Friday, 28 January 2011

Manchester Records of 2010 (Part Two)

Acrifolia - Lament
Nov 2010

This aptly-titled debut offers contemplative combinations of lonely piano and guitar over echoing, swirling backing drones. Lament as a theme is obvious throughout, but, like the introspective emotion to which the word refers, there is little joy in some areas of the record.

The sense of loss is tangible, and that loss is a bassline or percussive element that would help the musical scenes progress. But in a sense it is within these desolate soundscapes that a reflection of lamentation’s stagnant depth as an emotion is strongest. Nuance of volume change is the Manchester duo’s answer to a lack of beats, illustrated on opener ‘Peace Within’, which welds Walls-esque electronic crackling to aching acoustic ivories. The mood largely continues through ‘Inscape’ and ‘Caldera’, as piano mixes between anxious and subdued, while the latter switches to a smattering of restrained optimism akin to Moby’s more cerebral tracks.

Long-held notes lend a sort of half-speed Boards of Canadian interlude feel; perhaps into a beat-less Move D & Pete Namlock or Eno/Moebius/Roedelius should they have favoured sparse monotony over intricacy on more of After The Heat.

While Lament predominantly shuns too much build or development, the final two, lengthiest, tracks have more time to fluctuate under Acrifolia’s downtempo template; succeeding better in holding attention through ringing guitar effects and simple, shimmering beauty manifested through waves of foamy, fuzzy undercurrents. An intriguing debut.

Dan Haywood's New Hawks
Timbreland Recordings
Dec 2010

Manchester’s Timbreland Recordings’ double-disc release of chief raconteur Dan Haywood’s folky stories includes work recorded over more than four years. Fans of The Decemberists should lean in closer at this point; Haywood doesn’t necessarily share the Canadian quintet’s passion for the concept album, but does deliver a similarly engaging collection of tales, hinged together by his lone explorations of remote, rural Scottish coastlines.

The double disc format would test any listener’s attention span, never mind that of the mp3 shuffle generation, but perseverance is rewarded; the songs grow in stature, while Haywood’s distinctive vocals – think Gideon Conn merged with The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy – are cushioned by some dextrous musicianship. Amongst his assembled New Hawks are former 808 State, and current Homelife and solo, multi-percussive talent Paddy Steer, whose shuddering timpani rolls are noticeable in the more free form tangents of ‘Middle Nowhere’.

Elsewhere, the mellow sways and slide guitar of ‘Drinking In The Big Towns’ are welcome comfort against bittersweet vocal tones and the subsequent ‘Spate River’ is a standout; darkly creeping up in its dramatic and scathing narrative; lyrically crisp and eloquently articulated. Settings are generally sparser through the flip CD side, briefly losing musical accompaniment altogether for the a cappella ‘Ghost Post’.

Denis Jones – Red + Yellow =
Humble Soul
Oct 2010

Around the turn of the last century, The Hives proclaimed themselves to be Your New Favourite Band. Whether you agreed with them or not depends on your expectation of what a band should be. With the same degree of certainty, Denis Jones could take that attitude and profess to be your new favourite: 'solo electro-acoustic loop pedal connoisseur'; 'avant garde glitchcore bluesman'; 'folky beatbox live producer’, depending on when and where you may've seen him. It may seem like a wide variety, but it’s a fair response when you’re faced with a veritable deluge of cacophonic sounds, bombarding your eardrums with similar multi-modulation and apparent imprecision.

While his debut humdrum virtue showed potential, its mixed reception was in part indicative of the room for improvement. But there is also a certain glass ceiling for Denis Jones, in that the concept of a song with defined boundaries suffocates his aptitude for irrepressible freeform tangents; the experimentation in soulful electronica is what earned him the accolade of the inaugural beneficiary of Futuresonic's (now FutureEverything) artist development program. Last year’s sophomore Red + Yellow = has taken that on board and aimed to channel the aforementioned live show gusto through its eight tracks.

Many compositions, such as a modification of Tom Waits’ ‘Clap Hands’, the fidgety ‘Sometimes’ and a beautifully crafted homage to the impersonator ‘Elvis’, are familiar to anyone who’s seen his sterling live set; these versions do go some way further to capturing and retaining that raw feel of layered reverberation. ‘Rage’ in particular manages to box in the sheer pounding intensity and intimidating vocal rhythms synonymous with its live production. However, you still feel that boxing this music into recorded format is to its detriment.

A rare collaborative performance at Band on the Wall last January displayed how the latter, more widely instrumental, recordings fit alongside a recognisable acoustic accumulation. The shift into the realms of full-band glitch jazz through ‘New Note’, ‘Conception, Consumption and Radiation’ and ‘Bastion of Blood’ offer a conversely minimalistic approach to the thicker, industrially delivered early-album solo looping.

Ultimately Red + Yellow = follows the same mantra as humdrum virtue in that the most uplifting is saved until last. ‘Blengin’ is very much this album’s ‘Beginning’; indication that better still is to follow. The future’s bright; the future’s Red + Yellow =.

Words: Ian Pennington

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