Friday, May 15, 2015

Easter & The Totems : The Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts (Reissue)

Living in South East London I’m suprised I’ve not come across this band yet.  Sometimes things really are right under your nose and you don’t even see them.   Doing some background reading Easter & the Totems really seem to have been a cornerstone of underground music south of the river.  The group knocked out their first raw demos in 1981 called ‘Queen Menace Shock Six’.  Their self-styled ‘agit-pop’ was a search for balance between amphetamine driven rhythms, battering punk and melodic arrangements whilst experimenting with tapes and effects.  Album ‘Hip Replacement’ debuted this wrong-footed rock vision, made in 7 days when the band was still in their teens.  All in all Easter & the Totem would go on to release 3 albums and 3 singles in the 12 years they were active - all self-financed with no management, a hard grafting DIY effort.  The line-up fluctuated a little with Mike Barry Guitar/Vocals, Steve Mountain Drums/Vocals being core members, and John Diver, Time Stocker, Dave Pearton, Chris Richardson, Kevin Tweedy, Richard Morris, Neil Braddock all working in the band at different stages.

Rooted in a frustration with UK’s political situation in the early 1980’s, specifically holding an anti-Thatcher stance, Easter & the Totem drew from and gave a voice to the downtrodden working/lower classes of the time.   Coming from those backgrounds themselves and not really identifying with music around them either, Easter & the Totems had more than one reason to feel alienated.  Perhaps this spurred on their need to play in a band, and to make connections with likeminded people in the area.  Typically performing in Woolwich, Penge, Herne Hill, Catford and Crystal Palace they established a group of artists who would be known as Bromley Musicians Collective/South East London Musicians Collective.  They go on to organize gigs for each other and release records with a focus on giving support to victims of social injustices they identified around them.

Easter & The Totem recorded some tracks in Bromley Studios with Nigel Laybourne that had been going down well during these gigs.  ‘Distant Generations’ and ‘Acid Reign’ (both direct political songs about Thatcher) from this session would feature on ‘The Sum Is Great Than Its Parts’, originally released in November 1986.  This was a collection of material documenting their work to date released on Ideological Sounds (Barry’s label).  Its first pressing came in 500 copies featuring long time designer Bill Webb for album artwork, in 1997 Pinnacle reissued a further 500.  

So here we are with SS Record’s 2015 version of the album.  SS have actually had this up their sleeve since the early 90s after finding the album in the back room of a record store, having worn out their copy and worked for many years to get permission, SS got the go-ahead to give ‘Sum Is Greater Than It’s Parts’ a full reissue treatment.  ‘Acid Reign’ is a finely-spun pop number featuring sugary synths, wild rhythms and crispy guitar accompanied by melody driven vocals.  ‘Distant Generations’ is a florid post punk charge playing happy and sad off each other, in a way that might remind one of The Smiths.  ‘We Fade’ has a curious Death Rock feel to it, there’s something definitely darker and more dejected, just in how the scaling  guitars, numbed vocals and agitated synths carry through the track.

With the recent re-election of the Tories it’s an interesting time for this album to re-appear.  Easter & the Totem were true to their South East London roots never venturing far from home turf, getting stuck into supporting local communities and art projects. And I hope they would be happy to know people have picked up this mantle today, I can’t finish this post without highlighting a few collectives, labels and shops in the area worthy of your support:

And as for Easter & the Totems I’ll leave the summary to Mike Barry, “There was Mike Barry (age 18), Ian Self (age 18), and a Drum Machine. In those days, all you needed was a couple of long coats, a mutual love of the Fall and Joy Division, a pile of existential books, Kafka, Camus, Dostoyevsky, etc and some lager. They took their name from a Jackson Pollock painting. It was Summer of 1981 and the band was as rough as a bears arse.”  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dick Diver : Melbourne, Florida

Inspired by disorientated travellers and trivia ‘Melbourne, Florida’ (Chapter Music) experiments with and enhances Dick Diver’s shimmering pop skills.  The band treads new turf by feeling out instinctively where to take these 12 new songs, searching for a more curious and enigmatic state in their music.  To create that atmosphere Dick Diver recorded this album in a large shed at Apollo Bay, Australia with Mikey Young – setting the scene to achieve a more far reaching sound than they’ve ever done before.  ‘Melbourne, Florida’ incorporates horns, synth, piano and pedal steel alongside the band’s core line up of; two guitarists (Rupert Edwards and Alistair McKay), a drummer (Steph Hughes) and bassist (Al Montfort).  

Since forming in 2008 Dick Diver have released ‘New Start Again’ and ‘Calendar Days’ earning them high praise from various worthy sources, so it’s no surprise to see the buzz around their third record for Chapter Music (Australia)/Trouble In Mind (US).  Literature also seems to be a draw for themes in Dick Diver’s songs, just look at how the band name is lifted from a Fitzgerald character in Tender Is The Night – this carries over fittingly to the first track on ‘Melbourne, Florida’ called ‘Waste The Alphabet’ which McKay wrote with poet Michael Farrell.  A heady pop track touched by bracing melodies you might associate with 90s era indie-rock, songsmith-ery doesn’t get more uplifting than this.  Flipping over ‘Competition’ cuts through with its cyclical synths and pastel-ed vocals, a highlight simply for how mesmerizing it is.  ‘Tearing The Posters Down’ is another banger, “Reading all in upper case / reading all the warning labels / and vaguely hoping they’ll be true / empty house / I can be true – tearing the posters down / from the walls” doubled vocals muse, as the song pushes on and goes up a gear it lets loose, it makes you want to let loose.  It could be the intoxicating harmonies or the repetition of “Tear the posters down” but it musters this reckless, carefree force in the song that makes it jump out on every listen of the album.   

‘Melbourne, Florida’ yields a naturalness and feistiness that makes it a lot of fun – maybe it’s in the way it’s made, it certainly feels like an album written by friends hanging out, not taking things too seriously, questioning everything along the way and in that informal approach created something really accomplished.  Dick Diver have followed their guts making this record and in doing so have harnessed their own distinct interpretation of pop music.  It’s this approach that makes Dick Diver an exciting band to watch out for – this is your alternative to today’s alternative music.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ed Schrader's Music Beat : Emperor's New Chair

The always incredible Ed Schrader's Music Beat has just released a video for 'Emperor's New Chair', taken from their second album 'Party Jail' (Upset The Rhythm).  If you're in the states don't miss this Baltimore minimal punk duo when they play a town near you soon!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ryley Walker : Primrose Green

The striking thing about Ryley Walker’s new album is how close it comes to capturing his live performance, this isn’t simply committing songs to record; ‘Primrose Green’ depicts him.  Ryley Walker routes songs through the triumphs of traditional folk music whilst bringing his own kind of wildness to the table, giving way to something that stands out in finger-picking guitar today and stands with other present greats like Daniel Bachman and Cian Nugent.   Since the age of 21 Walker has been recording material after some hard grafting on his Guild D-35, he's put out records on Plustapes, Tompkins Square and Agenda.  Dead Oceans got behind ‘Primrose Hill’ and as charming as the title sounds it obscures a dark pull within these 10 new songs.  Recorded at Minbal Studios where Walker is based, Chicago, it is hard not to sense real penchant for pastoral sounds and a sense of breaking free from that too.  The album preceding ‘Primrose Hill’ called  ‘All Kinds of You’, stayed true to rustic folk and while this new LP leads neatly on from there it departs mainly with some Jazz elements brought to the fore by some musicians invited to perform;  Fred Lonberg-Holm (Cello), Frank Rosaly (Drums), Jason Adasiewicz (Vibraphone) and Anton Hatwich (Double Bass).   

Opener ‘Primrose Hill’ fittingly introduces his rambling approach and sharpened artist vision.  ‘On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee’ carries the familiarity of an age old ditty in how succinctly sage it is.  “On the banks of the Old Kishwaukee, I saw you there getting, getting baptized by your Daddy when all the love was there, have you heard the way they love you, have you heard their song, have you heard the way they hold you, when you’re right you’re wrong,” Walker delivers in his distinct vocal address.  It’s pretty clear Walker’s lyrics are sparked from personal experience, in this case seeing people being baptized in Rock River, Northern Illinois where he grew up.  Throughout ‘Primrose Hill’ one can’t help but feel Walker has this reckless itch to scratch and he gets there on my favourite song ‘Sweet Satisfaction’.  Changing things up Walker plays an electric guitar and it just gnaws its way through the softer sounds from acoustic instruments.  The freely roving tones chewing through the track add something exhilarating to the album especially as the song builds to its charged climax.  ‘Primrose Hill’ explores beauty and desperation driven by surviving in districts of American detritus, I said at the start this album captures Ryley Walker as he his – he’s clearly studied folk guitar exhaustively and after accomplishing playing it, seems like he wants to wrestle with it too.  Folk is what speaks to Walker but there’s an unrest, something unsettled and more savage at play and this is why he is an interesting figure, and this is why I can’t wait for you to hear ‘Primrose Hill’.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Boyhood : When I'm Hungry

Wow wow wow.   This record from Boyhood came out at the tail end of last year on Bruised Tongue and I’m kind of obsessed with it.  It’s hard to find out much on Caylie Runciman’s career so far other than she’s from Ottawa, has one other EP/Tape out on the same label and ‘When I’m Hungry’ appears to be her first full length album.   Comprised of swampy pop and noise explorations these 12 songs are shrouded in psychedelic weirdness.   ‘When I’m Hungry’ is predominantly an electronic record however,  ‘Heat’ allows guitar to the fore in the closest thing this album comes to traditional indie, and a song that could be considered straight up indie on here still exceeds expectation by delivering something adventurous and electrifying.  Runciman’s vocals get filtered through chewy haze alongside a freely ambling melody line pitting loud and quiet arrangements against each other, and if you think you’ve heard this all before just give it a listen and see how her treatment moves the goal posts of where these sounds can go.  As the album progresses it reveals songs made from pimped subterranean beats, blissed out vocals and spooked guitar work.  Runciman wrote/performed all the songs on here and the interplay between drum machines and a drum kit gives the album different grains to latch on to, checking out ‘Maintaining My Uncool’ followed by ‘Cheddar’ is a great example of that.  ‘Where I’m Going’ fittingly shows how Boyhood captures an immersive pop sound that is sunny as it is sunless , and closer ‘Post Poc’ best describes these shady undertones intermittently emerging throughout.  ‘When I’m Hungry’ is an intimate search of the curiously twisted parts of bedroom pop.  It’s this creeper slant touched by saccharine glamour that makes the LP prevail as a blood-tingling debut release; executed with a forward thinking approach ‘When I’m Hungry’ is effortlessly unpredictable, exuberant and captivating.

Bruised Tongue's Bandcamp is here where the album has a few more track's on it than Boyhood's personal page, copies of the LP are still available too!