January 4, 2016

Today's Hotness: Pete Astor, Black Seas, Your Friend

Pete Astor -- Spilt Milk (cover detail)

>> It was The Loft and The Weather Prophets, more than any other single Creation Records band, that were responsible for turning this reviewer on to the wealth of great material that arrived via the imprint prior to My Bloody Valentine's revolutionary 1987 EP You Made Me Realise. The earnest and driven jangle of songs like "Up The Hill And Down The Slope" and "Almost Prayed" combined the clean drive of The Velvet Underground circa their self-titled 1969 third album with a homespun, plainspoken honesty that felt both welcoming and timeless. When we received word that Slumberland Records would release a solo album by Pete Astor, the fronter of the aforementioned Loft and Weather Prophets, we were sold right away. Called Spilt Milk and due on white vinyl Feb. 12, Mr. Astor's latest is a ten-song set that illustrates his firm command over the style and feel that made his early work so charming. Produced in part with James Hoare of cherished contemporary hitmakers Veronica Falls, Ultimate Painting and Proper Ornaments at Mr. Hoare's London-based home studio, Spilt Milk's music offers a similar warm and classic pop essence, one that hugs the listener like the trustiest worn cardigan. The record's first preview single "Really Something" immediately assures listeners that Astor's songwriting prowess remains honed; here and there his subtle, delicate throat croaks and cracks, conveying to each verse lyric some significant weight, before a deceptive chorus swoops in. The second preview taster for the LP, the ode to onanism "My Right Hand," incorporates VU-styled boogie alongside all manner of historical and cultural references to weave a complex yet exceedingly pleasant love song that passes by so briskly it begs for multiple, smiling repeats. We have heard the rest of the album, which is dynamite, and our assessment is that Spilt Milk makes a strong case for the best kind of later-life artistic statement. While Hoare's playing is all over the record -- he laid down guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and backing vocal tracks on the set -- and other players include legends Pam Berry (Black Tambourine) and Jack Hayter (Hefner) among others, the record never forgets the building blocks upon which Astor's legacy is founded, and not only celebrates them, but also has fun on its own terms, too. Stream the aforementioned "Really Something" and "My Right Hand" via the embeds below, and pre-order the album from Slumberland right here. Note that the set is a co-release with Fortuna Pop, which will issue Spilt Milk across the proverbial pond a day prior. -- Edward Charlton

>> This reviewer thought himself familiar with all of the deepest voices in rock. To be sure, since the the late '70s post-punk wave that lifted up the distinctively down-tuned larynxes of Ian Curtis, Robert Smith, Ian McCulloch and Morrissey, there has been a wealth of dark crooners at work in the genre. But, outside of perhaps the death metal scene (and setting aside the masterful grandfather of them all, Scott Walker), no voice has been as strikingly bottomless in recent memory as that of the singer of shadowy London dream-pop concern Black Seas. The mysterious ensemble, which largely eschews most online social media and whose only member we can prove exists is a fellow named Stav who once corresponded with Clicky Clicky, released late last year at long last a stirring self-titled debut EP. The six-song release follows -- after a lengthy pause -- a series of excellent digital one-offs, some of which it contains. Black Seas commences with the highlight "Laurie," which balances the kind of seasick tremolo abuse inspired by Loveless with the gloomy, violent and abstract sexuality of Xiu Xiu. The song is a slinky wonder, opening with a rolling drum beat before the brackish singing presents front and center with literate and colorful lyrics that raise more questions than answers. "There will be sentries in the shadows," the singer warns. While this sound has served well fellow Brits The Horrors -- especially on their Geoff Barrow-produced Primary Colours -- Black Seas opt to inhabit and intellectualize their frigid dystopia rather than aim for the arena rock rafters at every available moment. Its an ideal environment that fully bears the weight of a leaden voice. No less affecting the band's menacing eponymous track, a version of which we played during a New Music Night three years ago. Surprisingly perky bass playing underpins vast scraping guitar chords, while the singer stirringly emotes. The EP takes a turn for the more pop and upbeat with "Golden Child," although Black Seas employs the same building blocks to get where it needs to go. Clicky Clicky is very hopeful the appearance of this EP is a sign that the act will become a more active concern in 2016, as its music is terrifically compelling. Stream Black Seas via the SoundCloud embed below. -- Edward Charlton

>> Your Friend -- not to be confused, of course, with Alexei Berrow's similarly terrific solo project Yr Friends -- is the brainchild of Kansas-based songwriter Taryn Miller, and her early work garnered sidelong notice in these electronic pages (or at least our Facebook page), but we now have occasion for a more thorough examination: the debut Your Friend long-player Gumption, which arrives at the end of the month. The first preview track from the collection is "Heathering," which gently sways, brightly sparkles and lushly drones under Ms. Miller's rich, searching vocal. Videos of Miller performing live a year or two back impressed because of her ability to build up layers of loops to create compelling compositions as a solo performer. While she continues to occasionally perform solo, "Heathering" feels free from any constraints whatsoever. Gumption was recorded at the Rare Book Room in Brooklyn with studio founder and producer Nicolas Vernhes, who has also worked with Animal Collective, Deerhunter and The War On Drugs. The album is due Jan. 29 on vinyl 12", CD and as a digital download. Pre-order the set right here, and stream the aforementioned "Heathering" via the SoundCloud embed below. Your Friend plays the Middle East Downstairs April 12 as part of a big-ass spring tour, supporting Alex G and Porches; we implore you to make a note to arrive early to see Your Friend, because that's the smart move. Your Friend's Domino debut, a self-recorded EP titled Jekyll/Hyde, was released in early 2014.

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