A Dead Forest Index, Cast of Lines EP (6/2/2014, Pop Noire)
Brotherly duo Adam (guitar, vocals) and Sam (drums, vocals) Sherry – from Aukland, NZ, currently residing in London – comprise A Dead Forest Index. Their latest, the Cast of Lines EP, was released on London-based Pop Noire – home of the equally arresting (though for much different reasons) Savages.
No review of Cast can get far without recognizing that voice. A voice that recalls equal parts Nico, Marianne Faithful (younger version) and Billy Mackenzie (just not the falsetto bit). Detached and solitary, yet also dramatic, arresting and present – the voice is the central focus of each of the four tracks.
The arrangements are ethereal, elemental; specifically, water. Seas, tides, currents – each appears often throughout in the lyrics; their ebb and flow mirrored by the languid power of the music. Each song builds upon itself, waves of harmony and orchestration added towards crescendo, lapping away at the lyrics until they’re stripped away to a solitary line/phrase, repeated like a mantra.
There are sonic touchstones here – the ethereal openness of early 4AD, the primitive jangle and thump of the Velvet Underground (particularly on “No Paths”). Similar to Money, there is something spiritual in the overall feel; a lonely, monastic ambience in the empty spaces – self-reflection in the universal. This record, though, stands on its own as something truly unique.
Highlights include: the immense “Cast of Lines” (video below), “Tide Walks”.
Andy Stott: Violence, Faith in Strangers (Modern Love, 2014)
Andy Stott’s previous work – including 2012’s full length, Luxury Problems and 2011’s EPs Passed Me By and We Stay Together – was often cloaked in shadows. Murky textures and dark, angular visions shrouded in a fog of dense bass rhythms; human vocals and other sounds fighting to be heard from beneath the ice of a frozen lake.
The two new tracks teased thus far from Stott’s upcoming follow-up, Faith In Strangers — “Violence” and the title track – allow a glimmer of light to penetrate the mists. Each includes vocals courtesy of Luxury cohort Alison Skidmore.
In “Violence”, Skidmore’s mumbled vocals are out front in the mix and distinguishable from the enveloping drunken haze – shot through with repeated satellite bursts of melody. When the beat stomps in – initially with about 1:00 left – the song opens wide and shows it’s jaws, sounding like an industrial, more antagonistic Portishead.
‘Faith in Strangers’ shocks, initially, with a slinky bass line, a snappy snare/hi hat tone and higher octave organ chords – somewhere between Aphex Twin and Liquid Liquid. The melody is infectious, swooning – rather than mining beauty from miasma, this one wears its loveliness on its sleeve. Skidmore’s reverbed vocals wind in and out, with a youthful quality somewhat reminiscent of late 80s indie or shoegaze.
Both are brilliant, and make Faith in Strangers (due November 17/18, depending on your location) on Modern Love Records, very highly anticipated.
“Violence” is available for download now, through iTunes.
The Juan MacLean, In a Dream (DFArecords, 9/16/14)
Electronic music tends to mine its past when crafting its present. “New” sounds tend to be an amalgamation of sounds that came before, perhaps presented in a new way or via novel platform; often mutated by what came in between. Dreams are, similarly, a subconscious manifestation of memories of past experiences, morphed by our current reaction to an emotional and/or physical state.
The new album by The Juan MacLean is called In a Dream, and it conjures many Ghosts of Dance Music past. As with the duo’s earlier releases – which recalled, variously, Chicago house, new wave, techno and disco – the sonic touchstones here are plentiful. A partial list of those I noted upon repeat listening include: early Madonna and mid-80s NYC new wave/dance music in general (“You Were a Runaway”); Temperamental-era Everything But the Girl (“Here I Am”, “Charlotte”); New Order (the guitar line at the 1:16 mark of “Love Stops Here”, the glassy, Technique-sounding synths in “Here I Am”); and early new wave (the intro and boy/girl response vocals of “I’ve Waited for So Long” recalls Human League). Several of the album’s highlights – the sublime “A Simple Design”, centerpiece “Love Stops Here”, “Running Back to You” and closer “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love” – are satisfying combinations of these influences.
In fact, the album I kept coming back to while listening to In a Dream was Ministry’s much derided (by the band – I personally love it still) debut, With Sympathy. A trio of Dream’s cuts, “Running”, “Design” and “Runaway” very much recall the sound and feeling of that record, with vocalist Nancy Whang often sounding a bit like Shay Jones (backing vocalist on Sympathy’s “I Wanted to Tell Her”). “Running” takes it a step further; Sympathy synth lines welded onto a tune recalling the lush 80s R&B of labels like Tabu Records – the SOS Band meets pre-heroin Ministry! Naturellement!
The album is no mere nostalgia trip, however – it is as timely as it is timeless; taking cues from the past to shape the present. It is a beautiful marriage of lush, sweeping electronic wistfulness with darkly romantic lyrics, delivered by Whang (fantastic throughout) in a way that brings back the classic (somewhat detached) club diva. The sequencing is also spot on, with opener “Space is the Place” bookended by “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love”. The latter – with its imperious, Vangelis(y) opening chords and titular, epic proclamation (here referring to love’s survival in the face of ecologic apocalypse, rather than empire-building) – could have been a fine centerpiece, but the ending refrain of sending love “in a rocket shape/send it out in space” provides the perfect coda to what is certainly one of this year’s best releases.
Highlights include: “Running Back to You”; “The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love”; “A Simple Design”; “Here I Am”).