Album: OUR BROTHER THE NATIVE – Sacred Psalms (Fat Cat FATSP19 2009)

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Our Brother the Native are now a duo with the departure of John Michael Foss. The remaining members, Chaz Knapp and Joshua Bertram can’t be accused of lacking ambition. Sacred Psalms has gamelan percussion, scratchy no-wave guitar, freeform sax, samples galore, glacial piano, accordion, banjo and all manner of other stuff chucked into the mix. When it works, it works quite brilliantly. When it doesn’t it sounds like a class of hyperactive three year olds let loose in the school instrument cupboard.

The vocals are a real problem. I’m not sure which of the two has the lachrymose semi-falsetto, but it’s really irritating. The other one mumbles alongside just as tunelessly, but less audibly. When they attempt harmonies, the kindest thing I can say is that they are ragged. The gamelan percussion is shoe-horned into places where it clearly doesn’t belong, although it’s effective in places.

On the plus side, there are some outstanding moments. The piano melody on “Someday” is one. The pounding toms, scratchy guitar and Arabic song sample pf “Child Banter” is another – a song where the anarchic, tune-free vocals actually fit the general post-punk clatter around them. The lonesome piano, Indian (?) singing sample and accordion drone of “Endless Winter” is a terrific combination. Even the vocals don’t intrude too much. Best of all is “Dusk”, the first four minutes of which are vocal free. The instrumentation is moody and atmospheric, and in the background there’s a recording of a posh female psychoanalyst or psychiatrist (I actually thought it was poet Stevie Smith at first) talking about her methods. “I’m going to start with the darkness”, she begins, and the track progresses with quite disturbing atmospherics.

Sacred Psalms is a frustrating record. I really want to like it much more than I do, simply because of the ambition and risk-taking involved. The band are attempting to find new, original paths to take their music, and that’s laudable. Their potential is beyond doubt. Where things fall into place, that potential is fulfilled. There are too many passages that just feel aimless, like they don’t really know how to fit things together. And the vocals are at best amateurish, at worst unlistenable. No one wants airbrushed perfection – passion always trumps ability in my book. But the shambolic nature of the singing seems like an affectation to me.

Tracks
1 Well Bred 4:00
2 Manes 3:58
3 Someday 4:07
4 All Grown 3:25
5 Dusk 7:11
6 Child Banter 4:24
7 Awaken 4:21
8 Sores 4:01
9 Behold 6:08
10 Endless Winter 5:44

Websites
www.obtn.biz

Album: CHAZ KNAPP – Vie comme un Parasite Faisant la fête (Phantom Channel 2008)

Prescient. A visit to the Phantom Channel website is greeted with the phrase “These Are Troubled Times” – as it has been for the last few months. Makes you wonder if the good people there knew something the rest of us didn’t. Anyway, one way to cheer yourself up through the financial doom and gloom and the imminent collapse of capitalism (or not) is to get hold of the latest mini album by Chaz Knapp. It’ll cost you significantly less than the £80 each and every one of us in the UK spent yesterday to shore up Bradford and Bingley. In fact it’ll cost you precisely £80 less, coz it’s free.

Knapp is one third of Our Brother The Native, and the six tracks that make up Vie comme un Parasite Faisant la fête represent his first solo work. “Le Chien Mort” and “Mort d’une Veuve Solitaire” are both solo piano pieces, whilst the other four add a string quartet into the mix. The opener is particularly good, using a sequence of rapid triads to build an effective, slightly sombre melody. The tracks with the string section are ambitious and stirring. Both “Le Fait de Couler du Navire” and “Celebration a une Nouvelle Vie” are excellent compositions, although the string playing is a bit ragged – a case of ambition outpacing ability. It’s a fault, but not a particularly important one in my view. And not just because it’s free. I will take ideas over execution any day. “Le Fait de Couler du Navire”, in particular, is a piece that I can hear in my head with a full orchestration – and it sounds stunning!

It’s a good thing that Phantom Channel are doing. Hopefully a lot of folk will take the opportunity to hear new music (legally) for nothing. Knapp’s album may be a little rough round the edges, but there is some really strong material on offer. Go grab yourself a copy (the link’s below).

Tracks
01. Le Chien Mort 2:20
02. Mort D’une Vueve Soltaire 4:17
03. Le fait de Couler du Navire 4:39
04. Les Navires Perdus dans l’Obscurite 2:34
05. Celebration a une Nouvelle Vie 5:33
06. Question d’un Vide 10:14

Website
http://www.phantomchannel.co.uk/

Album: A FatCat Records Sampler (FatCat FAT-SAMP08 2008)

So what the hell happened to FatCat? Time was it was a label you could rely on to come up with interesting stuff that knew no boundaries, crossing classical, electronica, folk and rock. Whether it be the noisy data-rock of Xinlisupreme, the epic landscapes of Set Fire To Flames, or the warped electro-folk of Múm, there was always something pretty unique and hard to pin down about the records they put out.

The sampler given away with the August issue of Plan B was the only reason I bought the magazine, so it was a real disappointment to discover that so much of it is crushingly ordinary. It kicks off with a Vashti Bunyan track from 1965 that proves that she was never cut out to be a swinging sixties pop singer, and despite the best efforts of Jagger and Richards, she sounds really awkward trying to do straight pop. The next half dozen or so tracks range from the forgettable to the excruciating (Tom Brosseau’s contribution) but with a large dollop of twee shared between them. Charlottefield’s “Snakes” at least has some life to it, but they strike me as a poor man’s Aereogramme.

Things do pick up along the final stretch. We Were Promised Jetpacks kneel at the feet of Franz Ferdinand, but they do have a bit of spark about them (and a great name). The Twilight Sad’s contribution growls along nicely, although they forgot to pack a tune. Max Richter’s “Return To Prague” is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it miniature that’s really too short to work outside the context of his forthcoming album of very brief pieces. Our Brother The Native’s “Augural Wrath” is an excellent piece of mellow free-folk. The blurb in the magazine claimed that they’d left the best till last with Hauschka’s track. And so it proves. “Blue Bicycle” is far richer and more expansive than anything I’ve heard by him before, and easily the best thing on a disappointing collection.

As for the magazine, there’s Kevin Martin, Philip Jeck and Leila Arab and a whole host of other stuff. For some reason, I’ve never got on with the publication, even though they write about a lot of interesting stuff that often gets ignored elsewhere and don’t seem to have any agenda other than “if we like it, it’s in”. I don’t know if it’s the dead hand of Everett True clouding my judgement!

Tracks
1. Vashti Bunyan – I Want To Be Alone
2. David Karsten Daniels – Martha Ann
3. Gregory & The Hawk – Ghost
4. Nina Nastasia – Your Red Nose
5. Vetiver – To Baby
6. Tom Brosseau – True to You
7. Silje Nes – Dizzy Street
8. Ten Kens – Y’All Come Back Now
9. Charlottefield – Snakes
10.The Rank Deluxe – Tightrope
11.We Were Promised Jetpacks – Tiny Little Voices
12.Frightened Rabbit – I Feel Better
13.The Twilight Sad – Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards It Did
14.Max Richter – Return To Prague
15.Our Brother The Native – Augural Wrath
16.Hauschka – Blue Bicycle