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Sounds Affect and Sound Effects

Starring


Cloth, Fasme, Laetitia Sadier, Muna, Nouvelle Vague, Scanner, Whitelands


The Front Runners


Should I Stay Or Should I Go? : Nouvelle Vague



Twenty years after its first appearance, Nouvelle Vague’s French bossa nova reworkings of punk and new wave classics remains as fresh and enjoyable as ever.


This is much more than simply a covers album. Their choices and treatments are a celebration of all that’s good about pop. Thye reveal new shades to old favourites. ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ is transformed from an attitude infused rocker into a carnival of Spanish passion. Because these songs are classics, the Nouvelle Vague treatment helps you to hear them as if for the first time. 


It works the other way too. I’ve never liked Blondie’s ‘Rapture’, although I understand its impact. I’ve never liked Morrissey either and I’ve completely failed to understand how he had the impact he had. For me, then, ‘Rapture’ and ‘This Charming Man’ are the least enjoyable songs on the album.


Everything else though hits the target. Their treatment of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’ uses the bass drum to keep the melancholy tone and bells to play up the Christmas feel. It’s currently my favourite version of this song. 


The French accents are irresistible. The way that Marine Quemere sings ‘look’ on ABC’s ‘The Look Of Love’ sent shivers down my spine. It’s transformative too that nearly all these tracks are songs sung by women that were originally sung by men. That’s something that adds a new dimension to songs like ‘What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend’!


What Nouvelle Vague provide is wonderful evidence that pop wears a coat of many colours.


Taster Track : What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend



Alchemeia : Scanner



This is a very different sounding record. I’m not even sure it’s music, but it is accessible and it will open your ears to a whole new range of sounds.


This is, for want of a better word, arty. I suppose that’s not surprising when you have a name like Robin Rimbaud, and you’re an artist, composer, sound designer, performer, collaborator, curator, and activist who makes music and sound installations.


I have a friend who worked as a sound editor on Dr Who, finding new noises for sonic screwdrivers and the like. He’d have loved this. It is simultaneously retro and futuristic, music for strange but familiar locations and situations.


Listening to this is an opportunity to discover your new favourite sound. It’s frustratingly difficult to describe, like trying to hold a bubble in your hands. ‘Chimaera’ leads with a sound like bubbles popping on the surface of thick stew but that's not quite it.. Elsewhere you’ll hear rich sounds, as addictive as the sound of a spinning coin slowly winding and tumbling down on a glass table. It’s immensely satisfying to hear the sound of smashing glass on ‘Quenina’.

What’s in the background of a track such as ‘Perspektive’ is as important as what’s in the foreground. It’s a busy, no time to waste sound, but silence plays a part too. The silence that ends ‘Scincidae’ has genuine presence.


For other musicians out there, this is a treasure trove of sounds to sample, Christmas come early for sonic crate diggers. When recognisably musical notes appear, as on ‘Matiea’, it’s an intrusion. They get in the way.


If music can transport you to somewhere else, this is most definitely music. It’s a serious achievement that is never serious in tone.


The best way to listen to this is to draw the curtains, dim the lights, cocoon yourself in a space of your own and simply savour the sounds.


Taster Track : Lithargea




The Chasing Pack


Secret Measure : Cloth


This elegant and atmospheric collection of electronic songs is easy to admire but lacks that certain something that could allow you to love it. 


This is a masterclass in alternative synth pop songwriting. It’s simplicity is a way of showing us the secrets of how to put songs like this together. It’s uncluttered and that allows you to focus on the details. In a more bombastic production, I’m not sure I would have picked up on the gentle woodwind that features in ‘Ambulance’. It's a lovely touch.


It’s an approach that allows you to try out new tricks. ‘Ladder’ has a creeping pace reminiscent of The Comsat Angels at their very beginning, breaking slowly away from the consistently brooding atmosphere that characterises the rest of the album. The interlocking rhythms of ‘Pigeon’ are an album highlight.It’s consistent quietness calls to mind something of the XX in their first couple of albums.

There’s a price to pay for this clarity. Everything sounds deliberate and calculated. Everything slots into position, taking its allotted place at the right time. It’s reassuring that you’re in capable hands. It’s in the way that ‘Lido’ holds back its notes and then sustains them. It means that when ‘Another’ mixes up beats and rhythms that aren’t natural bedfellows it bucks the trend, bringing a little relief in a chance to stretch into other ways of making music. The result is a collection that often sounds great but does not always move you emotionally.


There’s a saving grace to be found in Rachael Swinton’s breathy night time vocals. They’re quietly appealing, making for the kind of songs that are whispered to you while you sleep.


It sounds spot on, and it is easy to admire and talk about. But I was left waiting for the hook or melody line that marks out a song as an immediate single, an entry point to the band, a song that it’s possible to love.


Taster Track : Pigeon




Bloom : Fasme


This set of electropop instrumentals is a breezy, enjoyable and welcome addition to any playlist.


This is a record for Spring. It’s an awakening, music that exhorts you to shrug off the effects of a dreary Winter and get on with life. It’s perfect for those early mornings where your listening starts in darkness but ends in the soft light of a new day.


I’ve grown to enjoy this kind of music over the years, enjoy it like an early morning cuppa. It’s a chilled blend of beats, rhythms and hooks held together by a repetitive spine. It’s neither in your face nor tucked away in the shadows. 


By the time you get to ‘Yellow Polygon’ those spines have become truly addictive, with a slinkiness that tempts you to follow. If the Pied Piper existed in the 21st Century, this is the music he’d play. ‘Pursuit’ is music for setting up the day. ‘F.O.G.’ picks up the pace into something poppier. ‘Comete’ is all breeziness, a March hare of a record


There is one caveat. It’s a small one, more a recognition of how the way to get music out there has changed over the years. This is a record better suited to playlist entries than an album to listen to in its entirety. As it develops, well, it doesn’t develop. It could run as a continuous mix, one that allows you to tune in, tune out, tune in again and enjoy. Its impact is more like five minute individual shots of energy. It’s playlist music, but music that will give your playlist a lift.


Stylistically it’s a mix of Royksopp and Pet Shop Boys - ‘Shine’ is a distant cousin of ‘It’s Alright’ - with a few echoes of New Order at their danciest.


Look out of the window as you finish this record. It will look brighter, warmer and more inviting outside.


Taster Track : Comet




Rooting For Love : Laetitia Sadier


Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier’s latest solo outing is a highly stylised affair that takes time to warm up but once ensnared by its offbeat charms, you’ll be happy to stay.


You can have lounge music and you can have bedroom music. This is music straight from the conservatoire, formal, stylised and daring to be different. This is music for the brain, music to study and listen to very carefully.


Here, you won’t find anything like a verse, middle eight or chorus. Everything is ascending, descending and diminishing. (I’m not seeking technical accuracy with that description, more a sense of something complex and taught.) This is music that thinks outside the box in its unexpected, occasionally jarring, often abruptly sweet changes of direction. It’s music that wanders freely under strict control, like a drone controlled from the ground and working on aerobatics. In fact, as the track ‘Panser L’Inacceptable’ suggests even in  its misspelling, this is music that encourages you to think what might be possible if you break free from commercial and corporate considerations.


For all that this is nonchalantly unstructured, it’s still impressive and full of interest. Sadier’s vocals are performance oriented bringing a feel of classical training to a lounge pop mix. You can’t avoid the thought that this is music for the fashionable classes, music to talk about in elite groups, to study and examine carefully.


It’s an enjoyable mix of lounge and experimental music, spiced with a French essence. If you can trust yourself to let go you’ll find that you’re in capable hands with songs like ‘The Dash’, ‘Don’t Forget You’re Mine’ and ‘The Inner Smile’.


Dig out that beret, light up a Gauloise and pour yourself a glass of Espresso. Forty minutes of continental sophistication is heading your way.


Taster Track : Don’t Forget You’re Mine




Muna : Muna


Muna are a template teen pop band whose soul may have been eaten away by desperation to succeed and corporate demands.


If you’ve read this far, you may be thinking “ooh, that’s a bit strong”. I hated this record. It’s not meant for me, I get that. But my feelings are more than just disliking the sound of plastic, manufactured gloss. It’s the whole air of desperation  that surrounds the band  that sticks in my throat. This is full of Radio 1 daytime filler, and it’s the kind of music that has me switching channels or simply turning off.


They have a committed and commendable cause - the glories of gay love and the support for young kids who are struggling with their sexuality. That’s not unique though, and the songs can be easily interpreted as non queer if you choose.


It clearly stings that they were dropped by RCA after two records because they didn’t make enough money. They’ve overcompensated though.Their Wikipedia page seeks less to inform and more to promote them. They claim that this is a record that allows them to explode in all different directions. Loosely translated in my head, that means they don’t want to be tied down to any one genre because that might alienate a potential fan.  They drafted in a team of songwriters. They have collective songwriting credits on just three tracks. That’s not a crime, but it feels as if they’ve sacrificed their own identities to a corporate brand of music. They can’t even tell why they chose their name, only that it means many things in many languages.


The music seems to be clutching at sounds they can copy. ‘No Idea’ aims at the early pop sass of Taylor Swift but merely lives up to its title. ‘Anything But Me’ combines overly sincere and anguished vocals with overblown, steroid fuelled 80s synth pop, and it’s not alone.


In fairness, I did quite like the bass line in ‘Handle Me and, ‘Loose Garment’ at least feels a little less obvious. For balance, here’s a link to a rave review in ‘The Line of Best Fit’. Muna Review.


It’s a record that sounds like your worst nightmare if you worry about what AI will do to music.


Taster Track : Loose Garment




Night Bound Eyes Are Blind To The Sky : Whitelands


Whitelands go the whole hog with their approach to music. This is no place for those who are ambivalent about shoegaze..


Shoegaze is an impressive genre, suitable music to accompany the death of a black star, or the arrival of that spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There’s so much going on, intermingling and tumbling forth, each component bleeding into the next like jam stirred into semolina.


Whitelands give us an intoxicating effect but, unfortunately, that’s what you remember, not the actual songs. Vocals are lost in the mix. Everything is smothered in reverb. The songs are less drenched by effects than drowned in them.


That’s a pity, because there’s no doubting their commitment to top quality music.  When they get the balance between dreamy reverb and the mass of sound right, as they do on ‘Born In Understanding’ they have very good songs. When that’s missing the songs seem empty at the core, like fireworks that imprint themselves momentarily on the retina while leaving no lasting impact.


The best moment on the album comes in ‘The Prophet & I’. The bass and treated keyboard take centre stage as the music rebuilds around it. It’s quite thrilling. 


This is still an impressive and enjoyable album but the abiding lesson is “Less is More”!


Taster Track : The Prophet & I



Playlists


As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page.


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