Friday, 18 March 2011


The Cellartapes Experience
(Reviewer - MMT)

There’s something infinitely mysterious about the Cellartapes label. Or maybe it’s just that my ordered librarian’s mind seeks always to define and classify – Cellartapes seem to defy definition, and that’s what I find so perversely intriguing about them. A superlative example of how groups of creative minds can come together via the Internet and create whole scenes under their own steam – in Cellartapes’ case a brilliant batch of electronica, dance, ambient, trance, jam-band and other types of music I don’t even have the vocabulary to describe.

Anyway, the many and various acts signed (well, maybe signed isn’t the right word. They’re more mysterious than that!) - affiliated to the Cellartapes label can all be seen at their page on the ReverbNation site. Which I must admit is also a site I find very mysterious! Kind of an alternative MySpace which is also able to compile local download charts… now that does interest my librarian’s mind.

OTL, described as “the producer and technical studio dogsbody at the centre of operations” is a character we know pretty well from Real Life™. But that’s about as much as we do know. Though if you’ve been beautiful and shrewd enough to buy yourself a copy of the latest “Monkey Kettle & Friends Rock” compilation CD, you might already be familiar with Invisible Rhino's “Charge Consumer”. Invisible Rhino describe themselves as making “Dancing Upside-down Music”. Which is about right. Bouncy, atmospheric mood dance. “In Imitation Of Our Better Selves” is a particularly good example, evolving into a squelchy track that’s almost industrial at times. “Credit Card Or Bust” is even stompier.

Mucky Badger has possibly the best name among the Cellartapes artists, and my favourite track by him / them has probably the best track name too: “Billie Moo Moos Again” – presumably referring to the lowing noise which drifts in and out over the jittery rhythm and cartoon chattering. While Stasis looks like it’s another name under which OTL himself records, this time in a much more ambient / dreamlike mode – and one which I enjoyed in particular, the moody “Ducks Of Midnight” a particular standout. And it would appear The Ninth Tentacle is also OTL (though you never know!!), here in ongoing dancey jams featuring spiralling electric guitars (such as “i believe in milko” (the title a subtle “Home & Away” reference I think!) and the excellently atmospheric “Developing Fluid”) – maybe the best place to start for those people who like guitars!

Definitely a band in their own right – because we’ve seen them play live several times! – are Dusque, who are a groovy synthy outfit with punchy rhythms and a summery vibe. If you ever get the chance to check them out live, you definitely should.

Some of the acts do appear to be based further afield, Alex Final who makes off-kilter blocks of robot poetry appears to be from California; Coccinella’s trancey synths are from the Netherlands; while Bachuus looks like he’s from Denmark and records the sort of laid-back stuff that someone like me who doesn’t listen to enough of this sort of stuff might call “chillwave”. But maybe this is all recorded in Emerson Valley, who knows?

So, some of the above artists may or may not be the same people. Or some of the same people in different combinations. Or some different people under the same pseudonyms, for that matter. We just don’t know. That's how mysterious the whole Cellartapes affair is, and y’know what? That’s the way I like it. The only real answers are the tracks – which are smashing. Come on in.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Final Clearance - ALBUM

The year is only two and a bit months old, and here at Monkey Kettle Towers we’ve already heard two full-length, professionally produced albums by local musicians which would be nailed-on Album Of The Year contenders in most years – but the fact they’ve come so early on in 2011 makes me agog about what else we may get to hear this year from the local circuit!

Reasonably soon, Phil will be regaling us with his thoughts on The Artist Formerly Known As Project Wolverine, but in the meantime let me wax enthusiastic about “No Love Lost” by the always exciting Final Clearance.

Obviously my hopefully-not-too-creepily-oversold love for their sound has already been covered here on The Dudebox, but this set of songs recorded at The Lodge Studios in Northampton sounds as polished, well-produced and textured as pretty much anything I have ever heard by a “Milton Keynes Band”. Perhaps the most telling moment was when the jaw-dropping “Synth Song” came on my mp3 player’s random shuffle while walking to work and for the first time ever with a local band I didn’t realise I wasn’t listening to a commercially released label act. It was only when I looked at the track display that the penny dropped. This wasn’t a Killers or Depeche Mode album track I’d forgotten I had – this was the work of an ambitious band from my very doorstep.

And that’s not to say that they sound derivative, either – in fact they’re possibly harder to pin down to a genre than any other local act. It’s indie-rock, sure, but it’s not the usual metal-tinged or punk-edged standards (though it does rock out in places: “Deadly Obsession” kicks in furiously and “Rebound” stamps along with great big seven-league boots), rather FC are occasionally folky, sometimes poppy, even Soulful once in a while.

Tom assures us he’s far happier with the songs on this – their second full album – which reflect a more mature place in his life than their previous work, but to me that’s always been one of the reasons to dig Final Clearance most of all among their contemporaries. Their sound is “Grown-Up” without being dull. In a scene where most bands have split up by the time they’re 20 it’s so refreshing to hear what comes next. Their song-writing, both Tom’s lyrics and musically as a band, is genuinely very very good. From the rumble of the drums and the choppy guitars which kick off “In This World” via the solid drive of the bass parts to the wistful piano which heralds “Sleeping” and the imperious organ which opens and underpinned the empassioned finale "Hush". They’re all extremely tight performers. You can tell they’ve been playing together as a unit for some time, that tightness don't come easy.

Of course of course of course, the haunting voice of the violin calls out to me always too, turning my heart to mush. There’s cello which hits me deep in the chest as well, courtesy of prolific orchestratess Nicole Collarbone. And trombone too! You wouldn’t get that on any tracks by this year’s latest screamo teens. Except possibly if they were skacore!

Not only are the production values of the actual music worthy of superlative praise, but the whole package is slick, professional and in this latter-day world of downloads and streaming still a CD artifact worth buying: lyrics, photos, a full-on proper insert booklet like there used to be. Cool.

On “No Love Lost” Final Clearance have set the bar very high indeed. I hope we hear plenty more from them over the next few years, I think they genuinely could have a chance of going somewhere way beyond the borders of MK – and I’m honestly looking forward to watching them try. In the meantime, you really really should try and hear a copy of this album. For real.