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Saturday, 12 March 2011

Single and EP Reviews: A Mixed Bag

Tooms - ‘When Two Worlds Collide’
self released, CDR demo, promotional
Somewhat grandiosely described as a ‘proof of concept’, this three track demo tackles a form of fusion that is ripe for some more exploration, although it’s far from untouched. We’re talking metal riffery, dark and dirty dance music, and shouty, angry vocals.The electronic elements are of the d’n’b, gabba, break heavy variety, and it has to be said some breakcore has already appropriated the textures of metal: the difference here is that Tooms are approaching it from the metal side, so the tone is unremittingly dark and heavy. Sometimes sounding like some heavier Prodigy tracks, they’ve done an excellent job of fusing the styles, which is to say, it doesn’t sound like a fusion, just like some dark and dirty noise from the fun part of hell. Industrial music fans will love this, but so will a lot of metalheads and d’n’b fans etc. The production could have been livened up with some mastering magic, but this is a demo. Nice work, lads, concept proven. Now can we have some more please?

Swimming - ‘Sun In The Island’
EVR Records, 2011, DD single, $2 
(also available as 7” vinyl, $4.99)

I knew the flip side to this single well already, thanks to its inclusion on the Tummy Touch Records 2011 teaser compilation. Sun In The Island has a nice combination of thumping rock groove and floaty psychedelic melodicism: the production is a thick stick of synthy rock with vintage written right down the middle, but a distinctly modern sense of sonic craftsmanship (I especially liked the processed toms at about 1:30). Team Jetstream (Preflight Mix) is less guitary, but equally groovy and psychedelic. Like the title track it has a positive, infectious, feelgood hook, that’s likely to see it on heavy rotation in anyone’s playlist. You’ve been warned.

Yonks - ‘Yonks Alpha’
Spencer Park Music, 2011, DD EP, £name your price
Yonks consists of Matt Stevens and Lextrical, with their guitars and some technology (including beat making tech). Four instrumental tracks, named Yonks 1 to 4, bursting with progressive creativity, and utterly non-generic. There are voicings and tones that recall Stevens’ solo releases, but this recording carves out a distinct sonic identity in short order: the first two tracks are powered rhythmically by the guitar, 3 & 4 by the beats, but all are animated by a sonic playfulness and generate a pleasingly hypnotic atmosphere. It can be hard to distinguish the processed guitar sounds from the electronically generated ones, but I guess that’s the point: everything’s a sound source, grist to the mill of two sets of ears as attuned to timbre as they are to pitch and rhythm. There’s a lot of detail in this excellent music, and it rewards close listening, but it also has plenty of surface ear-candy niceness for when you just want to stick something on and feel happy.

The Fierce And The Dead - ‘Part 1’
Spencer Park Music, 2010, DD EP, £name your price
This recording probably merits a long review of its own, despite its short length. At 18:49 a single track can develop its themes into quite a complex statement, and I won’t attempt to paraphrase that here. This is the second release in this round up to feature the very creative and thoughtful Matt Stevens: here he’s essentially jamming in a rock trio setting (he has described this music as ‘post-rock’). The ensemble texture is all bass, drums and guitar (there’s no singing), although there’s a great deal of timbral variety, courtesy of Stevens’ electronic trickery. The compositional approach is to establish big waves of changing texture, atmosphere and dynamics that hit the listener like a movie does. There’s nice playing, but no fireworks: if there’s a technically impressive performance, as is often the case in an ensemble that foregrounds texture, it comes from the drummer (like with Magnus Östrom in EST). This is easy to listen to, but far from easy listening.

Marvelry Skimmer - ‘Beachball/ Dunebuggy’
Workbench Recordings WBR38 & 39, 2010, DD single, $name your price
Marvelry Skimmer is all James Beaudreau, but operating in a lighter, more straightforward mode than he does under his own name. He set out to make eleven summer jams, and ran out of summer by the time he’d made two, so we have a single rather than an album. I hope he carries on this summer though, because this is some great music. These tracks are essentially instrumental, although Beachball has a heavily processed vocal refrain; bass and (unconventional) drums make driving rock grooves, while guitars and synths create bright, hot summery atmospheres and melodies. There’s a fascinating account of the making of Dunebuggy here: There’s very little that’s obvious about the way this music sounds, or the way it was made, yet it succeeds in being ear pleasing and head nodding, which is just what I want from a summer’s day tune.

Three Is A Green Crown - ‘All The Pretty Horses’
Workbench Recordings WBR 36, 2010, DD single, $free
A folk rock reading of a traditional song, with a serene, moving female vocal from Anne DeAcetis, and a restrained accompaniment of arpeggiated acoustic guitar chords, and simple but deep grooving bass and drums, all courtesy of the ever soulful James Beaudreau. Oh, and he also plays heartrendingly melodic lead electric guitar, with a thick vintage tone and shimmering reverb. That’s all I’ve got to say: it’s simple, it’s hearfelt, and it’s beautiful.

James Beaudreau - ‘The Devil Is A Sad Spirit’
Workbench Recordings WBR40, 2010, DD single, $name your price
This is Beaudreau’s first release under his own name since he finished recording ‘Astral Law’. He gets his title from Martin Luther, his cover art from William Blake, and his sound from the late 60s. The devil, to paraphrase Luther, is sad, and runs away from the joy expressed in music: with this tune Beaudreau shifts his focus from challenging our assumptions about how we hear music, to simply chasing away the devil. This is a musically straightforward rock instrumental, but Beaudreau shows himself a soulful lead guitarist and a master melodist, articulating the harmony in a way that just gets right in there and makes you feel it, whether you want to or not. And then it just suddenly stops! He can give us a nice tune, he seems to be saying, but don’t take anything for granted.

Faderhead - ’69 Freaks Per Minute’
L-Tracks, 2010, DD single, €0.99 (Bandcamp), €0.84 (Amazon Germany), $0.99 (Amazon US), £0.79 (iTunes UK), £0.42 (eMusic)
A jackhammer backbeat kicks off this floor-filler from the ever nasty Faderhead. Seriously, every effort, at every stage from programming to mastering, has been made to ensure you feel like you’re a building being demolished by this kick and snare. And then a few layers of dirty, fucked up electro sounds are arranged around that very square, straight, pounding beat, in just the right places to make it immensely funky. The usual tale of clubland sex and hedonism is relayed in the usual laconic vocal delivery. Faderhead sells a fantasy, setting his musical persona in a dark, indulgent world, where the night never ends, so there can be no consequences. It’s a fantasy most of us can experience, if only for a few nights of our lives: for the other nights, there are heavy, stomping tunes like this to remind us.

Faderhead - ‘White Room’
self released, 2011, DD single, £a tweet or a share
Faderhead was in the studio with a friend when news of Gary Moore’s death reached him: he got on a classic rock buzz and ended up making this electro cover version of Cream’s White Room (which has no direct connection to Moore, but whatever). It doesn’t have quite the devastating impact or blast radius of the stuff he puts out commercially, but it has a classic Faderhead beat and a fistful of gritty FM synth sounds. Faderhead, unlike many dark electro vocalists, knows how to carry a tune without compromising on his badass delivery, and he makes good use of Jack Bruce’s melody here: in fact, he owns it, by making it sound like exactly the sort of thing he’d write himself. This is a fitting electro tribute to a rock classic, and a good track even if you hate rock. It can be yours for free if you share it on Facebook or Twitter: if you can’t do either of those things I guess you’re out of luck.

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