Friday, March 21, 2008

Who? What? Wow - Two!

If you've arrived from my old Facebook persona - then welcome, i hope you enjoy the new look and format. Never fear, as always i'll be providing you with my wholly unique rants on the world of music.

Here's my latest on The Scene, namely - a review of Autechre's latest album Quaristice and the debut album from Liverpool's The Wombats.

Now i realise (from the post date) that it's been nearly a month since I spotlighted ten of the best albums by bands you've never heard of. It's been very busy in my world as of late, and to be honest not many new releases (though that should soon change) so i thought i'd give you all another round of artists you've probably never had the pleasure of hearing, and so... *drum roll please*

More Albums By Artists You've Never Heard Of.

All the stipulations from the last post apply (including usual thanks to link providers). This time however, the rank shouldn't be taken too seriously, think of this as just another 7 that didn't have the time or space to address the first time around. And without further ado...

1. The Hoosiers - The Trick To Life (2008)
Let's start with a newie shall we, The Hoosiers are a band you've probably never heard of... yet, a three piece act from England who have already ranked some radio airtime in their makeshift hits Goodbye Mr. A and Worried About Ray.

They are very much a pop guitar band, but more in the mould of 70's pop acts such as Supertramp and XTC. The aforementioned Goodbye Mr. A is heavily reminiscent ofElectric Light Orchestra's Mr Blue Sky with its sunny harmonies and bright keyboards. Not a bad thing by any means and their (now locally released) debut album The Trick to Life manages to be true to the band's claim that it will "surprise people who only know our 2 singles." Worst Case Scenario is another hit in waiting with the same quality, but with a leaning towards the Arctic Monkeys crowd with its faster tempo and percussive energy. While Run Rabbit Run and Everything Goes Dark enlist some lush instrumentation to complement vocalist Irwin Sparke's confident falsetto. The horns and sing-a-long card up the sleeve of Goodbye Mr. A is reused on Killer while the title track demonstrates the groups darker sensibility that lies beneath the glossy production.If their as comfortable with the pop industry as they are with their music you can expect to be hearing a lot more of The Hoosiers in 2008.
You should hear it if: you're a fan of the 70's pop revival group The Feeling/you enjoy whipsmart singles and a deeper album to couch them
download Worst Case Scenario here
as well as Worried About Ray

2. Pure Reason Revolution - The Dark Third (2006)
Having been tagged as "Astral Folk", supported Porcupine Tree and described as "brilliantly atmospheric" by former Yes guru, Rick Wakeman - it's easy to see why Pure Reason Revolution are spearheading a new form of progressive rock. Signing to SonyBMG after only a single EP, they then set about crafting epic 12 minute long singles before bolstering together their debut, The Dark Third.

Featuring gothic sculpture on their artwork and well-versed titles such as Bullits Dominæ and The Bright Ambassadors of Morning (named after a line from a Pink Floyd song), the progressive rock influence remains overt. While their influences are obvioulsy writ large on their sound, their music is wholly devoid of the pretensions of their 70's forebears. The album is in parts energetic, thanks to some crunchy riffs, and organic thanks to its seamless transitions between tracks and some great violin work.

Shockingly confident and cohesive considering the sheer ambition of its work, The Dark Third, takes in all the vocals, instruments, sounds and ideas the seven-piece outfit can conjure while never getting chaotic or carried away in its grandiose elements. Hopefully their second album, currently in production, can reach the same standard and lift the band's profile along with it.
You should hear it if: bands that can fulfill the complex demand of music long, intricate and full of intelligent ideas - and possibly even a few singalongs.
Check out the band's MySpace for a slew of audio samples

3. Phaser - Sway (2003)
Having released a slew of EPs before disintegrating in 2005 it's a shame that this was the group's only album. Steeped in ambience and reverberation, the Washington DC band's sole record is reminiscent of the shoegazing scene of the early 90's, employing dreamy feedback and droning songs guided by the laidback vocals of brothers Siayko and Boris Skalsky. Cloaked in a warm haze of production, much like Doves, these songs build and warp off of key ideas and melodies. Baby Blue and the title track in particular, with their ever building dynamics and the latter's use of layered female vocals washed into the effect of a gospel choir, drawing an instant aural relation to Spiritualized. A tactic later repeated on the bluesy Sweet Marie.

Interestingly Boris Skalsky has since gone on to from Dead Heart Bloom whose music, while personally i think not as good, is available for free from the band's website.
A mix of acoustic and string backed songs that lacks the misty aura of his previous work.

maintains its dreamy aesthetic for the entirety of the album, and while its mysterious artwork and familiar sounds means it was probably hard to stand out of the pack at the time - its an album worthy of attention, not just pleasant background music.
You should hear it if: you enjoy the music of Doves or The Cure/want an ambient alternative to Interpol
listen to opening track Are You There?
and second track Life & Illusion

4. Fourth Floor Collapse - Half Deserted Streets (2001)
Once there was a time when i was convinced, and told people, that this was the 'Australian OK Computer.' Heady praise indeed and in the intervening years, and two disappointing follow-up albums, I've come to concede that this was perhaps over-hyped on my behalf. But such was my enthusiasm and excitement for discovering them at the time.

Hailing from Perth and found only through a random listen in a Fish records shop in Sydney, Fourth Floor Collapse seemed to come from nowhere. The cold evocative artwork of a snowy ghost town caught my eye, while the epic-laden atmosphere of opening track Precursor caught my ear. Michael Miller's stark vocals were also intriguing, with a clear Australian drawl but also a yearning vulnerability that really manages to sell the drama such as on Risk "I've spent my whole life avoiding chances/ I've dreamt whole lives that i've never acted on"

While Made Believe was heralded as the album's single, the record is devoid of such moorings. It's designed as a piece you sit down and listen to all the way through. Even wiith its rich diversity of music and lyrical themes it still manages to sound like the work of a single band. Unfortunately i would argue that the band would never reach the same heights as this, their debut, with a series of dramatic line up changes and a dive into a more mainstream rock affinity with later albums From The Cold and Books With Broken Spines. Still this remains their chief achievement that while not as popular or successful as Radiohead's finest moment, in its dying moments of Another Push and Aetheist's Lament still reminds me heavily of a time when they could of been.
You should hear it if: you enjoy any of the groups listed on the band's links page Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Wilco, The Frames and even Sunny Day Real Estate
check out a sample of Made Believe

5. Wheat - Hope & Adams (1999)
The three members that collectively make up indie act Wheat are a reclusive lot, members Scott Levesque, Ricky Brennan and Brendan Harney have released a meagre four albums in just under a decade; and despite the time and effort that obviously goes into them, they always sound like very casual affairs. None more so than the eclectic Hope & Adams. Buoyed by the radio popularity of Don't I Hold You, the group's second album is a far different beast. While Don't I Hold You it's beautiful earnestness and shining arpeggios demonstrate how Wheat aren't afraid to sing emphatically about love and relationships, neither are they going to shy away from their avant-garde impulses.

In this way they are the master of juxtaposition. San Diego combines a strange lyric and catching melody with a squashy, jagged electronic squiggle. "Your love is a parking lot/with pot holes and faded lines/and the kids don't hang bacause the cops just chase them out." While off the pedestal contains the jarring lines "wait there i'll find my shotgun shells/and aim to blow you off the pedestal" against an innocent enough musical backdrop.

While later albums, such as the Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips) produced Per Second, Per Second, Per Second... Every Second, ironed out some of their stranger quirks (even including a shiny new version of Don't I Hold You). It is with Hope & Adams that the band are the most memorable, totally alternative and totally unapologetic for it. It is the sound of ideas and sketches made into music.
You should hear it if: you like your music in turns quirky/heartfelt/weird/honest. Or you don't mind your favourite band releasing an album every three or four years.
D/L Don't I Hold You and Raised Ranch Revolution

6. The Features - Exhibit A (2004)
The Features are the perfect example of a band who 'slipped under the radar.' There is really no excuse why their best song from Exhibit A, the 'happy if you know it' hooks of Blow It Out shouldn't have been a big hit all over except for the fact that they just didn't stand out from the crowd of Strokes-obsessed Franz Ferdinand-alike bands smothering them in the early Oughties.

Every cut comes in at around the two or three minute mark, a concentrated blast of ramshackle rock with Matthew Pelham's impassioned vocals hinting at the anger and hysteria of a man about to crack. Perhaps sounding exactly how you'd expect from the kind of person who writes songs called Exorcising Demons and There's A Million Ways To Sing The Blues. The musical equivalents are like blistering pirate shanties. Visceral, cutting and with a view for bawdy choruses. They provide that sense of fun over letting loose and getting a bit dirty, even if the subject matter is sometimes downtrodden.

Having since followed their debut album with an EP entitled Contrast, the inactivity on the band's official blog doesn't abode well. If, tragically, this remains their sole contribution to music, then they should still be very proud. Do yourself a favour next time you're trawling through the bargain bin of your local record store and pick up an album worth far more than its discounted price tag will attest.
You should hear it if: you like punchy, crunchy guitar rock that proves you don't have to owe debts to your musical influences to have fun.
Watch the video for the excellent Blow it Out
Also listen to Me & The Skirts, The Idea of Growing Old
and Exorcising Demons

7. Faultline
- Your Love Means Everything (2002)
Plastered with a promotional sticker that advertised collaborations with Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Wayne Coyne (Flaming Lips) at the height of all those acts' popularity - its hard to argue that Faultline, aka musician/producer David Kosten, didn't get his time in the sun. But even with a re-release two years on, it remains an album that is still wholly underrated.

Sashaying between gorgeous electronica and gorgeous electronica plus vocals, the record's twelve tracks display Kosten's skill in production and arrangement. Warm acoustic guitars, unobtrusive drums and lilting melodies make for the bulk of the soundtrack while those collaborations break things up. Michael Stipe is on melancholy mode on Green Fields while Wayne Coyne injects his usual persona into The Colossal Gray Sunshine. The star of the album however is undoubtedly Chris Martin.

First appearing on Where Is My Boy? the music perfectly complements Martin's two most powerful vocal timbres, first by couching his hushed lower register with restrained instrumentation before building to aid his crying upper register as he swan dives towards the song's climax. Even better is the title track, or rather closing track Your Love Means Everything (pt 2) which along with it's Chris Martin-less instrumental pt 1 bookends the album. With some achingly beautiful keyboard accompaniment Martin coos "It was a strange reaction/for someone like you to remain so sure/And in a chain reaction/I dissolve and break and then away I crawl." The resulting effect is at once sad, beautiful and mysterious.

Combined the two represent the zenith of Kosten's collaborative endeavor, the Faultline moniker provides the guest artists with a new musical landscape in which to play while simulataneously bringing along the clout and familiarity inherent in their styles.
You should hear it if: if you're a fan of smart electronica or of any of the collaborators' bands (well DUH!)
those collaborations in full: Grey Colossal Sunshine,
and Your Love Means Everything (Pt. 2)

There we have it, hopefully next time it won't be a month before we meet again. With impending releases from Muse, Elbow and Camille. I somehow doubt it.

Till then, a quick plug for the non-music related.
I'm reprising my role as DJ DJ in the excellent comedy, Porky Pies, more details and ticket bookings at Porky Pies website.
As well as that i'm auditioning for the 2008 University of Melbourne Comedy Law Revue (whooh), check out the excellent video over at YouTube
then tell everyone you know about it at the Facebook group

Till next time i remain Al