Adrian Quesada, Andrew Bird, Chime School, Empath, Father John Misty, Shabaka
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Underlands by Andrew Bird
There's no one quite like Andrew Bird. His current album is adventurous, playful and his most accessible yet. This is one of several tracks that stand out.
Boleros Psychedelicos : Adrian Quesada
The sound of South American retro pop is brought to life in this collaboration between soul guitarist Adrian Quesada and a host of beguiling singers.
It’s hard to imagine wintery music from South America. It must exist, but it doesn’t travel. This light dancing record is perfect for Summer dusks, preferably when it’s humid and threatening a storm. You can feel the heat coming from this record like the heat from bricks at the end of a scorching day.
The music slithers into your brain like a sweating snake. The percussion in ‘Hielo Seco’ is reminiscent of unseen and unknown insects, both exotic and toxic. Every track is seeped in sex and seduction, with vocals that entice and entrap. It’s Carmen, arranged for the three minute single.
Despite that, it’s essentially an easy listening record, traditional and enjoyably old fashioned. The most psychedelic thing about it is the cover. It’s as if you’re looking back through time at something that was scandalous then, but is a little old hat now. It’s a Jane Russell or Marilyn Monroe movie soundtrack. It’s also undoubtedly a labour of love.
The key to albums like this is how they make you feel and how they make you move. This album sways you to and fro, back and forth, particularly on a track such as ‘El Paraguas’. It makes you feel good with the infernally catchy ‘El Muchacho De Los Ojos Tristes’. Its appeal to the common man may be seen in this last track. Tita, the collaborator, is a winner of the Bulgarian equivalent of X Factor. Don’t sniff. She’s perfect for the song.
This is a light, dancing record that can’t help but lift the spirits.
Taster Track : El Muchacho De Los Ojos Triste
Inside Problems : Andrew Bird
On his latest album, Andrew Bird continues to plough his own musical furrow, mixing intelligent songwriting with warm melodies to glorious effect
There’s no one quite like Andrew Bird. For starters he’s an unassuming Canadian who holds your attention, a man of wide learning and intelligence with an engaging, personal touch. He has dabbled to equally good effect in chamber pop, folk, jazz (swing) and the blues. He takes his music seriously, and you should too.
He’s a distinctive violinist, alternately polite and distorted. He has the strings perform backing vocals on ‘Eight’ - a trick that is much easier to grasp when you have the time synced lyrics in front of you. He’s a serious whistler too. Here, as on all his albums, he whistles to add atmosphere and individuality.
This is a less experimental sound than in his earlier works, and more rhythmic, but the songs are still imbued with an adventurous spirit. They share that spirit with jazz, although this is emphatically not a jazz album. Songs wander freely as if there are a number of paths they could take. It’s as if they’re rambling randomly around a chess board, one square at a time.
He can’t hold his intelligence back. ‘Fixed Positions’ covers stasis and prime numbers. His lines are extended and polysyllabic. They’re saved from being unclear or pretentious by an underlying playfulness, like a professor gently teasing a favoured pupil.
‘Underlands’, Lone Didion’ and ‘Fixed Positions’ form the strongest sequence of songs to open an album that I’ve heard for a while.
Bird called his last album ‘My Finest Work Yet’. He may need to revisit that title because, with ‘Inside Problems’, he’s exceeded it.
Taster Track : Fixed Positions (but any of the first three tracks + ‘Eight’ would serve as well.
Chloe and the Next 20th Century : Father John Misty
This is a lush, witty and very accessible album that feels like Father John Misty’s breakthrough into the ranks of truly classic songwriters.
In the past Father John has been a showman, a wild man and a man with a monstrous ego. Maybe it’s been a performance but that’s not always been clear. He’s certainly not consistently delivered the quality needed to sustain that level of self confidence. That may have changed with this album which is a delight on many levels from start to finish.
Here, Father John succeeds in blending together the best of Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. In my book there aren’t many compliments that come higher. He has the sweetness of Nillson and his underlying knowingness that says this romantic stuff is the stuff of Hollywood movies, not real life. He has the glorious arrangements of Newman and his biting cynicism and desire to provoke and question too.
With both of them he shares a liking for ragtime and show tunes and a dark sense of humour. That darkness runs through the album and is turned up to 11 on occasions. ‘Chloe’ and ‘We Could Be Strangers’ both feature unexpected violent deaths. There’s no denying the Father John ego, and he plays God with his song’s characters like a puppet master.
Lyrically he’s wonderful. Try this line from ‘(Everything But) Her Love’
“He watches TV. She reads the I-ching.”
It sums up the relationship within the song perfectly.
The lyrics reward repeated listening. You could pore over, say, ‘The Next 20th Century’ as you would a university set text.
They say you should sing about what you know, which explains the focus on creative, showbiz types in ‘Q4’ and ‘Funny Girl’. In doing so he adds a directness, that is both sly and knowing.
Musically it’s perfect. These are songs that are made for performing live in white top hat and tails. The lush orchestrations, and 70s singer songwriter vibe both suggest that he could set an instruction manual to music and have a best seller.
This album works on so many levels, lyrically and musically. It’s one of my highlights of 2022 so far, and all the better forthcoming as a surprise.
Taster Track : Chloe
...And The Rest
Chime School : Chime School
Chime School bring you jangle pop, and then some more. It’s a great sound. I just wish they’d do a little more with it.
First impressions of this album are that it takes all the best bits of indie guitar pop and throws them together in one glorious mix. It’s like an artist mixing together all the colours on their palette. What you end up with though is an indeterminate shade of everything and nothing.
You know from the first notes how the album will sound. It’s expertly done but immediately so familiar that it can’t stand out. It’s a form of time travel that leaves you stuck in the past. There’s artistry involved, but only in the way that a successful art forger needs to be able to paint to recreate the Mona Lisa. Chime School sound like a tribute band to a genre, bereft of a musical personality they can make their own.
This sounds harsh. They’ve made their choices and executed them perfectly. ‘Wait Your Turn’ introduces their sound with flair and commitment. ‘Anywhere But Here’ buzzes along nicely. ‘Calling In Sick’ is a strong ending to the album.
These guys can play, and have impeccable musical roots and influences. That’s both commendable and frustrating. In the end they’ve created a perfect replica rather than building something original on the strongest of foundations
They’re a one trick pony in a world where that’s not quite enough.
Taster Track : Anywhere But Here
Visitor : Empath
Empath describe themselves as noise punk. Although this album captures the mindset of a certain, struggling audience and is impressive on its own terms. I could not connect with it.
I’d not knowingly come across noise punk before. Of course, I remember punk and how it spoke for a generation, a small number of whom were experiencing the alienation and rage sung about in the songs. A larger majority of semi detached punks were simply enjoying the fashions, behaviour and outrage it triggered. The noise element of any genre though has never appealed to me. Volume, yes. Noise no.
These are the songs of people who see themselves as outsiders, more troubled misfits than rebels with or without a cause. They’re the sound of music coming from behind a grubby teenager’s locked door, a door with a skull and crossbones ‘Keep Out’ sign to repel contact. It’s the sound of the noise and interference in their head. When they sing their ‘La la la la la’s on ‘Bell’ it’s not to add a sprinkling of backing vocal fairy dust to the song. It’s to block out what they don’t want to hear.
This is more tuneful, but also more complicated, than I expected. Sometimes, as on ‘Born 100 Times’ it sounds as if everyone is doing their own thing. Sometimes it all comes together, and when it does you can sense that it can be stirring and exciting. There are nods too, to a more electronic approach with throbs and an atmospheric sense of hiding from unseen demons.
The vocals are much lower in the mix. That’s odd when you think that it’s a mutation of punk. Punks may not have been able to play like maestros, but they had something to say and they made sure you heard it. Perhaps it’s deliberate here, embodying the struggle to be heard.
In the end, the experience of listening to this was similar to observing a culture that excludes you. I found I could attempt to understand it, but there was no hook or connection to draw me in.
For the right crowd, this could articulate a sense of alienation and exclusion that reassures them that they are not alone. It wasn’t for me, and given the troubled anxiety running throughout, I should be grateful for that.
Taster Track : Born 100 Times
Afrikan Culture : Shabaka
This short album, coming in at just over 28 minutes, showcases Shabaka’s woodwind skills and saxophone expertise. It’s a soothing but background listen.
Shabaka is a member of the current jazz royalty. He’s part of Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming. They’re jazz outfits that are as comfortable on the festival stage as they are in the clubs. Shabaka as a solo performer is much more meditative and, as he showed on the Nightmares On Wax album recently, a gorgeous saxophonist. (That’s the playing that is gorgeous. The cover photo of Shabaka himself defies criticism with a steely gaze.)
Despite the title, this isn’t particularly African. I enjoyed it for its calm presence - dream music at the point you awaken. It has captured music at the point where it comes into being but before it’s moulded into shape. Something is building but it doesn’t feel fully formed.
It’s exciting to be at the birth of music, but some of the tracks feel like fragments to be returned to and developed in the future. The music is full of intriguing ideas. His saxophone flutters its way through ‘Call It A European Paradox’ and his flute stutters gently over tranquil strings through ‘Ital Is Vital’.
This is music that has me thinking about how it's made rather than feeling the emotion in the composition. That’s particularly true of the more fragmentary pieces such as ‘Memories Don’t Live Like People Do’. They’re a palate cleansing sorbet without a main course. There’s melody throughout, but it’s less obvious and more abstract emerging from the music rather than hooking it in.
It’s an interesting mix but perhaps not for the casual listener. The killer question: Is it any good? Because it soothes and creates a unique atmosphere, I’m very happy to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Taster Track : Call It A European Paradox
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