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Readers’ Music Reviewed
By Nell McLeod & Sam Inglis

In A Forest Without Trees

Goonies Never Say Die

If the defining characteristics of 'post‑rock' as a genre are ridiculous band names, not singing, and having more effect pedals than are strictly necessary, Blackpool's Goonies Never Say Die are the post‑rock band par excellence. Their name is so stupid you can't quite believe that five grown men agreed to use it, and everything they play sounds like the instrumental introduction to a song that never quite arrives. At the many points where you instinctively expect the vocals to come in, they usually just add another guitar effect instead, with "the raw emotion of the Ebow” and heavy use of delay both distinct possibilities.

You get the feeling that GNSD are one of those bands who play very, very loudly indeed, and that being the case, engineer and guitarist Simon Morgan has done a fair job of translating their wall of sound to CD. The kit is decently recorded, though personally I might have made it less wide, in order to preserve some much‑needed space for effect pedals. The distorted guitar sounds come across strongly, and although some of the cleaner tones are on the brittle side, the band's power and dynamic contrasts are well represented here. Whether you agree with their own assessment of it as "ace as tits” will probably depend on how fond you are of minute variations on the loud‑bit‑quiet‑bit theme. For me, I confess, 50 minutes of it is too much. Sam Inglis

www.gooniesneversaydie.co.uk

Isolation

Rowla

A fairly high proportion of the electronica CDs that plop into the Playback letterbox feature impressive production values, but at the same time leave one with the nagging feeling that something is missing. All too often, their creators have been so busy painstakingly programming vintage synths, chopping up samples or writing novel MaxMSP patches that the business of writing proper material has passed them by.

Rowla's album is a classic case in point. The lead instrument on the first track, for example, is some sort of weird, hybrid vocal/synthesizer sound that grabs the attention immediately. It's arresting and expressive and must have taken many hours of experimentation to program. Yet, from a compositional point of view, '1000 Dreams' consists of little more than a childlike piano arpeggio played over and again for what seems like a week, while various loops are dropped in and out.

The pattern is repeated throughout the album: the quality of the programming and sound design is always high and frequently brilliant, yet the material goes nowhere. The only change on offer is provided by muting and unmuting different combinations of loops, and there's nothing you could call song structure or harmonic development. It is, in short, a showcase of both the best and worst aspects of loop‑based composition. Sam Inglis

www.myspace.com/rowlamusic

Ticker

Shalmaneser

Shalmaneser's album provides more helpings of electronica, this time of the 'Sixteen whole bits? That's pure indulgence' variety. There's heavy abuse of some primitive digital gear going on here, with everything glitched and aliased into new and unusual forms. The drum programming is particularly intricate, which is a good job, as there are large sections of the album that consist of nothing but drum programming. Elsewhere, there's a lot of synth abuse, and a recorder solo that is all the more lovely for being unexpected. And, mercifully, behind all this treatment and manipulation are musical ideas that go beyond the bleeding obvious. Ticker is an abrasive listen, but a rewarding one. Sam Inglis

shaltunes.com

Surfing the Solar Winds

Jeffrey Naness

Surfing The Solar Winds begins with what would appear to be a castle door being opened onto a mighty band of carollers. The ensuing shredding‑guitar‑based chase music would suggest that Naness did not take kindly to the interruption. He was probably busy in the synth vault at the time.

In setting out to fuse "heavy guitars with synthesized counterpoint”, he has created an entirely new genre that I like to call 'torture prog'. Tracks such as 'Frenetic Passage' and 'Time‑Space Continuum' have been drawn together using classical piano technique, the Casio graveyard and, I dare say, dangerously large quantities of time and money.

The third track, 'Equilibrium', captures the tone of Surfing The Solar Winds, ironically failing to live up to its title and instead maintaining the battling high frequencies, unnerving rhythms and Nintendo‑esque pitch‑bending that characterises this labour of love. Nell McLeod

Now It's Your Turn

Tom Conway

Tom Conway has been a fixture on the music scene here in Cambridge for a long time, though exile has not diluted his thick Scots accent. He's experimented over the years with various electronic additions to his acoustic guitar and bass vocals, and I haven't always been convinced by the results, so his return to basics on this album is very welcome. So too is Rob Jackson's superb electric guitar playing. The cover leads one to expect political ranting, but Conway's real strength is in reflective, bluesy folk, and thankfully, he's stuck to it.

The recording quality is variable, though the rawness sometimes helps to lend an old‑time, bluesy atmosphere. The vocal sound is often boomy or boxy, and some time spent experimenting with different microphones and recording spaces would certainly yield benefits. At the end of the day, however, the songs are what matter most, and Conway's are strong enough to render rough edges irrelevant. Sam Inglis

www.tomconwaymusic.co.uk

Passages

Otherwurlde

This particular batch of synth‑splashed Dadrock tells the musical story of a man's journey through life, and the accompanying letter quite rightly points out that "we all have birth and death in common”. Can't argue with that. Just in case we didn't understand what they were talking about, they've begun the album with the sound of a baby crying. Thankfully, this theme is not mirrored at the end.

The obvious thought that's gone into the songwriting on Passages causes me to look far more favourably on them than I would otherwise have been inclined to, given their verging‑on‑pretentious way of introducing themselves. Though describing themselves as prog, they actually sit more uncomfortably somewhere amongst Nickelback, Wet Wet Wet and, at times, Rod Stewart. Strangely, however, Otherwurlde present themselves with the kind of celtic knotted, cheesecloth wearing, tarot reading, sandalwood scented image that seems totally out of kilter with the music itself and, indeed, caused me to check that I wasn't looking at the wrong CD case.

It would be shortsighted to ignore the fact that this is perfectly OK musicianship, despite not being to my own taste, and is obviously well rehearsed. However, with such a lack of musical direction, I am left feeling that the skills of the three members of Otherwurlde might be better utilised in three separate bands. Nell McLeod  

www.myspace.com/otherwurlde

Blue EP

The Travellers

I once recorded a French singer who had learned English by listening to Corrs albums: her take on pronounciation was individual, to say the least. Something of the sort seems to be going on with The Travellers, but for the most part they use it to their advantage. Gemma Marchi's vocals, with their heavy yet non‑specific European accent, drift like Gitanes smoke above a psychedelic melange of roomy drum loops and tremoloed guitars, adding a possibly spurious air of glamour and sophistication. Close your eyes and you begin to see miniskirted and polo‑necked couples, grooving away by the light of oil projectors in a basement club in the seedier parts of '60s Amsterdam. Or perhaps that's just me. Sam Inglis

www.myspace.com/thetravellers1973

Sector Strange

Channelizer

It's probably time for me to retract any unflattering generalisations about the electronica CDs that get sent in, because Channelizer's album is fantastic. Sector Strange doesn't fit into any obvious sub-genre that I can think of, though the influences of both drum & bass and crusty psychedelia are both apparent. What's really impressive is how they manage to cram quite so much into their hyperactive mixes without ever running out of space. It's a riot of growling synths, screaming guitars, punchy bass and drums both real and sampled. Not only is it technically proficient, but it would bring a smile to the dourest of faces. So it's a huge shame that, according to their MySpace page, the project is 'over'. Sam Inglis

One

State Of Kate

State Of Kate are, as Churchill once said, a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Or perhaps that should be a riddle wrapped in rubbish Photoshop work. Either way, little information is forthcoming about who Kate is, what state she's in, or where she can be found on the Internet.

What I can tell you is that her album covers a huge range of styles, always with Kate's slightly theatrical vocals to the fore. (Imagine a remake of The Fly in which Kate Bush's DNA becomes corrupted by that of Clare Grogan.) Acoustic guitars and electric basses are juxtaposed with drum machines and synths in a way that sounds alternately dated and ultra‑modern, and can err on the harsh side. There are ideas in abundance here, but it would be easier to take in if they were channelled in a coherent direction. Sam Inglis  

Published March 2010