Thursday, 28 December 2017

Miranda Lee Richards - Existential Beast


(This review first appeared in issue #68 of Shindig! magazine.)

Invisible Hands CD/LP

There's been a steady stream of records concerned with ecology, corruption and the state of the planet over the last 40 years. What makes this offering from LA-based Miranda Lee Richards so special is its articulate power. Without naming names political leaders are evoked and rebuffed by intelligent poetical argument.

Musically the album draws from several 1970s sources – Laurel Canyon country rock royalty ('Ashes And Seeds'), Joe Boyd's Witchseason productions for Island Records ('Autumn Sun' and 'Oh Raven'), through to the spoken word sections of David Axelrod's Earth Rot (the end section of 'Lucid I Dream'). Subtle use of echo throughout the album adds to the continuity of sound and aids its woozy intoxicating power.

The album's tour de force is saved till the end. Clocking in at 12 minutes, 'Another World' is the most overtly political song, calling out those in power and offering a vision of how things could be. Clever stuff.

GospelbeacH - Another Summer Of Love

(This review first appeared in issue #68 of Shindig! magazine.)

Alive CD/LP

Whether 2017 yields a season of goodwill remains to be seen. This follow up to GospelbeacH's 2015's debut Pacific Surf Line can only help it happen. Its ten tracks of lush, cosmic Americana could only have been made on America's west coast, so the opening lyric cheekily borrowed from The Jam (“In the desert there's a thousand things I want to say to you”) is a neat attention grabber. You know you're listening to a band with serious pop-nous.

GospelBeacH's sound recalls Tom Petty's mix of roots rock and new-wave, along with the grown-up country rock of Chuck Prophet. Though recognising they may be peddling an idealised version of the Golden Sate their take on Cali-rock is seductive – catchy tunes, tasteful song-serving guitar solos and accomplished musicianship that doesn't stray into session-player blandness. Not one for neophiles, but those of us who value quality can bask in its revitalising sun-drenched goodness.

The Band FAQ - Peter Aaron

(This review first appeared in issue #68 of Shindig! magazine.)

Backbeat Books

Though they had a hand in destroying “all that psychedelic bullshit” and giving rise to The Eagles (er thanks guys!), there's no denying the influence The Band had on many leading musicians of the late '60s. Urbanist futurism was out, heritage and rural-living was in. Even The Beatles took notice ditching the satin Sgt. Pepper suits and Eggman garb in favour of more natural fibres.

It's a story that's been told in print before - Barney Hoskyns' Across The Great Divide, and the I-was-there memoirs of both Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson, so you wonder what there is to add. To his credit Aaron doesn't dig dirt or focus on the fissures that ultimately split The Band apart, nor does he take sides. He opts instead for a fact-heavy celebration of the music, and is particularly insightful when analysing what made the quintet so special as musicians. Key concerts, their gestation periods backing Ronnnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, and a guide to their most essential bootlegs are also well covered, as is their reformation in the 1990s and the often overlooked solo releases.

Not quite so necessary is the chapter focused on the genres that fed into The Band's work as most readers will already have a good grasp on blues, jazz, soul etc. A minor quibble, and while this is not a book to devour, its concise chapters are great for dipping into. It'll certainly have you digging out The Band's albums and hearing them with a fresh appreciation.  

Green Seagull - Scarlet / They Just Don't Know (Ltd. 7")

(This review first appeared in issue #68 of Shindig! magazine.)

Mega Dodo 7”

As you'd expect from a band that bonded over a shared love of obscure '60s psych, Green Seagull's vinyl debut sounds like it's been beamed in from 1967, determined to warp modern day minds. 'Scarlet' sits on the darker side of baroque pop, documents the dream/nightmare knife-edge of obsessive love, and is packed with ideas, intricate instrumentation, tight harmonies and a neat melody.

Flip-side 'They Just Don't Know' could be an out-take from Forever Changes. Its opening guitar motif and odd time signature give way to a frantic flamenco rhythm, the music matching the apocalyptic theme, full of compositional quirks and false stops before the dramatic instrumental finale. Listen closely and there's as much a debt to the classical cannon as there is to The Left Banke and Love, courtesy of keyboardist Sarah Gonputh (Formerly of The Lysergics, New Electric Ride). A thrilling debut and a must-have piece of vinyl!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Interview with Me And The Bees

(This feature first appeared in issue #66 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview click over the jump at the bottom of the post.)

Barcelona's lo-fi indie pop trio get set to spread the goodness. Duncan Fletcher picks up the positive vibes.

Most bands form not for money, fame or a blue tick, but for the pure reward of making music with friends. So it is with Me and The Bees. Bassist Esther Margarit, drummer Verónica Alonso and guitarist Carlos Leoz (all three share vocals) are set to release Menos Mal, their third LP since starting life as a duo in the MySpace era. Verónica explains - “Esther started the band with Eli Molina. Almost all the first record's songs were made in that time, but before recording I got asked to play a special concert. After that I was in the band. Two gigs later Carlos played with us and we never let him go. By the second album Eli left for her own project (Fighter Pillow - really good!) but we never let her go completely, she normally comes in the studio to make a collaboration or two. MATB is about friendships, how life makes them stronger by understanding, help and of course some small passionate fights along the way.”

Inspired by '60s girl pop and seminal '90s guitar bands Pavement, Guided By Voices and Teenage Fanclub, the band named themselves after a song by cuddlecore duo The Softies. Says Esther - “A friend recommended K Records, I fell in love with many bands on the label, one being The Softies.”

The band spent five days recording Menos Mal at Cal Pau Recordings studio, in its idyllic rural setting outside Barcelona. “Being there was magic” says Verónica, “you woke up and could see horses through your bedroom window.” “Almost paradise” agrees Esther. Spain's strength in nurturing indie-pop is not only due to weather and scenery as Carlos explains - “There's always been good independent bands to learn from... from your own city you could share feelings and fun with. Also many foreign bands tour here... learning how to do things independently of the commercial circuit. Hopefully this will continue till the end of time.”

Menos Mal is out now on La Castanya.

(Click over the jump for the full interview)

Interview with Aquaserge

(This feature first appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished Q&A click over the jump at the bottom of the post.)

The French experimentalists' latest LP is a dazzling journey into uncharted musical zones. Duncan Fletcher straps in for the ride.

“Begin afresh, afresh, afresh” The final line in Philip Larkin's poem The Trees may not have been Aquaserge's mantra while making new LP Laisse ça être, but its theme of Springtime optimism is apt. The band (their name a pun on à quoi sers-je?, meaning "what am I useful for?") formed in 2005 in Toulouse as a collaborative project that has since involved over 60 musicians. They make music that like the buds in Larkin's poem is in a constant state of renewal. Though now distilled to a core of five key musicians featuring auxiliary members of Stereolab, Melody's Echo Chamber, Tame Impala and Mother's Acid Temple, the open door policy is still in place. “Aquaserge's studio process is like a Cassavetes movie: some characters are energetic, others anxious, playful, or obstinate. Each of us, in turn, can be brilliant, pathetic or dramatic... In Aquaserge there are the main characters but also the secondary characters: the visitors, the friends which are important too. When you spend ten days together in a studio, you start to become crazy, like living in a submarine. Visitors are our breath of fresh air and often we invite them to play with us; this is why there are so many people in the credits” says bassist Audrey Ginestet.

While there may be traceable influences on the record – Sun Ra, Fela Kuti, prog, free-jazz, Third Stream music and the work of fellow countrymen Serge Gainsbourg, Jean-Claude Vannier and Air, their music refuses to be easily pigeonholed. For Aquaserge, music making is more about friendship than adhering to the rules of any stylistic genre. That said, for this album they were intent on making a record that paid special attention to rhythm. Keyboardist Julien Gasc explains - “In 'Les Yeux Fermés' we talk about a dance that doesn't exist. The narrator says that ghosts are entering him at night, teaching him the moves for this new dance.The album is full of dance genres from Africa, South America, Europe.”

Their experimental approach also extends to their lyric writing. As Julien says of the methodology used on one of the album's standout tracks 'Tintin On Est Bien Mon Loulou' - “It's just automatic writing... more of a Dada text, it says everything and nothing. The writing of the texts is our favourite game to play. In this case, the rule was that each line must start with a syllable that sounds like the last syllable of the previous line.”

What really impresses about Laisse ça être is its sense of fun. Play the album to any of your friends and at some point their eyes will widen at its brazen charm. A charm due in no small part to Toulouse's independent mindset. “There are a lot of musicians in Toulouse... if they move to other places they always come back” says guitarist Benjamin Glibert. “They are also losers in a way, (toulouse, to lose), but there is a strong friendship between them. This is what we are, defeated, independent, idealists and solid. We do the music we want even if nobody cares and we keep doing it.”

Laisse ça être is out now on Crammed Discs.

(Click over the jump for the full Q&A.)

Interview with Mother Island

(This feature originally appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished Q&A click over the jump at the bottom of the post)
The Vicenza-based band have a dark and impassioned take on '60s Americana. Duncan Fletcher checks out this Italian renaissance.

Can you imagine crossing Venice through its canals on a little wooden boat, late at night while the city sleeps? ... When you see the moon mirroring itself in the water while a Mexican guy is bringing you, with his boat, to an after-show party... you know you’ll remember that moment forever.” So says vocalist Anita Formilan explaining the inspiration behind the title of the group's second long-player Wet Moon. Following on from 2015's  

Cosmic Pyre, this latest work contains echoes of US acts such as The 13th Floor Elevators and The Doors, along with tracks which favour a more expressionistic, textural approach.
What holds it all together are Anita's vocals, reminiscent of San Francisco sirens Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, which spar with the twang 'n' tremolo guitar of her band-mates. “My favourite singers are Billie Holiday, Karen Dalton, Diamanda Galas, Nina Simone, Memphis Minnie. My approach is shaped by different elements - the golden decadence of jazz and blues, the raw energy of punk and the smooth elegance of Italian movie soundtracks from the '60 and '70s.”

Along with the obvious love of American sounds, there's a passionate Italian heart at the core of their work. Anita explains - “We love Vicenza: art, architecture, history and events make this area interesting and alive. Venice, Padova, Treviso and Verona are less than one hour from here, all beautiful cities. Entertainment and culture are easily available everywhere.”

The album was recorded with friend and producer Matt Bordin in his Outside Inside Studio, where the band made full use of its analogue sounds and vintage instruments. “Working with him is always funny and intense. We love recording there, it allow us to retreat in a hideaway where we can switch off from our daily lives and focus on what we love the most.”

Wet Moon is out now on Go Down Records. 

(Click over the jump for the full Q&A.)

Interview with Karl Blau

(This feature first appeared in issue #73 of Shindig! magazine. For the full unpublished interview click over the jump at the bottom of the post.)

Karl Blau has been the go-to producer for successive waves of American musicians. His latest solo LP defies genre, speaks to both head and heart, and calls for a little tenderness. Duncan Fletcher sees him step out of the shadows.

In Skagit County, Washington, USA is the town of Anacortes. It's home to Karl Blau, a fourth generation oyster farmer, prolific musician and de-facto in-house producer for K Records. He's helped this independently-minded corner of the country forge a strong musical identity, one that's proudly DIY and musically self-educated. He's released many records via his own KLAPS mail-order subscription service but a deal with Bella Union resulted in 2016's Introducing Karl Blau, a sublime LP of country-soul covers, which brought him to a wider audience. Anyone expecting more of the same is in for a surprise. His latest album Out Her Space draws on Afro-pop, mariachi, dub, funk, non-rock rhythms, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

“I think people are more open-minded than ever now,” says Karl, “being able to hear any kind of music anytime as we have it now, kind of like gender, music genre seems to be less and less important. What's more important perhaps is the story. If an artist can interact with the cultural story that is unfolding right now, it may be advantageous. And yeah, making different styles is inevitable for me because my interests in music are so varied.” It's a dazzling record with over-arching themes centred on human values, decency and tenderness. “Tenderness, yes!” agrees Karl, “I'm inspired over and over to explore with writing about compassion and curiosity. Understanding is a key to great things, and that often may only happen with tenderness and patience.”

Blau is backed on the record by the Spacebomb house band - “I got to know them through recording with them over the years starting in 2007 with The Great White Jenkins - guitarist Matthew E. White and drummer Pinson Chanselle. The Spacebomb rhythm section is these guys plus bassist Cameron Ralston. There's something so low to the ground about their approach, they take nothing for granted in the moment. This quality for me is one of the main branches on the tree of great music. They really listen and lean into each other. We tracked all the basics live together, that helps a vibe a lot.” It was this association that helped birth Matthew E. White's breakthrough LP Big Inner, which Blau engineered. He describes Out Her Space as “a cousin to Big Inner”, hence the playful titling.

I asked Karl what initially sparked his interest in recording. “It's always felt magic to me to bottle time by recording sound vibrations. In grade school ping-ponging multiple tape decks, swapping the tapes, each new track dramatically degrading the tracks before them... in the mid '90s a group of us would record every waking hour and compare notes almost daily. That helped a lot to be in a gang inspiring one another - Dave Matthies (The Gift Machine) and a bunch of others. Nothing to do for twenty-somethings in Anacortes, especially in the '90s besides art or hanging on the beaches or forest trails.”

Small-town life is a gift to exploratory music and Karl Blau is a rewarding discovery. Check out either Bella Union record and work backwards. It's a rich seam.

Out Her Space is out now on Bella Union.

(Click over the jump for the full interview)

Dengue Fever - Dengue Fever / Escape From Dragon House

(This review first appeared in issue #67 of Shindig! magazine.)

Both Tuk Tuk CD

Having secured rights to their back catalogue the Los Angeles-based band begin a reissue campaign with deluxe versions of their first two albums. Bolstered with remixes and live tracks, they're a reminder of what a spirited force the band can be.

Originally released in 2003, their eponymous debut was unique - western rock musicians paying tribute to the lost sounds of '60s and '70s Cambodian pop. Their mix of western and Khmer rock gained authenticity thanks to the vocals of Chhom Nimol, who'd served her apprecticeship singing in Cambodian restaurants in the Little Phnon Penh neighbourhood of Long Beach.

The 2005 follow-up Escape From Dragon House saw the band expand rhythmically and texturally, and includes more self-penned songs and vocal contributions from other band members. Of particular interest among the extra tracks is 'Sni Ha', a Cambodian language version of Sonny Bono's 'Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).'

Thomas Wynn and The Believers - Wade Waist Deep

(This review first appeared in issue #67 of Shindig! magazine.)

Mascot CD/LP

Thomas Wynn is a man not afraid of asking big questions, as befits someone whose musical upbringing was centred around the Christian church. Family, spiritual fulfilment, redemption and the hope to become a better person are all themes which run through his band's third album.

Longtime local heroes, the Orlando-based sextet to opted to record in Nashville this time round, hoping for a sound that might bring them wider recognition. A good move. Their melting pot of classic and country rock, southern soul and gospel sounds big thanks to a sterling production job. Their sound may be traditional but they can also throw nu-rock moves – the riffage and slow-burning groove on 'Burn As One' or the shifting time signature and tempos on 'We Could All Die Screaming'.

With hot musicianship and in-the-pocket playing this is a record for fans of Little Feat, Drive-By Truckers and Joshua Tree-era U2. Authentic modern Americana for grown-ups.

Ann-Margret - The Definitive Collection

(This review first appeared in issue #67 of Shindig! magazine.)

Real Gone Music 2CD

Swedish-born Ann-Margret Olsson must have been a record producer's dream after signing to RCA Victor in 1961. Having honed her vocal skills on the live circuit she could switch between sultry and coquettish as required. The label envisaged her as a female Elvis, unsurprising given her interpretive abilities and photogenic looks.

This compilation centres on her 1961-1966 recordings for the label. The supper-club jazz, pop standards and light entertainment may be too sweet for some, but Olsson's voice still charms. Her simultaneous movie career took off with Bye Bye Birdie and she went on to star alongside Presley in Viva Las Vegas (the pair's two duets from the film are included). Also of interest here is 'I Just Don't Understand' complete with fuzz guitar and wailing harmonica, later covered by The Beatles for a BBC session. Olsson would go on to play the mother in The Who's Tommy, but that's one for another time. 


Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind - Super Natural

(This review first appeared in issue #67 of Shindig! magazine.)

MaSonic CD/LP

Jim Jones has always looked across the Atlantic for inspiration in his thirty years of music making. From channelling The Stooges in Thee Hypnotics, playing homage to soul and funk in Black Moses, to the good time rock 'n' roll of The Jim Jones Revue. This latest incarnation embraces the dark-hearted voodoo and rhythms of New Orleans.

As always there's an emphasis on volume and sheer sonic attack. The louder tracks may take your head off, but alongside the ear-bludgeoning guitars are perhaps the best lyrics of Jones' career, delivered with a gravelly growl Captain Beefheart would have been proud of. The effect is akin to Nick Cave fronting an art-rock version of The Band armed with stacked amps and Big Muff pedals. Superstition, catharsis, darkness, dynamics, the ghosts of music past and pointers to a new future, it's all there. Swamp rock Jim, but not as we know it!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Pugwash - Silverlake

Eleven top tunes from Thomas Walsh! FFO The Beach Boys, ELO, McCartney and grown-up tuneful pop!

Regular readers of this here humble blog will know that one thing I particularly like is a song that's genuinely melodically memorable. After all there are lots of records that are sonically pleasing and great enough to listen to, but even after several listens you're hard pushed to actually remember the tunes. That's what makes this latest album from Pugwash such a delight. All eleven of its tracks have such soaring pop melodies, each one strong enough to warrant releasing as a single.

I'm saddened to say I've not had the fortune of stumbling across Pugwash before as this is actually their seventh LP, the band having formed 20 years ago. The man behind the melodies is Thomas Walsh, resident of Drimnagh, South Dublin. For this record he's joined by Jason Falkner of Jellyfish fame. Incredibly Walsh wrote all eleven songs on Silverlake within a week, and recorded them with Falkner producing at the latter's LA studio. If a record as strong as Silverlake doesn't bring Walsh to wider recognition it's difficult to think what would.

At various times recalling and rivalling the pop nouse of Brian Wilson, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney and Andy Partridge, the cumulative effect of so many earworms makes this one of the best feelgood albums of the year, or any year for that matter! From the opening summery pop of 'The Perfect Summer' onwards, Silverlake is intelligent, tuneful, heartfelt and wrapped in lush production. Very highly recommended!

Click here for more on Pugwash.
Click here for Lojinx Records.

The Pretty Things – The Same Sun (Ltd. Colour 7”)

The Pretty Things! Coloured vinyl! Acidic psych-rock! What's not to like!?!

The word legendary is is often mis-used or over-used when it comes to bands. But in reference to The Pretty Things it's apt. Not only have they been around since since the '60s Brit-Beat & Blues Boom, they were the only band (The Beatles aside) to make The Rolling Stones feel threatened. And you can go see them play live without having to re-mortgage your house to do so.

They made some of the '60s most vital records and unlike The Stones they still make music that has an edge. Anyone who doubts this should take a listen to this four song EP set for release early in the new year on Fruits de Mer. The Lead track 'The Same Sun' is taken from their most recent LP The Sweet Pretty Things (Are in Bed Now of Course...). It's a modern psych-rock classic extolling the virtues of communion and wide-eyed wonder.

Next up the band cover The Byrds' 'Renaissance Fair'. As far as I can gather this studio version is exclusive to this release. It's fairly faithful to The Byrds' version albeit injected with a dose of acid-punk attitude.

The two live tracks on the B-side are from the band's box set Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky, thought to be from a late '60s Hyde Park gig. They'll be familiar to fans of the band's '60s output. 'She Says Good Morning' is of course from S.F. Sorrow with Alexandra being from the Electric Banana Sessions.

If you're a longtime fan you'll want to bag a copy of this very special piece of plastic. Newbies are well advised to check it out too. It encapsulates all that's great about one of this country's most marvellous musical treasures.

Click here for the Fruits de Mer website.
Click here for more on The Pretty Things.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Popincourt et French Boutik Chantent The Jam (Ltd. 7”)

 Two of Weller's deep cuts get a Gallic makeover! All profits to benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust!

There's always excitement round our house when our good friends French Boutik feature on a new piece of plastic. This new 7” comes in a lovely gatefold sleeve, is a tribute to The Jam and all profits will be donated to a charity that benefits the Teenage Cancer Trust (see links below).

To make matters more interesting it's a split single with an act who are new to me but very much worth investigating. The very wonderful Popincourt, I've since discovered, has made a series of records that blend soul, mod, lounge and baroque into a sound that's all his own. On this disc he's covered 'Tonight At Noon' from The Jam's second LP This Is The Modern World. For all Weller's mod credentials even at that stage in his career were clues to his wider tastes. The song's title is pure '60s psych-pop, an element brought to the fore in this dreamy version. Organ, harpsichord and guitar jangle back the almost whispered vocal. A great re-imagining.

The French Boutik side of the single is a French language version of 'The Place I Love' which features on The Jam's classic All Mod Cons LP. It's a great jangle pop take, driven by a lovely sinewy bass line and intertwined boy/girl vocals. Mirroring the psych-pop vibe is some neat backwards guitar towards the latter half of the track. Like all of French Boutik's records this is worth tracking down and is all for a great cause. Get on it!

All profits from this 7” will be donated to Specialized Project which benefits The Teenage Cancer Trust. -

Click here for Copase Disques.
Click here for Popincourt.
Click here for French Boutik.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Sundowners - Cut The Master

(This review first appeared in issue #66 of Shindig! magazine.)

Skeleton Key CD / LP

“Times change and we move on” sing Niamh Rowe and Fiona Skelly on album opener 'Before The Storm'. Indeed they do. The Sundowners have blossomed from their Byrdsian roots into confident, forceful purveyors of contemporary psychedelic rock. Cut The Master, their second long player is in part produced by The Coral's James Skelly and Finders Keepers supremo Andy Votel, with the latter providing short cinematic interludes between the tracks. A nice touch which aids the album's flow but it's the band and the songs that are the real stars here.

Space-rock, folk-rock, sinewy bass-lines, propulsive beats and a synthy ambiance combine into a truly special brew. And then there's those dual female vocals. Low points? There aren't any. This is modern psychedelia at it's best, an album that hits big with analogue textures and timeless melodies. The Wirral five-piece have stepped up. There must be something in the water up there!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Robyn Hitchcock - Robyn Hitchcock

(This review first appeared in issue #66 of Shindig! magazine.)

Yep Roc CD / LP

Lemmy once said a problem of being a living legend is that no one listens to your most recent LPs. Robyn Hitchcock may be the best exception to this rule, with each new LP being essential listening. This eponymous album shows no let up in his knack for heart-on-sleeve lyrics combining childhood memories, skewed observations, compassionate worldviews and juxtapositions of the absurd with the everyday.

Producer Brendan Benson (Raconteurs) brings out a powerpop punch but maintains Hitchcock's left-of-centre edge over the stylistically diverse tracks. From the album opener 'I Want To Tell You What I Want' where Hitchcock states his desire for the future (“world peace, gentle socialismo, no machismo”) through to the Nashville country knees-up of 'I Pray When I'm Drunk' and the Revolver-esque guitar-pop of 'Virginia Woolf' and 'Time Coast'. Best of all is the eastern strings and backwards guitar on 'Autumn Sunglasses'. Thought provoking and essential as ever.

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Slow Slushy Boys - Whelk Time!

(This review first appeared in issue #66 of Shindig! magazine.)

Larsen LP

Slow and slushy by name, not by nature. This French band have helped popularise revivalist beat music not only by the many sides they've released since their 1990 debut, but also via Larsen, the record label and magazine started by the band's leader Denis Oliverès. This collection collates the best of the band's releases from 1994-97, twelve tracks previously only available on limited-run 7” singles and 10” LPs. Firmly rooted in hip-shaking garage-y R&B, the band pay homage to their inspirations with covers of The Real Kids ('Do The Boob'), The Sevens ('Seven'), Shindiggers ('Say You Will') and Dutch band The Outsiders ('Won't You Listen'). The original tracks are equally as taut and snappy and contain a contender for the best song title ever with 'Can The Poseur Do The Whelk?'

With ace sleeve notes by Shindig!'s own Lenny Helsing this is a fine introduction for uninitiated toe-dippers and a handy collection for long-time fans.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Tangerines - Into The Flophouse

(This review first appeared in issue #66 of Shindig! magazine.)


Tangerines are interestingly out of step with their indie scene contemporaries. Though they mix Graham Parker pub-rock and Dylan-esque vocal phrasing, the south London quartet are no mere nostalgics, documenting life in a city that's paved not with gold but with empty beer cans and broken dreams. Lead single 'Peckham Boys' sets the tone, borrowing the riff from Warren Zevon's 'Werewolves of London' and letting louche tales of self-medication take centre stage. Frontman Gareth Hoskins is a skillful lyricist, in possession of youthful but jaded vocals. He draws you into a world of street level romance and modern bohemianism. It's a place where seediness and artful aspiration feed off each other.

The traditional two guitars, bass and drums sound is strengthened by sleazy saxophone skronk on several tracks, and guitarist Miles Prestia comes across as a gifted if understated guitarist, helping the dynamics shift with spirals that Tom Verlaine would be proud of.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Derrick Anderson - A World Of My Own

Omnivore CD

Though a solo record, the contributor list marks this out as an all-star affair. Matthew Sweet pops up on guitar. The Smithereens, The Muffs and The Cowsills all make appearances. As do The Bangles (for whom Anderson has played bass since 2008). There's also a reunion for Anderson's eponymous nineties combo, The Andersons. A proven team player then, but this is an album made in Anderson's image, infused with taut mid-'60s songwriting values, where Anglophilic beat music mixes with punchy powerpop and soulful mod-rock.

Quite why the Los Angeles based musician has taken so long before venturing out on his own is a mystery, or maybe he's just been stockpiling this set of guitar-driven Revolver-esque tunes. Highlights include 'Phyllis & Sharon' (a tribute to the US soap opera The Young and The Restless), and the album's bonus track, a cover of The Beatles 'Norwegian Wood', albeit with a funk-rock makeover. Foxy!

Click here for Derrick Anderson's website. 

Shadow Band - Wilderness Of Love

 (This review first appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine.)

Mexican Summer CD / LP

The UK's acid-folk scene of the late '60s is a well-mined seam of inspiration these days. In lesser hands there's a danger of style over substance. Not here. The Philadelphia band's debut may concern itself with Mother Nature and owe a debt to Pentangle, Vashti, The Incredible String Band et al but it's no nostalgic trip through the faerie forest. This is as contemporary a record as they come. With recurring themes of seasons turning, light and dark, and portentous meteorological metaphors it chimes with the global mood of the day.

Though not initially apparent the album tackles today's toxic political climate, using soft poetic power and delicate acoustic instrumentation. It's nuanced and made for quiet reflection. For all their tasteful parsimony this is a band that can also do loud when required. Check out the buried howls of feedback on 'Darksider's Blues' for evidence of the rock band that lurks within.

Click here for Shadow Band on Facebook.
Click here for Shadow Band on Twitter.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Heath Green & The Makeshifters - Heath Green & The Makeshifters

 (This review first appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine.)

Alive Natural Sound CD / LP

Heath Green possesses a voice that's not only lived-in, it may also have hosted a fair share of all-night house parties. Gritty, gravelly and full of that good ol' southern soul, the man sure as hell can sing! Based in Birmingham, Alabama, he's been the city's best-kept musical secret for the last two decades. He and his killer band make a fiery hybrid of soul, blues, rock and gospel, breathing new life into the region's musical heritage and traditions.

Alternating between Saturday night revelry and Sunday morning redemption with the trials of grown-up relationships thrown in, this earthy, blue-eyed and blue-collar soul recalls Jerry Lee Lewis, Otis Redding, The Faces, Joe Cocker and The Black Crowes yet is beholden to none. Equally adapt at guttural howls and soulful sophistication, quite why Mr. Green has not broken through to wider recognition is a mystery. With this album his dues must surely come.

Click here for Heath Green & The Makeshifters' website.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Elfin Bow - Elfin Bow

 (This review first appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine.)

Self Release CD

Elizabeth Anne Jones resides in North Wales and makes pastoral, psych and traditional folk under the stage name Elfin Bow. Her debut album contains stately ballads and nursery rhyme folk darkness, with a backing of deftly picked acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo, violin and a hint of electronica.
Lyrically astute, melodically inventive and in possession of pure singing tones, Ms. Bow has made a deceptively gentle record. Scratch beneath the surface however and you'll find weighty themes. 'Hey Auld Friend' is as dark a song as they come; a kiss goodbye to this mortal coil via drowning. Similarly 'Holler In The Hollows' deals with mourning and hardship.

Elsewhere 'Grimshaw And The Fingerclaw' and 'Edith's Song' form a short song suite with a wyrd old Albion vibe. Lightness comes via 'The Wisdom' with its sense of wonder at the world, and the bluegrass-tinged 'Prairie Madness'. An album full of intimate, homespun charm and mystery.

Click here for Elfin Bow's website.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Interview with Green Seagull

(This feature first appeared in issue #64 of Shindig! magazine. I think the band have since changed drummers since this ran. I love this band and can't wait for the LP! To read the full interview click over the jump at the bottom.)

London's latest baroque-beat band mix peppermint and incense on their first recordings. Duncan Fletcher sees them take flight.

Taking their name from a misheard lyric in The Stones' 'Paint It Black', Green Seagull formed in early 2016 around the songwriting talents of Paul Nelson and Paul Milne, formerly of New Electric Ride and The Magnetic Mind respectively. The chemistry was completed with the addition of keyboardist Sarah Gonputh and drummer Carlos Redondo.

“For me, psychedelia is a very open-ended style that gives you a lot of possibilities. You can take elements from virtually any genre - garage punk, acid rock to flamenco and classical - and it wouldn't necessarily jar if you did it right” says bassist/vocalist Milne. Do it right they do, as heard on their rehearsal room recordings on four-track cassette. Influenced by The Left Banke, The Association and The Beach Boys, the two songs on their Soundcloud page feature pop melodies spiked with sinister chords and arrangements, successfully pairing light and shade.

“The lyrics in 'Scarlet' are pretty much about infatuation and obsession and hint at a possible illness of the mind for the protagonist” says guitarist/vocalist Nelson. “'They Just Don’t Know' is based on a nightmare I had where I was some kind of world leader in a Cuban Missile Crisis-type scenario. I think I was watching too many cold war documentaries at the time! Hope it wasn't a premonition of some sort!” adds Milne.

The band are currently re-recording the tracks along with a prospective LP at London's Sausage Studio, making full use of its vintage gear. “We're fortunate that Sausage Studio is run by my boyfriend, Seb Kellig (My Drug Hell) with our friend Nick McCarthy (Franz Ferdinand/FFS)”, says Sarah. “The place is an absolute dream and I feel so lucky to be part of the Sausage Studio family. It's vintage keys and analogue synthesiser heaven... for our forthcoming single I've been playing the Philicorda organ and the Wurlitzer.”

'Scarlet' b/w 'They Just Don't Know' was released in May 2017 on Mega Dodo Records.

(Click over the jump for the full interview.)

Willie Gibson - Vivaldi: Seasons Change

Synths! Baroque Classical music! Futurist-retro mix-up! Droogs with Moogs!

Synthesisers are fascinating things aren't they. A confession here - my preference has always been for guitars, mainly because during my teenage years I hated all those keyboard bands on Top Of The Pops. It also became apparent to me that technology was moving so quickly that if you bought a keyboard it would soon be out of date. It was a musical arms race in the '80s. Whereas, buy a decent guitar and it would age and sound better in 20 years time. That was my theory then anyway...

Oh how young, innocent and stupid I was. Some of those keyboards are probably worth more than my house now. And the sounds have a pleasing dated but unique and quirky appeal that makes a Fender Telecaster look pretty limited by comparison. That's the thing with synths isn't it. At the time of release they sound so far ahead of themselves but then become quickly associated with the era of their production after technology and tastes moves on. If you're a fan of all things retro though, these pieces of outdated kit can end up having a holy grail-like aura.

I mention all this after listening to an album that's coming out on Gare du Nord Records next week. Willie Gibson's take on Vivaldi's Opus 8, Il Quattro Stagioni, fitting re-titled Seasons Change, has been created using a Eurorack format modular synthesiser. Having not kept up with the afore-mentioned arms race I'm not entirely sure what a Eurorack format modular synthesiser is, but what I can tell you is that it sounds not unlike the beginning of The Who's Baba O'Reilly, or the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange.

There's a commonly-held but false belief that synth music is an easy option, that it's made simply at the push of a button. Not so. Season's Change took a year to make with Gibson painstakingly creating the music layer by layer, one part at a time. It's worth mentioning here that Willie Gibson is not the artist's real name, it's a pseudonym for George Barker, a successful music producer and publisher whose career dates back to the late '60s/early '70s when he started out as a trumpet player for the likes of J Jackson, Tony Orlando, Dawn and Arthur Conley.

Season's Change is an immensely likable piece of work, a true curio and quite unlike anything else out there at the moment. It appeals to futurists, retro-heads and especially fans of baroque classical music. How's that for a coming together of the tribes!

Click here for Gare Du Nord Records on Twitter.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Stay - Always Here (Ltd. Col 7" +DVD)

Barcelona psych-rockers latest five-track EP!

Spain is fast becoming a hot-spot for home-grown indie music, a must tour destination for British bands, and home to one of Europe's best DIY networks. Promoters, radio shows, venues, labels and gig-swappers all seem to be at the top of their game in Spain at the moment. It's within this hothouse environment that a band like Stay can flourish. Their latest five-track EP on Fruits de Mer Records mixes a couple of original songs with three choice covers. The Bee Gees (' Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You'), The Kinks ('Where Have All The Good Times Gone'), and Buffalo Springfield ('Rock and Roll Woman') all get a Stay makeover.

These tracks give you a clue to where their heads are at – melodic and psychedelic, all shimmering guitar jangle and the rhythm section's taut driving push, but it's the original songs that are the stars of the show. Lead track 'Always Here' sets out the stall. Any song that has the word “mind” in its first sentence always gets my vote. It may be shorthand for instant psych but in this instance works a treat. Classic modern guitar-based psych-pop at its best.

'You Know It's Right' is the other self-penned tune, this version being a remix with added guitar courtesy of Andy Bell (Ride, Oasis). It's rooted in the folk-rock sound of The Byrds but with a modern speaker-pushing sheen. Neat! This limited edition coloured vinyl 7” also comes with a DVD insert, featuring a documentary about the recording sessions for the band's latest LP The Mean Solar Times. What the hell is not to like!

Click here for the Fruits de Mer website.
Click here Stay's website.
Click here for Stay on Facebook.
Click here for Stay on Twitter.

Joss Cope - Unrequited Lullabies

Guitars! Songs! Poignant English psych-pop that your milkman can whistle!

An album that's been a soundtrack to my daily commute over the last few weeks is this gem by Joss Cope released on the ever reliable Gare du Nord label. Despite being recorded in Helsinki with a group of Finnish musicians it's as English as they come, due to Cope's knack of capturing the melancholy, humdrum observation and poignant humour that forms our much lauded national psyche. I should mention at this point that Joss is the brother of Julian Cope, so the shared upbringing, genes and collection of 45s must have fed into his worldview. Anyway that's enough about that, who wants to be compared to their elder sibling. Not me, so I ain't gonna do that here!

If you wanted to pigeonhole Unrequited Lullabies with a genre, we can call it guitar-driven psychedelic pop. But really it's all about the songs which have a point, a poignancy and are some of the most melodically memorable I've had the pleasure of hearing in recent months. 'Turned Out Nice Again' captures the sadness masked by everyday small-talk. It's just one example of how, in a similar way to someone like Robyn Hitchcock, mixes kitchen-sink ordinariness with cosmic observation.

Cope also has a pleasing way with words, twisting and adapting everyday idioms and sayings, - “drowning in a sea of familiar faces”. He also comes up with succinct and pleasing couplets throughout that seem to capture something of where we are now as a species and a society. It all makes for intelligent and literate pop that even references Rudyard Kipling's If on 'Triumph or Disaster'. Don't let that fool you into thinking it's a heavy ride, it's as fun as they come and the tunes will be swirling round your head long after the disc is out the drive (other formats are available but you catch my drift!)

Click here for Gare Du Nord Records on Twitter.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Real Numbers - Frank Infatuation b/w Leave It Behind(Ltd. 7")

FFO C86, Television Personalities, Shop Assistants, Wedding Present! 300 copies only!

Another July release from Market Square Records that deserves to not slip through the net is this absolute belter from Real Numbers. The A-side reminds of those jaunty but sad songs from my own personal year zero when the likes of The Pastels, The Wedding Present and the like were constants on my turntable. Though it also sounds like, well you know, now!

The flip is a slower though no less satisfying track, a dreamy floaty melody over a two chord backing. Lo-fi and heartfelt. Apparently the band have been around making records in their hometown of Minneapolis for quite some years but I'd not been hipped to this groove until now. Another notch of credibility for Market Square. If the vinyl is sold out don't forget today is a digital world too. So suppost the label and have the music on your mobile, mp3 player or ipod docking station. Hell, you couldn't do that in 1986!

300 copies only, housed in Risograph fold-over sleeves.

Click here for Real Numbers on Facebook.
Click here for Market Square Records.

The Shifters - A Believer b/w Contrast Of Form (Ltd. 7")

Australian lo-fi punks' latest 7” on Market Square Records! 300 copies only!

2017 may still be a terrible year for politics but it's been an amazing year for new under-the-radar music. So much so that it's sometimes a struggle to keep up and write about it as much as I'd like. One of my favourite small labels keep coming up with the goods, outta Billinghurst of all places. This 'lil platter actually came out at the tail end of July and according to the label's website is sold out. But with a bit of luck and the aid of Discogs notifications you may be able to track down a copy. Or try the band direct via their Facebook page.

The Shifters are a a lo-fi punk band from Melbourne, Australia who make music that sounds somewhere between The Fall's lesser heard melodic moments and the Dunedin sound that came out of New Zealand back in the '80s. It's pretty cool. I like it and I think you will too. They also remind me of an American band called Phantom Buffalo who I think are from Portland Oregon. They put out a couple of albums that I really dug. I miss them. But hey this 7” is helping me get over it. Shame Melbourne is so far away as they sound like the kind of band who would be very enjoyable and accessible at a gig. Do check them out!

Click here for The Shifters on Facebook.
Click here for Market Square Records.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mark McDowell and Friends - Dark Weave

Fifth LP from south-west psych-folk collective. Pastoral folk, drones, subtle electronica and good vibes!
I've not been able to post as much on here recently for various reasons. Mainly too busy with work, family commitments and magazine stuff. I'm not complaining as work, family and writing is pretty much my holy trinity for a happy and useful life. I mention this as there have been a few albums and such that I've been sent that deserve my and your attention. Especially this one! I've written briefly about Mark McDowell before, albeit quite some time ago. What I didn't know was that apart from his solo records he also makes music as part of a psych-folk collective called Mark McDowell & Friends. This is their fifth long-player but the first one I've heard so I'm coming in fresh to this as it were.

Dark Weave came out at the end of July and I was able to listen and let it get under my skin before I left for a family holiday in Rhodes. There's something about high summer that always sharpens my emotions and makes me more receptive to music, art, literature etc. You know, all the good stuff. Maybe it's the longer hours of daylight, increased temperatures, more time spent with good people. All these things. Anyhow before I set off on my hols this album was my soundtrack on the daily commute to work. It struck me that despite the use of Indian strings, exotic hand-drums and analogue synth washes and swirls, Dark Weave is an album that could only have come from the British Isles. It simultaneously harks back to the golden era of acid-folk, (when Forest, Comus, Spirogyra and their ilk were the most happening acts around), but also sounds like now. Timeless is not the right word but it certainly taps into and strengthens some kind of tradition that resurfaces every few years and captures the imagination of a new generation. As a kind of nationalism it certainly beats that touted by many of our current political leaders.

So off I go on my holiday to Rhodes in early August. The change of scene, light, temperature and vegetation was a real jolt to the senses. I was struck by how dry, dusty and scrub-like the hills away from the coast were. The geographical distance also made me think about home, where it's not dusty and scrub-like. Where the ground is moist and loamy, damp and full of vegetation. And in my head thoughts kept turning to this record. It seemed to capture this richness that and uniqueness that we quite often lose sight of here.

Apologies to Mark McDowell if this is not like a standard album review. For once I wanted to write in a different way about music and how it can affect us. Suffice to say that Dark Weave has been my favourite album of the Summer and will be getting played over and over as we head into Autumn and Winter. It's that kind of record. Pastoral folk mixed with subtle electronica if you want to place it within genres. But I suggest just listening with open ears, hearts and minds and seeing where it takes you. Music ripe for reflection. 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Bordellos - Underground Tape Vol. 7

So it appears that The Stone Roses have split again. Or maybe they haven't. Who knows? Or who cares? Well a horde of middle-aged “lads” do, I suppose. Anyway my point is as reformations go it was pretty lame. OK so they sold out Wembley etc. etc. But in terms of coming up with the musical goods it was a non-starter. Two (not all that good) tracks in five years was not exactly reclaiming the crown of Britain's best band.

I mention the Stone Roses because they have roots and connections in Warrington, a stone's throw away from St. Helens, where another band of less reknown but higher output resides. The Bordellos are a band that will probably never sell out The Dog And Duck in Wembley let alone its auspicious stadium, but they do at least make music and put it out for consumption. They don't beg to “be adored” either. In fact I get the impression they'd rather get up the noses of middle-aged “lads” than have them fawn over them.

Their latest release, Underground Tapes Vol. 7 is picked from a mass of unreleased home recordings. Funny, confrontational, self-aware, and always with a point to make. It's a beautiful thing! It won't make any charts or get featured in Clash or NME but I don't suppose they'll be bothered. I think they'd like it if you took a listen though, and I recommend that you do. Among its homespun alt-folk and lo-fi charms is 'Tesco Chainsaw Massacre' and my personal personal favourite 'Jolly Old England',a song that namechecks Cannon and Ball, Irene Handl, free Weetabix and the death of football. All this and not a John Squire guitar solo in sight! Get in!

Click here for The Bordellos on Twitter.
Click here for The Bordellos on Facebook.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

In Gowan Ring - B'ee's Pent Pouch

Fragile mystic folk surfaces on a variety of limited releases!

An artist new to me but very welcome is In Gowan Ring, the artistic vehicle for the mysteriously named B'ee who's been making low-key but intoxicating folk-based music for the last 20 years. In 2012 B'ee spent several months constructing a five-sided tent as a recording/living space in a forest behind a chateau in a sparsely occupied area of the Massif Central in France. (I know, right!)
The recordings he made in that time, known as the Pent Pouch album were released as a limited edition of 55 copies given away to people who helped finance the project. Five years later these recordings are getting a public release digitally as well as in a variety of limited physical formats. There are five copies on both pentagonal vinyl (yes really!) and CD released in a five sided box format but 150 copies on both pentagonal vinyl and CDin a five-sided corduroy pouch. Nice! So top marks for the packaging but how about the music?

B'ee describes his music as symbolist folk, and that's pretty accurate. Infused with a sense of something bigger – a spirituality maybe, or affinity with nature, the seasons, and eternal truths. It's music for the dusk of late evenings or the mist of early mornings. Echoes of Nick Drake, the Incredible String Band, early and rennaissance music all fuse into something unique

If you miss out on the limited versions head over to the In Gown Ring Bandcamp page for a a digital copy along with a plethora of other releases of a similar high quality available via the Moonlit Missives subscription service.

Click here for In Gowan Ring's website.
Click here for Moonlit Missives.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Brent Cash - A New High

 (This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)
Marina CD / LP

There was a wave of song-crafters from the mid '60s, influenced by Brill Building classicism, who further pushed the possibilities of what a pop song could be. Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb being just three examples of writers that added sophistication, sly subversion and progressive optimism into pop. Georgia's Brent Cash is the latest name in this lineage, back after a five year hiatus with his third and strongest LP to date. Bar the strings Cash plays every instrument on the record.

It's oddly fitting that the album's title track references Richard Nixon, whose political demise roughly coincided with the end of sunshine pop's time in the sun. Here earworm melodies sit atop obliquely shifting piano chords and inventive arrangements. Beneath the light and breezy soft-pop feel lies some serious alchemy. Cash has created a sound that both pays tribute to his forerunners and adds new depth. Dig the new breed.