Ruth's Manuvas


My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Erland and the Carnival: Nightingale – album review

Erland and the Carnival - Nightingale

Folk – in its most traditional form – can be a bit of a marmite genre. But Erland & The Carnival feel like a band who, irrespective of preference, create songs that show how objectively good they are at their craft.

That is what made the band’s self titled album from 2010 such a compelling listen – and Nightingale follows on from where it left off. This time though, instead of lovingly refurbishing folkloric songs and poems, these thoroughly British gents have written their own material from scratch. And while some of it retreads unnecessary ground from the debut, there are new moments of freakish wizardry and enchantment in their music.

The band are Erland Cooper – a folk guitarist and singer from the remote Scottish island of Orkney, ex The Verve, Blur and The Good, The Bad and The Queen guitarist, Simon Tong, plus dummer, David Nock, formerly of The Orb and Paul McCartney‘s The Fireman.

Map Of An Englishman is the first foray into a heavier and more produced sound, and is one of the band’s best tracks to date. Named after a piece of artwork from Grayson Perry, beneath its unfamiliar surface lies the characteristic nuts and bolts of whirring Wurlitzers and plodding rhythms, delivered upon a glorious musical wave that’s quite easy to be swept away upon.

If The Coral were the brothers of Frankenstein ‘s monster, they would probably have come up with something as weird and wonderful as Emmeline, complete with its horror house crescendo. And sixties influences from The Doors on I’m Not Really Here are so bold that you’d half expect to find their smudged fingerprints over the instruments.

In Nightingale, Erland & The Carnival take an Alice In Wonderland journey, delving into the curious, from dreamlike, to dark, nightmarish moments. I Wish I Wish is as wispy as it is odd, playing with rhythm to give the track an impossible sounding complexity that dances against the simplicity of the storytelling. Maddening Donnie Darko moments surface on Springtime and there’s also room for kaleidoscope Sergeant Pepper and marching bands on Wealldie.

The band say they recorded the album in the bowels of a ship moored on the Thames. Cabin fever aside, the heart wrenching love stories of Nightingale and East & West must have benefitted from solitary confinement, as the loss sounds all the more beautiful, especially in its stripped down state.

The latter end of the album palpably strays too far into obscurity – too far, that is, except for The Trees They Grow So High, which is wonderfully obscure. Like the present you hadn’t noticed behind the tree on Boxing Day, it comes as a bolt out of the blue with acid trippy lyrics, mixed with shoegazey folk that isn’t afraid to flirt with an experimental electronica beat.

Nightingale has a definite progression in sound from the debut – it’s darker, more varied, and more surreal. Whether the one is better than the other feels like a moot point for this band; the earlier was an exercise in lovingly bringing to life forgotten folk verses, yet this new offering had entirely different parameters in starting from scratch. In fact it’s this that makes Nightingale such a majestic, natural step, by virtue of the fact that while it’s so complex and accessible, it’s the genuine article.

Reviewed for MusicOMH


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The Shoes: Crack My Bones – album review

The Shoes - Crack My Bones

The Shoes occupy the same genre slice as many credible eclectically poppy bands at the moment, all of whom find themselves shoehorned into the ‘indie electro’ box, to prevent people assuming their brand of music bears any resemblance to The X-Factor banality.

Pop for some, after all, has negative connotations. That might also explain why they’ve been complicatedly labelled as French disco existentialists. But the definition isn’t actually inaccurate, because the duo from Reims – Guillaume and Benalways – have a wholly effective, matter-of-fact way of expressing their emotional reaction to people and situations in their lyrics.

That said, their easy likeness to a number of other artists does prevent them from breaking new ground. Yet the tracks are served with bucketloads of danceability, which makes them inherently memorable.

Stay The Same describes the album perfectly. It’s upbeat, percussion-led, and reminiscent of fellow countrymen Phoenix. While that means it won’t start a music revolution, it’s polished and remains in your head after the album’s finished – this puts a skip in the step rather than inciting curses directed at the temporal lobe for its poor choice of internal soundtrack.

Prince-esque falsetto vocals and drumstick clatter beats give Cover Your Eyes a deeply rhythmic groove. And Wastin’ Time has extra helpings of melodic pianos and synth, which ooze a sorrow not dissimilar to Miike Snow’s Burial.

That same effervescence continues on People Movin’, with Primary 1 as guest star. It’s an Outkast track that Andre 3000 could’ve penned himself, but isn’t the strongest of the collection.

If Glee covered Arcade Fire you might arrive at something like Time To Dance. That comparison shouldn’t do them a disservice, because after a few listens it’s hard not to submit to its infectious positivity, insistent piano loop and cowbell.

CocknBullKid’s guest vocals on Cliché hark back to Ladyhawke or New Young Pony Club’s aloof yet somehow sultry vocals. There’s also a deeper, darker side to the duo, audible on Crack My Bones, which like the previous track makes them sound like altogether different artists.

Despite an air of Friendly Fires bouts of percussion disco indie – especially on Investigator – The Shoes do feel more MacBook Pro than a live proposition. And Bored reveals another trick to the band’s pop box, with more than a hint of French house about it.

Because Crack My Bones is an album which flirts with guest stars and musical influences, it can appear a little formulaic. But that still doesn’t take away from the fact it’s a great listen. Guillaume and Benalways pack a lot of variety into their music which, when paired with honest lyrics that give knee jerk tales of emotion, makes The Shoes difficult not to like. It’s this that makes their existentialist disco pop label seem to fit quite well. Even Mr Existentialist himself, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “Without music, life would be a mistake” – and that’s the conclusion you imagine The Shoes want to be drawn from Crack My Bones.

Reviewed for MusicOMH

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Cut Copy: HMV Forum – Sunday 6 March 2011

Cut Copy

If ever there was an ideal band to re-write the pop handbook so the genre could be cleansed and its image overhauled, Cut Copy would be the ones to commission.

The four knights in shining armour from Australia were on a rescue mission of sorts at London’s HMV Forum on Sunday 6 March, and succeeded in breathing life into an otherwise plastic, clichéd world of boy bands, poor Madonna and Kylie replicas and cringeworthy Euro cheese. Their brand of 80s-influenced synth pop unstuck the shoes of a somewhat static crowd, transforming the old theatre into a mass of flailing arms and happy faces.

Arriving to one of In Ghost Colours’ atmospheric interludes, Visions, the band appeared through an eight foot high panel with a door playfully projected onto the screen. Mirroring the album, they launched into Nobody Lost, Nobody Found, and in stark contrast, a Pretenders beat introduced Zonoscope’s Where I’m Going. This was neatly knitted into So Haunted, whose guitars hammered home the realisation that the band never really been solely about synths and beats, and its twinkling xylophone at the break also became a wake up call for the crowd’s dancing feet.

Flashing lights played with the techno beat and cowbell of Corner Of The Sky, whipping the atmosphere into a soft peak. But it was perhaps the most popular Cut Copy offering to date – Lights And Music – that ensued a frenzy to its immaculate sing-a-long-ability and perfect piques and troughs. Dan Whitford and Tim Hoey’s on-stage confidence visibly grew with the reaction to their pop chemistry.

After the blissed-out, beachy Take Me Over, comparisons between Pharaohs & Pyramids to The Orb’s Pink Fluffy Clouds became visual as well as audible, as clouds floated in and out against a bright blue sky on the screen behind the band, rather like a Chemical Brothers live performance.

Amongst the 12 tracks there was even slot for synth-saturated Saturdays, from Bright Like Neon Love, with its edgy 80s-come-funky-house feel. Nevertheless, it was Hearts On Fire’s deep bassline and pleading chorus that galvanised the band’s party atmosphere and prickled the hairs on the back of the neck. Its soulful saxophone was a deliciously impossible to refuse, textbook example of a hands-in-the-air moment.

A straw poll of the audience would have probably concluded that Sun God’s inclusion was a bit self-indulgent. Announcing, ‘this is probably a good time to take a toilet break’, the band’s 15 minutes of button pushing, freestyle percussion and woven synths – although delightfully anorak-ish and introspective – would have been better spent on three more tracks. It felt like finding out you’d missed out on a three-for-one deal after spending as much on buying the product on its own.

Aptly choosing to include Zonoscope’s Need You Now in the encore, the track was a new favourite with the well-versed crowd, who’d clearly had the new material on regular repeat since its release. Signing off with Out There On The Ice, the quartet were greeted with a chorus of, “Yes, no, maybe, is all I need to hear from you” – the backing ‘doo doos’ layered amongst other instruments to give the track a complexity that’s become so rare in pop, while the slow build up was dropped at just the right level of tension. Fundamentally though, this track is like a biopsy that shows the fundamental make up of Cut Copy.

In a nutshell, they make immaculate, un-soppy songs about love and life that are both complexly layered and structured, but sound simple at the same time. Live, you might have expected them to struggle to translate that magic, but instead, it feels like Cut Copy might be the new owners of the keys to electro pop perfection.

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