Fans of Americana music may already be aware of Danny Schmidt, this is his tenth studio album, so it’s safe to say that if you enjoy this kind of music then his name will have popped up somewhere down the line. Known for his song writing skills and expressive, poetic lyrics, Schmidt was listed as one of the fifty most significant songwriters of the last fifty years by the Chicago Tribune so it’s clear he has fans in high places.
Ecological messages haven’t always sat well in music, being told the World is about to end isn’t the best subject matter for pop music, so it takes deft musical skill to deliver such an important message yet still be accessible. In short, it’s all very well having a message but if the way you tell it doesn’t reach the ears and minds of people, you’ve achieved nothing.
Agency has become one of the acts that I really look forward to hitting the review pile these days. Odd considering that their cool urban grooves, the soulful blends of pop, chilled dance, their slight nod to hip-hop and occasional rap excursions should resonate so strongly with someone like me who grew up to the sound of the foot on the monitor excesses of rock and indie music. But that says as much about the universal appeal of their music as it does about my personal growth I guess.
It says something about the prevalent style of music that has been landing in the review pile of late that I find myself using well travelled, less is more type cliches, of talking about restraint, understatement and space more and more often. But of all of the minimal pop, ambient, dreamlike indie and balladic music that has come my way, By Myself perhaps marks a real high point in how to say so much by doing so little. And I use the term “doing so little” in the most positive sense of the meaning, for whilst it is easy to do little when it comes to writing music, it is knowing just which bits of this minimalist approach to use that is the real art. And Mos Capri seems an expert in knowing just how to cut that musical cloth to its barest and most essential…essentials.
There is a lot of power in understatement. Even when trying to convey the most emotive of ideas, the most universal of situations, the most heart-felt of passions, you can often create a bigger impact through the delicacy of space and restraint than with bombast and weight. Aflame is a testament to such an idea and whilst it is interestingly captioned by the artist herself as “not a love song” it is undoubtedly a song about love in the wider sense.
Following on from the success of recent collaborations with Kroissenbrunner, here Jamit teams up with another artist whose name takes me at least four attempts to type, to bring various additional sonic goodness to his already fascinating musical explorations. Holy Prophet Elijah is the usual blend of off kilter EDM and mercurial, left-field sonic references. The vocals sit in their usual half-lost, otherworldly voice-as-instrument place and the track drives on strange, primal croaking synth, skittering grooves and an unfussy but unambiguous beat.
The piano ballad has always been an effective musical format. Able to tug on heartstrings, ooze emotion, be relatable in the love, loss and longings that are the lyrical fare of such types of music. Week, Love is the sound of David Hugø updating that style for a modern audience and it is this blend of the traditions of the form and his ability to rebrand them for a younger, more contemporary audience that are the real selling point here.
If we needed more proof that the music world has got over its obsession with tribalism, with clearly demarcated generic styles, with the strictures of past traditions, that even the often set in its ways country sound is exploring beyond its comfort zones, Sunshine provides it. With one foot definitely in the country zone, and the more rock and roll part of it too, the other is planted firmly in more broader commercial territories, more pop infused musical climates. And the result is something that will still tick a lot of boxes for those who know just how they like their country music to sound but which also has the power to take the genre to a whole new, younger and more broad-minded audience.
Where as music with up-front lyrics, where there is communication using the usual conventions of recognisable words and familiar language taking place, is a format in which it is relatively ease to make yourself understood, instrumental music has be much cleverer in how it interacts with the listener. In the case of Martin Ptak’s gorgeous River Tales, it can only be though a set of emotive responses to the music itself. With no lyrics to hide behind the music obviously has to take on many roles; voice, mood, musical engine room, sonic painter and more, and do so within the logical confines of the subject at hand, in this case to capture musically the flow from source to sea of the River Danube that Ptak grew up alongside.
The image of the ‘mad scientist’ musician is one we’ve known about for years, those individuals that lock themselves away for months – or years – on end, tirelessly searching for a sound or rhythm to take their compositions from their mind to the record. It’s quite an attractive proposition for those who have a single goal but want to go about it without the conversations and compromise that having other musicians around will bring, obviously the down side is you miss out on valuable input from someone who can look at things a little more objectively than our soul, lonely sonic inventor tucked away in his garden shed, but that is the price you pay.
Rarely have a I heard such an intimate album as this, you’re invited into a closed world, a snap shot of music played out in real time, almost as if the music is being made up on the spot and being revealed as and when things happen.
This is the music of Ben Bedford and its stark arrangements of one voice and one guitar will warm even the coldest mornings because the three jobs of singer, songwriter and musician are all handled with skill, this is a man who can paint lyrical pictures and deliver them with the correct musical background.
We so often hear artists talk about how making an album can be a cathartic process, how music is a way of exorcising personal demons, of freeing the soul and revealing their inner most turmoils, deepest emotions, most private thoughts. But more often than not the said album actually ends up being little more than cliche and guarded revelations designed to tick certain boxes but say very little? On that score Temporary Hero is nothing if not the real deal. An artist who can forge music from the most intimate experiences, from real, deep rooted emotion and darkest thoughts. And if you are used to such a process resulting in tortured music and bleak soundscapes, again just another cliched refuge for artists looking to play to certain pre-conceived expectations, the sheer infectiousness of Quench will again surprise you.
One of the joys of being long in the tooth as a reviewer is that you get to watch acts evolve over the years and Wilding has been one of the more enjoyable and rewarding careers to watch. From the sleek and simple lines as a solo singer-songwriter to the brilliant textures that the Lighterthief team wrapped around his already elegant and eloquent songs and finally with a full live band gathered around him, George Wilding could almost be a template of how to kick-start your career as a musician. The lad I used to describe as looking like Nick Drake’s dealer is actually much more astute, much cleverer than his rabbit in the headlights image suggests.
Birmingham dream-pop trio JAWS return with the announce of their third and most ambitious album yet, “The Ceiling”, out April 5th 2019. Recording again with Gethin Pearson, who also produced 2016’s “Simplicity”, the album represents another musical leap forward for the band, adding new textures and further honing a sound that has been theirs since their inception.
Described as a missing link between the first two albums and a planned forthcoming release, these four tracks have been talked about in hushed tones by those in know for a long time now. Having been recorded over a decade ago prior to debut album No Windows to the Old World, there is much here that resonates with the expectations of The Blood Choir‘s fans but also much that is wonderfully new and slightly unexpected.
Punk wasn’t built in a day, but it probably didn’t take the whole weekend. And this is the attitude that lies at the heart of A G E N T’s music, get the job done and then get the hell out of there. Fuck This Noise, a typically uncompromising statement of intent, is the sound of that early punk swagger colliding with more fluid and florid rockisms, the former providing the balls and belligerence, the latter adding a step up in terms of musicality. Once you remember that punk was born kicking and screaming, literally, out of rock and roll in the first place, the UK version from Bowie obsessed art-students looking for a way out, the US strain coming from more street level garage rock mutations, you realise that Fuck This Noise is not so much a meeting of genres but more a re-alignment across the generations. It also shows that everything is rock and roll if you drive it hard enough and strip it clean. And this drives hard and is bad to the bone.
In many ways Fifteen, and indeed SPC ECO’s music in general, seems like the latest chapter in an ongoing story, one that was only ever aimed at a more discerning, left-field and underground audience. Whilst many are familiar with where the story line jumps off, a swirl of experiments and musical visionaries embracing new and strange technologies to make new, wholly original music released on small, independent record labels a generation ago, far fewer have kept up with the plot line as the story has moved on. And that is a shame as, perhaps unexpectedly, as those characters in the story have grown up they have become more interesting, more creative, more exploratory rather than less so.
Any music which wanders into your consciousness reminding you of the amazing, voice as instrument creations of Karl Jenkins is always going to get my immediate attention. But where as Jenkins suites of music generally headed down world a music meets classical pathway, Lisabel instead pops on her best frock and heads to a salubrious up-town jazz club.
Television were a fixture of Gotham’s 1970s downtown punk scene, and mainstay of iconic East Village club CBGB’s, alongside groups like The Velvet Underground.
Their debut album, Marquee Moon, was recorded in 1976 following frontman Richard Hell’s unceremonious departure from the band.
With a voice sounding like Stevie Nicks cutting down pine trees with a wood saw, singer/songwriter Amber Cross has a depth and strength to her voice that betrays her small frame. It conveys emotion and a wisdom that is difficult to find in other female singers from the Americana genre, you can hear the truth in her words and imagine the dirt under her nails because every word she sings sounds as if it comes from years of experience and living under the spell of the American wilderness.
There is a wonderful irony sitting at the heart of The Used Notes music. For whilst there is a wilful anonymity to the project, a writer and producer collaborating with various singers and musicians to see the songs to fruition but leaving the band largely faceless and the the audience free to approach the music without any prompting or suggestion, Scream Please is exactly the sort of music that if promoted in a certain way would probably fill stadiums and sell in big numbers. Not that everyone wants to go down such a route and the artistic sacrifices that are part of that journey and you have to respect that decision. For many the art is more important than the artifice and The Used Notes certainly falls into that honest category.
I’ve said it before, probably in previous Lucy Mason reviews, but dream-pop and indie genres make perfect bedfellows. The former brings a wonderful haziness and it softens edges whilst the later adds a contemporary cool and accessibility, the meeting of these two worlds has created some of my favourite music as recent times. 3 AM is certainly up there with that group.
It says something that in the three years since With Wolves The Lamb Will Lie came my way it has never yet found itself filed alongside its fellow musical platters but has remained lurking in rarefied company next to the stereo all this time. That speaks volumes especially in a house that sometimes feels more like an old school record shop that a place of dwelling. What I’m trying to say in my clumsy way is that it is an album that has aged brilliantly and set the benchmark very high for Matt to follow.
We know from the previous sonic salvo, I Don’t Feel It, that Fred Argir revels in, not just the sound of the guitar but its potential in the studio. He understands the fullness of its sonic spectrum from deftly picked acoustic to muscle-bound, over-driven electric and combines these various textures, intertwining layers and complimentary dynamics to build his songs.
Okay, I’m not the biggest fan of people covering other artists work but if you are going to do it then the art is to bring something new to the song, retain the essence of the original but create a new and sympathetic sonic world for it to inhabit. And that comes from truly understanding what the instigating work was all about. Dance Me, a reworking of Leonard Cohen’s iconic Dance Me to the End of Love, shows that Sterling EQ understand their chosen song implicitly.
NYC’s Charly Bliss return by signing to Lucky Number (Sunflower Bean, Dream Wife, Hinds, Sleigh Bells and more) for the World excluding America and announcing their highly anticipated new album, Young Enough, with a video for its lead single Capacity.
Young Enough is available for pre-order now and due out May 10th via Lucky Number.
Charly Bliss’ Eva Hendricks says “‘Capacity’ is a song about wanting to kill your inner people-pleaser, and Michelle beautifully presented a parallel concept, which warns of the perils of getting swept up in other people’s bullshit.”
After a 5-year hiatus following the release of their acclaimed sophomore release, Barcelona based outfit Oso Leone return with an alluring new album touching on soul, funk, R&B and pop, out via Apollo Records on March 11th.
Following their meditative self-titled debut and its captivatingly sparse follow-up ‘Mokragora,’ ‘Gallery Love’ achieves what it sets out to do and more, taking the listener on an auditory journey with lucid song structures that ebb and flow like the waves.
After three years away because of “writers’s block, collective band depression and half-hearted ventures into other lines of work,” The Royal Concept have finally bounced back with a fantastic new single. Need To Know sits wonderfully between Swedish melancholy and the California sun, will appeal to fans of the more discerning pop and indie sound and somehow seems like both a wonderfully reverential step back whilst being a sure-footed sonic move forward.
Duels raises a few interesting questions, questions which the musical competition might want to level at themselves. Questions such as, why glow when you can shine? Why sparkle when you can shimmer with sonic incandescence? Why be ordinary when you can ooze widescreen, cinematic grander? Why Indeed? For Brim Liski is able to pour all of those qualities into the music and do so without any hint of effort or pretence.
If indie music often tries so hard to be cool you can hear it creaking under the weight of its own earnestness, and soul music is often regarded as a niche or more underground genre these days, especially by fans of white, guitar driven sounds, then perhaps Olga Solar is the answer. Then again, genres are pretty meaningless these days. But Tulips is effortlessly soulful without being soul music by any usual definition. It also easily conforms to the usual indie music benchmarks but what it is acting independently of is anyones guess…bad music I suppose. Yet it ticks a lot of boxes in both of these, often mutually exclusive, areas. Strange!