Lies! Lies! Lies! –  Nick Harper and The Wilderness Kids (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

83c58c068c83f6253dfc4892e6eec3a8In a world that seems to be brimming over with guys with guitars, pop troubadours and fey, indie-folksters it would be very wrong to place Nick Harper anywhere amongst their ranks. Yes, he is a guy. Okay, he has a guitar. But that is where the similarity ends to the new kids on the singer-songwriters block (and whilst we are at it, it’s not a genre!) Over a 12 album career to date he has constantly defied and re-defined what that term means and what it can be, wilfully trampling generic boundaries, switching styles and probably inventing a few of his own along the way. History notes that he met the “Wilderness Kids” at a record store day jam and the sonic potential of a more permanent musical relationship was obvious to everyone. It comes as no surprise as you listen to the album that the “kids”in question are members of Port Erin and Wasuremono, two bands with a similar wide ranging and hard to pigeonhole approach towards rock and pop.

“350 reasons why, written on the side of a bus” is the opening salvo of the album, and straight away you realise that Nick, as always, has something important to tell you. Colours are nailed to masts, sides are chosen and lines are drawn in the sand. Essentially Lies! Lies! Lies! is a comment on the state of the western world, from the manipulation of the masses for political gain to the ugly consumerism of Black Friday, the rise and increasing normalisation of right wing attitudes, to religion, globalisation and everything in between. Lyrically and poetically he just says what many of us think, though the likes of Big Tony who drinks in The George and Dragon may well find himself seething into his pint of John Smiths!

And if the words are as honest as they are challenging, then musically it is just as groundbreaking. Nick has always had the ability to capture a massive sound with just an acoustic guitar, one loaded with rock intensity, folk infectiousness, jazz creativity and classical dexterity, well now he has a band to push that into even wider sonic realms. Leaving The Club is a bluesy groover, Tiina is a lilting ballad with brooding undertones, We Keep Turning Right is built on funky-jazz rhythms and Dark Forces is a fluid and mercurial post-rock growler. It’s a triumph of an album, musically exploratory, lyrically direct and the perfect musical product for our times.

There is an obvious point that if a vote or decision doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop making the argument, if that is the case then this is the most pointed and poignant musical debate I have heard in a long time and 48% of the country should buy it immediately.

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Ocean Grey – Port Erin (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

C8KyO4UVoAAgTEdIf the Floydian teaser of the albums first release The Fuzz and All That They Feed promised great things, even the high musical benchmarks that Port Erin have already set for themselves didn’t quite hint at just what a musical gem they had created. They have often proved that they are a band capable of exploring, expanding and exploding in many directions, often simultaneously; effortlessly fusing genres that have no business rubbing shoulders into new musical worlds. But even after a string of impressive albums to date, this is the one where you just have to stand back and recognise that things have moved into an altogether different league.

I can’t help thinking that a year reflecting on the loss of David Bowie and the delivery of what would prove to be his final musical statement has somehow found it’s way into the DNA of this album. The plaintive and melancholic cry of “Here we are again” in Just Like TV comes like some call from beyond the grave as slow funk jams and rock dynamics swirl around creating the perfect musical storm. But as always, if he is in there, he is far from alone.

The title track, which they save as the albums swansong, has a wonderful post-punk feel to it, the sound of a recently unearthed, long misplaced 4AD band that got lost in the archives – taut and taunting, enhanced by sumptuous vocals, distant brass attacks and chord crescendo’s playing the part of the crashing waves.

But it isn’t all subtlety and suppleness; Chaos In The Streets sees them play their rock card but even this they shade with clever musical hues. Its claustrophobic nature and power keg vibe is a far cry from most of the foot on the monitor rock clichés that still seem to plague the genre. It twists and turns, creaks and cracks and is filled with dark glamour and pent up energy.

As always though the joy of Port Erin’s music is in the detail and the way they cut and splice, weave and sew the different sounds into gossamer textures and underplayed layers so that even when there is a myriad of instruments being juggled with, they all do just enough, get blended perfectly and never become more important than the over all track. Pastoral watercolours being mixed and blended into new tones, water down, blended again; shifting and ephemeral.

But even when you have all this music to paint with, what it comes down to is three fantastic and imaginative musicians and the choices that they make. Choices that avoid the obvious and opt for skittering jazz beats and high end pulsing bass, funky guitar undertones, drifting ambience and never being afraid to leave room for the listener’s own senses to fill in the gaps. Choices that most bands wouldn’t even know are an option.

New Music of the Day – CLXXV: The Fuzz and All That They Feed – Port Erin

15823159_10153985879836876_7307184432675953030_nPort Erin are known for hopping genres as easily as you or I might flick through TV channels – funk, psychedelia, jazz grooves, trippy progressive rock and out and out pop have all been easily mastered by this mercurial trio. On the first single ahead of their forth-coming album, Ocean Grey, they find themselves weaving Floydian dreamtimes and melancholic atmospheres into cinematic soundscapes.

As always it seems to come natural to them and with a video that also seems built from the same enigmatic minimalism it is both rich and haunting like a modern take on an Ingmar Bergman piece, film as art and music as cinema. For all of its length (over eight and a half minutes is a long time in this short span dominated world) and subtle nature it is captivating music, hypnotic even, all textured undertones and gentle layers but takes a far from obvious journey.

 
Most people setting out to make a record this deft and understated would wash keyboard sounds together and leave big holes in the result to signify atmosphere and spacial awareness. Port Erin are cleverer than that and whilst there is always a lot happening; rhythmic guitars, distant brass, shuffling drums, chiming electronica, gently wandering dynamics, slow-burning builds, chattering background vocals and bass notes which provide the dots that allow all the relevant lines to be drawn, it is how this is all threaded together that makes it a master class in musical cunning, understatement and brilliant production restraint.

5 Acts to Watch for 2015 (by Dave Franklin)

Not much new music has been reviewed this week, due to Christmas socialising, not to mention eating so much cheese that I was physically unable to lift myself off of the chaise lounge for about three days and had to suffer the agony of watching Mel B trying to be funny on The Big Fat Quiz of The Year. Never again! So what I thought I would do instead was tell you about the acts I think that you should be watching to do exciting things in 2015.

Port Erin

10712773_10152293780256876_355188488816819957_nAlthough they have been around for what seems like an eon in contemporary musical terms, Port Erin’s enduring charm is in the evolution and exploratory nature of their music having moved from Zappa-esque, experimentation through to late night jazz inflected atmospheres. Their just released third album, Floating Above The City, seems to encompass all aspects of that journey so far taking in a variety of broad genres; space-rock, jazz, avant-garde, funk, psychedelia, ambient, progressive and more besides, without being fully associated with any one or tarred with a particular generic brush. What’s even more astounding is that they can steer a course through these oft challenging marginal musical genres and still arrive at a destination that has commercial appeal. Surely the sign of a band doing something truly creative?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYOI8rfou3c

The Tribe

10470955_874970075860533_5349102813994746272_nBy contrast, The Tribe are fresh to the scene but have landed fully formed by virtue of the fact that they are comprised of some of the core movers and shakers on the dance groove end of the music scene. Having caught their debut show recently I, like the packed crowd they attracted, were given a master class in accessible, enthralling music and stagecraft. Musically they overlay a solid reggae and funk core with hip-hop and dance grooves, sweet and soulful pop vocals provide the perfect counterpoint to staccato rap deliveries and you can even catch the odd disco beat tipping it’s hat to halcyon dance floor days. First gig it may have been but the professionalism showed through and the band provided a benchmark for live shows that few bands on the local scene would even get close to.

White Lilac

10849822_403110526506455_7389361583777842695_nFaye Rogers has already had a successful two-year career as an acoustic player, slowly drawing the perfect band around her to best explore those sweet folk vibes and pastoral sounds. Most artists would continue to cash in and build on an already established sound, not Faye. By re-launching as a band she has drawn a line under what has gone before and allowed herself room to be able to reinvent herself. Drawing on a love of post-punk, indie and more ethereal sounds and introducing saxophone and a more electric guitar core, the band manage to run between the most chilled atmospherics and full on rock drives and everything in between. Not only a brave move but also an essential one to keep your music fresh and relevant. Other artists should take a leaf from Faye’s book.

 

Colour The Atlas

10628614_577491915689166_1724977292767799638_nAnother band to undergo a slight realignment this year was Colour The Atlas. A popular and fairly regular fixture on the local scene but with a Sony contract, professional management, esteemed tour supports and a plethora of national radio play under their belt, they manage to exist in both worlds. This year they entered Lighterthief Studios for an injection of that trademark production into their new recordings. The resulting e.p. Opaline, turned out to be the perfect pairing of band and environment, the production itself becoming another player in its own right. Trademark incidental sounds hover around the periphery of the songs providing an additional pallet of colours and textures for the band to play with; exotic tabla beats, haunting vibrato, warped musical motifs and simmering background washes for the songs to float on. This is a phenomenal collection of songs, unique, imaginative, sensuous and achingly beautiful and can only make the following full album one of the most anticipated releases in a long time.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtwYgjX22jA

Coasters

10603778_793417004050698_9203107064321514270_nCoasters is a band that came together almost by accident. Having gone into studio to record what was planned to be a solo e.p, Si Hall emerged from the other end of the process with a full band around him with a view to treading the boards to show off their musical wares. Si Hall is a name that you associate with both solo acoustica and previous to that raging pop-punk. By stripping back the wall of sound associated with those skate punk days, injecting some acoustic layering and subtler, more dynamic bass lines, but retaining electric guitar to power through when required, Coasters have found the best of both worlds. The energy, verve and spirit of ’76, and the agit-folk vibe of the solo performer now lock together creating massive scope, from intricate guitar picking to full on white hot six string salvos, pop sensibilities rubbing shoulders with anarchic punk volleys.

 

Whatever your musical persuasion, 2015 looks like a very promising year for new music in this neck of the woods.

(First posted at Swindon Link)

Floating Above the City – Port Erin (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

PORT-ERIN-ALBUM-IMAGE-web-smlPort Erin’s unique feature is their ability to weave a path through a variety of broad genres; space-rock, jazz, avant-garde, funk, psychedelia, ambient, progressive and more besides, without being fully associated with any or tarred with a particular generic brush. What’s even more astounding is that they can steer a course through these oft challenging marginal musical genres and still arrive at a destination that has commercial appeal. Surely the sign of a band doing something truly creative?

 

For a three-piece there is a lot going on, musically speaking, but like all good three-piece bands it is due to their technical abilities as musicians rather than running wild with what the studio has to offer. The result is a solid and interlocking core sound rather than layer upon layer of gossamer thin musical veneers that only become substantial when applied en mass. No, this is the sound of the live band in the studio rather than the sound of a band becoming just one more tool in the hands of a producer, something that happens far too often.

 

Past releases have seen them move through light and shade, chilled and heavy, simple to byzantine complexity and “Floating Above the City” seems to draw on all of their past moods to really present all the potential of the Port Erin sound. The ambience and luscious harmonies of ‘When It All Breaks Down’ evokes warm, hazy summer days whilst simultaneously reflecting on the intimacy and support of relationships through hard times. By contrast, ‘Just Riding My Bike, Man’ channels a funky, pop groove which is going to be an instant live favourite and their experimental and progressive rock leanings come out in bite sized form with ‘Makes No Difference.’

 

Not many bands could throw all these influences and strands together and still come out with their own unique sound. It reminds me of a more commercial Zappa or a less obtuse Beefheart and I suspect such artists feature highly in the musicians record collections. Nothing wrong with that, especially when you are being influenced by form and structure rather than just plundering sounds and that is what Port Erin plays with so well. Anyone who can work with unusual musical form to produce something weird …and yet at the same time weirdly accessible, really are breaking new ground.

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