albums - april 2015
This is my second review of a Pocket Gods album. The first one, Plan Nub, was in 2010 and that is an album that has lasted the tests of time on my music player because it is that rare thing, a comedy album that is actually funny. If you ever overhear me muttering 'we're all puppets in a mad dream', I learned that particular phrase from a song on Plan Nub, and it's stood me in good stead on several occasions. Like some bewildering combination of the Cooper Temple Clause and Half Man Half Biscuit, the Pocket Gods had accidentally recorded an actual classic, I thought at the time. Five years later and they return, with an album that while it's less comedic and more archly sardonic is if anything even more of a bad trip than Plan Nub was, darker in tone and slightly overlong but more developed musically and consistently listenable.
First track 'Take Me Down To Oak Island' is a tale of a treasure
hunting expedition that didn't go entirely to plan and takes more
of an influence from Robyn Hitchcock than anything on Plan Nub did,
phased guitars and something going backwards although I'm unsure what
that is. 'The New Atlantis' starts the album properly though, with
an epic intro that recalls King Crimson and a spoken vocal that quotes
from some Elizabethan tome of alchemical mysteries. Obviously off
on a bit of an adventure, the Pocket Gods proceed to stop off at several
locations on their intrepid voyage such as Nashville with the country
themed 'Bring Me The Head Of Francis Bacon'), New York with the VU
drawl of 'Ten X', somewhere near Norwich with the gloomy droning of
'Black Friday 13th', outer space with the ravey influenced 'The Starry
Earth' which quotes from that Elizabethan text again, under BRMCs
driveway with '40 Feet Below' and that's only half of the tale so
far told. To know the remainder of the Pocket Gods travels and travails,
hie ye to iTunes orr Sound-Cloude and finde that many fabl'd singing
disce wherein all of ye Pocket Gods devices are known. They've even
got me at it now ...
Pale Honey have sent me something I don't often get. An album sampler that contains only three of the tracks of their self titled debut. I wonder why more bands don't do this, after all us conniving music reviewers have built substantial music collections from the myriad of review copies sent to us, and that's enough of that say Pale Honey, you can listen to the full album on Spotify with the rest of the paying audience. Very well, no one's going to blame musicians for either wanting to actually make money for their work or even creating an aura of mystery around what their albums actually sound like, and at least Pale Honey haven't done what one or two bands were doing a couple of years back, releasing press copies of albums remixed to include the spoken phrase 'this is a review copy of ...' twice on every track. That was just rude.
Anyhow, I have three of the probably twelve tracks of Pale Honey's
album to listen to and write about, so I'm thinking about why these
three tracks and not the other nine and as I can't make comparisons
with what's on the rest of the album this is the most difficult review
than I've had since that other album that had the spoken word reminders
of it not being a full release copy. The tracks are : (1) 'Fiction'
which is a bit Sheryl Crowe doing a moody minimalist number with a
lot of pared down guitar and cowbell, (2) 'Fish' which is a bit similar
but turns into a thrashy garage blues number then goes a bit quiet
again and (3) 'Youth' which is an amalgam of the other two tracks,
goes quiet/loud/quiet/loud and has a keyboard, unlike the other two.
I can only speculate on what the rest of the album sounds like but
it's probably a lot more of the loud/quiet stuff and with the grungy
guitars and keyboards for added atmosphere. I think Pale Honey are
from Sweden so there are detectable influences of Lykke Li, The Cardigans
and one of my own favourite Swedish bands Sad Day For Puppets. There,
that's not so bad going with less than 25% of an album to write about.
Jesse Malin's love letter to his native city really runs through
the musical gears. New York Before The War tracks the veteran rocker's
career, from his early punk days with Heart Attack, followed by glam
revivalists D Generation, and then the classic American bar room rock
of his solo stuff since 2002.
They've gone slightly leftfield, with new people, places and influences
... but the driving energy and solid pop hooks are still there on
Crocodiles' latest album Boys. The San Diego noise pop duo with an
ear for the post-punk this side of the pond (Jesus and Mary Chain,
Echo & The Bunnymen, Wire) often work with different producers
and musicians to find new ways to express their sound. On 2013's Crimes
Of Passion, for example, Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes sweetened
the gloom without cramping any of the band's predilection for nihilism
(psychocandy 'Gimme Some Annihilation' and 'Me and My Machine Gun'
just bled a bit more sweetly...).
There's a nice taste for the far-out and trashy on Boys, and it's
definitely our kind of trash! 'Foolin' around' slinks along with bass
and syndrums like Sly & Robbie/Black Uhuru, slash guitar duals
Welch's glammed-up vocals. 'Do The Void' also rocks, its bass-kickdrum
propelling it along like art-punks Devo, while 'Transylvania's scuzzy
Jesus and Mary Chain feel is re-directed with a screeching saxophone
and Welch whooping like Suicide's Alan Vega.
So, it's the hi-jinx “bonkers car-crash of influences” songwriting template. Crocodiles head off into this hazed-out “Latin” thang, but bring it back with a solid hook or three. Boys?? Yes, boys keep swinging, boys always work it out ...
Glasgow's Chvrches revitalized synthpop with their wonderful 2013 debut The Bones Of What You Believe, and La Roux's Trouble In Paradise and Electric Youth's Innerworld also hinted at promising times ahead for the genre. A shame then that Norwegian singer-songwriter Kate Havnevik plays it safe on her curiously-titled third album & I, the follow-up to 2011's You.
Havnevik has been compared to artists like Imogen Heap and Bjork in her experimental approach. And 'Emperor Of Nowhere' kicks things off nicely with big fat electronica beats and bubbly bass spiralling round its clubland rhythms, the sound Bjork used on the dance classic 'Army Of Me'. Solid hooks and a memorable chorus, too, supported with the slightly leftfield Gotti Sigurdarson-directed video, Havnevik singing with a body-painted mask in a darkly animated black and white scene: “You're the author of this nightmare/You're the engineer of our distress/You're the emperor of nowhere and no one gets out alive from here!”
& I was co-written, arranged and produced by long-time collaborator Guy Sigsworth, and the sounds and textures are coherent and technically impressive. Somehow though, the songs lack a creative spark. 'Rocks In The Ocean' takes the atmospheric Cure ('A Forest') bass line, and certainly has something about it, and the dark intro and moorish chorus of 'Falling' would no doubt suit a popular TV series (Havnevik's early work was featured on Grey's Anatomy).
So why can't I get excited? I keep wondering if synthpop always has to be this throwaway … and then bands like Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode (at their best!) spring to mind. 'Signals' is nice enough, its cool marimba-like sound gathering pace to hit the dancefloor once more, surely the influence of her peers Royksopp showing. 'Micronation' changes the focus a little, with clicks, glitches and guitar (ukelele?), before returning to the electropop thread of the album. And fundamentally, that's the problem with & I. Each time it threatens to break out, something just drags it back in! Al Pacino in Godfather 3 all over …
She goes for the epic finish on dance anthem 'The River'. The collaboration with Canadian electronic duo Sultan & Ned Shepard fires things up at last, but shows what's been missing. Far better is Havnevik's leftover material between her 2nd and 3rd albums. Released last year, Residue is an enticing collection of songs which demonstrate the singer-songwriter's true creative range.
Happyness are on a steep upward trajectory, and this triumphant reissue of their 2014 debut album is only the beginning. The South London three-piece were arguably the most deserved winners of an NME award at the ceremony last February after bagging Best Lyric (a surprisingly underrated category considering the importance of the spoken word in popular music), and anyone who doubts this can just listen to Weird Little Birthday for confirmation.
The album is a modern-day lyrical masterpiece. Their distinct style of sticking two fingers up at romantic sentimentality is refreshing – “You are so hopelessly uninspiring” sighs Benji Compston (guitar) on a new addition to the album, ‘Stop Whaling’. The band have mastered a hazy, dreamy and cotton-candy-soft vibe which cocoons the occasionally ferocious but always brutally honest lyrics, notably on ‘Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’. “What do you do when you hate all your friends?” they ponder; a sorrowful thought which might not be as unidentifiable as we’d like to think (she ventures to admit cautiously). But that’s what makes their music so oddly gratifying – we listen with a wry smile, amused by their whimsically spiteful words. But it slowly dawns on us: it’s funny because it’s true. There are times we simply detest our significant others, and is it such a bad thing to admit that? ‘Lofts’ is a highlight as it flawlessly confirms there is a certain beauty to be found in ugliness, with its delicate guitar and laid-back drums. It’s a sincere and blunt style of song writing currently being adopted also by the likes of Courtney Barnett and Skaters.
Mind you, it’s not all subdued and pensive – far from it. Last year’s single ‘Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste The Same’ adopts light-hearted and upbeat grooves with subtle Britpop influences. The grungy slacker sound for which they are best known is shown off on ‘Anything I Do Is Alright’, a musical highlight with its infectiously melodic chorus and addictive bass lines. ‘It’s On You’ drips with teenage angst, while the album is brought to a close with ‘A Whole New Shape’, a grinding anthem for kids to mosh to.
Trios have gone somewhat underrepresented over the years. However a pattern can be observed – the Cribs, Haim… the Bee Gees. All trios, all sharing the same blood. And although Compston, Jonny Allan (bass) and Ash Cooper (drums) do not originate from the same litter, there’s a sense of brotherly love which transcends the music and warms the cockles of your heart. Weird Little Birthday is a most unexpectedly beautiful work of art, lovingly created by a group of anti-heroes with more potential than people have yet realised.
The Teamsters wear nice coats and shoes, and, when I listen to their debut album, the main thought in my mind is that this is the ideal band to dance to in a sweaty club. For people who care not about the last 40 years of musical history, wish they could have been around in the heyday of The Cavern or Kaiserkeller, or for those who just like to dress up sharp and cut a rug, here’s your new favourite band.
Their self-titled album offers 14 tracks of Kinks-y rhythm and blues
in 30 minutes – there is no flab and you can’t dislike any of them
because the next one’s started before you realise. Frontmen Daniel
Fell and Tom Wing (formerly of The Argonauts and The Roves, respectively)
take it in turns at the mic on songs called “I Am the Birdman”, “Queen
of Suave”, and Hey There School Girl”. Most of them seem to be about
birds (the female variety) and love-gone-sour…hey, why not? It’s available
as a download but the cool kids will want the (very) limited edition
What I like most about Andy Robbins’ excellent second album is that although influences abound, Mr Robbins never sounds like anyone but himself. In an era saturated with cosseted singer-songwriters Andy has travelled the only road he knows. Gigging and singing about the things close to his heart.
The album opens with the powerful ‘All Out at Sea’. In this deceptively simple song Robbins’ voice ranges from the intimacy of a stranger talking in your ear to an impassioned howl of surrender. It sets the tone for an album of songs about the confusion of break-up and the hope for better. There are shades of Paul Weller already but no one influence ever dominates this album.
From the dark, fluid ‘harp’ playing on the straight-from-the-heart ‘I Wanna Be Free’ to the tom rhythms on the ballad ‘Not in My Bed’ the arrangements on Proceed With Caution always serve the song, never the other way round. In fact by the end of the album two tracks have everything stripped away bar a basic piano and Robbins’ raw, authentic voice. There are shades of Imagine-era Lennon about ‘Not in My Bed’.
On ‘Love Never Changes’, pizzicato strings and a deep, scraping cello provide the counterpoint to Robbins’ simple, acoustic guitar playing. In this context strings could sound pretentious but here the choices are spot on, underscoring the emotion without ever detracting from the spirit.
Other stand-out tracks are ‘Premonition Blues’ which takes us unashamedly into 12-bar land and reminds us of Eric Clapton on a good day, while ‘Don’t Come Round No More’ is a fun chunk of cowboy country blues straight out of Texas. You can almost see the rolling horse and its whisky-cuddling rider rolling in the saddle.
‘Morning Sun’, written about Robbins’ new-born son, has the haunting glow of Dylan’s New Morning album with a lovely laid-back slide guitar snaking through the chords.
The journey closes with ‘End of the Line’, an ironically jaunty, mid-tempo track, lyrically resigned to the fall. But the music tells a different story, and we are left with the strong sense that Robbins is going nowhere but onwards.
First released in 2001, and after fourteen years the Washington DC band must feel that their first album has something to bring to us now, as stylish and artfully obscure as on its initial release. Beauty Pill themselves aren't giving very much away on their website and while they are releasing a new album this year it's their reissue that has found its way onto my music player. Beginning with 'Rideshare' it seems the earlier work of Beauty Pill combined post rock with a frenetic improvised approach. It certainly doesn't sound like it was recorded nearly 15 years ago, probably remixed and reinvigorated in the intervening years and as 'Rideshare' slouches to its mood enhanced conclusion and suddenly slips into another mode entirely, Beauty Pill reveal themselves as sophisticated alt.pop practitioners, never missing an opportunity to throw a song off at an angular tangent. Second and title 'Cigarette Girl'track has a whiff of Pulp about its tale of unapproachable beauty, if Pulp had emerged from late 90s Manhattan and with James Chance and the Contortions on backing vocals and marimbas. Now I really like 'Idiot Heart', the third track whose harp and timpani intro just puts it on another level entirely, it's one of those really memorable songs that you could never really find out who performed it or where you could hear it again. Beauty Pill weren't just messing about in their garage when they recorded it and yes, it does deserve a belated second hearing.
What is it about a singer songwriter double tracking his guitar without using any other instrumentation or backing musicians? As the title and opening track of 'The Other Shore' starts off there are unquestionably at least two guitars being played, although only Dan O'Connor was in the studio when the song was recorded. That Dan 'four arms' O'Connor is a quite talented singer and guitarist is beyond dispute, his songs are briskly performed, tuneful and listenable, with a Lennonesque twist and also reminiscent of Elliot Smith in some measure, but he must make for a interesting sight turning up at his local open mike night with two guitars and a specially adapted jacket that lets him accompany himself on rhythm and lead simultaneously, and he also provides his own backing vocals although unless the cover photo is cleverly photoshopped he has only one head.
Yeah alright, I'm taking a bit of a humorous approach to reviewing
'The Other Shore' but its double tracked guitar is the most noticable
thing about its opening tracks and by the time I got to fifth track
'Calling All Senses' it began to seem that Dan O'Connor's determinedly
auteurish approach to recording (he probably also engineered the album)
could go either way for him, either proving that his talents are those
of a significant new voice on the folk circuit or that in his determination
to be the new Jackson Browne he forgot that, if his audience can accept
that his recorded songs can contain guitar overdubs then they could
also accept some added percussion and keyboard to bolster a collection
of songs that, while they are assuredly above average, are oddly hampered
by their recordings. Dan O'Connor can certainly play his guitar, as
probable album highlight 'Freedom In The Sun' shows, where the overdubs
don't sound quite so awkwardly balanced. By the time eighth track
'Humans' has ended I really began to suspect that there were more
than one person involved in 'The Other Shore' and although I haven't
found much info about Dan O'Connor the solo performer, if he is the
same Dan O'Connor that has been a member of Boston based band Four
Years Strong then there are probably one or two of his bandmates also
appearing on the album, uncredited. 'The Other Shore' isn't a bad
record by any standards, although it does sound like the rehearsal
tapes for the album Dan O'Connor really wants to make.
Founded by Mounzer Sarraf, the democratic project known as The Great Game is a ‘New World Music’ melting pot of various styles stirred up by band members who hail from Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America. Striving to create a unique and exciting live experience without being tied to the music industry, the band members are focused on their live sound and have released their new album for free at their official website, http://www.the-great-game.com/ . The band has also launched an Indiegogo campaign based on the busking principle in order to receive listener feedback and funding to continue to perform live.
As Mounzer explains in a video at The Great Game’s official site, the band’s songs come to fruition through a creative process that starts with ideas and a framework from Mounzer, which he then sends along to the musicians he’s collaborating with. These artists then contribute their own ideas to the song and give it its final shape. The band blends New World, rock, progressive, blues, jazz, reggae, metal, and other styles into an exhilarating, infectious, and sometimes too strident and cacophonous stew of sound that can be found on its 13-track self-titled album that was released earlier this year. The band members also tackle current issues on their songs, from religious extremism to the disconnection problem of television to the casualties of war to modern day slavery.
Many song comes across as spazzy mash-ups of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
(staccato beats, reggae influences, exclaiming à la Dicky Barrett),
The Red Hot Chili Peppers (slamming rhythms, vocal shouting, cycling
percussion), and Gogol Bordello (rapid tempos, frantic accordion notes).
A few others feature female and/or male vocals that are calmer in
tone and swing with a smoother jazz vibe of saxophone and cymbal shimmer.
There is a disjointed, agitated feel to many of the high-energy tracks
(like “Science”, “Religionism”, “Bipolaroid”, and “The Blind Man Leads
the Way”) due to the abrupt intros and outros of various aurally sharp
instruments (like accordion, high pitched brass, and harshly distorted
guitar) and exclamatory male vocals. The songs that have a better
flow and are more aurally pleasant are the ones that have slower sax
and accordion pulls and drum pace, a sheen of cymbals, strummed guitar,
and low-key male and/or female vocals (like “The Turning of the Wheel
of Dharma”, “El Hechizo Del Hoy”, and “Elemental Raven Storm”). A
few numbers also nicely balance the rough with the soft like “Television”,
“Hungarian Dream”, and “Pax Romana”.
I’m blown away within seconds of hearing opening track “Corona” from the Russian post-punk mavericks. They have a quality about them not heard since the days of The Teardrop Explodes ‘Kilimanjaro’ album. “Dispersed Energy” is another trip down memory lane reminding me of early Echo and the Bunnymen, and specially in the keyboards! The drum machine gives their sound a lo-fi home demo bedroom feel which actually works a treat amongst everything else going on here. “Red Drop” sounds like it should be on The Chameleons ‘Script Of The Bridge’ album which bands such as The Horrors have completely saturated the borrowing of. His voice sounds like Bryan Ferry on “Heavy Wave“ and this track seems to be the change over from dark to light on this album! The guitar takes a prominent forefront on “Impractical Advice“, and spiraling in a style much akin to moments on Interpol’s masterpiece ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’. I’m enjoying the improvisation displayed by both the guitar and bass on this track, making it sound like one big jam. “Lottery“ sounds like a lost Julian Cope song, and one that was never released. My favorite track so far, and there’s a positive feel to it which is pounded further by the prominent keys! “Old“ is like a racing marmot, possibly due to the speed of the drums. The chorus is about as catchy as every member of Slade’s underpants! “Similar Way” shows the first change of drum machine pattern and is almost off beat with the repeated line “Maybe nobody noticed”. Poverty ends on “Write To Me“ which sounds like something off of The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Floodland’ being played over the top of Joy Division’s epic outlet ‘Heart and Soul‘. Motorama definitely borrow from the best and they’ve more than proved that on this record. Buy it! ******** 8/10