August 28, 2012

Live: Holy Other @ Rescue Rooms, Nottingham. 26/08/2012

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , at 1:51 pm by essentiallyeclectic

Photo: Ronan Miller

Manchester producer Holy Other has worked hard to cultivate an air of mystery around himself in the run up to the release of debut album ‘Held’. Live appearances covered by a ghostly cowl and a refusal to give his real name in interviews have added to the Burial-style intrigue, which is why it’s slightly surprising to see an unveiled and unassuming character take to the stage behind an array of knobs and wires at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms.

Wordlessly working through his dark, deconstructed inversions of post-dubstep, bathed in monochrome and dry ice, Holy Other proves a hypnotic performer. Tracks like opener ‘Tense Past’ and forthcoming album title track ‘Held’ marry deep, guttural drones with vocal fragments and rattling beats to create a strangely monastic feel. The tempos rarely move from snail pace, and the huge washes of reverb and synth tones form an air of strangely sombre optimism.

After a curt 45 minutes, Holy Other rather abruptly departs the stage, the dying embers of his final loop still ringing out, and the mesmeric spell is broken. It’s an engaging performance, one aided by a gloomy lighting setup and minimal, swaying visuals – a strong advert for ‘Held’ on the eve of its release.

Read this review in context over at ARTROCKER

 

 

 

August 24, 2012

Review: Jessie Ware – ‘Devotion’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , at 12:00 pm by essentiallyeclectic

R&B appears to be in a healthy place right now. The introspection-not-navel-gazing approach of Frank Ocean, The Weeknd et al has led to a new strain of the genre that’s both efreshing and respectful of its lineage, and South London singer Jessie Ware, on the strength of debut album Devotion, could arguably slide into that category too.

Ware has been lending her sultry pipes to artists such as Man Like Me and Bristol producer Joker (as well as singing backup with old school connection Jack Peñate) for the last couple of years now. A standalone single alongside producer/vocalist Sampha, last year’s ‘Valentine’, brought Ware’s way with a melody to the more immediate attention of the music press, and a continued working relationship with dubstep’s masked poster boy SBTRKT in the months that followed had her rapidly touted as a 2012 “one to watch”.

It’s never easy for the perennially “featured” vocalist to break out on their own, yet Devotion was being widely hyped for months before its eventual release (teased by a futuristic cover of Bobby Caldwell’s ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ back in May), suggesting that Ware might buck the trend. And now the album has finally arrived, it seems the gushing praise may have been warranted.

As well as Ware’s vocal and songwriting abilities, Devotion provides a platform for a number of well-selected producers. Dave Okumu, frontman of The Invisible and recent onstage electrocution survivor, has a hand in some of its stronger moments, most notably on the title-track opener. A drifting, distant guitar loop sits below a measured beat and Ware’s stripped-back vocal, wasting no time in getting straight into the album’s themes of love, loss and longing from a straight-up, understated perspective. Thematically, this is well-trodden ground, but despite holding an English Literature degree, Ware thankfully resists the temptation to pack her lyrics with over-clever literary references and abstract prose — Devotion is essentially a pop record, after all.

Okumu also mans the boards for ‘No To Love’, a slightly more up-tempo (if not necessarily upbeat) production, with Ware seemingly cursing past actions through the repeated phrase of “who says no to love? / what was I thinking of?”.

One-time Florence + The Machine collaborator Kid Harpoon handles the album’s brassier tracks, with the bombast of ‘Wildest Moments’ vaguely reminiscent of Ms Welch’s cannon, minus the theatrics and honking lead vocal.

‘Still Love Me’ has more than a hint of Prince in its synthesised percussion groove (funnily, it’s first single ‘Running’ that actually samples the pint-sized purple one), and melodically harks back to Ware’s love of Chaka Khan, albeit from a more minimal perspective, while the mid-album duo of ‘Night Light’ and ‘Swan Song’ are both fine examples of the singer’s effortless way with a good hook.

‘Sweet Talk’, one of the poppier cuts here, combines trembling Rhodes chords with a shuffled 12/8 groove favoured by the drum machine programmers of ’80s R&B, and there are real notes of Sade in Ware’s voice. Comparisons can (and have) been drawn between the two, yet one of Devotion’s biggest achievements is its ability to combine songs full of convenient stylistic touchstones with the unique personality of its creator.

‘110%’ tributes Ware’s club background, her Robyn-esque paean to “dancing on my own” set to a flurrying beat not too dissimilar to the Andre 3000 and Kelis collaboration ‘Millionaire’, while closer ‘Something Inside’ is a rather forlorn plea for sanctuary over a misleadingly sweet arrangement of picked guitars minimal drums.

At its worst, Devotion only really deserves minor criticism (slightly formulaic pop/R&B box-ticking on the likes of ‘Wildest Moments’ and ‘Taking In Water’), and even these are just a matter of taste. That aside, the album is tune-heavy, full of wonderful uses of Ware’s voice and an exciting variety of production, and has a fundamental British-ness to it that’s sorely lacking in the recent work of her more mainstream contemporaries.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON

 

 

 

August 22, 2012

Review: Groundislava – ‘Feel Me’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , at 5:44 pm by essentiallyeclectic

Despite being part of California’s prolific Wedidit collective (alongside the likes of Shlohmo, Jonwayne and others), Jasper Patterson has forged a very singular musical path with his work as Groundislava. His production style, a blend of bit-crunched rhythms and warm, fuzzy synths, impressively mixes digital and human elements to form a soundscape that is often surprisingly sombre in mood.

New album Feel Me follows last year’s self-titled debut, and slightly tones down that release’s focus on neck-snapping beats and sawtooth basslines in favour of a more pensive approach.

Opener ‘Cider’ is all woozy synths over bubbling 808 drums, a digital-sounding tide rolling in and out behind the track, and it fast becomes clear that this is most definitely not an ode to glugging White Lightning on a park bench. Feel Me also demonstrates the fact that the young producer really knows how to go about a collaboration: ‘Suicide Mission’ alongside Baths is a stunner, all haunting falsetto and drifting synths unhurried by a rattling beat, and Houses’ eerie contribution to ‘Flooded’ has more than a hint of Gonjasufi’s ominous howl to it.

Patterson released the teaser TV Dream EP earlier in the year, and its Clive Tanaka-featuring title-track makes an appearance here too. It’s a nostalgic sounding cut, Tanaka’s vocoder-ed voice crooning a digitised, two-line love song over clacking drums and ’80s AM radio synths. ‘TV Dream’ drives home the real visual element to Patterson’s work, and it comes as no surprise to learn that his video director father, Michael, was responsible for such timeless clips as A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ and Paula Abdul’s ‘Opposites Attract’.

Feel Me ingests genre through its own personal warped filters, before repurposing it for its own gain. Check out the twisted 2-step touches on ‘After Hours’, or the flurrying southern crunk-influenced hi-hats on ‘Cool Party’. There’s an obvious affinity with 8-bit computer game soundtrack aesthetics, from the crunched drum samples to the wobbling synth leads, but underpinning everything throughout is a sense thoughtful atmosphere.

The twin variations ‘Jasper’s Song I’ and ‘Jasper’s Song II’ share a meditative melody that’s heard from a different angle on each, while the big, brassy synths of ‘Olympia 2011’ bely Patterson’s gaming alter-ego more than most tracks here. Closer ‘Love Ribbon’, alongside vocalist Jake Weary, seems a slight afterthought, and, while not lowering the tone in any way, adds little to the release. Nevertheless, Feel Me is a remarkable work: a stunning collection of tracks that flow effortlessly out of the brain of one of the most consistent producers currently in operation.

Read this review in context over at THE 405

August 20, 2012

Review: Mala – ‘Mala in Cuba’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , at 2:32 pm by essentiallyeclectic

Mala has more of a claim than most to be one of dubstep’s founding fathers (a tag he is reportedly uncomfortable with), and to decide to drop a challenging album fusing his style with sounds from Cuba’s unparalleled musical tradition as his first official full length release is testament to the talent of the man. Not unfamiliar with the knowledge of craft needed for the assimilation of different genres (Mala’s background as a disciple of Jamaican sound system culture has always been evident in his productions across the electronic music map), the Digital Mystikz man was always going to have the skills and creativity to pull this project off.

Mala in Cuba manages to deftly incorporate the fiery temperament of Cuban son into the vast, cavernous spaces of his production style without ever once compromising either, and, with all its intricacies, it isn’t surprising to learn that the album has been in production for over a year.

It also comes as no surprise to discover that the project has Giles Peterson’s fingerprints all over it – a European artist producing some contemporary fusion in Cuba would be foolish not to tap up the seasoned DJ – and Mala in Cuba is slated for release on the Brownswood label. Peterson famously had a hand in the creation of Roni Size Reprazent’s New Forms, bringing the worlds of jazz and drum & bass together in a staggering feat of production, and it appears he’s struck gold once again by curating this masterpiece.

Contributions by stars of the Cuban scene are expertly merged into the heaving beats, from pianist Roberto Fonseca’s gentle chords on the introduction (and sporadically throughout), to percussionist Changuito’s flurry of syncopated rhythms added to the track that bears his name. Timbales jangle and pianos tinkle, while all the while there’s that rhythm and bass-heavy Mala production mutating underneath. ‘Mulata’ and ‘Tribal’ both share a deconstructed, half-time drum & bass feel, unsettling piano chords dotted in and out of the percussion, while the rallying cry and twisting tempos of ‘Como Como’ make it an early highlight.

‘Cuba Electronic’ and ‘Calle F’ both appeared earlier in the month on a preview 12”, and show the variety of approach that runs through Mala in Cuba: the former a rampant, echoing mover; the latter a playful, salsa-inflected cut complete with a scatterbrain trumpet solo.

For those only interested in Mala’s dubstep endeavours, ‘The Tunnel’ provides a bit of bass-induced speaker movement, while ‘Ghost’ brings some melancholic triplet groove to the party. ‘The Tourist’ most clearly harks back to the Tres Cubano and double bass sounds brought to the attention of the world by The Buena Vista Social Club 15 years ago, Mala treating the chiming guitar phrases delicately with minimal percussion, before the drifting strings and reverberating piano chords of ‘Change’ eases the tone back down towards the daylight hours.

Danay Suarez adds her seductive and sultry vocals Noches Sueños, riding over a spaciously dub-heavy production with window-shattering potential. It’s a pensive closing to an album that has twisted, turned, shocked and awed its way through almost an hour of some of the most seamless and natural sounding combinations of genre you’re likely to hear in a long, long time.

Read this review in context over at HYPONIK

 

 

 

August 18, 2012

Review: JJ DOOM – ‘Keys to the Kuffs’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , at 11:03 am by essentiallyeclectic

Masked rapper Doom has not built his cult status on solo efforts alone; he has also proved himself a strong collaborator over the years. Teaming up with the likes of Danger Mouse as DANGERDOOM, or Ghostface Killah as DOOMSTARKS (pattern forming here?), the MC born Daniel Dumile has steadily built a reputation for esoteric and complex rhyme styles coupled with a sly, slightly bitter sense of humour. His latest collaborative project sees Dumile take on the Brainfeeder-type beats of producer/MC Jneiro Jarel as — you guessed it — JJ DOOM.

Keys To The Kuffs is informed strongly by Dumile’s self-imposed exile in London during its creation, with regular snippets of hammed-up cockney screen dialogue dotted around the off-centre jerk of Jarel’s beats. Tracks like ‘Rhymin’ Slang’ and ‘Gov’ner’ — the former an early highlight, the latter’s hook a veiled homage to Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep mockney — further the jellied-eels vibe, while Dumile’s lyrical dexterity has rarely been stronger than on the rapid-fire wordplay of ‘Banished’. Singer Boston Fielder adds some psychedelic soul touches to ‘Bout The Shoes’ as Dumile takes a break, returning for ‘Winter Blues’ — the nearest thing to a love song on any DOOM release.

The expected idiosyncratic references are back (everything from ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ to troublesome Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull), and there are further cameos from the likes of Damon Albarn and Beth Gibbons. Goodie Mob member Khujo brings some dirty south slur to ‘Still Kaps’, while closer ‘Wash Your Hands’ is the best example here of Dumile’s observational wit, preaching good hygiene practice over one of Jarel’s more hypnotic productions.

‘Retarded Fren’ has been doing the blog rounds for a few months (receiving a Thom Yorke & Jonny Greenwood remix in the process), and is one of the album’s stronger, if slightly darker, cuts. Jarel flips an ominous sample into a dimly lit alleyway head-nodder, another example of the strength of production evident throughout Keys To The Kuffs, possibly DOOM’s most attractive collaborative effort to date.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON

August 14, 2012

Review: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – ‘Mature Themes’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , at 6:39 pm by essentiallyeclectic

The psychedelic LA freakster with a penchant for ’70s AM radio soft rock styles returns with Mature Themes, the second release under the Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti banner. Following the stellar 2010 set and 4AD debut Before Today (featuring incessantly catchy earworm ‘Round And Round’), the record further demonstrates Pink’s skilful way with lo-fi production techniques.

Like friend and recent collaborator R. Stevie Moore, Pink makes use of tape saturation and murky frequencies to add a gloss of otherworldliness to cuts like ‘Driftwood’ and the floating ‘Nostradamus & Me’, flaunting the muddiness to good effect without letting it dominate.

There are more moments of sonic clarity here than on previous Ariel Pink releases, however. ‘Only In My Dreams’ is jangly ’60s harmony pop — a furrow that’s also ploughed on the excellent title track — and ‘Live It Up’’s cascading synths are a delight.

‘Is This The Best Spot’ has a hint of Apostrophe-era Frank Zappa in its combination of complex melodic runs and wry humour, while ‘Schnitzel Boogie’ is a delight – a woozy blues shuffle with its needles deep in the red. It’s not all rosy for Pink, though, as elsewhere tracks like ‘Pink Slime’ and ‘Symphony Of The Nymph’ come up a little short in their psychedelic noodling.

Closer ‘Baby’ is a faithful cover of a cult Donny & Joe Emerson track that seems to be getting a lot of love this year (it also cropped up on Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland’s brilliant Black Is Beautiful). Pink’s version features fellow Californian DaM-FunK, and the pair take on the simple love song with all of the ghostly sheen of the original left intact.

Before Today was an album dotted with sublime moments in among the occasional moment of over-indulgence from Pink, and Mature Themes shares a similar hit-and-miss pattern. That said, there’s plenty here to please Haunted Graffiti fans, and the album’s highlights are strong enough to make this a more-than worthy follow-up.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON

 

 

 

August 3, 2012

Live: Savages – The Bodega, Nottingham. 30/07/12

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , at 4:33 pm by essentiallyeclectic

“The songs aim to remind us that human beings haven’t evolved so much, that music can still be straight to the point, efficient and exciting” goes a quote from Savagesown website. Surrounded by the type of hype that only a band with one split single and a couple of scraps of live footage to their name can generate, the London four-piece certainly hold true to their word, delivering a set of cold, primal post-punk with enough nuance to remain totally absorbing.

Despite playing their debut gig in January of this year, the quartet already appears to have formed a tight unit – intentionally loose but not scrappy – built on the solid foundation of Fay Milton’ pounding drums and the Motorik bass of Ayse Hassan.

Opening with no hint of a greeting, and bathed in dry ice, the band’s curt and direct 45-minute set is packed full of an ominous, tense energy, lit solely by an onstage spotlight that casts angular and mesmeric shadow puppets on the wall. The high-register yelps of Gallic frontwoman Jehnny Beth (formerly of Lo-fi indie duo John and Jehn) have more than a hint of Ari Up or the late Poly Styrene about them, and the desperate urgency in her tone often verges on conjuring genuine concern in the listener. Her between-song patter is minimal to say the least, in-keeping with the group’s standoffish image, and no song is introduced by name aside from the already released B-side ‘Husbands’: a frantic and foreboding track in the guise of The Pop Group or (it was only a matter of time) earlier Joy Division – a steamroller version of which closed the set.

Gemma Thompson’s spare guitar lines add the only suggestion of colour to an otherwise monochrome setup, picking echoing phrases through the gloom of ‘Flying to Berlin’ before turning on the fuzz. It’s the required melodic balance to the Savages brooding sound, and one that teases further a debut LP – something Beth’s own Pop Noire label assure us is on the horizon. Judging by the favourable reaction to tonight’s showing, it had better be.

Read this review in context over at THE 405

 

 

 

July 31, 2012

Review: Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra – ‘Antibalas’

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , , , , at 5:41 pm by essentiallyeclectic

In the late ’00s, a resurgence of afro-beat – through the Gabriel-esque plundering of Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors et al – stretched no further than twee incorporations of Highlife guitar styles into hipster indie. Others, such as The Very Best, took a different approach, fusing contemporary sounds from the continent into a new mix of pan-global electro pop. Antibalas went 10 steps beyond, however, their musical M.O. stretching all the way back to the ’60s/’70s heyday of the West African style largely wrestled into the world’s eye by the late and legendary Fela Kuti.

The multi-legged Brooklyn collective started life around 1998, and have since released several albums of good, faithful and pitch-perfect pastiche through labels like Ninja Tune and Daptone (the group share both members and a raison d’être with The Dap Kings), showing both a clear understanding and a healthy respect for where this stuff comes from while tweaking the sound into the 21st century. Latest album Antibalas sees no drastic change of pace, with the syncopated rhythms, clipped guitar lines and thick horns of Kuti’s Africa 70 band honoured loyally through six lengthy tracks of loping afro-beat.

Opener ‘Dirty Money’, featuring a winding keyboard break from Victor Axelrod – better known for his work as neo-dub producer Ticklah – snakes through a fluctuating arrangement before frontman Amayo enters to perform a bit of classic call-and-response with his backing singers.

‘The Ratcatcher’ follows a similar trajectory – a tale of man who will deal with any animal besides the prolific rodent playing out over classic two-part guitar interplay and explosive horns – while ‘Ìbèjì’ brings a change of pace, slowing the syncopated burst down to walking speed to include a rasping trumpet solo from Jordan McLean.

The loose introduction to highlight ‘Sáré Kon Kon’ suddenly explodes into a flurrying riot of horns and percussion, Amayo’s lyrics roughly, and aptly, translating as “we’re running, we’re running, we don’t know where we’re going, but everybody’s running” – a strong closer to a strong album.

Great compilations from labels like Strut Records and Evolver have done a lot to highlight the roots of West African funk, soul and afro-beat in recent years, but in the field of second-wave afro-beat, Antibalas cannont be touched – indeed, their chosen name translates from Spanish as ‘bulletproof’ – and this album is perhaps the clearest distillation of the their manifesto to date. Maybe this partly explains the decision to self-title their fifth release a decade-and-a-half into their career.

Read this review in context over at THE 405

July 19, 2012

Review: Optimus Alive, Lisbon. 13th-15th July.

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , , , , , at 1:21 pm by essentiallyeclectic

As one of the first dominoes to teeter in the Eurozone debt crisis, Portugal has more of a need to blow off steam than most right now. Optimus Alive — a festival now in its fifth year and with a consistently high-calibre line up despite its relative infancy — provides the country with a great opportunity to do just that, with crowds flocking from all over Europe to join them in the stunning, historic city of Lisbon.

The 2012 edition has a distinctly British feel to it. Partly, that’s due to the proliferation of UK acts on the bill, and partly it’s down to the wealth of commercial activity (Optimus itself is a major player in the Portuguese mobile phone industry). This isn’t a festival for stumbling across those undiscovered acts in small stages on the outer reaches of the site: its MO is low-cost, brand-heavy and line up-focused: far more Reading & Leeds than Glastonbury.

Friday night goes for the jugular, hedging its bets with a range of crowd-pullers. Snow Patrol’s trudging stadium-indie is offset rather bizarrely by an amped up LMFAO; their over-hyped dance pop —an enjoyable blend of semi-ironic school disco and Wombles-like novelty — filling the tent at the second stage and spilling out over the thousands unable to get inside.

The Stone Roses, off home soil and away from the excitable hype of the recent Heaton Park shows, give a decent enough account of their travelling nostalgia show to a mixed crowd of slightly perplexed Europeans and raucous travelling Brits, Brown’s characteristically off-key vocal performance not proving too much of an issue through sing along-friendly hits like ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Made Of Stone’. Customary closer ‘I Am The Resurrection’ and a decent workout of ‘Fools Gold’ are highlights, and the swaggering frontman even slips a verse of the Eric B & Rakim classic ‘Paid In Full’ into the instrumental break of ‘Love Spreads’.

Headline slot over, the festival reverts to night mode with local kuduro dance music collective Buraka Som Sistema bringing their brand of stimulated West African-infused techno to the second stage, while Justice lighten the mood further still, rolling out their French house classics like the bastard child of Daft Punk that they are.

Saturday eases itself in with some early-evening fare from The Antlers. The Brooklyn quartet’s coming-of-age has culminated in upcoming EP ‘Undersea’: four tracks of melodic and unhurried dream pop, all of which get an airing here alongside cuts from last year’s impressive Burst Apart.

There are more tedious things happening elsewhere however, as the National Trust-sponsored folk whinge of Mumford & Sons — and Noah And The Whale’s saccharine indie-pop — precede an awkwardly out-of-place appearance from Morcheeba; the ’90s trip-poppers arriving at the last minute to replace Florence & The Machine who pulled out due to vocal cord trouble.

Tricky is on fine form, whether brooding his way through ‘Hell Is Round The Corner’ and ‘Murder Weapon’ or inciting a stage invasion for a thunderous ‘Ace Of Spades’ cover, before The Cure fill their headline slot with another of their familiar three-hour sets of rigidly tight hits as a cool Portuguese breeze blows in from the Atlantic, taking the edge off the daytime heat.

The festival’s token club tent rarely inspires aside from a fun turn from James Murphy and LCD bandmate Pat Mahoney on Saturday night, while away from the stages there is very little happening at all by way of entertainment, and the temptation to nip off and explore Lisbon’s beautiful old quarter grows during the more uninspiring musical moments.

This doesn’t matter so much on Sunday, whose stellar line up keeps the mind and feet from wandering too far from the action. Warpaint are always a treat, their psychedelic post-rock given a clinically funky edge by Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa’s thrilling rhythm section. A lengthy version of ‘Elephants’, complete with soaring vamp out, is a particular highlight, and closes a well-received set.

Many of the sold out 55,000 crowd on Sunday are fresh with day tickets in hand in amongst those nearing the end of the three day slog in the heat — the attendance so high due to a Radiohead headline slot in one of the Oxford band’s first shows following the tragic events in Toronto that resulted in the death of drum tech Scott Johnson.

They are an eternally massive draw, and prove why over the course of a couple of hours with a set that dips into a highly esoteric back catalogue and pulls out perfectly executed versions of recent tracks such as ‘15 Steps’ and ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, mixing them with a few old favourites like ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ and a particularly haunting ‘Lucky’. An admirable, if slightly off-putting Portuguese tendency to clap along to almost everything comes to a disorientating head during ‘Pyramid Song’’s jaunty time signatures, but there’s a palpable awestruck feel to the thousands gawping at Yorke et al. It’s a completely different proposition to the nostalgic warmth of The Stone Roses and The Cure’s respective performances, one that even the most hard-hearted Radiohead resistors must surely doff their cap to.

Encores of ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ (complete with a few bars of R.E.M’s ‘The One I Love’ as an intro) precede an electrifying ‘Idioteque’ and surprise closer ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’, the band showing as much reverence to their formative past as their imperious present.

Positioning Radiohead as final-day headliners is a shrewd move, in keeping with the general air of slickness to the whole of Optimus Alive. Sometimes this translates as sterility, sometimes as an impressive feat of festival management. Yet if there is not much that appeals on the 2013 line up, it would be best to stay away.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON

 

 

 

July 10, 2012

Review: The Antlers – ‘Undersea’ EP

Posted in Reviews tagged , at 5:10 pm by essentiallyeclectic

The Antlers – Undersea EP

With the average attention span attributed to new bands now lasting roughly the length of time between the first MP3s materialising online and the release of a debut album, it’s a gratifying victory when a group remain relevant long enough to mature and fully develop their sound. Six years on and star still rising, it appears that that’s exactly what The Antlers have managed.

Brooklynite Peter Silberman and his co-conspirators hit on the closest realisation of their musical ambition last year with the release of 4th album Burst Apart – 10 songs of unhurried, keyboard-heavy arrangements; Silberman crooning largely unintelligible lyrics in a subtly velveteen voice with hints of underlying melodrama. In The Antlers’ capable hands, it was a winning formula – one that’s been tweaked and refined for this sublime 4- track EP.

Undersea as nominative description is perfect: like all of The Antlers’ work, the release drifts along in an opulently languid fashion, with every cut sounding like it’s in various stages of floating or submersion. Silberman’s voice, delicately laced with reverb, sits atop arrangements dappled with understated electronics and the band’s trademark keyboard layers, all structured towards the titular theme. ‘Drift Drive’ pairs a lilting guitar phrase with layers of soft trumpet and slow, broken tempos to act as the EP’s calling card. An accompanying, minute-long promotional clip aptly sets the track to grainy, blue-washed footage of footsteps in the sand and peaceful sea creatures as both a visual and sonic template for Undersea‘s shimmering concept.

‘Endless Ladder’ – an 8-minute-plus slow build of gentle keys and characteristically spare drum work – is a real delight, leading into another in ‘Crest’, whose name alone suggests a peak that is backed up by Silberman’s forlorn, almost jazz-like melody, and further touches of muted trumpet from Darby Cicci.

There is nothing here in the vein of ‘I Don’t Want Love’ – the slightly MOR-ish push for mainstream recognition from the otherwise flawless Burst Apart album – instead there is only a leaner, more perfectly realised sample of The Antlers’ musical manifesto. Closer ‘Zelda’, with its descending chords and keyboard washes, bookends the EP perfectly. After building to a zenith, the track strips down to the bare bones of the arrangement and quietly excuses itself before slipping beneath the waves.

Silberman et al must be aware that they have created an EP of transcendent quality here; but if there is no album to follow it up, hearts may be broken.

Read this review in context over at THE 405

Previous page · Next page