Fragments – Salt Cathedral (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

unspecifiedIt probably says as much about the acts I choose to write about as it does the current trends in music but I see these dreamy, ambient pop-washes as the saviour of commercial music. Pop music has too long been about brash, in-you-face, Day-Glo painted but ultimately empty dross, like a sugar rush that leaves you twitching and unsatisfied.

Salt Cathedral do brush along a musical seam not a million miles away from more mainstream acts as Ellie Goulding but I see this Columbian duo more  part of the slightly leftfield wave of new-pop that is rising up and offering something more substantial for your fan dollar. A wave which includes Lucy Mason, Polar Front and Seconds, pop which seems to come from a more underground point of departure, ticks all the right commercial boxes but offers something that still appeals to a more discerning, underground set.

Fragments is a beguiling mix of trippy pop, skittering oriental sounding synth riffs and a slow burning build towards an epic crescendo. It ties atmosphere and ethereality to an ever growing purpose, remains odd and otherworldly yet still sounds hypnotic and enticing. Maybe music like this is a bit too clever for the mass appeal that it deserves, it would be great if this was the stuff of late night radio and chilled out après club playlists. Maybe it is enough for now that it is our little secret, something us music snobs can bond over and call our own before the secret gets out. Shh…don’t tell anyone, not just yet at least.

 

 

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Songs of Praise, Swindon – My 12 favourite gigs of 2016 – part 1 (by Dave Franklin)

12376559_918068144947598_1890568069506145317_nI don’t get to go to many gigs that I am not involved in promoting these days, but whilst I am always present in more of a work than a punter capacity, I still get to watch, work and hang out with some wonderful bands and a set of people who are imaginative, affable, mad, crazy, creative, visionary and unlike anyone you’d meet in normal walks of life. With that in mind I thought that I’d pick my top twelve gigs I have been part of this year.

Polar Front, Lionface and Honey Trap – 7th January @ The Victoria

Polar Front are the local success story of the last year from fledging steps towards a sassy melding of R&B grooves with shimmering indie-pop to becoming soundscaping leviathans. Not only do they build massive sonorous dreamscapes and towering sonic cathedral in Sophie Goldsworthy they have the voice to back it up.

Lionface have similar draw dropping qualities, twisted electronic pop, jagged guitars and brooding melodies and one of the most mesmerising performers you will ever witness fronting the musical package.

 Gaz Brookfield and Ben Wain, Nick Parker and George Wilding – 18th February @ The Victoria

 It’s always a fun night when Gaz and his right hand man Ben head back to the town of the formers, formative musical years. Now commanding massive audiences but somehow still able to deliver an honest, often poignant, sometimes just plain fun set that still feels intimate and accessible, that’s one hell of a trick.

Nick Parker is one of my favourite people from this strange musical world to spend time with and just as big a Waterboys fan as me. His set of quirky stories, kitchen sink narratives, and sing-along rhymes defy anyone not to join in.

Opening the night was George Wilding who may look like Nick Drakes drug dealer but whose command of gutter poetry, back street operas and strange urban mythologies are second to none….except Joseph Porter. (Oh, go look him up.)

 SNDubstation and The Hat Club – 18th March @ The Locomotive

 This one was so memorable not only for the class of the bands who both take reggae and ska and blend them into wonderful, euphoric and unique musical shapes but the fact that the venue, normally known for homing a smattering of speed addled, budget lager drinkers who try to ignore and find fault with whatever music was programed that week were invaded by a party crowd who proceed to blow the roof off the place.

 The Black Feathers, Jonny Payne and The Thunder and Phil Cooper – 7th April @ The Victoria

 Anyone who doesn’t like The Black Feathers can’t be my friend. I’m sorry, those are the rules and there is nothing I can do about it. As they wander country, soul and folk musical roads they manage to lay waste any competition via the sublime way their vocals harmonise. The song crafting is great and they have an amazing stage charisma, add to that the fact that they are thoroughly nice people to hang about with and the attraction isn’t hard to see.

Jonny Payne does a neat line in Americana – country, folk, soul and gospel all find their way into the mix and the fact that The Thunder who make up the rhythm section are also two thirds of The Black Hats, one of the first bands I put on in Swindon sparks a few nostalgic conversations.

No one does accessible, acoustic pop like Phil Cooper; imagine Neil Finn with an English accent…and a hat.

 White Lilac, Wasuremono and Neverlnd – 21st April @ The Victoria

 I grew up musically with all the independent labels of the post-punk era and this gig was like a journey back in time. Sadly White Lilac is no more, as far as I’m aware, but like Wasuremono before them they blend post-punk boundary pushing, pastoral dream-pop and shimmering shoegaze into interesting new forms. The headliners take a more raw-edged approach though tempered when needed by some haunting cello lines, their support pulling at more bucolic, and atmospheric strings and garnering strange sounds from an array of retro technology.

Opener Neverlnd take the more commercial approach but still manage to walk that difficult line between radio play and cult status.

 Don Gallardo and Luke Tuchscherer – 8th May @ The Beehive

 We don’t get to put on many gigs at The Beehive but when one of East Nashville’s finest comes looking for a show you beg, borrow or steal to make it happen. Thankfully it only took a phone call.

There is quite a market in this country at the moment for music labelled Roots, Americana, or even British Americana, but when the real thing comes to town you sit up and take notice. You know how the music score of shows like “Nashville” just sound different to anything we produce on this side of the water, well, that makes a good point of reference as some of that music for that show was supplied by Mr G.

That said Luke Tuchscherer is one of our own and not only did he play the perfect support he then jumped on the drums and backed up our colonial cousin.

New Music of the Day – CXXI: Saints – Polar Front

14333643_561731030691651_7854282880836419933_nIt’s been a busy weekend for Polar Front, a hometown show to launch their debut e.p, a slot at Oxford’s O2 and this little gem of a video to complete the package.

 

The opening track to the record has been brought to life my Henry Meredith and OT Films and captures the dark intensity that you find at the heart of their music. The grandiose soundscaping and pop aware grooves may be the first thing that you pick up on, but when accompanied by such a powerful and emotive set of images as we find here it just accentuates the shade to balance their lighter moments.

 

Atmospheric, sonorous, unsettling and claustrophobic may not be words I thought that I’d be using to describe this band based on catching their fledgling performances just over a year ago but they have certainly grown into something with hidden depths, both sonically and lyrically. This is the perfect video to highlight their more beguiling and confrontational side. Just what pop music has been waiting for.

 

 

16916 – Polar Front (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

unspecifiedTo anyone with their ear to the ground for new music in the last year or so, the release of Polar Front’s debut e.p is probably a long and keenly awaited affair. Obviously their stock has quite visibly risen of late with technological endorsements and music used in high profile fashion adverts, which is fine for social media and the like but at the end of the day they are a band and all that aside the big question is also the simplest. Can they make great music as readily as they make great headlines?

 

But as the atmospheric and charged spaces of Saints wash out of the speakers you quickly realise that the answer to that is a resounding yes. And more. Sophie’s mesmerising vocal sits enticingly between modern R’n’B and sonorous dreamscaping and the dynamic range she draws on is breath-taking. But this isn’t a one trick pony and an escalating musical wave built of solid beats, shimmering and soaring guitars and intricate weaves of electronica is soon crashing down around her.

 

And if the warped, futuristic R’n’B of Triggers and Eye to Eye represent the more chart-friendly aspects of their creative juices, to this old hack it is the majesty and scale of that opener and Faded that tick all the right boxes, fleeting moments when the glory days of 4AD loom large over the performance. Whilst to the modern pop-picker they could easily be seen as ploughing a similar lush musical furrow as the likes of PVRIS, to me there is just as much of the Cocteau’s non-conformity and acoustic anarchy running through the heart of the music. Given the age of the band members this has more than likely been absorbed by osmosis but the fact that it chimes to me from the heart of this beguiling record can only be a good thing. No, make that a great thing.

 

Yes, they have proved beyond doubt that they were able to come up with the musical goods when it counted and have created a collection of songs that rings out in technicolour, every note sounds like a new and richer shade of scarlet and violet and indigo than the last. They manage to wander between the ambient, sparing and understated, and the textured and supersaturated allowing them to be lush without being vulgar, luxuriant without being indulgent, otherworldly without being twee.

 

To an old man like me it is post-punk dreamscaping, to the kid in the street soaking up the cool sounds of today I guess Polar Front are first and foremost a pop band, but pop has rarely sounded as transformative and as transfixing as it does here.

Eye To Eye – Polar Front (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

13043712_493238694207552_350930946300062164_nWhen I first caught Polar Front at last years Swindon Shuffle Festival in the compact and bijou surroundings of The Beehive, they were a fledgling band taking their first steps. The sound in their heads was only just making itself known in their live performance, but the impression that they left on me more than anything else that day was one of great potential and an unwritten promise. Today they have delivered on that promise.

 

After a year that has seen them constantly up their game, deal with a thinning of the ranks, have their music used in a national advertising campaign and receive both celebrity and industry endorsements, Eye To Eye sees them finally arrive. Glitchy vocals kick off a song built on a slow burning dynamic where atmosphere and haunting technological textures are laid down before the band finally goes for it, weaving their way between soaring highs and shimmering subtleties.

 

Polar Front is the sound of today, a merging of traditional playing and tech savvy studio creation, cool yet commercially viable, elegant and soulful, pop music for people bored with the mainstream offerings. But the more I listen to this, the more I hear an unexpected spectre flitting, half hidden, through the song, an intangible quality that I can only sum up as sounds from a parallel universe where Portishead had eschewed a life invented trip-hop and instead dedicated themselves to subverting the cause of rock music. Well, whatever next? Frankly I can’t wait to find out.

Unwelcome Wishes – White Lilac (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

12510400_576049639212542_8462750670706802299_n-1In a week when The UK’s newest and blokey-ist radio station, Radio X, ran a poll revealing that their punters probably stopped listening to music in 1997 and declaring 4 out of 5 of the top songs of all time were penned by the Gallagher brothers, it is refreshing to be writing about a band who some how manage to embrace a time well before the “lad rock” era as well as current musical trends.

 

Whilst White Lilac have a clear love of the post-punk early eighties and the shoegaze and dream-pop worlds of the early nineties, there is a lot more at work on their latest release, Unwelcome Wishes, than mere backward glances through rose-tinted eyewear. For me the centre piece of this handful of songs is I’m All Colours, a song that links kaleidoscopic, Summer of Love grooves with trippy Stone Roses vibes and modern underground pop and there is even time to tip a hat to The Jesus and Mary Chain and that is never a bad thing. Around this jewel they spread more subtle treasures, Swimming Under veers between Kate Bush atmospherics and Banshees style urgency, the start stop dynamic of Change of Face are great and the minimalist strains of Swallow act as the perfect swansong.

 

And in this age of conformity it is the blend of their less expected instrumentation, Cello and Saxophone, that really helps define their sound, the former delivering brooding, dark canvases on which they paint their songs, the latter providing sensual and soaring interludes as required.

 

Some will point to the production of the record being a slight disappointment, but White Lilac have always revelled in the cottage industry approach and I for one applaud it. It reminds me of a time when independent labels with no money did their best to polish gems as best they could, gems which went on to become, for example, The Cocteau Twins who in many ways are perfect reference for this band, and bands who held song writing, atmosphere, emotion and passion to be more important than how much money you could through at a studio boss.

 

There has recently been a movement back towards a 4AD referencing dreamscaping indie sound which has filtered down to the lore grass roots levels with bands such as Wyldest, Colour The Atlas and Polar Front all riding that gentle wave, but for my money it is White Lilac who seem to be the most interesting – non conformists, no label chasing, no product endorsements, no concessions to fickle fashions, just a blend of musical past with present and a far more interesting future ahead of them. Watch this space.

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