Inventions

Inventions
Temporary Residence

Who or what are Inventions? Mark Smith I know of well enough, thanks to repeated rinsings of the Explosions In The Sky back catalogue, but Matthew Cooper and Eluvium were until very recently unknown quantities to me. On the basis of Inventions, however, I'll be seeking to fill that lacuna in my musical landscape, because anyone involved with this album has got to be worth listening to.

I feel safe in assuming that it's Smith who is responsible for the shimmering, ice-bright guitar tones which, drenched with delay and reversed envelopes, punctuate these eight tracks of dream time. After all, the guy's got previous with that weapon. How they carved up the duty roster for these twitchy glitchy heard-from-beneath-a-blanket beats, the swelling strings and shoegazey synth pads, and the formless vocal utterances is anyone's guess, but my money would be on some sort of languid coin-toss equivalent. If music expresses the mindset of its makers, then these are surely two seriously mellow gentlemen.

And why the hell not? If you want winter bleakness, there's always the weather channels or parliamentary coverage. Inventions, on the other hand, while it may lack the cart-wheeling Easter parade energy of Explosions, is widescreen high definition outdoor ambience, a dawn walk on a spring morning through a forest covered with melting frost, echoing with the cheery drones, moans and hums of a planet shaking itself awake as the seasons shift.

I always thought that necessity was supposed to be the mother of invention, but there's no sense of urgency in this welcome premonition of what one might hope are more placid times. It's a wordless and blissful flotation tank session for the ears, so close your eyes and stick it on loop. With dreams like these, who needs reality anyway?

Paul Graham Raven

Tycho

Awake
Ghostly International

A couple of years ago I was in a rented car driving through the Canadian Rockies. The scenery was appropriately stunning and we had a soundtrack to match its shimmers and breathtaking expanses. Tycho’s third album, Dive, was on the car’s CD player. It might have been chief composer, producer and ringleader Scott Hansen’s eye-catching design arm ISO50 – a case in point is the album art for Awake, above – that guided the homogeny between sight and hearing. Or maybe I’m just getting sentimental and I was recalling the misty-eyed faux idealism of your typical 4x4 advert.

This fourth LP, his second via Ghostly International, captures that same empowering succinctness of sounds as gentle hammers and slides linger just long enough to be missed when they’re gone. But it’s the overarching synth work that seeps in the furthest, with its high notes soaring above chugging, palm-muted strumming.

There’s a tendency to introduce songs with the same finger-picked echo and delay that contributes to Snow Patrol’s blandness. You momentarily feel like a passenger in ‘Chasing Cars’ as ‘Montana’, ‘Spectre’ and the title track pull away in first gear. But an equally common theme is the ability to accelerate beyond that opening jitter. Flourishing by foregoing any insipid lyrical whining, Awake instead tells its instrumental stories through finely crafted fade outs and crescendos, fashioning deliberately subtle melodies to ebb and flow along with simple, effective bass line pulses, carbonated fizzes and driving staccatos.

I’d heard murmurings that this was a change of direction and moving closer to a full band format, but however it was recorded the end product is just the same. Hansen has pulled off another readymade compilation for a journey through undulating countryside.

Ian Pennington

Rafiki Jazz

At Kriol Junction
Koni Music

This year Rafiki Jazz bring us At Kriol Junction, released by the Sheffield based Koni Music. The collective have been producing music since 2010 and this latest release holds nine tracks of fascinatingly politicised music with a definite Middle-Eastern and African lilt. Their representation of some of the global diaspora of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers leads to a pervasive commentary on contemporary issues of refugees and human rights.

The vocals, which include singing, rapping and a beat poetry style, bring a mixture of messages in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (‘Articles of Freedom’ gives a fairly informative account of its contents), critiques of housing conditions and “elites pretending to care” (‘Declaration Dub’), and the ever-present point that refugees are victims not criminals, among a selection of other thought-provoking content. The delivery of the lyrics varies in style, from haunting Arabic chants and rapping in African languages to messages delivered in a soft Sheffield accent.

The music itself delivers a powerful message about the possibilities of cultural co-operation, featuring a variety of instruments too multifarious to mention, but including steel pans, guitar, tabla and the complex plucked sounds of the oud. Each track was conceived, arranged and recorded in one intensive session, lending the whole release an immediate experimentalism which contrasts with the use of traditional instruments.

The tracks provide a great mixture of emotions, from the mournful, pared-down sounds of ‘Declaration Kriol’ to the swung feeling of ‘Baba Superman’ and the rebellious pride of closing track ‘Samba Miniyamba’. This album is fascinating, both for its musical invention and contemporary political themes, and is a fitting release to come from Sheffield, a city that has a proud history of welcoming immigrants of all types.

Sasha Levy-Andersson

GoGo Penguin

V2.0
Gondwana Records

Manchester jazz trio GoGo Penguin have put out their second record. The title, v2.0, looks like an obscure document name or an acronym for insiders. The players are Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums). The album consists of ten tracks of immaculate composition, stunning technical playing and tasteful production. The listener can dream and dance to it or otherwise attentively follow the lyrical arrangements.

DJs may put this jazz record in one section with Massive Attack, Squarepusher or Photek. It has break beat drumming. Coffee bar owners may put it on shuffle with Gonzales or Jamie Cullum. It has spherical piano arrangements on top of the break beats. Those in the know of contemporary European piano jazz might think they are being confronted with an Esbjörn Svensson album they didn’t know existed, because the music has an obvious Scandinavian touch. The piano playing is scandalously innovative in its repetition and heartwarming rationality and it’s refreshingly minimal, like everything else about this album.

American jazz academics may be baffled and hope this album is American in origin, but yet again fear that it’s not. Music geeks will spot the use of effects pedals here and there. Some might notice that GoGo Penguin have refined the use of those little machines to absolute perfection.

This record isn’t reinventing the wheel, because you can’t. As a reviewer I’d like to juxtapose it with others I like, but I don’t feel like it right now. Just let me play it again and enjoy what it does to my brain – a bit like what Glen Gould playing Bach does to my brain. But let me turn the hoover on first, like Glen did when he practised. A must have album.

Thomas Lebioda

Liars

Mess
Mute

Dark and angular is the way to describe Liars new record Mess. They have always embraced the aesthetic of post punk bands like A Certain Ratio and Gang Of Four and their seventh album is no exception, with the addition of the electronic sounds of artists like Kraftwerk with a more sinister edge.

Opening track ‘Mask Maker’ begins with a deep robotic voice venting lines like “Eat my face off.” These words are married to a repetitive pulse rhythm and funky beat, making the track strangely seductive. Throughout Mess, the New Yorkers exploit the idea of making dance music with an element of menace. The song ‘Vox Tuned D.E.D’ has an electronic bass that is reminiscent of a chainsaw mixed with swirling pad sounds and Angus Andrew's detuned vocals.

On the majority of the record Andrew's voice has been manipulated to the point of indecipherability. This nonetheless does result in the music being slightly unnerving or unsettling. His voice is used for great effect on lead single ‘Mess On A Mission’ as a deadpan tone switches to a high-pitched yelp for the chorus.

One of the problems with this album is that the longer it progresses, the more the band come across as a one-trick pony. On the shorter songs Liars succeed in making tight and dynamic music, but on longer jams like ‘Left Speaker Blown’ and ‘Perpetual Village’ it can become jarring. They also pay tribute to New Order with ‘I'm No Gold’, with a kick drum very reminiscent of ‘Blue Monday’. This could see them labelled as copyists, but like LCD Soundsystem before them they manage to add enough of their own character and personality. Mess does have some exciting moments, but there is too much filler for it to be considered a consistent effort.

Paul Robson

Red Trees

EP2
Sea Records

Folk trio Red Trees are an incredibly intimate band with a heart for all things local and natural. Currently engaged in a project with Sea Records, an independent label from York, the band will be releasing a series of four EPs via Sea, each relating to a different season. The music will all be written and recorded at home, which plays a huge part in the stripped back, organic feel to the records. EP2 – or “the autumn chapter”, as it was written during autumn 2013 – was released last month.

The record begins with the stunning track, ‘New Leaves’, instantly giving us a taste of the fragility and delicacy of their sound. The male-female harmony provides the perfect tonal amalgamation which, set over the gentle strings from the acoustic, demonstrates the true beauty of folk music. ‘Blaze’ continues with the same natural and autumnal imagery displayed in its precursor, both lyrically and musically. Again the harmonies are flawless and the chorus sending shivers down the spine on every play. This one has to be my choice track. The final track of the EP, ‘The Lock’, is another favourite – slightly different to the others due to the male lead, but just as fragile and sweet.

You really can’t fault Red Trees on the precision of their harmonies. Each track has been handcrafted with love and attention, creating a special kind of intimacy between the band and the listener. By listening we complete the carefully constructed puzzle. The slight fuzz underneath each song, caused by the back-to-basics recording set up, really adds to the music. It’s clear that the band don’t need fancy equipment to sound fantastic. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Tasha Franek