Artist: Old World Vulture
Title: Old World Vulture
Label: Self-released (Canada)
Details: DL/CD. 6 tracks, 24 minutes.
Instrumental rock / post-rock (call it what you will) has largely been disappearing up its own arse for years now. Most of it is a catalogue of tired clichés – predictable chord progressions, tiresome arpeggios, plodding tempos and quiet-loud dynamics so ubiquitous that they could be mass-produced in a sweat shop in China.
Toronto quartet Old World Vulture are very much a work in progress, but their debut EP manages to niftily avoid most of the obvious bear-traps. They keep a lid on the arpeggios for the most part, the tempos are largely reasonably upbeat, the keyboard is as much a lead melodic instrument as the guitar and although there are quiet bits and loud bits, they don’t follow each other in an obvious progression. Their musical DNA owes more to the likes of Grails and fellow Ontarians Do Make Say Think than to the rentapostrock crowd.
Destroyer is a dramatic and darkly operatic prologue to the main business. The remainder of the tunes all manage to accomplish their mission in under five minutes without letting the attention wander. The curiously titled Too Much Eye Make Up is perhaps both the best and the most typical of the band’s sound, with the bass providing the melodic framework while the keyboards and guitars both take their turn in the spot light before combining into a powerful finale that still manages to avoid the end-of-album-wig-out cliché. Another nice cover keeping up our birds of prey theme too.
Title: Above The Treeline
Label: Herb, Scotland
Details: DL/CD. 6 tracks, 23 minutes.
Haz is a Scots expatriate who lives down under. Above the Treeline was conceived and recorded on the South Island of New Zealand last year and immediately struck me as the sound of someone in awe and in love with his surroundings. The six instrumentals are all under four and a half minutes long, but nevertheless sound epic in scale. Haz combines electronics and live instrumentation (drums, guitars etc) to produce a sound that is upbeat, largely uptempo and melodic but not without a certain wistfulness. For comparisons, think of a sound somewhere between Eno’s classic seventies albums, Dif Juz, New Order and Haz’s labelmate Engine7.
It’s a lovely little set. It’s not often I hear mini LPs that I wished were longer, but this one falls into that category. Beautiful cover painting too.
Label: Silber, US
Details: CD/DL. 16 tracks, 59 minutes.
This is a lot different to anything else I’ve heard by Remora. The guitars have largely been jettisoned in favour of early eighties analogue synthesisers. Mecha is a concept album put together by Remora (aka Silber head-honcho Brian John Mitchell) with an accompanying comic. It’s a tale of a dystopian future of robot freedom fighters in the grand DC/Marvel tradition.
Musically, this is deliberately almost simplistic stuff with the Normal, pre-Dare Human League and the non-pop side of OMD the obvious reference points. The tracks with vocals are given a dispassionate deadpan delivery that resembles John Foxx’s most mechanistic performances.
It’s obviously a deliberate move by Remora to make Mecha sound like something that could have been made thirty years ago at the pre-dawn of the synthpop boom. It works for the most part, but there’s a nagging feeling that a number of tracks overdo the two-note, one finger synth patterns and could use a bit more complexity. There are interludes that are more abstract and do help to break up the icy monotony, injecting a little dirt to the otherwise clean boing-boing-boing of the synth melodies. Many of these are the most successful pieces – the industrial metallurgy of closer 049 is particularly good.
I guess Mecha is an attempt to reconnect with the sc-fi tradition of albums such as Travelogue and Reproduction, and as a retro-future exercise it achieves everything it sets out to admirably. In some ways, in 2010 such a project is akin to the “Ethnological Forgeries” committed by Can where they created pseudo-facsimile versions of obscure tribal music or scratchy twenties hot jazz records – i.e. an exercise in musical time travel.
Title: To Mars
Label: Breathe, Mexico
Details: DL. 6 tracks, 34 minutes. Free Download
To Mars is a free six tracker of low-key analogue electronica put together by a couple of Liège-based producers, Arnaud Rosoux & David Schreder. It’s strong material but without being too distinctive. The looped voice sample of third track MusicBox is overused and gets irritating, but that’s the only misstep. The two parts of Evettes that open and close the set are probably the strongest tracks of a collection that has echoes of acts like To Rococo Rot and Errors.
Artist: Rats Live On No Evil Star (Bernd Jestram & John Edward Donald)
Title: Rats Live On No Evil Star
Label: Gusstaff, Poland
Details: CD/DL. 12 tracks, 40 minutes. Released 18/10/10
Rats Live On No Evil Star is a collaboration between Bernd Jestram of Tarwater and singer John Edward Donald aka Human Elephant. Donald has an appealing baritone that has echoes of Matt Berninger of the National, and a lyrical gift for absurdist philosophizing that reminds me of the late great Vic Chesnutt. Jestram’s musical pallet has a lot in common with Tarwater, unsurprisingly, but with a more stripped down and rough-edged feel to it.
These aren’t obvious songs, often sketched out in broad strokes, but there’s a wealth of inventiveness here and Donald draws you in to his strange world. There are plenty of highlights. Robert Johnson takes a recording of the bluesman’s Stop Breakin’ Down Blues and warps it into a weird tribal / industrial two minutes. BDI Circle the Number takes its lyrics from multiple choice depression questionnaires and bundles them into a stringball of contradictory statements. For the Time Being floats like a 67 Haight-Ashbury ballad. Indeed, there’s nothing on the record that lacks a kind of slightly off-centre charm. Definitely a grower.
Title: Optimo Tracks
Label: Display Copy
Details: CDR/DL. 4 tracks, 22 minutes
Laptop maestro Tom Scholefield aka Konx-om-pax’s first release for his label Display Copy is a pretty uncompromising and uncompromisingly unpretty four tracks of controlled noise. Entitled simply I, II and III, the first three tunes run the gamut to rumbling guitar drone and crushed drums to murky, menacing ambience to harsh cut-up and mashed feedback. While it’s not for the faint of heart, and has a real physical edge to it, it’s far from being noise-for-noise’s sake. Indeed, it is the placidity of II that gives it its menace. III’s sonic shenanigans ends at a point where it could be the slowed down sound of bat echo-location.
The fourth track is the No Fun Acid Mix of III by Carlos Giffoni who somehow conjours a Phuture-style acid track out of the sonic squeals and rumbles. Well, sort of.
The first three tunes were all originally composed as the soundtracks to short films which were first shown at Glasgow’s Sub Club in 2009, but all three work perfectly well in audio isolation. There are just 200 physical copies of this release although its also available as a download.
Artist: Shadow Orchestra
Title: Remaker EP
Details: CD/DL. 5 track, 26 minutes
Four years on from their debut LP, the Shadow Orchestra have re-emerged as a fully fledged quintet with laptop producer and cellist Chris Bangs joined by harpist Kat Arney, drummer Dave Oliver, guitarist Nick Siddall and singer and keyboard player Mary Erskine. The result is something that sounds very much like the work of an ensemble rather than a producer plus guests. In fact, something that started out as a laptop-based project has blossomed into something more organic, and at the same time more commercially minded – but still with its integrity intact.
The first three songs Time and Distance, Matilda and Pushing To Sea feature Erskine’s vocals, and each pursues a somewhat languid, chilled out atmosphere without resorting to blandness or twee. Matilda is the pick of the trio with a hiss and click vinyl loop providing the backing for a song of lush splendour. Sweet As A Nut is a kind of electro-rock instrumental that gives the EP a bit more vigour, whilst Matilda Reprise is a mainly instrumental coda to the aforementioned song.
Four years is a long time to follow up a debut release, but effectively this is a new unit raring to go. There’s a new full length album due out next spring. Until then, the Remaker EP is a good taster of a band remade.