Andrew Gold, Apparatjik, Damon and Naomi (with Kukihara), Lou Hayter, Manic Street Preachers, Mouth Painters
This Week's Music
Changing the subject for a moment, one of the encouraging signs from the Premier League is the increased willingness of clubs to play young, bright ,homegrown talent in big games. Looking at this week's review selection we may not be able to say the same for music. Just 1/4 of one act (Apparatjik) is English, and that was for an album released 11 years ago. I don't have a solution to that state of affairs - I'm not sure I even regard it as a problem - but you'd think that the land that gave the world The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, Blur and, um er, Ed Sheeran would expect a higher representation ratio than that!
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
Tropicale Moon : Mouth Painter
This album mixes so many influences and sounds into an absorbing whole - 60s psychedelia, folk, American roots music, soundscapes, slide guitar and flute to name just some. It’s a heady brew that’s all their own.
It’s the sound of time travel, of wandering minstrels in space suits. The singers come straight from the 60s folk and psychedelic underground. His voice is the strong folk narrator; hers is of the more quavering fairy loving variety. The music’s distinctive sound is of bent and stretched guitar wrapped around sweet melodies with oodles of flute on top. ‘Actual Expressway’ manages to capture and combine the metronomic rhythm of motorway driving through its bass, and the sound of merrie England in its flute. It’s as if you suddenly glimpsed the court of Henry Vlll standing at the side of the M25.
There are a few rootsier tracks including ‘Chester Park’ and ‘Lossless’. These lack the magic of the songs that work best. There are a couple of tracks that approach the margins of new age soundscapes. I could have managed without ‘Set Sail’ although in retrospect opening track ‘Steppin’ Out, Steppin’ In’ serves as a portal to what follows, the foot bath before entering the swimming pool.
But there are tracks such as ‘A Yardin’ I Once Went’, ‘Mother Carey’s Chickens’ and ‘Tropicale Moon’ that float in such a relaxing and beguiling way that listening to them is like the perfect spa experience. And don’t be put off by these titles. They do not foretell the music within.
This is a surprising and enjoyable album.
Taster Track : A Yardin’ I Once Went
And The Rest
Whirlwind : Andrew Gold
Andrew Gold went against type for this 1980 album, opting for soft rock over pop ballads. Wrong choice!
He’s probably known for three songs in particular - ‘Lonely Boy’ which was a successful stab at radio rock, ‘Thank You For Being A Friend’ a power ballad of the sweetest and finest kind and ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’, a slower song that stood out from the rest of the charts at the time. The ballads are what he does well, but he avoids them on this album. That’s a mistake.
Sadly, this album felt like music by numbers. It’s tired and forced into a template that simply fails to work for him. The band sounds like a group of session musicians playing for their CVs.
The songs are built around solid riffs but little else. They plod rather than chug and jog rather than canter. There’s no lightness of touch. And just don’t get me started on people who set out to be musicians from 16 years old but who write songs about the grind of working nine until five.
Having said all of that we mustn’t forget that this came out in 1980. This is what was played on the radio then, particularly on UK programmes that took a detailed look at the American charts. Even the also rans can inspire nostalgia for a period, and a sneaky 10% of me quite enjoyed this. Please don’t tell the cool kids.
Taster Track : Stranded On The Edge
We Are Here : Apparatjik
Winning the prize for this week’s most engrossing album cover, Coldplay, A-Ha, Mew and a plus one, join forces to demonstrate that, whilst always listenable, their combined efforts do not quite equal the sum of their constituent parts.
Name a successful and memorable supergroup from the last 50 years. It’s not easy, especially if you discount Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as having formed in the 1960s. Having thought about this for nearly a minute, I can only come up with the Bandaid project - probably the biggest supergroup there’s ever been but memorable less for its music and more for its intent. (OK, I’ll give you the US equivalent too, whatever it was called.)
A good supergroup is a form of musical marriage, a marriage of different backgrounds, different styles and different expectations. In a marriage between rock royalty, you’d be hoping for William and Kate rather than Charles and Diana. What you get with this record is more Edward and Sophie Wessex - part of the right crowd without being in the balcony front row in the wedding photographs.
What you hope for with Apparatjik is the melody of Coldplay, the yearning of A-Ha and the ethereal otherness of Scandinavian music. You want to avoid the blandness, the overdramatic emoting and the out and out weirdness that comes with them. On that score this album is a partial success as it leans towards the former.
Of the separate influences, the least obvious is, surprisingly, Coldplay. You can hear A-Ha all over the poppier tracks such as ‘Datascroller’ and ‘Supersonic Sound’. And the nordic choral singing that brings such an epic emotional swell is hinted at on tracks such as ‘In A Quiet Corner’.
The album starts with a scratchy, almost defiant, attempt to sound different from the parent groups. It’s a harsher, squelchier synth sound that’s to the fore. As the album progresses though it settles into an out and out pop album for the 14 year old who wants to be seen as apart from the crowd and is dipping their toes into something that won’t trouble the Top 10.
It’s all highly listenable without ever stirring the blood; a good idea that didn’t have the legs to be fully realised.
Taster Track : Datascroller
A Sky Record : Damon and Naomi (with Kurihara)
I found this collection of folk Americana heavy going, although if you dig deep, very deep, there are glimmers of intimacy and beauty.
Imagine a dark, early Monday morning after a couple of nights of sleeping badly. This record captures how that feels but without easing the feeling.
I’m grateful to Pitchfork, the very learned and expert music review site for grown ups, for A Sky Record Review which explains that the album stemmed from the early days of lockdown. Weirdly, some of us are already nostalgic for that time of quieter roads, greater communion with nature and a new appreciation of what really matters in life. That rose tinted perspective shouldn’t blind us to the fact that time slowed interminably during a scary, desolate time. This album recreates that reality.
The songs are unhurried to the point of being drawn out and ponderous. For the most part they drag mournfully. They weigh heavily, and although the lyrics may point towards hope and recovery, it’s recovery from a Ground Zero that couldn’t get any worse. It’s an album in slow motion, the soundtrack to a world that stopped.
It’s the sound of this album that suggests that hope and optimism are lost. There’s little that’s pretty in the music. The Japanese guitarist Kurihara’s playing is harsh and almost discordant. It’s a powerful but quietly threatening impact made more ominous by the quietly crashing but distinctive cymbals.
There are moments of a gentle and intimate beauty, particularly on the closing track ‘The Aftertime’ which foregrounds the melody more, but they are few and far between. That said, it’s enough to end the album on a upward trajectory and a feeling that recovery is an option.
Taster Track : The Aftertime
The Ultra Vivid Lament : Manic Street Preachers
The Manic Street Preachers’ 14th album is an album that sounds like Abba with rock guitars or, perhaps, big brother to a Top 10 backing. It works.
Manic Street Preachers are an object lesson in transforming darkness into something brighter, without losing the power of their words. Back in 1994 they released ‘The Holy Bible’, a contender for the most harrowing album ever in its depiction of suffering and particularly eating disorders. In 1995, as many will know, their personification of suffering, Richie Edwards disappeared, never to be found. He was declared dead in 2008. In 1996, the Manics released ‘Everything Must Go’, an album crammed with glam colour and thought provoking lyrics and, overnight, became chart staples without damaging their reputations.
25 years later ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ is cut from the same cloth but here, rather than taking inspiration from rock the inspiration is from the likes of Abba. Left wing education has never been wrapped in such sugar coated melodies. They are singing minstrels wrapped in candy coated chocolate. They educate us to a high concept, lush pop backing. The Abba tribute is most clearly heard on ‘The Secret He Had Missed.’
Look at the track listing and find song titles such as ‘Orwellian’ and ‘Diapause’. They’re tricky subjects to get your head around let alone sing about. They’re also two of the most accessible songs on the album.
14 albums and 35 years into a stellar career, it’s unlikely that the Manics will be classed as fashionable, or win over any new fans. It’s a shame, because music that is this attuned to what makes a design for life deserves to be heard widely. After all, it’s not about the money, money, money but the winner takes it all.
Taster Track : The Secret He Had Missed
Private Sunshine : Lou Hayter
Glossy, bright, clean and synthetic - this album of club disco captures an era to perfection, for good and bad.
Lou Hayter has DJ’d, recorded, performed and scored fashion shows for nearly 20 years. She’s all about image. Her personal website defines her in terms of clients and lifestyle events. In her world they’re important. She’s the party DJ to the stars and this collection is the ideal soundtrack to her, and, yes, our aspirations. This retro sounding collection brings all that experience to bear in one place.
From the off, we’re immediately dropped into the middle of club night with opener ‘Cherry On Top’. It provides an immediacy. The bass sounds as if it is heard through airtight double doors as you come in off of the street. The beat is steady and deliberate, a warm up for any flamboyance that comes later. The sax croaks as if it's been sweating forever without a drink in sight.
And yet, it’s still a cold, synthetic sound, electro pop’s clinical finest rather than something infused with the passion of a Prince or Michael Jackson. It sounds expensive but it's accessible, a catwalk leading straight to your personal retro record collection. It’s also fun. Sometimes all you need is the memory of a genre to set up the good times. It doesn’t matter how good it is but it helps that this set is worked very well indeed.
En masse, it’s a little too smooth for its own good. It’s as comfortable setting the mood as it is snagging the attention. There are moments towards the late middle when it’s the soundtrack to the moment when you decide it’s time to go home, or wait for your second wind, or regret the jet lag that’s arisen from your jetting between London and New York. There’s no intimacy or personal chemistry here, just good dance pop music.
Don’t come to this record looking for emotional connection. Come to this record to soundtrack your nights of hedonistic good times.
Taster Track : Cherry On Top