Congratulations are in order for Hidden Shoal Recordings as the Perth, Australia based label is half a decade old! While time has most certainly flown by, this is no mean feat in the current climate in the music world where illegal download sites are closing down record stores and imprints alike at a furious rate. A strong will to succeed, an unbelievable work ethic and a true belief in what they do has served HSR well these past 5 years. These guys are in it for the right reasons and deserve all the success they get, their passion and support for their local Perth scene is inspiring and they’ve left no stone unturned internationally to bring us bands and artists they feel are worthy of our attention. Simply put, if HSR release something we should all take notice. Over the last few years I’ve been in the fortunate position to be able to review a good chunk of the Hidden Shoal back catalogue, to celebrate this birthday milestone I’ve picked my favourite records. There’s a tonne of birthday-related promos and money off deals in their store, please check it out.
Beautiful Lunar Landscape – ‘Alone In This Dark Romantic Night’
An easy choice, Beautiful Lunar Landscape have sadly split (I think?), but for a fleeting moment were on top of the world with their widescreen Shoegaze/Space-Prog meets Radiohead EP. Four absolutely monumental tracks from this Anglo-French outfit featuring male/female harmonies, Sci-Fi guitar, spooky theremin effects, ear-shredding distortion and a rhythm section as powerful as a bull. I am not sure what happened to this quintet, but will endeavour to find out.
HC-B – ‘Soundcheck For A Missing Movie’
Italian instrumental quintet that channel Prog, Krautrock and thundering Post-Rock into a cinematic, blockbuster of an album. Named after the famous French photo-journalist Henri Carter-Bresson, H C-B employ a myriad of instrumentation (including both brass and string sections) to create an impassioned, often bombastic sound. H C-B cram as much as possible into ‘Soundcheck’s…’ 50 minute running time and it actually comes as a disappointment when it ends. Definite notes of King Crimson, Tortoise and Godspeed You Black Emperor in their sound, but ‘Soundcheck..’ is the sound of a band playing by their own rules.
Salli Lunn – ‘Heresy and Rite’
A mysterious Danish quartet with a winning mix of angst-ridden vocals, moody atmospherics, razor-sharp, angular guitar chords and infectious post-punk hooks. Salli Lunn are a band that like to keep us guessing, but when they detonate with a barrage of screeching feedback over their ice-cool yet hopeful sound they’re a joy to behold. Produced masterfully by Jonas Munk of Manual, Salli Lunn are a confident and vibrant bunch, rising their sound from calm Wintery soundscapes to full-volume, confrontational blasts of post-hardcore noise and twisting, hypnotic guitar lines, via slick and spacious choruses.
Sleeping Me – ‘Cradlesongs’
The work of Californian Clayton McEvoy, Sleeping Me features thick, melancholic and evocatively haunting soundscapes created entirely by guitar. Like Explosions in the Sky in stasis or Stars of the Lid in solitude, Sleeping Me employs a balance of delicacy, power and gentle reverb to present an affecting sound that’s resplendent in its warmth and fiery beauty, finding peace in even the most heartbreaking of circumstances, rarely has the devil’s instrument of choice sounded so heavenly.
Iretsu – ‘The Moon and Stars Remain in the Morning Sky’
There are no bandcamp links for this record so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say this is one of my favourite records in recent memory. Iretsu, from Portland, Oregon, have probably moved onto bigger and (arguably) better things, but this album’s mix of Spaghetti Western atmospherics, infectious Indie-Rock and mind-bending pop rivalled 2007’s top artists such as Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire for sheer invention. ‘The Moon..’ had the tunes too, strangely alluring with its theatrical singalongs and chants, gorgeous string arrangements and coiling guitar interplay. In Iretsu, Hidden Shoal unearthed a gem of a band.
Sankt Otten – ‘Wir koennen ja Freunde bleiben’
Roughly translating as “Let’s Remain Friends“, this album from the Osnabruek quartet is an ultra-cool cinematic experiment, that should be soundtracking the atmospheres of smoke-filled jazz clubs in some futuristic world. Taking cues from the likes of Portishead, Pink Floyd, Massive Attack and the Ambient/Doom-Jazz of Bohren & der Club of Gore, Sankt Otten make slow-burning noirish soundscapes with seductive overtones, coloured by Oliver Klemm’s excellent guitar work, brooding, woozy synths and thick, marching drums.
Stray Ghost – ‘Each Paradise Is A Lost Paradise’
I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Stray Ghost’s music on these pages before. ‘Each Paradise..’ was a short release intended to introduce Ant Saggers wonderfully, melancholic soundscapes into the Hidden Shoal world, before the release of his ‘Nothing, But Death’ LP. It’s a magisterial release, finding the Ghost in an unfamiliar optimistic frame of mind. Though much of the longing and melancholy, such a cornerstone of previous releases, is subtly hidden and reveals itself the more you listen. A record that resonates with much warmth and wonder.
Apricot Rail – ‘Apricot Rail’
As the video above will attest Apricot Rail make beautiful and delicate, predominantly instrumental music. Local heroes in the Perth music scene, Apricot Rail adroitly mix chiming guitars, with playful clarinet, glockenspiel and flute, a tinge of electronics and hopeful melodies in their sun-bursting sound, reminding of The Album Leaf in parts. While it can be very pretty and meditative, this quintet are able to change things up and can rock as hard as any of the apocalyptic instrumental acts that dominate the Post-Rock scene, ensuring ‘Apricot Rail’ is far from tedious.
Slow Dancing Society – ‘The Sound of Lights When Dim’
When I first heard this, it took all of two seconds to press the buy link. Slow Dancing Society’s Drew Sullivan created a body of work of stunning tranquility and beautiful ambience with barely more than a few guitars and laptop. This LP successfully mixed 80’s pop hooks, subtle electronics, Sigur Ros’ sense of the expanse and glacial notes with Pink Floyd-esque riffs, with Sullivan expertly composing proceedings knowing when to unleash gentle waves of distortion and such like. A multi-layered affair, drenched in Summery reverb, begging to be listened to while watching the sunset in some picturesque location. Fittingly, all of Slow Dancing Society’s records have been remastered and given a deserved CD release.
Antonymes – ‘The License To Interpret Dreams’
One of Hidden Shoal’s latest releases, Ian M Hazeldine invokes the spirit of composers such as Max Richter and Johann Johannsson to create a minor-classic in cinematic music. Monumental in scope and ambition and spine-tingling in sound, Hazeldine incorporates forlorn piano, violin, harpsichord, toy-box chimes, spoken word, angelic chanting and cello in a record that is equal parts hopeful and melancholic. Tracks such as ‘The Door Towards The Dream are as heroic and inspiring as anything you are likely to hear on an HBO mini-series such as ‘The Pacific’ and it’s clear Hazeldine’s music is destined for the silver screen, much like the aforementioned Johnannsson and Richter.