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A Magazine for Sheffield

Trail of Dead. Deaf Centre. Illum Sphere. Spokes.


Cult Texan rockers ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead released their first album of the new decade last month, Tao of Dead. The first thing that struck me about it was the cover, which looks like it was drawn by a Final Fantasy obsessed GSCE art student, but I did my best to ignore this and let the music do the talking. AYWKUBTTOD nestle somewhere between the American indie rock scene and British prog circa 1974, both musically and lyrically. This album proves how awkward a position this is.

After a disinteresting introduction - impressive solely for the number of slow-moving post rock clichés it manages to pack into under three minutes - we come to 'Pure Radio Cosplay', and hence (unfortunately) the high point of the album. This track is a nicely constructed piece of modern rock 'n' roll, sounding like a hybrid of The Who and Pearl Jam, with jangling guitar lines leading to a shouty chorus and thrashing power chords. Nothing ground breaking, but pleasing nonetheless. This makes way for the rather gloomily named 'Summer for All Dead Souls', which also features complex guitar noodling segueing into more thrashing chords and whole-group-screaming choruses. Good for headbanging, but not really for listening.

After this song we reach a succession of shorter tracks vaguely melded together. It is here that we find some of the stronger moments on the album, where between the constantly pedalling chords and screaming of the choruses the band demonstrate the creativity and virtuosity that has gained them a following. On 'Fall of the Empire' the vocals skim over a series of interesting chord intervals that throw the mood of the song about disconcertingly. 'The Wasteland' features a lovely verse which sounds reminiscent of Yes, with a looping guitar line and archaic synths in constant conversation. 'The Spiral Jetty' opens with a spooky piano line accompanied by whirling electronic noise, before a screeching guitar line ruins it somewhat. The problem is that I only happened upon these nuggets of goodness due to my sense of duty to endure the whole record in order to review it. Between these islands of interest lie identikit choruses of thrashing, distorted chords and quasi mystical screaming about the bleakness of just about everything. The band try to shake things up by introducing multiple time changes and fairly complicated instrumental lines, but most of the album is still harmonically predictable and the lyrics border on laughable. The album ends on a 16-minute track which epitomises all the bad elements of prog excess.

Trail of Dead have fallen into the trap that made prog the subject of so much mockery in the mid 70s. They are taking themselves far too seriously whilst writing music which is utterly ridiculous. This is unfortunately made worse by the fact that it is now 2011, so they've had 35 years to learn that trying to express oneself through gothic fairy tales over such overblown music is all a bit silly.


Owl Splinters.
Type Recordings.
Reviewer - Gordon Barker.

Back in 2005 Norwegians Erik Skodvin and Otto Totland released Pale Ravine as the genre-defining project Deaf Center, unleashing a shockwave through both the modern classical and ambient drone worlds. With their debut LP they perfectly bridged the gap between classical and ambient electronics, filled with dark atmospherics, sweeping string arrangements and frail piano pieces that tighten the heart, resulting in a beautifully-crafted soundtrack to a non-existent internal film.

After going their separate ways for the last five years, being involved in different projects ranging from the dark drone of Svarte Greiner to the beautiful piano pieces of Nest, as well as setting up the fantastic Miasmah record label, the boys have joined forces once again to bring us new lonely tales.

The first noticeable growth shown in this record is the production. On Pale Ravine - yes, this is going to be a constant comparison, due mainly to the fact that Deaf Center are such a stand-out act and are difficult to compare to others, even within the genre - they relied heavily on synthesizers and keyboards. Although effective, this approach has mostly been removed in this venture to give way to superior recording techniques, organic drones and a much more compassionate, earthly tone. Little to no synthesis is clear on this record, showing the overwhelming depth of Skodvin's cello arrangements and field recordings that create larger, more touching swells and curves which show just what they have learnt since their first release.

The opening track, 'Divided', brings the album screaming into life as layer upon layer of cello throws you instantly back into the dark maudlin world they narrate so well. As the cello bass swells under the many bawling layers, you begin to feel Deaf Center's awesome cinematic power. Providing a perfect, almost formless introduction to the mini epics that follow, the album moves on to the heart wrenching and wistful 'Time Spent' before the heavily brooding 'New Beginning (Tidal Darkness)'.

This album reflects all of the hopes of avid fans of the artist and genre. It shows massive growth and perfectly honed skills within the beautiful original formula, and although I personally massively enjoyed it I would highly recommend that newcomers to the style listen to Pale Ravine first. This is a prime example of needing to witness the first half in order to understand the second.



It's the year 2047- 2083. Specifics are a thing of the past. Every city and town has been prefixed with the word 'Neo'. Futuristic biker gangs have risen to rule the streets. Places like Neo-Burton-on-Trent are overrun by crazed clowns on two tires hell bent on twisted justice. Music has transgressed the confines of simply being audio and is literally everywhere. I'm not sure how or why. Life is now perpetually scored dependent on mood... somehow. I really wish I'd thought this part through more. Regardless, the soundtrack to this dystopian nightmare? Illum Sphere.

In reality, I imagine we'll all be listening to white noise and metronomes in 36 to 72 years' time. However, Illum Sphere's latest two track (plus mandatory remix) EP 'Dreamstealin'/Blood Music' gives us a realisation of what the 80s thought the future would sound like.

The grated drones and tortured violins of 'Dreamstealin' would sound just as at home on Shoji Yamashiro's soundtrack to awesome late 80s manga AKIRA. With its addition of tweaked out glitches, compulsory 909 claps and baked shakes, the track plays like a current day re-boot to a former day OST. The constant pace provided by tumbling kicks and offbeat synth stabs coupled with a healthy dose of high pass Korg conjure images of riding through a neon-lit cityscape on a really sweet red motorbike, hitting blokes dressed as clowns with metal pipes.

Well, they would if you'd seen AKIRA.

'Blood Music' sits as a support track should. Ethereal drones mimic the style of the lead track and create a theme for the EP. Lounge tinged keys, muted sirens, gruff vocal yelps and discordant percussion all play their part in making some incredibly well crafted and decidedly above average filler - filler much like the little inflatable bags you sometimes get in a box holding fragile content, like, I don't original 1988 Streamline copy of AKIRA on VHS?

As it stands 'Dreamstealin'/ Blood Music' isn't a step ahead or a step behind 2010's great and well received Titan EP , but when you carve yourself a niche with as much wiggle room as Illum Sphere has it makes it decidedly difficult to become stagnant.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to shout "TETSUO!" from atop a large pile of discarded masonry. No? Oh, come on - the film came out 23 years ago!




It's been more than two years since the release of their debut EP, and even longer since Manchester-based band Spokes started making waves on the Northern music scene, so to say Everyone I Ever Met, their first full length release has been long expected is something of an understatement. But some things are worth waiting for. Full of rich textures, expressive outbursts contrasted with tender acoustic moments; with energy, melancholy and full-on chaos combined and balanced - this really is a gem.

Those readers familiar with the brilliant yet rare People Like People Like You will have previously heard Spokes as a mainly instrumental band, creating panoramic soundscapes in search of something epic, and the new album's title track is rooted in this style, with a haunting violin line shimmering above shifting textures below. So far, so Explosions In The Sky - but there is much more to this album than that, and the band have clearly spent the intervening years growing in stature and developing ideas. This is the product of a band that has come of age.

The first and most striking new sound is that of the band singing, which they're not half hearted about at all. It's rare to be able to describe a band as choral, but on lead single 'We Can Make It Out' they all sing at once, in unison. It's a leaf straight out of the Arcade Fire's textbook, but it's wonderful. There's much more punch from the percussion here too, and the ever-present violin is no longer restricted to lonely single lines, but instead thick Patrick Wolf-esque textures, ostinato quavers that drive the music forwards. On stand-out track 'Torn Up In Praise' these elements are joined by a chaotic wall of noise from the guitar, the resulting euphoria seeming to belong far more to a Pentecostal church in Alabama than a rainy night in Manchester.

There is a new, much gentler voice to the band as well. Skilfully blending Mercury Rev's more tender moments with the sadness of Death Cab For Cutie, with possibly even a little English traditional folk too - the album was recorded in seclusion in the Northumbrian countryside, after all. The closing track, 'When I Was A Daisy, When I Was A Tree', is a beautiful counterpoint to the verve of earlier. There are a few moments when the album becomes a touch too introspective; two-minute acoustic ballad 'Sun It Never Comes' is entirely superfluous, but the quieter voices add a necessary balance to the overall sound.

One possible flaw is the album's originality, or lack thereof. I've already listed quite a few precursors to their sound, to which I'd add Broken Social Scene and Efterklang. This is no pale imitation, but I still want to hear them striking out into new pastures. Halfway through the album, on 'Peace Racket', the elements of the band are carefully added one at a time, and out of this mix something that is wholly theirs emerges. It's brilliant, but their masterpiece is yet to come.


Next article in issue 36

Portico Quartet: Developing the sound

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