Black Needle Noise is the new moniker under which famed and acclaimed underground producer John Fryer tweaks and creates. It’s a new kind of heightened ambient/experimental project that holds nothing back while traversing for adventure in the darkest realms of electronic and dream pop music. While it’s refreshing and original, one can’t help but hear the signature touch of the legendary producer in every corner of every track, as pounding drums mix with several bouts of 80’s sounding music. For those who don’t know of John Fryer, his retrospective production chronology reads like a trip through the alternative underground of the 80’s and 90’s; having produced or had some part in releases from a wide array of bands and artists from the post-punk era. And for those of you who do know him, you will recognize him and his signature sound as one half of 4AD legends This Mortal Coil, a band who are comfortably considered one of the most influential and acclaimed British alternative acts of the past century. Black Needle Noise borrows some of Mortal Coils gothic flavours, along with a heavy and deep electronic sound that adds a modern feel to each song. Fryer has been releasing singles from Black Needle Noise’s debut album one by one, which will eventually amount to a full album release; featuring a guest list of some of the most brilliant and talented musicians from across the world alternative music scene.
Swimming Through Dreams by Black Needle Noise with Mimi Page
‘Heaven’ is a warped, percussive and dark musical journey; guided through the depths of darkness by the thrum of a bass guitar and the heavy, sludge like weight of the backing drums. Throughout the song, Fryer introduces a plethora of brilliant production techniques; one of which is the way the instruments mix together to create what can only be described as an intriguingly confusing piece of music making. And although the experimental instrumentation and production sound like a giant stomping, Fryer adds a neat and tricky piece of This Mortal Coil's gothic edge to the song by featuring a dazzlingly swaying choir like string section deep at the back of the song. The vocal performance, by the ever-talented Jennie Vee, hits every note beautifully; crafting another dimension to the song in the fantastic context of contrast. Fryer followed ‘Heaven’ by releasing the much more ambient and electronic influenced ‘She Stands On A Storm’, which is a powerful electronic standard that features a synthpop/industrial chorus. In a similar vein to ‘Heaven’ it mixes this electronic instrumentation and programming with a myriad of sounds and noises that land somewhere between samples and FX heavy feedback loops and tricks; that walk around freely in the background of the song. Fryer again utilizes a fantastic vocalist to sing amidst the tenebrosity and darkly dispersed sounds of his musical structures; this time it is the harmonious pipes of Andrea Kerr, who comes across as more subdued to Vee, but in a way that does wonders for the song.
Perhaps the best lead single that Black Needle Noise has released is the atmospheric, soaring, dream pop/ethereal wave oscillating of ‘Swimming Through Dreams’, with a wondrous vocal track from Mimi Page, who presents the case for how voice can be used as an instrument just as a guitar may. It’s three minutes of Fryer layering choir synth upon choir synth upon string arrangements to create a song that sounds like the musical equivalent of glowing. But even though he does everything right in a production sense, it is Page’s hypnotic vocals that serves as the most interesting layer of them all. ‘Teeth to Grey’ is another symphonic piece of dark electronic pop music, this time with the added element of a trap-influenced drum machine program within the song. If one single showed how brilliant of a producer Fryer was, it would be this; where noises, instruments and sounds rattle around the song to create a confusing and engaging listening experience. Things are panned around, and then they’re not, and then other sounds seep in while your concentrating on another thing, all the while you hear the tiny micro-cogs of a greater machine churning out something memorable and heavily influenced by a darker form of 80’s ethereal wave pop. For ‘Teeth to Grey’ he calls upon the skill and talent of the vocalist from experimental/trip hop project Omniflux, whose voice is again greatly different in mood to those featured on other tracks. Vocals here are much more hushed and whispered, keeping in key with the intricate and net-like music. The much more dream pop influenced ‘Treasured Lies’ sees the combination of electro-pop and the soaring kind of shoegaze that’s made less with guitars than it is with walls of light and bright sounds. The vocal performance of Zialand is a good fit for the producers more experimental tendencies, which at the songs beginning takes the form of lo-fi feedback and frequencies.
These collective singles showcase the genius of Fryer’s production and song writing techniques, harking back to his older projects and musical explorations in the ‘good ol’ days’ of alternative music. If there is one thing that is definitely different from his earlier This Mortal Coil releases it is that every single released by Black Needle Noise sounds clean and polished, even when a cacophony of noise screeches and whizzes away in the background. Much like fellow producer Dean Garcia, the technological advancements in music production, mixing and recording seemed to have allowed Fryer to create a more fluid and smooth sound; all the while creating beats and dense gothic sounds that still hold their intent through the ‘fresh’ production style. Praise should be given to every vocalist who Fryer has enlisted for this project; each containing their own distinctive vocal styles that suit their chosen songs with an air of beauty and mystery. These Black Needle Noise songs showcase a producer at the top of his game, through his skills and talents in mixing, song writing and sound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Cam Phillips is a writer and above all, a music lover, who seeks to gain experience through writing and listening. He is also an avid film viewer and art and literature junkie who enjoys creative writing. His most recent published work was featured on the Australian heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
by Primal Music
ARTIST: Alex Chilltown
RELEASE: Eaten Up By Nothing
RELEASE DATE: 24th February 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Witchgirl Recordings
'Eaten up By Nothing' is the new EP by the chilled out post-punk/shoegaze styled 'Alex Chilltown' aka London-based Josh Esaw. It’s a dense, heavy and burningly unhurried meditation of slowcore and thick, murky, gothic sounds that tend to be like some sort of swamp that you might get dragged down in for a while, before it spits you back out of its depths. Although the tracks themselves avoid ‘epic’ and lengthy portions, it’s the crux and interior of the sounds that bellow into trenches of the sort of downtrodden sound you would expect. Accompanying these sounds, however, is the full on wall of sound-style mixing reminiscent of shoegaze music; where one strum of a chord with the right FX and pedals can flood the room with an absolute cacophony of sound. Together these elements make an interesting mix of things.
'Eaten up By Nothing' opens with ‘Untitled’ which establishes the fantastic quality of performance that appears all over the EP. A brilliant and subtle synth sits at the back of most of the songs which adds even more weight to the music. This element, along with the intricate sound of a weaving guitar, makes the instrumentation brilliant and almost always engaging. The 80’s play a deep influence upon the band, which at times sounds like it perhaps should have been basement dwelling in Eastern Europe in the peak of cold-wave. ‘Hollow’ introduces a more fleshed out sound that’s a tad more influenced by shoegaze. The drums slow and minimalistic beat acts as a kind of backbone to the rest of the instrumentation… The vocals sit awkwardly above a kind of ethereal wave guitar pop sound that sounds like the least loud instrument of them all; interesting.
‘Glaze’ comes across as a much more whimsical exercise in the bands sonic explorations. For the most part it’s not as engaging as the opening tracks on the EP; and altogether it’s a weird kind of mediocre that kind of plays and plays without reaching any great heights. That is until the outro: a fantastic and involving passage of music that uses all the bands strengths to conjure up an emotive and dreamy reverberate. The melding of guitars, drums and the ethereal synths do wonders for the texture of the track. But, easily the most engaging and greatest track on the EP is the six minute plus ‘Diamond Sea’; which touches more upon a contemplative kind of dream pop/shoegaze noise than the bands previous endeavours into a more dark and gothic sound. ‘Diamond Sea’ is the only song on the EP that truly showcases an interesting and somewhat reputable vocal track. It’s not too loud, it’s not too quiet and the lyrics fit in with the instrumentation. The drums and bass showcase the aforementioned influence of slowcore and musical exploration. It’s a brilliant and original song, with moments that connect both the light and the dark somewhere in the middle.
After a few listens to the EP, one must admit that the sounds explored on 'Eaten Up by Nothing' are well travelled pieces of terrain; and far from original. With this in mind, sometime after a few listens you’ll notice how a few of the tracks sound similar in style and in tone. Also, the lyrics are awkward attempts at poetically gothic statements; like an outpouring or confession that feels as forced as it does tongue in cheek. Accompanying these lyrics are the sometimes-cumbersome vocal performance and mixing, which leaves you asking: is it too quiet, or is it too loud? These elements appear to be prevalent upon a few listens, but although there are flaws, there are also great strengths and highlights. For one, the instrumentation and music performances stay solid, fluid and engaging for the whole EP. The production is brilliant and is used to show the acme of the bands musical texturing throughout Eaten Up by Nothing, and altogether, the sounds produced through FX and tweaking are impressive in their own right. The band use their talents to create an EP that may not be the most original piece of music ever, but is clearly a release that shows their strengths, achieved primarily through production and the melding of sound.
ARTIST: Snowball II
RELEASE: Flashes Of Quincy
RELEASE DATE: 10th February 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Doughnut Records
Songs about breaking your ankle on halfpipes, drinking chai tea and heartbreak; must be the nineties!? Or is it 'Flashes of Quincy' by Long Beach based power pop band Snowball II? An album that combines the more rock-influenced shoegaze sounds of bands like Ride and the heavy strum and meddling of a genre one can only identify as a specific type of garage power pop. Throw into these musical nods to a by-gone era the lyrical recipes that shot many alternative bands to the top of charts around the world; such as skating, girls and being generally awkward about things. It’s a smart and satisfying album because it injects an originality into a time period and sound (power pop) that make it sound as fresh as ever; you can see the influence, but it’s mostly covered by originality and creatively diverse songs, ideas and sounds.
Flashes of Quincy by Snowball II
'Flashes of Quincy' begins with the album highlight ‘Anais & Me’ which centres around the whimsically contemplative vocals and the lyrics within. The protagonist of the song (presumably the ‘me’ in the title) reflects on the decisions and actions of the titular Anais; who drives to parties, dodges curfew and smokes. Snowball II use the vocals to enhance the lyrical message as they take on an awkward, self-conscious tone that sounds like it’s coming straight from the mouth of the main character. The instrumental qualities of the song touch more on alternative rock than power pop or shoegaze; although the vocals sound distinctly lower in the mix in a semi-Ride styling. As for its appeal; the song boils down to a simple case of being super enjoyable. That, really, is the crux of almost the entire album; there is always some sort of simple and minute form of enjoyment running through almost every song. ‘Groan’s’ is a more power pop centred song that showcases the undercurrents of indie music in the band’s sound. The song begins as a neat guitar riff plays through until the end of the verses where it dips into what sounds to be an out of time guitar section in a different key? This small piece of experimentation adds another dimension to the already fantastic song writing; the chorus rolls along and showcases the best elements of pop music; being superbly catchy and playful. All the while the vocals maintain the same kind of awkward bystander mentality as before; receiving significant help within the realms of ‘dorky charm’ by the lyrics, especially the chorus lyrics ‘It might be your birthday/But I made a cake for you’ to be precise. Snowball II turn things downtempo and perhaps even more shoegaze with ‘Sear ‘Em!’ that sounds much less playful than the previous two tracks. A fantastic drum beat maintains a heavier guitar sound; while a downtempo guitar plays under the mix to add contextual weight to the vocals.
‘CR-VUC’ starts with a weird kind of acoustic guitar and the slow churn of an organ in the background of the song that folds out into the alternative rock of previous songs. It sounds like a more fleshed out song; featuring a memorable chorus but perhaps even a memorable verse structure also. The small elements, like acoustic guitar, organ and an active drum section, make the song even more beautiful and showcase a diversity in the bands song writing. ‘Resident Of The United States’ is another album highlight; a brilliant guitar riff guides itself through a stop and start verse and chorus that builds around fantastic alternative rock melding’s and styles. ‘Your Occasion’ embodies the quirky, slow, freak-folk like elements of the band’s sound. This song is brilliant; it’s acoustic guitar driven verses drive it through to a much heavier, muted power pop kind of alternative musings. The instrumentation showcases what seems like a more ‘mature’ form of arrangement (that’s not to say the other songs are ‘immature’) and the vocals ooze a kind of nostalgic quality that does wonders for its mixing with the instruments and performance; truly fantastic. Reggae and dancehall blend with a kind of indie sensibility on ‘Appositive Stream’ a masterfully slight pop tune that features all the warmth that hipster-cum-indie bands often skip over. It’s a simple little song that is guaranteed to make you smile and think about the beach, or something.
‘Meet Yr Dad’ is the most comedic that Snowball II ever reach. It’s a racy spoken word folk-rock/alt-rock tune about everything related to relationships and that awkward past time of meeting the girls father. Similar to ‘Appositive Stream’, the song goes for less than three minutes; packing all of its wit and humour into a crafty, neat package that’s just as narratively absorbing as a seven-minute epic, or the five minute ballad like rock sounds at the start of the album. ‘I Exist’ sees the band embrace a psych pop sound and the off-kilter guitar sound that appeared ‘Groan’s’. It’s the lengthiest song on the second side of the album; I believe it to be the least interesting of all the songs on the album; taking on a fuller sound that begins to shine the light away from the bands stronger qualities; like performance and simple but adroit guitar riffs. ‘Is All’ is the furthest Snowball II stride from the sweltering, sunny quirks of their power pop sound; turning in a mesmerisingly beautiful ballad, influenced by soft rock, dream pop and a downtempo style of shoegaze. Built around a simple sequenced electronic pattern, the song builds upon the gentle strum of a guitar and the distant and hushed vocals. Altogether it sees the sun going down after a long day of beach dwelling; a kind of conceptual scenario the listener creates for themselves over the course of the album.
Flashes Of Quincy’s rating and conclusion of criticism could be boiled down to one simple, overriding fact; it is immensely enjoyable. It’s pure fun. And even when it’s downtrodden or darker lyrics or sounds seep into the music, it is still as invigorating to watch and listen to a band who create so much with such simple and straight forward sounds. Altogether, I feel as though the bands origin in Long Beach speaks some kinds of contextual volumes about the content in the songs; the visions of the ocean and the beach, of the pizza restaurant or the movie theatre you take the girl to on an awkward first date. Flashes Of Quincy, in this regard, at times sounds like a concept album of sorts; less of a story but more of a feeling or a place.
The band themselves turn in a magnificent performance across the entire album. The mixing and the production injects nothing but strength into the music; relaying and clearly presenting all the aforementioned opinions and emotions. It’s a solid and thoughtful group of ballads and power pop tunes, wrapped in the warm embrace of shoegaze and alternative rock that reminds us all of sometime in the past; way back when. The band step above where many other rock based groups would drift away or remain clichéd, they do so through the avenues of performance, song writing and sound.
ARTIST: SPC ECO
RELEASE: Under My Skin
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
From the mind of CURVE genius Dean Garcia comes the ridiculously good, cold air beauty of SPC ECO; a duo consisting of Garcia and his daughter Rose Berlin, who are set to release the mesmerizing, slow yearning five track EP 'Under My Skin'. It’s honestly an EP I wasn’t exactly bending over backwards to hear as I wasn’t a huge fan of Garcia’s previous collaboration S T F U. But I revoke such reservations to conclude that 'Under My Skin' is in fact a 5/5 EP. It’s choir/orchestral like moods combined with the slow daze of trip hop and a touch of dark wave, helped along by the trance inducing-beauty of Berlin’s vocals make it a slow moving, heavy classic; showcasing the genius of Garcia’s as a producer and acclaimed multi-instrumentalist.
Under My Skin EP by SPC ECO
'Under My Skin' opens with the moving title track that establishes the sound of the project. Built around a slow dream pop inspired keyboard line and the utterly brilliant vocals of Berlin, the song moves into a sweeping orchestral key and remains heavy and drowned for the tracks entirety. The lyrics aren’t anything substantial, but coupled with the music, they make fantastic and meditative tones for the listener. ‘Meteor’ is the duos greatest streak at trip hop; the song builds around a similar group of sounds as the opener, albeit slightly more upbeat, though this time said sounds are reinforced by the slow hits of a drum machine, programmed slowly and swinging in time with the music and the soundscapes within the song. ‘Meteor’ sounds less cinematic than the opener, switching out the orchestra swell for a more synthetic sound; which does wonders for the song.
This beat/darkwave style of synthetic/programmed sound continues on 'Creep In The Shadows' which is perhaps the least significant track on the EP. That’s not to say, however, it doesn’t have its positives; the synthetic notion of the music is enhanced to include a neat reverbed bottle rattling sound in the background of the drum pattern that sits comfortably behind a confusingly auto-tuned/vocal FX enhanced Rose Berlin. And that’s exactly why I feel this track to be less significant than the others; because it is perhaps a little too comfortable. Thankfully Garcia and Berlin turn things in a different direction with the deep electronic track ‘Let It Be Always’; a song that revisits the projects earlier tinkering’s with dream pop but abstracts it using neat and intelligent experimental production techniques.
‘Found’ is the most meditative, dreamy and soothing song upon 'Under My Skin'. It’s truly beautiful stuff; slow and spacey, echoed and hovering vocals hang over the mix. The instrumentation and production turns minimalist while the lyrics suggest of gentle contemplation, of discussion and speech between Berlin and somebody or something that has lost its way. It’s a song about light that doesn’t actually hold much light within itself; ‘When you get lost and found/ And when you get lost for a noun/ Like I lead you there/I will lead you there’ sings Berlin, as she offers a kind of shimmering light to counteract the darkwave undertones of 'Under My Skin'. It’s intro and outro are as slight as each other, and when Berlin's vocals sway away, it’s as if the listeners been gently touched by the singers voice. A truly fantastic song.
Apparently 'SPC ECO' have had the title track featured on MTV’s popular show Teen Wolf, a show that I don’t watch. The main thing that I can deduce, however, from that decision is that for the most part the producers must have very good taste. So good of a taste in fact that I applaud them for featuring it on their show and hope that from doing so, more viewers and listeners out there go out searching for 'SPC ECO'. They definitely deserve it. For this EP deserves recognition; whether it’s for the stellar and professional production, the sweeping instrumentation, the stellar arrangements and instrumentation or if it’s for the breathtaking talent and stature of Rose Berlin’s vocal deliveries. After a few listens of the EP I can say that the father/daughter combination of music and vocals/instruments and lyrics is a 5/5 collaboration that highlights everything creative and interesting about dream pop, trip hop and a genre I generally don’t listen to much of - darkwave! This collaboration puts their strengths forward and creates an engaging and musing piece of music, achieved through top notch production, performance and sound.
RELEASE: You Are Here Now
RELEASE DATE: 21st January 2017
'You Are Here Now' is the debut album from Pennsylvania based atmospheric post-rock outfit 'Heron'. It’s an album that defies the genre in such a way that to describe it to you, the reader, would never do it justice. In fact, I feel that 'You Are Here Now' is one of the best pieces of post-rock music I’ve heard. Perhaps rivalled only by pro bands from Iceland or the fantastically minimalist hush of 'Star of Heaven' and their mini album/EP 'Vinter'. 'You Are Here Now' stands tall through mostly the intense and wild song writing, but has its advantages with the professional mixing and mastering, done so by pros from the Seattle music scene. This, coupled with the smooth and hypnotic performances, make 'You Are Here Now' one of the most refreshing and beautiful post-rock instrumental releases going around.
You Are Here Now by Heron
'You Are Here Now' opens with ‘Shores’, a sensational slow rolling track that may be the best on the entire album. Its simplicity and nostalgic feel give it a fantastic and dreamy quality that adds true emotion to the music. It’s not just a clever note or a chord progression that makes you go ‘aw’; it’s a truly emotive piece of music that begins to build around the three minute mark to encompass a more ‘fuller’ feel. After a few more passages of skilled guitar playing and a return to the original intro passage of music, the band build the song into a transcendent piece of music. Utterly fantastic. ‘Ender’ turns the music back into a more rock orientated sound and utilizes a fantastic and inventive drum and guitar resonance that travels through the undercurrent of the song. Just as ‘Shores’ travelled over the eight minute mark, ‘Ender’ brings in the music to a seven minute epic; dipping and diving with a slow, sweet bass driven section in the middle of the song.
‘Stillness’, another amazing song, begins with the lazy, rear view mirror brilliance that held ‘Shores’ up to a breathtaking point. Its beginning centres on a wavy guitar riff that eventuates into a deeper and more melodic guitar/drum/bass sound. And just like following an alluring circle, the song falls back into its reminiscent tone just in time to lead into another song ‘Drop’, that holds a similar, if not perhaps more minimalist intro. It then climbs higher and more ambitious; its outro seeping into a more intricate vision of its opening. The title track serves as a gentle, low key ambient interlude that still sounds better and more inventive than some regular tracks I’ve heard from other artists before. ‘Archives’ rivals the opener in that it could just well be the best song on the album. Unlike the more relaxed ‘Shores’ the crescendo like ‘Archives’ builds upon itself with several very impressive performances. Sonically, the music bellows out into a musique concrète discussion and noises; showcasing the bands more experimental qualities. ‘Before the War’ is an epic piece of instrumental phrases and passages that lends from the albums previous songs in a brilliant and larger scale pictorial piece of post-rock. The outro especially deserves special mention; its winding, trance like, soulful and heavy presentation makes the song sound even more epic in the context of the album. As a testament to the band, ‘Before the War’ fills all the right fantastic spaces.
After a few listens of 'You Are Here Now' I began to feel like each song on the album is representative of a place, a destination or a feeling. ‘Shores’ and ‘Stillness’ evoke a sunny, cool beach with yellow grained sand and deep blue ocean in a way that dream pop does with its great injection of nostalgia. ‘Archives’ sounds like it could accompany a whimsical train ride through the country side of a picturesque landscape. ‘Before The War’ seems like it somehow captures the mood of a place rather than a geographical place itself. Altogether the album strings these evocations into an almost movie like listening experience… And what a beautiful film it is; packed with things I can’t really write down or capture in mere words. All I can recommend you do is listen to it. And listen to it thoroughly, from the beginning. It’s not really music so much as an experience shining through a vast array of other musical mediocrity to sound cleaner and more pure than most others do. The production is some of the greatest I’ve heard in a while with special praise going to the mixing and mastering. The performances are also top notch, woven into one another to sound as grand and beautiful as post-rock music can. Blah blah blah, go listen to it! For its greatness is of another fantastic standard, achieved through production, playing and sound.
ARTIST: Well Being
RELEASE: Well Being
RELEASE DATE: 25th November 2016
Bright but dark, heavy but soft and alternative but approachable, the debut album of Toronto’s 'Well Being' turns the face of post-punk to look into an indie mirror to create some sort of wild and heavy piece of psych-rock. Each song shimmers in its own right, but the albums background is where the real reward lies; beautiful textured pieces of instrumentation and subtle but neat FX push the sound forward for the listener in a way that highlights everything smart about conventional (mostly) guitar lead music. However, the album scores clever points with the clean and crisp production, sounding at equals (or perhaps even better) than ‘pro’ bands. This point locks in with the aforementioned comment about Well Being’s power of musical textures. 'Well Being' is by no means a leap forward in the world of music; there is little genre or avant-garde experimentation, there’s no wildly obtuse production techniques, it’s just well-written and very well produced music by a band who clearly know what they are doing.
Well Being by Well Being
Well Being opens with ‘Fear, Love and Everything in Between’ and it showcases the albums clean and crisp production; the vocals hover easily over a slow and steady drum beat that floats away on a post-punk guitar line before rolling straight into the emotive psych-pop the band revisits and revisits over the course of the release. The outro morphs the song again, with the beautiful and intelligent guitar picking away in the background adding weight to the already heavy sound. ‘The Kuleshov Effect’ follows with a more conventional/indie sound and an utterly brilliant sounding chorus. As far as instrumentation goes, the sounds and textures presented on the song are definitely a highlight. This is followed by the rock-influenced ‘Hands Tied’, with its post-punk sounding guitar and passages of song built around a more psych-rock aesthetic. ‘Waterboarding’ may be the albums best track. Its claustrophobic, indie tongue in cheek guitar mix with the clean and precise vocals, proclaiming lyrics that sound like somebody trying to coax another into using heavy drugs… Or maybe getting water boarded. That was a joke. ‘Habitual’ follows this blueprint to a slower tempo. The drums tap along slowly while the guitars play a psych influenced post-punk riff; the vocals hover over in a squeaky clean fashion and the whole song ties itself together with the bands previously explored sound. ‘Jean Seberg’ is the point on the album when you turn around and say ‘hey, wait… Haven’t I heard this before?’ The point where the bands ultra clean sound begins to wear thin. And just to clarify, ‘Jean Seberg’ is a good and well written song… It’s just that it seems to be re-using an already re-used formula.
Thankfully, the engaging and energetic ‘I Walk Through Clouds’ follows on and adds another element to the band’s sound. ‘I Walk Through Clouds’ sees Well Being step into an alternative rock space that features an almost pop punk sound throughout the entire song. The outro screams ‘I don’t need you anymore, I don’t need you anymore’ make sure that the listener feels as if they are listening to a rock and guitar driven song. ‘Don’t Complicate It’ could have, or should have, been a B-side, or C-side for that matter. Enough said. ‘Girls of Kilimanjaro’ is a brilliant, deep track that almost saves the band in a way. It’s instrumental and dazzling lead in carves the way for an indie rock guitar based song that bounces around in the listeners face. The bands instruments sound dirtier, or perhaps less focused on sounding clean, giving a neat breeze of authenticity to the song and its placement within the context of the album.
While perhaps the band and those associated with the album would love to have it slated as a piece of post-punk or indie music, the honest and obvious truth is that this lands closer to a conventional rock album more than any of those genres. Even the moniker of ‘psych-pop’ doesn’t seem appropriate… Some of the album even sounds like crisp and clean ‘modern’ pop punk. And this in itself is enough for some listeners to walk away in a haze of disinterest and cringe. But the truth is that it’s a very well written album. The majority of songs show a maturity and sort of simple complexity in them, and the musical textures prove to be a rewarding experience in themselves. Sure, the production is very clean… But it’s done so as to avoid sounding artificial and that fact in itself should be applauded. Some won’t like it, some won’t even look at it; but I proclaim to listen closely and enjoy the bands neat song writing skills, showed through production, playing and sound.
RELEASE DATE: 13th January 2016
Ethereal and dreamy, from Austin Texas comes the low-key shimmer and shine of 'Tether'; the debut EP from dream pop quartet (comprised of two husband and wife pairs) 'Blushing'. On this release the band use all of their technological wizardry to offer a basic, by the books dream pop EP, albeit a greatly enjoyable and catchy one at that.
Tether by Blushing
The EP opens with the title track, whose gentle guitars leads the way into the well written melodic structure of the song, built around the slow tap of the drums, well mixed and comfortable bass and the noisy but ethereal influenced guitars. Special credit to the fantastic and memorable chorus, in which two soaring female vocals meld mesmerizingly with the instrumentation to create a beautiful and original type of sound. The band take que's from many other dream pop bands and include noise and feedback laden guitars in the songs outro; tying everything together into a neat and dreamy songs. The opener is followed by the much less engaging ‘Why Can’t We?’ which rolls along in a simple, almost generic form of pop music, culminating with a good outro and guitar sound before sliding back into its shell. Much like many pop musicians in the modern age 'Blushing' play it way too safe and straight forward with ‘Why Can’t We?’ making it look like the ultimate b-side on an otherwise very interesting debut EP.
The more slower and strung out ‘Mess’ stands out as one of the EPs most well-written tracks, helped graciously by the brilliant bluegrass/soft-rock style guitar strumming away in the background. The whole song shows the bands strongest points and puts on display their talents in the mixing and production area of things. The subtlety of the drum beats and fills can almost go unnoticed but I plead that one pay attention to this, as with the synth/soundscapes that meld away into the background (on purpose) making the whole song sound like a mixture of hipster paradise and palm tree-shoegaze styled aesthetics. The guitar shines through in the second half of the piece, in a breakdown styling that further compliments the song. ‘Protect You’ opens with a nice drone noisescape before the band show their previously explored, swinging jangle style sound backed up by a darker and heavier tone. As though the EP is a progression of the bands song writing, ‘Protect You’ stands as a few steps away from the EP’s beginning, with the band projecting a more well-rounded sound in an invigorating way. This very fact makes the EP even more enjoyable when you listen with the whole thing in context.
The more one listens to 'Tether', the more one notices how heavily the band’s sound is either reflected or influenced by indie and jangle pop bands. Though the EP projects a warm and fuzzy form of dream pop and ethereal rock, it is the songs undercurrents and foundations that owe much to indie and pop rock influence, mainly through the songs melodies and the style in which 'Tether' is produced. As previously stated, this EP is by no means avant-garde or extremely inventive in terms of stepping forward into new musical territory; it instead utilizes a well-rehearsed form of creating and writing dream pop and shoegaze music. Is this a bad thing? Well, no it’s not… It’s just that when you listen to it; make sure you listen for enjoyment completely. And before you ask, in no way was that some sort of stab at 'Blushing' or some kind of way of saying their music isn’t great. Their music is in fact great, but in a way that you may have already heard. The band should be congratulated however, on the beautiful and clear production and mixing on the EP, which highlights every little facet of their skills. Almost every chorus on the EP is brilliant and catchy; something that many dream pop acts generally forget about. And altogether, the performances are definitely worth a mention. This EP is a fantastic reminder of how dream pop can be just as brilliant as it’s ever been, channelled through production, mixing and sound.
ARTIST: Mirror Days
RELEASE: No Hope For Getting Better
RELEASE DATE: 31st October 2016
Soft, dreamy and influenced by a myriad of different sounds, LA based dream pop/shoegaze/soft rock recording project Mirror Days go into complete introspection and release a beautiful album which sounds like a kind of matured re-structuring of music featured on their EPs from the past. No Hope For Getting Better presents itself in a kind of meditative subtleness; never trying to sound too full or dense but instead creating a mesmerizing deep sound that resonates and plays out with a different kind of heaviness. Part- laid back beach inspired hipster dream, part introverted reconciliation, part directed self-expression, the album comes off as a kind of dazzling diamond of a piece of music; so beautiful and clean, but at times so shiny you can’t totally see into it… In a good way, of course.
No Hope For Getting Better by Mirror Days
The album opens with the breezy but aforementioned type of heavy ‘In Focus’ which is built around a calm and contemplative vocal FX and the slow roll of soft rock instrumentation, until the pounding drums enter into the background which turns the song into a more dream pop key. Lyrically the song takes the shape of the projects name as the vocals send their time questioning, wondering and humbly musing in a kind of reflective manner. The more shoegaze but utterly brilliant ‘Endless’ follows, featuring a more drowned vocal performance; adding a kind of post-punk element to the music. All the instruments join in an imaginative sound to step above vocals; making them sound heavier and deeper. The whole song, however, forms around the beautiful and rich instrumentation that makes it a step above what it could have been. ‘Left to Wander’ features more of a similar kind of instrumentation to previous tracks but adds another layer with a more poppy sound. It also seems to build upon the aforementioned dash of post-punk by incorporating more a coldwave sounding guitar and post-punk inspired bass riff. What makes it one of the albums highlights is again its tone and distinctive sound; the vocals and lyrics seem even more studious in content, again evoking the undercurrent and thematic elements of a more dream pop sound. This track is followed by ‘Time Won’t Heal You’, a shoegaze heavy song which begins with a shoegaze melody coupled with the dream pop aesthetic explored previously on the album. Impressive and well produced and mixed drumming holds the sound together while the guitars snake their way through the soundscape texture of the song. All the while the vocals extend into phrases that follow the instruments around and create interesting contrasts for the listener.
‘Low’ is an enjoyable and noteworthy interlude that features in just the right place for the album to flow and continue in the desired way. ‘Old Beginnings’ is a good, straightforward song but only continues the sound and tracks that have featured on the album before it, making it less impressive. That’s, of course, not to say it’s not a well written song, but it is definitely not one of the best on the album. Driving guitar opens the song ‘Spinning’. Its more melodic heavy sound gives it a hypnotising quality; couple this with the distant lyrics and moody air of the track and you have a song that is far away from the soft rock-beach aesthetic at the beginning of the album. ‘Spinning’ dives straight into the ocean, now dark and deep, to move away from its past while keeping one eye firmly in its preverbal rear-view mirror. ‘Rest Assured’ seems like the character or voice within the previous songs has finally made a decision of sorts. What kind of decision? What is the decision about? I have no idea. But as the most colourful and ‘least heavy’ song on the second side of the album it seems that the core tone has altered back into a more relaxed sound; slow and inward in a different form. These elements all join together to create a picture and ultimately to make the listener revaluate all the previous songs; to consider them in a different kind of light. No Hope For Getting Better thus presents itself together with this loose yet interesting concept involving regret and pondering of the past. And just as the album soothes with its opening chords and notes of a soft rock style sound, the complexion of the music swells into a whirl pool of darkness, depth and heaviness throughout the second half; ultimately culminating with the more considerate ‘Rest Assured’, bringing the entire album into a kind of full circle. A fantastic and engaging element of the music is that said content doesn’t only appear as a lyrical feature. In fact, the music and instrumentation pushes this kind of concept and emotive experience more so than the lyrics on a lot of moments on this album, and when it’s not just the music, it’s the music combining and contrasting the lyrics in a beautiful way.
Overall almost all the songs themselves remain enjoyable without featuring in between other songs on the album. Mirror Days talent of combining genres such as dream pop/shoegaze/soft rock/post-punk and alternative rock showcases the projects tight and impressive performance and song writing skills. It was mentioned in the PR kit for this release that the album features no electronic instruments; an extremely noteworthy feature as many bands program this and that to achieve sounds in a synthetic manner. Rather, like the music and the lyrics, the instruments come pure for the listening experience. An experience which is assisted with brilliant low key production and a type of mixing that saves the heavier drums from drowning out other instruments in a song. The projects actually talent with playing said instruments is also immensely impressive and can be heard through the magnificent production and sound.
ARTIST: In Light Of
RELEASE: Little Treasures
RELEASE DATE: 18th November 2016
Simple and easy… 5/5. And that is, really, that. You know, we could talk and jibber about this and that and the high and the low points; we could peer inside and try and examine what exactly is doing what and what makes the music interesting or engaging… But the best way to describe In Light Of’s new EP/Mini album is by the title they have given it; Little Treasures. A title fitting for a small collective group of songs that push the boundaries of post-rock into more experimental territory and that gives the name lo-fi a prettier looking face in a contextual sense. Landing somewhere between what is generally dubbed ‘ambient’ music and post-rock, the EP comfortably spreads it wings in a sometimes minimalist fashion to cross the path of art rock, dream pop and experimental music. Beautiful, mesmerizing, playfully introspective and kaleidoscopically bright, the band presents not only a well-rounded EP, but an interesting and engaging piece of musicality.
Little Treasures by In Light Of
The EP opens with ‘Bless Your Heart’, a song based around vivid and distant soundscapes that include dream pop sensibilities while introducing the soothing sounds of string instruments into the mix. Even though this is the opening song, the band’s mode of song writing and production are on full display to convey their idea of how post-rock music should sound. That idea is that a song is not a song. Instead, they present what is known as a song as a mesh of different colourful sounds that join together and blend to create a textured style of song writing. The listener doesn’t hear a song; they hear sounds. Sounds that join and form other sounds that lead onto different sounds that set up the music for a different sound and so on and so on. On ‘Bless Your Heart’ these sounds begin as a kind of representation of bright, lucid colours and dreaming; the sounds are all beautiful, slight and warm. On the other side of the song, the string section picks these sounds up and adds a different dimension to them entirely. The song eventually becomes swept up in the beat and sound of the drums which forms a kind of loose musical structure that the listener can follow along to. This is followed by the much more stripped back and acoustic laden ‘Cardinal Song’. Again, the band play with smaller and ‘lighter’ sounds that crescendo as the song continues, always holding the same attitude of sound. ‘Cardinal Song’ however, unlike the EP’s opening track, goes full song in a musical sense; beginning with an acoustic phrase that also appears later.
The title track melds the acoustic mood and the textured sound of the previous tracks together into a song that evokes imagery of bright and soft clouds and some kind of relaxing landscape. The soundscapes that the band are backed up by the slow and steady pace of a drum beat that sits at an extremely relaxing and comfortable volume in the mix. The bands use of piano shines heavily on this song, especially around the midway point where it chases the acoustic guitar around the bright patterns in the background of the music. The song sounds as though In Light Of have captured the albums cover art and set about writing a song that conveys that place and mood to the listener; beautiful. ‘Ascending’ introduces a more digital element to the album; opening with piano and synth like sounds that build up into patter-like drums or samples perhaps? All the while the band maintain their signature layering of noise and sound in the background. There may even be a DJ scratch in the music somewhere… Maybe, or is that something else? The middle of the song acts as a sort of contemplative ease which resonates with some kind of introspective tone; the slow drumming enters and the listener notices just how much is going on in the song and just how many instruments and sounds the band has layered therein. ‘Harmonica’ revisits a lot of the music that the band has explored and showcased through the EP and thus, while still greatly enjoyable, doesn’t present anything vastly different or alternative in the face of the other songs.
As previously stated, Little Treasures presents an alternate definition of the word song. There is little completely ‘traditional’ forms of song writing on this EP. Sure, there’s the occasional acoustic guitar riff or a section of notes and chords that link together for a while but overall much of the album relies on collages of soundscapes to tie themselves together over the top of a drum beat or noise. This is brilliant. And the whole thing is brilliant. It’s so beautiful to listen to; whether that be intently or as background music. It’s an indication of how post-rock can be manipulated into different forms and styles and because of this, Little Treasures could easily be labelled experimental above any other genres; but it is not wild experimentation with a million different guitars, feedback or a trillion different samples, it’s just the simple things; the stripped back elements that make you really look into a sound.
Apparently the making of Little Treasures was somewhat of an experiment within itself; each member of the two piece sent the other music that eventually was edited, composed and re-written into some coherent form of music. This practice puts a lo-fi like spin onto the music on the EP. But not in a grainy, screechy, scratching style but in a more uncovered, honest way that pushes the music forward and helps illuminate every tiny sound throughout the EP. Little Treasures is not an album for those seeking structural, tonal and verse-chorus formed music… But it is however a truly rewarding and intelligent piece of music making that emphasises the tiny cogs and gears that musicians generally coat up with heavy production and song writing techniques. Their music overall is helped greatly by their skills in editing, mixing, performance and sound.
RELEASE: Hello We're Not Enemies
RELEASE DATE: 17th June 2016
RECORD COMPANY: Seashell Records
Hello We’re Not Enemies is an album by Milan-based electronica outfit Novanta. On this release, over seven tracks of varying lengths and degrees, Novanta carve and pump out a wide range of beautiful and elegant alternative genres that paint a shimmering picture of a band who are fully pledged to their art form. And that is one compliment that must be instantly handed to Novanta and this album; it is a reflection of a band with a plan who have laid out seven diverse but fantastic tracks, in a great track listing, giving each song enough space to bounce off the one before. It is hard to explain, but after listening to the album over and over, it is its structure that (besides the music) is one of its strongest points. This coupled with its echoed Synthwave production and mixing, make for a refreshing, interesting and great listen.
Hello We're Not Enemies by Novanta
The album opens with the atmospheric intro-instrumental track, ‘Sonder’. With its humming and heavy synths, it seeks out to paint a picture in the listeners mind, and does so successfully. What is this picture? It is of a dark, empty highway that runs through a metropolis like city, perhaps in the 3000’s; and the band take the listener on a journey down this very highway, equipped with bouncing drum machines and an elegant and neon-bright soundscape. It is a piece of darkwave genius that leads straight into the belly of the beast; or in this case, the heart of the city. ‘Goðafoss’ follows on from the synth of ‘Sonder’ but adds a whole other dynamic at around the fifty second mark with a flood of soaring synth, drums and a neat background guitar to create an emotive and sophisticated coldwave sound, descending into the depths of post-punk. This is one of the albums greatest tracks, perhaps partly based on the fact that although it is sung in a language other than English, I can still (without understanding the lyrics) feel the vocalist’s sensitive and magnificent performance and know it is of a whole other stature; that it is a brilliant track. As the song pumps on in a post-punk/electro tone, it flows out into a beautiful final piece of keyboard contemplation and ceases at around the three minute mark, even though I could have listened to double its running time and still be immersed in the sound and music. ‘Mike’ begins with a kick drum-heavy eighties inspired drum machine, and seeps into a serene bass and keyboard hum, with great Cure-esque vocals that build the song up to its dark and glistening chorus, where climbing synths pulsate the background. If ‘Sonder’ was the trip toward metropolis and ‘Goðafoss’ was a metaphorical wander of its dark streets, then ‘Mike’ is the contemplative subplot of a character lost within the city labyrinth, rising in elevators, staring out the window as it climbs a massive building. ‘Mike’ is visiting the cold, rolling shoreline and gazing out as the wind blows in from a land beyond; utterly enthralling.
‘Tell A Story’ holds up the middle of the album with dream pop sensibilities and composure, but Novanta attempts to stuff the track full of different genres; an act that does not propel ‘Tell A Story’ to the monumental heights of the previous tracks. Instead, the song seems drawn out and jumps from sound to sound, with a reverbed and low-mixed dreampop/shoegaze vocal track in the background, coupled with the slow tap of a drum machine for a full and heavier sound. ‘Blue Lagoon’ stands at over seven minutes and utilizes a similar sound to the opening three tracks, although this song becomes less engaging at the beginning and flourishes as an intelligent and full sound toward the tracks closing. I feel like there is more potential in this track, as the band have demonstrated before how talented they are at choosing their sounds wisely; as it is used only minimally on ‘Blue Lagoon’. However, the three minute mark shines brightly another intelligent piece of music making from Novanta; who enhance the track to a tribal, dream like stature. ‘Melted Eyes’ closes the album with an eerie, dream evoked sound with a touch of darkwave that connects fantastically with the other tracks on the album. If the listener has been wandering the proverbial dark metropolis landscape for the album, then ‘Melted Eyes’ serves as a clever conclusion and a meditative beginning. The piano that touches quietly over the rumbling synth shines light into the heart of the darkwave resonance, and the listener emerges quietly from the labyrinth of coldwave into a whole other world full of light. At the same time, the distant tone of the vocals evokes a sense of contemplation deep within, coupled with a reflective power that allows ‘Melted Eyes’ its own beautiful place on Hello We’re Not Enemies.
The opening three tracks are the absolute highlight of the entire album; they spin with darkwave perspicacity that sooth and offer the listener the opportunity to reflect on the deep and post-punk influenced sounds of the album. Although this is not necessarily a concept album, I felt as though the first half was a fantastic construction of the aforementioned picture of a metropolis like city. With this in mind, I felt the middle few tracks fell out of this concept; so I examined them as songs in their own right and felt only moderate interest toward them. Novanta pull themselves together, however, and finish quite strongly on the last few tracks. Overall the album is great; but it could have been even greater, with a more direct and fleshed out sound. The production is good, the mixing is strong and the performances should be praised on all the tracks. With Hello We’re Not Enemies, Novanta meld together post-punk, electro, shoegaze, darkwave and synth stylings to create a fusion album of spectacular depth, a reflection of their skill with the art of sound.
‘Hello We’re Not Enemies’ was released on the 17th June 2016 via the Palermo based independent record label Seashell Records: seashellrecords.bandcamp.com