Ecological messages haven’t always sat well in music, being told the World is about to end isn’t the best subject matter for pop music, so it takes deft musical skill to deliver such an important message yet still be accessible. In short, it’s all very well having a message but if the way you tell it doesn’t reach the ears and minds of people, you’ve achieved nothing.
One of the joys of being long in the tooth as a reviewer is that you get to watch acts evolve over the years and Wilding has been one of the more enjoyable and rewarding careers to watch. From the sleek and simple lines as a solo singer-songwriter to the brilliant textures that the Lighterthief team wrapped around his already elegant and eloquent songs and finally with a full live band gathered around him, George Wilding could almost be a template of how to kick-start your career as a musician. The lad I used to describe as looking like Nick Drake’s dealer is actually much more astute, much cleverer than his rabbit in the headlights image suggests.
I’ve said it before, probably in previous Lucy Mason reviews, but dream-pop and indie genres make perfect bedfellows. The former brings a wonderful haziness and it softens edges whilst the later adds a contemporary cool and accessibility, the meeting of these two worlds has created some of my favourite music as recent times. 3 AM is certainly up there with that group.
After three years away because of “writers’s block, collective band depression and half-hearted ventures into other lines of work,” The Royal Concept have finally bounced back with a fantastic new single. Need To Know sits wonderfully between Swedish melancholy and the California sun, will appeal to fans of the more discerning pop and indie sound and somehow seems like both a wonderfully reverential step back whilst being a sure-footed sonic move forward.
If indie music often tries so hard to be cool you can hear it creaking under the weight of its own earnestness, and soul music is often regarded as a niche or more underground genre these days, especially by fans of white, guitar driven sounds, then perhaps Olga Solar is the answer. Then again, genres are pretty meaningless these days. But Tulips is effortlessly soulful without being soul music by any usual definition. It also easily conforms to the usual indie music benchmarks but what it is acting independently of is anyones guess…bad music I suppose. Yet it ticks a lot of boxes in both of these, often mutually exclusive, areas. Strange!
With a slight nod to Kaiser Chiefs, the new single from new-wave punk band Time Dilation Unit tackles the relatively recent phenomenon of self-diagnoses, or, to be more precise, self-diagnoses with the ‘help’ of the internet.
Around this time last year I delved into the wonderful world of Echoglass via a sonic blast through their back catalogue. It became obvious very quickly that they possessed many traits that I love. They are masters of the lyrical hook and melodic infectiousness. They see genres as being colours on a musical palette, happy to paint with the full range of hues and shades rather than just keep following the same template. They are also confusing being snappy, immediate, sullen, raw, brooding, reflective and celebratory, often in the same song! Work that one out. And amongst all of this are songs with a sense of place. As the title makes clear these are narratives and tales, memories and recollections from their own neck of the woods, The North.
Photographs are powerful things. We carry around all sorts of ideas about how we feel about people, especially those we have lost, but sometimes it isn’t until we are confronted with an actual image that our real feelings come to the fore. That is the starting point for this latest single from Chrissie Romano Band and from there it explores the idea of everyday reminders of those who we have lost. A whiff of familiar perfume on the street, reminiscent handwriting, and a host of other unexpected sensual jolts to the memory.
Pop needs saving and Hajk could be just the band to do it. Pop, R&B and Indie music are all very potent forces in their own right but it seems when the modern music industry mixes them together in search of a winning formula they always end up turning those vibrant colours into a nondescript sonic shade of grey. A shade that works as the perfect, dull and perfectly dull background for songs whose agenda of dance-routines and celebrity rappers, tried and tested templates and borrowed grooves should have been discarded years ago. But discard such artists and what do you replace them with? Hajk, that’s what!
One of the reasons that I get so annoyed with the current trend of people only attending gigs by bands that they already know, who fit exactly into their current musical wheelhouse, that their brother-in-law plays bass for, or whatever comfortable fit it might be, is that you miss the opportunity to be totally surprised by a band you previously knew nothing about. That was how I first encountered these splendid people, a small festival, the knowledge of one of the members previous musical art attacks and cool name was my ticket, and boy did taking a chance on them really pay off.
The history of contemporary music is littered with high drama and over the top behaviour. The path to rock ’n’roll infamy is paved with imploding bands, bad behaviour, reckless acts and personal feuds. That side of history might make good copy and is thus assured the column inches in the press but the reality for most bands is very different indeed. It is generally one of hard work and dedication punctuated with moments of genius, a slow fade out and a long wait before attaining the title of cult band. The story of The Go-Betweens follows just such a pathway and because of its lack of intensity and intrigue is probably more valuable a document for those wishing to understand the reality of the music business.
If pop music seems to have become a sonic painting by numbers production line more concerned with appealing to comfort zones and pre-conceptions of late, then we have to thank the gods of music for artists like Shreya Preeti. But it isn’t that she is making pop music that sits at a generic extreme or that she is splicing new sounds together in some genre-hopping experiment, far from it.
If only parents the world over knew the impact their record collection will have on their children then perhaps they would think twice about what music to listen to. You hear stories of expectant mothers playing Mozart and Beethoven in close proximity of their swollen tummies in the hope that the complex arrangements will somehow boost brain activity so when the baby finally pops out he – or she – are geniuses.
Whereas some artists excel at doing a signature sound, who perhaps neatly capture the testosterone fuelled urges of rock, or who might ooze indie cool or maybe understand perfectly the delicacy and heritage of folk music, Jimmy Lee Morris instead understands the idea of the song itself. I’m not suggesting that he is in any way a jack-of-all trades but instead of worrying about the generic trappings, the fad and fashion of a sonic task at hand, he instead is the master of serving the song; style and genre being at best secondary considerations.
If Liverpool is known for producing bands with the ability to produce exquisite music whilst not taking themselves too seriously from The Beatles to The Coral then Big Tide’s first single from the forthcoming Sync or Swim (you see what they did there?) album is the perfect continuation of that tradition. Musically it fits on to a timeline of influence that runs from the original Byrdsian jangle pop through the bands who reinvented it on the west coast in the 80’s as the Paisley Underground scene, their English contemporaries such as The Icicle Works and on to more recent champions of the sound such as Guided by Voices.
Whilst studio creations have the luxury of presenting the band which all the polish and glamour that the technology and time will allow, live recordings can be seen as a more honest representation of what a band really is all about. So this time as the latest offering from Tough on Fridays landed in the review pile we got to hear them in the flesh, as it were.
Somewhere along the line the term “pop music” has become a dirty word. I remember when guitar bands blazed an exploratory trail through pop realms as interesting as any keyboard wielding dance groover. But in the modern age the genre seems to be associated with music industry production lines, dance routines and TV talent shows. That’s why you need bands like Talk In Code. For Talk In Code is a pop band in the very best sense of the word, one that can wander from pastoral pop pathways to incisive indie cool to rocked out riffs to dance floor infused beats and back again without breaking into a sweat.
There was a time when videos were merely a marketing tool, a supplementary piece of promotion to help sell the song in question, something to be fun and forgettable. But over the years things have changed, or at least those smart enough to understand the power of the video, especially in today’s distracting and visually driven market, have changed the way they use them. Jonathan Alexander is one of those astute enough to recognise that a song with the right film accompaniment is more than the sum of its parts. Much more.
Proving that pop can talk about the big issues in the world, taken either literally or metaphorically, Pallot’s classic still rings true, discussing the blind faith, greed and divisions in the world today.
Also the album that this comes from, Fires, her second album and released on her own label, is a real gem, mixed with great pop songs such as this, some dreamy and gorgeous atmospherics and deft indie brilliance. It’s also a testament to giving it your all, as she re-mortgaged her house to find the additional money to get the album made, an album which would reward her with a couple of chart hits , went on to put her on the map and secured a career for her.
It isn’t always a groove or a lyric that hooks you into a song, sometimes it can be far subtler than that. On the first spin at least, the most immediate and beguiling aspect of Seagate for me was its textures. There is something really artful in the way a whole range of different styles and sounds have been threaded together into a sort of slick and melancholic pop. Note, melancholic but not maudlin. It has inherent tinges of memory, nostalgia and reflection but only as subtle details, a background vibe, rather than as its main raison d’être. And it is Al Holland’s ability to take various musical threads – shimmering dreamscaping, folky delicacy, electronic motifs and gentle, cinematic pop -and weave them so deftly that they create gorgeous musical vistas that is the real charm of the music.
If for no other reason than I managed to unexpectedly get a ticket to last night’s TC&I show at Swindon Art Centre here’s a reminder of just one of the great songs that XTC were responsible for. With TC&I only having a small arsenal of new material at their disposal, the bulk of the show was obviously made up from the extensive XTC back catalogue. Including this sweet little pop gem.
We Journalists love our genres, our pigeon-holes, our easy handles, but this one has got even me stumped. But that’s a good thing right? If it is easy to pin down then you have probably heard it, or at least something similar, before. Where you attempt to pace Phantom Phunk in the scheme of things really depends on which aspect of the sound you pick up on first. Hip-hop vocals blended with soulful-pop responses, electro-rock back beats, warped indie guitars and a strange neo-psychedelic vibe surrounding everything. Intrigued?
How to feel old in one easy lesson: stumble across the latest release of a band you first heard 37 years ago, a band that you didn’t even know were back making music. I remember being sat in my mate’s bedroom sometime around school being exchanged for college and listening to a song he had discovered and which we proceeded to play to death. That song was Remembrance Day. As far as I was aware B-Movie had left us with a string of singles and one great album as a legacy and returned to the mortal world. So stumbling across this gem of a release, not to mention the discovery that I have two more albums to savour and observe, was a most pleasant surprise.
There is a real skill to being able to make music that simultaneously sounds like you have been listening to it all of your life but also the newest, freshest music to waft through the airwaves and it is a skill that Ed Hale appears to possess in no small amount. I guess it is what happens when you combine a wonderful musical imagination with a template that has served songwriters so well for the past 50 years. But just because someone takes the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix out approach” that doesn’t mean that they can’t give it a fresh lick of paint, re-shape, refine, have fun with and add new and exciting sonic detail to it. And that again is something that Ed Hale revels in. So For Real is definitely a case of evolution rather than revolution.
Summer Flowers kicks things off majestically, a veritable heatwave of retro-pop vibes, a flex of rock muscle and some wonderfully psychedelic moves and it is these corner stones that define the album’s personality. But this isn’t plunder, plagiarism or pastiche, for all its backward glance to past glories, songs such as Gimme Some Rock ’n’ Roll chime in tune with bands such as Flaming Lips or Wasuremono as readily as it does anything from previous generations.
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.”
To be honest, these daily by-genre posts are really just me working my way through the favourite bits of my record collection, but it gives us something to bond over…or argue over. Indie music of course is a tricky term, aren’t they all, but for a man of my age it is more about an independent ethic which existed in the post-punk era, led to a whole genre being built around the term in the 90’s and which is again in evidence in the modern age with the various D.I.Y and grassroots ways of operating away from the majors.
Also feel free to make suggestions for videos to post in these categories, it isn’t all about me. It is mainly about me though!
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?
Drawing the most emotion out of the most transient of sounds is an art in itself, but it is something that Kylie Spence, even at 17, is an expert at. Most people just starting out down such an indie-pop route are all too eager to make themselves heard by throwing everything they have, every sonic trick, ever studio gimmick at their song in an effort to stand out above the background noise of the modern music industry. In a move that belies her age, Spence goes the other way and delivers a song that is so smoke like, so dreamlike and drifting, emotive and intimate that you notice it for exactly the opposite reasons.
She is also not afraid to share the limelight and what stands this already beguiling track in ever higher stead is the blend of voices as the song relieves itself to be a duet, the overall affect being akin to Lisa Hannigan when she used to trade such vocals with Damien Rice and personally there aren’t many higher accolades.
With an EP on its way in about a months time, I feel truly excited to hear what else she has in her musical arsenal as, on the strength of this glorious single, she is an artist I will be paying close attention to.
We have encountered Leah Capelle in full on pop-rock mode and in the case of Better Off trading sweet harmonies in a stripped back duet with Hayley Brownell. Giants seems to sit somewhere in the middle, the best of both those fabulous sonic worlds. There is a delicacy to the delivery, her vocals wandering between defiant and vulnerable, the delivery between angelic and world weary.
But it is also the great use of dynamic within the song that reinforces its passion and panache, the lift into the chorus…”Come On!” as she finally admits to herself that her relationship is about to end and she is forced to confront the issue head on, is ironically euphoric and wonderfully freeing.
To say that Leah Capelle writes merely pop music is to do her an injustice. Yes, her music shares the same values, infectious, straightforward, relatable, but there is an honesty and maturity that goes beyond what most of the genre has to offer and that is exactly why she is going to be around for a long time to come.
Stock in the Bauhaus name is riding high at the moment. With one half of the band currently working as Poptone and David J undertaking an extensive world tour with Pete Murphy as we speak, it is certainly the perfect time to re-release J’s sophomore solo album, a record which he describes as “ a personal pastoral favourite” and one “that really set the tone for all my future solo endeavours.” And pastoral is indeed a great word to use even if it is hardly one that you would associate with either Bauhaus or Love and Rockets, the band that he would shortly form.
Crocodile Tears is certainly of its time, it sounds of its mid 80’s birthplace both in style and production but like any album which stays in the collective consciousness long enough to be labelled classic, iconic or influential, and this has been called all this and more, it has survived and transcended fad and fashion. Like black and white movies, favourite shirts and old photographs there is a hint of nostalgia to the songs found here from the point of the listener, how could there not be but also enough time has passed that a whole new generation can engage with it without the baggage that it carries. But you only have to listen to how ahead of its time songs such as Light and Shade are to see why it has survived. I could name 5 modern alt-country bands who would kill to have that on their resume.
Songs wander from the classic singer songwriter such as the folky Justine to the smooth soulful lines of the title track, the Lilac Time-esque fey-pop jaunt of Too Clever By Half to the shimmering sixties vibes of Slip The Rope. It is a vast departure from his earlier, darker band days but to many people, myself included, it was destined for more spins around the house than the more challenging Bauhaus back catalogue. And for those who found this an unexpected departure at the time, hindsight now tells us that a reunion with Daniel Ash in the form of Love and Rockets and all the glitz and glamour, punch and panache which that entailed was just around the corner.