New Sounds (June 4)


Cuts dropped this week…

Battles: MirroredAlbum of the Week
I hated maths. The only time I had vaguely resembling fun while studying maths at school was when I was forced to stay behind for detention and our teacher played Status Quo on an old tape deck. The Quo are hardly the bee’s knees, but it was surreal and better than playing with protractors.
So when the genre ‘math rock’ was applied to New York four-piece Battles I didn’t hold much hope of digging their sound. Boy, was I wrong. I first stumbled across them opening the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival curated by the Mars Volta in 2005, all ridiculous time signatures and warped beats – they were an undoubted high among a weekend of greats.
Now, following on from their collection of early tracks compiled on EP C/B EP, they’ve dropped their debut proper; and what a debut.
Like an extra terrestrial spaceage bomb Mirrored is a hulking ideas factory powered by a pop supergroup who feverishly churn out astronomically complex rhythms and tangled guitar lines while expertly keeping their fingers on the button marked ‘fun’.
Race: In serves as a tasty robo-charged appetiser, with its clattering hyper-kinetic drums, King Crimson-laced fractured guitars, falsetto vocoder harmonies and relentless bounding beats. It skips, pops and twinkles like no other.
Atlas – a sure-fire contender for single of the year – is seven minutes of intergalatic brilliance. At its heart is a galactic glam stomp, but Tyondai Braxton’s incoherent computerized warble add an otherworldly fantastical edge while laptops grind and bomp.
Ddiamondd pushes the extremities even further with its spazzed out rhythms and darting whistles while Braxton sounds like a possessed Smurf. Its exhilarating stuff, which while containing all the avant-wierdness of your typical jazz fusionists Mirrored is a pop delight. For all its noodling and dependency on studio eccentricity, the record is an incredibly human creation. In penultimate track Tij you can hear every thwack of John Stanier’s kick drum, every wheezy breath of Braxton’s whooping, every twang of Ian Williams’ mashed guitar. Yet its sound is an approximation of a cyberman having an asthma attack; there’s strings pinging, discordant crashing rumbles and machines wailing, yearning for relief. IT’S AMAZING.
Centre-piece Rainbow is like Patrick Moore let loose in a xylophone factory, all clunking keyboard histrionics and syncopated beats for the first five minutes before Williams and Dave Konopa unleash post-punk guitars and Braxton roars an indecipherable blast from beneath gongs and blabbering rumbles.
The pace drops considerably for the cyborg groove of the aptly named Bad Trails before Snare Hanger’s whiplash axes kick off a Krautrock mash-up.
In all honestly, you could spend a lifetime deconstructing Mirrored’s infinite world of post-millennia rock, but it’d be a futile exercise as there’s simply so much to enjoy. Quite simply, Battles have made a record so blindingly unique, so joyously frenzied and unutterably fun you’re unlikely to hear a better one this year.

Shy Child: Noise Won’t Stop
Wall of Sound
There’s so much good electronic music in 2007, I fear we’re approaching dehydration. A mere glance at the line-up at Glastonbury throws up a great cavern of block-rocking beatmasters worthy of attention – far overshadowing their guitar-based contemporaries.
So while it’s suddenly de rigeur to pronounce the current wave of electro muso’s old hat, you’d be a fool to dismiss them as out of step.
Shy Child are the latest – and by far the loudest. Their dance funk headf*ck is an in-your-face soundsystem banger with bells on. The type of record designed to be blitzed on headphones, car stereos and most obviously indie disco sweathalls across the land.
Comprising keytarist Pete Cafarella and drummer Nate Smith, they are to dance what DFA1979 were to scuzz indie electro. Little in the way of subtlety, just full on carcrash entertainment.
The Paul Epworth produced lead single Drop the Phone with its moronic lyrics, wailing sirens and Saturday night aggro bass thwacks will have Belle & Sebastian types cacking into their cardigans. Add to the aural driller experience a foxy Frank Zappa sax circa Zoot Allures and you’ve unadulterated ear sex – it’s the best electro anthem since Fischerspooner’s Emerge.
Pressure To Come is Duran Duran doing NWA, its heavy sh*t and camped up to the max while Kick It Like A Kick Drum is so crunked up it should come with a B-Boy jacket and matching cap.
The Volume is Shy Child’s mantra: ‘The volume’s turned up too loud but we don’t cover our ears because they’re already numb from damage already done’ set to a Kraftwerk on pills groove. Cause & Effect is pulsating house while Astronaut is the sound of Kylie gyrating to Eurovision disco in a Numanoid whorehouse.
It’s not all dayglotastic as the tunes begin to dry out around the midpoint – Generation Y (We Got It) sounds dated and flat 20 seconds in, What’s It Feel Like? is an acid tripout which flatlines while Good & Evil repeats tricks done better elsewhere.
At 44 minutes, Shy Child could quite easily have honed a tighter set, but in terms of all out sickest sound of the summer, Noise Won’t Stop could just be the answer.

Dungen: Tito Bitar
Gustav Ejstes is a dude. Existing in a world of Hendrix-ian hippiedom, he’s the high priest of freakout, the crusty ruler of the folky underworld, the retro futurist piper at the gates of dawn – and Tio Bitar is about to blow those gates down.
It has been almost three years since the psychedelic swirl of debut proper Ta Det Lugnt thrust Ejstes and his merry band of Swedish spacerockers to international stardom. And Tio Bitar (Ten Pieces) will ensure their star continues to rise.
Mixing the contemporary prog noise of Mars Volta and the astro-folk of Jethro Tull, Dungen are a kaleidoscopic trip into the future with a foot planted firmly in the past. And where Ta Dat Lugnt felt almost jam-like their new release has honed the Dungen sound giving it a richer, rounder edge.
Much of the elements of TDL are present, the frazzled analog production, the awe-inspiring range of styles and instrumental breaks, but much of the jazzy noddling has been ditched in favour of a tighter, crisper record which segues to an altogether more satisfying conclusion.
Intro is lifted straight from the Hendrix book of fiery guitar solos, but where Ejstes may have been content to let rip for days, here he reigns in his thunder and allows a gentle flute-led coda easing into mellotron psychedelia of Familj, where once again his Swedish verse takes us to a place of unimaginable faerytale delight.
Ejstes has spoken plentiful on his love of hip hop, and it’s beat driven patter is non-more evident than on Tio Bitar, which oozes thunderous bombast. Gör Det Nu is essentially one long drum roll – ala Mahavishnu Orchestra – with heavily delayed, fuzz-drenched guitar.
Most impressive is the eight minute kettle-drum stomp of Mon Amour, beginning like a stoned out Super Furry Animals jamming with Crazy Horse before three minutes in Ejstes takes us on another distorted guitarathon. It’s breath-taking stuff.
All this Santana-like burnout would be too much were it not for a succession of timely soulful breathers, ala SÃ¥ Blev Det BestÀmt with its playful tom-toms, jive organs and delicious sitar licks and the piccallo acid haze charm of Svart Är Himlen.
Dungen may not be re-inventing the wheel with this brand of heavily-indebted sound of the past, but Tio Bitar makes for a brighter listening experience of the future.
Psyche freakout

Bjork: Volta
One Little Indian
Bjork Guðmundsdóttir is pop’s answer to Marmite. The mere mention of her name invokes involuntary squeels of glee or repulsion in equal measure. You either believe she’s a creative tour de force or a cheaky charlatan making noise.
I’m firmly in the former camp, however, I must admit to often finding her artistry, especially in recent years, hard to digest. Her last record Medulla was a largely impenetrable vocal miriad which saw Bjork alienating even her most avid of listeners.
So it was somewhat of a relief to read in the previews to her sixth full length album Volta, that she’d retreated to a more accessible musical landscape employing a vast range of guests to help break up the maze of musical chaos.
More accessible Volta may be, but its far from easy listening. Opener and first single Earth Intruders employs uber-R&B producer Timbaland bringing a Missy Elliot-esque immediacy with military beats as the Icelandic pixie wages war on mankind ‘Metallic carnage, ferocity, feel the speed!
Its a fine start but from the off we’re under no illusion that Bjork’s not content to wallow in any kind of comfort zone. Indeed Wanderlust asserts exactly where Bjork is at.
Having resided with partner Matthew Barney on her floating boat in New York, she declares she’s ‘Leaving the harbour, giving urban a farewell’ and she’s ‘sailing into nature’s laws to be held by ocean’s paws,’ amid blasting foghorns and choppy drums.
The tone is set, Bjork is restless, eager to explore – and explore she will. The only dilemma, is that while our conductor is ploughing her all explansive furrow, we the listener, have to test our very resources to the maximum to merely keep up.
The epic Dull Flame of Desire finds Antony (of the Johnsons) Hegarty trading soaring vocals while more tribal thuds (provided by Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale) and trumpets circle. It’s the most moving thing on offer, but by ‘eck it’s heavy duty stuff and works far better than the playful, but awkward piano-led second offering from the duo on My Juvenile.
The computer game shoot ’em up madness of Innocence harks back to her earlier work on Post. Layers of spiky techno and warped synths detonate and it screams FUTURE SINGLE – it’s one of few moments on Volta purely dedicated to the dancefloor, and it’s thrilling.
Elsewhere, Volta is as maddening as it is joyous. I See Who You Are, strangely included twice (albeit one a slightly reworked, if pointless remix), is a Japanese lullaby to her daughter, all woodblocks, chattering percussion and subtle brass. This gentle and hypnotic sway is almost a non-song, more a movement or interlude.
Vertebrae By Vertebrae is a languid dub slug adding to the stylistic denseness while Pneumonia combines a Jóhann Jóhannsson-like ambient symphony without the space to breathe.
Hope hardly provides welcome relief. A sprightly spanish guitar is offset by doom-laden lyrics – ‘What’s the lesser of 2 evils? If a suicide bomber made to look pregnant manages to kill her target or not?’ Hardly It’s Oh So Quiet.
The issue I have with Volta, like much of Bjork’s work, is it’s impossible to completely switch off. You have to do the work, all of the time. And while this may be the case with many of music’s great talents, it can be an incredibly moving, if tiring process.

The National: Boxer
Beggars Banquet
Two weeks ago I wrote off Wilco’s new record as underwhelming, and a retreat from what I was hoping. The response garnered from listeners, friends and subscribers to Getintothis’ standpoint on Tweedy’s latest offering has been decidedly mixed.
Well, for those of you that wanted something more, let The National take you by the hand and whisk you off to a land which is altogether musically richer but shares a similar atmospheric terrain.
The tagline to this Brooklyn-based five-pieces’ fourth effort, following on from 2005’s acclaimed Alligator, is ‘Stay down champion, let them all have your neck,’ and like Tweedy’s Wilco, Boxer wreaks of underdog status while clinically landing weighty left hooks.
Much of the record offsets light and dark, with the music balancing out Matt Berninger’s barely there vocal. Inhabiting a space somewhere between Nick Cave’s brooding noir and Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples drawl, he flits between drunk and drunker.
The galloping autumnal chase of Fake Empire sees Berninger ‘staying out super late, picking apples and making pie,’ against a galloping piano which ruptures into triumphant parps of french horn, bassoon and trumpets. Mistaken For Strangers ups the darkness with a robust chugging Interpol-esque drone while Squalor Victoria begins in positively mournful manner upon a crest of cellos before mildly erupting into a barroom singsong. The acoustic-plucked grace of Green Gloves continues the whiskey-soaked theme as Berninger and Carin Besser coo in unison, ‘Falling out of touch with all my friends, they’re somewhere getting wasted, hope they’re staying glued together, I have arms for them.’
Better still is Slow Show a swaying accordian drenched boozed up knock out that perfectly encapsulates every night you’ve overdone it – ‘Looking for somewhere to stand and stay, I leaned on the wall and the wall leaned away.’ Only the woozy, Sufjan Stevens assisted, Guest Room takes the addled effect too far.
The college rock of Apartment Story shows The National in grander terms, aligning themselves with, dare I say it, REM. Gloriously abstract lyrics, frazzled Peter Buck-like guitars and an uplifting melancholia.
This is perhaps The National’s secret weapon. For such despondency and almost complacent, resigned attitude to personal tragedy, they present their music with gorgeous melody and light of touch its impossible to resist.
Boxer is to 2007 what Midlake’s Trials of Van Occupanther was to 2006; a triumph of restrained understated beauty, and a most unlikely crossover leftfield indie knockout.