Esben and The Witch – A New Nature

A New Nature is Esben & The Witches third album in their five short years as a band: the product of a major change in every aspect of their approach to the record-making process. Having separated from Matador after 2012's 'Wash The Sins Not Only The Face', this will be the first album released on their own newly founded Nostromo label, funded by a hugely successful Pledge Music campaign. The band opted to record with legendarily uncompromising producer Steve Albini, who flipped the record switch at his Electric Audio studio in Chicago the moment the Pledge campaign reach target.

The band have chosen to strip back almost all of the drum machines, loops and electronics that have characterised their earlier work and instead recorded live as a three piece around the core instruments of drums, bass and guitar. Having become comfortable as a live band through the past few years of extensive touring they felt confident enough on this album to allow their instruments generous room to breath by allowing their arrangements to become more expansive – peaking with the epic 'Jungle' which clocks in at over fourteen minutes. Albini, who is best known for his work on classic grunge albums like The Pixies 'Surfa Rosa' and Nirvana's final studio album 'In Utero', seems to be the perfect set of hands for what the band set out to do here. He is known for his belief that the recording engineer or producer should allow the band complete control and freedom of expression in the studio and sees his role as making sure that expression is well captured. He's also known for being an analog purist who prefers to multi-track live in the studio, carefully placing an array of microphones to commit whatever happens in the room to tape.
 
This approach can make or break bands, if you turn up to Albini's studio unrehearsed and with poor material there is nowhere to hide, no studio trickery available to tart things up. However, as I glimpsed when I caught them trying out some of these songs at this years Great Escape Festival, this sort of live, visceral environment is where Esben & The Witch thrive, here they can really shine to reach for new heights. Stark, raw, atmospheric and intense 'A New Nature' is an album to envelop oneself in, lost to its dark and sombre mood. There’s a restlessness to the album, a driving energy which speaks of the bands embrace of the rush that comes with change and new approaches.
 
'Press Heavenwards' opens the record with over a minute of Thomas Fisher's guitar fizzing with analog delays and the buzz of a warm valve amp turned up loud, full of space and anticipation. Daniel Copeman's drums eventually enter, building tension accompanied by the low fuzzy growl of Rachel Davies bass. It's almost 3 minutes before the build-up relents and the track lurches into action with a driving beat and repetitive, hypnotic guitar motifs accompanied by Davies vocal: pure, melodic and urgent. There's something about Copeman's approach to the drum kit here which continues throughout the album, rejecting the traditional hi-hat led rock approach and playing a more open style, which gives the whole album a sense of anticipation, always building to a crescendo that never quite comes – the drums never break into a beat that’s too traditional, allowing Fisher's guitar and Davies vocal so much space to explore.

Amongst the highlights we find 'No Dog', which appears to be a different recording from the one which appears on their split LP with regular touring partners Thought Forms which came out earlier this year. The vocals seem closer and less reverberous and the overall sound is warmer but the performances are remarkably close. The aforementioned 'Jungle' begins with some wonderful atmospherics which sound like looped layers of blended guitar noise making bold use of the often unwanted buzzing of machinery to create an intense mood which underpins a slow, purposeful build which finally relents about halfway through the track, giving way to a beautiful searching trumpet-led instrumental before finding it's way into another almost tribal groove full of tension and another wonderfully insistent melody from Davies.

'Those Dreadful Hammers' begins with an a capella vocal so close and unaffected it is almost uncomfortable, with the loud electric air of the studio filling the gaps between phrases, where normally there is only silence. It's the most conventional track in terms of length, but structurally about as far from a pop song as one could hope to get: the vocal only appears on the intro and at the end the track dissolves in a wall of guitar feedback and trumpets. It is followed by 'Blood Teachings', a track the band previewed upon announcing the release date of the album. At this point I start to see where people are coming from with their PJ Harvey comparisons, but it's also undeniably Esben and recites what sounds akin to a mission statement for the album when Davies cries out, "new ground, new stars, new ways of seeking," you feel that same thrill of the chase they are experiencing as they allow the track to run through to its own conclusion, unfettered by convention.

The album winds down with the gently mournful 'Wooden Star' followed by a short, drumless finale 'Bathed in Light' – a beautiful little lullaby darkened by a warm guitar played through a noisy amp and wide, full, resonant bass. It could be a sweet note to end on but there's an ever-present edge to the band, an all-pervading intensity that makes this an album that is certainly not for the feint hearted. It is wilfully anti-commercial, unconventional and full of the noises many try to banish from their recordings but it is also dynamic, restless, atmospheric and emotive. If that sounds like your cup of tea I'd suggest this might be one to buy on proper vinyl to play at full volume through a decent set of speakers – allowing all the dynamics and the richness of sound and texture to fill the space and transport you to the nightmarish fairytale land Esben & The Witch have conjured up.

Adam Kidd
BrightonsFinest
 
Websites:
 
 

Phoria – Display EP

Phoria’s brand new EP ‘Display’ has already managed to receive rave reviews and considerable attention and after being hailed as ‘the most blogged about band’ at the moment – Brighton has managed to do it again and produce from its shores another stunning band with a very bright future ahead of them.

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Fink – Hard Believer

Back in 2006, Fin Greenall aka Fink dropped 'Biscuits for Breakfast' on the market via the highly regarded Ninja Tune label, a label not previously known for releasing anything approaching singer-songwriter style music. But Fink had reached a turning point, his career as an electronic music producer and DJ had stalled, his one and only album for Ninja Tune offshoot N-Tone, the super-chilled out dope beats of 'Fresh Produce' in 2000, failing to make much of an impression. It was an album released at the tail end of the sample heavy, blunted trip hop and chilled beats period in British musical history that had run its course. Deciding to forsake computers and record decks for an acoustic guitar (which he had always enjoyed playing), he proceeded to re-invent himself, with surprising and often stunning results. With collaborators Guy Whittaker and Tim Thornton, with whom he stills makes Fink music, his bluesy, somewhat Americanised voice, alternatively finger-picking and rhythmic acoustic guitar style, a stripped back rhythm section and some judicious sonic effects, all gelled together in forging a darker and moodier soundscape, although still shot through with the 'blunted' sensibility of the Fresh Produce sound, ie laid-back, late night, and jaded, but this time with melody and lyrics to the forefront. And songs such as 'Pretty Little Thing' possessed a pop sensibility, were radio friendly, and Fink gained some traction, both commercially and critically..

Fink found his metier with the 'Biscuits for Breakfast' album, and ever since it's been about honing and progressing that vibe, originally borrowed from the recordings of Zero 7, but which Fink has steeped in extra 'tea', as it were… Again, possibly at another crossroads in his life (he has expressed an interest in more production work and songwriting for others – he co-wrote an early Amy Winehouse song, 'Half Time', which can be heard on her posthumous collection 'Lioness: Hidden Treasures') Hard Believer is distinctively Fink, but with darker undertones, more use of studio sonics. 'Hard Believer' is the first release on the R’COUP’D imprint, a label newly created by Greenall with the backing of the Ninja Tune team, and was recorded over a two week period in Hollywood's Sound Factory studios with producer Billy Bush.

'Hard believer' is a term used in the Deep South of America, and means somebody who is difficult to persuade, and who requires proof. 'Won't you believe me now'? Fink asks in that distinctive timbre on the title track, the sound of someone who needs to sleep, yet shot through with neon-light clarity as he processes his thoughts, as if we are listening to Fink's diary entries. And appropriately enough, given the phrase's geographical origination, 'Hard Believer's' gently foot stomping beat and a circular blues riff continues his love affair with the blues, musically and lyrically, which goes back to 'Hush Now' on 'Biscuits for Breakfast'.

Although Fink often sings in a tonally restrictive, spoken word style, 'Green and the Blue' sees Fink open his lungs a little, singing with style and panache. And lyrically, he has that rare ability to articulate poetically, but straightforwardly: 'Pen and paper seems so permanent/Every line of every letter that I never sent' is the fantastic opening couplet, and from simple acoustic beginnings the song opens up, a mini-rush of melancholic euphoria before petering out in a swirl of guitars and effects. 'Green and the Blue' encapsulates the direction 'Hard Believer' is heading in general, the more ambitious sonic palette throughout playing a greater part than his previous work.

With a foreboding beat, dub bass and effects, like PiL on valium, and Jah Shaka on the echo effects, 'White Flag' is very much in the Massive Attack vein a la the super dark atmospherics of 'Rising Son'. The particularly hard and simple bass-key piano sound makes for – as the title suggests – a foreboding proposition as much as Del Naja, Daddy G and co. ever mustered; a turbulent, dark and stormy brew before glimpses of relative calm seep reassuringly through.

'Pilgrim', a collaboration with songwriter Blair Mackichan, co-writer of 'This Is The Thing' from Fink’s 2007 'Distance and Time' album, and Honesty' from 2011’s 'Perfect Darkness' album, is perhaps the most commercial, radio friendly track of them all. It's a straightforward acoustic rhythmic rocker of sorts with strong hints of the gently building style of Radiohead. 'From small beginnings come big endings', Fink endlessly repeats as it speeds towards closure, the song abruptly trailing once again in a gently moody sea of sound and textures.

The poignant and melodic 'Shakespeare' is another song that rises to a climax, a very personal song about tender young love: 'Oh, why, why did they teach us Shakespeare when you're only 16, no idea what it all means/ Oh, Romeo, oh, Romeo, he thinks it's a love thing, all masks and kisses from the balcony/ It's deeper than that, its a fucking tragedy/Taught me so much about love, and yet I learned nothing'.

'Looking Too Closely' revisits the faster acoustic propulsion of 'Pilgrim', a repeated guitar motif portraying a little more light than dark, although the constantly repeating piano chord suggests portent on the horizon. 'This is a song about someone else, so don't worry yourself', Fink tells himself, for once trying to unentangle himself from all the doom and gloom within his soul. Not that he wallows in it, but the often jovial Fink in real life obviously can't help but speak from the heart on record.

'Too Late' is a little more uplifting thanks to the piano, crashing cymbals, and harmonising oohing, and yet the lyrics point in a different direction: 'Too late to start again' sings Fink, a statement both of resignation and acceptance in the face of our singular (and collective) weaknesses and failings, which Fink articulates on behalf of us all. And then there's the closer 'Keep Falling', a song with just voice and rhythm guitar, and what could be a rallying inner call. 'It's alright' he intones; we keep falling, but we get there, together…. It's a statement of quiet desperation, and yet Fink, like all good survivors, suddenly witnesses a clearer vision, a possible path, for better or worse… A hard believer indeed.

Moody and haunting throughout, with the odd glimpse of optimism poking its head around the corner, particularly towards the end, 'Hard Believer' is Fink's best album yet, a fully formed work that flows superbly throughout, with much thanks to the economical and creative playing of Thornton and Whittaker, and the production skill of Billy Bush. Musically, It's all about moods and atmospherics with Fink, and happy it ain't, as he battles demons and feelings of failure; the almost resigned vibe emanating from Fink's soul makes you wonder if redemption is at hand. And yet, for all that, the persistent melancholy ultimately shines a life-affirming light. The final two words on 'Hard Believer' are 'It's alright'. Indeed, it really is.

Jeff Hemmings
 

Birdeatseaby – The Bullet Within

 
‘The Bullet Within’ is the third album from Brighton based 'indie -noir' band Birdeatsbaby. It’s an impressive body of work: twelve diverse, beautifully layered, complex songs which are clever but catchy. The album has been a real labour of love for the band, having self-financed the recording process at Brighton's AudioBeach Studios they laboured over it for months with studio owner and in-house producer Forbes Coleman. The results speak for themselves: sonically this album is light years ahead of their earlier releases, each song boasts layers of clever little audio details which reward the attentive listener. Thankfully it's not just the production that punches above it's weight, I don't think there is a weak song on the album. The tracks are of a consistently high quality and the whole album flows really well from track to track.

The album opens with The Bullet, a fantastic opening salvo which I have previously reviewed as a single [read review here: http://www.brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/12-music/123-birdeatsbaby-the-bullet]. It sets the pace and introduces us to key elements of the bands sound which they elaborate on. 'Drinking In The Day' is a mid-paced ballad that adds some bluesy elements to the mix, led by a strong pop melody and a fantastic string arrangement, it ends by highlighting the gorgeous vocal harmonies by stripping away the rest of the instrumentation. 
 

With the macabre imagery the band have always employed you might expect their output to tend more towards heavy gothic rock. 'Enemies Like Me' is the first to really deliver upon this expectation, opening with a drum rhythm reminiscent of Marilyn Manson's 'The Beautiful People'. Part of me wants the song to hit a ridiculously heavy crescendo but instead it's the orchestral elements and strings that really shine in the arrangement and instead of taking the obvious route Birdeatsbaby take one that is more theatrical, stripping down to arpeggios, vocal and string for an emotional winding-down that leads us perfectly into 'Ghosts', the first single to be released from the album. 'Ghosts' reminds me a little of William Orbit's 'Barbers Adagio For Strings' in the way it takes classical motifs and presents them with modern synth sounds and production techniques. Birdeatsbaby avoid the cheesy house beat though, opting for more atmospheric sparse, reverb soaked percussion hits and a powerful, beautiful vocal delivery.

'Hands Of Orlac' begins with a moody sparse intro that seems to borrow some of the mystery from David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' title music before picking up to take us on a progression, with each section textured differently as the song builds and builds toward the powerful refrain of “father/sire/father/liar”, underpinned by an excellent synth-line, before exploding into some of the heaviest heights of the album, signalling the halfway point.

'Into The Black' is a beautifully short track led by a music hall style piano line and excellent cello work from guest star Melora Creager. Creager is probably the coolest cello player you could find to collaborate with as founder of the cult cello-rock group Rasputina and a touring member of Nirvana during the European leg of their 'In Utero' tour. A little over a minute long 'Into The Black' forms the first part of a mid-album diversion that is completed by another short piece – the haunting 'Interlude' with floating choral vocals, bass guitar arpeggios and distant tremolo strummed guitars. Another atmospheric piece, that is almost cinematic, 'Interlude' segues into 'Tenterhooks' which returns us to Birdeatsbaby's rockier side, welcoming us to the second half of the album. It's melodies remind me a little of some of the Armenian scales utilised by System of a Down and the arrangement keeps you guessing – it's amazing how much they get through in under four minutes.

'Spiders' is set to be the next single from the album, a duet with Gabby Young (of Gabby Young and Other Animals fame). It's one of the more synthetic sounding tracks of the album, heavily processed drums and bass create a driving groove to accompany soft electric pianos and spiralling violin lines which give way to chunky distorted guitar. It's another excellent piece of arrangement which veers between sparse sections, used to highlight solo instruments, and dense sections where the band really rock out. It wouldn't be a single candidate without strong melodies and these appear in abundance, particularly the catchy repetition of the word 'cold'. 

'The Lighthouse ' is a slow ballad full of lovely piano and string flourishes. The heavy, steady drums work well with the lyrics which describe the 'Seventy Steps to the lighthouse' – making me imagine a laboured walk to an isolated tower. The lighthouse is a symbolic beacon of hope to a sailor but here it is presented as more of a prison for the inhabitant. This is one of the times the band recall Muse in their ability to fuse classical elements with modern rock and pop.

'My Arms Will Open Wide' is a late favourite of mine on the album, with melodies and a groove that seems oh-so familiar. I couldn't figure out which song this reminded me of as there are moments that recall Bill Withers 'Lovely Day', Squeeze's 'Cool For Cats' or even '5 Years' from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album. I feel the band have absorbed a smorgasbord of influences and yet this song, as with every other, is unmistakeably Birdeatsbaby which is a real triumph. The band simultaneously display their pop sensibility whilst maintaining their alternative authenticity. The song ends with a steady bass figure on each beat of the bar, a trick we’ve not heard since the first two songs of the album, which is a nice touch for bringing us towards a finale where they are joined by briefly duelling guitar and violins.

The album closes with 'Silence' – another piece along the lines of 'Ghosts', that wears its classical roots firmly on its sleeve. The verse melody reminds me of Radiohead’s ‘Wolf at the Door‘ and is followed by a gentle chorus, “But I could try/Silence is our master”, boasting one of the most beautifully delivered vocals on the album followed by the most aggressive verse. It’s hard to tell if they’re going to go out with a bang or a melancholic lilt. Either would have worked if well executed but the lilt we are treated to ending on a haunting dark piano chord is perfectly Birdeatsbaby.

With the album recording completed Birdeatsbaby ran a hugely successful kickstarter campaign to help them to release it properly – including touring and enabling them to create what is easily the best looking CD release artwork I've seen this year. The record is presented in a digipak which opens up in a cross shape; there's a complete lyric book, illustrations of each band member blowing their brains out and some excellent photographs of the group. With such excellent presentation, production and songs it would be a travesty if this isn't a breakthrough record for one of our brightest local talents. Don't take my word for it though – go out and grab yourself a copy!
Adam Kidd
 
 

Quantic – Magnetica

 
Ridiculously prolific, Will Holland aka Quantic has apparently released 17 albums in various guises (Quantic, Quantic Soul Orchestra, The Limp Twins, Combo Bárbaro), and remixed umpteen tracks, all before his 35th birthday. He is a music man from head to toe, an aficionado who literally consumes it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And not only that, but he's explored and immersed himself in all sorts of styles from around the globe; from his early love of electronic and vintage funk to the more recent afro-latin offerings, his love of the locked-in groove is apparent in practically all his recordings.
 
Magnetica sees a return to the sole use of the Quantic moniker, the first time since 2006's 'An Announcement To Answer' (although his 2012 'Look Around the Corner' album was billed as Quantic and Alice Russell, an album of collaborations with his favourite soul singer), representing a sort of amalgamation of everything he has done style wise. From the opening early hip hop beats meets psychedelic soul of the instrumental album opener 'Magnetic' to the dreamy Brazilian psychedelic bossa-pop of 'Painting Silhouettes', Holland indulges throughout, largely recording with a core team of Columbian musicians, but with a long list of guest vocalists plus other musicians brought in here and there to magic up the required sounds and styles.
 
Every track has its merits, and every track is more or less built on a groove that repeats itself throughout; from the incessant latin dance rhythms a la 'Descarga Cuantica', which rub shoulders with the guitar and percussion orientated African grooves of several offerings here, including an inspired Angolan-Columbian melange in the form of 'Durido' which features Pongo Love on vocals; while the occasional reggae influenced song, such as the digital dub sounds of 'Strike It' – which features Shinehead on vocals – nestles neatly with the arabic flavours on tracks such as the deep and bassy 'Araba' and features Dereb The Ambassador on the mic. Then there's the ska-based and house music beats orientated instrumental stomper 'Sol Clap', the slightly melancholic and swampy african feel of 'Muevelo Negro', and the laid back and string laden bossa-nova grooves of Aguas de Sorongo.
 
Not everything works here – for instance, the rather ungainly and dreamy bluegrass orientated 'You Will Return' is perhaps an experiment too far at the moment – but all in all this is very well constructed album of largely mid-tempo grooves, a compilation of sorts, of the sounds and styles that Quantic has gathered over the years. Despite the plethora of global sounds, this is a relatively fluid exploration of music from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and America, done with his usual big passionate love.
 
Jeff Hemmings
 
Website: www.quantic.org
 

White Mink – The Old Market – 2nd March 2014

I've been hearing a lot of frantic whispers and excitable rumours about White Mink for some time and I thought it was about time I finally ventured out to see what all the fuss was about – and boy, I wasn't disappointed. The Old Market was a perfect choice for the event as it has a certain air of elegance and far better suited than most venues for a night filled with classic Electro Swing and traditional Speakeasy music.

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The Acid – Liminal

Adam Freeland has said that he was burnt out from DJing around the globe, playing crazy late night shows and jetting off at stupid 0'clock for the next destination. Many would kill for that kind of lifestyle, but eventually he decided that after 16 years, enough was enough. But, as someone who was always interested in making music that involves more than just programming (witness his long forgotten 2003 album Now and Them), Freeland finally, and rather more by accident than design, found some like minded souls; Californian artist Steve Nalepa – who is apparently a technical wiz with Ableton Live, a music producer, and a professor of music technology at a Californian university; and, Australian born producer Ry X, known for his deep house excursions and more recent 'tender techno' projects.

Together, they have fashioned a remarkable album, a proper recording in the sense that this flows from beginning to end, united by Freeland's background in dance music, Ry's very hazy voice and a generally experimental approach to music making where the music is pulled and pushed, stretched and shrunk, warped and otherwise, all largely within the framework of a gently moody and minimalist house and techno soundtrack.
 
'Animal' sets the tone, a ultra slow vibe like a seriously spooked Massive Attack, complete with trademark rim click on the snare – like a ticking clock. Vocalist Ry X, as he does throughout, exaggerates his tones, and is barely decipherable, and yet very precise and quite soulful in his delivery, his voice acting as a suitably melancholy foil for the music
 
Follow on track 'Veda' is a continuation of the formula, although it's a fuller, more dynamic song with sizzling synths, key stabs, and ambient techno style percussion. While Creeper is suitably creepy, the vocals barely registering above a whisper, the bass deep and distorted, the metronomic bouts of raking machine gun percussion holding our attention.
 
Somehow, despite the often slow pace of the songs and the drowsy singing in particular, Liminal (which is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals; participants are between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes) rarely fails to register, always offering up enough interesting textures, rhythms and passing instrumentation. And there is the odd wake-up call such as the seething vocal/synth passage on the magnificent 'Basic Instinct', a song that for one brief moment also features a rather out of place East Enders style drum pattern! It is perhaps the one and only time that something jars a little, feels out of place. Although something similarly odd does appear to happen on the track Fame; same title as the Bowie song, The Acid also deploying the delayed vocal echo on the word 'Fame', much like the Bowie track (sung by John Lennon no less). Whether contrived or accidental, The Acid seem to have a playful touch within the general seriousness of the music.
At this point, an unexpected acoustic guitar strums into life at the beginning of Ra, and it's here that comparisons with Fink are inevitable, the drowsy indie-blues style that Fink has patented, whereby his acoustic guitar is irrevocably fused with his narcotic voice, is somewhat replicated here by the acoustic and Ry X's voice.
Another interesting comparison (at least to theses ears!) occurs at the beginning of Tumbling Lights, where some vibes are fused with a crescending synthesiser sound that closely replicates the Moog beginning of Genesis's 'I Know What You Like (In Your Wardrobe)' before an abrupt plodding bass synth begins the song proper, another doped-out, Massive Attackesque groove.
The Acid like their old school sounds. Apparently recorded onto analog tape, Liminal is sprinkled liberally with the distinct house sounds of yesteryear; a clicking insect here, a hi-hat there, some Orbesque chirping birds and other eerie animal type noises; it's the primal, tribalistic nature of those sounds – despite the fact they are derived by artificial means – that was part of the appeal in he first place. And while that initial potency has worn off over time, it still often makes for otherworldly, transportative music that can feel very immersive, and enveloping; warm yet somehow steely in the cold light of day.
Just about holding the line despite a dip in quality towards the end of the album, this should be an interesting spectacle live. Their first ever live show was only a few weeks ago, but with their collective music making and production experiences, and the fact they are all used to being on a stage, expect something magical.
Jeff Hemmings

Passenger – Whispers

So, how DOES Mike Rosenberg take on board sudden pop stardom and commercial success? As a man who has constantly tread the boards around the world since 2009, as a troubadour in effect, would the fire still be in his belly? The answer seems to be a decisive yes. Although some of the songs here were written before his sky rocketing fortunes thanks to the 'Let Her Go' phenomenon (number one in 20 countries), others were written more recently and Rosenberg, ever the melancholic soul – who likes to sing about breaking up, messing up and cracking up – remains the consummate fighter, a man who despite the gloom will always see the light.

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The Mojo Fins – Circa

The Mojo Fins - Circa
The Mojo Fins – Circa

The Mojos have been making music since the early noughties, a band who have always treated their 'art' with the utmost care. They are a serious band, making serious music. And ‘Circa’, their third album, is seriously good, representing their best yet.
 
Recorded once again at the legendary Rockfield Studios, and again produced by Dave Eringa, ‘Circa’ is the follow through album; whereby ‘Shake the Darkness’ saw the Mojos' sound given more textures, more foundation and a 'produced' feel that verged on the cinematic, ‘Circa’ is a more complete, rounded album, featuring a stream of great songs, from the opener ‘Longwave Reach’ to the closer ‘Hands of Flashing Light’.
 
’Longwave Reach’ is typical Mojos; tinkling piano, echoing drums, bass, guitars and strings harmoniously building up to the brief moments of cranked up and distorted guitar, adding a bit of menace and foreboding to the mix. 'I forgot, forgot to think of you/I lose the plot, get wrapped in myself' sings lead singer Stephen Brett.
 
’Introverts’ is the poppiest track on the album; helped along by an underlay of burbling synth, the song once again building up into a rush of euphoria, with a splendid guitar solo, echoes of U2 and The Sound making themselves heard. And it also contains some fine lyricism: 'Divested of the dreams/that served to keep us stationary/Extraordinary whims unfurl/Introverts'.
 
Brett's singing is powerful throughout, without ever overwhelming a song, and on ‘Circa’ he shows how good a singer he really is, especially on the very personal ‘Catholic Guilt’ track, a low key, acoustically finger picked song, the gentle melancholy of the music coalescing nicely with the regretful tone of the lyrics. Later on, the very personal ‘Friends’ sees Brett almost in solo mode.
 
 
’Arterial Road’ also harks back to the foreboding sounds and textures of The Sound, a hugely admired band from the early 80s, although whether or not The Mojos had ever heard of them is another story…
The REM feel of ‘Grass’ is another welcome change of gear; there's a lighter touch here, more of a band live-in-the-studio vibe, on this relatively straight forward number, which talks once again about possible regrets but this time with less guilt attached. 'We were care-free, we were guilt-free'.
 
’Black Sun’ epitomises the naturally euphoric nature of much of the Fins music, from the inventive tribalistic drums and Brett's downbeat vocal, it erupts into a glorious symphonic wave, before fading back again into the 'gloom.' While final track, ‘Hands of Flashing Light’, is two songs in one, a darkly grooving instrumental passage segueing into the final that finds the band once again musically dueling between dark and light.
 
The music of The Mojo Fins is often suggestive; the titles of the songs offering a direction to go, but not specifically pointing the way: ‘Longwave Reach’, ‘Exhale’, ‘Arterial Road’, ‘White Heart Beats’ and so on… their textured and euphoric meets melancholic atmospherics are yearning, regretful, hopeful, happy, sad, and all those other human emotions you expect to experience in the everyday. While the instrumentation is never flashy or fussy but spot-on throughout, little moments here and there serving to emphasise the mood of the song, but staying strictly away from the bombastic. In particular the drumming is inventive throughout, while the piano, instead of leading a song, is used as a tool, to embellish, to heighten the sensations.
 
The Mojos' generally euphoric and suggestive music is very much in the British tradition of bands such as Editors, the soundscapes and lyrics sympathetically conjoined. With the help of Dave Eringa, responsible for most of Manic Street Preachers back catalogue, but whose varied CV now also includes the rootsy R'nB vibes of the recent Roger Daltrey and Wilko Johnson album collaboration ‘Going Back Home’, they have engineered a complete work to be proud of, made more so by the evocative cover photograph of sculpted sand and rock formations of the Utah desert.
Jeff Hemmings
 
Website: themojofins.com
 

AK/DK – Synths Drums Noise Space

Could there be a more literal name for an album, short of calling it 'music'?
 
There's nothing particularly subtle about AK/DK, nor much in the way of pretence either. Much like Krautrock kings Kraftwerk who named their albums with titles such as Autobahn, Machine Music and Computer World, they wear it on their sleeves, even to the extent of displaying their loved synths, pedals, and other tools and gadgets they employ in trade of music making (along with the clothes they wear…).
 
Following vintage sounding ambient synth waves of the brief opening trace 'Introduction', AK/DK get down to business with 'Maxwell's Waves', setting the table as it were, with driving and repetitive, synths. Live drums provide the groove-laden backbone; it's where synth-dance pioneer Georgio Moroder meets the rawer, disco-punk of DFA and LCD. Following track 'Random Resonant Arp Disco' takes in some subtle influences from Krautrock before ratcheting up the distortion amid the steady synth melody lines and the bleeps and whirls deeply embedded in the mix.
 
'Modular' is a crushing, furious beast of a 'song', acid-tinged in places, double drumming driving it along, while 'Autoservice' is more ambient fair, synths bleeping, fluttering and drifting along while what sounds like a melodica ekes out a melody, before closing with the deep sound of a synth and the duo talking and flicking switches in the studio… It's this playfulness about AK/DK that has been a key factor in their growing popularity as a live act, replicated (as well as could be expected here) on record; although the use of a megaphone, a feature of the live show, is almost non-existent except for some unintelligible 'singing' on the epic 'Toucan Tango'.
 
Synths + Drums + Noise + Surface has been made with the stage in mind; somewhat improvised, and with apparently few edits, it's a good representation of their live shows, which are energetic, high protein affairs that aim to get you moving, nay even noshing, such is their fierce yet rhythmic sound. But the album does the right thing by interspersing some of the heavily distorted noise with gentler electronic grooves and textures with album closer with the Orbesque 'Seq and You Shall Find' providing a suitably calming finale.
Jeff Hemmings
 
Website: akdk.co.uk