I’ve always found Vetivera bit colourless. That’s a strange way to start, I know. There’s nothing offensive about Andy Cabic’s music at all… It’s more the fact that that it isn’t that’s troubled me. Clearly though, that’s not the point. The point is that I felt each album over the past 7 years has blended into the next with only rare hints of any progression or digression.
So then, with that in mind, you’d probably think that I’m the worst person imaginable to review a Vetiver album. Well maybe, but definitely not for that reason.
The Errant Charm is so different from any other Vetiver album before it, that if you were to mentally line-up them all up, it would stick out like Danny De Vito at a Batman audition. Its ‘Errant’ inclusive title hints at it, but it’s the surprisingly breezy pop that has you wondering whether this could be just a one-off, concept-without-the-concept album.
Inane comparisons and future intentions aside, this album on its own is a beautifully realised set of songs that are anything but colourless. Cabic has created something infectiously summery and laid back here without going fully horizontal. The tone is set from the onset of ‘It’s Beyond Me’, but it’s from ‘Cant You Tell’ until the peak of ‘Wonder Why’ that it cranks up the sunshine to levels only previously known to Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff.
Image courtesy of Bella Union
That’s not to say that if you spit at the feet of rainbows and/or want more of Vetiver’s own brand of pop, that there’s nothing here for you. ‘Hard to Tell’ is a lot more direct and traditionally Vetiver-like than anything, while ‘Ride Ride Ride’ cranks up the classic rock meter all the way up to 3. Within the context of The Errant Charm’s otherwise tranquil serenity, it feels more like a 7 though.
There’s something inherently old in The Errant Charm without the use of any cheap gimmicks or blunt homages to the past. You would have to take very little away before you could outlandishly lie about this album actually having been released in the ’60s or ’70s. The combination of natural and light electronica is so sympathetically produced, that, if we want to get properly convoluted about it, sounds like a drowsy Beck being produced by Air on a Tuesday, or something.
The result, as you would imagine, is an album that absolutely feeds your happiness in the same way that watching a feel-good film, awakening to a sunny day, or running naked through a meadow would make you feel. In The Errant Charm, Cabic has definitely kept his folk-rock shoes on, yet by reigning in the folk and reaching out to a new subtlety and warmth, Vetiver have forged an album that is their best. As the title suggests, this may turn out to be errant, but for now it’s fresh, interesting, and entirely welcomed.
SOUNDS LIKE: Beck produced by Air
BEST TRACKS: ‘Wonder Why’, ‘Right Away’, ‘Cant You Tell’ Vetiver are currently touring Europe, with the U.K stint of their tour due to start, somewhat curiously in Bedford on 25 June. Their album is out on Bella Union records now.
Heard Vetiver’s new album? Let us know what you think!
You might be thinking “Lilies on what-now?” – but you heard right, and this London 3-piece have been making waves on the capital’s music scene (quite literally) for years now. As they release their second UK album entitled I wish You Were a Pony we took the chance to speak with Lisa and Marina from the band about the evolution of their sound, Eliot Smith and how they’ve coped with independence during the recession…
Hi ladies! Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, especially when the weather’s so nice out and we’re keeping you inside on the phone… For our readers out there who might not be so familiar with your music, you’ve been around as a band/duo since 2008, but can you tell us a little bit about Lilies on Mars and how you guys came into being?
Marina: Lisa and I met playing in another band which split in 2008 and we decided to start a new project with just the two of us. It was just for fun We recorded 11 songs in a month in our studio and released the album straight away. I suppose how we did it was a bit unusual in that we started writing and releasing songs before we eventually began to play gigs…
For the best part of 2 years, it was just Lisa and I, then we met our drummer Matthew and in 2010 we became a three-piece. It’s been really great having him on board, he’s really brought something new to the band and we’re having a lot of fun.
Your previous band was signed to an independent label, but you chose a different path for Lilies on Mars… Was that a conscious decision influenced by your previous experiences in the industry?
Marina: We (had a bad experience with our old band which eventually split) so we when started up Lilies on Mars, we consciously decided to be independent. We wanted to record the songs just the way we like them- so that’s what we did. When we laid out our first album, it was just me and Lisa recording the instruments- a drummer came and collaborated on 3 songs but everything else we did ourselves.
We were very relaxed about the whole thing; it was very natural and spontaneous. We started from scratch and because we were so inspired we were just writing and writing… Because we didn’t want to wait to release it for others to hear we just went “Okay, we have this record, we’ll put it out ourselves.”
You’re generally described as shoegazer ambient indie-pop and with vocal melodies being paramount over intelligible lyrics, it seems that’d be a fair estimation to outside ears. But how do you guys see your own sound and how comfortable are you with the labels you’ve been plastered with?
Marina: It’s difficult to explain really- I really like that people consider our music shoe gaze, we love My Bloody Valentine, Sonic youth etc, so it’s fascinating for us that people see those influences. But we don’t like to categorise our music too much. You can spot the dream-pop and shoe-gaze influences, but our songs are also very different- we’re not a typical shoe gazer bands because we we experiment with sound for every song and give it a particular character.
Lisa: We like the dreamy element of our music- all the songs have that in common. Especially from the vocals- they vocals are floaty with lots of reverb and delays. That’s probably the ‘signature’ of our music that carries across throughout.
Yeah I’d definitely agree with that statement, and from an outside perspective the vocals provide the real signature sound of the band. Moving on from your own music, which artists do you draw personal influence from?
Marina: On my iPod I tend to listen to a lot of new music- I literally update my iPod all the time so I keep up with all the new releases and in that sense have quite a varied play list! But albums I always have on there? Elliot smith; he’s one of the most inspiring artists ever. I have his entire back catalogue on my iPod permanently. I also really like Blonde Redhead and Deer Hoof.
Our drummer Matthew lovesGrizzly Bear, in fact I actually met Matthew at a Grizzly Bear gig last year! I guess you could say they helped bring the band together. We also really love Broadcast and Pink Floyd; we listen to all sorts of music. I love the psychedelic electronic element in their music…
Lisa: At the moment I am love, love, loving [Brighton outfit] Zun Zun Egui.
by Emma Jardine - www.emmajardine.co.uk
I can totally see how Broadcast and Pink Floyd feed into your sound. I guess by being so DIY, you can tease out the individual elements of artists that you like and play about with them within your own music… Speaking of, you guys are really noted for your DIY ethos- how much of this was poured into producing your new album Wish you were a Pony? How does this tie in with the label you’re signed to, Elsewhere Factory?
Marina: We followed on from our first album really and did it our own way- we didn’t see the point in finding a label (we didn’t really want other people telling us what we needed to do)- so we released it through our own label the Elsewhere Factory Project.
EFP is a collective based originally in Rome although we work a lot in London. It’s a project that has essentially grown- it’s a club night, a record label and although at the moment we are just releasing our own albums, in the future we might release some other artists on the label. I guess we’ll see what happens, whether people want to come on board with that.
Next I think we’d love to release in Europe and the States and see if we can find a likeminded independent label that can help us with that.
Things are tight out there in the wake of the recession, and with all of the funding for the arts being slashed, London’s creative scene is starting to feel the pinch. How about you guys? Are you managing to support yourselves as full time independent musicians, or are you working on other projects?
Marina: We are full time musicians. Yes, we do little jobs to pay rent etc, but mostly we want to do is music. And I guess we are lucky that our friends have helped us out with this too, so we can afford to do it. Our friend Lunarial (Do It for the Monsters) makes all of our videos. Our record is totally DIY- we wrote it, recorded it, played the instruments….
However we asked New York producer Dan B to mix it. He’s collaborated with Kathy King, he plays for her and is her co-writer.
Lisa: We met him a few years ago when we went to tour in the states and since then we kept in contact. He was always asking “when are you doing the new record? I want to mix it!”
So after so long recording alone, how did you find the experience of bringing in someone from outside in to work with you?
Lisa: Well, Dan was totally in tune vision wise with us- he mixed the album exactly like we wanted and he did an amazing job… We were absolutely thrilled with what he produced for us!
Marina: Exactly. The first album we did literally everything so for the second album we really knew what we wanted… Inititally we were hesitant about an outsider coming in, but working with Dan was different- we were waiting every night for the mixes to be sent to us and we were so excited to hear them! It totally achieved everything we’d hoped, and it was lovely to hear his interpretation of our sounds.
The first album’s signature sound definitely carries across onto the new album… What’s next for you now it’s all recorded and ready to push? Are you playing any festivals this summer?
We’ve got some gigs lined up in London, the first being 25May in Camden. A full list of our upcoming gig is available on our web site.
Catch Lilies on Mars at the end of this month and into the summer across London. Listen to their new album here.
It seems an age ago now that we first heard the infectious choral melody of Fleet Foxes’ debut single ‘White Winter Hymnal’, an indie-folk ode to winter that immediately appealed to both genres and infiltrated mainstream and alternative music followings alike. Their self-titled debut album with its pastoral harmonies and springtime optimism helped make folk- or at least a new brand of folk- fashionable again. A domino effect was set in motion as bands such as Stornoway and Mumford and Sons felt a spike in their popularity here and the other side of the Atlantic. But with Helplessness BluesFleet Foxes show once again how far above their contemporaries they really are as they reclaim their place atop the indie-folk podium.
Helplessness Blues ushers in a more mellow and measured approach to song writing, echoing a growing maturity of the band and as individuals; “So now I get older/than my mother and father/when they had their daughter/so what does that say about me?” A framework for an album full of reflection on what has passed and questioning of the future is set from the off as the opening track ‘Montezuma’ (as with most of the album) focuses largely on singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold’s soothing vocals, which glide over acoustic guitar lullabies, gentle piano, a whole host of backing vocals and a diverse, though never overwhelming, percussion section.
The band use a wider range of instruments than before, more in line with folk tradition- the fiddle, flute and upright bass all add a new dimension to the band’s sound, marking a shift towards more classical folk. The clarinet instrumental in ‘Bedouin Dress’ typifies this move. However, the instrumentation is still secondary to Pecknold’s poetic vocals, achieving a more ‘stripped back’ sound than on their first album.
Helplessness Blues a more focused and polished feel, bringing strong vocal harmonies to the fore, as in ‘The Plains/Bitter Dancer’ and ‘Helplessness Blues’, and in many ways the title track is typical of the album as a whole. It presents a quixotic take on the wonders of nature, while posing questions on the inherent absurdities of life: “If I know one thing it’s that everything I see/of the world outside is so inconceivable”. Yet rather than reinforce the frustrations and ambivalence of helplessness, the album creates a tranquil and reflective vibe through which the world is examined then set-down again for reflection on a later day. The album very rarely veers from this tone, and as a result lacks the “youthful exuberance” of songs like ‘Ragged Wood’ from their first album.
Indeed the tracks on Helplessness Blues drift by beautifully rather than demand attention, making for an enjoyable if slightly unremarkable first listen. However, given time the album becomes more fully bodied through its consistency, and creates a more rounded and polished psychological profile of the band. The stand-out tracks on the album make it exquisit in their own right and the album a wise investment in these cash-strapped-times.
The album Helplessness Blues is out now on Sub Pop.
RATING:4/5 BEST TRACKS: Montezuma, The Shrine/An Argument, Helplessness Blues SOUNDS LIKE: Nick Drake, Devendra Banhart, Tim Buckley
In recent years there has been a resurgence in the popularity of lo-fi garage bands, mixing together 60s American sunshine-pop and the bleak sound of British shoegaze. Bands such as Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls have emerged from the New York scene, but now with the release of Girls Names’ debut this musical trend has gained a foothold in the UK.
Formed in Belfast back in 2009, Girls’ Names quickly put out a series of small releases on Slumberland and Tough Love Records which earned them support slots with high profile names such as Dum Dum Girls and Abe Vigoda. Their first full length album Dead To Me (released this month) justifies this impressive billing whilst hinting at bigger things to come.
Using a classic pop combination of drums, bass, guitar and vocals, Girls’ Names adhere to the ethos that ‘less is more’, an approach that results in an album full of expertly crafted three minute pop songs. Snare heavy drum beats and slick surf-side guitar licks give their music a stylishly frantic feel, whilst echo laden bass lines combined with Neil Brogan’s dark and detached vocals add a sombre dimension to their sound which accentuates the album’s recurring themes of death and separation.
Within this admittedly strict structure however rises a whole host of influences which seamlessly permeate their music. Brogan et al dip in and out of sounds as diverse as The Jesus and Mary Chain fuzz of ‘No More Words’, to the unnerving Joy Division-esque track ‘Nothing More To Say’ which plays like an ode to ‘Digital’- Brogan’s voice summons up the spirit of Ian Curtis with his drone like vocals as he repeats the lines ‘I want to run away/ I’ve nothing more to say’ over and over again. However, the best is saved ’til (almost) last with the brilliant track ’Kiss Goodbye’: memorable for its more mellow undertones and soulful backing vocals, this song forms the backbone of the album in terms of style and quality.
Dead To Me is a 30 minute helter-skelter ride through the themes of death, loss and heartbreak and although this gives it a rather desolate outlook it’s a surprisingly enjoyable listen which passes by all too quickly. Maintaining a consistently high standard, the album achieves a stylistically conclusive feel. We can expect to hear a lot more from Girls Names in the coming years.
Listened to the album? Let us know what you think…
RATING: 4/5 BEST TRACKS: Kiss Goodbye, I Lose, When You Cry SOUNDS LIKE: The Jesus and Mary Chain, Black Tambourine, Crystal Stilts
Girls Names’ Dead To Me is released on Tough Love Records on April 25th.
Now on their sixth album, Explosions In The Sky are delivering what could be marked as one of their most carefully articulated pieces of work to date. ‘Take Care, Take Care, Take Care’ is easily as compelling as their previous albums but pushes the boundaries further in terms of arrangement and emotion. With tracks exceeding way over seven minutes and more, Explosions haven’t left their nuanced skills behind. Offering layers of guitar strumming coated with placid chords, the album encapsulates the stunning work Explosions In The Sky are most famous for.
The album begins with ‘Last Known Surroundings;’ this tracks lays the foundations for the entire album with the instrumental riffs carefully layered over chords from backing guitars emulate the musical precision the band excel in. In contrast, whilst ‘LKS’ is the album’s skeletan ‘Trembling Hands’ acts as an almost fleshy interlude exerting an upbeat tempo, accompanied with vocals- rarely used in previous albums. Although such vocals consist of mostly “Uh oh” refrains, it signifies a shift in the band’s sound. The simple, yet rigid electronic tones are chartered with effortless vocals that play off the rest of the album, offering an eclectic stance in comparison to the delicate soundscape of other tracks present in the album.
What makes the album even more compulsive is how the melancholic undertones are complimented by and married to a series of swift guitar chords- reminiscent of the bands work on the soundtrack of Friday Night Lights. The distorted echoes of acoustic guitars add a sense of sobriety to the track ‘Be Comfortable, Creature,’ in which slow chords are layered with subtle electronic tones. This track in particular makes is clear why the band fit so well within cinematic soundtracks, namely through their ability to fuse gentle acoustics with broken pauses and bass chords to create an ambience of melancholic bliss for the audience to immerse themselves in.
The album finishes with what Explosions In The Sky do best; an elongated, dynamic composition- drawing out vast instrumental builds and finishing with gentle guitar chords. ‘Let me Back In’ is full of texture, creating tension between layers of guitar chords which are slowly teased out and resolved by the gentle drums present in the last two minutes of the track. The album begins-and ends as the band mean to go on- furnishing gentle, carefully constructed tracks, loyal to their post-rock background.
Overall, this is a compelling album that does not fail to disappoint and will be showcased throughout their UK tour in May. Dates include The Big Chill, London, Manchester and Dublin.
RATING: 4/5 BEST TRACK: Last Known Surroundings. SOUNDS LIKE: Mogwai, If These Trees Could, (Sigur Ross). Explosions in the Sky release ‘Take care, take care, take care’ on Bella Union Records on 18 April. You can pre-order the album now online.
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