Album Review ::: Real Estate ‘In Mind’

With ‘In Mind’ Real Estate are back to their jingly-jangly best. I first became aware of the group when a friend told me to listen to their second studio album ‘Days’. Has there been a better penned pop song in the 2000s than third track ‘It’s Real’? Certainly not one under three minutes I’d argue. The problem with creating such a classic tune, of course, is the challenge that then presents itself in equaling or bettering it. That is not to say ‘Days’ isn’t a solid album throughout, I certainly wasn’t skipping any of the tracks, but it did mean by the time their third LP ‘Atlas’ came out I was, in a sense, waiting and anticipating a standout moment which perhaps never quite came. That’s not to casually dismiss the record – it’s still well worth your time. It just didn’t quite scale the dreamy heights of ‘Days’ for me personally. With some time away from Real Estate, ‘In Mind‘ has now breezed its way into my daily music listening and I’m in no way pining for ‘Days’.

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If you’ve heard the band you’ll know their distinctively warm, clean and measured approach to songs and this record is, generally speaking, no different in that respect. The opening synth of ‘Darling’ might fool you for a second but, sure enough, in comes a guitar line that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by The Byrds. However, without ever blowing up into a full on, mind-melting trip, Real Estate have always, for me, teetered pleasingly on the brink of the psychedelic and this is perhaps more evident than ever on this new record, where occasional left-turns furnish your ears with some delectably gratifying audio treasure. Does that sound a bit over the top? Sorry. As Zappa, amongst others, is crediting as having stated, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ But listen and you’ll hopefully know what I’m driving at.

And what’s this after two and a half minutes of the appropriately titled ‘Serve The Song’? Is that the gain being turned up? Careful lads or we’ll be in Grateful Dead jamming territory before too long. With ‘Two Arrows’ heading towards seven minutes in length, again we have further evidence of a straying into more distorted and trippy surroundings, which proves most welcome, but ‘Diamond Eyes’ is nevertheless fleeting proof that this is a group that won’t be abandoning short, sharp songs just yet.  ‘Same Sun’ contains within it what seems a beautiful exercise in tape-saturated melancholy, be it real or digital, just hear the wow/flutter on that guitar part, with the backing vocals really making this tune soar.

Finally, the intro to final track ‘Saturday’, all woozy, reverb-laden piano, leaves the lasting impression Real Estate, whilst still serving up the somewhat reliable sound they’re known for, cleverly avoiding leaving ardent fans shortchanged whether they consciously made this a priority or not, are in fact an outfit more than capable of surprising as well. This is an album full of off-kilter charm. Take it as medicine.

http://www.realestatetheband.com

https://m.facebook.com/realestateband/

Album Review ::: Alasdair Roberts ‘Pangs’

Scottish musician Alasdair Roberts, previously of indie folk rock band Appendix Out, has released his new album ‘Pangs’ with Drag City. Among his arable discography of traditional Celtic muscle, myths and fables Roberts’ new album ‘Pangs’ is tightly packed with a wealth of creative arrangements, all threaded with impeccable detail. From the harmonic droning of synths and strings to the melodic bass. The playful blare of punctuating whistles, dynamic drums that gallop and then amble expressively. Pangs showcases a host of songwriting talent that is surely one of the peaks of the folk genre in recent years.

‘Pangs’ title song, is Celtic and medieval in it’s enunciation. Lyrically, Roberts’ plays with themes of mythological stories but there is a tangible sense of realism in the imagery throughout. At the same time, percussion and drums assault the song tunefully with a wayward sense that connects perfectly with the guitar melodies and arrangements.

‘No Dawn Song’ is equally creative with additional flourishes of piano layered gently under the song, as an underlying poignant tone is dispersed with a lightly spoken and melodic brogue. ‘An Altar In The Glade’ is curious and unabashed with it’s spirited barks and lovely cymbal work that never disconnects music from story. A listening treat that sparks memories of the work of the celebrated 17th century Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan.

Alasdair Roberts Pangs

The Breach is no less out of touch with tradition as the vocals contrast with the violin and string sections in a gorgeous call and response; all built on an immense double-bass whose grainy drones are monstrous. Brass sections also add highlights and glimmers of light instrumental phrases that swell over the refrain, ‘You’re always gonna find me’. Brilliant tune!

The Angry Laughing God is the poppiest moment among the track listing, with a catchy  head-bopping guitar riff playing while the band is in full swing. I find this song reminiscent of elements of traditional song ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ previously recorded by The Dubliners; while a mischievous slide whistle cheekily streaks across, as the drums continue with their dynamic and snappy rhythmic changes, cowbell, shuffling rolls and hi-hats a-plenty.

Wormwood and Gall is beautifully arranged with violins, flutes and vocal harmonies while quirky percussion (a musical saw?) dips into the arrangement with rippling oddity for the chorus. Piano and guitars carry the song and the sublime character of the song comes to life among these strangely flirty sounds. The Downward Road is the most experimental on Pangs. Vocal echoes and tremolo effects not usually associated with Celtic folk music take progressive turns and digress from the rule book ever so slightly but are delightfully palatable, and colourful.

Scarce of Fishing is a charming ballad that is plucked with skill and tenacity. It is emotional and lyrical, as a flute carries the musical melody. Lyrical detail is visual and laments a family and love separated by their work at sea. Vespers Chime is a prayer, where instrumentation is full as strings and guitars match each other. Musically it reminds me quite alot of Bonnie Prince Billy, but I find the local patois gives alot more vibrancy and realism to Alasdair Roberts, rather than a make-believe character or version of himself. He is organic, pure and natural.

Song of the Marvels brings this album to an end with similar creative musical brilliance. It summarises the album, and goes one step further in key changes, droning and expression. Synths add to a burning texture that is gravelly and ear-piercing all at once providing a respite and further affirming the ingenious creativity of ‘Pangs’. While songs are sung in typical folk like stories, musically Alasdair Roberts veers away from anything close to linear songwriting and instrumentation. Every phrase is a source of invention, playfulness, and deviceful harmony, organic and tuneful.

We at TSOFD have purchased this album, and very much recommend that you do too!

https://alasdairroberts.bandcamp.com/album/pangs

http://www.alasdairroberts.com/

http://www.dragcity.com/artists/alasdair-roberts

 

Album Review ::: Vagabon ‘Infinite Worlds’

Recently released with Father Daughter Records, ‘Infinite Worlds’ is the brand new album from Vagabon. Following up from last years EP release Persian Gardens, lead songstress and multi-instrumentalist Lætitia Tamko delivers a starkly emotional performance with weighty and personal lyrics all channeled through an indie folk rock musical force. Inspired by a book of poetry called The Crisis of Infinite Worlds by Dana Ward, Vagabon’s accomplished debut is everything from acoustic to electrically plucked indie guitar hymns. Modern synth-laced pop ballads and indie rock riffs are collaged alongside other-wordly songs of layered vocal harmonies and repetitive choruses washing over each other creating hazy and elusive audio horizons; yet never once wavering as a singular piece of art and a cohesive masterstroke of an album from start to finish.

Opening song The Embers, previously titled ‘Sharks’ appeared as the last track on the Persian Gardens Ep. In the current state it gets the album started with a highly melodic lonely song of lament that builds with a trodding bass line that is tightly woven with the powerful drums throughout the chorus, while the singer admits, ‘I’m just a small fish’. Tamko sings so sweetly and naturally that it’s a joy to hear her amused laugh mid refrain, only adding further to the personality of this record as a whole and her distinct contribution as a songwriter to every aspect of the instrumentation within the music.

‘Fear and Force’ is a love-lorn ballad that is no less authoritative in performance than the previous track. Relaxed, textured and sure-footed vocals give the lyrics an additional organic feel that is tangible in Tamko’s silky tenor voice throughout the record. The song focuses on heartache and the songwriter’s romantic malaise in the lines ‘Freddie, come back. I know, you love where you are but I think I change my mind’. This fragility is further exposed musically with the use of gently chiming bells amid the vocal harmony before pounding drums tub thump with a viscous distortion that is adhesive and gripping.

‘Minneapolis’ is a peculiar song of celebration where Vagabon reflects on her home and childhood in Cameroon and also seems to draw on the inspiration of mixed cultures and surroundings. Minneapolis is a stark contrast beside ‘Mal a L’aise’ sung completely in French with vocal layers and echoes painted over each other with flourishes of washy reflections.

‘100 years’ is a full on indie rock power tune unrelenting in crunchy chords and meaty strums that are solidified even further by the terra-firma drum calls battling underneath it all and allowing the vocals to float overhead.

‘Cleaning House’ is my favourite song. It is so personal, haunting and reflective. The gorgeous musical arrangements are eyeball deep in loneliness, saturated in tones of solitude and inadequacy, but no less robust in anticipation with the lingering synth drones that sporadically weave through the spine of the piece. I love the drum mix. I’m literally sitting next to the hi-hats. It truncates the underlying story-line perfectly and brings to life a moment of doubt, tension and uncertainty within the narrative,’What about them scares you so much? My standing there threatens your standing too.’… ‘You will raise your voice and talk aloud but once you didn’t have a voice at all.’

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‘Cold Apartment’ is similarly nostalgic and refers again to this past unrequited love, however, I find this musically alot more climactic with the pounding kick drum. The music and vocals once again beautifully connect in the phrase, ‘We said it’s not the end but “she wore that white dress so I changed”.’ and execute a colourful display of talent in such a simple and fun way, while Tamko’s voice is so sublime and fragile as she sings that it counterbalances the ‘technique-ness’ of this and makes it a winner of a tune.

‘Infinite Worlds’ comes to a close with ‘Alive and A Well’, a tuneful and melodic story sung with an acoustic guitar backed up with distinct vocal harmonies, smooth with a textured breath that brings the song to a close. This song portrays a picture of water and the essence of life; a gross reminder that a vast number of people worldwide have difficulty finding clean drinking water and basically surviving in an emotionally diverging and shallow technological age of corporate greed. Check the lines, ‘Hole on the ground “Well” (n): meaning to supply, Take what you need before it runs out, Don’ t check in to see if it’ s producing’… follow this up with a sample of the studio engineer/producer’s reaction to the first-rate performance of this song, it’s an excellent closure to the debut album by Vagabon.

The Sound Of Fighting Dogs has bought this album, we totally recommend you do too and continue to support great music.

https://vagabon.bandcamp.com/

 

Live Review ::: William Gray – Matz Andersson – John Carroll @ Cosy Bar, Ningbo, China

Medic Records Presents William Gray/Matz Andersson/John Carroll @ Cosy Bar, Ningbo (Saturday 22nd October)

Without wishing to pour cold water on the considerable improvements taking place regarding China’s live music scene in recent years nationally, and even more recently, finally, in Hangzhou, a remaining bugbear is solo acoustic acts are still perhaps not getting the spotlight they deserve. Take for example the recent Xihu Music Festival in Hangzhou – why was there no stage dedicated to acoustic acts? Would it be all that hard to set up a small tent for a more intimate experience than that offered by the main stages? It would provide welcome shelter from the rain if nothing else.

Festival circuit aside one might be forgiven for thinking there’s not enough appropriate venues? Well think about the amount of coffee shops that exist in a city such as Hangzhou and I am sure many other metropolises in China. One would do well to remember it was the cafe scene of areas such as Greenwich Village in New York that spawned the likes of Bob Dylan, a long time before he went electric. An acoustic or folk scene is one that could potentially thrive here and perhaps save the odd coffee shop from going under, such is the highly competitive nature of the business environment, simply by getting more bums on seats. And acoustic music is, logistically, so much simpler to host. A small PA system is pretty much all that’s needed. Less expense. Less hassle. Arguably, for a smaller venue, even a PA system is not necessary.

The feeling is that many in China believe full band = better. Solo acoustic performers may well find, if wishing, be it reluctantly, to take on a corporate gig to earn much needed revenue (not much to be made from selling music these days) those booking will specify they want more than one performer or a band. It seems what can be seen with the eyes rather than heard with the ears is more important to many of those doing the booking. When those hiring acts openly state their preference is for a band rather than a solo act one can only assume this is down to ignorance on their part, unless they are specifically stating what type of band they want and why that is, for example if it’s for a funk night where wanting a funk band rather than a singer-songwriter is of course entirely justified. Our assertion is that wanting to book a band and not a solo act is fine as long as the reasoning is not based on a lack of understanding or the belief that a solo performer is unable to provide a performance that is as competent or as arresting as a full band. Indeed, a solo performer can in fact often provide a performance that sounds better than a full band. There is no hiding when performing alone, a mistake is there for all to see and this often means solo acts are a lot more rehearsed and have their material more finely honed.

Anyone that argues an acoustic performance is somehow less than what you might get with a band, that the time of Bob Dylan the acoustic act was long ago or that an acoustic performer can’t cut it in certain live environments or please the punters, should perhaps tell that to people that saw the likes of Elliott Smith or Jeff Buckley perform solo, or, if more inclined towards mainstream pop, they’d do well to note, as we’ve mentioned before on this blog, that Ed Sheeran sold out Wembley Stadium three nights in a row. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the two words that are ‘Jon‘ and ‘Gomm‘. Think that these are all Western acts, and there’s not the same quality in Hangzhou? Wrong. Feast your eyes and ears on this, an act Singapore-based Soi Music TV recently filmed near West Lake in Hangzhou.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, how grateful we are then to Medic Independent Records for providing us acoustic lovers with the much needed means to get our six string fix. Tonight we witness three quality acts in their acoustic guises. First up is John Carroll. Much missed on the live circuit over the past year or so, only periodically gigging, Carroll has been hard at work on new material he is aiming, we are told, to release next year. Tonight is his first bash at performing many of these new songs live and, going by what we’re hearing, we’re going to be in for a treat when the new release arrives. Immediately striking is the fact this material sounds very different to previous album ‘Cenotaph Tapes‘ which was quite an inward looking work, largely melancholy and downbeat, the sound of a man who perhaps had a lot to vent and channel. This album is a rewarding listen for anyone who enjoys acoustic music, but particularly those who empathise with feelings of alienation, particularly the sensitive laowai marooned in China types.

However, Carroll’s new creations are rewarding in a different way. To put it bluntly, there are earworms aplenty. Some of the songs are rough around the edges, as might be expected from a first outing, but what is noticeable is that this doesn’t detract from the catchiness. So catchy in fact that this reviewer overheard the barman attempting to sing along even though he didn’t know the words due to English not being his mother tongue. A casual glance around the bar sees many transfixed and plenty of foot-tapping going on. Positive signs indeed and some who are only familiar with ‘Cenotaph Tapes’ might just find themselves surprised by Carroll demonstrating such unabashed traditional pop sensibilities. Take ‘Ambushed From All Sides‘ for example. A hook Teenage Fanclub would be proud of and you could even imagine Lennon and McCartney choosing to pen a ditty of the same name after spying it as a potentially promising headline come song title in whatever newspaper they happened to pick up that day.

Disappear Into Thin Air‘ is another example of this. Less jaunty than the aforementioned song and more reflective but similarly enticing in terms of a great pop melody. Whilst there is something very Ireland and the UK about these two songs, the song ‘Gravedigger‘ perhaps conjures up influences from the other side of the pond, sounding like Neil Young spliced with Thurston Moore, be it with an Irish twist. Old favourite ‘Don’t Shield Your Eyes‘ also comes out of the bag for those who know Carroll’s older material. All in all a great performance. Check out John Carroll’s Bandcamp page here.

Next up is Matz Andersson. Andersson is becoming something of a veteran of the Chinese music scene these days. And not only as a solo artist, for he has also toured extensively fronting rock outfit Exit 4, and this includes televised festival appearances no less. A Swedish-Chilean songwriter and a well traveled one at that, Andersson has much to draw upon in terms of his cultural heritage and life experiences to channel into his songs. His laid back guitar style which combines finger-picking and strumming is easy on the ear and he possesses a singing voice which is husky and reassuring. If you have heard his album ‘Lake Khovsgol’, recorded in Ningbo with musicians he struck up a rapport with locally at open mic nights (another example of why space for acoustic performance is so important) you will know Andersson is certainly an accomplished songwriter. If not, if present tonight in Ningbo, you would certainly know by the end of this performance. Relaxed on the microphone, Andersson treats an eager audience with an assured delivery of tracks from the aforementioned album such as ‘Chasing Ghosts‘ as well as newer songs, ‘In The Rain‘ and ‘Hold On To Yourself‘.

Joining Andersson onstage for ‘Chasing Ghosts‘ and also ‘The Eternal Return‘ and ‘That Old House‘, are Tom Rutherford (percussion) and Joe Patterson (bass). These two know exactly what the songs need. With this type of material less is often more and they provide the necessary delicate touches quite wonderfully. Musicians like this should be cherished because, more often than is preferable, otherwise able players lack the musical maturity to resist the urge to play all over a songwriter’s carefully crafted material. On November 25th Andersson plays at Time Beacon in Ningbo where he will be supporting Pinball City. The following day, as befits a man who relishes the act of bringing his music far and wide, Andersson will be playing in Nanjing, again supporting Pinball City. Those looking for quality acts to book – look no further.

Listen to Matz Andersson on Bandcamp here. If you’re more of a SoundCloud person, follow him here.

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Final performance of the evening comes from William Gray. With a new EP ‘Seine’ to promote and a busy year all round for Gray given he also released his album ‘Flounce’ in March, the headline slot was more than appropriate. Would the performance live up to the billing? The answer is definitely yes. With gigs such as these, running order can be a bit of a conundrum. Basic logic states that as you work up to the final act you get a bigger and bigger audience and the evening peaks at the end. However, on a Saturday night people often hit smaller venues such as Cosy Bar as a precursor to other events such as club nights. This can be a blessing or a curse. For bands, it can be a bit ego-deflating to wait all night to go onstage only to find numbers have thinned out for your set. However, for an acoustic act it might actually provide something of a relief, as less people also means less noise.

There is a deftness of touch about Gray’s guitar style and a softness to his approach to some of his material that warrants an attentive ear. This then is one of those occasions where an event benefits from less drunken chatter and a core, still sizable, audience of people remaining primarily for the music as well as to socialise. Once a quieter foundation is established this then gives the act the capacity to play the room rather than battle it. It is actually the case tonight that Gray plays a more upbeat set than some who have seen him perform might be used to. For example, he opens with arguably one of the standout tracks from ‘Flounce‘, the lyrically zany ‘Heather‘ which, with its palm-muting, is positively new wave in its rockiness, be it a more lo-fi, laid-back sounding incarnation. Just as happy to fingerpick as he is to apply a solid rhythm guitar approach when needed, Gray will also more than happily combine the two and this adaptable philosophy is also mirrored in both his singing and his lyrics.

At some moments in the set he is positively belting out the songs, at some points his voice is quite soulful. At other times it can rise to falsetto. In terms of the words sometimes they are minimalist, see ‘There’ off the new EP, at other times quite wordy, for example ‘Black Dog Underfoot‘, a song which is all the better heard live. Once settled into his set, Gray is reveling in the occasion, not going too loud too soon, always holding something back and toying with the audience, so he can crank up the volume where necessary simply through touch or how loudly he sings, rather than needing to turn things up on the dial. One standout moment is ‘Open Season‘ which I just had to dig out by later listening through all of his material here on Bandcamp. I found it on his 2010 release ‘Vertical Wealth‘ which contains some lovely, woozy sax that Destroyer would be proud of. The live solo version this evening lulls the audience into a false sense of security with a repetitive one note refrain which then turns into a somewhat Elliott Smith style chord progression before Gray really lets rip for the outro. All the material comes across well and Gray performs a remarkably long set, picking a wide range of material from his now sizable back catalogue, including all of the songs from his latest EP ‘Seine’. For a 30 RMB entrance fee the performers tonight have really given people their money’s worth. Ruddy well done.

Follow Medic Records on Twitter and Facebook.

Interviewed ::: YiFei from ‘Loopy’

中文 – CHINESE VERSION (see below for English)

Loopy背后的概念和设想是什么?凭什么可以让这个空间在众生中脱颖而出?

一个城市的文化进程中总有人会做一些让它变得更丰富、更美好的事,无论是什么职业,什么行业,都凭借着自己对城市的喜爱、事业的执着和生活的热情,一直默默坚持着。

loopy也是这城市中的一个小角色,和众生一样并无特殊之处,自然的发生,适时的消亡,如果说能够脱颖而出,也许是因为它一直努力着带给人们新鲜的事物和体验,时间久了便能记得它,运气好的话还能在城市中留下一点点印记。

 可以再说一些关于Loopy的设计和详细情况吗?

在传统百货商场里放置这样一个空间本身就是一种尝试,我们用建筑的设计语言来构造室内,以营造出不同区域中的不同氛围。让人一转弯就能发现一处惊喜,而这样的小惊喜又充满了整个场域,甚至在场外也能感受到,于是你在空间中就能一直处于探索的状态,最后总能找到令自己最舒服的位置安顿下来。

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 人们在Loopy可以期待怎样的音乐?

以电子音乐为主,其他音乐类型为辅,所以参演的会有乐队,DJ,制作人,声音艺术家、视觉艺术家等,另外loopy也对声音与视觉相结合的新媒体艺术作品感兴趣。

你觉得现在杭州的音乐场景是怎样的?

就像我之前说的,杭州一直在慢慢变的更好,音乐相关的艺术家、厂牌、主办方、场地等等都比之前变的更多元化和国际化,市场也开始慢慢变的规范和成熟起来,特别是现在的年轻人,资讯的发达也让他们都有了甄别优劣的能力,玩的也越来越有品质。我对杭州之后的音乐场景表示很期待。

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除了音乐,Loopy还可以提供什么?

几乎可以提供与音乐相关的一切体验,loopy还有黑胶展卖和试听、乐队专辑和周边产品售卖等。目的是想营造一种氛围,能对本地音乐文化有所促进,让年轻人多一个去处。当然我们还有美味的西班牙tapas和各种酒精。

 如果有人想要来Loopy演出,该怎样做?

最好直接过来现场,可以一起喝杯茶先。

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Wechat: loopylive Weibo: @loopy

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/loopyliveHZ/

Instagram: loopy_live

enquiry and reservation: info@loopy.live, 

phone: +86 156 5801 8959 / 186 5718 8959

Address: 313, 77 Zhongshan South Road, Hangzhou

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英文 – ENGLISH VERSION

What is the concept behind Loopy? What makes the venue stand out from the crowd?

There is always someone keep doing things in order to make the city getting better, no matter what he is doing, it only rely on his passionate for career and love for life.

Of course, Loopy is one of them, like all crowd, normal and peaceful, born naturally and die timely. But if we have to admit something that makes Loopy unique, i would say enable and inspire. It will keep bringing people fresh experience and leave something behind, fortunately.

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Can you tell me a little about loopy’s design and specifications?

It is a try that loopy was placed in a typical shopping mall, Architectural design language made this interior space have different area with different atmosphere. people can keep exploring as there are full of surprises at very corner, even from the outside. and there is always perfect place that you can finally settle down.

What kind of music can people expect to hear?

Mainly electronic music, sometimes other types as well, Performers including Bands, DJs, Musicians, Visual Artists, etc. also loopy is very interested in  audio/ visual and contemporary media work and installations.

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What do you think of the Hangzhou music scene?

Like i said, all those artists, labels, event organisers and venues are making Hangzhou’s music scene getting better. Everyone in this industry are getting more professional and international, as well as the market. Especially those teenagers in these days are improving their ability of telling music stories, even their life story too, all of these are great for the city and i am expecting.

 Beside the music, what else does loopy offer?

Almost every experience related to music.  for example, hundreds of new release and second hand records you can try, brand-related products for sale and relaxed atmosphere that you can enjoy conversation with everyone. Also Spanish tapas and alcohol are indispensable.

If someone wants to play at your new venue, how do they do this?

Better come over and check the venue. Experience it and have a cup of tea.

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Wechat: loopylive Weibo: @loopy

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/loopyliveHZ/

Instagram: loopy_live

enquiry and reservation: info@loopy.live, 

phone: +86 156 5801 8959 / 186 5718 8959

Address: 313, 77 Zhongshan South Road, Hangzhou

Premature Evaluation ::: William Gray ‘Seine’ Ep

After the release of his recent album ‘Flounce’ with local Hangzhou collective Medic Independent; William Gray is at it again and set to release his new Ep ‘Seine’, this coming October 1st. We’ve been trying to keep our ears close to the ground of late and so we are delighted to have received this Ep pre-release for consumption and evaluation.

William Gray’s musical output since his arrival in Hangzhou, China has been nothing short of staggering. In just a few short years (since 2013) he has already put out two homemade solo albums, as well as a 5-song Ep ‘Tish‘ just last year. His brand new Ep ‘Seine‘ is about to drop. So what of it, and how does it hold up?

A FRONT COVER

‘Seine’ (unlike the Qiantang) is a five-song indie-folk Ep that swings more on the acoustic side of the river bank than its audio ancestry. It is immediately striking how much mellower the current of this recording is as Gray takes an approach not too far removed from the likes of Beck‘s balladeering heydays. The acoustic guitar is at the helm and lays foundations for the main spine of the music, while Gray’s lyrics take account of witty and winding stories of life as an independent artist, as well as adding his unique humourous analogies and turn of phrase.

‘Drops in the Ocean’ opens with a spacey tremolo that warbles warmly behind Gray’s layered vocals just before the bass, drums and acoustic guitar groove begins to set the wheels in motion. Offbeat rhythms drive the main melody throughout with additional synthy brass sections that lead the melodic bass on an instrumental, finally contorting and twisting out of shape with backwards samples that suck and pull at the already hallucinogenic mind space.

‘There’ is a huge and roomy acoustic ballad. Opening with the elusive words, ‘You don’t know where I am’, and ‘I’m already there’, perhaps giving us an insight into Gray’s curiosity in psychedelia, existence and metaphysics. It is repetitive and trippy with a contagious backing beat with hand claps to boot! While still retaining some experimental sounds,‘If You Had A Diamond’ on the other hand has a blues swing shuffle feel to it. Distorted bass lines and lyrical refrains make this a catchy number with some lovely guitar fills and dynamics throughout.

‘Sonic Middle Age Spread’ jumps straight into storyline. The dialogue depicts an aging pop-star wrapped up in themselves and the motions of the lifestyle they’ve come accustomed to, with a humourous description of the onslaught of age in ‘a wrinkling derriere’. For me though, one of the less endearing moments of ‘Seine’ is the weak synth violin/string timbre on this song that barely lifts the slow-paced shuffle.

‘The Present’, feels much like an extension of the former song. The production here is really nice though and offers a textured layer that compliments the organ languidly hanging from the vocal melody. The song comes to a close with a crumbling and distorted sample of two people speaking on the phone just to say goodbye. A perfectly placed sample capturing Gray’s end of Ep humour risk. Overall an experimental new release from William Gray. ‘Seine’ definitely ventures into new sonic territory for his acoustic music with some lovely bass and drum grooves, organ melodies, and a reliable sense of wit, sturdy songwriting and craftsmanship.

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Opinion ::: Best Home Recorded Albums

Who isn’t recording music at home these days? And why wouldn’t you? The most basic equipment that you’ve got to record at home in 2016, is already way beyond what The Beatles were using back in the 60s. Depending on the equipment, home recording generally checks all the boxes for our tech savvy generation – it’s affordable, comfortable, portable and if you’re lucky, your precious little domicile might even sound half decent on record! The fact is, whether you record at home or not these days, for the majority of artists it seems to be a matter of preference rather than being your sole choice (as it might have been in the past).

You’ll find plenty of high-profile artists indulging in the art of home-recording as well as those who are continually arguing over it’s pros and cons, the quality of sound, and the ‘real’ value of music etc. For one, David Byrne (Talking Heads) has made some key points on this topic in his interview ‘When to Resist Technology.’ To sum it up… It’s the song that matters, not the technology; but then again we haven’t quite figured out if the term, ‘home recording’ still applies if your home happens to be a 16th century mansion.

There are currently infinity musicians recording at home at this very moment in time; so here are our favourite home-recorded albums that we currently know about and that you may or may not have already heard.

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Bruce Springsteen/Nebraska (1981) – Basically, this album is a diamond. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like it. I’m not just talking about the songs which by the way are an undeniable weapon of grit, sentiment and passion; but the mood and essence of the recording screams volumes and might as well have just taken a giant shit-kicker boot to the cojones of the whole modern digital music revolution. This entire album is a home-recorded cassette tape demo that Springsteen took into the studio in the hope of working on with some other musicians. He didn’t like the final studio result, so he ended up releasing the demos as the official album instead. Respect.

Daniel Johnston/Songs of Pain (1980) – A cult favourite, you’ll either get it or you’ll hate it. Musicians/artists can get a tad wrapped up in themselves and their talent, or whatever sometimes. What you get here though, is a passionate kid at home recording and giving it everything he’s got with a tape recorder, piano/guitar, and voice. Despite the very lo-fi quality of the recordings, Johnston’s raw and emotional tunes are as good as you’re bound to find in the pop/indie-folk genre.

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band/Trout Mask Replica (1969) – Home recorded and produced by Frank Zappa, this highly influential album is among one of the 20th centuries greatest in terms of Modern Jazz, and Avant-garde musical theories. It not only went on to influence many other genres and experimental artists but was also important for its unusual musical structures, using polyrhythms and atonality influenced in part by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Miles Davis/Walkin (1954) – Recorded by a much younger Rudy Van Gelder in his parent’s living room, ‘Walkin’ is the debut recording of the influential Jazz composer and trumpeter Miles Davis. Given the date and quality of this home recording, it’s stood the test of time for a good reason. Obviously the talent and musicianship here is extraordinary, and ‘Walkin’ lives on today as a debut classic from one of the 20th centuries most acclaimed musicians.

J Mascis/ Several Shades of Why (2011) – The debut solo album by Dinosaur Jr frontman, J Mascis was recorded at his home in Amherst, USA with a bunch of other musician friends including Kurt Vile, members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Band of Horses, Broken Social Scene and released on SubPop Records. Wielding his acoustic guitar, there’s a very organic/unpolished sound to this album, but Mascis proves yet again why he’s so good at what he does.

Daft Punk/Homework (1997) – Given the title, this debut release by French house/electronica artists was written and recorded very quickly but was certainly good enough to find the duo in a bidding war with a number of major labels. It still holds strong today and is widely regarded as a critical work that shone a refreshing light on the French house scene. It is an infectious head-bopper with an optimistic and robust feel throughout. Influenced: The Avalanches, MGMT, Justice

Johnny Cash/ American Recordings (1994) – Cash’s 81st album was recorded and produced by Rick Rubin in his living room, bringing a minimal folk feel to this album and given life by the late great iconic songwriter. It is performed with a hauntingly tender touch as equally as it is produced, and a uniquely impressive Cash album with minimal need for decoration.

Bert Jansch/Bert Jansch (1965) – The Scottish Folk revivalist/Jazz guitarist gives away very little on his debut album cover but his talent is undeniable. Producer Bill Leader captures the beautiful sentiment of Jansch’s first album with his Revox tape recorder (for 100GBP), throwing in the egg-box soundproofing for free, and shoving the artist in the wardrobe; all making this a classic folk record worth spending your time and a few glasses of highland whiskey on.

Ween/The Pod (1991) – Along with many of Ween’s early lo-fi albums, ‘The Pod’ was recorded on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder while band-mates apparently suffered from mononucleosis in their apartment giving the album a gloomy, broody sound. ‘The Pod’ was remastered by Elektra Records after the success of later records, ‘Chocolate and Cheese‘, and ‘Pure Guava‘. The guitars are textured, sometimes ambient, fueled by various drum-machines, and samples while the vocals and lyrics are often humourous, spontaneous and free-spirited.

PJ Harvey/4-Track Demos (1993) – Consists of 8 demos of songs from her critically-acclaimed second album, ‘Rid Of Me‘, as well as 6 more previously unreleased demos. The passion and energy of these bare-knuckle demos are really all Harvey would have needed. I’d nearly consider some of these demos better than the final album versions. Recorded at home with a Yamaha MT 2X 4-track recorder before Island Records famously gave it away as a promotion.

Honourable Mentions –

Boston/Boston (1976) – Recorded in Tom Scholz basement

Bon Iver/For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) – Recorded by Justin Vernon in a cabin in the woods (myth?!)

Imogen Heap/Ellipse (2009) – Recorded in the basement of her house

Steve Vai/Flex-Able (1984) – Recorded in a converted shed.

***Further Reading :

  1. http://www.trustmeimascientist.com/2013/12/02/a-brief-history-of-popular-home-recordings/
  2. https://mic.com/articles/78949/15-legendary-albums-that-were-recorded-in-bedrooms-kitchens-and-garages#.y5NcONkrb
  3. http://www.sonicscoop.com/2015/02/12/10-classic-albums-made-outside-the-recording-studio/
  4. https://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2012/01/10-great-albums-recorded-at-home.html