wears the trousers magazine


sounding off: august 2009 (iv)

Part four of the August roundup looks at the third album from Canadian duo Madison Violet, the debut album from Brooklyn-based experimental artist Noveller and New Zealand star Boh Runga’s solo debut.

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Madison Violet
No Fool For Trying •••
True North

After two albums as abbreviated outfit Madviolet, Canadian duo Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac have opted to go by this new name for their latest effort, No Fool For Trying. A soothing, country soundtrack designed to alternately wallow in and alleviate heartbreak, it’s a small swerve away from the more alt-country stylings of 2006’s Caravan, just enough to edge them off the gravel road and onto an altogether smoother surface.

An act with two frontwomen can sometimes be hard to focus on but MacEachern and MacIsaac have got their chemistry just right, their camaraderie shining through and injecting a muted but still raw passion into the songs. Les Cooper’s spot-on production and unobtrusive use of the country staples of banjo, fiddle and mandolin make for an album that’s perfect for those times when your only wish is to stare solemnly out of the window on a rainy autumn day. Highlights come in the form of the twang-heavy ‘Lauralee’ and the piano-led, harmonica-flecked ‘Darlin’, which show the duo’s harmonies at their best. But the overriding feeling is that No Fool For Trying finds MacEachern and MacIsaac grinding the clutch in a stall. Competence rather than uniqueness is the principal impression left as ‘Time & Tide’ drifts to a close. This is a quality album, no mistake, but Madison Violet don’t seem to have evolved significantly further in the three years they’ve been absent.

Katherine Stanton
UK release date: 07/09/09; www.myspace.com/madvioletmusic

 

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Noveller
Red Rainbows •••
No Fun Productions

Given Brooklyn-based musician and filmmaker Sarah Lipstate’s pedigree as a former member of Parts & Labour, a band whose music is so encapsulating it has been known to induce exorbitant behaviour in patrons desperate to express a physical gratitude for their mere existence, you’d be forgiven for expecting something at least a little uplifting from her solo project Noveller. Red Rainbows, however, is a complex, sprawling instrumental offering that severely limits the potential for her solo contributions to the music world to be as fervently cherished. This is not because Lipstate is lacking in musical talent; it is because there is a very valid argument that this is not music at all, but a mundane and practiced experiment with noise.

The full-length follow-up to her debut EP Paint In The Shadows, released back in April, Red Rainbows is essentially 55 minutes of largely impenetrable textures and sounds; it’s not instrumentation, because there is no governing instrument. The relentlessly distorted ‘Bends’, a collaboration with highly regarded Venezuelan experimental artist Carlos Giffoni, elapses in a largely static 20 minutes, grating like a fly buzzing persistently in the ear. Granted, the atmospheres she generates complements Lipstate’s visual art extraordinarily well, and Red Rainbows does compare with other noise-friendly artists such as Grouper and Potsdam, but specifically to the moments where Liz Harris and Tobias Warwick Jones aren’t doing very much. Downloading this album is useless, but don’t write Noveller off. Get the CD for the short film ‘Interior Variations’; without it, this project is incomplete.

Tiffany Daniels
UK release date: 31/08/09; www.myspace.com/noveller

 

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Boh Runga
Right Here •½
Katipo

Right Here is New Zealand star Boh ‘sister of Bic’ Runga’s solo debut, and boy, does it disappoint. Scrupulously inoffensive, Meredith Brooks-a-like, nod-along non-sequiturs waft from every groove. Miss Runga is possessed of a decent set of pipes, and ably backed by collaborators including Whiskeytown’s Mike Daly and System Of A Down’s Greg Laswell, but, technical aptitude aside, track after track here soars blandly, balladically by with no apparent desire to distinguish itself. Okay, there’s the moderately interesting ‘Evelyn’ (bemoaning a manipulative friend) and the modestly affecting ‘Home’ (intervening in a friend’s emotional trainwreck), but the rest of Runga’s material proves that the only thing worse than a break-up is an album full of break-up songs.

It’s perfectly possible to do justice to this sort of subject matter, but Runga handles it with no hint of, say, Jenny Lewis’s acerbic edge or Amanda Palmer’s scalpel-sharp powers of dissection. The production ranges from plodding to watery to dreary to overblown, quite often in the space of a single song, as a substitute for genuine emotional expression. Nowhere on this album, possibly excepting ‘The Earth & The Sky’ (a heteronormative echo of John Cameron Mitchell’s ‘The Origin Of Love’), does Runga come close to capturing the heart-clenching fist-pumping joy of the kind of love whose loss might justify the endlessly rehashed moping on display. On the evidence of Right Here, our heroine’s better off without him, and you’re better off without her.

Rhian Jones
Available on import only; www.myspace.com/bohrunga

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