Artist_ MT Warning
Title_ Midnight Set
Label_ LAB Records
Genre_ Downtempo,Electric Folk
Moments of_ Bon Iver, Houses, Sigur Ros, The Temper Trap,
U2, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes
Stand Out_ Sinking Sun, Alaska
MT Warning (pronounced MT, not Mount as in Mountain, yes I keep making that mistake) is a collaboration between an Australian musician and film creative who have worked together to develop a sound that is refreshingly unique to the current Australian music playlist. Playing solo, Mikey Bee was united with Australian film-maker Taylor Steele who has catalogue of music clips for Wolfmother, Angus Stone and now, MT Warning. What transpires is “Midnight Set” an album with great moments of lush production, sweeping intensity of layered sounds set against poetic lyricism.
Often I hear albums that ooze so much potential, I sometimes get too frustrated to listen to the album all the way and this is one of them I’m afraid. There are so many beautiful moments on Midnight Set, including the opening track Midnight Dawn with its slow burning intro that glides into a perfect folk stride before Mikey Bee’s soft vocal kicks in, reminiscent of the brilliant Bon Iver. The comparisons here are obvious but not a bad comparison to be had. Muted drums with strumming guitars visually charge up hills with a feeling that they just have to get to the top, there is a real sense of urgency to this opening track. “Yea we know that’s what we are….” Chants Bee to lead the song to the end.
Tracks like Alaska have a slightly nostalgic early U2 Joshua Tree feel to it and again it is song that slowly burns to higher lever with guitars filling up and the vocals punching urgency as the song peaks along with the often chanting harmonies that are prolific through many of the songs, it kind if gives a tribal, sing a long feel to all the songs. Lyrically, again like many of the songs on the album, they have a youthful proclamation about them. You can hear this on the epic track stand out track Anchor as Bee sings “Gonna live in the ocean, gonna sail my boat, Gonna tell all the people all the things I never wrote.
This is where I’m going to, I’m going far away from you”. Whether the strength of Bee’s vocals here carry the song is a bit questionable, but the song is well-crafted.
The album takes a few odd turns that sometimes make it feel like a conceptual album as opposed to a complete album of one artists ideas, take Burn Again for example with its choppy chord progression that to me shows where two minds have been at work, but equally feels like it competes with itself and the result is disjointed.
For me, something happens to the album as it meanders to the end, it feels like it struggles with working out what it wants to be, don’t get me wrong, the album is produced so beautifully, Bee’s voice is polished and quite unique but when MT Warning tries to explore a more folky edge, it doesn’t really cut it, the atmospheric path just feels and sounds more natural.
The album ends with Midnight Set, as opposed to opener Midnight Dawn with the now familiar tribal chants that we heard through most of the album. It’s a perfect song to cap off an album and goes back to all the elements that for me make MT Warning a solid album that hopefully in their follow up, will see them stick to their atmospheric and mellow mood. It is an album that has a sense of loose structure and doesn’t at all sound like it was played out but one talented musician, how it plays off live, well we are told that he does it justice. A nice addition to the thriving Australian music scene.
Back in the late 90’s there was a band called Doves that came out of Manchester and had plenty of indie folk talking thanks to their stunning debut and saw the band go on to release some great albums and outstanding singles. Jimi Goodwin is front man of Doves and this is his first solo project. Although the band have not called it quits, some 16 years later (over 20 if you include their time as dance band Gus Gus), Odludek, meaning Recluse in Polish, is not far from the sounds of his beloved band and continues the Manchester swagger of similar “Manc” bands that stand beside him.
If you are not familiar with Goodwin’s beloved band and in particular Jimi Goodwin’s voice, it may well be a love or hate relationship. Although powerful in the way he blurts out his words, the tone can be, well lets say, grating. I was a huge Doves fan back when Doves released the magically powerful debut Lost Souls. From the moment the opening track Firesuite played out as an instrumentation, I knew that this was a band destined to knock the socks of the Brit Pop music scene. Having the privilege of seeing them live a few times, they were the sort of band that brought back some much needed balls to the music scene. What was also great about the band was their ability to add a dance element to their sound, and this was not unsurprising considering the boys were once dance outfit Gus Gus. So this brings to me Odludek.
This is an album mixed with all the things that Goodwin seems to love in music especially his dance days of Gus Gus, with tracks like Live Like A River, Man V Dingo, Lonely At The Drop and too some extent Didsbury Girl, where dirty synths intros roll straight into strumming indie guitars. It gets me thinking what harm would it do to let these sounds roll out and just burst into an epic early 90s dance number, I think we need a bit more alternative gritty dance in the music world right now.
Opening track Terracotta Warrior is an aggressive opener and may not win many hearts over but will certainly have Dove fans reminisce about the days they first heard Lost Souls although all changes when the song diverts to orchestral sound waves.
There is something so similar and familiar with Manchester bands, whether it is Doves, Happy Mondays, The Hours, Oasis and Elbow to name a few, the conviction of the vocals, the proudly evident Manchester vocal drool, you can divide a crowd of music lovers on it and on tracks like Didsbury Girl, I question the love I had for it.
With such diversity on this album there are some real stand out moments for me in the laid back tracks like Keep My Soul in Song, Oh! Whiskey and Panic Tree where Goodwin’s voice just softens with less aggression. The elements of folk, jazz and a hint of groove just sounds so effortless here although live, they may just be the inbetweeners.
Whether or not Guy Garvey from Elbow walked into the studio during the recording of Hope or Ghost of the Empties is something to read in the credits as both these tracks carry a heavy load of Garvey with the orchestration and sense of hope about them. Hope builds rather quickly into a festival sing-a-long with harmonious chants of Hope, Hope, Hope. As the summer rolls quietly in over the UK and Goodwin prepares for summer of touring (I’d expect), it is tracks like Hope that will keep this man relevant and give reason for the now early 40 something’s to dust off their Dove albums and sing-a-long to Hope under a cool summer sky.
Artist_ Small Black
Title_ Real People EP
Genre_ Dance, Electronica, Indie Pop,Synth Pop
Moments of_ Washed Out, Youth Lagoon, Gary Newman,
Duran Duran, Dirty Vegas, New Order
Stand Out_ Real People
Small Black return in early 2014 with Real People EP after lasts year Sophmore album powerful and melodic Limits of Desire. This is a band that writes sensible and considered pop-music that draws upon influences from the 80’s and early 90’s to create gentle and relevant melodic pop using drifting vocals, danceable beats, smothered and layered synth sounds. Real People EP continues where Limits of Desire left of and explores what it feels like to stay on the dance floor with guest vocals from respected punk girl Frankie Rose (Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Slits) and a cover of Blue Niles classic song Downtown Lights.
I don’t think many of us were expecting to hear from Small Black for some time, after the release of the surprisingly excellent second album Limits of Desire. This was the first time I had heard Small Black and although not a genre of music that I would jump at as I can’t help feel it is following the popularity genre of today’s bands, there was something special about the album. It sounded so familiar I bring it down to simply great pop song writing with just enough pop-synth to make it stand out as one of the better indie pop synth albums of 2013.
So with Real People it is obvious that the band need to get out more and cut some rug, with most of these albums feeling alive, full of energy and require a bit of body shuffling. Opening and title track Real People glides through with their familiar cutting synthesiser sounds as Josh Kolenik (lead singer) vocal effortlessly works through the frequencies in a ghostly comforting way. He has a strong vocal capacity this guy and it works so well for the sound they create. It makes me wonder how they get away with this whole polished sound live. With the very subtle contribution of Frankie Rose as backing vocals, this is a cracking opening track and return single for the band.
Lines of Latitude is the mellow offering from the EP but beautiful all the same and very much like the sounds of fellow like-minded muso buddy Washed Out. Carrying all the elements of a 80s ballad, it may not be original but with Kolenik’s delicate vocals and Rose’s backing vocals, this is a beautiful track.
Consequence drives through some great New Order inspired beats while Reconstruction peaks with the ultimate sounding quirky synthesizers that take the EP to some often wondrous peaks.
Downtown Lights is a cover of 80’s band Blue Nile and if you listen to the original track (click here) you can get an idea where Small Black draw their influences from. The comparison was relevant for its time but there is no denying that this is a great cover and shows the talent that these boys have in creating a sound that although unique, still sounds completely relevant today.