Saturday, February 21, 2009

Better Late Than Never

Whether it's trouble over at the FasterLouder camp or my articles have simply lost the shine and pizazz they formerly had; there's been a few album reviews that have yet to surface. In the fear that they becoming horribly dated compared to the speed of this fickle industry, i've decided to give them an airing here instead. After all, blogger allows me the freedom (oh, unless of course they're not just deleting my posts that are trying to promote good music willy nilly). Plus, the last time i published articles that hadn't been published yet - they magically appeared. Fingers crossed.

A Planet in Space – As The Pieces Come Together (Independent/Melodious Thump/2009)

A Planet in Space create exactly the kind of genre-hopping mash-up that is the scourge of pigeon-holing music journalists and narrow-minded enthusiasts of dispensable pop; and it is precisely this mix of styles and genres that makes them sound so new and thrilling.

Their debut EP, As The Pieces Come Together, attempts to capture their unique brand of fusion. Harnessed from two robust years on the live circuit since their inception, it demonstrates both their unorthodox line-up (two drummers, two singer/guitarists) and a variety of songs that demonstrate that a witches’ brew of styles can encapsulate a wider audience. Granted these are heady concoctions - not for the faint of heart or small of attention span – but all the more rewarding for those that take the trip.

First up is the roots-rock of Last Drop of Denial, propelled by a sinister funk groove it’s slinky, threatening and danceable all at once. As the distorted guitars and drums pick up the pace against Dan Fox Smith’s insistent vocals, it seems the track threatens to transform into something else before it ends abruptly. There’s plenty of time for exploration later it seems. Solo Tango is a reworking of older single She Don’t Wanna Dance, a popular favourite live; it retains its Spanish guitar meets Latin funk backbone but has been edited down from its original length. The lyrics, about losing out to an enticing female, play the vocal lament of Alex Hayes off of Fox Smith’s near-rapping lines to create an intoxicating energy. At times it sounds like a much busier Cat Empire sans the syrupy horns, but the track’s almost begging for them.

Sunshine Breaking Through is perhaps the most stable track of the EP, which isn’t to say that its six minutes doesn’t contain a wealth of guitar acrobatics and vocal interplay. Besides, it’s opening lyrics act like a band manifesto “The time has come to make a decision/and this music is our one mechanism/to set ourself free from this here prison/in order for us to fly;” and with the closing title track, the three-part As The Pieces Come Together, fly they do.

Starting with a simple drum beat and chopped guitar chords, it seems innocuous enough but as one soon comes to expect from A Planet In Space, the territory will soon shift. Working its way from a rock/reggae hybrid with soulful vocals through to a complete drum-and-bass electronica breakdown; leading finally to a heavy metal coda, it is the undisputed highlight of this release. Its evolution is reminiscent of progressive rock even if it borders on indulgence. It has to be heard to be believed and hints at the exciting things the group could do with the canvas of a full album.

Still, recorded at their own studio (PlantOn) and released on their own label (Melodious Thump), As The Pieces Come Together is a worthy product of their ambitions.

Make no mistake A Planet In Space won’t be for everyone, at worst it can feel like the improvisation and jamming that spawned the bedrock for these songs is merely to show off their musicianship. Their inimitable sound however, is exactly the kind of thing that encourages a hardcore fan base. And as they embark on a tour of the East Coast in support of their EP, they’re sure to pick up more than a few.

Band website:

Myspace: A Planet In Space

Bon Iver – Blood Bank EP (Jagjaguwar, 2009)

Carving a path via word of mouth to impossibly good critical acclaim, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was arguably one of the best albums of last year. A wintry masterpiece of haunting moods, passionate vocals and a cohesive collection of songs that was as inescapably catchy as they were emotively potent.

Blood Bank is a well-timed release then, dovetailing with the end of the tour for the album, it acts both as a reminder of Bon Iver’s appeal and a space for experimentation and deviation before the next big step. The title track is an innocuous tale about falling in love at a blood bank, only Justin Vernon, the man behind the Bon Iver moniker, could turn such a meeting into a pensive rumination on impulsive love. Driven by a subtle back-beat it sees him singing in a slightly lower register than his usual stratospheric croon, but it demonstrates that even when playing it safe, he can still do magical things. Beach Baby is a short-lived track that feels much more like an out-take, featuring some lovely slide guitar before the track’s demise but ultimately it’s a short but sweet affair.

The final two tracks, Babys and Woods, demonstrate Bon Iver stretching out into sounds and moods that although singularly recognisable as the same artist, are a little more adventurous. The former features a spiral of looped piano chords and vocal harmonies that are much warmer and brighter than anything found before, meanwhile the closing Woods may ring alarm bells with its open embrace of auto-tune. Completely a capella, it repeats four lines of lyrics continuously adding layers of voices and harmonies towards an enveloping swathe of vocals. It’s a little like Imogen Heap’s Hide & Seek or a choir of robotic angels, and it won’t be for everyone but it shows an artist who is unafraid to bend any musical palette to suit his unique style and sound to harrowing effect.

At four tracks, Blood Bank won’t change the mind of anyone who wasn’t convinced thus far by Bon Iver, but considering his fast-spreading popularity, there can’t be many left who haven’t already been converted.

Stream the title track at Bon Iver's Myspace
& the haunting Woods at YouTube

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