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Vessels // Dilate – Review

Listening to music featuring little or no traditional instruments can prove understandably challenging for many, with some perhaps immediately disregarding it as background music, or losing patience with an apparent lack of substance, or reward for the perpetual build. Progressive electronica is fairly easy to promote to the die hard fans, but infinitely more difficult to make accessible to the masses. Whether Vessels intend to attempt this with their new record ‘Dilate’ remains to be seen, but I’d wager I’ll be hard pressed to use the words ‘generic’ or ‘predictable’ when describing it.

Eight quite lengthy tracks are introduced by ‘Vertical’, with looped percussion and distant bass sounds gently guiding us into the first thirty seconds of the record, before the bass intensifies and it’s melody carries us along for a while. Building magnificently slowly, chopping helicopter-like sounds brew ominously until a hugely nod-able beat bears down, eventually making way for some starry blends that take over for the close out of the song. Following on seamlessly into ‘Elliptic’, where bass is once again the driving force, yet beautifully controlled and far from overpowering. Repetitive sounding hooks are ever-present, but are kept fresh brilliantly through the constant addition of new elements, percussion especially during this track, while the beat remains un-phased by it’s changeable compatriots in sound.

‘Echo In’ alters the tone slightly with a more soothing bass sound, contrasted by a solid drum beat, meticulously built around a sharp snare. Enchanting melodies are layered upon a bubbling background, which lasts throughout this relatively short track, although given the overlapping merging of tracks, song length doesn’t really play a part in an album that is evidently designed to be listened to from start to finish. Vocals are heard clearly for the first time on ‘As You Are’, and play a seminal role in this subdued dream of a track, although the percussion backing once again provides something else for the listener to think about.

Intriguing futuristic sounds beckon is into track five ‘Attica’, which features a much bigger sound than has been heard before. Intense synth builds at an oddly enticing rate, and there is no pronounced ‘drop’ like you may find in other similar tracks, instead you simply find yourself soaring through huge sounds almost without you realising. ‘On Monos’ catches a breath before breaking back into a thudding drum beat while almost incomprehensible vocals echo sporadically. The very occasional use of vocals reminds us these sounds are made by human beings, not by some superior AI from the future.

Back to the basic bass and beats for ‘Glass Lake’, making way for a raving mid-section that could effortlessly get a room full of revellers moving, though it really would need to be very loud indeed, as it just doesn’t pack the same punch when listening at a regular volume. The final track ‘On Your Own Ten Toes’ then starts in much the same way as the others, though one can’t help but hope for something spectacular to close out a hugely enjoyable record. The humming bass acts as an ominous, yet upbeat foundation, while a quickly fluctuating sparkle of sound leads the way for the beat that follows. ‘Vessels’ likely never intended on this track reaching the size of the sounds heard on ‘Attica’, but I for one would have enjoyed perhaps something a little more spectacular to close out what is a fascinatingly modern record.

The sound of this record could potentially be described as something of a relay race of sound, with different elements and features taking their turn, then passing each track on to a different hook to carry for a while. It is executed extremely well, never becoming difficult to follow and always giving the listener something new to engage with, without ever becoming overwhelmed with too many different things going on.

Dilate is out Monday 02/03/2015

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Kodaline // Coming Up For Air – Review

Irish 4-piece Kodaline release their all important second album ‘Coming Up For Air’, which brings with it the unenviable task of bettering their breakthrough record ‘In A Perfect World’, an album that saw them gain widespread popularity in an increasingly difficult musical climate.

The opening track and lead single from the album ‘Honest’, gets things off to a prompt start, and immediately introduces us to the echoing synth sounds and “wooaah’s” that play a vital role in the composition of this record. Huge synth bass carries the poignant chorus, with Steve Garrigan asking “Is it in you to be honest?” Switching between relatively intense sounds and more solemn vocal parts makes this opening track an engaging and effortlessly catchy start. ‘The One’ follows on pleasantly with a gentle introduction featuring piano and Garrigan’s reflective vocals. This shamelessly gushing love song is made all the more enjoyable by well controlled strings and inventive synth sounds skulking behind the echoing guitars.

‘Auto Pilot’ begins with gentle percussion, followed by subtle guitar, smooth vocals and some sensitive harmonies. The percussive backing remains throughout, while the vocals build and the backing choir adds satisfying depth to what is instrumentally a relatively simple song. The alarming guitar and synth sounds wake us up promptly in ‘Human Again’. “I got a pain in my heart and a pain in my chest, I wanna be human again” rings out over a contrastingly upbeat sound, powered by a stamping snare drum. Raising the vocals an octave further emphasises the desire for positive change that screams from this track. ‘Unclear’ almost sounds like it’s been recorded underwater, with only whispering vocals and bass guiding us initially, before the ever present ‘wooaah’s’ again come into play. The choir of young voices is brilliantly used to once again hammer us into an unavoidably positive mood.

The sixth track, which bares an immense resemblance to Coldplay’s ‘Hurts Like Heaven’, features yet more wooing along with simple but hugely effective guitar riffs that explode into Garrigan’s “coming alive!”. Altering the riffs slightly each time keeps the track fresh and interesting, and staunchly maintains the records obdurately optimistic feel. ‘Lost’ is a track that wouldn’t be out of place on a recent ‘Muse’ album, with futuristic sounds fluctuating behind the rest of the track, in a similar vein to the heavily adjusted guitars that play a key role in the following track ‘Ready’. Very simple structurally, but effortlessly catchy, the piercing high notes towards the end of the song work surprisingly well and make up for the regrettably lazy lyrics of the chorus.

Acoustic guitar is used prominently for the first time on track nine ‘Better’, which is a turning point in the album, moving from relentless positivity to inconsolable sorrow in the blink of an eye. “It doesn’t feel right” saps the good feeling that has been built up for the duration of the album thus far, but gloriously delivered vocals in the chorus rouse this impossibly beautiful track into something of a show piece, with building strings accompanying the vocals superbly. “Cause it’s making me worse” aptly brings the song to an end, and leaves the listener wondering what an earth happened between tracks eight and nine to warrant such pristine melancholia. Mercifully though, spotting the title of the next track will settle the bottom lip of any potentially blubbering listeners. ‘Everything Works Out In The End’ is a contemplative track which returns to a positive tone, with soothing vocal accompaniment and prominent piano helping to build us back up again.

The penultimate track cracks off suddenly, with some ‘ooing’, and what may well be a kazoo in the mix. “Nobody’s gonna carry you” is a fitting lyric in this uplifting and motivating song that utilises a huge array of different instruments. ‘Love Will Set You Free’ closes out the record perfectly, persevering with the reflective tone “This ain’t no sad song, life has to go on”. The piano, drums and acoustic guitar are fortified with brass and a large choir of woah-ers, all while Garrigan majestically serenades us into a delightfully happy place.

‘Coming Up For Air’ then is a record that will likely satisfy those listeners who have wanted something new from the alt-rock/pop scene. It’s hugely accessible lyrics, uplifting and – for the most part – positive tone, combined with the modern feel of the album make it difficult to dislike, and with heavenly tracks like ‘Better’, I can see them outdoing their first release with ease.

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Girlpool – EP Review

Los Angeles duo ‘Girlpool’ are uncompromising and undeterred by the prospect of being shunned by the mainstream in the wake of their occasionally provocative and blunt lyrics. The two piece use nothing more than a guitar (Cleo Tucker), bass (Harmony Tividad), and their voices. They do so precariously, yet proficiently, and I say precariously having remembered how I felt upon hearing the first track on the EP – ‘Blah Blah Blah’, and really struggling not to rip my headphones from my ears – but the more time one gives this record, the more one understands it is not designed to be a treat for the ears, at least I hope not.

We are immediately introduced to the strong female foundation that is pivotal to the entire EP. ‘Blah Blah Blah’ sets the lyrical tone of the record and tells of a girl who is no longer willing to be used by her partner. Accompanied by stripped back and appropriately simple instrumentation (featuring a quirky guitar solo), this track is a real test that you’d do well to pass.

‘Paint Me Colours’ sees the tempo diminish and the tone become desperately melancholy, and borders on being a sadcore anthem. Although the tempo does pick up nearer the tracks conclusion, the bleak bass riff that sets the song off does an excellent job of lowering morale through it’s compelling monotony. Vocal harmonies give depth to a track that would otherwise struggle to keep the listener awake.

Moving on, the record does gain some momentum, with ‘Plants and Worms’ comprising of some decidedly pleasant chords and acoustic sounds. Lyrically however, we are greeted by yet more gloomy commentary – “I’m uncomfortable looking in the mirror”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for dreariness here and there – Radiohead have worked wonders with it – but relentlessly dreary lyrics combined with equally sombre music I find challenging to get my head around.

‘Jane’ however is refreshing in its relative positivity, telling the story of a girl who stood up to her tormentor named Tommy. The theme of women veering from their societal norms is continued in ‘Slutmouth’, which is sung from the point of view of a girl who is not comfortable conforming or doing what is expected of her – “I go to school every day just to be made a housewife one day”, an appropriate statement given current public issues surrounding gender equality.

The final track entitled ‘American Beauty’ is a welcome stimulation, and is the only track likely to stick in the mind of the listener, thanks largely to it’s chorus, “It’s not enough to watch a movie, eat me out to American Beauty” is a line not easily forgotten. The repetitive chords continue throughout and we are again reminded that the protagonist of this song is not the suppressed and weak woman that she feels she is expected to be, “If you’re lucky I’ll hold you tight”.

Despite ending on a high, this record struggles to stimulate any musical fire inside the listener, or make many groundbreaking and thought provoking statements on women or the lives of young people, BUT I can say with confidence that this strangled outcry is exactly what Girlpool intended when they put the record together.

Girlpool EP Cover

Girlpool EP Cover

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