Friday, 18 April 2008

The Envy Corps - Story Problem

Everything’s in place at the most suitable moment, with the right amount of quivery vocal amidst unabashed arena dreams. This is daytime radio fare which crescendos into a cacophony of “la la las”, but at the cost of sounding pedestrian and devoid of thrill. The vocals are whiny, and it feels like a huge opportunity missed. The Charlatans meets Modest Mouse quirk is waiting to jump out from the Iowa band’s shadows, but for now it’s being held back by dumbed down blues and Americana undertones.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Essie Jain - We Made This Ourselves

Essie Jain is an Englishwoman in New York, and her debut album is most obviously inflicted with that ageless stigma – the ‘earnest’ pigeonhole. But does that equal ‘a second rate Joni’? The only real answer is one reasonably akin to sometimes yes, sometimes no. ‘We Made This Ourselves’ is melismatic, minimally scattered orchestrals, a bit of well-executed vibrato here and there and an occasional Baltic flair, seen clearest on ‘Talking’. And talking of the confines of labelling a new artist, the following words also come to mind: delicate, sombre, subtle, understated - but Joan As Police Woman’s ‘Real Life’ seems to work it a whole lot better in just under five minutes than this album can aspire to. There’s nothing wrong with Jain’s folk, it’s just not life-changing or even that affecting, despite the undeniable honesty – most notable on paean to the battle between alcohol and a partner, ‘Loaded’. The butterfly infused artwork says it all for mediocrity. The simple waltz metre of ‘Disgrace’ is impeccable and the vocals consistently wistful – but it’s just not engaging. And minimalism can also go one of two ways: beautifully built up intricacies, or something like a drone. Suffice to say, this is the latter, less varied, more self-resonant interpretation. Introversion aside, there’s no Joanna Newsom duck-like vocal quirk, nor can there be any valid claim that a Vashti Bunyan purity’s enough – because the listener wants more now, or at least this one does. Blame it on Cat Power. NS

Hush The Many (Heed The Few) - Revolve

A beautiful male/female vocal combination encased in a hand-stitched cloth CD case - it's dreamy, poetic and slow-building. Brown's tones are esoteric, beatific and when combined with Nima's darker, more brooding milieu, bring to mind the good old Win and Regine formula. The song is so beautifully crafted, and stylishly conventional at that – it hints at Angus and Julia Stone's homely yet delicate folk, then moves forwards into eloquent urgency and back again.

It's like three songs in one; each exceptional alone but together a marvellous and original combination of both technical and purely aural excellence. Eloquently orchestrated, infectious in its crescendos and stark and piercing in its contrasts – songs like 'Revolve' don't come around very often.

Jonjo Feather - I Suppose

Jonjo Feather is a multi-instrumentalist hailing all the way from the depths of Yorkshire. His vocals are made of the sternest nonchalance seen since Adam Green forgot to switch on the quality control button a few years back. 'I Suppose' is a wonderful counterpart, mixing handclaps and nigh on Northern Soul backing vocals with the right amount of fuzz, breath and menace. It's a blinder of a track – timeless, spacious and purposeful. Give your ears a warning by thinking along the lines of Richard Hawley meeting My Bloody Valentine in a scene of downplayed jubilation.

Feather excites in just over two minutes, and if this offering is anything to by then he's definitely one to watch. The B-side 'Your Face By Your Window' certainly suggests so, with a further downplayed, gentler combination of feedback, reverb and psychedelia.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Various Artists - 'The Bees - Sound Selection'

The concept of reviewing a compilation is a strange one – it’s either going to be self-congratulatory (because after all, I’ve got some knowledge of Can, Staple Singers and De La Soul), completely uninformed (well, have you heard of Redbone?) or some sort all-seeing explanatory eye for why its makers sound the way they sound (see Muddy Waters and Dungen for that).

So now that the technicalities are over and done with, it should also be mentioned that ‘The Sound Selection’ contains a stunning dub-infused remix of The Bees’ own ‘Left Foot Step Down’ from latest album ‘Octopus’. It’s simply wonderful, and would convince an alien that the Isle of Wight is in fact scattered with palm trees and pina coladas. And this isn’t to mention the new Bees track, ‘Papa Echo’ – whilst some may criticise them for not merely nodding to the sixties but moreover, consistently simulating their chosen decade, the whole thing makes a lot more sense when surrounded by the music that the band adore.

So what of the rest of the songs? There's a smidgeon of gospel, a large serving of soul, a quota of rap and a little bit of Brazilian bossa nova. The choices are inspired, such as ‘Roda’ by Elis – the rhythms on that track are shoe-shuffling enough to take your troubles away. Dungen’s ‘Plagor Jamna’ is a delight too, a slice of tropical euphoria. The Bees’ Aaron monikers himself Fatty FLX and provides a pretty superfluous remix to Ghosts, but it’s nice enough and still fits pleasantly into the CD as a whole; the LP gives The Bees’ back-catalogue grounding and context. It’s a nostalgic, chronological, and altogether trouble-free listen.

It’s a weird and wonderful selection of tunes which deserves its own DJ sets on a remote island inhabited only by people who can pass a stress test. And they get a bonus point for their inclusion of Donovan’s ‘There Is A Mountain’ – it’s the cherry on top of, indeed, a wonderful sound selection.