albums - april 2012
Nothing signifies that a band’s creative juices are still flowing like returning after a 21 year hiatus with an album of cover versions. Needless to say, expectations for this album weren’t high; The Primitives released some lovely pop songs in the 80s (‘Crash’ and ‘Spacehead’ to name but two) but a whole album of covers of tracks by obscure 60s girl bands is not something that initially appeals. Thankfully, Echoes and Rhymes is a surprisingly enjoyable listen; with the exception of Little Ann’s Detroit soul classic ‘Who Are You Trying To Fool?’ (one of the best tracks on the record) and Sandy Posey’s ‘Single Girl’, none of these tracks are really familiar to me but The Primitives manage to make them sound like fuzz-pop classics. Most of the songs clock in around the two minute mark and the whole record is so addictive and unified in sound that you want to play it from start to end. I’ve listened to it three times and my favourite track has changed with each play – currently it’s the Euro psych-pop of ‘Amoureux D’Une Affiche’ but this could well change the next time I put the album on. There’s nothing groundbreaking or essential about Echoes and Rhymes but it’s hard to imagine any indie music fan not being charmed by it. 7/10
Taking their inspiration from, among other influences, Berlioz's
'Symphonie Fantastique', Florida based Francophiles Carrousel just
turned in the first really good US indie album I've heard this year.
Aside from the fact that it isn't released until May and you'll just
need to listen to their 3 track EP until then, '27 Rue De Michelle'
is a bit of a classic of its kind, and just the sort of Dreampop album
that I like - skilfully arranged, not too overproduced, consistently
melodic and just a bit inspired, really. Carrousel's music deserves
a wider hearing than it might receive on their Soundcloud page although
the St Petersburg quintet also give the impression that as fully committed
Indie types less is definitely more in the audience department but
this is my only actual criticism of a band whose musicianship has
a studiously minimal quality, making their songs all the more compelling
for that. Carrousle aren't the most accessible band I've ever reviewed,
insofar as they are actually quite difficult to find online but bookmark
'27 Rue De Michelle' as an album you'll appreciate greatly in a month
or two, if your own interests run to new PsycheFolk from across the
Right from the opening bars of first track 'Rue D' Auseil' it's obvious
that 'Fin De Siecle' isn't a conventional Rock or any other kind of
album. Northern Valentine are past masters of the ambient soundscape
and the seven tracks on this release see them giving their ethereal,
glacial imaginations full rein. Their first full release since 2008,
the tracks glide out of the speakers like epic cloudscapes, the instrumentation
spiralling slowly as each of the tracks (which could with ease run
together as a single composition) first establish themselves and then
disintegrate as if they had never existed. The perfect soundtrack
for a documentary about arctic tundra, an exercise in ambient composition,
exactly the kind of muzak Brian Eno never actually recorded, Northern
Valentine seem to inhabit a world very different from our own. Their
music reflects their continuing search for an antidote to modern urban
living and is seamlessly produced, deceptively minimal, continually
revealing intricately hidden aural structures throughout its 50 or
so minutes. Load this onto your personal stereo next time you go hillwalking.
Always a buzz about the music of 60s R&B legends The Small Faces, the archetypal mod band from East London with their sharp suits and bluesy Motown-influenced pop hits. Built on the songwriting partnership of singer/guitarist Steve Marriott and bassist Ronnie lane all fired up with a band that could really play! Their brief but rich musical legacy left behind an imprint for many artists to follow, notably Paul Weller and the Britpop movement of the 90s. Universal Records are now releasing a boxset of their 4 classic albums, originally released by Decca and Immediate records between 1966 and 1969. It's quite a package, remastered versions of original songs along with outtakes and other rarities previously unavailable on CD, along with liner notes by acclaimed journalist Mark Paytress who interviews remaining members of the band, keyboards player McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones. McLagan and Jones were also innvolved in the remastering and selection of the songs and with all the other memorabilia it makes for quite a collector's package! Paolo Hewitt's inside-story paperback 'Small Faces: The Young Mods' Forgotten Story' published in 1995 is a good read to get further acquainted with the band, or for the uninitiated, Mark Lamarr's excellent documentary as part of the BBC 1 series 'Jukebox Heroes' in 2001 gives a potted history (now available on YouTube).
From The Beginning was actually The Small Faces second official release for Decca in 1967. A bit of a curiosity this one, rush-released by the band's former manager Don Arden to steal a march on their first album for new label Immediate, the eponymous Small Faces (confusingly, the same title as their debut for Decca earlier in 1966!). So a sort of the 'Battle Of The Labels' ensued, with Immediate eventually winning out with a higher chart position! As the title suggests, the Decca release goes back to the origins of the band's music, including all their singles plus some covers and early stage favourites. Arden had The Small Faces working like slaves for 2 years gigging all over Europe playing 2 or 3 gigs a night, and all they had to show for it was 20 pounds a week each! 'Mr Big' was known as a bully and manipulator and any thoughts of complaining were quickly nipped in the bud when he told the band's parents they were all on drugs! Arden's famous defence of his methods (he also managed Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent at the time) was always that he never exploited anybody who didn't already want to be exploited! Mm??? By the end of 1966, the Small Faces had had enough and signed a deal with Immediate Records run by former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Golden who gave them more creative freedom.
So From The Beginning is really a clearing-the-decks album, although it does give us an idea of where The Small Faces were at musically in 1967 and hints at where they were headed with a more psychedelic-influenced sound. Pop hits like 'What'Cha Gonna Do About It', 'Sha-La-La-La-Lee' and 'All Or Nothing' are combined with power-rock numbers that reveal a band infused with energy and aching to develop musically. Songs like 'My Mind's Eye' (also a single for Decca), 'My Way Of Giving' and Understanding' have a heavy rock feel to them, rather like their arch-rivals The Who; indeed '(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me' and 'Just Passing' are deadringers for 'Substitute' and 'Happy Jack', respectively, making you wonder who exactly was listening to who in those early days? Other songs acknowledge the band's debt to Stax and Motown, with the Holland-Dozier-Holland stage favourite 'Baby Don't Do It', featuring early member Jimmy Winston (who Arden fired!) on lead vocals, and Marriott really opening up the vocal chords Otis Redding-style on 'Take This Hurt Off Me'. 'Plum Nellie' is credited to Marriott and Lane, but there's clearly a strong sense of Booker T and The MG's, another early influence. Elsewhere, 'That Man' and 'Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow' are more psychedelic-tinged, a nod to Transatlantic cousins The Byrds or closer to home The Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows'.
The extra CD is testament to how hard the band must have worked in the studio, with alternate takes that sound every bit as good as their album counterparts. The willingness to experiment and explore new sounds was a precursor to their creative period with Immediate, notably the epic 1968 concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. The band's rapid implosion in 1969 ironically seems to have left their legacy firmly intact. There's actually very little other material available from The Small Faces, only the posthumous release The Autumn Stone released later in the same year. Although the band re-formed briefly in the seventies, Marriott had moved on to work with Peter Frampton in Humble Pie while the others formed Rod Stewart's backing band (called The Faces) with Ronnie Wood. The rest, as they say, is history. The influence of The Small Faces is still very relevant today, which makes this boxset quite timely. The albums are also available individually in their respective deluxe editions, although no doubt Marriott would be happiest if you took all or nothing … with 'Itchycoo Park' famously the band's only hit there, it's hard to refute the claim made by Allmusic magazine that The Small Faces were indeed “The best English band never to make it big in America.”
I'm an idiot. I should have been listening to this ages ago. While there is always time to go searching, there's also time to go and listen to music you know you'll like. Music with riffs, muscular bass and the kind of repetition that re-enforces rather than aggravates.
Robot Rock. Is good. Especially when you can dance to it. I do wonder how many drummers became drummers because of Brant Bjork (and does it make all of them Bros?)
The best thing about this album is that it isn't all deathly stoner. There's groove, you can dance to it. There are probably girls who'd like it. This is a good thing. It's almost party-rock. For someone who likes Queens Of The Stone Age more than they like Down, this is a pretty good thing. I'ved always enjoyed how tricky it must be to come up with a riff that can successfully run all the way through a song, for achieving this on Strange Country, Hyper Evel deserve praise.
I'd go see them live. You would gather from the opening paragraph that nothing that new is happening here, you should also grasp that there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. Not here certainly. There are more than two musical reference points and some of them don't involve Joshua Homme.
The opening song on this album passed me by. The prevailing thought
in my head is that this sounds like Britpop also-rans. Not even specific
ones. Maybe all of them.
Track 3 has a certain slurred voiced charm, and sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain. I'd really rather listen to the Jesus and Mary Chain though. Other than that, there is no nostalgia here, there is just recognition. I'm not excited by hearing the influence of bands I like, I'm bored because of how familiar it all is. This isn't my thing at all. It only briefly was to start with.
I am sure there are people who will like this. It's not offensive to my ears, it's just lacking in the vitality this type of music needs. It's sort of lacking in all of the things music needs to really capture your attention. I get the impression that their discussions about how the album should sound involved naming songs by other bands. That seems terribly unkind of me, doesn't it. I know, it does. I'm sorry I don't wish to be unkind. Maybe we can just settle on the idea that I was so unmoved, I couldn't come up with anything exciting to say, so I came up with common-place, easy things to say and meant it as a way of reflecting what I think about this album. I hope Jack Kerouac understands.
Francois & The Atlas Mountains have already endeared themselves to me by giving their début album a palindromic name. This good-will is nurtured and strengthened by how beautiful the music is.
I was trying to write a review, but I listened instead. Then I listened again and I wanted it to be sunny outside, not night. I wanted to have someone to play this album to, to listen to it with. I didn't feel sad about that though. I don't normally hurry though albums I'm reviewing, but I felt I absolutely couldn't while listening to this. I sat and listened, enjoyed the nods to Graceland and enjoyed the melancholy I probably look for in every piece of music. It mostly made me want to be sat on the roof of a house, contemplating jumping into a swimming pool. I wanted to turn around and see that friends were approaching. I wanted to turn around and see that everything was OK.
I put too much into things, I know. I see light where there is merely an absence of shadow. It must be very hard on people when I do it to them. It's probably less problematic to do it to music. I don't really know. I have thoroughly enjoyed having this album though. I will listen to it often, even though I know that ultimately it will make me sad. I bring this upon myself.
Gentle dreamy pop can't be that hard, can it? Yes. If you get it
wrong you sound like a sap.
The Rosie Taylor Project have gotten things right here. I have a room of memories and I have a box of regret. I'd repeat that line too, if I'd have written it.
This is late night and early early morning music. There's too much poetry in sadness. There's too much that seems alluring in the broken and the damaged, especially if you spy the possibility of being saved, and see, from the corner of your eye, the face of hopeful spring.
Be afraid. Be afraid of this. It may make you believe. But you'll probably wake up hugging yourself.
A very pretty, alluring album I will listen to a great deal as I go here and there. It is notable that it gets better as it goes along, having started very well.
Flats are a band I knew of by name, a London four piece that had
made several prominent appearances in the pages of the music press
and whose music I couldn't quite find, which is a bit unusual although
it's equally possible the band were building up some 'negative publicity'
hype for their album whenever it appeared. So, 'Better Living' finds
its way onto the review listings and, mostly down to the fact that
I didn't get to hear them when the press were bigging them up I take
up the review, and they aren't quite what I expected to hear. If their
press coverage was presenting them as some kind of Libertines/Suede
influenced NewGlamPop messiahs then someone got the name wrong as
that band is of course Tribes. Flats are another matter entirely,
the sound of the heavier end of postpunk, of thrash metal and industrial
noise welded together in a derelict scrapyard and launched via home
made catapult into the electropop clubs and psychedelic folk happenings
where they might indeed find an audience for their apocalyptic metal
experiments. As thrashpunk albums go 'Better Living' is an alright
30 or so minutes although it does sound like it was written in the
studio with Flats themselves deciding what they wanted to sound like
actually during the recording and that gives the whole album the added
energy and impetus that music like this needs. A dark and intense
wall of grimecore is the result and Flats can take a bit of credit
that at least some of their hype is in fact justified.
These aren't, regardless what you've heard previously, the new Offspring, Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World or any other Emo type band you can name. What they do sound like are at least competent songwriters using the wrong genre entirely for their verging upon acerbic singer songwriterly observations. It probably works more effectively in their hometown of Chicago but falls a bit flat on this side of 'the pond'.
For the first half of the last decade, The Shins were the coolest, luckiest and most talented band of geeks around. Their first two albums were critically lauded, with the debut becoming Sub Pop's highest-seller for a while, and everyone was too distracted by Natalie Portman cooing their praises in the film Garden State to give them a kicking for soundtracking a McDonalds advert. They managed to be wordy and sensitive without sounding wet, and, basically, had the entire indie kingdom at their feet. Then it all went a bit pear-shaped. On their third album, Wincing the Night Away, they discovered that high-gloss production values and weird, wibbly atmospherics were no substitute for memorable songs, before singer/songwriter James Mercer decided to fire the rest of the band and embark on an even more tedious side-project called Broken Bells with hip-hop producer Danger Mouse. Did any of this help him to recover his mojo? Five years on, we have an answer.
One thing we have to consider when listening to Port of Morrow is that Mercer is now a middle-aged man, married with kids, and working with a group of session musicians. Ok, so that doesn't automatically bring down the guillotine on artistic credibility but, lest we forget, for every Nick Cave there's a John Lennon, and The Shins were never the edgiest band to begin with. Production-wise, the album retains some of the sheen of its predecessor but the songs are more robust, even if they never come anywhere near to recapturing the ragged excitement of, say, "Kissing the Lipless" from Chutes Too Narrow. No, the brisk trot of the opening "The Rifle's Spiral" is about as reckless as it gets, although "For A Fool"'s relaxed country-ish vibe doesn't stop it from being one of the stronger tracks. "Simple Song" is the catchiest song here and proof that Mercer can still produce a tune that sticks in your head after only one or two listens...shame there aren't more of them here. Ultimately, you can't criticise someone for growing older and mellowing but, quite simply, Mercer's songcraft isn't as strong as it was and the emotional drama of those early years is sorely missed. Port of Morrow isn't a bad album, just not a very interesting one, and the fact that I only listened to it more than once because I had to says it all, really.
“I learned sometimes a sad song is just what you need, the sadder the better, to bring you to your senses” (Leo, in the film 'Hush Your Mouth')
'Paradise Circus', Hope Sandoval's recent contribution to Massive
Attack's Heligoland in 2010 was a reminder the bete-noire singer is
still around; in fact, Sandoval and Mazzy Star's influence never went
away and extends way beyond their brief reign of 3 albums in the 90s.
Madam's Gone Before Morning is lit from the same torch paper, Sukie
Smith's emotionally-charged lyrics conveying love as a dark and tortured
secret served up a-la-sultry lounge chanteuse. Hell hath no fury like
a woman scorned it seems, and songs like the bittersweet 'Someone
In Love' will surely be back to bite the victim:
“Never more than toe deep, I know exactly what you mean
Not big enough for bruises, one way or another
Little house builder what did you expect?
You can cut the atmosphere like a knife on Gone Before Morning. While Smith handles writing and production duties, and very much fronts the band, it's Madam's instinctual playing which delivers the edginess that really gets under the fingernails. Their debut In Case Of Emergency in 2008 created something of a stir, particularly with the ghostlike anthem 'Call America', all folorn and dark Americana (“here comes black mist, let's wait for it to lift!”), and this sophomore release follows nicely in its footsteps. Match some of the influences of Sandoval/Mazzy Star or Chan Marshall/Cat Power with some of the intensity of Beth Gibbons and Portishead and you've got a potent mix here! Familiarity isn't always a bad thing in pop music, and Smith seems happy to fill positions left vacant, while taking care to stamp each song with a mark of her own.
The album was actually released last year on Shilling Boy Records, but has been re-issued following the interest generated by the former Eastenders actress's recent projects, particularly her involvement in Tom Tyrwhitt's 2007 film 'Hush Your Mouth', an emotional drama set in the East End of London which has now picked up awards at film festivals around Europe. Sukie Smith and Madam not only scored the film but they also appear in it as themselves, Smith as the club singer of “sad songs” unsurprisingly!
'You Lead I Follow' plays a central role in the film, haunting memories left behind as the slighted lover warns of her ominous return. The band play it pretty straight for Smith's unfolding story-telling, dropping the pace for the next, 'The Ground Will Claim You', while adding eery strings and guitar twang to create the dark spaces for Smith's tempestuous vocal to lurk. Being on the run is a recurring theme on Gone Before Morning, as Smith sings “Stay in one place too long, the ground will claim you as its own”. 'The Snake' is delivered like a Johnny Cash narrative with betrayal at its poisonous heart and a real sting in the tail. 'Weekend Love' bounds along as Smith's voice aches with missed opportunity, and the album's centre-piece 'Someone In Love' with its powerful hook, Smith's sex-kitten vocals and emotionally undone lyrics, is another pop scorpion, a runaway classic of the genre.
The evenness and quality of the songs on Gone Before Morning suggests Sukie Smith and Madam are no flash in the pan, and there's a real conviction about this music, refreshingly rare these days. Even their version of Odyssey's 'If You're Looking For A Way Out' is all theatrical and up close, similar to the Tindersticks version rather than its disco antecedent. Smith ends the album with the quietly despairing 'Ride The Waves', which bring us back full circle to Sandoval's bleak Americana, but the mostly acoustic number sounds like legendary dark chanteuse Nico on her tribute to Warhol Chelsea Girl in 1966. Just like in the film 'Hush Your Mouth', the sad songs of Madam's Gone Before Morning bring us to our senses, and with few things left to export from Britain these days, perhaps it's time once again to 'Call America'!
As sumptuously designed CD sleeves go, that created for Gabby Young's
album by her label designers takes the almost literal biscuit, with
its art deco graphics and a well-nigh impossible to refold cardboard
design that had me anticipating the appearance of a calorie laden
Viennese torte or similar, something weighed down with cherries and
sugared almonds or similar. The sleeve actually contains a 2 1/2 inch
CD and if it's contents are half as colourful and inventive as what
contains it, then we really are in for some kind of treat or perhaps
a real surprise. 'Pandora's Box - The Album' anyone? Once opened,
there's no option but to play the disc unless of course you've the
sort of patience that builds card houses and grows bonsai trees (it
took a minute or two but yes, I did refold it).
A former member of well regarded Dutch Goth obscurities Clan Of Xymox,
with three decades of writing and producing music behind him you would
have every reason to expect something more than soporific electronica
or repetitive string pieces from Pieter Nooten and 'Surround Us' is
a work of considerable skill and originality that is more than just
the summation of Nooten's career to date. It just irritates me that
Xymox are one 4AD band (unlike the Pixies, Throwing Muses and Cocteau
Twins) whose work has somehow managed to bypass my listening and I've
had to do more research than usual to get the background I need to
write coherently about 'Surround Us'. I could just take the album
at its own value, without any info or indeed hastily convened preconceptions
but I do feel that Nooten himself would prefer that his work was heard
within its full context. Albums and compositions of the quality of
'Surround Us' don't just appear out of thin air. At any rate, an hour
or two spent looking over the Xymox back catalogue - and led by their
founder Ronny Moorings, Xymox continue to gig across Europe - probably
isn't time wasted. Pieter Nooten's first solo compositional work dates
from 1987, while he was still a band member, and 'Surround Us' is
around an hour of occasionally brilliantly realised instrumentation
given additional weight by Nooten's own highly practised experience,
with vocal support from around half a dozen collaborators and with
the work of cellist Lucas Stam given some prominence.
For a band promoting themselves as acerbic social observationists
in the traditions of Arab Strap, Pulp (and perhaps harking back further
via Weller and Davies) opening your album with a two minute blast
of electronic hissing denotes a willingness to take risks, if nothing
else, but no, you haven't received a test pressing of experimental
electronica and St Gregory Orange are only toying with your preconceptions
of who they are and what they sound like, which is admirable in its
less than predicability. There are plenty of electronics going on
throughout 'Midnight At The Sycamore Lounge' but as the St Gregorys
also acknowledge creative debts to the Flaming Lips and The National,
this is only to be expected. Once you've got over the sonic barrier
of first track 'Chalklines' (doubtlessly recorded to remove any lightweights
and dilletantes from among the albums listeners), the songwriting
skills of Tim Metcalfe and Harry Rhodes reveal themselves as informed
reinterpreters of their declared influences. If the lyrics share themes
of drunken confusion and remorse with Arab Strap, the vocals and instrumentation
are far removed from Aidan Moffat's morose spoken word and minimal
keyboard backing as a swirling backdrop of echoing guitar and synth
does indeed recall the Flaming Lips in one of their livelier moments.
And by the time third track 'Salem AM' appears, St Gregory Orange
don't sound much like anyone apart from themselves, absorbing and
regurgitating their numerous influences with a healthy lack of reverence.
ODAS started as the solo bedroom project of Dean Freeman, that “mixes a love of Philip K Dick [...] with the very harsh reality of working a shit job”. You’d expect some weird proggy fantastical mess, wouldn’t you? Denied. Whilst the album opens with an ambiguous piano track that presents itself as a mysterious yet intriguing introduction, it isn’t long before a frown the size of Wisconsin has consumed my forehead. The punchy start of the second track “Waves of Fatalism” is an unexpected indie-punk, but it gets away with the system-shock by actually being really good. It’s a great punchy riff that gets your attention but then the vocals begin, like that chap from Beautiful South but slightly detuned. It’s nearly on the button but a few notes waiver into cringe territory. No, it’s not that bad really, and the third time through I don’t even notice it and focus on the fundamentals of the song. Musically it’s a little juvenile but in general there is reasonable potential, however the homemade feel of the album really detracts from this unless you’re partial to trashy college-rock bands. I think this album would benefit from shorter punchier songs as there’s a couple of lengthy buggers on there, but in conclusion it’s a real mixed bag with pros and cons aplenty.
Stalking Horse is an intriguing vocalist who blends dreampop and indiepop with ambience to create these vast vocal-driven soundscapes where the repetitive sweeping reverby backdrop is far from the focus of the track and the attention is directed to his piercing, and sometimes haunting vocal. A male take on Bat For Lashes, if you will. Both the tone and the melodies featured in the top line are a stunning hybrid of Thom Yorke and Hayden Thorpe (Wild Beasts), but the rest of the mix is less electronic than you’d expect from a Yorke track, and less defined than you’d expect from either artist. All ten tracks are consistent in vibe and subsequently roll up into a complete and impressive album. But if you want to rock out, hear some killer riffs or singalong yourself then, move along, nothing to see here.
Heavy Leeds-based fuzzy female-fronted rockers Black Moth are here with their debut album, a ball-rattling frenzy of enormous thick distorted bass lines and pounding drums. The kind of album you need a shower before and after. Despite being heavy with a sound-wave that’s squarer than a forty year old virgin, it is relatively tame in pace much like an early Queens of the Stone Age record, or even Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It’s just such a big sound, it really is. The album isn’t especially rich in mind-blowing riffs, but it gets by. Don’t go thinking that the massive rumbling backing track is going to dictate a scary vocal line either; it’s tuneful and ballsy and all in all, I think we’ve got a winner here. “Blackbirds Fall” and “Spit Out Your Teeth” are my top picks; and if you’re a sucker for fuzz, you should get heavily involved.
It’s time for some Baltimore dream-rock! Yes, that’s right, dream rock. Shoegaze without the whimsical nonsense, ambience with a beat, a forgettably dreary noise; call it what you like. I’m going with the latter, as it isn’t until track six that there is anything notable. Perhaps it’s just the lack of anything in the first five tracks that highlights the passable quality of the sixth but let’s focus on the start of the album. Five identical tracks with a deep slow drone of a female vocal, amidst a hazy wall of sound. Everything from the floor toms and kick drum to the guitar and bass merge in one trembling crash.
This hint of excitement on track six “Candy” is the thick bass tone from the outset, the punchier drums and the Mazzy Star-like vocal prominence; a diamond in the rough.
“Lion in Winter Pt 1” is genuinely just ambience, and part two which follows sounds like a Vengaboys cameo appearance on the Mighty Boosh.
Now, I’m unfamiliar with Lower Dens first album, but if it sounded anything like this, this album wouldn’t have been commissioned. It’s so unimaginative, almost pretentious to the extent at which it hopes to go far by offering nothing.
Maybe I am a wrong in my ways: desperately seeking melody, rhythm and intrigue. Then again, maybe I’m not. I’m sure this will find a market with people who listen to the likes of Warpaint and think: “I wonder what this band would sound like if they stopped caring.”
Almost nine years after breaking up or just taking an extended lunch
during recording their never - released 2004 album, Beachwood Sparks
return with what's probably the last word on West Coast folk rock
this year. Those of you unfamiliar with this Californian band, reference
The Byrds, Poco, Gram Parsons and CSNY, and (from the 80s) the Rain
Parade and Long Ryders for the country guitar blueprint that 'The
Tarnished Gold' takes as its starting points, and while Beachwood
Sparks don't perhaps bring swathes of originality and reconfigurations
of the hallmarked late 60s/early 70s sound they emulate with practised
skill they are, don't doubt it, genuine practitioners of this particular
branch of musical artistry, and the quartet seem to view themselves
as committed guardians of the musical legacy of Gene Clark, Parsons,
maybe even Tom Petty, with their soaring three part harmonies and
jangling 12 string semi acoustic reveries. Of course, you the CD buyer
and Downloader might decide that you would rather hear the original
music that Beachwood Sparks take their inspiration from and I would
also recommend The Byrds 1969 'Doctor Byrds And Mr Hyde' album for
its finely handled guitar work and right-on lyrical subversion, but
only if you also give 'The Tarnished Gold' a spin, even if just to
compare how much or little Beachwood Sparks take from their most obvious
Robert Loyd, you have some explaining to do. After bringing the original
Nightingales to a less-than-well-received conclusion in 1988 or thereabouts,
then resurrecting the band fully in 2004, and now releasing what is
in all probability the best Indie Guitar album of 2012, would it be
intrusive of me to ask exactly why it's taken so long for the album
the Nightingales should have released in 1985 to appear? I am in equal
measures elated and angered by 'No Love Lost', because the Nightingales
really are the great lost hopes of our musical lives, very nearly
Birmingham's most memorable contribution to the 80s Indie pantheon,
and there's saving the best till last but today, emerging into the
Southbank curated establishment credible world of retrospective back
and thigh slapping, with Stewart Lee and Greil Marcus thrusting plaudits
at you and Alan Apperley (original guitarist) while a half dozen or
so elderly 80s survivors dimly recall accidentally seeing the original
Nightingales in some hick town nightclub halfway through the miners
strike, it must surely grate that you never released an album of the
quality of 'No Love Lost' back in the day, when you would have received
at least as much appreciation as you've experienced in the last year
or two from the cognoscienti, while skilfully maintaining a near invisible
profile outwith the very narrow furrow you've so expertly ploughed
for the Nightingales and their music throughout, I mean there's eclectic
but flipping heck Robert, you do keep it to yourself a bit.
A little after the event of the album release but definitely with the benefit of hindsight of an extra few listens and the album launch show in Leeds, this review creaks into existence. And what strangely contradictory emotions were expressed between the two formats. On the one hand, for an album of such kinetic intensity and general ear rattling brilliance, what a lacklustre audience turned up at the Brudenell Social Club for the launch gig. We’ll just put it down to being a Friday evening at the end of a long week of work, quite a late on-stage slot and the ridiculously cheap and well stocked Brudenell bar.
So contrary to the normal – sounds much better live mantra – this record actually sounds pretty damn good on, er, record. If ever there was a call to arms then the instantaneous power and complexity of ‘Witch Hunt’ and 'Skyspinners’ is it. But there’s such a breadth of rock and metal stylings on display here it would be nearly impossible for anyone with even a passing interest in metal not to get along famously with ‘Ideas’ (even Mrs B who is more accustomed to watching Beyonce videos can appreciate the finer points of ‘Ideas’). Must have been a bit of Faith No More being listened to while ‘Headstrung’ and ‘Hollywood Sweatshop’ were being recorded as they see Paul Astick’s vocals take on a Mike Patton quality (though this could also be down to doctor’s orders on Astick who was told to take it easy or lose his voice – how rock and roll is that? Not that you’d know it – there’s not much taking it easy going on elsewhere.)
There are also some elements of stoner rock and grunge, most noticeably in ‘The Meeting’ whereas ‘Milkhog’is more cataclysmically Ministry-esque. But it’s where Hawk Eyes marry the power of metal and more traditional mainstream rock that they are at their best, as in the album closers ‘Bear By the Head’ and ‘Bees’.
So get yourself down to the front at one of their shows and throw
yourself about a bit to the music. Or don’t. Stay at home and listen
in your bedroom or listen on your iPod on the way to work – doesn’t
matter – it’s pretty ace either way. 9/10
I’ve got to admit to being properly surprised by this album. Although I don’t know a great deal about Sennen, I have been really impressed with their recent singles such as ‘Age of Denial’ and from this album ‘Vultures’. Somewhere in between/since recording those, the band seem to have massively chilled out and recorded a blissful shoegazey album which is more gentle introspection than the cinematic grandeur of ‘Age of Denial’.
It’s significant that despite my preconceptions, it is the slightly
boisterous ‘Vultures’ which stands out like the elephant in the room
rather than the little pop nuggets which I thought were the divergence
from the norm. Sometimes like a feedback-free Dinosaur Jr (‘Not Coming
Back’) at others blissfully content (‘St Jude’), ‘Lost Harmony’ is
the sound of a band who are completely at ease with themselves and
no longer try to pander to any preconceptions. It’s not just self
indulgent shoe gaziness, there’s just enough upbeat action such as
the last minute homage to Zooropa-era U2 ‘Our Lost History’. But as
the finale ‘I Watched the End With You’ suggests, this album very
much has the feel of finality, uncertainty but most of all nostalgic