Record of the Week
Telepathe – Dance Mother
“Intangible But Attainable”
Telepathe use synths, keyboards, a drum-machine and little else to create an electronic, psychedelic rollercoaster, which, if asthmatic in its delivery, teases the listener in its
Dave Sitek stamped, productive restraint.
The tracks are too cool to break a sweat, indicating the likelihood of a static live show full of knowing nods, rather than the freaky dancing, which, in truth, could accompany this show, given the right drugs of course. And the album is rooted in the druggy. Its trance-like qualities come from slow rhythms, which pulse rather than shimmer.
Early highlight ‘Trilogy: Breath Of Life’ induces an out-of-body-experience with its beats that recall Moloko circa ‘Tight Sweater’, and its otherworldly ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. But Telepathe are more than like listening to the crowd at a firework display.
It is in the restraint that they find beauty. The best writers know that less is often more and any lengthy wig-out would here seem flabby. This is a tight, but lazy sounding album and that is its art.
The detractions come in the lack of memorable tracks, rather, there are just memorable moments, certain twists and extracts are well executed, but few tracks see that promise through to a meaningful conclusion. With a brutally honest condensing of the album, there would be a great EP’s worth of material, which over album has been spun out with tribal-trance electronica against an ambient-techno backdrop.
‘Michael’ is all drum-machine and effortless guitar-riff. It recalls the Joy Formidable in its hypnotic vocal cadence and loop, which peculiarly point the track in the direction of alt. pop. Gang Gang Dance are a valid comparison at this point. ‘Lights Go Down’ is beats and sounds like Glass Candy if they’d embraced dub-step rather than 80s disco.
‘Can’t Stand It’ introduces a synth that could or could not be distorted gospel, a stark bass-line and Cocteau Twins ethereality, which can further be heard in parts of ‘Chrome’s On It’. The smile-inducing refrain of “You know it could be so much better …” from ‘Can’t Stand It’ rings poignant, depending on the definition of ‘better’. If ‘better’ would be to remove this album’s coquettish beguilement for the sake of commercial success, then it would be a long way from ‘better’, but if it were to give a understated, sweeping, shoegaze-like classic as it promises throughout, then that would be ‘better’ with a capital B. Like a grand-staircase entry to some ballroom, ‘Dance Mother’ sways only gently at its centre. Pretty and dignified in its isolation, but not what it could have been.
Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage
This squarely indie release comes on like a less twee Frightened Rabbit, but then devolves into a more complex animal. The synths and howls of the appropriately named ‘Howling’ mean more to this album that the pronounced Scots accent that warms its environs like a late night whiskey.
The foreboding drums of ‘Burial Sounds’, chants and moog synths of ‘Folk Song Oblivion’ all betray the album’s progressive and psychedelic qualities. The latter of these two tracks later breaks into a less oppressive number and resembles dawn breaking from an inky night. With the refrain mention of ‘mountainsides’, we are swiftly returned to all things bucolic, as the track name may suggest.
‘Crocodile’ is a lengthy instrumental, which opens with five minutes of building percussion that recalls a frog chorus with its choice of wood instruments. The break, five minutes in, introduces a post-rock sentiment to the fabric, which earlier brooded and simmered to the boil. ‘Checkmate Savage’ embraces the eclectic and ‘Halfhound’ opens with a bluesy-rock riff before evolving into a lolloping pysch. rock beast.
And the eclecticism continues, looking for the Scottish reply to Fleet Foxes ‘White Winter Hymnal’? Then, look no further than ‘Island’, a part prog, part folk masterpiece.
‘Checkmate Savage’ features an upside-down hallway on its cover, and whilst this album will not turn its listeners’ world so dramatically, it may well sufficiently jostle him into consciousness during these cold, winter months.
Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains – Sebastien Grainger
“The Eagle Has Landed”
Mr. DFA 1979 makes a pop-rock record. Whilst released on Saddle Creek it doesn’t sound like it, presumably missing out on the inimitable production values of Mike Mogis. Nevertheless, there is enough to savour on this release, which is due in part to Grainger’s ability to write a distorted pop song. He did so with DFA 1979 on ‘You’re a Woman …’ and he does so again here, though admittedly this is one giant leap further toward pop, despite containing echoes of his former work.
‘Who Do We Care For?’ sounds surprisingly like Supergrass circa ‘I Should Coco’, ‘I Hate My Friends’ is devilishly catchy thanks to its Rolling Stones-like licks and chin jutting. Whilst pop, there are plenty of crossovers into danceable punk, and these highlights twinned with Grainger’s often tortured whelp (turned way down from ‘You’re A Woman …) recall Jaguar Love’s 2008 album ‘Take Me To The Sea’. The comparisons don’t stop there, Jaguar Love also having spawned from harder backgrounds. But DFA 1979 fans needn’t fear, as Blood Brothers fans didn’t – this album wasn’t written for them, nor will it especially appeal, being rather mute in comparison.
This is not to say that the album is poor, far from it. ‘(Are There) Ways To Come Home’ introduces a moog-driven lament, ‘American Names’ is a stirring call to arms, closer to ‘You’re A Woman …’, and ‘Renegade Silence’ would not sound out of place on a Radio 4 (punk-funk stalwarts not the snoozesome radio emission) album. So variety in abundance, just a lack of depth, this album sails by happily and without real complaint. Pity then that his previous mountains were that bit higher.
The Devastations – Yes, U
Unforgivable text-speak aside, The Devastations last outing with ‘Coal’ was a heartfelt, gravely voiced nightcap of an album, which strongly recalled the Tindersticks at their finest. ‘Yes, U’ is a different proposition, which takes the listener time to warm to, such is the variance from their previous offering. Nevertheless, it contains plenty of noteworthy moments, despite album opener ‘Black Ice’ starting like a soft-porn soundtrack with its lazy, soft, synthy beats and percussion. Luckily, this track then evolves into a sultry shuffle, which gets the toes a-tapping to Standish’s catchy rhetoric, ‘Is this some kind of slow dance?’
‘Oh Me, Oh My’ recalls Super Furry Animals at their most minimalist, ‘The Face Of Love’ evokes Nick Cave circa ‘Murder Ballads’. Its touch of piano brings a spot of class to proceedings. ‘An Avalanche Of Stars’ sees Standish embody Jarvis Cocker and twins his sardonic drawl with Pulp’s lazy, pop constructions. The track that most recalls ‘Coal’ is the slightly saccharine, ‘The Saddest Sound’, which is an effortless, emotive ballad.
The problem lying within this album is its anonymity. Each time after listening, it takes a moment to remember who it was that has played. ‘The Pest’ is neither memorable, nor annoying as the title suggests, ‘Misericordia’ an instrumental closer that leaves the listener indifferent. Perhaps the album title is there to jolt the listen into memory, more likely a plea to the same end. ‘Yes, U’ is harmless and enjoyable, an unobtrusive soundtrack to your chore of choice.
The Black House – Postcards From An Abandoned Hotel
I obtained this album on the recommendation it would please fans of Nick Cave, and latter day Johnny Cash. Whilst it is difficult to review material objectively with these stately spectres as reference, my first thoughts were that such comparison was so misguided as to border on insult. And, my thoughts didn’t change with repeat and laboured listening.
The Black House is a collection of short stories that focuses on crimes that are beyond persecution, and whilst it would be unfair to make the obvious slight towards this band of the same name, it would not be entirely unjustified. The vocals are often horribly off-key, and in places clunk awkwardly, such as in the crowbarred name-checking of ‘photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’. This luminary photographer, whose work features as the front cover to Patti Smith’s excellent ‘Horses’, must surely be displeased at the association.
The majority of the tracks seem aimless, and little more than a boring shuffle. Their subject matter is often trite and jarring, the repetition of phrase is hackneyed, and clichéd allegory only further distances the listener, ‘travelling on different trains’, for example from the first track. It doesn’t get much better from this point onward, ‘Home’ is offensively bland, as is ‘Gone’.
What saves the album from a worse rating is the odd flourish of promise, which is then quickly submerged again in flabby incredulity: the pretty guitar work for example in ‘Shadows’, the occasional moment where the vocals recall Stuart Staples, rather than some tone-deaf club-singer.
This folky, acoustic, easy listening, singer-songwritten collection is so safe it should come with a warning; this album is not for the musically adventurous, nor the shrewd. There are many that do it much, much better. For starters, try Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, the Tindersticks, the National, Gravenhurst, Nick Drake even.
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