I guess I should stop expecting music to fall into easily defined genres or neat pigeon-holes. Those days are gone and people like Matty Marz really aren’t helping. But then I wouldn’t want it any other way. Who wants a string of identikit rock bands, urban acts all sampling the same sources or soul music that just repeats the same pop tricks that we have heard many times before in a move to make a quick buck? Not me, give me Matty Marz and albums like Dandy any day of the week. The fact that I can’t sum things up in a quick and easy sound bite is exactly why it is so great.
There is something wonderfully tribal about Victoria Celestine’s latest single, not normally a “go to” sound for those in the pop field but it works brilliantly. Rather than opt for the usual dance infusions and clubland beats to drive the song, taking this primal sound not only makes it stand out but really drives the point home through the simplicity and power of such an approach. We know that Celestine is great at delivering succinct and standout pop, Good Heart To Hide amply demonstrated that, but this time out she proves that she is also happy to break the mould and try something new. And that of course is where the most memorable music is found.
If Exponents demonstrated Agency’s distain for generic boundaries and for following other people’s pre-conceived ideas of what one musical style or another should conform to, Question’s continues very much down the same non-conformist path. Having made a name for taking strands of broadly urban music – R&B, hip-hop, soul and the like – and taking it to strange, illogical conclusions, this latest album shows that there is a lot of sonic territory yet to be explored. As R&B seems content to become a modern substitute for throw away pop and hip-hop gets taken to a lowest common denominator by a wave of mumbling, bedroom rappers looking for a quick shot at fame, Agency’s musical machinations remind me more of the early pioneers of UK’s underground 4AD label such as A R Kane who mixed soulful sounds with dream pop soundscapes.
Borrowed Time is the sound of past musical traditions, modern sonic inventiveness and future music potentials all mixing liberally in what can only be described as a fresh move for pop. For pop this definitely is, but it is pop with a soulful heritage, Valentine’s vocals alone leave that sonic finger-print on the track. But as deft and addictive as the vocals are, this is pop music built also from some gorgeous textures. Rather than the perfunctory, identikit sound of most of today’s chart bound competition, real thought has gone into the wonderfully layered musical threads that form the song’s body.
AALTA is not afraid to leave space when anticipation and atmosphere feel like the appropriate tool, sensual brass is brought in to carry the main riff, again a brave but wonderfully memorable approach and the cascade of subtle harmony vocals are exquisite rather than powerful.
Everything here is built with a soft and subtle touch and it is these wonderful gossamer layers of music threaded together rather than the usual big crescendos and blunt musical statements that actually land on the listener with a bigger impact and mark out Borrowed Time and indeed AALTA as being in a class of their own.
Ahead of the upcoming run of TC&I shows at Swindon Arts Centre I managed to grab a quick chat with Colin Moulding about recent events, a return to treading the boards and what the future holds. This time last year I had spoken to him and Terry Chambers about the release of their e.p. Great Aspirations, so I was interested to know how we got from that record to full band live shows.
“A few reasons really, all those songs I wrote for XTC, when I had finished recording them I just had to wave goodbye to them and I thought it might be nice to hear them in a concert setting as a lot had never been heard that way. This coincided with Terry thinking shall we play some live shows on the back of these new recordings but of course we only had four new songs. I knew he wanted to get back out and play live, that’s how Terry best expresses himself. I thought, I can’t go the whole hog, I can’t go back to a touring lifestyle, I have commitments but I can go half way and play some shows via a more considered approach.”
Whilst a lot of music seems to be made for the most shallow reasons, fame, money, ego a means to an end rather than the journey itself, occasionally you come across music which seems confessional, intimate, the narratives of an artist trying to make sense of their own life and understand the world around them. Watercolour Lies falls very much into the latter camp. At its most intimate it examines the authors own relationships and searches for honest truths beneath the outer appearances, at its most poignant it is nothing short of a bold dissection of The American Dream.
The Watercolor Lies of the title refers to the things that society and the system, even friends and family tell us are in our best interests but which later prove to be only hollow traditions. You get an education but you still have to work three jobs to make ends meet or you stay in a relationship because maybe it is easier or maybe you think they will change. Nothing is the way society, the media, politicians tell you it is but you go along with it anyway.
But for all its soul searching and deep questioning, Watercolor Lies is a gorgeous album. Lyrically it may often be confrontational but musically it wraps these thoughts in exquisite R&B grooves and soulful sound washes, hip-hop beats and alt-pop infectiousness. The title track in particular is a spacious and dark piece and taut with the frustrations that the lyrics highlight. Dreamers Howl which opens the e.p. is a wonderful blend of tribal hypnotics and shuffling, minimal dance floor beats and right from the start shows the thread of optimism that runs through the music in its “I’ve Got You” chant. Life may be tough but we can find comfort and support in those around us.
Enemy, which brings the e.p. to a conclusion is a beautiful pop ballad, both haunting and deeply personal. But it is this confessional stance which reaps the greatest rewards, once you are honest with yourself, once you know how you really feel, only then can you move on.
Watercolor Lies is an important collection of songs. For too long music has forgotten that it has a platform, a place to engage with like minded people, or perhaps change other point of view and that is exactly what Elaine Faye, the driving force behind the project, does here. She may seem like a voice in the wilderness in these troubled and broken days but sometimes the purity of such a lone voice can make it seem all the more powerful. And on the basis of this musically intelligent and lyrical eloquent collection of songs, E E Beyond should resonate with a lot of discerning music fans looking for artists who speak their language and who put those same frustrations to creative use.
I can’t work out if this is poignant, sad or just plain silly. It might be all three at once which would then actually make it quite brilliant. I’m sure there are childless couples whose life revolves around their pet cats but would those surrogate children be a reason to stay together in the face of a failing relationship? I guess the fact that many people would have to think long and hard about the answer to that is the reason that the song is so great.
There isn’t much in the way of music going on behind, a beat and a whole heap of melancholic sounds, the perfect accompaniment for the world weary and worn out vocals that they frame. In fact after a while the song starts to make the listener feel a bit down too, such is the power of music I guess but somehow you find yourself wondering if he did come home, did the relationship survive and what sort of a life a cat could have coming from such a broken home!
Throughout history, creative minds have always responded to injustice or outrage in their own way – Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica immediately springs to mind – and music is a powerful platform to air one’s own feelings on certain subjects.
Music can be political but at the same time still needs to be heard, so getting the balance between getting the message heard and remaining entertaining is tricky but this tightrope is expertly handled with Vanessa Peters’ 11thstudio album. She tackles broad subjects like politics and growing violence but also brings the listener into her more private world, sharing her self-doubts and fears.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a tubthumping political ride, it’s a creative mind writing about the world around her.
Like most solid albums the songs grow and evolve the more you hear them, and the result is something very homely and comforting but something that also has the intelligence to keep you on your toes knowing that dark times are just around the corner.
Peters’ voice is surprising resilient, not the strongest, but it sits just as happily in the softer moments as well as the rockier songs and her delivery is honest and invites the listener to come along for the journey, it’s a voice that you want to listen to.
The album’s opener, ‘Get Started’ is a gentle kick in the pants and a call to arms, yes things aren’t always buttercups and crumpets but we have a hand in our own path so make a choice and stick to it, no matter what stands in the way. This positivity runs throughout the album, even when she is laying her fears bare on ‘Fight’, it is quickly followed by ‘Lucky’, another slice of positivity. ‘The Riddle’ sounds like the best Radiohead song that Radiohead didn’t write, it has the acoustic guitar, the dreamy melody and distorted effects that the Oxford band produced during the 90’s.
The title track acts as an intersection midway through the album, announcing a slight change to atmosphere and, interestingly, the album seems to get better as it goes along, three of the final four songs are wonderfully up-tempo and reinforce what a strong and varied songwriter Peters is. ‘Carnival Barker’ is an almost humorous metaphor for the current American president and the sideshow that surrounds him (reminding me a little of the Talking Head track ‘Democratic Circus) and ‘Trolls’ rattles along before a return to more familiar ground in the albums closer, ‘What You Can’t Outrun’.
In this world of commentators, bloggers, vloggers and whoever else people listen to now it’s clear that songwriters are still powerful voices and I’m yet to think of a reason not to listen to this one.
There has been a real revival of the glossier end of the post-punk sound of late, I guess a lot of it has to do just with the passing of time. Eighties revivalism has seen slick keyboard sounds and big production move from the old hat category into the vintage section and is thus now cool and referential rather than merely nostalgic and dated. I’m sure films such as Ready Player One has helped things along in no small part. But to be fair to Gunship, they were doing this long before it became a bandwagon, they were frequent fliers to that decade before the movers and shakers deemed it okay to do so.
And that is why as they pile the references on, both visually and musically, you can say that at least they have earned the right, even revivalists can be trailblazers, everything is cyclical and you just have to chose your moment. Musically they opt for a sultry, late night vibe, one that clashes the neon glitz of the down town back streets with the up town glamour as borne out by the sultry saxophone.
Hints of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack seem deliberate rather than stolen and the visual accompaniment is not only a clear nod to the beach band in the opening scenes of The Lost Boys (plus the video is set in Santa Carla) but goes one step further, the man behind the gratuitous sax is Tim Capello himself. But as always Gunship do it better than most, maybe the art is to just be honest, to put your hands up and say “hell, we love that era so why not revel in it?” And why not indeed?
A strange title for a strange album. And I mean that in the nicest possible of ways. Strange is good, strange is interesting, strange is the opposite of safe, strange is unpredictable. Strange is often great and there are certainly many great aspects to this album. The first great thing is its approach towards genres…Matthew De Ver isn’t really concerned with such limitations and here he wanders between the ambient and the funky, the spacious and the groovesome, the beat driven and the transient, often within the space of one song.
What is also great about it is the analogous nature of the lyrics, which on the surface seem to be of a man setting himself against the challenges of the natural world, of climbing mountains, of taking on the elements, of being lost in the snow. Listen deeper and you find the real story and understand that these physical battles are metaphors for the loves, longings and losses of his own life.
The Climb is a funky opening salvo but largely the album is happier to deliver cooler and more considered sonics with Blood on The Snow being an intimate spoken word one on one conversation with the listener and Battle Alone a slow jazz infused trip-hop groove. Between these extremes songs such as Secret Keeper come on like Mercury Rev’s angelic soundscapes playing a dance card and Up To The Air is a looping and beguiling, alt-pop ballad.
It’s an album that reveals its greatness slowly, that rewards the listeners regular return, peels back its textures and layers through constant re-examination. If you are looking for a quick musical fix, this isn’t really the place but if you wan’t to make a new musical friend, and the best albums do come to feel like friends, this is certainly the start of a new beautiful musical relationship. How great is that?
There is a point where the past meets the future, an ever moving location on that cyclical musical loop that sees past glories become future potential, where the sounds of the past are recycled into new and exciting sounds for the future, that point where familiarity meets freshness. It is here that you find Function Space. This latest album is a set of slick art-pop songs and for every hint of Talking Heads outsiderness or post-punk reference there are a dozen more contemporary influences, such as War on Drugs or Foster The People.
Songs such as Reason are wonderful drive-time reveries, energetic and accessible, dreamlike and transient, which acts as a good touchstone from what Emilio Couchee has cooked up here and the album flows past ricocheting off the heartland and the heavens with equal joy. That Sound is a radio hit in the making but standing just far enough from the tried and tested, the predictable pop of the current clime as to hold a mirror up to that genres failings. Falling is 80’s pop for a new generation, taking all the infectiousness and groove of that era but somehow making it smarter, shrewder and cleaner limbed.
Pop music seems to have painted itself into a corner of late and now it sits caught in a trap of its own making. Thankfully albums like this show that there is another way, one that ticks all the boxes but which manages to break moulds too. A retro-futuristic classic in the making.
If ever proof were needed that music is a cyclical process, Sharp Divide is that wonderful blend of past and future combining to make something perfect for the present market. The album pulses with a post-punk heart beat and captures that musical innocence that existed back then, when those disillusioned punks took broken keyboards and newly available studio tricks and gimmickry and turned them to their new musical visions. Visions which became New Romantisicm, new wave, new pop, goth, indie-dance and shoegaze. But it also sounds like an album stood in the present day looking into the future of pop music. It’s all about perspective I guess, of where you are stood as the musical wheel turns.
It drips with wonderful dreamstate otherworldliness, it shimmers with indie majesty and crackles with pop energy, the title track itself being a lesson in laidback art-pop, of making music that is both brilliantly languid, effortlessly sultry yet compelling and cool. Bleed Me wanders into later Human League territory, when they were happy enough just to dance around their handbags on the nightclub floor and Losing Our Control is both the most cultish nod to the past and the most confident stride into a commercial future.
If you like dreamy indie music a la early Lush you will love the textures here, if you are a discerning pop picker you will fall for the spacious melodies and even dance fiends will fall for its chilled grace and groove. Perhaps if you go far enough into the future you find yourself arriving in the past and if you are going to try it, Sharp Divide is perhaps the best soundtrack that you can take along for the ride.
It’s easy to applaud acts brave enough to explore music in a place beyond tradition and genre, where all music, all sounds and styles are fair game as the building blocks for new, exploratory forms. Maybe we shine the spot light on such artists because the mainstream is so full of conformity and loves bowing down to narrow traditions of what is acceptable and what is not. And it is right that such artists should be singled out for such acts of bravery. But Anja Garbarek has been making albums this way for over a quarter of a century yet hasn’t yet, I feel, received the praise that she deserves. Though it comes as no surprise that names such as Mark Hollis and Steven Wilson have cropped up as small parts of the story too.
The Road is Just a Surface is a concept album, if we are still calling them that, the narrative of someone caught in a maze of their own emotions, exploring dreams and mental disorder, a very real world issue being exploring through a very otherworld scenario. And if that all seems a bit heavy on the listener, musically it is anything but. This is an album built from surreal pop and melancholic melody, slightly wonky and wonderfully a bit broken but highly accessible and full of charm too. Songs like The Witness blurring the line between a strange circus tune and late night ambient pop and tracks such as Confessional Memories wandering into swirling avant gardening, fantastic and slightly whimsical. Pop with a PhD? Absolutely.
A little bit of research shows that Diana Anaid (I see what you did there) has been around a while but the world is a big place and even the most connected of music journalists, or even people like myself, can’t have heard every artist out there so My Queen comes at me new and free of any preconceptions or media baggage.
Some people might say that My Queen’s detrimental aspect is that it sounds like a long lost 90’s pop-rock album. I say that its best feature is that it sounds like a long lost 90’s pop-rock album! It’s reminiscent of that era, of the likes of Morrissette, Phair and Hatfield, which sounds a bit like a law firm but isn’t, of that ability to take rock muscle and bolt it on to pop melody and then fill stadiums and sell millions of albums.
Tracks such as Braveheart show Anaid’s skill at blending alt-pop intrigue with strange dreamscape interludes, Can’t Apologies her skills at harnessing big rock and roll sonic extravagance, that middle eight coming straight out of the Mott The Hopple book of rock and the title track a slow burning ballad that builds into epic crescendos.
People don’t really make albums like this any more, except of course Diana Anaid. Maybe more people should.
Bristol based multi-instrumentalist producer and visual artist SHE MAKES WAR has released her new single ‘Devastate Me’, taken from her upcoming album Brace For Impact. Pre order the album here.
A blend of raucous guitar and infectious vocals, ‘Devastate Me’ is an unrestrained commentary on the impact of our collective online presence on our lives, from stalker exes to the hysterical screeching of Twitter.
She Makes War mastermind Laura Kidd comments “It’s about photography as a reflex, the way people overshare online and how when we die our online profiles just stay there. The internet is amazing – I’ve built my career using it, but it can be so awful.”
Simultaneously scintillating and scathing, the track is an infectious dose of punk-infused pop with a conscious message. The track is taken from her upcoming album, Brace For Impact, the follow up to 2016’s acclaimed Direction Of Travel.
Not that there was ever any doubt, but the fact that Palm Rose choose to open this debut e.p. with a song built of transient grace and gentle drifting qualities, proves that they know just how good their songs are. They are probably too modest to admit it but deep down inside they know. Most bands would go in big, play the obvious single, get the listener fired up, make a big impact and then try to ride out the wave of enthusiasm before it peters out. Not Palm Rose. No sir. Even when they are doing nothing more than delivering simple but soaring vocals over a musical dreamscape wash, they do so with more poise and integrity than most of the bands on the contemporary alt-pop scene.
It is this ability to use minimalism to maximum effect that means when the chiming guitar tones and understated grooves of Where Are We Now kick in, it sounds like the biggest song in the world. It’s all relative… relatively speaking. And that is the great thing about the band, that they understand space and atmosphere, how to build anticipation and allure through what is not being played, which means that even the gaps between the notes and the pauses between the lyrics become powerful musical tools. Not an unknown concept but certainly a much overlooked one.
Move Slowly captures a slight Morrissey vibe in Adam’s voice which, twenty years ago would have been a talking point, now it is best to gloss right over and Tender Crush/Heartless Love is a wonderful slow burn running between atmospheric pop and shimmering shoegazery. The swan song of the collection, Daydream in C is a perfect coming together of the bands ability to write pulsing bass hooks and infectious riffs, of soaring majesty and widescreen cinematics. Perfect.
If you took almost any current indie-pop album, folded it up, took a pair of scissors and cut out shapes of little people so that when you opened it out again you had a row of joined dancers…well, I suppose that you wouldn’t be able to play those albums again! If, whilst wondering why you did that in the first place, you put Daydreams on they would probably all start grooving around to the music. Or something about leaving gaps in music, or less being more….I don’t know, I’m not good with analogy!
Lights on Moscow is a collaboration between Justin Lockey (Editors/ Minor Victories/ Mastersystem) and Hazel Wilde (Lanterns On The Lake)
The pair were living near one another in Newcastle when the songs took shape. However, the creative journey they shared began years before, where the duo originally performed the songs during a trip to New York. In the intermittent years, neither were in the right head space to release the music. Only now, years later do they feel comfortable sharing their music with the world.
“It’s strange how the timing of something can make a difference. We always knew it was something we’d come back to. And now we have” says Wilde of the project. The idea of ‘waiting’ is certainly at odds with an industry obsessed with speed and the present – but the single highlights a timelessness in-keeping with the ethos of the project.
If you needed any more proof that music genres are a thing of the past then just listen to Heavy Fetish, well the e.p. in general but this track is a good place to start. Sitting somewhere between dystopian pop, industrial rave, future doom rap and electro-glitch, not that any of those genres actually exist, It Was All a Dream is an exercise in where we go next. At least in theory. Kicking down the barricades is the easy part, it is what you build from the wreckage which is the telling next step and Jayne Gray has created something that tells us a lot about where we come from musically, but as a signpost as to where things might go next it is truly fascinating.
Venus (Bleed Electric) is a skittering, warped mutant jazz-trip played via possessed synths and beats programmed by a madman and Fall In My Love (VIP) is a squalling, screeching pop strut but what pulls the four songs that make up this e.p. together is her wonderfully detached voice, one that sits somewhere between that of a world weary human and a robotic entity that has managed to break its programming and is exploring art for the first time.
It’s a strange, challenging and ultimately beguiling glimpse of future and considering the production line dross and landfill pop that is currently cluttering up the air waves, it’s a future that can’t come quickly enough.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that John Andrew Fredrick is set in his ways but even he would be the first to admit that after fifteen albums he has a certain musical signature. How could he not, all artists have one. It’s the sound of the artist’s personality coded into their songs, their subconscious essence binding with the DNA of their music so much so that the two become, to a degree, synonymous. And, knowing this, it is exactly why the illustrious Mr F. made a conscious effort to record an album of music which deliberately moved away from the path so deftly travelled so far.
A dance record with minimal drum beat drive? Syd Barrett fronting New Order? A move away from the unexpected commercial viability of previous album The Gospel According to John and a return to more obscure or at least less obvious roots? It runs with all of these pre-planned considerations but like any good album, and this is indeed a great album, it is more than the sum of the predicted parts. And whilst it certainly has a bounce and buoyancy at times, as always, things are not quite that simple.
There are a number of central themes to these intricate pop songs, magic for one, but not magic as some mysterious otherworldly power but more magic as an ingredient to a happy life, the glue that makes relationships work, the magic of the unplanned, the mystical energy that makes things complete.
Some songs live up to the dance vibe that is cast loosely over the record, Georgette, Georgette being a groovesome beast, 80’s vibe post-punk/new pop but given the passage of time feeling totally at the edge of a whole new wave of musical reinvention as well-rendered pop once more takes on the fickle fad and fashion of the status quo. From Hampstead Heath is a dreamscape of delicate and resonant picked guitars and Graymalkin Comes picks up on the early Syd qualities as intended.
Talk has surrounded the question of where next for John Andrew Fredrick as he has occasionally hinted at a move away from the music making side of his creative life. On the strength of Witches! it is obvious that he would be sorely missed. That blend of the obscure and the accessible. The intricate and the melodic. The direct and the textured. The cool and the cultish. The backward-glancing and the forward-thinking. All of those mutually exclusive ideas and dozens more beside inhabit his songs in a way that is rarely seen and I for one am not ready to see such wonderfully mercurial oxymorons slip into the back catalogue of musical history just yet.
The great thing about Paradame is that on the surface of things, her music seems to fit into some fairly neat boxes, exploring soul, pop, R&B and urban music strands. But the more you listen too it the more you realise just how subversive it actually is and that the reason that you didn’t pick up on its outsider qualities straight away was because songs like Cobra CMDR come wrapped in a brilliant sonic trojan horse. It is music which seems to be easily identifiable on the outside but has so many hidden depths and by the time you realise that it has managed to get past any musical prejudices or genre snobbery that might have got in the way.
It is a dark, sultry and edgy piece of sci-fi infused sonics, sitting somewhere at the centre of the perfect storm of street rap deliveries, dystopian pop, glitchy electronica and commercial infectiousness, a song that doesn’t follow the usual template, which is cool and cultish yet which is instantly memorable and clever enough to get a mainstream following with ease.
And visually it does something just as clever too. In many videos the women are just the material trappings of a male music master, not quite as important as the car, the bling, the weed, the money. Even when a supposedly liberating female popster appears to be calling the shots there is still often an obvious undercurrent of them playing a stereotypical image for the music money men. Paradame offers something new. These women are projecting real power here. Yes, they are projecting a sexy and sultry image too, but on their own terms and would you walk into that room alone? And if you did would there be any doubt who was in control?
As she proved on the brilliant Aye! Priori from which this track is taken, Paradame is not about trying to change things from the outside, about creating alternatives to the mainstream, underground scenes or new genres for the sake of it. She is about showing those with more mainstream tastes what they are missing, that music can be both challenging and chart accessible, that music doesn’t have to follow a lowest common denominator to be successful. Clever pop music, it would seem, is back on the menu. I bet you didn’t see that one coming?
Although built around a fairly simple dynamic, that of a soaring and euphoric, plea driven vocal juxtaposed with glitchy industrial electronica, it is such an effective concept I’m surprised that it hasn’t been done so well before. I’m not saying that the whole quiet/loud, on/off, binary music thing is exactly new, but the extremes that Mikkee takes them too is what really makes this work so well.
Short blasts of imploring and windswept deliveries, spacious and transient, constantly switching places with sonic mayhem and strange mech-alien sounds, simple but very effective. The video imagery also backs up these extremes wonderfully, the poeticism of the green and grey hills fast cut with a series of ever more strange and beguiling visuals, ones which pluck from the natural world, the industrial world, the artistic world and the open skies themselves.
What does it all mean? Who is he singing to? Is this unrequited love? Is this loss, longing, remembrance or merely dreaming? Does it matter?
Answers would only take away the strange and hypnotic effect that the music, and indeed the visuals, have on the listener. Sometimes it is better not to know the answers, a little mystery in life is a good thing. Right?
You turn your back for a few months and bands go and change their whole sound. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic but whilst there is a radical shift from the crazed alt-disco, warped synth-wave, vibe towards a much more rock driven sound, Siblings of Us approach towards music remains the same. For this is rock music in the same way that their previous endeavours were pop…in that it is anything but the usual approach. If Who Are We Anymore took synth driven dance pop music hostage, bundled it into the backseat of a car and went joyriding around the midnight streets with the lights off swigging a bottle of absinthe, then Gargantua pretty much does the same for rock music.
Thankfully Siblings of Us are one of those bands where you run out of generic labels, all the best bands do, pop-rock, alt-dance, electronic rock, all seem inadequate in the extreme for this is something much more madly and meticulously put together than those safe terms suggest. Pizza Lisa is what 60’s garage rock would have sounded like if the advent of the affordable synthesiser had happened a decade earlier and where as before Fonzy Armour’s high vocal register suggested a member of The Bee Gee’s having the most musical nervous break down in history, now the power of the music means that he gives any number of metal singers a run for their money. They won’t like that, I can tell you.
Chicago Glass Twins blends the staccato and the soaring and wanders between subtle drops and soaring crescendos that would give a lot of cinematic and symphonic rock bands reason to be jealous and Breed and Company is a manic clubland-metal anthem. And long before you get to A Gang Called Wonder’s perfect finish, its spoken word meets industrial pop meets dance intensity meets punk bombast meets….oh, just throw in your own made up generic descriptions…you realise that there is a brilliant by-product of their musical machinations. By creating heavy songs out of everything that is the very antithesis of cliched rock and by-the-book metal, Siblings of Us show it up for its safe and staid ways. There’s going to be a lot of unhappy people in patched denim jackets wandering around, I can tell you.
Active Bird Community today debuted their video for ‘Baby It’s You’, the second song released from their new album and Barsuk Records debut, Amends. The lighthearted Nick D’Agostino-directed clip can be seen now HERE.
Amends will be released on 26th October 2018 via Barsuk Records and is available for pre-order HERE.
“‘Baby It’s You’ is a song about love. But I think the song leaves me with more than just an ‘I’m in love’ feeling and more of a feeling of confidence that comes from loving yourself,” explains singer/guitarist Andrew Wolfson. “I think it’s reciprocal: confidence comes from self-love but it also takes confidence to love yourself. This pop star character Nick D’Agostino and I created in the video has all the confidence in the world and it felt great being that hero for a day.”
It’s nice to know that in this fast paced, over-driven, fashion conscious and largely conformist world we find ourselves in, there are still wonderful oases filled with calm and, more importantly brave creativity. Fufanu are custodians of such sheltered places and Typical Critical is a wonderful respite from the charging and single-minded, fast buck world that careers around them.
For a start it’s a song where almost nothing happens, which might seem like a detriment but if you chose just the right slices of nothing to balance the critical emptiness, then you can, rather than fill spaces, merely frame them. In doing so they build atmosphere, anticipation, restraint and a strange futuristic beauty. Their brand of near emptiness is not merely a lack of sonics, rather it is the gentle use of sound to shape the underlying beauty of the natural world, something sensed rather than heard and something more often that not buried under a band’s music in their rush to prove that they can offer something better than the timeless grace of a universe as old as time itself. Music that breathes in time with the world…cool!
There is a grace at the heart of Chantitown’s music which has rarely been seen amongst modern artists. It harks back to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Carol King and a small number of artists who were part of that wave of rootsy pop and folk-revivalists who are still seen as the golden age of the art. But, thankfully, she is also well aware that mere pastiche or copy-cat plagiarism doesn’t cut it in the modern age either and the skill she employs to fashion her songs means that although they beat with a quietly nostalgic heart, they also sparkle with modern sass and deftly wander all points in between.
The real charm is this seamless blend of an ambient acoustic vibe with seeping electronica, of majestic but distant atmospherics, of intrigue and anticipation, of restraint and understatement. Even when the textures and sonic layers are writ large they are done so in a water-colour style application rather seeking to make their point through vibrant, thick oils. (Not the best of analogies but I’m sure you understand the point I’m making.) The result is a series of windswept and gossamer like sounds hanging around the lead lines rather than anything more intrusive or bombastic.
Truth immediately draws comparison with Natasha Khan’s gorgeous electronic balladry, the same ethereality meets electronica, emotive ancient sentiments evoked through cutting edge musical technology. And Bat For Lashes is not a bad reference point, sharing the same eclectic approach, the same blend of past and present, the same genre-hopping, musical gene-splicing and, in the case of this track in particular, the same exotic blend of eastern spice and western bite, of occident meeting orient.
At the opposite end of the dynamic spectrum Prince of Pain is the most dominant of the four songs presented here, but even then it still works more in an ambient surrounding than a pop one, yet like all of Chantitown’s songs it walks a fine line between the cool and cultish, and the accessible and commercial, and that is a trick that most artists never master. But here it is done so skilfully that you could almost use this as a template as to how to blur the lines of those two, often conflicting, worlds.
But it isn’t just the music which is tantalising and enticing here, Cause and The Cure in particular is spacious enough to showcase what an astonishing voice she has, weaving narratives which take in the personal and the poetic, which shift from direct, almost spoken word deliveries to the harmonious and cinematic, a style which runs through all of her songs but which for my money is epitomised best here. The final song found in this showcase of music is Mother of Sun, an epic, slow burning thing of haunting beauty, though, to be honest, that is a phrase which could apply to anything which has gone before.
In Chantitown I think we have found someone truly important, someone game changing, someone who sits on a line that links Joni Mitchell to Kate Bush to Portishead to Natasha Khan and who shows that music can be accessible, infectious and beguiling and also (fingers crossed) commercially successful, without being obvious and cliched.
If you ever doubted that music could be a unifying force then you need to see what Motazedi has been up to of late. For not only is I Am From Earth a wonderful life-affirming, cross-cultural slice of glorious and groovesome pop, its very creation is an act of bringing people closer together. Artists from Portugal, USA, Russia, Italy, Poland and the instigator himself in Canada provided their various contributions to the song remotely, only getting to virtually meet each other when the video itself was put together. How cool is that?
It’s a song with a great groove but an even better message. A message of unity, global community spirit and collaboration, of creativity and shared joy, something that the world seems in short supply of at the moment. As walls seem to be going up all over the planet, as we see people being excluded or treated differently based on any number of socially invented demarcations, we need projects like this, projects that take people at face value, that build musical bridges rather than social borders. In fact, this song needs to become the anthem for the growing movement that rejects culture, class, colour and creed and accepts that no matter where we are from or what we look like we are all citizens of the same small planet. We are all from earth. Let’s make that happen. Who’s with me?
Those of a certain age, myself included, remember a time when the first wave of bands emerged wielding the newly accessible synthesiser rather than the more expected guitar and the death of music was heralded in certain quarters. But what those rock classicists and pop purists couldn’t have predicted was that far from burying music, the new technologies saved it, to a point now where whole sub-genres in their own right and pop music in a more general sense sound they way they do today largely due to this change. How boring would the state of the music world be if we still thought that guitar rhythms and full kit drums were the only option. The world would be a much emptier place, for a start we wouldn’t have Temporary Hero’s deft and dulcet tones to revel in.
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that Jonah Bell, the man behind the moniker, is as much an eclectic warrior as he is an electric one, releasing everything from high octane dance hits to tribute albums to the likes of Bing Crosby and Chet Baker in his own inimitable way. To Bell there is no underground or mainstream, no generic demarcations, no tribal music affiliations, nowhere that is off limits for him to explore. There is just music to be made, music to be celebrated.
What You Wanted, the latest from his very busy release schedule, is an album of chilled dance creations and indie-pop wandering between sharp clubland sounds and spacious ambient vibes. At one end of the sonic spectrum there are songs filled with sultry grooves such as opening salvo Suitcase, the dynamics and dance floor hustle of I Didn’t know What I Was Doing and even some rock riffs blending with the late night chill of Consequences. What You Wanted even collects some sassy jazz-soul sounds and puts them to a compelling and minimalist beat. Elsewhere songs such as Sacrifice are built on more brooding tones wandering between slick beats and dark reflection and Fear is an intimate and emotive torch song built on vocals and a plaintive piano before heading towards a restrained crescendo…if there is even such a thing.
What You Wanted proves that the broad field of pop music has room to accommodate many different styles, that it isn’t always about obvious dance floor instant hits, although this album has its fair share of those. But the charm of the album, for me at least, is what is happening between those more obvious musical outings. The use of space, the dynamic twists and turns, the gentle merging of styles, both from within the dance world and beyond. It also reminds us that electronic music is a technique rather than a genre, a tool rather than the finished artefact and you can use those same technologies to explore any and every corner of the music spectrum, that confining yourself to the traditions and heritage of clubland is a step backwards. What You Wanted is not that, this is definitely a bold forward step. It is the path pop could have made if it had decided to explore more serious territory, it is indie music that doesn’t merely follow the latest fashion. It is indie-pop music in the truest sense of the word. It is exploratory, generically shifting, dynamically clever, mercurial and unexpected.
In fact if one track sums up the album as a whole it is, perhaps unexpectedly, Natural. Musically it is chilled yet groovesome, full of space and restraint, it seems to hang just out of earshot, distant music coming from somewhere just out of reach. Lyrically it is beautifully romantic, a far cry from the clumsy lyricism, if it can even be called that, which passes for pop-dance lyrics these days.
Dance music for the future? Alt-pop for the underground? Mainstream music for the discerning listener? Stylistically shifting tunes for the post-genre word? Yes, yes, yes and yes, it is all that and more.
There are a lot of ways to make an impact with the opening salvo of a record. Many take the obvious and over done step of coming out with all guns blazing, of taking the more is more approach and shooting their musical load in one embarrassing opening act. Catgod are smarter than that, but we’ve always known that, and they chose to offer a heart tugging, slice of chilled pop as their opening gambit. On the titular track Cat’s voice is the perfect blend of ethereal and emotive, soaring yet lyrically delving into deep rooted inner feelings as the music – tinkling pianos, gentle harmonies and subtle beats – build around her poignant pleas.
Let Go wanders similar spacious, dream-state pop pathways, vocals contrasting and then combining as they build a lulling, soothing musical cocoon out of gossamer sounds and sonic haze and Keep My Promises weaves arabesque vibes through alt-popness. Owing You wraps the e.p. up, a shimmering gathering of soft spoken word, lush harmonies and meandering music occasionally cut through with electronic shards as it builds towards its crashing crescendos.
If you think that pop music needs new places to go or to further explore until now suppressed elements of its own make up, then Heartbeat in My Hand is for you. If you are looking for an alternative to the production line pop-pap but still crave accessible and commercially viable music, again this is something that you are going to check out. If you crave the fledgling days of dream-pop or just hold that music should value beauty as much as success, that something can find a sizeable audience without necessarily pandering to the fickle finger of fashion or merely re-inventing the wheel, again Catgod is your go to band. In fact, it is hard to imagine who would not find much to love in their lush and deftly crafted musical halls.
Anyone who shows up in the review pile with a CV that includes Throwing Muses and Belly, as Fred Abong does, is going to get a free pass to the front of the queue. After all, why would any sane journo’ want to be writing about some mumbling bedroom rapper or vacuous pop wannabe when they can be revelling in new music by someone who literally helped define the art-punk, alt-rock landscape? Why indeed?
Homeless is a collection of six songs delivered as wonderfully ragged acoustica, infused with edge and emotion and sitting at the end of a line that runs through the likes of Buffalo Tom, Elliott Smith, Iron and Wine and understandably sharing both spiritual and sonic space with Kristin Hersh.
Opening salvo Plum is raw and hypnotic, a blend of dexterous picking and a world weary vocal style and Rattler wanders dynamically between a confident troubadour busk and lulling and emotive lows. But it isn’t all edge and alternative acoustic pathways, Hi Avalon takes those same rough ingredients and mixes them into a sweet serenade, wonderfully honest, brilliantly intimate, proving that it isn’t how much you put into a song but how truly the sentiment comes from the heart. Any one of these songs carries more integrity than your average wide brimmed hat sporting, chart bound folk-popster could muster up in 5 full albums.
Sometimes it is the simplest things which are the most powerful. Why over complicate, over polish or over think things when all you need to do is record what comes from within, the real you? A lesson that many of those chasing fame fail to learn. What good is the platform that fleeting, mainstream success affords when you have nothing to say? So many rhetorical questions?
It isn’t often that a record confounds me, but Two Things is a strange track to get my head around. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing, after all who wants to be writing about yet another bunch of charisma free guitar slingers trying to be the next Foo Fighters? And why would you want that anyway? But I digress. Cloud Daddy and the Kingston Big Smokes make fascinating music and Two Things is a strange blend of wistful dream-pop, glitchy electronica, spoken word and cannabis infused ambience.
It meanders along on a chilled beat and a blissed out philosophy. This is music made by stoners for stoners, the sound track to the simple things in life, the warm glow of love and a righteous buzz. It comes as a double track release accompanied by Elizabeth, an even more scratchy and warped take on their brand of ambient stoner pop. Both tracks are as brilliant in their originality and non-conformity as they are in their strange in their beguiling addictiveness. If ever there was a hippy music revival you can forget all those nostalgic notions of folk singers and psychedelic wig-outs, Cloud Daddy and the Kington Big Smokes is exactly the musical heart that such a movement would beat with today. Make love not wardrobes…or something.