Thursday, May 04, 2006


So, Antony Ryan and Robin Saville are back as Isan with their sixth album proper, Plans Drawn In Pencil, released on 16 June on Berlin's Morr Music. Follow-up to their 2004 opus Meet Next Life (an album which I don't know well at all as it went missing almost just after I bought it. The CD turned up about a month ago at the bottom of a box, with the case materialising only a couple of weeks later - they have now been reunited, but I need to find time to play it now), Plans Drawn In Pencil was conceived, according to the press release, by the pair originally working each on their own, looking for sounds, and then together. Although I only know part of their work, this album seems very much in line with the rest of what I know of their releases - Lucky Cat (Morr Music, 2001), Clockwork Menagerie (Morr Music, 2002, and Meet Next Life (Morr Music, 2004).

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ISAN Plans Drawn In Pencil (Morr Music, rel. 16/06/2006)

Plans Drawn In Pencil collects thirteen delicate electronic pieces built around subtle melodies. Although it is tempting to place Isan alongside Boards Of Canada, the sound developed by Isan is certainly not as openly flamboyant and rich. Instead, Ryan and Saville work and re-work deceptively simple melodic themes and apparently somewhat arid soundscapes, but there is another dimension to their music, which allows for the mind to wander freely, almost totally independently from the music itself. This has for effect that no track ever really stills the show for long, but it also means that the mood is very settled and peaceful all the way through. The notion of space is very important in their work, and Plans Drawn In Pencil certainly shows no signs of this changing. A reassuring sign!


I recently received two albums from the good people at Fat-Cat Records. One of them, the sophomore effort from Vetiver, To Find Me Gone, as been on constant rotation ever since it landed on my desk a couple of weeks back, while the second, Our Brother The Native’s Tooth And Claw is also popping up on a regular basis on my playlist.

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VETIVER To Find Me Gone (Fat-Cat Records, rel. 22/05/2006)

This is what All Music has to say about Vetiver: "San Francisco's Vetiver (which is a sweet kind of Indian grass that now grows in California) is the brainchild of songwriter Andy Cabic (Simple Machines). Vetiver began as a trio featuring Cabic singing and playing guitar and banjo with cellist Alissa Anderson and violinist Jim Gaylord. Savant folk prodigy Devendra Banhart joined in 2003, adding a second guitar to the mix."

I owe my encounter with Vetiver to Andrew who recommended I give them a try following me getting into Devandra Banhart's stuff. The music of Vetiver is way more straightforward and simple, but it has the same poetic touches and musical qualities. Vetiver's self-titled debut (DiCristina, 2004) was a wonderful enough record, and the EP that followed, Between, was a very beautiful short collection of very beautiful songs, but it really feels as Cabic and co have shot into a new dimension with this second album. Not that the sound is very different (the melodies still drip with delicate acoustic tones) but everything sounds so much more mature and steady here, from the arragenements to the melodies, lyrics and voices. To Find Me Gone is very subtle and gentle, but also shows some strong angles, especially on tracks such as the foot-stomping You May Be Blue, I Know No Pardon, Maureen, Won't Be Me or Down At El Rio, which features Banhart on lead vocals. Early versions of Been So Long and Maureen were featured on Between. To Find Me Gone is just about as perfect a summer album as one could ever wish for.

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OUR BROTHER THE NATIVE Tooth & Claw (Fat-Cat Records, rel. 19/06/2006)

Our Brother The Native is the project of three young American kids, two of them aged 16 and one aged 18, and Tooth & Claw is their debut album. OBTN sound a bit like the bastard child of CocoRosie and Animal Collective , which is something of an interesting concept. As the band comprises Michighan-based John Michael Foss and Joshua Bertram, the two founding members, and California-based Chaz Knapp, this album was recorded by the members exchanging embryos of tracks over the Internet. While Foss and Bertram could work together, they had never physically met Knapp until their first live date for a Fat-Cat showcase last February. This however doesn't defflect from the fact that Tooth & Claw is a surprisingly fresh and creative record. Although the similarities with CocoRosie are at times a bit too strong, this is compensated by the fact that the twelve tracks collated here are overall very impressive, with wonderful melodic moments constantly taking shape out of the blue (Welcome To The Arborary, Nautical Spirits, Welcome To The Aquarium, Sepiidae). Tooth & Claw surely makes for a very enjoyable listening.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


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I've been using for a fair while now, and like the overall concept, but in recent weeks, things have degraded so much that I am seriously considering not renewing my support when my subscription comes to an end. The charts come in later and later in the week, the overall charts are more and more shaky, and the attitude of the 'staff' is very much 'wait until we can come up with something, in the meantime, stop hassling us', which is a bit poor... I understand constant moaning on the forum doesn't help, but it would be nice to see the whole thing working fine once in a while. Shame really.


While in Paris, I had to indulge in a bit of shopping, so I paid a visit to the Fnac in Les Halles, where I bought the new albums from Alain Souchon (La Vie Théodore) and Jane Birkin (Fictions). Both were released in recent weeks, and, as I have been a fan of both artists for years, I couldn't resist…

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ALAIN SOUCHON La Vie Théodore (Virgin Music France, 2006)

For some reason, I was only half-keen on buying the Souchon one, but, after playing it this morning, I am glad I did. It is very much in line with his previous records. No real innovations, but he is not that kind of artist. Some of the songs on here are truly beautiful (J’aimais Mieux Quand C’était Toi, La Vie Théodore, Et Si En Plus Y’a Personne). Souchon is, in my opinion, a wonderful poet, who has a very child-like vision of life and can present very complex situations under a very simple angle. This is a rare quality, and one that has made me appreciate his work for well over a decade now.

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JANE BIRKIN Fictions (Capitol Music France, 2006)

Jane Birkin was, of course, Serge Gainsbourg’s most precious muse, and she carried his work with incredible faith and dedication until his death in March 1991. Since, his words have haunted her career, but she has gone on to collaborate with a wide range of French and international artists. Although I don’t think any of her albums since have come close to being in the shadow of her work with Gainsbourg, it is good to see her taking risks at a time in her life where she could just live from her back catalogue. Birkin is a truly beautiful woman in every way. She has lost none of that fresh innocence of her twenties that made her so charming and true then. I was lucky enough to see her play at the Royal Festival Hall in 1996, and the experience remains a great moment.

Fictions is Jane Birkin’s first album (almost completely) in English, and follows in the footsteps of Rendez-Vous (2004). On this new album, she has collaborated with The Divine Comedy, Gonzales, Rufus Wainwright, Beth Gibbons, The Magic Numbers and many more, and the album features covers of songs by Neil Young (Harvest Moon) and Kate Bush (Mother Stands For Comfort). The result is a bit hit and miss at times, but overall, Fictions remains a rather nice album to listen to when life needs a touch of blue and should be enjoyed in the most selfish way.


It’s been a while since I took the time to update this blog. I’ve been busy with the house one, and life post-milkfactory has been both rather hectic and chaotic in recent weeks, with so many things happening all at once, and not as they are supposed to either, which makes the lot rather disturbing in some ways. I can’t really say much at the moment but some things are looking up. All I know for now is that giving up themilkfactory for a bit was supposed to give me a chance to focus on other things, but it hasn't got my life less cluttered.

I am just back from a long weekend in Paris to see Hélène and Laurent who I hadn’t seen since Hélène’s sister’s wedding in July 2004! Their lovely daughter Margaux (named after Margaux Hemmingway) has grown up and is a proper little lady now at 4 and a half, the half being very important of course. Apparently, her parents were hoping for a quiet evening from her on Friday when I arrived while she was ‘being shy’, but it lasted the whole of half an hour. Playmobils helped breaking the ice, and after that, the little sweetheart was telling me everything there was to know about all sorts of things all evening.

It was very good to catch up with Hélène and Laurent too. As Hélène teaches English, I went along to a couple of her lessons on Saturday morning, pretending to be a proper English person for the morning. Although I wasn’t supposed to understand any French during the lessons, I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the comments Hélène was making to her classes in French, so we had to tell the kids I could understand a bit but couldn’t speak, which was a laugh. During the second period, one of the kids, who has been very seriously ill all year and has missed most of the three terms actually asked me a question in English, which made Hélène very happy I think as she hadn’t really heard him say anything at all for a very long time. Beside being a bit of fun for me and a different way to get her message across for Hélène, the purpose of the exercise was very much to make these kids see that what they learn during English lessons is actually real, and the fact that this kid asked a question, got understood, and got a reply summed it up in the best possible way.

Saturday afternoon was spent wandering in the streets of Paris between the horrible Les Halles and the rather nice Le Louvres, via boulevard de Rivoli. We passed in front of the old Samaritaine department store which, Hélène told me, closed down a couple of years ago because it was found that, in case of fire, the place would have been a death-trap. Bringing the store in line with safety regulations would have been too costly, so it was closed and split into a variety of shops, which is a shame really as this was one of the pillars of Parisian shopping. We then had coke and muffins in the shopping centre under Le Louvres before making our way back.

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The Samaritaine department store from the Seine

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Inside the old store

The rest of the weekend was spent chilling out and enjoying the company of my friends. Being in France always feels a bit strange, and I found that I was struggling to speak a great deal this time, with English words coming up in conversations all the time. I don’t really worry about it if I am talking to Hélène as she understands whatever the language I speak, but it can become very embarrassing very quickly. I also found myself bastardising English words all weekend so they sounded French. ‘Experiencing something’ became ‘experiencer quelque chose’ for instance…

Cuba is looming on the horizon. I can’t believe we have been talking about it and looking forward to it for a year, and it is now just around the corner. Sean and I are taking the train to Manchester on Friday, and we’re all flying out at some point on Saturday. The fact that the house is still far from being comfortable to live in is adding to the pressure of getting everything organised before we go. I need to move some of the stuff from the spare bedroom to the office and move all the clothes downstairs so the builders can get on with doing up both bedrooms while we’re away. Work is very busy too, with loads of ‘how to do’ guides and graphics needing creating before I go. I really hate doing these guides things are they rapidly become very repetitive to write, and I am always worried in case they are not detailed enough or I have missed something really important just because it seems so natural to me but is not. Oh well, last push before two weeks in the sun!