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.