Welcome, one and all, to the penultimate episode of Review Rundown for 2018! It has been a magnificent year, and I hope that we’ve covered a whole heap of records in this feature which have inspired our readers’ listening habits! There are ten more records we’d like to lay out for you today, with styles ranging from jazz and electronica to progressive rock and experimental noise.
We’re going to be exploring records by Mae, Long Arm, Overhead, Glass Hammer, Nature Morte, Ed Harcourt, Merzbow, Ghostly Kisses, Sararthy Korwar, and LENIO in this edition, so dive in and let us know your thoughts!
You can check out our Review Rundown anthology here.
When a band has been around for 20 years but you’ve never heard of them, you know they’ve been working hard behind the scenes. The latest release from Overhead, Haydenspark, shows a lot of maturity, while sounding distinctly contemporary.
Haydenspark covers varied ground. Well, within narrow confines that is. Mainstream rock is served well with tracks like the album’s opener, “Count Your Blessings”, and “King Of The World”. The shadow of grunge pops up here and there (“Last Generation”, “Across The Nation”), and even prog makes itself heard with the mellotron and Hammond organ on the epic title track.
Overall, this is a well-polished rock band doing what they know best. The first half is not all that original, but from the halfway point on, there’s just enough sonic variation going on to stick out from the crowd. Good examples include “Count Your Blessings”, featuring a great Spanish guitar solo, and “Death By Tribulation” with its old-school metal vibe, King’s X style vocal harmonies, and even a flute! The flute also makes a comeback over a distinct 80s style groove on “Gone Too Far”. A great finisher!
If you’re into mainstream sounds (Foo Fighters et cetera), you could do a lot worse than checking out Overhead, including their extensive back catalogue. You might have found your new favourite band.
Glass Hammer have been around for 25 years by now. Similar to bands like Pallas, I.Q., IO Earth and the likes, they have always found a small, but passionate fanbase to support them.
Chromonaut is a continuation of the Chromotree concept record, released back in 2000. The original regaled us with the tale of a progressive rock fan, Tom Timely, addled by drugs. Chromonaut continues Tom’s adventures. This time, he gets transported back to the 70s. For those who remember how things were back then, prog rock had a very distinctive flavour and, I must say, Glass Hammer has captured the essence of it perfectly.
Chromonaut features a mix of shorter songs and longer epics, which are balanced well. “Roll For Initiative” reminds me of Spock’s Beard, particularly in the singable chorus and well-arranged horns. From the longer epics, “Past Is Past” captures the folk-prog feeling of the 70s, while the additional of soprano sax gives it some polish.
It’s an album that will take a few listens to really get into, but it’s worth it to get the rewarding experience of coming out on the other end. Listening intently to the intelligent and humorous lyrics will also help you get the most from it.
This band’s name is both an artistic statement and a clever joke at the expense of English-speaking listeners at the same time, because as ‘metal’ as it sounds, Nature Morte is actually ‘still life’ in French. And for the artistically-challenged, that term refers to a detailed drawing or painting of a bunch of inanimate objects or other non-living things. NM1 has that placid yet technical quality to it, but this is blackgaze, so it is a rather fuzzy, lo-fi still life.
NM1 has only three songs on it, but its runtime is 26 minutes – often par for the course in this kind of music. Nature Morte seem to delight in long melodies and broad chord changes. Couple this with the gaze-y ‘penchant’ for using the ‘more’ setting on the reverb unit, and the overall effect is to achieve a sound that can be described as accidentally symphonic. The addition of quieter moments accentuates this. It consisting of three songs gives NM1 an, again accidental, classic sonata form. Opener “Through the Perfection of Your Nothing” is the adagio, “Till Love Do Us Part” sort of qualifies as an extended scherzo, and “Grief” is the coda. A rather soft coda, to be sure, but a recapitulation of the EP nonetheless.
By the standards of any subgenre or microgenre that has the word ‘black’ in its moniker, Nature Morte are unusually thought- and artful. Even people impartial to blackgaze might want to give this one a listen.
For those who did not know, Ed Harcourt is an English pop singer-songwriter who dabbles with chamber music elements in his vocal work. Beyond the End in no way represents his main body of work, as he deliberately set out to make an instrumental album that constitutes an extreme rarification from 2016’s Furnaces album.
Instrumentally, Beyond the End is dominated by Harcourt playing the piano. He styles these pieces as classical works, but his playing is far too reliant on chords to fit that idiom perfectly. His wife Gita Langley fills in on the violin alongside cellist Amy Langley. Alas, the stringed instruments but serve as window dressing and little more than that, all to embellish piano playing that was not especially engrossing to begin with. Seriously, even the attempts at deliberate differentiation, like “Empress of the Lake” having something other than a 4/4 time signature, do not make any track on Beyond the End sound more memorable than any other. It is rather odd for a musician so established to make something so bland and basic.
One can appreciate an artist’s need for digression from form, whether it be to explore new avenues or to recharge the creative batteries for something more powerful to come. Beyond the End is a period at the end of a very long sentence. One would hope Ed Harcourt will write something interesting after it.
Mae are an indie rock band that seems to have quite the following. Despite that, this is my first encounter with the band, in which I dive deep into one of their records. Did I say that they’re an indie rock band? Haha, yeah, not really. In all honesty, Mae are a ‘we-do-whatever-we-want’ band. The intro track “Kaleidoscope” is already a testament to that statement. It features electronically enhanced vocals, string ensembles, ambient synths, funky guitars, some sweet distortion, upbeat drums, (if I were to read this out loud, my breath would probably run out around here) psychedelic solos, and a saxophone. Have I said that this is only one track?
“5 Light Years” on the other hand sees the band turn down the number of instruments, but the amount of forward-thinking progressive writing styles stays roughly the same. Sci-fi synths that drift through space while the guitarist churns out chops like a sushi chef under the light of the warm vocals make this a song of duality, but also one of comfort. I could probably ramble on forever about this record; bottom line is that this is an instant AOTY contender for people who like their music accessible yet smart, forward-thinking and, upon closer inspection, compositionally professional.
Merzbow – Monoakuma
Pretty much everyone should know by now that I’m a fan of noise. Japanoise especially speaks to me. Wata from Boris has once summed up my feeling about the genre perfectly: ‘Noise is the blues of Japan.‘ And a true colossus of the genre is, of course, Merzbow. An artist whose works I would describe as abrasive, psychedelic, and beautiful, and one who has enriched every project he was ever invited to.
Now he’s back with a work of his own, Monoakuma. Monoakuma consists of a single fifty-minute track, which begins with a brittle, high-pitched noise. Circa 30 seconds in, the noise explodes into the deep end, revealing massive, convulsing strains of overdriven bass frequencies. After a while, hidden overtones start to emerge, sounding like a mixture of a horn and a steel pipe that has been hit and is now vibrating in its own metallic symphony. Around the ten-minute mark, different modulations are tried out, one after the other, going from a sound one could almost call screaming to a rippling, phaser-like swelling hum.
It’s been quite a while since I listened to a Merzbow track, but I’m glad I came back to his art. I know that noise really isn’t for everybody, or even for most people, but my heart genuinely skipped a beat when I heard these fantastic explorations of sounds and shapes.
There may not be a better way to describe The City Holds My Heart than ‘immaculate’. With so much sincerity and serenity in every song, Ghostly Kisses‘ Margaux Sauvé brings an intimate approach to her music. Her soft, breathy vocals are amplified by the gentle dark-pop instrumentals accompanying them. There is a feeling of romanticism in each and every song, as if she were singing from her heart to her lover.
Ghostly Kisses‘ entire composition style is a delicate display of emotion. The title track shows us the direction of the record: sombre yet honest. Pianos and strings take the forefront, which helps to place more focus on the vocals, which is the real representation of the album. It is with “Touch” that the true potential of the album is shown. Using a more electronic sound, the song brings feelings of desperation and remorse from the lyrics. There is a palpable aura of grief that is hard to shake, which is makes it such a memorable track.
I’m going to go too far into it, but it’s worth mentioning the cover of “Zombie” that is included as the last track of the album. I’m not going to say that covers of this song haven’t been done to death (because they have), but this does not take away from it being a wonderful rendition that showcases Sauvé’s vocal capabilities.
Sauvé has stated that The City Holds My Heart is be the first of two parts, the latter to be released sometime in 2019.
To say that Weight On A Scale would be a surprise addition to my AOTY list would be, well, a surprise. A debut EP from Germany-based band LENIO, with a structure that matches that of bands with years of experience was quite the curiosity.
One of the most stand-out aspects of this EP is “Three Dimensional Answer”. This has to be one of the most incredible openers to an album I have heard all year. There is a clear, concise direction to the song, which helps steer the record off of it. Not only that, but the instrumentals in the beginning, are (for lack of a better term) fun. The soaring vocals are also a fitting addition. Both the instrumentals and vocals compliment each other so well, it can be hard to forget this is LENIO‘s first musical outing!
If we take a song such as “Nutshell”, we can find a sense of ambition. There are a number of tonality switches placed throughout the track, but neither of them feels too abrupt or out of place. Beginning with a softer intro, which is more focused on the vocals, things take a turn towards a much more buoyant sound near the mid-point of the song. This then switches back into the more relaxed sound of the intro as it concludes.
This album shows just how much potential LENIO have, and I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for them and what they can create.
A coming together of ten musicians from two different backgrounds can sometimes be problematic, but not for Sarathy Korwar or the Upaj Collective. A seamless fusion of jazz music and classical Indian instrumentation, My East Is Your West has rocketed to the apex of my album of the year list in but a few short weeks. It devours nearly two hours of your time, and every minute is worth spending.
The band encompasses a whole range of jazz styles throughout the record. Some moments just scream big band, whilst others lend themselves much more to the Indian instruments, having a really nice eastern feel to them. The record is performed live, so expect to hear big cheers when something fantastic occurs, which you’ll find is pretty bloody often.
Opening track “A Street In Bombay” is absolutely stunning. It’s a broad sixteen-minute song that encapsulates you with a gentle Eastern opener performed by the Upaj Collective, before the jazz band joins in and takes you on an adventure. Part one and two of “Malkauns” are another highlight for me, but one of the truly standout tracks is “Hajj”. This is one of the most experimental cuts off the album, with its incredible vocals and the saxes just tearing into some impressive tunings. I’m really glad I got the chance to check this album out, and will be keeping my eye out for Sarathy Korwar and the Upaj Collective in the future.
I’ve really been exploring my electronic side again lately after a long time away. Long Arm cropped up in our group chat, and I’ve been obsessed since. For months I’ve been yearning for an artist who can create soundscapes that build to a beautiful crescendo, much like Trifonic and Virtual Boy, and Darkly delivered.
Opening track “For All People With Broken Hearts” is a perfect example of this. After a jarring start to the song, with a distorted vocal sample being used as the main focus of the record, it slips into a brilliant ambience that blossoms through the use of guitars, xylophones, and even more samples. Combining this and the jarring beat from earlier, the song comes together like a puzzle, the sounds blending to create a really serene soundscape.
Listening to this album with headphones on, you really get to appreciate the subtle noises added into the songs by Long Arm. The mixing on the record is absolutely sublime. In some ways, “Sleepy Bird” reminds me of songs off of Four Tet’s Pyramid, albeit with Long Arm’s own personal flair added in. Many of his songs sound quite dreamy, and I could certainly imagine dropping off to this record on a summer’s day. This record is really exciting to digest as one piece or in smaller chunks, and will be fighting off competition from Koan Sound for my electronic record of the year.
Thanks for scrolling through! Come back in two weeks for the last Review Rundown episode of 2018.