Category Archives: Music

The best of 2011…and 2012

I was intending to write a piece about 2011’s Albums of the Year, but there are two problems with that: 1) I only own five albums that were released this year, and 2) I’m no good at writing music reviews. What would be easier is for me to point you in the direction of reviews that say pretty much what I would like to say if I had the ability to write reviews.

So here goes…Evi Vine’s debut album “…and so the morning comes” is without doubt my favourite of those five albums. I first came across Evi Vine when she was supporting And Also The Trees at The Luminaire in December 2007. It’s taken a long time for her album to finally appear, but it was worth the wait – and here’s a review that explains very eloquently why:
http://www.sicmagazine.net/articles/889/evi-vine-and-so-the-morning-comes
Here is the opening track from the album – “For The Dreamers”:

Not sure this one should count as it’s not been released over here yet, but a friend in Australia sent me a copy of “Dark Magic”, the latest album by Melbourne band Sand Pebbles. It sounds excellent to me, a psychedelic rock sound that borrow elements from rock music of each decade but doesn’t sound like any of them. If that doesn’t make any sense, here’s a review that does:
http://www.theaureview.com/albums/sand-pebbles-dark-magic-2011-lp

Here is a track from the album:

The other three albums from 2011 that I own: “Solid State Recital”, the fifth album by Puressence – I think it ranks as their second best album after their 1996 debut. “So Beautiful Or So What” by Paul Simon – pleasant enough but unspectacular. I think the previous album “Surprise” had more substance. “Driftwood” by And Also The Trees – basically a follow-up to 2009’s “When The Rains Come”, eight more acoustic reworkings of songs from their back catalogue and very good indeed. A brand-new album is due this year.

So what else is there to be excited about in 2012? Let’s just say I’m hoping to hear a LOT more from these bands 🙂

Hook And The Twin

[Strangers]

The Title Sequence

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Out of the loop

I’ve just started to play with the rudimentary looping facilities offered by the Boss ME-25 multi-effects box, and I have to say that looping is very addictive indeed. Not just the fascination of adding new sounds layer-by-layer, but also the ability to solo over the completed loop. These sessions sometimes go on for 30 minutes or more!

Rather than have some of my improvised solos become lost forever, I decided to try filming myself. This first clip is a two-minute excerpt from a session that went on for over 15 minutes. The loop is the main verse riff from a song I have been working on called “Epic Blue”, overlaid with a simple bassline. The ME-25 was fed into my amplifier, and the whole thing was recorded with a webcam perched on top of my monitor. Unfortunately the webcam seems unable to record audio without glitches. Anyway, here is a piece called “Shades of Epic Blue”:

The second piece is more ambitious. A simple riff looped into a ten-minute impromptu prog rock masterpiece! The video was filmed using the webcam again, but this time I fed the audio into the Lexicon Alpha mixer and recorded it separately in Audacity. I put the two together using AVS Video Editor and added as many video effects as I could squeeze in. Here, in its full glory, is “Space Rock”:

I have a lot to learn yet, and I now have a hankering for a fully-fledged Boss Loopstation. But this is the kind of level I am aiming for – as demonstrated by the awesome Hook And The Twin:

New music track: “Fly”

In July I bought myself two new toys: a Fender Telecaster and a Boss ME-25 multi-effects unit. The Telecaster is the first decent electric guitar I have ever owned, while over the years I have had little contact with effects pedals.

Playing with the effects unit was a revelation – so this is how my favourite bands make their guitar sounds! The delay and reverb effects are particularly addictive, and it was while experimenting with these, plus a harmoniser effect, that I came up with the main riff for this track. I used different effects to get as “twangy” a sound as possible for the chorus part. The natural “twang” of the Telecaster sound helped as well.

I’ve also added some reverb to the drum sound which I think makes the electronic drums sound a little more real, on the other hand it makes the unevenness of my drumming a little more evident!

This was recorded over the 28th and 29th of July. I didn’t have a title in mind, but the insect that was buzzing around the room while I was recording (luckily not through a microphone) sorted that out.

This is “Fly”. Please give it a listen and add any comments that come to mind!

Uncharted Territory

I did something this evening that I probably shouldn’t have. I looked at the pop charts. It might as well have been in a foreign language for all it meant to me. These are three of the acts currently in the top ten: Nicki Minaj, Rizzle Kicks, Loick Essien. Anyone? It made me wonder whether chart positions are now being based on Scrabble scores rather than record sales.

Perhaps these are good songs. I don’t really have the urge to go onto iTunes, or whatever it is the kids use these days, to find out. I’ve heard of the current number one Cher Lloyd, because I had the misfortune to catch a bit of last year’s X-Factor. Her song (which I haven’t heard) has gone straight in at number one. I assume that’s not as a big a deal as it was when The Jam went straight in at number one with “Going Underground”.

This combination used to capture the best of the charts for me

The sad thing is that thirty or so years ago I would have known everything in the charts. In those days the new chart was released at Tuesday lunchtime, and I would write it all down so that when the Top 40 was broadcast on Sunday afternoon I would know when to press Record on my little tape recorder. Amazingly I still have the radio and the cassette recorder I used back then, and I even still have some of the tapes. I guess that illegal downloading has replaced that activity nowadays, but I wonder if anyone follows the charts as religiously as I used to?

I think I grew out of following the charts so closely in the mid-80s, not least due to the fact that most of my favourite bands rarely troubled the charts anyway. However, I would still have watched Top Of The Pops for many years, and still had a general idea of what was going on. A shelf full of “Britpop”-era CD singles shows that I had a revival of interest in chart music in the mid-90s. These days I rarely listen to the radio, and I haven’t read the NME for years, so I’m generally clueless as to the state of both mainstream and alternative tastes.

However, this shouldn’t be read as a “things aren’t what they used to be” diatribe by a grumpy old man. I do have an active interest in current music. I’ve been to 14 gigs so far this year, and only three of them have involved acts that date back to the 80s.

A debut album released this year – “And So The Morning Comes” by Evi Vine – is as good as anything I have heard in the last 30 years. A truly stunning and beautiful album. A band called Strangers are producing a series of perfect pop songs that are catchy, memorable and deceptively dark. I’m eagerly awaiting an album of compelling, hypnotic sounds from Hook and the Twin. Whilst following these bands around London’s live circuit I’ve come across other delights on the bill, including The Title Sequence, and a new band from East London called Paradise. Just a couple of weeks ago I watched the first ever gig of a new band from Southend called Lanterns.

I’ve no idea whether any of these bands will make the Top 40, or even how near they are to any kind of national recognition or radio play. All I know is that there is good new music out there to be heard, and with the wonders of social networking, these days there are more ways than ever to discover it. All in all, I’m quite happy for the charts to remain an irrelevance to me!

Live review: Bachelorette, Hook And The Twin, The Title Sequence at the CAMP, London, 22nd June 2011

I went to my 12th gig of the year last night, so I thought it was about time I tried to write a review of one! The venue was The City Arts and Music Project, near Old Street tube station in London. The stage is in the basement, which is accessed by a staircase next to the main bar. It’s a spacious room with a decent-sized elevated stage, with décor which is very much “tatty urban chic” – or maybe it’s just never been decorated. Anyway, it has the right feel for a gritty indie venue. The bar in the venue area only serves bottled beer, and it’s not the cheapest.

The band I came to see was Hook And The Twin, who I have been following since I first saw them play live in January 2010. They were the second of three acts playing tonight.

As is usually the case, I turned up too early, and I was the first one into the venue. A couple followed me in a few minutes later, although one of them disappeared for a while.

The Title Sequence

Rather embarrassingly, by the time the opening act The Title Sequence took the stage at 8.45 pm, I was one of only two people in the audience!  This was rather a shame, as they were excellent. A duo comprising David Bailey on guitar and Nick Crofts on keyboards, the centrepiece of their stage set is a reel-to-reel tape deck which provides extra backing to their sound. The music is a kind of indie-folk, at times dreamy and hypnotic. The closing number “Evening Spent With You”, the b-side of their debut single, was particularly impressive, building to a soaring crescendo. They are a band well worth investigating, and I have already purchased their single from iTunes on the strength of this performance.

Hook And The Twin

The audience had increased to 17 by the time The Title Sequence finished their set, and continued to grow as Hook And The Twin set up their equipment.  When I saw them play live last year, it was just the duo of Tom Havelock on guitar, bass, keyboards and vocals, and Marcus Efstratiou on drums, the live sound built up using layer upon layer of looping. This year, they have added James and Anna Vincent  from indie pop band My Tiger My Timing to the live line-up. James shares the guitar and bass duties with Tom, and Anna adds extra keyboards and backing vocals, creating a more organic live sound. They opened with last year’s single “Bang Bang Cherry”, although it didn’t go to plan as Tom’s effects microphone failed to produce the required vocal effects! Nevertheless they played on, and completed a superb set of six songs, with new tracks “Tribes” and “We’re So Light” standing out.

Bachelorette

The headline act was Bachelorette, which consists solely of New Zealand-born Annabel, who has been around long enough to have already made three albums. Her stage set is somewhat unusual, two tables supporting a huge flight case, on top of which sit a couple of laptops, a keyboard, and various other mixing/sequencing boxes. Her music is built around electronic looping and ethereal vocals. The most obvious reference point is Laurie Anderson, of “O Superman” fame. It’s all very impressive how she controls all the gadgets at her disposal to build up the sounds through looping, but much of the time it seems she is more focussed on fiddling with the laptop than looking at the audience. It just feels a bit lacking in performance value, rather like watching a DJ at work. Interesting, but not as engaging as I would have hoped.

An enjoyable night, anyway, and excellent value at ÂŁ6 for two hours of original and diverse music.

Links:
The Title Sequence:
http://myspace.com/thetitlesequence

Hook And The Twin:
http://www.myspace.com/hookandthetwin

Bachelorette:
http://www.myspace.com/bachelorettepop

 

 

 

Adventures in home recording

I don’t want to write here about my “career” of songwriting and home recording – I covered that in a Myspace blog I wrote a couple of years ago, which is <<here>>.

This is just a plug for some of the home recording that I have been doing over the last week or so, now that my free time has given me the opportunity to properly investigate and learn the software I bought some time ago.

I only intend to record new material – there will be no going back to the songs I wrote 20 years ago. It is only recently that I have even begun to compose new songs, and so far all of them are instrumentals. This at least means that the output won’t be ruined by my non-existent singing voice (and sometimes cringe-making lyrics!). I know that I’m no virtuoso on any instrument, in fact I’m barely competent on anything, but I do my best!

My first effort was a recording of a piece called “Upstream”. This project took off when I discovered the “delay” effect which gave the guitar part that ringing, echoing sound. I’m rather pleased with my drumming on this track, considering I have hardly touched the Yamaha DD-11 in 20 years. I cheated by recording the bass drum separately from the rest of the drum part, but it’s all played live – no pre-set rhythm track. I also had to quickly re-learn the bass guitar, which I again have barely played in years.

Anyway, here is “Upstream”:

The second project is a little tune called “Sunshine” which I wrote over Christmas. I’ve already posted solo acoustic versions of this, but I wanted to add an arrangement around it. The first problem is actually playing the guitar piece through without major mistakes – which is something I have rarely, if ever done, so far. The main guitar part on this version is constructed from around six takes. The percussion gives it a bit of a Latin feel, I think – again this was all played live and not a pre-set rhythm!

Here is the latest mix of “Sunshine”:

Any comments or criticisms on the tracks would be welcomed!

My recording studio