Cross Referencing [XRef30]
21 March, 2013
So, while I was away, I've been listening to some new shows via Mixcloud. Neil Debham (of Broken Shoulder) turned me on to the wonderfully eclectic Crow Versus Crow, while an offhand tweet from Rough Trade led me to their weekly Counter-Culture program. From these stellar shows - and, as usual, from Dandelion Radio - come today's diverse selection.
Laurence Made Me Cry – the brainchild of Jo Whitby, Welsh songstress and producer. Her first LP, Diary of Me, is what one might consider “folktronica”, that curious combination of heartfelt songwriting fused with electronic touches. In this album, though, these dashes of synth – where they occur – serve only to supplement, even enhance, the magic already present in Whitby’s earnest, unadorned voice. Her wide-eyed wonder – most present in her precious single, “Between Destinations” – is absolutely refreshing: “Is it only me / that wonders through the window / just how magical this world can be?”
Besides, hardly every track is tinged with keyboards; “All That Patience Brings”, the opener, features crisp and trickling acoustic guitars, and the serene “Last To Know” glows with beautiful backing vocals and is underscored by a simple piano line.
Where it does occur, though, the electronic aspect of Laurence lends intriguing texture and atmosphere, without stealing the spotlight. “Paper Chains” is a fantastic example – an odd static sound provides an irregular beat that grows and drives the chorus, yet does not obscure the lovely guitar pickin’ underneath. And there’s the surprising “Blentot a Moi”, sung in French and accented by playful trumpets. Yet the most impressive track, at least to me, must be “The Intelligent Mr. Toad”, a swirling and uplifting tune interlaced with a babbling stream of analog sound.
Diary of Me is available on Laurence’s Bandcamp page as both a pay-what-you-want digital download and (what I’m saving my monies for) a £9 digipak.
UPDATE: If you did as I asked and bought that digipak, you are now the proud owner of a rare album. This issue contained a misprint, so Jo re-released the LP in jewel cases.
Helicopter Quartet - Trailblazers of the soundscape into unknown realms of your brain. Oh, yeah. This is experimental, all right, but don’t think for a moment that Helicopter Quartet’s self-titled EP is merely “ambient”. Hell, no. “Frida” starts innocently enough – until 50 seconds in, when a burst of electric violin shatters the calm. Seconds later, however, a waltz of sweet fiddles emerges from the wreckage. This is what Helicopter Quartet excels in: shattering expectations, abandoning form, and shifting moods swiftly and violently.
For the most part, though, this EP does create an atmosphere – tense, alien, remote, and far below the surface of the planet. For nearly four minutes, the violin in “Afternoon Nightmare” whines and hums a singular note, while an eerie echoing sound peals out from a deep abyss. As the tune progresses, a quiet acoustic strum yields to a mammoth electric beast, and a shrill sound trills out with increasing agony. Sounds like the perfect soundtrack for a chilling Lovecraft tale, no?
These, and two other mind-displacing tracks, can be found on Helicopter Quartet’s Bandcamp page. It’s yet another pay-what-you-want EP – but a quality headtrip like this is worth more than a few quid!
Parquet Courts – After hearing these dudes on heavy rotation for about nearly two weeks on my local radio station – and THEN hearing them yet again on Rough Trade’s Counter-Culture program – I realized that a write-up was inevitable. Parquet Courts is a slice of Americana DIY, drawn from the likes of the Minutemen, Camper Van Beethoven, and Sonic Youth. Tight beats, irreverent vocals, and mischievous riffs dominate their first proper LP, Light Up Gold. A solid release, I guarantee ya – its devil-may-care energy is crazily addictive.
All throughout, Parquet Courts delivers strong, memorable melodies, supplemented by brilliantly lazy observations and satire. From the get-go, “Master of My Craft” sets the mood, with its deliberately recalcitrant “Fuh-get about it!”s. “Stoned and Starving”, a rambunctious track about, well, being stoned and starving, already sounds like a bona fide classic. “Light Up Gold II” and “Disney P.T” are also hilariously rambunctious.
Elsewhere, though, there’s the more low-key “N Dakota”, a rumbling satire of the pastoral state. “No Ideas” is another slow highlight, with a ridiculous contrast between the wistful verses and the jerky chorus. The true standout of the album, however, may indeed be the closer “Picture of Health”, with its heavy-handed riffing and longing vocals.
Having listened to this album yet again, I think I understand why Parquet Courts has enjoyed so much attention – it harkens back to a simpler rock ethos, the ol' "slacker" mentality which seems to have receded in the indie soundscape. Hop over to their Bandcamp page and see what you think; if you love it, buy the digital download for $9.
If you REALLY love it, hunt down the CD release - it's been selling like hotcakes at respectable record label stores everywhere.