Animat

Mirador
Self released

Ten years ago, Animat played their first major show at the Big Chill Festival. Now we get to experience that moment again - all the excitement, all the enjoyment, thousands of people enraptured by two downtempo wizards.

Mirador is the collection of ten years of work by two men, Mark Daly and Michael Harding. Some songs on this album may be a decade old, but each sounds fresh and vibrant. Time has not dulled the beauty of these sonic landscapes. Each song is a finely crafted lesson in mood, whether it’s the use of crackling recordings telling of snow over shimmering glacial chimes or soaring vocals set to ethereal synth. Every instrument fits in its rightful place, no guitar feels out of place, nor does a flute flourish ever sound wrong. Timing, planning, an understanding of what can make and break a song - these are the things that Animat excel at.

Standout tracks like 'Heart Shaped Balloons' use reversed instruments and staccato synth stabs to create a haunting and hypnotic ambience. Yet the very next track, 'Riverbed Road', is a super chilled downtempo groove complete with soulful vocals. Mirador showcases the vast array of moods and tones that these two gentleman can create, seemingly effortlessly. From haunting frostiness to laid-back warmth, in ten years the sheer diversity is staggering.

Performing live reworkings of film soundtracks, like the cult sci-fi classic Dark Star, David Lynch’s intense The Straight Story, and the Oscar-winning animation Belleville Rendezvouz, and at the same time putting out some incredible albums, no-one can say that Animat haven’t been busy for the last decade. If the last ten years have produced so much immense quality, so many emotions and sonic journeys, I am thrilled by what the next ten years might hold.

Alex Adams

Magpies

I Am A Cat EP
Self released

Within the first minute of the I Am A Cat EP, the deep, fatherly warmth of Magpies' lead vocalist David Broadhurst invites listeners of this spacey Sheffield folk act into an embrace of soft melodies and calm atmospherics.

This music is built to be heard whilst reclining on a still summer evening, letting the mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation meld together as it washes over you. The arrangements are subtly inventive and radiate tripped-out otherworldliness, but at the same time Magpies' music is never overstated, their tunes drifting by in the loveliest ways possible.

The steady build of the catchy synth line in opening track 'Ghost' gently nudges the song into a reserved, repetitive mantra, while the second half of 'DogMan' pushes into a more forward-moving, beat-driven journey which is eventually embellished by unexpected brass backing, adding a remarkably effective extra layer of shimmering brilliance to the texture.

Of course, the aforementioned country-esque, aged voice aids the relaxing quality of this release, but it's also hard to ignore the bizarre lyrics, which stand out strikingly against the otherwise largely serene musical palette. Lines like, 'Cut off your head / Scoop out what I said’,and, 'Your legs are long like a deer / Wiry and swathed in red’, don't seem to fit the mood, yet these quirks, combined with the equally odd promotional imagery the band use, their genre tags ('Cat Pop', 'Meow Rock') and the EP's title, highlight the individuality this band possess.

The lyrics to the title track in fact work well as a metaphor for the band themselves - travelling on their own path like the haughty pets many of us know and love. If being feline encourages the creation of such textural, expressive and unique music as this, then, frankly, I want to be a cat too.

Richard Spencer

Bruja

Bruja EP
Self released

South Yorkshire trio Bruja have stitched together an impressive example of how to blend the gruff and hazy elements of grunge with an ability for catchy song writing in their self-titled debut EP.

The tunes come thick and fast. Openers ‘XXX’ and ‘Drone’ charge forward, plummeting head first into a swampy morass of overdriven guitars and propulsive drums. ‘Sugarbaby’ repeats the formula, at first sounding like a lost tape from Nirvana’s Bleach sessions­ – a murky bass riff sits inside a swell of guitar feedback, soon launching into the same reckless mischief as the first two tracks. This is abruptly reigned in and replaced with clean guitars, a measured beat and sparse vocals from lead singer Del Wadsworth, exposing the fact that while the band may style themselves as 'wobbly grunge', they demonstrate much ability outside this loose yet amusing label.
Without doubt, there are nods to that angst-ridden, sludgy subset of alternative rock. But what stands out most about Bruja is not so much the homages they pay to the baggy-shirted counter-cultural icons of the late 80s and early 90s, but the well-crafted, minimal and contagious hooks that carry this release. ‘Horsey & You’ and ‘Bon’ revolve around playful yet pensive melodies, and provide a nonchalant counterbalance to the faster side of the EP without sacrificing any of the energy.

There seems to have been an NME-endorsed grunge revival of late, with bands like Royal Blood, Drenge and Wolf Alice pushing a darker, fuzzier sound compared to last decade’s twee indie projects. Bruja may well fit into the general mould, but if they can maintain their own unique balance of infectious, poppy hooks and grungy instrumentation, they’ll be sure to carve out a name for themselves.

Aidan Daly

Sharron Kraus

Friends and Enemies, Lovers and Strangers
Clay Pipe Music

On an emotional and pretty sing-along folk album, Sharron Kraus delivers a delicious vocal with an acoustic guitar backdrop. The gentle picking of fretted notes drop like rainfall on us and, with subtle additions of keys and wind, interesting and sometimes heartbreaking melodies, the weather of the record is set to 'sunny tempest'. Somewhere is a rainbow. We know it must be there, but it often sneaks away from view. Our periphery occasionally catches a snippet of red or violet, but for the most part we are confronted with the light pitter-patter of grooves in the dragon snap grove.

What captures me most is the near perfect echo of the acid folk scene of 40 years ago. Though the organic instruments and time-honoured scales make the ingredients to this delicate record, the result is just as fresh and relevant now as it was then. The cake rises and the colours of the mixture greet us as sonic aromas and spine tingling anticipation. Words of bardic verse are drizzled like honey over the skeleton of music which forms a sweet and glistening body of sound. A progression from pretty to melancholy, from the mysterious world of cognitive resonance to beauty, clears the way for emotional words from a personal place that reminds me of meadows and mountains.

This album is one for the road, or for late afternoon feet-up time. A totally relaxed path from a tinge of tension back into musical tranquillity is perfect to add mood. More than background, more than music for airports, Sharron Kraus grants us a listener's eye view on a given story and, if we choose to, we can discover the soul of each piece.

Chapter-like songs spill stories against the flow of bars. 'My Friend’s Enemy' and 'Branwen' cast spells over the notations like fairy tales. 'Stranger in Your Land' finishes up a solid selection of tunes and, with a final twist of the magical guitar, a layered vocal pattern begins to play with our perception of the entire thing. Let’s listen again.

Rowan Blair Colver