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Reviewed: Sons of Frida – The Bulgarian LP

1 Oct

Sons of Frida released The Bulgarian LP in May 2010

Download the song ‘Burn’ for free from the Insomnia Radio Daily Dose

Parisian post-rockers Sons of Frida, purveyors of beautiful musical chaos and complex aural textures, started life in 2004 and brought out their fourth album, The Bulgarian LP, earlier this year. It is equal parts dissonant anarchy, driving post-rock/math-rock and lyrics that could soundtrack a descent into madness. Despite its almost crushingly tumultuous sound, the album is cohesive and engaging, pulling you under with a riptide of noisy rock and deliciously dark tones.

There is a decidedly bi-polar feeling to this record, as it throws in occasional, fleeting moments of melodic bliss before the music descends once again into the chaos, where you find a juddering mix of clashing guitars, prominent, driving bass lines and heavy, tight drumming. From the dichotomy of dissonance and harmony, to the occasional haunting trumpet that pierces through the layers of guitars and the hint of a French accent hiding behind the English lyrics, this is a record that is in a constant struggle with itself, forever reinforcing the ever so slight discomfort that you get from such an intense musical experience.

But, while The Bulgarian LP embraces the dark fragments of the human spirit and displays them with candour, it never lets those fragments take a complete hold. Like the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, there is a glimmer of harmony that peppers the record that can’t be shaken. The album is a glorious cacophony, a pulsing landscape of dark discord and dissatisfaction cut with the sweetest flickers of light.

[As the first proper, direct submission to missmorrisonsmix.com, The Bulgarian LP by Sons of Frida will always be special to this site; listen out for a track on the first episode of the forthcoming Miss Morrison’s Mix podcast!]

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Reviewed: Mahri Autumn – ri-solv

10 Aug

Mahri Autumn released ri-solv in March 2010

The track ‘High Time’ is available to download for FREE on the Insomnia Radio Daily Dose (11 August 2010)

Review also published on thejustinwayneshow.com

Australian musician Marianthe Loucataris has set the bar high on her first solo endeavor with the sweeping, emotive sounds of ambient-folk record ri-solv. The album is a revealing collection of ten songs that float over your ears on a breeze of acoustic delicacy which underpins a most soulful voice that is full of quiet passion and deep yearning.

The album begins tentatively, introducing the record’s underpinning elements with the accordion-rich strains of ‘High Time’ – a flowing, folksy piece peppered with acoustic guitar, piano and Egyptian percussion (of which more will be said later on). But what really catches you is your first introduction to Loucataris’ voice, which is a beautiful, overlayed harmonic experience; she sings with purpose, but with an utterly charming reserved undertone that permeates each song with a sense of intrigue. It can at times make you feel a little voyeuristic, as if by listening to her songs you become privy to a very private form of expression, but that only serves to make the album more touching and personal. The record ebbs and flows between confidence and reservedness, but always with a delicate touch from the vocals.

As well as her strong vocal talents, what sets this record in a very interesting and rather unique light is Loucataris’ use of Egyptian percussion techniques, which reflect both her cultural heritage and her time spent studying under an Egyptian drumming master. Setting these traditional percussive sounds in a very modern soundscape makes listening all the more pleasurable, as you will hear curious sounds that fit perfectly into the context of these ambient, enveloping tracks that, honestly, can’t really be pinned onto any genre. She creates ethereal soundscapes, with overlapping vocal melodies and layer upon layer of carefully-placed instrumental and electronic elements.

I’ve spun this album many times, and it is one from which you can garner something new from each listen. From twinkling piano and gorgeous accordion drones, to the delicately plucked acoustic guitar and unique percussive elements, and of course, that astounding emotionally exposed voice, Mahri Autum’s ri-solv is a beautiful cluster of deeply heartfelt songs that are wonderful in their subtle complexity.

The album is available to download for whatever price you choose.

Reviewed: Youth Sounds – The Bit Parts EP

22 Jul

Youth Sounds released their debut EP, The Bit Parts EP, in the summer of 2010

Reviewed for the Insomnia Radio: Daily Dose (click to hear/download the track ‘As Strangers Would’)

Dreamy, lilting and with an occasional sharp edge, the debut EP from New Orleans’ Youth Sounds stands them in promising stead for things to come. A short but sweet endeavour at three tracks long, The Bit Parts EP is, in the varying parts that its title suggests, pop, electro and soft rock, and tugs the heartstrings whilst maintaining a very stylish and polished sound – especially for a first-time outing.

Youth Sounds are a brother-sister outfit made up of self taught musicians Erika and Federico Mejia, who honed their respective crafts in church choirs before moving on to their own project alongside Adrian Frye and Taryn Mejia, making the group very much a family affair. Erika’s delightfully soft and creamy vocals float above music that takes the EP from uplifting electro/rock, laced with synths, electric guitar and piano in ‘As Strangers Would’, to the tentative, emotive acoustic guitar-led ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ that leads into a strong, enveloping epic of a track before falling back to its timid origins, and finally to ‘What Is It Like’, a bona fide pop/rock anthem complete with twinkling chorus and piano lead, guitar fuelled backing.

What we have here is an accomplished and mature debut offering from a band that needs eyes fixed very firmly on them because they are surely bound for something great, and if they can get it this right on their first time out, just imagine what the debut album is going to bring to the table. I for one will be waiting expectantly.

Reviewed: Gold Motel – Summer House

5 Jul

Gold Motel released their full length album Summerhouse on 1 June 2010

Reviewed for The Justin Wayne Show and Insomnia Radio: Chicago

Well this is a little embarrassing. I was sent Gold Motel’s EP a couple of months back kindly by their lead vocalist Greta, formally of  The Hush Sound. But in the time that it’s taken me to get my act together to review the EP, they’ve gone and released a full length! Honestly, these indie bands and their organisational skills. So to try and keep up with the times, I’ve decided to forego the EP and dive straight in to writing some very nice things about their album, Summer House. And nice writing it does indeed deserve, being a lovely, sunshine-tinged jaunty escapade of a record.

Summerhouse is one of those gorgeous, jumpy boppy indie albums that will be spinning on your mp3 player all summer long just because it makes you smile. Vocals and keys are provided by Greta Morgan, who uses the former to coat the album in a golden honeyed shine, and the latter to ground it firmly in the territory of classically uplifting pop music. These combined with a duo of guitars with a surf’s-up-sounding twang and a solid rhythm section, make Gold Motel’s sound one that invokes images of California summers, floaty dresses, melted ice cream and diving into lakes in the blazing sun.

There is happiness seeping from almost every wave of this album; from Morgan’s crystal clear, lilting vocals to the close vocal harmonies with guitarist Dan, and the keyboard sounds dotting in and out of each song, Summerhouse is bursting with songs that are just dying to get stuck in your head – and they will succeed. There are a few tracks that really shine through on Summer House, like ‘Perfect in my Mind’ during which I defy anyone to resist singing along to some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ by the end, ‘Safe in LA’ which will have you dancing like an idiot all over the shop, and ‘The Cruel One’ with its jolly piano track and heavily punctuated rhythms beneath cool and sweet vocals.

But in the end, all you really need to know is that if you need a good happy soundtrack for anything you do during this summer, just spend a while in Gold Motel’s beautifully decorated, multi-coloured Summer House.

Reviewed: Hot Fiction – Dark Room

7 Jun

Hot Fiction released their debut album on 7 June 2010

Reviewed for The Justin Wayne Show

Hot Fiction

UK two-piece garage rockers Hot Fiction released their crunching, lo-fi debut album ‘Dark Room’ today, which, whilst sparse in instrumentation, is rich in riffage and chock full of bluesy soul. Comprised of school friends Andy Yeoh (vocals and drums) and Simon Miller (guitar), Hot Fiction’s sound paints a picture of two lads who, upon discovering their dads’ record collections, fell in love with the great masters of rock and roll and made it their lives’ ambitions to build upon that legacy. There are flickers and glimmers all over their music that point towards their influences, from classic rock and blues as well as the more contemporary heralds of back-to-basics lo-fi rock, but none so much that they come off as easily pigeon-holed. Some might delight in reeling off a comprehensive list here of those influential flickers and glimmers, but not me – I’d rather leave the comparisons up to you, dear reader, when you listen to the record, that’s much more fun.

The album kicks off with an a cappella wail that sounds borne of the banks of the Mississippi, then settles into the steady, fuzzed up groove of Start it Off; this track sets the tone for the rest of the record – sparse, riff-orientated, heavily punctuated rock that’s steeped in blues, with a modern edge that sets it off down a road of its own. From there, the record undulates through fields of upbeat 12-bar blues jams (My Girl Dances), dark and slightly sinister down-tempo grooves (All My Love in Vain), riffs that make you want to strut you way down the street (I Just Want Your Body), driving rock and roll (Truly Dark), and ends with a shockingly catchy number, considering how musically scant the track is, in the form of Creepy Disco – it will keep spinning in your head like a stuck vinyl for days. And in between all them lay many more delights to find for yourself.

All of this is overseen by Yeoh’s raspy, fuzzy vocals, which nestle in the songs next to the guitar like a third instrument, and are dripping with vaguely melancholic cool. Yeoh and Miller create an interesting sound for a two-piece, getting driving rhythms and distorted licks fully down and locked, and although I usually have issues with singing drummers (see: Phil Collins), these lads have nothing to worry about as they definitely pull it off.

One thing that shines through from this album is how well Hot Fiction’s songs would transfer to a live setting; the rough-edged recording does do justice to the DIY feel of the band, but I can’t help feeling that I need to hear these tunes in a scummy pub’s back room where my feet stick to the floor. In that vein, keep an eye on their website as they’re playing the hell out of London and a few others over the next few months.

Dark Room is imbued with just the right kind of nostalgia that will have you reaching fondly for your old LPs after listening, but not before a thoroughly enjoyable listen to a record that is in equal parts an homage to the band’s heroes, and a rough and ready, fresh take on garage rock.

Reviewed: Liam O’Kane – Happy Days Sad Songs

1 Jun

Liam O’Kane released his debut album in early 2010

Reviewed for Issue 35 of LeftLion Magazine

Is there anything more happy and summery than a simple acoustic reggae backbeat underneath simple, honest lyrics? If there is I think you’d be hard pressed to find it, and as the opening to Liam O’Kane’s debut release, on ska label Do The Dog Music, it stands the record in promising stead. But listen a little closer and the title track to this album reveals itself to be quite a lyrically sombre number, with cheery upbeat music masking a painful tale of a broken heart.

O’Kane has a simple songwriting style that tells honest stories about every day life – sometimes mundane, sometimes heartwrenching, always delivered with charm – over an folksy acoustic backdrop of ska-laced roots rock, with the occasional lick of melodica and ukulele. They are stories that every one of us can relate to; trying to be upbeat when you feel like crap, trying your best and still getting it wrong, a lover leaving, feeling frustrated in the face of politics or missing the last train home. But amongst the sadder themes are a few happier ones, like getting a cab home with a nice driver, or the importance of being polite. Forgive me for getting a little deep here, but this record reflects the mask that we all put up when we feel down and out – a cheerful facade to hide our feelings, like the upbeat melodies that conceal the saddening lyrics of this lovely album.

Reviewed: We Show Up On RadaR – A Loaf Of Bread, A Container Of Milk, And A Stick Of Butter

1 Apr

We Show Up On RadaR (AKA Andy Wright) released his second EP in early 2010

Reviewed for Issue 34 of LeftLion Magazine

If you need some convincing that there is still some good in the world, look no further than this record. With the follow up to last year’s single ‘Mountain Top’, Andy Wright (the man behind WSUOR) has lovingly pieced together an EP from such gloriously uplifting elements that it’s impossible to come away from listening to it with any less than a contented smile and a tingle on your arm hair. It is a trickling stream of experimental folk-pop with an undercurrent of electronica and an unmatchable whimsical charm. The subject matter spans love, relationships and heartbreak; stories told almost as if through the eyes of a child, with Wright’s classically English, endlessly delicate voice lilting through every song like a comforting, sage character who explains the ways of the world in the gentlest possible way. For me, the lyrical feel of the EP is encompassed in a line from ‘A Spider on a Thread’: “When I said I didn’t need you, I might’ve lied a little bit”.

Musically, the record is led throughout by acoustic guitar, intricately intertwined with synths and keyboards, unusual electronic clicks and pops, vocal harmonies and tuned percussion to create a unique fusion of simple folk and contemporary electronica. To say that this is a carefully produced record would be an understatement; you can hear the love and time that has been spent creating each one of these tracks, building each one into a mini aural marvel. Buy this EP and treat your ears and mind to some charming, unique and just ruddy lovely treats.