Monday, 19 August 2013

Album review: Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

They may not have medalled, but for Fuck Buttons, the 2012 Olympic Games in London were a career high. Despite their less-than-radio-friendly moniker, the duo from Bristol, England were catapulted onto the international stage via Danny Boyle's masterful opening ceremony, which revisited the U.K.'s cultural highs and lows in front of an audience of billions.

Strangely enough, soundtracking a nation's industrial ontogeny worked. The piston beats and scarring synth lines of "Surf Solar" and "Olympians" from 2009's ambitious Tarot Sport finally had a contextual outlet. It was, in every sense, a fascinating and unexpected triumph.

For album number three, Slow Focus, Fuck Buttons have continued the tectonic plate shifting of previous endeavours. Their dark, enclosing signature is stamped all over this industrial affair, producing a highly technical record laced with glacial hints of melody.

While it's hardly the warmest listen, the juddering topography of tracks such as barbarous opener "Brainfreeze" and frazzled "Prince's Prize" make for a heavyweight 50 minutes. Each track is intent on overpowering the ear with a combination of mammoth percussion and screwdriving electronics.

Despite being their first self-produced long-player, this is far from new territory. And without visual stimulation to accompany the surging volts of "The Red Wing" or "Hidden XS," it's a record that's all too easy to phase in and out of. At times the arrangements seem to meld into one vastly stacked and impenetrable mountain range of sound.

Of course, this isn't entirely a bad thing. Slow Focus is exactly what you'd expect from a Fuck Buttons effort: it's brusque, overwhelming and complicated. But for a band so intent on pushing boundaries, this is a strange, almost faltering, sidestep. A place on the podium remains out of reach. (

First published here for Under the Radar

Album reivew: Wiseblood - id

When Chris Laufman blasted onto the indie scene in 2011 it felt like a star was rising. The Pittsburgh producer/vocalist's efforts under the Wise Blood moniker raced to a fusion of beats, bleeps and bombast, culminating in the remarkable These Wings EP. At that point, the future was Laufman's for the taking. And then he vanished.

Two years on and Laufman has finally resurfaced. In many ways, it's like he's never been away. His debut LP retains the chaotic principles of his early work: "Target" is a hop-scotching, jazz-tinted nod to his favourite department store; "Spider Web" mixes Middle-Eastern shades with street-born depravity; and "Consumed" is an inspired segue of choral samples and snare drum percussion.

Sure, an indolent flutter of disinterest seeps through "AM 1020," but this is a record that comes close to realising the vision Laufman laid out two years ago. His star is finally back on track.

First published here for Under the Radar

Album review: Postiljonen - Skyer

Despite their Scandinavian roots, hotly tipped trio Postiljonen aren't exactly what you'd call a winter band. The airy soundscapes and melting synth lines of the trio's debut long-player swoon to the romantic, carefree chords of a late summer evening that stretches on until dawn.

Across these 11 tracks, the dreamy pop ensemble produces a slew of sun-kissed melodies that lie somewhere between the cloud-walking ambition of the underrated Air France and the grandiose atmospherics of every aspirational '80s pop outfit you can think of. If you're looking for something gnarly, Skyer is not it—these are sounds for sentimental souls.

Underpinning the gentle ambience is vocalist Mia Bøe. Her crisp, ceramic tones tease opening number "Help" into a breezy choral bliss; she exhales a heavenly harpsichordal mew over the tapestry of "Supreme"; and album peak "Skying High" finds her scaling jittering M83-like synth l
oops with an elegant nimbleness.

While there's much to admire in these simple moments, this is a record that rarely rises from slumber. Harmony-smothered numbers such as "Plastic Panorama" and "All That We Had Is Lost" are meditative slithers that could soundtrack the most relaxing tai chi session, while "Atlantis" is a dreary, ethereal sigh that trails off into an insufficient finale.

Such Balearic bliss won't appeal to everyone, but Skyer is still capable of leaving a glow of satisfaction, given the right occasion. And with winter's chill not too far away, such a gratifying slab of summer is probably no bad thing. (

First published here for Under the Radar

Album review: Washed Out - Paracosm

The biggest surprise about Washed Out's 2011 debut was just how warm it felt. Buried amongst a clamour of too-cool-for-school hypnagogic popstrels Within and Without was a snug, amiable pleasure; the kind of record that greeted listeners with a beaming smile before dousing them in rich sonic textures and gooey melodies.

 Whether that's what its creator Ernest Greene intended is another matter. But given the earthy, amoebic nature of follow-up Paracosm, it's safe to say he is still looking for a way to remove himself completely from the noxious chillwave movement. Inspired by paracosmic literature—a smarty-pants way of saying "books about fantasy worlds"—these 12 tracks extend Greene's foray into amiable, slightly wistful electronic pop splendour.

Here, he builds a record that transmits inter-planetary feelings soaked in coruscating effects and pressureless atmospherics. Each number moves as slowly as a sea of cushions. The gliding undulations of "It All Feels Right" make for a lilting opener that recalls Bradford Cox's more tender canticles; "Great Escape" is a gentle loll, built on graceful drifts of synthesizers; and the title track's haze of keys and strings melt at the sound of Greene's hushed calls.

 With almost every track extending beyond five minutes, it can feel overstretched. The meandering "Weightless" never seems to wake up, while the nimble guitar lines of "Falling Back" fail to spark a final flourish. Yet in the pert jangles of "All I Know" there exists enough zip to prove Greene is capable of shifting through the gears when pushed.

 While not as immediate as its predecessor, Paracosm emits the cozy glow of an artist happy to remain in a comfortable sense of stasis. Giving in to its charms is really all you can do. (

First published here for Under the Radar