Beth Orton, Daniel Rossen, Dragonette, The Lightning Seeds, Pete Astor, Marc Valentine, Ping Pong Disco
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Friday Night by Beth Orton
Beth Orton is one of music's special talents, defiantly following her own path earning respect and devotion in equal measure. This is a track that shows how the course she's chosen can be serious and grown up without losing accessible melodies.
Ping Pong Disco : Ping Pong Disco
Some records are born to wake you up. Ping Pong Disco’s psychedelic punk disco is one of those.
I worry sometimes about my judgement when I'm listening to a record that was recommended by a friend. It could get a little awkward if you don’t like it. There are no such worries here. This is genuinely good stuff. Its energy is exhilarating and uplifting.
According to their Bandcamp page, Ping Pong Disco have three rules for songwriting. Rule 1: Write it in ten minutes. Rule 2: Play it through to see if you can remember how it goes.. Rule 3: Record it. They say more about the attitude than the music but it’s where the immediacy of these songs comes from then.
Let’s be clear though. This is not the disco sound of Philadelphia or of Tom Moulton 12” remixes. This is a million miles from the Hit Factory. It’s a rolling tsunami of melodic noise. It’s music for dark club corners, occasionally illuminated by sharp bursts of light. It’s music that will have you aching in every part of your body the next day, but in a good way.
Guitar lines rip through each song. The drums propel the band in a headlong rush. The bass has a good time. The vocals anchor the songs in something harder than disco and, above all, these are proper songs not just beats set to music.
Opening track ‘Fat Aladdin’ bursts into freedom, being one of those songs that you know you’ll love from the opening notes. There’s no let up from there. ‘I Need A Drink’ reminds me of The Pixies having their best day. As the album progresses the psychedelia increases. It has the swirling impact of joining a party that’s already ratcheted up the volume and energy, sweat dripping from every track.
This was a muddy joy of a record, absolutely intended to shake and wake you up.
Taster Track : Fat Aladdin
....And The Rest
Weather Alive : Beth Orton
Beth Orton’s collection of strange but beautiful songs creates a fully immersive musical and sonic landscape.
This is music for deserted town centres at the dead of night with just your thoughts and the urban foxes for company. It’s a set of performances viewed and heard through a wire fence. That may sound stark but it’s also heartfelt, emotional and compelling.
She’s been classified as folktronica but that's a classification of convenience. She’s neither folk nor electronic, she’s Beth Orton and that’s shorthand for something unique and special. It’s easy, even lazy, to make comparisons with Talk Talk, but the fact is that she shares their indifference to commercial considerations as she defiantly pursues her musical course and choices. There are more musical similarities to the demon beset John Martyn, and it’s no coincidence that she’s covered his songs in the past.
The quiet power of these songs comes from the uncompromising approach. They convey a world through music that’s beginning to break down. Her voice is cracked. The backing vocals are almost unrecognisable as voices, stretching out from a graveyard past. You can almost taste and smell the desperate emotions that come through at the end of ‘Lonely’.
Melodies creep out of the songs in tracks such as ‘Friday Night’ and ‘Lonely’. They float to the surface drawing you closer to the darker cores of each song.
Beth is a unique female performer. This is an album to be remembered for some time.
Taster Track : Friday Night
You Belong Here : Daniel Rossen
Daniel Rossen’s album is a dense, difficult and demanding listen with only occasional respites. It defeated me. You belong here? I don’t think so.
What led me to this album? Faulty memory was one of my guides. Rossen is the guitarist in an American band - Grizzly Bear. Their last album was surprisingly accessible and lulled me into forgetting that their previous work was not. Trust in earlier reviews was another. Uncut’s review misled me in citing Paul McCartney, Randy Newman and Brian Wilson as influences. I heard nothing of them here.
This is a challenging and serious album. It’s an art house film where it’s not clear who’s who or what’s going on. That’s evident from the first few notes. I hate prejudging an album but at this point I feared I had made a mistake. I hadn’t. You can take satisfaction from mastering something that is difficult but I found this to be the musical equivalent of calculus - too steeped in mystery for me to progress.
Rossen is a rock guitarist, but this needs to be listened to as you would listen to classical guitar. It doesn’t follow rock paths. What I’m missing is the flow of rock music, its simplicity and melody. What I’m getting is Andrew Bird at his most impenetrable or the operatic persona of Rufus Wainwright.
There are occasional suggestions of an accessible entry point, but they whizz by like the steps on a superfast escalator. The three note runs of ‘Shadow In The Frame’ anchor the song - musical driftwood to cling to. The ending of ‘The Last One’ summons attention with its insistent three note prod to the ears. ‘Repeat The Pattern’ is, relatively speaking, a lighter end to the album, the antiseptic mouthwash at the end of a spell in the dentist’s chair
Hands up, I’ve been harsh here. The fault lies with my inability to understand this album rather than Rossen’s music. He gives me the words in ‘Unpeopled Space’ to describe how I’ve responded.
“Words fail, and they’re failing
And they fail me now.”
Here’s that Uncut review for an alternative view. Uncut Daniel Rossen Review. They ranked it as the 34th best album of 2022.
Taster Track : Repeat The Pattern
Twennies : Dragonette
On first listen, Dragonette’s short album may seem to be just so much dance pop friendly radio fodder. Keep with it though and a personality emerges that is quirky, honest and likeable.
Back in the 80s, before the ‘Now’ series upped the baseline, chart compilation albums tended to include 3 or 4 big hits and a host of songs that were representative of the times without cracking more than the lower reaches of the Top 20. They were OK but they weren’t the reason you bought the record, and they didn’t bring anything other than corporate filler to the mix.
Initial impressions of Dragonette were that they were in that category. There’s a fuzzy catchiness at play on tracks such as ‘Seasick’ and ‘New Suit’ that is listenable, if a little ordinary. There are break up songs here, such as ‘Winning’, that come with few regrets. ‘Twennies’ comes with the presence of an angry, buzzing fly and it contains the line that seems to sum up the record at this point
“I’m too cool to try.”
But the later tracks turn the album on its head, as if acknowledging diva behaviour as ridiculous and collapsing into a heap of rueful giggles at the thought of it. The album is like a book that is more fun to read the second time because you can savour what’s coming.
‘Stormy’ is a nice conceit, well executed. It feels more personal and less calculated than what’s come before.‘This Is All You Get” may last for less than a minute but it has an honesty and a personality that made me smile. By the time we get to ‘Outie’ we’ve become kindred spirits tapping along to the song .
They say you should write about what you know. Dragonette has been in the music business for nearly 20 years in some form or other. What saves this album is the realisation that when music becomes your job, it helps if you can rediscover the ordinary you.
And it proves to be quite a lot of fun to share Dragonette’s journey of discovery with her.
Taster Track : Stormy
See You In The Stars : The Lightning Seeds
This is a welcome return from the Lightning Seeds. Sometimes you don’t realise you’ve missed a band until they’re back.
There are a couple of key influences on this album. As always there’s the Turtles. Ian Broudie acknowledged the impact of their easy on the ear melodies when The Lightning Seed covered their song ‘You Showed Me.’ The other main influence is The Lightning Seeds themselves.
‘See You In The Stars’ recaptures the sense of open hearted, wide eyed innocence that characterised their most popular songs. He’s even got Riley in the band (his son and the inspiration for ‘Life Of Riley’) True, it’s a little frayed at the edges on tracks like ‘Permanent Danger’ where it might be about to implode but in ‘Losing You’ and the ‘Pure’ echoing, staccato notes of ‘Green Eyes’ it’s the driving force.
Ian Broudies vocals are more worn, chipped away by age and experience but everything else is the same. There are still carefree, singalongs that feel like brightly coloured music for cartoon soundtracks.
Melodies are not so much sugar coated as soaked in maple syrup and condensed milk with marshmallows on the top. They won’t sustain you as a full time diet, but the rush of sweetness can be just what you need from time to time.
This return is a good return, one worth making. Potential three minute singles speed by. If there’s a criticism, and it’s a mild and marginal one, it’s that the line between the Lightning Seeds sound and the songs sounding the same throughout is occasionally blurred. On the other hand, no one criticises a beautiful view for remaining the same!
After nearly 25 years since the Lightning Seeds drifted away, we’re ready for their return.
Taster Track : Losing You
Future Obscure : Marc Valentine
Marc Valentine’s brand of power pop is lightweight, disposable but instantly enjoyable power pop.
The first of the notes I made on this record says simply: “Power pop. Sharp guitars, Bouncing hooks. Vocals are a little thin.” That’s really all you need to know as it’s the template for the whole album. It’s the kind of music that boys who grew up in the 70s would dream of making. It’s short and to the point, leaving plenty of time to join the gang in the while receiving the perks of stardom.
With power pop there’s a point where it drifts towards emo, taking itself far too seriously and forgetting that an audience will enjoy songs more if you seem to be enjoying them too. If emo is the exit point, Marc Valentine - great name for this kind of act - has his eyes and ears firmly on the genre’s entry point. That’s a mix of glam and pub rock. The timeless concerns of rock and roll rule the roost. The songs may lack subtlety musically and lyrically, but they’re great fun
You can tell a man by the company he keeps. Three of these tracks are collaborations with veterans of the genre - one with Matt Dangerfield of The Boys and two with the legend that is Wreckless Eric.(There’s a third collaborator with Karen Bell, who’s a new name for me.) I say they’re collaborators but their contribution is so low in the mix that they are more name checks than anything else.
This is the music I spent my mid teens with, so it’s hard for me to dislike while accepting that for a different generation it may be hard to see its point.
In a way, that is its point. Your favourite music may just be lightweight, disposable and quickly forgettable, but it’s still music that gives you something to daydream about.
Taster Track : Broken Satellite
Time On Earth : Pete Astor
Laying claim to being the songwriter’s songwriter, Pete Astor’s new collection shows us where the C86 generation of indie poppers arrived at by persisting on their chosen path.
Pete Astor was in an underrated band called The Weather Prophets. They had one near breakthrough hit in ‘Almost Prayed’. Subsequently he’s lectured, researched and written about music as a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. He calls himself a songwriter on Wikipedia. There are probably few people as versed in the art of creating good music as he is, and this album reflects that.
What it lacks - and this isn’t necessarily a weakness - is star quality. It’s a modest album, not flashy. It’s full of quiet confidence, low key charm and contemplative pop, with unobtrusive melodies and gentle sounds. He takes his time, often breaking lines in two rather than running them together. His songs are full of nicely turned images such as “Breathing tomorrow’s air” from ‘English Weather’.
His pleasant voice invites you to listen, like settling down with a good book by a favourite author with a narrator you take to immediately. Occasionally you might like an explosion of action or energy but that’s like hoping for a shoot out in a Julian Barnes novel. It’s neither its style nor purpose.
The songs are firmly rooted in the real world and in memories. They’re often centred around the High Street or, as on ‘Sixth form Rock Boys, the daydreams of youth.
This is an album where nothing much happens, but it happens very nicely.
Taster Track : Sixth Form Rock Boys.
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