We are far from greedy lambs this week, we deliver just 4 New Borns for your woolly old ears. We have a pretty good feeling that apart from Imogen Heap, the other three reviews this week are certain to be fresh goodness to you, including Literature a neat album full of 60s garage and 80s pop and an album that will bring summer early to the Southerners. Sadly, not the same can be said for Swedish melancholy electronica of jj who despite consecutive listens to V resulted in The Wandering Lamb’s first butcher, we weren’t proud to do this, but the album just didn’t cut it, and that is no pun intended. Finally, we bring you MusicGoMusic from our newest contributor the New Borns, and again it is 80’s flashback but a damn good one at that. A real mixed bag this week. See you next time!
Artist_ Imogen Heap
Album Title_ Sparks
Genre_ Electronic, Pop, Experimental
Moments Of _ FKA Twigs, Sia
Stand Out_ Entanglement
In her fourth solo album entitled Sparks performance artist extraordinaire Imogen Heap brings her unique brand of talent and quirk to the fore. The creative process for this album has been in the pipeline for the last three years and with a reputation for unapologetic innovation and experimentation, Heap delivers a vibrant, cerebral gem to an already impressively exhaustive cannon.
There’s just something innately mesmerizing about Heap. After you get over the initial adoration of course its almost daunting just knowing where to start. For the most part yes, she is often recognized for her live performances and her proficient use of gadgetry which she often incorporates in her shows; her compositions are sometimes delicate, often inspired and always complicated, but also just somehow, more than the sum of parts. It could be that her songs not only betray technical ability that can put the most proficient of musicians to shame but also human sensibility juxtaposed against them fancy devices and her signature Mi.Mu gloves. You just kind of get the impression that you are being witness to true artistry, in a most raw and authentic form. That was kind of a fan geek rant monologue admittedly but love or hate what she does, you have to admit that she does it well.
So the bones of this album have been in the works since 2011 and Heap is notorious for extensive periods of sabbatical between projects. It was around about this time she announced that she would be recording material with the intention of releasing a song every three months with the creative process for each spanning two weeks. It’s a curious position to be in, demanding that kind of creative output in such a rigid time frame but the rewards of that process speak for themselves.
Sometimes I find when I listen to Heap, it can be hard to take in all at once. Probably because there’s usually so much happening that the palette can feel a bit busy but the reward is often charming and well worth the wait. Sparks proffers that kind of progressive invention that we have all come to expect but also with seemingly more cohesive efforts compared to previous albums. First track is You Know Where To Find Me, a beautifully sweeping piano-accompanied ballad where Heap contrasts melodically wistful keys atop of lyrics that speak of smashed heads and fresh eyes. Its minimal from the outset, sporadic too and the presence of keys here weaves a dreamy kind of narrative that engulfs you softly before working up to that sheer blast that pops up intermittently. Entanglement was another mention worthy moment on the album for me. It had an FKA Twigs/BANKS sensibility, which I absolutely adore. The incorporation of trip – hop elements has really been making quite a splash in pop music circles of late and that unmistakable chest – thumping quality is pervasive on this track with so many ethereal elements working to make this track emotive, primal and slightly futuristic. Also The Listening Chair perhaps another cracker on here, noteworthy for it’s delightfully quirky prose and equally amusing video clip which captures Heap in all her quirky, idiosyncratic glory.
In my opinion? Its always difficult to gauge when an artist has such a prolific and defined body of work. This album is perhaps less ambitious in that we already know what Heap is capable of and have come to expect. There is almost a plateau feel in that there is more continuity, a more cohesive feel amongst the material. Sparks is thoroughly delightful, and in many ways an ideal addition to Heap’s already stellar body of work, a real gem that sparkles at every turn.
Album Title_ Chorus
Label_ Slumberland Records
Genre_ Art Rock, Dream Pop, Indie Pop
Moments Of_ Vampire Weekend, The Kinks, Phoenix, The Smiths
Stand Out_ Blasé, Court/Date, The English Softhearts
Album number two from Philadelphia based indie band Literature, a follow on from their 2012 debut Arab Springs, Chorus is a collection of sunny pop melodies, retro licked tones and happy-go-lucky atmospherics. Signed to a Californian indie label Slumberland Records, it would be pretty easy to mistake these guys from being West Coast locals, spending all their spare time surfing. Instead, singer/guitarist Kevin Attics, guitarist Nathaniel Cardaci, bassist Seth Whaland and drummer Chris Shakerman are able to emulate sunshine, road trips and nostalgia with the ease of an upbeat tune.
It’s pretty hard to be sad when listening to this album. Straight off the bat, the ‘ba ba ba da da ba ba ba da da’ from the first few bars of album opener The Girl, The Gold Watch, The Everything is 2:17 seconds of pure happiness. Rounding out with a modest applause and the banter of mates praising their work, it’s pop gems like these that are pretty refreshing on a drab morning commute to work.
Along with their rich surf-stained garage pop, it’s the sing-song, English flavoured tunes that also shine. Blasé is one of those tracks that recalls a distinct Smiths guitar tone, only if the whole band had been fed a show bag’s full of lollies and antidepressants. It’s a tempo that screams excitement, urgency and the impatient notions of any child. Even the sounds of waves crashing (or passing skateboards, have a listen and make your own choice) in the bridge yield an obvious stereotype of West Coast vibes.
Apart from giving themselves a fairly difficult-to-Google name and album title, Literature are as their namesake, a literary inclined band. Poetry, cute song names, and fuzzy lyrics like ‘time to win, time to lose, time it seems, is never enough to choose – kick back and tie dye the night’ are just a mere example of the lyrical wit strewn through this album. Like their indie contemporaries Vampire Weekend or even France’s indie darlings Phoenix, it’s almost a prerequisite of these cute indie pop bands to be witty, upbeat, metaphorical and polished from head to toe – both in sound and presentation. Just take the album cover as an example; a collage of flowers of multiple colours and varieties, with the occasional musical figure for good measure, all of a base of a black block and plain text header. You’d be hard pressed to find a drab album in such a delightful wrapper.
The aesthetic and idea of Literature’s sound and overall vibe may not be totally original, but it seems to work for a lot of others. Stumbling upon lists of other ‘literary indie bands’, their definitely is no shortage there. Bright Eyes, Sufjan Stevens, Modest Mouse, Neutral Milk Hotel, Belle And Sebastian, even Radiohead can fit that mould at times. But what Literature do for indie-garage is what Vampire Weekend did for Afrobeat, or Regina Spector or Ben Folds did for piano music. It all has a giant banner, however there is enough to distinguish them from the others and to give admirable qualities.
Where Literature’s admiration lies in 60’s garage and 80’s pop, the waves and skate parks of California and the poetry books and cult novels of your older sibling, so does your ear to this album. Take it with you on holiday, the road trip to the beach or like me, on your headphones in the beckoning days on spring – when you’d much rather be outside than in.
Album Title_ V
Label_ Secretly Canadian
Genre_Cinematic, Electronica, Downtempp
Moments Of_ Zola Jesus, M83, Fever Ray, Jonsi
Gothenburg, Sweden continues to deliver music of the mystical and enchanting type, this time in the form of jj, an electronic duo Elin Kastlander and Joakim Benon, their third album V ups the ante on production and atmospheric electronica values. Signed to the very important record label Secretly Canadian and with a supporting tour to The XX in 2010, the duo are making a few heads turn in the industry, parcelled with their artistic vision for interesting music clips and a rather intriguing “look” to match.
It is by a complete coincide that again I drew the straw to review another band from Sweden and lucky me, for if I were to choose one country to focus my musical love, it would be Sweden. This comes with thanks to one of my favourite record label Labrador Records and my admiration for bands like The Radio Dept and still held dear to my heart, The Cardigans. So what about jj? Well, I hadn’t much of this duo at all despite some years on the Swedish up and coming list.
There is a tendency toward artists embracing a collection of genres and styles when creating and curating their albums and to many of these artists it may allow for embracing diversity and interest but there is also the temptation to stray so far from an identity, it just simply loses its way. It is a common thing in many bands these days to create a melting pot of creative ideas that to some music listeners prevents a fear of boredom and for an artist, they cast a large enough net to ensure the maximise their reach. I first got a taste of this when I heard Florence & the Machines debut album, a great album yes, but an album of such inconsistency that if weren’t for most of the songs becoming singles, would have just been a hotch potch of ideas hoping that one of them sticks. For Florence, the formula worked but for jj, it really didn’t, the album will be remembered as one the best debuts of modern music.
Opening track V is a one-minute cinematic atmospheric prologue before we head into an album of highs and lows, second track Dynasti, is by far the biggest stand out with its orchestral swirls and rolling vocals that creates a soaring cinematic experience. Dean & Me begins with the sound of reversed vocals (think Sigur ros reprise) and with Elin’s penned lyrics that really need a bit of work “I know its drunk, I know its late, I’ll call you anyway…Its my party and Ill cry if I want to, its my party and Ill get high if I want to”. Oh dear, this isn’t the best lyrical work Ive heard…so much so that I have to skip the track.
Each track meanders and drones its way through some unfortunate monotony, there is something big missing here, the production focuses on vocal ability and fades back on what makes any of these tracks memorable, there just aren’t enough of them. When I Need You, provides us with some more lyrical struggle “Sleeping in a bed of sorrow, thinking there’s no tomorrow…” The musical ability of jj takes a more positive turn with Full, a beautifully crafted majestic song that layers Elin’s vocals with sweeping strings that glides softly through twinkling keys, washed out harps to a subtle crescendo.
Hold Me opens to a rap vocal distorted to dirty effect, a complete contrast to what we hear before but no sooner that this fades out, does Erin’s ghostly vocals kick back in and meander through a similar formula, perhaps perfectly happy listened to intensely to understand its purpose, it just lacks any clear identity and almost makes it unlistenable for me.
The album closer All Ways, Always removes all electronic layers to expose raw vocals and a strumming electric guitar but again misses the mark, you just have to expect more from a band on their third full length album, I really can’t say much more than it was a struggle to get through in a major way.
Perhaps this review is unfair and lacks much in depth critique, but trust me I did listen to this album intently a few times to find avenues that I could write something kind of positive on, I have a very broad ear for music of all genres, but to those fans out there, I am sorry people I just couldn’t find much to warrant even a lamb! My first butcher for the year goes to jj. Lifting the tone, if we judge an album on its style and image, jj redeem themselves, there is a stunning element to their videos. Redeemed?
Album Title_ Impressions
Label_ Secretly Canadian
Moments Of_ ABBA, Electric Light Orchestra, Donna Summer, Pet Shop Boys
Stand Out_ Tell Me How It Feels, Part Of Me
Straight out of California, pop sensations MusicGoMusic are the modern adaptation of the eras that we grew to love. Hidden under the alter-egos of Gala Bell, Kamer Maza and Torg, the trio delight audiences with their synth-pop musings and the funkiest of beats. Appearing on the scene in 2008, the band have since released three EPs and two albums – including their latest, rightfully titled Impressions. The band are also currently working on an eclectic project – a space-age musical titled “Active Savage: Rise of Menergy”.
Remember when your parents and grandparents (or you) blasted disco, and everything in the 80s just wasn’t right without a synthesiser? It seems MusicGoMusic also dwell on these fond memories, with their sophomore release Impressions delving into nostalgia head first. Looking at the album artwork, I really didn’t know what to expect. But upon first listen, I felt as if I was buckled into some sort of time machine and transported back to an era where ABBA reigned supreme – and my childhood memories appeared left, right and centre.
Opening track ‘Love Is All I Can Hear’ is perhaps more of an example of the modern age indie synth-pop we know. However, it has some crazy 80s vibes, particularly those of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. ‘Inferno’ carries similar characteristics, and I love that by this second track, I’m already having the greatest boogie of my life.
‘People All Over the World’ once again has those modern age vibes, and it seems that there’s a recurring pattern. The act have mixed it up – you’ll get a bit of 80s here, a bit of today there. Following song ’Tell Me How It Feels’ is a perfect example of the world’s favourite Swedish exports ABBA – echoed, harmonising vocals wrapped in layers of synth. A strong bass line and drum pattern should never go unnoticed, and here the rhythm is built incredibly well. This is by far one of the standouts of the album, everything about it works so well – man, I’d probably give this to my grandparents and they’d dig it.
‘Part of Me’ has that ‘galloping horse’ feel in its rhythm section, once again a technique applied to ABBA’s songs and those of Boney M. The track also carries an incredibly dynamic ending, something you’d more closely relate to a full fronted rock song; pounding drums echoing. ‘Nite After Nite’ has that real 80s ballad vibe mixed in with the slightest bit of ambience of bands like Beach House. I just can’t get over how much like ABBA and ELO this band is; it’s uncanny. I’m absolutely hooked. It’s like Björn, Agnetha Benny and Anni-Frid are back together all over again!
Looking at the album as a whole, it predominately covers themes of love – which is well fitted, because hey, that’s what synths are good at emphasising (shout out to New Order right now). By the end of it, it’s a real shame – purely because the album’s over. Seriously, is that it? The shoulder padded, Thompson Twins-esque spirit inside me yearns for more! Nine tracks long, it’s a substantial-lengthed LP – I’m just getting a bit greedy. It just fulfils what I need as I come to terms that an ABBA reunion may never happen. Impressions just screams ‘hey come have a dance’, and if you listen to it and don’t even have the slightest boogie in your seat, press repeat and give it another go. MusicGoMusic have certainly delivered – and left a bloody good impression.