Welcome to the weekly review of albums I've been listening to. Some are new, others were new to me and may be a few or even many years old.
These judgements, as all judgements, are a matter of taste. It's personal and that means they have to address the likes of a 59 year old, white male whose tastes were formed by the melting pot of 70s chart pop and early 80s Gary Crowley and John Peel. I've kept up with current releases though the music press and the friends. (We'll leave to one side my recommendation of a seemingly little known song which spent 17 weeks at No one and has now racked up 1.7bn views on Youtube. It happens. Time to move on!)
Each week I'll include the taster tracks in a Pop In the Real World Spotify playlist such as this https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1CnOHSfDVe0JPrLn2HYhHw?si=kuNwuu-mSW-2ngxOu8ZY1Q
I hope that the tracks will, occasionally, provide a musical pearl that would otherwise remain undiscovered. I also hope that albums I haven't rated particularly well will still appeal to people with different tastes. In due course I will provide opportunities for members and followers to provide their own recommendations which will also feature in the playlist.
Album of the Week
A Formula 1 concept album? Sung in French? A bit niche?
No, in any language this is one of the most immediately accessible records I've heard all year. It captures the exhilaration of a moment when everything is perfect, underpinned by a melancholy from the realisation that it won't last and may never be recovered. It's the sound of the best day of the Summer, of friendship in a common cause, of jet set glamour. My French isn't up to translating the lyrics as we go. These songs could be about bitter rivalries, arcane aeronautical engineering details or the horrendous cost F1 has for the environment and climate - but that's not what it sounds like.
Benjamin Biolay is from the French singing school that requires a 30 a day Gauloise habit before allowing entry to the course. It is, of course, utterly seductive. Who cares what he is singing about, the vibe is all.
Musically it harks back to the glory days of 80s synth pop and disco. There are shades of Nik Kershaw's songwriting in 'Ma Route' and of M83 around the time of Junk in 'Comment Est Ta Peine?' There are even touches of Beck's more recent songs scattered across the album. It's the combination of all that and the French charm throughout that allows this album to stand out on its own.
We can all do with music that brings a smile to the face and happy wellbeing to the soul. This is one of those albums.
Taster Track: Ma Route
Earth To Dora - Eels
Taster Track : Earth To Dora
Sunday Painter - Spencer Zahn
Spencer Zahn is a bassist who, on Sunday Painter, offers a wealth of pastel, impressionist jazz tones. This is controlled and chilled with ne'er a note or beat out of place. 'The Mist' conjures a landscape out of sound. This is for people who like their jazz without too many notes.
Taster Track - Roya
I Still Play - Various
There's a backstory to this compilation which was a leaving gift from artists on the roster to the departing head of Nonsuch Records. It's a nice touch and contains some good tracks in its mix of classical, jazz, avant garde and Randy Newman. It's an effective primer to nudge you towards exploring artists such as Philip Glass and Pat Metheney in greater depth. Randy Newman successfully but gently punctures the solemnity of many of the pieces at the end.
Taster Track: Evening Song No. 2 - Phiilp Glass / Timo Andres
Sule Skerry - Erland Cooper
There's something noble in the realisation of such a personal musical vision redolent of time, place and background. It's heavyweight stuff containing much beauty. It's a tad mournful and sombre so may not appeal to everyone but it's worth diving into if you have time to listen.
This is the second of a trilogy that begins with Solan Goose and ends with Hether Blether which was released earlier this year.
Taster Track: Haar
Canyons - Young Gun Silver Fox
This can be best categorised as unsinkable yacht rock. It's an uncanny re-creation of the sound of 70s smooth rock. If your guilty pleasures include Hall & Oats, Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, this is for you.
Taster Track: Long Distance Love Affair (and if that title doesn't confirm the view above, nothing will!)
What We Do - Shook Twins
This is serious country / folk, thoughtfully created. It's full of pitch perfect harmonies that are steeped in tradition. It heads towards Enya territory in places - for good or ill - but also incorporates some surprisingly modern musical touches too.
Taster Track: Back Now
In Memory of My Feelings - Catherine Anne Davies & Bernard Butler
I wanted to love this from the off but the sounds hit you so quickly and relentlessly they're difficult to absorb in one sitting. It's clever with good hooks. Catherine Anne Davies has what I would call a performing Radio 6 voice, slightly stylised but beloved of indie DJs. Bernard Butler's guitars swirl and attack throughout. One to revisit.
Taster Track: The Waiting Game
Wachito Rico - Boy Pablo
Recognising that as a 59 year old I'm unlikely to feature in the marketing team's key demographic for this album. At times Boy Pablo comes across as your daughter's irritating holiday romance who can't be thrown off. More kindly, there's an appealing, harmless innocence to some of the tracks, and its slower songs reveal a more sustainable approach to songcraft .
Taster Track - Te Vas / Don't Go
Welcome Strangers - Modern Studies
This is an album of black and greys. There's depth to be discovered. Several tracks build to a satisfying climax but they take a while to get there. I'm not convinced that people will invest the effort to see it through. Their most recent album 'The Weight of the Sun' has better songs. Just saying.
Taster Track: Fast As Flows
I'll Pass. Thanks
Ephemerals - Eggtooth
I can appreciate what Eggtooth are trying to achieve here. It's a blend of jazz, funk and psychedelia. It's a more intense Jamiroquai. It's also a bit pretentious and that makes it a tad dull. There's undoubtedly energy here, but energy in itself isn't that listenable. I'm also not sure if it's trying to make you dance or listen.
Taster Track: And If We Could, We'd Say (based on the most listened track from the album on Spotify.)
When Did We Do That - Letters To Cleo
This is for those people who like crunching guitars and would secretly have liked to be the bad boys and girls. Aside from the familiar covers, the tracks are largely monotone and monospeed, indistinguishable from each other. The covers fall short of the originals but are the strongest songs here.
Taster Track : Cruel To Be Kind