Friday, 23 May 2014

Helicopter Quartet – “Leading Edges”

“Leading Edges” is the latest full-length release from Leeds based duo Helicopter Quartet. Immediately disrupting the thought patterns by calling themselves Helicopter Quartet, Chrissie Caulfield on violin and synthesiser and Michael Capstick on guitar and bass have succeeded in producing unsettling, yet fragile, swathes of sound, that are at times swaying with prettiness and delight whilst at others jarring the ears with dissonance and discord. Whilst these two states of being may seem incongruous, “Leading Edges” succeeds in melting them together in a glorious miasma of otherworldliness. Born out of the remnants of Catscans, Helicopter Quartet set out on a mission to create new musical spaces in an attempt to create “…confusion and often fear”.  “The Way It Never Was”, for example, opens this release with pulsing violin and guitar reminiscent at times of early experimental Philip Glass circa. “Music in Twelve Parts”. Before too long, however, the mood veers off into a sinister pastoral violin monologue that brings to mind King Crimson’s “Larks Tongues in Aspic Part 1”. If these comparisons are whetting the listener’s appetite, then please read on. “Refuge (2014)” balances gentle and mournful to perfection. Droning violin crying, over lightly undulating guitar and electronics, makes for a seamless mood changer.
 Despondent guitar and violin characterise “110” which succeeds in instilling not only a mood of apprehension and foreboding, but also an insidious sense of inquisitiveness. The mood remains constant for over seven minutes as the music slides laboriously over an unnatural, yet organic, landscape. It is not until the end when the guitar rears it’s ugly, yet majestic head, that the texture is disrupted. A sense of alien longing permeates “Trailing Edge” which continues the familiar drone, but infuses it with soaring, and somehow medieval, qualities. The crescendo that is hinted at through these pieces comes with “Hothouse”, which mutates into an intense flare of restrained noise bringing the album itself to an expansive conclusion.  The Pierrotechnique remix of “Refuge” adds some muscle and further consistency to the original, with a tender pulse underpinning throughout.
The influences cited give some idea as to how to approach this release with The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Sonic Youth, Karlheinz Stockhausen (whose “Helicopter String Quartet” bears an uncanny similarity in name to the duo), Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Curved Air and Dimitri Shostakovich all apparent throughout. If any of these names are unfamiliar to the new listener, then “Leading Edges” by Helicopter Quartet, should, in all fairness, be approached with care.  To the listener who reads this and nods with approval inside, this release will not disappoint. Who can fail to enjoy an album by a band whose interests are listed as “Effects pedals and mains hum”?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Crow Black Chicken – “Rumble Shake” album review

It may be inevitable that a blues band originating from the Cork area of Ireland will be compared to Rory Gallagher. Add to that a blues band with beards, and thoughts immediately go towards ZZ Top. Throw away any preconceived ideas then dear listener as “Rumble Shake”, the second full length release by Crow Black Chicken, maintains the organic, languid texture of the first album, and adds an extra serving of melodic blues, to give it a depth and originality that can so often be lacking in this field. “Hang ‘Em High”, which opens the album, would have the most cynical blues-hater singing along to the chorus and strapping on a weather-beaten air guitar. As an album opener “Hang ‘Em High” has everything the listener could possibly need; the tempo, the hook, the searing guitar. Little respite before “Two-Seven” and by now the overwhelming feeling is that, listening to this album, you are having a good time. The music is uplifting and engaging and takes the listener to a place where they are free to engage in basic hedonistic behaviour. What more could one want from the music? “Bitter” and “Little Paths” slow the tempo right down without losing any of the personality. The soloing on these pieces has an originality that is inspirational and exhilarating to hear.
The title track “Rumble Shake” is a gloriously uplifting romp through a number of styles and influences that suggest that Crow Black Chicken could be something very special to see in a live setting. “Black Asphalt” and “Black Man’s Gold” contain a gritty sensuousness that is both charming and dangerous in equal measure. “Rumble Shake” has a number of levels on which it parades its allures however. “Priest Hunter” has a gentler, but no less poignant atmosphere whilst “Jessie Mae” is a straightforward, languorous blues.  Almost coming full circle “Sit With Satan” revisits the mood captured on “Hang ‘Em High” and closes the album with a crescendo of blues guitar passion.

“Rumble Shake “ is undoubtedly a blues based album that will appeal not only to aficionados of that genre, but anyone prepared to listen to candid imaginative music in general. The production on the album is just the right side of grubby. It would not be out of place to add the label “progressive” to this description of Crow Black Chicken’s music, as they are certainly pushing the envelope of blues based music which will hopefully open up whole new audience possibilities for them.