archiv: Nagisa Ni Te

archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2002/3 ….

NAGISA NI TE
THE SAME AS A FLOWER
(JagJaguwar)

There’s a tantalising moment midway through ‘The Same as a Flower’, Nagisa Ni Te’s (translated as ‘On the Beach’) third full length for the ever-reliable Jagjaguwar label. Momentarily the duo become earthbound and the shyly veiled beauty hinted at softly on the tracks preceding drops its guard as though like the clouds parting to reveal the sun, the melodies twinkle in all their swooning resplendent colours and lulling definition. The track in question is ‘Wife’, aside being the only instrumental it’s the point where Shibayama’s drifting pop mentality connects and focuses itself to perfectly capture the sweetly soft transcendental elegance of George Harrison’s Indian inspiration while flashing it out superbly with the detached splendour of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, all the time at the heart of the composition the captivating swirl of Oriental tablatures croon throughout as though curious takes on vacation to the South Pacific. The same trick is deployed on the enchanting centrepiece ‘Bramble’, a slow burning epic of quiet dimensions that for the greater part of its duration you silently long to catch alight all the time transfixed and held spellbound in its repetitive sleepy glare ultimately being rewarded just when you least expect it by the caressing out of your slumber provided by the melting sounds of seductive string orchestrations.

If anything it is this that makes ‘The Same as a Flower’ so deceptively elegiac that descriptive words are literally rendered redundant. Don’t expect for a second for this hopelessly wonderful nine-track album to come rushing in to fall into your arms. It takes time, takes nurturing and a great deal of patience. Be prepared its not a difficult listening experience, far from it, rather more a release that needs space to breathe and time to soak before it unfurls its slowly curdling charm.

Nagisa Ni Te are Osaka based duo Shinji Shibayama (Org label founder, Idiot O’Clock, Hallelujahs) and his partner Masako Takeda and though you could easily file their sound under mellow we prefer to describe it as coming from somewhere else. A place where the rarest of pop moments find themselves navigating. Somewhere unclassified almost fabled, yet special, secretive and inexplicably poised on the outer reaches of the softer realms of the psychedelic spectrum. If anything Shibayama / Takeda’s nearest soul mates are Ghost, their sound speaks in that same unworldly spirit like language, fragile, nimble and almost invisible. Within ‘The Same as a Flower’ there’s a loose and uncomplicated touch of sensuality that courses throughout, a quiet shy romance to be found drifting in the airless environs it seeks to dwell, you can’t help but feel attracted to its almost simplistic and sensitive aura no more so is this apparent than on the mantra like ‘River’ and the unerring tranquillity of the moving title track which opens the album or the irresistible Low like haunting hymnal lullaby trickery found tip toeing amid ‘A Light’.

In ‘The Same as a Flower’, Shibayama and Takeda have produced quite possibly one of the most quietly arresting moments of spectrally charged day dreaming pop this year

Posted in groovy bastards, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

fosca

Archive review originally posted on the losing today site c.2002 ……

FOSCA
DIARY OF AN ANTIBODY
(Shinkansen Records.)

I’ll be strictly honest here and own up to not really liking this the first time I heard, but you know, like moss it sort of envelopes you. ‘Diary of an antibody’ is follow up to the bands debut from a few years back ‘On Earth to make up the numbers’.

Since that time, the band have been pared down to size by the departure of Alex Sharkey and witnessed the fashion interest in all things remotely showing signs of flamboyant electronics whether it be to do with sartorial associations or musical qualities. This in mind Fosca should work, and their wimsical (and that is not meant to be derogative or patronising) mix of indie electronics and personalised exorcicism should work fine.

I can’t run comparisons with their debut album as I haven’t had the fortune to hear it, however ‘Diary of an Antibody’ can at times come across as fickle. It’s darkened by the personalised lyrical journals of lead singer Dickon Edwards, himself looking like a throwback, looks wise to the androgynous style of Japan, most of the content, a bearing of inner fears and demons on one hand and kitchen sink dramatics on the other. Not as scathing as Morriseys bitter, but all to clever, put downs, not quite as witty as Jarvis Cockers voyeuristic observations, yet aligning close to early Soft Cell Marc Almond.

Melody wise Fosca usher in a strangely intoxicating mix of fluffy indie pop via late 80’s Sarah bands such as Heavenly and Field Mice, merging guitars with electronics and underlaying it with eurodisco edges. Beneath all the brightly tingled harmonies lie cynacism at all points, this isn’t your run of the mill boy meets girl pop, instead a warts n’ all script for existence.

Vocal wise Edwards relays the same kind of dead pan delivery as Richard Butler, David Gedge and Phil Oakey, which works well adding to the detached feel throughout, especially on ‘I’m on your side’ which with the accompanying female harmonies really has a feel of the Human League, and is certainly one of the albums most directly acessible tracks. Opening with ‘Secret crush on the third trombone’ the band utilise football terrace anthems, maybe that’s not really suprising as it vaguely whiffs of the Lightning Seeds media friendly ‘Three Lions’, while the stutter fire vocals of the charming ‘Idiot Savant’ recalls Sparks in all their 70’s pop supremacy via ‘This town ain’t big enough’.

My particular favourite has to be the swirling scattyness of ‘Letter to Saint Christopher’, the constantly pushing rhythms and grooves moulded against some seriously Studio 54 era guitar work make for quality dance floor fervour. At 33 minutes in length, maybe that’s the only real complaint, yet lets face quality counts over quality don’t you agree?

Posted in groovy bastards, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

from bubblegum to sky

archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2004 …..

FROM BUBBLEGUM TO SKY
NOTHING SADDER THAN LONELY QUEEN
(Eenie Meenie)

And isn’t always the case, just when you thought you’d heard all you needed to know and left to commiserate that maybe you’ll never hear anything that’ll ever make you feel WOW, then up pops some crafty little darling to literally knock you sideways.

‘Nothing sadder than lonely Queen’ is annoyingly good, better still brilliant, we couldn’t begin to tell you why, maybe its because the sun’s shining outside or maybe its because here’s an artist who runs against the tide of fashion and cool to produce classically proven pop that’s so out of time it may as well come from another planet. From Bubblegum to Sky is Mario Hernandez whose mixed parentage (Father Hispanic American, mother Southern Japanese) and the fact he spent his first decade of life living in the remote rural confines of Kyushu led him to get by in his formative years without ever hearing or knowing about the Beatles, and boy is he making up for lost time. ‘Nothing sadder’ is Fernandez’s second album following 2000’s acclaimed ‘Me and Amy and the Two French Boys’ (which sadly we missed), it’s a crooked though loveable synthesis of late 60’s soft psychedelic melodies and early 70’s fluffy day dream happy pop (just listen to the implausibly perfect 50’s throwback teen pop antics of ‘the gurls and shoo be doo wop’), as far as reference points go those who swooned to the sounds of the Elephant 6 Collective as was, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Ben Folds 5, Doug Powell and early recordings by Ashley Park will thrill to these delicately dedicated top drawer tunes that radiate with all the innocently naive candour of a child.

If there’s any kind of fault to be picked with ‘Nothing’ its just that it has a tendency to go a little over board on the candy pop saccharine stakes, at times it had me reliving my childhood (good or bad?) when the pop charts were infected by cover versions of songs my parents grew up with in the late 50’s / early 60’s, however if you can live with that then its pretty much an enduring treat that awaits you as Hernandez cleverly wraps his McCartney-esque bitter sweet odes to scratch your heart. Pretty difficult if asked to divide up the favourites though ‘Sign the Air’ is breezily cool enough to buzz bomb the most reticent of souls with it’s Talking Heads ‘This must be the place’ meets candy floss dynamic, too damn catchy for its own good while ‘Scorpio’ equips itself with a mean punk pop edge and comes out sounding like Big Star having a fist fight with the Fall all that’s missing is Mr Smith’s trademark shouty scowls. All said and done you have to give credit where credit is due, fans of Norman Greenbaum and T-Rex are strictly alerted and warned to park up close to ‘Vampires’ as it cleverly fuses together the essence of ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and ‘Ride a White Swan’, did it for me anyway, even right down to the accompanying decadent sheen, the glam references further visited on the rocking ’24 hours in your deep blue jeans’. Those in love will classic pop will blush with pride at their newfound friend and rightly so we say.

Posted in groovy bastards, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

furtips

archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2004 ….

FURTIPS
GOURMET SOUNDS
(Self Released

Okay a covers album. Oh…mmmm you might think, and yes my first thought too, what on earth causes a band who’ve been around for over 10 years to suddenly decide to devote a whole album to interpretations of other people’s material.

Well the story goes something like this. The Furtips along with a few other fellow Dutch indie ensembles were asked to submit material for a new project to be overseen by Animal World Recordings, who at this point where feeling particularly pleased with themselves following the reception to their Shaggs tribute CD. Suddenly financial collapse loomed on the horizon and belts were tightened as a consequence resulting in the project sitting high on the shelf getting a suntan and a dusty skin. By way of a few prods and a number of anxious phone calls the Furtips were exonerated from the project and allowed to release the material via their own website.

A clue to this release is further offered by an attributed quote to Albert Einstein found on the spine of the CD which simply reads “the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”. Boy, if ever a quote was taken at its literal meaning.

‘Gourmet Sounds’ not only reveals a band on top of their game but furthermore it offers a vague insight into the ensembles collective mindset, and boy it’s a place you don’t want to stay to long labouring as it does between the finite line that separates genius and lunacy, a band who know they can play cute pop at the drop of a hat and yet for the greater part belie it all with a crooked menace. If reference points are needed or worthwhile, Furtips attitude towards other artists material is pretty much akin to the Fall in that they make the songs their own albeit with the aid of a few spots of mix ‘n’ matching from other unlikely sources which is an achievement in itself if you consider the set that’s on offer, take for instance Per Ubu’s immortal ’30 seconds over Tokyo’ reduced to an oddly unsettling mass of out of time percussion and drone dub and sounding like a wired Blockheads c. ‘D.I.Y’ jamming with a particularly angulated Killing Joke.

Swell Maps legendary ‘Read about Seymour’ is rekindled and remoulded in analogue electronic heaven and dusted down with an electro-clash spine that gives most of the pretenders of the genre a serious run for their money, think Ladytron boogying with Kraftwerk (seriously). Pet Shop Boys are next in the firing line with ‘Rent’ and rightly so, let’s be honest it always was the most weedy and sadly lacking affair in the Tennant / Lowe canon. On this occasion it’s giving a right royal kicking, the chorus reduced to a meltdown that sounds like the Pixies and Sonic Youth having fisticuffs in the studio, while elsewhere Bowie’s ‘What in the World’ is dragged through the shredder that has all the hallmarks of Devo being the Pretty Things doing Roxy Music, very scary stuff.

Perhaps the tracks that shows perfectly how wicked these kids can be are their re-branding of TV Personalities ‘A picture of Dorian Gray’ and the Monkees ‘She’, in some house holds any hint of such tampering would probably require the death penalty to be sanctioned upon the perpetrators. The original version of ‘Dorian Gray’ can be found on the Cherry Red retrospective ‘The very best of the Television Personalities’, previously covered by the King of Luxemburg, the Furtips set about the classic by investing upon it a eerie ballad-esque calm that sounds like Nick Cave having his mind unravelled which amazingly out weirds the original by some distance while the heartbroken Monkees minor classic is given a true ‘fuck you then’ treatment aligned to a seriously pissed off bubblegum pop backdrop that’s insanely awkward a light years from its saccharined older sibling.

Demented and quite obviously delicious.

Posted in groovy bastards, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

fortdax

archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2004 …..

FORTDAX
FOLLY
(Tugboat)

Attempting to consider writing and composing a follow up to a heady debut must be one thing, actually putting the whole thing into process must not only be daunting but considerably fraught with the expectation of others hovering in the aisles. What may have been once a private affair, a spot of hobbyist antics that somehow slipped into the realms of interested ears, what may well have been a pet project suddenly begins to grow a heart beat of it’s own, instead of being the controller, the creator becomes the controlled. Some will rehash the successful template for fear of alienation other more braver souls will cynically try to unravel and dispose of any notion of a pop concept while not deliberately trying to lose their fan base but more realistically pushing them to the edge of perceived tolerance (Radiohead). For this reason follow-ups are traumatic things. So why then am I saying this, simply because last years limited pressing of FortDax’s debut album ‘At Bracken’ on the ever eclectic ear for electronics label Static Caravan, was a soothing collection of symphonic pop straight out of Narnia, the romantic teasing of the melodies within were enough to make the hardiest of hearts skip a beat or two.

Little under a year on, another year older and now with a new label deal Darren Durham, for it is he who is FortDax dusts down the lurve laptop for some more visits to the back off the closet into fabled worlds of enchantment.

Those expecting pretty much a revisit to the kingdom of the Snow Queen may be glad to hear that parts of ‘Folly’ do draw heavily on the previously distinct fluffy filled themes, but that’s not to say that this is ‘At Bracken’ part 2, no not all, instead ‘Folly’ extends the boundaries to encompass lush textures and complex arrangements, the basics are still there, ‘Folly’ is awash with symphonic grandeur but what really makes it so fascinating is that classic French electronic pop in the name of Air and Jean Michel Jarre which rubbed against the cold, monolithic Germanic melodies of notables such as Kraftwerk is now flavoured by a Far Eastern feel, in amongst all this the memories of ISAN, Vengelis and Debussy remain flitting in and out of the frame like passing ghosts.

As for the actual album what can you say, now peppered by tracks with vocals courtesy of Acid Mothers Temple’s Cotton Casino and the rare event of the whispered murmurs of Mr Durham himself, ‘Folly’ is smoulderingly poppy. Twelve tracks that kick off (as it does closes) with the sounds of a musical box, ‘Both mirror and armour’ has you imagining Nellie the Elephant moon walking such is it’s goofy sweetness. ‘Sakura’ offers a marked contrast, a Far Eastern flavour emerges with the sensual echoes as Cotton Casino guides the celestial circus, if ‘At Bracken’ was steeped in icy flows of fairy tale delights then FortDax sets ‘Madam Butterfly’ to automation. The albums centrepiece arrives early on, ‘Oxenfolly’ is one of those tracks that just needs to be heard to be fully appreciated, sumptuously graceful arrangements arc majestically in celestial formations, very reminiscent of Jean Michel Jarre circa ‘Magnetic Fields’ out on a sunny day solar skating with ISAN with Nyman choreographing the figure 8’s, a dreamy minuet and as melodically muscular as anything he’s composed before, each textured offshoot is neatly pulled together to form a delicious aural tapestry that spreads it’s arms invitingly. An epic performance.

‘Seed sleeps under eden’ gallops along cosmically creating swirls of intergalactic love notes and which leads seductively to the minimalist drone like space foxtrot rhythms of ‘the child cat is crying out now’ which evokes all the chic mystique of early Visage. ‘Onze lieve vrouwen gasthuis’ revisits the wintry laden scenery of ‘At Bracken’ for another brief and delicate peak for a spot of snowball fighting. Ghostly choirs and hymnal overtures melt graciously on ‘We cach cama, su Jaan am’ before the lights go out and we’re tucked up for bed with the sleepy lullaby curtain call of ‘These quills’.

Irresistible stuff, every home should have one.

Posted in groovy bastards, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

fortdax

archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2001 ….

FORTDAX
AT BRACKEN
(STATIC CARAVAN)

“There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. I love music passionately. And because l love it, I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it. It is a free art gushing forth, an open-air art boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea. It must never be shut in and become an academic art.”

Claude Debussy 1862-1918.

Picture the setting. Log cabins, the crackle of the fire as the flames encircle to feed on the freshly cut logs, the glow and the prickly warmth coursing through the atoms as the heat expels it’s tingling passion throughout. Beyond the confines of the glow, snow gently falls, gently, but diligently clothing the colourful landscape and, as it appears, nature itself with a finely fitted warming blanket of it’s own. White, virginal, pure, lightly it falls, miraculous droplets of icy flakes, intertwining perfectly to form a glowing beacon amidst the rise of the morning sun. In the distance the flow of water from the nearby stream continues it’s never ending flow, busying itself smoothing with each passing current, the banks that contrive to contain it. Further along, towards the snow peaked tree-tops, the dawn chorus of birds embark on their ritual early morning prayer, a rabbit scurries, all at once playful yet aware in all it’s folly of the stillness and the danger. The scene is spellbinding, three miles up the crooked road to the left of the copse, the hustle and bustle of insomniac city life replays another cycle. The log cabin, though relatively near could be, for all intents and purposes at the far end of the galaxy, such is the serenity and calm, in fact it could be in a land only visited in dreams, myths, folklore and the like.

What point are you making, you may ask, why the Christmas card style or chocolate box decoration. Simple enough to answer. For those fortunate enough to hear the debut mini long player by Fort Dax, each and everyone of you will be touched by a similar vision. It is, agreed, a vision of oblivion, but then good music should touch, it should awake, invoke, evoke emotional pulses. Good music, no matter from what genre, should like fine food, art, literature, drink, whatever stirs the imagination. It should act as sanctuary, a place of personal privacy were thoughts and imaginations run amok.

‘At Bracken’ pervades a delicate sensitive charm. Richly co-ordinated classical vibrancy with a sensual heart and soul to match. The soothing tip toeing melodies wispy in body forming like candyfloss on a stick, slowly cantering, rising to miniature fragmented rhapsodies. In terms of feel, the overall sheen offered distinctly points to the dreamy lullaby symphonies of Raymond Scott and follows the modern day exponents of simplistically sounding fluffy electronica as metered out by ISAN and Plone.

In some respects, and though I feel daft to say it, ‘At Bracken’ viewed overall ebbs and flows like some kind of electric mini opera or ballet. ‘eiderblumen’ the opening track acts as a prelude breezily entering the magical portal that divides between reality and fairytale heralded by the arrival of ‘as yet untitled’, itself possessing an air of wonderment akin to the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, slowly unwinding itself in hypnotic states in such entrancing fashion. ‘august falling pinewood overpollen’ breaks the elegant spell momentarily, casting subtle processed clicks and ushering a slightly snaking monochrome drone.

‘molasses-black parable’ tensely brings things back on track, fraught with it’s busyness, the apparent mergence of dissonant sounds creating celestial eddies warping the serenity sensually recaptured by ‘and where we hold on’ Remarkable on several fronts, firstly it’s creativity in mixing the soft with the rough, the gentle melodies gliding into the maelstrom of fuzzy interference upping the dramatic flow, each appearing to battle it out for superiority. The initial looping beats acting at odds with the romantic sweep of the piano. However as with all renowned operas, symphonies whatever, the finale is where the performance slowly but assuring works towards. ‘like cream inside your spine’ is well up to the task. Initially released as a single last year, it was without doubt one of those very rare treasured moments, a truly classic(al) affair, effervescent, tingling and touching, grand but not grandiose. A beautiful concoction of chilled symphonic passion and electronic lushness enriched in colours and long forgotten childhood fantasies.

And all this from one man, a bank of electronics and an ear for elegance. I bet he air brushes Michelangelo in his spare time. ‘At Bracken’, a pleasure to be in earshot of.

Posted in groovy bastards, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

fort lauderdale

archive review originally posted on the losing today site c.2003 …..

FORT LAUDERDALE
PRETTY MONSTER
(Memphis Industries)

Third album from London based duo Toby Jenkins and Steve Webster and rapidly honing and closing nearer to their collective vision of creating ‘cerebral psychedelic audio’. ‘Pretty Monster’ has all the subtle trappings that separate the great from truly classic, distinctly out of sync with their contempories, aptly titled, like Mary Shelley’s classic gothic horror creation, the duo draw their inspiration from well proven sources almost Frankenstein like, that’s not to say that they are copyists far from it, they source the essence of lost classic touches from the late 60’s and early 70’s, and weave together a formidable patchwork of melodic body parts. In recent memory only last years masterful long-player from the Eskimos come close for comparison.

This album ducks and dives through the genres like a what’s what of the last 30 years, featuring the two previous trailer singles: the dirty glam-tastic strutting stomper ‘Rock ‘n’ roll’ and the majestic tripping symphony ‘The Chilling Place’ which encapsulates within four minutes everything you ever needed but where afraid to ask about the concept of the rock opera. (Detailed reviews at http://www.losingtoday.com/tales.php?id=21 ). ‘Pretty Monster’ opens with the laid back twin-set ‘Insome Overdrive’ and ‘Prey to the Stars’, the former sounding like some chin stroking pot smoking jazz band playing chilled drop out blues fronted by Bolan, while the latter is a sensual sounding Bolan boogieing on down with the Faces in autumnal glam / MOR moods.

‘My vacant mind’ trips in it’s own lysergic haze, an awesome neo psychedelic dream collage that envisages the Porcupine Tree strolling through Strawberry Fields while in sharp contrast the warming spacey arrangements of the spectrally charged shape shifting swirls of ‘May the scene last a thousand years’ enlists a tip toeing hallucogenic Vengelis to the rescue with the impromptu invasions of John Barry Bond-esque back drops threatening to swarm. Then there’s the sleazily etched early 70’s Vegas funk out of ‘Sexy Creature’ and the intimate rustic sounds of the grandiose ‘Hello it’s me’ which toys with the ghosts of ‘Forever Changes’.

However for me Fort Lauderdale excel when they are at their darkest and most pensive,‘Force of Nature’ is a hidden gem that utilises a sinister edge at it’s core and jigs about with ruminating space exotica textures that recall the more buoyant interludes of Stereolab’s ‘Cobras’, subtle stratospheric chords with Floydist ambitions are charged by spine tingling wide-screen dynamics that recalls the stalking arrangements of Henry Mancini messing with the Penguin Café Orchestra. Without doubt though the albums highlight is the title track which ushers the set to conclusion. Heartbreakingly elegant and tearfully melancholic, sensually packed twinkling electronic symphonies waltz lovingly with classic string accompaniment and Satie wizardry combining to create a feast of colour to the bleak void they entertain, perfection.

‘Pretty Monster’ is an astonishing album that refuses to relax, always surprises and never dulls in its elegant charm as it cherry picks pop’s great coda to accomplish something that suspiciosly resembles nomination for the album of the year.

Posted in Uncategorized, groovy bastards | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment