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Accelerating In A High Performance Car

Starring


Barry Can't Swim, Hard Feelings, The Jasmine Minks.,Mozart Estate, Nicholas Krgovich, Special Friend


The Front Runners


When Will We Land? : Barry Can’t Swim


Barry Can’t Swim provides the sound of a good night out accompanied by lashings of good tunes and a nice sense of fun.


More than that, rather than use words to describe directly how a good night feels he captures the feeling in his songs. His songs paint the slightly chaotic picture of a number of great nights out. He’s with his mates, he’s happy and he’s pleased that he’s playing a part in giving everyone a good time.


This is his debut album. He may not have found his true voice yet. Some of the vocal samples are heavy (‘Deadbeat Gospel’) or a little bit indulgent as in the sampled astronaut at the end of ‘Always Get Through To You’. It’s as if he inserts some of the samples into songs because he can, not because the song needs them.


On the cover, he’s surrounded by giant slabs of brightly colourered toy building blocks. It’s no surprise then that his songs are filled with the same sense of bright fun. ‘When Will I Land’ incorporates God’s mind, lending a warm psychedelic strangeness to an attractively cascading slice of electronica.


These are songs heard from the club door while an African street party takes place outside Initially it’s a little incongruous but they’re connected by euphoria. As the chilled trance of of ‘How It Feels’ slides into the warm Balearic feel of ‘Sunsleeper’ you’ll realise that you’re in the middle of a soundtrack to the best party of the year.


These are songs that take themselves seriously while filling the air with great melodies and oodles of fun. They’ll leave you chilled and with a contented smile.


Taster Track : Always Get Through To You



Hard Feelings : Hard Feelings


This collaboration between Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Amy Douglas, New York singer songwriter is self described as an opera of sad bangers. It’s music that takes you from synth po to Eurodisco via every club on the bad side of town.


As the temptress looking out from the cover, Amy Douglas should be setting all alarm bells ringing. It’s a warning born out by opening track ‘Love Scenes’, an expedition into the heavy synth pop of the 80s and 90s.


The rest of the album gives life to her words in ‘You Always Know’ that a happy home becomes a haunted house, and there are skeletons in the cupboard and a ghost in every room. Douglas sings as a life long addict exhausted and broken by attempting recovery. There’s nothing soft, romantic, loving, tender or kind about these songs and the world picture they portray. The only light in this dark world comes from the glare of a high wattage bulb.


This is music for the drained hours of night as the come down regrets kick in. It’s the opposite of euphoria. And yet, Joe Goddard’s music that underpins the lyrics is the essence of good club music. ‘Running Out Of Time’ slows down the House piano that allows other songs to soar. The slow build to ‘Holding On Too Long’ is like acceleration in a high performance car - smooth and powerful. It makes for a wonderful song - a memorable banger with a long, long fuse.


That’s the secret of this album. Douglas’s vivid lyrics meet Goddard’s music full on, with all its echoes and memories of good times turned to dust.


I wasn’t sure about this set initially, but it quickly settles to become a compelling set that draws you in.


Taster Track : Holding On Too Long



The Chasing Pack


We Make Our Own History : The Jasmine Minks


With their first album of new music for 22 years, The Jasmine Minks take us back to the days when John Peel helped to navigate us through an alternative Britpop scene.


It must be strange getting back together again in the studio after 22 years, a kind of school reunion for musicians. Momentarily, in ‘She Knows’ the awkwardness peeps through. Like a sportsman returning to the field after a long absence, there’s a stiffness there, a summoning up of the belief that you still have what it takes, that your comeback is not a mistake. Occasionally there’s a song like ‘Gotta Move On’ that seems like a song they felt they ought to write because it was what they did back in the day. The Mod stylings are welcome though.


Of course, that’s an adjustment as much for the listener as it is for the band. Thoughts run through your head : “I used to love this stuff. Is it still for me?”


Rest assured. This album is not a mistake. The music will still work for you.


The Jasmine Minks soon feel right at home. The songs are catchy. They jangle and move at a fair pace. They’re slightly, but appealingly, rough around the edges as if wrapped in sandpaper.. Their former record labels, Creation and Poptones, always had space for something a little retro, harking back to the 60s while sounding very 80s indie. This may sound like generic indie pop but, what a genre!


The surprise in these songs is the backing vocals. They soften the sound and elevate the songs to something special. They’re understated but have their greatest impact on ‘Wild Heart’ and ‘We Make Our Own History’. It’s at times like these that they match the current sounds of The Bluebells and Teenage Fanclub. That’s high praise.

This is music that stops the clock and reminds you that the hours you spend listening to music each week have always been worthwhile.


Taster Track : Wild Heart



Pop-Up! Ker-Ching! And the Possibilities of Modern Shopping : Mozart Estate


Mozart Estate makes indie pop that sounds as if it was knocked off in a couple of hours, at home on a wet Saturday afternoon. It’s actually quite a bit cleverer than that.


Mozart Estate is Lawrence Hayward, a member of former indie band Felt. He’s also 62 years old which makes his childlike music quite remarkable. He says that Mozart Estate is the world’s first B side band’. The cover of his album looks like a thousand remaindered albums that have accumulated in charity shops over the years. That’s appropriate as the main theme of this album is our consumer society and its impact.


You’ll know fairly quickly if this is for you or not. ‘I’m Gonna Wiggle’ comes across with the joy of a toddler at their weekly music club. It’s all nagging energy and disposable fun. ‘Relative Poverty’ is irritatingly catchy and it introduces the darker edge to the songs here. It’s a study in poverty trap and poverty gap ‘lifestyle choices’. It’s wrapped up in the manic buoyancy of an edgy stand up comedian who knows that he has lured you across the boundary of what’s funny into something more troubling.


There are frivolous songs too. ‘Vanilla Gorilla’ is an excuse to make nonsensical rhymes part of a song. ‘Pink and the Purple’ sounds like a chorus from the back seat of a school coach on a well behaved Year 9 awayday.


This succeeds despite, or because of, everything that might normally turn you away. How do I know? Well, a minute into ‘Flanca For Mr Flowers’ I notice my foot involuntarily tapping!


Mozart Estate is unique. That doesn’t guarantee you’ll like him. It just means he’s hard to categorise. Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom) and Half Man Half Biscuit have adopted a similar approach albeit with a different sound. Bennet’s ‘Mum’s Gone To Iceland’ and Sultan of Ping’s ‘Where’s Me Jumper’ are examples of other songs that succeed despite a wanton disregard of adult tastes.


This is music that caters for our inner child while providing astute commentary on life around us. And like any inner child you might find yourself forming a sneaky attachment to these songs.


Taster Track : Flanca For Mr Flowers



Duck : Nicholas Krgovich


Gently subdued, pretty and loosely structured songs are Nicholas Krgovich’s stock in trade. This album is a good example and you could spend your time in worse company.


There aren’t many people who are so good at writing what you might consider to be anti-pop. These songs sound like idle musings on life all around him. Occasionally they deep dive into something more personal but they shortly return to whatever has caught his attention from the front porch.


These are songs about what you notice when you should be working, songs that come to you as your thoughts happen to fall into step with the ticking of clock or the thrum of a cricket.. You're a fly on the wall of his varied ruminations. As he sings on ‘Eating Last Years Apples In July’, his mind is “raining thoughts like confetti”. He tries not to let one of them go to waste.


Krgovich can write melodies to die for. (Listen to ‘Bedlam’ from his 2021 album ‘This Spring’). He often chooses to let his music wander away from them though. On ‘Return’ he has a melody that crops up 90 seconds in. It hints at genius but it won’t repeat and disappears. ‘Ducks’ offers another, short lived example. Melodies are heard fleetingly as if caught on a breeze, half heard but lingering.


It adds up to a homespun feel backed by intelligent, almost experimental music. When have you ever heard a nonsense word such as “zubbyzoo” used in pop before? It’s a word fit to rank with ‘thingymabob’ or ‘oojamaflip’.


Listening to Nicholas Krgovich is like having a day spent doing nothing that still feels worthwhile. This album provides a gentle, untroubling listening experience.


Taster Track : Rest



Wait Until The Flames Come Rushing In : Special Friend


Special Friend describe their generally sparse songs as indie noise pop. It has its strengths, but they may be approaching a crossroads regarding their future direction.


Special Friend are a duo. He plays guitar, she bangs the drums. They keep it simple - repetitive riffs, shared vocals, steady drums. Occasionally they flesh out their songs with grubby strings or unadorned piano. They come from a tradition that is rooted in the Velvet Underground, has obvious parallels with other rock duos in their early stages (The Black Keys or The White Stripes) and will have John Peel looking down from his heavenly cloud with a mixture of envy and sorrow at missing out playing them alongside The Delgados and ‘Allo Darling.


There are two essential songs on this album if you want to understand both where they are coming from and where they might head next.


The opening track ‘Leskie’ is a template for the next eight. They’re relentless in pursuing their chosen path and, at the moment, that leads to little variety. ‘Fault Lines’ doubles down with harsh, almost grating tones. What the songs gain in their rough honesty, they lose in their ability to provide nuances.


Then there’s the final track ‘Ami Special’. Maybe it’s the French romanticism coming through, but the simple addition of a bass guitar gives it a bounce, a sense of life, a joyful filip. It suggests that when they feel they have exhausted the bare bones approach, there’s a warmer and more exciting future just around the bend.


For now the songs have a raw minimalism that many bands and fans would settle for. In architectural terms they’re the National Theatre rather than the Royal Albert Hall, fashioned from breeze block rather than the trappings of Laura Ashley. Both styles have their fans and detractors. The choice of which style to pursue is theirs.


Above all, there is a sense that Special Friend are a band still honing and perfecting their sound. When / if they’re ready to move on it could get even more interesting.


Taster Track : Ami Special



Playlists


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.




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