Tag Archives: loaf recordings

The Present – The Way We Are

The Present – The Way We Are (LOAF)

the present

Freeform in its initial appearance, The Way We Are by New York’s The Present takes the form of several tiny sound experiments and one gargantuan, climactic one. The veneer must be scraped from this colossal work (the whole work, not just the final 30+ minute title track) to see its atmospheric intent – it is not a collection of sounds as much as it is an attempt to organise them. Moods bleed, almost imperceptibly, into others and vary in shade, brilliance and penetration. To analyse each and every track here would confuse and disorient both reader and writer, so it’s safe to assume that the sounds organised are designed to be consumed as a whole – with the possible exception of The Way We Are itself.

The only perception the listener might have of the shifting persuasions of this album come in the most obvious anchor points. The arrival of percussion, the quick dissemination of a synthesised drone, the less sudden changes in volume. Space Meadow, despite its silly Jason Pierce-esque title, sees some of the most immediate fluctuations in soundworld, migrating from ambience to soft, synthesised chromatic harpsichord slides to a subtle, if underwhelming climax. The silly title, damn it, is excellently apt.

The Present’s world seems to move very slowly, but very deliberately. With such a lofty title, The Way We Are could have fallen victim to the kind of inconsequential irrelevances and conceptual glossiness that urban existence in their native New York often suggests. Instead, they have chosen to lightly touch upon the human condition, not batter us with their impression of it. So there is chaos, but relative chaos. Press Play is among the more tonal segments and succeeds in evoking drumming monotony without ever becoming stagnant. It is a potent synthesis of what sounds familiarly tuneful and jarringly devoid of emotion. As far as effective music goes, it’s a mini-marvel.

Of course, the climactic title track should be the place for all the thematic guff to come to a head, and in a manner of delivery it does. It is the most varied work here, but only by virtue of its colossal length. It doesn’t so much cram in colours and moods as it does amble between them for just-about terminable lengths of time and concentration – until the very end. It’s worth sticking with: we’ve been introduced to the most ‘rock’ phrasings by about 16 minutes in, we’re weathering a particularly tinny kit hammering a straight 4/4, and we’re plunged, with no chance of rescue, into darkness. We then begin a gentle shuffle toward oblivion, with prepared piano nimbly skipping amongst the blackness and gentle screaming. The piano finally finds its dancing shoes and connects with tambourine and, finally, floor toms. This, you sense, might be it. That screaming starts to enunciate the title, and nightmarishly brings us to a shuddering, shuddering conclusion. All instruments down, feedback wailing, dust falling, human nature depicted in snapshot.

For this rich, rewarding experience, The Way We Are comes highly recommended.

This came out yesterday. Whoops! More here.


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Extra Life – Secular Works

Extra Life – Secular Works (Loaf)

Extra Life - Secular Works

Extra Life‘s composer and vocalist Charlie Looker clearly has a deep connection with the renaissance and the very emergence of vocal music in the western world. Modal scales and flourishes are backed by, interestingly, an array of traditional prog accompaniments, but this is not to say Secular Works is by any means a cut ‘n’ shut generic juxtaposition. Looker’s vocals extend the bases of his influences – from Guido of Arezzo’s first attempts to notate scaleic, syllabic passages comes Looker’s often delirious melismas. The frameworks are essentially the same, but here they are stripped and rebuilt, faster and leaner and more electrifying.

The Tortoise-esque grind of opening epic Blackmail Blues sees Extra Life exerting themselves in restless fashion. There’s no temporal anchors to be found, the angular viola and bass vying for equal billing in tempestuous territory, and then those vocals enter. You’d be forgiven for immediately assuming that this was some sort of hilarious goth experiment, such is the surprise on hearing Looker’s bell-clear nonsense words. There are cantankerous china cymbals and the occasional return to a more accessible rhythmic bent, and even some lyrics about staying together as friends to adhere us to the present. Towards the end, though, the vocals truly become virtuosic and intuitive, synchronizing in glorious homophony with razor-sharp snare attacks. This is a true reinvention of vocal techniques. Many acts have taken Luciano Berio’s sequenzas and the like as their emotive vocal templates, particularly in female alternative vocals, but few would dare to return so far back in time and try and deliver the worn as being completely fresh.

This Time is akin to Trust-era Alan Sparhawk in its lengthy climb from near-silence to final cataclysm, with escalating tension courtesy of excellent pacing and shivering viola. When it occurs, that cataclysm is slightly disappointing in that it sounds too easy, too much like a melancholy GY!BE and not nightmarish enough. The borderline insane guitar/vocal line on See You At The Show, too, proves that there is still so much to be done in the world of popular vocals. The circulating flourishes, if they were performed with vibrato over a pop backing rather than a doomy soundscape, would not sound so alien to the ears as they do here, and it’s a massive risk to rely so heavily on one element in a seven-minute piece. Each of these seven pieces has their moments of true invention and for the most part remain at a pace brisk enough to hold the attention. It’s not classically engaging and visceral and might require some acclimatisation, but once Secular Works begins to take hold, it’s impossible to ignore how very interesting it is as an experimental document and benchmark for vocal complexity.

Secular Works is out on April 6th via Loaf recordings. They’re jolly excellent. Here.

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How’s Your Week? – Seeland

This week, loyal lovers of music that swoons, we speak to Timothy Felton from Seeland, whose delicious debut album Tomorrow Today is reviewed by PM here. As you can see from his succinct answers, brevity used correctly can make for still-more intriguing additions to an already-enveloping musical world. The album, though, you should buy. Kind of like Gruff Rhys joining Tim Gane for an afternoon in Kelpe’s front room for a game of billiards or something.


In a word, how’s your week?


What did you get up to last night and how was it?

Haemorrhaging money over a bar while friends played records. Boozy.

What’s for dinner tonight and who’s cooking it?

Spinach and potatoe curry by my own fair hand.

What have you listened to today and did you like it?

Finished a remix for Yokota Sosuma and I have listened to it so much it’s hard to be objective but i’m happy.
What’s your favourite/least favourite thing that’s happened this week?

Bright sunshine/cold wind.
Tell me about it, G! You can find out more about the lovely Seeland at their MySpace. Buy their album also, it’s out on March 16th through Loaf.

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Seeland – Tomorrow Today

Seeland – Tomorrow Today (LoAF)


Blankets of stinging warmth, the kind of warmth you feel when you’ve gotten on the bus after waiting in the bitterest cold, waits for you in Tomorrow Today. Slouched in its aural beanbag, it resembles the quirks and musical accents of Scott Walker, but has urgency enough to be as brief in execution as anything from Gruff Rhys’ most urgent of canons. 

Serving time in Bristolian acts Broadcast and Plone has clearly done Seeland‘s Tim Felton and Billy Bainbridge a lot of good, and it’s of no wonder that Stereolab’s Duophonic label were very interested in the both of them. They share with the ‘Lab a distinct knowledge of the way soundworlds should be constructed and the layers you need to make it as involving an experience as possible. The gently building Colour Dream sees them covertly increase the tension throughout the first verse – simple vocal melody and minimal synthetic backgrounds gradually give in to guitar and vocal harmonies of the warmest intimation.

Library, the first single from the album, takes perhaps the most traditional approach to its craft. There are verses, bridges and choruses, and even a quiet repetition of the verse themes before we come crashing (well, nodding…) back in to finish the whole thing off. What’s commendable about this is that Seeland manage to cram in their own nuances and gentle experimentation in the plonking harpsichord and squelching tempo. It’s a great synthesis of what you’d expect electronic pop to sound like and what you’d want it to try and sound like. Such aim in their recordings.

Never happier than when luxuriating into vocal harmonic bliss on Captured, always eager to rattle on through the necessaries for pop confidence on Goodbye, Seeland’s debut manages to effectively balance sonic toybox-raiding without it all sounding like anything more than a stroll and a sprint. The cold often permeates, but there’s always a well-timed blast of hot air ’round the next bend – not so much a winter warmer as a reminder that you were never that freezing anyway.

You lucky monkeys can buy it from the 16th March, and you can hear some songs here.


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