Spotlight 15
Favourite Labels 2014

Poppy Ackroyd + Lumen
Avec le soleil sortant ...
Brooklyn Rider
Del Sol String Quartet
Nick Gill
Stefan Goldmann
Chihei Hatakeyama
Robert Honstein
Jonas Kopp
David Lackner
Last Ex
Neil Leonard
Little Phrase
The Mark Lomax Trio
LA Percussion Quartet
Near The Parenthesis
Newman and Cox
Pan & Me
Bobby Previte
Marc Sabat
Hein Schoer
Wadada Leo Smith
Templeton + Armstrong
Ken Thomson
Ulterior Motive
Joris Voorn
Andrew Weathers
Ezra Weiss Sextet
Stefan Wesolowski
Keith Worthy

Compilations / Mixes
EPM Selected Vol. 3
Universal Quantifier

EPs / Cassettes / Mini-Albums / Singles
Blu Mar Ten
Michael Jon Fink
Oceanic Triangulation
Northumbria and Famine
Total Science
Simon Whetham

SPC ECO: Sirens and Satellites
Saint Marie Records

Now here's something to make you feel old. Years ago I was an enthusiastic follower of Curve, whose guitar-heavy shoegaze blaze was generated by multi-instrumentalist Dean Garcia (bass, guitar, drums, programming) and singer Toni Halliday. Born in 1992, the band ended in 2005 after releasing five studio albums as well as compilations, singles, and EPs. And now here we have SPC ECO, another duo project involving Garcia but this one formed eight years ago with his daughter, Rose Berlin, a recent Camberwell College of Arts graduate who handles lyric and vocal duties. Since then, they've released a number of albums and EPs, which might sound like a lot, but bear in mind the band's a family affair that's been making music for more than two decades.

Sirens and Satellites, SPC ECO's fourth full-fledged studio album, presents sixteen songs, nine of them Berlin-Garcia productions and the rest credited to the duo and Jarek Leskiewicz, who contributes guitars, synths, and drones to the album (Perry Pelonero and Brent Martino also play guitar on a track apiece). Like Curve, SPC ECO serves up a thick wall of dreampop-shoegaze with Berlin's atmospheric voice mixed circumspectly to ensure it's heard clearly amidst the tumult. Songs such as “Delusional Waste” and the ultra-heavy “Zombie” argue strongly on the band's behalf, and the ballads “Hold You Up,” “Hold On Me,” and (especially) “Found” cast Berlin's breathy vocalizing in a positive light. As both a guitarist and beatsmither, Garcia's in fine form, and he's certainly not mellowed, as a hammering blowout like “Make Me Stay” makes crystal clear.

All of which sounds well and good, but as the album progresses, weaknesses start to become apparent. Though Berlin has no problems with pitch, she's not the most emotionally expressive singer (the stirring “Found” the welcome exception), and her delivery is often one-dimensional. The songwriting, too, while decent enough, could do with more hooks of the kind that lift “Delusional Waste” above the crowd. The album's also overlong at seventy-three minutes and would have been better had its sixteen songs been whittled down to, say, eleven. And having the nine-minute “Don't Need Fear” appear at the nine-song mark is questionable move, too, as all that moody, late-night plodder does is make an already long album feel longer. On production grounds, there's little with which to find fault: the songs are polished productions, and the arrangements thoughtfully conceived and executed. But a shorter album featuring more variety in the vocal department would have left a stronger impression.

November 2014