Loquat – It’s Yours to Keep

Loquat - It's Yours To Keep (2005)

Loquat – It’s Yours To Keep (2005)

One of the earlier drafts of my review for this album included an odd comparison between Loquat and some sort of americanized version of Morcheeba. I wrote it ages ago, probably more than a year ago actually… and I discarded it immediately. It’s funny how much your impression of an album can change granted you give it enough time, and that’s pretty much what happened with It’s Yours to Keep.

It’s Yours to Keep blends pop, electronic and trip hop influences under a single package, and the end result is this trip hop / dream pop hybrid that combines the best of both worlds. I know, trip hop and dream pop are pretty much like siblings, and sometimes is difficult to tell one from the other, but think of this as a trip hop influenced dream pop album. It works better that way than the other way around, trust me.

At the beginning I was caught off guard, I honestly wasn’t expecting much of what I found here. And it was not an issue of expectations, the few tracks I’ve had listened before getting the full album were superb, but were going for a completely different attitude and tempo than the rest of tracks that were awaiting for me here. I was pretty much exposed only to the downtempo / trip hop dominant parts of their music, and wasn’t even aware of how versatile they can prove to be. It’s an awesome feeling, and certainly my intention is not to spoil this to everyone willing to listen to Loquat, I’m just trying to let anyone interested know that there’s more than a few melancholic trip hop songs here.

My surprise was even bigger when I found out that not only the music sounds good, the lyrics are awesome too. Sometimes we tend to focus too much on the execution of the idea that we forget to pay any attention to what should matter the most, and that is the idea itself. I’m still not sure if I fully get what Loquat’s music is all about (lyrically speaking), but it seems to me that there’s really a story behind most of the tracks, and even though I can’t say that I can see myself on all of them, my opinion of this album as a whole changed completely. Now these tracks seem more personal to me, and not personal in a sense of false self-appropriation, personal because I reckon they come from someone’s experiences, and to me they become just that… honest music, an honest attempt at recreate someone’s experiences through music we all can somehow relate.

Maybe all of the previous surprises made this album a little bit more difficult for me to understand, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we want the experience to be as straightforward as possible, and we tend to discard those who aren’t… which in this case would have been truly a shame. I’m not suggesting that It’s Yours to Keep is a specially difficult album, it’s the complete opposite actually, it just doesn’t follow a linear path in order to deliver its cargo. And when it finally delivers it… I hope you’re ready.

I’ve noticed that I’ve grown fond of the San Francisco music scene in the past 3 or 4 years, thanks in no smaller part to the folks responsible for bringing SomaFM to the world. Loquat was one of the nicest discoveries I’ve made while exploring the always vast trip hop territory, and while not completely trip hop in nature, this album makes a very nice and subtle transition from electronic influenced pop and trip hop to a more elaborated dream pop experience.

 

The Analog Girl – Sometime Next Galaxy

The Analog Girl - Sometime Next Galaxy (2007)

The Analog Girl – Sometime Next Galaxy (2007)

I remember back then when I first heard of The Analog Girl, I thought it was pure and absolutely genius. I knew right there that I needed to experience the whole thing, so I went on with my business as usual until I finally managed to put my hands on a copy of Sometime Next Galaxy.

Self labeled as laptop-rock (whatever that might be), this Singaporean lady has one of the most driven and unique attitude towards her art. It’s like when you know that certain artist has a peculiar way of doing things, but for some reason you know that deep within them they are not even believing 100% in what they are doing. That’s not the case with The Analog Girl, it’s that belief and self-confidence in what she is doing that keeps the things moving, but is actually a little more than that, things not only move, things gravitate smoothly and fit perfectly in place when needed as well.

I want to be completely honest, and I won’t suggest that Sometime Next Galaxy is some sort of masterpiece and the world needs to stop in order for you to listen to it, but I honestly believe that this album has its fair amount of surprising elements that makes it more than worth listening, even if you’re not fan of whatever the genre this is.

I’m seriously having a hard time trying to describe exactly what genre this should be labeled as you can see, and for those unfamiliar with this album might probably think that this has to be the most bizarre album this side of the milky way, but actually it isn’t. Think of this as some sort of semi-professional, homegrown sound taken to the next level. It’s completely electronic in nature, achieving what I would describe as a rough, darker and underground approach to urban electronic music. There are some rough edges that’s for sure, but instead of looking it as a flaw, it kind of legitimizes those elements as part of the music itself.

The vocal work might not be that consistent through the length of the whole album, I have to admit that it is not one of my favorite aspects of the album, but towards the end of the end you start to get used to it and suits the general tone the album is going for. It is all part of the experience, the feeling the voice imprints on everything might not be brightest, but it sure does a good job matching the difficult to decipher sound. Now we have two things to decipher.

Whoever said that the best music and the most enjoyable experiences come only from the biggest budgets and well-known names is definitely missing on the beauty and unexpected surprises that diversity has for us. Sometime Next Galaxy was unexpected back then, but still keeps surprising me today.

 

Mandalay – Instinct

Mandalay - Instinct (2000)

Mandalay – Instinct (2000)

Another one of those bands that ceased to exist long ago, and still a decade later I can find interesting stuff when going through their albums. Instinctis particularly interesting because of its downtempo nature, the subtle electronic influence and the always fragile and yet powerful vocals by Nicola Hitchcock. The combination of those elements and her voice should be totally trademarked, I mean, it’s a formula I’ve never seen anywhere else and maybe there wasn’t much of an audience for that and hence the reason Mandalay disbanded (although I doubt that was the true reason behind the break up).

This might not be the album you want to hear if you’re on a bright mood, this is the kind of album you put on when you’re looking for an intimate atmosphere or you want to create a mysterious ambient. Yes, this album works wonderful as bedroom music, if you know what I mean… But that’s not the reason why this album has so much going for it, that is just a nice side effect.

I always thought that Mandalay’s music shares a huge resemblance with music from other artists such as Delirium, and I’m sure I’m not alone on that, it is kind of futile to do those comparisons now that the band is extinct. But the truth is that this album should be noted for its consistency all the way through, as it never loses that aura of mystery and still at the same time remains a sensuous, intimate and inciting proposal.

I believe that one of the more intriguing highlights is that you never actually quite end getting all of it. There are always some parts that remain elusive and while you might think that you got used to it, you listen to it some time later and it’s like new question arises, new feelings and emotions start to emerge and you’re back to the starting point again. This isn’t because the experience tends to be random and you got it wrong the last time, it is just the way Instinct tends to be, and that’s what makes it an interesting experience by itself.

The experience, however, wouldn’t be complete without the element that I believe is what glues everything together: the vocals. Hitchcock’s performance might suggest fragility at first glance, but the truth is that there’s not a single moment of hesitation in everything she does, and as a result Instinct feels solid, confident and even surprising once you get the whole picture. Some might argue that the use of double tracking for the vocal performance might diminish the value of the performance, as is evident during some of the songs, but I personally believe that in this case is justified when you consider how extraordinary Nicola Hitchcock sounds while doing back vocals for Nicola Hitchcock… Is evident that the intention was never to create a false sensation of a stronger voice, the intention was to provide the main voice with an effective counterpart that enhances Hitchcock performance even further.

If you don’t like the calm and introspective nature of downtempo, chances are that you will end up skipping this album almost straight away. But if you do like it, this is one of those trip hop albums that age particularly well and that will never sound out of place no matter if it is 10, 15 or 20 years old.

I’m suspicious that you will give Instinct a try, lured by the atmosphere created by the many elements that are present here, but in the end you will stay for the elements that you can’t see but are also there.

 

Goldfrapp – Supernature

Goldfrapp - Supernature (2005)

Goldfrapp – Supernature (2005)

Trying to keep up with Goldfrapp’s different attitudes and eras is a bit difficult sometimes. One day you are immersed in a futuristic rendition of the 1940s (Felt Mountain) and the next thing you know is that you somehow stumbled upon this mind blowing electronic and pop mixture that has awesome written all over it.

Chronologically speaking, this follows Black Cherry and to the casual listener it might not seem like a big change but there is a massive turn in direction here. From the glam rock inspired experiment that represented that album we now have a more pop driven electronic album that might seem like your everyday ordinary song collection, but before you know it will grow on you leaving the sensation that this music might be just enough to enable your mind to lift off.

Now that I think about it, maybe Let It Take You might not be just another song, it might be a big hint on this album’s true intentions, but instead of becoming a bizarre and abstract experience, Supernature never really departs from the general formula here. There are some moments though where I recognize some of the elements that a couple of years later would be the foundation for her next studio album, Seventh Tree.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it is difficult to discern what is really going on during this album. If you happened to pay attention only to the easy and catchy electronic nature of the album you might have a hard time trying to figure out what the rest is about. I wouldn’t recommend trying to listen this to death until you finally “get it”, because in practice it works better if you let it get to you instead.

However what I like about this album is that you never get the feeling that Alison Goldfrapp is holding back something here. What you get here is the sensation that you’ve been given everything there is, and even you might feel that you’ve been given a little extra. And by being given everything I’m not just saying that my ears were blown away with electronic beats for an hour non-stop, I’m talking about the complete experience that Supernatural represents.

Just when you start thinking that Supernatural is just another British electronic pop album, it blows you away with its sudden change in direction, it transforms completely midway and it stops pretending to be the perfect ambient music for your fancy party, and it becomes a personal experience, a subtle and private reflective moment. The best part is that you never see it coming, and by the time you realize what is really happening it is already too late.

None of the above would be possible without something that has always been present in every Goldfrapp album to date, and that is the elegance and grandeur that is written all over it. I’ve always said that Goldfrapp is all about the glamour and the philosophy of doing music with a true artistic approach, and that is what I believe differentiates this from someone just being flamboyant. This is still electronic music, no matter how you look at it, but there’s something else that makes you believe that you’re really listening to something classy (because you actually are), something that belongs to another era, something that you won’t be afraid to admit in front of anyone, hell, I’m even writing about it to let everyone know that I like it! See what I did there?

I like to think that Felt Mountain is still my favorite Goldfrapp album, but I truly believe that Supernatural represents something different, and even though both albums are from the same artist, they are performed by different characters. For some reason I’m liking more this character lately though.

 

Fever Ray – Fever Ray

Fever Ray - Fever Ray (2009)

Fever Ray – Fever Ray (2009)

It is nearly impossible to describe Fever Ray in a single sentence. I’ve been puzzled about this album for a long time, and even now I’m not sure that I fully understand all about it. But bear with me, this is not your typical thick layered electronic album, what we have here is a gutsy Swedish lady doing something more primitive, almost basic in nature, spread through a journey that probably leaves more questions than answers.

It seems so distant from those collaborations with artists such as Röyksopp  or dEUS, or her own other project, The Knife. Fever Ray departs from the traditional electronic formula and attempts to give us a glimpse of an unknown world that previously existed only on Karin Dreijer Andersson’s mind. It is a cold, primitive and almost claustrophobic place to stay, but the funny thing is that even in an environment such as that there’s still beauty to be found.

I experienced this album’s steep learning curve first hand, because at least for me, it’s not an easy album to get into. It is radically different from the more traditional conventions we’ve been used to that it takes some time to let your mind get the hang of it. The only aspect that remains constant is the strangely beautiful voice that made us love Andersson in the first place, and Fever Ray is the right place to find her.

Looking back to those times when I tried unsuccessfully to make some sense of this album, I recon now that I failed many times because I was expecting to fully appreciate it with just repetitive listens, which never happened by the way. Some time later I thought about trying this again, but with a different attitude, this time trying to find textures, scenarios and looking for the complete adventure, and I’m certain that the results were complete different from the first time, I’m very pleased to say.

Sometimes I will get the feeling that I’m listening to something almost tribal in nature, something very basic that appeals to that primitive human being that is still somewhere inside of us, like I’m witnessing some sort of futuristic rendition of the rhythmic dancing ceremonies inside some cave in an apocalyptic future where humanity has again resorted to escape the civilization as we know it today. Don’t think for a second that this is the focus of this album though, it isn’t, those are just some random experiences I’ve come across while playing with this.

Some other times I found myself having what I can only describe as a sensation of loneliness. The album is very succinct and sometimes the feeling that you’re just listening a bare-bones, minimalist composition of the most surreal nature gets very strong to you. I’m sure some might even get a claustrophobic sensation during some passages, but I’m confident that the general tone of the album will compensate for those brief episodes.

I guess all I’m trying to say here is that maybe we’ve been fooled into thinking that there is just one right way to do electronic music. Fever Ray will be a challenge if you’re not used to Andersson’s eccentricity, but it has a reason to be, and it is because it is a different approach and she doesn’t cut corners while doing it.

Fever Ray is a very interesting album, and the reason you should give it a chance is not just because it is something different, but because I believe that sometimes music is just like math, there are always several ways of getting you to the answer… However, I’m still not sure if Fever Ray is the answer, or just the question to something bigger?

 

Fauxliage – Fauxliage

Fauxliage - Fauxliage (2007)

Fauxliage – Fauxliage (2007)

Truth to be told, I’ve never been a Sixpence None The Richer fan myself, but this cross experiment between Delirium members and Leigh Nash as the vocals behind Fauxliage deserves to be given a chance, and that’s what I did some years ago when I first came across one of their songs.

This has been sitting in my collection for about 4 years, and for the most part it has always been in the back of my mind, but for some bizarre reason every time that the winter is around the corner (winter runs from May to October in my country) this album is the kind of music you crave to listen in those cold, cloudy afternoons when you need something to warm you up. Not only this sounds very good under those conditions (at least that’s what works for me), it also pulls some really personal strings and evokes a reflexive and introspective look at yourself while you’re at it.

This mix of Canadian / American line-up bears more resemblance to Nash’s work with Sixpence None The Richer than with Delirium’s usually electronic driven material. However I believe that the essence of the latter is evident all over this, in a very subtle way though. The reflexive and calm nature of pretty much most of the songs is all there as an evidence of that, I believe.

Leigh Nash has the habit of taking a particular song and make it so easy to listen to it, grace it with that puzzling and yet accessible voice of hers and make it enjoyable for everyone in the process. However if you thought that this would never be something more than just a nice couple of songs with a known voice, let me tell you that there’s much more than just an easily recognizable voice waiting for you here.

Sometimes you find an album whose songs help you free your mind from the structure and limits imposed from more traditional and superfluous genres, and this one is one of those rare examples where it manages to do so driven by the lyrics and a beautiful voice to go with them. I can think of other albums that can evoke such experiences but most of them don’t feature vocals or are minimal at best, so it is good to have one that diverts from that but still can pull the same trick. There are a couple of instrumental tracks here and there though, and at least for me they weren’t the point of interest, I actually kinda missed Nash vocals during those…

I was misled to believe that this was a more electronic influenced album, and oriented towards the usually trip hop / electronic formula, but I have to say that this tastes a lot more pop than electronic, so the experience briefly reaches the elusive mellow-female-vocalist goodness but for the most part it stays in the more traditional and easy achievable pop sound, which is not a bad thing at all, in case you were wondering. That’s their formula and they are sticking to it, and as long as it works as good as it does here, I don’t care.

And after five years the chances of another Fauxliage album are very unlikely, which is unfortunate to say the least. Whether that happens or not, this side-project provided us with a couple of interesting moments by artists that otherwise belong to very different worlds. It’s not the best of both worlds, it is more like what happens when one enters the world of the other.

 

Ivy – Guestroom

Ivy - Guestroom (2002)

Ivy - Guestroom (2002)

The idea of having an album that is filled completely with just covers might not be that appealing at first, or at least that’s what I thought, because when you like an artist, you want and expect to hear something that sounds and feels just like you know their style is.

Guestroom is a good example of such albums, and I needed lots of hours before starting to understand that even though these are covers, they are more than just that, they are songs made by other artists, performed in the way the band feels and understands them. So, what’s interesting about that? If you are new to these songs, you probably won’t notice anything interesting going on here, but if you by chance know some of the songs, it’s a chance to rediscover something you already know but seen from someone else’s perspective.

What’s more impressive though is the fact that these are songs that belong to very different styles and eras, and yet you will notice that they all end up sharing some very similar elements. This effort to offer unity through very different pieces is what makes this album stand away from other similar efforts. You don’t end up feeling that you’re listening a random playlist, you also don’t get the feeling that whoever is performing is just trying to sound in the exact same way the original song was performed. You can actually tell the difference that Dominique Durand’s well known vocal tone and accent gives to every song, which is one of the biggest selling points for those who fancy Ivy’s previous or later works.

This might not be a good source for 100% new material from the band, but makes for a fun and well done experiment. Also, this is a unique chance to get in touch with whatever gives them the inspiration to create their own music, and that’s already a damn good reason to embrace it as any other album they have come up with.

All things said, this is a fun listen. Is not the peak of their performance, of that I’m absolutely convinced, but is a solid effort and as such you can be sure that you will have fun times with it. Indie pop can rest assured, because Ivy is representing them well… once again.