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Bringing Power To Your Elbow, Your Slowdive, Your....

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Apollo Junction, Elbow, Far From Saints, Helado Negro, Rural Tapes, Slowdive


The Front Runners


Everything Is Alive : Slowdive


Slowdive have probably earned the right to call themselves the Kings of Shoegaze. This album demonstrates why.


Their secret is to play shoegaze that has presence but is never totally reliant on reverb and effects to make an impact. You’re always aware that it could erupt into chaos and break down into noise at any time, but their strength is to acknowledge that potential while holding it in check. These songs are like a bull softly coaxed into the back of a lorry for a trip to the vets. The strength and threat are certainly there but they are all the more effective for never being seen.


‘Shanty’ is the only song where you feel the distorted urgency of voices calling out from far across the galaxy, but its melody is what you remember. That’s what is often lost in the maelstrom of effects used by other bands. ‘Kisses’ has a quiet melody that any earthbound synthpop band would kill for. ‘Andalucia Plays’ is music like the smoke or mist that drifts across a tranquil lake. ‘Prayer Remembered’ is, as I recently discovered, Mogwai at their most tender. It’s a thing of beauty, not an overblown monster of a record. ‘Skin In The Game’, for example, is big music but it never overwhelms or bludgeons itself into you.


You can’t avoid the thought that Slowdive are in their 50s and 60s now. ‘Chained To A Cloud’ is music that doesn’t shy away from life’s difficulties but suggests that the band are coming to terms and accepting their place in life, and they’re not unhappy with that.


Quite simply, this is the loveliest shoegaze record I’ve ever heard.


Taster Track : Kisses



The Chasing Pack


Here We Are : Apollo Junction


An album full of promise offers glimpses of a new and exciting electropop presence but falls short before the end.


Apollo Junction are the kind of band you might fantasise about joining when you’re 14 years old. They have the gloss and plenty of moments that stand out for each band member. They feel like the gang you’ve never had in real life. It’s a fantasy built on the sounds of Radio 1 but, like all teenage fantasies, you start to feel a little awkward about them as you grow up. They become your guilty pleasures, not bands to admit to loving but bands to move on from within a couple of years. 


Third albums are important. Ask U2. There’s no feeling yet that Apollo Junction have broken through, though there are signs of cracks in the chrysalis and a butterfly within. Their intros are strong, a definite highlight. They capture interest from the off with ‘By The River’. It has one foot in the perfect synth pop camp and the other in something more bombastic. The drums that open ‘Endings’ carry a great sound and push it into a great, if not weighty, pop song. Taken as a whole it’s a positive set of songs, boosted by the money spent on glossy production.


Three albums in and I’m not sure they know what they want to be - whether it’s a rockier boy band, a band that can produce one killer song that lives in the memory and captures a youthful moment, like The Automatic or an undeniably cool but not quite Premier Division band such as Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever or Half Moon Run (both of whom I like.). 


And I’m a little concerned that there aren’t many images on Google of them playing live. They’re mainly carefully arranged and posed pictures, begging the question ‘Is there anything behind the image’?


I hope they do well, for the sake of all the fans who have invested hopes and dreams in them. Time, though, is running out.


Taster Track : Endings



Audio Vertigo : Elbow


This is a version of Elbow that is rougher, more dramatic and possibly more desperate than you may have heard before.


It hits you from the off. ‘Things I’ve Been Telling Myself For Years’ is squalling and messy. Guy Garvey is well down in the mix. It’s the sound of Elbow letting themselves go, like someone dancing after quite a bit of drinking, or letting rip in the studio after a furious row. It’s wilder, more creative and a lot less polished than before. 


‘Lover’s Leap’ - and remember, this is Elbow we’re talking about - is made for dancing. There’s something quite South American about this. It’s hot and grubby with a sense of danger lurking underneath. ‘Very Heaven’ is made for smoky all night bars where a fight could erupt at any moment. 


Audio Vertigo is an album that is constantly dramatic, drawing attention to itself in a good way. There are still memories of an old Elbow, ‘Her To The Earth’ for example but they don’t emerge until the mid point when it’s safe to come out.


And yet….. This new and surprising version of Elbow feels less of an evolution and more of a conscious decision to try something different. Despite the wilder moments,the songs feel carefully nurtured rather than having erupted forth from the band’s naturee. It’s also a record that occasionally sounds forced as if, after all this time, they’re trying too hard to find something different. Better that though, than the branded sounds of U2 or Coldplay. 


I applaud Elbow’s commitment to avoiding the safe paths but at the same time it sometimes comes across like the less successful tunes on The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ or the more indulgent tracks on U2’s ‘Rattle and Hum’.


One thing we can all agree is that, on the basis of this album, Elbow are alive, kicking and relevant. After 27 years, that’s some feat!


Taster Track : Good Blood Mexico




Far From Saints : Far From Saints


Kelly Jones from Stereophonics teams up with Patty Lynn and Dwight Baker from The Wind and The Wave, who supported Stereophonics on a recent tour. Together they make a mix that spans country, rock, folk and americana.


This is full of the songwriting that songwriters value. Precisely structured, lyrically timeless and impeccably performed, it’s a masterclass in its field. It delivers what it offers on the tin so completely that it's almost faultless. 


In that strength though lies its weakness. In wedding itself so tightly to its chosen genres it feels restrained. 


Forgive a small diversion. In the early American space programme the prototype astronauts were chosen from the ranks of existing test pilots. They were chosen for their courage, their ability to think clearly when something went wrong and when split second decisions were required. There was a problem. The type of pilots they chose were not prepared to give up control to their machines. They needed to retain control and the flexibility to think for themselves if that was needed. Step forward Wally Schirra. Schirra was the first test pilot who flew in space entirely following the commands of the spacecraft. Schirra was the pilot who proved the space programme could work regardless of who was aboard.


Far From Saints are the Wally Schirra of Americana.


That’s the missing spark here. Far From Saints is a text book album, but sometimes you crave the creativity and imagination of a novel. 


This is a couples album for Kelly and Patty. Let's Turn This Back Around’ alternates their voices to save their relationship hitting the rocks. It’s the approach taken in Vampire Weekend’s duet with Danielle Haim ‘Married In A Gold Rush’, in The Pogues and Kirsty Maccoll’s standoff in a ‘Fairytale of New York’ and underpinning a significant proportion of the Beautiful South’s output. What they all have is a bitter and bickering wit. A little of that alongside the palpable sincerity in Far From Saints wouldn’t go amiss.


This is a good album as far as it goes. It’s confident Americana, full of modern frontier songs that tell and sound of hard times (‘Take It Through The Night’). Kelly Jones’ husky growl and Patty Lynn’s country tones are well matched.


It’s an album to applaud as worthy rather than inspirational, but if you love Americana this is an album for you.


Taster Track : The Ride



Phasor : Helado Negro



Helado Negro may be a naturalised American but he’s from Ecuador originally. It’s those Ecuadorian influences that you take away from this album.


It’s a strange beast at first. He has a distinctive voice and for some reason I was prepared for a collection of instrumentals, so it was unexpected too. It’s the voice of a man who’s landed from elsewhere, perhaps a member of a royal court from the late 19th century. It’s as if this courtier has been drafted in to sing vocals on the album and has quickly taken to his new responsibilities.


For some this may be an acquired taste. Treat it like a glass of wine you’ve not tried before. You may be uncertain of it with the first few sips but by the end of the bottle it’s your new favourite taste.


Acclimatise to it, and it’s a beguiling, quirky sound. It’s not flowing exactly, definitely gentle but not smooth. That gives a surprising vulnerability to songs such as ‘I Just Want To Wake Up With You’ and ‘Best For You And Me’.


The cooing Spanish of ‘Colores Del Mar’ call to mind a slightly more experimental Jose Gonzalez. You’ll find those echoes throughout the album and particularly on ‘Echo Tricks Me’.


This is music that succeeds in creating its own world, where the city meets a jungle clearing, where the real world collides with a fantasy. That comes from the addictive rhythms. They propel ‘Out There’ into centre stage. They engage you with ‘Best For you And Me’. They add a swaying sense of exotica and make for a lovely listening experience.


That’s what you should do. Give yourself to the rhythms, enjoy the sounds and textures in the music and don’t worry about anything else.


Taster Track : Best For You And Me



Contact : Rural Tapes


Rural Tapes’ approach to progressive and experimental electronica is undiluted stuff that, nevertheless, contains elements of beauty and imagination.


There are moments when this feels as if a number of conventional tracks and studio tapes were packaged neatly in a box before being dropped down three flights of stairs. For reasons unknown he decided to release the fragments as they now stood.


Some of the fragments are larger and clearer than others.’Patchwork’ which opens the album takes up a third of the running time at eleven minutes. It speeds past like a train that’s barely under control, all propulsive energy and left behind sounds. The way it begins to fade into the distance with around four minutes to go is a genuinely lovely passage, impressive and unexpected.


Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen, the heart and brains of Rural Tapes, sounds like he’s having fun spring cleaning out his studio, reacquainting himself with old memories and half finished ideas, as you or I would browse old photo albums. Sometimes, that gives some of the shorter elements the feel of ideas he didn’t want to lose but couldn’t shoehorn into more substantial pieces. ‘Tape Collage #1’, ‘Opus 1’ and ‘Check One Two’ are in this category. They’re musical snippets and urgent, distorted vocals that don’t make a lot of sense but he’s not offering any clues or context to help you to understand them.


Some more conventional music survives that staircase accident. ‘Run Rapid’ as the title suggests captures the urgent momentum of ‘Patchwork’. The standout track though, is the album’s closer ‘Waves’. If the rest of the album is the sound of technology taking over the studio, ‘Waves’ is the sound of humanity re-entering the process. It’s a saving grace, the application of musical balm and aftershock care following the bumps and bruises of what comes before.


In its way this is a thrilling if uncomfortable listen. Don’t expect to understand what’s going on, but be open to finding something to enjoy.


Taster Track : Waves



Playlists


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.


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