Sunday, 22 October 2017

Tangerines - Into The Flophouse

(This review first appeared in issue #66 of Shindig! magazine.)

RIP CD / LP

Tangerines are interestingly out of step with their indie scene contemporaries. Though they mix Graham Parker pub-rock and Dylan-esque vocal phrasing, the south London quartet are no mere nostalgics, documenting life in a city that's paved not with gold but with empty beer cans and broken dreams. Lead single 'Peckham Boys' sets the tone, borrowing the riff from Warren Zevon's 'Werewolves of London' and letting louche tales of self-medication take centre stage. Frontman Gareth Hoskins is a skillful lyricist, in possession of youthful but jaded vocals. He draws you into a world of street level romance and modern bohemianism. It's a place where seediness and artful aspiration feed off each other.

The traditional two guitars, bass and drums sound is strengthened by sleazy saxophone skronk on several tracks, and guitarist Miles Prestia comes across as a gifted if understated guitarist, helping the dynamics shift with spirals that Tom Verlaine would be proud of.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Derrick Anderson - A World Of My Own



Omnivore CD

Though a solo record, the contributor list marks this out as an all-star affair. Matthew Sweet pops up on guitar. The Smithereens, The Muffs and The Cowsills all make appearances. As do The Bangles (for whom Anderson has played bass since 2008). There's also a reunion for Anderson's eponymous nineties combo, The Andersons. A proven team player then, but this is an album made in Anderson's image, infused with taut mid-'60s songwriting values, where Anglophilic beat music mixes with punchy powerpop and soulful mod-rock.

Quite why the Los Angeles based musician has taken so long before venturing out on his own is a mystery, or maybe he's just been stockpiling this set of guitar-driven Revolver-esque tunes. Highlights include 'Phyllis & Sharon' (a tribute to the US soap opera The Young and The Restless), and the album's bonus track, a cover of The Beatles 'Norwegian Wood', albeit with a funk-rock makeover. Foxy!

Click here for Derrick Anderson's website. 


Shadow Band - Wilderness Of Love


 (This review first appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine.)

Mexican Summer CD / LP

The UK's acid-folk scene of the late '60s is a well-mined seam of inspiration these days. In lesser hands there's a danger of style over substance. Not here. The Philadelphia band's debut may concern itself with Mother Nature and owe a debt to Pentangle, Vashti, The Incredible String Band et al but it's no nostalgic trip through the faerie forest. This is as contemporary a record as they come. With recurring themes of seasons turning, light and dark, and portentous meteorological metaphors it chimes with the global mood of the day.

Though not initially apparent the album tackles today's toxic political climate, using soft poetic power and delicate acoustic instrumentation. It's nuanced and made for quiet reflection. For all their tasteful parsimony this is a band that can also do loud when required. Check out the buried howls of feedback on 'Darksider's Blues' for evidence of the rock band that lurks within.

Click here for Shadow Band on Facebook.
Click here for Shadow Band on Twitter.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Heath Green & The Makeshifters - Heath Green & The Makeshifters


 (This review first appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine.)

Alive Natural Sound CD / LP

Heath Green possesses a voice that's not only lived-in, it may also have hosted a fair share of all-night house parties. Gritty, gravelly and full of that good ol' southern soul, the man sure as hell can sing! Based in Birmingham, Alabama, he's been the city's best-kept musical secret for the last two decades. He and his killer band make a fiery hybrid of soul, blues, rock and gospel, breathing new life into the region's musical heritage and traditions.

Alternating between Saturday night revelry and Sunday morning redemption with the trials of grown-up relationships thrown in, this earthy, blue-eyed and blue-collar soul recalls Jerry Lee Lewis, Otis Redding, The Faces, Joe Cocker and The Black Crowes yet is beholden to none. Equally adapt at guttural howls and soulful sophistication, quite why Mr. Green has not broken through to wider recognition is a mystery. With this album his dues must surely come.

Click here for Heath Green & The Makeshifters' website.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Elfin Bow - Elfin Bow


 (This review first appeared in issue #65 of Shindig! magazine.)

Self Release CD

Elizabeth Anne Jones resides in North Wales and makes pastoral, psych and traditional folk under the stage name Elfin Bow. Her debut album contains stately ballads and nursery rhyme folk darkness, with a backing of deftly picked acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo, violin and a hint of electronica.
Lyrically astute, melodically inventive and in possession of pure singing tones, Ms. Bow has made a deceptively gentle record. Scratch beneath the surface however and you'll find weighty themes. 'Hey Auld Friend' is as dark a song as they come; a kiss goodbye to this mortal coil via drowning. Similarly 'Holler In The Hollows' deals with mourning and hardship.

Elsewhere 'Grimshaw And The Fingerclaw' and 'Edith's Song' form a short song suite with a wyrd old Albion vibe. Lightness comes via 'The Wisdom' with its sense of wonder at the world, and the bluegrass-tinged 'Prairie Madness'. An album full of intimate, homespun charm and mystery.


Click here for Elfin Bow's website.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Interview with Green Seagull


(This feature first appeared in issue #64 of Shindig! magazine. I think the band have since changed drummers since this ran. I love this band and can't wait for the LP! To read the full interview click over the jump at the bottom.)

 
London's latest baroque-beat band mix peppermint and incense on their first recordings. Duncan Fletcher sees them take flight.

Taking their name from a misheard lyric in The Stones' 'Paint It Black', Green Seagull formed in early 2016 around the songwriting talents of Paul Nelson and Paul Milne, formerly of New Electric Ride and The Magnetic Mind respectively. The chemistry was completed with the addition of keyboardist Sarah Gonputh and drummer Carlos Redondo.

“For me, psychedelia is a very open-ended style that gives you a lot of possibilities. You can take elements from virtually any genre - garage punk, acid rock to flamenco and classical - and it wouldn't necessarily jar if you did it right” says bassist/vocalist Milne. Do it right they do, as heard on their rehearsal room recordings on four-track cassette. Influenced by The Left Banke, The Association and The Beach Boys, the two songs on their Soundcloud page feature pop melodies spiked with sinister chords and arrangements, successfully pairing light and shade.

“The lyrics in 'Scarlet' are pretty much about infatuation and obsession and hint at a possible illness of the mind for the protagonist” says guitarist/vocalist Nelson. “'They Just Don’t Know' is based on a nightmare I had where I was some kind of world leader in a Cuban Missile Crisis-type scenario. I think I was watching too many cold war documentaries at the time! Hope it wasn't a premonition of some sort!” adds Milne.

The band are currently re-recording the tracks along with a prospective LP at London's Sausage Studio, making full use of its vintage gear. “We're fortunate that Sausage Studio is run by my boyfriend, Seb Kellig (My Drug Hell) with our friend Nick McCarthy (Franz Ferdinand/FFS)”, says Sarah. “The place is an absolute dream and I feel so lucky to be part of the Sausage Studio family. It's vintage keys and analogue synthesiser heaven... for our forthcoming single I've been playing the Philicorda organ and the Wurlitzer.”

'Scarlet' b/w 'They Just Don't Know' was released in May 2017 on Mega Dodo Records.

(Click over the jump for the full interview.)

Willie Gibson - Vivaldi: Seasons Change


Synths! Baroque Classical music! Futurist-retro mix-up! Droogs with Moogs!


Synthesisers are fascinating things aren't they. A confession here - my preference has always been for guitars, mainly because during my teenage years I hated all those keyboard bands on Top Of The Pops. It also became apparent to me that technology was moving so quickly that if you bought a keyboard it would soon be out of date. It was a musical arms race in the '80s. Whereas, buy a decent guitar and it would age and sound better in 20 years time. That was my theory then anyway...

Oh how young, innocent and stupid I was. Some of those keyboards are probably worth more than my house now. And the sounds have a pleasing dated but unique and quirky appeal that makes a Fender Telecaster look pretty limited by comparison. That's the thing with synths isn't it. At the time of release they sound so far ahead of themselves but then become quickly associated with the era of their production after technology and tastes moves on. If you're a fan of all things retro though, these pieces of outdated kit can end up having a holy grail-like aura.

I mention all this after listening to an album that's coming out on Gare du Nord Records next week. Willie Gibson's take on Vivaldi's Opus 8, Il Quattro Stagioni, fitting re-titled Seasons Change, has been created using a Eurorack format modular synthesiser. Having not kept up with the afore-mentioned arms race I'm not entirely sure what a Eurorack format modular synthesiser is, but what I can tell you is that it sounds not unlike the beginning of The Who's Baba O'Reilly, or the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange.

There's a commonly-held but false belief that synth music is an easy option, that it's made simply at the push of a button. Not so. Season's Change took a year to make with Gibson painstakingly creating the music layer by layer, one part at a time. It's worth mentioning here that Willie Gibson is not the artist's real name, it's a pseudonym for George Barker, a successful music producer and publisher whose career dates back to the late '60s/early '70s when he started out as a trumpet player for the likes of J Jackson, Tony Orlando, Dawn and Arthur Conley.

Season's Change is an immensely likable piece of work, a true curio and quite unlike anything else out there at the moment. It appeals to futurists, retro-heads and especially fans of baroque classical music. How's that for a coming together of the tribes!

Click here for Gare Du Nord Records on Twitter.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Stay - Always Here (Ltd. Col 7" +DVD)


Barcelona psych-rockers latest five-track EP!


Spain is fast becoming a hot-spot for home-grown indie music, a must tour destination for British bands, and home to one of Europe's best DIY networks. Promoters, radio shows, venues, labels and gig-swappers all seem to be at the top of their game in Spain at the moment. It's within this hothouse environment that a band like Stay can flourish. Their latest five-track EP on Fruits de Mer Records mixes a couple of original songs with three choice covers. The Bee Gees (' Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You'), The Kinks ('Where Have All The Good Times Gone'), and Buffalo Springfield ('Rock and Roll Woman') all get a Stay makeover.

These tracks give you a clue to where their heads are at – melodic and psychedelic, all shimmering guitar jangle and the rhythm section's taut driving push, but it's the original songs that are the stars of the show. Lead track 'Always Here' sets out the stall. Any song that has the word “mind” in its first sentence always gets my vote. It may be shorthand for instant psych but in this instance works a treat. Classic modern guitar-based psych-pop at its best.

'You Know It's Right' is the other self-penned tune, this version being a remix with added guitar courtesy of Andy Bell (Ride, Oasis). It's rooted in the folk-rock sound of The Byrds but with a modern speaker-pushing sheen. Neat! This limited edition coloured vinyl 7” also comes with a DVD insert, featuring a documentary about the recording sessions for the band's latest LP The Mean Solar Times. What the hell is not to like!


Click here for the Fruits de Mer website.
Click here Stay's website.
Click here for Stay on Facebook.
Click here for Stay on Twitter.


Joss Cope - Unrequited Lullabies


Guitars! Songs! Poignant English psych-pop that your milkman can whistle!


An album that's been a soundtrack to my daily commute over the last few weeks is this gem by Joss Cope released on the ever reliable Gare du Nord label. Despite being recorded in Helsinki with a group of Finnish musicians it's as English as they come, due to Cope's knack of capturing the melancholy, humdrum observation and poignant humour that forms our much lauded national psyche. I should mention at this point that Joss is the brother of Julian Cope, so the shared upbringing, genes and collection of 45s must have fed into his worldview. Anyway that's enough about that, who wants to be compared to their elder sibling. Not me, so I ain't gonna do that here!

If you wanted to pigeonhole Unrequited Lullabies with a genre, we can call it guitar-driven psychedelic pop. But really it's all about the songs which have a point, a poignancy and are some of the most melodically memorable I've had the pleasure of hearing in recent months. 'Turned Out Nice Again' captures the sadness masked by everyday small-talk. It's just one example of how, in a similar way to someone like Robyn Hitchcock, mixes kitchen-sink ordinariness with cosmic observation.

Cope also has a pleasing way with words, twisting and adapting everyday idioms and sayings, - “drowning in a sea of familiar faces”. He also comes up with succinct and pleasing couplets throughout that seem to capture something of where we are now as a species and a society. It all makes for intelligent and literate pop that even references Rudyard Kipling's If on 'Triumph or Disaster'. Don't let that fool you into thinking it's a heavy ride, it's as fun as they come and the tunes will be swirling round your head long after the disc is out the drive (other formats are available but you catch my drift!)

Click here for Gare Du Nord Records on Twitter.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Real Numbers - Frank Infatuation b/w Leave It Behind(Ltd. 7")


FFO C86, Television Personalities, Shop Assistants, Wedding Present! 300 copies only!


Another July release from Market Square Records that deserves to not slip through the net is this absolute belter from Real Numbers. The A-side reminds of those jaunty but sad songs from my own personal year zero when the likes of The Pastels, The Wedding Present and the like were constants on my turntable. Though it also sounds like, well you know, now!

The flip is a slower though no less satisfying track, a dreamy floaty melody over a two chord backing. Lo-fi and heartfelt. Apparently the band have been around making records in their hometown of Minneapolis for quite some years but I'd not been hipped to this groove until now. Another notch of credibility for Market Square. If the vinyl is sold out don't forget today is a digital world too. So suppost the label and have the music on your mobile, mp3 player or ipod docking station. Hell, you couldn't do that in 1986!

300 copies only, housed in Risograph fold-over sleeves.

Click here for Real Numbers on Facebook.
Click here for Market Square Records.

The Shifters - A Believer b/w Contrast Of Form (Ltd. 7")


Australian lo-fi punks' latest 7” on Market Square Records! 300 copies only!


2017 may still be a terrible year for politics but it's been an amazing year for new under-the-radar music. So much so that it's sometimes a struggle to keep up and write about it as much as I'd like. One of my favourite small labels keep coming up with the goods, outta Billinghurst of all places. This 'lil platter actually came out at the tail end of July and according to the label's website is sold out. But with a bit of luck and the aid of Discogs notifications you may be able to track down a copy. Or try the band direct via their Facebook page.

The Shifters are a a lo-fi punk band from Melbourne, Australia who make music that sounds somewhere between The Fall's lesser heard melodic moments and the Dunedin sound that came out of New Zealand back in the '80s. It's pretty cool. I like it and I think you will too. They also remind me of an American band called Phantom Buffalo who I think are from Portland Oregon. They put out a couple of albums that I really dug. I miss them. But hey this 7” is helping me get over it. Shame Melbourne is so far away as they sound like the kind of band who would be very enjoyable and accessible at a gig. Do check them out!

Click here for The Shifters on Facebook.
Click here for Market Square Records.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mark McDowell and Friends - Dark Weave


Fifth LP from south-west psych-folk collective. Pastoral folk, drones, subtle electronica and good vibes!
 
I've not been able to post as much on here recently for various reasons. Mainly too busy with work, family commitments and magazine stuff. I'm not complaining as work, family and writing is pretty much my holy trinity for a happy and useful life. I mention this as there have been a few albums and such that I've been sent that deserve my and your attention. Especially this one! I've written briefly about Mark McDowell before, albeit quite some time ago. What I didn't know was that apart from his solo records he also makes music as part of a psych-folk collective called Mark McDowell & Friends. This is their fifth long-player but the first one I've heard so I'm coming in fresh to this as it were.

Dark Weave came out at the end of July and I was able to listen and let it get under my skin before I left for a family holiday in Rhodes. There's something about high summer that always sharpens my emotions and makes me more receptive to music, art, literature etc. You know, all the good stuff. Maybe it's the longer hours of daylight, increased temperatures, more time spent with good people. All these things. Anyhow before I set off on my hols this album was my soundtrack on the daily commute to work. It struck me that despite the use of Indian strings, exotic hand-drums and analogue synth washes and swirls, Dark Weave is an album that could only have come from the British Isles. It simultaneously harks back to the golden era of acid-folk, (when Forest, Comus, Spirogyra and their ilk were the most happening acts around), but also sounds like now. Timeless is not the right word but it certainly taps into and strengthens some kind of tradition that resurfaces every few years and captures the imagination of a new generation. As a kind of nationalism it certainly beats that touted by many of our current political leaders.

So off I go on my holiday to Rhodes in early August. The change of scene, light, temperature and vegetation was a real jolt to the senses. I was struck by how dry, dusty and scrub-like the hills away from the coast were. The geographical distance also made me think about home, where it's not dusty and scrub-like. Where the ground is moist and loamy, damp and full of vegetation. And in my head thoughts kept turning to this record. It seemed to capture this richness that and uniqueness that we quite often lose sight of here.

Apologies to Mark McDowell if this is not like a standard album review. For once I wanted to write in a different way about music and how it can affect us. Suffice to say that Dark Weave has been my favourite album of the Summer and will be getting played over and over as we head into Autumn and Winter. It's that kind of record. Pastoral folk mixed with subtle electronica if you want to place it within genres. But I suggest just listening with open ears, hearts and minds and seeing where it takes you. Music ripe for reflection. 


Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Bordellos - Underground Tape Vol. 7

 
So it appears that The Stone Roses have split again. Or maybe they haven't. Who knows? Or who cares? Well a horde of middle-aged “lads” do, I suppose. Anyway my point is as reformations go it was pretty lame. OK so they sold out Wembley etc. etc. But in terms of coming up with the musical goods it was a non-starter. Two (not all that good) tracks in five years was not exactly reclaiming the crown of Britain's best band.

I mention the Stone Roses because they have roots and connections in Warrington, a stone's throw away from St. Helens, where another band of less reknown but higher output resides. The Bordellos are a band that will probably never sell out The Dog And Duck in Wembley let alone its auspicious stadium, but they do at least make music and put it out for consumption. They don't beg to “be adored” either. In fact I get the impression they'd rather get up the noses of middle-aged “lads” than have them fawn over them.

Their latest release, Underground Tapes Vol. 7 is picked from a mass of unreleased home recordings. Funny, confrontational, self-aware, and always with a point to make. It's a beautiful thing! It won't make any charts or get featured in Clash or NME but I don't suppose they'll be bothered. I think they'd like it if you took a listen though, and I recommend that you do. Among its homespun alt-folk and lo-fi charms is 'Tesco Chainsaw Massacre' and my personal personal favourite 'Jolly Old England',a song that namechecks Cannon and Ball, Irene Handl, free Weetabix and the death of football. All this and not a John Squire guitar solo in sight! Get in!

Click here for The Bordellos on Twitter.
Click here for The Bordellos on Facebook.

 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

In Gowan Ring - B'ee's Pent Pouch


Fragile mystic folk surfaces on a variety of limited releases!


An artist new to me but very welcome is In Gowan Ring, the artistic vehicle for the mysteriously named B'ee who's been making low-key but intoxicating folk-based music for the last 20 years. In 2012 B'ee spent several months constructing a five-sided tent as a recording/living space in a forest behind a chateau in a sparsely occupied area of the Massif Central in France. (I know, right!)
The recordings he made in that time, known as the Pent Pouch album were released as a limited edition of 55 copies given away to people who helped finance the project. Five years later these recordings are getting a public release digitally as well as in a variety of limited physical formats. There are five copies on both pentagonal vinyl (yes really!) and CD released in a five sided box format but 150 copies on both pentagonal vinyl and CDin a five-sided corduroy pouch. Nice! So top marks for the packaging but how about the music?

B'ee describes his music as symbolist folk, and that's pretty accurate. Infused with a sense of something bigger – a spirituality maybe, or affinity with nature, the seasons, and eternal truths. It's music for the dusk of late evenings or the mist of early mornings. Echoes of Nick Drake, the Incredible String Band, early and rennaissance music all fuse into something unique

If you miss out on the limited versions head over to the In Gown Ring Bandcamp page for a a digital copy along with a plethora of other releases of a similar high quality available via the Moonlit Missives subscription service.

Links
Click here for In Gowan Ring's website.
Click here for Moonlit Missives.


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Brent Cash - A New High

 (This review first appeared in issue #63 of Shindig! magazine.)
 
Marina CD / LP

There was a wave of song-crafters from the mid '60s, influenced by Brill Building classicism, who further pushed the possibilities of what a pop song could be. Burt Bacharach, Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb being just three examples of writers that added sophistication, sly subversion and progressive optimism into pop. Georgia's Brent Cash is the latest name in this lineage, back after a five year hiatus with his third and strongest LP to date. Bar the strings Cash plays every instrument on the record.

It's oddly fitting that the album's title track references Richard Nixon, whose political demise roughly coincided with the end of sunshine pop's time in the sun. Here earworm melodies sit atop obliquely shifting piano chords and inventive arrangements. Beneath the light and breezy soft-pop feel lies some serious alchemy. Cash has created a sound that both pays tribute to his forerunners and adds new depth. Dig the new breed.