Team Morale - Forteana EP
This Kent based duo have crafted a beautifully dense and evocative atmosphere on their debut release, despite only clocking in at just over fifteen minutes this showcases a lot of promise.
The first two tracks here do a brilliant job of slowly ratcheting up tension as coiled beats clash against taut simple guitar lines repeating cyclically to create driving rhythms. It’s the second half of the EP where Team Morale really shine though. ‘Melatonin’ is a fluttering idyllic piece of electronic post-rock which sways back and forth mustering a perfect balance of lightness and force in the vein of 65daysofstatic but less aggressive. The release notes mention that the title “Forteana means a belief in the unusual, the unexplainable and the magical” and there is certainly something otherworldly bubbling under the technology strewn surface of Team Morale’s sound.
Closing track and highlight ‘Aurora’ captures this well; all glittering lights streaming across sparse moonlit beats and with the incorporation of some glitchy pitch-shifted vocals it carries a sensual mystique which places it somewhere in between Balam Acab and Baths in its subtle control of atmosphere..
This been on regular rotation for me since its release last month, and I can’t wait to see what these guys release next. You can stream or purchase the EP in digital or limited edition CD through Night Talk Records.
Esben and the Witch – Wash The Sins Not Only The Face
Esben and the Witch followed up their inclusion on the BBC Sound of 2011 Shortlist (alongside the likes of Jessie J, James Blake and The Vaccines no less) with a debut album which was defiant in its distance from such accessibility. Violet Cries revelled in a dense claustrophobic atmosphere full of trembling build ups and macabre imagery but frustratingly short on cathartic releases. There were still moments of brilliance therein but overall it was a bit of a damp squib from a band who had displayed so much early promise. This second effort manages to further that promise remarkably well with a much more muscular and accessible sound than before.
Hiva Oa - The Awkward Hello, Hanshake, Kiss
Edinburgh trio Hiva Oa make the kind of hushed atmospheric ambient-pop which will appeal to fans of Trouble Books or Conquering Animal Sound. Yet they make it more expansive and raw, tending to eschew electronics in favour of acoustic sounds for the most part and unlike those peers they’re definitely not afraid to get loud sometimes.
In doing so they’ve crafted a beautifully rounded album which is by turns serene and chaotic, melodic and discordant. Tracks like ‘These Hands’ excel in embracing a slow build up of noise, the crashing cymbals and scratched guitars of its climax evokes more of a metal influence than you would ever expect from a band with a cellist. Previous single 'Badger' is still an indisputable highlight as well, an exceptional wash of worn strings, pounding drums and swollen voices. There’s something of the sea in their music as it swings from stillness to dark waves of ominous noise; like being battered by wind and rain but feeling perversely centred and optimistic.
Evan Caminiti - Dreamless Sleep
As one half of California noise masters Barn Owl, Evan Caminiti is best known for crafting abrasively unsettling drone; the kind of slow burning noise which could soundtrack the most macabre of nightmares. However he is also something of a one man guitar drone institution away from his usual partner in crime, having already released four solo albums to date under his own name as well as more under his Painted Caves guise and then plenty of collaborative works as Higuma. Across all monikers though his work is rarely anything other than bleak and nightmarish in tone, so I had expected to maybe find him embracing a more peaceful sound here on a record titled Dreamless Sleep.
If anything though these seven tracks play out like a struggle towards light, which frequently slips back into murky territory and ultimately ends up mired in the darkness. Opener ‘Leaving The Island’ sails in on a swell of fuzzy guitar drone, with small shafts of light breaking through the mist for a relatively bright opening. This is followed by ‘Bright Midnight’, which slowly slips into a vortex of reverberating drones and lashes of more distorted prog-like waves, before the pulsating bass tones of ‘Absteigend’ draws out an even more menacing undercurrent to the record.
Admiral Fallow - Tree Bursts In Snow
From its original release in 2010 and a couple of re-issues last year, Admiral Fallow’s debut album Boots Met My Face became something of a slow burning word of mouth success. Thoroughly deserved it was too, as they (and earlier incarnation Brother Louis Collective) had long been one of the best bands kicking around the Glasgow circuit, and their wistful brand of folk-pop translates quite perfectly to a long player.
One of the biggest strengths of that first record is the subject matter, based on singer and songwriter Louis Abbott’s childhood memories the whole thing has a warm nostalgic feeling about it which is difficult to resist, even in its most dour moments. Tree Bursts in Snow on the other hand is described by Abbott as being inspired in part by “…the sheer volume of gun related violent crimes throughout the world but in particular in the U.S.” Not as many rosy memories expected here then you would think. It’s nothing like the kind of angry polemic that quote suggests though, in fact it feels intrinsically optimistic and if anything it pushes Admiral Fallow closer to the mainstream (without sacrificing too much of their character).
AlunaGeorge - You Know How You Like It EP
AlunaGeorge’s association with TriAngle Records might at first seem misleading, as they’re really not what you would expect from the label known for unearthing talents like Balam Acab, oOoOO and How to Dress Well. All of those artists were trendsetters in what most people have now wisely decided to stop calling “witchhouse”, a haunting spectre of R’n’B distorted almost beyond recognition. Whilst this debut EP from British duo George Reid and Aluna Francis is at times equally spellbinding it is far more nostalgic than it is phantasmic, with an instantly familiar tone.
Those other acts seem to reach beyond the past, into another realm of music almost, albeit an impressively warm yet disturbing one. Whereas there’s no doubting that You Know How You Like It has one foot very firmly set in the world of slick late ’90s/early ’00s pop R’n’B, managing to re-invigorate the sound and make it feel fresh without resorting to any of those creepy filters.
French Wives - Dream of the Inbetween
Glasgow quintet French Wives have been gathering a quiet momentum since they formed back in 2008. That time has seen them accrue a well-received flurry of singles and a solid local fan base which fully expects them to achieve wider success with the release of their debut album. That is a stage at which so many promising artists before them have fallen but Dream of the Inbetween is a very promising, if slightly flawed, introduction.
There’s no denying that they have gathered a collection of solid well-crafted indiepop, which is easily accessible without ever lapsing into formulaic blandness. As for points of reference, the songs sit somewhere further along the Scottish lineage occupied by the likes of Ballboy, Belle and Sebastian and Camera Obscura. On first listen it all seems quite happy-go-lucky, but further listens uncover a darker heart and a depth of emotion which both encourage and reward further attention.