Cast, Embrace, Katy J Pearson, Maggie Rogers, Nick Mulvey
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
This is from her second album and it really feels that she's finding her place in music today. It's a place previously occupied by the likes of Kirsty MacColl, and this songs helps to show why.
New Mythologies : Nick Mulvey
There’s something very special about Nick Mulvey’s latest record. It explores what it means to be a universal human, and it does so with glorious melodies.
There are lots of reasons to like music. The quality of playing, the stirred emotions, the beats per minute, the incisive lyrics, the desire to fit in - the list goes on and on. For me the main reason is simply melody. It’s melody that pins a song in your memory and triggers all your feelings and emotion about music.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a record as brim full of easy accessible melodies as ‘New Mythologies’. Every part of every track has its own melody. They’re simple, eternal tunes, with elements of folk and world music. They make for songs that are simultaneously small scale and universal. These are songs that are as at home in the community as in the arena and they make Mulvey a singer that people will gather around.
Mulvey’s voice is not what you would call a typical pop singer’s voice. It’s not particularly tuneful but the fact that it has been moved to sing lends something to the songs. They quietly commandeer your attention. He has something to sing that is worth listening to.
He studied ethnomusicology before becoming a musician. That’s described as the study of people making music from all cultures and in all musical styles. It shows. He’s tapped into deep roots, and sings about issues that help us to understand a part of what it means to be human. Issues such as, life, death, mythology, the elements, dreams, symbols, memory and, yes, spirituality. A taste of it’s flavour comes in these lines from ‘Begin Again’ ( Love You Just The Same)’:
“... the blood in you and me
Is as old as blood can be.”
Or in this line from ‘Mecca’:
“And how we feel now was felt by the ancients.”
These songs feel as if they have been kept alive for millennia, capturing in modern form the essences of humanity.
If that sounds like the babble of tongues and just so much mumbo jumbo, don’t worry. That’s the opposite of this album which is pure and direct and simply wonderful.
This is an album that has the sun on its face and love for the world in its heart.
Taster Track : Causes
....And The Rest
Recommenced : Cast
This album of electronic splicing is not what I expected, and therein lies a cautionary tale - for me at least!
I’m often asked “How do you find the albums you review?” Well I’m asked it every now and again, usually by the same person in a tone that suggests I have too much time on my hands and an addiction that might need help one day. My reply is usually the same too. I trawl reviews, sign up to newsletters and pay attention to word of mouth. It also seems that I select albums on the basis of unchecked assumptions. So, when former Britpop heroes, Cast, released a comeback EP earlier this year I thought “Why not?” and downloaded it to listen to at some future point which arrived this week.
It’s not the Britpop Cast.
I think it may be the work of an alien who has broken into a recording studio, swallowed and scrambled some electronica master tapes and sung along to them.
There are five musical snippets here coming in at under ten minutes running time. They manage to make an impression in that time and it’s not wholly bad. In fact, I’d say that there is some promise to be heard if only the tracks were given the time to expand and realise their potential.
There was a brief period in the UK in the early 00s when newspapers offered free CDs with extended extracts from songs on a new album, whetting the appetite and hopefully tempting you into buying the full album. That’s what this EP sounds like.
‘Constellation Seventy Trijugate’ - not really a Britpop Cast title, is it - would be nicely hypnotic if it lasted longer. On the same basis ‘Recommenced’ would have the acid catchiness of a children’s TV theme tune. The production sounds good too - crisp where it needs to be crisp and clean throughout.
I got away with this choice. It’s an interesting and not unenjoyable sound in small doses and could yet lead to something more substantial.
Taster Track : Recommenced
How To Be A Person Like Other People : Embrace
Embrace’s brand of epic, stadium filling rock holds steady for their eighth album. However, it huffs and puffs without ever blowing down the house.
Embrace have been around since the early 90s. They’ve released eight albums in 25 years - not prolific, but not the track record of a band that has faded from view. What’s more, each of their albums has made the Top 10 so they have a strong, loyal fan base to support them. The line up has remained constant too, a joint and enduring commitment to their musical vision.
So why then, do they feel like also rans, a Stereophonics or Oasis for the Championship rather than the Premier League? If they were a football club, they’d be Wolves - never close to rejoining the big boys but achieving respectable performances while clinging to a more glorious past.
They offer big, big songs from the off. It’s admirable that they remain true to their sound but that’s one part of the problem. The only variation from their other records comes in the opening track which hears Danny McNamara singing more slowly than the band are playing. It wrong footed me but not particularly successfully.
I wonder how they see themselves. In part they’re the central character in a Gothic romance, making deals with the Devil. (A word of advice - if you’re approached by a cloven hoofed being smelling of sulphur, walk on. No good will come of it.) Another part is the rousing side of a Henry V or William Wallace. In fact, Big Country without the bagpipes sums up their sound quite well.
They make a better stab at epic than most, even when they use only piano and backing strings on ‘Remember Me’. There are times when the music bludgeons the ears rather than stirring the soul; when they seem to mistake noise for excitement. Ultimately, on this album, they don’t quite have the tunes to carry the songs, leaving them empty bar passion and volume. The songs are like the immediate aftermath of an explosion, filled with shock but without awe. Mind you, their backing vocals are the sounds of terrace anthems just waiting to happen.
If you’re one of Embrace’s loyal followers this album will undoubtedly hit the spot. For everyone else it’s a good effort but a near miss.
Taster Track : How To Be A Person Like Other People
Sound Of the Morning : Katy J Pearson
Don’t worry what to call this, Katy J Pearson’s second album is a collection of very good pop songs. It’s as simple as that.
For her first album, Katy made a video showing her line dancing to one of her songs. From that has grown the belief that she’s a country artist. She’s not, at least no more so than someone like Kirsty MacColl. You might as well call Madonna a country star because of her image on the cover of the ‘Music’ albumShe’s as country as the image of Madonna of her ‘Music’ album!
She’s keen to shake off the country label. There is a nasal twang to some of her singing but, again, there was to Stevie Nicks’ voice too and people remember her for ‘Rumours’ not any Dolly Parton type ‘yee haws y’all’.
Having heard her protests and listened to her songs, it’s perhaps ironic that the opening track here, ‘Sound Of the Morning' is the most country folk song I’ve heard from her. The country and folk influences help to make it a good song, but they’re not allowed to swamp the album after that.
The pleasure in this album comes from the anticipation, thrill and pleasure of knowing that the songs will be good and that there’s a good chance that a couple of the tracks will be great. Although the sound is different, it’s the kind of feeling that I used to get from an early Blondie or Pretenders record. Maybe that’s the secret of her appeal. She’s resurrected the feeling of being a music loving teenager, knocking 45 years of jaded experience away just like that.
Her songs are inspired by and grounded in the real world, albeit a real world that includes dreams and imagination too. There’s a potpourri of folk, jangle pop and proper ear worm choruses to keep you entertained and most days that’s going to help you feel a whole lot better.
Katy J Pearson. She sings country AND western. And folk, and jangle pop and electro pop and much, much more.
Taster Track : Talk Over Town
Surrender : Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers’ second studio collection is a record that erupts forth from her lips in a frustrated, end of tether rage. Sadly though, it didn’t engage.
I daydream as much as anyone else. I can imagine myself scoring the winning goal at Wembley, besting politicians in a debate or even taking part in Strictly Come Dancing. But this record showed me that I’m unable to empathise with the lifestyle and mindset of a 28 year old female rock star.
This is a record founded on heightened drama, the kind of drama that’s the lifeblood of Young Adult TV series. Listening to this is like joining a party just as a person you’ve never met goes into a complete meltdown. If you’re me, you freeze, look around nervously and edge back out of the room. I couldn’t stay and listen. I, personally, can’t engage with the situation.
I felt there was a Buzz Lightyear moment in this record. When we first meet Buzz in Toy Story he’s a newly unwrapped present in Andy’s bedroom but he’s still in character from a film we’ve never seen. .There’s a disconnect between his reality and the toys’ reality. If you’re still with me, that’s how I felt about this album. I needed to be drawn in and given time to familiarise myself with the situation.
In character, Rogers wants us to see her as a bad girl, a teenage rebel. She tells us so herself in ‘Shatter’.
“....But now we’re going back
To being sixteen.”
The heightened drama comes from a number of sources. It’s in the menacing, rumbling bass and the over loud pounding drums. It’s in the way that words are squeezed out of her, casualties in a continual battle with the desire to keep them locked down. It’s a shame because her voice, in a lower register than most and with a decent range, sounds capable of a subtler approach with more light and shade, loud and quiet.
This isn’t a genre I’ve grown close to over the decades. But I do remember feeling the same way about Alanis Morissette, so I hear similarities between the two. If the dial was turned down a notch and the touch was a little lighter I’d enjoy the songs and, particularly their choruses, a lot more.
When my daughter was in her full flow as a teenager she once told me following an outburst that it wasn’t my fault I just didn’t understand.
Maggie, it’s not your fault but I just don’t understand.
Taster Track : Shatter
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