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.
It isn’t enough to be inspired by classic song writers of the past, you have to bring something new to the table as well. Fail to do that and you end up making music which at best sounds dated or at worst plagiarised. Thankfully this is a fine line that Israel Stone walks with ease on Game, able to create music which emulates some of the classic artists of pop past whilst at the same time delivering a sound which feels totally of the moment, up to date, anticipating the latest fad or fashion and even running ahead of the current musical trends.
Who says that rock music has the monopoly on all the big moves? Alisa Chirco’s latest single is as big, dramatic, theatrical and sassy as anything that those posturing, foot on the monitor types could fire off. Give Me More proves, that when done properly, pop can be hard hitting and impactful, can make big sonic statements and run on sky-scraping grooves. With lyrics that are nothing if not demanding the music is the perfect mirror for that confidence and self-assured swagger.
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.
With just enough touches of mainstream Americana and heartland rock to make the song already sound like a classic cut from your old record collection, Animal Soul is a soulful yet wonderfully driven slice of rock. The sort of rock that eschews foot on the monitor antics and other such cliches and instead takes a lesson from acts such as Tom Petty and John Mellencamp about how you weave pop accessibility through heavier musical urges. It’s a lesson that many acts today could do with learning as the result of such attention to detail is that Animal Soul is a cool customer indeed.
That Niki Kennedy is no stranger to musical theatre and stage productions is evident in her voice right from the start. That combination of delicacy and power, control and confidence which is a requirement for such a career means that vocally she can explore sounds that your average pop wannabe would fear to tread. It also means that whilst The Weather Up Here is unashamedly a pop record, albeit one infused with soul and jazz touches, it bristles with a maturity not often found by her would be pop peers.
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.
If ever a song was the sound of the modern clubland dance floor it is this. It seems as much built of sass and energy as it is with music and beats and with a video comprised of Day-Glo flashes and searing visuals, it is the perfect shiney object for the current crop of high-octane music magpies. Music can be staid and serious, poignant and poetic of course but sometimes you just want something to distract you from the grind of daily life, something to loose yourself in on a Friday night as the club kicks in to life, something that is more of a soundtrack or a sonic escape than anything particularly meaningful. And for those times, Mr. Fix It is exactly what the music doctor ordered.
It comes as no surprise that the wonderfully named Zebulon Krol is both a producer and a singer-songwriter. Often the drive behind a track, especially in such pop-soul-urban territory, is either one or the other. This usually results in either a slickly produced song with forgettable lyrics or a deft vocal turn with clunky and clumsy music to back it up. Calling on his wide-range of skills garnered from across the music spectrum, Hate To Say is the best of both worlds.
Minnesota native Annie Fitzgerald has done something that not many female singer-songwriters are doing, and that is produce an album that is tender, thoughtful and emotional but deliver these songs with some oomph!
Most of us are suckers for a good love song but the path she’s chosen to present this type of song is supported by drums, bass, guitar and her voice (which will draw comparison to Tori Amos, Delores O’Rhiordan and Dido) and the songs feel so much stronger because of it. Don’t get me wrong, the opportunity to hear a singer stripped-back so the tale and the emotion is revealed is fine but if you have the talent and chance to bring a variation, perhaps that should be taken.
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.
The idea of just another young female artist folk-popping her way to chart success with an acoustic guitar and a chilled and minimalist tune might have collective eyes rolling and audible sighs of “here we go again”. Maybe it is a style that has been overdone of late, perhaps but rarely has it been done this well. For every hundred such artists using the format as a short cut to celebrity status you find one that really understands the genre and Charlotte Grayson, for all her small amount of years, understands it explicitly.
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.
If you need proof that the world is becoming an ever smaller and more connected place you just have to look at the blends and cross-references that crop up in the art forms of the 21st century. Canadian based Cameroonian artist MD Lyonga is the perfect representation of this and his latest e.p. is a deft mix of styles and genres garnered from many different cultures and countries. As you would expect from an artist with one foot in either continent there is a wonderful clash of western rap and R&B infused pop with the more exotic beats and rhythms of west Africa’s rich musical heritage.
Curtis Newart has a fascinating sound going on here. Dance-pop it may be but it covers a lot of ground on its way to that day-glo destination. Whilst being ultra-modern and totally up to date it also echos with the sound of early pioneers of the genre, and particularly classic cuts such as Oakey and Moroder’s Together in Electric Dreams. And if you are going to go down this route those are two names that anyone would be happy to have bandied around as a point of reference.
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.
Music is made for many reasons. Sometimes it has something to say, other times it tells a story and sometimes it is merely fashioned for the euphoria and fun it brings. But music is a very poignant and powerful tool too and can be used to celebrate and honour the lives of those no longer with us and to organise our thoughts and feelings towards those people. And it is the latter, exquisite use of the medium that Craymo has been working with lately as a way of remembering his parents who both passed in recent years.
By and large pop music tends to follow some pretty tried and tested templates. Most chart bound offerings fresh off the music industry production line seem to have more in common than the things that instead make them stand out from each other. Homogenisation thy name is modern pop music. But even if the creative benchmarks in the genre weren’t currently so low, Jaguar Grace, perhaps the coolest name in music, would still shine like a beacon in the murky musical night.
Who I Am is the sound of the modern age being fashioned out of traditional strands. Those strands may be well established, country stylings, rock muscle and a pop accessibility but songs such as this are very much a modern sound. As old as country music is, this is it hitting its most unashamedly commercial stride, and why not, there is nothing wrong with selling records after all. It is the notion of rock music dropping all the cliche and bombast and just providing the engine to drive such a big sound. It also shows that even the most infectious of pop songs don’t have to follow the modern production line methods, that a popular song can also be musically astute and that you don’t have to strip down to your underwear to try to sell it.
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.
I didn’t realise that people made records like this any more. But I’m certainly glad that they do. Joining dots on a line that runs back through artists such as Tori Amos, They Might Be Giants and Liz Phair and on to the likes of Randy Newman and earlier pre-pop vaudeville traditions, Fuller’s theatrical, groovy, jazz piano style is wonderfully at odds with most music being made today. Yet, Get Down is as fun and funky as anything that comes out of the pop laboratories of the mainstream music industry. It also has something that the vast majority of those production line artists don’t, a sense of humour. For whilst there is an interesting message at the heart of the song, it is delivered in a frivolous and whimsical way, part piano pop, part musical score, part satire.
There is something wonderfully tribal about Victoria Celestine’s latest single, not normally a “go to” sound for those in the pop field but it works brilliantly. Rather than opt for the usual dance infusions and clubland beats to drive the song, taking this primal sound not only makes it stand out but really drives the point home through the simplicity and power of such an approach. We know that Celestine is great at delivering succinct and standout pop, Good Heart To Hide amply demonstrated that, but this time out she proves that she is also happy to break the mould and try something new. And that of course is where the most memorable music is found.
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.
Elton John once sang “sad songs say so much” and it’s probably safe to say that we all have a sad song in our list of all-time favourite songs, those are the songs we are often drawn to, we can sympathise, empathise and relate to these moments of emotional outpouring. We find comfort knowing some rich, famous singer in LA shares the exact same emotions that we do.
Michelle Lewis’s album has more than its fair share of sad songs, but they are mostly delivered with an optimistic outlook, yes, she’s been hurt but she’s still here and not only has she learnt from those heartbreaks she’s managed to channel it into songs and it’s pretty uplifting in parts.
Borrowed Time is the sound of past musical traditions, modern sonic inventiveness and future music potentials all mixing liberally in what can only be described as a fresh move for pop. For pop this definitely is, but it is pop with a soulful heritage, Valentine’s vocals alone leave that sonic finger-print on the track. But as deft and addictive as the vocals are, this is pop music built also from some gorgeous textures. Rather than the perfunctory, identikit sound of most of today’s chart bound competition, real thought has gone into the wonderfully layered musical threads that form the song’s body.
AALTA is not afraid to leave space when anticipation and atmosphere feel like the appropriate tool, sensual brass is brought in to carry the main riff, again a brave but wonderfully memorable approach and the cascade of subtle harmony vocals are exquisite rather than powerful.
Everything here is built with a soft and subtle touch and it is these wonderful gossamer layers of music threaded together rather than the usual big crescendos and blunt musical statements that actually land on the listener with a bigger impact and mark out Borrowed Time and indeed AALTA as being in a class of their own.
Ahead of the upcoming run of TC&I shows at Swindon Arts Centre I managed to grab a quick chat with Colin Moulding about recent events, a return to treading the boards and what the future holds. This time last year I had spoken to him and Terry Chambers about the release of their e.p. Great Aspirations, so I was interested to know how we got from that record to full band live shows.
“A few reasons really, all those songs I wrote for XTC, when I had finished recording them I just had to wave goodbye to them and I thought it might be nice to hear them in a concert setting as a lot had never been heard that way. This coincided with Terry thinking shall we play some live shows on the back of these new recordings but of course we only had four new songs. I knew he wanted to get back out and play live, that’s how Terry best expresses himself. I thought, I can’t go the whole hog, I can’t go back to a touring lifestyle, I have commitments but I can go half way and play some shows via a more considered approach.”
There are so many well constructed, clean-limbed and classic sonic lines running through Nevertheless that it immediately feels like a song that you have been humming along to all your life. That simple guitar rhythm, the plaintive piano lines, the jaunty mandolin, they may all sound familiar but the cliche that suggests that this might breed contempt certainly isn’t appropriate in this case. Sometimes familiarity breeds commendation. There’s a new cliche to stick in the book for you.
And the advantage of having an unfussy and sleek tune, one that is happy to just get the job done rather than showboat is that the listener can then focus on the lyrics and this is something that you really need to do here. Trio of Awesuhm offer up a call to arms to all those who think that the challenges that lie ahead of them might be too much, who are afraid to tread new pathways, break new ground, to push at the boundaries and barricades. In its own supple and subtle way it’s a poignant, important and relevant message, it always has been but it somehow seems the perfect time to underline it in these dark days.
Scientists have always predicted lots of cool technological advances, from jet packs to flying cars, from sentient artificial intelligence to time travel. And whilst we are still waiting for the first three of those to become the every day luxuries they promised, the last of that list has been available for a long time. You don’t believe me. Just go and look at your record collection! Every time you put a record on…yes, I still call them records, get over it…not only do those sounds remind you of the time and place where they were created, they can also act as backward glancing sign-posts or future musical predictions and they also probably remind you of that point in your life when you first encountered the music.
Strangely Alright are sonic time-travellers. They paint paisley patterned pictures that shimmer with the 60’s mercurial blend of darkness and innocence, they mesh psychedelia and pop melodies together, they run rock muscle through the most danceable of tunes, they are the perfect blend of past and present. Their reference points, early Floyd’s whimsey, The Kinks deftness, later Beatles experimentalism, Bolan-esque strut, perhaps King Crimson’s more groovesome output as well as later retro-revivalists such as Redd Kross and Jellyfish, might suggest that they spend their time glancing back to past glories. But as I have said before, they also sound like a band making music for today. Pastiche and comfort zones is not what is going on here and whilst you can probably make a fair guess at the contents of their record collections Stuff is every bit as adventurous as the music made by those they tip their hats to.
Whilst the band seem to either only put out the good stuff or just have an uncanny ability to write songs which feel like single material, The Information Game, for me at least, sits at the heart of the e.p., a brilliant blend of Aladdin Sane cool and modern alt-alt-alt rock (rock that is at least three steps removed from the posing indie kids with the their complicated hair and their skinny jeans). All the songs found here are robust enough to make their own way in the world on their own. Whatcha Gonna Do is a teasing taste of what we might have got if Marc hadn’t let Gloria drive the mini that fateful day, Building Bridges is totally infectious from the word go and the title track is the sound of the past and the future having a party in the present.
Strangely Alright doesn’t do things by halves and Stuff is as solid a collection of songs as you are going to hear any time soon, the fact that they are building, blending, inventing and destroying any number of genres along the way is just the icing on the cake. Okay, not time travel in the truest sense but it will do until actual time travel comes along.