Monday, 30 November 2015

The MOJO CD - 2015

1. Courtney Barnett - Pedestrian At Best 
First up, someone I've never heard of, old fart that I am. Ms Barnett chanels Elastica chaneling Wire. Enjoyable enough, with lots of punky pizzazz, unremarkable but for Courtney's declamatory vocals.

2. Sleater-Kinney - Bury Our Friends
So, this is what Sleater-Kinney sound like. From The Libertines school but less messy, just. Gets by on pure charm.

3. New Order - Restless
Like Sleater-Kinney, another band with a comeback album out this year. New Order had their moments for me, but quickly became formulaic. They now have a replacement doing a wan impersonation of Hooky, and it sounds like it always sounded like. All rather predicatable.

4. Songhoy Blues - Soubour
A great band from Mali, a place that seems to be the current centre for interesting African music. A beguiling mix of African blues, rock'n'roll and punky energy. Championed by Damon Albarn, the Blur frontman knows a good thing when he hears it, obviously.

5. Gaz Coombes - 20/20
Some really nice modern pop from the Supergrass frontman taken from his highly acclaimed  Matador album. If I was not up to my eyes in reviews to do, I might have bought this.

6. Bill Ryder-Jones - Two To Birkenhead
This could easily have come out in 1978, a mix of Nikki Sudden & The Jacobites louche indie rock meets Neil Young moves, and Wreckless Eric's failed romantic bittersweet swagger. It seems prog is not the only genre to be stuck on past glories.

7. Jim O'Rourke - Last Year
From the musical polymath's marvellous Simple Songs album, the only release on this compilation I already own. It's not simple, at all, but it certainly is a song, and a bloody good one too.

8. John Grant - Down Here
I quite like this guy, he writes some good songs, mostly bitching about broken relationships. If you get too close to him and it goes wrong, he'll almost certainly tear you apart in song. Here, he sounds like late 70s Bowie, and there are worse things to ape.

9. Matthew E. White - Rock & Roll Is Cold
Very Velvets/Lou Reed. There is nothing new under the sun. Apparently it's meant to be knowing, which kills it for me, but probably an unfair way to judge the previously unheard.

10. Sufjan Stevens - Should Have Known Better
I have a couple of albums by this highly individual and remarkable talent. Classy modern folk-pop Americana...sort of. Very nice indeed, and the best track so far on this rather average compilation.

11. Father John Misty - Bored In The USA
The wonderfully acerbic Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman, ex of Fleet Foxes) here takes on American consumerism and religion. Is there actually a difference, one wonders? A sad Nick Drake-meets-Randy Newman ballad in melancholic reply to Springsteen's tub-thumping similarly titled anthem, countered by biting lyrics..."Save me, President Jesus, I'm bored in the USA". Marvellous! I might have to buy this album.

12. Low - What Part Of Me
This band have been around for a long time. Over twenty years in fact, and are now up to their eleventh album. And I know nothing about them. This is a short, classy, effortless and oddly upbeat yet slighly miserablist anthem, which if I guess right is what they're known for. Can't say it makes want to delve deeper.

13. Julia Holter - Feel You
The album this is lifted from is MOJO's choice for Album Of The Year. This is pleasant enough, a piece of lightly orchestrated intelligent pop. One track out of context is not enough to go on, but it sounds promising.

14. Joanna Newsome - Leaving The City
Joanna Newsome's elfin warblings invite inevitable comparisons to a young Ms Bush, and so does the structure of this song. I saw Joanna live a few years ago at a festival where her lone presence on stage was dwarfed by her harp as she struggled to make an impression on the huddled masses in the field in front of her, later made all the more difficult by a persistent rain shower, when I and many others drifted back to our tents. Judging by this intimate slice of cleverly instrumented escapism, I may have to investigate further.

15. Jason Isbell - If It Takes A Lifetime
"We have both types of music here, country AND western". Jason does country rock. Not for me.

As ever, a mixed bag, and you can check out MOJO's full list HERE. Obviously, some truly innovative releases have been left out completely, but this mag, jointly with Uncut are the two best mainstream music monthlies (extra helping of aliteration, there!) by a country or indeed, urban mile.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

frostlake - White Moon, Black Moon

Martin Archer's Sheffield-based Discus Records is a home for the wilfully strange, and the occasionally unfathomable, but with frostlake the label presents its most conventional face yet. frostlake - the lower case "f" is deliberate - is a mysterious pagan goddess who weaves hymns to winter spun from the crystalline mists of the dark months on her debut album White Moon, Black Moon. She is also a member of Discus acts Juxtavoices, and Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, the former an enticing "anti-choir", the latter a magnificent improvising cosmic rock beast. On her solo album and left to its own devices her muse crafts delicate but dense psych-folk, in so doing highlighting her many and varied talents, showing that she is not content to be pigeonholed into one genre.

This introspective and beautiful album stirs into life with Black Winter swooping across the still land, a song sung from the perspective of a bird in flight, frostlake's picked guitar and echoey atmosphere forming the background for Nigel Manning's flute which becomes the airborne avian, carried aloft on frostlake's multi-tracked harmonic choir. The restless protagonist of No Looking Back seeks escape, driving her car far beyond the originally intended destination to "...leave this madness behind, follow a road that has clearer signs". Haven't we all thought that way at one time or another?

The muffled stillness of snowfall, the contemplative effects of moonlight in a dark room, the hypnotic power of Dark Winds made moan, all this and more marries the natural phenomena of the dark months with its power to turn us towards the introspective side of our psyches. The warmth of this record is an aural equivalent of curling up by a roaring fire while outside one of those strangely calm winter snowstorms blankets everything in white inertia.

In addition to painting the eternal English winter canvas, there are human songs in here, too. Connection bemoans the surplus nervous chit chat that fills all the gaps, because there's nothing to say, really, no common ground. Judicious use of a chorus pedal on the electric guitar and minimal Korg piano combine to produce a forlorn atmosphere redolent of Nick Drake.

Quiet Storm is a tale of darkness rising, like a river soon to burst its banks, with subtle use of accordion and field recording over the plucked strings, painting a melancholy picture.The never ending wet grey of English winter is perfectly described in Endless Rain, frostlake gently bemoaning "Where do birds go to hide from rain, think I'll join them in their waiting game", while cyclical arpeggios gently tinkle away, and the subtle addition of clarinet in counter melody is a nice touch.

Sombre while simultaneously radiating warmth, White Moon, Black Moon has proved a timely, reflective, and spiritually cleansing soundtrack after the recent horrific events. It reminds me that those of us with a soul and a culture to cherish and respect will always triumph over the indoctrinated and spiritually bereft who through their misguided acts of pure evil would do us harm.

1. Black Winter (4:32)
2. No Looking Back (3:58)
3. Snowlight (3:29)
4. Falling Through Shadows (3:33)
5. Dark Winds (4:09)
6. Connection (4:12)
7. Night Watch (3:34)
8. Quiet Storm (5:36)
9. Endless Rain (4:34)
10. Thin Red Line (5:06)
11. Spring Call (4:22)
12. White Moon, Black Moon (4:25)

Total running time - 51:27

Line up:
frostlake - vocals, guitars, electronics, viola, wave drum, Korg synth, accordion, electric piano, field recording, E-bow

Terry Todd - acoustic bass guitar, slide guitar
Andy Peake - Korg synth, Korg piano
Steve Dinsdale - drums
Nigel Manning - flute
Charlie Collins - percussion
Mick Somerset - bass clarinet, bass recorder, bass flute, percussion
Martin Archer- glockenspiel, shaker, clarinets

Discus Records

Facebook - frostlake

Facebook - Discus Records

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Buzzcocks - The Roadmender, Northampton, 21st November 2015

Sometimes it is a good idea to leave the serious stuff behind, cease being over-analytical, and simply let your hair down - purely metaphorically in my case, you understand - and have a good time. Such was my approach to an evening of arthritic rug-cutting at Northampton's primary scuzzy music venue last night. Well if truth be told The Roadmender is, and has been since the mid 1980s, Shoesville's only dedicated music venue outside of the pub circuit, a sad state of affairs for the third biggest town by population in the country.

Anyway, after a curry and later a pint of sublime ale by the name of Release The Chimps, me and my mate enter the hallowed dimly lit halls of said venue, to find it packed to its 300ish capacity. I was expecting the audience to be entirely populated by fifty-somethings putting out collective backs attempting to pogo, but thankfully I was wrong, as the crowd was a nice mix of ages right down to teens, who seemed to know all the hits. The sight of an otherwise unremarkably attired fellow fifty-something bloke wearing a shiny new dog collar did make me smile, though!

At 9pm Buzzcocks saunter on to the stage to a rowdy reception. The only original members of the poptastic punk foursome present are Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle. Considering they are the same age, with a mere 20 days separating their 1955 birth dates, two more different approaches to stagecraft you could not begin to imagine. Steve Diggle is permanently "Sixteen Again", consumed by a frightening level of energy, and obviously loves every second in the limelight as he bounces around the stage like an over-enthusiastic puppy making rock god moves and posing with his guitar, but in a purely joyous rather than studied fashion. Meanwhile looking across at his compadre stands the diminutive grey-bearded figure of Pete Shelley, every inch the kindly but world-weary retired social worker, who gives the impression of being Steve's benevolent but slightly exasperated uncle, putting up with his "nephew's" capers with a "here he goes again" expression on his careworn fizzog.

Buzzcocks have cemented their place in pop history for a succession of short sweet blasts of perfect pop punk, nine singles released between November 1977 and September 1979 that chronicled teenage angst and frustration better than any other band of their generation. All but one were penned by Shelley, whose sharp wit and wordplay married to the band's razor-sharp punky pop sensibilites made for singles that only the cloth-eared could fail to appreciate, punk fans or nay. As a result this gig despite obstensibly promoting Buzzcock's ninth studio album The Way was for the majority of audience, me included, an unashamed nostalgia fest.

Opening with the punk manifesto that is Boredom, released in January 1977 back when Howard Devoto was still in the band was a smart move. The cynical indifference of Devoto's lyric fits as a perfect counter to the energetic charge of the tune, and we're off, on a night of relentless and FUCKING LOUD punky rebel rousing. The guy behind the mixing desk seemed to find 11 with each slider almost from the first note, and left them there. This gave Diggle's nasal bark, thankfully only featured as lead vocal on a handful of songs a literally teeth-rattling quality, if "quality" is the right word. Painful it certainly was!

After that storming start, a shaky part of the set, starting with a ramshackle and a shall we say "rhythmically challenged" Automony was eventually corrected by a cracking Whatever Happened To?, and normal service was resumed. One of the songs from current album The Way sounded like Green Day, which when you think about it is doubly ironic!

Steve Diggle also gets to showcase his plank spanking abilities with a no doubt brief but in the context of the night, a seemingly long feedback drenched two note solo, possibly during Nothing Left, displaying the punk ethos that anyone can get up there and do it, to the nth degree. What he sorely lacks in technical ability he more than makes up for with over the top boyish enthusiasm, utterly at odds with his 60-year old frame. I'll bet he ached this morning!

Played in succession it becomes apparent how many of those great singles had singalong football terrace "whoa-ohs" in the choruses, which made for a great live atmosphere, and plenty of hoarse voices on the way home, no doubt. The encore ended with the last Devoto penned lyric, the acerbic wanking anthem Orgasm Addict, as far as I am aware one of only two hits in the history of the UK charts dedicated to the onanistic arts. The audience left...err...sated.

Set list:
Fast Cars
I Don't Mind
Fiction Romance
People Are Strange Machines
What Ever Happened To?
Why She's the Girl From the Chainstore
Sick City Sometimes
Moving Away From the Pulsebeat
Nothing Left
Noise Annoys
In the Back
It's Not You
You Say You Don't Love Me
Love You More
What Do I Get?

Harmony In My Head
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)
Orgasm Addict

Buzzcocks are:
Pete Shelley - Vocals, guitar
Steve Diggle - Guitar, vocals
Chris Remmington - Bass guitar
Danny Farrant - Drums

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Ángel Ontalva - Tierra Quemada

A mark of a good album is how much it resists being filed away in a neat little niche, and Tierra Quemada by Spanish guitarist Ángel Ontalva is defying my efforts in that direction very nicely indeed. You may know Ángel as the guitarist and leader of Spanish heavy eclectic prog band October Equus, but this album proves there is far more to this man than meets the ear on hearing his band's music, nicely angular and coruscating stuff as it may be. Indeed, anyone familiar with Ángel's work will know he likes to branch out.

Three consecutive releases show the highly varied and always interesting scope of Ángel's muse. 2012 saw the release of Mundo Flotante, his first solo album, and a thoroughly enjoyable and languid album it is, too. Then in 2013 we had two concurrent releases; Permafrost from October Equus, and its companion album Isla Purgatorio, which was something entirely different to the band's usual output and was released as October Equus Quartet, essentially the usual group minus Victor Rodriguez' keyboards, and coming over as if the Mel Collins' era live King Crimson had been a product of the 21st century rather than the early 1970s - a truly stunning album that deserved more than the scant attention it got at the time, for it is far more than an afterthought to Permafrost.

That brings us up to date, and Ángel's second solo album Tierra Quemada. Translating as "Scorched Earth", and utilising the rich talents of the rest of October Equus behind the keyboards, bass, and drums, plus additional musicians lending saxes, clarinets, cello, hurdy gurdy and duduk to the heady mix, this is an album that is full of musical flavour, and is anything but the kind of heavy blast you might expect from the title and indeed from his avant-rock band. For all that, Tierra Quemada is a fulsome and spicy work that will satisfy even the most jaded palate. Mention must also be made of the fine artwork in the booklet and inserts. Ángel is also a highly gifted graphic artist, another string to his rather full bow!

The music on this fine album is often laced with a more than a hint of Oriental zest, apparent from the first track onwards. Tarlaya Ektim Sogan marries an insistent rhythm with a snake charmer of an arrangement from the tightly knit ensemble. All the tunes are composed by Ángel, who knows how to evoke an Eastern atmosphere without cliché as the gorgeously liquid Ugetsu highlights. I have not heard anything this evocative of the mysterious East, be it Near or Far this side of Dennis Rea's spellbinding Views From Chicheng Precipice*.

Some great sax work weaves through the more insistent rhythms of El Telele, and a repetitive but nonetheless intriguing bass line of one sort or another is becoming a feature of the album. One exception is the plaintive melancholy of Bicycles were quite popular in the Forbidden City, which serves as a short, highly musical entrée for the climax of the album.

Fittingly enough, Tierra Quemada achieves an apogee of bliss with the final track. Cobra Trap is a sun-kissed delight of warm and sinuous themes coming to a natural climax, playing out on some marvellous fretwork from Ángel. Introduced with the cello, the guitar winds around until a calm but insistent bass line allows the ensemble the freedom to weave clarinet, saxophone and keyboard melodies on to its steady framework. Soon, Ángel teases with a few lines of molten gold as the tune is taken to the bridge with more fabulous reed work from Pablo Hernández. A great end to a contender for Album Of The Year in my tiny universe.

1. Tarlaya Ektim Sogan (4:38)
2. No return (7:09)
3. Tierra Quemada (3:59)
4. Ugetsu (6:56)
5. El Telele (3:47)
6. Comanche (3:40)
7. Bicycles were quite popular in the Forbidden City (2:31)
8. Cobra Trap (8:58)

Total running time - 41:44

Line up:
Ángel Ontalva - guitar, bass
Amanda Pazos Cosse - bass
Victor Rodriguez - keyboards, melodica
Pablo Hernández -alto & soprano saxes
Luiz Rocha - clarinets
Marc Egea - hurdy gurdy & duduk
Pablo Ortega - cello
Vasco Trilla - drums & percussions

Bandcamp - Tierra Quemada

Bandcamp - Isla Purgatorio (yes, you need this, too!)

octoberXart records 

* Dennis Rea is an outstanding American musician with a long connection to Chinese and Taiwanese music, and interviews, reviews, you name it, can be found on this blog by typing his name into the search box.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Baron - Torpor

With their previous album, the rather upstanding Columns, Brighton post-everything-rockers Baron described themselves as playing "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Psych Art-Rock", and now they have moved on, adding vegetables and Germanic ambience into the mix, becoming purveyors of "Neo-Monastic Byzantine Pastoral-Kraut-Drone-Lettuce-Rock". A nifty little pigeon with asymmetric eyes fits in that odd-shaped hole, I'm sure.

Based in Brighton and employing some big fish from the small but highly talented pool of musicians that you will find cropping up in other bands based in that fair city, such as Diagonal, and Autumn Chorus, both of whom may or may not be currently in stasis, Baron are led by singer and guitarist Alex Crispin. Alex has a distinctive baritone croon that paints his songs of mysticism and pastoralism in a melancholic hue, aided and abetted by his favoured guitar sound, reverbed and echoing, swirling round in the wide open spaces afforded by the airy mix.

"Torpor" is a state of physical and mental inactivity, or lethargy. The feeling one has occasionally when the weight of the world presses down and one's limbs seem to become immovable objects. The feeling transmitted by this record, for me at least, is one of a more contented state of immobile bliss than the dread implied in the album title. Carrying on from where Columns left off, the band's sound takes on a heavier tone when additional guitarist Joe Hollick from psych-folk troupe Wolf People stirs up the mix.

One of his two guest appearances is on the track Stry, which builds as a moss gathering stone rolling down a low incline, gathering momentum by increment to become a post-rock mash-up of irresistible power, but it is all done rather deftly, the climactic bludgeon riffola and guitar freak out will hit you as a hundred tonne feather.

The band carry on with their peculiarly filtered take on post-spacerock with Sleepless, swapping a peace pipe with The Blue Nile, early Felt (UK version) and The Chameleons and exchanging stories of cosmic derring-do. Baron have not entirely left behind their inkling for pastoral dreamscapes, as the lovely and elegiac Dark Down proves, but there is an over-arching psychedelic shamanism at work in these zeros and ones, one example being the hypnotic fire dance of Deeper Align with its call to ancient wonder made over a repetitive mantric guitar and drum groove.

Elsewhere, beyond blue skies stars are shaken while tiny flying insects hover jerkily in the eyeline dazzling bright autumnal sun to the gossamer Mark Maker, flittering away on a highly Florian Fricke-like organ groove. Psychedelic but nonetheless churchy organ chords call the faithful to prayer on the closing Albedo Dei, recalling both early Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh.

The quasi-religious atmosphere of that last track and indeed the whole album no doubt owes more than a nod to the fact that "parts of the album were surreptitiously (and not entirely legally) recorded at Purton Green, one of the last surviving medieval halls in the UK". This otherworldy imagined landscape is immediately apparent in opener Dragonfly, Alex intoning mournfully "Dragonfly over me" as the mystical tone of the album is apparent from the outset, laid before us with this highly charged psychedelic mantra, the swirling guitar and keyboard figure taking the song to an abrupt end.

Highly meditative as well as uplifting, this fine album is out on 6th November (see pre-order links below), and well worth investigating if you dig the modern psychedelic seam, baby!

1. Dragonfly (4:49)
2. Mark Maker (6:54)
3. Wild Cry (4:51)
4. Dark Down (3:25)
5. Stry (8:15)
6. Sleepless (7:05)
7. Deeper Align (6:52)
8. Albedo Dei (5:32)

Total running time - 45:45

Line up:
Alex Crispin - Guitar, Vocals, Synthesiser, Electric Piano on track 5
Peter Evans - Bass
Blue Firth - Organ, Recorder, Vocals
Luke Foster - Drums, Percussion, (Organ on ‘Dark Down’)

Joe Hollick - Electric Guitar on tracks 4 & 5, Acoustic Guitar on track 4



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