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Liberating Music From The Jaws Of Something Nasty




Clark, Dualist Inquiry, Itasca, Laura Misch, Lewsberg, The Soft Hearted Scientists

The Front Runners

When We Get There : Dualist Inquiry

This collection of electronic instrumentals is warm, sweet and uplifting. It’s your ally in the battle against the lingering effects of February.

Electronic Sound magazine hooked me into this as soon as I read their recognition that, in electronic music, we sometimes lose sight of the importance of melody. Not here. This is one gentle melody after another. It’s not trying to be arty or experimental. Its only purpose is to offer you the kind of melodic pop that haunts the best chilled electro pop comedown rooms of the 90s and 00s.

This is U-Ziq and Caribou at their poppiest; Royksopp and Mylo if their life’s work had been built around ‘Epie’ or ‘In My Arms’. Yes, it’s background music ambling across the map of chill to where it borders library music. (But note that whilst ‘library’ music may not sound the most inviting genre, it’s highly sought after and regarded by many.) This is the best kind of background music, the kind that covers your surroundings in a warm glow of happiness.

Sometimes lyrics are overrated. They’re certainly not needed here. The music delivers its message without them. ‘Coming Alive’ is such a lovely mid-paced tune. It gives the impression of everything being right with the world, of shrugged off setbacks and of successfully looking on the bright side.

Vocals, too, can be dispensable. Here the words are confined to quiet and repeated speech samples. In ‘Times Go By’ they sound like an adult conversation half heard by a child as they drift towards sleep. They keep you safe, your Mum and Dad!

The pattering beats and rhythms that pepper the music here, are the sounds of a home when everyone is asleep. ‘Bloom’ provides the one sense of urgency across the album. It’s a quiet crescendo, the fulfilment of something long and eagerly anticipated. ‘Mother’ is one of those songs that’s powerfully nostalgic, reminding you of the feeling as a small child of your Mum making everything better.

This is an album to have in your back pocket for the stressful days. It’s a small album full of gems. Thank goodness for the small stuff!

Taster Track : Mother

Uncanny Tales For the Everyday Undergrowth : The Soft Hearted Scientists

Some bands dabble in psychedelia. The Soft Hearted Scientists are so deeply immersed in it that there may be no way back for them.

If you want to understand the mindset of the Soft Hearted Scientists you could do worse than read the bio on their Spotify artist page. It’s a little bizarre and, almost certainly, tongue in cheek.

They’re a band that come across like the harmless, amiable individuals you find having conversations with themselves or imaginary others in a market town high street on a Saturday morning. In their own way they’re as much a part of our pop consciousness as minstrels and morris dancers.

There’s always a risk for anyone passing along the psychedelic path that their music s tainted by the memory of Neil in the Young Ones singing ‘Hoe In My Shoe’. Fear not. The Soft Hearted Scientists reclaim psychedelia for popular good. There are certainly influences from Traffic and also The Coral and Jim Noir. Fair warning though, while The Coral and Jim Noir explore psychedelia’s shallows, the Soft Hearted Scientist have leapt straight into the deep end.

These are melodic songs where harmonies play a great part on the way to addictive choruses. They’re warm and inviting, tempting you to open your arms in celebration and feel the full force of sunshine on your face. 

The lyrics don’t make sense. Does anyone care to gloss “I was liberating angels in the midnight garden sun” (‘Mount Polomar’)? That’s not the point. They’re innocent and with bucket loads of charm, childlike in the same way as Edward Lear of nonsense rhyme and limerick fame and as profound as anything in Wonderland.

The songs are generally long, intricate and unhurried. If there’s an observation to be had here it’s that the songs that stand out best are the shorter ones - ‘Mount Polomar’, ‘Black Castles’ and, particularly ‘Wendigo’.

This is a strangely, uniquely lovely collection that prompts me to explore their back catalogue.

Taster Track : Wendigo

The Chasing Pack

Sus Dog : Clark

Some electronic music aims for the heart, some for the head and some, like this album of soundscapes and songs aims for the stuff of your deepest dreams.

It’s unsettling. It’s big on building atmosphere. It’s music for the dreams of deepest sleep, the dreams that you can’t remember on waking but leave you with a nagging unexplained memory that has you feeling uncertain and on edge.

From the start, with ‘Alyosha’ it’s a little eerie and spectral. This particular track builds like a bursting dam. It’s not music that drifts. It fizzes, flashes and explodes across the ether. It’s not safe music, but knife like and serrated with it. This may be too raw and bloodied to tempt the mainstream, like fresh meat on a butcher’s slab. It’s a bouncing melody no go zone.

There’s a clue to its influences in ‘Medicine’ which is a collaboration with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. It has the same startling appeal, bringing with it a desire to delve into the darkness and understand why it has the effect it has. ‘Wedding’ for example does not come with the sound of joyful pealing bells of celebration but with the brooding menace of imminent threats. (Of course that may be some people’s experience!)

A quick trawl through the track list helps too. The tone is set by tracks with titles such as ‘Town Crank’, ‘Sus Dog’, ‘Bully’ and ‘Dismissive’.

Most of these tracks are closer to soundscapes than to songs. They’re soundscapes that change abruptly too. When the vocals arrive in ‘Forest’, it’s as if the space for them has had to be wrestled into existence. There are some interludes that break the prevailing storm, like a boat finding shelter on the lea side of a shore. They include ‘Over Empty Streets’, ‘Dolgoch Tape’, ‘Bully’ and ‘Alyosha’.

Would I recommend this album. I would. It’s not for easy listening but as a study of music that has a deep and visceral effect it’s hard to beat.

Taster Track : Dolgoch Tape

Imitation of War : Itasca

Itasca’s dream infused songwriting is a heavy listening experience. Be prepared to dig deep to extract its rewards.

It’s rare that I’ve encountered a record made with such respect and reverence for its music. It demands the same level of respect from you. Yes, that includes you at the back sneaking a look at the cute kitten photos on Facebook while you listen!

This is the equivalent of a high church service in Latin, where the air is filled with sweet incense and the only sound from the pews is the unconscious shuffling into a more comfortable position. 

On the surface this feels like a submission to a committee for inclusion in the canon of classic rock music. I know that’s not intended but it sounds like music that expects to be judged and so is note perfect and all frivolity, all sense of enjoyment amongst the band has been ruthlessly excised. 

When I was still at school, the film of uni life shown to sixth formers featured long bearded third year students and intensely serious postgraduate tutors. Uni was still a place that only a few were allowed to enter. It was enough to make me want to flee the room and enter a less stuffy profession, like retail banking! I had to fight that feeling here.

So why would anyone listen to this? There’s one very good reason. If you love the sound of the guitar played like something to be caressed and coaxed into beauty, you will find much here to appreciate and admire. Perhaps, if it catches you in the right mood, you’ll find something to love. To play music of this calibre you need to have honed your craft to have made the grade. 

I don’t have many reference points for this kind of playing, but the closest I can find is that she sounds like a deeper, more serious version of Jonathan Wilson. It’s guitar music that gives you a sense of space, away from the city. (She’s from Los Angeles so that, in itself, is quite a feat!) It’s quiet music to submerge in, a sound that drifts and coils across wide open spaces like smoke from an open air fire. 

Some people abide by the life rule that if you work hard, rewards will come. They’re the people who will relish this album.

Taster Track : Milk

Sample The Sky : Laura Misch

Self-effacingly describing herself as jazz guitarist’s Tom Misch’s sister online, this album shows that Laura is more than capable of stepping out of his shadow. This appealing musical wander through green and pleasant spaces is refreshing and revitalising.

Misch describes herself as a jazz saxophonist and singer. And she is, but that doesn’t begin to tell you what to expect from this album. It may actually mislead you. If that’s your expectation, then listening to this may feel like undertaking a task that you’ve long put off, only to find that it is less difficult than anticipated, is completed quickly and is a lot more enjoyable than expected. That’s always the way with time spent in pleasant company.

The album opens with ‘Hide To Seek’, a mix of jazz saxophone, fluttering electronica and soft, appealing vocals. As with everything here, it’s an intricate and thoughtful composition. It’s too careful to be improvised, and that’s a good thing.

It also shows us that Misch has a vision for jazz in terms of how it can relate and add to other genres. That thought is gently glimpsed as if through cloudy dreams. She’s much more than a jazz saxophonist, sharing with the likes of Kate Bush a knack for creating a sound and genre that’s all her own. Her closest comparator is Bibio when he leaves his club behind and goes for a walk in the country.

There’s a gorgeous ambience running through this album. The harp heard on ‘Listen To The Sky’ and ‘ Widening Circles’ ensures that you’re in the middle of something soothing. The saxophone of ‘Sax Rise’ is beautifully off-set against a dawn chorus welcoming in a summer sunrise. It’s a bucolic memory, music for a nicely warm June evening.

Like me, you may be surprised by this album in a host of good ways.

Taster Track : Listen To The Sky

Out And About : Lewsberg

Lewsberg are a four piece from Rotterdam who play a stripped back version of indie shoegaze. It’s appealing but doesn’t feel quite right.

Why is that? It’s hard to say. It has its own character but still sounds impersonal. The closest I can come to explaining it is to say it’s as if it was allocated to the band as an academic musical exercise. If I trawl my memory for the film ‘Amadeus’ I would say that Lewsberg are Salieri, not Mozart.

I don’t want to do a disservice to the band. This is stripped back indie, early Everything But The Girl but less rooted in real life. It’s the Velvet Underground in their sweetest moments, or the solo album Mo Tucker never made after the band split up. It also has the same self absorption of shoegaze but without the beefed up reverb.

It’s a good point that listening to this is like rediscovering early indie post punk. Equally, though, that’s all it is. Track after track becomes like shopping under the gaze of a persistent and over attentive salesman. If one track doesn’t suit, perhaps this one will?

What keeps this interesting are songs like ‘Angle of Reflection’ which are spoken melodically,  recited not sung. ‘There’s A Poet In The Bushes’ makes a fair stab at the approach of early Tindersticks, or a less macabre Arab Strap. The strings on ‘Canines’ add a welcome dollop of texture. 

It’s a worthwhile album but nothing more. Its crime, ultimately, is that it fails to convince.

Taster Track : Canine


As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at or via the Spotify link on the Home Page.

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