Saturday, 9 February 2019

Leon Vynehall ‎– Nothing Is Still (2018)

Style: Ambient, Downtempo, Deep House
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Ninja Tune

01.   From The Sea/It Looms (Chapters I & II)
02.   Movements (Chapter III)
03.   Birds On The Tarmac (Footnote III)
04.   Julia (Footnote IV)
05.   Drinking It In Again (Chapter IV)
06.   Trouble - Parts I, II, & III (Chapter V)
07.   Envelopes (Chapter VI)
08.   English Oak (Chapter VII)
09.   Ice Cream (Chapter VIII)
10.   It Breaks (Chapter IX)

Cello – Amy Langley, Jessica Cox
Flute – Finn Peters
Piano – Sam Beste
Saxophone – Finn Peters
Strings – The Dirty Pretty Strings
Written-By – Leon Vynehall, Ralph Vaughan Williams
Arranged By -  Amy Langley
Recorded By, Engineer, Producer – Leon Vynehall

Every time Leon Vynehall releases new music, you’re guaranteed a fundamental level of coherence. The British producer is a quiet, cerebral guy, and his long-form statements communicate rich themes and a solid sense of structure even though they’re largely wordless. His 2014 breakthrough, Music for the Uninvited, explored house music’s queer history and Vynehall’s own childhood memories, like his mom’s handmade mixtapes and N64 games. Sultry follow-up Rojus, from 2016, used ornithological samples to trace the arc of a single night out dancing. 
On Nothing Is Still, his first studio album for venerable UK label Ninja Tune, Vynehall mines a piece of family lore: his grandparents’ emigration from England to New York City more than 50 years ago. But instead of using the story to frame another collection of jazzy, humid club cuts, Vynehall changes course. More deliberate and expansive than any of his other releases, the album moves beyond the dancefloor by incorporating traces of ambient and modern classical music. 
Nothing Is Still isn’t a radical reinvention—it relies on the same sumptuous palette Music for the Uninvited and Rojus used—but it does deconstruct Vynehall’s established sound. The parts that make up lengthy bangers from earlier in his career, like “It’s Just (House of Dupree)” and “Blush,” are distributed across multiple songs, forcing you to focus on individual elements: the breathy sax drifting through “Movements (Chapter III),” the lusty grunts peppering the woozy “Drinking It in Again (Chapter IV),” the disorienting throb of “English Oak (Chapter VII).” Although it’s less engaging on a track-to-track basis, this approach yields an album that works through a much wider spectrum of emotions. Rojus was supposed to soundtrack an evening from start to finish, but it ended up hanging in place like a thick fog; Nothing Is Still swells and recedes. At its most intense—like the menacing second half of centerpiece “Trouble - Parts I, II, & III (Chapter V)”—the record can hit you like a punch to the back of the head.

That trade-off between moment-to-moment scintillation and holistic satisfaction is the crux of Nothing Is Still. It’s designed to reward a degree of investment that goes beyond the passive listening experiences that define the streaming era. Vynehall described Rojus as “functional club music,” a phrase that gets at that record’s strengths: Each of its tracks can be isolated and embedded within a marathon DJ set. It’s hard to come up with a similar phrase that cuts to the core of Nothing Is Still—a “multimedia narrative experience,” maybe. (The album is being released alongside a series of short films and a novella co-written by Vynehall.) That’s a much less evocative set of descriptors, and its hollowness reflects this album’s higher degree of conceptual complexity. 
The implicit connections between Vynehall’s compositions and his grandparents’ move to America are what make Nothing Is Still sparkle. The graceful, swelling strings of opener “From the Sea/It Looms (Chapters I & II)” suggest the ebb and flow of a transatlantic voyage. Interludes “Birds on the Tarmac (Footnote III)” and “Julia (Footnote IV)” evoke the sonic clutter of a Manhattan morning—doors opening and closing, cash registers ringing, scraps of conversation—with layered, repeating passages reminiscent of Steve Reich. And after subjecting listeners to the anxious, noisy climaxes of “Trouble” and “English Oak,” Vynehall doles out a treat: the stunning “Ice Cream (Chapter VIII),” which starts as a play on the Field’s looping reveries and ends with birdsong layered over crashing waves of sound. The track feels like walking from the park down to the shore with a soft-serve cone, letting yourself be soothed by the rhythm of the tides. 
I spent much of my time with Nothing Is Still thinking about a recent sonic statement of purpose by Vynehall’s contemporary, Sam Shepherd, another young British producer who imagined himself moving beyond the club sphere. 2015’s Elaenia, the first full album Shepherd released as Floating Points, found him making a sharp left turn from the house and techno of his early EPs into tranquil ambient jazz and piano impressionism. It felt like a slab of music meant to be digested as a whole; it wielded silence and texture instead of groove and melody. 
Shepherd and Vynehall seem too progressive to believe that an association with dance music has somehow limited their prestige, but it’s also easy to imagine either of these bright, ambitious, insatiably curious artists wanting to do more than making people move. Like Elaenia, Nothing Is Still invites the listener recalibrate their expectations of the artist behind it. Vynehall is more than a producer with a great ear for texture and a nostalgic streak—he’s a storyteller, one who demands and merits our full attention.
Jamieson Cox / Pitchfork

The Boo Radleys ‎– Everything's Alright Forever (1992)

Style: Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Creation Records, Columbia, Intercord Record Service

01.   Spaniard
02.   Towards The Light
03.   Losing It (Song For Abigail)
04.   Memory Babe
05.   Skyscraper
06.   I Feel Nothing
07.   Room At The Top
08.   Does This Hurt?
09.   Sparrow
10.   Smile Fades Fast
11.   Firesky
12.   Song For The Morning To Sing
13.   Lazy Day
14.   Paradise

Bass – Tim Brown
Drums – Rob Cieka
Guitar – Martin Carr
Vocals – Sice
Lyrics By – Martin Carr
Music By – The Boo Radleys
Producer – Ed Buller, The Boo Radleys

First up is the second album by 90s schizophrenic-pop scousers The Boo Radleys. Everything’s Alright Forever was followed by the experimental psyche-pop classic Giant Steps (NME Album of the Year 1993) and the poptastic (and UK no.1 album) Wake Up! (1995). These huge successes easily take precedence over the sophomore effort that is our subject but it should not be overlooked. 
The Boo Radleys, though claiming from day one to have their sights set on competing with Madonna in the pop charts, began life indier-than-thou. Indie at that time (1990) meant either baggy indie-dance – yer Mondays, Charlatans etc. or else post-Isn’t Anything, effects-pedal-centric, ethereal indie a la Ride, Lush, Pale Saints et al. The Boo Radleys were firmly ensconced in the latter camp – the camp that, for better or worse, became known as shoegaze. Their debut album Ichabod and I created few waves but eventually they managed to find themselves at Creation Records and ready to take on the world. Creation had already got Ride and Primal Scream on Top of the Pops so surely it was time for The Boos. 
After spending a year and a half seemingly mastering the art of the 12″ EP (managing 16 songs across 4 of them) they finally got round to releasing a second full length effort in the shape of our 14 track album here in question. With that total of 30 songs in just over a year you might expect some filler in the grooves of Everything’s… but beyond a single “atmospheric” intro there is little that comes close to disposable in the 50 odd minutes. The casual listener might observe a band ticking all boxes in the shoegaze manual, but closer examination reveals so much more. Invention and experiment lie at every turn. It’s as if, rather than just attempting to create the finest record of an existing scene, they instead fight relentlessly to escape it’s clutches. By their next album of course, they indeed escaped – escaped and soared magnificently free as a bird, but here they satisfy themselves with stretching shoegaze to it’s absolute limits. 
Although The Boo Radleys were very much a band, the central vision was driven by guitarist and songwriter Martin Carr. Eventually he would expand the band’s sound beyond that of the traditional rock lineup, but here the sound is driven chiefly by his persistent obsession with the possibilities of the guitar. One recurring theme (though with enough variation to keep it from becoming tiresome) is that of the ever louder guitar. Just when you think a song has peaked, in crashes a fresh Rickenbacker trying it’s damnedest to destroy another up-to-11 amp. The spectre of MBV inevitably permeates much of the action but like the early washes of a watercolour landscape it becomes largely background to more striking elements of the whole picture. There is much use of Fender’s patented Floating Tremolo providing the Loveless-style seasick guitar swathes but more often than not, these are blitzed by a ghostly swoop or squalling scream channelling J Mascis far more than Kevin Shields.

There are clues to the band’s future littered across the album but the most obvious is the blatant ambition on show. It’s an admirable devil-may-care attitude that displays a willingness to let things to go wrong. It’s as if they knew this wasn’t going to be their masterpiece so they could take risks if they liked. The track running order is questionable – it takes a good few songs to even establish where they are going – and they show little regard for traditional song structure. Typically you might be faced with a longish intro followed by a single verse and then a massive, ever-growing guitar melee in lieu of a chorus that never materialises – and all under 2 minutes. Next up might be 6 minutes of slow grind with a single vocal line repeated throughout. In further contrast, there are gentle moments, though often fleeting, when guitars are stripped to pastoral acoustic warmth, only to be drowned, without notice, in a rain of Psychocandy distortion. 
It would be fair to say that words here are rarely the key. Often simple repeated fragments, lyrics seem chosen as much for the sound of their syllables as their meaning. When select phrases do push through they appear to be reasonably astute observations on youthful inter-relations. However their value (and perhaps more of their meaning) is derived more auspiciously via a string of exquisite melodies. More importantly again, those melodies offer a conduit to showcase the truly angelic voice box of singer Sice Rowbottom.

But there’s more than pretty singing and a butt load of guitars making this record such a success. Regularly, the cataclysmic layers of sound verge on the chaotic but the drums of Rob Cieka and bass of Tim Brown are so on the money that things never collapse into the abyss. Both may often become almost drenched in the mix, but still they somehow remain a reliable backbone. Never satisfied with simply fulfilling the brief though, there’s an imaginative flair to the drums throughout and, with lyrics so sparse, the bass puts in perhaps the most melodic performance of all. 
Ultimately, this is The Boo Radleys before they found their own sound. But the genre in which they were working struggles to contain their bountiful creativity. Eventually ending up as part of the Britpop story, they have more right to the title “Beatles of the 90s” than most. Oasis endlessly regurgitated 4 or 5 Beatles or John Lennon songs. The Boo Radleys, though obviously Beatles fans, instead inherited their spirit of fun, originality and most notably experimentation and created a whole new vision of their own. Everything’s Alright Forever is pregnant with that vision.
Jonathan Wallace / The Thin Air