The Kuru Smile are clearly a band who take themselves very seriously indeed, and with a list of influences that includes Radiohead, Tool and A Perfect Circle, that's hardly surprising. Their songs labour under portentous lyrics ('I can feel the presence of a Lazarus within!!'), but that's unlikely to hold them back in a genre where portentous lyrics abound. The music is what matters, and here, their seriousness is justified.
The three tracks on display here were recorded by the band themselves, and both the material and the sound are very impressive indeed. There's power to spare in the drums and vocals, plenty of invention in the choice of guitar sounds, and some very neat jump-cut contrasts in the songwriting. If I have a criticism, it's that they've overdone the dynamics processing at the mastering stage, especially on the first song, '18 Black Horses'; there are moments where the intensity should kick up a gear, but because there's no headroom left, the sound just gets smaller. Sam Inglis
Andrew Pegram, aka Herdwhite, has sent in a demo of what he calls electronica and big beat. The first track, 'Lost In The Big City', is a pretty decent take on ambient breakbeat, which works well for the most part. Personally I'm not a big fan of male vocals on dance tracks, but on this tune they're only mildly irritating. I could also live without the pitch-bending antics on the pads, of which I've yet to hear a good example in any style of music, but other than that it's a good-sounding tune. The female vocals work well in the mix, and get some heavy, but tasteful, processing later on in the track to add an upper layer to the fairly dark pads.
The other two tracks on the CD sound nothing like what you'd expect from the press release, however. Pegram cites the Chemical Brothers and Orbital as some of his influences, but these songs are probably more trip-hop than anything else. They both plod along very slowly, but carry a compelling double-time energy which works with some of the heavy rock elements, such as the chugging rhythm guitar on the third track.
This blend of electronic and organic sounds invites comparison to Tricky in places, while the heavier, darker music is reminiscent of some of Faith No More's later work. Strangely, Herdwhite doesn't mention any rock influences in his press release, which could be a wasted opportunity to be heard by people who would otherwise be put off by terms like 'glossy electronica' and 'chemical rhythms'. Chris Korff
Have you ever had those idle moments when you log on to Myspace and wonder who puts their music into the really obscure genres, like Dutch Pop or Emotronic? Well, if they ever decide to add a category called Christian Trance, you'll probably find Alex Cooper there.
Unlike many, his CD has survived the long journey from the States intact, possibly due to the intervention of the Lord, but more likely because of armour-plated wrapping that takes four SOS staff an hour to crowbar away. Inside, the artwork suggests a gritty dimension, but the production majors on that sort of slick-but-cheesy quality that you often hear in house and trance music, with a dash of New Order-style '80s synth-pop. There's no shortage of machine-gunning snare rolls and bleepy leads, but on the other hand, the 'proper' song structures, soulful vocals and generally subdued tempos hint that this album is intended for the hi-fi rather than the clubs.
If that's the case, I think it would be a good idea to leave behind some of the hackneyed sounds and production ideas and strike out in a darker direction. For instance, most of the tracks are built around female vocal parts that are lyrically uninteresting and musically over-familiar, while in contrast, the gruff tones of Newwine's vocal on 'Hear My Prayer' add a freshness that's missing elsewhere. Likewise, Cooper is an able programmer, but too many of his synth patches and drums sound like they could have come from a sample CD called Christian Trance Construction Kit. Now there's a gap in the market... Sam Inglis
Julius is one of those singers who's best when he's at his most individual. As a result, the highlight of his Yern EP is the second song, 'The Line', where he adopts a bizarre finger-in-the-ear folk-club voice and hammers the living shit out of something that sounds like a harmonium. It might just be that it's always good to hear someone reducing the number of working harmoniums in the world, but this track grabs the attention in the way that most of the others don't.
The EP is nicely recorded and neatly arranged, but I'm not sure that does him too many favours, as the layers of plinky guitars and other folk instruments are so tasteful that they slip by almost unnoticed. Julius's singing is sweet and fragile, but often sounds a little tentative, as though he's unwilling to test his voice to its full extent. To my mind, his music would be more powerful if he put a little more feeling into his singing and a little less polish into his production. Sam Inglis
The best CD reviewed each month will win a Line 6 Toneport UX1 recording interface, plus the complete set of expansion model packs and the Gearbox Plug-in feature, giving the winners a comprehensive range of amp and effects combinations to use with their computer recording system. Toneport includes meticulously crafted models of premium tube studio preamps, vintage guitar and bass rigs, and sought-after, personality-rich effects, while the Gearbox software provides complete control over your sound, with a unique low-latency monitoring option.
This month's lucky winners are The Kuru Smile.
"Bof!" was an exclamation that Rene and Jean-Claude used all the time in our school French books, but I suspect that real French teenagers have slightly earthier ways of expressing their feelings. Likewise, French electronic music producers almost certainly have less clichéd ways of celebrating their national heritage than by playing accordion patches on their synthesizers. Ed Hoskin's attempt to incorporate some Gallic character, on 'J'ai Envie De Toi', is thus, in all honesty, a bit lame.
Blending 'real' and synthetic sounds in this fashion seems to be the central idea here. It's not a bad idea, but the results often lack the character that comes from playing and recording those 'real' instruments live, rather than using samples. There's a fairly strong ambient bent to the proceedings, and as is so often the case with this sort of thing, the compositions tend to be aimless and over-long. Good ideas are run into the ground through repetition, and the sound palette doesn't gel with the same organic warmth you hear in, say, Air or Lemon Jelly. Sam Inglis
It's Not The End
The biography accompanying Simon Stratman's CD could have come from any number of demo reviewees: he's been playing music since his '20s, has been in lots of bands, is now in his late '30s, has a family, and writes and records music on a budget studio. That being so, his music stands out as being refreshingly unique.
That's not to say that it's expertly produced, or even played to a very high standard, but it does feature some likeable, quirky songs, and the musical ideas stand up in the face of a fairly amateur-sounding production (his setup is pretty modest: the only item of outboard gear he lists is a Korg Pandora, and the only 'real' instruments on the album are guitars and vocals). If anything, the shortcomings in the recording actually lend this CD a certain low-budget charm, which it probably wouldn't have if he'd played in time and sung in tune. From the scratchy double-tracked vocals to what I suspect are one-take guitar parts, backed by cheap-sounding electronic drums, the idiosyncratic way this CD was recorded makes the material sound that bit more real. This, I think, is a much better approach than worrying about your signal path and sample rates before you've even hummed a tune.
It's Not The End certainly isn't virtuosic, and there are obvious technical flaws in the recording, but then I've heard albums by world-class musicians produced on obscene budgets that I haven't enjoyed half as much. Chris Korff
The Shape Of Things
Can a band be too diverse? In Mosaicist's case, I think the answer is probably yes. They describe themselves as blending 'rock, electronica and dance', with influences that include Garbage, Evanescence and the Sneaker Pimps. Yet they kick off their CD with something straight out of the Jamiroquai / Brand New Heavies School of Funk, with nary a distorted guitar or reference to their own mental anguish in earshot. It's well played, well arranged and well recorded, but it sure as hell ain't what it says on the tin.
The second track is equally free from traces of rock, though it does at least boast squelchy synths and a slightly more emotionally charged vocal, and it's not until the third song that they suddenly begin to live up to their own billing. Cringeworthily titled 'Fate I Hate', it's a very accurate pastiche of the dark-but-accessible sound pioneered by acts such as Garbage and Evanescence. The trouble is that fans of that sort of thing will probably have switched off long before they get to hear it; and any hardy goths who do make it through the fusion desert will certainly feel cheated by the dire mastering cock-up that cuts it off dead after a minute and a half. Sam Inglis