Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Hurtling - Future From Here

London's alt-rock trio hit the ground running with an epic debut album!

About a year ago it occurred to me in a quiet moment of reflection that there had been a decline in the quality and quantity of left-field guitar bands over recent times. (Yeah I know I'm a saddo but all kinds of stuff goes through your mind when you can't get to sleep at 2am after a day of too much caffeine). When I traced that thread from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream through to Television/Tom Verlaine, and on to Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, The Breeders, Nirvana and so on, it was difficult to think of any current bands who were pushing guitars into new sonic territory. This was before I'd heard of Hurtling, a three-piece band from London led by singer/guitarist Jen Macro. Interestingly Jen has a connection to the previously mentioned thread by being a longtime touring member of My Bloody Valentine.

If you're familiar with Hurtling's single 'Summer' from earlier in the year you'll get the gist of what they're about – they make driving indie-rock that's melodic and has an innate understanding of textures and dynamics. They make alt-rock music that draws from grunge, shoegaze and the deep wells of their own emotions. Like all great guitar bands they're not afraid of cranking up the volume, shifting some air and letting guitars do what they do best - filling the room with attitude and spirit, and being a means of expressing sentiments and rage in a manner that the human voice often can't.

None of that would work of course without a killer rhythm section and killer songs. Check on both counts – bass and drums push and pull in all the right places, helping secure that sweetspot between pleasing pop and the thrill of experimentation. Then there's the songs. 'Summer' perfectly captures the optimistic rush of the season's sunny rays, but peppered throughout the album are moments of shade, darker tracks and sentiments which Jen describes as an “exploration of loss and hope”. Check out 'Let Go', a heartfelt plea set against a backdrop of beautifully rendered guitar atmospherics, or the ominous heaviosity found on 'Don't Know Us'.

Future From Here will take you on a journey through emotional peaks and troughs, its songs are personal but sure to resonate with anyone who's prone to examining their own headspace and feelings. Wedded to that are hooky guitar lines, riffs and textures that indicate left-field guitar music does indeed have a future from here.

Hurtling are -
Jen Macro – vocals, guitar
Simon Kobayashi – bass
Jon Clayton - drums

Click here for Hurtling's website.
Click here for Hurtling on Facebook.
Click here for Hurtling on Twitter.
Click here for Onomatopoiea Records.

The Cold Spells - Interstitial

The Cold Spells' new LP captures the mood of the nation.


adjective: interstitial
of, forming, or occupying interstices.
"the interstitial space"
(of minute animals) living in the spaces between individual sand grains in the soil or aquatic sediments.
"interstitial fauna" 

noun: interstitial; plural noun: interstitials
an advertisement that appears while a chosen website or page is downloading.

The Cold Spells released their self-titled debut last year. Not only was it one of my favourites from 2018, I can honestly say it's way up the list of my all-time favourite albums. The record took around four years to make. So when a follow up was announced, only a year on, anticipation became mixed with trepidation. What if it fell flat? The history of music is littered with bands who released classic debuts only to then put out some lacklustre facsimile second time round. Or perhaps worse, they changed tack stylistically in a misguided attempt at being radical and risk-taking.

I need not have worried. Interstitial is, if anything, an even stronger record than its predecessor. There's a pleasing continuity of sound - the blending of of acoustic guitars and gentle electronics is intact, as is the Estuary English dialect and accent, but it's the songs that impress most. The Cold Spells invoke a world that's familiar but ethereal, with story songs featuring small moments with a bigger emotional resonance. You could call it 21st century folk but that would infer an optimistic sheen that's not present here. The sentiments are street-weary rather than street-wise. Sample lyric - “Half-cut as I duck in the Crown, a too regular thing. It's a shit-hole, a rough house, I know. I guess it beats staying here.”

Much like fellow Thames Estuary band The Singing Loins, The Cold Spells make Folk music that's aware of its tradition but in no way reverential. They're not trying to be Heron or Comus, or pretending to live with faeries in their local woods. They're more likely to reference Poundland or Plusnet in their lyrics, than they are Pentangle. (That said, Ezra Pound or TS Eliot might get a look in.) In short it's music that's very much on the frequency of modern Britain, with all it's faults and foibles. In twenty years time when record labels will be putting together compilations that give a sense of the music of Brexit Britain, Interstitial should be one of the first ports of call.

The Cold Spells are -
Tim Ward (songs/guitar/vocals)
Michael Farmer (keyboards/vocals)

Click here for The Cold Spells on Twitter.
Click here for The Cold Spells on Facebook
Click here for Gare du Nord Records.

Monday, 7 October 2019

James McArthur and the Head Gardeners - Intergalactic Sailor

Welsh born songwriter McArthur has forged out a singular musical path over the last decade. This is his fourth album, following 2016's Burnt Moth. It's folk record for sure but one that's focused on the here and now of the 21st century and its inherent conundrums. Lyrically its a curious blend of the ethereal and the everyday, finding poetry in the provincial. Fans of Nick Drake's Bryter Layter or Michael Head's more introspective moments will find this very much to their liking, not least the intoxicating hazy mood conjured up 'Wait For The Letter' or 'Clearing Up'.

Recorded at East Wickham Farm, Kate Bush's childhood home, the album features longtime Head Gardeners Jim Willis (violin) and Johnny 'O (pedal steel), as well brothers Liam and Joe Magill from neo-prog rock band Syd Arthur. Between them they've created a sound that perfectly soundtracks the setting sun of a pleasingly lazy day.

Click here for James McArthur's website.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Jo Berger & Ólafur Björn Ólafsson - Lanzarote

Minimal emotive improvisations from the far north.

The story as to how these two musicians based in the far north, (Berger hails from Norway, Ólafsson from Iceland), have come to title their latest work after an island situated off Africa's west coast is both moving and multi-pronged. Firstly their fascination for the island, with its beaches, mountains and volcanic desert landscape, took root during visits there to perform. There is also a literary association - the island is used by French novelist Michel Houellebecq in his 2005 book, The Possibility of an Island, as the setting for a cult dedicated to finding eternal life. Again Berger and Ólafsson's shared interest in the author's work is something that has informed their new album. The most resonant association with the island however is the most poignant. It was the last place Ólafsson saw his friend, fellow Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, only a few months before his passing, having travelled there to play a show together in a cave.

The first piece of music on Lanzarote is 'Grain Of Sand'. It's dedicated to Jóhannsson and sets the emotional tone for much of what follows. Based around an improvised sparse notes from upright piano and double bass, there's a distinctly Nordic melancholic aspect to the piece. The fact that you can hear the creak of the piano pedals adds to the feeling of being in the room as the music is being recorded. It encourages a sense of stillness, and calm, quiet reflection.

The rest of the album similarly encourages the listener to explore their own inner head-space. The music is minimal, with unobtrusive overdubs of percussion, Farfisa organ, Moog synthesizer, and brass. There are no attention grabbing moves or motifs, no bells and whistles. This is not music that grabs you by the lapels and demand you listen. It's an altogether more delicate approach, conversely one that's is more effective. The audience for this may be a niche one, but that's in no way a measure of this music's subtle power and far-reaching emotional impact.

Click here for Hubro Records.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

The Story of The Band - Harvey Kubernik & Kenneth Kubernik

(This review first appeared in issue #87 of Shindig! magazine.)


This coffee table book doesn't claim to be the definitive telling of The Band's story but it does cover their active years in a winningly enthusiastic way. Aside from it's scrapbook style layout equally balanced between words and pictures, its USP is its drawing from various interviews dating back over several decades, most conducted by the Kubernik brothers themselves. As respected LA-based music writers the pair have encountered and interviewed members of the Band several times over the years, along with producers, engineers, peer musicians and members of The Band's road crew. In addition the book contains eye-witness fan accounts, contemporary record and concert reviews, and reminisces from key journalists, DJs, promoters and other industry shakers and movers. All key moments in the Band's career are brought into sharp focus by this multiple voice and viewpoint approach.

The book's subtitle (From Big Pink To The Last Waltz) is somewhat misleading as the pre-Band era is also covered including their time as the Hawks backing Ronnie Hawkins in the clubs of Toronto. The history-making days as Bob Dylan's electric backing band on his 1966 battle-fray tour also get good coverage.

Don't expect any startling revelations, dirt-dishing or gossip but do expect a celebration and exploration of just what it was that made The Band and their music so special. As one of the era's most photogenic acts the photographs are a treat too, several of which are previously unpublished. They're accompanied by illustrations of ticket stubs, posters, handbills, set-lists and hand-written studio and stage notes.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

William Tyler - Goes West

(This review first appeared in issue #87 of Shindig! magazine.)

Merge CD/LP

Listeners to Tyler's occasional It's All True podcast series will be familiar with his insightful take on music's relationship with human emotions. Equally articulate whether discussing the importance of silence, white noise or obscure indigenous folk music, it's this deep thinking that underpins his guitar playing. Goes West is the first record he's made since relocating from his home town of Nashville to the Californian coast. A ten track instrumental album of ambient Americana, it finds Tyler in a hopeful, even optimistic mood. Despite being an in-demand electric guitarist here he's restricted his own playing here to acoustic guitar but is ably backed by a hand-picked band of sympathetic players.

With an ego-less virtuosity and precise technique similar to that of Brit-picker Martin Simpson, Tyler makes melodic journeys that have roots in British and Appalachian folk, bluegrass and southern country, but mood and magic take precedence over any genre-specific stylings. Majestic.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Skarbø Skulekorps

Joyfully eclectic music to set your mind and spirit free.

The force is strong with this one. An album that has repeatedly forced its way to the top of my listening pile through its downright refusal of categorisation and, more importantly, the infectious vitality of its music. Øyvind Skarbø is a Norwegian composer, an important player in the country's improvisational music scene, and formerly best known as the drummer in 1982. Having left the band two years ago in search of new musical avenues, and following a brief period of wondering just what the hell to do next, he comes up with this. Skarbø Skulekorps is a seven-piece group of musicians he's brought together to breath life into his recent compositions.

Inspired in part by the school bands Skarbø played in during his youth, where juxtapositions of genres were given little concern, the group have made a record where all notions of fashion and styles have been thrown up in the air. The random positions where they've landed are one of the record's main strengths. Similarly the notion of coolness, always over-rated in my opinion, has been disregarded completely. As in those school bands, what matters most was/is the playing, always the pure joy of ensemble playing.

The result is an album where free-jazz meets pop, industrial, electronica, lounge, exotica and disco. At times strictly adhering to Skarbø's well-planned compositions, with occasional improvisational passages and containing experiments in rhythm, texture, harmonies and timings. Expect saxophone and trumpet solos, over a backdrop of weeping pedal steel, vibraphone, synths as well as the more traditional bass, guitar and drums.

Skarbø Skulekorps is a record that can move from sounding like the soundtrack to a psychological TV thriller to the most joyous, globally-minded pop in seemingly effortless leaps. There are parallels with recent genre-flipping records by artists such as Karl Blau, Aquaserge and Melody's Echo Chamber, but Skarbø Skulekorps has a character all of its own, and one that makes for curiously compelling listening. Check out the video below for more details as to how the album came to be.

Click here Skarbø Skulekorps' website.
Click here for Skarbø Skulekorps on Instagram.
Click here for Hubro Records.

Monday, 23 September 2019

decker. - Born To Wake Up

(This review first appeared in issue #87 of Shindig! magazine.)

Royal Potato Family CD/LP

The opening seconds of singer/songwriter Brandon Decker's new record features a sparse and lonely sound collage – footsteps, a drum pulse, chanted drone and the distant howling of wolves. It comes as little surprise to learn he takes much inspiration from his Arizona desert surroundings, coming across at times like a modern day Morricone in search of a film. This ghostly wind-through-the-cacti ambience is best invoked on 'The Garden' with its lyrical echoes of Joni Mitchell's 'Woodstock', and 'The Saint', a bruised but ultimately optimistic emotional ballad.

At the core of Decker's songwriting lies an belief in redemption and the need for spiritual nourishment, but peppered among the intimate loner folk are tracks with a polished indie rock sound. His inner-Springsteen finding an outlet on 'Burnin' Grass' and 'The Matador', both tracks containing stadium-worthy vibes and melodies. Conviction, inner belief and landscape-informed outlook makes this an impressive soul-baring.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

El Valerie - IDA

DIY alt-pop from New York City.

Hello readers wherever you are! I'm constantly amazed how people stumble across this blog. When I check my daily hits ands statistics I don't always have an amazing amount of traffic but the global aspect is a very heart-warming thing. In the past month there have been views from Peru, South Korea, Israel as well as the more expected countries. Thank you. As a resident of an often overlooked region of the UK it a humbling feeling to make these connections with citizens of the wider world. Especially those, like me, who have a fondness for music made in the margins.

One musician who reached out recently and sent me their latest work is a young Queens, New York-based musician who self-releases music under the name of El Valerie. She's just released her second album IDA this summer via Bandcamp. It's a body of work that favours ideas over expert execution - its homespun, home-baked DIY quality is never going to rival the sonic sheen that a large commercial studio can offer, but that's not the point. It's part of the album's charm that the performances are in-the-moment, not always perfect but big on spirit and self-belief. These are GOOD THINGS! With short, experimental pop songs infused with an outsider's perspective, over a backdrop of basic drum machine patterns, hooky synth lines. This is pop with a pureness of intent. Throw in a smattering of punky guitar, double tracked, self-harmonised vocals and you have a collection of songs that sit in the Venn diagram where the DIY meets pop meets craft and art. Quirky, fun and worth checking out if any of those things are your bag.

Click here for El Valerie on Twitter.
Click here for El Valerie on Instagram.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

GospelbeacH - Let It Burn

Elegiac American beauty.

Oh man. Where do I start with this with this one? Just a few short days after the review copy of this album had dropped through the letterbox came the news that guitarist Neal Casal had passed away. The guy was 50 years old. I never knew him of course but as is the way with musicians they have a mysterious effect on your inner life. It's subtle, mysterious, hard to pin down, but at the same time very real and valuable. I first heard his work on the records he made with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals and it was clear from those classic albums that he was a man of taste. Always serving the song, enhancing its message and bringing out each track's emotional heart. It's a style of playing that he brought to each project he worked on, whether with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood or GospelbeacH on their latest album Let It Burn, which turned out to be Casal's last recorded work. Listening with that knowledge gives the album an unintentional elegiac quality, but such is the strength of the songs, its emotional resonance would still be present had the circumstances been different.

It's the third album from the band . Their previous record, Another Summer Of Love, which came out in 2017, had a slight Anglophilic bent, even borrowing lyrics from The Jam. Aside from a reference to Winston Churchill on 'I'm So High' and the early '70s Bowie vibe on 'Unswung', Let It Burn is firmly rooted in Americana. Its mood is a winning blend of downbeat and defiant, in a way a reflection or snapshot of modern America itself. All the songs were written by vocalist/guitarist Brent Rademaker with drummer/vocalist Trevor Beld Jiminez. They deal with personal darkness but not in a forced or laboured way. There's a freshness and spontaneity to them. Ditto the arrangements - plenty of vocal harmonies and tight playing but with enough space for the songs to breath. A cliché perhaps to say it but to my ears it's the band's best album thus far, and one with a touch of Zen about it. High and low emotions are felt, then let go in order for the next ones to come. Not a bad way to live let alone make records. Apologies to anyone who's read this expecting a standard review format. No scrub that, no apologies, this one is for Neal. Thanks for the music and rest easy.

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

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Eyeball - Crawling Creatures

New track from North Carolina's astral rockers!

Eyeball are a band based in Raleigh, North Carolina who make music that challenges and delights in equal measure. They released and EP, Paradox of Eternal Limits a year or two back which I heartily recommend you check out. Especially for those of us predisposed to music with an adventurous boundary-pushing bent.

Good to know the band are still active and have recently unleashed a new track. 'Crawling Creatures' is available to download via the band's website or Bandcamp page. Combining a post-punk bass and drum groove, slashing layered sheets of metallic guitars, Bowie-esque vocals and an eerie spoken word section. Don't expect pentatonic cliches, or tired and tested tropes. DO expect to be slightly unsettled, albeit in a very welcome way. I don't know what you might call this... sci-fi-rock? Nu-goth? Nightmare-metal? That matters not, just take a moment to immerse yourself in its mind-bending world.

Click here Eyeball's website.
Click here for Eyeball on Bandcamp.
Click here for Eyeball on Facebook.
Click here for Eyeball on Twitter.

Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals - Scattersparks

Third album syndrome? Nah. Cardiff's prolific song-smith returns with more explorations of new weird suburbia.

If you've yet to hear the work of idiosyncratic songwriter Nathan Hall, I recommend you rectify this at the nearest opportunity. As main songwriter in Cardiff-based band Soft Hearted Scientists, he's responsible for a rich seam of gently hallucinogenic, mild-mannered music. His songs take a sideways glance at the foibles of the modern world, see the absurd and comic in the everyday, and bristle with visionary imagination and expand the range of subject matter for the humble three minute pop song. Imagine if you will Robyn Hitchcock or Syd Barrett  crossed with Ivor Cutler's polyphony-obsessed Welsh cousin.

With Soft Hearted Scientists on something of a sabbatical at the moment, Hall has kept himself busy with offshoot outfit Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals. Their third and most recent long-player Scattersparks came out at the end of July and has been one of the summer's staple soundtracks round our house, acting as a balm as the increasingly barmy backdrop of UK politics.

Across a whopping 24 tracks there's plenty of ground covered. Lyrical obsessions occupy a peculiar and distinctly British ground – the weather, history, a dislike of pomposity and pretentiousness, all tackled with humour and a sense of wonder at the everyday oddness of 21st century life. This is DIY music, though well-recorded at home using a number of vintage keyboards with a Joe Meek approach to sonic experiments and effects. Such explorations of new weird suburbia are proof that these Isles have much to offer culturally in contrast to our direly divided political landscape.

Click here for Nathan Hall and the Sinister Locals on Facebook.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Katherine Priddy - Wolf

(This review first appeared in issue #86 of Shindig! magazine.)

Self Release CD

This young Birmingham-based singer-songwriter has one of the finest voices on the current folk scene, plays neat fingerstyle guitar and on the evidence here possesses a songwriting ability beyond her tender years. 'Wolf' tells the tale of falling romantically for the wrong person. 'Ring o' Roses' leans away from trad-folk towards a darker, more acidic style. The nursery rhyme of the same name is its lyrical starting point before going on to become a remembrance to war's fallen.

On 'Fragile' we find a wistful longing for summers past. Similarly 'The Old Tree' is a masterclass in pastoral loveliness, opening over a backdrop of birdsong and though embellished with ambient electronica still honours British folk's rich heritage. It all adds up to an accomplished and promising debut with Priddy's pure voice closely mic'ed throughout. Fans of Nick Drake, Shirley Collins and Sandy Denny can be assured that British folk has a bright future.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Beautiful Freaks: Waving Our Flag High

Waving Our Freak Flag High, Wave On Wave On. Music from the original counterculture.

Anyone interested in '60 films and music, along with the cultural revolution that took place in that decade will no doubt have noted with sadness the recent passing of actor, screenwriter and activist Peter Fonda. I can't claim to be an expert on his life and I'll admit I've never actually seen Easy Rider, the film for which he's most famous. I do however own a vinyl copy of the film's soundtrack which I purchased as a teenager. The tracks I enjoyed most at the time were 'Born To Be Wild' and 'The Pusher' by Steppenwolf and 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider' and 'I Wasn't Born To Follow' by The Byrds.

One of the songs on the soundtrack that I didn't know previous to buying is 'If You Want To Be A Bird' by The Holy Modal Rounders. It's something of an anomaly sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the better known rockier tracks. The Holy Modal Rounders were originally a duo, formed in New York's Lower East Side during the early '60s folk boom. Their merging of folk, psychedelia and subversive comedy made them key players in the Greenwich Village scene. In many ways their appearance on the Easy Rider soundtrack encapsulates the film's countercultural slant more successfully than Hendrix, The Byrds and Steppenwolf combined.

Another of the group's songs 'The STP Song', appears on Beautiful Freaks, a brand new compilation expertly put together by Tony Harlow and released by Tad Records. It features a wealth of '60s underground talent, many with roots in the New York or San Francisco poetry scenes, or the politicised sections of the '60s folk boom. With detailed and insightful sleevenotes Beautiful Freaks captures the often overlooked DIY ethic adopted by acts that were too political or too quirky for the mainstream record labels.

Other bands featured include Country Joe & The Fish, David Peel & The Lower East Side, Yoko Ono, The Fugs, and Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, along with poet Allen Ginsberg and polemicist Timothy Leary. There's also a healthy quota of similarly idiosyncratic UK acts including Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, The Incredible String Band, Hawkwind and Third Ear Band. Absurdist humour, protest, civil rights, and satire are just a few of the threads that bind this eclectic and fascinating compilation together. The events of the '60s that required that musicians, poets and culture in general should rise up and say something. Truth to power if you will. And with the current political climate music and protest surely need to converge once more. Beautiful Freaks is an pointer, an early mapping of how that can be done. 

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Colorama - Cookie Zoo

 (This review first appeared in issue #86 of Shindig! magazine.)

Banana & Louie LP

A tenth anniversary reissue and vinyl debut for an album previously only available on CD in Japan. Carwyn Ellis spent years soaking up influences as a session guitarist and a music fan, both experiences which inform this stylistically diverse outpouring. In theory it shouldn't work – an album that hops between psych-pop, funk, vaudeville, soft jazz shuffles and all points between. However, such are his strong pop sensibilities it all holds together surprisingly well.

Highlights include Welsh-language gem 'Dere Mewn', the album-closing lullaby 'Oyasumi, Baby' and the powerpop rush of 'Restless'. But there's not a duff track among them, whether singing of lesser known London Underground stations or issues surrounding gambling, it's all engaging. Lovingly packaged in a gatefold sleeve, you'll be hard pushed to find a more pleasing and melodically rich collection of tunes released this year. A delightful record that deserves a place in your record rack and your heart.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Two Medicine - Astropsychosis

(This review first appeared in issue #85 of Shindig! magazine.)

Midlake bassist Paul Alexander began work on a debut solo album under the Two Medicine moniker during a lengthy period of band downtime. Whether missing the band helped shape the sense of longing present throughout this album is unclear but what is apparent is that Alexander is capable of creating music of elegance and depth which more than suffices in the absence of a new Midlake album.

Astropsychosis teems with adult-oriented Dreampop and taps into America's latent mysticism and spirituality. Counter-melody basslines dance around over pillow-like sonic textures while Alexander's soft, understated, often layered voice delivers lyrics of subtle protest and quiet hope. Standouts include 'SF', a state-of-the-nation address, and 'Gold' where a descending bass guitar line and some 12-string guitar jangle meet for the album's most sublime moment of glistening pop. While the rest of the record may not yield its beauty so immediately over time its charm is slowly revealed.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Hurtling - Summer - NEW SINGLE OUT NOW!

Alt-rock trio's new single! A taster from their stunning debut album!

It's fitting that on the day I post this that the country is baking under some late August sunshine. Yes indeed, summer is far from over, and helping to point this out is London-based alt-rock trio Hurtling with their new single 'Summer'. The track was written by singer/guitarist Jen Macro and is taken from the band's fabulous debut album Future From Here, which is set for release on October 18th. A longtime member of My Bloody Valentine's live band, Jen has stockpiled a great batch of songs which make up the album. 'Summer' is just the enticing tip of this particular iceberg!

Sumptuously melodic, full of playful quiet /loud dynamics, taut drums, thrumming basslines, and with an ace guitar wig-out bit in the middle – fans of left-of-centre indie, alt-rock and shoegaze will be right in the zone with this one.  Anyway, don't take my word for it, check it out for yourself via the video below. A full review of the band's debut album will follow ahead of its release date.Enjoy the weekend!

Hurtling are -
Jen Macro – vocals, guitar
Simon Kobayashi – bass
Jon Clayton - drums

Live Dates
Saturday August 31st – Primadonna Festival, Laffitts Hall, Suffolk
Saturday September 14th – Loud Woman Festival, Boston Music Room

Click here for Hurtling's website.
Click here for Hurtling on Facebook.
Click here for Hurtling on Twitter.
Click here for Onomatopoiea Records.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Pat Thomas - I Ain't Buying It

(This review first appeared in issue #85 of Shindig! magazine.)

On first listen the second solo LP from Cool Ghoul bassist Pat Thomas channels a lineage of quirky Californian eccentricity that runs way back to Brian Wilson and SMiLE. For example 'Are You OK' has a goofy playground melody and comes adorned with bells, whistles, car-horn honks and dog barks. Then there's 'New Star-Ell' which celebrates living within walking distance of a liquor store. The thread of cartoon comedy is even there on the vinyl edition's label, which spoofs the Looney Tunes "That's All Folks" logo.

Deeper listening reveals a more serious intent along with serious musicianship. Much of Thomas' lyrics contain messages about personal freedom and call for fairer distribution of wealth, land and power, best evidenced on the album's tour-de-force closer 'Give The Land To The People'. The music draws from vintage soul, soft sunshine-psych and free jazz and gives persuasive power to the album's underlying alternative manifesto.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Jacco Gardner - Somnium

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

It's five full years since the release of Gardner's instantly classic debut LP Cabinet Of Curiosities. Since then he's opted to give the people what they don't yet know they want rather than repeat any psych-pop formula. Somnium is inspired by Johannes Kepler's 1608 novel of the same name, and Gardner's recent relocation to Lisbon. By opting to make a vocal-less instrumental album Gardner takes a big risk but the investment of immersive listening reveals the album's singular meditative qualities.

With soothing layers of analogue synths, gently propulsive bass-lines and an emphasis the listener's inner journey, the music has precedents in the ambient explorations of Tangerine Dream and the library music used on TV programmes for schools and colleges in the 1980s. It may not be the echo of '60s psych-pop many of his listeners were hoping for but does signal Gardner's growing confidence in taking the road less travelled.

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.
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Click here for Gare Du Nord Records.