Tortoise – Beacons Of Ancestorship – album review

Tortoise – Beacons Of Ancestorship – album review

Tortoise: Beacons Of Ancestorship
Tortoise: Beacons Of Ancestorship

For just under two decades now, Tortoise have been experimenting with popular music. Their freeform, sound-experiment style has quietly given them the status of post-rock musicians experimenting with electronic music.

So in a time where groups like Holy Fuck and Battles and artists like Dan Deacon are lauded for pushing the boundaries of conventional song structures whilst blending rock instruments with electronic invention, why is it that Tortoise rarely get mentioned as their forbearers? (I don’t know by the way, in case you were hoping I was going to answer that)

On their sixth full-length album, Beacons of Ancestorship, Tortoise again take their place in this genre of freeform song experiments, and again show why they must be considered along with the most interesting and influential in the field. The tracks blend interesting rhythms with at times very loose sounds, and often much tighter ones. ‘Northern Something’, for instance, plays with the texture of sound more than its melody, whilst the stunning ‘Gigantes’ uses synths to create the same sorts of shimmering melodies that gave Boards of Canada so much success.

Tortoise are usually known to traverse an encyclopaedia of styles, and Beacons Of Ancestorship is certainly a an album of very separate songs – like albums used to be. And like those albums they all possess a unifying essence, but unlike them, it is not through voice. This is a telling indicator of the success of Tortoise’s artistic vision. Here, vocals and conventional song structure and length aren’t needed; music can be created another way.

The result is an album of sonically rendered moods. The wonderful ‘Minors’ blindly pushes its way through monotony and resignation, ‘Yinxianghechengqi’ screams in a apoplectic rage before falling into a glitchy, speechless, hopeless spasm; ‘High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In’ emanates shiny arrogance from all its pores.

Tortoise must surely take their place at the forefront of the sound-experiment groups that keep arising. This is, once again, a wonderful demonstration of how frozen in convention music-making has become, and how far it can still be pushed, moulded and manipulated to speak in a different voice – one that is not necessarily human.

Mum – Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know

Mum - Sing Songs You Don't Know
Mum - Sing Songs You Don't Know

MumSing Along To Songs You Don’t Know is to be released on 24th August 2009 via Morr Music.

Two years after the release of their last album, eccentric pop maestros múm return with their fifth album proper, simply named Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know, a flickering candle of an album.

The album is a much more laid back album than múm’s most recent outings, more relaxed and quietly sad, often recalling sand running through fingers or ripples on a lake. And to an even greater extent than their previous albums, Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know is an ode to the light in its different shapes, from a fading bulb to the blinding sun.

Sometimes the music sounds naively utopic, but always manages to stay effortless and pure. As usual, the songs are brimming with unusual sounds, this time much of the songs revolve around a lightly prepared piano, hammered dulcimer, a string quartet, marimbas, guitars, ukuleles and in the background of a few of the songs one can hear Örvar’s parent’s parakeet singing with the piano.

The album was recorded in countless different places in four different countries, although most of it was done in múm’s native Iceland. Gunnar Örn Tynes moved to a cabin in the countryside where much of the album sprang to life, but as always múm have a hard time staying put and recorded in both Estonia and Finland.

In Estonia borrowed a beautiful, many hundred-year-old house in Leigo, a place of hundreds of lakes, where they wrote new songs and recorded with the Estonian Suisapäisa Mixed choir.

Much of the music was hatched in the middle of Iceland’s recent political turmoil and uprising. The Icelandic government was forced to resign after intermittent civil unrest and the constant banging of pots and pans.

By stretching the imagination, one can imagine a link between the turbulent political situation and the serene idealism hidden in the music.

The collective Mum consists on this album of Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason, Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson (trumpet / piano/ keyboards/ string arrangements), Hildur Guðnadóttir (cello/vocals), Sigurlaug Gísladóttir (Vocals/ ukulele/ various), Róbert Reynisson (guitars/ukuleles) and Finlander, Samuli Kosminen (drums / percussion). Högni Egilsson, also joins in a few songs, sharing songwriting duties on one song and arranging choir for two others and Guðbjörg Hlín Guðmundsdóttir plays violin.

For more information on Mum, visit www.myspace.com/mumtheband

Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made – Fol Chen – album review

Fol Chen: 'Cryptic and joyful'
Fol Chen: 'Cryptic and joyful'

The Believers is an ominous opening to Fol Chen’s first record Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made. With sparse electronics and a thin brass section, the song teeters on the brink of a breakdown before the foreshadowed schizophrenia kicks in at around the 2 minute mark with Samuel Bing’s screechy lyrics.

Fol Chen were formed after the break-up of Liars, the post-punk rock group, but their remaining members no longer reside in this part of the contemporary music demographic, but rather take influences from the far-reaching corners of the scene to produce an album that is as eclectic in style as it is consistent in theme.

“We sound like Prince with Amon Duul II and a children’s religious revival, not to mention Hot Chip, Pink Floyd, Gwen Stefani, Pere Ubu, Danielson Famile, Scritti Politti, Boards of Canada, The Blow, and Pulp. (Mostly.) We are using secret powers and the guidance of legendary DJ Donna Donna to combat our nemesis, John Shade. We are cryptic and joyful and we would like you to dance.”

The idea behind the album is interestingly explained in an interview with the driving force behind the band, Samuel Bing. It is apparently based on a dream that an evil force named John Shade was destroying a progressive Long Island radio station (WLIR, referenced in stand-out track Red Skies Over Garden City (The Ballad of Donna Donna)), and that it was Fol Chen’s battle to save it and pop music as an art form. This is no conventional topic for an album, of course, but then, unconventionality is precisely Fol Chen’s thing.

For example, after the dark opening track comes the funky-pop tune No Wedding Cake, released as a single last year. Then you are hit by the nice, woozy, down-tempo You and Your Sister in Jericho (which opens with the line “Fuck your friends, they don’t care”).

The instability of Fol Chen’s sound is the frustrating part of Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made. On Red Skies Over Garden City (The Ballad of Donna Donna) and Winter, That’s All they produce incredible, innovative TV On The Radio/Arcade Fire-style pulsing rock songs, but the funk-pop of songs like No Wedding Cake and The Idiot are just frustratingly mediocre.

There seems to be a correlation between their use of nice resonating drums, where their sound is so exciting and buzzing and the craft of the instrumentation so original that you think you’re party to one of the albums of the year, and those moments where they elect to use tinny electro beats and bland riffs, when the illusion is dispelled.

I would highly recommend Red Skies Over Garden City (The Ballad of Donna Donna), Please, John, You’re Killing Me, and the closer If Tuesday Comes. Listen to these and you will see what Fol Chen are capable of when they are at their best. The album is out now on Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty label, where you can also download a few mp3s for free.

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Animal Collective live in Brighton

Animal Collective live at Concorde 2, Brighton 2009
Animal Collective live at Concorde 2, Brighton 2009

Animal Collective live at Concorde 2, Brighton
15th January 2009

Animal Collective is a collective of experimental musicians from Baltimore, Maryland. This month they are touring the UK to promote the release of their ninth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Animal Collective consists of Avey Tare (David Portner), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox), Deakin (Josh Dibb), and Geologist (Brian Weitz). Records released under the name Animal Collective may include contributions from any or all of these members.

Animal Collective have no need to win praise in front of the sold out Concorde2. Sheltering from the January chill in this sweaty mass, the audience is just short of orgasmic glee by the opening song.

And with good reason. Animal Collective are something of a rare treat and their critically acclaimed new album Merriweather Post Pavilion has been sending little scenester tsunamis through Brighton, with kids buying up deluxe vinyl box-sets and independent record shops dishing out wine, in late night openings, just to preview the new album.

Tonight stands as a benchmark for other bands; to achieve that chemistry, that chaotic tightness. Between songs are layers of drone and repeating synthetic loops making it a relentless, emotionally tiring performance.

With a set up of 4 CD decks, cuing samples of scattering beats and computer yelps and glitches as well as percussion and guitar loaded with effects like a child’s buckaroo toy, the trio make such a mesmerising racket. Though far from an organic sound, Panda Bear’s endearing warble cuts through the electronic sheen like a hot knife, a human soul surrounded by circuit boards.

Seminal single “Freworks” is drawn out, prolonged for tension, but by the time its stuttering guitar lines and hung-over sentiments begin it’s like an LSD campfire sing-a-long freak out or something.

If lyrically Animal Collective are lost in a sea of obscurity, then musically they’re orbiting Neptune. Certainly one of the first genuinely exciting performances of the year and demonstrating an ingenuity which I’m sure even the band is dreading to follow up.

“Leaf House” closes the night in its traumatic splendour and the venue cries out to be deafened all over again.