Friday, 15 May 2009

My friends have a record out!

Just as a preface, I never post a record if I don't think it's killer regardless of who made it. This blog has always been and always will be reserved for the purpose of presenting people with records that I believe have a lot of value musically and emotionally. Posts will never, ever be intended to massage someone's ego. As such, it's testament to the quality of a friend's work if it finds its way onto this blog.

All the Empires of the World - Last Rites EP

All the Empires of the World is a three-man project based in Nottingham. Last Rites is the latest release of theirs and their first 'official' release through a label. It's always easiest to define a band like this by the heavier parts of their sound, but Last Rites has as much light in its sound as dark. It is not a "post-metal" record. There is way more going on here than Isis/Neurosis/Pelican [delete as appropriate] worship - as much attention is given to the properties of each sound and how it resonates as is given to the riffs themselves. These explorations of ambience give the record a cavernous sense of space that makes it sound freaking huge. 'Prophecy at the Ruins', as the title suggests, sets an apocalyptic tone, starting with the slow pounding of a bass drum that is met by long peals of rumbling guitar that sound like a call to prayer from deep within some enormous temple. Instead of the release of tension that we'd expect, the rumbling gives way to a sequence of subdued fingerpicked chords that make the eventual release of tension even more worthwhile. These quieter passages on Last Rites have a considered, dreamy quality to them that reminds me a lot of the calmer moments of maudlin of the Well's music. After the long build of 'Prophecy at the Ruins', the music finally erupts in 'Simon Helen Elizabeth (The Gate)' with the kind of music that Pelican should be writing these days - proudly triumphant riffs shrouded in enormous swathes of ambience. At the climax of the song the addition of some deeply buried vocals within the wall of sound works as a really great finishing touch. These two songs work as a kind of suite, but are followed by a similarly great reinterpretation of one of their older songs '...Will be Laid to Waste' which manages to sound strikingly different from the original version and yet still as great.

In terms of the actual meaning behind the record it might be best to quote Mark directly:

"This record is a testament to finding the best in everything - it was influenced by my brother and two sisters and their complex and wonderful lives. Denial of the spirit is denial of the self."

I'm not in the position to extrapolate further about the emotional content of Last Rites but one thing that is obvious is that it is clearly a very personal record. This, combined with the attention to detail in the writing, recording and mixing makes it a very rewarding listen, and I will recommend it to anyone who is interested in records that explore the possibilities within the outer fringes of heavy music.

It can be downloaded for free from Records on Ribs, a great Nottingham-based record label run by a bunch of lovely people who release high-quality music for free online under Creative Commons licensing. While you're downloading this record, check out the rest of the acts on their site too, there's some great stuff there - some of my favourites include EL Heath's ambient work and the Talk Talk-esque melancholy of Les √Čtoiles.

All The Empires of the World - Last Rites

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The One Up Downstairs - S/T (2006)

Will I be seeing you next spring?
Well I hope so
If not, would you skip a stone in your lake for me?

This is probably the wrong season to be posting this, but whatever. The One Up Downstairs were a short-lived project by Mike Kinsella and Steve Lamos of American Football and two members of Very Secretary that recorded one 7" before American Football came into being that never really got released until 2006. The American Football LP is a really beautiful indie-rock album and one of my favourite records ever, so it's always annoyed me that I can't really find anything else by the Kinsellas that has a similarly nostalgic and reflective feel to it, besides Mike's solo project Owen which never really did much for me. The discovery of this EP, then, was a nice surprise for me, having played both American Football records to death. The opener 'Champaign' sounds like classic American Football, slowly unfolding and meandering in a kind of ponderous way. Lyrical and musical ideas come and go gently much in the way that your mind works in those beautiful moments of calm, contented reflection that come once in a while. It paints a lovely picture in my mind, like the speaker's a little tipsy after a couple of glasses of wine and is taking a walk outside in the snow at nighttime, and what we're presented with are just the thoughts in his head as they come and go.

'Rememories' is more uptempo, with a bouncy riff that almost sounds like something out of a Don Caballero song. Lyrically it deals with the feeling when you're moving from one place to another of looking forward to making more - and maybe better - memories but also hoping that you'll be missed and wondering if the people who were important to you will think about you when you're not around, which is a sentiment I can relate to pretty easily. This running theme of nostalgia for people, places and certain periods in your life in American Football's music also finds itself in this EP and is something that makes both bands so endearing for me. The last instrumental 'Franco the Bull' feels a little tacked-on at the end compared to the two songs before it but is worth a listen too. But overall, for anyone that wishes American Football had released a little more material or just digs music that deals in slow, intricate, nostalgic beauty, this EP is a really nice little fix.

The One Up Downstairs - S/T