Album reviews: Mogwai, Warpaint, Damien Jurado, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Thee Silver Mount Zion, East India Youth

 

Mogwai "Rave Tapes" (Rock Action)

Mogwai’s career offers a testament to stubborn determination and single-minded ignorance of passing trends. They’ve outlived every temporary genre pigeonhole used to define and confine them, from post-rock to neo-prog, and have reached, with last year’s soundtrack to Les Revenants and now this latest collection, a position of calm, confident maturity entirely their own.

In doing so, they have also laid the ghost of the Mogwai “style” – the familiar way in which many pieces would start quietly, gradually accruing depth and volume, before climaxing loudly and subsiding back to stillness, a strategy in which the usual narrative imperatives of melodic development were replaced by structural concerns.

On Rave Tapes, they pursue each track individually, variously highlighting the sombre cathedral-organ sound of “No Medicine for Regret”, the buzzy synth rasp of “Simon Ferocious” or the brusque staccato guitar chording of “Master Card”. The closest they come to the old Mogwai method is “Deesh”, where simple guitar and keyboard figures grow progressively deeper and more enveloping.

Elsewhere, echoes of other bands colour some pieces. “Hexon Bogon” sounds like a psychedelicised version of a Midlake melody. On “Replenish”, Henry Rollins appears, talking about the reputed subliminal backwards-masked Satanic messages in “Stairway to Heaven”. Apart from the underplayed murmur of “Blues Hour” and the heavily vocodered  lyric to “The Lord Is Out of Control” – both barely discernible – it’s the only vocal on the album.

Best of all, though, is the opener “Heard About You Last Night”. Though typically methodical, it glows with a kind of staid, epiphanic inner-beauty, the most elegant, graceful thing they’ve ever recorded.

****

Download: Heard About You Last Night; Remurdered; Hexon Bogon; Blues Hour

Warpaint "Warpaint" (Rough Trade)

With Flood producing, Nigel Godrich mixing, and Chris Cunningham involved in the visuals, there’s clearly an expectation that Warpaint are about to break out with this second album. Which may be likely – the vogue for diffident alienation has secured surprising success for such as The xx and London Grammar – despite the lack of compelling songs here. These tracks don’t so much follow a distinctive melody as flow with a sort of stoned, somnambulant purpose that’s gently beguiling but struggles to stick in the memory, while Emily Kokal’s vocals seem subtly tailored to accentuate the languorous atmosphere. It’s impressively wrought, but save for the more propulsive, swingy shuffle of “Feeling Alright”, there’s a Novocaine numbness about it that makes it hard to love.

***

Download: Keep It Healthy; Feeling Alright; Disco//Very

Damien Jurado "Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son" (Secretly Canadian)

Damien Jurado deserves some sort of award for prolific persistence, at least: since 1997, he’s released 13 albums without ever looking like developing any commercial profile at all, subsisting on the meagre rewards of cult acclaim. Though undoubtedly better than most of his output, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son seems unlikely to alter that situation. His folky delivery and predilection for found-sound ambiences has been harnessed here to the soft-rock psychedelic arrangements of Richard Swift, swathed in fluting mellotron, percussive detail and keening harmonies that recall period influences from The Beatles (“Suns in Our Mind”) to spaghetti Western scores (“Jericho Road”). It’s pleasant enough, but let down by Jurado’s unengaging vocals.

**

Download: Magic Number; Metallic Cloud; Jericho Road

Sophie Ellis-Bextor "Wanderlust" (EBGBs)

The Cyrillic characters in the typeface are no mere graphic foible – Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s last album, 2011’s Make a Scene, fared considerably better in Russia than here, so why not lean towards a fresh fanbase? The Eastern European flavour extends to the music, too. Ed Harcourt has assumed the full production reins here, smearing Balkanesque strings over opener “Birth of an Empire” and using florid guitar chords and stalking piano to lend “Love Is a Camera” an Iron Curtain feel. The overhaul is total: the tremulous piano ballad “Young Blood” is far from the dance fodder singles of Ellis-Bextor’s past, while the sombre tone of tracks like “Until the Stars Collide” suggests that she’s re-positioning herself in the prim Nordic-diva territory of Agnes Obel and Ane Brun. A good move.

**

Download: Birth of an Empire;  Until the Stars Collide; Young Blood

Thee Silver Mount Zion "Memorial Orchestra Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything" (Constellation)

An offshoot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor devised to indulge the protest impulses of guitarist Efrim Menuck, Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra blend guitar drones with wheedling violins and lumbering drums in a manner reminiscent of the early Velvet Underground. One of three ten-minute-plus tracks, “Fuck Off Get Free” is typical: “We’re stifled and entitled while they play at boring games,” rails Menuck over a dense wall of scrubbed guitars streaked with violin lines and lashed to a clattering krautrock groove, softened with a mantra-like backing-vocal chant. It’s both mesmerically appealing and cacophonously repellent, a paradoxical blend repeated in the shrill, thrumming monotony of “Austerity Blues”.

***

Download: Fuck Off Get Free; Austerity Blues; Take Away These Early Grave Blues

East India Youth "Total Strife Forever" (Stolen)

In creative flight from an indie band going nowhere, William Doyle created this solo electronic project in his bedroom, deriving a pseudonym from the dockside flat he was staying in, and an album title from a pun on a Foals title. It’s a mélange of three distinct styles: slow synth-wash’n’whine exercises of portentous abstraction or pummelling monotony, such as “Total Strife Forever Pts. 1-4”; scuttling Detroit-style techno exercises, like “Hinterland”; and industrious electropop songs such as “Heaven, How Long” and “Dripping Down”, that provide the most agreeable moments. But while Doyle struggles to balance his various musical elements – the opening 10 minutes is sheer drudgery – he has a nice way with layered vocal harmonies, which deserve more regular exposure.

**

Download: Dripping Down; Heaven, How Long; Looking for Someone

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