Department M – Deep Control

9 04 2016

Deep ControlDeep Control is the first full-length album release from Department M.

Department M is Owen Brinley (former Grammatics singer / guitarist) and drummer Tommy Davidson. They are joined on the album by vocalist Snow Fox, James Kenosha and Lins Wilson.

I was a fan of Grammatics debut album – especially the songs Relentless Fours and Inkjet Lakes, so have been looking forward to the first Department M album, and it does not disappoint.

Department M dial up the electronics on Deep Control, and inhabit the space vacated by Songs of Faith and Devotion era Depeche Mode. Guitars are not the driving force in Department M, they are more atmospheric and layered and work well with the powerful drums, deep bass synths and intricate keyboard lines.

Bad Formulae is an early example of how Brinley’s voice and songwriting has progressed over the past few years. The pace and mood shifts from soft to menacing in the blink of an eye.

Bleak Technique is propelled by some great interplay between the bass and drums, as well as joint vocals from Brinley and Snow Fox. I love the goth-like guitar lines that precede the chorus.

Watch a (very different from the album cut) but moving nonetheless live solo performance of Bleak Technique below…

Kill My Superstition takes a few listens to get under your skin, but this song of addiction, with it’s nagging flute / synth line pays dividends after repeated plays.

“Kid sister morphine, you blaze a trail, from neon carriages sirens exhale”

Stress Class is the nearest to the sound of Brinley’s former band. But the album really shifts up a gear with Air Exchange,  which is easily one of my favourite tracks on the album. I love the changes in pace and the duel vocals. A lot of electronic bands rely too much on processed percussion – Department M having a non-VST driven drummer adds a real sense of power and urgency to these performances.

“Help me forget myself, how hard could it be?”

Department M

Deep Control, Pt. 2 is a gorgeous late-night torch-song, that reminds me a little of Flat Earth era Thomas Dolby. The album was recorded at The Lodge, Bridlington, as was the final Lone Wolf album from last year. The sound of the studio, which ran deep through the Lone Wolf album, can  really be felt on this track.

Linear features a strong electric bass-line, and as the synths break-down, the second section of the song is the most powerful piece of music on the album. Linear ends on an almost post-punk note, it’s a wonderful track.

“trace the vapour trails above, so linear.”

Compulsion is the album’s closing piece. A perfect storm of hard sequencers, off-kilter jazzy sax lines and a nagging guitar riff push the track, and the album, to it’s conclusion.

Deep Control was made to be played loud, so download the album, and do just that

Buy Department M – Deep Control on Amazon

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Lone Wolf – Lodge

27 04 2015

lodgeLodge is the third (and final) album by Lone Wolf aka Paul Marshall. The idea for the album came after Paul found out that the place where he had recorded the majority of his material as Lone Wolf, a studio called The Lodge in Bridlington, was set to close it’s doors for the last time.

Holed up inside The Lodge studio with only his producer, James Kenosha and trumpeter David Wärmegård for company over a six day period, Lodge is the result of this organic recording process.

One stylistic choice that immediately jumps out is the absence of guitars on the album – Lodge is pretty much piano, voice, trumpet and percussion. It is also noticeable early on how the sound of the room has been captured – clicks, scrapes, amplifier crackles, feet shuffles and descending piano keys all leak into the recordings, and become part of the performances. Not in a “I’ll sample a buzzing bee and make a rhythm track” but as a natural part of the recording, and as such, they become an integral part of the songs.

Album opener Wilderness sets the scene – deep piano notes and a mournful trumpet line drop you straight into the mood of the album.

Alligator features Marshall’s powerful, soulful voice over one of the album’s key tracks. It sounds like Mr Lone Wolf is physically thumping the piano at times during the chorus, which builds to a powerful crescendo as cymbal-less drums carry the song to it’s conclusion.

lonewolf1

Crimes was the first track that I heard from the album, and I instantly fell in love with the song. It reminded me of late period Talk Talk, in it’s use of restraint and steady pace. Distorted trumpet takes the place of what would have usually been guitar and synth lines, and this gives a real feeling of continuity to the album.

Crimes has a chorus to die for and is already one of my favourite Lone Wolf songs.

“These crimes, these hideous crimes,
oh they make me want to lie my way out of your life”

The lyrics to Give Up seem to refer to finding something akin to a mirage in the isolation of despair.

“Maybe I’ll meet you in the water, maybe the water’s just dry land”

It’s amazing how a song with such simple, stripped back instrumentation can convey the mood of the song so well. The way Give Up shifts up several gears in one of the final choruses, before winding back down to a solo piano outro, is intensely moving.

Give Up contains a great vocal arrangement. It’s clear on this album, more than previous Lone Wolf releases, that the space in the arrangements really gives him the opportunity to soar.

Mistakes really sticks in your brain – I guarantee that this is the song you will find yourself humming long after the song has finished. The lyrics are a tale of the album – how we are hearing every note, including the mistakes. It’s the most uplifting song on Lodge.

Mess has a little of the feel of recent PJ Harvey releases – 2007’s White Chalk in particular, another album that eschew’s the artists usual way of recording.

There is a feel of real sadness throughout the songs and lyrics of Lodge, but as Mr Dwight famously once sang “If someone else is suffering enough to write it down…Sad songs, they say so much.” Lodge is a deeply personal and very honest album, and I think that the songs will resonate with a lot of people.

The tracks towards the end of the album took longer to work their magic, but if you stick with the songs, your patience will be rewarded, as Lodge is an album that bears new fruit after repeated listening.

Taking Steps is a case in point. The track didn’t stand out at first, but three weeks into living with the album, the track is now one of the highlights for me. The almost post-punk drum and bass-line intro section bleeds into a smoky, late-night jazz infused piece that I now never tire of hearing.

It would have been a safe and easy option to dress these songs up in studio effects and slap on layers of synths and strings, but that would have killed the raw emotion that runs through the veins of this album.

Art of Letting Go features a powerful vocal outro as the song finds it’s natural end point. Get Rough is moderately more upbeat than the songs that precede it, and feels more like the Lone Wolf of The Devil & I.

Token Water, the longest track on the album, picks up the night-club jazz feel again, before heading off into an almost Blue Nile like outro, as the song shuts down abruptly with a discordant trumpet blast.

Talking of blasts, that’s how the album closer, Pripyat, announces itself. Deep piano strikes, maybe acting as warning sirens, usher in the tale of the now abandoned Ukrainian city near Chernobyl. Some wonderful trumpet and vocal interplay brings the album to it’s close.

I’m sad that Lodge is apparently the final Lone Wolf release, but hopefully if enough people discover this beautiful album, it won’t be the end of the line completely, and it will be a case of RIP Lone Wolf, long live Paul Marshall!

Buy Lodge on Amazon

Buy the 1st Lone Wolf album  The Devil & I on Amazon

Buy the 2nd Lone Wolf album  The Lovers on Amazon





Gabriel Kahane – Where Are the Arms

12 04 2012

I had never heard of Gabriel Kahane, until I saw mention of his song Charming Disease by one of my favourite singer-songwriters, the mighty Gavin Castleton. And what a track this it turned out to be!

Lyrically, it’s a sad tale of fighting alcoholism, set to music containing delicious aching strings, guitar and piano, and reminding me a little of Leeds artist Lone Wolf.

Listen to a stream of Charming Disease from the Gabriel Kahane bandcamp page below.

“You were sneaking out with little lies, in the morning by the market, for a good time
You tried to hide it by the lemon trees, I took you home and took away your keys.”

Merritt Pkwy is the tale of a chance meeting and a relationship that ends as quickly as it starts. The song could well be a continuation of the story from the previous track.  The tracks are even linked by a string section that could be acting as a bridge between the two lyrics.

“And I say now what I said then 
please let me forget you 
In some hot one gas station town 
please let me forget you”

There are shades of Sufjan Stevens and Rufus Wainwright in Kahane’s music, and although he comes from a classical background, this album is a mixture of pop and indie. It’s true there are shifting time signatures, string sections and theatrical touches, but the album will appeal to those who like intelligent pop music. Nothing is throwaway, every note is carefully considered and exists for a reason.

The track LA opens with a picked guitar refrain, typical of many signer-songwriters, but is uniquely under-pinned by a baroque piano-part.

“LA
The selfish city wins again.”

Watch the video for LA below

Last Dance is a heart-wrenching song of loss and regret. Regret for the words that were not spoken, the final experiences that could not be shared, and the aching desire to share a lover’s touch one last time.

“all I want is a face to hold
and love and light and sex
and cigarettes”

Icebox name-checks New York land-marks that don’t quite resonate with a South-east London boy like me, but the imagery paints a picture of travelling through cities and people watching that is universal.

Winter Song has some wonderful double-bass and electric piano in the middle section of the song, recalling early 70’s John Martyn, and is topped off by a lovely flute arrangement.

“scratching out a past
we don’t remember much
words come apart like
tendon shattered bone”

Where Are The Arms is an ambitious album, covering several genres, often within individual songs, and stands up to repeated listening. Each song is a portrait, with common themes such as regret, isolation and missed connections (Merritt Pkwy is a prime example).

Watch the Charming Disease video

Buy Where Are The Arms from Amazon





2010 Review

30 12 2010

Blimey, it’s that time of year already.  2010 flew by….

Here are my thoughts on my favourite music , film and TV from 2010.

Music

Francis and the Lights

My most played artist of 2010 (last.fm stats are so useful!) was Francis and the Lights.  I first came across the band, who are led by the enigmatic, and wonderfully named, Francis Farewell Starlite, in the Summer of 2010.

It was one of those chance discoveries, where I saw the name mentioned in a magazine, headed over to Youtube and saw (and fell in love with) the video for Darling, It’s Alright.

Francis and the Lights first full length album, It’ll Be Better was not out in the UK at the time, so I ordered a copy from the States.

The album highlight is the closing track, Get In The Car.

“You gotta be careful
These guys will eat you alive
You gotta believe me
You’re gonna want me by your side”

I don’t want to spoil the story, but it’s certainly no love song.

Sounding, vocally, like a cross between Randy Edelman and Peter Gabriel, and musically (at times) like early 80’s Prince, It’ll Be Better flows well as apparently the songs were recorded using the same instruments throughout, to give a feeling of cohesiveness.  So scattered amongst the 80’s synth sounds, are barely processed guitars and piano and a symmetry that makes sure the songs hit you immediately.

Tap the Phone is one of the more modern sounding songs on the album, and one of those rare songs that doesn’t waste a single note.

“I should tap the phone, take a taxi home
Write a song for the radio, then I could hear you
When you’re on the phone
And you could hear me on the radio”

For Days has programmed drums that sound as if they were lifted from Prince’s Parade album, but with a buzzsaw synth line, a supremely funky guitar and haunting piano.  Pure pop magic.

“If there was just an air strike or a natural disaster, You coulda been mine.”

Also recommended, from the A Modern Promise EP (2008), is the song Night Watchman – a lovely pop song about voyeurism.

Buy It’ll Be Better from Amazon UK

Buy A Modern Promise from Amazon UK

Everything Everything

Another new band, this time from the UK.  Their Man Alive album was released in late August, and follows a string of single releases dating back to 2008.  The songs are varied, with lovely layered harmony vocals, inventive guitar and nods to bands such as Talking Heads, Yes, XTC and even The Associates.

With many time signature changes (often within the same song) and quirky vocal tics, there is plenty to keep you listening throughout the 50 minutes of this charming album.

The production duties were handled by David Kosten (Bat for Lashes / Joseph Arthur and sometime no-man collaborator), and I hope he stays on board for the next album, as he added so much to the mix.

“If all the boys say you did it, and all the girls say you did it,
and if all the boys say you did it, and all the girls say you did it
Then man, you’re as guilty as the ones that came before, you sleepwalked over here, the drawbridge creaks ignored.”
Leave The Engine Room lyrics

If you don’t jump out of your chair and dance round the room like a dervish during Photoshop Handsome, you are already dead.

“Airbrush! What have you done with my landscape?
Flooding the fields with this clone shape?
Where is the country you died for?
And what is the century?
And Ah-Ah-Ah! Who did your Photoshop handsome?
You ready for reincarnation?
Gotta come back as something less frantic
You gotta banish that army of panic
Gotta come back as something organic.”

Schoolin’ has become my favourite from the album over time, mainly because of the middle 8 that sounds like it’s fallen straight off no-man’s Lighthouse.

Buy Everything Everything from Amazon UK.

Gavin Castleton

Portland, Oregon’s Gavin Castleton is a singer/songwriter I came across late in 2009, via someone’s end of year list on Facebook.  See, sometimes these lists are worthwhile!  Gavin’s music varies between progressive jazz-tinged pop, through to electronica and even rap, with traditional song arrangements and looping experiments.

My first purchase was the wonderful album called Home.  An album about a relationship breakdown, with the added complication of a zombie attack.  Yep, you read that correctly. It’s an intriguing idea, and surprisingly it works.

Home is a schizophrenic album, with twists and turns, and many genre changes, but like a good film, stick with it, and after repeated listening’s, its beauty will surely charm you.

“I might’ve survived if it weren’t for her eyes
that were eating mine up
She wanted a job so I brought her the forms
with my eyes held shut”
Coffeelocks from Home

Gavin is incredibly prolific, and hugely independent (through circumstances, not necessarily choice), and 2010 brought another new album, Won Over Frequency, which was released without record company backing late in 2010.

Stand out tracks include the slow-burning Why Is It So Hard? and the country-tinged I Only Haunt.

“I don’t love, I only haunt”.

My favourite Gavin Castleton album is For the Love of Pete, which was released in 2007.  It’s the most traditional (for the want of a better word) album from Gavin.

The beatbox driven Good Manbaby, and deep bass powered Tiny Triggers are current favourites.

Gavin does not have the support of a record label, so every purchase of his music is poured back into his next project, so have a listen to his music from the links below, but please don’t download his music for free, if you like it, buy it.

Listen to Gavin’s music on Soundcloud or via his official website.

Stream The Human Torch from the album Home

Buy Gavin Castleton music on cdbaby or iTunes

View Gavin Castleton videos, including the looping cover of Sledgehammer and the wonderful cover of Eyes in the back of my Head.

Lone Wolf

The Devil and I is the debut release from Lone Wolf aka Paul Marshall.  Leeds musician Paul Marshall released an album called Vultures in 2007, but his first release under the Lone Wolf moniker is a very different beast.  Losing the folk influences, and drawing from a wider instrumental palette, the Devil and I is as lyrically rich as it is musically.

I was drawn into the album by the single Keep Your Eyes On The Road, and its Sledgehammer inspired video.

Opener This Is War is the story of a nightmare relationship.

“I used my chemistry skills to bake her every pill she could swallow.
She prayed to god and she called me a sinner, science isn’t the way to win her.
She gave me every disease under the sun before she ran for another town.
My body reacts to her.
How bodies react to her.”

We Could Use Your Blood is my favourite song on the album, with a wonderful use of haunting trumpet and bells to lift the final chorus.

“I’m tired of the mutes in my life.
And I’m tired of this glass body.
It’s only transparent from the outside.
And my bee-stung lips have sank a fair few ships,
While they continue to flap like hummingbird’s wings deep into the night. “

15 Letters is a murder ballad, sung from the perspective of the deceased.

“My name will remain an unclimbable mountain in life.”

A wonderful album, and one that seeps into your soul after repeated listenings.  Here’s hoping for more from Lone Wolf in 2010.

Buy The Devil and I from Amazon UK
LoneWolf blog

John Grant

Queen of Denmark was a must buy for me, because of the Midlake connection (the band back Grant on the album).  Sounding very much like an album from the mid-70’s, with lush backing vocals and not sounding out-of-place in the company of Bread or Fleetwood Mac, Queen of Denmark reveals more when you dig deeper.  Silver Platter Club even sounds like Carole Bayer Sager meets Gilbert O’Sullivan, but in a good way, I kid you not!

John Grant was the singer in the US band The Czars, and this debut solo release apparently comes from the viewpoint of a gay man struggling for survival in a small town in America, and some of the songs touch on Grant’s struggles with addiction (pretty graphically, on the album’s title track, very uneasy listening).

Marz is a shopping list of all the treats available in a long-gone sweet store from Grant’s childhood.  Another standout track on the album is TC and Honeybear, an affectionate tale of a former love.

“For Tc and his Honeybear, the world will not stop moving
For rendezvous and longing stares and hearts that won’t stop burning”

There is humour, nostalgia and warmth displayed throughout the songs, held together by Grant’s effortless, rich baritone vocals.

My favourite song is actually one of the tracks from the limited edition bonus version, the simple piano, strings and vocals arrangement of Fireflies really highlights the beauty and sorrow in the song.

“I can smell the flowers,
they died long ago.
How I long for you.”

Buy The Queen of Denmark on Amazon UK
John Grant Myspace site

Arcade Fire

The Suburbs is summed up perfectly by its cover artwork, hinting at a time and a world long since disappeared.

Probably their most cohesive album, and one that should really be listened to as one complete piece.  The Suburbs is another of this year’s albums that references a bygone era, in this case taking cues from late 70’s Springsteen, the lean new wave pop of The Cars and The Psychedelic Furs.

Rococo is a ClockWork Orange-esque take on Mall-life, whereas Sprawl I (Flatland) is a slow-burning anthem, managing to be both menacing and nostalgic at the same time.

“Took a drive into the sprawl
To find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me but I’m still far away”

Buy The Suburbs on Amazon UK

Bruce Springsteen

2010 was the year I rediscovered Bruce Springsteen. My favourite Bruce albums were always The RiverThe Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and especially Darkness on the Edge of Town.  I went along to the UK premiere of the film The Promise In November, which was attended by the Boss himself.  The documentary looks at the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and some of the songs that failed to make the final cut.  It was a fascinating look at this landmark album, and I treated myself to the box-set that contained a DVD of the documntary, a remastered version of Darkness on the Edge of Town and a double disc of The Promise, songs from the Darkness sessions.

Darkness on the Edge of Town sounds amazing in this remastered version, it’s like hearing a new album.  I’m still blown away by Candy’s Room, Badlands, Racing in the Street and Prove it all Night.  I find it hard to believe that I first heard these songs 32 years ago.

The Promise is not an album of fillers or countless versions of the same songs, virtually all these tracks could, and perhaps should, have been released back in the late 70’s.  Some of the songs were hits – Because the Night for Patti Smith, and Fire for The Pointer Sisters. The versions by the original writer do not disappoint. Save my Love has that signature E-Street band piano sound, and The Promise should have been on Darkness on the Edge of Town, it could easily have closed the album.

Buy The Promise on Amazon UK
Buy The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3CD+3DVD) on Amazon UK
Buy The Promise: Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (3CD/3Blu-ray) on Amazon UK

Film

Into The Wild

Ok, not a new film, but one I’ve just seen.  Directed by Sean Penn, and starring Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless who leaves a life of comfort and safety to find a different way of life in the wild, open spaces of the US.

It’s an often bleak story, but lit up along the way with the now renamed Alexander Supertramp and his interaction with those he comes across as he heads to his destination, Alaska.  So sad, but so moving.

Buy Into The Wild on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

Let the Right One In

As above, one bought on blu-ray this year, and a horror classic. In my eyes, the film deserves to be talked of in the same way that The Shining, Omen or The Exorcist are described as genre-defining movies.

Forget the obvious gore and dumbed down modern horror that films such as Saw serve up. Let the Right One In is restrained in what it shows you, but the darkness is in the way in which this story was filmed. It looks absolutely stunning, and the effects are simple yet effective.

The film was remade in 2010 as Let Me In, but I’m sticking with the cold beauty of the original Swedish version.

Buy Let The Right One In on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

Television

Any Human Heart

A four-part Channel 4 adaptation of the book by William Boyd.  Telling the story of Logan Mountstuart from pre-Second World War up to the early 90’s, and his life, his loves, and his painful losses that haunt him to the end.

Memories are triggered by long-forgotten pictures, letters, notes and drawings. A powerful and moving adaptation, and easily my favourite TV event of the year.

Buy Any Human Heart on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

The Pacific

From the same team that put together Band of Brothers a few years ago, whilst not as satisfying (the character building throughout the series is not as strong as Band of Brothers) but offering a much more accurate portrayal of the devastation and sheer brutality of war.

Buy The Pacific on DVD or blu-ray on Amazon UK

Buy Band of Brothers on DVD or blu-ray

Buy The Pacific / Band of Brothers DVD gift-set









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