BENT KNEE – Shiny Eyed Babies (2014)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Avery Campbell

I was a little perplexed on first listen of this album, which genre is it? Were they drunk? Did they call a surrogate band in some tracks to meet deadlines? But well, this is the very nature of the band. They are an art rock band.

It’s way nice that an artist can touch upon many genres, only, I think if they can really integrate them into a solid final product. Whether no frills metal (“Way Too Long”) or more elaborate affairs (“Dry”) they do their business well. They can do more commercial stuff, almost in the Coldplay field (“In God We Trust”). 

They can present unexpected twists within the same songs, which is fresh, but also a little tiring on repeated listens. “I’m Still Here” gets into Kate Bush territory, and they do it quite well, a really beautiful song.

In fact the second part of the album is a more subtle affair, Celtic touches and violins in “Sunshine” (and some crazy guitar in the crescendo just to assert the power). Some .. industrial? Rock traces in the second part of “Skin”, to finish it off with a soft piano, once more.

A good album overall it suffers from the CD era trauma: too long; a little trimming would work wonders. Or just make up your playlist, that’s The Modern World that I’ve learnt about!

THE AEROVONS – Resurrection (1969, recorded in 2003)

Review by: Avery Campbell
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

The Aerovons were an American psychedelic pop band who really liked The Beatles. No, I mean REALLY liked The Beatles. They liked The Beatles so much that they turned down a recording offer from Capitol Records because they wanted to be able to record in London. Somewhat miraculously, this stubbornly starry-eyed hero worship actually did eventually land them in Abbey Road to record their album, although it’d go unreleased until 2003.

Sound-wise, the album is pretty standard baroque psychedelic 60s pop. Nice harmonies, swirly string arrangements, piano, etc. In fact, standard might not be a strong enough word – some of this stuff is really derivative. Resurrection and Say Georgia make this clear almost immediately, borrowing heavily from Across the Universe and Oh Darling respectively, but the feeling of a band really excited by music but without much new to say permeates most of these tracks. They take a stab at the “ballad with stinging electric guitar” on Quotes and Photos, “doofy British music hall” on Bessy Goodheart, “lightly psychedelic hippie strummer” on The Years, and so on. All of these songs are competently written and performed, but they have trouble distinguishing themselves as more than a band writing songs in particular styles because those are the styles their favorite bands wrote in.

On the positive side, though, this album is certainly an enjoyable one. It’s a very pleasant listen, the production is excellent, and there are a few songs that manage to be pretty striking. My personal favorite is the opening “World of You”, a wonderfully orchestrated ballad and the major keeper here. Bessy Goodheart sounds quite a lot like both The Kinks and Lady Madonna, but is probably the catchiest song on the album, and She’s Not Dead also has a pretty solid chorus. The closing bonus track Here is quite lovely as well, despite being a little too obvious of a stab at a McCartney ballad.

So, while Resurrection is certainly an enjoyable album, I wouldn’t rate it as one those “lost 60s masterpieces” like Odessey and Oracle, Forever Changes, or Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina. More than anything, Resurrection makes me wish this band had stuck around long enough to put out more albums. There’s all the signs of a potentially excellent songwriting outfit once they’d matured a bit. After all, at the time our main songwriter here was 17, and what 17-year-old doesn’t want to be his hero? File this with the early Bee Gees albums, and that sort of thing, though the melodies are weaker here. Still, not a bad grab for lovers of obscure 60s pop.

HAIZEA – Haizea (1977)

Review by: Avery Campbell
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

I have to admit, I looked this album up on Wikipedia, saw that they were classified as prog rock and had released their debut in ‘77, and went into this with a little bit of wariness. Of course, it turned out it was my mistake not to read a couple more words over to where it ALSO said they are folk-rock. Actually, I’m not sure I’d even classify it as folk-rock. Lightly progressive folk, maybe. Yes, what we have here is a collection of Basque folk music, all acoustic guitars, light percussion, and woodwinds, with some really lovely singing from Xabier Lasa and Amaia Zubiría.

Happily, Haizea meets my major requirement for mellow folk music: That it not be boring. The moods here are tranquil, and the tempos are slow, but the music is remarkably pretty. Although I can’t understand Basque, the music and signing manages to get across a really lovely, low-key, melancholy mood. The arrangements of the pieces are also very good. Although strongly rooted in guitar-led folk music, they sprinkle enough little psychedelic and progressive touches into keep things interesting to listen to. I’m especially fond of the backwards sounds in “Uxa ixuririk” and “Oreina Bila”.

The absolute highlight, however, is the 10 minute closer, Arrosa xuriaren azpian. The band takes its time to really stretch out, creating a powerful mood that you can get lost in, as the song slowly transitions from vocals to repetitive guitar themes and back. It sums up everything this band does, it’s melodic and pretty, and it manages to not be at all boring, a feat that many bands with much busier instrumentation aren’t capable of over this length.

Given that I wasn’t familiar with this band at all before having this review assigned, I was very pleasantly surprised. The music contained herein is remarkably beautiful, pretty, and interesting. I’ll definitely come back to this when I’m in just the right mood.

DVA – Nipomo (2014)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Album assigned by: Avery Campbell

DVA are a Czech duo which play some sort of bizarre electronically-enhanced psychedelic jazz-folk with avant-garde touches, or so it seems to me. The constituent parts of said duo are credited only as “He” and “She”, where “He” plays guitar, drums and percussion and does the looping and sampling, “She” sings and plays reed instruments plus toy piano and music box, and both play melodica and balaphon.

The vocal style is based mainly on the multitracking of several tracks of the girl’s voice. She has a pretty if not especially powerful voice, but she’s not afraid to do weird things to it. At times she reminds me of Kate Bush or Björk. Yeah, clichéd, but it’s not like I’m an expert on strange voices. In many cases they alter the speed of her vocals for maximum effect. Ah, and she sings in a language, or several languages of their own invention. In fact the concept of the band seems to be one of imaginary worlds, because in their Bandcamp page they tag themselves as “pop from non-existing radios”.

Now, the music. I get some sort of 60s vibe from it, or rather several sorts of 60s vibes. Many of the songs have backings that sound like pop/jazzy bossa nova, with the saxes, acoustic guitar and percussions providing the adequate let’s-sip-a-vermouth-in-Capri, stroll-down-Marseille-in-sunglasses feel. “Mulatu” and “Zoppe” are the main exponents of this style, although both are faster and more frantic than my description there might suggest.

On another different vibe, “Nipomo” is based in murky, echoey, slightly bluesy electric guitars that evoke a different part of the 60s, the psychedelic hippie days this time, and the combination of this guitar, the unrelenting acoustic picking and the urgent vocal witchy melody, manages to have a driving rhythm despite the minimal percussion. Add to this the ghostly passages played by “She” on the bass clarinet, an instrument with a particular expression, as any fan of “Bitches Brew” knows, and it all adds up to one of the highlights of the album.

“Nunki” and “Javornicek”, meanwhile, owe more to electronica, with their soothing melodies (well, “Nunki” is soothing until the singer starts doing the crazy pixie things, at least, but it compensates with some soft sounding pads) over intrincate loops of percussion and samples. Especially “Javornicek” where the loops have an almost musique concrete quality and the bass reed instruments sound like the accompaniment to a free jazz tune. But it turns out that, for a 2 minute song, “Javornicek” has two parts, at the mid point the looped percussion disappears and guitar, ukulele and handclapts take the lead, while the vocal finishes with a folk-like chant.

“Meteor” is the folky ballad of the set. The arpeggiated guitar over sampled extravaganzas makes it sound a bit like “Animal Collective lite”, but other than the vibe and the nice but not groundbreaking melody it has little else to discuss. “Vespering” is its moodier (but at the same time livelier) counterpart, with the intro based on the toy instruments and the sung part having a certain uplifting quality which serves as a suitable conclusion.

There are a couple of songs which combine several elements of those aforementioned prototypes. “Durango” is a very satisfying song which combines the intrincacy of the loops of “Javornicek” at the beginning with the acoustic touch of “Meteor” and the vocal harmonies of “Zoppe” with one of the sunnier melodies of the album and a bona fide hook in the bVI-bVII-I progression in the guitar. “Vampira” begins being the slightly unhinged cousin of the bossa nova tracks, where the rhythm is more driving, the horns are jazzier, the guitar arpeggios are sicker, and the singer goes all ghostly on us. Soon the rhythm gets more subdued while still hip-shaking, and interestingly, while the bass line stays with the same Soul Sacrifice-style pattern throughout, the feel is different in what we could call the chorus, where the guitar plays some insistent R&B chords. Besides, this is the longest track (still at only 4 minutes plus change) so you have time to appreciate all its turns.

Finally there are two tracks that exemplify the good and bad sides of this album.

On the good side: “Surfi”. The beginning is a thing of beauty. It starts with sea waves and what sounds like a ping pong match. Soon the ping pong balls multiply and their bounces start overlapping and transforming in a rhythmic pattern which cannot be described as anything else than as African drums, this becomes the backing to scat multitracked and harmonized vocals. Without changing these, the backing is suddenly replaced by another of those light jazz bossa guitars under which the different layers of percussion, horns and sound effects come and go without giving the listener time to get bored.

On the bad side: “No Survi”. It’s the only track without vocals, and the problem with it is that its several background loops never fully coalesce. Everything seems to be fighting everything else, and in particular, the bass line, which sounds not bad by itself, manages to clash rhythmically with everything. You’d think that with several things all at odds with one another the bass line would have an opportunity to lock in with something. Well, amazingly it never does.

In summary, an interesting album, worth hearing when in the mood for something experimental yet easy on the ears. Wouldn’t mind hearing it again in a few days.