erasing clouds

9 Music Reviews

Bonobo, Solid Steel Presents Bonobo (Ninja Tune)

A few years ago, after the release of his debut album Animal Magic, the music press tried to pigeonhole him in the "chillout" and "downtempo" category, but Bonobo, AKA composer and producer Simon Green, proved there's no way he will ever be trapped into a category. Once he started making music under the Bonobo moniker, Green recorded the eclectic Dial M For Monkey, and, since then has created a very personal style of DJing. After a dreamy introductory track, this Solid Steel mix from Bonobo explodes with the almost sambaesque and exotic rhythms of Diesler's "Sandcastles" and "Exploration" by the Karminsky Experience, the lounge-evoking "Les Fingres" by Solid Steel Players, the gorgeous "Hidden" by King Seven (that precedes a new track from Bonobo's forthcoming album, the jaw-dropping "Recurring"). Nat Adderly's "Introduction" brings in some pure exotica and bossa nova, while Jazz Juice's "Marra Bossa" evokes in a way the best of Sun Ra. The album closes with "Otters Pond" by Super Numeri (complete with their sixty year old harpist), a beautiful ethereal moment. The best way to wait for the next Bonobo album is to spend your time listening to this excellent compilation. - anna battista

DJ Kentaro, Solid Steel Presents DJ Kentaro: On The Wheels Of Solid Steel (Ninja Tune)

There's nobody better than a very talented Japanese turntablist to produce a mix of the Ninja Tune back catalogue for the Japanese market. DJ Kentaro (Kentaro Okamoto), 2002 DMC World Championship winner, started working on this ambitious project after receiving a box full of vinyl and CDs. The result of the project was DJ Kentaro On The Wheels Of Steel, out in December 2004 in Japan. It was one of the most successful albums ever sold there, with sales reaching 15,000 copies. You should thank Ninja Tune that the album is now available in the rest of the world, with its unique mix of Jaga Jazzist, Wagon Christ, Animals On Wheels, DJ Food, Coldcut, Pest and many more. The result is an explosion of noises, samples, scratches, hip-hop, dance, jazz, soul, house, avant-garde, electronica, jungle and drum'n'bass that opens with a short intro jam-packed with samples courtesy of DJ Kentaro himself and closes with the triumphing beats of Coldcut's "Atomic Moog (Cornelius Mix)". The CD comes with a DVD showcasing the art of DJ Kentaro live, featuring a series of short films that are compelling to get to know this artist better and will be extremely fun to show during a party or at a club night. Warning: this is not for turntablist anoraks, this is for everyone. - anna battista

For Against, December (Words on Music)

On their 1987 debut album Echelons, reissued last year, For Against sounded just like an amazing post-punk/dream-pop band from the UK...but they were from Nebraska, and the UK bands that they sounded most like (Ride, for one) hadn't even formed yet. For Against's second album December, originally released in 1988 by the artful Independent Project Records label, is in the same realm, yet the band sounds tighter, tougher, and even more developed. Right from the gate, on the suitably titled "Sabres", a fierce rolling bassline and strident drums echo the bitterness in singer Jeffrey Runnings' voice, while chiming guitars generate the dreamier feeling without slowing down the forward motion. Runnings gives voice to feelings of loneliness within a harsh world, with a devestating precision: "you can sell / or you can trade / but people they just take and take and take." There's a visceral sense of determination the chorus - "I'm not crying anymore / I'm keeping you," but it's hard to tell if the subject of his song wants to be kept or not (the song's tone suggests not). The skeletal "Stranded in Greenland" evokes isolation more explicitly, and with the same sense of urgency. Even without high speed For Against create an intense sense of propulsion, one that makes the songs' sentiments and melodies all the more powerful. As the album goes on, the tempo decreases, but the force of the songs do not. "They Said" is a potent expression of alienation from the world around you, an explosion of empty promises. It shares with "Svengali" a distrust of authority, of anyone who claims to know the Truth. Though the songwriting feels intimate and confessional throughout December, part of what's being confessed is a feeling of true coldness. The music echoes that feeling, while the guitars swirl around like a reminder that there's a beating heart beneath the ice, for better of worse. This is portrayed most vividly on the title track, yet another haunting portrait of alienation, with lyrics like "I regret the things I said / I wish my emotions were dead / rolling like a film in my head / painted on my sidewalk in red". For Against's songs convincingly convey the frame of mind of someone who feels alternately empty, trapped, and dead. And they do so through music that most definitely has a pulse, that sounds driven to make even the deadest of souls feel something. - dave heaton

High Foundation '05 (Bz Records)

The latest production released by Bz Records is a project by DJ Afghan and DJ Perdosound, with a little help by Antonio Tluk Falcone and Nicola "Panza" Panzanini. Entitled High Foundation '05, this two-CD compilation features a selection of the most important bands and DJs that have played at the Ferrara Festival in Italy, since it started five years ago. Unfortunately, you have to really struggle to find a valid track among those included on CD1, since all its songs are a mixture of average reggae, ska and rock/pop, the whole spiced up by mediocre lyrics. CD2 is more interesting, thanks to its mish-mash of electronica, jazz, avant-garde and a touch of disco. Among the best tracks on the second CD there are Santos's "Sabot", Silvia Donati & Standhard 3io's jazzy "Lonely Woman", the experimental S. Tommaso Project's "The Trip", and Madox with a track with a Brazilian flavour, "Alemao". High Foundation '05 is basically the typical Italian compilation, in which you have one or two good tracks buried under dozens of mediocre things. Recommended only if you have the time and patience to select a few decent tracks among the many mediocre ones. - anna battista

La Maison De La Culture (Kutmusic)

Tired of Bob Geldof suggesting what you should do with your money and time and what to listen to with your ears, yet you still believe that music can change the world? Try to change the world actively then with this compilation: all the profits from the sales will go towards building a centre for culture in Ndangane, Senegal. This 'house of culture' will be a sort of creative lab where the locals will have the chance to learn, study and work; it will also be a safe haven where local and foreign artists will be able to meet and where seminars and events will take place. The compilation contains 15 tracks penned by international artists. Elhadji Mahamadou M'Baye's "Sama Aye" draws quiet and soothing soundscapes; Christophe Goze's "Ja Vidi" is an exotic track mainly woven by traditional Moroccan guitars and percussion, that turns towards the end into a tribal mantra. Ludvig & Stelar's "Whispers" sounds like floating in amniotic liquid and features sensual, at times slightly spaced-out moments, and The Third Planet's "Lya Eddala" is pure dance. Flutes, percussion and chants pervade the album, which has its strengths in avant-garde and experimental moments such as "Sometimes" by Nacho Sotomayor and "Desert Sunset" by Azibi & Vimana. There are some tracks penned by a few Italian artists that should have been edited, but, as a whole, this is an interesting project for a very good cause. - anna battista

Lowlights, Dark End Road (Darla)

Lowlights' Dark End Road is a Country & Western/gentle pop album set in a haunted forest during winter, its mood one of dark shadows and secrets. The ghost doing the haunting, though, is easy to spot - it's memory, the memory of a lover who ran away. Lead troubadour Dameon Lee sounds absolutely tormented, obsessed with what went wrong, fixated on what could make things right.The title of the first song lays it all out: "The One I Love Is Gone". That song describes him dumbfounded about what to do with himself now that she's gone. As he sings the song sounds spacey and lost-in-the-stars, but also like an old-fashioned folk song brought back to life. It's fitting for a story that's as old as time, yet of course still hits you with a raw, painful immediacy when it happens to you. Lee is assisted by 12 other musicians, who with an array of instruments (violins, pedal steel, guitars, piano, dobro, mandolin, saxophone, etc.) help to build a sadly beautiful setting that suits the yearning in his songs perfectly. And that yearning, and obsession with the past, haunts each passing song. "So Long" describes waking up on a grey winter morning, still drunk, to find that she's gone. "Emily", the catchy should-be single starts with him taking pictures of her down off the wall, deciding that he's done thinking about her. But even as he tries to bring things to a conclusion his thoughts still dwell, he can't help but reminicise: "I guess it's all over now / I waited around for your secret smile / or any sign to tell me that you're mine". And still he hopes she'll reach a dead-end and come back, "what you gonna do when it's all a bust?" Near the album's end, he seems less full of longing, more mad at the world, directing his anger at his hometown, even ("The Curse"). And then on "Too Young to Tell" he tries to analyze the failed relationship in a more reasoned way, blaming it on the ignorance of youth, yet most of the way he still sounds like he's spitting flames under his breath, until the song's final minute, which unfolds like a bittersweet elegy. - dave heaton

Pest, All Out Fall Out (Ninja Tune)

All Out Fall Out is the brand-new album from Deptford five-piece Pest, after their single "Pat Pong", the follow-up to their first album Necessary Measures (2003). Adrian Josey, Matt Chandler, Wayne Urquhart, Ben Mallott, Tom Marriott are all talented and all come from very different backgrounds, having previously been collaborators with the most disparate artists. This must be the reason why, though Pest's music is a mish-mash of influences, it still retains a homogeneous sound. All Out Fall Out mixes jazz, house, hip-hop, funk, rock, techno and UK garage into a unique blend. The single "Pat Pong" echoes a sort of Balearic beat groove. "Click Bitches" opens with a sambaesque rhythm that gradually metamorphoses into jazz and funk; "Rumourtism" starts with a university lecture that blends into oriental samples (think about the guitars on the Moroccan recordings by Brion Gysin), noises and voices that end up in creating a soothing soundscape; "Donde Pesta" reminds of the best lounge tracks. Pest's album marks a change in style: this band has definitely grown up a lot since their first album. All Out Fall Out has a special attention for melodies and beats, a feature that might be the winning formula for this band. - anna battista

Pleasant, Awkward As a Beehive (Pox World Empire)

Sometimes it's starting to feel like North Carolina's one of the few places where the indie-rock/college rock styles of the '90s are still thriving, between people like Lou Barlow and Spoon finding a home on Merge Records and North Carolina bands like much of the Pox World Empire roster pushing forward with a sound that's very much rooted in that era. On their latest album Awkward as a Beehive (their Pox World debut), Pleasant exude the feeling of that style of rock, without sounding derivative of any one band. Occasionally I hear whiffs of Pavement or Polvo or Modest Mouse, but they don't last long enough to override the group's own personality. The passionate but not sentimental tone, the unity and tightness among the guitar, bass, and drums, the emotional yet suitably mysterious lyrics, the way the guitars will melt into the sound but then leap out, Sean Parker's helter-skelter yet sort of mellow singing voice...all of this echos favorite music of the past in a pleasurable way while also forming a distinct sound for Pleasant, a sound that's familiar but completely fresh. The songs feel alive and immediately like good friends. You don't necesarily know where they're going (take the horns and chorus of singers at the end of "Monster" as the most drastic example), yet when they get there it feels natural. The album's is brillance is low-key, it's not slapping you in the face. Yet it's brillance nontheless. It's everyday music, a great album to throw on and just enjoy where it takes you. Awkward As a Beehive is an album that sounds decent the first time you listen to it, really good the second, but goddamn fantastic by the third. - dave heaton

The Smittens, A Little Revolution (Dangerfive/North of January)

It's a little revolution, but not an insignificant one. Imagine you're in a room with five people all singing their hearts out, and their voices sound so good together, and their songs are filled with love and hope, and are about infatuation and music and friends and holidays and the weather and treating other people kindly. And their songs sound good, and make you feel good, and in that room you feel like the world is good, and people are good, and things are changing for the better. That's what the little revolution of The Smittens' new album is like. It's a humble, friendly revolution, and sincere. On "Stop the Bombs", a great bouncy little pop song, they sing outright for love over hate, for celebrating what we love instead of attacking others. "We only want to sing our songs for love," they sing. And that feeling shines through on all their songs, even when they're not making the point explicitly. Even when they playfully taunt others ("Guess what? You suck!") it's directed at stuck-up people who think they're above saying "Hi" or being friendly. A Little Revolution is friendly to the point where upon listening to it you feel like you've made some new friends. All 13 songs are catchy, and sung with so much feeling that it's tangible, you can feel it through the speakers. Sadness, too, is in their voices; it's not all just outward cheer. When you look at a big grin for too long, you start to wonder whether it's genuine. But the way the Smittens play and sing, you don't wonder about it. There's emotional depth to their voices, and to their songs, and as a band they can't be reduced to cartoon characters in a sentence or two (using "cute" and "cuddly" and "twee" or other nice words that people often throw at gentle, pretty music to discount it). It has a warmer sound and better songs even than their last album Gentlefication Now!, which already was great fun. Pop quiz time: A Little Revolution is 1. A fabulous pop album, with great melodies and harmonies. 2. A half-hour celebration of music's power. 3. A small, sincere call for people to be kinder to each other. 4. An epic party with your the closest friends you've never met. (No wrong answers in this class.) - dave heaton

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