The NBt Review 101

All this cool music. There may be a crisis within the music industry, but the independents are sure doing their best to make it a vibrant exciting world of sound.

All reviews except where noted are by Martin Smit of the NBT Project.

Fever Changing –WarTapes (Independent Release)

Hurtling forwards the music the singing is twisted and detached, look for the poignant hidden behind the frantic modern hustle. This machine gets dirty gets rusty, rumbles and roars and the humans who drive it through to us, are flawed, vulnerable, brave, continually invigorated by the power of the melody, the impact of the thoughts.

It is only PoP isn’t it?

Or do these fierce songs display a lot more? Simple answer:oh yes.

The title track screams into existence, all piercing industrial guitar slithering over a dense mix, the beat shuffles shy, hesitant, the girl almost lost in the roar, but it is this subliminal purity easing its way out, that touches us.

We start to think we know what will come next, but the band gleefully throws out their very best curveball (Silhouette) and suddenly we aretaken back to an innocent new romantic dance floor, memories of pastel tinted videos and hooks to dream about. While personally preferring the WAR in the Wartapes, I can imagine many a radio programmer latching onto this track with a sigh and even a giggle.

For me though, the twitchy beguiling hit of the oncoming winter will be the nervous buzz of ‘Do You Ever Think Of Me,’ a song blessed with a melody as catchy as anything Saint Etienne ever created.

All in all this a set of songs that will appeal to the timid first time traveller into the indie world (welcome dark cool days ahead!) and to those fine hedonists that crave just another spoonful of edgy.

http://www.facebook.com/wartapes

Marco Mahler – Design in Quick Rotation (Full Album)

A review from Cobus Rossouw on Marco’s earlier release.

A review on his latest can be found here

My previousreview of the Marco Mahler instrumental efforts talked to the musical qualities of the album. The major difference between the two efforts is, obviously, the addition of vocals. It would therefore seem that the review would be as simple as commenting on the vocals and this review would be done. Perhaps. But then life happens.

I have been pondering this review for a couple of days. I thought about writing about similar vocal styles (Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples, Lou Reed et al, the fragile honest vocals some of us need to remind us that it’s not always about the technical ability). I thought about describing my unending love affair with lo-fi… but, honestly, it would sell the entire experience short, simply because a mechanistic description of the vocals or a blatant attempt at showing off how much I know about music would ignore what music is about. It’s how it makes you feel, and it’s easy to forget when you’re reviewing.

In short –this album makes me happy. I’ve had a tough few weeks and maybe this has nothing to do with you, dear reader, but if you need some music that’ll take you away, somewhere other than where you are, then Marco’s got the remedy for you. I’d get into the car and drive away from the hospital, turn on the music and select track 3, “Orange Chinese Car”. In a matter of seconds I am already feeling better, I know things will be ok and I can come back again tomorrow and face it. That’s worth the price of admission.

Somewhere in the tapestry of themes Marco has tapped into something healing and I thank him for this personally.

This album will not be for everybody. It’s not overproduced, it has no star names, no rousing choruses, no drum or guitar solos, there’s no spandex or big hair but there’s heart and soul in plentiful supply. I can’t single out any other tracks, because from Think Tank through to 1’s and 0’s, Go Crocodile and theother 6 they all dish out the same medicine, albeit in unique and interesting ways.

I want everybody to buy this album. Come on, reach into your pocket and buy it. Buy it because the Marco Mahlers of the world must keep on making music.

http://www.marcomahler.com/

End Of An Era – Carta Marina (Independent Release)

Let’s be thankful there are still bands making this sort of uncontrived anthem, slow building tunes full of heart and song craft. Songs that first time lovers can slow dance to and those weary few can get past their heartbreak with. This is a gentle youthful often rocking rolling set that is easy to dive into, sing along to.

The production is crisp and charming, the refined jangle of the guitar placed foremost in the mix, the voice soothing seemingly effortless, the lyrics( never getting anywhere near to angst) deal with matters of the personal with a commendable lightness of touch.

But if I give the impression that this is a swim through the mainstream, think again, sure some of the songs ARE a brand of alt rock that will please and soothe the masses (and this is NO bad thing), but then there are others like the two long instrumental compositions ‘Death Blossom’ and the title track which melds a delicate ambience onto elegantly restrained workouts, creating a satisfying tension anddrama.

As with the best music of this type, it is the surprises, the subtle gifts given each listen that make this EP so rewarding

http://cartamarina.bandcamp.com/

Hear trax from all these albums on Podcasts going out in November on NBT (the 12th,
18th and 25th)

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com

Oh and finally NBT is on facebook.. go and ‘like the page already!

http://www.facebook.com/NBTmusicproject

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The NBT Review 89

another review from Cobus Rossouw creator of 88 Kilos of Sunshine

Aaron English – American [Fever] Dream

Other sites (which shall remain nameless) recommend Aaron English to fans of Sting, Peter Gabriel and Dead can Dance. I can’t fault this assessment although I suspect there is a far more diverse audience in his future.

Aaron English is a piano man, rather than a guitar man and this has a clear influence on his songwriting. Melodies are more intricate than the traditional guitar-based singer-songwriter, and the production has more depth and more tapestry than rock.

This collection of songs, a comeback after an unfortunate accident, clearly illustrates his writing, playing and vocal talents. His voice, so apt for illustrating loss and pain, soars into triumph over beautifully constructed choruses.

Lyrically the album is strong although it does fall into the obvious. There are also moments that jarred me, such as the chosen arrangement for “God bless you and your man” which seems a playful treatment of a serious subject (although perhaps I am not getting the irony).

“Believe in me”, which opens the album showcases all the promise but leaves a hunger behind. On his website English recounts a story about this song involving his niece. I think I agree with this story, and I think it makes this song more than it seems at first. Read about it here: http://www.aaronenglish.com/lyrics_believe.html

And then… perhaps the single best line I have heard on an album this year… “…but you play hard to forget…” Lines like these are not the products of intellect; they’re the product of experience. The lyric, from “Sleight of Heart” is simple, beautiful and launches a grand melody for the chorus with English’ vocals perfectly counterbalanced by Leah Siegel and Scott Adams. I find myself skipping to this track time and again, the melody on my lips constantly. This is all I could ever want from music.

In moments like these English becomes more than a piano man, becomes the artist that he has all the ability to be. I would urge English to follow on this song in particular if he wants to produce great art and I would urge you all to get out there and buy this album if only for Sleight of Heart and the eloquent desperation of “The Name of this Song is a Secret”, which hauls me into the artist’s world, which is where I want to be when I listen to the album.

Aaron English is featured on NBT Podcasts during September

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

If you use Internet Explorer you can stream snippets of a couple of the Tunes here

                               http://www.nextbigthing.co.za

  (After the intro Click on the ‘#Just want to look around# text it will take u thru to next page)

   A chart made up from browsers rating and listening to the song streams can be found here:

                                      http://nbttopten.podbean.com/

The NBT Review 65

Song Selection from 88 Kilos Of Sunshine

It is this writer’s prerogative to not name the songs, just play them in order from bottom to top and attempt to capture the illusion of understanding and the reality of this music’s allurement.

The instrumental starts it all. Hollywood played in an empty small town hall. The drums as willful steady as a drunk’s inconsolable rage the guitar is devious widescreen thoughtful. The Clean here is a wicked clean, a Neil Young solo tempered by intellect and latent horror. This is a tune Stretched between school boy yearning for the redemptive solo, and the modern detachment.

Then chant then confess swim in the warm bubbles of regret, this treated ocean this seductive call and wanting response. Don’t want to get lost in this?  I couldn’t, ‘’even if I tried.’’

As John Peel was known to say, ‘this one fades in slowly’’ this is warped Americana played in the old house across the road, you stop and listen on your way home and weep, and leave strangely enriched. The ragged reserve of the (treated) singing, the two personas within connects you to this drama, traces still there even as you lock your front door walk to the living room and switch on the babbling evening news.

Thank fuck for a modern pop maker whose idea of the 80s is darker than skewed memories of big hair and Duran Duran. I recall fragile 7 inch singles cased in cardboard two tone manifestos.

This song is a slow growl, scary and beautiful. That’s all that needs to be said except perhaps  listen to all the songs on the page and look for it. You will know it the second you hear it, and then your day will change slightly, no matter if you are sneaking time from office work, or surfing idle in your bedroom.

Another slow fade in, another capture of the minutia of a moment in time, this is subtle true alternative.

If you have lost your faith in the power of music to provoke and please, to entrance and edify, then this collection shall attempt to find it for you.

Go NOW and listen

http://www.reverbnation.com/88kilosofsunshine

You can hear tracks from the band on the NBT Podcast going out on the 27th May 2010

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

And this will be the featured artist on the NBT portal page in JUNE

http://nbtmusic.de/

Also check out a couple of tunes (if you use internet explorer) on the

http://nextbigthing.co.za website (after the intro just Click on the ‘#Just want to look around# text it will take u thru to next page).

The NBT Review 61

The Amplification Of Mr. Ballad

The Remix Of Mr. Ballad

The Bare Bones Of Mr. Ballad – All by Chapman (Creating Reality)

Songs have always been shape-shifters, play them in your child’s bedroom late evening and they are personal fragile things, a secret shared.  Play them out under the coloured lights, or in the pub or with a band and they are social creatures, sometimes playground madness, or sometimes a dinner party of thoughts.  Each instrument now adds a riddle to the secret, each drum beat or electric guitar melody or backing vocal agitates , reflects and deflects, the song seems warmer somehow, stronger, the fragile must now be listened for, the truth is now not just from one soul but many. Then play them stripped then clothed with coats of many colours, push them into electronica space, send them bouncing into the chaos of traffic and bodies bouncing in clubs, and the songs become puzzles, become tricksters become the sly one in a debate, become the dark one in a movie. The secret soul is still there it is just now a super hero leaving the mild mannered reporter back at the bar, no one knows who that masked man really is but oh they love the way he swoops, flies, shudders through the conflicted night. No one knows but many feel his goodness, danger, strangeness. Yes the soul is still there.

Space (and oh sadly; time) do not permit me to write about each song, each mutation, so at random I picked one and leave you dear curious listeners to go discover what lies beneath, within, around the others.

We first see ‘’Hum Along’’ as a pop country creature, the life affirming coda to a bittersweet saga, gentle, hopeful, the dark room illuminated by the warm glow of lamplight and restfulness. Then that bittersweet comes into sharper focus, the trials and the sadness and the mistakes now past but the wounds still sensitive, there is this hint that the singer will NOT contemplate his own destruction but now can finally understand why loved ones must fade from our reality, if not our dreams and love. The final version, takes that thought and changes it into a wicked grin of a thing, it’s a disco version of a relieved man’s  Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, of the youngster going ‘’Stuff Ya’’ and using his wild dance as a force against the end of things. Giddy and uplifting it is the sound of Fear being shot down with Joy.

There are ten more examples of this suburb creativity at play here and I highly recommend that all three albums be purchased and tracks played at random and let the shape-shifters work their magic.

Listen and buy here:

http://www.mrballad.com

Hear Chapman’s thoughts on his releases and tracks from all the sets this week on the NBT Podcast going out on the 30th April.

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

The NBT Review 59

Between Customers – Matt Keating (Red Parlor Records)

Keating constructs his songs like sketches that the artist keeps returning to,  adding details and colour and mood until the picture before you is a personal memoir, the simple perfect lines that tell all, recalling ‘’Darkness On The Edge Of Town’’ era Springsteen;  that fine balance between studio mastery and narrative grit.

He loves his characters, no matter how broken and flawed they may appear, affection and empathy shown in the turn of a verse and the way the strings slide comfortably to (old blanket on a cold night like)tangle delicate into some of the songs.

No scene is overstated, no drama played for giddy dramatics, there is craft here on display, as he strips away what does not need to be said and keeps the core, the finite details of what really matters.

There is steel in the sensitive, and yes the tunes are so damn pretty, but there is no impression of weakness, no concession to safety, no desire for blandness. If the songs soothe it is because they sing true not because they play nice.

Keating distills the world into intimate bulletins so the storm becomes the sigh in a fractured relationship; he makes the immeasurable understandable, touchable, he revives the art of telling just enough and telling all you need to know.

 Subtly descriptive in the way Don MacLean and few since have managed he brings the little bits of what he sees, (wherever he is) to us, making the telling of these tales seem effortless and the listening to them valuable.

Listen here:

http://www.mattkeating.com

Catch songs from this album on the NBT Podcasts going out on the 30th April,  13th and 20th May

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

Matt will also be playing concerts in Vienna with NBT favourites Richard Kapp and Cassis.. check the website for details.

The NBT Review 55

Thunder Buffalo – Thunder Buffalo (Dig/Sarathan)

Switch on the stereo of giddy distorted, pick up the speakers as they howl and throw them out of the window, this is the sound of them falling. Hitting the ground and bouncing UP back, into the room.

Like the 13th Floor Elevators, tripped up even more, Thunder Buffalo bend these songs into squawky- screechy bubblegum shapes, as the Butthole Surfers, the Residents hoot and howl and jive along.

All is not chaos and glitter though, swooshed up in eternal 3am sinister reverb stolen from the nightclub of the lost phantoms, Gloomy In Us All swings like a 50s rockabilly ballad time warping into nugget era America. Several songs too evoke the spirit and the sheer infatuation with the blues that Jeffrey Lee Pierce had when he pushed out Gun Club screams into the world.

And if there is some kinda justice in the world then in a year’s time, YouTube will be swamped with earnest young mad men women attempting the pathos of the fragile If I Leapt.

Sure this is not always a comfortable listen, but is delicious and noisy and fuck it really  makes me want to dance. A personal favorite.

http://sarathan.com/artists/thunderbuffalo.html

Thunder Buffalo — Gloomy Download
http://sarathan.com/thunderbuffalo/gloomy/

Turtles EP – War Tapes (Sarathan)

One night REM playing within their most PoP defined pose mated with an Interpol dressed in the finest dark glitter hooks. The resulting child was this new collection from this (for now) LA based band.

We sit enthralled in a cinema full of shadows, the slow burn drama of the song catching on to the light stream, this is bedroom epic, bathroom poetical intense, the harmonies, the illuminated and the secret entangled smooth.

The percussive echo, the heartbeat of the extremely nervous or the over thoughtful, his voice effected, the ragged man asks the ghost to join in the dance, and the music builds, the stormy noise tornados around, around, around, till all is the whip, the wind and the breathing. This is a song for those who want, need, perhaps, the freedom of being scared.

This is a crush on fear, adoration of the vulnerable, and the love of the fatal paths that we sometimes slip down, it is the sound of: when COOL bangs up against warmth and ricochets straight into our studied detachment.

The War Tapes have the potential and yes, the will, to straddle both the mainstream airwaves and like the gloomy magnificence of Michael Gira’s Swans capture the heart and soul of the alternative scene.

Watch out for their debut full length release coming out in May

http://sarathan.com/artists/wartapes.html

War Tapes, Turtles EP:
http://tinyurl.com/itunesWTturtles

Listen to tracks from both these bands on a special broadcast of the NBT Podcast going out on the 9th April

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/

Also in April read about Sarathan Records, listen to tracks view pix and vids on a special feature showcased on the new NBTwebpage portal

http://nbtmusic.de

The NBT Review 49

Lunchbox  – Richard Kapp and the Gowns (Independent Release)

It is a delectable irony that the opening track “It’s Too Loud‘‘demands to be played rather loudly. It‘s the kind of thing that gets the listener swaying about in their room, or on the street even (if heard on an iPod or mp3 player) conducting an imaginary orchestra. A song about loneliness perhaps but a song that uplifts at the same time, eccentric pop then.

Let this be said straight away, this band suits Mr. Kapp.  And his style, his droll take on love, life and other potential disasters suit this band. It’s almost like, mmm, that with fellow musicians aiding and abetting his creations he can get even more personal than previously allowed.

The title track now sweetly sways with nostalgia drifting from images of peace to feelings of loss then back again, then flying through wonderful harmonies, it quirkily goes schizophrenic on us.

‘’Selling Them Your Love’’ invokes the spirit of Belle and Sebastian, even a chamber pop version of the Lightning Seeds while ‘’So Dirty’’ is a gently elegant smutty show tune with added restrained vocals dips and dots from Woodstock Taylor. The Broadway version of Stephen Merritt would be proud!

Sometimes there is lonely heartbreaking trumpet, sometimes a swoon of crystal clear female vocals, sometimes the piano playing comes into sharp focus, sometimes all this and more fades away lost willingly in the ambiguous emotional heart within the collection.

Then in, ‘’Another Town’’ Kapp along with guest Ina Simone capture exactly what makes a pop ballad work. No whine , no angst, no over emoting dramatics here, something simple, almost country, utterly captivating for now this is my favourite song in the set. A Dreamy companion to ‘Wake Up’ from Asterisk.

As always this is an album that will reveal more every time it gets played and is the perfect progression for Richard Kapp and his band the Gowns.

http://www.richardkapp.com/

Catch songs from this release on the NBT Podcast going out on the 23rd Feb 2010

http://nextbigthing.libsyn.com/