Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie Lowell
Sufjan Stevens’ mother left his family when he was one, leaving his father to look after him and his three siblings. His father remarried, flirted with religious group Subud and various other faiths as the family moved around Michigan, living on the breadline under authoritarian rule and without any form of music in the household.
 
Stevens’ mother, Carrie, later got remarried to a man called Lowell Brams, who in time introduced Stevens to Zappa and Nick Drake, amongst many others, and supported his musical awakening with unrelenting generosity and unyielding support. Although Carrie and Lowell eventually divorced, Stevens is still close to Lowell – who runs his record label, Asthmatic Kitty.
 
He endured a strained relationship with his mother, who never fully re-integrated into his life, and found himself full of mixed emotions at her passing in 2012. Like many artists do, Stevens grieved through writing, and although he admits to gaining no catharsis from the process, he soon racked up 30 demos. He was lucky enough to have his friend, Thomas Bartlett (musician/producer) sift through his work and present him with what he thought his record should be. The result is arguably Stevens’ most fully formed and powerful work to date.
 
Carrie & Lowell could be described as a back to basics folk record, most easily aligned with 2004’s Seven Swans, with songs like Eugene and Should Have Known Better displaying wonderful storytelling qualities to back that description. However, the 11 years between the two records really does show – both songs mentioned are so beautifully honed and have such richness – that Stevens has drawn heavily on the skill he’s acquired in that time, with Should Have Known Better revealing layer upon layer of complexity. It manages to take the listener through 3 distinct cycles, bridging hopelessness to optimism both lyrically and musically, all under the guise of what appears as a simple song on first play.
I’ve been a huge fan ever since the release of Michigan in 2003. Stevens’ output has been creative, consistent and inspiring over the last 12 or so years, but never has it been so rounded as on Carrie & Lowell. The opening line of the first song, Death With Dignity, sets the bar so high that it is hard to know where the record can go from there:
“Spirit of my silence I can hear you, but I'm afraid to be near you / And I don't know where to begin.”
The words encapsulate the sense of confusion and fear that accompany grief so concisely to immediately place us directly in Stevens’ shoes in the first steps of the journey he is faced with. It’s as good an opening line as I can think of (with the exception of Van Morrison’s Gloria). Add to that the delicacy of the instrumentation and the underlying positivity of the lullaby-like melody, and you really do have a special piece of work.
 
Cradlesong melodies run throughout the album, coming across particularly well with Stevens’ double-tracked, half-sung, half-whispered delivery in tracks such as John, My Beloved and Fourth of July. Rather than being at odds with the subject matter, they serve to bring rays of optimism and colour.
 
Favourable comparisons to Elliot Smith are naturally drawn – crisp lyrics, stripped back arrangements and intimate vocals are all in evidence. The work on Carrie & Lowell is definitely up there with Smith, but it is unique to Stevens. No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross shows how willing he is to lay himself bare:
 
“There's blood on that blade, fuck me, I'm falling apart / My assassin like Casper the ghost. There's no shade in the shadow of the cross.” 
 
Like all of the elements of the record, there’s much more to the eye (or ear!) than the initial impression might present. Despite much of the lyrical content appearing as deeply personal (which it clearly is), this album contains themes we can all relate to: forgiveness; belonging; positive shoots to sprout from death and the circularity of life. These universal subjects slowly reveal themselves as the record gets more spins, as does the harmonic and melodic strength of the songs, and the arrangements. Songs that at first seem simple are anything but. However, the craft involved in getting them across so succinctly is rare and is a clear sign of where Stevens is now, as an artist.
 
Within the 11 tracks that populate the album, there is so much to get lost in, be it the stories, the imagery or the melodies. Underpinning it all is something not yet touched on – the sublime production. Fourth Of July has an ethereal sparseness at its core that is expertly created and offers level upon level of subtle detail. Album closer, Blue Bucket Of Gold employs a muted yet intimate piano treatment heard on older albums such as Chicago and Illinois; expertly engineered as to create a sonic bed for the fragile vocal to lay.
 
The album is exciting in so many ways – its purity of writing, the way it shows us how much Stevens has grown as a writer; how much of an antithesis it is to its immediate predecessor; Age of Adz – the list goes on. It is the combination of these things that excites me the most – no-one really knows what Sufjan Stevens will do next (his history shows this), but we do know that his powers are growing and if he continues on this arc, his next project will be spectacular, whatever it is.
Adam Atkins
 


 

 

The Go! Team – The Scene Between

Opening with the sound of a ring pull on a can of fizz, The Go! Team aim to paint a picture of those hazy, thirst-quenching, summer days. And, like their previous three albums, they’ve succeeded. Parton follows up the ring pull fizz with the classic introductory drumsticks beating together to get the band in gear, before we are greeted with the agreeable adrenaline rush of My Bloody Valentine style dirty grooves and the exuberance of early Beach Boys on lead track What D’You Say?

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This Is The Kit – Bashed Out

Having been fortunate to see This Is The Kit’s outstanding show at the Green Door Store early 2015, I have been bubbling with excitement to get my hands on their new album. This Is The Kit are the folk rock project of Kate Staples and have been active from 2003. Splitting her time between living in Bristol and Paris they only released their debut album (Krulle Bol) in 2008. Now with her third album, Kate surrounded herself with an assortment of musical mates including Rozi Plain, Matt Barrick (The Walkman), Thomas Bartlett (Doverman, The Gloaming), Benjamin Lanz (Beirut, The National), Bryce Dessner (The National) – as well as getting a helping hand from prolific producer Aaron Dessner from The National. With a lot of anticipation surrounding Bashed Out, is This Is The Kit’s breakthrough album?
 
The sparseness of the opener ‘Misunderstanding’ gives you an instant feel for the album’s tone, with its aching light electric guitar and delicate drums. It moves seamlessly into ‘Silver John’, the first single taken from Bashed Out. A flowing accordion thickens and follows the gentle piano and guitar melody. Its tranquil and comforting feel contradicts its uneasy meaning – contemplating the way humans are and how we perceive things (“you apocalypse on us, yes / lets get used to dark, get used to wet / Hear them panicking, shouting out / We’re not ready yet!”). The galloping beat of the mystical ‘Magic Spell’ really stood out when played live. The jangling guitars and swirling synths makes it sound like it should be the backing to a traveling montage. It is a well-constructed and written song with a clever chorus, making the track one of my favourites so far.
 
The first song made public from the album was the title track, an outright beautiful song. This ode to past hardship will send shivers down the spine of any the listener with the gloomy atmosphere it emits. Strong lyrics are a highlight of the album and it is perfectly demonstrated in this track (“Blessed are those who see and are silent”). Dreamy guitar sounds on ‘Vitamins’ preaches the secrets to the pleasures of a simple life – just visit the sea, eat your greens and a place to live be “all we need”. The album ends with the triumphant ‘Cold And Got Colder’. The music builds around Kates calming voice in typical fashion into an affirming crescendo, but you do feel the song could have carried on much long. Unfortunately it finishes rather abruptly and consequently a somewhat underwhelming final song.
 
Bashed Out is full of thought provoking songs, questioning us as humans. Its smart songwritng, keeps your interest throughout, being an extremely delicate and mesmerising listen. It doesn’t quite hit the same unrelenting quality of say Sharon Van Etten’s Tramps, also produced by Aaron Dessner, but it is still a very special folk album from This Is The Kit with some truly phenomenal songs.
Iain Lauder
 
 

Lonelady – Hinterland

Lonelady - Hinterland
After a long introspective stint, Lonelady (Julie Ann Campbell) is back with her second album Hinterland. Having released an already very well received debut in 2010 (Nerve Up), you would think the pressure is on. Her latest album takes inspiration from the decaying Manchester suburbs, continuing her fascination with post-industrial ruins. Throughout you can hear influences from all areas of music – varying from Joy Division though Stevie Wonder to Hot Chip, that are moulded into a very modern form.
 
Right from the start of ‘Into The Cave’ you are hit by a post-punk bass and post-disco drums. A sense of uneasiness is brought on by jolting sounds and clanging percussion, yet you would still find yourself moving to the infectious beat of the kick and persistent bass. ‘Bunkerpop’ continues very much in the same vain, adding a strong influence from an 80s art pop Madonna. It is a very memorable track that has an almost robotic characteristic, bursting with moments of anxiousness. The title track is a playful mashup of Arthur Russell’s cello stabs with Nile Rodgers funky guitar licks. Its robotic beat is rigid and loose at the same time, featuring a deranged guitar solo. ‘Groove It Out’ was the song that introduced me to Lonelady, and after countless listens, it is my favourite on the album. On first listen you would think it is a relatively simple sounding song, but it is all a façade. Brimming with endless ideas, it is a song that never sits still. Its retro feel will make it a hit on any club night dancefloor.
 
After three great tracks that would get any disco moving, the music now takes a more experimental direction. The up tempo ‘(I Can See) Landscapes’ is an out-and-out punk number. A driving bass pushes the song forward, whist its sustained drone and glitchy guitar adds the attitude. ‘Silvering’ takes the listener into a timeless space, where you drift along to its techno/kraut like beat. Ongoing string chords create a dramatic and ominous atmosphere on the down tempo ‘Flee!’. Haunting double tracked vocals emote Lonelady’s isolated and detached feelings for all to hear on the only beatless track. They do say that after deep lows there are soaring highs which bodes true in the optimistic sounds of ‘Red Scrap’, restoring the energy for an affirming close to the album. ‘Mortar Remembers You’ takes all of the championing characteristics from Hinterland and makes the listener pine for album number three.
 
In my fantasy mind I like to think of Lonelady as the daughter of David Byrne and St Vincent, and when her parents unfortunately separated, she lived with her mum who was going out with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy (such are her perceived influences), as it is not a new and original sound, but it is still very much her own. Hinterland is clear, precise and fluid and it is done with an overriding air of confidence. I think it is a massive achievement for Lonelady to have produced an album of such quality and excitement, especially five years after her debut.
Iain Lauder
 
Website: lonelady.co.uk

Nadine Shah – Fast Food

Produced and co-written by Ben Hillier, who was at the helm for her debut album, the Nick Cave influenced Love Yer Dum and Mad, Tyneside lass Nadine Shah has decided to ditch the piano in favour of the guitar as her favoured writing tool, in fashioning an album that, while displaying the same dark muscularity and disarming honesty of its predecessor, is a dirtier, rawer, and yet more musical beast. Recorded mostly live in the studio (you can hear the hum of the amps, here and there), bar the vocals, the minimalist set up of guitar (Nick Webb and Shah), bass (courtesy of I Am Kloot's Pete Jobson) and drums is all that is needed to service the wonderfully rich and soulful voice of Shah, who's shares a few similarities with that other modern day indie-siren, Anna Calvi.

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Sam Lee + Friends – The Fade In Time

Sam Lee & Friends - The Fade In Time
This intrepid field recordist and folk archivist, has, over the last few years, been seeking out and recording ancient songs from the dying embers of the Gypsy and Irish traveller communities. And with The Fade In Time, Lee further explores the potential of traditional British music by encompassing world-wide musical traditions as well as native folk.
 
Nominated for the 2012 Mercury Music Prize for his debut album, Ground of its Own, Lee is also the driving force behind the Nest Collective, which brings traditional and contemporary folk music to unusual venues, mainly in London. He is, it appears, a veritable force of nature, not only keenly driven to keep the folk traditions alive (and not to end up in a museum), but also to make vibrant and interesting music that marries these ancient songs and poems with an experimental and ambitious edge.
 
With a band that features, at its core, Francesca Ter-Berg (cello), trumpeter Steve Chadwick, violinist Flora Curzon, percussionist Josh Green, and koto/pianist Jonah Brody, along with contributions from a number of other musicians, the fact that the artists are namechecked as Sam Lee & Friends emphasises the hugely important contribution these players have made in shaping Lee's words, and expressive singing style, to a music that is expansive and, in the main, highly sympathetic to the emotions expressed. Using Imogen Heap's studio in Essex, The Fade in Time was co-produced by Penguin Cafe's Arthur Jeffes and Jamie Orchard-Lisle, who do a superlative job in recording the rich textures and unusual combination of instrumentation.
 
It is such a richly educational album – thanks to the extensive liner notes that Lee provides – that a substantial book could be written about the history of these songs, all of them traditional, and all coming from the aforementioned travellers communities, some first-hand, and some handed down to traveller Stanley Robertson, with whom Lee built a deep teacher-student relationship over a number of years. Songs such as lead track Jonny O'Brine, as Lee recalls the tale, a deeply mythological one revolving around ancient folklore, feuds, bloodlines, and mystical old traditions. It's an extraordinary song, as ukulele, percussion and tubes provide a naturalistic and brisk tribal rhythm – kind of acoustic house music – with the trumpets, horns and conch – courtesy of Steve Chadwick – riffing, calling and wailing. It beats along a dramatic rhythmic path, while Moorlough Maggie, a song that Stanley Robertson learnt from his aunt Maggie Stewart, is dreamily cacophonous fusion of stings, brass and percussion, and the Koto, a Japanese stringed instrument, underpinning this song of appreciation that lovers have between themselves and the land upon which they live. And there's Lord Gregory, a very old song, a lover's lament, the first part of the song a recording from 1956 of Charlotte Higgins expressive recitation of the poetic words, to song collector Hamish Henderson, before it segues into Lee's version, which itself is based on Robertson's highly abbreviated version; just four verses, with the Roundhouse Choir joining at the end. And fittingly, Lee sings The Moon Shone On My Bed Last Night, apparently the last song that Stanley's aunt Jeannie Robertson taught him, and, as fate would have it, the last song that he in turn taught Lee, a song about love, and which has subsequently taken on a profound bearing for this student-cum-teacher.
 
Elsewhere, Bonny Bunch of Roses is a Napoleanic ballad, that in Lee's interpretation, is prescient via the ongoing issues of unity between Scotland and England, and the 'war in Russia'. Tracing an imaginary conversation between Napolean's son and his mother, it was learnt from an octogenarian Romany Gypsy, Freda Black, whom Lee tracked down and eventually persuaded to commit some of her huge repertoire to tape. Lee has Russian roots, and here he converges British folk song with Eastern European cantorial singing, an old recording providing the intro of an unknown singer delivering a wonderfully deep vibrato. Freda Black is also featured at the close of Over Yonders Hill, via Lee's own field recording, reciting the song's verses, with the sound of a ticking clock in the background, an obvious reference to the title of the album. Here, Lee's sprightly and melancholic voice is also elegant, with ukulele and percussion providing an African lilt to the tune, and strings and double bass adding depth and texture. It's heady and inventive, as is everything else here.
Throughout the album, the themes of love, lust, courtship, tradition, respect for the land, and tragedy abound, culled from a variety of sources such as Blackbird, which was learned from Romany Gypsy May Bradley via the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, and Phoenix Island, sourced from a cousin of 'Blind' Mary Delaney, who reared 13 children whilst living on a site under the Shepherds Bush flyover in central London, a tale that speaks of a yearning to lead an independent, non-subjugated life, as many travellers continue to strive for, and which Lee is wholly sympathetic to.
 
The album finishes with the sparse pairing of the spirited and hopeful accapella Lovely Molly – featuring just Lee and the Roundhouse Choir – and Moss House, an ode to singing, with just Lee and Arthur jeffes piano.
 
Although the The Fade is Time is very long (60 + minutes), and a little judicious trimming could have been applied here and there, it's to Sam Lee's great credit that he has brought these traditional songs back to life, using them as a basis on which to create a new, and contemporary interpretations via the often inventive, skilful and restless adventurousness of the music throughout, including many sounds and styles of African and Asian music, and ultimately delivering a work that is respectful. The Fade in Time may denote the fading of memory, the impermanence of peoples and geographies, but it also denotes re-affirmation, and resurrection.
Jeff Hemmings
 
 
 
 
 

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett had never set foot outside her native Australia before 2014, but since then it's been a bit of a whirlwind for this singer songwriter, one of those nice surprises that crops every now and then, when the alignment of the planets (or something or other) conjures up that little bit of musical magic. Aussies in the know, already knew this, and via her second EP, How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose, the word was spreading beyond her shores. In particular, it was the track Avante Gardener, a one-off type of autobiographical song about how she endured an anxiety/asthma attack whilst gardening and had to be carted off to hospital, that caught the ear of reviewers beyond Australia. Barnett has said she can't quite believe that song – 'very long, no chorus, lots of words' – should generate so much attention. But it did. It's her powerful combination of musicianship, voice and song that has seen this outsider run right through the pack in the most surprising fashion, her unique ability to paint a novelistic picture with just a few lines – which she says are little photographs of a moment in time – allied to some raw and unfiltered rock'nroll.

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Modest Mouse – Strangers To Ourselves

I knew I hadn't heard anything from Modest Mouse for a while but was actually quite surprised to discover Strangers To Ourselves is the first album from the band in 8 years – that's nearly a decade! I first heard of Modest Mouse when I was at school and people were going to see them in Brighton towards the end of the 90's. They played at The Lift (now The Hope & Ruin) but I was under-age, so I didn't chance it. I actually got into the band nearly ten years later with their 2007 album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, which famously featured Johnny Marr, the former guitarist with The Smiths, as a fully fledged band member. It also featured James Mercer from The Shins, who contributed some very memorable backing vocals on three key songs and, along with 2004's Good News For People Who Love Bad News, it formed a major commercial breakthrough for the band.
 
So what's been happening in-between and why come back now? The break wasn't really a break, it would appear, as Modest Mouse never really stopped existing as an entity, they headlined festivals here and there, appeared in a Pitchfork Documentary, contributed a song to a Buddy Holly compilation and, as early as 2011, producer Big Boi (well known as half of OutKast) had publicly announced he was working on an album with the band. At the same time they unveiled two new tracks, including lead single 'Lampshades On Fire' and 'Poison The Well', although the latter has not made it to the final release. I suppose it's no coincidence front-man Isaac Brock has started a record label called Glacial Pace – the album even came out two weeks later than its originally stated release date!
 
The new album begins with the title track 'Strangers To Ourselves', it's a mellow, vibey piece. Isaac Brock singing with the most restrained and sweet tone he can manage backed by luscious cellos, double bass and gently brushed drums. There are all sorts of shimmery keyboards and chiming sounds floating in the background of this laid-back melancholy number. It's a wrong-footer though, just as you're thinking Modest Mouse have grown up and mellowed out track two 'Lampshades On Fire' kicks in with the familiar sound of the last couple of albums. Up-tempo and quirky, with Brock's distinctive half-crazed vocal delivery, the title is intriguing as hell but on the first  few listens I can hardly make out the words as it flies by at quite a pace.
 
The crudely titled 'Shit In Your Cut' adopts a different pace again, slower, steady, moody and atmospheric, ending with the repeated refrain of 'I guess we'll ride this winter out', it has a somewhat hypnotic feel. Next up is 'Pistol (A Cunanan, Miami, FL, 1996)', a strange track with some dark hip-hop influences that sounds a little out of place compared to the rest of the material, in spite of the evident genre-shifting going on elsewhere – something about the pitch-shifted vocals doesn't quite land for me. Isaac Brock released a frankly baffling commentary recording as a companion piece to the album, it's a really weird thing but in one of its rare moments of lucidity Brock gives us some insight into his cryptical eclecticism – this song is a fiction based on the story of Andrew Cunanan who shot fashion designer Gianni Versace as part of a killing spree in the late 90's. Brock says he set the song in Florida, which Cunanan would have been no where near at the time, in order to marry the songs content and it's context which marks the man as a bit of a musical (and lyrical) magpie – who likes to mix ideas together to create that unique Modest Mouse flavour.
 
'Ansel' has calypso guitars paired with what sounds like real steel drums and a slightly unexpected Wheezer-esque chord progression in the chorus. In another reveal on the commentary we hear that Ansel was Isaac's brother, who was killed in an avalanche, and this is a song about the last time he saw him… those tropical sounds marking a stark contrast to the circumstances of his brothers death.

'The Ground Walks with Time In A Box' hits us with another typical up-tempo Modest Mouse groove. The proverbial penny dropped for me while I was listening to this one as I suddenly realised there's a close relationship between this band and Talking Heads, Brock's delivery is not a million miles from David Byrne's at times and that funky bass is not a million miles from something Tina Weymouth would dream up. It feels a bit like the title refers to the two parts of the song as there is a distinct shift of feel after four minutes before the track relaxes into an extended outro groove that's mostly instrumental.
 
'Coyotes' is more sparsely arranged with a focus on acoustic instruments, according to Brock a meditation on wishing “we could live with the natural world instead of on top of it”. 'Pups To Dust' keeps things in a mellower space, but with some of those offbeat percussive elements that make it hard not to bob your head and contains more of Brocks' trademark acid tongue, “I don't lie very often but I lie very well!”. 'Sugar Boats' has a carnival circus vibe to it, with a piano hook that's clearly modelled on Julius Fu?ík's 'Entry Of The Gladiators' (the classic circus theme). There's a great drunken trombone dancing in the background and it returns to that circus theme for the outro with some extremely heavy sounding guitars.
'Wicked Campaign' has some lofty backing vocals that remind me of James Mercer's contributions to We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. 'God Is An Indian and You're An Asshole' sounds like some old prairie camp-fire song, very short, built around repeating the phrase, 'god is an Indian and you're an asshole, get on your horse and ride!'
 
'The Tortoise and the Tourist' and 'The Best Room' breeze by sounding like straightforward Modest Mouse, there are no particularly strong hooks but these are decent songs nonetheless. The final song 'Of Course We Know' strips things down to a bare melancholy, ending the album with a similar feel to how it began, although the ending is more digital in it's textures where the start is more acoustic. It fills up to become quite a thick sprawl by the end and in spite it's luscious big ballad motifs it is full of tension, wound tight like a spring. Just as you think it's going to hit a big epic conclusion they opt for restraint and bring things down to piano, vocal and sparse production. It's a lovely moment to end the record on.
 
The production throughout is interesting – every song is densely arranged with lots of instrumentation and there is a lot that sounds like it couldn't exist without computer wizardry, so while the album contains a lot of familiar Modest Mouse sounds and approaches it also sounds more produced and digitally constructed than their other works, there are synths, extra percussion, reversed samples and such which are most noticeable on tracks like 'Pistol' and 'Wicked Campaign' (although they both exhibit these effects in totally distinct ways). Big Boi has certainly earned his production credit! One criticism might be that the album feels a little over long, there are, perhaps, a few tracks in the back half that could have been spared to keep things a little more concise – there's also an argument for leaving 'Pistol' off – but then again, it's probably the weirdest thing on here and that might be cause enough to keep it as it is. There's no doubting there are rewards aplenty for listening to this collection of songs over and over again – I've discovered new treats every time I've given it a spin and, perhaps most intriguing of all, it will take time to attempt to decipher those evocative lyrics. An excellent album and well worth the wait, Brock promises the band are well under way with another album now, one they promise they will bring out 'as soon as physically possible'… but it will be coming out on the Glacial Pace label again, so I wouldn't hold your breath!
Adam Kidd
 
 

Peace – Happy People

Happy People is the second album from Worcester quartet Peace. I sort of overlooked the band on their first release having been put off a little by the hype that was being built around them by the NME – I think they're the last band I can remember to get the hard sell from the waning powers of that weekly magazine which has the potential to become a poison chalice. For example – do you remember any Viva Brother songs now? Nah, me neither, however, in the case of Peace we were amazed to see the band had booked in three nights at local Brighton venue The Haunt and quickly sold out the whole lot. It's not the first time either, I heard about them selling out four consecutive nights at Birthdays in Dalston to end their tour to support debut album In Love. There's clearly a good and growing following for Peace so I decided to investigate – is their new album as lacking in substance as the critics who have panned it say, or as era-defining as those who champion it suggest?

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Seadog – Transmitter

Transmitter is the latest EP from Brighton stalwarts Seadog and, I believe, their first release through local label Bleeding Heart Recordings. Seadog is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Mark Nathan Benton, also known for his major contributions to the work of Man Ray Sky. Seadog has been a long-term project for Benton, which always tended to have a revolving-doors lineup. Whilst at university (with the likes of Joseph Mount from Metronomy and Natasha 'Bat For Lashes' Kahn) Mark teamed up with Max Numajari who has been his most consistent collaborator since, contributing bass guitar and glockenspiel live, as well as in the studio, on a long-term basis.

Transmitter is a lovely batch of breezy dreamy pop songs with folky finger-picked guitars, prominent glockenspiel and some really tasty drumming from Ryan Bollard, who has now left the band to play in a dozen other local projects. The EP is full of atmospheric pleasant sounds – the drums are often laid-back and jazzy, the guitars are full of soft gentle or warm fuzzy tones. Benton's vocal, backed with sweet harmonies from accordionist Emma Macdonald, is also very easy on the ear – with shades of Elliott Smith at his most relaxed. With this safe combo of sounds the EP is at risk of becoming easy-listening and bland but thankfully the Transmitter EP is not without its surprises. Title track 'Transmitter', for example, is rolling along nicely in it's gentle way when out of nowhere the guitar flies off into the distance with a strangely dark and discordant tone that transforms the effect of those insistent drums and bass that keep the track buoyed up throughout. It adds a note of tension that really helps to round out the song.

'Haunted' is a gorgeous rolling number, with some beautiful brush work on the drums, the verses feature a melody that builds around the accordion drone, seemingly picked up at different places by different instruments – this really comes to the fore in the second verse where the drums kick things up a notch and the bass joins up the dots – it's a great bit of arrangement which shows off the skill of these musicians and shows Seadog have more to them than just a knack for a pleasant melody and a polite groove. There's a wintry air and consistent melancholy atmosphere to the whole EP, it's the sort of music I imagine I'd listen to on a long train journey to the north, watching the landscape slide by at high speed.
 
The EP draws towards a close with 'Call and Respond' which sounds like epic post-rock but it retains the same soft, gentle air as the rest of the EP until the mid-way point when things really step up a gear. Throughout the EP though, it's the bass and drums that carry things forward and when they're becoming more insistent, the guitars remained layered with delays and distortions that tend to make them washy, and although they may become more distorted they never become spiky or aggressive. The song ends with an unexpected riff full of dissonant notes, this disjointed moment leads us perfectly into the Wire & Wax remix of Transmitter which closes this collection. I see the word 'remix' and immediately start fearing I'm going to be subjected to some inappropriate shoe-horning, but this bizarre bit of work is a different kettle of fish altogether. Benton's vocal floats high above a total deconstruction of the original song with a focus on noise experimentation rather than phat beats and a dub-step bass-line – although, having said that, there is in fact a moment where I hear what could be a subtle reference to the classic 'wub-wub-wub' bass but sound it's re-contextualised to the point of total departure! A fine collection of songs and a decent bit of experimentation to keep it all interesting. Thanks Seadog, I really enjoyed that! Transmitter EP is out now on digital download with a 12” version coming to selected shops in April.
Adam Kidd