Forest Fire – Survival
Ever wished the Velvet Underground were more campfire-friendly? Well, now your greatest unknown wish has been delivered. Survival was named as record of the year 2008 on the influential Blogotheque site, ahead of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. And really, these three records do make a most holy trinity.
Forest Fire are Brooklyn graduates with a lo-fi, folkish take on literate indie rock. They combine the Walkmen’s identifiable sense of place and rhythm, with the Velvets spaced-out drawl ‘n’ roll as well as Fleet Foxes’ echo-y brand of harmonious acoustica. Highly recommended early highlight ‘Fortune Teller’ even beats Grizzly Bear at their own bouncy, hammock-hugging game. ‘Promise’ is pure Lou Reed, paranoid, skittish and unsettling, before it comes up, so to speak, and shows us Forest Fire’s wistful, romantic underbelly. ‘Steer Me’ even borrows the Sleepy Jackson’s Stetson-doffing George Harrison impression.
Despite being run through with these streaks of notable influence, Forest Fire are nevertheless their own beast. Now, if only they had secured a general release, their survival would be assured. Heck, they’ve been around since 1969 already, right?
She Keeps Bees – Nests
Brooklyn, girl-boy two-piece She Keeps Bees offer stripped-back rock ‘n’ blues for the Americana generation. Jessica Larrabee’s anything-but light vocal (I wonder where the band got there name) coats the lo-fi guitar and drum work in 4-Track Demos-era Polly Jean, and later, bluesier numbers, like album closer ‘Cold Eye’, fight it out with the forgotten-about-but-still-great Mr. Airplane Man.
The handclap percussion on the minimal, but affecting opener ‘Ribbon’, introduces a persistent alt-folk/country feel to the quietest corners of Nests, a sentiment revisited with the decorative pedal steel climax of ‘Wear Red’. Larrabee and cohort could easily have upped the Stripesian quality of this record, either to early Zeppelin-aping or to latter-day high jinx, but there is an art to restraint and Nests is dignified as a result, just one sour-mash stomper away from a bee’s knees-up.
Lovvers – Ocd Go Go Go Girls
Finally, a decent UK response to the LA’s lo-fi scuzz-punkers makes the stage. No Age hit well with the critics but missed in sales and Times New Viking will forever be their badly monikered tail-grabbers. Mika Miko are proving consistent, but lacked a knockout punch.
Lovvers, however, may just have one in the altogether more commercially minded, but no less compromising, ‘Human Hair’. As EP opener on the ludicrously short, 13-minute sampler, ‘Think’, and strong near-closer here, it comes on like a lost Supergrass number, only fed through a punk mangler and flirting with a surf-punk finale all the while. On this track, Lovvers are closer to Jay Reatard’s brand of fun-time no-fi than elsewhere where they match their across-the-pond peers’ fuzzy unintelligibility. It is said that in general audiences do not ‘get’ Lovvers, but there is little to get. Go go go get a copy to make your own mind up.
The Dø – A Mouthful
Pronounced in line with the musical scale do-re-mi, this Franco-Finnish duo finally gets a long-overdue UK release. A Mouthful is an eclectic and dizzying release starting badly however in playground vocals and recorder harmonies. Luckily, this hiccup is all that can be frowned upon. Olivia Merilahti’s delightful voice is the star of the show, pitched beguilingly between Nina Persson and her from the Concretes. Indeed, it drives and equally floats through the choice pop of early highlights ‘On My Shoulders’ and ‘The Bridge is Broken’ recalling a under-produced-but-all-the-better-for-it cover of the Cardigans’ ‘Gran Turismo’ period.
Sandwiched in between, ‘Song For Lovers’ is entirely more sombre, more in line with First Aid Kit’s Nordic campfire-folk. The cutesy pop-folk of ‘Stay’ will certainly have caught Slow Club’s ear, as will Merilahti’s declaration that the target of this track will not provide the ‘satisfying shag’ she’s looking for. One looks with furrowed brow at bandmate Andy LaPlant at this point. Pulsing, world-embracing Finnish-language ‘Unissassi Laulelet’, along with the Bon-Iver-Blood-Bank borrowing ‘Tammie’, draw the sensible section of A Mouthful to a close.
Then, this happens. ‘Queen Dot Kong’ can only be described as a bouncy castle, full of hip-pop beats and two veg, kitchen sink and madcap, guest vocals and samples. If you are thinking Chris Colonna’s cavalier Bumblebeez at this point you would be well rewarded for doing so. In turn, the track bleeds into ‘Coda’, not really a track in its own right at the name suggests. This baffling pair’s inclusion is massively incongruous, yet not unwelcome. It weirdly all makes sense, but forgives the occasional skip.
How anything can follow that strange episode is beyond me, but where The Dø hit, they do so strongly. ‘Searching Gold’ plays it safer in effective PJ Harvey country. Never satisfied, as it would appear from Merilahti’s earlier statement, The Dø then tackle ivory-tickled tristesse with competent results before rounding off with three pleasing but paling pop-and-awe indie-rockers.
Bewildering and exhilarating, The Dø go a long way to loosening NYC’s stranglehold on experimentalism. Vice, are you listening? Consider this a do.
Engineers – Three Fact Fader
Here are three facts. Engineers really like shoe-gazing. Engineers really like Slowdive and Chapterhouse. If you like Engineers then you too will love Slowdive and Chapterhouse. I could talk about how Engineers have evolved on, this, album three with a light flourish of ambient post-rock. However, there would be little point, despite this truth, because, in reality, Three Fact Fader is an almost-verbatim retread of their catalogue to date. Ergo, it is earnest, competent, enjoyable even, but ultimately forgettable.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Engineers are jealousy-inspiringly consistent but their brand of dream-pop or nu-gaze here drags a little, as Three Fact Fader weighs in only a little beneath the hour mark. Nevertheless, pretty highlights like, well most of it, particularly ‘Brighter As We Fall’, are worth a daydream or two. Shoegaze has always been guilty of esotericism, and Engineers carry that torch well. With them lighting the way so kindly, it may pay to look into their peers’ catalogues before leaping in love.
You need to be logged in to comment