Updated: Aug 15
Carter Takes The Train, Emily Breeze, Joe McAlinden, The Lilac Time, Sleaford Mods, Terr.
The Front Runners
Where The Clouds Go Swimming : Joe McAlinden
This lovely, rich and strangely emotional album has the potential to become a lifelong favourite.
Joe McAlinden has a past worth recalling amongst the Scottish Indie contingent, including Teenage Fanclub and Edwyn Collins. He’s also had his troubles. What seemed to be a case of writer’s block turned into something more serious - a neurological misfiring that kept him from writing and recording.
He’s overcome that to release this album, which feels like the calm after the storm. It’s a lovely, serious album. It feels like an album made by a man who has come through troubles with a better understanding of where he is. This album washes out of him and over you like a baptism, delivering a reborn understanding of the power of music. And I write that a s aman who is neither religious nor prone to spiritual enlightenment!
This is music that you feel you could listen to forever. A song such as ‘Window’ is seven and a bit minutes of music that is melodic and consistently interesting. Its power may be vested in silence which features in several tracks including ‘Blood’. In lyrics such as “Waterfall I hear you guide me, through the pouring rain’, he, and his songs, touch something elemental.
The songs are given time and space to grow. The melodies are simple and timeless. His voice sings of experience with the purity of youth. I can think of no easy comparison although at times you hear the echo of Love and Money’s James Grant.
The album has its own personality that sounds like nothing you’ve quite heard before. Each track has a distinctive character within the album too. They’re like chapters in a good book, linked together but each building and broadening your understanding.
Towards the end of the album, he pleads with you to hold him close. He deserves it. Grant his wish.
Taster Track : Window
Dance Till All The Stars Come Down : The Lilac Time
This is a special album, simple on the surface but also a pure distillation of honest and emotionally true protest songs.
The Lilac Time are Stephen Duffy and friends. Stephen Duff has retreated a long way from his time with Duran Duran and being in the Top 20 with ‘Kiss Me’ and ‘Icing On The Cake’.
He may come to be defined by ‘Dance Till All The Stars Come Down..
Musically it’s a stripped back set of simple and unadorned songs. They feature his vocals, an acoustic guitar, a slide guitar to add a little colour and backing vocals that sound as if they were sung into a shared microphone. The songs feature lilting melodies and lyrics that speak to you directly. That’s it.
It’s a songsmith’s record. Its beauty comes from its lack of adornment. There’s a direct line from this record back through time to the age of wandering minstrels. If you need modern comparisons, I was reminded at times of Chris Dfifford’s solo work and Richard Hawley's more intimate moments. First and foremost this is a record that comes naked to your ears.
This record may sound sparse in places, unpolished in others but it's overflowing with intense emotional honesty. This is a record that is founded on a set of personal beliefs, beliefs in how music should be made and sound and beliefs about life itself. On ‘So Far Away No 2’ he sings
No one is born on earth to be no one.”
On this record we learn about the someone Duffy has become.
In many ways it’s his testament and manifesto. It’s strangely but genuinely emotional because it’s the sound of a man remaining true to his beliefs when the evidence all around is that the world is moving in a different direction. These songs protest at that,and draw on the feelings of honest folk back to the days of The Levellers.
I doubt there will be another record like this for a while. It’s his strongest set of songs for some considerable time.
Taster Track : On the Last Day of the Last Days of Summer
The Chasing Pack
At The Edgeland Discotheque : Carter Takes The Train
This is a very good example of ambient electronica that makes a niche market its own.
That niche market could be described in layman’s terms as music for a long sleeper train journey when you’re having trouble nodding off. The tunes don’t necessarily progress. They unfurl as they roll by and let you pass through them rather than carrying you to new places. ‘In The Alpine Air’ manages to be both lush and unobtrusive. ‘Let There Be Stars’ is like whispers coming to you from a far away place. The album is worth listening to for the breathtaking, quiet gorgeousness of ‘Untitled’. It should be prescribed medically for its ability to sooth.
Elsewhere though, the drone of ‘Swimming In The Long Tide’, the drift of ‘Off World Holiday’ and the shapeless form of ‘The Day After today’ succeed a little too well in ambient’s aim of being unnoticeable. They’re easy on the ears but not obviously melodic.
There’s only one track that bucks the prevailing mood, but it’s a good one. ‘10 Billion Stars’, with its ‘big number’ facts is startling and engrossing, like a warning coming to you in a dream. Chill out to the first five tracks here before you’re hit by the fact that there are one billion guns in the world, 46% of which are in the US. It’s the cold contrast between harsh data and soothing music. It sounds as Public Service Broadcasting could sound if they turned ambient.
Electronic music was the AI of its day and still is. But this album is saved from the worst fears of AI music by the humanity and warmth of its delivery.
Accompanying Carter on this particular train journey is a soothing and enjoyable experience.
Taster Track : Untitled
Rapture : Emily Breeze
Bristolian Emily Breeze has a refreshing way with songwriting, a kind of new wave Britpop tell all memoir and confessional.
It’s increasingly rare to hear someone celebrate hedonism, memories and mistakes and even rarer that they invite you into their orbit to tell you all about it. When Breeze speaks - and the best songs here are half spoken works of sassy prose poetry such as ‘Ordinary Life’ - you listen and want to join her circle. Her thoughts are confidingly reflective and shamelessly unapologetic.
Her songs are about memories in the face of ageing, but they’re not imbued with nostalgia or regret. It’s more a mild bewilderment and wondering where the years have suddenly gone. In ‘The Bell’ she finds herself at a 40th birthday party wondering if anyone still does drugs. She’s searching for that point where she suddenly became a grown up and you feel that maybe she hasn’t reached it yet.
The lyrics are smart and laced with humour. In ‘Ordinary Life’ he tells us from the start, after we’ve invested in her music, that she used to be a terrible waitress and a worse singer. She's not, or if she was, she was also an excellent waitress. Every song has the quotability of the best catchphrase ridden comedy show. Take these two examples from ‘Dance With The Rats’:
“ Dance if you’re damned and dance if you’re blessed”
“A standing ovation from the angels”
Whilst sounding nothing like her, she has the style of a Kirsty MacColl filtered through glam and Britpop.
If there’s a quibble with this album it’s that it doesn’t need a quieter song like ‘Part Of Me’. Like an enforced interval in a comedian’s set it disrupts the momentum. It’s by no means a bad song, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is an album full of consistently strong songs, not just great lyrics. It’s a celebratory, slightly reckless strut of a record, as if Glam has come of age but can’t let go of the past. It oozes attitude, even in the titles like ‘Confessions of an Ageing Party Girl’.
In a world that steers us towards introspection mixed with outrage it’s good to switch off and lighten up every now and again. Emily Breeze lets you do that.
Taster Track : Ordinary Life
UK GRIM : Sleaford Mods
There’s only one Sleaford Mods. UK GRIM is a worthy addition to their catalogue of electronic rage and poetry.
There’s a fair chance that if you’re reading this then you’re part of the target for Sleaford Mods’ take down of society’s ills. Like the latecomer heckled by an edgy stand up comedian you may, secretly, be pleased at the attention. Don’t be. This is anger, scorn and disgust that is truly felt, not awarded as a badge of honour.
This is poetry flecked with spittle and bile and as direct and witty as football terrace chants. It’s beyond anger. Jason Williamson is the manic shouter who left behind his brazier beneath the flyover to stand in your back garden, raging at you through closed curtains and double glazed windows until his message gets through. They offer no apologies for who they are or for what they say. They will not let you look away.
This is the spirit of punk distilled into poetry. It would take a postgraduate team of literature students to analyse and dissect all the references. It’s a furious 100 mile an hour assault on your ears, senses and very being. Let it rush past knowing that some of the thoughts will stick. This isn't music to listen to. It’s music you have to feel.
Jason Williams’ lyrics and delivery are inevitably what draw your attention. Dazzling wordplay fills every song, lines like “I want a crack forest gateau” (‘UK GRIM’) or “the behaviours of the unsaved” from ‘Pit 2 Pit’. There’s exasperated humour to lighten the tone while driving the message home. Take this from ‘So Trendy’
“You got your Top Gun glasses upside down, you goose, you snide.”
It’s the masterful rhythms of lines such as “You’re all getting mobbed by the aristocracy” that roots the songs in the pop world despite the emotional force of the lyrics. If you want you could trace these songs back to the observational DNA of the Kinks or the scabrous stand up punk poetry of John Cooper Clarke. Sleaford Mods bear the same relationship to these though as a hurricane does to a stiff breeze.
If the focus is on the words, let’s not ignore the contribution to the dark and edgy tone supplied by Andrew Fearns’ minimalist electronica. It’s a work of art and power in its own right.
Sleaford Mods are a bracing, abrasive force of nature. They won’t go away so you should listen and learn before you really annoy them!
Taster Track : So Trendy (It’s one of the few songs here you won’t need to bleep out!)
Consciousness As A State Of Matter : Terr
Terr, real name Daniela Caldelas, is a Berlin based DJ producer. She’s also a magician who deals in time travel, taking us on a tour through decades of electronic dance music in this constantly enjoyable collection.
From the opening notes of ‘Tale Of Devotion - Sunny Version’, we’re back in the world of Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer and, yes, Baccara. In your head, you’re dancing in a sleeveless string vest and leather trousers, moustache neatly trimmed with sweat oozing from every pore, and bling on display. It’s the synthetic drums and electronic strings that are the dead giveaway.
But there’s more, because Terr takes us through some simultaneous dance universes leaving disco and heading for synth pop, techno and out and out electronica. It’s a journey laced with the sweet smell of success and possibly other substances too!
The key, funnily enough, is in Terr’s voice. When she sings you dance, when she’s silent you listen. Her voice is perfectly suited to the songs. She’s not a diva, more a neutrally pleasant dance version of Alexa or Siri or the Satnav lady who tells you to turn around when possible. From navigation to dance instruction in one small movement! It’s not all sweetness and light. The thought of Siri or Alexa in character for the song ‘Only For Tonight’ is a little disturbing.
It’s an album that’s brilliantly executed. It’s the nature of the glitterball beast that the sound is balanced, clean but also occasionally sterile. It never detracts from the appeal to pleasure though.
This is both a trip down memory lane and an excellent contemporary electronic album.
Taster Track : Tale of Devotion - Sunny Version
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