CD/Digital releases

Flawless, stratospheric pinnacles: The Birthday Massacre – Pins and Needles

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While the majority of contemporary rock—regardless of what prefix it’s given—tends to pass me by as so much generic, posturing fluff, inject a healthy, industrial-strength jolt of electronics through it, and i’m very much more inclined to sit up and pay attention. Such music’s just as capable of factory-line posing as its more raw, guitar-driven cousin, of course, but it does give the music, at least, a veneer of novelty, while at best, produces some of the most exciting rock around. For some years, Evanescence provided my fix in this area, but their focus was lost long, long ago, and their place in my affections has been supplanted by Canada’s most splendidly purple goth-synth-rock group, The Birthday Massacre. Whereas Evanescence hit the ground running, producing outstanding work from their first single onwards, The Birthday Massacre have taken numerous releases over no less than a decade to reach a place of maturity, the latest and most outstanding example of which is their new album, released a few days ago, Pins and Needles. Read more

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The perfect movie soundtrack: Hans Zimmer – Inception

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It’s been said that the perfect movie soundtrack is one that integrates itself so well into the fabric of the film that you don’t notice it’s there. i suspect that belief arises as much from experiencing the jarring æsthetic bifurcation that ensues from badly-executed soundtracks as from witnessing the seamless assimilation of sound with sight. The very best soundtracks of all, to me at least, are so good, so interesting, that they’re utterly unignorable. But it would be a mistake to say, in calling attention to themselves, that they’re too interesting; in the same way as an outstandingly effective mise en scène, or wardrobe design, or cluster of special effects, we’re conscious of their brilliance while remaining firmly locked in engagement with the film. My first podcast focused on one of the very best examples of that, in Antichrist, and more recently Hans Zimmer has achieved something similar in his soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s outstanding film Inception. It helps that the movie is as good as it is; i’ve not seen a film as engrossing as Inception in a while, which therefore presents Zimmer with something already extremely impressive to work with. and yet, as Zimmer has explained, he didn’t create his soundtrack with reference to any of the visuals, working instead from just the script, using that alone to ignite his imagination. It’s a risky approach, but a suitably unconventional one for a film that falls so far outside the realm of conventional thrillers. Read more

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Aching with exuberance: of Montreal – False Priest

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My first encounter with of Montreal‘s 2008 album Skeletal Lamping was a bewildering experience. For anyone unfamiliar with it, its apparent 15 tracks are nothing but a ruse; in fact, there are many more than that, the album lurching between portions of song, seeking neither clarity nor indeed coherence. On the one hand, there’s something maddening about it, but what Skeletal Lamping projected most was a riotous celebration of the sheer joy of song-making, the jump-cuts so many signs of unbounded enthusiasm. For all its structural oddness, it was nonetheless irresistable, carrying the audience along on an unstoppable tide of invention. Their new album, False Priest, unleashed earlier this week, is therefore among the releases that i’ve been most excitedly ancitipating this year.

First things first: False Priest‘s 13 tracks are (almost) all present and correct in their entirety; of Montreal—as one might have guessed, considering their highly evolutionary history—have wisely not attempted to repeat past experiments. If anything, what songwriter Kevin Barnes has done in this new outpouring is find ways to incorporate the kind of stylistic eclecticism heard on Skeletal Lamping into cogent songs positively aching with exuberance. There’s undeniably a powerful sense of past musics informing each song at its deepest level, but while in the hands of lesser bands this can become a kind of shallow pastiche bordering on a piss-take (sadly, the road down which Scissor Sisters seem determined to travel), of Montreal’s unbridled imagination takes the essence of former idioms rather than just their surface gloss, and the result—for all its apparent ‘retro’ chic—is unequivocably new. Read more

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Quietly massive majesty: Celer – Dying Star

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Late one evening, about two weeks ago, i and the Beloved found ourselves high on a hillside in Cornwall. The wild moorland in this far southwest corner of England is characterised by precisely two things: vast granite slabs that put the ‘rude’ into protrude, and even bigger stone mines and chimneys, their ruins peppering the landscape with almost amusing prevalence. Caught between the twin immensities of nature and industry, it’s a beautiful, evocative place, and as we explored one particular ruin (behold), the day literally began to die around us. Across on the west side of the valley, the sun began to set, becoming a fiery bronze circle in the sky. From the time it first touched the fringes of the hilled horizon to finally being absorbed within it can only have been a few minutes, but the magic of the moment made it impossibly longer, stretching each second in order that our senses might be able to savour their passing. Read more

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Hypnotising, confounding, beautiful: Chubby Wolf – Ornitheology

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On 8 July—the anniversary of Danielle Baquet-Long‘s death—in a rather lovely coincidence, her first posthumous release, Ornitheology, landed on my doormat. That was the standard edition, released in a typically short run of 125 copies by Digitalis—by now, of course, very sold out. Yesterday, the special edition arrived, in an even shorter run of just 21 copies, the cassette housed in a black wallet, replete with pink bow fixed to the front, all made from rather-curious-to-hold-but-very-striking-to-behold latex; designed by fashion’s latex goddess Sophie Richardoz, it gives the release an exotic, sensuous and highly tactile quality. Despite their resurgence in recent times, cassette releases have a tendency to appear less substantial than those on other media, in part due to the (usually) shorter durations they occupy. But Ornitheology is a different entity, its brace of tracks amounting to over 90 minutes of music, a demonstrative statement of intent as well as an article of faith in the cassette medium.

For listeners accustomed to the endlessly new and diverse but ever unified output from Celer, it can feel somewhat difficult to extricate Baquet-Long’s parallel Chubby Wolf project. A simplistic view would be to regard it as a solo extension of Celer’s work—after all, her material obviously carries many of the hallmarks of the established Celer sound. But on both her previous releases—the EP Meandering Pupa and album L’Histoire—a notably different sound, i feel, emerges; one that might be described as more focused and intense, more austere, and certainly more demanding (which is not to suggest Celer’s music lacks these qualities; far from it). Indeed, both these releases, with their firm sense of patience and restraint, and the resultant cool, aloof textures, are in fact a world away from most Celer, really akin only to their great anomaly, Sieline. Baquet-Long is clearly an independent force to be reckoned with on her own terms. Read more

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Dragonette – new single: Our Summer Volcano

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Canada’s most exciting electronic pop outfit Dragonette are putting out their first release of 2010 in a week’s time, a single titled “Our Summer Volcano”.

The partial title track, “Our Summer”, is an audaciously addictive anthemic floor stomper, perfect for summer parties where it’s destined to send people out of their minds at the sheer joyousness of it all. More importantly, it’s available for FREE download, and anyone fancying making their own version of this awesome track can also download the vocal stems in WAV format. All you need for the summer is right here.

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A ferocious take on dubstep: Hecq – Sura

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Despite claiming, a little over a year ago, that “the whole beat-science cant go any further for me”, Hecq has unleashed a new EP, Sura, that is a ferocious take on dubstep. Far from turning his back on beats after Steeltongued, Hecq positively bombards the ears with them, barely held in check by—as ever—his trademark ambience.

This is not the familiar shambling, lackadaisical dubstep, however; the title track is thrown into existence amidst a plethora of relentless high-hats that propel the material on. It’s over this, like a warm liquid, that Hecq’s slow chaconne builds in substance, easily swallowing these opening beat-gestures. Everything subsides, and then, literally, explodes, shards of white-hot rhythms cascading outwards as if from a welding iron. The track then, essentially, goes through the motions a second time; the chaconne briefly re-emerges, distant and hauntological, and with even more violence the metallic beats resume their onslaught. Read more

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New digital release: the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars

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Out today is my new release, a 32-minute electronic work, the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars. The piece takes as its starting point the intricate stonework found on the ceiling of the Quire in Tewkesbury Abbey. The central idea explored in the work is encapsulated in this quotation from George Herbert’s The Elixer:

A man that looks on glasse,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
And then the heav’n espie.

More specifically, the piece is concerned with notions of imposed restriction (the ‘ceiling’ of the title), with the concomitant spiritual reaction to—and transcendence beyond—such blind barriers. This is heard most prominently in the work’s fundamental conflict between two types of material, one noise-based, the other pitched and bell-like.

the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars is dedicated to Michael Perry Goodman, perhaps better known to readers of 5:4 as Implex Grace.

This release is only available in the form of a free digital download, in a variety of audio formats; to download, please visit simoncummings.bandcamp.com. Due to the extreme frequency range used in the piece, lossless (FLAC/Apple Lossless) is VERY strongly recommended. Download includes high-resolution artwork, PDF digital booklet and selection of desktop wallpapers.

An ultra-high resolution version will be available soon.

Copies of my first two CDs, Triptych, May/July 2009 and The Stuff of Memories are still available; for information, to hear excerpts and to order a copy, please visit www.simoncummings.com/shop. Both of these can also now be purchased as digital downloads from the Bandcamp site.

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Bang Goes The Quality Control: The Divine Comedy

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While 5:4 isn’t a forum where i’d like to spend much time discussing bad music, there are times when one feels compelled to say something, simply out of a sense of duty to one’s fellow humanity. This is especially the case when an artist who, generally, has received a fair amount of praise and respect, starts to lose their marbles and inflict audiences with something far less worthy. Apropos: The Divine Comedy – Bang Goes The Knighthood.

To be fair, signs of Neil Hannon’s creative decline have been evident for a while, nowhere more so than the inept and, frankly, bizarre farrago he proffered last year as one half of The Duckworth Lewis Method. It was a self-indulgent, shameful album, the one good song (“The Age of Revolution”) turning out to be a slap in the face when followed by such half-hearted, stupid effluvia. i can’t have been the only person shocked to find Neil Hannon actively involved in such an album; in hindsight, it did at least unwittingly prepare one for the experience of Bang Goes The Knighthood. Read more

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How To Destroy Angels: music on a magic carpet, but not elevating

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Trent Reznor’s side project How To Destroy Angels—formed with Year Zero/Ghosts henchman Atticus Ross, with Reznor’s wife, the impossibly-named Mariqueen Maandig, as vocalist—has released its first EP today. It’s a 6-track self-titled affair, lasting a little under 35 minutes, and it’s tempting to start drawing comparisons with Nine Inch Nails, rather than face the music on its own terms. But, having said that, i wonder how possible it is to distance oneself from NIN, and not merely through Reznor’s and Ross’ involvement. While Reznor’s voice is arguably the sine qua non in the multi-faceted NIN project, there’s now a sizeable body of NIN material that is instrumental (most notably Ghosts, of course, as well as numerous other tracks, especially on Still), so there’s something of an established ‘non-Reznor’ NIN soundworld. To some extent, first impressions would seem to declare that How To Destroy Angels’ first EP is a cluster of tracks directly from that soundworld, with Mariqueen Maandig simply placed on top (and the style and form of the lyrics is decidedly NIN-like). This isn’t meant as any disrespect to Maandig, who sounds entirely right in this context, although that might have something to do with the fact that she’s not, yet, taken her voice into territory more demanding than chesty whisperings and husky half-utterances. To be blunt, she seems in every way borne aloft on the textures created for her by Ross and Reznor; and while it may be an exhilarating magic carpet ride for her, it’s not quite so elevating an experience for us. Read more

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The tentative return of Dubstar

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Having documented my love of Dubstar‘s music in a fairly exhaustive retrospective of their music a couple of years back, i was excited to hear that—following some rather acrimonious goings-on last year—the group had decided to get together to record a song for the new Amnesty International fundraising compilation, PEACE. Overall, the project is an impressive one; a collection of 182 songs, which can be downloaded following a donation to Amnesty that starts at a paltry €5 (of course, you can pay more if you wish). You can read more about the project, stream songs and donate/download at their rather nicely-designed interactive website here. It became available earlier this week and, as yet, i haven’t even scratched the surface of such a vast compilation (which amounts to 12½ hours of music); but i had no hesitation in starting with Dubstar’s contribution, a cover of The Passions’ “I’m in Love with a German Film Star”.

In a rather fitting metaphor for the reality of the group’s members in recent times, the song emerges out of distortion and noise, settling into a restrained, rather minimal backdrop of bassline, guitar and soft drums. And then it happens: Sarah Blackwood opens her mouth, and immediately the tingles down the spine begin in earnest, and one is lost in a welter of feelings and sensations that propel me back a decade, to the last time my ears heard anything of the kind. Blackwood’s voice is unique and legendary, capable of astonishing purity of tone, without even the remotest whisp of vibrato; from lesser throats, the result would emerge dull and emotionless, whereas from Sarah Blackwood, i would argue, comes one of pop music’s most expressive voices, one that’s enhanced by the gentle edge lent by her delicious northern accent. Anyway, enough of the hero-worship.

It’s a wise choice of cover song; indeed, with its rather lovely poignant shifts of harmony it could almost have been written by Dubstar themselves. Read more

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Melodies from a quixotic ringmaster: Get Well Soon – Vexations

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If you were to combine the chamber pop trappings of Belle and Sebastian, the song-writing inventiveness (but not the sarcasm) of The Divine Comedy and top it off with the vocal stylings of Thom Yorke, the result might start to resemble Get Well Soon. The man behind this quixotic project is Konstantin Gropper, a classically-trained songwriter who’s been lurking in the wings from as far back as 2005, but in the last couple of years has begun to demonstrate in increasingly powerful fashion the weight and intensity of his musical imagination. 2008 brought two impressive releases, the kaleidoscopic album Rest Now, Weary Head! You Will Get Well Soon—which took three years to make, and threw together a courageously wide range of sources and manners, yet somehow found a way to make them all gel—and the outstanding Songs Against The Glaciation EP, an epic rollocking ode to life on the sea, picked out in songs that veer between soft, sublime delicacy and more hectic, rock-out gestures. Gropper’s vocals—treading a confident path between emphatic assertion and languid drawl—bring to these disparate sonic collisions a unifying force, like the ringmaster of a potentially unruly circus. But, surprisingly, that doesn’t mean he dominates the proceedings; in some songs, indeed, his contributions feel extremely succinct, stating their case briefly, allowing the instruments both to prefigure and extend his thoughts. Read more

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New CD: The Stuff of Memories

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My new CD, The Stuff of Memories, will be released at the end of this week; it comprises two electronic works made during the summer of 2009. Both address a related aspect to that explored on my previous CD, Triptych, May/July 2009; while that piece focused on the (perforce flawed) act of remembrance, the present works are directly concerned with the fabric of the memories themselves.

Ostensibly simple pieces, they each take their starting point from existing musical material (other works of mine), which has then been worked on extensively, worn and worried into its final forms. The emphasis, though, is very much on what remains, a celebration of the joy and fragility of the surviving original material, its voice continuing to sing through layers of damage and erosion.

The first piece, Memories are made of this, is dedicated to the Somerset artist Pat Clayton. The piece was in part inspired by her beautifully elaborate artworks, purposely aged and dirtied objects (often books and boxes); simultaneously naturalistic and artificial, they resemble items of flotsam washed up on a beach, waterlogged and etched with sand.

The second piece, becauseshewas (veteris vestigia flammæ) is dedicated to Will Long, of the duo Celer, whose experimental ambient creations readers of 5:4 will know i greatly admire. The title is a reference both to the circumstances pertaining to the original underlying material, as well as to Will’s wife Dani, who passed away in July 2009. The Latin quotation is from the account of Dido and Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid; it translates as “the traces of an old fire”, but i prefer John Dryden’s more poetic rendering: “the sparkles of my former flame”.

This release is a limited edition of 50 numbered copies. The price, including shipping, is:

UK – £10.50 | Europe – £11 | Worldwide – £12

For more information, to hear excerpts and to order a copy, go here.

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Kraftwerk: a remastered retrospective

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Of all words associated with the digital era, there’s one that is ubiquitous like no other: ‘remastered’. It has become tantamount to a religious dogma, that the works we have known and loved from our analogue heritage are holy treasures, deserving nothing less than to be preserved in æternum, and to that end dusted and polished into a shiny, technicolour, everlasting digital form. Like all religions, though, it is capable of havoc carried out in its name; most conspicuous in recent times is the egregious and shamefully unmusical use of – among other things – compression in the vain attempt at making the sound ‘stand out’ (the so-called ‘loudness war’). This kind of treatment, under the banner of ‘remastering’, is to music what George Lucas has become to his own Star Wars trilogy; something that obfuscates, even dirties, the original, under the illusion that in so doing, one is capturing with greater fidelity the ‘original vision’. Back in 2004, Kraftwerk began their own equivalent mission, returning to the ageing tapes of their earlier albums, cleaning them up and remastering them for posterity. Titled The Catalogue, an eight-disc box set comprising each of their albums in its new digitally remastered form, the release ultimately proved to be stillborn, and the few promotional copies that existed quickly found their way, depending on your preference, either to eBay for a ridiculous sum of money, or to torrent sites for a ridiculous number of leechers. It has taken a further five years for the definitive, further remastered versions of these albums to be released, finally seeing light of day last month.

In both its manifestations, i have approached The Catalogue with the utmost trepidation, as, i imagine, have many fans whose appreciation – and, let’s face it, love – of Kraftwerk’s output goes both very deep and back many years. But before one even gets to the music, certain things immediately start to become clear. Highly conspicuous by their absence are Kraftwerk’s first three albums, Kraftwerk 1, Kraftwerk 2 and Ralf and Florian; there’s a clear view being expressed here that only these eight albums, from Autobahn to Tour de France Soundtracks, form the official Kraftwerk oeuvre. It’s a significant disappointment for those, including myself, who descry in those first three albums (particularly Ralf and Florian) much that prefigures what would follow in the years ahead; the bootleg CDs of those albums will have to continue to suffice for the time being. As far as Ralf Hütter is concerned, the mature life of Kraftwerk begins in 1974, with the noise of a car door slamming. Read more

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Paradise pop: Dragonette – Fixin To Thrill

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Lately it’s music from Canada that’s been interesting me; and most recently, taking their place alongside such disparate luminaries as Aaron Funk, Aidan Baker, Elsiane and Paul Dolden (about whom, in due course, much, much more), have been Dragonette, whose second album Fixin To Thrill came out earlier this month. Dragonette have been steadily forging their reputation over the last four years, beginning with one of the best debuts ever, the elusive but immaculate Dragonette EP, after which a clutch of singles and first album Galore have emerged, each revealing a group remarkably assertive and undeniably talented. To describe their music as ‘synthpop’ is to do them a disservice; eighties allusions come thick and fast, but their songs are firmly rooted in the noughties, and to this end they stand out as a truly contemporary act, rather more successful and engaging than, say, New Young Pony Club. Furthermore, there’s also a distinct rock sheen to their music, which in the best way prevents it from being too ‘clean’ a synth sound, akin more to the gutsy rocktronica of The Faint. Out in the limelight is Martina Sorbara, a singer whose voice is capable of a surprising range of characterisations and tone colours. Read more

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Celer – Brittle, Fountain Glider, Poulaine

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My admiration for the music of Celer has grown seemingly exponentially since my first encounter with their work last year, in the form of Mesoscaphe, their collaboration with Mathieu Ruhlmann (subsequently highly-placed in my Best Albums of 2008). The retrospective/obituary that i wrote back in July was a first attempt to say something meaningful about their illustrious output, although i was and remain acutely aware that it barely scratched the surface. In the three months that have passed since that fateful time, as many full-length albums have been released, with yet more announced and coming soon.

All three assume Celer’s most demanding shape, lengthy solitary tracks, the first of which, Brittle, is the longest of all, its single span lasting over 74 minutes. Its title is complemented by the track’s title of ‘Eustress’, a word that embodies the opposite of ‘distress’, referring to forms of stress from which we obtain positive effects. A short essay accompanies the CD, explicating Celer’s intentions in bringing these two evocative words, ‘brittle’ and ‘eustress’ together. And it’s extremely tempting, reading the words that refer to their aim “to demonstrate a feeling of continuation through what sometimes seems like a fragile existence”, immediately to draw connections to Dani Baquet-Long’s sudden death; but this music was obviously made before her passing, and while at the moment it cannot fail to be heard in the wake of that tragedy, it would be a facile mistake to allow that to obfuscate the music contained in Brittle, still less to define it. Celer’s music has sufficient depth and substance to stand on its own two feet, without the need for imposed emotional crutches, despite how keen one may be to impose them; i prefer to allow the music to communicate on its own terms. Read more

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Roads less travelled: Benn Jordan – Louisiana Mourning

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Out this week is the latest release from Benn Jordan, better known as The Flashbulb. It’s high time Jordan’s music was featured on here, as he’s nothing short of a marvel, his music touching on a wide variety of styles, every one of which seems to turn to gold in his hands. In many ways, he has to draw comparisons with Hecq (another Ben, about whom i wrote here), flitting as he also does between the crystalline intricacies of IDM and the warm shroud of ambient.

But there’s a wealth of other inspirations at work in Jordan’s music, and this is palpably obvious in his new 21-minute EP, Louisiana Mourning. Prior to the release Jordan had hinted on his website that ambient and bluegrass would be the defining characteristics of this release, and to some extent that’s borne out in the music. “I” (the titles simply use Roman numerals) is an ambivalent opener, laden with rapid guitar picking early on, before giving way to dreamy tonal waves. “II” immediately returns to fast guitar figurations, whereupon violinist Greg Hirte joins in with a lovely folk-inspired melody, inflected with poignant minor chord shifts; midway, the piano takes over, leading to the music again dissipating into ambience. It’s not the first time Jordan has subdivided a single track into markedly different sections (another similarity to Hecq), and here it’s a highly effective device, creating soft, luscious codettas that contrast well with the sharp hectic twanging of the guitar. Read more

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New CD: Triptych, May/July 2009

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Posts have been somewhat less frequent through the last two or three months; but these hands have been far from idle. i’m very happy to announce that my first CD will be released at the end of August, containing a new electronic work, Triptych, May/July 2009. Lasting 25 minutes, the work is an expressionistic electronic study concerned with the nature (and fallibility) of remembrance. Taking its starting point from an image of my late father (seen on the cover artwork), the work’s three panels explore different, but related, sound-worlds.

The first, Figment, occupies a deep, narrow frequency field, from which a mysterious and somewhat inscrutable music emerges, its material at times quite difficult to make out. Longest and loudest of the three, the central panel, Icon, continually shifts and evolves, its richly glittering noise forming ever new shapes and resonances, punctuated by fragments of melody. The work concludes with Vestige, where soft, distant flute-like tones sing out into the darkness.

The Triptych is dedicated to the memory of Danielle Baquet-Long, about whom i wrote recently; one half of Celer, who passed away suddenly last month.

This release is limited to 100 numbered copies. The price, including shipping, is:

UK – £5 | Europe – £5.50 | Worldwide – £6

To order a copy, go here, where you can also hear a brief excerpt from each part.

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Quality control issues: Steven Wilson – NSRGNTS↑RMXS

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Remixes are an entity about which i have long felt deeply ambivalent; experience has taught one to approach them with extreme caution. In musically imaginative hands, they can of course be spectacular, teasing out new aspects of the original, even redefining it, becoming worthy to stand equally beside it, a wholly new ‘version’. Outstanding examples include Nine Inch Nails’ Further Down The Spiral, that takes the material from The Downward Spiral into yet darker territory, and the plethora of fascinating remixes found on Björk’s CD single releases over the years. More often, though, they demonstrate a lack of either imagination or even competence, doing little more than tarnishing the original, damaging irreparably those elements that made it what it was. This is taken to extremes when the original is particularly excellent; i wrote a few months back about the shameful cluster of remixes inflicted on songs from Freezepop’s brilliant Future Future Future Perfect album, and more recently two superb songs—Lily Allen’s “The Fear” and Röyksopp’s “The Girl and the Robot” have found themselves surrounded by equally trivial, pointless remixes (the “Joakim Remix” of Röyksopp’s track is especially egregious, the vocals slightly out of tune with the backing harmonies). So i was very much in two minds about the CD that fell on my doormat yesterday, Steven Wilson‘s mini album of remixes from his truly outstanding album Insurgentes, titled NSRGNTS↑RMXS. Read more

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Client is dead; long live Northern Kind!

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Take a large helping of electronica, add more than a hint of retro, a dash of attitude, and then bestow on the combination a northern accent. The result might have been Client, Sarah Blackwood’s project for the last 5 years—were it not for the fact that Client have proved themselves an increasingly boring and inept outfit, their last two albums (particularly this year’s Command) stultifyingly bad and a major disappointment to those who, like myself, feel that Blackwood still has one of the finest voices in pop. Nay, nay and thrice nay, the result now has to be Northern Kind, a duo who’ve been active for a couple of years, and whose second album, WIRED:, was released last month.

But let’s rewind to their first album, 53°N, which dates from 2007. It’s an extremely impressive debut, both capturing perfectly the synthpop sound of the early 1980s (think Erasure) as well as sounding thoroughly modern; it’s not simply an exercise in nostalgia. Having mentioned Blackwood already, i should point out that Northern Kind’s singer, Sarah Heeley, has a voice of similar range but different demeanour; while Blackwood is like a female Ralf Hütter (that’s a compliment), Heeley has a gentle vibrato that nicely shades her singing, and prevents her sounding aloof. The first few tracks of 53°N get the ball rolling, but it’s not until track four, “Millionaire”, that the album really takes off, the musical scope and horizons seeming to expand instantly. The tempo isn’t that fast, but an incessant, gymnastic bassline pushes the song along relentlessly, supplemented with assorted synth melodies, electronic drums all over the place (think Pigeon Street), and some really great singing from Heeley. “Thoughts of You” at first sounds remarkably close to early Client (that’s also a compliment), although far more melodic, and the chorus is nothing like them, poignant and softly melancholic (Client, like so many, mistake cynicism for melancholy). These two are the standout tracks; of the rest, “Home” is a great song, bringing to mind mid-’80s Pet Shop Boys (think Actually), Heeley even sounding rather like Neil Tennant. Also notable is “Sometimes”, a hard-hitting song, with abrasive sawtooths cutting the air in and around the lyrics; “Loser”, after it, is similar but more up-tempo and lyrically aggressive. It’s a splendid first album, effectively presenting Northern Kind’s credentials—and at this point one must mention the duo’s synth-smith, Matt Culpin, who’s clearly responsible in no small point for their distinctive sound. Read more

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