Orion  –  The Raft (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a3599421306_16I always look forward to music coming from Phil Wilson and The Raft and the fact that their work rate is so vibrant means that you never have too long to wait for such musical treats. And why do I look forward to them so much? Well, it is that balance of familiarity and forward thinking, a musical echo of a host of 80’s post-punk adventurers, who were in turn mining a sixties jangle pop heyday but done so in a way that feels like we are striding forward rather than looking back. Maybe it has something to do with the cyclical nature of music, it certainly has a lot to do with the craftsmanship on which the songs are built. I suspect the answer is a bit of both.

If movements such as the west coast Paisley Underground and New Zealand’s Dunedin Sound channelled bands such as Love and The Byrds, as did our own movers and shakers, The Bunnymen and The Soft Boys, then The Raft are merely carrying the same torch through into a new era, and why not, music such as this deserves its longevity. The Raft respect the past, but they don’t want to be stuck there and so their blend of haze and harmony, gentle psychedelia and poppy accessibility, whilst reminding you to give your old Dream Syndicate albums a spin more often, is instead a brave step forward into a new potential pop horizon.

Aren’t we tired of the production line, vacuous, landfill commercial dance-pop that has become successful through marketing dollars and the laziness of the modern pop picker rather than through any artistic merits? So do something about it! Start backing music which marks you out as an individual, music which makes you smile, which delivers hope as well as homage, which feels like it is going somewhere, is leading a renaissance, is willing to play its own game. If any of that seems like something you want to support then bands such as The Raft are you first port of call.

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Rock Back: Stronger Than The Storm –  Various Artists (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Rock_Back_-_Stronger_Than_The_Storm_(cover)It has a been a difficult year for those living in coastal regions and areas prone to flooding and other climatic backlashes, and that certainly applies to those communities that found themselves in the path of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria which devastated the Caribbean and the American gulf coast this year. In response to those tragedies, Philadelphia based Patetico Recordings have renewed their altruistic efforts and gathered a host of like minded musicians, record labels and supporters from the creative world to help raise funds to aid those affected.

The concept of the Rock Back compilation series was born in 2011, when disaster hit Japan, and Tom Lugo, Patetico Recordings’ label owner, acted upon his empathy for charitable causes and non-profit organisations by reaching out to the community of artists he had in his network. Rock Back compilation albums have gone on to raise money for devastated communities around the world as well as for notable non-human charities.

The result this time around is a collection of 56 tracks from artists across the globe which represent some of the most interesting acts to be found working in the musical fringes today. They lean towards genres that start with suffixes such as alt- and post- but then so many of the bands pushing the right creative agenda and generally moving music forward have always been found in such places. Obviously any such a collection of songs is far too vast an array to cover effectively in a review but even on an album of wonderful, new, exciting and challenging music there are a few stand out moments.

Ummagma contribute Human Factor, a song which punctuates muscular alt-rock urges with a downtempo groove and chiming Dave Gilmour-esque guitar motifs with buzz saw blues and Sounds of Sputnik take things into a darker dreamscape with Shades of The Cosmos. But if nothing else it is an album of light and shade and My Favourite Things deliver a hazy, Neo-psychedelic wash with A Little Closer and The Raft channel an almost retro pop vibe as they wander sub Beatlesque landscapes and 90’s alt-pop climes with Glad I Don’t Know.

Parson Rocket Project also wander similar paths as The Sundays or Mazzy Star blending dense musical texture with pop accessibility as shoegazing and stargazing clash on Exit Launch and the whole affair rounds off with the dark and majestic, eerie and effervescent sound of Panaphonic and the suitably named After The Storm. As I said, this is not an album which is quickly or easily captured in written review form but it is an album you should buy not just for the fact that all money goes to a good cause but also because if ever you wanted a sampler of what new music you should be watching out for, which bands are really challenging the status quo…and indeed Status Quo…who will be making the headlines amongst the discerning bloggers and tastemakers very soon, this is basically a road map, a check-list to keeping one step ahead.

Never have worthy causes and excellent music been more in harmony that on this must have record.

Summertime Blues / December (Again) –  The Raft (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0924105766_10Cosmic folk-pop. Is that a thing? Well, if not, let’s make it a thing, after all we need a suitable category to put The Raft in, so why not that? As Phil Wilson and his associates go about their business of making this fantastic and somehow quintessentially English music, you wonder why The Raft aren’t a bigger deal. After all in an entertainment scene which includes Robin Thicke and Storage Hunters there must be room for music this gorgeous.

And gorgeous is indeed the word, Claire O’Neil’s vocals alone would be enough to warrant it’s use but the sumptuous, shimmering music which carries it along has me thinking that there might even be a better word…it’ll come to me.

Musically this pairing of songs, (didn’t we use to call that a single?) is built on hazy indie-folk which toys with words like fey and twee but deftly avoids such undermining connotations by virtue of being anchored to more robust pop structures, and ends up closer to such iconic bands as The Sundays and even Talk Talk. It is pop painted in watercolour rather than the heavy handed, over applied oils of the big industry way of working. There is something wonderfully parochial about the lyrics, a real English, tea drinking, breezy, over the garden fence chat sort of vibe, rather than the usual self-aggrandising, cooler than thou rubbish that has become the norm.

There may be a lot going on here which reminds me of some of the glory days of my formative musical years but everything is cyclical and as a way forward for alternative pop music, I’m all in.

Transcendent, that’s the word I was looking for.

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