Category Archives: album reviews

Poppy Ackroyd – Feathers

Poppy Ackroyd’s Dead Albatross Award nominated debut album was one 2012’s finest and most overlooked records. Delicately tip toeing between the intimacy and warmth of Nils Frahm’s Felt and the percussive preparations of Hauschka’s piano, Escapement carved out its own path through the use of violin, and treating it in much the same way as the piano, cinematic build-ups and field recordings courtesy of Joe Acheson, bandmate from Hidden Orchestra.

Whilst Escapement was heavily indebted to Acheson’s style, most notably in structure and percussion, Feathers is a more individual album, with more understated build ups and a more varied palette. The use of piano and violin, as a percussive as well as melodic instrument, is maintained, but included in the arrangements this time are the Harpsichord, Harmonium, Clavichord and Spinet, all recorded with rare access to Edinburgh University’s Musical Instrument Museum at St Cecilia’s Hall, as well as cello from Hidden Orchestra contributor Su-a Lee. For the most part, these additional instruments add a further dimension to the work, with the cello in particular contributing to a depth missing from Escapement. At times, however, the plucked keyboard instruments – Harpsicord, Spinet and Clavichord – hint at synthesized acoustic guitars of ’90s Ibiza due to the combination of editing and their naturally hard attack, which can’t help but detract from the elegance of the soundscapes created.

Strata opens the album with rising chords building tension to a restrained coda that quietly resolves the opening melodies and Croft is clearly inspired by the move from Edinburgh to Brighton with piano melodies and string accompaniments evoking slowly creeping waves. Timeless contains the album’s most beautiful moment, with the string arrangements sliding towards and tugging away from each other with a serene sense of ease.

The focus on Feathers is on the sonic elements. Possibly in response to Nils Frahm’s ever-growing popularity since Escapement, repeating the production would feel like jumping on a band wagon rather than retreading covered ground, and to counter this the focus is pulled towards a wider range of more unusual instruments, which, when it works, is beautiful and inventive and truly original given the unique range of instruments at her disposal. The album is less indebted to Hidden Orchestra with Ackroyd finding her own voice through composition, percussion and production. What is lacking, however, are the gentle and emotively enveloping melodies of Escapement. It was these melodies that formed the backbone of Ackroyd’s debut, to which the piano and violin was so beautifully added, and although still dotted throughout Feathers, it can feel at times like the balance is reversed.

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Rm Hubbert – Ampersand Extras

RM Hubbert can seemingly do no wrong. After the excellent Ampersand trilogy, containing First & Last, SAY award winner Thirteen Lost & Found and last year’s Breaks & Bones, Chemikal Underground release Ampersand Extras, a collection of eleven outtakes over the course of the trilogy. Albums of B-sides and extras should be approached with caution, often, although certainly not always, being a second rate release of material that was scrapped for a reason. In recent interviews, however, Hubby has been keen to point out that these tracks were, for the most part, removed because they didn’t fit in the context of the albums. Somehow this collection of works spanning from the last four years comes together to make a surprisingly cohesive album which is as essential as the trilogy.

Solo tracks Canine Shaped Frogs, Sticky Pine and Fucks Sake D Sit Nice are as beautiful playing and writing as anything Hubby has ever done, with his trademark flamenco technique to play acoustic music that sits far from flamenco. Hanging pointers is the perfect hungover antidote to For Helen, taking the same themes in a slower and more morose style. What made Thirteen Lost & Found the success it was was due, in part, to the wide range of brilliant collaborations. The collaborations on Extras are just as intriguing, from Alan Bissett’s passionate spoken word to Esperi’s Cajon. The real gems here come from the stunningly atmospheric Elliot, with Luke Sutherland (below), and Mo Ve’lla Bella Mia De La Muntagna, which acts as the perfect album closer.

Buy the album from Chemikal if not in your local store and see Hubby’s intimate live show at The Lexington on November 30th.

The Son(s) – The Things I Love Are Not At Home

It’s difficult to say exactly what it is that gives this album its endearing charm. The warm, lethargic psychedelic pop gently creeps through ten songs spanning 35 minutes, feeling like it’s over just as it’s begun. Opening with an instrumental mood setter that sits like an overture, introducing sonic, rather than melodic, themes that occur within the album, which draws you in to a collection of songs that flow with familiar ease. Heartfelt collaboration with RM Hubbert, The Long Fuse, closes the album and sits slightly aside from the rest in tone and timbre, but rounds off the record with its sheer beauty, both in terms of singing and from Hubby’s immaculate playing.

Death, With Castanets is a beautifully infectious pop song, Underneath The Arbor an understated ballad and …A Lick On The Ear a driving psych-indie tune. The drumming throughout is superb without overstepping its mark, the arrangements are excellently put together and the singing charismatic. What really holds the album together is the strength of the songs, as displayed perfectly by the soft melodies of Paint Eyes On Your Eyelids, which play off each other, progressing on to ever more infectious lines, through halloween-tinged synths to almost barber shop vocals. It’s ridiculous, but works remarkably well, going by you without ever raising an eyebrow.

The Things I Love Are Not At Home is a record that will pull you back in time and again. It doesn’t initially beg re-listening, but will quietly request it from you, and with each listen open new lines, melodies and intricacies that are hard to resist.

The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave

The opening notes of Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants To Leave introduce the album perfectly. The reverberant guitar of Andy MacFarlane starts, followed by Mark Devine’s quick-delayed drums and a simple vocal from James Graham, You’re not coming back, you’re not coming back from this. At the end of this line Johnny Docherty’s bass enters with a similarly low-key manner, but its force is staggering. As the first verse progresses, piano and synth lines enter the fold, creating something that, on paper, could sound dense. Instead, the dynamics build up subtly, before cracking towards the end.

The album takes the most crucial element of change from No One Can Ever Know, the space. The band’s two albums are aggressively in your face. This huge and loud sound is the sonic identity the band became known for, and the huge shift from Forget The Night Ahead to No One Can Ever Know was not due to the keyboards replacing the guitars, it was the less dense, more spacious room that the keyboards gave the band. Nobody Wants To Be Here translates this back to the guitar, stripping the layers and toning down the distortion. The focus is on the quality of each individual part, and their place in the context of the production, creating a whole just as powerful as the first two albums.

With this more subtle dynamic, the band have the ability to impact even harder when necessary. In Nowheres opens remarkably heavy, before increasing levels during the first pre-chorus with a heavily distorted, prominent bass as James coos over the top. The title track begins indebted to My Bloody Valentine, with the guitars taking a more reverberant chordal approach, with very low-in-the-mix drums and a vocal sitting outwith the band. The drums pound in to climax, with counter melodies supporting James before a triumphant trumpet line, reminiscent of The Antlers, tails off.

Overall, Nobody Wants To Be Here is as close to straight indie as The Twilight Sad have come, particularly on I Could Give You All You That You Don’t Want, Drown So I Can Watch and Pills I Swallow, albeit their distinctive and loud take on the style. Despite track titles the album is more optimistic, musically, with James’ lyrics as unsettling as ever (I see you at night and I stare at you, you don’t care for me, move out of the light, still glare at you, look away from me) but at times slightly more direct.

The album is also more melodic, littered with melodies that complement the vocal lines. The aesthetic of No One Can Ever Know has blended with Andy’s guitar from Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, presumably from touring the guitar-heavy debut back-to-back over the last year. Having already carved out their sound, The Twilight Sad do not need to assert themselves, giving the band a sound of being completely at ease which has created an album devoid of duds, one with an underlying sense of maturity and seamless composition.

Emily Scott – Stray Light

Emily Scott is an unsung hero so Scottish music. Despite her debut, Longshore Drift, second album, abcdefg…etc…, and third album, I Write Letters I Never Send, coming 17th, 20th and 30th, respectively, in Avalanche’s All Time Best Selling Self Distributed Albums. Between this and her close ties with Fence (King Creosote features on two songs, Heavy Clouds and How The Moonlight), Emily has never quite gained the reception she deserves, which might, in this case, be a blessing in disguise, and allow her to make a bizarrely beautiful record like this.

Emily composed all the music for Stray Light without instruments, only armed with a pen and paper. The results are less immediate, but more rewarding than previous albums. Moments of sheer clarity and breathtaking beauty still preside, particularly on Did You Hear and Underwater, but these moments are disguised amongst string parts that gently meander and modulate their way through the pieces.

The string writing here is incredibly interesting, with the parts sitting truly in the foreground as opposed to the back seat of previous efforts. They form the backbone and at times, an unforgiving accompaniment to Emily’s voice. The body and depth behind this voice, however, pulls through, juxtaposing folk infused melodies with arrangements that have more in common with early twentieth century string quartet writing than they do with folk. This album pushes Emily outside of her comfort zone, creating a completely different album to her last, whilst maintaining the power of her voice and songwriting, which, at 37 minutes, never outstays its welcome.

Gone Wishing/ Behold, The Old Bear Split

One of two Scottish Fiction releases for Cassette Store Day brings together Gone Wishing and Behold, The Old Bear. The former being a singer songwriter with folk leanings, and the latter making odd little pop songs.

Although the solo guitar into to The Watchers starts reminiscent of Bombay Bicycle Club’s Fairytale Lullaby, the production fills out with grand ambition. Reverb drenched, feedback driven held guitar notes thicken the mix to accentuate the chorus, whilst the verses maintain a more traditional stripped back bass and drums arrangement. Hoist Your Head Into The Light is a stuttery but confident track that is engaging and memorable, the real highlight from Gone Wishing’s three tracks though is Nothing and Nowhere.The stipped back production and combination of complimentary electric and acoustic guitar parts gets to the heart of the matter and lets the song speak for itself.

Behold, The Old Bear write these little endearing and bizarre pop songs that twist and turn to catch you off guard. Demons In Love almost sounds like it samples My Bloody Valentine’s To Here Knows When, twisting it into the basis and sonic identity of the song. The chorus is catchy and the verses stand up alongside, without being overpowering. The second half of the song is constructed with chopped up string parts, orchestrating the final chorus in a unique way in keeping with the rest of the track. Seven, Maybe Eight falls into ambient glitch pop territory, but is held together seamlessly by the strong and individual sense of melody and Restless Day takes a darker twist ending with screechy and gentle vocals singing side by side, it’s really quite nice.

As a split this works really well, with neither bands nor styles outstaying their welcome. They compliment each other and leave you wanting more, rather than reaching for the eject button, particularly Behold, The Old Bear’s odd but infectious pop.

Jo Mango – transformuration

Most remix albums just don’t work. They usually tread a line between relying on one or two very good remixes, or a number of remixes of one very good track. They can often get bogged down in substandard versions of the original strapped behind throbbing beats and bass and invariably don’t work as a start-to-finish listen. It’s refreshing then to hear one in which a consistently high level of quality is maintained, all the mixes are interesting reinterpretations rather than dance remakes and that works as a cohesive release.

Up against such a beautiful source material, Murmuration, each of the remixers face a challenge to create something that doesn’t fall short of the original. Remixes from Ben TD and The Comorant sit in Jamie xx territories, although slightly more laid back. Chopped up and detuned vocals form the backbone of the Ben TD’s Blue Dawn, which give way to an understated, subdued and thoroughly pleasing climax, whilst evermore is has a slightly more summery feel with reverb drenched guitars and a slightly more upbeat feel.

Akira’s remix of The Freedom of Seamonsters has a resemblance to Jonnie Common remixes, with a strong sense of melody and excellently treading the line between playful and serious. The Black Sun sees a darker, bass driven take from Machines in Heaven, Ludwig is given a slice of summer from Joyful Lungs and Cycad takes a more glitchy left field approach to Moth and Moon. The more mellow Every Uncertainty, also remixed by Cycad is a perfectly placed percussionless take providing a welcome airy breather and similarly Adem’s downtempo remix of Cordelia perfectly pulls the album to a close. The inclusion of these two tracks is instrumental in the tape’s flow as an album, and alleviate it from a collection of tracks to a well curated remix album.

Interestingly the two remixes that are probably most keenly looked forward to are both the strongest and weakest. Cross Ties is remixed by Fraction Man, aka Gordon who recently left Frightened Rabbit. Given Gordon’s involvement in other projects, like his Lau remix or backing Siobhan Wilson give this track some buzz, which unfortunately it doesn’t live up to. The track is approached in a much darker and heavier way than the rest, and slightly sticks out because of it. The percussion is neither as strong as the other tracks, nor do they sound particularly nice. There is, however, a redeeming factor in the bridge, the string parts and chord changes intertwine and rise to build up to a chorus which should be better.

On the flip side, Carbs (Jamie of Conquering Animal Sound, Jonnie Common and Jay of Field Mouse) provide the cornerstone of the album. The beauty of their take on Kingdom is unsurpassed, and through interesting beats, atmospheric synths, layering vocals and gentle crescendos they have created a really exceptional few minutes that emotively sums up and pulls together the album as a whole.

The album does have slight peaks and troughs, but these troughs are very shallow and as a whole this is a far more consistent than most remix albums. From the choice of remixers to the careful track placement, Olive Grove have really managed to pull together an album that effortlessly stands up against the original.

The album is out today as part of Cassette Store Day, although is limited to 40 copies and can be bought (I think) from Rough Trade and Lion Coffee + Records. If you miss this, Olive Grove are putting this out on CD and digitally on the 13th October.