albums - july 2016
Every now and again I get an album from a label which is dedicated to recording not just the bands of the Bristol area, but also their actual histories (wherever possible) and while digging around on the Bristol Archive Records website I did find a lot of occasionally useful and informative, not to say actually entertaining info about the Bristol music scene of the past four decades. Some of the bands are vaguely familiar names of the post punk era - Glaxo Babies, Mark Stewart and the Mafia, The Pop Group and Pigbag to name only four, while others such as Essential Bop, No Deposit, Vitus Dance and The Primates are only remembered actually on the Bristol Archive website. For one reason or another, the Bristol Archive label deserve a lot of praise if you ask me : they've been scrupulous in preserving the 100 copy only cassette releases of thirty years previously that were once a vital part of the indie music world )at least the Bristolian ones) and their research has unearthed a number of interviews and articles that anyone interested in the music world of the late 70s and early 80s will find very useful indeed.
Bristol has always had a thriving reggae scene and the 16 tracks
on 'Compendulum' are mostly the work of well established performers
such as Bunny Marrett and Jashwha Moses, and while much of the music
on the album is of a more recent vintage than that of Bristol Archive's
other releases, it certainly contains some lively and inspired performances,
from the rootsy vibes of Jashwha Moses' 'What A Situation' and Black
Symbol's 'Jah And I', through the more electronic based sound of Prince
Green's 'Cross Country Driver', and while I'm unsure exactly how Capital
Letters got on the album as so far as I know they were in fact from
Wolverhampton, their 'Jah Music' gives some idea as to why they made
something of a name for themselves in the European festival circuit
in the mid 80s. Perhaps their contributions to the album were in fact
recorded in Bristol, although few listeners of 'Compendulum' are going
to care very much about facts such as those and whatever the actual
origins of the tracks on 'Compendulum,' it's yet another consistently
listenable reggae compilation from the Bristol Archive label.
There is very definitely more than one band going under the name of Parlour, and this review was very nearly credited to the London band of the same name but fortunately, some last minute research uncovered the facts about the US band from Louisville, KY, including that one of their previous support acts was only Mogwai (at a Kentucky hometown show in 2002) and Parlour do plough a similar furrow of instrumental post-rock, although the emphasis is definitely on the Rock part of that description. Parlour's fifth album, since their inception some 21 years previously, is a gritty, hard edged and thrashing creature, devoid of sympathy, pity or even an effects pedal as the no-frills band sound makes their occasionally lengthy instrumental numbers sound as if they actually were recorded in a garage, in one take without overdubs and the effect is a certainly sometimes impressive one, making Mogwai sound like overly indulgent 70s prog rockers as it does.
The shaky rhythms and fretboard throttling histrionics of opening
track 'New Syntax Preserves' aren't half the story. Parlour play slightly
faster than many post rock bands I've heard, and it isn't too difficult
to imagine a shouted vocal adding a defining presence to tracks like
'Nadeemed' and 'Fempire', particularly the latter with its simultaneous
echoes of the Chili Peppers and Tortoise, while tracks such as 'Catnip'
and 'Kármán Line' do seem to hark back to the late 70s
heyday of what we used to call FM rock, albeit with a lack of lengthy
guitar solos and lyrics about cars and girls. Lastly 'Decadence Herd'
is a moody sounding dubtronica exercise that's mostly bass and reverberating
drums, and with a synth yelping plaintively in the distance until
the thrash guitars kick in for thirty seconds than pull back again.
It's a fittingly abrasive finale to an album that's a mixture of controlled
tensions and occasional pyrotechnics, and as the last notes of the
track fade out it doesn't completely seem like the actual end of the
album. Perhaps we'll see Parlour supporting Mogwai sometime.
What these two albums have in common is not merely that they are the music of folk based singer songwriters, but that both Vessel (that's Anders Mathiesen) and Lew (that's Sara Lewis Sørensen) are both from Denmark. I could add that both of these albums are really very good, lyrical and crafted songwriting performed on an array of instruments, with smartly produced electronica to bolster the musicianship although without overshadowing the electroacoustic revelries and the actual songs. I would have reviewed these albums separately but the coincidence of receiving both of them in the same month makes sharing the review somehow unavoidable.
The intro of the first track on 'Patterns Of Blue', a chord struck
on a zither and a small gong clanging is about as effective a lead
into a song as I've heard recently, and rather than the foot-tapping
sea shanty that might lead you to expect, 'The Clearing' is a soporifically
paced guitar and piano ballad, played with some intriguing sounding
timings and Vessel's measured, unassuming vocal which as the album
progresses does seem to owe an audible debt to Nick Drake, while there
are musical nods towards Keane and John Martyn (among others) at various
moments throughout 'Patterns Of Blue'. The album is very much Vessel's
own though, and as it progresses the music takes on an increasingly
intricate pattern of piano counterpointing every other instrument
and sound until 'Theatre For The Blind' and its kaleidoscopic instrumentation
isn't just a highlight of the album, it seems like the actual peak
of Vessel's (and his backing band) present abilities, which is to
say that it's a really superb five or so minutes, right up to its
reverberating, swirling conclusion.
Lew may describe her music as influenced by Siouxsie and PJ Harvey,
but over the 11 tracks on 'Black Feathers' her songs take on a subtly
lighter tone than the doomy psychedelia and strident assertiveness
that you might associate with those well known musical role models,
nearer to a collaboration between Joni Mitchell and Kirstin Hersh
and there is something of the urgency of Throwing Muse's earliest
work about the entire album, particularly when Lew ups her folk influenced
pacing after first track 'Dirt' and the album's second and title track
with their picked guitar motifs. Lew's voice avoids sounding overly
dramatic and she and her associates bring an edgy, occasionally venomous
energy to the songs, notably the tightly controlled cadences of 'Lights
On', the chaotic guitar interplay of 'Into Your Love' and the epic
romanticism of 'Riverstone'. If the overall tone of 'Black Feathers'
is a dark one, Lew's vision is far from bleak and her songs contain
a definable warmth even at their most challenging, musically and lyrically.
There are albums that you play and can do other things while they're on and there are albums that can enhance the other things you do while they play. Then there are some albums that sometimes at least capture your attention and make the thing that you are doing just Listening To This Album.
This album stays with you. You sit with it it's close by the whole time, it stays and it's always good that it does. Perhaps it's a good job this sticks around, because that's it. There'll be no more and I don't know if we should be sad for not supporting it to the extent that that isn't the case or relieved that Tom doesn't have to keep putting himself through whatever he does to get to here. It should, I guess, have been more worth it. I want him to know that I value it.
I value that I can feel everything that's put into it but it's not that I see the effort. I am captivated by how good the music is, and I am happy that I can say all this without knowing at all how it was done. I don't see the joins, I can't see the working, I just get to hear it and enjoy it.
I've had this album for a while and I've listened to it often, on some occasions back to back. It's taken me this long to get the words out and I confess to staring at a page at a loss for how to describe this, other than just writing down adjectives. I listen to it now and it still sits close around me and I still get captivated. To write this review I had to stop and think, go away from it and really consider what had just happened and while I immediately knew that I enjoyed the thing that had happened, I didn't quite grasp it. I have also just listened to it and had it wash across. The album it reminds me of the most, certainly in terms of effect it had on me, is Spirit of Eden. Which is a ridiculous thing to say because that album is neigh on perfect.
Newfoundland is an astonishing album, it really is. I'm sorry that it is the last one, I hope that it doesn't have to be, just that it is.
Support music like this. It makes things better.
I reviewed the single from 'A New Dimension ...' in these pages last month and had something to say along the lines of 'describing yourself as the French Paul Weller is setting things up a bit' or similar. Now there's the entire album from Popincourt to contend with and while it isn't by any definition a bad record and has several quite good songs on it, the publicity that the album arrived with that basically described Popincourt's album as the best thing the Style Council never recorded was, I thought, pushing it a bit, like a electronic band from Middlesbrough introducing themselves as 'the new Kraftwerk' or a very obscure folk act from Reading telling everyone they're the 'new Mumford and Sons'. Undeniably an attention grabbing technique, although it can really leave you open to significant criticism if your music isn't exactly of a certain standard. Popincourt's music is of sufficient quality to allay any very harsh critical comments, and some of the songs do very accurately conjure the required Yé-Yé ambiences, but is there a song on 'A New Dimension ...' as memorable as 'My Ever Changing Moods'? Well of course there isn't, but don't completely dismiss Popincourt just yet.
I more often get albums like this from Italy (or I used to), sort
of New Mod music from the people that actually brought us Vespa and
Lambretta scooters, and Popincourt is actually French and avoids the
temptation to sing in a faked Landahn accent which has beset so many
other 60s revivalists over the years (including several from the UK).
Fewer of those went as far as to take The Style Council as a directly
noticeable influence, although I won't pretend I'm an expert on Paul
Weller's mid 80s output although more than one track on 'A New Dimension
...' has the summery vibe of 'My Ever Changing Moods' about it, and
Popincourt carries it off with no small amount of élan and
unmistakably French stylings. Good enough, although the best moments
are when Popincourt put the Mick Talbot keyboard aside and play some
smartly tuneful guitar based power pop, Beatley harmonies and 12 string
riffs all present and, it needs to be said, nearer in tone to the
second wave Mod bands of the early 80s than a lot of the rest of the
album althoug Popincourt do avoid sounding very much like the actual
Jam. Maybe 'A New Dimension ...' isn't exactly the album it sets itself
up as, but Popincourt's music has a gallic charm that overreaches
its less inspired moments.