Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Fractions - Fractions EP

EP review by KevW

Newcastle collective Fractions were originally conceived as a musical concept with no real ideas of releasing records or looking for any kind of public success. A motley crew made up of producers, an ex member of a hardcore band, a sweet-voiced female singer and more, their music soon began to take the form of songs that really should be heard outside of their inner circle. And so we arrive at their self-titled debut EP (due out on September 8th) and lead-track 'Breathe'. They were right to take this step, and the single has already generated some hype, with expectations running fairly high even at this early stage. 'Breathe' is perhaps the most accessible, the most "single" sounding track on the EP, and its mixture of industrial backing with lush synths is the perfect foil for for a strong melody and the vocals to do their work upon. As far as instant appeal goes, you could say this was the highlight, but it's not all about this one track at all.

What that collection of musicians from different backgrounds make when they're together is a form of synth-pop, perhaps best described as darkwave at times, but lighter on some tracks. There's an almost ambient, dreampop aspect to 'Into The Earth', but with a bleaker side hiding below the surface. The same vibe is taken a step further on the excellent 'Burst', a goth-influenced new-wave number that crosses just a touch into the realms of pop. Curiously, it's both modern and retro at the same time. More forbidding is 'Resist' with its eerie intro and whip-crack beat that really embraces the gothic side of the band; it's a dark and haunting number that could compare to someone like Zola Jesus. The most lingering and brooding of all is probably final track 'Fate', a mysterious shoegaze song where the music steadily moves along like a deadly mist rolling in as the vocals cry out in the distance. It's early days, but we probably haven't heard the last of this lot.

Fractions' website

Buy the 'Breathe' single

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Obligatory Record Of The Day! Big Deal - Always Boys

Single review by KevW

You know when it's a bit baffling that a band aren't much bigger than they deserve to be? It's actually a daily occurrence around these parts, and one such band who fit the bill are London duo Big Deal. They have a name that accurately describes what their position should currently be, and they do have a substantial following and usually pull in some rave reviews (if you want to check out a few tracks and words on last year's 'June Gloom' album then just search for their name, we featured a few), but still, if the world worked as it should then the pair should be even higher in the public consciousness.

Their new EP might just help this a little. 'Sakura' is fresh out of the blocks and its first single, 'Always Boys', is thrillingly robust and impeccably made. A deceivingly gentle intro gets it going, before everything gets cranked up to 11 and we suddenly have bursts of burning guitar interspersed between the rock-solid beat and inch-perfect, powerful vocals. It doesn't break the mould when it comes to alt-rock, but it does come out looking more perfectly-formed than so many others who tread a similar line. The guitars build until we reach a pared-down end section. Perhaps the line "now I walk out into the ocean just for calm" is more fitting than it was intended. Yes, the ocean isn't always calm, but when Big Deal do calm it's not exactly 'Panpipe Moods' either. Now we just need more of the world to take notice.

Big Deal's website

Buy the EP

Catch them live:

Jul 25 Secret Garden Party, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
Aug 01 Nozstock Festival, Hereford, United Kingdom
Aug 08 Boardmasters Festival, Newquay, United Kingdom

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Assyrians - Tundra

Album review by KevW for

The Assyrians want to take you on a trip. It's not a trip you won't have been on before, but it's always one worth revisiting, especially when your guides are as magnificent as this Milan quartet. Songs drift wonderfully around your head, glorious sounds emanate from the speakers and an uplifting vibe is the order of the day. Taking aspects from dreampop, psychedelia, indie, ambient soundscapes and simply unusual but fantastical alt-pop, 'Tundra' is an album that provides a non-stop journey through sound; not difficult or specialist sound, this is experimental in a way that's also readily accessible and will curry favour with folks whose tastes lie in many different corners of the music world, and will do so without the need to flit about and change style very often. This is definitely a cohesive whole.

The strange, warped intro to 'Emerald' sounds as though someone's taken a soundtrack from the golden era of Hollywood and played around with it, before suddenly the song is upon us, all thumping drums, sheets of guitar and subtle electronic textures hiding in the background. They start as they mean to go on: with an otherworldly track that's carefully composed and has great attention to detail. 'Hellebore' goes one further, taking '60s psychedelia and many of its hallmarks but filtering it through a modern studio, then suddenly it breaks for an instrumental section that floats off into the ether, taking you with it. It's quite lush and spectacular. Something of this nature is difficult to top, but The Assyrians give it a good go throughout the rest of the album, and they never really let us down by supplying a consistently high standard of music. Single 'Baobab' is another track that soars, lifting you away from the mundane and into fantasy land.

Certain Grandaddy tracks could be used as reference points, and perhaps even more so, the work of Mercury Rev at their most magical. Unsurprisingly, space isn't too far away, and 'Orion' would fit the space-rock category quite well, but as reimagined by MGMT, and another single, 'Astronaut', pauses the journey slightly by mellowing things out and adding a more woozy and atmospheric sound, yet it's not a low-point, in fact it's quite the opposite, recalling early Pink Floyd. The joy of 'Tundra' is that it's full of tunes that are worthy of individual mentions: 'Fossyls' is nicely melodic with some acid-fired guitar; the tempo is upped for possible future indie/synth-rock single 'Oceans'; the short and mysteriously eerie 'Buccaneer' is followed by the oddly nautical and slightly out of step 'Buccaneer's'; the title-track gives us an ambient interlude that's quite befitting of its name; and finally The Assyrians ensure you know that this has been a voyage to remember and return to by giving us the wobbly, coulourful and mildly anthemic 'Darwin'. The name 'Tundra' conjures up images of barren landscapes, but the truth is anything but.

The Assyrians' website

Buy the album

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Buffalo Sunn - By Your Side

Single review by KevW

If you like your guitar tunes to come with a slightly classic feel, have plenty of wall-to-wall sound and a sunny disposition - much like The Sound Of Confusion favourites Elephant Stone in fact - then welcome to your new favourite band. With a name like Buffalo Sunn and a very American-looking desert mountains shot on the cover, it might be a surprise to learn that these guys are Irish; and in fact they're essentially a family band consisting of the brothers Paxton (with drummer Donagh O'Brien as an honorary family member). The sextet have an album in the bag, 'By The Ocean, By The Sea',  which will hopefully be landing later this year, and also an EP called 'Witches' which is out now.

It's the glorious 'By Your Side' that's on heavy rotation here though, and rightly so; they've taken indie-psych and perfected it, seemingly without batting an eyelid. This track is assured, very strong and sounds as though it's always existed; as if it was a naturally-formed phenomenon. Nothing feels forced or contrived and at no point is it lacklustre. With melodies that are built to stand the test of time and production and arrangement that gives a casual jangly sheen, you know you're going to love it from the very first bars. Drums crash and guitars wind through the chorus but are never allowed to overpower the harmonies. It's a neat trick. It could be argued that 'By Your Side' is a retro song, but it sounds fresh and the overall feel is timeless, not dated. I have a feeling this will become essential listening for a fair few people out there.

Buffalo Sunn's website

Buy the single

Catch them live:


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Monday, 21 July 2014

Space Daze - Follow My Light Back Home

Album review by KevW

"And a light shines down, through your window...". Yes, if the lens flare of the artwork or the name of the album didn't give it away, 'Follow My Light Back Home' is an album released in summer, because it was seemingly made purely with summer in mind, and that line from the title-track is just one of many seasonal references that Space Daze makes on this set of upbeat, spangly, sunny guitar-pop tunes. Sprightly recent single 'Line Up On The Solstice' may have also given the game away. You could just about stop short of calling this a concept album, because Danny Rowland (also the guitarist and songwriter with excellent indiepoppers Seapony) is hardly the first to try and capture this time of year on record.

He does make an especially good job of it though, realising the power of the sub three-minute pop song (nothing here breaks that barrier) and also knowing that such tracks rely heavily on tunefulness to make them work. The album opens with 'Woke Up In The Summer', which just about says it all. It's a mixture of The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, The Hollies and a smidgen of doo-wop all formed into a more modern, lazy (in a good way) indie sound. It's not a case of eleven repeats of the same trick though, as 'The Voices Of Strangers' is darker and folkier; almost psychedelic even, but still warm, and 'I'll Know Tomorrow' also takes a folk-inspired approach, recalling Simon & Garfunkel, as does 'Kill Me'. We touch upon the lighter end of '90s alt-rock with 'It's Getting Lighter Earlier', a track that partially discards the '60s influence for something slightly more modern, but the guitars and melodies still make it shine.

Making an album where just about every track could be considered for a single is no mean feat, but it's one that Space Daze manages, and even though the songs are short, it still seems to end far too soon, which leaves you wanting more. Without the spidery guitar lines, 'It Becomes Silent' would be pure dreampop, and 'Going Out' would have registered favourably when the Britpop pack began to delve deeper into the past; the mixture of organ and a memorable tune ensures this. Maybe 'Having A Bad Time' is closest to the indiepop you may expect, yet its duration of under two-minutes means usage of the repeat button may be in order. 'Close The Curtain' takes in a little powerpop but its still mostly soft textures despite a crisper guitar sound. It's somehow fitting that the more thoughtful and dreamy 'The Fireflies Are Gone' wraps things up.There will be countless soundtracks to the summer, and these will vary depending on taste and circumstance, but many people should give Space Daze a go because might find exactly what they've been looking for.

Space Daze's website

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Obligatory Record Of The Day! Black Bananas - Powder 8 Eeeeeeeeight

Single review by KevW

Wouldn't it be nice if every band was as unpretentious as Royal Trux spin-off Black Bananas? They admit to using "time-tested elements" and fusing together different sounds they find to recreate the ideas in their head, and what's more, they do it with confidence and give a knowing nod to their forerunners. The music on their new album 'Electric Brick Wall' isn't one-dimensional by any means; these guys are magpies who absorb different ideas and then twist them into their own shapes. Take lead single 'Physical Emotions', it's a track that uses plenty of retro electronic sounds and even elements of hip-hop to craft their experimental rock sound. It could even be a different band to that which made the opening track of the LP.

'Power 8 Eeeeeeeeight' is a totally different kettle of fish. Here they take the sounds of classic psychedelic rock; heaps of guitar that's nicely contorted for that trippy effect; a more classic rock formula and the same cocksure (but not arrogant) attitude and end up with a scorching electronic blow-out that is the reason why you bought those powerful speakers in the first place. Unlike many psych tracks, 'Power 8 Eeeeeeeeight' gets down to business right away with the no major introduction, merely a few seconds before it launches it's aural assault. We're not talking overblown and intolerably intense; this is controlled and cool and allows the guitars room to roam free despite the short duration. A teasing glimpse of their more eclectic leanings creeps in towards the end, but really this is pure and simple classic psych made for all the right reasons.

Black Bananas' website

Buy the album

Catch them live:

11-01 Lisbon, Portugal - ZDB
11-02 Barcelona, Spain - Primavera Club
11-03 Dudingen, Sweden - Bad Bonn
11-04 Berlin, Germany - Kantine am Beghain
11-05 Copenhagen, Denmark - Loppen
11-06-07 Reykjavik, Iceland - Iceland Airwaves Festival
11-08 Amsterdam, Netherlands - Paridiso Upstairs
11-09 Anvers, Belgium - Autumn Falls Festival @ Trix
11-10 Leeds, England - Brudenell
11-11 London, England - 100 Club
11-12 Paris, France - Point FMR
11-14 Pordenone, Italy - Pin Box Studio
11-15 Verone, Italy - Interzona

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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Devon Williams - Gilding The Lily

Album review by KevW

On his third album, recording of which began straight after the release of 'Euphoria' around 18 months ago, Los Angeles musician Devon Williams has partially dismantled what it means to be regarded as indiepop. Yes, that term could be used to describe 'Gilding The Lily', but its been deconstructed; quite possibly a masterstroke given the glut of indiepop bands doing the rounds. During the recording of this record, Williams got married and also moved on a few occasions, not locally, but around the world, and the songs he was recording saw some changes too, giving us versions that are perhaps a little different to how they were first conceived. There are guitar-pop songs, but there are some that are more in tune with '80s synth music and power ballads, as well as a heavy Beach Boys influence.

It's not always quite as straightforward as chucking each track into one of those categories though, and right from opener 'Deep In The Back Of Your Mind' we're given a guitar song that makes good use of synths and is also something of a power ballad, albeit an upbeat one. So he's throwing the lot in the mix at times, and it works very nicely; this is much the same story as with the lively 'Puzzle'. Good melodies and production that's the perfect fit ensure that 'Gilding The Lily' is a strong album from start to finish. It's refreshing to find someone who's not afraid to throw in an '80s guitar solo if the mood takes his fancy. 'Games' takes this format, guitar and all, and runs with it, again showing the power and dexterity of Williams' writing. 'Pendulum' takes this further with a near darkwave heart beating underneath, although it's lightened by some spangly guitar and makes for potential single material, and another contender comes in the lovely jangly indie of 'Will You Let Go Of My Heart?'. Talking of which, single 'Flowers' is a booming, almost Spectorish number that lays on the atmosphere with a trowel while not being the most obviously commercial song here.

Classic pop is the order of the day when it comes to the likes of 'All I Have To Do', a '60s inspired pop/soul track that could have come from the pen of Brian Wilson or one of the Brill Building team. Forget any notions of slushiness though; it's utterly delightful. It's to that decade that Williams looks to for 'Around In A Maze' which is the above with a dollop of Beatles mixed in, and perhaps 'Lost My Concentration' takes a similar idea and adds a sprinkling of more modern production. The title-track moves us into new-wave with its blend of chiming guitars and synths. 'Gilding The Lily' somehow wasn't the most immediate of albums, but that could simply be personal experience: each track here is accessible, none outstay their welcome and all of them make for good listens in their own right - and an even better one when collected together in this way. Devon Williams may not be as famous as some, but he's quietly made a record that's well worth celebrating.

Devon Williams' website

Stream the album in full

Buy the album

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