Music is often associated with memories of a location, person or time in our lives. Ninja Tune's UK duo Grasscut undoubtedly try to connect their beautiful synth pop with various scenic locations across Britain. Their sophomore release, "Unearth", is a continuation of a concept they began two years ago on their successful debut album, "1 Inch: ½ Mile". To encourage listeners to take a physical journey, the album contained a digital map that lays out the route for a walk through a remote valley, and fittingly the album’s title is an actual map scale.
Besides Grasscut's detailed obsession with geography, the band's singer and songwriter Andrew Phillips' personal lyrics show that all the steps are equally well crafted on the new album's first single, "From Towns & Fields". In the song, twinkling keys dance over the rumbling double bass of classically trained Marcus O’Dair. Phillips’ mellow voice creates vivid imagery of silver seas and the evening sun, which balances out the playful synths to produce a fun track that doesn’t turn sugary like too many songs from emerging synth-pop bands.
Digging deeper the song tells of the experience of losing someone close to you and the need to go to locations of natural beauty to gain acceptance of your predicament. The overall reflective and upbeat nature is encouraged with a strengthened chorus featuring David (from Oddfellow’s Casino) and female vocals from Gazelle Twin. Grasscut's music is reminiscent of synthy stylings of The Postal Service and even the instrumental nature hip-hop producer DJ Shadow.
In addition to making music in Grasscut, Andrew Phillips is an award-winning film and television composer with over one hundred screen credits. This cinematic background shines through in the accompanying music video for "From Towns & Fields", which which consists of still camera views of Beachy Head, East Sussex. Every track of the upcoming album will be tied to a particular physical location. The video coincides with Grasscut's mission to avoid overstimulating the listener, but rather provide delicate songs that are made for gazing out to a shifting sea or simply reading in a dusty library to. They fit the mold of their experimental label-mates at Ninja Tune and they have remixed songs by Bonobo, Coldcut and Jaga Jazzist.
You can stream “From Towns & Fields” and watch the video below.
Man, what is it with English electronica artists and secrecy? First Pinemarten, and now Carnivals. I can at least tell you his full name - Stewart Green - and where he’s from - Sheffield. Do you feel adequately enlightened? You’d better, because that’s all you’re going to get. On the plus side, this neatly leaves plenty of room for me to wax lyrical about the music, which is the point, and it’s well worthy of a lyrical waxing.
Let me tell you a little anecdote about how I realised just how much I liked it. I first had "Absences" punted my way back in January, gave it a listen, liked it enough to put it in my “For Consideration” tray, and pretty much forgot about it. Fast forward, say, a month or two, and I was sitting about with this haunting, elegant melody in my head and no idea where it came from. I even began to wonder if this was divine inspiration and I was about to become a Grammy-winning composer. It’s probably obvious to you where this is going, so let’s just say I was not.
"Absences", and its companion "Ino (Parts 1 & 2)", make for a cohesive musical package, with both weaving heavily-processed vocal yowls around a backdrop of reversed guitars. It’s all a bit trippy, but it works brilliantly. It’s ambient, sure, but take it from me that it’s also got the melodic punch to lodge firmly in your brain. "Absences" especially is a lovely piece of arrangement - sufficiently restrained throughout that when the beat finally drops two minutes in, the lightly brushed snare feels titanic. It’s no easy feat to pull off this kind of understatement, constantly toeing the line between boredom and excess. Stewart doesn’t put a foot wrong.
He doesn’t just do washy guitars, though. His earlier EP, "Mavi Kara", heads down a good number of unusual musical avenues. The distant vocal wails are a definite trademark of his sound, but he’s also a master of off-kilter rhythms ("I Can See") and even percussive noise ("What’s Left"). I don’t know what exactly he’s banging for the samples at the start of "Drowning", but its looping guitar and shuffling drums make good on their Boards Of Canada promise. It’s all very impressive.
Personally, I’m happy to see Stewart moving in an ambient direction - partly because it’s a style I like; partly because he so evidently gets how to do it. He’s got a new EP due out in the near future, so we should get a good idea of how things are going to develop over time. Until then, chalk him up as one to keep an eye on, and if you find yourself with a song stuck in your head a month from now that you can’t place, check it isn’t one of Carnivals’.
Trailer Trash Tracys is a four-piece band from London, signed by Domino Records/Double Six. The band snagged attention with their longing-filled track, "Candy Girl", two years ago, around the time The XX made their debut, and has only recently released their first album, Ester, to add to their name. Stating Sufi poetry (now if that doesn’t sound intriguing already, I don’t know what’ll pull you in…) and a kaleidoscope of experimental sounds as their influences, this band certainly has a sound that is distinctly interesting, mixing the unfamiliar and the familiar together in an intriguing blend.
I held zero expectations when I first started listening to their debut, “Ester”. Groggy and bored, I wanted something to surprise me, something different from the usual repeats of the usual artists I so often had on play. Glancing at the album cover, I wasn’t sure of what to expect of my auditory companion for the week - the hazed out woman on the cover and the unattractive font reminded me eerily of moments of frustration revolving a stuck Windows computer screen. To the cynical viewer, it looked unimpressive, if not vague, to say the least. What genre of music is this even?? was the all-important question asked the first time I set my eyes on the album.
Thankfully, just as you should not judge a book by its cover, I guess it’s only fair that you do not judge a band by its album cover as well (ha-ha). The first listen of the psychedelic-sounding opener, titled “Rolling Kiss the Universe”, managed to whet the appetite just enough as an opening track. However, what I liked even more was how beautifully in sequence it continued on to the next track, a cracker of a track titled “You Wish You Were Red”. This track, underlaced with Twin Peaks basslines so steadily good, introduces you to the vocals of the singer, Suzanne Aztoria, whose vocals are best described as nowhere near nectarine sweet yet serenely assuring in a dreamily hazy sense. Immediately, comparisons to other bands that come to mind upon listening would be psychedelic bands like Warpaint and perhaps even the much older Cocteau Twins. The lo-fi/shoegaze sound also inevitably draws comparisons to bands such as Still Corners and Sleep ∞ Over. But there is more to “Ester” than just that; add in a dash of dreampop, a strong 80s-soaked influence (think The Jesus and Mary Chain plus longingly haunting lyrics and you’ve got the basic outline of this album.
The star of "Ester" would be the disoriented arrangements of all the tracks; dissonant, weird, foggy, yet surprisingly so amazing in chemistry together. The lyrics are sparsely poetic and the overall music, a varied mash of many clashings, sometimes spacey and tinny, sometimes explosive and chaotic (check out the track "Starlatine" and “Turkish Heights”, both so freakishly good in warped ways). The obvious standout track, "Candy Girl", is infectious and difficult not to fall in love with, tainted in melancholia and shoegaze as it is.
Then again, this album has its minor faults. This is not the sort of album to swoop you whole at first listen (in fact, it was hard for me to recollect the other songs from memory save for their two standouts the first few times I was listening to it) but it certainly grows on you fast and hard. "Ester" may not bowl you over completely but it is definitely a winner for hazed out nights to remind you of monologues you have with yourself in the dead, solitary hours of the early morning. For what its worth, this is definitely an interesting and a bold try worth crediting for a first album.
Chicago, Boston, Europe … You could be forgiven for thinking that Netherlands might be, you know, Dutch. They’re not, though. They’re roughly as Dutch as I am - in name only. Did you know the name Rutherford was originally Dutch? Did you care? Anyway, the point is that Netherlands are from Southampton, are now based in London, and to the best of my knowledge have not a Flemish bone in their bodies.
Continuing with the international theme, the five-piece make a brand of dream-pop that sounds far more American than European: think Galaxie 500, or the eternal touchstones of the genre Mazzy Star. Like the latter, they tie in a distinctive folk and country edge to the sound, with tremolo guitars and understated, cooing harmonies.
Having only started gigging in August, it’s fair to say that Netherlands are still in the process of establishing themselves. You can tell because when you Google their unofficial debut EP, "Places To Haunt", the bulk of the results seem to be about allegedly ghost-infested houses in the Low Countries. That said, you can tell it’s a pretty damn good effort because the two results that do point to it happen to come right at the top. Or maybe that’s just good SEO.
Either way, it is a damn good EP. The three tracks, "Something Or Nothing", "Sleeping" and "Amour" are between them mellow, heart-warming and mature. “Something Or Nothing” and “Amour” will be seeing a proper release as the A- and B-sides respectively of a single in December; in the meantime, the live shows are finally getting underway, so expect to hear more from these guys pretty much any time around now.
You can listen to the aforementioned trio below, or follow up the links for more information about live dates.
When I first heard the single “Close Your Eyes” by The Bullitts I knew I had to hear it again.
I listened the song over and over and over again, ‘til I was bobbing my head and singing along. The single’s hypnotic opening monologue, repeated throughout like a mantra, ebbing perfectly with the beat; the undercurrent of the soft female voice of Lucy Liu (yes, that’s that Lucy Liu’s breathy recitation) opens you up to the soulful falsetto of Danny Defreitas, and you’re all in, ready for whatever else will happen by the time Jay Electronica's (who has worked with the likes of Jay-Z, Erykah Badu and J Dilla, among others—check out his take on Jon Brion’s “Eternal Sunshine” score) puts the icing on the cake.
The group has an air of mystery, with members being fairly high profile individuals, yet little has been publicized about this unique collaboration; the aforementioned album “They Die By Dawn…” has been forthcoming for a long time with no clear release date; even getting a band photo has been a goose chase, hence the veiled album art above.
What is known is producer and writer Jeymes Samuel seems to be largely behind the operation. The album “They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories” is said to have collaborations with more major players such as Mos Def. The permanent members of the group seem to be guitarist and vocalist Noel F. Whelan, guitarist Stevie V., bassist Stevie J. and drummer Mick Hefferon.
I don’t think I’ve come across a collaboration like this since getting into Massive Attack. Though the two couldn’t be more different, the blending of genres and engenue of guest vocalists is very alluring in both cases. “Those Silly Names” is another song that evokes this notion. A ballad, it reveals more of the spectrum this group is capable of, the percussion touching elements of trip-hop, even. And on songs like “Run & Hide,” which also features Jay Electronica, so many small pieces come together to make an effortless sound. This group has surprised me many times with how the very different elements of music can work with each other, i.e. spoken word, falsetto singing, rapping, ethereal synths and bassy beats.
"I knew there was more before there was nothing," Liu repeats over and over in "Close Your Eyes". For The Bullitts, this is something being proven true, as they take hip hop and make it sound new, showing me again that pop music can still be interesting and good.