Tag Archives: Album Review

Review: Superhumanoids – Exhibitionists

5 Sep


Without wanting to put too much pressure on it, Exhibitionists is an album we’ve been waiting and wanting to hear since February last year. Ever since we heard “Geri” (which, incidentally, was one of our top tracks of 2012) we’ve been hoping for a full length Superhumanoids release, and not only do we now have one, it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest.

Album opener, “Black Widow” is 3 minutes of delicate minimalism. The sound of crystalline wind chimes trickle amongst the almost silent guitar pulses while Sarah Chernoff delves into the dark psyche of a failed relationship, ”I should have pulled your teeth/ten years ago” she lilts as the song draws to a conclusion. The aforementioned “Geri” follows and is an explosion of colour and energy by comparison with Chernoff and Cameron Parkins’ opposing vocals, reminiscent of Stars, give depth and add a sense of reality to Superhumanoids wondrous world.

That opening couplet sets the tone of the album perfectly, cool and quiet shadows are pockmarked with beams of light and warmth as Superhumanoids ruminate on the crumbling of loves past and present. Parkins’ purring baritone provides an emotional anchor on tracks like “Do You Feel That?” where the arrangement has synths, drums and guitars spinning, twirling and playing together like fireflies on the night sky. Meanwhile Chernoff’s sweet voice skips along playfully on a couple of the more danceable offerings, “So Strange” (which has a fantastically teasing intro) and “Too Young For Love” (which is full of bo-ing pulses and bouncing key strokes and Delphic-ian precision electronics).

Bright 80’s synth-pop blends into cool clouds of dreampop as the energetic “A Gjost” gives way to the swirling mists of “Free State” which in turn cedes to the smooth and sensual groove of “Bad Weather”. “See It All” veers to the future as dystopian Vengelis-like synth lines and cascading 80’s power drums entwine over a delicate, gentle heartbeat and swirling rain clouds of colour.

All throughout Exhibitionists, melodies swoop and swoon, flying to the sun and melting into considered and analytical lyrics. Light and dark meet, mix and leave hand-in-hand, carried off on the marbled tide of heady and vibrant synth-pop and more downtempo and icy soundscapes. The Los Angeles based band has created sounds that dance, sway and float in equal measure and the result is an absolute delight.

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Review: Bonzie – Rift Into The Secret Of Things

15 Aug


Hailing from Chicago, 18 year old singer-songwriter Nina Ferraro, aka Bonzie, is possibly not a name you are that familiar with just yet, but she is another on an increasingly long line of teenage artists making a name for themselves right now. Having dabbled in the poptacular in her early teens, her sound has since developed and matured into something deeper, richer and full bodied. Now, on her debut album Rift Into The Secret Of Things she is making music that bellies her youth, that swirls and stirs emotions and demonstrates Nina’s ability to both connect with, and disconnect from, her teenage peers.

She writes with refreshing honesty and understanding of the world in which she lives and packages it up in little bundles of heartfelt and engaging, and slightly folky, indie-pop. “Catch Release” manages to perfectly encapsulate that internal battle of knowing what you should do, what the right course of action is, against the compulsion to do the complete opposite. “I wanna hold back/but I wanna let go” she sings as the track rattles along, sounding all bouncy, happy and sing-along-friendly.

It’s one of the rarer up-tempo moments on the album, with the likes of “Convert”, “Routine” and “Felix” showing a much more subdued and wistful hue. “Convert” in particular may well be the standout track, with hushed, mist like tones settled softly on the light and intricate guitar arrangement. Momentary flashes of drama seek to impose themselves in an almost balletic fashion before subsiding and leaving just the calm and the mist.

“Felix”, which features The Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale (Joey shares the vocal and Kenneth plays lead guitar), is like a sealed bottle of emotion just waiting to be opened. Album closer, “Daniel and the Great Solstice”, feels quite spiritual in sound to begin with, drawing from Gaia with gentle, mystic chanting that eventually gives way to a more traditional folk-pop finish.

There is an elephant in this otherwise beautifully crafted room however, and it’s “Catholic High School”; a track seemingly out of step with its brothers and sisters on Rift….

You could argue that it is allegorical of the confusion and contradiction experienced by adolescents as they grow up and become their own people, forming their own opinions and beliefs and struggling to find independence and their place in the world. It doesn’t quite feel that way though and it plays more like a petulant child spouting ill conceived views on the world. It’s much more raw than the other tracks and the sparseness of the sound is, perhaps deliberately, at odds with the rest of the album with its deep and subtle arrangements.

This sense may simply be due to a disconnect between the teenage artist and this little-past-teenage reviewer, for example others have remarked that it is their personal favourite track. Given the maturity and confidence in which the remainder of the album is delivered, we are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and view it more as a satire on the self-righteousness of youth and unquenchable belief some kids have that their view is the right view, no matter how much evidence points to the contrary. It’s bloody catchy too and does get better with repeated listens.

Another reason to believe that there is more to “Catholic High School” than is evident at face-value is that Bonzie is clearly intelligent and thoughtful. As well as the considered and thoughtful lyrics, the album’s title is also meaningful. It was inspired by a passage in one of her favourite books, Thoreau’s Walden, as she explains; “It’s about how to get to the essence, to put aside intellect or logic in order to reach the truth, or whatever the essence of a thing is”. Essentially exactly what she is attempting to convey with her songwriting.

That an 18 year old should attempt such an emotive and mature form of lyrical communication, and succeed, and do so in an often beautiful and heartfelt musical style, is quite remarkable and well worth seeking out.

’Rift Into The Secret Of Things’ is out now and available to buy from iTunes.

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Review: Vuvuvultures – Push/Pull

26 Jul


It has been little more than two years since four like minded souls came from across the globe, found one another in a city they now call home and began to make music. Since those beginnings, the four members of Vuvuvultures have grown together, developed together and evolved together till they find themselves at this point, ready to unleash their debut album on the world, and it’s a monster.

Last year’s debut EP, VVV was schizophrenic and gloriously dark in tone and sound. Unlike anything else out there, it blended a multitude of styles and sounds into four tracks of glorious maleficence and the hedonistically disaffected underbelly of society. Like its shorter predecessor, Push/Pull embraces the band’s love of the secret and the sordid, science and fantasy and the way in which sound works. Envelopes have been pushed and with the advent of poppier sensibilities, the tracks feel more accessible and hook laden than even their previous work, without losing any of their grandeur or the darkness within.

Before the album even hits your ears it is worth noting that from last year’s stellar VVV EP, only two tracks remain, and that their single from the turn of the year, “Stay Still”, isn’t on it. Dropping three high quality tracks feels like a statement of intent and thankfully, Push/Pull delivers.

It opens with one of the surviving EP tracks, the skittish and riffalicious “Ctl Alt Mexicans” before sweeping into current single, “Steel Bones”. The sci-fi inspired dystopian dream (or nightmare) sounding like the end of the world as analogue and digital meet in a compelling battle of wills. Neither is prepared to yield and both create noise that drives into the heart of the other.

This sense of foreboding, of death and of something much bigger than us, of something beyond our comprehension is prevalent throughout. Be it the portentous, doom laden drum beats and bass sounds that awake “The Professional” or the foot-stomping bluesy sleaze of “Your Thoughts Are A Plague”, cataclysmic events are only moments away. Vuvuvultures have brought the end of this world with them and its noise is addictive.

Guitars shudder and grind, basslines throb and groove, drumbeats pound and scatter and above it all, vocals soar and caress. And within, sometimes buried, sometimes bursting forth beyond these instruments are the electronics, the ghosts in the machine that are desperate to break out. Little glitchy moments here, synthy wails there, digital flourishes that embellish and enhance. On “Tell No One” especially, the machines are coming and the electronics give it an extra feeling of danger, of despair and of impending menace.

Peppered within the album too are fleeting moments where they have taken over entirely, the A.I finding a way to circumvent its masters and the machines talk to one another. They appear at the end of the “Whatever You Will” and the slower undulations of the snake like “Empurrar/Puxar” (Push/Pull in Portuguese) which close the album give way to a minute or so of digital whirring and twitching, calling out to its brothers and signalling perhaps the next stage of Vuvuvultures evolution.

It is already on its way, their creation of ‘The Appliance of Science’, a briefcase of gadgetry and wires that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Battlestar Galactica, should see the band grow their sound still further. A frightening thought when you think how far they have come and how fantastic they already sound.

For now though, they have given us an album to get our teeth into and be invigorated by. Not any old album mind you, Push/Pull is a Vuvuvultures album, and while they may look like us, they do not think or sound like us. They have evvvolved and they have a plan, and the results are all the better for it.

“Push/Pull” is released via Energy Snake Records / Cadiz on 29 July and can be pre-ordered here.

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Review: Young Hunting – Hazel

10 Jun

Young Hunting

With less than half the year gone, 2013 has already provided moments of truly wonderful and luxuriantly becalming music, most notably from Little Tybee and Cherokee Red. With their debut release, Hazel, Los Angeles quintet Young Hunting may have just eclipsed them both, and everything else released this year for that matter. Two years in the making and inspired by the dismay and despair of failures in and out of love, Hazel is exquisite, majestic, beautiful and about as many other superlatives as you can think of.

The band essentially locked themselves away for the two years of writing, recording and producing, emerging to play live less than a dozen times. That dedication to their craft, and it is a craft as each track has been meticulously and lovingly rendered and polished, has paid off in spades. Each of the nine tracks provides a masterclass in controlled and precise musicianship. Each moment, each element of sound is considered and essential to the listening experience. There are no extraneous flourishes; no flamboyances added just because they could, each detail augments the narrative of the lyrics and aural caresses of the musical arrangements.

For example in “Annabelle”, which might just be one of the most heartwrenchingly beautiful things we’ve ever heard, the attention to detail is astounding. The simplicity of its beginning, a guitar and vocals, swells as the tale develops. The drumbeat acts as harbinger of the woe to come, a slowed down take on the drums that would precede an execution, and the trumpets which join as denouement is reached are a mournful lament for the loss experienced. Hollywood should be seeking out principle songwriters Hari Rex and Ilya Mxx for in just six minutes they offer intricate and emotionally compelling storytelling that is rarely seen in 90 minute features these days, and it sounds divine; as does the rest of Hazel.

While “Annabelle” is a favourite of ours, a case could be made for practically every track to take the role of standout, they are each that strong. “White Lightyears” is ever so slightly more up-tempo and features the kind of dreamy, blues tinged vocals that Chris Issak charmed the world with all those years ago. “Maze” is a wonderfully compelling piece of honeydewed, summer folk-pop, all shimmery and swirly but, as with so much of Hazel, grounded in melancholy. Then there is “Wrecking Ball”, “Rust”, “Sweet Bird”… well, just the album. And it is an album, a whole piece rather than a collection of songs. It works as a singular entity as well as nine individual elements.

There is no urgency to Hazel, it is staid, serene like a lake with not a ripple on its surface but amongst the gorgeous and woozy instrumentals, there is darkness. It is dream-pop but laced with foreboding, a feeling that something is about to upset this idyllic scenario. This sense of unease is perhaps best represented by “Baby’s First Steps”, a track that sounds like a late drive along a 1950’s mountain road, loved one in the passenger seat after a pleasant evening with friends. The night is clear and the road is empty, but the audience knows all is not right. The bends are tight and blind, the driver’s eyes are heavy and the loved one’s seatbelt hangs unfastened by the door. It is only a matter of time. So it is dream-pop yes, but there are nightmares there too. Magical, beautiful nightmares.

Hazel is 41 minutes of laid back beauty, hazy melodies and regret filled harmonies blend perfectly and meander along together to stunning effect. It soothes and relaxes but also stirs feeling within and provokes a reaction. It is an album that you can get lost in time and time again and each listen reveals something new, another layer of emotion or element of sound hidden within. It is an album that you will keep coming back to and that, ironically given its inspiration, you are unlikely to ever fall out of love with.

Hazel is released on Gold Robot Records on 11 June and you can pre-order your copy here.

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Review: Guards – In Guards We Trust

3 May


If it feels like the debut album from New York’s Guards has taken an age to get here, well it’s probably because it has. The band arrived to mucho buzz and excitement with their debut Guards EP in 2010 which they then followed with the brilliant single, “Do It Again”, in 2011 but, while there have been the occasional track or video online, we haven’t had a formal release since. The wait has probably been even more keenly felt in the UK where we have had to be patient for a couple of extra months than fans in America, who got In Guards We Trust back in February.

Perhaps they were just waiting for all that hideous weather we had to disappear and a little bit of sunshine to come peeping through before they were ready to share what is a summer lovin’, pop filled and indie anthem blasting album. The whole thing is coated liberally with sunny, hazy guitar sounds, reverb and distortion as far as the eye can see as the rhythms bounce and boogie along underneath. In fact it is surprisingly dancesome, with big infectious grooves making you want to get up and move in the sunshine, beer in one hand, BBQ’d burger in the other.

There are elements of soul and old fashioned rhythm and blues buried deep within, as well as bright 60’s pop, but these are faint echoes when contrasted with the vastness of sing song indie that threatens to overwhelm. That it doesn’t, says a lot for Guards ability to balance the scales just so, but it is a close run thing. The album does start to struggle for variety a little towards the end and you do start to feel that a couple of different ideas would be nice to hear. That shouldn’t detract from the listener’s enjoyment though and there is definitely much to enjoy. The jump-up-and-downness of opening track, “Nightmare”; the hand in the air sing-a-long fun of “Ready To Go” and the Gabriel Bruce-esque sounds of “I Know It’s You”, all are fantastic and stand up to many, many plays.

As a whole, In Guards We Trust feels like it is perhaps a little bit overlong but the bright, reverb dripped sounds will keep you smiling and dancing this summer, provided it doesn’t hammer down with rain for weeks on end of course.

’In Guards We Trust’ is out now and available from iTunes.

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