Haunt The Woods, Inna De Yard, Laura Halo, Sam Burton, The Telescopes,
The Front Runners
Family Affair : Inna De Yard
What a joyful, uplifting and life affirming delight this collection of authentic reggae proved to be.
To appreciate it fully it’s one of those albums that requires a little context. Inna Da Yard are a Jamaican reggae collective who perform and record their songs in the open air. They believe that this allows them to connect most closely with the spirit of their land while they are playing. For this album they have collaborated with a series of guest singers, choosing people with sterling reputations in Jamaica but who may not be widely known - performers such as Cedric Myton, Winston McAnuff, Johnny Osbourne and Keith Rowe.
The result is an album brimming with sunshine and positivity and teeming with life.
When listening to reggae it’s impossible not to be aware of the shadow Bob Marley casts over the genre. He’s a giant. If you ignore the ‘Legend’ pop compilation he’s the Hendrix, Clapton and Prince of reggae all rolled into one. Inna De Yard don’t attempt to play in the league. Instead they’re the kind of band that triggered the sounds of The Beat, early Police and the debut album of UB40.
Stumbling across this album is like discovering a new, rich and undiscovered source of musical riches. They’ve allowed their elder statesmen collaborators to cover their own songs. They’ve provided musical TLC to songs that may have lain dusty and forgotten for years. They’ve freshened up the sound and created a primer of vital music for a new generation.
They’ve also recast reggae as more than a heavy dub rhythm. This is music that sways sinuously, sparkles with happy go lucky gems and prioritises character over generic sound. It’s a creative and inventive force that allows them to claim a song such as Randy Newman’s ‘Baltimore’ as their own.
Some of the lightness comes from the honky tonk piano feel across the album, one example being ‘Truth and Rights’. ‘Baltimore’, ‘Africa’, ‘Touch Me’, ‘Stop That Train’ - the gems pour out of the speakers bringing the taste of real Jamaica with them.
They save the best for last. Keith Rowe is 83. His song ‘Groovy Situation’ is a joy telling of new love in all its glory. At 83, his voice contains the sound of eternal youth. It is 4 minutes and 43 seconds of total happiness.
This is an album that has restored my faith in the purity of music, whatever the genre, age and source of the songs. Let it do the same for you.
Taster Track : Groovy Situation
The Chasing Pack
Ubiquity : Haunt The Woods
This album marks a reappearance for prog, loud, fresh and ambitious from its nesting place in the West Country.
That may oversimplify the appeal of Haunt The Woods a little. They’re as proggy as Muse, but they're also as alternative as Radiohead, as loud (occasionally) as Led Zeppelin and as harmoniously folky as Fleet Foxes. It’s an engaging mix that avoids becoming stuck in any one of those genres.
‘Fever Dream’ opens the album, setting out its stall, unashamed of making music that is busy, loud and concerned with effects and emotions that soar above the mundane. Mighty vocals and enduring riffs survive everything the song throws at them to stick around. It’s fully deserving of its own Hipgnosis album cover.
I’ll confess to a few wobbles at this point. It’s a 50 minute album and I wasn’t sure I had the stamina to last the course. Any fears proved groundless with the next song ‘Gold’. It’s a highlight, melodic and swelling like a heart bursting with pride.
These songs can scream to the masses or be as introspective as a compulsive keeper of a diary. They can be impressive and beautiful in equal measure. And they can be all this in the same song. Try ‘The Line. Part ll’ for evidence of that.
It’s an odd thing to say, but they control the music. They’re not swept up by the grand scope of their ambition. They can step back to spring a few welcome surprises along the way. ‘Sleepwalking’ echoes Fleet Foxes with its hymnal harmonising, and the brass that helps to bring ‘Said and Done ‘ to a close is a lovely touch.
This is a record that knows what it wants to deliver from the off. It does so with style, ambition and class.
Taster Track : Gold
Atlas : Laurel Halo
This is ‘new music’. Forget what you’ve heard and liked before. This requires a different set of responses.
‘New music’ is a mix of random slices of music and sound from across multiple genres. It’s challenging, as if existing and conventional pieces have been cut into fragments and reassembled in the wrong order.
The spectral song singing that you hear in ‘Late Night Drive’ is fighting to be heard against the noise of sounds all around. A burst of orchestral strings momentarily burst through to the surface of ‘Sick Eros’ merely emphasising how different the rest of the piece sounds and feels.If Eric Morecambe played all the right notes but in the wrong order, Laurel Halo plays all the right elements but in the wrong place in the mix.
This is an album that requires open mindedness, patience and even bravery from its audience. It’s as if music has been subjected to a surgical procedure that has removed many of the familiar elements - melody, rhythm, harmony, beat - and replaced them with texture and ambience. In its way it’s as radical as Stravinsky and Miles Davis may have sounded on first hearing and, for now, as difficult to grasp.
It’s at once mildly threatening and deeply soothing, as if heard at the lowest level of consciousness before sleep. You can imagine this as how music might sound and feel if you heard it during an operation under heavy sedation but short of a full anaesthetic.
And I think that’s key. This isn’t music to listen to but music to feel. It demands a personal response. The online music site Pitchfork, not unaccustomed to reviewing the strangest of the strange, accorded it an impressive mark of 8.1. Heaven knows what criteria they used to score it against more mainstream rock and rap records!
Did I like it? I genuinely don’t know, because I’m not sure I understood it. I do think it should be heard. You never know. In 25 years time perhaps all music will sound this way.
Taster Track : Sick Eros
Dear Departed : Sam Burton
This collection of low key and even downbeat songs has a prettiness to it that saves it from oblivion.
Music can help to shape your mood, but it can also affirm it. There were times listening to this record when I felt as if it was holding me in the throes of a minor depressive episode. It’s the kind of music you might listen to as you struggle with over tiredness at the end of a long, stressful day and before a good night’s sleep has restored your spirits. We all feel this way sometimes. This album gently accompanies those moods.
Burton has a voice that is well suited to songs he’s called ‘I Don’t Blame You’, ‘Coming Down On Me’ and ‘Empty Handed’. The album nods to the funeral service in its ‘Dear Departed’ title. It’s a little doleful. That’s OK. It’s a pleasant sounding, melodic dolefulness but over the course of the album you may feel like crying out for a glimmer of sunshine to break through the gloom, anything that suggests a fightback against the prevailing mood.
What saves this album is that it sounds pretty and has its own charm. You could style it ‘chamber Americana.’ It doesn’t offer much hope but it lets you down very gently. The influence of Jimmy ‘Wichita Lineman’ Webb suffuses every moment of this album. The strings carry the songs and they’re nicely arranged. On ‘Maria’ the plinking piano adds a brief lightness, a respite from the prevailing gloom. It has a timeless feel that, oddly enough, helps you to understand that people have felt as you do before and you’re not alone. And it is an album built on the foundations of quiet, unobtrusive melodies that soothe you.
This is an album to turn to when the unpalatable alternative is to weep lonely tears, or vegetate in front of the kind of TV that shows you people in a worse state than you.
Taster Track : Empty Handed
Of Tomorrow : The Telescopes
If rock that moves unshakably down its chosen path, brooking no variations as it worms into your brain is your cup of tea, you are going to enjoy The Telescopes.
I liked this a lot. It’s their 15th album but I’d never heard of them. Looking at their images on Google, it’s clear that they started out as the bad boys on the block, bad and dangerous to know. Now their music may have held strong but they’re looking a little creased and crumpled around the edges.
The Telescopes play songs that conservative middle class parents would hate. Up comes the refrain “That’s not music, that’s just noise.”. We, of course, know better. We’d appreciate the visceral thrill to be drawn out of music that, on its own terms, is a force of nature.
From the dark glam rhythms and riffs of the opening track ‘Butterfly’, it’s clear that we’re in the presence of a relentless, but insistent sound. It’s a juggernaut coming your way and it’s not planning to move aside.This is music that could go on forever and you wouldn’t mind.
It’s addictive rather than hypnotic. As songs approach the five minute mark you still hope for just a little bit more. (Although you may be a little daunted by the prospect of a near nine minutes of closing track ‘Down By The Sea!)
It sounds in many ways retro. There are obvious and easy references to The Velvet Underground and the Psychedelic Furs. They’re fair comparisons too, but they’re more polished than the Velvets and more tuneful than the Furs. A more direct comparison is with the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
The album is elevated from simply being a grind by the lighter touches to songs found in the odd shoegaze tunings of ‘Where Do We Begin’, or ‘Only Lovers Know’ with its Roy Orbisonesque tune reinterpreted in the style of a gruff Lou Reed or Nick Cave.
What’s undeniable is that once you’ve heard it, you won’t be able to escape it. Perhaps it will polarise opinion. There's no room for the middle ground. It will be hard to dislike because if it’s not for you, you will probably hate it! If it works it will be something that you welcome to your life all day long
Taster Track : Butterfly
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