Head In The Clouds Vol. 14: Phoria - Display EP

Straight off the bat, I’m fully aware that this is cheating. Put simply, as much as I’ve scoured soundcloud, there’s been one EP that I’ve returned to time and time again over the last month. Rather than force words where I have none, for Head In The Clouds Vol. 14 I’ve decided to focus solely on Phoria’s Display EP.

Display is Phoria’s third EP and it’s remarkable in its agility. Consisting of four tracks, it manages to trace the full scope of human emotion. ‘Emanate’ opens the EP, with muffled murmurings and clipping beats. Vocals filter through, providing the track with an almost hymnal undertone. The track builds and builds before an all encompassing synth fills the previously sparsely occupied spaces at the three minute mark. It’s pulsating, volatile, euphoric and exhilarating.

While ‘Undone’ and ‘Atomic’ are both tracks with their individual merits (with ‘Atomic’ in particular easily mistaken for Radiohead in their In Rainbows pomp), it’s the album closer ‘Effortbreathe’ that truly demonstrates Phoria’s ability as musical craftsmen. A drowsy affair, once again based around a hummed vocal refrain, it’s as close as music can come to an opiate. Even the addition of growling synths fails to detract from the songs soothing and haunting character.

Display EP manages to fluctuate between euphoric climax and deep melancholy within the space of 4 relatively short tracks. Few EPs are able to channel such a vast range of emotions in such a short space of time. Check it out below.

Interpol - El Pintor

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I’m really having trouble placing Interpol’s latest offering. On the one hand, the artwork and the time it’s taken the band to make the album suggest something that’s well thought out, intricate, exciting and, above all, new. After all, it is the band’s first full-length album since the fairly average (but still notable) self-titled release in 2010. On the other hand, there were tracks that sounded like they had been included purely for the sake of fleshing the album out into more than just a long EP.

One of the reasons for the long lapse between releases is partly due to the departure of bassist Carlos Denglar after Interpol was released, as well as the arrival of Brandon Curtis as a more permanent keyboard player. Naturally, it would take time for the new line-up to settle, but sometimes, with a new line-up comes a whole host of new and exciting sounds, and I assumed Interpol would have spent the last four years honing in this exciting array of new aural delights.

In fairness, they did, but not to the extent I expected. Out of the 10 songs on the album, I would rate five; ‘My Desire’, ‘Same Town, New Story’, ‘Ancient Ways’, ‘Tidal Wave’, and Twice as Hard. The reason I’ve left out ‘All the Rage Back Home’ is because, even though it’s a great album opener, I don’t think it should’ve been the lead single. The other four? They’re the equivalent of salad in a sandwich; filler.

The reason I’ve picked out those five is because the band uses pretty much the same mixture of sounds throughout the album, but there, they make something interesting out of it instead of just generic rock. Especially in ‘Same Town, New Story’, which has a distinctly jazzy feel about it, and is the first point in the album where I actually thought ‘hey, this is new!’ despite it still being led in and driven by Paul Banks’ illustrious crunchy guitar riffs (it takes until ‘Everything is Wrong’ for any song not to be led in by a guitar, and even then it’s Banks on bass).

After ‘My Blue Supreme’ I contemplated comparing El Pintor to Turn Blue by The Black Keys, an album that I was not at all impressed with. Both bands have been together since the ’90s, grown bigger, gone through some stuff, and ultimately matured. Unfortunately for The Black Keys, this meant that they lost their edge, and in my opinion, every track on Turn Blue aside from ‘Fever’ was over-thought, over-produced and below par.

I don’t think Interpol have reached that stage just yet, and the idea of comparing them to Turn Blue faded as the album came to the end. Three very different tracks placed side-by-side, each with its own distinct voice play the album out to a more satisfying conclusion. I’m not sure about placing the short burst of raw energy of ‘Ancient Ways’ before the slower, synth-ier ‘Tidal Wave’, which has a steady build-up. But if that’s my only criticism at this point, then I feel they’ve done enough to redeem the album from the depths of over-production.

The sad truth is that Interpol have lost some of their rawness, but from the videos I’ve seen, they still put on a cracking live show, which is something.

The album will be released on Matador Records.

Old Earth - A Wake in the Wells

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Regular readers will probably know by now that we are big fans of Old Earth here at Wake the Deaf. A couple of months back we told you that Todd Umhoefer was preparing a new album, A Wake in the Wells, and thanks to the kind people at mini50 records, I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last few weeks getting to know it.

If you’re even vaguely familiar with Old Earth, then you’ll know that Todd Umhoefer is very much his own man. His influences range from modern-day hip hop to golden oldie pop songs, a blend which he builds on a foundation of experimental folk. Using looped guitars and sparse vocals, Umhoefer creates some of the most interesting and forward-facing art that’s out there today. The album sleeve contains a quote from film soundtrack extraordinaire Bernard Herrmann, beginning with the line, “Musically I count myself as an individualist”. I’m not sure I could think of a better way than these seven simple words to sum up Umhoefer and his artistic goals.

The album consists of just five tracks (named simply ‘Track 1’, ‘Track 2’, etc.), but spans over 30 minutes, with each track shifting and morphing into a variety of guises. In fact, the liner notes show each track split into several component parts, each with a title of its own. These sections meld into one another like events in a dream, the transitions often surreally sudden and spontaneous but retaining an eerie kind of absurd logic. This novel song structure never feels redunant either. It is to Umhoefer’s credit that each element always seems necessary and appropriate.

This non-conformity is illustrated perfectly on the opening track, an eleven minute behemoth which does everything but break the listener in gently. It kicks off with a section called ‘Well Abandonment’, an insistent, driven start of barely restrained guitar and minimal drum work, before the opening line of,

I wanted walls, for something to push against.
 I wanted waves, for something to row
.”

One of Umhoefer’s strengths is his ability to make such vague, cryptic lyrics sound important and relevant, with his words often seeming abstract and dislocated. To return to the dream analogy, the lyrics don’t necessarily make narrative sense but they just feel right. The track shifts around the 3:30 mark as a taut guitar line drifts in from the ether, heralding the oncoming of the second section, ‘some Gates’ll swing wide, for us’. This builds to include shuffling drums and Umhoefer’s cry of, “the whole village had their hands in!” The repetitive melody and ethereal ambience are hypnotic, and the best way to listen is to put these tracks on repeat and just let things wander. The third and final segue of ‘Track 1’ occurs around 8:40. ‘Accept that the mark will outlast you’ again features lean and focused guitar work which cuts across the song razor-like, providing a bright and uplifting end to the first track. Soon drums are added and the whole thing becomes a rollicking indie rock tune, perhaps the most conventional “rock music” moment we have seen yet from Old Earth.

Pixel Fix – Running Thin EP

I’ve been following Pixel Fix since they dropped ‘Rosa' on us about 18 months ago. They've since ventured out of the Oxford scene, but after 3 EPs, there's still no sign of an album on the horizon, which is what most fans are waiting for.

This latest four-track EP, Running Thin, is much more of a development on the sound they produced in Fall, their previous release, suggesting something of a distancing from their earlier work. But, as the opening track shows, they’re still experimenting and evolving their music.

'Lungs' has been around for a couple of months now, and is what I'd imagine would happen if Jungle and The 1975 had a musical love-baby. This is the closest the EP gets to the first release, and is much more energetic than the other tracks. As the song melts away, the entire ethos of the tracks change; the aptly-named 'Change This' opens with some sci-fi vocal samples layered over the sound of rain. The ambience of the song remains consistent throughout, with downtempo drums layered underneath wet click tracks that sound like they've been pulled straight from the stems of 'Rosa'. The long guitar strums that seem to be written into the DNA of the band add to the add to the dreampop feel, giving it an extra element and making it much more rounded.

The third track, ‘Still’, is the obligatory instrumental interlude that seems to be becoming a theme throughout each of the band’s releases. Starting out as a 30-second click track from the eponymous first release, they’ve developed into much more intricate compositions, and are placed at varying points throughout each EP. The interesting drum tracks on ‘Still’ could probably do with a bit more depth, but I’ll blame my laptop speakers for not giving me the complete picture here.

'Still' dissolves into 'Overflow', which opens like a Purity Ring song. With large vocal and synth swells, before moving into a heavier but still downtempo song, it further distances the band from the Two Door Cinema Club sound they captured a year and a half ago. However, despite Pixel Fix's progressive style, each track is still distinctly theirs, as certain themes remain consistent with each release. The wet click tracks, ringing guitars and sampled vocals, the band still seem to be trying to find something they can settle on. But this disparity between tracks isn't necessarily a bad thing, and, if the band decides to do a full-length release, we could be rewarded with something nicely varied, but still distinctly unique.

Pixel Fix have recently announced a full UK tour, check their Facebook page for more details.

Blush Response - Dead Air

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Blush Response is the shoegaze / dream pop project of Alister Douglas from Adelaide in Australia. Last week he released a new EP entitled Dead Air. The EP consists of four really great tracks, their sweet centres drowning in a sea of reverb. A must for fans of My Bloody Valentine or The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

You can download Dead Air on a pay-what-you-want basis via the Blush Response Bandcamp page.

P.S Blush Response released another EP earlier this year. Check out Telltale over at Bandcamp.

Old Amica - Drone and Hum

Drone and Hum

Sweden’s Old Amica have already released one great record this year -we wrote about Fabula back in March - an album remarkable as much for its quality as for the circumstances in which it was recorded, as the band’s two members lived 650km apart.

Well it’s not yet September and the duo are back, this time with an album that was written and recorded in a far more intimate setting. Drone and Hum represents a landmark for Old Amica as it is in fact the very first record they have made while spatially and temporally together. After completing Fabula in the springtime, the pair decided to meet and play some music together. So they gathered all of the instruments they could find, set up a microphone in the middle of the room and began creating. A few days later, this lovely EP was finished.

The band then sent the new songs to Swedish filmmaker Jonas Börjesson, who wasted no time in creating the beautiful video for ‘Joni’ which you can see in the player below:

Old Amica - Joni from Jonas Börjesson on Vimeo.

We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the rest of the EP, and I’m pleased to say that the other songs are just as good. I was unsure when the band said that the record would be largely instrumental, but this is a worthy companion to their previous releases. In fact, it is the second amazingly beautiful instrumental album I have featured this week (see also Lejsovka & Freund’s Mold On Canvas)

Drone and Hum is due for release on a pay-what-you-want basis on the 5th of September. Check back at their Bandcamp page on release day.

P.S. If you’re not familiar with Old Amica’s previous releases, then do yourself a favour and remedy that fact. Start with The Burning Dot Part I, then The Burning Dot Part II and finally Fabula.

WAITERS - What For Art Thou

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WAITERS are from Manchester, and What For Art Thou is their first studio-recorded EP. Their sound is a trip back to the early 90s, with the influence of US bands such as Pavement clear. In fact the band describe themselves as “a kind of restrained abstract form of late 20th century un-Popular music.

In a genre that often relies on feedback and general noise, WAITERS have a relatively minimalist style. Each instrument is distinct and identifiable, rather than being lost under the fuzzy hum. The result is a fresh and accesible EP that is suited perfectly to the artwork (by Matthew Walkerdine and Laetitia Glenton).

There is not a lot more information on the band, so I’ll leave you with a song.

You can buy the EP on vinyl from CF Records, or download it via their Bandcamp page.

Lejsovka & Freund - Mold On Canvas

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I really, really like Trouble Books, the husband and wife duo from Akron, OH. If you’ve been reading for long enough, then you probably already know that, as I featured their previous album Love At Dusk last year, and the excellent Concatenating Fields before that. So I was rather disappointed to discover that, as of this year, Trouble Books were no more.

The good news is that Keith Freund and Linda Lejsovka are still recording music. They have recently released a new album entitled Mold On Canvas. The bad news is that I’m late to this party and the LPs have already sold out. But don’t let stop you from checking out what proves to be a nuanced, interesting release.

The band describe their new sound as “DIY Shitty Classical”, which I can’t help feeling is a small slice of false modesty. Let’s get it straight that I know next to nothing about classical music, and I’m not particularly interested in its finer points, but I’m struggling to see how anyone could describe this album as “shitty”. Freund explains, “Mold on Canvas” is an exploration of ability… trespassing into the academic or classical music world with an amateur’s guess on pushing the right keys.”

The album opens with ‘Borrowed Mic Test’, which gently buzzes and pulses into life, the cautious wing-beats of the Lejsovka & Freund moniker as it emerges from its chrysalis. After just two and a half minutes this sonic lepidopteran takes flight, as pianos take over and we get our first glimpse of the new “classical” angle. Next up is ‘Hexations’, with its initial jarring slide giving way to some mournful piano. The title track is sad and pretty in all the right ways and ‘From Royal Ave’ shimmers with a warm, droning fuzz, cut through with some really nice strings. 

Freund seems to have had a pretty clear picture in mind when composing these pieces, “These pieces are made by and for the view from huge sunroom windows overlooking a wooded ravine." My advice would be to find yourself a sunroom, or just a wooded ravine (or really anywhere pretty), and let yourself drift off with it.

Mold On Canvas is a sad album, but not ‘sad’ in its usual usage, meaning upsetting or morose, but instead a different sad: a reflective, comforting sad, one almost synonymous with beautiful. I like it a lot, and I think you might too.

You can download it in its entirety via Bark & Hiss