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.
Tales of romance within the music industry are still alive and kicking, you hear stories of buskers being plucked from oblivion to record debut albums, lonely minstrel-type performers suddenly thrown into the spotlight after years of sofa surfing and these kinds of background stories are much more interesting than the reality of someone going through years of learning their craft in numerous bands before suddenly getting a deal with a bunch of friends and going on to be the next big thing.
What a difference a video makes! Okay, we have been here before, I Need You found its way to us not so long ago and it is safe to say that we admired its deft weaving of rockish warp and soulful weft into a gorgeous sonic design, one that tipped its hat wonderfully to the past whilst striding confidently into the future. It is back, this time with a video attached and proving that a song can be great when experienced through the usual audio sensory intake but add a visual package and that experienced is heightened no end.
For all the big and obvious sounds I get to listen to on a daily basis as a music reviewer, it is the more studied, the more ambient and more intricate sounds that I look forward too. I, of course, appreciate a pop hook, a rock riff and a well executed roots manoeuvre but there is something about music that uses space and anticipation to build its drama and atmosphere as readily as it uses instruments and structure that I find appealing. To find Invadable Harmony back before the reviewers pen is therefore a joy.
It’s pretty clear from the ‘man and his guitar’ front cover that this is a song centred around the sound of a six string and the male voice, but it’s no Bob Dylan or James Taylor, this is Americana with a dash of bluegrass and gospel to go along with it.
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.
Whilst those at one end of the music industry, the moneyed end, are able to build a reputation from the tease and anticipation that comes with having a label budget to play the PR game, Fabpz the Freelancer takes a much more DIY approach. He keeps his name on peoples lips through a relentless release schedule with albums seeming being fired off into the public conscious every few months. And this, almost punk approach, seems to pervade the way he puts the music together as well.
The idea of a travelling musician is one of romance and adventure, of endless experiences from visiting new towns, meeting new people, writing new songs and then moving on for the next instalment of adventure.
It’s often interesting to read the press release for albums that fall into my paws, sometimes the description that has been put forward is at odds with the finished product that finds itself booming out of my speakers. Descriptions like ‘life-affirming’, ‘game changing’, ‘powerhouse’ and ‘the next great act’ accompany these albums so it’s sometimes wise to ignore the blurb and just judge for yourself.
Heavy AmericA have a way of getting to the root of what rock and metal is all about. As I pointed out before when Proud Shame was under the reviewers pen, they are the masters of the declutter, the straight line and the honest approach, they do away with the fad and the fashion, the additional and wholly unnecessary textures and layering and get straight to the heart of the issue. But that isn’t to say that their music is simple, basic, or that they don’t groove with the best of them. It’s just that they know what is important and what is not.
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.
Christmas songs usually follow some pretty tried and tested pathways. The imagery is usually of opening presents, of being surrounded by family, of food and cheer, of having and being grateful. Nothing wrong with that but in many ways it’s quite a selfish message really. And at a time when the world seems to be in ever more turmoil and division, when the gap between the haves and the have-nots seems more pronounced than ever, maybe a more realistic message, a more basic reminder needs to be heard and that is exactly what Lynne Taylor Donovan has done with Dear Santa.
If grunge music has a reputation for being challenging and confrontational and more traditional rock forms seem rife with cliche and stereotypical sonic meanderings then maybe there is something to be had by taking the best of both worlds, to forge something in the middle ground of the two extremes. Music that is big, bold and boisterous, easily accessible but which is also dark, sharp-edged and intense. Anyone who could do that would surely find that they appealed to a wide spectrum of rock fans. Well, that is just what Sparkhouse does on De Maria.
Anyone who states that “ brown notes, off-beats and noise are my friends” is always going to be someone who will capture my attention. After all in a world of conformity and polish it is those sort of things that make music stand out from the background mediocrity and line-toeing. Maniacs From The 4th Dimension is a tricky beast, it lulls you into a false sense of security. Considering what the aforementioned phrase might seem to allude to, what madness and left-field thinking it might suggest, Till We Meet Again heads off down some pretty conventional musical routes. But by the time you stop and take stock of things a minute or so in you realise that the simple acoustic guitar lines and straight four -four beats have actually cocooned themselves in some pretty “out there” sonic trappings. Psychedelic grooves are laid down, squalling guitars paint Paisley patterns in the air, rumbling baselines add rock muscle and the whole rocks with a retro infused intensity. It sort of sneaks up on you. And as a calling card or way to announce your intentions, it is perfect.
Aleksandar Vrhovec is certainly a name that we have come across on this site before. We have encountered his more accessible and perhaps even chart friendly side with LucidFer and the more intricate and progressive moments with Acid Hags. And if, as you step from one to the other, you find yourself moving into ever more experimental realms, Reset is the stepping stone that takes you even further into more intriguing and wonderfully strange sonic landscapes.
If the musical genre that went by the name of “goth” quickly got weighed down with pantomime pretensions, corny cliche and primary school theatrics until it disappeared into its own black hole, Gothic Novel is the perfect antidote to such silliness. Taking the general theme suggested by the title it is a collection of tales based around gothic literature, dark romance and moonlit encounters. Some might label such a device a concept album, but better perhaps to call it an album of concepts, especially given the collaborative and fluid nature of the music.
ZGTC has always been a beguiling and fluid prospect. Live shows seem to be free form and largely improvised, or at least they give that impression, often dependant on what other musicians are around to collaborate with and what instrument takes the whim of the man at the heart of the operation. But sometimes it pays to tie things down and this is what we have here, though it is probably only really representative of what was in the air on the specific day that the tape was rolling. Good, music doesn’t need to have a definitive form, bands don’t need to be restricted to the idea of being hamstrung by a recording, artists should be free to explore their own potential rather than pander to those around them. That way cover bands lie….
Pop music doesn’t have to follow the seemingly ubiquitous current industry format, the same beats, the style over substance, the enforced dance routine moves, the slavishness to lowest common denominator transient fad and fashion. In fact pop music becomes more relevant the further it moves from such conformity. Fjokra’s latest single, Sugarface, featuring regular collaborator Annie Bea, is all the proof you need that this is the case.
If anyone ever tries to convince you that the technology that was enabled sampling and all the studio innovations that much modern music is built on has taken all the skill out of writing songs, then just play them The Keymakers. There will always be those artist who use such advancements to make up for any lack of requisite skills, but this duo certainly is not one of them. The Keymakers instead use the studio itself as an instrument, make (largely) digital magic and then learn how to replicate it live, as the accompanying video shows.
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.
It is nice to know that in this world were a lot of rap and hip-hop has been dumbed down to mumbling bedroom wannabes talking in street tough cliches over the same off the shelf meandering beats that occasionally you can still stumble across something which reminds you of the golden age. Challenger swaggers like an old school hip-hop classic but is nothing if not forward looking, talking in the language of today and adding a real street edge and dark anticipation through the choice and flow of words. It is sharp, punchy and for a change revels in its own lyricism, something which seems to have ironically been lost from the genres which arose from a cappella street poetry.
Folk music, like every other style and genre has to move with the times to stay relevant. Remain entrenched in nostalgic sounds and you limit your audience to those who are already on board, push the boundaries too far and you find that you are just pandering to current fad and fashion rather than making the music that comes naturally from you. Circle Mountain is the sound of an artist getting the balance between old and new just right.
Say what you like about Ty Segall but he’s nothing if not prolific. His heart is also very much in the right place as he proves by fitting the release of this single into his already hectic schedule, a song about his loyal canine friend and done so to raise money to re-home stray dogs.
As long as there has been music vying to be the Christmas No. 1 there have been songs that challenge such modern traditions. This latest offering from Spray is ironically both. In their usual infectious, humorous and slightly off-beat pop way The Ballad of Xmas ’99 (Oh Cliff) tells the story of…well, you can probably work most of it out from the title. It looks back at their shot to be the sonic Christmas cracker of that year only to be defeated by the usual suspects including the infamous, wired for snooze, Cliff.
Songwriting is the perfect vehicle for telling stories, a form able to blend poeticism, dynamic, drama, emotion and everything else need to spin a good yarn. But rarely has the music of a singer-songwriter covered such an epic slice of history. Essentially a tribute to his father, his life and the events that he lived through, Ordinary Giants is so much more.
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.
Writing about music in a language other than the one I am fluent in is an interesting process. Without the direct communication of the lyrics you have to let the music do the talking which might seem like a more difficult process but which can actually feel more honest, subtler and more pure process. After all how many times have you heard someone say that “the music speaks to me’” well, in this case that is pretty much all I have to rely on. That and a very narrative driven video.
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.
Songs that start with the bassy, warm tones of a Wurlitzer Organ normally go down well in my opinion, it has the character to gently announce that the music is about to start so find a quiet spot, get comfortable and we’ll begin.