Sergeant Thunderhoof – Terra Solus (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

a2043152659_16Ooh, I love a bit of old-fashioned, honest-as-dirt rock, so it’s with refreshing delight that Bath band Sergeant Thunderhoof find their way into my car stereo. What immediately grabs you is the way this band hold themselves, the whole album feels and sounds totally in control, this is a band that knows exactly where they are going, and it sounds accomplished and polished throughout.

If you like your music a little harder than average this will be right up your street, with enough rasp in the vocals and more fuzz than a teenage disco, there are lots to enjoy here.

I’ve been told that this music is psych-rock, I’ll admit I’m not one for pigeon-holing bands with genres – and I’m not entirely sure what psych-rock is – I’m tempted to think of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Pink Floyd, but those acts don’t really describe what is going on within the eight songs on offer here. Sure, there are powerful, well played guitar solos, some chugging bass and changes in rhythm styles within songs, a little like what Cream and Pink Floyd were so good at but to limit them to one genre is a little restrictive.

What I’ll say is this, it’s good.

The vocals sit somewhere in a sing-smoothie of James Hetfield, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy and Bruce Dickinson and shows a range that some professional singers would envy, often rock music is won and lost on the singer’s ability to deliver and in this case, it’s a hands-down victory for the boys from Bath. The vocals sit proud as a peacock above a very good group of musicians. Underpinning the grunt, sweat and bluster is the drummer, some fantastic work is done in the engine room of the band and, like I touched on before, often the drummer is doing some interesting work, changing the rhythm and style of the song, it’s no mean feat and it sounds easy. The bass sits well too, making use of effects and choosing a different path to the typical rounded sound that is often used in today’s music, another example of a well thought out decision.

Then we find ourselves at the feet of the guitarist… at times I can hear John Petrucci from Dream Theater in the tones and feel of the guitar playing, needless to say, it works, the whole package sits together so well that you feel in good hands, the solos are faultless, and the rhythm work is steady, leaving the right amount of space for the music to gel.

The album opens with a smack to the head, there’s no shy introduction, no brief explanation of what to expect next, just four fellas doing what they do best and the challenge to climb on board or stay at the station and throw stones into an empty cup. Easy choice really, get your ass on board and buckle up because it’s a nice, long journey and hey, you might even enjoy yourself along the way!

Give them a Google or go to their BandCamp page and help yourself to a slice of Sergeant Thunderhoof.

 

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Mind The Ether  – Shaman Elect (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

shamanelect.pngIt’s very easy to judge books by covers, or in this case bands by titles and upon seeing both the name of the band and the album, I have to confess that thoughts of some sort of dreadlocked, hippie-esque, stoner alt-dance did immediately set off warning bells in my brain. And whilst they do occasionally work some wonderfully heavy and pulsating, psi-trance style electronica through the middle of their songs, there is so much more going on here. 

Defining the band really depends on which aspect of their sound catches your ear first. Their music is capable of driving like rock music, grooving like a dance floor classic, blending slick, wonderfully restrained and soulful guitars, has pop infectiousness in spades and is delivered with the effortless cool of an indie band. Genres? Who needs them, this is the perfect post-genre band for a world peopled by discerning music buyers who have no truck with the old music allegiances, demarcations or tribal divisions.

Woman in Black shimmers with psychedelia echoes whilst growling with heavy electronica, spins by on funky yet minimal guitar licks and throws some deft spoken word lyrics at the listener whilst Hugo of Bath warps a pop-rock song into a strange alternative dimension, bristling and brooding but still musically elegant and eloquent. Ships Ahoy sees the band referencing some old school indie, a sort of post punk vibe but one brought bang up to date with its strange eclectic mash up that sees sweet jazz-blues guitar lines compete with funky drumming and pristine pop vocals and Sangfroid is pure prime time, dance floor filler.

In short, its great, and it is great because although Shaman Elect enjoy explore many musical threads and laying down intricate and full musical textures in each song, they are the masters of the art of editing and production. This means that although there may seem to be a lot going on in their music, each element, each instrument, each idea, has enough room to breath. It is complimentary rather than competitive and is both free of rules enough to bring something wonderfully fresh and unique to the table but is still wonderfully familiar and accessible. I’m not sure how they do it…I’m just glad that they do.

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Scene and Heard – CCCXXXX : Two Sides – Bitter Grounds (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

18527746_1281453591970320_358165456366013698_n.jpgI didn’t realise that bands were still making music like this but I’m rather glad that they are. In an age where punk seems largely about rose-tinted nostalgia trips, alt-rock is all about getting just the right brand of skinny jeans and the this week’s complicated hair style and metal has long become a parody of itself, it seems as if the heavier end of music has been subsumed by imposters and chancers, retro-gazers and pastiche plunderers. Thankfully bands like Bitter Grounds pop up with just enough frequency to give us heart and stay true to the ragged, rock and roll cause.

Two Sides, from an up coming new album, reminds me of those punk bands who formed in the wake of that first three-chord explosion. As the initial shock and awe of the original scene was fading out and the next wave of bands realised that they had to offer something more meaningful, more melodic, more musical and then realised that if they did they could actually sell records…post-punk was born. Bitter Grounds would have fitted right in back then, the same balance of angst and artistry, of attitude and addictiveness, of accessibility and….other alliterative words that would neatly finish that sentence.

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Scene and Heard – CCCXXXIX : Not What I Want –  Jackie Dope (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

24301099_192738537949689_6955696907881915857_nRevelling in the past is all very well and good but the best music, or at least the most original,  seems to be made as people move things forward. It’s evolution, it’s forward-thinking, it is the way the world turns. Jackie Dope is the sound of the world turning and music moving into pastures new. Yes, you can break the song apart and find very recognisable musical building blocks being used, but it is what they are used to build which is the real charm.

Over a lazy and sultry hip-hop groove he hangs soulful vibes, trippy electronica, deft rap flows and a wonderful use of space and anticipation. It certainly beats with a chilled hip-hop heart but it also evokes a timeless soul, commercial R&B and a strange blend of cocktail lounge sophistication and urban street smarts. 

But I guess that is how the whole scene rolls forward and you can run a thread through blues, jazz and soul that eventually takes you to hip-hop and then beyond as that in turn has evolved into its own offshoots and sub-genres But they all come from the underground, form honest expression, from the street, from the heart, which is why blending them together seems such a natural thing to do. Then again, there always has to be someone who gets there first!

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Scene and Heard – CCCXXXVIII : Black – MusicBySire (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

2378cab3efbcd9e33c8c634a521a6d6a852a2707Music is made for many different reasons. It can be fun, celebratory and throw-away, it can be deep, meaningful and poignant, it can be everything in between. More and more often I am find an increasing amount of music coming my way that feels driven to comment on the nature of the world around us and I ask myself why that is. Is it that the world is indeed a darker and more unequal world these days, is it that injustices are better reported and so is informing the man in the street in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. Is it because many artists are again seeking the power of a platform to make themselves heard rather than merely chasing the hollow and transient music industry rewards. I suspect that the answer is all of the above.

He have heard a lot about the horrors of slave markets in Libya, a trade in refugees hoping to travel to the relative safety of Europe but instead being caught in a system that we thought had consigned to the horrific annals of a unenlightened colonial past. MusicBySire feels so strongly about this that the video is part performance, part CNN special report, the powerful lyrical delivery interspersed with actual interviews and footage of the victims. At this point in the review I would normally analyse the track from a musical point of view but that seems as if it would be distracting from the songs purpose, like reading a powerful and important book and then discussing the covers artwork. Suffice it to say that the song does everything it needs to via a blend of musicality, soulfulness, compassion and raw, upsetting honesty.

But that is the point, this should upset and unsettle, the lyrics should land hard enough to make you think, and feel, and hopefully empathise. And it works on all levels. Black is a perfect statement and proof that even those outside the political and legislative classes can be an important part of the conversation, a conversation that reminds us that the world is a community and we all need to come together to look after our neighbours. Words are important, songs brilliantly communicative, videos emotive and visually stimulating. MusicBySire proves to be the master of all these mediums. 

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Boy. Inside – D.Ni.L (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Front___Back0_2It is one thing to use the age old line that music saved you, acted as a form of redemption and was the catalyst to turn your life around. It is a concept that has become so linked to the back story of a middle-class, comforted and closeted pop wannabe on TV talent shows that it has lost a lot of its meaning. But when D.Ni.L uses such a line you have to believe him. Why? Because he has spent the last few years documenting his struggles, the dark times and the journey towards the light of a more balanced and positive life, on a series of albums, Boy. Inside being the third. The proof is there for all to hear and rather than the usual spiel that some self-aggrandising gangster rapper or rock fantasist might try to pass off as their story, this is the stuff of life…real life.

His three releases show an interesting musical progression, blending in various measures rapped deliveries and dark EDM, raw edged indie and gritty alternative rock, a fascinating musical learning curve worn, like his lyrics, on his sleeve for all to see. Boy. Inside is the logical conclusion of that musical exploration to date and it has that feeling of an artist who only learned enough of the rules so he knew which ones to ignore, or at least bend.

And so musically it is a very varied and eclectic beast. Without You is a typical example of this wilful avoidance of the tried and tested, a song that runs between hard hitting, industrial strength rap and bucolic and sweet interludes, like N.W.A. having a sonic fight with Iron and Wine…if you can imagine such a thing. No? But I guess the fact that you can’t imagine what that might sound like illustrates just how clever this all is.

Summer Fool, wanders some raw rock pathways tempered by the soaring vocals that he puts on the top and the title track is exactly the shot in the arm…musically that is,  that indie music has been needing for a long time. And if that all sounds a bit intense you only have to listen to In Jars or Autumn, which tip its hat to the likes of Muse as much as it does a muscled bound, nu-soul sound, to hear funky backbeats and solid grooves at work. There may be important things being said here but that doesn’t mean that the music can’t be fun.

But of course the heart and soul of the record remains the lyrics and even though he seems to have exorcised a lot of demons over the previous two releases, he still has a lot to say about the world around him, of love, life, loss and personal regrowth. It’s a great album, one that wilfully hops genres, breaks musical fences, runs amok, opens its heart, tells it like it is, is both intimate and personal but delivered in a way that has plenty to make everyone think about their own lives. It is rare that a collection of songs can be all things to all people but I can’t think of a better way of describing Boy. Inside.

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Half A Century  – Butsenzeller (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0374743364_16.jpgImagine if jazz had evolved from the New Romantic synth experimentation of the late 70’s or that punk had been instigated after the invention of the affordable synthesiser or even that computers had been programmed to write acoustic pop songs. All unlikely scenarios for sure but each of those does say something about the three tracks that make up Butsenzeller’s latest collection of mercurial musical musings.

The title track hits the listener’s consciousness, less like an opening musical salvo more like an oozing sonic life form, a dirge from the far reaches of space sounding like music which has fallen between the cracks, and indeed tracks, of a studio recording and that then gradually came together in a strange synchronicity to form a creeping doom jazz soundtrack. Miles Davis meets The Apocalypse.

The wonderfully named Voteshutupworkconsume says a lot about some of the underlying attitudes of Butsenzeller and is musically a call back to  the industrial dance-noise-art-punk disco that we found on Seqs & Drums & Rockin’ Synths, a short sharp sonic shock and an infectious groover.  The less expected inclusion here is Isabel, potentially just a rudimentary busking guitar tune but put through the blender, warped and weirded out, effected and affected and turned into something otherworldly, angular and only half-human.

As always Butsenzeller manages to surprise you with his music, even though you already knew that something surprising was going to happen and it is that ability to keep pulling the rug from under the listener’s feet that keeps things exciting, fresh and fantastically odd. Then again normality is a pretty overrated concept if you ask me.

  

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Restless  –  John Forrester (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Restless-cover-300x300As Forrester sings “I need to work for me and not for them” on New Season, you quickly get to the heart of this album, though the title itself is a pretty good guide in itself. The life of being a musician fits a certain type of person, someone who prefers to dictate their own path, who likes the transient nature of such a career, the life of moving town to town, country to country to share your creativity before moving on again. But it is an album which balances such a life choice against the tension of being pulled back into old lives and situations beyond your control, of being tethered, perhaps for the most worthy of reasons, but tethered none-the-less.

Opening a cappella gem Richmond Hill is a brave starting point musically but also sets out the reflective nature of what is to follow. And what follows is a spacious collection of songs which fits largely into the English folk tradition. Escaping A Storm is both wonderfully rhythmic and gloriously gentle and This Idea Flies merges folk, balladic pop and classical tones. And when he does push off of the beaten track the results are just as wonderful. Trouble takes on a lulling gypsy waltz vibe and The Black Ship plays with sea shanty drama to great effect.

It is a very accomplished album, one that contains brilliant and memorable songs but ones built from only the most necessary of music. Editing is everything and it seems that here John Forrester has done a masterful job of deciding what each song relies on and removing anything that was surplus to requirement. That in itself is an art, one that many musicians could do with honing.

Restless is a glorious set of songs, its as simple as that. It links 60’s folk revivalism with the most contemporary end of the genre, it takes in both past tradition and future folk horizons, it is personal and reflective but also in a more general sense totally relatable, it is gentle yet filled with poignancy. In fact it is very much all things to everyone, well all things to discerning folk fans at least, and you can’t say that about many albums at the moment.

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Arrow – Ciara O’Neill (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

aWA2ihNr_400x400With her previous album being well received amongst critics and buyers alike and the double single of Hurtin’ /Dreamer already hinting at the delicate folk goodness that her second full album was going to deliver, Arrow’s promotional work had largely already been done for it. Definitely a case of a product being able to sell itself. Ciara O’Neill trades in timeless, noirish and understated folk sounds and vocals with just enough of a Celtic echo to place her geographically but working in the shifting and slightly genre-less musical waters that eschews tradition and rules in favour of exploration and emotion.

Using striking and brooding cellos, and haunting violins to punctuate the core sound of rhythmic guitars and her outstanding vocals, it is an album which is less about solid structures and standard progressions and more about music which floats and moves about on the breeze. Storms Comin’ takes this idea into more minimalist country territory with its twanging guitar, dark vibes and lilting drive, Equal and Opposite is built on the same transience and emptiness as the music of fellow Irish artist Damien Rice and Everything is almost a pop ballad in its accessibility and commercial potential.

She follows in the traditions of hosts of names who have combined elusive and compelling music with the ability to penetrate the mainstream, The Civil Wars, Lisa Hannigan, Glen Hansard and the dear departed Eliot Smith and there is no reason not to think that Arrow will easily find a chink in the armour of the narrow minded record executives and media money men who profess to know exactly what the punters want. Arrow is exactly what the more discerning punters want, it is just that they may not yet know it is what they want. Believe me it is.

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Scene and Heard – CCCXXXVIII : Are You Okay? – Mark Schirmacher (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

sketch.FINAL_-768x809Coming very much from the acoustic folk tradition, Are You Okay? blends the hallmarks of two of the genres biggest successes. There is something in the song’s minimalist beat and of course the gentle harmonica washes, that reminds us of a smoother and more delicate take on  His Bobness…The Zimmerman… that’s Mr Dylan to you. Also the deft touches and the space in the song tips its hat to Simon and Garfunkel’s balladic brilliance. It skirts through the vicinity of a number of other reference points, such as Ryan Adams iconic debut, Heartbreaker, but remains more of an urban, underground coffee shop sound rather than that of a rural, country approach, or perhaps the bridge between the two worlds.

There is something compelling in its delivery, an inherent anticipation caused by the minimal content, there is a power in the way that the words have space to hang and fade, the way that the music washes away between the beat and the clever change of pace in the middle eight.

There is a lot to like here. Mark Schirmacher may be working with age old musical materials, there is after all little new under the sun, but he still manages to put his songs together in a way that offers new and interesting prospects and potential. We have all heard music like this before, yet you have never heard music quite like this before. Now that’s clever.

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