandy Denny and Joni Mitchell whilst sounding modern and with contemporary tales of urban living. Rumour has it that an album is in the offing, which, given the quality of their Stir Studio Session and live set will be a high watermark of the year it’s released.

 

 

 

If this wasn’t enough there is another reason to attend this gig. The Half Moon are releasing an 12” album called “Live from the Moon” for £10, this coincides with Independent Venue Week. The proceeds are going to the Nordoff Robbins Charity. Nordoff Robbins offer music therapy, and this is a great way to help a worthwhile cause. Du Bellow feature on the album along with Dr. Feelgood, John Bramwell (I Am Kloot), Millers Daughter and Eddie and the Hot Rods to name a few.

 

 

All of this looks set to be one of the most exciting and worthwhile gigs in recent months. It all kicks off at 8:45 at the Half Moon in Putney. See you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rockabilly siblings return to form on third album proving Rock ‘n’ Roll ain’t dead!

 

 

Since emerging on the scene 7 years ago Kitty, Daisy and Lewis have been at the forefront of the Rockabilly/Rock ‘n’ Roll revival scene. Seamlessly merging the sound and spirit of 1950’s Rock ‘n’ Roll with contemporary issues, they have carved out a niche and are regular favourites at festivals around the world.

 

 

Their third album, ironically titled ‘Third’ picks up where last album Smoking in Heaven left off. The album shows that in the intervening years the family Durham haven’t lost any ability to tell a story. Whenever You See Me, is a stompy rocker that opens the album perfectly. It yells “We’re back!” Lead single Baby Bye Bye sounds like a lost treasure from Sun Record’s vault. While the song sounds sugary sweet the lyrics, and video, are not so lovely.

 

 

 

 

Third isn’t just a Rock ‘n’ Roll album though, as Feeling of Wonder and Turkish Delight alluded to. Feeling of Wonder is a soul working out, taking pointers from Stevie Wonder at his most funky and lyrical. Producer Mick Jones makes an appearance too. Turkish Delight has a Ska feel to it, reminiscent of Tommy McCook’s Reggae Merengue, or the Lynn Taitt classic Napoleon Solo. What more could you want?

 

 

Stand out track Whiskey has Indian influences. Droney sitar slowly builds and merges with guitar, bass, drums and strings to create a memorable end to the album. The album closes with Developer’s Disease. This is a protest song about the closure and destruction of local London venues for make way for new flats and shopping centres. Considering what’s happened in Soho since last December it is extremely topical.

 

 

Given the ages of the Durham’s, all early-mid twenty, this album is . At times, especially during the second half of the album some of the songs drag, Never Get Back in particular. If a few moments were shaved off here and there, Third, would end as punchy as it started, but at 43 minutes it’s pretty lean anyway.

 

 

Kitty, Daisy and Lewis will be on tour from 15th February until mid-May, if they are paying in your town or at a local festival you will be missing out on a great night out. Expect to dance until your feet hurt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alt-Folk chanteuse returns with new EP and new sound

 

 

I’ve always felt sorry for Emma-Lee Moss (AKA Emmy the Great). Her songs are chocked full of melancholy and laments about past loves. Her debut First Love, as the title gave away, was chocked songs about a break up with a past love. Given that the album was largely acoustic and lo-fi sounding meant that these songs took on a more personal feeling. Virtue Moss’ second album was more of the same, but the songs were fleshed out a bit more. Yet again there were songs of lost love. When I heard she was releasing a new EP I hoped that she was faring better with relationships since I last heard her. Sadly, it turns out she isn’t, which is great for us.

 

 

S is her first collection of songs since 2012’s God of Loneliness. The first thing that strikes you about this EP is that Moss has changed her sound quite dramatically. Gone are the scratchy acoustic guitars, and in their place we find luscious synths, looped samples and repetitive beats.

 

Opening track Swimming Pool typifies this new style. The music, as the title implies, there is a liquefied feel to it. Due to the production, it sound like you are listening to the music underwater. The juxtaposition between this murky sounding music and Moss’ crisp and clear vocals is one of the most beautiful and exciting tracks of the year so far. At times it sounds like Kate Bush, re-imagining Brian Eno’s Deep Blue Day. Social Halo shows that Moss has not lost her skill of being able to tell a story and keep it entertaining as well as touching. This is classic Emmy the Great!

 

 

The third track however is when things start to go a bit pear shaped. Solar Panels is about Moss’ time in America and at the Coachella festival. At first everything starts off as the previous two tracks have. There is catchy guitar riff, repetitive beat and synth/piano samples under Moss’ clear vocals. Then when the chorus comes in, it suddenly starts to swerve into a trance track. Given how the track started, this sudden 90 degree turn takes you by surprise and is quite jarring. The rest of the track follows this pattern. Sadly this track doesn’t work that well and this trance inclusion disrupts the flow of the previous two tracks. Last track Somerset (I Can’t get Over) picks up musically where the second track ends. This is another lament about lost love. As the music grows more epic, so does Moss’ declarations of love and lonigng. It is a fitting way to end the EP.

 

 

This is the first collection of tracks Moss has released for her new home Bella Union so expectation was high. As usual Moss delivered a collection of tracks that not only entertain, but captivate. It’s hard to know if this new sound will yield an album, or if this was an experiment? Either way the results show that Moss hasn’t lost her ability to perfectly tell a story in under four minutes and looks settled in her new label. This EP is post-pop at it’s best!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Synth version of Twin Peaks soundtrack shouldn’t work but does incredibly well

 

 

Something’s should be covered. They are originally perfect, so why mess with them? When I read that a label from Austin was going to put a 1980’s synth version of the Twin Peaks soundtrack, I was dubious. The whole reason why the original Twin Peaks soundtrack worked was because it matched the screen perfectly. One of Twin Peaks’ elements of genius was that everything was slightly off kilter and had its own timing, like good jazz. If you remove that organic feel, and replace it with stark digital instruments, you’ve lost the whole point of the piece. However when I started playing the album I realised that this wasn’t synths in a Duran Duran, Thompson Twins way, it was a Jan Hammer, John Carpenter 1980’s synths.

 

 

Opening track Twin Peaks Theme, sounds very close to the original, at time too close to the original that is feels like a remix rather than a cover. However the next track Who Ha’s take on Laura’s Theme is a total re-imagining of the original. There is an underlying broodiness that the original only hints at. At a minute in the track starts to throb and get the Vangelis treatment. Audrey’s Dance is one of the standout tracks. They use the original riff as guideline and add vocal samples, sax and synth solo’s to create something totally new. Freshly Squeezed is another track that plays with the original’s composition. The whole thing takes on a glitchy jazz vibe, think Digitonal doing jazz and you’re on the right vibe.

 

 

The standout track however is Transcend’s Night Life in Twin Peaks. This is one of the most emotive and evocative tracks on the original album. What Transcend have effectively done is update the moody jazz, with drum and bass with a dreamlike soundscape behind it. As Twin Peaks is coming back, this track would easily fit in with its modern setting.

 

 

There are downsides to the track however though. That tracks that involve vocals sound a bit flat. Julee Cruise has such a distinctive voice and style that the tracks sound odd without her on them. Lucy Black does a good job on Into the Night and Falling, but ultimately they feel a little flat. Luckily, however there are more positives on this album than negatives. What Retro Promenade have successfully done is re-imagine a classic album, whilst never losing the essence that made it classic in the first place.

 

 

If you are a Twin Peaks fan, you need this album. If you are into Jan Hammer, Vangelis and John Carpenter’s scores, you need this album. It you are into novelty/cover albums, you need this album. This is some dam fine synths!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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West London Gypsy Folk group’s debut album will have you shimmying and pogoing to your hearts content

 

 

Ella and the Blisters exploded onto the music scene last year with two original and enjoyable singles. These singles and a slew of incendiary live performances have helped to make them one of the most exciting and engaging bands playing at the moment. 2015 looks set to continue in the same vein as they have released their self-titled debut album.

 

 

The beauty of this album is that it can’t be pigeonholed, as the tracks incorporate folk, jazz, gypsy swing, blues, skiffle and good old fashioned rock and roll. If this doesn’t sound like your thing, don’t fret the lyrics are a mixture of traditional themes (love, loss and redemption), but with extra social commentary to boot. Lead singer and band leader Gabs Romano’s vocals are reminiscent of Imelda May and Caro Emerald, but with a touch of vaudeville and the English folk tradition to them.

 

 

What Ella and the Blisters have successfully done is re-invent the English folk album. While this might not be to all purists tastes, due to the cross pollination of other genres to their sound, it should appeal to non-folkies. In March Ella and Blisters are playing at the Gladstone Arms in Borough. I recommend for you to get down early, as this will be a gig you won’t want to miss!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Killing Moon’s new comp picks up where volume 2 left off

 

 

It only seems like yesterday when Killing Moon Records and Ally McCrae have announced the release of the second New Moons. It was one of the best compilations released last year. It was chocked full of 26 of the best new and emerging bands and musicians. It illustrated why Killing Moon is quickly becoming one of the best independent record labels around. So now they’re back again with a third instalment in the New Moons saga.

 

 

The stand out track is Hand Jive by Total Navajo. This Californian trio’s debut EP was released late last year. It showcased their talent of writing headbreakers as well as stompers. Hand Jive is the latter. The track is constructed around a blues riff, with the band either playing in or around its pattern. While Total Navajo aren’t reinventing the wheel, they have created a catchy and memorable track. At times it reminds me of a heavier and dirtier Gomez combined with the Dead Weather at their most brash and visceral.

 

 

What makes New Moons Volume III interesting is they’ve tried to broaden their musical gambit. Not just is rock, indie, emo, electronica and pop represented, but Hip-Hop thanks to Matty Rico, Heavy Rock by the OBGM’s, a tear jerking ballad by Nadine Shah, United Fruit adding some Power Pop and True Arcadian representing Metal. There is a downside to these genres being added, the album does not flow as smoothly as its predecessor as some of the genres jar against each other. Saying that each song deserves to be on this compilation, and individually their inclusion works.

 

 

Killing Moon Records look set to continue their plan for world domination in 2015. Their club nights are must go to events, and their artists gigs are a not just a celebration of music, but of like-minded people getting together to enjoy in something special. Here’s to New Moons Volume III, everyone here at thisyearinmusic towers is chomping at the bit to hear New Moons IV!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The greatest soundtrack to the greatest game that doesn’t exist

 

 

If you were young in the 80’s and 90’s you probably played a lot of computer games. If you did play a lot of computer games, you might have played certain games for their soundtracks, rather than their game play. Keiji Yamagishi wrote some of the best computer game sores. Ninja Gaiden was a highlight. It wasn’t just background music. When you played it you wanted the midlevel tempo changes. Ultimately it drove you mental when the tempo did increased. Normally you were almost out of energy and trying to hold out until the end of the level, but you loved it all the same. For some reason Yamagishi’s beat seemed harder hitting and the basslines more epic.

 

 

 

 

25 years later, he has returned with a solo project. Retro Active Part 1 is the first part of a trilogy of releases set for 2015. In the intervening years it appears Yamagishi has lost none of his skill at creating tension and excitement. So far only two tracks have been released. First Contact takes the idea of 8-Bit computer game music, but uses modern instruments and production methods to create something that is impressive as a standalone track, but sounds like a game score. At times it is reminiscent of Coldcuts’ classic Space Journey being remixed by the Chemical Brothers. But you know, more psychotic.

 

 

Yamagishi always had a set sound and style, and now not being shackled to the movements of a scrolling action adventure, he is free to create the score he has always hinted at. Whether you are a gamer who likes vintage techniques, or an electronic fan that is bored by the lack of variety in dance music, this is for you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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