Friday, 7 October 2016

Baker Island - Demolishing the Fourth Wall (Edils)

If you like your indie pop to venture beyond the merely formulaic - and allow me to suggest that you probably do - then Newcastle's Baker Island may well be the band for you.

I'm featuring the title track from this three track single in my Dandelion Radio show this month.  I love it for its wildly anarchic structure, informed, it seems, by the principle of never settling for two or three hooks when you can have six of seven.  It yields a tune that manages to be both pleasingly messy and instantly hummable.

The other two tracks are pretty damn delightful too.  'Cheers Nostradamus' carries itself along on a vintage Madness-type vibe before once again diversifying madly, while 'Meet Me In John Lewis' intrudes into the proceedings with a more languid gait and spiky glitch-like portents of doom that never really sound doomy at all.

It's a delight, as you can probably tell.  Download it (NYP) here and prepare yourself, with great anticipation, for the forthcoming album which, the Edils Bandcamp site tells us, will be 'full of more slack, upbeat misery'.  Can't wait. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Eureka Brown - O Utopia (Digitalia)

I like to think I'm well-balanced enough to accept that music is generally a matter of personal preference.  If someone fails to find something in releases I recommend to them, I can generally greet this with equanimity  Why, then, do I find myself listening to O Utopia and thinking that, if you don't find yourself instantly falling for its charms, there must be something very wrong with you?

If that sounds like Eureka Brown's music has brought out my intolerance demons, that couldn't be further from the truth.  There's an easy charm about this album that, even in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary, astonishingly manages to reassure me that the world is essentially a good place

The reason for this is, I suppose, that the album's upbeat quirkiness manages to take apart and put back together that world in so many pleasing ways you're drawn into something that resembles a far more satisfying place to live.  Sometimes it does this, as in the case of 'Hush Hush', by settling into such a reassuringly lovable groove that the spikily intrusive guitar that comes in at one point soon falls victim to that groove and settle peaceably into it.

Or sometimes the inclination is to throw a whole melee of sounds together that ought to sound like a disparate mess but which somehow creates some kind of wondrous balance between dissonance and harmony.  'The whole caboodle's going down the tubes,' he sings on 'Shebang', following the line with a scratchy mock-fanfare that's part celebratory, part twisted sonic meddling. 

I play 'We're All Gonna Die' in my Dandelion Radio show this month, its calmly enunciated statement on the inevitability of death failing to shake off the album's general feel good vibe even as it consigns us all to dust. 

Somehow, I get the impression that Eureka Brown isn't one to judge you over all this, but I will: you are incomplete without this album.  Get it from the Digitalia bandcamp site here

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Chuck - My Band Is A Computer (Old Money/Audio Antihero)

The perennially wonderful Audio Antihero have introduced a new off-shoot label.  It's called Old Money Records and if what it's going to release is anywhere near as good as this first offering, we're in for a treat.

Old Money's remit is to put out reissues and compilations, with the intention of allowing us to catch up with music from the past that hasn't yet received the attention it deserves.  As someone who constantly self-flagellates due to an inability to give everything that passes through my inbox as much of a hearing as I'd like, this is a pleasing venture in itself.

I don't think anything from Chuck ever did pass through that inbox, which is a shame because I've clearly been missing out on something very special indeed.  Chuck's approach is unmistakeably rooted in that tradition of eastern US songwriters - he's from Massachusetts but now lives in Brooklyn - who have a way of mixing the celebratory and the world-weary in such a way that any dormant paradoxes lying therein are brought kicking and screaming, yet often laughing, into the world.

I detect strains of Jeffrey Lewis and Leonard Cohen but I note neither of those are mentioned as influences in the press release.  Daniel Johnston and
Jonathan Richman are though, and these are just as discernible. Other ears may no doubt find that Chuck is coming from somewhere else entirely, because what he adds to all this is very much his own.  The defiantly bombastic synth-led overture of opener 'Happy New Years Babe' make way for the wistfully introspective 'Oceans' and 'Mary Anne' yet the mesmerising, uplifting musical backdrop, particularly of the latter, continues the defiant mood, which prevails, even as the awkward tiny details of life so brilliantly assemble in Chuck's acute lyrical observations, throughout the collection.

I'm playing 'Pictures' in my Dandelion Radio show this month, another track that marries upbeat instrumentation with reflective lyrics, in this case searching for clues in a personal history that, for Chuck, comes across as somehow both familiar and alien. 

In all, then, a new direction for Audio Antihero, but with a familiar stamp of quality. 'My Band Is A Computer' is available now, as download or limited edition cassette, here

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Mi Mye - The Sympathy Sigh (Philophobia)

Jamie Lockhart, the creative force behind Mi Mye, possesses a lightness of touch in his songwriting that doesn't administer any rough treatment to stop you in your tracks, still less does it grab you by the balls, but that's not to say that within its delicate tapestry it isn't capable of delivering punches.  And stop you in your tracks is what The Sympathy Sigh certainly does.

The punches meted out in The Sympathy Sigh are subtly delivered but carry an emotional impact that stays in the mind long after more visceral approaches have faded into harsh memory  The narrator's static reflections in the archly titled 'I Think Everything's Going To Be Fine' reveal much about the depth you're going to find here, the final, blankly stated title loaded with potential meanings, unfulfilled yet pregnant with possibilities

There's rich variety in these possibilities.  The evocative images of 'Methadone Church' and 'All Fin' rub up against the stark realism of 'Your Handwriting', while there's something almost celebratory in the mood of 'Night City Air'.  This is an album that can peel away layers of your life to reveal the starkness of nature, while offering up perspectives that fluctuate between the troubling and the (almost) comforting.

Probably my favourite track is 'Nightswimming and the Snow', which I'm playing in my Dandelion Radio show this month.  Its lingering fade-in takes us into a narrative that verges on the spoken word as it recounts snowy scenes played out to an REM soundtrack.  Here, not buying a wide-screen TV means a reason to sit closer together.  A foot curled around the back of an ankle is the prelude to an embrace.   

All of which is emblematic of a collection that so unerringly digs beauty out of harsh reality only to reverse the process in a musical heartbeat with a deft lyrical twist.  That said, listening to The Sympathy Sigh can scarcely be called an unsettling experience: rather, its plaintive harmonies and lightly intrusive instrumental strains look set to provide a perfect counterpoint as the dark autumn nights begin to gather.

Best get hold of a copy fast then.  It's available now in vinyl, CD and download from here

Monday, 22 August 2016

Can it ever top this? A review of Green Man 2016

This being my tenth review of the Green Man Festival in the last eleven years, you'd think I'd be running out of things to say.  Not so.  Although the 'best ever' description is one I've used before, it's not difficult to find new superlatives when you get back from the exhilarating experience that was Green Man 2016, muddy and smelly but reflecting how, remarkably, this one really did manage to outstrip all others.

There are certain very rare experiences, across many fields of human endeavour and recreation, where you feel things are going your way and are about to get better no matter what happens - that fate cannot stand in the way of the inevitable upsurge of a great time.  Such was the feeling that hummed around the Far Out Stage of the Green Man on Thursday night, when the remarkable twisted sound experiments of Meatraffle drifted out into the still sunny surroundings.

From there the sun frequently disappeared, giving way to thrashing showers and high winds, but the mood never dimmed and the Far Out continued to play one of its most memorable hands ever.  The Membranes delivered a typically forthright punch to the solar plexus that throbbed lovingly well into Friday afternoon; then Suuns produced a set that managed to top the one they so memorably unpacked in the same place five years ago.  Geoff Barrow's BEAK>; just about topped them both on the Saturday, their set of pummelling, winding noises encircling a crowd that wasn't so much entranced as part of the entrancement.

That's why reference to the music alone isn't quite enough to describe the particular joys of this Green Man.  I've raised mild concerns in recent years about a creeping atmosphere of sniffy cynicism discernable among certain purist elements, alongside a fear that the festival was also becoming a camping weekend for people who could afford simply to lounge around soaking up an atmosphere to which they contributed nothing, leaving their own tents only fleetingly to park their seats in front of the main stage and read the paper. 

Such elements seemed, for whatever reason, entirely absent this year.  A buzzing sense of anticipation encircled all the arenas; men and women older than me walked around in Belle and Sebastian t-shirts, while teenagers strolled about with The Smiths and Joy Division plastered across their chests.  Two kids, wearing unicorn and rabbit heads, danced manically, for ages, to the vintage disco being pumped out of one of the stalls.  Two teenage girls performed the most astonishing improved dance routine up and down the Mountain Foot stage steps as B&S performed in the rain on the last night. 

Belle and Sebastian
Excited and enthusiastic talk of what had been seen the night before reverberated with a gleeful sense of un-blinkered discovery around the grounds each morning.  A guy in his sixties conversed with me about the many wonderful manifestations of Malcolm Middleton, before bashing away enthusiastically on the steel barrier as he (Malc, that is) performed a storming set at the Walled Garden on the last night.  During the headline act's Sunday set, Stuart Murdoch invited dozens of fans up to fill the stage during 'The Boy With the Arab Strap'.  As they left, one young woman grabbed a microphone and yelled 'Fuck Brexit' to rapturous cheers from the crowd.

Perhaps that was part of it.  The post-Brexit need for communal enjoyment bringing out the best in people.   Opposition to this act of economic and cultural vandalism was certainly voiced from the stage on numerous occasions and drew rapturous waves of approval every time.

Middleton's set edged it in terms of the Walled Garden's many highlights, but there were many close challengers.  The gentle reflections of Steven James Adams offered poignancy, honesty and genuine warmth.  Happy Meal Ltd produced an astonishing set on the Sunday, taking glam rock sensibilities, rubbing them howling into brashly displayed torsos and delivering an irreverent, musical Bronx cheer into the bargain.  Throws were bewitching, yanking the founding members of Tunng back somewhere close to their magical roots.  Bill Baird and band crashed through a ramshackle set of gloriously melodic tunes, a kind of slacker-embossed wonky pop that's been so good for so long and it was great to see it performed here.

The Mountain Foot offered its own delights.  Belle and Sebastian's closing set on the last night was magical, a fully rounded romp through one of the finest back catalogues of modern times.  Yorkston/Thorne/Khan produced a lovingly crafted live run-through of what has been one of 2016's best albums so far.  Tindersticks were slickly enigmatic, with disguised musical punches popping up all over the place - everything you want them to be.  And people keep telling me they don't understand why I like The Unthanks so much: whatever it is, I grabbed the opportunity to see them for a second time here and wasn't disappointed.

In any other year, that final Belle & Sebastian set would have been the undisputed highlight of the weekend.  However, nine years ago Battles played a set here that I regarded - and still do - as one of the best gigs I've ever been to and it seemed too much to expect they'd get anywhere near it on this much-anticipated return.  They duly smashed it.  A full ten minutes before they came on the Far Out marquee was humming with expectation.  Then they arrived to deliver a phenomenal set that included, among other delights, a revised version of 'Atlas' that managed to do everything the old one did, and add, incredibly, still more.

The same might be said of Green Man.  I really didn't think there could be such an improvement on the many hours of exhilaration I've enjoyed at Glanusk Park in the past.  I was wrong.  The one cranked it up another notch, one I didn't know existed.  Highlight of the year - indeed, of any year.

Green Man 2016 - A personal top ten

1. Battles (Far Out, Saturday)
2. Belle and Sebastian (Mountain Foot, Sunday)
3. Meatraffle (Far Out, Thursday)
4. BEAK> (Far Out, Saturday)
5. Malcolm Middleton (Walled Garden, Sunday)
6. Suuns (Far Out, Friday)
7. Bill Baird (Walled Garden, Sunday)
8. Yorkston/Thorne/Khan (Mountain Foot, Saturday)
9. Happy Meal Ltd (Walled Garden, Sunday)
10. Steven James Adams (Walled Garden, Friday)

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Staraya Derevnya - Kadita Sessions

There was really only one way to end my traditional summer blogging hiatus and that was with a review of an album that's done so much to get me through a couple of months of hotel rooms, train journeys and improbable work deadlines.

Kadita Sessions came out in April so it's frustrating that I've not been able to write anything about it before now.  It is, frankly, one of the most magical and bewitching albums I've heard for a long, long time.  From the guttural howl that is the starting point for opener of 'Hram' to the frantic close of 'Kadita', the listener is taken on a journey that's perhaps best described as one third aural Alice Through the Looking Class, one third experimental psych jamboree and one third impossible to describe.

One listen of the aforementioned album opener was enough to tell me that this was a collection that was likely to keep me occupied for a damn good portion of my life, working on the assumption that at some point in the hopefully far-off future I'll lose my faculties at roughly the same time as my bladder control.  An inability to appreciate something as wonderful as this is what makes me dread such a day (the loss of faculties, I mean; the loss of bladder control will be regrettable, but probably something I can learn to live with).

From there we're taken on seven extraordinary journeys, from the understated 'Chastity' to the majestically freakish 'Het', one of the album's shorter excursions but already a contender for my favourite track of 2016.

If that's not enough to whet your appetite you should know that you can download the whole thing here for NYOP, although there's also a CD version available and you can get your hands on a cassette via Weakie Discs.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Sekotis - For Your Weird Ears

Long-time listeners to my Dandelion Radio show will know that a few years ago I revealed the results of research that showed that Brighton had more good bands and artists per head of its population than anywhere else in the UK.
I'm sure if I carried out further research the same result would emerge, because since then there's certainly been no let up in terms of innovative music coming out of the aforementioned city.  The latest discovery for me is Sekotis, an artist who, I was faintly humbled to find out, has actually been doing what he does for several years.
The musical alias of Tom Stokes, a quick look at his bandcamp site alone reveals musical treasures going back to 2008.  For Your Weird Ears, his latest collection, came out in March this year and it's what, finally, has turned me on to his richly satisfying work.
To say I feel I've a lot of catching up to do is an understatement, although for now I'm finding so much to love in this latest album I really don't feel like going anywhere else just yet.  Sekotis specialises in the kind of churning electronica practised with an inspired and creative hand that's for a long time found a home in my show.  Opener 'Drones' is more than enough to give you a flavour of that, a slow-burning piece of sonic exploration that matches experimentation with the kind of intoxicating groove that pleasingly crops up all over this collection.
Don't get the idea that there's anything one-paced about For Your Weird Ears, though.  'Ravens', which I'm playing in my Dandelion show this month, eschews the considerable pleasures of the slow burner in favour of frantic percussion and richly patterned instrumental lines that take the listener in all sorts of heady directions. 
And after feasting on that, you've still got the album's epic closing tune to feast your ears on.  'Trolls', at twelve minutes plus, manages to add even more to the many diverse elements you've already encountered, its swarming beginnings giving way to spiralling waves of sound to provide a triumphant, lingering close to the nine tracks.
You can get the album as NYOP at the Sekotis bandcamp site here.  When you've done that, you could do a lot work than check out the rest of his fascinating recent musical history while you're there.