A joint release between Big Tea and FIFA Records, this debut EP by Irish band Elastic Sleep is a like a vapourous retro-fuelled dream. With layers of fuzz dragging their core sound through a technicolour haze, ‘Leave You’ is first class hybrid of dreampop and shoegaze.
The members of Dead Wolf Club weren’t out of primary school when Pixies called it a day the first time around, or when My Bloody Valentine released the seminal ‘Loveless’, but the influences and legacy of late eighties and early nineties arty alternative/noise rock is deeply rooted within their sound. While Dead Wolf Club’s re-visitation of a 90s alternative sound could draw parallels with the much praised revivalists Yuck and A Place To Bury Strangers – at least in terms of attitude – on their debut album they’re not always as consistent as either. That’s not to say the ideas aren’t there, though – these guys have plenty of inspired musical moments.
Behind the brightly coloured origami wolves which adorn the sleeve lies a world of visceral noise, interjected with atmospheres. ‘Wave’, the centrepiece from both this album and the band’s live set, shows DWC at their absolute best. On this mini-masterpiece of swirling anger, a four chord, looping riff has an almost hypnotic appeal, starting slowly and gaining momentum throughout. Eventually, a much weightier riff (recalling early Smashing Pumpkins and Slint) crashes in under which the treated lead vocals are barely audible. The sprawling six minute ‘Colossus’, works its magic via a similarly simple riff, creating a world of general trippiness via various alt-rock and shoegaze influences. The multi-layed guitar parts (courtesy of John Othello and Alwin Fernandez) rise and fall, while Othello’s lead vocal interjects in an echoing fashion, like a man shouting from the end of a long corridor. Looking beyond the twin guitars – fuzzed up and at maximum jangle – Martha’s hard bassline really carries the weight of the tune. While not quite as distinctive as ‘Wave’, this tune represents a more than solid slice of arty indie rock.
On the slightly more aggressive front, ‘Headful of Horrors’ opens with a heady mix of clanging rhythmic chords overlaid with heavily distorted lead guitar and some similarly distorted vocals. Surprisingly, given the DIY approach, there’s still a clear separation between the multi-layered guitar parts, allowing an occasionally used clean lead ample opportunity to ring out above the world of fuzz. A busy drum part underpins the verses of ‘Radar’, but an ugly vocal and uninspiring tune initially suggests this song needed more work. However, something more melodic soon appears over the horizon: a clean-toned guitar bridges the verse and chorus via a great (but all too brief) interlude, while the chorus itself is okay too. By the track’s end, it fares better than initial impressions suggest, but measured against a couple of DWC’s best numbers, though, it’s not a classic by any stretch. ‘Allison’ is even more guttural and basic with most of the song hammered home with a screamy vocal, occasionally backed by a shouting counter-voice. Despite the brief running time, there’s still time for a couple of quieter sections where Martha offers some superb sounding bass. On those quieter parts, for those willing to invest the time it takes to tune in fully, DWC prove the creation of multi-layered soundscapes within even their briefest of numbers is just as important as throwing primal aggression out there.
While some more discerning listeners may detect a slight inconsistency in drum sounds [the album itself having been recorded with three recording engineers/producers and as many different drummers], there are enjoyable results on ‘Dead Wolf Club’. While it may not always capture the levels of anger present during parts of their live set (which is worth catching to see drummer Serra Petale attacking her kit), this independently released disc has a ragged appeal and a bristling energy that captures Dead Wolf Club’s “geek rage” well enough for a first outing.
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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s self-titled debut was an album that got better over time; one of those discs that really takes hold unexpectedly. A nostalgic affair, its core influences recalled the greatness of the mid 90s. It’s understandable, therefore that it could be suspected their sophomore album would be a weaker effort having been put together in a fraction of the time.
The opening bars of the title track sweep away any misgivings, as Flood’s lavish production brings out the absolute best in the New York quintet’s sound. The drums have great presence, even once they find a space behind Kip Berman’s guitars (which appear in both crisp and fuzzy forms) and the bass sound that tips the hat to Simon Gallup of The Cure with its rattling nature. Berman’s voice is surprisingly wistful considering the full sound the band has adopted, but it’s the music which does all the talking here. With the opening number combining most of PoBPaH’s strongest features, it’s surprising the album doesn’t fall at the next hurdle. ‘Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now’ has moments which lean farther towards 90s jangle; its lead guitar riffs are simple and yet so effective. While Berman sticks to his usual aloof vocal approach, the music has a toughness which, in places, wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on either Buffalo Tom’s 1992 breakthrough album ‘Let Me Come Over’ or Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Bandwagonesque’.
The mechanical bass at the heart of ‘Heart In Your Heartbreak’ recalls the best sounds from the band’s debut. With the hushed vocals of Kip Berman and Peggy Wang melding together on its chorus, the feeling is one of familiarity. It feels a little throwaway after the weightiness of the opening pair of tracks, but clearly highlights how, for all of their multi-layered tendencies elsewhere, this is a band that possesses a knack for a good pop hook. For fans of the spikier elements of the debut, ‘The Girl of 1,000 Dreams’ should appeal, driven by Kurt Feldman’s hard drumming, overlaid by a wall of fuzzy guitars; as with a couple of their debut’s tracks, this has a musical edge which hints at the softer end of the 90s shoegaze movement.
‘The Body’ sounds rather like a New Order cast off from the mid 90s. While Berman doesn’t sound especially like Bernard Sumner, there’s a definite influence in the way the track has been constructed around a layer of keys, upfront bass and quirky drumming. The chorus here isn’t as strong as perhaps it could have been, but the other elements are top notch – and with the band’s delivery sounding so easy, it still ranks as one of the best numbers. The band aren’t above borrowing from other 80s alternative stuff either, as the upbeat approach of ‘My Terrible Friend’, recalls The Cure circa 1985-87 with its cheeky keyboard riff combined with jangly guitars (backed by a busy acoustic line). That’s as far as any similarities go, mind, since Berman’s breathy vocal keeps things really light and chipper. While it’s Wang’s keyboard line which lodges inside your head, Alex Nadius’s busy but uncomplicated bass work isn’t without merit here.
While its rhythm maintains a steady pace, with an almost unflinching mechanical vibe, ‘Strange’ closes the disc with something oddly beautiful. A track which recalls lots of alternative music from the early 90s, the way Wang’s keyboard layers shine through the multi-tracked guitars is just superb. Berman’s vocal is almost redundant; the multilayered sounds work in such an effective way they almost completely absorb the listener.
With ‘Belong’, Berman and co have delivered a release which is stronger than their debut and one which makes the art of the “difficult second album” seem so easy. The band sound confident throughout, and while their song writing hasn’t moved on a great deal, their arrangements have a smoothness which wasn’t always consistent before. Sounding stronger with every play, this is an album for iPods on long journeys – an album to take with you to bring a spark to crowded places. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have matured as a band – and it shows.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is hardly a band name which trips off the tongue. It may not always be one you’ll remember; however, in the past they’ve received some decent press. I hadn’t known what to expect when approaching this album, but it turns out I got a pleasant surprise.
Beginning with the bass-less, drum-less fuzziness of ‘Contender’, initially I thought this band wouldn’t interest me at all. But…by the time track two arrives, I’m reminded of the more commercial elements of Lush and 90s shoegaze/alt-pop – and that pleases me. Female ooh’s, quirky lead vocals, a pace that’s too punchy for the some of the indie kids, yet not quite punk-pop – a sunny quality which comes as a pleasant surprise. Faster than Lush, more tuneful than the indie-pop chav gold from Kenickie, Pains of Being Pure at Heart have some great musical qualities. ‘Young Adult Friction’ is pure jangle pop – the kind that never really goes out of style; and the slightly kooky keyboard lodged under the mix of other stuff helps to add colour. The only criticism is that at just over four minutes, it feels a little long.
It may not have been the desired end result, but ‘Hey Paul’ sounds like The Wedding Present even if vocalist Kip Bermon doesn’t have the curmudgeonly demeanour of David Gedge. One of the standout tracks, ‘Stay Alive’, shows the lighter side of the band. This track stands out due to the chirpy nature of the music alone, as the vocals aren’t as clear as they could be. Some moments feel a little more traditionally shoegaze – ‘Gentle Sons’ has an echoing vocal matched against a mid paced drone of guitars. Some listeners are bound to love it, but ‘Teenager In Love’ is my contender for the track likely to be skipped every time – if something reminds me of the twee nastiness of Belle and Sebastian that much, you can keep it! Thanks.
This album may not be an all round classic, but its balance somewhere between sugary pop songs and fuzzy noise is so early 90s it feels good…and sometimes, that’s all you need.
Released on Mute Records in 2008, this second album by New York’s A Place To Bury Strangers is a twisted, almost torturous ride. There are moments where the listener is beaten into submission by a barrage of multi-layered guitars, driven by distortion. Somewhere among the noise, inspired equally by Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, Oliver Ackermann’s vocals waver in an out like a man drowning in sound. On most of the album, his voice remains buried below the music, his lyrics barely audible – but that voice is necessary as a point of aural focus. The blanket-of-noise approach is a key feature in the band’s sound, featuring on a number of songs, at least in part. In short, A Place To Bury Strangers are rarely easy to listen to. The opening track, ‘There Is Nothing’ sets the tone for most of the album, with vocals buried under guitars, but its pace makes it somehow captivating.
While the sheets of feedback and distortion are cranked up to ear-bleeding levels during parts of ‘Deadbeat’ and ‘I Used To Live My Life In The Shadow of Your Heart’, ‘Ego Death’ manages to temper the feedback-drenched squalls of the band’s noisier side (slightly) with a dark eighties, electronic feel. At times, Oliver is still using his effects pedals to levels which could be considered extreme, but despite this, there are signs of obvious songcraft bubbling just below the surface. These signs of musical ability are even more evident during ‘Smile When You Smile’ which features some sharp bass work (courtesy of Jono Mofo) somewhere in amongst the density.
It’s not all challenging though. At the centre of ‘In Your Heart’ and ‘Everything Always Goes Wrong’ there’s a mechanical bleakness carrying a spirit of Joy Division. The title track shows similar mechanical coolness and ‘Keep Slipping Away’ is a near-perfect piece of goth-pop. It’s a marriage of ‘Pornography’ era Cure and the lighter parts of ‘Psychocandy’ by Jesus and Mary Chain, which is played with so much love, you’d be forgiven for thinking it could be an unearthed obscurity from 1983.
These guys are likely to be met with open arms by MBV fans (particularly given Kevin Shields’s long periods of inactivity). The lighter gothy parts of their work are those with the most appeal – and as such could get the band a slightly broader audience, but on the whole, ‘Exploding Head’ is a record which requires patience and time. Only then will the rewards begin to be reaped.