Sunday, 28 February 2021

Cocteau Twins "Blue Bell Knoll" (1988)


Arriving at our 13th installment in the Cocteau Twins journey, fatigue comes to mind with a full length record that is both pleasant and joyous as it is consistent and routine. The sparkle is either missing from the record or myself. Put simply, Blue Bell Knoll failed to rope me with a lack of surprise within the musical idea portrayed. It is however a spirited pivot away from the Ethereal and dark that often lures me in. The majority of its ten tracks focus on bright, appeasing melodies that twinkle between the cracks in their hazy aesthetics. Simple song design and easily indulged moods make it a rather inviting record despite not feeling much deeper than its surface.

Two of its songs do hint an electronic element but alone with this duo, the experiment is brief. The title and opening track beefs up its bongo led percussive track with a synth tone to give of some subtle difference. It emerges boldly again on A Kissed Out Red Floatboat with an unmistakable likeness to Kraftwerk's The Man Machine main melody. The busying notes of osculating wave synth bustle their way through the song like a happy accident. Not adding anything in particular to the song but just coincidentally matching the musics key and peaking audibility when the other instruments quiet.

I could describe once again the details of these band mates contributions but I would be recycling my words. Its as one would expect from the trio with Fraiser finding her most quiet yet fitting performance. She dances through these songs effortlessly yet her presence doesn't have the punch her tricky annunciations on Treasure would. All in all its a reasonable effort but lacking a spark to distinguish itself in the shadow of their great works of musical art that came before.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 26 February 2021

Jessie Ware "What's Your Pleasure" (2020)

Nostalgia revival has been a recurring theme across the musical spectrum in recent years. Strangely, the better of it all doesn't feel nostalgic at all. That's what we have here, a plunge into the past that pulls out the finest moments with precision. What's Your Pleasure looks back through the aesthetics, ideas and instrumentation of Disco, Dance, Pop, Soul and Funk's glory years and brings them to life once again with twelve stunningly charismatic songs, all with something unique to offer.

 The record is a classy affair. Kicking off with its catchy dance floor numbers one will be lured in by its attitude, jive and confident energy. A general sense of the eighty and Synth-pop resides here. A pivot in the midsection runs through some modern downtempo driven atmospheric tunes to relax the tempo. These deep moods recur again in its final phase shuffled between more classic vibes culminating in the timeless Remember Where You Are, a song for the ages. Its cinematic theme and swells of warm, sunny smiles are utterly classic and moving every time it closes the album.

 Jessie is the glue. The stylistic pivots and musical diversity are held together by her unassuming voice. With power and emotion she sings without an obvious distinction most singers catch my ear with. She is well composed, strong and sings with confidence through the ranges that stretches to the breathy voice on occasion. Her attitude and posture matches the tone of these numbers on every track and her common presence unifies. Tracks like Ooh La La and In Your Eyes sound miles apart separately but with her guidance its all comes together in the grander experience.

The instrumentals are a delicacy. Aesthetically every sound is lavish and stunning. The tone, and temperament of these instruments are gorgeous. The bass guitar oozes with texture as it prowls along as the musical backbone. Brief ushers of guitar licks shimmer in the breeze and the diverse pallet of percussive sounds get worked in to suit its songs main stylistic focus. The synth work too is sublime, from big and bold to soft and subtle everything is a joy to indulge with and take in.

Musically, many of the ideas lack true originality with its roots in the deeply explored styles of past but in execution the song writing hits the mark with a stunning sense of charisma. The best comes from the overlaps of 70s and 80s era moods with the more modern House and Downtempo beat frameworks. Another stunning aspect is the deployment of these upfront, in your face cheesy synths. Once a retro stain of the 80s, in this context it is wonderfully worked around the attitude of Jessie on a couple of songs, making much fun of a once dated style.

These songs have life, soul and experience to them. Ranging from boisterous fun and flirtatious struts to weepings of heart breaks and pains suffered, Jessie puts her personality into every moment. It all comes with a gleam of uplift. Often fun and playful, even its reflective, melancholic tracks resolve to a positive space.

All in all this is one heck of a production. What's Your Pleasure sets the bar high as it explores some nostalgic ideas, bringing them back in style and with relevancy. Ive delved into this one deep. Its got swooning spells throughout although favorites do emerge as some of the Synth-pop and Funk tracks tire on many repetitions. Its Downtempo and classic old school string section, diva led pop tracks are a delight, occasionally tugging on my heart strings. Its dance-able throughout with plenty of groove and attitude to boost your spirits. This is the sort of record you can recommend to anyone who isn't pegged into a musical corner.

Favorite Tracks: Spotlight, What's Your Pleasure, In Your Eyes, Step Into my Life, Mirage, Remember Where You Are
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Shade Empire "Sinthetic" (2004)


Having recently recorded my blog post on Arcane Omega for my music channel, I was prompted to explore the Finnish bands back catalog and thus landed here at their debut. Initially I writ it off as being a run of the mill record, however with each spin the melodies and symphonic themes rooted themselves, revealing a slice of fantastic songwriting here at the origin of their adventures. Sinthetic is not without flaws but certainly a stronger set of songs that you would initially suspect in their infancy.

As a Symphonic Extreme Metal album, its texture, tone and temperament exudes much of what Dimmu Borgir unleashed with Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia a couple years beforehand. What Shade Empire bring to the table is an Electronic element tangled between its harsh metallic drive and swoons of symphonic might. The best of the record comes from the gleams of melody its orchestral tones usher in over the industrious workings of synth LFO's bustling away around its metallic template. Its design very much of the electronic scene, working its way in with an Industrial vibe.

Its quite the stark construct, the guitars feel distance with a narrow scratchy, plastic tone. The rapid drums rattle their way around with a lot of intensity. The bass guitar and low end is thinned out, the electronic osculations fire off with distance too. Harju's harsh, flat screams are too without depth, adding to this brittle production style. Its the symphonic keys, choral vocals and pianos that swarm the music with a warmness. Dense in tone and presence, they dominate the music on arrival.

These elements essentially carry the record which unfortunately pivots quite often to the drive of Metal techniques and arrangements that tend to have little dazzle. Its at its best when the keys take over, delivering theme, melody and might that swoons and takes off like a rocket. Its a mix of contrasts that works when smothered with synth and in doing so gives it an edge over what you might expect from this musical niche.

That echo's my opening statement, initially I thought it to be a typical record but in hearing the persuasion of Savolainen's arrangements blossom, it reveals a fractional magic. The reality is whenever the music hinges on its metallic footing its a rather dull affair. Its eight songs have their moments and when they do, its always the swirls of electronic synthesizer or orchestral gleam that births its magic. A peculiar record, one that indicates their symphonic genius was there from day one.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Cocteau Twins "Love's Easy Tears" (1986)


And so the Cocteau Twins musical journey continues on with what will be the last of these brief EPs, for a few years at least. Its been a consistent drip feed of mediocrity with the occasional spark of magic and Love's Easy Tears is no exception. Hot off the back of an experimental Victorialand, the band slip back into a groove as a trio again. The ever present drum machine and a persistently muddy bass presences rears the band into a familiar space. The title track and Sigh's Smell Of Farewell hit the similar trend of lacking chemistry between Fraiser and Guthrie, however it should be said the rhythm section brings little beyond bare bones to bolster their performances.

Those Eyes, That Mouth perks the ears with the two finding an esoteric spark to lure us into a mysterious Ethereal tension that never finds a release its yearning for but ventures through its darkly atmosphere finding a rising tide as intensities swell into the closing phase. Orange Appled sounds remarkably different from the other three. Fraiser's singing is in a deeper range and her wordings more pronounced and upfront yet still ambiguous. Its hooky bell melody come on strong but the tune doesn't quite land for my ears. All in all its another collection of B-Sides, fun to dive into but pales in comparison to their album material.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Bolt Thrower "The IVth Crusade" (1992)

I may have said I was done with this journey for now but one curious listen alone had me thinking this was hands down the best Bolt Thrower had to offer. If War Master, their previous effort, was a pivotal moment of evolution for the bands sound, then this is the mastery of that transformation. Dispensing off with the Grindcore hangovers of frantic guitar noise and plunges into manic blast beats, the band shed the scars of their youthful music and lean full tilt into their championed formula of dense low end grooves that croon against frequent rises of catchy leads. Pairing power and might with satisfying swigs of mean melody, the endless sways are endlessly enjoyable.
Despite being fully accustomed to this mid-tempo Death-Doom temperament, these songs seemed to hit the hardest of all and with a little more pace than usual. With a crushing resilience, the production brings about a dense, feisty tone that carries the relentless percussive pummeling so well. Track after track hammers away with intense, pounding drums rattling off a heavy framework for the thick, meaty distortion guitars to grind out an arsenal of riffs that carry well. These songs are simpler, to the point and with a refined execution the head banging is ceaseless!

Many of the common tricks are turned here, the timely breaking of intense drum patterns to half times on the ride or hi-hat symbol are in frequent circulation. The guitars offer up balance with the constant swaying on the ranges of the fretboard. Above it all Willets gives another mighty performance with his steady barking of guttural growls as mean and gritty as ever. Despite being a familiar experience, the excitement sustains as the sharpest ideas are delivered stunningly. Within the Death Metal context, the angle of war and the suffering it causes delivers a tempered beast of crushing might and majesty that's somehow unlike anything adjacent to them.

Embers stands out for sharing the same recurring riff as Powder Burns and Cenotaph but taking the biscuit is closer track Through The Ages where the band offered up a little novelty to their sound. Light choral synths back one of their broodiest riffs in the closing phase after a spoken word narrative listing of a long history of wars throughout human history. It ties itself to the thematic concept of the record seen in title, album art and lyrics. Just by stepping aside with an alternate idea they create a truly memorable song as the dates listed reinforce the magnitude of human created suffering by war, only then to be shadowed by this swell of musical might. Its powerful.

 At some point I will probably get around to the missing Bolt Thrower records I am yet to unearth. My entire time with the music I was trying to figure out where they fit into Death Metal's legacy. Thinking of other pivotal records in 92 like Clandestine and, Tomb Of The Mutilated this was certainly not at the forefront of the musics evolution but right at its peak they came through with a matured sound that didn't hinge on gimmicks as subsequently can be appreciated well through a historical lens. If I've not made it clear, this is thee Bolt Thrower album to check out! A brilliant moment in time.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Cocteau Twins "Victorialand" (1986)

 Having recently split a subpar album into two EPs in the previous year, the Cocteau Twins return with a full release that on paper you'd suspect would be more likely to suffer that fate. With bassist Raymonde tied up with other commitments, Victorialand strips out percussion and bass in a bold, experimental move that actually turns up gold. Initially it stands apart for lacking what is seemingly a core part of the groups music and ironically the focus on guitar and vocal alone forge a beautiful chemistry between the two, something their recent string of EPs seemed to lack all too often.

Guthrie refines a sound heard before, often intermittent between his echo delay experimentation with ambiguous guitar texture. With a touch of roomy reverberation his focus lands on lush, bold acoustic guitar chords and plucked strings. Dreamy, bright and glossy they flow lavish and oozy as the melodies vibrate and resonate in soft feedback loops. Although a little hazy and foggy they dance in the Ethereal wash, swaying with a timeless dreaminess the band yield, somehow unlike anything before.

Fraser finds a stride heard many times before with the best of her spirited singing. She leans in on the unusual pronouncing and annunciations that put emphasis and feeling in the unconventional spots. She meanders around the guitars like a wandering spirit, rising and falling, exploring her range and depth of expression. Her pace is drawn out, lingering on scenic notes, voicing with a ghostly intent. The use of pre-echo and other manipulations artfully expand the avenue this duo carved for themselves.

Chemistry is often king and here it reigns supreme as the focus on two instruments have them finding the sublime connections on its best tracks. All sorts of fantastical places of adventure and intrigue are conjured in the imagination when they find a stride. A Saxaphone and Tabla can be heard chiming in on occasion and one or two song use a tiny sway of percussion and sometimes bass. Its so subtle it seems almost necessary yet irrelevant in the shadow of absence the majority of the music carries.

A bonus track, remixed by Massive Attack, serves to show how well the music can stand on its own while being completely open to percussion and bass. Final song, The Thinner The Air, is a tense, winding closer that dissipates at the albums end. The accompaniment of Trip Hop thuds, cracks and piano chords add in a foundation entirely optional. It highlights how much magic is birthed in this chemistry and how the common and expected are sometimes unnecessary to what makes the music tick. Victorialand has its moments and some songs may not click so sweetly but it is a change in pace worthy of attention!
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Bolt Thrower "War Master" (1991)

This is it! The pivot I was listening out for, a moment of change but one that surprisingly comes as a full on swing. With a touch of Doom Metal restraint, the band find the steady footing for their brutality to march hard at mid tempo, with powerful grooves thrusting its momentum forth with the energy I enjoy. Bolt Thrower still strike me as a band in identity crisis. Yet to land on the appropriate theme of war, their Warhammer inspired image and tacky name seemed at odds with the early Death Metal sound. These are all details that don't really matter if the music is good.

In War Master lies a big step forward in fidelity and song writing. The rhythm guitar finally finds its tempered aggression that defines later records. This aforementioned pivot is massive but not without the blemishes of their previous efforts. It actually adds a little flair as wild plunges into loose blast beats and the hangover of Grindcore guitar noise give it brief tangents to break the tone. Otherwise all the pieces are in place. Big and powerful power chord arrangements routinely switch into tremolo picking as lively drum patterns pick up pace, delivering that heavy sway of grooving aggression.

Best of all, Karl Willets's voice opens way up. This could have been aided by the decent fidelity of this record. His breathy, throaty guttural growls are very audible for this seasoned listener. I found myself catching many of his doom and gloom lyrics, expressing disgust and commanding punishment and persecution for the human race. Its all light heart stuff! He rides the music like that extra layer of noise but the amount of texture and grit is endearing. Its not often a vocal performance catches my ear.

All being said, my excitement is steered heavily by finding this "linking" moment where the band stumbled into their own brilliance. That being said, it sounds like a total switch up to my ears with only the occasional blast beats and eruptions of lead guitar noise having much of a link to what they did on Realm Of Chaos. I'd be curious to learn what the band themselves thought of this evolution. With only two other records to digest, I think I'll put this one on ice again for now.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Cocteau Twins "Echoes In A Shallow Bay" (1985)

Echoes In A Shallow Bay is the second half of what could of been a fourth album for the Scottish trio. Tiny Dynamite has the favorable pick of songs, with three of these four tracks offering subdued darkly obscurities that indulge but don't shine. Its a familiar take on their Ethereal sound with the opening Great Spangled Fritillary lingering on dense, elongated guitar noise that shivers through the cold, spacious setting, a tone somewhat adjacent to much of whats heard on Lycia's classic Cold.

The following Melonella and Pale Clouded White usher in stiff chord cycling pianos that get enveloped when swells of guitar noise arise. The moods are gloomy, of dusk and come with a little magic in its build ups. Again, Fraiser just doesn't find the charm, she is subdued but in this reserved performance she gels with the nightly atmosphere.

Eggs And Their Shells has a subtle pivot, a warm uplift arises from its simple melody and the angular insertions that compliment it. Fraiser takes her voice to a delicate, airy height, a carefree delight. Its a slightly disjointed song but its differences create the best out of the subdued sound and that seems to be the key word on this record. If looking for something Ethereal with less immediacy, then this is it.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, 1 February 2021

Bolt Thrower "Realm Of Chaos" (1989)

Sometimes, it can be quite difficult to write about records your simply not sold on. Here my curiosity lies in the bands evolution to the tempered beast of burly grooves and steady brutality they will become on Mercenary. Realm Of Chaos is a distinct move forward from In Battle There Is Now Law, shedding some Grindcore elements and developing a leaner Death Metal sound, for the time. It still shares some tropes, like the collapsing into blast beats and discernible guitar noise. Though for the most part the blasts come structured with percussive drives rattling away, adding tempo to the otherwise mid tempo guitar work.
Beneath it the rhythm guitars charge, shredding power chords, playing up "evil" melodies of the era and on occasion erupting with the wild, chaotic lead guitar licks that come across with an aided clarity. To me though, its mostly stale and dull. The fidelity is drab, the distortion tone wades in a muddy fuzz. Only the vocals get a clear line of focus above the instrumentation. As it works its way through the arsenal on riffs little excites. These techniques and ideas live the shadows of the genres development. A few riffs hold some merit and in brief fractions of slow, drawn out power chords you may hear a little of whats to come. At this point though, they are yet to find themselves, just another name in the scene. 

Favorite Track : Lost Souls Domain
Rating: 4/10