The Critics: Crystal Stilts; Bill Callahan; Star Slinger; Bibio; The Sounds


In Love with Oblivion

by Crystal Stilts


In Love with Oblivion sounds, like almost everything else the Crystal Stilts have released, as though it was recorded on a mountaintop. The obtuse lyrics, unsettling atmospheres and intense catchiness of the songs  are also in-keeping with their previous releases. Brad Hargett continues to explore his expansive bass voice, which evokes an image of Ian Curtis, Roy Orbison, and a snooty butler in a reverb chamber. His lethargic chant on ‘Alien Rivers’ sits perfectly with the foot-dragging drumming while on more up-tempo numbers like ‘Shake the Shackles’, ‘Half a Moon’, and the opener ‘Sycamore Tree’, he manages to sound simultaneously worked up and half-asleep (with good results). Those high pitched organ drones, oft overlooked elements of their music, are especially nice on this album, effectively casting the creepy songs in relief. The Crystal Stilts have crafted a tighter follow-up to 2008’s Alight of Night and stuck to their lo-fi aesthetic, one part ambling 60s songwriting, two parts brooding instrumentation, because it works.

Maayan Adar



by Bill Callahan


Bill Callahan has produced an almost freewheeling album containing the trademark droning voice and the mixture of despondence and wry humour that has gradually come to be expected of him. Callahan, also known as Smog, creates songs with incredible highlights, a little like Beatles songs or Python lines, a personal favourite being “I painted myself into a corner again/ Because I didn’t like the colour of my floors/ After you walked all over them”. Callahan is well versed in drawn out relationships and break-ups. In Apocalypse his surly self is launched into the literal and metaphorical wilderness of love and open country. The solitude of a cattle drover and his musings on freedom in an open field are a recurring theme but Callahan does not ultimately sing the freedom of the frontier as he is tied down by his very human love. ‘Riding for the feeling’ is emblematic of this as it is a touching meditation on the eviscerating helplessness of separation. The Apocalypse is what lingers somewhere in the midst of this disjoint.

Martha McCarey


Volume 1

by Star Slinger


After graduating with a degree in music technology from Leeds Met, and successively working his way through a variety of music genres, mancunian musician Darren Williams has gone on to create one of the UK’s most successful sample-based electronic projects: Star Slinger. Drawing his influence from a wide range of hip-hop, R&B, synth and electronica, Williams’ productions are loosely structured around a mix of repeated beats and carefully fragmented samples, all of which serve to create a wonderfully energetic sound that retains a strong, soulful depth. Using just his macbook, novation launchpad, keyboard and turntable, Williams has remixed the likes of deerhunter, gold panda, childish gambino and the go! team, and is a favourite of numerous artists and listeners alike. Despite having achieved such remarkable success in such a short space of time Williams is still keen for others to listen, enjoy and share his music completely for free, and as such nearly all of his tracks can be downloaded (for free) from his website at:

Tom Curry


Mind Bokeh

by Bibio


Bibio’s latest release, Mind Bokeh, offers us a chance to return to the sonically engaging landscape of Stephen Wilkinson’s mind. While 2009’s Ambivalence Avenue was heralded as a pinnacle in folktronica’s puzzling pre-eminence, Mind Bokeh seems to be a confused recycling of those concepts into a directionless array of music.

The production of Mind Bokeh is impeccable; samples manage to simultaneously intertwine with vocals and the wide range of instruments easily keep the whole thing ticking over. Opener, ‘Excuses’, is a good mood-setter; it’s groggy and nebulous, setting up the potential for an album that could go anywhere. However, there just seems to be something missing that would allow the album to be as gripping as previous efforts. From this beginning we’re treated to a rehashing of various genres in a seemingly unconnected sequence of exploration. ‘Wake Up’ takes a Balearic approach which fails when put in a minimalist context, ‘Take Off Your Shirt’ is a bizarre guitar-driven power-pop anthem that’s about as edgy as Status Quo, ‘More Excuses’ sounds like what might happen if David Gilmour were to try his hand at D’n’B and many tracks, such as ‘Anything New’ and ‘Light Sleep’ just seem to give up on themselves, sounding like the background music in some forgettable  TV show.

There are some highlights on the album, the glitchy ‘Artists’ Valley’ and the jangly ‘K is for Kelson’ are good reminders of what Bibio has to offer, but overall this album is simply lacking in what Ambivalence Avenue had in abundance: unification.

Lewis Wade


Something to Die For

by The Sounds


I’ve listened to The Sounds on and off for the last couple of years, so naturally I was very excited when this album dropped onto my desk a week or so ago. Obviously by this I mean I went out and bought it with my own (i.e. the British taxpayers’) hard earned cash, but it’s fun to pretend anyway.

Something to Die For is the fourth major installment from this Swedish ‘indie’ Power Pop outfit (apparently no-one got round to telling Sweden that calling yourself ‘indie’ isn’t cool anymore) and while there are a few things here to give the listener pause, overall it is an unsatisfactory affair.

All the elements of a great Power Pop record are here: crisp sounding guitars, synth and bass clip in and out, framing the strong Blondie-esque vocals of Maja Ivarsson.  Yet, although the aesthetics are largely the same as the group’s previous offerings, Something to Die For lacks those killer pop choruses that carried 2009’s Crossing the Rubicon. The result of this is an album that steadily builds expectations but ends with disappointment; think sitting through the Blue Peter opening sequence eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of Connie Huq, only to be confronted with Richard Bacon.

Lyrically the album is also lacking refinement and is more than dabbling in cliché, a matter brutally exposed by it’s aforementioned pedestrian melodies. Iverrson provides an appropriate coda to the album when she cries out in ‘Best of Me’, “We are still young, but we’re getting older”.  If Something to Die For is The Sounds’ midlife crisis, then roll on retirement (…and/or Dignitas).

Seth Starkadder


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