Category Archives: Music Reviews

Amor Vincit Omnia by Pure Reason Revolution

Amor Vincit Omnia by Pure Reason Revolution
Pure Reason Revolution‘s first album The Dark Third was one of my favourite albums of the last decade. It’s like a checklist of things I love. Massive riffs. Vocal harmonies. Elaborate compositions. Intricate obscure lyrics. Electronic noises and a progressive idealogy. Like the bastard child of Pink Floyd and Smashing Pumpkins. It was fantastic.

As such their latest album Amor Vincit Omnia was one of my most eagerly anticipated albums of the year, and it had a lot of expectations to meet up to.

From the first note of the first track you can tell that this is a massive change from their previous work. I saw them live a couple of years ago, while they were touring their last album and had just released the download only single Victorious Cupid (which also appears on AVO), and it was apparent that they were moving towards a new, more electronic sound with tracks like Golden Disco (a live electronic reworking of their old b-side Golden Clothes) and the aforementioned Victorious Cupid. The opening bars of the new album feature a fuzzed out synth riff which you might expect to find in something more like Soulwax than PRR.

The Album continues with the new electronic sound, featuring a heavy synth presence in pretty much all of the new tracks. PRR also seem to have moved closer to a more accessable sound, cutting out the extended spaced out sections which characterised The Dark Third and even keeping most of their songs under 6 minutes long.

For the most part PRR use their new electro sound brilliantly, great synth lines, cool vocal tweaks and not so overdone as to obscure the fantastic riffs. Speaking of riffs, AVO has them in abundance, and I would have sulked if there wasn’t. The only time PRR really drop the ball would be on Disconnect, it sticks out like a sore thumb with a frankly embarrasing robotic vocoder voice, which doesn’t fit with the rest of the album and is utterly utterly naff.

The First half of the album is definately the strongest part, all the best tracks from the album are there, Victorious Cupid, Deus Ex Machina and the epic Apogee/Requiem For The Lovers but it does seem to tail off little afterwards. Theres Disconnect for starters and then The Gloaming which goes on a little bit too long and seems slightly directionless. It just seems a bit like an anticlimax to what is a fantastic start to the album.

The problem with the album is that it is a very big departure from their last album and they really risk alienating their fan base, especially those of them who loved their prog rock tendencies. I really like the album, there are some fantastic songs on there and it maintains a lot of the things I liked about their debut with the electronic parts brought to the fore. It really is a very good album, although it took me a while to realise this. I just hope that fans expecting more of the same from PRR will be able to appreciate  it.

I also headed over to Pure Reason Revolution at their london dingwalls gig a few days ago, you can find my review here


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Penguin Cafe Orchestra

I like to think I have a knack for discovering strange, obscure and brilliant music that most people have never heard of. This time though I think I may have outdone myself.

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra is definately a bit out there. Frustrating hard to describe it combines classical, jazz, and folk sounds with some of the concepts of prog rock and sonic experimentation. The result being a group of incredibly listenable pastoral, sunny, experimental, string compositions.

Heres how Simon Jeffes, the founding member of the orchestra described how it came about.

“In 1972 I was in the south of France. I had eaten some bad fish and was in consequence rather ill. As I lay in bed I had a strange recurring vision, there, before me, was a concrete building like a hotel or council block. I could see into the rooms, each of which was continually scanned by an electronic eye. In the rooms were people, everyone of them preoccupied. In one room a person was looking into a mirror and in another a couple were making love but lovelessly, in a third a composer was listening to music through earphones. Around him there were banks of electronic equipment. But all was silence. Like everyone in his place he had been neutralized, made gray and anonymous. The scene was for me one of ordered desolation. It was as if I were looking into a place which had no heart. Next day when I felt better, I went to the beach. As I sat there a poem came to me. It began ‘I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe. I will tell you things at random.’

As you can see. Completely Mental. Slightly Pretentious. But filled with an artistic sensibility and brilliantly fun desire to explore musical possibilities that should be in all music.

The penguin cafe released their first album in 1976, “Music from the Penguin Cafe,” and continued writing and recording up until 1997 when Jeffes died of a brain tumour. Their first album is in my opinion the weakest of their albums, it seems a little stifled and far less fun. It was definatly one of musicians trying to find thier feet. The next three albums though, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Broadcasting From Home and Signs of Life are all fantastic though. Each revisiting themes and ideas from past albums and building on them with different instrumentation and unexpected flourishes.

If however you’re doubting their rock credentials at all, and am wondering about why I’m blathering on about a classicly training string orchestra my response would be…

Well Brian Eno acted as executive producer on some of their albums and their album artwork is by Emily Young, of Pink Floyds “See Emily Play,” fame. You might also recognize alot of their songs from their use in adverts and TV shows, “Telephone and Rubber Band,” used to be the One2One ad music, and I guarantee you will have heard Perpetuum Mobile as its been used on everything.

In short, Penguin Cafe Orchestra is one of the most unique things I’ve heard in a long time, and I can’t stop listening to them. I can only suggest that if you like Phillip Glass, Pentangle or Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, you might like them but even those are a long way from being like the Penguin Cafe

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My Latest finds

Something about the recent sunny weather has been reigniting my love of Trip-hop and chilled out electronica. Golden days call for lazy beats and dreamy sampling. I think over the last few days I’ve played my Lemon Jelly albums to death. Add to this my recent discovery of Spotify and I’ve been finding so many new electronica bands (and loads of others as well but thats for another time) which are really great and that I’ve previously missed out on. So, I thought I’d give a quick run through of my recent finds.

Mr.Scruff

Mr.Scruff was one of those artists I’d heard a couple of tracks of before but never really got around to investigating until now. He specialises in electronica with loads of funk and jazz samples, made with a genuine sense of humour and a slight fixation with fish. Most of his albums are pretty consistently good but Trouser Jazz is probably my favourite and the best one to start with.

Daedelus

Daedulus, (named after the greek mythological figure who designed the minotaurs labyrinth and whose name literally means cunning worker) has really mastered the art of fusing analogue and digital sounds together to create quite an original although slightly melancholic sound. Sampled sounds next to beep-beep 8-bit style noises combine to make him quite distinctive. Of Snowdonia and Daedelus Denies the Days Demise are the albums of his I’d go for.

Four Tet

I found out about Four Tet through a Super Furry Animals remix album (Phantom Phorce, he does a really great remix of The Piccolo Snare) I had. Four Tet uses a lot of organic sounds, like acoustic guitars and strings, and also a more sparing use of drum beats to make a really chilled out sound which I think is pretty accessable to anyone even non-hip-hop fans.

Wagon Christ

Wagon Christ was the only one on this list which I had never heard of before last week but found through the similar artist links in Spotify, I’m glad I have though as his music is really interesting. Even in the space of one album he goes from chillout into experimental hip-hop. He also finds the weirdest samples of speech to overlay on his tracks and can create some really spooky atmospheres.

The Orb

Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb has been one of my favourite tracks ever since I heard it on Radio 6 a while back and it was one of the first things I went to check out once I got Spotify. The Orbs Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is an absolute classic of Trip-hop and electronic music. Its utterly spaced out and completely mental. Its trip-hop which has obviously been inspired by the likes of Pink Floyd in its use of soundscapes and long drawn out compositions, and the track Back Side of the Moon is an obvious nod as well.  It masterfully creates a real sense of atmosphere and over the 2 hour length of the double album it never once gets dull.

Theres a few other artists that deserve a mention as being quite interesting but that I haven’t really listened to enough to comment on yet. Boom Bip, Coldcut, Kid Koala and pretty much anything off of the Ninja Tune record label which is pretty fantastic.

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How to blag your way into gigs

I’m pretty excited right now about the release of one of my favourite bands, Pure Reason Revolution, news album. It comes out on the 9th and I’m going to see them on the final leg of their tour on the 17th at London Dingwalls.

This is when the idea struck me. I’m a journalist now (or at least a Journalism student), I need not pay for gig tickets like some mere mortal. I realised that as a journalist, bands want me to go visit their gigs and they want me to write articles about them.

So I got hold of Pure Reason Revolutions managers email, you can usually find most bands management or PR details online if you look hard enough, and sent off a hopeful email introducing myself as a Journalist, listing the places I hope to publish the finished article and what it could include. I was honest about where it would be published, in the student newspaper and on this blog as although they may seem like modest outlets bands do care about them and are often hungry for any publicity they can get.

So I sent off my email, and waited. After about a week I got impatient. I decided that the management had obviously seen through my facade of professionalism and had seen me as the amateur I was. I still am a massive fan or PRR and decided that although my attempt to get in as press failed I still wanted ot see them and would happily still go along as a punter and write a review anyway for experience and because I love introducing people to my favourite bands. So, onto ticket site, buy tickets.
Ten minutes later.

Hey NjClarke, you’re on the guest list just make sure you send us a copy of the article afterwards.

*sigh* well I guess the lesson to learn from this is that you should wait a while for the management to get back to you as they’re probably pretty snowed under around tour time.

Still I may have an extra ticket which I couldn’t really afford in the first place but I am heading to my first gig as a journalist, I can start building up my reputation and I can say I’m on the guest list of one of my favourite bands. Which is awesomely cool.
The only things I need to add are that if you are thinking of doing the same, obviously make sure you write the article and get it published, it’s only fair that you hold up your end of the bargain and you won’t be asked back again if you don’t. Also I just want to encourage people to give it a try, even if you just write reviews for forums or on your blog, bands do care about what people are writing about them and it’s always worth a try.

You can find my review of the gig here and my review of Pure Reason Revolution’s new album Amor Vincit Omnia here


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Here Comes the Wind by Envelopes

envelopes
Envelopes may be an obscure half swedish half french indie band but please don’t let that put you off…they really are quite good.

Here Comes the Wind came out about this time last year and after I gave it a quick listen online I pretty much forgot about it. It was quirky and fun, but more than a tad incohesive full of  wildly different songs that sounded good on their own but didnt really fit together as an album.

I stumbled upon them again recently and got my hands on a copy of the album, after a couple more listens I started to realise just how much better it was than I originally thought.

My original impressions of the album still stand, there are a lot of different sounds going on in this album, from the garage rock of “Life on the Beach,” down to the full on electro of “Put on Hold” but it becomes forgiveable just on the strength of each track alone. In fact being all over the place and a little disorganised kind of works in the bands favour, the songs feel anarchic and playful as does the album as a whole and maybe a more uniform album wouldnt have that.

An overwhelming sense of fun is what the album gives you, and the band are obviously having a lot of it when writing and performing their songs. Unexpected instruments and nonsensical lyrics abound, stylophone anyone?

If Envelopes are to be compared to anyone it’d be to the pixies, especially the Kim Deal tracks which is certainly no bad thing. They share the one guy one girl dual singer set up and the same dedication to sonic experimentation and the pop single. Although similar to the pixies, Envelopes have built on their sound exploring more electronic sounds and taking influence from a large amount modern indie bands, theres occasionally hints of Franz Ferdinand style twangy guitars.

In short, any Pixies fans should love them as should any fans of innovative playful indie pop.


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The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow

the_seldom_seen_kid1

Of all the musical awards that get thrown around each year and forgotten the next the only one I’ve ever tended to pay any attention to is the Mercury awards. The past list of nominees and winners is pretty impressive and its a list of musicians which i generally agree with as well. In fact my favourite album of all time was a winner, Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast (which might have had a slight influence on the name of this blog.) This years list was no exception either, the nominees including the amazing albums by British Sea Power, Neon Neon and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, any of which could easily have one. However they were beaten to the prize by what i am starting to realise is a truly phenomenal album, The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow.

I’ve known about Elbow for years but they were one of those bands who just kind of washed over me. I had a couple of singles, ripped from compilations but nothing had ever grabbed me enough for me to invest the amount of time into it that it probably deserved. This is something i think will definately change now that I’ve listened to The Seldom Seen Kid a fair few times.

The track everyone will know from the album is the pretty ridiculously successful single “Grounds for Divorce ,” used in everything from Top Gear to the latest Coen brothers film. Its definately the most obvious single off of the album and also by far the most rocking with what is surely the best riff I’ve heard in years.

I don’t think that Grounds for divorce is really the best impression of what the whole album is like though. Instead the main body of the album concerns itself with introverted string sections and unexpected crescendoes. There are dark creepy paranoid tracks like “The Fix” featuring Richard Hawley which then in just a couple of songs turn into something like the amazingly uplifting “One Day Like This.”
It runs the whole emotional spectrum but keeps true to a unified sound which builds throughout the album and grows on you at every listen.

It’s a really spectacular album which after enough listens can be really rewarding. I Wish I had discovered Elbow sooner but now look forward to investing in the rest of their back catalogue.

If you like the album, push the red button on your remote in the next few days or so and check out Elbow performing the album with the BBC concert orchestra, which is really absolutely jawdroppingly good. Another band you might want to check out are one of my favourite bands who really don’t get enough coverage I Am Kloot, long time friends of Elbow whose first album was produced by the lead singer of Elbow, Guy Garvey and whose latest album will be produced by him as well.


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