The Lonely Cry of Space and Time – Anna Coogan (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

15895369_10154884829939929_7703269478779218562_nAnna Coogan’s songs cover a lot of ground both musically and lyrically. And whilst her alternative takes on a mercurial blend of pop, rock and indie result in some wonderfully drifting and cinematic music, in shifting dynamics that wander from the pastoral and slight to the driven and euphoric, it is the poeticism and subject matter which is often the more fascinating. A rare skill indeed. Great as the music is, and I assure you it is, Anna’s scientific interests and questioning mind results in lyrical journeys unlike any other artist I can think of.
Inspirations abound from black and white Russian sci-fi films, past relative’s involvement in the discovery of gravitational waves, Puccini, Sylvia Plath and French horror films as well as more recent topics such as the 2016 American election and the unrest in the Middle East.

And those aware of her previous acoustic Americana sound will find a whole different musical landscape being explored here. Strange sonic threads of gothic suspense, of shifting and evolving song structures, P J Harvey style dystopian guitar lines and warped dream pop all wander through the songs and the result is something unique, thematic and for all its disparate elements strangely consistent and cohesive.

 

The result is a record which is switched on and questioning without resorting to being stuffy and academic, which breaks out of conventional styles without becoming too challenging but above all is filled with compassion and if there is one thing that the world needs tight now….

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New Music of the Day – CLXXXIII: Mildred Pierce / Millard Filmore – Emerald Suspension

17239825_999485276819642_2033877419708257753_o-1I’m a great believer in the approach that if you are going to cover another artist’s work then in doing so you should at least bring something new to the table. When Minneapolis noise manipulators Emerald Suspension decided to take on Sonic Youth’s instrumental alt-rock blast Mildred Pierce they seemed also to have a similar mindset.

The original is already a leftfield slice of underground intensity yet the band manages to push it into new territory by rendering it into a heavy, industrial piece of subversive dance fuelled rock. But only once that is well underway do they throw in the curve ball. The Millard Filmore part of the song is a new interpretation of the original based on a rearrangement of the notes and exploring the same crescendos of noise and madness that was the eventual destination first time around.

 
It is, therefore, part familiar, part new ground, part homage part deconstruction, part a journey through hallowed alt-rock ground and part a striding out into new sonic territory. Dance-punk perhaps? It also seems logical that the video resets Alice in a whole new wonderland, one just as mad and mercurial, confusing and euphoric.

Sometimes music doesn’t have to fit into neat boxes, in fact the best music never does. The fact that this new take on what was already a seditious rock beast seems to ask more questions than it answers is totally fine by me. Would life be boring if we knew exactly what was going on?

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Stronger – Brielle Von Hugel ft. B.o.B. – Exodus x Sweet and Sour remix (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

CpcCbLGWYAAGJ0qThe last time I encountered Brielle she was tugging heartstrings and weaving emotive strands via slick, chilled pop vibes like a jazz diva re-invented for modern times. It was wonderful stuff, elegant, classy, restrained and controlled. But everyone needs a night off, right? A chance to throw caution to the wind and cut loose and that is exactly the mood she is in here.

 
Right from the off you can hear the anticipation and tension building up in the beats, from a fairly spacious and considered start it slowly adds textures, beats, dynamics, it wanders through chic dance-floor territory towards a series of musical crescendos and vocal drops.

As you would expect her vocal range is what’s really on show here with a track that runs through so many sweeps, unseen twists and instantaneous changes of direction, and whilst the two vocalists seem to have their own vocal zones covered, Brielle in the higher registers and B.o.B. providing a low end base which grounds the song perfectly, they are both able to meet in the middle ground, contrasting, competing and complementing perfectly.

 
Having already proven that she can deliver innovative, sophisticated and ultra modern pop, here via the contrasting lyrical flow of B.o.B. and the remix skills of Exodus and Sweet & Sour, she shows that she can equally master the euphoric dance floor filler.

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Cult Drugs – Blood Command (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

15589947_1522690071080180_7965760388394071732_nI like to play a game when the CD of a band I haven’t come across before slides from the review pile towards the player. Before its dulcet tones spring forth I try to second-guess the nature of the band from just the information on the sleeve – band name, album title and artwork. The names and titles here sound subversive, hard edged; the artwork dark and experimental; the lettering suggests a no nonsense approach. Metal? Hardcore? Alt-rock? Punk? It could easily be anyone of those.

 

By the time I’m a couple of songs in I realise that it isn’t any of those…it is, in fact, all of those! Whilst there is an infectious melody at the heart of what Blood Command does, it comes in a street smart, hard hitting package, one forged of intense drives, thunderous beats, banshee wails, punk attitude, hardcore swagger, euphoric dynamism and fist in the air anthemics.

But if you think that referencing those tried and tested genres is nothing new, the way that they use these building blocks to create something totally fresh, original and most of all exciting is the real trick here. At a time when rock and all its myriad subgenres are undergoing an identity crisis, when more than ever it needs someone to come along and bush aside the dead wood so that something new has space to grow. That something is Blood Command. But their answer to making some elbowroom is to roll a few hand grenades into the current complacent and stale scene and throw a gig in the smoking crater that it creates. And why the hell not?

PS: Includes Mariachi Hardcore….now you’re intrigued aren’t you?

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The Bitter End – Jamie R Hawkins (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

18009806_734866906673817_629951453_nI’m sure there are just as many, if not more, acoustic, solo, guitar slingers around now than there ever has been. Sadly in this age where anyone on a gap year feels the need, and sadly the entitlement, to be a musician, the increased musical traffic has not resulted in an upsurge in quality songs from exciting songwriters. Thankfully we have people like Jamie R Hawkins, a narrative driven songster who flies in the face of the transient acoustic pop wannabe I have just described.

 
Remember when songs said something, well something more than bedroom droning and of aspirations to be famous? Well, Jamie does and here he offers up another batch of songs forged from personal experience or at least personal observation. But more than that, they are songs that you can relate to, built around small kitchen sink dramas, universal emotions and everyday situations, honest stuff delivered with wit and wisdom and with his heart worn openly on his sleeve.

Jamie’s ability to handle a tune remains deft and confident and his poetic sense of place and situation remains strong and I’m glad to see that As Big As You made it to this album. Out of all of the familiar scenes and scenarios he conjures via his songs it is this reflection on what it means to both be a dad whilst trying to live up to the benchmark set by your own childhood memories, that is such a powerful song, the one that when I first heard it played live made me realise just what a eloquent lyrical pathway Jamie walks.

References abound, as they are always going to, not because he is sailing to close to any other artists wind but because the musical ship he has built to steer himself through the often difficult waters of being a career musician is both as sleek and practical as those employed by much bigger names. There is something of Paul Simon in the jaunt of the words and Neil Finn always crops up about this point in any review I write of Jamie’s music but I also get the sense that these are the sort of songs that should have been the hallmark of Paul McCartney’s later career.

Any new release from Jamie is looked forward too and this certainly doesn’t disappoint, but it goes further than that. It reminds you that on any given night amongst all the glitzy arena shows at one extreme and the Ed Sheeran wannabes playing to their mates at the other, if you search hard enough you will find a small pack of grass roots musicians delivering charming, clever and often beautiful songs about the human condition. Go and say hi to them, buy a CD, help them on their way…or at least help them earn the petrol money home, one of them might be Jamie and one day you will turn on the TV and be able to say, “see that guy there, I remember him when….”

Posted in acoustica, folk, pop, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

When You Come Around – Jonathan Cavier (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

unspecifiedAfter the country-tinged drive of Comes A Moment, Jonathan Cavier returns with something more straightforward pop and as it wafts past my senses I have finally managed to put my finger on the real power of his music. Yes, he writes great songs, they are accessible, infectious even, they have mass commercial appeal without resorting to gimmickry or studio tricks but the over-riding vibe I get from his music is that it all seems so…well, effortless.

The vocals rise and fall, emphasising the message or creating subdued contrasts, guitars chime delicately through out and strings wash through the spaces between, all the while the dynamics shift gears to create a wonderful flow without changing the speed of the beat. It is the gentle build of textures and musical layers that create the changing musical colour here rather than resorting to changes in velocity or volume.

And again Cavier lays down a pop template that many could learn from, one that walks the line between musical artistry and mainstream success. And the best part about it is that he manages to do all of this without seeming to break into a sweat.

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New Music of The Day – CLXXXII: Till I See You Again – Bunny Sigler

17202862_1258858720818471_2119709425558804782_nIt isn’t surprising given Bunny Sigler’s illustrious track record that this heartfelt message to those who serve their country sounds like a timeless piece of chilled Philly soul balladry. His past associations range from Curtis Mayfield to Jay-Z; he has worked as a singer, producer, and writer and is so associated with a sound that tugs at heartstrings that he was dubbed by industry insiders “Mr Emotion.”
And here he is doing what he does best with a smooth slice of soul-pop, one that taken at face value is an emotive declaration of love and loss, of missing friends and family and of looking forward to happy reunions. With the addition of a video that celebrates those in uniform who sacrifice so much, the song resonates even deeper in these difficult and uncertain times.

But a sentiment such of this only as powerful as the voice behind it, and Sigler proves that even in these later years of his career he is still able to deliver the goods…the goods being sweet harmonies and a voice so rich that by-passes the head, lingers long around the heart but ultimately embeds itself on the very soul of the listener.

 

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Shout Out – Hip Route (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

17904258_10154735700139387_7920482910234437923_nSo what do you get when you take the funky, rootsy blues of Hip Route and add in the distinctive and raw vocals of Reef’s Gary Stringer? An infectious, bass-driven slab of sassy, low-end swagger and attitude filled earthiness, that’s what! Stringer makes the perfect vocalist for the song; his voice has the same wonderfully rasping delivery that Jim Blair’s does, the same rolling growl when pushing the note, so what he brings to the table is less a new sound, more a new level of intensity to the existing one.

Musically it plays to Hip Route’s strength’s – their ability to write concise, memorable rolling riffs, their skill at knowing how to thread the bear minimum together to great effect, to deliver sparse beats, spare yet pulsing bass lines and the fact that they write songs which without intentionally aiming for the commercial market are often as dance fuelled and rug cuttingly contagious as anything deliberately trying to play that game. Hip Route just do it at half the speed with a quarter of the beats and a fraction of the notes and still come out clear winners. If my memory of childhood Latin classes doesn’t fail me I think the scientific term for what we have here might be Groovus Maximus and if not, why not?

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Authentic – The Nick Tann Trio (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

17758411_10153790530632168_2464514178086391864_oIf you have mainly encountered Nick, as I have, in the guise of solo, acoustic guitar slinging, jazz tinged, folk-pop performer then what you will find in his move from lonesome troubadour to minimalist band leader is the ability to combine the best of both worlds.

At the heart of the sound is the familiar balladry, emotionally driven personal narratives and rich vocal tones but now there is some wonderful sonic augmentation. Nothing too dominating, just additional details, which gently colour the musical landscape, enrich the flavours of the songs and add some extra depth. The advantage of working with songs, which have had a life of their own already, just as live favourites Don’t, 3am and Sadder Than Sad have, is that they have already proven to be more that up to the job and require nothing more than a quick studio polish rather than a complete rejuvenation.

It would have been easy for Nick to get a bit over excited when embarking on this new recording as it marks a gentle change of, if not direction then certainly logistical approach and any change of tack opens up a range of new potential and a change to explore. But Nick is too seasoned a musician to get overly carried away with such distractions and if you cut him open you would find the words “less is more is a cliché because it’s true” written spiral like around his creative soul, like a stick of rock…or roots rock at least. . Thus he manages to retain the grace and grandeur that you associate with his songs whilst still bringing new sounds into those familiar musical spaces.

So from now on get used to seeing Nick performing as part of a musical gang again but on the strength of this recording it would seem that he has pulled off that rare trick of adding much without losing any of the inherent qualities he is already known for. Clever bugger!

Listen to the album, buy it and more information HERE

Posted in acoustica, contemporary jazz, folk, pop, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

New Music of the Day – CLXXXI: What’s Her Name – Smoking Martha

DSC_167931.jpgEven with the best of intentions, rock music has a habit of veering off into cliché and self-parody. But what if you could find a way of discarding the extraneous silliness and blend all those remaining exciting and integral threads together to make a low fat, straight to the point, in your face and genuinely fresh sounding subgenre. Imagine that? Or you could just listen to the new track from Brisbane rockers Smoking Martha.

They manage to combine the drive of hard rock without the overblown histrionics, the swagger of underground garage rock only without you feeling the need to shower after listening to the record, the attitude of punk but none of that nonsensical year zero rhetoric and the melody and sheer infectiousness of pop-punk though thankfully stopping short of the innuendo and cliché its associated image of gangs of overgrown American frat boys in big shorts.

That said, it doesn’t mean that this is some sort of rock-light or it in anyway compromises in its mission. If anything the sharpening of intent makes the music rawer, more visceral, edgier and more street smart. It also walks that fine line of cultishness and commerciality making it totally palatable to the rock creatures of the night, the discerning and those in the know but with the right push and certain doors being opened for them, Smoking Martha’s sound is one that could break through into more mainstream markets.

So the best bits from all rock genres, clever enough for the leather jacketed tastemakers but with a potential for a very lucrative career path? Does that sound to good to be true? You’d better go and listen to the track again, and again, and again….

Get it yet?

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