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 Oliver├Ęs. 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.