Sunday, 15 December 2019

The Leaf Library – The World Is A Bell

North London band The Leaf Library offer drones, unique instrumental combinations, and a graceful melancholy on their second full-length LP.

I want to let you know about this album I've been enjoying recently but first, an apology. There's been a fewer posts on the blog recently for a number of reasons – a combination of fatigue due to the shorter days, increased workload at the day job, family illnesses (thankfully nothing serious) and a preoccupation with our woeful political climate have all contributed to me not finding as much time to write as I would like. That, and the fact that I'm a lazy git at heart!

Anyhow it's helped me decide on a renewed commitment to writing as my New Year's Resolution (again). I'm not expecting to be nominated for the Booker prize or anything like that but hopefully there will be some music I can help shine a light on. The last couple of years have been wonderful for left-of-centre music, and I expect 2020 will not disappoint either. One of this year's recent releases is The World Is A Bell, the second full-length album by North London band, The Leaf Library. Led by main songwriter and lyricist Matt Ashton, with musical contributions not only from the band's own line-up but also from their extended circle of collaborators, they have connections to other HD favourite acts such as Alison Cotton, The Left Outsides and The Cold Spells which boded well before I even got round to listening.

Maybe it's a reflection of the complicated world we live in but for whatever reason independent music has shifted away from big choruses and singalongs that were prevalent through '90s Britpop and into the era when The Libertines and their imitators ruled the roost. The units may not be shifting so much now but musically things are much more nuanced, more unique, subtle and ultimately more satisfying. The music released by The Leaf Library being a good example. It centres on ambiance, features drones, unexpected instrumental combinations and layered vocal harmonies. Don't expect ear-worms but do expect a listening experience that will shape or enhance moods. It's a record of slowly permeating subtle charm.

Listening to album opener 'In Doors And Out Through Windows' instills in me that beautifully detached feeling I get when visiting an unfamiliar city and wandering through its centre while shops and markets are getting themselves ready for the working day. With a meditative instrumental bed of piano, hand-held percussion, brass and xylophone it sets the tone for what is to follow. Lyrical references to August moons and white chalk tie the track to seasons and landscape and are ambiguous enough for the listener to find in them a meaning for themselves.

'Hissing Waves' further propels you into this head-space, and once you settle in and are willing to be taken further on the journey that the band have created you'll find gentle electronic pulses, found sounds, beautiful string arrangements, synth drones and a shared musical mindset that centres on mood and texture. It's tempting to link The Leaf Library in with the kind of Hauntological records released by labels such as Clay Pipe and Ghost Box. The band name fits right in with that after all. But there's something more contemporary and forward looking going on here. It's not the past that being ruminated on, more so the eternal, and the open-ended possibilities of what could be. In a sense they've created the musical equivalent of early morning half-light.

The band cite the likes of Stereolab, Low, Bark Psychosis, Yo La Tengo, Seefeel, Julia Holter and Robert Kirby on their press release. Fans of those acts will find much to like here, as will those of Jane Weaver, Modern Nature, and anyone with a belief in Englishness as something intangible but deeper and kinder than its current small-minded nationalist form. Sorry to end this on a little bit of politics, just sometimes you need to get stuff off your chest. Suffice to say that this record is one of many this year that has helped maintain my faith in what our tiny island has to offer. Do yourself a favour - turn the telly and the phone off, put your headphones on and lose yourself in this album's calming melancholy.

Click here for The Leaf Library's website.
Click here for The Leaf Library on Facebook.
Click here for The Leaf Library on Twitter.
Click here for The Leaf Library on Instagram.
Click here for WIAIWYA Records.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Boa Morte – Before There Was Air

Less is very often more. Cork band release their long-awaited third LP of sublime alt-folk.

There's much to admire about bands who are into making music for the long haul, neither swayed by fashions or bandwagons, and not into changing their vision in the hope of “making it”. It's especially admirable when those bands live and work in places at a distance from where the music industry is traditionally based. Boa Morte are one such band with a singular vision, one based on making quality music that stands the test of time, however long that might take. They formed in 1999 in the beautiful city Cork in the Republic of Ireland and have just released their third full length album Before There Was Air, following 2009's The Dial Waltz. OK, so three albums in 20 years is not the most impressive rate of productivity, but great music can't be subject to time and motion studies, we're talking art here, not factory-produced goods.

Before There Was Air is full of intimate, cliche-free folk, parsimonious but with an ambience and mood that when listened to in a solitary setting, imbues what I can only describe as an optimistic melancholy. Plaintive piano, softly plucked guitars and understated vocals are enhanced with unobtrusive synth drones, violin, viola, cello and even close-mic'ed floor creaks. You can literally hear the room and the atmosphere within. The lyrics have a poetic timeless beauty, referencing nature, landscape and bodies of water. It's welcome contrast to listen to a record that drenches itself in the eternal given how most of us are drained by by the constant noise of news and political debate. (OK, it could just be me that's drained but you take the point.)

As we head towards the year's shortest days and we search for the peace, stillness and contemplation that mid-winter brings I can think of no better elegant set of songs to accompany those moments of much-needed quiet reflection. Peace, goodwill, and happy listening to you all. x

Click here for Boa Morte's website.
Click here for Boa Morte on Facebook.
Click here for Boa Morte on Twitter.
Click here for Boa Morte on Instagram.
Click here for Gare du Nord Records.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Jesper Lindell – Everyday Dreams

A debut album packed with warm sentiments and timeless soul 'n' blues.

There are so many artists around today who take inspiration from the classic soul and blues era of the fifties and sixties that the vintage tag has become almost meaningless. Timeless would be a more apt description and one that fits well for this debut album by Sweden's Jesper Lindell. Full of that subtle sympathetic musicianship we've come to expect from Swedish musicians, Everyday Dreams is equal parts classic mid '60s Stax/Volt and gently rolling blues, with shades of Van Morrisson's Tupelo Honey and artists such as Leon Bridges, The Black Keys and Ray LaMontagne.

It's a record full of warm sentiments and soulful vocals. Lindell's blue-eyed soul voice that takes centre stage and carries the album from start to finish, equally at home on the uptempo numbers as it is on the album's softer, more intimate tracks. Lindell has obviously immersed himself in that great wealth of music that America has produced. Everyday Dreams draws from the deep well of soul, blues, country, folk and gospel. Admirably Lindell doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. There are no boundary-pushing production techniques or ill-advised genre mash-ups, just great songwriting, well-produced and great performances from all the musicians involved.

Perfect Sunday evening listening for these dark winter nights. Get your fire lit, crack open a bottle of something nice and kick back with your loved one with this album playing. As Lindell sings on 'France' - “I'll I wanna do is spend my time drinking wine with you.” What could be better.

Click here Jesper Lindell's website.
Click here for Jesper Lindell on Facebook.
Click here for Jesper Lindell on Instagram.
Click here for Alive Records.

Crystal Jacqueline and The Honey Pot – I Talk To The Wind (Ltd. Colour 2x7”)

Five songs, two pieces of vinyl, one mighty fine release. Wiltshire's finest cover some psych 'n' prog deep cuts.

Another November release for the ever-expanding Fruits de Mer discography is this double 7” from Crystal Jacqueline and The Honey Pot. I'm chuffed to bits because they've chosen to cover one of my personal '60s nuggets. 'Sun Goes Down' was the B-side to Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich's 1967 single 'Zabadak'. On the rare occasions I been known to dust down my vinyl and DJ down the local boozer, it's a track that always raises approving eyebrows. Someone always asks to know what it is. Top marks then to Jacqueline and The HP for choosing to cover it. They've done a pretty decent job too. Plenty of heavy reverb on the vocals, nifty guitar work from Icasrus Peel, and a nice groove with ace drum fills in the gaps between the verses and choruses. It'll be in my DJ box next time without a doubt!

Also on this release is a version of Traffic's 'Mr. Fantasy', which honours the original in tempo but has a more textural approach – Mellotron, phasing on the guitars and layered echoed vocals. Neat! They also tackle songs by King Crimson ('I Talk To The Wind'), Rare Bird ('Sympathy') and Tonton Macoute ('Dreams') – all fine versions and very much worthy of your attention. 'Sympathy' in particular carries a much needed contemporary message in it's lyrics. The set closes with an epic eight-minute version of Tonton Macoute's 'Dreams'. I'm not familiar with the original so can't tell you how it differs but suffice to say CJ & The HP's version is a spirited affair full of tension and drama. Another fab FdM release.

1. Mr Fantasy
2. I Talk To The Wind
3. Sun Goes Down
4. Sympathy
5. Dreams

Click here for Crystal Jacqueline on Twitter.
Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Various – Sunny Spells (Ltd. Col 7” EP)

Four song EP out now! A taster for Fruits de Mer's epic 3CD compilation set for release next spring!

One of the finest compilations from recent times must surely be Fruits de Mer's The Three Seasons – Songs from 1966-68, featuring all your favourite psych-friendly bands covering their most-loved '60s tracks. If you missed it first time round, the good news is the label is releasing an extended 3CD version next year. Re-titled The Four Seasons 1966-69 it will contain all the tracks that made the original 3LP set such a joy, along with a bunch of new recordings. As a taster of things to come this four-song 7” extended player is available from the label as of right now. The artists featured are Chad & Jeremy, Schizo Fun Addict, Hanford Flyover and Us And Them
Sixties legends Chad & Jeremy give us an acoustic re-recording of 'Rest In Peace', a track originally featured on their 1967 album Of Cabbages And Kings. Schizo Fun Addict offer up a dreamy psychedelic take on 'Dedicated To The One I Love', a classic track originally by the Mamas and Papas. Hanford Flyover are a new band to me, as is the band they've chosen to cover (Neon Pearl). On the strength of their track on the EP, a stately and elegant slice of folk-rock, both bands warrant further investigation. You can find out more on Hanford Flyover via their Bandcamp page. Regular readers of this 'ere blog may be familiar with Swedish duo Us And Them. For this record they've recorded a fabulously mellow version of Neil Young's 'What Did You Do To My Life?' 

I know we've only just put the clocks back but spring ain't that far away. And with the promise up a new compilation from FdM there's something else along with warmer days and brighter nights to look forward to. Bring it on!

1. Chad & Jeremy – 'Rest In Peace'
2. Schizo Fun Addict – 'Dedicated To The One I Love'
3. Hanford Flyover – 'Just Another Day'
4. Us And Them – 'What Did You Do To My Life'

Click here for Fruits de Mer Records.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Vinny Peculiar – While You Still Can

Election special! Mr. Peculiar captures the nation's mood.

There are certain artists who don't leave you waiting too long for new stuff. Vinny Peculiar being one. Earlier this year he released Return Of The Native, a '70s rock 'n' punk infused belter of a album that tackled themes such as local school rivalries, laments for lost music venues, and the love life of an English civil war battle re-enactor. Intelligent, engaging and great fun, it 's a record full of humour, warmth and just the right amount of pathos. Hot on the heels of Native comes this brand new collection (his thirteenth), an somewhat darker set of songs for the most part centred on UK politics. Where our man expresses understandable disappointment with our political class, their egos and foibles, and the current standard of debate. A righteously cynical swipe.

Vinny has been likened to Jarvis Cocker, Roger McGough, Ray Davies, Morrissey and Tony Hancock, all comparisons with a ring of truth, but really there's no-one quite like him, and certainly no-one on today's scene as prolific or as sharply acerbic. 'Vote For Me' sets the tone, a perfectly timed track for the run-up to next month's general election. Over a haunting piano Peculiar plays the part of an election candidate making a series of promises and dissing his opponents. 'Pop Music For Ugly People' follows, a driving rocky number with more of Vinny's dry wit.

Other tracks taking political aim include 'Diane Abbott Takes A Selfie' which pokes fun at the vanity of our political class. A much needed swipe that makes a serious point, still manages to be funny, and sits atop a great Bowie-esque backing. 'Culture Vulture' mixes Led Zeppelin riffs with funk-rock basslines and references I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Shakespeare and Sean Ryder.

'Ministry Of Fate' has an '80s electronic pop feel that brings to mind OMD, a cool catchy number that shows Vinny's lyrical skills are matched by his ability to knock out a decent pop tune. On more familiar territory is 'Man Out Of Time', where our dude finds himself recalling some high points of '70s pop, a neat mood-lifting track that recalls the themes and obsessions that runs through his previous work, most notably on his 2011 album Other People Like Me.

The album ends with 'Let Them Take Drugs', a song which makes the point that religion is no longer the opiate of the masses. That honour now goes to opiates. “Wasted people carry no threat” sings Vinny. How quickly people in power will write off sections of society they consider to have no worth. You might want to think about that next time you see the shamefully familiar sight of strung-out addicts hanging around your city's centre.

Considering most people dry up creatively before they reach their thirteenth album, Vinny seem to be settling into his stride. While You Still Can may come to be recognised as his most serious and political album to date, addressing the nation's strange state with wit, humour and intelligence. Let's hope his next missive reaches us soon, and that when it does, the country will be heading in a more positive direction.

Click here for Vinny Peculiar's website.
Click here for Vinny Peculiar on Twitter.
Click here for Vinny Peculiar on Facebook.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Curt Boettcher & Friends - Looking For The Sun

Collection of rare recordings by posthumously-recognised sunshine pop genius.

Any musician or music producer whose name goes on to become synonymous with a particular genre must have been doing something right. In Curt Boettcher's case that genre was sunshine pop. In the latter half of the sixties studio technology was expanding at the same rate as the imaginations of the people who used them. Music entered what scientists like to call “a purple patch”. The most obvious example of this alignment of stars would be the Beatles creating their sonic masterpieces in London's Abbey Road Studios, or Brian Wilson in making “teenage symphonies to God” with the help of his brothers, a cousin, some extremely talented session musicians and the best studio technology Los Angeles had to offer.

There were of course others forging similar paths, doing work that pushed the boundaries of what a three-minute pop song could sound like. Boettcher was one such man. And if anecdotal evidence is correct Boettcher actually influenced Brian Wilson with his uplifting, shimmering pop, helping raise the bar for music production as an art-form.

Boettcher was best known for producing hit records for the Association, and for forming rock bands The Ballroom and The Millennium, but he also made vast amounts of recordings with various groups and singers in the studios of LA. Bad deals and bad luck meant he didn't attain fame and financial success. He died in 1987 at the age of 43, at the time largely unrecognised for the work he'd left behind.

Over time interest has grown however and his reputation is now beginning to match the size of his talent. This collection, expertly put together by Steve Stanley, founder of Now Sounds Records, is not a “best of”, but focuses on the work Boettcher did as a producer rather than a performer. It highlight just what a treasure trove the perpetually busy producer left behind. Not only that, it gives a strong sense of what the Californian music scene was all about. Most of the tracks on this compilation were released as singles and have been unavailable and out of print since their initial release.

I cannot stress enough how enjoyable this collection is. There's not a duffer among the CD's 21 tracks (18 on the vinyl version). My own personal highlights include Cindy Malone's stomper 'You Were Near Me', the gentle psych-pop of 'Milk And Honey' by Summer's Children, and Ray Whitley's 'Lorraine' – a masterclass in melancholic melodrama akin to the works of Scott Walker. For the more psychedelically minded there 's Eddie Hodges' ' Shadows and Reflections' or the Latin-influenced 'Enamorado' by Keith Colley. Novelty and light relief get a look in too with Jonathan Moore's camp pastiche of swinging London, 'London Bridge'.

If you're of the belief that the well of '60s music has been drained and exhausted think again. This well-researched, and lovingly annotated collection can only further enhance Boettcher's growing reputation.

Click here for High Moon Records

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Alison Cotton - The Girl I Left Behind Me (Ltd.edition blue vinyl 10")

Elegant and sombre ambiance for Halloween. Limited edition 10" single from London's premier viola player.

One of Autumn's must-have releases is this 10" vinyl showcasing the talents of Alison Cotton. A classically-trained viola player, former member of The 18th of May, and currently one half of Walthamstow-based duo The Left Outsides, Cotton has played on a string outstanding records of records in recent years - Trimdon Grange Explosion's self-titled debut, Through Passages of Time (The Hardy Tree) and All That Remains (The Left Outsides) are just a few examples that have been much enjoyed and covered on this humble blog.'The Girl I Left Behind' is her first solo release since her debut album from last year, All Is Quiet At The Ancient Theatre.

While its release of the new single is timed for Halloween, there's a chance you may have heard the music over the Christmas period last year. Cotton was commissioned by BBC 6Music presenter Gideon Coe to compose a soundtrack to accompany a reading of a Muriel Spark's ghost. If, like me you sadly missed the radio broadcast you can now purchase the accompanying music thanks to the ever-tasteful label, Clay Pipe Music, who are set to release it on a limited edition 10" vinyl on October 25th.

'The Girl I Left Behind Me' is a haunting and mournful instrumental based on a repeated six note motif played on the viola. Slowly more lines are added as the track progresses giving way to a wordless choral section at the six minute mark. Its sombre Autumnal mood is somehow perfectly suited to soundtrack the shortening October nights.

Side two of the 10" features a new piece of music, again inspired and named after a Muriel Spark ghost story. 'The House Of The Famous Poet' begins with wordless layered vocals before Cotton plays an improvised one-take viola solo inspired by the "abstract funeral" featured in Spark's story. With its backdrop of gentle drones and shimmering cymbals, the composition comes across as a darker- themed companion piece to Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending. Inherently English, and imbued with the complicated melancholy that that entails.

Listening to the two tracks that make up this single it strikes me there's something ingrained in the sound of a viola that connects with the human soul. Perhaps its because of the viola's closeness in pitch and timbre to the human voice, though I'm not entirely sure. Someone with a deeper understanding than me could no doubt explain it in straightforward scientific terms. What I do know is that I'm content with the mystery. And I can think of no better place to explore this mysterious connection than these two emotionally moving pieces of music.

'The Girl I Left Behind' is released by Clay Pipe Music as a limited edition 10" - 500 hand-numbered copies on transparent pale blue vinyl.

A-Side - The Girl I Left Behind Me
B-Side - The House Of The Famous Poet

Click here for Alison Cotton on Twitter
Click here for Clay Pipe Music

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.