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.
Bilk is back out doing what it does best. And what it does best is deliver short, sharp salvos of trashy street punk energy woven through infectious and highly charged indie blasts. Three eighteen year old Essex boys singing about exactly what eighteen year old Essex boys should be singing about, that is falling out of one glorious weekend of drunken chaos with the vow to do it all again once the working week is done.
Part social commentary, part pure celebration, Bilk is the perfect successor to the likes of Mike Skinner’s Street’s in providing the background groove to young lives in the modern age and echos with the same visceral sound that The Libertines found kicking about the backstreets of London where it had lain dormant since the punks packed up and headed off down new musical paths. But that was all a long time ago and a new generation has come through looking for their own soundtrack to urban life, to lost weekends, to one-night stands, to letting off steam, to irresponsibility, frustration and social carnage. Next Weekend proves once again that Bilk is the perfect band for the job.
The further down this dark, spacious path Leah Hinton takes her solo Murmur Tooth project, the more I love it. Always aware that there is more musical currency in atmosphere and anticipation than bombast and clutter, here she builds a powerful and punchy piece from the bear minimum of sonics. The icing on this rich, dark and bitter sweet cake is the melancholic trumpet that weaves its way through turning a shrouded modern indie song into a twisted, timeless Old World dirge.
Dealing with the sensitive issue of memory loss, something that at least is being spoken about more and more in the current climate, it instils the conversation with an intimate perspective and a cold dread that comes with the thought that everything that makes up your life, your history, your personality, your very being, could one day drop from your memory piece by piece leaving you anonymous and detached from everything you once were.
As always it is the combination of beauty and terror that Leah captures so elegantly, the tension and drifting atmosphere that floats about the listener as if they themselves were part of a chorus line from a gothic musical. Cold, deep, poignant and reflective but also gorgeous, ephemeral and eloquent. It’s what she does.
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!
It’s nice to come across a band who actually live in the real world for a change. Too many artists are all about self-mythologising, creating their own celebrity, talking about their own aggrandised and shallow jet set life styles. Thankfully Camens live in the same world as you and I. They party on the beach with their friends, they blow off steam playing video games and they are not afraid to look at failing relationships and dreams of running off to the sun.
Slept on The Sofa, like most of their music, is honest but even when dealing with the grim realities of life, it is also euphoric. They know how to write big songs with even bigger choruses that somehow meld fist in the air festival antics with “we’ve all been there mate” moments. It’s also very British, that kitchen-sink drama approach that we do so well, after all more people can relate to an uncomfortable night sleeping in the front room than the glitz and glamour of the celebrity world.
When 90’s pioneers melded 60’s rock with 80’s indie and created Brit-pop, no one realised that we would have to wait until 2018 before someone actually got the blend right. Now all we need is a new name for it….
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.
Imagine if Brit-pop had got beyond its “madferit!” self-worship, calmed down, got serious and grown the hell up. Imagine if The Kinks had formed this decade having been brought up on a steady diet of their dad’s record collection. Imagine if pop music had remembered where it had left its bite or indie music stopped checking its hair in the mirror for a brief moment. Okay, they are just fictitious scenarios but any one of them could be a creation myth…or even a Creation myth…for The Swagger.
Of course it comes as no surprise that Alan McGee is already lining up to help the band out, a sixties musical vibe as pushed through 90’s indie rock filter with big guitars and no small amount of swagger, (okay, that was bound to happen wasn’t it) that sounds like him all over. For those too young to have encountered the Brit-pop explosion then this will more than serve in its place. Those who were there at the time can consider this a nostalgic reminder. Either way it’s a cracking song but one that very much looks to future potential rather than merely past glory. Which is as it should be.
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!
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.
After a run of festival dates in the UK and Europe this summer including a mainstage appearance at Kendal Calling, Saint Agnes release live favourite ‘Diablo, Take Me Home’. Onstage they declare “We are Saint Agnes. We are a rock band.” and in doing so are re-claiming the word ‘rock’ and redefining it for the 21st century. They are the leather jacket wearing, chain smoking, hard rocking siblings to bands like Starcrawler and Black Honey, seemingly raised on a diet of fuzz guitar riffs and hopeless tales of murder. A chemistry reminiscent of The Kills sets them apart with sparks flying between frontwoman Kitty Arabella Austen and co-lead Jon James Tufnell as they trade riffs and vocals with an intense fury highlighted by the raw, analogue production.
Among their consistent releases the band have been relentlessly touring in the UK and across Europe, spending weeks at a time fearlessly preaching their rock n’ roll gospel and converting all who see them to their own Coven. Kitty’s fearless live performances set a new standard for what it is to be a woman in a rock band in 2018.
New single ‘Diablo, Take Me Home’, the band tell us, “is about the conscious decision to escape. Our generation have a (legitimate) sense of hopelessness about the future. The main lyric is a metaphor for giving yourself over to your immediate desires, letting the devil on your shoulder guide you and throwing yourself into the hands of fate. Fuck tomorrow, give me more of today. This song is a battlecry for a screwed generation. We recorded live in a room to 2” tape, no computers, no messing around”
Tancred is excited to share the brand new music video for “Something Else”. Described as “Gay Riverdale inspired” by Jess Abbott, the force behind Tancred and ex Now, Now band member, the video stars the band Potty Mouth and “America’s Lesbian Sweetheart” Brittany Ashley.
Director Jason Lester elaborates, “Jess and I wanted to pay tribute to the stylized, teen dream melodramas we love, from Riverdale to Twin Peaks. The giddy feeling of attraction represented by TV’s archetypes of youth, cotton candy colors, and often repressed sexuality felt perfectly in sync with Tancred’s swooning track.” Abbott further adds, “Brittany and I had wanted to work on a video together for awhile, and Potty Mouth basically is Josie and the Pussycats, so it all came together just right.”
Produced by Lewis Pesacov (Best Coast, Generationals), Nightstand is the follow up to the Maine based musician’s well received 2016 release Out of The Garden. That album was deemed “violently catchy” by The FADER and won praise from Stereogum, Rookie, USA Today, and many others, while leading to tours with the likes of Speedy Ortiz and Weaves.
Rock is all about the big, the dramatic, the widescreen and sky scraping, at least the music that leaves a lasting impression is anyway. But that doesn’t mean that it is just about turning the volume up and delivering testosterone fuelled bombastic broadsides. Thankfully those days have (largely) long gone. Linqo understands better than most that you can make an impression through clever construction, musical textures, cinematic arrangements and well thought out dynamics. And Nomadic is a five track slice of exactly that.
Opening salvo, I Want To Be Your Lover, tells me everything I need to know about where this e.p. is likely to take me. Anyone who within 30 seconds reminds me that I haven’t played my Mercury Rev albums for a while is always going to sit high in my estimation. The Hourglass takes a more brooding approach, somehow sounding at once the most commercial track yet the most intimate, a personal plea that also happens to be a relatable anthem and Red Handed provides a soaring and cinematic full stop to this impressive suit of songs.
It is a big album yet elegant, powerful yet eloquent, creating its impact less through a packed punch but more through a feeling of being cocooned in rich tapestries of sound yet somehow it also evokes the feeling of being stood on the top of a mountain gazing that the night time stars. Classic rock? Who needs it? Cosmic alt-rock is the way forward.
London band The Lazlo Device are set to share another single from sophmore album You Stumble, I Fall. Having recently released their glittering end-of-the-night track ‘Beetle’, and the huge, desert-summoning album closer ‘You Stumble, I Fall’, the experimental post-rock foursome smash out an energetic beat complete with synth-fringed nightclub-ambience in ‘Known to You’. Seamlessly switching from ska at one end of the album and towering rock at the other, all whilst remaining true to their signature warm, noise-laden sound, the band’s versatility knows no bounds.
The dancefloor-ready ‘Known to You’ is, like Antidotes-era Foals, equal parts smart, fidgeting math rock-esque drums tapping out disco-friendly rhythms and earthquaking percussion and cymbals courtesy of drumming powerhouse Leo Fenn; flashes of soft synth and soaring saxophone peek out from the thick guitar-and-bass that characterises the heavier parts of The Lazlo Device’s sound. Out 10th August, ‘Known to You’ touches on the dark and danceable elements of this London band’s composite sound.
Arriving after their 2016 debut album Duelism – and several EPs in between – the upcoming You Stumble, I Fall is out 31st August. They’ve been compared to post-rock heavyweights such as Radiohead, Arcade Fire, and Beta Band, amongst others.
‘Known to You’ is out 20th August.
Created over the course of nearly three years, ‘Nearer My God’ was produced in St. Louis and Montreal by Walla and Hudson, with additional help from Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Modern Baseball).
It’s an apocalyptic melodrama about control in a world that really, really feels like it’s falling apart. Expertly-executed by vocalist Conor Murphy, guitarists Eric Hudson, Ricky Sampson, and Jonathan Hellwig on drums, Foxing shines their collective brightest on this record, especially on tracks like ‘Gameshark,’ or the title track, recorded and released in 5 different languages. Here, they combine elements of anthemic indie rock, avant-garde R&B, classical and more to create some of their most original and strongest material yet.
Foxing’s discography, including their 2013 breakout debut ‘The Albatross’, is one that can be slow-moving but with purpose. ‘Nearer My God’ took the band nearly three years to complete, but that time was well spent re-focusing on the future of Foxing. What preceded ‘Nearer My God’s newfound energy was the emotional and physical fatigue that came from years of their relentless drive. Their last album, 2016’s ‘Dealer’, helped push the St. Louis group to entirely new heights; Pitchfork instantly dubbed it “an artistic triumph,” it debuted at #3 on Billboard’s best-selling vinyl chart, and the band spent nearly 2 years off and on the road in support of it. The patience pays off, though; ‘Nearer My God’ feels like an entirely refreshed Foxing, even if they never really needed much refreshing in the first place.
Whilst there is undoubtedly an art to writing songs that are all about immediacy and hook, ones which you can find a way into as soon as the song enters your consciousness, that is only one approach. Such songs are fine for the quick hit, the short shelf life, the fickleness of the ever changing demands of the pop fashionista or the indie scenester. But when you think of the songs, the tunes, the albums that you find yourself returning to time and again, they are more usually the ones where you have invested time to understand the music, relate to the artists approach, they are less obvious but ultimately much more rewarding. One-off pop sing alongs are fine for the party moment but everyday life requires something that delivers more. Don’t Feel To Work is just such and album and Evan Jewett is just such a musician.
And as you might expect after such an introduction the album wanders some interesting paths and wonderfully connects sounds and styles that often don’t spend too much time in each others company. Pink Grout, the first single from the album to make its way out into the world, grooves with a gentle 60’s feel, is threaded through with chiming piano and simple yet prominent but effective bass lines and the end result is a song that Beck would have not only fight you for but fight dirty.
Dust Contest is part Monkees, part Flaming Lips, if you can imagine such a thing, by contrast Late Bloom is a wistful and melancholic piece in the vein of Elliot Smith, bruised and brooding like a gothic country song being played in a late night jazz bar and Clocking Out is a warped piece of psychedelic with a middle section which seems to be trying to turn back time.
As albums go its a grower, but that’s the point, something to get to know, become friends with, and not just the sort of brief chat at a party after which neither of you make the effort to keep in touch. Even from the first play you know that this is the start of a long and lasting friendship.
Well, this is just lovely isn’t it? You can’t knock a euphoric, upbeat, summer song, one built of wonderful loud-quiet dynamic, sing-along choruses, one that just oozes fun and joyfulness, can you? It’s Our Time is all of that and more. It feels light and floaty but soon builds up those textures into something more substantial so that the end result is the equivalent of being knocked over by a whole pile of silk scarves…probably paisley patterned.
This is the end of modern indie music that I have the most hope for. Forget the identi-kit indie-rockers with their fashionable jeans and complicated hair, give me indie music that skirts the realms of dream-pop, afro-beat and folk music any day of the week. The Light The Heat are definitely ones to watch.
Orions Belte have released a final preview ahead of their debut album ‘Mint’ which is out via Jansen on August 17th. The single Joe Frazier’ begins bluesy but fuses dreamy-indie vocals to soundtrack the surreal video, created by Steph Hope.
Louder (Team Rock) described the video as “all jerkily-drawn scenes of urban dread and psychedelic angst”. The last single to be shared before the album, it shows another side to the diverse record that in their latest issue Mojo gave 4/5 stars and said “it’s spiralling effects, playful compositions, nuanced arrangements and dependable grooves are wrought with feeling”.
Their previous single ‘Atlantic Surfing’ was a different sound altogether, Brooklyn Vegan described it as “a psychedelic, krautrock-ish jam“. Their first single ‘Le Mans’ has had heavy Spotify playlisting support, most recently being added to the best of ‘Modern Psychedelia’ alongside the likes of Khruangbin, Foxygen, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Alcopop! Records have announced that they have signed Long Beach, California’s Hellogoodbye and will release their new album S’Only Natural in the UK on 5th October 2018.
A new song from S’Only Natural will be released each week leading up to the album’s 5th October release date.
Standard vinyl and merch pre-orders are available now, with an extra extremely limited (to 10!) Square 7” album lathe cut set. Each track from the record is presented on its own clear 7” with separate artwork for the track – with a signed note from Forrest included and individual limited number.
Preorder here: http://ilovealcopop.awesomedistro.com/
Commenting on the signing, Alcopop! Records label boss Jack Clothier said: “To complement a red hot summer, you need some even more sizzling bangers, so it is with MUCH delight that we can announce that we’ll be working with Hellogoodbye to put out the new album S’Only Natural.
Due to the huge success of their Spring UK tour, Gomez will be returning this August and September to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their Mercury Prize winning record ‘Bring It On’. UMC have also released a super deluxe box set containing: 35 previously unreleased tracks. The collection features 25 demos & 13 songs never released in any form by Gomez, including covers of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” and “T-Bone Walker’s Mean Old World” plus the band’s 1998 Glastonbury performance and BBC sessions.
Package includes a 10,000-word essay by journalist Paul Stokes, with new interviews with the band and those close to them. Red & Yellow coloured vinyl edition are available + Standard black vinyl edition both in gatefold packaging.
For sold out shows, please note that Gomez have appointed Twickets as their official ticket resale partner. Twickets enables fans to trade tickets for gigs at face value and helps fans avoid exploitation and overpricing on secondary ticketing platforms.
Saint Sister, the duo from the North of Ireland, are set to release their debut album on 5th October 2018. Today they share their new single You Never Call. Known for their stunning vocal harmonies and fusion of traditional Irish folk and minimalist electronica, on this track they deliver a chorus with a vocal performance much bigger than anything we’ve seen previously from the band.
Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre began making music together after meeting at University in Dublin. Their first EP “Madrid” was a breakout success. 2 million streams on Spotify in the first year as well as daytime playlisting on BBC radio 1 propelled them to a European tour with Lisa Hannigan and a single via Communion Singles Club. In September they embark on a 40 date headline world tour across North America, Australia, and Europe to promote their debut album.
The twelve tracks on Shape of Silence are steeped in a sense of longing. The band hail from different parts of Northern Ireland (Belfast and Derry), yet they both talk about growing up with a yearning for an intangible sense of ‘Irishness’ and a romanticised, idealised vision of what it might feel like to live in the cobbled streets of Dublin.
Doherty says “We both moved to Dublin at the same time. Our paths didn’t cross for a couple of years, but when they did, we both knew what it felt like to live in a place that you had dreamt up in your head, only to realise that people don’t quite understand the place where you’ve come from; and that the longing isn’t necessarily reciprocated. Although we didn’t grow up together we shared a lot of the same experiences, it felt like having a childhood friend who knows everything about your family.”
The essence of shared upbringing influences Saint Sister’s music and, more than that, their friendship. They embody an “us against the world mentality” – “The most striking thing about our relationship, which at this point is all encompassing, is that when we started making music together we were effectively strangers to each other”, MacIntyre explains. “
We jumped in head first and invested everything in each other.” With Shape of Silence Saint Sister prove how worthwhile that investment has been.“We wanted to explore the connections between people, and the conversations that are borne out of figuring yourself out in relation to another person. The beginning of the record feels very conspiratorial. But then the songs become a little darker, a little more self aware and discerning and a little lonelier. ”
The band’s first few singles and debut EP focused heavily on the harp, an instrument Doherty has been playing since childhood. She recalls a time when she thought she had to learn the guitar to write a certain type of music; the myths of “how to be a band” coupled with a self-doubt many young female musicians experience. In the end it was her Father who encouraged her to use what she had and write in a way that was natural to her.
That “you do you” mentality has seen the band explore new sonic directions on this album, as MacIntyre says “There are some very introspective songs on the record, songs in which we gave ourselves the space to experiment and use textures we hadn’t used before, but then we’ve also got a few songs that are much poppier than anything we’ve released up until now.”
Montreal’s Marie-Hélène L. Delorme, aka FOXTROTT, has shared brand new single Better With You – taken from the second in a trilogy of EPs, out on August 10th via One Little Indian Records. The second instalment, Meditations II sees the inimitable producer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist expand on the contrast of an inner peace and the tension felt in response to an outer fast paced, outraged world. While Meditations I explored the inside and the desire to let the world in, Meditations II opens a window and lets a complex and noisy world swarm in. Meditations I saw an abundance of radio support from the likes of Lauren Laverne (BBC6Music – Headphones Moment), Annie Mac (BBCR1) and Phil Taggart (BBCR1).
Each of the three self-produced EPs – which are to be released throughout 2018 culminating in a full album release on October 5th – were developed during a solitary retreat to southwestern Mexico, with Delorme even mixing ambient sounds present while she was writing, into the music. Lead single from the brand-new EP – Better With You – incorporates the sounds of police sirens outside, juxtaposed with deep, pulsing beats and layered vocals, characterising the “inside”.
In the movie Jerry Maguire there is the often-quoted line “you had me at hello” and when I was given the press release regarding this album it had me at “cello”.
The cello is one of a handful of instruments that I never tire of hearing in music, this is partly because I’m always interested in where it sits in the overall sound and its inclusion here makes for a beautiful addition to an already impressive bunch of songs.
The instruments on show here reads like a who’s who of folk music; guitar, upright bass, and banjo but don’t expect songs about life in the shipyards or the working man, these songs tread confidently through subjects from the love song of ‘Love Is’, through indie-sounding ‘May 18’ and ‘Any Light’ and the anxious offerings of ‘(Don’t Tell Me) There’s Nothing In My Head’ and ‘Everything’s Just Fine’ (that, by the way, has a brilliant intro) which are edgy and ironic in their subject matter, you can almost picture the calm interior of a psychiatrist office.
I’ve had this album playing for the last two weeks and I’m still finding things to keep me interested, the songs are well thought out and delivered. The strength of any album should always be the songs and the writing partnership of Johnathan Harms and Ryan Evans really do have something worth exploring. Boasting songs like ‘White Spider’, ‘Deal’ and ‘Bed’ the whole package is handled carefully. Sure, sometimes the lyrics try to be a little too clever but when the songs are this strong, who cares?
What this album shows is this small band of musicians (Grant Gordon, Kenny Befus and Katherine Canon make up the band along with Harms and Evans) can tackle and blur the boundaries of different genres, subjects and styles without losing that overall sound. I also like the way the vocals can be sweet and clean in one moment and then broken and angry in another, a strong weapon to have if you intend on keeping your listeners on their toes, and I think maybe this is the secret to this album, you are never really certain of where the music will take you next but when the journey is this good, do you really want a map?
I was doing a spot of research whilst writing about a band with some old-school sounds and post-punk connections and found myself , as you do, on Andrew Eldritch’s Wiki page. It was there that I found out that he had been wonderfully referenced in a song title and I thought I’d check it out and this is the result.
Okay, it isn’t too much of a blast from the past, only being from last year but The Mountain Goats have been making cool music since the early nineties, it would seem. But it made me chuckle and as quirky little indie pop songs go it’s great and it is that one line, the titular refrain that makes me smile every time it gets dropped into the delivery.
Looks like I have missed out on a great band but am making up for that now and can highly recommend Goths, their most recent album that this comes from and also am really enjoying Black Pear Tree which sees them collaborating with Kaki King.
If you whittle the job of a reviewer down to someone who puts music into neat little boxes, surrounded by other like minded and sonically compatible bands, then Wasabi Fire Alarm are one of those bands that confound the job. Or at least make us journo’s have to put a bit more thought and effort into things.
There are parts of Self Doubt, the creeping bass line, the middle-eight rant/vocal bits and the spacious nature of the arrangements that immediately put me in mind of bands such as The Breeders and Belly, that arty, alty, college rock indie vibe that was more of an American thing that a UK one but powerful enough to cross the water and sow seeds here too. There is also a hint of Patti Smith’s poetic and off kilter deliveries to be found amongst the more conventional vocal styles, which is interesting to me as I consider her to be the real instigator of punk, forget all that nonsense about The Ramones and New York Dolls. And real deal punk ideas are often found in the most unpunk places, especially once you get past the idea of punk being anything more than an attitude.
But musical this isn’t punk of course. It is indie, it is alt-rock, it is warped pop, it is many things but more than anything it is non-conformist, it wanders its own path, it leads rather than follows, it pushes into uncharted territory rather than looks for footprints. It is full of groove, a blend of industrial bass lines and skanky garage rock guitars but played for effect rather than mere weight.
The fact that they also look like members of four different bands is also a box ticked in my book. Who wants to follow fashion when you can be your own weird, self fulfilling prophecy or even a scene unto yourself? Self-doubt isn’t something that would come within a mile of this band.
As a person who plays with words all day, inventing imaginary genres and often meaningless soundbites, I always appreciate a good turn of phrase, especially if it comes from a band themselves looking to find tempting labels for their music. “Sun-damaged American music” sounds excellent even before you have matched it to any music. It conjures images of music warped and twisted through too much exposure to the heat, broken yet exuding warmth, light and cracked, torn and crumbling, breaking apart through being handled too incautiously. That sounds like something I would like and as it is main man Joseph Lekkas summation of Palm Ghosts music, I find myself braced and ready for a sonic treat.
And a treat it is too. A blend of gorgeously cinematic, dream pop meeting a more structured indie ethic of the sort that cool and imaginative left field musicians have been making from Cocteau Twins to Alvvays and at every point in between. Throw in some wonderful vocal textures and an occasional wander into darker pop territory and you have an intriguing and beguiling proposition. The Crown and The Confidant in particular runs along the same mercurial commerciality that saw the likes of The Cure move from alternative, arty upstarts to arena favourites, The Hound takes more brooding ambient routes and Rhythm To Rage matches dance floor finesse with indie otherness.
A fantastic slice of all things that sit on the border of cultish and commercial, cool enough to appeal to the discerning tastes of the underground and hot enough to sell to the masses. Not only does that blend not come together very often, who’d have thought that you’d find it in the alt-country confines of East Nashville.
Music has always been used as a vehicle to promote an idea of otherness, non-conformity, of escapism, of world’s within worlds and worlds beyond as well. If you are the rocker you probably use that theme to play the role of the edgy outsider, the loner, the tough man, those drawn to more progressive music might use it to paint fantastic pictures of lost worlds or future predictions. Protocol:M explores such ideas in subtler and more mercurial ways.
The previous album to come out of the Protocol:M stable, Clockwork, was a collection of songs that wandered between style and subject matter, an eclectic outpouring typical of first albums, but this time around, Colin May, the man behind it all, offers a more focussed vision. His take on otherworldliness takes the form of a place on the fringes of society, a place where people who don’t fit in, purposefully or otherwise, go about lives very different from our own. It tells us that our view of the world is just one version, a view informed by our own narrow life path through it, but there are many other paths, many other versions of this world.
And just as it wanders interesting streets to collect its narratives, it wanders similarly off-beat sonic pathways too. There is a dark, indie core to the album as a whole but the devil, as they say, is in the detail and the detail here is wonderfully hypnotic and musically intricate. Still Life and Moving Pictures travels through a strange, slow, circus tune stomp, Gunshots and Violins rubs shoulders with The Cure’s dystopian pop and Tom Bongo is a late night dance floor filler for the last club night before the apocalypse.
It would be easy to suggest that this is just a nostalgic tipping of the hat to various forms of post-punk, but unlike many bands re-ploughing that furrow, Plastic Alter Ego goes well beyond that, bringing in everything from rock to dance to industrial edginess to brooding alt-pop and even touches of shimmering shoegazery. If there was a punk movement and then a post-punk next chapter, then the next wave could be labelled post-post-punk, presumably. Take that illogical scenario three or for stages on and you find Protocol:M not just keeping the flame alive but finding newer, cleaner and more efficient musical fuels with which to sustain it.
Time spent in Jim Johnston’s mercurial and beguiling musical world is never time wasted. We know by now that genres and other such journalistic short cuts aren’t really going to cut it, you could make a point that his music sits in a left-field, indie-rock world but as the songs move between dance beats, strange electronica, pop infectiousness, prog and so much more, even that becomes less easy to defend. And talking of lazy journalistic labels, let me get this out of the way now, let me say that there is indeed something Bowie-esque in the way that he cuts up sounds and genres, styles and ideas and weaves them through his own core sound. It’s a moniker that every blogger under the sun is currently applying to everything that doesn’t fit into the rigid conformities of the modern musical climate, but here it seems more deserved than most.
Chemical Time wanders between grating, scuzzy guitars and swaggering Madchester grooves, Avon Gorge plays with futuristic, spacious and skittering clubland vibes but connects those dots in ways that would confound even the most off the wall, seasoned dance head. (Is there such a thing as ambient rave? Maybe there should be.) Gamblers throws some industrial textures, rock muscle and hypnotic club culture into the same mixing pot and Your 100th Rock Bottom drives the album briefly though New Order’s early sonic territory.
The fact that I could have picked parallels from almost every contemporary musical era from Ministry and Caberet Voltaire up to modern industrial dance torch bearers such as Multiple Man, shows how unattached to genre or era this album is. It is an album that is both futuristic and primal, detached yet tribal, dance-fuelled but swaggers with rock and indie moves, it is progressive yet familiar, focused yet constantly shifting. It’s tantamount to Jim Johnston’s ability to really give you something to think about that, having started the review saying that genres and labels are no good to us here, I have don’t nothing but draw comparisons. There fact that it takes so many conflicting ones to even begin to set the scene should tell you everything that you need to know.
There is an art to making music that is at once, dark, apocalyptic and edgy but also infectious, poppy and commercially viable. Joy Division knew how to do it but didn’t stick around long enough to capitalise on the concept, leaving bands like The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees to take the idea to its logical conclusion. Social Station know the secret too.
In its original form Try (Cross My Heart) is the perfect slice of all things mutually exclusive. It is dark but jaunty, earnest yet accessible, groovesome and still the antithesis of the modern pop sound. It is a song that confounds, yet does so beautifully.
The single comes accompanied by four more re-mixes which take it everywhere from the cold and clinical to a more retro-dancefloor style, and from the alien and industrial to the ambient and chilled, but it is in its original post-punking form which resonates the most with an ageing scribe such as myself.
It also asks us to pose the question, for how much longer are we going stick with the term “post-punk” a journalistic moniker not only totally vague and meaning different things to different people but also thirty years behind the times. If there is enough music being made today that echoes those formative musical years, the least we can do is come up with a new name for it. Thoughts anyone?
In a world of entrenchment and demarcation, of accepted norms and conformity, A Shoreline Dream is a transient and translucent haze that can’t be tied down. When everyone else is playing by the rules of commerciality or bowing to the fads of fashion they would rather move, smoke-like, on a breeze of their own making. They eschew genres, preferring to drift tantalisingly above them all or even create their own unique sonic space to inhabit.
If music were a painting and the usual pop and rock players were working in vibrant, well-defined oils, then this is music as watercolour, music which sketches the basic lines and then proceeds to blur the colours into the most translucent and sparsest of musical hues. It is musical layers washed out and then built up from many gossamer thin soundscapes, it is space used as an instrument, it is about texture and tone rather than drawing the eye in more obvious ways. It is the space and the suggestion as much as the chords and the beats that revel the musical ideas to the listener the listener and which allow the listener to see, or in this case hear, the whole picture.
Songs such as Waitout and Barnum play with their well established neo-shoegazing and dream state indie sounds whilst songs such as In The Ready Sound move towards a tighter, left field alt-pop vibe, though not one your average pop picker would recognise Im guessing. But that’s good, for even when they sail their swirling ship closer to conformity, they are still in some very original waters. The same waters that the likes of early Ride and Spiritualised charted a generation ago and which the likes of North Sea Oscillation and Engineer have continued to explore right up to the present day.
You know that you will never be disappointed with anything A Shoreline Dream produce, this is a safe pair of musical hands and a band who manage to raise benchmarks, personal and otherwise, with everything that they release.