Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Antlers – Familiars – 2014 – Transgressive Records

I have scored a hat trick, hit the treble twenty, gone threefold, bagged a triple. I naturally talk of three of a kind which is completed with todays review of  somewhat distantly festive The Antler’s ‘Familiars’. What, you may ask, is he jabbering about. Good question. The topic in question is records with enormous production and arrangements and attention to detail. I promise you we will go on a different path soon but a promise is a promise and I promised my son I would review this record which he very kindly gave last Christmas. What taste!

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The Antlers are a New York based band and Familiars is their 5th album although as a band it is their 3rd. The first 2 albums were solo efforts by singer Peter Silberman. He then started playing with Michael Lerner on drums and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and broke with ‘Hospice’ in 2009. I bought this record for the same son a good few years ago and then 2012’s ‘Burst Apart’ I bought for myself. As you can see we really like this band. We have history.

This is another precise record. My wife confidently describes it as suicide music but us boys need a bit of that. We love a bit of emotion as long as it is only in music and we don’t have to actually live it or respond appropriately. The pair of us were a bit of a slobbery mess when we saw them last summer.  It is characterised by vocal gymnastics from Silberman in that he soars over several octaves right up to breathy falsetto oozing emotion, Cicci’s lush synthesiser and trumpet work and Lerners solid brush heavy drums.

This album seems to be a record of places. Buildings, houses, hotels, refuges, canyons and wells all feature but they start off in the grandest of all buildings. ‘Palace’ sets the emotional tone of this record with melodic piano and fairly soon Silbermans voice is soaring among the stars and settling in secret places and Cicci’s trumpet punctuates from across the sierra. Silberman appears to sing about supporting someone through break up but as with Silberman, he is difficult to follow at times. Hospice gives you a little idea of where his mind goes.

After such a heart stopping start ‘Doppelganger’ takes us to altogether more sinister scenes as he describes mounting paranoia ‘Do you hear the gentle tapping?’ he sings until he is ‘muted by the horror’. It sounds rather as if this song could have been conceived behind the radiator in ‘Eraserhead’. The trumpet is shoved so far in the reverb cabinet it emanates from the plumbing itself.

Intruder demonstrates the detail involved in this record. There is always Silbermans immaculate pitch and impressive range but in among it one hears, vibes maybe, Tibetan Bowls perhaps. Always there are sweeping synthesisers chords and lonely trumpet resonating on a nearby hillside.

The big epic of this record is Revisited which appears (I’m only guessing here) to be a story of break up set as a kind of yard sale. Sorry. I did tell you I was guessing here. Silberman is not keen on giving you too many clues. ‘when unfamiliar faces came to shop at our old house’. ‘I let them strip your mausoleum so nothing was left’. See what I mean.

Parade and Surrender are a perfect pair of emotional roller coaster songs and with Palace hit the three real stand out songs. I’ve an idea that Parade is about relationships but I couldn’t be sure but the delicious sweep from bridge to verse is pure genius. Surrender sees them enter almost jazz territory with smoochie trumpet and jazzy brushes. Again the relationship thing is (probably) examined with a great repeated couplet ‘we’ll step inside a world far less demanding, When we allow for something less commanding’

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This is another record that demands attention and careful listening to fully appreciate the depth and breath of their unique sound. We saw them at the Green Man Festival last year and the sound was so much better than any band that played there. They’ve clearly spent years trying to perfect the audioscape and their complicated recorded sound is captured perfectly live. They really care so please give The Antlers a bit of a spin. You could take any album from Hospice forwards and get a really good idea of where they come from but I think this album is perhaps the easiest to like with the emotional feel and the winning melodic songs. Try the opener!

 

 

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Richard Butler – Richard Butler – 2006 – Koch Records

Here is a completely missed record that is so lushly produced with such soaring tunes and carefully painted lyrics you will wonder how you ever missed it. I did but then again I had four youngsters and had only just returned from abroad and probably didn’t notice very much. I bought this record probably about 4 years ago from the local library ex loan CD sale for another solitary pound. What an extraordinary investment that turned out to be.

I had always rated the excellent Psychedelic Furs and thought that it might be OK but really had no idea but, hey, a tight git like me always loves a bargain. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The Psychedelic Furs were one of ‘my’ bands in the late seventies early eighties and parts of those first two albums still make me tingle. Richard Butler was their singer and the band were quite successful throughout the eighties. He has lived in New York for years is a well respected artist. This was his only album and is really a collaboration with multi instrumentalist Jon Carin who is involved in lots of Pink Floyds work

I gave it a quick listen and it didn’t really properly register and so it sat of the shelf for another year at ‘Scrutinzer Towers’ and then I gave it another listen. It very quickly ascended to repeat in the car and was in there for months and generally used as an enthusiastic singalong as I soon knew all the words but curiously not how to get to all the high notes. It is now one of my favourite albums of the noughties and one that I seem not be able to tire of. There aren’t many records that do that.

The record was made either during or just after the pair of them lost their fathers and Butler’s marriage fell apart. The tunes maybe gorgeous but the lyrics are distinctly grim at times. A huge feeling of loss, the passing of time, bitterness and break-up punctuates his intricate lyrical pictures. Jon Carin appears to me an equal partner in this alliance. He paints as enthusiastically as Butler does complementing him with minimalist instrumentation using very sophisticated electronic equipment mostly plus a plain old acoustic guitar. He really is a fantastic arranger. ‘Last Monkey’ kind of turns into his instrumental track using his careful instrumentation and layered Butler voice tracks.

Most of tracks however put Richard Butlers voice way up front which really demonstrates his range more than anything that he ever sung with the Furs. It so suits him too. In this record he cant hide behind the rock band. The melodies are so strong in this record and he presents them beautifully. There are a fair share of thumping great stadium chords too but not to the extent that it feels ‘stadium’. This time it’s personal, really personal.

In ‘California’ he checks an old reference as he asks ‘make me a drink Caroline’ whilst he sings of advancing oceans, environmentalism and in passing the passing of his father ‘When the world is an old man with no time for the future’. In ‘Breathe’ (oddly also the title of an entirely different Pink Floyd track that Carin plays regularly) Butler also makes similar references ‘When you wake up in the morning of the last day in the world’ Heck! This really hurt!

On ‘Satellites’ he says that ‘Annie says I’m not the man I used to be’ and during the mighty ‘Broken Aeroplanes’ he highlights that he hears ‘every tick that passes’. On the desperate ‘Nothing’s Wrong’ he whispers to his lover to relax and lay down eventually yelling ‘shut up and let me sleep’   Wow. Richard is heartbroken. Annie was his wife and I believe was moving on at this point and Richard is plainly alone and watching the clock. Just as well he has the therapy the this album must have been

‘Milk’ really shows his range as its never been seen and the layering and arrangement of this track shows uncommon depth for just two people. It’s plain the all those years of New York living hasn’t kicked his Englishness into touch. His pronunciation is as Anglo as ever

As well as a bitter palette he also uses rather beautiful imagery too using his artists skills to maximum effect on Second to Second ‘ We follow the stars and the movement of insects, the arc of the sun and the turn of the tides’. Mmmmm nice.

By the end of the record there are two tracks which appear to be stitched together so well I tend not to view them separately. For all the top class tunes on this record this end piece  tops the lot. Sentimental Airlines is ridiculously tear jerking as he anticipates the end of his marriage ‘that last straw before I crack’. The soaring chorus see’s him throw his voice higher than the sun. The track builds and builds and crescendo’s into a single synth note that streams into Maybe Someday just when you think he must have used up all the emotional chords and words possible you can see him sitting alone staring out ‘sulking silent sitting in the corner….half the time you’ll see me staring at the sky….maybe someday…tear it all down’ and after that, an extraordinary pause and in come the lushest synth chords to cushion his words out to his final ‘maybe someday’

Please give this largely unknown album a spin. It is truly epic on a microscopic scale.

Here is the end piece. The poster of this plainly thinks these are inseparable too.

 

 

 

The Blue Nile – Hats – 1989 – Linn Records

Todays record is an minimalist, bleak, northern heartbreaker. I bought this album in a second hand record shop for a single solitary quid. That is  an entirely ridiculous price for one of the eighties perfect diamonds. The Blue Nile were, or maybe are, a band from Glasgow. Starting off in the early to mid 1980’s and their last album being in 2004 they have managed a staggering 4 records in 20 years. Quite the opposite of their compatriots the Skids who managed to make 8 singles and 2 albums records in those first two years.

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The Blue  Nile are a very different Scottish brand. No bagpipes guitar solos here. This is a lushly produced synthesiser based album (the guitars used here are solely in a supportive capacity). There is such care put into the production on this record. Each instrument has a specific purpose and is icy crystal clear. This is a record again that benefits from listening via headphones. The depth of sound is created by using not very many instruments very sparsely and building up the sound slowly. It is also very much a product of the 1980’s

Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell grew up together in Glasgow and met Paul Joseph Moore at University. They started life with regular instruments but soon turned to electronics out of pragmatism (they couldn’t play very well). Oddly enough by this time in their career they played incredibly well.

The themes are mostly love, lost love, walking around with your love, regretting love, wanting love……but in the darkest, wettest Glasgow winter you ever experienced. Lets have a look at the song titles. Over the Hillside (imagine if you will the Scottish hillsides, raining), The Downtown Lights (ah that would be at night then), Lets Go Out Tonight (er that would be night then), Headlights on the Parade (Headlights are on, that’s at night then….or its raining), From a Late Night Train (oh, that would be night then), Seven AM (night time for half the year) and Saturday Night (oh that would be night then). It’s pretty bleak but as smooth as silk.

So we have 7 tracks of neon illuminated heartbreak in 38 minutes. This is the bands second album recorded over 5 years. 7 tracks 5 years, 4 albums in 20 years. This is snail like progress. Look closer and we have all the hallmarks of obsessive perfectionism. They were not averse to chucking a whole album in the skip and starting all over again. I also have their last album which is also in the same vein but curiously not quite as impressive as this one although that could be that this one is so good. There has been no action since then

Every tiny hi-hat ’tisk’ is lovingly constructed. The instrumentation is then built on top so you can hear everything.  Their record label was Linn Records an offshoot of a very high end hi-fi producer (we are talking hi-fi equipment the price of a car here) and so this record has perfect reproduction in its blood. There are gorgeous sprayings of crisp guitar, distant trumpets, atmospheric synth strings and Paul Buchanan’s voice emerges directly from his aching Hibernian heart. He builds certain songs into incredible crescendos that send tingles straight up your spine. Just listen to ‘The Downtown Lights’, ‘Headlights on the Parade’ and ‘Saturday Night’ to get a flavour. This was a perfect showcase for Linns high end gear from the treble of hi-hat and snare to the very precise, straight line bass (there are no fancy runs here).

Unlike the Skids album this is a perfect record but of course the have every right to expect it to be after that amount of time. Do listen to it. I have rarely met folk that aren’t impressed with it (my wife lets me listen to this one outside of the headphones). It is an album for late nights. Saturday nights, yeah!

The Blue Nile – Hats