Dehd, Florence + The Machine, Interlopers, jennylee, Kate Rusby, Peter Bruntnell, Romero, U-Ziq (with Mrs Jynx)
If You Listen To One Thing This Week....
Bop by Dehd.
I've chosen this because it's 90 second of infernally catchy post punk pop by a band who deserve to be much better known. For nearly two minutes I was in my student days once again!
Secret Garden - U-Ziq (with Mrs Jynx)
This gorgeous collection of intelligent dance music is a collaboration between two electronic artists - U-Ziq and Mrs Jynx - that caresses and soothes in equal measure.
On first listening, this is a record for time out, for letting life drift by. If background music is a genre in its own right, this is some of the best I’ve heard.
It comes as a surprise then to learn that U-Ziq and Mrs Jynx collaborated over 2021 having each lost a parent. It’s a record rooted in grief, not sunshine. That changes my perceptions, but it still doesn’t sound like grieving music. If it’s portraying grief it’s calm, not raging, melancholy but uplifting, warm and accepting. ‘Secret Garden’ is the sound of letting go, as the memories of the one you’ve lost keep you company.
It’s restorative music that lets you reflect. There are no jagged edges here, no spikes of wailing emotion.This is music to listen to in isolation, allowing you to sink into a private reverie. It even allows for a little gentle humour in the puns that provide some of the tracks with their titles. ‘Philip Steak’ is my favourite.
It’s electronic music built around bass lines you can dance to, overlaid with melodies and effects as smooth as cream settling on top of a coffee. It manages to make the obligatory squelches and bleeps of electronica sound musical. ‘Loss’ is propelled by the rhythm of the bass that changes smoothly and seamlessly in mid tune, shifting the tone of the piece before you can notice.
It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s exceptionally well done. It calls to mind a less obvious Air, the relaxed swing of melodic Bent and the accessible parts of Bonobo. (They’re all featured on the Shadowplay playlist)
Far from simply providing a chilled listening experience to sun soaked holiday makers, this is an album that serves as a beautiful tribute to those that they’ve lost.
Taster Track : Jynxiq
...And The Rest
Blue Skies : Dehd
This offering from American rock trio, Dehd, hits the sweet spot where post punk meets new wave pop.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this Rough Trade recommended release, but it’s a delight. It provides thirteen short bursts of concentrated post punk, as concise as the track listing. In the early tracks especially it’s more post pop than post punk, an enjoyable meeting of Joy Division and the songs of Siouxsie Sioux around the time of Christine’ and ‘Happy House’.These are songs that take the punk spirit and merge it with the darker synth pop of Depeche Mode.
If punk had produced ballads, this might be what they sounded like. These are tuneful, even catchy, songs that suggest strong feelings being held in check. They’re the sound of feral songs when no one is watching. They’re alert and wary, dangerous beasts patrolling their cages in the dead of night, goth punks enjoying some darker moments.
It’s all good, but it can’t quite sustain the initial buzz for the whole album. The lighter songs such as ‘Bad Love’, ‘Bop’ and ‘Empty In My Mind’ have the potential to become classics. There are some unexpected touches too. The unadorned and straightforward balladry of ‘Control’, for example, and ‘Hold’, which has a blunt tenderness about it.
In many ways this is a throwback to the late 70s / early 80s but it fits neatly into the 21st century too. It’s a reminder of good musical times and an indication that the future may look bleak but, if Dehd have their way, it will have a good soundtrack.
Taster Track : Bop
Dance Fever : Florence + The Machine
Here’s a festival headlining band that writes the right kind of songs without compromising what’s made them special in the first place.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me in 2015 when Florence + the Machine were asked to headline Glastonbury in 2015. That’s not because they weren’t good enough but because they hadn’t struck me as that kind of band. Their brand of rock was introspective, more in keeping with Patti Smith or PJ Harvey than the Foo Fighters, who they replaced.
The opening track on this album, ‘King’, shows exactly how well they’ve nailed that new role. Part of me steps back and gasps in amazement that they’ve landed in the middle of their very own fairy tale and they’re making it work.
Here’s the thing though. Fairy tales aren’t nice little stories. They’re filled with madness, freakish behaviour and unreal situations. Think of your own Sleeping Beauty lapsing into a coma, or Cinderella’s step sisters cutting their toes down to fit the glass slipper, or your own Beauty taken by the Beast. They’re as close to horror tales as anything else.
These songs are Gothic without sounding like the music of goths. The mad woman in the attic of fiction has become the mad woman in the recording studio. There’s a violence too in the conceit of ‘Choreomania’ - dancing until you drop dead through exhaustion, and freaking out in the street. In ‘Back In town’ Florence sings that
“I come for the pleasure, but I stayed
Yes, I stayed for the pain.”
Even the phrasing of these lines tells of repressed feelings waiting to explode. And if it’s anger and passion you want, look no further than ‘Girls Against God’.
Florence Welch comes across so strongly as the front person for Florence + the Machine that it came as another surprise to realise that ‘The Machine’ is actually her co-founder Isabella Summers. Summers spends her time writing songs for and scoring TV series and films. She has a powerful influence on this album. It’s full of anthems for the Netflix generation.
At the musical heart of this machine are a collection of strong songs. They build to satisfying climaxes and they contain the singalong melodies beloved of a festival crowd.
Florence + the Machine have become a headlining act that remains true to themselves. That’s no mean feat.
Taster Track : King
Interlopers : Interlopers
This is an album of slow ballads. It’s beautifully done and over eleven tracks the band offer a masterclass in setting the mood and tone of this song form.
Interlopers are a quiet presence, led by Steven Lindsay who some may know from The Big Dish, a Scottish band from the 80s and early 90s. They’re so low key that when you search for them on Google you’re directed to a metal band with almost the same name. Confused? So was I. Relieved? Yup, me too.
80s and 90s influences are all over this album but not of the storm the charts type. Mike and the Mechanics came to mind as did the idea of The Blue Nile on an overdose of caffeine - it’s lively by their standards if no one else's! There’s an older influence as well - the first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’.
These songs are not allowed to run wild. It’s as if synth pop has been played on guitars and peppered with operatic flourishes and chamber strings. It’s pretty and listenable although a touch of spice or cynicism or acid would help to make the music fully human.
‘The Bell’ opens with the hushed sound of the waves and the single toll of a bell. That’s the tone for the whole album. ‘Down On The Boulevard’ makes fine use of a waltz to create the sense of coffee house pavement meetings on sunny days.
It’s the melodies that save this album from becoming a self absorbed wallow in memory and emotion. They’re highly accessible and cause you to pause, engage and fully appreciate the playing.
It’s a thoughtfully created album that is consistently serious, beautifully played and eminently listenable.
Taster Track : Rainbow’s End
Heart Tax : jennylee
Subtle and subdued guitar driven songs characterise this album, but on the whole they make for a fatigued and wearisome listen.
I’ll come straight to the point and keep this brief. These are songs that offer no real progression, no climaxes or crescendos. Together, they’re a mood hoover set to max. It’s a lot to do with jennylee’s voice but the effect is to sedate the songs.
Musically it sounds good, but the songs don’t reach out to engage with the listener. They sound as if they are being played, but not performed and as if they have been dragged out of a deep sleep without being fully awake.
There’s a whisper of hope around the track ‘Clinique’. It’s slinky, sly and has a personality. It carries over into the following track ‘In Awe Of’. There’s a chance that the alarm has gone off to shake up the songs but, sadly, after ‘In Awe Of’, Jenny hits the snooze button.
The final track is ‘I’m So Tired’. She sings of “No more struggle. No more energy.” It sounds like it, but a little more of either would be welcome.
Taster Track : Clinique
30: Happy Returns : Kate Rusby
Kate Rusby has reworked some of her past folk catalogue with a series of respected collaborators to celebrate 30 years as a musician. It’s beautifully done, but there’s not a lot of variation across the album.
If you were to ask a folk expert to list the greatest female folk singers, it’s likely that Kate Rusby would be at or near the top of that list. She deserves to be celebrated and this collection repeats a similar exercise after 20 years in folk and, quite possibly her 10 years in folk too. She’s starting a tradition and, as she’s not yet 50, there could be more to come.
She’s an unashamedly folk singer. She’s not folk influenced, she sings of things that happened centuries ago, and she does so with respect and reverence for the genre. It approaches the sense of wonder you find in the air at Christmas, and it’s no surprise that she has released a few Christmas albums over the years. They suit her voice and delivery well. She brings a more meditative take on the songs, singing for herself rather than whipping up the community.
It’s also a smooth take on folk, designed for the appreciative, casual listener who’d run a mile from the may pole or a country fiddle. It’s a pretty sound, but unchanging across the album. It’s respectful but dull, much closer to the Corrs than to the Pogues, and not as immersed in the soil of the land as say Norma Waterson or Eliza Carthy.
There are moments that feel less polished and more traditional. ‘Only Desire What You Have’ with DanTyminski sounds more traditional with its pipes and fiddles, but it’s still a little too polite to set the heather ablaze. The songs are at their most interesting when her natural accent is allowed to slip through into the songs. It adds character and personality.
There’s no denying the quality of these songs, but they’re subjected to a treatment that preserves them in cotton wool, rather than as a full-blooded, living thing. It’s Ok in small doses.
Taster Track : No Names @30 (with Richard Hawley)
Journey To The Sun : Peter Bruntnell
Less a journey to the sun, and more a journey around the dark side of Americana with occasional interruptions of a gentler beauty.
Peter Bruntnell is an Aussie Brit, and this is his 14th album in 27 years. For every sun filled Australian scene of the Bondi Beach or Sydney Opera House, there’s a harsher, bleached scene from the outback or Ayers Rock. You’ll find Peter Bruntnell in those latter places.
In my social circle, it’s been said that my taste in music can be downbeat and a bit of a downer on the party. I can’t come close to some of the tracks and sentiments on this album. ‘Dandelion’, which opens the album, offers the line “We’re not too young to die” - a helpful reminder to wake up to! It’s a sombre and sparse beginning. ‘Runaway Car’ reminds us how quickly youth vanishes, although it does lighten the message with a 60s feel to the chorus and some nice, psychedelic effects. As for ‘You’d Make A Great Widow’, well, it’s a song that plunges downhill all the way from the title. It’s a good song though.
This is the music of a man delivering an urgent warning from the near future. The mood is brooding and threatening, laced with a desperation to pass on the lessons he’s learned. It’s strong on atmosphere and tone, but there are enough shafts of stripped back melody to lighten the mood, just a little. ‘Heart Of Straw’ and ‘Waiting For Clive’ are examples of this. The cover of the folk song ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is gentle and comforting and provides some respite midway through the album.
This is music that will not be hurried and its strength lies in that. Time is granted for every note and effect to make its mark fully. The introduction to ‘You’d Make A Great Widow’ is a minute and 40 seconds long. It’s not wasted. If you delve beneath the sound of the mood hoover, you’ll find moments of beauty that may be enough to draw you back. It’s a thoughtful labour of love, and the care and attention devoted to it is impressive.
From a dismal start, this album slowly won me over.
Taster Track : You’d Make A Great Widow
Turn It On : Romero
Romero deliver Aussie punk that simultaneously thrills and assaults the senses. If sensitivity and subtlety is what you’re looking for, best look elsewhere.
Aussies like their punk and always have done. This continues that legacy. It should be listened to in a crowded warehouse bar, with a sprung floor mosh pit and with condensation and sweat dripping from the ceiling. It’s a blast of squalling guitars turned up to 11, a noise on the edge of distortion fuelled by an energy lifted straight out of punk.
From the word go the vocals are locked in combat with the guitars. Even the drums can’t overcome the fall out. Fortunately singer Alannah Oliver has the voice to hold her own. It’s a voice grown out of the blues and helps to ground the mayhem going on all around. It makes a song such as ‘Halfway Out The Door’ into a blues song wearing punk clothing.
It’s a relentless sonic assault on the senses. Often a band playing like this will throw in a quieter song for relief and contrast. Romero offer no more than a couple of seconds of unaccompanied bass in ‘Petals’ which nestles deep in the running order. It’s a thrilling sound that has you clinging on for dear life as if you were riding a mechanical bucking bronco stuck in overdrive.
This is an album with an adrenaline shot every minute. Undeniably thrilling, just occasionally it feels as if a precious liquid is being poured down a small funnel. If you don’t ease up you’re going to lose what matters in waste and spillage.
The assault is all their own, but if you need a comparison look no further that the Strokes or Ramones.
Each track sounds like the climax of a great gig. They might want to consider providing a couple of free aspirin with physical copies of this record though!
Taster Track : Talk About It
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