Bibio, Bruce Springsteen, Carla Dal Forno, Cavetown, Mark Peters, Svareborg Karyb, Turin Brakes,
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Off Goes The Light - Bibio
Maybe it's a bounce back from Covid, or a reaction to current troubles but there seems to be a move towards, happy carefree music, dance and disco inflected and all pointing towards having a good time. This comes from one of the best examples around.
This is a one way time travelling ticket to the 80s, re-created with loving attention to detail and with a deep understanding for the period.
BIB1O - Bibio
Bibio returns with his tenth album, and this time he’s dispensed with art in favour of dance with a dose of time travel back to the RnB disco of the 1980s. It’s a clever delight.
There are times in the past when this album would have been huge. Bibio would have been filling a Brazilian football stadium rather than beavering away in a solitary recording studio. I don’t usually quote the artist in reviews but Bibio delivers on his promise so fully that you don’t need me to parrot his words. On Wikipedia he says he wanted to make “more of a party album” and “an ode to guitar in a very different way.”
This has a relaxed and easy energy, the type that takes a lot of hard work to perfect. It’s the art of a man who both knows his way around a recording studio and has a deep understanding of the period he wants to recapture. There’s even a random,perfectly pitched ‘whoa’ towards the end of ‘S.O.L.’ This is a record that calls to mind a warmer Kool and the Gang, a funkier Hall and Oates and the sound of Paul Fearon gliding his way around his Galaxy. It’s also in tune with Hot Chip’s latest work.
It sounds authentic, because he likes to favour analogue production rather than software perfection. His voice is surprisingly good for a man who has tended towards instrumentals and sampling in the past. He’s delivered on his promise regarding guitars. There’s a chiming reverb at work in songs such as ‘Fools’ that sounds fresh when attached with dance RnB.
Bibio has always been good at building an atmosphere, whether it’s the darker, urban sounds of his early work, or the gorgeous lightness of the electronic folk soaked ‘Sleep On The Wing’. Here, the atmosphere is of relaxed good times. It’s surprising, like being given an unexpected day off from a mundane chore.
This is a record you can listen to out of nostalgia or because it’s the kind of thing that will warm you up nicely for a night out. There’s only one thing to say to that, Whoa!
Taster Track : Off Goes The Light
Over Tage : Svaneborg Kardyb
This Danish duo have made a record that cuts to the heart of what makes good music. It’s colourful, clear and melodic.
The morning I listened to this I’d woken at 01:00 with a splitting headache that was not self-inflicted and that two courses of tablets could not shift. Tired, suffering and grumpy, I cannot think of worse conditions for listening to music. Well, I can think of many, actually - being chased by a raptor, for one - but hopefully never conditions that would occur in the real world!
I absolutely loved every single note on this wonderful album.
Nikolaj Svaneborg (keyboards) and Jonas Kardyb (drums and percussion) are a Danish duo who seem to have stumbled across pop’s magic formula. Like a painting by Picasso, they concentrate on the essential fragments of music and make something fresh, surprising and novel.
From the first notes of ‘Op’ which is irresistibly tuneful and quietly jaunty you know you can settle back and enjoy the gentle ride. It’s full of pop’s DNA - keyboard pulses, percussive rhythms and melody after melody flitting across every track. They add saxophone to ‘Island’ and ‘Everything Possible’. They conjure up so many gentle percussive sounds - the seeming rustling of a padlock chain on ‘Orkaner’ and the percussive sound of waves lapping on the beach on ‘Island’.
It’s been a good year for this kind of music. Group Listening and Pye Corner Audio have led the way. Svaneborg and Kardyb carry that flame and sit shoulder to shoulder with the very best of Royksopp and Air.
Over Tage is released on the jazz heavy Gondwana Records label. This record is simply from the genre of excellent, lovely music.
Taster Track : Op
Wide Eyed Nowhere : Turin Brakes
This is an excellent album, quietly getting on with its business which is to deliver strong and classic songs.
Turin Brakes have been releasing new albums every two or three years for a quarter of a century. There are two approaches an act can take when they’re relatively long in the tooth. They can try something different. Johnny Cash’s ‘American’ albums are an example of that working well. Or, they can refine and perfect their art with every passing album. That’s the camp Turin Brakes are in.
It’s a shame that the second approach attracts less attention. It’s been out since September but it’s hard to find reviews of ‘Wide Eyed Nowhere’. There’s a Rough Trade sales pitch but that’s about all. (Until now!) They’re under the radar, overlooked and forgotten about by the likes of Pitchfork, Uncut and Mojo.
What it means for the lucky people who have followed Turin Brakes over the years is that they’ve been able to grow up through music. The rough brashness of youth has softened and any insights in their songs have been earned. Where others may sing of breaking free or crave virtual, idealised worlds Turin Brakes long for solid ground.
Their first album was called ‘The Optimist’. I always thought it was a little too anguished to merit that title, but it would apply well to ‘Wide Eyed Nowhere’. Lines such as these from ‘When You’re Around’ speak with sincere simplicity.
“There will always be a rainbow
When you’re around.”
Olly Knight’s voice retains its soft purity after nearly 25 years. It’s a combination of joy and yearning, and it overflows with maturity, warmth and humility.
It may be that as you read this, you think that it sounds a bit smooth, insufficiently edgy and too lacking in energy for your tastes. That’s fine. This is a four piece band that doesn’t show off. You won’t find gimmicks or angles here, just very good songwriting that sounds as honest as any emotional break up record.
These are songs that are grateful and accepting of what life has brought. They’re excellently written and perfectly performed. I’m thankful for that.
Taster track : Up For Grabs
.... And The Rest
Only The Strong Survive : Bruce Springsteen
This is Bruce’s soul covers album. It’s of impeccable quality, enjoyable, undemanding and safe.
We can forgive him for that. He’s one of the few artists who has stood up and made challenging albums throughout his career. It won’t always have helped him commercially. How many times have you heard ‘Nebraska’ played recently? He’s earned the right to have a good time and if the Motown and Stax origins of these songs gives you anything, it gives you a good time. This is Bruce’s party album.
Here he’s generally stayed away from obvious choices. Community choirs and X Factor contestants will thank him for opening their ears to songs they can adopt. What strikes more forcefully than soul here is showmanship. Zinging strings, cute backing vocals and soft guitar tones - it could be any showbiz performer behind the mic.
There’s a clue to the ‘why’ behind this record in his cover of ‘Soul Days’. These are songs that spoke to Bruce’s soul when he was 19. It is an album of soul as it was heard by him, not an expression from his soul. Other people’s words can’t do that for you. Bruce has sung in his own blue collar soul way many times. His ‘Tunnel Of Love’ album is a stunning example of this. His soul sounds very different from the soul here. He covers The Commodore’s ‘Nightshift’ pleasantly enough but his own song that reflects on those that have passed - House of a Thousand Guitars’ - has a lot more personal and moving emotion.
It’s ironic that Bruce is one of rock’s most soulful practitioners. It just doesn’t show on this album. Here, the blue collar soul man has provided the soundtrack to any number of white collar dinner parties,
Taster Track : Nightshift
Come Around : Carla Dal Forno
This slice of fairly minimalist electropop is addictive and likeable in equal parts. It’s also an intriguingly clinical and deliberately sterile sound.
It’s a record that makes a strong and positive first impression. ‘Side By Side’ has a big synth bass line, enjoyable effects laid over the top and a very sweet set of vocals. What you hear in this first impression is pretty much what you hear for the rest of the album, and I liked it.
If jazz can be described as too many notes played too fast, this is its polar opposite. This is regular and formal like movements around a board game or through a landscaped garden maze. The songs are line drawings setting the frame for a new house. It’s an artist’s impression of a courtroom scene. In both cases you have to work to fill in the colour, potential and emotion and ask yourself the question “What brought the music to this point?”.
Don’t come to this album if you’re looking for drama or high emotion. You won’t find quivering vocals, crashing crescendos or big beats. (You won’t register many beats at all. Where they exist they’re low in the mix.) By the end, you may be worn away by the numb, repressed emotions and the unvarying, sterile sound or, like me, you may be enthralled by the consistency of its tone and vision..
In part, that sterile sound comes from the beautifully clean balance and production. It allows for no leakage, no clutter and no mess. It’s been done before by John Foxx / early Ultravox and, to a lesser extent by Gary Numan but rarely this well.
The lyrics are what help to move this album out of the recording lab and into the real world. They're small scale but personal, not seeking to capture unrealistic universes or sci-fi civilisations gone bad. It helps, too, that there is an Oriental undercurrent to songs like ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’, ‘Stay Awake’ and ‘Deep Sleep’. It adds interest to the restraint.
But it’s the bass lines that give this album life. They are completely addictive. They carry the songs, not just adding pulse and rhythm. Sometimes they’re the only truly musical element there. A track such as ‘Autumn’ would be just so much ambient sound without it.
Some albums draw you into a different world. That’s what this album achieves. It may not be a world you would have chosen, but it’s still one that you can enjoy.
Taster Track : Come Around
Worm Food : Cavetown
This bedroom indie set of songs is the voice of a troubled soul.
Cavetown is a 23 year old YouTuber who identifies as transgender. He (the chosen pronoun according to Wikipedia) has a lot of experience to pour into his songs, but not enough experience to make sense of who he is and what his needs are. It’s not a confused album, but it does deal extensively with confusion.
There’s another issue at play here too, and that’s me. I’m not phased by an age gap. Usually I can identify with feelings and emotions having probably experienced them at some stage. Here it’s different. Cavetown works with even younger collaborators and, suddenly, I’m an absolute outsider. I want to feel compassion and build understanding. Instead I’m awkward and uncomfortable about what I’m hearing. For reasons on both sides, this album fails to bring us together. It may not be Cavetown’s purpose but feeling rebuffed is not a good place to be when you’re listening to an album such as this.
Musically it’s an interesting mix. The lyrics are memorable and honest.
“I didn’t think that it would ever get this bad.” he shares on ‘Better’
The music provides a sweetener, a spoonful of sugar to help the meditations go down. There’s a definite emo undercurrent. Several of these songs, including ‘1994’ are ballads ripped and broken by emo guitar torment. Even in the quieter moments, there’s a sense of holding back a desire to scream.
What saves this album, for me, is that he’s a decent songwriter. He understands what makes a song work and he’s willing to try different things. ‘Laundry Day’ has a chamber pop feel to it that works well.
It will be interesting to hear where he goes next. He could seek more and more experimental ways to express himself, but that might alienate more than it attracts. Or he could become a new, less diva-ish, Rufus Wainwright or a Max Jury.
Either way, his musical journey isn’t over yet. He’s someone to keep tabs on.
Taster Track : Kill U
Red Sunset Dreams : Mark Peters
Mark Peters’ new record is a satisfying collection of retro sounding tracks, delivering on all fronts, if lacking a little in ambition.
Let me clarify that last claim first. His first solo album was 2017’s ‘Innerland’ It was an album of ambient electronica, each track painting a portrait of a location near where he lived. It was an immersive beauty and featured in year end charts, especially electronic ones. It’s not a big criticism to say that this isn’t quite in that league, not quite that special. It delivers on all fronts, but a little comfortably like a high board diver attempting a dive of relatively low difficulty.
On the cover, he’s standing against a red sunset looking in silhouette like a half man, half horse centaur. That sense of being neither one thing nor the other applies to the music too. He’s a guitarist fronting an electronic sound. Guitar led instrumentals bump against effects laden, occasionally ambient, electronica.
I liked the way the tracks flow, one into another. They become though like spilt liquids spreading their individual shapes across the floor before smoothing out into generic puddles. ‘Switch On The Sky’ which opens the album, is luscious. It features Dot Allison who was part of a big hit for One Dove in 1993. There’s a big piece of that period in this album with other tracks calling to mind Portishead and Lemon Jelly, also from the 90s. That was a good time for mellow trip hop laced tracks, and this album sits naturally and comfortably in that company.
This may be an album that is treading water , but it hasn’t lost the beguiling change of his debut and remains true to its musical predecessors.
Taster Track : Dusty Road Ramble
As ever this week's Taster Track playlists can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. The link to the Youtube playlist is https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7Eh_sy55y6i18Qj7w_Z3CQft
The Shadowplay playlists are at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/01iU7Jy80SMvJO5QBF7Oux?si=00d9d1fb8b2f4baa and https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwV-OogHy7EjsaT8idWnNv42LqIGEGSmH&feature=share