Heart in My Phone – Eli Tidmore (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

DHE93H8UwAA1NCWChange is inevitable but it is not always for the better, at least that is what you hear people moaning about as they get older. Thankfully, Eli Tidmore proves that even something as iconic as the love song can be updated to represent the technological age without losing the magic and majesty that such a sentiment needs to be built on.

The song wanders the pop-rock divide, pulling at infectious threads from one side and adding enough power chord crunches from the other to take things into some brilliantly playful and dynamic realms. The result is a mature but accessible song built on sharp beats and a groovesome drive, a sweet yet wonderfully understated chorus and more hooks than a Peter Pan convention. All of which are classic song writing building blocks perhaps but the real up date is to be found in the lyrics.

Like it or loathe it today’s world is mobile, instantaneous and on-line and so a “will they/won’t they” love story centred on modern communication is only to expected, art reflects life after all. But where as a lesser artist could make this cliché or forced, Eli’s charm is that whilst the focus is the clinical world of the phone message, the sentiment is timeless. Those tentative steps into a new relationship, that reservation, those doubts…the feelings people have been grappling with since we first climbed down from the trees and invented language with the sole purpose of asking each other out for a drink.

The world turns and whilst the trappings of life change, the way that the head and heart operate doesn’t and what Heart in My Phone really shows is that as much things change on some levels, they pretty much stay the same. Somewhere in the distant future out there in the vastness of space people may develop psychic communication over millions of miles but those young kids will still be getting the same flutters in their hearts as they wait for that all important reply.

 

 

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Different Note/Beat Before Breakdown – Suburban Vermin (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

17796140_10155001302511011_2672434511021850558_nThe wonderfully named Suburban Vermin continue their mission to pour all the snottiest, surliest, most belligerent and confrontational strains of music from the contemporary era into their sonic cauldron and create a new musical soup for the current disaffected and disenfranchised times.

In a whisker under three minutes Different Note manages to embrace the sneering punk, brutal tastes of the hardcore fan and misunderstood angst ridden grunger in one fell swoop. The raw and relentless drive will speak to metalheads and the dark and jagged undertones are a place even the estranged proto-goth can find solace. Call it what you will this is mutant rock at its finest.

Beat Before Breakdown follows its own advice and delivers something that sounds straight out of CBGB’s from that disease ridden golden age of the mid-seventies, put this in a Heartbreakers set (time travel required) and no-one would bat an eye lid.

If Suburban Vermin prove one thing it is that we can argue about generic labels, fashion and fine details but the spirit that runs through their songs is one that has been catching the ear of every wild eyed loner since James Dean first embodied the image over half a century ago. It isn’t really about the messenger it is about the message, the common ground, the tribal connection, the idea that you may not be as alone as you think.

The songs speak attitude, the lyrics drip bile and the whole package seems to be a vehicle for the dark underbelly of every musical outsider since the clock was first rocked around. It’s a wonderful skill to have, to be able to take every disinherited idea, every discarded and ignored, non-conformist expression music has ever turned its commercial minded back on and forge them into an all embracing, all uniting anthem, but its what Suburban Vermin do. Deal with it!

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Lotion – Gold Phoenix (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

20748278_1900626993509126_1993724630670170127_oEvery band should get to have their AC/DC moment. The Cult did it better than most, certainly better than Accept did it, Rose Tattoo did it in it’s native accent and Humble Pie seemed to do it through the use of time travel. Gold Phoenix has always wandered pretty parallel sonic paths but here they strip it down to its bare essentials, lead with a gloriously dumb riff…and I mean that as a compliment, four-four beats with just the right amount of swing and a large dash of innuendo. Sometimes that is pretty much all rock and roll needs to be about.

And if the template is familiar and rock and roll this straight-forward can’t really be about bringing much new to the table, Surrey’s finest (that’s the Jam fans pissed off then) use their inherent swagger and attitude to make up for it and then some. It grooves and grates, blisters and boogies, it snaps, crackles and rocks and somewhere high above the ghost of Bon Scott is looking down and saying something profound like….strewth baby, that rocks like a beast!

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Elmont EP – Elmont (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0079305756_16If in the minds of many, at least to those looking in from the opposite shores of that big old ocean as I am, music from the great state of Texas conjures ideas of outlaw country bands, boogie bluesmen and the cross cultural beat of the borders spicy groove, then Elmont are determined to write a whole new chapter in the musical history books. Pop, rock and indie sounds all mix with ease on their self-titled EP, but everyone and their uncle are doing that sort of thing these days, so why do these Dallas boys get it so right when so many others clearly miss the point.

I guess the obvious starting point is that they write good songs, often great songs and rather than start with a sound and look for a hit, they nail down the basics, the song-crafting and the penmanship and then give the song what it needs to fly and importantly never more than what it actually needs. No showboating, no unnecessary complexities or ego driven musical self-aggrandising, far from it. Space, atmosphere and anticipation are used so well in the songs that you could almost credit them as members of the band on the back cover.

And if Home was the early teaser for the EP it was also the perfect calling card, encompassing the vibe of the band in glorious fashion. Infectious, sing along qualities, brooding strings, lovely guitar details sitting well down in the layers of the song and a skittering beat made it, for all its restraint, an anthem ready slice of indie-pop. And it is in that ability to sound so big with so few musical tools that you find their universal charm.

Nothing In Particular…..in particular, shows off their ability to take simple hooks, playful dynamics and a chilled and groovesome rhythm, and make it stand ten times higher than it should, and that is of course the art of it. It doesn’t sound big because they have thrown layer after layer of instrumentation in and turned the volume up, it sounds big because it is accessible, vibrant, hookier that a Peter Pan convention and most importantly memorable. And then they fill the rest of the ep with similarly fine songs!

Apartment is the obligatory slow jam but again done better than most, blending staccato chord strikes, chiming piano and smooth and meandering guitar passages and Drama Queen reveals a little bit of their southern roots, an old school country groove for a new generation.

The appeal is easy to see, commercial enough for the mainstream pop-picker, slick enough for a more mature audience, virtuosic enough to hold their own in the toughest of music bars and with enough alt- or indie- credentials that even the underground movers and shakers will cast an ear in its direction. Finely crafted music with massive mainstream appeal? Whatever will they think of next?

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Complex Context – Josh Birdsong (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

20728033_1400111546763666_8728127087413778866_nPop music doesn’t have to be clever, in fact it is often at its best when it is relying on baser, more emotional driven urges. But every now and then someone proves that it is possible to blend the two, the cerebral and the passionate and the wonderfully named Josh Birdsong is the perfect example of head meets heart music. And if the term pop music may give you the wrong impression, though pretty much everything with an accessible quality is pop(ular) music to me, let’s dig a little deeper.

 

The charm of the Complex Context is that it builds its structure through chiming textures and delicate picking which when layered up create a wash of shimmering sound. Slip a simple beat under it and you have a gracious indie-pop hit in the making, one that should remind us that pop music can tug heart-strings but when done properly it can also stimulate the brain. Pop music has always invited you to dance, but sometimes it also wants to sit down with you, have interesting discussions and really give you something to think about.

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Panic Room EP – Chris Ellenwood (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Chris_Ellenwood_Panic_Room_Ep-front-largeI’ve had a run of acts come my way of late that fall into the broad hip-hop/rap spectrum and who claim to be really pushing the boundaries of what the genre can be as we move forward into a new era. Most, however, has been the sonic equivalent of dropping a hand grenade into the middle of the listener’s expectations and then trying to rearrange the debris into new and pleasing shapes. Sure, you really shake things, and then some, but you also find that the result is normally, well…a total disaster.

Chris Ellenwood has a much more consistent approach. Panic Room is the sound of urban music being intensified, inwardly focused, distilled to its essentials and then used to build a dark, gothic-hip-hop sound…now there’s a new concept. The beat and bounce of the music has enough groove to satisfy the mainstream but it is the back streets that he wanders, collecting unexpected musical details and re-appropriating other genres that make him stand apart from his chart-focused competition.

He blends trippy electronica, sonorous pulsing bass lines, neo-classical piano, found street sounds and fairly progressive structures into his dark and terrible sound. It is sweeping, majestic, chilling and above all brilliantly original and lends itself as much to a live performance as it does to the soundtrack to a street smart-horror movie.

 

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Going around in circles

shoe_gaze_best_songsMusic is cyclical, we all know that, 30 years seems to be the recognised time span for music to drop off the fashion radar long enough to seem cool or cult and be rediscovered and reinterpreted by a new musical generation. Brit-pop was a re-discovery of sixties guitar bands, punk was the distilled spirit of rock’n’roll for generation feeling similarly lost and even grunge had its roots in the garage rock and nascent metal scenes of a previous generation.

My own musical future-nostalgia moments, however, lie in an altogether more ambient place. Once the punks had shown us that making music was not just something for the dedicated, or indeed talented few, a whole movement of back bedroom aspirants began rewiring cheap keyboards and running battered guitars through homemade effects pedals and the result was glorious.

The sonic landscape that they described was one of drifting beauty and sharp angles, of raw guitars and delicate minimalism, of ethereal atmospheres and of industrial noise. It was supported by fledgling record labels such as 4AD and Sarah Records and was gathered into journalistic gangs and given names like dream-pop, shoe gaze, new-wave, underground-pop and new romanticism.

And if the likes of Kate Bush was proving that such new and defiant approaches could sell records via the more traditional model, bands such as The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and even The Birthday Party where the street corner punk hustlers pushing their own, more confrontational but no less beautiful sonic dreams.

And today, the circle has turned and those once lost, sweet sounds are finding their way into modern music once more as musicians discover that same acoustic beauty in the dusty corners of parents record collections and incorporate them into their own musical visions. Torchbearers such as Shameless Promotions gather and collect both new takes on the past as well as bands that have been carrying the flag for all these years. The Veldt’s reverb soaked soul, Ummagma’s chilled delicacy, the cavernous majesty of Tombstones In Their Eyes and Black Needle Noise building music for movies you haven’t dreamt of yet are the centre of that new exclusive universe.

Bands such as Fassine come at these sounds from another angle, one which links chilled ambient dance with futuristic pop, which is both massively commercial yet effortlessly cool, a chart headed Trojan horse to spread subtle influences through a musical charm offensive.

The one advantage of staying close to music for so long is that you get to see a new generation get excited, deconstruct and redefine the sounds that made you fall in love with music in the first place.

This new wave of bands both pull nostalgic heartstrings and point the way towards a bright new dawn and for that I can’t thank them enough.

 

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Scene and Heard CCXIII: Rotten To The Core – Canute’s Plastic Army

16831987_1846403518940780_7211224101304177335_nThe collective back catalogue of the wonderfully named Canute’s Plastic Army’s Neil and Anish covers a lot of ground, indie rock, traditional folk, raw retro blues and poetic alt-rock to name a few, but I doubt anyone expected to find them working in the realms of gothic-folk-pop.

 

The vibe of Rotten to The Core from the just released debut EP Building Walls, is obviously driven by the haunting and tense video they have added to the sonic package but this knowingly simple and deft track sits as easily in commercial territory as it does in the back room of folk clubs. If America has the bleak gothic majesty of The Handsome Family then on the basis of this song perhaps Canute’s Plastic Army are this country’s equivalent.

 

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Adirondack Guitars – The right choice for the left-hander

oThere was a time when being a left handed guitar player meant that you either had to retrain yourself to play right handed or you had to put up with a series of compromises. Compromises such as playing a flipped right handed guitar, swapping the order of the guitar strings and putting up with the controls all being in the wrong place. And none of these are real solutions, guitars are set and calibrated to work in very specific ways, a flipped over right-hander is never going to compete with one built specifically with the left-handed player in mind.

Thankfully with the massive expansion in the guitar market in more recent years, left-hand players are beginning to be catered for to the same degree as their opposite handed rivals and one of those champions is an independent shop nestled at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York.

Whilst the shop caters for the usual range of regular right-handed guitars, basses and other fretted instruments, it really comes into its own for the left-handed player, offering a wide range of options and an understanding that leading with the left doesn’t make you a second class musical citizen.

Whether you are looking to play rhythmic folk songs or blast out blistering metal solos, hold down rooted bass lines or play intricate jazz pieces Adirondack Guitars will have the instrument which suits your needs perfectly, or they will at least know a man who does! And beyond your specific guitar needs, everything from capos to cables, amps to accessories, strings, cases, picks and all the usual peripheral musical equipment is also available and of course basses, banjos, ukuleles and mandolins.

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Not only will you find the big name brands such as Ovation, Takamine and Washburn, in their quest to provide the most varied range of guitars Adirondack work with some very specialist companies and you will find everything from the beautifully finished Teye’s (they don’t come more gorgeous than the Electric Gypsy Fox pictured right) to handcrafted Cordoba acoustics, Kremona’s from the heart of Europe to collectable Swedish Hagstrom’s and of course big name domestic brands such as the Ernie Ball Music Man range.

Add to that the fact that there is always a clearance deal going on somewhere around the shop and with a steady flow of second hand and reconditioned instruments too, you never know what bargain finds you may stumble across from one week to the next. And of course like any modern shop international shipping is no object and full support, not to mention a vast about of industry knowledge, comes with any purchase.

IMG_3741_2048x.JPGBut of course as high tech and forward thinking the industry is these days, somethings can’t be improved on and people will always be looking for that original sound driven by authentic, not to mention, vintage gear. Used, road tested and pre-loved pieces such as a second hand Univox Vintage Uni-Drive OverDrive Pedal turn up from time to time, enabling you to not only create that breakthrough late sixties Hendrix-esque sound but own a piece of musical history.

In fact Adirondack Guitars do such a good job of catering for the left-handed player, in every way from guitar to pedal to amp and everything in between, rumour has it that righty’s are learning to play the other way around. Or so I have heard….

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We Rise – Morrissey and Marshall (reviewed by Ian O’Regan)

33574086453_1d967cea3eThis is the second album from the Irish duo now based in London, to follow 2014’s “And So It Began”, and is something of a mixed bag in terms of apparent influences and styles. Think Britpop meets Kasabian meets mainstream 60’s pop, and you’ll not miss the mark by much.

 Full arrangements, including lots of brass, driving rhythm sections and relentless layered harmonies, there’s plenty here to trigger the odd bout of involuntary foot-tapping, but whether the melodies and lyrics are catchy enough to be memorable or ear-wormy will largely depend on whether you already have an inclination for this kind of full-on pop rock.

 Personally, I found myself wishing for an occasional verse without harmony, all the better to enjoy the quality of the harmonies when they returned. And for something a little more roomy or spacious. I got it on track 9, “I Need You”, a lovely piano-led ballad that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the album.

 There’s proper quality on display here, with strong song-writing and arranging providing a strong foundation for a collection of songs whose similarity and consistency unfortunately, for this listener at least, means that the album as a whole is less than the sum of its parts.

 A slight change in the order of songs, with the two easier tracks placed among the rest, rather than right at the end, might have left an altogether more favourable impression. Perhaps my shuffle button will solve that problem on future visits. There’s enough positivity here to make me look forward to finding out.

 

We Rise was released via Mass Market Recordings on August 11th

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