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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Reviews: Dusty Curtain Face Records & Raising Maisie

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Review: VA - Dusty Curtain Face Sampler (various styles)
Dusty Curtain Face Records DCF-001, 2011, CD album, 73m 8s, £?

Dusty Curtain Face Records are about as DIY and low key as a label can be, based on their founder/ producer/ engineer Paul Rhodes’ realisation that he could use some cheap, semi-functional equipment in bands’ rehearsal spaces to make better recordings than often come out of major commercial studios. You see, the big studios want you to think there’s some kind of voodoo to the recording process, which to be fair there is, and I wouldn’t deny the enormous expertise that exists in the world of the professional engineer: but the voodoo is not in the highly tuned ears of the mixing and mastering engineers. It’s in an appreciation of the creative intentions of the musicians, and in the key understanding that a recording is constructed, not captured: every artist understands that they need to work creatively with the materials at hand, and it’s the same with recording. A recording is built from the sounds your equipment can commit to hard disk, and if those sounds include hiss, hum or other artifacts you can still make good use of them.
Not that these recordings are at all noisy or low-fi; but using cheap equipment in untreated spaces predetermines the sound in particular ways, and Rhodes’ response is to let his bands do their thing in their usual way, and focus the entire production around the music’s specific creative agendas. These are the right sounds for these acts, and they would be very lucky indeed to get better results by throwing money at the problem.
The only band that could benefit from a different approach is Cuckoo Hill, whose acoustic guitars have the distinctive sound of amplified piezo-electric pickups, which while pleasant enough, will never hold a candle to the instruments’ acoustic voices. The performance is beautifully conveyed however, with a mellow, relaxed vibe and a warm vocal sound: there’s more of a trick to this than you might imagine, as few musicians play with the same freedom under the studio microscope as they do live, and the way they and Rhodes nail it is exceptional.
The same goes for every track on the sampler: some cuts have a bit of recording hiss, but rather than topping and tailing it Rhodes has left it in the mix, framing tracks like Ed Ache’s ‘Phone Box’ with white noise that stands in for the silence into which the performance is dropped. Every performance is natural, relaxed and committed.
The actual material is incredibly varied, with seventeen tracks from seven artists, ranging from Cuckoo Hill and Tough Lover’s acoustic folk, through Ed Ache’s acoustic punk, to Rhodes’ own Hobopope And The Goldfish Cathedral’s pronk, via Meadows’ sludge metal and hardcore, Cockdaughter’s post-rock or noise rock, and Lemonparty’s utterly unique perverted funk rock. Every act has a distinct and well defined artistic vision and pursues it creatively: this is very much local music, the product of a small scene in a specific area, but this sampler is an example of just how much creativity and expertise goes under the radar, and all of these musicians deserve wider exposure and recognition.
Naturally there are some stand out tracks: Ed Ache’s unremittingly grim murder tale ‘Spooky Woods’ really sticks with me, as does the curiously catchy atonality of Cockdaughter’s ‘Pig Tipper’, and the sordid sexuality of Lemonparty’s ‘Zoo Sex’. There’s no filler, though, no tracks I want to skip: this is a properly satisfying listening record from the opening blast of Meadows’ ‘The Head Of Henry Grey’ to the final confrontational valediction of Ed Ache’s ‘Goodbye’, of which I’ll leave you with a sample:
‘All right then boys, I’m off/ suffice to say I’ve had enough/ I’ve had a proper think about it/ I think that you’re all cunts/ I’d like to say that it’s been fun/ but I’d be telling lies/ life’s a bitch and then you say goodbye.’

Review: Raising Maisie - “Etc, Etc” (indie pop)
Studio Dog Records, 2010, CD album, 34m 38s, £7

Raising Maisie are not badass, intimidating or scary in any way. Neither are most hardcore, extreme metal or gangsta rap artists, but Raising Maisie aren’t pretending. Pretension is no part of their uncomplicated, well crafted, concise and extremely entertaining pop-rock.
Regular readers of my reviews will be well aware that I have tastes that encompass the experimental and the extreme, but what I really appreciate is the creativity and artistic integrity that takes musicians to those places. It takes an equal measure of those things to achieve a disciplined slice of joyful pop precision like this.
Piano is featured as prominently as guitar on this album, if not more so, which lends a more structured feel to the arrangements than is the norm in indie circles. Chord progressions are well written, with a strong sense of forward motion, and some real care has gone into charting a melodic path through them: this is proper, grown-up musicianship, in a band which I’m guessing is young and relatively inexperienced.
Instrumental resources are creatively exploited to develop a range of textures, creating pleasing variety within a consistent band sound: acoustic and electric guitar, both clean and overdriven, and a variety of keyboard sounds (including some juicy analogue noises) all find their place. The playing is very song focussed, rhythmically tight and dynamically controlled, with little or no showing off, although the guitarist pulls out some tasty licks occasionally. From a nerdy muso perspective the drummer is the star of the show, and not just for his volcanic solo in ‘Jump Out’. They say a band is never better than its drummer: on this album every drum part is perfectly judged with a light feel that makes the grooves lift propulsively, and a precise execution that provides an unshakeable foundation for band and dancers alike.
The songs don’t attempt to tackle any big themes: they deal with the experience of being young, energetic and horny in a way that eschews cleverness or analysis, and simply presents observations with wit, amusement and sincerity. Although there are plenty of romantic disappointments in these lyrics, you get the impression the characters in the songs will bounce back pretty much unscathed: a wistful optimism is the predominant mood.
The vocal delivery is charismatic and committed, with a strong sense of sincerity and engagement, and a marked lack of bombast or rock ‘n’ roll swagger. It will be too self-consciously fey for some tastes, but those are probably not the tastes this music is aimed at in any case. As with the instrumental work there is a commendable dynamic control and sense of dramatic narrative, that pulls the listener into the songs, and engages their attention by doing interesting but uncontroversial things for three minutes or so (and there’s no song on the album as long as four minutes long).
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Raising Maisie getting some widespread attention with this well produced album. They fit quite easily into a marketing bracket without being at all generic, which is to say it’s clear they haven’t set out to make their music to a blueprint, or to address a demographic. These musicians love pop music, and that love comes across in every note they play.


  1. Hey, Oliver
    As a parent of one of the members of RM I don't think I'll ever hear a more balanced and uncynical review of their album. Thanks a lot and let's hope more people get to hear and enjoy it.
    Pass it on!

  2. I listened to this offering after your review and have to say i agree with you. it does what it says on the tin so to speak. Quite refreshing in this day of over produced, over sanitised pop, to come across a band that makes no apologies for loving what they do, without the need to try too hard to market to any one audience. They create what pleases them and I suspect it will please quite a few other people. :)