Posts Tagged ‘Music Reviews’

Music Review: Be Bold – Rosie Bans

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EP on release
Available as a free download from iTunes, Bandcamp, streaming on Spotify, or direct from Rosie Bans: http://www.rosiebans.com/

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

How coy that old phrase, ‘to tinkle the ivories’, sounds and how curiously uninvolved with their instrument it makes the player sound, inapposite to the extreme when it comes to the piano pop-punk music of singer-songwriter, Rosie Bans. Live was my first introduction and I was immediately bowled over by the passion, erudition, and power of her words and singing, music and playing, transfixed by the intimate interconnectedness of her and her piano. The keys seemingly rising to meet her touch, allowing her to seamlessly juxtapose and mix supposedly contradictory musical styles, to follow her through sonic experimentation, to allow her to pause in a moment of silence, but never to lose the audience’s captivation.

Coyness equally has no quarter, as its title attests, on her fourth EP, Be Bold. Each of the four tracks is a call to arms to not run scared and to not run out of hope. However much of the former and however little of the latter one might feel. Each of the four tracks also captivates me in just the same way as that first live show did. In my mind’s eye the surfable waves along the keyboard that her songs create achieve such a tidal surge that the keys break free from their bed, leave the speakers, and wrap themselves around me. Sometimes they are pale ivory fingers caressing, sometimes slapping, sometimes they are teeth grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, and occasionally they draw blood. For coyness has no quarter on Be Bold either in theme or medium.

Immediately reinforced by the EP’s opener, Arguments, which opens with the raw punchy power of Stooges-esque electric guitar, the stabbing chords reappearing throughout the track, mixed with jabbed keys, counterpoised with soft, dinner jazz piano, which adroitly highlight Bans’ two distinct vocal styles in the track, the two sides to an argument, the calm, moral high ground of one lighting the blue touch paper of the rasped other: “well I’m not tired, and I want to cry!”. Arguments (as is the EP as a whole), is a wonderful showcase for Bans’ bold and dramatic experimentation with fusing a variety of styles and syncopation in each of her songs. That these experiments prove so successful compound the fact that Be Bold is also a wonderful showcase for Bans’ supreme talent.

Rosie Bans photographed by Jamie Drew

Rosie Bans photographed by Jamie Drew

Arguments can end in repercussions and Arguments ends in a welter of feedback, but into that plays a beautiful melodious refrain. Hopefully a moment of calm after the storm, but also perhaps a whisper of Some Candy Talking of Bans’ Glaswegian musical forbears, The Jesus and Mary Chain. She was born in the city to a Scottish mother and Scottish/Indian father and was encouraged in music from an early age. She has, she says, been guided by “an army of strong female figures […] throughout her teenage and young adult life”, and specifically cites Stevie Nicks and Gloria Gaynor as having influenced her vocally, and Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer, and Tori Amos as her song-writing influences.

Having cast off into that swirl of influences, it’s beyond temptation to say that the EP’s second track, Make Believe, has a wonderful feel of Carole King about it, and intertwined echoes of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind and Alicia Keyes’ (/Jay Z’s) Empire State of Mind. But Make Believe is pure and simple – and clever and fabulous come to that – Rosie Bans! In that the phenomenally catchy, whistle all through the working day, tune both belies the lyrics and also characterises the façade they portray in relating a relationship that may look perfect on the surface, but is bereft below it: “So go on, paint me a picture, tell me a story, make believe, make believe, that there’s a you and me”. State of the union state of mind.

The phenomenally affecting third track, Bold Light, projects the childhood nursery rhyme fear of losing one’s way home into the terrifying reality of losing one’s sense of home, of having that sense beaten and broken out of one. Rhythmically, especially the chorus, the song has a feel of playground skipping chant, and there is a childlike facet musically, as though parts are played on a toy piano, which heighten the lyrical power – as does the soft vulnerability of Bans’ singing – which is far removed from the games of children. “I took as much as I could take,” sings Bans, and later, “you pushed too hard on my heart”. The ‘games’, such as they are lyrically expressed, are far more akin to Master and Servant, and fittingly in both the song’s rhythm and the other musical component of extraterrestrial chimes there are intriguing echoes of Depeche Mode.

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Those extraterrestrial chimes serve the song wonderfully well, aiding and abetting its effectiveness and affectivity, highlighting both the narrator’s feeling of being completely adrift from the world and also her celestial entreaty to be shown a direction home.

Home is also at the heart of the closing track on Be Bold, Westbound Ghosts. But where Bold Light is journeying in search of a home, Westbound Ghosts is the clearer emotional understanding of what home means to one that one often gains whilst travelling. Not least whilst travelling on trains (and not least whilst travelling on trains between London and Scotland, or vice versa), as one’s thoughts unfold across the passing landscapes and then flood back to one as inspiration, answers, new plans, or just a sense of calm or a refreshed sense of purpose. But being Bans there is a wonderful Noirish twist to this tale, in that the song’s narrator’s sense of home is only fixed as long as she is on the fixed railway lines of the East Coast… it might all change if she went back to the West Coast, or if she paid heed to the other female voice in the song – be that mother, sister, friend, or, indeed, another side of herself.

One thing about being bold is that once one begins one shouldn’t falter, and the wonderful thing about Be Bold is that it never falters – each of its four tracks is exceptional. I don’t know whether it takes boldness to download a free download of such excellent songs, but if it does then I urge you to be bold, because you will be well and truly bowled over by Be Bold.

ROSIE BANS LIVE DATES:

FAMOUS TIMES LIVE

ROSIE BANS, MIKE NISBET (click here to read P-TCP’s review of Mike Nisbet’s album, Vagrant), and GUY SANGSTER ADAMS will all be performing at Famous Times Live on 4th May 2014.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/famoustimeslive?ref=br_tf

WORKING OUT OF TOWN TOUR

ROSIE BANS alongside MIKE NISBET and ANNA MacDONALD will be playing live across the UK during May and June 2014 on their Working out of Town tour.
For more information: http://www.rosiebans.com/

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Music Review: Vagrant – Mike Nisbet

mike-nisbet-vagrant-album-cover-for-p-tcp-review

Album on release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

A few tracks in I suddenly realised I had been holding my breath on my first listen to Mike Nisbet’s debut album, Vagrant. Holding my breath, hoping against hope, that as each song played and I liked it as much and more than the previous one that every song on the album would be a winner. And that is how it was, and how it is. But also, having allowed myself to breathe somewhere around track three, at the end of that first listen I found that the album as a whole has a wonderfully transcendent quality. Listening to Vagrant in its entirety I felt as though I had travelled widely with the songs, seen people and places that had changed my mind and my mood, but returned to where I was sitting feeling far calmer, more relaxed, and hopeful.

Travelling allied to a sense of rootlessness, as the title suggests, is central to Vagrant as Nisbet wrote the album’s ten tracks having spent a peripatetic year living between London and Glasgow. Vagrant was then recorded in Glasgow’s Diving Bell Lounge by Marcus Mackay (whose credits also include Snow Patrol, Frightened Rabbit, Sparrow & the Workshop). The songs draw influence not only from his experiences and emotions on the road between the two cities, but also from the traditional folk music of both Scotland and England, and further afield from Americana. His intention for the sound and feel of the album was that it should be intimate, “one man playing directly to the listener” utilizing primarily simple acoustic guitar and percussion.

Intriguingly given the above the word that continually comes to mind when listening to Vagrant is, majestic. In no small part this is due to the fantastic sonority of Nisbet’s voice. It is imbued with his Caledonian heritage – he was born in the town of Oban to the north west of Glasgow – fused with both the steel of Clydebuilt and the drama and rich hues of the Highlands. Whilst also being etched with the hardness of the road, but suffused with the wisdom that hope is still alive around every corner. It’s a voice of history that belies the fact that Nisbet is in his twenties. It’s a voice that one wants to travel with.

Mike Nisbet

Mike Nisbet

This majesty is very much to the fore on my favourite song on Vagrant (favourite amongst favourites), Snow Me In. This epic song, which even though knowing it to be a new song one feels sure must be a standard as soon as one hears it, is the only track on the album to feature Nisbet on piano rather than guitar. A beautiful maelstrom it evokes and holds its own vocally, musically and atmospherically with Elvis’ In the Ghetto, and Nick Cave’s Into My Arms and He Wants You.

Other echoes that come to mind whilst listening to Vagrant are Nick Drake, particularly the album, Five Leaves Left, John Martyn’s album, Solid Air, and Tim Hardin. Other reviewers have made references to Bob Dylan. For me, listening to Vagrant, interestingly if I was put in mind of Dylan at all it was of Time Out Of Mind. Interestingly because that was Dylan’s 30th studio album and he was 56 when he recorded it. Over twice the age Nisbet was when he recorded Vagrant, which perhaps compounds Nisbet’s seemingly inherent time out of mind-ness that runs counter to his age. As a sidebar there is another link as Time Out Of Mind featured Dylan’s 16-minute paean to Scotland, Highlands.

But really the beauty of Vagrant is that it stands alone and is a very good album in its own right. It is passionate, poetical, and compelling, with a travelling, or sometimes, tidal rhythm that propels one from track to track. Rather like the train window reverie that happens on a long journey that takes one at speed both through industrial cities and the most beautiful rural landscapes influencing the thoughts that occur and alight, Vagrant is a glorious soundtrack of both memory and dreams, of loves lost and loves still to come, of melancholy but also of hope. A hope, that is like the never quite darkening glow in the sky to the north of Glasgow’s streets. It is the possibility of the journey, that one doesn’t arrive exactly the same as one sets out. Even if far from home, or looking for a place to call home, after listening to Vagrant one is ready to face the road again, or if listening en route to keep going forward.

Mustered 8 flyer

MIKE NISBET will be playing live, including songs from Vagrant, at Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.8: From Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe on Thursday 26th September 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Links
Mike Nisbet:
http://mikenisbet.com/

Mike Nisbet is playing live dates across the UK during October 2013. Please check his website for details

Buy Vagrant from:
http://mikenisbet.bandcamp.com/

Music Review: In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility – Scant Regard

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Album on release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

From a 1950s teenage Americana of high school hell cats, jet propelled hot rods, a rumble on the docks and riding the wild surf, to the men with no name in the Wild West of the late 1800s re-envisaged through filmic Italian eyes in the 1960s. From the impeccably elegant and achingly sexy Spy-fi representation of 1960s London, to a Brutalist trip to Newcastle with Michael Caine in the early 1970s, and onwards to the late 1970s/early 1980s and an electronica rendezvous in the industrial German city of Düsseldorf, before a train ride back across Europe to an England popping with a newly synthesised sound. With Scant Regard’s second album, In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility, with a slide along the fretboard of his Teisco guitar, one embarks on an highly evocative, time-travelling journey through a collage of genres, an inspiring and exhilarating fusion that melds flash-backs with the present moment, to create a perfect resonance for today.

Scant Regard is the alias and solo project of Will Crewdson, the London-based guitarist, writer, and producer, and the success of the hybrid Scant Regard sound, which he terms Spaghettilectro, is a testament to his explicit talents in all three of those creative disciplines. His stated intent for Spaghettilectro is that it “strives to fuse raw electronic beats and moods with the smooth, soaring sounds of [Ennio] Morricone’s biting guitar-scapes” which is then mixed up with “a little Link Wray style rock ‘n’ roll swagger”.

This is certainly carried into In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility’s opening track, and as such, perhaps, its statement of intent come cri de guerre, I Make no Bones. Which starts with an impelling rhythm of crackling, running boots feedback, dissolved by a swirling Link Wray riff, this is a street fighting track, punchy beats, fingernail string slides that sound like knives being sharpened, and power chord stabs. It brilliantly reinvents and transports the spirit of Wray’s highly influential 1958 track, Rumble (on which he first showcased his distortion and feedback techniques and which is cited as being the first track to use the power chord), to the metropolitan streets of the 2010s.

Scant Regard photographed by Helene Monitcone

Scant Regard photographed by Helene Monitcone

This is followed by Scant Regard’s fantastic, epic, VistaVision, cover version of Kraftwerk’s 1978/1981 single, The Model, which also, in its smoky down strokes and impelling locomotive rhythms, has echoes of Kraftwerk’s earlier single, Trans Europe Express. Coupled to which, Scant Regard has met Iggy Pop and David Bowie in the dining-car and returns a little Lust for Life and glances from Station to Station with flair and affection.

Intriguingly his cover is far less voyeuristic than the Kraftwerk original. The subject has turned the tables, and is far more of a femme fatale; from the glowering, pouting, intro, through the Spaghettilectro riffs, this is a soundtrack chosen by the model herself; rather than, “she’s a model and she’s looking good”, if Scant Regard’s instrumental had lyrics they would be, “I’m a model and I’m looking good”. Adding further layers to the story, there are also in the plaintive glissandi and the tremolo sustains echoes of Roy Budd’s theme tune to the 1971 British gangster film, Get Carter, directed by Mike Hodges and starring Michael Caine. This model has a backstory that for your own safety it may be a good idea not to delve to deeply into.

With the second cover version on the album, The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, Scant Regard also pulls off the very difficult feat of bringing brilliant new layers to a track that not only already had a great original but also a very successful cover version by Grace Jones. His wonderful reimagining of the song brings it very much into the modern moment, with the lyrics, which were based on JG Ballard’s controversial novel, Crash, about symphorophilia / car-crash sexual fetishism, seemingly intoned by an increasingly demented and aroused sat nav, as the track builds faster and faster through spiralling guitar and mesmerising beats, before ending abruptly in oblivion.

Scant Regard photographed by Dylan Schwarz

Scant Regard photographed by Dylan Schwarz

Alongside these tracks, for me the other particularly stand out song on the album is the wonderful Misguided Missile, which whatever the intended target of its title very much hits the mark. It’s as though Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missile F1-11 has collided with The Tornado’s Telestar knocking it into an alternative orbit, or perhaps sending it on a slow fall to earth with a message of satellite love from the stars. The track tilts its hat to Joe Meek, and also carries the continuing echoes of Roy Budd’s Get Carter theme, and adds some Spy-fi elegance and thrills with a hint of Laurie Johnson’s theme to The Avengers television series. Throughout Misguided Missile Scant Regard skilfully manipulates a palette of emotions and tells a compelling short story in a variety of riffs, beats, and atmospherics.

This is true of the album as a whole. Although predominantly instrumentals, such is the richness of Scant Regard’s musical storytelling, and so myriad are the images and emotions that fill one’s head and one’s heart whilst listening to the album, that it’s a shock to realise that these fantastic short stories have been told without words. Upon listening to it you may well find that it already is, but I urge you to make In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility the soundtrack to your life.


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SCANT REGARD aka WILL CREWDSON will be playing a special set of Spaghettilectro, including songs from his new album, In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility, at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.7: ‘Hubcap Diamond Star Halo’ on Thursday 27th June 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.
For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Scant Regard: http://www.scantregard.com

Music review: Not a dry eye in London – Alexander’s Festival Hall

not-a-dry-eye-in-london-alexanders-festival-hall-cover-website
(Melodical Trax) Album on release


Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

One moment a green olive being seductively swirled around a perfectly mixed Martini, the next a revolving mirror ball lighting up the eyes of George Gershwin and Noël Coward in a louche 1920s nightclub, before spinning faster and faster through the decades to the bright lights of a late-1970s discothèque, the packed dance floor pulsating to Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s I Feel Love. Not a dry eye in London, the debut album by Alexander’s Festival Hall, carries one into an entrancing and enchanting swirl around shifting orbits that then, almost implausibly but always immaculately, coalesce.

That this is so successful pays tribute to the many talents of Alexander Mayor, whose brainchild AFH is, as a singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer. Mayor first came to prominence in the late 90s/early 00s as a member of electronic/synth pop trio, Baxendale, who were signed to the Cologne-based electronic and techno label, Kompakt. The German city continues to inspire Mayor’s work as the sound of Cologne’s nightclubs is another of Not a dry eye in London’s layers of influence.

The London life that the twelve tracks on the album celebrates is one that begins afresh each night as the theatre curtain rises full of hope for all that might unfold in the hours ahead, both onstage and backstage, across subterranean dance floors or atop moonlit rooftops, with chance meetings, surprising discoveries, and the possibilities that remain for as long as the clubs and bars are open and the music is still playing… but as dawn breaks, as Mayor sings on I don’t want to get crazy every night, which tells of being left heartbroken and alone when the house lights go on, ‘with morning dew they’re serving the sweetest tears of the town’.

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Mayor has such a poetic lyrical talent that without music all the songs on the album would make wonderful poems, but that would only give half the story, because many of the tracks are lyrically poignant, but are juxtaposed with music to dance to, or the catchiest uplifting melody, which creates a fascinating and very pleasing bitter-sweetness – an heartache one can dance to! Equally the songs are shot through with brilliantly observed wit and humour, not least in the fantastic first single from the album, the alternative paen to love, Upturned, and, I’m gonna get married, which features Piney Gir whose third album, The Yearling, Mayor produced.

I’m gonna get married is an electro-cowboy ballad, a conjunction that is highly evocative in its own right, but in the often wonderfully fantastical setting of Mayor’s dusk till dawn London, for me, with its very English clipped vocals counterpointed by Western rhythms, the song’s juxtapositions conjure up an image of a fully booted, fringed, and Stetson’d cowboy on horseback suddenly emerging out of the sunlight at daybreak on Rotten Row, in London’s Hyde Park, leading the Household Cavalry on their daily canter, and the early morning joggers witnessing the scene not batting an eyelid. By which I mean that although Mayor has mixed and mashed a myriad of styles and inspirations on Not a dry eye in London that one would never have imagined working so well together,  they do, seamlessly, inspiringly, and excitingly so!

ALEXANDER’S FESTIVAL HALL will be playing a special acoustic set of songs from Not a dry eye in London at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.5 on Thursday 25th April 2012 from 7.30pm in the upstairs acoustic room at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1. For more details: www.theculturalpick.com/events


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New Music Preview: Deadcuts – Nina Antonia celebrates the “perilous poetry and haunting riffs, feral mysticism and deadbeat glamour” of one of 2012’s most exciting new bands

Deadcuts' Jerome Alexandre and Mark Keds

Deadcuts' Jerome Alexandre and Mark Keds

by Nina Antonia

At the crux of myth and fact, there is Deadcuts, featuring Mark Keds (guitar/vocals), Jerome Alexandre (guitar/vocals), Joni Belaruski (drums), Mark McCarthy (bass). Formed on the first full moon of 2012, Deadcuts are the new treason; a fresh palette from a weary metropolis. Following sold out shows at London’s Signal Gallery and the Macbeth, Deadcuts’ Mark Keds and Jerome Alexandre are playing as a duet for a one-off appearance at the Plectrum-The Cultural Pick Live Edition: Love in Peril, at The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1 on Thursday, 10th May 2012.

Comprising perilous poetry and haunting riffs, Deadcuts encapsulate a feral mysticism and deadbeat glamour. From the Senseless Things to Jolt, the wraith like Keds has exerted an influence on the English music scene for more than a decade. He is the silent voice on the Libertines eponymously titled second album, having co-written, Can’t Stand Me Now, and can affect the tide of modish change with a lyric and a line-up as the mood takes him. Deadcuts guitarist Jerome Alexandre cut his teeth with The Skuzzies, whose debut, self-titled CD garnered praise in Classic Rock, Art Rocker, and Vive Le Rock. More recently, he appeared in Richard Wolsencroft’s film, The Second Coming, with co-collaborator, Peter Doherty. They are sepia and nightfall, a scalding declaration of intent, the spectres come to take the crown.

Nina Antonia’s first book, Johnny Thunders – In Cold Blood (Cherry Red Books), has now been in print for 24 years, gaining cult status with each decade. During the writing of the book between 1982 and 1987 Nina became good friends with Thunders when he spent time in London. When it was updated in 2000, the NME hailed it as, ‘a gorgeously sordid biography’. The book marked the beginning of an off-kilter journey that has transcended the boundaries of rock journalism culminating in a collection of outsider literature, including her equally acclaimed biographies of The New York Dolls (Omnibus), Peter Perrett (SAF), and her glam memoir, The Prettiest Star (SAF). She is currently working on her new book, Jeunesse Brulee,  which features an introduction by Peter Doherty.

PLECTRUM-THE CULTURAL PICK LIVE EDITION: LOVE IN PERIL
DEADCUTS’ MARK KEDS and JEROME ALEXANDRE are playing a special electro-acoustic set at the P-TCP Live Edition: Love in Peril, which also features literary rock ‘n’ roll with NINA ANTONIA, who will be ‘in conversation’ with the editor of P-TCP, GUY SANGSTER ADAMS, and telling electric guitar accompanied doomed love stories of the jeunesse brulee (burned youth) of the 1960s/1970s. Plus screenings of two short films in which love takes its chances on the streets of London, CROSSFIRE  (Ed Edwards, 2011, 9 mins), which was filmed on location amidst the civil unrest on the streets of central London in 2011, and will be introduced by the film’s producer, SAM EDWARDS, and THE ROCKING HORSE (James Scott, 1962, 25 mins), screening by arrangement with the BFI, filmed on location on the streets of London’s Soho and West End in 1959-1960.

P-TCP Live Edition: Love in Peril, Thursday 10th May, at The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1. Doors open 7.30pm.
Advance tickets: £5/£4 (concs): http://www.wegottickets.com/event/165600
On the door: £7/£6 (concs)
Full details: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Music review: A Guided Tour of Madness – Madness

grid box:Layout 1(Salvo) 3CD & 1 DVD box set anthology
On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Through a rainy and misty dusk on London’s Westminster Bridge, the lamplight reflecting on the tarmac between the cars, black cabs, and Routemaster buses, the unmistakeable silhouette of the Houses of Parliament looms majestically over the traffic. It might be the past, the present, or times still to come, but it is unmistakeably and evocatively London, whether viewed from the city’s streets or internationally. Over this image on the back cover of the 72 page booklet accompanying this excellent Madness anthology floats the track listing spanning 30 years and beyond…

All aboard for a guided tour of Madness across three CDs and one DVD, 94 tracks, including singles, from 1979’s The Prince/Madness to 2011’s Le Grand Pantalon (released on CD for the first time), favourite tracks from their nine studio albums, from 1979’s One Step Beyond… to 2009’s The Liberty of Norton Folgate, and the first DVD release of the band’s performance at their inaugural Madstock festival in London’s Finsbury Park in 1992.

Madness One Step Beyond (c)Cameron McVey

Madness One Step Beyond ©Cameron McVey

To accompany this journey the back cover of the booklet unfolds through fantastic 1940s/50s Boys Own style illustrations of derring-do and suspicious goings-on in and around the capital’s bombed out streets and docks to reveal a ‘Sightseers’ Map of Madness’ with locations of import to the band highlighted by a pointing finger and a red dot. Although ostensibly ‘Madworld’, it is explained, is located within “a short stroll from Camden Town”, over the last three decades Madness have become a cipher for the capital as whole.

“We are London…” is the announcement with which the map’s legend begins, which is exactly who Madness are, unmistakably, evocatively and majestically. Listening to the tracks chosen for this anthology, none of which have been diminished by the passing years, it is clear that like the silhouette of the Houses of Parliament, Madness now instantly encapsulate London historical, London contemporary, London timeless. But although the majority of the songs may be London rooted, such is the strength of the songwriting, the storytelling, the shared experience of characters and situations, and the accessibility and irresistible panache of their presentation that they are and have become universal.

Madness ©Michael Putland/Getty Images

Madness ©Michael Putland/Getty Images

The joy of A Guided Tour of Madness is that one can plot one’s own route through the anthology: take the complete, chronological journey from start to finish, start in the era of the band’s work with which one is most familiar or indeed unfamiliar, or hop on and off along the way and see what one discovers. Either way it’s accompanied by a rush of emotions. With so many landmark songs and a career spanning so many years, the words and music are entwined, consciously or unconsciously, with so many stages in one’s own life instantly evoking, with a welter of back of the neck tingles, associations with people and places.

But their power is not purely nostalgic, in listening to the earlier songs again, in many instances for me they appear to have gained extra layers of resonance in the intervening years that I had been oblivious to before. A primary example being Michael Caine, which I realised I had rather dismissed at the time as being more of a ‘novelty’ song, but have completely rediscovered it now in all its perfectly paced and placed sonic and lyrical splendour. Madness’s acute talent for combining the seemingly contradictory elements of humour and poignancy, melancholy and joie de vivre, the wonderfully observed day-to-day with an equally insightfully created surreality, are all to the fore in the song which, depending on your point of view, could be the simple love of a fan for a star, or a far more sinister stalking confession, a cautionary tale of a celebrity being consumed by his public persona, the lost script of a Harry Palmer film… or all those at the same time and more!

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The enduring strength of the songs allied to the degree to which they have entered the vernacular was underlined last year by the reworking of two tracks for television advertisements. Virgin Media’s campaign, More Exciting Place to Live, used the lyrics of Our House narrated over the music of Dan Black’s HYPNTZ, whilst as part of Kronenbourg 1664’s Slow the Pace advertising campaign, Madness themselves rearranged Baggy Trousers, slowing the song right down to create the highly reflective and Francophile, Le Grand Pantalon. The track closes the anthology’s chronological journey in wonderfully surreal style, as though the life of Madness has been reimagined by Amelie director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, raising a glass of cognac and, as the repeated vocal refrain of Le Grand Pantalon has it, “baggy trousers to the days/To the days/To the days…”

A glass of cognac, and indeed any baggy trousers, should also be raised to Salvo because A Guided Tour of Madness continues their fantastic catalogue of box sets, put together with fantastic and celebratory creativity, insight, and passion. Each part of the concept for the Madness anthology works wonderfully well from the track selection, to the booklet which also includes an essay by Paul Morley, new interviews with the band and key personnel, and a reproduction of the first issue of the Nutty Boys Comic (1981), to the overall look and feel of the packaging… a wonderful celebration of the days: past, present, and still to come.

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Madness:
blog.madness.co.uk
www.myspace.com/madnessofficial

Salvo: www.salvo-music.co.uk
Union Square: www.unionsquaremusic.co.uk

Single review: Dirty Lakes – Let’s Buy Happiness

dirty-lakes-lets-buy-happiness-cover

(Ghost Arc Records) On release
Reviewed by Dave Collins

Warmed only by a Motown backbeat and some woolly fuzzed-up guitar Dirty Lakes, the latest transmission from Tynesiders Let’s Buy Happiness is fitted around the neat, clean lines of a Scandinavian design school with a hand-stitched folk-art finish. It’s entirely the style of a midnight lullaby that’s a ready-to-run storyboard for an animated Eastern European short film. The delicately textured ghostly guitar washes from James Hall/Graeme Martin and Sarah Hall’s pixie-voiced skipping gives Dirty Lakes the close-mic’d intimacy of a fireside confessional from Kate Bush’s pen pal.
lets-buy-happiness1

Links
Let’s Buy Happiness:  letsbuyhappiness.com

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Single review: Turn 2 Dust – Boy George

turn 2 dust boy george

(Decode) On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

The revolving opening rhythms that draw one into the ‘original mix’ of the highly atmospheric Turn 2 Dust suggest a police helicopter hovering above city streets; the sound of spinning rotor blades overhead make one wary on even the most familiar streets, bring an edginess to the happiest evening out, as all too often one can only hear the sound, and see neither the helicopter, nor what it can see, perhaps just around the next corner.

Emotionally and politically charged, Turn 2 Dust, which has now been released in a nine track remix package (including mixes by David Jones, Bootik, and a great ‘lovebox’ mix by Kris de Angelis and Sam H), is the second single from Ordinary Alien – The Kinky Roland Files, Boy George’s first artist album in nine years, on which it is the opening and particularly stand out track. Beginning with the homophobic pejorative, “Chi Chi man everywhere you turn”, the song is an exhortation to remain strong and proud in the face of growing intolerance and hate crimes directed not only towards gay men and women, but towards anyone who is different, or stands out from the crowd.

Within weeks of Turn 2 Dust’s first appearance, with the release of Ordinary Alien in March, the song’s message was brought even closer to home for Boy George, after one of his oldest friends, Philip Sallon, the always flamboyantly dressed, 59 year old, gay socialite and club host, who founded the Mud Club in the 1980s, was left unconscious, with a fractured skull, and many broken bones, after being attacked in London’s Soho; streets with which he is very familiar and on which he has been a familiar figure for over 40 years. Speaking after the attack, for which no one has yet been arrested, Boy George said, “It’s hard to say and you don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it must have been something to do with the way he looked.”

Listening to Turn 2 Dust on the back of August’s riots in London and other English cities, watching footage, much shot from helicopters overhead, of violence and flames, familiar streets made unfamiliar in an instant, brings another layer to the song.

Portentous and powerful, lyrically and musically Turn 2 Dust is an highly evocative collage of urban life: edgy dance beats give way to the sweet release of floating melodies, one both relaxes into the moment and stays watchful, not knowing what might be around the next corner, pleasure and pain are co-existent on these city streets. Turn 2 Dust is a great return for Boy George, that both channels resonances of all that has gone before, whist also resolutely setting off in a fascinating new direction.

We would all be the poorer if everyone was the same. Long may he continue to celebrate difference.

Links:
Boy George: www.boygeorgeuk.com
Decode Records: mn2s.com

Further reading:
Recent music reviews in Plectrum – The Cultural Pick
Miracle Worker – Superheavy (Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, A.R. Rahman)
Elephant Room – Channel Cairo
Different Story – Wolfette

Or click on the tag Music Reviews to browse all the music reviews in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

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Single review: Miracle Worker – Superheavy (Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, A.R. Rahman)

superheavy-miracle-cover

super-heavy

(Universal Music) On release

Reviewed by Dave Collins

How do fidgety rock stars busy themselves during their downtime? By forming a supergroup with similarly loose-ended friends. SuperHeavy is a tag-team which at its heaviest-hitting end stars Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart and Joss Stone. Buffed up with international swish from Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman (composer of the Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours soundtracks).

It’s a collective whose debut single dips a toe into the shallows of extra strength reggae. The ‘extra’ being soul vocals with rock guitar. However – music that may pump with muscular dub ‘n’ thump during a high end studio playback, can, on standard issue home audio sound, well, overcooked and/or sterile.

Certainly there’s enough ‘song’ and substance buried under the gloss, but an over polished production positions Miracle Worker at the wrong end of the reggae spectrum, leaving the backing track uncomfortably close to the white bread dynamics of UB40.

The irony here is SuperHeavy aren’t actually heavy enough. The single lacks the thick rhythmic fug and touches of Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One output or some dubbier dynamics. Hinting-at, but never quite hitting the genre’s heady textures.

As a song it’s a fine enough piece of pop built on a solid body of workable raw material and nippy top lines. As a production it’s in need of a snappier remix. To these ears, SuperHeavy should tighten up the loose Lovers Rock grooves and let Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry loose on the tune to wing in some vintage grit, shuffle and skank.

Dave Collins is editor of Planet Mondo and a regular contributor to Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

Links:
Superheavy: www.superheavy.com
Planet Mondo: planetmondo.blogspot.com
Universal Music: www.universalmusic.com

Further reading
Recent music reviews in Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:
Turn 2 Dust – Boy George
Elephant Room – Channel Cairo
Different Story – Wolfette

Or click on the tag Music Reviews to browse all the music reviews in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

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Single Review: Elephant Room – Channel Cairo

elephant room channel cairo cover

(Laissez Faire Club Records) Released 29th August 2011

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Opening floatingly with a piano like sunlight crested waves, and harmonies that gently build the swell, the debut single by Channel Cairo, Elephant Room, quickly becomes a bracing walk along the beach of a seaside town, as layers of fascinating and atmospheric refrains, vocals, piano, guitars, and rhythms, fleetingly and enticingly reach one on the ebb and flow. Or perhaps the allusion is to AM radio waves and the fluctuations of reception and interference, creating a sonic collage. Either way, as all the disparate threads evocatively coalesce with complete and rousing clarity for the song’s epic, climactic crescendo, one is already hooked and on the strength of this refreshingly original single determined to stay tuned to Channel Cairo.

The intriguing multi-layering also extends to the band’s name and, in its evocative combination of kidnapping and hieroglyphs, brings an extra suggestion of a thriller or film noir title. Cairo is a city that has haunted lead singer and keyboard player, Josh Bowyer, since he was kidnapped there, albeit very briefly, at the age of nine. But it was only when he put together the band with old friends Hamish Murtagh (guitar), Joe Cross (bass), James Gardiner (drums), that he discovered that Gardiner’s great, great grandfather was the preeminent early – mid twentieth century Egyptologist, Sir Alan Gardiner, who in 1927 published the important work, Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs. Whilst ‘channel’ is a reference to the Anglo-French line-up of the band, as a few weeks after the old friends got together they met a French guitarist, Luke Saunders, at an open-mic night and asked him to join the line-up.

The cover of the single includes the imprint of a letter written by Howard Carter to Sir Alan Gardiner, discussing the former’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. But don’t wait for the sands of time to settle before you unearth Channel Cairo… discover them now with this excellent debut single.

Links:
Channel Cairo:  www.channelcairo.com

Laissez Faire Club Records: laissezfaireclub.com

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Single Review: Different Story – Wolfette

wolfette-different-story-cover-3

(Lavaland Records) Released 1st August 2011

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Sublime pop from the equally stunning singer-songwriter, Wolfette, and her co-writer and producer, the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist, Gisli Kristjansson, who together have cleverly and triumphantly melded a reimagined Hi-NRG, by way of ZTT’s take on electronica, with 1990s alt rock – Shoegaze, Britpop, and something altogether darker and heavier – to create an immediate, swirlingly anthemic song, which is perfect for the now, and to which resistance would not only be foolhardy, but most probably futile.

Different Story tells of impasse in a relationship on the verge of rupture and the spirited eleventh hour refusal to forget the love that first brought the couple together, or to forgo hope for reconciliation and passion reiginition. Wolfette’s wonderful vocals evocatively colour the light and dark, from the breathy, brightest of bright choruses, to the more sinister, stiletto sharp, edginess of the bridge. All of which adds to the very welcome stylistic echoes which imbue Different Story, from Kim Wilde’s Kids in America, to Lush’s Single Girl, and shades of Shirley Manson and Debbie Harry, intriguingly bringing to mind two Blondie tracks from opposite ends of their discography, One Way or Another and Maria.

Lyrically and musically Different Story urges, infectiously so as it transpires, to dance all over deadlock, and in so doing embrace hope and the promise of brighter things to come. Different Story also highlights the promise of a bright future with which Wolfette abounds, whilst also providing a fantastic, hope inspiring moment to enjoy right now!

Link
Wolfette:
www.myspace.com/wolfettemusic
www.facebook.com/wolfettemusic
twitter.com/wolfettemusic

Gisli Kristjansson:
www.gislikristjansson.com

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EP Review: Field to City – Ben Clarke

ben-clarke-field-to-city-cover-photograph-by-sarah-thompson

Four track EP: Until You Come Calling/Your Reasons Have Escaped Me/The Longing/Change Your Story
Revtone Records
Available from iTunes

By Guy Sangster Adams

Ben Clarke’s debut solo EP is an absolute pleasure. Its sunlit, ethereally melodic pastoralism interwoven with the irrepressibility of urbanist swagger and momentum is equally evocative of the sheer breadth of experience, inspiration, and excitement of Clarke’s progression over the last six years from, as the title has it, Field to City.

After growing up surrounded by endless fields and infinite skies deep in the countryside of England’s second largest county, Lincolnshire (a particularly rural county in which the land is predominantly given over to agricultural use), in 2005 aged just 17 – having left school at 16 to pursue a musical career – Clarke co-founded the band, Littl’ans, with Andrew Aveling.

Within months of forming they were not only the main support act on Babyshambles’ sold out tour, but had also released their debut single, Their Way, featuring Pete Doherty. The single reached number 2 in the UK Indie charts, and by the end of the year Littl’ans were headlining their own Club NME tour. The following year they collaborated with French fashion designer, Hedi Slimane, to provide the soundtrack for the Dior Homme Spring/Summer 2007 catwalk show. Their debut album, Primitive World, which had been recorded in New York, was released in 2008 and their tour dates took them around the world, and included playing 2009’s South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, USA. But late in 2009 Clarke left the band to concentrate on his own material.

Ben Clarke photographed by Sarah Thompson

Ben Clarke photographed by Sarah Thompson ((Gig Junkie: gigjunkie.co.uk)

The first released fruits of which are the four tracks on Field to City, which were once again recorded in New York. Perhaps unsurprisingly as Clarke was the drummer in Littl’ans, the rhythm section is very much to the fore in each of the tracks which, as alluded to above, creates a fantastically charged upbeat inner city rock contrasting to great effect with the more bucolic or folky elements of the mix. This brings a welcome suggestion of both The Kinks and Love. Indeed, Clarke’s vocals and harmonies which by turns are wistfully reflective or soaring to meet the swallows flying high above, have shades of Ray Davies and Arthur Lee, and throughout Field to City there is, carried in the light summer breeze across from Lincolnshire’s neighbouring county, Cambridgeshire, a note of Syd Barrett.

In addition to singing all the vocals and backing vocals on the EP, Clarke also proves himself to be a talented multi-instrumentalist, playing not only the drums on all the tracks but also the rhythm guitar, tambourine, and cabasa. Whilst Ian Everall from The Albertans plays bass guitar on all the tracks, Federico Zinelli lead guitar, and David Brandwein, who was also the record’s recording engineer, plays an extraordinary sounding 1960s Haggstrom Futurama guitar on the EP’s closing, and far heavier sounding track, Change Your Story. The particularity of the guitar sound was added to, as Clarke recounts, by Brandwein, “putting it through an old battered 15 watt Fender amplifier”.

Ben Clarke playing live at the Plectrum Live Editon: Brit Bitz December 2010, photographed by Emma Jane Clarke

Ben Clarke playing at the Plectrum Live Editon: Brit Bitz December 2010, photographed by Emma Jane Clarke

For me, all of the elements come together most strongly on the second track, Your Reasons Have Escaped Me, which though implicitly of the now, would sit wonderfully well as a contemporary reworking of Forever Changes period Love, but that is not to take away from the other three tracks on Field to City. Taken as a joyous whole it is the richest colours even on the greyest day, a captivating smile from a passer-by which melts the concrete and steel of a city street and uplifts even the most jaded soul.

Links
Ben Clarke:
Field to City EP on iTunes

Ben Clarke Myspace

Ben Clarke Facebook

Ben Clarke Twitter

Sarah Thompson/Gig Junkie

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FURTHER READING
Music reviews in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:

Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) – The Wolfmen/ The Corridor – Youri Blow/ One Born Every Minute – Roses Kings Castles/ War is Noise – Jaakko & Jay / Beachcomber’s Windowsill – Stornoway/ Sisterworld – Liars/ Nintendo EP & Love Is Not Rescue – Chris T-T/ Sometime Around MidnightThe Airborne Toxic Event/ Jackie, Is It My Birthday? – The Wolfmen feat. Sinéad O’Connor / Poetry of the Deed –  Frank Turner/ The Cost of Living – The Tunics/ Reasons Not To Be An Idiot – Frank TurnerSingles – The Long Blondes/ Echo & The Bunnymen at the Roundhouse, London, 15th October 2009

Single Review: Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) – The Wolfmen

the-wolfmen-wam-bam-jfk-cover-2Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) (Radio Edit)
b/w
Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK)
Is That Earth Down There?
(Howl Records)
To be released 29th November 2010

By Guy Sangster Adams

Loaded with the danger, excitement, edge of a precipice moment of a jet plane in run-up at the airport that now bears JFK’s name, the melody of the verses swirling concentrically with Chris Constantinou’s seraphic higher register vocals  irresistibly draw one into the charged expectancy of take-off. When that moment arrives, with each chorus, it doesn’t disappoint. Marco Pirroni is in blistering form with combustible riffs that go beyond mere take-off into vertical lift-off heading super stellar, that leaves one breathless and never wanting to descend, hoping and relying on Preston Heyman’s infectious beat to keep the blood pumping at the speed one needs it, whilst Constantinou roughs up his earlier celestial choirboy with a suitably rockin’ rasp.

With some Suffragette City returned with love and panache, this is a pop art gem of beauty and tragedy, seen through Roy Lichenstein and Andy Warhol lenses, adroitly and lovingly mixed and polished by a Dandy Warhol, in the form of Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) is a real blam blam!

The video for Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) will receive its premiere screening at the Plectrum Live Edition: A Night at the Rockabilly Revuebar on 27th October 2010 at The Horse Hospital, London WC1. Videos for previous singles by The Wolfmen will also be screened. For more details click here.

To read the Plectrum – The Cultural Pick Review of The Wolfmen’s Jackie, Is it my Birthday? Click here

To watch Guy Sangster Adams, editor  of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick talking to The Wolfmen’s Marco Pirroni and Chris Constantinou go to the Plectrum Broadcast Player by clicking here.

Links

The Wolfmen: thewolfmen.net
www.facebook.com/The-Wolfmen

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Album Review: The Corridor – Youri Blow

Wild House Blues Records
On release

By Guy Sangster Adams

the-corridor-youri-blow-cover
Water is key to Youri Blow’s highly atmospheric second album. En route from its source in Dijon to Le Havre where it meets the English Channel/La Manche, the river Seine flows through Troyes in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, where Blow was born. Now his home is the port of Brest, which lies in the Finistère département in the extreme west of Brittany, amidst the dramatic landscape of the Rade de Brest, into which five rivers flow and which opens onto the Atlantic Ocean, the waves of which crash spectacularly along Finistère’s wild and rocky coastline. Whilst on the other side of the Atlantic, the area between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, The Mississippi Delta, and the Delta Blues that originated there, were a formative influence on Blow.

Though this influence is very apparent on the rasping vocals and rougher edged sound of the tracks Muddy Streams and Strange History, the album is a confluence of influences informed by Blow’s travels, gathered under a genre tag of Psyché Blues. The beautiful Ever Love, with backing vocals by Lucie T., fittingly as it is the album opener and therefore stepping off point for the journey, is rooted in his current home. It has a Celtic heart, Brittany being one of the six Celtic nations, and softer melodies and vocal styling more reminiscent of Nick Drake and John Martyn. Whilst Autour du Templier, titularly at least, pays reference to the Order of the Knights Templer that was officially recognised in Blow’s birthplace at the Council of Troyes in the 12th century.

But over and above this The Corridor is also inspired by Blow’s expedition to far further and more isolated shores, namely the phenomenal land- and waterscapes of Lake Khövsgöl in the north west of Mongolia. He spent two months in Mongolia, travelling with a back pack and a guitar, a large part of which was spent living in a tipi by the lake with members of the Shamanistic Tsaatan reindeer herdsmen, whose social and material culture  has remained unchanged since the Ice Age. Understandably his time in Mongolia had a profound effect on Blow, specifically inspiring three tracks on the album, Khovsgol Lake, Tsagaan Sar (which is the Mongolian lunisolar New Year festival), and Ulan Taïga (a mountain range in Khövsgöl).

Blow’s talent is to meld all the power and diversity of all these dynamic and elemental horizons into an album that works wonderfully well holistically. A multi-instrumentalist, throughout The Corridor he plays a variety of guitars, acoustic, Dobro, and electric Fender Stratocaster, whilst also mixing in violin, and instruments from his travels such as a Mongolian fiddle, Peruvian flute, and Vietnamese jaw harp, to which he also adds overtone singing, a polyphonic style traditional in Mongolia.

The Corridor is an highly enjoyable sonic travelogue, through vistas both real and imaginary, an evocation of the broadest horizons, and as the closing track, L’Eveil de la goutte d’eau, recognises, if you let it, the rhythm of rain drops can transport you wherever a river of imagination may take you.

Links:

Youri Blow

www.youri-blow.com

www.myspace.com/youriblow

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Single Review: One Born Every Minute – Roses Kings Castles

one-born-every-minute-cover

360 Degree Music
On Release

By Guy Sangster Adams

That Roses Kings Castles’ new single, One Born Every Minute, hooks you immediately with a rhythm section that, like bright sunlight preceding louring storm clouds, mixes the catchiest pop with a darkly alluring rockabilly edge, should come as no surprise, since RKC is the creation of former Babyshambles drummer, Adam Ficek. Though to purely classify Ficek thus is to fail to highlight that he is also a gifted multi-instrumentalist, DJ, and, as his RKC lyrics and his blog show, an erudite writer, all of which One Born Every Minute ably clarifies. Whilst also demolishing any generic stereotyping of drummers! The tabloid outplaying of Pete Doherty’s life sometimes threatens to occlude the fact that his musical collaborators have been as talented as they are.

adam-ficek
Ficek began RKC as a side project in 2007 as a way to release the songs he was writing during the long periods on the road whilst on tour with Babyshambles. The extraordinary journey, in all senses, that he went on both within and without Babyshambles has also inspired One Born Every Minute, as he says, “the song is mainly based around the characters I have met over the past few years in this crazed whirlpool of an industry. It takes all sorts…. some nicer than others.”  Through Ficek’s vocals, which pleasingly mix shades of Deram period Bowie via Anthony Newley with a rawer modernity, One Born Every Minute presents snapshots of the knife-edge of success and hype, the steep drops that lie either side, and the people that all too often gather around someone whose life is lived in the public eye, when they are at their most vulnerable.

All things are possible with One Born Every Minute. One can choose to project upon its lyrical allusions, to unravel who might be who, or one can choose to be swept up in its rhythmical and melodic insistency, or like all the best singles one can choose both. Choose the latter, and just as the best singles always do, the joyousness of One Born Every Minute will propel you into feeling that all things really are possible.

Links

Adam Ficek: www.adamficek.com

360 Degree Music: www.360degreemusic.com

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Single Review: War is Noise – Jaakko & Jay

jaakko-jay-cover

Xtra Mile Recordings
Released 24th May 2010

By Guy Sangster Adams

“Critics,” announces an answerphone message at the beginning of War is Noise, “you probably got this album for free, so please don’t trouble yourself with clever analysis, music is for listening to, not writing about, so why don’t you cut your hair and go and get a real job.” I did receive the album for free and although I am quite attached to both my hair and job, in the spirit of compromise that is abroad I will respond rather than analysing, whilst also heartily exhorting that you both listen to Jaakko & Jay’s debut album and also go see them live.

The Finnish duo, like their label mate, Frank Turner, for whom they have also been a support act, have maintained a near constant tour schedule, playing live with one microphone, an acoustic guitar, and a single snare and ride drum. The vitality and exuberance of their stripped back live sound has translated exceptionally well to the record, aided and abetted by harmonica, banjo, trumpet, and fiddle, to create fourteen punk folk tracks, underscored with an insistent and infectious rockabilly edge that propels you to your feet, whether you are dancing to save the world, to free your soul, or just because it’s a fantastic beat. Fuelled with shouts and harmonies, rattling riffs and drifting melodies, humour and insightfulness, through songs that protest, satirise, and wear their hearts on their sleeves, War is Noise leaves you in an excited spin, with a broad smile on your face, energised and wanting to engage (or reengage…) with life!

Links:

Jaakko & Jay: www.myspace/jaakkonjay

Xtra Mile Recordings: www.xtramilerecordings.com

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Album Review: Beachcomber’s Windowsill – Stornoway

stornowayalbum-packshot

(4AD)
Released 24th May 2010

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Despite their name, Stornoway came together not on the islands of the Outer Hebrides but in Oxford. Though it was a shared passion for the Scottish band, Teenage Fanclub, that united founder members, singer and principal song writer Brian Briggs and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Ouin, during Freshers’ Week at the university. In common with Teenage Fanclub, vocal harmonies, guitar, string, brass, and organ sections which reference 1960’s folk-, surf-, and psychedelic rock/pop, such as The Byrds, Beach Boys, and Love, abound on Stornoway’s debut album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill. Five years in the making, the album and the re-released first single, Zorbing, coincidentally share release dates with Teenage Fanclub’s first new album and single in five years.

But interwoven with their acute pop sensibilities, the songs on Beachcomber’s Windowsill are also imbued with sounds and images that evoke both the historical and the elemental. The layers of history and tradition set against the beauty of Oxford’s cityscape, seen at first light or under moonlight, echo through the inspirational mix, with the use of traditional instruments, bell chimes, and choral singing; an essence of Magdalen College Choir continuing their 500 year old tradition of singing in the dawn from the top of Magdalen Tower on May Morning. Though Stornoway also channel folk song traditions that have their feet more firmly on the ground, or on the deck, with both elements of Bluegrass and sea-shanties layered into a number of the tracks. It must be added that the band are also not averse to creating new instruments to supplant the traditional, such as turning carrot chopping into percussion.

stornoway-1

The elements course through the album’s lyrics, but not unlike an Hebridean island the force of storms and tornados can abate almost as soon as they’ve begun, leaving sunlit or starlit stillness and reflection in their wake. Beachcomber’s Windowsill’s tumult is love, and all the vistas through which a heart may be swept by passion and love requited, unrequited, lost, and tenderly remembered. From “zorbing [rolling along in a transparent plastic orb] through the streets of Cowley” in the single of the same name, to anthropomorphizing into a seabird in The Coldharbour Road, via an heartfelt exhortation to disengage people from a life of screens and return them to “free range” on We are the Battery Human, it’s a fantastic, surprising, and beautiful journey through an album that is an enchanted island in a sea that is all too often awash with mediocrity.

Links:
Stornoway: www.stornoway.eu

4AD: www.4ad.com

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Album Review: Sisterworld – Liars

liars-sisterworld-packshot-11

(Mute)
CD, Vinyl, 2CD, On Release

By Guy Sangster Adams

That the excellent new Liars album already has an host of influential fans is borne out by the second CD in the 2CD edition of Sisterworld which features remixes and reinterpretations of each track by other artists including Thom Yorke, Alan Vega, Devendra Banhart, and Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, and packaging designed by the Grammy award nominated Brian Roettinger/Hand Held Heart which when one opens the CD case allows a ‘through the keyhole’ view into the concertina-fold outer sleeve and a glimpse into the sunshine filtered woods of Sisterworld.

Sisterworld is Liars’ parallel world, a conceptual space to which they have ascribed the criteria that it is their “own space, devoid of influence, somewhere remote from the false dreams amassed in L.A.” in which they “explore the underground support systems created to deal with loss of self to society,” by way of “the alternate spaces people create in order to maintain identity in a city like L.A.”

Sisterworld is, as the view through the concertina suggests, as dramatically and sensorily charged as being in the midst of a dense forest on a summer’s day; light when it breaks through the branches creates temporal spaces of the most magical beauty, whilst the dark corners seem darker than you could ever imagine, the shadows forever shifting and encircling, accelerating one into fright-or flight-or freeze.

Liars, Sisterworld ©Zen Sekizawa

Liars, Sisterworld ©Zen Sekizawa

In short, the fifth album from this three-piece is phenomenally engaging. It creates an highly evocative soundtrack to a personal film that plays so vividly through your mind as you listen; a film of falling through the cracks in the film capital of the world, adrift and alone in the city of angels with a paucity of guardian angels. Sisterworld is by turns transcendent and troubling, the smoothest caress can quickly become the harshest of grips, ethereal harmonies, and floating violin, viola, and cello strings are blown away by the rawest garage rock, following the hopeful will-o’-the-wisp bassoon can be fatal as you realize that the rasping vocals are framing a counterpoint picture of despair.

But the best alternative realities are made stronger by recognition and understanding of the mainstream to which they are opposed, and Sisterworld is a brilliant alternative to the mainstream, and a wonderful escape from the glass and steel forest of homogenisation.

Links

Liars: www.liarsliarsliars.com

Mute: www.mute.com

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Single & Album Review: Nintendo EP & Love Is Not Rescue – Chris T-T

nintendo-ep-cover1

Nintendo
b/w Abraham, Martin, & John; On the Turner Grand #2;  Nintendo (demo version)
(Xtra Mile Recordings)
EP available now, download only

love-is-not-rescue-cover

(Xtra Mile Recordings)
Album, released 15th March

By Guy Sangster Adams

The resplendent piano saturated Nintendo EP is a wonderful prologue to Chris T-T’s excellent new album Love is not Rescue. Nintendo, which is also the opening track on the album, immediately establishes the sea change in sound and themes from T-T’s last album Capital which, fittingly as it concluded his London Trilogy, featured a far more caustic, rockier and inner city edge and edginess. But although both the new EP and album are less about kicking over the statues that is not to say that they don’t pack just as powerful a punch, and in many ways perhaps more so.

Against a piano as calming as watching a gentle incoming tide, lyrically Nintendo charts a relationship on the ebb, and holistically creates a superb and contradictory mix of poignancy and self deprecation, with a knowingness and great wry humour; for managing to make Nintendo Wii both a moving and funny lyric alone T-T should be lauded! For the EP Nintendo is backed with three tracks not included on the album: a demo version of Nintendo, On the Turner Grand #2 a six minute piano improvisation, and a great cover version of Dick Holler’s Abraham, Martin, and John. The latter is a beautiful, melodic, reflection both on loss and the struggle for human rights.

Key facets, equally, to the other tracks on Love is not Rescue, which are erudite and engaging, set to a stripped back sound of piano, organ, or acoustic guitar, to which the sounds of pedal shifts or fingers sliding on the fret board, all add to the whole. They are highly reflective and explore love, loss, and relationships, from the stand point of looking back over the decade since the release of his first album, and the effect that career choices, nigh on perpetual touring, to say nothing of getting older, have had on T-T’s personal life, and conversely the effect of the personal on the professional. As with Nintendo, Stop Listening and In The Halfway House (I Don’t Sleep Around) adroitly mix the laying bare of emotions with wry humour, not least in their pay-off lines, whilst Tall Woman is an acutely affecting study of saying goodbye to someone who has literally loomed large over one’s life.

Love is not Rescue also includes a great reworking of A.A. Milne’s Market Square, from When We Were Very Young, which as with Milne or T-T alike could be enjoyed as a wonderfully whimsical tale about wanting to buy a rabbit or as a more cautionary story about how even in a market of global availability the things that are most worthwhile to us don’t always have to be bought and sold.

That said, Nintenedo EP and Love is not Rescue do both have to be bought and sold, but they are entirely worth your money!

Links

Chris T-T: christt.com

Xtra Mile Recordings: www.xtramilerecordings.com

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Live Review: Echo & The Bunnymen

at the Roundhouse, London, 15th October 2009

by Guy Sangster Adams

Ian McCulloch ©Alex Hurst 2009

Ian McCulloch ©Alex Hurst 2009

As the dry ice that completely obscures the stage at the beginning of Echo & The Bunnymen’s set feathers out through the audience it is as though it makes manifest all the highly charged thoughts and emotions, memories and expectations of all those gathered. There is quite literally something in the air tonight, a very tangible sense of right time, right place. Touching shoulders, touching souls, sending involuntary shudders around the architectural majesty of the Roundhouse, weaving about the iron pillars, before swirling up to the domed roof. Where, up lit from the stage, it highlights the suspension of belief that has gripped the auditorium.

Is it a dream? It is still impossible to make out anyone on the stage, but the sound majestically echoing the building coalesces with the dry ice, reaching everywhere it reaches and further. It is surreal, as though one is hearing long cherished memories for the first time, whilst the heart sores the head is trying to compute whether it can be real. Did Echo & The Bunnymen always sound so phenomenally good? My confusion is furthered having read some very disparaging reviews of the new album, The Fountain, earlier in the day saying that Ian McCulloch’s voice is shot and that the middle-aged band are just going through the motions. It won’t be until later in the set that they play Bring on the Dancing Horses and McCulloch sings the line “shiver and say the words, of every lie you’ve heard,” but by then, indeed from the word go, they have resolutely trounced those criticisms.

Three songs in the dry ice has cleared to reveal that the iconic scene one’s mind’s eye has been imagining is real: McCulloch is centre stage, sunglasses and overcoat on, periodically clutching the stand and rolling his forehead over the microphone, like Jim Stark and his milk bottle; the loner played by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. He looks out, he looks back to drummer Nick Kilroe and keyboard player Jez Wing, he looks left to Gordy Goudie on guitar and Stephen Brannan on bass, but he never looks to his right,  where in splendid isolation stands Will Sergeant, who in turn plays head down, only looking up to change the succession of different guitars, whilst at the back of the stage a myriad of projections filmed by Sergeant play across the screen, from clouds, to religious statuary, to psychedelic oil patterns, harking back to The Roundhouse’s brief tenure as home to the UFO club in 1967.

Ian McCulloch & Will Sergeant ©Alex Hurst 2009

Ian McCulloch & Will Sergeant ©Alex Hurst 2009

The venue and all the references it is imbued with thoroughly suit Echo & the Bunnymen. “It’s great to be at The Roundhouse,” announces McCulloch, “The Doors played here!” before introducing their cover version of People Are Strange. The Doors’ Ray Manzarek played keyboards on The Bunnymen’s recording of the song for the film The Lost Boys, and has remained a fan, and the sweeping grandeur of McCulloch’s vocals, akin to Jim Morrison in his ability to mix rough edged rock with mirror finish croon, is in full force tonight.

Reporters of the demise of McCulloch’s voice should be here; if it’s shot, it’s shot through with power, drama, and emotional intensity and the ability to propel one out of oneself. Indeed, as the set draws to a close with a phenomenal rendition of Killing Moon, the first time he sings the line “Fate, up against your will”, “fate” rockets beautifully to the roof and spines tingle, the second time he sings it, the word again goes to the roof taking the whole auditorium with it, the third time we are through the roof running the rings round Saturn.

Twenty-five years after Killing Moon was first recorded, indeed 31 years after Echo & The Bunnymen first played, you might be forgiven for, as Michelle the girl next to me says, “expecting less, but this is more; how have they become more?!” She is spot on; to appropriate the line Morrison sang at the Roundhouse in 1968, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.” Cascading around McCulloch’s voice like a Catherine wheel, Sergeant’s innovative, highly influential, and much emulated guitar playing is equally on perfect form, ascending and transcending the space in the most beautiful, kaleidoscopic spirals and dazzling shimmers.

Ian McCulloch ©Alex Hurst 2009

Ian McCulloch ©Alex Hurst 2009

The furthest reaches of their back catalogue, Rescue and Villiers Terrace, are played with the panache, verve, and excitement more normally associated with showcasing new songs. Whilst the same adjectives equally fit the first single from The Fountain, Think I Need It Too, with which they encore, followed by an outstanding Nothing Lasts Forever segueing into Walk On The Wild Side, which McCulloch amusingly concludes with “take a walk on Merseyside!”

With the two concluding dates of this tour in Liverpool sold out – a third has just been added – the band’s home town clearly already knows what everyone at the Roundhouse discovered, from the fifteen year old girl with saucer eyes breathlessly clutching the set list to her chest in the foyer, to the fortysomethings excitedly asking for autographs outside, that in the grandest style Echo & The Bunnymen are both igniting the rites of passage of a new generation, whilst reconfiguring the formative years of previous generations. For whom, it is as though the band reclaimed our memories for an hour and a half before handing them back Collagen enhanced, Stardust encrusted, with an extra gloss of new inspirations, leaving as sweet a taste as the last track of the night, Lips like Sugar.

Kiss whoever you must to do so, but go see Echo & The Bunnymen on this tour!

Echo & The Bunnymen are currently playing dates in Canada and the USA, before returning to England in December to play Oxford, Newcastle, Leeds and Liverpool. For more details: www.bunnymen.com

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