Sunday, 25 November 2012

Vinny Peculiar - Other People Like Me

Early 70's inspired observational and skewed Britpop from suburban Manchester. Crack open the Watneys Party Seven!

Alan Wilkes AKA Vinny Peculiar is in a nostalgic mood. For his latest studio album, the Salford maverick is taking a wry and wistful look back to the era of art infused glam-rock. With references to Bowie, Alice Cooper, Page Three Stunnas, Wigan Casino and Mott The Hoople throughout it's part celebration of those times, but one which is tempered by the confessional and painful adolescent regrets retold in the lyrics. The effect is like a more melancholy Jarvis Cocker. Stories of stealing Cream Eggs from the Post Office, signing on, and dodgy haircuts abound.

Click over the jump for more on Other People Like Me.

The Witch And The Robot - Fear Of Mountains Part I

First part of high concept rock opus from Cumbrian freak-folk misfits, and a good excuse to visit the Lake District.

The Witch And The Robot is an apt name for a band whose music is two parts pagan freak folkery and one part electronic krautrock. Much like their friends and fellow Cumbrians British Sea Power, doing things differently is their modus operandi.

So what we have is a loose concept album featuring songs based on characters who all have connections with the Lake District, some fictional, some factual. Parts two and three will no doubt follow in due course. Despite such localism, it's an album which by sheer force of its passion and uniqueness should have wider appeal and contains many inspired moments.

Click over the jump for more on Fear Of Mountains Part I.

The Amazing - Gentle Stream

Rightfully boastful name, beautiful album. Laurel Canyon spirit re-locates to Scandinavia.

Picture the scene – Laurel Canyon, 1969, the sun's hazy heat shimmers the air, heavy with reefer smoke. A few half dressed kids chase dogs round the legs of rock royalty as they work out the extended coda to their latest mid-tempo gentle folk rock opus. The guitar lines spiralling and intertwining, relaxed yet exploratory. The drums and bass pushing in all the right places. It's all too beautiful, man.

That's the image that comes to mind while listening to Gentle Stream, the title track of the second full length album from Sweden's psychedelic folk rock collective The Amazing. Though that's not the full picture, there's more. The song is lent an icy European coating courtesy of lead singer and songwriter Christoffer Gunrup. It's a bit like a modern day take on Wooden Ships, played by Crosby, Stills Nash & Nico, albeit a male Nico.

Click over the jump for more on Gentle Stream.

The Waterboys - An Appointment With Mr. Yeats

Mike Scott & co return with a collection of WB Yeats' poems set to music. And it works too!

If anyone's qualified to turn such mystic and romantic poems into songs it's Mike Scott. It's not the first time he's set a Yeats poem to music; “The Stolen Child” was for my money at least, the stand out track on the 1988 Fisherman's Blues album. This time round there's a full album of such material, with titles including “A Full Moon In March”, “The Lake Isle Of Innisfree” and “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death”.

Click over the jump for more on An Appointment With Mr. Yeats.

Charles Packy Axton - Late Late Party 1965-67

Mighty Memphis soul. Forgotten sax hero's first and long overdue anthology.

You may not have heard of Charles Packy Axton, though things could, and should have been so different. Born into the all conquering soul dynasty of Memphis based Stax Records, (Packy's mother Estelle Axton and his uncle Jim Stewart were the label founders), he was perfectly placed and talented enough to have capitalised on his advantageous position. Packy took up the saxophone at a young age and formed The Royal Spades, with Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, both later to have greater success as members of Booker T & The MG's, the legendary Stax house band. The Royal Spades became The Mar-Keys. Axton's partying was to eventually cause a split with the band along with a career damaging rift with Stax Records.

Axton continued to record though and had a national hit with 1965's “Hole In The Wall”, credited to The Packers is basically Booker T. And The MG's in all but name, featuring Axton, Cropper, Booker T, and drummer Al Jackson. Only bassist Dunn is missing from the line-up. It's at the heart of this new compilation which features seventeen mainly instrumental tracks.

Click over the jump for more on Late Late Party 1965-67.

Orchestra Of Spheres - Nonagonic Now

Time to go global for pick 'n' mix purveyors of afro-tribal beats, electronic dance, Mali blues, funk, & psych.

Cosmic, infectious, hypnotic, playful and fun. Just some of the words that spring to mind while listening to the debut album from Orchestra Of Spheres. As part of the Frederick Street Sound And Light Exploration Society in Wellington, New Zealand (see link below), the band are well placed to make music that is not tied down by genre restrictions or audience expectations. Part Fela Kuti, part Can, part George Clinton, with hints of psych and avant jazz.

Album opener Hypercube is a fantastic statement of intent, a call to arms for like-minded souls to fly their freak fly high, polyrhythmic drums fighting with call and response chanted vocals, possibly in a made up language. There Is No No follows with desert drone guitar and gamelan giving way to hyperactive bingo-caller vocals. There's even a Celtic folk influence to be detected on Spontaneous Symmetry, its twangy guitar lines courtesy of a biscuit tin guitar. As the album progresses the pychedelic and free jazz elements come to the fore as on the trippy Hypershere and Eternal C Of Darkness, basically Nina Simone meets Delia Derbyshire on the set of The Magic Roundabout.

They come across as a band that takes having fun seriously, as demonstrated by their stage costumes which are as bizarre as their home-made instruments. Mind-expanding and with no comedown.

Click here for Orchestra Of Spheres on Bandcamp.

Spindrift - Classic Soundtracks

Dust down your ponchos! Time for some spoof spaghetti western soundtracks with a dose of heavy west coast psych.

Somehow the music you hear in your childhood stays with you all your life, so if you spent your early years glued to the TV showing Sergio Leone spaghetti western re-runs, those wonderful soundtracks by the likes of Ennio Morricone are going to have an effect on the music you make as an adult. And so it is with Kirpatrick Thomas, front man with Los Angeles band Spindrift, self-proclaimed leaders of the neo-cosmic cowboy revolution.

So what we have here is a concept album of sorts, songs and instrumental pieces taken from movie soundtracks that don't (though possibly should) exist. The song titles are evocative in themselves; “Japexico (Flute Theme From Treasure Of The Black Jaguar)”, “Legend Of The Widower Colby Wallace”, “Showdown (From The Legend Of God's Gun)” and so on. 

Click over the jump for more on Classic Soundtracks.

Nat Baldwin - People Changes

Unique and awesome 4th solo album from Dirty Projectors bassist. Spiritually yearning mix of strings & woodwind with a hint of free-jazz.

Let's be honest, if you're a singer-songwriter it's difficult to get noticed in the crowd, such is the saturated market. Originality helps, as does taste, honesty, believability, and genuine warmth. All those qualities are present on this release. And then some!

Although the songs were composed in 2007, Baldwin wisely allowed them room to breathe, letting them evolve naturally, letting the arrangements settle in over time before finally recording them in 2010. Using a deceptively simple palette of vocals, bowed double bass, violin, clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet and one track added drums and guitar, Baldwin hand picked a small, trusted group of musicians, including some childhood friends to record with.

Click over the jump for more on People Changes.

Hanni El Khatib - Will The Guns Come Out

Best get tooled up, here comes some raw and dangerous garage punk-soul.

For folks that needed to phone a helpline when The White Stripes confirmed they'd split, a new gunslinger's in town. LA musician Hanni El Khatib takes his inspiration from the greasy underbelly of the great American songbook, those lesser celebrated R&B, soul, blues and doo-wop songs from the 50's and 60's whose sinister sentiments marked a time when rock and roll was truly dangerous. When gang fights, hot rods and cheap kicks were all the kids needed for a good night out.

You may be familiar with his cover of Funkadelic's “I Got A Thing” from a recent Nike commercial, featured on the album as a bonus track. The song is stripped down to a raw and ready garage rocker, all fuzz guitar, snapping drums and throat stripping vocals. 

Click over the jump for more on Will The Guns Come Out.

Phantom Buffalo - Cement Postcard With Owl Colours

Daydream guitar pop? Indie-psych? College rock? Art-rock? Who cares, it's bloody ace!

I had no expectations before I listened to this album, having not heard of the group before, but wow, what a treat! It reminded me of why I love guitar based indie music before it became synonymous with the dreaded landfill tag. What it represents is a truly alternative and enlightening listening experience. A real ragbag of styles and moods, melodically inventive with cryptic lyrics and more twists and turns than a mountain road. Instrumentally it's a lo-fi guitar, bass and drums affair but it's what you do with that template that counts.

Hailing from Portland, Maine, USA, the band were originally called The Ponys until a similarly named band from Chicago were booked to play SXSW the same year. Hence a name change and Phantom Buffalo was born.

Lead vocalist Jonathan Balzano-Brookes possesses a pure tone, not rock in the slightest but extremely likeable and perfect for carrying the band's brand of dazzling and beguiling pop tunes. (I've found myself waking up a couple of times this week unable to get their song “Atleesta” out of my head. Kylie would no doubt approve!)

The problem may be that it will prove too esoteric for a lot of people's tastes; the band's previous two albums have all been released to large critical acclaim offset by the public's indifference, which is a shame as there's some stunning stuff on here. Investing a little time with this album reaps huge rewards. A real gem.

Click here for Phantom Buffalo's website.

Sara Lowes - Back To Creation

In-demand Mancunian pianist finally gets round to making her own record.

The album title possibly referencing the fact that she's finally got around to making a solo LP, Manchester's Sara Lowes has long been in demand as a musician for hire, having toured and recorded with several name acts including King Creosote, Jim Noir and Micah P. Hinson, along with a long standing association with UK/US folk-psych outfit The Earlies.

Recorded at The Earlies studio, with Christian and Nicky Madden from the band on production duties, the album has a lovely analogue warmth which is sustained over the whole album despite all the changes of mood and style.

Having been schooled in classical music from an early age, and coming from a family of accomplished classical musicians, Lowes' skill as a pianist is apparent from the off; title track “Back To Creation” opening with searching piano chords and a vocal harmony wash before getting into it's Ben Folds style pop stride. It later offers a stylistic nod to Geno-era Dexy's Midnight Runners (always a good thing in this reviewer's book). 

Click over the jump for more on Back To Creation.

The Leisure Society - Into The Murky Water

Joyously kaleidoscopic 2nd album from the UK's top indie-folk collective.

The Leisure Society return with their follow up to 2009's The Sleeper. It sees them build on the sound of the first album, and the demos and B-sides collection A Product Of The Ego Drain.

The album opens with the title track “Into The Murky Water”. A few bars of portentous drum fills and marimba riffs give way to a sound which can only be described as Vaughan Williams challenging Jethro Tull to a musical version of the game Twister. Like many of the nine songs that follow it contains a chorus that will get under your skin like a tattoo. If we still had milkmen in this country no doubt they'd be whistling it.

It's a very English sounding record, with plenty of strings and folksy arrangements but there's also an American West Coast thing going on with some of the backing, most similar to Arthur Lee's Love. (Love's track “Alone Again Or” actually gets a mention at one point.) And “You Could Keep Me Talking” sounds like Jethro Tull's “Living In The Past” (them again!) covered by the Beach Boys.

Click over the jump for more on Into The Murky Water.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Soul Time!

Taut funk grooves, and soulful social commentary from the world's greatest contemporary soul band.

The soul powerhouse that is Daptone Records is the closest thing we have to a modern day Motown or Stax Records. Continuously putting out great singles and albums that hark back to the classic soul and funk era of the 60's and 70's while satisfying a thoroughly modern desire for something authentic, human and emotional. They stand as a beacon of hope in the avalanche of plasticity that is modern day conveyor belt pop. Soul time indeed.

The Dap-Kings of course are well known for having been Amy Winehouse's backing band of choice. So if you're not familiar with the records they've made with Sharon Jones, chances are you'll have heard them on Back To Black or Rehab. It's backing Sharon Jones however where it all slots into place. Like Aretha Franklin she possesses a voice that commands and demands respect, along with the ability and emotional range to sing dance-floor shakers, vulnerable ballads, and social protest anthems. All of which take their place on their latest platter.

Click over the jump for more on Soul Time!

Butch Walker And The Black Widows - The Spade

Life's a blast! Top US producer step out of the control room for latest album of scorching rock-pop.

Producer of choice for Weezer, Pink, Fall Out Boy and Avril Lavigne among others, Butch Walker proves with his latest record that his songwriting skills are also up there with best of them. The Spade is a ten-song blast of feelgood rock, full of good humoured observations about being middle aged but still rocking. There's also some telling recollections from his (partly misspent) youth, with references to Bryan Adams, Duran Duran, Iron Maiden, and bizarrely Frank Poncherello. The songs are interspersed with snippets of studio banter, and contain lyrics which show Walker as being as good with words as he is with melodies. A good story teller like Walker is not the only raconteur on the album, his friend Patrick Keeler (Yes he of The Raconteurs and The Greenhornes) is on kick-ass form on drums throughout.

There's no pushing of musical boundaries, the songs all being in the mould of classic American guitar rock but they're catchy as hell and literally jump out the speakers at you. Listening to the album is like meeting up with a valued and jovial friend down your local pub, it's familiar but at the same time fun and you know there'll be new stories, laughs aplenty, and you need its rejuvenating effects.

Click here for Butch Walker's website.

Click over the jump for a video of the track "Synthesizers".

Richmond Fontaine - The High Country

A novel idea. Portland, Oregon four-piece release dramatic song-cycle for their tenth studio album.

We're constantly hearing about the death of the album as an art form, or about how people's attention spans are somehow shorter due to the prevalence of shuffle culture. Reassuring then to be presented with an album that demands to be listened to from start to finish. For their tenth studio album Richmond Fontaine have opted to make a song-novel. Part love story, part mystery, part thriller, the tale is set among a remote rural logging community in Oregon. The main characters are a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage and dead-end job at an auto-parts store, and a mechanic who returns to the area to look after his ailing father. The pair fall in love and conspire to leave and find a better lives for themselves. Nothing is ever going to be so simple though as other characters enter the tale, including speed addicted ex-army psychotic and a drug dealing bar owner. 

Click over the jump for more on The High Country.

J Mascis - Several Shades Of Why

Debut solo album from Dinosaur Jr. noisenik.

J. Mascis is that rarest of creatures, a prolific slacker. Best known for his sonic assaults in bands Deep Wound, J. Mascis & The Fog, Witch, the criminally overlooked Sweetapple, and of course Dinosaur Jr. The perennially long haired Mascis has finally got round to releasing his solo debut album.

Back in the late 80's before grunge went overground, indie guitar music was subject to hollow bodied guitar snobbery, I'm thinking of Orange Juice, The Smiths, Everything But The Girl et al. Until the likes of Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur Jr broke through with their Jazzmasters and Jaguars and dragged indie out of the sixth form common rooms and back onto the streets. (OK, that may be slightly revisionist but you get my drift).

Click over the jump for more on Several Shades Of Why plus the video for Is It Done.

Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire De Melody Nelson - 40th Anniversary

One for the hipsters. In depth re-issue of Serge's greatest LP.

You have to hand it to the French. As a nation they know how to “do cool”. And Serge Gainsbourg did it better than most. With a genre-straddling career over 4 decades, his status as a national treasure was assured via his genuinely controversial and provocative lyrics and music. It's difficult to imagine a UK artist generating a similar amount of admiration and love were they to release records dealing with incest, under-age sex, nazis, along with dub-reggae versions of the national anthem. His funeral in 1991 brought a shocked Paris to a standstill. It's a shame then that the world's most famous Gauloises smoker is almost as well known over here for what he said to Whitney Houston on a French chat show. Doubtless though the quality of his music which will win out over time, and where better to start than what's often cited as his greatest album, Histoire de Melody Nelson, now being re-issued with added bonus material 40 years after it's initial release.

Click over the jump for more on Histoire De Melody Nelson.

Various - The Spar Records Story - Nashville's Great Unsung Indie Label

3 x CD treasure trove of under-the-radar 60's pop, soul, country, doo-wop, R&B, ballads and all points between.

Just when you think you have the sixties sussed, and feel that there's no musical stone left unturned, that every release has been pored over a million times, a compilation appears that shows just how rich the pickings of that decade are.

Spar Records was set up in Nashville in 1961 and became most famous for being a “sound-alike” label, releasing cut-price cover version records of the hits of the day on their Giant Records imprint, and distributing them through outlets that didn't normally stock records. The irony was that many of those recordings were as strong as the original versions, in some cases better. In fact if the original version was recorded in Nashville, it was highly likely that the same session musicians would end up playing on the sound-alike version. Musicians playing on this compilation also played on big hit records by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Monkees, George Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young and Johnny Cash among others.

Click over the jump for more on Spar Records

Grey Reverend - Of The Days

Alternate tunings ahoy! Beautiful, timeless, exploratory folk from sometime member of The Cinematic Orchestra.

Brooklyn based musician L.D. Brown (Aka Grey Reverend) was born and raised in Philadelphia and grew up on a musical diet of jazz, blues and late 80's indie bands such as Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine. After first taking up the saxophone Brown later switched to the guitar, and learnt his craft in a succession of Philadelphia bands as well as immersing himself in music theory and jazz improvisation.

Brown relocated to New York in 2006 and began playing solo gigs at various venues around the city. One of the venues in which he plied his trade was a coffee shop run by his sister. Fortunately for Brown the shop was frequented by Jason Swincombe, leader of British electronic jazz outfit The Cinematic Orchestra. After being suitably impressed by Brown's sparse, low-key folkish songs, Swincombe commissioned a cover of his band's song “To Build A Home”. This in turn led to Brown singing with the group on tour as well support slots performing his own material.

Four years on from that first meeting Brown is ready to release his first album on Swincombe's Motion Audio label. Predominately solo performed with just an acoustic guitar, though a plaintive harmonica appears on “Forsake”. 

Click over the jump for more on Grey Reverend's Of The Days.

Nitin Sawhney - Last Days Of Meaning

Ninth studio album from award winning composer, DJ, social commentator and national treasure.

It seems there's not much Nitin Sawhney can't do. And what he does do, he does very well. Never one to shy away from big themes, for his latest studio album he subtly explores the prejudice and embittered viewpoint of fictional character Donald Meaning via 11 songs interspersed with spoken word passages from Meaning, expertly played by Sawhney's friend, the actor John Hurt. (The pair met as a result of Hurt narrating for Human Planet, the BBC series scored by Sawhney).

The music ranges from the bluesy soul of “The Devil And Midnight”, complete with vocal from Yolanda Quartey to the sadly reflective “I'm Done” featuring Hannah Peel. It's the raga influenced music featuring Indian instrumentation where the album truly shines, as on the virtuoso sitar and groove of “Kite” and the mournful flute of “Daydream”.

Meaning is presented as a fully rounded person, embittered though not without likeability and redeeming characteristics. It's a timely and much needed reminder that understanding and common human ground is an area we need to explore rather than blaming scapegoats. A fine and thoughtful album, sadly in danger in being drowned out by rhetoric from all points on the political spectrum. 

Click here for Nitin Sawhney's official website.