RELEASE DATE: 26th May 2016
RECORD COMPANY: Fuzz Club Records
Post-punk combines with coldwave, darkwave, a bit of ethereal wave and perhaps, arguably, most importantly; experimental music on the self-titled debut release by Swedish project NONN (the solo moniker of The Orange Revival's Christian Eldefors). Drum machines and programmed beats guide the way through reams of both light and darkness; to create something akin to classic 80’s style post-punk, but with a little something extra. Experimental music has always been a next-door neighbour of the music commonly associated with punk music, but NONN have decided to push it further, applying it deeply to the music as well as the production and mixing. 'Nonn' gets it's full release on the 26th May 2016 via the ever reliable purveyors of sonic discourse Fuzz Club Records and it is available to pre-order right now from www.fuzzclub.com
The album opens with the brilliant ‘Walls’ which features one of the greatest elements of the album; the attentiveness and experimentation with the instrument of voice. The song opens with heavy, darkly ambient program beats and noises that form into a airy and wide ranging soundscape backing for the song. The reminisce of a bass guitar churns away in the background before the fantastically obscure vocals ooze into the song, sounding like the vocalist is singing with echo and reverbed drenched effects underwater. There is a fantastic synthetic feel to the instrumentation and the kind of murmuringly weird musical backing that compliments and adds another dimension to the album as you listen more closely each time. ‘Lost’ begins with a similar kind of programmed frequency (which remains in the background of the song for the whole time) that is then given a backseat to the drum machine-laden post punk beat of double-snare tapping. The vocals this time are more recognizable and the song itself sounds like a kind of darkwave tune; re-fitted into a post-punk context by the coldwave like guitar that enters the song just after the intro.
‘Stay’ omits a similar feeling and stylistically does not really leap from where ‘Lost’ left off, although it's significantly darker. The bass lines, thick and consuming, guide the robotic-vocals along to the beat of another post-punk drum beat that seems to be taken straight from the eighties. ‘Gone’ is a brilliant track that slows things down, returning to the programmed beats, wizzes and noises of the first few songs. The drum beat borders on trip hop while the whole structural elements of the song sound like the echoing sound of an 80’s synthesizer guiding a character a film along a dark highway. ‘Cold’ takes this even further, offering layers and layers of moody but somewhat danceable synth FX and the churning slow beat of programmed rums in the background. Up next, ‘Need’ injects more of the airy soundscapes of the albums earlier tracks, while maintaining a similar style drum track. The synth within the track steps in for what would have been the guitar; creating a wavering effect that truly pushes the tempo and rhythm of the song strongly. ‘Hills’ is a very similar track, but alters things with the inclusion of small passages of what could be samples held within the music; mostly in the form of background whizz and churn and the synthetic sounding hi-hat of the drums. The vocals feature more visibly within ‘Hills’ as well; differing from other tracks on the album. ‘Time’ borders on a time of warped disco; altering between the dance-induced rhythm of the drums and the even further warped vocals on the track. The song truly shines just after the half way mark; highlighting the engaging production properties of NONN’s music. ‘Fear’ is by far one of the most experimental tracks on the album; it acts as one big long crescendo, backed by an alternating tempo and a wild ringing in the background. The vocals, hushed and wild, fit well with the context; harkening back to the hey days of acid house and other forms of electronica music that relied heavily on the FX of the voice. ‘Wait’ concludes as a fuzzingly loud outro of sorts; a ringing synthesizer hums in the background of some keys being played slightly and softly.
NONN as an album is at times an uphill wander; several tracks sound similar to the one before and the general song structure of several tracks sound thrown together or still in draft form. Still, I believe there to be an interesting focal point to it all; washed somewhere deep within the influence and the context of the music’s background. Listening to the whole album is like a conceptual walkthrough of one lengthy devoted song, where the tempo alters and then resurfaces back within itself the music stays honest enough to keep the listener interested. The production is clear and does the instrumental and lyrical elements of the album many favours. Its an interesting listen, achieved through performance and design, but perhaps most obviously through 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 Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
by Primal Music
ARTIST: Sonic Jesus
RELEASE DATE: 10th March 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Fuzz Club Records
From the critically acclaimed underground label Fuzz Club Records comes a slab of truly atmospheric, beautiful and moving music; Grace by Sonic Jesus. Deep and gravel-filled baritone vocals sing over the top of layers of soundscaped synth and unique, refreshing kinds of revivalist post-punk. At its core, holding everything together, is the careful and strategic structural elements of well written and performed alternative rock that balances itself with what seems to be the central theme of Grace; the essence and presentation of mood. From the dark corners of contemplation all the way up through to what sounds like narrative storytelling, Sonic Jesus’s use of mood, both musically and lyrically, is what makes Grace a wholly more interesting listen than any other sort of post-punk, synth laden music that seems to pour out easily for many worldwide bands and artists. 'Grace' is out right now with various formats available to buy via the ever brilliant fuzzclub.com
Grace by Sonic Jesus
‘I’m in Grace’ opens the album with layers upon layers of atmospheric synth soundscapes which are punctured by the deep but inventive baritone of the vocals. Eventually, the drums and guitars enter, playing a recognisable brand of post-punk; made special by the fantastic musical texturing and layering by the band. The song turns from sounding somewhat downtrodden to epic and larger within a few quiet moments; an album highlight. ‘I Hope’ utilizes the previous songs formalities but turns it into a more dream pop/indie tune, where the guitar tone sounds much lighter and colourful than on ‘I’m in Grace’. Again, the small tweaks and touches of a snare rattle here, a clap or other percussive sound make the song all the more enjoyable in a greater and more ‘fuller’ context. Perhaps the greatest element of the song is the chord progression within the chorus; where the vocals slide back down at the same time as the guitar; mixing emotions to create a kind of contrast that highlights all things good about the music. ‘Modern Model’ takes the synth elements explored on other songs to the foreground, creating a pysch-rock like feel. And while its an interesting track, it does not admit the same kind of radiance as either ‘I’m in Grace’ or ‘I Hope’, although the use of keyboards should be strongly highlighted and praised. ‘September Ninth’ turns things around again, sounding quite akin to a formal stylistic sound reminiscent of art rock or punk but still shows significant influence from post-punk and even subtle flashes of cold-wave . The brilliantly darker songwriting skills of the band make the song one of Grace’s best tracks, especially in the section just past the two minute point, where the lyrics and music bounce off each other and feed into a synthetic sounding chorus of epic proportions.
‘No Way’ is by far the most omniscient sounding song on the entire release; the thick disco like bass strums over a dance inspired drum track and scratchy, wild sounding guitar riff. The chorus seeps into itself similar to the previous track, sounding large and more wild than the verse that preceded it. Altogether, the track sounds quite New Wave; synthetic in an appealing sense, and layered and deep enough to appear beautifully fulfilling in its full pictorial qualities. One of Grace’s other highlights is the swaying reverie of ‘Space Heels’ which is perhaps the most melodically beautiful track on the entire release. The song embodies a slower tempo and more ‘gentle’ use of the synthesiser, tied together by a majestic and engaging vocal performance, sprouting and crooning majestic and engaging lyrics in the same. ‘Outdoor Party’ is another brilliantly new wave laced track; equipped with a more dream pop sounding guitar line and a melody that sounds somewhat more upbeat than on previous tracks. ‘Stars’ maintains this quality, heavy and pounding in its percussive elements; it utilizes the airy and hollow ambiance of previous tracks as a background for more alternative soundscaping. The second section of this song, what you could call the outro, plays out texturally rich, with a sequenced sound bouncing around in the background of the alt-rock inspired tune. ‘Fading Lights’ seems to act more like an un-intentional retrospective of the album; collecting up all the elements that the band has explored across Grace.
To keep an album with ten songs on it interesting enough to listen to from cover to cover, a band has to keep one unifying thematic quality to each song and to each transition from one song to another. For Sonic Jesus, that quality is the nifty tonal quality of mood. On Grace, every song either establishes or contorts mood to place emphasis on the atmospheric quality of the songs spread out within. Whether it be large scale, synth laden new wave sounding passages, or the sharp and linear qualities of post-punk revival music, Sonic Jesus manage to keep mood at the centrepiece of this album, to keep it interesting and thought provoking the whole way through. Its easy to see where many other bands stumble with this kind of music in an album context, but to be completely honest, Grace stands out so strongly from the crowd in a fashion that highlights their originality that you don’t even think about how the record could have ended up down the toilet. The performances are tight, showcasing well written songs and music, but it is the production and mixing that pushes the album further in its creativity, appeal and interest. Sonic Jesus have thus created an album that avoids all the clichés, emphasising talent, performance and sound.
RELEASE: Courage Reels
RELEASE DATE: 21st April 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Morningside Young Team Records
Following on from a handful of well-executed, tight and impressively written EP’s and singles that explored a wide array of genres including traditional shoegaze and much louder feedback ridden noise rock, is the debut full length album 'Courage Reels' from Edinburgh based four piece Wozniak. It’s a heavy, noisy and progressive listen, and one on which the band decides to take full advantage of their instruments, creating several lengthy songs with two or three lines of vocals in it amid riff after riff of sonic noise and what sounds at times to be well-captured jam sessions. Many songs take on this structure; and through it 'Courage Reels' at times sounds anywhere from stoner/sludge metal, progressive rock, shoegaze, dream pop, alt-rock, then throw in a bit of alt-metal and a weird kind of krautrock for good measure and tie them all together in layers of noisy feedback and what you get are tall sprawling arrangements that make Wozniak sound like a ten piece. 'Courage Reels' gets it's full release on April 21st 2017 via 'Morningside Young Team Records' and it is available to pre-order right now in various formats from wozniak.bandcamp.com
Courage Reels by Wozniak
'Courage Reels' opens with the instrumental ‘Shader’ that morphs itself around a heavy stoner metal riff and the gentle tapping of the drums in the background. However, after this introductory riff, the band launch into what sounds more like a traditional shoegaze due to the tone of their guitars and the musical melding between the guitar and the drums. ‘Shader’ takes this form for almost the entire song; jumping from a stoner metal riff into more airy shoegaze passages, all the while masking a background of feedback that compliments the music immensely. Much slower and distant is the shoegaze track ‘Ghosting’ whose form takes the shape of ‘Shader’ in that it jumps from heavy fuzzing back to its mellow origins; coming off as less heavy than ‘Shader’ but more intricate. The slowed, winding parts of the song are soothingly beautiful, masking mood and sound over a distinct form of song writing. ‘Ghosting’ also happens to contain vocals; all five lines of them, so drowned out you can hardly hear them, which actually fits in well with the context of the song. ‘Super Panther’ ties both previous songs together and revisits the more shoegaze sides of the bands sound, implementing fuzz bass and a fantastic drum track over the top of the winding and shimmering guitars that play a demented kind of indie rock. This song also sounds strongly influenced by alt-rock, with its more linear structure and ‘traditional’ riff centred form of song writing on display.
Back in March 2017 the band released the first single from 'Courage Reels', and that single was ‘Perihelion’ which crops up as one of the best tracks on the entire release. It’s a beautiful, trance inducing mix of down-trodden guitar strumming that harkens back strongly to the classic shoegaze sound with swirls of a darker kind of dream pop. The vocal performance here is also fantastic and an album highlight, as well as the instrumentation and backing noise to which the song takes it cues and creations from. Although the song goes for several minutes, the band condense the vocal, quieter and more accessible section of the song to its beginning and then launch into a wild and commendable instrumental section that winds out the second half of the song strongly and passionately. In a similar way is ‘Scottish Dancer’ which blows past the eight minute mark in its form, which is distinctly reminiscent of cold shoegaze, to again show the bands strength in song writing. Scottish Dancer’s beginning, featuring another well produced vocal section, sounds better than ‘Perihelion’ in terms of every aspect of the song fitting swiftly together. Another amazing instrumental outro leads the songs second half, in which background feedback is used as a soundscape style to greatly enhance the songs sound. ‘Natsuko’ returns to a more conventional length and sounds more akin to post-punk than anything else the band touch on 'Courage Reels'. Although its beautiful and holds some impressive moments, I did wonder what its significance in context of the album was, and upon a second listen parts of it tended to sound more like an album filler than anything else.
‘Erebus’ is another true album highlight, perhaps due to fantastic contextual balancing by Wozniak in terms of the track listing on the album. After a few lengthy, heavy and layered songs, the band turns things back to the simple and the minimal, placing the listener’s perceptions upon simple guitar based strumming that goes further to highlight a mesmerizing undercurrent of dream pop-like guitar tones and textures in the mix. ‘Crush’ features the best drumming performance on the album, but unlike the few previous tracks avoids stronger shoegaze elements instead focusing upon a kind of alt-rock type sound, driven by a distant but interesting vocal performance. ‘Death Suit’ turns things back up to the lengthy heights of ‘Scottish Dancer’ and ‘Perihelion’ but with much less conviction. It starts strong, with a neat little guitar intro, but seeps into uneven sections of music that seem to be so far removed from the other that it becomes more of a slog than a listen. However, the six to eight minute section is absolutely masterful and deserves praise for being one of the greatest passages of music on the release.
I must fully admit that I’m a fan of Wozniak, whose style and experimentations in guitar-orientated music have shone through in a fantastic and interesting way through past releases. I especially love the song ‘El Maresme’ which is quite an old song from their fantastic EP Pikes Peak. I say all of this simply because 80% of the music on 'Courage Reels' is less like the bands previous studio EPs and singles; the engaging single 'Harker' remains firmly an alternative shoegaze/dream pop song, so does 'Auster' and its more guitar driven sound. For 'Courage Reels' to feature lengthy, heavy, more straight forward rock arrangements that you could almost always classify as alternative-rock, rather than the hazy dream pop or shoegaze-based musings of their previous efforts is somewhat of a challenge for the listener. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, and we must all congratulate and encourage bands to transform, progress stylistically and traverse new terrain over song writing and performance, but I wonder if 'Courage Reels' is in fact the right kind of progression. It is a fantastic album (as noted by the rating) but ultimately it sounds like a band who are carrying only fragments of their previous skin after shredding it. Personally, as a fan and a listener, I would have loved to have heard more vocals on this instrumentally generous album. Also for some out there, a cover to cover listen would be just too much; the songs are lengthy affairs, the transitions within the songs are at times slightly awkward and the piling of lengthy songs after lengthy songs makes the album feel longer than it is. All of this probably sounds like mad criticism, but that could not be further from the truth. In fact, for all of the criticisms of the music I have, there is equal acclaim and admiration for 'Courage Reels'. It is exquisitely well produced and mixed, and the band shines through on every track to display a commitment and a wild sincerity to the well written songs featured on it. These elements amount to a well rounded and impressive album, bundled up fluently in commitment and sound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ARTIST: Highest Sea
RELEASE: Haunted Hearts
RELEASE DATE: February 24th 2017
RECORD COMPANY: SPÄTI PALACE
Even though post-punk music is the sort of genre that’s been rinsed and re-used over and over again, there is some kind of sentimental breeze that blows through when you trip over something that’s in some way original or kind of whimsically nostalgic. In this case, one could trip over 'Haunted Hearts' by German based band Highest Sea, an EP that is not so much a step in a different direction, but rather a mediation on previous footprints. Said previous footsteps divulge in all things classically post/punk, the guitar driven stirring of alternative rock and the churning hum of dream pop; mixed together to create a kind of low-key form of shoegaze.
SP013 HIGHEST SEA - Haunted Hearts by SPÄTI PALACE
The EP opens with ‘Wait For The Night’ which hinges on alternative rock based guitar playing and slow, heavy drumming to create an atmosphere akin to less-intricate, muddled shoegaze music. The song is simple and straight-forward, slow and at times slightly dragging in its structural forms. By this I mean that you could think I’m not expressive of all the songs details, but honestly it is literally just as I describe it. Its slow, riff based alt-rock that spikes into the songs second half into a heavy thrashing kind of musical passage. ‘Hawaii’ is a more intricate, dense song, built this time around a post-punk rhythm section and a dream pop sounding guitar. The vocals stay wholly visible in the mix as the song rolls along with the double tap of a snare; the musical texturing displays a neat kind of laid-back sound to the song. The best song on the EP is by far ‘La Bellea Soledad’ which converges the vocals and the instrumentation into a truly beautiful moment of capture. The song is less direct than others and it gives an opportunity for all involved to shine thoroughly in the perspective of the listener. At its core though, the song still holds stylistic elements of dream pop heavily within itself, which can be heard most predominantly in the songs stop-start second half. All in all, a beautiful track. ‘Black Poison’ is the most open, the most presented the band gets on the entire EP. Its sound is based around an atmospheric vocal performance and a kind of musical side that borders on lo-fi, these two elements bounce off one another to create a memorably slower track whose second half and acoustic section does nothing but highlight the talents of the musicians involved.
While there is obviously moments of true intrigue and intelligence on 'Haunted Hearts' the whole thing comes off as, well, kind of ‘slight’. What I mean by this is that the structural elements of the songs show clearly and definitively, not that that’s a problem, its just that these structural elements are quite in-offensively linear and at times generic. But that’s not to say the band don’t have strengths, and that’s also not to say that these strengths aren’t on obvious display throughout the course of the EP. The lyrics remain fresh and engaging, the performances on the most part are strong and the depth of their song writing ability is shown fully on sections of every song. Its exploration is light, but its worth, its musicality and its roots prove rewarding, especially through production and sound.
ARTIST: Lunar Twin
RELEASE: Night Tides
RELEASE DATE: 17th March 2107
RECORD COMPANY: Moon Sounds Records
The word Hawaii… What does it bring to your mind? A few palm trees? Margaritas? Some tropical birds? Some surfing? Gigantic waves? The wallowing baritone mysticism of Lunar Twin? Blue ocean? Blue sky? The heat? The electronic representation of a film that’s as beautiful as it is dark? What about the surf rock? With the eye catching tag of ‘Hawaii’ on their Bandcamp genre tags list, the LA/Hawaiian based band Lunar Twin’ latest mini album/EP Night Tides was a confusing piece of art from the start. I thought, judging by the glisteningly and pretty cover, the track names and the geographical elements of the band, that the music was to be ‘dancehall’ or a kind of a chillwave outing… But it wasn’t. It turned out to be much more interesting, so interesting, actually, that it garners the esteem of a 5/5 rating. It’s a bamboozling listen; electronica gets thrown in a whirl pool of dark synthwave, lounge music, down tempo hip-hop like instrumentation, dream pop and a dash of experimental rock/art rock music just for good taste. Imagine a baritone cowboy balladeer teams up with a man who knows his way round a keyboard/FX station, they both get really drunk in Southeast Asia and start making lounge music, and then get booked to play a poolside party at some movie stars place in Beverly Hills in the middle of the 80’s… Wild.
Night Tides by Lunar Twin
Night Tides opens with the beautiful tropical, downtempo, electronic vibes of ‘Waves’, which is built around a vibraphone lead percussion section that sits at the back of a contemplative and ‘downtown’ style synth progression. A guitar melds itself into the mix occasionally; forging lighter musical imagery to the context of the synth and piano. The standout, however, is the vocals. Where any old dream pop maverick or uninventive electronic producer would have guaranteed a higher, shimmering voice to sit alongside the instrumentation, Lunar Twin instead throw in the rumble and grit of a deep baritone-lead vocal performance. Thus, instead of two contrasting sounds bouncing off each other in the ‘light’ of the vocals and the guitar and the ‘dark’ of the rest of the instrumentation, the duo instead throw in so many different contrasting sounds that you’re left trying to figure out if you’re on a river boat cruise or lost in the backstreets of Poland in the cold. Its brilliant. ‘Blood Moon’ could very well be the soundtrack to a film noir movie. A nifty drum beat rolls the music along in a similar fashion to the strumming guitar that keeps everything together; built into the foreground of the song, however, is a bonkers genius kind of flamenco guitar picking, the sounds of a subtle string section, and a sequenced synth noise that bounces around in an echo-like fashion. Here the vocals are much more hushed and wicked; locking in magnificently with the lyrics of the song and projecting a much less tropical, more lounge music inspired sound.
‘Coral Sea’ turns things almost completely in a synthwave fashion, it opens with pulsated beat sequencing, the ease of a synth choir, a fantastic drum beat and the deep pipes of the vocals. Again, it’s a kind of film soundtrack, this time to some sort of drive into a city in the dark. The chorus’s beautiful orchestral/synth backing is truly delightful and eventually, as the song goes on, one can tell how the song relates to its title. The second half especially, has the aforementioned flavour of what some would call a ‘dark paradise’ where the sky is far from blue, but the scenery still plays a key role in the mood and feel of the place. ‘Birds of Paradise’ turns fully synth orientated, built around the dancing plucks of synths and further sequencing; showcasing the technical wizardry going on behind the scenes on the release. ‘Prayers of Smoke’ is a similar sound to the synth-laced ‘Birds of Paradise’, although the chorus returns to the duos visual projection of a tropical island or beach. A slow drum beat and wavering guitar tones highlight a swish of spaghetti-western guitar playing that overlaps more sequenced synth ques. The song at times, in a good way, sounds like its quivering and spinning into art-style noise pop, but always regains its focus and rhythm in enough time and effort to saviour itself from complete experimentation. Of all the one-track captures of a kind of mystic-tropical beauty on the release, the title track succeeds wholly in its obtuse, morphing beauty the most. I’m going to try and describe it (and that probably still won’t do it complete justice.) A synth and vocal performance open the song, which tells of a train trip and mentions oceanic imagery in a highly poetic form, then, another synth floats by, coupled with what I can only assume is a sample of some kind of Asian harp or guitar instrument. Throw into the mix an uncanny wave kind of vocal sample that sounds like its in an echo chamber. And while your floating on the dazingly metaphorical ocean of sound and allure thinking just how amazingly nostalgic the whole thing is, you notice that the synth chord progression that glues the song together isn’t actually that sweet and golden; it’s actually kind of dark. Then you think ‘f#ck, those wind chime noises aren’t actually that aesthetically pleasing either’ and then you look around yourself and admit that Lunar Twin have somehow made you re-think your imaginary surroundings. Within the context; the mental imagery of the song, you put the puzzle pieces together and feel very confused, almost in wonderment of the kind of sound they have morphed and thrown together. The moral of the story is, is that the whole thing is ridiculously experimental. So experimental in fact, that you just have to sit back and commend the fact that the band show their skills and pure smarts, their kind of own inventiveness or genius on the song.
Night Tides is, in retrospect, a musical interpretation of its title. Between the sunny visions of the tropical ocean and the islands around the place is the scent of experimental waves and a genius, kind of obtuse serenity. It’s a truly beautiful EP, and to summarise all these words and descriptions, I would have to say its major triumph is its originality and creativeness. Said originality and creativeness is achieved through the tight, kind of stripped back production and the great mixing on the release; that really highlights a lot of different sounds on a lot of different tracks. With that said, the actual song writing on the release is at the crux of this praise. Between the wild genre mixing, which includes synth-wave, easy listening, lounge music, dream pop, electronic, oriental music and art rock among others, to the fantastically simple meld between the vocals and the instruments, the duo show their skills in a subtle way from song to song. Sometimes, bands say things like ‘this is a soundtrack to a dissimulated movie’ or something, in an attempt to give a ‘nudge-nudge’ to try and get you to imagine them in a film soundtrack context. In the case of Lunar Twin, you instead make your own connection; and even if that isn’t the connections or thoughts that I had, it is easy to be rewarded from the imagery and thoughts that this music creates. With that all said, it might not be everybody’s cup of tea; the artistic and technical experimentation for the most part is skilfully subtle, but at other times you might need a second listen to focus on every sound on the release. This element is one that I thought was brilliant, but some may believe it is too non-linear. Similarly, appreciate the music for what it is; that’s a piece of experimental mastery, achieved through performance, writing, production and sound.
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 Baeble Music and Culture (USA), Sounds and Colours Magazine (Latin America, London), Easterndaze (Latvia) and the Australian based heavy music blog, I Probably Hate Your Band.
ARTIST: A Thousand Hours
RELEASE: Endless Grey
RELEASE DATE: 17th March 2017
RECORD COMPANY: Unsigned
It was way back, way way back, in the early days that the slow but powerful shift of alternative music began to sweep the underground, from four chord punk, coming from either side of the Atlantic, to the somewhat alien sounds of what would later be determined as ‘post-punk’. Of these early post-punk bands, there was a much darker and ‘heavier’ sound. Songs consisted of baritone moans and screeching guitars, drum beats that many amateurs could play and thick bass lines. Funnily enough, skip forward a good forty years or so, and this is the sort of stuff you’re hearing on 'Endless Grey' by Alaskan based 'A Thousand Hours'. Dark, somewhat challenging but always tactically engaging, A Thousand Hours round up many of music histories greatest tricks and turn them into their own creation; churning out a heavy, tight and unique sound in the process. 'Endless Grey' is available to buy/download right now from onethousandhours.bandcamp.com
Endless Grey by A Thousand Hours
The album begins with the title track; a slow, yearning and distant piece of alt-rock/post-punk. The vocals remain husky for the songs duration, reaching a beautiful tone that syncs with a dizzying guitar on the chorus. The drums beat slowly to keep things going and a fantastically subtle piano is played deep underneath the music; just enough to sound as important as everything else in the mix of the tracks. ‘B’ follows in a darker tone, opening with the rustle of industrial sounds and what sounds to be the pluck of a harp, before the sound of French coldwave pours in; a great riff that hums through to the listener and the somewhat down trodden drumming accompanies muddy, challenging vocals in a collage of veiled beauty. Again, A Thousand Hours use the high keys on a sharp piano underneath everything. After several listens ‘B’ stands as a true album highlight; capturing everything so grand about what can be created with post-punk music. ‘Ship’ opens with an overtly post-punk bass tone, followed by the slow rattle of the drums. The vocals on ‘Ship’ are much more present than previous tracks; an element I think doesn’t pack as much of a punch for the band. The chorus still soars though, and one can feel an undercurrent of dream pop within the instruments, especially the guitar. ‘Moments’, a mesmerising soundscape filled wave of genuinely fantastic music creation furthers this touch of dream pop and adds another layer to it by again utilizing the wonders of slight, simple piano playing.
‘Tender’ returns again to the desolate, stripped back post-punk sound explored on the opening part of the album. It’s simple guitar strums drown out the FX’d vocals over and over again and the chorus passage of music showcases the lead vocals by flying them higher in the mix to again accompany the guitars. The almost minimal musicality in the song fits perfectly with the lyrics, that seem distant, dreamy and confusing all at the one time. An interlude follows, entitled ‘Hold’ before unleashing the next track ‘Down’, which also shines brightly as an album highlight; its soothing sounds drift again into the realms of dream pop. The slow strum of an acoustic guitar backs up a glowing synth like sound and the much more present but rewarding vocal tones. Its place as an album highlight is due to how wonderfully all the instruments are melded and linked together. ‘Flood’ is another great song, that slows thing down again; touching on points that showcased the bands talent in the first half of the album.
‘The Desolate Hour’ is one of the most stripped back songs on the entire release, but it again deploys many tropes associated with dark, alternative post-punk music to form into another stellar gathering of music. The entire song lives up to its title; the music never truly reaches out of the conceptual sludge it has decided to sink itself within; capturing the sound of drowning through a musical language that’s both engaging and wretched. Perhaps the deepest depths of the dark, claustrophobic post-punk caverns that A Thousand Hours dwell in is the almighty ‘Rainy Days’ that centres around a deep, heavy vocal lead and slow, thick, sludgy music that at the same time somehow sounds thin and slight at the same time. It’s weary and deep sound captures a movement that the band seemed to be taking slowly over the course of Endless Grey, as the title would suggest. ‘Closure’ is a guitar-lead instrumental track that churns out an almost danceable tune to counteract the tracks before it, but it remains within the stylistic elements of the album and its sound.
'Endless Grey' is as close to its title as it can get; darkness and a heel dragging tempo carries many of the songs around, dragging them behind on a metal chain of slow, heavy sounds and passages. There are the occasional tracks where the band take their foot off the accelerator and present a brighter, more upbeat dream pop influenced song. But for the most part, they remain within the parameters of classic coldwave; especially on the albums second half through the string of songs like ‘The Desolate Hour’, ‘Rainy Days’ and ‘Flood’. For this reason, some won’t fancy setting off through the journey of Endless Grey, and others may find it’s 11 track haul a lengthy one. But I ask you to indulge in it. It’s brilliance shines in its stylistic choices and its tense, yet loose performances. Altogether it is an immensely rewarding listen from a band who know exactly what they want. Where many bands in this area of alternative music tend to release five or more song releases with tracks that sound completely different from one another, A Thousand Hours stick to their conceptual guns and showcase 11 songs that stick together but remain fresh for the listener over the course of the album. Post-punk is in good hands, I suppose, is the moral of the story… And those hands have been used wisely here; to create a piece of music that shines in almost every aspect; especially song writing, performance, production and sound.
ARTIST: Fools Ferguson
RELEASE: Dead Lines
RELEASE DATE: 27th January 2017
The real, meaty, heavy side of dreampop/shoegaze music is shown; teeth-baring, wild and beautifully sludge-filled on the album 'Dead Lines' by Fools Ferguson. But even the heaviness and wall-of-sound like musical qualities are contrasted on the release by dreamy, wavering passages of music; strung together with FX, keys and a unique vocal style. Together these elements mix in with touches of post-punk revival and alternative rock to create quite an original group of sounds, genres and thoughts in the shape of music.
Dead Lines by Fools Ferguson
The album opens with the lengthy, over eight minute epic ‘Altered States’. It’s beginning showcases the aforementioned heavy side of alternative, dreamy music; guitars and drums link together to create a wide and tall sound and the use of the subtle sound of keys underneath the mix stir together to create a truly memorable intro to the song. The vocals are, unlike many dream pop/shoegaze bands, fully visible in the mix of the music. This allows for an interesting contrast and connection between the vocals and the synths/keys across the course of the song. A pounding drum machine manages to keep the song rolling along at a steady and patient pace, and occasionally a piece of technical wizardry or synth swirl will accompany the sounds on the song even further. It is true that the greatest parts of ‘Altered States’ are the creatively engaging instrumental pieces; built to convey images and emotions through chords and contrast. Turning things completely over in sound is the much more upbeat and shiny ‘Room and Roses’, which takes on a more pysch-rock influence while maintaining enough of an air of dream pop to remain slightly familiar. ‘Room and Roses’ is in fact a ridiculously catchy, well-written and brilliantly performed song. That’s about all I have to say about that. ‘Room and Roses’ is followed by the brilliant, post-punk revival sound of ‘Crystal Castles’ as much of an album highlight as ‘Room and Roses’, the song sees the band turn to the crux of classic post-punk music; equipped with thick bass lines, the double tap snare and hi-hat dance sound of the percussion, and the intricate, weaving sounds of guitar. It’s an enjoyable and interesting song that seeps more and more into a darker sound as it goes on; culminating in a heaviness of a different kind to the albums opening.
‘The House of Love’ slows everything down into a more pop orientated sound that even features an acoustic guitar! The verses seem to be a weird combination of synthpop (where keyboard lines bounce around on the riff) and alternative rock, making parts of the song seem uneven or perhaps even under written. The chorus is fantastic; featuring a great but simple riff that captures the essence of dream pop music in only a few notes/chords. Another album highlight is the epic, seven minute piece of dream music ‘Wild Sides’ which blends together dark, timid soundscapes with the previously explored structural elements of post-punk music. For most of the song, the music churns and churns in a kind of minimalist way, underpinned by the slow synth movements underneath the song. The vocals are more akin to traditional dream pop/shoegaze music; drowned and FX’d above the music; soaring and drifting in a kind of contemplative manner. ‘The Black Star…’ turns thing back to a more ‘Room and Roses’ kind of sound; although it appears less upbeat and catchy in its performance and style. The chorus really highlights a swift kind of ‘neat and tidy’ aesthetic the band have been hinting and playing at through the course of the release. By ‘neat and tidy’ I mean that the guitars and rhythm section all stay together tightly and neatly in a kind of package wrapped in FX, sounds and noise, rather than presenting a full frontal, wild and unformulated kind of noise or drone. ‘Something Outside’ ties in with other epic songs on the album in its length, height and even its weight. There is a fantastic bass guitar riff that guides a majority of the song, punctuated by the occasional free-jazz inspired drum tapping, but overall the entire thing sort of seems like a thrown together-distant piece of music that shows an occasionally interesting passage of sound or thought. ‘The Alohama Lakes’ turns things around yet again, creating a slow and yearning piece of heavy dream pop music. It’s an album highlight and one of the most prominent songs on the album that sounds fully developed and rehearsed by the band themselves. In fact, ‘The Alohama Lakes’ is a fantastic example of the kinds of songs and sounds the band create at their greatest and most inspired points of the album.
'Dead Lines' is certainly an interesting album from a talented and equally engaging band that seems to borrow elements across all sorts of genres of alternative music. But that can’t blend out the fact that this release seems uneven and fluctuating in its sincerity. There a few fantastic, brilliant tracks where the band show they’re skill in song writing and crafting, tied together even more so by brilliant performances. But even these said tracks vary so much in stylistic and conceptual elements that you wonder at times if you are listening to the same band as before. I stated before how there are some elements that carry from song to song, such as tones, distinct playing and kinds of sounds, but for most of the album these elements are not strong enough to resonate throughout the entire release. There were even times while listening to this where I thought how much powerful the songs would be if they were completely instrumental and there were other times where I wondered about where the song had wandered off to in context with the album. All these elements amount to what is referred to as ‘uneven’ or ‘muddled up’. But all this is not to say the band is without immense talent or skill. As stand alone tracks, a majority of the album sounds interesting and well produced. Furthermore, the bands skill is shown throughout the entire release through the avenue of performance; each instrument and sound melding fantastically together. This goes further to reflect the mixing in itself; brilliant, wild, subtle and amazing. I think this is very interesting and well-written music that you should here, but I also hope that Fools Ferguson reconvenes to consider how an album can flaunt their talents and skills as a complete package. They already have the talent and skill; it’s just about how you use it. Besides that, there is the many feature highlights, especially in the realms of production, performance and sound.
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.
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.
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.