The video for this latest release from Diamoness sits somewhere between a traditional music video and a short narrative film. It says something about how the media world is changing, that formats are merging and music videos no longer have to be the short, sharp advert for an artist’s latest album and can be a piece of art in its own right. And that is exactly what we have here, a film driven my music, a song visually expanded to tell a bigger story, a story that exists in both audio and visual worlds, and that exists where they dovetail to show a bigger picture.
Malibu Blackout adhere to both age old truths and totally modern attitudes. On the one hand they understand that if you don’t have a good song in the first place then no amount of studio trickery can polish it up and therefore groove, melody and accessibility are of paramount importance. On the other they take the line that music has gone beyond its once tribal inclinations and so write songs for this post-genre world we find ourselves in, ones that wilfully hop the sonic demarcations of old and defy easy pigeon-holing.
Some music fits neatly into custom built, generic boxes and there is nothing wrong with that. But fad and fashions come and go, tastes change, music moves on and I find the music which survives, which continues to be relevant, which may even one day be regarded as classic is that which seems to be unconcerned by generic demarcations. After all, life doesn’t come packaged in different emotional compartments , it is at once sad yet positive, energetic and poignant, loud but meaningful and everything in-between, all at the same time. So should our music be.
Given Nelson King’s usual rate of output, I was thinking of sending out a search party, having not had anything by him land in the in-box for quite a while, but thankfully Life Ain’t No Movie Show turned up as if to assure me that he is still very much in the game. Though its all relative I guess as even with this recent breathing space he would still finish in medal position compared with today’s average artist.
Taken for the suitably named Travels, Flynn‘s debut solo album, Automatic People, is a pop-rock meander through the modern city rush hour, one which crackles with the hustle and hassle of those caught in traffic, rushing to get to work on time and the rat race of the nine to five which is the reality for most of us. Mixing jangling interludes with heavy guitar rhythms, keyboard washes with pulsing bass runs, it is as musically pacy and diverse as the picture it paints.
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.
Throw around the term pop-rock and the mind initially goes to some sort of middle of the road, fashion-driven dross that neither delivers the immediacy of the former nor the integrity of the later. But what if there was a way of taking the instant hook and inherent melody of a pop approach and weld it onto a more robust rock vehicle. Surely anyone who could do that would be carried head high through the streets, would be called saviours, the rainmakers of this current music drought, would be regarded as heroes and brave cross-genre gene splicers of the modern musical age. Or if you are looking for a more modest title you could just call them Yam Haus.
To those of us who don’t live in big cities, whose surroundings are more suburban, small town or rural, there is something intriguing, possibly slightly otherworldly, about life in the metropolis. Those extremes of the wealth and destitution, the clashes of culture and creed, the hustle and the loneliness, the bright lights and the dark secrets. As someone who has lived all over London in particular and in similar places across the world, Marty-Wilson Piper’s ode to city life is both well observed and poetic.
What do you do when you find that you are not practicing what you preach? This was the dilemma facing Matt Oestreicher as he spent his days mentoring kids on how to aim higher and follow their dreams whilst realising that he wasn’t pursuing his own. Although an accomplished musician and working alongside many notable and name artists he was yet to record and release his own music and it was this epiphany that led to his own album, Dream The Word New. seeing the light of day.
Morning seems to sit at any number of musical crossing points. But then again all of the most interesting music does. It moves from gentle acoustic balladry to a more muscular sound as the song moves from start to finish, it combines the deftness normally associated with folk playing with the sheer infectiousness of a cinematic pop single and matches underlaying classical vibes with more anthemic and rocked-up stadium sounds. That might sound like a lot to try and fit together but I guess it all comes down to clever composition, allowing one sound to sit within the breathing space of another, for textures to weave around each other and for musical lines to complement rather than contrast.
It’s nice to be nice. It’s good to turn the other cheek. There is a lot to be said for dwelling on the positive rather than the negative. Sometimes though, you just have to get things off of your chest and say how you really feel. This is one of those times. Without naming names, it is fairly obvious what type of person this is aimed at and after all there is no need to be specific as there seems to be an endless revolving door of macho, alpha-male, would-be despots espousing greed and division, fear and hate to further their own ends, both political and personal.
Sven Jørgensen freely admits to being a a fan of nineties music but unlike many others enamoured with the era, instead of ploughing a singular music furrow, of trying to rework Brit-pop, resurrect the Seattle sound or wander some dusty alt-country byways, he takes a much wider approach. For whilst the sound of On/Off Generation is one that certainly tips its hat to the decade, he somehow manages to blend its genres together in to new forms, ones that are both fresh and familiar at the same time.
There is something of the late 70’s, New Wave sound to opening salvo Since You Left Me, a sort of less angsty, more rock and roll Elvis Costello or perhaps even the sort of thing the mighty Nick Lowe might have penned. And like the excellent Mr Lowe, who had a successful career penning deft and astute songs before and long after the last echoes of punk had faded away, The Dated have a similar timeless sound. Timeless in that it is a sound that defies easy genre beyond that of clever singer-songwriting form writ large for full band delivery.
It’s difficult to tell from this song whether Jo Oliver is a rocker who happens to write very melodic and infectious songs or is a pop artist trying to build a more robust and memorable sound. Not that it really matters that much because either way you look at it Shine On works a treat. If pop music often follows the same tried and tested pathways and rock music is riddled with cliche and bombast, here we find a song that is able to neatly walk the fine line that divides the two camps.
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.
How does an artist produce music that is simultaneously hooky and accessible yet threaded through with experimental attitudes and underground sonic choices that it simultaneously sounds like the easiest shoo-in for chart success and the darling of the more discerning underground set? You’ll have to ask K Michelle DuBois because Harness is exactly that, a record that blends easy pop charm with outsider cool and does so effortlessly.
Sift back through her previous two albums and you realise that this is an artist who has the pop-rock groove nailed and it is this third outing that sees her spreading her wings and exploring where that might go next. The other way around, a cult musician trying to find a commercial way in might seem like a cynical move but an artist exploring what lies beyond her existing sound is the most natural move in the world and that is what Harness represents. Indie power-pop goes art-rock? Why not?
Recent single Wild Weed is a brilliant place to start exploring her current sound, inspiring references such as Belly, Liz Phair and the ubiquitous PJ Harvey handle which is perfect as all three of those have built careers making music that swerved fashion and defied expectation. But it is one of those rare albums where almost all of the songs could be sent out into the world as beguiling singles in their own right. Heart Like a Yardstick is a robust and occasionally squalling slice of melodic rock, Becoming Real shows what pop-punk could be if it stopped making knob-gags and decided to grow up and City Lights is what Mark Bolan may have sounded like if he was launching his career today.
And just when you think you have everything neatly worked out Margot on the Ocean shows you just how far DuBois is willing to push her own, already well flexed, musical boundaries with an intense piece of chiming electro-dreamscaping. I may be late to the party but Harness is an album that is going to be on constant rotation for a while to come and K Michelle DuBois is an artist that I will be watching with great interest.
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….
Music has a bit of a problem these days. We seem to have convinced a generation of middle-class, gap year kids that being a singer-songwriter is some sort of rite of passage that they are not just entitled to explore, but which is almost expected of them. Like getting a tattoo, having your own you tube channel or growing an ironic beard…delete as applicable. It means that you can’t even nip to the shops for a packet of Custard Creams without tripping over some pasty teen in a wide brimmed hat and distressed jeans murdering a Bon Ivor song. Thankfully amongst this morass of musical mediocrity there are still a few wonderful islands to seek refuge on. One of those refuges is Leon Daye shaped.
All of my live encounters with Leon have been in his guise of solo acoustic guy, a format which more than proved how great a song-writer he is, but as is often the case, whilst watching him play I always found my own brain putting the rest of the instruments around his songs. Again, a testament to his writing that his clean-limbed and simple format was astute enough to suggest what the whole band might sound like. Thankfully when he commits his songs to prosperity he does so with that fuller sound.
The title track is the perfect example of what happens when he does allow himself such luxuries and with Aron Attwood’s multi-instrumental aid the most obvious talking point of the album sounds like a half-forgotten Nick Lowe classic, and that is pretty good place to start. Centurion Town also jumps out personally, not just because of its joyousness and jaunt but because it reminds me of some fascinating pre-gig discussions with him about his home town.
Opening salvo, Darkside, is a rich slice of pop-rock, a blend of street smart philosophy, clever dynamic interludes and punchy choruses and Diamonds and Dreams is the perfect way to put this short put exquisitely crafted album to bed, a song that steps from intricate folk textures to cinematic world-pop crescendo’s as it guides us to its conclusion.
Leon Daye is a safe pair of hands and he seems to have found the perfect producer/wingman/sonic enabler in Aron Attwood. Good songs don’t need too much dressing up before going out to face the world but with there right balance of imagination and more importantly restraint, they can easily become great songs. The Gift is an album of great songs, its sometimes as simple as that.
As I have mentioned once or twice before, Rhett Repko is one of those artists who have restored my faith in the musical middle ground. Even those last three words seem like a slight or a deprecating statement but believe me it isn’t meant to be. If the fringes are either places where late night experiments, generic-splicing and the forced fusion of musical styles takes place or, at the other extremes, merely the creative treading of water to make music that requires rose tinted retro-spectacles to fully appreciate, then it is clear that he doesn’t belong in either. The ground between is where most music is made and, more crucially, where most records are sold and it is here that Repko belongs.
His well-honed pop-rock, as wonderfully exampled by Lately Baby, is a fine balancing act. It balances rock muscle and pop melodics, deft craftsmanship and mass appeal, energy and intricacy, it is exactly what mainstream pop-rock should be but normally isn’t. He is clever enough to swerve cliche and doesn’t deal in the obvious but still he is able to offer something that with the right tail wind and the right people championing his cause, could quickly see him becoming a permanent fixture in the mainstream consciousness.
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.
Books and covers eh? A band with the name of Tough on Fridays…well, that could cover a multitude of genres, a cover picture of a girl in the rain as seen through a blurred lens, I’m thinking pop ballad or, if I’m lucky, wistful dream pop. Then blam!…you get hit straight between the eyes with fast and infectious pop-rock, the perfect blend of commercial accessibility and rock muscle of the sort the western world has been producing so well since the mid 80s.
Is there even a power-pop/pop-rock scene any more? Or maybe this is just the new sound of pop-punk now that the frat boys have realised that crassness and dumbing down just isn’t that attractive. Pop looking for alternative ways out of the mainstream seems to be more focussed on indie-folk identities or urban beat options but at least Tough on Fridays seem to take some sort of lead from the likes of The Primitives or Sleeper and mix low slung rock energy with fantastic melody. Pop may be a dirty word to many and rock has largely become a cliche but at the sweet spot where they meet you find music which utilises the best of both. It is also where you find Tough on Fridays.
It’s safe to say that Perspective covers a lot of ground musically speaking. You would’t go as far as to say it is eclectic, but stylistically it is happy to shift around a number of genres, from accessible rock to soul, pop and hushed R&B and from late night piano ballads to gentle gospel. And between these parameters Wembi creates an album that already feels like a future classic, one of those that gets revisited and re-explored by successions of new listeners as the years roll by.
Songs such as Hell No! immediately put you in mind of the likes of Toto and that funky pop-rock groove that has served them so well over the years and it is a song that I find myself drawn to lyrically right from the off, intrigued by a set of lyrics that, though the names have been removed to protect the guilty, it can be read as either covertly political or highly personal. Or both.
Ring The Bell plays with no such vagueness, an intimate message rendered into a smooth piano piece all emotive space and anticipation, atmosphere and heartfelt feelings and musically there seems to be as much power and intent in the gaps between the notes and the pauses between the words as in the more structured parts of the song. Less is indeed more and space is there not just to be filled but perhaps also framed, enhanced and used as an integral part of the song itself. Tanganyika takes a more electro-pop line, mixing groovesome rhythms and pulsing bass lines with synth melodies to form a striking instrumental piece.
But what Wembi revels in is deftly crafted ballads whose largely unadorned nature means that the grace and beautiful simplicity of their creation is open for all to see. Songs such as A Promise, Hopes and Lies and the statement of support and solidarity that is Puerto Rico are brave enough to remain fairly simple songs and that is where their power lies. It is easy for artists to fall into the trap of entering the studio and adding layer upon layer of sound, texture and musical excess to what was already a great song an act that only seeks to muddy the waters. Thankfully Wembi knows that he has good songs to start with and plays to their aesthetic strengths by allowing them to breath. Did I say good songs? Make that great songs!
Today saw the announcement of some long-awaited news for many. After a 36-year wait, XTC’s COLIN MOULDING and TERRY CHAMBERS are announcing they will play series of live UK shows. After releasing their debut ‘Great Aspirations‘ CD under the moniker TC&I ten months ago, songwriter and XTC co-frontman Colin Moulding and original XTC drummer Terry Chambers will play an exclusive mini-residency at the Swindon Arts Centre. More dates may follow.
2018 marks the 40-year anniversary of XTC’s first studio album ‘White Music’. In addition to their new material as TC&I, Moulding and Chambers plan to play a selection of the songs from the XTC catalogue written by Colin, several of which have never been played live due to the fact that the band stopped touring in 1982, not long before Chambers’ departure.
Heroes come in many shapes and sizes. I’m not sure if too many young musicians would see Richard Branson as a hero but I guess if you look at all the things that he is done, all that he has achieved, his use of fun, adventure and business as a force of good (glossing over him suing the British NHS for £2 million) there are worse people to look up to. Clark Twain certainly thinks so and Fly High, as the subtitle suggests is dedicated to Old Tidy Beard himself.
It is a song that is wonderfully difficult to place, generically it is brilliant pop with just the right amount of rock muscle, but beyond that it could fit into almost any era of contemporary music. It has the smoothness of the 60’s fledgling pop sound, the edge of New Wave, the underground vibe of the 80’s new pop sound and fits effortlessly into modern indie and pop movements. If that isn’t a definition of timeless music I don’t know what is.
PS: Award yourselves extra points if you recognise the song that this morphs into at the end and what the connection is with the aforementioned Mr B.
As the opening groove, that embedded guitar chug and low end drive kicks in, I’m already breathing a sigh of relief that this particular “guy with a guitar” is anything but one of the usual earnest, balladeering, unplugged troubadours that I normally have to wade through. Then the weight of a full band drops in behind it and suddenly the world seems a much brighter place. It would have been easy to follow some sort of angst ridden pop template and aim to tug teen heartstrings; instead Aaron Avanish plays a much cleverer card.
Driven rock guitars and punchy backbeats pull the song in an altogether more groovesome direction yet it shows that he still understands how to appeal to the commercial market, knows how to work with dynamics and the song therefore drips with infectious melody. So essentially this is a new take on pop music, yes, pop music, we have spent so long being spoon-fed dance routined, production line dross that we have forgotten that pop, okay, pop-rock can be filled with much more integrity, much more honesty. In my book everything is pop music anyway…pop, popular, populist… but let me qualify that a bit.
Pop music is done often, but rarely done as well as this. All too often it is happy to sacrifice creativity for formula, to wander very narrow, established pathways for fear of losing site of the pop-fan dollar. Avanish shows us that if you flip this model on its head, draw in influences from a number of genres, you can write songs, which both appeal to the masses and retain the integrity demanded by the more discerning listener. And still be pop music! How great is that?
There is no place like home, or so they say, and by her own admission it would seem that a return to her native Minnesota soil after a decade in New York City has imbued Annie Fitzgerald’s latest album, You and Me and The Sun, with a deep rooted honesty and emotional depth. And indeed as a calling card for the just released second album, Black and Blue walks a fine line between vulnerability and resolve plus it displays a wonderful generic weave.
It ticks commercial and mainstream boxes whilst dealing in bluesy, rock and roll, a rootsy and resonant sound that will have fans of the likes of Bonnie Raitt wandering in to check it out. It grooves with confidence and for all its spacious nature packs a punch just through the guitar tones, the staccato riff and the emotive vocals. Anyone who can write songs that fit effortlessly between East Nashville bar band and chart climbing unit shifter clearly knows how to play the game. Though I suspect in the case of Annie Fitzgerald, that was never consciously part of the plan. A happy accident indeed.
In the parlance of the younger and hipper than myself, “What’s not to like?” When it comes to bands as interesting, eclectic and wonderfully disarming as Echoglass the answer is, well, nothing. ‘Scuse the double negative.
Firstly when listing the great and good from their North-West homeland they casually throw in iconic artist L. S. Lowry and equally iconic, in some circles and on some terraces at least, clothes designer Gary Aspden, alongside the more expected musical name drops of The Beatles, Oasis and Ian Brown. Secondly their back catalogue already features a fascinating and mercurial blend of musical styles and lyrical subject matter.
They have wandered between the Americana vibes of Last To Know and the subtle balladry of Drowning, the free-spirited and nostalgic indie-pop of Blackburn Boulevard and songs such as Memories which seem to bring all their influences together to walk a line just west of The Lilac Time and just East of REM…if you can imagine such a thing. I can, try it, it’s great.
This time out they continue to revel in the heritage of their own neck of the woods, celebrating a time when the North-West was the beating heart of a whole new musical movement, one that spliced rock and dance, indie and rave in a wonderful two-fingers up to the smug London music moguls. It was never about where you were from, its always been about where you are at…this was exactly where it was at!
And like the new musical gene-splicing and genre-hopping that made up that scene, Little Harwood is a wonderful blend of indie cool and rock muscle, pop structures and accessible hooks, matter of fact, kitchen sink drama vocal narratives and soul infused harmonies. As eclectic as ever but given Echoglass track record, predictability was never going to feature highly in the equation.
And the video also takes an interesting turn. Rather than just fill the screen with out of focus photographs and shots of the places and bands of the scene that the song centres on, with money an issue they instead just approached people to dance to the song in any way that they chose. To dance like there are 6403 people watching…to date. And the results are great, not because they are cool and choreographed, but exactly because they aren’t, that they are just people they know or have found, doing their own thing and having fun.
In lesser hands a song celebrating times past would have been a cheap musical pastiche of borrowed sounds and copied sonics, the video a slideshow of scrapbook rose-tinted nostalgia. In the hands of Echoglass it becomes something rather Spezial.
As I said last time around when the excellent Gallery dropped through the virtual letterbox about this time last year, artists like Jimmy Lee Morris are a breath of fresh air. He seems part of an ever diminishing body of songwriters who still revel in the song rather than the delivery, the substance rather than the style, which ironically makes for an effortless delivery and an eloquent musical style of the sort that only comes about as a by-product of the job at hand. The job at hand, of course, being writing great songs.
The title track is an interesting place to start as it takes a different tack than most of the songs found around it, having its genesis way back in 1985 as a synth driven demo track that changed hands between Nelson King and himself and never quite came to fruition. But then …voila! A mere 33 years later Jimmy has found the time to write the rest of the words and include it in this collection, a jaunty synth pop tune that feels as much a modern track referencing the past as it does a past track sonically revelling in its formative sound.
But it doesn’t sit at odds particularly with the rest of the album as, by the artists own admission, the album is slightly 80’s infused being a blend of the modern studio capability and the sound of the earthy analogue that flavoured his own recordings with bands, such as A La Tienne, that he was playing in all those years ago. “I like to think this is what we may have sounded like today if we had stuck around long enough to make an album in 2018.”
Bigger Sky is a wonderful slice of Crowded House style infectious pop-rock, Something About You is a soulful and reflective confessional and Freestyle is a funky and groovesome dance number. Yes, its dance, anything that gets the feet moving and the hips swaying is dance music…genres are so last century.
It’s a cracker of an album, a collection of songs that tip their hat to the past, are perfect for the here and now and offer hope for a brighter future. What more could you ask for?
If ever there was a place where the traditions of classic song writing meets the neon glare of the more fickle clubland scene, where rock merges effortlessly into pop, where dance grooves are subsumed into indie eloquence it is in Rhett Repko’s music. There was a time where the most interesting music was made out in the fringes, by non-conformist music explorers, snarling at the mainstream as they did so, but now it would seem that the fringes are mainly bastions of rigid, nostalgic conformity and anyone sticking to those old tribal allegiances in this post-genre world is missing out on what the modern age has to offer.
Rhett Repko is proof that you can work towards a very mainstream and accessible sound and still conduct interesting sonic experiments along the way. Before She Knows is rooted in rock bombast but is tempered my more perky pop poise, it wears indie shades and walks around with its collar turned up and the riffs are built from shimmering electronica as much as guitar grind and groove. Yes, the middle ground is no longer the place of comfort and conformity, it is becoming a place where the most fascinating music is being forged in plain sight. If you want a shot at hitting the hitherto mutually exclusive achievements of integrity and success, Rhett Repko is the man to learn from.
Daxton Monaghan, as an artist, is a wonderful mixture of influences, sounds and styles, but then any artist worth their salt should be and In Verses contains a collection of slick rock, infectious pop, bluesy grooves and chiming psychedelic infused songs. There is something inherently American about his sound and if you were to push the point you would probably have to say from below the Mason Dixon line, that bluesy heart that beats at the core, that alternative radio vibe, it all points to the traditions of Southern music but heard through a modern, commercial filter. It therefore comes as a bit of a shock to find that he is actually from Australia.
But that just shows you how small the modern musical world actually is and all the better for it. In Verses wanders through some glorious pop-rock territory, Power and Glory being an anthemic, stadium-land sing along, Water Goes Dry is loaded with psych-pop as filtered through the same revisionist musical machine as fellow antipodeans The Church, and Ball and Chain is a slow groove bluesy boogie as good as anything that came out the hey day of Southern Rock.
It’s a solid album, a generically exploratory album, a deftly crafted album but more than anything it is packed with great songs and that, after all, is where it all starts from. Get the fundamentals right and the rest will follow.