Archive for armor for sleep

Motion Picture Soundtrack – Departure [EP]

Posted in EP, Review with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by David Hall


Originally published at Sonic Dice, September 2009.

There is barely a human who has ever lived that hasn’t found some sort of romance in the concept of death. And pretty much every creative writer, musician, filmmaker and so on recognises this. From Renaissance era works such as Romeo and Juliet to even the most disposable of Hollywood films, such as 300’s fearless affirmation of ‘tonight we dine in Hell’. In fact if you think about it, most major religions positively demand a morbid fascination with the end, a ‘suffer here, live in the afterlife’ approach. With modern nihilism and secular attitudes taking this promise away from us, what is there left to do other than romanticise death? So yeah, at any rate, Cultural Studies lecture notwithstanding, Motion Picture Soundtrack have a White Lies-esque lyrical fascination with death. These relatively dark sentiments fit well with the music’s sweeping, melodramatic feel to produce something alluringly uplifting. Aristotelian catharsis, fear and pity and all that, Cultural Studies bods.

Straight away Motion Picture Soundtrack sound comfortably familiar, with soundalikes obscured as if by the same veil (“The curtain has torn, fractured lights caress your form” is clearly a great line) that opener Departure’s lyrics reference. They aren’t immediately obvious, but with repeated listens it’s pretty obvious from where the Canterbury outfit draw their inspiration. Editors are the most obvious touchstone, recalled in Motion Picture Soundtrack’s soaring high-fretted, effects-soaked guitar lines, if not the singer’s high-ranging Johnny Borrell-ish tone. His mid-range also sounds a bit like Brandon Urie from Panic! At the Disco, but that isn’t a negative comment. That guy’s a decent enough singer to be fair, he just so happens to be annoying. And in an annoying band. Consequently, an American flavour comes through strongly here, as anyone who’s heard Armor For Sleep’s Somebody Else’s Arms may find themselves in familiar territory melody-wise. The blazing sections of white hot distortion also recall some of M83’s most shoegazeish moments in terms of ear-punishing volume. Upon the line “every time I rewind” the band take their cue to go stratospheric as if somebody has actually pushed a remote control button, they ascend to the skyline in effortlessly Matrix-like fashion.

Faults of a Realist (fantastic title) offers a slightly different proposition to Departure’s propulsive and momentum-filled drive with a more undulating structure. The affecting chorus is barrelled into the ghastly shadow of a 100-foot-tall wave’s hungry trough by ominous floor toms before the verse bobs out of the other side half-dead but still gasping. A genuine grasp of the philosophical issues behind the track’s title is suggested by the chorus line of “Nothing else is real, except the end”. This is precisely how poetic lyrics should work; the suggestion of an awareness of underlying issues rather than an explanation is commendable. Descending picked guitars in the chorus shimmer and shiver with the import of the lyrics’ ghoulish sentiments. We’re thrust back into a hailstorm of distortion which guitars and strings shine beacon-like out of, but we never quite see the other side before the track ends. What at first seemed like a breakdown is in fact the track’s outro, symbolically trapping the listener inside the song. Even musically, this is bleak stuff.

Mirrors is very different, as if the band seek to stray further and further from Departure’s initial manifesto with each track on this short EP. Whereas the lead track was immediate and forceful, the second slow-burning and intense, Mirrors is low-key and spooky. Strings quaver quietly in the background whilst formerly obscured keys are brought to the front of the mix in the verse, before an airy guitar joins in the chorus. The drops into feedback aren’t as fierce or as sheer here, and an icy atmosphere is reinforced by the unease associated with the title. Mirrors are uncanny things; we feel they show things as they are, but since everything is reversed in mirrors, surely they show everything as they are not. Looking in a mirror for too long is an eerie experience, a feeling captured by the tracks’ glassy texture. The mood changes along with the key coming out of the second chorus like the sun breaking cloud, serving as counterpoint to the line “I know one day we won’t be here, but I hope we’ll both be there”, which could be viewed alternately as unsettling or romantic. It’s certainly powerful, an effect only heightened by the intensifying music. Strings rise up in a case of ‘how long have they been there?’ from the ensuing melee towards the tracks crescendo, bringing the EP to a close as expansive as it began.

Whilst not particularly original, any band channelling M83, Editors and White Lies must be a winner by the law of averages. One critically-idolised plus two commercially-successful influences equals a can’t-fail sound. On first hearing White Lies’ morbid sentiments, I thought ‘These guys are going nowhere; who wants to hear songs about dying?’. Well, I was wrong about that once, and so see no reason why Motion Picture Soundtrack can’t break the mainstream and achieve Editors’ level of success. They’re definitely a band to watch out for, and have it all; record label deal, album out before the year’s close next month, beautifully-shot monochrome promo video for the vast skyscraping Departure, posterboy frontman. Checkity-check-check-check. However brief it is, the Departure EP is accomplished and highly addictive stuff; if Motion Picture Soundtrack can maintain this level of quality over an album’s length, nothing can stop them. They’re surely a safe bet for success in the next few months.

9 out of 10.

Sonic Dice score: 5 out of 6

Departure EP on Spotify
Impossible as it is to pick the best track from the EP, you’re duly encouraged to invest a few minutes in order to take in the whole thing.

End Game
Motion Picture Soundtrack on Myspace

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Still Life Still – Girls Come Too [Album]

Posted in Album, Review with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by David Hall


Test review, never previously published.

When you hear the name Arts and Crafts, what immediately springs to mind? Broken Social Scene and Stars; if you think William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, you’ve been watching too much ‘Bargain Hunt’. Joining those successfully romantic Canadian indie stars are Still Life Still, releasing their debut album a full decade after forming. Girls Come Too is a typically experimental progeny from the Arts and Crafts sire, an appropriate metaphor given the record’s principle theme; sex, sex and more sex.

The album kicks off with Danse Cave, a pulsating hi-hat drive with a great ¡Forward Russia!-style guitar riff, which goes on to disintegrate into a Foals-like spacey clang. It’s great fun, immediately danceable and quirky. As a band performance it’s high energy and tuneful, with a stellar, uptempo drumming performance. The singer’s voice sounds a lot like Conor Oberst’s work with Desaparecidos; he may not be a classically ‘good’ singer, but neither is he irritating or too abrasive. After Danse Cave’s manic start the album settles into a mellower You Forgot it in People vibe with Flowers and a Wreath. It’s nowhere near as hooky as the opener, sounding polished smooth as alabaster, the chorus only marked by a proliferation in the distortion levels. Apart from the chorus in which the title is endlessly repeated, Flower and a Wreath’s lyrics are verbose and scrapbookish, with irregular rhyme patterns which slot together pretty much whenever and wherever. It’s an effective move – almost accidently so – continued in shortest track Lite-Bright Lawns which suddenly seems to stumble upon the very creepy, voyeuristic line “that third person is watching”. Lite-Bright Lawns is very Broken Social Scene, complete with clicking rim shots reminiscent of Cause = Time’s drum intro. The most noticeable element of the album so far is the vocalist’s languid singing style, offset against what is frequently multi-faceted and frenetic music.

Kid reverses this trend to a certain extent with an introspective atmosphere in which the vocals unexpectedly sound like the soft tones of Armor for Sleep’s Ben Jorgensen. It manages to stay away from the subject of sex for the most part, but finds time to reference it indirectly in the ‘fucked-up mom’ line. Another cool guitar riff supports the interesting use of metallic cymbal clashing noises which sound like steel sheets blowing in the wind. Neon Blue may be more straightforward indie-rock but is all the more enjoyable for it in a generally experimental album. It marks the beginning of an immediate-sounding section of the album, maintained on the following track. Pastel, which featured as title track to an EP earlier this year continues the album’s consistently great guitar performances with an Interpolish riff. The imploring refrain “We really need to be friends” is the song’s highlight, which is probably the best track since opener Danse Cave.

Ever noticed the way that albums sometimes have a habit of subconsciously summing themselves up in one line? Whether that’s the listener or the band’s subconscious is up for debate of course. You can find it in Kid A’s denial of a suddenly-alien Radiohead sound, “I’m not here, this isn’t happening” or The Holy Bible’s nihilistic admittance in Faster’s “I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing”. Similarly, here on Pastel we find the refrain “I really wanna be serious, Don’t really wanna be serious, I’m really, really, really serious”. True to form, it’s impossible to tell whether Still Life Still want to make grown-up, textural music (Flowers and a Wreath, Kid) or make giggly classroom sexual observations. At times the album sounds a little like an episode of ‘The In-Betweeners’. That said, Pastel’s outro – an incredible blanket of white noise over which guitars spasmodically jerk along like a car stuck in first gear – is undeniably great.

It all goes a little bit Boards of Canada on Planets, recalling Dayvan Cowboy’s aquatic chimings. It’s as icy cool as the depths of space, experimentative and celestial, and once again happens upon a nice little refrain and societal comment, “It’s a family of wolves out there yeah, they bury their young”. Knives in Cartoons is broken-footed and hyper, the guitars and drums threatening to collapse in a heap on themselves at any moment but somehow flapping onwards. A raucous and dissonant breakdown somehow sorts the track out before it trips back into the former flailing groove and finally another astoundingly noisy outro. Girls Come Too still resides in the Rape Me-like land of metaphor at this point in the line “kiss your open cut”, but that quickly changes. If you thought nothing in a song could ever shock you anymore, you’re duly directed towards T-Shirts, whose chorus I doubt I should even repeat. Let’s just say it involves a rather unconventional swapping of rather unconventional bodily fluids. “It’s love, it’s love, it’s love” the singer assures us. I’m not so sure it is, mate. Sounds more like porn to me. To debunk a cliché, this album isn’t so ‘charged with sexual energy’ as it is obsessed with sex like a desperate, spotty adolescent. Girls Come Too is hornier than a Chinese pharmacy; you’re best off downloading it, the CD would probably hump your leg.

There are good songs and bad songs to do with sex. And far be it from me to give lectures, but the good ones are hard to pull off, no pun intended. Venus in Furs is successful in retaining the sleazy, damaged, transgressive sexuality of its subject matter, as does Nine Inch Nails’ Closer for instance. Thing is, apart from some notable examples (Lay Lady Lay, Wicked Game), songs about sex are very rarely sexy. Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On? Puh-lease. That song’s so clichéd and oft-used it barely retains any of its original meaning today. Years of being played in sitcoms over a soft focus, slow motion POV shot of somebody attractive has ruined it. It has surely become more funny or cringeworthy than sexy.

And therein lies the problem with Girls Come Too; it’s pretty awkward and equally silly. Let’s face it, massively rare exceptions notwithstanding, indie rock isn’t exactly sexy. Garden State lied to us, if you played The Shins to flirt with someone they’d not only neglect to call, they’d probably change their number. You could say that Girls Come Too encompasses everything about the human experience, as Kid’s childhood references are followed by Lite-Bright Lawns‘ imploring “Let’s have a baby, let’s have a baby”. Other aspects of relationships are progressively explored until Scissors Losing Weight finally pops the question, “I’ll marry you someday, we’ll grow on faultlines”. The undernourished closer Wild Bees is close-to-the-bone and very affecting, sounding suspiciously like it addresses a character on their deathbed. You could say all this, but it may be giving the album more credit than is due; it really might be as shallow as it first appears. Anyway, aside from the taboo-trampling T-Shirts, it doesn’t really say anything that new or fresh. In conclusion, I’d hesitantly recommend this. And yes, the title probably does mean what you think it means. You animal.

7 out of 10.

Pastel on Spotify
Laconic and at times lyrically uncomfortable EP track is this album’s conceptual lynchpin and whose outro provides one of the highlights.

Arts and Crafts
Still Life Still on Myspace