Sin Fang Bous: Clangour
Morr Music

Surf City: Surf City EP
Morr Music

B. Fleischmann: Angst Is Not A Weltanschauung
Morr Music

Of these three new releases, the ones by Sin Fang Bous and Surf City reveal just how far Morr Music has moved away from the instrumental electronica of its early days; the bands in question clearly have more in common with Animal Collective than Arovane. The stylistic shift isn't as abrupt as it might appear, however, as Morr Music has been heading down this path for a while now.

Sin Fang Bous (Seabear member Sindri Mar Sigfusson) serves up forty-three minutes of high-spirited, jangly folk-pop on Clangour. In many of the album's dozen pieces, the Reykjavik-based twenty-six-year-old dresses up his vocal-and-guitar songs in so much vibrant colour (e.g., pianos, electronic noises, flute, glockenspiel, banjo) they almost become mini-symphonies. Much of Clangour is delivered at a feverish pace (the euphoric “The Jubilee Choruses” a case in point) though Sin Fang Bous also knows when to cool the pace too (“Sunken Ship,” for example, shifts between about three tempos during its four-minute reign). Slathered in electronic noises, “Advent In Ives Garden” introduces the album with a wondrous three minutes of high-spirited electronic pop where rhythms hum like beehives and vocal melodies rapturously swoon. Sounding like it's being conducted at a Dionysian festival deep in the forest, the delirious folk-pop of “Clangour and Flutes” couples a propulsive bass throb with wordless tribal chants. Elsewhere, echoes of other artists are sometimes heard: the baroque instrumental touches and multi-layered vocal harmonies of “Carry Me Up To Smell Pine” call to mind The Beach Boys' Sunflower; the banjo, glockenspiel, and vocal delivery in “We Belong” suggest a Sufjan Stevens influence; and it's hard not to regard “Fa Fa Fa” as a not-so-subtle nod to Kraftwerk (and The Beach Boys too). All things considered, Sin Fang Bous' songs are solid, and the vocals are appealingly smooth and rich. Cross a less morose Sigur Rós with Sufjan Stevens and a more clear-headed Animal Collective and you're pretty close to imagining Clangour's sound.

On its twenty-minute debut EP, New Zealand indie outfit Surf City serves up six, lo-fi power pop anthems with panache. Mix the buried vocals and garage-punk of Blondie, The Ramones, and The Jesus and Mary Chain with the barracuda riffing of Dick Dale and The Ventures, then add the anthemic guitar attack of Big Country with a few roller-rink melodies and you're in Surf City. Living up to the band's name, “Headin' Inside” roars with a swagger that's equal parts punk and power pop while “Dickshakers Union” catapults with rhythms that careen and gallop, and vocal melodies more akin to football sing-song chants. Surf City's twenty minutes of hyper-amped punk pop proves we're clearly a long way from Morr Music's beginnings.

Compared to young pups Surf City and Sin Fang Bous, Bernhard Fleischmann is Morr Music's elder statesman. After all, the Viennese producer first appeared on the label nine years ago with Pop Loops For Breakfast and has appeared in multiple configurations since: in a solo capacity many times, of course, but also as a member of the Duo505 (2004's Late) and The Year Of (2006's Slow Days). His material always exudes a strong melancholic character but it's even more pronounced in the new album, to some degree at least because Angst Is Not A Weltanschauung was created after a good friend of Fleischmann's died. Though he typically cedes the vocalizing to others, Fleischmann himself sings on two wistful “farewell” songs, deepening their personalized character: “Still See You Smile” (“Most of the time / I still you see smile”) and “Even Your Glasses Miss Your Eyes Being” (“We had the luck, to build a castle / We filled it up with memories / And I would love to be sure / That time will never take its keys”); the latter song, which closes the album, can be heard either as a ballad followed by a hidden, nearly ten-minute instrumental or as a single track with the vocal section followed after brief pause by an instrumental requiem (more likely the latter, given the music's somber tone).

Guest vocalists appear on four of the album's nine songs, starting with “Hello,” a piano-based ballad whose similarity to a Leonard Cohen song is strengthened by the Sprechstimme delivery of “Sweet William Van Ghost” (“Hello microphone / Hello voice / Hello melody”). Marilies Jagsch and “Sweet William Van Ghost” share vocal duties on two pieces, the lovely pop duet “24.12.” and the dramatic dirge “In Trains,” with the male voice in both cases rather similar to John Cale's in style and delivery. Unfortunately, “Phones, Machines, And King Kong” is spoiled by an annoyingly whiny and repetitive vocal by Daniel Johnston that renders the song unlistenable.

The album also has strong instrumental moments . “Last Time We Met At A T&TT Concert” presents a small jazz quintet playing a moody number in some spy-infested Krakow club in the ‘50s, with the wheeze of an accordion (or harmonium?) taking the lead role. Fleischmann showcases his arranging and compositional talents in “The Market,” which is sparked by the acoustic bass-led ensemble's slightly Latinized groove, and “Playtime,” which mixes arcade squiggles, bass clarinet, organ, and beats that reference funk and even ever-so-distantly drum'n'bass into eight carnivalesque minutes of high-spirited rambunction. All of which makes Angst Is Not A Weltanschauung a consistently satisfying collection that's marred by a sole misstep; however, one misfire out of nine is hardly a bad batting average.

February 2009