Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Welcome to the weekly review of albums I've been listening to. Some are new, others were new to me and may be a few or even many years old.
These judgements, as all judgements, are a matter of taste. It's personal and that means they have to address the likes of a 59 year old, white male whose tastes were formed by the melting pot of 70s chart pop and early 80s Gary Crowley and John Peel. I've kept up with current releases though the music press, review sites and numerous friends.
I like to share discoveries. It harks back to the days when you could stumble across a band you think, no know, are brilliant but who no one else listens to. Over the years I've been convinced that no one in my set has heard of, or listened to, Comsat Angels, Trashcan Sinatras, Leisure Society, The Silver Seas and many, many others. I've seen it as a guiding purpose to right that wrong. (We'll leave to one side my sharing of a seemingly little known song which spent 17 weeks at No 1 and has now racked up 1.7bn views on Youtube. It happens. Time to move on!)
Each week I'll include the taster tracks in a Pop In the Real World Spotify playlist such as this:
I hope that the tracks will, occasionally, provide a musical pearl that would otherwise remain undiscovered. I also hope that albums I haven't rated particularly well will still appeal to people with different tastes. In due course I will provide opportunities for members and followers to provide their own recommendations which will also feature in the playlist.
I also get a little irritated when name acts ( who for now, nevertheless, will remain nameless) routinely receive 4 or 5 star reviews for work which may be OK but falls short of their best work and short of the work of lesser known acts released at the same time. If their album is OK, that's the mark it merits.
It's been a good week in the news with changes in Government that could lead to a more inclusive, compassionate, looking out for each other world. The UK 'R' rate is on the fall as I type and it looks as if we've made a breakthrough with a vaccination for Covid-19. And, in a small way, it's been a good music week too. It's been difficult to choose 'star baker' and no one has been asked to leave the competition. Read on.
Album of the Week
Personal History : Ailbhe Reddy
They say you can judge a song based on the first 15 seconds. They're wrong. It's not until the 16th second of opening track 'Failing' that Ailbhe Reddy's voice kicks in. Your response to her voice will determine if you warm to this album or it leaves you cold. I loved it.
The closest parallel to Ailbhe's voice is the late Dolores O'Riordan's. That's not because they're both Irish. Their voices share the same ability to sooth or reach high on the anguish scale, sometimes in the same song.
There are many intense lo-fi, even grungy female singer songwriters about. Examples include Snail Mail and Phoebe Bridgers. The issue I have is that intense lo-fi too often means that it is the tunes that drop off the edge. That's not the case here. Aided by memorable vocal lines that lift each song, there are tunes in abundance all over the album with a perfect balance struck between music and lyrics.
The lyrics are personal but not in a 'look at me' kind of way. They relate to a desire to share experience rather than a desire to garner sympathy or pity. There's strength running through each song and as much care has been expended on the overall performance as on the lyrics.
Spotify classifies this as folk music. There's nothing wrong with that, but I felt there were stronger connections to Cherry Red's 80s hey day roster, of the acoustic highlights of early 90s bands such as The Sundays.
All told, this is a memorable record for all the right reasons.
Taster Track : Failing
Myriad : The Lovetones
Many bands incorporate Beatles influences into their songs. In some ways it's hard not to. Here, they're most obvious in the John Lennon sounding vocals, for example on 'Walk Away' or 'Modern Life Is Killing Me'. But this is a strong collection of mature and romantic songs where the Beatles influence is never overwhelming. The Beatles are the milk to the Lovetones' coffee. The taste is still of coffee, and that's the reason you've turned up in the first place.
Taster Track : Everything You've Ever Had
Map Meddwl : Yr Eira
If Yr Eira sang predominantly in English, they'd be huge. I'm glad they don't. I have no idea what they are singing about most of the time but it sounds great. The Welsh lyrics add a touch of the strange to English ears, but at its core, in any language, this is a very good indie rock album. Britpop riffs are softened by melodic synth lines. It's universal music. It just happens to be sung in Welsh.
Taster Track : Esgidiau Newydd
DJ Kicks : Avalon Emerson / Various
This is not my usual listening fare. I've said on this site that I am not always able to listen to music in the way it was intended. The last time I went clubbing was on my son in law's stag do. The time before that was in the 80s BD (before children). Preconceptions abound here. Far from listening to this on a night out, fuelled by alcohol and boisterous, ecstatic company, I listened to this on my evening walk distracted by muddy puddles and the need to avoid equally distracted drivers. The question foremost in my mind was : Could this be listened to and enjoyed for what it was, rather than as a vehicle for dancing? Would it be more than a selection of pounding beats?
I was impressed. The songs are generally beat driven, but there are good tunes there too on tracks such as 'Sharevari (Cybernedit)', 'Butterfly', 'Finest' and 'Level 5'. Yes there are a couple of longeurs. 'Dirty Pusherman (Original Filthy Mix) has the kind of relentless, interminable beat that would have had me considering a trip to the bar or toilets, even if the queues were long. But, hey, who would have thought that I could legitimately drop that title into a review?
Most of all, I appreciated for the first time the magic to be brought by a top class DJ. Avalon Emerson has curated a strong collection of individual tracks, but has also conjured a 70 minute mix that works as a single extended piece too. I listened to the mix version of this album and the seamless transition between tracks and snippets led to some enjoyable juxtapositions and developments. Perhaps, after all, I'm a clubber at heart!
Taster Track : Anywayz (Avalon Emerson's 14th Life Version)
Control : Natalie Slade
I subscribe to the Wax and Stamp Vinyl service - https://www.waxandstamp.com/ - which sends an album and EP to subscribers each month. 'Control' was one of last month's selections. I don't pretend to be a fan of the RnB / Soul genre but this particular example is very well done. Her voice is a bit marmite, from the same ball park as Sia, but get beyond that, and the RnB / soul sheen, and there are a number of naggingly infectious ear worms to enjoy. Above all it sounds sincere and committed.
Taster Track : Control
Shades : Good Sad Happy Bad
Good Sad Happy Bad are an evolution of Micahu and the Shapes who may be familiar to you. They weren't to me! For the most part this is enjoyable John Peel or Steve Lamacq material. It's wholehearted and energetic, as if someone has taken the components of indie rock, dropped them in a metal dustbin and thrown it downstairs. . Tracks such as 'Reaching' and 'Universal' are musical caffeine. The basic riffs, controlled discordance, time changes and hints of a jazz Velvet Underground make for a disorienting mix but not in an unpleasant way. Their gentler moments, such as 'Honey' bring some welcome charm to the party too.
Taster Track : Honey
Hey Clockface - Elvis Costello
I have remained loyal to Elvis Costello since the late 70s, buying or listening to each of his albums, often in more recent years out of duty rather than love. I'm not sure that there's a stronger run of three albums anywhere than 'Trust', Imperial Bedroom', and 'Punch the Clock'. It means though that everything since then is measured against that exceptional standard and is only going to disappoint. My specific issue is that over time, certainly since Spike, the gap between clever, bitter wordplay and tunes you'd make a pact with the Devil to match has grown ever wider.
'Hey Clockface' builds on the impetus from his last album 'Look Now' and moves to redress the balance.'No Flag' is the Elvis of old. 'The Whirlwind' is the kind of stately ballad he does very well. 'The Last Confession of Vivian Whip' has a gorgeous, simple chorus. His voice shows signs of gruff strain in places, for example on the title track. The two spoken tracks 'Revolution #49' and 'Radio Is Everything' work well but could also be an artistic way of saving his voice.
This is a good album marking another return to form. If it was released by any number of longstanding singer songwriters we might be hailing it as a career high. But in the shadow of the golden trio it also generates a wistful nostalgia for past glories. I suspect that it's no longer as easy as it used to be. Effortless magic is pretty hard work.
Taster Track : The Last Confession of Vivian Whip
Inure : Low Roar
Low Roar's Icelandic sounds are subdued, but imbued with quiet beauty. It creeps into you like warm water melting ice. you could describe this as lockdown music. 'Time and Space' is an awakening redolent of the quietness of early mornings. It's the polar opposite of musical caffeine, but it's good to have a choice.
Taster Track : Do You Miss Me?
Bare : Rosie Carney
This is an impressively mature and strong debut album. It taps into the core of traditional songwriting. It's shorn of unnecessary frills and its simplicity is its strength. I loved the interplay between piano and guitar on the title track and the way that little melodic codas lighten the tone. It's at once familiar and individual. I hate to be ageist but this is remarkable considering that Rosie Carney is only 23.
Taster Track : Bare
Midnight Manor : The Nude Party
If ever a record demanded to be heard live, this is it. It's student house party music with an energy all its own. It's good time music that draws on the influences of the Rolling Stones, Faces ( in their raucous style) and Jonathan Richman to entertain. If there's a criticism it can be a little like riding through new lands on a high speed train. In the rush of what you're hearing, it's hard to take in, and it doesn't make the impression it could.. Ultimately though you cannot help but be won over by the joyous adrenaline rush of having a good time.
Taster Track : Things Fall Apart
Sad Hunk : Bahamas
It's s little harsh to mark this down as lacking a certain something. It's an appealing sound but underwhelming. It's almost a lot of different things, almost funk, almost folk and almost classic singer songwriter territory. It has an impact on me similar to Mac Demarco, that is not unpleasant but, equally, not stirring. Bahamas let rip with a Hendrix like guitar break on 'Wisdom of the World' but it's probably the most politely restrained Hendrix tribute I've heard. Tracks such as 'Done Did Me No Good' are pleasant. This would work well distributed across a playlist rather than as an album en masse.
Taster Track : Done Did Me No Good
Shore : Fleet Foxes
I'm afraid that Fleet Foxes have drifted slowly away from what made them special, the close choral harmonies of 'Mykonos' or 'White Winter Hymnal'. This sounds and feels like a solo record, and it's certainly not bad or unlistenable. But it's a pale shadow of their original promise.
This album has drifted into the AOR mainstream. Lyrically it may bring consolation but it's not an immersive listen. There are hints of past glories on 'Young Man's Game' but not enough to polish a sound that used to be the sound of angelic choirs. On the plus side this may mark a transition to a more Simon and Garfunkle feel, and that holds promise for their future approach.
Taster Track : Young Man's Game
I'll Pass. Thanks
No, missteps, mishaps or out and out mistakes this week. Whoopee!