Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Album Review: Loney Dear - Hall Music

If there’s one thing Loney, Dear toubadour Emil Svanängen isn’t, it’s someone you’d want playing your party. Well, actually, let’s be clear on this. If it was a hip-shaking, dance-floor packing, rug-cutting sort of shindig you were after, the Scandanavian multi-instrumentalist would be so far down the list he’d be underground. But, if you're playing host to a simple night of social hob-nobbing, peppered with slabs of stinking cheddar and guests glugging back goblets of pinot noir, then Svanangen is the man to call.

Yet, to chasten his music as background wallpaper at some bourgeois soiree does his craft a considerable disservice. The Swede is an extraordinary songwriter capable of distilling a melodic splendour so potent it could stop pulses dead. Each of his previous long-playing offerings have been scratchy affairs, filled with understated, introspective swells that slowly and steadily capture attention. It’s safe to say Svanängen's no fan of immediate impact; his whispered wares require repeated spins before they dare expose their inner beauty.

Album number six, Hall Music, continues this reticent foray, concealing its quaint charms until six or seven concentrated plays have been sucked up and digested. So far, so Svanängen then. But, this is a record that finds him venturing beyond his traditional bedroom-coined aesthetic, choosing instead to dive into an ocean of orchestral flourishes that rise above the gloomy despondency of relationships gone bad.

Thematically, Hall Music is both romantic and tragic. The record's maudlin stall is set the moment Svanängen purrs “I want your name, I want your name next to mine” over ‘Name’s crèche of dream-sequence keys. Its follow up, ‘My Heart’, doesn’t relent on the self-pity stakes, riding out on a misery-soaked a cappella that melts into stargazing effects before eventually climaxing as an oscillating peel of church bells.

A bold spiritual awakening courses the veins of this ornate and echoic affair. Soul searching numbers like ‘Maria, Is That You’ and ‘Largo’ emit a deep cathedral aura as they unfold into a flush of parping brass and parish organ. Coated with love-sick repentance that feels both pious and absolutely lost, each is a fine, intoxicating saunter that wouldn’t be out of place played out as a Sunday Service interlude. And, sure, they’re fey of heart, but these are significant steps beyond the corduroy-coated whims bleated out by fellow Swedish popstrels Suburban Kids With Biblical Names.

Given the devout subject matter, there’s a fair chunk of emotional heft lodged in between these skeletal cuts. While Svanängen’s nasal coo may evoke memories of the Bee Gees as it judders across acoustic psalm ‘D Major’, ‘Calm Down’ is a ponderous ballad that starts out tranquilly before gliding across a luscious carp of xylophone chimes, strings and dashing, deep seated percussion. This penchant for musical toploading is Svanängen’s party piece, but it's occassionally wearisome; his inability to resist the lure of a slow fruition can be as tiring as it is magnetic.

So when he charges from the blocks, as he does in the record’s final throngs, the purposefulness is refreshing. ‘Durmoll’s staccato strings thrust into thick orchestration, throwing itself from hushed lull to theatrical prangs as if scraped from the cutting floor of a Broadway musical. 'I Dreamed of You’ is equally impressive, striding along as a transient, yet utterly simple, melody that even invokes a hopeful tone from Svanängen while he croaks “I dreamt about you, I dreamt about you” on a doe-eyed loop.

Finishing on ‘What Have I Become’s velvety, synth-soaked high - a track led by the magnificent purr of Malin Stahlberg - Svanängen completes his journey from fragility to resilience with the same sense of contemplation and complexity he set out on. And, yes, Hall Music may prove he’s not a man for a party, but you suspect Emil Svanangen doesn’t mind one bit. For him, there are clearly much higher and more rewarding planes to climb.

Friday, 21 October 2011

What I’ve been listening to on the train this week

Oh look, look, look - IT’S FRIDAY (well, at least it is when I’m writing this on the 17:58 from Liverpool Street to Colchester).

Since my post about music listening as a commuter last week I’ve been thinking it might be quite nice to wheel out the old “What I’ve been listening to this week” pieces. But, seeing as my music listening tends to be done hurtling down a railway line these days I’ll change the title to “What I’ve been listening to on the train this week”. Clever, huh? I don’t work in corporate communications for nothing. Well, actually I haven’t been paid yet, so that’s completely up for debate.

So, aye, here goes the first of my weekly columns about train music listening. Can I just say now, there’s no Stone Roses in this. Firstly, because I haven’t listened to them this week (or this decade). But I have listened to a lot of people go on and on and on about how it’s going to be the best thing ever. Forever. And ever. But it’s not . Because Ian Brown can’t sing; Reni looks a little like the unhinged middle-aged dad he is; John Squire is (quite rightly) a bit embarrassed by his own acquiescence with the whole thing; Mani was in a better band; and, anyway, it’s all about the love (not the money and certainly not the music).


Sunset Rubdown
Inspired by a post on the DiS forums, I’ve been tuning into the Sunset Rubdown’s back catalogue all week. Shut up I’m Dreaming was the record I thought Spencer Krug could never top, but then along came Dragonslayer, plastered in medieval rollicks, impenetrable metaphors and massive ball-dropping crescendos, and shoved a big fat sky-crashing rocket into my lugholes. Awesome. Plus I spoke to him a few years back and he was a cantankerous grouchy sod. Which makes him infinitely better in my head. I fucking hate compliant interviewees.

What an immense find. The offshoot of Jackie O’Motherfucker, Tunnels is austere narcoleptic electronica that sounds as if it’s been brewed in the belly of some East Berlin laboratory in the early 70s. Harsh, brooding, pounding; it’s got all the anatomy of archetypal Kraut-tronica, but meshed within are stinking undertones of punk anarchy that kinda goes something like: grr....chk….grr…chk…chk…grr….grrr…crunch

Tunnels - Deux by sweatingtapes

David Byrne
The sound of 70 other people snoring and farting at six in the morning does unseemly things to the equilibrium of a man’s mind. David Byrne’s solo LP was my only sanctuary in the beat up bellows of a London hostel a few weeks back. In such a predicament Byrne’s sweet whispering melodies are the only thing that get you through unscathed. They tell you everything’s going to be okay; this isn’t going to scar you; you’ll be fine; just go to a green, grassy distant land and think pleasant, soothing things. Which is what I did.

Loney, Dear
Normally I don’t care for the whimsical bullcrap that’s all too readily churned out from Scandinavia and salivated over by oh-so twee shitbags, but having been cornered by Loney Dear’s latest LP Hall Music for the purposes of a review I have to admit it’s a record that’s slowly creeping up on me. Which sounds a bit pervy. Maybe it is. Either way, it's definitely not a record for those who hate camomile pop with a teaspoon of fey, but it’s got a bit of stick - sort of like one of those weird, gloopy stretch hand things you used to fling at a window that were fun until they were coated in pocket fluff and turned out absolutely useless and a bit manky. Not that Loney, Dear are, mind. They're just alright.

Dirty Projectors and Bjork
Collaborations are usually R.U.B.B.I.S.H. Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks this? I’m fairly sure there’s probably been a few okayish ones of late that I can’t remember while I’m sitting on this train, yet most of them have been hideous catastrophes (and the jury’s still out on that overbloated bastard of a love-in by Kanye and the Jizza). But, but, but.... Dirty Projetors and Bjork just sound right together, like they were meant to be forever and ever and ever - even if they’re crooning out some conceptual nonsense from the perspective of whales and mother ocean. Or something.

Monday, 17 October 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Real Estate - Days

This review seems to have been a wee bit divisive amongs the DiS hoards and the doe eyed Real Estate masses, apparently for the language used. I guess it's a wee bit florid, although not that different from what I've done before. My guess is the h8rs (is that how you spell it these days?) are pretty pissed I gave it a 5/10 and venting their spleen at me any way they can. Perhaps I should have written it in less than 140 characters: "Real Estate - Days. A bit pish."


The problem with chillwave is that it’s just too chilled. No matter what those hipster kids claim, there are really only so many languid melodies one set of lugholes can take before fingers itchily reach for the off switch. And it’s this inability to surprise, to rouse for the jugular in a moment of out-of-step awe, that will render it another transient genre that passes quicker than a Usain Bolt bowel movement.

So far, Brooklyn-based ensemble Real Estate have treaded close to chillwave’s ambient contours without suffering any blemishes. The hazy-eyed surf-pop woozing of the quartet’s self-titled debut LP whiffed an air of Californian beaches and hemp-puffing sundown parties. Sure, it was complex of craft, but its brittle canticles retained a joyous listenability. This wasn’t chillwave; more a wave of tranquillity in an increasingly fraught and temporal world.

In many ways album number two, Days, evokes more of the band’s sun-basking atmospheric. The softened, almost mallowing, swells of lugubrious guitar still melt through every pore; the sloop-shouldered acoustics continue to wisp across brushing percussion; even Martin Courtney’s airy mew retains its gracious air of elegance as it weaves between each carefully tailored tapestry.

Such determination to get back on at the same station they got off has, rather ironically, left Real Estate sounding like a band that’s lost its way, a band trying so hard to replicate what it once was it can’t possibly consider what it could be. Couple this with the illuminating grace of guitarist Matthew Mondanille’s recent extra-curricular Ducktails adventures, and it’s hard not to consider _Days_ as anything other than an indigestible waste of potential.

To make matters worse, it sets off on a zesty promise. Opening number 'Easy' bears the brushstrokes of an outfit pushing hard on the accelerator, desperate to take advantage of their debut’s goodwill. Oozing orange-soda jangles and washed out vocals, it’s a radio-friendly canal that threatens to spill beyond the contrite lugholes of the Pitchfork-gorging few and out into the marrow of populist listeners. But, disappointingly, that’s where the party ends.

From here, Days plunges into a soapy lather of identikit sways and swoons, grounded out at monotone pace. Circling stale ground like a peg-legged pirate determined to uproot buried treasures of old, 'Green Aisles' is a lilting mush of underwhelming tune that’s high in production but achingly low in seduction. 'Younger Than Yesterday’s gauzy summer tones are equally dispiriting, creeping along to a dreary guitar shuffle that’s as stagnant as a mosquito infested swamp.

Curiously, much of the album’s intrigue is found in counting up the rollcall of acts with viable claims for an artistic credit. 'Municipality's bulbous chorus and jangling twangs dangle between the sweetened melodies of The Byrds and Teenage Fanclub’s more reflective moments. Hints of The Shins drift between 'It’s Real's blustery harmonies and convivial rhythm. Worse still, 'Wonder Years's softened flush runs perilously close to the Califironiaphile shimmering of _The Thrills_. Picking them out's a fun time killer, but these aren’t exactly gooseflesh inducing touchpoints, intentional or not.

With a smidgeon of increased purpose, Days does at least manage to carve out a few swabs of decency that point to what might have been. Forged upon a gloopy honeycomb hook, the tropicalia-dazed instrumental 'Kinder Blumen' builds from slow waltzing schmooze into a thick climax of Honolulu rhythm. Likewise, album closer 'All The Same' conjures up the unexpected. Palpitating with rhythm, it’s a striding, chiming slab that stretches way beyond the record’s soporific core, while retaining the band’s homely tones.

But these towering moments stretch thin across a record lost in a comatose state of traditional, if beach-bumming, rock-pop tedium. Instead of transcending the band beyond the traditional indie shagpile, Days merely sheds doubt on the their capacity, or will, to push beyond their prism of easy-riding familiarity. They might not be chillwave, but, on this account, Real Estate sure do like to act it.

Friday, 14 October 2011

A traveller's tale: music to my ears

It’s impossible to truly articulate just how important music is to daily commuters.

Newspapers, books, laptops or any other time consuming artefact can be done without, but the thought of getting through the morning grind without the blare of my iPod is, quite frankly, horrifying.

From what I can gather, music serves two purposes for us transient types. Firstly, it blocks out the hum and drum of the people around us. Even then, I am frequently astonished by the decibel levels some folk go to to make sure I can hear them over the squall of Liars.

In fact, there was a report published last week that suggests commuters who listen to music have less problem with reduced personal space, which makes sense. While all those non-music sponging sorts are flustering over their sardine like existence for an hour, I’m blissfully able to switch off from those around me, unbothered by a few stray limbs invading my personage.

Secondly, music brings the thematic of a journey to life. So if I'm having a particularly rushed morning, the howling secration of Deerhoof creates a poignant meaning to the sight of central London rushing towards me at 7.20am.

Likewise, if I’m feeling purposeful and urgent - emotions I tend to encounter during my trek back through the swarm of suits making their way to Liverpool Street Station - then the siwvelling ball-of-the-heel techno-tronica of The Knife is a perfect soundtrack.

And if it’s Friday and I’m slumped on my Network Rail hued chair with a bevy, homeward bound, then there’s few better companions than The Talking Heads’ Remain in Light to dwindle down a journey into the weekend.

Yes, for three hours of my day, music is my lifeblood; the one source of escapism that can evaporate me from the predicament of sitting still with nothing to do or no-one to talk to.

On trains, that talking thing is a no-no. People just don’t like to communicate with the others around them. Eye contact is hard enough to bear (the amount of people who choose to examine their choice of footwear rather than look a stranger in the eye is extraordinary), never mind actually involving yourself in the tedium of a conversation about the weather or the train being delayed.

I once sat next to a girl who decided to start talking to the four other people surrounding us, picking up conversation from the books they were reading or the pens they were writing.

Fortunately for me, I was plugged in. She may well have posed a question, but I never heard her. I wasn’t being rude, I was just in a world of my own. Music that day, like most others, was my saviour.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A traveller’s tale: Hot, hot heat

Phew… it’s hot out there. All week the mercury’s been pushing 26C, a temperature we tartan-topped expats have little experience of in our luscious, sodden homeland.

These southerners, of course, love it. Draped in dresses so skimpy they bear an uncanny resemblance to cast offs from a rubber band factory or showcasing their latest pair of extraordinarily expensive and utterly ridiculous mirrored sunglasses, it’s fair to say the boys and girls of London town come prepared for an Indian Summer.

For me, I’ve caught barely a ray of the sun’s autumnal resurgence.

My morning train is engulfed in a shroud of heat-induced haar, while lunchtime in the City equates to a five minute trip to Marks & Spencer to pick up a horse-radish smothered baguette before racing back to my paper-strewn desk. By the time 6pm comes along, mister sun is busy setting in the west and I’ve become a part of the shirt and tied ant farm swarming for Liverpool Street Station.

It is amazing just how much of the day passes you by as a commuter. I spend about three hours a day scurrying to and from work. That’s two games of football (although given some of the dross I’ve seen recently on Sky missing out might not be such a bad thing) or a flight to Eastern Europe.

Those ten minute bus rides into Edinburgh seem almost laughable now. I vividly remember being incensed when my bus would stop for two minutes on the Bridges because it was ahead of time. Yesterday, we halted outside of Stratford for 20 minutes before moving. An excuse didn’t even flute out from the tannoy. It just happens and you have no choice but to grudgingly accept it.

But it’s not as bad as you might think. I’ve developed a unhealthy obsession with completing the London Evening Standard’s daily crossword (it’s a swine of a puzzle that looks easy but is devilishly difficult), while enjoying a Friday evening Hoegarden and watching the countryside whizz by while the sun retreats is an indescribable delight. I’ve quickly learned these are the small pleasures that get commuters through the tedium.

Today, however, is Saturday and I have the chance to grab a dollop of sun and spend some much needed time with my wife. No trains for me for 48 hours. Thank. The. Lord.

Here are some pictures from last weekend when my dear old mother came to visit. The first few are from a fantastic food festival in Snape Maltings and the rest are the result of a trek around Colchester.