Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Caretaker - Providence

Providence Cover Art
Caretaker - Providence
Genre: Metal/Progressive
Rating: 10/10

2011 has been an absolutely sterling year for music. Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking that the best albums of the year have already been and gone Caretaker couldn't help but muddy the water and make choosing your own personal favourite that much harder by releasing Providence. Caretaker already burst back into life when they released their split EP with Undersmile earlier this year which in itself was a triumphant return but not content with leaving it there the Oxford trio have set about a limited pre release of Providence, the bands first LP since 2001's self titled mini album debut.

Over this long period of time Caretaker have overhauled their sound so much their current slick post-metal style bares only the slightest resemblance to their previous material. Whilst this may alarm the bands oldest of fans it really is not to the bands detriment that they've made such big changes. The current sound is a vibrant mix of serene reverb drenched soundscapes and more crushing angular riffs with angsty blood curdling screams layered on top for good measure with the occasional melodic respite thrown in here and there. The most obvious point of comparison is probably with Post-Metal's founding fathers ISIS and Neurosis but the music here is still wholly original and avoids being derivative. The real strengthof the record is the balancing act of these two opposite ends of the spectrum. The soft bits are beautifully sparse and airy but the low down dirge of the underpinned bass and primordial oozing riffs are never far away which gives the echoey segments a feel of foreboding doom making Providence the bands darkest offering to date by miles. The real strength is that whilst each segment of the song may not be overly complicated the elements are tempered together with such clarity the results are utterly evocative . The whole affair is rather hypnotic and grabs you from the very beginning only allowing you to get comfortable just long enough to rip away the false sense of security they've gifted to you. Highlights come thick and fast throughout and include "What We Have We Hold" which constantly shifts between sparse instrumental passages and harsh riffs as it slowly builds levelling your ears as it comes full circle. Other highlights like "Martinet", with its chugging sludgey riffs which stop only to creep back in slower and more jarring than before, and the hauntingly sparse title track "Providence" just add to the seemingly infinite charm of the record. The only downside to Providence is that it took 10 years to see the light of day and whilst definitely worth the wait it doesn't feel like it lasts quite long enough. That being said it's always better to end too soon than to last too long, at least where music is concerned.

Overall Providence is nothing short of a glorious rebirth for Caretaker showcasing a great amount of skill and vision. Not only is the music interesting and engaging but it is brilliantly original. A late entry for album of the year and an album I would highly recommend.

Download: "What We Have We Hold" "Martinet"

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Sleepstream - A Waltz With The Seventh Crane

Sleepstream - A Waltz With The Seventh Crane
Genre: Post Rock/Progressive Rock
Rating: 7.5/10

Sleepstream are a quintet from Greece who formed back in 2008. After several different complications and line up changes the band have finally pulled together and released their debut LP this year on Fluttery records, a label that predominantly focuses on ambient/experimental/post rock artists. Whilst post rock is a fairly saturated scene that seems to continually be expanding with new acts springing up from all over the world Sleepstream are actually quite unique. The main aspect of their sound that seperates these greeks from the herd of faceless nameless clones is their uncanny ability to mix the ambient serene aspects of post rock with more hard hitting prog rock.

Whilst many post rock bands continually strive to create grand epics worthy of Sigur Ros Sleepstream steer themselves away from the constant overuse of reverb and tremolo picking that has become common place. Whilst these factors are still undeniably within their music the band seem less inclined to focus on pure ambience and sometimes classical chugging rock guitars intersperse themselves in amongst the airy melodies. Whilst this seems like such a simple thing to do it really works well here with giving most of the album a sombre yet occasionally visceral tone similar to Swedish gothic metal masters Katatonia. The imagery is bleak and the two tracks with singing are fairly gloomy affairs and throughout the record extra depth is added with dramatic flourishes of violins. The standard practices of post rock at times seem a million miles away and whilst the record could do with more singing in my opinion the instrumentals normally have enough punch and personality to avoid falling on deaf ears. The mixture of soft melodic passages and more frenetic riffing makes the album have a more directed feel rather than just a mix of random melodies and the overall flow is very pleasing. Highlights include the powerful "The Spirit" and title track "A Waltz With The Seventh Crane" both of which ebb and flow building to some powerful guitarwork and simple yet sombre violins that really tugs at the heartstrings. The only downside to the whole album is the lack of vocals which only make a brief appearance on a couple of tracks which could serve to give the band a slightly more unique sound and identity.

Overall A Waltz With The Seventh Crane is a powerful debut effort. Whilst it may not be a perfect record and may sometimes feel a little ambiguous it still an interesting listen for the most part and definitely worth giving a spin or two. Recommended.

Download: "A Waltz With The Seventh Crane" "The Spirit"

Olafur Arnalds - Living Room Songs

Olafur Arnalds - Living Room Songs
Genre: Neo-Classical/Alternative
Rating: 6.5/10

Olafur Arnalds is a neo-classical composer who first came to my attention back in 2007 with his glorious debut album Eulogy For Evolution. Since then he has been championed by critics across the globe for his beautiful contemporary compositions that fuse classical orchestration with more contemporary influences. Living Room Songs is his latest release a collection of minimalist arrangements recorded at home and rather than an exuberant follow up studio album to 2010's ...And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness Arnalds is seen treading the same simplistic path of 2009's Found Songs, a compilation of songs recorded in just a week.

Since the beginning of his career as a classical composer Arnalds has seen his fair share of critical accolades. Signed to the well established indie label Erased Tapes over time his experimental pallet has done nothing but widen with each release helping to further his success. Whilst many of the key elements of his music remain the same from record to record each album so far is mixed with its own contemporary musical counterpart which gives most of his back catalogue each have an individual feel. His average composition consists heavily of string sections that fade in an out using plentiful rests and plaintiff melancholy piano's and keys. The real creative flair in his sound comes from his intermittent inclusion of samples and standard drum kits where Arnalds welds together classical and contemporary to make beautifully cinematic movements. The contemporary element Arnalds experiments with in Living Room Songs is as the title would suggest ambient background noise. Throughout the album Arnalds classical sensibilites are expressed in a more lo-fi raw form with added creaks from floor boards and scratchier and less precise strings and clumsier keys. The whole album has the feel of being recorded in isolation the creaking floor boards and crackly imperfections adding an extra dimension to sombre compositions. Highlights include the eerie "Near Light" where slow building crackles eventually turn into skittering programmed drums as well as "Ágúst" which is trademark Arnalds with its beautiful melody. The main downside to the recording as it feels rather restrained whilst it is more of a compilation than a full studio album too many of the sampled sound effects repeat themselves and it lacks the air of adventure of his earlier work. Whilst his trademark sound is something he has truly mastered with such a large output it can't be helped feeling that he may have started to repeat himself.

Overall Living Room Songs is an adequate release from a very talented composer. Whilst the critics are sure to sing its praises the fact of the matter is Arnalds has produced much better albums in his time and comparitively this latest addition struggles to stand up against comparisons with his earlier more varied work. The album is not terrible just a tad disappointing.

Download: "Near Light" "Ágúst"

Abandon - Monsters

Abandon Monsters EP
Abandon - Monsters
Genre: Post-Rock/Shoegaze
Rating: 7.5/10

December is usually a month that sees a real wind down for the music industry as the charts are inevitably flooded with the same christmas tunes as all the easy listening balladeers release christmas albums. A dire state of affairs indeed. However december is not totally bereft of good music at least not this year as Abandon's latest release from underground rock label Blindsight Records proves. Blindsight Records are a relatively small UK record label that boast an impressive roster of underground talent and were responsible for releasing the triumphant Caretaker/Undersmile split earlier this year, which some of you may remember I gave a full ten out of ten. Abandon is one of the many monikers taken by label founder Umair Chaudhry and fits in suitably with the record label's overall dark aesthetic.

Abandon fall under the vaguest of genre pigeon hole of shoegaze, a term that can be applied to bands like Jesus And Mary Chain all the way to Jesu, a broad spectrum indeed. So what does this mean of the band itself? Well what you actually get with Abandon is a million miles from the more lacklustre blurry noise that can be associated with bands under the shoegaze tag and instead you get more focused, dark and brooding material. Throughout the EP Umair paints various doom laden shades and the whole record slowly builds a sort of horrific tension in slow motion as though leading towards a truly evil crescendo that never actually arrives. The whole experience is unsettling, haunting and desolate whilst all the while retaining a hypnotic trance like pace. The lyrics are fittingly bleak and a murmured over the intricate eerie melodies and only add to the creeping menace of the record. The EP itself is very long with many of the tracks scraping the over eight minute mark but the majority of the material is devoted to remixes. Whilst generally remixes are a difficult to get right the majority of the remixes here fit the purpose and seem to have exercised restraint only adding faint crackles and skittering drums looping over the faint distorted guitars in some cases even improving on the originals. The music itself could be compared in style at least to the more melodic haunting work of Jesu or the utterly brilliant enigmatic cult outfit Have A Nice Life who are unparelleled in their field. Highlights include title track and opener "Monsters" with its looming dark majesty and the beautifully affecting and hypnotizing "Faith We Once Held (Fragment Remix)" which is over 9 minutes of nightmarish sound with crushingly powerful lyrics that feel as though they are being whispered in your ear. The only downside to the whole EP as a whole would be the repetition factor. Whilst the remixes are quite masterfully done with a softness of touch that fits the overall tone of the record at the end of the day you get the same melodies and lyrics slightly too often. That said most of the reinterpretations are still very pleasing and the whole EP proves to be an utterly intriguing affair.

Overall Monsters is Abandon's most well developed release to date. The music is dark gloomy and powerful and aside from a few too many repetitions of some of the songs Mosters is a very impressive release. Whether this sort of music will achieve a wide scope of interest is debatable with its downbeat slow bereaving songs I can't help but feel it would be lost on many but if you're into the darker side of rock you'll definitely find something to love here. Abandon are definitely one to watch in the future. Recommended.

Download: "Monsters" "Faith We Once Held (Fragment Remix)"

Friday, 2 December 2011

Boots Electric - Honkey Kong

Honky Kong
Boots Electric - Honkey Kong
Genre: Dance/Rock
Rating: 4.5/10

Eagles of Death Metal are certainly an acquired taste. Their unique brand of danceable desert rock is highly tongue in cheek and overtly sexualised leaving many to dismiss them as a watered down cliched version of Queens Of The Stone Age. Whilst the artistic merits of the band are debatable the real focus is to make party friendly feel good tunes which they do in abundance. Boots Electric is the new project of Eagles Of Death Metal outspoken frontman Jesse Hughes and sees him for the first time step out of the shadow of his mentor and contributor Josh Homme.

As far as themes go Boots Electric continues to play it safe aiming itself down the road of Eagles Of Death Metal mostly focusing on sleaze and gimmicky rock n roll cliches. The main difference is actually in the framework in which these tunes are presented. Whilst Eagles Of Death Metal are known for their heavier lofi guitar driven sound Boots Electric seems to favour slicker electronic means. Keyboards, Synths and drum machines seem to replace guitars and drum kits for the most part making the whole record ooze an almost techno feel. Unfortunately this takes away the swagger that makes the cheesey over the top posturing bareable and instead your left with quite an embarassing cluster of songs. It's not all bad certain tunes have their own simplistic charm but on the whole the music is pretty tame at best. The tunes themselves aren't as hedonistic and rather than being sleazy often show a level of romance but with the cheesey electro hooks this turns the tunes into limp whiney ballads that don't really suit Hughe's. These more mature reflections on love could be seen as Hughes expressing more honest emotions but unfortunately they are expressed in such an overpowering style that it isn't really affecting at all. The few highlights that are on the record are quickly forgotten when tracks like "No Ffun" and "Dreams Tonight" force the listener into such powerful cringes that the catchier moments fall by the wayside. Highlights like the opener "Complexity" with its throbbing synths and the grittier Wolfmotheresque "Oh Girl" are not enough to redeem the album. Whilst its interesting to see Hughes left to his own devices the results are fairly inconsistent and the electronic aspects just don't stand up to repeated listens with the novelty wearing off pretty quickly.

Overall Boots Electric's debut is rather lacklustre. Whilst there are a couple of catchy tunes there is very little substance to the whole record and its likely to be shelved and forgotten very shortly. Avoid wasting your money.

Download: "Complexity" "Oh Girl"