Posted on 28 May 2012 by Bowlegs
Last time I counted there were nine members in Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The troupe have been rambling since 2007, releasing their exuberant acoustic indie jaunt, Up from Below, back in 2009. Since then, their front man Alex Ebert tried his hand at a solo record, Alexander, which took an even more ramshackle tone – and featured some of the best tracks of his career.
Ebert’s songs and sounds stem, in the main, from the realm of folk – yet his playful nature and resounding enthusiasm means he won’t sit still, colouring the songs with his current idols and favourite genres. Opening with Man on Fire Ebert sounds like Neil Diamond fronting a rabble of procession musicians high on life. From there we have a run of tracks that share very little in common – other than Ebert’s always likeable performance.
The swaying ship that is Mayla brims with acoustic serenity, yet is marred by some electric guitar jazz riffing and a fairly deep void where the melody should take hold (I hear hints of Quinn the Eskimo and Lola, yet it’s far too indecisive). Then there is a reggae-come-tribal write off called One Love To Another – yes Marley is referenced in the title and indeed the hook.
Hear also the female fronted, soul-crashing Joplin ballad Fiya Wata, or Cat Stevens doing George Formby via country gospel on I Don’t Wanna Pray. Ebert and the band are submerged in the moment which is often endearing – yet the songs fall randomly and too often lack the quality we expect.
Posted on 03 May 2012 by Bowlegs
There’s something timeless about Reptar’s Body Faucet, which I hadn’t expected due to their buzz at SXSW. For some reason I assumed it’d be in the realm of Death Grips over Mystery Jets. I’ve had friends who’ve had bands named after things like dinosaurs and lizards and they’re usually quite aggressive. But I can’t help but feel that it’s one of a load of albums coming out which feature 0% in your face-ness.
The album is pretty long, another aspect defiant of its SXSW attributes. It’s 12 tracks and ten of those are over four-minutes. It’s possibly a sign that the band aren’t interested in being one of those three-minute pop throwaway types. The vocal sound has a Bob Marley –esque sound often found on house tracks – you know, ones which float around in Ibiza, not that the music here resembles that scene, just the vocals.
Houseboat Babies is more blatant with its use of the Marley vocal vibe, but with some super sickly ‘group’ shouty vocals – which can’t be called original as such – it’s like The Go! Team all over again. I’m going to check on Facebook to see who the cheeky tyke is pretending to be Bob Marley. It’s all in the throat really. I can hear it. Nice production though.
Many of the tunes remind me of MGMT, but more for a feeling of youthfulness and synth-drench rather than the experimental lo-fi edge MGMT achieved. Over all, the album features enough decent melody and musicality to warrant its existence, and some of the songs will work really, really well when released at the gates of summer for long teenage nights.
Posted on 29 February 2012 by Bowlegs
It’s album number three for these wanderers of popʼs dreamscape and, first thing’s first, it is a belter. Previously a trio, Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra Deheza have said their farewells to Alejandraʼs sister Claudia, and boy they work well in tandem. Curtis manages to make his chiming guitars and pushing synth productions meld spectacularly with Dehezaʼs enchanting, layered vocals.
Opener The Night sets the precedent here, where a simple guitar motif, along with an increasingly urgent rhythm and vocal backdrop, nudges, pokes and cajoles the song into near euphoria. The theme running through the album is that of a girl and the ghosts that inhabit her life. The ghosts here though are “Every love, hurt, betrayal and heartbreak you’ve ever had”. The songs all project the sense of these feelings following you around and the constant struggle to shake them off.
A lot of the orchestration here conjures up images of the 1979 cult film The Warriors. The feeling of being chased and a need to move forward, tempered by a claustrophobic ominous presence that lifts and drops at will. The vocals throughout the album are as much a part of the instrumentation as any of the hardware used, but they always maintain a personality and draw you into the lyrics. A case in point, and an album highlight, is Low Times. It’s a dark breathy rumbler that breaks down and then takes off again on the back of its terrifically simple and effective chorus line. Lovely.
The slower more inward tracks, such as Reappear, can sometimes slow up proceedings a little too much, but maybe that’s the point and they certainly don’t switch off your interest in seeing the story through to it’s conclusion.
Although School of Seven Bells are now travelling one member lighter, in Ghostory they have produced their most consolidated and substantial work to date. This album could well turn out to be a surprise treasure of the year.
Posted on 19 August 2011 by Bowlegs
A glacial form of electronic R&B was the initial response from Bowlegs on hearing moments from Active Child’s spiritually cleansing debut. Sharing the mic with How To Dress Well’s Tom Krull on the excellent ‘Playing House’ probably assisted on the description stakes. Or maybe it was the soft snare tripping ‘Hanging On’, where Pat Grossi (who is Active Child) provides stunning harmonies to his own falsetto tones.
The production and instrumentation is clean, like a musical form of Evian – synths that never touch the ground, beats that expand the palette and Grossi’s harp a connection to the organic.
Grossi’s voice is the centre of the record, so even when the drums go beyond the cinematic, like on ‘See Thru Eyes’, his intonation draws the attention, the reverb-drenched, delaying beat shatters amidst the beautiful delivery. James Blake or Bon Iver may be reference points, but all three create their own space and time – their own personality as strong as the vocal chords they were blessed with.
The Active Child EP ‘Curtis Lane’ was impressive, yet here we move to a new level of confidence from the LA based musician. The crackling ‘Way Too Fast’ can’t even dirty the track’s take on love and relationships. The surging synths remain low-key, as does the subtle rumbling – Grossi sounding emotionally damaged as he delivers the “you’re so damn cold” line numerous times.
The electro sounds from yesteryear on ‘Shield & Sword’ provide another record high, hinting at an industrial genre, the beat throbs and snaps as keys and analogues rise and fall.
This is an expansive record that takes its own sweet time to unwind, to deliver heartbreak or to bask in the open view – and Bowlegs plans on getting lost within for a while yet.
Posted on 14 April 2011 by Bowlegs
As front-man for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Alexander Ebert explores a whole range of genres and styles – just flick through their ‘Up from Below’ album. His home-recorded, debut solo record as Alexander continues the trend, though admittedly most tracks start from the acoustic guitar upwards. So just as you try and corner it into freak folk it slithers past you in a soulful fashion, or quick talks like a new Paul Simon piece. It makes for an impressive, though slightly disjointed record.
It does boast some real highlights though, most notably ‘Truth’, a track that is up there as one of the best of 2011. From its brushed rhythm and desolate whistle, to the fast-talking verse that culminates with Ebert wailing intermittently over the delicate, female backing. Anyone that can write such an impassioned track has our attention all day long.
As a vocalist he changes with the music. Check the Dylan-like delivery in ‘Old Friend’ – a warbling, slow-burning ballad that rumbles rather than rambles. The aforementioned Paul Simon influence makes an appearance in the ‘Graceland’ goes bohemian track ‘In the Twilight’. ‘Remember Our Heart’ is a big street band that booms steadily past: the vocal line banding between elongated cries to a swiftly delivered chorus. ‘Glimpses’ aches with soul: the simply-picked guitar turns slowly, forcing the front-man to push onwards with his wavering emotion.
There is little doubt Alexander is a great talent; he has more ideas than he knows what to do with. But by squeezing so many of them into forty minutes of music he breaks any potential flow. On the other hand it is his restless nature that can be thanked for moments like ‘Truth’. It leaves Bowlegs resigned to the fact that, with Alexander, you have to take the rough with the smooth. WB