Category Archives: Album

Brian Eno – Drums Between The Bells

Originally published on the Line of Best Fit

http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/07/brian-eno-drums-between-the-bells/

Poetry is the finest of art forms. It propels language to a realm beyond mere words and communication. Poetry gives imagination to the abstract, allows grammar to dance and creates colour within rhythm.  It’s the original multimedia; encompassing the aural, the visual and the sensual.

The power of poetry has been exploited to build nations; would Britain be the same country without William Blake’s rousing Jerusalem, Shakespear’s sonnets or the GCSE poetry of the First World War trenches? Yet it’s also aspirational at the personal level, whether that be a sixth former writing whimsical poems of a life outside of dying town, or a verse yelled from a roof top, pleading to a lover.

Intellectually, poetry is the pinnacle as it shows you are more than your subject.  An artist recites poetry to prove they can do more than paint pretty pictures, while an engineer will recall some words as his leviathan ship sails away.  So it is with musicians. As prolific and enigmatic as Brian Eno is, he still wants to push himself and to explore new art forms, and Drums Between The Bells is his opportunity to break new aural boundaries.

For his second album on Warp Records, Eno has teamed up with poet and multimedia artist Rick Holland to produce a spoken-word ambient record littered with spaced beats and urban imagery.  Despite being able to craft perfect pop with Roxy Music and Talking Heads, or shatter the global stratosphere with Coldplay and U2, Eno’s own records have always been insular and structured, so this collaboration sits somewhat uncomfortably with its outside influences. These are accentuated by the use of a range of unknown orators used throughout the record such as an accountant and health club worker that Eno stumbled across.

Eno’s  previous record, 2010’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea, was clearly influenced by the likes of Squarepusher and Luke Vibert and Drums Between the Bells starts of as an extension of this.  Opening track ‘Bless This Space’ is the younger trendier cousin of ‘Disturbed Being’ -off his 1992 album Nerve Net– with a looping jazzy beat under a jittering electronic bass. As the deep monotonic poem is delivered it develops the Tech House feel of early Layo and Bushwaka.  Second track ‘Glitch’ is the schizophrenic electronica that the name suggests.  A warped robotic voice narrates the tumble of two competing bass lines before exploding in to distorted, loading ZX Spectrum.

These two tracks show a 63-year-old man producing cutting edge electronica which puts a slew of young upstarts to shame. But, like your gran would say, for most men of that age it can’t last, and with ‘Dreambirds’ the album nestles itself within Eno’s comfort zone, that of textualised new age ambient. ‘The Real’ and ‘Pour It Out’ are merely frames for Holland poetry which takes itself too seriously and borders of the pretentious.  ’Dreambirds’’People the sky with your one strokes in the age of diminishing life/ Across the blank dioxins above us, invent new colours that fly” is a weak metaphor for birds and exemplifies the cringeworthy language of a non-poet.

As the record progresses it becomes even less of an ambient soundscape and reveals itself as a new age self-help CD. The kind peddled from shops selling crystals, magic eye pictures and bells on string. Had the spoken-word element been removed it would have been a reasonable Brian Eno record, comparable to anything from 1975’s Another Green World onwards. It’s well produced and layered perfectly but it’s precisely what we know Eno can do, and he’s done it better in the past.

A modern contemporary is Dustin O’Halloran. His album Luminaire is a wonderful example of ethereal cutting edge orchestration, but Eno’s ‘As If Your Eyes Were Partly Closed’ although similar feels empty and detached, a backing track to an incomplete movie. ‘Fierce Aisles of Light’ splices together three narrators reciting one word each over a muffled drum at the bottom of a swill tank which is worthy of a third from an ex Polytechnic’s multimedia department. ‘Sound Alien’ is a peak purely because it sounds like a track from Nine Inch Nails’ remix album Further Down the Spiral, a record that came out 16 years ago, but even this is spoilt by some perky horns.  ’Multimedia’ is a reasonable attempt at being a bit dusteppy. While ‘Silence’ is just that.

Drums Between the Bells is available as a variety of packages; vinyl with mp3, and CD with a hardback book of the poetry and art work, all of which are no doubt essential for the Eno collector to spend nearly £50 on, but unlikely to inspire a new generation. It’s a record which wants to be a piece of art, as if Eno is ashamed to be just a superstar record producer and needs to be more. If poetry is the finest of art forms then music is the greatest, and talent in this area is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately anything gained from signing to Warp and releasing Small Craft on a Milk Sea has been quashed by a weak indulgent and unnecessary record.

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Singing Adams – Everybody Friends Now

Originally published on The Line of Best Fit

http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/04/singing-adams-everybody-friends-now/

It’s a tough life being an alt-country tinged indie folk band (Acti-folk, genre fans). There are acoustic singer songwriters up and down the county after your crown on one hand, and indie bands deciding to go mellow on the other. All the while glamorous Americana from Brooklyn lofts runs up to you and steals your beer money. It’s also a slippery tight rope to walk, constantly in danger of tipping in to Paul Gambaccini Radio 2 territory, when you should be hanging out with Jeff Magnum at ATP.

This is where The Broken Family Band found themselves: Not hipster enough for the Bright Eyes or Low Anthem fans, yet neither sanitised and accessible for a Noah and The Whale hungry mainstream. Having the right friends, like Neutral Milk Hotel, and being a modern Anti-Folk influence meant they had the kudos and the cult following, perfect to name drop, but were never going to be more than a mid-afternoon festival slot at Green Man.

It seems Steven Adams knew this. In 2006 he released his debut Singing Adams album Problems, a record which sounded like a reaction to the confines of a band. He also became the BBC’s unofficial songwriter with commissions for Radio 4’s Today programme. So when The Broken Family Band disbanded in 2009 it was only a matter of time before Adams’ prolific song writing would return, and thankfully it has with Everybody Friends Now.

With opening track ‘Move on’ one is taken aback with how poppy and jolly it sounds, there are horns, hand claps and backing chants dotted troughout. Adams sings, “There was something I was trying to prove, but I didn’t know how / There was something I was trying to say, but I don’t know now / If It didn’t happen then, it never will, move on.” It’s a direct proclamation of the underachievement of The Broken Family Band, and drawing a line under that career with a fanfare to the future. The joviality is replaced with the down tempo stomp of ‘I Need Your Mind’ where a serious intent is outlined:  Adams has observed our previous behaviour and delivers a scatter gun synopsis, while the snare and bass build up to cymbal crashing chorus. It’s here Adams delivers his manifesto of the arriving future and needs us to come along. These two openers have been a form of self-therapy, a double pronged statement of where Adams wants to be, the past has been exorcised and the futures outlined. Let’s start the journey.

Unfortunately, ‘Bird on a Wing’ sounds like early noughties indie types, Lowgold, writing a drab Neil Young parody for a B-side, it’s as if Adams spent too long on the therapists coach and is struggling to get up. Paul Gambaccini is rubbing his hands with glee. Drudgery is quickly and perfectly redeemed with ‘The Old Days’ which is soaked in Big Star’s pop melodies juxtaposed with dark lyrics about the past: “I’ve seen my flame splutter out / I’ve got no guts / I’ve got no heart / You should have seen me in the old days.” You want to pick him up, shake some sense in to him and tell him that with a gentle melody like this he doesn’t need a flame, he has the entire sun on his side. As you think its fading out there’s a Bill Callaghan bridge before a solo citing J Mascis titters around us.

Having found his stride Adams breaks in to a power pop ‘Injured Party’ which is filled with the quirkiness and wry observations of The Silver Jews and the attitude of Folk Implosion. ‘Giving it All Away’ brings it down to a gentle melody which embraces Bill Callahan further and sees the horns return for mariachi flourishes. For ‘Red Carpet’ we see a repetition on influences as Neil Young emerges again, this time though in Harvest Moon mode, with Adams vocals slightly strained, with dancing guitars. As a trio of songs we’ve been able to dance, cry and contemplate, and perfectly capture what Adams must have gone through to reach this stage. It’s a realisation this is a deeply personal record.

After the limp ballad of ‘Sit and Wait’, we experience the craft of creating jangly pop with ‘Spit at Sea’ and ‘Eisableth Frink’. Both of which are part Brendan Benson and part minstrel balladeer spelling out quirky narratives for us to ponder, but ready to give us an answer.  The latter in particular is seems like a story which answers its own cliff hangers. Adams sings, “I keep forgetting to think, I’m not the man that I want to be / Some time I’ll be fixing a drink, then a cloud will come over me” , and you start thinking maybe it’s not all rosey anymore,  but the melody soon rebuffs any doubts and leaves you feeling teaming with positivity. Album closer ‘Married Woman’ is a wonderfully twee call and response piano duet which encapsulates doubts regrets and hopes.

Everybody Friends Now is a record which has allowed Adams to come to terms with the last decade and analyse the music he wants to be creating. There is an unavoidable leaning towards alternative American indie songwriters, away from any folk or traditional rock elements, and he is more than capable of setting roost in this niche. As it is, the whole record can sound a bit erratic and darts between influences, but for such a song writing talent this is bound to happen as there are so many ideas competing.  The confidence not to fall into the trap of donning a waistcoat and creating a quirky English alt-folk record is appreciated, as is turning a small part of Adams’ home Cambridgeshire in to an American ghetto. He will still remain a cult figure, but one on par with the best of our cult heroes.

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Cornershop- Cornershop and the double O Groove of

Originally published on The Line of Best Fit

http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/03/cornershop-ft-bubbley-kaur-cornershop-and-the-double-o-groove-of/

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It’s somewhat fashionable nowadays to see 90′s bands reminiscing about their heyday and playing their old albums to settled thirty something’s who’ve been granted a night away from  Relocation Relocation on More4.  The waists are wider and the fringe isn’t as floppy, but as long as the Manics have an album out, it will always be the days of Phoenix Festival and Mark and Lard on the graveyard shift in their hearts.

While Pulp take on Hyde Park and Suede become Brixton residents, our attention is brought to a little midland who have been beavering away for 20 years, to criminal under appreciation. Throughout the 90’s Cornershop flew in the face of the burgeoning Britpop trends: A ramshackle indie noise-pop band fronted by an Asian, Sitars over guitars and not sounding like George Harrison, and more than happy to hang out in America with Beck at Lollapalooza. They were the ultimate in cool, obscure indie bands, John Peel loved them they were signed to Wiiija Records. Then there was you-know-what, the indie disco anthem which still reverberates. It may seem like Cornershop got swept away off the floor of the Big Beat Boutique, but the truth is they’ve never been away.

You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise though, after a spurt of activity which resulted in six albums over nine years, Cornershop fell silent for seven years, not releasing an album until 2009′s Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast. During this time though, Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres, Cornershop’s constant core, were concocting a new Cornershop sound, one which takes their ever-present Indian styling to a natural conclusion. We were presented with a taster in 2004: The wonderful ‘Top Notch’ and ‘Natch’ saw Tjinder hand over vocals to an unknown Bubbley Kaur and focus on laid back beats and gentle groove, a stark antidote to the Rolling Stones romp of previous single ‘Lessons learnt from Rocky I to Rocky III.’

This double A side was the start of a seven year project which has resulted in Cornershop and the Double ‘O’ Groove of – a record which sets Cornershop less as a band, and deeper into the realms of producers. Using ‘Top Notch’ and ‘Natch’ as blueprints, the album opens with ‘United Provinces of India’ which greets the Punjabi Folk influence head on with looped sitars over a jittering breakbeat and Bubbley’s Punjabi vocals. It’s a wonderful culture clash, musically more western sounding than some of Cornershop’s previous material, but nested firmly in India. ‘Top Notch’ and ‘Natch’ are on the album, but as an accompaniment, not over powering, and inclusion honours the journey ..Double ‘O’ Groove Of has been on opposed to padding out the album. Indeed each album track is an equal to ‘Top Notch.’

There’s a huge range of influences evident. ‘The 911 Curry’ sounds like a 1970’s cop show trailer, complete with a Shaft breakdown and sampled funk horns jumping out at you. ‘Once There was a Wintertime’ cites Beck’s ‘Loser’ with beautifully sincere vocals replacing Bozo Nightmares, and samples of tea dance gramophone 78’s instead of a slide guitar.  I have to be honest and admit it; I haven’t the faintest idea what Bubbley’s singing about, but the vocals are used like an extra instrument, tuned to a unique sincerity.  This album is the first time Bubbley Kaur has sang outside of her family so her voice has an honest simplicity which transcends genres and language. The purposeful use of the voice is particularly evident on ‘Double Decker Eyelashes’, the slowest tempo song on the album.  Nursery rhyme like couplets are used along with a basic beat to frame an array of curiosity shop samples, from space age bleeps to jangly bells with intrusions from a baroque harpsichord, all perfectly placed.

One element of Cornershop has been their light heartedness, exemplified through the cheeky and exuberant song titles such as ‘Who Fingered Rock n Roll’, ‘Wogs Will Walk’ and ‘Slip The Drummer One’, on  …Double ’O’ Groove Of the quirkiness goes full throttle with ‘The Biro Pen’. It’s a good ole 80’s Cockney knees up as if Chas n Dave and Minder were cruising around Limehouse in a Ford Granada. It’s chips and curry sauce down the dog track, rather than an Islington gastro pub’s potato skins with homemade mayo. It’s a stand out track, but the one Bubbley’s vocals seem least comfortable with.

It’s taken a long time to produce but Cornershop and Bubbley Kaur have created a wonderful record, one which is daring, original and very modern. The mixture of vocals and production are perfect for sound tracking summer garden parties, and show Ben and Tjinder as producers of the highest calibre.  I fear it may not gain the commercial appreciation it deserves, but for lovers of the exciting and the unique then this album is essential.

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