ANC4, David Kitt, Hania Rani, Men I Trust, Metronomy, Oscar Lang, Silk Sonic, Wang Chung,
Album Cover of the Week
Album Cover of the Week goes to Hania Rani's EP, 'Live From Studio S2'. It's the first issue of the EP with just two tracks. That concept of 'less is more' also applies to the cover, a reversed line drawing, white on black.
I think it's a clever design, not quite one line from start to finish but holding the attention and drawing in the eye.
This Week's Music
There are a couple of albums this week that call for the listener to put in a bit of effort to extract their full benefit. Trust me this week when I say that any effort is worth it.
To compensate there are some immediately likeable albums too, and one funk album that is jaw droppingly retro.
Here are the reviews.
20 : David Kitt
If you let them, David Kitt’s acoustic strums can work gentle magic. These rearrangements of his back catalogue offer a different take on the originals without diminishing their soft power.
David Kitt, for those who haven’t come across him before, is an Irish singer songwriter. This is his ninth album in 20 years. He’s kept himself busy with side projects too with an electronic alter ego, New Jackson, and recording and touring work with Tindersticks and others. Despite all this activity he’s remained pretty much under the radar, unfairly so.
Discovering that he released an album of reworked songs last year was a pleasant surprise. It’s the product of plans thwarted by Covid but it’s not the easy option. These new versions are subtly enhanced like a touched up picture so that they regain their lustre and brightness. The strings on ‘Song Of Two Birds’ are a gorgeous addition.
A critic might describe these songs as plodding. A fan will describe them as unhurried pleasures. They’re like water soaking into a parched sponge, softening the surface and refreshing the listener. Allow yourself to sink into the music as you would indulge yourself at a spa. To do so uncovers the hypnotic quality of, say, ‘Step Outside In The Morning.’ It’s easy to wander from the songs because of their relaxed vibe. But songs such as ‘Into The Breeze cast their spell in a gradual and subtle way, and you will return.
His voice is key. It’s neither tuneful nor tuneless, but it is uncertain, aching, longing and innocent. It highlights the melodies. The duets such as that on ‘Whispers Return The Sun : Rest The Moon’ are a pleasant surprise as are touches such as the Isley Brothers ‘Summer Breeze’ guitar on ‘You Know What I Want To Know’. This, and other songs including ‘Song From Hope Street' are more sprightly than the originals and more accessible too.
This is a long album at nearly 90 minutes. Have it playing in the background as you complete routine tasks. You’ll soon find you’ve hooked into the music and you’ll hear it in your head for days afterwards.
Taster Track : Whispers Return The Sun : Rest The Moon
Live From Studio S2 - Hania Rani
This short 11 minute EP showcases Rani’s keyboard and composition skills to excellent effect.
Back in 1981 I met my future brother in law for the first time. Just five years after punk, and at the peak of clean sounding synth pop, he extolled the skills of Rick Wakeman who, he said, could use four pianos in a single track. I always wished I’d asked him “Why?”.
In these two tracks, Hania Rani comes close to identifying a reason for doing so. The cover of this EP is a line sketch showing her at the controls of four pieces of equipment. They allow her to blend piano and discreet electronica, enriching the core sound but without a superfluous note to be heard.
‘Buka’ is a lovely work, as simple and hypnotic as Nils Frahm but with a warmer, fuller sound. ‘Hawaii Oslo’ takes a couple of minutes to build, but grows into a complete musical structure like a river bird building its nest..
I’m wary of labels, but for anyone daunted by the release of this on the classical label ‘Deutsche Gramophone’, rest easy. I stumbled across this on the Rough Trade Counter Culture 2021 compilation where it’s right at home.
A fuller version of the live set will be released for Record Store Day.
Taster Track : Buka
Small World : Metronomy
Metronomy’s seventh album is a delight full of warmth, innocence and charm and, most importantly, good tunes.
At first hearing, there’s still something about Metronomy that sounds out of place. The phrasing of the lyrics sounds forced. The songs don’t always build to a climax, they pass by like traffic observed from a window. The various elements don’t quite fit together like flat pack furniture that’s assembled out of alignment.
And yet, it oozes an effortless charm and innocence. Every song has a melody, hook or ear worm that sticks in your mind. The production makes a virtue of their oddities and turns them into strengths. They wear their musical skin comfortably.
The album is aptly named. Metronomy create a self contained world that’s small in scale. In that sense they’re like Belle and Sebastian. They write tunes you can dance to, but they’d play better at the disco rather than in the club, where they might be a little lost.
If you Google Metronomy, one of the first entries on the page is “Are Metronomy French?”. It’s a good question. They’re not, but they share the same joyful commitment to quirky and off-beat pop as French bands such as Phoenix.
Metronomy draw you gradually into their world. By the time the record ends you won’t want to leave.
Taster Track : Right On Time (but it was a tough choice!)
...And The Rest
Strange Tide : ANC4
This is a record chock full of the sound of the 60s and early psychedelia. It just keeps on coming and starts to suggest that you can have too much of a good thing.
ANC4 are from Sweden and evidence that the swinging 60s reached Gothenburg. They look like A Clockwork Orange relocated on Carnaby Street.
The album opens as it means to go on, with the headlong rush into 60s jangle pop that is ‘Struck Gold’. It moves effortlessly on to the wig out jangle meets early psychedelia of ‘Go Easy’. ‘Go Easy’ is exactly what doesn’t happen on this record. Two tracks in and you can already feel this is a busy record.
The Pied Piper that is ANC4 takes us through melodies and harmonies galore, in a headlong rush. It’s undeniably enjoyable but a little more variety and a few more pauses for breath would be welcome. As it is, it feels like an album that is constantly fighting itself to be heard.
It was a crass thing to say, but I’m beginning to feel for Emperor Joseph II when he accused Mozart of using too many notes. Each song feels crowded - 8 bass notes where 4 would suffice. There’s wah wah guitar on top of everything else on ‘Everything Turns Blue’. ‘I Want To Feel Good’ introduces even more backing singers. In ‘Darlinghoneybaby’ there’s an organ in the mix but it’s almost lost in the mass of music around it.
At heart this is a tuneful sonic assault, a warm musical plunge bath that needs to be savoured at least twice to appreciate its full offer.
Taster Track : There Goes My Baby
Untourable Album : Men I Trust
This sedate, quietly woozy album sets a relaxed mood but runs the risk of being too modest for its own good.
Rest assured. Despite the album title, this is not untourable. It’s unlikely to set a venue or an audience alight though. It’s music that needs to be given a chance, the kind of music for which a venue should ask an audience to respect the performance and cut the chatter.
First impressions are of a lovely voice and woozily sweet tunes that never turn to saccharine. One of their tunes is called ‘Sorbitiol’, a natural sweetener but not as sweet as sugar and that sums them up. They’re Dubstar emerging from an anaesthetic.
The songs are understated and restrained but enjoyably relaxing. Like watching dye floating and dispersing in liquid, their shape isn’t clear but it occasionally comes into focus. They have a cumulative effect that will draw you in and win you over, but if you don’t make it that far it will have you glancing at the clock to see if it would be rude to leave.
This is an album that stacks the odds against itself but with much to recommend it if the listener gives it a chance.
Taster Track : Sorbitol
Chew The Scenery : Oscar Lang
What starts as a very good power pop album softens in the second half to provide more depth. It’s good.
Every now and again a new artist comes along and triggers that frisson of a sixth sense that says : “This could be the real deal.” Oscar Lang is one such artist.
For music described as lo-fi bedroom pop, Oscar has a big sound and probably tolerant housemates too. It feels as if I’ve been listening to this kind of pop for nearly 50 years. It has good songs, catchy, guitar driven and memorable. It may be more polished than the music it’s inspired by, but he’s drawn on an inexhaustible well of good pop to make his mark and he’s kept it fresh. All I can say is “Whoo, whoo!”
There’s even a little bit of McFly in the mix in ‘I Could Swear’. Don’t knock it. They may have kept it adolescent and juvenile but they also tapped the fountain of pure pop. I hope he recognises that and would not be ashamed or embarrassed by the comparison.
The sense of digging back in time is reinforced by the album’s structure. ‘Our Feature Presentation’ introduces the album at the star of ‘side one’. ‘Intermission’ after six full tracks introduces side two. It’s different, a more personal and introspective home alone set of songs. He’s been unlucky in relationships. We’re lucky he’s able to translate those experiences into such good songs. ‘Thank You’ is the pick of a strong bunch.
As debuts go, it’s an instantly agreeable, quite a mainstream collection and a potential launch pad for a career that produces something quite special.
Taster Track : I Could Swear
An Evening With Silk Sonic : Silk Sonic
This is an album of showtime funk, featuring three big names and reputations..
It takes the form of a funk revue, compered by Bootsy Collins, the bass playing mainstay of James Brown’s backing band. It brings together Anderson Paak and Bruno Mars for the younger generation. Paak, American rapper with a softer style, hasn’t really troubled the UK charts although his albums have been consistently well reviewed. Mars is the man responsible for ‘Grenade’ that even I’d heard of, and ‘Marry You’ which my daughter and her bridesmaids sang while waiting for the car to the church on her wedding day.
When I reviewed Leon Bridges a couple of weeks ago, little did I know what was waiting just around the corner. My first response was “Is this for real?”. It brings together the funk of James Brown and Prince, the pop RnB of Barry White and The Stylistics and the lush, almost orchestral showmanship of Frank Sinatra for the luvvermen’s annual party.
The album is so breathtakingly over the top that there’s no escape. Resistance is futile. You may disapprove of the attitudes, but you have to admire the complete buy-in to the concept and the confidence in their world view and the music. They wish you love and lots and lots of sex.
All that’s missing is a killer tune. Everything is wrapped up in the arrangements and the attention to musical detail, and I guess we have Collins to thank for that.
Above all though it’s a homage and a thank you to an earlier time and musical style and, on its terms,it’s perfectly executed.
Taster Track : Leave The Door Open
Points On The Curve : Wang Chung
No, I haven’t stumbled across a new release from Wang Chung, 80s synth poppers best known for ‘Dance Hall Days’. This is a look back at the 1983 album from which that song came, and it still sounds good.
To stat with a couple of digressions, Wang Chung were initially known as Huang Chung. Wikipedia says “The name Wang Chung means "yellow bell" in Chinese, and is the first note in the Chinese classical music scale”. I distinctly remember that at the time, they said their name came from the sound of a chord on an electric guitar. I prefer that explanation. And I didn’t know until I read the article that an early Wang Chung singer was Glenn Gregory who went on to become a core member of Heaven 17, and still is.
It’s hard to review an album after nearly 40 years. Your reaction is tempered by the knowledge that they’ve faded away a little, that they never became one of the truly big guns and, in the UK, that there wasn’t a truly successful follow up to ‘Dance Hall Days’.
‘Dance Hall Days’ is the classic track on the album. With over 85 million plays on Spotify, it’s both their best and most successful song. Nothing else on the album comes close, but that doesn’t make it an unsuccessful.
The album sounds like that of a distinctive contender in its day. If you drew a Venn diagram to connect them with their peers it would be at the sweet spot where the lush synths of OMD, the more commercial sounds of Heaven 17 and, surprisingly, the desperation of Gary Numan’s vocals intersect.
It’s a collection of tight, urgent songs. They had a distinctive sound - always a big plus point - reliant on the connection between the rhythm of the vocals and the rhythm of the music. Together they create a jittery sense of foreboding. ‘Don’t Let Go’ captures it nicely, balancing a sense of threat with ABBA style melodies. ‘Even If You Dream’ makes an explicit lunge for the dance floor, a sign maybe that they weren’t immune from the pressures to make another hit single. The extended outro to ‘Talk It Out’ isI a good way to say goodbye to the album.
The album sounds dated, but it’s dated back to a Golden Age of pop so it’s still very listenable today. As an exercise in time travel, it captures the sound of the 80s, not just musically but emotionally too.
This could have been your favourite album of 1983, for a few weeks at least!
Taster Track : Don’t Let Go (‘Dance Hall Days’ would have been way too obvious!)
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