Album review: Evokateur, ‘Crows’ Wedding’ (2012)

This is a review for the New Reviews, also available here.

It’s right to be a little doubtful about a band who describe themselves thus: “Evokateur exists in a dark world of ashes but rises with a brave and beautiful proposal, like a mechanoid orchid, a flower living in a post apocalyptic era.” Hopes are not held high. Such self-hyperbolic detritus usually deserves the most aggressive of reviewer punishments. Moreover, lofty PR spiel is so often grossly pernicious to the DIY musician. And yet, Crows’ Wedding is an adept piece of work which deftly splices crunchy synths and the softest of vocal melodies.

As a four-track EP, this is perfectly weighted. ‘Same As You’ is perambulating pop, gently, sweetly unraveling, with Sarah Villaraus’s smoothly hewn vocals. The haunting sweep of ‘Misery’, like an odour, is beautifully rendered. Here, Hector Villaraus shrewdly grounds his synth work in a dusty walk. His static fuzzes and clicks underpin the sliding, striding warmth of the vocal melody. And it’s menacing, too. “You are tied to the bed, I can keep you fed,” Villaraus sings.

The undoubted highlight is ‘Wildflowers’. Its vocal hook is majesty, holding hands with potent, poking keys. At its most soulful, it is here the EP most heartily fills its boots. There is a turn towards the darkly melodic. ‘Undone’, the final track, is the epitome of this. Industrial, like an 80s Trent Reznor, the record leaves with a drop, a dipping fade out like the knell of a storm. This is clinical, intelligent and terrific.

Evokateur’s Crows’ Wedding is out now.

Album review: Enter Shikari, ‘A Flash Flood of Colour’ (2012)

(This is a review for New Reviews, also available here)

“The man who first noticed the inefficiency of sails,” wrote American iconoclast Henry Mencken, “was just as necessary to the birth of the steamboat as the man who built the pioneer steam engine.” St Albans electronicore outfit Enter Shikari, returning with a third album, are calling for a generation to sit up and notice. The prophetic opening of ‘System…’ and ‘…Meltdown’ is like a placard to the face. “Our generation’s gotta fight to survive,” Rou Reynolds sings. “It’s in your hands now, there’s no time”. Iconoclastic and smart, this album is a supreme chaser to the Lost Generation 2.0, to Occupy London, to our troubled times.

This is the sound of a band audibly expanding before you. The influences are thick and sweeping. There are fine borrowings of dubstep, electronica, drum and bass and hardcore. It is a rampaging phantasmagoria: sweaty punk, flashy post-hardcore, chunky post-industrial – the record is brimming with self-assurance, education and wit.

But what really stands out is what Enter Shiraki are not doing, who they aren’t teaming up with. Embodying the rhetoric of a disillusioned, kettled generation, they, like Mencken, know that something is diseased and broken. Like true iconoclasts, they attack mythologies – here, their victims are as much the bankers, arms dealers and corporations as their comrades. Imagine if The King Blues had read a book and you’re somewhere close. This is no glib call to violent class war or smash-the-rich idiocy. This is sophisticated, knowing – dare it, wise. Shiraki know that something is wrong, and they want all of us to fix it.

‘Sssnakepit’ is just such a call, a snarling ode to mass awakening. Like a dancing Sick Of It All, it cracks and crunches with gang vocals that hammer the idea of collectivity. On ‘Search Party’, this question has an almost academic detachment, a seeking innocence, a spluttering middle preceded by xylophonic tones, perfectly encapsulating the anger-innocence of the record. ‘Arguing With Thermometers’ pumps like The Bled with a funky, indie/electro verse. A veneration of progress, a defence of the environment: “Shackleton is rolling in his grave”. This innocence, this faux-naivete is tremendously funny, too. “We’re gonna invest into military hardware to find the remaining oil that left beneath the ice?!” asks Reynolds. “But what happens when it’s all gone?! You haven’t thought this through, have you boys?!”

Like Funeral For A Friend’s ‘Your Revolution Is A Joke’, ‘Stalemate’ is a revelatory, sobering piece of acoustic melancholy amidst the post-hardcore. “I’ve gone to the hills again” sounds majestic, its escape from the anger and confrontation of the first act is placed beautifully. ‘Gandhi Mate, Gandhi’ is furious and self-aware. It is a blistering rant, a resolution to fight, a swaggering confidence. “I do think I can speak for everyone when I say: we’re sick of this shit!” The young left may have found a brilliant band to speak for them.

‘Constellations’ is a breathtaking close to the record. Profoundly affecting, it’s a rejection of anti-capitalism like nothing – save PJ Harvey, perhaps – that musicians have offered for our contemporary crisis. It has something of Zarathustra in its hero’s return to the mountains and to solitude. And this matches the album’s tone of detached anger, its furious destruction of values and capitalism’s safeties. But let’s not get too carried away with the political energies. A Flash Flood of Colour is the band’s aural zenith. It is a remarkable piece of work, a plethora of sounds. Enter Shikari have found what they want to say and precisely how to say it – a rare gift – to ask, shout, scream fury but do it with smarts and originality. A triumph.

Album Review: Slow Buildings, ‘This Is Dead Aesthetic Junk’ (2011)

(This is my first piece for New Reviews, an online review blog for unsigned and underground bands. You can also read the review here: http://www.new-reviews.co.uk/?p=5462)

New Jersey’s Slow Buildings, fronted by Jason Legacy (great name), release their first full-length album This Is Dead Aesthetic Junk, Legacy following up his 2005 record Good Things Happen with a full band sound – extra electric dynamics and more melodious pop.

The breadth of influence strikes immediately. The Beatles, Bowie, The Cure. ‘Nice Guys Finish First’ rolls out with a gentle picking, a little REM, The Velvet Underground, a little Weezer. It is an un-assuming, under-confident start to the record. ‘She’s Candy Covered’ is bouncing, sexy, flirtatious with a metronomic cow bell. ‘Glass Joe’ is the best song on the album. A self-referential opening, a simple, strutting riff, crunching palm-muting, peppered with delicious Beach Boys-esque swooning ooohs.

But then the rest of it. In truth, it is hard not to be so disparaging about the lack of ambition. There is little to show here, very little to distinguish Slow Buildings as a band to be worth noticing. ‘Christian Army Falls’ is gruesomely arbitrary, a seemingly last-minute and rushed ode to Christian belief that is throwaway, off-the-cuff sentiment. A trashy riff complements cruel, cursory lyrics. “Foul agnostics with tempted souls/Will spend eternity like burning coals,” Legacy sings. Isn’t that cute? Hatred of the non-believers. A nice bit of casual hate. Those likely to be offended should tread carefully.

‘I Am A Strange Loop’ is microcosmic of the band’s major flaw. It is decent but totally undemanding. And ‘Hanz Blixx’ surely, surely – please, God – cannot be a riff on Hans Blix. Is it not tragic that, wherever Blix goes, nobody wants to see him? No. Isn’t his plight a comment on the modern condition of lonely, disconnected man? No. This is under-thought silliness. “‘Are we nervous?/Or are we bugged?/There’s a mic hidden underneath the rug.” What? ‘1’s and 0’s’ (sic) seems to be an attack on the university, on the American education. Charles S.Peirce or Henry Adams it is not. The album dribbles out with a limp, blob drop.

It is poorly produced, too. Oce Dytioco’s distortion should be gutsier in many places, but is compressed so desperately that he might as well be played in a thimble. The drums are glum. Synthetically flat, overly-triggered, the result is a plaff-plaff-plaff sound on the snare and cymbals that sound like someone farting onto a saucer. On top of this, the drum lines are totally indisciplined. There are snare rolls every two bars and there is no consistency, like an excited 14-year-old in their first band. It is a ragged, unchecked sound.

Slow Buildings are a band that sound like they have (or want to have) something to say but don’t yet know how to do it. The lyrics are curt but trite. “Yes, I know that my friend is gone/But I can’t look away/Now he hides in a web of lies/So I look to yesterday.” This is an album, a band, a sound that could be exciting if they were more patient. This is an album that lacks in voice, hooks and intrigue. The musicianship is fine, the connection between the musicians evidently comfortable and mutually challenging which is rare. They seem to be searching for their sound, for a maturity that would reward listeners in the future. Legacy is a smart constructor of melodies, but the band struggle underneath the weight of influences, the weight of everything they are trying to do. There is the sense, here, that they are a little too handcuffed, that there is not enough on offer for anyone to be really or wholly enticed or impressed. It is a shame, because they could be so much better.

★★