Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Drink - Capital

Disclosure: Jude Rogers – freelance writer extraordinaire and wife of The Drink's drummer Daniel Fordham – was involved in the Smoke: A London Peculiar website, which published some of my work.

The Drink - Capital
Listening to Capital - The second album by London-based, dark-folk oddity, The Drink - reminded me of the early 1980s, when indie music seemed to occupy a strange parallel dimension, adjacent to what was going on in the mainstream. 

In this pre-internet age, left-field bands, cocooned in their own worlds, on the periphery of the British music scene, hoved haphazardly in and out of my orbit: Momentarily blinking into existence on FM radio waves, via a John Peel Session; read about in small articles in one of the weekly music papers, but perhaps never heard; occasionally granted a flicker of wider exposure in the form of an incomplete, context-free snippet from a chorus, accompanying a still, black and white photo, during the Indie Top 10 singles countdown on The Chart Show.

The Drink draw on the spirit of this era, along with countless historical DIY efforts to recalibrate pop music according to some alternative template. There is a sense of a band going their own way; who, at times, seem lost in a sea fog between the algorithmic structures of American post rock, and a kind of far-flung, Anglicised island folk music.

The spindly guitar that methodically works itself into complicated shapes, as if negotiating the twists and turns of an intricate, blackboard-bound mathematical formula, doesn't so much provide structure to these songs as it does define their outer limits. There are moments on Capital when it sounds like a less scattered approximation of the dexterous Congolese Soukous style of finger picking - a technique that, in sub-Saharan climes, showers the listener with peels of warm notes. Relocated several lines of latitude to the north, these exotic chord structures shake off some of their equatorial looseness, gaining angles and, during the advancing mantra of The Coming Rain, a purposeful forward momentum: It's a song that skips about on an undulating African rhythm, tethered to a vocal that multi-tracks partway through, affecting a slow dissolve into a false ending, before picking up again where it left off.

The ten tracks here are unusually detailed in their construction, with some deliberately unbalanced or marginally out of tune. This makes them intriguing but difficult to fathom on early listens. The wilfully off-kilter Hair Trigger is sonically equivalent to one of those gravity-defying modern skyscrapers that look like they might fall down at any moment – a fidgety, a-melodic rhythm that jumps back and forth, or hangs on the spot, while the drummer attempts to lay down a stabilising beat underneath.

Potter's Grave – another peculiarity that seems to have been meticulously pieced together from a grab-bag of ideas – is built around an intricately looping guitar that assumes a holding pattern during the lead-in to the chorus.

Adding fluidity to this cat's cradle of sound, with its zigzagging advances and retreats, is Dearbhla Minogue, whose untutored vocals float around the higher registers and recall front-women like Rosie Cuckston (Pram) and Alison Statton (Young Marble Giants). Unlike Cuckston, who was happy for her voice to crack as she strained for the top notes, Minogue stays within the limits of her range. It's a style in keeping with the overall approach of the band, who will meticulously explore the outer limits of a musical idea, but in a very controlled, restrained and methodical manner.

Capital is an album of curiosities; odd lines that rise from a sea of lyrical abstraction, such as the oft-repeated “If you do well in school I'll take yah to the swimming pool” on Potter's Grave.

I'll Never Make You Cry simulates walking in on a 1960s girl group, in the early stages of demoing a version of a much bigger song, with place-holder lyrics and a ponderous bookmark of an instrumental break. This non-traditional, approach to vocal downtime is repeated on Hair Trigger with its sketchy, negative image of a guitar solo, absent power chords.

The Drink tread a fine line, carefully micro-managing their sound, but stopping short of allowing these underlying complexities to get in the way of the songs. On Capital there are moments of genuine tension and atmosphere. The ominous organ drone and guitar creep that opens No Memory has the air of a developing off-shore weather system. It's a song that carries itself forward, rising and falling on slow-building swells. The drawn-out coda, ghosted by stray backing vocals, peters out before it can fade away, as if the band who have thrown so many ideas into this album, in its final seconds finally ran out of notes to play.

The Drink – Potter's Grave

The Drink – Capital

Release Date: 13th November, 2015

Track Listing and Timings

1. Like a River 3:04
2. You Won't Come Back at All 5:00
3. Potter's Grave 4:01
4. Roller 3:27
5. Hair Trigger 4:30
6. I Can't Sleep 3:56
7. The Coming Rain 5:12
8. I'll Never Make You Cry 3:31
9. Month of May 3:23
10. No Memory 5:35

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Wand - 1000 Days

Wand - 1000 Days
Earlier this year, the Californian band - Wand - released their second album.

Titled Golem, it was a record that staked out a camp on the fringes Stoner Rock territory with its fusion of metal and psychedelia.

Wand's third long-player - 1000 Days - is a far lighter and nimbler record than its predecessor, comprising 12 short songs, all cut from the same cloth, that draw upon the US garage-band psychedelia of the 1960s and early 70s, and its folkier, whimsical English counterpart.

As a band who have released two albums in 2015, Wand work quickly. The songs on 1000 Days all sound young and light on their feet, unburdened by any traces of over-thinking that might have drained their vitality.

The opener - Grave Robber - which, on the basis of the title alone, one would peg as a monolithic slab of plodding doom metal, comes racing out of traps on a panel-beaten metallic whoosh of indeterminate origins. It's an encouraging mark of quality psychedelia when you can't pin down the instrument that is source of the peculiar noises that are ricocheting around on the periphery of the mix.

Elsewhere, a cymbal dissolves into a boiling gaseous cloud; a meandering electronic keyboard note, accompanied by underlying chirps and burbles, is carried along on jangly rhythm guitar, and the song moves ahead of itself with such urgency that it barely pauses for its middle eight.

The acid-drenched 1960s vibe that infuses every nook and cranny of 1000 Days could leave a listener with the impression that their brain architecture is slowly reconfiguring itself into a mandala:

Passage of a Dream incorporates drawn-out guitar swan-dives, like the engine of a small jet aircraft on a steep controlled descent, prior to dissolving into metallic cacophony.

Lower Order's opening - a heavily compressed bass that mimics an over-revved motorcycle engine - lingers as a sustained note throughout the song: A relentless churning groove that, following a splintered guitar solo and some magisterial keyboards, changes in tone, warping over on itself to show off different facets of the same raw material.

The album highpoint - Sleepy Dog – a song with its eyes fixed upon the heavens, offers the grandest of false endings: A staggered bass and guitar climb-down from a chorus trailing interstellar synths, that segues into a spaced-out, instrumental false coda. This is followed by some scampering drum fills as if the rhythm section is attempting to regain traction, and then one final chorus that devolves into a squalling power chord.

Situated on the album's most far-out extremities (otherwise known as track 5), the instrumental interlude, Dovetail, is a drumming circle consisting of hollow vessels, lacking any bottom end, and more solid percussion, ghosted by phantom strafed beats on the verge of being smudged out of existence; all of it set against a heavily-distorted single note that sounds like it's in the process of being stretched-out in a wind tunnel.

The record's acoustic moments often pre-empt the arrival of heavier material. Broken Sun begins as head-nodding campfire music - a bassline that creaks like somebody rubbing wrinkles into the surface tension of a slightly over inflated balloon. By the midpoint it has utterly transformed into a ponderous heavy metal beast that recalls Black Sabbath, with an increasingly stroppy whinnying guitar solo that struggles to wrench itself free from the restraints of rhythm section.

There are gentler moments, such as the title track whose opening line “Ceement boy and Ceement girl walking alone in the sunlight” recalls the pastoral Arcadian whimsy of Robyn Hitchcock, as does the closing song Morning Rainbow - a gentle acoustic paean to Lucifer with lyrics that suggest an olive branch offered by the creator to his favourite fallen angel; the ominous parting words: “We will see the world together in it's terror.”

With nary a pause between the end of one track and the beginning of the next, 1000 Days is a breathless journey, lasting 33 minutes, but with enough ideas to fill an album of double the running time. 


Wand – 1000 Days
(Drag City)

Release Date: 25th September, 2015

Track Listing and timings

1. Grave Robber 3:33
2. Broken Sun 2:44
3. Paintings Are Dead 1:46
4. Dungeon Dropper 2:14
5. Dovetail 4:06
6. 1000 Days 2:43
7. Lower Order 3:39
8. Sleepy Dog 2:37
9. Stolen Footsteps 2:52
10. Passage Of The Dream 3:39
11. Little Dream 0:37
12. Morning Rainbow 2:35