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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Review: EPs from Yonks, Pirate & Cobie, and Simon Little

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Yonks - Yonks Marluk (electronica/ ambient)
Spencer Park, 2011, DD EP, 11m 54s, £name your price

This is the second release from Yonks, hence the name. What do you mean you don’t know what marluk means? It means ‘two’ in no less than three languages. Admittedly they’re only spoken in Greenland, but still.
The guitar plus electronics duo continue to plough their distinctive and highly listenable furrow, with three more tracks of (I think) highly processed guitar and programmed beats. There are bits that are clearly guitar, and bits that are clearly percussion: there also many bits that could have been made by any of a number of means. Sonic invention is central to this project, but never in a way that is abrasive or overly dissonant: even quite aggressively angular interventions of distorted guitar are subsumed into the broader atmosphere, which is one of slightly eerie, spatial suspension. There is melody, and even a kicking beat (on ‘Yonks 7’), but the emphasis is always on texture, on a succession of mad sounds going off in your ear, organised to express a relaxed but witty, cool and slightly loopy aesthetic.
I don’t know what Lextrical sounds like alone, but the other half of the project, Matt Stevens, has a distinctive voice as a guitarist, which comes through very clearly, despite the dissimilarity from his work under his own name or with The Fierce And The Dead. This is a Good Thing, because he’s a fine player. These three tracks are a gentle feast of creativity, floaty atmosphere and varied texture: an excellent concept, beautifully realised.

Pirate & Cobie - Pirate & Cobie (indie-rock)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 8m 57s, £free

Bass, guitar, drums, singing; these are well used ingredients, so for a band to stand out it needs to use them with a bit of imagination. Pirate & Cobie are in indie-rock territory, and that shapes their approach to a degree, but they give the impression of being there because it’s the music they love, not just because there’s a big audience for it, and they are quite highly creative in several ways.
Firstly, and most evidently, they have a taste for electronic sounds, and a good understanding of how to put them at the service of a song – all too often songs are made to serve electronics, because many producers only know how to make dance tracks. Here they are used like any other instrumental texture and slot in seamlessly to the arrangements, evincing a good bit of careful tweaking. Secondly, they would clearly like to avoid being formulaic, even if they are relatively conventional stylistically: devices such as ending a track abruptly mid play-out, as they do in ‘Not Here’, or their flexible approach to song structure, are evidence of a creative thought process that extends to every aspect of their work.
The real question for a band like this, is whether the songs are any good. Do they combine, lyric, melody, harmony, groove, texture and performance in a way that makes the listener feel something valuable just happened to them? Well, I have to hold up my hands and admit that this isn’t the sort of thing I tend to get very excited about, but the answer is yes. What they do is well worth doing, and they do it very well.

Simon Little - Rejectamenta (ambient/ jazz)
self released, 2011, DD EP, 21m 28s, £name your price

This is a five track collection of material Simon Little elected not to include on his forthcoming second album. These decisions were not made because the tunes didn’t make the grade, but because he felt they weren’t a good fit: they are, however, a good fit with each other, and represent a convincing development of his work on Mandala.
Like Mandala, Rejectamenta features ambient soundscapes that Little accretes by layering looped sequences of sound he generates with his bass guitar and a variety of effects; a bass guitar is capable of making a huge range of noises, and very little of this sounds like bass per se, although some tunes do have basslines in the conventional sense. Most also feature Little’s mid to upper register melodic improvisation.
The upper register work here sounds to my ear like a significant advance on the earlier album: it is full of meaningful melodic content, and is frankly less noodly. Little’s rapid fire soloing on his first release sounded great, but functioned essentially as a texture: here, even when he puts his foot on the gas, he has something to say. It is predominantly in a minor modal or pentatonic vein, and it would be good to hear him venture into spicier territory at times, but there are some interesting ideas, such as the very folky cast his melody adopts on ‘must get out [more]’.

Texturally and timbrally he is consistently inventive, and shows a good command of his technological resources: particularly effective are the fifths effect in the lead part of the aforementioned track, and the slapped ring-modulator sound in ‘the rhythmatist’. If this is the stuff he rejected, I can’t wait to hear his next release!

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