Monday, 19 August 2019

SMASH Fashion - Rompus Pompous

(This review first appeared in issue #84 of Shindig! magazine.)

LA-based Smash Fashion burst onto the music scene with their debut Big Cat Love in 2014 proving that the retro glam scene wasn't purely reserved for Italian bootboys. Rompus Pompous serves up another batch of guitarist/vocalist Roger Deering's songs. They're bold, brash, melodic and defiantly good-time, with a sonic template based on '70s FM rock and lyrics that are playful, funny and hark back to a time before rock music started taking itself so seriously. Duelling twin-guitars abound and actively embrace the much-maligned guitar technique of squealing pinched harmonics.

For all its knowingly tongue-in-cheek humour, Rompus Pompous does however contain a genuine rock ballad epic in 'Smiles And Daggers', a track that rivals Guns 'n' Roses' 'November Rain' in scale and ambition. It reveals a musically hot band at the top of their game and comes embellished with sumptuous piano playing courtesy of David Bowie's long-serving keyboardist Mike Garson.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Magnus Carlson - A Nordic Soul

(This review first appeared in issue #84 of Shindig! magazine.)

Carlson has been a big star for over two decades in his native Sweden, firstly as a founder member of indie rockers Weeping Willows and latterly via several collaborations and a successful solo career. This is his first full-length solo outing in the UK and focuses on his deep love of northern soul. Recorded in part by long-time Paul Weller associate Andy Lewis at the Modfather's Black Barn Studio, it's stacked with uptempo dance-floor fillers, all taut grooves, punchy horns and melancholic high strings. With any justice it will bring Carlson the wider audience he deserves.

If side one is about being on the floor shaking some talc, side two broadens out into more of a comedown feel, most successfully on the lush orchestral ballad 'Broken Promise Land', which features backing from Carlson's Weeping Willows band-mates. Medway modernists will also be pleased by guest appearance of Fay Hallam on 'Now That It's Over'.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

J.P. Bimeni & The Black Belts - Free Me

(This review first appeared in issue #84 of Shindig! magazine.)

JP Bimeni's back-story is like none other. A descendant of the Burundian royal family, he fled Burundi aged 15 during the 1993 civil war after three attempts on his life. Having survived being both shot and poisoned he managed to attain refugee status and moved to the UK, taking a college place in Wales. It was there he started listening to the soul music that would go on to inform his own singing style. A spell in an Otis Redding tribute revue brought him to the attention of Madrid's Tucxone Records who paired him with The Black Belts to record this infectious album.

If the meeting of southern soul with uptempo African funk doesn't grab you then Bimeni's impassioned vocals surely will. Equally stirring on the tearjerkers or the floor-filling modern funk numbers. Free Me is one of the year's must-have soul albums and a reminder of how compelling singing from the heart can be.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Sha La Das - Love In The Wind

(This review first appeared in issue #83 of Shindig! magazine.)

Bill Schalda was a teenage member of '60s Brooklyn vocal group The Montereys who would later pass on his love of close harmony singing to his three sons Will, Paul and Carmine. Together the quartet supplied background vocals to Charles Bradley's Victim of Love LP. Producer Thomas Brenneck was so taken with the results he encouraged the group to make this full-length album which merges doo-wop sensibilities with soul's expansive and emotional range.

Featuring their unique close family harmonies backed by the finest musicians of Daptone's extended musical family (including members of The Budos Band, Menahan Street Band, The Dap-Kings), Love In The Wind is built on pure love of the music, palpable in the ghostly doo-wop ('Those Days Are Over', 'Do What'), and the standout uptempo psych-soul groover 'Carnival'. The mix of era-respecting authenticity, youthful spirit and combined team effort is a winning combination, even by Daptone's high standards.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Dirty Streets - Distractions

(This review first appeared in issue #83 of Shindig! magazine.)

The Memphis trio's fifth LP unleashes a barrage of greasy blues 'n' boogie rock, big on pentatonic riffs, driving drums and floor shaking bottom end, as exemplified on the album's bookending tracks 'Loving Man' and 'Trying To Remember'. Aside from the heavy duty rock are revelatory moments where the band break out of their blues box and venture off on different tacks. 'Dream' showcases their softer, textured pop side, whereas 'Take A Walk' sees the band go all-out into wah-wah enhanced funk-rock.

'Can't Go Back' allows drummer Andrew Denham to take centre stage. Then there's the lyrical voodoo and hip-hop beats of 'Death's Creep' or 'On The Way' where vocalist/guitarist Justin Toland mixes bluesy vocals with British finger-style acoustic picking. Recorded live at the historic Sam Phillips Recording Studio in their hometown, Distractions honours the south's hard rocking musical traditions and adds a high voltage boost. Best played loud.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Kelley Stoltz - Natural Causes

(This review first appeared in issue #82 of Shindig! magazine.)

Stoltz's love of '60s Brit Invasion and '80s post-punk sounds is well known so it's no surprise echoes of both loom large on his latest album. Be it the dreampop of the title track, the lo-fi psychedelic pop of 'My Friend' or the indie-disco of 'Decisions Decisions', he combines spiky guitar lines with whistleable '60s pop melodies, then nicely drenches them with chorus and reverb. In this musical tug-of-love it's the '80s that ultimately wins with Stoltz going full out retro-electro on 'Static Electricity', with call-and-response robotic vocals, synth shimmers and dive-bombing guitar solo.

As the album progresses each tracks reveals a different mood or aspect of Stoltz's personality; gently mocking sarcasm on 'How Psychedelic Of You', a jaunty sing-song round the old Joanna on 'A Rolling Tambourine', and best of all 'Where You Will', a slice of wistful melancholia with Stoltz beautifully channelling his inner Morrissey and Marr.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Prana Crafter - Enter The Stream

(This review first appeared in issue #82 of Shindig! magazine.)

Most musicians are inspired to some extent by their surroundings. Few transmute the experience of landscape into music as artfully as William Sol AKA Prana Crafter. From his home in the woodlands of Washington State's Olympic peninsula he's released several cassette albums of nature-inspired psych-folk that combine the vocal vulnerability of Neil Young, the exploratory virtuosity of Jerry Garcia with an Eno-esque knack for ambient textures.

Enter The Stream is his most engaging album so far, a mix of downbeat Americana and sonic exploration. Against a backdrop of trickling water, the title track sets the mood on a record that champions the eternal beauty of the natural world over the ugliness of contemporary global politics. In Sol's hands even white noise and scales more usually associated with doom-rock have a soothing quality, as evidenced on 'Moon Through Fern Lattice' and 'The Spell' respectively. As rejuvenating and refreshing as a wild swim.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Durand Jones & The Indications - You And Me / Put A Smile On Your Face (7")

(This review first appeared in issue #81 of Shindig! magazine.)

Something is happening and Mr. Jones knows what it is. Our appetite for rare soul remains as insatiable as ever. The mix of grit, groove and passionate emotion distilled by American musicians in the sixties and seventies continues to fascinate. With this in mind Durand and his Indications pay homage to two lesser-celebrated soul acts.

'You And Me' was originally recorded as a demo by Ohio-based Penny & The Quarters in the early seventies. Durand adds an early Motown vibe with a sweet falsetto over a doo wop chord sequence. 'Put A Smile On Your Face' is a melancholic gem originally cut by Detroit's EJ & The Echoes in 1967. Durand's faithful take offers neat drum shuffles and a vocal delivery that gets straight to the emotional heart of the lyrics. The fact that these versions were recorded quickly in a electric piano repair shop only adds to the authentic vintage vibe.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Paul Steel - Carousel Kites

(This review first appeared in issue #81 of Shindig! magazine.)

The Paul Steel back-story is a cautionary tale. Chewed up and spat out by the major label machine while still in his early twenties, the desire to make daringly creative music remained thankfully intact. Ten years on from his ambitious first LP April & I, this second offering continues the story narrative of the now April-less “I”. It's a richly packed affair, a 15-track gap-less song cycle full of stylistic shifts. Everything from rock, baroque-pop, muzak and computer game sounds gets a look-in including a “Yacht-rock dream sequence”.

SMiLE-era Brian Wilson is the strongest and most recognisable influence, but Steel's precocious skills as a writer and arranger take him into many other musical realms. There's the sense that nothing is beyond his capabilities. That said Carousel Kites is a challenging listen, the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink barrage of ideas makes it an album easier to admire than to truly love.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Jack Ellister – When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease/Supernaut (Ltd. 7”)

Double A-sided 7” covering songs by Roy Harper and Black Sabbath!

Odd juxtapositions, you just gotta love 'em! Whether it's a Public Enemy/Anthrax collaboration, 'Long, Long, Long' following 'Helter Skelter' on The Beatles' White Album, or even Mel Smith and Kim Wilde putting out a Christmas single, sometimes putting incongruous ideas, genres or artists together can yield surprising results. This new 7” by Jack Ellister is a case in point. On one side you have a lovingly heartfelt piano-backed reading of Roy Harper's most famous song. Flip the record over and there's a version of a Black Sabbath album track ('Supernaut' from Black Sabbath IV). While the Harper track is suitably sentimental and elegiac, the Sabbath cut is a space-race inspired heavy-riffing juggernaut, featuring distorted bass guitar, lead synth lines and clattering drums played by Jack's brother Tomasz. Somehow in an inexplicable way the pairing works. For me, being the sentimental type, the Harper cover edges out as favourite but I'd encourage you to have a listen and pick your own winner.

Oh one more thing before I sign off - there's an lovely back-story to the recordings on this single as told by Jack on the press release which I feel is worth including here...

"The grand piano used on 'Cricketer' belonged to my grand father in Torun, Poland.
In 1990/1991 my father took me and Tomasz to Poland to get it over to Germany. We had to smuggle it out because it was forbidden to transport instruments across the border, as they might be valuable collectible items or state property. We did it in two turns using an old Mercedes 9-seater. On the first trip we took the inner metal works and mechanics out and hid them under lots of other stuff. On the second journey a month later we got the wooden frame, which appeared like a sort of cheap big wardrobe when not inspected properly. Luckily the wooden outer parts fit into the lift in Stuttgart and didn't need to be carried up the stairs to our flat on the 6th floor where we lived in at that time. It was great to have it around and we used it a lot on early recordings.
My brother Tomasz was then made to play classical music on that thing for about seven years, and he recorded me playing 'Cricketer' in the living room in Stuttgart (not the same flat) just before it went back to Poland for good, together with my parents.

'Supernaut' is one of those Sabbath tracks that doesn't seem to belong to their obvious classics, but for me it somehow earned itself a special place in their canon. Tomasz sent me the drums recorded in his cellar studio/rehearsal space and I added all the rest at home."

Click here for Jack Ellister's website.
Click here for Jack Ellister on Facebook.
Click here for Jack Ellister on Twitter.
Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Jason McNiff - Joy And Independence

(This review first appeared in issue #81 of Shindig! magazine.)

Mcniff's music is rooted in the Anglo-American storytelling tradition but offers more than a mere stylistic re-tread. His sixth and latest LP Joy And Independence is as stripped down as they come, mostly one voice, one guitar, no studio trickery, just songs and sentiments that draw you in and stay with you long after the disc has stopped playing. It's part travelogue, part autobiography and part emotional stock-taking with McNiff looking back at lost loves, his early troubadour days and the changing nature of dreams and ambitions.

His wistful reminiscences take in travels through Italy and northern Spain, and he recalls the fading rainy London of the 1990s with a rare sensitivity and a knack for finding the universal in the specific. Fans of Blood On The Tracks will find much to immerse themselves in here. Aside from the first person songs there's also sympathetic commentary on the Amanda Knox story. Rich pickings.

Friday, 2 August 2019

The Jim Mitchells - Love Hypnotic

(This review first appeared in issue #81 of Shindig! magazine.)

Sydney-based five-piece The Jim Mitchells have a sound that's from the garage but is refreshingly non-macho and comes infused with a DIY Daisy Age feel. Ambiance and texture share equal billing with melody, and you're drawn in by dreamy sounds rather than bludgeoned by riffs. Described by the band as “an ode to love and mental struggles”, their full-length debut Love Hypnotic is a laid-back, gently intoxicating affair as exemplified on album opener '(Let Them All In)' with its languid beats and sun-dappled guitar lines.

'We're Up High' fuses indie with two-chord raga-rock, all repetitive groove and spiralling guitar. 'Easy Love' is a soothing slice of soft 'n' hazy psych not dissimilar to the music of Allah-Las, whereas 'Got To Believe' sounds like Supergrass taking a hiatus in Haight-Ashbury. A highly enjoyable album, and one that deserves to be part of your soundtrack to the imminent summer of love.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Neighbourhood Strange - Russian Spy / Many Secrets (7"/CD)

The Salisbury psych-rockers are back with a single about recent hometown events.

Without wishing to make light of the seriousness of dosing someone with Novichok, at the two minute forty seconds into 'Russian Spy' there's a discordant guitar break which attempts to render in musical form the disorientating effects of the life-threatening nerve-agent. Undoubtedly safer than imbibing, it highlights The Neighbourhood Strange's growing confidence, as well as signalling the healthy state of modern psychedelic rock. With a melody that draws from eastern European folk and a brash swagger that's distinctly a “British-dudes-with-guitars” thing, 'Russian Spy' is modern musical reportage at its finest, from a band uniquely placed to commentate on such matters.

On the flipside of the vinyl is 'Many Secrets', an equally enjoyable if more trad Brit-pop affair; guitar-driven but with a big chorus. Vocalist Marcus Turner turns in a performance that's both melodic and punkish, while the band sound like they've mastered the art of ensemble playing, countless gigs having helped gel and hone their collective sound.

If the two tracks on the vinyl single aren't enough the CD version contains both 'Russian Spy' and 'Many Secrets' along with an extra three tracks. 'Mary Mary' has a neat quiet/loud dynamic and errs towards the band's West-Coast garage rock side. 'Walk On Water' has a languid, rolling feel, with plenty of space for organ runs and swells. 'Desert Sand' bookends nicely with 'Russian Spy', it's a short instrumental interspersed with occasional vocal shouts and encouragements. It too has a melodic feel that comes from somewhere between Eastern Europe and the Silk Road. Packed with plenty of surfy guitar, kind of like Dick Dale meets the Arabian Knights.

If you want to catch the band playing live, they have a hometown gig at the Market Square, Salisbury on August 23rd. Or if you can't make it check out this rather fine disc instead.

Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange's website.
Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange on Facebook.
Click here for The Neighbourhood Strange on Bandcamp.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Papernut Cambridge - Nutlets II 1978-2001

A second volume of covers. Revelations, re-evaluations, and really good left-of-centre pop!

If there's such a thing a a regular reader of this humble blog, they'll be aware that Papernut Cambridge are a big favourite round at our house. And a productive lot they are too. Take their self-penned albums which brim over with warmth and intelligence, or the library music inspired instrumental albums, Mellotron Phase Volumes I & II. There's enough discs there to keep you happy should you ever find yourself on a on a desert island with said records and a record player. If that's not enough for you, you are obviously too fussy and demanding, but fear not, there's always Nutlets 1967-80 which they released in 2015. It's an album of cover versions giving an insight to the band's roots and musical loves. Featuring big melodic hits from the tail-end of the '60s to the beginning of the Thatcher years, it remains a celebration of pop's age of innocence that's sure to please even the most jaded sets of ears.

The good news is they're set to release a follow-up this week. Nutlets II 1978-2001 takes up roughly where Volume I left off. Beginning in the post-punk era what binds all the choices together is not genre but a certain subversive spirit, music that's slightly left-of-centre, says something lyrically, but still adheres to the notion that pop should be fun, and should at very least move you emotionally or physically. Or preferably both.

A lot of the songs you'll be aware of, some perhaps you won't. Some may be your own personal favourites, others may be new to you. You may be indifferent to some of the originals but hearing these covered versions in the context of this collection might give you fresh insight and have you e-evaluating your opinions. The collection draws from the well of post-punk, C86, electro, left-field guitar pop and college rock. Rather then try and re-invent the songs or give them a makeover, the band have pretty much kept to the tempos and styles of the originals, which is refreshing when you've been let down in past by one too many free CDs from Mojo magazine, and they're all imbued with Papernut's inimitable passion.

So what songs to they cover? There's the full tracklisting below but if you'd indulge me for a short while I'll break just a few of the songs down into three highly personalised sections - Really good pop, (songs that I personally know and love), re-evaluations, (stuff I glossed over first time round), and revelations (songs that are new to me).

Really good pop - Who can resist the perfect pop of 'Getting Nowhere Fast' by Girls At Our Best? Ditto Primal Scream's 'Velocity Girl', a dark song wrapped in the sunniest of melodies. Then there's Suede's 'Metal Mickey', a song that pre-dated the onslaught of Britpop and was in hindsight better than all of it. My favourite from this section is Daft Punk's 'Digital Love'. I loved this track from the very first time I heard it, it's instrumentally audacious, catchy, and really great fun.

Re-evaluations – Big Audio Dynamite's 'Medicine Show' scores big here. I kind of passed them over at the time. Something to do with the basic proto sampling, guitars without headstocks, and long coats. I admit now I was wrong and always enjoy hearing them on the radio, all the more so after having heard Papaernut Cambridge cover them here with such brio. Similarly the cover of New Order's 'Bizarre Love Triangle' has sparked a renewed interest in the Mancunian synth-pop band.

Revelations – Topping the list in this section is 'Boil In The Bag Man', a superb song originally by Adam and The Ants, which takes a swipe at the-man-on-the-street. This and covers of songs by Josef K, Psychedelic Furs, ESG and The Only Ones means this album is, for me, as rich in discovery as it is in discs of a more desert island nature. Everything this band has released is highly recommended and this set of covers is no exception. Dive in!

Available on 2LP vinyl or CD.

Full Tracklisting -
WE LOVE YOU (The Psychedelic Furs)
BOIL IN THE BAG MAN (Adam and The Ants)
DID YOU SEE HER (Pink Military)
SPLITTING IN 2 (Alternative TV)
PUBLIC IMAGE (Public Image Ltd)
STARS ARE STARS (Echo and The Bunnymen)
UNITED (Throbbing Gristle)
IN A NUTSHELL (Orange Juice)
VELOCITY GIRL (Primal Scream)
MEDICINE SHOW (Big Audio Dynamite)
THE KILLING JAR (Siouxsie and The Banshees)

Click here for Papernut Cambridge on Facebook.
Click here for Papernut Cambridge on Twitter.
Click here for Gare Du Nord Records.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Grifter Kid and the Midnight Raiders – The Receipts of Time

A stylistically diverse LP full of softly painted vignettes.

Many a fine band has fallen through the cracks of critical acclaim and failed to generate press coverage due to the eclectic nature of their music. It would be a shame if that happened to Grifter Kid and the Midnight Raiders. Music journalists, (myself included), are very often guilty of using pigeon-holes, genres and comparisons when trying to get across a sense of what a band or artist sounds like. And while there are comparisons to be made and genres to mention in describing Grifter Kid's latest long-player, its restless stylistic shape-shifting is what makes it such an enjoyable record.

I admit to not having heard Grifter Kid's previous three albums but The Receipts of Time brims over with intelligent, literate songwriting that draws on both personal memories and creative imaginings. Wedded to these vignettes is a pick-and-mix attitude to styles and a wealth of inspired instrumental flourishes. The album's attempt at different styles and moods could almost be seen as an experiment and exploration of one's identity. It's bit like Mr Ben, the '70s cartoon character who could try being a cowboy for an afternoon, or a Roman centurion or spaceman, while still being able to change back into his day suit in time to make it home for his tea.

While The Receipts of Time may borrow stylistically from America's rich musical heritage – there are moments of Coltrane-esque jazz swing, gut-bucket blues, and spoken word noir – it's an British record through and through. 'Wrestling, Darts, Snooker' is a nostalgic homage to a '70s/'80s childhood, the days of only three TV channels, and the tail-end of British monoculture. Elsewhere there are Brit-centric references to fish and chips, pellet guns and shopping malls. And only a band from these isles could title a song 'Gardening In My Suit'. If all that makes you think they're resurrecting the jingo-istic ghost of Brit-pop fear not. It's something far more subtle and nuanced.

So who, what, where and why are Grifter Kid and The Midnight Raiders? Karl Theobald may be more familiar to you as an actor, with TV roles in Plebs, Skins, Green Wing and most recently Danny Boyle's new film Yesterday. With such a successful acting and comedy career it's surprising he can find time to devote to music-making but thankfully he does. As leader and main songwriter/vocalist in the band I suppose that makes him Grifter Kid (a reference to the iconic kids bike perhaps?). The Midnight Raiders comprise of Theobald's longtime friend saxophonist Nigel Woolston, double bassist/vocalist Rowan Lambourne-Gibbs, pianist Russell Marsh, and drummer Dan Hale. The album also features guest appearances from Sam Beer (guitar), Gerardo Marrone (bass) and Keiron Phelan (flute). As consummate a group of players as you're likely to find, equally at ease whether improvising over a series of ninth and thirteenth jazz chords, having a decent stab at reggae, or impersonating a piano lounge bar-band. An under-the-radar release it may be but one that sets the bar high.

Clickhere for Grifter Kid's website.
Clickhere for Grifter Kid on Bandcamp.
Clickhere for Grifter Kid on Facebook.
Clickhere for Grifter Kid on Twitter.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Soft Hearted Scientists - Please Read me (Ltd. colour 7")

Back and on form! New coloured vinyl 7” from Cardiff's top psych-popsters!

Happiness comes in small doses.” It's a quote that has stuck in the back of my mind since I first heard it on a televised comedy show in the 1990s, uttered by famous philosopher Denis Leary. While his comedy may have dated the sentiment holds true, happiness does indeed come in small doses and fleeting moments. Leary said it comes via a cigarette, a chocolate chip cookie or a five second orgasm. You no doubt have your own personalised list you can add to that. For me it's 7” singles, psychedelic pop with catchy melodies, and knowing that your favourite musicians continue to make happening music.

So my quota of small doses has been topped up by this forthcoming single from Soft Hearted Scientists. The band have had a bit of a break to pursue other projects, with frontman Nathan Hall remaining most noticeably active with Nathan Hall & The Sinister Locals. The return of Soft Hearted Scientists is something of a surprise but a very welcome one. For the single's A-side they've covered an early classic by The Bee Gees'. 'Please Read Me' appeared on The Bee Gees' first LP back in 1967 and is given a superb and sympathetic reading here, the band making it their own.

Soft Hearted Scientists' reputation as prolific songwriters is bolstered by the single's flipside 'Moths Mistook Us For The Moon', a gentle number with pizzicato strings and lyrics that merge nuanced psychedelic observations with ordinary and everyday experiences. It's good to have the band back.

Click here for Soft Hearted Scientists' website.
Click here for Soft Hearted Scientists on Facebook.
Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Carnet De Voyage - Melo Disko

Nouvelle aventures sonores! A beguiling mix of the ancient, modern and futuristic.

Something a little different but if you're prepared to go with it you're in for a rewarding listen. Melo Disko is the debut album from Carnet De Voyage, a collaboration between pianist/ composer Rosey Chan and DJ/producer Mimi Xu. It's mix of neo-classical minimalist piano merged with electronica that runs from ambient to sprightly. Occasional softly spoken French passages emerge out of the ether as does muted trumpet that recalls latter period Miles Davis. If all that sounds a little highbrow and academic don't be put off - the test of any music is of course whether it has the power to move you, whether it enhances or changes moods, and Melo Disko certainly has that. Its spiritual home may be as an audio soundtrack in a contemporary art gallery but listening to it at home in the small hours reveals it has an impressively emotional core, and is the perfect soundtrack for those precious moments of solitude. A record that sounds like so much like a distant past, as well as a faraway future that a quantum physicist would have a series of simultaneous field days. This beguiling mix of the ancient, modern and futuristic will no doubt struggle to be heard under the cacophony of gimmick-heavy records currently in the marketplace but it deserves an audience, and will amply reward it.

**An album launch show takes place at the Servant Quarters, London on June 19th**

Click here for Carnet De Voyage's website.
Clickhere for Carnet De Voyage on Facebook.
Click here for Carnet De Voyage on Twitter.
Click here for Gard du Nord Records.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

French Boutik – L'âme de Paris

Our favourite Parisian nova-mods are back with a second album! Mais oui!

These are strange and sad times for those of us living in the UK who feel in any way European. If being called “citizens of nowhere” by your own prime minister was not bad enough, the rise of small-minded nationalism and right-wing radicalisation should give all of us cause for concern. The current state of politics aside there are things that give me hope. One is the open-minded globally aware attitude of our country's youth, which will ultimately save us. The other is culture. Art, sport, literature and of course music all have a power to cross borders, change attitudes and minds, lift spirits and make life fun.

While politics may be heading towards nativism, music continues to sweep away the notion of borders. So in the spirit of European integration I'd like to draw your attention to this new album by French Boutik, a quartet of unbelievably stylish mods from Paris, who have over the last few years won over quite a few of us Brits by way of their previous records and trips across the Channel to play the occasional gig in the UK. (Though mainly just down south I'm sad to say.)

L'âme de Paris is the band's second album, following Front Pop, their delightful debut which came out in 2016. Much like the debut, L'âme de Paris (The Soul of Paris) mixes sharp mod grooves with indiepop melodies. If anything it's a more successful statement than its predecessor, with a sharper focus on songwriting, tighter arrangements and and a notable growing of confidence and musical sophistication. Neat instrumental and stylistic flourishes abound, and along with the switching boy/girl vocals and bi-lingual lyrics mean your interest is always held even if (like me) your French is a little rusty.

The bits of the language I do remember allow me to translate a little – 'Loins de Moi' is a song addressed to a former lover, 'Strasbourg St Denis' laments a changing city, and 'Amis Sur Facebook'.... well take a guess!

Respect to band members Gabriela, Zelda, Serge and Jean-Marc for another mighty fine record, and for flying the flag for culture. We salute you. L'âme de Paris - c'est moderniste! C'est fantastique! c'est French Boutik!

Clickhere for French Boutik's website.
Clickhere for French Boutik on Facebook.
Clickhere for French Boutik on Twitter.
Clickhere for Heavy Soul Records (CD & LP)

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Datura4 – Blessed Is The Boogie

West Aussie rockers get deep down in the groove on their third long-player.

“Who are your main musical influences?” - It's a simple question to ask but a truly honest answer would offer much more than just a list of famous bands. It's a point made in Joe Jackson's autobiography A Cure For Gravity, where he says his biggest influences were the people he spent time making music with in his early pre-fame bands – players who may not be famous names but were in a position to offer insights about technique and taste, about how to play sympathetically, and about band dynamics.

I was reminded about this when reading the press release for this third album from Datura4, where bandleader Dom Mariani pays homage to the local bands and musicians he grew up hearing in the pubs and clubs of Perth and Freemantle on Australia's west coast during the 1970s. Bands such as The Aztecs, The Coloured Balls, Sitting Bull, The Master Apprentices, Daddy Cool and Carson. Household names they may not be, but they must have been pretty special to have inspired Mariani's lifelong dedication to making kick-ass rock.

Blessed Is The Boogie is Datura4's third album, following Hairy Mountain (2016) and Demon Blues (2015). It's an album that will appeal to those who like their music to be heavy, but not at the expense of tunes or funk-filled grooves. Taking the foundations like by boogie godfathers such as John Lee Hooker and cranking the amps up to eleven, Datura4's sound has all the hallmarks of classic heavy rock – twin lead guitar lines, a hard-working rhythm section laying down chunky solid riffs and beats. Throw in the heavy textured chords of a Hammond B3 organ, and right there you have some serious sonic chemistry going on.

Aside from the no-nonsense boogie rock alluded to in the album title we also find polished and sentimental FM rock on 'Not For Me', along with a nod to their musical roots with a cover of R&B classic 'Oop Poo Pah Doo', a song written by Jesse Hill in 1960, later covered by the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, Wilson Pickett and garage bands such as The Standells and The Kingsmen.

An interesting twist and side story to this album is that Mariani now owns the black 1969 Les Paul guitar previously owned by Sitting Bull's now sadly-departed guitarist Paul Fulton. The guitar was used throughout the album. Funny how things come full circle , it's a nice story and fitting dedication to Mariani's primary influences. And the guitar is in safe hands - Mariani knows how to play it, drenching this record with pure-toned guitar solos throughout.

In rock music terms Blessed Is The Boogie has a sound as old as the hills but hey, it still sounds great to me. Tags such as retro or contemporary are rendered meaningless when you crank up the volume of your stereo and tune in to the tunes, and nuanced songwriting. For those who like their rock heavy and deep grooved. Good work fellas.

Click here for Datura4 on Twitter.
Click here for Datura4 on Facebook.
Click here for Alive Records.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Moon Goose - Source Code

Can meets the KLF on the Welsh borders.

Has there been a record label over the last ten years that's done more in the service of psychedelia than Fruits de Mer? I'd say not. One of the label's latest releases is this cracking debut album from Moon Goose. A new band for for the label but one that shares the ethos for exploring music's outer reaches and your head's inner spaces. Source Code is a double colour vinyl offering featuring twelve shape-shifting instrumentals. It's an expansive affair as you'd expect for a 2LP set, with many of the tracks over the seven and eight minute mark. But the band never lapse into needless noodling or give any dull filler.

There's a definite trace of Can in their musical influences, but their mindset owes more to the surreal, the daftly mysterious and ancient historical references as espoused by the KLF. Don't go thinking they take themselves too seriously, there's plenty of playfulness and humour about this album as evidenced in the track titles – ' Goldfish In A Bag', 'Dark Shit' or 'Fist Fight At The Bingo'. Source Code is a musical journey that takes in motorik beats, funky '70s spy movie instrumentals, surfadelic guitar wig-outs, slow-burning moody passages and shimmering electronic textures. All delivered with brio, passion and panache. A joy to listen to in one sitting, we think you'll like it.

There's scant biographical detail about the band but we do know that Source Code is the result of weekly rehearsals in a barn in Herefordshire near the Welsh border. If any of our dear readers know more about these mysterious music mavericks perhaps they can enlighten us in the comments section below. If you want to hear these tracks in a live setting the band will be playing at FdM's summer festival. See the label website for more details.

Clickhere for Moon Goose.
Click here for Moon Goose on Twitter. 
Click here for Moon Goose on Facebook.
Click here for Moon Goose on Instagram.
Clickhere for Fruits de Mer Records.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Stubbleman – Mountains and Plains

An electronic travelogue though the American landscape. An understated subtle success.

Journeys across America have long held a fascination for those of us on this side of the pond and have also inspired great art. Cinema gave us the golden age of western films and along with a number of classic road-trip movies. Musicians have taken been similarly taken with travels across the USA. 'Route 66' is the first song that springs to mind. Then there's The Beach Boys' SMiLE which was was conceived as a musical journey across America, east to west, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Hawaii.

Romanticised visions of history can be misleading. Contemporary realities more nuanced, stranger and ultimately more interesting. It's this modern, complicated America that's inspired this debut album from Stubbleman, the alter-ego of composer Pascal Gabriel. Mountains and Plains is an eleven track album that took root during a ten-week journey across the States, Pascal starting each track using found sounds and field recordings as the basis of each track, taking in such locations as Northern New Mexico, Mesa Verde in Colorado, the Mississippi river, Highways 61 and 66. Along the way there were meetings with artistic communities and makers of outsider art, and inspiration taken from the endless wide-open plains, train tracks, crumbling towns and the curious juxtaposition of rural poverty against giant corporate wealth.

Mountains and Plains is a wide-screen cinematic journey at times dark and ominous, sometimes full of joy, wonder and optimism. The ambient instrumentals, akin to Sigor Rós and Brian Eno transported to the American mid-west, are always evocative, with an understated subtle power that never fails to engage and emotionally resonate. The music is at times sparse, elsewhere dense with electronic pulses made on Modular synths, but what holds it all together is the humanistic warmth which comes with the addition of plaintive piano chords and melodies that sit atop of the arrangements. It's impressionist, cliché-free and parsimonious music at its best.

Though this is his debut album as Stubbleman, Pascal has had plenty of previous musical success. He was one of the co-writers behind both 'Theme From S'Express' (S'Express) and 'Beat Dis' (Bomb The Bass) and has been the go-to production and writing choice for a wide array of artists ever since. This wealth of experience has no doubt informed Mountains and Plains as much as the journey across America. Gig goers will be able to experience the music in a live setting as Pascal will be performing a selection of live dates starting this Spring. For more details along with some excellent photographs to accompany the music, follow the links below.

Click here for more the Stubbleman website.
Click here for Stubbleman on Twitter.
Click here for Stubbleman on Facebook.
Click here for Stubbleman on Instagram
Click here for Crammed Discs.

Friday, 19 April 2019

The Bordellos - Crabs EP

An antidote to the anodyne.

Music lovers will be aware that last Saturday was Record Store Day. The annual event that drives nominally sane middle aged men to queue in the cold and dark early hours for fear of missing out on overpriced limited edition vinyl records that they probably won't play anyway. I'll bet most of these items get filed away alphabetically in the hope that one day they'll increase in monetary value.

Don't get me wrong, I love vinyl records, have always bought them and will continue to do so. It's also great that the shops, labels and bands are supported. Yeah can't fault that. What I object to is the fetishisation of vinyl, along with the “investment” aspect of buying records that seems to be of equal if not more important these days than the music. So RSD is the one day I guarantee I won't be anywhere near a record shop. This year? I whitewashed the wall in the back yard. A long overdue chore and I have to say, the wall looks bloody good!

I mention all this because last Saturday saw the release of a new EP from the Bordellos, a bunch of independently-minded, lo—fi leaning proud misfits from England's Northwest who each year on RSD release new music as a refreshing antidote to its madness. Their Crabs EP is refreshingly not available on vinyl. It's a five-track all instrumental affair on download/stream only available from Metal Postcards Records. As you'd expect from the Bordellos, this new music delights, challenges, amuses and takes you to places you didn't know you wanted to go. It's a journey that takes in acidic folk, found sounds, industrial noise and the open-minded possibilities of post-punk. Oh and there's some whistling too. If John Peel were alive today he'd no doubt be broadcasting tracks off the Crabs EP each night.

Interestingly Brian from the Bordellos also shares my reservations about Record Store Day. You can read his thoughts about it on his wonderful blog, along with his thoughts about pop music, both good and bad. His writing is always insightful, bang on the money, and damn entertaining too. Check it out. Now I'm off to buy a couple of fence panels. Happy Easter!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Beau - Damascus Road

Back with a new album! Fifty years on from his eponymous debut Beau remains as sharp and insightful as ever.

If I asked you to name a musician who epitomised the word prolific, who would spring to mind? Prince? Billy Childish maybe? Each genre would have its own nominations but when it comes to folk-based singer-songwriters a name I'd definitely propose would be Beau. Consistently impressive and with a back catalogue that continues to grow, Beau (AKA Trevor Midgeley) has a new album released this week. Damascus Road is out on Friday, a full fifty years to the day since the release of his 1969 eponymous debut album.

Regular readers of this blog (I hope they exist!) may already be familiar with Beau but if not here's a very brief potted history – His debut album was one the first releases on DJ John Peel's Dandelion label back in 1969. With his trusty 12-string acoustic guitar and sole voice Beau's music is always simply recorded, it doesn't rely on the smoke and mirrors of effects or studio trickery. Nor does it attempt to forge or follow fashion. And it's all the better for that. What does characterise Beau's songs is his commitment to write about the things what move, frustrate or amuse him, be it the shortcomings of our politicians, modern day celebratory foibles, or lessons that ought to have been learnt from history.

His latest album shows no signs of his talent diminishing. Its thirteen songs include juxtapositions of suffragettes with YouTubers and Instagram influencers ('Lacey Fayre'), critiques of populism ('Demagogue Rules') and an informed analysis of 'soft' guerrilla war tactics ('The Quiet Ones'). In our era of fake news and social media manipulation it's reassuring to know that are still songwriters that can cut through with truth. One of the album's most poignant songs is 'Child of Aberfan'. In the liner notes that accompany the promo CD, Beau makes the point that lessons surrounding public accountability may not have been learnt. A heartbreaking thought in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. In addition there are songs with subjects as diverse as Masonic Lodges ('Men of the World'), the casting couch ('Kitten Caboodle') and the ill effects of collective amnesia ('Rear-View Mirror').

Beau's music may not be currently commercial but it is uniquely interesting, engaging and enjoyable. I very much recommend you make time to listen to Damascus Road. Beau is committed to the muse as ever and remains as sharp a commentator on contemporary society's mores as it's possible to be. Long may that continue. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Thee Telepaths – The Velvet Night

Kettering space-rockers explore drone and dynamics on their full-length debut!

There seems to something of an underground renaissance at the moment for exploratory psychedelic space-rock. Bands such as Eyeball in the US, and on our own shore the likes of Psychic Lemon and Moon Goose all digging deep intro astral rock. The latest addition to the growing army is Thee Telepaths, a quartet from Kettering who formed in 2014 and have since gone on to release a couple of vinyl EPs.

The extra time available on a full-length album allowed the band to stretch out and given them full rein to explore the joys of drone, dynamics and free-form ensemble playing associated with the genre along with the excitement of not quite knowing where you're you're going to end up. The album is neatly divided up into three segments – Alpha, Epsilon and Delta, which are in the keys of A, E and D accordingly. Each of these sections is then sub-divided into parts which allow for changes in tempo and feel. It's a neat conceit and that highlights the importance of limitations and framework in exploratory music.

So what does it sound like? A mixture of driving motorik beats, electronic keyboard textures and hooks with guitar work that sounds like the MC5 one minute, Ron Asheton the next. All topped with vocals that help steer the improvised music towards something more song-like. It's an interesting journey on which it's possible to hear a whole host of influences – Kosmiche Muisk acts such as Neu!, new wave bands such and Public Image Limited, along with later sonic explorers such as Loop, Thee Hypnotics. There's also a hint of afro-beat and post-punk in there too. A veritable gumbo of left-field music. You can check it out yourselves via the video the band have released for 'Epsilon Parts I-III'. The band will be playing a select string of live dates over the next few weeks. Check out the video and list of dates below.

Live Dates
April 5th – The White Hart, Corby
April 26th – Hot Box Skate Shop, Chelmsford
May 5th – The Blue Moon, Cambridge
May 17th The Lamplighter, Northampton
May 25th – The Jolly Brewer, Lincoln
July 5th – Tannerfest, Northampton

Clickhere for Thee Telepaths on Bandcamp.
Clickhere for Thee Telepaths on Twitter.
Clickhere for Thee Telepaths on Facebook.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Willie Gibson - Saint-Ex

Reach for the stars. A synth-driven tribute to aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Out now on CD and 10” vinyl. 

We hear a lot of talk these days about society “dumbing down”. I'm not sure if that's truly the case – all the young people I meet these days seem impressively well-informed and give me much to be optimistic about. And while recent events have highlighted the dangerous combination of low-information voters and lower-information politicians, it's reassuring to find that the musicians the planet over continue to embrace the cerebral. One recent release that educates as well as entertains is this here disc from Willie Gibson. It's inspired by Wind Sand And Stars, a book by aviator and author Antoine de Saint Exupéry, who's perhaps best known for writing children's book The Little Prince.

Saint-Ex is a self-penned eighteen minute instrumental journey broken down in five distinct sections. As on Gibson's previous work, Vivaldi:Seasons Change, modular-synths are used throughout though there are additional live drums and the occasional vocal lines from Deerful's Emma Winston. The overall effect is meditative and calming with the modular synths lending a mid '70s feel – think Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk's Autobahn or side two of David Bowie's Low. It's fair to say however that these artists would not be at the forefront of Gibson's mind when composing or recording these works, this being a tribute to Saint-Exupéry.

Each of the five distinct sections is a musical representation of an aspect of Saint-Exupéry's life or work. There's the propulsive opening section titled 'Wind, Sand And Stars' where one man's conquering of the elements is rendered in musical form, followed by more tranquil sections recalling childhood memories and joy-filled flights. Sadly Saint-Exupéry went missing over the Mediterranean on a routine reconnaissance flight in July 1944, with neither the aircraft or his body ever recovered. The final section 'July '44' closes the album in a suitably climactic way, filled with both drama and celebration.

I have to admit to not being very familiar with the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, my knowledge extends only to having watched the recent film version of The Little Prince. Thankfully there are musicians and composers around like Willie Gibson who continue to broaden our horizons where others would have them shut down.

Click here for Willie Gibson on Bandcamp
Click here for Willie Gibson on Twitter.
Click here for the Gare Du Nord Records website.

Friday, 8 March 2019

The Electric Stars – Sonic Candy Soul

(This originally appeared on Subba Cultcha way back in 2012)

Manchester quintet release their broad-sweeping, mod-friendly debut album. 

No one accuse Mancunian quintet The Electric Stars of being cutting edge, that's not where they're at. And neither are they an out and out retro act. The truth is they take what they like from music's past for their own ends. What the band's really about is the quality of their songs, and playing and serving them well. It's this sense of craftsmanship that runs through all eleven tracks on Sonic Candy Soul, their debut album for Detour Records.

From the fake vinyl crackle of album opener '136' onwards it's the attention to detail that impresses. Though essentially a guitar band they're not afraid of adding other touches, such as the trumpet solo on Stoned Again, and the dramatic piano and synths on the dark, sinister Bedtime Stories. Singer Jason Edge proves himself a fine singer and decent lyricist, perhaps best shown on Alison Williams,a modern day kitchen sink tale.

Though their main influences are the '60s beat era, the poppier side of psych, and some of brit-pop's confident swagger, there's a subtler strand of US influences that help add some soul to the English pop classicism. Not least the finger-snapping grooves of Between The Streets And The Stars, the stoned country-soul verses and Bo Diddley beat coda on Blind, and the gospel backing vocals on Stoned Again (courtesy of sometime Primal Scream member Denise Johnson).

The album is produced by fellow Mancunians Martin Coogan (Mock Turtles) and Yves Altana (Wonky Alice), with all the soft-psych tricks in their armoury – flange, gentle stereo panning, the occasional backwards cymbal. There are also clues as to the band's true live sound via the amp-crunching, rocking out of Not Man Enough.

Click here for The Electric Stars' website.

Wide Hive Players – Players II Guitar

(This originally appeared on Subba Cultcha way back in 2013)

In-house label band draft in some top guitarists for an album where jazz meets soul, funk, rock and blues.

Wide Hive Players are truly an in-house affair for their California based record label, comprised as they are by musicians from across the label's roster. Label owner Gregory Howe also makes a big contribution with the compositions as well as on production and engineering duties. The band began as a live sessions project in 2009 and went on to release a well-received eponymous album of soulful, funky modern jazz.

For Players II Guitar, their second album release they've secured the talents of four guitar playing greats to come in and add some special magic to the tracks. And what an impressive line-up it is, with Larry Coryell (famed for his solo albums as well as having worked with Charlie Mingus and John McLaughlin), Calvin Keys (toured and recorded with Ray Charles as well as successful solo releases on Black Jazz Records), Harvey Mandell (Canned Heat, John Mayall), and Barry Finnerty (Miles Davis, Chico Hamilton, The Crusaders).

The result is a musical version of a four seasons pizza, each guitarists' individual style adding its own flavour to the album; there's Calvin Keys' fluid and intricate solos, Larry Coryell's expressive playing on the contemplative 'Sworn Statement', Harvey Mandell getting soulful and funky on 'Preachers Pistol', and Barry Finnerty's dexterous mastery as evidenced on 'The Paladin'.

At times laid back and languid, other times with an up-and-on-it dance floor groove, there's shades of both David Axelrod and Acid Jazz across the tracks. Despite the guitarists taking top billing, this is a definite group effort with the brass and rhythm sections in fine supporting mode. If such a collaboration had happened in an era when jazz was a more popular, less niche musical form no doubt this album would be big news. As it is, it may just be a secret waiting to be rediscovered.

Click here for Wide Hive Records website.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

The Embrooks - We Who Are

The freakbeat goes on! Limited edition LP out now on State Records!

Bands have down-time or even split up for a while, but when the time feels right to make a new record the good ones will deliver. Case in point is this new record from The Embrooks. The band originally formed in 1996, split in 2005 and reconvened a couple of years back to record a new 45, the success and positive reaction to which led to this brand new album. We Who Are is the fourth album from the band who comprise of Alessandro Cozzi-Lepri (guitar, vocals), Mole (bass, vocals) and Lois Tozer (drums).

Whether or not the title is a cheeky reference to Messrs Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon is unclear. The two bands may share the same three-piece instrumental line-up and much like the mid-'60s Who, The Embrooks make music that mixes hard-driving R&B with a slight experimental edge, but there the similarities and sly references end. This is most definitely an Embrooks album, not a slavish pastiche.

It features the previously mentioned 2016 single 'Nightmare' along with eleven brand new tracks. 'Going But Not Gone' and 'Don't Look At Me' find the band at their garage rock finest, their sound embellished by some nicely reedy keyboards on the former and inspired addition of woodwind on the latter. 'Human Living Vampire' has more of a moody US-garage sound, twelve-string twang and minor chords. 'Have You Ever Loved Somebody' is the album's strongest contender for a single - the sort of track that pirate radio stations would have traded lifeboats for back in the day. It has a chorus that's stickier than Unibond's No More Nails.

'Riot On Kingsland Road' places the action firmly back on terra firma and in 21st century London. It features, flutes, police sirens and the sound of breaking glass along with lyrics about the 2011 riots. 'Baby From The South' is stomper that both highlights the band's debt to R&B and allows Alessandro to indulge in some wild guitar solos. Other standouts include 'Peace Of Mind' which finds the band locked into a hypnotic psych-rock groove, and album-closer 'You Can If You Want' which signs off the record in fine freakbeat style, complete with clattering drums, crashing guitar chords and a wailing harmonica.

It's been a long wait since the band's last album (2004's Yellow Glass Perspections), but in the interim they have been active elsewhere – The Galileo 7, Thee Jezebels, The Baron Four, The Jack Cades are just some of the combos to have benefited from some Embrooks input. As special as each of those bands are, the unique chemistry of The Embrooks is undeniable on We Who Are.

A note for vinyl fans - I'm not sure which pressing plant the label has used but the vinyl copy is a real beauty. Weighing in at a reassuringly chunky 180g and with a quality cut and pressing that labels ten times the size rarely attain. Not only that, the record is housed in a gatefold sleeve and comes with a CD version and download for those that like to listen on the move. Nice work. The Embrooks, we salute you!

Click here for The Embrooks on Facebook.
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Click here for State Records on Facebook.
Click here North Down Sound Studio on Facebook.