Gravity – Julia McDonald (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Julia_McDonald_GravityThere was a time, not to long ago that you had to make a choice between being a pop artist or a serious musician. One was the stuff of slick commerciality, high production values and easy accessibility, the other depth, integrity and longevity. Thankfully the world has moved on and now the lines between the two camps have become entwined in a wonderful middle ground that delivers the best of both worlds.

This is the world that Julia McDonald inhabits, one of pop sheens and commercial potential but also one what teases the edges of the song with dreamy vibes and sonorous atmospherics. One world adds credibility to the other and in return benefits from the potential of the wider market it operates in. For that reason, based on this luscious single, Julia McDonald should be able to do that rare thing of walk the fine line between mainstream pop and some more discerning and harder to please tastes. Not an easy thing to be able to do.

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Ghostdream – Nick Nicely (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

9822e7d8dcMost people build songs based on solidity – riffs, defined chord progressions, choruses, verses – you know all the stuff that has been tried and tested over many years by thousands of artists through millions of songs. But doesn’t that just mean that it’s time for a change? I’m not saying that Nick is the first person to visit these musical peripheries but he is certainly one of a very select gang of sonic explorers who from the 80’s onwards grabbed the emerging and increasingly affordable technology and used it to unlock and create whole new worlds.

Ghostdream is concerned with textures not structures, transcendent noise rather than conventional deliveries, moods rather than hooks. It blends strange space noises and clinical beats with sonorous washes, pulsing synths and robotic vocals. This first track off the forth coming album Sleep Safari is coupled with another strange and exploratory piece, making this what we used to call a double A side, though I guess new terms are needed.

The Otherside 2 follows a similarly ethereal path, playing with disjointed atmospherics before committing to a regular beat upon which to hang and order its musical ideas.

With lyrics often relegated to the role of another instrument rather than a focal point, the music paints pictures and suggests scenes and scenarios that are limited only by the listener’s imagination, irrespective of the composer’s intentions; you are the interpreter here, this is your dream. In just one listen I saw galaxies dying and being reborn, ancient city streets, I viewed the world from the top of mountains and I swam in its deepest oceans. All that and I hadn’t even had lunch yet.

Some bands like to think they are pushing boundaries but they are really just doing the equivalent of knocking the two downstairs rooms into one. Nick’s music is so transient that it seems to float through solid structures at an atomic level out into a wider, unbounded, barrier free universe. That’s how you deal with musical conventions.

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The Mothers Earth Experiment – The Mothers Earth Experiment (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

18485717_1302109889902920_6898810738426586778_nBefore we get down to the nitty-gritty of exploring the music too closely, right from the off the two things that scream out at me as I dip my toe in its sonic waters are the sheer eclecticism and the texturing of sounds. It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to Steely Dan’s Aja and there are more than a few similarities – the innate soulfulness, the progressive landscapes containing wonderfully accessible ideas, the execution of the musicians that somehow combines precision with a loose and often louche style. And simply the sheer scope of the territory being explored.

But this isn’t the seventies nor is it the West Coast. This is the 21st century and this is the West Midlands, which probably has a lot to do with the record’s often darker, more overcast and psychedelic vibe. Whereas with the aforementioned Aja you need to put on sun block just to listen to it, this has a more primal, edgy and ancient feel, even when grooving out on a sonorous jazz vibe or a funky shuffling beat.

This used to be called fusion music which normally meant either a rock band with ideas above its station or a bunch of jazz-hands dumbing down to find more lucrative markets. Thankfully this feels a million miles away from either but much more natural, just a collection of musicians conducting interesting genre-splicing experiments in hidden basements.

Pagan jazz? Psych-soul? Primal-funk? It doesn’t really matter what you call it as I doubt there will be enough bands who ever come close enough to these brilliant and mind bending sounds that we are going to need to think of a collective label. A genre of one? Why indeed not?

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Kermesse Machine – Manu Louis (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

16179743_1414131935264232_7056259334167412981_oSometimes you have to just realise that you are beaten, admit defeat and move on to the next job. No, I’m made of more determined stuff than that, so let’s have another go at describing Manu Louis’ strange and mercurial music in a way that at least makes a little sense.

The problem is that it is so wonderfully bonkers that it is difficult to know where to start. It’s pop, I guess…of sorts and it is very European, buoyant, it will make you laugh, it will make you bop around the room like a lunatic, it will make you want to hang out in strange underground Berlin nightclubs, join Iberian beach parties or go to Dutch pop festivals. It is probably just what we need to get this currently fractured world talking to each other again. Imagine if the answer to the world’s problems didn’t lie in skilled diplomacy or insightful policy-making, what if the answer was a collection of mad pop songs made by an eclectic Belgian composer! Imagine that.

But it is more than just pop, it plays with buoyant jazz, moody chanson balladry, video game style electronica, skittering 8bit bleeps and boops, atmospheric washes: it visits classical elegance and surrealist extravagance, children’s TV theme tunes and progressive landscapes. And I bet if I wrote this tomorrow I would come up with a whole different way of describing it.

Oh, I give up, just go and by a copy; it really is great… in its own, unique way. You will thank me…eventually. Maybe not after the first play, or the second, but in time you will come to see its strange majesty. And if you do, try writing a review, it’s beating the hell out of me.

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Pastures New – Blind River Scare (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

18643835_1391670590871202_559048734_nBlind River Scare has always been a great reminder that when it comes to roots genres, the lines blur easily. Country music is just folk with a fancy hat, or perhaps folk is country under smaller skies. The point is it all comes from a common source and it is where those cultures and traditions co-exist that Blind River Scare, and indeed the song writing of its leader, Tim Manning, is born.

For every country twang there is a folk lick, for every new world breath there is an old world heartbeat; ancient celtic auras blend with more recent musical ideas, worlds collide, universal ideas are revisited, new stories are told, small personal narratives are threaded through bigger stories and vice versa.

It is this ability to wander these two worlds with ease that flavours the music, No Jericho being a slice of homespun folk, Restless Soul very much playing with the sounds of the American heartland and then you have songs such as But Still You Stay which is the perfect example of the cultural distances being shortened, an ocean being crossed and traditional sounds being blended.

You can count on Blind River Scare to come up with the goods, deliver a package of great songs but the clever thing is that whilst singing about what a big, exciting and sometimes scary place the world can be, the universality of the music reminds us that, in some sense at least, it really isn’t that big at all.

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Big Big Heart – Kittens Slay Dragons (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

kittensCatalysts come in many shapes and forms, and that’s a finely hued pun right from start. After hitting a difficult point in her personal life and searching for the missing motivation towards her musical career, Sarah Donner found an unexpected shift in focus came from a very unlikely source. After adopting Melon, a cat with more than it’s own share of health related hurdles to overcome, she realised that sometimes you can slay your own dragons by helping those around you, take the focus away from your own struggles and seeing life from a new perspective.

 
So it was out with the guitars and ukuleles that were her usual go to instruments and in with the synths and drum machines and Kittens Slay Dragons was born. Theirs is a life affirming, day-glow pop built on beeps and boops, synth washes and chiming electronica. It draws a line from the 80’s post-punk, techno pioneers such as Depeche Mode to their modern successors such as Chvrches which crosses one that links the bubble-gum pop of the past with the searching eclecticism of wayward artists such as Bjork.

But beyond the music it is the message behind the songs that jumps off the musical page, and Sarah’s re-avowed love letter to the world around her and the people, and by people I mean cats too of course, in it is as refreshing as it is infectious. But I guess the biggest message is that maybe it is focusing outwards and on the smallest of things that can have the biggest effect your life.

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Proud Shame – Heavy America (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Heavy_AmericA_coverDespite being the product of modern day Boston, Heavy America have a sound that links together points in time and places on the map from a much wider and deeper musical palette. Alternative rock is a pretty broad term but in the case of Heavy America it is a dark and moody rock core, built of slow burning meandering builds and incendiary dynamic shifts. It is then shot through with sleazy Doorsian menace and drifting desert blues, a slightly retro psych-rock touch and some Sabbath-esque drama. Throw in a bit of musical swagger and garage rock rawness and you have the perfect musical storm. And all that in under 4 minutes!

 
Back in the day, when the debut Sabbath album first blipped on the rock and roll radar, this sort of music would have been considered heavy metal a genre which has has long since become something else, something overplayed and over complicated, swapping technique of emotion somewhere along the way. But strip things down to their bare essentials, slow it right down and this is the essence of the genre, though such a label will cause a lot of confusion amongst todays skinny jeaned, sleeve-tattooed keepers of the flame. But if you want to know what heavy metal is really all about, forget the unnecessary outer trappings, this is what its soul sounds like.

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Hometown – Dru Cutler (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Hometown_coverWhen you look at an artists “about me” or biographical blurb and check their listed influences, it often says more about what they want to sound like or what they sound like in their own head rather than describes the music that has just burst from the speakers. It was very strange, therefore, not to mention totally gratifying to find that as I listened and read, I found that the influences listed were more than just a nod to Dru Cutler’s record collection or aspirations. For all the myriad of sounds and styles suggested by musical roll call, I found myself mentally ticking them off as I listened to his music.

 

Hometown drives down a fairly straight heartland rock groove, it is wonderfully spacious, considered, clean-limbed and the lyrics are an emotive and reflective nod to the places we all remember before we took steps out into a wider world. And whilst it is the sort of song that everyone from Tom Petty to Neil Young would bite your hand off to call their own, it is Infinite Moons that tells you so much more about the potential of this artist.

 

Here we head into territory more often defined by the likes of Wilco, Arcade Fire or Rogue Valley drifting ambience locked onto more solid structures, unexpected dynamics, the sound of new sonic pathways being explored – cosmic Americana for want of a better term. Hometown is the type of song that will get them through the door in large numbers but it is the cinematic feel and fragility of Infinite Moons that will remain the talking point.

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Wollow – Sergio Beercock (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

thAs the artist’s own name might suggest, Wollow is an album that contains much duality. With roots in both Sicily and England, Sergio blends a British folk honesty with more emotive, exotic and passionate sounds. But it goes beyond that too. Like any musician, join the dots between their songs and you get to see something of their life and here that line takes in Yorkshire villages and Sicilian farmhouses, the echoes of his teenage footsteps through South America, the suburban hubbub of the modern world.

 
There is a elemental quality to the album with lyrics which evoke the majesty of open spaces, big skies, the seasons, the weather, the fauna and flora of the world and does so through a range of styles from traditional folk deliveries to more drifting and ambient moments. And in those more wandering and experimental spaces, the spirit of John Martyn surely hangs above the album nodding approvingly. And as affirmations go, that isn’t a bad one to have.

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Promised Land – Russ Still and the Moonshiners (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

StillCookinTitleArt512-440x440Terms such as country-rock often conjure conflicts in the mind of the would be punter. Rock music tipping its Stetson at more rootsy traditions? Country music making a break for wider commercial markets by betraying the tenets of the genre? Well, there are no such concerns in the wake of listening to Promised Land, playing as it does to the strengths of all concerned.

Country grooves leave dusty footprints across the record and rock music brings the required swagger but there is so much more going on here as well. Bluesy bar-room piano adds some wonderfully deft touches and once the guitars are let loose they wander down some fantastic Southern rock pathways. It feels at once retro, contemporary and brilliantly forward thinking…how do you do that?

The songs dynamic is buoyant and filled with the right blend of loose attitude and on the button precision, it takes a great band to feel so relaxed in their deliveries and yet still have everything hitting just perfectly. The more I try to dissect the song, the more I fall in love with its construction, but that isn’t what music was designed for. Forget the soothing and fine-tuned purr coming from under the hood, let’s just open this baby up and see how fast it will go….

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New Music of the Day – CLXXXIV- Joshua – Leah Capelle

leahcapelle1Whilst I am a big believer in music which pushes boundaries, breaks new ground and makes weird musical leaps of faith, I am, like most people, a sucker for music firmly based in more comfortable zones, that just happens to be perfectly executed. And yes, Joshua might easily be dismissed as just another slice of pop-rock, but that is to over look the fact that it is a brilliant slice of pop-rock. If you don’t want to explore the mainly niche and non-commercial back waters of as an intrepid musical explorer then why not juggle familiar musical building blocks and just simply use them to create something more impressive, slicker and infectious than those around you.

 
And that is exactly what Leah Capelle does so well here. Pop sensibilities are tempered by the song having its foot on a rock throttle, able to power up or decelerate at will, commercially astute writing is driven by pulsing, funky bass lines and wonderful chorus dynamics make this the sure fire sing-along track of the summer.

Pop gets a bad name, has been tarred and feathered by one too many production line, dance routine driven, auto-tuned diva. But this is pop and this is great. This is what pop should be and hopefully can be again, a perfect example of why be “alternative to” when you can simply be “better than…..”

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Artist Profile – Illacrimo

18268125_1352666331477679_6412159878001814680_nIllacrimo are the perfect band for the post-genre world, wandering effortlessly as they do between musical styles. Whilst they have one foot firmly planted in a slick alternative rock vibe it is what they gather around that which sets them apart from their peers. Pop awareness, classical deftness, and electronic exploration all make this a lot more than just another rock band.

 
They trade in a rich, dense sound and although they embrace all that the modern age has to offer in terms of technology, studio production and equipment, at the end of the day they stay true to the spirit of rock and roll. It’s a sound built on big riffs, accessible, soaring, melody driven songs, deep-rooted grooves and thunderous backbeats. In short it’s a big show just waiting for its turn to be unleashed on the big stage.

Dynamics rise and fall, built from subtle break downs, soaring vocals or euphoric guitar lines, past-referencing interludes or mood shifting drum patterns. A glorious celebration of what modern rock music can be. The less is more years are behind us, if done correctly, and this certainly is, more is more can definitely be the way forward.

They are a band who have worked out that the wheel doesn’t need re-inventing, it just needs a clean up, re-treading and some fancy rims then taken out for a spin to leave some indelible and unsightly marks all over the road, possibly invoking an angry letter to the local newspaper. Hang on, it is going to be one hell of a ride.

https://www.reverbnation.com/illacrimo

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And You Brutus – Cranford Hollow (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

3It’s great when a band throw you a bit of a curveball like the minimalistic, ambient intro of And You Brutus. I’m looking at their image of five bearded bar room savants and thinking that somewhere along the line a music file has been mislabelled and I’m trying to match up sounds which seems to have drifted in from a West Coast, new age studio or a student bedroom from Minneapolis. But then the song starts in earnest, the world comes into focus and everything makes sense again as southern twanging guitars and four-four country-rock backbeats build to more expected soundscapes.

But I mention this for good reason as whilst Cranford Hollow do a neat line in heartland rock, deep-fried country grooves tempered with folk vibes and rich in melody, there is an unexpected payoff in the attention to detail, the musical texturing and layering of sounds that runs beyond the intro and into the song proper.

The beats are solid, the vocals confident and the guitars drive unfussy riffs across the top of the song but as I said the devil is in the detail and there is some wonderful blending of picked rhythms and drifting guitar lines running through the middle.

 
The style may be familiar, but not every band or song has to push new boundaries, though having heard some of the other songs from this same album Color/Sound/Renew/Revive, there is plenty of forward thinking to be had as well. If it is enough to rework what has gone before into new shapes and do it better than most then Cranford Hollow more than justify their existence. And anyway, I don’t remember Mellencamp or The Band throwing too much Latin about.

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Shine Your Love – Kathryn Shipley (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Shine_Your_Love__Final_Single_Coverhigh1400x1400I’m not sure why we feel the need to specifically label devotional music as a separate genre from secular. Gospel? Christian rock? What does it all mean? After I all I don’t remember anyone feeling the need to call The Beastie Boys Buddhist Rap or label Pink as Passover-Pop. All that really matters for Kathryn Shipley is that her faith and her love of music can come together in such a wonderfully complimentary way and I really doubt that she cares what anyone else thinks on the matter.
What is obvious though is that such a meeting of two very important parts of her life is able to such personal create music, but which whilst being the perfect carrier for her world-view and beyond, also speaks to the secular listener. The core of Gospel music is built from much of the same elements as soul music and Shine Your Love is a perfect example of a song that straddles the boundaries of the two.

It is a soft and subtle song, one that sits easy on the ears yet has a message that can’t be ignored, but neither does it ever feel as if it is preaching. It is based on love, sentiment, faith and emotion, and is celebratory without being too obvious about it. And whilst Kathryn is blessed with a wonderfully powerful and resonant voice it is an inane sensitivity, which shines through the song more than anything.

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