Monday, 27 June 2011

reviews: benjamin francis leftwich, puzzle muteson, gardens & villa

Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm

Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm (***)

Two warmly-received EPs aside, Benjamin Francis Leftwich is best known for an appearance on Dermot O’Leary’s Saturday Sessions, the radio slot responsible for Athlete’s God Only Knows (egads) and Orson’s take on Hall and Oates (shudder). Leftwich’s Arcade Fire cover was meek, insipid and reminiscent of every acoustic guitarist who’s ever claimed an open mic free pint via a wet ‘reinterpretation’.

Thankfully, his own material is considerably better; what was trite on Rebellion proves affecting here. It’s occasionally a bit O.C. soundtrack, although Leftwich balances out the clich├ęs: when he croons “I’m yours tonight” on Don’t Go Slow, a moody montage of Seth and Summer gurning with desire dances to mind, but lines like “my bones were wrapped around you” locate a more interesting lyrical angle. Musically, a gentle folk waltz reigns uninterrupted, but the likes of Atlas Hands have a redemptive grace, keeping Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm enjoyable throughout.

Out 4th July

Puzzle Muteson - En Garde

Puzzle Muteson - En Garde (**)

There are positive ways to be musically ground-breaking; by pushing things further than anyone previously dared, for example, or innovating something brand spanking new. There are also negative ways: for instance, redefining the limits of boredom, as Puzzle Muteson threatens to do on his debut. Thirty seconds into opener I Was Once a Horse and the record has exhausted its range: though gorgeously rendered, the remaining forty one minutes barely shift its stresses, with only the title track rustling up a second gear.

It’s the equivalent of Shakespeare jotting down ‘If music be the food of love…’ then forcefully underscoring it hundreds of times with his quill rather than playing on; a shame, since Muteson’s tremulous vocals and gossamer melodies contain the seed of something enchanting. Take a slender slice of En Garde and you might fall in love; consume the whole thing and you’ll more likely fall into a coma.

Out Now

Gardens & Villa - Gardens & Villa

Gardens & Villa - Gardens & Villa (**)

Gardens & Villa’s debut album is frustratingly half-baked, rendering successes such as Thorn Castles’ Shins-esque ditty and opener Black Hills’ Yeasayer-style atmosphere ultimately moot. First, the good: Orange Blossom is excellent, its peculiar timbre topped by an unlikely flute solo. But when the flute later resurfaces for Sunday Morning, the rot has long set in, yielding uninspired, plodding prog-lite.

The Californian quintet’s biggest foe is their lack of consistency, which produces an accumulative cloud of boredom despite the aforementioned flashes of inspiration. Chemtrails barely holds together, its echoey sighs recalling early My Morning Jacket to substantially lesser effect (Tennessee Fire’s rare beauty is leagues ahead of this bundle of nothingness), while Carrizo Plain could be rechristened Band of Geldings, such is its dulled placidity. Luckily, closer Neon Dove restores some spark, so while Gardens & Villa is an undistinguished first effort, they’re not to be written off quite yet.

Out 4th July

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