Sunday, 4 January 2009

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid- NYC (Domino)

The fourth collaboration between him out of Four Tet, and him out of the old time jazz drummers home arrives, aiming to ingest and spit out the ambiance of New York.

Album opener 'Lyman Place' creates instant menace, like a sped up John Carpenter soundtrack. Assault On Precinct 13 on fast forward. A keyboard rolls on a rapid low down sound, as Steve Reid adds his clattering and rolling jazz drums. Wooden percussive noises slowly filter in, before what sounds like a jet engine powering up is added to mix. The idea of trying to record a city to tape comes out- aeroplanes, the interplay of ethnic mixes, the darker side in the bassy synths.

The juxtaposition of jazz drums and burbles of electronica make an interesting change from the 808s, drum machines and disco handclaps that normally proliferate in this field. It gives an organic feel, one of humanity (something it has in common with Hebden's work with Four Tet).

Recorded in two days, the skill of the duo means that the record does not feel rushed. Song breathe in and out, and feel like cohesive wholes. But the speediness of its creation also means that the album retains as much energy as the city its based on. This is perfectly demonstrated by '1st and 1st', which gives the impression of a sweaty club, hipsters shaking skinny legs to the funked up guitar riff.

'25th Street' brings a more lethargic feel, and features a sample that sounds like someone slurping up cup of fizzy pop. Steve Reid pounds his drums heavy and deep. The night is winding down. An alarm beep closes proceedings, your mind imagining sunbeams penetrating paper thin curtains as the night is brought to an end.

'NYC' works like a narrative without any words, a picture book tour of the Big Apple. 'Arrival' follows '25th Street' but it's gentle guitar work and propelling drums give it the feeling of a train journey, or a walk in winter sunshine. The night time of the first few tracks is replaced by new dawns of crystal synths and overdubs, the momentum regained.

Then the story takes a pastoral departure with 'Between B & C', acoustic guitars echoing around and around, the electronics taking a back seat whilst the drums carry on their clatter. 'Departure', however, sounds glitchy and doesn't fit together. Drums fade it in and out, an echoing tap fails to hold it together. It feels like left over bits from the session glued together to form a closing track.

Or perhaps it's a comment on the disparate nature of the five boroughs of New York, the uneasiness of the song a reflection of a city that doesn't fit together how it should. The former seems more likely, and mires an album that throughout feels like a cohesive piece, one that conjures images of a metropolis through its wide palate of sounds.

That such an imaginative and distinct piece could be conjured in just two days shows the talent that Hebden and Reid possess. That it is almost all glorious, avant garde electronica of high quality is a great bonus.

The Capitol Years- 'Revolutions' (SOE Records 5/1/09)

Some well worn musical advice is that to use the word 'revolution' in music is setting up ideals that you will never meet. Music does not inspire upheaval, or protest. It merely provides the soundtrack for the clip show montage. Anyways, The Capital Years have a lot to prove.

It does not start so well for them. The opening bars of 'Revolutions' greatly resemble the theme tune of the bastion of cutting edge comedy, Teachers (or The Boy With The Arab Strap, by Belle and Sebastian, if you are such minded). Within a few seconds, however, a lilting pop song emerges. Melodic, with shifting time signatures and pretty little edges littered throughout, like those flecks of gold in Goldschläger. These do enough to render what could have been a simplistic pop song into something much more transcendent.

Even the B-side 'CIA' is crammed with pluck, a melancholic beauty. The lush melodies show a band that have the well worn lines of age carved in their faces (MySpace boasts of 5 previous albums). 'Revolutions' makes you wish this wasn't their first single to be released over here. Lazy Yanks.

No lesser beings than Radcliffe and Maconie have tipped the Capitol Years for success. Fingers crossed.

Tame Impala- 'Tame Impala EP' (Modular)

Impala have a pretty tasty set of horns, all twisty and shit. If I wasn't a veggie, I'd go and hunt one right about now. But this band ain't no antelopes, they're men. Real men. From Perth and everything.

They open the EP with 'Desire Be Desire Go', a song that rocks you, gently, with the vocals sounding like they've come via time travel from some sixties acid test. It is, ich, pretty darn groovy. But in a very good way.

The production seems to take influence from Ariel Pink's school of 60s production in a digital age, but it suits the psychedelic feel of the music. Everything feels like it's emerging through a smoky haze in a paisley drenched room. It also leads to the band feeling a bit like Times New Viking if they regressed a few decades.

The band seem to meander on 'Skeleton Tiger' lost in what feels like an endless jam at times, before the melodies re-emerge from under the throws for an all to brief . It seems a strange choice for a single, particularly when compared to 'Half Full Glass Of Wine', which revolves around a simple guitar riff and rollicks along like a less virtuoso Hendrix.

'41 Mosquitoes Flying In Formation' is even better, the riff sounding that little bit off kilter. Tame Impala sound a little raw, the songs all full of quirks and departures down the garden path into technicolour nooks and crannies.

It enlivens what could be seen as 60s pastiches into something much more interesting. There's even a fucking sitar on 'Slide Through My Fingers'. And it still sounds good. The interesting rough corners haven't been sanded down yet. Fingers crossed no one does.

Liam Finn- 'Better To Be' (24/11/08)

New Zealand, forever now thrown into ridicule by their fourth most popular comedy folk duo. Liam Fin is trying to change this, but is also tainted by the Kiwis last big export that isn't lamb, Crowded House. For Liam is the son of lead singer Neil Finn. You gotta feel for the kid.

Luckily for Liam he escapes all associations, and deserves a less cliched introduction than he just received. But my delete key broke, so tough. 'Better To Be' takes a blobby keyboard bass and adds pretty strummed bits all over the shop, along with a healthy serving of angelic backing vocals. It's all very summertime in the park.

The only down note is the flawed ending, where the track just stops during a quiet period, where you keep expecting the beefy keyboard part to come back. That part is what gives the melody its momentum, and makes the dream pop of the song work. But when the fractions all come together, it makes a deliciously sweet whole.

Stricken City- 'Lost Art' (17/11/08 Blue Flowers)

Stricken City feel indie in the most pejorative sense. The bass does a neat and busy rumble, and the guitars sound suitably laidback and relaxed. Female vocals swirl over the top. The boxes are ticked. This is officially 'on trend' for 2008.

In its own indie pop way 'Lost Art' is very pretty and fey. The indie girl twirling on the dance floor, and just as inconsequential. And you just end up feeling patronising, wanting to ruffle the track's hair and say “cute” as you brush past on your way to something way more interesting.

A crisp packet twirling in the breeze will be a more memorable part of your day. Which is a sad state of affairs considering there's nothing essentially wrong with it. It's just nice. 'Lost Art' simply does nothing to lodge itself into your head, a faceless blur in the crowd.