Tag Archives: self-titled

Ape School – S/T

Ape School – S/T (Counter)


A chance discovery like the one Michael Johnson made prior to recording this album (his first under the Ape School title) can shape a recording and give it focus, or it can restrict it. Happily, Johnson’s discovery was a beautiful old Moog (apparently the fourth ever made by Mr. Moog himself), and its ghostly presence is something of an underpinning drone throughout this self-titled opus. While that sonic territory has been infinitely mined by less Moog-heavy artists like The Sleepy Jackson and all the sunshine-pop references therein is of minor detraction, but the sun still shine brightly through the cracks.

It seems that each song has its own concept, its own chosen timbre that defines its brief existence. Be it a particular guitar tone, a lolloping rhythm or a wash of that omnipresent Moog, there’s always one meme that separates each track from the next. The inherent danger lies in relying on solely that, and omitting much of a melody or inspiring delivery. Much of Ape School is well-crafted and functional, but it needed a little more consideration of its performance to elevate it to the great height Johnson is clearly capable of attaining. The meandering The Underground is probably the most ambitious cut here, ushering in a ponderous melody amongst light sonic deconstructions, channelling the likes of Gainsbourg as meddled-with by Jason Lytle.

Deathstomp is impressive in its width of aural intensity, but ultimately a little limp. This is, crucially, a song that will only work at gargantuan volume, a diseased glam romp through a plot of land shared by Goldfrapp and Marc Bolan. With that all-important volume dial turned up, it sounds majestic. Turned to a moderate level, the intensity dies thanks to Johnson’s ever-laconic vocals. If he were to commit to the sound a little more (and not just on this one example), a world of performative contrast might open up before him. Different shades, trills and ticks are what makes an interesting vocal performance. With his attractively lazy approach up against all this sonic majesty, it’s inevitably a jarring battle that, while diverting, could have been much improved.

Ape School leaks promise and mastery, but is held back by conceptual and aesthetic confusion. It’s one thing to juxtapose two styles of delivery, but to do so when neither force might stand up alone is a shame. The Moog discovery should have been a more involving and focused one. Though it permeates the record, it does little to inform it and shape it, and the same might be said of the vocals. A shame, because Michael Johnson is a clear, clear talent.

This is out on Counter on July 6th. Bit early, this. Go here.


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Blue Roses – S/T

Blue Roses – S/T (XL)


That Laura Groves is only 21 years old at the time of writing makes her debut album under the Blue Roses banner remarkable. The superficialities of her rise to prominence read like those any number of disenfranchised, brave and un-encouraged girls; a country upbringing, impeccably quirky influences and borrowed equipment and voices, but a dazzling desire to escape whatever ‘trappings’ are often associated with young female performers in their press releases has made this self-titled record something of a loner in its triumph.

Delicate rubati, orchestrated strokes of emotional highlighting and Groves’ voice itself provide endless bafflement, excitement and gentle exhilaration. The final phrases of Coast evoke storms building on the high seas and, because Groves sees lyric and note as a most inherent intertwining, we hear misty strains of shanty accordion. Details, maybe, but ones that are indicative of consummate writing, encompassed with watertight thematic and musical interaction.

The voice will no-doubt see comparison to Joanna Newsome while the album is critiqued, but there’s an expansiveness that Groves has that Newsome can’t challenge. Where Newsome has the more elaborate orchestration and labyrinthine construction, Groves has the emotional trump in her delicate delivery. She doesn’t even sound that much like her. No more laziness please, press peeps. Besides, Groves’ auto-harmonies lift her voice from pretty to spectral, almost gaudy in their histrionic, triadic excess, but reigned in by centred melodies.

Instrumentally Groves displays an affinity for quirkiness of timbre, but not an overreaching, self-sabotaging desire for wackiness. There’s no “ooh, check my Bolivian anal flute”, more a considered ear bent towards creating the correct atmosphere. It’s a sly multi-faceted approach, but one that means the accessibility of pianos, guitars and strings are given real legs for walking by the addition of instinctive extra instrumentation, from the kalimbas of single Doubtful Comforts to the gentle bleeps of warm synthesizer on I Am Leaving Now.

Indeed, for an album that relies an awful lot on its quirks and corners of interest, Blue Roses manages to retain an admirably humanist core. It seems that Groves has written these initially for sparse performance, but elaborated on her bases to make the compositions very beautiful, involving and unabashedly romantic affairs. For the listener, it’s heartening to see this much care being taken over popular songs – surely the upshot will be worthy attention being lavished upon Groves from now on.

This was out Monday. PM was on holiday, alright? GIVE US A BREAK, DIV! More music here.

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Castrovalva – S/T

Friends, lovers, we’re back. Holiday was ace, thanks. Did you know Peter Hook has posters all over Valencia?

Castrovalva – S/T (Brew)Castrovalva

This mini-album from Leeds-based ‘experimental’ (if ever a catch-all term was overused, this is the one) rock duo Castrovalva has the entire requisite energy, spasm and verve to align them with their chief influences. Lightning Bolt are perhaps a slightly-too-obvious reference point for clueless press, but one that provides a template for the band’s aim. While they have the aforementioned requisites for this supposed ‘experimental’ rock genre, do they have the other, oft-unassailable factors necessary for success?

At points, this self-titled thrash anarchy is beautifully taut and well-rendered, but the experimentation (as we might term it) could be more frenetic and intuitive. This pair are definitely the product of much gruesome research and rehearsal, but their improvisational impulses might not be as honed yet as they might be. When a groove is established it seems more often than not to be one that could have been dreamt up in the cotton fields, but played at disgusting volume. Furthermore, any tweaks of meter are strictly simplistic extensions of the bar rather than the instinctive accelerations of, say, Castrolava’s labelmates Kong.

When they do reach their zeniths, like on the furious, chugging Bison Scissor Kick, it’s entertainment and reflex boiled down to bare brilliance. More of this might result in the worthy exorcism of ‘the riff’ as a concept for Castrovalva, and the rewards will be all ours to analyse and enjoy.

This will arrive on download and physicaload on May 5th, via Brew. More.

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The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – S/T

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – S/T (Fortuna POP!)

the pains of being pure at heart

So let’s summarise. Your band sounds like a million other bands, and not just because of the feel if it like so many cack-hand writers care to approximate, but because actual, practical, musical reasons. Your boy-girl vocals are octave spaced and reasonably low in the mix, your guitars are overdriven to the point of near-oblivion, and your songs are about boys and girls messing things up and annoying each other and growing up and stuff. A list of similar bands is useless at this point, click on any other review of this self-titled debut and you’ll find what you’re after.

What’s different about The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart? All these tedious soundalike issues exist, but what of the band allows us to ignore them? Innate sing-along charm, for one. Fucking sensible and functional songs, for another. Their sound oozes an ease and elegance that can only come with unstudied glory and their considerable inexperience. Take single Come Saturday. It’s just the simplest song you could write, but the band’s brilliant energy turns it into a shining, bold and attractive collection of well-balanced melodies and louche heartbreak. Gentle tweaks to the formula such as ebullient overdrive and the sudden emergence of fuzzy bass in the second verse ensure total freshness for the duration, but it’s the verve you’ll remember more than anything else.

Elsewhere, there are any number of simple pleasures that do the exact same thing. The staccato homophony of high register guitar chords and thumping toms on Young Adult Friction are utter exhilaration, the gentleness of the guitar strokes on the righteous This Love Is Fucking Right!, there’s plenty to rave about. While the buoyancy and the energy doesn’t extend to every single second (how could it?), The Pains prove that their youth and simultaneous knowledge of their ancestry are enough to make the most straight-forward and digestible of pop records. Not a note is wasted, not a tune possessive of more ennui than it should be milked for. Pure economy. Perhaps the only worry is that a second album will jade them, rob them of their spirit, but that’s not for now.

So your band, then. It sounds like a million other bands. But so too do those million other bands. Count yourselves among their ranks and continue on.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart is released on February 9th – more information here! You can read this review here at The Quietus, too.

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