Fujiya & Miyagi – Flashback

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When I interviewed Brighton quartet Fujiya & Miyagi two years ago around the time of the reissue of their second album, 2006’s Transparent Things, singer and guitarist David Best expressed his admiration for Talking Heads and what he called their “awkward funk” sound. Perhaps more so than on any other Fujiya & Miyagi album, that reverence for that slightly off-kilter groove can be heard right across Flashback, containing nine of the band’s most precisely-executed cuts to date.

In the last couple of years, both Best and fellow F&M founder Steve Lewis have busied themselves with side projects – Lewis’s crystalline torch songs with Johanna Bramli as Fröst and Best with Fujiya & Miyagi bandmate Ed Chivers as the Terry Riley-inspired art-rock of Ex-Display Model. Surprisingly, none of that time out from their main group seems to have had any sort of influence on these new songs. You won’t find any fuzzy introspection here – just solid drumming from Chivers, elastic basslines from Ben Adamo and an effortless interplay between Best’s signature guitar styles and Lewis’s sinewy and infectious electronic patterns.

That tightness provides the backdrop to some of of Best’s most oblique and deceptively humorous lyrics – a semi-political character assassination rant on the closing track ‘Gammon’, a bitter tirade against self-importance on ‘Personal Space’ and a brilliantly ironic (and astute) rumination on our modern obsessions on ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. The highlight among highlights is ‘For Promotional Use Only’, a low-slung, many-layered slow-builder the plays on one of the most mundane of piracy risk warnings and turns it into a hypnotic, restless epic, Best’s vocal taking on a distinctly paranoid hue as it progresses.

Flashback by Fujiya & Miyagi is released by Impossible Objects Of Desire on May 31 2019.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

S.T. Manville – Somebody Else’s Songs

Somebody Else's Songs PACKSHOT

Sam Manville is a singer-songwriter dividing his time between Nottingham and Leicester. His debut album, as its title suggests, is a collection of covers; however, unlike most such albums, what shines through most clearly is Manville’s credentials as a talented arranger.

Think of these songs as the stylistic opposite of Me First And The Gimme Gimme’s Green Day-ification of songs into high-speed Ramones-y salvos; here, Manville takes eleven songs from the modern pop-punk canon – songs by Bad Religion, The Offspring, blink-182, The Postal Service and others – and presents them as delicate, sensitive acoustic pieces, each highlighting Manville’s beguiling voice, delivered with a quiet tenderness like a friend’s kindly whisper in your ear that everything will be okay.

Central to this type of album is an ability to surprise you, to offer a fully new perspective on songs that have become so familiar that they’ve become like aural wallpaper. Manville does that time after time here, drawing out qualities and emotions that were often buried in the originals. His version of Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle’ and Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Movies’ are two signal highlights here, while his enthralling take on Weezer’s ‘Butterfly’ is recast as a regretful, mournful torch song.

Somebody Else’s Songs by S.T. Manville is out now on Difficult. The album is accompanied by a guidebook to the album – more information can be found here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Personal Reflections: The National – I Am Easy To Find

New York is a fickle mistress: all are welcome (subject to having the right immigration papers), its charms are universal, but few are invited to stay forever. Each and every time I visit, I hope that at some point the city will just absorb me, cling onto me, plead with me to hang around for as long as I want, rather than sending me back to JFK feeling as rejected and unwanted as a cast-off, spurned lover; like I have no place there; like I just don’t have what it takes to make it there.

It was in that state of mind that I arrived back into London from New York on early Friday morning, and it was in that state of mind that I listened to I Am Easy To Find by The National. This was possibly a mistake. Notwithstanding the mood of this album which, like much of The National’s music, has a brooding, maudlin quality – if that’s what you’re drawn to, which I generally am, it seems – there’s one lyric on the fragile, electronics-laden title track that seemed to be intended just for me: “You were never much of a New Yorker / It wasn’t in your eyes.” To me, it reaffirmed how I felt right then: you just didn’t fit in; you’ll never completely fit in; feel free to come back, but don’t expect us to let you stay.

Even though that track arrives almost a third of the way into the album, it was that quality of emotional turbulence and displacement that I heard throughout I Am Easy To Find. I’m sure that tracks like ‘Hey Rosey’ (with guest vocals from Bowie collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey) or the stuttering, complicated trademark Bryan Devendorf rhythms of opening track ‘You Had Your Soul With You’ and ‘Where Is Her Head’, or even Kate Stables’ plaintive ruminations of the title track do have some sort of transcendent, euphoric quality to them – if that’s what you’re seeking – but for me I just wanted the darkness, and that’s what I found in this album. I wanted to feel shit about my lot and the non-linear rock gestures – processed and infused with copious synths and electronic rhythms with the assistance of Mouse On Mars’ Jan St. Werner – all sitting restlessly beneath Matt Berninger’s quietly expressive vocals, enabled that. Maybe one day I’ll acknowledge the sparse and tender balladry of ‘Kansas’ or the shimmering synth textures of the duet with Lisa Hannigan on ‘So Far So Fast’, or maybe I’ll forever associate this record with feeling jetlagged and empty.

If the album spoke to me in a way that suited my mood at that particular point, the accompanying twenty-five minute black and white film, directed by Mike Mills, left me with profuse tears running down my cheeks; tears that were years and years in the making.

The film charts a life, from birth to death; through joy and sadness; from innocence gained to innocence lost; the discovery and development of oneself; the anguish of relationships; the first meetings and last goodbyes; the endless, endless, endless arguments; the wanting of different things; the inexorable passage of time; the purposefulness and futility of existence. The central character, played vividly and sensitively by Alicia Vikander, never ages throughout the film, even though all those around her do, while the captions – acting as the film’s dialogue – are largely culled from tracks on the album, with the words of ‘Dust Swirls In Strange Light’ and ‘Hairpin Turns’ suddenly making infinitely more sense once coupled to the visuals.

It takes a few short scenes to figure out what Mills’ story is showing us, but the gravity of what is unfolding becomes apparent when Vikander races abruptly into teenagehood, with the attendant and all-too-common hatred of her mother, despite everything she provided her daughter. There’s something about the duration of the film, and the way songs from the album – with all their evocative traits of unresolvedness – soundtrack Vikander’s passage through her life that takes its toll on you; if Mills had compressed her life into the length of a single three-minute song, you’d have no opportunity to adjust to what is inevitably going to happen to everyone she has ever loved or cared about, and then her own passing. Instead, by stretching this out over an intermediate length of time – too long for a promo video, too short for a feature film – the progress feels unswervingly, unbearably, savagely languid.

The film of I Am Easy To Find is thus harrowing viewing in the way extreme horror films are, and yet everything the camera shows you is utterly quotidian, unexceptional, unremarkable – reflections of your own life, maybe. As with the tone I was drawn to on the album, perhaps it was the mood I was in and my own vantage point from probably halfway along my life’s own twenty-five minute high- and lowlights reel – that point where you start to acknowledge your parents’ mortality, where your kids don’t idolise you anymore, where nothing that was previously carefree and innocent seems to be straightforward any longer – this beautiful film made difficult viewing for me. There is plenty of unbridled joy here, I’m sure, but I was mostly oblivious to any of that.

That’s all I have to say. Maybe the entire I Am Easy To Find package will affect you this way and leave an indelible mark on you like it already has for me; maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll see the happiness in all of this that I can’t see. Maybe your eyes will suggest you belong in New York after all. Maybe you’ll brush off your teenage daughter’s disdain for you or the feeling that you’re exactly where you were yesterday, last year, a decade ago – just older. Take a listen (or a watch) and decide for yourself. I’ll still be right here. I am easy to find. I’m not going anywhere.

I Am Easy To Find by The National is out now on 4AD.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Big Bend – Radish

Radish is the second album by Brooklynite Nathan Phillips’s Big Bend. Here you find layers of guitar and piano combining with electronics, processing, backward effects and a mournful sheen, designed to evoke the inexorable passing of time and the development – then eventual collapse – of memories.

While it’s not necessarily an album in which you can identity much joy, the inclusion of vocals from Phillips’s mother on tracks like ‘Swinging Low’ creates a wistful, almost folksy contrast with some of the other pieces, her voice having a clarion quality that glides effortlessly over her son’s inventive musical tapestry.

‘1000 Ways’ and ‘Long Time’ are complex, tightly-woven pieces full of heartbreaking emotion, supported by an accompanying architecture of noisy, unpredictable sounds, while reversed guitar, meditative piano and a restless vari-speed synth loop allows ‘12’ – 15’’ to convey just as much as Phillips’s haunting vocal tracks.

The album’s central piece is ‘Can’t Get Around’, wherein whining guitar is blended with a vocal processed into pure texture; the track has a post-rocky, dubbiness where Phillips’s vocal seems to bespeak of everything from lethargy to demotivation to emotional helplessness. Even when the track approaches a sort of resigned euphoria, it is still fully laden with tension.

Radish by Big Bend was released by Ohie Records on May 10 2019.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Further. : Quarterly Report Q1 2019 & Playlist

Further. launched in January 2019. Its objective was to create a place where I could review things that caught my attention but which didn’t ‘fit’ Documentary Evidence, or where I didn’t get to cover that particular release for Electronic Sound.

During the first quarter of the year I reviewed 15 albums or singles, published one interview, and included a guest review written by Erasure’s Vince Clarke. It was a modest start to the blog, a testing of the water if you will. I will try harder during the second quarter.

Below is the full list of content published during the first quarter. There’s also an accompanying Spotify playlist including tracks from each record (where available on that platform), along with ‘Gallery’ by Californian electronic pop artist Dresage which completely passed me by at the time.

Reviews

Kaada – ZombieLars (Soundtrack) (Mirakel Recordings)
Kamaal Williams – New Heights / Snitches Brew (Black Focus Records)
The Silver Field – Rooms (O Genesis)
TOTM – Bliss / Blurred (Flickering Lights)
Karolina Rose – Invicta (Violet Sunset Records)
Neu Gestalt – Controlled Substances (Alex Tronic Records)
Lucy Mason – Flashback Romance (self-released)
Hugh Marsh – Violinvocations (Western Vinyl)
Bayonne – Drastic Measures (City Slang)
Modular Project – 1981 (hfn music)
Evelyn Glennie/ Roly Porter – One Day Band 17 (Trestle Records)
Maja S. K. Ratkje – Sult (Rune Grammofon)
d’Voxx- Télégraphe (DiN) – reviewed by Vince Clarke
Kilchhofer / Anklin – Moto Perpetuo (Marionette)
Jonteknik – Electricity (The People’s Electric)

Interview
The Silver Field

Playlist
Spotify

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Conversation: The Silver Field

Rooms, the debut album by The Silver Field, was released on O Genesis in January. The project of Coral Rose, Rooms is an arresting, enthralling and yet wholly personal journey through nine exquisitely-developed soundworlds, each one full of intricate layers and surprising, unexpected textures.

In this conversation, Coral explains how the album came about and what it’s like to allow something so inherently introspective to be made accessible to everyone.

Rooms is a very accomplished debut album, and I would argue that it’s the kind of thing that couldn’t just emerge quickly. How long were you working on this? Had you been in bands or worked on anything before Rooms?

Thank you! I guess I was working on it for around six months to a year, on and off, but it’s probably the culmination of ten years or so of bedroom music making that hasn’t really seen the light of day beyond my circle of friends and a few strangers on the internet. I’ve been in bands for years and released stuff – shout out to my good friends Red River Dialect – but this is the first thing I’ve made myself that I’ve been pleased with enough to actually put energy into getting it out there. I made an EP before Rooms called Shelter, which I never released, but I played live once or twice. That was the beginning of this journey, in a way, and the start of me exploring these themes and sounds.

I know it’s a pretty naff question, but what influences am I hearing on Rooms? I hear a folksy quality on pieces like ‘Rosebud’, but lots of other things too. Is there a place, or style, or instrument that you feel most drawn to?

I’m drawn to all sorts, and it’s hard to pin down what it is that draws me to things. I often feel a bit embarrassed when I play people music I’m into, you know, on a car journey or something, and end up saying something like, ‘All the music I like is a bit intense,’ so maybe that sums it up. Like, I could have a great party to the music on my phone on shuffle but I don’t know if anyone else would? It’d be Smashing Pumpkins followed by Grouper followed by Carly Rae Jepsen followed by some old folk song. I just like music that grabs you and makes you feel something.

In terms of stylistic influences though, Massive Attack’s Protection, Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love, Arthur Russell’s World Of Echo, they’re a big three. When I was a teenager I listened to a lot of Tool and Nine Inch Nails, and I think that’s there too, in a way. And there’s definitely a folk influence, yeah – specifically the 60s/70s folk revival with Nic Jones, Shirley Collins, Fairport Convention, Alan Stivell and so on. A lot of that comes from my family. It’s kinda what I grew up on. That and New Age music, which I think you can also hear on Rooms.

The album was described as concerning itself with moving on and leaving the past behind. Can you tell me a little more about that? It’s hard to know on these songs and pieces whether that was – or indeed is – a painful transition or a positive one. A track like ‘Dolino’, for example, has a kind of defiant, upbeat quality even though it’s hard to precisely place where it’s coming from when hearing the track as a whole.

It’s definitely both. I think that happens on a couple of levels, too. I think growing up involves both a kind of liberation and a kind of loss, and I think coming out does too, and I guess this record is about both of those things.

Given it’s so personal, did you ever have doubts about releasing it for others to hear?

Yes, definitely, and I still find it hard to talk in much detail about the feelings involved in it.

I think it’s one of the reasons the vocals are quite shrouded in effects. It’s like I’m kind of hiding what I’m saying in a way. I think the next record is going to be more naked though.

There’s a lot going on across the album. There’s a very varied set of styles and instrumentation – violins, guitars, electronics, horns, your voice, the breath-operated analogue synth and tape loops. Are you naturally drawn to that kind of diversity of sound? Did you ever worry that it might sound uneven?

I am drawn to different sounds. I like to play with sound, have fun and see what happens. I often buy unusual instruments that I see at car boot sales or whatever and they form part of my world of music-making. Some of the sounds on the album are musical toys that I’ve had since I was a baby!

I don’t think I worried it would sound uneven but it was important to me to find a kind of overall balance across the album, and for the strangeness to be anchored in the melodic and rhythmic in a way that is enjoyable to listen to – I hope!

What was your process for recording the album? How important was the use of tape loops in its genesis? Because of the layers in each track it feels like the songs themselves may have gone through several transformations to get to their final state, either through chance or from active composition. Again, it all sounds very coherent, but I wonder – when using layers like you do – when you know when to stop? The tracks are full, but still with enough space within them. How do you strike that balance?

Haha – I don’t know! But I’m glad it sounds coherent.

It all comes together quite organically, I guess. A lot of the tracks start with the loop, and then I’m kind of improvising with myself over the top of it, layer by layer. And I do end up pulling quite a lot of layers back down in the mix. There are all sorts of things that are barely there but they add something.

I think I do composition in terms of frequencies or textures: I listen and I think, ‘Okay, this needs something scratchy or something hissy or something bassy or something reedy, or…’

It’s actually kind of hard to find the words to use to describe what the things I might want to hear are, because in my head they’re sounds, something quite bodily. I sometimes wonder if I make music for my body, and when I talk about the track ‘needing’ something, is it my body that needs it? I’m still working that one out.

It sounds like a lot of the pieces here were highly personal, but also largely it’s just you working on them, though there are a couple of pieces with involvement from others. I’m intrigued – for something that feels so inherently personal, how easy it is then to work together with someone else, either when recording or performing live? Are you comfortable collaborating, or do you find it easier to work completely alone?

I love playing music with people. The songs are personal, the album is personal, but it’s also music and I think that music somehow has a need to be shared. That sounds so cheesy but I think it’s the way it works, you know – everyone sings songs written by other people, or hums a catchy tune or something.

I think it’s very human to share music, in a way that doesn’t happen so much with visual art – people don’t casually doodle sketches of their favourite paintings from memory! And I think through being played in different ways and by different people, songs can take on all sorts of new lives, which I love.

I’ve had a really wonderful time working out live versions of these songs with some good friends of mine, Kiran Bhatt and Rachel Margetts, and playing with them has been a real joy. I love hearing what they bring to the tracks and the ways that they change and grow. It feels very in keeping with the themes of the album really, like the songs get to grow up and leave home too.

It sounds like you paint as well, and the sleeve image seems perfectly in tune with the theme of the music – although that might be the effect of association. Do you consider yourself a visual artist or musician? Or are they effectively interchangeable facets of your creative self?

I would say it all comes from the same place. I just like to make things. I actually make clothes more than I paint.

The paintings for the album artwork I did in 2012, but yeah they felt really in tune to me too. They were kind of an expression of the house I was living in at the time: the front cover is essentially a view out of the living room window onto the north Wales weather.

There’s some photography I did around the same time on the inner sleeve too. I’d really like to do a project someday that ties more of the things I do creatively together. I’d love to work with someone to put on a play or make a movie or something.

The Silver Field on tour

5 April – London, Sutton House – with Daniel O’Sullivan and Richard Youngs

6 April – Bristol, Cube Cinema – with Alex Rex

5 May – Liverpool, Constellations Garden – Tim Peaks Diner at Sound City 2019 – with Daniel O’Sullivan and Nik Void

Rooms by The Silver Field is out now on O Genesis. Listen to Rooms on Spotify.

Read the Further. review here.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

TOTM – Bliss / Blurred

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The debut album from Brussels-based fourpiece TOTM cuts a distinctive path through dreamy folk, the rhythmic fluidity of Krautrock, percussive minimalism and hypnotic electronics. In vocalist and guitarist Charles Bernard they have a frontman that pours quiet emotion into each of the tracks on Bliss / Blurred, poised on a tension-filled wire between anguished musings and beguiling wonder, that voice being perfectly placed amid Nicolas Magrez’s intricate synth layers, Adrien Kaempf’s bass figures and Thomas Vaccargiu’s complex drumming.

Bliss / Blurred opens with the rapidly-evolving synth cycles and expanding sound palette of ‘Silver Apples’, becoming by turns serene and angular, finally opening out into a mass of restrained drumming and fuzzy riffs. The track sets the scene for the album’s frequent switches in direction, from ‘Stellar Door’s tight, proggy spacefunk to the dreamy ‘Ghost Dance’ with its attendant rapidly arpeggiating synth patterns.

The album closes with the droning interplay of ‘The Sleeper’, anchored in motion by a steady bass pulse and some of Bernard’s most affecting vocals. Like a lot of the tracks here, ‘The Sleeper’ is far from docile, coalescing via dexterous drumming toward a noisy, clangorous conclusion, marking Bliss / Blurred as a powerful, resonating body of work.

Bliss / Blurred is released by Flickering Lights on February 1st.

Words: Mat Smith
(c) 2019 Further.