Updated: Jun 20
Catt, Minimal Schlager, Mounika, Paul Simon, Sam Blasucci, Tom Skinner
The Front Runners
Change : Catt
This is an album overflowing with wisdom and positivity. Quite possibly, you’ll fall in love with it as I have.
Catt - full name Katharina Schorling - has been immersed in music since childhood. It shows. These songs straddle the boundary between classic songwriting and something much more contemporary. This is pop with momentum and certainty of purpose, shorn of the fripperies of image and marketing machines. It’s a breeze of fresh air. She holds the face of the sun on the cover and its warmth is all over this album.
These are songs for the difficult times and the sad times, the times when you need reassurance that risks are worth taking and the good times can last. Even when she’s feeling down (‘Spell Me Free’) you sense this is temporary. She can accept the low times knowing that better times are just over the horizon.
The trumpet is the perfect instrument to accompany these songs. It’s not overdone, but it combines ‘last post’ sadness with a quiet raising of spirits. It sits comfortably alongside the nudging and catchy bass line of ‘Wild Heart’. It heralds the intro to the conversational ‘Seven Wishes’, fading from far away before moving closer to join with muted choirs. And it brings the album to a close with the gorgeous outro of ‘Slow Motion Harmony’. If music is measured by the extent that it gives you goosebumps, this song is destined to last forever.
Her voice is lovely. It’s the voice of the wiser, more experienced best friend you never had but always needed. It’s also a voice you can fall heavily for, one that melts you inside and leaves you dewy eyed with optimism and gratitude.
This is an album that reminds you of how good pop music can be, but also of the goodness all around us.
Taster Track : Slow Motion Harmony
Don’t Look At Me : Mounika
This is an album that sets out to be different but engaging, an album full of simple melodies bathed in electronic effects. It’s beguiling in the extreme.
There’s something a little alien about Mounika, and curiously moving too. There’s a sense, as there was on his previous album ‘I Need Space’, of capturing the sound of aliens going about their daily business and ordinary lives. They’re aliens on nodding terms with us, aliens from a land where it seems humanoid hares are bigger than elephants.
These are songs that go beyond the surface of that world. This is music that helps us to see the familiar as something strange and new. Take ‘Little Love’, a collaboration with Roland Faunte. Its music box melodies cover great sadness.
It’s a vivid album of many colours, and it’s full of the unexpected such as the quietly chattering birdsong underneath ‘BonXAir’ and the gipsy guitar and African singing that opens ‘Nomadics’. ‘Thinking Of’ provides a fleeting memory of 1930s drawing rooms, so fleeting that you feel you may have imagined it. And perhaps I did, but it adds to the effect of the album.
Moby is an obvious influence. There’s even a song called after him, ‘Mo1994by’. The influence is Moby from the time that his ‘Play’ album sounded fresh, innovative and new. And, yes, Mounika uses several samples to achieve his effects but they’re not allowed to overwhelm the album with cool cleverness. It feels played and composed, not programmed. It contains real emotion rather than sounding like a binary code converted to music
These are short songs that will stay with you for a long while.
Taster Track : Little Love
Off My Stars : Sam Blasucci
This warm and optimistic album is music as it used to be made back in the days before cynicism.
There are many emotional songs and also songs about many emotions. It’s relatively unusual though for the main emotion to be gratitude. Blasucci sets out his stall explicitly in songs such as the must have Fathers’ Day song ‘Proud Of You Dad’. It’s personal and sentimental and wears its heart and emotion on its sleeve. It’s also set out in the cover of Dido’s ‘Thank You’. He’s added an instrument I can’t identify - lots of gratitude coming the way of anyone who can do that for me but - fair warning - it could trigger overwhelming, happy tears of appreciation for someone special.
Sam Blasucci is from California and this is a throwback to the 70s / 80s of Miami Vice where the wind blows across beaches and ruffles Crockett’s mullet while melting the ice cream in Tubbs cone. It’s the spirit of dimly remembered soft rock acts such as Player, Starbuck and Rupert Holmes. It’s as impossible to dislike as it was to brag about it in the days of John Peel. It’s the sound of the 70s as played by Paul Gambaccini and every song can be placed in your chest of guilty pleasures.
It’s hard work to sound this laid back. The songs attain perfection in their field with layered sounds that are as luxurious as a chocolatier’s finest creation.The Italian of ‘Il Mondo’ and ‘Tenera Magia’ adds style and showbiz sophistication. He’s no Dean Martin copyist though. This is an album where his love of his music shines through in every note. The whoops of ‘Around The Corner’ may be at odds with the chug of the song, but they speak volumes for the exuberance of the music.
This is classic easy listening music from opening number ‘Sha La La’ to the ‘thank you and good night feel’ of the closer ‘That’s Good’.
That’s good? It certainly is.
Taster Track : Sha La La
The Chasing Pack
Love, Sex & Dreams : Minimal Schlager
Melodramatic synth pop - it’s an underrated genre. If this album is anything to go by I suspect there’s a sly sense of humour underpinning it too.
This is an album that brings together many different influences, not all expected. For a start, the band is German, the album title is English, and the first song is sung in Italian. It’s the sound of Eurovision if it were hijacked by gremlins and converted to something darker.
It also brings to life influences from further afield. It could have its origins in the gingerbread nastiness of the brothers Grimm, or the heightened teenage intensity of a Buffy without the vampires .’Forbidden Fruit’ is not alone in capturing a sense of heightened, imaginary risk and corruptible innocence
Opening track ‘Nano del Caballo Grande’ is the sound of an angel trapped in Sally Bowles’ Cabaret. It has the slightly sleazy feel of a Berlin nightclub and the vocals of a princess trapped in a tower awaiting the kiss of her one true prince.
These are songs with a mock heroic sense of emotion. It’s melodrama set to music, with the self absorbed intensity of a teenager facing their first set of hormone addled emotions.
This is the sound of synth pop as it was in the late 80s. It’s moved on from the simpler early sounds and adopted a lusher, fuller, more grandiose sound. Imagine a kind of lo energy Pet Shop Boys with the quietest echo of Sophie Ellis Bextor in the vocals and you’re close to the sound of Minimal Schlager.
Occasionally it becomes a little wearying but for the most part the fact that these are, deep down, very good pop songs rescues the day. ‘Before’ has the kind of sweeter melody you find tucked away in a later Pet Shop Boys album. ‘Euphoria’ shows their way with a resounding backing track - all faux urgency and heartfelt energy.
It’s the final two tracks that suggest that it’s not meant to be taken too seriously. The repetitive but catchy, sprightly and bouncy ‘Ridiculous’ steps back to take a long hard look at the songs. The closing track, ‘Prayer’, is the sound of a self-help manual collapsing under the weight of its own mantras.
This is a highly enjoyable album that provides great music without taking itself too seriously.
Taster Track : Ridiculous
Seven Psalms : Paul Simon
This is a brave, sparse record that is reflective and moving in equal measure. It’s more likely to prompt quiet meditation than joyous cries of ‘Hallelujah’.
The Seven Psalms on this album are recorded as one continuous track. For those thinking of investing in it, it’s all or nothing. You can’t pick and choose the parts you like and ignore the rest. In that way it’s very like religion.
Don’t come to this album expecting to be able to call him Al, visit Graceland in his company or to find him still happily crazy after all these years. This is a difficult and uncomfortable listen at times. It’s like being in church on a gloomy Good Friday. At 81, you have to consider if it is Simon’s last record. If it is, he’s not recording it from a happy place but it’s full of hard earned insights and wisdom.
This is a religious record with minimal warmth. There’s little comfort here. It compels you to listen while pressing you to turn away. Simon sounds for the most part deserted and frightened. He doesn’t let you forget it.
His conversational vocals are still there. His voice has aged well, recognisably the sound of his younger years with an added gravelly undertone. It’s sparsely backed by one guitar and little else. This means that when other elements intrude, they carry impact. The crashing piano chord on ‘Love Is Like A Braid’ sounds apocalyptic.
There are two things that offer a little contains the wry humour of his earlier work. (“All cows in the country must bear the blame.”) On ‘The Sacred Harp’ and ‘The Wait’ he duets with his wife, Edie Brickell. It’s good to feel that in this sombre stage of life he’s not alone.
None of this takes away from the fact that this is, objectively, a cleverly constructed album. It creates a sense that the Lord is everywhere - literally when you consider that the refrain from ‘The Lord’ is repeated in part throughout the album. Oh my! That’s just like a psalm! He references earlier songs such as ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’.(“This is the path I slip and slide on.”) He puns his way from The Sacred Heart to ‘The Sacred Harp’
Johnny Cash captured his feelings of old age, frailty and end of life concerns in his American albums. Lou Reed brought his bleak perspectives to the fore in his ‘Berlin’ album. Paul Simon attempts and achieves something similar here.
It may never become his most popular album but it’s a brave and unsettling album that few could pull off as well/
Amen to that.
Taster Track : The Sacred Harp (You’ll find it 21.45 into the continuous play. No standalone video available)
Voices of Bishara : Tom Skinner
Tom Skinner drums with experimental jazz act Sons of Kemet and is a member of the Radiohead spin off group The Smile. That tells you that we are at the cutting edge of jazz and rock here.
If melody is important to you in music, for the most part you will need to look elsewhere. This is explosive stuff, music that has peered over the rim of the volcano and witnessed it bubbling its way to an eruption. It’s a force of nature, even in its quieter moments. It’s so fast moving that your judgments are changing and redundant every couple of minutes.
Imagine an explosion that blew up music as we know it today. This is the music that would result as the notes, chords and phrases fell back to earth. ‘Bishara’, which opens the album, is a full blown emotional, health threatening rage fuelled meltdown led by the sax, that eventually simmers down into the calm after the storm.
Each track brings something new to the party. All of music is up for grabs and put to use. This is cutting edge jazz that features a cello (‘Bishara’). It’s a jazz that makes a smash and grab from pop in the opening beat and rhythm of ‘The Journey’. It’s jaunty - not a word I expected to use as the album took off. ‘Voices (Of the Past)’ captures Skinner at his most frenetic magpie like. He introduces flute and soothing piano into the mix, like guests arriving at the wrong party but settling in to become its life and soul.
This is musical chaos as an affirming life force. It seems to come from a different place and it will leave you energised like an Indian city or an African bazaar.
Rejoice in it.
Taster Track : The Journey
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