Wednesday, 23 March 2011

reviews: trapped mice, the cave singers, the phoenix foundation

Trapped Mice - Portrait of a Great Father EP

Trapped Mice - Portrait of the Great Father EP (***)

Edinburgh’s Trapped Mice open their new EP quietly before stomping to a crescendo, a familiar but effective trick reminiscent of, amongst others, Okkervil River. The affinity is revisited in The Priest and the Boy’s winning waltz, while a Decemberists influence is locatable in lyrical references to sailing ships and “the finest wines”.

Like Colin and co., Trapped Mice aren't adverse to lengthy opuses either – see nine-minute centrepiece (and EP highlight) Beauty and the Beast, which moves from synth-backed overture to gentle coda without ever outstaying its welcome. Recording-wise, this feels very much an early effort, but that’s ok – it is. They’ve plenty of time to up the ante, and these foundations suggest ever-more impressive results will follow.

Out Now

The Cave Singers - No Witch

The Cave Singers - No Witch (**)

‘Authenticity’ is fetishised in folk and rock alike. It’s a vague, unempirical concept, the application of which relies upon a paraphrasing of Potter Stewart’s assessment of pornography: “I know it when I see it”. It can’t be measured, but those suitably steeped in a scene’s canon recognise it at once. The Cave Singers’ avowedly traditionalist debut passed the sight-test, but follow-up Welcome Joy faltered by introducing less convincing rock numbers.

Third album No Witch finds them move closer to the resolutely retro likes of The Dead Weather and further from the folk icons referenced at their outset. They mimic multiple Mojo cover-stars – Led Zep-esque blues drives Black Leaf, while Outer Realms echoes Summer of Love psychedelia – but no guise feels natural, save quieter moments like Distant Sures. They’re stretching their sound, but in the process they’ve diluted their identity, and it’s difficult to get excited by the residue.

Out Now

The Phoenix Foundation - Buffalo

The Phoenix Foundation - Buffalo (***)

starts uncharacteristically with the drifting psychedelia-lite of Eventually, its laid-back vibe redolent of a long musical lineage stretching back decades. But, to paraphrase Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords, this lot aren’t from the sixties, they’re from New Zealand; the Conchords connection isn’t flippant either. The Phoenix Foundation have scored both director Taika Waititi’s big screen ventures to date, though this finds them in a less twee mood than Eagle Vs. Shark.

For their fourth album, they’re more like a time capsule of some of 2006’s leading indie lights: Shout Out Louds on Bitte Bitte; I’m From Barcelona on cheery sing-along Pot; Band of Horses on the title track, and The Shins fairly regularly throughout. Ultimately, the sense of déjà vu scuppers their efforts somewhat, but doesn’t undo them entirely: after well over a decade spent honing their skills back home, The Phoenix Foundation are ready for their close-up.

Out Now

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