Scene and Heard – CCLXXX : On The Radio –  James Donnelly (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0377525900_2There is an art to making music which seems to buzz with contemporary vibes yet echos with the sounds of the past but that is exactly the mix that James Donnelly manages to bring to On The Radio. In an era where pop music, because this is pop as much as it is folk or roots or music hall or anything else, seems to ever more seeking to re-invent the tools that it uses to make its sound, here is something different. Not only is it music forged from traditional instruments, it is forged from instruments, ukulele, accordion, piano, which are either associated with more niche genres or bygone eras. Yet this is as fun and funky as anything else you will find doing the rounds today.

On The Radio is a homage to the power of music, specifically, as the title suggests, music emanating from the radio, music chosen by a third party, a seemingly random event that in this planned and predictable world where all media seems to be at the control of the listener, still has the ability to deliver the present surprise of a tune you weren’t expecting to hear. There is also something of the mercurial blend of Caribbean sass and urban cool that Paul Simon was a great exponent of in those early post S&G days and that is always going to be a good thing.

It is this blend of urgent folk, roots and a post-modern take of what popular music sounded like in the past, from early jazz dancehall tunes, to folk-revivalist troubadours to the current re-examination by artists of many of those core sounds. It is spacious and even through it drives along with energy and groove, there is plenty of room for each of the musical elements to have room to breath creating a wonderful mesh of interlocking yet identifiable sounds, rather than the usual pop wall of noise. Hats may be tipped to the past but this is certainly a song for today, for the young, discerning and hip.

In short it is music made with no limits, geographically or generically and exists in the present only because it has one foot in the past and the other in the future. Maybe if we spent less time trying to decide what music should be and how it is made and just let it all naturally fuse together ignoring rules and tradition, fashion and fad we would end up with more albums like this. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

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Where’s The Magic –  Band of Gold (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

iuYou have to love an album which comes at you like the future of pop music whilst effortlessly blending past golden ages and Where’s The Magic does all this and more. For every cutting edge synth line there is a funky groove, for every futuristic dream-pop vibe there is a jazz-soul heartbeat for every forward thinking idea there is a wonderful past reference. And I guess that is really how things get moved on. Musical revolutions are fine on paper, but they are more the stuff of journalistic copy than really changing the musical world. But blending the past with the present to usher in the future, that is actually where it is at…that is Where The Magic is.

There music is effortlessly accessible, songs such as I Wanna Dance With You Again being an instant future pop classic , the slow burning I Could Spot You In A Hundred Miles blending mercurial chamber-pop construction with strange infectiousness and the title track coming on like a long lost and wonderfully quirky Fleetwood Mac song.

And if the music is beguiling Nina Mortvedt’s vocals match it step for step. Able to wander between sweet soft-rock grandeur and underground pop cool, she lays down lyrics which are wonderfully introspective via a delivery which is rich, expressive and sensual. Put the two together and Band of Gold prove beyond doubt that the future of pop is in safe hands.

Veil –  Richard Wileman (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Veil cover.jpgOne of the restrictions of working with music that is so textured, intricate and dynamically fluid as Richard’s usual musical vehicle, Karda Estra, is that when it comes to live shows, the logistics surrounding the amount of players and gear that would be required to do the music justice is generally too prohibitive. Veil, therefore, feels like his pulling together a body of work, some new songs and instrumentals and some reworked pieces from the Karda Estra canon, that can form the basis of small, intimate live shows. Shows that can range from solo performances to slightly enhanced versions of the same as space and musician availability dictates.

What is great is that you get the best of both worlds, new, stripped back sonic journeys but ones which are built on the same creative pulse, musical references and progressive world view as Karda Estra. (Progressive here is used in the broader, genre hopping, rulebook ignoring sense, rather than any connotations of people dressed as wizards, singing about epic quests…possible performed on ice!)

Last Grains has a wonderful 60’s chamber pop feel, cascading vocals and jaunty guitar work really putting a Chelsea booted spring in the song’s step and at the other extreme Unmarked on Any Map is a haunting piece of pop noir. And alongside these more song based approaches, the more fluid form classical explorations are also given room. Andromeda Variations for Guitar being, as the name would suggest, a wonderfully dexterous, short acoustic guitar piece, hints of Iberia hanging between the darker passages and Amy Fry’s spotlight moment, Chaos Theme For Clarinet, hanging between the sound of a Midtown Manhattan jazz lounge and a slightly whimsical dystopian soundtrack.

It is a collection of songs that shows that even without the usual wide array of musical trappings, the heart of Karda Estra, and Richard Wileman’s music in general, is just as wonderfully mercurial and beguiling even when stripped down to its core. It shows too that the intricacies and originality are central to the way he writes and not merely the result of hanging strange textures and off kilter layers on more conventional structures. And more than anything, if this album marks Richard as a more regular fixture on the gigging circuit, for that alone it is an important step.

The Night and I Are Still So Young – The Heavy Blinkers

The_Heavy_Blinkers_(cover_artwork).jpgJust when you think the art of sumptuous, widescreen harmonies have been consigned to the past, along come The Heavy Blinkers to put it back on the musical menu. Well, let me qualify that, this is a reissue, but even 13 years ago when this first saw the light of day, that statement still held true. Given the state of the music industry today, the one grooving to the cash till ring of commercial success up in their ivory towers not the cool one I get to rub shoulders with at least, its re-emergence couldn’t have been better timed.

The Heavy Blinkers sound very much doffs its hat to classic harmony pop artisans such as Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach but is also a sonic sibling to the likes of Mercury Rev, though without the strange mythology and lyrical mysticism. If their brand of chamber pop exudes a 60’s feel it is only because it’s a style that has rarely been bettered since that decade, or so we thought, as this is proof that at least in some quarters it never really went out of fashion.

The music is supple and sophisticated, wonderfully textured and poignantly orchestrated. The instruments dovetail seamlessly providing a smooth and intricate backdrop full of fleeting motifs, half heard details and clever weaves of sound, a far cry from todays “is it my turn in the spotlight yet” approach to arranging tracks. Even when smooth brass or swelling organ takes the lead role it does as part of a team effort rather than over-dominant showboating wig-out.

The Night…feels simultaneously wonderfully disconnected from modern times and brilliantly ahead of the curve. It honours a style of music many of us thought lost and reminds us that times move on but great song writing is still great song writing.

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