More new shoegaze sounds today! This time it’s courtesy of Frenchman Yann Le Razavet who, as Marble Arch, records music that draws heavily on the likes of New Order and Ride. He makes it sound effortless with cascading melodies, obscured vocals and synths and guitars that blur into one billowing vapour of 80s indie pop.
SHON is a Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist who released an EP called Made As It Drifted, earlier in 2018. ‘A Crack In It’ is one of those textured and layered tracks that recalls the inventiveness of Radiohead and the willingness to place real instruments in digital environments. SHON uses an art-rock and post-rock palette of sound and it works wonderfully on both sonic and songwriting levels.
Umfozi (Elias Araya) hails from Sweden and is the former drummer for indie band Junip. His solo project sees him channelling self-confessed influences such as Alice Coltrane, Neurosis and Sylvester and creating these hypnotic instrumental pieces that are built on percussive elements yet they possess floating, drifting avant-jazz and electronic qualities that take the pieces to quite interesting and subtle places.
You can listen to the rest of his EP Asterkross on Spotify.
It’s been six years since Nic McKenzie and Nick Weaver released their debut album Outlands. On the back of a run of singles they’d built a strong sense of anticipation about that first record and it certainly lived up to expectations. Fast forward to 2018 and how does a band evolve and change over that time? The DSA model is to essentially stick to the template with some refinement and an easing off of the accelerator.
As you’d expect with such a long gestation, they’ve no doubt rewritten and reworked tracks and that has given these ten songs a sense of calm control. The more frantic edges of earlier songs have been rounded off. This is the band sounding less indie psych rock and with more of an ultramodern sheen that embraces electronic and disco sounds as much as it distils the pop and psychedelic qualities of their past work. Mercury Rev, Spoon, Beck, The Horrors are names that come to mind, acts that all relish melodic hooks as equally as they paint in cosmic colours.
McKenzie’s voice is shorn of some of its more nasally proclivities and is now in perfect marriage with the music. Musically, the Manchester 90s vibe is still there in tracks like Joanna with its dance-ready rhythm section. The closer Ready is a highlight of studio-polished melancholy while Learning To Fly is an absolute ear-worm of a track that uses hooks and repetition to bury itself deep. The other highlight is the single Close To Me with its loping trip hop groove and psych-soul feel that blossoms into one of the duo’s finest choruses.
Black lights are employed for artistic lighting effects as well as diagnostic and therapeutic uses and in that sense it’s a fitting title for a record that looks to combine art-pop and post-relationship dissection. There are moments when form supersedes the strength of the songwriting but overall Blacklight justifies the long wait for this second album.
Deep Sea Arcade have been hard at work on their new album Blacklight, their first since Outlands in 2012. We’ve heard the new album, we’ve got a review of it coming soon. The good news is that for the most part it’s been worth the wait.
This single, ‘Close To Me’, is one of the album highlights and an example of the seamless integration of indie, electronic and psych elements the duo of Nick Weaver and Nic McKenzie have put together on the new record.
New music in the sense that it’s new to us… Fox Grin (Atlanta, Georgia) actually released their LP King Of Spades back in January of this year but we’ve only just come across this great track, ‘Black Tree’, in the last couple of weeks. It’s a upbeat shimmer and dance through art-rock and avant-pop. Downbeat by nature but thoroughly on the up musically, it cuts a fine sartorial figure as the infectious rhythm section pulses below all manner of guitars and keys. It sounds like Beck buried in a kaleidoscopic studio with Field Music.
Check out ‘Black Tree’ and find your way through to the full record on Bandcamp or hit up the usual streaming services.
The last decade has seen a rise in the popularity of modern classical music and its influence on other genres, particularly electronic music. One of the leading lights in the scene is German composer Nils Frahm and in a revealing conversation with Chris Familton he discusses his musical beginnings, his future and the constant flux of his live shows.
It’s 1:30am on an autumn morning in Berlin and Nils Frahm is ensconced in Saal 3, his studio in the iconic, Funkhaus, a 1950s building that previously housed world-class recording facilities and was home to GDR state radio. “I’m always a professional, always working when I’m not sleeping,” he laughs. “I like the night, it’s perfect for musicians. It’s quiet and inspiring. I’ve been in the studio for four hours and I’ve already unlearned how to speak and so it is civilising to talk a little bit.”
It’s been a big year for Frahm, with a heavy touring schedule on the back of his acclaimed All Melody album, He’s about to return to Australia for the first time in four years but don’t expect to immediately recognise songs from the album when he plays them on stage. “All the songs have changed already. I can’t go back to where I started them,” he says, with a note of satisfaction in his voice. “I deconstruct the compositions all the time and build them in a different way. I feel like the songs are ongoing compositions and when the task is to play them again, no-one could ask me to play them the same every time. I need to destroy what I did yesterday and redo it today. It needs to be a little bit different each time,” Frahm emphasises.
A hallmark of Frahm’s music is his ability to seamlessly blend electronic and acoustic instruments and still retain an organic, tactile and emotionally resonant quality in his work. “It doesn’t matter how something is played, just listen to the music,” Frahm responds, before tracing his fascination with both musical worlds back to the lounge room of his childhood home. “For me it was a natural connection to electronic music because it was always connected to my father’s hi-fi system. It was highly electronic so that connection between music and electricity was always there for me and wasn’t a separate thing. I was aware that a piano didn’t have a plug and other things did, but I thought a vinyl record player was as exciting as a piano. I liked anything that played music to my ears and made me feel amazing,” says Frahm.
“I was always curious about music and I like when I don’t really know how something is made. It can be made by an orchestra, it can be made by a synthesiser or even an algorithm. If it sounds good to my ears, and it all comes out of speakers in the end, I don’t worry. Here in my studio I’m looking at my patch bay and cables one to eight are all microphones and nine to 16 are all synthesisers. They are all the same cables. Even the acoustic piano goes through the same cable as my synthesiser and they come out of the same speakers,” explains Frahm, surveying the array of keyboards, pianos and synthesisers around him.
The conversation leads to where Frahm first had a strong emotional response to music. Not just hearing it as background music on the radio or in the endless hours of practising scales in piano lessons. “There were some songs that amazed me. ECM released John Surman, the saxophone player who played along to synthesisers and loops. It was something that burnt into my heart,” he recalls passionately. “I was crying to that song when I was a kid, and it had no lyrics or anything. It was just a harmonic motif and the timbre of the synthesiser, together with the saxophone. A truly amazing combination of a real instrument and something alien that I couldn’t understand. I heard many good examples of tasteful blends of those two worlds, even before I recorded anything, so I was very confident that it could be done and I was standing on the shoulders of heroes.”
Frahm still has All Melody tour dates stretching into 2019, but what then? He recently released Encores 1 – additionalmusic from the same album sessions, and he hints at but doesn’t confirm that there will be more in that series. For Frahm it seems like his future is something of a mystery at the moment. “I don’t tend to plan too far ahead. I just want to survive next year and then in 2020 who knows what I’m feeling like doing then. It’s a crazy time in life and I’m meeting a lot of people around me who talk about inspiration and what they want to do in life. I hope by 2020 I’ll be smarter and can imagine something a little wiser than what I’m doing now – being the pop icon who is traveling around the world with tons of equipment and lots of people and playing these silly festivals around each corner.”
It’s a revealing and remarkably candid insight into the decisions an artist has to make – the form, timing and responsibility of presenting their art. “I’m totally open for all of this to end, to be honest. I don’t want to be the person who just stops and takes something away from people. I can’t say I’m excited to just finish a tour in two years and then do the next album and then do a huge tour. I don’t know how many years we can go on like this. It’s really crazy man. I’m not dark about the future, I’m excited… but I’m absolutely puzzled.” says Frahm, before returning to the solitude of the early hours, the empty Funkhaus hallways and the cables and synths of his studio.
Here’s a nice track from the duo Midwife (Madeline Johnston (of Sister Grotto) and guitarist Tucker Theodore.) It’s a lovely unfurling drone-pop track that has shades of Cocteau Twins and the ambient, dreamier moments of Mogwai. The song creeps along at a funereal pace, shrouded in gauzy haze of distortion before the fog clears to reveal fragments of effected and intertwined guitars, like fading sonic memories.
‘Angel’ comes from the EP Prayer Hands, available on Bandcamp and major streaming platforms.