According to scientific research, remarkable similarities exist between the psychological profiles of classical music and heavy metal fans. Surprising maybe, given that most people would place the two genres at opposite ends of the musical spectrum, but despite the crossover it seems successfully fusing the two styles is tricky.
Bovidae are a Sheffield-based trio attempting to do just that, throwing in a bit of free jazz for good measure. There’s no denying their capability. Bovidae are tight. Throughout their self-titled debut, the trio grapple with complex time signatures and quick shifts in tempo without once dropping the beat. Yet this level of precision sometimes leads to the band sounding almost programmed, tied to an overall absence of textural variation. Too much of the album features the same flat mix of overdriven guitar and piano.
Where Bovidae break out of this things begin to work, as on ‘Massive Weird Nun’, where a bit of delay on the guitar gives the tune a lot more space and atmosphere. Later in the same track, there’s a lovely interplay between a clean, syncopated bassline and some wide piano chords.
If Bovidae can carry on experimenting with time signatures and inject a bit more mood into their tunes, perhaps delving further into those jazz influences, they could be on track to be a much more exciting outfit. As it is, I can imagine those classical and heavy metal fans both left wanting more.
The title of Jenny Hval’s fourth album will cue you into the record’s main themes, namely menstruation and vampires. Less sonically easygoing than 2015’s Apocalypse, girland co-produced with noise musician Lasse Marhaug, there are moments of abrasiveness on Blood Bitch, but for the most part Hval is quietly entrancing. Her voice slips spectrally between spare, programmed drums and Angelo Badalamenti synth washes. She’s Carmilla, turned to mist and let loose at a Haxan Cloak gig.
The Norwegian polymath’s voice remains her most striking instrument. Her practised yet foreign English is redolent of Charlotte Gainsbourg, hushed and hypnotic. Spoken word verses sound like they were recorded outside the studio. She hyperventilates as a guide track to the buzzing keys of ‘In The Red’. Her words have the stream of consciousness logic and abstract clarity of a dream.
As with her previous records, identity and bodies remain Hval’s primary lyrical preoccupations - on ‘Innocence Is Kinky’, she yearns to sing in a voice “like a continuous echo of splitting hymens” - except she lampshades easy readings of the album with a ‘Valley Girl’-esque interlude.
Amid all the heavy content and soul baring, Jenny Hval is also very funny. Blood Bitchis open and inscrutable. It’s an art pop album that calls to mind Julia Kristeva, early Grimes and Belgian vampire movie Daughters of Darkness. This is the most confident record she’s produced yet. It’s bloody brilliant.
Don’t Let The Kids Win
Julia Jacklin’s debut album is the serving of mellow melody missing from your October playlist. If my initial impressions of the record weren’t high enough, it’s been a musical experience which keeps giving each time you listen or learn a little more about the artist.
As opener ‘Pool Party’ kicks in, an immediate PJ Harvey meets Laura Marling flavour hits the senses. Julia has a truly stunning voice, soft yet strong and clear. ‘Pool Party’ is not only the album opener but the debut single, an obvious choice as it combines a memorable tune with absorbing lyrics centred around the debauchery of youth. Delving a little deeper, it’s apparent that the themes of age, youth and even a touch of nostalgia run through. ‘Coming of Age’ is another favourite, and for a folk-influenced album it has more of a 90s feel, with a touch more guitar and reverb for a weightier sound.
On the other end of the spectrum, tracks like ‘Motherland’, ‘Sweet Step’ and ‘Hay Plain’ have much more of a traditional American folk sound, again drawing on strong female influences. The title track concludes the album with personable lyrics which are sure to resonate with all 20-something listeners transitioning into a new chapter of their lives.
An artist for everybody to enjoy, Jacklin's voice carries a maturity way beyond her years while holding on to the delicacies of youth through her tender lyrics.
Delicious Clam Records
It's become a late capitalist cliché, but that doesn't stop it happening again and again. Artists and other creative types liberated by bargain basement rents move into areas of the city long consigned to economic decline. They do 'em up, bring the buzz back, and then suddenly the postcode is targeted as 'up and coming'. Rent triples, social enterprises and DIY venues are priced out, and tax-dodging holding companies swoop in to build the next northern outpost of Dubai-on-Thames.
Delicious Clam, a party, record label and venue formerly based on Sylvester Street are the latest to be turfed out of the ironically named Cultural Industries Quarter. To raise money for a new gaff they've released a 14-track collection of alternate versions, live recordings and rarities from such local luminaries as Best Friends, Thumbuster and The Orielles.
Perhaps declaring a new mission statement, Nai Harvest kick it off with a demo called 'Happiness Always', while Pet Rock bury their vocals so deep in the mix on 'Cuckoo' they could be a time capsule for the label.
Best track on the comp goes to Katie Pham & The Moonbathers with a live run through of the spooky 'Thick Cut'. An instrumental one from Seymore, 'Capo2', is more thoughtful than its throwaway title suggests, with the band channelling Mogwai at their prettiest. Particularly worth a look in is the jazzy funk of the Fentonville Street Band live, while a distant, out-of-tune piano adds poignancy to 'Promazine' by Five Leaf Nettles.
On the other side of house and techno from club-oriented tracks you have music like Christian Löffler's, which is tender, emotively resonant and though generally melancholic, always inclined towards a contemplative beauty. What marks Mare out in comparison to Löffler's other work is its dispensing with sample-based production methods. Löffler recorded virtually every sound on the album with field recordings and the incidental sounds of his studio's natural surroundings.
Ultimately, the end result is a bit less subtle and more obvious than it might have been. It's an unashamedly pretty piece of work that straddles the boundary between the profound and moving and the extremely sincere and sentimental. Whether it falls on the side of powerful or saccharine will probably depend on the listener, but either way it'd be cynical not to admire the detail and care with which it’s been made.
As on his last album, A Forest, Löffler collaborates with singer Mohna on several of these tracks and they are generally the highlights. The title track is a thing of spellbinding wonder. Löffler scales back the marimba and xylophone melodies that often lead and focuses on grainy, crackling percussion to let Mohna's captivating voice dominate and it brings out the best in both of them. It's more abstract and striking than most of what's on offer here, and it’s what I'd like there to be more of, because as impressive a piece of craft as Mareis, its earnestness is occasionally a little cloying.
Flames & Figures
How far can you push pop towards other genres? I always assumed the beauty of pop is that you can take morsels out of other styles and present them in the hope the uninitiated can be attracted to the rim, that thin line that acts as a wall between pop and a myriad of genres. The Seshen is pop, only not. Like the intersecting parts of a Venn diagram, The Seshen try to be several things at once. It works. Dream pop, funk, jazz and downtempo have a place in Flames & Figures, their newest album. Trip hop in a normalised, Gaussian filtered way.
Remember 2002, when ambient and chill-out electronica dominated a thousand cafés? The Seshen do, but they only copy the method of delivery. The message is a whole different league above. Deceptively pop, the tracks on Flames & Figures emanate gorgeous soundscapes that are both refreshing and alarming. ‘Firewalker’ has a certain intensity that clashes with its breezy demeanour.
Even when some of the techniques work against the band, like the slowed-down vocals on ‘Waiting For You’, the music wins. Sometimes the approach is minimalist, like on ‘Other Spaces’, which takes the route of Nedry, a stripped-back version of trip hop, engaging and sweet. Flames & Figures succeeds at making too many genres work together in a palatable dish. Never too spicy, never too saucy, never too dry. The right mix for a good sampling of what you can do with pop, and more.
Sam J. Valdés López
D.D Dumbo (Oliver Perry) is an Australian multi-instrumentalist hailing from the small town of Castlemaine. Utopia Defeated is Dumbo's first full length and it's a journey. Pressing play is like stepping into a multilayered rabbit hole. Pots and pans spank just as much as drums. Xylophones blare just as loud as guitars. But it's catchy, almost irritably so, and the pots and pans are just as memorable as the ever-winding vocal melodies that are often refrained but sometimes groaned.
First single ‘Satan’ is a snapshot of the album, an ultra complex production presenting dainty musical rhythms and a powerful vocal. It's catchy, with each idea rising, falling and stopping before the next melodic quirk. Opening track ‘Walrus’ is of a similar ilk, but a little more subtle, letting the gaps do the talking.
The aforementioned are undoubtedly the upbeat singles of the album and while the rest is just as complex, it's much subtler in its delivery. ‘Brother’ has more of a driving rhythm, but is still accentuated with what sounds like a Super Mario theme in the chorus. ‘Toxic City’ is another more chilled track which lets Perry's voice come into its full element in contrast to the singles.
From start to finish, the album weaves. It's 37 minutes of sudden ins and outs and whilst it may border on pretentious, you won't be asking for the time back.
From producer Greg Sanders under his moniker Distance comes a new album, soaked with atmosphere and tinged with dubstep influences. This comes as no surprise from an artist notable for being involved in the inculcation of the genre, having produced with such stalwarts as Benga and Skream. He is also noted for pushing the style far past its starting point of wobbling bass and fat drops, releasing tracks on Planet Mu and his own label, Chestplate.
The continuing evolution of his sound is evident throughout the album’s brooding soundscapes. It sounds liltingly crunk-like on ‘Kingdoms Fall’, filled with enormously atmospheric distortion, and with squelchy nods to his roots on ‘Unite’. Raw, inner city sounds come in the vocal collaborations with Killa P on ‘Badman’ and Breezy on ‘Betrayal’. These are rare vocal tracks for Distance and they are carried off reasonably well, though the biblical references to “the valley of the shadow of the dancehall” and dark lyrics of ‘Badman’ seem to work better with his growling rhythms.
‘Instructions to Survive’, ‘Kingdoms Fall’ and ‘Sink or Swim’ all call to mind some kind of artistic Darwinism, a feeling that if mutations stop the style might peter out. The album lives up to its title, doing creative things with a multitude of electronic influences but tending toward darkness throughout. It closes with ‘Talk to Me’, still very distorted but with a positive, building quality. His inventiveness is clearly represented in this well produced and exciting, if not quite groundbreaking, album.