Archive for May, 2016

Kwesi Foraes

27

Self-Released, 2016

Review by Kent Manthie

Kwesi Foraes, a 23-year-old native of Long Beach, CA just KWESI-FORAES-27-ARTWORK-HI-RES-120x144released his debut EP, entitled 27. I was going through some of the new albums I’m currently reviewing and one of the first I noticed was this album. I clicked it open and pushed play. Wow. What intensity there was. The opening tune, “Devil’s Child”, a soulful, emotionally deep, loud, like it’s coming out right on top of you. Once “Devil’s Child” reels you in, Kwesi’s current “single”, which has been getting some press, in places like NPR, “Heroin” (no, no, no, not the Velvet Underground classic), follows up after the opener, “Devil’s Child”. “Heroin” is a richly textured, well-structured song which seems to be about more than just drug addiction, I thought I heard some references to relationships, whether failed ones or intact ones which can be worse sometimes, since both parties are miserable together but, due to co-dependency issues, etc. force things to have the appearance of a working relationship.

The rest of the EP has a good run of songs; clever, witty, intelligent lyrics, a soulful, from-the-heart collection of six songs, all of which fit pretty well together. The whole of 27 is a strong debut from this young but earnest, mature, smart guy.

Looking through a few other write-ups about this new album, I’ve seen the appellation “folk” applied to Foraes’s music. I disagree, though. Even though “folk” is something that encompasses a number of styles as well as viewpoints; I don’t believe there’s ever been one unifying thread throughout the world of “folk music”. Whether it’s the scruffy, low-fi, hobo-folk with subtle political and social commentary woven throughout the songs of, say, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan or the peppy, feel-good campfire type of “folk”, as with the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary or The Seekers, just to name a few, folk, not unlike rock, has a wider range of styles than some might think. But, as for Kwesi Foraes, I don’t know – maybe it’s because of the acoustic nature of the music. But, Neil Young has, in many concerts, done an acoustic set, besides the usual electric set, usually with Crazy Horse; that doesn’t make Young “folk” does it? I’ve never heard anyone say he was folk. Anyway, as for Foraes, I don’t hear it either. Maybe I have to listen to it some more, but, ever since I heard the beginning of the first tune, “Devil’s Child”, what I felt was something with more soul to it; there’s even some R&B in this, which isn’t a secret, that’s what gives it its essence.

Other songs that pique one’s interest include a new, more subdued interpretation of the old Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic, “I Put a Spell on You”, but simply titled “Spell” on 27, which is a sign that this “Spell” is now in the hands of Foraes. It’s a gorgeous song. “Pentacle 13” and maybe “Water” might be where the whole “folk” label came from. That could be. I guess I’d have to say that I’m agnostic on that front, wherein I don’t know for sure what, exactly, Kwesi Foraes intentions are, music-style-wise. But as for the Soul and the R&B sounds, they’re in the mix, all right.

I’m interested to hear what lies next for Mr. Foraes. For now, though, enjoy 27. -KM.

Kwesi Foraes photo

Slow SteveAdventures cover Slow Steve

Adventures

Morr Music, 2016

Review by Kent Manthie

This month (May, ’16) sees the release of the debut LP by Slow Steve, the new incarnation of former Fenster member, Remi Latournelle, who started Slow Steve, basically, another in a series of musical prodigies, Remi is a multi-instrumentalist, who plays everything himself.  As for his live gigs, he added a second member, Charley Vecten, who is a welcome addition, especially when you take your act to the stage.  Adventures is a steamy, synth-keyboard-laden, lush pop groove set.  Its 11 songs are an adventure in sonic superstructuralism.  Of course, merely calling something “pop” is, often, not enough.  With Adventures as an example, just saying that this is an album of “great, danceable pop” isn’t saying that much.  There are many, many variegated musics which can have that written or said about them.  So, there is something more.  In Slow Steve’s case, there’s a great, mellow but vibrant groove running throughout the album.  One of the earlier songs, “Sloth” is a good example of this and at the very end, say, the last chord or two, were very reminiscent of King Crimson, more specifically, the King Crimson which re-grouped after Fripp broke up the band before Red even came out, back in 1977.  This is the one which got back together: Fripp and Bruford, representing the UK and Adrian Belew and Tony Levin representing the US, although that was probably the furthest thing from their minds! Well, on from there: songs like “Bali” and the three “Josephine” cuts (“Josephine I”, “Josephine II” and “Josephine III”) have a little touch of the brilliance of Japan and/or David Sylvian’s solo stuff.  The rest all has a really unique style about it.  Even the ones which have a touch of that Japan sound, they don’t come off like they’re trying to sound like them – or anyone else, for that matter. While there are hints, here and there, of what their influences could be, overall, they have their own sound, altogether.  It’s all quite mellow, nothing edgy nor is there any sardonic darkness or guile.

I really like the cover. The cover art is this interesting, colorful, psychedelic painting of what appears (to me, anyway) to be an underseascape with all sorts of multi-colored coral, some other plant life and some strange, weirdly shaped marine life.  The artwork goes together well, with the album, since that picture represents a kind of metaphor of the music and its meanings, contained inside the cover.

As for songs to watch out for, from Adventures? I’d say, “Veterans”, “Sloth” “Bali”, “The Giant Spider Crab From Japan”, and definitely “Oscillation”, which is a real thrill. As for the last couple songs, they’re great just where they are.  They’re the right tunes for which to take the album out.

One site you can go to, if you are interested in reading more about Slow Steve, Fenster and the other things that are on sale, just check out https://www.heartlandmusic.com/adventures/880918814629.  If bubbly, atmospheric sonic adventures are your thing, then you’ll surely want to check out Slow Steve. -KM.

Useless Eaters

Relaxing DeathRelaxing Death -Useless eaters cover pic

Castle Face Records, 2016

Review by Kent Manthie

Here comes another new gem from Castle Face Records: an album called Relaxing Death from San Francisco’s Useless Eaters. This is another in an (so far, at least) unbroken string of great releases from Castle Face, which seems to have a collective great ear for great bands.

Useless Eaters have a sound that sticks out some for its intensity and the catchy hooks and beats which accompany it. When I first listened to it, after I got into it, about four or five songs in, I began to try and figure out what, if anything, this album reminded me of and something eventually made me think of the iconoclastic band that came out of the new wave, punk, etc. era and Suicide really adhered to neither, but rather, the hip, downtown, NYC environment was the perfect cauldron out of which Suicide emerged from.

OK, so, Useless Eaters. Another breakout band from San Francisco, Useless Eaters have just recorded and mixed, engineered, etc. a new album, Relaxing Death. One thing I can read and extrapolate from that is that the music will be pretty good, since Castle Face Records has consistently been releasing good albums by band after band; relatively new bands that sound nothing like their contemporaries in the vomit-covered, corporate music industry, which are, for the most part, flash-in-the-pans, one-hit-wonders, and/or total musical fabrications by any particular commercial label, e.g., The Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, New Kids on the Block, N’Sync and the likes of them. I think too, that, when someone says, in some situation or other, that “jeez, there is nothing that I know of I’ve ever heard on the radio that gives me any kind of hope the state of rock, post-rock, punk, post-punk, new wave, modern rock, or whatever labels you want to put on these many subgenres of rock which seemed to have really splintered into many different subgenres between the late 60s, the 70s and up through the 80s. Then, of course, in the early 90s (circa 1991), a seemingly new subgenre was a heroic position, since it happened to catch on with much of American youth (I’m talking about “alternative” and it’s own subgenre, “Grunge”). After “alternative”, mostly due to the feeding frenzy that came out of the whole “Grunge” thing, due to the popularity of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and then, the whole Nevermind album. That is how it got co-opted by corporate America: merchandising, like shirts, stickers, even things like dolls or now maybe a video game tie-in, showing up on a movie soundtrack now and then, etc -then it became “modern rock” and now “indie” seems to be, at least my favorite, the term to use. What’s so good about “indie” is that it doesn’t box some bands in to a label, even when said label has, within itself, other sub-sub-genres, so, it has a wider usage, but the main idea was that it was put out on a independent label or it could be a DIY release: self-recorded and distribution.

As is almost de rigueur for San Francisco-based bands, Useless Eaters have a great style; an independent spirit which comes across in the experimental-sounds that underlie some fascinating songs like “Motorway”, which is really a boss tune. Besides the industrial-tinged sounds that accompany the typical guitar, bass, and drums, “Motorway” just rocks.

Then, as I was listening further down, and got, uh…I think it was around “Cold Machine” or “Hogs in the Bush”, where, as I was away from my PC for a little while, washing a few dishes and making another little bit of coffee, that, while I was in the kitchen, and I could hear the music perfectly in there, as I was scrubbing out my backup coffee carafe, it suddenly hit me: “The Fall”!! That’s what Relaxing Death sounded like to me. I’ve been a big fan of The Fall for years. I recently acquired a whole bunch of early (earlier) Fall albums: Live at the Witch Trials, Perverted by Language,This Nation’s Saving Grace and Grotesque (After the Gramme) not including all the other Fall albums I already had. But it was when I got the aforementioned list of Fall albums that ranged from 1978 up to 1984 or 85, at the latest, that I became an even bigger fan of The Fall’s, due to the remarkable, relentless, in-your-face attitude and style. I got hooked on sitting and listening to all of Perverted by Language, for instance, all in one setting. So, when it hit me that this album, Relaxing Death, by Useless Eaters reminded me of one of those older Fall albums, I realized, “whoa, this is some good stuff here!”

Looking back, after giving a couple listens, I realize that this a great album all the way through. The last tune, “Goodnight to the Thieves” is especially cool. It’s this choppy, instrumental jam, about 3 and a half minutes long, but it’s just the perfect thing to end the album with.

If you were to ask me “What’s worth checking out, in this day and age of such hollow, vacuous drivel, well, first I’d set them straight and point them in the direction of the indie world, in general, but I’d, especially really closely listening to Relaxing Death, recommend this album as well as Useless Eaters, overall, as a new, or at least contemporary, band. -KM.

Clint Mansell

High Rise, OSTHigh-Rise pic

Silva Screen Records, 2016                                                              

Well, he’s back. Clint Mansell, that is. For those, not aware of Mr. Mansell, this guy was, about, say, 20+ years ago, in Pop Will Eat Itself, a British band which was, well, maybe a little bit like Prodigy, but not as “edgy”, rather, they were more “bouncy”, while coming up with some “dope beats” and fun stuff to remix and blast in the clubs, etc. But, now, for many people, Clint Mansell may be better known for the movie scoring he’s been doing for a time now. He’s worked with director Darren Aronofsky on, first, his breakout film, the intriguing and terrific Pi and then, Clint really rose to the challenge when he scored Aronofsky’s next, still quite memorable Requiem for a Dream, starring the great Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) which is a vivid, rollercoaster ride of a “thriller” that some who’ve seen it think was anything but “thrilling”and, because of this, the film remains, still today, somewhat controversial, at least in that it seems to evoke strong feelings and/or debate about issues portrayed. Anyway, Mansell went all out and did some, well, I suppose you could call them “challenging” music for the Requiem soundtrack and he succeeded in creating some great musical effects in a great score that, according to a couple readings about it that I’ve glanced at, at times, seems to “sound difficult” or, in what is most definitely a praise of Mansell, someone wrote that he had done such a good job writing the score of the film, that at certain points in it, his music becomes “difficult to listen to”. Reading that made me think of some of the great avant-garde or just-plain thoroughly post-modern (before its time) composers, such as Penderecki, Varése and Iannis Xenakis, to name just a few. In The Exorcist, a bit of music by Penderecki is in it and it sure fits well: “Polymorphia” is a great example of something (though not originally written for any film) which can really intensify a scene in a film.

But now, let me get to now so I can talk about the new work from Clint and that is his score which is nicely represented on the soundtrack to the movie High-Rise a film that is something definitely worth seeing. This may be one of the first times I’ve listened to the soundtrack to a movie before I’ve even seen the movie. Unfortunately this is a review of the soundtrack and not a movie review as well. Gotta stay focused!

What I do know about High-Rise, the movie, is that it’s directed by Ben Wheatley, stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and James Purefoy. It’s a “thriller”, based on JG Ballard’s 1975 book of the same name. The story follows a young doctor who finds all kinds of strange, intriguing, sinister goings-on, living in this nice new high-rise in England, set during the1970s. Yes, I admit, I have not seen the movie- as of this writing- but I intend to see it as soon as I get a chance!

As far as the music goes, it’s quite good! Beyond that – even though I haven’t seen it yet- the music on here does have a cinematic style to it. It’s also scored well and represented nicely on this recording, unlike a lot of Hollywood-ish movies, the ones that put all kinds of pop music in it and/or older music or whatever, then, when the soundtrack comes out on CD you get basically a collection of previously released songs that goes back to the 60s or so; a collection of songs that really don’t have any connection between them, except for the fact that they all – or sometimes not even all of them – appeared, if even for just 20 seconds, in the movie.

As with a few other well-done soundtracks from films which were also quite good, Mansell’s soundtrack to High-Rise works quite nicely on two levels: Mansell has turned out a great score to an interesting film and he’s also recorded an album which, on its own, is a delight to listen to. -KM.

Star Parks

Don’t Dwell

Paper Bag Records, 2016

Review by Kent Manthie                                                  Star Parks Don't Dwell Cover picture

The debut by Star Parks, Don’t Dwell is the perfect soundtrack for a lovely sunny day, lying in the grass,staring up at the sky or something with which to wake up and melt away those tired, just-getting-out-of-bed blues. Packed with nine smooth, mellow tunes, Don’t Dwell is a great debut album by a band of musicians who, before this, were doing things with various other outfits, so they’re not just brand new, as in not experienced; in fact,one of the things, I think, anyway, that makes Star Parks sound so good is their collective experience, represented by a variety of backgrounds, though we’re not talking about wide-ranging, or antithetical to each other, but a group who comes from various other bands and, so, each has, I assume, something to add to the band, something that, one hopes, will infuse several different veterans of other bands together into a new one that results in a great synergy of styles.

Austin, TX-based Star Parks is the brainchild of Andy Bianculli, formerly of The Preservation, who broke up recently, after a tour with Black Joe & The Honeybears and a gig on Austin City Limits.

For Star Parks, Andy called on two friends, Andrew Collberg, from Tucson, AZ and Louisiana’s Chris Stafford. Having the ability to record this album

The song “Hugs” starts out sounding like it could’ve been straight out of Brian Wilson’s vivid, musical genius brain. It doesn’t last throughout the whole song, but that opening, piano-based riff that starts it off, does appear within the song in various parts.

Don’t Dwell was written in the midst of a hot Texas summer, I assume, last summer, of 2015, which, indeed, was a very hot summer. The songs on it were inspired by such works as Harry Nilsson’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies Man and Bill Fay’s Time of the last Persecution.

On this album, there are nine songs of purely exquisite dreamy pop, “spiriting the listener away with gossamer harmonies and celestial arrangements” according to the accompanying write up in the press release. I agree, wholeheartedly, with that statement and, since it’s such a perfectly worded description, I thought that I had to include it.

Besides the three principals I wrote about earlier, Star Parks is rounded out by Ben Burdick on bass, Keith Lough, on drums, Nathaniel Klugman, keyboards and Mauricio Ramos, who plays guitar and adds some vocals too.

The album just slips through your fingers, like so much sparkling beach sand, it’s just such a pleasure to hear,and time always flies when you’re having fun, right? It’s ethereal atmospherics, “piano-heavy”, greatly harmonized vocals all come together to make for a beautiful album, bound to be remembered in 10 years from now – at least. The tunes are clever, fun, timeless, a treat to hear and bound to be a classic. From the opening “Hymn for the Hopeless”, on to “Egotists”, and on through the rest, they all shine, like a precious gem. As I stated previously, “Hugs” is a great Beach Boys-esque, summer love song and then Don’t Dwell ends with a great, nine minute “The High Hopes of Good Fortune”, which is a brilliant work. It goes on for a little over three minutes, where it then seems like it’s ending, but, after a little bit of “dead air”, the music comes back and the rest of the song goes on, but with a touch of melancholy in it, not depressing at all, but, just somewhat deeper, and to fill those nine minutes, a great song has been assembled that does not drag on, or seem too long. On the contrary, it’s quite a pleasing, relaxing, bittersweet song.

This is definitely one of those albums that will not be forgotten and, by the end of the year, it will make my “Best of 2016” list (I know, I know, I didn’t get one out this year. The end of 2015, for me, was just a crazy, busy time and I just couldn’t spare the time, to pick and choose from all the reviews I’d done and, to tell the truth, there just wasn’t – or rather, I should say, I, myself, at least, didn’t get to hear that many great, I mean really great new albums that deserved to be on that “Best of the year” list. This year is different: it’s only March, almost April and already I’ve received some really exceptional albums. I know that of all the albums I’ve received over the last 6 weeks, I have material for that end of the year “Best of” list, Don’t Dwell to be among them. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. I only wish they’re current tour dates were bringing them to the San Diego area, because I’d love to see them live, just to enjoy the music, but also, I think it would make for a great review, complete with pictures.
For now, I’ll just have to console myself with being able to listen to this terrific album. Hope that you do the same. If you want to read more about them or purchase it straight from the label, you can go to https://terrorbird.com/albums/don-t-dwell or, check out Paper Bag Records’ website: www.paperbagrecords.com or, to purchase, go to the Soundcloud page: http://papertrailrecords.bandcamp.com/ Enjoy! KM.