Osso/Sufjan Stevens - Run Rabbit Run (***)
Enjoy Your Rabbit occupies a unique place in Sufjan Stevens’ discography due to its Chinese calendar (rather than US geography) theme and a glitchy electro-doodle (rather than winsome chamber-pop) sound. Run Rabbit Run pushes further away from the Sufjan ‘norm’ (the word is used relatively): ostensibly a cover album by string-quartet Osso, its baffling premise piques interest before the first note is heard. The translation’s instrumental contortions are frequently remarkable, and so consistently imaginative they sidestep charges of gimmickry. But it’s ultimately unsatisfying: an album for every state of the U S of A now seems quixotic, but at least one further entry would be more welcome than curious bric-a-brac such as this (or, indeed, last month’s multimedia The BQE). But that’s a complaint about what Run Rabbit Run isn’t rather than what it is - an enjoyably odd stylistic collision that works somewhat better than anyone might have reasonably expected.
Out NowLoch Lomond/The Builders and the Butchers - Split 12" (****)
Demonstrating Scottish label Song By Toad’s talent-spotting credentials, this 12” combines two acts plucked from Portland’s teeming music scene. Loch Lomond kick off in the vein of Sufjan Stevens, or perhaps a filled-out, full-band Final Fantasy. Multitasking strings lithely swirl and sharply punctuate while choral backing-vocals a la Silver Mt. Zion add drama to the mix, and the resulting splendour raises high hopes for a UK-released full-length in the future. Split releases practically demand reviewers compare acts Top Trumps-style and declare a victor, so it’s a delight to say that fellow PDX-ers The Builders & the Butchers don’t drop the ball. Nasal vocals and a theatrical bent draw comparisons to the Decemberists, but like Loch Lomond, the similarity is transient and inspired rather than reductive. Castanet chatters and mariachi horns in When It Rains add further flair, and, like their vinyl-mates, leave the listener hankering for more.
Maxwell Panther - Do You Feel Different Yet (***)
What’s lower than lo-fi? No-fi still sounds daft. Belo-lo-fi? Whatever - when the genre-baptists decide upon a suitable candidate, Maxwell Panther can be their exemplar. On Do You Feel Different Yet? the sound quality varies from charmingly scuffed to distractingly distant, as if a phone-call and answering machine were the chief recording devices. Certain songs survive courtesy of their undiminished tunefulness - My Ex-Identity’s start-stop chorus is a dynamic opening, while Lost Soul On A Roll (That’s Me) drops the distortion for a Pete Doherty-esque ballad. Other, lesser material might have slipped by as congenial filler if the recording weren’t so darn irritating. But despite aesthetic barriers, there’s much to admire, not least an attitude that shrugs insouciantly and mutters take it or leave it (there are no pitches for the mainstream to say the least). For those with a particular attachment to DIY achievements, a potential cult favourite awaits.