Turn It Up – JV and Teej (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Turn_it_upCover_1If you think that hip-hop missed its chance to go wholly over ground as a musical style and that rap music seemed to jump the queue and became the radio friendly, unit shifting, happy to compromise, edgy dance music of choice, then JV and Teej are probably just what you need in your life. These two long-term friends blend elements of old-school hip-hop with a slick later R&B and a chilled funk vibe to create a sound which is both aware of its place in musical history, yet manages to keep things fresh and exciting as it strides off towards new musical horizons.

 

Casual choruses share space with more direct rap deliveries, the beats are solid, the flow of the song wanders through interesting dynamic shifts and underneath is a fluid musical wash which emanates both warmth and cool at the same time, if you know what I mean.
But if these guys are on a mission to remind us of the sounds of the old days, give us a glimpse of an alternative version of musical history, one where songs like this form a large section of commercial radio play, and give us a chance to reset things and aim for a more interesting musical future, it isn’t their only mission. Part of the proceeds from their new album will be going to ensure school kids in their local community remain properly feed and looked after.

 

The world needs all the help it can get at the moment, it is a time to bring people together and lean on each other. If you can further that ideal by releasing a song that may turn out to be the chilled party track of the summer, all the better.

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New Music of the Day – CLXXXVI: Say Can You – Divisionists

16114062_1592860377407524_5549494604827953279_nSometimes songs can be a peek into a bands record collection, which for a music snob and general nosey parker such as myself is never a bad thing. Whilst Divisionists are a current London outfit, their music skims sonic stones across a whole lake of earlier times and other places. Early 80’s California and the rise of the 60’s gazing Paisley Underground, the more muscular rock sound of Minneapolis, a Boston indie vibe, the alternative take of US college rock radio and hints of the more melodic end of Portland’s mercurial sound. You just know that after a hard day they relax with a bit of The Replacements, The Gin Blossoms or Green On Red…on vinyl of course!

 

But I’m not talking about plagiarism here, far from it, the sound that Divisionists make merely tips hats in these general directions, and why not? But it isn’t just about where they come from, it is about where they are going and I really like where they are going. It gives a new sense of direction for the non-fashion conscious (or possibly hyper-fashion conscious trend setter) indie kid, it offers an alternative to alternative…no-one really knew what that term meant anyway, it plays with pop infectiousness, psychedelic looseness, has edgy slashes of jaggle-guitars and travels with its foot very much flat to the floor right through the song.

In fact, I would be hard pushed to think of anyone who wouldn’t find their sound appealing and that’s not something you can say very often. Not all collisions, musically speaking at least, have dire consequences!

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Swirl – Dead Vibrations (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

2306919f-5cb8-4f4d-aa26-6ccf84e997c8Some time ago, out on a dark, lonely highway, an illicit meeting between the then members of My Bloody Valentine and Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster met to discuss the matter of who would inherit the throne. They came up with the idea of uniting their two houses, Shoegaze and Neo-psychedelia and the chosen heir was the, now of age, Dead Vibrations. Okay, that’s almost certainly not true, maybe I have been watching too much Game of Thrones but it does tell you a lot about the musical balance of the band.

On the one hand they play with sullen, shoegazing washes and walls of deconstructed noise, on the other they have the ability to hit the full on rock button and reign down shards of dark and jagged guitars. They hide the songs structures and indeed much of the vocal delivery under swaths of pulsing bass, dramatic beats and meandering, white-hot riffs. The result is a wandering, hypnotic noise-opera, aptly called Swirl, which comes packaged with an even longer, more languid and sleazy piece called Sleeping in Silvergarden, which as we all know is a city in Dorne. See, I knew I was on to something!

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It’s a Rotten Game – Shaun Barry (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Musical releases might be seen as just a station along a sonic train ride towards an ever more vague final destination; a place of access, an embarkation point on this journey into musical possibilities. Anyone aware of Shaun Barry’s journey so far will find a lot here that makes sense based on the innovative and often strange landscapes he has steered us through so far.

 

Like many of his previous endeavours this is a largely instrumental collection in that where there are vocals, they are found sounds, film dialogue from some of the most iconic works in modern cinema, from the wise to the witty and from the sublime to the ridiculous. Rather than sounding like an easy way out, this approach actually adds a lot of pathos to the music, striking, familiar and measured dialogue and all of the weight and meaning which that brings with it.

Musically we are in familiar yet somehow unfamiliar territory. Familiar in that you know that the music will be mercurial, forward thinking and adherent to only its own rules and restraints but unfamiliar in what it does within that formula. It wanders progressive paths, ambient climes, psychedelic crescendos and neo-classical charm, looks to new horizons whilst tipping hats to what has already gone, is both strangely comfortable yet oddly foreign.

It has to be noted that the same town has also produced Karda Estra and Mr Dog The Bear (currently writing in exile) who work in similar post-genre, cinematic and exploratory veins. Must be something in the water!

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432-1 Open The Vein – Nasher (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

NasherFor a man who came up through the frenetic punk years and then went on to play guitar for the hedonistic and provocative Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the Brian Nash of today seems somewhat more chilled, reflective, wistful even. But then we are all older, hopefully wiser, and have time to stand back and think about the world in a more considered fashion.

 

There is an immense soulfulness to his balladic folk-pop, a wonderful mellowness but one still filled with gentle hooks and infectious rhythms and shot through with wit, wisdom and nostalgia. And if Brian Nash is one half of this wonderful collaborative duo, the other is the city of Liverpool itself, his stories run through its back streets, fly over its rooftops and chase through its night, timeless and universal yet personal and heartfelt.

 

Maybe not what you are expecting from a man who once told a generation to relax whilst doing so to a beat that suggested nothing could be further from the truth. Here though, he really does sound relaxed at last but don’t think that just because the music takes a more soothing line that there isn’t a lot to be considered and absorbed in this grand collection of songs.

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Gold Rush – Hannah Aldridge (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

WEB_Image Hannah Aldridge Gold Rush (LP) -1675999699It isn’t just the various sounds that make up the songs; hints of country, heartland rock, southern gothic and more that create a geographical fix for Hannah Aldridge’s sophomore album. There is something else that inhabits the spaces between the notes, hangs in the pauses for breathes and lingers long in the fade out of tracks. Gold Rush may be autobiographical in looking at the things that have happened in the artist’s life but it is also a very specific biography of Southern culture. Not the clichéd or the obvious, but the deeper threads in the weave, the unseen wefts that the patterns are threaded on to, the darker structures. This is the world found in the backdrops of the writings of Lee, Faulkner and McCarty.

 

But for all the albums soul searching rather than find itself melancholic or self-pitying, it is an album that is resolute and defiant, demons are faced down, failed relationships are put behind her and the scars of life are worn as a badge of experience. It would seem easy to think that this daughter of Muscle Shoals legend Walt Aldridge would obviously have help at hand and indeed the pen and song crafting skills of the likes of Don Gallardo, Jordan Dean, Ryan Beaver and many more leave their mark on the album, but this is more an album of personal narratives and reflection, exorcisms and confession.

It is at turns wild, introspective, celebratory, regretful, boisterous and gentle, it is rock music with depth, country music dressed in rags rather than rhinestones, folk music with added Muscle (pun intended!) This is nothing short of Americana with a PhD!

 

 

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Sacred Earth – Sharon Shannon (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

s-l300None other than Louis Armstrong keenly observed that “All music is folk music, I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song,” and in his colloquially rich and triple negative way, he was right. If folk music is music by the people, of the people, for the people, then it doesn’t take much of a leap to see that old Satchmo was correct. Sharon Shannon’s latest album is the red biro underlining that idea

 
Although known for a core sound which sits in celtic, particularly Irish traditions, she proves that no matter where you go on this earth, which culture or region you find yourself in, the honest music of the land is a universal language, one which dovetails neatly into both that of its near neighbour and of far flung shores. And so it is that she travels genre, geography and time to find common ground from our shared musical expressions.

Hip-hop beats sit alongside classical charm, African rhythms vie for space with Canadian traditions and arabesque details embroider European folk splendour. Timeless musical birthrights join a more contemporary canon and urban urgency blends with pastoral passions.

 
At a time when the world seems more fractured and insular than ever, maybe remembering such universal languages is as timely as it is important, and Sacred Earth is nothing less than the perfect introduction to learning and appreciating that common musical tongue.

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An Introduction to Failure – Daudi Matsiko (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

avatars-000275681710-5rdcrz-t500x500Some music is made to be experienced on mass, a joint and joyous celebration to be shared with those around you. Other music is more of a one-on-one experience and Daudi Matsiko definitely falls into the latter bracket. More than just a singular experience it is also one that is personal, confessional and strikingly intimate as if the artist were on the listeners own therapist couch unburdening thoughts and feelings for your ears only.

 
It that very sparse and melancholic way of that defined the likes of Nick Drake and Damien Rice before him, Daudi blends gossamer thin sonic textures and half heard vocals to create a sound that begs the listeners attention for fear of missing anything. It is nuanced and elegant, mellow cascades of guitar picking providing most of the structure behind the voice, but for all its sparseness it is also warm and enveloping, creating an aura of hushed, late night conversations and shared memories.

It is amazing how much you can create out of so little, especially when the little you chose, rather than being the bare minimum, is everything that you need to communicate your thoughts in the most concise way.

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IOUOME – Duncan Lloyd (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

thDuncan Lloyd is nothing if not productive. As well as being the driving force behind Maximo Park and busy with peripheral projects such as Decade in Exile and Nano Kino, he has still found time to release his second solo album. And if Seeing Double picked up mixed reviews and was criticised in some quarters for lack of polish and variety, IOUOME will hush any dissenting voices this time around.

 
It is an album that not only knows where it is going but also knows where it comes from and where it comes from in particular, is a place after my own heart. It embraces a wonderful post-punk sensibility, evokes some hazy Paisley Underground vibes and displays the same understatement that Stephen Duffy built The Lilac Time upon. It takes all of those influences and builds a modern pastoral-pop with it, one which balances spatial awareness with the right amount of production polish, folk chill with rock urges and deals with personal narratives and universal conditions.

This isn’t music for the big hit or the commercial rat race, this is more considered. It is music to love and cherish for its depth and ability to communicate, for its lush textures, wit and wisdom, but most of all for the sheer quality of the song writing. Hit singles come and go but great albums stay with us forever.

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New Music of the Day – CLXXXV: Bright Yellow Shoes – Samantha Leon

17361528_646761688848400_7469107071540167774_nRight from the opening sound of the sonorous cello and the Nora Jones vibe, I knew that I was going to love this record. Pop with a lot of heart and an endless amount of soul, wonderfully unhurried and wrapped in classical guitars and sensual string arrangements and a vocal that is simultaneously timeless jazz diva and latest chart sensation. That’s a lot to fit in to one song yet it does so elegantly and sparingly, one element leaving enough room that the other can work its magic.

If pop music is normally built on drive and energy then this sits somewhere else on the spectrum relying on sensuality and a wonderfully languid delivery for its lulling and tasteful nature. Whilst the ambient feel of the instrumentation causes you to focus on Samantha’s voice, second and third plays reveal just how much is going on behind her through sparing, well-chosen and impactful musical details. A low key song this may be but rather than just serve the purpose of being sultry mood music, it lingers in the air long after it has hit its final note due to some clever choices and its extremely well crafted design.

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Gravity – Julia McDonald (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Julia_McDonald_GravityThere was a time, not to long ago that you had to make a choice between being a pop artist or a serious musician. One was the stuff of slick commerciality, high production values and easy accessibility, the other depth, integrity and longevity. Thankfully the world has moved on and now the lines between the two camps have become entwined in a wonderful middle ground that delivers the best of both worlds.

This is the world that Julia McDonald inhabits, one of pop sheens and commercial potential but also one what teases the edges of the song with dreamy vibes and sonorous atmospherics. One world adds credibility to the other and in return benefits from the potential of the wider market it operates in. For that reason, based on this luscious single, Julia McDonald should be able to do that rare thing of walk the fine line between mainstream pop and some more discerning and harder to please tastes. Not an easy thing to be able to do.

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Ghostdream – Nick Nicely (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

9822e7d8dcMost people build songs based on solidity – riffs, defined chord progressions, choruses, verses – you know all the stuff that has been tried and tested over many years by thousands of artists through millions of songs. But doesn’t that just mean that it’s time for a change? I’m not saying that Nick is the first person to visit these musical peripheries but he is certainly one of a very select gang of sonic explorers who from the 80’s onwards grabbed the emerging and increasingly affordable technology and used it to unlock and create whole new worlds.

Ghostdream is concerned with textures not structures, transcendent noise rather than conventional deliveries, moods rather than hooks. It blends strange space noises and clinical beats with sonorous washes, pulsing synths and robotic vocals. This first track off the forth coming album Sleep Safari is coupled with another strange and exploratory piece, making this what we used to call a double A side, though I guess new terms are needed.

The Otherside 2 follows a similarly ethereal path, playing with disjointed atmospherics before committing to a regular beat upon which to hang and order its musical ideas.

With lyrics often relegated to the role of another instrument rather than a focal point, the music paints pictures and suggests scenes and scenarios that are limited only by the listener’s imagination, irrespective of the composer’s intentions; you are the interpreter here, this is your dream. In just one listen I saw galaxies dying and being reborn, ancient city streets, I viewed the world from the top of mountains and I swam in its deepest oceans. All that and I hadn’t even had lunch yet.

Some bands like to think they are pushing boundaries but they are really just doing the equivalent of knocking the two downstairs rooms into one. Nick’s music is so transient that it seems to float through solid structures at an atomic level out into a wider, unbounded, barrier free universe. That’s how you deal with musical conventions.

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The Mothers Earth Experiment – The Mothers Earth Experiment (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

18485717_1302109889902920_6898810738426586778_nBefore we get down to the nitty-gritty of exploring the music too closely, right from the off the two things that scream out at me as I dip my toe in its sonic waters are the sheer eclecticism and the texturing of sounds. It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to Steely Dan’s Aja and there are more than a few similarities – the innate soulfulness, the progressive landscapes containing wonderfully accessible ideas, the execution of the musicians that somehow combines precision with a loose and often louche style. And simply the sheer scope of the territory being explored.

But this isn’t the seventies nor is it the West Coast. This is the 21st century and this is the West Midlands, which probably has a lot to do with the record’s often darker, more overcast and psychedelic vibe. Whereas with the aforementioned Aja you need to put on sun block just to listen to it, this has a more primal, edgy and ancient feel, even when grooving out on a sonorous jazz vibe or a funky shuffling beat.

This used to be called fusion music which normally meant either a rock band with ideas above its station or a bunch of jazz-hands dumbing down to find more lucrative markets. Thankfully this feels a million miles away from either but much more natural, just a collection of musicians conducting interesting genre-splicing experiments in hidden basements.

Pagan jazz? Psych-soul? Primal-funk? It doesn’t really matter what you call it as I doubt there will be enough bands who ever come close enough to these brilliant and mind bending sounds that we are going to need to think of a collective label. A genre of one? Why indeed not?

Posted in alt-rock, contemporary jazz, funk, jazz, jazz-rock, progressive rock, rock, soul, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Kermesse Machine – Manu Louis (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

16179743_1414131935264232_7056259334167412981_oSometimes you have to just realise that you are beaten, admit defeat and move on to the next job. No, I’m made of more determined stuff than that, so let’s have another go at describing Manu Louis’ strange and mercurial music in a way that at least makes a little sense.

The problem is that it is so wonderfully bonkers that it is difficult to know where to start. It’s pop, I guess…of sorts and it is very European, buoyant, it will make you laugh, it will make you bop around the room like a lunatic, it will make you want to hang out in strange underground Berlin nightclubs, join Iberian beach parties or go to Dutch pop festivals. It is probably just what we need to get this currently fractured world talking to each other again. Imagine if the answer to the world’s problems didn’t lie in skilled diplomacy or insightful policy-making, what if the answer was a collection of mad pop songs made by an eclectic Belgian composer! Imagine that.

But it is more than just pop, it plays with buoyant jazz, moody chanson balladry, video game style electronica, skittering 8bit bleeps and boops, atmospheric washes: it visits classical elegance and surrealist extravagance, children’s TV theme tunes and progressive landscapes. And I bet if I wrote this tomorrow I would come up with a whole different way of describing it.

Oh, I give up, just go and by a copy; it really is great… in its own, unique way. You will thank me…eventually. Maybe not after the first play, or the second, but in time you will come to see its strange majesty. And if you do, try writing a review, it’s beating the hell out of me.

Posted in alt-dance, alt-pop, dance, electronic dance music, electronica, pop, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment