Archive | January, 2010

Jnauary 2010 – EP reviews – Evolutia’s ‘Fear’s Fall’ (“they certainly don’t stint on the dramatics”)

17 Jan
Evolutia: 'Fear's Fall'

Evolutia: ‘Fear’s Fall’

They have a history with at least one Californian prog-rock band in it; yet Evolutia’s Stephen Cameron and Andrew Barnhart work better with a strong pop injection. Popping up a couple of years ago with the ‘After All These Years’ EP, Evolutia’s brisk multi-instrumental dazzle (along with Stephen and Andrew’s tag-team singing) quickly impressed. Now they’re revealing – in flashes – greater breadth and songwriting solidity beneath that glossy surface.

Of course, you do have to deal with the Muse factor first. Initially, those occasional neo-classical flourishes, the impassioned diva vocals and Stephen’s dual role on piano and guitar feel pretty familiar. Evolutia’s music is very much in Muse’s terrain of borderline-hysterical prog-pop. In fact, they’re hovering in almost the precise same spot that Matt Bellamy and co. did about a decade previously.

Yet while Muse increasingly inflate themselves into a Paganini stunt show of inhuman proportions (and arguably always dealt more in effect than humanity), Evolutia maintain heart and a human scale. Songs like My Element are clearly pomp-rock angst epics – Stephen and Andrew bawling “I fall apart without you” as instruments somersault around them – but they’re recognisably about people, rather than being exercises in style. Every explosive caper of Stephen’s piano, every upfront sprun-ng-g-g of Andrew’s supple prog-funk bass playing (and on this occasion, Mitch Holmes’ crisp and flexing drumwork) is there to underpin a human experience; whether this is ageing (“with faces that weathered / we stood up tall ’til the end”), the corrosions of ignorance, or simple fear.

That said, they certainly don’t stint on the dramatics – and their talent for sounding like a four- or five-piece band rather than an augmented duo certainly helps. With a tight and vicious vocal from Andrew, Half Awake provides the kind of semi-operatic sturm-und-drang rarely offered since the days of ‘Queen II’. Over jagged, emotional Beethoven piano, Andrew sneers out flashes of punk life (“brought up in a home of no-can-do, / what’s to learn in a prison but a vice or two?”) with a mixture of disgruntled rage and sympathy as he slips in and out of character. He weaves a history of resentment and slippage between one disaster and another, one violent situation and another; down and down the spiral, while a growling bass synth mutters like a cornered dog.

With Stephen temporarily abandoning his piano for some trashy but laser-guided guitar playing, We Used to Sleep starts life as a glam-punk anthem. It’s soon underlaid by prog convulsions – spasms of bass; distorted roars of texture; quick flashes of djent-styled metal riffage, like violently shunting trains. These toss the bucketing, arena-sized tune around on their knotty shoulders while Stephen sings of lost innocence, abandonment and faith: “If you find yourself lying in wait, or tasting their bait / just don’t go losing your hope yet.” This is lighter-waving rock heroism for sure – and cut by the yard – but it’s played with an invigorating power. For a few moments, flushed with Evolutia’s determined romance, you believe.

Fear’s Falls’ title track, meanwhile, is a real pocket epic. Driven by flowing expressive piano dancing over sparring drums and saw-edged walls of bass, it crams far more into its relative sparse lyric and its five-and-a-half minute running time than you’d expect, while Stephen delivers his most heartfelt and hopeful vocal of the whole EP. As the band travel, they reveal tightly-packed musical pockets en route: little cells transforming the spaces inside the tune from within, mirroring the night journey from fear to reassurance. “We shed this weight like it was our skin – / the ones we love are lost again, / and hope is becoming my closest friend… / Truth is changing what we want. / Fear melts away when we see / there’s nothing in the dark save you, save me.”

As Fear’s Fall winds down, there’s a cute little instrumental diversion into pseudo-reggae. Perhaps it’s there to show that after all of the emoting and instrumental flagrancy, Evolutia have a sense of humour. It’s unnecessary. They’ve got something better: in spite of all of their flashy arena-rock drama, they retain heart throughout. Maybe once they get past the more blatant Muse-ry, more people will notice this.

Evolutia: ‘Fear’s Fall’
Bandcamp
Download-only EP
Released: 11th January 2010

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Evolutia online:
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January 2010 – EP reviews – The Fierce & The Dead’s ‘Part 1’ (“David Gilmour filtered through Slint”)

7 Jan

The Fierce & The Dead: ‘Part 1’

On his own, Matt Stevens is a contemporary guitar virtuoso and solo looper. Buzzing and rebounding (in the space he’s carved out somewhere between Graham Coxon, John Martyn and Robert Fripp), he shreds his way through dramatic, heavily rhythmic acoustic improvs and echo-pedal tickling. He’s not generally the kind of person who needs to beef himself up as part of a trio – for players of his kind, they’re often restrictive – but for The Fierce & The Dead he does just that, accepting those restrictions along with anything else that comes along.

For their first statement (and for nearly nineteen minutes) Stevens, Kev Feazey and Stuart Marshall pour out a continuous stream of low-key improvised space-rock – all pared down to a sparse math-rock or post-rock aesthetic, but peering backward to earlier times when it was OK to showboat a little more. The general feel is of musicians keeping a careful foot in both camps while trying to surreptitiously rub their ankles together and fray a few escape tunnels. For instance, Matt’s impressive guitar skills are still present, but slowed down and judicious. They make themselves felt in a shimmying ring against the strings; in curled and rising fragments of blues like scraps of burning paper; or in retrenchments of tempestuous noise leashed back to a distant roar.

The rhythm section, meanwhile, provides the bulk of the band’s math-rocking. Kev’s grumbling, economical bass sits close up against Stuart’s discreet, spacious drum patterns. Avoiding outright grooves in favour of careful pulses, they soften the mathematical edges, leave rhythms as suggestions. Left free to explore, Matt plays against the mechanisms. His own melodies, textures and double-backs add the human element – questioning, pushing back, and wandering loosely into various styles from minimal clanging to careful soloing to low-key jazz chording.

Over those nineteen minutes, the band takes a long lowering drive through close-linked moods. Sometimes they’re meditating, sometimes decorating; sometimes they’re passing into drones of steel-wool guitar, synthesizer-scour or glowering bass-pedal. It’s part indie-rock jam-band; and part David Gilmour cruise, filtered through Slint. It’s also by no means complete. This is just a dip in the water, a thoughtful flexing of instruments. It noodles along thoughtfully, slyly upturning post-rock aims along the way, implying and wheedling that there’s room for a old-school guitar-slinging power-trio in that strict church of ego-melt and anti-rock-posturing. Some purists are probably going to consider that reactionary treason, or at least a backward step too far. I suspect that with the prog-fanciers who’ve always migrated into post-rock zones, this is a battle well lost long ago.

Yet there are hints that The Fierce & The Dead may have more to offer than being a cautious Groundhogs for post-rock brainiacs. For example, there’s Stuart’s digression into breakbeat crunch at the halfway point, or the unsettling final minute: a coda of skirling and looping up the scale via feedback, microtones and cheap electronics, ending with an abrupt slam into silence. I’m guessing that they’re not intending to stay on cruise control forever: Part 1 is, after all, just the start of any story… But more proof and less scribbling next time, please.

The Fierce & The Dead: ‘Part 1’ EP
The Fierce & The Dead (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only EP
Released: 3rd January 2010

Get it from:
Bandcamp

The Fierce & The Dead online:
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January 2010 – EP reviews – Orders of the British Empire’s ‘Rebuild (“bulge-eyed romantic ear-splitters, about to pop a vein”)

5 Jan
Orders of the British Empire: 'Rebuild' EP

Orders of the British Empire: ‘Rebuild’ EP

Orders Of The British Empire wear some pretty evident, pretty well-known influences upfront. These North London bandmates are avowed disciples of Mogwai, of Pelican and of Oceansize – and it shows.

While OBE are members of the broad church of instrumental post-rockers, they operate at the brutal, crunchy, masculine end of the genre. In other words, the one which relies on a bristly bromance between hardcore punk, hurricane-textured shoegazery and epic heavy metal, all reconfigured for sensitive guys with tattoos. It’s the side of post-rock which brings most of the previously-despised rock muscle roaring back in; and which (while abhorring and deleting the spotlit solos and preening, cocksure singing) is rammed full of guitars which fret, bulge and wail like a man who’s undergoing an apocalyptic religious conversion but who’s also reduced to frantic speechless hand-gestures to explain just how he feels.

There’s certainly enough of the hallmarks of this art-brute school of sound. There are the melancholy guitar arpeggios which cloudburst into sleet-storms of frantically scrubbed strings and distortion sprays. There are the hush-to-shriek dynamics and the clear evidence that everyone involved can play like a demon, but have had to carefully weave and duck their skills past the frowns of the punk police (or perhaps their own vestiges of punk embarrassment). There are the Godspeed You Black Emperor digressions into dry-boned countrified vistas, suggesting poisoned prairies under oil-smeared skies. There’s the sneaking feeling that this kind of music should just bite the bullet and call itself “psychedelic metal”, if that didn’t throw up unfortunate thoughts of a saucer-eyed Ozzy Osbourne chanting and dribbling blood down his kaftan.

So – not terribly original at root, and building heavily on what’s gone before. Yet what saves OBE (and then some) is that their hearts are as upfront as their debts. To a man, they’re bulge-eyed romantic ear-splitters, about to pop a vein in the service of expression. Their decision not to include a singer means that all of that passion feeds magnificently into their churning hands. The guitars bypass the pitfall into neurotic stiffness which often plagues post-rock: instead, they play with the suppleness and flex of tormented blues. The drums pace and clamour at the back like a fierce and loving sergeant – not just keeping time, but chivvying each of the other instruments.

Admittedly, the other payback is that their music is stadium-sized, and dazzled by its own overwhelming importance. The wordless songs march under fierce manifestos (Rebuild With Gunpowder), namecheck mythical serpents and Earth-hammering asteroids (Apophis Reigns) and cast up, without a hint of self-consciousness, questions for everyday existential heroes (What Would You Do). Even so, OBE have delivered up a striking, accomplished opening statement – especially as, rather than being a squad of pierce-festooned hardcore athletes with scalp-locks, they turn out to be a bashful-looking crew of soft-lipped boy-men.

There’s much to savour on ‘Rebuild’. Partly, it’s the sonic excitement, with the fluttering intro thrums and emotional math-riffing of Rebuild With Gunpowder; or the gushes of deep, disgruntled pink noise which swell under the increasingly frantic What Would You Do, like the breath of a sleeping giant. The multi-part Apophis Reigns boasts a spectacularly emotive flow of Western desert chords and ear-scouring guitar boil; the lapping lake-music of Roundabouts offers comparative simplicity and a clear view into the band’s romanticism, bypassing the epic storminess.

All things said, it’s refreshing when a band who, on first count, seem so derivative can in fact be so transformative – and so soon. Swerving aside from simple tribute, OBE rapidly become flushed with their own life and their own fascinations.

Orders Of The British Empire: ‘Rebuild’ EP
Big Cartel/Bandcamp
CD/download EP
Released: 1st January 2010

Get it from:
Big Cartel or Bandcamp

Orders Of The British Empire online:
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